India's richest corner 73 percent of wealth: Oxfam

Bottom half of population saw just one percent increase in their wealth last year, says report by anti-poverty charity.

    New Delhi, India – Up to 670 million Indians, who comprise the poorest half of the population, saw just one percent increase in their wealth while the richest one percent cornered 73 percent of the national income generated in the country last year, according to anti-poverty charity Oxfam.

    “The wealth of the elite 1 percent increased by 20913 billion rupees [$327bn], equivalent to the total budget of the Indian government last financial year,” Oxfam said in its report published on Monday.

    Indian billionaires’ wealth increased by $76.5bn (₹4891bn) – from $247bn (₹15,778bn) to over $324bn (20,676bn) – making the country one of the most unequal in the world, the report said.

    “It is one percent versus the rest. This is nothing short of loot. That’s why you are seeing starvation deaths in India,” Nikhil Dey, rights-activist and founder of a workers group, MKSS, told Al Jazeera.

    “At best, those in power are saying one thing and doing another. At worst, their only deliberate concern is about the generation and pocketing of wealth for people in power.

    “The rich are being subsidised in India in every which way … . The poor are not being allowed to function. Land is being taken over, employment does not exist, schools are being privatised. You can’t have 73 percent of wealth in the hands of one percent.”

    The report was released as Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, flew to Switzerland to woo global investors at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

    Modi, who is being accompanied by the finance and commerce ministers, was scheduled to host a dinner for global industry bosses from 18 countries on Monday night, according to the Indian Express newspaper.

    Worsening inequality

    Overall global inequality figures further worsened according to the Oxfam report, with the richest one percent cornering 82 percent of the wealth created last year.

    Activists and development economists are worried at the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the rich in India. Last year, 58 percent of national income went to India’s richest one percent.

    “It is a direct result of these neo-liberal policies whose modus operandi is to pamper the rich in the name of achieving higher growth,” Prabhat Patnaik, professor emeritus at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Al Jazeera.

    “But the growth that occurs is accompanied by the absolute impoverishment of large numbers. Such inequalities undermine the foundations of modern India and its survival as a secular democratic republic.”

    Oxfam said the figures suggest that “approximately two-thirds of billionaire wealth is the product of inheritance, monopoly and cronyism”.

    The report, Reward Work Not Wealth, blames the race to the bottom between countries on tax and on wages as a top contributor to deepening inequality, along with the crushing of workers’ rights.

    “It would take around 17.5 days for the best-paid executive at a top Indian garment company to earn what a minimum wage worker in rural India will earn in their lifetime (presuming 50 years at work),” Oxfam said.

    Falling short

    Since taking office in 2014, the Modi government has announced schemes to increase spending on infrastructure, including ports and roads, to boost economic growth.

    But it has fared poorly in combating poverty, say critics.

    “The Indian government’s efforts at reducing inequality and combating poverty faster are woefully inadequate. It needs to stop the super-rich and the corporates from continuing to rob India of its wealth,” Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam India, told Al Jazeera.

    The government needs to “invest more in agriculture; and implementing fully the social protection schemes (such as rural job scheme and the Food Security Act) that already exist.”

    India’s wealth inequality also contributes to lack of access to quality medical care for the poor.

    Those living on $2 a day have a mortality rate three times the global average, according to the Oxfam report.

    “Healthcare spending during accidents or emergencies for low-income households often means a reduction in the consumption of food or other basic needs that can push people below the extreme poverty line,” the report warns.

    India’s health budget is at 1.15 percent of the country’s GDP, one of the lowest proportions in the world.

    Oxfam India on Monday urged Modi to tax the super-rich and ensure that the Indian economy “works for everyone and not just the fortunate few”.

    In an online survey conducted by Oxfam, 73 percent Indians said they wanted “the gap between the rich and poor to be addressed very urgently”.

    Global wealth databook

    In the survey with a sample size of 11,000 Indians, a majority of respondents said CEOs should accept pay cuts up to 60 percent.

