Ditch the Resolution: Do a Year-End Review Instead

NEW YORK—It is hardly a secret that people rarely stick to New Year’s resolutions—only about 8 percent of people actually make it to the finish line with their goals, according to studies from the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania.

So here is a better idea for your financial life: Before you look forward, look backward.

A year-end spending review is a far superior way to revamp your financial life. Instead of gauzy, improbable thinking about what you might do, you face the cold, hard truth about what you actually did.

“We can only manage what we measure,” said Sarah Newcomb, director of behavioral science at fund research firm Morningstar. “If you’re not even measuring your own spending, then basically you’re just flying blind.”

This is especially true for the holiday season, when money seems to exit our wallets at hyperspeed. Average holiday spending on gifts and travel was slated to exceed $1,000 apiece for 2019, according to the National Retail Federation. In fact, among those who took out holiday debt in 2018, 35 percent of us were still trying to pay it off this past fall, according to personal finance site NerdWallet.com.

“Use a big event like the end of the year as a catalyst to do something you should be doing on a regular basis,” said Dan Egan, director of behavioral finance and investing at Betterment.com.

If you haven’t been tracking your dollars, it can seem a daunting task. A few ideas on how to figure out where all that money went in 2019—and how to do better in 2020:

Open That Annual Credit-Card Statement

In the New Year, credit-card companies send out roundups of everything you have purchased in 2019. Typically, you might just ignore it. Don’t.

For one thing, the documents are useful for tax planning, since purchases are often divided into spending categories that can help identify deductions. They are also excellent for shock value, to force yourself to see how your cash was deployed.

If an entire year of spending is too overwhelming to digest, break that survey period into something smaller, like two months, Egan said.

You can also focus on specific pain points, like pulling up your Amazon purchase history for 2019. Shocked yet?

“Take an honest look at what your life is costing you,” Newcomb said. “If some of those costs are frivolous and are purchases you regret, that is a valuable thing to take away.”

Put Fintech Apps to Work

A typical excuse for those who don’t keep track of spending: It’s too complicated and confusing. But with all the fintech apps now available, that excuse doesn’t really wash.

“We encourage our clients to check their ‘You Need A Budget’ app every morning over a cup of coffee,” said Brenna Baucum, a financial planner in Salem, Oregon. “It takes only one or two minutes to sort their latest transactions. Then, after 30 days, they have some handle on where their money goes. Most often, the results shock them.”

Mint.com is a popular app, and one game-changer, according to financial planner Salim Boutagy of Westport, Connecticut, is its “Trends” section, where you can see how your spending has shifted over the last few months or years.

Calculate the Unknown

In performing an annual spending review, one thing will probably jump out at you: The sheer number of expenses that were totally unplanned and unforeseen.

“We’re all pretty good at estimating common expenses like electricity and phone and internet access,” said Morningstar’s Newcomb. “But we are very bad at predicting the size and frequency of exceptions.”

That might mean car repair, or home improvements, or medical bills, or last-minute vacations. When you see how much of 2019’s spending was a total surprise, then you can build a similar buffer into next year’s budget.

Once you have done your spending X-ray for 2019, it is time to rework what Betterment’s Egan calls your “Top-Down Budgeting.” That means setting broad guidelines—like committing to saving a specific amount every month.

“The point is not to be as austere as possible and deprive yourself of all joy,” Egan said. “The point is to get to a right balance.”

By Chris Taylor

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Author: Reuters


Erdogan Corruption and Intrigue


Turkey has long been a strategic ally of the United States and a member of NATO.

During the Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union, Turkey was a natural ally, as they too had an interest in preventing Soviet expansion. At the time, Turkey was still a modern, secular, industrial nation, and the relationship with the United States and the West was natural and productive for many decades.

However, this alliance is no longer the robust and natural fit that it once was. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a charismatic leader but has worked to deceive the Western world. He only pretends to be a pro-Western and pro-democracy leader who wants to maintain the secular government that was established by Turkish hero Mustafa Kemal Atatürk following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.

Instead, Erdogan opposes NATO and U.S. interests in the Middle East, not because it’s in some way good for the Turkish people but for his own extreme political Islamist world ambitions and his personal gain.

The predominantly Muslim country respected Western values, and that version of Turkey could have been a model for other Islamic countries.

