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Taiwan offers help to Hong Kong activists as China tightens grip - Al Jazeera English
Taiwan's laws already provide help to Hong Kong citizens whose safety and liberty are threatened for political reasons.
Taiwan will provide the people of Hong Kong with "necessary assistance", President Tsai Ing-wen said, after a resurgence in protests in the Chinese ruled territory against newly proposed national security legislation from Beijing. Writing on her Facebook page late on Sunday, Tsai said the proposed legislation was a serious threat to Hong Kong's freedoms and judicial independence - a statement that is likely to rile up China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory. More: Taiwan has become a refuge for a small but growing number of pro-democracy protesters fleeing Hong Kong, which has been roiled by protests since last year. Hong Kong police on Sunday fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of people who rallied on to protest against Beijing's plan to impose national security laws on the territory. Bullets and repression are not the way to deal with the aspirations of Hong Kong's people for freedom and democracy, Taiwan's president said. "In face of the changing situation, the international community has proactively stretched out a helping hand to Hong Kong's people," Tsai wrote. Taiwan will "even more proactively perfect and forge ahead with relevant support work, and provide Hong Kong's people with necessary assistance", she wrote. Taiwan has no law on refugees that could be applied to Hong Kong protesters, who seek asylum on the island. Its laws do promise, however, to help Hong Kong citizens whose safety and liberty are threatened for political reasons. The Hong Kong protests have won widespread sympathy in Taiwan, and the support for the protesters by Tsai and her administration has worsened already poor ties between Taipei and Beijing. China, which claims Taiwan as its own, has accused supporters of Taiwan's independence of colluding with the protesters. China believes Tsai to be a "separatist" bent on declaring the island's formal independence. Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name. Tsai's latest statement on Hong Kong could also further complicate its delicate relationship with Beijing, as she begins her second term in office. In her inauguration speech last week, Tsai pledged to seek stability in relations with China, saying that "peace, parity, democracy, and dialogue" should form the basis for contacts between the sides as a means to prevent intensifying antagonisms and differences. But Tsai also rejected China's "one country, two systems" framework saying it would "downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo". Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the proposed law for Hong Kong should be imposed "without the slightest delay". The proposal is expected to ban treason, subversion and sedition, and comes after Hong Kong was shaken by months of enormous and sometimes violent anti-government protests. Wang Yi told a news conference that the law was "imperative" after protests in the semi-autonomous hub last year "seriously endangered China's national security".
Pictures: Michigan faces '500-year' flood event after dams fail - Aljazeera.com
Floodwaters overtook two dams in the US state of Michigan, forcing 10,000 people to evacuate from their homes.
More than 10,000 residents were ordered to evacuate their homes in the central part of the US state of Michigan this week after heavy rain caused two dams to fail, triggering what officials warned will be historic flooding. Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Midland County, the site of the breached dams, in the towns of Edenville and Sanford. The National Weather Service warned of life-threatening flash flooding and joined the governor in urging people in the area to seek higher ground immediately. The downtown area of Midland, a city of about 42,000 people, was under feet of water, according to Whitmer, who warned of "historic" high flood levels. The city said on its website that 11,000 people were evacuating, and that no deaths had been reported. Authorities said the Tittabawassee River that flows through Midland has reached 35 feet (10.6 metres), well above flood stage and one foot higher (0.3 metres) than the previous record level set in 1986. The river is expected to rise another three feet (about a metre) before cresting. Images taken from helicopters show vast stretches of land underwater, bridges washed away, and homes and buildings flooded. The flooding disaster and the evacuation are being compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced people to observe social distancing. "It's hard to believe that we are in the midst of a 100-year crisis - a global pandemic - and that also we're dealing with a flooding that looks to be the worst in 500 years," Whitmer said on Wednesday, referring to the coronavirus pandemic. The governor urged those evacuating to shelters to wear face masks and maintain social distancing when possible due to the COVID-19 crisis.
US: Hundreds in Michigan rally in defiance of state lockdown - Al Jazeera English
People in the crowd of roughly 200 held signs declaring 'Every worker is essential' and 'Make Michigan work again'.
