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ISIS No. 2 Killed, CoiffeurGate, Nintendo Boom

SPOTLIGHT: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

It’s been a hairy few days in European politics. In what is being dubbed “CoiffeurGate”, French satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchainé revealed that President Francois Hollande has a full-time hairdresser who earns 9,895 euros a month (over $10,000), about the same salary as a government minister. Bemused French citizens are not only citing the hefty bill but the fact that Hollande’s hair is so utterly unremarkable.

Across the English Channel, the same cannot be said for Britain’s newly appointed Foreign Secretary, former London Mayor Boris Johnson. Indeed, his anything-goes approach to both hair and political rhetoric have drawn comparisons across the Atlantic, to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. President.

Controversy over political hair is not new, with former President U.S. Bill Clinton’s “Hairgate” scandal in 1993, when a high-priced hairstylist came aboard Air Force One at Los Angeles Airport and reportedly delayed several commercial flights. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also attracted plenty of attention for apparent hair-replacement procedures. Indeed, he once showed up wearing a bandana for an encounter with then British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Of course, this has been a troubling moment for Blair for very different reasons.


WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY

  • Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to meet potential running mates ahead of upcoming Republican convention.

  • Bank of England expected to cut interest rates in first post-Brexit policy meeting.


POST-BREXIT POLITICS, NEXT ROUND

Newly appointed British Prime Minister Theresa May named former London Mayor and Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. Along with a new secretary for negotiations to quit the EU, Johnson forms part of May’s so-called “Brexit cabinet”, reports The Daily Telegraph.

Across the aisle, after a Labour Party committee ruled that leader Jeremy Corbyn could automatically stand in an upcoming leadership election, former shadow minister Owen Smith declared his own candidacy. This sets up a three-way contest with Corbyn and Angela Eagle. With polls indicating Corbyn is likely to be re-elected, The Guardian reports the party could split.

ISIS CONFIRMS DEATH OF NO. 2 OMAR AL-SHISHANI

The Islamic State confirmed the death of Omar al-Shishani, its well-known head of military operations and No. 2 to leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. While the group reports the Chechen-born Shishani was killed in fighting near their stronghold of Mosul in northern Iraq, U.S. authorities say he was killed by an American air strike in Syria in March.

â€" ON THIS DAY

Parisians stormed the Bastille, Jane Goodall arrived in Tanzania and other notable events for July 14 in your 57 seconds of history.

CUBAN ECONOMY MINISTER SACKED AMID CRISIS

As Cuba’s economic and energy crisis deepens, Havana removed Economy Minister Marino Murillo from his post. Part of the blame is that Cuba is heavily dependent for its energy needs on Venezuela, which is facing ongoing turmoil and food shortages.

â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

German daily Die Welt traveled north to Norway to a cave 80 meters under a mountain, site of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault â€" the largest seed bank on Earth

It “looks like the entrance to a war bunker. Or a secret weapons factory. It could be the stuff of fiction: We almost expect Darth Vader to emerge from a wall. Or it could be the gate to an underworld that is populated with dwarfs and trolls â€" creatures that animate works like the Lord of the Rings.

It’s minus 6 degrees Celsius in the cave in this surreal location in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. But there are no trolls running around. And there aren't many humans either. Instead, tucked inside a cool chamber, 27 meters long and 10 meters wide, vacuum-packed aluminum bags hold more than 850,000 species of crops.” Read the full story: Seed Vault Hidden In Norwegian Cave Holds Planet’s Biodiversity

DEADLY KASHMIR CLASHES CONTINUE

The death toll in a week of violent clashes in India’s restive northern region of Kashmir rose to 37 on Wednesday, as Indian authorities extended a curfew to halt the clashes, reports the Times of India.

MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

Yellowstone Park - May 1994

TENSIONS RISE IN BURUNDI AFTER ASSASSINATION

The assassination of Hafsa Mossi, a former government minister and BBC journalist, reignited tensions in Burundi’s long-running political crisis. According to Le Monde, many opposition and military figures have been killed since an attempted coup in April 2015, but the killing of Mossi is a first for politicians close to President Pierre Nkurunziza.

â€" MORE STORIES, BROUGHT TO YOU BY WORLDCRUNCH

NINTENDO SHARES SALVAGED BY POKÉMON GO

The Japanese gaming company Nintendo hadn’t had much fun in recent years. But reports this morning showed shares in the company had risen by more than 50% since the release of Pokémon Go, an augmented reality app that has been a smash hit since its debut in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand last week. The firm now plans to launch the app in Japan and other countries in the coming weeks, reports Asahi Shimbun.

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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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