huangseshipin

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

Saturday, June 20, 2020

week ending Jun 20

huangseshipinThe Fed Has Monetized All Treasury Issuance In 2020 - There is no more subversive entity in the US, more destructive, more inflammatory yet out of the spotlight of public outrage, than the Federal Reserve: it is the Fed's actions over the past 108 years - and especially over the past decade - that have spawned much of the anger, resentment and hatred that has permeated US society to its very core as a result of the Fed's monetary policies.  Yet because much of the public fails to grasp the insidious implications of endless money-printing which makes owners of assets exorbitantly rich at the expense of regular workers, popular anger at the Fed remains virtually non-existent, despite clear warnings from Thomas Jefferson, and countless others over the decades, about the dangers posed by central banking.  And so, taking advantage of the general public's general gullibility, the Fed continues to lie and dissemble at every opportunity, of which the most recent example was last week when Powell said that "inequality has been with us for increasingly for four decades" and arguing that monetary policy is not a cause for that. What he forgot to mention is that four decades ago is when the Nixon closed the gold window....  ... severing the last link of the US dollar to tangible value, and allowing the Fed to print with impunity, creating the current wealth divide which has now spilled over into the streets of America.  One other thing the Fed has been consistently lying about is that it does not monetize the debt. The chart below is evidence that this, too, is a lie, with US Treasury debt increasing by $2.86 trillion in 2020 (most of it in the past three months) which is less than the $3.0 trillion increase in the Fed's balance sheet over the same period. In other words, the Fed has monetized 105% of all Treasury issuance this year.  So although Powell may never admit it, Helicopter Money, also known as "MMT", is now here, and will never go away as Deutsche Bank hinted earlier

The Fed says it is going to start buying individual corporate bonds - The Federal Reserve is expanding its foray into corporate credit to now buy individual corporate bonds, on top of the exchange-traded funds it already is purchasing, the central bank announced Monday. As part of a continuing effort to support market functioning and ease credit conditions, the Fed added functions to its Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility. The program has the ability to buy up to $750 billion worth of corporate credit. Its March 23 initial announcement is largely considered a watershed moment for the financial markets, reeling from the coronavirus threat spread. "The decision to buy a broad portfolio of corporate bonds represents a shift to a more active strategy for the secondary market corporate credit facility, rather than the passive approach originally envisioned," said Steven Friedman, senior macroeconomist at MacKay Shields. The move comes less than a week after a downbeat Federal Open Market Committee view of the U.S. economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Moving to a more aggressive bond-buying strategy "may also reflect the Committee's view that the economic recovery from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis will be an extended and challenging one, with credit markets requiring extensive support," Friedman added. Under the latest guidelines, the Fed said it will buy, on the secondary market, individual bonds that have remaining maturities of five years or less. Those purchases will go along with the ETFs the Fed already has been buying, which are balanced toward investment-grade indexes but also include some junk bond funds that track debt which had been investment grade before the crisis but had been downgraded after. The intent of the individual debt purchases will be "to create a corporate bond portfolio that is based on a broad, diversified market index of U.S. corporate bonds," the Fed said in a news release. "This index is made up of all the bonds in the secondary market that have been issued by U.S. companies that satisfy the facility's minimum rating, maximum maturity, and other criteria. This indexing approach will complement the facility's current purchases of exchange-traded funds," the statement said.

Fed’s Kaplan Says Systemic Racism Holding Economy Back – WSJ - Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan said Sunday that systemic racism has held the U.S. economy back from reaching its full potential. “A more inclusive economy where everyone has opportunity will mean faster workforce growth, faster productivity growth, and we’ll grow faster,” Mr. Kaplan said in the transcript of an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” news program. When it comes to addressing the headwind racism presents to growth, “we’re right to focus on this and bore in on this,” Mr. Kaplan said, adding “it is in the interests of the U.S.” to bring about a more equitable economic future for all races. Mr. Kaplan, who is a voting member of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee, weighed in as the U.S. continues to be roiled by protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, an African-American, last month. Protesters are calling for an end to police brutality and for the nation to address what they see as a system that deliberately holds back nonwhites. Federal Reserve officials have over recent days offered comments that indicate they agree with at least some of that critique. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said “everyone deserves the opportunity to participate fully in our society and in our economy,” in comments that decried the existence of racism. Meanwhile, Atlanta Fed leader Raphael Bostic said in an essay published Friday that “systemic racism is a yoke that drags on the American economy.”  He also said that after watching protests against police brutality, “I have shared in the outrage of the truly horrific events that brought us to this point,” Mr. Bostic wrote. “These events are yet another reminder that many of our fellow citizens endure the burden of unjust, exploitative, and abusive treatment by institutions in this country.”  Mr. Bostic, who became president of the Atlanta Fed in 2017, is the first-ever African-American leader of a regional Fed bank in the institution’s centurylong history.

The Federal Reserve Has Its Own Police and Is Part of a Vast Surveillance Center – Should You Worry? -  Pam Martens - Without any Congressional hearings on the matter, the USA Patriot Act in 2001 bestowed on the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks domestic policing powers. While the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington, D.C. is deemed an “independent federal agency,” with its Chair and Governors appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, the 12 regional Fed banks are private corporations owned by the member banks in their region. As settled law under John L. Lewis v. United States confirms: “Each Federal Reserve Bank is a separate corporation owned by commercial banks in its region.”In the case of the New York Fed, which is located in the Wall Street area of Manhattan, its largest shareowners are behemoth multinational banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. So what the USA Patriot Act effectively did was to give multinational corporations domestic policing powers in New York City via the New York Fed.  Section 364 of the USA Patriot Act reads as follows:“Law enforcement officers designated or authorized by the Board or a reserve bank under paragraph (1) or (2) are authorized while on duty to carry firearms and make arrests without warrants for any offense against the United States committed in their presence…Such officers shall have access to law enforcement information that may be necessary for the protection of the property or personnel of the Board or a reserve bank.” The Fed’s police officers are technically known as FRLEO, short for Federal Reserve Law Enforcement Officer. The system has its own police academies for training, their own patch and badges, uniforms, pistols, rifles, police cars and the power to arrest coast to coast without a warrant.  We found current job openings for the St. Louis Fed, the San Francisco Fed, and the Dallas Fed.  A previous recruitment ad for the Richmond Fed indicated that their police would have access to the nation’s criminal databases: “The Law Enforcement Unit has an immediate opening for a Communications Center Operator, reporting to the Center leadership team in Richmond, Virginia…[the officer will query] “information from a variety of law enforcement data bases for information, wants/warrants, intelligence, driver’s license and vehicle information, etc.” Having access to the nation’s criminal databases is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the New York Fed, which has its own brass name plate and staffer located inside one of the most sophisticated surveillance centers in the U.S., sitting alongside New York City police (NYPD) personnel and the New York Fed’s largest owners: there are also brass name plates for staffers from Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and the New York Stock Exchange. Never mind that JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup have plead guilty to felonies and Goldman Sachs is currently attempting to negotiate its way out of a felony count. (More on this below.)

Recession Measures and NBER -- Calling the beginning or end of a recession usually takes time.   However, the economic decline in March was so severe that the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has already called the end of the expansion in February.The committee has determined that a peak in monthly economic activity occurred in the U.S. economy in February 2020. The peak marks the end of the expansion that began in June 2009 and the beginning of a recession. The expansion lasted 128 months, the longest in the history of U.S. business cycles dating back to 1854. The previous record was held by the business expansion that lasted for 120 months from March 1991 to March 2001....The usual definition of a recession involves a decline in economic activity that lasts more than a few months. However, in deciding whether to identify a recession, the committee weighs the depth of the contraction, its duration, and whether economic activity declined broadly across the economy (the diffusion of the downturn). The committee recognizes that the pandemic and the public health response have resulted in a downturn with different characteristics and dynamics than prior recessions. Nonetheless, it concluded that the unprecedented magnitude of the decline in employment and production, and its broad reach across the entire economy, warrants the designation of this episode as a recession, even if it turns out to be briefer than earlier contractions.The NBER will probably wait some time before calling the end of the recession, this process can take from 18 months to two years or longer.In the mean time, if the economy slides into recession again, the committee will only consider it a new recession if most major indicators were close to or above their previous highs. Otherwise it will just be considered a continuation of the previous recession. It will take some time for most major indicators to be above their previous high after the current recession because of the severe contraction as the graphs below show. GDP is the key measure, as the NBER committee notes in their business cycle dating procedure: The committee views real GDP as the single best measure of aggregate economic activity.  This graph is for real GDP through Q1 2020.This is the key measure, and the NBER will probably use GDP and GDI to determine the trough of the recession.Real GDP is only 1.2% below the pre-recession peak - however real GDP is expected to decline another 7% to 8% in Q2 (A much larger decline than the Great Recession). Most forecasters expect GDP to be positive in Q3, but will remain below the pre-recession peak until sometime in 2021.

The Coronavirus Recession may already (technically) have ended: sales and production both increased in May --Sales and production are two of the four things that economists look for in gauging whether the economy is in expansion or recession, and this morning both of them - retail sales and industrial production - were released for May. So it’s true: as defined by the NBER, the Coronavirus Recession may have only lasted two months, from February through April. That’s because, just as February was the peak of economic activity before the coronavirus hit, April may well have been the trough. And recessions technically end, not when the economy becomes objectively “good” or “fair,” but simply when the trajectory is less awful than before. If the trajectory is positive, from really awful, to slightly less really awful, the recession has ended, even if the economy is still, well, awful.To the graphs! First, here are retail sales, both nominally and as adjusted for inflation: Both increased 17.7% in May, after declining over 14% in April. Both are also slightly higher than their levels in March. Clearly the “reopening” of the economy in large portions of the country led to a splurge in spending. Next, here is total industrial production (blue) along with manufacturing production (red): Both increased slightly. Since employment also increased in May, that makes three of four sectors included in recession measurements that - as of now - are off their lows, as shown in the graph below:  Personal income less transfer receipts for May won’t be reported for another couple of weeks, but even if it is lower, the NBER may still decide that the recession has ended. That’s because industrial productions is the King of Coincident Indicators, and carries more weight than the others in recession calls. For example, here is the period of time including the Great Recession:  The NBER determined that the recession ended in June 2009. That’s when industrial production bottomed. Real retail sales had already bottomed several months before. Both employment and real income were close to but had not yet reached their bottoms.  So, even though the economy as measured by all four sectors is still awful, it was a little less awful in May than it was in April, and that may be enough for the NBER.  Two important caveats:

  1. (1) I don’t expect the NBER to be so quick with this call as they were with their recession onset call, because they will want to be sure that this is not a false start; which leads even more importantly to
  2. (2) the virus is still in control. Those States which have recklessly opened without waiting for infections to abate, and without effective testing, tracing, and quarantining protocols - which is almost all of them, particularly in the South, High Plains, and Mountain West - are seeing new infections start to rise again, and in some cases - Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and South Carolina for example - the graphs are beginning to look exponential again. It would not be surprising at all if renewed panic were to set in, with new lockdowns put in place, or at very least consumers pulling back from face-to-face activity. In other words, the increases in industrial production, employment, and sales may well prove temporary.

Might There Be A V-Shaped Economic Recovery After All? -  I have made a lot of forecasts that the time path of GDP is likely to look like a “lazy J” or “whoosh,” a pattern of slow recovery after the very rapid decline, with a possible W if a second wave of the pandemic hits hard.  What I often dismissed, sometimes rather pompously to people who seemed to push it for blind political or ideological reasons was that there might be a rapid bounceback, a V-shaped recovery.  Now that it looks like it might happen, or at least a modest version of it, so I may be wrong on my past forecasts. Curiously, as noted in a fairly recent post, I was one who was not surprised by the net increase in employment in May, given the evidence noted in still earlier posts of a likely turnaround in GDP that probably dates back even into late April and probably not later than early May, looking at figures on gasoline demand and carbon emissions.  It seemed not surprising that this turnaround would lead to some new hiring, even as further layoffs were clearly happening.  But most of this data seemed consistent with the Whoosh scenario, with these renewed increases occurring at rates much lower than the rates of preceding decline.  So the net increase in hiring in May was only 2.5%, large for normal time, but only beginning to offset the double-digit plunge that had happened before it. But now we have the report that looks pretty accurate that retail sales rose 17.7% from April to May, not sure of the precise cutoffs for this.  I made no specific forecast for that, but given the labor hiring numbers, I would figure that probably retail sales rose more than hiring.  But there is no way I would have forecast a double-digit increase, and might not even have predicted more than a 5% increase if I had done so.  Thus, needless to say, I am quite surprised by this figure. Indeed, for retail sales this more than a V-shaped recovery.  The rate of decline for March to April was -14.4%.  Apparently, retail sales are now only 8% below their peak in February.  So the rate of growth of retail sales could slow to half the April to May rate and end up higher than the February level.  I find this hard to believe, but I also have no good grounds for questioning this data. Advocates of a V-shaped recovery, whether Trump and his immediate advisers, or other economists, mostly a minority, argued that an outburst of “pent-up demand” would lead to this, and it would seem that has happened, with probably some non-trivial assistance from stimulus checks and generous unemployment benefits, along with some other elements of fiscal stimulus, some of which have already stopped or are scheduled to do so in coming months.  I had dismissed such a strong surge of purchasing based on people being afraid and cautious, as well as many sectors still held down specifically due to pandemic restrictions, at least through much of May.

Q2 GDP Forecasts: Probably Around 33% Annual Rate Decline - Important: GDP is reported at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR). So a 33% Q2 decline is around 8% decline from Q1 (SA).   From Merrill Lynch: We revise up 2Q GDP to -35% qoq saar from -40% and 3Q to 20% from 7%, given the faster and more successful reopening. [June 18 estimate]   From Goldman Sachs:  We have adjusted our real GDP growth forecasts and now expect -33% in Q2, +33% in Q3, and +8% in Q4 (vs. -36%, +29%, and +11% previously) in qoq annualized terms. [June 18 estimate]   From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report : The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at -19.0% for 2020:Q2 and -1.9% for 2020:Q3. [June 19 estimate]  And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow:The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the second quarter of 2020 is -45.5 percent on June 17, down from -45.4 percent on June 16. [June 17 estimate]

Governments May Revisit Postwar Playbook as They Tackle Huge Debts – WSJ -Leaders around the world have compared their efforts to bring the novel coronavirus under control to fighting a war. The similarities may not end when the battle to tame the virus has been won, and the debts accumulated by governments have to be repaid.In the U.S. and elsewhere, government debt is set to soar this year, reflecting lower tax revenue and the cost of financial aid to businesses and households during lockdowns. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that U.S. government debt will reach 131% of annual economic output this year, up from 109% in 2019.That is a higher debt burden than after World War II. Other countries are facing similarly high debt levels, including the U.K., France, Italy and Spain. Some people thinking about how to pay down the debt are looking at an approach used after World War II: financial repression, or policies that ensure that interest rates remain low. They include central-bank purchases of government bonds and regulations prodding investors to hold such securities, said Keith Wade, chief economist at Schroders. Such measures would help hold down bond yields, lowering interest costs over time. “It is increasingly likely that governments will rely on financial repression to erode their debt-to-income ratios,” he said. In the years after World War II, the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury Department ran a joint operation to support prices of government bonds—which kept interest rates down—while other measures in the U.S. and elsewhere placed limits on interest rates paid by banks, making alternatives to government bonds less attractive to investors. Another approach would be to encourage higher inflation, which allows the nominal debts incurred today to be paid down with cheaper money in the future. But developed-economy central banks have tried and failed for most of the past decade to lift inflation to their targets around 2% for a variety of reasons unlikely to go away, such as aging populations, slow economic growth, globalization, advancing technology and low interest rates.

North Korea blows up liaison office to send message to Trump - In a measure of the sharp tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the North Korean regime yesterday melodramatically demolished its joint liaison office with South Korea. While nominally directed at Seoul, Pyongyang’s action expressed its deep frustration with the failure of the Trump administration to conduct any meaningful negotiations to end North Korea’s isolation. In June 2018, Trump abruptly shifted from his previous bellicose threats to annihilate North Korea and held an unprecedented summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un which vaguely outlined a deal to end economic sanctions on North Korea in exchange for a shutdown of its nuclear program. The liaison office located in the North Korean city of Kaesong was established in September 2018 as a sign of good will following summit meetings between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The office has been closed since January after North Korea sealed its borders in a bid to isolate the country from the COVID-19 pandemic. Relations between the two Koreas rapidly began to deteriorate after a second summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February 2019 broke down over the US refusal to offer any sanctions relief to North Korea prior to the complete dismantling of its nuclear facilities and arsenal. North Korea lashed out at the Moon administration in March 2019 declaring that it was not playing a mediating role, but rather was “a player, not an arbiter” because it remained a US military ally. While offering the prospect of better relations between the two Koreas, Moon did nothing to lift sanctions on North Korea. The joint industrial complex in Kaesong, where South Korean businesses exploited cheap North Korean labour, remained closed. After it ended its testing of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, Trump has simply strung North Korea along offering nothing in return. Trump briefly met with Kim last June in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, but working level talks in Sweden came to nothing. Pyongyang set a deadline of the end of last year for a deal with the US, which the Trump administration simply ignored. By blowing up the liaison office and criticizing South Korea, the North Korean regime has chosen to send a message to Washington, indirectly rather than directly. As South Korean analyst Lee Seong-hyon told the New York Times: “It [North Korea] had to vent its frustration and domestic discontent, but it feared retaliation if it directly provoked the United States. So, as Koreans like to say, ‘If you hate your neighbor, you kick his dog’.”

 US fighters have rushed to intercept 8 Russian bombers approaching Alaska in the past week -US Air Force F-22 Raptors have intercepted eight Russian bombers approaching Alaska in the past week as Russia steps up its air patrols near the US. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) reported Wednesday morning that F-22s, supported by KC-135 aerial refueling tankers and E-3 early warning aircraft, intercepted two Russian bomber formations in the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) Tuesday evening.The first Russian aircraft formation consisted of two Tu-95 bombers, two Su-35 fighters, and an A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft, and the second was made up of two Tu-95 bombers and an A-50. The aircraft came within 32 nautical miles of the Alaskan coastline but never entered US airspace.The Russian defense ministry has released a video of the intercept. And on Wednesday, June 10, two Russian bomber formations consisting of the same types of planes in the same groupings flew long-range air patrols near the US,forcing NORAD to respond. One of the Russian formations came within 20 nautical miles of US shores, but neither aircraft group ever entered US sovereign airspace, which extends 12 nautical miles from US shores. The ADIZ extends 200 nautical miles from the coastline.

US stokes India-China conflict, blames Chinese “aggression” for border clash - In a provocative statement fraught with global geo-strategic implications, a senior US diplomat has framed the China-India border standoff—which erupted last Monday night in a violent clash that left dozens of Indian and Chinese soldiers dead—as a Chinese invasion and part of a pattern of Chinese aggression. US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell told a press briefing Thursday evening that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had “invaded” the “contested area” between India and China. In May, as border tensions between Beijing and New Delhi rose, Washington visibly intruded into the dispute with denunciations of Chinese “aggression.” However, prior to Thursday, its public response to Monday’s clash, and the subsequent large-scale deployments of Indian and Chinese military forces to their border region, had been guarded. Now, however, the US is proclaiming its support for India, action that it knows and calculates will encourage New Delhi to take a hardline stance and aggravate China. Moreover, it is doing so under conditions where the Indian media is reporting there is growing pressure within Indian government and military circles for some form of military retaliation against China. Whatever reservations the Trump administration may have had about stoking a conflict between the world’s two most populous countries and rival nuclear powers are now clearly being cast aside. Stilwell, a retired US Air Force general, was responding to a question from a journalist from the right-wing Washington Examiner who suggested the Indo-Chinese border clash was one in a series of Chinese aggressions in South and East Asia. “We’re obviously watching the India-China border dispute very closely.… The PLA invaded this contested area deeper and longer, with more people, than ever before historically,” Stilwell declared. “Again,” Stilwell continued, “whether that was a negotiating tactic or a—just a punch in the nose to demonstrate their superiority, I don’t know.” The entire exchange was premised on the false anti-China narrative that Washington has promoted with increasing vehemence over the past decade. The US routinely depicts China as an aggressor disrupting “international order” and “the rule of law,” when in reality it is US imperialism that is mounting a relentless and ever-escalating diplomatic, economic, and military-strategic offensive against Beijing, aimed at thwarting its “rise.”

  US Suddenly Suspends Talks With Europe On Digital Tax, Threatens Tariffs - The U.S. suspended talks with European countries for a new global tax framework for tech companies such as Alphabet Inc.'s Google and Facebook Inc, reported Financial Times.  U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wrote a letter to four European finance ministers warning them that discussions had reached an "impasse." He said the U.S. couldn't agree on interim basis changesto the global taxation law that would affect big tech companies. Mnuchin warned if European nations attempted to implement their own digital tax against U.S. tech companies --  it would pave the way for fresh tariffs.   France, Spain, the U.K., and Italy have been some of the countries eager to tax Apple, Facebook, Google, and other U.S. tech firms, alleging these companies profit from the European market while making minimal contributions.  "Attempting to rush such difficult negotiations is a distraction from far more important matters," Mnuchin wrote in the letter, dated June 12 (seen by Financial Times). "This is a time when governments around the world should focus their attention on dealing with the economic issues resulting from Covid-19." The letter was sent to Rishi Sunak, the U.K. chancellor of the exchequer, French economy minister Bruno Le Maire, and the finance ministers of Italy and Spain, which demanded talks on the global tax framework be suspended.  "The United States remains opposed to digital services taxes and similar unilateral measures," Mnuchin wrote. "As we have repeatedly said, if countries choose to collect or adopt such taxes, the United States will respond with appropriate commensurate measures." Mnuchin made it clear that he wants to resume talks in the back half of the year. European countries are expected to respond to Mnuchin's letter. With talks now suspended -- progress stalled, and if European countries start rolling out individual taxes on U.S. tech firms, there could be a bilateral conflict between Europe and the U.S. -- erupting into a tit-for-tat tariff war this summer. This could be enough to inflict damage on a global economy that is already reeling from a virus-induced economic crash.

US escalates trade and economic conflicts - As the COVID-19 pandemic sends the world economy into its deepest downturn since the Great Depression, the United States has signalled there will be no let-up in the trade and economic warfare it is prosecuting against its rivals. On Wednesday, the contents of a letter sent by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last Friday to four European countries were revealed in which he declared that the US was pulling out of negotiations over a global tax system to cover major internet and technology firms. On the same day, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer delivered a broadside against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in a Congressional hearing and indicated that negotiations with the European Union over a trade deal were going nowhere. In his letter to counterparts in the UK, France, Italy and Spain, Mnuchin said discussions on the taxation measures covering digital companies, organised through the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), had reached an “impasse” and the US was not able to agree even to changes in global tax law on an interim basis. Last week, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the US was the only holdout against an interim OECD framework for taxing digital companies. The negotiations were organised earlier this year after moves by France to impose taxes on Google, Facebook and other digital firms, covering the billions of dollars of revenue they raise in the country, were met with a threat by the US to impose tariffs on French goods. The UK has also proposed similar tax measures together with Italy and Spain. In the letter Mnuchin sought to use the pandemic as the pretext for pulling out of the talks, saying they were a distraction from “far more important matters” and “governments around the world should focus their attention on dealing with the economic issues resulting from COVID-19.” The Mnuchin letter came in the wake of a decision at the beginning of this month by the Office of the US Trade Representative to begin an investigation into taxes on internet commerce. The investigation was launched under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act which gives the administration wide powers to impose tariffs as were deployed against China. Announcing the investigation, Lighthizer said President Trump was concerned that “many of our trading partners are adopting tax schemes to unfairly target our companies” and the US was “prepared to take all appropriate action to defend our businesses and workers against any such discrimination.” The threat was repeated in Mnuchin’s letter.

Congress to Probe Trump’s Aggressive Trade Policies – WSJ - Congress will scrutinize the Trump administration’s aggressive international trade initiatives on Wednesday as the top U.S. trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, appears before House and Senate committees. The administration completed a preliminary trade deal with China in January after a bruising trade war that saddled U.S. importers with tariffs on most Chinese imports and temporarily dried up the Chinese export market for U.S. farmers. Mr. Trump has said the pact will help level the playing field between the two countries. Mr. Lighthizer also negotiated a new trade accord with Mexico and Canada that was approved by Congress earlier this year.Mr. Lighthizer’s testimony will give lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee an opportunity to question how those deals are playing out, as well as the White House’s assessments of its economic relationship with other trading partners, including the European Union and the United Kingdom.While the president’s trade agenda has been sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic, the administration still faces a range of unresolved trade issues.China is far behind on its targeted purchases of U.S. goods under the trade pact, although it is nonetheless a relative bright spot as the world economy withers from the coronavirus pandemic. U.S.-China ties have been further complicated by debate over China’s culpability as the originating country for the coronavirus, as well as Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s autonomy.The U.S. also retains tariffs on about $360 billion worth of imports from China that have been a sore spot for the American importers who foot the bill.U.S. trade tensions remain elevated with the EU. While the administration has struck deals with Mexico, Canada, Japan and China, years of talks with Brussels have gone nowhere. The U.S. has imposed tariffs on European imports as part of a long-running dispute over subsidies for aircraft manufacturers Boeing Co. and Airbus SE. The American side won a key ruling at the World Trade Organization last year that allowed the U.S. to put tariffs on about $7.5 billion worth of European goods. Europe is expected to win a parallel case later this year, and could respond with tariffs of its own if no agreement is forged.

Lawmakers to Press Powell on Additional Relief Measures – WSJ - Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is likely to face more lawmakers’ questions Wednesday about how Congress should design any future economic relief measures amid the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Powell will testify for a second day on Capitol Hill, this time before the House Financial Services Committee starting at noon Eastern time on Wednesday before answering questions from the panel members. Congress faces deadlines this summer over how to address expiring provisions of relief measures for businesses and unemployed workers, following nearly $3 trillion in emergency spending earlier this year.Elected officials in both parties have long used the Fed chairman to serve as an expert witness on economic subjects that the central bank has little authority over.During his testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Mr. Powell tried to avoid appearing too involved in partisan spending discussions while signaling support for more funding in at least three broad areas:

  • ? Aid for unemployed workers: Mr. Powell said even if the economy avoids a big spike in infection rates, many employees in industries such as hospitality, entertainment and travel could be out of work for a long time if spending habits change because consumers avoid crowds or other activities that require people to be in close quarters.
  • ? Funding for cities and states: Mr. Powell said state and local government job losses after the 2007-09 recession had been a “well documented” drag on the recovery and he warned that revenue declines from the pandemic could force layoffs as states look to balance budgets. Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate state and local governments face cumulative revenue shortfalls of $450 billion through mid-2022. Congress has provided $275 billion in aid to cities and states this year, but more than half of that can’t be used to plug revenue holes.
  • ? Virus suppression: Mr. Powell said spending measures to boost confidence among the public that “it’s safe to go out and take part in the economy will have very high returns for the economy.” Those steps could include more widespread virus testing, contact tracing, and other confidence-inducing health measures.Democrats have supported a more aggressive round of spending, with the House of Representatives last month approving another $3 trillion relief package. Some Republicans have said they are worried about the long-term impact on deficits with additional spending, and many have said they want more time to see which parts of the economy will need support the most.Mr. Powell framed the discussion Tuesday around additional spending by offering a relatively sober assessment of the economic outlook. If the virus remains “reasonably well under control,” Mr. Powell told lawmakers he expected the economy could already be moving from a sharp contraction toward a bounce back marked by large increases in re-employment.

 Fed's Powell beats drum for more government aid to bolster economy - (Reuters) - The U.S. economy is beginning to recover from the worst of the coronavirus crisis, but with some 25 million Americans displaced from work and the pandemic ongoing, it will need more help, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers on Wednesday. “We at the Fed need to keep our foot on the gas until we are really sure we are through this, and that’s our intention, and I think you may find that there’s more for you to do as well,” Powell said in testimony via a video link to the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee. “It would be a concern if Congress were to pull back on the support that it’s providing, too quickly,” he said. With the road back from recession likely to take some time, Powell said interest rates will likely need to stay near zero for “an extended period” and the U.S. central bank will continue to buy bonds to push down on longer-term borrowing costs. But the Fed chief, who also testified before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, noted that Congress must also do its part.  Referring to people whose jobs will be slow to return, such as those employed in the travel and restaurant sectors, Powell said it was “better to keep them in their apartment, better to keep them paying their bills.”“We should find ways as a country to support those people and help them through this difficult part of their lives,” he said.It will be particularly important, Powell said, for Congress to extend in some form the extra $600 weekly payments to the unemployed that were part of a relief package passed in March and that will expire in July. “You would not want to go all the way to zero on that,” he said. State and local governments, as well as small businesses, also will need some aid, he said.His message was echoed later on Wednesday by Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, who said that while federal government support had been sizeable, so was the depth of the economic downturn.“Further direct fiscal support will be needed for states and municipal governments and for households most affected by the pandemic,” Mester told the Council for Economic Education via video link. She also said there should be increased investment on testing, contact tracing and treatments to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Trillions In Stimulus Cash Has Been Distributed With "Barely Functional" Oversight - Today in "the government is an awful capital allocator" news, trillions of dollars in stimulus money has apparently been doled out with little to no oversight. At the same time, politicians on both sides of the aisle are scrambling to establish order in the form of various oversight panels and inspectors general, according to Bloomberg.In fact, it was found that some of the oversight bodies responsible for tracking the money are "barely functional". This comes after $2 trillion in stimulus cash has been doled out. Many, including Peter Schiff, predicted months ago that printing and distributing such a vast amount of money would inevitably lead to fraud and misuse due to the government's inability to track the money.Now that's exactly what's taking place. Meanwhile, a special inspector general, Brian Miller, has only been sworn in recently and is already facing questions from Democrats about his ability to be independent. Senator Elizabeth Warren noted that funds are already going to the wrong place: “We’ve seen giant public companies scoop up relief meant for small businesses, an inspector general fired, promises made to muzzle independent oversight.”  Sherrod Brown of Ohio called Miller "evasive" and "unwilling to condemn" Trump for removing other agency inspectors general ahead of the stimulus being sent out. Miller is tasked with trying to prove to both sides of the aisle that he can be independent, fair and a person of consequence when he releases his first report, which is due in August. Neil Barofsky, the first special inspector general who oversaw TARP, said: “Your first report is to amplify what you’ve found. That really defined what we would be. There is always going to be tension between a good IG and the agency.”

PPP Small-Business Loans Left Behind Many of America’s Neediest Firms – WSJ - Congress and the Trump administration, in their bid to funnel more than $650 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses struggling through the pandemic, delivered a program that didn’t work for many that needed it.The Paycheck Protection Program, which sped through Congress, was a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation between lawmakers and the administration, and opened for business on April 3, just two weeks after it was drafted. The program, known as the PPP, kept millions of workers off unemployment rolls by providing temporary support for businesses facing pandemic lockdowns and disappearing demand.Yet the PPP left many of the hardest-hit empty-handed. Looking back, the program failed to take into account the near-countless varieties of small business, which employ nearly half of U.S. private-sector workers, and how best to help them, according to economists, business owners and bankers.The PPP was most helpful to enterprises able to continue operations or quickly reopen. It largely failed those that either closed during prolonged lockdowns, drew too few customers to afford more than a skeleton staff, or were overwhelmed by high overhead costs, such as rent.Some businesses were too small to have relationships with banks, which processed the loans, leaving small entrepreneurs—sole proprietors, mom-and-pop operations and the like—at the tail end of weekslong lines. Some had poor records or little, if any, payroll. The government has approved 4.6 million loans worth more than $513 billion as of Tuesday. Those have reached a fraction of the 31.7 million small businesses in the U.S., a figure that includes 25.7 million firms without employees, according to the Small Business Administration.

Pressure Builds on Trump Administration to Name PPP Borrowers – WSJ —Pressure is building on the Trump administration to disclose the names of borrowers that received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, and a key senator signaled that the names of larger loan recipients could be released. The Small Business Administration has so far not made public the list of roughly 4.6 million businesses that have received more than $512 billion from the pandemic emergency lending program since early April. The agency is holding out despite growing demands for the data from government auditors, media companies, public interest groups and Republicans and Democrats in Congress. All contend disclosure is essential to determine whether the huge program is working as intended. “We will have PPP loan disclosure,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, wrote Tuesday on Twitter. Mr. Rubio, who has worked closely with the Trump administration on the PPP, said that there is “no dispute over larger loan recipients being disclosed” but that discussions were still under way on “how to treat smaller loans to mostly micro-business, sole proprietors & independent contractors.” Mr. Rubio’s expectation of disclosure contrasted with comments last week by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who said during a hearing before Mr. Rubio’s committee that the administration isn’t publicly disclosing the identities of PPP loan recipients. “We absolutely need transparency,” said Mr. Mnuchin, who has played a central role in setting the policies for the SBA program. “As it relates to the names and amounts of specific PPP loans, we believe that that is proprietary information and in many cases, for sole proprietors and small businesses, is confidential information.” The loan amounts are calculated based on monthly payroll.

"Money They're Desperate For": Many Gig Workers Still Can't Get Their Unemployment Benefits -It has now been several months since the federal government has implemented monetary stimulus to try and alleviate the financial effect of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuring economic shut down.Back in the beginning of May - nearly 6 weeks ago - we highlighted how many gig workers were still waiting for their first round of unemployment benefits. Today, past the mid-point of June, many of those workers are still waiting, according to CBS Chicago.And we wonder what is helping fuel the riots in the streets over the last few weeks...The money appears to be on hold due to audits, according to gig workers that spoke to CBS. Meanwhile, the same workers say that it is "money they're desperate for". One worker, Bill Mylan, says the government has had his information "for months" but he still hasn't received benefits. “We’ve missed out on two to three good months of making money already,” he said. He has had no income since March, which is when he first applied for unemployment. He eventually reapplied through the state’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance portal, because he’s considered a gig worker. That portal only just opened last month.  “I’ve been doing little odd jobs for my landlord just to get by; make ends meet. It says on my claim it’s a benefit payment control issue,” he said. When he called to ask about it, he got a recorded message simply saying "We are closed due to unforeseen circumstances."When he reached someone at the Illinois Department of Employment Security, they told him the holdup was due to an audit.  “I don’t understand why now, the last step, is all of a sudden to do an audit when we’ve been in the system,” he said.

Kudlow calls $600 unemployment checks a 'disincentive,' expects them to stop in July  - Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, said Sunday that the $600 checks being sent to Americans on unemployment as part of coronavirus relief efforts are expected to end in July and called them a “disincentive” for people to get back to work. “The $600 plus-up that's above the state unemployment benefits they will continue to receive is in effect a disincentive. I mean, we’re paying people not to work. It's better than their salaries would get,” Kudlow said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “That might have worked for the first of couple months. It will end in late July,” he added. Kudlow suggested the additional checks are no longer needed as businesses reopen and unemployment rates fall. He said the Trump administration is looking at other incentives, including smaller checks that “still provide some kind of business for returning to work.” "I think we are on our way. We are reopening, businesses are coming back and therefore jobs are coming back," Kudlow added. "We don't want to interfere with that process."CNN’s Jake Tapper pressed Kudlow on his description of the checks as a disincentive, adding that many Americans want to get back to work but a lot of jobs are not coming back.  “I think that's a fair point. I personally agree with you. I think people want to go back to work. I think they welcome the reopening of the economy. I think they’re anxious to get out and about,” Kudlow said.  He added that he has “heard from business after business” that there is “evidence this effect is taking place.”

Kudlow Urges Replacing Unemployment-Benefit Boost With Return-to-Work ‘Bonus’ – WSJ —A senior economic adviser to President Trump said Sunday the U.S. needs to stop providing a $600-a-week boost in unemployment benefits instituted in response to the coronavirus pandemic and replace it with a smaller bonus for workers who return to their jobs. Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, said the additional benefits might be dissuading some Americans from going back to work as businesses reopen across the country. “We’re paying people not to work. It’s better than their salaries would get,” Mr. Kudlow said on CNN Sunday. “The jobs are coming back and we don’t want to interfere with that process.” The boost to unemployment benefits, which started flowing to unemployed workers in April, expires at the end of July. Lawmakers are expected to debate another round of legislation responding to the economic fallout from the pandemic in the coming weeks. Democrats want to extend funding for the enhanced unemployment payments. Other administration officials have previously signaled concerns similar to Mr. Kudlow’s about continuing the current policy, as have Republicans in Congress, which would have to pass a law to extend the program beyond its July 31 expiration date. “We are not going to remove unemployment benefits. That will still continue,” Mr. Kudlow said. Unemployment benefits are administered and paid out by states, but the federal government is funding the $600 benefit boost as part of emergency legislation adopted to respond to the coronavirus.

Has leadership vacuum hamstrung CARES Act watchdog? — A congressional watchdog panel is hitting a roadblock in its oversight of the federal government’s economic recovery programs, as House and Senate leaders have yet to agree on a person to chair the commission mandated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act almost three months after it became law. Although the Congressional Oversight Commission has issued two reports, including one released Thursday about the recipients of government aid, sources close to the panel say a lack of agreement by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on who will run the watchdog is slowing down its work. The lack of a leader has prevented the commission from hiring dedicated staff. One source close to the commission said the inability to hire staff has become a "significant" obstacle, noting that a similar watchdog overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008 needed its own staff to probe the bailout. “We are doing our best without staff, but the 2008 [Congressional Oversight Panel] had more than 40 staff by comparison, so it's a serious problem,” the source said. As of now, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Reps. French Hill, R-Ark., Donna Shalala, D-Fla., and Bharat Ramamurti, a former adviser to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have been appointed to serve on the commission.Bloomberg NewsThe Congressional Oversight Commission was established to oversee the implementation of Title IV of the CARES Act, which includes the Federal Reserve's emergency lending facilities and Treasury Department loans to sectors hit hard by the pandemic. Another source close to the commission said that the lack of a chair has “complicated our process.” Neil Barofsky, a partner at Jenner & Block who served separately as the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008, said that the Congressional Oversight Commission “can’t really do its job at all without a chair.” “To conduct hearings, to get staff, to do all those things, you need to have a chair,” Barofsky said. “So essentially one of the cornerstone pieces of oversight for the CARES Act … is empty, unconstructed. It’s really remarkable in a lot of ways.” Barofsky added that the chair of the commission is also needed to set the direction and tone of oversight for Title IV.

Federal Tax Receipts Show A Record Plunge In May, Raising More Doubts About Employment Data Accuracy -- The Monthly Treasury Statement for May showed federal withheld income tax receipts falling a record 33% from the comparable period one year ago. The decline in May tax receipts exceeds the 30% decline in April. Monthly tax (gross) receipts have been reported since 1973 and April and May declines are the largest on record.    Federal withheld tax receipts are directly related to workers paychecks. The scale of the decline in tax receipts is nearly three times the decline in reported household and payroll employment. The unprecedented gap raises questions about the accuracy of the April and May employment reports. Federal withheld (gross) income tax receipts are highly correlated with employment levels and wage growth since taxes are withheld from workers paychecks. Monthly receipts can be noisy, often influenced by the number of workdays. Nonetheless, back-to-back monthly declines are rare and have only occurred during periods of exceptionally large declines in employment or when there have been legislative changes that lower peoples' withheld tax payments. There are no legislative changes that would result in dramatically lower withheld gross federal income tax receipts. So the logical conclusion is that the sharp drop in withheld income tax receipts is directly related to a plunge in wage and salary income. Without question, the tax data raises doubts over the scale of reported job loss as well as industries that experienced the largest declines.  Tax receipts are off over 30%, while employment levels are off roughly 13%. How can tax receipts fall three times more than employment?  As puzzling as that appears to be what is equally puzzling is that the vast majority of job loss was concentrated in lower-wage industries, such as leisure and hospitality and retail trade.  If job loss was concentrated in low wage industries one would not expect tax receipts to fall three times as fast as overall employment.The tax data for April and May offers strong evidence that the employment data is inaccurate.

How America’s Covid-19 Rescues Look Set to Increase Inequality -- Yves Smith -  The notion that the US approach to handling the Depression-level shock of Covid-19, to shovel cash at the rich and give only short-term, modest help to those at the bottom of the food chain, is hardly news. Nevertheless, a new, detailed, non-paywalled Financial Times story, Why the US pandemic response risks widening the economic divide, does a fine job of laying out how the major gimmies worked and how large their impact is likely to be. This one-stop shopping is important, if nausea-inducing, reading. But this piece nevertheless seems oddly incapable of drawing conclusions, or more accurately, conclusions commensurate with its data. The authors are concerned about the prospect of even more inequality, but see the impact as low growth. They underplay the fact that the lack of shared sacrifice, and worse, the rich all too clearly getting richer, is a prescription for social upheaval, particularly if unemployment stays very high.The chart title below is similarly in denial that more concentration of wealth at the top is a feature not a bug, and the corollary is a lack of wealth not just for those at the bottom but the entire bottom half:In a system where most people must sell one’s labor as a condition of survival, it behooves the people in charge to provide enough adequately paid work. The importance of that duty seems lost on American elites. Worse, the Trump version is that if people get hungry enough, they’ll have to work. But the officialdom seems not to have sorted out that the “work” available might wind up being the gang member sort.In keeping, the worst outcome the article envisages is a repeat of the post 2008 “slower recovery, especially in wages, and….a new wave of economic populism.” Can’t they see that differences in degree can and will produce differences in kind?The big facts: so far, the US has had $3 trillion of stimulus, enough to juice Wall Street and keep most top managers and executives working at home. The middle and lower class have gotten only short-term relief which is set to expire soon. Record high stock prices and the big bounce in retail sales means stingy Republicans don’t want to give the lower orders more dough (not that the Democrats have been paragons of virtue). The top 25 percent of income earners are responsible for more than half of the nation’s drastic plunge in consumer spending since the start of the pandemic, according to a new study from Opportunity Insights, a Harvard-based research group.Big spenders cut back most when it came to high-touch goods and services with a bigger risk for catching COVID-19, such as restaurants, hotels and transportation, the researchers found. That had a big trickle-down effect on the businesses and workers that rely on their money.Small merchants in the most affluent zip codes lost more than 70 percent of their revenue when the virus struck, while those in the poorest areas lost just 30 percent, the study says. The layoffs that accompanied those losses followed a similar pattern — over 70 percent of low-wage workers at small businesses in rich areas lost their jobs within two weeks of the start of the crisis, compared with less than 30 percent in the lowest-rent ZIP codes.

Expanded Tax Break for Charitable Gifts Gains Support in Congress – WSJ —A bipartisan effort to expand tax breaks for charitable donations is gaining momentum in Congress, as nonprofit groups struggle during the pandemic. Senators, including James Lankford (R., Okla.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), want to let taxpayers deduct charitable donations, even if they don’t itemize their deductions. Their plan would greatly increase a small tax break created in March that allowed such extra charitable deductions. Their plan would limit that to one-third of the standard deduction. In 2020, that is $4,133 for individuals and $8,267 for married couples. The senators, backed by organizations with national clout such as Habitat for Humanity International and the YMCA, are offering their idea as a way to help nonprofits and their middle-class donors. They are pitching it for the next economic-relief legislation, set for Senate consideration next month. “Their services are most in need right now, as the challenges from the pandemic and the economic fallout are so great,” Ms. Shaheen said in an interview. “How can we help them in ways that are going to make a difference?” Charities are struggling during the pandemic after fundraising events were canceled and the stock market gyrated. Habitat laid off 10% of its staff and cut executive pay. Some religious congregations report donation declines of more than 30% and have lost income from renting space for events, according to the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Federal Judge Orders Trump Admin to Give Native Americans Their Withheld Stimulus Money -Frustrated and disgusted that it has taken so long for the Department of the Treasury to distribute Federal stimulus funds to Native American tribes, a federal judge ordered Secretary Steve Mnuchin to distribute the money immediately, according to HuffPost.The judge said that the Native Americans should have received their portion of the CARES Act months ago when other Americans received theirs.The decision from U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta was particularly critical of Mnuchin's decision to hold back $679 million in funding set aside for tribes while waiting on a decision in another case that will determine whether tribal businesses are eligible for the funding, as The Hill reported. “Continued delay in the face of an exceptional public health crisis is no longer acceptable," said Mehta, who gave Mnuchin until Wednesday to disburse the funds, as HuffPost reported."The Secretary has now taken more than twice as much time as Congress directed to distribute all CARES Act funds," Mehta wrote, referring to the $2.2 trillion March legislation that earmarked $8 billion for tribal governments, according to The Hill. "The 80 days they have waited, when Congress intended receipt of emergency funds in less than half that time, is long enough."The money is desperately needed, as the Navajo Nation saw the largest spike in COVID-19 cases per capita in the nation and access to clean water and reliable healthcare remain limited for many tribes. As a result of the delayed payments, the Navajo Nation has not been able to develop adequate COVID-19 response and protection plans, like hazard pay for employees and sanitation of buildings and businesses on the largest reservation in the country, according to Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, as IndianZreported.Nez stressed that the delay is significant since the CARES Act requires the tribes' money to be spent by Dec. 31. "There's a timeline on this," Nez said, as as IndianZ reported. "We need to get those dollars to all the tribes across the country so they can help their citizens. We are wanting to use these dollars for the immediate needs."

White House dismissal of COVID-19 concerns draws criticism -The White House has flouted public health advice on the coronavirus, drawing harsh criticisms from experts who fear the administration is sending the wrong message. Even as cases surge in Oklahoma, President Trump is moving forward with an indoor rally in Tulsa on Saturday, despite guidelines against holding such large gatherings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Trump and Vice President Pence have mostly brushed off the rising numbers of cases in states across the country, largely attributing them to increased testing.In a Gray TV interview earlier this week, Trump said the number of cases in Oklahoma was “very minuscule,” and the virus was “dying out.”In fact, Oklahoma has reported more than 1,100 new cases in just the past four days, with record high numbers twice in a week.Experts fear Trump’s dismissal of rising case numbers and the dangers of large gatherings gives the public the message that the virus is no longer a threat, and puts the country at risk of prolonging the crisis.“The consistent theme has been inconsistent messaging,” said Howard Koh, former assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services under President Obama.  “It just leads to public doubt and confusion, which weakens the chances of a coordinated national response,” added Koh, who now teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health.Trump and Pence have signaled a desire to reopen the country, and cheered governors for moving quickly despite states not meeting the CDC guidelines for reopening. In comments this week, both have signaled a desire to declare victory over the virus, and paint a picture of life returning to normal.

Arizona sheriff tests positive for coronavirus ahead of meeting with Trump An Arizona sheriff who in May said that he wouldn't enforce a stay-at-home order imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic has tested positive for COVID-19. Mark Lamb, the sheriff of Pinal County, Ariz., revealed in a statement shared on Facebook on Wednesday that he received a positive test result after getting an invitation to meet with President Trump at the White House. Lamb was one of several officials invited to attend a White House meeting on law enforcement and the signing of Trump's executive action on policing. Lamb said that he received a mandatory screening from the White House and that the test came back positive. "On Saturday, I held a campaign event, where it is likely I came into contact with an infected individual," Lamb said, adding that he continued to be asymptomatic and would self-quarantine for two weeks. Lamb added that as "a law enforcement official and elected leader," he does "not have the luxury of staying home." "This line of work is inherently dangerous, and that is a risk we take when we sign up for the job," he said. "Today, that risk is the COVID-19 virus."

 Republican congressman who just announced he has the coronavirus refused to wear a face mask on the House floor 2 weeks ago -  Rep. Tom Rice, a South Carolina Republican, announced on Monday that he, his wife, and his son had been infected with the coronavirus. But just two weeks ago, Rice appeared on the House floor in Washington without a face covering.When CNN reporter Manu Raju asked Rice why he wasn't wearing a mask in the chamber on May 28, the congressman said he could maintain at least 6 feet of distance from everyone on the floor and in the halls of the Capitol and therefore didn't need to wear a mask. COVID-19 can spread even from asymptomatic carriers."I do wear it sometimes on the floor," he told Raju in May. "I make an effort to ... stay 6 feet away from folks in accordance with guidelines. And when I'm forced into a situation where I can't do that — like on a plane — I do wear a mask."  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone wear a cloth face covering when they cannot maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others. Rice announced in a Monday Facebook post that he and his family had contracted the virus and were recovering from COVID-19, which he referred to as the "Wuhan Flu." "I wanted to let you know that all 3 members of our household: Wrenzie, our son Lucas, and I all have the Wuhan Flu. We are all on the mend and doing fine," Rice wrote. "COVID-19 is a serious, sometimes deadly illness. We, however, have fared well."  Rice said that while the virus was "not bad for me," his son suffered from "a high fever and really bad cough." The congressman may have already contracted the virus, and could have spread it to others, when he spent time in the halls of Congress in late May.

Trump mocks Biden event that practiced social distancing --President Trump mocked former Vice President Joe Biden for practicing social distancing during a campaign event in the Philadelphia suburbs on Friday. The president posted a photo of the gathering, where chairs are notably distanced from each other in accordance with guidelines from public health officials. “Joe Biden’s rally. ZERO enthusiasm!” tweeted Trump, who is hosting a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday. Trump’s scheduled rally has stirred controversy from local officials, who worry that it could exasperate the spike in coronavirus cases the city is currently experiencing. The rally is expected to fill the 19,000-plus seat arena and the campaign announced it is preparing for an overflow in the number of attendees. On Friday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied a legal request to require that social distancing be enforced at the rally. The rally goes directly against the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advises against large gatherings, particularly indoors. Oklahoma Supreme Court denies appeal to enforce social distancing

Fauci and Birx advised Trump against holding Tulsa rally: report --Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, two of the most prominent members of the White House coronavirus task force, advised Trump against holding an in-person rally in Tulsa, Okla., this weekend, sources told NBC News. Both Fauci and Birx have voiced concerns about hosting the rally, which is set to congregate at least 19,000 people in Tulsa’s BOK Center. The event goes against guidelines in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House. On Friday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied a legal request to require that social distancing be enforced at the rally. The Trump campaign said that attendees will be given temperature checks, masks and hand sanitizer before entering the arena. However, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that wearing masks at the event would be a “personal choice." According to NBC, Fauci and Birx have expressed a desire to continue making appearances at White House press briefings, which was a regular occurrence at one point during the pandemic. But sources told NBC that Trump is “annoyed” at the comments Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has made during media interviews. In an interview with the Daily Beast this week, Fauci said that if he had the opportunity, he would not attend the rally. Fauci told The Washington Post in a story published Friday that he has not met with President Trump as of late, but has met with Vice President Pence, who leads the task force, “then it goes up to the next level.” Trump has publicly expressed his frustration with Fauci at times, tweeting Friday that “Tony Fauci has nothing to do with NFL Football,” after Fauci told CNN on Thursday that it would be "very hard" for the NFL to have a season safely without having players in a "bubble," which the league currently does not have plans for.

Wall Street Expects a Covid-19 Vaccine Before the U.S. Election -Wall Street predicts the White House will push through approval of one or maybe even two Covid-19 vaccines to help bolster Donald Trump’s chances before the U.S. presidential election. While scientists, including the nation’s top virus expert Anthony Fauci, have set their eyes on a vaccine by early 2021 at the earliest, sell-side research analysts have been bringing in experts to weigh in on the possibility of a shorter timeline -- ahead of the Nov. 3 vote.That date is increasingly important as Democratic challenger Joe Bidengains steam, with more Americans scrutinizing the Trump administration’s handling of both the pandemic and the nation’s divisive racial inequities. There were 13 experimental coronavirus vaccines being tested in humans and more than 120 others in earlier stages of development, according to the World Health Organization’s latest count, although new trials are moving forward at record speed. Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies including AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. have been ramping up production and promising supplies of millions of doses of their still experimental vaccines before the year ends.“All the datapoints we’ve collected make me think we’re going to get a vaccine prior to the election,” Jared Holz, a health-care strategist with Jefferies, said in a phone interview. The current administration is “incredibly incentivized to approve at least one of these vaccines before Nov. 3.”Holz is not alone in that view. Raymond James policy analysts wrote in a client note that “the Trump White House is putting tremendous pressure on the FDA to approve an emergency use authorization (EUA) for a vaccine prior to the election.”

