Saturday, July 29, 2017

Nigerian Army Admits Feeding Public With Lies

The three abducted Nigerian soldiers during the ambush (Via PM News)

NIGERIA (PM NEWS, JULY 30, 2017) -- The Nigerian Army has admitted feeding the public with bareface lies over the abduction of NNPC staff by a faction of Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin on Tuesday, 25 July.

The Army had claimed in a statement on Wednesday through its spokesman, Brigadier-General Sani Usman that all the abducted staff of NNPC had been rescued by soldiers during a search and rescue operation in the area. He added that only nine soldiers died during the ambush.

To counter the lies, the Abu Musab al-Barnawi led faction of Boko Haram released a video on Saturday showing some of the abducted NNPC staff begging the Federal Government to negotiate with the sect for their freedom.

Also, forty-eight corpses of persons killed by the terrorists during the ambush on Tuesday were brought to the Maiduguri Teaching Hospital in the Borno State capital on Thursday.

The corpses brought include 18 soldiers, 15 Civilian JTF, five university staff and four NNPC drivers.

But in a rare show of remorse after the Boko Haram video hit the air waves, Brigadier-General Usman in another statement on Saturday said his initial statement that all the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) workers abducted in the ambush had been rescued was wrong.

He added that six members of the NNPC exploration team out of 12 that went out are still missing, while one of the NNPC staff returned to base alive.

Usman revealed further that the death toll from the July 25 ambush of oil workers and staff members of the University of Maiduguri in Borno by Boko Haram has risen with the recovery of more bodies.

According to him, 21 more bodies of those on the team that was ambushed by the terrorists had been recovered with some persons still missing.

“So far the search and rescue team has recovered additional bodies of 5 soldiers, 11 Civilian JTF and 5 members of the exploration team,” Usman stated.

Describing the ambush as “as unfortunate and highly regrettable”, Usman said his initial statement that all the NNPC workers abducted in the ambush had been rescued was wrong.

According to him, the pursuit team also recovered two of army’s gun trucks and an additional Toyota Buffalo Gun truck from the insurgents.

“In addition, the team also made the following recoveries; four rocket-propelled grenade bombs, four rocket propelled grenade chargers, six AK-47 rifles, one anti-aircraft gun, on general purpose machine gun, one anti-aircraft gun barrel, one rocket-propelled grenade tube, four Dane guns, eight tyres and two Tyre Rims,” it added.

Other items recovered include one pumping machine, two tyre jacks, one super battery, five reflective jackets, three Toyota Hilux vans, four Jerry cans filled with PMS, one Motorola Radio, one Geographical Positioning System (GPS), 21 empty Jerry cans, two shovels and three food coolers.

The troops also recovered 122 rounds of PKM ammunition, 213 rounds of 7.62mm NATO ammunition, 1255 Anti-Aircraft Guns ammunition, 4 boxes of API 12.7mm ammunition, 1 AK-47 Rifle Magazine, a Digger, two bows and 13 arrows, 2 LLG bombs, assorted drugs and assorted working tools.

Boko Haram insurgents had on July 25 ambushed troops, including members of the Civilian Joint Task Force, escorting some staff members of the NNPC as well as that of the University of Maiduguri who were carrying out oil exploration activities in Borno Yesu District of Magumeri Local Government Area of Borno state.

Trump Threat: End Health Payments Unless There's An Overhaul

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, July 28, 2017, after the Republican-controlled Senate was unable to fulfill their political promise to repeal and replace "Obamacare."

WASHINGTON (AP, JULY 29, 2017) — President Donald Trump on Saturday threatened once more to end required payments to insurance companies unless lawmakers repeal and replace the Obama-era health care law. In apparent frustration over Friday's failure by the Senate Republican majority to pass a bill repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act, Trump tweeted: "If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!"

No Democrats voted for the GOP bill. Repeal-and-replace has been a guiding star for Republicans ever since President Barack Obama enacted the law in 2010. That goal, which Trump turned into a top campaign promise, remains out of reach even with Republicans controlling both the White House and Congress. The issue has dominated the opening months of Trump's presidency.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after the bill failed early Friday that he would move to other legislative business in the upcoming week. Trump also tweeted: "Unless the Republican Senators are total quitters, Repeal & Replace is not dead! Demand another vote before voting on any other bill!"

The subsidies, totaling about $7 billion a year, help reduce deductibles and copayments for consumers with modest incomes. The Obama administration used its rule-making authority to set direct payments to insurers to help offset these costs. Trump inherited the payment structure, but he also has the power to end them.

The payments are the subject of a lawsuit brought by House Republicans over whether the Affordable Care Act specifically included a congressional appropriation for the money, as required under the Constitution. Trump has only guaranteed the payments through July, which ends Monday.

Trump previously said the law that he and others call "Obamacare" would collapse immediately whenever those payments stop. He has indicated a desire to halt the subsidies but so far has allowed them to continue on a month-to-month basis.

Without the payments, analysts have said, more insurers might drop out of the system, limiting options for consumers and clearing the way for the insurers who stay to charge more for coverage. The Senate's Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, cautioned such a step, saying it would make health care more expensive.

"If the president refuses to make the cost sharing reduction payments, every expert agrees that premiums will go up and health care will be more expensive for millions of Americans," Schumer said Saturday in a written statement. "The president ought to stop playing politics with people's lives and health care, start leading and finally begin acting presidential."

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Google To Train 10m Africans Says CEO In Visit To Nigeria, Following Trips By Facebook, Microsoft

FORBES, JULY 27, 2017

Google CEO Sundar Pichai takes a selfie in Lagos

LAGOS, NIGERIA (FORBES) -- Google plans to train 10-million people for digital jobs says CEO Sundar Pichai in a surprise visit to Nigeria. He is the latest global tech firm chief to make the pilgrimage to Lagos, the capital of Africa's most populous country, following trips last year by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft's Satya Nadella.

"Thrilled that we're expanding our digital skills program to train 10M Africans over the next 5 years #GoogleforNigeria," Pichai tweeted.

Nigeria has a 191-million population and an estimated 91-million Internet users as of December 2016. This equates to 47.9% of the population, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission.

Pichai is in Nigeria for a Google conference, where he made the announcement. This follows a year-long programme to train 1-million people with digital skills, which was completed in March.

"Having 1 million digitally skilled young people in Africa is good for everyone. Because we think that if young people have the right skills, they’ll build businesses, create jobs and boost economic growth across the continent,” says Google South Africa country director Luke Mckend of this Digital Skills programme, which offered 89 courses through an online portal and face-to-face training in 20 countries with 14 training partners.

Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff magazine. Based in Johannesburg, his TED talk on innovation in Africa has had more than 1.4m views.

Nigeria Will Split Into Six – Ex-Reps Member, Felix Mbam

JULY 27, 2017

A former House of Representatives member from Ebonyi State, Barr. Felix Mbam has said that Nigeria will split into six following the various agitations coming from all the geopolitical zones of the country.

Mbam, who made this known while chating with DAILY POST in Abakaliki noted that there will be serious problem in Nigeria if the present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari failed to implement the 2014 confab report.

He said: “In ten years time, that time I will be 82yrs old, I foresee the country splitting into six. And out of that six, some of them may agree to stay together. For example, Biafra and the people of oil Rivers may form one country with middle belt (the Igalas and Idomas).

“We may go into loose country to what we call confederation of states and each state will be given at least five years to opt out in the marriage called Nigeria and that will be on constitutional table.”

Mbam who was an ex-Biafran solider stated further that “There will be no crisis, because, we that have fought war know what it means.

“We may remain together as Nigeria and continue to suffer the way we are suffering. Because, when you see a home that is going to disintegrate, the husband and the wife will be fighting always.

