Saturday, October 31, 2020

SNC stock touches 52-week low after Q3 loss linked to arbitration, COVID precautions

SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.'s stock fell nearly 10 per cent Friday after the engineering services company reported disappointing quarterly results hurt by an unexpectedly expensive arbitration decision and COVID-19's impact on productivity at some of its projects.
© Provided by The Canadian Press

The Montreal-based company's largest source of revenue, engineering services, was profitable during the quarter, as was its capital investment division. But SNC's project management division lost money resulting in an overall third-quarter loss of $85.1 million.

Desjardins analyst Benoit Poirier said in a research note before the market close that there would be investor disappointment over continued losses from "lump-sum turnkey" projects — an area SNC has been actively winding down since last year.

SNC was hit by a $57.9-million arbitration expense related to one such project that was completed years ago, and by COVID-19's impact on some current projects.

Ian Edwards, SNC's president and CEO, told analysts on a quarterly conference call that the binding arbitration loss was more costly than its internal and external expert estimates.

He said SNC is doing a review of remaining legacy cases but it believes it has an appropriate process for assessing litigation risks.

The stock fell $2.03 or 9.8 per cent Friday to close at $18.64 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, after setting a new 52-week intraday low of $17.50 earlier in the day.

Edwards said the company is also getting greater clarity about how the pandemic is affecting productivity at its current projects.

"We're now seeing industry productivity impacts of between 10 (per cent) and 25 per cent, depending on the project and the activities involved," Edwards said.

In answer to an analyst's questions, Edwards said there are provisions in its contracts to recover extra costs, but each of the contracts is different.

"In the fullness of time, we would expect to recover the loss that's specific to COVID, and we will pursue that," Edwards said.

On a positive note, Edwards said, the services side of the business performed better than expected as a result of ongoing efforts to "right-size" the company through divestments, reduced overhead and better execution.

"Certainly the right-sizing of the overhead is going well," he added. "We're down to about 10,000 staff now, a significant decrease from 2019 when were at around 15,000 staff."

SNC's third-quarter amounted to 48 cents per diluted share. The per-share loss included 15 cents of profit from its capital investments, which partly offset a loss from its main business.

In 2019, SNC had a third-quarter profit of $2.76 billion, which included $15.04 per share from capital investments and 67 cents of profit from operations.

On an adjusted basis, SNC says it lost 19 cents per diluted share for this year's third quarter compared with an adjusted profit of $1.24 per diluted share a year ago.

In its outlook, SNC says that — assuming no significant change to the current COVID-19 situation — it expects engineering services revenue for the fourth quarter will be down by a low- to mid-single-digit percentage compared with the fourth quarter of last year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:SNC)
Canada Energy Regulator orders Trans Mountain to prove safety procedures, orders contractor to stop using trench boxes after worker death in Edmonton

The Canada Energy Regulator (CER) has dispatched inspectors and ordered Trans Mountain Corp. on Friday to prove it has safety procedures in place for trench boxes, a type of equipment involved in a worker’s death in west Edmonton this week .
© Ian Kucerak Edmonton Police Service officers were on scene of a workplace incident involving a crane at a Trans Mountain pipeline worksite at Winterburn Road and Whitemud Drive on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

CER on Friday ordered Trans Mountain to ensure its contracted company SA Energy Group immediately stops using trench boxes until it can demonstrate that the company can use, assemble, and disassemble them safely. Trench boxes are a type of protective construction equipment used to protect workers from pressure and weight of soil and prevent cave-ins.

The regulator also ordered Trans Mountain to undertake a “root cause analysis” of how the death occurred, fix the errors, and take action to prevent similar incidents, and to confirm it has a process for training workers in using trench boxes safely along the entire length of the Trans Mountain expansion project.

“The company must also confirm that it has the inspectors and oversight capability to adequately oversee high-risk project activities for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, and if there are any identified gaps, it addresses them,” reads a Friday news release from CER.

A man died after being caught and pinned under a cross beam of a trench box that was being disassembled by a side boom operator and three other labourers, according to an initial report provided by Trans Mountain to CER. Emergency medical services were called to the incident near Whitemud Drive and 215 Street around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Alberta Occupational Health and Safety is leading the investigation into the fatality.
Alberta Petrochemical Incentive Program to offer 12 per cent grants to attract new investment
The Alberta government is offering to pay up to 12 per cent of petrochemical project capital costs in an attempt to woo more investment to the province.
© Chris Schwartz/Government of Alberta Associate Minister of Natural Gas and Electricity Dale Nally announcing the Alberta Petrochemical Incentive Program July 9, 2020.

The grants, part of the Alberta Petrochemical Incentive Program first announced in July, were announced Friday by Associate Minister of Natural Gas and Electricity Dale Nally. Companies can now begin the application process.

New petrochemical, fertilizer, or hydrogen-producing facilities can receive the grants once they are up and running, as can expansions to existing facilities.

In an interview Thursday, Nally said the industry has been asking for the program.

“I can tell you they are (champing) at the bit to get their hands on the details,” he said.

To be eligible, manufacturing and processing facility projects must create new and permanent jobs, have a minimum of $50 million in capital investment, and consume natural gas, natural gas liquids or petrochemicals.

There is no cap to the program, but Premier Jason Kenney has estimated the cost could come in around $1 billion in total.

The program is part of a larger Natural Gas Vision and Strategy first outlined three weeks ago , and will run alongside the existing $1.1 billion petrochemical diversification royalty credit program introduced by the former NDP government in 2016.

Applications are closed for the diversification program, but companies that are taking part will have six months to apply for the new APIP program and abandon the royalty credit program.

The UCP government discontinued two other related programs in 2019 — the Petrochemical Feedstock Infrastructure Program and the Partial Upgrading Program, saying they carried a higher financial risk to the province.

Nally said the grants would be paid out over a three year period, so if a facility stops operating after six months, it would only receive a third of its grant.

“Some of these facilities require 5,000 to 7,000 construction jobs during the construction phase, so the tax revenue alone that would have been generated just on the construction of the facility would more than pay for the grants, so in that sense there is security,” said Nally.

NDP Opposition energy critic Kathleen Ganley said she was pleased the UCP government was recognizing diversification was not a luxury anymore, but she expressed concern about the security of Albertans’ investments.

“If you’re taking the risk you should get the profit. With the grant program it looks like the company still has the same opportunity for the profit, but more of the risk has been shifted to the taxpayer,” said Ganley.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation slammed the Alberta government for failing to put a cap on costs, calling it corporate welfare. CTF IS KENNEY'S FORMER EMPLOYER 

The application window for small projects, with capital costs valued between $50 and $150 million, will be open for five years, while applications for larger projects will be open for 10 years.

