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U.S. governors Wednesday sent the Trump administration a list of 428 “shovel-ready” projects they regard as high priorities for President Donald Trump’s plan to fix the nation’s infrastructure.

The list of projects covers 49 U.S. states and territories, the bipartisan National Governor’s Association said in an email. The NGA will not be making the final list publicly available.

Florida plans to lobby the president directly, its Republican Governor Rick Scott has said.

The NGA had said January 23 that it had, at the request of the White House, assembled a list of 300 projects costing billions of dollars from 43 states and territories, with more expected to come.

Trump’s presidential campaign throughout last year included a promise to pursue a $1 trillion infrastructure program, which would come at a time when major public works projects are crumbling.

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ infrastructure report card has estimated the United States needs to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020.

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A group of conservative thinkers led by leaders from the Reagan and Bush administrations have proposed what they are calling a “Conservative Answer to Climate Change.”

The group, including two former U.S. secretaries of state – James Baker and George Shultz – held a press conference Wednesday in Washington to unveil its plan.

Confronting the threat

The plan, available online, opens with a simple admission: “the risks associated with future warmings are so severe that they should be hedged.”

Team members were also willing to openly call out their Republican colleagues for refusing to confront the issue.

“For too long,” the group says, “many  Republicans have looked the other way, forfeiting the policy initiative to those who favor growth-inhibiting command-and-control regulations, and fostering a needless climate divide between the GOP and the scientific, business, military, religious, civic and international mainstream.”

Looking to regain that initiative, the team unveiled its plan which centers around four pillars. The first pillar is an old idea made new again: a carbon tax.

It’s just what it says it is – a tax on planet warming emissions from oil, coal and natural gas.

In this case, the team is suggesting a tax on carbon starting at $40 for roughly every metric ton of emissions.

The second pillar demands that any money made off of that tax be sent directly to U.S. consumers. And they do mean directly, by way of “dividend checks, direct deposits or contributions to their individual retirement accounts.”

The third pillar sets out the way we deal with the world. It looks to punish polluters by that same carbon tax on countries that are big polluters. Any money made from that tariff would go directly to American citizens.

And once the plan is in place, the fourth pillar kicks in: An end to “the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority over carbon dioxide emissions … including an outright repeal of the Clean Power Plan.”

Devil in the details

It sounds simple. But it is also a tax. The Trump administration and the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate are looking to cut taxes, not raise them. So far, there has been little reaction from Capitol Hill or the White House.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the plan and would only say: “we have nothing to announce on that.”

And some environmental groups, while backing a carbon tax in general, are less excited about the prospect of abandoning the progress made during the last administration.

The Natural Resources Defense Council put out a statement that a carbon tax alone won’t solve the problem.

But whether it succeeds or not, one of the real goals is to give conservatives a chance to get beyond what many see as their history of climate change denial.  “…this is an opportunity to demonstrate the power of the conservative canon by offering a more effective, equitable and popular climate policy based on free markets, smaller government and dividends for all Americans.”

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Madam C.J. Walker embodies the quintessential American success story, as someone who fought seemingly insurmountable odds to become one of the 20th century’s most successful self-made woman entrepreneurs.

The daughter of former slaves, Walker built a cosmetics empire selling hair care and beauty products for African-American women. By the time she died at age 51, she was among the first African-American millionaires in the United States. It was just over 50 years after the end of slavery. 

“She was a woman who provided employment for thousands of women and she used her money and her influence as a philanthropist and a political activist,” said A’Lelia Bundles, who speaks glowingly of her famous great-great grandmother.

Bundles, a former television news executive and biographer, spent decades researching the life of her famous ancestor.

“She really embodies the dream, the American dream, with opportunity for everyone, with the ability to take your God-given talents and to educate yourself and then to do something for others,” said Bundles. 

Unfortunate upbringing

Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana, in 1867, was orphaned at age 7 and married at 14, but her husband died a few years later, according to Bundles.

“So, there were all of these blows, all of these things were stacked against her, but somehow she had such a survival instinct, soaking up everything she saw around her” she said. 