“In Nigeria today, the Yoruba man does not trust Igbo man and Igbo man does not trust Yoruba man, Yoruba man does not trust Hausa man and Hausa man does not trust Yoruba man just as Igbo man does not trust Hausa man and Hausa man does not trust Igbo man. So with that mutual mistrust, Nigeria will
not last.”‎

The ex-lawmaker stressed that “If they don’t call constitutional conference and they continue speaking English that Nigeria is indissoluble and indestructible, because of the millions of naira they carry every month, they should be ready to face what comes out of it.

“Who told them that Nigeria is

indissoluble? Russia divided into 15 countries among others and people
are still saying that Nigeria is indivisible. Is it not somebody that brought it together? Since Nigeria was brought together by human and the people brought together are people with different cultures, ethnicity and religion, it must dissolve one day. But for Nigeria not to go there must be equitable treatment of everybody. We cannot have ‎second class citizens in where there is no slavery.”l
He condemned the increasing corruption in the nation nothing that restructuring cannot even end corruption In Nigeria.

“If we restructure, will it stop corruption? If we have Biafra, will it stop corruption? If we want to run equitable government, we must stop corruption. You mean, there will be no corrupt people if Biafra is created? There will be many. If you give River people independence, they will be killing themselves everyday over oil.

“So, there is no place as corrupt as Nigeria. Our leaders are corruption personified. There is nothing wrong with the name Nigeria but until we make up our minds. What is wrong with Nigeria are those inside Nigeria, the leaders. We have good followers but we have bad leaders.

“How could somebody own about hundred houses, has hundred cars,
aeroplanes, burry billions of naira and dollar underground and so on, the only thing he does not have is prison yard in his house? Even if 20 countries are created and we don’t make up our minds, we are going nowhere. It is not the system of government that matters, it is the people who run the government, call it democracy, anarchism, military,
etc”, he stressed.

Senators Prepare Bill To Block Firing Of Special Counsel

Attorney General Jeff Sessions boards his plane at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Thursday, July 27, 2017 At Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Sessions is traveling to El Salvador to meet with local leaders and discuss their efforts to fight gangs like MS-13.

WASHINGTON (AP, JULY 27, 2017) — Warning of "holy hell" to pay if the president fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a top Senate Republican is working to prevent the potential end result, the dismissal of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is working on legislation that would block the firing of special counsels without judicial review. Democrats Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said Thursday they are among the senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are working with Graham on the effort.

Despite a drumbeat of criticism from President Donald Trump, congressional Republicans have expressed strong support for former FBI Director Mueller, who was appointed earlier this year to investigate allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election and possible links to the Trump campaign. They have also rallied around Sessions, a former senator from Alabama who has become a daily target of critical tweets from Trump.

Graham and Whitehouse lead the Judiciary panel's subcommittee on crime and terrorism and have been investigating the Russian meddling along with the committee's chairman, Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley. A Graham spokesman says the senator's still working on the bill, and it's unclear when it will be introduced.

Blumenthal said that the bill "might be a committee effort" and said that it would protect Mueller and other special counsels. He said firing Mueller "would precipitate a firestorm that would be unprecedented in proportions."

Graham has sternly warned Trump not to fire Mueller or Sessions. He said Thursday, "If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay." Trump has criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into election meddling after he admitted to meeting with Russia's ambassador during the campaign. Sessions, who traveled to El Salvador Thursday to work on an effort to lessen gang violence, has privately told allies he doesn't plan to resign.

Italy Ponders Libyan Request For Help In Curbing Migration

Italian Police check people during a blitz outside Milan’s main train station, Italy, Wednesday, July 26, 2017. Authorities have detained several dozen people in response to an increasing public security issue as the city deals with a new wave of migrants.

ROME (AP, JULY 27, 2017) — Sending Italian naval units to help Libya's coast guard could prove to be a "turning point" in efforts to stop traffickers from sending hundreds of thousands of migrants toward Italy's southern shores, Premier Paolo Gentiloni said Thursday.

With the foundering of a European Union plan to redistribute thousands of migrants rescued at sea and brought to Italy, Gentiloni said his center-left government would brief lawmakers next week about Libya's request for Italian navy vessels to patrol its Mediterranean shores.

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, who leads a U.N.-backed unity government based in Tripoli, met in Rome with the Italian leader on Wednesday and asked for the assistance. Gentiloni said his government was working out the details of a proposed naval mission.

"The request that came to us from the Tripoli government for collaboration and assistance for the Libyan coast guard can be a turning point in handling the situation," Gentiloni said. "The fact that the Libyan authorities ask Italy to collaborate, and not to substitute, (in the role of) fighting traffickers is important."

The premier noted that Italy already has furnished Libya's coast guard with speedboats and training aimed at improving Libya's own patrols. Traffickers, exploiting widespread lawlessness in the violence-wracked, fractured north African nation, have sent hundreds of thousands of migrants in unseaworthy smuggling boats toward Italy over the last few years.

Military ships from European nations, vessels organized by aid organizations and commercial cargo frequently pick up men, women and children making the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing. Lately, most of those rescued at sea have been economic migrants from African nations unlikely to win asylum.

Italy has acknowledged the problem of might happen to migrants who are prevented from reaching Italy and returned to Libya. Rescued migrants have told Italian authorities and humanitarian organizations about torture, rape, forced labor, beatings and other atrocities they suffered in Libyan camps while awaiting their turn to be smuggled out by sea.

The Italian government's strategy foresees international organizations on the ground helping to guarantee the proper treatment of those forced to return to Libya and their eventual repatriation to their homelands. However, organizations that work with refugees have expressed doubts that Libya's deteriorated security situation would allow them to properly carry out such a humanitarian mission.

Analysts have said that some of the very militias that support Serraj and help him hold on to power in western Libya also profit from trafficking, complicating chances for the success of anti-trafficking patrols. Meanwhile, long stretches of Libya's coastline are not under the control of Serraj's supporters.

Lawmakers from Italy's far-left parties might balk at approving a naval mission to Libya. But any lack in their support could be compensated by center-right opposition lawmakers who have been demanding more vigorous efforts to stem the flow of migrants to Italy.

"I am certain of the results with the vote of Parliament," Gentiloni said. Italy's next general election is scheduled to take place in less than a year. Earlier this week, Serraj and rival Libyan leader Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the Egyptian-backed commander of Libya's self-styled national army, met in France and pledged to back a cease-fire and to work toward national elections.

French President Emmanuel Macron has appeared eager to gain influence in Libya, which is rich in oil and natural gas.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cheers, Whoops For McCain's Return, Then Impassioned Speech

In this image from video provided by C-SPAN2, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. is embraced by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of N.Y. as he arrives of the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (C-SPAN2 via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP, JULY 25, 2017) — In high drama at the Capitol, Sen. John McCain on Tuesday delivered a crucial vote in the Republican drive to dismantle the health care law, a win for President Donald Trump and GOP leaders, and then leveled a broadside at how the GOP got there.

As the 80-year-old McCain entered the chamber, Republicans and Democrats applauded and whooped, with a few hugs for the six-term Arizona lawmaker who is battling brain cancer. "Aye," he said for the GOP vote to move ahead on debate.

After he voted, McCain stood at his seat and accepted hugs and handshakes from all senators in both parties, drawing laughter from the gallery when he and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders exchanged an awkward hug.

McCain then spoke on the Senate floor, his face pale, cheek bruised and a visible red scar and stitches above his left eye where doctors had removed a blood clot. His voice strong, he offered a bit of self-deprecation before launching into an impassioned speech, saying he was "looking a little worse for wear."

He bemoaned the lack of legislative action in Congress, the GOP's secretive process in working on repealing and replacing Obamacare and a plea for Democrats and Republicans to work together. "Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio, television and Internet. To hell with them. They don't want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood," McCain said. "Let's trust each other. Let's return to regular order. We've been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle."

