Pope Francis warns G-20 against ‘dangerous alliances’ damaging poor, migrants

Reuters reports: Pope Francis warned leaders of the world’s top 20 economies meeting in Hamburg against forming dangerous and distorting alliances that could harm the poor and migrants, in an article in Italian daily la Repubblica on Saturday.

“The G20 worries me, it hits migrants in countries in half of the world and it hits them even more as time goes by,” the Pope was quoted as saying in a conversation with the paper’s founder Eugenio Scalfari.

Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, said he was afraid of “very dangerous alliances among (foreign) powers that have a distorted vision of the world: America and Russia, China and North Korea, (Vladimir) Putin and (Bashar al-)Assad in the war in Syria.”

He said the greatest danger concerned immigration, with “the poor, the weak, the excluded and the marginalised” juxtaposed with “those who… fear the invasion of migrants”. [Continue reading…]

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Yanis Varoufakis: A New Deal for the 21st century

Yanis Varoufakis writes: The recent elections in France and Britain have confirmed the political establishment’s simultaneous vulnerability and vigor in the face of a nationalist insurgency. This contradiction is the motif of the moment — personified by the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, whose résumé made him a darling of the elites but who rode a wave of anti-establishment enthusiasm to power.

A similar paradox is visible in Britain in the surprising electoral success of the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in depriving Theresa May’s Conservatives of an outright governing majority — not least because the resulting hung Parliament seemingly gives the establishment some hope of a change in approach from Mrs. May’s initial recalcitrant stance toward the European Union on the Brexit negotiations that have just begun.

Outsiders are having a field day almost everywhere in the West — not necessarily in a manner that weakens the insiders, but neither also in a way that helps consolidate the insiders’ position. The result is a situation in which the political establishment’s once unassailable authority has died, but before any credible replacement has been born. The cloud of uncertainty and volatility that envelops us today is the product of this gap. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. lags behind much of developed world in social progress

Bloomberg reports: America leads the world when it comes to access to higher education. But when it comes to health, environmental protection, and fighting discrimination, it trails many other developed countries, according to the Social Progress Imperative, a U.S.-based nonprofit.

The results of the group’s annual survey, which ranks nations based on 50 metrics, call to mind other reviews of national well-being, such as the World Happiness Report released in March, which was led by Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, or September’s Lancet study on sustainable development. In that one, Iceland, Singapore, Sweden, and the U.S. took spots 1, 2, 3, and 28—respectively.

The Social Progress Index released this week is compiled from social and environmental data that come as close as possible to revealing how people live. “We want to measure a country’s health and wellness achieved, not how much effort is expended, nor how much the country spends on healthcare,” the report states. Scandinavia walked away with the top four of 128 slots. Denmark scored the highest. America came in at 18. [Continue reading…]

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America’s cultural divide runs deep

The Washington Post reports: The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities, according to a wide-ranging poll that examines cultural attitudes across the United States.

The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of nearly 1,700 Americans — including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns — finds deep-seated kinship in rural America, coupled with a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas. Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from those of people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are “very different.”

That divide is felt more extensively in rural America than in cities: About half of urban residents say their values differ from rural people, with less than 20 percent of urbanites saying rural values are “very different.”

Alongside a strong rural social identity, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy, who deserves the most help in society and whether the federal government shows preferential treatment to certain types of people. President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans.

The Post-Kaiser survey focused on rural and small-town areas that are home to nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s reneging on Paris climate deal turns the U.S. into a rogue state

Joseph Stiglitz writes: Donald Trump has thrown a hand grenade into the global economic architecture that was so painstakingly constructed in the years after the end of the second world war. The attempted destruction of this rules-based system of global governance – now manifested in Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement – is just the latest aspect of the US president’s assault on our basic system of values and institutions.