Hundreds of people angry or frustrated by the state of Michigan's coronavirus stay-at-home order protested again outside the state capitol on Thursday, braving heavy rain to call for a loosening of restrictions and for business owners to reopen in defiance of Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The demonstration was smaller than previous rallies. It was led by Michigan United for Liberty, a conservative activist group that has sued Whitmer, a Democrat, and organised or participated in several protests since early April. More: People in the crowd of roughly 200 held signs declaring "Every worker is essential", "Make Michigan work again" and "Stop the tyranny". "We can get some businesses back open," said David Saxton, a 40-year-old IT specialist from Alma, in central Michigan. He said he lost his job, is receiving unemployment benefits and noted that a COVID-19 vaccine may not be ready for a year and a half. "Staying shut down that long is not practical. You will kill the state. You just will." Though state police and Michigan's attorney general had warned of enforcing prohibitions on brandishing guns or ignoring potential directives to stay six feet apart, there were no arrests. Some protesters still stood closer together. Some carried guns even though lawmakers from both parties criticised certain demonstrators for intimidating and threatening tactics two weeks ago. At that protest, they openly carried semiautomatic rifles into the capitol, including the senate gallery, sparking calls by Democrats to ban guns from the building. My colleague @JScottPark took this photo during protests at the Michigan Capitol Thursday. https://t.co/w2GooSZEqy Lauren Gibbons (@LaurenMGibbons) May 14, 2020 Organisers on Thursday tried to keep the focus on reopening the state. A scuffle broke out when people speaking on the capitol steps prevented a man from displaying an American flag that had an unclothed female doll with a noose around the neck. Several masked counter-protesters stood silently in support of the governor's actions to keep the virus from spreading. The Republican-led state legislature was not in session Thursday - the state senate had planned to be but changed course - and the capitol building was closed to the public. A court will hear arguments Friday in GOP lawmakers' lawsuit challenging the governor's ability to extend an emergency declaration, the underpinning of her restrictions, without their blessing. The governor's stay-at-home order is effective at least until May 28. "I don't particularly want to see people congregating, period. We know that contributes to spread," Whitmer said Wednesday. "But if people are going to come down and demonstrate, do it in a responsible way. That's what we ask." The governor, whose handling of the crisis has broad public support, according to polls, has gradually reopened some sectors such as manufacturing, construction and real estate. She pointed to modeling showing a median estimate that her order had prevented at least 3,480 additional deaths. More than 4,700 people have died in Michigan from complications related to COVID-19, which is the fourth-most of any state and the sixth-most on a per-capita basis.
Trump applauds Wisconsin ruling against coronavirus lockdown - Al Jazeera English
US state's Supreme Court ruled that officials overstepped their authority by extending widespread stay-at-home order.
President Donald Trump on Thursday applauded the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision to strike down a coronavirus lockdown order in his latest move to encourage states to reopen, even after the top United States infectious disease expert urged caution. Residents of the US state of Wisconsin flocked to bars on Wednesday evening after the court sided with Republican lawmakers who had argued the state's top public health official exceeded her authority by imposing restrictions on businesses and daily life. More: "Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open," Trump, a Republican, wrote in an early morning tweet, referring to Governor Tony Evers, a first-term Democrat. "The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!" The Great State of Wisconsin, home to Tom Tiffanys big Congressional Victory on Tuesday, was just given another win. Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open. The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling! Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 14, 2020 Trump's comments reflect growing tension in the country over how quickly to reopen states closed in March due to the pandemic, which has infected nearly 1.4 million Americans and taken about 84,000 lives, according to a Reuters news agency's tally. The tension has split largely along political lines, with Republicans generally pushing to reopen more quickly to help the crippled economy and states led by Democratic governors proceeding more cautiously, citing concerns over public health. A demonstration protesting against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order was due to take place on Thursday in the state capital Lansing, with fears some might bring weapons inside the Capitol building. Whitmer, a Democrat, is a frequent target of Trump's ire. On Wednesday, Trump described as not acceptable a warning given by Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to new virus outbreaks. Fauci had issued the warning in Tuesday testimony to Congress. Pictures on social media showed residents of Wisconsin crowding in bars after the ruling, which invalidated the state's "Safer at Home" order that had been extended through May 26 by health secretary-designee Andrea Palm. "We further conclude that Palm's order confining all people to their homes, forbidding travel and closing businesses exceeded the statutory authority ... upon which Palm claims to rely," the court said. Nearly all 50 US states have taken some steps to relax restrictions. On Friday, New York state will allow construction and manufacturing operations to restart work in less populated areas outside of New York City, the epicentre of the pandemic in the country, accounting for more than a quarter of all deaths. The crisis has battered the US job market, with government data released on Thursday showing that initial claims for state unemployment benefits totalled a seasonally adjusted 2.981 million for the week ended May 9. While that marked the sixth straight weekly drop, claims remain astoundingly high. The economy lost a staggering 20.5 million jobs in April, the steepest plunge in payrolls since the Great Depression of the 1930s, as businesses were locked down to slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
The bill comes due for Saudi Arabia's oil price war - Aljazeera.com
First came coronavirus, then the price war; now painful government austerity measures that could prove unpopular.