U.S. Senate Republicans ready police reform bill to rival Democrats - More than three weeks after George Floyd’s killing in police custody spurred protests nationwide, Senate Republicans will present their legislation at a 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT) press conference. Democrats will advance their own bill out of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25, after a policeman knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, was the latest in a string of killings of African Americans by U.S. police and it sparked widespread protests and fresh calls for reforms. “The American people have spoken, and we hear you,” Senator Tim Scott, the chamber’s lone black Republican, who crafted the legislation, said in a post on Twitter. The two bills address similar issues. Both make lynching a federal hate crime, encourage the use of body cameras and seek better training standards for police. But it is not clear that Congress will agree on how to act. Democrats claim the Republican plan does not go far enough, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Democratic legislation would go nowhere in his chamber, dismissing it as “typical Democratic overreach.” Unlike the Democratic legislation, the Republican bill is not expected to allow victims of misconduct to sue police, ban police chokeholds outright or create new rules to restrict the use of lethal force.  Instead, Republicans rely on the use of federal grant money to encourage police departments to adopt reforms. Facing criticism over his policies and inflammatory rhetoric, President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an order that would steer federal money to police departments that agree to outside review and limit the use of chokeholds.

Supreme Court Rules for Gay and Transgender Rights in the Workplace - WSJ - —The Supreme Court ruled that bedrock federal civil-rights law prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, a decision that for the first time extends federal workplace protections to LGBT employees nationwide.The high court, in a 6-3 decision, said the broad language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, should be read to cover sexual orientation as well. Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts in addition to the four more-liberal members of the court. “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” the opinion said.The case extends more than a decade of advances for gay-rights advocates at the Supreme Court, even as the court has grown more conservative with the 2018 retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the court’s previous LGBT rights decisions, including the 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage. For all its cultural and political controversy, Monday’s case was simple, Justice Gorsuch found. He focused on the text of the statute Congress passed in 1964, forbidding workplace discrimination against an individual “because of…sex.” There was no getting around it, he said: “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it wouldn’t have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Supreme Court Rules American Workers Can't Be Fired For Being Gay Or Trans, Defying White House - In a landmark ruling by the US Supreme Court (which now features two new justices appointed by President Trump) gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans individuals cannot legally be discriminated against by employers - meaning they can't be fired, or not hired, simply for being LGBTQ. In decisions in two separate cases, the court finally added LGBTQ people as a "protected class" under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. \ The justices conceded that sexual orientation may not have been on the minds of anyone in Congress when the civil rights law was passed back in the wake of President John F Kennedy's assassination. But the judges ruled that firing a male employee for dating men, but not a female employee for dating men, would represent illegal discrimination. The ruling in the first case was a victory for Gerald Bostock, who was fired from a county job in Georgia after he joined a gay softball team, and the relatives of Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor who was fired after he told a female client not to worry about being strapped tightly to him during a jump because he was "100% gay". Zarda died before SCOTUS decided to accept the case. In a separate case, SCOTUS also ruled that Title VII outlaws discrimination against transgender employees, upholding a lower court ruling that found Aimee Stephens was impermissibly fired from her job at a Michigan funeral home two weeks after coming out as trans to her boss. Her former employer claimed she was fired for failing to follow the dress code. Like Zarda, Stephens did not live to see the case decided, having died on May 12 while in hospice care for kidney disease. The cases mark the first notable rulings on gay rights since the retirement of former justice Anthony Kennedy. Notably, the Trump administration opposed the court's ruling, reversing the stance from the Obama Administration.

 Supreme Court blocks Trump plan to end DACA program - The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday to block the Trump administration from ending an Obama-era program that shields nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation, upending a key feature of President Trump’s immigration agenda. In a fractured decision, the justices said the administration failed to give an adequate justification for terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as required by federal law. The ruling keeps intact a program that is open to an estimated 1.3 million non-citizens who are eligible for DACA by virtue of having been brought to the U.S. as children, and who have maintained residency and meet the education or military service requirements and other criteria.

Trump signals new effort to end 'Dreamers' immigration program after court defeat - (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Friday signaled he could try again to end the program that has protected so-called Dreamer immigrants who are in the United States illegally but entered as children, following a loss in the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy that “The Supreme Court asked us to resubmit on DACA, nothing was lost or won. They ‘punted’, much like in a football game (where hopefully they would stand for our great American Flag). We will be submitting enhanced papers shortly in order to properly fulfil[l] the Supreme Court’s ruling & request of yesterday.”When asked for clarification on his comments, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said: “we’re looking at documents currently” and added the administration would move forward in a “responsible” and “compassionate” way.The 5-4 court ruling found that the administration had erred in the way that it decided to end the program in 2017. DACA was put in place by the previous administration of President Barack Obama and currently some 649,000 immigrants are enrolled. The majority opinion from the court, where Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four more liberal justices, left the door open for Republican Trump to attempt again to rescind the program, ruling only that the administration had not met procedural requirements and its actions were “arbitrary and capricious” under a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act.

Bolton book portrays 'stunningly uninformed' Trump - Former national security adviser John Bolton's forthcoming book portrays President Trump as a "stunningly uninformed" officeholder who routinely conflated different people, veered off on unrelated tangents during critical meetings and had little concept of the world with which he dealt. In the book, "The Room Where It Happened," Bolton describes his year and a half as Trump's third chief national security aide as a roller-coaster effort to keep an erratic president on topic in spite of a lack of an overarching theory of national security or foreign policy that guided the first-time politician. "He second-guessed people's motives, saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government," Bolton writes. Trump routinely complained about favored irritants, from the amount of money South Korea paid the United States for American troop presence on the Korean Peninsula to his first tense meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He often urged aides to pull the United States completely out of Africa, a continent he disparaged regularly, Bolton writes. The Hill obtained a copy of Bolton's book on Wednesday, a week before its scheduled publication. The Justice Department has sought an emergency order to block its publication, though multiple media outlets have already obtained copies of the book. Bolton also chronicles a long pattern of Trump's ignorance of basic geography and the politics of the nations with which the United States has close relationships. Trump constantly confused former Afghan President Hamid Karzai with his successor, Ashraf Ghani. In the midst of sensitive negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government, Trump told advisers he believed Ghani was corrupt and that he owned a mansion in Dubai; Karzai was widely seen by American officials as corrupt, not Ghani. Bolton writes that American officials knew "from actual research" that Ghani did not own the house in Dubai. "If only Trump could keep straight that incumbent President Ghani was not former President Karzai, we would have spared ourselves a lot of trouble," Bolton writes. Bolton says Trump also displayed a startling lack of knowledge of Nordic countries. As the Trump administration and the Russian government debated where to stage the first formal sit-down between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the United States government pushed for a meeting in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, while the Russians wanted a summit in Vienna. "Isn't Finland kind of a satellite of Russia?" Trump asked, according to Bolton's notes. Bolton says later that same day Trump asked his then-chief of staff, John Kelly, whether Finland was a part of Russia. 

Bolton: I don't think Trump is 'fit for office' - Former White House national security adviser John Bolton tore into President Trump in an interview with ABC News, saying he is unfit for office and solely focused on getting reelected. “I don’t think he’s fit for office. I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the job. There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than, ‘What’s good for Donald Trump’s reelection?’ ” Bolton said in a promotional clip of the interview, which is set to air in full on Sunday. Bolton continued, saying that the president’s obsession with winning a second term superseded the political ramifications of his decisions, citing his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.“Well, I think he was so focused on the reelection that longer term considerations fell by the wayside,” he said. “So if he thought he could get a photo opportunity with Kim Jong Un at the Demilitarized Zone in Korea, there was considerable emphasis on the photo opportunity and the press reaction to it and little or no focus on what such meetings did for the bargaining positions of the United States.” The comments are the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter feud between Bolton and Trump as the former adviser makes media appearances promoting his memoir discussing his 17-month stint in the White House that is set to release next week.Bolton on Wednesday leaked excerpts from his book to several media outlets, including The Hill, that excoriate Trump as uninformed, detailing several scandalous allegations against the president. Among Bolton's most notable claims are that the president solicited help from Chinese President Xi Jinping to win reelection by urging him to buy more agricultural products to boost support among farmers in the U.S. He also wrote that Trump dismissed human rights abuses in China against Uighur Muslims, that the president mused about jailing members of the press and that the commander in chief said invading Venezuela would be "cool." "He second-guessed people's motives, saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government," Bolton writes.  Trump fired back at Bolton Friday night, calling him a criminal and a liar. “He broke the law,” Trump said of Bolton on Fox News Wednesday night. “He was a washed-up guy. I gave him a chance. He couldn’t get Senate-confirmed so I gave him a non-Senate-confirmed position where I could just put him there, see how he worked.” Trump also called Bolton a “liar” in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Wednesday and denied the claim that he signaled his support for Xi’s implementation of Uighur camps in China’s Xinjiang province.

The Memo: Bolton exposé makes Trump figure of mockery --John Bolton’s most potent weapon against President Trump is simple but brutal — mockery. The New York Times published details from the former national security advisor’s book Wednesday afternoon, and other outlets soon followed. The revelations caused an immediate firestorm.By Bolton’s account, Trump on one occasion asked if Finland is part of Russia. He was not aware that the United Kingdom possesses nuclear weapons. He was eager to see if an autographed copy of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” could be delivered to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.  And he was so reckless that he needed to be looked after by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, whom Bolton reportedly terms “the axis of adults.”Bolton’s portrayal of the president as a fool may be a sharper dart, politically speaking, than serious allegations suggesting Trump committed other potentially impeachable acts, eyond his dealings with Ukraine. In the one detail that is likely to receive enormous attention, Bolton recounts a meeting during which Tillerson’s successor as secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, purportedly passed Bolton a note saying of Trump: “He is so full of shit.”That remark will be added to the pantheon of profanities that have been used by, or attributed to, erstwhile members of Trump’s inner circle.Tillerson is said to have called Trump a “f----ing moron.” Bob Woodward’s book, "Fear," characterizes lawyer John Dowd as believing Trump to be “a f----ing liar” and former Chief of Staff John Kelly to have considered him an “idiot.” (Dowd and Kelly denied those accounts.)There has been a vigorous effort from the administration and outside Trump allies to suppress or discredit Bolton’s book — a sign, perhaps, that they are aware of the danger it poses. The pre-publication vetting of the book was deeply contentious, with the National Security Council demanding changes, ostensibly to protect national security.  A lawyer for Bolton, Chuck Cooper, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal last week in which he argued this amounted to “a transparent attempt to use national security as a pretext to censor Mr. Bolton.” On Tuesday, the Department of Justice filed a civil complaint against Bolton over the book, which is titled “The Room Where it Happened.” In the process, the DOJ gave the tome enormous publicity. Although it does not come out until June 23, it was the number one bestseller on Amazon on Wednesday afternoon.

Mueller report re-released with fewer redactions after legal battle - The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday removed a number of redactions from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election amid a court battle over information withheld from the report.The DOJ submitted the re-processed report in a court filing, saying that the redactions in question are no longer necessary following the conclusion of the criminal case against Roger Stone, the longtime GOP operative and former Trump campaign adviser.The department said the redactions were originally made to protect the prosecution against Stone over charges of lying to Congress and witness tampering.Stone was convicted of all seven charges against him and was sentenced earlier this year to more than three years in prison.The new information from the report comes three months after a federal judge demanded that the DOJ hand over the unredacted report for his review and blasted Attorney General William Barr's handling of its publication."The inconsistencies between Attorney General Barr’s statements, made at a time when the public did not have access to the redacted version of the Mueller Report to assess the veracity of his statements, and portions of the redacted version of the Mueller Report that conflict with those statements cause the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary," Judge Reggie B. Walton wrote in a decision from March.The developments came in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits from the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and news outlets Buzzfeed and CNN. The new version of the public report reveals a section in Volume I devoted to Stone's efforts to act as a liaison between the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and WikiLeaks, which at the time was releasing troves of hacked emails from Democratic Party officials and Hillary Clinton's campaign.Much of the newly-revealed information served as the basis for Mueller's prosecution of Stone and was revealed during his trial.

Facebook Removed Trump Campaign Ad For "Organized Hate" Violation - CNN just confirmed a report initially published by the NY Daily News that Facebook removed a Trump 2020 campaign ad over violations of its "organized hate" policy.JUST IN: Facebook has taken down Trump ads "for violating our policy against organized hate," it said. — Ana Cabrera (@AnaCabrera) June 18, 2020   NBC News reported that multiple ads had been censored by Facebook.Facebook has taken down multiple Trump reelection campaign ads citing policy violation against organized hate.  Spox tells @NBCNews "our policy prohibits using a banned hate group's symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol”— Sally Shin (@sallyshin) June 18, 2020  FB CEO Mark Zuckerberg infamously earned the ire of Congressional Democrats and the progressive left after refusing to censor political ads containing alleged "misinformation" (as all political ads have since time immemorial). Apparently, the offending ad can be seen below: Certain iterations of the ad included a symbol that the Trump campaign intended to associate with the "left-wing mobs" it referenced in the post.

 The Fed’s Paycheck Protection Program Gave a Tiny NJ Bank $5.3 Billion – 9 Percent of all the Money It’s Spent Thus Far - Pam Martens -  The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was authorized by Congress under the CARES Act and is being overseen by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The goal of the PPP program is to make 1 percent interest loans to small businesses experiencing hardship from the coronavirus crisis and then forgive the loans if the businesses keep their employees on the payroll.Even though the loans are guaranteed against losses by the SBA, the Federal Reserve launched its own program, called the Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility, to reimburse lenders who make these loans. So far, the Fed has reimbursed $57 billion of these loans as of June 10, out of total loans approved by the SBA of more than $500 billion. The odd thing about those Fed reimbursements is that a stunning $5.3 billion in reimbursements, or 9 percent of the $57 reimbursed by the Fed, have gone to a tiny New Jersey bank, Cross River Bank. According to the SBA, as of May 30, there were 5,454 lenders that had made loans in the PPP program. Cross River Bank is just one of those 5,454 lenders and yet it received 9 percent of the Fed’s reimbursements. How does that make any sense? Wells Fargo has approximately 250,000 employees. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) it has 5,444 branches in 40 states in the U.S. The Fed’s transaction data for its PPP reimbursements do not show any PPP reimbursements to Wells Fargo. According to the FDIC, Cross River Bank has only one branch office and has been around for just 12 years. The $5.3 billion that the Fed has reimbursed to Cross River Bank is more than twice its total assets of $2.5 billion as of March 30. Cross River Bank has made more than 50 percent of the dollar amount that Wells Fargo has made in PPP loans but it has only 250 employees rather than the 250,000 employees working for Wells Fargo to review and process these PPP loans.  But unlike in banks of yesteryear, virtually all Cross River’s lending officers aren’t human beings. They are apps. Cross River’s loans originate mostly from 15 or so buzzy venture-capital-backed financial technology startups, so-called fintechs, that go by names like Affirm, Best Egg, Upgrade, Upstart and LendingUSA. The fintechs provide the customers; Cross River provides the licenses and infrastructure. It holds 10% to 20% of each loan it issues, and the massive volume of fintech loans has propelled Cross River to $2 billion in assets, up from $100 million a decade ago.”   In 2018 the FDIC found that Cross River Bank “engaged in unsafe or unsound banking practices by failing to ensure an adequate compliance management system was in place….” The FDIC fined the bank $641,750 and made it contribute to a $20 million restitution fund to reimburse harmed consumers.  The U.S. currently has the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. The PPP program is a critical component in keeping small businesses alive and giving struggling workers a paycheck. Do we really want banks without human lending officers deciding who gets billions of dollars from this taxpayer-funded program?

Inside OCC's effort to extract $37.5M from former Wells Fargo execs - Over the weekend before Christmas 2013, the Los Angeles Times published a blockbuster story about a pattern of sales misconduct at Wells Fargo. But when the markets opened the following Monday, the company’s stock performance did not suffer. In fact, after closing at $44.96 on Friday, the share price rose slightly in early-day trading. On Monday morning, Wells Fargo’s then-chief financial officer, Tim Sloan, sent a brief email to CEO John Stumpf. The subject line read: “WFC Share Price,” a reference to the bank’s ticker symbol on the New York Stock Exchange. “$45.45 after the LA Times Story!” said the body of the message. The email, which suggests internal concern about how the article’s revelations could impact the bank’s valuation, is part of a stash of recently released documents that shed new light on Wells Fargo’s phony-accounts scandal and the government’s effort to collect $37.5 million in penalties from five former high-ranking bank executives. The documents highlight the challenges that the bankers are likely to face in defending themselves against the civil charges. They include previously unreported testimony from Stumpf in which he acknowledged that the bank’s sales misconduct dated to the early 2000s and that the problems were systemic. The documents also include testimony from a former Wells chief security officer who said that the bank had a history of paying fines for wrongdoing without instituting the necessary reforms. The onetime Wells Fargo executives who are facing civil charges include former retail banking head Carrie Tolstedt, who is represented by Williams & Connolly; longtime general counsel James Strother, who has lawyers at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and chief auditor David Julian, who is represented by WilmerHale. The firms are mounting vigorous defenses of the ex-bankers, even though their cases are being heard in a forum that some observers believe offers a home-field advantage to the government. The cases represent one of the largest efforts ever by U.S. bank regulators to punish individual bankers. The charges were the product of a multiyear investigation by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency into Wells Fargo’s sales practices. The OCC received more than 1.5 million pages from the bank and took the deposition testimony of more than 90 witnesses, according to documents filed in the case.

Bank interest in Main Street Lending Program ‘substantial,’ Powell says— Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Tuesday said financial institutions are showing interest in the central bank's program to facilitate loans for midsize companies, and left open the possibility of additional stress tests to gauge how banks are dealing with the coronavirus crisis. In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Powell updated the lawmakers about the progress of a number of its emergency credit facilities — launched to combat the economic effects of the pandemic — including the Main Street Lending Program and the Municipal Liquidity Facility. The Main Street program, in which the Fed will participate in loans to small and medium-sized companies struggling from the pandemic, had prompted questions over its delayed launched and eligibility requirements. But after the central bank tweaked those requirements and opened up lender registration Monday, Powell said the Fed is pleased so far with the reception. There is "substantial interest on the part of bankers" in the Main Street program, Powell said. Powell told the committee that the Fed is still considering whether banks will need to resubmit their capital plans or conduct additional stress tests to take issues related to the pandemic into account. The central bank will announce a decision on June 25, when it also releases results from the Dodd-Frank Act Stress Tests and Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review. Banks subject to the stress tests have also been required to undergo "sensitivity analyses" to assess the effects of the pandemic on their balance sheets. In addition to those analyses, Powell said the Fed is “actively engaged in considering” whether the banks will be required to do additional stress testing work related to the coronavirus crisis or resubmit their capital plans. Powell also continued to pour cold water on the potential for a Fed facility for mortgage servicers to cover skipped payments by homeowners hit by the pandemic. “I'd say we were more worried a couple of months ago about stresses building" in mortgage servicing "than we are now,” Powell said. “The stresses have moved down a little bit. Of course we'll be monitoring that carefully, but as of right now, it doesn't look like there is a need for such a facility.”

Why bankers remain unsold on Fed's Main Street program — Although the Federal Reserve’s loan program aimed to help small and medium-sized businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic has been months in the making, many bankers are still on the fence about participating. The Fed announced the $600 billion Main Street Lending Program in April, saying the central bank would backstop coronavirus relief loans for middle-market firms with up to 15,000 employees or $5 billion in annual revenue. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which is administering the program, opened up registration to lenders June 15. But some banks —particularly community banks — are still trying to decide if it’s worth their while to sign up. “We’re still talking about it,” said Bob Fisher, president and CEO of the $485 million-asset Tioga State Bank in Spencer, N.Y., and incoming chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America. “I would have to say we're leaning towards not participating just because we really haven't had a lot of demand from our customers.” Still, the head of the Boston Fed said Friday that over 200 financial institutions of varying asset sizes had registered as of Thursday. "These are still early days in the program, and we are seeing a steady stream of interest," Eric Rosengren, president and CEO of the Boston Fed, said in a speech to the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. He added: "The institutions that have registered so far are geographically dispersed, representative of all 12 Federal Reserve districts. I am encouraged, too, by the interest of many smaller financial institutions like community banks.” Eligible businesses that were in sound financial condition before the pandemic are eligible to receive loans of at least $250,000 through one of three component facilities. The Fed, through the Main Street program, will then purchase 95% of each loan made under the program’s terms. But part of the quandary for community banks is determining whether they will have loan demand from business customers. Jim Donovan, the head of commercial and industrial lending at Bryn Mawr Trust in Pennsylvania, said the $4.9 billion-asset bank has had “very little inquiry” from potential borrowers. The institution is still trying to decide whether or not it wants to participate in the Fed program after receiving high demand for loans under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

Small change is becoming a big problem for banks— Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told Congress Wednesday that the central bank is attempting to rectify a shortage of coins being delivered to financial institutions around the country as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. “With the partial closure of the economy, the flow of coins though the economy has kind of stopped,” Powell said at a House Financial Services Committee hearing one day after he testified to the Senate Banking Committee. Powell encouraged banks to reach out to their regional Federal Reserve banks to deal with the operational challenge of an interruption in coin delivery. The hearing also highlighted Powell's support for temporarily easing a capital rule known as the Collins amendment in order to help banks better confront the pandemic crisis. But he opposed a plan proposed by Democrats to give consumers digital wallets housed at the Fed as a means of accessing coronavirus relief payments. Members of the committee from both parties, meanwhile, praised Powell for the central bank's handling of the economy through the coronavirus pandemic, bucking some of the criticism he has received from President Trump during his tenure. “It’s amazing to see what you’ve done, the impact it’s had, and we certainly appreciate all of your efforts,” said Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo. The discussion of coin shortages came after Rep. John Rose, R-Tenn., told Powell that a number of banks in his district do not know how to deal with a low supply of coin money for their customers. “I received a call from a bank here in Tennessee’s sixth congressional district yesterday alerting me to the fact they have been notified at the beginning of this week at the Fed that they would only be receiving a small portion of their weekly order of coinage,” Rose said. “According to this banker, his institution will likely run out of coins by Friday or this weekend. And after some preliminary research, I found that many other banks across my district are having the same operational challenge.” Powell said the partial closings of the economy have led to clogging in the circulation of coins. Regional banks should be able to assist banks coping with coin shortages, he added. “The whole system of flow has kind of come to a stop,” Powell said. “We are well aware of this. We are working with [the U.S. Mint] and we are working with the reserve banks. And as the economy reopens, we are seeing coins begin to move around again. So if a bank hasn’t already done so, they should certainly be in touch with their reserve bank to report this situation.”

‘Another unprecedented period’: FDIC reports dramatic 1Q profit drop — Banking industry profits were walloped in the first quarter of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic took an immediate toll on the economy, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Tuesday. The FDIC’s Quarterly Banking Profile paints a dour picture for the U.S. banking sector during the three months that ended March 31. The virus outbreak took hold in March and banks finished the quarter with $18.5 billion in net income, a precipitous fall of 69.6% compared with the year-earlier period. The pain was widespread; the FDIC said more than half of all banks reported a decline in annual net income. “The FDIC was born out of a crisis, and we now find ourselves in the midst of another unprecedented period,” FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams said in a statement accompanying the report. She cited the pandemic and its “attendant economic downturn," which resulted in a 5% drop in GDP during the first quarter that "adversely affected several industry sectors and financial markets.” A big driver of the profit decline was a dramatic increase in reserves banks set aside to prepare for future losses. Citing “deteriorating economic conditions” as well as the implementation by some banks of the Current Expected Credit Losses accounting methodology, the FDIC reported that provisions for credit losses increased by $38.8 billion to a total of $52.7 billion, an increase of nearly 280% from a year earlier. McWilliams stressed that she believes the nation’s banks remain a source of strength for the economy, given their continued role in working with customers affected by the pandemic. “Although bank earnings were negatively affected by increases in loan-loss provisions, banks effectively supported individuals and businesses during this downturn through lending and other critical financial services,” she said. The FDIC’s report is one of the most comprehensive looks at how the financial sector has been affected by the pandemic. However, since it covers a quarter that ended in March, the report captures only a sliver of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Banks’ dividend payouts could hinge on COVID-19 stress tests: Quarles — The Federal Reserve will use the outcome of a supplemental test of large banks' pandemic response to help determine whether institutions can make planned capital distributions, a top Fed official said Friday. However, the results of that COVID-19 analysis will not be disclosed publicly. Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles detailed the process of conducting so-called sensitivity analyses, which are being added to the standard annual stress tests given to the largest banks to assess the strength of their balance sheets in the current economic downturn and various recovery scenarios. He explained that the analyses will work effectively as a modified stress tests that factor in three different scenarios for an economic recovery following the pandemic. The assessments will adjust the unemployment rate, gross domestic product and Treasury rates based on three scenarios: a V-shaped economic recovery, a U-shaped recovery and a W-shaped recovery. The last implies a second round of social distancing and business closures. The central bank added the sensitivity analyses in part because the standard cycle of stress tests this year — the results of which will be released next week — do not incorporate the dramatic economic impact of the pandemic. “Although we didn’t run our full stress test on these three possible downside risk paths for the economy, and while our adjustments only capture the most material changes in balance sheets since last year, this sensitivity analysis has helped sharpen our understanding of how banks may fare in the wide range of possible outcomes,” Quarles said at a virtual event with the group Women in Housing and Finance. The sensitivity analyses will be used in part to inform the Fed's decision about a firm’s dividend plans, Quarles said. “The sensitivity analysis will help us judge whether banks would have enough capital if economic and financial conditions were to worsen,” he said.

Banks at a loss what to do with glut of deposits - Banks have had no problem gathering deposits during the coronavirus pandemic. The challenge is what to do with them until the economy recovers and loan demand returns. Deposits at banks jumped by 13.3% in the first quarter from a year earlier, to $15.8 trillion, the biggest year-over-year increase measured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The industry’s loan-to-deposit ratio fell from 71.9% to 68%. Fed data has since highlighted several weeks of double-digit deposit growth in the second quarter, including the week that ended June 3. Several factors are at work. Consumers and companies were hoarding cash during the earliest days of the outbreak. And many small businesses have been holding onto funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, which launched in April, while determining how to navigate the forgiveness process. Low-cost funding is invaluable for banks, especially when they have an opportunity to use the money to add higher-yielding assets. But the interest rate on PPP loans was capped at 1% and other lending opportunities are few and far between. Those factors, along with near-zero interest rates, could eventually pinch margins and further pressure profits, industry experts warn. “Deposit growth continues to outpace loan growth by a very wide margin, which will surely be a factor in NIM compression as banks appear to be awash in liquidity,” said Scott Siefers, an analyst at Piper Sandler. The banking industry’s net interest margin compressed by 29 basis points in the first quarter from a year earlier, to 3.13%, according to the FDIC. The yield on earning assets shrank by 54 basis points, to 3.87%. At the $77 million-asset American Metro Bank, which focuses on Chicago’s Chinatown community, Chairman and CEO Patrick McShane said that, since the onset of the pandemic, deposits have increased by about 8% on an annualized basis. The growth was notable given that the bank had not set out to add deposits in the first half of the year. McShane attributed the growth in large part to the PPP as new and existing customers deposited funds prior to deploying them. McShane said he hopes to eventually use the funds to help Chinatown’s restaurants and shops find their footing as Chicago gradually reopens. “A whole lot of uncertainty” remains, McShane said. “There’s been a lot of pain, and while we’ll do everything that we can to help restore businesses, it’s not clear how many will survive this.” If another wave of coronavirus forces a second shutdown, “it’s hard to imagine the fallout … and the damage it could do across commercial real estate,” he added.

Banks back bill to eliminate brokered deposit restrictions — The banking industry is throwing its weight behind legislation that would eliminate restrictions on brokered deposits and replace them with limits on asset growth for struggling banks. The bill, introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., this week, would effectively dismantle Section 29 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act by striking references to “brokered deposits” and replacing them with “asset growth restrictions.” Banks have sought to paint the current definition of brokered deposits as overly broad and out of date. The classification has important implications; banks that are not well capitalized face restrictions on accepting brokered funds. Those restrictions are meant in part to discourage struggling banks from overrelying on brokered deposits to fund overheated growth. But the legislation would aim to limit that growth more directly. The bill would introduce a new regulatory framework that imposes “maximum levels of growth in average total assets that an insured depository institution that is less than well capitalized may not exceed, and provide appropriate adjustments for growth resulting from corporate restructuring such as acquisitions or mergers,” according to the text. After Moran's bill was introduced in the Senate, the American Bankers Association, a longtime critic of brokered deposit restrictions, released a letter of support. “This is a much-needed measure to ensure that banks of all sizes have access to a stable and diverse funding base, and are able to innovate to meet the needs and expectations of their customers,” James Ballentine, executive vice president of congressional relations at the ABA, said in the letter, which was addressed to Moran.

 If the Fed Is Being Honest that Citigroup is Well Capitalized, Why Did It Need $3 Billion from the Fed’s Paycheck Protection Program? - There is fresh evidence that Citigroup, the mega Wall Street bank that was insolvent but still illegally propped up by the Fed during the last financial crisis (to the tune of $2.5 trillion cumulatively in secret loans for two and one-half years) is back to drinking at the Fed’s trough.The Fed has set up a program called the Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility (PPPLF). That Fed program is reimbursing small banks for the small business loans that they made under the Paycheck Protection Program which was established by Congress in the CARES Act and being overseen by the Small Business Administration (SBA). According to the Fed, the idea is to reimburse these banks around the country for the PPP loans so that they can make fresh loans to other struggling consumers and businesses. The banks simply post the PPP loans they have made as collateral and the Fed reimburses them. As of last Wednesday, the Fed had reimbursed $57 billion thus far. The SBA has guaranteed the loans against default so the banks are not at risk if they choose to keep the loans on their books.As of last Wednesday, not one mega Wall Street bank other than Citigroup had taken any of this Fed money. There was no JPMorgan Chase, no Wells Fargo, no Bank of America, no Morgan Stanley, no Goldman Sachs Bank USA on the Fed’s list of reimbursements. The name of Citigroup’s commercial bank, Citibank,  however, appeared 34 times. The tally of Citibank’s reimbursements on PPP loans from the Fed totaled $3.077 billion. That fact doesn’t square with the narrative from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell about the condition of these mega banks on Wall Street.Powell has had two consistent messages at his press conferences and testimony before Congress: those messages are that the mega banks that the Fed supervises went into the coronavirus crisis “well capitalized” and that has made them “a source of strength” in the crisis. If this turns out to be a lie, Powell will be humiliated in Congressional hearings in a manner similar to the feckless former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. The Fed would then, necessarily, be stripped of its supervisory role over Wall Street banks for allowing two unprecedented banking collapses in a period of 12 years. Thus, it’s essential to Powell to deal decisively with any facts that get in the way of his narrative. Yesterday, Powell testified at a House Financial Services Committee virtual hearing. He was asked multiple times about the dangers of Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs) to the big banks. That danger has been raised in recent days in an attention-grabbling headline at The Atlantic, “The Looming Bank Collapse.” The article was penned by law professor Frank Partnoy, who likely has a better grasp of these matters than Powell since he was previously a fixed income derivatives specialist at Morgan Stanley and CS First Boston.

Deutsche Bank Settles Swap Reporting Outage, Spoofing Violations – WSJ - The bank has agreed to pay more than $10 million to settle two separate cases by a derivatives market regulator Deutsche Bank will pay $9 million to settle claims stemming from an outage in 2016 of its swaps reporting platform, the U.S.’s derivatives market regulator said Thursday. The fine by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission appears to close the book on longstanding issues related to information the bank is required to provide regulators about its swaps reporting business.

Is it safe for bank examiners to return to the field?- — Comments by the head of the U.S. national bank regulator touting the benefits of in-person supervision has ignited a debate over how quickly examiners should plan to be physically inside bank branches and headquarters during the pandemic. Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks said in an American Banker op-ed that bank "examination is a human endeavor ... that works best face to face." Brooks did not say when on-site exams would resume at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which like all agencies has conducted remote oversight amid the health emergency, but he told the ABA Banking Journal that agency offices will reopen June 21. With coronavirus cases still on the rise in several states, workplace health experts says it is possible to manage the risks of in-person bank examination responsibly. But bankers and some other observers are urging caution about the pace of regulators' re-entry into financial institutions. "The regulators are going to do what they want to do, but I'd say there's no need to rush this," said Brad Bolton, the CEO of the $153 million-asset Community Spirit Bank in Red Bay, Ala., which is supervised by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. "We're still limiting how we work with vendors and receive deliveries. I think regulators should respect that, and let it be our choice. If a bank is comfortable with receiving examiners, sure." Brooks was the first regulator to signal a resumption of on-site exams. His comments followed an earlier call he made to mayors and governors to weigh the economic risks of "indefinite shutdowns" meant to combat the spread of the coronavirus. OCC Chief Operating Officer Blake Paulson said Monday the agency still intends to make use of remote monitoring methods. "The agency has learned the benefits of performing some examination activities remotely and appreciates the flexibility banks and examiners have shown during this pandemic to support the ongoing supervision of national banks and federal savings associations," Paulson said. "We will continue to use this flexibility as long as necessary.” But even though the agency is focused on the health of its examiners, Paulson said, in-person supervision has benefits that the current process lacks. “The health and safety of its employees is a primary concern for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the agency will follow recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and consider local factors, including precautions regarding travel, as we resume on-site examinations," he said.

Coronavirus Bankruptcies Are Coming - The New York Times - Experts foresee so many filings in the coming months that the courts could struggle to salvage the businesses that are worth saving. Already, companies large and small are succumbing to the effects of the coronavirus. They include household names like Hertz and J. Crew and comparatively anonymous energy companies like Diamond Offshore Drilling and Whiting Petroleum.And the wave of bankruptcies is going to get bigger.  Edward I. Altman, the creator of the Z score, a widely used method of predicting business failures, estimated that this year will easily set a record for so-called mega bankruptcies — filings by companies with $1 billion or more in debt. And he expects the number of merely large bankruptcies — at least $100 million — to challenge the record set the year after the 2008 economic crisis.Even a meaningful rebound in economic activity over the coming months won’t stop it, said Mr. Altman, the Max L. Heine professor of finance, emeritus, at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “The really hurting companies are too far gone to be saved,” he said. Many are teetering on the edge. Chesapeake Energy, once the second-largest natural gas company in the country, is wrestling with about $9 billion in debt. Tailored Brands — the parent of Men’s Wearhouse, Jos. A. Bank and K&G — recently disclosed that it, too, might have to file for bankruptcy protection. So did Weatherford International, an oil field services company that emerged from bankruptcy only in December. More than 6,800 companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year, and this year will almost certainly have more. The flood of petitions from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression could swamp the system, making it harder to save the companies that can be rescued, bankruptcy experts said. Most good-size companies that go into bankruptcy try to restructure themselves, working out payment agreements for their debts so they can stay open. But if a plan can’t be worked out — or isn’t successful — they can be liquidated instead. Equipment and property are sold off to pay debts, and the company disappears. Without reform in the system, “we anticipate that a significant fraction of viable small businesses will be forced to liquidate, causing high and irreversible economic losses,” a group of academics said in a letter to Congress in May. “Workers will lose jobs even in otherwise viable businesses.”

Is this the nuttiest risk factor of all time? -Hertz, the bankrupt car rental company which has become the poster-child for the current market’s speculative excess over the past fortnight, just filed this with the SEC. In case you’re wondering what that is, it’s the document outlining the company’s unprecedented $500m share sale which was sanctioned by American courts Friday night. Despite, we should add, the shares likely being worth zero.Don’t believe us? Here’s the relevant risk factor, just in case a prospectivebagholder shareholder complains after this rental clown-car skids off the road (from the filing, with our emphasis): As previously disclosed, on May 22, 2020, we filed voluntary petitions under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the Bankruptcy Court, thereby commencing the Chapter 11 Cases for certain debtors, including Hertz Global Holdings, Inc. The price of our common stock has been volatile following the commencement of the Chapter 11 Cases and may decrease in value or become worthless. Accordingly, any trading in our common stock during the pendency of our Chapter 11 Cases is highly speculative and poses substantial risks to purchasers of our common stock. As discussed below, recoveries in the Chapter 11 Cases for holders of common stock, if any, will depend upon our ability to negotiate and confirm a plan, the terms of such plan, the recovery of our business from the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, and the value of our assets.Although we cannot predict how our common stock will be treated under a plan, we expect that common stock holders would not receive a recovery through any plan unless the holders of more senior claims and interests, such as secured and unsecured indebtedness (which is currently trading at a significant discount), are paid in full, which would require a significant and rapid and currently unanticipated improvement in business conditions to pre-COVID-19 or close to pre-COVID-19 levels. We also expect our stockholders’ equity to decrease as we use cash on hand to support our operations in bankruptcy. Consequently, there is a significant risk that the holders of our common stock, including purchasers in this offering, will receive no recovery under the Chapter 11 Cases and that our common stock will be worthless. But who cares? If the people want equity, let them have it. Just don’t say they weren’t warned.

Consumer advocates allege bias in CFPB task force -- Consumer advocates have sued the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Director Kathy Kraninger over the creation of a task force established to recommend changes in regulatory policy. The lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges the CFPB and Kraninger were biased in choosing the five-member task force chaired by Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. The lawsuit alleges that Kraninger and the CFPB violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972, a so-called sunshine law, that sets requirements for federal advisory committees including that they be essential, in the public interest, fairly balanced, and structured to avoid inappropriate influence. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts by the National Association of Consumer Advocates, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and Kathleen Engel, a research law professor at Suffolk University and former member of the CFPB’s consumer advisory board. “The fundamental flaw of the task force is its single-minded focus on protecting the industry that the CFPB is supposed to regulate,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants never made the requisite findings that the task force is essential and in the public interest.” Last week, Zywicki wrote in a blog post that the task force had planned a "vigorous schedule" of public engagements before the pandemic hit, to hear as many perspectives as possible. Zywicki, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and co-author of “Consumer Credit and the American Economy,” held a “listening session” in March with various consumer advocates and trade groups. He plans to announce one public hearing for later this summer “at a time and in a format that enables participation consistent with the safety of all participants.” The comment period closed June 1 on a request for information by the CFPB to help identify areas of consumer protection that the committee should focus its research and analysis on during its one-year appointment. A group of 27 consumer, community and civil rights groups wrote a letter to Kraninger June 1 calling the task force “illegitimate, one-sided and highly inappropriate during a pandemic.” The group alleged the task force is made up “solely of five outside conservative academics and industry lawyers, including those who have represented payday lenders or others in CFPB enforcement actions and consumer litigation, and has no consumer representatives.”

Podcast: CFPB's independence is on trial. Other regulators are watching. - The Supreme Court is poised to decide the fate of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's leadership structure, but the implications could reach far beyond the bureau.

TD’s answer to a pandemic-driven spike in wire fraud - The banking industry has seen an escalation in fraud attempts involving commercial wire transfers since the coronavirus pandemic began, and is educating business customers and employees about how to spot scammers and establish proper controls to deter them. Criminals have latched on to the fact that businesses' communication channels and controls around wire transfers have been disrupted with so many people working from home, according to Tom Gregory, manager of treasury management sales at TD Bank. And it's harder to identify phony wire transfers. "Everything else is unusual — why would this be any more unusual than anything else?" Gregory said in reference to many business activities lately. "And so people are not seeing the red flags that they might see in a normal work environment.” Other banks and their customers will have to be on guard, too, as the FBI warned in April that it anticipates a rise in business email compromise schemes related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Not that fraud wasn't already a problem. Indeed, 76% of businesses surveyed by Strategic Treasurer this year said fraud risks had risen in the previous 12 months. And, in a separate survey, 36% of firms said they had experienced an increase in fraud attempts since the shift to a work-from-home environment. The risks tied to wire transfers conducted from home are greater than in an office because authentication and network security tend to be more lax, said Craig Jeffery, managing partner at Strategic Treasurer. What worries him most, he said, is that “the bad actors are far more sophisticated and patient, they have better tools and they're automated, and they continue to learn. The threat level continues to systematically increase. And that means that the defense level has to correspondingly increase to combat that.” The average payout of a successful business email compromise is $130,000, Jeffery said. Companies try to protect their systems with network security firewalls and encryption as well as training people to not fall for phishing emails, he said. But many organizations don’t lock down their payment processes, leaving them vulnerable to being manipulated and exploited. The $383 billion-asset TD Bank, the U.S. arm of TD Bank Group in Toronto, has found its share of customers falling for fake wire transfer requests. In one case, a hacker broke into a Zoom training session at one of TD Bank’s business clients, stole an email address from it and used that to break into the company’s computers with malware and hold it for ransom. "Thankfully, this company had all their data backed up and told the criminal to go pound sand,” Gregory said. “But Zoom wasn't a thing really until this whole COVID-19 lockdown came upon all of us.”

   Millions of loans payments skipped as coronavirus slows economy: report - Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., Americans have skipped payments on 100 million student loans, auto loans and other forms of debt, according to The Wall Street Journal. The number of people who deferred payments or enrolled in forbearance or some other type of relief since March 1 rose to 106 million at the end of May, which is three times higher than it was at the end of April, the Journal reported. Within student loans, 79 million accounts are in deferment or other relief status, up from 18 million a month earlier. Auto loans in some type of deferment doubled to 7.3 million accounts, and personal loans in deferment doubled to 1.3 million accounts. The rise in loan deferments came after the economy plummeted following widespread shutdowns. The federal government has instructed loan providers to allow borrowers to defer to a certain extent. The stimulus package passed in March allowed most borrowers to stop making monthly payments through Sept. 30 on federal student loans. The package also allowed homeowners hurt by the coronavirus or its economic fallout to ask their mortgage lenders for permission to pause their payments for up to 12 months. Several credit card, auto loan and personal loan lenders continue to allow consumers to skip or pause payments while they weather the economic blow of the pandemic.

 FHFA identifies supervisory concerns at two Federal Home Loan banks — The Federal Housing Finance Agency identified several safety and soundness concerns with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines and the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco in examinations conducted last year, the agency said in its annual report to Congress published Monday. Although the FHFA said that the San Francisco bank had maintained a satisfactory financial position with strong capital and liquidity, the agency flagged concerns with the bank’s credit risk underwriting and credit risk management, compliance with rules and regulations, and collateral management practices. In the case of the Des Moines bank, the FHFA determined that its issues were pronounced enough that the agency has heightened its oversight of the bank and is working closely with the bank’s president and CEO, Kristina Williams, who came aboard in January. The Des Moines bank similarly had stable financials, but the FHFA cited several supervisory issues, including with the bank’s management. Examiners also found that the bank had high operational risk and poor operational risk management practices, as well as weak contingent funding plans and intraday funds management practices. The FHFA also found that both banks needed to improve their diversity and inclusion programs, along with the Home Loan banks of New York, Cincinnati and Chicago. The FHFA issued findings to each of these banks requiring them to address deficiencies in their programs. Although the Federal Home Loan banks fly under the radar compared with the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they are an important source of low-cost liquidity for their members including federally insured banks and credit unions, nondepository community development financial institutions and non-federally insured credit unions. Examiners found that capital management practices and earnings were either strong or satisfactory at all 11 of the Home Loan banks in 2019, but that advances decreased for the second straight year in 2019, with all but one bank reporting diminished advances. 

GSEs hire Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase as financial advisers — The mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have hired two of the nation's top investment banks to serve as financial advisers as the two government-sponsored enterprises prepare to recapitalize and eventually exit conservatorship. Fannie has enlisted Morgan Stanley and Freddie has hired JPMorgan Chase to assist the GSEs in developing plans to boost capital, evaluating market impacts and timing and analyzing valuation, Fannie and Freddie announced Monday. The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s own financial adviser, the investment bank Houlihan Lokey, will then assist in evaluating those plans with the aim of returning Fannie and Freddie to the private market and facilitate the road map out of government control. “Today’s announcement marks another important step toward a responsible exit from conservatorship, and we look forward to working with FHFA, Treasury, and Morgan Stanley to chart a strong course forward for Fannie Mae,” Hugh Frater, Fannie's president and CEO, said in a news release. Fannie said it chose Morgan Stanley as its adviser for the investment bank’s “demonstrable qualifications and expertise in managing such complex matters,” while Freddie said it selected JPMorgan Chase after receiving competitive offers to its request for proposals in May. “We look forward to working with JPMorgan to continue meeting the milestones necessary to begin our new chapter as soon as possible,” Freddie Mac President and CEO David Brickman said in a news release. Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase's chairman and CEO, said in the release, "We look forward to working side by side with Freddie Mac on this historic assignment in the months ahead.”

Federal housing agencies extend foreclosure moratorium to Aug. 31— The Federal Housing Finance Agency is extending its foreclosure and eviction moratorium for single-family loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac until at least Aug. 31 to protect borrowers and renters during the coronavirus pandemic. Previously the moratorium was set to expire June 30. It is the second time the agency has pushed back the moratorium, which was originally set to last until May 17. The Federal Housing Administration also said Wednesday that it would join the FHFA in extending its foreclosure and eviction moratorium until Aug. 31. “During this national health emergency no one should worry about losing their home,” FHFA Director Mark Calabria said in a press release. The Department of Housing and Urban Development said that the FHA’s extension would give “peace of mind” to homeowners working to recover financially from the pandemic. “FHA is committed to working with borrowers impacted by COVID-19 and this second extension of the foreclosure and eviction moratorium is another sign of the unprecedented steps HUD is taking to assist those impacted by this terrible pandemic,”acting FHA Commissioner Len Wolfson said in a press release. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which Congress passed in March, allowed for a 60-day moratorium on foreclosures and evictions on properties financed through federally backed mortgages. But the FHFA along with the Federal Housing Administration also imposed their own moratoriums independent of the CARES Act. Lawmakers on the Senate Banking Committee had pressured Calabria as well as HUD Secretary Ben Carson last week to extend the moratorium, expressing concern about an impending “housing cliff” when several CARES Act provisions — including enhanced unemployment benefits — are set to run out last month. At the time, Calabria said he expected his agency to push back the moratorium by only a month.

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Increases Slightly to 8.55%" 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 Increases Slightly to 8.55%: The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance increased from 8.53% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 8.55% as of June 7, 2020. According to MBA’s estimate, almost 4.3 million homeowners are now in forbearance plans....“MBA’s survey results from the first week of June showed a slight uptick in the overall share of loans in forbearance, but this increase was primarily driven by a larger share of portfolio and PLS loans in forbearance. Half of the servicers in our sample saw the forbearance share decline for at least one investor category,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Although there continues to be layoffs, the job market does appear to be improving, and this is likely leading to many borrowers in forbearance deciding to opt out of their plan.” Added Fratantoni, “With June mortgage payments due, servicers did report the first increase in forbearance requests in two months. The level of forbearance requests is still quite low, but there was a noticeable increase in call volume over the course of the week.” This graph shows the percent of portfolio in forbearance by investor type over time.  Most of the increase was in late March and early April.The MBA notes: "Forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) increased across all investor types for the first time since the week of March 30-April 5: from 0.17% to 0.19%."

 Black Knight: Number of Homeowners in COVID-19-Related Forbearance Plans Declines Slightly for the third consecutive week -Note: Both Black Knight and the MBA (Mortgage Bankers Association) are putting out weekly estimates of mortgages in forbearance. From Black Knight: The number of homeowners in active forbearance fell again this week. Overall, the number of active forbearance plans is down 57K from last week, and 158K from the peak the week of May 22.  As of June 16, 4.6 million homeowners remain in forbearance plans, representing 8.7% of all active mortgages, down from 8.8% last week. Together, they represent just over $1 trillion in unpaid principal ($1,012B). Some 6.8% of all GSE-backed loans and 12.1% of all FHA/VA loans are currently in forbearance plans.

The Economy Is in Disarray. But Borrowers Aren’t Getting Home-Equity Lines. – WSJ - Millions of Americans are out of work. But for many, tapping their home equity isn’t an option. New home-equity lines of credit dropped 19% from March through May compared with the same time last year, according to preliminary data from credit-reporting firm Equifax Inc. Many lenders are getting stricter about offering the credit lines, known as Helocs. Both JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have temporarily stopped accepting new Heloc applications, and other lenders have tightened standards. Banks are trying to protect themselves from the big losses they suffered in the 2008 crisis, when borrowers who had been using their homes as ATMs defaulted as housing prices unexpectedly tanked. But the lenders’ caution means that in many cases borrowers who thought they would be able to fall back on their home equity in a crisis can’t do so now. U.S. banks’ holdings of home-equity lines of credit were down more than 9% from a year earlier as of early June, the largest decline on record, according to Federal Reserve data. Originations of home-equity loans, another popular way for borrowers to pull cash out of their homes, fell 43% from March through May, according to Equifax. The amount of equity Americans have in their homes has been rising for almost a decade, boosted by resilient home price growth. Some homeowners remember the financial crisis and are wary of relying too much on home equity. But out-of-work borrowers and others who could benefit from Helocs might be locked out by lofty lending requirements, economists said. “These homeowners may be the ones that no longer qualify because they’ve suffered an economic injury like a job loss,” said Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at Haus, a home-finance startup. The tricky logistics of lending in a pandemic might also be muting Helocs. For example, they sometimes require an appraisal, which can be harder to execute under stay-at-home orders. There are a few ways that borrowers can pull cash out of their homes, often using the money for luxuries such as home renovations and necessities including medical bills. Helocs are somewhat similar to credit cards: Borrowers can apply for them and then use when needed. Though getting a Heloc now might be difficult, homeowners who already have one should be able to tap into it. Home-equity loans, on the other hand, are generally lump-sum payments with a fixed repayment schedule.

Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey - Mortgage applications increased 8.0 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending June 12, 2020. ... The Refinance Index increased 10 percent from the previous week and was 106 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 4 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 2 percent compared with the previous week and was 21 percent higher than the same week one year ago. ... “Purchase applications increased to the highest level in over 11 years and for the ninth consecutive week. The housing market continues to experience the release of unrealized pent-up demand from earlier this spring, as well as a gradual improvement in consumer confidence,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Mortgage rates dropped to another record low in MBA’s survey, leading to a 10 percent surge in refinance applications. Refinancing continues to support households’ finances, as homeowners who refinance are able to gain savings on their monthly mortgage payments in a still-uncertain period of the economic recovery.”  .. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) decreased t 3.30 percent from 3.38 percent, the lowest level in survey history, with points decreasing to 0.29 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Housing Starts increased to 974 Thousand Annual Rate in May - From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions:  Privately-owned housing starts in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 974,000. This is 4.3 percent above the revised April estimate of 934,000, but is 23.2 percent below the May 2019 rate of 1,268,000. Single-family housing starts in May were at a rate of 675,000; this is 0.1 percent above the revised April figure of 674,000. The May rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 291,000.    Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,220,000. This is 14.4 percent above the revised April rate of 1,066,000, but is 8.8 percent below the May 2019 rate of 1,338,000. Single-family authorizations in May were at a rate of 745,000; this is 11.9 percent above the revised April figure of 666,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 434,000 in May.The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years. Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) were up in May compared to April. Multi-family starts were down 33.1% year-over-year in May. Single-family starts (blue) increased slightly in May, and were down 17.8% year-over-year. Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsThe second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then eventual recovery (but still historically low). Total housing starts in May were well below expectations, and starts in April were revised down. Residential construction is considered an essential business, and held up better than some other sectors of the economy, but was still negatively impacted by COVID-19.