    Oxfam said it used calculations to compare returns to shareholders and CEO compensation with returns to ordinary workers for its analysis.

    It used data from Credit Suisse’s annual Global Wealth Databook and the Forbes billionaires list.

    India lifted 120 million people from extreme poverty between 1990 and 2013, according to the World Bank. However, one out of two Indians remain vulnerable to falling back into poverty, it says.

    India’s march to reducing poverty has been significantly slower compared to neighbouring China. Over the same 1990-2013 period, China reduced the number of people living in extreme poverty from 756 million to 25 million.

    “The message in the Oxfam report is not new. The main question is: Is the government willing to acknowledge the message?” Reetika Khera, Development Economist at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, told Al Jazeera.

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    Pedestrian in serious condition after being struck by vehicle in Abbotsford

    A pedestrian was taken to hospital in serious condition on Wednesday, after being struck by a vehicle in Abbotsford.

    It happened around noon, in the 32400-block of Simon Avenue.

    Police say the driver of the vehicle, a Dodge SUV, remained on scene and co-operated.

    Roads in the area remained closed for about two hours while collision specialists investigated.

    It remains unclear what led up to the crash.

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    Gulf crisis: Qatari pilots train to police skies

    A recent dispute with its Emirati neighbours over airspace has highlighted the extent to which the blockade of Qatar has encouraged the peninsular nation to beef up its military spending and training.

      Qatari military pilots say they’re ready to fly without the support of their Gulf neighbours.

      The United Arab Emirates military was recently told not to escalate airspace tensions with Qatar and fly on alternative routes.

      But the Gulf crisis has encouraged Qatar to look for other partners, both for support and for military technology.


      Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid reports from the Al Zaeem Air College.

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      Waiter strangled his sons and killed their mother, then himself

      A waiter killed his partner and two young, Irish-born children before taking his own life in a horrific murder-suicide just days before Christmas.

      Two Dublin schools expressed their shock and sorrow after reports emerged that two of their past pupils had been murdered.

      The Irish Independent has established that Spanish national Victor Marin Del Sol, who lived and worked in south Dublin for more than a decade, flew to Poland to spend time with his family over the festive period.

      Some time after his arrival he strangled his two young sons and then laid in wait for his partner, Ewelina Szwarc, to return home before stabbing her to death.

      The couple’s 11-year-old daughter fled in terror and Marin Del Sol is believed to have then taken his own life.

      Polish police are continuing to investigate the tragic events of December 22.

      The two brothers, Oskar (9) and Christian (7), who were born in Ireland, spent a year in two Rathfarnham schools before their mother moved back to her native Poland with them.

      The couple’s daughter, Maria Victoria, also attended one of the Rathfarnham schools.

      Marin Del Sol, who worked as a waiter in Little Caesars, had travelled to Poland to meet with his partner Ms Szwarc and their children.

      Oskar attended second class in Ballyroan Boys School in Rathfarnham before his mother moved them to Poland.

      Christian had attended junior infants in the nearby Scoil Naomh Padraig, while Maria Victoria was in third class at the same school.

      “Oskar was a lovely child. He was a nice boy. He spoke Polish and Spanish and had little English, but he was developing well in the language and integrating well,” Ballyroan Boys School principal Des Morris said. “It is shocking and sad.”

      Scoil Naomh Padraig principal Grace O’Neill spoke kindly of Christian and Maria Victoria. “We remember them as lovely, happy children, and we will remember them in our prayers,” she said.

      According to reports in Poland, the alarm was raised in the town of Pyrzyce when Maria Victoria escaped and alerted neighbours.

      Some media reports speculated that Victor and Ewelina had split two or three years ago, but the manager of Little Caesars restaurant told the Irish Independent he believed they were still a couple until relatively recently.

      “Everybody loved Victor. He was an amazing guy. He really loved people,” he said.

      “He told us he was going to Poland before Christmas for a few days to see the children.It’s terrible. We could never have imagined that Victor could do such a thing.”

      It was reported in the Polish media that Ms Szwarc spent the night with her daughter nearby while Marin Del Sol stayed in her apartment with the boys and when they fell asleep he strangled them.