Mark Plamondon, executive director of Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association, said in a Friday news release the program makes Alberta more attractive to investors as the Industrial Heartland region northeast of Edmonton aims to attract $30 billion by 2030.

Janet Riopel, president and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, said the program was great news and would also boost the city’s economy.

On Friday, the Globe and Mail reported that the Alberta government is in talks with a private Saudi Arabian company to build a $5-billion petrochemical facility in the province.

Jennifer Henshaw, press secretary to Nally, said in a statement they hoped to have more to say in the months to come but would not comment due to confidentiality and commercial sensitivities.

“We are pleased to see that interest has been expressed by a number of global companies from different regions,” said Henshaw.

Kenney has been critical of Saudi Arabia for flooding North American oil markets at the expense of Alberta and its export of “democratic” Canadian energy, calling the Middle Eastern country one of the world’s “worst regimes.”
Losses mount for oil companies as pandemic grips economy

NEW YORK — Exxon Mobil reported its third consecutive quarter of losses as the global pandemic curtailed travel and crippled global economic activity.
© Provided by The Canadian Press

The energy giant on Friday posted a $680 million third-quarter loss and revenue tumbled to $46.2 billion, down from $65.05 billion during the same quarter last year.

The string of losses and what by almost all counts will be a money-losing year is new territory for Exxon Mobil, which has not posted an annual loss since Exxon and Mobil merged in 1999.

“This is a business that’s made a billion dollars a quarter on average from 2011 to 2018 and it’s had a rough go,” said Peter McNally, global sector lead for industrials, materials and energy at Third Bridge, a research firm.

Already struggling with weak prices from oversupply, the pandemic has intensified the pain for oil and gas companies. The price of U.S. benchmark crude has fallen 40% since the start of the year. The cost for a barrel of oil tumbled 10% just this week as coronavirus infections surged in the U.S. and abroad.

Commuting to work has largely ended for millions of people. Air travel this year fell to levels not seen in the jet age and the economy suffered its worst contraction in decades as factories and other big energy consumers shut down. All indications point to a Thanksgiving celebrated close to home, and in smaller numbers this year.

Exxon has begun slashing costs to offset falling energy demand, and that means jobs.

A day after announcing 1,900 job cuts, Exxon said on Friday that it plans to cut 15% of its global workforce by the end of next year, about 11,250 jobs. The company employed 75,000 people at the end of 2019.

Chevron also announced job cuts Thursday after closing on its acquisition of Noble Energy earlier this month, saying it would trim the headcount at that company by about a quarter.

"We remain confident in our long-term strategy and the fundamentals of our business, and are taking the necessary actions to preserve value while protecting the balance sheet and dividend,” said Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods in a prepared statement.

Exxon said Friday that it may divest $25 billion to $30 billion in North American dry gas assets, and that it would cut capital expenditures to between $16 billion and $19 billion next year.

That would follow a year in which Exxon reduced capital spending by 30%, to $23 billion.

“We are on pace to achieve our 2020 cost-reduction targets and are progressing additional savings next year as we manage through this unprecedented down cycle," Woods said.

Those planned reductions might not be enough to appease some investors. Exxon was the only one of the super-majors to post a loss this quarter, and is behind its peers in cost-cutting, said Jennifer Rowland, senior analyst at Edward Jones. “Everyone else either stayed in the black or got back into the black from the abyss of the second quarter. I think it’s telling that they’re the only ones still running in the red."

The Irving, Texas, company produced 3.7 million barrels of oil per day in the third quarter, up 1% from the second quarter. But production is down slightly from the same period last year.

“We are not cancelling any projects that are in execution or in the funding process,” said Andrew Swiger, chief financial officer, in a conference call Friday.

Several analysts on the call questioned why Exxon will continue paying a dividend given the losses it's suffering.

“Our objective is to maintain the dividend, advance the highest value investments, and maintain the debt at a cost- competitive level,” Swiger said.

“It’s not going well,” McNally said about Exxon. “You have to squint at some of the things to find things that are good.”

And the third quarter was an improvement compared with the last, when oil futures crashed below zero. Exxon and Chevron lost a combined $9 billion.

Chevron on Friday swung to a loss of $207 million after a quarterly profit of $2.9 billion last year. Revenue fell by $11 billion, to $24 billion.

Oil prices appeared to stabilize during the third quarter, however, and better conditions enabled Exxon to recover some of the production it had curtailed, the company said.

Demand for refined products also improved, and chemical sales volumes rose as demand for packaging increased and automotive and construction markets recovered, Exxon said.

Oil demand is expected to fall 8% globally this year, according to the International Energy Agency. While some demand has recovered since oil futures fell below $0 a barrel in April, countries are again locking down as the coronavirus surges anew across Europe and the U.S.

Exxon's stock fell almost 3% Friday, and it's down more than 50% this year. Chevron was relatively unchanged, but its shares are down about 40% in 2020.

The energy sector is the only one in the S&P 500 to fall since President Donald Trump took office. Energy stocks in the index have lost nearly 57%, and the five worst-performing stocks since Trump's presidency began were energy companies.

Cathy Bussewitz, The Associated Press
Imperial Oil ekes out Q3 profit as Kearl oilsands mine rebounds from outage

CALGARY — Surging production from its Kearl oilsands mine after an unplanned two-week outage, along with a better-than-targeted drop in capital and operational spending, helped Imperial Oil Ltd. beat expectations with a small profit in the third quarter.
© Provided by The Canadian Press

The Calgary-based company posted Friday net earnings of $3 million on $5.96 billion in revenue, down from a profit of $424 million in the same quarter last year on revenue of $8.74 billion.

"While $3 million may not seem like a big number, it's a positive number and that speaks volumes in this business environment," CEO Brad Corson told a conference call with financial analysts on Friday.

Analysts had expected a loss of $79 million on revenue of $5.7 billion, according to data firm Refinitiv. Imperial lost $526 million on revenue of $3.7 billion in the second quarter.

Oilsands rivals Suncor Energy Inc., Cenovus Energy Inc., Husky Energy Inc. and MEG Energy Corp. all reported third-quarter losses earlier this week due to lower oil prices — all but Cenovus reported lower production as well.

Like the others, Imperial has been focused on cutting costs.

"At the end of March, we committed to deliver spending reductions totalling $1 billion, which included a $500-million reduction in capital spending as well as $500 million in lower expenses," said Corson.

"As of the end of the quarter, our production and manufacturing expenses are down $813 million versus the first nine months of 2019 ... and our capital spending is down over 50 per cent, a savings of $700 million."

