Archive for August, 2017

Gasoline prices spike on shortage worries in Harvey’s wake

August 31, 2017


© AFP / by Juliette MICHEL | A sunken boat lies submerged in front of an oil rig after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, a region home to a third of US refining capacity, much of which has been shut down, pushing gasoline prices higher and possibly leading to short-term shortages
NEW YORK (AFP) – US gasoline prices have jumped in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and local shortages could occur but the situation is likely to stabilize in the coming days.A gallon (3.8 liters) of gasoline rose 13.5 percent in New York on Thursday to close at $2.1399, leaving it up nearly 30 percent since Friday, the day Harvey made landfall in Texas.

The US Gulf Cost is home to about a third of American refining capacity, much of which is now off line due to the storm and flooding.

The Energy Department reported Thursday morning that 10 refineries, representing 16.6 percent of total US capacity, remained shut. Six more were attempting to re-open but this could take “several days or weeks,” while two others were partially operational.

Together, the 18 refineries constitute 24.5 percent of US capacity.

The largest refinery in the United States, the Port Arthur Refinery, operated by Motiva Enterprises in Port Arthur, Texas, has been idled.

“Given the unprecedented flooding in the city of Port Arthur, it remains uncertain how quickly the flood waters will recede, so we cannot provide a timeline for restart at this time,” the company told AFP.

Damage inspection and repairs could take two weeks, according to media reports.

Two pipelines have had to reduce activities due to lack of fuel to transport: the Explorer pipeline, which reaches into the northern Midwest region; and the giant Colonial pipeline, which traces a path along the northeastern coast.

“There are definitely going to be some spot shortages developing as far east as South Carolina, with those big cities that usually get their supply from the Colonial pipeline, Atlanta, Knoxville, Nashville,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital.

Colonial expects to resume activity in Houston beginning on Sunday.

– What about Irma? –

The problem is all the more acute because of the Labor Day holiday this weekend, the traditional end of summer when Americans often travel by car. And because another hurricane is heading to US shores.

To help alleviate the shortage of crude, Washington has decided to open its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, sending a million barrels of crude to the Phillips 66 refinery on Lake Charles in Louisiana to keep it operating.

Federal authorities have not ruled out releasing crude to other refiners.

Furthermore, gasoline inventories in the southeastern United States are currently “at or above the historic five-year range,” according the Energy Department.

In addition, shipments of finished petroleum products also have been sent from Europe.

“But it will not hit our shores for 10 days and the volumes will not be able to replace lost supply,” said Phil Flynn of the Price Futures Group.

“It really depends on how fast refineries are getting things up and running,” he told AFP, adding that prices should ease as refinery re-starts or shipment arrivals are announced.

But everything could change, he warned, if Hurricane Irma, which is currently over the Atlantic, were to strike the US coast.

by Juliette MICHEL

Obama’s Mideast legacy: Iran’s puppets all around Israel with war on the way

August 31, 2017

By Jonathan S. Tobin

Image may contain: one or more people, crowd and outdoor

There are some mistakes for which the world never seems to stop paying.

When the United States chose to let Syria slide into chaos while simultaneously seeking to end the isolation of Iran with a nuclear deal, President Barack Obama thought he was avoiding trouble and giving Iran a chance to “get right with the world.”

But it turns out those blunders are still paying dividends for Iran, creating new dangers in the Middle East and threatening the hopes of the Trump administration. That was made clear this week when Yehya al-Sinwar, the leader of Hamas, announced in Gaza that the terror group had reconciled with Iran.

Prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Iran was Hamas’ main source of money and weapons and helped the terror group transform Gaza into a fortress bristling with rockets and missiles that rained terror on Israeli towns and cities.

Though Obama repeatedly called for Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, he did nothing to aid those trying to make it a reality, especially when a little help would have gone a long way. He ultimately stood by as Russia and Iran intervened to save Assad.

By backing down on his “red line” warning on the use of chemical weapons and then punting responsibility for that issue to Russia (which allowed Assad to continue using them), Obama also ensured that Syria would become a land bridge between Tehran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries in Lebanon.

Obama thought intervention would have been an obstacle to his hopes for a rapprochement with Tehran. Nor did he let Iran’s refusal to give up its nuclear program stop his push for a deal that vastly enriched the regime while only delaying its quest for a nuclear weapon.

The result: Iran is stronger and bolder than ever and building weapons factories in Lebanon and Syria. By reconciling with Hamas, it has the capacity to create what might be a three-front war against the Jewish state whenever it chooses to heat up the conflict. With Iran behind it, Hamas, which has already re-armed and re-fortified Gaza since its 2014 war with Israel, is not only better able to re-start hostilities but also now more of a threat to its Fatah rivals in the West Bank.

What does that mean for the United States?

The administration continues to believe that the shared fears of Iran that caused Arab states like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to make common cause with Israel will enable them to pressure the Palestinians to make peace. But as the Temple Mount crisis proved this summer, it’s the Palestinians who have the ability to push them away from the Israelis.As we saw last week when his adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner visited the region, President Trump still harbors hopes of brokering the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians that eluded his predecessors.