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      Nets launches same-day settlement of e-payments for hawkers

      SINGAPORE – Hawkers can now get their sales proceeds from e-payments in their bank account on the same day, with the launch of a same-day settlement initiative by payment service group Nets.

      Nets said the initiative, which launched on Thursday (Jan 17), will improve cash flow and give hawkers faster access to their funds.

      No special arrangements are required to enjoy the benefits of the same-day settlement, which is applicable to all those at hawker centres, canteens and coffee shops.

      All Nets transactions, aside from CashCard and Nets FlashPay transactions, that are made before 5pm will be credited to the hawkers’ DBS, OCBC or United Overseas Bank accounts by 11pm the same day.

      Nets transactions made after 5pm will be credited to the hawkers’ bank accounts before 9am the next day.

      In most cases, this will allow hawkers to make their own payments to their suppliers and vendors before the start of the work day.

      The initiative was the result of a collaboration between Nets and its merchant banks, DBS, OCBC and UOB.

      Nets said in a statement that it hopes the move will encourage more hawkers to adopt e-payments.

      There have been a series of initiatives recently to promote e-payments at hawker establishments, including the launch of QR code payments at Tanjong Pagar Food Centre in September 2017 and the acceptance of ez-link and concession card payments on Nets terminals in hawker centres.

      Nets head of sales Ang Sok Hong said: “We’ve taken away the hassle of (payment) collection by introducing QR code and other e-payment options.

      “Now, with same-day settlement, stallholders will be able to settle supplier payments and other business expenses more easily.”

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      As Republicans Rush to Condemn Steve King, Some Ask: Why Not Trump?

      WASHINGTON — After years of turning a blind eye to Representative Steve King’s inflammatory statements and racist behavior, Republicans decided this week they had had enough after Mr. King asked The New York Times when phrases like white supremacy and white nationalism became offensive.

      But even as they piled on their condemnation, President Trump had used Twitter to mock Senator Elizabeth Warren for not announcing her presidential exploratory committee at Wounded Knee or Little Bighorn, sacred ground for Native Americans whose ancestors fought and died there.

      Now Mr. King — a Republican from Iowa who once said that undocumented immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert” — is persona non grata in his party, even as Mr. Trump continues to paint the same migrants as rapists, drug dealers and importers of mayhem.

      “Look, it’s been my practice for the last couple of years not to make random observations about the president’s tweeting and other things,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, told reporters on Tuesday, shortly before the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution that cited Mr. King in condemning white supremacy. “Congressman King clearly uttered words that are unacceptable in America today.”

      Mr. McConnell, who has suggested that Mr. King find another line of work, was not alone. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, who stripped Mr. King of his committee assignments, suggested it was not his place to rebuke Mr. Trump because the president is not a member of the House Republican Conference. (In fact, the House has the authority to rebuke or censure the president.)

      Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, another member of the Republican leadership, said much the same: “I think this is about our language inside here. I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be disciplining the president. He’s in a different branch than we are.”

      Republicans are used to agonizing over how to handle the president’s offensive comments and racially tinged remarks. His comments after the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., where he said there were “fine people on both sides,” sent party leaders scurrying for cover, even as they took care not to criticize Mr. Trump directly.

      “We must be clear,” Paul D. Ryan, then the speaker of the House, wrote on Twitter at the time. “White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”

      And after the president’s tweet on Sunday night about Wounded Knee infuriated Native American leaders in his state, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, issued a mild rebuke of the president.

      “I wish he wouldn’t tweet as much,” Mr. Thune told reporters, adding, “That’s obviously a very sensitive part of our state’s history. So yeah, I wish he’d stay away from it.”

      But generally, elected Republicans have let the president slide.

      “They know on some level that their defense of Trump is morally unsupportable, and so when they get a chance to speak out against Steve King, who doesn’t have any power over them and doesn’t pose a threat to them, a lot of them are falling over themselves to condemn him,” said Peter Wehner, who advised President George W. Bush on domestic policy. “But you can’t condemn Steve King and not condemn Donald Trump and pretend that you’re doing the right moral and ethical thing.”