Imperial revised its capital spending for 2020 to $900 million, down about $250 million from the midpoint of its last guidance update, though Corson said it will likely rise in next year's budget.

Video: More than 2,000 jobs could be lost in mega-merger of Cenovus and Husky (Global News)

Production averaged 365,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the third quarter, compared with 407,000 boepd in the same period of 2019, but up from 347,000 boepd in the second quarter, the company said.

Its Kearl oilsands mine in northeastern Alberta was forced to shut down for two weeks in September after the Polaris diluent pipeline was taken off-line to repair a leak. That prevented Kearl from receiving the light petroleum it needs to dilute heavy bitumen so that it will flow in a pipeline.

Corson said the mine's output jumped to a record of 313,000 barrels of bitumen per day during the four weeks after restarting and it averaged 300,000 bpd in October, well above the 280,000 bpd capacity expected after supplemental ore crushers were added last year.

Alberta's announcement last week that it will suspend oil production quotas in December was welcomed by Corson, but he said the province's retaining of the right to bring the quotas back in 2021 creates an "overhang of uncertainty."

Imperial's shares are 70 per cent owned by American energy giant ExxonMobil, which announced Thursday 1,900 employees in the U.S. will lose their jobs as part of its plan to cut its worldwide workforce by about 15 per cent.

It is also evaluating potential job cuts in Canada but a spokeswoman said Thursday it was "premature" to talk about that, adding it intends to communicate with employees of ExxonMobil Canada in coming weeks.

Corson said on the call that Imperial has reduced the number of contractors it employs without saying how many or indicating whether full-time staff have been affected by cost-cutting.

Earlier this week, Cenovus and Husky said they will cut as many as one in four jobs, potentially more than 2,000 workers, if their merger announced last Sunday is closed as expected early next year.

Suncor announced in early October it will cut as many as 1,930 jobs over 18 months to reduce total staff by 10 to 15 per cent.

Job cuts are also expected in the Canadian operations of Royal Dutch Shell, which announced in September it would eliminate between 7,000 and 9,000 jobs worldwide by the end of 2022, and, to a lesser extent, from BP, which said in June it would cut around 10,000 jobs from its global workforce.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:IMO, TSX:SU, TSX:CVE, TSX:HSE, TSX:MEG)

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press
Affordable housing advocate says Nova Scotia premier’s comments on rent control ‘bizarre’

Graeme Benjamin GLOBAL NEWS
© Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax Halifax Regional Municipality is receiving 8.7 million dollars from the Federal Government for rapid housing.

Affordable housing advocates in Nova Scotia are scoffing at the provincial government after the premier said he doesn’t believe rental control would work, calling it a “philosophical issue.”

At a press briefing after Thursday’s cabinet meeting, Premier Stephen McNeil was pressed on increasing rental costs across the Halifax Regional Municipality.

He acknowledged there’s a rental issue in the province, but said he doesn’t feel rent control is how to fix it.

"We just don't believe (rent controls) work,” McNeil said Thursday. “They haven't worked in other places where they've applied, and that's a different philosophical issue. That doesn't mean the issue's not real and we’ll work with our partners to provide other options."

"I just found it a bizarre comment, and perhaps an incentive one," said Hannah Wood, chair of Nova ACORN, an independent advocacy group that fights for affordable housing.

Read more: Nova Scotia says it’s looking at options to prevent evictions, but short on specifics

Rent control has not been in place in Nova Scotia since it was eliminated by the Liberal government in 1993. McNeil said the province is looking at ways to help people access affordable housing, but didn’t provide specifics.

Wood believes rent control is essential and can be implemented differently than in other locations where it hasn’t seen success.

"Currently, rent control in British Columbia doesn't include when units are vacant, so that is used as a loophole to increase the cost of those units in between tenants, so we need that goes across those lines and is more substantive," said Wood.

Video: Halifax receives $8.7M for rapid housing

Several Halifax tenants have fallen victim to a recent spate of evictions related to dramatic monthly rent increases.

Shaun Clark says that happened to his uncle last year at an apartment in Fairview. In just two years, his rent increased from $695 a month to $1,600.

He was on disability and receiving social assistance when learning about the increases.

"It's just so hard for people to find an apartment in the city right now. People with disabilities, that kind of extra stress, especially the mental disabilities, it doesn't do well for people's health," said Clark.

"Affordable housing is not affordable to people on social assistance, seniors on pensions, people with disabilities."

Aron Spidle experienced a similar situation at his apartment on Dutch Village Road. While living there, the building was sold to a new company and a letter was sent to tenants informing them utilities would no longer be covered.

He says that added about $250 a month to his monthly rent — something he couldn’t manage.

“I was there for 13 years and I had no choice but to move,” said Spidle.

“I just couldn’t afford to stay. And we find this happening a fair bit in the province, and particularly in the city.”

Read more: Nova Scotia to launch program offering tax relief to hotel owners

On Wednesday, the federal government announced it would made up to $8.7 million available for low-income housing projects in the Halifax area. It’s part of a $1-billion federal plan to build up to 3,000 new homes for low-income Canadians.

Wood hopes the funding remains true-to-province and on par with the wages low-income Nova Scotians are earning.

"What the provincial government and the HRM thinks is an affordable cost for a unit is not really based on what the minimum average income is of people in Nova Scotia," said Wood.

“I think it needs to go directly into rent controlled, affordable housing that is also accessible for people with disabilities.

She’s calling on the new Halifax council to continue to put pressure on provincial government officials to implement rent control, so tenants won’t be forced out of the city

Post-2020 election, Covid vaccine is biggest disinformation threat on the internet: Former Facebook security chief
Eric Rosenbaum 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just announced he's giving the entire company off for the Thanksgiving Week, and former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos agrees, somewhat: after fighting the 2020 elections online misinformation threat, technology workers have earned a break.

But a week might be too long, Stamos thinks, before they need to turn their attention to what he sees as the next big social media disinformation battle: Covid-19 vaccine information.

The good news, from his point of view, is that the amount of work that technology companies and the government put into fighting misinformation leading up to Election Day, can be transferred to the war against Covid-19 vaccination lies. The mistake would be not making that transition in full, and quickly.

"A huge amount of work has gone into this election and we can't let that work go to waste on Nov. 4 and no longer be making progress on disinformation," Stamos, who now directs the Stanford Internet Observatory, said at the CNBC Technology Executive Council Summit this week. "And in the U.S., the most critical will be around Covid and vaccines, which we'll start to see hopefully come out next year. The most important disinformation campaigns will be about Covid."