Self-made millionaire

Following her experience as a sales agent for Annie Malone’s black hair care business, Poro, Walker decided to create her own line of hair care products.

She saw the opportunity as a means of providing for her family, primarily her daughter A’Lelia.

“Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower,” sold in homes and churches, helped catapult her business. Bundles says Walker traveled across the country, knowing that a black woman somewhere would be in need of her hair care line.

“Walker’s experiences enabled the self-made businesswoman to develop key marketing skills that would drive her future success,” she said.

As part of her marketing strategy, Walker utilized her own image as the before and after for her advertisements, while also being on the seal of the products. One would also find her advertisements in black-owned newspapers.

Additionally, she printed business cards, fliers, and created various packaging to get her name out in black communities across America. Walker was known for giving her customers more than hair products, but offering them a lifestyle, according to Bundles. 

Her hard work paid off. In May 1918, Walker moved into her brand new estate outside New York City. This caused surprise and dismay among her white neighbors but did not deter Walker. 

Empowering African American women

Walker used her fortune to hire women at all levels of her company. Bundles says Walker wanted them to know that their roles would be as leaders in their community. 

She held the first national convention of her sales agents in 1917.

According to Bundles, in Walker’s keynote speech, the businesswoman said, “I want you as Walker Agents to show the world that you care not just about yourself but about others.”

At the end of the convention, the women sent a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson urging him to support legislation to make lynching a federal crime.

“She wanted them to speak up; she wanted them to use their power and their influence and their money to make a difference,” Bundles said. 

Working for Walker provided the women a means to provide for their family and to be economically independent.

Bundles notes a former worker once said, “‘C.J. Walker made it possible for a black woman to make more money in a day than she could in a month working in somebody’s kitchen.’ So, this was really showing women, who would have been sharecroppers and maids and laundresses, how they could support their families and be their own bosses.”

Maintaining Walker’s legacy

When Madam C.J. Walker died in 1919, she left tens of thousands of dollars to charitable organizations and schools, leaving behind a legacy of political activism while establishing a pattern of corporate giving.

Bundles is committed to maintaining Walker’s legacy.

“For all my life, I’ve been trying to tell Madam’s story and really it’s a labor of love just to make sure people know about her and the empowerment she gave to other women,” Bundles said. “Madam Walker’s legacy lives in her philanthropy as well as in an amazing line of hair care products.”

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Multilateral banks based in China have defied critics over the past year with strong performances that include financing projects across a dozen countries. 

The new banks, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and New Development Bank (NDB), have given added political legitimacy to China, and helped to push forward Beijing’s geopolitical interests by extending $3 billion for projects under its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) program, analysts said.

But questions are being asked about whether these banks can help China in its battle against adverse actions threatened by U.S. President Donald Trump.  

AIIB’s head Jin Liqun recently reminded Washington that that door remains open for it to join the bank. The Obama administration had decided against joining the AIIB even after 56 countries, including U.S. allies like Canada, Britain and Australia, became members.  

“AIIB is an institution that will help China get support from other countries in any direct confrontation with Trump,” Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics told VOA. “Setting up AIIB and showing that Beijing intends to play by the established rules has helped China, when Trump increasingly seems to be going rogue on not just America’s traditional role, but also many of the international rules it help set up.” 

But the advantage will mostly be in diplomatic and political terms, he said, adding the AIIB will not provide China any particular economic advantage in a bilateral confrontation with Trump.  

“China has gained in terms of soft power because it could bring several European powers on the table through AIIB.  At present, alot of European countries are concerned about what they see in the U.S. This might increase potential cooperation between China and the European countries,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist for Capital Economics.  

AIIB’s latest decision to lend $600 million for the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP), which will connect Azerbaijan to Europe fits snuggly into China’s plans to connect with Europe through Central Asia. Most of the other projects funded by the Beijing based bank support OBOR projects. They include the Dushanbe-Uzbekistan Border Road in Tajikistan, $100 million for National Motorway M-4 in Pakistan, $300 million for a hydropower project in Pakistan, and $301 million for Duqm Port in Oman. 

