The World Today for January 16, 2017


The Global Imbalance

Thoughtful folks should keep in mind a stunning statistic as the world prepares for what is promising to be a year of political controversies and backbiting.

On Sunday, the British charity Oxfam released a report claiming that eight men own the same amount of wealth possessed by 3.6 billion people, or half the world’s population.

“That’s the sobering reality of 2017,” said an Oxfam statement. “Such dramatic inequality is trapping millions in poverty, fracturing our societies and poisoning our politics. We must take urgent action to reverse dangerous inequality here at home and across the world, not accelerate it.”

Worth $75 billion, Microsoft founder Bill Gates topped the list. Spanish tycoon Amancio Ortega, who owns the Zara clothing chain, and Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim were the only non-Americans.

Oxfam timed the report’s release to coincide with the beginning of the World Economic Forum, a conference that draws politicians, business leaders, aristocrats, celebrities and other elites to Davos, Switzerland, for schmoozing and speeches about world governance.

Oxfam and the Forum weren’t at odds, however. Even the Forum recently warned of the dangers of global inequality, the Associated Press reported.

“This [income and wealth disparity] points to the need for reviving economic growth,” the Forum said in its Global Risks Report. “But the growing mood of anti-establishment populism suggests we may have passed the stage where this alone would remedy fractures in society: reforming market capitalism must also be added to the agenda.”

Consider other news on Sunday in light of those striking findings.

The Los Angeles Times wrote that President-elect Donald Trump blamed Brexit on the Syrian and other refugees who have streamed into Europe in recent years.

Maybe he’s right.

But The Wall Street Journal reported that the value of the British Pound fell on Sunday as traders caught wind of the details of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech slated for Tuesday on leaving the EU, a free trade zone of more than 500 million souls.

Refugees might have led Britons to vote to exit the EU. The weakening pound suggested their economic interests certainly weren’t foremost in their minds, however.

High unemployment was a major impetus behind the protests that led to the Syrian Civil War and subsequent exodus of refugees to Europe. Economic dissatisfaction was clearly behind Brexit and Trump’s victory, too.

One can debate the whys and wherefores of those developments. One thing’s for sure: none of the eight richest men on Earth live in Aleppo, Liverpool or Cleveland.


Samsung Charger

A South Korean special prosecutor is seeking the arrest of the de facto head of the Samsung group – the country’s largest conglomerate – on charges of bribing President Park Geun-hye.

The prosecutor on Monday accused Jay Y. Lee, the vice chairman of Samsung and the only son of Samsung’s incapacitated chairman, Lee Kun-hee, of ordering company subsidiaries to make multimillion-dollar donations to the family of Choi Soon-sil and two foundations she controlled in exchange for political favors from the president, the New York Times reported.

Park was impeached and suspended from office in December on charges that she allowed Choi – a close friend and adviser – to exert undue influence in government affairs and solicit cash from corporations in exchange for pushing favorable policies.

Prosecutors held Lee for questioning overnight on Thursday as part of an investigation of allegations that he gave 30 billion won ($25.28 million) to a business and foundations backed by Choi in exchange for the national pension fund’s support for a 2015 merger of Samsung C&T Corp and Cheil Industries Inc.

Rookie of the Year

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, China’s state-run media called his Taiwan policy “despicable” and said “he speaks like a rookie.”

“In the past, Trump infuriated us, but now we find him risible,” said an editorial in the Global Times, a confrontational offshoot of the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece. “With a skyrocketing ascent in his political life, he has been stunningly confident in his ostensible knowledge of the job, though he speaks like a rookie.”

The editorial blasted Trump’s Taiwan strategy and said Beijing would have a strong response to any reconsideration of the “one China” policy – under which Washington has long maintained only unofficial ties with the island that Beijing considers a breakaway province, the Associated Press reported.

Having already angered China with a Dec. 2 phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen — the first time an American president or president-elect has publicly spoken to Taiwan’s leader in nearly four decades – Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Friday that “everything is under negotiation, including ‘one China.'”

Another Riot

At least 26 inmates were killed this weekend in the fifth prison riot to hit Brazil since the beginning of January.

Several of those killed in the fighting between rival prison gangs were beheaded, the BBC reported. The fighting began Saturday at Alcacuz jail, in Rio Grande Do Norte state, when members of one criminal organization attacked rivals in a separate wing.

Police and special military police forces were deployed to the prison, but they were unable to contain the violence for more than 14 hours. The riot finally ended around 7:30 a.m. Sunday, CNN reported.

Nearly 100 inmates died in riots earlier this month in prisons in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, ratcheting up pressure on President Michel Temer to address the problem.

Brazil has the fourth-largest prison population in the world, with more than 622,000 people behind bars and many prisons badly overcrowded, CNN reported. The Alcaçuz prison where the latest riots occurred, for instance, was designed for 620 inmates but currently houses 1,083.


A Monkey’s Movements

The Star Wars universe has long been home to beloved characters like the furry, forest-dwelling Ewoks.

Now Star Wars fanatics can rejoice over a newly discovered creature in this galaxy: a gibbon named after the films’ first family.

Scientists have dubbed a new species of primate indigenous to the tropical forests of southwestern China as the Skywalker hoolock gibbon, said a study recently published in the American Journal of Primatology.

The name stuck partly because the Chinese characters of its scientific name – Hoolock tianxing – roughly translate to “Heaven’s movement” after the gibbon’s treetop-swinging lifestyle.

But the fact that the scientists were also Star Wars fans probably played a role in the label as well, wrote the BBC.

Zoologists are thrilled. Deforestation and hunting have taken their toll on wildlife in the Chinese rainforest, yet they’re still finding new creatures.

“It’s an absolute privilege to see something as special and as rare as a gibbon in a canopy in a Chinese rainforest,” a member of the Zoological Society of London told BBC.

Check out some photos of the Skywalker gibbon here. They’re yet another reminder that fact is usually more awe-inspiring than fiction.

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