He reminded his colleagues: "Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the president's subordinates. We are his equal!" McCain also said he would not vote for the current GOP version of the repeal-and-replace bill.

McCain drew a standing ovation after his remarks. He had cast his vote to take up the health care bill, delivering for his party and Trump on the issue that's defined the GOP for the past seven years.

"He's tough as a boot," said Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana. "Many people understandably would be curled up in bed in the fetal position." McCain himself campaigned heavily on the "Obamacare" repeal issue last year as he won re-election to a sixth and almost certainly final Senate term. And there could be sweet revenge in defying cancer to undo the signature legislation of the man who beat him for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama.

The Arizona senator has emerged as one of the president's most outspoken GOP critics on Capitol Hill. During last year's campaign Trump shockingly ridiculed McCain over his years as a POW during the Vietnam War.

McCain's return was eerily reminiscent of a similar scenario involving McCain's good friend, the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who returned to the Senate in July 2008 while battling brain cancer to vote on Medicare legislation, his dramatic entry in the chamber eliciting cheers and applause. Ted Kennedy died of cancer in August 2009 (the current Sen. Kennedy is no relation).

The possibility of McCain returning had been discussed around the Capitol on Monday, yet the announcement from his office late in the day came as a surprise. McCain has not been overly enthusiastic about the GOP health bill or the partisan process through which it's emerged. After an earlier version was poised to fail, he called on McConnell to reopen the process with a bipartisan approach, advice the majority leader ignored.

But McCain's best friend in the Senate Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and other colleagues who've spoken with McCain of late, say he's been itching to get back to the Senate, impatient to return to work.

"Is it surprising that he would get out of a hospital bed and go to work? No," Graham said Tuesday. "it's surprising he's been in the hospital this long."

Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

Trump Message Manager Ready To Clean House To Stop Leaks

White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci speaks to members of the media at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

WASHINGTON (AP, JULY 25, 2017) — President Donald Trump's new communications director says he's prepared to clean house in order to stop information leaks which have plagued the administration. Anthony Scaramucci, the Wall Street financier tapped for the role last week, said Tuesday that he was prepared to "fire everybody" to stop information leaks from the press office.

Speaking to reporters, Scaramucci said that he was "not doing an investigation. I'm just going to get the leaking to stop." He stressed that he had "the authority from the president to do that." "You're either going to stop leaking or you're going to get fired," Scaramucci said.

The Trump administration has been troubled by numerous damaging leaks amid the Russia investigation. The president has criticized the leaks and urged authorities to prosecute the alleged leakers. The new communications director would not address a report in Politico that he was planning to fire a press aide, calling it an "unfair thing for me to comment on."

Trump appointed Scaramucci to the job Friday. The hedge fund manager is a polished television commentator, but has limited experience running a communications operation. He is taking over the role crafting the president's message at a time when Trump faces dropping approval ratings and is struggling to advance his legislative agenda.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned in protest over the hire and his deputy Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been named to replace him. Over the weekend, Scaramucci pledged on Fox News to begin "an era of a new good feeling" and said he hopes to "create a more positive mojo."

Monday, July 24, 2017

Promising 'A Better Deal,' Democrats Try To Re-brand Party

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., flanked by, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, left, and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, discusses the Republican efforts to replace "Obamacare," during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Democrats are trying to bounce back from their November election losses and rebrand themselves, rolling out a populist new agenda under the slogan “A Better Deal.”

BERRYVILLE, VA. (AP) — Promising "A Better Deal" for American workers, Democratic Party leaders rolled out a new agenda with a populist pitch on Monday aimed at winning back the working-class voters they lost to President Donald Trump in November.

Democratic congressional leaders left the Beltway for small-town Berryville, Virginia, to stake a claim to competing in rural and Republican-leaning areas. Acknowledging they failed to offer a compelling economic message during the 2016 election cycle, Democrats unveiled proposals on jobs, prescription drug prices and more that they hope will resonate in the 2018 midterm elections and beyond.

"Too many Americans don't know what we stand for," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. "Not after today." Yet the challenges confronting the Democrats' rebranding effort were immediately apparent.

As Schumer spoke alongside other House and Senate Democrats, TV news stations were instead showing Trump adviser Jared Kushner denying collusion with Russia, as Trump administration turmoil swamped Democrats' attempt to get their message out.

And the Democrats' new message was presented by some familiar old faces in Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose potency as a GOP foil has been on display in House special elections this year. A small group of protesters hoisted pizza boxes with photos of Pelosi and the words "Better skills, Better jobs, Better wages, Still Pelosi."

The phrase played off the full title of the Democratic platform — "A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future" — which some have mockingly compared to the Papa John's pizza slogan, "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza."

Alluding to Schumer and Pelosi, one local Democrat in attendance, David Borger, said: "I have a lot of respect for both of them, but I'm not sure they are the leadership we need." "There might have to be new leadership," added Borger, 62, a retired middle school science teacher, while acknowledging it was not clear who that might be.

And despite Democrats' claims of unity, and a base energized against Trump, divisions aplenty remain in a party still nursing the wounds of defeat as some of the liberals who backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders still resent those who supported Hillary Clinton.

Nevertheless, as the sun beat down Monday and bugs swarmed in a local park, Democratic leaders claimed a positive agenda to take them out of their minority status. "People need to know not only what we're fighting against, they need to know what we're fighting for," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Attempting to showcase all wings of the party, moderate Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia spoke as did liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Warren was mobbed afterward by supporters. The event took place in the district of one of the GOP House members Democrats hope to defeat next year, Barbara Comstock. Democrats need to flip 24 GOP-held seats to regain the majority in the House.

Yet in the Senate, the party is mostly playing defense with 10 Democrats trying to retain seats in states won by Trump, including Republican strongholds like West Virginia, Missouri and North Dakota. Party strategists say that for most Senate candidates, a national party message has little value and each candidate must fight on their own terms and issues.

On Monday Democrats unveiled three planks to their agenda: —Lowering prescription drug prices. Suggestions include a new agency that could investigate drug manufacturer price hikes and allow Medicare to negotiate directly for the best drug prices.

—Cracking down on corporate monopolies. Democrats would enact new standards to limit large mergers, and create a new consumer competition advocate. —Creating millions more jobs. The agenda includes proposals for expanding apprenticeships and providing a tax credit to employers to train and hire new workers.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

We're Interested In Nigeria's Oil, Gas -- Britain

JULY 23, 2017

A Nigerian Oil Worker. Image: Getty

Britain has expressed its interest in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry. It expressed its readiness to invest in pipeline infrastructure, renewable energy, gas and power of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry.

British High Commissioner, Mr. Paul Arkwright, made this promise when the Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, visited the Chancery of British High Commission in Abuja. 

Mr. Arkwright noted that the British Government had genuine investment interest in the Downstream, Midstream and Upstream sectors, stressing that the British Department for International Trade was ready to liaise with the Federal Government to invest in the country. 

The High Commissioner also urged the Federal Government and the NNPC to organize a road show in London to create awareness on the possible investment opportunities available in the Nigerian Oil and Gas sector. 

Mr. Arkwright said so many British investors had funds which they were willing to invest in Nigeria, stressing, however, that the process of obtaining Nigerian visa in United Kingdom was cumbersome with three different levels of visa procurement fees as well as Nigeria’s postal order system.

 NNPC’s spokesman, Mr. Ughamadu, on behalf of the Group Managing Director of the Corporation, Dr. Maikanti Baru, condoled with the British Government over the recent terror attacks in the United Kingdom. 

Ughamadu, who lead the NNPC delegation, commended the High Commissioner for the Commission’s promptness in issuing visas to officials of the Corporation. He assured that NNPC would sustain the cordial relations.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Legal Deal Pulls Money To Teach Tribal Kids Native Language

A plaque at the Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix, Arizona, where the former Phoenix Indian School for Native American Children used to sit. The plot of land was traded between the federal government and a private developer who was supposed to make yearslong payments to an education fund for native children. But the developer stopped making payments in 2012, and now the government has come to an agreement with the developer that allows it to skirt much of what it owes to the education fund.

