S. 812, a bill to direct the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to regain observer status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization, and for other purposes

Source: US Congressional Budget Office

S. 812 would expand an existing requirement for the Department of State to report on its efforts to endorse and obtain observer status for Taiwan at annual meetings of the World Health Organization. Under the act, the department would provide information about how it modifies those efforts following meetings at which Taiwan was excluded as an observer.

On the basis of information about similar reporting requirements, CBO estimates that implementing the act would cost less than $500,000 over the 2021-2026 period. Such spending would be subject to the availability of appropriated funds.

On April 21, 2021, CBO transmitted a cost estimate for H.R. 1145, a bill to direct the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to regain observer status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization, and for other purposes, as ordered reported by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on March 25, 2021. The two pieces of legislation are similar; differences in CBO’s estimates of the cost of implementing them reflect the assumption that S. 812 would be enacted in 2022.

John J. Woods, Livingston Group Asset Management Company d/b/a Southport Capital, and Horizon Private Equity, III, LLC

Source: Securities and Exchange Commission

On August 20, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed an emergency action to stop a fraudulent Ponzi scheme allegedly perpetrated by Marietta, Georgia resident John Woods and two entities he controls: registered investment adviser Livingston Group Asset Management Company, d/b/a Southport Capital (Southport), and investment fund Horizon Private Equity, III, LLC (Horizon). On August 24, 2021, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted a temporary restraining order and asset freeze with respect to defendants Woods and Horizon and ordered expedited discovery with respect to Southport, among other relief.

According to the SEC’s complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, the defendants have raised more than $110 million from over 400 investors in 20 states by offering and selling membership units in Horizon. Woods, Southport, and other Southport investment adviser representatives allegedly told investors – including many elderly retirees – that their Horizon investments were safe, would be used for different investment activities, would pay a fixed rate of return, and that investors could get their principal back without penalty after a short waiting period. According to the complaint, however, these statements were false and misleading: Horizon did not earn any significant profits from legitimate investments, and a very large percentage of purported “returns” to earlier investors were simply paid out of new investor money. The complaint also alleges that Woods repeatedly lied to the SEC during regulatory examinations of Southport.

The complaint charges Woods, Southport, and Horizon with violating the antifraud provisions of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. Additionally, the complaint charges Woods and Southport with violating the antifraud provisions of Sections 206(1), 206(2), and 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 206(4)-8 thereunder, and each of the defendants with aiding and abetting the violations of the other defendants. The complaint seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions, disgorgement, prejudgment interest, civil penalties, an asset freeze, and the appointment of a receiver.

The SEC’s ongoing investigation is being conducted by enforcement staff in the Atlanta Regional Office, with assistance from the Division of Examinations. The investigative team includes Melissa Mitchell, Erin East, and Tiffany Kunkle and is supervised by Matthew McNamara and Justin Jeffries. The SEC’s litigation will be led by Joshua Mayes and H.B. Roback.

Sung Mo Jun, Joon Jun, Junwoo Chon, Ayden Lee, and Jae Hyeon Bae

Source: Securities and Exchange Commission

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced insider trading charges against three former Netflix, Inc. software engineers and two close associates who generated over $3 million in total profits by trading on confidential information about Netflix’s subscriber growth.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Sung Mo “Jay” Jun was at the center of a long-running scheme to illegally trade on non-public information concerning the growth in Netflix’s subscriber base, a key metric Netflix reported in its quarterly earnings announcements. The complaint alleges that Sung Mo Jun, while employed at Netflix in 2016 and 2017, repeatedly tipped this information to his brother, Joon Mo Jun, and his close friend, Junwoo Chon, who both used it to trade in advance of multiple Netflix earnings announcements.

The SEC’s complaint further alleges that after Sung Mo Jun left Netflix in 2017, he obtained confidential Netflix subscriber growth information from another Netflix insider, Ayden Lee. Sung Mo Jun allegedly traded himself and tipped Joon Jun and Chon in advance of Netflix earnings announcements from 2017 to 2019. The SEC alleges that Sung Mo Jun’s former Netflix colleague Jae Hyeon Bae, another Netflix engineer, tipped Joon Jun based on Netflix’s subscriber growth information in advance of Netflix’s July 2019 earnings announcement. Sung Mo Jun, Joon Jun, and Chon allegedly used encrypted messaging applications to discuss their trading in an attempt to evade detection. According to the complaint, Sung Mo Jun, Joon Jun, and Chon made approximately $3 million in total profits from the illegal scheme. The SEC Market Abuse Unit’s Analysis and Detection Center uncovered the trading ring by using data analysis tools to identify the traders’ improbably successful trading over time.