And with Hamas back in its pocket, Iran has the ability to veto peace with the Jewish state they still vow to eliminate.

What can Trump do? The options are limited but he must begin by realizing that sticking to Obama’s decision to let the Russians and Iranians have Syria is a mistake. The same applies to listening to those who have so far persuaded him not to start the process of rolling back the nuclear deal.

Trump will probably never get the Middle East peace deal he wants. But doubling down on Obama’s mistakes will only increase the risks of more Middle Eastern wars that he wishes to avoid.

The Iran-Hamas reunion is a warning that policies that strengthen Russia and its Iranian allies are blunders Israel and the West will keep paying for in blood and treasure.

Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of and a contributing writer for National Review.



Image may contain: 1 person
Fatemeh Bahrami | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A Iranian woman walks past a wall painting in the shape of Iranian flag in Tehran, Iran on the first anniversary of nuclear deal between Iran and world powers on January 16, 2017.

Image result for Iran, missiles, underground, photos

Iran has boasted about its ballistic missiles, many of which are on mobile launchers

Image result for Iran, missiles, underground, photos

© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir | A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on July 30, 2017 shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah

No automatic alt text available.

Voters ‘May Be About to Teach Trump a Lesson’

August 31, 2017

That theory would be proven should Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) loses his contest to former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore on September 26 in the Alabama U.S. Senate special election Republican primary runoff.

Although the margin varies, polling has consistently shown Moore with a lead over Strange.

According to Enten, if those numbers hold through the runoff, it raises questions about Trump as a GOP power broker headed into the 2018 midterm elections.

“If Strange does go on to lose the runoff (and there’s still nearly a month to go) — or even if it’s simply a close race — it would be easy to conclude that Trump has lost his ability to influence Republican primary voters. But maybe he never had much of that power to begin with,” Enten wrote. “The real lesson heading into the 2018 midterm cycle is that Trump should be smarter about who he endorses: “On-brand” endorsements can help, but Trump doesn’t have the power, for example, to make moderate Republicans vote for an uber-conservative, or vice versa.”

Trump endorsed Strange in the late stages of the campaigning for Republican primary held earlier this month, and that endorsement is thought to be what gave Strange the edge he needed over Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) to advance to the runoff.

Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama. He has my complete and total endorsement!

Luther Strange of the Great State of Alabama has my endorsement. He is strong on Border & Wall, the military, tax cuts & law enforcement.

However, a report from The Washington Post said Trump could be backing off his support of Strange for his runoff contest against Moore.

“[T]rump is considering being less engaged than in the first round of voting, when he tweeted his support and recorded a robo-call for the senator, they said — potentially turning the contest into yet another example of the frayed relationship between Trump and McConnell,” Robert Costa, Sean Sullivan and David Weigel wrote for the Post on August 25.

Ultimately, it may not matter. Enten argues endorsements like Trump’s matter in primaries where an “ideological cue” is given, but in case of Trump endorsing Strange, it may not be as effective because he says it “never made a lot of sense from either a messaging or policy standpoint.”

According to Enten, Moore has more in common with Trump — a populist politician running against the “establishment,” the exception being Moore’s “religious appeal.” In the end, Alabama Trump voters will make up their own minds on the runoff.

“The lesson of these different endorsements should be fairly clear: Trump voters aren’t mindless drones,” Enten wrote. “They’ll take cues from the president when he’s selling them on something it makes sense for them to back.”

If Moore does come out victorious later this month, it could change the playbook on how Trump should approach next year’s election.

“This has implications for the 2018 midterms — who comes out of the various GOP primaries — but it also says something about the landscape of modern American politics. In short: Trumpism isn’t limited to, or even (mostly) about, Trump,” Enten added.

Strange and Moore are competing for the Republican nod and will face Democratic nominee former Clinton U.S. Attorney Doug Jones in the general election in December for the seat formerly held by Jeff Sessions.

Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor

Prayer and Meditation for Friday, September 1, 2017 — “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.” — “Stay awake for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

August 31, 2017

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 429

Image result for ten virgins holding oil lamps, art, photos

Reading 1 1 THES 4:1-8

Brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God–
and as you are conducting yourselves–
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

This is the will of God, your holiness:
that you refrain from immorality,
that each of you know how to acquire a wife for himself
in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion
as do the Gentiles who do not know God;
not to take advantage of or exploit a brother or sister in this matter,
for the Lord is an avenger in all these things,
as we told you before and solemnly affirmed.
For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.
Therefore, whoever disregards this,
disregards not a human being but God,
who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

Responsorial Psalm PS 97:1 AND 2B, 5-6, 10, 11-12

R. (12a) Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many isles be glad.
Justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
The LORD loves those who hate evil;
he guards the lives of his faithful ones;
from the hand of the wicked he delivers them.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
Light dawns for the just;
and gladness, for the upright of heart.
Be glad in the LORD, you just,
and give thanks to his holy name.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!