PHOENIX (AP, JULY 22, 2017) — New generations of children growing up in a tiny American Indian tribe in Arizona have lost a key way of learning to speak their native language, and it may not be coming back. A private land developer stopped making payments five years ago that funded language development in Hopi schools and helped 18 other tribes in Arizona build schools, youth camps and educational facilities. The payments were required under a massive land swap with the United States.

The federal government reached a settlement this week with Barron Collier, a Florida-based company, that will allow the developer to pay just $29 million of the roughly $66.5 million it owed. The company also had to return a lot in Phoenix to the government.

The Hopi tribe is the only one in Arizona without casinos that help fund schools, so it relies solely on federal money for education and has less of a cushion than other tribes affected by the settlement.

The money from the land swap went into an education trust that helped the Hopi tribe pay for teacher training on the language program. It was put on hold when the developer's payments stopped in 2012.

"I really think that this is a very important project for the Hopi tribe in terms of the revitalization of our language. Even though we are very strong culturally, we also know our children are no longer speaking the language fluently," said Noreen Sakiestewa, director of education and workforce development for the tribe.

A spokeswoman for Barron Collier declined to comment. The company created an education trust following a 1988 land trade with the government, the country's largest at the time. The U.S. swapped a plot of land that used to house the Phoenix Indian School for Native American Children for about 100,000 acres of Florida Everglades swampland that officials wanted to preserve.

The Florida land was valued below the plot in Phoenix, so Barron Collier agreed to pay $34.9 million, plus interest, to two Native American education trusts that would be distributed among 19 of Arizona's tribes.

The company started making payments in 1997, but it stopped in 2012, blaming a drop in the land's value, according to a letter the company sent in January 2013 to the U.S. Department of Interior, which owned the land. The agency referred questions to the Justice Department, which also said it was not commenting.

Another victim of the settlement is a community garden in Phoenix that had to close this year when the Interior Department got back the land. Refugees and community members tended to the garden in the middle of concrete buildings and condo high-rises.

Officials at the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona say they are relieved the trust will recover some of the money Barron Collier owes, although a significant shortfall remains. "The default did cause a burden for tribes in Arizona," said Maria Dadgar, executive director of the organization that has distributed funds from the trust.

She said the money once paid for a new multipurpose educational facility, a tribal youth camp, a high school and a home for foster children for various tribes. The organization hopes the government will sell the land it got back near downtown Phoenix to help pay for tribal education. It's also now considering starting a new inter-tribal education fund.

"That would be huge, and that would be something that we're looking at in the future to help ensure the legacy and the continuation of funds being available for Indian education in the state of Arizona," Dadgar said.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Trump Administration Pulls Health Law Help In 18 Cities

JULY 20, 2017

Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace navigator Leticia Chaw, right, helps gather information for Jennifer Sanchez to re-enroll in a health insurance plan in Houston. Shoppers will have fewer places to turn for help signing up for coverage on the ACA's insurance exchanges with the announcement in July 2017 that President Donald Trump's administration ended contracts that brought assistance into libraries, businesses and urban neighborhoods in 18 cities.

CHICAGO (AP) — President Donald Trump's administration has ended Affordable Care Act contracts that brought assistance into libraries, businesses and urban neighborhoods in 18 cities, meaning shoppers on the insurance exchanges will have fewer places to turn for help signing up for coverage.

Community groups say the move, announced to them by contractors last week, will make it even more difficult to enroll the uninsured and help people already covered re-enroll or shop for a new policy. That's already a concern because of consumer confusion stemming from the political wrangling in Washington and a shorter enrollment period. People will have 45 days to shop for 2018 coverage, starting Nov. 1 and ending Dec. 15. In previous years, they had twice that much time.

Some see it as another attempt to undermine the health law's marketplaces by a president who has suggested he should let "Obamacare" fail. The administration, earlier this year, pulled paid advertising for the sign-up website, prompting an inquiry by a federal inspector general into that decision and whether it hurt sign-ups.

Now insurers and advocates are concerned that the administration could further destabilize the marketplaces where people shop for coverage by not promoting them or not enforcing the mandate compelling people to get coverage. The administration has already threatened to withhold payments to insurers to help people afford care, which would prompt insurers to sharply increase prices.

"There's a clear pattern of the administration trying to undermine and sabotage the Affordable Care Act," said Elizabeth Hagan, associate director of coverage initiatives for the liberal advocacy group Families USA. "It's not letting the law fail, it's making the law fail."

Two companies — McLean, Virginia-based Cognosante LLC and Falls Church, Virginia-based CSRA Inc. — will no longer help with the sign-ups following a decision by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials not to renew a final option year of the vendors' contracts. The contracts, awarded in 2013, were never meant to be long term, said CMS spokeswoman Jane Norris in an email.

"These contracts were intended to help CMS provide temporary, in-person enrollment support during the early years" of the exchanges, Norris said. Other federally funded help with enrollment will continue, she said, including a year-round call center and grant-funded navigator programs. The existing program is "robust" and "we have the on-the-ground resources necessary" in key cities, Norris said.

But community advocates expected the vendors' help for at least another year. "It has our heads spinning about how to meet the needs in communities," said Inna Rubin of United Way of Metro Chicago, who helps run an Illinois health access coalition.

CSRA's current $12.8 million contract expires Aug. 29. Cognosante's $9.6 million contract expires the same date. Together, they assisted 14,500 enrollments, far less than 1 percent of the 9.2 million people who signed up through, the insurance marketplace serving most states. But some advocates said the groups focused on the healthy, young adults needed to keep the insurance markets stable and prices down.

During the most recent open enrollment period, they operated in the Texas cities of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, McAllen and El Paso; the Florida cities of Miami, Tampa and Orlando; Atlanta; northern New Jersey; Phoenix; Philadelphia; Indianapolis; New Orleans; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cleveland and Chicago.

The insurance exchanges, accessed by customers through the federal or state-run sites, are a way for people to compare and shop for insurance coverage. The health law included grant money for community organizations to train people to help consumers apply for coverage, answer questions and explain differences between the insurance policies offered.

In Illinois, CSRA hired about a dozen enrollment workers to supplement a small enrollment workforce already in the state, Rubin said. The company operated a storefront enrollment center in a Chicago neighborhood from November through April.

"It was a large room in a retail strip mall near public transit with stations set up where people could come in and sit down" with an enrollment worker, Rubin said. CSRA spokesman Tom Doheny in an email said the company "is proud of the work we have accomplished under this contract." He referred other questions to federal officials.

Cognosante worked on enrollment in nine cities in seven states, according to a June 6 post on the company's website. The work included helping "more than 15,000 Texas consumers" and staffing locations "such as public libraries and local business offices." A Cognosante spokeswoman referred questions to federal officials.

The health care debate in Congress has many consumers questioning whether "Obamacare" still exists, community advocates said. "What is the goal of the Trump administration here? Is it to help people? Or to undermine the Affordable Care Act?" said Rob Restuccia, executive director of Boston-based Community Catalyst, a group trying to preserve the health care law.

Follow AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson on Twitter: @CarlaKJohnson

Nigerian Court Orders Seizure Of Former Oil Minister's $37.5 Million Property

Diezani Alison Madueke

LAGOS, JULY 20, 2017 (REUTERS) - A Nigerian court has ordered the temporary seizure of a $37.5 million property owned by a former oil minister, the state news agency said, the latest move related to graft allegations against a lynchpin of the last administration.

Diezani Alison-Madueke, a key figure in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan who served as petroleum minister in the OPEC member country from 2010 to 2015, has been dogged by corruption allegations over the last year.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a civil complaint last Friday aimed at recovering about $144 million in assets allegedly obtained through bribes to the former minister.