US membership

In a recent interview, AIIB chief Jin predicted that the U.S. under Trump would reject the decision of the Obama administration and choose to join the bank. 

“I was told that many in his (Trump’s) team have an opinion that Obama was not right not to join the AIIB, especially after Canada joined, which was a very loud endorsement of the bank. So we can’t rule out the new government in the U.S. endorsing the AIIB or indicating interest to join as member,” he told the Chinese media. 

He also complained that AIIB faced initiatial resistance from the U.S. “At the formation of the AIIB, the U.S., the base of the Bretton Wood Institutes that manage the world economy including the World Bank and the IMF, saw the new body as a threat to its dominance and importance in the world economic order,” he said.  

The Trump administration has not yet commented on the AIIB and analysts are skeptical that Trump will let the U.S. join and give the Beijing-based institution some added credibility.  

“Under no circumstances will Trump agree to join AIIB. Jin obviously knows that and cleverly created a headline again highlighting how it is now the U.S. that is isolating itself from the rest of the world,” Kirkegaard said. 

Lourdes S. Casanova, academic director of the Emerging Markets Institute at Cornell University, also thinks the U.S. will stay out of it.  

“I don’t believe the new administration one will join because, so far, they want to retreat back home and focus on investments in infrastructure at home.You also need the political will and on that front, President Trump has been more confrontational with Mexico and also with China, as well as critical of multilateral organizations, which makes us believe that he has no intention to join AIIB,” she said.   

What next? 

AIIB may seem to have turned up a stellar performance lending $1.7 billion to nine different projects in just more than one year. But it has been taking advantage of projects that had been carefully studied and vetted by entrenched players like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The real challenge comes now,  when many of the bankable projects have been covered, and the AIIB will have to start doing its own due diligence, analysts said.  

“The AIIB will find it very difficult to scale up its operations. There are significant political risks in many of the infrastructure projects,” Evans-Pritchard said. “A lot of projects don’t make commercial sense. There is the risk of running protests in several countries where projects have been planned. There is a protest against an industrial zone in Sri Lanka, which is part of OBOR program,” he said. 

Several members in AIIB, particularly those from Europe, do not share China’s geopolitical ambitions, which may come in the way of approving projects along the OBOR route, he said. Besides, there is the risk of the next round of elections installing protectionist governments in Europe, which may be less enthusiastic about funding projects in Asia and elsewhere, Evans-Pritchard said.

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Efforts to pay employees staying home to care for family in the United States got a boost on Tuesday with a legislative proposal that would benefit workers, especially women tending to children and aging parents.

The United States stands alone among developed nations with its lack of paid family leave, and the proposed Family Act would bring policy in line with other countries, supporters say.

The proposal would establish a national insurance program to provide workers with up to 12 weeks paid leave per year for the birth of a child, adoption or care for a seriously ill family member.

The United States is the only country among 41 nations that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Other nations have paid leave ranging from about two months to more than a year, OECD data shows.

The lack of paid leave in the United States hits women particularly hard.

Nearly a quarter of new U.S. mothers go back to work within two weeks of giving birth, according to Debra Ness, head of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Women who take time off to care for children or elderly relatives lose an average of $300,000 from their lifetime earnings and retirement savings, Ness said.

The proposal introduced in the U.S. Congress has scores of co-sponsors among Democrats but none yet among the more conservative Republican party that controls both legislative houses, said lawmakers introducing the bill.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, has voiced support for six weeks paid maternity leave for biological mothers.

His proposal did not apply to men nor did it include paid leave to care for a seriously ill family member.

The Family Act would be gender-neutral and apply to adoptive parents and same-sex couples.

Funding would come from employer and employee contributions, and the average worker would pay $1.50 per week, supporters say.

“Too many American workers are not paid enough to make ends meet, and losing weeks worth of wages in order to care for and deal with the challenge of this magnitude when a loved one is ill would push families over the edge and some passed the point of no return,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, one of the lawmakers who introduced the bill.

Tuesday marked the third time the Family Act has been proposed in Congress since 2013, according to DeLauro’s office.

Previous versions failed to gain support among Republicans, the office said.

