In June 2016, Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy and put itself up for auction. The company’s high-profile demise came after it lost a $140 million libel lawsuit brought by wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose sex tape had made its way to Gawker‘s readers in 2012.
Soon after the verdict, we found out that PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel—a prominent Trump supporter—was secretly funding the lawsuit in apparent revenge for a 2007 Gawker article outing him as gay. Thiel hated Gawker and its family of blogs. In 2009, Thiel said Valleywag, a tech blog owned by Gawker, possessed the “psychology of a terrorist.”
The mogul called the Hogan verdict “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done.”
A new Netflix film released Friday tracks the bizarre twists and turns of the Gawkercase and its larger-than-life characters—and what happens when a secretive billionaire takes a big grudge to court and wins.
Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press also examines this moment of crisis for American newsrooms facing the dual threats of haemorrhaging revenue and public distrust in the time of Trump—and how the likes of Peter Thiel and billionaire casino-owner and conservative donor Sheldon Adelson can take advantage of the crisis for their own purposes.
The Trump era has brought a change of fortune for a Silicon Valley software company founded by presidential adviser Peter Thiel — turning it from a Pentagon outcast to a player with three allies in Defense Secretary James Mattis’ inner circle.
At least three Pentagon officials close to Mattis, including his deputy chief of staff and a longtime confidante, either worked, lobbied or consulted for Palantir Technologies, according to ethics disclosures obtained by POLITICO. That’s an unusually high number of people from one company to have such daily contact with the Pentagon leader, some analysts say.
It also represents a sharp rise in prominence for the company, which just months ago could barely get a meeting in the Pentagon. Last year, Palantir even had to go to court to force its way into a competition for a lucrative Army contract.
Thiel was one of the few Silicon Valley titans to openly support Donald Trumpduring the campaign, a role that gave him a prime speaking slot at last summer’s Republican convention. He has since acted as a key adviser arranging meetings among the president and other tech executives. While there’s no evidence he had a direct hand in these specific Pentagon hires, analysts say they absolutely show his growing influence in the administration, where he holds no formal role.
“It is unusual to have several people with close ties to a particular contractor working in close proximity to the Defense secretary,” said Loren Thompson, a leading defense consultant. “It’s probably just a coincidence that several people with Palantir ties are around Mattis, but it certainly doesn’t look good.”
[…] To the heads of Ryanair, Bayer, AXA, Fiat Chrysler, Airbus, Lazard and Google, “useful” is not a vague or fuzzy term. It means “financially worthwhile”. Something they value enough to clear time in their diaries, to get on a long-haul flight, to risk having to make small talk with George Osborne over cocktails.
If you want to know why Michael O’Leary would want to join the steering committee of this annual, under-the-radar political summit, the answer lies in the nature of the beast. Bilderberg is plugged into the very highest levels of high finance and intelligence. There were two ex-CIA chiefs at this year’s conference: Gen David Petraeus and John Brennan, both of whom now work in the private sector. There was the current US national security adviser, HR McMaster, and a former director of MI6, Sir John Sawers, who now sits on the board of BP.
At its deepest level, the group is dominated by transnational finance and big business. The conference chairman is a director of HSBC, the newly appointed treasurer is the head of Deutsche Bank, and the administrative body is run by a senior adviser to Goldman Sachs.
The relationship between Bilderberg and Goldman Sachs runs deep. This year’s conference featured senior figures from the bank; the annual returns of American Friends of Bilderberg, a tax-exempt group, show it registered to the address of a Goldman Sachs board member, James A Johnson. Its sister organisation, the UK-based Bilderberg Association, is heavily funded by Goldman Sachs and registered to the business address of Simon Robertson, former managing director of the bank’s London operation, Goldman Sachs International.
The current chairman of Goldman Sachs International, José Manuel Barroso, sits on the Bilderberg steering committee, alongside the chairman of the bank’s International Advisory Board, Robert Zoellick. In other words, if Goldman Sachs is the “vampire squid” that Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi said it was, Bilderberg is its brain: doing the deep thinking, inviting historians and futurists’ perspectives, trying to work out where the world is going, doing its best to make sure everything stays more or less on course.