The world is only slowly coming fully to terms with the malevolence of the Trump administration’s agenda. He and his cronies have attacked the US press – a vital institution for preserving Americans’ freedoms, rights and democracy – as an “enemy of the people”. They have attempted to undermine the foundations of our knowledge and beliefs – our epistemology – by labelling as “fake” anything that challenges their aims and arguments, even rejecting science itself. Trump’s sham justifications for spurning the Paris climate agreement is only the most recent evidence of this.

For millennia before the middle of the 18th century, standards of living stagnated. It was the Enlightenment, with its embrace of reasoned discourse and scientific inquiry, that underpinned the enormous increases in standards of living in the subsequent two and a half centuries.

With the Enlightenment also came a commitment to discover and address our prejudices. As the idea of human equality – and its corollary, basic individual rights for all – quickly spread, societies began struggling to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and, eventually, other aspects of human identity, including disability and sexual orientation.

Trump seeks to reverse all of that. His rejection of science, in particular climate science, threatens technological progress. And his bigotry toward women, Hispanics, and Muslims (except those, like the rulers of Gulf oil sheikhdoms, from whom he and his family can profit), threatens the functioning of American society and its economy, by undermining people’s trust that the system is fair to all.

As a populist, Trump has exploited the justifiable economic discontent that has become so widespread in recent years, as many Americans have become downwardly mobile amid soaring inequality. But his true objective – to enrich himself and other gilded rent-seekers at the expense of those who supported him – is revealed by his tax and health-care plans. [Continue reading…]

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Why it matters that the Manchester attack targeted girls

Emily Crockett writes: We don’t know the exact motivation behind Monday’s horrifying terrorist attack in Manchester, England, which killed 22 people, including an 8-year-old girl. And given that the bomber died in the attack, we’re unlikely to ever find out precisely what was going through his head as he detonated that device. But one thing we do know is the demographic he targeted: young girls and women. As is so often the case with acts of violence, misogyny was deeply woven into this attack.

ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the attack, is of course notorious for its ghastly treatment of women and girls – for mass imprisonments, rapes and acts of torture. It’s not yet known if the suicide bomber, whom police have named as 22-year-old British national Salman Abedi, acted alone, or what his exposure to ISIS might have been. Regardless, the symbolism of his attack is clear and devastating. During Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman tour, Abedi gave the world a sick reminder of the dangers of being a woman in public in 2017, attacking largely female concertgoers for doing nothing but enjoying themselves while listening to music.

These girls and women weren’t just listening to any music, either – this was feminist music. Through her songs and public statements, Ariana Grande has taken a strong stand against sexism and the objectification of women, and she does so kindly, joyfully and without apology.

All of that is threatening enough. But Grande goes even further, daring to embrace sex positivity: the idea that sexuality is healthy, that it can and should be expressed in diverse ways, and that it deserves no shame.

It hardly takes being a member of ISIS to balk at women embracing their sexuality without shame – plenty of Republican lawmakers show their discomfort with the idea by attacking basic reproductive and sexual health for women. Take away shame, and you take away one of humanity’s most powerful tools for keeping women in line; suicide bombs and oppressive laws might put women in their place, but shame is the glue that holds it all together. [Continue reading…]

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The obstacles to gender equality in the Arab world

The Economist reports: Ahmed, who lives in Cairo, allows his wife to work. “At first, I insisted she stay at home, but she was able to raise the kids and care for the house and still have time to go to work,” he says. Still, he doesn’t seem too impressed. “Of course, as a man, I’m the main provider for the family. I believe women just cannot do that.”

Ahmed’s outlook is widely shared throughout the region, where men dominate households, parliaments and offices. Chauvinist attitudes are reflected in laws that treat women as second-class citizens. A new survey by the UN and Promundo, an advocacy group, examines Arab men’s views on male-female relations. (One of the authors, Shereen El Feki, used to write for The Economist.) It finds that around 90% of men in Egypt believe that they should have the final say on household decisions, and that women should do most of the chores.

