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

Saturday, June 27, 2020

week ending Jun 27

 Fed's George: Unclear What Fed Policy Will Need to Do Next – WSJ --Kansas City Fed leader Esther George said Thursday with the future path of the economy linked to how well health threats from the coronavirus pandemic can be managed, it is unclear what lies ahead for central-bank policy efforts. “Extraordinary uncertainty about the path of the pandemic over the second half of the year and the economic outlook will require a fair amount of patience and wisdom as we navigate the likely long-lasting implications of the coronavirus shock,” Ms. George said in the text of a speech. In this environment, “determining the correct path for policy is likely to be even more difficult than usual given what I expect to be the continued volatility of the incoming data,” the official said. “Indicators are expected to improve in the third quarter even as the level of activity remains depressed,” but “it might be awhile before the dust settles and we gain insight on whether further accommodation is necessary or not,” she said. Ms. George isn’t currently a voting member of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee. The speech Thursday was her first in some time. She spoke amid the central bank’s massive response to help the economy navigate the pandemic. Even with unprecedented action on the part of the Fed, a number of officials have hinted they’ll have to do more, even as they expect economic activity to rebound over the latter half of the year. Ms. George said Fed efforts to help restore market functionality have been successful. She also pointed to signs of life in the economy. “More recently, as stay-at-home orders and other restrictions on activity have been lifted we have started to see signs of recovery, both in the Tenth District and nationally.” Ms. George added, “the pick-up that we have seen has been importantly supported by some of the swiftest and most aggressive fiscal policy actions on record.” Improved financial conditions “should further support a rebound in economic activity backed by fiscal support and a further relaxation of virus-related restrictions.” But whatever happens is tied to health risks, she said, noting “a renewed upsurge in infections and resumed social distancing, either mandatory or voluntary, is likely to be a persistent risk, at least until a vaccine has been developed or treatment options sufficiently improve.

 Chicago Fed National Activity "Suggests Economic Growth Increased Substantially in May" -- From the Chicago Fed: Index Suggests Economic Growth Increased Substantially in May: Led by improvements in production- and employment-related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) rose to +2.61 in May from –17.89 in April. All four broad categories of indicators used to construct the index made positive contributions in May, and all four categories increased from April. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, moved up to –6.65 in May from –7.50 in April. This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967. This suggests economic activity was in a recession starting in March (using the three-month average). According to the Chicago Fed: The index is a weighted average of 85 indicators of growth in national economic activity drawn from four broad categories of data: 1) production and income; 2) employment, unemployment, and hours; 3) personal consumption and housing; and 4) sales, orders, and inventories. ... A zero value for the monthly index has been associated with the national economy expanding at its historical trend (average) rate of growth; negative values with below-average growth (in standard deviation units); and positive values with above-average growth.

Q1 GDP Third Estimate: Real GDP Remains at -5.0% - The Third Estimate for Q1 GDP, to one decimal, came in at -5.0% (-4.99% to two decimal places), a major drop from 2.1% (2.13% to two decimal places) for the Q4 Third Estimate. had a consensus of -5.0%.Here is the slightly abbreviated opening text from the Bureau of Economic Analysis news release:Real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 5.0 percent in the first quarter of 2020 (table 1), according to the "third" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 2.1 percent.[Full Release]  Here is a look at Quarterly GDP since Q2 1947. Prior to 1947, GDP was an annual calculation. To be more precise, the chart shows is the annualized percentage change from the preceding quarter in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. We've also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Also illustrated are the 3.18% average (arithmetic mean) and the 10-year moving average, currently at 2.12. Here is a log-scale chart of real GDP with an exponential regression, which helps us understand growth cycles since the 1947 inception of quarterly GDP. The latest number puts us 15.2% below trend.  A particularly telling representation of slowing growth in the US economy is the year-over-year rate of change. The average rate at the start of recessions is 3.35%. Four of the eleven recessions over this timeframe have begun at a lower level of current real YoY GDP.

U.S. 1Q Final GDP Down 5.0% | Morningstar -The U.S. economy's first quarter contraction was unchanged in the government's latest reading, as the coronavirus pandemic's spread triggered a recession. Gross domestic product, a broad measure of the goods and services produced across the U.S., contracted at a 5.0% seasonally and inflation-adjusted annual rate January through March, the Commerce Department said Thursday. The department has previously released estimates of first quarter GDP, most recently saying last quarter's contraction was 5.0%. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected that figure to be unrevised in the latest report. The economy grew 2.3% in 2019, its 10th straight year of growth, but slid into a recession in February as the pandemic slammed the brakes on spending by consumers and businesses. Earlier this month, the National Bureau of Economic Research, the nonprofit that is the official scorekeeper of recessions, said the U.S. was in a recession. It determined the unprecedented magnitude of the pandemic-related decline in employment and production, and its broad reach across the entire economy, warranted the designation even if the downturn ends up being briefer than earlier contractions. Economists project that the second quarter, which ends next week, will see the biggest quarterly economic contraction in records dating back to 1947. Forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers on Tuesday forecast GDP will decline at a 37.3% annual rate. The annualized rate, however, overstates the severity of any drop in output because it assumes that one quarter's pace continues for a year. The revised data released Thursday showed business investment declined in the first quarter at a slower pace than earlier estimated, while inventory investment and exports fell more sharply. Here are highlights of the revisions:

  • --Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic output, decreased at a 6.8% annual rate in the first quarter, unchanged from the prior estimate of a 6.8% decline. That was a sharp deterioration from the fourth quarter, when spending increased at a 1.8% rate.
  • --A measure of business investment, fixed nonresidential investment, declined at a 6.4% rate, compared with a prior reading of a 7.9% decline.
  • --U.S. exports declined at a 9.0% rate, versus a prior estimate of a 8.7% decline. Imports fell by a greater amount, 15.7%. As a result, trade added 1.31 percentage points to the first quarter's 5% overall GDP decline. Inventories were a drag on growth, subtracting 1.66 percentage point, compared with the previous estimate of a 1.52 point drag.
  • --Spending on home building and improvements remained a bright spot, residential investment increased at a 18.2% rate in the first quarter, versus a prior reading of a 18.5% increase.
  • --Spending at all levels of government rose at a 1.1% rate, above the prior estimate of 0.8%.
  • After-tax corporate profits without adjustments for inventory valuation and capital consumption, a measure of profits that quarter, declined at a 14.1% rate in the first quarter from the prior quarter. The initial estimate was for a 15.9% decrease.
  • Compared with a year earlier, profits without inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments fell 9.1%.

Economic Outlook: The Gathering Storm – McBride - On March 31st, I wrote: This is a healthcare crisis, and the economic outlook is based on presumptions about the course of the pandemic.I've been updating my outlook monthly, and turning more and more pessimistic due to the poor US government response to the pandemic. The Federal government's response has not been helpful, and in many ways, it has been counterproductive. The Vice President of the US, Mike Pence, wrote just last week in the WSJ:  There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’. The data has already proven Pence wrong. Fortunately, some state and local governments have stepped up to fill the void, but in other localities, the response has been terrible.  And it is possible the pandemic will get worse in the Fall. Some countries have been able to open their economies without an increase in infections. For example, in Japan, the economy is mostly open, however 1) everyone wears a mask, 2) there is robust contact tracing, and 3) everyone is urged to follow the 3 C's (avoid Closed spaces, Crowded places, and Close-Contact settings).   However, in the US, contact tracing is still ramping up, many people aren't wearing a mask or face covering, and many people are not following the 3Cs. However, there is no leadership in the US to significantly change people's behavior. It doesn't take an official lockdown to push local economies back into recession - many people will pull back as the number of cases and hospitalizations rise.  Based on recent hospitalization data, I expect further layoffs in some states like Arizona, Texas, and Florida. I do expect another round of disaster relief in July - extending the extra unemployment benefits (perhaps at a lower level), extending the PPP, and providing relief to the States.   Without this disaster relief, the entire US economy might slide back into recession in August. But even with another round of disaster relief, it seems likely the recovery will stall unless progress is made in slowing the spread of the virus.  The longer the widespread pandemic continues, the more structural damage to the economy.   And the more severe the economic damage, the longer it will take to recover from the pandemic.

All 4 coincident indicators of recession improved in May vs. April -- With this morning’s release of personal income and spending, we now have all 4 coincident indicators for May that the NBER uses to determine whether the economy is in a recession or recovery/expansion. And all 4 improved from their “most horrible” readings in April. A recession is a generalized downturn in production, employment, sales, and income. The “income” metric that the NBER uses is “real personal income excluding current transfer receipts,” (basically, government program payments to individuals) and as shown in the graph below, it improved from April: Still a horrible decline from February, but “less horrible” compared to April. Since industrial production, nonfarm payrolls, and real retail sales also all improved in May from April, that makes it 4 for 4 among the coincident indicators: Real disposable personal income (red in the graph below) declined in May from April but was well ahead of previous months. This probably represents the delayed receipt and cashing of some of the one-time $1200 stimulus checks distributed by Congressional Act. Real consumption expenditures (blue), however, increased significantly, probably reflecting in part spending of that stimulus money by consumers, and partly spending by those called back to work: In short, in May the situation was still horrible, but “less horrible” than April. That would qualify for the beginning of a recovery by economists’ definitions, *provided* there is no renewed downturn. And as the coronavirus continues to wreak more havoc in the States that have recklessly reopened – or simply let their guards down – a renewed downturn is very much a possibility, and almost a certainty if Congress does not extend the enhanced unemployment program by the end of July.

 Bolton- Trump Gave Bibi Green Light For Preemptive Israeli Strike On Iran Nuclear Sites  -Among the new revelations and interesting tidbits found in John Bolton's now leaked pre-published edition of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” is that President Trump was said to be prepared to endorse an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear sites.In a section which describes the "elusive search" for an Arab-Israeli peace deal, Bolton writes that Trump told him at a moment of increased Israeli concerns over Iran's nuclear development: "You tell Bibi that if he uses force, I will back him. I told him that, but you tell him again."Though the significant revelation has barely made a dent in US media, it generated multiple headlines in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long held out the 'option' of a preemptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.  But Israel's political and defense establishment would likely never sign onto such a huge and aggressive military 'first strike' action without first securing Washington's backing. Bolton's book essentially says Tel Aviv has it under Trump. The former national security adviser even boasted he pushed a 'military solution' on Iran. This as Israel perceives Iran is bent on developing nukes despite Tehran officials long assuring they are only interested in peaceful nuclear energy development.

Exclusive: Trump cold on Guaidó, would consider meeting Maduro - In an Oval Office interview with Axios on Friday, President Trump suggested he's had second thoughts about his decision to recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela and said he is open to meeting with dictator Nicolás Maduro. Asked whether he would meet with Maduro, Trump said, "I would maybe think about that. ... Maduro would like to meet. And I'm never opposed to meetings — you know, rarely opposed to meetings. "I always say, you lose very little with meetings. But at this moment, I've turned them down." Trump also indicated he doesn't have much confidence in Guaidó, who has failed to wrest control of the Venezuelan government despite support from the U.S. and dozens of other countries. Asked whether he regretted his decision to follow his former national security adviser John Bolton's advice on Guaidó, Trump initially said "not particularly," but then went on to say, "I could have lived with it or without it, but I was very firmly against what's going on in Venezuela."  Trump said that at the point he weighed in and recognized Guaidó, "Guaidó was elected. I think that I wasn't necessarily in favor, but I said — some people that liked it, some people didn't. I was OK with it. I don't think it was — you know, I don't think it was very meaningful one way or the other."  If Trump meets with Maduro, it would completely upend his administration's policy on Venezuela. Top administration officials, including Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo, have invested a huge amount of energy in supporting Guaidó. A former Trump administration official told me Trump's comments to Axios tracked with their firsthand experience of the first two and a half years of his presidency, when Venezuela policy was a hotter issue in the West Wing than it is now.

  • In 2017, the Venezuelan government reached out to the White House and the State Department at least twice to express Maduro's willingness to meet with Trump, the former official said.
  • In one of these instances, the Venezuelan Embassy called the White House switchboard. The other request came in a letter. Maduro also publicly expressed his desire to meet with Trump.
  • The former official said it was a "recurring concern" inside the administration during 2017 and 2018 that Trump would meet with Maduro. "It was really stop and go there for a while," he said. "And the Venezuelan opposition was beside themselves."
  • The president signaled a general openness to meeting Maduro in 2018, but also reiterated that "all options" were on the table — a signal he was considering military action against Venezuela.

Maduro "Prepared" To Meet Trump After US President Said "Not Opposed" To Direct Talks -  In a dramatic opening nobody expected, President Trump told Axios in an Oval Office interview last Friday that he would "maybe think about" a face-to-face meeting with Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro to discuss to future of the embattled Latin American country.  "I would maybe think about that... Maduro would like to meet. And I'm never opposed to meetings — you know, rarely opposed to meetings," Trump said when pressed on the matter. "I always say, you lose very little with meetings. But at this moment, I've turned them down," he added.   Maduro responded Monday, saying he's "prepared" to talk to Trump. "When the time comes I'm prepared to speak respectfully with President Donald Trump," Maduro told state media.  This set off a political firestorm, with the Biden campaign seizing to moment to portray Trump as "weak" on Venezuela, targeting the Miami area with political ads to that effect.  "News of President Donald Trump’s willingness to meet some day with embattled Venezuelan ruler Nicolás Maduro is coming to the AM radio dial in Miami. And to Facebook, Instagram and YouTube," Miami Herald reports Tuesday.   “We’ve known for some time that Donald Trump is no friend to the Venezuelan people fighting for human rights and democracy in their country, and now there can be no doubt,” the Biden campaign announced in a statement. “This is deeply personal to all those in South Florida who have fled to the United States from the brutal Maduro regime, and this November, Floridians are going to hold Trump accountable for his behavior toward the Venezuelan people and elect Joe Biden.” Perhaps backtracking on the Axios interview, or at least sensing he needed to clarify based on the growing Biden campaign pressure in Florida, Trump tweeted Monday in follow-up: "My Admin has always stood on the side of FREEDOM and LIBERTY and against the oppressive Maduro regime! I would only meet with Maduro to discuss one thing: a peaceful exit from power!"

 Bolton appeals for right-wing Republicans to break with Trump on foreign policy - Trump had made no secret that he viewed the Bolton book not as a threat to national security, but as a blow against his reelection campaign due to its depiction of him as an incompetent ignoramus and liar. At one point in the negotiations over clearance of the volume, according to Bolton, Trump’s representatives suggested that the book simply be delayed until after the November 3 election. Bolton, a ferocious war hawk who has called for the bombing of North Korea and Iran, has given a series of press interviews since the book’s hostile characterization of Trump became public knowledge through press reviews and advance excerpts. He has done so both to promote the book, which has already netted him an advance of $2 million, and to influence a layer of right-wing Republicans, particularly in Congress but perhaps also at Fox News and other Republican-oriented media. The fullest presentation of Bolton’s views came in an interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News, broadcast Sunday night, during which he declared that he would not vote for either Trump or Biden for president, although he made clear that he regarded a second term for Trump as the greater threat. The former Trump aide claimed that a reelected Trump would be “a danger to the Republic.” By this he was not referring to Trump’s clear turn toward dictatorship in recent weeks—particularly his attempt to launch a full-scale military intervention against the protests over police violence that have swept the United States since the police murder of George Floyd on May 25. Instead, Bolton was warning—in much the same terms as the Democratic Party impeachment drive—that Trump was such a poor manager of American foreign policy that antagonists like Russia and China were having their way with him. He told Raddatz: “I think the concern I have, speaking as a conservative Republican, is that once the election is over, if the president wins, the political constraint is gone. And because he has no philosophical grounding, there’s no telling what will happen in a second term.”

White House denies it was briefed about Afghan militant bounties  - White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied a Friday report from the New York Times that President Trump and Vice President Pence were briefed on American intelligence findings that Russian military operatives offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan, including US troops, amid peace talks.Citing White House officials briefed on the matter, the Times reported that Trump and Pence were briefed on the intelligence findings and that the White House's National Security Council held a meeting about the issue in late March.McEnany denied any such briefing, saying in a statement Saturday that, “While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”She said that the U.S. “receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” adding that she is not denying the intelligence exists, but that the president was not briefed on it. “This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter,” McEnany said.

 China's Big Surprise (Years In The Making): An EMP Attack? - The coronavirus pandemic has exposed dangerous weaknesses in U.S. planning and preparation for civil defense protection and recovery, and those weaknesses surely have been noticed by our potential enemies: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and international terrorists.The U.S. spent decades, and billions of dollars, supposedly preparing for biological warfare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the departments of Defense and Homeland Security are supposed to have contingency plans to protect the American people from lethal biological weapons such as anthrax and genetically engineered smallpox, which could have mortality rates of over 90 percent.But our defenders have not even been able to competently cope with COVID-19, which has a mortality rate under 1 percent. The White House took over management of the pandemic, apparently to compensate for the failure of the U.S. government to have adequately stockpiled such basics as ventilators, masks and pharmaceuticals.Hostile foreign powers surely have noticed the panicked, incompetent U.S. response to the virus that shut down a prosperous U.S. economy, self-inflicting the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The nationwide lockdowns brought shortages of all kinds, exposing societal and critical infrastructure fragility — and causing widespread fear.Adversaries also have noticed the ongoing U.S. “cold civil war.” According to federal authorities, radicalized young people on both sides of the political divide and criminals have been infiltrating recent protests — rioting, toppling statues and setting fires. The swelling counter-culture anarchy and self-condemnation is reminiscent of 1968, a year of riots and anti-war protests in America that is recognized by most historians as the psychological turning point toward U.S. defeat in the Vietnam War.North Korea applauds America’s domestic chaos as proof that democracy does not work and the future belongs to totalitarian states such as China. America looks fragile to dictators who would replace the U.S.-led world order with a new one dominated by themselves. China, for example, has been planning to defeat the U.S. with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and cyber “Pearl Harbor” attack for a quarter-century. As I warned the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security in 2005, Chinese military writings — such as the following excerpt — make reference to U.S. vulnerability to EMP attacks:

Pompeo Mocked For Saying Iranian Jets Could Strike "Asia" Through "One Way" Flights - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is being widely mocked by American pundits and defense analysts for his latest tweet arguing for the extension of the UN Arms Embargo on Iran set to expire based on prior 2015 JCPOA UN agreements.  In a weird last-ditch appeal to members of the UN Security Council, Pompeo argues Iran's air force could attack... Asia?    If the @UN Arms Embargo on Iran expires in October, Iran will be able to buy new fighter aircraft like Russia’s SU-30 and China’s J-10. With these highly lethal aircraft, Europe and Asia could be in Iran’s crosshairs. The U.S. will never let this happen.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 23, 2020 The infographic map Pompeo provides as "proof" of his claims cites potential future newly acquired Iranian fighter "capabilities" of reaching up to 3,000km out, deep into China and blanketing India.Bizarrely, the map in Pompeo's own tweet notes that "These ranges represent a one-way flight only."Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seized the opportunity, pointing out that Pompeo “is so desperate to mislead the world that he claims come October, Iran will purchase fighter aircraft.”He added, “And then send them off to the limits of their ONE-WAY ranges. Perhaps he could also say how they would fly back to Iran having exhausted their fuel.”

The F-35 Lightning II Can't Fly Near Lightning --The F-35 Lightning II strike fighter is temporarily barred from flying near actual lightning. More than a dozen Air Force F-35s were discovered with damage to a system designed to prevent catastrophic damage from lightning strikes. The damaged systems place the aircraft in danger of exploding if the airplane were hit by lightning in mid-flight. The problem is with the Onboard Inert Gas Generation System (OBIGGS) is a safety subsystem common in modern airplanes. A typical OBIGGS system diverts air from the aircraft engine and separates the nitrogen, injecting it into the jet’s fuel tanks. The more inflammable nitrogen present the less flammable oxygen, helping reduce the possibility of fuel tank explosions. Wartime damage aside, one way a fuel tank explosion might take place is as a result of a lightning strike. Inspectors at the Air Force’s Ogden Logistics Complex discovered damage to the tubes that funnel nitrogen into the fuel tanks in 14 out of 24 out of F-35As inspected. The problem appears limited to the Air Force’s F-35A model. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, which operate the -C and -B versions of the F-35, have not seen similar problems. According to Defense News, manufacturer Lockheed Martin paused F-35 deliveries to look into the issue with aircraft on the production line. The company believes that the problem is being caused “in the field after aircraft delivery” meaning while in the hands of the Air Force. There are no reports as of yet in the hands of foreign F-35 operators, though that sample size might still be pretty small so far. Air Force Magazine’s 2020 almanac lists the Air Force and Air Force Reserve as currently operating 203 Lightning II fighters, the most of any air force worldwide. For now, the F-35 Joint Program Office, which overseas the global F-35 enterprise, is recommending that F-35As avoid lightning and thunderstorms. The jets should maintain a distance of 25 miles from either type of weather, until the source of the problem is found and a fix is implemented.

Ransacking the Republic - The Watergate scandal left many Americans wondering if they could ever trust their government again. In October 1978, hoping to restore public confidence in federal institutions, Congress created new mechanisms for oversight and new agencies to administer them, including the Office of Government Ethics, the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Federal Labor Relations Authority. It further established a cadre of inspectors general at large federal agencies. If Donald Trump’s goal is to abuse power, he may have special cause to fear the seventy-four inspector general offices. They investigate wrongdoing and audit the performance of federal agencies and government programs to detect problems or identify systemic risks that could harm the public.. On April 3, he announced his intention to fire Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community. Last September Atkinson complied with a legal duty to notify Congress of the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment. A law intended to buy Congress time to defend inspectors general mandated a thirty-day hold on Atkinson’s firing, but Republican senators expressed only mild unease at the threatened dismissal. (It became final on May 3.) During an April 6 briefing on the coronavirus, Trump attacked Christi Grimm, acting inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), because her report on supply shortages in hospitals during the pandemic embarrassed him. Having left the inspector general post vacant for nearly a year, he rather promptly selected Jason Weida, an assistant US attorney in Boston, to replace her. What little public information there is on Weida’s career suggests that he has not led an office before, which could be a problem since the HHS inspector general leads a 1,600-person office that monitors the response to the pandemic; more than $1 trillion in annual federal expenditures; and, under the Food and Drug Administration, which is part of the department, the government’s regulation of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, medicated animal feed, and other products that together account for twenty cents on every dollar spent by American consumers. The day after criticizing Grimm, Trump replaced Glenn Fine as the acting Defense Department inspector general just as his office was wrapping up an investigation of suspected White House manipulation of a $10 billion defense contract for cloud computing services, and one week after he was chosen by a council of inspectors general to chair a panel monitoring the $2 trillion coronavirus bailout fund. And then on May 15, Trump announced that he would fire State Department inspector general Steve Linick. Eliot Engel, the Democratic chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called it “an outrageous act of a President trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the secretary of State [Mike Pompeo], from accountability.” Linick had been nearing the end of an investigation into the legality of the Trump administration’s sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia. He was also investigating claims that Pompeo may have directed his staff to run personal errands for him in violation of regulations of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). Trump and Pompeo have admitted that, in a case of the investigated targeting the investigator, Pompeo requested the firing. Trump has also admitted that he’s told his appointees he’d be willing to fire others:

 House readies $1.5T 'infrastructure' plan including education, broadband, housing -  The House is preparing to merge several typically unrelated bills into one massive "infrastructure" package, doling out more than $1.5 trillion for everything from roads to education, housing, clean water, broadband and more. Speaking with reporters Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi gathered the heads of some of the largest House committees to discuss their pieces of the legislation, which she called "Moving America Forward." She said she intends for the legislation, which contains a significant focus on green initiatives and climate resiliency, to pass the House before the July 4th recess. It's unclear, however, how — if at all — the bill will be paid for. House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) implied that it would lean on bonding and deficit spending, at one point calling out President Donald Trump's own call for a $2 trillion infrastructure investment.  ." Beyond the spending issue, Republicans have already been highly critical of the surface transportation piece of the bill and its heavy emphasis on green infrastructure and climate resiliency, deriding it as just another fanciful iteration of a Green New Deal and complaining of being shut out of the process. Pelosi acknowledged some of the partisan atmosphere, especially the challenge of bringing Senate Republicans on board. "As you know, the Grim Reaper has said nothing is ever going through in the Senate," said Pelosi, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But she said improving infrastructure is of "tremendous interest" across the political spectrum. "When people see the legislation, and people see how it does affect their areas — this is not just a matter of transportation, it’s a matter of clean air, clean water," said Pelosi. "So, we think that this will be nonpartisan, very bipartisan, and we look forward to working together — House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, and the White House." She also suggested that, although previous coronavirus relief measures have focused on "mitigation," this package will help the country with "recovery," including by generating good-paying jobs and facilitating commerce. A surface transportation bill, currently working its way through the House, appears to be the base of the legislation. It would authorize $494 billion over five years for roads, bridges and transit programs. That bill had been expected on the House floor around June 30. The new legislative package also will contain what House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) characterized as $70 billion for "clean energy." Pallone specifically mentioned upgrading the electric grid and making it more resilient, among other items. He also said the legislation will contain $25 billion for drinking water programs, $35 billion for health care infrastructure and $100 billion for broadband, "which will get us to 100 percent coverage."  The legislation is also expected to contain funding to upgrade schools, as well as for public housing— including $70 billion to address a capital backlog for public housing, $1 billion for climate resiliency upgrades to public housing and $5 billion for a housing trust fund that would support the creation of 60,000 new affordable housing units.

 Treasury, SBA to disclose identities of large PPP borrowers - The Treasury Department and Small Business Administration have reversed course and will release the names of many borrowers that received Paycheck Protection Program loans. The agencies, which are overseeing the $659 billion program, said late Friday that they will provide information on businesses that received loans of $150,000 or more. They said those loans account for about three-fourths of all PPP funds approved. The SBA and Treasury will share other details for the businesses, including their addresses, demographic data and the number of jobs supported by the loans. Specific loan amounts will not be disclosed, though each loan will be placed in one of five size categories. SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza said in a tweet that the agencies “agreed with bipartisan leaders” of the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship to make the data public. The Treasury Department had initially pushed back against demands that the data be shared. The agencies will disclose summary information for loans of less than $150,000, including ZIP code, industry, business type and certain demographic categories. No timeline was shared for producing the in-depth data.

 Small Businesses Raced to Spend PPP Funds but Covid-19 Pandemic Drags On – WSJ - Restaurants and retailers have applauded recent changes in the government’s $670 billion small business rescue program that make it easier for companies battling the Covid-19 pandemic to qualify for loan forgiveness. But the increased flexibility has come late for scores of small businesses that followed the Paycheck Protection Program’s original rules—and quickly used up most or all of their money. Rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in Florida, Texas and other Sunbelt states have disrupted many reopening plans. The governor of Texas paused reopening plans and ordered some hospitals to pause elective surgeries. New York is delaying the reopening of malls and gyms. Maine put on hold plans to let patrons inside bars. ECi Stores, a chain of consignment shops in Leominster, Mass., received a roughly $80,000 PPP loan in mid-April. By the time Congress relaxed the program’s rules on June 3, the 22-employee business had already spent the bulk of its PPP loan. It was still days away from being able to open its doors to customers. “It doesn’t really do us much good,” said ECi finance chief Neil Abramson. ECi would have delayed bringing its employees back to work had it known earlier that Congress would extend the timeline for using PPP funds. Instead, the company paid for a few weeks of health-insurance premiums and funded retirement plans for its staff to ensure the money would be spent quickly enough to qualify for loan forgiveness. The PPP has provided a lifeline for many small companies struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. It also encouraged businesses to make spending decisions that sometimes weren’t in their best interests, some owners say. To qualify for forgiveness, many prioritized speed over efficacy. Now, with much of the money spent and the economy still hobbled, some are finding they would have been better off had they not followed the program’s original requirements in an effort to make sure their loans would be forgiven and instead gambled that the rules would change.

More Mind Reading as Washington Post Pushes Another Round of Pandemic Checks as Stimulus -   Dean Baker - For some reason reporters feel it is part of their job to read politicians minds. We got another taste of this in a Washington Post news story * pushing the idea of sending out another big check as a stimulus. The piece begins by telling readers:“President Trump has told aides he is largely supportive of sending Americans another round of stimulus checks, believing the payments will boost the economy and help his chances at reelection in November, according to three people aware of internal administration deliberations.”Of course the Post has no idea what Trump believes about the economic impact of stimulus checks. It knows what he says about the economic impact. If Trump “believes” that the checks will boost his re-election chances then he is likely to say that he thinks they will boost the economy, regardless of what he really believes.As a practical matter, these checks are likely a very poor form of stimulus. The point of another round of spending is first and foremost to help the people who have lost their jobs or in other ways have been hurt by the pandemic. The vast majority of people getting another round of pandemic checks will not be in this category.The other motive for a stimulus is to increase demand in the economy. Sending checks to people who have not lost their jobs or seen a large decline in their income is likely to have little impact on spending, as shown by the record saving rate seen in April. The saving rate will be lower in May, but likely still extraordinarily high. Many potential check recipients are hesitant to spend money because they are worried about the pandemic, not because they don’t have it. Incredibly, the Post does not give the view of any economists who have this perspective, even though they would not be hard to find. The only reservations about another round of stimulus mentioned in the piece come from Republicans concerned about the size of the budget deficit.

 IRS Paid $1.4 Billion in Stimulus Payments to Dead People, GAO Report Says – WSJ —The Internal Revenue Service paid nearly $1.4 billion in stimulus checks to dead people, according to a Government Accountability Office report that provides the first tally of such payments.  Citing data from the tax agency’s inspector general through April 30, GAO said Thursday that the IRS made almost 1.1 million such payments before Treasury Department officials determined that deceased people were ineligible and began asking recipients to return the money. Those checks amounted to less than 1% of the total stimulus payments.  The GAO report says IRS lawyers initially determined that the agency couldn’t deny payments to people who filed a 2019 return but have since died. The report says IRS officials raised the issue to Treasury officials while Congress was drafting the legislation.  The law authorizing the stimulus payments based the amounts—up to $1,200 per adult—on past tax returns. People who died in 2018 or 2019 may have filed returns before they died or had heirs file final income tax returns for them afterward. The IRS, which was trying to get the money out quickly, didn’t use death records from the Social Security Administration as a computerized filter in the first three rounds of payments, according to GAO. The tax agency then reversed that decision after Treasury Department officials read media reports about payments to dead people. Now, the IRS says people who have died by the payment date are ineligible to get the money and recipients—such as the family members of the deceased—should return it.

Democrats: Trump has yet to spend nearly $14B for COVID tests, contact tracing - The Trump administration has yet to distribute nearly $14 billion intended to help state and local governments improve coronavirus testing and contact tracing, according to two top Democrats. In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Health Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the administration needs to "immediately" distribute the funding. Congress in April provided more than $25 billion to increase testing and contact tracing capacity, as well as $2 billion to provide free COVID-19 testing for the uninsured by paying providers’ claims for tests and other services associated with getting a test, like an office or emergency room visit. But according to Schumer and Murray, the administration has no plans for how to distribute more than $8 billion out of the $25 billion, leaving communities without needed resources. "The United States is at a critical juncture in its fight against COVID-19, and now is the time for an aggressive and fast response. This administration will put our country at grave risk if it tries to declare an early victory, leave lifesaving work undone, and leave resources our communities desperately need sitting untouched," the lawmakers wrote. They said the administration should disburse the $8 billion "immediately," with an emphasis on addressing contact tracing and collecting data on COVID-19 racial and ethnic disparities. Leading public health groups say state and local governments need $7.6 billion to quickly scale up contact tracing, including $4.8 billion to hire at least 100,000 contact tracers. Still other experts believe the country needs closer to 300,000 contact tracers. Like much of the federal response to the pandemic, states have been left to establish their own contact tracing metrics, and many are even lagging behind the metrics they set for themselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t released a national contact tracing strategy to help localities evaluate their efforts and hasn’t awarded nearly $4 billion for surveillance and contact tracing at the state and local levels and tribal territories, the Democrats said. The administration has also distributed very little of the $2 billion meant to pay for the costs of testing.

Trump refuses to say if he slowed down coronavirus testing - President Trump on Monday refused to say whether he told staff to slow down COVID-19 testing to make it look like the U.S. had fewer cases, while White House officials denied he had ever given such an order. Trump has been blaming rising case numbers of coronavirus in the U.S. on increased testing, arguing the country has been doing "too good a job." “If we did slow it down, we wouldn't show nearly as many cases,” Trump said in an interview with Scripps News. Asked again if he had asked to slow testing down, he replied: “Frankly I think we're way ahead of ourselves if you want to know the truth. We've done too good a job, because every time we go out with 25 million tests, you're going to find more people so then they say ‘oh, we have more cases in the United States.’ The reason we have more cases [is] because we do more testing than any other country by far.” Trump generated outrage this weekend when he said at his first campaign rally in months that he told staff to “slow the testing down, please.” Trump aides later said his comments were a joke. "It was a comment that he made in jest," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Monday. "It was a comment that he made in passing, specifically with regard to the media coverage and pointing out the fact that the media acknowledges that we have more cases because where you test more people you find more cases." The president has consistently said he believes widespread testing to be overrated and problematic because it leads to higher case counts. COVID-19 testing was scarce in the early days of the pandemic but availability improved significantly as commercial labs became involved in the effort. The U.S. has now completed more than 25 million tests, including 2.3 million positive results. Trump has called for speedy reopening efforts to try to revive the U.S. economy, which has been devastated by the pandemic. On Monday, the White House moved to scale back its own temperature screenings for those entering the complex as Washington, D.C., proceeds to phase two of its reopening.

 Dr. Birx privately tells states to increase testing - Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, told the nation’s governors in a call Monday that it was vital that they ramp up testing to find asymptomatic individuals to prevent further community spread. Her remarks stood in stark contrast to those by the president at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma over the weekend—and the days since—in which he said he had asked his team to slow-walk testing initiatives so as not to inflate the country’s official case count. “Hopefully I have left you with the impression that increased testing is good,” Birx said on the call, a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast. “We would like to even see it even more. Identifying cases early including your asymptomatic [ones] will really help us protect the eldery and the additional people with comorbidities.” In her weekly call with governors, Birx said her team had collected data that suggests an uptick in cases in people between the ages of 18 and 35, and that state officials should continue to test that population to better contain the virus and to ensure hospitalizations and deaths do not spike. For good measure, she asked governors to enhance testing of workers in nursing homes and of individuals in Hispanic communities, saying it would be helpful to enlist bilingual testers for the latter. The call with governors comes just two days after President Trump told rally-goers that he asked his team to “slow the testing down” to keep the U.S. case count artificially lower. Trump’s advisors told reporters that he was merely joking. But on Tuesday morning, before departing for Arizona, Trump told reporters he was not. “I don’t kid,” he told CBS News’s Wija Jiang. Birx’s remarks on Monday’s call underscore the extent to which the president and members of his own coronavirus task force are increasingly operating off of different playbooks. Appearing before a House committee on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the government, said he’d never been told to slow down testing and expected it to ramp up. The internal administration debate over the efficacy of testing comes at a time when cases of coronavirus are rising fast in several states and ticking up nationally. Both Birx and Pence acknowledged on the call that there was still plenty of reason for state officials to worry about the trajectory of the virus’s spread, particularly in the south and southwestern part of the county. “We have about 110 ten counties ... that are in that alert status,” Birx said. The call featured remarks from several of the governors in the hardest hit states. Those goververs stressed, as did Birx, that much of the rise in cases was due to younger individuals, often asymptomatic, testing positive for the disease. And in explaining those spikes, the governors offered an implicit admission that the relaxing of social distance policies that they’d undertaken had given way to complacency about health standards writ large.

 Sources: Trump admin weighs ending virus emergency -The Trump administration, eager to claim victory over coronavirus, has been considering scaling back the national emergency declared earlier this year to control the pandemic, according to healthcare industry officials who have spoken with the administration.  The prospect has stoked alarm among public health leaders, physicians, hospital officials and others who are trying to control the outbreak and fear that such a move would make it more difficult for state and local governments and health systems to keep the coronavirus in check. Pressed on the issue Tuesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told the Los Angeles Times that no such move was imminent.  “I just spoke with the president," she said, "and he said we are not looking at lifting the national emergency declarations.” But White House officials have a history of contradicting themselves, most recently on Monday when McEnany claimed President Trump was joking over the weekend when he said he’d directed aides to slow coronavirus testing. Trump said Tuesday it wasn’t a joke. Several industry officials interviewed by The Times said they’d received indications over the last week from the Trump administration that lifting emergency declarations was being considered. “It was very much under discussion,” said one industry official, who asked not to be identified to avoid jeopardizing relationships with the administration.  The discussions have taken place as hospitalizations and caseloads have begun to climb rapidly in several large states that moved early to lift restrictions on businesses, an increase that could make it more difficult for the administration to end the emergency declarations. Healthcare leaders said they’d been mystified by the administration’s unwillingness to publicly commit to an extension of the emergency declarations, one of which is scheduled to expire next month. “It’s the silence that worries us,”

America Sits on Its Hands as Covid-19 Cases Rise  -- Yves Smith - How was America able to send a man to the moon, yet now only able to dork around in the face of a disease that most other developed economies and even quite a few emerging ones have done reasonable jobs of containing? While its bungled Covid-19 response confirms the thesis that the US is a failed state, the cause isn’t simply enfeebled government bureaucracies and MBA-style magical thinking by too many people in charge. It’s the way citizens are setting out to propagate infection via refusing to change their habits. It’s as if the American religion has become “Don’t tell me what to do.” And that’s even more peculiar given how conformist Americans are.In case you managed to miss the lead story in network news yesterday, US Covid-19 cases continue to rise, and at alarming rates in Texas, Florida, and California.And yes, sports fans, these increases are taking place in areas with some economic heft. A chart from Deutsche Bank via Econobrowser: And let us not forget that plenty of people aren’t being tested, so Lord only know what is really going on. Lambert yesterday featured a Kafkaesque tweetstorm from an Arizona resident who went to extreme lengths to find someplace, anyplace that would test him, no avail. The anti-mask types are getting reinforcement when even the Sainted Fauci himself wears no face covering during testimony, as if it’s fine to be maskless when speaking, when much of the general public knows speaking is droplet-generating activity. Can’t he at least put on a plastic shield for public performances? And what about newscasters? And to remind you of the obvious, Bangkok was the most visited city in the world, and the Thai economy is heavily dependent on tourists. Thailand shut down tourism, including still its largest source, China, and imposed a curfew that shut down its night-life, and even its malls. Only now is Thailand beginning to re-open. The country is not wealthy not does it have a surveillance state tech apparatus. Oh, and everyone from the prime minister to TV presenters wears masks in public. Now so far, this is all pretty familiar stuff. Covid-19 nfections were rising in the South and California, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to think the growth rate would accelerate as the “reopenings” progressed. An important element, which hasn’t gotten the attention it warrants, is confirmation of our thesis that the collapse in economic activity was due primarily to disease avoidance measures, as opposed to the lockdowns per se. We’ve pointed out that office workers in Manhattan are not coming back in anywhere close to the level allowed. An important study last week lead authored by Harvard’s Raj Chetty concluded the big spending drop came from the well off, because they could. From a write-up at NPR: So the affluent won’t go back to their personal old normal until they feel safer. They might loosen up a bit as restrictions ease, but they have and will continue to engage in adaptations, like having their hair coiffed at home rather than in a salon.

As the pandemic spirals out of control, Trump attacks testing, holds indoor rally in Phoenix - On Tuesday, as the COVID-19 crisis continued to spiral out of control, President Donald Trump derided coronavirus testing and held yet another mass indoor event, this time in the hotspot of Phoenix, Arizona, in defiance of city officials and new warnings from health experts. Over the past week, the average reported number of new cases across the country has risen by 28.1 percent, reaching 28,387, according to Stat News. This has brought the total number of infections to more than 2,300,000 and the reported death toll to more than 121,000—figures that are widely acknowledged to significantly underestimate the actual scale of the public health disaster. New infections are rising in 25 states, with a marked increase in cases among young people. Those states in the South and Southwest that lifted social distancing measures and shutdowns the earliest and the most precipitously, in line with Trump’s back-to-work campaign, are seeing astronomical surges in infections. Over the past week, average daily new cases in Texas (3,932) have increased by 92.2 percent over the previous level, with Houston becoming a new international center of the pandemic. Florida has seen an 84.2 percent rise to 3,270 daily new cases. Oklahoma, where Trump held a campaign rally on Saturday, has recorded an average increase in new cases of 91.2 percent, hitting 331 infections. Arizona, where Trump spoke Tuesday night before some 3,000 people at a “Students for Trump” convention, has seen a rise in average daily infections (2,554) of 97.8 percent. Maricopa County, which includes the state capital Phoenix, where the rally was held, has suffered a 120.3 percent rise in average daily infections. Hospitals in the city are being flooded with a record number of patients. The state of Arizona, meanwhile, has one of the lowest coronavirus testing rates in the US. The deadly back-to-work drive is bipartisan, with Democratic governors and mayors taking the lead in reopening businesses and forcing workers to return to the job without any real protection from COVID-19 infection. In California, headed by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, daily infections have risen by 37.5 percent over the past week. The complete subordination of public health to the drive for profit and the interests of Wall Street investors is the policy of both parties of the financial oligarchy in the US, and of capitalist governments all over the world.

‘Downright Dangerous’: Trump Moves to End Federal Support for Testing Sites as US Sees Record Daily Spike in Covid-19 Infections -- As Covid-19 cases continue to spike across the U.S.—the nation on Wednesday saw its largest daily increase in confirmed new infections since the pandemic began—the Trump administration is reportedly planning to cut off federal funding for 13 coronavirus testing sites in five states at the end of the month, a move that is in keeping with president’s vow to slow screenings for the virus.Politico reported Wednesday that “the federal government is ending its support for 13 drive-thru coronavirus testing sites on June 30, urging states to take over their operations—even as cases spike in several parts of the country.”Seven of the sites set to lose federal funding and support are located in Texas, which has seen new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations skyrocket during the reopening process—a spike that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott predicted last month in a private call that leaked to reporters. Texas was one of six states that saw a record increase in new infections on Wednesday.The other testing sites that will lose federal support next week are located in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New Jersey.  This is downright dangerous, as tens of thousands of Americans are testing positive for COVID-19 each day. We should be working to expand testing, not reduce it! — Rep. Diana DeGette (@RepDianaDeGette) June 24, 2020    Texas lawmakers reacted with alarm to the administration’s plan, which was reported days after President Donald Trump said during a weekend rally in Oklahoma that he ordered a slowdown in coronavirus testing. White House officials claimed Trump’s comments were made “in jest,” but the president on Tuesday doubled down and told reporters that he was not joking. “Texas continues to set records for the number of new cases and hospitalizations and Harris County leads the state in number of confirmed cases,” Texas Democratic Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Al Green, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, and Sheila Jackson Lee wrote in letters this week to U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Pete Gaynor. “Without FEMA’s supplies, fiscal aid, and personnel, these sites may no longer be able to serve our communities,” the lawmakers warned. “FEMA’s removal in this moment would be harmful and irresponsible. We urgently ask you to extend FEMA’s presence at these testing sites through August 30, 2020.” Rocky Vaz, the director of emergency management for Dallas, told Talking Points Memo that the city asked for an extension of federal support for two testing sites in Dallas County but was denied by the Trump administration. “They told us very clearly that they are not going to extend it,” Vaz said. “We are not expecting it to continue beyond June 30, but things change.”

White House ordered NIH to cancel coronavirus research funding, Fauci says - The National Institutes of Health abruptly cut off funding to a long-standing, well-regarded research project on bat coronaviruses only after the White House specifically told it to do so, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.Fauci made the revelation Tuesday at a Congressional hearing on the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is caused by a coronavirus that is genetically linked to those found in bats. Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) asked Fauci why the NIH abruptly canceled funding for the project, which specifically worked to understand the risk of bat coronaviruses jumping to humans and causing devastating disease.Fauci responded to Veasey saying: “It was cancelled because the NIH was told to cancel it.”“And why were they told to cancel it?” Veasey pressed.“I don’t know the reason, but we were told to cancel it,” Fauci said.After the hearing, Fauci clarified to Politico that it was the White House that told the NIH to cancel the funding. An unnamed White House official told Politico that the White House did encourage the funding cut, but ultimately it was the Department of Health and Human Services—of which the NIH is a part—that made the final decision. An HHS spokesperson said only that the funding was cut because "the grantee was not in compliance with NIH's grant policy."  In an emailed statement to Ars Wednesday, the NIH did not respond to questions about the cancellation, saying only that “NIH does not discuss internal deliberations on grant terminations.” The involvement of the White House is a new wrinkle in a story that has appalled and angered scientists. Since the grant was nixed in late April, scientists had speculated that politics and a conspiracy theory played a role in canceling funding for the research, which was in good scientific standing and seen as critical work.

Approval of Trump's coronavirus response sinks to lowest on record amid surge in cases: Reuters/Ipsos poll - (Reuters) - American approval of President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has dropped to the lowest level on record, the latest Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll shows, as new COVID-19 cases surged and Trump was widely criticized for suggesting he wanted to slow down testing. The June 22-23 poll also found that a majority of Americans want Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, to testify to Congress under oath, after he accused Trump in a new book of misdeeds, including seeking Chinese President Xi Jinping’s help to win re-election. The poll shows that 37% of Americans approved of the way Trump has responded to the pandemic, the lowest on record since Reuters/Ipsos started asking the question at the beginning of March. Fifty-eight percent said they disapproved.Trump has been slow to publicly acknowledge the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 120,000 Americans so far, and he has pushed states to reopen before experts said it was safe to do so. In his first post-pandemic rally, held in Oklahoma on Saturday, the president told thousands of supporters that testing was a “double-edged sword” and that he asked health officials to slow down testing in response to the public’s concern for the growing number of cases. Administration officials said Tuesday that Trump did not, in fact, ask them to slow down testing, which is one way to track and eventually control the spread of the disease.

McKinsey helps oversee recovery payouts to former clients The global consulting firm McKinsey, which has been tapped by the Department of Health and Human Services to help manage and audit billions of dollars in coronavirus relief for hospitals, has worked for at least 10 hospitals and chains that have received federal recovery funds, according to tax records and other public disclosures. McKinsey was hired to help manage the program and establish audit procedures for the funds, according to the contract award, which was granted in late April and is worth $4.9 million. The majority of the $175 billion in funds had yet to be paid out to hospitals when McKinsey was hired, though McKinsey denied playing any role in deciding which hospitals received funds. Among those that have already received payments are at least 10 hospitals and chains that have in recent years retained McKinsey & Co.’s extensive health care business, which employs more than 1,700 consultants. The hospitals have paid as much as $20 million for McKinsey’s services in a single year as they seek to streamline costs and boost revenue, according to public disclosures. A spokesman for McKinsey said the firm “does not determine which organizations receive money under the CARES Act. No McKinsey personnel working with HHS on this project concurrently serve health care providers or other potential fund recipients.” An HHS spokesperson said: “McKinsey does not determine payment methodology or priority of how payment should be made. The purpose of this contract is to develop and implement a framework for project management and project planning, which will be applied across the Provider Relief Fund portfolio of projects.” The spokesperson added that HHS is aware “McKinsey affiliates provide consulting services to health care provider clients which could potentially give rise to an organizational conflict of interest,” and added the firm’s contract includes guidance about conflicts and nondisclosure policies. Nonetheless, neither the firm nor HHS specified whether consultants who previously worked for chains in the past were now helping audit their grants under the federal recovery act. But a McKinsey spokesperson said the firm’s partners overseeing its work with HHS have not served health care providers in the past four years, and most McKinsey employees on the project have never worked with health care providers.

 House Dems Introduce Bill to Prevent Big Pharma Price Gouging During COVID-19 Pandemic - On the heels of polling that showed 88% of Americans worry Big Pharma will exploit the ongoing pandemic to hike drug prices, House Democrats on Monday introduced two bipartisan bills to prevent price gouging for Covid-19 treatments and vaccines and to strengthen oversight of federal spending on coronavirus research and development.Public Citizen president Robert Weissman welcomed the legislation in a statement. "This is about way more than ensuring taxpayers aren't ripped off, as important as that objective is," he declared. "Promoting transparency and reasonable pricing of Covid-19 treatments and vaccines is a life-and-death matter.""President Donald Trump's sycophancy to drug corporations is endangering the nation's pandemic response," Weissman warned. "Although public investments are driving drug and vaccine development, the Trump administration is permitting drug companies to retain monopoly control over the drugs and vaccines, including those still under development.""The administration is refusing to use its existing authorities to enable knowledge sharing and generic competition. Nor is the administration seeking enhanced powers from Congress," he added. "The certain result will be profiteering, rationing, and inadequate supplies of the medicines and vaccines desperately needed to treat and eliminate the virus."The Make Medications Affordable by Preventing Pandemic Price-gouging (MMAPPP) Act introduced Monday is sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a senior chief deputy whip and chair of the House Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee. Schakowsky said that "we have good reason to be skeptical about the role of the pharmaceutical industry." "Well before this pandemic, we saw price gouging that cost lives. Now, during a global health crisis, many pharmaceutical companies will see another opportunity to benefit themselves by 'pandemic profiteering.' That cannot stand," she said. "Congress must guarantee affordable Covid-19 drugs, eliminate monopolies on these drugs, and ensure transparency for taxpayers who developed them."

EU tariffs: American whiskey distillers are out $340 million - US whiskey distillers have lost out on nearly $340 million in sales to the European Union over the past two years because of a tit-for-tat trade spat between Washington and Brussels. Exports to the European Union of bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey have declined by a third since a 25% tariff went into effect in June 2018, according to a report released Monday by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. The trade war is hurting Jack Daniel's, but customers aren't paying for it The trade war is hurting Jack Daniel's, but customers aren't paying for it "The tariffs have derailed a great American export success story," Chris Swonger, CEO of the Council, said in a statement. "American distillers enjoyed two decades of unparalleled growth in the EU prior to the implementation of these retaliatory tariffs," he added. Tariffs act as a tax on exports and are either absorbed by producers in the form of reduced profits or passed on to consumers in higher prices. The European Union imposed tariffs in 2018 on $3 billion worth of US goods, including whiskey, motorcycles and denim, in response to US tariffs on EU steel and aluminum put in place by the Trump administration. The tariffs temporarily boosted profits at American steelmakers, but problems quickly returned to the industry and US Steel (X) announced plans to close a mill near Detroit late last year.

US Draws Up Plan To Slap Tariffs On $3.1 Billion In European Goods -  Back in October, the World Trade Organizations announced that the US could legally retaliate against the EU by slapping new tariffs on some $7.5 billion in European exports as punishment for the Europeans providing illegal government subsidies to Airbus. At the time, we warned that this was like throwing gasoline on the embers of the US-EU trade spat as the Trump administration auto tariffs still loomed large over the global economic landscape. Since then, the US has imposed some of those tariffs. Now, Robert Lighthizer has a plan for the last $3.1 billionIn keeping with the ruling, the Office of the Trade Rep has finally come up with a list of European goods to be targeted by these tariffs. But Lighthizer & Co. are also planning to increase tariffs on other European goodsfrom aircraft and aircraft parts to dairy products like cheese and yogurt according to a notice published late Tuesday evening outlining the department's actions, and opening a month-long comment period to solicit feedback before pushing ahead. According to Bloomberg, if the US follows through with this plan, it could hammer European luxury brands and spirit makers at a time when those businesses are already feeling a serious pinch from the coronavirus outbreak, which has hurt consumption of liquor at restaurants and social gatherings (while many have been buying more booze to enjoy at home).If the U.S. follows through with its plan, it could hammer European luxury brands like Givenchy and Hermes -- which produce leather goods -- and Remy Cointreau and Pernod Ricard, which make cognac and champagne. LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton would be particularly vulnerable because it produces a wide array of these products.Tariffs on British gin could increase U.S. prices at peak season for gin-and-tonics, potentially hurting British spirits companies like Diageo Plc, the London-based maker of Tanqueray; James Burrough, the maker of Beefeater gin; and William Grant & Sons, the maker of Hendricks gin. German imported beer would also take a hit, potentially giving a boost to the oversaturated American craft beer market.

  China warned to prepare for being cut off from US dollar payment system as part of sanctions like Russia - China must prepare for the risks of being cut off from the US dollar payment system in case the United States sanctions Chinese companies and banks, just like Washington did with Russian institutions, a senior Chinese financial regulator said on Monday. Fang Xinghai, a vice-chairman at the China Securities Regulatory Commission, said that as China mainly relies on the US dollar payment system in international deals, it makes it vulnerable to possible US sanctions. “Such things have already happened to many Russian businesses and financial institutions. We have to make preparations early – real preparations, not just psychological preparations,” Fang said at a forum organised by Chinese media outlet Caixin. Fang’s comment came at a time when Washington is pondering how far it should go to use the US dollar’s key role in international payment to punish Chinese individuals, companies and financial institutions for alleged involvement in issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong.The US dollar payments system, which is underpinned by infrastructure such as the SWIFT international payments messaging system and the Clearing House Interbank Payments System (CHIPS), is the backbone for international trade and investment. Fang’s speech showed that Beijing policymakers are factoring US financial sanctions as a realistic risk as being cut off from the US dollar system could seriously hinder an entity’s capabilities of conducting international business. The risk, though, is seen to be low that China will be treated in the same way as Russia, after the US responded to numerous events, including the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. According to a US congressional research service document, dated March 30, the US imposed sanctions on Russia “in response to its invasion of Ukraine, election interference, other malicious cyber activities, human rights abuses, use of a chemical weapon, weapons proliferation, illicit trade with North Korea, and support to Syria and Venezuela”.

 "Running Out Of Time" - US Soybean Farmers Disappointed As China Goes Elsewhere - The hope by now, the start of summer, China would be purchasing large amounts of agriculture products from American farmers to boost President Trump's reelection odds ahead of the 2020 presidential election this fall. But that is not the case, as we've highlighted in recent weeks, Beijing/ rest of Asia have been on a buying spree in Latin America. Iowa Soybean Association president Tim Bardole told NBC News that President Trump's signing of the phase one trade deal had been a disappointment, and China's commitments as per the trade deal will likely not be met.   "At this point, it hasn't done near what we were hoping would happen with it," Bardole said. "At this point, we're kind of running out of time for it to get close to the numbers we might have hoped." Bardole had discussions with the House Ways and Means Committee last Wednesday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told him that China is expected to satisfy trade deal purchase agreements - though as we've noted, from day one, the commitments were unrealistic targets.   NBC quoted a section of former national security adviser John Bolton's new book titled "The Room Where It Happened," which alleges the agriculture purchase targets of the phase on the trade deal were artificially high by design to boost President Trump into the elections.  The hope and hype surrounding the 'greatest trade deal ever' in the "greatest economy ever" by the president and his administrative officials have been nothing short of false hope for farmers who bought bigger tractors on the promise of massive new deals from China, have been left in financial ruins as Chinese buyers went elsewhere.

China Message to U.S.: Crossing ‘Red Lines’ Could Put Trade Deal at Risk – WSJ - Beijing has begun quietly delivering a message to Washington: U.S. pressure over matters China considers off limits could jeopardize Chinese purchases of farm goods and other U.S. exports under the “Phase One” trade deal. Chinese leaders have accused Washington of meddling in areas such as Hong Kong, where China is imposing a sweeping national-security law, and Taiwan, which Beijing considers as part of China. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent a bill that would put sanctions on Chinese officials, businesses and banks that undermine Hong Kong’s limited autonomy from Beijing. During a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week in Hawaii, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, listed such actions, according to Beijing’s official account of the meeting, as well as China’s “strong dissatisfaction” with a bill President Trump signed last week mandating sanctions against Chinese officials and entities deemed responsible for mass detention of Uighur Muslim in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. While Mr. Yang reiterated Beijing’s commitment to carrying out the trade deal, he stressed that both sides had to “work together,” said people familiar with the conversations. A Chinese official said that meant “the U.S. side should refrain from going too far with meddling.” The official added, “Red lines shouldn’t be crossed.” Mr. Pompeo didn’t give any ground, said those briefed on the talks. ”I articulated that day just exactly what I articulated here this morning,” Mr. Pompeo said at a forum in Copenhagen last week. “America is engaging in a response to [the] Chinese Communist Party and aggression in a way that America has not done for the past 20 years.” A State Department official said Mr. Pompeo traveled to Hawaii expecting “a fresh perspective and concrete actions,” but wound up disappointed. “We got more of the same. Yang offered nothing inspiring.” Shortly after the diplomats met, Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s point man on U.S.-China trade negotiations, Vice Premier Liu He, followed up. He suggested that Beijing’s ability to carry out the trade deal required the U.S. to ease off pressure on other fronts. “The two countries should create conditions and atmosphere, and eliminate interference, to jointly implement the Phase One agreement,” Mr. Liu said in written remarks to a high-profile financial forum held in Shanghai on June 18.

Supreme Court declines to hear tech company's challenge to tax rules -- The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a technology company's challenge to IRS regulations issued in 2003, letting stand a lower court's ruling that will require companies to pay billions of dollars more in taxes.The high court denied a petition from Altera Corporation, now a business unit of Intel.The IRS in 2003 issued regulations that require related parties, such as a U.S. parent company and a foreign subsidiary, that enter into cost-sharing agreements to share stock-based compensation, such as stock options.The regulations were criticized by a number of companies, who argued that unrelated parties entering similar agreements don't share stock-based compensation. Altera filed a lawsuit after the IRS applied the 2003 rules to the company and issued it deficiency notices for 2004-2007.The U.S. Tax Court sided with Altera, finding that the regulation was invalid under the Administrative Procedures Act because it was arbitrary and capricious. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the Tax Court's decision, determining that the regulations were not arbitrary and capricious. Altera said in its petition to the Supreme Court that the 9th Circuit's ruling violated key administrative law principles. The company also argued that the case is particularly important because it affects a number of companies across several industries — such as technology, pharmaceuticals and apparel — and "the amount of money at stake is enormous."

Supreme Court DACA decision a win for Trump - The Supreme Court’s decision last week on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is seen as a huge political loss for President Trump. It is anything but.The high court’s decision allows immigrants who have received DACA status, sometimes referred to as “Dreamers,” to stay in the country safely without threat of deportation. But that protection remains temporary.   The Supreme Court provided a Band-Aid that can be abruptly ripped off at any minute, exposing the fear, anxiety and danger these residents have had to live with for so long.The court simply declared that Trump failed to end DACA in the correct manner, not that he couldn’t end it.  “That failure was arbitrary and capricious in violation” of the Administrative Procedure Act, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. That means Trump has the legal authority to end the program but that he had technically gone about doing it in the wrong way. The court gave Trump a road map to do it correctly next time around. And Trump seems intent on following it.    At his sparsely attended campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday night, Trump told the truth about DACA. “People don't understand, but we actually won on DACA yesterday,” he told rallygoers. “We actually won,because [the court] basically said, ‘You won, but you have to come back and redo it.’” “So we're refiling it,” Trump continued. “Most people would say that we lost. We didn't lose. We're gonna refile it.” Trump’s words were meant to buoy the spirits of his supporters, who have been disillusioned with a recent stream of Trump losses — at the Supreme Court, his continued mishandling of COVID-19, the John Bolton book revelations and his tumbling poll numbers.   Trump’s assurance that he will continue to try to end DACA is a nod to his base, which wants to rid the country of all undocumented immigrants.   I think it would backfire. Die-hard Trump supporters would love it if he ended DACA, but he could lose less enthusiastic supporters and independents. An overwhelming majority of Americans — 74 percent, according to one poll — support letting the “Dreamers” stay and work, study or serve in the military legally. This includes 64 percent of Trump supporters. These numbers suggest “Dreamers” could be the glue of a coalition that brings together both sides to find a real solution. That is what DACA recipients and this country deserve. The politically brilliant move for Trump would be immediately to offer legislation that would give “Dreamers” permanent legal status with a pathway to citizenship. But he won’t. He is too tied to his anti-immigrant base.

 Trump to sign executive order suspending certain work visas through 2020 - President Trump on Monday signed an executive order to suspend the issuance of certain temporary worker visas through the end of 2020, cracking down further on immigration after signing a more narrow measure in April. The order applies to H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas. It is the latest effort by the Trump administration to satisfy immigration hawks and groups that argue American workers should be prioritized, especially amid the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. H-1B visas are used for skilled workers and are common in the tech industry and is the largest visa program of those included in Monday's order as its recipients can stay for multiple years. H-2B visas apply to seasonal workers. H-4 visas are given to spouses of H-1B visa holders. J-1 visas are given to researchers, scholars and other specialized categories such as au pairs, while L-1 visas are used for executives transferring to the United States from positions abroad with the same employer. Roughly 300,000 J-1 visa recipients come to the U.S. every year, according to the American Immigration Council. "Temporary workers are often accompanied by their spouses and children, many of whom also compete against American workers. Under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy. But under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers," the order reads. The restrictions are set to remain in place for the rest of the calendar year and can be extended.

Trump Expected To Suspend H-1B, Other Visas Until End Of Year - President Trump on Monday extended a freeze on green cards for new immigrants and signed an executive order to suspend new H-1B, L-1, J and other temporary work visas for skilled workers, managers and au pairs through the end of the year. The goal of the move is to protect 525,000 jobs as part of the White House response to job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, said a senior administration official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity. NPR first reported the impending order on Saturday. "Americans have been hurt through no fault of their own due to the coronavirus," the official said. "And the president is prioritizing getting them back into the labor supply and getting them to work and standing on their own two feet again." The order targets H-1B visas, which are designed for certain skilled workers such as those employed in the tech industry, as well as L-1 visas, which are meant for executives who work for large corporations. But other workers will also be affected, including foreign au pairs who provide child care. Professors and scholars are not to be included in the order, the official said. There will be a provision to request exemptions. The order is not expected to affect immigrants and visa holders already in the United States. Business groups are expected to oppose the move. But groups that want less immigration cheered it. "President Trump has repeatedly promised that he would put American workers first, and to his credit, he did just that," said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for lower levels of immigration. FAIR had called on Trump to suspend guest worker visas. "For the most part, the president withstood intense pressure from powerful business interests that continue to demand more cheap foreign labor, even as they have laid off an unprecedented number of American workers over the past three months " Stein said.