The first conclusive evidence of what has happened in Turkey under Erdogan became apparent when Erdogan’s party won the majority in the Turkish Parliament in 2011. As prime minister, Erdogan immediately began to change laws and policies to consolidate his power and a far more radical path for the country.

This was not lost on the Turkish people, and in the late spring of 2013, a general uprising took place known as the Gezi Park protests.

Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park was scheduled for demolition as part of an urban development program, and local residents staged a sit-in to show their support to keep the popular park. A heavy-handed and violent reaction by the police caused outrage on the part of the civilian population, and a wave of protests began on May 28, 2013.

Protests quickly expanded to include issues of freedom of the press, expression, and assembly, and the government’s encroachment on Turkey’s secularism, all of which had been diminished by the new laws under Erdogan.

The demonstration’s and strikes spread across all Turkey. There was no centralized leadership or organization to the nationwide protests, but social media played an important role, while the Turkish media downplayed the events. Estimates are that 3.5 million Turks participated in the protests. Five people were killed and over 8,000 injured and almost 5,000 were arrested.

Erdogan dismissed the protesters as “a few looters,” but he used the protests to rally his supporters and increase his power.

Revealingly, Erdogan faced another crisis that same year when police raided several houses and offices of prominent business tycoons and high-level government authorities on Dec. 17, 2013. The raids were part of the largest corruption investigation in the history of Turkey involving bribes and kickbacks of huge sums of money.

Erdogan reacted strongly to these operations and blamed what he called “dark circles” rather than those under investigation. He released all of those arrested and instead imprisoned the senior police officials and prosecutors who conducted the corruption and bribery operations, where they have remained since July 22, 2014.

Four Turkish ministers resigned over the scandal, but Erdogan used the opportunity to shuffle his cabinet and once again consolidate his power. Erdogan dismissed the entire incident by declaring it “a coup attempt targeting his government,” according to Foreign Policy.

However, the corruption extended beyond Turkish borders and surfaced again in early 2018 when the U.S. Department of Justice convicted a Turkish banker for his involvement in evasion of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

At the trial, the U.S. attorney told the jury that the corruption had been uncovered by the investigation that took place in Turkey and that the FBI investigation was able to confirm the validity of the evidence, proving the deep corruption scheme in Turkey.

In the U.S. case, it was shown that Turkish businessmen were involved in laundering billions of dollars so that the Iranian regime could avoid sanctions and support its proxies in the Middle East that targeted U.S. servicemen in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.

According to the Department of Justice, banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla “used his high rank at a Turkish bank to disguise the transactions as humanitarian food payments and deceive American officials.”

Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab pleaded guilty to seven charges in relation to the sanction-evasion scheme and turned into a key witness in the case against Atilla. According to his own testimony, millions of dollars were allegedly paid in bribes to Turkish officials and ministers to facilitate the laundering of billions of dollars to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab alleged during the trial “that he was told in 2012 by the then economy minister that Mr Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, had instructed Turkish banks to participate in the multi-million dollar scheme,” according to the BBC.

In response, Erdogan made the outlandish claim that the entire case was based on false information supplied by his political opponents.

There’s more than enough conclusive proof that Turkey helped Iran avoid sanctions, to include the high standard of proof used to obtain U.S. federal court convictions. In addition, there’s a large body of information that shows the extensive relationship that existed between the recently killed commander of the Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and his opposite number in the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT), Hakan Fidan, and their respective organizations.

What’s left largely unstated is that all of the bribery, corruption, and funneling of money to those attacking the United States could only have taken place with close cooperation between the two governments at many levels and the full backing of their respective political leadership.

While we expect this out of Iran, Turkey under President Erdogan is no longer a close and reliable ally, and, worse, appears to be shaping up into a dangerous enemy.

Brad Johnson is a retired CIA senior operations officer and a former chief of station. He is the president of Americans for Intelligence Reform.

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Author: Brad Johnson

Paris Louvre Museum Closed Amid Strikes Over Pension Plans

Paris’s Louvre museum was closed on Friday as dozens of protesters blocked the entrance to denounce the French government’s plans to overhaul the pension system.

The Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit marking the 500th anniversary of the Italian master’s death, which is displayed at the Louvre, was also closed as a result, the museum said.

