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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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For the First Time, Chinese Communist Party to Hold a World Political Parties Dialogue

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 07:53 AM PST

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is planning to hold a World Political Parties Dialogue from November 30 to December 3 in Beijing. It is the first time for the CCP to hold such a high-level meeting with various parties worldwide, signalling the CCP’s ambition to have a louder voice in the international sphere.

On November 24, the International Liaison Department of the CCP held a press briefing on the upcoming meeting. The International Liaison Department is one of five departments directly under the CCP Central Committee. (The other four are the Propaganda Department, the United Front Work Department,  the Organization Department, and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.) The International Liaison Department, whose major mission is to cultivate relations with communist and non-communist parties worldwide, used to play a relatively low-profile role in the past. The upcoming meeting has allowed the Department take center stage.

Guo Yezhou, vice minister of the department, said that the theme of the meeting is “Working Together Towards A Community with A Shared Future for Humanity and A Better World: Responsibilities of Political Parties.”

As The Diplomat reported earlier, “ to build a community of shared future for mankind” is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature concept for China’s foreign policy. That specific slogan has been repeatedly employed by Chinese authorities at various international events.

Xi, who also holds the position of general secretary of the CCP Central Committee, will deliver a keynote speech at the meeting’s opening ceremony.

Guo explained the reasons for the CCP to hold such a meeting: to “comprehensively introduce the spirit of the 19th Party Congress, deeply expound on Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, and systematically introduce the CCP’s proposition on building a community with a shared future for mankind.”

“The CCP is open and inclusive,” Guo added. “The CCP not only introduces its experience and methods to the world, but learns from the world.”

Guo emphasized that the meeting has “meaning in the CCP’s history” as well as “ground-breaking significance in the history of world political parties.”

Although few foreign media outlets have reported about the upcoming meeting, Guo revealed that more than 200 political parties and leaders of political organizations from over 120 countries worldwide have signed up for the meeting so far.

The International Liaison Department hasn’t disclosed the list of specific attendees yet. Based on available information, Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be the most famous figure who will attend the meeting. Suu Kyi aims to take the opportunity to strengthen bilateral relations between Myanmar and China, according to Xinhua.

In October, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi elaborated on the CCP’s ultimate goal to take its message abroad. He said:

To make new and greater contributions for mankind is our Party’s abiding mission, which highlights Chinese Communists’ historical consciousness, international vision and care for the world… This is an important distinction between the CPC and political parties of other countries, as well as an international image the CPC has fostered… the construction of a new type of international relations… is not only the historical duty that China, as a big socialist country, should undertake for the development of human society, but also the historical mission that the Chinese Communists should advance for the progress of human political civilization.

Wang made it clear that the CCP aims to set an example to the world, proving that its unique model, different from that of those traditional Western powers, can lead humankind, too.

The upcoming high-level meeting will become one of the significant steps for the CCP to present its unique model to the world. And the other hidden agenda for the CCP is to demonstrate its success through this meeting to its own domestic audience.

Handelsman, Walt – Editorial Cartoon – 20171129edhan-a.tif

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 06:28 AM PST

HANDELSMAN; TRUMP; RACIAL SLURS; POCAHANTAS

How Hamas’ Military Wing Threatens Reconciliation With Fatah

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 05:43 AM PST

A few days ago, Hamas, Fatah, and 11 other Palestinian factions met for talks in Cairo to finalize a national political reconciliation process that would reunite the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The territories have been ruled separately since Hamas took over Gaza from Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) by force of arms in 2007.

The key sticking point in the talks was monopoly over the use of force. Fatah leader and PA President Mahmoud Abbas insists that there can be only “one state, one government, one gun,” but Hamas seeks to maintain its armed military and terrorist wing even as it is set to hand over the reins of power in Gaza to Fatah and the PA this Friday, December 1. Abbas has explicitly rejected Hamas following the so-called Hezbollah model, in which a militant party participates in politics and joins the government but maintains a heavily armed and independent militia. Yet clearly, Hamas prefers this setup.

By maintaining its armed wing, Hamas jeopardizes the success of the reconciliation deal, making it highly unlikely that the status quo will change come Friday’s deadline. Hamas will only continue to incite violence in the region, and may ultimately bring Gaza closer to the next wave of violence.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

Hamas’s rhetoric and actions over the past few months both demonstrate the group’s continued commitment to what it calls “armed resistance.” Consider, for example, its continuing construction of attack tunnels dug from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Many of these tunnels were destroyed by Israel after the most recent escalations of 2014, but Hamas remains committed to rebuilding its underground network both internally, within the Gaza Strip, and under the Egyptian and Israeli borders (the former for smuggling, the latter to carry out attacks). According to Israeli officials in 2016, Hamas digs more than six miles of tunnels towards Israel each month, often underneath civilian infrastructure.

On June 1, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) uncovered a tunnel that passed under schools in the Maghazi refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Last month, an additional underground passage was found under another UNRWA school in Gaza.

In August, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) uncovered one tunnel that ran under an apartment building near a school and medical center and a second one under a northern Gaza family home where Omar Muhammad Mahmoud Hamad, an active member of Hamas, lives with his family.

