Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
E-mail: [email protected]
As the gap between the world’s richest and poorest people has widened to an extreme not seen since the Gilded Age, the 500 wealthiest people have gotten $1 trillion richer in 2017, according to Bloomberg‘s Billionaires Index.
The richest people in the world have been able to amass huge wealth this year thanks to a booming stock market, as billions of poor and working people around the world have seen little if any benefit from strong markets. Even in the world’s major economies, including Japan, the U.K., and the U.S., workers have seen their wages stagnate or decline in recent years.
Efforts by the very rich to contribute to the lower classes through charity, while commendable, have also done little to halt the growing wealth gap in a global economy in which the world’s five richest people control $425 billion, or one-sixth of the U.K.’s gross domestic product.
More than 170 of the richest people have signed the Giving Pledge, created in 2010 by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to encourage the rich to give at least half of their wealth to charity. But since the pledge was established, according to Oxfam, the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population has fallen by a trillion dollars—suggesting that good intentions among the rich are no match for a worldwide economy with such an extreme consolidation of wealth.
The wealth gap has grown large enough to leave some advisers of the rich wary of a potential sea change in the coming years, as the degree of inequality becomes unsustainable and leaders take action to stop markets from favoring the wealthy few—similar to how monopolies were broken up in the U.S. in the early 20th century.
“We’re at an inflection point,” Josef Stadler, the lead author of a recent report by UBS/Pricewaterhouse Coopers on the world’s billionaires, told the Guardian. “Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about…The question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?”
On social media, many denounced the widening wealth gap illustrated by Bloomberg‘s billionaires index.
— Robert Brodey (@RobertBrodey) December 27, 2017
“These millionaires – who account for 0.7% of the world’s adult population – control 46% of total global wealth”
Just let that sink in a moment.
— John Belchamber (@JohnBelchamber) December 27, 2017
How do we convince just 500 of our planets 7.7B people to forego their $5.3 TRILLION wealth to ensure everyone is adequately fed, housed, educated, receives healthcare, and lives in an unpolluted environment?https://t.co/hazyD5rpRn
— Marc Bowden (@fotomdb) December 27, 2017
World’s richest 500 see their wealth increase by $1tn this year. Groundhog Day. Can 2018 be the year we finally do something about our grotesque inequality?! https://t.co/bvs34zxJhS
— Faiza Shaheen (@faizashaheen) December 27, 2017
We can have a world where everyone has a decent home, the chance for an education, and access to healthcare. Or we can have billionaires. We can’t have both. https://t.co/muwcZilKRa
— UK Uncut (@UKuncut) December 27, 2017
Eleven months into his term, President Donald Trump has spent nearly a third of his time in office at properties owned by his real estate empire, according to a new report.
CNN: Today marks Trump’s 108th day at one of his properties as president. 85th day at one of his golf courses. 37th day at Mar-A-Lago during his first term.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) December 24, 2017
The Wall Street Journal found that the president has spent more than 100 days at one of his properties, including more than a month each at his golf course in New Jersey and at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
While Trump frequently criticized President Barack Obama for taking golf outings, and pledged on the campaign trail that he “would not be a president that takes time off,” he took to calling Mar-a-Lago the “Winter White House” almost immediately after entering office.
Trump’s frequent travel has drawn criticism not only for the questions it raises about his use of taxpayer money and his level of interest in the work of running the government, but also for the benefits afforded to his business when he visits his properties.
The president gave control of his business to his two eldest sons when he entered office, but did not divest his assets. Critics including the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)—which vowed to continue fighting against the president’s conflicts of interest after their lawsuit against him was dismissed this week—say Trump still profits off of his hotels, restaurants, and clubs. Many of his properties have raised their rates since Trump began his term, raising concerns that Trump and his company are profiting off his position in government, particularly when foreign leaders visit them.
Trump’s visits to his properties in Florida costs the local Palm Beach government so much that it considered raising taxes.https://t.co/vTKLeLJrTH
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) December 25, 2017
Trump has spent about a third of his presidency visiting his businesses. And these visits come with a cost. Trump has used tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize numerous trips to his properties in 2017. https://t.co/04ecP4pJfn
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) December 25, 2017
Meanwhile, the recruitment website Glassdoor found earlier this month that most Americans don’t take all of the vacation time they’re afforded. Nearly 10 percent of workers who are entitled to paid time off take none at all, while only 23 percent take all of the times they’re allowed—a contrast noted by some critics on social media.
Trump is heading back to Mar-a-Lago. Current count:
Trump Nat’l Golf Club: 23
Trump Hotel (Washington, DC): 5
Trump Hotel (Waikiki): 1
Americans, on average, get 15 paid vacation days a year, but use only 12.
Trump has taken more than 100.