Several dozen protesters, including some Louvre employees, staged the demonstration after an appeal from several hard-left trade unions against French President Emmanuel Macron’s planned changes to the retirement system, which they said will “lower everyone’s pensions.”

It is the first time since the protest movement began on Dec. 5 that the Louvre and the Leonardo exhibit were fully closed. About 30,000 people visit the museum every day.

A man wearing a “Guy Fawkes” mask holds flares during a demonstration against the pension reform in Marseille, France, on Jan. 9, 2020. (Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images)

Some videos on social media showed angry visitors booing at protesters to express their disappointment.

The weeks of strikes and protests have hobbled public transportation and disrupted schools, hospitals, courthouses, and even opera houses and the Eiffel tower.

While the number of striking workers has diminished since the movement, the country’s trains and the Paris subway were still disrupted Friday.

Opponents of Macron’s proposed overhaul of France’s pension system marched in Paris and other French cities Thursday on what is the 43rd day of strike action that has hobbled trains and public transport.

At the call of trade unions, train and metro workers, teachers, and others took to the French capital’s streets to demand that the government scrap its pension proposals.

Police were out in force but the march across southern Paris was calm, and the number of protesters was down compared to previous marches. The Interior Ministry put the number of marchers in the capital at 23,000 and 187,000 nationally—compared to a count by unions of 250,000.

Protesters march during a demonstration, in Paris, France, on Jan. 16, 2020. (Kamil Zihnioglu /AP Photo)

Philippe Martinez, the leader of the far-left CGT union, said the determination “is just as big” as at the start of the strikes Dec. 5, 2019.

“It’s never too late to make the government cede,” he said.

The unions widely perceived to be most left-wing said they remained unsatisfied despite the government’s decision last week to suspend a central piece of the proposed reform plan, that of raising the retirement age to qualify for a full pension from 62 to 64. They want the government to scrap other changes they fear would force them to work longer for less money.

Legislation incorporating other parts of the government’s pension reform plan is to be presented at a Cabinet meeting next week. After that, there would be a three-month discussion with unions about financing the new pension system, including potential measures to raise taxes or the retirement age.

Macron says the new system, which aims at unifying 42 state-funded pension regimes, will be fairer and more sustainable.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Author: Web Staff

Pentagon Gets Request for Funding to Build Nearly 300 Miles Along Southern Border

The Pentagon was asked by the Department of Homeland Security to fund the construction of about 270 miles of border wall in 2020 to counter drug smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border, officials told reporters on Thursday.

The request came in on Wednesday and the Department of Defense (DOD) will ascertain how much will be allotted to Homeland Security, DOD officials told The Associated Press, Reuters, and other news outlets. They did not say how much it would cost, and an official told Reuters that it would take about two weeks to review the request.

So far, President Donald Trump’s administration has constructed approximately 100 miles of his signature border wall, with much of it replacing existing fencing. He and other federal officials have promised to construct more than 400 miles along the border.

“Sometimes when we get these areas, they’re not constructable or it’s difficult to do that at certain points,” an official told Reuters. “Then funding decisions are assessed simultaneous with that.”

At the same time, it’s not clear exactly when the wall construction would begin. Any funding for the plan would have to be spent by Sept. 30, which is when the fiscal year ends, the official remarked.

Top military leaders would then review the potential impact on the DOD before a final decision is rendered by Secretary Mark Esper, an official told AP.

The officials also told the news agency that the money allocated for counter-drug smuggling can be used at the border since Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, has been certified as a drug-smuggling corridor.

“On January 15, 2020, the Department of Defense received a request from the Department of Homeland Security requesting DoD assistance in blocking up to 13 specific drug-smuggling corridors on Federal land along the southern border of the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell told CNN Thursday.  He did not elaborate on the wall or its length in the statement to CNN.

“The Department is evaluating this request and appropriate DoD officials will make recommendations to the Secretary in the near future,” Mitchell confirmed.

Earlier this week, in addressing unconfirmed reports about money being transferred by the DOD to fund the wall, Esper said the Pentagon is ready to provide financial support to the barrier.

“The first priority of DOD is protection of the homeland. So the … southwest border is a security issue, and so we’ll see how things play out, but we remain committed to supporting the Department of Homeland Security in its mission,” he said, according to a transcript on Tuesday. When he was asked if that includes financial support, Esper said, “If that’s what it takes, we are prepared to support.”