Alleluia LK 21:36

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Be vigilant at all time and pray,
that you may have the strength to stand before the Son of Man.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Image result for ten bridegrooms, bible, art

Parable of the ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom

Gospel MT 25:1-13

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was long delayed,
they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry,
‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish ones said to the wise,
‘Give us some of your oil,
for our lamps are going out.’
But the wise ones replied,
‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you.
Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’
While they went off to buy it,
the bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.
Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’
But he said in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Therefore, stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour.”



From The Latter Day Saints

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

In this parable, the Savior taught us how to prepare for His Second Coming.

In these last days, the Lord has said, “Be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom” (D&C 33:17). This counsel refers to the parable of the ten virgins, which illustrates how we are to prepare for Christ’s Second Coming (see Matthew 25:1–13). Here are some explanations that may help you as you study this parable and ponder its meaning.

Ten Virgins

It was a custom among the Jews for the bridegroom to come at night to the bride’s house, where her bridesmaids attended her. When the bridegroom’s approach was announced, these maidens went out with lamps to light his way into the house for the celebration.

In this parable the virgins represent members of the Church, and the bridegroom represents Christ. The Lord explained to Joseph Smith that the wise virgins are those who “have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived” (D&C 45:57).


In the Bible, the image of a wedding is used to portray the coming of the Lord (see Isaiah 62:5Matthew 22:1–14). Jewish weddings included the announcement of the bridegroom’s coming to the bride’s house. The weddings usually began in the evening, with the lamps lit at dusk. So midnight was later than the ten virgins would have expected the bridegroom—and the announcement came suddenly.

We do not know the timing of Christ’s Second Coming, but we should prepare for it as though it could come at any time—whether soon or late.


The vessels in the parable were containers for storing extra oil. Being wise means being prepared for the unexpected with an extra measure of faith, testimony, and the Spirit in our lives. Sometimes we grow complacent, thinking we have enough to get by. But following the Savior means more than just getting by. It means always striving to draw closer to Him, preparing for those times when our patience, faith, and testimony will be tried.


The oil lamps used by the Jews in Jesus’s day are called Herodian lamps, after King Herod. These lamps enabled people to carry light wherever they went. In the same way, we are to carry the light of the gospel with us (see Matthew 5:14–16).

The handle was shaped by hand and then attached to the lamp.

The body of the lamp was made of clay and shaped on a potter’s wheel.

The spout or nozzle was made from a mold.

wick made of flax fibers or a rush stem was placed in the spout, and then the lamp was filled with olive oil. Once the wick absorbed the oil, the lamp was lit.


Olives are first soaked in water to clean them and purge them of their bitterness, and then they are crushed to extract their oil. Olive oil, produced throughout the Mediterranean region, had multiple uses anciently: food, cooking oil, condiment, treatment for wounds, ingredient in cosmetics and soaps, and fuel for lamps.

The oil in the parable represents our faith and testimony, our purity and dedication, our good works, and our keeping of covenants—all of the ways in which we have “taken the Holy Spirit for [our] guide” (D&C 45:57).

The wise virgins could not share their oil with the foolish virgins because “the oil of spiritual preparedness cannot be shared” (Marvin J. Ashton, “A Time of Urgency,” Ensign, May 1974, 36).

Drop by Drop

“Attendance at sacrament meetings adds oil to our lamps, drop by drop over the years. Fasting, family prayer, home teaching, control of bodily appetites, preaching the gospel, studying the scriptures—each act of dedication and obedience is a drop added to our store. Deeds of kindness, payment of offerings and tithes, chaste thoughts and actions, marriage in the covenant for eternity—these, too, contribute importantly to the oil with which we can at midnight refuel our exhausted lamps.”

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985), Faith Precedes the Miracle(1972), 256.

The lamps were lit at dusk.

The bridegroom came at midnight.

Herodian lamps could usually burn for about two hours.

Image result for Herodian lamps, photos


Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1 TH 4:1-8MT 25:1-13 ]

As we reach the last chapters of St Matthew’s gospel, the theme is naturally focused on the Coming of the Kingdom of God and, by extension, the Return of Christ.  Exegetically, when we interpret today’s parable in the context of the ministry of Christ, He was referring to the coming of God’s kingdom that would be brought upon by His death.  By the time of the evangelist, when the return of Christ was postponed indefinitely, this parable took on the theme of the final judgment, as expressed in the words, “So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.”  Regardless whether we are preparing for His proximate coming or His final coming, we must be vigilant, which is what St Matthew is exhorting us.

How, then, do we keep vigilant?  We must keep ourselves holy.  This is what St Paul advises us.  Christian calling is ultimately a call to the vocation of holiness.  The will of God is our sanctification.  He wrote, “What God wants is for you all to be holy.”  By virtue of our baptism, we are just like the bridesmaids; we are called to keep ourselves holy as we prepare to welcome the bridegroom who wants to wed humanity to Himself.  Christ, our bridegroom, wants His Church to be in union with Him as His Bride, now on earth and in heaven forever.