In September, three Hamas fighters died in separate tunnel collapses, all within a period of five days. One of the accidents took place along the Gaza-Israel border. By one account, at least 20 Hamas militants have died in such incidents over the past three years. Most recently, Israel bombed a tunnel built by terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which ran through Gaza and ended near the Israeli Kibbutz Kissufim. Several Hamas and PIJ members were killed during the attack, and Israel has since recovered five dead Hamas members from the tunnel.

Hamas has also continued illicit financial schemes specifically intended to finance terrorist operations and other militant activities. In early August, the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency, uncovered a Hamas money laundering ring, which has transferred approximately $200,000 into Hebron since early 2016. Two Hamas couriers, both residents of Hebron, would travel to Turkey and collect thousands of dollars from a Turkey-based Hamas operative, Haron Nasser al-Din. The couriers would then use the money to buy commercial goods and sell them in Hebron, using the profit from these sales to pay the salaries of high-ranking Hamas members in the West Bank and operatives who had been released from jail.

Later in August, the Shin Bet and Israeli police exposed a Hamas money transfer network that has been funneling money from the Gaza Strip to East Jerusalem families since at least 2015. During the raid, officials seized approximately $28,000 worth of cash and gifts from seven families in East Jerusalem, all of whom had children who had carried out terror attacks for Hamas or with Hamas’s support. Since 2015, Hamas has transferred more than $36,000 worth of money and gifts to the East Jerusalem families. One of the recipients of these funds included Hassan Mahani, the father of one of the teenagers who carried out the 2015 stabbing of two Israelis in Pisgat Ze’ev, severely wounding a 13-year-old boy. Another recipient was the family of Tareq Abu Arafa, who was involved in the kidnapping and murder of dual U.S.-Israeli national Nachshon Wachsman in 1994.

Iran, too, remains one of Hamas’s primary means of support, providing both financial and material aid to the organization. According to IDF Military Intelligence Chief Hertzi Halevi, Iran provides Hamas with approximately $60-$70 million annually, in addition to training and weapons. In late August, Hamas’s Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, referred to Iran as “the largest supporter of the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades with money and arms,” and described Iranian-Hamas relations as “excellent.” One month later, the Shin Bet reported that Hamas was establishing a base in Lebanon in order to further strengthen Hamas’ ties to the Iranian “Shiite axis.”

Indeed, Salah al-Aruri, the new deputy leader of Hamas, has led delegations of Hamas members to meet with senior leaders in Iran twice in recent weeks. During the first visit, Aruri confirmed that Hamas would never cut ties with Iran and that its “presence in Iran is the practical denial” of one of the preconditions Israel set for talks with Fatah in Cairo. On November 4 the Hamas delegation attended the funeral of the father of Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force.

While Hamas leaders cozy up to Iran, Tehran’s most prominent proxy group, Hezbollah, has also reportedly given Hamas its blessings to move forward with the reconciliation deal, anticipating that the deal could strengthen Hamas’s influence in Gaza and increase its chances of taking over the West Bank. Indeed, this past Monday, Hamas vowed to expand its military activities in the West Bank. Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya said that weapons that are currently being used by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will be transferred to the West Bank: “These weapons will not be touched. It’s not for debate or talk. These weapons will clearly move to the West Bank to battle the occupation there.” This is not the first time that Hezbollah has supported expansion by Hamas into the West Bank. Following the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, Hezbollah dramatically increased its support for Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups.

Although Hamas has failed to carry out any major attacks against Israel since May, it continues to incite violence, praise attacks against the Jewish state, and prepare for future conflict with it.

In mid-July, two Israeli police officers were killed by three terrorists near the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem. Following the attack, Hamas called for further violence against Israel and held a celebratory rally in the Gaza Strip. One week later, three Israelis were stabbed to death in their home in the West Bank by a Palestinian teenager affiliated with Hamas. Hamas deemed the incident “heroic.” In response to these attacks, the Shin Bet and the IDF arrested 25 Hamas members in a West Bank raid, including several higher-ranking members in the West Bank wing of the organization. Just four days after the stabbing, Hamas called for a “day of rage” in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in response to the EU’s holding up its terrorist designation of the group. 

And although only three rockets have been fired into Israel since May, relative to the thousands that landed in 2014, the IDF reported in March that Hamas has developed more powerful short-range missiles, and is continuously restocking its arsenal in preparation for the next escalation with Israel. Indeed, just this past week, Yahya Sinwar reaffirmed Hamas’s intentions to prepare for war and destroy the Jewish state: “The discussion is no longer about recognizing Israel but about wiping Israel out … there is not one minute of the day or night where we aren’t building up our military might.”

RECONCILIATION’S UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Although the reconciliation is still technically set to go into effect on Friday, in its current state, it is difficult to imagine this will come to pass. Evidently, Hamas remains committed to its terror activities in Gaza, and perhaps most alarming to the PA, in the West Bank, too. In October alone, the PA arrested more than 50 Hamas operatives in the West Bank, in addition to the 130 operatives they apprehended from other terror groups such as the PIJ. It is not surprising that the PA has continued to make mass arrests of Hamas operatives in the West Bank, given that Arouri orchestrated a plot to overthrow the PA and take control of the West Bank in 2014.