Comments on May Housing Starts –McBride - Although housing starts declined significantly in April - and remained fairly low in May - residential construction is considered essential, and starts did not decline as sharply as some other sectors.Based on builder reports, and recent housing activity, I expect a significant increase in single family starts over the next couple of months.Earlier: Housing Starts increased to 974 Thousand Annual Rate in MayTotal housing starts in May were well below expectations, and revisions to prior months were negative (combined).The housing starts report showed starts were up 4.3% in May compared to April, and starts were down 23.2% year-over-year compared to May 2019.  Single family starts were down 17.8% year-over-year, and multi-family starts were down 33.1% YoY.This first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2019 (blue) and 2020 (red) Starts were down 23.2% in May compared to May 2019.Last year, in 2019, starts picked up in the 2nd half of the year, so the comparisons are easy early in the year. Starts, year-to-date, are only down 2.4% compared to the same period in 2019.Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment). The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) increased steadily for several years following the great recession - then mostly moved sideways.  Completions (red line) had lagged behind - then completions caught up with starts- although starts picked up a little again lately. The second graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions. Note the relatively low level of single family starts and completions.  The "wide bottom" was what I was forecasting following the recession, and now I expect some further increases in single family starts and completions once the crisis abates.

NMHC: Rent Payment Tracker Finds 89 Percent Paid Rent as of June 13th, Same Pace as last year! - From the NMHC: NMHC Rent Payment Tracker Finds 89 Percent of Apartment Households Paid Rent as of June 13: The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC)’s Rent Payment Tracker found 89.0 percent of apartment households made a full or partial rent payment by June 13 in its survey of 11.4 million units of professionally managed apartment units across the country. This is a 0.1-percentage point increase from the share who paid rent through June 13, 2019 and compares to 87.7 percent that had paid by May 13, 2020. These data encompass a wide variety of market-rate rental properties across the United States, which can vary by size, type and average rental price. “Once again, it appears that residents of professionally managed apartments were able to largely pay their rent,” said Doug Bibby, NMHC President. “However, there is a growing realization that renters outside of this universe are experiencing profound hardships as the nation continues to grapple with historic unemployment and economic dislocation.“In the midst of a pandemic and a recession, it is critical that those on the front lines are safely and securely housed. Accordingly, we urge lawmakers to take swift action to create a Rental Assistance Fund and extend unemployment benefits so we can avoid future eviction-related problems and don’t undermine the initial recovery.”CR Note: It appears most people are still paying their rent.   This was a higher percentage than in May (at the same point in the month), and actually up 0.1 percentage points from the same date a year ago.Several disaster relief programs have clearly helped renters pay their bills, such as the extra $600 per week in unemployment insurance, the PPP, and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The PPP has been modified, but will need to be extended. And the $600 per week in extra benefits ends at the end of July (and will need to be extended, perhaps at a lower rate). The PUA program with 9.7 million participants (mostly self-employed),  expires at the end of 2020, but these individuals have also being receiving the extra $600 per week that expires in July.

NAHB: Builder Confidence Increased to 58 in June - The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 58, up from 37 in May. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor. From NAHB: Builder Confidence Surges in June: In a sign that housing stands poised to lead a post-pandemic economic recovery, builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes jumped 21 points to 58 in June, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). Any reading above 50 indicates a positive market.... All the HMI indices posted gains in June. The HMI index gauging current sales conditions jumped 21 points to 63, the component measuring sales expectations in the next six months surged 22 points to 68 and the measure charting traffic of prospective buyers vaulted 22 points to 43. Looking at the monthly average regional HMI scores, the Northeast surged 31 point to 48, the South jumped 20 points to 62, the Midwest posted a 19-point gain to 51 and the West catapulted 22 points to 66.  This graph show the NAHB index since Jan 1985.  This was above the consensus forecast.

Retail Sales increased 17.7% in May -- On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 17.7 percent from April to May (seasonally adjusted), and sales were down 6.1 percent from May 2019. From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for May 2020, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $485.5 billion, an increase of 17.7 percent from the previous month, but 6.1 percent below May 2019. Total sales for the March 2020 through May 2020 period were down 10.5 percent from the same period a year ago. The March 2020 to April 2020 percent change was revised from down 16.4 percent to down 14.7 percent.This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline). Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 18.0% in April. The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993. Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, decreased by 3.9% on a YoY basis. The increase in May was well above expectations, and sales in March and April were revised up.

U.S. Retail Sales Rose Record 18% in May – WSJ - U.S. shoppers opened their pocketbooks at malls and auto dealerships in May as states eased restrictions to contain the novel coronavirus, boosting retail spending and adding another sign the economy is recovering from earlier lockdowns to contain the pandemic. Retail sales, a measure of purchases at stores, at restaurants and online, increased a seasonally adjusted 17.7% in May from a month earlier, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Data released separately pointed to other signs of life in May for an economy that went into a deep freeze in mid-March when the pandemic hit the U.S. The Federal Reserve reported a moderate increase in May industrial production, including a pickup in manufacturing activity. A measure of builder confidence also improved. The increase in retail sales was the biggest in records dating back to 1992. Still, retail spending remained below pre-pandemic levels in May, totaling $485.5 billion compared with $527.3 billion in February. From a year earlier, retail sales were down 6.1% in May. “The U.S. consumer’s back big time and she’s spending,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting firm.May’s month-over-month jump followed the largest monthly drop on record in April, a revised 14.7% decline. The swing in retail sales reflected the nature of the shock from the pandemic, where the coronavirus and related lockdown shut off an economy that previously was growing at a steady pace—and reopenings restored at least some demand for goods. “The big question going forward is to what extent does employment snap back to precrisis levels,” a prerequisite for continued spending, said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc. May’s unemployment rate dropped to 13.3% from 14.7%, and employers added 2.5 million jobs to payrolls, an improvement but far off the strong labor market before the pandemic.

Boats, Pools and Home Furnishings: How the Lockdown Transformed Our Spending Habits - A quiet reservoir of economic strength is forming among households flush with cash. And it is reviving consumer spending. The crisis caused by the coronavirus has pushed millions into unemployment and left them straining to get by. But many consumers in the U.S. and Europe who have held on to their jobs or are getting government benefits have seen their bank accounts swell during lockdowns, according to government data, because of restrictions on shopping and big-spending activities such as tourism. Consumers with means are driving surprising strength in a number of sectors. People are flocking to home-improvement stores and car dealerships. They want to install pools in their backyards and Jacuzzis in their bathrooms. Spending on furniture has jumped. So have sales of fitness and sports equipment. And with vacations and summer camps canceled and pool memberships on hold, families are looking for other ways to entertain themselves this summer. “I’ve got people I went to high school with who I haven’t spoken to in 20 years, asking how they can get a boat,” For those still employed, paychecks have continued to roll in. Many of those laid off or whose businesses are suffering also have cash in hand, at least for now, as governments step in to replace much of their lost income. These measures include checks sent directly to consumers and increased unemployment benefits. In Europe, governments are subsidizing tens of millions of paychecks in order to persuade companies to forgo layoffs. “People have a lot of purchasing power now,” said Samir Badouchi, commercial director at a tech startup, who bought some shoes and a T-shirt from Hermès in Paris days after France lifted its lockdown on May 11. “They’ve been at home and can’t spend for two months. No restaurants, no bars. People who go to sporting events can’t do that. They were forced to save.”

Restaurants Face Major Obstacles to Reopening – Yves Smith - A new story at the Wall Street Journal, ‘Running on Fumes’: Restaurants Trying to Reopen Face Cash Crunch, provides some key details on why many restaurants are having a hard time reopening. And mind you, the issues the Journal describes are in addition to ones typically cited, like how can they be profitable when they need to reduce table count or implement other measures to establish enough distancing to satisfy local requirements and/or skittish customers. Restaurants are a tough business. The famed factoid that nine out of ten businesses fail in the first three years is significantly due to the high mortality rate of new restaurants. And reopening in the Covid-19 era, with having to make significant operational changes on top of typically being seriously behind on bills, arguably has a similar level of difficulty to starting afresh.The Journal states that 3% of the restaurants have already gone out of business. In Birmingham, a foodie town, I’ve already encountered three that have died, and it’s not as if I’ve gone looking. The high-end restaurants here, save the Ruth Chris, which already had a lot of space between tables, are only doing takeout. The chart below, at the Journal site, cycles through the various cities. Another not-good sign is that many show a recent decline after some recovery. Is this fear of a resurgence? Or a flattening after pent-up demand was satisfied? The Journal sets forth specific adversities for restaurants. The biggie is paying off debts to their suppliers. Restaurants usually pay 30 days in arrears, so they sell the food a nd get the income before they have to pay their vendors. But in many cities, the shutdown orders blindsided the restaurants, leaving them with supplies on hand that went unused. Suppliers are requiring that restaurants pay the amounts owed or at least come up with a plan as to how they will make good or else. ike DeNiro, vice president of LaSource Group, a restaurant supplier debt collector, told the Journal that May had been his most active month ever, confirming that many restaurants can’t or won’t pay up.

Class 8 Heavy Duty Truck Orders Crash 62.5% In May To Lowest Levels Since 2011 -- Just as we noted about April's numbers, the misery in Class 8 heavy duty truck orders continues.  Still struggling with the remnants of an order backlog that started almost two years ago with record orders in August 2018, the industry was unable to find an equilibrium prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Orders were sluggish and we noted numerous trucking companies that closed up shop altogether in 2019.  After a 73% crash in April, Class 8 orders once again plunged 62.5% in May, to their lowest sales levels since 2011. Sales came in at just over 9,000, according to Transport Topics.   Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles at FTR, tried to look at the bright side: “It’s not a horrible number. It’s a fair number under bad conditions. It is going to be a long, slow climb back.”  “We went into 2020 with very high inventories,” Ake said. YTD sales for Class 8 trucks were 69,379, which is down 37.5% from 2019.  Dan Clark, head of BMO Transportation Finance, says a V-shaped recovery isn't likely: “Given that the industry is still wrestling with the hangover of a near-record two-year stretch of heavy-duty truck sales, which is now compounded by lower than previously expected economic activity for the next year or two, we aren’t expecting to see a V-shaped recovery in Class 8 sales.”  Steve Tam of ACT Research took a longer term view: “These trucking companies have to assume I’m here today, I will be here tomorrow and so will my business. A lot of what we are dealing with now is just noise. It’s another cycle in the industry, although a very different cycle, with a very different catalyst. But a cycle nonetheless.   So they have to continue to invest in the business if they want it to continue, and, hopefully, grow as well. So they are taking the long view."

US business inventories down 1.3% in April - Inventories in the manufacturing and trade sectors in the United States decreased by 1.3% in April compared to the previous month to stand at $1.98 trillion, according to a report by the US Census Bureau released on Tuesday. The figure was 2.2% lower on a yearly basis.The combined value of distributive trade sales and manufacturers' shipments for April, adjusted for seasonal and trading-day differences was estimated at $1.18 trillion, plunging 14.4% from March and 18.4% year-over-year.The ratio between business inventories and sales was 1.67 at the end of April, up from 1.39 recorded in April 2019.

LA area Port Traffic Down Sharply Year-over-year in May - Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic. The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container). To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average.  On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was down 1.2% in May compared to the rolling 12 months ending in April.   Outbound traffic was down 1.5% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month. The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports).  Usually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year (January 25th in 2020). Because of the timing of the New Year, we would have expected traffic to decline in February without an impact from COVID-19, but bounce back in March and April.  Imports were down 14% YoY in May, and exports were down 17% YoY.  In general imports both imports and exports have turned down recently.  There might be some bounce back soon.

Industrial Production Increased 1.4 Percent in May - From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization: Total industrial production increased 1.4 percent in May, as many factories resumed at least partial operations following suspensions related to COVID-19. Even so, total industrial production in May was 15.4 percent below its pre-pandemic level in February. Manufacturing output—which fell sharply in March and April—rose 3.8 percent in May; most major industries posted increases, with the largest gain registered by motor vehicles and parts. The indexes for mining and utilities declined 6.8 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively. At 92.6 percent of its 2012 average, the level of total industrial production was 15.3 percent lower in May than it was a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector increased 0.8 percentage point to 64.8 percent in May, a rate that is 15.0 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2019) average and 1.9 percentage points below its trough during the Great Recession. This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up slightly from the record low set last month, and still below the trough of the Great Recession (the series starts in 1967). Capacity utilization at 64.8% is 15.0% below the average from 1972 to 2017. The second graph shows industrial production since 1967.Industrial production increased in May to  92.6. This is 6.3% above the Great Recession low. The change in industrial production was below consensus expectations.

NY Fed: Manufacturing "Business activity steadied in New York State" in June -Earlier from the NY Fed: Empire State Manufacturing Survey: Business activity steadied in New York State, according to firms responding to the June 2020 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. After breaching record lows in April and May, the headline general business conditions index climbed forty-eight points to -0.2. ... The index for number of employees was little changed at -3.5, pointing to a second consecutive month of slight employment declines. Notably, 18 percent of firms said that employment levels increased in June. The average workweek index increased ten points, but remained negative at -12.0, indicating an ongoing decline in hours worked, though at a slower pace than in recent months. This was well above expectations, and showed activity "steadied" (at a low level) in June.

Philly Fed Manufacturing firms reported "signs of improvement" in June --Note: Be careful with diffusion indexes. This shows a rebound off the bottom - some improvement from May to June - but doesn't show the level of activity. From the Philly Fed: June 2020 Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey Manufacturing conditions in the region showed signs of improvement this month, according to firms responding to the June Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey. The survey’s current indicators for general activity, new orders, and shipments returned to positive territory, coinciding with the gradual reopening of the economy in our region and the nation more broadly. The employment index remained negative but increased for the second consecutive month. All future indicators improved, suggesting that the firms expect overall growth over the next six months. The diffusion index for current general activity increased from -43.1 in May to 27.5 this month, its first positive reading since February (see Chart 1). Forty-six percent of the firms reported increases this month (up from 15 percent last month), while 19 percent reported decreases (down from 58 percent). … The firms continued to report decreases in employment on balance; however, the employment index increased 11 points. This was well above to the consensus forecast. Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index: The New York and Philly Fed surveys are averaged together (yellow, through June), and five Fed surveys are averaged (blue, through May) including New York, Philly, Richmond, Dallas and Kansas City. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) PMI (red) is through May (right axis).These early reports suggest the ISM manufacturing index will show a rebound in June.

Companies vow no more shutdowns for COVID-19 as US auto plants resume full production - US automakers Ford and Fiat Chrysler (FCA) report they will resume full production at all their North American plants on Monday, ahead of their previously announced schedule despite continued concerns over the spread of COVID-19. FCA said the second shift at its Belvidere, Illinois assembly plant, which produces the Jeep Cherokee, is set to return on Monday. It was the last FCA plant to return to pre-pandemic levels of operation. Meanwhile, Ford will return third shifts at assembly plants in Chicago, Dearborn Michigan and Louisville Assembly and Kentucky Truck in Louisville. The plants build SUVs as well as bestselling F-Series pickup trucks. General Motors has confirmed that it will resume full North American production by the end of June. The auto companies are still keeping a tight lid on the number of COVID-19 infections among plant employees even as infections have been reported at plants of all the major automakers. There have been cases at Ford plants in Chicago, Dearborn, and Kansas City, Missouri. There have also been reports of cases at General Motors plants in Arlington, Texas; Wentzville, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas and Spring Hill, Tennessee as well as Fiat Chrysler plants in Toledo, Ohio and the Detroit area. At least 4 workers have tested positive at electric carmaker Tesla, which operates a giant factory in Fremont, California. Auto factories in the South operated by Japanese and German automakers have seen a rise in cases as the novel coronavirus surges in the area after the premature reopening of local economies. Toyota has reported 40 cases at its US facilities, including its huge Georgetown, Kentucky facility. Volkswagen has reported 12 cases at its Chattanooga, Tennessee plant since restarting production last month as COVID-19-related hospitalizations have surged in the state. Nissan has confirmed three cases at its Canton, Mississippi plant. Mississippi has the second fastest growth of new coronavirus cases of any US state. On Thursday German carmaker BMW reported 14 cases at its plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The plant employs 11,000 workers and builds a wide range of SUVs, most of which are exported to overseas markets, including China. The same day that BMW reported the outbreak at its Spartanburg plants South Carolina saw a record number of new COVID-19 cases, 987, and four deaths. The state was one of the first to remove lockdown restrictions.

BLS: May Unemployment rates down in 38 states; 4 States at New Record Highs --From the BLS: Regional and State Employment and Unemployment SummaryhuangseshipinUnemployment rates were lower in May in 38 states and the District of Columbia, higher in 3 states, and stable in 9 states, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. All 50 states and the District had jobless rate increases from a year earlier. The national unemployment rate declined by 1.4 percentage points over the month to 13.3 percent but was 9.7 points higher than in May 2019....Nevada had the highest unemployment rate in May, 25.3 percent, followed by Hawaii, 22.6 percent, and Michigan, 21.2 percent. The rates in Delaware (15.8 percent), Florida (14.5 percent), Massachusetts (16.3 percent), and Minnesota (9.9 percent) set new series highs. (All state series begin in 1976.) Nebraska had the lowest unemployment rate, 5.2 percent. This graph shows the number of states (and D.C.) with unemployment rates at or above certain levels since January 1976. Currently 33 states are above 10% unemployment rate (down from 46 states last month). Ten states are above 15% (down from 20 states last month). Three states are above 20% (Hawaii, Michigan, and Nevada). One state (Nevada) is above 25% unemployment.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decrease to 1,508,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending June 13, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 1,508,000, a decrease of 58,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 24,000 from 1,542,000 to 1,566,000. The 4-week moving average was 1,773,500, a decrease of 234,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 6,000 from 2,002,000 to 2,008,000. The previous week was revised up.This does not include the 760,526 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) - this was an increase from the previous week. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

New and continued jobless claims level off, as spreading secondary impacts and job recalls balance - Weekly initial and continuing jobless claims give us the most up-to-date snapshot of the continuing economic impacts of the coronavirus on employment. Three full months after the initial shock, the overall damage remains huge, with recalls to work roughly balanced with spreading new secondary impacts. First, here are initial jobless claims both seasonally adjusted (blue) and non- seasonally adjusted (red). The non-seasonally adjusted number is of added importance since seasonal adjustments should not have more than a trivial effect on the huge real numbers: There were 1.433 million new claims, which after the seasonal adjustment became 1.508 million. This is “only” 58,000 less than last week’s number - the smallest weekly decline since the worst reading in April, but nevertheless is the lowest so far since the virus struck. These new claims show objectively huge second-order impacts continuing to spread. The “less bad” trend has leveled off in continuing claims, which lag one week behind. In the past four weeks, both the non-seasonally adjusted number (red), and the less important seasonally adjusted number (blue) have remained nearly stationary. This week the former declined by only 62,000 to 20.544 million, 4.368 below its peak of 24.912 million four weeks ago; while the latter actually rose slightly by 26,000 to 18.654 million, but still 4.140 million below its peak of 22.794 million reading four weeks ago: In other words, the spreading new damage shown by the continued huge numbers of new jobless claims is about equal to the callbacks to work from various sectors “reopening.” On a more long-term note, historically continuing claims have peaked at the end of or just after the end of recessions. Here’s the graph showing that from the beginning of the series through 2009: Since this week the “King of Coincident Indicators,” industrial production was reported to have risen in May, and real retail sales also rebounded strongly, the decline in continuing claims over the past month is consistent with a determination by the NBER that a very short recession has already ended. Because there is increasing evidence of renewed exponential spread by the coronavirus in States that recklessly reopened, all of the improving economic data (improving from absolutely horrible levels of course) may come to an abrupt end in the next few weeks.

US jobless disaster intensifies as 1.5 million filed for unemployment last week - New claims for unemployment insurance continue at historically unprecedented high levels despite the lifting of lockdown orders all across the United States. According to the US Labor Department, there were 1.51 million claims filed for the week ending June 13. Forty-six states reported another 760,526 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which has been made available to the self-employed, traditionally ineligible for unemployment aid The number of unemployment claims last week was a drop of just 58,000 from the revised level of the previous week. The four-week average stands at 1.77 million weekly claims, far in excess of the previous record set back in 1982 of 695,000. There have been 45 million new unemployment claims filed since the start of the pandemic. While some of those may represent duplicate filings by workers seeking assistance in more than one program, it is still an astronomical number that indicates deep economic distress across the country. Through the week ending June 6, continuing claims for unemployment benefits stood at 20.5 million, only a slight decrease from the previous week. In addition, there were 9.3 million self-employed and gig-economy workers receiving benefits under the federal PUA program and another 1 million receiving a continuation of benefits under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 1 in 10 jobs cut in April were restored in May, and even that number is in dispute, as is the claim that the official unemployment rate declined last month to 13.3 percent. In fact, the real rate stood at 16.3 percent due to an undercounting error. Prior to the pandemic the highest weekly number of those receiving unemployment benefits was 6.6 million, in 2009. The persistence of such shocking numbers despite the reopening of the auto industry and the recall of millions of workers from temporary layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic points to a general collapse of the economy and the start of a deep, perhaps prolonged depression, one to rival the Great Depression of the 1930s. Layoffs have spread well beyond the industries initially impacted by the pandemic, and others have been made permanent. Hilton Worldwide said it is eliminating 2,100 corporate jobs worldwide while AT&T plans to eliminate 3,400 technician and clerical jobs in the US and will permanently close more than 250 stores. In another casualty, the gym chain 24 Hour Fitness filed for bankruptcy and is permanently closing more than 100 locations..

 Stocks slide after new claims show high unemployment - Stock markets opened down on Thursday following a worse-than-expected unemployment report.Initial unemployment claims for the second week of June showed over 1.5 million new claims, plus over 750,000 applicants for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which makes benefits available to groups that normally cannot receive unemployment insurance. Continuing claims, a better indicator of the overall labor picture, remained at 20.5 million, down just 62,000 from the previous week. Surges of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in some places that have moved to quickly reopen their economies, such as Texas and Florida, are raising concerns about whether the economy will strongly rebound from earlier lockdowns.

 Comments on Weekly Unemployment Claims – McBride - The weekly claims report released this morning was for the June BLS employment report reference week (include the 12th of the month). So it is worth taking a further look at the report.This morning: Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decrease to 1,508,000 First, regular initial claims were above expectations, and the previous week was revised up.Second, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), total initial claims increased from the previous week.Third, several states have not released PUA claims yet. This includes Florida, Georgia, Oregon and others - so the number of PUA claims is too low. However, there may also be processing delays that are impacting the numbers. Fourth, continued claims only decreased slightly to 20,544,000 (SA) from 20,606,000 (SA) the previous week. However, continued claims are down over 4 million from a month ago, so a large number of people have probably returned to their jobs (Some of these were included in the employment report for May). The following graph shows regular initial unemployment claims (blue) and PUA claims (red) since early February. This is the 13th consecutive week with extraordinarily high initial claims.It is possible that we are starting to see some layoffs associated with the end of some early Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) participants. It is too soon to see layoffs associated with the rising COVID cases and hospitalization in some states (like Arizona and Texas).    Note that these states don't have to lockdown to see a decline in economic activity.   As Merrill Lynch economists noted last month: "Most of the slowdown occurred due to voluntary social distancing rather than lockdown policies."Overall this was a disappointing initial claims report, but it is difficult to tell from this report what is happening to overall employment.

Nearly 24,000 Ohioans told to return unemployment payments- The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) has demanded that 23,597 Ohio residents, who the ODJFS claims were overpaid, begin paying back unemployment benefits that they received since March 15. The ODJFS request puts many residents in an impossible position as they are required to give back potentially thousands of dollars—which they likely used for food, housing and other necessities—despite being unemployed for potentially months. The ODJFS, which is the state department that oversees unemployment compensation, has sent out notices to individuals that it claims received “overpaid benefits,” specifying that the “overpayment” was not the result of fraud. While receiving “overpaid benefits” is not a crime, the ODJFS specifies on their website that the “debt” must be repaid within 60 days or it will be reported to “the Ohio Attorney General for collection” and federal income tax refunds could be intercepted. Recent notices, however, state that residents only have 45 days to repay the debt before it is reported. The number of individuals that have been “overpaid” in the past has exceeded those accused of fraud, but the cases of alleged “overpayment” surged along with unemployment resulting from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ODJFS reported that in the first quarter of 2020 there were 7,527 cases of non-fraud overpayment and 1,347 cases of alleged fraud. On March 15, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered a statewide lockdown as part of efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Between March 15 and May 30, about 1.3 million Ohioans applied for unemployment insurance with roughly half receiving their first payment by May 23. Out of the 680,000 who received benefits, roughly 3.5 percent will now have to repay at least part of their benefits. ODJFS Director Kimberly Hall stated that “lagging data” and large influx of new claims can easily result in errors that lead to overpayment by the state agency. Many workers, however, have expressed that it was a struggle to receive benefits even initially, and that it is financially and emotionally devastating to suddenly discover that they must repay the desperately needed payments. Marnie Behan, a 21-year-old college student and waitress at Buffalo Wild Wings, went on unemployment after the restaurant chain closed due to the pandemic. One day, instead of her unemployment check, she received a notice claiming that she had to pay back $3,000 within 45 days. Describing her response to 19 News, she said, “I started crying. A lot of things were going through my head, I was really upset. I was stressed and frustrated. Because it took six weeks for me to be approved for it in the first place.” She is currently appealing the decision.

Meatpacking workers oppose forced return to work through protests and mass absenteeism --Meat processing workers across the United States have defied the homicidal policy of the Trump administration, company executives and state governments to force workers back into plants that have been epicenters of illness and death from COVID-19. The actions by meatpacking workers coincide with exposure of the criminal role of the companies in refusing to shut down plants or implement critical safety measures once the pandemic began to explode across the US in March. On June 9, meatpacking workers in Logan, Utah, marched with supporters to protest the refusal of JBS to close its beef processing plant in the city of Hyrum after 287 workers tested positive for COVID-19 ten days earlier. The workers demanded that JBS, the largest meat processing company in the US and largest producer of beef and pork globally, immediately close its Hyrum plant for deep cleaning and disinfection to prevent the further surge of COVID-19. Meat processing workers who took part in the protest also demanded that plant employees be adequately compensated during the closure or while quarantined. The 287 COVID-positive cases were reported by the Bear River Health Department after workers at the Hyrum plant were screened for COVID-19 over the weekend of May 30. The actual number of workers who have contracted the virus is likely higher, as some workers have gone to local hospitals for testing instead of through the Bear River Health Department. The initial protest by meatpacking workers at the Hyrum plant on June 9 took place one day before some of the 287 who initially tested positive were ordered to return to work. Cache County, where the Hyrum plant is located, experienced a one-day gain of 42 additional cases on June 8, bringing the total reported COVID-19 cases to 773. The outbreaks in the JBS plant and surrounding area likely amount to the single largest outbreak of the virus in the state of Utah. Another form taken in the opposition of meat processing workers to the forced unsafe return to work has been mass absenteeism, despite attendant economic hardship. Smithfield Foods reported Monday that at least one-third of its workforce in South Dakota refused to leave quarantine when ordered by the company to return to work. . The mass defiance of the return to work order demonstrates that workers have no confidence that either the companies or the government will take even the most basic safety measures to prevent the spread of illness and death. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has ordered a return to work in these deadly conditions while granting immunity to the companies and executives from any liability for the consequences.

Medical examiner rules police shooting of Rayshard Brooks a homicide -- The police shooting of Rayshard Brooks, an unarmed black man who was killed by local police after being found asleep in a drive-thru at a Wendy’s in Atlanta, has been ruled a homicide, the Fulton County Medical Examiner's office said.According to USA Today, the office said in a release Sunday that Brooks died after sustaining “two gunshot wounds of his back that created organ injuries and blood loss.”The Hill reached out to the office for comment on late Sunday. Brooks died at the age of 26 on Friday shortly after he was found asleep in a drive-thru outside of a local Wendy’s. In footage captured after police arrived at the restaurant in response to a complaint, officers could be seen giving Rayshard a sobriety test.  After Brooks failed the test, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said officers then attempted to arrest him. During the arrest, Brooks could be seen struggling with the officers and one took out his taser.“Witnesses report that during the struggle the male subject grabbed and was in possession of the Taser,” the GBI said in a release detailing the police-involved shooting. Brooks was fatally shot moments after he appeared to flee. The GBI said Brooks turned and pointed the taser at the officer prior to the officer shooting Brooks."The male subject was transported to a local hospital where he died after surgery," the office said.The shooting has sparked protests in Atlanta in the days that followed and footage emerged over the weekend showing the local Wendy’s where Brooks was shot being set aflame.

Family demands answers after Missouri cop kills 25-year-old convenience store worker -Family and friends of Hannah Fizer, 25, are demanding answers from state officials after the convenience store worker was murdered by an as yet unidentified Pettis County deputy during a June 14 traffic stop in the city of Sedalia, Missouri. Sedalia, population 21,700, is located roughly 90 miles southeast of Kansas City. Fizer, who was white, had been recently promoted to assistant manager and was on her way to work Saturday night at an Eagle Stop convenience store after spending the day with family and friends. She was pulled over by a Pettis County deputy at approximately 10 p.m. near West Broadway Boulevard and Winchester Drive. According to the limited information provided in a press release by Patrol Sergeant Andy Bell of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which has taken over the official investigation, the unidentified deputy initiated the traffic stop after Fizer was observed “speeding” as well as engaging in “careless and imprudent driving.” The seven-sentence press release then states that “the subject was non-compliant” and “allegedly threatened the deputy by stating she was armed and going to shoot him.” The very next sentence alleges that “The incident escalated quickly and the deputy discharged his weapon, striking the suspect.” Fizer was pronounced dead by Pettis County Coroner Robert Smith shortly after he arrived at the scene of the crime Saturday evening. The deputy was not injured. In an interview Sunday morning with the Sedalia Democrat Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond confirmed that there was no bodycam or dashcam footage of Fizer’s murder. Bond also could not confirm if any weapon was recovered in the vehicle or what the circumstances were that led to the “escalation.” Fizer’s family have disputed police accounts that she was armed or would have threatened a police officer. Hannah’s father John Fizer, in an interview with the Kansas City Star, claimed Hannah “… wouldn’t shoot a frog,” and the only thing she carried with her was “a cell phone,” and “… is not threatening in any way.” “She’d be the first one to give to a beggar on the street.” Hannah’s stepmother Lori Fizer, 51, likewise did not know her to carry a weapon, telling the Star, “We need to know exactly how everything went down.” “She weighed a whole 145 pounds and she was by herself.”

Thousands protest over suspicious hanging deaths of two black men in southern California -Two thousand protesters marched and rallied in Palmdale, California on Saturday demanding an investigation into the death of Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old black worker found hanging from a tree near City Hall four days earlier. Fuller’s death follows a similar incident involving the hanging death of an African American man on May 31 in the city of Victorville. The body of 38-year-old Malcom Harsch was found hanging from a tree outside a public library in that city, which is just 50 miles east of Palmdale. Fuller’s death was quickly categorized as a suicide by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. Pending investigation, Harsch’s death has also been ruled a suicide. Family and friends of Fuller believe that he was lynched and are demanding an independent investigation into what happened, including an autopsy. On Saturday, the day of the protest, Palmdale city officials relented their initial positions and joined the call for a full investigation, reversing a statement issued by City Manager J.J. Murphy the day after the discovery of the body. That statement had been seconded by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Palmdale is located in Los Angeles County, about 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Together with Victorville, situated in San Bernardino County, the Palmdale area is an important center for the aerospace industry and logistics. Scores of parts assembly companies and transportation firms employ thousands of multiethnic workers currently being exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after the recent implementation of return-to-work policies. At the Saturday protest, demonstrators rallied at the tree where Fuller’s body was found, laying bouquets, lighting candles and dedicating the square to his memory. Fuller’s friends and family insist that Robert was not suicidal. “My brother was a survivor,” his sister Diamond Alexander told the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper also quoted other friends and family members, according to whom Fuller was a “peacemaker” who loved music and video games. A few days before his death, Fuller had attended a Black Lives Matter protest sparked by the May 25 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 Washington Post op-ed calls for news media to censor videos of police brutality - An opinion piece published in the Washington Post last week by ESPN sportswriter and journalism professor at the University of Maryland Kevin Blackistone calls on the news media to censor images of police brutality and killings of African Americans. The column, titled “Why I can’t watch the police videos anymore,” is accompanied by a short video (“This is why the media should not replay viral videos of black men being killed”), in which Blackistone, who is African American, demands that media outlets “give greater consideration to how they display these deaths.” What is implied is that such videos should be removed or their viewings limited by those in control. According to Blackistone, “[w]e don’t see people having visceral reactions” to filmed episodes of sadistic police violence. Instead, “they watch this as if it’s theater.” By people, Blackistone clearly means “white people.” This inference is made clear when he likens police brutality caught on film to postcard images of lynchings in the Deep South in the early 20th century. Asserting that such videos have “never been in opposition to the inhumanity of these acts,” Blackistone asks, “How many times have you seen a slain white body in the media?” One might ask what gives Blackistone such penetrating insight into the thought processes of the millions of people who view the videos of police beatings and murder that so frequently “go viral” in the United States. It is likely that his assertions about the reactions of white viewers are more a reflection of his conceptions than theirs. In fact, in the years since the 2014 police slaying of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, dozens of bystander videos of police violence against unarmed people, white as well as black, have sparked angry protests against police brutality. In Ferguson in 2014 and Baltimore in 2015, following the police killing of Freddie Gray, declarations of emergency were issued and National Guard troops deployed to put down widespread protests, which spread beyond those cities to cities and towns across the country.

 Forty Percent of Police Families Experience Domestic Violence, Compared to 10% in the General Population - Protecting the abused from abusers is an important role in any society — or at least a sane society. It’s the role, in fact, of government itself, especially in an exploitive economic system like our own.Capturing the organs of protection by the abusers themselves is therefore a high priority of the abusing class. This is why Reagan staffed his administration with people who hate the protective role government played, why he put anti-environmentalist James Watt in charge of Interior and the National Parks, and anti-regulationist Ann Gorsuch Burford in charge of the EPA. (Yes, she’s related to that other Gorsuch.)And apparently why we put cops, domestic abusers at a very high rate, in charge of protecting victims of abuse.Cops being in charge of abuse — delivering it — is a commonplace these days. Putting cops in charge of protecting people from abuse is like putting pedophiles in charge of public safety at a grade school, or pedophile priests in charge of youth ministry (we had one of those in a parish I once lived in).Pedophiles love those jobs, just as cops love the jobs they’ve been given. How better to commit violence than to be the only sanctioned dealers of state violence, to be licensed to kill in the name of “protecting” the abused? You even get to parade around as “heroes” for doing it. Conor Friedorsdorf, in an Atlantic article entitled “Police Have a Much Bigger Domestic-Abuse Problem Than the NFL Does,” quotes a heavily footnoted National Center for Women and Policingfact sheet: “Two studies have found that at least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population. A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24 percent, indicating that domestic violence is two to four times more common among police familiesthan American families in general [emphasis added].” Friedersdorf’s piece is well worth reading in full.  We don’t hire pedophiles to guard grade school kids. Why do we hire violent cops to keep the peace? Is there something in us that’s perpetuating this?

Some Thoughts on New York City and the Dim Prospects for American Cities - by Yves Smith - I’ve been wanting to write for some time about the outlook for the economy in the coronavirus era, but the topic is too sprawling to fit into one post. I’ll start with the very much diminished prospects for American cities, based in part on a trip to New York last week. The overarching theme is unless effective treatments and prophylactics go into service on a widespread basis soon (and by “soon” I means three to four months), the damage to productive capacity will be severe and lasting. As we said earlierThe related point… is that Covid-19 will do far deeper damage than most experts anticipate because it is reducing productive capacity on a lasting basis in many sectors: restaurants, hotels, entertainment, air transportation, conferences, and conceivably higher education.  What do sous chefs, bartenders, university administrators, and pilots, to name a few, do for their next act? Remember how malls have become white elephants? What happens to Class A office space in big cities now that WeWork is a thing of the past, and white collar employers are seeking to keep as many staffers as possible working remotely?  . I wish I could convey adequately how deep and widespread the impact of coronavirus has been on New York. And as someone who has always strongly preferred living in cites and has chosen to live in high density areas, the new normal now means that density is a negative for most workers and residents. Thinning out cities (which is clearly has happened already in Manhattan, witness the mass exodus of the well off and the plan of many employers to keep as many of their staff as possible working from home) is at odds with their raison d’etre: residents accepting more cramped dwellings as a tradeoff for ready and easy access to entertainment, services, and people, along with that mysterious quality of vibrant street life. Cities are about conducting most of your activities on foot and having those peregrinations be interesting. Having so many coffee shops and specialized food vendors and more broad-scale grocery stores die, IMHO, negates much of the rationale for living in a city. If you can’t forage on foot, and you are ordering in, and you aren’t much going to restaurants and bars (or theater and museums), why are you living in a city?  Some contend that people live in cities only for careers (and possibly mating) opportunities. But that is belied by the breathless press of the last decade plus about how more people wanted to live in urban settings for the vibrancy and convenience. And in New York City, despite it being child-hostile, when the city got cleaner and safer when it put the fiscal crisis, more and more upper income parents, chose not to follow the conventional path of moving to the ‘burbs before their kids hit school age; more and more, they remained in the city. And the tragic part is that the high odds of what I saw in Manhattan becoming the new normal for US cities is a massive self inflicted wound. Hong Kong and Seoul have gotten Covid-19 infections down to impressively low levels through widespread mask-wearing plus aggressive contact tracing and testing.

Facing anger over budget cuts and early reopening, Detroit school officials promote racial politics -Officials from the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) called a march and rally for “Equality and Justice for All” on June 11, which attracted 2,000 teachers, parents and students. While those who attended were sincerely motivated by opposition to police killings, racism and deteriorating public schools, district officials called the event to conceal the role of the Democratic Party in the decades-long assault on public education, which is now being escalated. Like the marches in Detroit and other cities against the police murder of George Floyd the school district rally brought out educators and supporters of all races and ethnic groups. Marchers carried signs like “DPSCD Matters” and "G.E.O.R.G.E.: Give Everyone Opportunity, Respect, Government Equality," “Prioritize school funding: Books not bullets.” A white schoolteacher carried a sign listing the names of murdered black children and youth, including Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin and Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and asking, “Are my students next?” School officials are well aware that they will confront immense opposition from educators as they rush to reopen the schools in September amid the pandemic, slash jobs and services and divert even more money to school privatizers. The speakers at the rally, including District Superintendent Nikolaii Vitti, blamed the chronic underfunding of the Detroit public schools on “systemic racism.” In fact, the Detroit schools, like others around the state, have been systematically starved of funding by both the Democrats and Republicans. Meanwhile, both corporate controlled parties have handed over billions in tax cuts to the auto companies, Detroit Medical Center, DTE Energy, Comerica Bank and billionaires like Dan Gilbert and the Ilitch family. Vitti, whose salary is $321,000, went out of his way to make it clear that the rally was not about “equality.” He told the crowd, “If we’re going to talk about Black Lives Matter in education, it’s got to be about not equality, it’s about equity. Our kids don’t need the same—our kids need more.”

Slight majority of US parents favor in-person return to school this fall: poll -- A slight majority of U.S. parents said they would prefer their children to return to full-time in-person schooling in the fall, according to a new Gallup poll. Fifty-six percent of parents of children who attend a K-12 school said they favor their children returning to school full-time, in-person in the fall, according to the poll released Thursday. The same poll found that 37 percent of parents said they favor their children returning to school part-time with some distance learning in place, and just 7 percent said they favor their children continuing full-time distance learning. Parent’s concern about whether their children may get coronavirus is a major predictor in what type of schooling they prefer, based on the Gallup poll. Seventy-nine percent of parents who favor returning to full-time in-person schooling said they are not worried their children will get coronavirus, based on the poll. Among parents who favor part-time school with some distance learning, 59 percent said they’re worried children will get coronavirus and only 18 percent said they are not worried their children will get coronavirus, based on the poll. Views were also split along party lines. An overwhelming 82 percent of Republican parents said they want their children to attend school full time in the fall, compared with 63 percent of independents and only 33 percent of Democrats who said the same, based on Gallup’s survey. The majority of Democrats, 57 percent, said they favor partial in-person schooling and partial distance learning, according to Gallup’s poll. The majority of parents, 56 percent, also said remote learning was difficult for their household, while 44 percent said it was easy, based on the poll. The poll was based on web surveys conducted May 25-June 8 with a sample of 1,202 parents of U.S. K-12 students who are members of the Gallup Panel. The margin of error is plus or minus 6 percentage points.

How 132 Epidemiologists Are Deciding When to Send Their Children to School – NYT - For many parents, the most pressing question as the nation emerges from pandemic lockdown is when they can send their children to school, camp or child care. We asked more than 500 epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists when they expect to restart 20 activities of daily life, assuming that the coronavirus pandemic and the public health response to it unfold as they expect. On sending children to school, camp or child care, 70 percent said they would do so either right now, later this summer or in the fall — much sooner than most said they would resume other activities that involved big groups of people gathering indoors. Others, though, said they would wait for a vaccine, which could take a year or more. Some expanded on their thoughts. They said they were assessing regional data, like the rate of infection transmission in their area, and the safety measures schools are taking. They’re also considering their own situations, like their family’s health risks, their work demands and their children’s academic, social and emotional lives. Several said school was so important — both for their own careers and for their children’s development — that they were willing to take a risk that they would not for something less valuable.Epidemiologists’ informal motto is “It depends.” They cautioned that they might change their planning depending on these and other variables. Their estimates are not advice, but the range of their responses and the comments below give a sense of how experts are considering this difficult question in their lives.Here are comments from three epidemiologists about how they are considering the issue:

  • “Children are relatively safe. I would worry about teachers.” - Lisa Herrinton, Kaiser Permanente
  • “I think it would be really stupid to reopen the schools in September, given the present course of things. Really. Stupid.” - Carl V. Phillips, Epiphi Consulting
  • “Unlike dining out, there is a far more substantial cost to keeping kids out of school.” - Arijit Nandi, McGill University

And here are comments from 129 more:

Detroit literacy case ends with no legal precedent for the right to an education - On Wednesday, June 10, the Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals signed an order dismissing the Gary B. v. Whitmer case, commonly known as the Detroit literacy case, legally bringing it to a conclusion. The settlement reached last month between Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the plaintiffs in the Gary B. v. Whitmer case will stand, but a legal precedent for the constitutional right to an education has been vacated. In a calculated move, all 16 judges of the Sixth Circuit court agreed not to rehear the case en banc, as they had indicated they would in a decision May 19. The unusual decision to rehear the case en banc was initiated by the request of several Republican Michigan legislators to the appeals court seeking to overturn the April 23 ruling of a three-judge panel of that court. The majority opinion of that panel, written by Justice Eric Clay, in overturning a June 2018 ruling in Detroit, allowed that the Detroit plaintiffs had been denied “access to a basic education.” An attorney for the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature, John J. Bursch, told the press, “The important point is that the en banc 6th Circuit already vacated the opinion, so it has no precedential value. From a legal perspective, it’s as though Judge (Eric) Clay never even wrote it.” Thus, it appears the May 19 decision allowed the court to permit the settlement between the plaintiffs and the state of Michigan to stand, but legally abrogates any precedent declaring a federal, constitutionally-mandated guarantee to education. The April 23 decision itself emphasized that it was “narrow in scope.” The decision merely recognized the “right to access to basic literacy,” equivalent to a third-grade reading level, in order to “provide access to skills that are essential for the basic exercise of other fundamental rights and liberties, most importantly participation in our political system.” The settlement following the April 23 decision, hastily reached on May 14 between the seven plaintiffs representing all students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) and the State of Michigan, provides for $280,000 for the seven plaintiffs and merely $2.7 million to provide literacy initiatives in the district. These funds are available to the governor to distribute without legislative approval.

New York City Private Schools Grapple With Black Students’ Painful Experiences – WSJ - As protests over racial injustice stretch across the country, New York City private schools have vowed in letters to families to do more to combat discrimination in their own institutions. Some schools have acknowledged what they called black students’ painful experiences on campus. At least one apologized. Many alumni say that isn’t enough. Black graduates of some of the city’s most selective institutions—such as the Brearley School, the Chapin School and the Spence School—have launched Instagram accounts to highlight their experiences and demand more concrete antiracist actions. Students and graduates elsewhere followed suit: By Sunday afternoon, more than 50 similar Instagram accounts had sprung up describing private schools and colleges in the Northeast and beyond, including Georgia and Florida. The Instagram accounts display anonymous testimonies of anguish, disparate discipline and racist remarks. Ayo Lewis, a 21-year-old from Brearley’s class of 2017, posted to the BlackatBrearley account. One of three black students in her grade, she said in an interview that it hurt when some students said she got into a top college only because of affirmative action. When teachers at times mixed up black students’ names, she said, “It tells you they don’t see you as an individual.” The Instagram account “shows people across generations that you’re not alone. There is a pattern and it’s something embedded in the culture of the school,” she said. “I want to see genuine change because I do love the institution at its core.” Brearley’s head, Jane Foley Fried, apologized in a June 9 message to the school community. She said conversations about how to move forward are under way. “We greatly respect and admire the courage and candor of our Black alumnae and current students who are sharing their own painful experiences of anti-Black racism at Brearley,” she said in an email to The Wall Street Journal. “The behavior they have described is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated in any part of our community. We hear their voices, and we are deeply sorry for the pain they have experienced.”

Vermont Principal Put On Leave For Not Agreeing With Black Lives Matters -- We have yet another teacher suspended or put on leave for merely expressing her opinion of Black Lives Matter on her personal Facebook page.  After Tiffany Riley wrote that she does not agree with the BLM, the Mount Ascutney School Board held an emergency meeting to declare that it is “uniformly appalled” by the exercise of free speech and Superintendent David Baker assured the public that they would be working on “mutually agreed upon severance package.”  The case magnifies concerns over the free speech rights of teachers on social media or in their private lives. As we have previously discussed (with an Oregon professor and a Rutgers professor), there remains an uncertain line in what language is protected for teachers in their private lives. There were also controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of such a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. There were also such an incident at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa as well as one involving a University of Pennsylvania professor. Some intolerant statements against students are deemed free speech while others are deemed hate speech or the basis for university action. There is a lack of consistency or uniformity in these actions which turn on the specific groups left aggrieved by out-of-school comments.  There is also a tolerance of faculty and students tearing down fliers and stopping the speech of conservatives.  Indeed, even faculty who assaulted pro-life advocates was supported by faculty and lionized for her activismSo what is the act that uniformly appalled the school board?  Riley wrote: “I do not think people should be made to feel they have to choose black race over human race. While I understand the urgency to feel compelled to advocate for black lives, what about our fellow law enforcement? What about all others who advocate for and demand equity for all? Just because I don’t walk around with a BLM sign should not mean I am a racist (sic).”  She said that she actually does believe that black lives do matter but was motivated to write to object to “the coercive measures taken to get to this point across; some of which are falsified in an attempt to prove a point.” One can certainly disagree with that view.  Indeed, it could be the foundation for a substantive discussion on how to best protect black lives and how to deal with police abuse.  However, it was declared “tone deaf” because Riley was challenging an approved or orthodox position. Simply because she shared her view of BLM in her private life, Baker declared ““They don’t see any way that she’s going to go forward as the principal of that building given those comments and that statement. It’s clear that the community has lost faith in her ability to lead.”

Thousands of educators laid off across California as state Democrats plan austerity budget - Yesterday, the California State Legislature voted on a state budget bill under conditions in which the state faces a projected budget deficit of $54.3 billion as a result of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. K-12 public education is threatened with existential cuts, with California Governor Gavin Newsom proposing $8 billion in cuts for the coming year. Newsom has until July 1 to approve, alter or veto the austerity budget, though more changes to the state budget are likely to come in late summer as the real numbers from tax revenues arrive on July 15. The legislature’s budget is a counter-proposal to Newsom’s revised budget issued in May, and argues that it can “spare” budget cuts to K-12 schools, primarily by issuing deferrals to districts. If enacted, nearly $10 billion in deferrals for school districts would be passed in order to cover projected expenses, forcing districts to assume vast sums of debt that will be owed back to the state in the near future. As the economic impact of the pandemic continues to deepen, it is evident that the current proposals from both the governor and the legislature vastly underestimate the cuts to education on the horizon. The legislature’s budget proposal is a stunt, one that hinges on the hope that the US Congress will come through with billions of dollars in funding for education through the fraudulent HEROES Act, which would provide some $10 billion in education relief to California. In a joint statement, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) and chairs of the state budget committees said there was a “strong likelihood” that Congress would deliver additional federal relief. At a press conference Monday, Newsom said, “I remain confident that something will happen at the federal level to mitigate the impact at the state level.” This is a cynical charade. Newsom and all the Democratic Party officials who have spearheaded decades of austerity in California know very well that the Senate has no intention of passing the HEROES Act, which Trump has explicitly declared “dead on arrival.” While school districts across California face a future of growing austerity, dozens of the state’s K-12 public school districts facing prior budget shortfalls have already carried out budget cuts and issued layoffs to educators and support staff for the coming school year.

Massachusetts educators protest layoffs and sweeping cuts to public education - On Monday, educators from across the state of Massachusetts held a rally in Brookline, a part of the Greater Boston area, to protest the devastating budget cuts and job losses that are mounting statewide. Educators in over 50 school districts across the state have now been given pink slips or reduction-in-force (RIF) notices. The protest took the form of a caravan, with more than 500 vehicles driving from Brookline’s Larz Anderson Park to Brookline High. The budget cuts sweeping across Massachusetts stem from the loss of income and sales tax revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, which is being foisted upon the working class in every state. When the World Socialist Web Site broke the news on the cuts in Randolph, Massachusetts, one of the first districts in the state to face cuts, we warned that they were “a foretaste of what will befall many districts, teachers, and students.” The protest on Monday coincided with the June 15 deadline for most districts to inform their employees of layoffs. Public schools are not obligated to publicize the lists or even numbers of educators they lay off, so in many cases workers and families in each district are still trying to determine the scope of the cuts. A reoccurring theme, though, is the high loss of jobs among the arts, music and physical education (PE) departments, as well as paraprofessionals and librarians. The numbers that are known paint a bleak picture. Many districts claim they plan to invite teachers back, depending on whether or not they receive additional funding from the state or their individual cities. However, there is no guarantee that this funding will be made available, and educators are now left in a state of jobless limbo. In Brockton, 24 teachers received pink slips last week and the district intends to leave 40 teaching vacancies unfilled, with most positions in the arts, PE and music departments. Twenty-one paraprofessional and teaching assistants were also laid off, while another 39 who retired or left their jobs will not be replaced. In Taunton, a district with only 960 full-time employees, 160 pink slips were distributed yesterday, cutting $5.8 million from the district’s budget. Those affected were primarily first- and second-year teachers, as well as 16 library assistants. In Randolph, all K-12 arts, music and PE departments were essentially eliminated at the end of last month, with all teachers for each subject being cut, as well as multiple elementary and middle school social workers and guidance counselors. In Brookline, 362 of the district’s 645 teachers were laid off over the past two weeks. Immense opposition from the community forced the district to rehire more than 300 of these laid-off teachers, but subsequently an unspecified number were again laid off, with district officials claiming they made a “mistake” by sending out rehiring e-mails to some teachers. In addition, roughly 300 paraprofessionals in Brookline face the prospect of joblessness, with their notification deadline extended to June 22, the day before the school year ends.

