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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Despite Lowest First Year Approval Rating, Rural Voters Stand Behind Trump

Recent surveys show that most Americans view President Trump as a divisive figure, and he ends his first year with the lowest average approval rating of any elected president in his first term — 39 percent, according to Gallup. However, many voters in rural America still support the president. They say politicians in both parties and the media are working to undermine Trump. Mike O’Sullivan paid a visit to rural Lassen County, California, one of the areas where Trump has strong support.

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Trump to Pennsylvania, but Don’t Call it a Campaign Trip

President Donald Trump is tiptoeing around the first congressional election of the new year as he heads to southwestern Pennsylvania on Thursday to hail the Republican tax cuts he signed last year.

Trump will appear with the Republican nominee for a Pittsburgh-area House seat. But the White House said Trump won’t mention Rick Saccone in his remarks. And the event isn’t actually in the 18th Congressional District, which holds the special election March 13. 

Democrats, meanwhile, aren’t necessarily any more confident in the chances that lawyer and former Marine Conor Lamb can flip the district to their side.

The handling of the race shows both sides’ reluctance to put too much emphasis on one contest amid the high stakes of this midterm election year.

Saccone, a, 59-year-old state lawmaker, is trying to succeed Tim Murphy, who resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair. Lamb, 33, is looking for an upset in a union-heavy district Trump won by almost 20 points and where Murphy never got less than 58 percent of the vote in eight tries.

It’s not surprising that Trump, looking for wins after the embarrassment of losing a Senate seat last month in conservative Alabama, might embrace a favored Republican in Trump-friendly territory. 

“We’re in Trump country here,” Saccone said in an interview Wednesday, framing his candidacy as an extension of the agenda that propelled Trump. “It’s only natural to have him come out to see his core constituency and have us celebrate his successes with him.”

Yet the White House would confirm only that Saccone will greet the president at the airport and attend Trump’s tour of a local factory. 

Saccone, a retired Air Force officer with a doctorate in international affairs and experience in counterterrorism, said he didn’t know whether he’d be seated with the president or even get to spend any time one-on-one with him. “I don’t have any details,” he said after spending the day in Washington raising money alongside GOP House leaders.

Jesse Hunt of the National Republican Congressional Committee said, “We’re confident this seat will remain in Republican hands.” 

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan, has opened offices in the district with paid canvassers. Political groups bankrolled by the billionaire Ricketts family – owners of the Chicago Cubs – are airing television ads on Saccone’s behalf. Those are not the moves of party titans completely sure of victory.

Democrats aren’t exactly countering with exuberance. At the national party’s House campaign headquarters, spokeswoman Meredith Kelly praised Lamb’s “long record of public service to our country.” But the party hasn’t included the 18th District on its official list of GOP-held targets, which now includes 91 seats. Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats to regain a majority in the House.

In 2017, Democrats managed surprisingly competitive races in four special congressional races in heavily Republican districts, only to lose all four. The trends pointed to Democratic enthusiasm, but still didn’t alter the partisan breakdown in Washington.

To flip that script, Lamb must “run a perfect campaign,” said Mike Mikus, a Democratic campaign strategist who has run congressional races in the Pittsburgh area. “But it can be done,” Mikus added.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by about 70,000, a reflection of organized labor’s long influence in the district. But many of those union households embraced Trump’s populist, protectionist message in 2016, and Mikus noted they’re also culturally conservative. 

Still, Lamb and Democrats believe they have an opening that wasn’t available before, given that Murphy was among the few Washington Republicans who voted with labor unions and regularly got their endorsements. 

This time, the state AFL-CIO has endorsed Lamb, and he is trying to strike the tone Mikus says is necessary for a Democrat to win.

Lamb’s first television ad, set to air Thursday alongside the president’s arrival, notes he has refused “corporate PAC money” and believes both parties “need new leaders in Congress.” That’s a reference to his promise to not to back House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker; the California Democrat remains unpopular in many congressional districts and the GOP regularly uses her as a cudgel on Democratic nominees. 

The 30-second spot also tells voters that Lamb grew up in the district and says he “still loves to shoot.”