In this context, St Paul urges holiness in terms of sanctification of the body, that is, avoiding sexual immorality, because He desires it to be that way, “He wants you to keep away from fornication, and each one of you to know how to use the body that belongs to him in a way that is holy and honourable, not giving way to selfish lust like the pagans who do not know God.  He wants nobody at all ever to sin by taking advantage of a brother in these matters.”  Furthermore, unchastity is an outrage against God, since He dwells in us in the Holy Spirit.  Thus, he said, “We have been called by God to be holy, not to be immoral; in other words, anyone who objects is not objecting to a human authority, but to God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

Nevertheless, we must see unchastity not merely in terms of an act but rather what the act expresses, namely, the lack of purity of love between two persons and for God.  When a person is used to satisfy our lust, we have made use of him as a thing for our pleasure, as opposed to respecting the person who is to be loved.  Chastity simply means loving the person rightly in such a way that our love is pure, holy and unselfish.  In contrast, sexual immorality would be seen as idolatry because it is a worship of self.

Nevertheless, growth in holiness is not something that we acquire once and for all.  The process of sanctification begins with our baptism, but it is an ongoing reality.  Unfortunately, many Christians think that once they are baptized, they are guaranteed of a place in the Kingdom of God.  On the contrary, there is this constant need to purify ourselves in love, grow in virtues, overcoming our sinful and bad habits.

In this respect, growth in our spiritual life is something which, although can be assisted by the community, is essentially personal.  No one can take our place or work at it on our behalf when it comes to our relationship with God.  This is what the parable of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids teaches us.  Initially, we might be struck by the apparent selfishness of the five supposedly wise bridesmaids.  For when asked by the five foolish bridesmaids to share their oil with them, they replied, “There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.”   How could they be called wise when they are so selfish?  Aren’t they called to share their oil with those who need them?

In order to understand why the wise bridesmaids could not share their oil with the foolish bridesmaids, we must realize that the oil refers to something that is very personal.  It refers to what would fan the flame of love in us and give power, that is, the capacity to love.  Things like virtues and knowledge, interior life especially, cannot be shared.  It is a matter of personal discovery, cultivation and interiorization.  For this reason, the wise bridesmaids pointed out to the foolish ones to look for the oil themselves.

Spiritual condition is our personal responsibility which cannot be delegated.  This is true in all relationships and life.  We cannot neglect those whom we love.  When we lose our emotional bond with our loved ones, alienation of heart will eventually lead to alienation of mind and will.  That is why relationship takes time and is demanding.  We cannot afford to leave our relationships to grow naturally without taking time to water with love and compassion, prune with care and understanding; and nurture with intimacy. Without patience, time and perseverance, the relationship, regardless how beautiful when it started, will deteriorate to one of distance, from being cool to cold and then indifferent.

Similarly, our relationship with God cannot be taken for granted.  Growing in holiness is more than just getting baptized or going for conversion retreats or seeking spiritual highs.  Rather, it is what follows that determines whether we grow in personal relationship with the Lord.  The trouble is that today many of us are not ready for a long haul in relationships.  This is so true in marriage.   We give up on love so easily.  People nowadays change their feelings so easily.  The regret of many married couples is always this, “He or she is no longer the same as before.  He or she has changed.  There is no more love left except obligation to live together.  Our marriage is stale and the joy of romance, the enthusiasm of being together and doing things together is no longer there.  Although married, we live separate lives in reality.  We do our own thing and have our own friends and social activities, even in faith as well.”

Realizing this danger of backsliding, St Paul urges us therefore to make a conscious effort to cooperate with the grace of God.  He appealed to the Thessalonians and to us “to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants, as you learnt from us, and as you are already living it.”  He reminded them, “What God wants is for you all to be holy.”  We must remember that holiness is not something that one can acquire overnight.  Holiness is a lifelong struggle and a journey.  Our whole purpose in life is to be purified in holiness.  What is true for holiness is true for knowledge and self-identity.

Consequently, it behooves us to be ready at all times.  To be ready means we must start preparing now for the future.  We do not know what is in store for us in the future.  Whether it is growing in holiness, strengthening of ministry, marriage or relationships, we must recognize the long haul.  We will be faced with tremendous difficulties ahead of us.  Yes, in the routine of the ministry or in our marriage, like the bridesmaids, we too will grow drowsy and fall asleep.  Unaware of what is happening, we fall into temptations; pursuit of power, inappropriate relationships and attachment to the things of this world. Hence, if we do not begin to strengthen our spiritual life now, or to acquire the necessary knowledge already, when the time arrives, we would be left unprepared to face the trials of purification in holiness and love.