 Trump Suspends Visas Allowing Hundreds of Thousands of Foreigners to Work in the U.S. — President Trump on Monday temporarily suspended new work visas and barred hundreds of thousands of foreigners from seeking employment in the United States, part of a broad effort to limit the entry of immigrants into the country.In a sweeping order, which will be in place at least until the end of the year, Mr. Trump blocked visas for a wide variety of jobs, including those for computer programmers and other skilled workers who enter the country under the H-1B visa, as well as those for seasonal workers in the hospitality industry, students on work-study summer programs and au pairs who arrive under other auspices.The order also restricts the ability of American companies with global operations and international companies with U.S. branches to transfer foreign executives and other employees to the United States for months or yearslong stints. And it blocks the spouses of foreigners who are employed at companies in the United States.Officials said the ban on worker visas, combined with extending restrictions on the issuance of new green cards, would keep as many as 525,000 foreign workers out of the country for the rest of the year.Stephen Miller, the White House aide and the architect of Mr. Trump’s immigration policy, has pushed for years to limit or eliminate the worker visas, arguing that they harm employment prospects for Americans. And in recent months, Mr. Miller has argued that the economic distress caused by the virus has made it even more important to turn off the spigot.But the directive, which has been expected for several weeks, is fiercely opposed by business leaders, who say it will block their ability to recruit critically needed workers from countries overseas for jobs that Americans are not willing to do or are not capable of performing.  “Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back,” said Thomas J. Donohue, the chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Restrictive changes to our nation’s immigration system will push investment and economic activity abroad, slow growth and reduce job creation.”  Administration officials said the president’s order would not affect people outside the United States who already have valid visas or seasonal farm workers, whose annual numbers have ranged from a low of about 50,000 to a high of about 250,000 in the past 15 years. There will also be a narrow exception for certain medical workers dealing specifically with coronavirus research, officials said.The order will ban au pairs who come to the United States to care for children, though officials initially told reporters they would be exempt. Later, two senior administration officials said parents could seek waivers to the ban on a case-by-case basis, with no assurance that they would be approved.In the order, Mr. Trump described suspension of the visas as a way to ensure that Americans are first in line for scarce jobs — an assertion that immigration advocates say does not reflect the reality of a dynamic and changing work force.

 Trump’s ban on temporary work visas is an attempt to scapegoat immigrants during an economic collapse: Real reform would improve wages and working conditions - EPI --President Trump has issued a new proclamation “Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak,” that will halt the issuance of certain major categories of nonimmigrant (i.e. temporary) work visas until the end of 2020, and calls for a number of rule changes with respect to work visas and work authorization. (A presidential proclamation is essentially the same as an executive order.) This follows his April proclamation that would suspend a third of immigrant visas from being issued (immigrant visas are also known as “green cards,” which confer foreign residents with lawful permanent resident status that can eventually lead to citizenship). The language in the April proclamation, which was initially valid for 60 days, also directed federal agencies to examine nonimmigrant work visas; this new proclamation appears to be the result of that effort. Trump’s new proclamation extends the duration of the April proclamation banning certain green cards until the end of 2020. Trump’s June 2020 proclamation will suspend the issuance of new temporary work visas to migrants and their family members if they are applying from abroad, between now and December 31, 2020, but does not appear to suspend the issuance of visa statuses for those applying from within the United States. The impacted visa classifications are the H-1B for occupations requiring a college degree, H-2B for low-wage jobs outside of agriculture, L-1 for intracompany transferees and personnel with specialized knowledge, and some of the major programs that authorize employment in the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, specifically the J-1 Intern, Trainee, Teacher, Camp Counselor, Au Pair, and Summer Work Travel programs. While most of these visa classifications are issued to applicants at consulates abroad and are therefore suspended, the H-1B is an exception. In 2019, 60% of new H-1Bs were issued to migrants who were already present in the United States, often on a student visa. Therefore, the H-1B program will be less impacted in terms of a reduction in visas. (It may even result in a higher share of foreign graduates of U.S. universities being granted H-1B status, since they’ll be applying from within the country.)

Judge orders US to free migrant children from family detention, citing virus spread - A federal judge in the United States has ordered the release of children held with their parents in US immigration jails and denounced the Trump administration’s prolonged detention of families during the coronavirus pandemic. US district judge Dolly Gee’s order on Friday applies to children held for more than 20 days at three family detention centre’s in Texas and Pennsylvania operated by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some have been detained since last year. Citing the recent spread of the virus in two of the three facilities, Gee set a deadline of 17 July for children to either be released with their parents or sent to family sponsors. “The family detention centre’s are on fire and there is no more time for half measures,” she wrote. Gee’s order said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was detaining 124 children in its centres, which are separate from US Department of Health and Human Services facilities for unaccompanied children that were holding around 1,000 children in early June. The numbers in both systems have fallen significantly since earlier in the Trump administration because the US is expelling most people trying to cross the border or requiring them to wait for their immigration cases in Mexico. Gee oversees a long-running court settlement governing the US government’s treatment of immigrant children known as the Flores agreement. Her order does not directly apply to the parents detained with their children. Gees’s order said ICE can decline to release a child if there is not a suitable sponsor, the child’s parent waives rights under the Flores agreement, or if there is a prior unexplained failure to appear at a scheduled hearing.

US Supreme Court rules recent asylum seekers have no right to habeas corpus or due process - On Thursday, the US Supreme Court issued an opinion declaring that recent asylum seekers have no constitutional right to due process or habeas corpus, denying them any “day in court” to challenge the legality of their deportation before they are summarily removed. The 7-2 decision is based on a majority opinion issued by the court’s five Republican justices and supported by a concurring opinion by Democratic nominees Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. The majority opinion written by Samuel Alito echoes the court’s infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) ruling in more ways than one. As in Dred Scott, the court in Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam made the most sweeping, extreme and anti-democratic ruling possible, reaching far beyond what even the government argued was necessary in the case. Not only did the court deny Sri Lankan immigrant Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam’s petition for habeas corpus, it also ruled that all recent asylum seekers have no rights to challenge their deportation at all. And just as the court ruled in Dred Scott that the Constitution did not apply to slaves because they were not “people,” the court here has created a sub-class of people who are also beneath the protection of the law because they lack “established connections in this country,” as the majority opinion states. In fact, after yesterday’s decision, new asylum seekers have fewer rights than fugitive slaves did in the decade before the Civil War.

 U.S. Supreme Court bolsters Trump's power over rapid deportation - (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday enhanced the ability of President Donald Trump’s administration to quickly deport illegal immigrants including asylum seekers with limited judicial review, handing him a victory in a case involving one of his signature issues in an election year. The justices ruled in favor of the administration in its appeal of a lower court ruling that a Sri Lankan farmer named Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam had a right to have a judge review the government’s handling of his asylum bid. The ruling, written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, found that limiting judicial scrutiny in this rapid deportation case, known as expedited removal, did not violate key safeguards of individual liberty in the U.S. Constitution. The vote was 7-2. Although two of the four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, agreed that Thuraissigiam’s legal claim failed, they did not embrace Alito’s broad reasoning. Liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented. It has long been recognized that people who have yet to be granted legal entry to the United States do not have the full range of constitutional rights and that Congress has some authority to determine what rights they do possess, Alito wrote. “While aliens who have established connections in this country have due process rights in deportation proceedings, the court long ago held that Congress is entitled to set the conditions for an alien’s lawful entry into this country,” Alito added.

Trump’s use of Pentagon funds for US-Mexico border wall illegal, court rules - A federal appeals court in California on Friday ruled that the Trump administration’s use of Pentagon funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is illegal. In a 2-1 ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that President Trump’s diversion of defense, military and other funding — billions of dollars that were not originally earmarked for border wall construction — violated the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution, which gives Congress the exclusive power of the purse. “These funds were appropriated for other purposes, and the transfer amounted to ‘drawing funds from the Treasury without authorization by statute and thus violating the Appropriations Clause,’ ” the majority wrote. “Therefore, the transfer of funds here was unlawful.” Legal challenges arose early last year after Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border. Trump’s declaration sought to free up additional funding after a congressional spending bill allocated some $1.3 billion for border security, far short of the nearly $5 billion Trump said was needed to complete his signature project. The 9th Circuit dispute is one of several lawsuits filed against the Trump administration over its emergency border wall funding. The court issued two related rulings on Friday, siding with California and more than a dozen states in one case, and private groups in another, all of whom challenged the administration’s move. "Today, the court reminded the President — once again — that no one is above the law,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said after the decision. “While the Trump Administration steals public funds to build an unauthorized wall at the Southern Border, families across the country are struggling to pay their bills.” The practical effect of the ruling was not entirely clear because the Supreme Court last July ruled 5-4 that Trump could begin spending $2.5 billion in reallocated Pentagon funds to build the border wall while the legal challenges proceeded through the courts.

What Was Behind Barr’s Friday Night Massacre??? -- Barr could not fire Berman who is a court appointed US Attorney. His foolish attempt to do so only makes him look even worse than what he was perceived to be. On Friday night, Barr claimed Berman had resigned. Sitting in the wings to replace Berman, a golfing buddy of Trump’s who is the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jay Clayton would be the nominee to replace Berman. In the interim, the job would go to Craig Carpenito, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey. What surprised me was Berman replying he had not resigned and would not resign. As it came to light, Barr had no power to get rid of the court-appointed U.S. attorney,Barr was forced to backpedal and enlist the president’s help. On Saturday, Barr announced that Trump was firing Berman at his request.Trump tried to sidestep the mess by telling reporters:“I’m not involved,”Trump and Barr were passing the bag of crap and blame back and forth with their comments.So who is going to replace Berman? Berman’s deputy, Audrey Strauss, the first assistant U.S. attorney. Ms. Strauss is a veteran prosecutor, respected by her peers, thoroughly versed in the cases that threaten Trump, and not relevant to all of this . . . a Democrat who donated to Hillary Clinton in 2016.What has transpired over the last few months is a president who conspired with an ideological DOJ AG to exercise greater authoritarian power over his government and who is stumbling into blunder after blunder destroying any illusion of control and with it the grounds for fearing him. Grinning (me)  .   .   .    a masterful setup and follow through by Berman as he exits the door leaving behind a veteran prosecutor, respected by her peers, thoroughly versed in the cases threatening Trump, and who is (although irrelevant) a Democrat who donated to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump and Barr are stuck with Audrey Strauss.

House to vote on Democratic police reform bill as GOP plan stalls in the Senate - The House aims to pass a Democratic police reform bill Thursday as Congress struggles to find a consensus on how to respond to overwhelming public demand for law enforcement overhaul. Democrats in the chamber expect to approve the legislation with little Republican support. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats blocked a separate Republican plan that they said did not go nearly far enough to root out systemic racism and violence in policing. The measure the House plans to pass Thursday evening would make it easier for victims of abuses to sue police and for officials to fire and prosecute officers. It would ban chokeholds and "no-knock" search warrants at the federal level, and tie funding to state and local governments to them barring those tactics. It would also require bias training and more data sharing about police use of force. "The Justice in Policing Act is a bill for human rights in our country," Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., said of the legislation Thursday morning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) applauds as Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), speaks during a press event ahead of vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 on the East Front House Steps on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2020. Yuri Gripas | Reuters As Democrats cast the measure as a first step toward addressing the discrimination and abuses Black Americans face from police, it remains to be seen whether the full Congress can pass reform legislation. The Senate is unlikely to approve the proposal, as President Donald Trump and his GOP allies oppose a provision to roll back "qualified immunity" for officers, among other parts of the plan. When Democrats voted not to move forward with the Senate Republican bill on Wednesday, they argued the chamber should form a bipartisan group to come up with a compromise plan. So far, the Senate has not committed to doing so, and Congress risks failing to respond to the loudest public call to root out police abuses in decades. Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican who led the legislation, contended Thursday that Democrats "walked away" from police reform in the Senate. He had urged them to allow debate on the bill and then propose amendments, a process Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said would not resolve the proposal's issues.

 Trump attacks Black Lives Matter racial justice movement – President Donald Trump on Thursday launched his most direct attacks to date on the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice. Trump, seizing on a quote by a man who runs a fringe Black Lives Matter knock-off group, and a chant that is not popular with protesters, suggested in tweets that the loosely organized racial justice movement poses a threat. Trump was quoting Walter "Hawk" Newsome, who was a guest on Fox News earlier in the day. In the same interview, Newsome also said that BLM activists should be applauded for arming themselves with guns, and he said his threat to "burn down this system" could be either figurative or literal, depending upon one's viewpoint. In his tweet, Trump falsely described Newsome as a "Black Lives Matter leader." But in reality, Newsome has repeatedly angered the founders of the official Black Lives Matter movement by adopting their moniker and raising money off of it, while espousing an approach to racial justice that is far more militant than the main branch of the Black Lives Matter movement. Reached for comment about Newsome's Fox News interview, a BLM spokesperson told CNBC, "As BLM has told Mr. Newsome in the past, and as is still true today, Mr. Newsome's group is not a chapter of BLM and has not entered into any agreement with BLM agreeing to adhere to BLM's core principles." CNBC reached out to the White House to ask if the president was aware that Newsome was not actually a "Black Lives Matter leader," but a spokesman did not respond to questions. Exactly one minute after Trump tweeted out Newsome's quote, he posted another tweet about BLM. This time, Trump railed at New York Mayor Bill De Blasio's recently announced decision to paint a "Black Lives Matter" mural on Fifth Avenue in front of one of Trump Tower, the site of Trump's former residence. It is one of five such murals being painted throughout the city. Trump claims in the tweet that a chant about killing police is "their chant," referring to the Black Lives Matter movement. But that chant has not been popular with protesters in New York or anywhere else in the country in the wake of George Floyd's killing in late May in Minneapolis.

New York City will paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ on street in front of Trump Tower - New York City appears set to receive a "Black Lives Matter" street mural outside Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, according to a statement from Mayor Bill de Blasio's (D) office. “The president is a disgrace to the values we cherish in New York City. He can’t run or deny the reality we are facing, and any time he wants to set foot in the place he claims is his hometown, he should be reminded Black Lives Matter,” Julia Arredondo, the mayor's spokeswoman, said Wednesday, the New York Daily News reported. The statement will be painted along Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th streets in front of President Trump's notable Manhattan building sometime before July 4. The new mural is one of seven that will be added throughout the city's five boroughs. Two more are also planned for Manhattan — along Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem and on Centre Street in lower Manhattan, the New York Post reported. The mayor announced earlier this month that the phrase would be painted throughout the city to bring awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement, racial injustice and police brutality highlighted by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in police custody last month. On June 9, a BLM mural was painted on Lark St. in Albany, N.Y.

'Deeply Disturbing': New York Supreme Court Judge Rules Protesters Can Be Detained Indefinitely - A New York State Supreme Court judge on Thursday rejected a petition seeking the immediate release of hundreds of protesters who had been held by the New York Police Department for more than 24 hours, ruling that extraordinary circumstances justify indefinite detention. "It is a crisis within a crisis," wrote Justice James Burke in his ruling. "All writs are denied." Burke's decision was met with alarm by New York lawmakers and activists who immediately condemned the ruling as an unlawful suspension of the right of habeas corpus, which requires the government to justify detention of a person before a court. Hundreds of New Yorkers have been arrested in recent days during mass protests over the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers."Civil liberties protect ourselves from governments using 'crises' and 'emergencies' as justification to dismantle our rights," tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). "This is suspension of habeas corpus, it is unconstitutional, and it is deeply disturbing that both NYPD is seeking it and a judge rubber stamped it."The Legal Aid Society (LAS), a non-profit organization that sued (pdf) the NYPD on Tuesday over the prolonged detention of protesters, accused the department of violating New York's "24 hour arrest-to-arraignment requirement."But Burke ultimately agreed with the NYPD's claim that arraignment delays are justified "because we are in a crisis caused by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic which prevents live arraignments, which in turn causes virtual arraignments."Marlen Bodden, senior staff attorney with LAS, rejected that argument during a court hearing Thursday. "The NYPD has no excuses with its 38,000 police officers and the best technology in the world, with all the money they are being given," said Bodden. "They have no excuse to not process them in a timely manner."

Trump Urges Legislation For Flag Burning To Be Federal Offense With One Year In Jail - President Trump told supporters at his Saturday rally in Tulsa that he wants to make the act of burning the American flag a federal offense punishable by up to one year in prison. “Two days ago, leftist protesters in Portland, Oregon ripped down a statue of George Washington and wrapped in an American flag, and set the American flag on fire,” the president said according to Forbes.While introducing the comments Trump pointed to Oklahoma's two Republican senators in attendance, Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, and said: “We ought to come up with legislation that if you burn the American flag, you go to jail for one year." “They talk about freedom of speech and I'm a big believer in freedom of speech, but that's desecration, that's a terrible thing,” he added, referencing ongoing protests.Currently, burning an American flag is considered constitutionally-protected free speech under the First Amendment, based on the last time the US Supreme Court ruled on the matter in a 1989 decision. Recall, however, that late last year a shockingly harsh sentence was handed down by an Iowa court after 30-year old Adolfo Martinez ripped down a gay pride rainbow flag from the front of a church and then burned it.Martinez received the maximum sentence due, an astounding 16 years in prison, in part due to his status as a habitual offender with two prior felonies. He had told local media that he destroyed the flag because he despises homosexuality, according to the Washington Examiner. Critics point out that there should not be such selective interpretation of which flags are allowed to be burned under Bill of Rights protections and which can't.

Trump says he signed executive order to protect monuments -  President Donald Trump said on Twitter Friday that he has signed an executive order on protecting monuments, an action the President had been teasing for the past week. "I just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues - and combatting recent Criminal Violence," the President wrote Friday. "Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!" It's not clear how the order differs from the existing Veterans' Memorial Preservation Act, under which the President claimed earlier this week that he had "authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S. with up to 10 years in prison." In essence, the order directs the attorney general to enforce the already-existing law. The order tells the attorney general to "prioritize within the Department of Justice the investigation and prosecution" of those who damage government-owned monuments, citing federal law that "authorizes a penalty of up to 10 years' imprisonment for the willful injury of Federal property." The order also calls for "limiting federal grants for jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies that permit the desecration of monuments, memorials, or statues." It states that "the heads of all executive departments and agencies shall examine their respective grant programs" and apply the order's policies to the extent "appropriate and consistent with applicable law." The order doubles down on a perceived religious element of monument damage, asserting that "Christian figures are now in the crosshairs" and citing an unnamed "influential activist" who "declared that many existing religious depictions of Jesus and the Holy Family should be purged from our places of worship."

 Trump says niece's book would violate nondisclosure agreement -- President Trump said a book that his niece plans to publish about their family life would violate a nondisclosure agreement she signed with her father's estate that bars her from publishing anything regarding her relationship with the president or other family members. In an interview with Axios published Sunday evening, the president said Mary Trump is "not allowed" to publish a book about him and indicated that his team was caught off guard by the news. "She's not allowed to write a book," President Trump said in the interview. "You know, when we settled with her and her brother, who I do have a good relationship with — she's got a brother, Fred [Trump], who I do have a good relationship with, but when we settled, she has a total ... signed a nondisclosure." "I have a brother, Robert, very good guy, and he's — he's very angry about it," the president added. "But she signed a nondisclosure agreement and she's obviously not honoring it if she writes a book. It's too bad." News of Mary Trump's plans to publish the book, "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man," was first reported earlier this month by the Daily Beast, which said Mary Trump was under a nondisclosure agreement with the estate of Fred Trump.

 Trump Moves to Legally Derail His Niece Mary Trump’s Tell-All Book -- The Trump family is wasting no time taking legal action against the president’s niece in an effort to halt publication of her soon-to-be-released book.   Just days after Donald Trump said Mary Trump was “not allowed” to write such a tome, citing a “very powerful” NDA she had signed that the president claimed “covers everything,” attorneys for a Trump family member have filed a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) in Queens court.  The news, first reported by The New York Times, was shared with The Daily Beast earlier in the day by two people familiar with the matter. A third person with knowledge of the situation said that discussions with the president himself regarding what to “do about the Mary thing”—both legally and from a public-relations standpoint—had been ongoing “for days.” According to the Times, the request for the order was filed Tuesday by President Trump’s younger brother, Robert Trump, in Queens County surrogate’s court. That court was the scene of a messy family legal fight in 2000 over the estate of Trump’s father, Fred, that was ultimately settled a year later resulting in Mary and her brother, also named Fred, signing a non-disclosure agreement.In a statement to The Daily Beast, Mary Trump’s attorney, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. said,“President Trump and his siblings seek to suppress a book that will discuss matters of utmost public importance. They are pursuing this unlawful prior restraint because they do not want the public to know the truth. The courts will not tolerate this brazen violation of the First Amendment.” Julia Prosser, a spokesperson for Simon & Schuster, noted that courts have traditionally taken "a dim view of prior restraint," and said that the attempt "to block publication will meet the same fate as those that have gone before. In Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, Mary Trump has written a compelling personal story of worldwide significance, and we look forward to helping her tell her story."

Ghislaine Does Paris- Jeffrey Epstein's Fugitive 'Madam' Hiding Behind French Extradition Laws - Jeffrey Epstein's accused 'madam' is reportedly holed up in a luxury apartment on Paris's Avenue Matignon - just a five minute drive from the dead pedophile's $8.6 million flat, according to the Daily Mail. Maxwell "is moving locations every month to keep private investigators off her tail and is ­staying at the residences of trusted colleagues and contacts," according to a source. "She wants to remain in France for as long as she can to take advantage of extradition laws and has a huge network of contacts willing to keep her hidden," they added. "Under French law anyone born on French soil is safe from extradition to another country, regardless of the alleged crime." "It doesn't mean she won't be ­prosecuted for her links to Epstein but if she does end up facing charges it will be in France and not the US." Why is Ghislaine Maxwell so anti-interesting to our media? To our FBI? To our CIA? I mean these folks do *not* want to find her or talk to her in a HUGE way.
Let’s find out. — Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) June 21, 2020 The French apartment is linked to a Normandy-based business contact, according to the report. Epstein and Maxwell began dating in the early 1990s, after which she became his 'madam' and helicopter pilot - allegedly ferrying underage girls to his multiple properties around the world. In 2003, Epstein told a reporter with Vanity Fair that Maxwell was his "best friend."

The financialization of the end of the world -- For those who are fans of cartoons from The New Yorker magazine and consistent readers of this blog, you might be able to guess my two favorite cartoons. In the first one, a man in a coat and tie stands at a podium and tells his unseen audience the following: "And so, while the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit."   In the second, a man in a tattered suit sits cross-legged near a campfire with three children listening to him intently as he says this: "Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders."  Now, in the you-can't-make-this-stuff-up category, financial writer Paul Farrell used the caption from the first cartoon in a 2015 piece for MarketWatch entitled: "Your No. 1 end-of-the-world investing strategy." The subheading is: "How to pick stocks for the near term when long-term trends say collapse is near." The subhead actually seems like it might be another caption from a New Yorker cartoon (or possibly one from The Onion). Why exactly would you invest in stocks—as opposed to seeds of food crops and sturdy garden implements—"when long-term trends say collapse is near"? But I'll put that down to bad headline writing. In Farrell's defense, he frequently used his column in MarketWatch to warn his readers of the coming collapse of modern civilization if we don't change our ways. He was obliged to give investment advice, of course, because that's what the column was for. One would think that the coronavirus pandemic would allow for some sober reflection among those in the financial community as the pandemic-induced crash of the economy and the markets has called into question the stability of practically all the arrangements of modern civilization. Instead, the focus is on how stock markets could be back at or near all-times highs at the beginning of what is arguably the next Great Depression.

Rabobank: We Live In A World Where Dave Portnoy Picks Random Stocks Using Scrabble And Outperforms Hedge Funds -  US President Trump held a rally in a half-empty stadium over the weekend in which, as expected, he pledged to be the face of Law & Order. He’d already tweeted “LAW & ORDER!” previously - to which someone replied “MORK & MINDY!”…which sums everything up. Indeed, the half-empty stadium might reflect flagging Trump voters and an imminent defeat of America First US economic populism. Or, as Democrat AOC tweeted, it might have been teenagers ordering hundreds of tickets each in order to leave seats empty - and by using Chinese-owned apps like Tiktok and Zoom, the latter of which was recently in the headlines for literally shutting down discussion *in the US* that China does not approve of. Once again what used to be a key signalling device to markets --that said, only after they didn’t listen to it in 2016-- is perhaps distorted by some form of suppression. How to work out if the US will swing one way or the other in November and take economic policy with it? Might we see US-China détente under Biden, or a broader anti-China coalition? Would be see even more generous fiscal policy, or an attempt to try to reduce the deficit? The fact that his campaign is holding no kind of campaign at all, it seems, leaves us all wondering. But if markets are starting to wonder which way to go, think of the poor politicians outside the US.   Orwell might have feared a Soviet Union where there were no markets. We have a world where we can all watch Barstool Dave Portnoy pick US stocks randomly using Scrabble letters live online - and then watch him outperform hedge funds. “Trivial is essential”. And the essential is now trivial. Bloomberg, which combines Orwell with Huxley and Douglas Adams, sums it up thus: “A ‘Buy Everything’ Rally Beckons in World of Yield Curve Control” That as the Fed’s number two, Clarida, recently stated there are no signs of asset bubbles forming due to Fed policy! The RBA’s Lowe is also open to re-assessing the bank’s property inflation targeting framework in a few years…when interest rates eventually rise again: in the meantime, “Borrow now!” is the message. The PBOC left its supposed new base 1-year loan prime rate on hold at 3.85% just days after promising USD4.2 trillion new broad credit growth this year, which is just as inconsistent in its own way.

OCC to lower assessment fees despite surge in bank assets— The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency says it will give national banks a break by using pre-pandemic asset levels to calculate assessment fees this upcoming September.The OCC cited the sharp growth in bank assets during the early weeks of the novel coronavirus outbreak as the basis for what the regulator described in a press release Monday as a “one-time change.” Proposed as an interim final rule, the tweak is slated to stay in effect only until October — or one assessment.“Banks have played an important role in the national response to COVID-19,” acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks said in the release. “As a result, many banks took on significant volumes of additional assets while providing relief to their customers as part of these federal programs. Banks should not be penalized by these efforts to support our national recovery.” The OCC’s regulatory assessment fees, used to fund supervisory activity, are partly based on a bank’s size and charged twice a year, once in March and again in September. The decision to use call report data from Dec. 31, 2019, rather than June 30, 2020, will “result in lower assessments for most banks under the jurisdiction of the OCC,” according to the text of the interim rule. However, in the event a bank’s reported assets are lower at the end of June than they were back in December, the OCC said it would use the most recent data.  Monday’s announcement is the latest instance of the national bank regulator trimming assessment costs: In both 2018 and 2019, the OCC permanently reduced its assessment fees for national banks by 10%, citing improvements in the agency’s operational efficiency.

Warren and Brown urge regulators to undo recent capital change — Two Democratic senators are calling on regulators to reverse their recent decision to ease a key capital requirement for banks. Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the Senate Banking Committee’s top Democrat, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said in a letter Friday that a change to the supplementary leverage ratio that was announced in May “is dangerous and puts the economy and hardworking families at risk.” “There is no justifiable reason to relax a key safety and soundness restraint by arguing that it is necessary for banks to support lending while simultaneously allowing banks to distribute capital to enrich their shareholders,” the senators wrote to Federal Reserve Vice Chairman of Supervision Randal Quarles, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Jelena McWilliams and acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks. “We are baffled that the federal financial regulators granted a long-desired piece of deregulation to the nation’s largest banks without sufficient justification to do so, and despite the risks to economic growth and financial stability,” Brown and Warren wrote. The SLR requires banks with more than $250 billion of assets to maintain an extra cushion of high-quality capital against their total assets. Banks must maintain a minimum 3% ratio against their total leverage exposure, with even tougher requirements for the most complex firms. In May, the regulators announced an interim rule change to allow banks to exclude U.S. Treasury securities and deposits held at Federal Reserve banks from the SLR calculation until March 2021. Brown and Warren said the change to the SLR goes “far beyond providing institutions relief to accommodate the inflow of deposits and increases in reserve balances as a result of the economic response to the coronavirus crisis.” The senators criticized the SLR change because it allows banks to continue to pay billions of dollars in dividends to shareholders and executives. And they said the change makes the U.S. financial system weaker and could harm the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Banks can ill afford to get complacent about coronavirus - Christopher D. Armstrong, Executive Vice President, New York Fed  - For some, a business continuity plan is something that gets dusted off the shelf every few years, only to be returned to the stack with a few modifications.  In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, many institutions have discovered that’s just not enough.  As head of financial services at the New York Fed, I’m responsible for managing payments and receipts of currency for depository institutions across the globe, meeting demand for U.S. currency wherever it is. I also oversee the Fed’s Wholesale Product Office, which acts as the plumbing for the U.S. financial system. Given the volume and value going through our pipes, any sort of disruption to our infrastructure would have immediate and significant impact on the financial system. So we spend many days and nights thinking about what could go wrong and how to make the system more resilient. Needless to say, these past few months have shown the importance of thinking about how to adapt to existing business continuity procedures to keep up with new challenges. Back in March, a cyberattack on a commercial service provider — which many small and midsize banks use to manage their connectivity to the Fed — impacted their ability to complete daily settlements worth billions of dollars. It became clear that a number of the institutions utilized by this service provider did not have an effective business continuity plan, and had not practiced their contingency channels.This incident, among others, revealed gaps in business continuity plans that must be filled. The current context makes this even more urgent  With so many employees working remotely, and operating using business continuity models that have not been thoroughly exercised, there will likely be more disruptions that could have an enormous impact on the financial system. Point-blank: Don’t be complacent.  On the most basic level, institutions must prioritize strengthening their contingency models and make sure their business continuity plans are being reviewed, practiced and understood. Then, focus on key-person risk.  What if a second or third wave of the coronavirus pandemic were to hit? What if those waves are even more severe?  Even if team members are positioned to work remotely, institutions should be prepared for potential bottlenecks and pinch points that may emerge if individuals cannot work for long periods of time. Have you considered training not just backup teams, but a tertiary team and beyond?  Leaders should also ask whether they have the proper equipment, access and credentials to be able to quickly step in if necessary. At the end of the day, a plan is not enough. Executives must ask themselves: “Can we actually execute this?” Finally, cyber resiliency in a business continuity model is going to be crucial to ensuring a safe and secure financial system. Cyber resiliency is broader than the traditional business continuity focus on data backup and recovery. It’s about data integrity and the ability to trust the data to know with confidence that backed-up data has not been corrupted or altered by a cyberattack. Resilience is the ability to operate, even in a degraded state, and recover from deliberate attacks.

Rosengren's Main Street pitch to banks: Get in it for long haul— Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren says the coronavirus pandemic offers banks a unique opportunity to help steer their communities through the rocky months likely ahead and forge lasting bonds with commercial and nonprofit customers. The Boston Fed has been tasked with administering one of the central bank’s most anticipated lending vehicles, the Main Street Lending Program, which seeks in conjuction with banks to provide a lifeline to small and midsize businesses that have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic. The $600 billion program is offering loans of at least $250,000 to eligible businesses that were in sound financial condition before the pandemic, and have at least 15,000 employees or $5 billion in annual revenue. Banks will originate loans through the program, and the Fed will then purchase a 95% stake in each loan made under the program’s terms. “This is the time where that banking relationship really becomes valuable, and it’s not only valuable to the borrower, it’s valuable to the community and the country at large,” Rosengren said in an interview. Although the program has been met with some criticism from some who feel that banks might not participate in it and others who worry that the loan terms are too onerous for smaller businesses, Rosengren said that the program — which opened for lender registration last week — has already attracted substantial attention from banks looking to serve their customers. "These are still early days in the program, and we are seeing a steady stream of interest," Rosengren said Friday in a speech to the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. He added, "I anticipate that many more institutions will register for the program, given its benefits to them, their customers and the areas where they operate.” The Fed is also still expanding the Main Street program: Last week it asked for feedback on a proposal to extend the program to nonprofit organizations, which Rosengren thinks could allow banks to establish relationships with new customers. American Banker spoke with Rosengren about his expectations for the program, the economy and additional actions Congress or the Fed may need to take to aid the recovery. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

 Question looming over bank earnings: Will deferred loans be paid back? - Whether the economy remains weak, hampered by continued rapid spread of the coronavirus, or slowly comes back to life as Americans learn to safely venture out again, community and regional banks are likely staring at several quarters of elevated loan-loss provisions, according to investment analysts. The pandemic-imposed recession is battering the retail, hospitality and energy sectors — and broadly sales for a range of other businesses — leaving banks to conservatively assume that more borrowers will struggle to make loan payments, even if the economy gradually recovers in the second half of 2020. “Bottom line,” D.A. Davidson analysts said in a June report, “we expect to see continued reserve build over the balance of the year, with a hand-off to more elevated” charge-offs later in 2020 and into next year. When second-quarter earnings calls get underway in July, executives at community and regional banks are likely to field an abundance of questions about credit quality. The hope is that, by mid-July, bank executives will be able to shed meaningful light on what lies ahead based on the performance of their loan books and their assessments of customer sentiment and expectations. One telling sign could be the direction of loan deferrals. Late in the first quarter and early in the second, banks agreed to defer scores of commercial loan payments, often for 90 days. Will those borrowers be able to resume payments on those loans? Will they seek to extend deferrals? Or will they throw in the towel on their businesses, forcing banks to charge off more loans? “Almost everyone believes the amounts are as high as they’ve ever been, and so the most important question in the industry right now is at what rate those deferrals translate to losses,” said Joseph Bonner, founder of the consultancy Community Bank Advocates and a former bank CEO. Even with some clarity on the deferral front, Bonner said, most banks would be wise to brace for continued economic weakness and a choppy recovery. Provisions soared in the first quarter. He anticipates further increase for many banks in second-quarter results. He noted that Federal Reserve officials recently predicted that unemployment, currently above 13%, could still hover nearly 10% by the close of 2020. “I believe that the more conservative view is the prudent one,” Bonner said.

 Fed should make banks stop paying dividends, Senate Democrats say - — Ahead of the Federal Reserve’s anticipated announcement of banks’ stress test results, three Democratic senators are urging the regulator to require banks it oversees to suspend dividend payments in order to build their capital cushions while continuing to lend during coronavirus pandemic. In a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Vice Chairman of Supervision Randal Quarles, Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Brian Schatz of Hawaii said the regulator should implement a broad dividend suspension in light of uncertainty about how much stress COVID-19 will continue to create for the sector. “An across-the-board suspension now, before heavy losses pile up, is the prudent course of action,” the senators wrote Tuesday. “Our economy needs a safe and sound banking system to serve as a source of strength through these difficult times. An undercapitalized banking system could seriously hinder the economic recovery if this crisis causes a wave of bank failures. You should be taking every step possible to avoid that scenario.” Banks have faced growing pressure from congressional Democrats to suspend capital distributions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Quarles recently indicated that the Fed will use the outcome of coronavirus-related tests to determine whether banks can make dividend payments. Banks have remained largely bullish about their ability to continue paying dividends while holding adequate levels of capital. The senators in their letter note that a number of former regulators, including former Fed Chair Janet Yellen and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair, have called on regulators to require banks to suspend capital distributions to shareholders and executives. “It is not clear why the Fed has not taken this action yet,” the senators wrote. The senators also criticized a decision by the Fed not to release bank-by-bank results of coronavirus-related sensitivity analyses and instead report potential losses across the tested banks. “This decision could undermine confidence in the banking system,” the senators wrote. “If a bank fails any of the coronavirus-related severely adverse scenarios, it should be required to immediately raise capital to ensure it can handle potential future losses. Hiding the individual results and presenting only aggregate data will not make the possible capital shortfall go away.”

If the Fed puts its stress test results in the shadows, it will backfire - The Federal Reserve said last week that it plans to limit the disclosure of this year’slarge bank stress tests. An announcement of the results is due later today. If it goes ahead with the plans, they are likely to prove self-defeating. Failure to disclose the individual banks’ outcomes of this year’s Covid-19 “sensitivity analysis” tests will weaken the credibility and effectiveness of the Fed’s stress testing regime. To put it bluntly, the main point of a supervisory stress test is disclosure. Anything short of full transparency risks financial instability. There are three key elements of an effective stress testing regime that have characterised the Fed’s tests since the extraordinary 2009 Supervisory Capital Assessment Program (SCAP). These are severity, flexibility, and transparency.First, if stress test scenarios are not dire enough, there is little use in doing them. Second, effective tests must include scenarios that adapt—sometimes rapidly—to changing economic and financial conditions. Third, scenarios should be transparent after the fact, not before. To promote confidence and effective market function in the presence of a large shock, supervisors must disclose the results of individual institutions. Failure to disaggregate fosters concerns about the presence of weak banks and can lead to runs. Experience with the May 2009 SCAP, with its bank-by-bank detail, highlights the favourable impact of full disclosure. Following publication, the largest US banks were again able to tap the equity market to help them lend to healthy borrowers. Because the SCAP played such a critical role in ending the Great Financial Crisis (GFC), many observers (including ourselves) view it as the most successful stress test in history. Against this background, we found the Fed’s May announcement of its intention to supplement the scenarios announced in February with a Covid-related sensitivity analysis quite heartening. Based on current economic indicators, the impact of Covid is significantly worse than the severely adverse scenario provided in February. While market developments are generally better than in those in the severely adverse scenario, ensuring confidence in the banks requires that we have some sense of both their post-Covid state and of their ability to withstand further deterioration in economic conditions. The clear lesson from history is that episodes of sizeable shocks to bank capital are precisely the times when the disclosure of individual bank stress test results can foster confidence. The scale of the current shock is very large: as of June 19, the NYU Stern Volatility Lab’s measure of SRISK—a market-based estimate of banks’ capital shortfalls—puts the aggregate capital shortfall of US intermediaries near the peaks observed in 2008-09. Moreover, the Federal Reserve in recent years unwisely permitted the largest US banks to make shareholder payouts (summing dividends and share buybacks) in excess of their earnings. As a result, in the final years of the decade-long cyclical expansion, when banks should have been building their capital buffers to improve resilience, supervisors tolerated a persistent decline in the regulatory leverage ratios of the largest US banks. Finally, we face an uncertain recovery that is liable to include rising defaults. This, together with the likelihood of a flat yield curve for some time to come, means that there is little hope of using bank profits to replenish capital anytime soon. If US large banks remain healthy under these simulations, then the Fed has a powerful incentive to release the full results. Conversely, providing only an aggregate result would invite doubt about the wellbeing of one or more banks, and could unintentionally increase stress in the system.

Bloomberg Drops a Bombshell on the Fed’s Big Bank Stress Tests Set for Release Today - Pam Martens -The Federal Reserve will release the results of its stress tests on the biggest and most dangerous banks at 4:30 p.m. today. But the potential results of those tests played a negative role in the stock market’s performance yesterday.The Dow’s drop of 710 points yesterday can be ascribed to two things: the alarming news reports that COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing in the second and third most populous states in the U.S. – Texas and Florida; and a bombshell report from Bloomberg News released at 7:00 a.m. yesterday morning.The Bloomberg article, by Lisa Lee and Shahien Nasiripour, cast the Federal Reserve in an unfavorable light over its failure to halt dividend payments at the biggest Wall Street banks, something that European bank regulators have done during the pandemic crisis. Eight of the largest U.S. banks announced in unison on Sunday, March 15, that they would halt share buybacks through the first and second quarter, but they’ve continued to pay cash dividends to shareholders, whittling away critical capital that could serve the struggling U.S. economy far better as loans to consumers and businesses. (Two-thirds of U.S. GDP consists of consumer spending.)The Bloomberg article dropped this bombshell nugget on what Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo had spent on share buybacks and dividends since 2017:“From the start of 2017 through March, the four banks cumulatively returned about $1.26 to shareholders for every $1 they reported in net income, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Citigroup returned almost twice as much money to its stockholders as it earned, according to the data, which includes dividends on preferred shares. The banks declined to comment.”We need to pause right there for a moment because both Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and the Fed’s Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles have been telling Congress and the public for months now that these mega banks, which it is in charge of supervising, have “adequate capital” and are a “source of strength” in this crisis. There is no accounting alchemy in the world that can make Citigroup a source of strength if it’s been paying out twice as much money as it’s been earning for 3-1/4 years.In addition, the Fed appears to have been ignoring the looming risks hiding off these bank balance sheets. See our report: Three of the Biggest Banks on Wall Street Have $7.4 Trillion In Off-Balance Sheet Exposures. It appears that the Fed has been doing the exact same thing it did during the financial crisis of 2007 to 2010 – hiding the truth from the American people while it makestrillions of dollars in secret loans to the largest Wall Street financial institutions.

 Fed Stress Test Finds U.S. Banks Healthy Enough to Withstand the Coronavirus Crisis – WSJ - The Federal Reserve on Thursday said a prolonged economic downturn could saddle the nation’s biggest banks with up to $700 billion in losses on soured loans and ordered them to cap dividends and suspend share buybacks to conserve funds. In a worst-case scenario, where unemployment remains high and the economy doesn’t bounce back for a few quarters, the 33 largest U.S. banks would suffer heavy loan losses that would erode the capital buffers meant to keep them on stable financial footing, the Fed said when it announced the results of its annual stress tests. Designed to gauge the health of the nation’s banking system, the stress tests were expanded this year to study the effect of the downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The Fed said U.S. banks are strong enough to withstand the crisis and restricted dividend payouts and buybacks to make sure they stay that way. Banks, which will announce their dividend plans for next quarter as soon as Monday, won’t be able to make payouts that are greater than their average quarterly profit from the four most recent quarters. The Fed also barred them from buying back shares in the third quarter. Most of the largest banks had previously agreed to halt buybacks during the second quarter. Buybacks are the main way U.S. banks return capital to shareholders. In a sign of the uncertainty facing the industry, the Fed required banks to resubmit updated capital plans later this year to reflect current stresses. The central bank didn’t break out the results of the coronavirus analyses for individual banks. However, among the six largest, only Wells Fargo & Co. had a dividend payout that would breach the new threshold set by the Fed, according to Wolfe Research forecasts. The bank’s dividend in the third quarter would be 150% of its average expected profits over the past four quarters. A Wells Fargo spokesman declined to comment on the stress test results. The Fed said limiting shareholder payouts would help keep banks healthy during the recession. Its analysis of the current pandemic found that if the economy takes a long time to recover, banks could experience losses similar to the financial crisis of 2008.

Fed freezes stock buybacks, caps dividends after stress test results— The Federal Reserve said Thursday it will limit shareholder payouts by big banks and will also require them to reassess their long-term capital plans. The actions are necessary in anticipation of more economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the Fed said after it released the results of its annual stress tests. The central bank will require big banks to suspend share repurchases during the third quarter of this year and limit dividend distributions to the levels banks paid out in the second quarter. Those dividend distributions could also be limited further, the Fed said, depending on each individual bank’s earnings results. “For the first time in the ten years we have been doing stress testing, we are exercising the option that has always been in our capital framework of requiring all large banks to reassess their capital needs and resubmit their capital plans to the Federal Reserve later this year,” Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles said in a statement. “If the circumstances warrant, we will not hesitate to take additional policy actions to support the U.S. economy and banking system.” Many big banks had already halted share buybacks this spring. A handful of small and midsize banks reduced their dividends after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, but none of the larger banks have cut their payments. The investment firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods issued a forecast in May that dividend payouts as a percentage of earnings among the largest banks would peak in the second quarter and then settle back in the latter half of the year. The Fed took action after conducting “sensitivity analyses” of the 34 banks — each with more than $100 billion of assets — that it reviewed for capital adequacy as part of its annual stress tests. In a departure from previous years, the Fed did not publish how individual firms fared under the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review, or CCAR, examinations, but instead disclosed how the biggest banks would perform under the typical “severely adverse” scenario as a whole, as well as how banks would react to the additional COVID-19-related analyses. Those analyses tested banks against three hypothetical economic models of recovery from the pandemic: a “V-shaped” economic recovery, a “U-shaped” recovery and a “W-shaped” recovery. Each of those scenarios made different assumptions in unemployment rates, gross domestic product output and Treasury rates. Those were the only economic indicators, although they stressed some other elements of the bank data. In aggregate, all 34 banks tested maintained the minimum capital requirements under each of the scenarios tested — although “several would approach minimum capital levels,” the Fed said in the statement.

Fed puts restrictions on bank dividends after test finds some banks could be stressed in pandemic The Federal Reserve put new restrictions on the U.S. banking industry Thursday after its annual stress test found that several banks could get uncomfortably close to minimum capital levels in scenarios tied to the coronavirus pandemic. The Fed said in a release that big banks will be required to suspend share buybacks and cap dividend payments at their current level for the third quarter of this year. The regulator also said that it would only allow dividends to be paid based on a formula tied to a bank's recent earnings. Furthermore, the industry will be subject to ongoing scrutiny: For the first time in the decade-long history of the stress test, banks will have to resubmit their payout plans again later this year, and restrictions on payouts could remain in effect. They may have to repeat this cycle every quarter, the regulator said. Bank stocks slumped after the close of regular trading in New York. Shares of Wells Fargo, which had climbed during the day, gave back some of those gains, falling 3.3%. Goldman Sachs slumped 3.9%. JPMorgan Chase dropped 1.9%. "While I expect banks will continue to manage their capital actions and liquidity risk prudently, and in support of the real economy, there is material uncertainty about the trajectory for the economic recovery," Fed Vice Chair Randall Quarles said in a statement. "As a result, the Board is taking action to assess banks' conditions more intensively and to require the largest banks to adopt prudent measures to preserve capital in the coming months." The move signals that the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus pandemic, and the difficulty in forecasting what the future holds for banks, is making the Fed cautious. Regulators and the industry are keen to avoid the mistakes of the previous crisis, where firms made billions of dollars in payouts only to have to raise capital later. The biggest U.S. banks already said in March that they would voluntarily suspend share repurchases, which make up roughly 70% of capital payouts for the industry. What remained were the dividends, which bank analysts have mostly assumed would remain at their current levels – with the exception of Wells Fargo, which is struggling to restore profits after its fake accounts scandal. Still, options market traders have bet that banks would be forced to cut dividends, even at JPMorgan, the biggest and most profitable of the megabanks.

 Fed’s Stress Tests Results Based on GDP Decline of 8.5 Percent; Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow Forecast Says GDP Will Decline by 46.6 Percent - Pam Martens -Yesterday the Federal Reserve released its highly awaited stress tests on the biggest and most dangerous banks in America. The stress test results fill an 83-page document with dozens of charts showing what would happen to the banks under a hypothetical “severely adverse scenario.”This scenario, unfortunately, was previously prepared and pales in comparison to the actual economic damage rendered by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the severely adverse scenario for this year’s stress tests imagined the U.S. unemployment rate climbing to a peak of 10 percent in the third quarter of 2021. The unemployment rate is currently 13.3 percent. But far more frightening, the Fed’s severely adverse scenario for GDP imagined a decline of “8½ percent from its pre-recession peak, reaching a trough in the third quarter of 2021.”As of yesterday, June 25, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow estimate was for U.S. GDP to decline by a staggering 46.6 percent in the second quarter. In a feeble attempt to compensate for the fact that its “severely adverse scenario” now looks like a cake walk compared to the reality on the ground in the U.S., the Fed added what it calls a “sensitivity analysis.” That analysis assessed how the big banks would perform under three downside scenarios resulting from the coronavirus pandemic: a V-shaped recession; a slower, U-shaped recession; and a more severe W-shaped, double-dip recession.The Fed summarized those three scenarios as follows: “Under the U- and W-shaped scenarios, most firms remain well capitalized but several would approach minimum capital levels.”The Fed, however, did not provide individual bank results for those scenarios. It provided individual bank results only for its previously announced criteria for the “severely adverse scenario” that imagined unemployment at 10 percent and a GDP decline of 8.5 percent. Under that scenario, the Fed projected $552 billion in losses in the aggregate for the 33 banks it reviewed, over nine quarters.We looked at where those projected losses were concentrated and, sure enough, they were concentrated at the biggest Wall Street banks. The breakdown was as follows: JPMorgan Chase, hypothetical losses of $64.4 billion; Citigroup, $47.7 billion; Wells Fargo, $47.4 billion; and Bank of America, $47.2 billion. In other words, the tally for just those four banks comes to $206.7 billion or 37 percent of the losses for all 33 banks. The Fed really lost credibility, however, with these loss estimates for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, showing hypothetical losses of $9.8 billion and $5.3 billion, respectively, in the hypothetical “severely adverse scenario.” During the last financial crisis, one trader alone at Morgan Stanley, Howie Hubler, racked up $9 billion in losses.

Banking Regulators Relax Volcker Rule, Cut Margin Requirements for Derivative Trades: Instant Reaction -  Bank regulators are finishing a major rollback of the Volcker rule Thursday, making it easier for banks to invest in some riskier funds, including venture capital funds. Regulators are also finalizing changes to another, separate requirement, relaxing swap margin rules governing banks’ derivatives trades with their own affiliates, which is expected to release an estimated $40 billion in capital, according to banking agency staff in a conference call with reporters. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Reserve voted to approve the changes on Thursday. It’s likely this is the Trump administration’s last big bank deregulatory push before the 2020 elections. Morning Consult asked financial policy experts and analysts for their thoughts on the newly released rule. Here’s what they said: “We are more than a little concerned about the apparent number and scope of unnecessary carve-outs from the covered funds restrictions. We also are concerned about the timing of these changes because these exclusions can only increase risks in the U.S. banking system and divert resources from the lending activities banks should be emphasizing as the U.S. economy attempts a recovery from the COVID-19-induced economic downturn. “The FDIC and CFTC have set the stage to turn the Volcker rule into the regulatory equivalent of a Potemkin village. The rule remains in theory. In practice, however, multiple new exclusions and expanded existing exclusions will place far too many of the speculative activities of U.S.-taxpayer-backed banks beyond the reach of the Volcker rule.” Kress said he is concerned the rules will “expose banks and the FDIC’s deposit insurance fund to greater risks.” “Both the Volcker rule and inter-affiliate swap margin requirements were designed to limit the deposit insurance fund’s exposure to holding company risk-taking that occurs outside of bank subsidiaries. By weakening these safeguards, the FDIC puts the deposit insurance fund on the hook for even more high-risk, speculative activities.”

Bank stocks surge after regulators ease financial crisis-era Volcker Rule  -- Bank stocks surged as much as 3% on Thursday after federal regulators rolled back the Volcker Rule, a financial crisis-era rule that restricted banks from operating proprietary trading units and from acquiring or retaining ownership stakes in hedge funds or private equity funds.The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Office of theComptroller of the Currency, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Commodity Futures TradingCommission issued a final rule on Thursday "to modify and clarify the covered fund provisions" of the rule, according to the news release.The rule change, according to the regulators, will do three things:

  • 1. Facilitate capital formation by providing banking entities greater flexibility in sponsoring funds that provide loans to companies so banks can allocate resources to a more diverse array of long-term investments.
  • 2. Protect safety, soundness and financial stability by not allowing banks to engage in any activity that is not currently permissible if conducted on their balance sheets.
  • 3. Provide greater clarity and certainty about what activities are permitted, which will improve supervision and implementation of the Volcker Rule.

According to Bloomberg, the rule change will free up as much as $40 billion for the banks.

 Wells Fargo employees targeted with phishing attack using calendar invites - Wells Fargo employees are being targeted with a phishing attack that uses innocent-looking calendar invitations as the clickbait. Hackers have been sending Wells staffers emails that look like they’re coming from the company's security department, according to Abnormal Security, a cybersecurity research firm that says it discovered the attack. The fraudsters try to get message recipients to click on calendar invitations that take them to a malicious website which resembles the Wells Fargo site. At that site, employees are asked for sensitive information like the username, login, card PIN or number for their personal accounts held at Wells. As of Friday the campaign had targeted about 20,000 employees, Abnormal Security said in a June 18 blog post. That equals more than 7% of Wells' workforce based on the number of full-time equivalent employees the company reported at year-end. It is unclear how many employees may have been duped. Wells Fargo declined an interview request but offered this statement acknowledging the situation: “The security of our customers’ accounts and information is our priority at Wells Fargo, and we are aware of this campaign. We encourage our customers who receive suspicious emails to not respond, click on any links or open any attachments in any format.” The company also has set up a webpage with information and resources on phishing. Cybercriminals have been upping their game during the coronavirus pandemic, taking advantage of the disruption of normal activity to siphon off unemployment benefits, execute fraudulent wire transfers, get people to download fake bank mobile apps and more. According to the cybersecurity firm Mimecast’s 100 Days of Coronavirus Report, the use of impersonation emails rose 30.3% from January through mid-April. Financial services firms have been among the hardest hit, said Trace Fooshee, senior analyst at Aite Group. “Banks have reported increases in phishing attacks that are specifically engineered to exploit the many thousands of consumers who have migrated to digital banking in the wake of the pandemic,” Fooshee said. “These consumers are particularly vulnerable to these kinds of attacks as they are often completely unaware of these kinds of attacks and are more likely to fall for deceptions that are cleverly disguised.”

 SEC Issues Devastating Risk Alert on Private Equity Abuses; Effectively Admits Failure of Last 5+ Years of Enforcement --Yves Smith -We’ve embedded an SEC Risk Alert on private equity abuses at the end of this post.1 What is remarkable about this document is that it contains a far longer and more detailed list of private abuses than the SEC flagged in its initial round of examinations of private equity firms in 2014 and 2015. Those examinations occurred in parallel with groundbreaking exposes by Gretchen Morgenson at the New York Times and Mark Maremont in the Wall Street Journal. At least some of the SEC enforcement actions in that era look to have been triggered by the press effectively getting ahead of the SEC. And the SEC even admitted the misconduct was more common at the most prominent firms.Yet despite front-page articles on private equity abuses, the SEC engaged in wet noodle lashings. Its pattern was to file only one major enforcement action over a particular abuse. Even then, the SEC went to some lengths to spread the filings out among the biggest firms. That meant it was pointedly engaging in selective enforcement, punishing only “poster child” examples and letting other firms who’d engaged in precisely the same abuses get off scot free.The very fact of this Risk Alert is an admission of failure by the SEC. It indicates that the misconduct it highlighted five years ago continues and if anything is even more pervasive than in the 2014-2015 era. It also confirms that its oft-stated premise then, that the abuses it found then had somehow been made by firms with integrity that would of course clean up their acts, and that now-better-informed investors would also be more vigilant and would crack down on misconduct, was laughably false.In particular, the second section of the Risk Alert, on Fees and Expenses (starting on page 4) describes how fund managers are charging inflated or unwarranted fees and expenses. In any other line of work, this would be called theft. Yet all the SEC is willing to do is publish a Risk Alert, rather than impose fines as well as require disgorgements?

 Societal upheaval strengthens case to expand CRA to nonbanks- Ludwig - — Just two years after finalizing the first significant regulatory overhaul of the Community Reinvestment Act in the 1990s, then-Comptroller of the Currency Eugene Ludwig had another pitch for policymakers: It was time to expand the law's anti-redlining obligations beyond banks. “At the end of 1996, for the first time, the dollar volume of mutual funds exceeded the dollar volume of bank deposits,” Ludwig said in a speech to the National Urban League in August 1997. “In these circumstances, I think you will agree that it makes sense to start thinking about how these financial powerhouses can shoulder some of the public responsibilities that banks today must assume.” Those trends have only accelerated in more recent years: Between 2010 and 2017, the global assets of nonbank lenders alone grew to $52 trillion from $30 trillion, according to an analysis of Financial Stability Board data from the bond ratings agency firm DBRS. The most recent CRA reforms by former Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting, who stepped down in May, made a lot of changes that involved banks, including a reworked scoring system that puts greater emphasis on the dollar value of CRA activity and less emphasis on where banks do it. But many observers say only an act of Congress could expand the types of institutions the law covers. Ludwig, chairman and CEO of Promontory Financial Group, told American Banker in a recent interview that now is the time for lawmakers to extend CRA to include nonbank financial institutions such as online lenders, student loan servicers, credit unions, hedge funds and more. Doing so could make a big difference in this tumultuous period of widespread protests against racial inequality amid the coronavirus pandemic and a recession, he says. “This is a time and will be increasingly a time of great need for us to come together and address, holistically, our social and economic problems for low- and moderate-income people," Ludwig said. "We have an opportunity now to take the difficult, challenging period we’ve been living through and use it to the benefit of the nation going forward.” The following conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

 CFPB issues proposals to revise QM rule, extend GSE patch - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday proposed two rulemakings concerning competitive advantages that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac enjoy in connection with underwriting requirements. The bureau said it would revise the definition of “qualified mortgage” and extend an exemption given to the government-sponsored enterprises known as the GSE patch. The temporary exemption was granted to Fannie and Freddie in 2014 with the goal of helping the housing market recover from the financial crisis. For the past eight years, loans approved by the GSEs' underwriting engines have been considered qualified mortgages that automatically meet ability-to-repay underwriting requirements, including having a debt-to-income ratio of 43% or less — even if the DTI ratio actually exceeds that amount. The CFPB estimates that 957,000 loans would be affected by the January 2021 expiration of the GSE patch. "Many of these loans would either not be made or would be made but at a higher price" after it expires, it said. The consumer bureau has proposed revising the QM definition and potentially replacing the 43% debt-to-income limit with a price-based threshold. It also is requesting comment on whether to increase the DTI threshold within a range of 45% to 48% or to adopt a hybrid approach that includes “more flexible definitions of debt and income.” CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger has promised a smooth transition for the mortgage market after the expiration of the patch. “The Bureau is proposing to replace the Patch with a price-based approach to QM loans to preserve consumer access to mortgage loans while also making sure consumers have the ability to repay them,” Kraninger said in a press release. “The GSE Patch’s expiration will facilitate a more transparent, level playing field that ultimately benefits consumers through promoting more vigorous competition in mortgage markets.” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, criticized Kraninger for proposing such a major revamp during the coronavirus outbreak. “Putting out a proposal to reshape access to affordable mortgages in the middle of a pandemic guarantees that this rule will not have the thoughtful look that it deserves," Brown said in a press release. "At a time when the CFPB is receiving the largest volume of complaints in its history, the CFPB should be focused on protecting consumers who are struggling, not this rule.” Kraninger caught many in the mortgage industry off guard last year when she proposed ending the special treatment given to Fannie and Freddie by letting the GSE patch expire. The CFPB’s proposal would revise the general definition of constitutes a QM loan, replacing the hard 43% DTI limit with a price-based threshold measured by comparing a loan’s annual percentage rate against the average prime offer rate for a comparable transaction. A loan would meet the qualified-mortgage definition only if the APR exceeds average prime offer rate by less than two percentage points for as of the date the interest rate is set. The proposal would provide higher price thresholds for smaller loans. Though the plan would remove the 43% DTI limit from the QM definition, it would still require that lenders consider a borrower’s income or assets, debt obligations and DTI ratio or residual income when making a loan. Lenders would still have to verify the borrower’s current income or assets and debt obligations. Notably, the plan would completely remove Appendix Q, a set of guidelines for documenting a borrower’s income and liabilities that has long been vilified by mortgage lenders as unworkable, particularly for self-employed borrowers.

CFPB gives mortgage servicers relief to help struggling homeowners - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will give mortgage servicers limited regulatory cover to offer forbearance and loss-mitigation options to their customers suffering financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. In an interim final rule published Tuesday and taking effect July 1, the bureau will waive its requirement that loss-mitigation options only be extended to customers who have submitted a complete loss-mitigation application. Borrowers facing temporary hardships would benefit from a quicker and more efficient application process, the CFPB said. The rule "makes it clear that servicers do not violate Regulation X by offering certain COVID-19-related loss-mitigation options based on an evaluation of limited application information collected from the borrower,” the CFPB said in a press release.Regulation X of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act requires that loss-mitigation and forbearance options only be extended to borrowers who complete an application for such relief. Tuesday's interim final rule would allow mortgage servicers to extend that relief sooner if they meet certain criteria that benefit struggling borrowers. "There are circumstances where Regulation X may require a servicer to collect a complete application from a borrower before offering this type of program," the rule says. "However, that result may not serve the particular needs of borrowers and servicers during the COVID-19 emergency."To qualify for the exemption during the pandemic, servicers must meet three criteria. Servicers must allow a borrower who became delinquent to delay all principal and interest payments; refrain from charging any fees or accrued interest while the relief is in place; and ensure that acceptance of a loss-mitigation offer resolves the borrower's delinquency status. The exception from Regulation X is not limited to borrowers who received forbearance plans under the coronavirus rescue package enacted earlier this year, and thus extends beyond those mortgages held by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration or any other federal agency.   The CFPB will accept comments on the interim final rule for 45 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases for First Time in Series to 8.48%" of Portfolio Volume - Note: To put these numbers in perspective, the MBA notes "For the week of March 2, only 0.25% of all loans were in forbearance." From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases for First Time in Series to 8.48% The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance decreased – for the first time since the survey’s inception in March – from 8.55% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 8.48% as of June 14, 2020. According to MBA’s estimate, 4.2 million homeowners are now in forbearance plans – down from almost 4.3 million homeowners the prior week....“The lower share of loans in forbearance was led by declines in GSE and portfolio and PLS loans, as more of those borrowers exited than entered a new forbearance plan,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Fewer homeowners in forbearance underscores the continued improvements in the job market, and provides another sign of the fundamental health of the housing market, which has rebounded considerably over the past several weeks.”Added Fratantoni, “The big unknown with respect to this positive development is the extent to which it relies upon policy measures put in place to help families through this crisis, particularly the stimulus payments and enhanced unemployment insurance benefits that were key parts of the CARES Act. We expect to see further improvements in the weeks ahead given the drop in forbearance requests this week.”

Black Knight: Number of Homeowners in COVID-19-Related Forbearance Plans Increased Slightly -- Note: Both Black Knight and the MBA (Mortgage Bankers Association) are putting out weekly estimates of mortgages in forbearance. From Black Knight: Forbearances Rise After Three Weeks of Declines The latest data from the McDash Flash Forbearance Tracker shows that the number of homeowners in active forbearance rose this week after three consecutive weeks of declines. Overall, the number of active forbearance plans is up 79K from last week – erasing roughly half of the improvement seen since the peak of May 22 – with rises seen over each of the past five business days.  As of June 23, 4.68 million homeowners are in forbearance plans, representing 8.8% of all active mortgages, up from 8.7% last week. Together, they represent just over $1 trillion in unpaid principal ($1,025B).

Black Knight: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Increased Sharply in May, Highest Rate since 2011 - Note: Loans in forbearance are counted as delinquent in this survey, but these loans are not reported as delinquent to the credit bureaus. From Black Knight: Black Knight: Mortgage Delinquencies Increase Another 20% in May to Hit Highest Level Since 2011, But June Payment Data Suggests Rise May Be Cresting

• Another 723,000 homeowners became past due on their mortgages in May, pushing the national delinquency rate to its highest level in 8.5 years
• There are now 4.3 million homeowners past due on their mortgages or in active foreclosure – including those in forbearance who have missed scheduled payments as part of their plans – up from 2 million at the end of March
• Serious delinquencies are on the rise as well, increasing by more than 50% over the past two months
• However, Black Knight’s McDash Flash Payment Tracker shows a higher share of payments have been made thus far in June than at the same time in May, suggesting the rise in delinquencies may be leveling off
• Both foreclosure starts and sales (completions), halted by COVID-19 moratoriums, remain at record lows
• The share of homeowners in active foreclosure has fallen to its lowest level on record since Black Knight began reporting the figure in January 2000 emphasis added
According to Black Knight's First Look report for March, the percent of loans delinquent increased 20.4% in May compared to April, and increased 131% year-over-year.  The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 5.8% in May and were down 22.7% over the last year. Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 7.76% in May, up from 6.45% in April. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased in May to 0.38% from 0.40% in April. The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is up 2,363,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is down 55,000 properties year-over-year.

Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate increased in May, Highest in 2 Years - Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in May was 0.81%, up from 0.64% in April. Freddie's rate is down from 0.63% in May 2019. This is the highest serious delinquency rate since June 2018.  Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%.  These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure". With COVID-19, this rate will increase significantly in June and July (it takes time since these are mortgages three months or more past due). I believe mortgages in forbearance will be counted as delinquent in this monthly report, but they will not be reported to the credit bureaus. This is very different from the increase in delinquencies following the housing bubble. Lending standards have been fairly solid over the last decade, and most of these homeowners have equity in their homes - and they will be able to restructure their loans once they are employed.

 30% Of Americans Didn't Make Their Housing Payment In June - A stunning 30% of Americans didn't make their housing payment for June - a figure that is likely going to ripple through the housing industry in coming months. According to a new survey by Apartment List, the rate is similar to May and shows that even though other industries are rebounding, the situation has not yet improved meaningfully in housing.These figures stood at 24% in April and 31% in May, before falling slightly to 30% in June. One third of the 30% in June made a partial payment, while two thirds made no payment at all. "Missed payment rates are highest for renters (32 percent), households earning less than $25,000 per year (40 percent), adults under the age of 30 (40 percent), and those living in high-density urban areas (35 percent). While the missed payment rate for mortgaged homeowners is just 3 percentage points lower than renters," the survey showed.  Despite the trend of missing payments at the beginning of the month, households have been able to play catch-up later in the month and "narrow the gap" by making payments in the middle of the month. This was the case in May, where the missed payment rate "dropped from 31 percent at the beginning of the month to 11 percent at the end."We'll see how long people can play catch up. Meanwhile, as the survey notes, delayed payments in one month are a strong indicator for coming months. 83% of those who paid on time in May did so in June. Meanwhile, only 30% of those who were late in May have made their payment in full for June.This means the data for the beginning of July is likely to be just as ugly as June.

Eviction bans ending — massive eviction crisis looms - Eviction moratoria in states across the U.S. are coming to an end. Many state and local leaders are working to extend these measures to protect renters, but eventually, the rent will be due. Unfortunately, the end of these eviction moratoria doesn’t mean the end of when renters need help. The number of renters who can’t pay their rent is expected to climb in the coming months as the COVID-19 crisis continues to leave millions of people without jobs and the CARES Act’s supplemental boost to unemployment insurance ends on July 31. The country could face a massive eviction crisis when these moratoria and supplemental benefits end, which could lead to a surge in renters losing their homes, an increase in homelessness and a strain on public services. One analysis predicts that homelessness could increase 40 to 45 percent by the end of the year. A rise in homelessness could mean a rise in the use of shelters and emergency rooms, all of which likely cost more than helping a family stay in their home. A federal funding infusion in rental assistance can prevent a wide-scale surge in evictions and homelessness. Before the pandemic, the U.S. was already facing affordable housing, eviction and homelessness crises. In 2015, just over 8 million renters had worst case housing needs, meaning they had extremely low incomes, lacked housing assistance, had severe rent burdens or lived in severely inadequate housing. Landlords file approximately over 3 million eviction notices every year. Moreover, on any given night in 2019, over 560,000 people were experiencing homelessness, with over 200,000 enduring sleeping outside. The pandemic could send all these numbers skyrocketing, causing long-term ramifications for families. When families are evicted and forced to move, they often lose their possessions, parents may lose their jobs and kids may have to switch schools. For some families, an eviction on their record could prevent landlords from renting to them, making it difficult to find a new home and potentially leading to them becoming homeless. This is more likely to happen for Black and Native American households, people with extremely low incomes and people with histories of involvement in systems such as child welfare and criminal or juvenile justice. These groups face discrimination in many facets of their lives, including in the rental housing market, making it less likely that they will be able to find housing again. If tenants are evicted and forced into homelessness, they would encounter an already overburdened homeless assistance system and many more could have to endure sleeping outside. People who currently are forced to live outside have higher rates of serious health conditions, are more likely to experience an attack or physical trauma and are less likely to have access to services and hygiene materials to keep them healthy. These risks are especially dangerous during a pandemic.

 Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey -Mortgage applications decreased 8.7 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending June 19, 2020.... The Refinance Index decreased 12 percent from the previous week and was 76 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 3 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 4 percent compared with the previous week and was 18 percent higher than the same week one year ago....“Mortgage applications decreased 9 percent last week, with both refinance and purchase activity falling despite the 30-year fixed rate mortgage staying at 3.30 percent – the record low in MBA’s survey,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Refinance applications dropped to their lowest level in three weeks, but the index remained 76 percent higher than a year ago. Despite the decline last week, MBA still anticipates refinance originations to increase to $1.35 trillion in 2020 – the highest level since 2012.”Added Kan, “Even with high unemployment and economic uncertainty, the purchase market is strong. Activity has climbed above year-ago levels for five straight weeks and was 18 percent higher than a year ago last week. One factor that may potentially crimp growth in the months ahead is that the release of pent-up demand from earlier this spring is clashing with the tight supply of new and existing homes on the market. Additional housing inventory is needed to give buyers more options and to keep home prices from rising too fast.”...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) remained unchanged at 3.30 percent, with points increasing to 0.32 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

FHFA House Price Index: Up 0.2% in April  -- The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for April. Here is the opening of the press releaseU.S. house prices rose in April, up 0.2 percent from the previous month, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI). House prices rose 5.5 percent from April 2019 to April 2020. The previously reported 0.1 percent increase for March 2020 remains unchanged. “U.S. house prices posted another positive monthly increase in April,” according to Dr. Lynn Fisher, Deputy Director of the Division of Research and Statistics at FHFA. “Regionally, results varied. Two of the usually stronger growth areas, the Mountain and Pacific divisions, were flat over the month but other divisions continued to experience strong price appreciation even with all of the COVID-19 challenges. Both the New England and South Atlantic regions saw monthly decreases in prices, but all divisions posted positive year over year growth of at least 5 percent. The number of transactions used to estimate the HPI were slightly down from March to April but were still a robust sample. We expect the normal spring bump in sales was pushed off by the COVID-19 shutdowns and may extend into the summer months as states reopen and real estate sales pick back up.” The chart below illustrates the monthly HPI series, which is not adjusted for inflation, along with a real (inflation-adjusted) series using the Consumer Price Index: All Items Less Shelter.

NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 3.91 million in May, Rebound Expected in Coming Months - From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Fall 9.7% in May While NAR Expects Strong Rebound in Coming Months: Existing-home sales fell in May, marking a three-month decline in sales as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Each of the four major regions witnessed dips in month-over-month and year-over-year sales, with the Northeast experiencing the greatest month-over-month drop. Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, slumped 9.7% from April to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 3.91 million in May. Overall, sales fell year-over-year, down 26.6% from a year ago (5.33 million in May 2019)....Total housing inventory at the end of May totaled 1.55 million units, up 6.2% from April, and down 18.8% from one year ago (1.91 million). Unsold inventory sits at a 4.8-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.0 months in April and up from the 4.3-month figure recorded in May 2019.This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in May (3.91 million SAAR) were down 9.7% from last month, and were 26.6% below the May 2019 sales rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. Existing Home InventoryAccording to the NAR, inventory increased to 1.55 million in May from 1.46 million in April. Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer. The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory. Year-over-year Inventory Inventory was down 18.8% year-over-year in May compared to May 2019. Months of supply increased to 4.8 months in May. This was below the consensus forecast.

US Existing Home Sales Plunge To 10 Year Low As Exodus From Cities Accelerates - Despite record low mortgage rates, soaring mortgage applications, and a modest rebound in new home sales, existing home sales were expected to tumble further in May. April's collapse was the largest since July 2010's expiration of the first-time homebuyers credit, and May saw the plunge continue, falling 9.7% MoM (against expectations of a 5.6% MoM decline) The median existing-home price for all housing types in May was $284,600, up 2.3% from May 2019 ($278,200), as prices increased in every region. May’s national price increase marks 99 straight months of year-over-year gains. But sales of $1mm-plus home crashed... But the notable trend of migration from cities to suburbs is clear:“Relatively better performance of single-family homes in relation to multifamily condominium properties clearly suggest migration from the city centers to the suburbs,” Yun said.“After witnessing several consecutive years of urban revival, the new trend looks to be in the suburbs as more companies allow greater flexibility to work from home.”And second-home buyers surged...Individual investors or second-home buyers, who account for many cash sales, purchased 14% of homes in May, up from 10% in April 2020 and from 13% in May 2019. All-cash sales accounted for 17% of transactions in May, up from 15% in April 2020 and down from 19% in May 2019. May's decline pushed the existing home sales SAAR to its lowest level since 2010... Regional Breakdown: Sales for May decreased in every region from the previous month’s levels. Median home prices grew in three of the four major regions from one year ago, falling marginally in the West.

  • May 2020 existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 13.0%, recording an annual rate of 470,000, a 29.9% decrease from a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $327,900, up 7.8% from May 2019.
  • Existing-home sales decreased 10.0% in the Midwest to an annual rate of 990,000 in May, down 20.2% from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $227,400, a 3.0% increase from May 2019.
  • Existing-home sales in the South dropped 8.0% to an annual rate of 1.73 million in May, down 25.1% from the same time one year ago. The median price in the South was $247,400, a 2.1% increase from a year ago.
  • Existing-home sales in the West fell 11.1% to an annual rate of 720,000 in May, a 35.1% decline from a year ago. The median price in the West was $408,400, down 0.2% from May 2019.

Comments on May Existing Home Sales – McBride- Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 3.91 million in May, Rebound Expected in Coming Months. A few key points:
1) Existing home sales are counted at the close of escrow, so this report is mostly for contracts signed in March and April - when the economy was mostly shutdown.
Sales NSA for May were below the housing bust low for May.   However, there has been a rebound in mortgage purchase applications and regional pending home sales, so we can expect a rebound in existing home sales in June or July.
2) Inventory is very low, and was down 18.8% year-over-year (YoY) in May. This is the lowest level of inventory for May since at least the early 1990s.
3) As usual, housing economist Tom Lawler was much closer to the actual NAR report than the consensus forecast.
This graph shows existing home sales by month for 2019 and 2020. Note that existing home sales picked up somewhat in the second half of 2019 as interest rates declined. Even with weak sales in April and May, sales to date are only down about 9.1% compared to the same period in 2019. Existing Home Sales NSAThe second graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA) by month (Red dashes are 2020), and the minimum and maximum for 2005 through 2019. Sales NSA in May (372,000) were well below sales last year in April (452,000). Sales NSA in May were just BELOW the housing bust minimum for May in 2009 (376,000).

  New Home Sales increased to 676,000 Annual Rate in May -  The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 676 thousand. The previous three months were revised down. Sales of new single-family houses in May 2020 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 676,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 16.6 percent above the revised April rate of 580,000 and is 12.7 percent above the May 2019 estimate of 600,000. The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply. The months of supply decreased in May to 5.6 months from 6.7 months in April. The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is in the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). "The seasonally-adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of May was 318,000. This represents a supply of 5.6 months at the current sales rate. "  Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973.  The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is close to normal.The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In May 2020 (red column), 64 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 56 thousand homes were sold in May. The all time high for May was 120 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for May was 30 thousand in 2011. This was above expectations of 640 thousand sales SAAR, however sales in the three previous months were revised down.

 A few Comments on May New Home Sales – McBride -New home sales for May were reported at 676,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). However sales for the previous three months were revised down.  This was above consensus expectations.   New home sales are counted when the contract is signed, whereas existing home sales are counted when the transaction closes.   So new home sales performed better than existing home sales in May.   Based on mortgage applications and regional pending home sales reports, there will be a pickup in existing home sales in June (or July), and builder reports suggest there will probably be a further pickup in new home sales too.  No one should get too excited.  I've long argued that new home sales and housing starts (especially single family starts) were some of the best leading indicators for the economy.   However, I've noted that there are times when this isn't true.   NOW is one of those times. The course of the economy will be determined by the course of the virus, and New Home Sales tell us nothing about the future of the pandemic.  The longer the pandemic lasts, the more long term damage to the economy - and, if the pandemic worsens and persists - that will eventually negatively impact housing.  The outlook for housing depends on the outlook for the pandemic.This graph shows new home sales for 2019 and 2020 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate). New home sales were up 12.7% year-over-year (YoY) in May. Year-to-date (YTD) sales are still up 1.9%. (the comparison to May of last year was pretty easy). And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales. Distressing GapThe "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through May 2020. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s. Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales. Now the gap is mostly closed (with help from the sharp decline in existing home sales due to the pandemic). Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

AIA: "Architecture billings downward trajectory moderates" This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.
From the AIA: Architecture billings downward trajectory moderates:  Demand for design services in May saw few signs of rebounding following a record drop in billings the month prior, according to a new report today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA).AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score for May was 32.0 compared to 29.5 in April, but still represents a significant decrease in services provided by U.S. architecture firms(any number below 50 indicates a decrease in billings). In May, the decline in new project inquiries and design contract scores moderated from April, posting scores of 38.0 and 33.1 respectively.“A large portion of the design and construction industry remains mired in steep cutbacks as many businesses and organizations are still trying to figure out what actions make sense in this uncertain economic environment,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “There are growing signs of activity beginning to pick up in some areas, but others are seeing a pause as pandemic concerns continue to grow.”...
• Regional averages: West (36.0); South (30.6); Midwest (29.7); Northeast (25.1)
• Sector index breakdown: institutional (35.7); multi-family residential (34.8); mixed practice (28.5); commercial/industrial (24.8)
This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 32.0 in May, up from 29.5 in April. Anything below 50 indicates contraction in demand for architects' services.
Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions. This represents a significant decrease in design services, and suggests a decline in CRE investment in early 2021 (This usually leads CRE investment by 9 to 12 months).

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Declined 41.8% Year-over-year From STR: US hotel results for week ending 20 June : U.S. hotel performance data for the week ending 20 June showed another small rise from previous weeks and less severe year-over-year declines, according to STR.   14-20 June 2020 (percentage change from comparable week in 2019):
• Occupancy: 43.9% (-41.8%)
• Average daily rate (ADR): US$92.20 (-31.7%)
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): US$40.48 (-60.3%)
“Occupancy was up another couple percentage points from last week, marking the 10th consecutive week of such an increase,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior VP of lodging insights. “Demand continues to be pushed upward by drive-to spots and the destinations with outdoor offerings such as beaches. For the week, 10 submarkets showed occupancy above 70%, led by Panama City (88.7%), where occupancy was just 0.7% lower than the comparable week in 2019.” The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.  Usually hotel occupancy starts to pick up seasonally in early June. So even though the occupancy rate was up slightly compared to last week, the year-over-year decline was only slightly improved this week compared to the previous three weeks  (41.8% decline vs 43.4% last week, 45.3% two weeks ago, and 43.2% decline three weeks ago). The improvement appears related mostly to leisure travel as opposed to business travel.

Personal Income decreased 4.2% in May, Spending increased 8.2% -- The BEA released the Personal Income and Outlays report for May:Personal income decreased $874.2 billion (4.2 percent) in May according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income (DPI) decreased $911.1 billion (4.9 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $994.5 billion (8.2 percent).  Real DPI decreased 5.0 percent in May and Real PCE increased 8.1 percent (tables 5 and 7). The PCE price index increased 0.1 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1 percent.The May PCE price index increased 0.5 percent year-over-year and the May PCE price index, excluding food and energy, increased 1.0 percent year-over-year. The following graph shows real Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) through May 2020 (2012 dollars). Note that the y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change. The dashed red lines are the quarterly levels for real PCE. The decrease in personal income was less than expected,  and the increase in PCE was below expectations. Note that core PCE inflation was below expectations.

Real Personal Income less Transfer Payments --NOTE: All of these numbers are on  a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR).In the Personal Income & Outlays report for May, the BEA noted that "Personal income decreased $874.2 billion (4.2 percent) in May". This decrease in Personal Income was due to a large decrease in transfer payments.Transfer payments decreased by $1.1 trillion in May (SAAR), after increasing $3 trillion in April (SAAR). Unemployment insurance increased from $70 billion in March (SAAR), to $430 billion in April (SAAR), to $1.28 trillion in May (SAAR).And "Other" (mostly the CARES Act one time payments) decreased by $2 trillion in May (SAAR).Without the decrease in transfer payments, Personal Income in April would have increased about 1.5%.A key measure of the health of the economy (Used by NBER in recession dating) is Real Personal Income less Transfer payments.This graph shows real personal income less transfer payments since 1990.This measure of economic activity decreased 2.9% in March, compared to February, and another 6.1% in April (compared to March). This measure increased 1.5% in May compared to April, but is still down 7.5% compared to February (pre-recession).

US Spending Surges At Record Pace In May As Government Wages Crash - Following the somewhat surprising surge (stimulus checks) in personal incomes in April (after March's collapse), May's income data was expected to fade as spending rebounded strongly (on the pent-up-demand after re-opening). On a month-over-month basis, personal income did drop, but less than expected (-4.2% MoM vs -6/0% exp) but spending rose less than expected (+8.2% MoM vs +9.3% exp) - this was still the biggest surge in spending on record (since 1958). Year-over-year, income growth slowed (as stimulus checks slowed) but spending's slump rebounded only modestly (remaining down a shocking 9.3% YoY)... Note that personal income (ex-transfer receipts - i.e. stimulus checks) rebounded very modestly... government handouts plunged by $1.1 trillion to $5.3 trillion... In fact, on the income side of the equation, May saw the biggest drop in government wages on record... All this chaotic noise has sparked massive volatility in the implied savings rate, which plunged back towards old normal (from 32.2% to 23.2%) but still remains extremely high... 4 Graphs Source: Bloomberg Finally, we note that The Fed's favorite inflation indicator - Core PCE Deflator - slowed even firther to +1.0% YoY (slightly hotter than the +0.9% YoY expected)...

U.S. Consumer Spending Rebounded in May, but Virus Surge Poses Economic Threat – WSJ - Americans cautiously returned to the marketplace last month, helping the economy slowly dig out from a severe recession. But a new rise in coronavirus infections threatens the nascent recovery. Household spending on goods and services rose a record 8.2% in May, the government said Friday. That was more than double the prior all-time high on records dating from 1959. Americans spent big on long-lasting items like cars, refrigerators and sofas. May spending rose but remained below pre-coronavirus pandemic levels. Incomeremained high after surging thanks togovernment stimulus. The report boosted hopes that a good portion of consumers are eager and able to spend despite historically high unemployment. But it also showed just how far the economy has to go to recover from what economists have already labeled a deep recession caused by the pandemic. Consumer spending remained down 12% from February, when state and city officials ordered businesses to shut to prevent the virus’s spread. “It’s only a partial recovery from where we were. I’m not sure that it can be sustained,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. Consumer spending and economic growth won’t return to normal levels “unless there’s a vaccine, a health response that makes people feel safe.” Consumer sentiment remains depressed from near all-time highs reached during the last expansion, and slipped in the latter half of June. And Americans overall pocketed more than a fifth of their disposable incomes last month, an exceptionally high savings rate that signals caution. But the federal stimulus package, coupled with the urge among many Americans to get out and spend after months of being cooped up, is likely helping the economy grow again. Married couple Chip Hoagland and Sarah Wiley have been saving money by not going out to eat or taking trips. That has freed up income to add a studio behind their 1955 ranch house in Falls Church, Va., and buy a used Dodge Caravan. Mr. Hoagland, a 59-year-old bioenergy company executive, also bought cars during the 2008 and 2001 recessions. “I usually buy when it’s low,” he said. He visited three dealerships last month. “Clearly they weren’t moving their cars. I was able to negotiate what I thought was a fairly good deal.”

Trump Wants You to Tip Restaurant Owners, Not Servers – If the Trump administration has its way, the tip you leave your waiter or waitress could end up in the pocket of the restaurant owner instead of the person who served you.This week, Trump's Labor Department proposed rescinding an Obama-era rule that made the logical point that tips are the property of the servers and cannot be taken by the restaurant owner. The administration's proposal would allow restaurant owners who pay their wait staff as little as $7.25 per hour to collect all the tips left by patrons and do whatever they want with them—regardless of what diners intended. Coming on the heels of the massive tax bills recently passed by the House and Senate, this "reverse Robin Hood" scheme—which will take money out of the pockets of low-wage workers and give it to business owners—is just one more example of "trickle-down" economic policy masquerading as pro-worker reform.Like the tax bills, the DOL proposal sets the table to transfer income and wealth from those least able to afford it to corporations and the very wealthy.Servers in restaurants are among the lowest-paid workers in our economy. The median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses was less than $10 per hour in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are hardly the kind of workers who should be subsidizing the profits of their bosses.But the National Restaurant Association—the "other NRA"—lobbied for this result. The only question now is whether Labor Secretary Alex Acosta will go along with this swindle, or whether he will give the public enough information to have a fair chance to weigh in.This is a bad policy that the administration is trying to hide behind a very bad process. Despite the fact that the law requires it, the Labor Department's proposal includes no estimate of how much money in tips will be transferred from servers to restaurant owners—many of which are big corporations, not mom and pop—as a result of the rule. Instead of providing an estimate, the proposal provides numerous excuses for hiding the rule's real impact from the public.

 GNC Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy With Plan To Sell Itself - On Tuesday, we noted that weekly bankruptcies are soaring, the most in over a decade, and there is a striking correlation between the unemployment rate and chapter 11 filings. Not too long ago, we said that a "biblical" wave of bankruptcies is about to flood the U.S. economy. With that being said, and at no surprise, GNC Holdings, Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday night, intending to sell its business and shutter over 1,000 stores.   The health and wellness brand, based in Pittsburgh and founded in 1935, "expects the Chapter 11 process will benefit its stakeholders and best position the Company for long-term success." The Chapter 11 petition was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware will allow the company "to restructure its balance sheet and accelerate its business strategy." GNC said it reached a deal with its secured lenders for approximately $130 million in additional liquidity to continue operations through the bankruptcy process and work toward a prearranged reorganization plan with creditors. "GNC has secured approximately $130 million in additional liquidity through (i) a commitment from certain of its term lenders to provide $100 million in "new money" debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing and (ii) approximately $30 million to come from certain modifications to the existing ABL credit agreement," GNC said.  The company said it "reached an agreement in principle for the sale of the Company's business" - with the starting bid price of $760 million, subject to court approval."With the support of its lenders and key stakeholders, the company expects to confirm a standalone plan of reorganization or consummate a sale that will enable the business to exit from this process in the fall of this year," GNC said.GNC estimated its total debts at $895 million and total assets of $1.4 billion. The company plans to close 800 to 1,200 of its 5,200 retail locations throughout the U.S.

DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven decreased 40% year-over-year in April --The Department of Transportation (DOT) reported: Travel on all roads and streets changed by -39.8% (-112.0 billion vehicle miles) for April 2020 as compared with April 2019. Travel for the month is estimated to be 169.6 billion vehicle miles.The seasonally adjusted vehicle miles traveled for April 2020 is 160.9 billion miles, a -41.2% (-112.9 billion vehicle miles) decline from April 2019. It also represents -27.2% decline (-60 billion vehicle miles) compared with March 2020. Cumulative Travel for 2020 changed by -14.8% (-152.3 billion vehicle miles). The cumulative estimate for the year is 875.9 billion vehicle miles of travel. This graph shows the rolling 12 month total vehicle miles driven to remove the seasonal factors. Miles driven declined during the great recession, and the rolling 12 months stayed below the previous peak for a record 85 months. Miles driven declined sharply in March, and really collapsed in April. This will be an interesting measure to watch when the economy eventually starts to recover. Vehicle Miles YoYThis graph shows the YoY change in vehicle miles driven. Miles driven were down 39.8% year-over-year in April.

June Vehicle Sales Forecast: 29% Year-over-year Decline -From New Vehicle Sales Expected to Drop in June, Closing a Second Down Quarter in 2020, Edmunds Forecasts The car shopping experts at Edmunds say that June will be another down month for auto sales as the industry continues to combat market challenges posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, forecasting that 1,080,656 new cars and trucks will be sold in the U.S. in June for an estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 12.8 million. This reflects a 28.7% decrease in sales from June 2019 and a 3.6% decrease from May 2020.…"It comes as no surprise that the second quarter was a disappointing one for the automotive industry, but the good news is that auto sales didn't come to a complete standstill either," said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' executive director of insights. "The fact that retail sales — not fleet — are what kept the market propped up speaks volumes to the resilience of the American consumer. And the way that dealers were quick to pivot to online sales also underscores the incredibly responsive and resourceful nature of the industry in the face of adversity."Although Edmunds data shows a steady growth in sales since the end of March, analysts caution that some of the strains of the pandemic are starting to show as more shoppers return to the market."The marketplace is growing less inviting as automakers pull back on incentives and inventory dwindles due to factory shutdowns, particularly when it comes to trucks, which have been the one bright spot for sales during the pandemic," said Caldwell. "Current sales paint an optimistic picture given the circumstances, but between COVID-19 and today's politically charged climate, the industry needs to prepare for uncertainties ahead." This graph shows actual sales from the BEA (Blue), and Edmunds forecast for June (Red).Note that the low in April of 8.73 million SAAR was lower than the lowest sales rate during the great recession of 9.02 million SAAR in February 2009.Sales have bounced back from the April low, but are still down sharply year-over-year.

Headline Durable Goods Orders Up 15.8% in May, Better Than Expected  -The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders:New orders for manufactured durable goods in December increased $5.7 billion or 2.4 percent to $245.5 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up two of the last three months, followed a 3.1 percent November decrease. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 0.1 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 2.5 percent. Transportation equipment, up following three consecutive monthly decreases, drove the increase, $5.9 billion or 7.6 percent to $82.9 billion. Download full PDFThe latest new orders number at 15.8% month-over-month (MoM) was better than the 10.9% estimate. The series is down 17.9% year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods was up 4% MoM, which was better than the consensus of 2.5%. The core measure is down 6.3% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is up 2.4% MoM and down 6.4% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is up 2.3% MoM and down 3.6% YoY. For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex.

Kansas City Fed: "Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Grew Slightly " in June --From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Grew Slightly: The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the June Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that Tenth District manufacturing activity grew slightly after sharply decreasing for three straight months. Activity still remained well below year-ago levels, while expectations for future activity rebounded moderately.“Regional factory activity expanded just slightly in June compared with a month ago, but was still well below year-ago levels,” said Wilkerson. “Of those surveyed, 76% of firms have taken advantage of emergency lending options, and expectations for future activity and employment levels have improved somewhat.”  The month-over-month composite index was 1 in June, up considerably from -19 in May and a record low of 30 in April. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. The improvement in activity was driven by nondurable goods plants, while durable goods factories, especially nonmetallic mineral products, primary metals, fabricated metals, and computer and electronics plants continued to decline. Month-over-month indexes were mixed. Production, shipments, new orders, and supplier delivery time indexes recovered to positive levels, while indexes for order backlog, employment, new orders for exports, and inventories remained negative. Year over-year factory indexes mostly remained highly negative in June, but the composite index moved up slightly from -35 to -29. The future composite index rose considerably in June, rebounding from -2 to 9.76% of factory contacts had applied for the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program since March 13, 2020 (up from 67% reported in April) This suggests activity has bottomed, but this is just a slight increase off the bottom.   Three-fourth of the companies surveyed are using the PPP - and that suggests further layoffs coming if activity doesn't rebound.

Richmond Fed Manufacturing: Steady in June - Fifth District manufacturing activity "held fairly steady in June", according to the most recent survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The composite index rose to 0 in June from -27 in May. Because of the highly volatile nature of this index, we include a 3-month moving average to facilitate the identification of trends is now at -26.7, which indicates contraction.The complete data series behind today's Richmond Fed manufacturing report, which dates from November 1993, is available here. Here is a snapshot of the complete Richmond Fed Manufacturing Composite series.  Here is the latest Richmond Fed manufacturing overview. Fifth District manufacturing held fairly steady in June, according to the most recent survey from the Richmond Fed. The composite index rose from −27 in May to 0 in June, as shipments were relatively flat, more firms reported increases in new orders, and firms generally reported continued declines in employment. The index for local business conditions rose notably in June, indicating optimism among firms after three months of some of the most negative readings on record for that series. Manufacturers were also optimistic, overall, that conditions would improve in the next six months. Survey results suggested that some manufacturing firms saw decreased employment in June. Meanwhile, wages, the average workweek, and availability of skills appeared fairly flat, on the whole. Survey respondents expected employment, wages, and the average workweek to increase in the coming months. The average growth rates of both prices paid and prices received by survey participants increased in June, with growth of prices paid outpacing that of prices received. Firms expected price growth to continue to rise in the near future. Link to Report

 MLB, players group agree to 60-game season starting in July - Major League Baseball (MLB) and the MLB Players Association agreed on Tuesday to Commissioner Rob Manfred’s proposed 60-game season, with games starting in late July.The league tweeted that players will report to a limited form of “spring” training on July 1 and that the shortest season in almost 150 years will begin either July 23 or 24. The player’s association agreed to the suggested health and safety protocols for the season to begin.“The health and safety of players and employees will remain MLB’s foremost priorities in its return to play,” the league’s statement said. “MLB is working with a variety of public health experts, infectious disease specialists and technology providers on a comprehensive approach that aims to facilitate a safe return.”“Major League Baseball is thrilled to announce that the 2020 season is on the horizon,” Manfred said in the statement. “We have provided the Players Association with a schedule to play 60 games and are excited to provide our great fans with Baseball again soon.”Each team will play 10 games against each of its four division rivals and four games against the five clubs in the corresponding division in the other league to reduce travel, The Associated Press reported.  Earlier Tuesday, the AP reported that MLB owners were planning to unilaterally issue a 60-game schedule for the series after the players association rejected a series of proposals. The league requested that the association answer by 5 p.m. Tuesday whether players could report to training by July 1. The games will be held without fans.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decrease to 1,480,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending June 20, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 1,480,000, a decrease of 60,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 32,000 from 1,508,000 to 1,540,000. The 4-week moving average was 1,620,750, a decrease of 160,750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 8,000 from 1,773,500 to 1,781,500.  The previous week was revised up. This does not include the 728,120 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971. The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims decreased to 1,620,750. This was higher than the consensus forecast of 1.3 million initial claims and the previous week was revised up. The second graph shows seasonally adjust continued claims since 1967 (lags initial by one week). At the worst of the Great Recession, continued claims peaked at 6.635 million, but then steadily declined. Continued claims decreased to 19,522,000 (SA) from 20,289,000 (SA) last week and will likely stay at a high level until the crisis abates.

U.S. Initial Unemployment Benefits Steady at 1.5 Million in June – WSJ - The number of workers seeking jobless benefits has held steady at about 1.5 million each week so far in June, signaling a slow recovery for the U.S. economy as states face new infections that could impede hiring and consumer spending.Applications for unemployment benefits were slightly below 1.5 million last week, at 1.48 million, the Labor Department reported Thursday. While weekly totals have gradually eased from a late March peak of nearly 7 million, they also remain well above the prepandemic record of 695,000 in 1982. Meanwhile, the number of people receiving benefits, an indicator for overall layoffs, totaled 19.5 million in the week ended June 13, down slightly from previous weeks.Economists say the sluggish improvements in claims tallies dim prospects for a quick recovery. Further, a recent increase in coronavirus casescould affect efforts to reopen the economy—and get people back to work and spending money. “We’re seeing a slowdown in layoffs, but hiring hasn’t picked up a tremendous amount,” said Nick Bunker, economist at the job site Indeed. “The recovery from this is going to potentially be a very long slog if we can’t get the virus under control quickly.”

Women’s Job Losses From Pandemic Aren’t Good for Economic Recovery – WSJ - Women have lost jobs at a steeper rate than men during the coronavirus pandemic, a factor that is likely to hold back the economic recovery. Female workers account for the majority of service-sector jobs, including food service and personal care, which are more vulnerable to social-distancing measures and have suffered the brunt of losses during the current economic crisis. Married women, who in past recessions took jobs to offset lost wages when their husband or male partner was laid off, also are less likely to seek work because their employment prospects are now limited, one researcher concluded. These dynamics present an impediment to broader economic growth: If participation among women remains weak, it means fewer workers in female-dominated fields such as nursing or hair care. Economists say the squeeze on jobs and continued child and elder-care responsibilities pose setbacks to female employment and labor-force participation as businesses start to reopen in the coming months. “There were lots of occupations that were offering women very decent earnings and flexible schedules...that may not be able to return 100% for a long time,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter. The fragility of female-dominated jobs is different from past recessions, when goods-producing sectors such as construction and manufacturing—which are predominantly men—saw greater employment losses.

 The Magnitude Of The 2nd Round Of Job Losses Won't Be Apparent Until After The Election - Financial markets are entering a period with limited data or other scheduled developments from which to derive any meaningful trading direction. It’s the final full trading week of what promises to be a dismal second quarter and while the trajectory of economic activity has improved via the reopening process, the fact remains that it will most likely require years to claw back the ground lost during the pandemic. This isn’t new information however and as investors look forward, the focus remains on gauging the pace with which the labor market is reengaged and consumers’ propensity to spend is reestablished. While improvement in sentiment surveys and the surprisingly strong retail sales environment in May have added a positive skew to the near-term outlook, for the constructive momentum to accelerate the jobs landscape needs to continue improving. With a nod to all of the Fed’s accommodative efforts and Washington’s stimulus push, these measures are by definition temporary fixes designed to provide a bridge for firms to weather the pandemic with the objective of successfully reopening, reestablishing, and retooling in the new normal.These ambitions are consistent with reemploying as many workers displaced by the pandemic shutdown as possible, but the fact of the matter is a large number of the jobs lost during the second quarter simply are not going to return. This isn’t to suggest that an elevated unemployment rate will be a permanent feature in the US, rather that the snap-back scenario is unlikely given the dizzying array of uncertainties that persist. The October 31 expiration of the payroll protection program has undoubtedly kept the ranks of the unemployed lower than had the initiative not been deployed; even if a more cynical interpretation implies that another round of job-shedding has only been delayed to the final two months of 2020. The fact the magnitude of the second-round losses won’t be evident until after voters go to the polls on November 3 isn’t lost on us; but was it ever going to be any other way? We digress.  With this context, this week’s economic data is unlikely to materially recast the macro narrative even if the domestic real estate sector continues to defy the downside implications from the pandemic. Durables and personal spending and income will incrementally add to investors understanding of the state of the economy, as well as the weekly jobless claims release. Nonetheless, the July 2 BLS report is the true litmus test of the V-shaped optimism. In this context, the consensus call for a gain of 3.6 million jobs during June on top of the 2.5 million seen in May will be in obvious focus. The unexpectedly strong May print (10 million stronger than the consensus) has raised the bar of how quickly investors expect the labor force to be redeployed and any significant downside miss will bring into question not only the trajectory of the recovery but also the reliability of the mid-pandemic data.

Reopenings in disarray as coronavirus surges-- Newly diagnosed cases of Covid-19 and other indicators of the pandemic’s spread soared in hot spots across the U.S., driving city and state officials to consider slowing or reversing reopening plans. Cases are surging in Texas, Florida, Arizona and in California, which on Tuesday broke its record for new cases for the fourth day in the past week. Even in New Jersey, where numbers have been falling, Governor Phil Murphy warned that the transmission rate is “beginning to creep up.” a group of people standing in front of a crowd: People wearing protective masks wait to be seated at a restaurant on Pier 39 in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, June 22, 2020. California's new cases rose by a record and Florida infections jumped more than the weekly average, more signs of a possible resurgence of coronavirus in U.S. Sun Belt states.© Bloomberg People wearing protective masks wait to be seated at a restaurant on Pier 39 in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, June 22, 2020. California's new cases rose by a record and Florida infections jumped more than the weekly average, more signs of a possible resurgence of coronavirus in U.S. Sun Belt states. California reported 5,019 new cases, its biggest daily jump, for a total of more than 183,000, according to state data. The state also hit a record 3,700 hospitalizations. Arizona also broke its daily case record, adding nearly 3,600, according to tallies released Tuesday, bringing the total to 58,179. The state also reported 42 deaths, raising the toll to 1,384. In Florida, local leaders hurried to react to daunting statistics. Palm Beach County -- where President Donald Trump makes his official residence -- became the latest jurisdiction to mandate masks to fend off the surge, with county commissioners voting unanimously to approve the measure Tuesday. The state’s 103,506 cases were up 3.3% from a day earlier, compared with an average 3.8% in the previous seven days. Seen on a rolling seven-day basis, Florida’s new cases reached 23,397, the highest ever. Deaths reached 3,237, an increase of 2%, the most on a percentage basis since June 5. Cumulative hospitalizations of Floridians rose by 199, or 1.5%, to 13,318. On a rolling seven day-basis, they reached 1,112, the highest level since May 25. The new rate of people testing positive for the first time climbed to 10.9% for Monday, from 7.7% on Sunday.

 COVID-19 rages through food processing plants, warehouses and manufacturing facilities - The coronavirus continues to spread through factories, warehouses and other workplaces as the number of COVID-19 cases rises sharply in US states that have reopened businesses and abandoned social distancing guidelines. Twenty-nine states and US territories logged an increase in their seven-day average of new reported cases on Monday, with nine states—California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia—reporting record average highs. Disturbingly, many of the new cases are among younger people, with the median age for newly diagnosed coronavirus cases in Florida falling to 37. As the World Socialist Web Site reported yesterday, Florida’s agricultural regions—where migrant workers pick fruit and vegetables next to each other and are cramped into crowded busses, trailers and apartments—have been major vectors for the spread of the deadly disease. Immokalee, Florida, the country’s winter tomato capital, has 1,207 reported cases. With the harvest season over, thousands of migrant workers are now making their way up the East Coast and to the Midwest, with many of them taking the virus to Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan and other states. The meatpacking industry continues to be the largest spreader of COVID-19. It is esimated that more than 24,000 workers have been infected and at least 91, including more than 25 at facilities owned by Tyson Foods, have died. Both figures have increased five-fold since Trump used the Defense Production Act to reopen infected slaughterhouses and meat processing plants in late April. In North Carolina, where cases were found in at least 23 meat processing plants, the Raleigh News & Observer noted the comments of State Representative Jimmy Dixon, a staunch ally of the hog industry. During a recent committee meeting he said a policy of “herd immunity” would be better for the economy. “We’d better start addressing the economic health of this state," he said. "In my opinion, we’re all going to get [COVID-19], and the sooner we get it the better off we are.” The wave of infections in the meatpacking industry is a global phenomenon, with major outbreaks last week in Wales in the UK, in Germany, where officials said 1,331 workers tested positive at a Tönnies Group slaughterhouse in North Rhine-Westphalia, and Brazil, where almost 24 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Brazil's southern Rio Grande do Sul state are workers in the meat industry.

 Covid-19 still is very real': Major grocery union calls for mask requirements as cases spike -  A major union that represents thousands of workers at grocery stores, meatpacking plants and nursing homes said government officials and companies must require masks in public places to control the spread of the coronavirus as Texas, Florida and other states become the new hotspots. Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said the pandemic hasn't ended — and neither have health risks for workers. In fact, he said, in many states, their odds of getting sick are rising along with coronavirus cases. "Contrary to some of what employers — and I think even some of our government leaders — want us to believe, Covid-19 still is very real," he said on a call with reporters. This week, the U.S. set a record for the number of new coronavirus cases in a single day, with 45,557 diagnoses reported Wednesday, according to a tally by NBC News. Throughout the pandemic, the union has pushed employers to expand workers' access to testing and protective gear, saying that without them the public is at risk, too. It has also urged hazard pay for its members and for essential workers at non-unionized companies like Walmart and Amazon. Kroger, Walmart, Amazon and others have temporarily increased pay and offered bonuses during the pandemic, but that extra pay has ended or is winding down. Kroger ended its $2 an hourly temporary pay increase in mid-May, and facing backlash, paid a bonus of $400 to full-time employees and $200 to part-time employees. Walmart will end its $2 an hour pay increase for e-commerce fulfillment centers July 3. Amazon's $2 an hour increase ended May 31. On Thursday, the union called on employers to pay essential workers at least $15 an hour and reinstate "hazard pay" in all states where cases are rising. Target announced last week that it will raise its minimum hourly wage from $13 to $15, starting July 5. It had planned to raise its wages to $15 by the end of this year, but accelerated its timetable because of the pandemic. A temporarily increase of $2 an hour put in place during the outbreak was set to expire July 4. The union also urged the creation of a national public registry where employers with more than 1,000 workers must disclose the number of people that have gotten sick or died from Covid-19 every month.

Census: Household Pulse Survey shows 31% of Households Expect Loss in Income over Next 4 Weeks -- Note: The question on lost income is always since March 13, 2020 - so this percentage will not decline. From the Census Bureau: Measuring Household Experiences during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic The U.S. Census Bureau, in collaboration with five federal agencies, is in a unique position to produce data on the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on American households. The Household Pulse Survey is designed to deploy quickly and efficiently, collecting data to measure household experiences during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Data will be disseminated in near real-time to inform federal and state response and recovery planning.…Data collection for the Household Pulse Survey began on April 23, 2020. The Census Bureau will collect data for 90 days, and release data on a weekly basis. This will be updated weekly, and the Census Bureau released the recent survey results today. This survey asks about Loss in Employment Income, Expected Loss in Employment Income, Food Scarcity, Delayed Medical Care, Housing Insecurity and K-12 Educational Changes. The data was collected between June 11 and June 16, 2020.
Loss in employment income: "Percentage of adults in households where someone had a loss in employment income since March 13, 2020." This number is since March 13, and hasn't changed significantly.
Expected Loss in Employment Income: "Percentage of adults who expect someone in their household to have a loss in employment income in the next 4 weeks." 31% of households expect a loss in income over the next 4 weeks.   This is down from 38.8% in late April.
Food Scarcity: Percentage of adults in households where there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last 7 days.  About 10% of households report food scarcity.
Delayed Medical Care: "Percentage of adults who delayed getting medical care because of the COVID-19 pandemic in the last 4 weeks." 41% of households report they delayed medical care over the last 4 weeks. This has not declined.
Housing Insecurity: "Percentage of adults who missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment, or who have slight or no confidence that their household can pay next month’s rent or mortgage on time." 23.2% of households reported they missed last month's rent or mortgage payment.
K-12 Educational Changes: "Percentage of adults in households with children in public or private school, where classes were taught in a distance learning format, or changed in some other way." Essentially all households with children are reporting were not being taught in a normal format.

California Democrats collaborate with state employees union to cut workers’ wages by 11 percent  - Last Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000 agreed to a two-year wage cut of over 11 percent for 96,000 custodians, administrators and nurses employed by the state government.Workers are being forced to take two furlough days every month for two years, which equals to a 9.23 percent pay reduction. In addition, the 2.5 percent raise state employees were scheduled to receive on July 1 has been eliminated, and workers will not get a raise until 2022.In late May, the Democratic governor proposed a 10 percent pay reduction for all state employees to help address, he said, a projected budget deficit of $54 billion. Newsom indicated at the time that he wanted to rely on negotiating this pay cut with the unions, but if that failed, the governor said, he would seek authority from the state legislature to unilaterally impose the cuts.On the union’s Facebook page, workers denounced the sellout deal, the SEIU and Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker. One worker posted: “Yvonne Walker: No pay cuts, we really need for you to put aside your own personal agenda and focus on our needs. The governor blew the money, and he wants us to pay for it by reducing our pay. We fought to get a pay increase and you want to give it back. NO!!!” In an earlier posting another worker said, “This does not help my mother, a member, retire this year. She has worked so hard for her Department during covid19 and for this union, and all she wanted was her raise before she retires. She is worried about contracting the virus at work and this is why she feels she has to retire so my heart breaks for her now that she will have to retire for her health and she is deserving of her raise and will not get her raise.”

Revealed: millions of Americans can’t afford water as bills rise 80% in a decade  - Millions of ordinary Americans are facing rising and unaffordable bills for running water, and risk being disconnected or losing their homes if they cannot pay, a landmark Guardian investigation has found. Exclusive analysis of 12 US cities shows the combined price of water and sewage increased by an average of 80% between 2010 and 2018, with more than two-fifths of residents in some cities living in neighbourhoods with unaffordable bills.  In the first nationwide research of its kind, our findings reveal the painful impact of America’s expanding water poverty crisis as aging infrastructure, environmental clean-ups, changing demographics and the climate emergency fuel exponential price hikes in almost every corner of the US.  America’s growing water affordability crisis comes as the Covid-19 pandemic underlines the importance of access to clean water. The research shows that rising bills are not just hurting the poorest but also, increasingly, working Americans.  “More people are in trouble, and the poorest of the poor are in big trouble,” said Roger Colton, a leading utilities analyst, who was commissioned by the Guardian to analyse water poverty. “The data shows that we’ve got an affordability problem in an overwhelming number of cities nationwide that didn’t exist a decade ago, or even two or three years ago in some cities.” Water bills exceeding 4% of household income are considered unaffordable. Colton’s 88-page report is published today at the launch of a major project on America’s water emergency by the Guardian, Consumer Reports and other partners. Our research found that between 2010 and 2018 water bills rose by at least 27%, while the highest increase was a staggering 154% in Austin, Texas, where the average annual bill rose from $566 in 2010 to $1,435 in 2018 - despite drought mitigation efforts leading to reduced water usage. Meanwhile, federal aid to public water utilities, which serve around 87% of people, has plummeted while maintenance, environmental and health threats, climate shocks and other expenditures have skyrocketed.   In New Orleans, Santa Fe and Cleveland, about three quarters of low income residents live in neighbourhoods where average water and sewage bills are unaffordable. “A water emergency threatens every corner of our country. The scale of this crisis demands nothing short of a fundamental transformation of our water systems. Water should never be treated as commodity or a luxury for the benefit of the wealthy,” said water justice advocate Mary Grant from Food and Water Watch, reacting to the Guardian’s research.

Grim Prospects for New York City as Few Office Workers Return Post Lockdown; How Hard Will Other US Cities Be Hit? -- Yves Smith - We’d anticipated a difficult adjustment to life with Covid-19 for New York City and potentially other large American cities. A new Wall Street Journal story confirms our take and if anything, may be more grim. Restrictions of office workers returning to their posts end tomorrow, but the Journal’s sources estimate only 10% to 20% will return. And for the most part, this isn’t a short term “Get the bugs out of getting them back” phase, with many more expected to return soon. This low level looks likely to the new normal for at least the next few months, with increases from these levels expected to be measured. The fact that work from home has worked at all calls into question many heretofore unquestioned norms of office like, like the true utility of having workers on premises. How much of formal and informal information-sharing is actually productive, as opposed to gossip and political jockeying? Conversely, even though in-person collaboration is usually more efficient (think of programmers sitting next to each other looking at the same screen), how much will actually be possible with new distancing rules? Rethinking the utility of a day at the office isn’t just a New York City issue. From the Journal: But many firms say having employees work from home has been better than expected and are in no rush to get back to the office. In a recent global survey by trade group CoreNet Global, just 15% of companies said their office occupancy will be back to pre-pandemic levels within six months and 38% said it would take more than a year for everyone to be back. Of course, a potential negative is that if remote work continues to be common after Covid-19 has been tamed, it’s not hard to imagine that most employers engage in more intrusive worker monitoring. But you might also see some interesting side effects. Harvard Business School for decades analyzed what personal and demographic factors correlated best with starting and career pay. One factor was the biggest predictor: height. Hard to project that over Zoom. But back to Covid-19’s effects on New York City. The Journal article describes how traders are particularly eager to get back, and how real estate firms are keen to project that it’s safe to get in the pool by bringing their full contingents back. Particular CEOs also volunteered that they believed in the value of having employees present: [Citigroup] CEO Michael Corbat has said he is a believer in office culture. Citigroup pre-pandemic had knocked down walls in its offices to encourage collaboration and chance meetings, what Mr. Corbat calls “constructive collision.”  Yet Citi expects to have only 5% on premises in New York as of July 1. Banks are more eager than other concerns to get staff back on deck. What is striking is that some industries that are perceived to be social, like ad agencies, have put themselves in the slow lane.From the Journal:

104 people shot, 14 dead over weekend in Chicago - More than 100 people were shot in Chicago over the Fathers' Day weekend and at least 14 of them died, marking the most violent weekend in the city so far this year. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that a total of 104 people were shot between Friday and Monday, with several shootings occurring early Monday morning. Numerous seemingly random shootings were reported across the city, several of which killed children. The youngest victim slain was a 3-year-old who was heading home from a barbershop with his father. “Bullets don’t just tear apart the things they strike,” Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said at a press conference on Sunday addressing the shootings. “Bullets also tear apart families. Bullets destroy neighborhoods and they ruin any sense of safety in a community.” “Good men throughout this city should be celebrating with their families on a beautiful day, but instead, a number of Chicagoans will be spending Father’s Day grieving the loss of their children,” he added, according to the Chicago Tribune. "These kids are not criminals," Chicago Police Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan added, referring to some of the children shot, according to ABC 7. "They are not gang members. They have nothing to do with the ongoing disputes out there and they just get gunned down for no reason at all." Others were injured by gunfire in areas many would think to be safe; a 64-year-old woman was sitting inside her home when she was struck by gunfire in the arm. A suspect has not been arrested. “A line was crossed,” said the Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church, according to the Chicago Tribune. “This is a horrific Father’s Day. This 3-year-old baby lost his life. ... I could not pastor this community and not say something.” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) also addressed the violence on Twitter, writing: "Our city's collective heart breaks to hear the unfathomable news of a 3-year-old boy who was shot and killed tonight on Chicago's West Side. There are simply no words to describe such a heinous, unconscionable act of cowardice to shoot at a toddler."

US police received over $760 million of military gear in the past two years - In the past few weeks, police have marched through the streets of American cities, in paramilitary fashion, equipped with military gear, firing tear gas, rubber bullets, smoke bombs and pepper balls at peaceful protesters and journalists. The protests demanding an end to police violence, sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, have been confronted by police in combat gear and accompanied by military equipment including armored vehicles. According to a CNN analysis of federal data, the Department of Defense (DoD) has sent at least $760 million worth of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies since August 2017. This includes $5.3 million of gear used to quell protests, such as riot shields, gas masks, tasers, and other materials local law enforcement requested for “crowd control.” Across the country, more than 8,000 police departments have been suppled with such equipment, at no cost, through the 1033 program, which allows the DoD to donate surplus combat material to law enforcement agencies. The program was originally created during the administration of Republican President George H.W. Bush as a part of the “War on Drugs” and limited officers to using the equipment in drug raids. The program was subsequently expanded by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1996, under the National Defense Authorization Act, which allowed “all law enforcement agencies to acquire property for. .. purposes that assist in their arrest and apprehension mission.” Local police departments welcomed the Democratic Party’s expansion of the program and have amassed immense stockpiles of military equipment for use against the population in the subsequent decades. Sign up for the WSWS email newsletter! Email I want to receive this newsletter. I agree that any information submitted to this form will be processed in accordance with the privacy policy and may be combined with other information. Submit Under the program, police are required to use the equipment in their communities within a year, which is a major incentive for excessive force and surveillance. Since its inception, more than $5 billion worth of military gear has been doled out to the police. Between 2006 and 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that police agencies stockpiled more than $1.5 billion of military equipment, including: 79,288 assault rifles, 205 grenade launchers, 11,959 bayonets, 3,972 combat knives, 422 helicopters, 479 bomb-detonator robots, more than 15,054 battle uniforms, and $39 million worth of electric wire. Additionally, 500 departments acquired Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, built to withstand blasts from roadside bombs and mines during the US occupation of Iraq between 2003 to 2011. MRAPs cost between half a million and one million dollars each.

 Minneapolis Investigates Police Use Of Ketamine On Suspects (audio with transcript)  NPR's Michel Martin speaks to Star Tribune reporter Andy Mannix about the investigation into the Minneapolis police and EMTs sedating people in custody. Ketamine, a powerful sedative, is used in hospitals as an anesthetic, and more recently, to treat depression. And now, city investigators in Minneapolis have found that their police officers directed paramedics to inject the drug into people on the street to subdue them dozens of times over the course of three years, even some people who were already restrained. This, according to a draft report that was obtained by the Star Tribune. The powerful anesthetic can cause major side effects, and some of the people who were sedated stopped breathing and had to be rushed to the emergency room. Andy Mannix is the reporter at the Star Tribune who broke the story, and he's with us now. Andy Mannix, welcome. Thanks so much for speaking to us.

OPS outlines plan for fall school reopening with only half of students in buildings at a time -Omaha Public Schools officials unveiled a fall reopening plan Friday that would divide students into two groups who would each attend school in-person part of the week. Half of students districtwide would attend school Monday and Tuesday, the other half Thursday and Friday. They would rotate attending Wednesday. The result would be fewer students in a school building on a given day, creating the elbow room officials say would be needed for social distancing in classrooms and cafeterias and on buses. “The only way we can practice distancing is by limiting the population of kids in the classroom and in the schools,” school board president Marque Snow said Friday. Nebraska’s biggest school district has become the first in the metro area to roll out specific plans for coping with COVID-19 next school year. Under the plan, all staff, students and visitors would be expected to wear a mask at school. Exceptions would be made for children under age 2, those who cannot remove a mask without assistance and others with special needs. Exceptions also would be made for athletic activities, as long as social distancing is maintained, as well as while drinking and eating. Superintendent Cheryl Logan, in a letter to staff, said the plan is “our best path forward right now.” “We understand that no solution is ideal during this time, and we hope that conditions allow us to return at 100% in the future,” Logan said.

Denver Public Schools Plans To Reopen In Person In August - Good news, Denver parents. You have something to look forward to in August: Denver Public Schools will be back in session. Classrooms and expectations will look different for children. Parents can expect students and educators to undergo health screenings and wear masks inside the schools.Student schedules will also be adjusted to avoid large groups of students transitioning from class to class. Those schedules haven’t been released yet.DPS said there will be no assemblies, students will eat breakfast and lunch in their classrooms and will not be sharing supplies. Frequent hand washing and generous use of hand sanitizer will be encouraged if not mandatory. School facilities will be disinfected regularly.The Metro Denver Partnership for Health collaborated with several metro public health agencies to create reopening guidelines and strategies for schools. “Colorado children need to get back to school,” their report states and the partnership is “pleased to provide evidence-informed guidance to our regions’ school superintendents to support their efforts in reopening school safely.”“We are both excited to welcome our students and educators back to our schools and committed to doing it safely,” Superintendent Susana Cordova wrote in her letter to parents. “We will strictly follow the health guidelines that were released.”DPS has been monitoring the disease, watching how other schools across the globe have coped with the coronavirus pandemic and weighed the effect school closings have had on parents and the community.Online schooling will still be available for those families who don’t feel comfortable sending their students back for in-person learning. While other states have continued to see spikes in COVID-19 infections, Colorado’s rate has remained steady. School and health officials will be closely watching what happens over the course of the summer and said plans and more details will be available in the coming weeks.

N.J. schools will reopen with masks, social distancing and sweeping new rules under just-released plan - New Jersey’s 2,500 public schools will open their doors for the 2020-2021 school year, but classes will be unlike anything students and teachers have ever experienced before, state officials announced Friday.Students will stay six feet apart in classrooms and on buses, lunch times will be staggered and teachers will be required to wear masks, according to sweeping new guidelines released by the state Department of Education.Students will also be “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings all day and will be required to wear them when they can’t maintain social distancing at school. The new rules are part of a long-awaited “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education” report compiled by state education officials that willserve as a blueprint as schools prepare for the return of the state’s 1.4 million students while the coronavirus pandemic continues.State officials said they do not have a one-size-fits-all plan for reopening, so each of New Jersey’s 577 public school districts will have to weigh its options and come up with its own proposal that meets or exceeds the minimum guidelines. That could mean big changes to school schedules and start times.All districts will be required to have some form of in-person instruction, state officials said. So, keeping school buildings closed for district-wide remote learning is not an option. But schools can develop a “hybrid” model with both in-person and distance learning for students. Under the guidelines:

  • --All teachers, school staff members and visitors will be required to wear masks unless they can’t for health reasons. Students must also wear masks when they can’t stay six feet apart and are encouraged, but not required, to keep their face coverings on throughout the school day.
  • --Schools must “strive” for social distancing in the classroom and on school buses. If there is not enough room to keep students six feet apart, districts should consider physical barriers between desks and turning all desks all in the same direction. They should also consider installing barriers in buses.
  • --Students can eat lunch in school cafeterias, but meal times must be staggered to allow for social distancing and disinfecting. Self-service and buffet-style food service will not be allowed.
  • --Schools must set up a plan for screening students and staff for COVID-19 symptoms and work with the local health department and school nurses to use contact tracing to identify those who have come in contact with people who test positive. It will be up to districts if and how they want to test their entire staff for the coronavirus, state officials said.
  • --Floors and sidewalks should have tape and signs to help guide how students should walk to maintain social distancing in common areas and hallways. Schools also need to step up their cleaning and disinfecting schedules. Bathrooms must be cleaned and sanitized “between use as much as possible.”

 Some private schools getting more virus relief funding than public schools, under DeVos formula -The Trump administration on Thursday moved forward with a policy ordering public schools across the U.S. to share coronavirus relief funding with private schools at a higher rate than federal law typically requires.  Under a new rule issued by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, school districts are ordered to set aside a portion of their aid for private schools using a formula based on the total number of private school students in the district.The policy has been contested by public school officials who say the funding should be shared based on the number of low-income students at local private schools rather than their total enrollments. That’s how funding is shared with private schools under other federal rules that Congress referenced in the legislation creating the relief aid. But DeVos on Thursday said the funding is separate from other federal aid and was meant to support all students. The difference between the two formulas amounts to tens of millions of dollars. In Louisiana, for example, private schools are estimated to get at least 267% more under DeVos’ formula. In the state’s Orleans Parish, at least 77% of its relief allotment would end up going to private schools.  DeVos previously vowed to pursue a federal rule on the issue after some states said they would ignore her guidance. Indiana’s education chief said the guidance was no more than a recommendation and decided to divide the funding “according to Congressional intent and a plain reading of the law.”

Oppose all public education budget cuts, layoffs and the unsafe reopening of schools! For a socialist program to fully fund and vastly expand public education! - By Joseph Kishore--Socialist Equality Party candidate for president - The assault on public education since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented in scope and ferocity. As with every aspect of the pandemic, the full brunt of the crisis is being imposed on the working class, while trillions are squandered on Wall Street and the financial oligarchy. Massive austerity has already been implemented across the US, with an estimated 1.44 million educators laid off in March and April alone, including 779,000 K-12 public school educators. For the 2020-21 fiscal year, states face a public education funding shortfall of $230 billion. Cuts on this scale have never been seen before in the history of American education. The massive assault on public education is the direct corollary to the handout of trillions of dollars to Wall Street, supported by both the Democrats and the Republicans. Following the 2008-2009 financial collapse, the Obama administration bailed out the banks and escalated the attack on public education as part of an overall assault on the working class. Once again, on a far larger scale, the crisis sparked by the pandemic is being used to impose plans long in the making, including privatization, mass layoffs, and the destruction of arts and other programs. The Socialist Equality Party demands an immediate reversal of all budget cuts and layoffs of educators, and the redirection of the massive trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street into public education, public health and the eradication of poverty. The resources exist to full fund public education and provide a safe learning environment, but they are monopolized by the financial oligarchy that controls the entire political system. Whether Biden or Trump is elected in November, the assault on public education will continue. The “choice” offered by the Democrats and Republicans in the election is between two reactionary representatives of the ruling elite. Indeed, both Democrats and Republicans are implementing historic cuts throughout the country. Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine demanded $465 million in education cuts for May and June. For the coming fiscal year, New York City’s Democratic Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced $827 million in cuts from the Department of Education. California’s Democratic governor Gavin Newsom has proposed a nearly unfathomable $8 billion in cuts to K-12 public education across the state.

Science education standards could get rewrite (AP) — A group of educators from throughout the state aims to overhaul some of the country’s oldest standards for science education, all while avoiding a protracted political dispute over climate change and evolution. Pennsylvania’s science standards haven’t changed since 2002, and repeated efforts in the past to overhaul them stalled during the review process — which involves an independent commission with input from the state Legislature. The state has different hurdles than some others, as its standards are not approved directly by the Legislature, though that body can veto them if it disapproves. “We want to make sure we’re pushing the students,” said Eric Wilson, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Red Lion Area School District. Wilson is one of two educators from Red Lion on a 60-member committee tasked with the rewrite. He and fourth grade teacher Carrie Lankford, who has 10 years of experience in environmental science, were chosen out of more than 200 applicants by the state Board of Education. This summer’s review will include a look at the Next Generation Science Standards — a 2013 effort at national standards developed by 26 states out of a framework from the National Research Council. Next Generation standards focus on scientific inquiry and “cross-cutting” concepts that stretch across academic disciplines. “It’s really the way of thinking, ” Wilson said, noting that knowing how to think like a scientist is useful throughout the workforce. States with Republican-controlled legislatures, such as Wyoming and Oklahoma, were among the first to reject the Next Generation standards. But since then, all but six states, including Pennsylvania, have accepted some version of them.

 US school districts posture as opponents of militarized schools - In response to the mass protests against police violence across the US and internationally in the wake of police murder of George Floyd, various local teacher union leaders and other pseudo-left advocates of “defunding the police” have pressured school districts to take up the issue of policing in public schools. Although some districts, including Minneapolis, have voted to end their contracts with local police or “disband” their school police forces, absent a struggle for genuine socialism the measures will do nothing to end the militarization of schools or repressive violence aimed at students. One of the most prominent of these actions was the June 2 vote by the Minneapolis Board of Education to end the district’s contract with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), whose officers were responsible for Floyd’s murder. The Minneapolis school district has been paying $1.1 million per year for these “services,” and many school districts have similar financial arrangements that effectively subsidize the police with school funds. Despite the seemingly radical move, MPD deputy chief Erick Fors assured CNN that police would continue to “work in cooperation with the Minneapolis Public Schools regarding safety and security issues.” Superintendent Ed Graff is required to present a new school safety and security plan for the district by August 8, and all indications are that the police will simply be replaced by alternative security guards. Even Eric Moore, the district’s chief of accountability, research and equity, noted, “You've eliminated the SRO position, but you still have to have [security positions] at the schools.” In other words, aside from an accounting change, very little will actually change in the schools. Police will still regularly enter schools to arrest students. Instead of walking down the hall, they will simply be called in by the district’s own security force, who may well be armed themselves. .

