House Panel to Release Fusion GPS Testimony on Trump-Russia Probe

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee has voted to release the transcript of its interview of Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of the research firm that assembled the infamous Trump-Russia dossier.

The transcript was expected to be released later Thursday.

Fusion GPS, based in Washington, was hired by a law firm that represented Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Fusion GPS in turn hired former British spy Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump’s business dealings with Russia.

The move comes on the heels of the release by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of Simpson’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The panel’s Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley, had not agreed to the release.

Trump slammed Feinstein for the release, calling her “sneaky Dianne,” and calling the release “underhanded” and “possibly illegal,” a claim that legal experts and lawyers dismissed as untrue.

In the Senate transcript, Simpson said Steele uncovered “alarming” evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s team and that he gave the dossier to the FBI because he was “very concerned” about a potential national security matter.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the dossier, which was based on Steele’s investigation, calling it “bogus” and “discredited and phony.” The president also called the Russia probe the “greatest single witch hunt in American history” and urged congressional Republicans to “finally take control” of the investigation.

Feinstein said Simpson requested the transcript of his testimony be released to the public and that the American people deserved the chance to see his words and judge for themselves.

While special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating ties between Russia and Trump’s inner circle on behalf of the Justice Department, House and Senate investigations were also launched.

Earlier this year, the U.S. intelligence community released a report that stated Russia had meddled in the 2016 election, showing a preference for Trump over Clinton, his opponent. Russia denies meddling in the election, and Trump has denied any collusion.

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Clock Ticks Down to Possible US Government Shutdown 

House Republicans, facing a Friday night deadline to approve funding that would keep the government running, voted 230-197 Thursday to pass a temporary spending measure.

The bill faces uncertain prospects in the Senate.

Lawmakers had two options: Either agree on a one-month temporary spending measure, known on Capitol Hill as a continuing resolution, or shut down the government until funding can be agreed upon.

If the temporary measure had been approved, lawmakers would be able to use the next month to negotiate a spending package to cover the rest of fiscal 2018, which ends September 30.

This is the fourth such vote taken in recent months.

Issues

Republican leaders in Congress were struggling to get enough support for the one-month spending measure. Some lawmakers were objecting to passing yet another temporary spending bill, and some others wanted more spending for military programs, even for a temporary bill.

Immigration was a second sticking point. A number of Democrats said they would oppose any spending plan that lacked protection for 800,000 young immigrants, known informally as “Dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally while they were children. They were protected from deportation by an Obama-era program that President Donald Trump rescinded last year.

The third major issue was children’s insurance. Trump objected to a measure that would extend children’s health insurance for the next six years, which had largely Democratic support but was being supported by some Republicans as a means of getting the bill passed.

The spending package being voted did not include enough military spending to please some Republicans, it had no protections for the Dreamers and its children’s insurance provisions were less than what Democrats wanted.

Senate action

After passage in the House, the Senate could hold its vote on the bill Friday.

But passage in the Senate wasn’t certain. Two Republicans have announced they will not support the measure, meaning it needs support from at least 11 Democrats to reach the 60 votes required to pass.

The U.S. government has shut down before. The last time was in 2013, in a deadlock over health care policy. The shutdown lasted 16 days and furloughed hundreds of thousands of federal workers. 

What stops and what continues during a federal shutdown varies, but federal research projects could be stalled, national parks closed, tax refunds delayed, processing of veterans’ disability applications delayed and federal nutrition programs suspended, as was the case in 2013.

The government has officially shut down 18 times since 1976, when the current federal budgeting process was instituted.

VOA’s Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill contributed to this report.

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New Trump Office Would Protect Conscience Rights of Doctors

Reinforcing its strong connection with social conservatives, the Trump administration announced Thursday a new federal office to protect medical providers refusing to participate in abortion, assisted suicide or other procedures on moral or religious grounds.

Leading Democrats and LGBT groups immediately denounced the move, saying “conscience protections” could become a license to discriminate, particularly against gay and transgender people.

The announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services came a day ahead of the annual march on Washington by abortion opponents, who will be addressed via video link by President Donald Trump. HHS put on a formal event in the department’s Great Hall, with Republican lawmakers and activists for conscience protections as invited speakers.

The religious and conscience division will be part of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which enforces federal anti-discrimination and privacy laws. Officials said it will focus on upholding protections already part of federal law. Violations can result in a service provider losing government funding.