Indeed, holiness and readiness for the coming of the Kingdom of God is an ongoing process.  That is why the Church speaks of the necessity of ongoing formation in our spiritual life.  There is no end to growth in spiritual and intellectual life.  To neglect our spiritual life and our affective life in terms of our personal relationships with our loved ones and even those whom we work with, is putting ourselves in jeopardy.  Just focusing on work and material things and success alone will lead to many other problems.  So whatever time and opportunity we have, we must employ ourselves usefully, storing the oil in us so that when the time comes, we would have all that we need to respond to the situation.  If not, then we would be swept away in the face of difficulties and temptations, whether in the ministry, in our marital relationships or at work.  One of the worst lines we can utter is “I regret.”  To regret might be too late.  Then, like the foolish bridesmaids, we will be locked out from the happiness of the kingdom.

Written by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

Texas Explosions Signal Chemical Industry Pushed to Its Limits

August 31, 2017


By Jack Kaskey and Ania Nussbaum

August 31, 2017, 5:28 AM EDT August 31, 2017, 11:00 AM EDT
  • Arkema chemical plant blasts were caused by Harvey’s floods
  • More than half of U.S. production of key chemicals is halted
Arkema Texas Chemical Plant Rocked by Explosions

Arkema Confirms Explosions in Texas, Threat of More

In its devastatingly slow crawl up the industrial Gulf Coast, Hurricane Harvey is proving to be the biggest test yet of the safety and vulnerabilities of the U.S. chemicals industry.

Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and nature

The Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, on Aug. 30.

Photographer: Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP Photo

A Houston-area chemical plant was hit by explosions overnight after floods caused by Harvey knocked out power supplies needed to refrigerate volatile peroxides. Fifteen police officers were treated at the hospital for smoke irritation from the plant, though earlier evacuations of the site and surrounding community prevented more serious injuries. The plant is owned by French chemical company Arkema SA.

The remaining chemicals will eventually burn, Richard Rennard, a company president, told reporters Thursday. “It is not anything we think is a danger to the community at all,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in a press conference early Thursday.

The incident underscored the risks confronting the industry after dozens of chemical plants shut down in the path of the storm from South Texas to Louisiana, knocking out more than half of U.S. production of some of the most-used chemicals and plastics.

With its crucial access to ports for shipping and receiving, the Gulf Coast is the epicenter of the nation’s chemical industry, where many of the materials indispensable to modern society are produced. The plants provide the basic building blocks for making everything from cars and computers to household furnishings and appliances.

The massive industrial centers also deal with complex chemical processes that pose hazards from lethal explosions to toxic spills when things go wrong. The danger is greatest when plants are shutting down and starting up.

“That is when bad things happen,” said Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the chief energy officer at the University of Houston.

Uncharted Territory

Gulf Coast chemical plants are designed to withstand hurricane force winds and floods, but Harvey has put the industry into uncharted territory, Sam Mannan, director of the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M University, which studies plant safety.

Though plants have been dealing with a multitude of problems and there have been no serious injuries, the crisis is far from over.  It will take weeks, if not months, for all the plants to assess damage, make repairs and restart operations in the wake of the floods.

“This whole thing is testing how well we have thought through our safety systems and programs and how robust the plants are,” said Mannan. “I don’t know if anybody is ready for this level of flooding.”

Harvey made landfall on Aug. 26 and has brought torrential rain and historic flooding along the Gulf Coast, knocking out almost a quarter of U.S. refining capacity. While Harvey’s shut down of U.S. crude processing capacity has grabbed headlines and led to spiking gasoline prices, less known is the storm’s outsize impact on chemical production.

“It seems like Harvey came with a plan to follow the chemical industry on the Gulf Coast,” said Mannan.

Production Halted

About 61 percent of U.S. ethylene production has been shut due to Harvey as of Wednesday afternoon, according to PetroChemwire. The storm has closed about 51 percent of U.S. capacity for making polyethylene, the world’s most used plastic resin, according to Kevin McCarthy, an equity analyst at Vertical Research Partners. As much as 65 percent of polypropylene production and one-third of chlorine output may shut or running at reduced rates, according to IHS Markit. Prices already have been rising.

“The combination of Harvey’s path, duration and rainfall total is wreaking havoc with the supply side of the U.S. chemicals industry on an unprecedented scale,” McCarthy said. “We certainly haven’t seen anything quite like it in our 18 years of following chemical stocks on Wall Street.”

One complicating factor post-Harvey is the urban sprawl gradually engulfing chemical plants, according to Andrea Sella, a professor of inorganic chemistry at UCL university in London. “Because accidents are unusual, planners can come to underestimate the severity of what are likely to be quite rare events,” he said by email.

Arkema’s site in Crosby, which is about 25 miles from downtown Houston, is situated in an area with no hospitals, schools, correctional facilities, recreational areas or industrial and commercial areas in the vicinity, according to the Colombes, France-based company.

Explosions, Smoke

Two explosions and black smoke were reported at 2 a.m. local time, after the plant lost power and backup generators in the storm’s flood, the company said in a statementon Thursday. Arkema stores organic peroxides at several locations on the site. Sheriff Gonzalez said 13 of the 15 deputies treated for smoke exposure had been released from the hospital.