Say what you like about Bilderberg, but they’ve got a sense of humour. The agenda for this year’s secretive summit of the global elite is full of in-jokes. They get big laughs straight off the bat by describing themselves as “a diverse group of political leaders and experts”.
They’re trumpeting the diversity of a conference where less than 25% of the participants are female. Which would be a huge step forward, if it were currently 1963.
And as for racial diversity, there are more senior executives of Goldman Sachs at this year’s Bilderberg than there are people of colour.
Perhaps by “diverse” they mean that some of the participants own hedge funds, whereas others own vast industrial conglomerates. Some are on the board of HSBC, others are on the board of BP. Some are lobbyists, others are being lobbied. That sort of thing.
Dafter still is the agenda item: “Can globalisation be slowed down?” You think that the assembled heads of Google, AT&T, Bayer, Airbus, Deutsche Bank, Ryanair, Fiat Chrysler, and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange want to see a brake on globalisation? It’s the air that they breathe.
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Glen Bolton sits down for a short chat with Guardian journalist Charlie Skelton at Bilderberg 2017 in Chantilly, Virginia USA. Skelton has been covering Bilderberg for almost a decade.
With all the supple silence of a python sliding round the gut of a sleeping monkey, Bilderberg 2017 is slipping unobtrusively into life.
Throughout today (1 June), limousine after limousine will come purring through the heavily guarded gates of the Westfields Marriott hotel, just outside Washington DC, gently depositing politicians, party leaders and public officials into happy laps of some of the world’s most powerful financiers.
Bilderberg is an annual three-day political summit, held entirely in private, and hosted and paid for by big business.
It’s currently led by a board member of HSBC, Henri de Castries, and is run by a steering committee which includes the heads of Google, Deutsche Bank, Santander and Airbus.
They’re joined this year by the heads of AXA, Bayer, ING, Lazard, Fiat Chrysler and the IMF. And the King of Holland, who owns great chunks of Royal Dutch Shell. In short, Bilderberg is so high powered that if it were a car Richard Hammond would have killed himself in it.
The storm around Donald Trump is about to shift a few miles west of the White House, to a conference centre in Chantilly, Virginia, where the embattled president will be getting his end-of-term grades from the people whose opinion really matters: Bilderberg.
The secretive three-day summit of the political and economic elite kicks off on Thursday in heavily guarded seclusion at the Westfields Marriott, a luxury hotel a short distance from the Oval Office. The hotel was already on lockdown on Wednesday, and an army of landscapers have been busy planting fir trees around the perimeter, to protect coy billionaires and bashful bank bosses from any prying lenses.
Perched ominously at the top of the conference agenda this year are these words: “The Trump administration: a progress report.” Is the president going to be put in detention for tweeting in class? Held back a year? Or told to empty his locker and leave? If ever there’s a place where a president could hear the words “you’re fired!”, it’s Bilderberg.
The White House is taking no chances, sending along some big hitters from Team Trump to defend their boss: the national security adviser, HR McMaster; the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross; and Trump’s new strategist, Chris Liddell. Could the president himself show up to receive his report card in person?
This year’s gathering takes place in Chantilly, Virginia, less than 30 miles from the White House, and goings on in the Oval Office are top of the agenda for the 131 people who’ve confirmed they’re attending.
Many top White House figures will be at the four-day event, including the Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, National Security Advisor HR McMaster and Assistant to the President Christopher Liddell.
Other topics up for discussion include ‘Russia in the international order,’ ‘China,’ ‘The Trans-Atlantic defence alliance: bullets, bytes and bucks,’ ‘The war on information,’ ‘Direction of the EU’ and ‘Why is populism growing?’
[…] As well of some of Trump’s top brass, other attendees this year include Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, Republican senators Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham, and Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai.
When the storm turns out to be less severe than the warnings, there’s always a sigh of relief–and maybe a bit of over-confidence after the fact. If fans of the European Union felt better after populist Geert Wilders came up short in the Dutch elections in March, they also took heart from the absence of anti-E.U. firebrands among the leading contenders for this fall’s German elections. Then came May 7. The victory of Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential elections signaled that “the season of growth of populism has ended,” Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, said on May 8.