A lawyer representing the former minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Alison-Madueke's whereabouts are unclear, but she was last known to be in Britain.

In April, she was charged in absentia with money laundering by Nigeria's financial crimes agency.

In October 2015, she was briefly arrested in London for questioning about allegations related to missing public funds but no charges were brought against her. Prior to her arrest she had denied to Reuters any wrongdoing when asked about missing public funds and corruption allegations.

On Wednesday the Federal High Court in the commercial capital Lagos issued the order over Alison-Madueke's property in the city's upmarket Banana Island area which she bought in 2013, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) said.

The property is an apartment block situated in a heavily guarded gated community where some of the richest people in the country have properties worth millions of dollars. The area is also popular with expat oil executives.

The court also ordered a temporary freeze on sums of $2.74 million and 84.54 million naira ($269,000) that were said to be part of the rent collected on the property.

The temporary seizure orders were made following an application to the court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Anselem Ozioko, the barrister representing EFCC, told the court that the financial crimes agency suspected the property was acquired with the proceeds of alleged illegal activities.

In Spite Of Everything, Nigerians Have A Weird Attraction To Donald Trump

JULY 20, 2017

Donald Trump meets two Chibok schoolgirls from Nigeria (Official White House Photo/Shealah Craighead)

Even as his domestic approval ratings hit an all-time low, US president Donald Trump can take comfort in his growing popularity in some parts of Africa’s most populous nation.

Though his xenophobic, white nationalist views have no doubt alienated many Nigerians, his nativist and Islamophobic rhetoric has energized others. Indeed some see Trump as a political icon. Even though Trump has said little to nothing about Nigeria, these groups see in him a powerful figure sympathetic to their aims.

It goes without saying that Nigerians’ reaction to Trump’s 2016 election victory was muted compared to their response to president Barack Obama’s historic 2008 win. Over the course of his presidency, however, Nigerian goodwill toward Obama faded, hurt by his decision not to visit Nigeria, his support for gay marriage, and perceived unwillingness to supply arms to the Nigerian military. Former president Goodluck Jonathan even accused the Obama Administration of clandestinely supporting president Muhammadu Buhari’s candidacy, claiming U.S. actions during Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election amounted to interference.

Despite these irritants, 69% of Nigerians still view the United States favorably, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center poll. This reservoir of goodwill—combined with Trump’s robust social media following and his ambivalence about contentious issues like human rights—suggests Trump might receive a warm welcome if he decided to visit Nigeria. A U.S. presidential visit is long overdue: the last was by George W. Bush in July 2003.

Growing Social Media Footprint

So how big is Trump’s Nigerian fan base? In the absence of public polling, one quantifiable metric of Nigerian interest in Trump is the number of people following him on Twitter. Over 700,000 Nigerians tune in to Trump’s tweets: over 2% of his 32 million followers, according to His Nigeria-based Facebook is another useful metric of his popularity: between October and June it more than quadrupled, says analytics firm

Nigeria has the 5th highest share of Trump followers on Twitter

Country% of Twitter followersTwitter followers (millions)Facebook Fans (millions)US 58.70% 19.1 11.7
UK 4.60% 1.5 0.25
India 3.20% 1.0 0.99
Canada 3.10% 1.0 0.25
Nigeria 2.20% 0.7 0.43

Approximate totals as of 20 June. Source:, Note that Twitter analytics service assesses that roughly one-third of all of Trump’s followers are fake (bots, paid followers, etc.)

(Some) Nigerians love Trump

Trump’s social media popularity among Nigerians belies the fact that he didn’t mention Nigeria during his campaign and has said little about it since becoming president, though he had a phone conversation with president Buhari in February. Trump has also approved the sale of fighter jets to Nigeria to help in its fight against Boko Haram.

Nevertheless, his generically nativist and Islamophobic messaging resonates with many particularly among some members of two ethno-political constituencies: Christian, self-described “indigenes” in the middle belt’s Plateau State and Igbo nationalists across the southeast.

Six weeks before Trump’s election victory, on a cool evening outside Jos—Plateau State’s at times volatile capital—a friend who is an up-and-coming local politico explained to me why he and other ‘like-minded indigenes’ are attracted to the US president: “Trump’s boldness and guts represent hope for the defenseless”, he said. “Obama was a disgrace and weak compared to the likes of Trump and Putin. He speaks in favor of Islam which is the root cause of terrorism.”

When I suggest Nigerians should be concerned by Trump’s anti-immigrant stance and white supremacist sympathies, my friend acknowledged that these probably would influence his feelings toward Trump if he was a Nigerian-American living in the United States, but as a non-resident, it did not.

Like my friend, some self-described ‘Biafrans’ (modern-day Igbo nationalists) have also emerged as vocal Trump supporters. Biafra was the name adopted by Nigeria’s then-Eastern Region when rebel leaders attempted to secede from Nigeria in 1967. Following a two-and-a-half year long civil war that left over 2 million people dead, Nigeria defeated the rebels.

Unbeknownst to him, Trump is being hailed as a patron of this controversial movement even though he lacks any connection—direct or indirect—to it. According to journalist Atane Ofiaja, Biafran affinity for Trump is rooted in his statements on political self-determination and radical Islam, while deliberately overlooking his racist, anti-immigrant policies.

These “statements” refer to a tweet Trump made in June 2016 in support of the British electorate’s decision to leave the European Union (“Brexit”):

Self-determination is the sacred right of all free people's, and the people of the UK have exercised that right for all the world to see.

Trump’s Islamophobic pronouncements have also appeared to resonate with Biafra activists, who sometimes blame Nigeria’s northern Muslim leadership for oppressing their people over the decades.

After Trump’s election victory, one spokesman proclaimed: “Since Mr Trump is our choice, who will say no to Muslim colonization. It was the prayers of the Biafrans that stopped Hillary Clinton from winning the presidential election.” Pro-Biafra activists on social media are amplifying this and other anti-Islamic narratives, merging them with pro-Trump and anti-Buhari messages.

Though extreme and at times unhinged, this rhetoric reflects the perception among some Nigerians that the Obama administration was unduly close to president Buhari and that it somehow facilitated his 2015 election victory. Six months into Trump’s term, however, Biafran activists are beginning to express some disappointment that Trump has yet to acknowledge their plight and has instead cultivated a cordial relationship with their perceived archenemy: president Buhari.

As Trump enters his seventh month in the Oval Office, his administration’s policy toward Nigeria—or toward Africa writ large—hasn’t coalesced. Trump has yet to appoint the two people who will heavily shape his approach to Nigeria: the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and the Senior Director for Africa on the National Security Council. Even more telling, Washington insiders have little sense of when he will name them or who they will be.

In the meantime, US policy toward Nigeria will largely be steered by US Ambassador to Nigeria W. Stuart Symington, an affable career diplomat and former ambassador to Rwanda. Since arriving in Abuja last year, Symington has worked hard to cultivate relationships across the federal and many state governments.

Unless Trump—via a tweet or unscripted public musing—disrupts the US Nigeria policy consensus that guides diplomats like Symington, his Nigerian fan base may become increasingly disillusioned with a man they hoped would rally to their cause.

U.S. Hunt For Nigeria Fraud Cash May Come Second To A Small Bank


Banque Havilland lines up first for N.Y. condominium proceeds
Aluko signed One57 mortgage as U.K. investigated his wealth

One57 building in New York. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

U.S. prosecutors trying to recover proceeds from an alleged $1.5 billion Nigerian fraud may have to wait their turn.

A plum penthouse condominium in one of Manhattan’s most expensive buildings is among the cash, real estate and luxury yacht the U.S. moved last week to seize from Nigerian tycoon Kolawole Akanni Aluko, whom it accuses of laundering money and bribing a foreign official. That’s where it gets complicated.