The SEC’s complaint, filed in federal court in Seattle, charges Sung Mo Jun, Joon Jun, Chon, Lee, and Bae with violating the antifraud provisions of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. Sung Mo Jun, Joon Jun, Chon, and Lee have consented to the entry of judgments which, if approved by the court, would permanently enjoin each from violating the charged provisions, with civil penalties, if any, to be decided later by the court. Sung Mo Jun also agreed to an officer and director bar. Bae consented to the entry of a final judgment, also subject to court approval, permanently enjoining him from violating Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 and imposing a civil penalty of $72,875.

In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington filed a criminal information against Sung Mo Jun, Joon Jun, Chon, and Lee.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Rahul Kolhatkar of the San Francisco Regional Office and Jonathan Warner of the Market Abuse Unit, with assistance from John Rymas, Hugh Beck, and Darren Boerner of the Market Abuse Unit’s Analysis and Detection Center and Rachita Gullapalli and Erin Smith of the SEC’s Division of Economic and Risk Analysis. The case was supervised by Jennifer J. Lee and Monique C. Winkler of the San Francisco Regional Office, and Steven Buchholz and Mr. Sansone of the Market Abuse Unit. The litigation will be led by Marc Katz, Mr. Kolhatkar, and Mr. Warner.

SEC Charges Former CEO of Technology Company With $80 Million Fraud

Source: Securities and Exchange Commission

Washington D.C., Aug. 25, 2021 —

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Manish Lachwani, the former CEO of HeadSpin Inc., a Silicon Valley-based private technology company, with defrauding investors out of $80 million by falsely claiming that the company had achieved strong and consistent growth in acquiring customers and generating revenue.

The SEC’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that from at least 2018 through 2020, Lachwani engaged in a fraudulent scheme to propel HeadSpin’s valuation to over $1 billion by falsely inflating the company’s key financial metrics and doctoring its internal sales records. According to the complaint, Lachwani, who allegedly controlled all important aspects of HeadSpin’s financials and sales operations, significantly inflated the value of numerous customer deals and fraudulently treated potential deal amounts that he had discussed with customers as if they were guaranteed future payments. The complaint alleges that Lachwani concealed this inflation by creating fake invoices and altering real invoices to make it appear as though customers had been billed higher amounts. As further alleged, Lachwani enriched himself by selling $2.5 million of his HeadSpin shares in a fundraising round during which he made misrepresentations to an existing HeadSpin investor. According to the complaint, Lachwani’s fraud unraveled after the company’s Board of Directors conducted an internal investigation that revealed significant issues with HeadSpin’s reporting of customer deals, and revised HeadSpin’s valuation down from $1.1 billion to $300 million.

“We allege that Lachwani misled investors into believing that HeadSpin had achieved a ‘unicorn’ valuation by winning hundreds of lucrative deals, including many with Silicon Valley’s biggest and most high profile companies,” said Monique C. Winkler, Associate Regional Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office. “Companies and their executives must tell the truth when speaking about financial metrics that are material to the value of the business.”

The SEC’s complaint charges Lachwani with violating antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws and seeks penalties, a permanent injunction, a conduct-based injunction, and an officer and director bar.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California today announced criminal charges against Lachwani. 

The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, was conducted by Erin E. Wilk and Ellen Chen, and supervised by Jennifer J. Lee and Ms. Winkler of the San Francisco Regional Office. The SEC’s litigation will be led by Marc Katz, David Zhou, and Ms. Wilk.

The SEC appreciates the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Chronic Cocaine Use Changes Brain Structure and Cognitive Function in Rhesus Monkeys

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services

This study reported that:

  • Chronic cocaine use in rhesus monkeys was associated with structural changes in several brain regions that mirror effects described in humans.
  • Specific cocaine-induced decreases in gray matter density were associated with reduced performance on tests of memory and cognition.
  • Some structural changes in brain regions involved in addiction and relapse persisted after prolonged abstinence.

Studies comparing people who use cocaine with control subjects have suggested that long-term cocaine use leads to structural changes in the brain that affect cognitive performance. However, these studies could not rule out that other, pre-existing factors may have been responsible for these effects because they did not compare the individuals’ brain structure and function before and after cocaine use. It was also unclear whether cocaine-induced changes in the brain could be reversed with abstinence.

To address these issues, Dr. Hank Jedema and colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh, VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, and NIDA Intramural Research Program conducted repeated brain imaging and cognitive performance tests in rhesus monkeys before and after chronic cocaine self-administration. Their study demonstrated that chronic cocaine use indeed affected both brain structure and performance and that at least some of these changes persisted after prolonged abstinence.