Not so fast. Europeans will soon remember that elections are never the end of anything–they’re a beginning. And whether the issue is unelected Eurocrats’ forcing voters to abide by rules they don’t like or fears that borders are insecure, there are good reasons to doubt that the anti-E.U. fever has broken. France’s Macron now faces powerful opposition on both the far right and the far left. Hungary and Poland are becoming increasingly illiberal. Brexit negotiations are getting ugly. And resentment toward the E.U. is still rising throughout Europe.
In the U.S., President Donald Trump may be pushing what increasingly resembles a traditional Republican agenda, but polls show that his supporters are still eager for deeper disruption. Trump’s embrace of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Egypt’s Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte suggests a lasting affinity with aggressive strongmen. His chief adviser and nationalist muse, Stephen Bannon, may be under fire, but he’s still there. The Trump presidency has only just begun.
In short, nationalism is alive and well, partly because the problems that provoked it are still with us. Growing numbers of people in the world’s wealthiest countries still fear that globalization serves only elites who care nothing about nations and borders. Moderate politicians still offer few effective solutions.
They were the apple of many a councillor’s eye, architectural porn brought to you by developers with interactive design plans and deep pockets. Many were built on land sold by London councils, boasting of providing affordable housing or flats for hard-working professionals.
Instead, from 12 of London’s highest profile new builds, some 87 percent of units so far have been sold abroad, with 42 percent of these going to buyers from high corruption risk jurisdictions, nations with a high incidence of corruption among public officials and services.
Last year, Keith Vaz of the Home Affairs Select Committee said that things need to change in the London property market. He revealed that around £100 billion of unchecked cash washes through the UK each year, much of it through London property sales, saying: “Investment in London properties is a major route which tarnishes the image of the capital. Supervision of the property market is totally inadequate, and poor enforcement has laid out a welcome mat for launderers and organised criminals.”
After The New York Times wrote about the sexual harassment claims leveled at Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly and the settlements made by the company and O’Reilly himself, James Murdoch, according to 21st Century Fox sources, kept repeating with horror to his friends and executives: “This is on the front page of The New York Times!”
These sources say James Murdoch’s longtime annoyance if not disgust with Fox News became cold fury after the Times‘ April 1 story — even though several of the O’Reilly settlements had happened when James was CEO of the parent company. This was a similar reaction to what had followed the harassment suit by former anchor Gretchen Carlson against Fox News chief Roger Ailes in July. Every time Fox controversies spilled over into the wider world, James took it personally. “It was somehow against him,” says one person close to the Murdochs.
Fox News is a business he should not be in, he had told people before, despite its major contribution to 21st Century Fox’s bottom line — 20 percent of its profits came from Fox News last year, the biggest-earning division in the company. Presumably, he meant the in-your-face world of conservative cable news with its mega personalities. Indeed, James regarded many of the people at Fox News as thuggish Neanderthals and said he was embarrassed to be in the same company with them.
Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh speak to Jane Mayer staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, about Robert Mercer, the man who is said to have out-Koched the Koch brothers in the 2016 election. (Democracy Now!)
[…] “Once Election Day came and went, Peter Thiel was a major force in the transition,” said a senior Trump campaign aide. “When you have offices and you bring staff with you and you attend all the meetings, then you have a lot of power.” At the Presidio, the old Army fort in San Francisco where Thiel’s investment firms are housed, many of his employees have taken to calling him “the shadow president.”
The notion is not entirely absurd. If Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, is one ideological pillar of the Trump White House, Thiel, operating from outside the administration, is the other. Bannon’s ideology is a sort of populist nationalism, while Thiel’s is tech-centric: He believes progress is dependent on a revolution in technology that has been largely stymied by government regulation.
Thiel is a contrarian by nature, and his support for Trump was a signature long-shot bet that is paying big dividends in terms of access to and influence on the new administration.
Trump’s surprise victory in November also gave Thiel a renewed faith in the possibilities of politics, and he has worked around the clock to push friends and associates into positions that will give them sway over science and technology policy, an area he believes has been routinely neglected under previous administrations.