Some wars cannot be won. Saudi Arabia is learning that the hard way, as evidenced by the kingdom's twin announcements on Monday. The first involved austerity measures that shift the bulk of the burden of falling oil income squarely onto the shoulders of ordinary Saudis. The second announcement concerned oil output cuts of the voluntary variety - not those mandated by the recent agreement between the Saudi-led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies. In case you're a bit behind on all the drama roiling oil markets this year, here's a brief recap of the highlights: Prices of global benchmark Brent crude started the year around $66 a barrel. By the close of February, Brent was trading around $50 a barrel as coronavirus lockdowns severely curtailed global oil demand. Understandably, Saudi-led OPEC wanted to counter this hit with deep supply cuts. But the Saudis could not convince the cartel's biggest ally - Russia - to play ball. Riyadh retaliated in March by lowering the price it charges for crude and announcing it would pump oil with abandon - moves designed to steal market share from higher-cost producers like Russia and United States shale oil firms. There's a reason they call it a "price war". Brent subsequently closed out March around $22 a barrel. It is possible that oil prices would have fallen that far, that fast regardless of Saudi shenanigans. But many analysts believe the price war almost surely hastened the rout. And it has caused all kinds of upset. Congressional lawmakers from US states where oil producers cannot compete at such low prices accused the Saudis of engaging in "economic warfare". Two US senators introduced legislation that called for the US to remove troops and military equipment from Saudi Arabia if the kingdom did not stop pumping so much crude. The kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), did fall into line, albeit with a nudge from US President Donald Trump, who is up for re-election this year and has vowed to defend the US oil and gas industry. Last month, OPEC and its allies agreed to cut output by a record 9.7 million barrels per day. But global demand has fallen by around 30 million barrels per day. Prices will likely remain under pressure as long as the glut persists. This has forced some tough decisions on the Saudis. Though the kingdom can pump oil more cheaply than any other producer, it is not making enough to fund its state budget, which the IMF reckons requires oil to fetch around $76 a barrel this year. Though they have ample foreign exchange reserves, in March, the Saudis blew through their savings at the fastest pace in nearly 20 years. The kingdom has gone to international debt markets to help close its funding gap, issuing some $7bn worth of bonds last month alone. But it cannot simply borrow its way out of this bind. Belt-tightening is also required. After ratings agency Moody's cut the kingdom's outlook from stable to negative earlier this month, Saudi finance minister Mohammed al-Jadaan warned of "painful" measures to come. On Monday, a raft of hurt was unveiled. The real eye-grabber on the list of Saudi austerity measures involves VAT - value-added tax, which will be hiked to 15 percent in July from its current level of five percent. Progressive economists disdain VAT because it disproportionately hits less well-off households by gobbling up a bigger slice of their disposable incomes. Not only will Saudis see prices rise because of the tripling of VAT, but those households with a breadwinner employed by the state will also have less money in their pockets because the government also announced on Monday that it is suspending its cost of living allowance for state workers starting in June. This is tricky stuff for any government, but especially one where the social contract between ruler and ruled pivots on a generous welfare state in exchange for political obedience. "During past bouts of austerity, the government has relied on cuts to capital spending and refrained from hitting the pockets of households for fear of igniting social unrest," said Capital Economics senior emerging markets economist Jason Tuvey in a note to clients on Monday. "Despite comments last week from Mr. al-Jadaan that suggested households would be shielded once more, this latest package suggests otherwise." The austerity knife is also carving away funding for some projects that fall under the umbrella of MBS's highly vaunted but hardly realised Vision 2030 - a blueprint for diversifying the kingdom's economy away from fossil fuels and creating sustainable jobs for its youthful workforce. As long as oil prices remain depressed, Vision 2030 will be pushed further into the future. And Saudi Arabia will continue to face tough choices to close its budget gap. Oil markets inched one million barrels per day closer to rebalancing on Monday after the kingdom's energy ministry announced that it had told state oil giant Aramco to cut oil output by that much in June. This is on top of the curbs Saudi Arabia already signed on to last month as part of the agreement between OPEC and its allies. The announcement likely went down well in Washington. Every barrel of oil that is removed from global markets brings beleaguered US shale oil producers closer to a market in which they can compete - and subsequently takes the heat off Trump to do more to protect the US oil patch from Saudi competition. Meanwhile, green shoots of reviving demand are surfacing as lockdown restrictions are eased and international travel slowly awakens from hibernation. This has helped oil prices start to claw back some of the ground lost this year. But balance is still a long way off, and a second wave of coronavirus infections could yet scorch those green shoots. This played out in oil prices on Monday. While Brent got a slight boost after the Saudis announced the additional output cuts, fear of more coronavirus disruptions saw prices fall just over four percent, to see Brent settle just below $30 a barrel.