Dr. Charles Bradberry, the study’s senior author, explains, “Having true baseline measures of both structural measures and cognitive performance helps inform and interpret clinical research into the consequences of cocaine use. Our study eliminated any potential for individual differences in vulnerability to influence the effects we attributed to cocaine exposure.”

Extended Cocaine Self-Administration Altered Gray Matter Density and Cognitive Function

The researchers trained 14 male rhesus monkeys on tests that assessed two cognitive functions—cognitive flexibility and visual working memory. They also performed a structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan for each animal to identify changes in gray matter density (GMD) (see Textbox). The monkeys were then assigned to a control group or to an experimental group that self-administered cocaine 4 days per week for 1 year. During that time, the team assessed the animals’ cognitive performance each week and conducted a second MRI at the end of the year. Cognitive testing continued after abstinence from cocaine, and the study concluded with a final MRI at the end of the 2-year abstinence period.

Figure 1. Chronic Cocaine Self-Administration Alters GMD in Rhesus Monkeys  The researchers performed structural MRI scans of the brain at baseline and after 1 year of cocaine self-administration in rhesus monkeys. Blue indicates areas where GMD decreased compared with baseline; red indicates areas of GMD increase. See full text description at end of article.

The team found that chronic cocaine use led to changes in the monkeys’ brain structure consistent with those observed in people who are dependent on cocaine. GMD decreased in several areas (e.g., the orbitofrontal, insular, and temporal cortex; amygdala; and thalamus) and increased in other areas (e.g., the caudate putamen) (see Figure 1). “We were surprised and impressed at the magnitude of the increase in GMD in the caudate putamen,” says Dr. Bradberry, adding, “These results address ambiguous clinical observations, where some studies saw a similar effect in cross-sectional comparisons, but others didn’t, and there have even been rare observations of decreased GMD.” Some of these changes (e.g., in the orbitofrontal cortex, caudate putamen, insula, and amygdala/parahippocampal cortex) were still present even after 2 years of abstinence.

Figure 2. Greater Structural Changes in the Orbitofrontal Cortex Were Associated With Greater Reduction in Cognitive Flexibility  Rhesus monkeys who self-administered cocaine for 1 year (blue circles) and control animals (red circles) performed a task assessing cognitive flexibility. Animals with greater GMD decreases in the orbitofrontal cortex showed greater declines in performance on the test after 1 year than animals with smaller GMD decreases. See full text description at end of article.

The cocaine-induced changes in some of these regions correlated with impaired cognitive performance. Thus, animals with decreased GMD in the orbitofrontal cortex and lateral parietal area had worse performance on the cognitive flexibility test (see Figure 2). Similarly, lower GMD in the insula and temporal cortex was associated with reduced performance in the visual working memory test.

Dr. Jedema and colleagues concluded that chronic cocaine use causes specific changes in brain structure that influence cognitive performance and can persist even after prolonged abstinence. Studies comparing people with and without cocaine use disorder detected similar patterns. The researchers are currently analyzing brain tissues from some of the animals to identify potential cellular mechanisms that could be driving the cocaine-induced structural changes, such as by comparing areas that showed decreased GMD with those with increased GMD.

The findings may have additional implications. The team noted that some of the persistent structural changes occurred in brain regions thought to be involved in response inhibition and addiction in humans. Thus, it is possible that these brain alterations may be a factor contributing to relapse risk.

This study was supported by NIDA grant DA025636.

Gray Matter Density

The brain’s gray matter comprises the cell bodies of the neurons in the brain and is largely responsible for muscle control, sensory perception, and various cognitive functions. Numerous studies have established that greater gray matter volume is associated with better cognitive performance. However, gray matter density also influences cognitive performance. Gray matter density refers to the proportion of matter within a given brain area that is gray matter (i.e., nerve cell bodies) rather than white matter (i.e., nerve cell fibers) or fluid, as determined during brain imaging. Both gray matter volume and gray matter density can change over the course of the life span and in response to environmental influences, such as drug use. Decreases in both gray matter volume and gray matter density in certain brain regions have been associated with reduced cognitive performance on specific tasks.

Text Description of Figure 1

The figure shows five rows of six slices through the brain of Rhesus monkeys. In each slice, colored areas indicate brain regions where the GMD changed after chronic cocaine self-administration compared with baseline. At the bottom, a color scale indicates the degree of change. It ranges from dark blue on the left, indicating a decrease in GMD, through light blue, green, yellow, orange, and red to dark red on the right, indicating an increase in GMD.