[…] It has emerged that Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund billionaire, who helped to finance the Trump campaign and who was revealed this weekend as one of the owners of the rightwing Breitbart News Network, is a long-time friend of Nigel Farage. He directed his data analytics firm to provide expert advice to the Leave campaign on how to target swing voters via Facebook – a donation of services that was not declared to the electoral commission.
Cambridge Analytica, an offshoot of a British company, SCL Group, which has 25 years’ experience in military disinformation campaigns and “election management”, claims to use cutting-edge technology to build intimate psychometric profiles of voters to find and target their emotional triggers. Trump’s team paid the firm more than $6m (£4.8m) to target swing voters, and it has now emerged that Mercer also introduced the firm – in which he has a major stake – to Farage.
The communications director of Leave.eu, Andy Wigmore, told the Observer that the longstanding friendship between Nigel Farage and the Mercer family led Mercer to offer his help – free – to the Brexit campaign because of their shared goals. Wigmore said that he introduced Farage and Leave.eu to Cambridge Analytica: “They were happy to help. Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers. And Mercer introduced them to us. He said, ‘Here’s this company we think may be useful to you’. What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information.”
Donald Trump has inherited the most powerful machine for spying ever devised. How this petty, vengeful man might wield and expand the sprawling American spy apparatus, already vulnerable to abuse, is disturbing enough on its own. But the outlook is even worse considering Trump’s vast preference for private sector expertise and new strategic friendship with Silicon Valley billionaire investor Peter Thiel, whose controversial (and opaque) company Palantir has long sought to sell governments an unmatched power to sift and exploit information of any kind. Thiel represents a perfect nexus of government clout with the kind of corporate swagger Trump loves. The Intercept can now reveal that Palantir has worked for years to boost the global dragnet of the NSA and its international partners, and was in fact co-created with American spies.
Peter Thiel became one of the American political mainstream’s most notorious figures in 2016 (when it emerged he was bankrolling a lawsuit against Gawker Media, my former employer) even before he won a direct line to the White House. Now he brings to his role as presidential adviser decades of experience as kingly investor and token nonliberal on Facebook’s board of directors, a Rolodex of software luminaries, and a decidedly Trumpian devotion to controversy and contrarianism. But perhaps the most appealing asset Thiel can offer our bewildered new president will be Palantir Technologies, which Thiel founded with Alex Karp and Joe Lonsdale in 2004.
Palantir has never masked its ambitions, in particular the desire to sell its services to the U.S. government — the CIA itself was an early investor in the startup through In-Q-Tel, the agency’s venture capital branch. But Palantir refuses to discuss or even name its government clientele, despite landing “at least $1.2 billion” in federal contracts since 2009, according to an August 2016 report in Politico. The company was last valued at $20 billion and is expected to pursue an IPO in the near future. In a 2012 interview with TechCrunch, while boasting of ties to the intelligence community, Karp said nondisclosure contracts prevent him from speaking about Palantir’s government work.
At the Republican party convention in Cleveland last July, Trump donor Peter Thiel declared himself ‘“most of all, proud to be an American”. So it came as something of a surprise for New Zealanders to discover that the PayPal co-founder and Facebook board member had become an honorary Kiwi – joining a growing band of wealthy Americans seeking a haven from a possible global apocalypse.
Thiel was recently revealed to have bought a £4.5m lakeside property near the New Zealand town of Wanaka in 2015. When New Zealand Herald reporter Matt Nippert asked why Thiel had been allowed to buy land that appears to fit the classification of “sensitive” without permission from the country’s Overseas Investment Office, he was told it wasn’t necessary – Thiel was already a citizen.
The revelation was met with confusion. By the time of his appearance at the Republican convention, Thiel had already bought 193 hectares of pristine South Island land using his rights as a Kiwi. Politicians asked why a billionaire most famous for adamantly supporting Donald Trump and bankrolling the lawsuits that bankrupted Gawker Media had been allowed not only to buy land in New Zealand, but to make the country part of his future and identity. Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First party, accused the National government of “selling citizenship” to foreigners.
The powerful policy and politics network organized by the billionaire Koch brothers made official what many had expected: an opposition to President Trump’s ban on visitors from seven countries with Muslim majorities.
In a statement provided to reporters covering the Kochs’ twice-a-year retreat, top official Brian Hooks said Sunday that the groups under his umbrella would not support Trump’s move, which has drawn thousands of protesters against the ban on immigrants and refugees.