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Author: Jack Phillips

California’s New Data Privacy Law Could Hit Mom-and-Pops Hard

While California’s new data privacy law appears to be generally aimed at big tech companies that sell consumer data, some suggest that mom-and-pop businesses are the most likely to experience a tightening of the thumbscrews.

John Kabateck, the California State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), said the biggest problem for small and medium-sized businesses is the sheer lack of knowledge of what is required from them in 2020.

The California Consumer Privacy Act went into effect Jan. 1. It says that businesses that collect consumer data must give consumers access to that data and allow them to refuse its sale to third parties. Consumers may also request that companies delete the data associated with them.

“Every Californian deserves to have safe and secure knowledge of their personal information,” Kabateck said. “But this law, unfortunately, has more problems than solutions and it’s going to add to an Armageddon of confusion and devastation for small businesses in the Golden State.”

“They may think they’re smacking it to the big guys,” he said. “But it’s a lot of these already fragile, already struggling business owners that are already feeling the confusion and fear and frustration with this law.” 

According to NFIB, which represents over 15,000 members in California, small businesses must pay three times more than larger corporations in order to comply with the law.

A report prepared by Berkeley Economic Advising and Research for the Attorney General’s Office found that small businesses with fewer than 20 employees are going to be on the hook for a minimum of $50,000 per year in compliance costs alone.

“Let’s not forget: most small businesses don’t have legal teams, HR departments, administrative teams, and IT divisions to help them sift through this massive law,” Kabateck said. “Mom-and-pops, which make up most of the state, don’t have those resources at their fingertips and at the end of the day they’re going to have to pay through the nose [in order to] comply and understand this.”

The Berkeley report estimated that the initial annual cost of compliance for businesses statewide would be $55 billion—the equivalent of 1.8 percent of California’s Gross State Product in 2018.

Challenges to Interpreting the Law

Legal experts have started to contemplate various potential interpretations of the law.

“One [challenge] is just understanding what personal information is,” said Joseph Lazzarotti, chair of the privacy, data, and cybersecurity practice group at the firm Jackson Lewis. “When you look at the definition of personal information, [the Privacy Act] said, basically, any information that can be linked to an individual. Well, what does that mean? How far does that go? One of the amendments added ‘reasonably’ connected. Maybe that kind of contains it, but again it’s not as clear as it can be.”

“This is the first law of its kind in the United States, so there will need to be some period of time where companies … absorb the rules and understand how they work in practice,” he said. “Of course, a lot of questions will come up during that process as well. It just takes time, and that’s the reality.”

Californians for Consumer Privacy Board Chair Alastair Mactaggart (C) testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee about consumer data privacy during a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 10, 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Reece Hirsch, co-head of privacy and cybersecurity practice at Morgan Lewis in San Francisco, said there are a number of areas where the law would benefit from clarification.

“One important area is this definition of a ‘sell’ because, as currently written, it could include a broad range of uses of data by third parties,” he said. “For example, the developed algorithms for artificial intelligence purposes, or for the delivery of online advertising, which is a huge industry [that could be] impacted by some of the new restrictions.”

“The dust has definitely not settled on the [Privacy Act] yet,” he added. “Businesses [are] in a bit of an uncomfortable bind because they’re striving to comply, but they don’t know all the rules yet.”


Hayley Tsukayama, a legislative analyst for the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the timeline for implementation is unusual because the law took effect on Jan. 1, but the Attorney General’s regulations on how to enforce the law won’t be finalized until July.

According to Tsukayama, the Privacy Act is a huge step forward, but not perfect. She believes the law would benefit from stronger enforcement.

“Right now, the [Privacy Act] centralizes all enforcement in the Attorney General’s office, which has a small staff of privacy-focused personnel,” she said. “We’d like to see enforcement expanded—ideally with a private right-of-action, so that every individual can sue companies for violating any of their … privacy rights [covered by the Act].”

Tsukayama said that the Electronic Frontier Foundation worked with legislators early in the 2019 session. They wanted to include an additional element to the law aimed at further empowering consumers’ ability to control their own data, but it didn’t make it into the law.

“Right now, consumers have the right to ask companies to stop selling their information—that’s huge,” she added. “But the law we proposed would have required companies to make the requests: to come to you before they sold your information.” 