Given the potential severity of the problem, news organizations need to help by getting the headlines right and not unintentionally spread misinformation, he said, in reference to a tweet he recently sent that attracted attention for taking the Washington Post to task for a story about a person dying in a vaccine trial which resulted in confusion over cause of death — the subject had been given a placebo, not the experimental vaccine.

"We need to allow scientists to do their jobs and measure the risk, and look at all of the details, and the vaccine issue has become a geostrategic issue," Stamos said.

Several consortiums are tied to governments, and several, for example, to very important companies in China backed by the Chinese Communist Party, which has been positioning its vaccine candidates as chess pieces in the battle for global influence. Russia has multiple vaccine projects underway, including one developed by a biotech company that was once a Soviet era bioweapons laboratory.

"There could be a great amount of interest in saying other companies' vaccines are bad," Stamos said.

"We need the same kind of cooperation ... to go into vaccine safety, and we already have a sub-culture in the U.S. very skeptical and will harass people who push vaccines," Stamos said. "We're in a very dangerous place," he added, referring to the opportunity for a foreign adversary to use misinformation and more targeted propaganda and disinformation to threaten the health of the U.S.

Declining trust among Americans for a vaccine

In fact, recent Pew Research survey data shows that there is reason to be concerned about vaccine distrust among a growing segment of the American public, and not just limited to a sub-culture.

A September report from Pew showed that Americans who say they would get vaccinated for the coronavirus declined by a significant amount over the course of 2020. Half of U.S. adults (51%) told Pew in September they would "definitely or probably" get a vaccine to prevent Covid-19 if it were available, but nearly as many (49%) say they definitely or probably would not get vaccinated. Overall intent to get a vaccine fell from 72% in May, a 21 percentage point drop. And the share who would "definitely" get a coronavirus vaccine dropped by half to 21%.
© Provided by CNBC A health worker holds blood samples during clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine at Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

"Everyone at Facebook can take the day off after the election and then on Nov. 5, they need to get back to work at deploying the exact same responses we saw to election disinformation," Stamos said, adding that a Covid war room is a necessity similar to the election war rooms that companies like Facebook have now.

Alexis Wichowski, Deputy CTO for Innovation, New York City Mayor's Office of the CTO, who spoke on the CNBC TEC virtual summit with Stamos, said while federal agencies have the largest reach, absence of trust in the federal government right now requires technology companies to be engaging with state and local governments, as well. "The more local we get the better chance we have to combat vaccine disinformation," she said.

Stamos worries that while it is clear exactly who is in charge of the election disinformation effort within the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security's CISA unit, created after 2016, and the military's Cyber Command, there is no clear lead agency on Covid misinformation in Washington, D.C.

One advantage in fighting Covid-19 vaccine misinformation relative to the 2020 election version is that political speech is more difficult to label as fact or fiction than science.

"We have scientific experts with generally accepted truths they can reach," he said.

But Stamos cautioned that even there, the issue is complicated. He cited the early days of the pandemic outbreak in March when the CDC was not advising the public to wear masks, versus a "truly crazy idea" like that the wearing of masks increases the chances of getting Covid-19.

"It's a fast-moving situation and while there are experts ... the opinions of those experts change as research changes."

The technology companies have these policies in place to label misinformation, but it is not easy to do when there is no direct, fixed set of truths. As a society, we need to be careful about asking the intermediaries to censor speech when the "absolute truth" in some situation is not well known yet.

"When you talk about vaccines ... there will be very complicated, conflicting information and we need information centers equivalent to what we had running for the election," Stamos said. "Facebook should set the goal of four million people getting vaccinated that wouldn't otherwise, just like they registered four million," he said.
Epstein donations force resignation at international peace organization
By Richard Roth, CNN 

The president of an international think tank has resigned following revelations that he accepted a loan from accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and secured $650,000 in donations from foundations linked to Epstein for the peace organization.

© Matt Dunham/AP Terje Rød-Larsen, a Norwegian diplomat, has resigned as CEO of the International Peace Institute.

The International Peace Institute, based across the street from the United Nations, announced that diplomat Terje Rød-Larsen had apologized to the institute's board and resigned as president and CEO on Thursday.

The IPI said it was unaware of the Epstein transactions.

Larsen was a key broker of the 1990s Oslo Middle East peace accords and represented the UN on several peace assignments around the globe.

The United Nations announced Friday it has withdrawn from its role as honorary chair of the IPI, following the resignation of Rød-Larsen.

Citing the office's independence and status, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the UN secretary-general, after a review, has decided not to serve in any capacity in the governance of any outside entity.

The institute is an independent organization that promotes UN causes. It was founded 50 years ago with the assistance of former UN Secretary-General U Thant.

IPI board Chairman Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister, denied IPI was aware of the Epstein-related donations or the personal loan to Larsen until media reports in the veteran diplomat's home country of Norway.

Rudd said in a statement he was "blindsided."

"Mr. Rød-Larsen has apologized to the Board for what he has described as his grave error of judgment, Rudd said. "I am deeply disappointed that the Board has had to learn about so much of this through the media."

In a separate statement, the IPI board said, ''Epstein's crimes were hideous. The notion that IPI would be in any way engaged with such an odious character is repugnant to the institution's core values."

Earlier this month, the Norwegian Business Daily (DN) published a letter from Larsen to its board and supporters, a letter since confirmed to CNN, in which he writes, "Please accept my sincere apologies for any distress or embarrassment this may have caused you. DN has reported that I took out a personal loan of $130,000 from Mr. Epstein in 2013. This loan had no connection to the activities or finances of IPI, and it was repaid in full as promised within the allotted time from my own personal accounts."

Rudd said the media reports in November 2019 were the first notice of Epstein involvement with the Institute.

Rudd said "subsequent searches by IPI staff, made at the request of the Board, have identified donations totaling $650,000 that were received between October 2011 and May 2019. This represented approximately 0.9% of IPI's total revenue over those years. The source of these donations had not previously been disclosed to the Board, nor to me as Chair."

There has been no link established between Larsen and any of Epstein's criminal activities. However the institute is asking for an investigation.

In his letter, Larsen writes that "IPI never paid any money or compensation of any kind to Jeffrey Epstein. This was a completely separate and personal matter. I recognize that it was a grave error of judgment on my part to engage in a personal financial relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, and I regret it whole heartedly."

The institute said an amount equivalent to Epstein's donations will be given to programs that help victims of human trafficking and sexual assault. The board has named Adam Lupel, the IPI's current vice president and chief operating officer, as the institute's acting president and CEO.

Rudd said he attended an international event including UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon and other dignitaries in September 2013 where it was later determined Epstein was on the guest list, though it's not certain he attended.