Hamas’s actions alone send a clear message that continuing terrorism will take precedence over any reconciliation deal, but recent statements from its leadership only put the agreement further into question. Just this week, as the Cairo meeting was convening, Hamas issued a statement condemning the Arab League’s designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Hamas’s reaction is unsurprising: such a label flies in the face of its insistence that it be allowed to follow the Hezbollah model. And as its recent actions make clear, Hamas remains committed to maintaining its independent armed wing.

That does not bode well for reconciliation or regional stability. In the absence of intra-Palestinian reconciliation, the humanitarian situation in Gaza will again sharply deteriorate. It was that worsening situation on the ground in Gaza that led Hamas to these talks in the first place, but in the end Hamas prioritized the maintaining of its arsenal over improving the living conditions of the Palestinian people living under its rule in Gaza. And with Syria burning, Yemen at war and facing famine, Iraq unstable, and Sunni states distracted by Iran’s regional aggression, the plight of Gazans will remain a fairly low priority both for regional and international powers in the face of other, more pressing regional crises. Lacking allies to come to its aid, Hamas may well feel the need to instigate a new conflict with Israel to distract from its failure in government and to justify its claim that it must maintain its arms to protect Gazans from Israel.

For true reconciliation to take place, Hamas will have to relinquish its weapons and agree that the PA has a monopoly on the use of force within the territories it controls. Reporting on the reconciliation talks in Cairo, UN Middle East Envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned the UN Security Council that should the talks falter, as previous reconciliation efforts have, “it will most likely result in another devastating conflict.” Unfortunately, he is right. Hamas’s refusal to break with terrorism will almost certainly doom the effort to bring calm to the region, as it has in the past. The result will be another Gaza conflict.

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.

Iran and Russia, Growing Apart

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 03:43 AM PST

Today, the latest round of UN-brokered Syria peace talks begins in Geneva, with the goal of bringing President Bashar al-Assad and various armed opposition factions to a political settlement that could put an end to half a decade of civil war in the country.

The Geneva talks come one week after another set of Syria talks, this time in Sochi. The November 22 gathering, which included some of the conflict’s key remaining players-Iran, Turkey, and Russia-was supposed to be a turning point in the issue of Syria’s future. At least that had been Tehran’s hope. Instead, the talks highlighted emerging fissures between Assad’s two main foreign backers, Iran and Russia, and even divisions within Iran between the civilian government of President Hassan Rouhani and the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

In short, the IRGC, which over the last seven years has established a strong presence in Syria through its various militias and local proxies, is anxious to preserve its gains against pushback from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. This stance might soon bring it into open conflict with Russia and other actors, including Rouhani, who might be more open to a multilateral political settlement to end the Syrian war. Specifically, the IRGC wishes not only to secure Iranian influence in postwar Syria, but also to transform its allied Syrian militias into an institutionalized military-political force in its own image, one which could become its local abettor similar to the role Hezbollah plays in Lebanon.

SUSPICIONS IN SOCHI

In Sochi, the Iranians, Russians, and Turks ostensibly agreed on one key point: that all parties should respect Syria’s territorial integrity. Other issues were discussed, including how to continue to uphold the process of de-confliction in the zones that had been agreed upon at Astana in May. Sochi was above all a summit intended as a demonstration of the ascendancy of the Iranian-Russian-Turkish partnership on Syria.

In Tehran, though, considerable doubt continues to exist about both Russian and Turkish intentions in Syria. The Iranians are particularly mindful-and resentful-of Moscow’s latitude to work with many different partners in the region. Alone among the three countries that were at Sochi, Russia has a strong and ongoing dialogue with every other state that matters on the question of Syria’s future, from the United States to Israel to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. In turn, Tehran naturally fears that deals are being cut over its head and to its detriment.

Two days before the Sochi summit, for instance, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a four-hour meeting with Assad, who had flown to the city to consult with the Russian leader. Reports on the visit in the Iranian media indicate that Tehran had had no prior knowledge of it. But it was Putin’s decision to brief U.S. President Donald Trump about Moscow’s plans just before the Sochi summit that seems to have really irked Tehran. The Iranians read this briefing as a Russian attempt to assuage the United States, which is sternly opposed to any settlement in Syria that would institutionalize Iran’s presence there. Mollifying Washington, the Iranians rightfully worry, can only come at the expense of Tehran’s influence and interests in postwar Syria.

It is therefore no coincidence that in the days since the Sochi summit, the IRGC has started to tout its capacity to deploy, maintain, and mobilize pro-Iranian militias in Syria. This is a show of hard power, and Putin and his advisors are no doubt part of the intended audience. 