“We believe it is possible to keep Americans safe without excluding people who wish to come here to contribute and pursue a better life for their families. The travel ban is the wrong approach and will likely be counterproductive,” said Hooks, the co-chairman of the Koch network. “Our country has benefited tremendously from a history of welcoming people from all cultures and backgrounds. This is a hallmark of free and open societies.”
Amy Goodman speaks to Brian Knappenberger, the director of the new documetary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, which is premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. Last year, the digital media outlet Gawker declared bankruptcy and put itself up for sale after it was ordered to pay $140 million in a lawsuit for publishing the sex tape of wrestler Hulk Hogan. Hogan’s lawsuit was financially backed by Silicon Valley billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel, who was outed as gay by a now-defunct Gawker blog. Knappenberger previously directed The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz and We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, about the hacker collective Anonymous. (Democracy Now!)
[…] Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.
Last spring, as the Presidential campaign exposed increasingly toxic divisions in America, Antonio García Martínez, a forty-year-old former Facebook product manager living in San Francisco, bought five wooded acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest and brought in generators, solar panels, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. “When society loses a healthy founding myth, it descends into chaos,” he told me. The author of “Chaos Monkeys,” an acerbic Silicon Valley memoir, García Martínez wanted a refuge that would be far from cities but not entirely isolated. “All these dudes think that one guy alone could somehow withstand the roving mob,” he said. “No, you’re going to need to form a local militia. You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse.” Once he started telling peers in the Bay Area about his “little island project,” they came “out of the woodwork” to describe their own preparations, he said. “I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”
In private Facebook groups, wealthy survivalists swap tips on gas masks, bunkers, and locations safe from the effects of climate change. One member, the head of an investment firm, told me, “I keep a helicopter gassed up all the time, and I have an underground bunker with an air-filtration system.” He said that his preparations probably put him at the “extreme” end among his peers. But he added, “A lot of my friends do the guns and the motorcycles and the gold coins. That’s not too rare anymore.”
The World Economic Forum this year feels like an exercise in ritual self-flagellation, which — as with the old Christian practice of fasting and whipping one’s own body — is supposed to purify the sinful nature of man. The sin, of course, is globalization, which everyone now seems to agree has been lopsided, inequitable and dangerous. In fact, most of the flaws attributed to globalization are actually mistakes in national policy that can be corrected.
It took a Chinese billionaire to speak frankly on this topic. Jack Ma, the founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, estimated that over the past three decades the U.S. government spent $14.2 trillion fighting 13 wars. That money could have been invested in America, building infrastructure and creating jobs. “You’re supposed to spend money on your own people,” he said. He pointed out that globalization produced massive profits for the U.S. economy but much of that money ended up on Wall Street. “And what happened? Year 2008. The financial crisis wiped out $19.2 trillion [in the] U.S.A. alone. . . . What if the money [had been] spent on the Midwest of the United States developing the industry there?” he asked. “It’s not [that] the other countries steal jobs from you guys — it is your strategy,” he concluded.
You don’t have to accept Ma’s specifics and statistics to recognize the validity of his general point. Globalization created huge opportunities for growth, many of which were taken by U.S. companies. The global economy is still dominated by large American firms; 134 of Fortune’s Global 500 are American. And if you look at those in cutting-edge industries, the vast majority are American. These companies have benefited enormously by having global supply chains that can source goods and services around the world, either to lower labor costs or to be close to the markets in which they sell. Since 95 percent of the world’s potential consumers live outside the United States, finding ways to sell to them will have to be a core strategy for growth, even for a country with a large domestic economy such as the United States.
The inauguration of Donald Trump is a historic day, not just for the United States, but for human civilization.
But it is a mistake to believe that Trump is the problem who must be resisted. Trump is not the problem. Trump is merely one symptom of a deeper systemic crisis. His emergence signals a fundamental and accelerating shift within a global geopolitical and domestic American political order which is breaking down.
In order to know how to best respond to the incoming Trump era, we must understand how we arrived here.