Opponents say the proposal would hurt businesses, especially small ones.

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A manufacturing company says skills and technology it developed making lobster traps could help save money on U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.  

Riverdale Mills’ super-tough steel fence already guards 43 kilometers of the border, and the company says its technology has proven to be a cost-effective way to secure airports, prisons and nuclear facilities.

The small firm is based in Northbridge, Massachusetts, and CEO Jim Knott says his company came up with a much better way to make lobster traps. The metal mesh is assembled on huge automated machines that weld many joints at once. The mesh can be made of different sizes of steel, with different size openings for different applications.  

The mesh is run through a huge vat of molten zinc to protect the product from rust. For lobster traps and other marine applications, the product gets an additional coating of special plant-based plastics that protect the zinc. The plastic formula is a trade secret. Lobster traps have to be sturdy, effective and affordable, and Knott says lessons from making them improved the design and production of mesh for other applications.

For security fences, the mesh openings can be made too small to allow people to get a grip with their fingers or to allow a cutter to work effectively. Knott says, “It’s difficult to climb, it’s difficult to cut — I think it just makes more sense than a concrete wall, or a bollard wall, or an expanded metal wall.”

Knott says this industry is very “capital intensive” and a big new order for a border fence could require a bigger investment in expensive equipment. It would also increase the need to recruit and train more skilled workers. According to Knott, “Adding people might be a challenge, but our plant pays a good wage and people, I think, are fairly happy here.”

Riverdale already supplies some fencing on the Arizona border with Mexico.

Trump’s plan to build a wall along the southern U.S. border is controversial, so a large order to supply material for the project might bring criticism to the company. Knott, however, expects job gains will generate goodwill and may temper critiques of his company.  

“For every one person who works here directly, we’re probably influencing 10 other people somewhere else in the community,” he said.

In the meantime, this small manufacturing company has already grown from 60 employees to 185 over the past several years and still needs 35 more workers. These employment gains come after a period when the United States has lost millions of factory jobs that generally pay fairly well.  

Knott says manufacturing is an important source of good jobs and a crucial source of innovation for the nation’s economic health. 

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A group of Republican senior statesmen are pushing for a carbon tax to combat the effects of climate change and hoping to sell their plan to the White House.

Former Secretary of State Jim Baker is leading the effort, which also includes former Secretary of State George Shultz. In an opinion piece published Tuesday night in The Wall Street Journal, they argued “there is mounting evidence of problems with the atmosphere that are growing too compelling to ignore.”

The group will meet Wednesday with White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, senior adviser Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council. Ivanka Trump is also expected to attend, according to a person familiar with the plans. The person was not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly and insisted on anonymity.

Carbon taxes are designed to raise the cost of fossil fuels to bring down consumption. Baker and Shultz detailed in the opinion piece their plan for a gradually increasing carbon tax, with dividends being returned to people, as well as border adjustments for the carbon content of exports and imports and the rollback of regulations.

Steadily increasing tax

According to an outline of the plan, the group will call for a gradually increasing carbon tax that “might begin at $40 a ton and increase steadily over time.” It would raise $200 billion to $300 billion annually. They would then redistribute tax proceeds back to consumers on a quarterly basis in what they call “carbon dividends” that could be approximately $2,000 annually for a family of four.

Their plan would also set “border adjustments” based on carbon, which would result in fees for products from countries without similar carbon pricing systems. And they would seek to roll back regulations enacted under President Barack Obama, including the Clean Power Plan.

So far, Trump has sent mixed signals on whether or how he will try to slow Earth’s warming temperatures and rising sea levels.

During the transition, Trump met with prominent climate activists Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio. Ivanka Trump, a close adviser to her father, has indicated interest in working on the issue. But the president has also hired oil industry champions who want to reverse Obama’s efforts to rein in emissions.

The White House press office did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Also supporting Baker’s effort are Hank Paulson, treasury secretary for former President George W. Bush; Greg Mankiw, who chaired Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers; and Marty Feldstein, chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, according to the person familiar with the plans.