      In Mr. King, Republicans seem happy to have found an opportunity to condemn racism without attacking the president. After taking a beating in the 2018 midterm elections — which produced a freshman Republican class that is almost entirely white and male and boosted the share of white men in the House Republican Conference to 90 percent — Republicans are also well aware that the party needs to overhaul its image.

      But Mr. Trump’s critics within the party say that no overhaul can be complete without denouncing the president.

      Michael Gerson, who was the top speechwriter for Mr. Bush, published an opinion article in The Washington Post this week that carried the headline, “Republicans Need to Condemn Trump’s Brazen Bigotry.”

      Mr. Wehner agreed: “It’s a massive inconsistency and a sign of cowardice and intimidation on the part of Republicans — and I think also a sign of a guilty conscience.”

      After Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, said Tuesday on television that Mr. King’s comment’s were “absolutely abhorrent” and “racist,” Mr. Wehner took to Twitter: “I wonder if Liz Cheney would say the same thing about Donald Trump?” he wrote.

      But some Republicans say they cannot be the word police, and note that Democrats were in no rush to condemn Representative Rashida Tlaib, a freshman from Michigan, after she used a vulgarity to call for the impeachment of the president. Others insisted that the president’s comments have not been as offensive as those of Mr. King’s.

      “It’s just very different — the context of what is said, the way of what is said, it’s very different,” said Representative Mark Meadow, Republican of North Carolina and a close ally of the president’s. “I’m not going to go back and go through all of his quotes, but it’s very different.”

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      Lethbridge air show postponed until 2020

      The Lethbridge International Air Show will be on hiatus for a second consecutive summer, with a return now planned for 2020, organizers said this week.

      Since 2013, the event had been taking place every two years at the Lethbridge Airport. The last show occurred in July 2017.

      In December, event officials notified both Lethbridge city and county councils about the postponement.

      Organizers said there are several reasons for the change, including the recent passing of long-time air show volunteer and board member Brent Botfield.

      The air show association’s director of communications, Stacy Green, said there have also been other leadership changes and they wanted some time to rebuild themselves as an organization.

      There was also an appetite to shift the event to even-numbered years in an effort to acquire more support from Canadian and American military branches.

      The show’s 2020 edition will move from July to the August long weekend.

      “The time of year we’ve been having our show in July has been conflicted,” Green said.

      “We think it’s important that we can move to a weekend that isn’t already saturated with events so that we can actually bring some better economic impact and tourism to the city as well.”

      After the 2020 show, Green said the plan is to resume holding the event every second year.

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      Mike Pence starts Middle East tour amid Jerusalem anger

      US vice president arrives in Egypt with shortened schedule after Palestinian president and others promise to snub visit.

        US Vice President Mike Pence has arrived in Egypt for the first leg of a Middle East tour marred by continuing anger over the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month.

        Pence, who landed in Cairo on Saturday, is the most senior US politician to visit the region since US President Donald Trump announced on December 6 that Washington would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

        The US vice president met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo’s presidential palace, where the pair discussed bilateral ties between the two countries.

        They also spoke about ways to eliminate what Sisi called the “disease and cancer” of terrorism.

        After Egypt, Pence is due to visit Jordan and Israel, where he is expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and address the Knesset.

        His trip was initially scheduled to take place in December but was delayed apparently so that Pence could oversee a US congressional vote on tax reform, in which he could potentially have had to cast a deciding vote.

        Jordan’s King Abdullah is also due to meet Pence, but other senior Arab figures have made clear they do not wish to meet him.

        Trump’s decision sparked anger across Palestine and the wider Arab and Muslim world and earned the US angry rebuke from the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who vowed not to receive Pence in the Palestinian territories. 

        Mahdi Abdel Hadi, a Palestinian political analyst, said the Palestinians were sending the Trump administration a “clear message”.