The apartment in the One57 building was scheduled to be sold at a foreclosure auction on July 19. The sale was delayed at the last minute after a new creditor claimed Aluko owes it about $83 million for gasoline and jet fuel.

Yet as things stand now, the first and likely largest chunk of the proceeds from any condo sale won’t go to the Justice Department’s effort to claw back the allegedly illicit funds. It would be bound instead for Banque Havilland SA, a small Luxembourg bank that wrote a mortgage against the property shortly before public disclosures emerged that international law enforcement agencies were investigating the owner and his associates.

Aluko wired about $49 million for the apartment and registered it in 2014 in the name of a shell company he controlled, according to court documents. If that ownership structure had stayed in place, the U.S. could have sought to claim the property outright. But in September 2015, Aluko’s shell company took out a $35.3 million mortgage from Banque Havilland, guaranteed by the condominium, in exchange for a 25 million euro ($28 million) loan, according to the mortgage document. What Aluko did with the money he borrowed remains unclear.

Tokunbo Jaiye-Agoro, who has represented Aluko in the Nigerian court case, didn’t respond to multiple messages left with his secretary at his office in Lagos.
Spoils of Oil

The U.S. has accused Aluko of laundering the spoils from bribes paid for Nigerian oil contracts, notably by buying assets such as apartments in New York and a superyacht. Aluko hasn’t responded in the U.S. court proceeding.

“It seems likely that the assets won’t be Aluko’s for much longer, what is less clear is who gets what after that," Daniel Hall, an expert in financial crime investigations and a director at Burford Capital, which provides litigation financing, wrote in an email. Burford isn’t involved in this case. "The U.S. authorities will want to scrutinize the diligence conducted by these creditors before they contracted with Aluko."

The full payment of the loan was due a year after the mortgage was written, foreclosure filings in New York State Supreme Court show. The payment wasn’t made, according to the documents. Banque Havilland started a foreclosure action in January, which Aluko’s shell company didn’t oppose, and got a New York Supreme Court judgment allowing the action in May. The U.S. is seeking only funds left over after the bank is paid off, along with any taxes or other assessments owed on the condominium, according to the filing in district court in Houston.

The U.S. hasn’t accused Banque Havilland of any wrongdoing. Officials at the bank didn’t respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.
Asking for Help

Shortly after Aluko’s mortgage was filed, the U.K. asked Switzerland, where Aluko had his residence, to help their investigation into the Nigerian. In October 2015, British police arrested and then released on bail Diezani Alison-Madueke, the former Nigerian oil minister Aluko is alleged by the U.S. to have bribed, on suspicion of bribery and money laundering, a spokesman for the Nigerian government said at the time. In April, Alison-Madueke was charged in a separate case in a Nigerian court with violating anti-money laundering laws. She was described in the charge as being "still at large."

Alison-Madueke’s lawyer, Oscar Onwudiwe, didn’t return calls to his mobile phone seeking comment.

The U.S. may choose to take a closer look at the timing of the mortgage, said Howard Sharp, the former solicitor general of Jersey. “One issue for investigators to carefully consider is whether these events constitute money laundering intended to frustrate an anticipated confiscation order or civil asset recovery proceedings in the USA," he said, referring to Aluko.
Banque Havilland

Banque Havilland is controlled by the family of U.K. Conservative party donor and businessman David Rowland, its website and annual report show. A fund controlled by Rowland started the bank in 2009, when the governments of Luxembourg and Belgium lent him 320 million euros to keep part of Iceland’s failing Kaupthing Bank going, according to a European Union statement from the time. Rowland’s fund also invested 50 million euros in capital.

The bank has grown under Rowland and it now has offices in Monaco, Liechtenstein, Dubai, Geneva, Zurich, the Bahamas, London and Moscow, according to its website. It shares a name with his mansion in Guernsey. Multiple attempts to reach members of the Rowland family through the bank received no response.

The U.S. prosecutors may yet recover much of the amount they identified. Apart from three Manhattan apartments, including the One57 property, they said they would go after the 65-meter Galactica Star yacht, two properties in Santa Barbara county and all rights held by a another company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why It's So Hard To Stop The World's Looming Famines

NPR, JULY 18, 2017

A World Food Programme worker stands next to aid parcels that will be distributed to South Sudanese refugees at the airport in Sudan's North Kordofan state. Image: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty

It's the famine that not enough people have heard about.

An estimated 20 million people in four countries — Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen — are at risk of famine and starvation. And the word isn't getting out, says Justin Forsyth, a deputy executive director of UNICEF.

Speaking with NPR's Audie Cornish on All Things Considered, he explained that politics and donor fatigue are two of the main causes.

"Politicians around the world are very focused domestically on politics at home, not on international issues," Forsyth says. "In addition, some of the public fear that their aid money hasn't really made a difference when they've provided it before."

The severity of the famine has prompted an unprecedented response from the aid community. Agencies usually raise funds on their own. But this week, eight international aid organizations — including Oxfam, the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps — banded together to form the Hunger Relief Fund

Forsyth spoke to NPR about what the U.N. is calling the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you explain what's happening right now?

In these four countries of Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria, we've got a combo of [not only] drought but conflict, too, which has really tipped some of these countries, or regions of these countries, over the edge. And this is a very severe situation. In these countries, 1.4 million children face death because they're severely malnourished — which means a small thing, an infection, diarrhea, would tip them over the edge and allow them to die. So we're racing against time to help save these children that are in this very difficult situation.

Let's begin with Yemen, because it has the largest number of people in need. UNICEF says 400,000 children are severely malnourished. And that's not the only problem in Yemen.

There's a terrible war that's been going on many years in Yemen. It's led to the destruction of the whole health system, a lot of the water and sanitation system. So not only do we have a nutrition crisis, with many children starving, we also now have a cholera crisis with many children facing very severe consequences of either what we call acute watery diarrhea or cholera, and both of them kill young children. Many of the health workers, doctors, nurses aren't even being paid. [The children] don't get the right support, and they die very quickly.

In Nigeria, the famine is somewhat regional — the northeast region of the country affected by fighting, by Boko Haram. Somalia is facing political fighting but also drought.

These are terrible humanitarian situations, or looming famines. In a very remote part of South Sudan I went to a UNICEF-supported health clinic and they'd been completely looted. There were children lying on the floor. Even the beds had been taken. We're fighting for the lives of children, but at the same time, we're trying to do it in these very difficult situations. The different warring factions [are] producing big obstacles to us being able to save children's lives.

What happens when your teams try to address this?

In the very, very difficult situations, we're basically just trying to keep people alive. In South Sudan at the moment, or in Yemen, we're doing surge teams out into remote areas where there's fighting and we're doing emergency work, often with other U.N. agencies like the World Food Programme or the World Health Organization and other nongovernment organizations like Save The Children. We're working with them on the ground. Literally, we're providing things like Plumpy'Nut [an enriched peanut paste], which is this emergency food we give to children. It's very high in nutrients. It's really lifesaving work to pull children back from the brink. In these very extreme situations, we're really doing sticking-plaster jobs of keeping children alive.

Is this something that can harm a generation in a region?

Individual children's lives can be ruined forever. From having not enough quality food with nutrients for those first few years of a child's life it stunts them not only physically but also mentally, so they never really have a chance to recover in later life and to fulfill their potential.

Just last month there was an announcement that South Sudan was no longer facing famine conditions. How did that happen, and is there danger it could slip back?

So there was famine declared in two parts of one state in South Sudan. I've been there, and I've seen it firsthand. And there was a very intense response which allowed that area to pull back from famine conditions. So we might have actually stopped famine in those two counties in that one state. But the number of children in South Sudan who are still severely malnourished has actually gone up dramatically.