In 2014, a Princeton University study quantified just how badly US democracy is broken. Using a database of 1,779 policy issues, the study found that when a majority of Americans disagree with “economic elites” or “organised interests”, they “generally lose.”
The authors noted that when average citizens and affluent classes want the same policies from government, they usually get them. But when they disagree, the rich almost always win out. The study did not, contrary to numerous headlines, define the US as an oligarchy, but it did conclude that US democracy is in fact a system of “economic elite domination”.
In his final speech as vice president, Joe Biden warned that the top 1 percent needed to pay their fair share, or else.
Biden delivered his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, which is attended by world leaders, top executives, investors and members of the press.
The outgoing vice president started his speech by noting that there is a “palpable sense of uncertainty about the state of the world,” and we need to ask ourselves, “What kind of world are we going to leave for our children?”
The main theme of his speech was that the “liberal international world order” is at risk of collapse, as bad actors like Russia meddle in elections and try to undermine the progressive values of the United States and Europe.
The great and the good of Davos agree they have a problem with populism. Finding a solution is the hard part.
On the second day of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss Alps, delegates disagreed on how best to address the upending of the western political order, a debate made doubly urgent by the string of elections in Europe this year where anti-establishment parties could gain more ground.
While International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde urged a list of policies from programs to retrain workers to more social spending, others fretted that the turbulence is only starting. Hedge Fund billionaire Ray Dalio warned on a panel chaired by Bloomberg Television’s Francine Lacqua that “we may be at a point where globalization is ending, and provincialization and nationalization is taking hold.”
That leaves technocrats trying to patch together potentially expensive remedies to make the current system of global trade, banking and business links that the Davos club represents acceptable to the public at a time when newcomers like U.S. president elect Donald Trump threaten to dismantle it by scrapping trade deals and introducing tariffs.
A long time ago in an alternate universe far, far away, I wrote a Salon column about how the Republican Party was in trouble because rich gadflies had decided to get personally involved in electoral strategy and that could only spell their doom. These were foolish wealthy donors for the most part, people who believed the size of their bank accounts meant they were renaissance geniuses who can do anything.
Needless to say my prophesy didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. One of those gadflies is going to be inaugurated president of the United States in two days. And it turns out that the central focus of my long-ago column has been named a top adviser to that new president.
His name is Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci, and he could be a character out of an Elmore Leonard novel. In fact, in my 2014 article I wrote, “the man’s hijinks make Donald Trump look like a prince by comparison.” (I didn’t know the extent of Trump’s high jinks at the time.) Scaramucci has a big mouth and a big wallet and he has been ostentatiously rubbing elbows with the political elite for quite some time.
Environmental risks, steadily rising in importance, are recognized as authentic and relentless obstacles to peace, wealth, and health, according to the World Economic Forum’s global risk report, an annual survey of business, academic, and political leaders.
The report analyzes the strength and likelihood of 30 risks and 13 trends that shape global society. Four of the five environmental risks in the report, all related to climate change and extreme weather, are judged to be large impact and high likelihood threats.
Water crises, deemed a “societal risk” because of their broad reach, ranked third in the high-impact category, the third consecutive year in the top three. Harsh droughts last year in India, South Africa, and Vietnam slashed farm production and cut hydropower generation. Meanwhile, depletion of India’s groundwater reserves could squeeze long-term economic growth and flush rural residents into already jammed cities. These and other environmental threats to social well-being “are more prominent than ever,” the report states.
The world’s eight richest billionaires control the same wealth between them as the poorest half of the globe’s population, according to a charity warning of an ever-increasing and dangerous concentration of wealth.
In a report published to coincide with the start of the week-long World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Oxfam said it was “beyond grotesque” that a handful of rich men headed by the Microsoft founder Bill Gates are worth $426bn (£350bn), equivalent to the wealth of 3.6 billion people.
The development charity called for a new economic model to reverse an inequality trend that it said helped to explain Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.
Oxfam blamed rising inequality on aggressive wage restraint, tax dodging and the squeezing of producers by companies, adding that businesses were too focused on delivering ever-higher returns to wealthy owners and top executives.