In Kabateck’s view, an ideal iteration of the Privacy Act would strike a better balance between consumer and business interests. 

“Laws like this need to work for consumers and small businesses alike,” he said.

Kabateck strongly advises small business owners to seek professional legal counsel when it comes to compliance.

“We’re just trying to make sure we can get them educate,” he said. “And trying to find ways to fix this terrible law.”

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Author: Chris Karr

Environmental Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Fracking

Environmental groups trying to halt hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in California have banded together to sue the Trump Administration. They claim the oil and gas extraction method harms climate, water, and wildlife, and could even trigger earthquakes.

The lawsuit, filed in a U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Jan. 14 stems from a Dec. 12 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision that leaves more than a million acres of public lands in California open to oil and gas extraction. 

Meanwhile, the BLM argues that much of the public land targeted in the lawsuit was already open to oil and gas extraction for the last three decades. 

“Trump’s illegal, deeply unjust fracking plan would be a disaster for Central Valley communities, as well as our climate, wildlife, and water,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), in a media release issued Jan. 14. “We need to phase out fracking and oil drilling, not throw open our public lands to polluters. The future of our beautiful state and our children depends on it.”

CBD is joined in the suit by Earthjustice, which represents several other groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Central California Environmental Justice Network, Los Padres ForestWatch, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, Patagonia Works, and the Wilderness Society. 

BLM spokesman Derrick Henry downplayed allegations made by the environmental groups in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times.

“The BLM’s supplemental analysis on hydraulic fracturing did not make any new public lands or federal minerals available to oil and gas development, nor did it issue any new leases or approve any permits to drill,” Henry said. “If proposed, those actions and the potential impacts would be addressed at the site or project-specific level in subsequent tiered environmental analysis.”

Under the BLM resource management plan, fracking would be approved on a case-by-case basis in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura counties, including some land near Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks and Carrizo Plain National Monument. These locations are within the jurisdiction of BLM’s Bakersfield Field Office. 

“Most of the acreage available within the Bakersfield Field Office jurisdiction for oil and gas development has been available for more than 30 years,” Henry said. 

A high pressure gas line crosses over a canal in an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used to extract gas and oil near McKittrick, Calif., on March 23, 2014. (David McNew/Getty Images)

In response to an earlier lawsuit brought against the Trump Administration over the BLM’s leasing policies in five different western states, Henry said the BLM has acted within its authority and bounds.

“The BLM’s leasing decisions are lawful and fully compliant with the National Environmental Policy Act, despite the claims made in the lawsuit,” Henry said. “In fact, these leasing decisions were informed by public input, as required by law, which was considered before issuing a final decision. The BLM is helping America meet its growing energy needs while making sure the public lands remain in good shape, before and after leasing activities, consistent with its multiple-use mandate.” 

Earthjustice was founded in 1971 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. It changed its name to Earthjustice in 1997 to reflect its role as a legal advocacy group for environmental justice activist groups. It is known for opposing many mining and logging initiatives and supporting “rewilding” efforts on public lands in the western United States.

“In the past two and a half years, Earthjustice has filed more than a hundred lawsuits to defend environmental and health protections,” the organization’s website states. “Rulings on the merits of 39 of the lawsuits have now been decided. Earthjustice has won 33 of the battles—85 percent of the legal challenges decided thus far.”

Protestors demonstrate against fracking in California outside of the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building in San Francisco on May 30, 2013. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In November, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on fracking permits pending a review by independent scientists. “These are necessary steps to strengthen oversight of oil and gas extraction as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources,” he said in media release. 

However, public lands, fall under federal jurisdiction and are managed by the BLM, not the state. 

The federal government hasn’t issued any oil and gas leases in California since 2012, when a federal judge ruled that the BLM had failed to conduct proper environmental impact assessments. The BLM completed the assessments last year.

President Donald Trump’s position in favor of fracking, one that he’s held since long before his inauguration, is well known.

“Fracking will lead to American energy independence. With [the] price of natural gas continuing to drop, we can be at a tremendous advantage,” Trump tweeted in May 2012. 

And, when Trump announced his Energy Independence Policy executive order just months after being sworn into office, he said, “I am going to lift the restrictions on American energy, and allow this wealth to pour into our communities.”