Over 1.4 million US education jobs slashed in April and May -- As a result of statewide school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, a staggering 779,000 K-12 public school educators lost their jobs throughout the US in the months of April and May. Over the same period, 239,000 public college professors and other employees and 424,000 educators at private K-12 schools and universities were laid off. The combined 1.44 million education-related job losses will in many cases be permanent and will have devastating repercussions for both educators and an entire generation of students. These figures are based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) monthly unemployment surveys for April and May, which reported a combined loss of 1.1 million public and private K-12 and higher education jobs in April, and a further 340,000 education jobs lost in May. As dire as these figures are, there are reasons to believe that the BLS is doctoring jobless figures in the interests of the Trump administration, and that the real number of educator layoffs is even higher than reported. In both months, the BLS acknowledged that there were “errors” in collecting data, which caused the agency to underestimate the true rate of unemployment by 5 percent in April and 3 percent in May. The reported decline in unemployment in May was seized upon by Trump to falsely claim that an economic recovery had begun. The astonishing figures on education-related layoffs have largely gone unreported in the mainstream press, with only a handful of articles indicating the massive assault on both public and private education jobs over the past two months. There is no specific breakdown of how the layoffs have affected each section of education workers—including teachers, custodial staff, counselors, cafeteria workers, social workers, nurses, paraprofessionals and others—but the bulk of the layoffs have likely not impacted teachers, whose contracts typically protect their jobs through the end of the school year. In all likelihood, districts significantly cut custodial and cafeteria staff, paraprofessionals and office staff when schools began closing en masse in mid-March due to the pandemic. These sections of school workers, who are paid less than teachers and far less than administrators, typically have less savings and live from paycheck to paycheck. They are generally members of trade unions, primarily the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), while teachers are members of either the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) or the National Education Association (NEA). Not one of these organizations has lifted a finger to oppose the massive assault on jobs, continuing their decades-long complicity in the attack on public education. Most school districts across the US have deadlines in March to give layoff notices to educators, which is an annual occurrence in many districts. For example, in March, Sacramento City Unified School District officially laid off 11 full-time teachers and 46.5 full-time equivalent classified positions, including bus drivers, clerks, campus monitors, yard duty employees and instructional aides. These cuts had been planned for some time. Since the pandemic, undoubtedly many more layoffs across the district have gone unreported, as they have across the US.

 Young Americans Trust Colleges More Than Police, Military, & Churches; Survey Finds - Young Americans trust colleges and universities more than the military, police, and churches, a new survey finds. YouGov conducted a survey of 147 young Americans ages 18-29 from May 29-30. The broader survey interviewed 1,060 U.S. adults and grouped them in age groups of 18-29, 30-44, 45-64, and 65+. The respondents were asked to rate their trust in key American institutions on an ascending scale of “none,” “a little,” “some,” and “a great deal.” Campus Reform reported on a similar survey in 2019. When asked how much they trust the police, 38 percent of young adults ages 18-29 said they hold “some” or “a great deal” of trust in the institution, nearly a 30 percent decrease from 2019. Meanwhile, 58 percent hold "some" or a "great deal" of trust in the U.S. military. In 2019, nearly 70 percent of the same age group held the same level of trust. The 2020 survey found that nearly one in four young Americans have no trust whatsoever in the military (23 percent) or police (24 percent). Just over three-quarters of young adults between the ages of 18-29 admitted some level of trust in “church or organized religion," the majority of that number 31 percent) expressing only "a little" trust. The 2019 survey found that 50 percent of young Americans between 18 and 29 expressed at least some level of trust in religious leaders. The YouGov survey found that young Americans hold the highest amount of trust in college professors and universities with 65 percent reporting either "some" or "a great deal" of trust in colleges and universities. In 2019, 74 percent of 18-29-year-olds trusted college professors and universities. Comparing the two years, 2020 found about a 10 percent decrease of young Americans reporting trust in higher education institutions.

Rubio to introduce bill allowing NCAA athletes to make money from name, likeness - Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will introduce a bill Thursday that would force the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to change its rules regarding allowing college athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness. Rubio’s bill would require the NCAA to establish new guidelines by June 30, 2021 and would also provide language to protect the group from lawsuits. “The only people on campus that are prohibited from benefiting from their name, their image and their likeness are student-athletes,” Rubio said in a statement to USA Today, which was the first to report on the bill. “And that's just not a sustainable position … given the fact that many of these college athletic endeavors are now multi-billion-dollar industries that are generating a lot of revenue for corporate sponsors and for university programs. “This is not an effort to harm college athletics," he continued. "Frankly, it's an effort to save it from what I think is going to become completely unmanageable if it's not handled uniformly across the board.” Rubio said it was necessary to have a federal law regarding compensating athletes so that all students would be treated equally. “Here’s the problem: it’ll destroy college athletics, it’ll destroy college football, it’ll destroy college basketball, and it’ll hurt these schools. And it’ll hurt all these other sports that rely on the revenue generated by those TV sports like football and basketball,” he said in a video posted on Twitter, adding that the Federal Trade Commission will take action if the NCAA fails to implement new rules by next year. “It protects the athletes, it allows them to be compensated, these kids deserve to make a little bit of money while they’re in college, and at the same time it will prevent the implosion of college athletics," he said.

Americans Skip Millions of Loan Payments as Coronavirus Takes Economic Toll – WSJ --Americans have skipped payments on more than 100 million student loans, auto loans and other forms of debt since the coronavirus hit the U.S., the latest sign of the toll the pandemic is taking on people’s finances.The number of accounts that enrolled in deferment, forbearance or some other type of relief since March 1 and remain in such a state rose to 106 million at the end of May, triple the number at the end of April, according to credit-reporting firm TransUnion. TRU -0.07%The largest increase occurred for student loans, with 79 million accounts in deferment or other relief status, up from 18 million a month earlier. Auto loans in some type of deferment doubled to 7.3 million accounts.  Personal loans in deferment doubled to 1.3 million accounts.The surge in missed payments suggests that the flood of layoffs related to the coronavirus has left many Americans without the means to keep up with their debts. Many people have used up their stimulus checks, and unemployment benefits in high-cost areas aren’t enough to replace paychecks or to help debt-laden borrowers pay down their bills.In some cases, the government is instructing companies to let borrowers defer their loans. The stimulus package signed into law in March, for example, allowed most borrowers to stop making monthly payments through Sept. 30 on federal student loans. The stimulus package also allowed homeowners hurt by the coronavirus or its economic fallout to ask their mortgage servicers for permission to pause their payments for up to 12 months. If the mortgage is backed by the government, the mortgage servicer is generally supposed to grant the request. In other types of lending, consumers are actively seeking help. Many credit-card, auto-loan and personal-loan lenders continue to allow consumers to skip or pause payments, in hopes of buying time for the economy to recover and for consumers to get back on track with their payments.

 A call to revise CDC guidelines for reopening -U.S. hospitals are projected to lose $200 billion in revenue by the end of this month. Hundreds face bankruptcy. At a time when we need hospitals to be functioning at peak performance, CDC and state government guidelines for reopening could jeopardize their ability to do so.  According to the guidance, 30 percent of hospital intensive care unit (ICU) beds should be available before communities can safely reopen. This arbitrary figure will needlessly hamper areas that are ready right now —and could drive hospitals out of business — while also opening the floodgates in areas that are not yet prepared to handle the incoming demand. Instead, the CDC should urgently revise its guidelines to be rooted in evidence and advise state governments to defer relevant decisions about the safety of reopening to local health authorities.  There is no widely accepted evidence that 70 percent of ICU occupancy will be necessary to handle a future COVID-19 surge. While average occupancy of ICUs was 68 percent before the pandemic, this figure varies substantially in hospitals and cities across America. A 2016 study by Prof. Chan of 15 Northern California Kaiser Permanente hospitals found average ICU occupancy was 80 percent. It is impractical to limit hospitals to 70 percent when they needed more of those beds for patients before COVID-19 struck. These restrictions run a real risk of tipping hospitals into insolvency as many faces an existential crisis. Complex surgeries are the financial lifeline of many hospitals and require a post-operative ICU stay. If they must idle 30 percent of ICU beds before they can restore normal surgical operations, it’s only a matter of time before they run out of money. While it can be comforting to have concrete benchmarks to strive towards, simply capping ICU occupancy at 70 percent fails to capture the nuances of critical care capacity management. The inherent uncertainty of the COVID-19 epidemic means that some days’ demand for ICU beds may be many-fold higher than it is on the “average” day. Patients with critical illness from COVID-19 often require prolonged ICU stays. A new surge that brings only three new ICU patients daily can snowball into 20 patients requiring an ICU bed in under a week.Hospital size matters substantially, too. In a small community hospital with 10 ICU beds, 70 percent occupancy means there are only three beds available in the event of a “second wave”. In contrast, a large academic medical center with 100 ICU beds will be able to react much more efficiently and effectively to a second wave with 30 empty beds for new patients. The new guidelines are ambiguous as to how hospitals or policymakers should define ICU capacity. As the onslaught of COVID-19 patients hit New York City, many hospitals quickly canceled surgeries and created makeshift ICU beds in newly-idle operating rooms and general hospital wards. In doing so, the city’s “ICU capacity” more than doubled. As the number of COVID-19 cases subsides in New York, it is not clear whether and how this “created capacity” — much of which has been returned to its normal function — should be considered.

 Nurses outraged over US hospital chain bailouts, layoffs and bloated CEO pay - The 60 wealthiest health care and hospital chains in the United States have compensated their top executives hundreds of millions of dollars while laying off tens of thousands of health care workers throughout the United States in recent weeks according to June 8 article in the New York Times. The richest hospital combines, some of which used their non-profit status to avoid federal tax obligations, have slashed life-saving services at a time of great health care need in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has funneled billions of dollars to the corporations, monies obtained in the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Economic Security Act) and signed into law March 27. One of these hospitals, the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, received a $199 million federal grant this spring, while last year it sat on $7 billion in cash which generated a $1.2 billion investment return, a tidy sum for having paid an investment firm $28 million to manage its largess. “The bailout of major hospitals completely breaks down this narrative that the hospital CEOs love to promote that ‘we are all in this together,’” a nurse at Cleveland Clinic told the WSWS. “The $199 million they received will never drift down to nurses, nurse assistants, janitors or physical therapists. “While there haven’t been mass layoffs at Cleveland Clinic as there have at other hospitals, we were told recently that we must use a certain amount of our paid time off by the end of the summer. For some this means that vacations that were scheduled in the fall will have to be cancelled. They explained this policy to us in an email that makes it sound like employees have to do their part and give back.” The Times examined regulatory, securities and tax documents from 60 health care corporations that received over $15 billion without so much as having to apply for the monies—funds received with almost no strings attached. The swift disbursement occurred virtually overnight for the most powerful health care corporations and tycoons, apparently because industry lobbyists were directly colluding with the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, II and his deputy Eric Hargan in authoring the formulas to pump funds into the already overflowing coffers of the conglomerates. Seven of the largest health care combines in the US were handed $1.5 billion in bailout funds, while they laid off and furloughed over 30,000 workers. They are Trinity Health, Beaumont Health, and Henry Ford Health in Michigan, SSM Health and Mercy in St. Louis, Missouri, Fairview Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Prisma Health in South Carolina. HCA Healthcare, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, saw $7 billion in profits the last two years, with a total wealth of over $36 billion, while the company received approximately $1 billion in CARES funds this late winter. HCA’s CEO Samuel Hazen obtained $26 million in compensation in 2019, and in an effort to deflect public outrage let it be known he was donating the first two months of his annual salary, $237,000, to a fund for compensating stressed company health care workers, or 0.009 percent of his direct pay, stock options and bonuses. 

WHO clarifies comments on asymptomatic spread of Covid-19 - A top World Health Organization official clarified on Tuesday that scientists have not determined yet how frequently people with asymptomatic cases of Covid-19 pass the disease on to others, a day after suggesting that such spread is “very rare.” The clarification comes after the WHO’s original comments incited strong pushback from outside public health experts, who suggested the agency had erred, or at least miscommunicated, when it said people who didn’t show symptoms were unlikely to spread the virus. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the Covid-19 pandemic, made it very clear Tuesday that the actual rates of asymptomatic transmission aren’t yet known. “The majority of transmission that we know about is that people who have symptoms transmit the virus to other people through infectious droplets,” Van Kerkhove said. “But there are a subset of people who don’t develop symptoms, and to truly understand how many people don’t have symptoms, we don’t actually have that answer yet.” Van Kerkhove’s remarks on Tuesday came at a WHO question-and-answer session aimed at explaining what was known and unknown about how the virus spreads.Some of the confusion boiled down to the details of what an asymptomatic infection actually is, and the different ways the term is used. While some cases of Covid-19 are fully asymptomatic, sometimes the word is also used to describe people who haven’t started showing symptoms yet, when they are presymptomatic. Research has shown that people become infectious before they start feeling sick, during that presymptomatic period.

FDA Pulls Emergency Covid-19-Use Approval for Malaria Drug Used by Trump - WSJ—The Food and Drug Administration has revoked its emergency-use authorization for two malaria drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, for the treatment of the Covid-19 disease. “It is no longer reasonable to believe” the two drugs “may be effective in treating Covid-19,” said Denise M. Hinton, the FDA’s chief scientist said in a Monday letter. She added the “known and potential benefits of these products outweigh their known and potential risks.” The two drugs were widely touted by President Trump and others as useful in helping patients with Covid-19. Mr. Trump said in May that he was taking hydroxychloroquine as preventive to avoid the virus. The FDA issued an authorization in late March for the drugs to be used during the coronavirus pandemic. But on April 24, it issued a cautionary statement about the medicine after learning of serious heart rhythm problems among coronavirus patients who had used one of the two medicines. T At that time, the agency stressed that the medicines hadn’t been shown safe and effective against Covid-19, and that they are being studied in clinical trials. Ms. Hinton disclosed the withdrawal of the authorization in a letter to Gary Disbrow, acting director of the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, who had requested the action. The FDA approved clinical trials of the two related medicines, in part, because of a brief report from China on 100 Covid-19 patients. It indicated clinical improvement and viral clearance with chloroquine. Additionally, a clinical report from France showed that hydroxychloroquine alone and in combination with an antibiotic lowered the level of the virus in patients. But more recently, Ms. Hinton wrote, U.S. treatment guidelines have become available and “do not recommend the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in hospitalized patients with Covid-19 outside of a clinical trial.”

Studies on COVID-19 antibody response undermine US “herd immunity” policy - The unstated but nonetheless official US government policy toward coronavirus is “herd immunity”—letting the pandemic rip until so many people have survived the infection that their immunity will block further spread. This policy is homicidal, in the literal sense of the word. The federal and state governments are allowing tens of millions to be infected by a disease which will kill a large number of them, perhaps millions, rather than undertake the systematic campaign of testing, contact tracing and isolating those infected or exposed, which would halt the spread of the disease before it rages entirely out of control. After two and a half months of 20,000-plus daily COVID-19 cases, the reopening of the country for business and commerce in violation of the rules set by health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is leading to a resurgence of cases in the Carolinas, Florida, Texas, Arizona and California without attempts to impose new restrictions. “We can’t shut down the economy again. I think we’ve learned that if you shut down the economy, you’re going to create more damage,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told CNBC. According to a Tucson ICU nurse, writing for a local online paper, Tucson Sentinel, “COVID-19 is real, despite an insane number of people on social media believing the hoax or that it’s just the flu and people shouldn’t worry. I have never looked around my 100 percent full ICU and genuinely thought that there is the possibility of NO survivors.” But will herd immunity actually provide the population guaranteed protection? The hypothesis on which the policy is based, one that is essentially unproven, is that those who have the good fortune to survive the infection will develop robust antibodies to prevent second infections. Some recent studies have shed light on this question. In a recent analysis of 370 individuals with known COVID-19 infections whose serums were held at the New York Blood Center, 96 percent had detectable antibodies to one of the viral proteins. Testing against two other proteins produced by the virus showed 85 and 89 percent of this population had antibodies. Two percent had no detectable antibodies. Using sophisticated assays, the researchers were also able to quantify the amount of antibody infected individuals produced. As the authors noted, the level of neutralizing antibodies varied over a broad range, with some showing as much as 40,000 times more than others. The concern is that this may correlate with the amount of protection that may be offered, meaning that many people, after surviving COVID-19, will still be susceptible to it again. Another study conducted in the UK, corroborating the findings in the New York study, noted that up to 8.5 percent of people infected with COVID-19 did not develop antibodies.  Patients having the most severe infections with excessive inflammatory response (mainly those older or with obesity and hypertension) were more likely to develop antibodies, according to the Daily Telegraph. The study suggested that asymptomatic patients are less likely to develop a sustained immune response. The immunity to the virus is not as robust as had been hoped by investigators, and no one yet knows what level of neutralizing antibodies are required to offer protection. This has considerable implications for vaccine productions, as vaccine efficacy seems to hinge on the ability to demonstrate consistently high levels of neutralizing antibodies.

 COVID-19 risks ranked: Grocery stores among least-likely places to contract virus - Saddle up, we’re entering the Wild West phase of COVID-19.As summer heats up and government restrictions melt away, Americans are again free to weigh their own risks of practicing pre-pandemic pastimes like heading back to work, out to eat, on vacation and to the beach.To avoid the deadly disease, scientists say people should consider five risks before they venture out, including proximity to people; the likelihood others will practice safe behavior; indoors or out; exposure time, and personal health risks, according to a survey of four public health experts by MLive in Michigan.“Until we have a vaccine, we are going to have to move forward with risk-reduction strategies,” said Matthew Sims, director of infectious disease research at Beaumont Health. “Because you can’t keep the economy on hold forever, you can’t keep peoples’ lives on hold forever.”Places where people gather en masse to let loose are most likely to be crawling with coronavirus, doctors say. Large concerts and bars both ranked 9 on a risk scale of 1 to 10.“After a couple of drinks, they’re starting to feel a little more invincible,” Dr. Nasir Husain said. “And that’s when the trouble starts.”The tennis court is one of the easiest places to ace the COVID-avoidance game — as long as your partner doesn’t have the disease. The activity is one of two ranked a reassuring 1 by the doctors.Navigating restaurants isn’t as simple as hitting the tennis court. Takeout, patio seating and dining in all bear risks. The latter is the most dangerous — a 6.  Here is a guide to planning your post-lockdown life. Places and activities ranked on a scale of 1-10 for risk of contracting COVID-19, with 10 being the riskiest and 1 the least dangerous:

To understand who’s dying of Covid-19, look to social factors like race more than preexisting diseases -- While early studies of who was dying of Covid-19 identified risks such as obesity and having diabetes, there is a growing realization that those initial conclusions might have been misleading, obscuring a more significant explanation. As researchers pull back their lens from individuals to population-level risk factors, they’re finding that, in the U.S., race may be as important as age in gauging a person’s likelihood of dying from the disease.  The higher the percentage of Black residents in a county, the higher its death rate from Covid-19 — even after accounting for income, health insurance coverage, rates of diabetes and obesity, and public transit use, finds a new study by researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management. With those plausible explanations ruled out, “the causal mechanism has to be something else,” said applied economist Chris Knittel, the study’s senior author. “If I were a public official, I’d be looking at differences in the quality of insurance, conditions such as chronic stress, and systemic discrimination.”  The county-by-county analysis of Covid-19 death rates in the U.S. comes as more and more studies shift from the initial focus on individual-level factors that seem to increase people’s risk of dying to population-level ones, too, said experts in public health, demographics, and infectious disease.One reason for the new focus is that “we’re not learning much more beyond what’s been observed from the start of the pandemic: that sex, age, and preexisting conditions put you at greater risk of dying” from Covid-19, said Aaron Glatt, an infectious disease physician at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Inalmost every country, for instance, more men than women are dying of Covid-19, an imbalance that likely reflects both biology — women have stronger immune systems — and socialization: They seem to be following social distancing guidelines more than men, which could decrease the viral load they’re exposed to.

Blood type, genes tied to risk of severe COVID-19: European study -  (Reuters) - A person’s blood type and other genetic factors may be linked with severity of coronavirus infection, according to European researchers looking for further clues about why COVID-19 hits some so much harder than others. The findings, published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, suggest people with type A blood have a higher risk of being infected with the coronavirus and developing worse symptoms. At the peak of the epidemic in Europe, researchers analyzed the genes of more than 4,000 people to look for variations that were common in those who became infected with the coronavirus and developed severe COVID-19. A cluster of variants in genes that are involved with immune responses was more common in people with severe COVID-19, they found. These genes are also involved with a cell-surface protein called ACE2 that the coronavirus uses to gain entry to and infect cells in the body. The researchers also found a relationship between COVID-19 severity and blood type. The risk for severe COVID-19 was 45% higher for people with type A blood than those with other blood types. It appeared to be 35% lower for people with type O. “The findings ... provide specific clues as to what disease processes may be going on in severe COVID-19,” Karlsen told Reuters by email, noting that additional research is needed before the information becomes useful. “The hope is that these and other findings ... will point the way to a more thorough understanding of the biology of COVID-19,” U.S. National Institutes of Health director and genetics expert Francis Collins wrote in his blog on Thursday. “They also suggest that a genetic test and a person’s blood type might provide useful tools for identifying those who may be at greater risk of serious illness.”

Is the New Coronavirus Getting Weaker? What to Know -COVID-19 cases may be on the rise in at least 20 states, but some doctors suspect the severity of the disease may be decreasing a bit.Doctors at University of Pennsylvania Medical Center (UPMC) say people with COVID-19 don't seem to be getting as sick, and those who recently tested show a lower viral amount than what was being detected in people earlier in the pandemic.According to the doctors at UPMC, the number of COVID-19 patients needing ventilators has also decreased.A similar trend was recently observed in Italy.One Italian doctor suggested the new coronavirus was weakening, as some people in Italy newly diagnosed with an infection showed a smaller viral load than those who were tested a month ago.But health experts are skeptical.Many say there's not enough evidence to conclude that the virus is, in fact, losing steam.The changes in severity may have less to do with mutations within the virus itself, and more so with improvements in treatment and testing.   Health experts say there's no evidence the new coronavirus has mutated into a weaker version. Research has shown the virus mutated already, which is normal for a virus, but there's no proof it's going through more mutations affecting the severity of the disease it causes. "I don't think we have evidence of this yet," says Dr. Heidi Zapata, a Yale Medicine infectious disease doctor and assistant professor at the medical school. "The study concluded that most of the mutations were largely neutral and did not affect its lethality."

Steroid drug hailed as 'breakthrough' for seriously ill COVID-19 patients - (Reuters) - A cheap and widely used steroid called dexamethasone has become the first drug shown to be able to save the lives of COVID-19 patients in what scientists said is a “major breakthrough” in the coronavirus pandemic. Trial results announced on Tuesday showed dexamethasone, which is used to reduce inflammation in other diseases such as arthritis, reduced death rates by around a third among the most severely ill COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital. The preliminary results, which have not been peer-reviewed, suggest the drug should immediately become standard care in patients with severe cases of the pandemic disease, said the researchers who led the trials. They said they would work to publish the full details of the trial as soon as possible, and many scientists said they hope to be able to review the evidence for themselves soon, especially given the recent retraction of an influential COVID-19 study. Britain’s health ministry wasted no time, saying the drug had been approved for use in the state-run health service, export restrictions had been introduced and 200,000 courses of the treatment had been stockpiled. “This is a (trial) result that shows that if patients who have COVID-19 and are on ventilators or are on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost,” said Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor co-leading the trial, known as the RECOVERY trial.

 South Carolina Reports 4th Straight Record Jump As COVID-19 Cases Surge Across The South-   South Carolina reported its highest number of new cases for a fourth consecutive day on Saturday, joining a spate of startling increases across the south, including in Alabama and Florida, which both reported record numbers of new cases for third straight day.South Carolina counted 785 new cases on Saturday, the highest one-day jump since the virus landed in SC. Friday’s report had 729 new cases, Thursday’s saw 682 and Wednesday’s counted 531.The state has recorded a total of 17,955 cases and 599 deaths. SC was one of the last states to issue a stay-at-home order and among the first to reopen on May 4.South Carolina’s hospital bed occupancy has reached between 69.4% in the upstate area to 77% in the Pee Dee area, per state health department officials. In both Pee Dee and the Midlands, hospital occupancy is at records.  Florida reported another alarmingly high daily total of new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, the Orlando Tribune reported, citing data from state public health officials.Florida reported 2,016 new coronavirus cases and six new deaths Sunday, continuing the surge of reported infections in the state over the past week and a half.The statewide case load is now 75,568, and the death toll stands at 2,931.Saturday’s update from the state health department marked the highest number of cases reported in a day with 2,581 cases. It was also the first time since the outbreak began that more than 2,000 cases were reported in one day.Sunday makes the eleventh time in the past twelve days that the state saw more than 1,000 daily cases.Though it wasn't as high as yesterday's total, the 2k+ number is still more than twice the daily average from a couple of weeks ago. With its more than 75k cases, Florida still has the 8th-largest caseload in the country.

COVID-19 cases surging in Alabama, South Carolina and Oklahoma - - New cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in Alabama and South Carolina in the second week of June compared to the prior seven days, a Reuters analysis found, as 17 U.S. states reported weekly increases in the spread of the novel coronavirus. Alabama’s new cases rose 97% to 5,115 for the week ended June 14, with 14% of COVID-19 tests coming back positive compared to 6% in the prior week, according to the analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak. New cases in South Carolina rose 86% to 4,509, while the positive test rate rose to about 14% from 9% over the same period, according to the analysis and state data.   When asked to comment on the increases, South Carolina and Alabama health officials said some residents were not following recommendations to maintain social distance, avoid large gatherings and wear a mask in public. In Oklahoma, where President Donald Trump plans to hold an indoor campaign rally on Saturday, new cases rose 68% to 1,081 in the second week of June, while the positive test rate increased to 4%, from 2% the previous week. Oklahoma officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Abbreviated Coronavirus dashboard for June 15: tracking the four horsemen of the reopening apocalypse - Let me follow up on my post Friday about the cost of reopening recklessly coming due. Here is the graph from 91.divoc.com of the 10 States with the highest per capita infection rate over the past 7 days ending Saturday: With the exception of rapidly declining Maryland, the focus has almost entirely shifted away from the Northeast and Midwest and instead to the Confederacy plus Iowa, Utah, and Arizona. The 4 “leading” States are Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, and South Carolina.I’m having problems with the 91-divoc site this morning, but the raw data through Sunday shows a slight decline for Arizona, but a 12% increase for Alabama and a whopping 25% increase for Arkansas, bringing it up to Arizona’s level. South Carolina is steady.Among the other States with recent big increases, North Carolina saw a 6% further increase as of Sunday. Utah and Iowa had slight increases. Mississippi had a 13% decrease in the 7 day average.Finally, although they aren’t among the 10 States with the highest per capita new infections, both Florida and Texas have also seen big increases in cases in the past two weeks (both have had about 60 cases per million per day as of several days ago). Through Sunday, Florida’s rate increased another 8%, while Texas saw another 3% increase.Bear in mind that, at its worst, NY had over 500 new infections per day per million population, so even Arizona and Arkansas are less than 40% of that rate. It remains to be seen how much pain these States can take before they decide to change their ways – if ever.

Record spike in new coronavirus cases reported in six U.S. states as reopening accelerates -  (Reuters) - New coronavirus infections hit record highs in six U.S. states on Tuesday, marking a rising tide of cases for a second consecutive week as most states moved forward with reopening their economies. Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas all reported record increases in new cases on Tuesday after recording all-time highs last week. Nevada also reported its highest single-day tally of new cases on Tuesday, up from a previous high on May 23. Hospitalizations are also rising or at record highs. At Arizona’s Tucson Medical Center on Monday, just a single intensive care unit (ICU) bed designated for COVID-19 patients was available, with the other 19 beds filled, a hospital representative said. “ICU to be expanded, hopefully, in coming days,” Dr. Steven Oscherwitz, an infectious disease expert at the hospital, said in a tweet on Monday night. “Not sure where people needing ICU care will be able to go, since most AZ (Arizona) hospitals are pretty full now.” Health officials in many states attribute the spike to businesses reopening and Memorial Day weekend gatherings in late May. Many states are also bracing for a possible increase in cases stemming from tens of thousands of people protesting to end racial injustice and police brutality for the past three weeks. In Oregon, health officials are trying to contain an outbreak of over 200 new cases in Union County linked to the Lighthouse United Pentecostal Church. The Oregonian newspaper reported that a video on the church’s Facebook page on May 24 showed hundreds of people standing close together singing. Large gatherings were not permitting under the state’s reopening plan at that time. The video has since been deleted, it said. Reuters was not able to reach the church for comment. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott said the record number of new cases is due to more testing. Hospitalizations - a metric not linked to increased testing - also hit a record high. But the state has nearly 15,000 hospital beds available, Abbott said. For the week ended June 14, testing increased over 30% but the positive rate held steady at 7%, a Reuters analysis showed. Texas tested 674 out of every 100,000 residents last week, while about half of the 50 states tested at least 1,000 out of every 100,000 residents. New York led the nation, testing 2,245 out of every 100,000 residents, according to the analysis. The top Texas health official, John Hellerstedt, said the increase was manageable but the situation could change.

Coronavirus dashboard for June 17: the second wave of the tsunami comes ashore - As of yesterday, there were 2,137,731 total documented coronavirus infections in the US. Total known deaths were 116,963.As I have stated several times in the past month, I believe that coronavirus infections and deaths will wax and wane around the April-May plateau of roughly 20-25,000 new daily infections and 500-2000 daily deaths, at least as long as Trump remains President. This is because, absent competent Federal leadership, the US lacks the political and social will to do what is necessary - distancing + mask-wearing + tracing - in order to “crush the curve” as almost every other industrialized European and Asian country has been able to do.The current situation in the US is divided by region. In the early hard-hit areas of the Northeast and Midwest, effective measures were put in place and have been relaxed more gradually. As a result the infection rates there have continued to decline. By contrast, in the Confederacy, the High Plains, and the Southwest, lockdowns were put in place late if at all, and lifted early without any meaningful restrictions. As a result infection rates have begun to rise, in a few States at an exponential rate.  Yesterday the COVID Tracking Project finally released graphs for each region per capita, shown below:   In the Northeast and Midwest, the 7 day moving average of new infections has fallen to roughly 40 and 45 per million, respectively. In the South and West, it has risen to 89 and 76 per million, respectively. Here is a map showing which States have falling rates of new infections (green), relatively flat rates (yellow), and increased rates of new infections (red): The regional pattern is obvious. Here are the thumbnail graphs of all States with recent increases in new infections, ranked in order from highest to lowest number of *total* infections over time: The last half dozen States shown, including, e.g., Oregon, Montana, Alaska, and Hawaii, have such small total numbers that the recent increases aren’t really significant; whereas the first shown, Texas, isn’t even in the “top 10” for the per capita rate of new infections (it’s #17. California is #14)). The “leader of the pack” among the recklessly reopened States is Arizona, which saw a huge increase in new cases yesterday, bringing its 7 day average up to 214 per million: As showing in the graph above, the remaining “top 10” are all States in the Confederacy, High Plains, and Mountain West. In order, (showing rates of new infections per million as of June 15 in parentheses) they are: Alabama (156), Arizona (150), South Carolina (125), Louisiana (127), North Carolina (117), Utah (102), Mississippi (98), Florida (83), and Iowa (83). To put this in perspective, here is the same graph but superimposing NY’s trend-line: Even now, Arizona is not nearly as bad as NY, NJ, CT, or LA were at their peaks. But at its current rate of doubling, roughly every 9 days, if this continues I n about 2 weeks AZ will be as bad as NY was at its worst.

  Sharp rise in new coronavirus cases in US south and west - Six weeks after the Trump administration declared that it had successfully “flattened the curve” and told states to begin reopening, there is now an accelerating rise in coronavirus cases in the American south and west. Contrary to the official line, the pandemic remains an extraordinarily dangerous public health crisis. There are now more than 2.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, along with nearly 120,000 known deaths. The US accounts for about a quarter of the world’s cases and deaths, which currently stand at 8.3 million and 450,000, respectively. The worst-hit countries in terms of new cases and new deaths are the United States, Brazil, India and Russia. Others include Chile, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Peru, Bangladesh and Mexico. Half of the cases in the US have occurred since May 1, when the federal guidelines to “slow the spread” of the deadly contagion expired. At the time, the disease had not truly been contained, only blunted, by the physical distancing measures abided to by workers across the country. A rational and scientific plan would have continued such efforts, while expanding testing and contact tracing to hunt down new cases of the disease. Every effort was instead made to reopen the economies of every state, regardless of whether or not there were necessary medical facilities, equipment and personnel to prevent, find and treat cases of the coronavirus. The Coronavirus Task Force, which provided the veneer of a federal response, has been effectively disbanded. Beginning with Georgia on April 24, every state has now partially or largely reopened its offices, warehouses, factories and other workplaces. Arizona, California, Florida and Texas are among the worst affected states this week. Arizona two days ago recorded 2,392 cases and 25 deaths, while it saw 1,827 new cases and 20 deaths yesterday. California suffered a cumulative 7,266 cases and 163 deaths over those days. There were 2,783 cases and 55 deaths in Florida on Tuesday, and 2,610 cases and 25 deaths in the state on Wednesday. And in Texas, which has seen some of the largest outbreaks since the reopening began, noted 7,658 new cases and 88 new deaths in the past 48 hours. The number of new cases has also hit all-time highs in ten states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas.

California Makes Face Masks Mandatory to Fight Pandemic -Californians stepping out of their homes to enter most public spaces are now required by law to wear a face mask. The new order was issued by California Gov. Gavin Newsom Thursday amidst an uptick of coronavirus cases in the state.  "Our numbers are going up, not going down. Hospitalization numbers are just starting to creep back up, and I'm very concerned by what we're seeing. We think the most impactful thing we can do, short of going back to a stay-at-home order, is wearing face coverings when we can't practice physical distancing," Newsom told ABC7.  Newsom issued his order a day after both California and Los Angeles county reported single-day highs for new cases, the Los Angeles Times reported. To date, more than 161,000 Californians have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 5,290 have died, according to Department of Public Health figures cited by NPR.  Several California counties and cities already require face masks, but Newsom said he issued the order because many people were ignoring them. "Simply put, we are seeing too many people with faces uncovered — putting at risk the real progress we have made in fighting the disease," he told ABC7. The new order will require masks in the following situations:

  • In indoor public spaces
  • While visiting any medical facility
  • While using or operating public transportation or driving services
  • While working in most situations, including preparing or serving food
  • When interacting with others in public
  • When in any indoor setting with people you do not live with if social distancing is impossible
  • While outdoors if social distancing is not possible

Arizona, Texas, Florida again report record-high COVID-19 cases -- Arizona, Texas and Florida are all reporting record-high single-day increases in COVID-19 cases, surpassing previous records set just a few days ago. The three states all reported their highest new case numbers yet on Thursday and Friday, worrying public health experts that the outbreaks there are growing out of control. “These are on the cusp of getting out of control," former Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb said Thursday on CNBC. "I think these states still have a week or two to take actions to try to get these under control," he said, describing the rising cases as "outbreaks." Arizona reported 3,246 new COVID-19 cases Friday morning, surpassing the record-high of 2,519 new cases reported the day before. Texas reported 3,516 new COVID cases Thursday evening, an increase from the previous record-high of 3,129, which was reported Wednesday. In Florida, 3,822 new cases were reported Friday, the highest single-day increase for the state, beating a record set Thursday of 3,207 new cases. Governors in those states have largely attributed increases in cases to increases in testing, but public health experts note that the percentage of tests coming back positive is also increasing, a sign of a growing outbreak. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) acknowledged the increased positivity rate Friday in a news conference, attributing it to "discrete outbreaks." "As you test more, you find more," he said. 

Arizona reports more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases, a daily high— The Arizona health department reported more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day for the first time Friday morning.With 3,246 new COVID-19 cases, the state’s total increased to 46,689. The health department also reported 41 additional fatalities, increasing the death toll to 1,312.The previous single-day high for cases was 2,519 reported a day earlier.The Arizona Department of Health Services has been providing case and testing updates on its website each morning. The dashboard includes, among other information, testing trends, updated hospital capacity and a ZIP Code map of cases.The daily reports present data after the state receives statistics and compiles them, which can lag by several days. They aren’t meant to represent the actual activity over the past 24 hours.The number of cases reported in Arizona has been rising at a faster rate than testing has increased, indicating community spread, since the state’s stay-at-home order expired last month. For the over 391,000 PCR tests given for active infections in the state, including 12,476 reported Friday, the positive rate increased to 9.5%, as the upward trend accelerates. It was 9.1% on Wednesday and 6.7% on May 31.

Coronavirus: Florida reports another 3,822 cases of COVID-19, new one-day record– Florida reported another 3,822 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, breaking the one-day record of 3,207 set just 24 hours earlier.Florida is now up to 89,748 total confirmed cases and 3,104 deaths associated with COVID-19, according to the latest data released by the health department.There were 43 new coronavirus-related deaths reported Friday morning across the state, including five in Miami-Dade County, two in Broward and 14 in Palm Beach County.The 3,822 new cases in one day is a 19% jump from what had been the record a day earlier, and it’s more than double what had been the record for single-day cases just a week ago (1,902). In the past day, Miami-Dade County’s confirmed cases increased by 522 to 24,376. The county now has 864 deaths, the highest total in the state.Broward’s cases increased by 337 to 10,448. The county’s death toll is now at 367.Palm Beach County’s cases increased by 262 to 10,116, with the death toll at 464. Monroe County now has 150 cases (an increase of four overnight) and four confirmed deaths.Florida has confirmed at least 12,774 coronavirus-related hospitalizations since the start of the outbreak. Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted data that shows the median age of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the state is lowering, with more younger people being diagnosed.  Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez noted that while the morbidity rate of those younger patients is lower, it remains critical that they take precautions not to spread the disease to older and more vulnerable residents.

COVID-19 Outbreak At Phillies Clearwater Training Camp Sickens 5 Players, 3 Staff - In the middle of a bitter labor dispute that is already threatening to scrap the 2020 season entirely (such an unfortunate outcome, according to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, now appears virtually inevitable), several Phillies players have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. As Florida experiences a major outbreak that is threatening to make the state into one of the new hotspots, alongside Texas and Arizona, five Phillies players who had been training at the team’s facility in Clearwater, Florida have tested positive for coronavirus in recent days, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia.In addition to the five players, three staff members have tested positive, though the identities of those infected aren't known.Even before the labor dispute took a turn for the worse, owners feared a rash of player and staff infections that could force the league to abandon a hoped-for July 4 start date for a 50-game abbreviated season. Now, a "significant number of team personnel" are awaiting test results, a sign that the numbers could rise in the next day or two. None of the eight people who have been infected have been hospitalized; all apparently have pretty mild infections.

U.S. Virus Cases Accelerate While Trump and Governors Move On - President Donald Trump prepared for a rally in an Oklahoma arena against public health advice. Governors in Texas, Arizona and Florida vowed to keep businesses open. Social media was mired in debate over whether wearing a face covering is a political act. And a resurgent Covid-19 barreled across the southern and western U.S.American cases increased by 31,489 over 24 hours through Friday afternoon, to 2.21 million, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. The 1.4% increase was faster than the average daily increase of 1.1% over the past week, and the biggest percentage rise in six days.For a while, climbing caseloads in Sun Belt states were balanced by a slowdown in Covid-19’s spread in other parts of the country, keeping the national numbers steady overall. That changed Friday with record tallies in Florida and California.The Trump administration has minimized the severity and seriousness of the new outbreak, citing wider testing as a possible reason for higher caseloads. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has also pointed to the younger average age of people with the illness, which has been more severe and fatal in older people.In many states with rising case counts, hospitals still have capacity, and deaths aren’t climbing as quickly. Nationally, deaths inched up 0.6% Friday to 118,798. It’s also possible that Friday’s national increase in case counts will end up being a blip on an otherwise stable trajectory. Still, the pace of Covid-19’s revitalization this week has been breathtaking:

  • Cases in Arizona rose 7.5% to 46,706, according to the data from Johns Hopkins and Bloomberg News. The state reported 41 new deaths, raising the total to 1,312.
  • Florida reported 89,748 cases, up 4.4% from a day earlier, compared with an average increase of 3.2% in the previous seven days. Deaths reached 3,104, an increase of 1.4%. The new rate of people testing positive for the first time climbed to 10% for Thursday, from 8.8% on Wednesday.
  • Texas cases rose 3.5% to 103,305, outpacing the previous seven-day average of 2.9%. Hospitalizations rose for the eighth-straight day to 3,148, up 6.8% from the day before. As of Friday, the state had reported 2,140 deaths.
  • California cases rose 2.7% to 165,416 while deaths increased 1.3% to 5,360, according to the state’s website. The increase in new cases has climbed for three days. Patients in intensive care rose 0.8% to 1,128, though hospitalizations overall fell by 0.3%.

U.S. Cases Rise 1.4%; Brazil Passes 1 Million Mark: Virus Update - U.S. coronavirus cases rose 1.4%, the biggest jump in six days, as California, Florida and Arizona set records and Texas outpaced its seven-day average, more signs the outbreak is worsening in the Sun Belt.Brazil topped 1 million cases, second only to the U.S., after reporting record new daily infections. South Africa’s cases passed China, where the outbreak began.GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s partnership with Clover Biopharmaceuticals started vaccine tests on humans. The head of the World Health Organization warned of “a new and dangerous phase.” Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases top 8.5 million; deaths exceed 456,000
  • Revisiting relief funds as small business owners still struggle
  • Masks are mandated even in red states, with cases soaring
  • World girds for long, hard road back after 450,000 virus deaths
  • Food inequality crisis deepens under pandemic’s pressure
  • U.S. sports reopening plans run up against spike in cases
  • Returning to offices could cost $18,000 per NYC banker

Several U.S. states see coronavirus infection spikes, Wall Street unnerved - (Reuters) - Troubling spikes in coronavirus infection rates were reported on Friday in several U.S. states, mainly in the South and West, a day before President Donald Trump was due to preside over an Oklahoma campaign rally that will be America’s largest indoor gathering in months. Wall Street jitters over a resurgence in COVID-19 cases as states moved to reopen long-stifled commerce and ease social-distancing measures helped drive down major U.S. stock indexes, reversing earlier gains. Experts say expanded diagnostic testing accounts for some, but not all, of the growth in cases - numbering at least 2.23 million nationwide on Friday - and that the mounting volume of infections was elevating hospitalizations in some places. “Clearly the cases are rising rapidly. It’s not just a matter of testing more,” said Dr. Murtaza Akhter, an emergency room physician at Arizona hospitals, noting the lag time between a positive test and severe illness or death. “The real concern is what is coming up for us in the next week or two.” He said the latest wave of cases has put Arizona’s major hospitals at or near capacity, and placed the Southwestern state on track to surpass New York at its peak on a per-capita basis. More than 119,000 Americans have perished from COVID-19 to date, according to Reuters’ running tally. Particularly alarming has been the upward trends several states are reporting in the percentage of positive tests among individuals who are screened, a metric experts refer to as the positivity rate. The World Health Organization considers positivity rates above 5% to be especially concerning, and widely watched data from Johns Hopkins University shows 16 states with average rates over the past week exceeding that level and climbing. Four were averaging double-digit rates - Arizona at 17%, Alabama at 12%, Washington state at 11% and South Carolina at 10%. The dozen others were led by Utah, Texas, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia, all averaging rates of 7.5% or higher.

‘Obsessed with staying alive’: Inmates describe a prison’s piecemeal response to a fatal Covid-19 outbreak  With 767 cases and counting among inmates, the California Institution for Men has one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks among all 35 facilities within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). As of June 11, there are still 515 cases classified as active, as well as 112 cases among staff at the prison, which is east of Los Angeles. With 13 inmate deaths to date, CIM was, for months, the only state prison in California to have inmates die of Covid-19. The outbreak at CIM — described by several current inmates to STAT — illustrates how a slow and piecemeal response to the novel coronavirus put the prison’s standard operating procedures ahead of the demands of a public health emergency. That approach, combined with existing overcrowding, has fueled the spread of the virus.“I have become obsessed with staying alive,” inmate Darrell Harris, 65, wrote in a letter to STAT on May 23, when there were 452 active cases in the prison, describing himself as“a germophobe…sterilizing everything.” Another inmate, 56-year-old Anthony Barker, who is serving a life sentence, wrote to California Correctional Health Care Services, which oversees medical care in prisons, to raise concerns about the lack of face masks among guards — and how it could put himself and other inmates at risk.“Do prisoners still have a federally protected right to safe and humane conditions?” he asked in the letter, a copy of which he shared with STAT.Like nursing homes and cruise ships, prisons are designed to concentrate a large group of people in a small area, crowding them into communal spaces with little room to isolate the sick. In prisons, many of the public health recommendations for coronavirus prevention — 6 feet of social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and wearing face masks — are difficult to achieve. Those challenges are only exacerbated by overcrowding, aging inmate populations with a high rate of preexisting conditions, and the inherent focus on safety, rather than public health, in correctional departments. Perhaps, then, it is no surprise that prisons have become coronavirus clusters. According to the New York Times, there are at least 59,000 infections among incarcerated individuals in jails, prisons, and other federal facilities across the country, and at least 557 inmates and prison workers have died of Covid-19.

 A State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons - (dynamic post - check for updates) Since March, The Marshall Project has been tracking how many people are being sickened and killed by COVID-19 in prisons and how widely it has spread across the country and within each state. Here, we will regularly update these figures counting the number of people infected and killed nationwide and in each prison system until the crisis abates.By June 9, at least 43,967 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, an 8 percent increase from the week before.Much of the remarkable growth in coronavirus cases has been due to some states—Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas among them—that began aggressively testing nearly everyone at prisons where people had become sick. This spate of testing would suggest that coronavirus had been circulating in prisons in much greater numbers than known in the early weeks of the pandemic, and that in the many states where tests had not been prevalent, far more people may have been carrying it than were initially reported.The first known COVID-19 death of a prisoner was in Georgia when Anthony Cheek died on March 26. Cheek, who was 49 years old, had been held in Lee State Prison near Albany, a hotspot for the disease. Since then, at least 521 other prisoners have died of coronavirus-related causes. By June 9, the total number of deaths had risen by 6 percent in a week.

 More than 40 percent of all US deaths from COVID-19 are in nursing homes -- According to a Wall Street Journal account yesterday, the number of US coronavirus fatalities tied to long-term care facilities and nursing homes exceeded 51,000. “Death among senior-care center staff and residents appear to represent at least 40 percent of the overall count,” the newspaper reported. The number of COVID-19 cases in these facilities is at least 250,000, as reporting lags and information is incomplete and untimely. Consistent with early clinical reports, the virus is lethal in this fragile population. According to the report, many states are struggling to strike the right balance between allowing families of nursing home residents to reunite while preventing the virus from silently finding its way back into the quiet, dark corridors and still rooms. As the weather grows warmer, a few facilities have shifted to allowing outdoor visitation. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has abdicated giving guidance in favor of the states, and local officials who are still unprepared to “reopen” are scrambling to issue new rules. More concerning, Politico reported on Monday that only 50 percent of all US nursing homes had been through recent inspections, prompting CMS chief Seema Verma to issue a warning that states needed to complete their surveys by the end of July or face losing federal recovery funds. Findings published last week by CMS noted that of 5,724 inspection surveys released by the federal government this month, only 3 percent had found any discrepancies. “These data show a dramatic and implausible decline in infection control deficiencies. Less than three percent of infection control surveys since March cited an infection control deficiency, and 161 of 163 of the deficiencies were classified as causing residents ‘no harm.’ Even if some additional deficiencies were cited but are not publicly reported because the facilities have appealed them, the number of reported deficiencies is startlingly low.” Translated into plain English, this means that nursing homes are lying wholesale about the conditions that prevail in what have become deathtraps for tens of thousands of elderly people unfortunate enough to live in them, and the Trump administration is doing nothing about it. Nursing homes have been a focal point of the coronavirus pandemic since it first began in the United States. On February 28, the public health department for Seattle and King County was notified of an elderly female patient recently admitted to a local hospital that tested positive for COVID-19.

 Covid-19 news: UK coronavirus alert level lowered from four to three -The UK’s chief medical officers today said the country’s coronavirus alert level has reduced from four to three. This level of the alert system corresponds to the virus being in general circulation, but at a level where it’s possible to gradually relax some restrictions. However, restrictions in England have already been progressively relaxed throughout June, even while the alert level remained at four – which corresponds to high or exponentially rising levels of the virus and warrants continued social distancing.For the first time, the government today published the daily rate at which coronavirus infections are growing, alongside the UK’s R number, which remains unchanged at around 0.7 to 0.9. For the UK as a whole, the growth rate is believed to be anywhere between -2 per cent and -4 per cent, meaning that infection numbers are declining slightly. At a regional level there is a chance that new cases may be growing in London. However, the government’s science advisers believe that growth in infection numbers is unlikely. People from South Asian backgrounds in the UK are 20 per cent more likely to die from covid-19 in hospital than white people, according to a preliminary study that analysed data on patients at 260 hospitals. This disparity was partly explained by higher levels of diabetes, the researchers who did the study told the BBC.  China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that genetic analysis suggests that the coronavirus causing a new outbreak in the capital Beijing probably came from Europe. Earlier this week, CDC director Gao Fu said the virus may have been spreading in Beijing as early as the start of May. Microbiologists at University College London, UK, are calling for widespread surveillance of pets, livestock and wild animals to measure the prevalence of coronavirus. There have been limited studies on animal susceptibility to the virus, they wrote in a commentary published in The Lancet Microbe on Thursday, with conflicting data on some animals, such as pigs.

Germany's coronavirus reproduction rate jumps to 1.79: RKI -(Reuters) - The reproduction rate of the novel coronavirus in Germany has jumped to 1.79 after a raft of localised outbreaks, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for public health said on Saturday, far above the level needed to contain it over the longer term. The number, a sharp increase from 1.06 on Friday, is a setback for the European Union’s most populous country, which has fared better in the pandemic than many European peers due mainly to early testing and social distancing measures. The institute attributed the rise to a number of local outbreaks, which have been seen in locations such as meatpacking plants, logistics centres, and shelters for refugees. Outbreaks have also been linked to church services and family parties. The premier of the western North Rhine-Westphalia region warned on Friday it faces the threat of a renewed lockdown amid a spiralling outbreak at a major slaughterhouse. “Since case numbers in Germany are generally low, these outbreaks have a relatively strong influence on the value of the reproduction number,” RKI said. “A nationwide increase in case numbers is not anticipated.” When smoothed for short-term effects, the government-affiliated institute estimated the country’s reproduction rate at 1.55, up from 1.17 on Friday. 

New cases of COVID-19 reach 8 million as Latin America still to peak -  Though for many countries, COVID-19 seems a permanent fixture of their national affairs, only six months have passed since the world was first made aware of the novel coronavirus. The pandemic continues almost unabated in its course, wreaking havoc and mayhem on any community that does not take the appropriate countermeasures. According to Worldometer, India, Brazil, and Mexico had higher death tolls than the US yesterday. The number of new daily cases worldwide has been persistently more than 100,000 since May 27. Today, the total number of cases will exceed eight million, of which over 3.4 million continue as active cases, and over 435,000 people have perished, representing 5.4 percent of all known infections. The rapid increases in Brazil, India, Russia, Chile, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico indicate a broadening of the pandemic as it settles in geographic areas with excessive poverty. The per capita fatality rates for countries in Latin America are rising with reported time to peak still several weeks away. Despite Europe's efforts to contain the epidemic, several countries remain in the precarious position of having persistent daily cases. The United Kingdom reported 1,425 cases on Saturday. Spain, France, and Italy had 396, 346, and 526 new cases, respectively. Sweden, whose national epidemiologist has gone on record that their lax measures led to unnecessary deaths, had 686 new cases on Saturday. Latin America accounted for nearly 50 percent of all new daily COVID-19 deaths though it makes up only 8.42 percent of the world population. Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, warned last week that the crisis in Latin America has "pushed our region to the limit." Brazil has the second-highest death toll, with over 43,000 deaths officially confirmed. Conditions in Brazil are reportedly so ominous that last week, the New York Timeswrote, "that some of the most powerful military figures in Brazil are warning of instability—sending shudders that they could take over and dismantle Latin America's largest democracy." The president’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, told a prominent blogger a military takeover was coming: "It's no longer an opinion about if, but when this will happen." Peru, a country of 32 million people, is in desperate crisis as measures to contain the virus early on have proved ineffective. After 230,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 7,000 deaths, President Martin Vizcarra has extended the lockdown until July.