Rudd said he does not remember meeting him nor does he recall Epstein joining an advisory panel conference call in January 2014 designed to provide mining advice to Mongolia.

The IPI said it will commission a global accounting firm to audit its finances to make sure that all Epstein foundation donations have been identified.

Epstein was indicted on sex trafficking charges in New York in 2019 and found dead in his jail cell in Manhattan weeks later.

Larsen is married to Mona Juul, Norway's ambassador to the United Nations.

Initial efforts to contact Larsen have been unsuccessful.
ICE agents told to ‘be ready’ to protect federal property and quell protests on Election Day
© Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

According to NBC News sources, ICE agents are being told to standby on and after Election Day along with other federal law enforcement agencies

If mobilized, it would mark the first time ICE provides security detail at federal buildings on Election Day. Previously ICE agents have been mobilized only on inauguration days.

Under President Trump's June Executive Order targeted toward protesters, ICE, CBP and DHS could use expanded powers to send staff to federal properties.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have reportedly been told by the Department of Homeland security to remain on standby to protect federal property in Washington, DC, on or after Election Day, according to NBC News.

ICE has never been reported to provide security on Election Day, although the agency has provided extra security on inauguration days in the past. According to NBC News's reporting, anonymous DHS and ICE officials said that the extra agents would be deployed due to the nationwide protests throughout 2020 and "attacks seen on federal property."

In June, President Trump issued an executive order expanding powers for ICE, CBP, and Federal Protective Service, sending federal agents into Portland and other American cities. President Trump alleged the order was in response to "anarchists and left-wing extremists" damaging monuments and federal property.

The Oregon Attorney General claimed that the arrests by federal agents were abductions and protesters' rights were violated in a July lawsuit, referring partly to arrest scenes of federal agents throwing protesters in unmarked vans. The lawsuit for federal agents to identify themselves was rejected by a US District Judge. Ted Wheeler, Portland's Mayor, called the federal agents "Trump's personal army."

The standoff in Portland lasted for two months, namely in front of the federal courthouse.

In NBC News's reporting, a CBP spokesperson added that "under the DHS Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT), CBP will continue to provide support, as requested, to the Federal Protective Service to protect Federal facilities and property if needed and to local law enforcement partners if requested."

Additionally, DHS spokesperson Chase Jennings said that the agency is "fully prepared" but that DHS's jurisdiction covers only federal property.

Representatives for ICE did not immediately respond to comment for this story.

Crop industry wants EPA to boost lab inspections for pesticide research

BY RACHEL FRAZIN - 10/31/2020

© istock

A dwindling number of Environmental Protection Agency lab inspectors for studies supporting pesticide re-approval is prompting industry calls for more government oversight.

The EPA has just five inspectors tasked with evaluating the laboratory practices of hundreds of labs that conduct studies surrounding pesticide regulations, marking a steady decline over the past 25 years for the officials in charge of inspecting compliance with the agency’s Good Laboratory Practice Standards.

Those standards were adopted decades ago after major issues in private lab testing were uncovered by investigators. Now, inspectors review reports deemed suspicious and carry out spot inspections that function much like an IRS audit and are seen as a way to prevent fraudulent research.

CropLife America, a major industry group whose members include companies like Bayer CropScience, John Deere and PepsiCo., is among those pushing the EPA for more lab inspections.

Proponents argue the lend legitimacy to industry lab results in the eyes of worldwide regulators. A lack of inspections, in turn, is seen as hurting the integrity of U.S. industry in a global marketplace.

Under the Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) program, the EPA inspects the quality and integrity of data submitted in support of approving a pesticide. But some industry groups say the agency should augment its program.

In a 2018 email to the EPA that was obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity and shared with The Hill, CropLife America’s senior director for regulatory policy expressed concern about the low staffing number for the program.

“The GLP inspection and audit program is being starved of resources and personnel,” Ray McAllister wrote.

“There are some 1400 laboratories, facilities, and field sites in the US participating in GLP research on pesticides,” he added in the email. “With current staffing of the audit and inspection program, keeping up with that number of facilities seems like an impossible task.”

The EPA said the number of facilities in the U.S. is closer to 1,200.

Bill Jordan, who ran the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs during the Obama administration said that during his tenure, there were “not more than a dozen” people and "probably considerably fewer" working on Good Laboratory Practice Inspections.

“As budget resources shrank, the size of that group in particular also got smaller and they were able... to keep up with the referrals of suspicious reports but I don’t know how well they did the kind of routine inspections of laboratories that were doing large numbers of studies,” he said.

Jordan explained how companies that submitted studies to the agency would need to verify whether they followed the standards.

“EPA would then review the study and go over it with a fine-toothed comb or look for any indication that there might be something fake, unreliable, about the way the study was conducted,” he said.

The EPA said it has five inspectors and two in training. From 2016 through 2019, the agency had four inspectors.

CropLife’s McAllister told The Hill that staffing has been in “a gradual decline over the past 26 years.” His email to the EPA noted that there were 19 inspectors and six support staffers in 1994.

He argued in the 2018 email that in other countries, the ratio of labs to inspectors is more “balanced.”

The EPA says its staffing level is sufficient to provide adequate oversight, citing a 2018 law that set aside more money that the agency can use for the GLP program.

The agency’s website also has a list of nearly 1,000 inspections taken by the agency since 2006. The list shows an average of about 59 inspections annually for the first three years of the Trump administration, about 71 each year under former President Obama and 77 inspections for the three years during the George W. Bush administration.

McAllister said in his EPA email that if the U.S. doesn’t do enough inspections, companies might be more inclined to take their research to foreign organizations.

“A robust GLP program...demonstrates to all stakeholders the integrity of industry-supported and generated data that underpin pesticide regulations,” he wrote.

Environmentalists agree that the laboratory standards inspections help prevent fraud, although they argue the industry needs more oversight beyond what they see as a very basic measurement of scientific integrity.

Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity said that while he believes GLP inspections play an important role, he’d like to see even more scrutiny on the science behind the industry’s findings.

“While it’s very important to make sure these inspections are occurring, this is also not an industry that has much oversight,” Donley said. “Although they have to meet some bookkeeping requirements, this is not the best scientific evidence.”
Stop ignoring China's other killer export: fentanyl

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As coronavirus infections continue to rise, the pandemic has remained a key focus of the 2020 presidential campaign. At the same time, another health threat has taken hundreds of thousands of American lives and has hardly been mentioned: the opioid crisis, which is being driven by China's other killer export, fentanyl.

Too many families like mine have been devastated because of fentanyl, and important swing states like Ohio have paid too high a price from the opioid crisis for the presidential campaigns to remain silent. The federal government needs to admit that illicitly manufactured fentanyl is a weapon of mass destruction, and our presidential candidates need to tell us what they are going to do about it.