In other words, with Moscow preparing to turn itself into the ultimate diplomatic kingmaker in these sunset days of the Syrian conflict, the generals from the IRGC are reminding everyone, including Assad and the Russians, of their continued power and influence. And as Iran looks to maximize its relevance in postwar Syria, the country’s hardline faction, represented by the IRGC, is banking that its years of investment in various Syrian and other Arab militias will finally pay off.

DIPLOMACY WON’T DO

The head of the IRGC, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, has been increasingly explicit about his intentions to elevate pro-Iranian militias in Syria. On November 23, for instance, Jafari said that Assad knows he is “indebted” to the “people’s militias” and understands that they are critical to his political survival. Jafari also ventured a guess that Assad “will, of course, institutionalize [the militias] so they will remain relevant in the face of future threats.” It goes without saying that for Jafari, it is up to the IRGC to determine the identity of such future threats, and it is a safe bet that the group’s usual targets-notably the United States and Israel-will be on that list. 

The IRGC’s goal is to eventually turn the Syrian militias currently under its control into semi-state actors that will become permanent instruments of Iranian influence in Syria, akin to how Hezbollah operates in Lebanon. This strategy is perhaps not surprising, as the IRGC is itself a product of such an evolution. Back in 1979, immediately after the Iranian Revolution, the IRGC began as a small group of die-hard devotees to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Over the years, this band of Islamist militants morphed from armed servants of the revolutionary clerics to a powerful state-within-the-state that rules over a vast empire of men and money. 

This rhetorical escalation by the IRGC, moreover, is not only aimed at foreign audiences. The future of the pro-Iranian militias in Syria is also part of an intra-regime debate in Tehran. Rouhani has publicly kept his distance from IRGC’s plan to institutionalize its militias, but he has not been overly critical of it either. And yet, IRGC-controlled media outlets constantly hint that the Rouhani government is soft on Western demands for Tehran to abandon or at least disarm the militias. For the IRGC, this is a non-starter.

In response to Rouhani’s relative dovishness, the IRGC position is twofold: first, that it would be foolish to cut a deal with the West (or Russia) on the future of the Syrian militias. Why give up hard-earned clout on the ground in return for dubious promises of international cooperation on Syria’s future? The prevailing mood in Tehran, which is that Iran was shortchanged by the 2015 nuclear deal, presumably gives the IRGC argument more momentum than would have otherwise been the case. 

Second, the IRGC has also been quick to remind everyone that it is better equipped than the civilian government to lead Iran’s efforts to secure a slice of reconstruction spending in Syria. This is nothing short of a jab at Rouhani. In fact, Jafari has claimed that both Rouhani’s team and Assad’s have agreed that IRGC-controlled economic enterprises, which can work directly under the protection of IRGC-controlled militias, are the best candidates to manage reconstruction projects in Syria. Rouhani has not yet responded to this assertion. 

FORWARD DEFENSE 

Observers inside and outside of Iran will find the IRGC brass’s increasingly hawkish position on militias to be a bad omen. But in Tehran, the IRGC has the upper hand when it comes to Syria policy, and it clearly believes that it possesses a blueprint for success: more Hezbollahs wherever possible. 

As IRGC commanders are keen to repeat, the quickly shifting regional security environment requires that Iran constantly adapt and reinvent its military strategy. In Tehran, this is referred to as “forward defense” and is premised on the idea that Iran should battle its opponents outside its borders to prevent conflict from taking place on Iranian soil. Controlling Arab militias abroad, such as those allied to the IRGC in Syria, is part and parcel of this idea of forward defense, making it unlikely that Iran will shift its stance any time soon.

From a broader Syrian perspective, however, it is hard to see how enduring peace can return to the country if armed local groups answerable to an aggressive, ideological foreign organization such as the IRGC continue to play a critical role in the political process.

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.

How Nigeria’s Oil Industry Went Local

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 03:42 AM PST

The biggest real-estate foreclosure in Manhattan’s history began with a Nigerian jet-fuel binge. Kola Aluko, now in hiding from the authorities of multiple countries, allegedly spent so much money on jet fuel that he could no longer pay the mortgage on his Midtown penthouse, which was consequently auctioned for $36 million in late 2017. Aluko is a central figure in criminal trials for money laundering and petro-business corruption now underway in Houston, Lagos, and London. Media coverage has, understandably, focused on the juicy details of his spending. Along with the penthouse, he owned a yacht that Jay Z and Beyoncé once rented for her birthday party, but now, on orders of a Nigerian court, sits idle with other seized cars and jets.

A less-discussed byproduct of the alleged crimes committed by Aluko and his conspirators in the Nigerian government, however, is how they catalyzed what was possibly the largest ever transfer of energy assets from foreign companies to local ones. This is not meant to reframe Aluko as an improbable hero; it is to say, however, that domestic companies in Nigeria now control more of the country’s oil and gas resources than ever before, and they are poised to deliver economic gains that Nigeria has always wanted but never had. It is well worth examining how the corruption of Aluko and others may have led to this outcome-and considering how it might be achieved without graft.