Text Description of Figure 2

The figure shows the relationship between structural changes in the orbitofrontal cortex of Rhesus monkeys and cognitive flexibility. The horizontal x-axis indicates the changes in GMD on a scale from 0 on the right to -0.20 on the left. The vertical y-axis on the right indicates the difference in the number of trials the animals needed to perform a task assessing cognitive flexibility after 1 year of cocaine self-administration, on a scale from -20 (indicating better performance) to +20 (indicating worse performance). Filled blue circles represent animals that self-administered cocaine; open red circles represent control animals. A dotted blue line sloping from the x-axis upwards to the top left indicates the relationship between greater reductions in GMD after cocaine self-administration and worse cognitive performance.

Source

Jedema, H.P., Song, X., Aizenstein, H.J., et al. Long-term cocaine self-administration produces structural brain changes that correlate with altered cognition. Biological Psychiatry. 89(4):376-385, 2021. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2020.08.008.

Latest News: Library and Harvard University Collaboration on Islamic Law Collections

Source: US Global Legal Monitor

The Library of Congress and Harvard Law School have initiated an unprecedented, multifaceted joint collaboration to identify, select and assess the copyright status of materials focusing on national legal gazettes.

The effort, initially set for three years, will coordinate access to, knowledge-sharing, and legal analysis of Library of Congress’ collections related to Islamic law, including national legal gazettes, manuscripts and other materials.

Click here for more information.

NIST Establishes Expert Team to Investigate the Champlain Towers South Collapse

Source: US Government research organizations

In this July 1, 2021, photo NIST staff members examine pieces of concrete removed from the debris pile at the site of the Champlain Towers South building partial collapse.

Credit: NIST

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced today the expert team members who will conduct a technical investigation into the June 24, 2021, partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida. 

“In response to the tragic events at Champlain Towers South, an accomplished team of experts has answered the call to help us determine the likely cause or causes of the partial collapse,” said James Olthoff, who is performing the nonexclusive functions and duties of the under secretary of commerce for standards and technology and NIST director. “I’m confident this team will work tirelessly to understand what happened in Surfside, and to make recommendations that will improve the safety of buildings across the United States to ensure a tragedy like this does not happen again.”

The Champlain Towers South investigation will be the fifth investigation NIST has conducted using authorities granted by the 2002 National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act. The act gives NIST and its teams primary authority to investigate the site of a building disaster; access key pieces of evidence such as records and documents; and collect and preserve evidence from the site of a failure or disaster. It also calls for NIST to issue reports and make recommendations to improve building codes and standards.

The team will be led by Judith Mitrani-Reiser, associate chief of the Materials and Structural Systems Division in NIST’s Engineering Laboratory. In that role, Mitrani-Reiser leads the development and coordination of statutory processes for making buildings safer. She manages and provides oversight on building failure investigations and coordinates work with other federal agencies to reduce losses in the United States from disasters and failures of our built environment.

Glenn Bell, co-director of the safety organization Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures and co-founder of the American Society of Civil Engineers Technical Council on Forensic Engineering, will serve as associate lead. Bell has more than 45 years of experience evaluating existing structures, investigating structural failures and taking the lessons learned from them to ensure those failures are not repeated.

“This team has an incredible amount of experience in forensic engineering, having studied many building failures,” said Mitrani-Reiser. “We are going into this with an open mind and will examine all hypotheses that might explain what caused this collapse. Having a team with experience across a variety of disciplines, including structural and geotechnical engineering, materials, evidence collection, modeling and more, will ensure a thorough investigation.”

In this July 2, 2021, photo, a NIST staff member tags and photographs a building element that has been identified for preservation as evidence in the staging area near the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse.

Credit: NIST

The technical investigation will be organized around specific projects that will seek to understand the full history of the building, including its design plans, construction, materials, modifications, site and environment, from its design to the moment of collapse. 

The projects named today and their leads are:

  • Building and Code History: Jim Harris and Jonathan Weigand
  • Evidence Preservation: David Goodwin and Christopher Segura
  • Materials Science: Ken Hover and Scott Jones 
  • Geotechnical Engineering: Youssef Hashash and Sissy Nikolaou 
  • Structural Engineering: Jack Moehle and Fahim Sadek 

Full biographies of the team members and descriptions of each project can be found on the NIST Champlain Towers South investigation webpages. Projects and team members may be added as needed.

NIST will provide regular updates on its progress during the investigation, including through public meetings with the NCST Advisory Committee, annual reports to Congress and progress reports. NIST will not issue preliminary findings or conclusions before publishing a draft report for public comment. Because of the amount of evidence and information that must be examined thoroughly, the investigation could take multiple years to complete.

NIST invites members of the public to submit any information, including videos, photos or other documentation, that might help the investigation via the NIST Disaster Data Portal.

In addition to its NCST investigations, NIST has more than 50 years of experience studying disasters and failures caused by fire, earthquake, terrorist attack and more. 

NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. To learn more about NIST, visit www.NIST.gov.