— Nick Jack Pappas (@Pappiness) December 22, 2017
The oil and gas industry is poised to save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade thanks to a rollback of offshore drilling safety regulations that have been proposed by the Trump administration—including the elimination of the word “safe” from one rule.
Accepting an industry request, Trump administration moves to roll back safety measures implemented after Deepwater Horizon spill: https://t.co/05R152nTwc
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) December 26, 2017
The rules in question were put in place following the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010, which killed 11 people, injured 16, and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Siding with the fossil fuel industry, which has complained safety regulations are overly broad, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has proposed scrapping or changing some major requirements, according to the Wall Street Journal. The rules to be changed include one that orders companies to take steps to prevent oil-well blowouts, part of what caused British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The BSEE argued that the word “safe” should be taken out of the rule, to stop regulators from “interpreting the term in a way to withhold certain drilling permits.”
The bureau also proposed eliminating a rule that requires a third party to inspect drilling equipment, like the blowout preventor which failed just before the BP explosion.
The rollback “is literally going back to business as usual,” a former federal official told the Journal, which obtained the BSEE’s proposal.
The oil and gas industry is expected to save about $900 million over the next decade if the proposal is adopted. Fossil fuel companies rake in more than $100 billion in revenue per year, making the annual savings comparatively minor—but as critics and politicians pointed out on social media, the elimination of the Obama-era safety regulations could cost lives as the BP disaster did.
The move is estimated to save the industry $900 million. And more workers will probably die because of it. https://t.co/YtlnuGv8cc
— Lydia DePillis (@lydiadepillis) December 26, 2017
Trump wants to drill off our beaches AND make it more dangerous!
Dad fought for these safety rules as co-chair of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Commission. And, as governor, I’ll fight to protect our beaches from Trump and the oil companies. https://t.co/mla00koTwT
— Gwen Graham (@GwenGraham) December 26, 2017
The Trump administration wants to wipe away the memory of the BP spill by expanding off shore drilling and safety provisions that save lives. New Jerseyans know that these reckless actions will threaten our coastal communities.https://t.co/826FcxG1JW
— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) December 26, 2017
Top photo: The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, found to be partially caused by lax safety regulations, killed 11 people and injured 16. (Photo: Florida Sea Grant/Flickr/cc)
Vice President Mike Pence will not be permitted to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem when he visits the Middle East next month, as a result of the Trump administration’s decision to recognize the city as Israel’s capitol, according to the man who holds the keys to the building.
“I absolutely refuse to officially welcome the American Vice President Mr. Mike Pence at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and I will not be physically in church during his visit,” wrote Adeep Joudeh, the custodian of the church—one of the world’s most sacred Christian sites—in a letter to Israel’s Channel 2 News on Wednesday. “This is an expression of my condemnation of President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Trump’s decision, announced last week, set off protests not just in Gaza and the West Bank, where Palestinians view East Jerusalem as their future capitol city, but throughout the Middle East. Demonstrators in Turkey declared that the Israeli occupation of land that Palestinians view as theirs is a fundamental issue for all Muslims.
Joudeh, a Muslim, is joined by Christians in the region who have denounced Trump’s move. Egypt’s Coptic Christian Church has also said it would not meet with Pence, citing the United States’ decisison “at an unsuitable time and without consideration for the feelings of millions of people.”
Prior to Trump’s announcement, several Christian churches in Jerusalem joined the international community in urging the president not to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the city. Opponents warned him not to inflame tensions by appearing to side with Israel over the status of the city after decades of U.S. policy that urged peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve their conflict.
The action, the churches said, would “yield increased hatred, conflict, violence, and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land…and cause irreparable harm.”
Since the announcement, several Trump administration officials have told the Washington Post that Trump didn’t have a full understanding of the implications of moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
On social media, Trump critics reacted to the news of the key-holder at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other religious groups in the region snubbing the evangelical Christian vice president, as well as the Trump administration’s general lack of understanding of the region.
You know sh!t’s going South on you when the ‘Man who holds keys to holy Christian site in Jerusalem’ refuses to welcome, .@VP:
“I absolutely refuse to officially welcome the American Vice President Mr. Mike Pence at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher…”https://t.co/7ZTe4G56EO
— PC: United (@PCUnitedPage) December 13, 2017
— Trump Is Not My Prez (@DonIsNotMyPrez) December 13, 2017
I guarantee that Pence and fellow Evangelicals for whom Trump recklessly made the Jerusalem move have no idea that Coptic Christians are the oldest Christian community in the world. Their Jesus is white and blue-eyed https://t.co/r41PXLCm34 via @ahramonline pic.twitter.com/UazJn29NoS
— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) December 9, 2017
A video of a starving polar bear led to calls for climate change denialists to confront the real-world effects of global warming this week. Taken by a Canadian conservationist and photographer and posted to social media, the video offered a stark visual of the drastic impacts of climate change that have already begun taking root.