The Epoch Times asked the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) about the potential use of the land in question for fracking. WSPA is a non-profit trade organization representing companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration in the West. WSPA declined to comment.

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Author: Brad Jones

Supreme Court Dismisses BC’s Appeal in Trans Mountain Pipeline Case

OTTAWA—The Supreme Court of Canada has shut down British Columbia’s attempt to regulate what can flow through an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta.

The B.C. government wanted to require provincial permits before heavy oil could be shipped through pipelines in the province.

In 2018, it asked the B.C. Court of Appeal if such permits were in bounds. Last May that court said no, ruling they would violate Ottawa’s authority under the Constitution to approve and regulate any pipeline that crosses a provincial border.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed.

“We are all of the view to dismiss the appeal for the unanimous reasons of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia,” Chief Justice Richard Wagner said.

The decision was issued from the bench after several hours of hearings Thursday in Ottawa. It removes one of the remaining obstacles for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which seeks to twin an existing pipeline running between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C.

The twinned pipeline, with roughly twice the capacity of the original, would carry only diluted bitumen, a heavy crude produced in Alberta’s oilsands. The existing pipeline is to continue to ship mainly refined petroleum products like gasoline, and light crude.

Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan welcomed the ruling.

“It is a core responsibility of the federal government to help get Canada’s resources to market and support good, middle-class jobs,” he said in a statement.

“We know this is only possible when we earn public trust and work to address environmental, Indigenous peoples’ and local concerns, which we are doing every step of the way on TMX.”

Federal lawyers argued B.C.’s attempt to require provincial permits for heavy oil to flow through pipelines was a clear imposition on the constitutional authority given to Ottawa over interprovincial pipelines.

Several of the judges on the Supreme Court agreed in their statements and questions throughout Thursday’s hearing, before issuing their quick dismissal.

B.C’s New Democrat government was elected in 2017 partly on a promise to oppose the expansion but the province had limited options because of the Constitution.

Still, B.C. argued it has jurisdiction to protect the environment within its borders and, since its land and people would bear the brunt of any damage from a spill if the pipeline ruptured, it should get a say in what can flow through it.

B.C. Premier John Horgan expressed the province’s disappointment in a statement.

“Our government takes our responsibility to defend the interests of British Columbians seriously,” he said. “When it comes to protecting our coast, our environment and our economy, we will continue do all we can within our jurisdiction.”

The case had national implications for any project that crosses provincial boundaries, prompting Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec to all seek intervener status. All but Quebec sided entirely with the federal government.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney took immediately to Twitter to express gratitude for the court decision.

“We are very pleased with this outcome and look forward to construction continuing on the Trans Mountain Pipeline,” he wrote.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said it is pleased, but not surprised, by the unanimous ruling.

“This is a project that has undergone historic levels of consultation, reviews and court challenges, and at each turn has been found to be in the best interests of all Canadians,” Tim McMillan, president and CEO of CAPP said in a release.

“It is time to unite behind the completion of this nation-building project so Canadians can start to benefit from selling our responsibly produced resources to global markets.”

Ecojustice, an environmental law charity, also received intervener status in the case. Lawyer Kegan Pepper-Smith said the court’s decision will leave “communities and the environment vulnerable to toxic diluted bitumen spills.”

“Ecojustice is also deeply concerned that the court refused to confirm that governments at all levels have both a right and a constitutional duty to protect the environment,” he said.

This case was the catalyst that led to the federal government’s decision to buy the existing pipeline in May 2018 for $4.5 billion from Kinder Morgan Canada. The company said the political risk that the project would never get built was too much to bear and was planning to halt the expansion.

The federal Liberals argue the pipeline is needed to get more Canadian oil to foreign markets beyond the United States and bought the existing pipeline with a view to completing the expansion once the legal and political challenges were out of the way.

It intends to sell it back to the private sector after the expansion is complete.

The expansion project has faced multiple legal and political barriers since Kinder Morgan first submitted its application for the pipeline to the National Energy Board in 2013.

Construction on the project halted in August 2018, after the Federal Court of Appeal ruled Ottawa’s decision in 2016 to approve the expansion had not included proper Indigenous consultation or fully taken into account any impact on marine life from additional oil tankers that would result from the project.

Cabinet approved the expansion a second time last June after undergoing additional consultations and environmental review. Construction restarted in August.