So far, so predictable. But the survey sheds new light on the struggles of Arab men in the four countries studied (Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Palestine) and how they hinder progress towards equality. At least two-thirds of these men report high levels of fear for the safety and well-being of their families. In Egypt and Palestine most men say they are stressed or depressed because of a lack of work or income. Women feel even worse, but for Arab men the result is a “crisis of masculinity”, the study finds.

Far from relaxing their patriarchal attitudes, Arab men are clinging to them. In every country except Lebanon, younger men’s views on gender roles do not differ substantially from those of older men. There may be several reasons for this, but the study suggests that the struggle of young Arab men to find work, afford marriage and achieve the status of financial provider may be producing a backlash against assertive women. In other words, male chauvinism may be fuelled by a sense of weakness, not strength. [Continue reading…]

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Workers endured long hours, low pay at Chinese factory used by Ivanka Trump’s clothing-maker

The Washington Post reports: Workers at a factory in China used by the company that makes clothing for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line and other brands worked nearly 60 hours a week to earn wages of little more than $62 a week, according to a factory audit released Monday.

The factory’s 80 workers knit clothes for the contractor, G-III Apparel Group, which has held the exclusive license to make the Ivanka Trump brand’s $158 dresses, $79 blouses and other clothes since 2012. The company also makes clothes for Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and other brands.

Trump has no leadership role in G-III, and the report did not give the factory’s name or location, or say whether it was working on Ivanka-brand products at the time of the inspection.

Inspectors with the Fair Labor Association, an industry monitoring group whose members include Apple and Nike, found two dozen violations of international labor standards during a two-day tour of the factory in October, saying in a report that workers faced daunting hours, high turnover, and pay near or below China’s minimum wage.

The inspection offers a rare look at the working conditions of the global manufacturing machine that helped make Trump’s fashion brand a multimillion-dollar business.

Its release also comes as the president’s daughter has sought to cast herself as both a champion of workplace issues and a defender of her father’s “buy American, hire American” agenda. Trump, whose book “Women Who Work” debuts next week, was in Germany on Tuesday for public discussions about global entre­pre­neur­ship and empowerment. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: A German crowd booed Ivanka Trump on Tuesday after she called her father a “tremendous champion of supporting families.”

Trump was taking her first crack at diplomacy abroad in her new role as assistant to the president, vowing at a women’s economic conference in Berlin to create “positive change” for women in the United States. [Continue reading…]

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The green movement is talking about racism? It’s about time

Brentin Mock writes: Facing a new White House administration led by Donald Trump, environmental leaders recently signed an accord pledging their allegiance to civil rights and social justice. Among the signatories are several leaders of the Sierra Club, including its executive director, Michael Brune, who in recent years has steered the organization toward rather bold stances on a range of issues that aren’t traditionally recognized as “green.” In 2013, its board of directors voted that the organization should advocate for immigrant rights. The following year, the Sierra Club endorsed and defended the Black Lives Matter movement. Since President Trump came into office, the organization’s resolve has only strengthened, as Brune indicated in a November 18 blog post: “I’m proud of how the Sierra Club has begun to address the intersection of climate with inequality, race, class, and gender, and I guarantee that we’ll go even deeper.”

This shift toward racial justice matters has not been universally accepted among the Sierra Club’s ranks and may even have cost it a few members. Those who disapprove have often expressed sentiments amounting to “racism is not the environmental movement’s responsibility.” But Brune says the organization won’t be backing off anytime soon, a position he forcefully defended on the group’s blog. He will assure his members, he tells me, “that we are continuing to protect wildlife and wild places, and this is how we can best do that in the 21st century.”