No new efforts to expand such protections were announced, but activists on both sides expect the administration will try to broaden them in the future.

Although the HHS civil rights office has traditionally received few complaints alleging conscience violations, HHS Acting Secretary Eric Hargan painted a picture of clinicians under government coercion to violate the dictates of conscience.

“For too long, too many health care practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and moral convictions, leading many of them to wonder what future they have in our medical system,” Hargan told the audience.

“The federal government and state governments have hounded religious hospitals and the men and women who staff them, forcing them to provide or refer for services that violate their consciences, when they only wish to serve according to their religious beliefs,” Hargan added.

After Hargan spoke, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 Republican in the House, provided an example of the kind of case the new office should tackle. McCarthy told the audience he has “high hopes” that the “arrogance” of a California law known as AB 775 “will be investigated and resolved quickly.”

That law, which requires anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to post information about abortion and other services, is the subject of a free-speech challenge brought by the pregnancy centers that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although the HHS civil rights office traditionally has gotten a small number of complaints involving religious and conscience rights, the number has grown since Trump was elected.

Office director Roger Severino said that from 2008 to Nov. 2016, HHS received 10 such complaints. Since Trump won, the office has received 34 new complaints. Before his appointment to government service under Trump, Severino was an expert on religious freedom, marriage, and life issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The new HHS office joins the list of administration actions seen as pleasing to social conservatives, including expanded exemptions for employers who object to providing contraceptive coverage, and the White House move to bar military service by transgender people. Those initiatives have run into legal challenges.

Critics voice concerns

Democrats, LGBT organizations and some civil liberties groups were quick to condemn the administration’s latest action.

“They are prioritizing providers’ beliefs over patients’ health and lives,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “This administration isn’t increasing freedom — they’re paving the way for discrimination.”

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., pledged to keep a close eye on the new enforcement office. “Religious freedom should not mean that our health care providers have a license to discriminate or impose their beliefs on others,” Pallone said. He is the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over many health care issues.

LGBT-rights organizations suggested some medical providers will be emboldened to shun gay, lesbian and transgender patients.

“LGBT people have already been turned away from hospitals and doctors’ offices,” said Rachel Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal. “The Orwellian ‘Conscience and Religious Freedom’ unit simply provides guidance on how they can get away with it.”

But conservatives said the new office will help maintain balance in the health care system. It’s a world that has become increasingly secular, even if many of its major institutions sprang from religious charity.

“In the context of health care, Americans have very deep, sincere differences on a number of ethical and moral matters,” said Heritage Foundation analyst Melanie Israel. “It’s these conscience protections that allow us to work and live alongside each other despite our differences.”

Monday marks the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

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New Trump Office Would Protect Conscience Rights of Doctors

Reinforcing its strong connection with social conservatives, the Trump administration announced Thursday a new federal office to protect medical providers refusing to participate in abortion, assisted suicide or other procedures on moral or religious grounds.

Leading Democrats and LGBT groups immediately denounced the move, saying “conscience protections” could become a license to discriminate, particularly against gay and transgender people.

The announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services came a day ahead of the annual march on Washington by abortion opponents, who will be addressed via video link by President Donald Trump. HHS put on a formal event in the department’s Great Hall, with Republican lawmakers and activists for conscience protections as invited speakers.

The religious and conscience division will be part of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which enforces federal anti-discrimination and privacy laws. Officials said it will focus on upholding protections already part of federal law. Violations can result in a service provider losing government funding.

No new efforts to expand such protections were announced, but activists on both sides expect the administration will try to broaden them in the future.

Although the HHS civil rights office has traditionally received few complaints alleging conscience violations, HHS Acting Secretary Eric Hargan painted a picture of clinicians under government coercion to violate the dictates of conscience.

“For too long, too many health care practitioners have been bullied and discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and moral convictions, leading many of them to wonder what future they have in our medical system,” Hargan told the audience.

“The federal government and state governments have hounded religious hospitals and the men and women who staff them, forcing them to provide or refer for services that violate their consciences, when they only wish to serve according to their religious beliefs,” Hargan added.

After Hargan spoke, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 Republican in the House, provided an example of the kind of case the new office should tackle. McCarthy told the audience he has “high hopes” that the “arrogance” of a California law known as AB 775 “will be investigated and resolved quickly.”

That law, which requires anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to post information about abortion and other services, is the subject of a free-speech challenge brought by the pregnancy centers that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although the HHS civil rights office traditionally has gotten a small number of complaints involving religious and conscience rights, the number has grown since Trump was elected.

