Geopolitics

Gaza/Israel Tolls, No New Cold War, Sounds Of Cedars

Mourning in Jerusalem
Mourning in Jerusalem
Worldcrunch

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

ANOTHER GAZA SCHOOL HIT, MORE CIVILIAN DEATHS
A second Gaza school was hit by Israeli Defense Forces, killing at least 19 people. Today’s assault was on the United Nations-run Abu Hussein School in Gaza's Jabaliya refugee camp where displaced Gazans have sought shelter, CNN reports (video included). In total, at least 32 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire overnight in Gaza, where there is a growing shortage of clean water and electricity. More than 3,500 families have reportedly lost their homes.

Today’s strike on the school, which included women and children among the dead, followed an attack Thursday on another U.N.-run school in northern Gaza, that killed 16 and left hundreds wounded.

All told, at least 1,200 Palestinians and 55 Israelis have been killed since July 8 in the conflict between Hamas and Israel. For more details, The New York Times has a graphic detailing the war’s day-by-day toll.

Hamas released a video showing what it’s like going through tunnels into Israel and attacking a military position, a raid in which five Israeli soldiers died.

According to the Jerusalem Post, a poll released this week showed 86.5% of Jewish Israelis surveyed oppose a ceasefire because “Hamas continues firing missiles on Israel, not all the tunnels have been found, and Hamas has not surrendered.”

NEW U.S.-EU SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA
Both EU officials and President Barack Obama announced new and harsher economic sanctions against Russia for its policy in Ukraine, including its arming of separatists there. The new measures include an arms embargo and limits on access to European capital markets for Russian state-owned banks, reports The Washington Post, which characterizes the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine as “the most galvanizing event for Europe.”

“It’s not a new Cold War,” Obama said during the announcement of new “Level 3” sanctions Tuesday. Read more about it here.

WESTERN INDIA LANDSLIDE
Five people were killed today in a landslide in western India after heavy monsoon rains. As many as 150 others are trapped, AFP reports. Debris from a hill collapsed onto homes while residents of the remote Malin village were asleep.

$125 MILLION
Al-Qaeda has taken at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, according to an investigation by The New York Times.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD


EBOLA “SERIOUS THREAT” TO BRITAIN

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond characterized the spread of the deadly Ebola virus as a “very serious threat” to the UK, The Telegraph reports. The disease, which the newspaper notes can be fatal for up to 90% of infected victims, has killed more than 670 people in an outbreak across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Public Health England has issued an urgent warning to doctors to watch for signs of the disease after an infected man was allowed to travel through an international hub. An official said the virus was “clearly not under control.”

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
Die Welt reporter Nikolaus Doll traveled from Berlin to the South Pacific island of Samoa, which used to be a German colony and is now facing an array of social and economic problems, some linked to foreign rulers of the past. “The German colonial heritage is quite noticeable in many other ways here. For a long time, Samoans benefited from it. Yet it now seems to have become an obstacle on the way to Samoa's prosperity. The island might look like the perfect exotic paradise — but it is an illusion…”
Read the full article: Samoa, Tropical Paradise Burdened By German Past

XBOX HEADS TO CHINA
Microsoft plans to launch its Xbox One gaming console in China on Sep. 23, making it the first foreign company to start selling consoles in the world’s third-biggest gaming market after a ban on the devices was lifted this year, Reuters reports.

THE SOUNDS OF CEDARS
You may know that the cedar tree is the national symbol of Lebanon. It’s also at risk from environmental damage, which has led the Ministries of Environment and Education to a team of bioacoustic engineers who have extracted the natural sounds emitted in the Barouk Forest by a cedar tree. See and hear how a tree sounds on our oh-so-global music blog: Hit It!

HOLY KRONER
Stockholm’s contest to choose the color of its new Metro line is costing taxpayers $72,887 (half a million kroner), but here’s why “it’s worth it.”

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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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