WHILE YOU SLEPT

A Women’s World, South Sudan Ceasefire, Fake Fine Wine

SPOTLIGHT: WHO RUNS THE WORLD? WOMEN

Theresa May is set to take over as Britain’s new Prime Minister to succeed the outgoing David Cameron, bumped from office by the victory of the Brexit referendum. May will become the second woman to lead the UK, following the “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, who controlled British politics during the 1980s when a crisis-riven high-stakes political world was utterly dominated by men.


Now May â€" at least in the West â€" is hardly alone. Just across the aisle in Westminster, Angela Eagle declared her candidacy this week in an attempt to be the first female leader of Britain’s Labour party, hoping to unseat Jeremy Corbyn, also under fire post-Brexit. Two women facing each other across the dispatch box in parliament would be a first in the United Kingdom’s male-dominated political system, even while Nicola Sturgeon already reigns supreme up north in Scotland.


In a time of difficult challenges surrounding Brexit, lackluster global growth, and existential issues like climate change and terrorism, female leadership could provide a much-needed shakeup of politics around the world.


In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is easily the continent’s most prominent political leader. Her popularity and effectiveness in power have earned her the Thatcher-like nickname “the Iron Chancellor.” Meanwhile in the U.S., polls say Hillary Clinton is on the road to becoming the first woman president. Come 2017, three of the world’s most powerful countries could be led by women. That fact alone wouldn’t solve anything, but it would be quite a fact in what is otherwise still very much a man’s world.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY

  • President Obama and former President George W. Bush will speak at a memorial service in Dallas for the five police officers killed last week.
  • British Labour Party to decide if leader Jeremy Corbyn can stand in leadership challenge.
  • Bernie Sanders is set to endorse Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in a joint appearance in New Hampshire.


SOUTH SUDAN CEASEFIRE

After days of violent clashes that left hundreds dead, President Salva Kiir and his former enemy, Vice President Riek Machar, have declared a ceasefire to avert a return to civil war. The fighting threatened a fragile peace deal signed last year, ending a two-year war that devastated the world’s newest independent country.


SYRIAN REBELS LAUNCH ATTACK ON ALEPPO

Several Syrian rebel groups launched a new offensive on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, with fighters coming from a variety of factions including the Free Syrian Army and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Syria Deeply reports that the attack is a response to advances made last week by Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the country’s second-largest city.


â€" ON THIS DAY

From Pakistan to Russia by way of Iraq and South Korea, it’s time for your 57-second shot of History.


HONG KONG TIANANMEN PROTEST MUSEUM CLOSES

The only museum in China dedicated to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, located in Hong Kong, closed its doors today. The South China Morning Post reveals that the closure comes as a result of a dispute with the museum’s landlord, but the organization behind the museum claims the decision was politicized and plans to reopen it soon.


INTERNATIONAL COURT RULES IN PHILIPPINES’ FAVOR

An international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in the country’s long-standing dispute with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea, reports the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The arbitration concluded there was “no legal basis” for China’s “nine-dash line” claim, but Beijing has vowed to ignore the ruling.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Beijing recently announced that it would start to recognize a selection of French wines in China, a country where counterfeiting of prominent French wine brands is common. For Les Echos, Marie-Josée Cougard reports: “French wines are not only counterfeited because of their international prestige but also because of their steep prices â€" a result of taxes that can be as high as 48%. Although wine from other parts of the world can be duty free, they are not as desirable as French brands. ‘There are more counterfeited French wines in China than non-counterfeited ones, and the situation is getting worse. Importers and distributors of wines and spirits make the majority of counterfeited goods to lower their selling price,’ notes a detailed French foreign ministry trade report.”

Read the full article, China Fights Rampant Counterfeiting Of French Wine.


ITALY TRAIN COLLISION

At least 11 people were killed in a head-on collision between two trains in Puglia, southern Italy, Corriere della Sera reports.


$170 MILLION

American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has hit No. 1 on this year’s Forbes Celebrity 100 list of the world’s highest-paid entertainers, having earned an estimated $170 million over the past year.


MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

Maltese Megaliths â€" Mnajdra, 1990


CHELSEA MANNING ATTEMPTS SUICIDE

Imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning attempted to take her own life last week and was hospitalized, but her lawyers have yet to disclose her motives. Private Manning remains under “close observation” in her cell in Fort Leavenworth prison, where she is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.


â€" MORE STORIES, BROUGHT TO YOU BY WORLDCRUNCH

POKEMON GO! (AWAY)

An Australian man working in Singapore was fired from his marketing job after writing on Facebook that the island city-state was a “piece of f***ing sh** country” for not yet having Pokémon Go â€" Nintendo’s trending augmented reality mobile game that allows users to catch Pokémon characters in real-life locations.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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