Another COVID-19 victim: International education - Whether COVID-19 is the “last nail” in the coffin of globalization, as Carmen Reinhart, the incoming chief economist of the World Bank, recently remarked, remains to be seen.  One thing is more certain: The United States’ prominence in international education is likely to be COVID-19’s latest fatality. That will be yet another heartbreaking loss we will all share if we don’t act quickly. For at least 50 years, the U.S. has been the leader in international education, welcoming first a trickle, then a stream, then a broad river of undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world. That river has dried up now. Visa offices in U.S. embassies abroad are closed, and entrance into the U.S. is barred for those entering from places as far-flung as Brazil and Belgium. Moreover, the parents and foreign governments who fund those foreign students may be reluctant to send them into the coronavirus-infested, “dangerous” United States.    Meanwhile, students in Colombia, in India and in Ghana, to name only a few places, will look around and weigh their options. They will note that while they were working hard toward the goal of studying in the U.S., higher-level educational systems in their own country and neighboring countries were not standing still. New universities and new programs have sprung up like wildflowers and present viable alternatives for those aspiring students. And some of those “wildflowers” may turn out to be far more attractive than the more mature gardens of U.S. higher education even when COVID-19 is no longer a threat.  Why does it matter? First, most of those students pay full tuition and have helped to defray rising costs at many U.S. colleges and universities. NAFSA, the association of international educators, has estimated a $3 billion loss in revenues for U.S. colleges and universities just from a lower enrollment of foreign students in fall 2020.   Harder to estimate, but arguably more important, is the loss of one of our country’s major tools of soft diplomacy: international students. Whatever the political rhetoric coming from Washington, D.C., foreign students have been able to experience a different vision of the United States and its people than the one shown on their televisions back home. Many describe it as a transformational experience. The stereotype of the “pushy” or “ugly” American vanishes and is replaced by the smiling landlady, the kind professor, and the funny classmates. In short, the U.S. gains a friend for life: not a friend right or wrong, but nonetheless a friend. 

Over 150 College Athletes Contracted Coronavirus After Being Pressured to Practice - More than 150 players at NCAA Division I revenue sports have tested positive for coronavirus, weeks after returning to their university campuses for voluntary workouts in early June. While not every program is disclosing positive test numbers, Clemson, Kansas State, the University of Texas, and the University of Iowa each report more than a dozen confirmed cases of coronavirus among the athletes who’ve come back to campus so far. Clemson is currently reporting the highest number, with 28 total confirmed cases, 23 of which are football players preparing for a still-scheduled 2020 season.How, or why, are schools being allowed to put players in a situation where so many of them are getting sick? Via a loophole: Division I schools are currently prohibited from resuming official practices, but athletic departments have started so-called “voluntary workouts,” or preseason strength and conditioning sessions that aren’t led by coaches. On paper, voluntary workouts are optional, but coaches and former college athletes say it's not so black and white. Athletes are effectively being forced to put themselves at risk, and in one case even sign waivers that potentially indemnify the school if they get sick. This is all in spite of the fact that no one has figured out yet how college games will even happen this fall. Football games are currently scheduled to begin on August 29; Anthony Fauci recently said it’s up to league officials to decide whether that actually happens. It’s impossible to imagine that new cases will decline dramatically in two months. So for now, athletes are traveling back to campus to carry on practicing amid the pandemic on the chance that the NCAA and its member schools will ultimately choose their multi-billion dollar bottom line over the health of uncompensated college athletes.

 University of Chicago grad students disaffiliate from the American Federation of Teachers - Graduate Students United (GSU), the aspiring union of graduate teaching and research assistants at the University of Chicago, announced June 9 that its members had voted to end their affiliation with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The break is the result of the AFT’s failure to gain recognition for the GSU over a ten-year period, and disputes with the AFT over the collection of dues and how the money is spent.   The statement explains that in January 2020 AFT had dropped its decade-long campaign with the GSU to seek official recognition as a union with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after a new rule was passed classifying graduate student relations to private universities like the University of Chicago as “educational” rather than an employer-employee relationship. GSU began its relationship with the AFT in 2010. Since then the GSU has been involved in futile attempts to pressure the university administration and the NLRB to recognize it as the legally sanctioned bargaining unit for grad students. Under the Obama administration, the NLRB had overturned a Bush-era Brown University precedent and held that Columbia University grad student workers were statutory employees who could unionize. Although the AFT promoted illusions in Obama’s NLRB, it took no action and a vote on union recognition was not scheduled until mid-2017, after Trump became president. On the eve of the vote, the university filed an appeal to halt the election, maintaining its position that grad students were not employees and therefore did not qualify for union representation.   Although grad students voted 1,103–479 to unionize, with the appeal still pending, the vote was not legally binding, and the university refused to bargain with the GSU. In February 2018, the AFT-GSU withdrew its case fearing the Trump-appointed NLRB would reimpose the ruling that UC grad students had no right to unionize, setting a precedent that would block other unionizing efforts. The last thing the AFT and its multi-millionaire president, Randi Weingarten, wanted was a serious fight by grad students against private universities and the Democratic Party. Instead, the AFT sought backroom talks, which no doubt included offers of sweetheart contracts, to get university officials to voluntarily agree to negotiate. In June 2019, the AFT-GSU called a three-day strike to allow grad students to blow off steam. The strike was isolated by the Chicago unions, including the AFT-aligned Chicago Teachers Union.

  'Free' DNA Testing Used to Scam Medicare Recipients -States sound alarm about fraudsters urging cancer screenings. In Kentucky, Attorney General Andy Beshear has launched an investigation after Louisville residents reported a suspicious van driving around and its occupants paying Medicaid participants $20 in exchange for a DNA sample and health insurance information, according to his spokeswoman Crystal Staley.  In a warning, Beshear said scammers were trying to steal victims’ insurance and personal information in order to be reimbursed for services that either were not provided or medically necessary.“Kentuckians should rely on the advice of their primary care physicians — not someone who is calling them by phone or driving by in an unmarked vehicle,” he said.In Nebraska, state officials have received multiple reports of groups going to senior centers and residential communities and assisted living facilities offering to swab people's cheeks for genetic material for purported DNA cancer checks, according to the Nebraska Department of Insurance. That occurred in multiple locations statewide, according to Peg Jasa, a spokeswoman for the department, which is alerting all other states and working with federal officials on the reports. Bruce Ramge, department director, told the Omaha World-Herald that calls show that older people are under the impression that the cost of testing will be covered by Medicare. Department officials have heard that testing organizations are charging up to $1,000, Jasa says. An uptick in complaints about the so-called buccal swab tests, which involve collecting DNA from cells inside a person's cheek to screen for cancer, began after Medicare issued guidance on March 16, saying it would cover, on a national basis, a Food and Drug Administration–approved genetic test for patients with advanced cancer, Nofziger says. Eligible patients are those with recurrent, relapsed, drug-resistant, metastatic, or stage III or IV cancer, and they must be seeking further cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says.

‘They Just Dumped Him Like Trash’: Nursing Homes Evict Vulnerable Residents NYT - Nursing homes across the country are kicking out old and disabled residents and sending them to homeless shelters and rundown motels. On a chilly afternoon in April, Los Angeles police found an old, disoriented man crumpled on a Koreatown sidewalk. Several days earlier, RC Kendrick, an 88-year-old with dementia, was living at Lakeview Terrace, a nursing home with a history of regulatory problems. His family had placed him there to make sure he got round-the-clock care after his condition deteriorated and he began disappearing for days at a time. But on April 6, the nursing home deposited Mr. Kendrick at an unregulated boardinghouse — without bothering to inform his family. Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Kendrick was wandering the city alone. According to three Lakeview employees, Mr. Kendrick’s ouster came as the nursing home was telling staff members to try to clear out less-profitable residents to make room for a new class of customers who would generate more revenue: patients with Covid-19. More than any other institution in America, nursing homes have come to symbolize the deadly destruction of the coronavirus crisis. More than 51,000 residents and employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities have died, representing more than 40 percent of the total death toll in the United States. But even as they have been ravaged, nursing homes have also been enlisted in the response to the outbreak. They are taking on coronavirus-stricken patients to ease the burden on overwhelmed hospitals — and, at times, to bolster their bottom lines. A Lakeview official said the company’s evictions were appropriate and weren’t an attempt to free space for Covid-19 patients. But similar scenes are playing out at nursing homes nationwide. They are kicking out old and disabled residents — among the people most susceptible to the coronavirus — and shunting them into homeless shelters, rundown motels and other unsafe facilities, according to 22 watchdogs in 16 states, as well as dozens of elder-care lawyers, social workers and former nursing home executives. Many of the evictions, known as involuntary discharges, appear to violate federal rules that require nursing homes to place residents in safe locations and to provide them with at least 30 days’ notice before

The Double Pandemic Of Social Isolation And COVID-19: Cross-Sector Policy Must Address Both - The struggle to balance literal survival with all the things that make surviving worthwhile has never been so clear, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many to sacrifice social connections – and therefore quality of life – for life itself. And yet, as I wrote in a recentHealth Affairs policy brief, Social Isolation and Health (released June 22, 2020), being socially connected in meaningful ways is actually key to human health and survival.The COVID-19 pandemic and the need to slow the virus’ spread have highlighted the pervasiveness of social contact within, and social relevance of, nearly every sector of our lives, including employment, education, entertainment, travel, transportation, and recreation. The pandemic has also highlighted the underlying weaknesses of our current social “support systems” for older adults, students, families, workers, and at-risk populations.  As such, COVID-19 has underscored the necessity of strengthening local and federal systems to rebuild and sustain the social and emotional needs of the population – a task that will be critical to the nation’s public health recovery from the pandemic. In this post, I explain why concerns about social isolation are heightened during the pandemic; discuss why policy responses must consider the impact of reduced or changed social connection across all sectors; highlight possible unintended consequences of improved digital connection; and, emphasize the importance of prioritizing social needs in recovery efforts.

The unintended impact of COVID-19 on cancer - Over the last few months, many patients have been in fear of their cancer journey. This fear had nothing to do with receiving their diagnosis or walking into a screening because of a found lump or increased risk. The fear was caused by our country’s myopic focus on flatting the COVID-19 curve. While we may have successfully flattened the proverbial curve, we have created a potentially larger, more dangerous shadow curve in the world of cancer. In April 2020, the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science published a report that shined a light on the unintended impact of our response to the treat of COVID-19. According to the report, it is estimated that the delay in 22 million cancer screening tests will result in an increased risk of delayed or missed diagnoses for 80,000 patients. While COVID-19 exposed some major vulnerabilities in our health care infrastructure, most notably, the system’s ability to continue to care for every high-risk chronic health care case— such as cancer and heart conditions— when other aspects of our health care system were overwhelmed by an unpredictable health care crisis. The long-term implications may be devastating, particularly if we do not recognize and address the looming Cancer Shadow Curve, a dramatic spike in undiagnosed and untreated cancer cases as a side-effect of the pandemic. So where are we after the health care system essentially placed cancer care on hold for three months? The U.S. has already witnessed a 37 percent drop in cancer care diagnosis compared to this same time period last year, and we have experienced massive drops in cancer screenings including mammography (87 percent drop), colonoscopy (90 percent drop) and Pap Smear (83 percent drop). Doctors find a lot of cancers during screenings— and much more incidentally as they meet with patients for non-cancer examinations. Typically, there are nearly 1.8 million cases of cancer diagnosed each year, but people who have skipped appointments over the last three months are not getting diagnosed. That is a major concern. If people wait until next year to get screened, their undiagnosed condition may worsen, even if cancer remains treatable. That can lead to dramatically worse consequences to their quality of life for years, particularly if, during that time, their cancer progresses from Stage 2 to State 3 or 4. From the “Shadow Curve” perspective it means the health care system will start to see an influx of very difficult to treat cancer cases all at once instead of doctors being able to address cancers during more treatable stages, giving them more opportunities to find the right solutions.

Coronavirus Pandemic Threatens to Derail Polio Eradication—but There’s a Silver Lining  - The year 2020 was on track to be a good one for South Sudan’s polio hunters. But now many of those working in the global polio eradication campaign are grappling with the potential reversal of much of their work. All house-to-house immunization efforts have been suspended because of the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Disease surveillance officers can scarcely travel at all. Polio samples awaiting testing are trapped in South Sudan because there are no flights to transport them to external laboratories, and local experts are bracing for the worst.  The worldwide polio eradication effort was suspended in late March, bringing campaigning to a near halt. More than 20 million doctors, technicians, and other medical and community practitioners have put much of their work on hold, leaving at least 13.5 million children unvaccinated or undervaccinated for polio so far, according to estimates by the public-private global health organization GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. The WHO says that number could rise to at least 60 million by June in the eastern Mediterranean region alone (the area includes northern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia). Yet even those figures mask the full extent of a disruption that could stifle polio eradication efforts for years, a dozen doctors, senior scientists and public health officials say. Millions of stored polio vaccine doses will lose their effectiveness if the pandemic prevents immunization for much longer, and some countries that are proceeding with limited vaccinations might run out before they can be resupplied. “If the lockdowns are in place for too long, then vaccines will just expire in many places,” says Thabani Maphosa, managing director of country programs at GAVI. “And we’re currently not able to get vaccines where we need to.” But in spite of these setbacks, the global polio program’s adaptability may actually have a silver lining for the current pandemic. Many countries have been quick to realize the usefulness of the polio network—the largest immunization program of its kind in the world—in fighting the pandemic. Much of the network has been redeployed accordingly.Polio contact tracers, who are accustomed to searching out telltale signs of the disease such as sudden leg weakness, are now pursuing reports of severe respiratory distress, fever and other symptoms of COVID-19.

 A Common Snake Oil Reemerges for the Coronavirus   To the silver salesmen, moms must have seemed like an ideal demographic. Last year, Candy Keane, a 44-year-old lifestyle blogger in Florida, heard about colloidal silver—silver particles suspended in liquid—from a mom’s group she’s part of. A company called My Doctor Suggests was sending out free samples of its products, including colloidal-silver solution, lozenges, lotion, and soap, to bloggers who might be willing to review the products online.Keane spoke with Doug Godkin, the vice president of My Doctor Suggests, who she says assured her that taking the silver was as harmless as taking a vitamin, and that the solution could help with all kinds of ailments. She remembers him saying it would be safe to drink up to a bottle a day.Keane thought the silver might clear up some white splotches that had spread across her skin. She tried all the products and sipped the metallic-tasting “silver solution” daily. While they didn’t seem to do much, they didn’t make anything worse, either. She wrote up her results, such as they were, in a blog post. When she later read an (erroneous) online claim that silver can kill the coronavirus as it enters the mouth, she let her 5-year-old son eat the rest of the lozenges—he liked their sweet taste. Before I called her, Keane hadn’t realized that in April, a federal court in Utah shut down My Doctor Suggests for allegedly fraudulently promoting their colloidal-silver products as a treatment for COVID-19. Godkin and My Doctor Suggests’s founder, a self-proclaimed naturopathic doctor named Gordon Pedersen, released videos and podcasts in which they suggested that colloidal silver could protect against the coronavirus because “the silver can isolate and eliminate that virus.” Pedersen has no medical license, and he has been cited in the past for the unauthorized practice of medicine.  Pedersen’s efforts may have been halted, but he’s far from the only one selling this substance. The state of Missouri recently filed suit against the televangelist Jim Bakkerfor promoting a “Silver Solution” for the coronavirus on his show. And last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration went to court to stop an Oklahoma company called N-Ergetics from allegedly touting colloidal silver as a cure for everything from the coronavirus to yeast infections.

Hump!, the online porn fest that wouldn’t have happened without quarantine  -However cooped up you may feel after months of bingeing films and TV series in quarantine, it's not entirely likely that you'd look at this article's headline and say, "Yes, I need to kick my viewing habits up a notch with a curated selection of homemade porn." The people behindHump!, the United States' best-known amateur-pornography festival, certainly didn't want things this way, either."One thing about Hump! is, if you couldn't get to a theater, you weren't going to see it," series curator and sex columnist Dan Savage tells me over the phone from his Seattle home. "Ever since the first Hump!, people have asked, 'Are you going to sell DVDs?' Which turned into, 'Can you watch it online?' But you can't. There are no DVDs, and you can't see it online."Hump! was always supposed to be offline. But just like pretty much everything else this year, Savage's creation had to concede to the realities of coronavirus. And after launching a test run earlier in 2020, Hump! Greatest Hits, Volume 1 is following as a streamed-video exclusive (not VOD) over the next three weekends. And while the festival was never designed for online distribution, the silver lining is a very weird, and surprisingly eye-opening, perspective on what porn on the Internet can look like in 2020. The festival began life as a Seattle-only experiment, produced by The Stranger, a weekly newspaper where Savage once served as editor in chief. (He continues writing for the paper's print and online editions, primarily in the form of his nationally syndicated Savage Love column, which also has a popular podcast.) The Stranger had already begun promoting local arts and music events, and Savage thought an old-school, all-local porn fest, screened only in theaters, would be a gas. It had a slogan: "Be a porn star for a weekend in a movie theater, without becoming a porn star for an eternity on the Internet."

Mysterious deaths of infants and others raise questions about how early coronavirus hit California - A cluster of mysterious deaths, some involving infants and children, is under scrutiny amid questions of whether the novel coronavirus lurked in California months before it was first detected. But eight weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide hunt for undetected early COVID-19 deaths, the effort remains hobbled by bureaucracy and testing limits. Among those awaiting answers is Maribeth Cortez, whose adult son, Jeremiah DeLap, died Jan. 7 in Orange County while visiting his parents. He had been healthy, suffering on a Friday from what he thought was food poisoning, and found dead in bed the following Tuesday, drowned by fluid in his lungs. China didn’t announce its first COVID-19 death until four days later. But by DeLap’s Feb. 1 funeral service, frightening stories of a deadly new virus in Wuhan dominated the news. “Everybody that knew him when they were talking to me after this all started would say, ‘Do you think he died from that?’” Cortez said. “And I said, ‘I don’t know.’” She still doesn’t. Preserved samples of DeLap’s lungs are among tissue from more than 40 California deaths waiting for a decision by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on whether to test for COVID-19. Orange County has nine of the cases, as does Los Angeles County. Kern County has identified two respiratory deaths that might suggest COVID-19, both of young women, one of whom died Dec. 21. Interviews and internal documents show medical examiners in Shasta, Sacramento and Santa Clara counties, meanwhile, are scrutinizing the deaths of children and babies, amid growing recognition of COVID-19 infection rates in children who show mysterious inflammatory symptoms.

Influenza-like illness surveillance reveals spike in undetected COVID-19 cases in March - A surge in flu-like infections in the U.S. in March of 2020 suggests that the likely number of COVID-19 cases was far larger than official estimates, according to a new study of existing surveillance networks for influenza-like infections (ILIs). The findings support a scenario where more than 8.7 million new SARS-CoV-2 infections appeared in the U.S. during March, and estimate that more than 80% of these cases remained unidentified as the outbreak rapidly spread. Furthermore, the results suggest that surveillance networks for influenza-like disease offer an important tool to estimate the prevalence of COVID-19, which has been hard to pin down. Many scientists suspect that the true rate of SARS-CoV-2 infections is higher than the number of confirmed cases due to the low availability of testing and because some infected individuals show no symptoms or only mild flu-like symptoms. Using an outpatient surveillance system for diseases with symptoms that resemble influenza, Justin Silverman and colleagues determined the prevalence of non-influenza ILIs in the U.S. annually using surveillance data starting from 2010. In March of 2020, they observed a huge spike in ILIs exceeding normal seasonal numbers in various states - New York, for example, showed twice its previous record for ILIs in the fourth week of March. The authors also saw that the dynamics of non-influenza ILIs closely matched patterns of confirmed COVID-19 cases. After calculating that approximately 32% of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 sought medical care, Silverman et al. found that at least 8.7 million SARS-CoV-2 infections occurred between March 8 and March 28 in the U.S., with new deaths doubling approximately every 3 days. The team concludes that the initial spread of COVID-19 therefore included a large undiagnosed outpatient population who potentially showed milder symptoms compared with those who were hospitalized.

 The coronavirus death rate in the US is almost 50 times higher than that of the flu. See how they compare by age bracket.Though some symptoms of the flu and the coronavirus overlap, comparing the death rates of the two shows just how much worse the coronavirus is. While about 0.1% of people who got the flu died in the US last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus' death rate is currently about 5.2%, based on the reported totals of cases and deaths. That makes the coronavirus' average death rate 52 times higher than that of the flu. Death rates of both the flu and the coronavirus vary widely between age groups, and both seem to be most fatal among people over 65. The chart below shows how they compare. Globally, coronavirus cases have topped 9.1 million and more than 472,000 people have died. So no, this new disease isn't "just another flu." The number of people killed by influenza each year isn't reported the same way that COVID-19 deaths are — a discrepancy that can cause confusion when comparing the numbers. The CDC estimates the total number of flu infections in the US via its influenza-surveillance system, which gathers data from state and local partners and projects nationwide totals using infectious-disease models. The estimations are meant to account for flu deaths that occur outside hospitals and other circumstances in which a person dies without getting a flu test. For that reason, the totals can lag by up to two years because it takes CDC researchers a while to collect flu data and look through death certificates. During the 2018-19 flu season, about 35 million people in the US contracted the flu and about 34,000 died, according to the CDC. In that season, about one out of every 1,000 people who got the flu died.

CDC adds 3 new coronavirus symptoms to list - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) appears to have recently added three new symptoms of the novel coronavirus to its ongoing list. Congestion or runny nose, nausea, and diarrhea were added, joining the federal agency's list that already included fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell and sore throat. “This list does not include all possible symptoms. CDC will continue to update this list as we learn more about COVID-19,” per the CDC. The new symptoms were quietly added, with one news outlet reporting that the changes were made on May 13. The CDC made a similar change in April when officials added six additional symptoms to the list. At the time, these new changes included chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell. When the pandemic first began, fever, cough, and shortness of breath were reported to be the most common signs of a COVID-19 infection. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, with most people beginning to experience them two to 14 days following exposure to the novel virus, or SARS-CoV-2. 

You May Have Antibodies After Coronavirus Infection. But Not for Long. – NYTimes - It’s a question that has haunted scientists since the pandemic began: Does everyone infected with the virus produce antibodies — and if so, how long do they last? Not very long, suggests a new study published Thursday in Nature Medicine. Antibodies — protective proteins made in response to an infection — may last only two to three months, especially in people who never showed symptoms while they were infected.The conclusion does not necessarily mean that these people can be infected a second time, several experts cautioned. Even low levels of powerful neutralizing antibodies may still be protective, as are the immune system’s T cells and B cells. But the results offer a strong note of caution against the idea of “immunity certificates” for people who have recovered from the illness, the authors suggested.Antibodies to other coronaviruses, including those that cause SARS and MERS, are thought to last about a year. Scientists had hoped that antibodies to the new virus might last at least as long.Several studies have now shown that most people who are visibly ill with Covid-19 develop antibodies to the virus, although it has been unclear how long those antibodies last. The new study is the first to characterize the immune response in asymptomatic people.The researchers compared 37 asymptomatic people to an equal number who had symptoms in the Wanzhou District of China. The investigators found that asymptomatic people mount a weaker response to the virus than those who develop symptoms.Antibodies fell to levels below the threshold for a seropositive diagnosis in 40 percent of asymptomatic people, compared with just 13 percent of symptomatic people.The sample size is small, however, and the researchers did not take into account protection offered by immune cells that may fight the virus on their own or make new antibodies when the virus invades. A few studies have shown that the coronavirus stimulates a robust and protective cellular immune response.

Effect of Dexamethasone in Hospitalized Patients with COVID-19 – Preliminary Report - ABSTRACT  Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is associated with diffuse lung damage. Corticosteroids may modulate immune-mediated lung injury and reducing progression to respiratory failure and death. Methods: The Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 therapy (RECOVERY) trial is a randomized, controlled, open-label, adaptive, platform trial comparing a range of possible treatments with usual care in patients hospitalized with COVID-19. We report the preliminary results for the comparison of dexamethasone 6 mg given once daily for up to ten days vs. usual care alone. The primary outcome was 28-day mortality. Results: 2104 patients randomly allocated to receive dexamethasone were compared with 4321 patients concurrently allocated to usual care. Overall, 454 (21.6%) patients allocated dexamethasone and 1065 (24.6%) patients allocated usual care died within 28 days (ageadjusted rate ratio [RR] 0.83; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.74 to 0.92; P<0.001). The proportional and absolute mortality rate reductions varied significantly depending on level of respiratory support at randomization (test for trend p<0.001): Dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in patients receiving invasive mechanical ventilation (29.0% vs. 40.7%, RR 0.65 [95% CI 0.51 to 0.82]; p<0.001), by one-fifth in patients receiving oxygen without invasive mechanical ventilation (21.5% vs. 25.0%, RR 0.80 [95% CI 0.70 to 0.92]; p=0.002), but did not reduce mortality in patients not receiving respiratory support at randomization (17.0% vs. 13.2%, RR 1.22 [95% CI 0.93 to 1.61]; p=0.14). Conclusions: In patients hospitalized with COVID-19, dexamethasone reduced 28-day mortality among those receiving invasive mechanical ventilation or oxygen at randomization, but not among patients not receiving respiratory support.

UV-C Light Kills SARS-CoV-2, Triggering Novel Lighting Options for Public Spaces -  UV-C light has been used as a disinfectant against viruses and bacteria for more than 40 years. Now, researchers at Boston University and Signify (formerly Phillips) have confirmed that it also effectively eradicates the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Specifically, a 5mJ/cm2 dose of UV-C light eradicated 99% of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in 6 seconds, according to testing by Anthony Griffiths, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology, in Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL). Based on the data, he and his team determined that a 22mJ/cm2 dose of UV-C light will result in a reduction of 99.9999% of the virus in 25 seconds. That translates, at a basic level, to needing a 13W UV-C light bulb to kill viruses in a 10 x 16 foot (15 square meter) room, for an undetermined period of time. UV-C light kills bacteria and viruses using radiation to destroy or inactivate the microbes. Effects depend on the microbe in question, but in some, the light causes thymine bases in the DNA to bond and thereby creating a dimmer. If enough dimmers are created, they can’t multiply. In other microbes, UV-C light splits the bonds that keep DNA intact, forming free radicals and inactivating the organism. As to the degree of inactivation needed to prevent transmission of SARS-/CoV-2, Dr. Griffiths told BioSpace, “We do not know. More studies in the area of transmission need to be performed.”

As Problems Grow With Abbott’s Fast COVID Test, FDA Standards Are Under Fire  -In mid-May, the Food and Drug Administration issued a rare public warning about an Abbott Laboratories COVID-19 test that for weeks had received high praise from the White House because of its speed: Test results could be wrong.The agency at that point had received 15 “adverse event reports” about Abbott’s ID NOW rapid COVID test suggesting that infected patients were wrongly told they did not have the coronavirus, which had led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. The warning followed multiple academic studies showing higher “false negative” rates from the Abbott device, including one from New York University researchers who found it missed close to half of the positive samples detected by a rival company’s test.But then, in a move that confounded lab officials and other public health experts, a senior FDA official later that month said coronavirus tests provided outside lab settings would be considered useful in fighting the pandemic even if they miss 1 in 5 positive cases — a worrisome failure rate.The FDA has now received a total of 106 reports of adverse events for the Abbott test, a staggering increase. The agency has not received a single adverse event report for any other point-of-care tests meant to diagnose COVID-19, an agency spokesperson said.In a statement, Abbott Laboratories said the NYU research was “flawed” and “an outlier,” citing studies with higher accuracy rates. Though the Abbott rapid test is one of over 100 COVID-19 diagnostic tests to receive FDA emergency use authorization during the pandemic, President Donald Trump has featured the product in the White House Rose Garden and the Health and Human Services Department’s preparedness and response division has issued more than $205 million worth of contracts to buy the test, according to federal contract records.

“Fast-Tracking” a Coronavirus Vaccine Sounds Great. It’s Not That Simple. Pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine, with the most ambitious timelines ever attempted in history. When announcing Operation Warp Speed, the government’s effort to develop a vaccine, President Donald Trump said in May, “We’re looking to get it by the end of the year if we can, maybe before.” Vaccine development under normal circumstances typically takes about 10 to 15 years. Now, developers are compressing the traditional timeline with both technological innovation and by putting vast amounts of money at risk. But one stage, the phase 3 clinical trial, which is the key to proving a vaccine’s safety and efficacy, is frustratingly hard to predict in terms of its timeline. It’s dependent on the rate of infection in the locations where the study is being conducted, because the goal is to compare how many people get sick in the vaccine arm of the trial versus the placebo arm. If public health measures, like social distancing, are working very well, and there are low rates of transmission, that’s good for the general public, but it could take a long time for enough trial participants to get sick and for the study to come to a conclusion. Note: If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19, such as difficulty breathing or bluish lips, get medical attention immediately. The CDC has more information on what to do if you are sick. One potential shortcut to approval, if phase 3 trials are taking too long, is for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize the use of a vaccine based on what’s known as an “immune correlate.” This was suggested by Dr. Philip Dormitzer, Pfizer’s vice president and chief scientific officer for viral vaccines, and Dr. Tal Zaks, chief medical officer of Moderna Therapeutics. The idea here would be to show that vaccinated participants have levels of neutralizing antibodies in their blood that are at least as high as patients naturally infected by the virus, and to greenlight the use of a vaccine based on its anticipated benefit, perhaps limited initially to some high-risk populations. Neutralizing antibodies are a type of antibody that can directly block a virus from infecting cells, but as of now, it’s still unclear if there’s a level of neutralizing antibodies that can guarantee immunity.

Another Study Finds School Children Typically Don't Spread COVID-19 To Parents -  The latest study of how COVID-19 manifests in schoolchildren suggests that children don't play a major role in spreading the virus, according to a Bloomberg report. Ever since a mysterious inflammatory syndrome first emerged in children infected by SARS-CoV-2, researchers around the world, but especially in the US and Europe (where the syndrome was most widely found), have been working to determine the nature of the connection between this syndrome and the virus. Of course, there's an important economic factor at play here as well: Before adults can be expected to return to work en masse, provisions must be made for schoolchildren, since childcare is prohibitively expensive for most families. Many colleges across the US have decided to resume classroom-based learning in the fall, even if students will abide by new COVID-19-sensitive social distancing guidelines. And while most expect elementary, middle and high school students to return to the classroom, most states have yet to make a formal decision.Scientists at Institut Pasteur, a massive French research institute named after the scientist who invented the pasteurization process for milk, studied 1,340 people in Crepy-en-Valois, a town northeast of Paris that suffered an outbreak in February and March. The study included 510 students from six primary schools.Among these students, researchers found three students who had contracted the virus. But in each example, it appears the kids didn't pass the virus on to their parents, or teachers. Scientists at Institut Pasteur studied 1,340 people in Crepy-en-Valois, a town northeast of Paris that suffered an outbreak in February and March, including 510 students from six primary schools. They found three probable cases among kids that didn’t lead to more infections among other pupils or teachers. The study confirms that children appear to show fewer telltale symptoms than adults and be less contagious, providing a justification for school reopenings in countries from Denmark to Switzerland. The researchers found that 61% of the parents of infected kids had the coronavirus, compared with about 7% of parents of healthy ones, suggesting it was the parents who had infected their offspring rather than the other way around.This small study is one of several suggesting that young children do not often spread the coronavirus. Though there has been at least one study showing the opposite.But because of this small number of students studied, scientist believe they must study more schools like this one. So far, though, it appears a staggering 41% of the children who contracted the virus didn't show any symptoms...

Mapping Covid-19 outbreaks in the food system - A beef plant in Colorado. A pork plant in Iowa. A hamburger plant in Pennsylvania. Since mid-March, outbreaks of Covid-19 have appeared in meatpacking plants across the country, infecting thousands of workers. The coronavirus has also reached workers in processed food facilities, which make frozen dinners, baked goods, and dairy products. And slowly, outbreaks are arriving at farms and ranches. The map below shows the location of meat processing plants, food processing plants, and farms or ranches where cases of Covid-19 and/or deaths from the disease have been reported. Hover over the icons for details on the plants. In some locations, you’ll need to zoom in to see all of the affected plants. According to data collected by FERN, as of June 19 at 12pm ET, at least 333 meatpacking and food processing plants (249 meatpacking and 84 food processing) and 44 farms and production facilities have confirmed cases of Covid-19, and two meat plants are currently closed. At least 32,049 workers (27,138 meatpacking workers, 2,190 food processing workers, and 2,721 farmworkers) have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least 109 workers (99 meatpacking workers, 8 food processing workers, and 2 farmworkers) have died.

Coronavirus spreading among agriculture and seafood workers in the US The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious threat to the agricultural workers throughout the United States. Reports across the country show the virus is spreading rapidly among this critical section of the working class. About half of the 2.5 million farm workers in the US are undocumented immigrants, and a large percentage of the remainder hold temporary work visas. While farm workers are considered essential by the federal government, there have been no national mandates placed on the agricultural businesses to protect them from coronavrius, leaving it to states and individual farm owners’ discretion what, if any, safety measures to take. About a quarter of the migrant workers who travel into the US from Mexico and Central America will continue traveling throughout the summer and fall, following the different crop harvests up both the east and west coasts of the country. As the virus spreads among these workers, there is a serious risk that it will be introduced into more and more communities. Farm operations across the US have already reported widespread infections. Every single employee at one Tennessee farm has tested positive for the virus, about two hundred people altogether. In Yakima County, Washington, home to the nation’s largest tree fruit crop, 500 workers have fallen ill from the virus. There are nearly 1,000 cases in the Immokalee region of southern Florida, a major tomato-growing region. The workforce of the Louisiana seafood industry is made up primarily of immigrant workers, and, in May, three separate crawfish farms were found to have cluster outbreaks, with a total of over one hundred people infected. Immigrant workers are particularly vulnerable to the spread of the virus, above all because of their crowded living conditions. According to Julie Taylor, Executive Director of the National Farm Worker Ministry, physical distancing is nearly impossible for migrant farm workers who live in dormitory, bunk-bed style housing. Taylor explained that labor camps often consist of a series of barracks with two to three bedrooms on the bottom floor and two on the top floor. Each bedroom houses workers in two to three bunk beds. Each day workers are transported from these sparse and cramped living quarters to the farms on buses with sometimes 50 to 60 people per vehicle. Some farms have made the effort to provide masks to workers, however, as Taylor explained, masks present their own set of problems under the difficult working conditions faced by farm workers. For example, in North Carolina, where the tobacco harvest is just beginning, temperatures have already risen above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Within 20 minutes of working in the field, workers’ masks are soaked with sweat and covered in dirt and debris. This makes them very uncomfortable. Another major risk factor for these workers is their limited access to health care, and those who are undocumented have no health insurance at all. Those who have been provided with some form of insurance through the temporary visa program still face challenges accessing care, as they typically live in isolated, rural communities.

12 states show record spikes in coronavirus cases - Since Friday, 12 states have recorded record highs in new coronavirus cases, an ABC News analysis found.  Using data from The COVID Tracking Project, the outlet confirmed that Florida, Texas, Arizona, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, Missouri, Montana, California, Tennessee, and Oklahoma all showed rising cases as results came in over the weekend.Multiple new developments have been made regarding the spread of the coronavirus throughout some of these states. In Florida, new health data indicated that it saw a staggering newly confirmed 4,049 coronavirus infections as of Saturday.  Oklahoma posted a 478 day-over-day increase in new cases, culminating in 10,515 statewide infections as of June 21.    President Trump held a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla, on Saturday, which reportedly brought in 6,200 thousand attendees — many indoors, in close quarters and sometimes without masks. On Sunday, Tulsa officials released a statement urging those who have attended “large-scale gatherings” to get tested for COVID-19.  “As expected, Oklahoma’s urban areas as well as a few communities around the state are experiencing a rise in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to increased social activity and mobility,” the press release said.In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) recently said that Texas’s high new case count stems from congregate living facilities, like prisons and nursing homes, and that testing remains strong across the state. Speaking in a press conference with reporters last week, COVID-19 Response Incident Manager Jay Butler notes that rises in cases have multiple culprits."Sometimes an increase [in cases] is driven by an increase in availability in testing, sometimes it is driven by outbreaks," Butler said. "And we've seen outbreaks in certain educational settings, in long-term care facilities, early on we saw clusters of infections in shelters for people experiencing homelessness, and sometimes there's an increase in transmission in the community as well." The same ABC analysis also found that hospitalizations for severe coronavirus cases are rising in 17 states, namely Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. Hospitalizations are regarded as a better metric to determine the severity of coronavirus infections. Another burgeoning trend within new cases are infections among younger individuals between the ages of 20 and 30. The most troubling hotspots are in Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina and Texas. The spikes among young adults are likely because this demographic hold front-line service jobs putting them at risk of infection, and are also more likely to ignore some of the social distancing measures advised by health experts.

WHO: More testing doesn't explain COVID-19 spikes in US - A top official at the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday that a spike in the number of U.S. coronavirus cases is not solely the result of increased testing, a sign the virus is spreading widely in states across the country.Nearly 60,000 new cases were identified in the United States over the weekend, the highest rate since the beginning of May. States like Arizona, Texas, California and Florida have all confirmed thousands of new cases each day for the past week.Some have pointed to an increase in tests, which identify a larger number of asymptomatic and low-symptomatic COVID-19 cases, as the reason for the recent spikes.But most of those states are also seeing an increase in the percentage of tests that come back positive, indicating the virus is spreading quickly. If the virus were stable, the percentage of positive tests would be declining. More than one in five tests are coming back positive in Arizona, according to state data. The positivity rate is north of 10 percent and on the rise in Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. The number of coronavirus victims who have been admitted to the hospital is growing quickly in Arizona, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming. In Texas, the number of people hospitalized has jumped 63 percent in the last two weeks. The troubling rise in cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations may force some local governments to consider new lockdown measures to stem transmission. Ryan pointed to countries like South Korea, where local transmission has been snuffed out through robust local responses."There may be a need to put some restrictions in place in order to suppress infection," Ryan said. "We've seen countries do that at a micro level. Not at a state or a national level, but where needed."Positivity and hospitalization rates have been falling in other states, especially those that were hit hardest by the virus early in the pandemic. The number of New Yorkers in the hospital has declined by half in the past two weeks, and just 1 percent of the tests conducted in New York are coming back positive.Hospitalizations have fallen by more than half in Connecticut and Wisconsin, and by more than a third in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.Twenty-one states have the capacity to conduct more tests on a daily basis than their target goals, according to standards set by the Rockefeller Foundation's National Testing Action Plan.The issue of testing was thrust back into the spotlight over the weekend after President Trump said he told staff to “slow the testing down, please.”Trump on Monday refused to say whether he told staff to slow down COVID-19 testing to make it look like the U.S. had fewer cases, while White House officials denied he had ever given such an order. Almost 2.3 million people in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus, more than double the number of cases in any other nation and more than the next three most-infected nations -- Brazil, Russia and India -- combined. Just over 120,000 people in the United States have died, about a quarter of the global death toll.

Younger People Now Driving Spikes in New Coronavirus Cases - The rush to reopen states across the South and the Sun Belt has led to a surge in coronavirus cases. Public health officials are now noticing that people in their 20s and 30s seem to be driving the spikes in the infection rate across Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Arizona and other states as CNN reported. Data from Johns Hopkins University finds that at least 23 states are seeing a rise new cases compared to the previous week. Ten of those 23 reported more than a 50 percent spike, including the first states to start reopening.Public health officials have lamented the resistance to social distancing orders in those states. In Mississippi, for example, officials pinpointed a surge in cases due to fraternity rush parties at the University of Mississippi, according to CNN.Officials in South Carolina warned that a rising number of people under 30 were testing positive for coronavirus, with an official at the local department of health saying that the rise shows "younger South Carolinians are not taking social distancing seriously," according to Forbes. The rise in cases in clusters of young people has also been observed in California, Washington, Colorado, Wisconsin and North Carolina, according to NPR.As Forbes reported, the chief medical officer at Georgia's largest hospital, Dr. Robert Jansen, told the localpress that he was seeing more patients in their 20s and 30s: "What frightens me is not only that they are younger, the potential of them infecting other people, particularly parents and grandparents." Texas Governor Gregg Abbot attributed the rise in cases in his state to bar-type settings where young people have congregated since Memorial Day weekend, according to The Hill. "What we're seeing there is that people of that age group, they're not following these appropriate best health and safety practices," Abbott said in an interview this week with KLBK, a McAllen television station, as The Hill reported. "They're not wearing face masks. They're not sanitizing their hands. They're not maintaining the safe distancing practices. And as a result, they are contracting COVID-19 at a record pace in the state of Texas." In Washington state, where the virus's arrival in the U.S. was first detected, the number of hospitalizations among older people has continued to fall even as the number of new cases has started to rise, according to NPR. "This creates a reservoir of disease moving around in the population, simmering, if you will," said Judith Malmgren, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington to NPR. "This can spike to uncontrollable levels in more vulnerable adults very quickly."

Why It Would Be Hard to Link a Coronavirus Spike to Recent Protests  - After months of being cooped up at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, people have taken to the streets by the thousands over the past few weeks to protest against police killings of Black people and decades of systemic racism. The gatherings have some people worried about a spike in coronavirus infections—but they have also been defended by some public health experts, who argue that racial injustice is itself a major public health threat. The risk of transmitting coronavirus is likely lower outdoors, and many of the protesters have been wearing masks. But some experts note there is still risk—especially given the close interactions between police and protesters, the use of chemicals such as tear gas and pepper spray that irritate the mucous membranes (causing tearing, runny noses and coughing), and the corralling of arrested protesters in crowded vans and jail cells. There is not much evidence that the protests have caused spikes in coronavirus infections so far. And any increase in cases from the protests would be hard to separate from the fact that states are reopening in general, according to Caroline Buckee, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Scientific American spoke with Buckee about the risks posed by protesting, the difficulty of tracing infections back to the protests, and how to stay safe while exercising one’s democratic rights. [An edited transcript of the conversation follows.]

 The worst-case scenarios for COVID-19 are still in play - Coronavirus is back in a serious way, although it never really left. Though new cases are still declining in some states, in others they are rising fast — like California, Texas, North Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, Florida, and Arizona. In every one of those states positive test rates are eitherincreasing or flat, implying it is not increased testing producing these increases, but increased spread. These latter two states are especially worrisome, given their large population of seniors in retirement communities and nursing homes, where a large portion of deaths have occurred. When the pandemic first struck, I figured — based on our total lack of a serious federal containment effort, and our abysmal health care system — that it would be worse here than any other rich country. That has turned out to be extremely true in terms of total cases and deaths, but not in per-person terms so far; only the New York City area had a really severe outbreak on the scale of Italy's Lombardy region. But that could very much still happen. Exponential outbreaks are clearly in progress once again in many states, and they could easily spread to others. Judging from the eagerness of many states to ditch their lockdown measures, the continuously AWOL Trump administration, and the blitheness much of the population is showing about containment precautions, it might even be more likely than not.  It is still somewhat mysterious why America did not suffer galloping outbreaks in every state. Since the worst one happened in the only American city seriously dependent on public transit, it could be our dispersed and car-dependent cities provided some modest natural protection.  The warmer American climate might have helped a little as well. It also appears that outside New York, lockdown measures were largely implemented before outbreaks really got going.

New York Governor Cuomo reopens economy as COVID-19 infection rate rises across US  - New York state and, in particular, New York City and its environs have been among the world centers of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 19, the state had seen more than 386,000 confirmed cases and close to 25,000 recorded deaths. New York City alone had experienced over half of the reported fatalities. These numbers are likely undercounts. Due to the imposition of social distancing, stay-at-home orders and other hygienic measures implemented in mid-March, the rate of new infections and deaths has been dramatically reduced. From a peak of over 11,500 reported new cases per day state-wide in mid-April, the rate of new cases had dropped to less than 1,000 on June 6, the culmination of a steady decline during the month of May. Since then, the daily count of new cases has ranged between 916, on June 12, and 618, on June 17. This reduction by two orders of magnitude is testimony to the effectiveness, absent a vaccine, of the “lockdown” in bringing the pandemic under some degree of control and saving thousands of lives. It does not mean, however, that the danger has passed. Rather, the relatively stable rate of new infections indicates that the limit of the effectiveness of the containment measures has been reached. Logically, since no other significant factors have changed since March, maintenance of the lockdown would maximize the probability of the ravages of the disease being kept as low as possible until a vaccine or at least an effective treatment was developed. However, under capitalism, logic, not to mention the well-being of the mass of the population, are minor concerns as compared to the accumulation of profit by the wealthy elite. In New York, the Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, has acted in concert with state and municipal officials of both major parties across the country, following the lead of the Trump administration, to “reopen” the economy, a euphemism for forcing workers back to their job sites despite the ever-present danger of a resurgence of infections. As one of the centers of the pandemic, New York’s economy has taken a major hit and the state budget is projected to record a deficit in excess of $10 billion this year alone. The state’s financial and corporate elite is desperate to resume business as usual to renew the accumulation of profit. In early May, the governor announced a “reopening” plan that would gradually lift the restrictions imposed in March to slow the spread of COVID-19. In a recent news conference, Cuomo proclaimed the success of the lockdown measures, calling New York an “anomaly” in relation to other parts of the US. “We have tamed the beast,” he declared..

Louisiana Extends 'Phase 2' For Another Month As COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations Soar-   In what appears to be the first sign of a state delaying, or at the very least elongating, the process of reopening its economy, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards just announced that his state will remain under 'Phase 2' for another 28 days, instead of moving into 'Phase 3' at the end of the week. JUST IN: @LouisianaGov says Louisiana will NOT move into phase three when the order expires at the end of the week. Instead, we’ll stay in Phase Two for another 28 days @wdsu  — Christina Watkins (@CWatkinsWDSU) June 22, 2020 The state reached two grim milestones on Monday: It passed 50k cases, and 3k deaths linked to the virus. The phase two order will now expire on July 28, and has been extended because of a rise in new cases and hospitalizations. "A lot of people say they are done with the virus...but this virus is not done with us," Bel Edwards said.  This is the #COVID19 incidence in Louisiana. High in all but one region, per @AlexBillioux of @LADeptHealth. #lalege #lagov   In other news, 2 more Trump Campaign staffer who were on the advance team that staged the event in Tulsa have tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to 8.

D.C. Is Entering Phase 2 Today, and D.C. Should Wait - Mike the Mad Biologist - Today, D.C. is entering phase 2 of its reopening. The big changes are restaurants can have indoor seating, gyms can reopen with limited attendance, and houses of worship can allow up to 100 people or 50 percent occupancy (whichever is lower). I have a bad feeling about this. While most of the numbers for D.C. are trending in the right direction, with the exception of daily deaths which is holding constant and seems kind of important(though it’s a lagging indicator), they simply aren’t low enough in absolute terms. That is, there are still too many infected people. To put this in context, D.C. has roughly the same number of new cases per day as does South Korea, which has 71 times the population. D.C. needs to get down to single digits in terms of new cases per day. If we use the number of people who have tested positive over the last two weeks as an approximate count of the number of people who potentially could transmit an infection to the general population*, we realize that the church gathering of 100 people or the restaurant with fifty is not risk-free at all. If we look at the period between June 4 and June 17, here’s the frequency of infected people for D.C. as a whole and by ward: […] But these seem low? Well, in Ward 4, there’s a fourteen percent chance that a church gathering of 100 people has one or more infected people; even in Ward 2, that gathering has a three percent chance of having one or more infected people. Using the D.C. average, that 100 person gathering will have one or more infected people five percent of the time.  Now, that is not a transmission rate, just the probability of one or more infected people. Hopefully, people are wearing masks and spacing, though wearing masks in a restaurant seems unlikely, at least while eating. If we could knock down the number of infected people ten-fold, then even in the most affected ward, that 100 person gathering will have one or more infected people less than two percent of the time, down from fourteen percent; in Ward 2, the probability drops to 0.3%. That’s what we need for safety–less than ten new cases per day. That also means, if there is a rebound, it will be easier to tamp it down again; we also get more time to do so. Critically, that’s how we allow people to return to some sense of normalcy their lives. When group activities are safe enough that we can reliably survive our own stupidity (and no one, not even professionals, is perfect about adherence), that’s when it’s time to relax. Right now, D.C. is close, but not close enough.

  US passes 120,000 virus deaths: Johns Hopkins - The United States on Monday passed the grim benchmark of 120,000 deaths from the coronavirus outbreak when it added another 425 fatalities in 24 hours, the Johns Hopkins University tally showed. The world's largest economy is the hardest-hit country by the pandemic, with more than 2.31 million official cases -- out of which about 640,000 people have fully recovered, according to the Baltimore-based institution at 8:30pm (0030 GMT Tuesday). The previous day's toll of 305 deaths in 24 hours was one of the lowest in months, but numbers have tended to be lower during the weekend and just after, depending on the feedback from local health authorities. Many states have largely lifted lockdown measures, and New York -- the country's epicenter for the pandemic -- took a big step Monday by allowing non-essential businesses to reopen. But some 20 states, primarily in the south and west, have seen a rebound in infections. Among them, Florida passed 100,000 cases, of which nearly 3,000 were diagnosed on Monday alone, according to local health officials. President Donald Trump said Monday that the virus death toll in the US could surpass 150,000, though he insisted that two to four million lives would have been lost if the country had not taken steps to slow the spread of the disease. 

California Smashes Daily New Cases Record For Second Day In A Row- Live Updates -  For the second day in a row, California has shattered a daily record for new cases, reporting more than 6,600 infections on Tuesday, after reporting more than 6k on Monday, leaving the state with its second consecutive record for the largest single-day count since the outbreak began. Florida has reported another increase in daily new cases. The Florida Department of Health reported that there are 5,511 new coronavirus cases in Florida today. The previous record was 4,049, set this past Saturday. It also saw new hospitalizations climb by 256, the highest in a month and second-biggest on record. The biggest was 265 on May 21. The latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health show that there have been 109,014 cases of COVID-19 statewide, resulting in 3,281 deaths. The state's positivity rate, meanwhile, has climbed to 15.9% of all tests up from 10.8%.On the bright side, the state reported just 44 deaths, a sign that deaths in the sun belt states seeing a surge in cases haven't been rising nearly as fast as the total cases. Despite this, a 17-year-old Florida resident became the state’s youngest coronavirus-related death, according to state health data reported today. Workers at Disney World in Orlando, which is set to reopen next month, have gathered to sign a petition asking the company to delay its reopening. Most alarmingly, the US is on track to seeing the average number of new infections reported daily eclipse the highs from the "peak" of the outbreak back in April, when New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut saw the number of patients hospitalized and in the ICU hit their peaks. While deaths have lagged amid evidence that the rising case counts in the US are being driven primarily by young people acting irresponsibly, in roughly a week, the US will eclipse the 50k cases per day mark, at which point a surge in deaths and more severe cases will be virtually inevitable. At this point, the alarming surge in new cases seen along the sunbelt states from Florida to Arizona on to California is clearly being driven by loosening restrictions on the economy, as states that waited the longest to close down have also been among the first to reopen. At first, it looked like this strategy had been vindicated as Georgia appeared to have dodged the feared second wave. But the state has since seen its daily case counts move back into record territory: Arizona, California, Texas and Mississippi all reported record increases in new cases yesterday, along with other states. A staggering 27 states are now seeing cases increase, according to the NY Times.

Coronavirus dashboard for June 22: a pandemic newly focused on the young appears to be changing the dynamics - Confirmed US coronavirus infections: 2,280,969. Confirmed US coronavirus deaths: 119,977. The 7 day average of new infections in the US has risen 30% from its low of 20,357 on June 9 to 26,546 yesterday: On a per capita basis, US infections are now roughly 4x those in Europe: Curiously, the 7 day average of deaths has continued to decline, to 605 as of yesterday: On a per capita basis, US deaths from coronavirus are only 2x those in Europe: Within the US, the per capita rate of infections has continued to fall in the Northeast megalopolis, risen slightly in the Midwest, but is rising at what may be exponential rates in the South and West: The poster child for confirmed new exponential spread remains Arizona, which now has a rate of new infections 2/3’s that of NY at its peak, and is likely to match that within a week: The remaining “top 10” for new infections per capita are all from the Confederacy, plus Utah – and they are also all rising, in the 100 to 160 new cases per million per day range. When it comes to deaths, however, the “top 10” are almost all from the Northeast megalopolis, led by Massachusetts, but they are in serious decline: Only Arizona from the new outbreaks has risen into the “top 10” for deaths. The continued decline in new deaths may just be a lag in the data, but there are several other possibilities as well: – better hospital treatment – shutting down nursing home spread (since nursing homes were responsible for over 1/3 of all deaths in the first several months of the pandemic. Perhaps most significantly, the paradox may be explained by the average *age* of those newly infected. The evidence is, it has dropped precipitously. Unfortunately, I failed to copy the graph I saw of the total US statistic for that measure, but here is an age-breakdown for US testing and % positive: Those in age group 18-49 years saw a much bigger increase in tests administered, and less of a decline in the % positive – meaning a higher rate of diagnosed infections in that age group. Here is the age breakdown for Mississippi:   And here is a chart of the age breakdown for Maricopa County, Arizona:  Officials in states across the South and Southwest are reporting that an increasing share of coronavirus cases are among the young. It appears that the de facto US policy is to allow the virus to run through the younger population, while the older part of the population voluntarily continues to self-quarantine. Even with a low fatality rate like 0.2% among the younger demographic, that would translate into roughly 300,000 deaths among that group alone. My take has been that the US simply lacks the political and social will to take the necessary steps to effectively contain the virus. Arizona is going to be the canary in the coal mine for whether States with Trumpist governors and GOP legislatures will ever be scared into action, and we should get that answer within the next 2 weeks

Texas Governor Says ‘Massive’ Virus Outbreak Sweeping the State -- Texas is experiencing a “massive outbreak” as Covid-19 cases multiply, Governor Greg Abbott said on Wednesday as hospital systems in the state’s biggest cities strained to handle the influx of patients.Texas posted its worst day so far for new cases, with a jump of 5,551 to 125,921, according to the state health department. The 4.6% one-day rise exceeded the 3.7% seven-day average. Hospitalizations climbed by 7.3% to 4,389.“Our infrastructure is overwhelmed,” David Persse, Houston’s director of emergency medical services, said during a media briefing on Wednesday.  Earlier, Houston-area hospitals predicted they may exceed intensive-care capacity as soon as Thursday. Such an overflow will force hospitals to tap so-called surge capacity as patient numbers grow, according to Texas Medical Center data. At current rates of infection, sustainable surge capacity would be exhausted in another 10 days.“There is a massive outbreak of COVID-19 across the state of Texas,” Abbott, who was among the most aggressive governors on re-opening, said during an interview with KFDA TV.“The numbers are moving in the wrong direction,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a media briefing.Houston police and fire departments will step up monitoring of taverns and clubs to ensure compliance with occupancy limits and mask requirements.“We want to really crack down on people who are not adhering to the rules,” Turner said. “We want to create a board of shame for those who are violating the rules.”

Record spikes in U.S. coronavirus cases push up hospitalization rates in 16 states The U.S. reported more than 34,400 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data, after health officials in California, Florida and Texas all reported record-high single-day spikes.As of Wednesday, the nation's seven-day average of daily new Covid-19 cases was 31,172. This number has increased more than 34% compared with a week ago, according to the analysis of Johns Hopkins data. Cases are growing by 5% or more in 31 states across the U.S., including Arizona, Florida, Texas and California. Twelve states hit record highs in daily new cases on Wednesday based on their seven-day average, the analysis found. They include Arizona, Arkansas, California and Florida. Arizona also hit a record high in average daily new deaths with a seven-day average of nearly 31 new lives lost. Coronavirus hospitalizations, like new cases and deaths, are an important measure of the outbreak as it helps health officials gauge how severe it may be.  Hospitalizations from Covid-19 are also rising in 16 states as of Wednesday, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project. Some states are hitting new highs every week as the number of cases continues to rise at an alarming rate. While some of these surges can be attributed to increases in testing, hospitalizations from Covid-19 have also grown substantially. The California Department of Public Health reported its second straight record jump in coronavirus cases on Wednesday, adding 7,149 new cases. The previous highest spike in daily new cases was 5,019, reported on Tuesday by the state's department of health.  As of June 24, the state is seeing a seven-day average of nearly 4,732 daily new cases, according to Johns Hopkins data. This number has increased by more than 43% compared with a week ago. About 4,814 people are hospitalized in California based on a seven-day moving average, which is almost a 9% increase compared with a week ago, according to Covid Tracking Project data.

US Sets New Record For Largest Daily Jump In COVID-19 Cases As 39k Infected- Live Updates - Several early indicators of the number of cases being recorded on Wednesday (typically numbers are reported with a 24 hour delay) suggest that with the new daily records in florida, texas, california, oklahoma etc, we might see the total confirmed number of cases surpass the previous record set in mid-April. According to the COVID Tracking Project, the US just recorded its largest one-day increase in coronavirus cases, as seven states, mainly in the south and west, reported new record increases over the last 24 hours (remember all of these data are reported with a one-day lag, and not every state has finished reporting all of its daily numbers), with the nationwide tally rising by 38,672, according to the Covid Tracking Project.The real news today is that the U.S. set a record for new cases today: 38,672.The previous record was April 25 at 36,001.— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) June 24, 2020 Already, the US is seeing the percentage of tests coming back positive at 7.7%, the highest number since May 10, which doesn't put us back to the worst days of the outbreak in New York and the surrounding area, but is definitely still pretty alarming. The coronavirus tracking project housed at the Atlantic also noted that the picture, as far as new cases are concerned (the increase in deaths has been more muted), is pretty startling, with the uptick in cases starting in the south late last month, just as many governors were celebrating a premature victory over the holiday weekend. According to BBG, Texas Gov Greg Abbott warned Wednesday that the massive outbreak was making things extremely precarious in the state, although another round of lockdowns wouldn't be necessary. As we said earlier, Texas just saw its worst day so far for new cases, with a jump of 5,551 to 125,921. The 4.6% one-day rise exceeded the 3.7% seven-day average. Hospitalizations climbed by 7.3% to 4,389.Health officials warned that the state is on track to fill normal COVID capacity by the end of the week, and would then need to bring on line overflow capacity, which would only last for 11 days, assuming hospitalizations continue to climb at the current levels."Our infrastructure is overwhelmed,” said David Persse, Houston’s director of emergency medical services, during a Wednesday briefing.

New York, New Jersey & Connecticut Orders Visitors To Quarantine For 2 Weeks The tables have turned...Recalling the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in the US, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey are ordering all visitors to their states, which have only recently gotten over the worst of the viral outbreak, to quarantine for two weeks first. Notably, states like Florida imposed restrictions on travel from the northeast during the early days when NYC was the undisputed national epicenter of the outbreak. Gov Cuomo once threatened to sue Rhode Island after the state's governor asked state troopers to stop drivers with out of state license plates to see if they were violating quarantine rules.Cuomo holding joint briefing with NJ Gov Phil Murphy, CT Gov Ned Lamont #COVID19  Cuomo: We’re (NY, NJ, CT) announcing today a joint travel advisory - people coming in from states that have a high infection rate must quarantine for 14 days, and we have a calibration for the infection rate. #COVID19— Meg Tirrell (@megtirrell) June 24, 2020  Per WaPo: "The governors of the tri-state area jointly announced the travel advisory, which requires a 14-day quarantine for visitors from states whose infection rates meet certain thresholds indicating “significant community spread,” according to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D). Nine states currently meeting that threshold, Cuomo said: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Utah and Texas."

June 23 COVID-19 Test Results, Highest Percent Positive since Mid-May -- I started posting this graph when the US was doing a few thousand tests per day. Clearly the US was way under testing early in the pandemic. I'll continue posting this graph daily at least until the percent positive is continuously under 3% and the daily positive is significantly lower than today.The US is now conducting over 500,000 tests per day, and that might be enough to allow test-and-trace in some areas. Based on the experience of other countries, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% to really push down new infections, so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly.According to Dr. Jha of Harvard's Global Health Institute, the US might need more than 900,000 tests per day .There were 511,484 test results reported over the last 24 hours. There were 32,984 positive tests.  This is the most positive tests since May 1st. This data is from the COVID Tracking Project. The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 6.4% (red line). For the status of contact tracing by state, check out

Coronavirus: US has ‘serious problem’, says Fauci - BBC. US infectious disease chief Dr Anthony Fauci says the nation has a "serious problem" as 16 states reel from a spike in Covid-19 cases. At the first White House task force briefing in two months, Dr Fauci said: "The only way we're going to end it is by ending it together." As health experts said more must be done to slow the spread, Vice-President Mike Pence praised US "progress". More than 40,000 new cases were recorded across the US on Friday The total of 40,173, given by Johns Hopkins University, was the highest daily total so far, exceeding the record set only the previous day. There are over 2.4 million confirmed infections and more than 125,000 deaths nationwide - more than any other country. During Friday's briefing, the White House task force also urged millennials to get tested, even if they are asymptomatic. Mr Pence said the president requested the task force address the American people amid surges in infections and hospital admissions across southern and western states. In Texas, Florida and Arizona, reopening plans have been paused due to the spike. While some of the increase in daily cases recorded can be attributed to expanded testing, the rate of positive tests in some areas is also increasing. Health officials in the US estimate the true number of cases is likely to be 10 times higher than the reported figure. Dr Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator, thanked younger Americans for heeding official guidance on testing. "Whereas before we told them to stay home, now we are telling them to get tested." She noted this "great change" in testing guidance would allow officials to find "the asymptomatic and mild diseases that we couldn't find before".

June 24 COVID-19 Test Results, Highest Daily Positive Cases Ever The US is now conducting over 500,000 tests per day, and that might be enough to allow test-and-trace in some areas. Based on the experience of other countries, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% to really push down new infections, so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly. According to Dr. Jha of Harvard's Global Health Institute, the US might need more than 900,000 tests per day .There were 502,290 test results reported over the last 24 hours.There were 38,672 positive tests.  This is the most positive tests ever.  This data is from the COVID Tracking Project. The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 7.7% (red line).  This is the highest percent positive since early May. For the status of contact tracing by state, check out

Texas, at center of new U.S. coronavirus surge, pauses reopening - (Reuters) - The governor of Texas temporarily halted the state’s reopening on Thursday as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations surged in the state and new daily cases around the country climbed to a near-record high. Texas, which has been at the forefront of efforts to reopen devastated economies shut down in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, has seen one of the biggest jumps in new cases, reporting over 6,000 in a single day on Monday. “This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business,” Governor Greg Abbott, a two-term Republican, said in a statement. Texas has also set record hospitalizations for 13 days in a row. Abbott has suspended elective surgeries in the Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio areas to free up hospital bed space. Texas’ rising numbers are part of a nationwide resurgence in states that were spared the brunt of the initial outbreak or moved early to lift restrictions on residents and businesses. Also reporting record rises in cases this week were Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming.

Gov. Greg Abbott orders Texas bars to close again and restaurants to reduce to 50% occupancy as coronavirus spreads Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday took his most drastic action yet to respond to the post-reopening coronavirus surge in Texas, shutting bars back down and scaling back restaurant capacity to 50%.He also shut down river-rafting trips, which have been blamed for a swift rise in cases in Hays County, and banned outdoor gatherings of over 100 people unless local officials approve.“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars," Abbott said in a news release. "The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health."Bars must close at noon Friday, and the reduction in restaurant capacity takes effect Monday. Before Abbott's announcement Friday, bars were able to operate at 50% capacity and restaurants at 75% capacity. As for outdoor gatherings, Abbott's decision Friday represents his second adjustment in that category this week. Abbott on Tuesday gave local governments the choice to place restrictions on outdoor gatherings of over 100 people after previously setting the threshold at over 500 people. Now outdoor gatherings of over 100 people are prohibited unless local officials explicitly approve of them. State officials have noted that case numbers in Texas began to increase around Memorial Day weekend, and have expressed worry about big public gatherings for Fourth of July. Abbott's actions Friday were his first significant moves to reverse the reopening process that he has led since late April. He said Monday that shutting down the state again is a last resort, but the situation has been worsening quickly.

