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Hungary Closes Border, Australia Gets New PM, Hologram Whitney

Hungary Closes Border, Australia Gets New PM, Hologram Whitney

HUNGARY CLOSES BORDER TO REFUGEES

Photo: Geovien So/ZUMA

Things are only becoming more difficult for refugees fleeing war in the Middle East. After Germany closed its border Sunday, Austria dispatched its military to control the influx of refugees and several other countries imposed stricter security checks at their borders. And starting today, tough limits on refugees are being enforced in Hungary, where the primary EU crossing point from Serbia has been sealed.

  • Hungarian police, backed by soldiers, closed the border at midnight and prevented any refugees from crossing, Reuters reports.
  • “The measure is in place due to the situation that has developed on the Serbian side, as border controls are not being provided,” said Laszlo Balazs, a Hungarian border police official. Balazs added that the border could reopened if the situation changed.
  • The 28 EU member states failed to reach an agreement during an emergency summit in Brussels last night for distributing 120,000 asylum seekers, France Inter reports.
VERBATIM

“I’ll never come back to politics. Unless there are a million people demonstrating outside my home,” former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said during a recent meeting with bloggers, France Info reports. But he launched his Twitter account in June by writing, “Jack is back.”


NEW PM SWORN IN DOWN UNDER

Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in as Australia’s new Prime Minister today, one day after he and the Liberal Party ousted Tony Abbott in a leadership challenge, The Australian reports. Turnbull, Abbott’s former communications minister, becomes Australia’s 29th prime minister. In Australia, a politician can attempt to take the leadership of his party by requesting a “spill” vote. This caps a tumultuous period in Australian politics with five prime ministers in just five years. In his first “Question Time” in parliament, Turnbull said today that he won’t change the governing coalition’s tough and controversial policies on same-sex marriage and climate change, according to ABC. Read more in our Extra! feature.


ON THIS DAY


The collapse of financial services company Lehman Brothers seven years ago today represented the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history. That and more in your daily shot of history.


DAY THREE OF EAST JERUSALEM VIOLENCE

Palestinians and Israeli soldiers clashed for a third consecutive day at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque today. According to Le Monde, young Palestinians occupied the mosque, considered the third holiest site in Islam, to prevent Jewish visitors from accessing and praying at the site revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount. Today is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Al Jazeera quoted Suleiman Ahmad, the president of Jerusalem's Affairs Department, as saying that at least 17 Palestinians had been injured. The Jerusalem Post said five Israeli police officers had been wounded in the clashes and that security forces had secured the site to receive visitors after several suspects were arrested.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

The subject of the constitution is all the rage in Japan nowadays, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues his efforts to rid the document of its pacifist provisions. And Japanese women are challenging his three-year-old government with “constitution cafes” and street protests, Philippe Pons writes for Le Monde. “The meetings in Maioka form part of a growing trend of initiatives launched by Japanese women since Abe came to power three years ago,” he writes. “Across the country, women are meeting in cafes and restaurants to learn about the constitution and debate the politics surrounding its revision. ‘This movement of political consciousness was born after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011,’ says attorney Keiko Ota. ‘Like me, many mothers worried about the health of their children, and we slowly realized all the lies the government was telling us. Revising the constitution to allow Japan to become a full-fledged military power is another issue that worries mothers. This is why they try to understand what’s going on. They’re asking why Shinzo Abe blindly follows the Americans and wonder if military service will become mandatory.’”

Read the full article, Japanese Women v. Shinzo Abe.


N. KOREA RESTARTS NUCLEAR REACTOR

North Korea’s main nuclear reactor, located in the Yongbyon complex, has been restarted and is working to improve the “quality and quantity” of the country’s nuclear weapons, which could be used against the U.S. at “any time,” the state-run KCNA agency quotes the North Korean atomic agency director as saying. “If the U.S. and other hostile forces persistently seek their reckless hostile policy,” Reuters quoted him as saying, North Korea “is fully ready to cope with them with nuclear weapons any time.” This comes one day after the country also threatened to launch “satellites” that are believed to be covers for long-range missile tests, despite North Korea claiming its aim is “peaceful.”


MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD



RUSSIA PROPOSED SYRIAN DEAL, WEST DECLINED

In 2012, Russia proposed a Syrian peace deal that included President Bashar al-Assad stepping down, but the U.S., the UK and France failed to seize on the proposal, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari told the The Guardian in an exclusive interview. Ahtisaari, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was involved in back-channel discussions, said the Western countries were convinced that the Syrian dictator was about to fall and ignored the deal. Officially, Russia has consistently backed Assad during the four-year war, insisting his removal couldn’t be part of a peace deal.


WHITNEY HOUSTON HOLOGRAM

U.S. entertainment company Hologram USA is working to develop a Whitney Houston hologram, the BBC reports. It could be touring the world as early as next year.

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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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