Also on the list are former Wal-Mart Chairman Rob Walton; Thomas Stephenson, a partner at the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital; and Ted Halstead, founder of New America and the Climate Leadership Council.

The vast majority of peer-reviewed studies and climate scientists agree the planet is warming, mostly because of man-made sources. Under Obama, the U.S. has dramatically ramped up production of renewable energy from sources like solar, in part through Energy Department grants.

Sanders backed tax

Some environmental activists support a tax on emissions to help transition off fossil fuels. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders advocated for a carbon tax as part of his bid for the Democratic nomination last year. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, never supported a tax, though she offered a slew of proposals to deal with climate change.

Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was the longtime chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil. Exxon was long considered a leading opponent of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. But under Tillerson’s leadership, Exxon has started planning for climate change and even voiced support for a carbon tax.

Trump’s choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who denies climate change science. And Trump’s nominee to run the Energy Department, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, also has questioned climate science while working to promote coal-fired power in Texas. He did, however, oversee the growth of renewable power in Texas, which became a leading wind-energy producer while he was governor.

Carbon tax legislation is unlikely to receive a warm welcome in the GOP-controlled Congress, where Republicans were staunchly opposed to Obama’s climate agenda. Last year, Republicans in the House approved symbolic measures opposing a fee on crude oil and a carbon tax on emissions.

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Gray, smoky skies are a familiar sight in Beijing, and authorities promising to spend billions of dollars to fix the ongoing air quality issues. But with no quick fix for the capital’s air, its residents are finding ways to cope and adapt to it, and some have turned dealing with it into a business. Faith Lapidus has details.

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The U.S. trade deficit improved slightly in December, but the deficit for the whole year was still the worst since 2012.

The gap between what the U.S. buys from overseas and what Americans sell to foreign markets was just over $44 billion for December. That was a little better than the previous month but the total for 2016 was just over $502 billion.

During his presidential campaign, President Donald Trump blamed bad trade deals for millions of lost jobs in U.S. manufacturing. Experts say trade plays a role in declining factory jobs, but they also say the strong U.S. dollar means American-made goods are more expensive on global markets. That makes them harder to sell, and also makes imported good cheaper for U.S. buyers.

Trump pulled the United States out of a major Pacific trade pact and wants to re-negotiate a free trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

Next week the head of the U.S. central bank will give an updated assessment of the economy to key committees of the U.S. Congress. Other experts will publish fresh data on inflation, retail sales, and the housing market.

Some material for this story came from AP and Reuters.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has strongly defended his radical ban on high currency notes as the right step, at the right time, that will deliver a cleaner economy.

Critics lambasted the currency ban, questioning why Modi took the action at a time when the country had outpaced China to become the world’s fastest growing economy. According to various estimates, the ban will pull down growth by one percent, displacing India from the top position.

Speaking for the first time in parliament since the ban was imposed on high denomination notes in November, Modi said that having the economy in good shape meant that was the right time to take the tough step. Comparing it with surgery, he told lawmakers, “If you are ill and need an operation, the doctor asks you to control parameters such as diabetes until the body is healthy. This was the right time for demonetization because the economy was doing well.”

Economists remain divided as to whether there will be any long-term benefits from the decision, which created huge currency shortages, led to hardship for hundreds of thousands of poor people who scrambled to exchange old notes, and slowed down the informal sector that employs nearly 90 percent of the workforce.

Modi, however called it a “pro-poor move” that will deliver a “clean India.” Warning that the government will press ahead with more measures to curb corruption, he said, “It does not matter how big you are, you will have to give back what belongs to the poor. I will not turn back from this path.”

The currency ban was meant to flush out illicit cash on which taxes have not been paid – a widespread problem in India where tax compliance is extremely low.

Several economists, however, say the world’s most sweeping currency change move in decades has done little to dent corrupt practices that create what is known in India as “black money.” While the old stocks of black money may have been targeted, they point out that demonetization cannot stop the generation of illicit cash.

Economist N. Bhanumurthy, with New Delhi’s National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, is among those who believe that the cash ban was a step in the right direction. “It is not going to completely remove the black money generation in future, but at least it would have some kind of impact.” He says significant public policy measures to curb the flow of illegal cash are in the works.