UK opts for cautious easing of coronavirus lockdown: Live updates - Al Jazeera English
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says country will take 'careful steps' out of lockdown as global cases exceed 4 million.
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera's continuing coverage fo the coronavirus pandemic. I'm Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur.
- Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a cautious easing of the country's lockdown, encouraging those who cannot work from home to go back to their workplaces and allowing people tp go out for unlimited exercise.
- Former US President Barack Obama launched a scathing attack on President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, calling it an "absolute chaotic disaster".
- Globally, more than four million cases of the coronavirus have now been confirmed, and 1.4 million people have recovered, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 282,500 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Egypt: Shady Habash, filmmaker who mocked el-Sisi, dies in prison - Al Jazeera English
Shady Habash dies in Cairo's Tora Prison, say lawyers, after two years in detention for directing video mocking el-Sisi.
An Egyptian filmmaker imprisoned without trial for more than two years for making a music video that mocked President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has died at a maximum-security prison complex, two rights lawyers said. Shady Habash died in Cairo's Tora Prison complex, his lawyer Ahmed el-Khwaga said on Saturday. He said the cause of death was not immediately clear. More: "His health had been deteriorating for several days ... He was hospitalised, then returned to the prison yesterday evening where he died in the night," el-Khwaga told the AFP news agency, without giving further details. There was no immediate comment from the interior ministry, which oversees Egypt's prison system. Police forces arrested the 24-year-old filmmaker in March 2018 after he directed a music video by Ramy Essam, an Egyptian musician exiled in Sweden. The video featured a song that mocked the general-turned-president, comparing him to a fruit date and condemning alleged government corruption. The song's lyrics lambast "Balaha" - the name given to el-Sisi by his detractors in reference to a character in an Egyptian film known for being a notorious liar. The video has had more than five million views on YouTube. In a Facebook post, Essam said: "Shady Habash has died. Shady was the kindest and bravest of people. He never hurt anyone. May God have mercy on him." Essam, along with others among Habash's friends, published a letter that Habash had written from prison in October in which he spoke of his despair. "Prison doesn't kill, loneliness does," he wrote, describing what he called his struggle to "stop yourself from going mad or dying slowly because you've been thrown in a room two years ago and forgotten." "His psychological state was very bad," el-Khwaga said of Habash when he saw him for the last time two months ago. Egyptian human rights activist Abdelrahman Ayyash said on Twitter: "Shadi got very sick in his prison cell, his [fellow] inmates cried for help for some time, but guards and officers had not intervened until his last breath." According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Habash died as a result of "negligence and lack of justice", it said on Twitter. Khaled Ali, a rights lawyer, said Habash should have been released two months ago after serving the maximum jail time during pending investigations. Galal el-Behairy, who wrote the song performed in the video, was also arrested in 2018 after the video provoked the ire of the government when it went viral on social media. El-Behairy was sentenced by an Egyptian military court to three years in prison after his conviction on charges of "insulting security forces" and "disseminating false news". Habash's death again trained a spotlight on the dangers of Egyptian prisons as el-Sisi escalates a crackdown on dissent. Many inmates are serving time for crimes they insist they did not commit, or have not been charged at all. According to rights groups, thousands are held in Egypt's jails awaiting trial. The death also comes during the coronavirus pandemic, and overcrowded prison cells could be breeding grounds for the spread of the virus, which causes the illness COVID-19. Egypt has approximately 6,200 confirmed cases and more than 400 deaths. Earlier this year, a US citizen who had gone on a hunger strike as part of a six-year battle against what he insisted was wrongful imprisonment, died in prison of heart failure. Egyptian authorities said at the time that they would investigate the death of Mustafa Kassem, 54, an Egyptian-born auto parts dealer from Long Island, New York.
