Biden In Kiev, Ferry Death Toll, Vatican Penthouse

Sad reality on Earth Day
Sad reality on Earth Day

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Ukrainian leaders Tuesday in a show of support for the new government. Speaking in the capital’s Parliament building, Biden said the U.S. stood with Ukraine in the face of “humiliating threats,” the BBC reports. Earlier, a phone conversation between Biden and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, resulted in both sides blaming each other over the conflict, according to Russia’s RT network.

  • Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government and the U.S. State Department have released photographs of soldiers in eastern Ukraine they claim are Russian special forces fighters. One photo allegedly shows a bearded Russian soldier in Georgia in 2008 and again in the Ukrainian cities of Kramatorsk and in Sloviansk in 2014. Read more from The New York Times.

  • Pro-Russian militants are still holding official buildings in at least nine towns around Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. While the interim government in Kiev said it promised to meet some of the pro-Russian demands — decentralization of power and guarantees for the status of the Russian language — Le Monde reports that separatists are accelerating the organization of a referendum in eastern cities such as Luhansk.

As 21 additional bodies were retrieved Tuesday morning from the ferry that sank last Wednesday off the coast of South Korea, the death toll has risen to 108, the Korean news agency Yonhap reports. As search operations entered their seventh day, finally in more favorable weather conditions, the focus is now on decks of the ship, where most of the 190 missing passengers are believed to have been trapped. Out of the 476 people on board, only 174, including the ship captain and most of the crew, have been rescued. Families of the missing have pleaded with the rescue operation teams to wrap up the search before Thursday, before tidal waters and weather are expected to become fierce again, according to The Chosun Ilbo.

As the world celebrates Earth Day today, this picture reminds us, if need be, that the protection of the planet's environment and its people are intertwined.

U.S. President Barack Obama leaves for Japan Tuesday as part of a four-nation, eight-day trip in Asia. USA Today reports that he will “dine with the Japanese emperor, return some ancient seals to South Korea, tour a giant mosque in Malaysia and speak to American troops in the Philippines.” The visit comes amidst tensions in the region over both historical and territorial issues. Japan has angered both regional power China and fellow U.S. ally South Korea, which both accuse Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of wanting to whitewash Japanese war crimes of the past. Meanwhile, territorial disputes in the South China Sea remain unresolved.

Le Monde’s Tokyo correspondent Philippe Pons looks at the largely overlooked return by Japan to the global weapons trade. “Japan can now sell military gear — described in official documents as "defense supplies," another notable euphemism — to certain countries if it wishes, provided that they do not represent a threat to global peace and security and that the weapons are not resold to a third country. Japan, which produces ammunition, assault rifles, tanks, ships and the US-2 amphibious aircraft, is thus considering selling its gear to the Philippines and Vietnam, two countries that also have territorial disputes with China."
Read the full article:
Japan's Quiet Return To Global Weapons Market.

The U.S. claims to have indications that a new chemical attack, probably with chlorine, was carried out in Kfar Zeita, a village in Hama province located some 125 miles north of Damascus, according to Reuters. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said they were examining whether the Syrian government was responsible.

While Pope Francis lives in a modest apartment, former Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is about to move into a massive penthouse next door. Check our "By The Numbers" feature here.

The United Nations has evacuated 93 Muslims from the Central African Republic capital Bangui to Bambarito “save their lives”, the AFP reports. A UN official said the evacuated Muslims had been “constantly attacked” in Bangui.

One year after terrorists struck the Boston Marathon, the 2014 running of the iconic race was completed without incident, though not without surprise: Meb Keflezighi, 38, crossed the finish line ahead of the pack, the first American man to win since 1983. Here is The Boston Globe’s photo collection from Monday’s race.

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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


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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