Six Indigenous communities and several environment groups filed a second legal challenge, but the court agreed to hear only the concerns from the Indigenous communities.

Two of those communities withdrew their challenge after signing agreements with Trans Mountain Corporation, the Crown agency now running the pipeline. The case involving the other four was heard in December 2019 but no decision has yet been issued.

By Mia Rabson

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Author: The Canadian Press

Downpours Provide Relief to Australia’s Bushfire-Ravaged East as Morrison Finalizes Recovery Plans

Heavy downpours and thunderstorms drenched Australia’s bushfire-ravaged east coast on Friday, bringing temporary relief to firefighters battling some of the worst blazes the region has seen in decades.

Intense rain swept across Victoria, New South Wales (NSW), and Queensland—the states worst affected by the bushfires that have killed 29 people, millions of animals, and destroyed more than 2,500 homes since September.

Fire services have said the change in weather will not extinguish all the blazes, but will aid greatly containment. For the first time since December, the number of blazes in NSW have diminished to double digits, with 85 fires burning in the state as of Friday, reported The Australian.

“In parts of northern NSW, the rain was enough to put out the smaller fires that have been burning for months (and) that’s a major win for the Rural Fire Service,” NSW RFS spokeswoman Angela Burford told the news outlet.

The NSW fire services said on Twitter Friday it hopes the rain and thunderstorms continue over the next few days, as forecast by the Bureau of Meteorology in the state which has been drought-stricken for three years.

As of Friday morning, 17 fires were still burning in Victoria, according to the Country Fire Authority which said the wet weather has had “minimal impact in suppressing fire activity” across the state’s east and northeast regions, the Guardian reported.

Despite the hope the wet weather has brought fire fighters and farmers, meteorologists have warned that the sudden change in weather could cause flash flooding and falling trees, while lightning could lead to new fires being ignited.

By Friday afternoon, evacuation warnings were issued for residents near Mount Buffalo, as strong winds were forecast to cause a spike in fire activity.

“We’re expecting unsettled weather for the next four or five days,” Jake Phillips from the Bureau of Meteorology told The Australian.

Phillips added that the rain should slow down the rate at which the bushfires spread, even though it may not extinguish them.

Over Thursday and Friday, NSW saw up to 4 inches of rainfall, while 4.4 inches and 5 inches of rain fell in Buladelah and Boonanghi, respectively, during the same period, the Guardian reported.

The heavy downpours have helped to clean smoky air in Australia, but Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne remained on Friday in the world’s top 100 polluted cities, according to AirVisual’s pollution ranking for major global cities.

The change in weather came as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison prepared to finalize the $2 billion AU (approximately $1.37 billion) bushfire recovery plans for affected by the devastating blazes.

Morrison held bushfire roundtables in Canberra on Thursday and Friday to outline the next stage of federal government’s response for those affected, including small business and tourist operators.

“We will be moving on to the next phase soon, which is all about the locally led recovery and the response plans that will be developed on the ground and we will work with you and them in those places,” he said on Thursday.

“The National Bushfire Recovery Agency and Andrew Colvin who leads it is here with me today, has been stood up over the last week and a half and has committed funds of $2 billion dollars over the next two years,” Morrison said on Friday, adding that these are “very challenging times.”

“I can tell you already, $300 million of that $500 million that was committed for this financial year has already been committed.”

He said at a press conference earlier this month that the government would pay “whatever it costs” to recover from the fires. If further funding was needed, it would be provided, Morrison said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Author: Isabel van Brugen

EU-China Investment Agreement Negotiations Enter ‘Critical Stage’: EU Ambassador

BEIJING—Negotiations on an investment agreement between the European Union and China are progressing and have entered a “critical stage” after six years of talks, a senior EU official said on Jan. 17.

Progress in being achieved “month after month,” in a deal in which the EU is seeking more market access for European businesses in China, Nicolas Chapuis, EU ambassador to China, said in a news briefing in Beijing.

Sabine Weyand, the European Commission’s director general for trade, said in Brussels in December that negotiations were moving at a “snail’s pace,” the Financial Times reported.

European companies called on EU policy-makers on Thursday to toughen their approach to China to secure a level playing field for European businesses.

Both the EU and China have said they hope to conclude negotiations in 2020.

China is prioritizing its diplomatic relations with Europe, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in December, highlighting Beijing’s efforts to become less dependent on the United States after months of trade tensions.