The Coronavirus Surge in Florida, Arizona, Texas Isn’t the Same as New York’s Crisis  —The virus that ravaged Northeastern U.S. cities is surging through Southern and Western states. It’s different this time. Younger people are getting sick with Covid-19. States that had brief coronavirus lockdownsare struggling to encourage social distancing and mask-wearing. Many people appear to have embraced their usual summer rituals. Health officials are sounding alarms about a surge in cases racing not through nursing homes, but bars and house parties. Hospitals are fillingwith medically-vulnerable elderly—but also 20-somethings and patients in their 30s and 40s. Some took the end of stay-home orders as permission to live their lives again, unimpeded. Phoenix entrepreneur Jimmy Flores, 30, spent the night of June 6 at a nightclub with friends, sharing drinks. Two days later, he felt sick. The next week, he was on a hospital oxygen tube after testing positive for Covid-19. “I’m a young, active, healthy person with no previous conditions,” he said. “I didn’t take it seriously for myself. I was not practicing the social-distancing guidelines. I didn’t wear a mask. I thought I was invincible.” Mr. Flores said he went from not knowing anyone with Covid-19 to knowing 15 victims. After eight days’ hospitalization, he is recovering at home. The U.S. has confirmed more than 2.4 million Covid-19 cases, and more than 124,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University data as of Friday morning. New cases have climbed to more than 30,000 a day—back to their April peak—after dropping to around 20,000 a day in May. Nearly 40,000 new cases were reported on Thursday, a record; Florida, Texas, California and Arizona accounted for nearly half of the new cases. While states in the Northeast have flattened the Covid-19 curve, states in the West and South are seeing a surge of new infections. But younger people in Texas and Arizona are taking hospital beds and straining the health-care system, he said. “These hot spots that we see, I don’t minimize them. They’re significant,” he said. Arizona’s Covid-19 hospitalizations since it reopened May 15 have grown from 789 to 2,110, according to state data Thursday. Nine of 10 hospital ICU beds were full this week, state data show.In Texas, nearly 6,000 tested positive for Covid-19 Thursday, versus just over 600 new diagnoses on Memorial Day, state data show; hospitalizations rose to more than 4,700 from just over 1,500 in that period.

Florida Governor Scoffs at Fresh Virus Tactics: ‘Like What?’  - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis dismissed the need for major changes in his Covid-19 strategy after the state reported a record number of new cases Friday.Asked by an NBC reporter why he isn’t implementing new measures to combat the virus, DeSantis responded: “Like what?”He went on to point out that the state had already banned on-premises bar drinking earlier on Friday, as Texas has also done, and that he had taken measures to secure nursing homes. But DeSantis, a Republican who has mimicked President Donald Trump’s unconcern about the pandemic, showed no sign he was willing to reverse the state’s reopening seven weeks after it began. He said a growing number of young people contracting the disease was an optimistic sign. “An individual case to me -- I’ve said from the beginning -- is not the most important thing to look at,” DeSantis said Friday from Fort Myers. “Because as you see the cases shift younger, that’s not going to be as significant clinically as if you have nursing home outbreaks or outbreaks among elderly who are going to be more vulnerable.”   Florida reported 122,960 Covid-19 cases on Friday, up a record 8,942 cases. Hospitalizations are also climbing, although DeSantis says the state continues to have ample capacity to meet patients’ needs. Florida hasn’t suspended elective surgeries, as Texas has in its largest cities, which frees hospital beds.  DeSantis said Friday’s numbers showed a continuation of the trend from the rest of the week. Indeed, the Friday report -- based on Thursday data -- showed the highest number of total tests in at least four weeks. A month ago, DeSantis was regularly boasting about how Florida, with one of the nation’s largest 65-and-over populations, had avoided dire Covid-19 predictions. He was also lambasting reporters. “You’ve got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York,” he said on a trip to Orlando on May 20 with Vice President Mike Pence. “We’ve succeeded, and I think that people just don’t want to recognize it because it challenges their narrative, it challenges their assumptions, so they’ve got to try to find a bogeyman. Maybe it’s that there are black helicopters circling the Department of Health.”

Florida Fudges COVID Numbers Downward as Infections Surge Up -- President Donald Trump’s weekend claim that he told officials in his administration to slow down coronavirus testing across the U.S. in order to avoid higher case totals led to a furious round of backpedaling by members of his staff, who said Trump was “obviously kidding” and that his words marked “a light moment for him” at a rally in Tulsa, Okla.But as recent developments in Florida make clear, there is more than one way to suppress the kinds of numbers that reveal the virus’s true human cost – even as those numbers rise dramatically in states that have pushed aggressive reopening strategies. At the behest of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida late last week changed its guidelines for how hospitals count the patients in their intensive care units. Specifically, Scott Rivkees, the state’s surgeon general and secretary of the Department of Health, told hospital providers to stop reporting the number of adults who occupy ICU beds. Instead, Rivkees said, the hospitals were to report only those patients within the ICU who required what he called “intensive-level care.”Rivkees’ logic was that many hospitals had located COVID-19 wards within ICUs, and therefore were reporting all the virus patients there as ICU patients. Although there is no evidence to suggest any of those patients shouldn’t be there, hospital administrators now apparently need to identify who among them is not actually receiving intensive care.The policy change comes as Florida has experienced an explosion of new virus cases, weeks after DeSantis declared an aggressive reopening, and as several counties reported they were running low on ICU bed space. As of Tuesday, less than a quarter of the adult ICU beds across the state were available.DeSantis last week doubled down on his reopening strategy — even as health experts warnedthat Florida was poised to become “the next large epicenter of coronavirus transmission.” Its recent surge in positive test results pushed Florida’s COVID-19 number above 100,000 on Monday.“We’re not shutting down. We’re going to go forward…We’re not rolling back,” DeSantis saidon Tuesday. “You have to have society function.” The governor, a Trump ally who successfully pushed for Jacksonville to host the Republican National Convention after North Carolina officials expressed concern over health safety and a likely lack of physical distancing, initially blamed Florida’s spike in positive cases on a rise in testing. Under heavy criticism, he conceded over the weekend that more testing alone did not explain Florida’s wild spike in the numbers. But his position on reopening did not change.

The US sees a record number of new coronavirus cases in a single day – CNN - The United States saw a record number of new coronavirus cases in a single day with 37,077 reported Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University. Coronavirus has infected more than 2.4 million people and killed over 124,000 in the United States.Thursday's total eclipses the previous high on April 24, when 36,291 new coronavirus cases were reported across the country.Meanwhile, as coronavirus numbers skyrocket, some states are holding back on easing restrictions. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott paused any further phases to reopen the state on Thursday and issued an order to ensure hospital beds be available for Covid-19 patients.Abbott's moves came as his state, California and Florida -- the three-most populous -- set records for new coronavirus cases daily amid fears of "apocalyptic" surges in major Texas citiesif the trend continues. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also indicated that his state would not be moving to relax present restrictions.California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a budget emergency to free up $16 billion to fight the pandemic, according to a release from his office.The state could pause further reopening of its economy -- and even "toggle back" -- if health officials continue to see increases in infections and hospitalizations, Newsom suggested at a press conference Thursday.And the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the US has only counted about 10% of coronavirus infections. That might mean as many as 20 million Americans have been infected.Officially, coronavirus has killed at least 122,481 people and infected more than 2.4 million nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Coronavirus may have infected 10 times more Americans than reported, CDC says - (Reuters) - Government experts believe more than 20 million Americans could have contracted the coronavirus, 10 times more than official counts, indicating many people without symptoms have or have had the disease, senior administration officials said. The estimate, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is based on serology testing used to determine the presence of antibodies that show whether an individual has had the disease, the officials said. The officials, speaking to a small group of reporters on Wednesday night, said the estimate was based on the number of known cases, between 2.3 million and 2.4 million, multiplied by the average rate of antibodies seen from the serology tests, about an average of 10 to 1. “If you multiply the cases by that ratio, that’s where you get that 20 million figure,” said one official. If true, the estimate would suggest the percentage of U.S. deaths from the disease is lower than thought. More than 120,000 Americans have died from the disease since the pandemic erupted earlier this year. The estimate comes as government officials note that many new cases are showing up in young people who do not exhibit symptoms and may not know they have it.

We Will Be Living With the Coronavirus Pandemic Well Into 2021 -The virus is winning. That much is certain more than six months into a shape-shifting pandemic that’s killed more than 454,000 people worldwide, is gaining ground globally and has disrupted lives from Wuhan to Sao Paulo. While promising, fast-moving vaccine projects are underway in China, Europe and the U.S., only the most optimistic expect an effective shot to be ready for global distribution this year.If, as most experts believe, an effective vaccine won’t be ready until well into 2021, we’ll all be co-existing with the coronavirus for the next year or longer without a magic bullet. And this next phase of the crisis may require us to reset our expectations and awareness and change our behavior, according to public-health professionals.In their view, success isn’t defined as returning to life as it was in 2019. Rather, it’s about buying time and summoning the staying power and policy flexibility to limit the destructive capacity of an expanding pandemic, which may result in global deaths of more than one million according to one estimate, until there are medical tools to effectively treat and immunize against the virus. “People are fatigued. They mistakenly feel that things were going away,” said Cameron Wolfe, an infectious-disease doctor and associate professor of medicine at Duke University. “We’re going to have to figure out a way to live with this.”  Complicating matters, the perceived threat varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, let alone country to country. Much depends on the severity of local outbreaks and the effectiveness of testing, contact tracing, social distancing, hospital systems and public-health messaging that is free of political shading.

Coronavirus testing indicates transmission risk increases along wildlife supply chains for human consumption in Viet Nam (preprint) bioRxiv. From the abstract: “Our analysis also suggested either mixing of 68 animal excreta in the environment or interspecies transmission of coronaviruses, as both bat and 69 avian coronaviruses were detected in rodent feces in the trade. The mixing of multiple 70 coronaviruses, and their apparent amplification along the wildlife supply chain into restaurants, 71 suggests maximal risk for end consumers and likely underpins the mechanisms of zoonotic spillover to people.” Also bat guano (used as fertilizer).

WHO Warns Mink Have Spread Virus To Humans “In Limited Cases” -Following warnings that first surfaced late last week, he WHO warned on Monday that a limited number of human coronavirus infections have been traced back to direct infection from minks, the small rodent-like mammals that are prized for their fur. Though the virus's primary means of transmission is human to human, Dr. Tedros confirmed that there have been cases of minks spreading the virus to humans in the Netherlands.Since mid-April, the mink on fur farms across Denmark and the Netherlands have started getting sick, with symptoms ranging from runny noses to potentially fatal respiratory distress. Veterinarians soon concluded that the mink had caught the virus from their human handlers.Nearly half a million mink have since been culled from more than  a dozen fur farms in the Netherlands.What PETA and other animal rights groups have denounced as "brutality" are intended to eliminate the possibility that the mink could become a reservoir for the virus that causes COVID-19, complicating efforts to eradicate the virus. Researchers at a university in London have warned that surveillance on pets should begin since we already know dogs and cats can carry the virus.Though the chances probably aren't huge, it's technically possible that pets could become meat shields for the virus."We need to develop surveillance strategies to ensure we don’t get taken by surprise by a large outbreak in animals, which could pose a threat not just to animal health but to human health as well,” co-author Joanne Santini, a professor of structural and molecular biology, said in a statement. For all we know, animals could one day play a critical role in helping to spread the virus, even if humans are overwhelmingly driving its spread. The Netherlands has undertaken among the broadest efforts to understand how a zoonotic virus that originated in animals before hopping to humans may now be spreading back to animals.

Antibody levels in recovered COVID-19 patients decline quickly: Research -  Levels of an antibody found in recovered COVID-19 patients fell sharply in 2-3 months after infection for both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients, according to a Chinese study, raising questions about the length of any immunity against the novel coronavirus. The research, published in Nature Medicine on June 18, highlights the risks of using COVID-19 'immunity passports' and supports the prolonged use of public health interventions such as social distancing and isolating high-risk groups, researchers said. Health authorities in some countries such as Germany are debating the ethics and practicalities of allowing people who test positive for antibodies to move more freely than others who don't. The research, which studied 37 symptomatic patients and 37 asymptomatic patients, found that of those who tested positive for the presence of the IgG antibody, one of the main types of antibodies induced after infection, over 90% showed sharp declines in 2-3 months. The median percentage decrease was more than 70% for both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. For neutralizing serum antibodies, the median percentage of decrease for symptomatic individuals was 11.7%, while for asymptomatic individuals it was 8.3%. The study was conducted by researchers at Chongqing Medical University, a branch of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other institutes.

Coronavirus cases surge in U.S., Brazil and rise in Germany - A surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S. and Brazil, and further outbreaks in Germany — where the reproduction rate of the disease has risen substantially — are concerning global health experts, but international financial markets don't seem too worried.The largest single-day increase in global coronavirus cases was recorded on Sunday, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), after more than 183,000 new cases were reported worldwide.Brazil, with nearly 55,000 new infections, saw the largest number of cases reported, followed by the U.S., with more than 36,000 new cases reported Sunday. India, meanwhile, saw more than 15,000 new infections, the WHO said.It should be noted that increases in the numbers of coronavirus cases could be down to increased and more widespread testing, and also anomalies in data collection. Brazil's large spike in cases on Sunday, for instance, was in part due to a lag in reporting from three states (Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo) compounding data from two days, WHO noted.Nonetheless, the surge in cases does not appear to be a one off. In the U.S., more than 30,000 new coronavirus cases were reported on both Friday and Saturday, with infections rising in states across the South, West and Midwest.Still, global markets don't seem too perturbed by the uptick in coronavirus cases; U.S. stock futures rose early Monday morning following a solid weekly performance on Wall Street, while in Asia, shares were mixed Monday.European markets opened lower but pared early losses to trade 0.2% higher.The total number of global confirmed cases since the start of the outbreak is now nearing 9 million and the death toll is close to half a million, with 468,331 reported deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.Even Germany, a country which has been heralded as a poster-child for its coronavirus strategy, saw its reproduction rate jump to 2.88 on Sunday.The closely-watched "R" rate refers to the number of people that an infected individual goes on to infect, on average. Germany's current R rate means that 100 people infected with the virus would, on average, go on to infect 288 people. Experts want to keep the reproduction number, or R rate, under one to slow the spread.

Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro ordered to wear mask in public - A judge in Brazil has ordered President Jair Bolsonaro to wear a protective mask when he is in public spaces in the capital, Brasilia, and the surrounding federal district. The far-right president has been criticised for belittling the risk posed by coronavirus. He dismissed it as "a little cold" at the start of the pandemic. Brazil has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases and Covid-related fatalities in the world after the US. There are more than 1.1m confirmed cases of coronavirus in Brazil and more than 51,000 coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Despite these high figures, President Bolsonaro has repeatedly appeared in public without a mask while greeting his supporters. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (C) leaves the Palacio do Alvorada, headquarters of the Presidency, in Brasilia, Brazil, 15 June 2020. At one rally, he was filmed coughing without covering his mouth and on another occasion he was seen sneezing into his hand and shaking the hand of an elderly woman immediately afterwards. The requirement to wear masks in the federal district came into force on 30 April. The rule was brought in by the governor of the federal district, Ibaneis Rocha, and requires people to cover their nose and mouth in all public spaces, including public transport, shops and commercial and industrial premises. On 11 May, the rule was further tightened with those flaunting it facing fines of 2,000 reais ($387; £310) per day. Federal Judge Renato Borelli's ruling means Mr Bolsonaro is not exempt and that the president and any other public officials who do not comply with the requirement will also incur the 2,000-reais fine. President Bolsonaro has argued from the start of the pandemic that measures taken to curb the spread of the virus could be more damaging than the pandemic itself. On Monday, he renewed his call for the easing of lockdown measures and the reopening of shops and businesses. He said that the way the pandemic had been handled had "maybe been a bit over the top".

 Global COVID-19 total quickly tops 9 million -- Fueled by surges in countries with large populations such as Brazil, the United States, and India, the global COVID-19 total jumped to 9 million cases today, as the world registered its highest 1-day total of 183,000 cases.It only took 6 days for the pandemic total to rise from 8 million to 9 million cases, 2 days less than it took for the number to rise from 7 million to 8 million. The total now stands at 9,015,582, and 469,378 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard. At a World Health Organization (WHO) media briefing, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said while some countries are seeing a rapid rise in cases and deaths, others that successfully suppressed transmission are seeing an upswing in cases as they reopen their economies and unwind restrictions."All countries are facing a delicate balance, between protecting their people, while minimizing the social and economic damage," he said. "It's not a choice between lives and livelihoods. Countries can do both."Tedros urged countries to get creative with keeping people safe as they get on with their lives, but with a foundation of the public health measures that work, including finding and testing cases, isolating and caring for people who are sick, tracing contacts, and protecting healthcare workers. He also called on individuals to do their part by maintaining physical distance, washing their hands, and wearing masks where appropriate. With no let-up in pandemic activity, Tedros said the WHO has fielded requests from 48 countries for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies worth $92 million, and is in the process of shipping 140 million pieces of PPE to 135 countries, along with 14,000 oxygen concentrators and millions of tests.

Virus numbers surge globally as many nations ease lockdowns (AP) — Renewed lockdown measures in a German region where hundreds of coronavirus cases sprung up at a slaughterhouse and news that the world’s top-ranked tennis player has also been infected provided a stark reminder to Europeans on Tuesday that the pandemic is far from gone. Meanwhile, Britain, which has recorded the most coronavirus-related deaths in Europe, pressed on with its easing of the lockdown by confirming that restaurants, bars, hair salons and cinemas can reopen on July 4. By contrast, Germany was reimposing some lockdown restrictions in North Rhine-Westphalia state after more than 1,550 people have tested positive for coronavirus at the Toennies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck and thousands more workers and family members were put into quarantine to try to halt the outbreak.On Tuesday, North Rhine-Westphalia Gov. Armin Laschet said people in Guetersloh and parts of a neighboring county will now face the same restrictions that Germany saw in March and April, including curbs on social gatherings and bar closures. Word of Novak Djokovic’s infection again illustrated that there’s little room for complacency in doing what’s necessary to beat back the disease. The world’s number one tennis player, said he and his wife contracted the coronavirus after he played in a series of exhibition matches he organized in Serbia and Croatia with zero social distancing. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a major rollback of lockdown measures that will let millions in England back into pubs, cinemas, churches and hair salons starting July 4. The move came amid strong pressure from businesses to ease social distancing rules.  But some scientists worried the move is too hasty, especially since measures like a track-and-trace system to stamp out any outbreaks isn’t yet in place. The World Health Organization says the pandemic is still in its ascendancy.  “The epidemic is now peaking or moving towards a peak in a number of large countries,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief. South Africa braced for an anticipated surge of COVID-19 cases by opening a large field hospital with 3,300 beds in a converted car manufacturing plant.

A strain of the coronavirus imported from Europe is most likely to blame for the outbreak in Beijing, WHO believes --World Health Organization (WHO) officials have said the coronavirus sequence in the latest Beijing outbreak is most likely related to the European strain.Speaking at a press conference on Friday, WHO's executive director of the Health Emergencies Program, Dr. Michael Ryan, said the outbreak in Beijing appears to be a human-to-human transmission and not another cross-species infection.  "What it's saying most likely is that the disease was probably imported from outside Beijing at some point," Ryan said, adding that "establishing when that happened and how long the chain of transmission is important."WHO's announcement came a day after the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials released data revealing the gene sequence of the COVID-19 virus that broke out in Beijing's Xinfadi market last week.CDC official Zhang Yong said that while the virus strain is from Europe, it seems to be an older version of what is currently spreading across the continent.

Coronavirus was already in Italy by December, waste water study shows - The coronavirus was already present in northern Italy in December, more than two months before the first case was detected, a national health institute study of waste water has found. Researchers discovered genetic traces of Sars-Cov-2 - as the virus is officially known - in samples of waste water collected in the northern cities of Milan and Turin at the end of last year, and in Bologna in January, the ISS institute said in a statement seen by AFP on Friday. Italy's first known native case was discovered in mid-February. The results "help to understand the start of the circulation of the virus in Italy," the ISS said. They also said they "confirm the by-now consolidated international evidence" that sewer samples work as an early detection tool. IN NUMBERS: What is the coronavirus situation in Italy now? Italy was the first European country to be hit by the virus and the first in the world to impose a nationwide lockdown. Italy has now recorded over 34,500 deaths. The first known case, other than a couple of visiting Chinese tourists in Rome, was a patient in the town of Codogno in the Lombardy region. On February 21st the government designated Codogno a so-called "red zone" and ordered it shuttered, followed by ten other towns across Lombardy and Veneto. By March 9th it had extended the shutdown across the country. In February, medical experts in Milan said they believed the virus had already been "circulating unnoticed for weeks" in Italy.

Coronavirus: Tests show half of people in Italy′s Bergamo have antibodies - More than half of Bergamo residents who submitted a blood sample tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, health authorities in the northern Italian city reported Monday.Out of nearly 10,000 Bergamo residents who had their blood tested between April 23 and June 3, 57% had antibodies, indicating they had come into contact with the virus and developed an immune response.Health authorities said the sample size was "sufficiently broad" to be a reliable indicator of the presence of SARS-CoV-2 among Bergamo province's population.Bergamo was the Italian city worst hit by COVID-19, with images of overflowing hospitals and bodies being carried away by trucks illustrating the horrifying impact of the pandemic.According to Italy's National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), at the height of the outbreak in March, 568% more people died in Bergamo compared with the 2015-2019 average. The city and the surrounding province have reported 13,600 total COVID-19 cases. ISTAT, along with the Ministry of Health, has launched a nationwide blood testing campaign to map out the severity of Italy's epidemic region by region. The goal is to obtain a representative sample of around 150,000 people.  If SARS-CoV-2 antibodies are found in a person's blood, they are put under quarantine until a swab test is taken to reveal if they are positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.  An antibody test does not check for the virus itself, rather it detects whether the immune system has responded to the presence of a viral pathogen in the body. Scientists around the world are exploring antibody therapy to treat COVID-19 patients. One method is using the blood plasma of recovered.

Asia Today: 4th-worst-hit India sees rural virus cases soar– India’s coronavirus caseload has risen to 425,282 as infections soar in rural areas to which migrant workers fleeing major cities have returned in recent weeks. India’s health ministry on Monday reported 14,821 new cases and about 300 new deaths, bring the toll of fatalities up to more than 13,000. The coastal state of Goa reported its first COVID-19 death. India is the fourth most-affected country globally after the United States, Brazil and Russia. India’s government planning body Niti Aayog says infections have now emerged in 98 out of 112 of the country’s poorest districts. The Indian government ran special trains to bring thousands of migrant workers back to their ancestral villages in recent weeks. Still, about 60% of India’s cases have been reported in the states of Delhi, which includes the national capital of New Delhi; Maharashtra, home to India’s financial capital Mumbai; and Tamil Nadu, where manufacturing hub Chennai is located.

India registers highest single-day Covid-19 cases, record recoveries -  India has been recording daily spikes in the number of coronavirus disease cases. From over 6,000 a day, the daily caseload has now crossed 17,000. On Friday, India recorded 17,296 fresh cases of the coronavirus disease - the country’s highest single-day surge. This pushed India’s tally to 4,90,401, while the death toll climbed to 15,301 with 407 new fatalities, according to the Union Health Ministry update at 8 am. India registered over 14,000 cases for the seventh day in a row and witnessed a surge of 2,99,866 infections from June 1 till 26, according to an analysis of the government data. Our World in Data, quoted by Hindustan Times’ sister publication Hindustan, reported that the number of Covid-19 cases increased by 28.5 per cent in the last one week in India, which is higher than worst-affected US, Brazil and Russia.Of the 407 new deaths reported till Friday morning, 192 were in Maharashtra, 64 in Delhi, 45 in Tamil Nadu, 18 in Gujarat, 15 each in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, 12 in Andhra Pradesh, 10 in Haryana, eight in Madhya Pradesh, seven in Punjab, six in Karnataka, five in Telangana, four in Rajasthan and two in Jammu and Kashmir. More than 70 per cent deaths took place due to co-morbidities, the health ministry said. Though the rate of new cases has been increasing since the lockdown has eased, the number of recovered patients has also reached a new high. In fact, of 13,940 patients were declared cured in a single day, according to health ministry data. 

India’s Covid tally now 500,000+ -  India’s number of Covid-19 infections crossed 500,000 on Friday, making the country one of only four where the tally has breached this milestone. Fatality and recovery numbers offer some signs that the outbreak is still under manageable levels, although experts warned that this control was fragile and the situation could drastically turn if citizens and the government are not careful. According to HT’s dashboard of state-level statistics, the total number of infections grew by 18,370on Friday, and 383 new deaths were recorded. In all, the country now has had 509,306 infections and 15,689 fatalities, translating to a case fatality ratio (CFR) of 3.08%. Nationally, however, the total number of recoveries crossed 295,852and -- on an average over the past week -- for every five people testing positive in a day, four were being discharged after recovery. In terms of total cases, Maharashtra continued to have the highest numbers – roughly twice of Delhi that has the second-most number of infections. Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are the other states in top five. The states were ranked similarly if fatalities are taken as a parameter. According to experts, these trends could determine how the disease peaks, which is likely to be at different periods in different regions. “It will probably start peaking in the next few next few weeks in places like Mumbai and Delhi, but in other areas it may take a little longer time for the infections to stabilise.   Guleria said in his assessment the country avoided being overwhelmed by going for an early lockdown, which helped create a gradual rise instead of a sharp surge of the kind seen in some early hot spot countries such as Italy. But the pace of the outbreak has still quickened. The latest 100,000 cases came in six days, compared to the eight days that it took for the 100,000 cases before that. “The surge was kind of expected, given our poor discipline in hygiene practices, it was too optimistic to believe that behaviour patterns will change in a few weeks. Masks and hand-washing are the way ahead as social distancing is difficult in densely populated areas, like urban slums,”

Iraq sees record-high Covid-19 deaths –  Iraq registered nearly 2,500 new coronavirus cases and over 100 deaths, setting new records in a country whose health sector had been bracing itself for such a spike. Hospitals across the country have been overwhelmed over the last week by a jump in cases and deaths, following months of the virus spreading relatively slowly. On Thursday, the health ministry said it had confirmed 2,437 new cases over the last day, bringing the total in the country to over 39,000 - of whom about half have recovered. Another 107 people died of coronavirus-related causes, pushing the total death toll to 1,437. Daily recoveries in Turkey from the novel coronavirus once again exceeded new cases, the country's health minister has said. A total of 1,472 people beat Covid-19 over the past day, bringing the overall count to 165,706 Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter, citing Health Ministry data. The country's death toll from the virus rose to 5,046, as it reported 21 new fatalities in the past 24 hours. Some 941 patients remain in intensive care, Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter. Health care professionals conducted 52,303 tests for the disease in the past day, raising the total count to over 3.13 million. According to test results, the total number of Covid-19 cases nationwide reached 193,115 with nearly 1,458 new infections. "There is an increase in our number of intensive care patients. However, the duration our patients spend in intensive care and under treatment has come down considerably," he said in a tweet.

Global Coronavirus Cases Approach 10 Million (Reuters) - Global coronavirus cases neared 10 million on Sunday according to a Reuters tally, marking a major milestone in the spread of the respiratory disease that has so far killed almost half a million people in seven months. The figure is roughly double the number of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to the World Health Organisation. The milestone will come as many hard-hit countries are easing lockdowns while making extensive alterations to work and social life that could last for a year or more until a vaccine is available. Some countries are experiencing a resurgence in infections, leading authorities to partially reinstate lockdowns, in what experts say could be a recurring pattern in the coming months and into 2021. North America, Latin America and Europe each account for around 25% of cases, while Asia and the Middle East have around 11% and 9% respectively, according to the Reuters tally, which uses government reports. There have been more than 497,000 fatalities linked to the disease so far, roughly the same as the number of influenza deaths reported annually. The first cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed on Jan. 10 in Wuhan in China, before infections and fatalities surged in Europe, then the United States, and later Russia. The pandemic has now entered a new phase, with India and Brazil battling outbreaks of over 10,000 cases a day, putting a major strain on resources. The two countries accounted for over a third of all new cases in the past week. Brazil reported a record 54,700 new cases on June 19. Some researchers said the death toll in Latin America could rise to over 380,000 by October, from around 100,000 this week. The total number of cases continued to increase at a rate of between 1-2% a day in the past week, down from rates above 10% in March.

How Did Vietnam Become Biggest Nation Without Coronavirus Deaths? In Vietnam, those who enter a cafe have a good chance of meeting a security guard who sprays their hands with disinfectant. Or, if getting on a bus, they will be told to put on a mask and sit one row apart from others. Half a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Vietnamese still practice health measures here and there, though the nation reported no deaths from the disease and, for more than two months, no local infections. The statistics put Vietnam in a unique spot as the biggest nation by population to report no deaths, despite its border with China and limited resources. The statistics have ignited a debate, pitting those skeptical that a one-party state could have such success without fixing the data against those who resent the criticism. There are autocracies like China and Iran, suspected of covering up COVID-19 deaths, and open societies like New Zealand and South Korea, whose success has gone unquestioned. Vietnam finds itself somewhere in between. It is hard for outsiders to verify official data, though health experts say Vietnam headed off a full-blown calamity because of its drastic and early action. The government was hyper-aware of the threat to hospital and quarantine capacity. In a meeting March 24, Ho Chi Minh City leaders said the nation could handle 1,000 cases of the coronavirus. Beyond that, they feared the health system could be inundated, as in Italy and Spain. “During the next 10 days to two weeks, do not allow the number of cases to exceed 1,000 nationwide, otherwise the risk of disease outbreaks is very high,” a summary of the meeting on the city government website said. Vietnam reported 349 coronavirus cases so far in 2020. Timing was nearly as important as substance. The U.S. and Vietnam both reported their first cases in the same week in January. The U.S. could have avoided 36,000 COVID-19-related deaths if it had begun a lockdown March 8 instead of March 15, according to Columbia University. By contrast, Vietnam saw the disease as a threat early on, treating its first patient in January and proceeding to contact trace and restrict movement. Timing was critical because of the virus’ ability to spread exponentially. The Ho Chi Minh City government said, for instance, that for every 300 people infected, 84,000 people had to quarantine. It is likely that Vietnam did not have to cover up mass infections and deaths because it acted before the virus could reach that point.

Climate crisis poses serious risks for pregnancy, investigation finds -- More than a decade of overwhelming evidence links air pollution and heat exposure with negative pregnancy outcomes in the US, according to a new review of dozens of studies.The investigation, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, identified 57 studies since 2007 showing a significant association between the two factors and the risk of pre-term birth, low birth weight and stillbirth.Black mothers were particularly at risk, as were people with asthma.The review analyzed 32m births tracked across 68 studies. Of those, 84% found air pollution and heat to be risk factors. Human-caused climate disturbances are forcing temperatures higher, raising humidity and reducing people’s ability to cool off even at night. Climate changealso makes air pollution worse. Smog from the burning of fossil fuels forms on hot days. And wildfires that cause smoke inhalation are exacerbated by the crisis.  “We are already having generations weakened from birth. There’s just no way we can allow that to happen, and I would like to see not just mothers and their husbands and kids show up at council meetings, but I’d like to see many more health professionals involved in calling for legislation that reduces the ongoing and really pretty scary health burdens of the climate crisis.”  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists already finds climate change to be an urgent threat to women’s health, in addition to a major public health challenge. Climate change is linked with worsening cardiac disease, respiratory disease, mental health and exposure to infectious diseases. But pregnant women and developing fetuses are especially vulnerable to its effects. In the review, 19 studies linked air pollution to pre-term birth, defined as a baby born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Twenty-five studies linked air pollution to low birth weight. And four studies linked air pollution to stillbirth. One study found the risk of stillbirth increased 42% with high third-trimester exposure. Stillbirth is rare, so data on it is limited and it is difficult to draw broad conclusions about why it happens, Bekkar said. The review considered studies about smog, also called ozone, and fine particle pollution. Emerging science is increasingly linking air pollution to a range of health problems, including dementia. A new rodent-based study from the University of California, Davis, finds that traffic-related air pollution is connected to an increased risk for changes in brain development that might cause neurodevelopmental disorders. “What we witnessed are subtle changes,” co-author Kelley Patten said. “But we are seeing these effects using air pollution exposures that fall within regulatory limits.”

Judge Blocks California From Putting Cancer Warning on Roundup - A federal judge in California ruled on Monday that the state cannot put a cancer warning on the label of the popular herbicide Roundup, as The Associated Press reported.The world's most widely used weed killer has faced nearly 125,000 lawsuits by plaintiffs who claim their non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other forms of blood cancer were caused by repeated exposure to Monsanto's signature product, which is now owned by the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG.Since Bayer bought Monsanto, the spate of lawsuits and their legal fees have weighed on Bayer and made the company lose 40 percent of its value. To try to contain the damage, Bayer made a verbal agreement to settle 50,000 to 85,000 cases in May, awarding plaintiffs anywhere from a few thousand dollars to a few million, according to Fortune.Those lawsuits have been aided by a 2015 finding by the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which said that glyphosate, the chemical in Roundup, is a probable human carcinogen.Despite that categorization, U.S. District Judge William Shubb called California's cancer warning misleading and said the state's label is not backed up by regulatory findings, according to Reuters.Regulators around the world have determined Roundup, or glyphosate, to be safe, even though the IARC labeled it a probable carcinogen. That includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Late last year, when a judge reduced an $80 million jury award, the EPA filed papers in court that fully and unequivocally supported Bayer's claim that glyphosate does not cause cancer, as EcoWatch reported. Since the EPA and its European counterparts have not found a connection between glyphosate and cancer, the judge said the state could not require the company to put a cancer warning on its label, according to theSan Francisco Chronicle.  Shubb said the state, under Supreme Court rulings, cannot require a private company to change its label or say anything about its products unless the statement is "purely factual and non-controversial," as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.The ruling, which permanently bars California from affixing a cancer label to Roundup, is completely separate from the ongoing civil suits that claim glyphosate caused blood cancers, according to Reuters.So far, juries in three trials have ordered the company to pay billions after concluding that the product did cause cancer. Plaintiffs alleged that Bayer manipulated studies and deceived the scientific community to make glyphosate seem safer than it actually is, according to Reuters.

Bayer Settles Roundup Cancer Suits for Over $10 Billion - In one of the largest civil settlements in U.S. history, Bayer agreed Wednesday to pay more than $10 billion to resolve around 95,000 cases claiming its glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup causes cancer.The deal will still allow Bayer to sell Roundup without adding any warnings, The New York Times reported. It comes after three juries in early, high-profile trials awarded more than $2.4 billion to plaintiffs who developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after long term Roundup use. "Even Bayer's billions can't magically make glyphosate's well-documented links to cancer disappear," Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) senior scientist Nathan Donley said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "Bayer only settled after three multi-million-dollar verdicts over the past year from jurors who, unlike the EPA, wisely put more trust in the safety assessments of independent scientists than in Monsanto/Bayer's confidential reviews of its own product." The debate over Roundup's safety is ongoing, The New York Times explained. In 2015, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer said that glyphosate could "probably" cause cancer, but other regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have ruled it safe. However, critics point out that many of these safe rulings were based on studies provided by Monsanto, the company that developed and sold Roundup before it was acquired by Bayer in 2018. Per the terms of the settlement, the question of Roundup's safety will now pass to an independent "Class Science Panel," U.S. Right to Know (USTK) reported. The panel will decide if Roundup use can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and at what levels of exposure. Both Bayer and any future plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit will be bound by its findings. Until those findings are released, a process likely to take years, plaintiffs cannot bring any claims or seek punitive damages.

Bayer Agrees to $10.9 Billion Glyphosate Settlement - Jerri-Lynn Scofield - Bayer agreed to a $10.9 billion settlement yesterday, which resolves much – but not all – of the litigation risk it  assumed when in 2018 it acquired Monsanto, the original manufacturer of the glyposate-based herbicide Roundup, according to the WSJ, Bayer to Pay Up to $10.9 Billion to Settle Lawsuits Over Roundup Weedkiller.  Plaintiffs allege its product causes cancer – a claim the company vehemently denies and insists is not supported by scientific evidence (for background on the litigation, see my previous posts,here, here, here, here, and here.)The company has lost three multi-million dollar jury verdicts, and faced tens of thousands of pending suits. Investors have become increasingly nervous about just how much litigation risk the company had held until yesterday. Indeed, there was massive shareholder unrest  over these liabilities, which spilled over to outright revolt last year. The settlement leaves open the possibility of future litigation. Per the WSJ:Wednesday’s deal, which follows months of heated talks between Bayer and plaintiffs’ attorneys, doesn’t change anything in Bayer’s view that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is safe and doesn’t cause cancer.Bayer didn’t admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement and continued to defend its decision to purchase Monsanto. The company will continue to sell Roundup.The agreement, however, leaves open the potential of more lawsuits being filed against the company in the future, an issue investors have been particularly concerned about.As part of the deal, Bayer said it has set aside between $8.8 billion and $9.6 billion to settle claims brought by lawyers representing some 95,000 plaintiffs, as well as some 30,000 more claims that haven’t yet agreed to the settlement. The company said it would set aside another $1.25 billion to work toward a resolution of future claims, including funding a panel to evaluate whether the product causes cancer. The findings from that panel are geared to help shape the outcome of litigation going forward.The company seeks in these future potential lawsuits to take the determination away from juries as to whether glyphosate causes cancer. Over to the WSJ:That Bayer’s Roundup products will continue to be sold, without a cancer warning label, leaves the company exposed to future lawsuits. It creates a unique legal conundrum for the company over how best to guard itself against potential future litigation.To attempt to resolve the key question of whether glyphosate is a carcinogen, Bayer is seeking court permission to create a class of future plaintiffs and fund a five-member scientific panel that will spend several years evaluating the link between Roundup and cancer. The panel will report its findings to U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco. A conclusion that the product doesn’t cause cancer will essentially shut down any future cases. If the panel does find a link between Roundup and cancer, Bayer would have to fight plaintiff-by-plaintiff to prove the individuals’ cancer wasn’t caused by the product, a point that unsettled some investors.  Mr. Baumann said on a conference call Wednesday that while “it’s not 100% certain,” Bayer is confident the panel will back its view that glyphosate isn’t carcinogenic. The creation of such a court-overseen science panel is rare, said University of Georgia law professor Elizabeth Burch, and raises questions over whether future plaintiffs who may not be sick yet are getting a fair shot at pressing claims that Roundup caused their illnesses.

US moves to exempt companies from reporting harmful chemical releases - Federal regulators are crafting an exemption for polluters releasing harmful perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) into the environment in a way that environmental advocates say circumvents a new law meant to address widespread contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule Monday adding 172 PFAS chemicals to a list of those that are required to report when they release them into the air or water, or on land. Dubbed ‘forever chemicals,’ PFAS have been found in drinking water around the country. They are used in weatherproof fabrics, nonstick cookware and firefighting foam, and they are linked with cancer, low infant birth weights, immune issues and thyroid disruptions. Under pressure from health experts and states, Congress late last year directed the EPA to require better reporting on some of the thousands of PFAS chemicals. Specifically, lawmakers said manufacturers should be required to report to the government if they release 100 pounds or more of the chemicals annually into a waterway. But EPA’s new regulation would allow them to bypass that requirement, as long as no single PFAS chemical in a mixture released exceeded 1% of the total. EPA is also skipping the usual step of allowing the public to comment before finalizing the rule, arguing that because the rule is needed to comply with an act of Congress, EPA “has no discretion as to the outcome”. Eve Gartner, managing attorney for toxic exposure at Earthjustice, said that “it’s pretty clear that Congress set a 100 pound threshold because they’re concerned about very small amounts of these chemicals being released without people knowing about it”. “We know that PFAS at 1 teaspoon in an Olympic size swimming pool can have health effects,” she added. Earthjustice joined a coalition of groups including the National PFAS Contamination Coalition, Clean Water Action, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Working Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council in opposing the rule.

 Remarkable Drop in Colorado River Water Use a Sign of Climate Adaptation -  Use of Colorado River water in the three states of the river's lower basin fell to a 33-year low in 2019, amid growing awareness of the precarity of the region's water supply in a drying and warming climate.  Circle of Blue · Drop In Colorado River Water Use  Arizona, California, and Nevada combined to consume just over 6.5 million acre-feet last year, according to anannual audit from the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the lower basin. That is about 1 million acre-feet less than the three states are entitled to use under a legal compact that divides the Colorado River's waters.The last time water consumption from the river was that low was in 1986, the year after an enormous canal in Arizona opened that allowed the state to lay claim to its full Colorado River entitlement.States have grappled in the last two decades with declining water levels in the basin's main reservoirs — Mead and Powell — while reckoning with clear scientific evidence that climate change is already constricting the iconic river and will do further damage as temperatures rise.For water managers, the steady drop in water consumption in recent years is a signal that conservation efforts are working and that they are not helpless in the face of daunting environmental changes."It's quite a turnaround from where we were a decade ago and really, I think, optimistic for dealing with chronic shortages on the river in the future, knowing that we can turn the dial back and reduce demand significantly, all three states combined," said Bill Hasencamp, the manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a regional wholesaler and one of the river's largest users.Observers of the basin's intricate politics are also impressed with the trend lines for a watershed that irrigates about 5 million acres of farmland and provides 40 million people in two countries and 29 tribal nations with a portion of their water.

Southwestern correctional facilities' drinking water puts inmate health at risk -The first nationwide analysis of drinking water quality in United States correctional facilities found average arsenic concentrations in drinking water in Southwestern United States correctional facilities were twice as high as average arsenic concentrations in other Southwest community drinking water systems. More than a quarter of correctional facilities in the Southwest reported average arsenic levels exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 10 μg/L maximum contaminant level. Disparities and injustices in water quality may contribute to the excess burden of disease experienced by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. Approximately 2.2 million people, disproportionately Black and low-income men, are incarcerated in the U.S. Incarcerated populations are at elevated risk for several chronic diseases that are associated with chronic low-to moderate-arsenic exposure, including hypertension and diabetes. More than 90,000 people rely on drinking water from community water systems (CWSs, public water systems that serve the same population year-round) that exclusively serve correctional facilities located in the Southwestern U.S., a part of the country where there are high concentrations of naturally occurring inorganic arsenic in domestic wells and in public water systems. The researchers analyzed 230,158 arsenic monitoring records from 37,086 community water systems from the EPA's Third Six Year Review of Contaminant Occurrence dataset covering 2006-2011. Average six-year water arsenic concentrations in Southwestern correctional facility CWSs were more than twice that of other Southwestern CWSs and nearly five times the level of other CWSs across the rest of the U.S. (6.41 μg/L vs. 3.11 μg/L vs. 1.39 μg/L). Although the EPA goal maximum contaminant level (MCL) for arsenic is 0 μg/L, EPA set the current arsenic MCL at 10 μg/L given feasibility and treatment costs.

High Arsenic Levels Detected in Bottled Water Made by Whole Foods - A brand of bottled water manufactured and sold by grocery-store giant and Amazon subsidiary Whole Foods contains potentially harmful levels of arsenic, according to research conducted by Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports, a non-profit consumer advocacy group, said that tests of Starkey Spring Water label showed arsenic levels ranging from 9.49 to 9.56 parts per billion, which was three times higher than any other brand in their testing. Out of the 45 brands that Consumer Reports tested, only Starkey water registered an arsenic level above three parts per billion. While the legal limit for arsenic in bottled water is 10 parts per billion, Consumer Reports wrote that its experts believe that the level present in Starkey Spring Water does not adequately protect public health. Drinking a single bottle of Starkey probably will not harm you, said Dr. James Dickerson, CR's chief scientific officer. "But regular consumption of even small amounts of the heavy metal over extended periods increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and lower IQ scores in children, and poses other health issues as well," he said,  as The Guardian reported.In an emailed statement, Whole Foods said the company's "highest priority is to provide customers with safe, high-quality and refreshing spring water," according toThe Washington Post.. "Beyond the required annual testing by [a U.S. Food and Drug Administration] certified lab, we have an accredited third-party lab test every production run of water before it is sold," the statement said. "These products meet all FDA requirements and are fully compliant with FDA standards for heavy metals." The new findings come as part of a joint investigation between Consumer Reports and The Guardian that covers how clean, fresh water is both inaccessible and unaffordable for many Americans as bills pile up during the coronavirus pandemic. The report also covers how the bottled water that Americans are consuming is often not safer or healthier than tap water, according to Consumer Reports.

A water crisis looms for 270 million people as South Asia’s glaciers shrink - From near Mount Kangrinboqe in Tibet rise four major rivers, which stretch east and west across the Himalaya and down to the sea like the limbs of a venerable water goddess. Where these rivers flow, they define civilizations and nations: Tibet, Pakistan, northern India, Nepal, Bangladesh. How their water is spent has long depended on the people living downstream. How the rivers are replenished depends on two things: monsoon rains and glacial ice melt. Both phenomena, for millennia the preserve of the gods, are now in the hands of humans too. (See why these 10 rivers are vital to Asia’s survival.) Rivers emerging from the eastern Himalaya, like the Brahmaputra, are mostly fed by the summer monsoon; their flow may well increase as a warming climate puts more moisture in the atmosphere. But most water in the Indus, which flows west from Mount Kangrinboqe, comes from the snows and glaciers of the Himalaya, the Karakoram, and the Hindu Kush. Glaciers especially are “water towers”: They store winter snowfall as ice, high in the mountains, and they surrender it as meltwater in spring and summer. In this way, they provide a steady flow that nourishes humans and ecosystems. Downstream, in the plains of Pakistan and northern India, the world’s most extensive system of irrigated agriculture depends on the Indus. The glaciers that feed it are a lifeline for some 270 million people. (The Indus River is a lifeline for millions. This map shows the threats it faces.) Most of those glaciers are now shrinking. At first, that will increase the flow in the Indus. But if temperatures rise as predicted, and the glaciers continue to melt back, the Indus will reach “peak water” by 2050. After that, the flow will decline. Humans already use 95 percent of the Indus, and the population of the basin is growing fast. Writing recently in the journal Nature, an international group of scientists (supported by the National Geographic Society) analyzed glacial water towers worldwide. The Indus is the most critical, they said: Given the region’s “high baseline water stress and limited government effectiveness,” it is “unlikely that the Indus … can sustain this pressure.” Pakistan will suffer most.

Underdeveloping the Mekong?: Extraction and Unequal Exchange in Vietnam - Sociology of Development - Over the past century, the Mekong River Delta of southern Vietnam has undergone a series of transformations. In the early twentieth century, its forests and marshes were cleared for extensive rice production under French colonial rule; rice production was then intensified along Green Revolution lines under the post-colonial regimes of the 1960s to 1990s, before a dramatic shift toward export-oriented shrimp aquaculture since 2000. Drawing on archival and secondary data, as well as theories of extraction and unequal exchange, this paper traces the development, expansion, intensification, and eventually crisis of rice cultivation in the Mekong Delta. After a brief literature review, the paper consists of three sections. The first examines the origins and drivers of export-oriented extraction in the French colonial period; the second, the shift toward intensive rice production in the developmental states of the postcolonial period; and the third, the return to extraction, in the form of shrimp aquaculture, in the 1990s and 2000s. Building on Bunker's notion of “extractive cycles,” I argue that the Mekong Delta's history of extraction has exposed the region to ecological and economic crises, as well as shaping the long-term trajectory of subsequent development toward the extractive cultivation of export-oriented commodities.

To beat the heat, Vietnam rice farmers resort to planting at night The farmers of the Tam Thanh commune say they have been forced to work at night in the fields to avoid searing temperatures that they say have got worse over the years. "Temperature are rising one or two degrees (Celsius) every year," said Le Van Ha, 40, who blames the felling of trees in the area for making temperatures more extreme. Ha, who doesn't want his children to follow his path into agriculture, said he now gets up at 2 a.m. to avoid having to cope with stifling daytime conditions. Even though working at night has slashed productivity, he says they can keep working much longer by avoiding the heat. Vietnam reportedly experienced its highest temperature on record last year at 43.4 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) in Ha Tinh province in central Vietnam. An official at Vietnam's National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting said many parts of the country were suffering new heat waves this year, though temperatures so far were below last year's record highs. Temperatures in northern and central parts of Vietnam ranged between 35C and 40C on Thursday, according to the center. Another farmer, Thai Hong Ngoc, 50, said planting at night meant that far fewer rice plants wither due to the extreme heat and is grateful that they now have machinery to use for harvesting. "If I had to manually harvest crops like before, surely I would just leave it. It's just too hot," said Ngoc.

 Trump's Fireworks Show at Mt. Rushmore Is a Dangerous Idea, Fire and Public Health Experts Say - For the last decade, fireworks have been banned at Mt. Rushmore due to environmental concerns and public health concerns. President Trump, however, is not somebody who seems to care about either, so he's planning on going ahead with his fireworks show on July 3 at the iconic site.As The Washington Post reported, the National Park Service stopped allowing fireworks shows at Mt. Rushmore in 2010, worried that the drought conditions could lead to wildfires. The monument, featuring the faces of four presidents, is surrounded by 1,200 acres of forested lands, including ponderosa pines, and lies next to the Black Hills National Forest's Black Elk Wilderness.The ponderosa forest that surrounds the sculpture is a climax community, which is like the apex predator of plants, according to Popular Mechanics. It's an age-old biosphere that can only be taken down by a catastrophe.Due to climate crisis shifts in precipitation, the conditions are ripe for a catastrophe. The Black Hills moisture level in April and May was 30 to 50 percent below its long-term average, the Rapid City Journal reported. June has been hotter and drier than normal and the long-range forecasts suggest those conditions will continue until July, as The Associated Press reported.Earlier this month, the U.S. Drought Monitor recently labeled nearly all of southwestern South Dakota, including most of the Black Hills, as "abnormally dry," according to South Dakota News Watch."It's a bad idea based on the wildland fire risk, the impact to the water quality of the memorial, the fact that [it] is going to occur during a pandemic without social distancing guidelines and the emergency evacuation issues," said Cheryl Schreier, who served as the superintendent at Mount Rushmore National Park between September 2010 and May 2019, to The Washington Post.Bill Gabbert, the former fire management officer for Mount Rushmore and six other national parks in the region, told The Associated Press that shooting fireworks over the extremely flammable ponderosa pine forest should not be done. "Burning debris, the burning embers and unexploded shells fall into a ponderosa pine forest and ponderosa pine is extremely flammable," said Gabbert.  He also told South Dakota News Watch that "shooting fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest, or any flammable vegetation, is ill advised and should not be done. Period."

PG&E Dodges 90 Year Prison Sentence for Fire Because It's Not a Person  -- PG&E Corp. dodged a 90-year state prison sentence for a 2018 fire that killed 84 people because it’s not a person. Instead the corporation was ordered to pay the maximum penalty under California law of $4 million.State Judge Michael Deems said he recognized the constraints prosecutors faced under the law, but the sentence didn’t fit the enormity of the crime.“The court’s sentencing options in this case are limited,” Deems said at a hearing Thursday, adding an individual in a similar case would likely get nine decades for the “callous disregard for the citizens of Butte county.”Under California law, a corporation can be fined a maximum of $10,000 for each manslaughter charge. PG&E was also fined $50,000 for an unlawful fire charge. Additional state fees and the cost of prosecution boosted the penalty to $4 million.The sentence was no surprise because it was part of an agreement under which the utility on Tuesday pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from the Camp Fire. PG&E will also report to an outside monitor who was appointed by a federal judge overseeing its criminal probation for safety violations stemming from a 2010 fatal gas-line explosion. The sentencing came after surviving victims of the fire recounted how their family members died, and their continued suffering. Michael Ramsey, the Butte County District Attorney who prosecuted the case, told Deems the victims’ pleas for help on taped emergency call recordings were “truly scaring to the psyche and soul,” and the most disturbing he’d heard in his 40-year career.  PG&E’s interim Chief Executive Officer Bill Smith listened to the victims’ accounts Wednesday and Thursday. “We’ve heard every word,” Smith told the court. He said while no apology, plea or sentencing can undo the damage wrought by the Camp Fire, the company is “tirelessly” working to improve its safety.

Dust-pocalypse Blankets Caribbean, Storm Nears Southern US - A massive dust storm from the Sahara desert in Northern Africa traversed above the tropical Atlantic Ocean and is causing havoc in the Caribbean region, is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico and Southern US later this week, reported The Weather Channel. The plume of dust originated from the deserts of Western Africa last weekend and has now traveled more than 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. Before and after pictures show the dust-apocalypse unfolding across parts of the Caribbean. Before & After St. Barthelemy on Sunday. h/t Mark Sudduth Astronaut Doug Hurley tweeted a picture of the massive dust storm from low Earth orbit. He said, "We flew over this Saharan dust plume today in the west-central Atlantic. Amazing how large an area it covers!" NOAA's GOES satellite captured a stunning short clip on Friday of the dust storm over the Atlantic. Here's another view of the dust storm, still intact during most of the trans-Atlantic journey, entering the Caribbean on Sunday. More before and after photos recently taken on Caribbean islands like Antigua, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad: "Here is an amazing comparison with a near perfect day to today. Looking east over the #VCBirdAirport, #Antigua towards the Atlantic. You can barely see beyond 3 miles," tweeted 268Weather. h/t 268Weather Saharan dust leaving poor visibility in San Juan, Peurto Rico on Monday.

Saharan Dust Storm Expected To Cause Dangerous Air Pollution in U.S. This Week - A massive dust storm formed over the Sahara Desert last week and invaded the Caribbean over the June 20-21 weekend, bringing dangerous levels of air pollution and low visibility to the islands.The dust is accompanied by a large amount of dry air from the Saharan Air Layer, putting a damper on any hurricanes that attempt to form. None of the reliable computer models are predicting Atlantic tropical cyclone formation for the remainder of June, largely because of the dry air that is accompanying the dust. The dust is also acting to decrease the amount of sunlight hitting the surface, cooling the ocean and further discouraging hurricane activity. As detailed by IBM meteorologist Michael Ventrice, the impressive Saharan Air Layer surge is being driven by passage over western Africa of an atmospheric disturbance called a suppressed Kelvin wave. This disturbance generated strong east-to-west surface trade winds which blew the dust from the Sahara out over the Atlantic Ocean. June and July are the peak months for Saharan dust storms that affect the tropical Atlantic. That said, this week’s dust storm is an impressive one, with a much larger areal extent than average. The dust cloud is bringing dangerously high levels of fine particulate pollution (PM2.5, particles less than 2.5 microns or 0.0001 inch in diameter) and PM10 (particles less than 10 microns in diameter). Air pollution aggravates COVID-19 symptoms, leading to expected increases in hospital admissions from the disease in regions where dust concentrations spike.The African dust gave most of the air pollution monitors in the Lesser Antilles Islands in the Caribbean an air quality index (AQI) in the red (unhealthy) range for much of the weekend. The worst air quality was observed on the island of Tobago, just off the northeast coast of South America, where PM10 levels topped out for four hours on June 21 at the upper end of the scale: the brown “Hazardous” category. The dry air accompanying the dust will also worsen drought conditions gripping many of the islands. Princeton’s Latin America Flood and Drought Monitor shows the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico experiencing particularly intense drought conditions. Water rationing was imposed on Friday, June 19, in portions of Puerto Rico, where 26% of the island was under severe drought conditions.The dust cloud is forecast to push west and northwest this week, invading much of the southeast U.S. from June 25 through June 27. Air pollution transport models are indicating that the dust will still be very concentrated when it reaches the U.S., and many locations in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana likely will experience an AQI in the orange “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” or red “Unhealthy” range. A similar air pollution event resulting from African dust occurred during the first week of July 2018, bringing to Texas and Arkansas the worst air pollution of the year.

Rising Seas Threaten an American Institution: The 30-Year Mortgage - The New York Times — Up and down the coastline, rising seas and climate change are transforming a fixture of American homeownership that dates back generations: the classic 30-year mortgage.Home buyers are increasingly using mortgages that make it easier for them to stop making their monthly payments and walk away from the loan if the home floods or becomes unsellable or unlivable. More banks are getting buyers in coastal areas to make bigger down payments — often as much as 40 percent of the purchase price, up from the traditional 20 percent — a sign that lenders have awakened to climate dangers and want to put less of their own money at risk.And in one of the clearest signs that banks are worried about global warming, they are increasingly getting these mortgages off their own books by selling them to government-backed buyers like Fannie Mae, where taxpayers would be on the hook financially if any of the loans fail. “Conventional mortgages have survived many financial crises, but they may not survive the climate crisis,” said Jesse Keenan, an associate professor at Tulane University. “This trend also reflects a systematic financial risk for banks and the U.S. taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill.” The trends foreshadow a broader reckoning. The question that matters, according to researchers, isn’t whether the effects of climate change will start to ripple through the housing market. Rather, it’s how fast those effects will occur and what they will look like.The change has already begun. It’s not only along the nation’s rivers and coasts where climate-induced risk has started to push down home prices. In parts of the West, the growing danger of wildfires is already making it harder for homeowners to get insurance. But the threat that climate change poses to the 30-year mortgage is different, striking at an American social institution that dates from the Great Depression. Before that, many home loans required owners to pay lenders back just a few years after buying a house, which led to waves of defaults and homelessness, In response, the federal government created the Federal Housing Administration, which in turn standardized the way Americans finance their homes.

Human-derived mercury shown to pollute the world's deepest ocean trenches - Scientists have found that man-made mercury pollution has reached the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean - the Marianas Trench. This has significant implications for how mercury affects the marine environment, and how it may be concentrated in the food chain. The findings, which come from two independent research groups, are presented at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference. Mercury is toxic to humans and other animals, and has been implicated in environmental disasters in the past, most famously at Minamata in Japan in the 1950's where it led to birth defects and severe neurological symptoms. It tends to be concentrated in marine organisms, where small amounts are ingested by some species which are in turn eaten by larger species, meaning that harmful levels of mercury can be concentrated in animals that sit higher up in natural food webs through the process of bioaccumulation. As an example, this leads to mercury concentrations in swordfish being x40 that of salmon. Mercury is generally poisonous at high levels and can be especially dangerous to the developing foetus. Now two groups of scientists are independently reporting that both manmade and natural methylmercury, a toxic form of mercury easily accumulated by animals, has been found in fish and crustaceans in the 11,000m deep Marianas Trench in the Pacific Ocean. This work is being reported at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry conference. "This is a surprise" said researcher Ruoyu Sun. "Previous research had concluded that methlymercury was mostly produced in the top few hundred metres of the ocean. This would have limited mercury bioaccumulation by ensuring that fish which forage deeper than this would have had limited opportunity to ingest the methylmercury. With this work, we now believe that isn't true". Independently, a group led by Dr Joel Blum (University of Michigan) sampled fish and crustaceans from 2 of the deepest Pacific Trenches, the Kermadec trench near New Zealand (which drops to 10000m) and the Marianas Trench off the Philippines. They use mercury isotopic signatures at both locations to show that mercury found in trench species is largely derived from the atmosphere and enters the ocean in rainfall.

 Mercury Pollution Found in Deepest Part of Ocean - Plastic isn't the only human pollutant infiltrating the deepest corners of the ocean. Two separate studies presented at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference this week found mercury in fish and crustaceans living 11,000 meters (approximately 36,000 feet) under the sea in the Mariana Trench. "This is a surprise," Dr. Ruoyu Sun, a scientist from Tianjin University in China who led one of the research teams, said in a Goldschmidt Conference press release published by have long known that mercury, which is poisonous to both humans and animals, enters the ocean and the animals within it, concentrating in higher amounts as it works its way up the food web through a process called bioaccumulation. Swordfish, for example, contain 40 times the amount of mercury that salmon do. This means that humans who eat lots of fish are at risk from mercury poisoning, Newsweek pointed out. This can cause neurological and heart damage, and is especially dangerous for developing fetuses.However, scientists previously thought that this process was mostly taking place in the upper ocean. Then Sun's team found methylmercury, a toxic form of the metal that easily accumulates in animals, in the ocean's deepest trench. "Previous research had concluded that methlymercury was mostly produced in the top few hundred metres of the ocean. This would have limited mercury bioaccumulation by ensuring that fish which forage deeper than this would have had limited opportunity to ingest the methylmercury. With this work, we now believe that isn't true," Sun said in the press release. Sun's team uncovered their results by sending deep-sea lander vehicles in 2016 and 2017 to the Mariana and Yap trenches — "inaccessible locations on Earth," Sun said in the press release. They collected deep-sea animals like amphiopods and snailfish at 7,000 to 11,000 meters (approximately 23,000 to 36,000 feet) and sediments at 5,500 to 9,200 meters (approximately 18,000 to 30,000 feet), according to an abstract. They found mercury in all the animals and could tell it came from the upper ocean because of its "isotopic fingerprint," or chemical signature. The results showed human mercury emissions are "much more pervasive across deep oceans than was previously thought," the abstract concluded. While some mercury could have come from natural sources like volcanic eruptions, humans emit almost three times more mercury than nature does through processes like burning fossil fuels or mining metals.

Microplastics Found in Antarctica's Food Chain for First Time -  For the first time, scientists have discovered microplastics inside small organisms living in the soil in Antarctica, according to a new study published on Wednesday."Plastics are thus entering the short Antarctic terrestrial food webs and represent a new potential stressor to polar ecosystems already facing climate change and increasing human activities," said the authors of the study, which was published in the scientific journal Biology Letters.The research team, which was headed by Italy's University of Siena, collected organisms from a piece of polystyrene foam that was covered in moss and lichens on King George Island.Using an infrared imaging technique, researchers found pieces of polystyrene — which is used in styrofoam — in the guts of collembolan Cryptopygus antarcticus, or springtails.The small organisms are frequently the "dominant species" in areas of Antarctica that are not covered by ice, typically feeding on lichens and micro-algae.Researchers said the springtails likely consumed the plastic fragments while eating their usual food.The authors of the study said the traces indicate the microplastic pollution may have already "deeply" infiltrated Antarctica's remote land-based food system. "The implications of plastic ingestion by this species include the potential redistribution of microplastics through the soil profile and transfer to their common predators, the moss mites," Elisa Bergami of the University of Siena told news agency AFP.

Arctic records its hottest temperature ever - Alarming heat scorched Siberia on Saturday as the small town of Verkhoyansk (67.5°N latitude) reached 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, 32 degrees above the normal high temperature. If verified, this is likely the hottest temperature ever recorded in Siberia and also the hottest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle, which begins at 66.5°N. The town is 3,000 miles east of Moscow and further north than even Fairbanks, Alaska. On Friday, the city of Caribou, Maine, tied an all-time record at 96 degrees Fahrenheit and was once again well into the 90s on Saturday. To put this into perspective, the city of Miami, Florida, has only reached 100 degrees one time since the city began keeping temperature records in 1896.  Verkhoyansk is typically one of the coldest spots on Earth. This past November, the area reached nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, one of the first spots to drop that low in the winter of 2019-2020. The scene below is certainly more characteristic of eastern Siberia. Reaching 100 degrees in or near the Arctic is almost unheard of. Although the reading is questionable, back in 1915 the town of Prospect Creek, Alaska, not quite as far north as Verkhoyansk, is reported to have reached near 100 degrees. And in 2010 a town a few miles south of the Arctic circle in Russia reached 100.