While economists will continue to debate the benefits of the measure for a long time, for the Indian prime minister the key test lies in how much ordinary people back his decision. That will be reflected in how Indians cast votes in four states where elections are currently being held. A good showing for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party will mean that his move has paid political dividends, while a poor showing will be interpreted as a rebuff by people who suffered due to the cash crunch.  

Modi said he was aware of the risks he had taken. “I am not concerned about the elections,” he said. “I am concerned about my country.”

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Trade agreements and jobs were two big issues on the minds of farmers and manufacturing workers during the 2016 Presidential campaign. Two weeks into President Donald Trump’s term has provided some insight into his plans to fulfill campaign promises that appealed to those voters who helped him win the White House. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more from rural Illinois.

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Greece, which has been struggling for years with high debts and painful rates of unemployment, is making progress toward reducing its massive budget problems and restoring economic growth, the International Monetary Fund said Monday.

 

But the IMF said the country’s debts remain “unsustainable” over the long term.

 

The IMF predicts Greece’s economy will reach long-run growth of just under 1 percent a year, unimpressive but an improvement on years when the economy was shrinking. And Greece will meet the IMF’s target by reporting primary annual budget surpluses – which do not include interest payments – equal to 1.5 percent of economic output.

 

Since the financial crisis left it buried in debt and unable to issue bonds in financial markets, Greece has relied on international bailouts. Its eurozone creditors have forced it to make painful budget cuts that caused a deep recession. Unemployment is 23 percent. Most IMF directors said Greece doesn’t need any more austerity. But they said the country should reduce pension payments and make more people pay taxes to raise money to help the poor and cut overall tax rates.

 

The country’s debt is unsustainable at around 180 percent of gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic output, the IMF said. Most IMF directors say the country will probably need debt relief to pay its bills over the long term.

 

Greece is under pressure to conclude its latest bailout negotiations in time for a scheduled Feb. 20 meeting of eurozone finance ministers. That would allow the country to join the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program, which would boost market confidence and make it easier for Greece to return to the bond market later this year.

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In Kenya, most companies that offer services for the home, like nanny or cleaning services, still conduct most of their business over the phone; however, that may be changing. Two companies that ventured onto the internet are now finding most of their business online. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.

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The head of the European Central Bank expressed concern about the Trump administration’s moves to relax financial oversight, saying such deregulation helped pave the way for the global financial crisis.

 

During a hearing in the European Parliament, ECB President Mario Draghi was asked about Trump’s efforts to revisit parts of the Dodd-Frank regulations aimed at keeping risk-taking banks from sparking a repeat of the 2007-9 financial turbulence that launched the Great Recession.

 

“Frankly, I don’t see any reason to relax the current regulatory stance which has produced a much, much stronger banking – and, generally, financial services – industry than we used to have before the crisis,” Draghi said.

 

Draghi said that financial deregulation and expansive monetary policy were “exactly the ground on which the financial crisis developed.”

 

He added that more clarity was needed on what exactly Donald Trump’s government plans to do. Trump on Friday directed the Treasury to look for potential changes in the law’s provisions.

 

Responding to questions from the members of the parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee, Draghi also rejected claims by the Trump administration that Germany gets unfair trade advantage from a weak euro.

 

Peter Navarro, head of the U.S. National Trade Council, has claimed that Germany is exploiting what he called a “grossly undervalued” currency. Lower currencies help exports; the euro has fallen from around $1.40 in 2014 to around $1.07 now.

 

Draghi responded Monday by saying that euro member Germany “has not engaged in persistent, one-sided intervention in foreign exchange markets.”

 

“We are not currency manipulators,” he added.

 

Draghi said Germany’s large trade surplus was based on economic competitiveness, not currency advantage.

 

As a euro member, Germany by itself no longer controls the interest rate and monetary policies that could force down the euro. Those powers now reside at the ECB, created to manage the shared currency. In fact, German politicians and German members of the ECB’s board have agitated in vain for higher interest rate policy that would likely have strengthened the euro.