        “You cannot meet people when they insult you and humiliate you, when they ignore you and side with your enemy,” said Abdel Hadi.

        “[Palestinians] have to pass a clear message that we are angry, this cannot continue and it would be hypocrisy if we meet you.”

        Muslim and Coptic Christian leaders in Egypt, have similarly vowed not to meet the US vice president.

        In December, a statement by the Coptic Orthodox church on behalf of Pope Tawadros II, said Trump’s decision ignored the “feelings of millions of Arab people”.

        The imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque also said at the time that he would not meet Pence.

        “How can I sit with those who granted what they do not own to those who do not deserve it?” said Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb.

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        Mattis: Defence plan focus on Russia, China, not terror

        US defence chief outlines the US’s new security strategy, warns of diminished capability ‘in every domain of warfare’.

          United States Defence Secretary James Mattis has said that “great power competition, not terrorism” will now be the main focus of national security policy.

          Mattis, unveiling the US’s first new defence strategy in a decade on Friday, said the US is facing growing threats from countries such as Russia and China, calling them “revisionist powers” that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models”.

          “Today, America’s military reclaims an era of strategic purpose and we’re alert to the realities of a changing world and attentive to the need to protect our values and the countries that stand with us,” he said at the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

          “Adapting to today’s realities, this strategy expands our competitive space, prioritises preparedness for war, provides clear direction for significant change at the speed of relevance, and builds a more lethal force to compete strategically.”

          China was quick to respond to Mattis’ comments, with a spokesperson for the country’s embassy in the US saying Beijing is seeking “global partnership, not global dominance” in a statement on Saturday.

          “China and the United States shoulder important responsibilities and have extensive common interests in upholding world peace and stability and promoting global development and prosperity,” the statement said.

          Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, called the new defence strategy confrontational.

          “It is regrettable that instead of having a normal dialogue, instead of using the basis of international law, the US is striving to prove their leadership through such confrontational strategies and concepts,” he told reporters at the UN headquarters, in New York, on Friday.

          Mattis, however, said that the US has lost its “competitive edge … in every domain of warfare” and now has an “overstretched and under-resourced military” created by ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, technological change and defence spending caps imposed by Congress.

          “We need Congress back in the driver’s seat of budget decisions, not in the spectator seat of Budget Control Acts’ indiscriminate and automatic cuts. We need a budget and we need budget predictability if we’re to sustain our military’s primacy,” he said.

          US President Donald Trump has pledged to increase the US’ defence spending by $54bn as part of his administration’s 2018 budget.

          However, the federal government shut down on Saturday after members of Congress failed to reach an agreement on the government’s spending plans.

          Trump said in a post on Twitter that the situation was “not looking good” for the US military as a result of the impasse.

          “Not looking good for our great Military or Safety & Security on the very dangerous Southern Border. Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy,” he said.

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          U.S. money market assets recede from recent surge: iMoneynet

          NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. money market industry recorded its first outflow in six weeks, as assets retreated from their strongest levels since early 2010 prompted by a rebound in equities and other risky assets, according to a private report released on Wednesday.

          U.S. money market funds, which are seen only a tad riskier than bank accounts, posted a $17.00 billion drop in assets to $3.012 trillion in the week ended Jan. 15, the Money Fund Report said on Wednesday.

          Withdrawals from money market funds in the latest week reversed prior weeks’ heavy inflows, as stock markets around the world showed some stabilization after being rattled in the last weeks of 2018 and early 2019 on worries about a global economic slowdown, analysts said.

          Taxable money market fund assets declined by $16.22 billion to $2.867 trillion, led by a $16.03 billion drop in assets among institutional government funds, according to the report, published by iMoneyNet.

          Tax-free assets fell by $775.80 million to $145.76 billion,

          The seven-day simple yield on taxable money-market funds averaged 2.03 percent, down from 2.07 percent the week before, while the average seven-day simple yield for tax-free and municipal money-market funds slipped to 0.98 percent from 1.19 percent the previous week, iMoneyNet said.

          (GRAPHIC: U.S. money fund assets –

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