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl emerged as a street drug in recent years because it’s inexpensive to buy, profitable to sell, and relatively easy to smuggle in from China, where most of it is made. This has had catastrophic consequences. Nationally, accidental overdose deaths — roughly two-thirds of which are caused by fentanyl or other synthetic opioids — are now the leading cause of death for people under 50 and the leading cause of injury-related death regardless of age.

One of fentanyl’s many victims was my son, Tom, a young man with many wonderful attributes. Tom’s struggle began with a prescription for OxyContin to treat pain from tendonitis. He eventually became addicted to narcotics. Many subsequent treatments gave us hope for his lasting recovery, but that hope turned to sorrow when Tom died of fentanyl poisoning in 2015.

During the pandemic, America’s fentanyl problem has worsened. So far this year, more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths. In May, more Ohioans died of overdoses than in any month since at least 2006. According to the Associated Press, compared with data from the same period last year, preliminary overdose death counts through the end of August were up 28 percent in Colorado and 30 percent in Kentucky. Through the end of July, they were up 19 percent in Connecticut.

The threat from fentanyl isn’t just to drug users and their families. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs endanger every American. Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl is enough to kill an average person.

To put this capacity to kill into context, just one pound of fentanyl could kill as many people as have died to date in the U.S. from the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 alone, Customs and Border Patrol and Mexican authorities seized more than 5,000 pounds of illicitly manufactured fentanyl that had been destined for the U.S.

Carfentanyl, one of fentanyl’s chemical analogs, is 100 times more powerful — and more deadly — than fentanyl itself. A lethal dose of carfentanyl is just 0.02 milligrams. Just one kilogram of carfentanyl has the potential to kill 50 million people, which led to Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell once describing it as “the perfect terrorist weapon.”

The chemical weapon Sarin gas is recognized as a weapon of mass destruction by the United States. Carfentanyl, which is 25 times more deadly than Sarin, is not.

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Illicitly manufactured carfentanyl, fentanyl, and other fentanyl analogs should be designated immediately as WMDs. Doing so would give federal agencies new ways to find and eliminate these chemicals and keep any more from coming into the country. It is hard to understand why the U.S. has not already taken this step. If we can go to the wall with China over TikTok, why can’t we do the same over chemicals that can kill millions?

At the very least, we should talk about this active threat to our country at least once before this presidential campaign ends.

James Rauh is the founder of Families Against Fentanyl, which is fighting against illegally manufactured fentanyl. After his son, Tom, died of a fentanyl overdose, Rauh, of Akron, Ohio, founded Families Against Fentanyl to reduce access to the synthetic opioid that continues to take American lives.

Harris more often the target of online misinformation than Pence: analysis

© Greg Nash

Vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has been the target of misinformation propagated online more often than Vice President Pence, according to a report by a media intelligence firm.

A report from Zignal Labs, shared with The Hill on Friday, found that Harris has been targeted four times as often as Pence. She has also been the target of misinformation at four times the rate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) was in 2016 when he accompanied former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ticket.

The report was first obtained by The Associated Press.

More than 4 percent of the conversation on Twitter about Harris was negative or circulated misinformation, while misinformation about Pence and Kaine made up for about 1 percent of talk on Twitter during the 2016 and 2020 elections, according to Zignal Labs.

There’s also been an uptick in the overall online conversation about vice presidential candidates in 2020 compared to four years ago, with a subsequent increase in misinformation or negative storylines spreading this year, based on the report.

Various bits of misinformation have been spread about the California senator even before she was chosen to be former Vice President Joe Biden's running mate, including allegations that she is not legally eligible to run for office.

The report found more than 280,000 mentions between July 1 and Oct. 9, making up around 1.2 percent of all mentions of Harris during that time period, regarding “birtherism” or that she was “not eligible” to serve as vice president.

The misinformation surrounding baseless claims that Harris, who was born in California, was not eligible to serve as vice president did not remain in the fringe Twitter sphere. This summer, a Newsweek column by John Eastman, a conservative attorney, called into question the citizen status of Harris's parents at the time of her birth. The article was then retweeted by Jenna Ellis, a Trump campaign adviser.

"I just heard that. I heard it today, that she doesn’t meet the requirements," the president said at a press conference in August. "And by the way, the lawyer that wrote that piece is a very highly qualified, talented lawyer."

Trump drew swift backlash from Democrats in office after he refused to disavow the racist conspiracy theory.

Harris was born Oct. 20, 1964, in Oakland. She is eligible to hold the office of vice president and would be the first woman of color to hold the position of vice president if Democrats oust Trump on Election Day.

Zignal Labs identified more than 1 million Twitter mentions since June featuring hashtags or misinformation regarding Harris. Some of the mentions were fact checks seeking to correct misinformation spread about Harris, though a majority were found to include false information about her.

“The narratives related to Kamala Harris zeroed in much more on her personal identity, especially as a woman of color,” Jennifer Granston, head of insights at Zignal Labs, told the AP.

Granston said much of the misinformation surrounding Harris's origin of birth "eclipsed" after media fact-checking organizations debunked the claims.
The nearly 300,000 mentions of Harris regarding birtherism made up just a portion of the more than 1 million tweets with misinformation, rumor or negative storylines in the July 1 to Oct. 9 timeframe, based on the report.

During the same time period, the report identified a total of 136,884 mentions of Pence with misinformation, rumors or negative storylines.

Updated on Oct. 30 at 11:31 a.m.

Music to calm election jitters — remembering jazz man Dexter Gordon

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As election day nears, many people are looking for ways to relieve the stress of political uncertainty. Some may find the recordings of the late jazz master Dexter Gordon — who excelled in turning chaos into beauty — helpful in coping with the anxiety of the final stretch.

Thirty years after his passing — as the country grapples the challenges of pandemic and politics — it may be time to revisit the recording legacy of this jazz giant. I first learned about Gordon in the 1970s when the country was torn by war, racial strife, urban decay, and the aftermath of Richard Nixon politics.

Like many Black teenagers growing up in Queens, N.Y., we had to navigate a city and school system under bankruptcy — and a police force that seemed to target people like me for sport. To get away, I applied to a New York state college as far from the city as possible, sight unseen.

I ended up at the State University College in Oswego. For a city kid, the small campus on Lake Ontario was an experience in isolation and adaptation. Discovering the bebop recordings of Dexter Gordon is what helped me and a buddy — a white kid from Buffalo — to keep it together.