B-Roll Video Reel #2 – Champlain Tower South NIST Investigation

To download this video, click the top right file button.

Reporting on the State of the Climate in 2020

Source: US National Oceanographic Data Center

A new State of the Climate report confirmed that 2020 was among the three warmest years in records dating to the mid-1800s, even with a cooling La Niña influence in the second half of the year. New high temperature records were set across the globe. The report found that the major indicators of climate change continued to reflect trends consistent with a warming planet. Several markers such as sea level, ocean heat content, and permafrost once again broke records set just one year prior. Notably, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere also reached record highs in 2020, even with an estimated 6%–7% reduction of CO2 emissions due to the economic slowdown from the global pandemic.

These key findings and others are available from the State of the Climate in 2020 report released online today by the American Meteorological Society (AMS). 

The 31st annual issuance of the report, led by NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, is based on contributions from more than 530 scientists from over 60 countries around the world and reflects tens of thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets (highlights, full report). It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments located on land, water, ice and in space.

The report’s climate indicators show patterns, changes and trends of the global climate system. Examples of the indicators include various types of greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent and snow cover. 

Report highlights include these indications of a warming planet: 

  • Greenhouse gases were the highest on record. As they do each year, and again in the midst of a global pandemic that slowed economic activity around the world, the major greenhouse gas concentrations, including CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide, rose to new record high values during 2020. The global annual average atmospheric CO2 concentration was 412.5 parts per million. This was 2.5 parts per million greater than 2019 amounts and was the highest in the modern 62-year measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years. The year over year increase of methane (14.8 parts per billion) was the highest such increase since systematic measurements began.
  • Global surface temperature was near-record high. Annual global surface temperatures were 0.97°–1.12°F (0.54°–0.62°C above the 1981–2010 average, depending upon the dataset used). This places 2020 among the three warmest years since records began in the mid- to late 1800s. This was the warmest year on record without the presence of El Niño. The seven warmest years on record have all occurred in the past seven years, since 2014. The global average surface temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.14°F (0.08°C) per decade since the start of the record; since 1981, the rate of increase has been more than twice as high.
  • Upper atmospheric temperatures were record or near-record setting. In the region of the atmosphere just above Earth’s surface, the globally averaged annual lower troposphere temperature equaled the record high of 2016. In the layer above that, the lower stratosphere temperature continued to decline, as expected in a warming world. 
  • Sea surface temperatures were near-record high. The globally averaged 2020 sea surface temperature was the third highest on record, surpassed only by 2016 and 2019, both of which were associated with El Niño conditions.
  • Global upper ocean heat content was record high. Globally, upper ocean heat content reached record highs in 2020 in the upper layer measured from the surface to 2,300 feet (700 meters), according to four of the five datasets analyzed in the report. This record heat reflects the continuing accumulation of thermal energy in the top 2,300 feet of the ocean. Ocean heat content was also record high in the deeper layer beneath, from 700 to 2,000 meter depth, according to all five datasets. Oceans absorb more than 90% of Earth’s excess heat from global warming. The warmer upper ocean waters can drive stronger hurricanes and increase melting rates of ice sheet glaciers around Greenland and Antarctica.
  • Global sea level was highest on record. For the ninth consecutive year, global average sea level rose to a new record high and was about 3.6 inches (91.3 millimeter) higher than the 1993 average, the year that marks the beginning of the satellite altimeter record. Global sea level is rising at an average rate of 1.2 inches (3.0 centimeter) per decade due to changes in climate. Melting of glaciers and ice sheets, along with warming oceans, account for the trend in rising global mean sea level.
  • Oceans absorbed a record amount of CO2.The ocean absorbed about 3.0 billion metric tons more CO2 than it released in 2020. This is the highest amount since the start of the record in 1982 and almost 30% higher than the average of the past two decades. More CO2 stored in the ocean means less remains in the atmosphere, but this also leads to increasing acidification of the waters, which can greatly harm or shift ecosystems.

The report also documents key regional climate and climate-related events.