A Siberian Town Just Hit 100 F Degrees -A town in Siberia recorded a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius, or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit Saturday. If verified, it will break the record both for the town itself and for everywhere north of the Arctic Circle, The Weather Channel reported. It also comes as Siberia has experienced an exceptionally warm 2020 so far. "What's happening in Siberia this year is nothing short of remarkable. The kind of weather we expect by 2100, 80 years early," CBS meteorologist Jeff Berardelli tweeted.The town of Verkhoyansk, where the high temperature was recorded, is usually one of the coldest places on Earth, Berardelli wrote for CBS.Its average temperature for late June is in the mid 60s, according to The Weather Channel, and its previous record high temperature was 99.1 degrees Fahrenheit, set in 1988. In November 2019, its temperature plunged to almost 60 degrees below zero, Vox reported. On Sunday, children were photographed seeking relief in a lake that is frozen in winter, according to The Weather Channel.  Verkhoyansk's record cold temperature was set at negative 67.8 degrees Celsius, or negative 90 degrees Fahrenheit, in 1892. If Saturday's reading holds, that will put a 105.8 degrees Celsius difference between the town's temperature extremes.  "That's a difference in extremes larger than the difference between water's freezing and boiling points, likely the largest spread between all-time record high and low temperatures anywhere on Earth," Jonathan Erdman wrote for The Weather Channel. There are some doubts about the accuracy of Saturday's reading, according a Washington Post article reported by Vox. But a weather balloon recorded unusually high temperatures in the lower atmosphere Saturday, and the town hit 95.3 degrees on Sunday.Even if the reading doesn't hold, Siberia is still in the grips of an extremely warm 2020.Temperatures in May were 10 degrees Celsius higher than usual, making it the region's warmest May on record, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service. And Russia broke its record for January to May 2020 by more than 1.9 degrees Celsius, according to Berkeley Earth lead scientist Robert Rohde. All of this heat has had real consequences, Rohde pointed out. Siberia has seen early, widespread wildfires, and melting permafrost contributed to a devastating oil spill when it caused pillars beneath a storage tank to sink.

June snow in Siberia’s south as highest-ever Arctic heat is recorded in Russia’s coldest region - Siberian Times - Yakutia, the planet’s coldest permanently inhabited region is under a heatwave with wildfires raging in the Arctic and an all-time record high air temperature spiking at one of two rivals to be the Pole of Cold, in Verkhoyansk. This village in the north of Yakutia region (Sakha Republic) - its rival is Oymyakon - set a record for the highest temperature above the Arctic Circle on Saturday 20 June. The hottest ever Arctic weekend had air heating up to 38C, beating the previous record of 37.3C set more than thirty years ago in 1988. Last time similarly Saudi temperatures of 38.3C in Yakutia were recorded was in 2010, but this was significantly  further south in regional capital Yakutsk. Verkhoyansk does hold the Guinness World Record for the greatest temperature range of Earth, from -67.8C in winter and - since this June - to the new record of 38C in summer. Higher in the Arctic, east of Verkhoyansk in the Abyysky district of Yakutia, residents pleaded in both the mainstream media and social media for help with wildfires. ‘Please pay attention to our northern district. Wildfires are surrounding villages of Suturuokha and Belaya Gora, they are close to oil terminal. I am really scared for my relatives’ - one local posted in an appeal to local authorities. The situation with wildfires might get worse due to the abnormally hot weather, admitted a duty officer of a local emergency service. For ten days the temperature in the district has varied between +30C and +34C, with smoke from wildfires blanketing villages. Daily temperatures in the north of Siberia will exceed the norm by 10 to 12 degrees Celsius this week, chief of whole-Russian weather service Roman Vilfand told RIA Novosti news agency. Such hot summer days are not so unusual for Yakutia with its extreme continental subarctic climate, but normally they come weeks later in July, But Siberia never fails with its contrasts. Some 5,000 miles southwest of Yakutia, residents of Khakassia and the Altai mountains woke up with a start as midsummer arrived. They had enough snow to build snowmen. Many people the world over associate Siberia with cold. But such snowfalls are, in their way, as unusual as the extreme heat in our polar regions. Snowfalls were reported at the village of Iogach and by Kokuya mountain next to majestic Lake Teletskoye, at Seminsky mountain pass and on the border between Khakassia and Tuva. Leaving Siberia in the oven and the freezer at the same time on the summer solstice.

Iceland Under Threat of Volcanic Eruption After Being Jolted by Thousands of Quakes - Over the past month, the tiny island nation of 360,000 has experienced increased seismic activity amid warnings of a looming eruption of Grimsvotn volcano, Iceland's most active. About 3,000 tremors have been registered over the northern coast of Iceland since 19 June, the country's meteorological service IMO reported. In particular, three quakes measuring over magnitude 5 were recorded in recent days, one of them being felt in the capital Reykjavik, located some 265 kilometres from the epicentre and several dozen kilometres away from Akureyri, the second-largest city in Iceland with a population of nearly 20,000. People who felt the largest earthquakes described how things trembled in their houses and items fell from shelves, and the national police commissioner even declared a phase of uncertainty in northern Iceland. Arnar Sigurðsson, the skipper of a whale watching boat who was out at sea, described the quakes as “a blow to the boat”. “I found it surprising, because we were moving very slowly. I thought the engine had malfunctioned, or something had gotten stuck in the propeller”, he said, as quoted by the Iceland Monitor outlet. No major injuries or damage were reported from the tremors, but some landslides and rockfalls have been observed in the area. The series of earthquakes came amid warnings of a possible eruption from Grimsvotn, the country's most active volcano, as scientists recorded high levels of sulfur dioxide, indicating the presence of so-called shallow magma. Located on the northwestern side of the Vatnajökull ice cap, Grimsvotn last erupted in 2011. Back then, it led to a temporary closure of Reykjavik's Keflavik Airport and caused the cancellation of some 900 flights to Europe.

Why the Oaxaca earthquake made buildings sway hundreds of miles away - National Geographic  - On the morning of June 23, at 10:29 local time, a strong earthquake gripped communities across Mexico. The magnitude 7.4 temblor rippled from just south of the coastal town of Crucecita, in the southern state of Oaxaca, and sent a jolt through the earth that caused buildings hundreds of miles away to sway like grass in the wind. An estimated half a million people felt the ground convulse under their feet, the U.S. Geological Survey reports. At leastfour deaths have been recorded by nightfall, and the extent of the damage is still being evaluated. Mexico is no stranger to strong earthquakes, with multiple powerful events striking the nation in the last century. However, Oaxaca seems to be particularly prone to seismic shaking: A quarter of the country’s earthquakes have struck in that state, according to a report from Mexico’s National Seismological Service. Memories of a massive 2017 quake are still fresh in people’s minds. That magnitude 8.2 temblor struck to the southeast of today’s earthquake,collapsed buildings and killed hundreds of people, and sparked a torrent of aftershocks. In 1787, an even bigger temblor—magnitude 8.6—rattled the same shores where today’s quake struck, creating a massive tsunami that flooded hundreds of miles of coastline. And hints of an even earlier strong quake, in 1537, also linger on land. Mexico rides atop the North American tectonic plate. Near its southern region, the North American plate collides with the Cocos plate, which is forced underground in what’s known as a subduction zone. This occurs because of the Cocos plate’s steady march to the northeast between 50 and 70 millimeters a year. While that advance might not seem very quick, it’s a gallop in tectonic terms, and it facilitates the rocky friction that causes quakes. The situation near Oaxaca becomes even more complex. In some subduction zones, sediments may be swept in along with the down-going plate. These sediments serve to lubricate the boundary region, helping one plate to slide against the other and limiting the buildup of stresses that causes earthquakes. Oaxaca, however, sits near what’s known as the Tehuantepec fracture zone, where choppy crust forms a ridge that pokes up into the sediments along the seafloor. As the Cocos plate slides beneath North America, so too does this ridge. This may be causing one plate to stick against the other, increasing friction and the possibility of quakes, says paleoseismologist Ramírez-Herrera, who recently published a study suggesting just such a mechanism at work off the coast of Guerrero, Mexico.

DNC Ignores Progressive Climate Activists - Despite mounting pressure on the party to craft a 2020 platform that includes ambitious climate policies, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez on Monday announced a drafting committee that, in the words of journalist Emily Atkin, "snubs progressive climate activists again."Perez's announcement followed reporting that Democratic Party leadership was "irked" when the DNC Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis released policy recommendations for the platform on June 4 that are bolder than the proposals in presidential candidate Joe Biden's climate plan. Party insiders toldReuters the panel is an "insurgent" group that is not "taken seriously."Several climate advocacy groups have endorsed the panel's recommendations, including Greenpeace USA on Tuesday. Charlie Jiang, a campaigner for the group, declared that "as we confront the interwoven crises of climate change, white supremacy, and Covid-19, we must demand nothing short of a visionary, transformative agenda from Democratic leadership."Perez, for his part, said in a statement that "crafting our party platform is important work, and I'm confident that the members of this committee will engage Americans in a substantive dialogue of ideas and solutions that will articulate our party's vision for the country and mobilize voters in every community to elect Joe Biden."However, the positions and backgrounds of those charged with drafting that Democratic Party's platform suggest the final version could fall far short of climate activists' demands. As Atkin detailed in her HEATED newsletter Tuesday: [The] majority of people on the drafting committee are Gen Xers and Baby Boomers (average age: 55) who have either have no history of prioritizing climate; aren't on record as supporting the Green New Deal; and/or haven't signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge. There's only one person on the drafting committee who could credibly considered a climate-focused Democrat. There are more big bank executives on the Democratic platform drafting committee than there are climate activists or millennials.

Vatican calls on Catholics to divest from fossil fuels --The Vatican on Thursday urged Catholics to divest from fossil fuels, a call made in church documents warning against the dangers of climate change. The 225-page encyclical, which is sent to all bishops within the church, also encouraged divesting from arms and monitoring sectors like mining to ensure they are not damaging the environment. The document, "Journeying Towards Care For Our Common Home," argues people “could favor positive changes ... by excluding from their investments companies that do not satisfy certain parameters,” according to Reuters. That includes environmental factors, along with monitoring for human rights abuses like child labor. It goes on to suggest that Catholics “shun companies that are harmful to human or social ecology, such as abortion and armaments, and to the environment, such as fossil fuels.” Pope Francis has repeatedly urged action on climate change, calling on countries to uphold the Paris climate accord and admonishing oil and gas executives. "Time is running out. Deliberations must go beyond mere exploration of what can be done and concentrate on what needs to be done from today onward," he told a group of oil executives gathered at the Vatican last year. "We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward or of prioritizing short-term economic benefits. The climate crisis requires our decisive action, here and now," he said.

Minn. files climate change lawsuit against oil companies including Koch, Exxon Mobil -   Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Wednesday sued ExxonMobil Corp., Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute, saying they have long deceived consumers over the effects of climate change. The lawsuit, filed in Ramsey County District Court, includes claims of multiple violations of Minnesota laws, including fraud, deceptive trade practices and false statements in advertising. “The defendants deceived, lied and misrepresented the effects of their product to the public,” Ellison said at a news conference. “For 30 years, [they] made misleading statements about climate change.” The lawsuit seeks restitution for the alleged harms Minnesotans have suffered and also asks the defendants to fund a public-education campaign on climate change. ExxonMobil said the Minnesota lawsuit was a “politically motivated campaign” against energy companies. “Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change,” the company said in a statement. Wichita, Kan.-based Koch Industries owns the Pine Bend oil refinery in Rosemount through its subsidiary Flint Hills Resources. Flint Hills, also named as a defendant, said it is reviewing the state’s lawsuit. Pine Bend, which employs more than 1,000 people, is one of the largest refineries in the Midwest and makes the majority of gasoline used in Minnesota. The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group, said in a statement that over the past 20 years the industry has provided “affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.” Ellison, asked for a dollar amount on damages he was seeking, said “it’s going to be a lot.” Asked if that number could be in the ballpark of the state’s $7 billion settlement in 1998 with the tobacco industry, he said it “certainly could be.” The lawsuit is part of a wave of litigation aimed at oil companies for climate-change effects. At least 15 other plaintiffs — including the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as cities and counties — have filed such lawsuits. None has resulted in a decision against oil companies. Leigh Currie, an assistant attorney general, said Minnesota’s lawsuit is most akin to a suit filed last year by the state of Massachusetts, which also alleged violation of consumer protection statutes.

In Pandemic Recovery Efforts, Polluting Industries Are Winning Big - While the world has been preoccupied by the Covid-19 pandemic, polluting industries have been pushing to turn the crisis to their advantage, lobbying governments — often successfully — for lucrative favors like bailout funds and the easing of costly regulations.Industries such as oil and gas, coal, aviation, and auto-manufacturing describe the giveaways as necessary to ease the pandemic’s economic pain, but experts say the changes often align with companies’ long-standing agendas of weakening existing environmental rules and taxes, and opposing new ones. And, collectively, the moves threaten to create a dirty, high-carbon legacy that long outlasts the current crisis — one that stands in sharp contrast to the widely noted, but short-lived, dips in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution that resulted from lockdowns.Oil and gas interests, which have long viewed climate and other environmental policies as a potentially existential threat, have been especially quick to adapt their expansive lobbying work to the new circumstances, says Edward Collins, director for corporate lobbying research at InfluenceMap, a London-based nonprofit that monitors corporate influence on climate policy. In the United States, those efforts have been rewarded with access to billions of dollars in public pandemic recovery funds, in the form of tax breaks, loans, and waivers of the fees normally charged for extracting resources on public lands.“These are economy-defining amounts of money,” Collins said. “They’ll really shape the next five, maybe 10 years.”Fossil fuel companies “are ready for these moments” of crisis, he said. “They’ve got a huge amount of capacity in place to try to control the pace and nature of regulation, because they see it as absolutely critical. So when an opportunity like this presents itself — or a risk, whichever way they see it — they’re not going to let that go.”Other industries are reaping gains, too. Since Covid-19 hit, U.S. officials have finalized or advanced proposals to ease restrictions on logging, grazing, pipeline safety, and the disposal of some radioactive waste, among a blizzard of other changes.And while the bonanza has been particularly rich in the United States, polluters worldwide have also been racking up wins. Coal is getting a government-sponsored boost in China and South Korea. Brazil — whose top environment official was caught on video describing the pandemic as a good time to push through regulatory changes — is looking the other way while illegal loggers, miners, and ranchers step up their aggressive exploitation of the Amazon rainforest.

The Energy 202: House Democrats push aid for wind and solar in new infrastructure bill - The Washington PostHouse Democrats are trying to throw a lifeline to wind and solar developers struck hard by the coronavirus pandemic.House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders included extensions of tax breaks long sought by the renewable energy sector as part of a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package.The decision to include them is a victory for environmentalists and environmentally minded Democrats in Congress, who had pressed for more aid to the clean energy sector, which has lost 620,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic.But the move also sets up a fight with congressional Republicans, who in the past have resisted efforts to extend the renewable tax credits. It's unlikely to pass in its current form in the GOP-controlled Senate.The infrastructure bill, called the Moving Forward Act, extends a tax break for onshore wind developers for five years and one for solar developers for six years. It would also allow those renewable energy companies to receive the credits as direct payments, rather than only being able to use them to lower their tax burden. That change is important, renewable energy advocates say, since solar and wind farm backers may not make enough money from other investments during the downturn for a lower tax bill to be worthwhile.“Providing a direct payment for the credits is especially crucial as the wind industry works to withstand the enormous challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Tom Kiernan, head of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement. For years, the tax breaks have helped drive the adoption of wind and solar energy, which today make up about 9 percent of the nation’s electricity mix. Both tax breaks be completely phased out by the end of 2021.Other technologies that have yet to take off in the United States, such as carbon capture and offshore wind, also would get enhanced tax credits as part of the bill.

Electric mail trucks get a big boost in Democrats’ infrastructure bill -  For months, Democrats in Congress have focused on immediate recovery from thecoronavirus, saying they would turn to long-term stimulus when the time is right.The time is apparently right. This week, House Democrats unveiled their Moving Forward Act, a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill. It is capacious: $300 billion for repair of existing infrastructure, $100 billion for public transit, $100 billion for affordable housing infrastructure, $100 billion for broadband, $100 billion for high-poverty schools, $70 billion for upgrades to the electricity grid, and many, many smaller items.The bill contains multitudes, but it is just an opening bid. It will eventually make its way to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is certain to bargain it down and try to strip out anything he sees as “green,” if he brings it to a vote at all.If it does come to a vote, there will be more to discuss. For now, I just want to focus on one tiny gem in the bill that has made me — and the dozens (?) of other people obsessed with this issue — very happy.To wit: The Moving Forward Act contains money to electrify mail trucks! Back in April, I wrote an in-depth post on why replacing the US Postal Service’s fleet of delivery trucks with electric vehicles is a good idea, why now is the perfect time to do it, and where the process stands within the USPS. To summarize: USPS trucks are old and janky. They get poor gas mileage, have no air conditioning, regularly burst into flames, and are imposing huge and rising fuel and maintenance costs on the already-struggling agency. Replacing them with electric delivery trucks would radically reduce those costs, improve driver health and performance, and reduce air and noise pollution in districts across the US.

Popular energy-savings measure sidelined again in North Carolina Senate - A bill to require state-run buildings to conserve electricity and water has been lodged in a Senate committee for over a year. For the second year in a row, the North Carolina Senate is sidelining a popular bill that would require hundreds of state-run buildings to conserve electricity and water and keep the lights off at night. Proponents say the pandemic makes the measure more relevant now than it was last year, since it would create clean energy jobs and improve indoor air quality by upgrading old heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems. And because building renovations would be financed through bank loans backed by future energy savings, the bill would also save a quarter of a billion dollars over the next five years — helping to plug the state’s budget shortfall. But after sailing through the House of Representatives with only two dissenting votes, House Bill 330 has been lodged in a Senate committee without so much as a hearing for over a year. And with both Republican-led chambers preparing to wrap up their short session in the coming days, the legislation shows no signs of moving. “It’s very disappointing,” said Ryan Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Building Performance Association. “In a time like this, a good bill that puts hundreds of North Carolina citizens to work using private funding and saving taxpayers money should be viable.”

A clean-energy project on Lake Erie faces stiff head winds because of warblers and waterfowl - The Washington Post — The nation's first wind energy project on fresh water has big ambitions. It also has big bird problems.Known as Icebreaker Wind, it aspires to position as many as several hundred turbines on Lake Erie, where strong winds, shallow depths and the proximity of power stations would seem to be a winning trifecta. According to the project’s developer, the potential could meet 10 percent of the nation’s electricity needs by 2030.But a pilot with six turbines is facing strenuous opposition from wildlife activists and others because of the risk they say it would pose to the millions of warblers and waterfowl that migrate over this Great Lake every spring and fall.In a classic chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, the project’s supporters are having a hard time fighting back. They need data that can’t be collected until a minimal number of blades are up and turning. “It’s really a strange situation we find ourselves in,” said Dave Karpinski, president of the nonprofit organization Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., or LEEDCo, who is eager to put his state on the wind energy map and help combat climate change. “We always knew it was going to be a tough, long road.” Officially, Icebreaker Wind has a green light from the Ohio Power Siting Board to build the half-dozen turbines in a north-northwest line eight to 10 miles from Cleveland.  Several weeks ago, however, the state board unexpectedly imposed restrictions. It said Icebreaker must conduct radar studies of bird and bat traffic over the proposed site before and after construction. And nighttime operation of the turbines must be suspended during the months-long migration periods, unless and until studies conclude that is unnecessary. Because of the risk they can pose to birds, turbine projects such as Icebreaker often face stiff head winds, roiling even some groups that generally favor renewable energy. President Trump, whose administration is not among them, has repeatedly jumped into the fray. In a speech in Florida last December to young conservatives, he described ​the area under “windmills” as a “bird graveyard.”

Why the World’s Most Advanced Solar Plants Are Failing - The government’s leading laboratory for renewable energy has released a new report detailing the strengths and flaws of concentrated solar energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) published the report with the stated goal of using very mixed feedback on existing concentrated solar projects to create a list of suggested best practices going forward.The NREL report “is titled CSP Best Practices, but it can be more appropriately viewed as a mix of problematic issues that have been identified, along with potential solutions or approaches to address those issues,” it begins. What’s inside includes problems shared across concentrating solar power (CSP) projects as well as general issues of large-scale construction. There are also issues with specific kinds of CSP plants based on their designs.Parabolic trough CSP plants use solar collectors to heat water and generate steam heat, the same as a traditional coal or even nuclear power plant. But in between is a stage called heat transfer (HTF), where a fluid medium like oil or liquid metals carries the heat from the collection area to the turbine.The CSP report says some of the issues with these systems are the extreme and dangerous heat of the HTF and the waste hydrogen produced by these processes. Designers have also positioned elements vertically at a higher cost, when most CSPs are built in rural places with plenty of space.The other kind of CSP plant is a tower design, where mirrors concentrate the solar power directly into a central reservoir usually made of molten salt. These plants take a very long time to come to temperature and are subject to leaks and underperformance. All of these factors mean that molten salt plants have not yet reached their performance goals or the numbers their builders have often promised locals served by these grids.The report says these plants have often exceeded their planned operating budgets because of surprise maintenance costs as well as poor understanding of what the true operating costs will even be.

Renewables to overtake coal-fired generation for first time in US in 2020: Moody's | S&P Global Platts — Renewable facilities are expected to generate more power in the US than coal-fired stations in 2020, a first for the course of a full year, driven by a decline in demand for coal units' services due to the coronavirus pandemic, Moody's Investor Services said June 18. Stay up to date with the latest commodity content. Sign up for our free daily Commodities Bulletin. Sign Up While US power generation was down 5.4% year on year through mid-May, "this has not affected all fuels equally, with gas and renewables increasing their share, nuclear holding steady and coal's share shrinking to 17.5% as of May 15, 2020 from 24.8% in the same period of 2019," Moody's said in the report. By late March, following the spread of the novel coronavirus in the US, renewable generation had overtaken its coal counterpart as demand was affected by lockdowns across the country. In its June Short-Term Energy Outlook, the US Energy Information Administration said generation from renewables is expected to grow 11% year on year in 2020, while coal generation is expected to fall 25%, which would see renewables account for a larger share of the US generation stack than coal-fired units over the course of the year. "Moody's forecast last year was for coal to fall below a 20% generation share in 2023, so the current situation brings forward that level by several years," the report said. With the decrease in coal-fired generation, thermal coal markets will feel the "knock-on effects," Moody's said, of an industry "which is already struggling against the headwinds of a shrinking market." The drop in coal-fired generation is expected to lead to a decline of 100 million mt in US thermal coal consumption in 2020 for a second consecutive year, putting total US use below 500 million mt. Additionally, "the decline in power demand could hasten the decline of coal generation by further weakening the economic viability of already-challenged coal plants and prompting permanent switching" to gas-fired output, Moody's said. "As a result, even if demand returns, the power market may choose alternative power sources as coal plant closures accelerate and more renewable generating capacity is brought on stream to displace it," it added.

Holtec under ‘criminal investigation,’ EDA says in since-redacted court filing - Holtec International, which received one of the biggest tax credits in New Jersey history, is under criminal investigation, according to a legal brief filed Monday by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. The brief was in response to a lawsuit Holtec — an energy technology company — filed against the EDA in March for holding up a $26 million payment on its $260 million tax incentive to build a facility in Camden. The delay was because of an allegedly false answer Holtec gave on its 2014 tax credit application. “Holtec’s misrepresentations — which include its failure to disclose a prior government debarment by the Tennessee Valley Authority (the 'TVA') for bribing an official of that agency — first came to light during an investigation conducted by the Governor’s Task Force on the Economic Development Authority’s Tax Incentive Program, and they are now the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation,” reads the June 22 brief by attorney Ricardo Solano. The June 22 brief, filed in Superior Court in Mercer County, includes two additional references to a “criminal investigation,” but an otherwise identical brief Solano filed with the court on June 23 redacts all references to the investigation. The June 22 brief does not state which authorities are allegedly investigating the company, which received the tax credit to build a $300 million 47-acre factory and office complex in Camden. It is not known why the references were redacted and both briefs remain available online. Solano declined to comment on the brief. Holtec President & CEO Kris Singh said in a statement that the allegation is “blatantly untruthful” and the company is currently cooperating with the attorney general’s office. Singh said he is confident their work will reveal “no wrongdoing” on the part of Holtec.

Contura to idle West Virginia coal mine, put Cumberland mine up for sale | S&P Global Platts — Contura Energy will idle its Kielty underground mine in West Virginia and put its Cumberland mine in Pennsylvania up for sale, the Bristol, Tennessee-based coal miner said June 22. The company attributed the "strategic actions" to the deteriorating market for both metallurgical and thermal coal. The measures "will allow the company to further strengthen its financial performance and to rationalize its production in light of market conditions." The Kielty mine, also known as Ruby Energy, is in Mingo County, West Virginia, and produces coal for metallurgical, thermal and industrial customers. The idling will affect roughly 170 workers, including those at the Delbarton Preparation Plant. Contura said the idling was due to "sustained adverse market conditions, which have rendered the mine uneconomic." In accordance with the requirements of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, employees were given 60 days' notice of expected layoffs in connection with the idling of the two facilities, said the company. Cumberland mine, in Greene County, Pennsylvania, was slated to undergo a $60 million renovation involving the construction of a new refuse impoundment at the mine. Instead, Contura will cancel the project, and put the property up for sale. In addition, Contura said it amended the coal supply agreements attached to the mine, such that all of its obligations to supply coal from the mine will expire on December 31, 2022. "Given the current market conditions and what we expect from the near-term outlook, it is clear that these properties are not economical and will not be able to deliver the kind of value we strive for in our portfolio," Contura CEO David Stetson said in the June 22 announcement. "These are trying times, but we are committed to make the difficult choices necessary to maintain our long-term financial strength." Cumberland customers include Vistra, Monongahela Power, Dynegy and Longview Power, according to US Energy Information Administration data.

Manchin presses FERC to keep West Virginia coal online, as advocate questions identity of new plant owners  West Virginia lawmakers last week urged federal regulators to expedite the approval of a filing that would allow a 700 MW merchant coal-fired power plant to continue operating in the state. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., on Thursday wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking for "expeditious consideration" of Longview Power's section 203 filing under the Federal Power Act to authorize several asset managers' acquisition of the plant as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan. The company's sole asset is the coal plant and it declared bankruptcy in April of this year. Although Longview cites declining load from the COVID-19 pandemic as part of its reason for entering bankruptcy, consumer advocacy group Public Citizen in its comments noted the company had been considering bankruptcy since January. The advocacy group also in its comments urged FERC to require Longview to disclose the plant's new upstream owners. Coal-fired power is having a tough time competing with low cost renewables and natural gas in general, but merchant coal plants face particular challenges in wholesale power markets, as their revenue almost exclusively comes from market sales, Metin Celebi, a principal at the Brattle Group who focuses on electricity markets told Utility Dive. For merchant plants, their main and sometimes only "source of revenue is the wholesale markets for energy capacity and ancillary services. It comes either from the spot market or from the bilateral contracts that tend to be tied to the wholesale market. So they are very much exposed to a decrease in the wholesale power prices," he said. Longview has been touted as the most efficient coal plant in the country by Manchin, who serves as ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. The plant was built through private equity companies in the early 2000s and has faced several operational challenges over the years, as well as financial — April marked its second bankruptcy in the past decade. Its owner named a number of reasons for the company's bankruptcy, including long-term pressure from natural gas, a mild winter and the COVID-19 pandemic.  The senators' letter is "very carefully worded," noted Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen's Energy Program told Utility Dive. "It strongly suggests that the bankruptcy was triggered by COVID. … They're trying to make the case to FERC ‘Hey, this power plant, we need to help it get back up on its feet, it got dissed pretty hard here with COVID.'" But the company itself has admitted the plant was in trouble before the economic impacts of COVID-19 hit.

Exposed: West Virginia and Other States Relying on ‘House of Cards’ to Pay for Coal Mine Cleanup | DeSmog - For more than a century-and-a-half, the forests, streams, and hollows of the Appalachian Mountains have been scraped and gashed to unearth their heart of rich black coal. But over the past decade, a devastating combination of forces has pummeled the industry, from cheap natural gas and the falling cost of renewables to growing public pressure to respond to the climate crisis. U.S. coal production has dropped 40 percent since its peak 12 years ago, and the commodity accounted for only 14 percent of the country’s electricity generation last year. With the coronavirus pandemic now stalling energy demand, coal production has dropped about 26 percent in the past 12 months alone, perhaps ringing the death knell for coal as an energy source in America. “The pandemic has even further depressed the use of energy, and oil prices have collapsed, making it even more difficult to compete,” Hit with another wave of bankruptcies, King Coal is on its deathbed. But even as it fades away, the industry could land a final, painful blow to communities and the environment in Appalachia. An investigation by DeSmog has found that several key financial instruments meant to guarantee environmental cleanup have been pushed to the brink of insolvency, potentially leaving taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars in reclamation costs.: Mining companies put up millions of dollars in security deposits intended to pay for reclaiming individual mines. These funds, called bonds, usually come as surety policies, which are provided by insurance companies and guarantee a third party will fill pits, seal shafts, and mitigate water and air pollution. But DeSmog has found that the bonding system now faces dangerous levels of risk. The large insurance companies that once wrote surety policies are fleeing the industry, allowing a few insurance providers to take on much more liability than they can handle. If enough coal companies go under, it will set off a chain reaction, taking these insurance companies down with them.

What’s next for coal country? --Coal country in the United States is in the midst of a historic transition. Whether it’s Welch, West Virginia; or Cumberland, Kentucky; or Gillette, Wyoming, communities that have built their cultures and economies around coal face a future without it. This transition is not one most coal communities would have chosen, and because of the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s transpired much sooner than anticipated. The decline that many coal communities expected to stretch years into the future has instead arrived, seemingly, overnight. Coal’s demise was already baked into market and policy forces driving toward cleaner energy for the past 20 years, according to analysts. But this year the coronavirus pandemic’s economic implications abruptly exposed the industry’s weaknesses to hasten its downfall. Rather than a “glide path” of a decade or more to diversify from the economic base of coal, communities in coal country may see that foundation erode in just a few years. “Basically the [Wyoming revenue] trend that’s happened here is a vertical-downward; there’s no slope, it’s just straight down,” University of Wyoming energy economist Robert Godby said in April. “It’s like the elevator is not just plunging down the elevator shaft; the cable broke and we’re just going straight down.” By 2016, coal production in both Wyoming and West Virginia had already dropped by half from 2008. Since then, the decline has only accelerated — driven by competition from cheap natural gas, tougher restrictions on pollution, and the declining cost of solar and wind energy. Wyoming’s coal mining industry lost 20% of its customer base in the past 10 years and will lose another 23% over the next 10 years as the nation’s fleet of coal-fired power plants continues to shrink, according to a report by the University of Wyoming and Montana-based Headwaters Economics. The same trend applies to coalfields in Appalachia, where only mines that produce metallurgic coal anticipate continuing markets in steelmaking. Coal-fired power plants and coal mines have served as job and revenue drivers for regions that stretch far beyond a coal town’s borders. Mineral extraction from just a handful of counties accounts for the bulk of Wyoming’s revenue: 52.2% in 2017, down from 67.6% in 2006. Downturns in coal and oil in Wyoming are primary drivers behind an estimated $1.5 billion revenue loss over the next two years — an amount equal to half the state’s non-education side of the biennium budget. Coal’s decline brings significant climate and public health benefits. But without an effective transition to find new ways to sustain these communities, entire swaths of the rural U.S. face economic devastation.

Coal country faces a healthcare crisis - Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the only hospital serving a vast swath of Wyoming’s coal country was in financial trouble. Gillette-based Campbell County Health’s revenue began to slip after a 2016 downturn in coal, marked by hundreds of layoffs at Powder River Basin mines in northeast Wyoming. The sprawling complex of surface mines produces nearly 40% of the nation’s coal. A series of coal company bankruptcies followed, along with more layoffs. Campbell County Health Chief Operating Officer Colleen Heeter said the community began losing healthcare workers because they moved away with spouses who were let go from the mines. A “ransom” cyber attack hit the hospital in September 2019, arresting its operations for two weeks — costing it an estimated $2 million to $3 million. Then COVID-19 struck, causing patients to put off visits and elective procedures — sapping 50% of the hospital’s revenue. More layoffs and furloughs at the mines followed, on top of hundreds of jobs that suddenly disappeared in Powder River Basin oil fields. Energy analysts warn the worst is yet to come; they predict some mines in the region might close within the year. “We know we have to make some changes as it relates to the new normal,” Heeter said. The coal industry’s outsized influence on local healthcare plays out in coal communities across the nation, which tend to be located in rural areas where providing a full slate of healthcare services was a struggle long before coal’s backslide and the COVID-19 pandemic. While healthcare providers are struggling in rural communities across the country, the situation at Campbell County Health illustrates the compounding economic crises of the coronavirus pandemic and a historic downturn in coal — forces that strike particularly hard for coal communities in both central Appalachia and Wyoming. Hospitals in both regions have long struggled with aspects of their rural circumstances: chronic health conditions, aging populations and too few people to pay for the increasing costs of healthcare. Rural coal communities that had enjoyed a patient base with a moderate level of private insurance are seeing more patients rely on Medicaid and Medicare. They’re also seeing an alarming increase in uncompensated care.

Officials Investigating Another Unplanned Shutdown 'Scram' At Seabrook Nuclear Plant - Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant remains offline after experiencing its second unexpected shutdown in about a week on Saturday night. The incidents stem from the same system, which the plant's owner NextEra says it’s now trying to repair. Federal officials say the issue, known as a “manual scram,” has posed no danger to the public or plant workers. In both cases, NextEra reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that a set of control rods moved into Seabrook’s reactor when they weren't supposed to. In each case, operators followed procedure and “tripped” or shut down the reactor in response. “All systems responded normally, and the reactor remains shut down while the repairs are made,” says Seabrook spokeswoman Lindsay Robertson in a statement Monday. “This is the same system that we worked on recently, but we have determined that additional work and repairs are needed.” Those repairs are being overseen in part by the resident NRC inspector at Seabrook. NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci says they were at the plant Saturday night and returned on Monday. “We are currently following-up on the company’s troubleshooting as they try to understand the root cause of this week’s issue,” Screnci says in an email. “We’re also continuing our review of the root cause of last week’s scram.” The NRC says Seabrook did not have any shutdowns of this kind last year. These two incidents come shortly after the plant underwent a periodic refueling earlier this spring. Some of the plant’s routine inspections have been curtailed or waived in recent weeks due to the coronavirus, but the NRC says those are beginning to ramp back up.

Canadian utility formally drops underground radioactive waste storage next to Lake Huron -  An Ontario nuclear power generating company has officially dropped its pursuit of a deep underground storage facility for low- to intermediate-level radioactive waste within a half-mile of Lake Huron.  Ontario Power Generation has withdrawn an application for a construction license filed with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to build a Deep Geologic Repository in Kincardine, Ontario. The utility also withdrew from an environmental assessment of the project by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the nation's environmental regulator.With that, OPG's more than 16-year pursuit of a deep underground repository to store almost a half-mile underground some radioactive waste from its 20 nuclear reactors comes to an end — at least at the controversial location by Lake Huron.Despite OPG's repeated assurances that the repository would be a completely safe, long-term waste storage solution, opposition to the project was nearly unanimous in Michigan. Most cited the potential, however small, of the Great Lakes — the drinking water source for more than 40 million people on both the U.S. and Canadian sides — becoming contaminated with radiation.  U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Flint, was among the more vocal opponents of the repository plan over the years. He called OPG's official dropping of the project "a huge victory for protecting the Great Lakes and our economy.”“I am pleased to see Ontario Power Generation abandon its plans to build a nuclear waste storage site in Kincardine, less than half a mile from the shores of Lake Huron," he said in an email to the Free Press. "Since I have been in Congress, I have worked to bring people together, in both the U.S. and Canada, to stop this dangerous proposal."

Utica Shale well activity as of June 20Seven horizontal permits were issued during the week that ended June 20, and 8 rigs were operating in the Utica Shale.

  • DRILLED: 170 (165 as of May 2)
  • DRILLING: 107 (100)
  • PERMITTED: 506 (506)
  • PRODUCING: 2,487 (2,483)
  • TOTAL: 3,270 (3,254)


  • 1. BELMONT: 691 (688 as of May 2)
  • 2. CARROLL: 530 (530)
  • 3. HARRISON: 522 (515)
  • 4. MONROE: 438 (438)
  • 5. JEFFERSON: 283 (277)
  • 6. GUERNSEY: 280 (280)


  • 1. EAP OHIO: 870 (864 as of May 2)
  • 2. ASCENT RESOURCES UTICA: 644 (637)
  • 3. GULFPORT APPALACHIA: 416 (413)
  • 4. ANTERO: 258 (258)
  • 5. ECLIPSE: 218 (218)

Shale well gas production drops - Natural gas production from Ohio’s shale wells dropped during the first three months of the year, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Utica and Marcellus shale wells produced almost 582 billion cubic feet of natural gas through March. That was almost 5% less natural gas than was produced during the first quarter of 2019. Horizontal shale wells produced nearly 5.9 million barrels of oil, a 16% increase over the previous year. Most of the wells drilled in Ohio have targeted areas that primarily produce natural gas. The wells also produced 7.3 million barrels of salty wastewater or brine.  ODNR recorded production from 2,509 horizontal shale wells, with each well averaging:

  • ‒ 2,346 barrels of oil.
  • ‒ 232 million cubic feet of natural gas.
  • ‒ 86 days of production.

Belmont County produced the most natural gas — 206 billion cubic feet — and Guernsey County produced the most oil — 2.6 million barrels — during the quarter. Ascent Resources Utica was the top producer of both natural gas — 190 billion cubic feet — and oil — 2.3 million barrels. Some drillers have deferred production with the hope that commodity prices will rebound later this year and next year.

Chevron resumes local natural gas asset divestiture -  Chevron in February had picked Barclays to help it sell the assets, which includes natural gas wells in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, 400,000 net acres in the Marcellus Shale and 450,000 acres in the Utica Shale.

Dow, Shell announce joint plans to develop electric cracking technology - Dow, Inc. and Shell announced this week a joint development agreement to accelerate and develop technology to electrify ethylene steam crackers. Currently, steam crackers rely on fossil fuel combustion to heat their furnaces, which makes them CO2 intensive. Dow and Shell said that using renewable electricity to heat steam cracker furnaces could become one of the routes to decarbonize the chemicals industry. The companies have innovation project teams in Amsterdam and Terneuzen, the Netherlands and Texas focused on designing and commercially scaling “e-cracker” technologies. “Continuously improving the sustainability of our operations is an inherent part of how we operate at Dow,” said Keith Cleason, vice president of Dow Olefins, Aromatics and Alternatives business. “Significant technological breakthroughs are needed to reduce our industry’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, which will require companies to step out of their comfort zones and work together to achieve bold and ambitious new goals. Our partnership with Shell is an important step in making this vision a reality.” Shell brought its petrochemicals experience to Pennsylvania when Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC invested in the building of a major plant consisting of an ethylene cracker with a polyethylene derivatives unit near Pittsburgh. The plant will use low-cost ethane from shale gas producers in the Marcellus and Utica basins to produce 1.6 million tonnes of polyethylene each year. Completion of the site’s early works program was realized in November 2017 with the main construction phase beginning shortly after. Commercial production is expected to begin in the next couple of years. “Steam cracking makes base chemicals, which are transformed into a range of finished products that help society live, work and respond to climate change,” said Thomas Casparie, executive vice president of Shell’s global chemicals business. “This new work with Dow has the potential to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions from the manufacture of chemicals and to Shell’s ambition of becoming a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050 or sooner.

Former technician admits to falsifying weld records on Mariner East pipeline in Westmoreland County -  A former pipeline technician admitted Monday that he falsified documents indicating welds on the Mariner East pipeline in Westmoreland County had been properly X-rayed when they had not been.Joshua Springer of Scottdale, Westmoreland County, had worked on Energy Transfer’s Mariner East 2 pipeline between May 2017 and June 2018, mostly responsible for a 20-mile segment between Houston, Pa., and Delmont.His job was to take X-rays of welds and interpret the data to make sure the welds were good, then record the findings in reports sent to Energy Transfer, a Texas-based energy company. Energy Transfer had previously said that the company’s outside auditors discovered the falsified records in 2018, before the pipeline was put into service. The company said it immediately reported the fraud to regulatory authorities and Mr. Springer was fired by his employer.Energy Transfer said it had reinspected all welds in the section where Mr. Springer had worked and found all in compliance.The three Mariner East pipelines carry natural gas between the Marcellus and Utica shales in Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania to processing plants near Philadelphia.The U.S. attorney’s office did not identify Mr. Springer’s employer but said he was a radiograph technician for a company that performed “nondestructive testing” on the pipeline.He was responsible for testing welds and interpreting the results of the tests, developing film, signing reader sheets and certifying the quality and integrity of the welds.The testing typically involved taking three X-rays of each weld, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Karl. The results — including whether the X-ray of the weld was acceptable or rejected, the number of the weld and other technical data — are all recorded on a reader sheet maintained by Energy Transfer as required by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration. Mr. Springer falsified various reader sheets, according to his plea, by creating and signing sheets indicating that certain welds had been X-rayed and were acceptable “knowing in truth and fact that he signed and certified reader sheets for welds where he intentionally substituted X-ray exposures from different welds,” said Mr. Karl. “He did this because one of the original X-ray exposures was unacceptable and contained a defect on the film. Rather than re-shoot the weld and correctly interpret the radiograph, [he] purposefully substituted an exposure from a different weld that he knew would be acceptable.” After his conduct was discovered, Mr. Karl said, an outside audit determined that Mr. Springer did this 77 times.

Natural gas drilling impact fees generate nearly $2B in revenue since 2012 - The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC) released data this week showing that the Commonwealth’s natural gas impact tax has generated nearly $2 billion in new revenues since 2012, with more than $200 million reported in 2019.“Generating nearly $2 billion in less than a decade, Pennsylvania’s tax on natural gas development is a winning policy that makes community investments and key statewide environmental protection and conservation programs possible,” Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer said. “Impact tax revenues directly benefit all 67 Pennsylvania counties, regardless of drilling activity, funding new roads, parks, bridges, first responders, flood control and farmland preservation, among others.”Spigelmyer stated that policymakers should closely recognize that the impact tax structure ensures all Pennsylvania residents share in the benefits of responsible shale development.This year’s impact fee distribution is approximately $42.6 million lower than last year, driven primarily by the average price of natural gas in 2019 ($2.63 per 1 million British thermal units) versus the average price in 2018 ($3.09 per MMBtu) which caused a lower impact fee payment for each well in 2019, according to the PUC.

New Lawrence County gas-fired power plant starts generating electricity for up to 1 million homes  - -- Western Pennsylvania has a new 1,000-megawatt power plant fueled by natural gas, and it's located in Lawrence County. Kallanish Energy made an official announcement Wednesday that it has started generating electricity at its commercial operations at the Hickory Run Energy Center near New Castle. The plant went online in mid-May, producing enough electricity to power one million homes. The facility is located on a former manufacturing site near North Beaver Township. It uses natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shales and employs 23 workers. It cost $863 million and broke ground in 2017, employing up to 500 workers during the construction process. Kallanish Energy reports the plant uses two gas-powered turbine generators along with a steam turbine generator as well as two heat recovery steam generators. The power plant is owned and operated by a subsidiary of Japan's ITOCHU Corp., by Kansas-based Tyr Energy. Kallanish cited state agencies expect natural gas will produce up to 45-percent of Pennsylvania's electricity by the end of 2022.

Support amplifies for proposed state methane rule - All of the 32 speakers at Tuesday evening’s virtual public hearing voiced degrees of support for the state Department of Environmental Protection’s proposal to limit emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds at shale gas operations. But all of them also emphasized that the rule isn’t strong enough to protect public health and the environment, and said big loopholes excluding low-producing wells and those with no history of leaks from regular inspections must be closed. The testimony of Elaine Labalme, a consultant with the Environmental Defense Fund, was typical. “The annual climate impact of methane emissions are twice that of all the cars in the state. We’ve got a million-ton methane problem, and that calls for serious action,” she said. “Pennsylvania must lead in the face of federal regulatory rollbacks.” As proposed, the rule would reduce VOC emissions by 4,404 tons a year and — as a co-benefit — methane by 75,603 tons per year from the approximately 11,500 existing shale gas well sites and connecting infrastructure, including compressor stations. But the proposal also would exempt low-producing conventional wells — those that produce less than 15 barrels of oil a day — from regular inspections. That means that of the more than 71,000 conventional wells, just 303 would be inspected. Inspections of all conventional or unconventional horizontal shale gas wells with histories of low leakage would also see their inspections reduced. “The rule as proposed has loopholes and is not adequate,” testified Shannon Smith of FracTracker Alliance, which compiles statistics on the oil and gas industry. “Research doesn’t show that the absence of leaks predicts future leaks.”

Pa. grand jury report on fracking: DEP failed to protect public health - A Pennsylvania grand jury report two years in the making slammed the Department of Environmental Protection for failing to protect the public from the health effects of fracking. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who sent investigators across the state to investigate the industry, announced the findings at a press conference Thursday in Harrisburg. The grand jury said the risk of fracking should fall on the industry and on regulators but DEP “did not take sufficient action in response to the fracking boom.” “It’s the government’s job to set and enforce the ground rules that protect the public interest,” Shapiro said. “Through multiple administrations, they failed.” At one point, Shapiro held up a jar of brown well water that he said came from a resident whose water had been contaminated. He told stories of testimony from residents who complained of dead livestock, nausea, headaches and nosebleeds. “The grand jurors heard repeated testimony of small children waking up with severe nosebleeds. One parent testified that her 4-year-old daughter was waking up crying with blood pouring out of her nose,” Shapiro said. In one case, a resident saw how a nearby drilling operation polluted a waterway, watching the water “change colors.” He filmed the incident and contacted DEP. But Shapiro says rather than investigate and hold the company accountable, the resident was threatened with “filing a false report.” Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA Three-year-old Skylar Sowatsky protests drilling at a rally in Butler County in 2012. Skylar’s mother Kim McEvoy said once gas drilling began, her water turned gray and cloudy. And in the spring of 2012, her well was running dry. The grand jury concluded the DEP’s responses to such problems amounted to sending the message: “Leave fracking alone.” “Sadly, too many DEP employees listened,” Shapiro said. And the agency’s leadership, he said, is “too cozy” with the industry. A spokesman for DEP put the blame on the administration of former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who followed Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, and who presided over the beginning of the state’s fracking boom. Rendell ushered in the Marcellus Shale development with enthusiasm. But the real gas rush began under Corbett, who served as governor for one term between 2011-2015. His handling of shale gas drilling was controversial, and used by current Gov. Tom Wolf as part of his campaign to oust Corbett. “The Wolf Administration inherited a flawed ideological approach to regulation of unconventional oil and gas development that was forced on the departments of Environmental Protection and Health by the Corbett Administration, which promoted the rapid expansion of natural gas development and profit above these other priorities,” the DEP spokesman said in statement. Wolf promised greater reforms and oversight of the fracking industry, including a severance tax, but for many environmentalists, he fell short.

‘Government failed': Pa. attorney general’s report highlights shortfalls in Marcellus Shale oversight. -  Attorney General Josh Shapiro flexed his muscles on the natural gas industry and its state regulators Thursday, making a forceful argument that the regulators - and the elected officials who give them their cues - have consistently placed the industry over the people through most of the first generation of development of the Marcellus Shale play in Pennsylvania. Shapiro’s 102-page grand jury report called for several changes that he said are badly needed to level the playing field for property owners who have seen their private water wells contaminated by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” or have battled physical ailments that came on with the arrival of Big Gas in their communities. “It’s David and Goliath,” Shapiro said. “It’s a rural family living next to a huge industry backed by billions of dollars and out-of-state investors, by bought science, by lobbyists and former officials who have amassed so much power that they act as though they are unaccountable.” The document released Thursday did not assign criminal culpability to anyone. Shapiro’s investigators have brought environmental charges against two gas drilling companies out of the same two-year investigation, and the attorney general hinted when the latter set of those charges were filed on June 15 that the grand jury’s ongoing probe will result in more criminal charges down the road. Shapiro said Thursday’s report - littered with anecdotal stories from the direct testimony of more than 70 individuals in the heart of the Marcellus play - points more broadly to a state government that has failed, and he delivered some strong punches to his friend and Democratic political ally Gov. Tom Wolf’s Department of Environmental Protection in the process. “It’s the government’s job to set and enforce the ground rules that protect the public interest, and through multiple administrations, they failed to do that,” Shapiro said. In the report, Shapiro’s investigators chastised DEP over the history of the shale boom for failing to conduct water quality tests in response to citizen complaints, often failing to enforce a “presumption” that oil and gas activity within a certain distance of a home when contamination was proven, and showing a long-term bias against issuing violations.

Shale industry will be rocked by $300 billion in losses and a wave of bankruptcies, Deloitte says - The U.S. shale industry is about to enter a period of "great compression" as low oil prices hammer the sector, according to a Deloitte study released Monday.The firm believes that exploration and production companies could  write down the value of their assets by as much as $300 billion as they struggle to breakeven in a lower-for-longer oil price environment. Significant impairments are expected in the second quarter. Based on this, the firm envisions a wave of bankruptcies followed by mass consolidation.  "The oil industry is currently experiencing a 'great compression' in which companies' room to maneuver is restricted by low commodity prices, reduced demand, capital constraints, debt loads, and health impacts of COVID-19," the report said. "Unlike in previous downturns, these effects are now simultaneous — creating a higher level risk of technical insolvencies and building intense pressure on the industry." The coronavirus pandemic sent oil prices tumbling in March and April as billions of people around the world stayed home in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. By some estimates, global fuel demand dropped by a third as businesses shut their doors, cars remained parked and airplanes stayed grounded.  According to Deloitte, 30% of shale operators are technically insolvent with oil prices at $35 and 20% have "stressed financials."While some of the $300 billion in write-downs and impairment charges that the firm envisions is due to accounting practices, it's also indicative of the fact that these companies are becoming riskier for equity holders. The charges signify a reduction in future earnings power, and with debt levels staying the same, a company's leverage ratio immediately increases."As COVID-19 impacts amplify pressures on shale companies through 2020, a wave of impairments may prompt the deepest consolidation the industry has ever seen over the next six to 12 months," said Duane Dickson, vice chairman at Deloitte.Whiting Petroleum, once a big player in the Bakken shale region, was the first casualty of the coronavirus-induced drop in oil prices when the company filed for bankruptcy protection on April 1. And others are reportedly on the way.The impacts will be felt across the oil and gas sector, as well as throughout the financial markets more broadly, Deloitte said. "The reverberations of the pandemic will extend beyond the US shale industry. Although US shale is less than 10 percent of global oil and gas production, it accounts for 40 percent of the global drilling activity and explains nearly 100 percent of the growth in US midstream and export-oriented refining and petrochemical sectors over the past 10 years. Thus, any major developments in US shales will likely have a domino effect on the global oil and gas industry," the report concluded.

Who Pays for Stranded Assets? Taxpayers Are Footing The Bill For 100-Year Old Oil Wells - Plugging old oil and gas wells may cost as much as ten times what the industry routinely estimates, according to a new report from Carbon Tracker. As oil and gas companies walk away from their “stranded liabilities,” the public may be left to pick up the tab. When oil and gas companies are finished with old wells, they are supposed to close them and pay for the cleanup. However, often the wells are abandoned, or “orphaned,” left idled but not plugged up for good. In many cases, these wells are dumped onto local and state governments, leaving taxpayers to pay for the cleanup.  The problem is not new, however. “Bonding” for oil and gas wells have been around for many years, but the actual requirements are lax almost everywhere. Companies are not required to pay the full cleanup costs upfront, the logic often being that they will earn money as they go, better equipping them to pay for cleanup later on. But when it comes time to pay, many years later, some companies do not have the money to meet their obligations. In fact, more than 200 North American oil and gas companies have filed for bankruptcy since 2015, a rate of failure that is only accelerating with the recent oil market meltdown. “Low bonding levels were an acceptable risk, as long as the vast majority of oil companies remained good credit risks,” Carbon Tracker said in its report. However, “[s]tates have inadvertently created a moral hazard: it’s always in the operator’s financial interest to delay permanent abandonment of wells as long as possible, often by selling late-life and marginal assets to weaker companies,” Carbon Tracker wrote. “As a predictable result, inventories of largely self-bonded idle wells, some that have been nonoperational for more than 100 years, have ballooned.” With more and more drillers in financial distress, many more wells will wind up unplugged, leaving the public to deal with the mess. State and local governments may decide to foot the bill and pay for permanent closure, which translates into a significant subsidy for the oil and gas industry. “If instead, they are not plugged, the price will be paid by landowners, citizens, and the environment,” Carbon Tracker warned. . A special report from Reuters found that 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells together emitted 281 kilotons of methane in 2018, equivalent to the emissions of 16 million barrels of oil, although that is likely a low estimate. More important to individual landowners living nearby, the wells can contaminate groundwater and soil, and emit toxic air emissions. There are also risks of explosions.

Support grows for taxpayer-funded oil well cleanup as an economic stimulus  Democrats leading the push say their plan has no real downside, while critics say it gives the industry a pass. When the U.S. was fighting to emerge from the Great Depression in the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched ambitious public works projects to put people back on the job. Now, with the country in the midst of another crushing economic slowdown, can cleaning up oil and gas wells fill in as a similar stimulus? That’s the question on Capitol Hill, as negotiations are underway to appropriate tax dollars to plug orphan oil and gas wells. Democrats leading the push say the plan has no real downside, as it would create temporary employment in the oilfields while cleaning up wells that emit greenhouse gases, leak air and water pollution, and pose an explosion hazard. “It’s a win for the environment, it’s a win for states, it’s a win for workers,” chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., said during a June 1 forum on the proposal. “And it simply accelerates the cleanup that American taxpayers are on the hook for sooner or later anyway.” Moderates on both sides of the aisle and a coalition of green groups are hailing the political momentum to address orphan wells as a much-needed win for jobs and environmental cleanup. But other environmentalists panned the negotiations as sidelining reform in favor of addressing symptoms of a larger issue. On Monday, the House unveiled a more than 2,000-page bill called the Moving Forward Act that proposed an infrastructure-focused stimulus package and included the first public salvo in the funding negotiations. The bill would give the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture 90 days to create a federal well-plugging program, which would receive $2 billion over five years. The bill also included language that, if passed, would close some loopholes in the currently inadequate system meant to guarantee money is available for well cleanup.

Hilco gets price cut for purchase of Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery A Chicago development company will get almost all of the last-minute price cut it sought to buy the bankrupt Philadelphia Energy Solutions, setting the stage for the sale of the 1,300-acre refinery complex to close Friday. Hilco Redevelopment Partners, which agreed in February to pay $252 million for the property, will get a $26.5 million price cut under a settlement announced Thursday, a nominal reduction from the $27.5 million discount it had sought. Hilco’s effort to cut the price at the eleventh hour irked two PES creditors, which stand to receive less under the deal. But in the end, the objecting creditors seem to accept that a reduced sales price is better than no deal at all. “I think this is the right solution at this juncture,” said Paul N. Silverstein, a lawyer representing the two lenders, Marble Ridge Capital LP and Serengeti Asset Management LP, which together are owed more than $80 million from PES. Under the settlement, the creditors dropped their call for the court to reject the price cut and order Hilco to live up to the original purchase agreement. The sale to Hilco, originally scheduled to close by May 31, was delayed because agreements were not yet in place to outline plans to clean up the property, heavily polluted after more than 150 years of oil processing. Hilco requested the price cut on June 6, saying it needed the discount because of economic uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic, increased environmental remediation costs, and the collapse of a waterfront bulkhead that occurred since it won the right to buy the property.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline plans to build at West Milford NJ Tilcon site — The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. has plans to build a compressor station in a former quarry near Monksville Reservoir, whose owner bailed on a controversial plan to expand an organic recycling operation on the site.Township records show the Kinder Morgan Energy Partners subsidiary is under contract to purchase the 47-acre site off Burnt Meadow Road. Owned by Tilcon prior to April 2014, the property is used for storage and sale of mulch and other landscaping supplies.A plan introduced in 2018 to expand that operation drew outrage from residents who objected to references to food waste recycling in the application.Representatives for the applicant vowed not to bring food waste to the site as a condition of approval. Still, residents remained skeptical and members of the local Planning Board were critical of errors in the application during public hearings. The application was voluntarily withdrawn in December 2019. It was never resubmitted. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. records show the compressor station would be part of the East 300 Upgrade Project designed to increase Consolidated Edison capacity so the power company can lift its moratorium on new gas hookups in Westchester County, New York, records show. Katherine Hill, a Kinder Morgan spokesperson, said the project consists of modifications to two existing compressor stations, and the construction of one new electric-driven compressor station along the 300 Line. Established with the construction of a 24-inch pipeline in 1955, the transmission line cuts through Sussex, Passaic and Bergen counties.

Drilling work halted on natural gas pipeline after mishap damages N.J. couple’s house -  Drilling work has been halted on a controversial New Jersey Natural Gas pipeline project, after a mishap Friday leaked sludge into a nearby stream and damaged a house in Monmouth County that had to be evacuated, the gas company and an environmental group opposed to the project said. The incident occurred Friday morning in Upper Freehold Township, where a crew was doing horizontal drilling for New Jersey Natural Gas’ Southern Reliability Link, an underground pipeline that would run for 30 miles through Monmouth, Ocean and Burlington counties, intended to provide an alternate delivery route for gas used by NJNG customers. The $180 million project has been opposed by environmentalists, homeowners and some local governments, but has been approved by multiple agencies, including the Pinelands Commission, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the state Board of Public Utilities. A lawsuit to overturn the approvals by the PBU and Pinelands Commission is now pending in the Appellate Division of State Superior Court after being filed jointly by the New Jersey Sierra Club, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and the Burlington County townships of Bordentown and Chesterfield. Jeff Tittel, the Sierra Club’s executive director, said Friday’s incident was indicative of the environmental and safety hazards posed by the pipeline project, which he called “a nightmare.” Tittel faulted the DEP and Gov. Phil Murphy for having allowed the project to move forward. “What we have been warning against has now happened,” Tittel said. “They destroyed somebody’s house and polluted wetlands and a stream.” A New Jersey Natural Gas spokesman said on Saturday that the drilling mud that leaked on Friday was a non-toxic mix of water and naturally occurring clay. The drilling was halted immediately, the DEP was notified and responded to the scene, and the incident was under investigation, he said.

Homeowner had 2 minutes to grab her belongings after N.J. pipeline project wrecked her home. - Imagine being given two minutes to grab your worldly possessions before a building inspector slaps a sign on your home of 32 years saying it is uninhabitable.Barbara Fox-Cooper doesn’t have to imagine. It happened to her Friday morning after a gas pipeline drilling mishap appears to have fractured the foundation of her home in a rural, bucolic stretch of Upper Freehold, Monmouth County.“They gave me two minutes to grab my belongings while they stood in the doorway to make sure my home didn’t collapse,” Fox-Cooper said Sunday. “My heart is literally crushed.”She said she heard a cracking sound Friday morning and spotted water gushing up from the floor of her concrete basement.“It sounded like a cracker being crushed,” she said.A neighbor helped her figure out the foundation was crumbling and it appeared to have been caused by a hydraulic drilling operation for a gas pipeline about 100 feet from her property.The incident occurred Friday at her home in Upper Freehold Township, where a crew was doing horizontal drilling for New Jersey Natural Gas’ Southern Reliability Link, an underground pipeline that would run for 30 miles through Monmouth, Ocean and Burlington counties, intended to provide an alternate delivery route for gas used by NJNG customers.Friday’s mishap involved what is known as an inadvertent return, or the unintended discharge of drilling mud to the surface through a natural crack or fissure in the bedrock being drilled, a company official said.A New Jersey Natural Gas spokesman said Saturday that the drilling mud that leaked on Friday was a non-toxic mix of water and naturally occurring clay. The drilling was halted immediately, the Department of Environmental Protection was notified and responded to the scene, and the incident was under investigation, said Kevin Roberts, a NJNG spokesman.

With Air Permit Vacated, Senators Call For Construction To Stop On Weymouth Compressor - On Thursday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey wrote to federal regulators asking to halt construction of a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth. The letter comes after a federal court vacated the compressor's air permit earlier this month.  "Given the invalidation of the facility's air quality permit, construction must stop immediately," the senators wrote in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate gas transmission. The state Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) granted the air quality permit after contentious hearings last May, during which MassDEP admitted that the project's provisional air permit was based on incomplete data. On June 3, the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that MassDEP did not follow its own established procedures, and vacated the permit.  The court's decision revolves around whether MassDEP properly assessed the best type of turbine to run the compressor. Local advocates argued that an electric motor would produce far less air pollution than the proposed natural gas-fueled motor. Station owners argued that an electric motor would require additional infrastructure and be too expensive, and MassDEP agreed.  In the June 3 decision, the court said that MassDEP did not have enough evidence to make this decision, and asked the department to redo its analysis.   The court decision rejected other claims that opponents of the compressor station made about cumulative air pollution, environmental justice and noise.   A spokesperson for Enbridge, the energy company building the compressor station,  said in an email that the company is "working to address the air permitting matter as efficiently as possible."  Enbridge began construction on the compressor station last December and expected to have it running later this year. Alice Arena, executive director of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) said that her group is hoping  the court decision will at least delay the station's startup. "This is going to push back those timelines," said Arena. "Enbridge cannot operate that station without a permit."

LNG shipments by rail approved in US amid pipeline battles (AP) — The Trump administration has taken the final step to allow rail shipments of liquefied natural gas, a new front in the movement of energy products that had been opposed by environmental groups and 15 states. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration published the rule late last week for shipments of the flammable and odorless liquid known as LNG. “The department’s new rule carefully lays out key operational safeguards to provide for the safe transportation of LNG by rail to more parts of the country where this energy source is needed,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement. The rule comes amid foundering prices for natural gas in the U.S., as court and regulatory battles over pipeline projects have slowed movement of the nation’s world-leading gas production to markets. The rule requires enhancements — including a thicker outer tank made of steel with a greater puncture resistance — to the approved tank car design that, for decades, has been approved for shipments of other flammable cryogenic materials, such as liquid ethylene and liquid ethane. The rule takes effect in 30 days after it was published. Previously, federal hazardous materials regulations allow shipments of LNG by truck, but not by rail, except for with a special permit. The Sierra Club accused the Trump administration of “selling the country out to the fossil fuel industry” for dangerous shipments that will travel past homes, schools, businesses and environmentally sensitive areas. “This new rule has major impacts on rail safety because the dangers of a possible derailment, spill, or explosion would be catastrophic,” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said in a statement. “This is an accident waiting to happen.” .

