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07 Mar

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

 

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World Politics

United States

Democratic senator says Congress has forgotten the ‘devastating impact of the financial crisis’ and vows to stop bill passing the Senate

Elizabeth Warren said: ‘I don’t understand how anyone regardless of political party could support a bill like that.’

Elizabeth Warren said: ‘I don’t understand how anyone regardless of political party could support a bill like that.’ Photograph: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Congress has forgotten the “devastating impact of the financial crisis”, Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Tuesday as Republicans moved closer to relaxing banking regulations implemented after the financial crash of 2008.

A vote of 67-32, with support from a coalition of moderate Democrats, a number of whom are facing tough midterm elections, allowed the Senate to begin debating a bill that would scale back some of the 2010 laws, known as Dodd-Frank, meant to prevent future abuses in the financial system.

The strong bipartisan vote paves the way for the Senate to pass the bill by the end of the week. Lawmakers in the Republican-led House would still need to approve the measure before it comes law.

Republican leaders said the bill would boost small banks and businesses. Senior Democrats said it was an attempt to deregulate big banks that caused the 2008 crash, inviting similar disaster.

“This bill seeks to right-size the regulatory system in our country and to allow our community banks and credit unions to flourish,” senator Mike Crapo, chair of the Senate banking committee and the author of the legislation, told reporters on Tuesday.

The legislation would increase the threshold at which banks are subject to stricter capital and planning requirements. Lawmakers are intent on easing those rules for midsize and large regional banks, asserting that would boost lending and the economy.

Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who worked with the Obama administration on banking industry oversight after the 2008 crash, pledged to fight the bill, even if she faced long odds.

“There’s Democratic and Republican support because the lobbyists have been pushing since the first day Dodd-Frank passed to weaken the regulations on these giant banks,” she said during a morning press conference.

She added: “People in this building may forget the devastating impact of the financial crisis 10 years ago – but the American people have not forgotten. The American people remember. The millions of people who lost their homes; the millions of people who lost their jobs; the millions of people who lost their savings, they remember and they do not want to turn lose the big banks again.”

She was joined in her rebuke of the legislation by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who said in a statement: “Now is not the time to deregulate banks that have more than $3.5tn in assets and lay the groundwork for another massive financial collapse. Now is the time to take on the greed and power of Wall Street and break up the largest financial institutions in the country.”

Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs a key banking subcommittee, touted the measure as “progress” toward providing relief from regulation for small credit unions and regional banks.

“This begins the process of pushing back a little bit on the excesses of Dodd-Frank,” Toomey said, “which are holding back economic growth and imposing completely unreasonable costs on small banks and banks that are not systemically a threat to the country.”

The House financial services committee chairman, Jeb Hansarling, said his chamber’s bill was “a very modest recalibration” of Dodd-Frank “that’s going to help community banks and credit unions”. The legislation would increase the threshold at which banks are considered too big to fail and are subject to stricter regulations.

Warren said the Senate bill contained a change to wording that would allow the biggest banks to pressure the Federal Reserve. The language in the bill now says “the Fed shall tailor the rules for the biggest banks”, instead of may.

“That one word change will allow the banks to sue the Fed if they don’t weaken the rules the way the banks want,” Warren said. “And that pressure on the Fed will lead to a systematic weakening of the rules for all the big banks.

“This may be the single most dangerous provision in the bill and it applies only to the biggest Wall Street banks.”

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  • Israeli PM tells Aipac ‘darkness is descending on our region’

  • ‘My message is a simple one: we must stop Iran. We will stop Iran’

Netanyahu on Tuesday said: ‘President Trump has made it clear that his administration will not accept Iran’s aggression in the region.’

Benjamin Netanyahu: ‘President Trump has made it clear that his administration will not accept Iran’s aggression in the region.’ Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that “darkness is descending” as Iran expands its sphere of influence in the Middle East.

“The force behind so much that is bad is this radical tyranny in Tehran,” the Israeli prime minister told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) conference in Washington on Tuesday. “If I have a message for you today, it’s a very simple one: we must stop Iran, we will stop Iran.”

Plagued by a corruption scandal at home, Netanyahu is clearly relishing the role of international statesman during a five-day US trip, putting on a united front with Donald Trump on Iran and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Netanyahu told Aipac he had warned against the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the Barack Obama administration and claimed vindication. Pointing to a map of the Middle East showing Iran’s alleged dominance, he said: “Darkness is descending on our region. Iran is building an aggressive empire: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen, more to come.”

He said Tehran was seeking to build permanent military bases in Syria – where Iranian-backed forces support President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war – and develop factories there and in Lebanon for precision-guided missiles capable of striking Israel.

“I will not let that happen,” he said. “We will not let that happen.”

Netanyahu and Trump enjoy arguably the closest relationship of any two Israeli and US leaders. Both are also facing politically damaging domestic investigations embroiling their families. Both have dismissed the allegations as “fake news”.

The Israeli prime minister – awaiting a decision by Israel’s attorney general on whether to indict him, as police have recommended in two bribery cases – lavished more praise his counterpart on Tuesday.

“President Trump has made it clear that his administration will not accept Iran’s aggression in the region,” he said. “He has made clear that he too will never accept a nuclear-armed Iran. That is the right policy.

“I salute President Trump on this and the president has also made it clear that if the fatal flaws of the nuclear deal are not fixed he will walk away from the deal and restore sanctions.

“Israel will be right there by America’s side and let me tell you, so will other countries in the region.”

Both leaders have long spoken out against the Iran nuclear deal, citing its limited duration and the fact it does not cover Iran’s ballistic missile programme or support for anti-Israel militants.