The relevant scheme involved Aluko allegedly brokering deals for Nigeria’s then Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke. Between 2010 and 2015, while Alison-Madueke held her post, several international energy companies decided to sell oil or gas fields in Nigeria. Some left the country, fed up with the chaos; others were retreating from conventional onshore fields to offshore ones, hoping that there they’d be safer from the militant groups in the Nigerian Delta.

Sales of such large oil blocks often require government approval. One of the charges against Alison-Madueke and Aluko is that the former used her government power to steer the sale of these fields to Nigerian interests that bribed her, while Aluko (and others) facilitated the graft. If true, the narrative conforms to a familiar script: local elites scalped their countrymen in a resource-rich developing nation.

But there is another outcome, as well-one with broader lessons for observers. As a result of the funneling of major oil blocks to local energy firms, a growing group of local Nigerian oil-and-gas entrepreneurs now controls 18.9 percent of oil production and 18.2 percent of gas output, according to state statistics, which the IMF and International Energy Agency, among others, use in their analysis.

This is unprecedented. In most countries, oil-and-gas production is the job of global giants such as Shell and Exxon, or state-owned entities such as Saudi Arabia’s Aramco and Brazil’s Petrobras. Small, local, private energy companies are so rare that finding data to make a precise comparison to the current prevalence of them in Nigeria may not be possible. Global groups such as the International Energy Agency don’t track production figures according to company type, and major energy consultancies and data providers either do not track-or are wary of sharing-this information. But according to David Kessler, a director at PLS Inc., an oil-and-gas advisory company in Houston, Nigeria is unique among the 20 countries producing over one million barrels a day, in that it has such a significant proportion of its output controlled by small, local companies. 

This is worth emphasizing because, as is frequently noted, the shift to local control is an elusive goal in most cash-poor, resource-rich economies. Other such states have begun looking to Nigeria as an example. Ghana and Kenya, for example, put local-content quotas into their resource-sector laws. Brazil and Colombia copied another Nigerian solution: holding bidding rounds to transfer smaller, marginal fields to local companies. Nigeria’s circumstances are particular-few other countries produce as much oil, or have such a roster of foreign investors-and of course its corruption is unworthy of emulation. But are there other lessons that other countries could learn from what it has done? It’s still early, but Nigeria’s experience suggests that there might be. 

The basic challenge cited by most development economists is this: history both teaches us that poor countries can’t fight poverty by simply exporting raw natural resources and shows how hard it can be for an immature market to gather the investment and human capital to build and run the factories, refineries, and smelters required to extract value at home. Nigeria is an example of this problem. It has the world’s tenth-largest reserves of natural gas, according to the 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, yet also a massive shortage of gas available for domestic use. Foreign firms have always preferred to export most of the gas they produce there, refusing to meet government quotas for domestic sales.

It’s a circular problem: one reason so much of the gas (and the money) leaves is that foreign multinationals balk at the billions of dollars of investment that would be required to build the pipelines and processing plants needed to use more gas in Nigeria. (Nigeria’s security challenges exacerbate the risk of making such an investment, as do security challenges in other developing markets.) The result is that Nigeria has power plants idling because they cannot get gas, while its people and businesses rely on diesel-powered generators at triple the cost.

Local gas producers face different investment logic from that of global multinationals. Smaller, local firms do not possess large-scale export facilities. Furthermore, they do not have a global portfolio of productive oil and gas fields providing steady revenue elsewhere to help them meet cash-flow needs. So they cannot sit on their Nigerian fields, waiting for the right time to invest. They must sell their output to pay back their loans, and so they must make investments to exploit their held assets. So far, two domestic companies have signed deals to sell gas to power plants and built the pipelines needed to deliver it. More of these types of investments are in the works, including several by Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man.

These local investments beget more of the same. A Nigerian firm called Amaya Capital is building a power plant, the Azura-Edo Independent Power Project, which was meant as a test case for how private investors and government can work together across sub-Saharan Africa. Azura needed a long-term gas-supply contract before tapping international capital, and Managing Director David Ladipo got one from a local firm, Seplat Petroleum Development Co. “Trying to deal with the supermajors would have been a very long process,” Ladipo told me.

Local companies have no choice but to cope with Nigeria’s dysfunction, which means they are willing to invest to improve it. When militants bomb a pipeline, major producers can let it lie idle. But locals must scramble to find an alternative. “The local companies are innovative,” Amy Jadesimi, who founded a Nigerian energy logistics and services company called the Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base, told me. “If they can’t use pipelines or roads, they’ll try ships and trains.”

So what can be done to catalyze this investment-prone local control without resorting to corruption? Development economists recommend routes that are legal, but slower, such as establishing local content. However, progress at such a slow pace isn’t ideal. Politicians want results before the next election, and that leads them to take too many risks or resort to corruption. Tanzania threatened to nationalize gold mines after Acacia Mining Plc refused to build a smelter there, and Indonesia temporarily banned exports of some minerals to force local investment. In both cases, the foreign firm agreed to increase the state’s share of its profits and ownership, but these moves have yet to create opportunity for local entrepreneurs.

