Wednesday, July 28, 2021

June 12, 2021 BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s oil sector is rebounding after a catastrophic year triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, with key investment projects on the horizon, Iraq’s oil minister said Friday. But he also warned that an enduring bureaucratic culture of fear threatens to stand in the way.

Iraq is currently trading oil at $68 per barrel, close to the approximately $76 needed for the state to operate without reliance on the central bank to meet government expenditures.

Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail took over the unenviable job of supervising Iraq’s most vital industry at the height of an oil price crash that slashed oil revenues by more than half last year. Since then, he has had to balance domestic demands for more revenue to fund state coffers and pressure from OPEC to keep exports low to stabilize the global oil market.

With the sector rebounding, Ismail told The Associated Press, he can now focus on other priorities. In the interview, he offered a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the country’s most significant ministry — Iraq’s oil industry is responsible for 90% of state revenues.

He said cutthroat Iraqi politics and corruption fears often derailed critical investment projects during his tenure and those of his predecessors — a source of long-term frustration for international companies working in Iraq.

“In the Ministry of Oil, the big mistake, the big challenge are the delays in decision-making or no decision-making at all,” he said, attributing indecisiveness to fears of political reprisal from groups or powerful lawmakers whose interests are not served.

He described what he said was a warped work culture where allegations of corruption are used as tools by political players to get their way. He alleged that the mere possibility is often enough to keep high-ranking officials in ministry from signing off on important projects.

“This is the culture: To stay away from any case, to stay away from inspectors, to say ‘let us not do it,’” he added. “I think this is the corruption that slows the economy.”

He said that during his time as minister he has sought to fast-track projects, he said.

Top on his list is developing the country’s gas sector, a central condition for Iraq to be eligible for U.S. sanction waivers enabling energy imports from neighboring Iran. To that end, Iraq is looking to develop long-neglected gas fields and capture gas flared from oil sites.

Ismail said he is hopeful contracts will be signed within the coming months to develop key projects that could boost Iraq’s gas capacity by 3 billion cubic standard feet by 2025. But that all depends on closing the deal with oil companies; lucrative contract negotiations in Iraq have a history of stalling once commercial terms are laid out.

Iraq currently imports 2 billion standard cubic feet to meet domestic needs.

The ministry is close to signing with China’s Sinopec to develop the Mansuriya gas field in Diyala province, said Ismail. The field could add 300 million standard cubic feet of gas to domestic production. He hopes to finalize the deal by mid-July.

The ministry is also in talks with France’s Total to develop an ambitious multi-billion dollar mega-investment project in southern Iraq, including the Ratawi gas hub, development of Ratawi oil field and a scheme to provide water to oil fields required to boost production.

Early talks are also ongoing to develop the Akkas gas field in Anbar province, with the American Schlumberger and Saudi Arabia’s oil giant Aramco, he said, expressing hopes for an agreement there too.

Though negotiations with international companies have picked up speed, Ismail said entrenched indecision within his ministry persists. Investors have blamed glacial bureaucracy and indecision within ministry ranks for thwarting projects.

Among his deepest regrets is the collapse in talks — after five years of negotiations — between the ministry and Exxon-Mobil over a multi-billion dollar investment project that would have been key to increasing Iraq’s production and exports.

“For me, it was a big mistake from our side,” said Ismail, who was the former director-general of the state-owned Basra Oil Company.

Ismail himself came under scrutiny when lawmakers accused him of corruption. The Cabinet dismissed him as head of the Basra company in October 2019 during a purge against alleged corruption. He was reinstated a few months later.

Iraqi media are often used as a pressure tool, Ismail said

“Someone sends me a contract, and it would be illegal to say yes, so I say no, and he starts to say bad things in the media,” Ismail said.

Also, he said 80% of his time is spent fielding requests from political parties and individuals asking for employment, contracts, or job transfers — requests he says he routinely rejects.

“They say: ‘Move this person from this position to this, we need this position, we need this department, we need this company’,” he said.

SXM Radio Online


Entertainment

July 22, 2021  LOS ANGELES (AP) — Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty in a Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday to four counts of rape and seven other sexual assault counts. Sheriff’s deputies brought the 69-year-old convicted rapist into court in a wheelchair. He was wearing a brown jail jumpsuit and face mask. Attorney Mark Werksman entered the plea for the disgraced movie mogul a day after Weinstein was extradited to California from New York, where he was serving a 23-year prison term. Weinstein spoke only to say “thank you” to Judge Sergio Tapia, who wished him good luck as the hearing ended. He now awaits a second trial on a second coast, and the possibility of another lengthy sentence.