The best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out, the company said. The chemicals made at the plant are used to make plastics.

“At Crosby, we prepared for what we recognized could be a worst-case scenario,” Rich Rowe, who overseas Arkema’s U.S. operation, said in a statement. “We had redundant contingency plans in place.” The flood waters, which reached 6 feet inside the plant, have begun to recede, Rennard, the company president, said Thursday morning.

Arkema shares were trading 2.1 percent lower at 91.13 euros as of 4:32 p.m. in Paris

— With assistance by Jess Shankleman

Includes videos:

Wells Fargo says 1.4 mn new phony accounts uncovered

August 31, 2017


© GETTY/AFP | Wells Fargo’s woes continue as the banking giant announced its broadening investigation uncovered 1.4 million new phony accounts

NEW YORK (AFP) – Troubled commercial banking giant Wells Fargo said Thursday it had uncovered 1.4 million more suspect customer accounts, part of a broadening scandal that has rocked the bank since last year.The new total brings the number to 3.5 million potentially phony accounts opened without customers’ consent or knowledge, which caused damaged credit scores and millions in unjustified fees, the bank said in a statement.

“We apologize to everyone who was harmed by unacceptable sales practices that occurred in our retail bank,” CEO Tim Sloan said in a statement.

Wells Fargo became engulfed in scandal last year after admitting its employees had opened millions of phony deposit accounts and lines of credit — part of high pressure retail sales tactics the bank touted to investors but has since repudiated.

The additional problem accounts were uncovered after the bank expanded its internal investigation by three years. The expansion meant reviewing more than 165 million retail banking accounts opened between January 2009 and September 2016.

So far, the Wells Fargo said it has identified about 190,000 accounts which incurred fees and charges. The company will pay $6.1 million in refunds and credits to customers.

That sum comes on top of a $142 million class-action legal settlement and $3.7 million in refunds paid following complaints from September 2016 to July of this year, the bank said.

Wells Fargo has paid $185 million in fines and offered redress to harmed customers. In October, CEO John Stumpf stepped down in the wake of the scandal, which cost it the top ranking as the world’s largest bank by market capitalization.

But the bank’s legal woes do not appear to have abated. Last month, the company also disclosed a fresh investigation by regulators into the bank’s practice of charging fees to homeowners to maintain low interest rates on their residential mortgages for additional years.


wells fargo whistle blowers 1

Related: Elizabeth Warren’s epic takedown of Wells Fargo CEO

wells fargo whistle blowers 2

Belarus at ‘war’ with imaginary country of Veyshnoria

August 31, 2017

BBC News

Belarusian airborne troops during the country's independence day parade in July 2017
Belarusian airborne troops have an eye on the fictional nation of Veyshnoria. Getty Images

A country invented as part of military exercises in Belarus has caught the imagination of locals, who have created a foreign ministry, flag, history and even its own Wikipedia page for the fictional nation.

Veyshnoria is one of three states made up for the Zapad 2017 military drills, which – according to the scenario – seek to invade Belarus and sow discord between Minsk and Moscow.

The map of the exercise, made public during the General Staff briefing on 29 August, shows Veyshnoria in the north-western regions of today’s Belarus, with Vesbaria and Lubenia lying in Lithuania and Poland, the Nasha Niva website reports.

Some commentators noted that the border between Belarus and Veyshnoria “strongly resembles” the border between the Soviet Union in Poland in 1920-39. “This means that under the Zapad 2017 scenario, Belarusians will have to attack the territory of Belarusians,” lifestyle website said.

Political historian Pavel Usov, blurring reality and fiction on his Facebook page, said that “Veyshnoria is a peaceful democratic country which has never been aggressive towards its neighbours.

“It is likely that Moscow provoked a conflict between Minsk and Giradis (the capital of Veyshnoria) in order to fully establish control over Belarus and not allow Veyshnoria to join NATO and the EU,” he said, reflecting on the real-world tensions surrounding Ukraine’s desire to link with the West.

Proposed flag of Veyshnoria
Facebook users came up with a flag for the ‘new’ nation. WIKIMEDIA/EVGENIY MAHNACH

Stew, honey and lard

The online activity around Veyshnoria mostly centres around the satirical Twitter account of its “foreign ministry”, @Vaisnoria_MFA.

Tweeting in Belarusian and Russian, the ministry expressed concern over the “concentration of Belarusian military equipment outside Veyshnoria’s borders”, declared a partial mobilisation and exchanged pleasantries with the parody account of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

It also promised “stew, honey, bread and lard” to Belarusian soldiers who choose to surrender, and announced an entry ban on the Belarusian chief of the General Staff, Aleh Belakonew.

A separate website was set up for Belarusians wishing to apply for Veyshnoria citizenship, with hundreds applying for the imaginary country’s passport.