Office director Roger Severino said that from 2008 to Nov. 2016, HHS received 10 such complaints. Since Trump won, the office has received 34 new complaints. Before his appointment to government service under Trump, Severino was an expert on religious freedom, marriage, and life issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The new HHS office joins the list of administration actions seen as pleasing to social conservatives, including expanded exemptions for employers who object to providing contraceptive coverage, and the White House move to bar military service by transgender people. Those initiatives have run into legal challenges.

Critics voice concerns

Democrats, LGBT organizations and some civil liberties groups were quick to condemn the administration’s latest action.

“They are prioritizing providers’ beliefs over patients’ health and lives,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “This administration isn’t increasing freedom — they’re paving the way for discrimination.”

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., pledged to keep a close eye on the new enforcement office. “Religious freedom should not mean that our health care providers have a license to discriminate or impose their beliefs on others,” Pallone said. He is the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over many health care issues.

LGBT-rights organizations suggested some medical providers will be emboldened to shun gay, lesbian and transgender patients.

“LGBT people have already been turned away from hospitals and doctors’ offices,” said Rachel Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal. “The Orwellian ‘Conscience and Religious Freedom’ unit simply provides guidance on how they can get away with it.”

But conservatives said the new office will help maintain balance in the health care system. It’s a world that has become increasingly secular, even if many of its major institutions sprang from religious charity.

“In the context of health care, Americans have very deep, sincere differences on a number of ethical and moral matters,” said Heritage Foundation analyst Melanie Israel. “It’s these conscience protections that allow us to work and live alongside each other despite our differences.”

Monday marks the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

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Down to Business: Drought-hit Kenyan Women Trade Their Way Out of Poverty

Widow Ahatho Turuga lost 20 of her goats to drought early last year, but the shopkeeper is planning to reinvest in her herd once she has saved enough money.

“I think I will start with four goats and see how it goes,” she said, rearranging soap on the upper shelf of her shop in Loglogo, a few kilometers from Marsabit town.

She recalled how frequent droughts had left her on the edge of desperation, struggling to care for six of her own children and four others she adopted after their mother died.

But Turuga is finding it easier to cope since taking part in a rural entrepreneurship program run by The BOMA Project, a nonprofit helping women in Kenya’s dry northern areas beat extreme poverty and adapt to climate change.

The U.S. and Kenya-based organization provides two years of business and life-skills training, as well as mentorship.

Groups of three women are each given a startup grant of 20,000 Kenyan shillings ($194.55) and a progress grant of 10,000 shillings to set up a business.

After graduating, they carry on operating their businesses — mainly small shops selling groceries and household goods — either together or on their own.

The women also club together in savings groups of at least 15 people, who put away anything from 400 shillings a month each, and make loans to members at an interest rate of 5 to 10 percent.

Habibo Osman, a mother of five who was in the same group as Turuga, has been able to support her family even after divorcing her husband.

The 1,200 shillings she earns each week from the shop she established as a BOMA business has enabled her to enroll her eldest child, aged five, in nursery school. She is now hoping to save enough to buy her own land.

No more aid

Ahmed “Kura” Omar, BOMA’s co-founder and deputy country director, said his native Marsabit is one of Kenya’s driest counties. It is often hit by prolonged drought, with many families losing livestock in its mainly pastoralist economy, he added.

“Given that there is no foreseeable end to these drought patterns, we need to stop relying on food distribution and aid money, and create more sustainable, life-long solutions,” Kura told Reuters.

BOMA CEO Kathleen Colson said the program aimed to help break the cycle of dependency on aid, giving women power over their lives and the means to move out of extreme poverty.

“People need to be treated with dignity and be empowered to achieve self-sufficiency and effect change on a community level,” she said.

BOMA asks villagers to help identify the poorest women among them to participate in the training. After completing the program, they help other women, a process that raises income levels across the entire area.

Bakayo Nahiro, a widow and mother of six, belongs to the Namayana women’s saving group in Kargi in Marsabit. She has amassed 25,000 shillings in savings, but said profit margins go down in drought periods as people take shop goods on credit when they have no livestock to sell.

Money is power

Jane Naimirdik, a BOMA trainer and mentor, said communities in Marsabit are highly patriarchal, but the program helps women gain a voice in society.

The practice of grouping women in threes creates mutual accountability but also offers protection from husbands who may want to take money from them, she added.