Outbreaks of COVID-19 in Brazil’s meat processing plants and mines --The return to work policy and the suspension of all measures to contain the coronavirus is the new accepted reality advanced by Brazilian politicians, the media and the corporate-financial elite. They are not shaken by the eruption of new cases and deaths from the disease, which, according to official numbers, has killed 45,000 people in Brazil. A video commercial published by Bradesco Bank declares: “Everyone understands the importance of staying home now. But we know that this was not possible for you.” It then presents images of workers at industries, cleaning, health care, delivery and a several other services, including, of course, their own bank employees: “People who wake up early, who work hard, who take risks. People who are doing what needs to be done”. In the name of resuming the flow of profits to banks and shareholders, these workers are being sent into extremely unsafe workplaces that are contaminated with COVID-19. Those workers then bring the disease home to their families and neighbors. This is what has guaranteed the “best May since 2009” for the Brazilian stock market. Outbreaks of coronavirus are taking place in large companies, impacting hundreds of thousands of workers across the country. Cities built around large meat processing plants and mines are suffering from mass contamination. A report published by the Taquari Valley University (Univates) in Lajeado, a city with a high concentration of meat-processing plants in the interior of Rio Grande do Sul, concluded that the contamination rate in the city is 14 times higher than in the rest of the state. Among the more than 16,000 workers in meat plants, the chance of being infected is 207 percent higher. In early May, a BRF Foods plant in Lajeado was closed by the State Labor Department (MPT) for posing a serious risk to the city’s health. It was reopened eight days later, after a plea deal involving the allocation of 1,200,000 reais (around US$ 230,000) to local hospitals. The same pattern is repeated in meat-processing plants across Brazil. In Mato Grosso do Sul, in the central region of the country, the MPT has already given notice to more than 30 industries in the sector for not following the most basic health recommendations.

Brazil Blows Past 1 Million Infections With No Peak in Sight - Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak reached the mark of 1 million infections as the disease shows no clear signs of slowing in Latin America’s largest nation months after the first cases were recorded. The country registered a record 54,771 cases on Friday, bringing the total to 1,032,913. The data compiled by Brazilian states also showed 1,206 fatalities, pushing the toll to 48,954. In both counts, Brazil trails only the U.S. globally. Brazil’s response to the pandemic, plagued by political infighting and mismatched quarantine orders, has made it harder for experts to pinpoint when the disease will peak in the country of 210 million people. With cases moving inland and into poorer regions while more cities lift restrictions, concern is growing that the disease will see a new surge. Estimates from PUC University in Rio de Janeiro show cases will likely top 1.3 million by late June. “Brazil followed the path to disaster,” said Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist who’s helping the Northeastern states coordinate their response. “You could see Brazil would become a hotspot in April. We watched the world go through it and did nothing.” The virus first appeared in Brazil in late February, when a Sao Paulo businessman returned from a trip to Europe. In the past three weeks, the country passed Spain, Italy and the U.K. in number of fatalities, which now is second only to the U.S. Infections have more than doubled in the span. And a recent study showed the illness may be far more widespread than official figures suggest. Researchers at the University of Pelotas in southern Brazil estimate there are six unreported cases for every one confirmed diagnosis across 120 cities studied. Activity data, meanwhile, continue to show the devastation the outbreak is inflicting on the economy. On Thursday the central bank’s economic activity index for April, seen as a proxy for gross domestic product, tumbled 15.09% from the previous year. It added to plunges in indicators from industry to services released over the last few weeks.

 With its hospitals overwhelmed, Delhi emerging as India’s coronavirus epicentre - Hospitals in Delhi, India’s national capital territory, are on the verge of collapse amid a rapid increase in coronavirus infections. With the regional government expecting total infections to explode to over half a million by the end of July, horror stories of dead bodies being abandoned in hospital wards and hallways are already emerging. Total COVID-19 infections in Delhi reached 41,182 yesterday, after a third successive day of more than 2,000 cases, while the death toll rose to 1,327. Both figures are likely gross underestimates. Three municipal corporations of Delhi, which maintain the records on cremations and burials at the six designated sites for COVID-19-related deaths, have said that as of June 11 last rites on 2,098 bodies had been performed as per the COVID-19 protocol. As hospitals fill to capacity, the government is desperately seeking makeshift solutions to cope with the coming wave of COVID-19 patients. Stadiums, wedding halls and hotels are being filled with hospital beds. But it remains entirely unclear where the medical staff will come from to work in these facilities, nor how they will be equipped to provide intensive care and incubate patients. Ambarish Satwik, a vascular surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, pointed to the chronic shortage of medical workers, telling the BBC, “You need new infrastructure, you need to ramp up capacity, not just evacuate patients and create COVID wards.” With a population of 22 million people, Delhi is India’s largest urban agglomeration and capital city. Many people in adjacent rural states, like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, visit Delhi for medical treatment due to the disastrous state of medical facilities in their native states. However, on June 7, as Delhi’s caseload began to rapidly increase and repeated stories of people dying of COVID-19 after being unable to gain admittance to a hospital emerged, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP—Common Man's Party) announced a ban on non-Delhi residents being admitted to the Capital Territories’ public and private hospitals. After a public outcry against this reactionary order, Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, an appointee of India’s Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, reversed it, saying authorities must ensure non-Delhi residents can still access treatment. But the AAP continues to defend its exclusivist proposal. On June 9, state deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia cited as justification unreleased government projections that he said showed that COVID-19 cases in Delhi are likely to reach 550,000 by the end of July, meaning the state will need at least 15,000 beds to tackle the situation. If this projection is realized, Delhi will see a 13-fold increase in COVID-19 cases over the coming six weeks, and by the end of next month will have more infections than currently does India or indeed all but two countries in the world.

Sharp spike of coronavirus deaths in India - India recorded its deadliest single day Tuesday since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 2,006 new deaths. This staggering increase, which represented a 20 percent increase in total deaths within just 24 hours, took India’s total fatalities to more than 12,000. The following day, new infections rose by a record 13,103. Underscoring that the pandemic is spreading exponentially, Thursday brought yet another record of new infections, with 13,827 cases. India is now the country with the fourth highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world. With over 381,000 officially recorded infections, cases have doubled since June 1, when approximately 190,000 were reported. Given that India has one of the lowest test rates in the world, with 4,400 tests performed for every million inhabitants, infection rates are certainly much higher. Many impoverished residents of the country’s large slums and rural areas, where health care is virtually nonexistent, find it almost impossible to get tested. India’s two largest cities, Delhi and Mumbai, have been hit hardest by the pandemic. On Tuesday alone, they accounted for 437 and 862 new deaths respectively. Despite these horrific death tolls, Narendra Modi, India’s ultra-right prime minister, has categorically ruled out imposing another lockdown to curb the spread of the disease. In a video conference with 14 chief ministers Wednesday, Modi declared, “We need to fight against rumours of lockdown since the country is now in the phase of unlocking. We need to think about Phase II of Unlock and how to minimise harm to our people.” Phase I of Unlock began June 7, but even before then most production facilities and many businesses had already been allowed to reopen. Modi’s callous remarks confirm that his government is committed to a policy of “herd immunity” that will claim hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths. One of the government’s top epidemiological advisers has openly admitted that the “herd immunity” strategy could lead to 2 million deaths. In Delhi alone, cases are expected to explode to 550,000 by the end of July, which would represent a more than ten-fold increase from current levels. The situation in Delhi’s hospitals is already catastrophic. A case brought by the United Nurses Association before the Supreme Court Wednesday reported that there are no adequate isolation facilities for COVID-19 patients, no personal protective equipment for staff, and a lack of appropriate accommodations for nurses, which is causing the virus to run rampant among medical workers. The family of a 68-year-old man reported earlier this month that he died after being refused treatment by five hospitals. The congestion of hospitals in Mumbai is so bad that the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has requested laboratories not to release COVID-19 positive reports to patients to prevent them from immediately looking for a hospital bed. Instead, laboratories have been ordered to provide the positive reports to the Corporation, violating the patients’ privacy, so patients can be notified to quarantine at home.

India official coronavirus toll sees record jump of 2,000 dead - India's official coronavirus death toll leapt by more than 2,000 on Wednesday as the hard-hit country struggles to contain a ballooning health crisis that has overwhelmed hospitals. The news came as Germany urged its nationals in India to consider leaving for their own safety, while France warned its citizens in New Delhi to stay home unless going to an airport to return to Europe. Authorities said the sharp increase in fatalities to 11,903 was mainly due to Mumbai and Delhi updating their figures. Death tolls in both cities have been increasing in recent days. India is the fourth worst hit country in the world with more than 354,000 infections, official figures show. Experts say the real number of cases is likely much higher and have called for greater testing. The Delhi government alone has warned that it could have 550,000 cases by the end of July. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has declared a nationwide lockdown imposed in late March a success and has been steadily lifting restrictions.

 WHO warns coronavirus pandemic entering a “dangerous phase” - The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had marked a one-day high of over 150,000 confirmed cases on Thursday. According to the New York Times database, that figure totaled 166,099 cases. A separate tracking database maintained by Worldometer found that the total was even higher on Friday with 181,000 newly confirmed cases. Since May 2, the seven-day average for the total daily cases of COVID-19 on the globe has been rising steadily from approximately 81,000 to a high of 136,956 yesterday, a 70 percent increase. The seven-day global average in daily case fatalities reached its ebb on May 26 with 4,079 deaths and has since been slowly climbing to 4,649. The one-day global death toll climbed over 5,000 yesterday. By all accounts, despite the massive lockdowns that impacted billions and brought the global capitalist economy to near collapse, the policy decision to open the markets, throw caution to the wind, and resume all commerce and social activities as if the pandemic was conquered and a mere historical reference point is sheer madness. While the scientific reality of the epidemic cannot be circumnavigated or ignored, the demands for profits insulate the markets and ruling elites in every country from sage counsel. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reported at the regular press briefing Friday: “The world is in a new and dangerous phase. Many people are understandably fed up with being home. Countries are understandably eager to open up their societies and economies, but the virus is still spreading fast. It is still deadly, and most people are susceptible.” More than 81 countries, including India, Chile, Turkey, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, and Bangladesh, have seen a rise in COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, while less than half of the world’s nations have reported declining figures. According to Worldmeter’s COVID-19 tracker, as of this writing, there are over 8.75 million cases of COVID-19. There have also been close to 462,000 deaths reported, which by every account is an underestimation of the true magnitude of the fatalities. Brazil accounted for the lion’s share of new cases Friday with a horrific 55,209 infections confirmed in just one day, the highest one-day total to date. It also joined the United States in surpassing over 1 million total cases. Brazil marked 1,221 new deaths, the highest for any country on June 19, pushing its official death toll over 49,000. President Trump and his administration have much in common with the likes of Jair Bolsonaro, the fascist president of Brazil, in their utter disregard for public safety and the health consequences of the coronavirus infection. However, the dismissive attitude of Trump, who personifies the diktats of the financial oligarchs, is of a far more sinister and calculated character. In a recent interview with Gray Television’s Jacqueline Policastro, when asked about the concerning rise in new cases across 22 states, including Oklahoma, where he is planning to hold a massive rally today, he said, “If you look, the numbers are very minuscule compared to what it was. It’s dying out. By the way, we’re doing very well in vaccines and therapeutics. I think there’s going to be some big announcements on that in the not-too-distant future. But no, we’re not concerned.”

 Beijing extends movement curbs to contain resurgent coronavirus  (Reuters) - Scores of flights to and from Beijing were cancelled, schools shut and some neighbourhoods blocked off as officials ramped up efforts to contain a coronavirus outbreak that has fanned fears of wider contagion. The resurgence of the disease in the Chinese capital over the past six days has upended daily life for many, with some fearing the entire city is headed for a lockdown as the number of new COVID-19 cases mounts. Health officials reported 31 new confirmed infections for June 16, bringing the cumulative infections since Thursday to 137 cases, the worst resurgence of the disease in Beijing since early February. While the city’s roads and highways were still open and companies and factories were not ordered to stop work, authorities stepped up measures to control movement around and to and from the city on Wednesday. Aviation data tracker Variflight showed about 60% of scheduled flights to and from Beijing Capital International Airport have been or will likely be cancelled as of Wednesday afternoon. At the city’s other major airport, Daxing, around 70% of incoming and outbound flights were cancelled or likely to be cancelled. Most of the affected flights are domestic. State media reported that rail officials were granting full refunds on all tickets to and from Beijing, an apparent bid to discourage people from travelling even though services have not been officially cancelled. All outbound taxi and car-hailing services and some long-distance bus routes were cancelled on Tuesday, when officials put the city back on a level two alert, the second-highest level in a four-tier COVID-19 emergency response system. That reversed a downgrade from level two to level three a mere 10 days earlier.

China finds heavy coronavirus traces in seafood, meat sections of Beijing food market -  (Reuters) - China has found the trading sections for meat and seafood in Beijing’s wholesale food market to be severely contaminated with the new coronavirus and suspects the area’s low temperature and high humidity may have been contributing factors, officials said on Thursday. Their preliminary report comes as the country’s capital tackles a resurgence of COVID-19 cases over the past week linked to the massive Xinfadi food center, which houses warehouses and trading halls in an area the size of nearly 160 soccer pitches. The latest outbreak infected more than 100 people and raised fears of wider contagion in China. Among the patients who work at the Xinfadi market, most serve at seafood and aquatic product stalls, followed by the beef and mutton section, and patients from the seafood market showed symptoms earlier than others, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a daily briefing on Thursday. Low temperatures favorable to viral survival as well as high humidity might be possible explanations for why seafood markets could be a source of outbreaks based on a preliminary assessment, Wu said, cautioning that further investigation was necessary. China has halted imports from European salmon suppliers this week amid fears they may be linked to the recent outbreak in Beijing. Health officials have also warned against eating raw salmon after the virus was discovered on chopping boards used for imported salmon, although the origin of the outbreak is not known.

Chinese Scientist, Escorted Out Of Canadian Biolab, Sent Deadly Viruses To Wuhan -- A Chinese scientist who was escorted out of Canada's only level-4 biolab over a possible "policy breach" shipped deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to the CBC, citing newly-released documents. The shipment is not related to COVID-19 or the pandemic. "We have a researcher who was removed by the RCMP from the highest security laboratory that Canada has for reasons that government is unwilling to disclose. The intelligence remains secret. But what we know is that before she was removed, she sent one of the deadliest viruses on Earth, and multiple varieties of it to maximize the genetic diversity and maximize what experimenters in China could do with it, to a laboratory in China that does dangerous gain of function experiments. And that has links to the Chinese military." -Amir Attaran Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, her husband Keding Cheng and her Chinese students were removed from the Canadian lab after the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) asked the RCMP to investigate several months earlier. According to PHAC, Qiu's eviction from the lab is not connected to the shipment. "The administrative investigation is not related to the shipment of virus samples to China, said PHAC chief of media relations, Eric Morrissette.""In response to a request from the Wuhan Institute of Virology for viral samples of Ebola and Henipah viruses, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) sent samples for the purpose of scientific research in 2019."  ."It is suspicious. It is alarming. It is potentially life- threatening," said University of Ottawa law professor and epidemiologist, Amir Attaran.

Rare, Nearly Extinct Parasite May Have Resurfaced in Vietnam, Doctors Say  - Doctors in Vietnam this week say that they’ve made a mysterious and—if accurate—alarming discovery: A local resident who was infested with the nearly extinct Guinea worm. But Guinea worm experts are still trying to confirm whether this case is the genuine article, and if so, how the worm managed to reach a country thousands of miles away from its only known remaining refuge in parts of Africa.   The Guinea worm, formally known as Dracunculus medinensis, is an ancient parasite possibly referenced as far back as the Bible and named after the African region where European explorers in the 17th century first reported seeing it. It’s a nematode that explicitly relies on people as part of its cringe-inducing life cycle.  The worm usually infects people through drinking water contaminated with tiny freshwater crustaceans that have eaten worm larvae. When these first hosts die, the worms break free and penetrate into the abdomen from the intestinal wall, where they grow up into full-fledged adults and get to mating.  When the mama worm (which are much longer than male worms and can extend up to 2.5 feet or 80 centimeters in length) is ready to deliver her progeny, she migrates to just below the surface of the skin, usually along our legs and feet. Then she very painfully breaks through the skin, causing a tremendous burning sensation that makes its hosts desperate to cool off at the nearest water source. As soon that happens, the mother squirts out her clutch of larvae into the water, where the very disturbing cycle starts again. From infestation to being a worm baby surrogate, the process can take a year’s time. But it can still take several painful weeks after for the original worm—or worms—to be removed, which can leave people at risk for other infections and disabled for months.

Air quality impacts early brain development - Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have found a link between traffic-related air pollution and an increased risk for changes in brain development relevant to neurodevelopmental disorders. Their study, based on rodent models, corroborates previous epidemiological evidence showing this association. While air pollution has long been a concern for pulmonary and cardiovascular health, it has only been within the past decade that scientists have turned their attention to its effects on the brain, said UC Davis toxicologist Pamela Lein, senior author of the study, recently published in Translational Psychiatry. Researchers had previously documented links between proximity to busy roadways and neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, but preclinical data based on real-time exposures to traffic-related air pollution was scarce to nonexistent. Lein worked with UC Davis atmospheric scientist Anthony Wexler and first author Kelley Patten, a doctoral student in the UC Davis graduate group for pharmacology and toxicology, to develop a novel approach to study the impacts of traffic-related air pollution in real time. They set up a vivarium near a traffic tunnel in Northern California so they could mimic, as closely as possible, the experience of humans in a rodent model. The researchers compared the brains of rat pups exposed to traffic-related air pollution with those exposed to fltered air. Both air sources were drawn from the tunnel in real time. They found abnormal growth and increased neuroinflammation in the brains of animals exposed to air pollution. This suggests that air pollution exposure during critical developmental periods may increase the risk for changes in the developing brain that are associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. "What we witnessed are subtle changes," Patten said. "But we are seeing these effects using air pollution exposures that fall within regulatory limits. With the backdrop of other environmental and genetic risk factors in humans, this may have a more pronounced effect. This exposure also contains very fine particulate matter that isn't currently regulated."

Climate Change Tied to Pregnancy Risks, Affecting Black Mothers Most –- NY Times — Pregnant women exposed to high temperatures or air pollution are more likely to have children who are premature, underweight or stillborn, and African-American mothers and babies are harmed at a much higher rate than the population at large, according to sweeping new research examining more than 32 million births in the United States. The research adds to a growing body of evidence that minorities bear a disproportionate share of the danger from pollution and global warming. Not only are minority communities in the United States far more likely to be hotter than the surrounding areas, a phenomenon known as the “heat island” effect, but they are also more likely to be located near polluting industries. “We already know that these pregnancy outcomes are worse for black women,” . “It’s even more exacerbated by these exposures.” The research, published Thursday in JAMA Network Open, part of the Journal of the American Medical Association, presents some of the most sweeping evidence so far linking aspects of climate change with harm to newborn children. The project looked at 57 studies published since 2007 that found a relationship between heat or air pollution and birth outcomes in the United States. The cumulative findings from the studies offer reason to be concerned that the toll on babies’ health will grow as climate change worsens. Four studies found that high temperatures were tied to an increased risk of premature birth ranging from 8.6 percent to 21 percent. Low birth weights were also more common as temperatures rose.The authors looked at two studies that examined the link between higher temperatures and stillbirths. One found that every temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius in the week before delivery corresponded with a 6 percent greater likelihood of stillbirth between May and September. Both studies found racial disparities in the number of stillbirths. “It’s time to really be paying attention to the groups that are especially vulnerable.” The paper also looked for research examining the effects of pregnancy from greater exposure to two types of air pollution: ozone, also known as smog, and tiny particles called PM 2.5..The vast majority of the studies reviewed in the paper concluded that ozone and PM 2.5 are also associated with preterm births, low birth weights and stillbirths. One study found that high exposure to air pollution during the final trimester of pregnancy was linked to a 42 percent increase in the risk of stillbirth. Another study, looking at almost half a million births in Florida in 2004 and 2005, found that for every 5 kilometers, or roughly 3 miles, closer a mother lives to a plant that uses garbage to produce energy, the risk of low birth weight increases by 3 percent. Living closer to power plants was also tied to a higher risk of preterm birth. Mothers with asthma were at particularly high risk. One study found that severe preterm birth, defined as a birth that occurs fewer than 28 weeks into pregnancy, increased by 52 percent for asthmatic mothers exposed to high levels of air pollution.\

Trump EPA OK's Rocket Fuel Chemical for Water Supplies --President Donald Trump's EPA on Thursday finalized a rule to roll back regulations of a chemical found in rocket fuel that can cause brain damage in infants."Today's decision is illegal, unscientific, and unconscionable," Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior strategic director for Health Erik D. Olson said in a statement.The decision to deregulate perchlorate in public drinking water was a long time coming and the source of heavy pushback from environmental groups and Democrats. Regulation of the chemical was a carryover from former President Barack Obama's administration.EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler made the announcement Thursday, saying the move "fulfills President Trump's promise to pare back burdensome 'one-size-fits-all' overregulation for the American people."But, as the Associated Press noted, the chemical's danger should not be underestimated to the 16 million Americans under threat of having the contaminant in their drinking water.According to AP: Perchlorate can damage the development of fetuses and children and cause measurable drops in IQ in newborns, the American Academy of Pediatrics said last August in urging the "strongest possible" federal limits. Studies cited by the doctors' group included one showing that 9 out of 13 breastfeeding infants were ingesting significant levels of the chemical.The decision came one day before the deadline for the EPA to issue a regulation on the chemical asinstructed in a 2016 consent decree with the NRDC. Olson expressed frustration with Wheeler's move to deregulate rather than increase controls on perchlorate. "The Environmental Protection Agency is threatening the health of pregnant moms and young children with toxic chemicals in their drinking water at levels that literally can cause loss of IQ points," said Olson. "Is this what the Environmental Protection Agency has come to?"The NRDC plans to challenge the order in court, claiming the consent decree did not allow for deregulating the chemical.

 Texas relaxed environmental enforcement during the pandemic, state data show | Grist - The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is one of the largest and most influential environmental protection agencies in the country. With an annual budget of $400 million, it polices about 400,000 polluting businesses and conducts more than 100,000 inspections in a normal year. The agency inspects not only the state’s many large refineries and chemical plants, but also its neighborhood gas stations, dry cleaners, and public water systems. Many of the state’s 29 million residents live in the shadow of heavy industry and in cities with smog levels that rank among the worst in the country. In short, a slowdown in TCEQ’s enforcement efforts could be deadly. So when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the country to a halt earlier this year, TCEQ’s chairman penned an open letter reassuring environmental advocates that, even though employees were going to work from home, the agency would continue to be “fully engaged in its mission to protect public health and the environment.”But a Grist analysis of the agency’s internal data has found that, in the six weeks after the agency asked employees to work from home in response to the pandemic, TCEQ pursued 20 percent fewer violations of environmental laws than it did during the same period in 2019. The agency also initiated 40 percent fewer formal enforcement actions resulting in fines for polluters. Finally, in a move that appears in line with the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial discretionary enforcement policy, TCEQ issued about 40 percent fewer violations to companies for failing to monitor and report pollutants emitted into the air and water. Even as the agency reduced enforcement, it continued processing permits that allow construction companies, industrial facilities, and other businesses to pollute up to certain limits at about the same rate that it did last year. Adrian Shelley, director of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen’s Texas office, called TCEQ’s enforcement slowdown “disappointing” and said that Grist’s investigation shows that the agency prioritizes permitting over compliance. “There’s been a large period of very little regulatory oversight,” he said. “The implications for community health and for the workers at the facilities really concern us.” The agency has long been criticized for lax enforcement. Analyses of TCEQ’s enforcement work by environmental advocates and journalists have consistently found that the agency rarely penalizes polluters while disproportionately issuing fines against small business owners. A 2017 Texas Tribune investigation found that the agency levied fines in fewer than 1 percent of the cases in which polluters exceeded air emission limits. “Any further relaxation of environmental protections will keep endangering Texans who are facing this triple threat of air pollution, chemical disasters, and now COVID-19,” said Catherine Fraser, an associate working on air quality issues at the nonprofit Environment Texas.

Dicamba Drift: Trump EPA Defies 9th Circuit Ruling - The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on June 3 struck down the EPA’s approval of XtendiMax, Engenia, and FeXapan— dicamba-based herbicides sold by Bayer (as a consequence of its acquisition of Monsanto, which produced  these products), BASF, and Corteva. (The complete 56-page opinion is appended below).As dicamba drifts – it does not stay where it is applied–  and so damages nearby crops, the court ordered use of the herbicide to cease. This means that farmers cannot use the herbicide, beginning immediately with the current growing season, which is already underway. According toCommon Dreams:“The EPA and Monsanto urge us, if we conclude that substantial evidence does not support the 2018 conditional registrations, to remand without vacatur, leaving the conditional registrations in effect,” the court said. “We decline to do so.”Last Monday, as announced in  EPA Offers Clarity to Farmers in Light of Recent Court Vacatur of Dicamba Registrations. the agency issued a cancellation order, which outlines limited and specific circumstances under which existing stocks of the three affected dicamba products can be used for a limited period of time. EPA’s order will advance protection of public health and the environment by ensuring use of existing stocks follows important application procedures.Lawyers for plaintiffs, which include the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity, immediately struck back, as Progressive Farmer notes: An emergency motion was filed late Thursday night, June 11, asking the Ninth Circuit Court to halt all dicamba use and hold the EPA in contempt of court for its decision to allow farmers to use existing stocks of three dicamba herbicides.On June 12, the court’s panel of judges responded and ordered EPA to respond to the emergency motion by 5 p.m. on June 16. Until then, EPA’s order still stands. But if the judges ultimately rule against EPA, the motion could once again leave farmers without many dicamba herbicide options to use over millions of acres of dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton this summer.

Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service - U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday ordered the U.S. Forest Service to expedite environmental reviews on its land, paving the way for more grazing, logging and oil development on public lands. The directive, announced by Perdue on a trip to Missoula, Mont., comes in the form of an unusual memo to Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. He called it “a blueprint for reforms to further provide relief from burdensome regulations, improve customer service, and boost the productivity of our National Forests and Grasslands.” The move could be welcome news in Montana, where the state’s ranchers, miners, and oil and gas workers have long argued for increased access to public lands. But environmentalists say the memo affirms a number of dangerous strategies already underway by the Trump administration. “This is a roadmap to national forest destruction, and it’s painful to read,” said Randi Spivak, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program. “In the midst of the climate and extinction crises, Perdue offers a dystopian vision of expanding mining, fracking, logging and grazing in national forests. This will increase air and water pollution, kill wildlife and increase carbon pollution. It’s the extractive industry’s agenda on steroids.” The memo, however, lacks the formal letterhead or signature typical with such documents, and mainly sets broad goals for the Forest Service rather than laying out any specific policy directives. Perdue’s trip to Montana coincides with a Senate effort to pass a major conservation bill, led in part by Sen. Steve Daines (R-M.T.). Daines, who is battling former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) in his reelection bid, is considered one of the Senate’s more vulnerable Republicans and has relied heavily on land issues in his campaign. “Thanks to @SecretarySonny for coming to Montana today to highlight new efforts to increase productivity and access of our forests, streamline environmental review, and improve grazing permitting. The @USDA and @forestservice are in great hands under your leadership,” he wrote on Twitter. The recommendations align with other efforts already taken by the Trump administration and in some cases regulations already underway at the Forest Service. The Forest Service is already in the process of rolling back its role under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which requires robust environmental reviews of any major action taken by the government on public lands. The White House is pursuing a similar rollback of the law through its Council on Environmental Quality. 

 Ethiopia to Plant 5 Billion Tree Seedlings in 2020 - Ethiopia has set out to plant 5 billion tree seedlings this year. The planting is part of the country's larger reforestation initiative spearheaded by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.Launched in 2019, the Green Legacy initiative aims to combat environmental degradation, build resilience, and transition into a green society.The nation has lost nearly 97 percent of its native forests due to a growing population and an increased need for land for food production. To combat environmental degradation, Ethiopia committed to restoring 15 million hectares of deforested land by 2025.Through Green Legacy, the Ethiopian government hopes to plant 20 billion trees over four years. Ethiopia made headlines last year when the nation planted nearly 354 million trees in just 12 hours."The green legacy initiative we launched last year resulted in the planting of over 4 billion seedlings nationally. More than 20 million people were mobilized throughout the country," said Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. "Of all the trees planted in last year's Green Legacy challenge, 84 percent have survived. Through the implementation of follow up measures, we have been able to maximize the survival rate which is nature's encouragement to forge ahead."The Prime Minister has urged all Ethiopians to join this year's planting challenge while also adhering to increased safety precautions, social distancing, and other preventative COVID-19 measures. Ethiopians are encouraged to "plant their print at the individual and family level.""The only thing that makes this year different is the pandemic we are confronted with as a global community. Nevertheless, while our resilience will be tested we are committed to meet our set target in planting in a COVID 19 responsive way," added the Prime Minister. The 5 billion seedlings are being housed in 38,000 sites across the country. The seedlings will be planted during Ethiopia's rainy season.

Scientists warn forest fires could worsen coronavirus harm (Thomson Reuters) - People living in the world's tropical forest regions, from Brazil to Indonesia, face heightened risk to their health this year from a potentially deadly combination of forest fires and the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists warned on Wednesday. Air pollution caused by smoke from annual human-caused fires that rage in tropical regions is expected to make cases of the novel coronavirus more severe, they said. Eminent U.S. physician Harvey Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, warned that the 2020 fire seasons in tropical forest countries "are very likely to exacerbate the presence and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic". He called the fires an annual "blight" but predicted this year they would be "especially damaging not only to the ecology but to human health". In the Brazilian Amazon, the main fire season runs from August to October. Its intensity last year hit global headlines and sparked calls for better prevention. In Indonesia, the dry season runs from April to October. Predictions are for a milder dry season this year compared to 2019, when an El Nino weathern pattern fuelled higher temperatures and more intense fires, spreading health-damaging haze across swathes of Southeast Asia, said Ruth DeFries, an ecology and sustainable development professor at Columbia University. But the coronavirus pandemic is likely to distract political attention from the problem, and could eat into resources to train firefighters and get them into peatland forests where some of the most serious fires smoulder for a long time, she added. Fineberg said it was too early to point to examples where forest fires have worsened the severity of COVID-19, as the main fire season is only beginning. But evidence on general air pollution and lung infections caused by the virus so far show a "chain of connection", he noted. He also warned of a heightened risk of the COVID-19 infection spreading if fires force communities to evacuate and seek shelter in shared accommodation.

As Amazonian Wildfire Season Approaches, We Must Protect the Vulnerable Forest -The wildfires that tore across Australia were as devastating as they were overwhelming, scorching some 15 million hectares of land, killing 34 people and more than 1 billion animals. In terms of its apocalyptic imagery — sweeping infernos torching great swaths with unerring speed — Australia's wildfires were hauntingly reminiscent of the fires that roared through the Amazon rainforest over the past year. Indeed, more than 80,000 fires hit the region during 2019, according to the Brazilian government.Though many months have now passed since global media focused on the unfolding disaster in the Amazon — one of the world's most important carbon sinks — the problem has far from disappeared. Indeed, as the region gears up toward its next Amazon wildfire season, the causes underpinning the problem — like illegal logging, encroachment from agribusinesses and profit-driven government policies — remain very much at play.And though uncertainty surrounds some of the short- and long-term impacts of increased commercial activity in the Brazilian Amazon, the consequences on a rapidly warming planet are stark indeed. New researchsuggests that some deforested regions of the rainforest are exhaling more carbon dioxide than they're taking in.What's more, experts and environmentalists are quick to point the finger of blame toward a principal factor: a government presided over by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose tenure has been characterized by aggressive deregulation and increased commercial exploitation of the Amazon's resources."The impact is obvious: We have much more deforestation," said Philip Fearnside, an ecologist at the National Institute for Research in Amazonia in Brazil, earlier this year. Even before Bolsonaro took office officially, Fearnside sounded the alarm about the Brazilian president's intentions in the Amazon. And with Bolsonaro well into the second year of his tenure, "he's made good on those promises," Fearnside added. Indeed, in the year ending on July 30, 2019, more than 10,000 square kilometers of Brazilian Amazon rainforest were lost through deforestation — an amount last topped in 2008, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research. The number of active fires in August 2019 was three times higher than in 2018 and the highest number since 2010. The broad ramifications of these trends are far from clear-cut.

 PG&E confesses to killing 84 people in 2018 California fire - Pacific Gas & Electric confessed Tuesday to killing 84 people in one of the most devastating wildfires in recent U.S. history during a dramatic court hearing punctuated by a promise from the company’s outgoing CEO that the nation’s largest utility will never again put profits ahead of safety. PG&E CEO Bill Johnson made the roughly 170-mile (275-kilometer) journey from the company’s San Francisco headquarters to a Butte County courthouse to plead guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from a November 2018 wildfire ignited by the utility’s crumbling electrical grid. The blaze nearly wiped out the entire town of Paradise and drove PG&E into bankruptcy early last year. Besides the mass deaths it caused, PG&E also pleaded guilty to one felony count of unlawfully starting a fire as part of an agreement with District Attorney Mike Ramsey. As Butte County Superior Court Judge Michael Deems read the names of each victim, Johnson acknowledged the horrific toll of PG&E’s history of neglect while solemnly staring at photos of each dead person shown on a screen set up in the courtroom. “No words from me could ever reduce the magnitude of that devastation or do anything to repair the damage,” Johnson said in a statement afterward. “I hope the actions taken today bring some measure of peace.” He also assured the judge that PG&E took responsibility for all the unnecessary devastation that it caused “with eyes wide open to what happened and to what must never happen again.”

  Climate crisis: alarm at record-breaking heatwave in Siberia - A prolonged heatwave in Siberia is “undoubtedly alarming”, climate scientists have said. The freak temperatures have been linked to wildfires, a huge oil spill and a plague of tree-eating moths. On a global scale, the Siberian heat is helping push the world towards its hottest year on record in 2020, despite a temporary dip in carbon emissions owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Temperatures in the polar regions are rising fastest because ocean currents carry heat towards the poles and reflective ice and snow is melting away. Russian towns in the Arctic circle have recorded extraordinary temperatures, with Nizhnyaya Pesha hitting 30C on 9 June and Khatanga, which usually has daytime temperatures of around 0C at this time of year, hitting 25C on 22 May. The previous record was 12C. In May, surface temperatures in parts of Siberia were up to 10C above average, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). Martin Stendel, of the Danish Meteorological Institute, said the abnormal May temperatures seen in north-west Siberia would be likely to happen just once in 100,000 years without human-caused global heating. . “Although the planet as a whole is warming, this isn’t happening evenly. Western Siberia stands out as a region that shows more of a warming trend with higher variations in temperature. Marina Makarova, the chief meteorologist at Russia’s Rosgidromet weather service, said: “This winter was the hottest in Siberia since records began 130 years ago. Average temperatures were up to 6C higher than the seasonal norms.”  Thawing permafrost was at least partly to blame for a spill of diesel fuel in Siberia this month that led Putin to declare a state of emergency. The supports of the storage tank suddenly sank, according to its operators; green groups said ageing and poorly maintained infrastructure was also to blame. Wildfires have raged across hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s forests. Farmers often light fires in the spring to clear vegetation, and a combination of high temperatures and strong winds has caused some fires to burn out of control.Swarms of the Siberian silk moth, whose larvae eat at conifer trees, have grown rapidly in the rising temperatures. “In all my long career, I’ve never seen moths so huge and growing so quickly,” Vladimir Soldatov, a moth expert, told AFP.He warned of “tragic consequences” for forests, with the larvae stripping trees of their needles and making them more susceptible to fires.

Ocean Warming Is Causing Deep-Sea Creatures to Rapidly Migrate Toward Poles - Scientists have taken the temperature of the deep seas and found alarming signs of change: ocean warming is prompting many creatures to migrate fast.The species that live in the deep and the dark are moving towards the poles at twice to almost four times the speed of surface creatures.The implication is that – even though conditions in the abyssal plain are far more stable than surface currents – the creatures of the abyss are feeling the heat.The oceans of the world cover almost three-fourths of the globe and, from surface to seafloor, provide at least 90% of the planet's living space.And although there has been repeated attention to the health of the waters that define the Blue Planet, it remains immensely difficult to arrive at a consistent, global figure for rates of change in temperature of the planet's largest habitat.Oceanographers are fond of complaining that humankind knows more about the surface of Mars and Venus than it does about the bedrock and marine sediments at depth.This may still be true, but repeated studies have confirmed that the ocean floor ecosystem is surprisingly rich, varied and potentially at risk.Now researchers from Australia, Europe, Japan, South Africa and the Philippines report in the journal Nature Climate Change that although they could not deliver thermometer readings, they had found an indirect measure: the rate at which marine creatures move on because they don't care for their local temperature shifts. They call this "climate velocity." They had data for 20,000 marine species. And they found that overall, at depths greater than 1000 meters, marine creatures have been on the move much faster than their fellow citizens near the surface, over the second half of the 20th century. Computer simulations tell an even more alarming story: by the end of this century, creatures in the mesopelagic layer – from 200 meters down to 1000 meters – will be moving away between four and 11 times faster than those at the surface do now.

 NOAA Chief Violated Ethics and Scientific Integrity in 'Sharpiegate' Scandal -The string of people who have compromised their professional ethics to cow to President Trump's falsehoods now officially includes the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, who was found to have violated its ethics and its scientific integrity policy when he contradicted and silenced a local National Weather Service office about Hurricane Dorian's path last fall, an independent investigation has found, according to The New York Times.  As a reminder of what happened last September, Hurricane Dorian was churning through the Caribbean, heading for Florida. Before it made landfall, Trump tweeted that Alabama would get hit "harder than anticipated."Knowing how jarring disaster preparation and evacuations can be, the NOAA's Birmingham office issued a tweet stressing that the state "will NOT see any impacts from Dorian." That led to an unsigned letter from NOAA saying that there was actually a 20 percent chance the hurricane would strike Alabama.Soon after that, internal NOAA emails showed concern from top officials that politics was interfering in scientific matters, which the agency's acting chief scientist called a danger to public health and safety, asAxios reported.The controversy came to be known as "Sharpiegate," after Trump showed an altered map that included Alabama's southeast corner in the storm's path. That led to the current independent investigation. The panel of experts found that Neil Jacobs, NOAA's acting administrator, and former NOAA deputy chief of staff and communications director Julie Kay Roberts, "engaged in the misconduct intentionally, knowingly, or in reckless disregard of the Code of Scientific Conduct or Code of Ethics for Science Supervision and Management in NOAA's Scientific Integrity Policy," as CNN reported.

 Trump’s environmental rollbacks hurt poor communities, critics say -  — The Trump administration is suspending key environmental reviews during the pandemic that critics warn could further harm poor and minority neighborhoods around the country. Lawmakers and activists say the administration’s actions — meant to boost the lagging economy — could have disproportionate effects on minority communities that live near pipeline and power projects. Local communities are at risk of missing the chance to weigh in on decisions and they could face more pollution entering their communities. “For too long, Black and Brown and underserved communities have suffered the devastating impacts of environmental injustice, living on the front lines of our climate crisis and fence lines of polluting industries, often without the necessary resources to respond to the impact nor the influence in the political process to promote equitable outcomes,” Rep. Donald McEachin, a Virginia Democrat, said at a hearing on Capitol Hill. “The fact that Black Americans are disproportionately dying of COVID-19 exposes the deadly consequences of this truth. It is a truth that we cannot and will not accept.” McEachin added. Nationally, Black people are dying of COVID-19 at a rate nearly two times higher than their population share. Mustafa Santiago Ali — who helped found the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice program — is concerned about vulnerable communities who live near power plants and pipelines. Poor air quality and higher rates of asthma create disparities that are further highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “More people are going to get sick and more people are going to lose their lives,” Ali told lawmakers at the hearing. Ali, a 24-year veteran of the EPA, is now a vice president at the National Advocacy Center at the National Wildlife Federation. “When we say, ‘I can’t breathe,’ we literally can’t breathe,” said Ali, echoing the words of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd’s words, captured in a video that showed a police officer kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, have become a rallying cry in the nationwide protests for racial equality in recent weeks.

 Relaxed EPA Enforcement Threatens Mission, Agency Watchdog Says - The EPA’s reduction in enforcement activity during the coronavirus puts the agency’s regulatory mission at risk, the agency’s internal watchdog said on Wednesday. That finding cuts against the Environmental Protection Agency’s message that the agency is continuing to do robust enforcement. Earlier this month, nine states urged a New York federal court to block the EPA from using a light touch on environmental enforcement during the pandemic. The EPA announced March 26 it would stop seeking penalties from those not performing routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification activities if they’re unable to do so because of the pandemic. But the EPA’s Office of Inspector General said that “additional reduction in enforcement activity places the EPA’s regulatory mission at greater risk and threatens the Agency’s overall mission to protect human health and the environment.” Exacerbating matters is the fact that the EPA’s enforcement has already been tailing off, the inspector general said. In March, the office issued a report finding that the agency conducted 33% fewer inspections in fiscal 2018 than in fiscal 2007.

Wheeler in Wisconsin: Putting a Green Veneer on the Actions of Trump’s EPA -- The Trump administration declared a victory over air pollution in Sheboygan, Wisconsin this week—a timely win given recent polls showing that voters view environmental protection to be President Trump'sgreatest vulnerability.   It is not clear if Trump's weak standing in Wisconsin polls will be helped by the announcement that a portion of Sheboygan County, a chronic smog hot spot, has met federal air quality standards. But the declaration, made Tuesday by Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler in the last of three tours of swing states so far this month, reveals much about the administration's strategy for putting a green veneer on its record of relentlessly rolling back environmental protections. By redrawing a line on a map to exclude a shoreline air monitor with high pollution readings—a move that was urged by Wisconsin Republican state leaders—Wheeler was able to announce that the newly created "inland" Sheboygan air monitoring zone met the federal ozone standard. Environmental and health advocates, EPA's own scientists and the findings of a major regional study last year of ozone patterns along Lake Michigan have raised doubts on whether the smog has truly lifted in Sheboygan. The city ranked among the nation's 25 most polluted metropolitan areas for ozone in the American Lung Association's 2020 State of the Air report. And a federal court is weighing whether the Trump administration violated the law in its creative redesign of the nation's ozone monitoring areas. But for now, the "attainment" designation allows Wisconsin to roll back costly air pollution equipment requirements for businesses and end emissions testing for vehicles in the region. And it gives the Trump administration a much-needed environmental success story.

Texas Justices Hand Exxon Setback in California Climate Cases - In a ruling issued Thursday by an apologetic panel of Texas justices, ExxonMobil suffered a legal setback as part of its fight against a series of lawsuits filed by California localities seeking to recover damages related to climate change. The three justices of the Second Appellate District of Texas set aside a lower court ruling that would have allowed Exxon to dig through files and records kept by California officials from four cities and three counties that are suing the oil giant, along with 36 other other fossil fuel companies.  "We confess to an impulse to safeguard an industry that is vital to Texas's economic well-being, particularly as we were penning this opinion weeks into 2020's Covid-19 pandemic-driven shutdown of not only Texas but America as a whole," Justice Elizabeth Kerr wrote, in a 49-page opinion.She called the litigation "an ugly tool by which to seek the environmental policy changes the California Parties desire."  The justices recoiled at the notion that the courts were being asked to determine whether climate change caused by human activity has been "conclusively proved and must be remedied by crippling the energy industry." Nevertheless, the justices concluded that Texas law did not give them the authority to rule in Exxon's favor. "It is highly unusual for a court so explicitly to lay bare its political leanings and its desire to rule for one side, and then, almost mournfully, to conclude that the law requires it to rule for the other side," said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. "But this court carried out its duty to follow what it saw as binding precedent." Exxon did not respond to a request for comment.The California plaintiffs, from tiny Imperial Beach to the city of San Francisco, filed the suits in 2017 against the energy companies, demanding that they take financial responsibility for infrastructure upgrades to offset the effects of climate change.  The lawsuits accused the companies of knowing for nearly five decades "that greenhouse gas pollution from their fossil fuel products had a significant impact on the Earth's climate and sea levels." Exxon argued that it and other Texas-based energy firms have become the target of a "conspiracy" among liberal state attorneys general and other state and local officials seeking to blame them for carbon dioxide emissions that are causing global temperatures to rise.  "ExxonMobil finds itself directly in that conspiracy's crosshairs," the company's attorneys explained in court papers.  But instead of asking a California court to order the document production, Exxon turned to a state district court on its home turf in Texas.

Senate Passes Major Public Lands Bill -  In a rare display of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate has passed a sweeping public lands package that both addresses the ballooning maintenance backlog at national parks and provides full, permanent funding for the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program established in 1964 to protect natural areas and water resources. Co-sponsors of the legislation, which passed Wednesday by an overwhelming 73-25 vote, have hailed it as the most important conservation bill in a generation ― one that will preserve public lands and create thousands of jobs at a time when communities across America are reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. It now heads to the House for consideration, and President Donald Trump has promised to sign it into law. In a speech on the Senate floor last week, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) called the legislation a “chance in a lifetime.” “By helping the land, we’re helping the communities, because it’s there for future generations,” Gardner said. “This really is an opportunity for this nation to come together at a time of great need, economically and I think spiritually, quite frankly.”The Great American Outdoors Act combines two bills that might otherwise not have passed on their own. One sets aside $9.5 billion to address the estimated $12 billion maintenance backlog at national parks, which has been a priority of the Trump administration. The other permanently supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund at the maximum $900 million per year.  Often described as one of America’s most important conservation tools, LWCF uses offshore fossil-fuel revenue to establish and protect parks, wildlife refuges, forests and important wildlife habitat. But the 50-plus year program has been plagued by funding shortfalls, only twice receiving the full $900 million.

Let’s Make Sure We Get the Green New Deal Right  Marshall Auerback - Advocates of the Green New Deal (GND) are looking to change the way we handle a range of problems facing society, especially in the wake of environmental challenges occasioned by climate change. In response, policymakers have suggested a variety of programs designed to deal with these challenges. Should any of these be reconsidered in the wake of COVID-19? And are there lessons to be learned from the original New Deal?The pandemic suggests that we may need to incorporate a wider and more complex range of priorities than the ones that are baked into existing Green New Deal models. Two top candidates for reevaluation due to the pandemic are questions about urban density and public transportation. Before the pandemic, the GND envisioned a world in which urban density and mass transit are more efficient and less wasteful. In a pandemic, train and bus ridership is expected to fall by 80 percent as a result of social distancing requirements—there was a 90 percent decrease in New York City subway ridership due to fear of contagion and lockdown measures. As urban theorist Richard Florida has noted, “The very same clustering of people that makes our great cities more innovative and productive also makes them, and us, vulnerable to infectious disease.”Opponents of the Green New Deal have used the excuse that the return on investment doesn’t justify the deficits accumulated—but now that the political process has habituated itself to create trillion-dollar relief packages for society, that barrier is clearly broken.But that isn’t the end of the fight. Equally important is to recognize that a future policy debate on the GND should not be characterized by ongoing panic-mongering and hysteria in  he context of populations who are already suffering lockdown fatigue and global depression, whose biggest concerns relate to economic survival today and tomorrow, as opposed to the fate of the planet decades from now. Think of the “yellow vest” protestsin France.In other words, the GND models need to incorporate more of our immediate social needs—better public health, infrastructure and education, freedom from punitive personal debt, and a more equitable and democratic political system—as well as national economic priorities, such as manufacturing and an end to wasteful military spending. We may need a bigger acronym.

Exclusive: U.S. Democratic Party Irked by Council's 'Insurgent' Climate Plan-Sources - The New York Times — The Democratic National Committee's council on climate change irked party leadership when it published policy recommendations this month that ventured beyond presidential candidate Joe Biden's plan, according to three people familiar with the matter.The party tension shows the tricky nature of climate politics as Biden seeks to court young and more progressive voters without turning off voters in energy-producing swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, where a boom in shale gas drilling had created blue-collar jobs.Members of the DNC Environment and Climate Crisis Council, formed last year, published proposals for the party's four-year platform on June 4 in a press release, calling for up to $16 trillion in spending to shift the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels while banning hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas exports.The council's proposals far exceed Biden's current climate plan, which bans new oil and gas permits on public lands and dedicates $1.7 trillion to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, but allows continued fracking and exports in the meantime.Biden's campaign is updating its climate plan as it prepares for the Nov. 3 election contest against Republican President Donald Trump, a fervent advocate of fossil fuel drilling and mining who has downplayed climate change risks and unwound hundreds of environmental regulations.Biden is being advised by a panel led by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has called for a vast government-run effort to move away from fossil fuels, and John Kerry, who helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement as President Barack Obama's Secretary of State.One senior Democrat familiar with the DNC's workings said climate council members overstepped by putting out recommendations ahead of the convention that are unlikely to be adopted in the party's platform, which will be drafted by a DNC committee by its August convention. "It's a nonstarter," said the Democrat, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter. "Nobody takes them seriously. Joe Biden will be writing the platform for our national convention."

 The pandemic exposed the 'Church of Climate' as a fraud – by Nick DeIuliis. CEO of CNX - While the novel coronavirus has triggered a global debate on how to balance short-term infection rates with long-term economic viability, a crucial epiphany is slowly emerging through the deliberations. Society realizes that the “Church of Climate” has propagated an epic fraud upon individual rights, taxpayers, and free enterprise.   Today roughly 80 percent of our domestic energy comes from fossil fuels, a.k.a. carbon. Our hospitals are powered by carbon, our grocery stores refrigerate food via carbon, and every transportation link of our vital logistical chain is fueled by carbon.   The high priests of the climate change movement constitute a dog’s breakfast of special interest groups. The obvious members of extreme environmental groups, academia and government bureaucrats are joined by their not-so-obvious allies of a Russian dictator, the Saudis and Chinese Communist Party leaders. Scores of urban politicians and biased media members serve as willing pawns to help catalyze the crusade.  Politicians in several states have banned plastic bags, straws and disposable cups, all in the name of enviro cred. Now, in order to prevent the spread of the virus, many of these same politicians had to reverse course and are now welcoming plastic bags and disposable cups while rejecting reusable ones.Environmental groups with latent support from Russia work to block infrastructure investment in the form of pipelines to transport clean burning natural gas manufactured in Appalachia to consumers in the Northeast. As a result, Boston, during the winter, buys natural gas from Russian tankers, exposing a compromised supply chain presenting both virus and despot risk. 