What Brune is acknowledging is the darker legacy of the green movement. Some may believe that environmentalism has little to do with social justice issues, but the mission of the Sierra Club, and many conservation groups like it throughout the late-19th century and most of the 20th century, was anything but race neutral. In many ways, racial exclusivity actually shaped the environmental mission, which is what makes the Sierra Club’s leap toward civil rights advocacy such a radical move. It’s important not because a network like Black Lives Matter needs environmentalists, but because environmentalists need black lives. Given the history of conservationists elevating endangered plant life over endangered people of color, it is environmentalism’s soul that most needs saving. [Continue reading…]

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States vow to keep protecting transgender students after Trump rolls back federal rules

BuzzFeed reports: Several state and local officials wasted no time Wednesday night announcing they would keep enforcing bans against transgender discrimination in schools and make sure students can use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Their announcement was a swift rebuttal to the Trump administration’s decision to rescind a federal policy created under President Obama that said school districts must protect transgender students.

“I will ensure…protections for transgender and gender non-conforming students are enforced fairly and vigorously,” Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: The question of how to address the “bathroom debate,” as it has become known, opened a rift inside the Trump administration, pitting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr. Sessions, who had been expected to move quickly to roll back the civil rights expansions put in place under his Democratic predecessors, wanted to act decisively because of two pending court cases that could have upheld the protections and pushed the government into further litigation.

But Ms. DeVos initially resisted signing off and told Mr. Trump that she was uncomfortable because of the potential harm that rescinding the protections could cause transgender students, according to three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions.

Mr. Sessions, who has opposed expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, pushed Ms. DeVos to relent. After getting nowhere, he took his objections to the White House because he could not go forward without her consent. Mr. Trump sided with his attorney general, the Republicans said, and told Ms. DeVos in a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he wanted her to drop her opposition. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the alternative of resigning or defying the president, agreed to go along.

Ms. DeVos’s unease was evident in a strongly worded statement she released on Wednesday night, in which she said she considered it a “moral obligation” for every school in America to protect all students from discrimination, bullying and harassment. [Continue reading…]

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Draft of first Trump budget would cut legal aid for millions of low-income Americans

The Guardian reports: Cuts in Donald Trump’s first draft budget to funding for legal aid for millions of Americans could strip much-needed protections from victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, families facing foreclosure and veterans in need, justice equality advocates warned Tuesday.

A Trump draft budget circulated over the weekend called for the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which has a $375m annual budget and provides free legal assistance to low-income people and others in need of help, with cases involving disability benefits, disaster relief, elder abuse, fair pay, wheelchair access, low-income tax credits, unlawful eviction, child support, consumer scams, school lunch, predatory lending and much more.

The legal aid program, which represents a miniscule portion of the government’s projected $4tn budget, is one of many small but mighty programs flagged for elimination in Trump’s draft budget. Others include the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Americorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. Critics of the cuts point out that they won’t budge the deficit but would erode quality of life and threaten the most vulnerable.

The possible legal aid cuts would come at a time when potentially softer enforcement by the Trump administration of laws to punish domestic violence, protect Americans with disabilities and combat discriminatory housing practices could create a spike in demand, said Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, a fellow at the Center for American Progress who has written on the issue. [Continue reading…]

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Why hundreds of thousands are joining the Women’s March on Saturday


As the Trump inauguration boycott escalates, it’s interesting that Trump would highlight the imminent arrival in Washington of Bikers for Trump — his reason, no doubt, that he hopes to scare away protesters. Somehow I doubt that a few old farts on Harleys will have that effect.

Rolling Stone reports: A few weeks before the Women’s March on Washington, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez, two of the four national co-chairs of this weekend’s planned demonstration, appeared on CNN Newsroom. “There are signs that [Donald Trump] is listening, right? He has nominated four women out of 23 positions to serve in his administration,” said host Carol Costello. “Ivanka Trump supposedly is going to have this big role in the Trump administration, as far as promoting women’s issues like child care. So does that give you hope that he is listening?”

This premise – that women, who represent 51 percent of the population, should be grateful for 17 percent representation in Trump’s cabinet – gets to the heart of why hundreds of thousands of women and men are poised to descend on Washington, D.C., and cities around the world, in protest Saturday.