 

ECB stimulus has helped lower the euro. Draghi said those policies were carried out to boost the lagging recovery in Europe, not for currency advantage: “the monetary policies that we have conducted reflect the different stage of the cycle in the eurozone and the United States.”

 

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble deflected the criticism of Germany by saying in an interview published over the weekend that ECB policies that were right for the eurozone as a whole were too loose for Germany.

 

When Draghi launched the stimulus, “I told him that he would drive up Germany’s export surplus,” Schaeuble was quoted as saying in the Tagesspiegel newspaper. “I promised then not to criticize this course but I also don’t want to be criticized for its consequences.”

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In a city menaced by the threat of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and floods, protecting thousands of families living in Quito’s low-income neighborhoods from disasters is an urgent task, said a senior official for the Andean city.

“People settle in high-risk areas where you cannot mitigate those risks. It’s a trend that we need to turn around,” David Jácome Polit, Quito’s chief resilience officer, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

The problem will be addressed in a strategy to bolster the resilience of Quito — one of the world’s highest capital cities and home to around 2.6 million people in its metropolitan area — which is due to be released by the end of the year, he added.

“What is really affecting us right now is the poor handling of our territory, the informal growth, the urban sprawl which makes this city highly vulnerable,”

Jácome said by telephone from Quito, which is part of the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, backed by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Marginalized areas of the city — boxed in by mountains and built on the slopes of the active Pichincha volcano — should also benefit from the opening of the first metro line in two years’ time, he said.

Alongside transport, the new urban resilience strategy will prioritize the issue of informal and often illegal settlements.

It will also promote environmentally sustainable businesses, boost youth employment and promote wider social involvement in decisions on how to develop the city, said Jácome.

With private cars making up 70 percent of traffic but only 30 percent of trips each day, the planned 22-km (14-mile) metro line should substantially ease worsening congestion, as it becomes integrated with the bus network, he added.

For people living outside the busy center of Quito, which hosted last year’s U.N. summit on the future of the world’s cities, the metro could help create job opportunities and lead to investment in better housing around the 15 planned stations.

“We see the first metro line as an opportunity to build resilience, to make the city efficient, to make it inclusive, to start creating prosperity from these concentration points — the metro stops,” he said.

Risky slopes

The new strategy will also strive to reduce the risk of natural disasters for city residents, said Jácome.

Preventing the construction of new developments in precarious locations such as the city’s slopes must be a priority, alongside improving existing housing, he said.

But he admitted there is little in the way of funding to relocate people from vulnerable areas of Quito, whose colonial center is a UNESCO world heritage site.

“It’s not only that they are settled where they shouldn’t be settled, but the construction quality is very low. It’s not earthquake-resistant at all,” he said.

The use of concrete roofs and blocks, for example, increase the risk for people during tremors.

Last year’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake — the strongest in Ecuador since 1979 — devastated parts of the Pacific coast and killed more than 660 people, sorely testing the Andean country and denting its economy.

With a string of volcanoes close to Quito, including the active snow-capped Cotopaxi some 50 km to the south, drawing up the city’s resilience strategy has involved mapping districts’ vulnerability to eruptions, landslides and flooding, so this can be factored into development plans, said Jácome.

Greener business

Another key sector for resilience efforts is Quito’s water supply. The city has benefited from the first of around 60 water funds developed worldwide by U.S.-based group The Nature Conservancy to invest in the protection of watersheds such as the high-altitude plains around Quito, located just a few miles south of the equator.

There is a need to focus on the rural areas surrounding the city, which are part of the greater metropolitan area and a biodiversity hotspot, said Jácome. Here, the flora and fauna are threatened by environmentally harmful businesses such as open pit mines and cattle ranching for beef, he added.

“If we provide a different opening for people living off these activities — for example, ecotourism or carbon sequestration markets — that’s an opportunity for preserving these lands and providing jobs for the people living there … in a very sustainable way,” he said.

The city, meanwhile, should involve more of its residents in urban planning, and making policies and decisions, in order to “strengthen the social tissue,” he added.

“That’s what’s going to make the city resilient in the long term from a social point of view,” he said.

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