Chatbots at the End of the World - TWO WEEKS AGO, a man launched a rocket into outer space: a historical feat, a symbol of a future, a childhood dream. […] I don’t need to explain what has been happening here on Earth in the months preceding the launch: everyone is well aware that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States alone. Public health experts had warned of the increased likelihood of another pandemic, but still, even most wealthy countries did little to prepare for one. This resulted in a well-documented shortage of almost everything needed to cope with Covid-19: protective clothing for medical staff; advanced medical equipment like ventilators; basic medical equipment like cotton swabs; masks; materials to make testing kits; ICU beds; doctors; nurses; and, of course, a well-functioning social safety net. Yet, over the past decade, there was $3 billion worth of government money available for Elon Musk’s dreams of space travel.  These days, flashy Silicon Valley technology developments often seem completely at odds with what is going on in the world. A rocket launch in the middle of a pandemic and nationwide uprising against police brutality might be the most recent example, but there is a version of this dissonance happening all the time. In late April, there was Blender, a new chatbot released by Facebook. The press release described it as “the culmination of years of research” and said that Blender can communicate in a more realistic way than previous chatbots—but still not so realistic that it would be mistaken for a human. It can maintain a reasonably convincing (although simple) conversation—if it does not go on for much longer than fourteen turns. Shortly after this press release came out, I read a study about global heating that predicted within fifty years, more than a billion people will be living in a climate that is insufferably hot, meaning many will be displaced. I wondered how much longer it would take Facebook to get their chatbot ready for its rarefied role as a human-like customer service operative, and what the world would look like by that time. It is true that progress is not necessarily linear, and that all kinds of research can lead to unexpected discoveries and inventions, but still, there is a general direction of travel. And increasingly, it seems as though the direction Silicon Valley has taken does not line up with the future most of us are anticipating.

China's Emissions Jump By The Most Since 2011 - China’s carbon dioxide emissions increased by 3.4 percent last year, higher than the ten-year average growth rate of 2.6 percent, BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy showed on Wednesday—the highest growth rate of Chinese emissions since 2011. Chinese CO2 emissions accounted for the single largest share of global carbon emissions last year – 28.8 percent, according to BP’s annual statistics report.  China was also the key driver of energy consumption growth last year when global growth slowed down to 1.3 percent from 2.8 percent energy demand growth in 2018.   While global energy demand growth slowed down, the growth in carbon emissions from energy was 0.5 percent in 2019, less than half the ten-year average growth of 1.1 percent per year. Slower energy demand growth and increased use of renewables and natural gas instead of coal helped reduce the carbon emissions growth, partially reversing some of the unusually strong 2.1-percent increase in global emissions in 2018, BP said.  This year, due to the pandemic, emissions are likely to fall, BP’s chief executive Bernard Looney wrote in a LinkedIn post, adding that in order to get to net zero emissions by 2050, the world would need similar-sized reductions in carbon emissions every other year for the next 25 years.  “We can’t lockdown every year. We need another way - to build back better,” said Looney.  China, for its part, saw its coal capacity surge in 2019 to the point of raising the world’s net capacity additions of coal-fired power generation for the first time since 2015, a report from environmental organizations showed earlier this year.

BP outlines how quickly global carbon emissions would need to fall to reach net zero by 2050 - The chief executive of energy giant BP said Wednesday that to get to net zero by 2050, the world would need to see lockdown-like reductions in carbon emissions every other year for the next 25 years.In the London-based oil and gas giant's annual Statistical Review of World Energy, the group said some aspects of global energy trends prior to the coronavirus pandemic had been "encouraging."It noted the continued strong growth of renewable energy, led by wind and solar power, which increased by a record amount to account for over 40% of the growth in primary energy last year.At the same time, coal consumption fell for the fourth time in six years, with its share in the global energy mix seen at its lowest level for 16 years.But, BP CEO Bernard Looney said in the report that other aspects of the energy system "continued to give cause for concern."That's because coal, one of the dirtiest forms of energy production, remains the single largest source of power generation, accounting for more than one-third of global power in 2019.Comparatively, renewable energy provides only 10% of global power, according to the report, and would need to grow even more strongly over the coming years to decarbonize the power sector."More worrying is the trend for carbon emissions," Looney said. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the world must cut carbon emissions to reach net zero by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsuis. Carbon emissions from energy use grew by 0.5% in 2019, according to BP's analysis, less than half the rate the previous year. In 2018, carbon emissions from energy use expanded by 1.8%."The hope was that as the one-off factors boosting carbon emissions in 2018 unwound, carbon emissions would fall significantly. That fall did not happen," Looney said, noting the average annual growth in carbon emissions through 2018 and 2019 was greater than its 10-year average. "The disruption to our everyday lives caused by the lockdowns has provided a glimpse of a cleaner, lower carbon world: air quality in many of the world's most polluted cities has improved; skies have become clearer," he added.

 IEA outlines $3 trillion green recovery plan for world leaders to help fix the global economy The International Energy Agency has laid out a $3 trillion green recovery plan, offering governments around the world a "once-in-a-lifetime" roadmap to sustainably rebuild their economies in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The Sustainable Recovery report, published Thursday, is designed to present world leaders with cost-effective measures that could be implemented from 2021 through to 2023. It sets out three main goals: spurring economic growth, creating jobs and building more resilient and cleaner energy systems. "As they design economic recovery plans, policymakers are having to make enormously consequential decisions in a very short space of time," Fatih Birol, executive director at the IEA, said in the report. "These decisions will shape economic and energy infrastructure for decades to come and will almost certainly determine whether the world has a chance of meeting its long-term energy and climate goals." An unprecedented global public health crisis triggered by the Covid-19 outbreak means the world is experiencing its worst economic shock since the 1930s, the IEA said. It is having a profound impact on employment and investment across all parts of the economy, including energy. The IEA has previously warned that it believes the coronavirus crisis has paved the way for the largest decline of global energy investment on record this year, with spending set to plummet 20%. Last year, the global energy industry employed roughly 40 million people, but 3 million of those jobs have either been lost or at risk as a result of the pandemic, according to the report's analysis. "Today, attention is increasingly focusing on how to bring about an economic recovery that repairs the damage inflicted by the crisis while putting the world on a stronger footing for the future," the IEA's Birol said. The Sustainable Recovery plan was published in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund as part of the energy agency's flagship World Energy Outlook series. It is based on the assessments of over 30 specific energy policy measures and spans six key sectors: electricity, transport, industry, buildings, fuels and emerging low-carbon technologies.

The central United States set several wind power records this spring -Earlier this year, the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the regional transmission organization that manages the electric grid for much of the central United States, set records for the highest share of electricity demand supplied by wind power in both a single-hour period (72%) and a full day (62%).In 2019, wind power provided 29% of the electricity demand in SPP. On a monthly basis, wind power’s share of total demand in 2019 ranged from a high of 37% in October to a low of 18% in August. On a daily or hourly basis, however, wind’s share can be larger because of fluctuations in wind output and in total electricity generation.On Saturday, March 7, 2020, the wind penetration rate, expressed as the share of electricity demand supplied by wind generation, reached 62% in SPP. On an hourly basis, wind generated a high share of 72% of electricity demand in the early morning of Monday, April 27, 2020, from 1:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Central time.Wind penetration can be expressed as wind generation’s share of either electricity demand or total generation. System operators like SPP are responsible for balancing electricity supply and demand in real time. To maintain this balance, SPP primarily uses its own energy generation resources to meet demand and engages in limited energy trade with neighboring system operators for economic or reliability purposes. Net electricity interchange (electricity imports to or exports from the region) for SPP averaged about 2% of generation in 2019. Records for wind penetration are often broken in the spring because of seasonal patterns in both electricity demand and wind power output. In the SPP region, wind generation is often highest in the spring months. Spring is also a time of year when electricity demand is relatively low because mild temperatures mean less electricity is used to heat or cool homes. Electricity demand is also relatively lower on weekends, which is when wind set its recent record shares in SPP.

U.S. clean energy sector loses 18% of jobs during pandemic -report - (Reuters) - The U.S. clean energy sector has lost more than 620,000 jobs, or 18% of its work force, as stay-at-home orders and a weakened economy have slowed demand for solar panels and energy-efficient systems and curbed production of electric vehicles and clean fuels, a report published on Monday showed. The industry lost 27,000 jobs in May, a slower rate of decline than in April and March, when states first implemented lockdown orders to combat the spread of the coronavirus, according to the analysis of U.S. unemployment data conducted by BW Research Partnership. While they represent a tiny fraction of the nation’s total job losses during the period, the clean energy industry’s contraction is a devastating blow to an industry that had been growing rapidly. The numbers appeared to be on track to fall short of a forecast here BW made last month that the sector would suffer 850,000 job losses by the end of June. The report warned, however, that many of the sector’s jobs are being supported by a federal program to help cover the payroll costs of small businesses hurt by the novel coronavirus disruption. The expiration of that program “may result in a fresh round of layoffs in clean energy if there is no further intervention,” it said. Wind and solar companies have been pleading with Congress to extend deadlines for projects to qualify for sunsetting federal tax credits to help relieve the impact caused by pandemic-related construction delays. Like in previous months, the energy efficiency sector suffered the biggest losses during the month, representing about 70% of the total. Renewable energy lost 4,300 jobs in May, while clean vehicles, transmission, distribution and storage lost 3,300 jobs. The clean fuels sector lost 700 jobs during the month.

Company buying bankrupt Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery promises 18,000 jobs in next 10 years - Hilco Redevelopment Partners, the company approved to buy the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery complex in South Philadelphia out of bankruptcy, projects that its multibillion development will take about a decade to complete and create 8,000 union construction jobs and 10,000 permanent jobs. A Hilco executive presented part of the company’s plan for the 1,300-acre site at a City Council hearing Monday. The council’s finance committee advanced a bill introduced by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson that would extend the refinery’s Keystone Opportunity Zone status, first granted in 2014 but expiring by the end of the year. Properties and businesses located in such state designated zones pay little to no state and local business taxes. “It’s projects like this, I believe, that will help jump-start our economy; it’s projects like this that will put people back to work,” Johnson, whose district includes the site, said. “This can be an economic engine not only for South Philadelphia, but for the Philadelphia region.” According to Jeremy Grey, Hilco’s executive vice president of industrial development, the former refinery will come back to life as a state-of-the-art logistics park, with 13 million to 15 million square feet of logistics centers, taking advantage of the rail and maritime infrastructure of the site and its proximity to Philadelphia International Airport. The buildings will focus on sustainability, Grey said, and include solar panels in the roofs, infrastructure for electric vehicles, LED lighting, and extensive landscape plans. Grey said the company is committed to having an extensive outreach plan to get feedback from the community. It will open an office on the site and hire a diverse and local workforce, he said. “We are very committed to working with the city, making sure these jobs are good wage jobs … everybody is very happy with, and long-term jobs, and that the jobs stay within the community and people are able to get to these jobs easily by enhancing public transportation,” he said.

In New England, declining car sales prompt call for electric bike rebates -As interest in cycling rises and electric vehicle sales drop off amid the pandemic, advocates are calling on Connecticut officials to extend the state’s rebate program to include electric bicycles.About 80 organizations, businesses and individuals have signed a letter to state officials seeking rebates for e-bikes, which use an electric motor to amplify the rider’s pedal force and are seen as a way to replace car trips. The state’s existing electric vehicle rebate program is “inequitable,” they argue, because it only applies to electric cars, which are unaffordable for many middle- to lower-income households.The Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate Program, or CHEAPR, has $3 million in annual funding. Spending that money may be a challenge this year with car sales depressed, and that makes the addition of e-bike rebates particularly timely, said Anthony Cherolis, an avid cyclist and coordinator of Transport Hartford, which is leading the effort.“I could see an e-bike rebate from $200 to $500 as a game-changer for the equity and mobility of low-income households, particularly in Connecticut’s large cities,” said Cherolis, who noted that about a third of households in Hartford do not own a car. “This would also open up so many more car-free commuting options in the Connecticut metro area to those hesitant, or unable, to commit to the physicality of a bicycle commute.”Demand for vehicle rebates is down sharply so far this year, according to the CHEAPR statistics page. As of the end of April, 205 rebates had been issued (with just 13 issued in April), compared to 509 during the same period last year. Meanwhile, e-bike sales nationally for the month of March were up 58% over March of last year, according to PeopleForBikes, an advocacy group based in Colorado.

Utilities remain mute on FERC net metering petition, leave filing to face overwhelming opposition - A petition in front of federal regulators to effectively overturn net metering policies nationwide faced overwhelming bipartisan opposition on Monday from state regulators, members of Congress, public power groups and others. Though several utilities filed to intervene on the petition, including Pacific Gas and Electric, Xcel Energy and Duke Energy, none filed comments by the June 15 deadline, so it remains unclear where utilities fall on the issue. Investor-owned utility group Edison Electric Institute (EEI) has said it finds net metering to be a "regressive and poor public policy tool," but the group ultimately decided against filing commentsduring this initial period. Opponents of the petition decried the move as an affront to states' rights and legally questionable on a number of grounds. Others were also critical of the group that introduced the petition and urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require it to disclose its backers. State regulators, the renewable energy industry, environmentalists, members of Congress and others have been openly opposed to the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) petition from the start, but observers have been less sure of where utility interests would fall, particularly after EEI declined to file comment. "The wild card here will be the number of utilities that have already declared their intent to file something here, and I don't know which side of this they're going to come down on," Ari Peskoe, director of the Electricity Law Initiative at the Harvard Law School, told reporters last week. But by the end of Monday night's filing deadline, utilities had not taken a stand on the issue and supporters for the petition remained sparse. The American Public Power Association and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association filed comments in opposition. Some Electric Power Supply Association members, including Calpine Corporation, commented but did not take a position on the proceeding. The members asked FERC to "re-examine its authority to regulate netting intervals under the Federal Power Act … and apply a consistent determination on that issue" in that case and another complaint that focuses on the right of generators in PJM to self-supply. NERA's petition, filed in April, calls for FERC to consider all behind-the-meter generation a wholesale sale, giving federal regulators exclusive jurisdiction. It largely targets the policy of net metering, which compensates rooftop solar owners for the power sent back to the grid. 45 states have some sort of similar distributed energy compensation mechanism in place. "[N]et metering is having an unfair and harmful impact on ratepayers, especially low-and middle-income families. Given this problem, NERA has chosen to challenge net metering at the body which has the proper jurisdiction over wholesale electricity transactions," the group said in an emailed FAQ.

Spain's Repsol plans to invest millions in fuel production using green hydrogen - Repsol has announced plans to develop a facility that will use carbon dioxide and green hydrogen to generate net-zero emission fuels for use in the transportation sector. The Spanish oil and gas firm also announced Monday that it would be involved in a project to produce gas from "urban waste." Both projects will be located in the north of Spain, with the major port city of Bilbao "and its surrounding area" mooted as a likely location. Madrid-headquartered Repsol is working with Petronor and the Energy Agency of the Basque Government on the first scheme. Petronor, which Repsol has an 85.98% stake in, will take the lead on the waste-to-gas project. Repsol will invest an initial 60 million euros ($67.58 million) in the green hydrogen project, and an initial 20 million euros will be spent on the second initiative, which will have the capacity to process 10,000 tons of urban waste each year. The company described the first project as involving "building one of the largest net zero emissions synthetic fuel production plants in the world, based on green hydrogen generated with renewable energy." Green hydrogen refers to hydrogen produced using renewable sources such as wind power. "Spain must base its decarbonization strategy on its technological and industrial capabilities," Josu Jon Imaz, Repsol's CEO, said in the statement Monday. "The production of green hydrogen in combination with the capture and use of CO2 to produce net zero emission fuels is part of the industrial decarbonization strategy of Repsol." And while fossil fuels remain an important part of Repsol's business, the company's latest move comes as the fossil fuel industry faces up to a number of challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic and a major collapse in the price of oil.

Global electricity consumption continues to rise faster than population -Global electricity consumption continues to increase faster than world population, leading to an increase in the average amount of electricity consumed per person (per capita electricity consumption), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) International Energy Statistics. Electricity is used most commonly in buildings for lighting and appliances, in industrial processes for producing goods, and in transportation for powering rail and light-duty vehicles. Nearly all of the increase is attributable to growing electricity consumption in developing countries outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The increase in consumption from these factors is partially offset by efficiency measures, such as more efficient lighting. Regionally, per capita electricity consumption in a number of countries has been affected by outsourcing energy-intensive industries to other countries. In the United States, total electricity consumption has risen slightly since the early 2000s, but electricity consumption per person decreased by nearly 7% between 2000 and 2017 because of improvements in energy efficiency and changes in the economy that have resulted in less electricity use per unit of economic output (as measured by gross domestic product, or GDP).Growth in global electricity consumption is related to economic growth, but the relationship differs, depending on the country. Per person economic growth can occur independently of growth in per person electricity usage in countries with large, developed economies; largely satisfied residential electricity demand; and relatively smaller portions of economic growth coming from industrial production. Producing a service with greater economic value does not necessarily require any more electricity than a lower-value service.In countries with rapidly growing residential electricity consumption and growing energy-intensive activities, electricity use tends to more closely correspond to growth in economic activity. Per capita electricity growth in the economies of less developed non-OECD countries has more than doubled between 2000 and 2017, compared with a nearly flat trend in the economies of more developed OECD countries.At the national level, average per capita electricity consumption values can mask the large variation within a country. For example, the United States population averaged nearly 12,000 kilowatthours (kWh) of e lectricity consumption per person in 2017, but on a state basis, annual per capita electricity consumption ranged from more than 25,000 kWh in states such as Wyoming and North Dakota to less than 7,000 kWh in states such as Hawaii and California.

Rising energy loads from fewer COVID-19 limits, warming weather spark utility readiness concerns -Economic restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic are easing in some parts of the country as temperatures have begun to warm. As a result, grid operators are now seeing electricity demand rise after a significant drop this spring, leading to concerns about their ability to keep the lights on — and how outages could impact vulnerable populations."Utilities may not be well-prepared to deal with the challenges imposed by COVID," Yury Dvorkin, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, told Utility Dive. "At all levels, it seems grid operators tend to underestimate the issue."Those concerns were echoed by Lawrence Orsini, founder and principal of microgrids company LO3 Energy."There will be blackouts across the US this summer if people are still sequestered," he blogged in the early days of the quarantine. "In some places, energy networks are going to melt. ... With people at home 24-7, the network doesn't have a moment to cool down and the heat continues to build in the wires, the transformers and the substations day after day." Rising residential demand is a potential issue all across the country, but Dvorkin has specific concerns about New York City.Dvorkin in May testified to the New York City Council that he is worried about the potential for energy blackouts in residential areas that would more significantly impact children, the elderly and those with medical conditions during periods of intense heat this summer. While his analysis has focused on Consolidated Edison, which serves the city, he says the concern holds true across the nation.A mix of virus-related stay-home orders, economic restrictions, warmer weather and now the limited return of industry, mean there is no historical comparison for what utilities are facing.  "Basically, the problem is we cannot forecast what's going to happen with summer demand," Dvorkin said. "This year is going to be very abnormal ... we're not going to be able to use the historical data we have." ConEd officials say they have seen a decline in overall energy demand, given the shutdown of economic activity — but the utility has also seen a rise in residential demand with people staying home. "The degree of the shift at any given time this summer will depend on where we are in the reopening of the area's economy," ConEd spokesman Allan Drury said in an email. "If we have outages in a residential area, we will take steps such as sending generators. Reliable electric service is definitely a safety issue and this summer poses unique challenges."

 U.S. coal consumption continues to decline across all sectors - (EIA) U.S. coal consumption has been declining since its peak in 2007 of 1.1 billion short tons. In 2019, U.S. coal consumption totaled 590 million short tons (MMst). The electric power sector accounts for the majority (more than 90%) of domestic coal consumption, but the industrial and commercial sectors also consume coal. Coal consumption in the industrial and commercial sectors has declined from 98 MMst in 2000 to 48 MMst in 2019.The industrial sector includes coal consumed in coking plants, in manufacturing facilities, and for other industrial uses. In 2019, 62% of industrial coal consumption in the United States was used in manufacturing. U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data on coal consumption by detailed manufacturing industry, based on North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes, show that food manufacturing and nonmetallic mineral products manufacturing consumed more coal than other industries in 2019.Coal consumption in food manufacturing has remained relatively stable since 2000. Food manufacturing uses coal largely for heating purposes. For example, in sugar manufacturing, sugar cane juice has to be boiled to extract the sugar crystals, requiring intense heat. Coal can also serve a secondary purpose of providing electricity for food processing facilities located in remote areas.Although coal use has remained stable in food manufacturing, most other manufacturing industries have seen significant declines in coal consumption as a result of fewer facilities and less consumption at remaining facilities. The largest declines have been in the paper manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, and primary metal manufacturing industries. The primary metal manufacturing industry includes the production of steel, silicon metals, and other metal and iron-based products. From 2010 to 2012, the industry’s coal consumption contracted sharply, dropping from 9 MMst to 3 MMst, and has since remained relatively low. The steel industry was significantly affected by the recession that occurred between 2007 and 2009 and the declines in housing starts, construction, and auto manufacturing that drive steel demand.

 House committee sits quiet on Brantley County landfill bill - A Georgia Senate bill that would block construction of a landfill on the Satilla River in Brantley County stalled in a House committee Tuesday. Senate Bill 384 would prohibit the construction of new solid waste disposal facilities — including coal ash — within three miles of the Satilla River’s high water mark. As currently written, it would not affect existing landfills. The bill was approved by the state Senate in March, but members of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee want more information before deciding whether to send it to the House floor. “I will say on the outset there has been quite a bit of discussion on this,” said Rep. Timothy Barr, R-Lawrenceville, a member of the committee. State Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, introduced the bill in response to a proposal by Brantley County Development Partners to construct a landfill between Atkinson and Waynesville, just off U.S. 82. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division decided earlier this month that the site was suitable for a landfill. Its decision was based on information provided by the developer and studies of the land and made over the objections of thousands of Brantley County residents. A site suitability ruling is not the same as approving construction of the landfill, the EPD noted in a statement. The division will consider the construction plans and local regulations during a review of the developer’s design and operations plan. Residents, environmental groups and elected officials of Brantley County have voiced opposition to the landfill.  The corridor along the river is characterized by wetlands, a high water table and lots of flat ground prone to flooding.

TVA withdrawing permits for new coal ash storage at Bull Run Fossil Plant — TVA is withdrawing all applications for a new dry ash storage facility at the Bull Run Fossil Plant in Anderson County, which will close in 2023. The utility began the permitting process with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) in 2013, when they purchased 200 acres of property next to the plant for future storage. However, when the board decided to close Bull Run last year, it wasn't clear if TVA would actually need a new landfill for coal ash storage. Coal ash is produced when burning coal for fuel. The community has spoken against the proposed storage facility for years, citing environmental concerns. TVA said it is conducting extensive scientific studies in the area and will use the results of those studies to determine the best way to safely and securely manage the coal ash already stored on that site when it is closed. “We are thoroughly studying the environment at Bull Run, and we haven’t made any decisions about the future of coal ash stored there,” said Scott Turnbow, TVA’s vice president for Civil Projects. “We aren’t certain if a new landfill will be necessary, so it makes sense to withdraw our applications until we determine the need.” The options include safely storing the coal ash on the site or removing it in the future to be stored elsewhere. TVA has worked for years to safely manage the material, especially after the Dec. 2008 accident at the Kingston Fossil Plant. Then, a dike ruptured at a coal ash pond and spilled more than a billion gallons of coal ash onto the surrounding land and river, creating an environmental disaster.

Environment, community groups take aim at Blackjewel Coal - – Environmental and community groups have taken aim at the coal giant’s clean-up efforts in a letter to federal bankruptcy court. A coalition of eight community and environmental groups, sent a letter to the United States Bankruptcy Court overseeing Blackjewel’s bankruptcy proceedings. The company filed for bankruptcy last July and left many workers unpaid for weeks. The letter provides an update on the company’s failure to adequately address coal mine reclamation and numerous other environmental violations in three states. The fulfillment of coal mine reclamation requirements is crucial to ensuring proper cleanup of closed coal mines. Blackjewel has previously told the bankruptcy court it plans to satisfy its clean-up obligations by selling and transferring its permits to third parties willing to assume the responsibilities of environmental cleanup. However, the letter claims the vast majority of Blackjewel’s permits sold to third parties have not been transferred and in many cases transfer applications have yet to be filed even months after the sales. In Kentucky, no transfer activity has occurred for 149 of Blackjewel’s 213 mine reclamation permits. In Virginia, only 34 of Blackjewel’s 71 permits have been transferred, while in West Virginia, only five of 12 permits have been transferred. The company has indicated that non-transferred permits will be abandoned. Abandoning this many unreclaimed permits could shift the burden of cleaning up Blackjewel’s coal mines from the company onto badly underfunded state government reclamation funds. If Blackjewels’s abandoned coal mines are not reclaimed properly, the public health and safety of frontline communities near these hazardous sites could be seriously compromised. In addition, the letter alerts the court to Blackjewel’s increasing number of environmental violations, the groups say. In Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, the company has failed to comply with Clean Water Act monitoring and reporting requirements designed to track the amount of toxic discharge into waterways, according to the group’s claims. The letter also includes a yearly comparative analysis of on-the-ground environmental violations occurring at the company’s Kentucky coal mines.

 King of Prussia inventor envisions new life for former Berks coal generating plant  The former Titus Generating Station, idle since 2014, won't stay that way if a King of Prussia developer can start a plastics recycling operation there. "Titus will be the first to use garbage destined for a landfill," says Joe D'Ascenzo. A King of Prussia company plans to develop the former Titus Generating Station in Cumru Township into a plastic recycling facility that would take trash and turn it into plastic pellets. It would be the first facility in the United States for ReFined Plastics LLC, said Joe D’Ascenzo, president and chief technology officer of the five-year-old advanced recycling company.The pellets would be virgin grade, meaning they are a quality that could be used by a variety of plastic manufacturers. The material won't originate in the recycle bin but will come from household trash. "If it has polymer on it, it can be treated at Titus."D'Ascenzo, a Chester County native and graduate of Ursinus College, has a master's degree in molecular biology from Drexel University. He helped develop the process, some of which is patented. "Some of things we are doing are world-changing," D'Ascenzo said. He said the facility could be running as early as the end of 2022.The total investment in the project will be approximately $120 million, D'Ascenzo said. He already has some investors and industry partners and is looking for more. Worst case scenario, he said, it would be running by the end of 2023, depending on negotiations and satisfying a myriad of regulations. The company received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce.D'Ascenzo has made few public statements about the project. He appeared before township officials in 2018 and the state House Energy and Environmental Resources Committee last year. But a lot of work has gone on already behind the scenes."To date we have spent over $3 million," D'Ascenzo said.

 Navajo, Battling Covid, Say Coal Mines Sapped Drinking Water - “I use the same water at least five or six times before I throw it out,” Navajo Nation member Percy Deal said. “It’s very dirty, but otherwise, I would run out of water in less than a week. And I can’t afford that.” Lack of running water has long plagued the Navajo Nation. About a third of homes don’t have it; in some towns, it’s 90 percent. While several factors contribute to that, many tribal members say Peabody Energy Corp., the largest U.S. coal producer, pulled so much water from the Navajo Aquifer before closing its last mining operation there last August that many wells and springs have run dry—at a time Covid-19 has hit the Nation harder than any state. The aquifer is the main source of potable water for residents. “It’s not just me, it’s hundreds of my neighbors,” Deal said. “Peabody drained the aquifer for 45 years, so we all don’t have any water.” With a population of about 175,000, the 27,000-square-mile Nation in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico recently surpassed New York as having the highest rate of coronavirus cases per capita in the U.S., with a 3.4% infection rate to New York’s 1.9%. But staying at home and social distancing become problematic when the only way for many households to have water to wash their hands is to go get it. “If people drill wells, they expect to get water at 400 to 500 feet deep. Our water is 2,000 to 3,000 feet deep,” The draining of water from the aquifer also depressurized it, making it harder for it to flow to the surface, she said.  Until it closed in 2005, Peabody’s Black Mesa Mine extracted, pulverized, and mixed coal with water drawn from the aquifer to form a slurry, which it then sent along a 273-mile-long pipeline to the Mojave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada, which provided most of its power to Los Angeles. At the time the 18-inch pipeline was the longest coal slurry pipeline operating in the U.S., according to the Center for Land Use Interpretation, a public lands research and education organization. The mine extracted as much as 1.3 billion gallons of water from the aquifer annually, an estimated 45 billion gallons in Black Mesa’s life cycle. Peabody also used the aquifer’s water at its Kayenta mine, which shipped its last load of coal in August 2019. That was three months before the closure of its only customer, Navajo Generating Station, a 2,250-megawatt coal plant on Navajo land and the largest coal-fired power plant west of the Mississippi River. Navajo Generating Station supplied power to customers in Arizona, California, and Nevada, and was at one time the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the U.S.

JEA loses Plant Vogtle nuclear power lawsuit - News - The Florida Times-Union - Jacksonville  -- In a blow to JEA, a federal judge ruled it is legally bound by a costly agreement to buy power for 20 years from Plant Vogtle nuclear reactors being built in Georgia. JEA’s long-shot quest to cancel a costly agreement for buying power from the Plant Vogtle nuclear plant fizzled out Wednesday when a judge ruled against JEA and said the contract is valid.The decision handed down by U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen, who presides in the northern district of Georgia, means JEA is stuck with purchasing power at a steep cost for 20 years after construction finishes on Plant Vogtle’s two new reactors.“Once again, the gift that keeps on giving,” City Council member LeAnna Cumber said in a pointed tweet about Plant Vogtle and the judge’s ruling. “It highlights yet another reason for more stringent oversight over JEA. How this contract was ever entered into boggles the mind.”JEA has said its cost for the Plant Vogtle agreement could amount to $4 billion over 20 years and warned it will force an increase in electric rates. But JEA administrators have not made any presentations to the utility board for a rate boost. JEA issued a statement that said while Cohen found the agreement is valid, he also lifted a December stay of discovery on JEA pursuing a claim that Muncipal Electric Authority of Georgia has been negligent in how it handled the contract. MEAG said Cohen’s order avoids what would have been a long and expensive trial. “Judge Cohen’s ruling was very thorough and perfectly clear — JEA and the city of Jacksonville knew what they were doing when they entered this agreement, and they have to honor their commitment,” MEAG CEO James Fuller said

 Chemical buildout won't lead to 'jobs boom,' governors told -- The prospect of a petrochemical buildout in the Ohio River Valley was already a divisive issue. It was ballyhooed by some as an economic generator and decried by others for greenhouse gas emissions. That scenario became a bit more polarizing Monday when it got a resounding thumb’s down on economics. Lacking a formal name but not a purpose, a group of economists and engineers sent letters to the governors of Pennsylvania (Tom Wolf), West Virginia (Jim Justice) and Ohio (Mike DeWine). Organizers, according to an emailed news release, said Monday the tri-state region is “not likely” to experience a major buildout or “the kind of job creation that some predict.” The letter was cobbled together by eight college-affiliated economists and engineers and John Hanger, former head of the state Department of Environmental Protection. The missive also was distributed to the media, and it begins: “In Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, our goals for economic growth and job creation are being undermined by the mistaken belief that the region’s petrochemical and plastics manufacturing industries are poised to greatly expand and, in the process, generate large numbers of new jobs. “In fact, no such expansion and jobs boom is likely. And, unless we adopt new and better development strategies, we risk squandering hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds in pursuit of a vision that will not materialize.” Construction of an ethane cracker plant is well underway in Potter Township, Beaver County, Pa., a facility Shell Chemical Appalachia is erecting along the Ohio River.  Two other petrochemical complexes had been discussed for the valley, until the ASCENT project in Wood County, W.Va., was canceled last summer. PTT-DLM still plans to build a cracker in Dilles Bottom, Ohio, but that endeavor is on hold after the company postponed a final investment decision.

Shell's Falcon Pipeline Dogged by Issues with Drilling and Permit Uncertainty During Pandemic - Over the past few months, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders, Shell Pipeline Company has pressed onward with the construction of a 97-mile pipeline running through Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Shell plans to use the Falcon pipeline to supply its $6 billion plastics plant currently being built in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, with ethane, a raw material pulled from shale wells in the state and from neighboring Ohio.A DeSmog investigation found that Falcon’s construction has struggled with drilling problems and has continued even while one key water-crossing for the pipeline lacked state or federal permits. During that same time, vast numbers of other businesses in both states — including the Shell plastics plant itself — were forced to slow or stop activities in efforts to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Throughout March and into April, Falcon was missing permits from state or federal regulators. Problems during a process known as horizontal directional drilling (HDD), which Shell attempted to use to install the Falcon pipeline under an Ohio creek called Wolf Run, forced the company to change its construction plans, and those permits had not yet been approved when the pandemic hit the region. Then, on April 15, just nine days after Falcon secured its final missing state permit, the legal status of its construction was again thrown into question, this time by events halfway across the country. A federal court hearing a challenge to the Keystone XL pipeline in Montana tossed out a nationwide permit issued for Falcon and many other oil and gas pipelines, finding that this particular permitting program failed to meet the standards of the nation’s cornerstone environmental laws. While appeals in that case remain pending, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to stop authorizing activities for new oil and gas pipeline construction under those permits until those legal questions were resolved. On Thursday, May 28, the Ninth Circuit rejected a request to put that order on hold until it issues its decision in that case. The Army Corps and Keystone XL's backers “have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success on the merits and probability of irreparable harm to warrant a stay pending appeal,” the court wrote.

Pa. attorney general charges Cabot Oil and Gas with environmental crimes - More than a decade after a water well exploded in the rural Northeast Pennsylvania town of Dimock, setting off a series of events that would plunge the town into the international spotlight, Pennsylvania has filed criminal charges against the company they say caused that explosion.Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced 15 criminal counts against the Houston-based Cabot Oil and Gas, including nine felonies, after recommendations from a grand jury. The charges stem from violations of the state’s Clean Streams law, as well as illegal industrial discharges. The grand jury report says the company’s “long-term indifference” to the damage it caused warrants penalties that rise beyond technical violations. Read the charging document here.“We find that, over a period of many years, and despite mounting evidence, Cabot Oil Gas failed to acknowledge and correct conduct that polluted Pennsylvania water through stray gas migration,” reads the grand jury presentment. “Indeed, some of these gas wells have been in place for more than a decade, yet Cabot has only recently taken steps to remediate them.”In announcing the charges, Shapiro cited Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment, which guarantees clean air and water to all residents.“Frackers come from all over the nation,” Shapiro said, “walk into our communities and sometimes without care or consequence, strip us of those basic rights.”Shapiro said a decade later, the company has not fixed the problem.Methane is colorless and odorless and, in the right concentration, can lead to explosions.Although issues with gas drilling and water contamination began surfacing soon after drilling began in 2008 in Dimock, it wasn’t until the release of the 2010 HBO documentary Gasland that the town was thrust into the spotlight.Levels of methane were so high in some instances that residents could light their tap water on fire. They complained of headaches and rashes after they showered. They described their water looking like Alka Seltzer, or muddy.

Pennsylvania's impact fee collection down 20% - Pittsburgh Business Times - Pennsylvania's impact fee on natural gas production brought in $200 million in 2019, a decline of about $50 million that matches the tougher times in the industry. Washington County once again received the most impact fees of any county in Pennsylvania, although it was down more than $2 million from a year ago.The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which collects the funding every year, said $42 million of the drop was due to the average price of natural gas being $2.63 per million British thermal units in 2019 compared to $3.09 per million BTUs in 2018. Last year's collection also included a nearly $9 million adjustment for previous well production.The 2018 total was a record since the impact fee took effect in 2012. About $109 million of the impact fee collections will go to local communities and counties who are directly impacted by shale drilling, while $72.2 million will go to the Marcellus Legacy Fund and $18.4 million is reserved for state agencies who receive money from the impact fee Washington remained on top in terms of the county receiving the most from the impact fees, with $6.6 million. But that was down from the $8.4 million it received in 2018. The next-biggest county, Susquehanna, will receive $5.7 million down from the $7.18 million it received in 2018. Of the top counties receiving money from 2019's impact fee, Greene will receive $4.7 million and Butler County will get $2.1 million.

Former Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai takes job as general counsel for Peoples Natural Gas -One day after resigning as speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Mike Turzai has been hired as general counsel for Peoples Natural Gas.The North Shore-based utility, which was acquired by Bryn Mawr-based Essential Utilities Inc. (formerly known as Aqua America), announced the long-rumored appointment on Tuesday. Mr. Turzai announced his resignation from the House on Wednesday.Mr. Turzai, a Republican who lives in Marshall with his wife and three sons, represented the state’s 28th Legislative district, which encompasses the suburbs in northern Allegheny County, for nearly two decades. He was elected speaker of the house in 2015.When he announced in January that he wouldn’t seek re-election, Mr. Turzai said he received a lot of interest from private companies. It was a pitch from his longtime friend Chris Franklin, CEO of Essential, that prompted Mr. Turzai to leave before his term expired.

State Supreme Court denies Sunoco’s appeal over permits for Mariner East 1 buildings in Lebanon County - Energy Transfer declined to say what it will do after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that buildings housing part of Sunoco’s Mariner East 1 pipeline were built without required permits.In a June 1 decision, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling that the buildings in West Cornwall Township should not be assumed to be exempt from typical construction permitting. “The [Supreme Court’s] decision does not impact our operation of the pumps or the pipeline,” said Lisa Coleman, a representative for Energy Transfer, which owns Sunoco. She did not respond directly to a question about Sunoco’s next steps. The plaintiffs are part of an advocacy group called Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County. One of them, Pam Bishop, said that to get the correct permit, Sunoco will “have to go through the process that they should have gone through five years ago.”Sunoco had appealed a decision by the Commonwealth Court last October. Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County had sued West Cornwall Township’s zoning board and Sunoco, claiming the building permit didn’t take safety risks into account. One of the two garage-sized buildings without a proper permit houses a pump station, which moves natural gas liquids along the Mariner East 1 pipeline. Natural gas liquids include propane, ethane, and butane. If natural gas liquids leak out of pipelines, they can form a combustible cloud of gas at ground level. Some residents of West Cornwall Township believe the buildings pose a safety risk. In court documents, plaintiffs say they worried about the potential for leaking natural gas liquids to pool in the building. Environmental attorney Rich Raiders testified that, in the event of an explosion, parts of the building could fall into neighboring properties.  In October, a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel revoked the building permit because it was issued to Sunoco under an implied exemption for public utilities in the township zoning code. Judge P. Kevin Brobson wrote, “We reject the notion that an exemption from local zoning can be implied to exist.” The court did not rule on Mariner East 1’s status as a public utility, nor on the township’s right to place restrictions on public utilities.

Work begins on Southern Reliability Link pipeline through Burlington County -  Major work on the Burlington County phase of New Jersey Natural Gas’ Southern Reliability Link kicked off Monday morning and is expected to continue through the next 18 months, according to utility officials. After numerous delays work has finally started on the Burlington County section of a controversial pipeline intended to transport natural gas to neighboring Ocean and Monmouth counties. Major work on the Burlington County phase of New Jersey Natural Gas’ Southern Reliability Link kicked off Monday morning and is expected to continue through the next 18 months, according to utility officials. The 30-mile, high-pressure line is planned to run through Ocean, Monmouth and Burlington counties, where it will connect with a new compressor station in Chesterfield. Work has already been completed in Ocean and Monmouth counties, leaving the Burlington County section as the final work left to complete before the company can put the controversial project into service after years of delays due to regulatory and permitting issues, as well as a still ongoing court fight with environmental groups. New Jersey Natural Gas officials have said the pipeline will enhance the reliability of its gas delivery to its more than 500,000 customers, mostly in Ocean and Monmouth counties, but also on the Lakehurst side of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. The base is a critical mobility, training and engineering site and New Jersey’s second-largest employer. Opponents have argued the planned route for the line is too close to homes and businesses and will pose a significant safety and pollution risk. They also contend the base will receive no direct benefit.

  FERC Approves MVP River Drilling Permit - After receiving federal approve for drilling under the Roanoke River, the Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC (MVP) aims for a full in-service date in early 2021. On June 11, Mountain Valley provided a schedule and timing update in preparation for completion of its 303-mile natural gas transmission line. Total project work is approximately 92 percent complete.Mountain Valley Pipeline received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to drill under the Roanoke River in southwest Virginia. Construction of the Mountain Valley pipeline has been stalled because of federal permits and legal challenges. The pipeline company hopes to have all the needed permits in place for the project by the end of 2020. The $5.5 billion project is owned by joint-venture partners EQM Midstream Partners, NextEra US Gas Assets, Con Edison Transmission, WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream. The 42-in. natural gas pipeline will run from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia, with a capacity of approximately 2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) from the Marcellus and Utica shale region.  For the last several months, Mountain Valley’s primary focus has been continued environmental stabilization and restoration work, and maintenance of existing erosion and sediment controls along the right-of-way. Forward construction is anticipated to resume when MVP receives its Biological Opinion and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lifts the project’s Stop Work Order.MVP’s 2021 in-service date reflects changes to the previously planned construction schedule, which includes the continued timing uncertainty of permits for crossing the Jefferson National Forest and Appalachian Trail, roughly 3.7 miles; and waterbodies, which total approximately 10 miles of pipe. In connection with the adjusted in-service date, total project costs for MVP may potentially increase roughly 5% above the project’s $5.4 billion estimate, primarily due to the need to adapt to complex judicial decisions and regulatory changes – creating carrying costs and requiring supplemental crews to safely maintain the entire 303-mile route during the halt of construction and through the upcoming winter months.

Supreme Court Removes Hurdle for $8 Billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline —The Supreme Court removed a legal barrier to the construction of an $8 billion pipeline that would deliver natural gas from West Virginia, ruling the project could run under a major East Coast hiking trail.  The court, in a 7-2 opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday, overturned a lower-court ruling that found the U.S. Forest Service didn’t have the authority to grant a special-use permit that allowed developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to construct an underground segment beneath a section of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in Virginia.  The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a partnership in which Dominion Energy Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. are major investors. It would transport natural gas from West Virginia across 600 miles to sites in Virginia and North Carolina. The companies say the project is needed to help meet East Coast demand for cleaner-burning fuel. The pipeline was announced in 2014 but has faced delays, with the current price tag totaling about $8 billion.  Environmentalists argued the pipeline’s path could harm ecologically important national forests, with threats of soil erosion and damage to wildlife habitat. They said the project would harm an especially picturesque section of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia located near Reed’s Gap and the Wintergreen Resort. The trail runs more than 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia.

Supreme Court clears way for Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail - The Atlantic Coast Pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Monday. By a 7 to 2 margin, the court reversed a lower court’s decision and upheld a permit granted by the U.S. Forest Service that the project’s developers could tunnel under a section of the iconic wilderness in Virginia.The court took the case after Dominion Energy, one of the largest utilities in the South, appealed a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last year that said the U.S. Forest Service violated federal law when it approved the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. The issue, the lower court ruled: It was the National Park Service’s call to approve that request. (Dominion, based in Richmond, Virginia, is the lead developer on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, or ACP, project; North Carolina utility Duke Energy, as well as Southern Company, also own shares.)The case looked at whether the Forest Service had authority under the Mineral Leasing Act to grant rights-of-way within national forest lands traversed by the Appalachian Trail. “A right-of-way between two agencies grants only an easement across the land, not jurisdiction over the land itself,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s opinion. So the Forest Service had enough authority over the land to grant the permit. The dissent, by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, argued that the “outcome is inconsistent with the language of three statutes, longstanding agency practice, and common sense.”  According to The Washington Post, the plaintiffs in this case, both Dominion and the Forest Service, had argued that other pipelines cross the Appalachian Trail a total of 34 times. “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be no different,” Dominion said in a statement after the decision. “To avoid impacts to the Trail, the pipeline will be installed hundreds of feet below the surface and emerge more than a half-mile from each side of the Trail.” The decision could set an important precedent for public lands, said Greg Buppert, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, or SELC, which is involved in multiple lawsuits against the pipeline. This particular Appalachian Trail section on federal land, which is remote, rugged, and wild, “deserves the highest protection the law provides,” according to Buppert. But this ruling likely signals to developers of the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline that they could have an easier time crossing under the trail at a separate location in Virginia; attorneys for the nearly-complete project called it a “key missing link,” the Roanoke Times reported.

 Supreme Court Rules Atlantic Coast Pipeline Can Cross Appalachian Trail, but the Battle Might Not Be Over - The Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 Monday that the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) can pass underneath the Appalachian Trail.The ruling removes one barrier to the pipeline, which has been delayed six years, but it still requires eight other permits, and environmental groups vowed to keep fighting."With the ACP still lacking 8 permits, this decision is just plugging just one hole on a sinking ship," director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign Kelly Martin said in a statement. "Nothing in today's ruling changes the fact that the fracked gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a dirty, dangerous threat to our health, climate and communities, and nothing about the ruling changes our intention to fight it."The pipeline, a joint project of Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, would carry fracked natural gas 600 miles from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina, as NPR reported.At stake in Monday's decision is the part of its route that would cross the Appalachian Trail in Central Virginia where the trail overlaps with the George Washington National Forest.The Forest Service granted the pipeline a permit for the crossing in 2018, but a coalition of environmental groups led by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) sued, arguing that the trail crossing was under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and tossed the Forest Service permit in December of that year.But the companies appealed and the Supreme Court ruled in their favor Monday, arguing that the Forest Service controlled the land and had just granted the National Park Service a right of way to maintain the trail.  "If a rancher granted a neighbor an easement across his land for a horse trail, no one would think that the rancher had conveyed ownership over that land," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority, NPR reported. Only Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan disagreed. "In her noteworthy dissent, Justice Sotomayor clearly gets what should be obvious: that the Appalachian Trail is land in the National Park system," Natural Resources Defense Council Climate & Clean Energy Program attorney Gillian Gianettti said in a statement. "And under federal law, a pipeline plainly cannot cross land in the National Park system."  However, SELC said the remaining permits could be a major hurdle to the project. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Forest Service permit on three other grounds not covered by the Supreme Court decision, NPR reported. The project also lacks permits relating to its impacts on endangered species, air and water, SELC pointed out.The organization also pointed out that the decision comes as both Virginia and North Carolina are moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. Virginia passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act in April, which requires utilities to shut down all gas plants by 2045. And North Carolina's Clean Energy Plan requires the state to reduce emissions to 70 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. A pending case before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will determine if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was correct in determining the ACP necessary when it granted it a permit in 2017.

Dominion seeks more time to complete U.S. Atlantic Coast natgas pipe -  (Reuters) - Dominion Energy Inc asked U.S. energy regulators for two more years to complete the long-delayed $8 billion Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina, which the company now expects to enter service in early 2022. “Due to unforeseen delays in permitting, additional time is required in order to complete the construction,” Dominion said in a filing late on Tuesday. The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved Dominion’s request to build Atlantic Coast in October 2017, authorizing the company to complete the project by October 2020. Atlantic Coast, the nation’s most expensive gas pipe, is one of several projects delayed in recent years by state opposition and local and environmental legal and regulatory battles. The company still needs to renew permits from the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that were knocked out by decisions in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and a state air permit for a compressor in Virginia. Dominion said it expects to receive the necessary approvals by the end of the year. The company already received one ruling in its favor this week when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a Fourth Circuit decision and ruled that the Forest Service has legal authority to permit the pipe to cross under the Appalachian Trail. Dominion suspended construction of the 600-mile (966-km) project in December 2018 after the Fourth Circuit stayed a biological opinion from the FWS that allowed construction in areas inhabited by endangered species. Atlantic Coast is owned by units of Dominion and Duke Energy Corp. When Dominion started work on the 1.5 billion cubic feet per day pipe in the spring of 2018, the company estimated it would cost $6.0-$6.5 billion and be completed in late 2019.

U.S. natural gas production efficiency continued to improve in 2019 - The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest Drilling Productivity Report (DPR) was updated on Monday, June 15. Analysis of underlying data on natural gas well efficiency shows how U.S. natural gas production increased in 2019 because, in part, of greater productivity of new wells drilled in shale and tight formations. Initial production rates for natural gas production from new wells in the DPR’s seven regions have generally increased since at least 2007.The average new well in the Haynesville, Permian, Eagle Ford, Niobrara, and Bakken regions in 2019 produced more natural gas than wells drilled in previous years in those same regions. This trend has persisted for 13 consecutive years in all DPR regions except the Haynesville region, which had a brief productivity decline between 2013 and 2015. More effective drilling techniques, including the increasing prevalence of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, have increased initial production rates. In particular, the injection of more proppant—sand or similar particulate material suspended in water or other fluid—during the hydraulic fracturing process and the ability to drill longer horizontal well components (also known as laterals) have improved well productivity. Since 2007, gross natural gas production from the Appalachia and Haynesville DPR natural gas regions has grown at an average annual rate of 20%. In addition to rapid growth of natural gas production from these natural gas regions, production of associated natural gas in the Permian, Eagle Ford, Bakken, Niobrara, and Anadarko oil regions remains significant, accounting for 46% of the natural gas production from all DPR regions. Overall,associated gas production accounted for 37% of U.S. natural gas gross withdrawals in 2018.

U.S. natgas futures fall to one-month low on weaker demand - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures fell to a one-month low on Monday on forecasts for lower demand over the next two weeks than previously expected despite slowing production. Front-month gas futures fell 6.2 cents, or 3.6%, to settle at $1.669 per million British thermal units, their lowest since May 15. Refinitiv said production in the Lower 48 U.S. states fell to an average of 87.5 billion cubic feet per day in June from a 16-month low of 88.2 bcfd in May and an all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November. With warmer weather coming, Refinitiv forecast U.S. demand, including exports, would rise from 77.8 bcfd this week to 84.9 bcfd next week. That, however, was lower than Refinitiv's forecasts on Friday of 79.1 bcfd this week and 85.4 bcfd next week. The amount of pipeline gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants fell to an average of 4.1 bcfd (42% utilization) in June, down from an eight-month low of 6.4 bcfd in May and a monthly record high of 8.7 bcfd in February. Utilization was about 90% in 2019. U.S. liquefied natural gas exports dropped in recent months as buyers canceled dozens of cargoes for the summer with U.S. gas prices trading mostly higher than in Europe since late April due to demand destruction from the coronavirus and record-high European stockpiles, among other things. 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 fall to 2-mth low on rising output, low LNG exports - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures fell over 3% to a two-month low on Tuesday as output slowly edges higher while liquefied natural gas exports remain low. Front-month gas futures fell 5.5 cents, or 3.3%, to settle at $1.614 per million British thermal units, their lowest since April 15. Refinitiv said production in the Lower 48 U.S. states averages just 87.5 billion cubic feet per day 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 on a daily basis, output rose to 88.3 bcfd on Monday 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 77.4 bcfd this week to 85.1 bcfd next week. That, however, is similar to Refinitiv's outlook on Monday. The amount of pipeline gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants averaged just 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 about 90% in 2019. U.S. liquefied natural gas exports dropped in recent months after buyers canceled dozens of cargoes for the summer in April and May when gas was more expensive in the United States than in Europe due to global coronavirus demand destruction and record-high European stockpiles. 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 5.2 bcfd this month, up from 4.8 bcfd in May but shy of a record 5.6 bcfd in March.

U.S. natgas futures edge up on forecasts for higher demand next week -  (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures edged up on Wednesday on a confirmation of forecasts for higher demand next week after falling to a two-month low in the prior session. That price gain came despite a slow recovery in output and continued low liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. Front-month gas futures rose 2.4 cents to settle at $1.638 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). On Tuesday, the contract settled at its lowest since April 15. Refinitiv said production in the Lower 48 U.S. states averaged just 87.6 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 was up to one-month high of 88.3 bcfd this week 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 77.9 bcfd this week to 85.1 bcfd next week. That was similar to Refinitiv's outlooks on Monday and Tuesday. The amount of pipeline gas flowing to U.S. LNG 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. U.S. liquefied natural gas exports dropped in recent months after buyers canceled dozens of cargoes for the summer in April and May when gas was more expensive in the United States than in Europe due to global coronavirus demand destruction and record-high European stockpiles. That drop in LNG exports helped cut next-day gas at the Henry Hub benchmark in Louisiana NG-W-HH-SNL to $1.43 per mmBtu for Wednesday, its lowest since hitting a record low of $1.03 in December 1998.

