In The News

Kabul Airport Explosion, Navalny Speaks, Exoplanet Excitement

Welcome to Thursday, where an explosion rocks Kabul airport, Alexei Navalny gives his first interview since his March arrest, and the search for life beyond our Solar System gets a potential big boost. Meanwhile, French economic daily Les Echos offers a deep dive in the world of TikTok's finance gurus — the so-called "finfluencers".

Kabul Airport Explosion, Navalny Speaks, Exoplanet Excitement

People queue up to board U.S. military aircrafts at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International airport, despite calls to stay away from the airport due to terrorist threats.

Xinhua/ZUMA
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger


• Kabul airport blast: *Developing* An explosion hit Kabul airport, where thousands of Afghans are trying to flee the Taliban regime. No immediate word on casualties. Earlier today, the U.S. and its allies had urged people to move away from the airport due to a threat of a terrorist attack by the Islamic State (ISIS). Western troops are hurrying to evacuate as many people as possible before the Aug. 31 deadline.

China's halts trade with Lithuania over Taiwan: China has halted direct freight trains to Lithuania due to the Baltic nation's pursuit of closer relations with Taiwan — a decision political observers say sends a warning to the rest of Europe.

• COVID-19 update: Japan, still under a state of emergency, has suspended 1.63 million doses of the Moderna COVID vaccine, more than a week after the domestic distributor received reports of contaminants in some vials. Australia's new daily cases of COVID exceeded 1,000 for the first time since the pandemic began. Two major hospitals in Sydney have set up emergency outdoor tents to help and deal with this rise of patients. Meanwhile, according to New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the country's strict lockdown is helping curb the spread of the delta variant.

• HK police investigates Tiananmen Square vigil: The national security police of Hong Kong are investigating the organisers of a vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre for alleged foreign collusion offences. The longstanding group is accused of being an 'agent of foreign forces' and is asked to provide information about its membership.

• Alexei Navalny forced to watch state TV: In his first interview since he was arrested in March, Russian opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny says he has been forced to watch eight hours of state TV a day. Despite the "psychological violence" Navalny remains optimistic that Putin's regime will end "sooner or later."

• Ron Jeremy indicted on sexual assault: A grand jury has indicted adult film actor Ron Jeremy, 68, on more than 30 counts of sexual assault, involving 21 women and girls across more than two decades. Jeremy pleads not guilty to all charges.

• New class of habitable exoplanets found: Signs of life beyond our Solar System may be detectable in the next two to three years, experts have said after Cambridge astronomers have identified a new class of habitable planets, called Hycean planets — hot and ocean-covered — which are more likely to host life.


Colombian daily el Colombiano breathes a sigh of relief as the country records its lowest number of daily COVID deaths (73) in 14 months, although fears of a new peak in October remain, leading the government to extend its state of health emergency until Nov. 30.

Finance under influence? Why TikTok business gurus are not to be trusted

For French economic daily Les Echos, Anne-Claire Bennevault, founder of consulting firm BNVLT and think tank SPAK.fr, weighs in on the rise of "finfluencers", who use online platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok to help people manage their personal finances and sometimes even teach investing techniques.

Some 15 or 20 years ago, if you were looking to get into finance, you would read the Wall Street Journal, pay attention to Henry Kaufman's analyses and closely follow both Ray Dalio's speeches and Warren Buffet's masterclasses. These traditional financial gurus do continue to have very large audiences, but now they are rivaled by tech-savvy newcomers who understand the power of social media.

The rise of the finfluencers is theoretically good news. They are helping to democratize personal finance issues and are making complex topics — such as blockchain and crypto-assets — accessible to all. While major financial institutions struggle to reach out to 18-35 year olds, finfluencers have succeeded in capturing their attention by offering perfectly tailored content in the form of short, dynamic videos and other posts that avoids financial jargon and reaches them via the channels they use most: social media.

The finfluencers are often talented, with many being self-taught, sometimes not having had any previous experience in finance at all. They are also very good at monetizing their audience. However, not all finfluencers are reliable. Some fail to warn their audiences about the inherent dangers involved with financial investments. One of these risks is related to leverage, which functions similarly to credit and allows you to invest more than you have in the stock market, but can also lead to massive losses in the event of a market downturn.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com




71.1%

The UN children's agency warns that over 70% of Lebanese people are facing critical, highly critical or extremely critical water shortages. As the country's power grids falter, amid compounding economic and political crises, the water supply system is on the edge of collapse. If drastic actions aren't taken, the UN report states, four million people — largely vulnerable families and children — risk having little or no access to clean water.

You need to imagine something like a Chinese labor camp.

— Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gave his first interview since being arrested in March for violating the terms of his probation. Navalny told the New York Times about life in prison, including being forced to watch state television for over eight hours a day, and why he thinks President Putin's regime will fail.

Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

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Reuters is an international news agency headquartered in London, UK. It was founded in 1851 and is now a division of Thomson Reuters. It transmits news in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Urdu, and Chinese.
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Al Jazeera is a state-funded broadcaster in Doha, Qatar, owned by the Al Jazeera Media Network. Initially launched as an Arabic news and current-affairs satellite TV channel, Al Jazeera has since expanded into a network with several outlets, including the Internet and specialty television channels in multiple languages.
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BBC
The BBC is the British public service broadcaster, and the world's oldest national broadcasting organization. It broadcasts in up to 28 different languages.
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EL COLOMBIANO
El Colombiano ("The Colombian") is the leading newspaper in Colombia's Antioquia Department. It was first published in 1912 and its headquarters are located in Medellín. El Colombiano is part of Periódicos Asociados Latinoamericanos, an organization of 14 leading newspapers in South America.
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LES ECHOS
France's top business daily, Les Echos covers domestic and international economic, financial and markets news. Founded in 1908, the newspaper has been the property of French luxury good conglomerate LVMH (Moet Hennessy - Louis Vuitton) since 2007.
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Le Soir ("The Evening") is one of the best selling French-language daily newspapers in Belgium. Founded in 1887 and is headquartered in Brussels, it is seen as liberal and progressive with politically federalist leanings.
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Founded as a local Manchester newspaper in 1821, The Guardian has gone on to become one of the most influential dailies in Britain. The left-leaning newspaper is most recently known for its coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks.
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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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