Netanyahu also thanked Trump’s team, including the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, for their commitment to peace in the Middle East. Kushner’s role has been questioned after his security clearance was downgraded, denying him access to some top-level intelligence, amid revelations over possible conflicts of interest.

The pro-Israel lobby group’s conference is an annual display of solidarity addressed by both Republicans and Democrats. Netanyahu basked in applause and paid tribute to a “beautiful alliance” and “eternal bond”.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, also drew attention to Iran. “The Obama administration’s fealty to the nuclear deal spawned a reluctance to address Iran’s regional ambitions,” he said. “The notion that Sunni powers in the Middle East needed to learn to ‘share the neighborhood’ with Iran created a void. And Iran was happy to exploit that void, menacing our ships and planes deployed to the Persian Gulf.”

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Sea ice has hit record lows for time of year as experts say global warming probably fueled big storms in Europe and north-eastern US

Frozen fields on the Lofoten Islands in the Arctic Circle in northern Norway.

Frozen fields on the Lofoten Islands in the Arctic Circle in northern Norway. Scientists say conditions in the region are unprecedented. Photograph: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images

The Arctic winter has ended with more news that is worrying even the scientists who watch the effects of climate change closely.

The region experienced its warmest winter on record. Sea ice hit record lows for the time of year, new US weather data revealed on Tuesday.

“It’s just crazy, crazy stuff,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, who has been studying the Arctic since 1982. “These heat waves – I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Experts say what’s happening is unprecedented, part of a global warming-driven cycle that probably played a role in the recent strong, icy storms in Europe and the north-eastern US.

The land weather station closest to the North Pole, at the tip of Greenland, spent more than 60 hours above freezing in February. Before this year, scientists had seen the temperature there rise above freezing in February only twice before, and then extremely briefly. Last month’s record-high temperatures have been more like those typical of May, said Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute.

Of nearly three dozen different Arctic weather stations, 15 of them were at least 10F (5.6C) above normal for the winter.

“The extended warmth really has staggered all of us,” Mottram said.

In February, Arctic sea ice covered 5.4m square miles, about 62,000 square miles smaller than last year’s record low, the ice data center reported, and it was 521,000 square miles below the 30-year normal.

Sea ice is frozen ocean water that, in contrast to icebergs and glaciers, forms, grows and melts on the ocean. It is still growing, but “whatever we grow now is going to be thin stuff” that easily melts in the summer, Serreze said.

Something similar has been noted in the Pacific with open water on the normally iced-up Bering Sea, said the data center senior scientist Walt Meier. To be happening on opposite sides of the Arctic at the same time was unusual, he added.

“Climate change is the overriding thing,” Meier said.

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6.4 million moved after large-scale flooding, droughts and other disasters, while 1.2 million were forced out by projects such as dams

The Forced Migration Observatory shows 1.2 million people have been forced to leave their homes because of projects like the Belo Monte dam.

The Forced Migration Observatory shows 1.2 million people have been forced to leave their homes because of projects like the Belo Monte dam. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

At least 7.7 million Brazilians, or one every minute, have been forced to leave their homes since 2000, a pioneering study has found.

Of those, 6.4 million moved after large-scale flooding, droughts and other natural disasters, while 1.2 million were forced out by large-scale construction projects such as dams.

The analysis was conducted by Forced Migration Observatory (FMO), a digital platform launched on Wednesday that uses georeferencing data.

Significant attention has been paid recently to the fact that Brazil, a large country with a population of 209 million, has taken in only 10,000 refugees from countries such as Syria.

But little is known about people affected by forced migrations within Brazil, whom the government has no legal framework to protect, said researchers from the Igarapé Institute, an independent thinktank based in Rio de Janeiro.

Rob Muggah, its director, came up with the idea for the FMO project in 2015. But once researchers began gathering information from local and national government, private companies, development banks, the World Bank and activist groups they soon abandon an initial estimate of 1.7 million people.

“What I was struck by was how little we knew and how little a government response existed to manage this displacement,” he said. “Our hope with this observatory is to help shape a more informed debate and discussion.”

It took repeated requests to get information on people displaced by big development projects. This data is generally included in environmental reports, rather than calculated separately.

“People, it turns out, are just one small subcategory of the environmental impact assessment that you have to do for credit or for loans or whatever,” Muggah said.

Data on people forced to migrate by disasters came from government departments. Many more have probably been forced to move by Brazil’s soaring violent crime rates, but a “code of silence” makes compiling that data impossible, Muggah said.

The interactive FMO platform presents data, maps and video and includes emblematic cases of mega-projects and natural disasters such as the 2015 Mariana dam collapse in which 19 people died and nearly 1,400 lost their homes.

Floods in the north-east of Brazil in 2009 killed 43 people and forced 343,000 from their homes. Devastating flooding in mountainous regions near Rio in 2011 killed 889 people and left nearly 34,000 people homeless.

In 2015 alone, 64,000 people moved because of a five-year drought in the semi-arid interior regions of Brazil’s north-east.

“Unfortunately there is still a lot of migration because of this drought,” said Caroline Albanesi from the São Paulo-based non-profit group Amigos de Bem (Good Friends), which works with those affected in semi-arid regions.

Brazil has a long history of relocating populations for ambitious construction projects like dams. In 2000 10,000 people were moved for the Itá dam in the south of the country, the FMO calculated. From 2014, 30,000 were moved for construction of the huge Belo Monte dam in the Amazon state of Pará.

Activist groups said numbers could be much higher and that migrants suffered from a lack of decent housing and government care. Many were relocated to small houses in purpose-built, distant suburbs that have seen flooding, water shortages and structural problems, said Antonia Melo from Xingu Vivo,) an non-profit organisation in nearby Altamira.

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