“When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death. This is what a starving bear looks like.”—Paul Nicklen, photographer
Paul Nicklen was traveling with the conservation group Sea Legacy in Canada’s Baffin Island, located in the Arctic, when he spotted the emaciated animal struggling to walk across the dry land—historically covered with ice in December and home to seals that polar bears rely on for food. The bear searched in vain for sustenance in a trashcan before collapsing.
“When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like,” said Nicklen in an interview with National Geographic. “Bears are going to starve to death. This is what a starving bear looks like.”
Im so sorry angel
This polar bear is starving to death, to the point where it’s hard for him to even get up/move around. If this hurts to see, then take a step back and acknowledge that if you consume animals you’re contributing to this polar bears suffering- pic.twitter.com/SqLQj5Ogci
— (@figsoverpigs) December 7, 2017
Nicklen received some criticism for filming the bear instead of feeding it, but he argued that sharing the image of the impact of global warming with the largest audience possible would be more productive than intervening by ending the animal’s life or feeding it a small amount of food.
“There is no band aid solution. There was no saving this individual bear,” he wrote on Instagram where he orginally posted the video.
In his interview with National Geographic, Nicklen added, “it’s not like I walk around with a tranquilizer gun or 400 pounds of seal meat.”
Polar bears have officially been considered a threatened species since 2008, under the Endangered Species Act, due to the ongoing loss of their icy habitats in Arctic regions.
The bears are accustomed to going without food in summer months when ice dries up, but unusually warm temperatures have caused them to fast for unhealthy periods of time and potentially starving to death.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported earlier this year that the increasingly rapid rate of melting sea ice in the Arctic is an existential threat to polar bears.
On social media, viewers of Nicklen’s video called for political leaders like President Donald Trump, who has refused to take part in global efforts to minimize the warming of the Earth by reducing carbon emissions, to reconsider their climate-wrecking actions.
@realDonaldTrump @GOP @DNC This is a starving polar bear. This is how climate change kills… slowly, painfully. This is unacceptable. You have the ability to help. Please do. @cmittermeier pic.twitter.com/sxTyuUyPul
— Alexa Q. Shunner (@PantsCatPants) December 5, 2017
THIS is what we humans are doing to our planet, to animals that have lived here much longer than we have. Starving them to death.
— Dr Lauren Gavaghan (@DancingTheMind) December 8, 2017
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) December 8, 2017
For all of you still trying to hold a ridiculous “debate” about whether there’s something wrong with our planet, please watch this, if you can. https://t.co/f4HcSIWNIt
— Kim Murphy, LA Times (@kimmurphy) December 8, 2017
With President Donald Trump showing little interest in sitting down at the negotiating table with North Korea—regarded by many in the U.S. and around the world as the best method for deterring nuclear development by Kim Jong-un’s government—Hawaiian officials are being forced to take precautions to make sure residents know what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.
At the beginning of next month, the state will begin testing the missile warning system it used during World War II and last tested during the Cold War.
“Hawaii is a likely target because we’re closer to North Korea than most of the continental United States,” said Vern Miyagi, administrator of the state’s Emergency Management Agency. “As we track the news and see tests, both missile launches and nuclear tests, it’s the elephant in the room. We can’t ignore it. People of Hawaii need to know what Hawaii is doing in preparation for this.”
The agency is reinstating the warning system amid Trump’s ongoing feud with Kim’s regime. North Korea ran nuclear tests and launched several test missiles into the Pacific Ocean earlier this year, and Trump responded to the tests with bellicose threats of “fire and fury” and a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in which he declared he would “totally destroy” the isolated country of 25 million people should Kim continue to develop its nuclear program.
Earlier this month, the White House returned North Korea to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, further angering Kim’s government and leading critics to worry that the country would respond with more nuclear tests.
A missile launched from North Korea could take just 20 minutes to reach Hawaii, according to the Defense Department, but officials say that if all 1.4 million residents of the state’s eight islands follow precautions, at least 80 percent of Hawaiians could survive a nuclear attack.
In public meetings and announcements broadcast on TV and the radio, officials will instruct local residents to hide in a concrete shelter and have enough food and water to last at least 48 hours.
Starting on Friday, the state will begin using its “attack warning” siren to prepare households for what would happen should North Korea launch a missile.
The siren Hawaii residents will hear if a nuclear bomb is on its way. You may recognize it from the movies or, if old enough, the Cold War. pic.twitter.com/ry41KdI6Em
— Jaweed Kaleem (@jaweedkaleem) November 4, 2017
Top photo: Hawaiian officials will begin using an alarm system on Friday to prepare residents for a potential nuclear attack. Community meetings have also been held to let Hawaiians know what to do in the event of an attack by North Korea. (Photo: @USAToday/Twitter)
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New Zealand’s progressive new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern strongly rejected President Donald Trump’s assessment of her recent rise to power, according to her account of their first in-person meeting at the East Asia Summit last week.