“We once handled a case where the husband tried to take the wife’s savings by force, but we approached [him] and told him the money did not belong to his wife but to the women’s savings group and he understood,” said Naimirdik.

Moses Galore, Kargi’s village chief, said no such incidents had been reported to him, and men appreciated their wives’ financial contribution to the household.

Magatho Mifo, a BOMA business owner, said her husband was happy about her commercial activities as she could now provide for her family while he travels for days in search of pasture for his herd.

Her neighbors’ wives and children buy goods on credit when the men are away looking for grazing, and repay her when they return. This helps the community during lean times and generates more income for her business, she said.

“My husband sometimes gets angry when I attend the women’s group meetings, because they can last a long time, but once I arrive home with a bag of food or something else, all is forgotten,” said Khobobo Gurleyo, another entrepreneurship program member.

Business partnerships

BOMA mentor Naimirdik said the women are also trained in conflict management to strengthen their business partnerships.

Ideally, each group includes women of different ages so as to benefit from the experience of older members and to make the program sustainable as it passes to subsequent generations, she said.

In addition, the women receive information about family planning and the importance of having small families, as well as child and maternal health and hygiene, she added.

The BOMA Project has reported positive results in the communities where it works in Marsabit County and Samburu East, with about 15,700 women enrolled in its program since 2008.

Data collected during a 2016 exit survey of participants found that after two years, 99 percent of BOMA businesses were still open.

Members experienced a 147 percent increase in their income, and a 1,400 percent increase in their savings, alongside a 63 percent drop in children going to bed hungry.

The BOMA Project plans to expand its program across East Africa’s drylands by partnering with governments and other development agencies.

In Kenya, it is undertaking a pilot program with the government involving 1,600 women in Samburu, in addition to its existing work.

The project aims to reach 1 million women and children by 2022, said CEO Colson.

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Turkey Business Lobby Calls for End to Emergency Rule

Turkey’s main business lobby on Thursday called on the government to end the state of emergency as parliament extended it for a sixth time since it was imposed after an attempted coup in 2016.

Emergency rule allows President Tayyip Erdogan and the government to bypass parliament in passing new laws and allows them to suspend rights and freedoms. More than 50,000 people have been arrested since its introduction and 150,000 have been sacked or suspended from their jobs.

The Turkish parliament on Thursday voted to extend the state of emergency, with the ruling AK Party and the nationalist opposition voting in favor.

Rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies fear Erdogan is using the crackdown to stifle dissent and crush his opponents. Freedom House, a Washington-based watchdog, downgraded Turkey to “not free” from “partly free” in an annual report this week.

In order to preserve its international reputation, Turkey needs to start normalizing rapidly, Erol Bilecik, the head of the TUSIAD business lobby said.

“The first step in that regard is bringing an end to the state of emergency,” he told a meeting in Istanbul.

Parliament was due to extend emergency rule after the national security council on Wednesday recommended it do so.

The state of emergency has negatively impacted foreign investors’ decisions, another senior TUSIAD executive said.

“As Turkey takes steps towards becoming a state of law, direct investments will increase, growth will accelerate, more jobs will be created,” Tuncay Ozilhan said, adding that he hoped this would be the last extension of emergency rule.

The government says its measures are necessary to confront multiple security challenges and root out supporters of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for the coup attempt. Gulen has denied any involvement.

But critics fear Erdogan is pushing the NATO member towards greater authoritarianism.

Some 30 emergency decrees have been published since the failed coup. They contain 1,194 articles and cover defense, security, the judiciary, education and health, widely restructuring the relationship between the state and the citizen.

A total of 2,271 private educational institutions have been shut down in the crackdown, as well as 19 labor unions, 15 universities, 49 hospitals and 148 media outlets.

The two co-heads of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition party, parliament’s third-largest, are in jail on terrorism charges, as are several of the parties deputies.

The Turkish Journalists’ Association says about 160 journalists are in jail, most held since the failed coup. Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists called Turkey the world’s top jailer of journalists.

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Turkey Business Lobby Calls for End to Emergency Rule

Turkey’s main business lobby on Thursday called on the government to end the state of emergency as parliament extended it for a sixth time since it was imposed after an attempted coup in 2016.

Emergency rule allows President Tayyip Erdogan and the government to bypass parliament in passing new laws and allows them to suspend rights and freedoms. More than 50,000 people have been arrested since its introduction and 150,000 have been sacked or suspended from their jobs.

