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Fears of global economic upheaval top agenda at Davos

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde speaks during a press conference on the IMF World Economic Outlook ahead of WEF 2018 on Monday. She has warned that the world's growing inequality of wealth is unsustainable. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • The world's distribution of wealth is more skewed than ever as Davos kicks off
  • Mount Mayon volcano roars to life, sparks evacuations
  • "Banned" Russian Olympic team grows

The rich getting even richer

When the global business and political elite gathered in Davos, Switzerland, a year ago, rising inequality in how the world's wealth gets distributed was the No. 1 topic of concern.

And as the helicopters again ferry VIPs high into the Alps for the 2018 edition of the World Economic Forum, the worries remain the same.

A security guard motions to a visitor outside the Davos Congress Centre ahead of the opening of the World Economic Forum 2018 on Monday. The theme of this year's conference is 'Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.' (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)
It just doesn't appear that the high-powered champagne and canape sessions, which bring together 70 national leaders with 2,500 economic decision makers, are having any discernible effect, let alone the called for "fundamental reforms to market capitalism."

A report released today by the charity group Oxfam finds that 82 per cent of the money generated in the global economy last year went into the already swollen bank accounts of the world's wealthiest one per cent.

The globe's poorest — 3.7 billion people, or half the Earth's population — received nothing.

And the group calculates that the $762 billion in new wealth accumulated over the past 12 months could have ended global poverty — seven times over. (In 2017, Oxfam made headlines by claiming that just eight billionaires — all of them men — were as rich as half of the rest of the world.)

An armed security guard in camouflage clothing watches from the rooftop of a hotel near the Davos Congress Centre ahead of the opening of the 2018 World Economic Forum summit on Monday. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)
WEF attendees have been sounding the alarm about rising inequality for close to a decade.

"I don't know why people didn't listen, but certainly I got a strong backlash, in particular from economists saying that it was not really any of their business to worry about these things," Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, complained last year, recalling a 2013 speech. Largard had pointed to piles of IMF research indicating such unequal growth was unsustainable.

France's Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel of Germany, Britain's Theresa May and Zimbabwe's Emmerson "The Crocodile" Mnangagwa are among the world leaders scheduled to attend this year's sessions, which begin tomorrow.

U.S. President Donald Trump stands in the colonnade at the White House before speaking to March for Life participants on Friday. It's unclear whether he will make his scheduled speech in Davos this week. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is already en route to Switzerland, where he hopes to soothe business fears over the crumbling NAFTA negotiations and persuade investors that Canada is still a good place to park their money.

Donald Trump is scheduled to deliver a conference-closing speech on Friday, but it's unclear whether the budget chaos in Washington will scuttle his trip.

Swiss authorities remain braced for large-scale demonstrations in Zurich, and some 4,000 police and troops have been dispatched to the snowy mountains to keep the VIPs safe.

The politicians and the bankers will have more to discuss this year than the same old complaints about the growing divide between rich and poor. At least one central banker is warning that the world is on the brink of another 2008-style credit meltdown.

Police officers guard the main entrance of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos on Monday. Some 4,000 police and troops are providing security at the conference. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)
"All the market indicators right now look very similar to what we saw before the Lehman crisis, but the lesson has somehow been forgotten," William White, head of the OECD's review board, said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

Evidence of a new raft of toxic loans, pinned to obscure bond markets, is emerging almost daily, he said.

Another global recession might indeed reverse the inequality trend.

But not in the way anybody hopes.

Volcano danger in the Philippines

Mount Mayon, the Philippines' most-active volcano, roared to life this morning with a violent explosion of rocks, lava, steam and ash.

The eruption sent more than 40,000 people fleeing from their homes as skies darkened and the ash plume reached 10 kilometres into the air. The lava flow now stretches 3 km down the volcano's southern flank.

"It was like night time at noon," Jukes Nunez, a local disaster response official in Albay province (located 340 km south of Manila), told the Associated Press. "There was zero visibility in some areas because the ash was so thick."

Mount Mayon sprang into activity on Jan. 13, and now the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology is warning of an "imminent" major eruption.

A huge column of ash shoots up to the sky during the eruption of the Mount Mayon volcano on Monday, seen here from Legazpi city. The eruption prompted the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology to raise the alert level to 4 from last week's level 3. (Earl Recamunda/Associated Press)
A mandatory evacuation zone now stretches 8 km around the conical, 2,460-metre-high peak. All area schools have been closed, and residents are being told to stay indoors.

Tens of thousands have taken shelter in emergency centres.

Motorists drive along an ash-covered road Monday near Mount Mayon. The volcano's eruption created a giant mushroom-shaped cloud, darkening the skies and raining ash on surrounding communities. (Charism Sayat/AFP/Getty Images)
Thirty thousand ash masks have been distributed, along with 5,000 sacks of rice and other emergency supplies, but the local government says it has already run out of money and is awaiting federal assistance.

Mount Mayon has blown at least 50 times over the past 500 years. Its most deadly blast was in 1814, when it buried a nearby village and killed at least 1,200 people.

In this Jan. 15 photo, lava cascades down the slopes of the Mount Mayon volcano. (Earl Recamunda/Associated Press)
Five climbers were killed during a 2013 eruption, but its slopes remain popular with adventurous locals and tourists.