We've managed to do a lot on the ground in South Sudan, but also Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia. Not just UNICEF, but other organizations, too. We've acted early, we've gone to scale, but the crisis is so big that we have to redouble our efforts in the coming months if we're going to get on top of it.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit

'Let Obamacare Fail,' Trump Declares As GOP Plan Collapses

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska is surrounded by reporters as she walks toward the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 18, 2017.

WASHINGTON (AP, WEDNESDAY, JULY 19, 2017) — President Donald Trump declared Tuesday it's time to "let Obamacare fail" after the latest GOP health care plan crashed and burned in the Senate, a stunning failure for the president, Republican leader Mitch McConnell and a party that has vowed for years to abolish the law.

In a head-spinning series of developments, rank-and-file Republican senators turned on McConnell and Trump for the third time in a row, denying the votes to move forward with a plan for a straight-up repeal of "Obamacare." This time, it was three GOP women — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — who delivered the death blow.

All had been shut out of McConnell's initial all-male working group on health care. McConnell, who could afford to lose only two votes in the narrowly divided Senate, had turned to the repeal-only bill after his earlier repeal-and-replace measure was rejected on Monday. That had followed the failure of an earlier version of the bill last month.

The successive defeats made clear that despite seven years of promises to repeal former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, Republicans apparently cannot deliver. Nonetheless, McConnell insisted he would move forward with a vote on his measure to repeal the law, effective in two years, with a promise to work — along with Democrats — to replace it in the meantime.

The vote to move ahead to the bill will take place early next week, McConnell announced late Tuesday. It appears doomed to fail, but GOP leaders want to put lawmakers on record on the issue and move on.

At the White House, Trump appeared to recognize defeat, at least for the moment, while insisting he bore none of the blame. "I think we're probably in that position where we'll just let Obamacare fail," the president said. "We're not going to own it. I'm not going to own it. I can tell you that the Republicans are not going to own it. We'll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they're going to say, 'How do we fix it?'"

Despite the current law's problems, most health care experts do not believe it is at immediate risk of outright failure, and Democratic cooperation to adjust the law is far from assured. Nor does it appear likely that Republicans can escape owning the problems with the law and the health care system overall, now that they control the House, Senate and White House, partly on the strength of campaigning against the law.

"They seem to have this notion that they can be a majority party, and have control of the White House, and not be responsible for bringing down the health care system," said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. "It doesn't work that way."

Asked how he would justify the GOP's failure on health care to voters, McConnell responded: "Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice" — suggesting inaction on health care would be forgiven because of that success along with some regulatory roll-backs.

As the day began Tuesday, McConnell was hunting for votes to open debate on a revived version of legislation Congress sent to Obama's desk in 2015 that would have repealed major portions of Obamacare, with a two-year delay built in. He had turned to that approach after getting stunned Monday night by defections by Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas on a repeal-and-replace bill.

Many Republicans support the repeal-only approach, and they questioned how senators who voted for the legislation two years ago could oppose it now. "We're going to find out if there's hypocrisy in the United States Senate in the next few days I'm afraid," said Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia.

But for others, the implications were too severe now that the bill could actually become law with a Republican president in the White House ready to sign it. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that more than 30 million people would lose insurance over a decade under the legislation.

Collins voted against the legislation in 2015 while Murkowski and Capito both supported it. Murkowski told reporters Tuesday that repealing the Affordable Care Act without the promise of a replacement would cause uncertainty and chaos.

"To just say repeal and 'Trust us, we're going to fix it in a couple of years,' that's not going to provide comfort to the anxiety that a lot of Alaskan families are feeling right now," she said. Said Capito: "I did not come to Washington to hurt people."

What's next? Go back to the committee room and work on a bipartisan basis "in a way that the public feels that we are really working toward their best interests," Murkowski said. "It's where we should have started. ... And yes, this is hard."

Sure enough, later in the day health committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee announced he planned hearings on the issue in the next few weeks, a step Senate Republicans have not taken to date.

The GOP's struggles over the latest measures came down to differences between moderates who feared the implications of a full-blown repeal, and conservatives who wanted nothing less. Speaker Paul Ryan managed to bridge those divides in the House in May, barely passing a bill that would have eliminated the coverage mandates and tax hikes in the Affordable Care Act, while unwinding the Medicaid expansion and removing insurance coverage for millions.

But the GOP bills polled poorly, and Trump never tried to sell them to the country. Meanwhile, Obama's law grew steadily more popular in polls, and Republicans learned anew that a benefit, once given, is hard to take away.

Associated Press writers Stephen Ohlemacher, Richard Lardner and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Key Component To Ending Poverty And Hunger In Developing Countries? Livestock

JULY 13, 2017

A vendor holds a broiler chicken for sale at the Mbare Market in Harare, Zimbabwe. (Jekesai Njikizana / AFP/Getty Images)

The recent emergence of famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen that has left more than 20 million people on the brink of starvation is a reminder of the difficulty of ending hunger around the world.

The problem is complex, and, unfortunately, policymakers have largely ignored an economic sector that could be a key part of the solution: small-scale livestock farming.

But that may be starting to change. At a high-level United Nations meeting currently underway, several events on poverty and hunger will feature the importance of livestock.

The key message of these sessions is that livestock’s potential for bolstering development lies in the sheer number of rural people who already depend on the sector for their livelihoods. These subsistence farmers also supply the bulk of livestock products in low-income countries. In fact, defying general perceptions, poor smallholders vastly outnumber large commercial operations.

At the International Livestock Research Institute, based in Nairobi, Kenya, we know that small-scale livestock farming can be the vehicle that puts families on the pathway out of poverty and out of danger when it comes to economic shocks.

Livestock policies that favor the poor have been shown to be effective in lifting families beyond mere subsistence, generating a ripple effect of benefits for them, their communities and even their countries.

When it comes to simply ensuring people have enough food, small-scale farms in developing countries remain essential, in many cases providing the majority of crops, milk, meat and eggs over larger, more industrialized producers.

In Kenya and India, for example, more than 70% of milk continues to be produced by smallholder farmers.

Moreover, more than 80% of poor Africans, and up to two thirds of poor people in India and Bangladesh, keep livestock. India alone has 70 million small-scale dairy farms, more than North America, South America, Europe and Australia combined.

In many rural settings, livestock farming is the most important part of individual household incomes and livelihoods. Daily surpluses of milk and eggs are sources of regular cash incomes in poor rural environments, and offer key sources of protein and nutrients for families facing malnutrition.

If the world is to support developing countries in feeding themselves, we must start with the farmers. Contributing to the research of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Pro-Poor Livestock Policy Initiative, we found that more than two in five households escaped poverty over 25 years because they were able to diversify through livestock such as poultry and dairy animals.

The addition of a heifer, for example, provided manure for crops, and milk for home consumption or sale to support income from cash crops. Buying chickens could mean a reliable source of extra money from eggs — crucial insurance if crops fail through drought or floods.

And as we have seen during the recent drought in the Horn of Africa, the loss of livestock in a hunger crisis foreshadows the loss of life.

Livestock provides an economic safety net for those often worst hit by shocks such as climate change or conflict, meaning the “non-market” benefits of keeping livestock can amount to an additional 20% on top of cash profits.

A secondary benefit of investing in smallholder livestock producers is that once family farms become even partly established, they provide employment opportunities for other rural people.

Our study in Kenya found that half of the country’s small family dairy farms, most with fewer than three head of cattle, hired at least one full-time laborer. This often offered a source of income to the landless and others in vulnerable situations, thus allowing them the chance to feed their families.

Beyond the on-farm jobs, there are numerous other economic and employment activities, for women as well as men, along the livestock product supply chain. These include the most basic collection of livestock or livestock products as well as quite sophisticated processing of specialty produce, such as yogurt and candy.

The retail prices of such goods on the informal market are nearly always lower for consumers than in the formal market, which means families’ incomes can go further.