  • The Arctic continued to warm; minimum sea ice extent was near-record low. The annual mean surface air temperature for the Arctic land areas was the highest in the 121-year record, at 3.8°F (2.1°C) above the 1981–2010 average. This was the seventh straight year with an annual temperature more than 1°C higher than the 1981–2010 average. On June 20, a temperature of 38°C was observed at Verkhoyansk, Russia (67.6°N), provisionally the highest temperature ever measured within the Arctic Circle. The Arctic continues to warm at a faster pace than lower latitudes. With the warmth came fires. The Arctic experienced its highest fire year in terms of the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, surpassing the record set in 2019 by 34%. The majority of the fires occurred in northeastern Siberia where abnormally high temperatures also occurred. In March, when sea ice reached its annual maximum extent, thin, first-year ice comprised ~70% of the ice; the thickest ice—usually more than four years old—had declined by more than 86% since 1985 to make up just 2% of total ice in 2020. When the minimum sea ice extent was reached in September, it was the second smallest in the 42-year satellite record, behind 2012. The Northern Sea Route along the Siberian coast was open for about 2.5 months, from late July through mid-October, compared to less than a month typically.
  • Antarctica saw extreme heat and a record-long ozone hole. Extreme warmth was observed across parts of Antarctica during austral summer, contributing to a major heat wave. On February 6, Esperanza Station reached 64.9°F (18.3°C), the highest temperature ever recorded on the continent, surpassing the previous record set in 2015 by 2.0°F (1.1°C). The warmth also led to the largest late-summer surface melt event in the 43-year record, affecting more than 50% of the Antarctic Peninsula and impacting elevations as high as 1,700 meters. Later in the year, the Antarctic polar vortex was unusually strong and persistent, with polar temperatures in the stratosphere at record low levels throughout November and December. This strong vortex was linked to the longest-lived ozone hole over the Antarctic region, which lasted to the end of December. Record-low ozone values in late austral spring and early summer led to unusually high levels of UV radiation across the Antarctic region.
  • Tropical cyclones were well-above average overall. There were 102 named tropical storms during the Northern and Southern Hemisphere storm seasons, well above the 1981–2010 average of 85. Three tropical cyclones reached Saffir–Simpson scale Category 5 intensity. The North Atlantic hurricane basin recorded a record 30 named storms, surpassing the previous record of 28 in 2005. Seven of those storms became major hurricanes, matching 2005 for a record number. Major Hurricanes Eta and Iota made landfall along the eastern coast of Nicaragua in nearly the same location within a two-week period, impacting over seven million people across Central America. In the western North Pacific, Super Typhoon Goni was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in the historical record and led to the evacuation of almost one million people in the Philippines. Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Gati made landfall over Somalia, the first storm of such intensity to do so.
Selected significant climate anomalies and events in 2020 (Credit: NOAA NCEI)

 

Geographical Regional Highlights

Additional geographical regional highlights include:

  • North America
    • Mexico reported its warmest year in its 49-year record, tied with 2017 and 2019.
    • The contiguous United States reported its fifth-warmest year. Alaska reported its coolest year since 2012, although it was still warmer than its 1981–2010 average. The annual temperature for Alaska has increased at an average rate of 0.50°C per decade over the past half century.
    • Most of Mexico was drier than average in 2020 due to the late onset of a weak North American Monsoon and a lack of tropical cyclones on the Pacific side. The United States was dominated by warm, dry air in the West and an active storm track that brought wet conditions to much of the East.In Canada, the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland was hit by a strong blizzard with hurricane force winds in January. The storm contributed to the snowiest January on record for Saint John’s.
  • Central America and the Caribbean
    • The annual average temperature over the Caribbean basin was the second highest since the start of the record in 1891. Annual average maximum temperatures were record high for stations in The Bahamas, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago. 
    • Powerful Category 4 Hurricanes Eta and Iota impacted Central America in November, making landfall along the eastern coast of Nicaragua in nearly the same location within a two-week period.
  • South America
    • Most of South America had above-average temperatures during the year. Central South America reported its second-warmest year for the region in its 61-year record, behind only 2015. During a strong heat wave in October, the city of São Paulo, Brazil, recorded four of its five all-time daily maximum temperatures.
    • The Bolivian lowlands suffered one of its most severe droughts on record during autumn. Drought also spanned the Chaco and Pantanal in Bolivia, Paraguay and southern Brazil. The Paraguay River shrank to its lowest levels in half a century. A decadal “mega drought” in south-central Chile continued through its 11th year, with extreme conditions in the most populated areas. Argentina reported its driest year since 1995.
  • Africa
    • Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean off East Africa, observed its highest annual temperature in the record dating to 1972. In West Africa, Nuguru, Nigeria, observed about 80 days of maximum temperatures exceeding 104°F (40°C) in 2020, surpassing its previous record of 77 days in 2019. 
    • Extremely heavy rains in April triggered widespread flooding and landslides in Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda and Burundi. The Lake Victoria region was the wettest in its 40-year record, and the lake itself rose more than three feet (one meter) due to the excessive rain. 
  • Europe
    • The year 2020 was the warmest year on record for Europe, with all five of the warmest years occurring since 2014. Record warmth was reported for Belarus, Belgium, European Russia, Estonia, Finland, France, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine.
    • In February, almost all areas in Europe observed temperatures more than 5°F (3°C) higher than average. Biarritz in southern France reached a temperature of 80.0°F (26.6°C), which is higher than the monthly average for July and August. 
    • The Middle East experienced an extreme drought during autumn, with most places reporting 0%–20% of their typical precipitation in September and no precipitation at all in October.
  • Asia
    • In 2020, Japan and Russia each observed their highest annual temperature on record. In northern Siberia, annual temperatures were more than 9°F (5°C) above average across vast territories. The average winter temperature for all of Russia was 5°C above normal. In East Asia, Hong Kong, China, reported 50 hot nights, where the daily minimum temperature did not dip below 82.4°F  (28.0°C), and 47 very hot days, where the daily maximum temperature reached at least 91.4°F (33.0°C), both of which set new annual records. 
    • The 2020 Southwest Asian Monsoon season (June–September) was the wettest since 1981, coincident with the emergence of La Niña. The Meiyu season (July–August), a typical rainy season over the Yangtze and Huaihe River Valleys of China, doubled its typical duration by two months in 2020. The May–October total rainfall averaged over the area was the most since the start of the record in 1961. Associated severe flooding affected about 45.5 million people.
    • As is typical, several tropical cyclones impacted Asia in 2020. Super Typhoon Goni was the strongest storm on record anywhere in the world to make landfall. More than one million people were evacuated from its path in the Philippines. Eight tropical cyclones directly affected Vietnam. Typhoon Molave was one of the most intense storms to reach the country in the past 20 years.
  • Oceania
    • Most locations across Micronesia were drier than average during the first half of 2020 and wetter than average at all locations in the second half. For the year, Kosrae was record wet, while Kapingamarangi and Saipan observed near-record low annual rainfall totals. 
    • The last days of 2019 and first days of 2020 saw particularly hazardous fire weather in eastern Australia, where multiple fires had been burning since austral spring 2019. The emergence of La Niña was a welcome change for the Australian region, with this phase of ENSO contributing to increased rainfall over the continent, after a very significant 2019/20 fire season. Even with increased rainfall, this was Australia’s fourth-warmest year in its 111-year record. Both November and spring as a whole had record high temperatures.
    • Aotearoa, New Zealand, reported its seventh-warmest year since records began in 1909, in part due to its warmest winter on record. La Niña conditions contributed to higher temperatures in the latter part of the year. From late-December 2019 through February 2020, several areas across New Zealand observed record or near-record dry spells, that is, at least 15 consecutive days with less than one millimeter of rain each day. A 64-day dry spell, the longest on record, was reported in Blenheim, a town on the northern tip of the South Island.

The State of the Climate in 2020  is the 31st edition in a peer-reviewed series published annually as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The journal makes the full report openly available online.

Federal Court Orders Georgia Man and Two Companies to Pay Over $15.6 Million for Forex Fraud and Registration Violations

Source: US Commodity Futures Trading Commission

 The Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced today that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia entered an order granting the CFTC’s motion for entry of default judgment against defendants Silver Star FX, LLC d/b/a Silver Star Live (SSL), a former New Mexico limited liability company, Silver Star Live Software LLC (SSLS), a Florida limited liability company, and David Wayne Mayer (known by the pseudonym “Quicksilver”) of Roswell, Georgia. The order finds that all three defendants are liable for solicitation fraud in connection with forex transactions, Commodity Trading Advisor (CTA) fraud, as well as multiple CFTC registration violations.

The order requires SSLS and Mayer to pay $3,712,035.93 in restitution jointly and severally and SSL to pay $198,143.03 in restitution. The order further imposes $9,798,107.79 in civil monetary penalties on SSLS; $9,798,107.79 on SSL; and $1,338,000 on Mayer. Additionally, under the order, defendants are permanently enjoined from engaging in conduct that violates the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA), registering with the CFTC, and trading in any CFTC-regulated markets.

The order resolves a CFTC enforcement case filed on June 11, 2020. [See CFTC Press Release No. 8179-20]

Case Background

In the order, U.S. District Judge Robert P. Boulee found that from at least July 2018 to March 2019, the defendants fraudulently solicited customers to open discretionary trading accounts, and offered to trade those accounts, through a fully automated retail foreign currency (forex) trading software system that Mayer created. The order further finds that the defendants solicited customers through online videos, social media, and in-person marketing events. As found in the order, the solicitations contained material misrepresentations and omissions regarding Mayer’s qualifications and trading experience. Additionally, as found in the order, the defendants misrepresented the forex trading system’s performance history and expected trading profits. Further, as found in the order, the defendants failed to disclose that Mayer never opened a live trading account using the forex trading system. The order further found that Mayer failed to register as an associated person of a CTA; and that SSL and SSLS unlawfully permitted Mayer to become or remain associated with them.