The memories of those difficult days returned as I revisited Gordon’s music in these unsettled times. The 6-CD box set, “Dexter Gordon: 12 Classic Albums, 1947-1962,” is a repository of over 400 minutes of formative West Coast bebop.

Born in 1923, Gordon was raised in Los Angeles and became a student of the jazz tradition. His father, reportedly the only Black doctor around, was friends with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. In the early 1940s, Gordon joined Hampton’s band and recorded with Nat Cole and Harry “Sweets” Edison.

He was schooled in the bands of Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, and Billy Eckstine. He developed a big, spacious tenor sound under the influence of Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and other bebop innovators. His sound, which introduced honking statements, reflected an optimism common among those Blacks who had migrated to the western territories. In turn, his clear, strong tones influenced younger musicians like John Coltrane.

The collection has a meditative track of “Autumn in New York,” a 1934 jazz standard by Vernon Duke. The ballad was featured in the 1986 jazz film “Round Midnight” by Bertrand Tavernier. The 6’6” Gordon was cast as the leader of a group of expatriate jazz musicians in Paris. The story reflected aspects of his experiences during a 15-year exile in Paris and Copenhagen. It delved into struggles with heroin addiction, prison, and racism, as well as a vision to create a song as beautiful as an impressionistic painting. The performance earned Gordon an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

The rediscovery of Gordon’s recordings brought me a sense of calm in these unsettling days. The songs eased worries over the divisive election politics that consumes the news cycle. One particular song that lifted my spirits was “Three O’Clock in the Morning.”

There is much to love in this rendition of a 1919 waltz by Argentinian composer Julián Robledo. The imagined setting is a dance party in the jazz age. The song begins with Westminster chimes indicating that it is three o'clock and the party’s over.

Gordon interpreted the ballad in the jazz tradition of hard swing and blue notes. It was featured on the 1962 Blue Note album "Go" — selected by the Library of Congress for preservation as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Gordon returned to the U.S. in December 1976, an event noteworthy for the “Homecoming” concert at the Village Vanguard in New York City. Back in Oswego, I made plans with my buddy to attend a performance, but we only had enough cash for tickets, not bus fare. So… we hitch-hiked the 310 miles from Oswego, starting in the morning and arriving in time for the midnight set.

The concert was unforgettable as Gordon blew the night away. Then, in a type of pagan jazz rite, he raised the golden sax high and horizontal for the audience to honor.

Dexter Gordon passed away in April 1990. His wife, Maxine, wrote a biography based on memories, his records, and his writings toward the end of life, “Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon.”

Roger House, Ph.D., is an associate professor of American studies at Emerson College in Boston, and the author of “Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy.” Since 2014, he has published, a curated website on African American history and culture.

Raytheon laying off 20,000 amid commercial aviation slide

By: Joe Gould   

A sign is posted at a Raytheon campus on June 10, 2019, in El Segundo, Calif. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON ― Raytheon Technologies is cutting 15,000 staff and 4,000 contractor positions, largely at the company’s Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace divisions, due to decreased commercial aerospace sales from COVID-19 pandemic, CEO Greg Hayes said Tuesday on the company’s earnings call.

The Waltham, Mass., aerospace giant is the latest company to announce losses since the pandemic has sent commercial aerospace companies reeling, costing them tens of thousands of jobs and millions in lost profits. Hayes projected the market segment wouldn’t get a sharp rebound, but instead see “a long, slow recovery,” over several years.

“We don’t expect commercial air traffic to return to 2019 levels, until at least 2023. And that’s of course depending upon the timing of a widely distributed vaccine. In the near term, we expect a gradual recovery of commercial air traffic particularly given the recent spike in global cases [of coronavirus],” Hayes said.

“As you know, we set aggressive targets in the first quarter to reduce costs by about $2 billion and to take actions to conserve about $4 billion in cash, making difficult but necessary actions to reduce headcount,” Hayes said.

Boeing begins involuntary layoffs, but defense biz to remain mostly untouched
Only about 100 of the more than 6,000 Boeing workers to be laid off this week will come from its defense division.
By: Valerie Insinna

The ongoing personnel actions will reflect a 20 percent cut at both divisions, and include both temporary furloughs and a hiring freeze. In its merger with United Technologies in April, the company already planned to cut 1,000 jobs, mostly on its corporate side, Hayes said.

The company is also reducing its infrastructure, which takes up 31 million square feet, by more than 20 percent ― beyond an earlier 10 percent goal for the merger. Hayes said that even after the pandemic subsides, it would continue to employ increased remote-work arrangements as part of a multiyear strategy to slash overhead.

An announced aerospace-parts facility in western North Carolina is still in the works, as Hayes said the company would need the capacity when demand returns. “I think by the time this comes online in late 2023, we should see a kind of return to normalcy in commercial aerospace, and Pratt will be well positioned with a much lower cost, much more automated production facility,” he said.

According to third-quarter numbers posted by Raytheon, Pratt & Whitney posted a $615 million loss in operating profit for the quarter versus a $520 million profit for the same period in 2019. Pratt’s military sales rose 11 percent, driven in part by production of the F-35 joint strike fighter.

Collins managed to post an operating profit of $526 million for the quarter, but the number marked a 58 percent drop over the prior year.

Raytheon’s commercial aftermarket business fell 51 percent at Pratt & Whitney and 52 percent at Collins Aerospace, while the company’s military side was up.

Both Raytheon’s intelligence and space and missiles and defense segments offset some of the losses, as the company reported sales of $14.7 billion and an operating profit of $434 million for the quarter.

Raytheon executives were upbeat on the defense business’s backlog of more than $70 billion, and for the quarter, the segment posted $928 million in classified bookings.

Correction: An earlier version of the story misstated the timing of the job cuts. They are ongoing, and most took place prior to Tuesday’s call.

Boeing plans thousands of additional job cuts in next year amid pandemic losses

© Bloomberg/Getty Images

Boeing on Wednesday announced plans for thousands of additional job cuts in the next year amid the pandemic’s impact on the travel industry.

Boeing CEO David Calhoun told staff in a memo that the company plans to have 130,000 employees at the end of 2021, down from 160,000 at the beginning of 2020.

The company had already announced that more than 19,000 employees would be leaving this year, The Associated Press reported.

“As we align to market realities, our business units and functions are carefully making staffing decisions to prioritize natural attrition and stability in order to limit the impact on our people and our company,” Calhoun said in the memo. “We anticipate a workforce of about 130,000 employees by the end of 2021. Throughout this process, we will communicate with you every step of the way.”

The company recorded a net loss of $466 million in the third quarter after earning a profit of $1.2 billion in 2019. Revenue fell 29 percent to $14.1 billion, but slightly higher than predictions of $13.9 billion. Its shares experienced a $1.39 loss per share, better than Refinitive’s consensus estimates expecting a $2.52 loss per share.