Volcanic activity is high right now, with seven other Ring of Fire mountains blowing off steam, ash and lava. And there are seven more active volcanoes across nearby Indonesia, including Bali's Mount Agung.

The Russians are coming

Cheaters sometimes prosper.

Or at least that appears to be what is happening with Russia and the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

Led by president Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee has created a list of what it calls 'a pool of clean [Russian] athletes' eligible to compete in Pyeongchang in February. (Laurent Gillieron/Associated Press)
The International Olympic Committee "banned" the team in December to punish the Kremlin for a vast, state-sponsored athlete doping conspiracy that has thrown the results from Sochi and London into doubt.

But now comes news that there will be just as many — if not more — Russian athletes competing in South Korea as there were four years ago on their home turf.

The IOC has "provisionally cleared" almost 400 Russians to participate in Pyeongchang after reviewing names, files and doping test results put forward by the country's disgraced National Olympic Committee.

Speed skaters Olga Fatkulina, left, and Alexander Rumyantsev are among 42 barred athletes from Russia that will have appeal hearings this week with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in an attempt to overturn their Olympic life bans and clear their names to compete at the Winter Olympics next month. (Getty Images/File/CBC Sports)
The secretive process — no specific criteria were announced, and the identities of those nominated have yet to be released — also rejected 111 athletes.

Olympic officials are trying to portray this "clean pool" of Russian competitors as a victory over the cheaters.

"More than 80 per cent of the athletes in this pool did not compete at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. This shows that this is a new generation of Russian athletes," the IOC said in a statement.

Few are buying the rhetoric.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency tweeted its skepticism.

Paul Melia, who heads up Canada's anti-cheating efforts at the Centre for Ethics in Sport, sounded incredulous. "In the face of evidence of a state-run doping program going back to at least 2011, to think that overnight there's a new generation of Russian athletes ready for the Olympics?," he said in an interview with the New York Times.

The names and exact number of Russians who will be welcomed in Pyeongchang won't be revealed until the end of the month.

Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport president Paul Melia questions the message the International Olympic Committee is sending by allowing Russian athletes to compete at the Winter Games in the wake of the doping scandal. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
And there may well be more Sochi veterans among them. Today in Geneva, Switzerland, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) began hearing the appeals of 42 of the 43 Russian athletes who received lifetime bans after failed doping tests at the 2014 Games. All were accused of complicity in an elaborate scheme that saw dirty urine samples swapped out for clean ones.

And there's good reason to suspect that Russia doesn't yet have its house in order.

Last week, more than 30 competitors withdrew from an indoor track and field event in Siberia when drug-testers showed up unannounced. Many are saying that they suddenly fell ill.

The South and North Korea women's hockey players pose during the Women's World Championship Division II Group A tournament in the eastern port of Gangneung, South Korea. (EPA-EFE)
Meanwhile, Russia has unveiled the grey and red uniforms that its "neutral" athletes will wear in South Korea. The togs, made by the same manufacturer that outfits Team Russia, don't have any flags, but they do sport a crest emblazoned with the words Olympic Athlete from Russia.

And there's already another controversy shaping up in Pyeongchang.

A decision by the two Koreas to field a "unified" women's hockey squad, with 12 players from the North and 23 from the South, has sparked a formal complaint to South Korea's National Human Rights Commission, with more than 40,000 people signalling their support.

Hayley Wickenheiser right, celebrates Canada's gold medal win over the United States at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Canadian Olympic great Hayley Wickenheiser, meanwhile, is asking why it's just the women who have to share their ice time in a gesture of peaceful solidarity.

"Having the South Korean women's team make this last-minute alteration to their team composition, but not requiring the same of the men, is clearly not an example of promoting/supporting gender equality in the Olympic Movement," the four-time hockey gold medalist told Insidethegames yesterday.

Quote of the moment

"We're not talking about open-heart surgery here."

- Bill Belichick, the famously warm and fuzzy coach of the New England Patriots, when asked about his quarterback Tom Brady playing with a 10-stitch gash in his throwing hand. His team will meet the Philadelphia Eagles at Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4.

Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, left, celebrates with head coach Bill Belichick after winning the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • U.S. Embassy to move to Jerusalem ahead of schedule: Pence (CBC)
  • Crackdown fails to stem illegal organ trade in Bangladesh (Asia Times)
  • Turkish Army enters Syria, warned U.S. of airstrikes (CNN)
  • Jailed German serial killer charged with 97 new counts of murder (Deutsche Welle)
  • You can dive to the wreck of the Titanic -- if you have $130,000 to spare (Toronto Star)
  • The stars who vowed to move to Canada when Trump won, then didn't (Guardian
  • Tractor beam breakthrough could lead to levitating humans (CNet)
  • The Slash: 20-foot clearing stretches 5,525 miles along Canada/U.S. border (99percentinvisible)

Today in history

Jan. 22, 1979: Peter Gzowski quits smoking for 24 hours

Not long after the cancellation of his own CBC TV talk show, Gzowski visits the rec-room-chic set of Canada After Dark to pump a new book and discuss an unsuccessful day-long effort to quit the demon weed. A smoker's smoker — up to 80 cigarettes a day for 50 years — Gzowski died of emphysema on Jan. 24, 2002.

Paul Soles interviews Peter Gzowski

44 years ago
Duration 15:04
Paul Soles interviews Gzowski on butting out, his recent trip to Poland and an upcoming book.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.