Although corruption may have factored into the speedy transfer of ownership under Alison-Madueke, there may be an honest way to achieve comparable success for leaders who are patient enough, or if the slow process of developing local capacity and access to finance can somehow be accelerated. 

Of course, a Nigeria free of corruption would still face many challenges in energy development. Failures at these startups could mean economic dislocation, lost production, and swings in state tax and petroleum revenue. In the past, Nigeria has granted extraction rights to local companies with no ability to exploit them, but usually just to politically connected elites looking to flip oil blocks to companies able to do the job. But this, too, is changing: the difference is that companies are taking over current production and retaining ownership. “You can’t just flip assets anymore,” Jadesimi observes. “These are ongoing operations, and the day after you close the deal you’re expected to keep producing.” That means long-term benefits, but also short-term risks if there are growing pains.

Cash flow, however, remains a concern. Many local companies are starved for capital, because they bought fields when oil was near $100/barrel. Current market prices for oil are about half that. Nigerian banks aren’t likely to loan more to these companies, so an injection of international finance is needed. Here, corruption confounds: in the United States, for example, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act forbids working with or financing corrupt entities. “Even the larger Nigerian independents have few options,” PSL’s Kessler told me. That suggests that this new group of producers can’t transform the country on their own-outside investment will still play a role.

For now, Nigeria’s local startups have enough oil and gas under local control to keep building new infrastructure, led by Dangote’s company. It is building an oil refinery in Lagos that will be able to satisfy domestic and export demand. His company is also building fertilizer and petrochemicals plants, and is a minority investor in the development of offshore gas fields and a pipeline to take offshore gas to dry land. As with the refinery’s fuel output, the plan includes gas left over to sell after meeting Dangote’s needs, and that means more investment, training, and employment opportunities. With enough of these, the big foreign energy firms may finally be convinced that investing in Nigeria’s economy-instead of just extracting its resources-is worth the risk.

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.

Young video game addict reaches out for help

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

Dear Amy, I am 13 years old and addicted to video games.

I would wake up early in the morning and just play on the weekends until they asked me to stop.

It has gotten to the point where my mom has bought a safe to keep the controllers in. I have gone through her desk desperately and found the key, which I later told her I had taken. Please help!

— Addicted to Games

Dear Addicted: I shared your question with my friend, the popular comic (and deep thinker) Paula Poundstone, who has dealt with this in her own life. Paula is also author of the wonderful memoir, “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness,” (2017, Algonquin Books).

Here is Paula’s response, addressed directly to you:

I’m so sorry. This is a really difficult problem that you are facing. I want you to know that it is not your fault. You, like so many, have been the victim of adult greed.

The companies that make those games hire behavioral psychologists to purposely help them make the games addictive. They have designed the games so that your brain gets hits of a feel-good chemical called dopamine when you play them. A brain overstimulated by video games looks the same as a brain on cocaine.

So, it is not your fault. Unfortunately, it is, however, your problem.

The truth is, there is no good reason to play video games, when you consider that doing so can alter the white matter in your brain. That would also be called “brain damage.” If you found out that playing Monopoly could give you brain damage, do you think you’d want to ever play Monopoly again in your life?

There is some really terrific news here, though: You recognize that you have a problem, you busted yourself for taking the key to the safe and you are asking for help. All of that is major!

My son also suffered from video game addiction when he was growing up. I foolishly put him in front of a computer when he was three, because I believed the lie that the tech companies told us about computers, and games, being “educational.” He stopped having interest in other people, his family and all of the other things he used to do, like sports, music and homework. His schools made the situation worse, because even when I tried to say, “No computer use, at all,” he was awash in computer time at school, and they, needlessly, required homework to be done on the computer. He was angry and anxious most of the time, and even if he wasn’t playing video games, he was mentally plotting how he was going to get his next chance to do so. I think the saddest part is that he felt awful about himself.

Any of this ringing a bell?

I choke on the irony of directing you to a website, but the suggestions and support at familiesmanagingmedia.com are good.

Don’t reward yourself with game time. That sets up the wrong dynamic. I don’t even think you should taper off. Get rid of your gaming system. It’s easier to just not have it around. Replace video-gaming time with activities that we know are good for the brain: exercise, reading, being out in nature, writing, learning to sing or play an instrument, make art, get involved in building, dance or theater. Ask your school to help you start a support group.

I ended up sending my son to an outdoor program. He lived in a tent for a year and a half, where he couldn’t plug anything in. You know what, though? Even after a year and a half, he said that the cravings never went away. Stop now, before it steals your life.

Thank you for asking for help. I’m proud of you. You may have helped others do the same.

Dear Amy: Regarding “Perplexed,” who had loaned money to her nephew (and he had stopped making payments), I have this saying about loans: Unless you are a bank, never loan anyone more money than you would be willing to give them as a gift. And the corollary is: Never lend more money until they paid off the last loan.

— Voice of Experience

Dear Voice: Both of these axioms are extremely useful when pondering lending money to family members. I thought it was quite generous of this aunt to set up this car loan for her nephew, but the result was unfortunately fairly predictable.