But if you’re looking for laughs on the country’s Wikipedia page, you might be disappointed, as – in true Wikipedia style – it is a dry rundown of how Veyshnoria emerged, and a lesson that you should never try to explain comedy.

The Wikipedia page for Veyshnoria
On second thought, let’s not go to Veyshnoria. It is a silly place.  WIKIPEDIA

Reporting by Yana Lyushnevskaya, Alistair Coleman

EU’s Barnier says Brexit talks far from shifting to future ties

August 31, 2017


By Alastair Macdonald and Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain’s exit negotiations with the European Union this week failed to make the kind of progress needed to open talks on their future relationship in October, the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday.

However, British Brexit minister David Davis said, the two sides had made “some concrete progress” and there was “high degree of convergence” on the future border with Ireland.

Image result for david davis, photos

David Davis

Britain would “rigorously” question how much it had to pay the EU when it leaves, Davis said. However, London may consider paying more than the bare legal minimum given its desire for a future partnership with the bloc, he said.

“We are a country that meets its international obligations and will continue to do so, but those obligations have to be well specified and they have to be real,” Davis told a news conference. “They don’t necessarily have to be legal. We also recognize moral obligations sometimes.”

The EU has said that talks on the future relationship can only start after the other 27 EU governments are satisfied that “sufficient progress” has been made on the terms of Britain’s departure. It is due to leave the union, deal or no deal, in late March 2019.

That gives the two sides less than two years to reach a deal and ratify it. The alternative is a scenario in which Britain crashes out from the EU with little legal clarity for the businesses and citizens affected.

Barnier told reporters after talks in Brussels the two sides managed to agree on some technical clarifications and recognized that discussions on the Ireland border had been “fruitful”, but no decisive progress had been made on the main subjects.

“We are quite far from being able to say that sufficient progress has taken place, sufficient for me to be able to recommend to the European Council that it engage in discussions on the future relationship between the UK and EU.”

Barnier scolded London for demanding “the impossible” in position papers released last week, including having a say on the EU’s single-market rules even after it’s outside the union.

Image result for Michel Barnier, photos
Michel Barnier

He said Britain still rejected the EU’s demand that the European Court of Justice police the enforcement of the rights of EU citizens living in Britain after Brexit.

Beyond safeguarding expatriate rights, the other priority areas for the EU are the future border between the United Kingdom’s province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, and agreeing an exit bill.

“Our discussions this week have exposed yet again that UK’s approach is substantially more flexible and pragmatic than that of the EU,” Davis said.

Slideshow (6 Images)

“I remain of the view there is an unavoidable overlap between withdrawal and the future and they cannot be neatly compartmentalized,” he said, reiterating London’s stance that talks on splitting from the EU and forging a new relationship should largely run in parallel.


Barrier said he and Davis remained far apart on what Britain should pay on departure to account for previous commitments.

Michel Barnier

“In July, the UK recognized that it has (financial) obligations beyond the Brexit date,” Barnier said. “But this week the UK explained that its obligations will be limited to their last payment to the EU budget before their departure.”

Britain, he said, did not feel legally obliged to honor joint obligations such as long-term loans to Ukraine, development funds for Africa and Pacific countries and green initiatives.

The bloc has previously floated a sum of around 60 billion euros ($71 billion), which Britain has dismissed.

“We have a duty to our taxpayers to interrogate it rigorously,” Davis said.

Despite Derision, Britain’s PM May Might Well Be Able to Carry On… For Now

August 31, 2017

LONDON — It was meant to silence her critics, but by pledging to lead the Conservative Party into the next election, British Prime Minister Theresa May instead unleashed a wave of derision from her foes.

Still, with no challenger in sight and a party wary of a leadership fight, the 60-year-old prime minister is probably safe for now.

The London Evening Standard, now edited by George Osborne, the Conservative sacked by May as finance minister when she became prime minister last year, described her pledge to run again as “Like the Living Dead in a second-rate horror film”.

“The premiership of Theresa May staggers on oblivious. This was not supposed to be in the script.”

Others chimed in.

Party grandee Michael Heseltine, who was also sacked as a government adviser by May for rebelling over Britain’s planned exit from the European Union, deadpanned: “I don’t think she’s got a long term.”

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.  Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

And another critic, Nicky Morgan, who lost her position as education minister when May entered power after the Brexit referendum last year, said it would be difficult for May to lead the Conservatives into the next election due in 2022.

“We have got to think about how we renew our franchise,” she told the BBC.

But many Conservatives kept silent.

After being bruised this year when May called an early election only to see her party lose its parliamentary majority, several said keeping the party in power was the main priority. And with no one willing to challenge May, it made more sense to keep her as leader to guide Britain through what could become a messy Brexit.

“There are people who are fed up and hurt after the election, and there’s muttering, but not a lot of them are muttering publicly. The loudest ones are those who have no chance of getting big jobs,” a veteran party member said.

“But no one is putting their hand up to take over. There’s no appetite from any of the big players … Her future is all about Brexit.”