US working natural gas in storage rises by 85 Bcf, smallest build in four weeks: EIA --US natural gas storage inventories rose 85 Bcf in the week ended June 12, the US Energy Information Administration reported June 18, as gas demand from power generators continued to increase amid an extended spell of summer-like weather across the Lower-48 states. The injection was 6 Bcf above an S&P Global Platts’ survey of analysts calling for a 79 Bcf addition to stocks. Responses to the survey ranged from injections of 70 Bcf to 86 Bcf. The weekly build was just 2 Bcf/d below the five-year average injection of 87 Bcf, according to EIA data. US inventories climbed to 2.892 Tcf as a result, equivalent to a 722 Bcf, or 33%, surplus to the year-ago level of 2.170 Tcf. The surplus to the five-year average barely narrowed during the week, falling to 419 Bcf, or about 17%, above its average level for mid-June. The weekly injection was the smallest volume of gas added to inventories in four weeks, propelled by a modest tightening in the US supply-demand balance. Total supply during the week was down about 900 MMcf/d to an average 90 Bcf/d, propelled by a drop in offshore production from Tropical Storm Cristobal and a 600 MMcf/d drop in net pipeline imports from Canada, S&P Global Platts Analytics data showed. Total US gas demand during the week was buoyed by a surge in exports to Mexico, which climbed to a single-day record of 5.8 Bcf/d, adding about 400 MMcf/d in additional demand on the week. In the US domestic market, warmer weather drove gas-fired power burn demand higher by 2.3 Bcf/d. A continued decline in US feedgas demand, which was down another 1.2 Bcf/d on the week, weighed on the balances, adding to the market’s increasingly bearish sentiment. The NYMEX July gas futures contract traded in a narrow range June 18, hovering near its prior-day close at $1.64/MMBtu. After plummeting to a fresh 20-year low at just $1.38/MMBtu June 16, the Henry Hub cash market has weighed on prompt futures, which are down 17 cents, or about 9% in the past week. Similar bearishness has extended into summer forwards markets too, with the balance June, July, and August contracts settling at an average price of just $1.63/MMBtu June 17. Weakness in the cash, futures, and forwards markets could linger in the weeks ahead as gas demand struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and US gas production continues to rebound. Through mid-June, LNG feedgas demand has averaged just 4 Bcf/d this month, down from a prior-year average at more than 5.5 Bcf/d and a record high in March at over 9.6 Bcf/d. With additional cargo cancellations now expected in July and August, it’s likely that LNG feedgas demand will remain depressed through the summer months.

U.S. natgas futures rise on forecasts for warmer weather, higher demand - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures climbed almost 2% on Friday on forecasts for warmer weather and higher air conditioning demand over the next two weeks. Front-month gas futures rose 3.1 cents, or 1.9%, to settle at $1.669 per million British thermal units. For the week, however, the front-month lost about 4% after output rebounded earlier this week, putting the contract down for a third week in a row for the first time since January. Refinitiv said production in the Lower 48 U.S. states averaged just 87.6 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 one-month high of 88.3 bcfd this week, 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 77.8 bcfd this week to 85.8 bcfd next week and 87.1 bcfd in two weeks. That is higher than Refinitiv's outlooks from Monday-Thursday. The amount of pipeline gas flowing to U.S. LNG 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. U.S. pipeline exports, meanwhile, are rising as North American consumers crank up their air conditioners.

From Hurricane Maria to COVID, Gas Lobbyist-turned-Trump Energy Lawyer Uses Crises as 'Opportunity' - Steve Horn - Among a string of recent environmental rollbacks, President Donald Trump’s U.S.Department of Energy (DOE) aims to vastly narrow the scope of environmental reviews for those applying for liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits. The proposal has been guided by Bill Cooper, a former oil and gas industry lobbyist who's now a top lawyer for the DOE.On May 1, the DOE issued a proposal to limit environmental reviews for LNG export permit proposals so that the review applies to only the export process itself — literally “occurring at or after the point of export.” The rule would take off the table for consideration lifecycle greenhouse gas analyses, broader looks at both build-outs of pipelines and power plants attached to the export proposals, and other potential environmental impacts.It comes as many larger forces up the pressure on LNG projects: The oil and gas industry is facing financial crisis, exports of fracked gas to the global market are steeply waning, and the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic nosedive are marching on in the United States. The DOE's Bill Cooper, an oil and gas attorney by background with a long history of navigating the industry through crises both inside and outside of the federal government, signed off on the regulatory proposal. Now DOE General Counsel, Cooper has proven instrumental in creating today’s U.S. regulatory regime both for fracking for natural gas and exporting it. This attempted rule change is just the latest chapter in that story. For Cooper, crisis has consistently served as an opportunity to implement regulatory change to favor the oil and gas industry.  As DeSmog has reported, Cooper played a critical role in getting regulatory exemption language now known as the “Halliburton Loophole” inserted into the 2005 energy bill.  That loophole, in essence, ushered in the modern fracking boom by giving the industry exemptions from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act when companies use the horizontal drilling technique key to unlocking shale oil and gas. In 1999, the industry had openly admitted it could likely not perform the drilling technique without such regulatory relaxation. However, Cooper, working as legal counsel for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, came through with a legislative fix in the 2005 energy bill.

Mississippi Set To Become The 13th State To Criminalize Fossil Fuel Protests -  Mississippi is on the verge of becoming the 13th state in the past three years to slap new penalties on protests against fossil fuel infrastructure. A bill that cleared the state Legislature earlier this week makes knowingly trespassing any property where oil, gas or petrochemical pipelines or tanks are located a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine. Individuals who cause damage or losses that total more than $1,000 ― for example, by halting production at a refinery or stopping the flow of fuel through a pipeline ― could face felony charges punishable by up to seven years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. The bill also threatens any “organization that aids, abets, solicits, compensates, hires, conspires with, commands or procures a person to commit the crime of impeding critical infrastructure” with fines of up to $100,000 and civil action from companies to recoup “damages for lost profits, whether or not any fine is imposed.” The legislation passed 67-to-47 in the Magnolia State’s House of Representatives in March, just before quarantine orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic delayed the legislative session. The state Senate voted 43-to-9 on Monday to approve it. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) did not respond to a request for comment, but is expected to sign the legislation into law. 

4 utility workers injured in blast, fire in Maumelle -A gas explosion and fire in Maumelle on Thursday afternoon injured four employees of utility company CenterPoint Energy after a reported rupture in an underground natural gas main. Three homes near the fire were evacuated, according to the Maumelle Fire Department. The gas ignited near the area of Edgewood Drive and Windwood Lane, not far from the Maumelle Community Center. The gas main was shut off at 2:25 p.m. and the fire extinguished, officials said. According to Division Chief Michael Cossey of the Fire Department, firefighters received a call about a gas-line rupture about 10:10 a.m. related to a contractor working in the area. Utility workers were investigating at the scene when the gas ignited and caused a fire, according to Ross Corson, a spokesman for CenterPoint Energy.

St. James residents seek permission to hold Juneteenth ceremony at possible slave cemetery  - Attorneys for a group of St. James Parish residents are seeking a temporary restraining order that would grant them access to a historic cemetery on the parish's west bank where Formosa Plastics is building a massive new facility. The request for a restraining order, filed Monday in the 23rd Judicial District Court, comes after talks between residents and the plastics company about visiting the gravesite on a large piece of property broke down. A temporary restraining order would prohibit Formosa from stopping residents from visiting the burial ground, where archaeological consultants have turned up evidence of what may have been a slave cemetery associated with the Buena Vista Plantation. Under Louisiana law, landowners cannot categorically and unreasonably deny descendants and others access to cemeteries on their property. But the origins of those buried at the site have not been verified. Meanwhile, residents who are seeking access to the site are also concerned about a pipeline that runs through the cemetery, which they believe puts them at risk of being arrested under a state law that prohibits trespassing on or near “critical” oil and gas infrastructure — including pipelines, chemical plants and ports. Those found guilty of violating the law can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

Tellurian delays construction on $27B Louisiana energy project -  Natural gas company Tellurian has pushed the start of construction on its $27 billion Driftwood LNG project near Lake Charles, Louisiana, to next year and is reconsidering the need to build the $4.2 billion Permian Global Access Pipeline to serve the Driftwood facility.   Reduced demand, low natural gas prices and the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult for Tellurian to firm up deals with equity investment partners, according to comments made by CEO Meg Gentle that were first reported by S&P Global. She said the company expects to be able to have the necessary agreements in place in the first half of 2021 so that it can secure financing and start construction.  When Tellurian awarded Bechtel $15.2 billion in contracts for construction of the project's export facility in 2017, construction was expected to start in 2018, with the facility operational in 2022. ?  Engineering for the project, according to a recent conference presentation, is 30% complete. Both the pipeline and export facility have secured all necessary permits.   Bechtel's contract for the Driftwood project consists of four fixed-price, lump-sum, turnkey agreements for engineering, procurement and construction services. The four, staggered phases of the project on the 1,000-acre site will include:

  • 20 liquefaction units.
  • Liquefaction technology.
  • 20 GE refrigeration compressors.
  • Three 235,000 cubic-meter, full-containment LNG storage tanks.
  • Three marine loading berths.

Bechtel, which has also invested $50 million in Tellurian, is entrenched in the energy sector and has delivered approximately 30% of the world's LNG capacity. The contractor is also heading up construction of the $6 billion Shell ethane cracker and chemicals plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, where workers have complained that they have not been provided with adequate protection against the novel coronavirus, according to KDKA CBS Pittsburgh. In March, Shell temporarily suspended construction at the site until it could install safeguards.

 Energy company sues US over costs from continuing oil leak (AP) — A New Orleans company is challenging a U.S. Coast Guard claim that the company owes millions of dollars in costs and penalties related to a continuing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Taylor Energy’s federal lawsuit, dated Monday, is the latest salvo in a legal battle over a spill that began when Hurricane Ivan toppled a platform in the Gulf in 2004. The company and the Coast Guard have been at odds over what should be done to halt the leak, how much oil has leaked, and whether oil collected from the scene by a contractor hired by the Coast Guard came from an active flow of oil from the Taylor well site. In a letter to Taylor officials on June 2, government lawyers say they will seek $43 million to cover costs of removing the oil, plus civil penalties related to the leak. No coastal environmental damage has been reported from the ongoing seepage. Two other federal lawsuits filed by Taylor Energy, dealing with orders to contain the spill and the selection by the Coast Guard of a contractor to collect leaking oil, are set for trial in December. In its latest filing, Taylor points to a study done by experts who have worked as consultants for the company, indicating that the oil collected at the scene came not from a flowing reservoir but from sediment where oil was trapped. Taylor Energy is named for its late founder, the oil man and philanthropist Patrick F. Taylor. The company says on its website that it sold all its oil and gas assets in 2008 and exists now only to respond to the toppled platform.

Florida lawmakers press Interior on offshore drilling -- A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers is questioning the Interior Department after it was reported last week that the agency could start pursuing oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida following the election this November. Four sources told Politico about the plan, noting that the Trump administration is waiting because of how unpopular offshore drilling is in the state. An Interior Department spokesperson, in response, characterized the article as “#FakeNews based entirely on anonymous sources who don’t know what they’re talking about.” “Current offshore plans do not expire until 2022, and @Interior does not plan to issue a new report in November,” the spokesperson tweeted. In their Monday letter, the 18 Florida lawmakers asked the administration when it planned to release its next offshore drilling proposal and whether it would consider excluding lease sales from new areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and south Atlantic. “Florida relies on coastlines unencumbered by oil and gas drilling to sustain its economy, preserve its marine life and natural resources, and protect our national security,” said the letter, led by Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.).  “This past April marked ten years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, when we saw firsthand the destruction offshore drilling can have on our state,” the lawmakers added. “Our state and local economies cannot sustain another disaster like that.” In the crucial swing state, offshore drilling is widely disliked, especially given the impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill on the state’s tourism industry. A 2018 state amendment to block offshore drilling was also approved by nearly 70 percent of Florida voters.  Currently, a moratorium protects the Florida’s gulf waters from offshore drilling until mid-2022. The House delegation has tried to extend it, pushing through legislation that would permanently block drilling near the state, though it has yet to be considered by the Senate.

Offshore Drillers Scrap Assets to Fit Market Made Smaller by COVID-19 Downturn - Offshore drillers are scrapping premium equipment to right-size their fleets amid the downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, anticipating that addressing the market from the supply side will help improve their positions when the demand side returns. "The supply side is finally getting some much-needed self-help as we're now seeing offshore drillers elect to scrap/retire a number of higher-quality 6th-gen assets (albeit largely of the cold-stacked variety)," analysts with Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. said June 3. Sixth-generation semisubmersible offshore drilling rigs, designed in response to increasing oil prices and dayrates in the late 2000s, are among the most advanced rigs in offshore drilling fleets. The rigs can drill in water depths of 10,000 feet or more and are designed for a wide range of operating environments. Stuart Robert Jackson, CFO of deepwater drilling contractor Seadrill Ltd., said the company would likely scrap some assets that are already cold-stacked, or shut down and stored with minimal staffing and maintenance, since low crude oil prices would limit the returns on the assets and the duration of cold-stacking would elevate reactivation costs. Up to 10 rigs may be scrapped over the coming months, he said. London-based Valaris plans to "preservation-stack" competitive rigs, including three drillships, a semisubmersible and five jackups, President and CEO Thomas Burke said during an April 30 earnings call. "By putting these rigs into a lower state of readiness, we expect to realize more than $50 million of annualized cost savings beginning in the latter half of this year," Burke said. The company also will retire three sixth-generation modern drillships, four benign water semisubmersibles and four jackups. Scrapping these 11 rigs is expected to save the company more than $30 million in stacking costs annually once they are sold, the CEO said. In the Gulf of Mexico alone, roughly $4 billion in investment has been cut from the offshore market in 2020, a 22% reduction from 2019, Wood Mackenzie analysts said June 4. The analysts expect $7.4 billion in spending in the Gulf of Mexico, 35% below pre-COVID-19 projections.

Exclusive: Chesapeake Energy to file for bankruptcy as soon as this week-sources - (Reuters) - Chesapeake Energy Corp is preparing to file for bankruptcy as soon as this week, said three people familiar with the matter, becoming the largest oil and gas producer to unravel after an energy market rout caused by the coronavirus outbreak.  The Oklahoma City-based company, co-founded by the late wildcatter Aubrey McClendon, is in the final stages of negotiating a roughly $900 million debtor-in-possession loan to support its operations while under Chapter 11 bankruptcy-court protection, two of the sources said. The company is also in talks with creditors to “roll up” some of its existing debt and make it part of the bankruptcy loan, bringing the total debtor-in-possession financing closer to $2 billion, the sources added. The company is reeling under a mountain of debt totaling more than $9 billion. Chesapeake is also attempting to negotiate an equity infusion from creditors to help it emerge from bankruptcy proceedings, one of the sources said. Chesapeake plans to complete its negotiations with its creditors and file for bankruptcy as soon as Thursday, the three sources said. The timing could slip to next week depending on the progress the company makes in these discussions, the sources added. If the company manages to emerge from bankruptcy, creditors that include Franklin Resources Inc, will take over Chesapeake in exchange for eliminating more than $7 billion of its debt under the outlines of a plan being negotiated, one of the sources said. Franklin is among Chesapeake’s most significant creditors, holding large portions of its debt.

Chesapeake Energy's likely bankruptcy follows years of debt and a natural gas glut - - A company that bet as aggressively and as visibly as it could on America’s natural gas boom — and then bet some more, helping push that boom even further — has been unable to squirm free in the series of busts that followed and is in talks with its creditors that could lead to bankruptcy court. Chesapeake Energy, based a thousand miles from the bay it’s named after, helped remake Oklahoma City when times were good thanks to its founder’s enthusiasms, which included an NBA team, an Olympic rowing center and white-water course, arts programs, and support for local schools. The company capitalized on new technologies in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and in the years leading up to 2012, took on billions of dollars in debt to keep growing. The philanthropic founder, Aubrey McClendon, said that America could become a gas exporter and that gas would be the bridge fuel to a cleaner future. All that largely came true, except that the success of fracking drove the price of gas down so far the company could no longer bear the burden of its debt. Covid-19 was the final insult. More than a dozen energy companies have sought refuge in Chapter 11 bankruptcy this spring as demand cratered worldwide — including Whiting Petroleum and Extraction Oil & Gas — and Reuters reports that Chesapeake may soon join their ranks. Chesapeake didn’t invent fracking and it didn’t discover new fields, but it grew to become the second-largest gas producer in the United States, and McClendon was the energetic prophet of natural gas prosperity. But the heyday ended in 2013, when he was ousted from the company. Three years later, he was indicted on charges of price fixing in a case involving a new company he had started, and the day after the charge was made public, he died when his car hit a bridge abutment.

Chesapeake Energy Drilled Its Own Grave - Chesapeake Energy is reportedly on the brink of bankruptcy.. While the recent slump in commodity prices might go down as the culprit, the company's issues run much deeper than that. The biggest problem is that the company's management team has made a series of missteps over the last few years that made matters much worse. Here's a look back at some of their head-scratching moves that contributed to its impending demise. In late 2014, Chesapeake Energy made what seemed like a brilliant move at the time. The company unloaded some of its Marcellus and Utica Shale assets to Southwestern Energy for roughly $5 billion in cash. That move helped fortify its financial position during a deep oil price downturn. At the time of the deal, Chesapeake had roughly $11.5 billion of outstanding debt. However, instead of applying all of its financial windfall toward debt reduction, Chesapeake used most of it for other things. One of the big blunders was allocating $1 billion of it to repurchase stock. While the move initially retired a meaningful amount of shares, Chesapeake has gone on to significantly dilute investors via debt exchanges and an acquisition: The subsequent wipeout from the dilution and other factors incinerated the $1 billion the company used to repurchase its shares. Chesapeake also used some of the cash proceeds to cover the gap between cash flow and capital expenses to develop new wells so that it could grow its production. That strategy of selling assets to cover cash flow shortfalls would continue for the next several years. Because of that, debt has barely budged from its late 2014 level despite the Southwestern deal, as well as several subsequent asset sales (including offloading the rest of its Utica shale assets for $2 billion in 2018): Another disastrous move by Chesapeake's management team was the purchase of WildHorse Resource Development, which closed in early 2019. The roughly $4 billion purchase price included the assumption of WildHorse's debt, as well as a cash component. As a result, the deal added $1.375 billion of debt to Chesapeake Energy's balance sheet, contributing to the increase in its total debt from $8.168 billion at the end of 2018 to $9.78 billion at the end of the 2019's first quarter. While the company chipped away at some of that debt since then, its total debt outstanding currently stands at about $9 billion. In hindsight, if the company didn't take on nearly $1.4 billion of debt to buy WildHorse or continue outspending cash flow on drilling more wells, it might not have needed to rely on more asset sales to meet its upcoming debt maturities.

The US Has Already Lost More Than 100,000 Oil And Gas Jobs - The US oil and gas labor market is amongst the world’s most severely hit by the downturn that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought, a Rystad Energy analysis of the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (US BLS) reveals. More than 100,000 oil and gas jobs have already been lost in total, with most of them coming from the support activities market. The data shows that the four oil and gas segments most affected are support activities for oil and gas operations (44,550 jobs cut from a pre-Covid-19 level of 233,550), pipeline and gas and related construction (16,000 jobs cut from 227,000), drilling of oil and gas wells (13,450 jobs cut from 79,450) and oil and gas extraction (9,600 jobs cut from 156,600). In addition to the above four segments from the US BLS, Rystad Energy has included more components of the oil and gas industry chain, thus independently estimating the total job cuts to exceed 100,000 to date. The support activities segment in particular reveals a staggering employment slump of 20% compared to February’s pre-Covid-19 levels. “The job cuts can be attributed mainly to the nosediving oil prices driven by a sharp contraction in domestic oil demand, which has resulted in an unprecedented demand-supply imbalance. In response to the weakened demand, operators and service providers alike have been frantically cutting jobs,“ says Rystad Energy’s Vice President Energy Service Research Matthew Fitzsimmons. Heavy construction labor demand in the US increased by 3.4% in May, but the oil and gas industry did not contribute to this increase. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in the US in early February, oil and gas construction jobs have decreased by more than 10%. We believe this sector within the oil and gas industry will take a more cautious approach to new construction activity, waiting for the safety risks associated with Covid-19 to recede. In addition to battling the safety risks with ongoing work, various large operators are now delaying or pulling out of new facility construction. In Louisiana alone, more than 40% of liquefied natural gas (LNG) investments scheduled for this year have been postponed or canceled.

How negative oil prices revealed the dangers of the futures market - A historic drop occurred on April 20,  when the price of West Texas Intermediate crude dropped by almost 300%, trading at around negative $37 per barrel. The price of oil has steadily recovered, jumping by nearly 90% in May and registered the best month on record for WTI. However, the petroleum industry is still reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Major companies like Chevron, Exxon and ConocoPhillips have announced deep production cuts and Whiting Petroleum in April became the first major company in the industry to file for bankruptcy protection.The crash in demand for oil that followed the pandemic played a major role in the move to negative prices. "At the trough, we probably saw demand in April bottom out down 30%. So we've never seen anything like this certainly in the last 40 years since world oil markets have developed," said Severin Borenstein, a professor of business at the University of California, Berkeley.To make matters worse, a price war erupted between oil giants Saudi Arabia and Russia in early March after OPEC and its allies failed to reach an agreement on deeper supply cuts. As supply remained steady while demand struck record-breaking lows, the industry quickly began running out of storage space to put their oil. This was devastating news for investors of WTI futures who are expected to take physical possession of the oil when the contract expires."WTI is special in a way because it's so tightly connected to physical oil," said Derrick Morgan, senior vice president of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers. As the delivery date for WTI grew near, investors began a massive sell-off to take the contract off their hands, prompting an unprecedented crash into the negative territory.The historic drop quickly sent shock waves through the U.S. financial market. The Dow plunged by over 1,200 points over the following two days and brokerage firms took multimillion-dollar hits to cover customers' losses. However, experts point out that although the event was unprecedented, there was no need to panic. "There were very few contracts. There was very little trading at those prices and the price very quickly rebounded into positive territory," according to Borenstein. Experts think the impact of the turbulent prices will likely be more severe for the U.S. shale industry, which is often in heavy debt due to its high production costs.

 Saudi Oil Exports to U.S. Plunge To Lowest Level in 35 Years - After flooding the U.S. with crude earlier this year, Saudi Arabia has all but cut off the taps to the American oil market. The kingdom has exported just one cargo to the U.S. so far in June, equivalent to about 133,000 barrels a day, tanker-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s about one-tenth of the 1.3 million barrels a day it shipped in April, when Riyadh flooded the global market during a brief price war against Russia. If the low pace of exports is sustained in the second half of the month, U.S. imports of Saudi crude could drop to the lowest level in 35 years, helping the American crude market re-balance, according to traders and analysts. “Saudi oil arrivals will fall just as domestic refiners will start raising runs and domestic production continues to decline,” said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. “U.S. refiners will have to import from elsewhere and run down stocks,” she added. To be sure, several Saudi tankers haven’t yet indicated their final destinations, so the final tally into the U.S. could be a tad higher. Yet, the trend so far in June is unmistakable: the deluge of Saudi oil that threatened to overwhelm American refiners is dwindling.  Saudi oil industry officials, speaking privately, say the kingdom is unlikely to boost shipments into the U.S. in the second half of the month and into July. By slashing U.S. crude exports, the Saudis can influence the most highly visible oil market in the world as American customs data allow for near real-time monitoring of shipments. Less Saudi petroleum is likely to reduce the closely watched American crude stockpiles, amplifying the price impact. The recent inundation of Saudi crude in the U.S. is largely the lingering effect of a price war earlier this year. For much of 2019 and early 2020, Saudi Arabia shipped relatively little crude into America, with average arrivals running at about 475,000 barrels a day, according to U.S. government data. But that changed in April, when Riyadh opened the taps after failing to reach an agreement with its OPEC+ partners to cut production. Saudi crude takes about 45 days to reach the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. West Coast, so the impact of the April export flood wasn’t felt until late May and early June, when U.S. imports of Saudi crude jumped to about 1.5 million barrels a day. As the Saudi tankers unloaded their cargo, U.S. crude stocks climbed to a record high, putting pressure on oil benchmarks.

Ingleside's quick rise to crude exports prominence, part 8. - Since last summer, the Corpus Christi area has emerged as the U.S.’s leading crude export venue. In the first five and a half months of 2020, it accounted for an astounding 45% of the barrels being shipped abroad — astounding because in the same period last year, the Corpus area held less than a 20% share. What is sometimes forgotten, though, is that little Ingleside, TX, located across Corpus Christi Bay from Corpus proper, is the area’s crude-export leader, with the Moda Midstream and Flint Hills Resources terminals responsible for just over half of Greater Corpus’s total export volumes. And, with the new South Texas Gateway Terminal nearing completion, Ingleside’s role will only increase in the coming months. Today, we conclude a series on Gulf Coast export terminals with a look at what has been going on in Ingleside. In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the Seaway Freeport and Seaway Texas City terminals, both of which are part of Enterprise Products Partners and Enbridge’s broader Seaway Crude Pipeline (SCP) system. Part 2 reviewed the Houston Fuel Oil Terminal (HFOT), now owned by Energy Transfer, and the Seabrook Logistics Marine Terminal, which is jointly owned by Magellan Midstream Partners and LBT Tank Terminals. In Part 3, we examined Enterprise Hydrocarbon Terminal, or EHT, which is one of the largest energy-related marine terminals on the Gulf Coast, and in Part 4, we focused on the three crude export terminals in the Beaumont/Nederland, TX, area. Next, in Part 5, we looked at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), which is the only Gulf Coast terminal that can fully load 2-MMbbl Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs); LOOP is also a major crude import terminal. In Part 6, we turned our sights to the Corpus area and reviewed the three newest facilities along the Corpus Christi Ship Channel’s Inner Harbor area: Eagle Ford Terminals, the EPIC Midstream Terminal, and Pin Oak Corpus Christi. Lastly, Part 7 discussed Inner Harbor terminals owned by NuStar Energy, Valero Energy, and Buckeye Partners.

EPA fines Enbridge $6.7 million for safety violations - The Environmental Protection Agency has fined Enbridge Energy $6.7 million after it said the company "failed" to fix dents in pipelines and had numerous delays reporting issues along its mainline route of oil pipelines to the federal agency. The $6.7 million total was agreed upon by the EPA and Enbridge last month as a settlement to alleged violations of a consent decree it signed with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017 after the company's Line 6B pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010. Approximately $3 million of the fines came after Enbridge "failed to excavate and repair or mitigate shallow dents with indications of metal loss, cracking, or stress risers" along its Lakehead System across northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to a May 8 letter sent to Enbridge by Matthew Russo, assistant region council for the EPA office in Chicago. Most of the issues with dents were reported along Line 1, which was built in 1950, Enbridge said Thursday. Line 1 stretches from Edmonton to Superior and carries 237,000 barrels, or 9.95 million gallons, of oil per day. It is one of six pipelines following the same corridor across northern Minnesota. "EPA identified numerous instances in which Enbridge failed to comply in a timely manner with Consent Decree provisions relating to certain intersecting or interacting features on Lakehead System pipelines. More specifically, Enbridge failed to complete timely identification and evaluation of thousands of 'shallow dent' features on Lakehead System pipelines to determine whether such dents met dig selection criteria," Russo wrote. 

 New ruling will impact Enbridge Line 3 project - Early last week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced it would grant a contested case hearing regarding the Enbridge Line 3 project. The hearing is to address the agency’s draft 401 water quality certification, and will focus on Enbridge’s water crossing methods to ensure protection of area streams and wetlands. To accomodate the hearing, the MPCA received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend the deadline for the 401 certification from Aug. 15 to Nov. 14 of this year. advertisement “While a contested case hearing moves forward, the MPCA continues to review comments submitted for the draft air and NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permits,” said the MPCA press release June 3. Enbridge’s Line 3 protect is to construct a new oil pipeline in Minnesota to replace the current Line 3. The line will follow the existing pipeline to the Clearbrook Terminal in Clearbrook, but then follow a new route south of the existing Line 3, ending at an existing terminal in Superior, Wis. The existing Line 3 would then be permanently deactivated and remain in place. Enbridge’s stance is to address pipeline integrity and safety concerns, as well as restore the original operating capacity of 760,00 barrels per day. The project has been in the works since 2014, and has gone through numerous certifications and court challenges. Enbridge filed plans to comply with the updated Environmental Protection Plan, Agricultural Protection Plan, Archaeological and Historic Resources Plan, Environmental Justice Communities Mitigation Plan and Human Trafficking Prevention Plan, among others. The Honor the Earth organization issued a statement June 3, saying that while it applauded the contested case hearing, it was “dismayed that the MPCA has formally decided to not analyze oil spill impacts and Enbridge’s plans to respond to an oil spill, despite the fact that it is the only Minnesota agency that has a duty under law to protect Minnesota from oil spill impacts.”

RRC considers recommendations to reduce flaring - Various stakeholders weighed in Tuesday as Texas’ three railroad commissioners considered Commission Chairman Wayne Christian’s Blue Ribbon Task Force for Oil Economic Recovery recommendations on the issue of flaring. At their open meeting, the commissioners heard from three panels, one comprised of the environmental community, one of producers and the third of industry associations that head up the task force. “One thing I hope the three panels have brought is certainty,” said Christian, such as the certainty the agency brought in May when it decided against enacting prorationing for the first time in 50 years.He expressed hope that highlighting the efforts to eliminate flaring and improve the industry’s environmental impact would draw investors back to the industry. Christian also suggested the state put together a “Shark Tank”-type program that reviews new technology and offers a combination of state and private funding to develop and commercialize that technology. Commissioner Christi Craddick said her office has been working on the issue for some time and said it should be a priority to find ways to improve data collection and make that data more transparent and usable -- not just to regulators and the industry but also to the public. Christian called for the RRC staff to consider the recommendations and come back to the commissioners this fall with a plan of action.

Texas could tighten some natural gas flaring rules by fall - (Reuters) - Texas as early as this fall could tighten some rules for the controversial practice of natural gas flaring, the head of the state’s regulatory commission said on Tuesday. The practice of burning off unwanted natural gas produced alongside more profitable oil has become a top issue for both environmentalists and investors, who are focused on sustainability measures and are already frustrated by a decade of poor financial returns in oil and gas. Flaring has surged with U.S. oil output, but can worsen climate change by releasing carbon dioxide. Recommendations from an industry panel, provided to state regulators at a meeting on Tuesday, included reducing to 90 from 180 the number of days producers can routinely burn unwanted gas without going to the Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s regulator, for a hearing. Commission Chairman Wayne Christian directed agency staff to figure out which of the recommendations from the Texas Methane & Flaring Coalition, a group of producers and industry organizations, could be implemented by the fall. “This is now the opportune time to implement meaningful reforms to reduce flaring before oil and gas production climbs back to previous highs,” Christian said, adding that the issue has become well known on Wall Street and is hindering some producers’ access to capital.

New Mexico partners with oil and gas industry to curb flaring - New Mexico could be closer to a solution aimed at reducing the use of flaring in its oilfields through a partnership with one of the Permian Basin’s major operators.Flaring, or the burning of natural gas associated with oil extraction, became controversial as environmentalists argued it wasted a valuable resource and creates air pollution while industry leaders contended the practice was an essential activity in operations to safely pressurize wells and eliminate waste.It’s commonly used in southeast New Mexico’s Permian oilfields that also cross over into West Texas.  EOG and New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division (OCD) announced successful results of a pilot project aimed at reducing flaring in existing operations.The project addressed temporary shutdowns of third party pipelines at a time when operations throughout the industry were curtailed due to shrinking fuel demand and oil prices amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  Gas was looped back into active wells during an outage instead of flaring it and reintroduced the gas back into the system when pipeline operations were restored.  The project marked the first time any such technology was used in New Mexico and could not only reduce flaring but allow the captured gas to return to production and be sold instead of released into the atmosphere through flaring.

Special Report: Millions of abandoned oil wells are leaking methane, a climate menace - More than a century of oil and gas drilling has left behind millions of abandoned wells, many of which are leaching pollutants into the air and water. And drilling companies are likely to abandon many more wells due to bankruptcies, as oil prices struggle to recover from historic lows after the coronavirus pandemic crushed global fuel demand, according to bankruptcy lawyers, industry analysts and state regulators. Leaks from abandoned wells have long been recognized as an environmental problem, a health hazard and a public nuisance. They have been linked to dozens of instances of groundwater contamination by research commissioned by the Groundwater Protection Council, whose members include state ground water agencies. Orphaned wells have been blamed for a slew of public safety incidents over the years, including a methane blowout at the construction site of a waterfront hotel in California last year. They also pose a serious threat to the climate that researchers and world governments are only starting to understand, according to a Reuters review of government data and interviews with scientists, regulators, and United Nations officials. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year recommended that U.N. member countries start tracking and publishing the amount of methane leaching from their abandoned oil and gas wells after scientists started flagging it as a global warming risk. So far, the United States and Canada are the only nations to do so. The U.S. figures are sobering: More than 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells together emitted 281 kilotons of methane in 2018, according to the data, which was included in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent report on April 14 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That’s the climate-damage equivalent of consuming about 16 million barrels of crude oil, according to an EPA calculation, or about as much as the United States, the world’s biggest oil consumer, uses in a typical day. ((For a graphic on the rise in abandoned oil wells, click tmsnrt.rs/2MsWInw )) The actual amount could be as much as three times higher, the EPA says, because of incomplete data. The agency believes most of the methane comes from the more than 2 million abandoned wells it estimates were never properly plugged.

Well Declines, COVID-19 Could Disrupt Gathering, Processing Tailwinds - While some oil and gas drillers are detailing plans to reverse production shut-ins amid stabilizing crude prices, North American midstream companies with gathering and processing operations are not necessarily out of the woods yet. Energy industry analysts told S&P Global Market Intelligence that even though production reached "trough" levels earlier than expected, natural well declines and a potential second COVID-19 outbreak could jeopardize those gathering and processing operators' volumetric tailwinds. Many U.S. and Canadian pipeline firms were forced to cut spending and or investor payouts in the wake of Russia's oil price war with Saudi Arabia and an increase in coronavirus shelter-at-home orders, but midstream stocks are recovering gradually alongside West Texas Intermediate crude prices, which have bounced back from historic lows to settle in the $35 to $40 per barrel range. That prompted drillers like Parsley Energy Inc., Concho Resources Inc. and EOG Resources Inc. to indicate in recent days that they are working to bring curtailed wells back online. According to Ryan Smith, a senior director of research at East Daley Capital Advisors Inc., drilling likely reached its lowest levels toward the end of May, whereas some pipeline companies had anticipated production bottoming out in June or July. "I think it's fair to say we'll be in the recovery stage in July and August, with June being a transition period," East Daley's Ryan Smith said in an interview. Targa Resources Corp. expects the shut-in volumes "to come back back and perform well," CEO Matthew Meloy said May 7, while Energy Transfer LP Chief Commercial Officer Marshall McCrea said May 11 that the pipeline giant had already seen about a quarter of its volumes shuttered in the production basin around Midland, Texas, turn back on.

EIA’s liquids pipeline database provides detail on U.S. petroleum infrastructure changes -- On June 4, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) updated its Liquids Pipeline Projects Database, which includes a summary of more than 225 liquids pipeline projects in the United States and pipeline projects that cross into Mexico and Canada that are planned, under construction, on hold, or have been completed since 2010. The pipelines included in the database carry crude oil, hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGL), and petroleum products. The database lists projects by categories, including new pipelines, expansions, and conversions from infrastructure that previously transported other liquids or natural gas. EIA’s database also includes detailed information about the projects such as capacity, project start date, and location. From January 2019 through April 2020, 15 projects carrying HGL were brought online. HGL pipeline project listings in the database include details on the types of products each pipeline carries, which can be one or more pure products (such as ethane or propane) or an unseparated mixture known as Y-grade. All HGL pipelines completed from January 2019 through April 2020 carry Y-grade, and most of these projects move the Y-grade from producing regions (primarily the Permian Basin in western Texas and eastern New Mexico) toward the Gulf Coast. At the destination, the unseparated Y-grade is fractionated—or refined—at a growing number of fractionation plants into pure products. The purity products are either stored, consumed locally by refineries and chemical plants, distributed around the country, or exported. New projects bringing HGL to the Gulf Coast include the Grand Prix pipeline, the Shin Oak pipeline, and the EPIC pipeline. In 2019, 14 crude oil pipeline projects were completed, compared with 11 in 2018. An additional three projects were completed as of the end of April in 2020. Nine of the crude oil projects completed in 2019 and all three of the 2020 projects were new pipeline projects. By comparison, only 4 of the 11 crude oil projects completed in 2018 were new pipelines; the rest were expansions of existing pipelines or conversions of existing pipelines to carry crude oil. Not all new pipelines are independent projects; some projects are connected to each other and carry the same liquid to its final destination. As a result, simply summing the capacity of all new projects would result in double-counting. Five pipeline projects that carry petroleum products were completed in 2019, and the Plantation Pipeline Roanoke expansion became operational in 2020. Petroleum products include gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other refinery products. Two projects that were finished in 2019, the Nuevo Laredo project and the expansion of the Burgos Pipeline, export refined products across the U.S.-Mexico border into the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. EIA updates its liquids pipeline database based on best available information from pipeline company websites; trade press reports; and government documents, such as U.S. Department of State permits for border crossings. EIA releases updates to the liquids pipeline projects database twice each year, near the end of May and of November. The liquids pipeline projects database complements EIA’s natural gas pipeline projects table.

The Cowboy State Is Hurting As Low Oil Prices Persist -- COVID-19 has taken a major toll on the oil and gas industry as a whole, but Wyoming, a state highly dependent on its abundance of natural resources, is really feeling the sting. And the dominoes are already starting to fall.  The rig count in Wyoming fell from 30 rigs in March to just two rigs in early June. Experts estimate that for every rig lost, around 100 oil and gas jobs cease to exist. And though oil prices have rebounded in recent weeks, a full recovery of Wyoming's oil and gas industry appears unlikely in the short or even medium term.  Even one of Wyoming's top oil producers, Ultra Petroleum Corp., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Thursday evening. This is the result of months of financial problems sparked by the COVID-19 fueled downturn in energy markets.  Brad Johnson, Ultra Petroleum’s CEO explained, “After several months of liability management efforts and careful consideration of how best to navigate a challenging low commodity price environment and our debt levels, Ultra’s Board of Directors determined that a voluntarily filing for Chapter 11 reorganization provides the best outcome for the entity,” adding “This financial restructuring will result in an enterprise with very little debt, good liquidity and significant free cash flow that is underpinned by a large-scale, low-cost base of natural gas and condensate production.”  And that's bad news for Wyoming as a whole.  As one of the top producers - and taxpayers - in the state, Ultra's insolvency puts Wyoming's entire revenue in additional jeopardy.  Adding to the pain, Texas and New Mexico have had a significant advantage in this market. The nature of drilling in the south means that Permian producers are able to pull up natural gas as a free byproduct of oil production. This has made it difficult for producers in Wyoming who deal exclusively with gas. While most of the natural gas in the U.S. comes from oil drilling operations, the collapse in energy demand worldwide makes it even more difficult for producers who only pump gas because they have nothing else to fall back on.

When Will U.S. Shale Rebound To Pre-Pandemic Levels? -  The rebalancing of the oil market has been possible, in part, due to the sharp cutbacks in U.S. shale production. But what happens next for the industry? The latest data from the EIA estimates that production plunged by a colossal 600,000 bpd in the week ending on June 12, a massive decline that puts output down more than 2.6 million barrels per day (mb/d) from the weekly peak hit in mid-March (to be sure, monthly EIA data shows the U.S. hit a slightly lower peak in November 2019).At the same time, the industry is bringing shuttered production back online. Reuters says that 500,000 bpd of shut-in production could be restored by the end of June. For instance, Devon Energy shut in about 10,000 bpd in recent weeks, but is “in the process of bringing all of that back on,” Devon Energy CEO David Hager said at a JPMorgan conference on Tuesday, according to Reuters. Analysts have varying perspectives on what happens next for shale drilling. According to Morgan Stanley, the industry will proceed in three phases. First, shut-in wells come back online. Then production stabilizes, but an average of $40 per barrel will be needed for that to occur. Finally, production growth resumes, assuming prices move back up to $50 per barrel. However, there is “little room for US production to grow this year or next,” Morgan Stanley cautioned, noting that if output began to rise, it would merely derail the oil price rally. The capex cuts announced to date should translate into production declines of 1.8-1.9 million barrels per day by the end of 2020, compared to the end of 2019. The bank said that the shale industry will need two years or so of WTI averaging at least $50 per barrel in order for shale output to rebound to pre-Covid 19 levels. “Some level of growth would likely come back quickly in the first year, and moderate thereafter without higher investment due to the reversal of temporary cost reductions, depletion of drilled-but-uncompleted (DUC) well inventory, and rising base declines,” the bank concluded. JBC Energy forecasts WTI averaging $40 per barrel for the rest of the year. “Under this assumption we see completed wells having reached their nadir of below 200 in May with a gradual recovery to 700 by the end of the year and 1,000 by end-2021,” the firm wrote in a note. If prices actually averaged between $45 and $50 per barrel, which would require better compliance from OPEC+ to their cuts, then it would be a “turning point” for U.S. shale, the firm argued. Shale output would reach an “inflection point” in November 2020, and see a “swift recovery thereafter,” JBC said. A year later, U.S. shale output would be back to pre-pandemic levels. 

Trump administration takes Keystone dispute to Supreme Court (AP) — The Trump administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to revive a permit program that would allow the disputed Keystone XL pipeline and other new oil and gas pipelines to cross waterways with little review. Earlier this year, a Montana judge suspended the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit program when environmental groups seeking to block construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline argued the permit process allows companies to skirt responsibility for damage done to water bodies. The permit program, known as Nationwide Permit 12, allows pipelines to be built across streams and wetlands with minimal review if they meet certain criteria. Canadian company TC Energy needs the permit to build the long-disputed pipeline from Canada across U.S. rivers and streams. Industry representatives said U.S. District Judge Brian Morris’ ruling blocking the program could also delay more than 70 pipeline projects across the U.S. and add as much as $2 billion in costs. Morris ruled that Army Corps officials in 2017 improperly reauthorized the program, which he said could harm protected wildlife and wildlife habitat. Last month, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied an emergency request to block Morris’ ruling filed by the U.S. government, states and industry groups. On Monday, U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco asked the Supreme Court to do what the 9th Circuit court wouldn’t: block Morris’ ruling and let the permit program operate again while the lawsuit plays out in court.

Pipeline leaks nearly 34,000 gallons of brine near New Town  (AP) — A pipeline leak caused nearly 34,000 gallons of brine to spill out near New Town, the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division said Monday. Officials said cleanup began on Sunday, when about half of the liquid was recovered on the BNN North Dakota, LLC tank battery. Brine is a byproduct of oil production. A state inspector has been sent to the location and will monitor cleanup.

More than 30,000 gallons of brine spilled in Mountrail County— An estimated 33,600 gallons of produced water spilled Sunday, June 14, at a saltwater disposal well in Mountrail County, N.D., according to a news release from the state Department of Environmental Quality.Produced water, or brine, is a mixture of saltwater, oil and sometimes drilling fluids that is created during oil and gas production.BNN North Dakota reported the spill about 13 miles north of New Town occurred due to a pipeline leak. By the time the spill was reported, about half of the brine had been recovered. Department officials will continue inspecting the site and monitoring remediation efforts, according to the release.

In Victory for Blackfeet Nation, Appeals Court Upholds Protection of Sacred Badger-Two Medicine | Earthjustice — Today, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., upheld the cancellation of the last remaining federal oil and gas lease in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine region adjacent to Glacier National Park. The historic decision protects lands and waters sacred to the Blackfeet and critical for wildlife habitat.  The 6,200-acre lease, held by Louisiana-based Solenex LLC, was one of many issued by the federal government in the early 1980s. Since then, with the leases under suspension for environmental and cultural review, other companies voluntarily retired all holdings in the Badger-Two Medicine, noting the area’s rich natural and cultural values. Solenex, however, filed a 2013 lawsuit demanding the right to begin drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine backcountry.  In March 2016, federal officials responded to that Solenex demands by canceling the company’s holding, saying the lease had been improperly issued in violation of environmental law and without required tribal consultation. Solenex again sued, seeking to overturn that decision, and a federal district court ruled for the company in September 2018, reinstating Solenex’s lease. But today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed that ruling, and restored the cancellation of the Solenex lease. In their ruling, the Appeals Court judges fully vacated the lower court’s judgment, writing that: “The district court erred when it entered summary judgment in Solenex’s favor,” and noted that the basis for the earlier judgement was flawed.

 Canada - Trans Mountain pipeline temporarily shut down over oil spill - The Trans Mountain pipeline in Canada’s Abbotsford (British Columbia) temporarily suspended its operation over an oil spill, the operating company said in a statement. "On early morning Saturday, the control center received an emergency signal. The pipeline was shut down immediately, the workers were dispatched to investigate," the statement said. Currently, the spill is localized, decontamination is in progress. There is no threat for people living nearby, the statement notes. The pipeline transports oil products from the Alberta province to the British Columbia.

Trans Mountain Pipeline Spills up to 50,000 Gallons of Oil on Indigenous Land in BC - Canada's Trans Mountain pipeline spilled as many as 190,000 liters (approximately 50,193 gallons) of crude oil in Abbotsford, British Columbia (BC) Saturday, reinforcing concerns about the safety of the pipeline's planned expansion. Chief Dalton Silver of the Sumas First Nation told CTV News that the spill occurred on his reserve on fields over an aquifer that supplies his nation with drinking water. It marks the fourth time in 15 years that the pipeline has spilled on his community's land. "We cannot continue to have our land desecrated by oil spills," he said in a statement issued by the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) Sunday. The spill occurred early Saturday morning at the pipeline's Sumas Pump Station, Trans Mountain told CBC News. The company said no construction work related to the pipeline's expansion was being done at the time of the spill. Instead, the spill appeared to have been connected to a fitting on a smaller piece of pipe attached to the main line, the company said in a statement. "The cause of the incident is under investigation and that will continue," company spokesperson Ali Hounsell told CTV News. "At this time, it's believed to be a failure of a small-diametre, one-inch piece of pipe." The company estimated that between 940 to 1,195 barrels (or 150,000 to 190,000 liters) was released and fully contained. "Clean-up is well underway with trucks and crews working around the clock," the company said in a Sunday afternoon statement. "The free-standing oil has been recovered and is being transported to an approved facility for disposal. The site has permanent groundwater monitoring in place and air monitoring continues. Monitoring has not identified any risk to the public or community." The pipeline was initially shut off in response to the spill, but restarted around 2 p.m. local time Sunday. The company said it was working with local authorities and Indigenous communities on the clean-up, but Silver told CityNews 1130 he had not received timely, accurate updates about the amount spilled or the company's restarting plans. "That they're up and running Sunday afternoon, my sister just read that to me off her phone. That was the first I heard of it, so there you go with the openness and transparency," Silver said. "I would really rather hear it from those at the incident command post."

Trans Mountain pipeline to resume operations after oil spill  -- The Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia resumed operation on Sunday after an oil spill occurred over the weekend. Workers from the state-owned pipeline responded to the spill at the Sumas Pump Station in Abbotsford, B.C., after an alarm went off at the pipeline control center early Saturday, the company said in a release posted on its website. The pipeline was restarted at about 2 p.m. local time on Sunday. The cleanup is taking place after 940 to 1,195 barrels of light crude were released and contained at the station. The company continues to work with local authorities, indigenous groups in the area and regulators, it said in the statement. The Trans Mountain pipeline carries about 300,000 barrels a day of crude oil and some fuels from Alberta to the Vancouver area, where it connects to a marine export terminal as well as to another line that supplies refineries in Washington state. The incident is related to a small, 1-inch diameter piece of pipe connected to the mainline, the company said. Trans Mountain has initiated an investigation, adding that “monitoring has not identified any risk to the public or community.” It comes at a sensitive time for Trans Mountain, as work on a planned expansion is under way amid fierce opposition from some residents of British Columbia, including indigenous communities, who say the pipeline is a threat to the environment. Canada’s federal government purchased the pipeline two years ago from Kinder Morgan Inc. after the company threatened to pull the plug on a planned expansion after years of regulatory and legal challenges.

 Pirates Threaten Oil Operations In Gulf Of Mexico  - The U.S. State Department warns of increased pirate activity in the southern Gulf of Mexico.  According to a report from January 2019, there was a 310-percent increase in pirate activity in the southern Gulf of Mexico over the three years to end-2018. “Armed criminal groups have been known to target and rob commercial vessels, oil platforms, and offshore supply vessels in the Bay of Campeche area in the southern Gulf of Mexico,” the State Department said in an updated travel advisory as quoted by Reuters.There has been pirate activity in the Bay of Campeche for years, with the criminals posing as fishermen and attempting to board offshore platforms and vessels in the Gulf, according to reports in Mexican media. They were a headache for Mexico’s Pemex as they targeted its platforms, on several occasions succeeding in stealing things like pipes, electrical wiring, copper, and various equipment, as well as cash. According to a report from January 2019, there was a 310-percent increase in pirate activity in the southern Gulf of Mexico over the three years to end-2018, from 48 attacks in 2016 to as many as 197 in 2018.Witnesses said the pirates travelled in fast boats, boarded platforms, and threatened crews with guns before stealing whatever happened to be of value, from drilling equipment to screws. But, according to Mexico’s President, they also stole crude oil straight from the platforms. This oil theft, according to an October 2019 report, cost Pemex as much as $1 billion annually.  Oil theft is not uncommon in Mexico, with most of it linked to local cartels using the services of crooked Pemex employees. Yet most of this theft takes place on land: over just two months in 2018, criminals drilled almost 2,300 illegal taps into Pemex pipelines in Mexico. According to Pemex’s own estimates, the losses from fuel theft over the past three years have reached $7.5 billion (147 billion Mexican pesos). A lot of the theft is conducted by gangs who are quick to resort to violence as they fight among themselves for greater access to state fuels and also engage in extortion of oil workers.

Specialists from Norway will participate in eliminating oil spill near Norilsk - Specialists from Norway will arrive at the site of liquidation of the fuel spill at a thermoelectric power plant in Norilsk. They will evaluate the work done at the emergency site and make their own suggestions for improving the situation, Nornickel First Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Sergey Dyachenko told reporters. "Three specialists will come from Norway. They would have been ready to sent a large team, but we agreed that they must first do reconnaissance at the site, see what they can really offer. We will discuss this situation and then determine the amount of aid," Dyachenko said. According to him, arrival of foreign experts is complicated by the situation with the spread of coronavirus in the world, but they will arrive in a few days. Governor of the Krasnoyarsk Region Alexander Uss said earlier that the critical phase of eliminating the effects of the fuel spill at a thermoelectric power plant in Norilsk is over and the situation is under control. "The emergency group is large, some 700 people. There are specialists from the Emergencies Ministry and our own rescue service. The company’s own efforts play a major role. It has both specialists and financial resources. I won’t be wrong if I say that the most critical moment in eliminating the emergency is in the past already," Uss said. The loss of containment of the diesel fuel tank occurred on the territory of the combined heat and power plant CHPP-3 in Norilsk on May 29. About 21,000 tonnes of fuel were spilled in total on the area of 180,000 square meters of soil and penetrated water objects, causing pollution and damage to the environment. According to the crisis management center more than 30,600 cubic meters of oil and water mixture has been skimmed. More than 84,000 tonnes of soil has been taken to the thermoelectric plant’s industrial dump. The area treated with sorbents has grown to 63,100 square meters. A force of 705 specialists and 303 vehicles are involved in eliminating the effects of the oil spill.