(You can contact Amy Dickinson via email: askamy@amydickinson.com. Readers may send postal mail to Amy Dickinson, c/o Tribune Content Agency, 16650 Westgrove Drive, Suite 175, Addison, Texas, 75001. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or “like” her on Facebook.)

OMARR’S DAILY ASTROLOGICAL FORECAST, For release 11/29/17 for 11/29/17

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

BIRTHDAY GAL: Actress Lauren German was born in Huntington Beach, Calif., on this date in 1978. This birthday gal has starred as Chloe on “Lucifer” since 2015 and she portrayed Leslie Shay on “Chicago Fire.” She also played Lori Weston on “Hawaii Five-O” and has appeared on episodes of “Memphis Beat,” “Human Target,” and “Happy Town.” Her film work includes “The Divide,” “Made for Each Other,” and “Hostel: Part II.”

ARIES (March 21-April 19): It may be wiser to focus on consolidation than to dwell in isolation. The more you are pushed the more you feel you must be independent and go your own way. Avoid making major changes or crucial decisions.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): Draw a fine line between fantasy and reality. A monetary proposal may be filling your head with endless possibilities. You should be careful not to make any hasty decisions until you know you possess all the facts.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): It is only in fairy tales that frogs turn into princes. You may be too wrapped up in romance to notice that a new hook-up has warts. Keep your feet on the ground and focus on reality. Hold off on starting new projects.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): Don’t settle for economy class if first class is available. Seek the best of everything, including your reading material. This might be a good time to begin a new study, enroll in a class or gather other learning.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): Scrutinize before you let it fly. You need keen eyes to pay attention to details. Take a little extra time to go over your handiwork. Digging for personal information could leave you exhausted and sow seeds of resentment

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Pinch pennies today and there will be ample cents to spend for your tomorrows. You may feel like you are on your own so take charge without waiting for outside help. Put off starting new romantic relationships.

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): Don’t stir the pot. If you issue challenges or make changes you may receive more than you bargained for. Although you may feel confident about your financial stability you could be at risk of destabilizing a key relationship.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): Plumb creative depths. Do whatever you can to develop tranquility and serenity. Your imaginative techniques can possibly lead to financial success. A special someone may push you in the right direction.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): If you want something to last take care of the past. Beware of an old issue arising once again that might test the stability of a key relationship. Mind your manners and be mindful of common courtesies.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): Those who want a job done right must sometimes do it themselves. There is little incentive in waiting for someone else to do a task for you. Because you are intent on making things happen, you will succeed.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): Think before you act. You cannot ignore the rules just because you have a brainstorm or think you know better. Follow the lead of your boss or partner and apply yourself to completing an ongoing project.

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): Good work is expected, but not always appreciated. Don’t feel slighted if you haven’t gotten the recognition you deserve. Your quality performance and work ethic is valued even if rewards are slow to arrive.

IF NOVEMBER 29 IS YOUR BIRTHDAY: Reach for the stars. During the next three to four weeks life may seem more rewarding than usual. You may have a heightened ambition to make a permanent mark in the material world and possess an abundance of spiritual contentment that inspires you to reach for the best and highest. If you are offered any opportunity, grab it, since it may lead to bigger and better things. You are at the top of your game in January and February making this an excellent time to launch crucial plans. You can reach a milestone in your career as well, since your astuteness for handling finances, job demands and business matters is in top condition. Your drive and initiative is in high gear throughout April, but you might be more interested in romance in May.

*Love Is… – Comic Panel – 20171129cplis-a.tif

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

*Pluggers – Color Comic Panel – 20171129cpplc-a.tif

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

LATEST LINE

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

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             By J. McCarthy  

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Detroit is 13-5-1 against the spread its last 19 games. The Pistons are 8-1-1 against the spread their last 10 games versus a Western Conference opponent. Phoenix is 3-9-1 against the spread its last 13 games. The Suns are 1-9 against the spread the last 10 games in this series. Take Detroit -12 for another Best Bet winner.

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                      NFL  

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 Favorite            Points   (O/U)       Underdog  

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               Thursday, Nov 30th.                       Week 13   DALLAS                1      (44.5)    Washington                   Sunday, Dec 3rd.   BALTIMORE             3      (40.5)       Detroit   CHICAGO               3 1/2  (40)   San Francisco   ATLANTA               3      (47.5)     Minnesota   New England           8 1/2  (48.5)       BUFFALO   Denver                1      (38.5)         MIAMI   TENNESSEE             7      (43)         Houston   JACKSONVILLE          9 1/2  (41)    Indianapolis   GREEN BAY             2 1/2  (43)       Tampa Bay   Kansas City           3 1/2  (44)         NY JETS   NEW ORLEANS           4      (48)        Carolina   LA CHARGERS           13 1/2 (41.5)     Cleveland   LA Rams               7      (45)         ARIZONA   OAKLAND               7      (42)       NY Giants   Philadelphia          5 1/2  (47.5)       SEATTLE                   Monday, Dec 4th.   Pittsburgh            5      (43.5)    CINCINNATI  

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                College Football  

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 Favorite            Points   (O/U)       Underdog  