New York's Andrew Cuomo warns against 'blindly' reopening states - Al Jazeera English
New York governor highlights roughly 900 new coronavirus cases hospitals in state are still reporting daily.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday pushed back against what he called premature demands to reopen the state, saying he knows people were struggling without jobs but more understanding of the coronavirus was needed. As governors in about half the United States partially reopen their economies this weekend, Cuomo said he needed much more information on what the pandemic is doing in his hardest-hit state before he loosens restrictions. More: "Even when you are in unchartered waters, it doesn't mean you proceed blindly," he said. "Use information to determine action - not emotions, not politics, not what people think or feel but what we know in terms of facts." Georgia and Texas are leading the way in letting businesses shuttered by the pandemic begin partially reopening. Leaders in those and several other states where the coronavirus has had less of an effect are under pressure to allow people to return to work as government data released this week showed 30 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits since March 21.
Trump 'confident' coronavirus may have originated in Chinese lab - Al Jazeera English
Trump has stepped up pressure on China over coronavirus as the US death toll has risen to the highest in the world.
US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was confident the coronavirus originated in a Chinese virology lab but declined to provide any evidence for his claim that is likely to further increase tension with China over the origins of the pandemic. Trump told reporters at the White House that evidence he had seen gave him a "high degree of confidence" the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. More: "Yes, yes I have," he said, declining to give specifics. "I can't tell you that. I'm not allowed to tell you that." The Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology has dismissed the allegations, and other officials in the United States have downplayed the idea. Intelligence agencies said on Thursday that the virus was "not man-made or genetically modified", but that they were still investigating whether there could have been a lab accident or leak. Most experts believe the virus originated in a market selling wildlife in Wuhan and jumped from animals to people. Trump has shown increasing frustration with China in recent weeks over the pandemic, which has cost tens of thousands of lives across the world and triggered an unprecedented global economic contraction. The US has recorded more deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, than any other country, and the outbreak is threatening Trump's chances of re-election in November. The Republican president told reporters that US agencies were investigating how the virus first emerged and what China had done to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the world. "We'll be able to get a very powerful definition of what happened," Trump said, adding that a report would be made to him in the "not too distant future". He has said previously his administration was trying to determine whether the coronavirus emanated from the Wuhan lab, following media reports it may have been artificially synthesised at a China state-backed laboratory or perhaps escaped from such a facility. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday it was not known whether the virus came from the lab. "We dont know if it came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We dont know if it emanated from the wet market or yet some other place. We dont know those answers," Pompeo said in an interview with Iowa station Newsradio 1040. The spread of the coronavirus has contributed to a deepening rift between the Trump administration and China. Beijing has suggested the US military might have brought the virus to China and Trump has said China failed to alert the world to the risks in a timely and transparent fashion. Other countries have also been drawn into the dispute with Australia under pressure from China over its backing for an independent global inquiry into the virus' origins. Trump also said on Thursday it was possible that China either could not stop the spread of the coronavirus or let it spread. He declined to say whether he held Chinese President Xi Jinping responsible for what he feels is misinformation about the emergence of the coronavirus. Trump said of China's efforts to get to the bottom of how the virus emerged: "At least they seem to be trying to be somewhat transparent with us." "But we're going to find out. You'll be learning in the not-too-distant future. But it's a terrible thing that happened - whether they made a mistake or whether it started off as a mistake and then they made another one. Or did somebody do something on purpose?" he said.
