Geopolitics

Fighting For Kobani, Lost Capote Stories, Google's Camel

Thousands of angry protesters demonstrated across Mexico as outrage grows over student killings.
Thousands of angry protesters demonstrated across Mexico as outrage grows over student killings.

ISIS CONTROLS ONE-THIRD OF KOBANI
Despite airstrikes targeting ISIS fighters in and around the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, the jihadist group has seized more than one-third of the city, Reuters quotes the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying. While Turkey’s inaction as the battle unfolds on its border has been heavily criticized, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was “not realistic to expect Turkey to conduct a ground operation on its own.” He reiterated calls for a no-fly zone over Syria, as Turkish officials are holding meetings with NATO and U.S. officials. In an editorial entitled, “Erdogan’s Dangerous Game”, The New York Times denounces the Turkish president’s “cynical political calculations” and slams his behavior as “hardly worthy of a NATO ally.”

PROTESTS OVER MEXICO STUDENT MASSACRE
Thousands of angry protesters demonstrated yesterday in cities across Mexico as outrage grows over last weekend’s discovery of a mass grave believed to contain the bodies of missing students, The Guardian reports. “They took them alive. We want them alive,” demonstrators chanted in Mexico City.

YEMEN SUICIDE BOMB KILLS DOZENS
At least 43 people were killed in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa this morning in a suicide explosion that targeted supporters of the Shia insurgent group, the Houthis, which have controlled the city for a month, AFP reports. Later, at least seven soldiers were killed by a suicide car bomb on an army position in the eastern part of the country. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Al Jazeera explains they have the hallmarks of the local branch of al-Qaeda. The two attacks come one day after the country’s Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak resigned, just 33 hours after having been appointed by the president amid protests from the Houthis, who denounced the move as “foreign interference,” Reuters reports.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Nataly Bleuel writes, there’s a new supermarket in Berlin, but there is no cardboard there, no shrink wrap, no bottled or canned foods. Which is why it’s called Original Unpackaged. “The first time I went, I have to admit I felt anxious about the new experience,” Bleuel writes. “More precisely, I felt nervous about unscrewing all those lids, turning the little faucets on and off. Uncomfortable, I stood in the store for a while to wrap my mind around this new reality. I thought again of my grandma and what a wonderful thing it is to put your purchases in a basket instead of coming home, unpacking everything and throwing out a whole garbage bin worth of packaging.”
Read the full article, Muesli In Bulk, Vodka On Tap: This Package-Free Berlin Store Could Change The World.

EBOLA DEATH TOLL NEARS 4,000
The latest figures from the World Health Organization show that 2,799 new cases of Ebola were detected in the past three weeks, taking the total number of identified patients to 8,011. Nearly half of them, 3,857, have died, including Thomas Eric Duncan, who died yesterday, the first patient to succomb in the U.S. after having contracted the disease in Liberia. Starting Saturday, five major U.S. airports will increase their security screenings for travelers coming from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Focusing on the economic impact of the fatal virus, the World Bank forecasts that the West African countries face a $32.6 billion economic hit if the epidemic is not contained. Read more from the Financial Times.

VERBATIM
“When he was 23, he used to joke that he looked like he was 12,” journalist Anuschka Roshani told Germany’s ZeitMagazin of Truman Capote, whose lost stories were published by the German publication today. “But when he was 12, he wrote like others did aged 40.”

INDIA-PAKISTAN TENSIONS HIGH
Week-long exchanges of fire between Indian and Pakistani troops on the disputed Kashmir border have already killed at least 12 Pakistani and 8 Indian civilians, and both countries are pointing the finger at the other. Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley accused Pakistan of “adventurism” and said it would make the cost “unaffordable” for Islamabad, The Indian Express reports. Pakistani officials argued they have been “exercising utmost restraint and responsibility” despite India’s lack of cooperation. Yesterday, the BBC reported that hundreds of villagers were fleeing their homes in the region.

STREET VIEW, DESERT EDITION
Google’s 360-degree, street-view cameras just got a surprising upgrade in the name of Raffia, a camel the search giant uses to take pictures of the Arabian desert with minimal disruption to the environment.

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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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