The Turkish parliament on Thursday voted to extend the state of emergency, with the ruling AK Party and the nationalist opposition voting in favor.

Rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies fear Erdogan is using the crackdown to stifle dissent and crush his opponents. Freedom House, a Washington-based watchdog, downgraded Turkey to “not free” from “partly free” in an annual report this week.

In order to preserve its international reputation, Turkey needs to start normalizing rapidly, Erol Bilecik, the head of the TUSIAD business lobby said.

“The first step in that regard is bringing an end to the state of emergency,” he told a meeting in Istanbul.

Parliament was due to extend emergency rule after the national security council on Wednesday recommended it do so.

The state of emergency has negatively impacted foreign investors’ decisions, another senior TUSIAD executive said.

“As Turkey takes steps towards becoming a state of law, direct investments will increase, growth will accelerate, more jobs will be created,” Tuncay Ozilhan said, adding that he hoped this would be the last extension of emergency rule.

The government says its measures are necessary to confront multiple security challenges and root out supporters of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for the coup attempt. Gulen has denied any involvement.

But critics fear Erdogan is pushing the NATO member towards greater authoritarianism.

Some 30 emergency decrees have been published since the failed coup. They contain 1,194 articles and cover defense, security, the judiciary, education and health, widely restructuring the relationship between the state and the citizen.

A total of 2,271 private educational institutions have been shut down in the crackdown, as well as 19 labor unions, 15 universities, 49 hospitals and 148 media outlets.

The two co-heads of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition party, parliament’s third-largest, are in jail on terrorism charges, as are several of the parties deputies.

The Turkish Journalists’ Association says about 160 journalists are in jail, most held since the failed coup. Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists called Turkey the world’s top jailer of journalists.

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Researchers: Hacking Campaign Linked to Lebanese Spy Agency

A major hacking operation tied to Lebanon’s main intelligence agency has been exposed after careless spies left hundreds of gigabytes of intercepted data exposed to the open internet, according to a report published Thursday.

Mobile security firm Lookout, Inc. and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, said the haul, which includes nearly half a million intercepted text messages, had simply been left online by hackers linked to Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security.

“It’s almost like thieves robbed the bank and forgot to lock the door where they stashed the money,” said Mike Murray, Lookout’s head of intelligence. Lookout security researcher Michael Flossman said the trove ran the gamut, from Syrian battlefield photos to private phone conversations, passwords and pictures of children’s birthday parties.

“It was everything. Literally everything,” Flossman said.

Discoveries of state-sponsored cyberespionage campaigns have become commonplace as countries in the Middle East and Asia scramble to match the digital prowess of the United States, China, Russia and other major powers. But Lookout and EFF’s report is unusual for the amount of data uncovered about the spying campaign’s victims and its operators.

Notably, their report drew on data generated by suspected test devices — a set of similarly configured phones that appear to have been used to try out the spy software — to potentially pinpoint the hackers’ exact address.

The report said the suspected test devices all seemed to have connected to a WiFi network active at the intersection of Beirut’s Pierre Gemayel and Damascus Streets, the location of the bulky, sandstone-colored high-rise that houses Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security. The Associated Press was able to at least partially verify that finding, sending a reporter to the area around the heavily guarded, antennae-crowned building Wednesday to confirm that the same WiFi network was still broadcasting there. Other data also points to the spy agency: the report said the internet protocol addresses of the spyware’s control panels mapped to an area just south of the GDGS building.

Electronic Frontier Foundation Director of Cybersecurity Eva Galperin said the find was remarkable, explaining that she could think of only one other example where researchers were able to pin state-backed hackers to a specific building.

`We were able to take advantage of extraordinarily poor operational security,” she said.

The GDGS declined to comment ahead of the report’s publication.

The 49-page document lays out how spies used a network of bogus websites and malicious smartphone apps — such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Threema and Signal — to steal passwords or pry into communications, eavesdropping on conversations and capturing at least 486,000 text messages. Some victims were tricked into visiting the websites or downloading the rogue apps by booby trapped messages sent over WhatsApp, the report said. Others may have had malicious programs installed physically when they were away from their phones. Still more may have been lured into compromising their devices by a set of apparently fake Facebook profiles set up to look like attractive young Lebanese women.

EFF and Lookout said the spying stretched over 21 different countries, including the United States and several European nations, but they declined to identify any of the victims except in general terms, saying that there were thousands of them and that in many cases it wasn’t always obvious who they were.