Report cites slow progress fixing gas leaks  — The state's aging natural gas pipelines are still riddled with thousands of potentially dangerous and damaging leaks, according to a new report. The report, compiled by environmental groups using data from publicly regulated utilities, found at least 15,728 gas leaks statewide at the end of 2019, some of them dating back several years. A majority are "grade 3" leaks, considered the least dangerous, but the report's authors note that any leaking combustible gas is a hazard. "Gas leaks are potentially explosive, kill trees, harm human health and release destructive greenhouse gas," said Audrey Schulman, president of the Home Energy Efficiency Team, a Cambridge nonprofit that mapped the data. To be sure, the report shows utilities made progress fixing gas leaks last year, with at least 11,401 repairs. A 2014 law requires the utilities to track and grade all gas leaks on a scale of 1 to 3, with 1 being most serious, and immediately repair the most hazardous. The law also requires utilities to share the information with the public. Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, called the latest data in the report "disappointing" and said utilities aren't moving quickly enough to fix the leaks. "Though the number of leaks is slightly lower, it's nothing to celebrate," she said. "After more than a decade of new laws and deadly explosions that traumatized a whole region of our state, the gas companies have not come close to providing our state a closed system for their explosive gas."

Despite another setback, corporate customers stick with Mountain Valley Pipeline - Once again, developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline say it will take longer and cost more to finish a natural gas pipeline that has long invoked acrimony along its path through Southwest Virginia.But all five energy companies in the joint venture seem determined to ride it out, despite contracts signed years ago that allow them to withdraw if the project was not completed by June 1.“Roanoke Gas needs the MVP supply,” said Paul Nester, president and CEO of a utility that will tap gas from the transmission line. When completed, Mountain Valley will span 303 miles from northern West Virginia to Pittsylvania County, where it will connect with another pipeline.Fierce opposition since the project was announced in 2014 has led to repeated cost overruns and delays.When construction began in the winter of 2018, Mountain Valley said it would be done by the end of the year at a cost of $3.7 billion. Two weeks ago, the company said work will continue until early 2021, with a price tag that could balloon to $5.7 billion.Most work is currently stalled by legal challenges from environmental groups.But in announcing the latest delay on June 11, Mountain Valley said the buried pipeline is 92% completed. Having invested so much already, the partners seem unwilling to give up at this point.Under so-called precedent agreements, shippers — or customers — of the pipeline must give notice by the end of the month to take the escape clause. Doing so would require them to pay their share of costs incurred so far, plus an additional 15% of that sum.In most cases, the shippers are subsidiaries of companies that are financing the project through other subsidiaries. Roanoke Gas, for example, is a subsidiary of RGC Resources. A second subsidiary, RGC Midstream, is paying for its share of the project and will have a 1% ownership interest. Were the company to bail out now, Roanoke Gas would owe the amount cited in the precedent agreement in addition to the $52 million that RGC Midstream has invested in the pipeline so far. Nester said the company has no intention of pulling out. Other partners in the joint venture are EQM Midstream Partners, which will own close to half of the pipeline and operate it once it’s completed; NextEra Energy Capital Holdings; Con Edison Transmission; and WGL Midstream. A spokesman for WGL declined to comment last week. Other companies could not be reached. According to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last November, Consolidated Edison will cap its investment in the project at about $530 million, reducing its ownership interest from 12.5% to 10%. EQM will cover the shortfall created by the New York-based utility, it reported in its own filing. Mountain Valley said it could not talk about the details of the shipper agreements.

Dominion requests 2-year extension for ACP; feds approve MVP - Construction on the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline won’t be complete until 2022, Dominion Energy told federal regulators last week in its request for a two-year extension. Dominion and Duke Energy, co-owners of the ACP, originally projected construction would be finished in 2019. Multiple legal challenges and permitting issueshave added to the delays, as well as the price tag: $8 billion, up 60% from the initial estimate of $5 billion. Most of that cost will be passed on to ratepayers.The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could legally grant the time extension if it determines the delays are the result of “good cause.”  Based on its previous decisions, FERC will likely approve the request. Trees have already been cut in Northampton and Cumberland counties, part of the ACP’s 160-mile route through eastern North Carolina. Many areas along the North Carolina route are communities of color or low-income neighborhoods. Although the US Supreme Court ruled last week that the pipeline could route beneath a portion of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, the utilities still have to secure eight environmental permits to finish the project. FERC also granted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate project. This pipeline would run from Pittsylvania County, Va., enter North Carolina near Eden in Rockingham County and travel 46 miles southeast, ending in Haw River, in Alamance County. It is the southern extension of the main MVP, which routes through West Virginia and Virginia. The project has amassed roughly 300 environmental violations in Virginia, where state regulators there have placed a temporary stop-work order on the project.

With Supreme Court case over, courts again weigh whether Atlantic Coast Pipeline is needed - Last week, the Supreme Court handed a victory to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline when it ruled that the U.S. Forest Service had the authority to allow the project to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail. But the end of that battle has seen the revival of another, more fundamental conflict: whether the pipeline really is needed. The project’s main developers — Dominion Energy and Duke Energy — have since its introduction adamantly insisted the pipeline is the best way to supply what they say is the growing demand for natural gas in the region. “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is needed now more than ever for our region’s economy and our path to clean energy,” wrote Dominion spokesperson Ann Nallo in an email to the Mercury Friday. “Communities across Hampton Roads, Virginia and eastern North Carolina are experiencing chronic shortages of natural gas. They urgently need new infrastructure to support military bases, manufacturing and home heating.”Not everyone agrees. Since 2017, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the pipeline a certificate of public convenience and necessity, the project has been dogged by legal challenges. Many have been successful, particularly in the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has overturned key permits from agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Virginia Air Pollution Control Board.Nor has the project’s central permit — the 2017 FERC approval — gone unchallenged. In 2018, eight cases from environmental groups and landowners were consolidated in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to dispute the necessity of building the 600-mile-long pipeline from West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina.That case was paused after the Supreme Court agreed to take up theCowpasture case over the pipeline’s Appalachian Trail crossing. But with the high court’s June 15 ruling, the D.C. Circuit will now again have the chance to grapple with the issue.  The revival of the FERC approval challenge also comes as Dominion ispetitioning FERC to extend the pipeline certification another two years, citing “unforeseen delays in permitting.”

Foot on the gas: Anti-pipeline activists fight on, undeterred by Supreme Court -  Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be allowed to cross underneath the Appalachian Trail. Dominion Energy, the pipeline’s main backer, has characterized the Supreme Court’s decisions as a significant step forward for the controversial project. If completed, the pipeline would carry natural gas 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina. The project’s initial price tag was $5 billion, but more recent estimates say it will cost as much as $8 billion. Gas was supposed to be flowing by 2019, but the Southern Environmental Law Center says that less than 6 percent of the pipe has been installed so far. The project has been slowed in part due to years of dedicated work from grassroots activists, who have fought tooth and nail to stop the pipeline from slicing through the Appalachian wilderness. They say the project will have devastating effects on water quality and wildlife in the area, and that it’s not economically necessary. “They’ll parade the decision to shareholders, and probably make some additional press releases to make [the pipeline] seem like an inevitable project,” says Daniel Shaffer, a geospatial consultant for the anti-pipeline coalition Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance. “But it really doesn’t change their situation.” Lew Freeman, the executive director of ABRA, says the group is “disappointed, but not entirely surprised” that the Supreme Court ruled the way it did. “We’re quick to point out that this is only one of several issues on which the Forest Service permit was struck down,” Freeman says. “Those other reasons for vacating the permit were not challenged by Dominion in this case.” In other words, the Supreme Court case doesn’t ensure that the Forest Service permit will be reinstated—it just removes one of many hurdles that Dominion will have to clear when it requests another Forest Service permit. The Southern Environmental Law Center, which is dedicated to protecting the environment, has led the legal opposition to the pipeline. After the decision last week, the SELC noted that eight other permits for the pipeline are still in question. “Their certificate of public necessity and convenience is under review,” says Shaffer. “They can’t cross any water anywhere. Can’t take any endangered species. Can’t cross under the Blue Ridge Parkway. We don’t know what will happen with the Forest Service permit.” And in January, a permit to build an invasive compressor station in Buckingham County’s historically black Union Hill neighborhood was thrown out.

Editorial: Be wary of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline --  Why should South Carolinians care whether the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is allowed to cross the Appalachian Trail in Virginia? The simple answer is that S.C. Dominion Energy customers could be footing the bill for an extension into the Palmetto State a few years down the line. The 600-mile pipeline, a Dominion-Duke Energy project for moving shale-fracked natural gas from West Virginia to markets south and east, is planned to end in Robeson County, N.C., which borders South Carolina. But Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell told S.C. lawmakers in 2018 that, “We would like to bring the pipeline to South Carolina if the demand is there.”Well, Dominion has a lot of ratepayers here — about 700,000 electricity customers and 350,000 natural gas customers — since acquiring South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. And all Dominion and Duke have to do is demonstrate to regulators there is a demand for electricity or gas, then ratepayers would have to pay for extending the pipeline and buy natural gas from themselves. Just like the disastrous Base Load Review Act enabled SGE&G to charge ratepayers for costs sunk into the V.C. Summer nuclear station expansion, Dominion could be allowed to charge South Carolina ratepayers for the cost of bringing the pipeline into the state. That’s what the director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Asheville office, D.J. Gerken, calls a “stacked monopoly.” The good news, he says, is that the energy companies might still have to find another route through the mountains and park lands under a federal court ruling separate from the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that would allow the pipeline to cross the Georgia-to-Maine hiking trail. The latter ruling, however, could make it easier for other applicants, like the Mountain Valley Pipeline, to cross the Appalachian Trail and other sensitive land in Virginia. In some cases, utilities can use the power of eminent domain to force the sale of private land for pipeline construction. South Carolina already gets plenty of gas through the Transcontinental pipeline, which runs through the state’s northwest. Other pipelines from the Gulf Coast also deliver natural gas. But, according to Mr. Gerken, also an attorney who has argued several cases on the topic, Dominion and Duke would rather buy gas from themselves. He also suspects the energy companies would like to run the pipeline to a port where the gas could be liquefied for export.

U.S. natgas little changed as rising output offset higher demand - Reuters(Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures were little changed on Monday as rising daily output offset forecasts for warmer-than-normal weather and higher air conditioning demand over the next two weeks. Front-month gas futures fell 0.5 cents, or 0.3%, to settle at $1.664 per million British thermal units. Refinitiv said production in the Lower 48 U.S. states averaged just 87.7 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in June, down from a 16-month low of 88.2 bcfd in May and an all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November. On a daily basis, however, output hit a five-week high of 88.4 bcfd over the weekend, up from a 19-month low of 85.7 bcfd in late May. With warmer weather coming, Refinitiv forecast U.S. demand, including exports, would rise from 84.8 bcfd this week to 86.6 bcfd next week. That confirms Refinitiv's warmer-than-usual projection but was slightly lower than its outlook on Friday. The amount of pipeline gas flowing to U.S. liquefied natural gas export plants averaged just 4.0 bcfd (41% utilization) in June, down from an eight-month low of 6.4 bcfd in May and a record high of 8.7 bcfd in February. Utilization was about 90% in calendar 2019. On a daily basis, however, LNG exports were on track to rise to 4.1 bcfd on Monday from a 14-month low of 3.6 bcfd last week. U.S. pipeline exports, meanwhile, are rising as North American consumers crank up their air conditioners. Refinitiv said pipeline exports to Canada averaged 2.3 bcfd in June, up from a seven-month low of 2.2 bcfd in May but still well below the all-time monthly high of 3.5 bcfd in December. Pipeline exports to Mexico averaged 5.3 bcfd this month, up from 4.8 bcfd in May but shy of the record 5.6 bcfd in March.

U.S. natgas falls to 2-month low on forecast big storage build - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures on Wednesday fell over 2% to their lowest level since April on expectations for a big weekly storage build. The decline came despite forecasts for a continued slowdown in output and an increase in air conditioning demand and exports. U.S. utilities likely injected a higher-than-normal 106 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas into storage last week as the weather turned cooler and the coronavirus pandemic continued to dent demand, according to a Reuters poll. Front-month gas futures fell 4.0 cents, or 2.4%, to settle at $1.597 per million British thermal units. That was the lowest close since April 2 and puts the contract within a dime of a near 25-year low. Refinitiv said production in the Lower 48 U.S. states has averaged 87.7 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in June, down from a 16-month low of 88.2 bcfd in May and an all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November. But as the weather turns warmer, Refinitiv forecast U.S. demand, including exports, would rise from 84.5 bcfd this week to 86.0 bcfd next week. That was slightly higher than its demand outlook on Tuesday. The amount of pipeline gas flowing to U.S. liquefied natural gas export plants has averaged 4.0 bcfd (41% utilization) in June, down from an eight-month low of 6.4 bcfd in May and a record high of 8.7 bcfd in February. Utilization was about 90% in calendar 2019. On a daily basis, however, LNG exports were on track to rise to a two-week high of 4.6 bcfd on Wednesday as flows to the Cameron LNG plant in Louisiana hit a record high. That is up from a 14-month low of 3.6 bcfd last week. U.S. pipeline exports were also rising as North American consumers crank up their air conditioners. 

US working natural gas volumes in underground storage rise by 120 Bcf: EIA | S&P Global Platts - Last week's addition to natural gas in storage proved much larger than the market expected, prompting the remaining Henry Hub summer strip to fall more than 10 cents. The amount of natural gas in US storage facilities increased 120 Bcf to 3.012 Tcf in the week that ended June 19, according to US Energy Information Administration data released June 25. The injection was significantly above the consensus expectations of an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts, which called for a 107 Bcf build. Responses to the survey ranged from an injection of 88 Bcf to one of 120 Bcf. The injection was also larger than the 103 Bcf reported during the same week last year and the five-year average build of 73 Bcf, according to EIA data. In addition, the injection was larger than the 85-Bcf build the week prior as LNG feedgas deliveries fell for the sixth straight week. Storage volumes now stand 739 Bcf, or 32.5%, above the year-ago level of 2.273 Tcf and 466 Bcf, or 18.3%, above the five-year average of 2.546 Tcf. The entire NYMEX Henry Hub contract strip has traded down sharply following a significantly bearish increase in storage levels last week, which exceeded most expectations. The biggest losses were on the balance-of-summer contracts extending from July through October, with July falling nearly 9 cents to a weighted average price of $1.54/MMBtu and October selling off 6 cents, down to $1.77/MMBtu. Following another large storage injection that pushed stocks to over 3 Tcf, a level typically not hit until August, the Henry Hub balance-of-summer strip tumbled to $1.60/MMBtu The prompt-month contract is now trading at its lowest levels of at least the last 10 years. Sustained losses in LNG feedgas demand in the Gulf region continue to pose a massive headwind on prices in the near term. The ICE end-of-season storage contract is now trading around the 4 Tcf mark, a nearly 300 Bcf increase since the start of the injection season. Platts Analytics' supply-and-demand model currently expects a 74 Bcf injection for the week that ended June 26, which would be 9 Bcf more than the five-year average. A quick warm-up in weather across the eastern US this week is contributing to a continued whipsaw in power burn demand, which has risen by nearly 6 Bcf/d compared with the reference week, with most of the return of power loads being concentrated in the Northeast and Southeast cell regions. Total US demand is coming in 5.5 Bcf/d higher on average, with gains in power being weighed down by concurrent declines in the residential-commercial and industrial demand sectors.

NYMEX prompt hits 25-year low on rising storage, continued demand weakness | S&P Global Platts— NYMEX prompt-month Henry Hub futures prices plunged to a 25-year low on June 25 as rising gas storage inventories and pandemic-related demand weakness continue to weigh on the market. In early trading, the NYMEX contract dipped 11.5 cents to around $1.48/MMBtu after the US Energy Information Administration reported a massive 120 Bcf injection to gas storage – the largest one-week addition to stocks in nearly 14 months, EIA data shows. At market close, the NYMEX July contract settled at $1.482/MMBtu, according to S&P Global Platts data. In the cash market, prices across the Southeast and Texas Gulf Coasts also came renewed pressure on June 25. In morning trading, spot Henry Hub fell 9 cents to $1.49/MMBtu. In east Texas, Houston Ship Channel hub tumbled nearly 16 cents to trade at $1.41/MMBtu – its lowest in 21 years, S&P Global Platts data shows. Weakening gas prices along the US Gulf Coast come as the region grapples with mounting supply. Since early April, US LNG feedgas demand has declined from record highs at over 9.6 Bcf/d to an average 4.1 Bcf/d in June, led by steep declines at Freeport LNG and at Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass and Corpus Christi terminals, data compiled by S&P Global Platts Analytics shows. Earlier this week, market sources told S&P Global Platts that another 40 cargoes previously scheduled for August lifting had been cancelled by offtakers – likely extending the weakness in feedgas demand through the remaining summer months. Much of the growing surplus has, and will continue to make its way into storage. On June 25, the EIA reported a 39 Bcf addition to South Central storage, lifting regional stocks to an estimated 1.212 Tcf. Over the past 10 years, South Central storage inventories have reached their highest at 1.37 Tcf – likely an approximate reflection of regional capacity. Assuming underground storage and salt domes across the Gulf Coast states could fill to 1.4 Tcf, the region would still have less than 190 Bcf in remaining capacity before inventories reach tank top.

Time Is (Not) On My Side - Natural Gas Futures Plunge to Record June Lows; Why Now? The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub prompt contract settled at $1.482/MMBtu yesterday, down 11.5 cents (7%) from the previous day and the lowest settle that the market has ever seen during June trading. That’s also a 33-cent (18%) drop from just two weeks ago when prompt futures were around $1.80/MMBtu. The immediate rationale is the larger-than-expected and larger-than-normal storage build reported by the Energy Information Administration yesterday. But current price levels are also indicative of bigger problems looming for the gas market, namely that while gas production is down, total demand, including exports, has been exceptionally weak too. As a result, by mid-July, the storage inventory appears likely to reach record highs for that time of year — record highs that may well persist through the end of injection season in early November unless there is a substantial correction in the gas supply-demand balance. Moreover, it’s looking less and less likely that relief will come from the demand side. Today, we look at the drivers behind the latest gas market meltdown and implications for the balance of injection season. U.S. natural gas futures haven’t been on the same nausea-inducing roller coaster that oil prices have thus far in 2020, but it’s fair to say that the gas market is feeling its collective stomach drop right about now. As we explained a few days ago in That’s Schadenfreude!, gas prices already were weak, averaging about $1.80/MMBtu in 2020 to date, lower than the annual average has been in the past 25 years. As shown in Figure 1 (left graph), prompt futures started the year above $2/MMBtu but quickly tumbled to multi-decade lows by mid-January as wintry weather failed to materialize and it became clear that the year-on-year surplus in storage that had carried over from 2019 wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon (see Oops, Winter’s Out of Time and Flirtin’ with Disaster). Then came COVID-19 and market worries that business closures and social distancing measures would clip domestic consumption, sending front-month futures still lower through March. In reality, the impact to domestic gas consumption was offset by colder-than-normal weather through April, which ended up boosting residential/commercial use enough to whittle down the storage surplus somewhat and buoy prices again.

U.S. natgas edges up from 25-year low as output slows, exports rise - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures edged up on Friday from a near 25-year low due to a continued slowdown in output, a small rise in pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports over the past week and an increase in cooling demand with the coming of hot summer weather. That price increase came despite ongoing demand destruction from the coronavirus, swelling stockpiles and a collapse in LNG exports earlier in the month. "If you were looking for a dead cat bounce, we got more of a dead cat splat," said Phil Flynn, Price Futures Group senior market analyst. "Everyone was hoping we'd get a bottom, but the (storage) injection number is too overwhelming to ignore." On its last day as the front-month, gas futures for July delivery rose 1.3 cents, or 0.9%, to settle at $1.495 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). On Thursday, the contract settled at its lowest since August 1995 following a bigger-than-expected weekly storage build. August futures, which will soon be the front-month, were flat at $1.54 per mmBtu. Futures spreads, meanwhile, surged to records as investors bet demand will rebound later this year as the pandemic wanes. With ongoing government lockdowns keeping many businesses shut and U.S. LNG exports down by half since the start of the year, stockpiles are filling fast and are expected to reach a record 4.1 trillion cubic feet by the end of October. Refinitiv said production in the Lower 48 U.S. states averaged 87.7 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in June, down from a 16-month low of 88.2 bcfd in May and an all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November. As the weather heats up, Refinitiv forecasts U.S. demand, including exports, would rise from 84.8 bcfd this week to 86.2 bcfd next week and 89.4 bcfd in two weeks. Pipeline gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants averaged 4.1 bcfd (42% utilization) in June, down from an eight-month low of 6.4 bcfd in May and a record high of 8.7 bcfd in February. Utilization was 90% in 2019. On a daily basis, however, LNG exports rose to a three-week high of 4.9 bcfd on Thursday as flows to Cameron in Louisiana hit a record high. That is up from a 14-month low of 3.6 bcfd last week. 

Trump administration overrules NC, approves offshore seismic testing for oil and gas deposits | NC Policy Watch -Buffeted by breaking waves and a brisk ocean breeze, the town of Rodanthe balances on a precarious shard of landalong the Outer Banks. From here, the eastern-most point in North Carolina, it is less than 45 miles to an expanse of the sea where energy corporations plan to puncture the ocean bed in search of oil and gas.But first, seismic testing companies must do their reconnaissance. To do so, they deploy a boat towing an array of 24 airguns firing every 10 to 15 seconds for 24 hours each day, as many as 208 days a year. At low frequencies, the sound ping-pongs among the ridges and valleys of the ocean bed, and the returning echo patterns can reveal the locations of the energy deposits.The sounds also reveal the vulnerability of sea life to human-made intrusions. Scientific studies have shown the sound can injure, kill and deafen marine life, including fish, whales and dolphins — forcing them to flee their habitats and blunting their desire to eat and breed.Last week, the federal government overruled North Carolina’s objection to seismic testing off the coast, saying the activity proposed by the company WesternGeco is in the national interest. The decision allows the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management to issue permits for seismic testing on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, roughly from Maryland to Florida. Four more companies have requested permits.Environmental coastal advocates condemned the decision.“The decision to overrule the state shows the unwillingness of the federal government to listen to the wishes of the people,” said Larry Baldwin, Crystal Coast waterkeeper. “That arrogance goes even further when a decision by the state of North Carolina, which has been very outspoken against seismic and drilling, is completely ignored.”

Mississippi Sets Penalties for Protests Near Oil, Gas Pipelines - Mississippi has designated properties with oil and gas equipment as “critical infrastructure,” making trespassing on those sites a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison, under a new law signed Thursday by Gov. Tate Reeves (R). About a dozen other states have passed similar laws to limit protests near oil or gas pipelines and other infrastructure, including laws enacted earlier this year in Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. Knowingly trespassing on any property with oil, gas, or chemical pipelines or tanks violates the Mississippi law, which takes effect...  To read the full article log in.

Two Louisiana Activists Charged with Terrorizing a Lobbyist for the Oil and Gas Industry -- Two Louisiana environmental activists face up to 15 years in prison after they were arrested Thursday for terrorizing an oil and gas lobbyist by leaving a box of plastic "nurdles" on his front porch. Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade turned themselves in at 8:30 a.m. and were held for nearly nine hours by Baton Rouge police, their attorney, Pam Spees, said Thursday evening. She said she would be asking local prosecutors "to look carefully at these arrests and reject the charges against these two dedicated advocates as soon as possible."Rolfes and McIntosh are part of a broad coalition fighting to stop the Taiwanese Formosa Petrochemical Corp. and its subsidiary, FG LA LLC, from constructing a massive, $9.6 billion plastics and petrochemical complex, proposed on 2,400 acres in a predominantly Black portion of St. James Parish.   The plant is part of a planned plastics expansion in the United States that's facing fierce opposition from grassroots activists, environmentalists and members of Congress. An analysis by ProPublica found the complex could more than triple the level of cancer-causing chemicals that residents of St. James are exposed to. It also found that the area around the site is already more saturated with those toxins than more than 99 percent of industrialized areas in the country. As activists have fought development across the state in recent years, Louisiana lawmakers have twice moved to stiffen criminal penalties for trespassing on oil and gas infrastructure.  In 2018, the state enacted a law that made trespassing on pipelines or industry sites a felony, punishable with up to five years in prison. This year, Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a bill that would have imposed a mandatory minimum three-year sentence if the trespassing occurred when the state is under a state of emergency. The incident that prompted the arrests happened on Dec. 11, after a report of a "suspicious package" left on the porch of a residence, said Don Coppola, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department. A lobbyist for the oil and gas industry lived in the home, The Times-Picayune and The New Orleans Advocate reported.  There was a note on the package "indicating not to open the container as the contents could be hazardous," Coppola said. It contained plastic nurdles—the raw material from which plastic products are made—that had been manufactured at another Formosa plant.

EPA fines Enbridge $6.7M over failure to fix pipeline safety issues - Enbridge said Thursday that the Alberta, Canada-based company has settled with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and agreed to pay the fines, levied in May. Regulators alleged that Enbridge violated a 2017 consent decree. Among other things, the EPA said Enbridge neglected to properly evaluate thousands of “shallow dents” on its Lakehead Pipeline System, which runs through both of Michigan's peninsulas and includes an underwater stretch of twin pipelines through the Straits of Mackinac. According to an EPA letter, just over $3 million of the fines involved Enbridge’s failure to repair or mitigate small dents that showed “indications” of “metal loss” and “cracking.” Mike Koby, Enbridge’s vice president U.S. liquids operations, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune the company and the EPA disagreed over the nature of the small dents. However, Koby said Enbridge did further pipeline integrity assessments to address the agency’s concerns. Enbridge signed a consent decree in 2017 with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve claims from a massive oil spill in Michigan and another pipeline leak in Illinois, both in 2010. The company paid $177 million and pledged to improve pipeline safety under that agreement. More than 1.1 million gallons of oil spilled from a rupture in Enbridge's 30-inch transmission pipeline near Marshall beginning July 25, 2010. The spill devastated Talmadge Creek and surrounding wetlands and fouled about 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River. Thinners in the thick, sludgy, diluted bitumen evaporated, causing significant amounts of the oil to sink to the river bottom, clump with sediments and other materials, and complicate the cleanup. Enbridge officials did not discover or address the ongoing oil spill for 17 hours. It was discovered only after being reported by a third party who came upon the spreading environmental disaster along Talmadge Creek. A National Transportation Safety Board report on the Marshall spill blasted Enbridge's pipeline integrity management, its spill response preparedness and its staffing and training.The report was also critical of the "weak regulation" of pipeline integrity management programs, control center procedures and public awareness by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA. Enbridge said it reports compliance issues to the EPA, and that most of the recent fines relate to self-reporting and were “administrative in nature.” Enbridge's Line 5 moves 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day east through the Upper Peninsula, splitting into twin underwater pipelines through the Straits, before returning to a single transmission pipeline through the Lower Peninsula that runs south to Sarnia, Ontario. Many have expressed concern about the aging pipes over several years, noting that a pipeline disaster in the Straits such as the one that occurred in Marshall would devastate the Great Lakes, shoreline and island communities, and the state economy. Enbridge officials have steadfastly maintained the pipes are safe.

Enbridge Line 5 shut down after anchor support incurs ‘significant damage’ - Enbridge Energy has shut down the Line 5 petroleum pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac following “significant damage” to an anchor support on the lakebottom pipeline, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday evening.In a letter Friday to the Canadian company’s CEO, Al Monaco, Whitmer expressed dismay about the damage, which Enbridge reported to state officials late Thursday. She asked Monaco to turn over “all information available” about the incident, including reports, photos and video, and directed Enbirdge to provide “affirmative evidence” of the dual pipelines’ integrity. It’s not clear what caused the damage, Whitmer wrote, “although it appears the anchor support was subject to considerable force.” A spokesman for Enbridge said the incident did not result in a spill.  In an email to Bridge Friday, spokesman Ryan Duffy said company officials discovered Thursday during seasonal maintenance work that the support had "shifted from its original position." "We immediately shut down the line as a precaution," Duffy wrote, and notified state and federal officials. Duffy said Enbridge will provide the information Whitmer requested.Line 5 opponents have long expressed concerns that the 67-year-old pipeline, which transports oil and natural gas liquids between Wisconsin and Ontario, could pose a catastrophic hazard to the Great Lakes and inland waterways if it sustains damage resulting in a spill. Friday’s news prompted renewed calls to shut down the pipeline. “We don’t even know what Enbridge knew and when in relation to the new damage,” said Sean McBrearty, coordinator of the group Oil & Water Don’t Mix, in a statement. “Enough is enough.”Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, called for a third-party determination of the pipeline’s safety, and said the company “cannot be trusted with Michigan’s most valuable natural, economic and cultural resource.”The damaged support is about 150 feet from a section of the pipeline where coating covering the pipe was reported damaged on May 26. Enbridge has shut down the pipeline and is using divers and a remotely-operated vehicle to gather more information, according to Whitmer’s letter to Monaco.

Enbridge resumes partial operation of Line 5, Gov. calls for another shutdown, review - Enbridge has resumed partial operation of Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac, a company spokesman said Saturday, despite the request of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to keep the pipeline shut down. Line 5 was shut down by the company on Thursday after "significant damage" was discovered in an anchor support during routine maintenance. Whitmer on Saturday sent a second letter to Al Monaco, CEO of Enbridge, asking the company to immediately shut down the dual pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac until the damage is investigated, assessed and preventative measures are put in place, according to a release from the governor's office. “Given the gravity of this matter, I was taken aback to learn the company has unilaterally resumed operation of the west leg without even an opportunity for discussion,” said Governor Whitmer. “At this moment, Enbridge is pumping crude through the Great Lakes on state-owned bottomlands without any explanation for the cause of this damage to the pipeline structure and no assurance that Enbridge has taken sufficient steps to mitigate future harm. "This disregard for the safety and well-being of our Great Lakes, and Enbridge’s due care obligations under the 1953 Easement, is unacceptable.” In addition to Whitmer's request, she also asked Enbridge to provide a full report as to the cause of the damage and measures Enbridge will put in place to prevent it from happening again, according to the release. Once the state, or a third-party selected by the state, has reviewed the information, the state and Enbridge can discuss when normal operations can resume, the release said. When operating, Line 5 transports up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude, and natural gas liquids, according to Enbridge. Operation of the west leg of the pipeline was restarted at about 2 p.m. Saturday, after inspections by a remote-operated vehicle determined there was no damage to that part of Line 5, according to Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy.

Enbridge rebuffs Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, won’t close Line 5 after damage to anchor support | Bridge Magazine - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is asking Enbridge to shut down the second leg of Line 5 after the company reported the pipeline suffered “significant damage” to an anchor support.Enbridge shut down both legs of the oil and natural gas pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac after maintenance workers discovered the damage Thursday. But the company resumed operation of the west leg Saturday afternoon after determining it was not damaged. “Given the gravity of this matter, I was taken aback to learn the company has unilaterally resumed operation of the west leg without even opportunity for discussion,” Whitmer wrote Saturday.  “At this moment, Enbridge is pumping crude through the Great Lakes on state-owned bottomlands without any explanation for the cause of this damage to the pipeline structure and no assurance that Enbridge has taken sufficient steps to mitigate future harm.”The company indicated in a statement, also released Saturday, it did not plan to shut down the second leg as the damaged leg is reviewed. “Our federal regulator, (the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), has no objections to this plan,” wrote spokesperson Ryan Duffy. Duffy told Bridge Friday that the company discovered an anchor support on the east leg of the pipeline had “shifted from its original position” during seasonal maintenance work. In a letter to Whitmer sent Saturday, Enbridge CEO Al Monaco said the company is assessing damage to the pipelines by deploying divers and using a remote-operated vehicle. Whitmer asked that the company provide engineering reports, photographs, video and other evidence of the damage to the state by Monday and said the “incident leaves many unanswered questions as to the cause of this damage.” The company said that when it first became aware of the damage it immediately shut down operation of the 67-year-old pipeline that transports oil and natural gas between Wisconsin and Ontario, but news of the damage has renewed calls to shut it down permanently.

 Michigan AG asks judge to suspend operation of Line 5Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is asking an Ingham County judge to temporarily halt Enbridge's operation of Line 5 after state officials learned last week that an anchor support had sustained damage.The company had shut down the line, which features two pipelines that run parallel to one another in the Straits of Mackinac, after discovering the problem Thursday. But on Saturday, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said an inspection of the west leg had been completed and "the issue with the screw anchor assembly" was isolated to the east leg.  The company "resumed normal operations" on the west leg at about 2 p.m. Saturday.  But in a Monday statement, Nessel said Enbridge had provided no explanation of what caused the damage and a "woefully insufficient explanation of the current condition and safety of the pipeline as a result of this damage." On Friday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that Enbridge had informed her administration that it shut down the line after a support received what the governor described as "significant damage" from an "unknown" cause. The governor requested Enbridge turn over "all relevant information about this most recent damage." In a letter to the company's CEO, Al Monaco, she asked Enbridge to "provide affirmative evidence, including appropriate diagnostic testing, that establishes the integrity of the dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac." On Saturday, Duffy said there were no issues or damage to the anchor structures on the west leg. But in court filings, the attorney general's office said Enbridge "unilaterally reactivated" the west leg of the pipelines without consulting the state and "prior to providing any of the information that the governor requested." Whitmer requested that Enbridge leave the dual pipelines shut down until "an investigation into the cause of this incident and the overall risk to the Great Lakes could be completed," Nessel's new court filings said. "The people of the state have an interest in ensuring that privately owned infrastructure that threatens the Great Lakes is operated in a reasonably prudent and legal manner, complete with appropriate government oversight," the court filings added. "By shirking its legal obligations to share information with the state, Enbridge has irreparably harmed the people by denying their ability to oversee Enbridge’s operations on public trust bottomlands and protect the Great Lakes."As part of an ongoing legal fight with Enbridge over Line 5, Nessel is asking Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Jamo to order Enbridge to provide all of the information in its possession related to the damage to Line 5, according to a press release. She also wants the court to order that operations of the pipeline be suspended until the state has conducted a full review of the information.

Michigan Democratic congressional members seek Enbridge Line 5 shutdown - Democratic members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have joined Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in calling for a temporary shutdown of the Line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac until more is known about what damaged an anchor support on one of the line’s two legs.  Congressional members led by Rep. Debbie Dingell, of Dearborn, sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking Chao to shut down the pipeline until a full investigation is completed and both legs of the line are deemed safe. The request comes two days after Nessel asked an Ingham County Circuit Court judge to order a temporary shutdown.Enbridge Energy, the Canadian petroleum company that owns Line 5, notified state officials last Thursday that an anchor support on the line’s east leg had sustained “significant damage” from an unknown source. The company stopped transporting petroleum products on both legs of the dual-span pipeline while workers investigated. But by Saturday afternoon, Enbridge had resumed operations of the west leg. The east leg remains closed, a company spokesman said Wednesday.The partial reopening prompted an outcry from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,who criticized Enbridge for a lack of transparency in describing the circumstances of the damage and acting “unilaterally” to reopen over her objections.Enbridge responded that it had consulted with federal regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, which regulates pipelines. Those regulators had “no objections” to the pipeline’s partial reopening, the company said in a statement.

Judge: Enbridge must temporarily shut down Line 5 — Enbridge must temporarily cease Line 5's operation in the Straits of Mackinac after damage to an anchor support was revealed last week, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Jamo ruled Thursday. The company had failed to comply with the terms of a 1953 Line 5 easement and a 2018 agreement "by depriving" the state of "certain oversight and documentation due to it by the contractual language," Jamo said. On Monday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel asked Jamo to temporarily halt Enbridge's operation of Line 5 after the company informed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of the anchor support damage from an "unknown" cause on June 18. Nessel said she was "grateful" for Jamo's order Thursday. Whitmer applauded it, said Tiffany Brown, the governor's spokeswoman. "Enbridge’s decision to continue pumping crude oil through the Straits of Mackinac with so many unanswered questions was reckless and unacceptable," Brown said. "Enbridge owes a duty to the people of Michigan and must answer to the state for how it treats our Great Lakes." Enbridge is disappointed in the court’s ruling because it believes Line 5 is safe, said Vern Yu, an executive vice president at the company. "An extended shutdown of Line 5 would threaten fuel supplies in Michigan and Ohio resulting in critical gasoline supply shortages and gasoline price increases for consumers in Michigan and the surrounding region," a statement from the company added. Enbridge shut down the entire line, which features two pipelines that run parallel to one another in the Straits of Mackinac, after discovering the problem. But on Saturday, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said an inspection of the west leg had been completed and "the issue with the screw anchor assembly" was isolated to the east leg." The company "resumed normal operations" on the west leg about 2 p.m. Saturday But Whitmer requested that Enbridge leave the dual pipelines shut down until "an investigation into the cause of this incident and the overall risk to the Great Lakes could be completed," Nessel's court filings said. "The people of the state have an interest in ensuring that privately owned infrastructure that threatens the Great Lakes is operated in a reasonably prudent and legal manner, complete with appropriate government oversight," the court filings added.   Nessel asked Jamo to order Enbridge to provide all of the information in its possession related to the damage to Line 5 and to order that operations of the pipeline be suspended until the state has conducted a full review. Jamo agreed Thursday."The west line operations must cease as immediately as possible upon receipt of this order, but within no more than 24 hours," Jamo's order said. "The west line may not be restarted by defendants until a determination is made on the Motion for a preliminary injunction."

 Judge shuts down pipeline — A judge shut down an energy pipeline in Michigan’s Great Lakes on Thursday, granting a request from the state after the owner reported problems with a support piece far below the surface.Enbridge Inc. has not provided enough information to Michigan officials to show that continued operation of the west leg of the Line 5 twin pipeline is safe, Ingham County Judge James Jamo said. Without the temporary order, “the risk of harm to the Great Lakes and various communities and businesses that rely on the Great Lakes would be not only substantial but also in some respects irreparable,” the judge said.  Enbridge, a Canadian company based in Calgary, Alberta, said it was disappointed with the decision but quickly complied by closing the west leg.  Enbridge’s Line 5 carries oil and natural gas liquids from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario. A four-mile (6.4-kilometer) segment divides into two pipes that lie on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.Enbridge last week said an anchor support on the east leg of the pipeline had shifted. The company said Line 5 itself was not ruptured and that no oil spilled into the water, but it still hasn’t explained how the incident occurred.The east leg was shut down. But Enbridge said it resumed the flow through the west line Saturday after consulting with federal regulators at the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.The judge said he’ll hold a hearing Tuesday on the state’s request for a preliminary injunction that, if granted, could keep Line 5 closed indefinitely.“With the continued operation of this pipeline, the risk of severe and lasting environmental damage to Michigan’s most important natural resource continues to grow every day,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said. Line 5 transports up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude and natural gas liquids, which are refined into propane, according to Enbridge. The pipeline has been operating since 1953. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer criticized the restart of the west leg of Line 5, calling it a “brazen disregard for the people of Michigan” and the safety of the Great Lakes.

Ahead of meeting on Line 3, northern Minnesota mayors urge Walz not to file appeal A coalition of mayors near the route of Enbridge's proposed Line 3 oil pipeline have asked Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to prevent the Department of Commerce from filing an appeal over whether the project is actually needed.The Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, June 25, is set to consider requests for reconsideration filed last month by the department, environmental groups and Minnesota tribes. If the PUC denies the requests, which it quickly and unanimously did in November 2018, the parties can then petition the Minnesota Court of Appeals to review the case.The department has long argued the PUC improperly approved the pipeline's certificate of need by failing to consider a long-range demand forecast, because Enbridge instead submitted a pipeline utilization forecast that assumed demand would continue at 2016 refinery capacity.The 42 mayors urged Walz to support the Line 3 project, which would replace the existing, aging Line 3 with a new pipeline that would increase existing capacity and follow a new route through much of the state. It is expected to carry 760,000 barrels of oil (31.92 million gallons) per day from Alberta, Canada to the Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. "We need you to say YES to Line 3 and NO to the Minnesota Department of Commerce filing any more appeals," the mayors wrote. "We need you to start appropriating funding outside the Twin Cities area and hold your agencies accountable for approving projects in a timely and fair process."

State utility regulators reaffirm support for Line 3  - Minnesota utility regulators have once again thrown their support behind Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project. On Thursday, the state Public Utilities Commission voted 4-1 to deny petitions for reconsideration filed by several Ojibwe bands, environmental groups and the state Department of Commerce. The PUC — a five-member panel of state regulators that oversees pipelines and monopoly utilities — rejected arguments from project opponents that they should weigh new evidence that has emerged since they first approved the pipeline two years ago, including a significant drop in oil demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, after about a half-hour of discussion, the PUC voted to uphold the project’s certificate of need and route permit, reasoning that the benefits of replacing an old, corroding pipeline with a new, modern one, outweighed the project’s implications for climate change and its potential impacts on the lakes, rivers and wild rice beds in the northern third of the state. “A new pipeline with thicker and safer materials, constructed with up-to-date safety standards by skilled laborers operating under prevailing wage laws, is a better outcome than leaving an old pipeline,” said commission chair Katie Sieben.  It’s been more than five years since Enbridge Energy first proposed replacing Line 3, part of a network of five pipelines that together deliver nearly 3 million barrels of crude oil a day from the oil sands region of Alberta, across northern Minnesota, to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wis. The pipeline is corroding and has a history of spills, and requires substantial maintenance. Enbridge has already completed the new pipeline in Canada and Wisconsin. But the Minnesota portion of the project, which is now projected to cost nearly $3 billion, has been held up by regulatory and legal delays.  Environmental groups and tribes have aggressively fought the project on several fronts, arguing that Minnesota doesn’t need the oil the pipeline would carry, that it would exacerbate the effects of climate change and that creating a new pipeline corridor across northern Minnesota threatens the lakes, rivers and forests where tribal members retain rights to hunt, fish and harvest wild rice.

PIPELINES: 18 states to Supreme Court: Release Army Corps permits -- Wednesday, June 24, 2020 -- Eighteen states say it is "critical" for the Supreme Court to intervene in a circuit court case and allow the use of a key Army Corps of Engineers water crossing permit for new oil and gas pipelines pending an appeal.

A Giant Plastics Company Tried to Halt a Juneteenth Ceremony for Buried Slaves -Death Alley activists gathered near the hamlet of Welcome on Friday to celebrate Juneteenth, which observes the date when news of the end of slavery reached enslaved Black people in Texas. About 40 people danced, prayed and sang gospel songs at a cemetery of unmarked graves on the grounds of a former plantation where nearby residents firmly believe their Black ancestors were buried after working the land as slaves. The celebration paid homage to those who founded their rural community along the Mississippi River and lived through one of the nation’s darkest periods.But had Formosa Plastics gotten its way, the ceremony would never have happened. Formosa is a Taiwanese mega-corporation building a $9.4 billion petrochemical complex known as the Sunshine Project at the site, a swath of former plantation fields a couple miles from a church and elementary school on the outskirts of Welcome. The company’s attorneys were in court Thursday attempting to prevent residents from accessing the cemetery on land it now owns. A local judge rejected the company’s arguments and upheld a temporary restraining order allowing residents observe Juneteenth on the hallowed grounds. In a statement, the company cited concerns over “health and safety.”  The ruling comes as communities across the U.S. contend with the brutal reality of state violence against Black people, with waves of protest against ongoing police killings continuing in cities across the country. The Sunshine Project would significantly increase the concentration of cancer-causing chemicals and other harmful air pollutants in majority-Black neighborhoods located along the riverside, which are already surrounded by petrochemical facilities. Friends and neighbors have died of cancer, and activists have renamed the industrial corridor “Death Alley.”  Death Alley has become an internationally recognized landmark of environmental racism, and research shows that cancer rates are higher in lower-income, majority-Black neighborhoods than in higher-income, whiter areas of the region. In Death Alley and across the U.S., polluting industries are known to locate near to communities of color like Welcome. Nationally, Black people are three times more likely to die from air pollution than the overall population.

ANR Pipeline asks US FERC to review expansion between Canada, Gulf Coast | S&P Global Platts— ANR Pipeline asked the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to authorize a 165,000-Dt/d expansion that would help deliver natural gas from as far away as Manitoba to markets in the Gulf Coast region and other points on its interstate pipeline system. Stay up to date with the latest commodity content. Sign up for our free daily Commodities Bulletin. Sign Up "Demand has grown not only in the Gulf Coast, driven in part by the construction of LNG export terminals, but also at areas served by ... various receipt and delivery points on the ANR system," the pipeline company told FERC. "The project will match this growing demand at several points on the ANR system with low-cost natural gas supply from multiple supply basins, including imports" from Western Canada. ANR, a subsidiary of TC Energy, submitted a June 22 abbreviated application for a Natural Gas Act certificate and related authorizations for the Alberta XPress project. The company asked FERC to authorize the project by May 20, 2021, to allow the project to enter service by November 2022. ANR has executed binding precedent agreements with two shippers to provide firm transportation service that would cover the full gas transportation capacity of the project. The project shippers were designated "foundation shipper" and "anchor shipper," but not otherwise named in the application. ANR told FERC the project would not hurt its existing customers and would have minimal impacts on landowners, communities and the environment. The project, estimated to cost $81.1 million, would put in place a 15,900-hp greenfield compressor station in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana, which would boost incremental capacity on ANR's Southeast Mainline 501 and 501 Loop pipelines between Ohio and Louisiana. The project would also involve a lease between ANR and affiliate Great Lakes Gas Transmission, under which ANR would lease capacity on the Great Lakes pipeline system between Manitoba and an ANR system connection in Wisconsin (CP20-484). At a June 18 FERC meeting, the regulator granted ANR authorization to build and operate the Grand Chenier XPress project in Louisiana to serve Venture Global Calcasieu Pass and the Calcasieu Pass LNG export terminal.

Several Louisiana oil and gas companies file for bankruptcy amid coronavirus, low crude oil prices -  Several oil and gas service businesses in Louisiana have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent weeks amid an economic downturn spurred by the coronavirus pandemic and low crude oil prices. Two businesses near Lafayette, one in Houma and another in Kenner filed for bankruptcy, all of which appear to be oil and gas services companies. Dozens more Louisiana businesses are owed money by the companies filing for bankruptcy, records show. In recent weeks, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association has said about half its 460 member companies have told the organization that bankruptcy was on the table as an option to survive the economic downturn. Hundreds of wells in Louisiana have been shut-in since the coronavirus pandemic began. Wells are shut in for various reasons, one of which could be lack of production. Operators aren't required by the state to disclose why the decision was made. Crude oil futures briefly fell below $0 several weeks ago as demand for fuels plummeted amid stay-at-home orders across the globe to control the spread of the coronavirus. Storage became an issue for a glut of oil on the market. With some countries agreeing since then to limit oil production and world economies gradually reopening, the price of U.S. benchmark oil has rebounded about 20% in the past 30 days to about $40 per barrel. However, experts say $55 to $65 per barrel is needed by U.S. producers. In early June, there were fewer than 300 oil rigs running across the U.S., the lowest in recent history. During the most dire point of the 2014 to 2016 oil bust, there were still about 400 rigs operating. If there's less oil and gas extraction, there's less demand for related services — the majority of Louisiana companies tied to the oil and gas sector. "We are going to get hit hard," said Gifford Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. "If you're not drilling wells, it doesn't matter what kind of debt you have, there's not enough business." Some of the organization's members have concerns about what happens when existing work dries up at the end of the year. "They said, 'We've got some work to finish out 2020, but we have nothing in 2021," Briggs said. "That V-shaped recovery is not going to happen." None of the companies filing in recent weeks had filed for bankruptcy before, despite the significant downturn in the industry in 2016. (list of the companies, assets and liabilities, follows)

PANDEMIC: Report: 1 in 6 oil execs say drilling won't recover -- Thursday, June 25, 2020 -- The nation's oil producers think it will take up to two years for oil output to recover in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Dallas Fed Energy Survey - - Activity in the oil and gas sector deteriorated further in second quarter 2020, according to oil and gas executives responding to the Dallas Fed Energy Survey. The business activity index—the survey’s broadest measure of conditions facing Eleventh District energy firms—fell from -50.9 in the first quarter to -66.1 in the second quarter. It was the lowest reading in the survey’s four-year history and indicative of significant contraction in activity. The business activity index for oilfield services firms plunged from -46.3 to -73.5, while the business activity index for exploration and production (E&P) firms fell from -53.3 to -62.6. Production indexes suggest oil and gas production sank relative to the previous quarter. According to E&P executives, the oil production index declined sharply, falling 36 points to -62.6. The natural gas production index also fell significantly, from -21.2 to -47.8. The oil production index is at its lowest point in the survey’s four-year history. The index for capital expenditures for E&P firms declined from -49.0 in the first quarter to -66.1 in the second, indicating a further reduction in capital spending. Additionally, the index for capital expenditures for oilfield services firms declined from -50.0 to -73.5. Most indexes point to worsening conditions among oilfield services firms. The equipment utilization index fell from -47.2 in the first quarter to -69.2 in the second, a survey low. The operating margins index dropped from -50.0 to -68.6. While firms found relief as input costs collapsed—that index fell from -11.3 to -50.0—the index of prices received for services also slid further into negative territory, from -37.7 to -64.7. The aggregate employment index posted a fifth consecutive negative reading, declining from -24.0 to -46.1, which suggests an acceleration in job cuts. Additionally, the aggregate employee hours worked index dropped from -32.1 to -47.0. The index for aggregate wages and benefits fell further into negative territory, from -8.2 to -41.7. The company outlook index reading improved but remained deeply negative at -51.0 in the second quarter, indicating outlooks deteriorated. While uncertainty remained elevated, slightly fewer firms noted rising uncertainty this quarter than last, and the aggregate index fell 28 points to 35.7. On average, respondents expect a West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil price of $42.11 per barrel by year-end 2020, with responses ranging from $22 to $65 per barrel. Survey participants expect Henry Hub natural gas prices to be $2.15 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) by year-end.

ENERGY POLICY: Lawmakers propose new aid for oil, gas and efficiency -- Thursday, June 25, 2020 -- Republican senators are proposing to ease the tax burden and royalty payments for oil and gas companies weathering the COVID-19 fallout, while new bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate would aid the ailing energy efficiency sector.

Blanco County residents sue company over drilling spill - — Teri Albright held up a glass of opaque water that she’d gotten from her Blanco County well as she explained Monday why she was suing the company that had, months earlier, spilled tens of thousands of gallons of drilling fluid into an underground aquifer. “This is not drinkable,” she said. Albright is one of four Blanco County residents who have filed a federal lawsuit against Kinder Morgan LLC, alleging that the Houston-based pipeline company violated the national Safe Drinking Water Act as it worked to construct the Permian Highway Pipeline. Kinder Morgan pumped 36,000 gallons of drilling fluid into the aquifer on March 28 as the company attempted to drill under the Blanco River. Kinder Morgan did not notify the Texas Railroad Commission — the state agency that regulates pipelines — or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality until after Albright had posted pictures of the chocolate-colored water on Facebook and the photos were shared by residents and environmental groups concerned about the project. After the mishap, Kinder Morgan suspended drilling activities at the Blanco River. The company on Monday said crews have not yet resumed drilling. The company is evaluating alternative measures for crossing the river. However, other construction activities on the pipeline and compressor stations are continuing as planned. The project is 65% complete, the company said Monday. The Trinity Edwards Springs Projection Association, a nonprofit formed in 2015 by landowners who depend on private wells in the Trinity Aquifer for their water supply, is also suing Kinder Morgan. The nonprofit repeatedly asked Kinder Morgan to route its pipeline away from the aquifer, said Jim Blackburn, an environmental attorney and the nonprofit’s board president. “Kinder Morgan ignored these pleas and then failed to competently construct this project — violating the trust our politicians and state agencies gave them and, in the process, violating common law and federal law,” Blackburn said. “Kinder Morgan earned this lawsuit.”

Brazoria County landowner wins eminent domain fight against pipeline giant - Houston pipeline operator Enterprise Products Partners will have to renegotiate with a Brazoria County landowner after a Texas appeals court ruled it couldn’t use eminent domain to cheaply acquire land for a planned pipeline. The ruling Thursday overturns a 2018 Brazoria County Court decision and throws out Enterprise’s $132,000 purchase of a 30-foot-wide swath of land from Terry Hlavinka, who had sought $3.4 million for the pipeline easement.Soon after Enterprise garnered a permit to build the pipeline in 2016, the company and Hlavinka failed to agree on a price for an easement. An Enterprise subsidiary, HSC Pipeline, took the case to court claiming that the pipeline was a common carrier allowing the company to use eminent domain to obtain the property through condemnation proceedings rather than paying fair market value.The pipeline, however, transported only propylene from a Texas City refinery to the Braskem plant in Freeport. Under Texas law, a pipeline must deliver product to a third party, such as the public, for it to be considered a common carrier. The appeals court ruled that the pipeline was not a common carrier and therefore didn't qualify for the type of eminent domain used to buy Hlavinka’s land.Enterprise declined to comment. Hlavinka’s 16,000-acre property off Chocolate Bayou has more than two dozen pipelines across it. The 30-foot easement Enterprise sought totaled 6.41 acres and ran parallel to existing pipelines.Hlavinka told the appeals court that Connecticut industrial gas company Praxair paid him $3.4 million to build a private, non-common carrier pipeline on his land and that Michigan chemical company Dow paid $2 million to build another.“He used comparable sales to support his opinions regarding the fair market value of the easement based on its value as a separate economic unit,” Justice Russell Lloyd wrote in the court’s opinion.

 State denies request to limit oil production The three-member Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Wednesday denied a request to limit the amount of oil that can be produced from Oklahoma wells. Commission Chairman Todd Hiett, Commissioner Dana Murphy and Commissioner Bob Anthony approved a final order that ended the agency’s consideration of the case. The Oklahoma Energy Producers Alliance (OEPA) and affiliated companies requested the relief in early April. The OEPA represents mostly smaller, independent oil and gas producers who primarily operate older, vertical wells with smaller rates of production. It had asked for a mandatory oil waste declaration from commissioners so that the agency could take additional steps to require operators to shut in wells or to take other actions deemed appropriate to cut crude oil production inside the state. The OEPA had sought the relief as the price for a West Texas Intermediate barrel of crude oil approached $20 a barrel, based upon arguments that a curtailment would help remove excess market supplies and improve crude oil’s price. The OEPA’s request, however, was opposed by the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma and its member companies. Representatives of both the alliance and many larger oil and gas companies operating in Oklahoma countered that the free market would take care of excess supply issues on its own.

North Dakota state revenues plunge in pandemic but remain ahead of forecast - North Dakota sales and oil taxes amid the coronavirus pandemic have fallen well below forecasts, but state revenues overall remain ahead of the Legislature's projections for the current budget period. State Office of Management and Budget Director Joe Morrissette presented the latest revenue figures on Tuesday to the Legislature's interim Government Finance Committee. May revenues to the state's general fund, which funds general government operations, were down 19.1%, or $36 million, from a 2019 legislative forecast. But overall, state revenues are running 1.9%, or $45.4 million, ahead of the forecast. "That's positive news," Morrissette told the committee. North Dakota state revenues see some 'good news' amid pandemic North Dakota is about halfway through its 2019-21 budget cycle. The 2019 Legislature passed a record $14.7 billion overall budget that includes federal money. That budget has about $4.8 billion in general fund spending. Sales taxes, the general fund's biggest revenue source, were down 35.4%, or $27.4 million, which Morrissette said reflects business restrictions in April due to the pandemic. "That's the worst month that we've seen," he said, telling the committee, "we would expect that to be kind of the bottom."

Gavin Newsom Hands Out Fracking Permits to Connected Driller – Steve Horn -  On June 1, in the midst of the turmoil created by the coronavirus pandemic and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration quietly issued 12 fracking permits to Aera Energy, a joint venture owned by ExxonMobil and Shell.Oil drilling in California has faced criticism for its disproportionately negative health impactson Latino communities and other people of color. The 12 new permits will be for fracking in the Lost Hills Oil Field. The Kern County town of Lost Hills is more than 97 percent Latino, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. The fracking permits are the latest example of California’s oil industry benefiting from regulatory or deregulatory action during the COVID-19 pandemic and came just months after the Newsom administration said it supported taking actions to “manage the decline of oil production and consumption in the state.” Aera, which also received 24 permits from the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) on April 3 during the early days of COVID-19, has well-connected lobbyists in its corner who work for the firm Axiom Advisors.One of them, Jason Kinney, headed up Newsom’s 2018 transition team and formerly served as asenior advisor to Newsom while he was lieutenant governor. He is also a senior advisor to California’s Senate Democrats. The other, Kevin Schmidt, previously served as policy director for Newsom when the latter was lieutenant governor. Aera paid Axiom $110,000 for its lobbying work in 2019 and, so far in 2020, has paid $30,000, lobbying reports reveal. Axiom’s lobbying disclosure records show both Kinney and Schmidt listed as lobbyists and Aera as one of the firm’s clients. Kinney’s wife, Mary Gonsalvez Kinney, was also the stylist for Newsom’s wife–Jennifer Siebel Newsom–dating back to their time spent living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kinney and Schmidt did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this article. Calling the situation “unseemly,” Jamie Court, president for the Los Angeles-based group Consumer Watchdog, wrote via email that “Aera should not be able to buy the influence it apparently has over state oil and gas policy.” Last November, prior to the 24 permits issued in April, Newsom had declared a statewide fracking permit moratorium in response to a scandal involving a regulator for the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). The regulator, who had been tasked with heading oversight issues on issuing permits, was revealed to have stock investments valued up to $100,000 in Aera Energy’s parent company, ExxonMobil. Newsom fired the head of DOGGR at the time, Ken Harris, and eventually renamed the agency CalGEM.

Chevron’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ Tweet Prompts a Debate About Big Oil and Environmental Justice -When Chevron tweeted "black lives matter" on June 5, the multinational U.S. energy corporation evoked a visceral reaction from many climate activists."Your performative solidarity with the Black community is an absolute joke," Communities for a Better Environment, a California-based environmental justice organization, responded. "You should be ashamed of yourself for killing, poisoning and ruining the health and lives of Black people all over the world."Chevron's tweet referred readers to a statement from the company's leadership that was released amidst international protests over the killing of George Floyd on May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer. "As the human energy company, we are just that—humans, and we've felt the impact of what is happening in the United States around ra cial injustice," the statement says. "Our company is rooted in a diverse and inclusive culture, but we also understand it is our time to listen and learn." The statement goes on to quote a number of senior executives, including CEO Mike Wirth: "I share the anger and pain felt by so many Americans at the recent killings of unarmed black men and women. Racism and brutality have no place in America. Yet these incidents still occur. And they impact people well beyond those directly affected by such tragedies. Including people at our company. I absolutely believe we are stronger when we embrace our differences, and now is an important time to do just that." Though Chevron was not the only oil industry heavyweight to issue a statement declaring its commitment to combating racism, the Chevron tweet was shared far more widely than one from BP, which linked to a letter by CEO Bernard Looney that condemned "racial injustice in all its forms." By contrast, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil have remained silent on the issue.

 15,000 gallon oil spill reported near Kobuk River - (KTUU) - An oil tank at Shungnak School in the Native Village of Shungnak has overflowed, causing around 15,000 gallons of heating oil to spill, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The spill was reported by the Native Village on Saturday and officials say it could impact the Kobuk River — which is around 300 feet away from the spill — and local drinking water which is 160 feet away. AEDC said the spill was caused during a fuel transfer from a barge on the Kobuk River that was intended for the Shungnak Native Store but was delivered to the school instead, causing an overflow of the school tank #1. For now, the fuel transfers have been stopped and a crew in Shungnak is working to remove the oil by excavating contaminated soil and pumping it into containers. Currently, no injuries or impacts to wildlife have been reported, AEDC said, but the area is being monitored by the department to prevent the oil from moving to other areas. Both the Environmental Protection Agency and AEDC are working on cleaning the spill, but due to travel restrictions put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, neither agency is actually in Shungnak.

15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native Alaskan Village --Around 15,000 gallons of fuel oil spilled in a Native Alaskan village Saturday, threatening a nearby river and the local drinking water supply.The spill occurred during a routine fuel delivery to the Northwest Arctic village of Shungnak. The fuel spilled around 12:30 p.m. June 20, but was not discovered by the villagers until 1:06 p.m. They reported it to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) immediately thereafter, The Arctic Sounder reported."A response crew from Shungnak responded to the spill immediately, removing the spilled heating oil using sorbent material and also by pumping it into containers," ADEC said in a situation report.There have been no injuries reported and the oil spill has not harmed any wildlife so far. However, there are concerns that it could spread to sensitive areas."The extent of contamination has been reported by the incident commander to be approximately 160 feet from the Kobuk River and approximately 295 feet from the Shungnak drinking water source," ADEC said. The spill occurred when fuel intended for the Shungnak Native Store was delivered to the school instead,KTUU reported. This caused fuel tank #1 to overflow. The fuel was being transferred from a barge on the Kobuk River. All transfers have now been stopped.

Interior opens more of Alaska reserve to oil development - (AP) — More than 18 million acres of a petroleum reserve in Alaska will be opened to oil and gas drilling under a plan released Thursday by federal officials, who touted it as being key to President Donald Trump’s goal of increasing energy production. “Today’s action is one more significant step in the process of delivering on his promise,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement. The Department of Interior released the environmental review for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which covers an area the size Indiana. The area was set aside by President Warren Harding in 1923 for its potential petroleum value. The 23-million-acre site on the western North Slope contains about 8.7 billion barrels of oil, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Environmentalists decry opening up the reserve, worried about what drilling could do to wildlife such as polar bears and a large caribou herd. “This plan turns its back on unique and spectacular Arctic wildlife species and sells their key habitat out to the oil industry,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “It gives away critical habitat for imperiled polar bears and vital habitat for caribou and migratory birds to oil companies that will only exacerbate the climate crisis by expanding into a fragile frontier area with new drilling,” she said. “It is bad for the Western Arctic and bad for the planet.”

60,000 litres of wastewater diverted after refinery oil spill - The Water Security Agency (WSA) is shedding a bit of light on the size of and the immediate response to a recent oil spill at the Co-op Refinery Complex. On May 22, a spill from a refinery storage pond, attributed by CRC officials to wind, caused a substance containing oil to leak into the City of Regina’s sewage system. The WSA confirmed to Global News on Thursday that Regina wastewater treatment plant operators visually identified oil in incoming wastewater. At that point, about 60,000 litres of incoming wastewater were diverted to a lagoon cell for special treatment. Exactly how much oil was in that wastewater, however, is still being determined. “The refinery normally does send a treated oil product through there. They have a very substantial system that cleans this and brings it through, so something happened there that changed some of those products,” said WSA spokesperson Patrick Boyle. “So that’s part of the investigation. We’re trying to figure out how much, and when.” Boyle said that none of what was spilled has been determined to have escaped the sewage system into the environment. While the plant is owned and operated by the city of Regina, the WSA oversees and regulates the treatment of wastewater in Saskatchewan. Read more: Co-op refinery workers in Regina back to work after two sides agree to new deal Neither the City of Regina or the Co-op Refinery Complex issued a public notice to alert residents or media of the spill.