Related CFTC Enforcement Action

In a previous, related case, the CFTC found that SSL and SSLS acted as unregistered CTAs, and that two former officers acted as unregistered associated persons of both SSL and SSLS. [See CFTC Press Release No. 8071-19]

The Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this case are James A. Garcia, Michael Loconte, Erica Bodin, Aimée Latimer-Zayets, and Rick Glaser.

* * * * * * *

CFTC’s Foreign Currency (Forex) Fraud Advisory

The CFTC has issued several customer protection Fraud Advisories that provide the warning signs of fraud, including the Foreign Currency (Forex) Trading Fraud Advisory, to help customers identify this sort of scam.

The CFTC also strongly urges the public to verify a company’s registration with the Commission before committing funds. If unregistered, a customer should be wary of providing funds to that entity. A company’s registration status can be found using NFA BASIC.

Customers and other individuals can report suspicious activities or information, such as possible violations of commodity trading laws, to the Division of Enforcement via a toll-free hotline 866-FON-CFTC (866-366-2382) or file a tip or complaint online or contact the CFTC Whistleblower Office. Whistleblowers are eligible to receive between 10 and 30 percent of the monetary sanctions collected paid from the CFTC Customer Protection Fund financed through monetary sanctions paid to the CFTC by violators of the CEA.

 

Invasive Plants are Still for Sale as Garden Ornamentals, Research Shows

Source: US National Invasive Species Information Center

AMHERST, Mass. – Results of a new study by ecologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst show that 1,330 nurseries, garden centers and online retailers are still offering hundreds of invasive plant species as ornamental garden plants. This includes 20 species that are illegal to grow or sell nationwide.

Image

Scores of regulated plants are still for sale in many states. Image courtesy Beaury et al., https://10.1002/fee.2392

The study, “Invaders for sale: the ongoing spread of invasive species by the plant trade industry,” published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, shows that existing regulatory and ethical guidelines do not serve to limit the widespread introduction of invasive plants and that more than 60% of the 1,285 plants identified as invasive remain for sale.

“Once we’ve recognized that an ornamental plant can be invasive, we would hope that commercial sales of that species would stop,” says lead author Evelyn M. Beaury, a graduate student in organismic and evolutionary biology at UMass. “But our findings show that our current framework for removing invasive plants from plant trade isn’t working. States are generally doing a good job limiting sales of their own regulated plants, but we found major inconsistencies in what’s being regulated across state borders. Nearly all states had at least one of their regulated plants sold in a neighboring state.”

 “We’ve known for decades that many gardening and landscaping plants are invasive,” adds Bethany Bradley, senior author and professor of environmental conservation at UMass, “but we’ve done little to stop propagating them. We can do better.”

Beaury and her co-authors suggest that regional regulation, plus outreach to growers and consumers, is needed to reduce the ongoing propagation of plants known to be invasive in the United States. Some remedies include increasing consistency in regulations, more coordination among states at regional and national levels and providing growers with transparent information to support efforts that reduce the spread of invasive plants.

In addition to the Federal Noxious Weed Act, which identifies 105 plants considered the greatest threats to U.S. natural resources, most states have regulatory lists intended to reduce the spread of high-impact invasive plants. Other non-native plants are managed by state and federal agencies or conservation organizations.

Image

Cogongrass, a federally listed invasive plant, which can still be found for sale in many nurseries.

“The most concerning case of federally designated noxious weed sales,” Beaury and colleagues say, is the availability of cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica), offered by 33 vendors in 17 states. It is labeled as one of “the world’s most invasive plants.” “This is a tricky case,” says Beaury, “because plant breeders are marketing a sterile cultivar. But research shows these plants are not completely sterile and can still become invasive.”

For this study, the researchers used standardized searches in Google and a database of nursery catalogs to identify invasive plants in the U.S. that continue to be sold. They also recorded the location and distribution of vendors and sales across the lower 48 states, and which sales took place even when federal and/or state regulations prohibit them.

The authors report that they found that 61% of 1,285 plant species identified as invasive in the U.S. remain available through the plant trade, including 50% of state-regulated species and 20% of federal noxious weeds, with vendors in all the lower 48 states. These vendors included large online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon where users can easily ship invasive plants across state borders, likely without consequence. “While patchy state regulations definitely contribute to the widespread availability of invasive plants in the U.S., it’s clear we as a public also lack awareness about which plants are invasive and how they spread to new areas.”

Although there are barriers to enforcement, Beaury says that “we’ve already heard from state regulators that have used our results to follow up with growers selling invasive species. This is great news, and if we want to continue to protect native ecosystems, regulators and managers need more resources to do so.”