Those who plan to march are not grateful; they are not satisfied. They’re rightfully insulted by the election of an unrepentant misogynist who’s filling his administration with more of the same – and, to Costello’s point, they’re insulted that in August, when Trump was asked which women he’d invite to help him run the country, the single name he could come up with was his daughter’s. Leaving aside the anti-nepotism laws Ivanka would violate by joining her father’s administration (laws her husband may already be in violation of), many women also recognize that she’s no hero to them, as evidenced by her woefully inadequate child care plan, which does particularly little to address the needs of low-income mothers.

What the organizers of the Women’s March will tell you is that the upcoming action is not about Trump; it is about addressing the systemic inequities he highlights with every decision he makes.

The march, the organizers declared via an ambitious platform released last week, is for gender equality, racial equality, LGBTQIA equality, economic justice and reproductive freedom; for equal pay, paid family leave, labor protections, clean water and air and access to public lands; and for an end to violence against women, police brutality and racial profiling. If that seems like a lot, well, that’s the point.

Sarsour, who serves as executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, tells Rolling Stone that the message the marchers want to send is that “from climate justice to racial justice to immigrant rights, reproductive rights, Native rights, we are united. We are committing to work together.

“We think that that hasn’t happened in a very clear way in a long time – bringing all the movements together and … saying, ‘We are watching you. We are ready. We are fired up. And we’re ready to fight back and protect our communities,'” she says. [Continue reading…]

More details on the Women’s March on Washington here and on the 616 “sister marches” here.

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Developing countries send trillions of dollars more to the West than the other way around

Jason Hickel writes: We have long been told a compelling story about the relationship between rich countries and poor countries. The story holds that the rich nations of the OECD give generously of their wealth to the poorer nations of the global south, to help them eradicate poverty and push them up the development ladder. Yes, during colonialism western powers may have enriched themselves by extracting resources and slave labour from their colonies – but that’s all in the past. These days, they give more than $125bn (£102bn) in aid each year – solid evidence of their benevolent goodwill.

This story is so widely propagated by the aid industry and the governments of the rich world that we have come to take it for granted. But it may not be as simple as it appears.

The US-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI) and the Centre for Applied Research at the Norwegian School of Economics recently published some fascinating data. They tallied up all of the financial resources that get transferred between rich countries and poor countries each year: not just aid, foreign investment and trade flows (as previous studies have done) but also non-financial transfers such as debt cancellation, unrequited transfers like workers’ remittances, and unrecorded capital flight (more of this later). As far as I am aware, it is the most comprehensive assessment of resource transfers ever undertaken.

What they discovered is that the flow of money from rich countries to poor countries pales in comparison to the flow that runs in the other direction. [Continue reading…]

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Anthony Bourdain on Trump and privileged Eastern liberals

Alexander Bisley interviews Anthony Bourdain, host of CNN’s Parts Unknown: Bisley: What concerns you about Trump?

Bourdain: What I am not concerned about with Trump? Wherever one lives in the world right now I wouldn’t feel too comfortable about the rise of authoritarianism. I think it’s a global trend, and one that should be of concern to everyone.

Bisley: You’re a liberal. What should liberals be critiquing their own side for?

Bourdain: There’s just so much. I hate the term political correctness, the way in which speech that is found to be unpleasant or offensive is often banned from universities. Which is exactly where speech that is potentially hurtful and offensive should be heard.

The way we demonize comedians for use of language or terminology is unspeakable. Because that’s exactly what comedians should be doing, offending and upsetting people, and being offensive. Comedy is there, like art, to make people uncomfortable, and challenge their views, and hopefully have a spirited yet civil argument. If you’re a comedian whose bread and butter seems to be language, situations, and jokes that I find racist and offensive, I won’t buy tickets to your show or watch you on TV. I will not support you. If people ask me what I think, I will say you suck, and that I think you are racist and offensive. But I’m not going to try to put you out of work. I’m not going to start a boycott, or a hashtag, looking to get you driven out of the business.