Cleanup for Arctic oil spill tops $1b – President Vladimir Putin said on Friday the scale of the clear-up operation after a huge fuel spill in the Arctic was unprecedented for Russia, with Greenpeace estimating the environmental damage to waters in the region at $1.4 billion. A vast fuel tank lost pressure on May 29 and unleashed 21,000 metric tons of diesel into rivers and subsoil near the city of Norilsk, an incident that Greenpeace has compared to the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska. “Russia has not yet had experience of clearing up such vast pollution from bodies of water as far as I understand,” Putin told officials on state television. It will take at least 10 years for biodiversity in the waters to fully return where the accident happened, the state fishing agency said at the meeting. The state environmental watchdog plans to finish its assessment of the damage by July 1, its head told Putin. Vladimir Chuprov, a Greenpeace activist, said the damage to the water totalled 100 billion roubles ($1.44 billion), a figure that was higher than it should be because of what he said was the slow official response, the TASS news agency reported. The city of Norilsk is home to mining giant Norilsk Nickel. The company and emergency specialists are collecting contaminated soil and fuel from local rivers into containers. Nornickel has already spent 5 billion roubles on the clean-up, its co-owner Vladimir Potanin said. The mining giant also plans to spend 13.5 billion roubles on safety checks for its remaining fuel storage tanks in 2020-2021. More than 90% of the fuel from the rivers and about 70% of the contaminated soil have been already collected, Nornickel said earlier this week. Putin previously ordered officials to check all similar fuel storages in Russia, and they plan to complete this process by July 24, they told him.

Mexico's largest refinery restarts after quake that killed worker - (Reuters) - A worker at Mexico’s largest refinery died after a fall during a powerful earthquake on Tuesday, the country’s civil protection agency said, with the tremors also causing a fire that led to the brief shuttering of the installation. The fire, which ignited where power generators and a boiler are located, was quickly extinguished, a company spokesperson said. The facility on the coast of the southern state of Oaxaca near the epicenter of the earthquake reopened after a short period of time, the civil protection agency said. “A small fire broke out and was immediately controlled,” the Pemex spokesperson told Reuters. The worker died in hospital after he fell from one of the plant’s structures during the quake, the protection agency said. The Pemex spokesperson did not respond to requests for additional information on the status of its workers. Two photos posted on the company’s Twitter page showed flames engulfing the corner of the plant and firefighters dousing them with water from several hoses. Pemex said on Twitter that all other company installations were operating normally. The 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit the coast of southern Mexico on Tuesday morning, killing at least one person, buckling roads and sending people fleeing their homes into the streets. Some buildings elsewhere in Oaxaca state were badly damaged, and fallen rocks could be seen blocking some roadways. The Salina Cruz refinery, which has been operating below its operating capacity for an extended period of time, holds a total crude oil processing capacity of 330,000 barrels per day.

The Newest Battlefield In The European Gas War -- Across the planet LNG prices in May-June 2020 have dropped to unprecedentedly low levels – landed seaborne prices still remain below $2 per MMBtu, compelling rivals of LNG to counteract the trend. In the vanguard of those affected is the Russian pipeline gas monopoly Gazprom which expects its exports to drop from the peak of 199-200 BCm per year attained in the last 2 years to some 167 BCm in 2020. Pipeline gas supplies to Europe seems somewhat paralyzed currently with little to no availability of ramping up exports despite producers curbing natural gas production concurrently to oil. With this in mind, Gazprom is looking to beat its competitors on their own field, having no liquefaction facility that could realistically target European customers.  In the first days of June 2020, the Greek industrial holding Mytilineos announced that it had concluded a long-term contract with Gazprom’s commercial arm, Gazprom Export, to import Russian natural gas. The news in and of itself should not be considered as anything surprising – Mytilineos had several short-term contracts with the Russian firm in the past couple of years and imported 0.6 BCm in 2019. Were one to examine the details of the deal though, it gets much more interesting – LNG prices to Greece have started off this year at $3.5 per MMbtu, oscillated around the $2.5 per MMbtu mark in March-April and then took a plunge below $2 per MMbtu in the last days of April, remaining there ever since. Were it not for the increase of US LNG exports to Greece, this might not even trigger a response from Russia – Revithoussa has traditionally relied on a combination of Qatari, Algerian, Nigerian and Norwegian LNG deliveries. As indicated above, the onset of continuous US LNG deliveries to Greece bears a much harsher reputational blow to Russian energy interests than Qatari or Algerian supplies. This year has already seen 13 LNG cargo arrivals to Revithoussa, a manifold increase over the 2019 end result of 3 cargoes in total. Coming from a fairly extended list of LNG hubs (Sabine Pass, Cameron LNG, Cove Point), US LNG calls into question Kremlin’s claim that the American shale gale would not be able to supplant Russian deliveries – it turns out it can, albeit at highly adverse market conditions. Thus, instead of the initial question whether US LNG can reach Southern Europe, the issue to follow through lies with American producers’ ability to withstand such low gas prices for a long-term period.

Bland LNG contracts need a bit of seasoning - Platts Insight - The LNG market has clung tenaciously to traditional contracting structures, but so many of the justifications – the rationale for oil indexation, limited LNG supply, and lack of spot gas trade or benchmark – no longer pass the sniff test in 2020 and beyond. The LNG market needs different options. Sellers still need some long-term commitments to provide financial security to shareholders, and buyers still need some security of supply to assuage regulatory concerns regarding economic vulnerability. That said, the tropes that define each of these concepts for buyers and sellers desperately need to evolve, and now is the perfect time to move on. Shifting the focus from “how much” and “how long” to “when” and “what period of the year” provides a better solution to what currently ails the market for LNG contracts. Taking the LNG contract to the next level involves better defining when – more specifically what time of the year – having an LNG contract is an absolute necessity, and when it is more of an option. Here’s where the introduction of seasonal LNG contracts come into focus. This new type of LNG contract supports the goals of both buyers and sellers, while also simultaneously reducing mutual risks. In a seasonal LNG contract, a long-term deal will be struck, where both sides agree to a specific period of the year when the LNG is most and least valued. For most buyers in the northern hemisphere, this period of time would be during the fourth and first quarters, when weather can increase consumption by two to three times the annual average. Fine tuning the starting and stopping point of the seasonal LNG contract would depend on individual markets, with different criteria used such as heating and cooling degree day profiles or population weighting relative to total gas use. Seasonal differences in contracts are not unprecedented. Some Asian buyers previously negotiated for highly seasonal annualized volume at a 60-40 or 70-30 ratio towards the winter (Korea) or the summer (Taiwan), which also involved swapping arrangements for lifting LNG out of season. However, the contracts still required lifting volumes 12 months per year, whereas what is being suggested here is that the contract will only exist for a fixed period of the year, with no commitment to lift at other times.

Niger Delta Still Waiting for Big Oil to Clean Up Devastating Pollution -  In 2011, a ground-breaking report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on oil pollution in Ogoniland highlighted the devastating impact of the oil industry in the Niger Delta and made concrete recommendations for clean-up measures and immediate support for the region's devastated communities.Now, nearly ten years later, a new report published Thursday by Friends of the Earth Europe, Amnesty International, ERA and Milieudefensie, details Shell's failure to implement the "emergency measures" laid out by UNEP and says only 11 percent of contaminated areas in the Niger Delta have begun the clean-up process.Titled "No Clean-Up, No Justice," the new report explains that for "more than five decades, the people of Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta, have struggled against oil pollution, destruction of the environment and human rights violations."According to estimates, Shell Oil has dumped an estimated nine to 13 million barrels of crude oil into the Niger Delta since 1958."Oil and gas extraction has caused large-scale, continued contamination of the water and soil in Ogoni communities," said Friends of the Earth in a statement. "The continued and systematic failure of oil companies and government to clean up have left hundreds of thousands of Ogoni people facing serious health risks, struggling to access safe drinking water, and unable to earn a living." As Common Dreams reported earlier this year, the local government has also worked with Shell to suppress the right of people in Ogoniland to fight against pollution."The discovery of oil in Ogoniland has brought huge suffering for its people," said Osai Ojigho of Amnesty International Nigeria. "Over many years we have documented how Shell has failed to clean up contamination from spills and it's a scandal that this has not yet happened."The ecological damage, Ojigho added, "is leading to serious human rights impacts — on people's health and ability to access food and clean water. Shell must not get away with this — we will continue to fight until every last trace of oil is removed from Ogoniland."

Nigerians bid to sue Shell in UK over oil spill pollution -  Thousands of Nigerians are asking British judges to give them permission to sue Royal Dutch Shell Plc in London over environmental damage caused by oil spills 3,000 miles away in Africa. Lawyers for residents of the crude-rich Niger Delta believe a landmark UK Supreme Court ruling last year against a London-based miner should set a precedent. Shell, which has blocked the suit twice from entering British courts, says the litigation should be heard in the West African country. Oil companies are hurting from squeezed profits as the coronavirus pandemic has destroyed demand and pushed prices lower. Adding to its worries, Shell might also face legal battles in the UK, as well those already underway in the Netherlands, that could expose the firm to higher damages for causing pollution in the developing world. An April 2019 decision that allowed a group of Zambians to proceed to trial against Vedanta Resources for pollution caused by a copper-mining unit clarifies the law around a company’s duty of care to those affected by operations of a subsidiary, said Robert Meade, an attorney at Bracewell who specialises in oil and gas. Still, “it does not mean that a parent company might be liable for its subsidiaries’ actions or inaction,” he said. Daniel Leader, a partner at Leigh Day representing the Nigerian claimants, said the English courts should hold the oil major to account in English courts “for the devastating damage Shell has caused to their communities over many years.” Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, and depends on crude for about half of government revenue and 90% of export earnings. However, thousands of spills over decades have destroyed the livelihoods of fishing and farming communities in the southeast of the country, including more than 40,000 people from the Bille and Ogale communities who are trying to force Shell to pay compensation and clean up. While the two communities have been hurt by spills, a spokesperson for Nigeria-registered Shell Petroleum Development Co. said that most are caused by oil theft, pipeline sabotage and illegal refining. Despite preventative measures such as cages around wellheads and community engagement, SPDC says it saw a 40% rise in spills over 100 kilograms related to theft and sabotage last year compared to 2018. Amnesty International in 2018 questioned Shell’s claims concerning the cause of spills, finding the company likely understated the number attributable to “operational” faults. SPDC, the operator of a joint venture that includes Nigeria’s state oil company as the majority shareholder, denied the allegations.

Closure notice issued to Assam OIL withdrawn -- The Pollution Control Board of Assam (PCBA) conditionally withdrew on Monday the closure notice issued to Oil India Limited’s (OIL) Baghjan oil field where a blowout last month sparked an inferno that displaced thousands, spewed thousands of litres of oil and gas into the fragile ecosystem and wreaked havoc on the local wildlife. In a letter to OIL’s resident chief executive based in Assam’s Duliajan, PCBA said the closure notice issued on June 19 was withdrawn following an affidavit by the company to the pollution watchdog that said OIL will submit a detailed timebound environmental management plan within 15 days. Monday’s order – seen by HT – also said OIL will have to apply for consent to operate (CTO) under section 25 of the Water (Prevention And Control) Act 1974 and section 21 of the Air (Prevention And Control) Act 1981 separately each for drilling, production and other installations along with an environmental management plan. “They have to submit all the details of hazardous waste generated, disposed and treatment facilities as per the Hazardous and Other Waste (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016,” the letter said. The board issued the closure notice on Friday on the grounds that the company has been operating it without prior permissions, including the key “consent to establish” and “consent to operate” clearances. “Baghjan oil field is located just 500 metres to the Maguri Motapung wetland which is part of eco-sensitive zone of Dibru Saikhowa National Park, which is effected severely due to the negligence from your end,” read the closure notice. “You are destroying the aquatic life of Dibru Saikhowa National Park and Maguri Motapung wetland , of endangered species in the name of exploring oil without any mitigation measures,” it added. The blowout that began on May 27 led to the uncontrollable flow of oil from gas well 5 -- causing extensive damage to biodiversity and wildlife the region, according to a preliminary report on the environmental damage caused by the incident. There are 17 oil wells and five gas wells in the Baghjan oil field, which generates 1,200 kilolitres of crude oil and 1.5 to 2 million metric standard cubic metres of gas per day. 

 No oil flow from Baghjan gas well site to water bodies - PSU major Oil India Limited on Friday said that no oil is flowing into water bodies from a gas well in Assams Baghjan following a blowout last month, as claimed in a video clip which has gone viral on social media. Floodwaters have entered the gas well fire site in Tinsukia district affecting efforts of the OIL authorities to cap the well and douse the blaze, the company said. "There is a video clip is in circulation in the social media wherein it has been claimed that lot of oil is flowing into nearby water bodies/river from Baghjan blowout well. This is totally false since all hydrocarbon coming out of the well is completely burnt at the well head," OIL said in a tweet. A release by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) also said that the well head area is dry and no oil is flowing into any waterbody. "Before the fire occurred, condensate was falling in nearby area as it was coming out along with gas. But once the well caught fire on 9th June, all condensate and gas is getting burnt," the release said. Well number 5 at Baghjan has been spewing gas uncontrollably since the blowout on May 27 and it caught fire on June 9, killing two of OIL's firefighters at the site. Meanwhile, it has been raining continuously and various parts of Baghjan gas well site and three roads leading to the spot from Tinsukia were inundated making it difficult to move personnel and equipment, OIL said in a statement. The site of helipad earmarked earlier cannot be used now because of the presence of floodwater on the road and efforts are on to identify a new site to set up a helipad. Due to damage of Doomdooma-Baghjan Bridge, all movement on the bridge has been suspended. OIL had contacted the Army for construction of a Bailey bridge but it can be done only after the water level recedes, the company said. Another bridge over Daisajan near Daisajan Tea Estate on Tiphuk Kordaiguri road is deteriorating too due to the flood. However, environmental Impact Assessment by M/s ERM is continuing with collection of samples of air, water, soil from different parts of the area since June 4 as a part of a study. Due to agitation by people, there was production loss of 88 MT of crude oil and 0.14 million metric standard cubic meters (MMSCM) of natural gas as on Thursday, the company said adding that operations were disrupted in 13 oil wells and one gas well.

Australia introduces increased fines for pollution related incidents - Ship owners, charterers, masters, operators need to be aware of increased liabilities for fines being introduced in Australia, in addition to any pollution clean-up costs and damage claims. As reported by law firm HWL Ebsworth, with effect from 1 July 2020, the majority of Australian States (and the Northern Territory) have increased their fines for pollution related incidents. The State and Territory legislation and penalties apply to oil spills that are within, or migrate to within, 3 nautical miles of the coast. Beyond 3 nautical miles the Commonwealth legislation will apply. Members are reminded that the discharge of oil in Commonwealth, State or Territory waters is a strict liability offence for owners and masters and potentially crew members too, plus those involved in the operation and maintenance of the ship. The Commonwealth legislation expressly also includes charterers in the list of those strictly liable. The maximum fine for an oil spill in Commonwealth waters will now increase to AUS$4.44 million for a master and AUS$22.2 million for a corporate owner or charterer. It is worth noting that the fines are not limited to oil or bunker spills and could also apply to other situations, for example where containers have been lost overboard. Both AMSA and the relevant State regulators and port authorities continue to police this policy area strictly. Members are advised to take extra care when trading in Australia. Should a spill or incident occur, owners should take immediate steps to notify the relevant authorities. Steps should also be taken to mitigate the physical damage and manage the resulting liabilities and penalties with care.  

Asian Buyers Turn to U.S. Oil Amid Uncertain Flows From OPEC -  As the OPEC+ alliance sticks to its guns in trying to curb oil output to shore up prices, Asian buyers are increasingly looking to the U.S. for a cheaper source of supply.Refiners in the top crude-importing region have been forced to accept big reductions in their regular contracted volumes from producers includingSaudi Arabia and Iraq in the past couple of months. They’ve also been taken aback by sharp swings in official selling prices.The lower volumes and pricing uncertainty is encouraging Asian processors to take a closer look at American crudes, particularly as freight rates across the Pacific have fallen over the last couple of months. Staff at four Asian processors who buy and sell crude said they were considering purchasing U.S. oil, declining to be named because the information is confidential. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members have long-standing reputations as reliable suppliers to Asia, but the price war followed quickly by massive output cuts have unsettled buyers in the region. While these traditional suppliers are unlikely to be overtaken by the U.S. anytime soon, the instability has created an opening for American producers.“It’s difficult for refiners to cope with such volatility,” said John Driscoll, chief strategist at JTD Energy Services Pte in Singapore. “On the other hand, U.S. oil is looking more attractive with lower prices and freight rates. The volume of U.S. oil flowing to Asia is already rising. About 49 million barrels are scheduled to arrive next month, compared with 27 million barrels each in May and June, figures from Vortexa Ltd. show. Deeper discounts for American crude relative to other benchmark crudes such as Brent are spurring interest from China, said Serena Huang, a senior analyst at the market analytics firm.As the OPEC+ alliance sticks to its guns in trying to curb oil output to shore up prices, Asian buyers are increasingly looking to the U.S. for a cheaper source of supply.Refiners in the top crude-importing region have been forced to accept big reductions in their regular contracted volumes from producers includingSaudi Arabia and Iraq in the past couple of months. They’ve also been taken aback by sharp swings in official selling prices. The lower volumes and pricing uncertainty is encouraging Asian processors to take a closer look at American crudes, particularly as freight rates across the Pacific have fallen over the last couple of months. Staff at four Asian processors who buy and sell crude said they were considering purchasing U.S. oil, declining to be named because the information is confidential. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members have long-standing reputations as reliable suppliers to Asia, but the price war followed quickly by massive output cuts have unsettled buyers in the region. While these traditional suppliers are unlikely to be overtaken by the U.S. anytime soon, the instability has created an opening for American producers.

China hits brakes on crude imports after buying frenzy  (Reuters) - China will press the brakes on crude imports in the third quarter, after record purchases in recent months, as higher oil prices hurt demand and refiners worry about a second virus outbreak, analysts and trade sources said. China imported a record 11.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude in May, with volumes set to rise in June and July, as cheap crude purchased during an oil price slump in April arrives in the country. But the world's top crude importer is expected to receive around 0.8-1.3 million bpd less crude from abroad in August and September than it did in May, analysts forecast. With Brent LCOc1 prices back above $40 a barrel and a new wave of coronavirus cases raising fears a nascent recovery could be derailed, traders say independent refineries - which account for a fifth of China's crude imports - are already reducing the amount of crude oil they are buying. Chinese oil imports soared as Brent crude prices fell to their lowest since 1999, dipping below $20 a barrel. Refiners cashed in, snapping up cheap crude and selling diesel and gasoline at higher retail prices secured by the government. Shipping data from Refinitiv Eikon showed over 50 tankers queued around the oil refining hub of Shandong province on June 18 - double the 22 vessels recorded a month earlier. But energy consultancies FGE, SIA Energy and Rystad Energy all expect imports to ease off in the third quarter from the second quarter, even as the country has added new refining capacity, underpinning crude demand.

Abandoned freighter off Yemen could dump 1 million barrels - The abandoned freighter FSO Safer has been sitting off the coast of Yemen for five years, with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil in its hull. The United Nations and others monitoring the ship says it's a ticking time bomb that could cause an environmental disaster in the Red Sea and on nearby shorelines worse than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Meanwhile, the Safer and its fate have been caught up for years in a civil war and political wrangling that have thrown Yemen into a humanitarian crisis. "The disaster could happen at any second," said an unnamed senior official at the state-owned company in charge of the ship, according to the Associated Press. He issued a plea for international help, but Houthi rebels who control the area have denied access to inspectors who could assess the damage and perhaps repair or move the ship. "Rescue Yemen from a terrible, imminent disaster that will add to Yemen’s burdens for tens of years and deprive thousands from their source of living, and kill marine life in the Red Sea," the official said. (MORE: Lightning Kills at Least 83 in India) Photos taken last year show the tanker partially submerged and listing to one side. Seawater is leaking into the engine compartment, increasing the risk of sinking, and rust has covered parts of the tanker, according to documents obtained by the AP. Protections in place to help contain flammable gases have deteriorated. There are also rumors that explosive devices have been planted in the waters around the ship but no one knows if that's true, according to I.R. Consilium, a consulting firm that's been monitoring the Safer. The damage, lack of access and continued decline have put the ship in danger of rupture or explosion. Joanna Wronecka, Poland's ambassador to the United Nations, said at a U.N. Security Council meeting in November that could lead to an "unprecedented environmental and humanitarian catastrophe in the Red Sea." Among the impacts could be contaminated drinking water for millions of people who rely on coastal desalinization plants, an analysis by I.R. Consilium found. A spill could also disrupt shipping lanes in the Red Sea, a crucial route for oil and other goods, and cause damage to marine life. The tanker was being used as a floating storage facility when the rebels took over in 2015, according to the AP report. It measures 118 feet long and has 34 storage tanks. The state-owned oil company can no longer afford to take care of it, although they recently sent a dive team to seal holes in the ship where seawater was leaking in.

In 2020's biggest energy deal, six firms strike $20 billion agreement with Abu Dhabi state oil giant - A consortium of six global investors has entered into a $20.7 billion agreement with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), the state-owned oil company said Tuesday. As part of the agreement, the group will invest $10.1 billion to acquire a 49% stake in a newly-formed subsidiary, ADNOC Gas Pipeline Assets, with lease rights to 38 pipelines. ADNOC will hold the majority stake of 51% and will retain ownership of the pipelines. It will also manage operations and remain responsible for capital expenditure. It is the single-largest energy infrastructure investment in the region, and the largest in the world in 2020, according to Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. It is also part of the UAE national oil company's strategy to attract foreign capital and maximize the value of its assets. The six companies involved are Global Infrastructure Partners, Brookfield Asset Management, Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC, Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board, NH Investment & Securities and Snam. "We are excited to have completed this deal, and once again partner with some of the word's leading infrastructure and institutional investors," said Sultan al-Jaber, chief executive officer of ADNOC Group and UAE's minister of state. "It is in fact a huge achievement, particularly given the current challenging economic climate and business environment, and it is, if anything, a testament to Abu Dhabi and the UAE's position as a trusted, reliable and credible investment destination," he told CNBC's Hadley Gamble. Al-Jaber said the deal would allow ADNOC to reinvest responsibly and finance activities that produce higher returns.

Oil edges up on tighter supply, but demand concerns check gains - Oil prices nudged higher on Monday on tighter supplies from major producers, but concerns that a record rise in global coronavirus cases could curb a recovery in fuel demand checked gains. Brent crude rose 9 cents, or 0.2%, to $42.28 a barrel by 0009 GMT, while U.S. crude was at $39.76 a barrel, up 1 cent. Both contracts rose about 9% last week and Brent crude futures flipped into backwardation, where oil for immediate delivery costs more than supply later, usually an indication of tightening supply. In the United States and Canada, the number of operating oil and natural gas rigs fell to a record low even as higher oil prices prompt some producers to start drilling again. Iraq and Kazakhstan pledged to comply better with oil production cuts during an OPEC+ panel on Thursday. However, the OPEC+ group, consisting of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia, has yet to decide whether to extend a record supply cut of 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) for a fourth month in August. Oil prices have also been supported by a recovery in fuel demand globally following a collapse in April-May during coronavirus shutdowns as countries across the world resume economic activities. Still, the World Health Organization reported a record jump in global coronavirus cases on Sunday, with the biggest increase seen in north and south America. Spikes in coronavirus infections in parts of the world such as Beijing and Australia's second-most populous state Victoria have prompted authorities to reimpose movement restrictions to curb the spread. "The potential economic damage of a new round of COVID-19 countermeasures will likely contain any investor enthusiasm," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Oil prices seesaw after Navarro walks back U.S.-China trade deal comment Oil flat, near highest since March, after Trump assurance on China trade - Oil prices were little changed on Tuesday, hovering near their highest levels since early March after U.S. President Donald Trump soothed jangled nerves over U.S.-China trade. Prices rose a day after Trump wrote in a tweet late Monday that the trade agreement was "fully intact." Markets had been unsettled by surprise comments from White House trade adviser Peter Navarro who said the hard-won deal with China was "over". "Oil prices need a healthy relationship between the U.S. and China," said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York. He also noted that crude prices pared gains when traders were unimpressed by a U.S. purchasing managers report. Brent futures were up 11 cents, or 0.3%, to $43.19 a barrel. Brent was on track for its second straight daily close at the highest level since prices collapsed on March 6 after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allied producers including Russia, failed to agree on production cuts. West Texas Intermediate crude rose 5 cents, or 0.1%, to $40.78. U.S. crude could close its highest since March 6 for a third straight session. Prices pared early gains after the U.S. Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) showed the country's rebound from coronavirus depressed levels was not as sharp as in Europe. "Looking at the strength of the physical market and recovering global oil demand, we think that the crude oil price is still on its way higher," Nordic bank SEB said in a note. Bank of America (BofA) Global Research has lifted its oil price forecast for this year. It now expects Brent crude to average $43.70 a barrel in 2020, up from a previous estimate of $37.

WTI Tumbles Below $39 On Crude Build, Rebound In Production  - WTI prices fell back below $40 this morning following a surprisingly large crude build reported by API overnight., as fears of a second-wave of COVID-19 (and perhaps lockdowns) stymie hopes for a rebound in demand amid record inventories.While the “focus lies on the inventory data,” there’s also persistent anxiety around the growth of the pandemic, said Hans van Cleef, senior energy economist at ABN Amro.“Hopes for a rise in demand are counterbalanced by fears regarding new Covid-19 spread.”As Bloomberg notes, anxiety over trade also weighed on the market, with the U.S. mulling new tariffs on $3.1 billion of exports from France, Germany, Spain and the U.K., adding to an arsenal of measures against the European Union that could spiral into a wider transatlantic trade fight later this summer. DOE:

  • Crude +1.44mm (+1.5mm exp, Platts -100k exp, BBG WHIS -595k exp)
  • Cushing -991k
  • Gasoline -1.673mm (-1.9mm exp)
  • Distillates +249k (+100k exp)

Official EIA data confirmed API's reported build in crude stocks last week, and the smallest draw at Cushing since May. The build in distillates also pours cold water in any pick up in jet fuel or diesel (trucking) demand.  Graphs Source: Bloomberg. Gasoline demand is also closely-watched as an indicator of the speed of recovery in the economy, and jet-fuel demand remains low... US Crude production tumbled the prior week due to storm Cristobal shut-ins, and that drop was erased last week, back up to 11.0mm b/d...WTI briefly traded back above $40 overnight but was hovering around $39.50 ahead of the DOE print and tumbled to the lows of the day after the data...

Oil drops nearly 6% on record U.S. crude inventories, pandemic resurgence fears -Oil prices fell nearly 6% on Wednesday after U.S. crude storage hit another record and coronavirus cases rebound in countries like Germany and surge in heavily populated areas of the United States. Mounting coronavirus cases in the United States, which had its second-largest rise in new infections since the crisis began, China, Latin America and India have unnerved investors and pressured oil prices. "These are all important oil demand centers. A second wave of infections and lockdowns will derail the global economic recovery and with it, oil demand and prices," said Stephen Brennock of broker PVM. Brent crude was down $2.29, or 5.5%, to $40.29 a barrel, a day after hitting its highest levels since early March, just before the pandemic and Saudi-Russia price war hit the markets. West Texas Intermediate crude settled $2.36, or 5.85%, lower at $38.01 per barrel. U.S. crude oil inventories swelled last week by 1.4 million barrels, exceeding analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 299,000-barrel rise, the Energy Information Administration said, citing rising production. That marked the third straight record for crude in U.S. storage. "The thing I was most concerned about was the rebound in domestic production and it was up - as a standalone it was capable of doing some damage to the market," said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho. The International Monetary Fund said the coronavirus is causing wider and deeper damage to economic activity than first thought, and it slashed its 2020 global output forecasts further. India's oil imports in May hit the lowest since October 2011 as refiners with brimming crude inventories cut purchases. China, the world's top crude importer, is also expected to slow imports in the third quarter, after record purchases in recent months.

Oil Prices Fall Back Below $40 On New COVID Fears - The two-month oil rally has stalled, with WTI falling back to $38 per barrel. The resurgence of Covid-19 across the U.S. has halted the market’s positive momentum. In many ways, the rally was already overdone.  Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to shut down on Friday as the spread of the coronavirus continues to accelerate. With several states – and the U.S. as a whole – setting new daily records for positive cases, fuel demand faces enormous downside risk in the weeks ahead. For instance, Texas gasoline demand on June 24 was 17.8 percent lower than on June 17.  California regulators approved a new rule requiring more than half of all trucks sold to be zero-emissions by 2035, with incremental targets beginning in 2024. The rule is estimated to lower the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 17 million metric tons, and save truck operators $6 billion on fuel costs. It is also expected to spur manufacturing for electric heavy-duty trucks.  A federal judge ordered Enbridge totemporarily shut down the aging Line 5 pipeline after an anchor support of the pipeline recently shifted. The judge will hold a hearing on Tuesday to weigh the state of Michigan’s request to keep the pipeline closed indefinitely. The pipeline carries 540,000 bpd of light crude and natural gas liquids from Alberta through Wisconsin, Michigan and then back into Canada at the oil hub of Sarnia, Ontario.  Washington DC and Minnesota each announced separate lawsuits against the oil industry this week. The DC attorney general sued ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Chevron over its decades-long campaign of climate disinformation. A day earlier, Minnesota’s attorney general filed a similar lawsuit against Exxon, Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute. Unlike past cases, which sought damages for the company’s role in fueling climate change, these cases hinge on consumer protection violations.  Occidental Petroleum said it would write down $9 billion, or more than 10 percent of the company’s assets.. Natural gas prices fell below $1.50/MMBtu this week, the lowest level since the 1990s.  Poor refining margins throw up a red flag to the oil rally. With demand still weak enough to squeeze margins, refiners may purchase less crude oil, sapping the momentum for inventory drawdowns.

 Oil prices hold ground after sharp retreat on virus fears - Oil prices rose about 2% in a volatile session on Thursday, buoyed by signs of a marginal improvement in the U.S. economy and a tepid rise in fuel demand, but price gains were limited by rising cases of COVID-19 in some U.S. states. Brent crude rose 74 cents, or 1.8%, to $41.05, after trading as low as $39.47. The global benchmark dropped 5.4% on Wednesday. West Texas Intermediate crude settled 71 cents, or 1.87%, higher at $38.72 per barrel. Road traffic in some of the world's major cities in June had returned to 2019 levels, data provided to Reuters by location technology company TomTom showed. Oil prices fell early, then found support as data showed fewer Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week and orders for key capital goods rebounded in May. Still, the decline in jobless claims was less than analysts expected and other data supported expectations that second-quarter GDP could shrink at as much as a 40% annualized rate. To kick-start the world economy devastated by coronavirus, central banks have unleashed trillions of dollars in stimulus. "Part of the rebound here is the idea that all the stimulus measures that central banks and the world's governments are pumping into the economy is going to have a positive impact on economic activity and that it will be supportive to demand," said Gene McGillian, vice president of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. "The only roadblock is if the number of COVID-19 cases picks up and we have to reimpose shelter in place measures but I don't think we can conclude that it's in the cards yet."

Oil Prices Climb as U.S. Economic Data Lends Support (Reuters) - Oil prices rose about 2% in a volatile session on Thursday, buoyed by signs of a marginal improvement in the U.S. economy and a tepid rise in fuel demand, but price gains were limited by rising cases of COVID-19 in some U.S. states. Brent crude rose 74 cents, or 1.8%, to settle at $41.05 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude ended the session up 71 cents, or 1.9%, at $38.72. Road traffic in some of the world's major cities in June had returned to 2019 levels, data provided to Reuters by location technology company TomTom showed. Oil prices fell early, then found support as data showed fewer Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week and orders for key capital goods rebounded in May. Still, the decline in jobless claims was less than analysts expected and other data supported expectations that second-quarter GDP could shrink at as much as a 40% annualized rate. To kick-start the world economy devastated by coronavirus, central banks have unleashed trillions of dollars in stimulus. "Part of the rebound here is the idea that all the stimulus measures that central banks and the world's governments are pumping into the economy is going to have a positive impact on economic activity and that it will be supportive to demand," said Gene McGillian, vice president of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. "The only roadblock is if the number of COVID-19 cases picks up and we have to reimpose shelter in place measures but I don't think we can conclude that it's in the cards yet."

Oil futures decline, with U.S. prices down over 3% for the week as spread of coronavirus looks to hurt demand recovery - Oil futures declined on Friday, as a record rise in U.S. coronavirus cases and growing infections in parts of the world pointed to long-term challenges for a recovery in crude-oil demand, pulling U.S. prices down by more than 3% for the week. “The oil demand recovery story was dealt a blow this week after the U.S. registered the biggest-ever jump in coronavirus cases, suggesting many states may have to visit regional lockdowns soon,” wrote Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a Friday research note.U.S. states, including Arizona, Texas, South Carolina and Florida, saw confirmed cases rise by more than 30% over the past week, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.West Texas Intermediate crude for August CLQ20, -0.85% fell 23 cents, or 0.6%, to settle at $38.49 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, following a 1.9% gain on Thursday. Global benchmark Brent oil for August delivery BRNQ20, -0.85% shed 3 cents, or 0.07%, to end at $41.02 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, after a 1.8% advance in the previous session. For the week, WTI saw a 3.4% decline, while Brent lost 2.8%, based on the most-active contract settlements last Friday, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Oil dips on rise in coronavirus cases, posts second negative week in three - Oil prices dipped on Friday, erasing earlier gains, as new coronavirus cases spiked in the United States and China, and on growing concerns about rising U.S. output ticking up while crude stockpiles sat at record highs. Brent crude futures were 14 cents lower at $40.9. West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 23 cents, or 0.6% to settle at $38.49 per barrel. Brent was on track for a weekly decline of 3.1% and U.S. crude was headed for a weekly drop of 3.6%, after record U.S. crude inventory data dragged prices down on Wednesday. Earlier gains, supported by optimism over rising road traffic boosting fuel demand, were erased in early U.S. trading on fears that spiking COVID-19 infections in large gasoline-consuming U.S. states could stall the demand recovery. Cases have risen sharply in California, Texas and Florida, the three most populous U.S. states. Friday morning, Texas Governor Greg Abbott reversed the state's reopening plan, ordering most bars to close due to the surge in cases. That could undermine the steady increase in refining output, with U.S. refiners now operating at nearly 75% of their capacity, per official government data. "Employers are delaying the return of their employees back to the office and that will impact the return of gasoline demand," said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. The global economic outlook has also worsened or at best stayed about the same in the past month, a majority of economists polled by Reuters said, and the recession under way is expected to be deeper than earlier predicted. A survey of executives in the top U.S. oil and gas producing region by the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank found more than half of executives who cut production expect to resume some output by the end of July. U.S. and Canadian energy firms cut the number of oil and natural gas rigs operating to a record low again this week, according to data from Baker Hughes.

Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia bars international pilgrims for Hajj - Saudi Arabia has banned international visitors from making the Islamic pilgrimage, or Hajj, this year in a bid to control coronavirus. Only a very limited number of people currently living in the kingdom may take part, an announcement on state media says. An estimated two million people would otherwise have visited Mecca and Medina this summer for the annual gathering. There had been fears the Hajj might be cancelled altogether. In normal times the pilgrimage is one of the most significant moments in the Muslim religious calendar. But only citizens from countries around the world who are already resident in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to attend this year. The authorities say this is the only way they will be able to make plans for social distancing that will keep people safe. Saudi Arabia has recorded 161,005 cases of infection and 1,307 deaths. It only lifted a nationwide lockdown at the weekend. Making the pilgrimage at least once is one of the Five Pillars of Islam - the five obligations that every Muslim, who is in good health and can afford it, must satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life, according to Islam. Pilgrims gather in Mecca to stand before the structure known as the Kaaba, praising Allah (God) together. They perform other acts of worship too, renewing their sense of purpose in the world.

 Treasury sanctions Iranian ship captains after gasoline delivery to Venezuela - — The Treasury Department on Wednesday slapped fresh sanctions on five Iranian ship captains who delivered gasoline to Venezuela, whose once-thriving oil industry has suffered a breakdown. The Iranian shipping sector is a frequent target of the Trump administration for its financial support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's regime. Earlier this week, five Iranian tankers brought approximately 1.5 million barrels to the gas-starved country, which was once a prominent fuel exporter. The move was likely to anger Washington as the two OPEC nations sidestep U.S. sanctions. "The Treasury Department will target anyone who supports Iranian attempts to evade United States sanctions and who further enables their destabilizing behavior around the world," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wrote in a statement. "The Iranian regime's support to the authoritarian and corrupt regime in Venezuela is unacceptable, and the administration will continue to use its authorities to disrupt it." The five Iranian captains' designated work for Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and National Iranian Tanker Co. and, over the past month, have captained vessels identified as blocked property. "Mariners who do business with Iran and Venezuela will face consequences from the United States of America," Mike Pompeo, the nation's top diplomat, said Wednesday at the State Department. "The Maduro regime has mismanaged Venezuela's abundant natural resources to the point that it must import gasoline from Iran, and Maduro's claims of equal and fair gasoline distribution are fooling no one," he added. Gasoline is scarce in Venezuela due to a near-complete breakdown of the OPEC nation's 1.3 million barrel-per-day refining network. Oil, the country's biggest export, has plummeted more than 60% since Maduro succeeded dictator Hugo Chavez as Venezuela's president in 2013.

Sisi's 'Declaration Of War' Puts Egypt & Turkey On War Footing Over Libya --Egypt and Turkey have long been on opposite sides of the raging battle for the fate of Libya, with Turkey providing major military support and backing for the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, and with Egypt backing Gen. Khalifa Haftar.The situation escalated over the weekend, amid a pullback of pro-Haftar forces from Tripoli after being defeated in the bid for the capital, when Egypt's President Sisi announced from an airbase near the Libyan border that the Egyptian Army stands ready to intervene in Libya on behalf of Haftar. Sisi declared that if GNA forces attempt to enter Haftar-controlled Sirte, pushing deeper into central Libya, this would be a 'red line' for Egypt, forcing it's intervention.  Crucially both Tripoli and its main ally Turkey on Sunday condemned what they called Sisi's "declaration of war". Turkish state media recorded the GNA statement as follows: "This is a hostile act, direct interference, and amounts to a declaration of war" - in condemnation of Sisi's statements. It added that for the Libyan state, "interference in its internal affairs, attacks on its sovereignty, whether by declarations... like those of the Egyptian president or by support for putschists, militias, and mercenaries, is unacceptable."The heated rhetoric, and with Egypt potentially beefing up forces and military hardware along its border with Libya, has some regional sources saying that Turkey and Egypt are headed for direct war in a rapidly intensifying situation."Now Egypt’s president is signaling possible red lines in Libya," The Jerusalem Post writes. "This line could keep the Turkish-backed GNA from Sirte and a strategic airfield at Jufra. The country would be split down the middle. Egypt has a massive army, but it is also an army mostly untested on foreign battlefields."Tripoli is now calling on the international community, especially the UN, to step in should Egypt's army get involved.

France backs Egypt’s threat to intervene against Turkey in Libyan war - French President Emmanuel Macron’s support for Egypt’s threat to intervene militarily against the Italian-backed Turkish intervention in Libya marks a major escalation of the nine-year imperialist carve-up of Libya launched by the 2011 NATO war. On June 21, Egypt’s bloodstained dictator, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, threatened to intervene in Libya to defend warlord Khalifa Haftar’s forces against the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Speaking while inspecting troops at a military base near the Libyan border, he warned that a GNA capture of Sirte, a strategic town and gateway to Libya’s oil industry, would be a “red line.” “Any direct intervention from the Egyptian state has now acquired international legitimacy,” Sisi said. He told Egyptian air force pilots and special forces units: “Be prepared to carry out any mission, here inside our borders—or if necessary, outside our borders.” Echoing the rhetoric he used to justify a 2013 coup against Islamist President Mohamed Mursi and the savage repression of a two-year revolutionary upsurge of the working class in Egypt, Sisi said Egypt would intervene in Libya in self-defense against “direct threats” from “terrorist militias and mercenaries.” He added: “If the Libyan people … asked us to intervene, this would be a signal to the world that Egypt and Libya are one country, one interest.” The target, Egyptian officials made clear, is the Turkish intervention in Libya, launched in January, to support the UN-recognized GNA against Haftar’s forces. “The aim is deterrence: Egypt does not want a single Turk to cross the line into eastern Libya,” Ziad Akl of Egypt’s Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies told London’s Financial Times. The French government, which together with Russia, the UAE and Egypt has backed Haftar in Libya, promptly intervened to declare its support for Cairo in the war. Speaking alongside Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed at the Elysée presidential palace in Paris, Macron accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government of “playing a dangerous game in Libya.” This comes shortly after a dangerous confrontation between French and Turkish warships in the Mediterranean.

 China dog meat festival goes ahead but virus takes a toll - (AFP) - Volunteers at a Beijing dog shelter hand out treats to dozens of rescued animals which had been bound for a controversial dog meat festival under way this week in southern China. The annual event in Yulin city always provokes outrage from animal rights activists, but this year they hope the coronavirus epidemic will be the death knell of a tradition they see as cruel. It is "inhumane and barbaric", said Jeffrey Beri, founder of the No Dogs Left Behind organisation, which keeps around 200 canines in large wire enclosures on the outskirts of the Chinese capital and re-homes them. Activists save hundreds of dogs every year by raiding slaughterhouses and intercepting trucks. They say traders steal pets and strays and transport them long distances, mostly to the country's south. "You feel a kind of achievement because you've changed some dog's life," said Ling, who volunteers at the centre. Dog meat is traditionally believed to be good for the health in certain parts of China, but the habit has been in steady decline as more and more affluent urban dwellers choose to keep the animals as pets. The COVID-19 outbreak appears to have further reduced the appetite for dog meat after the disease was linked to a market in the central city of Wuhan selling live animals for food. Amid growing concerns about hygiene, China fast-tracked laws banning the consumption and trade of wildlife. While the law does not apply to dog meat, Shenzhen and Zhuhai -- southern cities not far from Yulin -- banned the consumption of dogs in April, becoming the first cities in China to do so. And last month the agriculture ministry reclassified dogs as companion animals, not livestock, though it did not explicitly prohibit eating them.

Kenya: 3 people killed in clash with police over face masks - A witness says three people were killed in a small town in Kenya’s Rift Valley during a confrontation between police and residents over the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Police confirmed the deaths but gave a different account. Human rights activists for weeks have protested alleged killings by Kenyan police officers while enforcing virus-related restrictions. They also accuse officers of using the measures to extort bribes. Kenneth Kaunda told The Associated Press that violent protests erupted in Lessos on Thursday after residents tried to prevent police officers from taking a motorcycle taxi rider to the station for not wearing a mask. Kenya has made it compulsory to wear face masks in public and failure to comply brings a $200 fine, a hefty fee for many. Kaunda says residents were tired of police shaking down people for not wearing masks. He asserted that a policeman who had arrested the driver opened fire at the angry crowd, killing a local cobbler. “He shot at least five times into the crowd,” said Kaunda, a stone mason. Angered by the cobbler’s death, residents set fire to the house of the local police chief and attacked a police station with stones. In the chaos two other people were shot dead, Kaunda said. Police said something else sparked the incident.

Global Markets Face Reckoning With Risks Coming True All at Once - Markets may be headed for a wake-up call as scenarios that investors brushed aside to fuel a global rally move closer to reality. These include seeing the rate of Covid-19 infections pick up in nations that have eased lockdowns, growing tension between the U.S. and China and corporate finances faltering. The number of defaults in China’s dollar bond market is climbing and second-quarter earnings are just around the corner. “I would add the growing realization that the official stimulus pipeline that has been feeding the risk rally is drying up,” said Valentin Marinov, head of Group-of-10, foreign-currency strategy at Credit Agricole. “It’s a matter of critical mass of bad news that could tip the rally over and investors turn defensive again.” The brief but sudden drop in stocks in Asian trading on Tuesday after White House adviser Peter Navarro sowed confusion over the U.S.-China trade deal is evidence that, despite the trillions of dollars in stimulus being pumped into global markets, risk sentiment may be fragile. Rabobank’s Michael Every described the jolt as a “a taste of things to come.” “It’s concerning how few tail risks are priced stemming from a second wave, the U.S. presidential election and a hard Brexit,” said Jordan Rochester, a Group-of-10 currency strategist at Nomura International Plc in London. Before Tuesday’s knee-jerk reaction in markets, stock and currency volatility had fallen to levels last seen before the virus, and the Japanese yen -- a globally recognized haven -- dropped below its five-year average, having underperformed almost all its Group-of-10 peers this quarter. The gap between the Stoxx Europe 600 index and profit forecasts for its members is near the widest on record. Markets are on tenterhooks for second-quarter results, which will indicate how badly lockdowns have hurt companies. And bears have been retreating from the British pound, even as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms.

How the Coronavirus Will Reshape World Trade – WSJ -When the global economy finally gets beyond the pandemic, expect it to be less globalized than before.Governments, including many longtime advocates of global trade, are using the crisis to erect barriers to commerce and bring manufacturing home. Japan now pays companies to relocate factories from China. French President Emmanuel Macron pledges “full independence” in crucial medical supplies by year-end. In Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike back new “Buy American” requirements for government health spending.From semiconductor makers to surgical-gown producers, companies are reassessing far-flung, multinational production networks that have proven vulnerable to disruption.“What the pandemic has done is highlight some of the ways that globalization may have gone a bit too far,” said Peter Anderson, vice president of supply chain and manufacturing for Indiana-based engine maker Cummins Inc., which has 125 factories in 27 countries. A decade of disease, natural disasters and trade wars has shown how companies have been “putting a huge amount of risk in global supply chains,” he said.Those disruptions, he said, are prompting Cummins to accelerate plans to make its production systems less global and to concentrate manufacturing closer to where the final goods get sold.In the post-pandemic world, more economic activity will be designated vital to national security, and thus deemed to require self-sufficiency. If governments wall off segments of their economies, costs could rise and growth could slow. Richer economies may grow more slowly while newly industrializing one—winners in recent years—may fall back. The World Bank this month warned of lasting harm to low-income countries from “prolonged damage to global supply chains, global trade and financial flows, and global collaboration.”“Global capitalism will have to be rebalanced,” said Pascal Lamy, former director-general of the World Trade Organization and now European chairman of consulting firm Brunswick Group. “That pre-Covid balance between efficiency and resilience will have to tilt to the side of resilience.”Not all the pandemic responses have been inward-looking. A coalition of smaller nations, led by Singapore and New Zealand, is promoting a tariff-cutting pact to expand trade in medical products, saying that international cooperation is the most efficient way to boost scarce health supplies. A videoconferencing boom is accelerating a move toward online work and remote services, such as telemedicine, that could globalize sectors that have long been primarily domestic.By forcing a sudden expansion of online work, the pandemic has severed more jobs from physical locations. “It’s not as simple as saying globalization is over,” said Susan Lund, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute. “Globalization will be reshaped.”

WTO Says 'Historic' World Trade Plunge Could Have Been Worse, Cushioned By Government Response -- The World Trade Organization (WTO) outlines, in a new report, that "rapid government responses helped temper the contraction" in the world trade and likely thwarted the worst-case scenario projected in April.WTO is referring to massive fiscal stimulus deployed by governments, and the balance sheet of the G-6 central banks that has exploded, with the Fed's total asset expected to double in 2020 amid an avalanche of money printing that has helped arrest the collapse in world trade.  The Geneva-based organization said the volume of merchandise trade contracted 3% YoY in the first quarter and plunged 18.5% in the second. WTO's previous outlook in April set out two growth models: an optimistic scenario in which world trade in 2020 would contract by 13%, and a pessimistic scenario in which trade would drop by 32%. As things currently stand, the report said, "trade would only need to grow by 2.5% per quarter for the remainder of the year to meet the optimistic projection. However, looking ahead to 2021, adverse developments, including a second wave of COVID‑19 outbreaks, weaker than expected economic growth, or widespread recourse to trade restrictions, could see trade expansion fall short of earlier projections." "The fall in trade we are now seeing is historically large – in fact, it would be the steepest on record. But there is an important silver lining here: it could have been much worse," said Director‑General Roberto Azevedo. "Policy decisions have been critical in softening the ongoing blow to output and trade, and they will continue to play an important role in determining the pace of economic recovery. For output and trade to rebound strongly in 2021, fiscal, monetary, and trade policies will all need to keep pulling in the same direction," said Azevedo.

 ECB - An Update On The German Constitutional Court’s Ruling Over the past week, several signals from Germany have tended to indicate an easing of tension between the German Federal Constitutional Court (GFCC) and the ECB. The GFCC has until early August to decide whether or not the Bundesbank should keep participating to the ECB's bond-buying program. Overall, we continue to believe tensions will continue de-escalating and a political crisis resulting from the Bundesbank being forbidden to repurchase assets is unlikely to happen. However, we are fully aware that further legal cases will be launched in Germany - all of them doomed to fail, but it will fuel ongoing noise. We are halfway through the process started on May 5 when the GFCC ruled that the 2015 bond-buying program (Public Sector Purchase Programme - PSPP) by the ECB would be illegal under German law unless the ECB can provide adequate justification by early August. Over the past weeks several developments tend to indicate that a fair solution to the dispute will be found, thus avoiding a political crisis that could endanger the ECB’s ability to face the impact of the crisis.First, Bundesbank President Weidmann expressed confidence that the ECB will be able to demonstrate the proportionality of the PSPP and that the ECB may produce such an assessment as early as this week. Though it is not clear, Weidmann was perhaps referring to the release of the ECB account of June 3-4 meeting on Thursday that is likely to stress repeatedly proportionality of policy actions by members of the Governing Council. Yesterday, he reiterated that PEPP should be flexible, but not unbound, and that capital key remains a very useful benchmark to guide the ECB’s action. It shows that he has clearly softened its tone over the past few weeks and wants to serve as an intermediary between the ECB and the GFCC to appease tensions.Second, two prominent GFCC judges (Hubert, who drafted the ruling requesting further clarification from the ECB, and Wallrabeinstein, who is the new president, replacing the controversial president Voßkuhle) suggested that a solution might be found following elements of responses provided by Lagarde and that a formal new ECB Governing Council decision might not be necessary to satisfy the judges. These are particularly positive signals that tend to corroborate the idea that Europe might avoid a political crisis caused by few politicized judges at the worst possible time – when everyone is normally on holiday and in the middle of the economic crisis.However, the debate about the legality of QE is not going to disappear anytime soon. The right-wing AfD party has unsurprisingly challenged the ECB by suing the German government and the Bundesbank over the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP), arguing it is violating the prohibition of monetary financing. However, at the moment of writing, it seems that the AfD is not asking the GFCC to rule about PEPP – which means it does not create a real threat against the ongoing bond-buying program that is desperately needed to avoid an increase in interest rates on the sovereign bond market. We continue to expect that further legal cases will be launched in Germany in the coming months and years against the EBC’s monetary policy measures, reflecting a deep split, which is partially generational, on QE in German public opinion but that is also visible in other countries, like in the United States. In that sense, it is a much broader issue than we commonly think. That being said, we believe that legal cases that might be launched in the future in Germany are all doomed to fail and should not represent a real threat to QE. It will mostly fuel, from time to time, ongoing noise against the central bank.

IMF Downgrades Already-Glum Economic Outlook Due to Coronavirus Crisis – WSJ -- Economists at the International Monetary Fund now say the global economy will contract even more sharply than they expected in estimates released in April, which called for the steepest recession since the Great Depression.The IMF said on Wednesday the global economy will shrink 4.9% this year, compared with its April estimate of 3%. The international lending institution downgraded its 2020 forecast for all major economies, citing economic data that was even grimmer than expected in April.Most countries are beginning to emerge from the lockdowns imposed around much of the world beginning in March to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, and in many cases there areencouraging signs that large numbers of workers are returning to work and economic activity is stabilizing or even picking up.But in sum, the world has made less progress than expected in April in terms of combating the pandemic and salvaging businesses, and so the forecasts have deteriorated.“The steep decline in activity comes with a catastrophic hit to the global labor market,” the IMF said in an update to its flagship World Economic Outlook report that analyzes the economic health of the IMF’s 189 member countries. The IMF said global employment loss in the second quarter of 2020 could be equivalent to losing 300 million full-time jobs.

IMF Projects Deeper Global Recession on Growing Virus Threat - The International Monetary Fund downgraded its outlook for the coronavirus-ravaged world economy, projecting a significantly deeper recession and slower recovery than it anticipated just two months ago. The fund said Wednesday it now expects global gross domestic product to shrink 4.9% this year, more than the 3% predicted in April. For 2021, the fund sees growth of 5.4%, down from 5.8%.Having already warned of the biggest slump since the Great Depression, the IMF said its increased pessimism reflected scarring from a larger-than-anticipated supply shock during the earlier lockdown, in addition to the continued hit to demand from social distancing and other safety measures. For nations struggling to control the virus spread, a longer lockdown also will take a toll on growth, the IMF said.IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said that the cumulative loss for the world economy this year and next as a result of the recession is expected to reach $12.5 trillion.“A high degree of uncertainty surrounds this forecast with both upside and downside risks,” Gopinath said in a virtual press conference for the update to the World Economic Outlook. “On the upside, better news on vaccines and treatments and further policy support could trigger a faster recovery. On the downside, further waves of infections can reverse increased mobility in spending and rapidly tighten financial conditions, triggering debt distress.” The current downturn compares with a loss of about 10% of global economic output in the 1930s, Gopinath said.The IMF warned that while financial conditions have been a bright spot, easing in advanced economies and to a lesser extent in emerging markets, the rebound “appears disconnected from shifts in underlying economic prospects” that leave it at risk for reversal.Announced fiscal measures amounting to about $11 trillion globally, up from $8 trillion estimated in April, have helped cushion the blow to workers and businesses. But emergency spending by governments is set to push the global debt ratio above 100% for the first time, the IMF said. The jump in the burden this year alone is forecast to be close to 19 percentage points, dwarfing the increase in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

 Massive Credit Losses to Hit European Banks in Q2 and into 2021, Particularly When Debt Moratoriums Are Lifted - The second quarter results of most large Western European banks will reveal further increases in expected credit losses as the economic outlook has “weakened substantially since the publication of 1Q20 results”, Fitch Ratings warns in its latest “Large European Banks Quarterly Credit Tracker.” This will put substantial pressure on the sector’s operating profitability.  European banks already had a profitability problem before this crisis began. The last time that average return on equity (ROE) in the sector reached the 10% threshold, which is broadly considered a healthy minimum, was in 2007, when the shares of European banks were at the highest level they have ever been. Since then, the average ROE of European banks has not come even close to regaining that level.   in the first quarter, Covid hit, forcing many banks to provision for expected credit losses (ECL), with the result that sector-wide ROE slumped to 4%. Many large banks reported sharp drops in profits. Five big banks — HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Unicredit, BBVA and Societe Generale — posted net losses. In the second quarter, more banks could take a hit if so-called “loan-impairment charges” (LICs) — an amount that a bank sets aside in case its customers cannot make the required loan repayments — rise sharply, Fitch warns.  At the 20 banks in Fitch’s analysis, LICs almost tripled year on year in the first quarter, to around €24 billion, eating up more than 55% of pre-impairment operating profit (compared with less than 20% in 2019). Fitch estimates that approximately half of the LICs “resulted from expected credit losses amid weaker macro-economic forecasts and management overlays on specific riskier loan portfolios, including the most vulnerable corporate sectors and unsecured consumer finance” [such as credit cards]. Bad loans are still a problem in many parts of Southern Europe, including Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus, a long-lingering legacy of the last crisis. Warnings are also being issued about a sudden surge of non-performing loans (NPLs) in Eastern Europe. The “Vienna” Initiative, a European bank coordination framework set up in the wake of the last crisis with a view to safeguarding the financial stability of emerging economies in Central and Eastern Europe, warnedthis week that banks in the region will soon be hit by a wave of bad loans that may last beyond 2021. The Vienna initiative is anticipating three waves of bad loans: a first wave in the fourth quarter of this year as anti-Covid stimulus measures expire and struggling borrowers begin defaulting; a second, slower and more spread-out wave that may follow in the first half of 2021; and a third wave, resulting from the contagion effects of failures in different parts of the economy and supply chains, that is likely to appear towards the end of 2021.

PMIs: perpetually misleading indicators? - Here’s some reaction to this morning’s European flash purchasing managers' indices (PMIs). From Capital Economics:The rise in the eurozone flash Composite PMI in June confirms that economic output in the region is recovering rapidly from April’s nadir as restrictions are progressively eased.And ING-DiBa: Today’s PMI numbers provide further evidence of what initially looks like a textbook V-shaped recovery. As much as more than a month of (full) lockdowns had sent economies into a standstill, the gradual reopenings of the last two months have led to a sharp rebound in activity.Everything back to normal then? Not quite.  The actual reading for the eurozone was 47.5. Even though that was way above the 31.9 figure for May, it means the headline PMI remained below the “magic” 50 level that is supposed to separate an expansion from a contraction for the third month in a row. A further contraction on top of what happened in April and in May is hardly what you’d imagine for June, given that lockdown measures have continued to ease substantially across much of the continent. In fact, we’d go as far as to say there is absolutely no way that official data will show that output fell between April and May, and May and June (something that Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, which constructs the PMIs, has acknowledged too). So does the PMI need renaming as the Perpetually Misleading Indicator? There certainly does appear to be a problem here. The main question IHS Markit poses to purchasing managers is whether or not activity improved this month compared with the previous month. The fact that, on average, purchasing managers across Europe believe conditions in April were not the nadir and that matters became even worse in May and June seems very odd to us indeed. There are some compelling reasons why the headline PMI readings aren’t rising above the 50 level despite common sense suggesting output must have increased as lockdowns eased. That we are experiencing a demand and supply shock could be distorting the headline reading due to the way in which the subindices, which measure everything from job losses to delivery times, feed into the main number. The main distortion comes from the fact that delivery times tend to move in the opposite direction to the headline reading — the reason being that in normal times slower deliveries reflect high demand and not border closures (more on that here).The problem is that leaving people to weed out the nuance and place whatever weight they feel like on the various sub-readings leads to myriad interpretations of the data.

 All schools in England to open in September - UK Education Minister Gavin Williamson announced on Friday that all pupils in all year groups in England will go back to school in September. He said the government was “signed up to bring every child back, in every year group, in every school.” The announcement follows the government’s climbdown only 10 days earlier over the reopening of primary and nursery schools to all children. This was met with huge resistance by parents, who rightly feared risks to their children being exposed to COVID-19. On average, primary schools have 28 children per class, whilst secondary schools have 22. There will be no social distancing in cramped and often dilapidated buildings. Children will be forced to share resources and play together. The document from the NI Education restart programme calls for classes to stay in one classroom and the teachers to move between, with food being delivered to the classroom. Classrooms could be located in large halls and canteens to ensure social distancing. Students will also have staggered breaks. It also states that students will only need to be one metre apart in classrooms. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Tuesday that the two-metre social-distancing rule was to be ended and for people to stand one metre apart instead. But any social distancing is impossible in a classroom environment. To push its plans through, the government has repeated its fraudulent claims that it is acting in the interests of “disadvantaged children,” who will fall behind in their education. This claim is refuted by the fact that there were already 3.2 million children living in poverty—9 in every classroom of 30—before the pandemic. It was only last week that Johnson was forced to do a U-turn on providing free schools meals for 1.3 million children during the summer holidays. This campaign was not led by a Labour politician or trade union leader but by footballer Marcus Rashford, who forced the government to place the interests of hungry children on the parliamentary agenda.

UK students in precarious situation during the pandemic The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on UK students. As the WSWS reported, many have been charged rent for vacated student accommodation and threatened with eviction. In addition, many students and often their parents have lost jobs or been furloughed, depriving them of income and making it extremely hard to pay for their accommodation or daily necessities. Adding to students’ stress, they have also had to make do with online learning in the final term of this academic year. Due to the lockdown, lessons have been abruptly cut and replaced with hastily put together online alternatives. Online learning is notoriously unreliable, depending on the teachers’ familiarity with online tools as well as the suitability of the subject to being taught on the internet. Of course, to be able do that in the first place, students must have both a laptop and a decent internet connection to be able to attend the lesson, which is not guaranteed. This leaves students in a situation where they are not only paying exorbitant sums in tuition fees (£9,250 a year for domestic students and up to £26,000 a year for non-UK/European Union students, or up to £56,800 for some medical degrees), but they are not receiving anything in return! An online petition demanding the reimbursement of all this years’ fee due to the pandemic has gathered 345,731 signatures as of the time of writing. Another one, that only asks for refunds for the third semester, has 109,282 signatures. The petitions raise the fact that online lessons are inferior, usually consisting of simple PowerPoints and lacking any interaction with staff. Students justifiably disagree with paying for low-quality learning materials and for campus facilities they have no access to. The petition collected enough signatures to be brought before the House of Commons Petitions Committee. The Committee now has until September 23 to decide whether to bring the petition to a debate in the House of Commons. Two hearings have taken place so far. During the first hearing, with student representatives, the committee was told that students were feeling “angry and let down” and had not got what they paid for. The government’s response has been predictably dismissive, with a one sentence reply instructing students that are unhappy with the quality of their courses to complain to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) individually. At the second hearing, when the Petitions Committee pressed for a more detailed response, the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan made clear it expects all higher education providers to enable students to complete their studies and “avoid charging students for any additional terms”, but made only a passing reference to the quality of the provided studies. It merely encouraged “universities and private hall providers to be fair in their decisions about rent charges for this period.” Students have reacted angrily, calling it “insulting” that they will be charged full fees for online courses. Jake, a student from Leeds university told the BBC, “There has clearly been no consideration of students with this decision. I pay tuition fees to go to my university in person, to be taught at my university in person, to access the facilities of the university—libraries, societies, sports facilities—in person.” Other students are making their opinions known on social media. The BBC quotes Livi, posting on Twitter: “So by September I’ll have lost almost £3,000 to rent a house I’m not even living in, and tuition fees will still be max even if it’s online—something about this seems unfair.”

Walkout by sorting office workers at Barnsley Royal Mail after coronavirus outbreak - Royal Mail workers at the central post sorting office in Barnsley, South Yorkshire walked out yesterday after colleagues tested positive for coronavirus. Dozens of workers remained outside the building on Pitt Street for several hours while a clean took place. Managers told them not to speak to the press. Many nonetheless told local reporters that they had booked personal coronavirus tests and expected to stay away from work until receiving their results. Some criticised the fact that the use of face masks had not been made mandatory. Following discussions, new working arrangements were agreed between Communication Workers Union (CWU) representatives and local management. A company spokesperson gave the standard lie: “Royal Mail takes the health and safety of its colleagues, its customers and the local communities in which we operate very seriously. “Following positive testing for coronavirus at the Barnsley delivery office, we have carried out a full, enhanced clean of the building.” “We are working to keep disruption to mail deliveries to a minimum as we address the concerns of our colleagues.” In fact, keeping disruption “to a minimum”, to ensure a continued flow of profits to their shareholders, is Royal Mail’s only concern.

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