Murray said relevant authorities had been notified of the spying but declined to go into further detail.

Lebanon has historically been a hub for espionage and Lebanese spies have a documented interest in surveillance software. In 2015, for example, the internet watchdog group Citizen Lab published evidence that GDGS had tapped FinFisher, a spyware merchant whose tools have been used to hack into the computers of several African and Middle Eastern dissidents.

The hacking campaign exposed Thursday by EFF and Lookout — which they dub “Dark Caracal” — was discovered in the wake of an entirely different cyberespionage campaign targeting Kazakh journalists and lawyers.

An EFF report on the Kazakh campaign published in 2016 caught the attention of researchers at Lookout, who swept through the company’s vast store of smartphone data to find a sample of the smartphone surveillance software mentioned in the write-up. It was while pulling on that string that investigators stumbled across the open server full of photos, conversations and intercepted text messages — as well as the link to Lebanon.

Galperin and Murray both said researchers were marshalling more evidence and that more revelations were coming.

“Stay tuned,” Murray said.

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Nigeria Moves Closer to Turning Long-awaited Oil Bill Into Law

Nigeria moved closer to turning the first part of a long-awaited oil industry bill into law after the lower house passed the same version of the legislation approved by the Senate last year, a lawmaker in the House of Representatives said on Thursday.

It is the first time both houses have approved the same version of the bill. It still needs the president’s signature to become law.

The legislation, which Nigeria has been trying to pass for more than a decade, aims to increase transparency and stimulate growth in the country’s oil industry.

Under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the Petroleum Industry Bill was broken up into sections to ease passage.

The House of Representatives passed the first part called the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) on Wednesday.

“The PIGB, as passed yesterday, is the same as passed by the Senate. We have harmonized everything and formed the National Assembly Joint Committee on PIB,” Alhassan Ado Doguwa, a lawmaker in the House of Representatives, told reporters in the capital Abuja.

“Every consideration of the bills is now under the joint committee. We have broken the jinx after 17 years. We are working on the other accompanying bills.”

Doguwa is the chairman of the lower house’s Ad-hoc Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as well as of the National Assembly Joint Committee on PIB.

The joint committee is working on two more bills as part of the PIB.

The governance section deals with management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Uncertainty over terms affecting taxation of upstream oil development has been the main sticking point holding back billions of dollars of investment for the oil industry. This will be addressed later in an accompanying bill.

Shell, Chevron, Total, ExxonMobil and Italy’s Eni are major producers in Nigeria through joint ventures with the state oil firm NNPC.

The PIGB would create four new entities whose powers would include the ability to conduct bid rounds, award exploration licenses and make recommendations to the oil minister on upstream licenses.

“It’s an unprecedented step forward. The PIB is something that has defied the last two governments,” Antony Goldman of PM Consulting said.

“The detail of what is agreed will determine the extreme to which the bill takes politics out of the sector and tackles systemic corruption.”

 

 

 

 

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Tap and Donate: Paris Church to Take Contactless Cards

The Catholic church is going digital in Paris.

 

The city’s diocese will introduce a system allowing contactless card payments during Sunday’s mass at Saint Francois de Molitor, a church located in an upscale and conservative Paris neighborhood.

 

The diocese explained Thursday that five connected collection baskets with a traditional design will be handed out to mass attenders during the service. They will choose on a screen the amount they want to donate – from 2 to 10 euros ($2.4 to $12.2) – and their payment will be processed in “one second.”

 

The diocese insisted “this new gesture remains extremely close to the usual” one, yet parishioners will still be able to use cash for their donations.

 

According to the diocese, donations amount to 79 percent of its resources.

 

“Mass collection represents 14 percent of that contribution,” it said in a statement. “That’s about 98 euros on average, per year and per faithful.” It explained that the move is meant “to anticipate the gradual disappearance of cash money.”

 

This is not the French Catholic church’s first attempt to keep up with new technologies.

 

Since 2016, a smartphone app for making donations called “La Quete,” which translates as “The Collection,” has been introduced across 28 French dioceses and more than 2,000 parishes.

 

About 4,000 donations have been made over 14 months in the eight Paris parishes that have been testing the app, with the average amount spent coming in at 4.71 euros.

 

“The Church is committed to supporting everyone in the new ways of life and consumption,” the Paris diocese said. “The dematerialization of the means of payment is also part of the challenges the Church has to take up. Whether through a connected basket, with contactless payment, or through a smartphone app.”

 

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