The utter contempt with which privileged Eastern liberals such as myself discuss red-state, gun-country, working-class America as ridiculous and morons and rubes is largely responsible for the upswell of rage and contempt and desire to pull down the temple that we’re seeing now.

I’ve spent a lot of time in gun-country, God-fearing America. There are a hell of a lot of nice people out there, who are doing what everyone else in this world is trying to do: the best they can to get by, and take care of themselves and the people they love. When we deny them their basic humanity and legitimacy of their views, however different they may be than ours, when we mock them at every turn, and treat them with contempt, we do no one any good. Nothing nauseates me more than preaching to the converted. The self-congratulatory tone of the privileged left — just repeating and repeating and repeating the outrages of the opposition — this does not win hearts and minds. It doesn’t change anyone’s opinions. It only solidifies them, and makes things worse for all of us. We should be breaking bread with each other, and finding common ground whenever possible. I fear that is not at all what we’ve done. [Continue reading…]

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Open society needs defending

George Soros writes: Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of closed societies – from fascist dictatorships to mafia states – are on the rise. How could this happen? The only explanation I can find is that elected leaders failed to meet voters’ legitimate expectations and aspirations and that this failure led electorates to become disenchanted with the prevailing versions of democracy and capitalism. Quite simply, many people felt that the elites had stolen their democracy.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US emerged as the sole remaining superpower, equally committed to the principles of democracy and free markets. The major development since then has been the globalization of financial markets, spearheaded by advocates who argued that globalization increases total wealth. After all, if the winners compensated the losers, they would still have something left over.

The argument was misleading, because it ignored the fact that the winners seldom, if ever, compensate the losers. But the potential winners spent enough money promoting the argument that it prevailed. It was a victory for believers in untrammeled free enterprise, or “market fundamentalists,” as I call them. Because financial capital is an indispensable ingredient of economic development, and few countries in the developing world could generate enough capital on their own, globalization spread like wildfire. Financial capital could move around freely and avoid taxation and regulation. [Continue reading…]

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The secret wealth of the royal family running ‘Al Saud Inc’

The New York Times reports from Tangiers: Behind a tall perimeter wall, studded with surveillance cameras and guarded by Moroccan soldiers, a sprawling new palace for King Salman of Saudi Arabia rose on the Atlantic coast here last summer.

Even as the Saudi government canceled a quarter of a trillion dollars’ worth of projects back home as part of a fiscal austerity program, workers hustled to finish bright blue landing pads for helicopters at the vacation compound and to erect a tent the size of a circus big-top where the king could feast and entertain his enormous retinue.

The royal family’s fortune derives from the reserves of petroleum discovered during the reign of Salman’s father, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, more than 75 years ago. The sale of oil provides billions of dollars in annual allowances, public-sector sinecures and perks for royals, the wealthiest of whom own French chateaus and Saudi palaces, stash money in Swiss bank accounts, wear couture dresses under their abayas and frolic on some of the world’s biggest yachts out of sight of commoners.

King Salman serves as chairman of the family business unofficially known as “Al Saud Inc.” Sustained low oil prices have strained the economy and forced questions about whether the family — with thousands of members and still growing — can simultaneously maintain its lavish lifestyle and its unchallenged grip on the country. [Continue reading…]

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The Trump plutocracy: Combined wealth of 17 cabinet picks exceeds that of one third of American household

Quartz reports: The 17 people who US president-elect Donald Trump has selected for his cabinet or for posts with cabinet rank have well over $9.5 billion in combined wealth, with several positions still unfilled. This collection of wealth is greater than that of the 43 million least wealthy American households combined—over one third of the 126 million households total in the US.

Affluence of this magnitude in a US presidential cabinet is unprecedented. [Continue reading…]

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