Asked during a visit to Japan whether she wanted to lead the Conservative Party into the next election, May said: “Yes … I’m here for the long term and it’s crucial, what me and my government are about is not just delivering on Brexit, we are delivering a brighter future for the United Kingdom.”

“I’m not a quitter,” she said.

She hoped to silence weeks of media reports that she could leave office as early as the annual party conference in October, an event where political careers have been made or broken in the past.

But instead of increasing her authority, damaged by the June election, she attracted derision from critics in her own party as well as the opposition.

The Labour Party was quick to accuse May of “deluding herself”. “Theresa May leads a zombie government,” said Jon Trickett, a senior member of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s team.

“The sooner the public has the chance to vote out her and her government the better for our country’s future.”

But it is the threat from Labour, which has seen its standing in the polls increase since the election, that in part might keep May in her position for longer than some think.

Few Conservatives dare risk doing anything that might trigger an early parliamentary election and hand a chance of victory to Corbyn.

Also, despite several leading Conservatives thought to be eyeing her job, none appears willing to step in now when Britain is engaged in difficult talks to leave the European Union, which officials say are making little or no progress.

The veteran party member, who discussed May’s prospects on condition of anonymity, said he thought May was sincere in pledging to stay on until the next election, despite the chorus of calls from foes within the party for her to step aside.

“She told the truth. She’s up for staying on. But it all depends on Brexit,” the party member said. “If she comes out of it with jobs up, and is seen to have told the EU to get off and prospects are good … well you can go hero to zero and vice versa.”

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Peter Graff)


Macron’s government unveils controversial labour reforms

August 31, 2017

Reuters, AP and AFP

© Alain Jocard, AFP | French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and French Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud give a press conference about the new labour code with French unions at the Hôtel Matignon in Paris on August 31, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-08-31

After meeting with trade unions on Thursday, the French government unveiled President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial labour reforms, vowing to “free up the energy of the workforce” by making it easier for employers to hire and fire.

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud met with trade unionists on Thursday before publicly unveiling the labour reform measures, which are detailed on some 200 pages.

The highly anticipated and controversial labour reforms, a centerpiece of Macron’s election pledge, are aimed at creating jobs.

The changes will be implemented via executive order, allowing Macron to avoid a lengthy parliamentary debate. The overhaul will be adopted by the government in September and must then be ratified by parliament, where the president’s La République en Marche (Republic on the Move) party has a large majority.

‘Ambitious and fair’ labour reforms

According to the labour reform proposals, indemnities set by employment tribunals will be capped at three months’ salary for employees with more than two years employment and up to 20 months for those with 30 years of employment.

The measures will allow for very small companies (fewer than 20 employees) to negotiate with a non-elected employee, not mandated by a trade union. In companies with 20-50 employees, negotiations will involve an elected staff member, not necessarily someone appointed by a union.

Philippe has described the labour reforms, the result of three months of negotiations with trade unions, “ambitious, balanced and fair”. After “decades of mass unemployment […] nobody today could seriously not support our right, and our working right in particular, to favour employment […] that efficiently protects and helps the efficient, long-lasting development of companies,” the prime minister said at the press conference.

Criticism from trade unions

Right after the announcement of the reforms, some unions voiced criticism, denouncing measures that they perceive to be more favourable to companies than to employees.

Philippe Martinez, secretary-general of the CGT trade union, lashed out Thursday, saying, “All our fears have been confirmed and the additional fear is obvious and has been written: It’s the end of the working contract.” He qualified the reform as “old recipes which will not change the lot of the people.”

The communist-backed CGT has opposed the changes outright and is set to mobilise its supporters on September 12 for a street protest. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left leader of France Insoumise (Unbowed France) and a fierce opponent to Macron, is organising another protest on September 23.

France’s biggest private sector union, the CFDT, declared itself “disappointed” but said it would not be calling its members to join the CGT’s planned street protest on September 12.

Nevertheless, the CFDT is unhappy with the level at which dismissal awards in France’s labour courts will be capped, and unhappy with a section of the reforms in which employers will be allowed to negotiate directly with staff in companies with fewer than 20 workers.

The boss of the hard-left Force Ouvrière (FO) union, Jean-Claude Mailly, said he disagreed with some of the changes, but like Berger suggested he would not recommend his members join street protests.

Meanwhile, François Asselin, president of France’s confederation of small and medium-sized companies, the CPME, has praised the reform for being “particularly pragmatic”.

Macron’s reasoning for reforms

Thursday’s reforms come at a pivotal moment for Macron’s domestic agenda as he seeks to encourage entrepreneurship in France, where the unemployment rate of 9.5 percent is almost double that of its large European rivals.

He argues the measures are needed to introduce greater flexibility in France’s rigid labour law to encourage hiring.

“We are the only major economy in the European Union that has not defeated mass unemployment for more than three decades,” he told Le Point magazine in an interview published late on Wednesday.

The high-stake reforms come as Macron’s popularity has plummeted to 40 percent, according to French daily Le Figaro.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)