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Trump Says Solar Tariff Decision Coming Soon, Stakes Huge for Industry

 U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would announce a decision soon on whether to slap tariffs on imported solar panels, and quipped that when countries dump subsidized panels in the United States, “Everybody goes out of business.”

The solar industry is anxiously awaiting the decision, which will have wide-reaching implications for the sector. Domestic panel producers opposed to cheap imports would benefit from a tariff. But installers that have relied on the lower-cost hardware for their recent breakneck growth would suffer.

In an interview with Reuters, Trump declined to say how he would land on the case — which was triggered last year by a domestic manufacturer’s trade grievance — but complained about the effect of imports on U.S. panel makers.

“You know, they dump ’em — government-subsidized, lots of things happening — they dump the panels, then everybody goes out of business,” he said.

Asked when the decision would be announced, he said: “Pretty soon. Honestly, pretty soon.”

According to a process governed by the International Trade Commission, Trump has until Jan. 26 to make his decision.

Bankrupt domestic panel producer Suniva triggered Trump’s consideration of tariffs last year when it filed a trade case arguing it could not compete with cheap imports. About 95 percent of the solar cells and panels sold in the United States are made abroad, with most coming from China, Malaysia and the Philippines, according to SPV Market Research.

Suniva was later joined in the case by the U.S. arm of German manufacturer SolarWorld AG.

In October, Trump received a range of options from members of the U.S. International Trade Commission to protect domestic producers, but he has broad leeway to come up with his own alternative or do nothing at all.

Suniva is seeking strong measures.

“A robust tariff will allow Suniva to restart its factories and rehire employees,” Suniva spokesman Mark Paustenbach said.

Jobs at stake

Only about 14 percent of the solar industry’s 260,000 jobs are in manufacturing. The trade case has fueled anxiety among installers that make up most of the rest of the industry and rely on low-priced imports.

The installation sector’s trade group, the Solar Energy Industries Association, has campaigned against tariffs, saying they would drive up the price of solar and cripple demand, eliminating tens of thousands of jobs and ultimately hurting the manufacturers that sought them in the first place.

“I’m staying optimistic that the business aspect of this will come through in the end,” said George Hershman, president of Swinerton Renewable Energy, a privately held firm that constructs large-scale solar projects.

Hershman said Swinerton employed 2,000 full-time employees and up to 8,000 temporary workers, but added several of its projects had been placed on hold pending Trump’s decision. 

“If you add 50 percent to the cost of the job, it may not be economic,” Hershman said.

Solaria Corp, a U.S. company that produces panels in both California and South Korea, also opposes tariffs, according to Chief Executive Suvi Sharma. The company said a recent $23million financing round took months longer than it should have partly because of investor jitters about the case.

“The best thing would be to have this whole thing go away,” Sharma said.

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Dow Closes Above 26,000, Just 8 Sessions After Earlier Milestone

Wall Street roared upward Wednesday, with investor enthusiasm sending all three major stock indices to record finishes, and the Dow to its first close above 26,000 points.

The blue-chip Dow gained 1.3 percent to close at 26,115.65 — just eight trading sessions after breaking the 25,000 mark — with strong showings from Boeing, IBM and Intel. 

The broader S&P 500 added 0.9 percent to close at 2,802.56, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained a full percentage point to settle at 7,298.28.

With just 11 trading days so far in 2018, Wednesday’s session marked the seventh time this year all three major indices closed at all-time highs.

Maris Ogg of Tower Bridge Associates told AFP the sustained rally was boosted by a “confluence of good news,” including strong company earnings, slashed corporate tax rates, higher worker compensation and new investment.

“This is a boost for productivity” and gave market players greater confidence, she said.

IBM gained 2.9 percent after analysts upgraded their price target for the company’s stock, and chipmaker Intel rose a similar amount, while aviation giant Boeing jumped 4.7 percent after announcing a joint venture to make aircraft seats.

Buoyant markets were comforted in midafternoon as a Federal Reserve survey portrayed the national economy growing at a “modest to moderate” pace.

Persistent cold weather in the United States helped oil prices shrug off weakness early in the weak, helping oil stocks nudge markets higher.