Boeing’s financial trouble started before the pandemic, when it had to ground its 737 Max planes in March 2019 after two crashes left hundreds of people dead.

The company, based in Chicago, decreased its prediction of demand for new planes in the next 10 years by 11 percent due to the pandemic. Boeing has experienced canceled deals and slower production, leading the company to deliver only 98 planes this year, compared to 301 during the same period last year, according to the third quarter report.

Boeing, which has assembly plants near Seattle and in South Carolina, is preparing to reduce its workforce by not replacing people who retire and curtailing 7,000 jobs with buyouts and layoffs through next year, according to the AP.

This week, Raytheon, an aerospace and defense manufacturer, also announced cuts to 15,000 staff and 4,000 contractor positions because of decreased sales during the pandemic, according to Defense News.

Nuclear weapons banned — illegal at last


© Getty Images

Saturday, Oct. 24 marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, 75 years following the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This Oct 24 will go down in history as the day nuclear weapons were declared illegal with the ratification of the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

The United Nations was founded to promote world peace and security. There is no greater existential threat to our peace and security than the existence of nuclear weapons — and now they are banned.

With Honduras delivering the 50th ratification of the treaty last Saturday, the world has spoken and the global community has banned these most dangerous of weapons, as it has previously banned other weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biologic, landmines and cluster munitions.

This treaty came about following years of stalemate and incremental movement toward disarmament by the nuclear nations despite being treaty-bound for 50 years by Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to work in “good faith” to abolish their nuclear arsenals. With this current treaty, nuclear weapons are now illegal and those nations who have them, store them, develop them, fund them or threaten their use will now be in breach of international law.

The movement that resulted in this treaty has literally been 75 years in the making.

As a result of the intransigence of the nuclear nations to meet their obligations, a series of three international conferences were convened. These conferences addressed the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, demonstrating the potential for global nuclear famine from even a limited regional nuclear war and the reality that — like climate change — the effects of nuclear weapons did not recognize national boundaries but rather had potential global catastrophic effects.

The conferences were held in Oslo, Norway, in 2013, followed in February 2014 by a second conference in Nayarit, Mexico, with a final gathering in Vienna, Austria, in December 2014, which for the first time included representatives of the U.S. and the United Kingdom. All three were attended by delegations from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and representatives of Pope Francis and were organized in cooperation with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of civil society groups which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for this work.

At the final conference, the Austrian government launched the “Humanitarian Pledge,” promising to develop a nuclear weapons ban treaty. This was followed in 2017 when the U.N. held meetings to negotiate a treaty which would for the first time take into account the legacy of the nuclear era, including the health effects on the Hibakusha, the victims of the nuclear bombings, and on those impacted by the mining, testing, and development of these weapons. Consideration was given to the disproportionate impact on girls, women and the elderly and indigenous communities living near nuclear testing sites. The treaty, which came to be known as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, was adopted on July 7, 2017 by 122 nations with the Netherlands voting no and Singapore abstaining. The treaty opened for ratification on Sept. 20, 2017.

With last Saturday’s 50th ratification, the treaty will enter into force in 90 days — on January 22. At that point, nuclear weapons will still exist, but the global community will have a powerful new tool to stigmatize those nations that continue to have them, and the financial institutions and corporations that fund and develop these weapons. Each of us has a role to play in the abolition of these weapons. Our individual role is not necessarily a large role or a small role, it is our role and it is vital.

In the U.S., there is a grassroots movement sweeping across the country endorsed by the medical, scientific, religious and NGO communities similar to the international ICAN campaign. This “Back from the Brink” grassroots campaign has been endorsed by 47 cities including Los Angeles, six state legislative bodies including California’s Assembly and Senate and 344 organizations. This call to prevent nuclear war supports the ban treaty and calls on the United States to lead a global effort by:

1) Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first

2) Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack

3) Taking the U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert

4) Cancelling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons

5) Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons delivers a clear message from nations across the globe that nuclear weapons threaten the survival of all of humanity and must be eliminated before they eliminate us.

The U.S. needs to embrace this treaty and follow the clear path to nuclear abolition laid out by the “Back from the Brink” campaign. Most importantly it must state unequivocally that it truly seeks the security of the world, free of nuclear weapons — and it must actively pursue negotiations with the other nuclear armed states for an enforceable, verifiable, time bound agreement to dismantle the 14,000 nuclear warheads that remain in the world today. Such an effort must be America’s highest national security priority.

Robert Dodge, M.D., is a family physician practicing in Ventura, Calif. He is the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles (, and sits on the National Board serving as the Co-Chair of the Committee to Abolish Nuclear Weapons of National Physicians for Social Responsibility ( Physicians for Social Responsibility received the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize and is a partner organization of ICAN, recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Price.

Ira Helfand, M.D., is a member of the International Steering Group for ICAN, the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, and co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.
Twitter users react to bald eagles circling over Biden campaign event in Iowa


A rare and fair feathered sight concluded a Joe Biden campaign event in Iowa on Friday when a pair of bald eagles circled over the Democratic presidential candidate's head, according to a pool report.

Biden's campaign appeared to take the appearance of the national bird of the U.S. as a good omen.

"Nature knows," tweeted Biden's policy director Stef Feldman.

"We're gonna win Iowa," tweeted Christina Freundlich, Biden's Iowa deputy state director for communications.

We’re gonna win Iowa
Lauren Dillon
There are two bald eagles flying over @JoeBiden in Iowa right now!
#America #BidenHarris2020

Reporters were a little more cynical about the meaning of the cameo.

Wall Street Journal reporter Julie Bykowicz joked, "This is what a nearly $1 billion presidential campaign can get you."

"great advance work," added CNN political analyst and former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.

Washington Post reporter Matt Viser noted that at least one vulture has been spotted at a previous Biden event.

"The Biden campaign no doubt likes this omen a bit better," he tweeted.

It's not the first time Biden's been followed by a bald eagle. As vice president in 2015, one of the birds soared overhead during a Washington, D.C., appearance. He called it "a really good omen," according to The Washingtonian.

Last September, also in Iowa, an alleged bald eagle flew over a Biden event that prompted the candidate to talk about his late son, Beau. He said he hadn't seen a bald eagle since Beau died in 2015, according to New York Magazine. He reportedly said of the bird, "Maybe that's my Beau."

Biden will face President Trump in the presidential election with polls closing on Tuesday. The two are nearly tied in Iowa, where Biden was leading within the margin of error in a New York Times-Siena College poll last week.