Chapuis also said he had been given assurances by the Chinese regime on Thursday that the recently signed Phase 1 trade deal between the United States and China would “in no way” affect European businesses.

On Wednesday, Washington and Beijing scaled back their 18-month trade row, which has hit global economic growth, by signing an initial agreement under which China will boost its purchases of U.S. goods and services.

The European Union will be watching whether the deal complies with global trade rules, the EU’s trade chief said on Thursday.

“The devil is in the details,” EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan told a conference in London, speaking by video link from Washington. He added the details were, so far, “a bit sketchy.”

The EU, which labeled China a “systemic rival” in 2019, will hold a series of meetings with China in 2020 including a high-profile summit in Leipzig in September where Chinese leader Xi Jinping will join European leaders, said Chapuis.

The EU is China’s biggest trading partner, and China is the EU’s second biggest.

By Gabriel Crossley

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Author: Reuters

China’s Home Price Growth at Almost 1-1/2-Year Low, Further Softening Seen

BEIJING—China’s new home prices grew at their weakest pace in 17 months in December, with broader curbs on the sector continuing to cool the market in a further blow to the sputtering economy.

Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 6.6 percent in December, slowing from a 7.1 percent gain in the previous month, Reuters calculation based on National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data on Jan. 16.

It was the slowest pace since July 2018, and significantly weaker than the 9.7 percent gain seen in December 2018.

Price trends have been mixed lately, as authorities try to reduce frothiness in some cities and relax rules in others in an effort to foster stability in a sector seen as a pillar of the world’s second-biggest economy.

Many analysts are forecasting a further slowdown in the market.

“The market has hit a turning point,” said Zhang Dawei, a Beijing-based analyst with property agency Centaline.

Zhang said the NBS data did not fully reflect the downturn in some markets, including in the Chinese capital Beijing, where inventory is at a multi-year high.

“In a downward cycle, most cities’ government-mandated price caps on new launches have been lifted, and that would mean even as overall demand has cooled, prices would still somehow show stronger growth on paper,” he said.

All the same, home prices still marked the 56th straight month of gains, even as China has clamped down on property speculation since 2016 to stop home prices from overheating. With the pace of China’s economic growth slowing, policymakers are keen to avoid wholesale squashing of the property market.

There has been some signs of improvement in demand and prices across the sector since late last year as trade tensions with the United States eased.

In the latest sign of warmer ties, the world’s two largest economies signed an initial trade deal on Wednesday that will roll back some tariffs and boost Chinese purchases of U.S. products, although a number of sore spots remained unresolved.

China’s economic growth hovered at its weakest in 29 years in the fourth quarter as demand at home and abroad remained sluggish.

Targeted Policies

Most of the 70 cities surveyed by the NBS still reported monthly price increases for new homes, with the number up to 50 from 44 in November in a sign of some broadening strength in the market.

“It suggests property developers’ year-end sales may have not been that bad at all after running persistent promotion campaigns,” said Yan Yuejin, director of the E-house China Research and Development Institution in Shanghai.

On a month-on-month basis, home prices edged up 0.3 percent in December from the previous month, unchanged from the pace in November.

Beijing has been calling for more targeted city-based policies to foster market stability. Analysts say any sharp drop in home prices would likely not be tolerated by local governments.

Some cities in the past months moved to relax rules by making it easier for graduates to get coveted household registration permits or lowering the requirements for eligible home buyers.

China’s southern province of Guangdong said on Tuesday it will ease the residential permit in all its cities except the powerhouses of Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Thursday’s data highlighted the recent mixed price trends.

The so-called tier-3 cities outperformed other city-tiers by rising 0.6 percent on a monthly basis, quicker than November’s 0.5 percent gain, the statistics bureau said in a statement accompanying the data.

Yangzhou, a city of 4.6 million in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province, was the top price performer in the month, with its price increasing 1.3 percent on a monthly basis.

Meanwhile, price growth in China’s four top-tier cities—Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou—slowed from a 0.6 percent gain in November. They rose 0.2 percent from a month earlier.

Tier-2 cities, which include most of the larger provincial capitals, increased 0.3 percent in December on a monthly basis, slightly higher than a 0.2 percent gain in the previous month.

By Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo

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Author: Reuters