Exxon Mobil rose 1.2 percent, and ConocoPhillips increased 1.7 percent, while Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron each rose 0.3 percent.

The jubilant performance came despite continued pain at General Electric, which sank 4.7 percent as investors worked to evaluate component businesses within the company ahead of a possible breakup.

Goldman Sachs fell 1.8 percent after reporting a steep quarterly drop in trading income.

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Facebook Widens Probe Into Alleged Russian Meddling in Brexit

Facebook Inc said on Wednesday it would conduct a new, comprehensive search of its records for possible propaganda that Russian operatives may have spread during the run-up to Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU

membership.

Some British lawmakers had complained that the world’s largest social media network had done only a limited search for evidence that Russians manipulated the network and interfered with the referendum debate.

Russia denies meddling in Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, known as Brexit, or in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Facebook, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google and YouTube have been under intense pressure in Europe and the United States to stop nations from using tech services to meddle in another country’s elections, and to investigate when evidence of such meddling arises.

Facebook’s new search in Britain will require the company’s security experts to go back and analyze historical data, Simon Milner, Facebook’s UK policy director, wrote in a letter on Wednesday to Damian Collins, chair of the British parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

“We would like to carry out this work promptly and estimate it will take a number of weeks to complete,” Milner wrote.

Facebook said in December that it had found just 97 cents worth of advertising by Russia-based operatives ahead of Britain’s vote to leave the EU. Its analysis, though, involved only accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a suspected Russian propaganda service.

Collins last month described Facebook’s initial Brexit-related search as inadequate, and said on Wednesday he welcomed the company’s latest response.

“They are best placed to investigate activity on their platform,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the results of this investigation, and I’m sure we will want to question Facebook about this when we know the outcome.”

Facebook told U.S. lawmakers last year that it had found 3,000 ads bought by suspected Russian agents posing as Americans and seeking to spread divisive messages in the United States about race, immigration and other political topics.

In France last year, Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in the days before the country’s presidential election to try to stop the spread of fake news, misinformation and spam.

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US Financial Crime Fighters Eye Overseas Virtual Currency Platforms

Financial crime fighters at the U.S. Treasury are “aggressively” pursuing virtual currency platforms that lack strong internal safeguards against money laundering, a top official told a Senate panel on Wednesday.

With more criminals using the emerging asset class to store and transmit their ill-gotten gains, Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) will pursue malfeasant virtual currency platforms even if they are located overseas, Sigal Mandelker, the U.S. Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, told the Senate Banking Committee.

U.S.-based platforms for bitcoin and other virtual currencies are required to comply with antimoney laundering (AML) rules including filing suspicious activity reports, with around 100 such platforms registered with FinCEN. But many other countries have no such requirements.

“The real vulnerability that we all have to address is that while we have regulatory authorities in place here in the United States and we do enforce those… we need other countries to do the same,” Mandelker told the committee’s hearing on U.S. antimoney laundering laws.

Mandelker said the U.S. government would also encourage other countries to introduce stricter regulation of virtual currencies, which law enforcement officials say are attractive to criminals making illegal transactions because they can be used anonymously.

In July, the Treasury moved to shut down the website of Russia’s BTC-e exchange, one of the world’s largest bitcoin platforms, and ordered it to pay a $110 million fine for allegedly facilitating transactions involving ransomware, computer hacking, and drug trafficking, among other crimes.

A U.S. jury also indicted a Russian man in July in connection with the alleged crimes perpetrated by the platform.

Regulators and governments around the world are still debating how to address risks posed by cryptocurrencies. In recent weeks, South Korea, Japan and China have all made noises about a regulatory crackdown while officials in France vowed to investigate the emerging asset class.

Senators on Wednesday expressed concerns over the risks posed by cryptocurrencies to the global financial system with Democratic Senator Mark Warner saying the U.S. had “a lot of work to do” to get a grip on the issue.

U.S. markets regulators said this month they plan to take more aggressive enforcement action against exchanges that may be defrauding investors or allowing market manipulation.

The price of bitcoin slumped to $10,000 on Wednesday, halving in value from its peak price of almost $20,000 hit just in December, with investors gripped by fears regulators could clamp down on the volatile currency.

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