Oil spill taints Kremlin plan to sell €4bn of green bonds - Russia's state development bank wants to start turning the world's biggest energy exporter into a hub for green finance days after a 17,500-tonne diesel spill in the nation's far north. VEB, which has been used in the past to help finance President Vladimir Putin's infrastructure projects, plans to set up guidelines for green bonds by the end of the summer. The lender aims to help companies raise about 300bn rubbles (almost €4bn) for environmental projects, deputy chair Alexei Miroshnichenko said. Global green bond issuance grew by nearly 50pc to $271bn (€240bn) in 2019 and the movement has been embraced by other emerging markets. Russia's bid follows years of foot-dragging from the Kremlin about climate change and a 17,500-tonne diesel spill at a power plant owned by MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC in the Arctic last week. "In theory, it's a tremendous opportunity for many Russian issuers to diversify their investor base," said Sergey Dergachev, a money manager at Union Investment Privatfonds in Frankfurt. "But at the moment, especially for metals and mining companies, potential green bond issuance might be tougher to accomplish." Green finance should provide a channel for Russia to raise money to help with a much-needed transition away from a heavy dependence on fossil fuels. But the leadership of the world's fifth-biggest greenhouse-gas emitter has shown scant commitment to tackling climate change. A low-carbon development plan published in March envisages a small increase in emissions on current levels. Investigators said that the unit of Nornickel had broken safety rules, resulting in the fuel spill, which threatens extinction for many fish, birds and mammals unique to Siberia's Taimyr Peninsula. Nornickel, which has pledged to fully fund the clean-up, has suggested the catastrophe may have been caused by climate change that led to permafrost melting.

BP to write down up to $17.5 billion in second quarter, lowers oil price expectations to 2050 - Energy giant BP announced Monday it had lowered its oil price expectations through to 2050, saying the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic was likely to accelerate the transition to a lower carbon economy and energy system. The U.K.-headquartered oil and gas company said it had been reviewing its portfolio and capital development plans as part of its ambition to become a net-zero company by 2050 or sooner. It now expects international benchmark Brent crude futures to average around $55 a barrel from 2021 through to 2050, with Henry Hub gas prices forecast to average $2.90 over the same period. Henry Hub is a natural gas pipeline located in Louisianna and serves as the official delivery location for futures contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange. BP's forecasts for Brent futures and Henry Hub gas prices are down roughly 27% and 31%, respectively, when compared to those cited in the group's annual report at the end of 2019. As a result of its long-term strategic planning and continued focus on capital discipline, BP said it expected to incur non-cash impairment charges and write-offs in the second quarter, estimated to be in an aggregate range of $13 billion to $17.5 billion after tax. The company said it was unable to precisely determine the impact of the revised impairment testing price assumptions on the group's financial statements. Instead, further information would be provided in the firm's second-quarter results, which are expected to be released on August 4. Shares of BP dipped around 4% during early morning deals. Brent crude futures traded at $38.11 a barrel on Monday morning, around 1.6% lower, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures stood at $35.20, down almost 3%. Earlier this month, BP said it would cut 10,000 jobs from the current 70,100 in response to the coronavirus crisis, with the majority of those affected leaving by the end of this year.

Exxon Forced To Curtail Production In Guyana - Exxon has reduced its crude oil production at the Liza offshore field in Guyana due to the risk of excessive flaring, according to the South American country’s regulator, as quoted by Reuters. Gas flaring has been a problem at the Liza field, prompting an environmentalist group to call on the supermajor in May to stop flaring as the emissions this caused exceeded the country’s total emissions produced over three months, according to Guyanese daily Stabroek News. “Flaring of 9 billion cubic feet of natural gas is more Co2 emissions than what the whole of Guyana would have used in three months – the entire country,” the president of the organization—the Center for International Environmental Law—told the daily. The same publication reported in May that Exxon had assured the Guyanese environmental protection agency it will stop flaring after those 2 billion cubic meters, which were flared at the startup phase of the Liza project. Instead, the company said, it will reinject the gas into the well. Now it seems there have been problems with the gas reinjection equipment, according to the Reuters report, which has prompted a production cut to 25,000 to 30,000 bpd last week. This is down from 75,000 to 80,000 bpd a month earlier. The June average was planned to be raised to 120,000 bpd, although how good an idea production growth would have been in the current price situation is an open question.  During the second phase of development of the Liza discovery, production should rise to 220,000 bpd. By 2025, total production from the Stabroek Block, according to Exxon, should be some 750,000 bpd, according to pre-crisis plans.

 Nigeria- Shell still failing to clean up pollution in Niger Delta - Nearly ten years after the UN called for a major clean-up of areas of the Niger Delta polluted by the oil giant Shell and other oil companies, decontamination work has begun on only 11% of planned sites while vast areas remain heavily contaminated, according to a new investigation by four NGOs published today.The findings come ahead of a UK Supreme Court hearing next week (23 June) in which arguments will be presented on behalf of more than 40,000 people from the Niger Delta’s Ogale and Bille communities that years of oil spills from pipelines owned and operated by Shell have caused them severe harm. Royal Dutch Shell is domiciled in London and should be legally responsible for the environmental failures of its subsidiary company, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria. The one-day hearing is being heard via video link and will be live-streamed. In 2011, the UN Environment Programme documented the devastating long-term impact of the oil industry in Nigeria’s Ogoniland, setting out urgent recommendations for a clean-up. However, the systematic failure of oil companies and the Nigerian government to clean up has left hundreds of thousands of Ogoni people facing serious health risks, struggling to access safe drinking water and unable to earn a living. The new investigation - carried out by Amnesty International, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Friends of the Earth Europe, and Milieudefensie - shows that clean-up work has begun on only 11% of polluted sites identified by the UN, with only a further 5% included in current clean-up efforts, while no site has been entirely decontaminated. The investigation comes as Shell is facing a series of European court battles over its business operations in Nigeria. Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International Nigeria, said: “The discovery of oil in Ogoniland has brought huge suffering for its people. 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 pollution 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.” Godwin Ojo, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, said: “After nine years of promises without proper action and decades of pollution, the people of Ogoniland are not only sick of dirty drinking water, oil-contaminated fish and toxic fumes. They are sick of waiting for justice, they are dying by the day. The Nigerian government should acknowledge this project has been a failure and reinvigorate HYPREP with technical skills and strategic thinking, fully involving the community.”

 OPEC+ delivers 85% compliance on oil output cuts in May— OPEC and its allies slashed almost one-fifth of their crude oil production in May, the first month of their landmark supply accord, according to the latest S&P Global Platts survey of the group's output. Prodded by the coronavirus pandemic and oil market meltdown to implement an unprecedented 9.7 million b/d in collective cuts, the 23-country OPEC+ coalition mostly delivered. OPEC's 13 members dropped their output to 24.32 million b/d, for a compliance rate of 82% with their prescribed cuts, the survey found. Russia and nine other partners performed better, pumping a combined 13.89 million b/d and making 91% of their cuts, bringing the whole OPEC+ group's collective compliance to 85%, according to Platts calculations. The supply curbs are scheduled to run through July, the OPEC+ alliance announced at its June 6 meeting, as the bloc seeks to speed the market's recovery from the pandemic. The compliance figures are being closely monitored by OPEC+ members, who agreed that any shortfalls in May and June compliance would be made whole with extra production cuts this summer. OPEC members Iraq, Nigeria and Angola, along with non-OPEC participant Kazakhstan have already been publicly called out by their counterparts for their overproduction. Iraq, whose history of quota flouting has long been a sore spot among the coalition, pumped 4.19 million b/d in May, nearly 600,000 b/d above its cap, making it the worst offender by far, the Platts survey found. Nigeria, also frequently out of compliance, produced nearly 300,000 b/d in excess of its quota, while Angola was 90,000 b/d above its target and Kazakhstan was 161,000 b/d over, according to the Platts figures. Ministers from all four countries have declared their allegiance to the OPEC+ agreement and pledged to improve their performance going forward.

UAE says low oil price unsustaible, warns of shocks - UAE Energy Minister Suheil al-Mazrouei said on Monday current low oil and gas prices are unsustainable and warned that if they last longer, it could lead to energy shocks. Mazrouei said that "very good signs" of rising demand for oil have been seen in China and India, two of the world's biggest crude consumers, and to some degree in Europe. "This environment of low oil and gas prices, I don't think it's sustainable," the minister said in a virtual interview hosted by the US-UAE Business Council. Mazrouei said that if low oil prices persist for a long period, some of the current high-cost producers will drop out leaving a supply gap, pushing prices higher. "We need someone to fill in that gap, otherwise we are going to have shocks in... prices and the last thing we want is to have shocks," he said. "We need to have stability and to have a reasonable and fair price."

 Oil prices drop as rising U.S. coronavirus cases stoke fears of weak fuel demand - Oil fell more than 2% on Monday, extending losses from last week, as new coronavirus infections hit China and the United States, raising the prospect that renewed outbreaks of the virus could weigh on the recovery of fuel demand. Brent crude futures fell 89 cents, or 2.3%, to $37.84 a barrel by 0302 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were down $1.18, or 3.3%, to $35.08 a barrel. A cluster of infections in Beijing has increased concern of a resurgence of the disease. The coronavirus pandemic started at the end of last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The oil benchmarks fell about 8% last week, their first weekly declines since April, as U.S. coronavirus cases started increasing. Over the weekend, more than 25,000 new U.S. cases were reported on Saturday alone as more states reported record new infections and hospitalizations. "The recovery in oil demand is already set to be a lengthy process, and a fresh wave of cases will certainly raise worries that a recovery in demand may take even longer than initially thought," ING Economics said in a note. Industrial output in China, the world's biggest crude oil importer, rose for a second consecutive month in May but the rise was smaller than expected, suggesting the world's second-biggest economy is struggling to get back on track after containing the coronavirus. The country's refineries increased their throughput in May by 8.2% more than the same period a year ago to about 13.6 million barrels per day (bpd), government data showed. An OPEC-led monitoring panel will meet on Thursday to discuss ongoing record production cuts and see whether countries have delivered their share of the reductions, but will not make any decision, according to five OPEC+ sources. Iraq, one of the laggards in complying with the curbs, agreed with its major oil companies to cut crude production further in June, Iraqi officials working at the fields told Reuters on Sunday. The country's oil minister later said it would export an average of 2.8 million bpd in June.

IEA sees largest drop of oil demand in history this year, before biggest-ever one-year jump in 2021 - The International Energy Agency said on Tuesday that it expects the fall in oil demand this year to be the largest in history, but believes there are signs the market could reach "a more stable footing" over the coming months. International benchmark Brent crude futures traded at $40.53 on Tuesday afternoon, more than 2% higher, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures stood at $37.81, up around 1.8%. Oil prices have tumbled around 40% year-to-date, as lockdown measures designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus created an unparalleled demand shock in energy markets. The IEA said oil demand in the second quarter, which saw the greatest impact from lockdown measures, was 17.8 million barrels per day lower when compared to the same period last year. That level of demand reduction was slightly less than the group had previously expected, although still unprecedented. In its closely-watched oil market report, the Paris-based energy agency said on Tuesday that demand was expected to fall by 8.1 million barrels per day in 2020, before growing by 5.7 million barrels per day in 2021. It means the expected drop in oil demand this year amounts to the largest in history, the IEA said, with the demand rise in 2021 forecast to be the largest one-year jump ever recorded "as activity begins to return to normal across vast swathes of the economy." Meanwhile, the IEA's forecast for oil demand in 2020 is 91.7 million barrels per day, nearly 500,000 barrels higher per day than it expected in May, due to stronger-than-anticipated deliveries during the coronavirus lockdown. "If recent trends in production are maintained and demand does recover, the market will be on a more stable footing by the end of the second half. However, we should not underestimate the enormous uncertainties," the group added. IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told CNBC's "Street Signs Europe" on Tuesday that a modest oil market recovery was being driven by three factors: China's strong exit from lockdown measures; a "very good" compliance among OPEC+ members; and the decline of production in the U.S., Canada and other G-20 countries. "All these three things coming together tells us that the gradual recovery of the oil market continues," he added.

Lower For Longer: A Nightmare Scenario For Oil Producers  -- It has been a busy few days for oil price spotters: first BP revised down its long-term oil price projection to $55 per barrel of Brent crude, and then the U.S. Energy Information Administration said it expected Brent to average $37 a barrel in the second half of this year and $48 a barrel in 2021.  That is just bad news for the long term and bad news for the short term.It is worth noting early on that every oil price projection is nothing more than a prediction. Nobody knows where oil prices will be in a year, let alone in three decades. BP’s CEO himself has made a point of noting that in several interviews. Nevertheless, oil price projections are still being made, based on current demand and supply patterns and expectations of how these patterns will change over a certain time. And if these latest projections materialize, high-cost producers have much work ahead of them.The supply and demand pattern for oil in 2019, according to BP, was not particularly optimistic. That was before the oil price war in March and the pandemic that led to a collapse in demand. Last year, BP said, oil consumption globally grew by just 900,000 bpd. Supply, on the other hand, fell by a modest 60,000 bpd because—and this is important—strong growth in production in the United States offset the more than 2-million-bpd output decline in OPEC.That U.S. shale threw a wrench in the works of OPEC is a fact. It has captured a lot of higher demand over the past few years at the expense of OPEC members, most of whom depend on their oil revenues to break even fiscally. In fact, according to data cited by Reuters’ John Kemp, U.S. producers have captured most of that new demand.U.S. oil production, Kemp noted, has been growing a lot faster than consumption. “As a result, U.S. oil producers have captured between two-thirds and three-quarters of all the growth in global oil consumption over the last ten years, leaving little for other countries.” But U.S. shale is now in shambles because of the double shock from the Saudi-Russian price war and the coronavirus pandemic. Banks are growing increasingly unwilling to lend on a reserve-backed basis as they fear losses, and instead are cutting shale producers’ access to much-needed cash, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week. Bankruptcies are mounting, with the latest victim of the crisis none other than Chesapeake, one of the shale pioneers and biggest independent players in that field.

Oil prices rise as Wall Street rallies, demand improves -  (Reuters) - Oil prices rose 3% in volatile trade on Tuesday as Wall Street surged and the International Energy Agency (IEA) increased its oil demand forecast for 2020, but gains were capped by worries about a second wave of coronavirus cases. Brent crude futures LCOc1 ended the session up $1.24, or 3.1%, at $40.96 a barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) CLc1 rose $1.26, or 3.4% to settle at $38.38 a barrel. Oil gave up some gains in post-settlement trade after U.S. crude inventories rose by 3.9 million barrels last week, according to industry group the American Petroleum Institute, compared with analysts’ expectations for 152,000-barrel draw. Government data will be released on Wednesday. The market was bolstered earlier when Wall Street opened higher after a record increase in May retail sales revived hopes of a swift post-pandemic economic rebound, with sentiment also lifted by data showing reduced COVID-19 death rates in a trial of a generic steroid drug. In its monthly report, the IEA forecast oil demand at 91.7 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2020, 500,000 bpd higher than its estimate in May’s report, citing higher than expected consumption during coronavirus lockdowns. Still, the agency said a fall in flying because of the virus outbreak meant the world would not return to pre-pandemic demand levels before 2022.

Oil jumps 3% on supply cuts, improving demand -- Oil prices rose on Tuesday, with Brent crude rising above $40 a barrel, as the IEA increased its oil demand forecast for 2020 and as record supply cuts supported. Brent crude rose $1.20, or 3%, to trade at $40.92 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate crude settled $1.26, or 3.39%, higher at $38.38 per barrel. In its monthly report on Tuesday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast oil demand at 91.7 million barrels per day in 2020, 500,000 bpd higher than its estimate in May's report, citing higher than expected consumption during the lockdowns. But the agency warned that a fall in flying due to the coronavirus means the world will not return to pre-pandemic demand levels before 2022. Oil supplies in May, the IEA said, plunged by nearly 12 million bpd, with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia - a grouping known as OPEC+ - reducing their output by 9.4 million bpd. This means OPEC+ hit 89% compliance with their agreed cuts in May, the IEA said. OPEC+, agreed this month to extend production cuts of 9.7 million barrels per day through July. They also called on members that have not been complying to make up their commitments with extra cuts later. Iraq, which had one of the worst compliance rates among the major producers, has already made deep cuts to its crude supplies to Asia in July. Elsewhere U.S. shale producers are also cutting back on drilling amid the collapse in demand for oil. Production from seven major U.S. shale formations is likely to drop to close to a two-year low of 7.63 million barrels per day by July, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Monday. But concerns about a second wave of lockdowns from rising infection rates weighed on the market. Coronavirus cases rose to more than 8 million worldwide by Monday, with infections surging in Latin America, while the United States and China are dealing with fresh outbreaks. "If the world treats a second COVID-19 wave like in the first half of the year, then we are in for a demand reduction that was not in the initial planning,"

Oil falls on rise in U.S. crude stocks, virus resurgence fears - Oil prices fell on Wednesday as data showed an increase in U.S. crude and fuel inventories, raising the prospect of oversupply as a potential second wave of the coronavirus pandemic threatened to halt any recovery of demand. Brent crude futures were down 89 cents, or 2.2%, at $40.07 a barrel as of 0348 GMT, and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures fell $1.13, or 2.9%, to $37.25 a barrel. Both benchmarks rose more than 3% on Tuesday, after the International Energy Agency (IEA) raised its 2020 oil demand forecast to 91.7 million barrels per day (bpd) and U.S. retail sales posted a record jump in May. The rise in U.S. crude and fuel inventories, however, stoked concerns about a surplus and pressured oil prices, as the number of coronavirus infections surpassed 8 million globally and several U.S. states saw their case numbers spike. "API data showed a build in crude inventories, and rising new coronavirus cases in the United States and China have dampened expectations of improving fuel demand in the world's top two oil consumers," said Kim Kwang-rae, commodity analyst at Samsung Futures in Seoul. U.S. crude oil inventories rose by 3.9 million barrels in the week to June 12 to 543.2 million barrels, according to data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute, countering expectations for a fall of 152,000 barrels. Gasoline stocks rose by 4.3 million barrels and distillate fuels, which include diesel and heating oil, rose 919,000 barrels. Official data from the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration is due later on Wednesday. An OPEC-led panel will meet on Thursday to further discuss ways to strengthen and review compliance with producers' commitment to curb oil output. Iraq reduced its oil exports by 8%, or 300,000 bpd, so far in June, indicating OPEC's second-largest producer is stepping up efforts to adhere to its pledged cut.

OPEC sees gradual oil demand recovery, makes 84% of cuts in May - (Reuters) - OPEC forecast on Wednesday a gradual recovery in global demand for oil, which has been hammered by the coronavirus crisis, and said record supply cuts by producers were already helping to rebalance the market.  In a monthly report, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said demand would decline by 6.4 million barrels per day (bpd) in the second half of 2020, less than the drop of 11.9 million bpd in the first six months of the year. Oil prices collapsed as government lockdowns to limit the spread of the virus curtailed travel and economic activity. While some places in Europe and Asia have eased restrictions, concern over new virus outbreaks has kept a lid on prices. To tackle the drop in demand, OPEC and its allies agreed to a record supply cut that started on May 1, while the United States and other nations said they would pump less. OPEC said these curbs were already helping. “The oil market was strongly supported by a reduction of the global crude oil surplus, thanks mainly to the historic voluntary production adjustment agreement,” OPEC said, adding it saw a “gradual recovery” in demand until the end of the year. A technical committee of OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, and an OPEC+ ministerial panel are meeting on Wednesday and Thursday to review the supply cut’s impact on the market. Brent crude LCOc1 was trading above $40 a barrel after the report’s release and is up from a 21-year low below $16 reached in April. In the report, OPEC did not further reduce its forecast for world oil demand in 2020, after steep cuts in earlier months. Still, downside risks remain for consumption in top consumer the United States, OPEC said.

OPEC Sticks to Global Oil-Demand Forecast Despite Signs of Rebound – WSJ  - The global oil market is slowly starting to rebalance thanks to production cuts and relaxing coronavirus lockdowns, but the industry is still swimming in excess supply, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said Wednesday. In its widely scrutinized monthly report, OPEC left unchanged its forecasts that the world’s demand for crude will fall by 9.1 million barrels a day in 2020 and plunge by 17.3 million barrels a day in the second quarter. “Following an unprecedented and highly turbulent [first half of 2020] due to the enormous impact of COVID-19 on the global economy and oil market fundamentals, the dust is starting to settle,” the cartel said in its report. The lifting of pandemic-motivated restrictions and monetary stimulus potentially amounting to a quarter of global gross domestic product will allow global growth to rebound in the second half of the year, and the oil sector with it, OPEC said. Oil prices swung between gains and losses Wednesday, with international benchmark Brent crude futures ending the day down 0.6% at $40.71 a barrel. U.S. crude fell 1.1% to $37.96 a barrel. But a return to the fundamentals of the pre-Covid-19 oil market is still some way off, with air travel and manufacturing likely to remain subdued through the rest of 2020, limiting demand for oil products such as jet fuel and diesel. The cartel echoed the International Energy Agency’s monthly report Tuesday in highlighting a sharp decline in refining margins. With refiners groaning under the weight of refined inventory, the world also has an enormous surplus of crude oil, with stocks in the developed world climbing 141 million barrels above the five-year average in April. Still, the cartel cited lower supply from the “OPEC plus” group of producers, as well as a forecast 3.8 million-barrel-a-day decline from North American producers in the second half of the year, as contributing to the forecast stabilization of markets.

Oil gains 2% on OPEC+ output cut compliance Oil prices rose on Thursday as a panel of OPEC and its allies met to review record oil supply cuts, even as the market remained concerned about additional coronavirus cases reported in parts of the United States and China. Brent crude futures were up 78 cents at $41.48 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate crude futures gained 88 cents, or 2.32%, to settle at $38.84 per barrel. "You're going to see more OPEC compliance," said Phil Flynn, senior oil analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. "I think we'd be a lot higher if it weren't for these coronavirus fears." An OPEC+ ministerial panel met on Thursday to review record oil supply cuts and plans by countries such as Iraq and Kazakhstan to improve compliance with quotas to support oil prices battered as demand plunged by up to a third during the pandemic. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, have been cutting output by a record 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) or 10% of global supply since May 1. Thursday's discussion was unlikely to recommend an extension of record cuts into August, sources said. OPEC+ compliance with production cut commitments in May was 87%, two OPEC+ sources said on Wednesday. Worries about fuel demand rose after a surge in coronavirus cases led Beijing to cancel flights and shut schools while several U.S. states, including Texas, Florida and California, reported sharp increases in new cases. A second straight weekly rise in U.S. crude stockpiles to a record high also weighed on sentiment, but U.S. government data showed lower inventories of gasoline and distillates, indicating higher demand. OPEC warned in a monthly report that the market would remain in surplus in the second half even as demand improves, saying it now expects supply from outside the group to be about 300,000 bpd higher than previously thought.

Oil prices inch up on faith in supply cuts, demand recovery -Oil prices pushed higher in early trade on Friday, building on gains in the previous session, after OPEC producers and allies promised to meet their supply cut commitments and two major oil traders said demand was recovering well. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures climbed 14 cents, or 0.4%, to $38.98 a barrel at 0101 GMT, while Brent crude futures crawled up 7 cents, or 0.2%, to $41.58 a barrel. Both contracts rose around 2% on Thursday. Plans by Iraq and Kazakhstan to compensate for overproduction in May on their supply cut commitments supported the market. The promises came out of a meeting by a panel monitoring compliance by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, a grouping called OPEC+. If the laggard producers do compensate over the next three months for their overproduction, that will effectively take extra barrels out of the market, even if OPEC+ does not extend its record 9.7 million barrels per day supply cut beyond July. Comments from global oil traders Vitol and Trafigura on a rebound in oil demand in June, reported by Bloomberg, also buoyed the market, ANZ Research said. Trading volumes on Friday, however, were thin, which pointed to a lack of conviction behind any big push higher, said CMC Markets chief strategist Michael McCarthy. On the technical side, he pointed to strong resistance in the WTI contract between $40 and $41. Analysts see that level as the point at which more U.S. producers will revive shut-in wells.

 Oil tallies a nearly 10% weekly gain as OPEC+ tightens reins on output cuts, global demand outlook improves - Oil futures on Friday settled higher for the session, with U.S. prices up nearly 10% for the week as OPEC members and allies tightened the reins on output cuts and some signs of improvement in the global economy brightened the outlook for energy demand. The Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, or JMMC, which monitors compliance with OPEC output quotas, held a gathering Thursday via videoconference, saying Iraq and Kazakhstan have already submitted “compensations schedules,” to make up for falling short of their pledges to reduce output. Other “underperforming participants” will have until June 22 to submit their plans to compensate for production above their targeted levels. The OPEC+ decision “helped renew confidence that members will further cut production to comply with the 9.7 million [barrel per day] agreement,” said Paola Rodriguez Masiu, senior oil markets analyst at Rystad Energy. The cuts officially kicked in at the start of May and were extended to run through July. “The compliance level has already been higher than most of the market participants expected and it seems that a better level is achievable,” she said in emailed commentary. OPEC+ pegged compliance with the cuts at 87% in May. Complying with the full 9.7 million barrels per day in cuts “means shutting another million barrels of daily production,” said Masiu. “That’s not negligible and it is definitely a boost factor for prices.” West Texas Intermediate crude for July delivery, the U.S. benchmark, climbed 91 cents, or 2.3%, to settle at $39.75 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after tapping a high of $40.50. Front-month contract prices logged their highest finish since March 6, according to Dow Jones Market Data. For the week, they rose 9.6%. Global benchmark Brent oil for August delivery added 68 cents, or 1.6%, at $42.19 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, for a weekly advance of 8.9%.

Saudi Aramco completes $69 billion Sabic deal, extends payment window amid oil hit Saudi Aramco completed the purchase of its 70% stake in the kingdom's petrochemical giant Sabic from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, it announced Wednesday, tying the knot on one of the largest ever deals in the global chemicals industry. The state oil company also announced an extension of its $69.1 billion payment plan — to be in staggered instalments between 2020 and 2028, an increase of three years from the previous plan — as lower oil prices hit by the coronavirus pandemic take a toll on its earnings. Aramco's net income dropped by 25% in the first quarter of 2020. The initial deal would have seen payment completed in 2021, but was first extended late last year to 2025. The fall in oil prices since the initial deal announcement means that Aramco will be paying the Public Investment Fund a premium of nearly 30% on Sabic's current price. When the acquisition was first announced in March 2019, shares of Sabic were trading at 123.4 riyals ($32.89) apiece. They're now trading at 89 riyals per share. Sabic will retain its listing on the Tadawul, the kingdom's stock exchange, and will continue working within in its legal regulatory framework, the company said. The purchase was described as strategic on multiple fronts: to expand and diversify Aramco's downstream refining capacity, and to bolster the PIF's balance sheet to enable it to push ahead with ambitious investments meant to help diversify the Saudi economy in line with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030. The transaction "is consistent with Aramco's long-term downstream strategy to grow its integrated refining and petrochemicals capacity, and create value from integration across the hydrocarbon chain," Aramco and the PIF said in a joint press release issued Wednesday. Last year, Aramco and Sabic registered a combined petrochemicals production volume of almost 90 million tons, the statement said. The new funds for the PIF should help it in its drive to purchase large stakes in international companies, which it's been doing voraciously as so many companies' shares sell at dramatic discounts globally due to the pandemic and economic shutdowns.

UN Report Finds Missiles In Last Year's Aramco Attack Came From Iran - It feels like ages ago, but will no doubt become front and center the next time Washington inches toward war with Iran as happened last January in the wake of the Qassem Soleimani assassination.The contents of a high level United Nations investigative report was leaked days ago, which details that last year's (Sept. 14) major attack on Saudi Aramco facilities in the country's east included missiles of “Iranian origin”.Tehran officials promptly slammed the report as only too "convenient" given it curiously comes at a sensitive and crucial moment “when the United States is working to draft a dangerous resolution to extend an arms embargo against Iran,” according to an official Iranian statement. And yet UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' statements the Security Council still made some interesting qualifications which brings Washington's "Iran ordered the attack" narrative into question: Some have design characteristics similar to those also produced by a commercial entity in Iran, or bear Farsi markings, Guterres said, and some were delivered to the country between February 2016 and April 2018.He said that “these items may have been transferred in a manner inconsistent” with a 2015 Security Council resolution that enshrines Tehran’s deal with world powers to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.  Iran slammed the UN findings as ultimately put together “under political pressure from the U.S. and Saudi regimes,” according to Iran's rebuttal by the foreign ministry.Last week Iran began urging Russia and China to reject US efforts at persuading the Security Council to extend a UN arms embargo set to expire in October. The end of the embargo had been negotiated as part of the 2015 nuclear deal (JCOPA), which the Trump administration has since pulled out of.

 Iran Defiantly Touts Domestic 'New Generation Cruise Missiles' In Naval Drills Near Gulf - Amid crushing US sanctions aimed at strangling its defense, aviation and nuclear development sectors, Iran is increasingly focused on ramping up high tech domestic missile defense production.Ultimately it hopes to showcase its domestic military wares to signal the West that sanctions aren't working. In its latest test Iran's Navy displayed the abilities of newly developed land-to-sea and sea-to-sea cruise missiles.The drills were conducted in the Sea of Oman and Indian Ocean this week, and involved live-fire tests against targets nearly 300km away, which Iranian media said were successful. Iranian state media hailed what it called "new-generation cruise missiles" which officials confirmed were "designed and developed by experts at home.""The coast-to-sea and sea-to-sea missiles were produced by experts at Iran’s Ministry of Defense in cooperation with the Navy," PressTV described further. Iran published photos and videos showing that a "dummy" ship had been successfully destroyed at ranges of up to 280km away.

 Secretive CIA Blade-Wielding 'Ninja Bomb' Used In Another Syria Targeted Killing - A suspected U.S. drone strike on Idlib’s city center on Sunday has killed two senior commander of al-Qaeda-affiliated Horas al-Din, Qassam al-Urduni and Bilal al-Sanani. The strike targeted the commanders’ SUV as it was passing on a road in the western part of Idlib city. The SUV, a silver Hyundai Santa Fe, was struck with what appears to be two U.S.-made AGM-114R9X Hellfire missile. The AGM-114R9X Hellfire, dubbed “Ninja Bomb,” is armed with a kinetic warhead with pop-out blades. The missile has been deployed in secret since 2017, with its existence revealed in 2019. The below shows the aftermath of the strike by the weapon developed by the CIA (Warning: Graphic).Pro-militant sources revealed that Qassam al-Urduni was the general military commander of Horas al-Din. Bilal al-Sanani, on the other hand, was the commander of the group’s al-Badiya [desert] Army. Both terrorists were Jordanian citizens.In December of last year, a U.S. drone strike killed Abu Khadija al-Urduniyi, a senior Jordanian commander of Horas al-Din in northern Idlib. Abu Khadija’s SUV was also struck with an AGM-114R9X Hellfire missile.  #Syria: the military commander of Horas Al-Din was killed today by a US drone, firing the Hellfire "AGM-114R9X" missile already used in the past. Nicknamed "Ninja missile" it has a kinetic warhead with blades (with tremendous effect on ppl inside the car) & doesn't use explosives pic.twitter.com/LDQkxbfMgU  — QalaatM (@QalaatM) June 14, 2020   The Wall Street Journal previously described of the secretive cutting edge weaponBoth the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have used the weapon while closely guarding its existence. A modified version of the well-known Hellfire missile, the weapon carries an inert warhead. Instead of exploding, it is designed to plunge more than 100 pounds of metal through the tops of cars and buildings to kill its target without harming individuals and property close by.  To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky, the officials said. But this variant of the Hellfire missile, designated as the R9X, also comes equipped with a different kind of payload: a halo of six long blades that are stowed inside and then deploy through the skin of the missile seconds before impact to ensure that it shreds anything in its tracks.

 Turkey Launches 'Largest Ever' Air & Ground Assault Into Northern Iraq - NATO-member Turkey has controversially initiated a major bombing campaign over northern Iraq targeting Kurdish armed groups, specifically the outlawed PKK which Ankara has long said uses Iraqi territory to conduct a cross-border insurgency.The military incursion also involves ground troops. On Tuesday evening the Turkish Defense Ministry announced the start of “Operation Tiger Claw” with the following statement: “In order to neutralize the elements of the ‘Kurdistan Workers Party’ (PKK) and other terrorist elements that threaten the security of our people and our borders, victory has reached the heroes of the commando units who are currently in the Haftanin area.”Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs - outraged at yet another violation of Iraqi sovereignty - promptly summoned the Turkish ambassador to Baghdad and lodged a memorandum of protest. The Erdogan government, meanwhile, has claimed it's acting in 'defense' after PKK insurgents have launched repeat attacks from Iraqi and Syrian soil over the past years. Multiple reports suggest that this particular operation is unprecedented in its scale:Special forces were airlifted and deployed overland to the border region of Haftanin in the early hours of Wednesday for Operation Claw-Tiger. The campaign targeted 150 suspected Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) positions and was supported by jets, helicopters, drones and artillery, the Turkish defense ministry said.The ongoing airstrikes included attacks in and around Sinjar Mountain, where it must be remembered tens of thousands of members of the ethno-religious group, the Yazidis, took refuge from ISIS in 2014, after which a US military rescue mission ensued to protect the group. It's yet another example of local US allies coming under NATO member Turkey's bombs.

Turkish army launches ground attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan to target PKK -- Amid growing international conflicts over Libya, the eastern Mediterranean Sea and Syria between great powers and regional powers, the Turkish Armed Forces have invaded Iraqi Kurdistan. They reportedly aim to destroy Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militias in Shingal in Nineveh province, and Makhmour, Qarachogh, Mount Qandil, Khuakurk, and Zap across the Kurdistan region. After launching airstrikes on regions of northern Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), code-named “Operation Claw-Eagle,” on early Monday, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday on Twitter that a new “Operation Claw-Tiger” has begun. Commando forces are already in Iraq’s Haftanin region, it said, “to neutralize the PKK and other terrorist elements that threaten the security of Turkish people and borders.” Yesterday, according to Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu Agency, “Turkish forces hit over 500 targets of the PKK” with F-16 jets, howitzers and multiple rockets. The Turkish invasion of Iraq comes after a series of operations against the PKK in Turkey and against its Syrian section, People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, since the Trump administration green-lighted a Turkish offensive targeting YPG last October. The Turkish Interior Ministry claimed that there are only 438 PKK militants in Turkey now, and that this number was around 2,780 in 2016. This month, the government accused the PKK of killing six road construction workers in two separate attacks in Van and ??rnak with roadside bombs. After the Turkish airstrikes, Baghdad summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq, Fatih Y?ld?z and gave him a formal memorandum, asserting that “the airstrikes contravene international law and principles of mutual respect,” according to Iraqi Kurdistan’s Rudaw agency. However, Iranian forces have carried out their own air strikes into Iraq simultaneously. Yesterday Iraqi Foreign Ministry summoned both the Turkish and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad over airstrikes. “We stress that Turkey must stop its bombardment and withdraw its attacking forces from Iraqi territory,” the ministry’s statement said on Thursday, calling the invasion a “provocative action.”

Chinese Consumers Add Fuel to Factory-Led Economic Recovery – WSJ —China’s factory-led recovery enjoyed an extra boost last month as Chinese consumers stepped up to make big-ticket purchases, pushing up home prices and auto-sales numbers and prompting economists to increase their growth outlook for the world’s second-largest economy. Official Chinese economic data released Monday showed improvement across a variety of indicators, including in its headline jobless rate, raising optimism for the global economy even as recessionary anxieties loom over much of the developed world and as fears of a second wave of infection in China are intensifying. An official gauge of unemployment in Chinese cities showed a slight fall to 5.9% in May, a tick down from April’s 6.0% figure and a further improvement after the national surveyed unemployment rate surged to a record 6.2% in February. Value-added industrial production, a measure of output in manufacturing, mining and utilities, grew 4.4% in May from a year earlier, following a 3.9% year-over-year expansion in April, the National Bureau of Statistics said Monday. Retail sales and fixed-asset investment, though still coming in weaker than the same period a year earlier, continued to show strong signs of improvement. Retail sales slipped 2.8% in May from a year earlier, official data showed, much narrower than April’s 7.5% year-over-year decline. The improved reading was fueled by a 3.5% increase in auto sales from a year earlier, the best month by this metric in more than two years.

 India, China want peace but blame each other after deadly border clash - (Reuters) - India and China said they wanted peace but blamed each other on Wednesday after soldiers of the two sides savagely fought each other with nail-studded clubs and stones on their Himalayan border, killing at least 20 Indian troops. “We never provoke anyone,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on national television, referring to Monday’s hand-to-hand fighting. “There should be no doubt that India wants peace, but if provoked, India will provide an appropriate response.” In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the clash erupted after Indian soldiers “crossed the line, acted illegally, provoked and attacked the Chinese, resulting in both sides engaging in serious physical conflict and injury and death”. He said he did not know of any Chinese casualties, although Indian media quoted officials as saying at least 45 people were dead or injured on the Chinese side. Zhao said the overall situation at the border was stable and controllable. Under an old agreement between the two nuclear-armed Asian giants, no shots are fired at the border, but there have been fisticuffs in recent years between border patrols. According to Indian officials, soldiers were hit with clubs studded with nails and stones during a brawl that erupted in the remote Galwan Valley, high in the mountains where India’s Ladakh region borders the Aksai Chin region captured by China during the 1962 war. The rival armies have been eyeball-to-eyeball at their border for decades, but it was the worst clash since 1967, five years after China humiliated India in that war. Modi, a strident nationalist, was elected to a second five-year term in May 2019 following a campaign focused on national security after spiralling tensions with old enemy Pakistan, on India’s western border. India’s gung-ho media and the opposition piled pressure on him to respond aggressively.

‘Expect Something Big’: Kim Jong-Un’s Powerful Sister Threatens Military Action Against South Earlier this week North Korea announced it would cut off all government and military communications with the South, also as its foreign ministry declared Pyongyang would “never again” allow President Trump to use ’empty’ dialogue to score political points, suggesting the whole prior year long Trump-Kim bromance is now effectively dead. And now the increasingly visible and powerful sister of Kim Jong Un has further gone on the offensive by threatening military action against South Korea Saturday. Kim Yo Jong vowed “We will soon take a next action.” Referencing her brother, she described, “By exercising my power authorized by the Supreme Leader, our Party and the state, I gave an instruction to the arms of the department in charge of the affairs with enemy to decisively carry out the next action,” according to KCNA news agency. “The right to taking the next action against the enemy will be entrusted to the General Staff of our army. Before long, a tragic scene of the useless north-south joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen,” Kim Yo Jong added. The widely reported “reason” behind the sudden jingoistic stance is related to activists apparently continuing to defy the north in floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border. Such activism has been particularly sensitive to the north because it’s driven in many cases by defectors. Lately Pyongyang’s angry rhetoric against South Korea welcoming and hosting such defectors and their political activism has intensified. But there’s also rising tensions given Seoul’s failed to materialize assurances that Washington would ease sanctions as part of denuclearization talks. This further appears an opportunity for Kim’s increasingly visible and powerful sister to flex her authority over the military and next in line to rule.

North Korea destroys inter-Korean liaison office in 'terrific explosion' - (Reuters) - North Korea on Tuesday blew up a joint liaison office set up in a border town in 2018 to foster better ties with South Korea after threatening action if defectors continued with a campaign of sending propaganda leaflets into the reclusive North. The liaison office in Kaesong - a gleaming blue-glass four-storey structure in an otherwise drab industrial city - was “ruined with a terrific explosion,” North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said. Destruction of the building, closed since January due to coronavirus fears, represented a major setback to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to coax North Korea into cooperation. It also appeared to be a further blow to U.S. President Donald Trump’s hopes of persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and open up to the world. The U.S. State Department said Washington fully supports Seoul’s efforts on inter-Korean relations and urged Pyongyang to “refrain from further counterproductive actions.” North Korea last week warned Washington to refrain from commenting on inter-Korean affairs if it wanted the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election to go smoothly, raising concerns it could be contemplating a return to nuclear and long-range missile testing. Trump has hailed Pyongyang’s freeze in such testing as a victory in his unprecedented but otherwise fruitless meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018 and 2019.

Parents speak out against rushed re-opening of schools in Australia - Despite widespread concerns among parents and teachers, and repeated COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, the “national cabinet” formed by the Australian federal, state and territory governments has pushed most students back into face-to-face classes. As is occurring internationally, these governments—Liberal-National and Labor alike—have rushed to reopen schools in order to fully open up the economy for corporate profit, placing the health and lives of teachers, parents and students at risk. The national cabinet claims that social distancing is not necessary in schools and students are “low” risk of infection, despite admitting that reopening schools could result in further coronavirus clusters. Teacher trade unions have backed and welcomed the return to classrooms, saying it will “bring stability” to teachers, principals and education support staff. The complicity of the unions has left parents to express their concerns through social media, establishing Facebook pages and petitions. Under conditions where widespread testing is not being conducted, the governments and unions do not know the level of community infection but that has not prevented them from railroading students and teachers back into classes. Last week in Britain, the Conservative government of Boris Johnson was forced to drop its plans to have all primary children back in school within the next four weeks. The temporary retreat is the result of millions of parents and educators opposing the government, in defiance of the education trade unions. The reopening of schools in the two most populous Australian states, New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, has already resulted in multiple primary and secondary students testing positive to COVID-19, forcing temporary school closures.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Caused A Global Bicycle Shortage - While the rest of the economy was shutting down, bicycle shops across the world were seeing a drastic bump in business as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Bicycle shops, deemed "essential businesses" in many states, saw demand explode after health-conscious people were locked out of their gyms and others were too fearful to ride mass transit.  Bikes at large U.S. retailers like Wal-Mart and Target have been missing from shelves for weeks. Independent shops are also doing "brisk business" and are selling out of bikes, according to AP. In fact, over the last two months, bike sales have seen their biggest spike since the oil crisis of the 1970s.   Jay Townley, who analyzes cycling industry trends at Human Powered Solutions, said: “People quite frankly have panicked, and they’re buying bikes like toilet paper.”  The trend is being seen worldwide, too. Cities like London, Manila and Rome are all seeing surging bike use and are installing bike lanes to accommodate their respective cities' interest. In the Philippines, bike shop owners say the demand is "stronger than Christmas" and the government in Italy is boosting sales with financial incentives for bikes as part of their government stimulus.  But bikes simply aren't available in places like the U.S., which relies on China for about 90% of its bikes. Production in China has been largely shut down due to the virus and is only just now resuming. The spike in sales began back in March when the U.S. started to shut down and people were forced to stay at home.  Adult leisure bike sales tripled in April and overall U.S. bike sales doubled from the year before. Prior to the pandemic, the industry was projecting lower sales based on poor volume in 2019.   Dutch e-bike maker VanMoof is seeing “unlimited demand” since the beginning of the pandemic. Its sales are up 138% in the U.S. and 184% in Britain between February and April. Co-founder Taco Carlier said: “We did have some issues with our supply chain back in January, February when the crisis hit first in Asia. But the issue is now with demand, not supply.”

Italy Once Again on the Eurozone Worry List -Over half of Italian companies reported facing a liquidity shortfall by the end of 2020 and 38% reported “operational and sustainability risks,” according to a survey of 90,000 companies conducted by the Italy’s national statistics institute ISTAT.The national Italian business lobby, Confcommercio, recently estimatedthat 60% of restaurants and other businesses were short on liquidity and 30% had complained about the extra costs of implementing anti-contagion safety measures so they can start serving customers after lockdown.The tourism industry, which accounts for 13% of GDP and has been crucial in keeping Italy’s economy afloat over the past decade, providing jobs for an estimated 4.2 million people, is in post-lockdown limbo. The borders have opened but foreign tourists still remain elusive. And with many local residents in no financial position to go on holiday this year, domestic demand is unlikely to pick up as much of the slack as tourism businesses are desperately hoping.Tourism was one of the few parts of the economy that has been growing in recent years. Last year, for instance, it grew by 2.8% while Italy’s industrial output shrank by 2.4%. In an economy that hasn’t grown for well over 10 years while public debt continues to grow at a frightening rate, its fastest growing sector has just been hit with the mother of all sledgehammers.Italy’s manufacturing industry, which was already struggling before the crisis, is also in trouble. In April, when Italy was in the grip of one of the most severe lockdowns in Europe, ISTAT’s industrial turnover index plunged by 46.9% while the unadjusted industrial new orders index fell by 49.0% with respect to the same month of the previous year. Since then, many businesses have reopened but activity remains low. To weather the lull, many companies need credit. But this is easier said than done in Italy, unless you’re a multi-billion dollar company. Car giant Fiat Chrysler is on the verge of being granted a €6.3 billion state-backed loan — more than any other European carmaker. Even Atlantia, the firm that operated and maintained the Morandi Bridge in Genoa that collapsed in 2018, resulting in 43 fatalities, is hoping to hit up the government for a €1.7 billion loan.Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of small businesses continue to wait. In the early days of the crisis the Conti government said that debt guarantees would be made available to unlock up to €740 billion in funding for businesses. Yet by May 20, just 301,777 of 607,391 requests for assistance had been granted, according to a report by Italy’s bicameral investigative commission. (An accepted request doesn’t mean a loan has actually been dispensed). For those companies that fall through the cracks of Italy’s emergency loan system, many of which were functioning perfectly well before the coronavirus crisis, the temptation is to go cap in hand to mafia-affiliated loan sharks, who are more than happy to help out. In Calabria the Ndrangheta “initially come in with offers of low interest rates, because their end goal is to take over the business, via usury, and use it to launder their illicit proceeds,” says Public Prosecutor Nicola Gratteri.

European Car Makers’ Latest Pandemic Problem: Glut of Unsold Vehicles – WSJ —After reopening factories and sorting out supply chains, Europe’s car makers are facing a new problem related to the coronavirus pandemic: a glut of unsold cars. New-car sales in the European Union, in its affiliate free-trade association partners and in the U.K. fell 57% in May from a year earlier to 623,812 vehicles, according to data published Wednesday by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. Each of the 27 EU member states reported double-digit-percentage declines in new-car sales, and the U.K. was down 89% from a year earlier. The data marked a small improvement following steeper drops in March and April, but new-car sales across the region remain far below last year’s. Production is still well below precrisis levels, but with such comatose demand even this reduced output is creating a surplus of new cars, producing a bottleneck that is slowing down the industry’s recovery and threatening jobs and profits. European executives say they are concerned that while China’s automotive industry is snapping back and the U.S. sector looks as though it could follow suit, Europe’s recovery might take longer because of oversupply and government incentives designed to boost the small electric-car market. Industry analysts and European car dealers estimate that unsold cars on dealer lots are at least 30% above normal, preventing dealers from ordering new vehicles from manufacturers. Before production can fully recover, dealers will have to sell millions of older vehicles. “Unsold stocks are climbing, and on the other hand vehicles are not leaving the lots,” said Antje Woltermann, managing director of the ZDK industry group, representing Germany’s car dealers and repair shops, adding that unsold inventory in Germany alone was about €15 billion ($17 billion).

Julian Assange Just Called. To Talk About the Pandemic’s Effect on Capitalism & Politics! - Yanis Varoufakis. -  Julian called me a little earlier on, at 14.22 London time to be precise. From Belmarsh High Security Prison of course.  I feel honoured and moved that he should dial my number when he has such few and far between opportunities to place calls. “I want a perspective on world developments out there – I have none in here”, he said. Which, of course, placed a considerable burden on me to articulate thoughts on capitalism’s fate during this pandemic and the repercussions of it all on politics, geopolitics etc. The knowledge that Her Majesty’s Prison authorities would discontinue our discussion at any moment made the task harder. In a feeble attempt to paint a picture for him on as broad a canvass as possible, I shared with Julian my main thought of the last weeks:Never before has the world of money (i.e. the money markets, that include the share markets) been so decoupled from the world of real people, real stuff – from the real economy.We watch in awe as GDP, personal incomes, wages, company revenues, businesses small and large, collapse while the stock market is staying relatively unscathed. The other day, Hertz declared bankruptcy. When a company does this, its share price goes to zero. Not now. In fact, Hertz is about to issue $1 billion worth of new shares. Why would anyone buy shares of an officially bankrupt company? The answer is: Because central banks print mountain ranges of money and give it for almost free to financiers to buy any piece of junk floating around the stock exchange.“Complete zombification of the corporations”, is how I put it to Julian. Julian commented that this proves that governments and central banks can keep corporations afloat even when they sell next to nothing at the marketplace. I agreed. But, I also pointed out a major conundrum that capitalism faces for the first time. It is this: Central bank money printing keeps asset prices very high while the price of ‘stuff’ and wages fall. This disconnect can go on growing. But, when Hertz, British Airways etc. can survive in this manner, they have no reason not to fire half the workforce and to cut the wages of the other half. This creates more deflation/depression in the real economy. Which means that the Central Banks must print more and more to keep asset and share prices high. At some point, the masses out there will rebel and governments will be under pressure to divert some income to them. But this will deflate asset prices. At that point, because these assets are used by corporations as collateral for all the loans they take out to stay afloat, they will lose access to liquidity. A sequence of corporate failures will commence under circumstances of stagnation. “I don’t think capitalism can easily survive, at least not without huge social and geopolitical conflicts, this conundrum”, was my conclusion.

Central Banks Pump More Cash Into Economy to Fight Recession – WSJ - The Bank of England launched another burst of stimulus and the European Central Bank said lenders across the region had tapped its loan program for a record €1.3 trillion ($1.5 trillion), signs that central banks’ efforts to fuel a recovery aren’t yet done. Economic activity in Europe is tentatively picking up as governments gradually relax restrictions on work and daily life imposed across the continent to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But hopes for a quick rebound from the deep downturn those policies caused have faded, putting the onus on central banks and treasuries to repair the region’s economies. The U.K. central bank said it increased the target for its bond-buying program to £745 billion ($935 billion), from £645 billion. Officials said that without further stimulus, inflation risked drifting far from the bank’s 2% annual goal. The global economy is forecast to shrink 6% in 2020, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—or between 7% and 8% if a second wave of the pandemic occurs before the end of the year. Major central banks have responded with big stimulus packages and suggested there may be more to come if growth disappoints. Federal Reserve officials have signaled they expect to keep short-term interest rates pegged near zero through 2022 and are discussing options including capping bond yields. The Fed already cut interest rates to near zero in March and introduced a range of emergency lending programs to purchase debts of companies, cities and states. The ECB said Thursday that eurozone banks borrowed €1.3 trillion from a long-term lending facility that pays them to keep loans flowing. The bank has bet heavily on the program to help businesses and households as they cope with the economic fallout from the pandemic, which has been projected to send the currency union into its deepest recession in decades. The long-term loans are part of the ECB’s double-barreled response to the economic shock from the coronavirus. It also ramped up its bond-buying program earlier this month, putting its crisis response in the same league as the Fed’s. But analysts have questioned whether it will be enough and some expect the ECB to step up the program again as soon as September. The U.K. economy shrank a record 20% in April as a nationwide lockdown shut factories, stores, pubs and restaurants. The U.K. has been one of the worst-hit countries world-wide, with 300,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and at least 42,000 deaths, the third-highest toll, after the U.S. and Brazil.