After Trump said Ardern’s win had “upset” many New Zealanders, the Labor Party leader remarked that “nobody marched” in response to her victory, as millions did all over the globe when Trump was inaugurated in January.
Ardern offered a full account of her meeting with Trump to New Zealand’s Newsroom:
I was waiting to walk out to be introduced at the East Asia Summit gala dinner, where we all paraded and while we were waiting, Trump in jest patted the person next to him on the shoulder, pointed at me and said, ‘This lady caused a lot of upset in her country,’ talking about the election.
I said, ‘Well, you know, only maybe 40 per cent,’ then he said it again and I said, ‘You know,’ laughing, ‘no one marched when I was elected.’
At 37, Ardern became New Zealand’s second-youngest and third female prime minister in October, just three months after becoming the leader of the center-left party, when the head of the New Zealand First party announced he would support Ardern in a coalition government.
A month earlier, New Zealand’s election had resulted in a hung parliament, with the left-leaning contingent winning 54 seats and the center-right National Party gaining 56—falling short of the 61 needed for a parliamentary majority.
Many were surprised when the anti-immigration New Zealand First party, which won nine seats, threw its support behind Ardern’s leadership, giving her enough seats to become prime minister.
During her election campaign earlier this year, Ardern focused largely on childhood poverty, environmental protection, and affordable housing.
Ardern has advocated for a drop in immigration to New Zealand by 20,000 to 30,000 per year, citing insufficient infrastructure and housing for a large influx of new arrivals. Currently, the country accepts about 70,000 annually. However, Adern also plans to double the country’s refugee quotas and offered to resettle 150 refugees currently in detention centers on Australia’s Manus Island, on humanitarian grounds.
The new prime minister was one of thousands of New Zealanders who participated in the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration.
Top image: U.S. President Donald Trump and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a group photo last week with fellow APEC leaders in Da Nang, Vietnam. (Photo: EPA)
Fourteen international aid agencies on Friday expressed that they were “appalled” by the global community’s complacency regarding the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen, and called for a resolution to the civil war that’s gone on for two years—while in its own statement, Amnesty International called for an end to complicity in the conflict from the U.S. and its allies.
“This is not the time for carefully balanced statements,” read a statement signed by groups including the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, and Relief International. “The choice is between resolution, or complicity in the suffering; there is no third option.”
“The U.S.A., U.K., and France must immediately cease supplying arms to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen, which is impeding humanitarian assistance of items indispensable to the survival of civilians,” declared Amnesty International.
The current famine and cholera epidemic in Yemen have both been exacerbated by a blockade that the Saudi-led coalition supporting government forces escalated 12 days ago.
“The international community must break its shameful silence and use all possible means to lift the blockade on Yemen immediately.”—International Rescue Committee
Sanitation and water systems in the country had already been bombed out of commission before the blockade, which has now made it impossible for aid agencies to get a wide range of badly-needed supplies and services to the civilians who need them.
UNICEF reported on Friday that it has only enough of a diphtheria vaccine to last 15 more days. “If this vaccine is not brought in, one million children will be at risk of preventable diseases,” the groups wrote.
The country is also experiencing a fuel shortage which has led to scarce clean water and has forced hospitals to close some wards while struggling to care for a civilian population in the midst of the worst cholera outbreak on record, with over a million cases expected by the end of the year, as well as “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades,” according to the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator.
“The international community must break its shameful silence and use all possible means to lift the blockade on Yemen immediately,” said the relief groups in their statement. “Hodeidah port, that serviced 80 percent of all imports, and Sana’a airport, needs to be reopened to let in urgently needed shipments of food, fuel, and medicines. Every day the blockade lasts means thousands of Yemenis will suffer from hunger and preventable diseases. Millions could die in a historic famine if the blockade continues indefinitely.”
“The U.S.A., U.K., and France must immediately cease supplying arms to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen, which is impeding humanitarian assistance of items indispensable to the survival of civilians.”—Amnesty International
On Thursday, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and World Food Program issued their own urgent plea for an end to the blockade, saying, “The clock is ticking and stocks of medical, food, and other humanitarian supplies are already running low. The cost of this blockade is being measured in the number of lives that are lost.”
Friday’s statement came days after Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) criticized the U.S. government in a speech on the Senate floor for its support of the Saudi coalition.
“The United States is part of this coalition. The bombing campaign that has caused the cholera outbreak could not happen without us,” said Murphy.
Top photo: A Saudi-imposed blockade in Yemen, in the midst of a civil war that’s gone on for two years, has left civilians without medicine, food, and clean water, exacerbating the famine and cholera epidemic that have developed there in recent months. (Photo: @nfcinereporter/Twitter)