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                 Friday, Dec 1st.               Pac 12 Championship Game           Levi's Stadium-Santa Clara, CA.   Southern Cal          3 1/2  (58.5)      Stanford                  Saturday, Dec 2nd.   GEORGIA ST            6      (46.5)         Idaho   APPALACHIAN ST        15     (59.5)  UL-Lafayette   Georgia Southern      3      (53)COASTAL CAROLINA   ARKANSAS ST           1      (59)            Troy   NEW MEXICO ST         9 1/2  (54)   South Alabama          Conference USA Championship Game             FAU Stadium-Boca Raton, FL.   Florida Atlantic      10 1/2 (74)     North Texas         American Athletic Championship Game            Spectrum Stadium-Orlando, FL.   Central Florida       7      (82.5)       Memphis                MAC Championship Game               Ford Field-Detroit, MI.   Toledo                21 1/2 (57.5)         Akron                SEC Championship Game           Mercedes-Benz Stadium-Atlanta, GA.   Auburn                2 1/2  (49)         Georgia           Mountain West Championship Game            Albertsons Stadium-Boise, ID.   Boise St              8 1/2  (49)       Fresno St                ACC Championship Game         Bank of America Stadium-Charlotte, NC.   Clemson               9 1/2  (47.5) Miami-Florida              Big 10 Championship Game          Lucas Oil Stadium-Indianapolis, IN.   Ohio St               6 1/2  (53)       Wisconsin              Big 12 Championship Game             AT&T Stadium-Arlington, TX.   Oklahoma              7      (63.5)           Tcu                   Write-In Games   FLORIDA INTL          1      (55.5) Massachusetts   FLORIDA ST            27     (66)       UL-Monroe  

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                      NBA  

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 Favorite            Points   (O/U)       Underdog  

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 a-PHILADELPHIA       OFF     (OFF)     Washington   DETROIT               12     (218)        Phoenix   Oklahoma City         6      (212.5)      ORLANDO   TORONTO               8      (206)      Charlotte   Miami                 1      (201)       NEW YORK   HOUSTON               11 1/2 (224)        Indiana   NEW ORLEANS           5      (218)      Minnesota   SAN ANTONIO           8      (195.5)      Memphis   b-DALLAS             OFF     (OFF)       Brooklyn   c-Golden St          OFF     (OFF)      LA LAKERS  

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a-Philadelphia Forward B. Simmons is questionable

b-Brooklyn has multiple injuries.

c-Golden State Forward K. Durant is questionable

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               College Basketball  

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 Favorite            Points               Underdog  

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 Auburn                3                    DAYTON   BOWLING GREEN         9 1/2           San Jose St   CONNECTICUT           10 1/2             Columbia   CLEVELAND ST          2               Arkansas St   INDIANA ST            5 1/2             Air Force   George Mason          2 1/2         JAMES MADISON   VILLANOVA             20 1/2         Pennsylvania   WILLIAM & MARY        3 1/2              Marshall   Penn St               1 1/2     NORTH CAROLINA ST   OHIO ST               2 1/2               Clemson   NORTH CAROLINA        10 1/2             Michigan   NORTHERN IOWA         1                      Unlv   TROY                  6          Illinois Chicago   NORTHERN ILLINOIS     1            Wisc Milwaukee   SOUTH ALABAMA         6             Southern Miss   ALABAMA               11           Louisiana Tech   UT ARLINGTON          19                     Rice   ARIZONA               22            Long Beach St   NEW MEXICO            3                Evansville   NEBRASKA              3            Boston College   MINNESOTA             5             Miami-Florida   Duke                  10 1/2              INDIANA   NEVADA                13              Illinois St                     Added Games   Buffalo               2 1/2               NIAGARA   East Tenn St          2                   FORDHAM   PROVIDENCE            14                    Rider   St. Bonaventure       8                     SIENA   Massachusetts         9                QUINNIPIAC   COASTAL CAROLINA      7 1/2               Wofford   TENNESSEE             10                   Mercer   KANSAS ST             22 1/2         Oral Roberts   LSU                   12 1/2     Tennessee Martin   OKLAHOMA ST           22              Austin Peay   WESTERN KENTUCKY      11         Eastern Kentucky   Drake                 2 1/2        NEBRASKA OMAHA   SOUTHERN ILLINOIS     12         SIU Edwardsville   Wyoming               5 1/2                DENVER   TCU                   12 1/2              Belmont   STANFORD              7                   Montana   PEPPERDINE            7             Southern Utah   UC DAVIS              5 1/2     Northern Colorado                     Extra Games   MARQUETTE             27               Chicago St   UCLA                  14 1/2       CS Bakersfield  

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                       NHL  

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 Favorite             Goals    (O/U)      Underdog  

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 MONTREAL            Even-1/2  (5.5)        Ottawa   Tampa Bay           Even-1/2  (5.5)        BOSTON   ST. LOUIS            1/2-1    (5.5)       Anaheim   Winnipeg            Even-1/2  (5.5)      COLORADO  

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               Home Team in CAPS  

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