Kenneth Rogoff can pinpoint the moment he started to grow concerned Donald Trumpwould be the next U.S. president: It was when Rogoff’s fellow attendees at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting last January said it could never happen. “A joke I’ve told 1,000 people in the months since leaving Davos is that the conventional wisdom of Davos is always wrong,” says the Harvard professor and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. “No matter how improbable, the event most likely to happen is the opposite of whatever the Davos consensus is.”
The repeated failure of business and political elites to predict what’s coming—last year, that included the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union—doesn’t strike those returning this month to the Swiss Alps as very funny. After a year in which political upsets roiled financial markets and killed off the careers of once-dominant Davos-going politicians, the concern for delegates attending this year’s meeting isn’t that their forecasts are often wrong, but that their worldview is.
In its four decades of existence, the WEF has nurtured a broad consensus in favor of globalization and open markets. At its core is the notion that capital, goods, and people should be able to move freely across borders, a principle that can deliver huge benefits to those with education and money but seems terrifying to those without either. For the 3,000 people who will convene in the small Swiss town from Jan. 17 to 20, the 2017 event could be a moment of reckoning. At speakers’ podiums, coffee bars, and the ubiquitous late-night parties, they’ll be asking themselves whether Davos has become, at best, the world’s most expensive intellectual feedback loop—and, at worst, part of the problem.
It is not true that humanity cannot learn from history. It can and, in the case of the lessons of the dark period between 1914 and 1945, the west did. But it seems to have forgotten those lessons. We are living, once again, in an era of strident nationalism and xenophobia. The hopes of a brave new world of progress, harmony and democracy, raised by the market opening of the 1980s and the collapse of Soviet communism between 1989 and 1991, have turned into ashes.
What lies ahead for the US, creator and guarantor of the postwar liberal order, soon to be governed by a president who repudiates permanent alliances, embraces protectionism and admires despots? What lies ahead for a battered EU, contemplating the rise of “illiberal democracy” in the east, Brexit and the possibility of Marine Le Pen’s election to the French presidency?
What lies ahead now that Vladimir Putin’s irredentist Russia exerts increasing influence on the world and China has announced that Xi Jinping is not first among equals but a “core leader”?
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- Gideon Rachman: And now for a world government
Earlier this month, Donald Trump used a “thank-you” rally in Des Moines, Iowa, to give his supporters further insight into the “deal-making” team he intends to build in Washington. As president-elect, Trump has so far nominated a number of billionaires, three Goldman Sachs bankers and the chief executive of the world’s largest oil firm to senior positions. Responding to liberal consternation at the sheer wealth of the prospective appointees, Trump told his audience: “A newspaper [the New York Times] criticised me and said: ‘Why can’t they have people of modest means?’ Because I want people that made a fortune. Because now they are negotiating for you, OK? It’s no different than a great baseball player or a great golfer.”
Trump’s cabinet, which is not yet fully filled, is already said to be worth a combined $14bn – the richest White House top table ever assembled. His team – if all are confirmed by the Senate – will be worth 50 times the $250m combined wealth of George W Bush’s first cabinet, which the media at the time dubbed the “team of millionaires”. For Trump, those figures are simply a confirmation of competence: in Trumpian politics, the richer you are, the better you must be at cutting a deal. And “deal-making” is what the next White House will be all about.
Throughout his campaign, Trump repeatedly returned to the theme of the “terrible deals” cut by previous administrations, from the North American Free Trade Agreement trade deal to the nuclear deal with Iran.
President Donald Trump is set to give America’s richest 1% an average annual tax cut of $214,000 when he takes office, while more than eight million families with children are expected to suffer financially under his proposed tax plan.
On the eve of the election, Trump promised to “massively cut taxes for the middle class, the forgotten people, the forgotten men and women of this country, who built our country”. But independent expert analyses of Trump’s tax plan show that America’s millionaire and billionaire class will win big at the expense of struggling low- and middle-income people, who turned out in large numbers to help the real estate billionaire win the election.
Experts warn that Trump’s tax plan will exacerbate America’s already chronic income inequality and herald in a “new era of dynastic wealth”.
“The Trump tax plan is heavily, heavily, skewed to the most wealthy, who will receive huge savings,” said Lily Batchelder, a law professor and tax expert at New York University. “At the same time, millions of low-income families – particularly single-parent households – will face an increase.”