Oil prices fall as analysts see more carnage on the horizon - Al Jazeera America
Brent settled at $20 while WTI plunged almost 23 percent to settle at $13 as analysts warn of drawn-out market saga.
Oil prices plunged again on Monday as storage capacity in the United States continues to fill up, fuelling concerns that last week's historic market carnage could repeat itself. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for June delivery fell 23.14 percent, or $3.92 to settle at $13.02. Brent crude, the global benchmark, settled down $1.43, or 6.67 percent, at $20.01 a barrel, after touching a session low of $19.11. The June Brent contract expires on Thursday. More: "The drama of last week was simply rolled over from the May contract into the June 2020 contract," Louise Dickson, oil markets analyst at Rystad Energy, told Al Jazeera. Last Monday, prices dipped into negative territory for the first time in history when WTI's May contract plummeted to -$40.32 before clawing back to settle at -$37.63. US oil futures once again led losses today, fuelled by continuing concerns that storage at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery hub for WTI, could reach full capacity by mid-to-late May. The deadline to sell June contracts is May 19. The coronavirus-induced slump in prices and hit on demand has battered the US shale oil industry particularly hard. US oil producers continue to shut in wells and have already laid off tens of thousands of workers. The pain is reverberating beyond US borders. Brent crude took a dive last week as well, falling to 1999-level lows. The global benchmark has lost 70 percent in value since the beginning of 2020. "Storage hubs around the world cannot handle the oversupply, not in May, not in June," Dickson told Al Jazeera. "The WTI saga can be repeated next month - traders will be in the exact same predicament, if not worse, as the storage situation becomes more dire. The same script can play out in other parts of the world." The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies led Russia, a grouping called OPEC+, earlier this month committed to cutting output by a historic 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) in May and June. But analysts say that the curbs are not nearly enough to offset the estimated 30 million bpd drop in demand from the coronavirus pandemic. Oil-producing countries that rely on crude for the lion's share of their state revenue have found themselves in a tight fiscal squeeze. Some countries are scrambling for ways to move even more supply off the market. Kuwait and Azerbaijan are coordinating their own oil output cuts. Russia is set to reduce its western seaborne exports by half in May. Saudi Arabia has also signalled that it would be open to additional production cuts. And analysts say that even those measures are unlikely to help. "Nothing can be done on the producer side, and there is little that can be done to change the radical limits to storage," Laura James, senior Middle East analyst at Oxford Analytica, told Al Jazeera. She added that the historic supply and demand shock will prompt oil-producing countries to redouble their efforts to diversify their economies away from fossil fuels. "This crisis will have every single oil producer in the world making the same calculation - they see the shock hit to their oil budget and will make diversification an even bigger priority," James said. In the US, the federal government has limited power to order output cuts. And state regulators in oil-producing Texas, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, who can call for production to be reined in, last week postponed voting on mandated cuts. With shale firms shutting down operations and no bottom to oil prices, the options seem to be decreasing by the day. On Saturday, Oklahoma's Governor Kevin Stitt asked President Donald Trump to declare the coronavirus pandemic an "act of God" to allow oil companies to halt operations without risking the cancellation of land leases for stopping production. Meanwhile, tankers carrying 50 million barrels of Saudi crude are headed for US shores, sparking backlash from government officials and the shale industry, which are urging Trump to ban imports of Saudi crude. Those following the markets, however, say that the White House is unlikely to act on those calls. "The US and Saudi Arabia have a special and long-lasting economic and energy relationship," Dickson added. "It would not behoove either party to alter the current status quo over a few barrels of oil."