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Russian Doping, Tunisian Women, Free Coding

SPOTLIGHT: DOPING, FROM SOCHI TO RIO

The terminology itself is telling: “State-sponsored doping” is the accusation that the The New York Times reports the U.S. Department of Justice is now pursuing against Russian athletes and officials, linked to the use of banned substances at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and other competitions. “The inquiry escalates what has been a roiling sports controversy into a federal criminal case involving foreign officials,” the paper writes. That “state-sponsored,” an expression typically attached to such accusations as terrorism or genocide, is now describing an alleged system of sports cheats may simply be a convenient journalistic or legalistic turn of phrase. But in this case, it is also a window into the Kremlin leadership, its attitude toward international oversight â€" and the importance their macho president places on athletic performance.


But this case is also a reminder of how many fields come into play when world-class sporting competitions are at stake: economics, politics, celebrity, ethics, and so on. Last year’s revelations about corruption at FIFA was described in often highly-charged language All eyes will now be on Rio de Janeiro, and the 2016 Summer Games. Needless to say, host country Brazil faces plenty of challenges when it comes to economics, politics, ethics and so on...



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UGLY DETAILS OF ISIS TERROR IN LIBYA

A damning report published by Human Rights Watch reveals what life has become for people living under ISIS rule in the Libyan city of Sirte. The report documents at least 49 executions and quotes witnesses as saying that corpses in orange jumpsuits are often left hanging from buildings, in what the terrorist organization calls “crucifixions.” More than two-third of Sirte’s 80,000 inhabitants have fled their city since a small group of ISIS fighters invaded it in late 2014.


â€" ON THIS DAY

The first true global war, a massive eruption and a famous French tennis player. All of that and more in your 57-second shot of history.


ECUADOR HIT BY EARTHQUAKE

A magnitude 6.7 quake struck western Ecuador during the night, in an area located near the one hit by a devastating quake on April 16 that killed 660 people. Across the Pacific, South Korea too was rattled by an earthquake.


VERBATIM

“I would speak to him, I would have no problem speaking to him,” presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump told Reuters, when asked if he would negotiate directly as president with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.


TRUMP AND CLINTON EDGE CLOSER TO NOMINATION

Hillary Clinton is less than 100 delegates away from the Democratic nomination after her narrow victory in Kentucky yesterday, even while losing by a large margin to Bernie Sanders in Oregon. Escalating tensions between the two sides has observers worried over the future unity of the Democratic party. Donald Trump meanwhile won Oregon, meaning he just needs 66 more delegates to officially win the Republican nomination.


U.S. SENATE ALLOWS 9/11 SAUDI ARABIA SUITS

The U.S. Senate passed a bill that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for any role it might have played in the terrorist attacks, a move that highlights the growing divide between the Congress and the White House, which has threatened to veto it, The New York Times reports. Saudi Arabia had threatened to retaliate by selling up to $750 billion of American assets. The oil-rich kingdom also owns more than $116 billion of U.S. debt, according to Bloomberg.


522%

The U.S. has raised its import duties on Chinese steel by a whopping 522% to protect its own market, after accusing Chinese steelmakers of distorting the global market by selling below market costs.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Writing in Italian newspaper La Stampa, Francesca Sforza delves into the divisions among Tunisian women over the role of religion, more than five years after the revolution. “Tunisia is a nation of young women. They write books, tell stories, teach in universities, write on blogs, organize activist networks, protest on the streets, and work both in and out of the home. In the winter of 2014, during discussions over the approval of the new constitution, women formed an army of volunteers that took to the streets to fight for the inclusion of gender equality. The goal was to break from the more ambiguous “complementarity” formulation between men and women in the previous constitution, and oppose the introduction of Sharia law, polygamy, and unequal rights to family inheritance. But there were others â€" and other women â€" who did and do not agree on all elements of this agenda."

Read the full article: Two Tunisian Women, Emancipated But Divided Over Religion.


SRI LANKA FLOODS

Flash floods and landslides in Sri Lanka, triggered by days of bad weather, have killed at least 27 people, AP reports. The Sri Lankan Red Cross says at least 200 families are missing and feared buried by the mudslides.


FRENCH FREE CODING SCHOOL COMING TO SILICON VALLEY

French businessman Xavier Niel is planning to export his successful coding school project 42 to the Silicon Valley, where he hopes to educate for free 10,000 students over the next 5 years, TechCrunch reports.

Find out more about what’s driving Niel, the mercurial tech billionaire often dubbed the French Steve Jobs.


â€" MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH


SAME-SEX MARRIAGE IN MEXICO

With a big front-page kiss, Mexican daily La Prensa welcomed news that President Enrico Pena Nieto has given the green light for national legislation to legalize gay marriage.

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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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