For both livestock-keeping families and the employees along the supply chain, livestock represents a source of sustenance — literally and economically.

Another benefit is the contribution that this small-scale livestock production can make to countries’ economies.

Global demand for livestock products is set to increase by 70% in the next 30 years, and nearly all that growth is occurring in developing countries where livestock enterprises already contribute up to 40% of total agricultural gross domestic product.

Enabling and enhancing the productivity of the livestock sector can mean increasing surplus products, which in turn means countries can capitalize and open up new export markets. This transformation may eventually create new jobs and income opportunities that lead families away from livestock.

Finally, there are also opportunities for livestock to address environmental concerns. While people in the industrialized nations may justifiably be reducing or eliminating their consumption of livestock products to help cut the emission of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — research indicates that continued investment in improving livestock efficiency could actually reduce methane emissions by 8% by 2050.

For all these reasons, livestock production in low-income countries generates economic benefits that are up to 40% higher than the benefits of crop production.

Greater income can lead to improved diets, healthier people and more productive farmers.

So when we look at the progress we have made in ending hunger and poverty, it may seem that the road is never-ending. But when we discuss how to reduce the distance, at least one solution is obvious: Livestock is a proven means out of poverty and hunger in low-income countries.

Steve Staal is an agricultural economist and leader of the Policies, Institutions and Livelihoods Program at the International Livestock Research Institute, an agricultural research institute based in Nairobi, Kenya, that works to improve food security and reduce poverty in developing countries.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

FBI Nominee Rejects Trump Claim: Russia Probe No Witch Hunt

FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 12, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

WASHINGTON (AP, JULY 13, 2017) — Donald Trump's pick to lead the FBI broke with the president in key areas Wednesday, rejecting the idea that an investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump election campaign is a "witch hunt" and promising not to cave to any pressure from a White House that has challenged boundaries with the nation's top law enforcement agency.

Christopher Wray, the former high-ranking Justice Department official whom Trump nominated last month, told senators at his confirmation hearing that he would never let politics get in the way of the bureau's mission. And he said he "sure as heck" would not offer a pledge of loyalty to the president.

Asserting his independence, he said, "My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law. Those have been my guideposts throughout my career, and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test."

Wray's responses seemed to satisfy both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, many of whom signaled their support for him. Wray, 50, would inherit the FBI at a particularly challenging time given Trump's abrupt dismissal of James Comey, who was admired within the bureau. Yet the hearing, the first public window into Wray's views since his selection, was largely devoid of fireworks in keeping with what friends and supporters have described as the nominee's low-key, disciplined style.

His reserved approach could bode well for the agency at a time when its work has been thrust into the center of a political maelstrom. But, Wray said, "Anybody who thinks that I would be pulling punches as FBI director sure doesn't know me very well."

After Trump dismissed Comey on May 9, the ex-FBI director said that the president had asked him to pledge his loyalty during a dinner at the White House months earlier. He also said Trump had encouraged him to end an investigation into the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Wray said he got no demand for personal loyalty, nor would he pledge it.

The back-and-forth with lawmakers focused extensively on the Russia investigation, with Wray repeatedly voicing his respect for Robert Mueller, the former FBI director selected in May as the special counsel to oversee the probe.

Trump has repeatedly derided that investigation and other probes, using such words as "hoax" and "witch hunt." But Wray said he would reject any efforts to interfere with Mueller's work. "I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt," he said under questioning from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

He also said he had no reason to doubt the assessment of intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered in the U.S. election through hacking, a conclusion of which Trump has been dismissive. And when asked about emails released a day earlier showing that Donald Trump Jr. was willing to take help from Russia during the campaign, he said any foreign efforts to meddle in an election should be reported to the FBI rather than accepted.

Wray, who most recently has enjoyed a lucrative legal career at an international law firm, also faced questions about his work as a Justice Department official in the Bush administration. He served the government at a time when harsh interrogation techniques were approved within the department for terror suspects captured overseas, though Wray said he was never involved in signing off on those methods.

Although Trump as a candidate professed support for waterboarding, Wray said he considered torture to be wrong and ineffective. "The FBI is going to play no part in the use of any techniques of that sort," he said.

He also was questioned about his relationships with Comey and Mueller. Trump allies have said Mueller's closeness to Comey shows he can't lead an unbiased probe. But Trump nominated Wray despite his having worked with both men.

Wray at times sought to distance himself from Comey, who was widely criticized for publicly announcing that Hillary Clinton shouldn't face criminal charges for her use of a private email server. Pressed on how he would have handled the situation, he said he couldn't imagine holding a news conference about someone who had not been charged, noting Justice Department policies against doing so.

Wray was at the department in 2004 when Comey, temporarily serving as acting attorney general in place of the ailing John Ashcroft, was prepared to resign during a dispute with the White House over the reauthorization of a domestic surveillance program. Wray said he, too, was willing to resign along with Comey and other Justice Department officials — not because he knew the substance of the dispute but because of the quality of the officials who were prepared to leave.

"Knowing those people and having worked side-by-side with those people ... there was no hesitation in my mind as to where I stood," he said. He said he would again be prepared to step down if the president asked him to do something he thought was illegal.

"First I would try to talk him out of it," Wray said. "And if that failed, I would resign."

Lynch Distances Herself From Russian Lawyer After Trump Attack



Former attorney general Loretta Lynch on Thursday distanced herself from the Russian lawyer that gained passage into the U.S. before landing a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. during the 2016 campaign.

At a press conference in France earlier Thursday, President Trump blamed the Obama administration and Lynch's Justice Department for allowing Natalia Veselnitskaya into the country.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Lynch said the former attorney general "does not have any personal knowledge of Ms. Veselnitskaya's travel."

In his remarks in France, Trump appeared to cite a report in The Hill that the Justice Department issued Veselnitskaya a special immigration waiver so that she could defend her client, a Russian firm, in an asset forfeiture case in New York.

The U.S. Attorney's office in New York told The Hill that it let Veselnitskaya into the country on a grant of immigration parole from October 2015 to early January 2016 after her initial request for a visa had been denied.

Court records show that when Veselnitskaya sought permission to extend her stay, the U.S. attorney at the hearing told the judge that the special visa the Russian lawyer received was part of a "discretionary act that the statute allows the attorney general to do in extraordinary circumstances."

The U.S. attorney described the grant of parole immigration as extremely rare.

"In October the government bypassed the normal visa process and gave a type of extraordinary permission to enter the country called immigration parole," Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni said to the judge during a hearing on Jan. 6, 2016.

"That's a discretionary act that the statute allows the attorney general to do in extraordinary circumstances," Monteleoni said. "In this case, we did that so that Mr. Katsyv could testify. And we made the further accommodation of allowing his Russian lawyer into the country to assist."

Lynch's spokesperson did not address the specifics of that case, but said: "The State Department issues visas, and the Department of Homeland Security oversees entry to the United States at airports."

Veselnitskaya was granted the special immigration parole for the limited purpose of defending a company owned by a Russian businessman in a Justice Department asset forfeiture case, but later participated in a wide-ranging pro-Russia lobbying campaign.

Over the summer of 2016, Veselnitskaya met with current and former lawmakers from both parties and was spotted in the front row of a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Russia.

In June of 2016, Donald Trump Jr., White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and former campaign manager Paul Manafort took a meeting with Veselnitskaya. A music promoter told Trump Jr. that Veselnitskaya had dirt on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But Trump Jr. said the Russian lawyer instead pushed for changes to the Magnitsky Act, which punished Russians for human rights violations.

Democrats have seized on the meeting, claiming it as evidence that Trump officials sought to collude with the Russians in the campaign.

"She was here because of Lynch," Trump said at a press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron.

"Nothing happened from the meeting," Trump added. "Zero happened from the meeting, and honestly I think the press made a big deal over something that many people would do."