July 21, 2021  NEW YORK (AP) — “The View” canceled a planned appearance Wednesday by a woman who settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill O’Reilly, after the former Fox News Channel personality sought and received a restraining order against her. O’Reilly accused his former producer, Andrea Mackris, of violating a non-disclosure agreement by talking about her experiences with him nearly two decades ago. ABC’s daytime talk show, in a statement, said that after being notified of the restraining order “we decided to postpone her interview pending further developments. We look forward to welcoming her to ‘The View’ at a later date.” Mackris gave an interview to the Daily Beast earlier this month detailing her experiences with O’Reilly. She had accused him of making repeated lewd telephone calls, while he accused Mackris of an extortion attempt before agreeing to a $9 million settlement in 2004.


July 21, 2021  WASHINGTON (AP) — The Kennedy Center Honors will return in December with a class that includes Motown Records creator Berry Gordy, “Saturday Night Live” mastermind Lorne Michaels and actress-singer Bette Midler. Organizers expect to operate at full capacity after last year’s ceremony was delayed for months and later conducted under COVID-19 restrictions. This 44th class of honorees for lifetime achievement in the creative arts is heavy on musical performers. The honorees also include opera singer Justino Diaz and folk music legend Joni Mitchell. All will be honored on Dec. 5 with a trademark program that includes personalized tributes and performances that are kept secret from the honorees. Deborah Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, said the current plan is to pack the center’s opera house to full capacity and require all attendees to wear masks. But the plans remain fluid and Rutter said they’re ready to adapt to changing circumstances depending on the country’s COVID-19 situation.


July 22, 2021   LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kanye West knows how to make a splash even with a listening event. West is expected to unveil his 10th studio album, “Donda” during a listening event Thursday night at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. His album was named after his mother, Donda West, who died at the age of 58 following plastic surgery complications in 2007.  The sold-out event will be live-streamed on Apple Music. West, 44, is mostly known as being associated with Chicago, but he was born in Atlanta - a Georgia city where there are no restrictions against large gatherings. The rapper-producer gifted 5,000 tickets to faculty, staff and students from some Atlanta HBCUs including Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, Spelman, Morris Brown and the Interdenominational Theological Center. The 22-time Grammy winner revealed in a commercial, featuring U.S. track star Sha’Carri Richardson, during the NBA Finals on Tuesday that his highly-anticipated album will be released Friday. The commercial, scored and directed by West, featured “No Child Left Behind,” a song from his forthcoming album.

Business News

July 22, 2021  WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration is beginning to make $3 billion in economic development grants available to communities — a tenfold increase in the program paid for by this year’s COVID-19 relief bill. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said her agency on Thursday will begin accepting applications for the competitive grants, which officials hope will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and help struggling cities and towns make long-term investments to drive development for years to come. “This is about real help for communities across the country as they rebuild,” Raimondo said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s about longer-term investments to help communities build themselves back from the bottom up in the ways that work best for them.” The grants will be targeted at supporting local infrastructure, job training programs and developing new industries. Recipients will be selected on the basis of the anticipated return on investment to taxpayers. Raimondo was set to appear at Thursday’s White House press briefing to promote the new program.

July 21, 2021   DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — For months, anyone who wandered onto a dealer lot to look for a used car could be forgiven for doing a double-take — and then wandering right off the lot. Prices had rocketed more than 40% from their levels just before the viral pandemic struck, to an average of nearly $25,000. The supply of vehicles had shrunk. And any hope of negotiating on price? Good luck with that. But now, a sliver of hope has emerged. The seemingly endless streak of skyrocketing used-vehicle prices appears to be coming to a close. Not that anyone should expect bargains. Though average wholesale prices that dealers pay are gradually dropping, they’ll likely remain near record levels. So will the retail prices for consumers. Supply remains tight. And while demand has eased a bit, a steady flow of buyers could keep prices unusually high for a couple of years more. “It’s a short-term correction,” suggested Paul Sugars, sales manager for pre-owned vehicles at Jack Demmer Lincoln in Dearborn, Michigan. “Buyers are sitting on the fence, waiting to see what happens.”

July 22, 2021  SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric plans to bury 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) of its power lines in an effort to prevent its fraying grid from sparking wildfires when electrical equipment collides with millions of trees and other vegetation across drought-stricken California. The daunting project announced Wednesday aims to bury about 10% of PG&E’s distribution and transmission lines at a projected cost of $15 billion to as much as $30 billion, based on how much the process currently costs. The utility believes it will find ways to keep the final bill at the lower end of those estimates. Most of the costs will likely be shouldered by PG&E customers, whose electricity rates are already among the highest in the U.S. PG&E stepped up its safety commitment just days after informing regulators a 70-foot (23-meter) pine tree that toppled on one of its power lines ignited a major fire in Butte County, the same rural area about 145 miles (233 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco where another fire sparked by its equipment in 2018 killed more than 80 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

Fashion News

“Faced With Restrictions, These Are the Designers Who Took Us Somewhere New”—Vogue Editors Weigh In on the Most Innovative Presentations of Spring 2021