Geopolitics

Ferguson Ablaze, Erdogan's Sexism, Paris Puff

Violence in Ferguson early Tuesday
Violence in Ferguson early Tuesday
Worldcrunch

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

FERGUSON BURNS AFTER GRAND JURY DECISION
Violent rioting and looting erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, after a grand jury decided last night not to indict police officer Darren Wilson, who shot black teenager Michael Brown Aug. 9. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar described the night’s events as “probably much worse than the worst night we ever had in August.” According to the police, at least 12 buildings were set ablaze, and protesters fired at least 150 shots. Twenty-nine people were arrested, USA Today reports.

“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” Michael Brown’s family said in a statement. Their calls and that of Barack Obama for people to protest peacefully didn’t stop an outburst of violence in this largely poor and working-class suburb of St. Louis. “We are a nation built on the rule of law, and so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury's to make,” Obama said.

British newspaper The Independent quotes protesters as saying that the decision to announce the verdict at 8 p.m. local time suggested that the police “wanted civil unrest to occur.”

After the verdict was announced, police interviews, autopsy reports and secret testimonies in the case were made public. These include Darren Wilson’s 90-page testimony the day after the shooting, in which the policeman’s “terror and panic were plain to see,” The Los Angeles Times reports. He described Michael Brown as a “demon.”

ISIS CLAIMS VICTORY AFTER HAGEL RESIGNS
ISIS terrorists claimed victory yesterday over the news that U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was resigning. They posted Twitter messages with the hashtag, “The Islamic State topples the American Defense Minister,” Al Arabiya reports. In his Washington Post column, Dana Milbank writes that Obama’s decision to part ways with his secretary is “a cruel echo of history” and that he is “morphing” into George W. Bush, “the president whose foreign policy he campaigned to overturn.”

VERBATIM

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made some infuriating comments at a meeting of women in Istanbul yesterday, stressing that the role of women in society is, above all, “motherhood.” Read more here.

RUSSIA-VENEZUELA OIL TALKS
Russian and Venezuelan officials are expected to meet today in Vienna to discuss falling oil prices that are hurting the two countries. It comes ahead of an OPEC meeting where Moscow will reportedly propose to cut production to prevent a further slide, Tas news agency reports. Oil prices continued to fall this morning, and strategists at Barclays Bank said a large production cut from OPEC member states might not suffice to bring prices up and could instead “result in lost market share and revenue.”

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Erwin Pelkofer reports, the Maldives are slowly sinking, as coral reefs off the coasts of the islands have been destroyed and washed ashore because of warming water temperatures, all of which means sand isn't propagating as it should. “Until 1998 the eco-system here worked fine without human intervention,” the journalist writes. “But then El Niño‘s warm ocean currents raised the water temperature in the Maldives to over 33 °C (91 °F), well above normal. The coral was able to withstand this exceptional situation for a month. But during that time, the algae that give them their color gradually disappeared. After that, the corals starved, broke and washed ashore. There was some coral bleaching in 2010 as well, but the coral survived because the water only warmed for a short time.”
Read about the efforts to save the islands, Coral And Iron, A Plan To Save The Sinking Maldives.

NORTHEASTERN KENYA ON ALERT
Trade unions in Kenya have urged thousands of civil servants, teachers and health staff to leave the country’s northeastern regions, a warning that comes after violent attacks on non-Muslims from al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab, AFP reports. Islamist insurgents pulled 28 passengers from a bus Saturday, most of them teachers and medics, before executing them. After the attack, a scathing editorial in Daily Nation urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to “take decisive action to restore peace, security and safety” and to start by dismissing ministers who had “failed the Kenyan people.” Reporting on the ongoing conflict between the Kenyan government and the Somalia-based terrorist group, The Atlantic writes that there’s little hope of a political solution.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD


PORTUGUESE EX-PM REMAINS IN CUSTODY
Former Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates has been remanded to custody over allegations of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion, three days after his arrest for questioning at the Lisbon airport, newspaper Público reports. Sócrates, who headed the government between 2005 and 2011, is being investigated alongside his driver, who is said to have been used to transfer vast sums of cash from Portugal to Paris, where the former prime minister reportedly led a luxury lifestyle after stepping down from office. One of his close friends and a lawyer are also being investigated. This comes as the current government is itself embroiled in a scandal over “golden visas” for foreign investors. Read more in English from the BBC.

HONG KONG PROTESTERS DETAINED
Police arrested at least a dozen pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong this morning after scuffles broke out while a protest site was being cleared, the South China Morning Post reports. A court order had ruled that the Mong Kok protest site had to be cleared after a bus company complained the blockade was hurting its business. “Even if they clear this place, our will to fight for genuine universal suffrage hasn't changed,” a protester told Reuters.

CITY OF LIGHT(S), ALRIGHT
A new report says that when pollution in Paris is at its worst, it’s like “sitting in a room with eight smokers.”

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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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