Sweden Recognizes Palestine, Ebola Slows In Liberia, New Emoticon

The SF Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals Wednesday to win the World Series
The SF Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals Wednesday to win the World Series

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Sweden today became the first EU member in Western Europe to officially recognize Palestine, a month after the country's prime minister announced intentions for the controversial move during his inaugural address. "It is an important step that confirms the Palestinians' right to self-determination," Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom wrote in the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter. "Some will state this decision comes too soon. I am afraid, rather, that it is too late."

Israel summoned Sweden's ambassador to protest and express disappointment, Al Monitor reports. U.S. officials have said a Palestinian state could only come through a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians. "It is too bad that the government of Sweden has chosen to adopt the measure that does a lot of damage and has no benefits," the Jerusalem Post quoted Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as saying. "Sweden must understand that relations in the Middle East are much more complicated than self-assembly furniture at IKEA."

This comes amid growing tension in East Jerusalem after settlement announcements, weeks of repeated clashes, and this morning’s Israeli police killing of a Palestinian suspected of trying to kill hard-line Jewish activist Yehuda Glick, the AP reports. Glick was shot three times yesterday outside a conference promoting Jewish access to Temple Mount, the location of the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. In response, Israeli forces completely sealed off the site for the first time since 1967, and a spokesman for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas branded the decision a “declaration of war.”

Meanwhile, on the Gaza border, Egypt began demolishing hundreds of houses and displacing thousands of people to create a buffer zone after a week of deadly attacks in the Sinai. Egypt has accused Hamas of the attacks, though the group has denied them. According to Euronews, each displaced family is being given 900 Egyptian pounds ($125) to pay rent elsewhere for three months, while compensation for their destroyed property is being calculated.

The World Health Organization has expressed cautious optimism about news that the spread of the Ebola virus in Liberia, the worst-hit country, is slowing, Reuters reports. Though the WHO revised down the number of deaths in Liberia by 300 — for a total death toll of 4,922 — Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward was careful to say that that the epidemic remains a crisis. “A couple of burials go wrong, it can start a whole new set of transmission chains, and the disease starts trending upward again,” he warned. Writing in The Guardian, Dr. Jeremy Farrar of the charity organization Wellcome Trust says that crucial actions taken in the last 10 days suggest that “it is finally becoming possible to see some light.”

San Francisco Giants players pour out of the dugout after third baseman Pablo Sandoval catches a pop-up by the Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez, to end a 3-2 Giants victory in Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium.

In the hills south of Rome, another kind of "liberation community" is preparing for a very different future. La Stampa’s Erica Manniello and Manuela Murgia met the humans behind the project and their "non-human" companions — the dogs, cats, sheep, goats, pigs, geese, turtles and rabbits they have rescued from farms, pet shops or laboratories and who now live free in the countryside. “They're also anti-speciesist here, convinced that no species is superior to another, which means they're very careful not to objectify animals,” the journalists write. “We try not to treat them as objects, which is what some animal rights activists do — conveying too much love, and often frustration on them too,” says eight-year resident Piero Liberati.
Read the full article, Italy's Vegan Commune Where Animals And Humans Are Equals.

Thousands of protesters stormed Burkina Faso's parliament building this morning ahead of a vote on whether to allow President Blaise Compaore to extend his 27-year-rule, the BBC reports. Pictures that local reporters posted on Twitter show the building on fire, and the military has reportedly opened fire to disperse the protesters, who have been demonstrating against the president’s plan for the past two days.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has announced she will donate the $50,000 she was given for winning the World Children's Prize to reconstruct UN schools in Gaza that Israel bombed during the recent conflict.


NATO has reported that, since Tuesday, there has been an “unusual level of air activity” from Russian military aircraft over Europe. It has intercepted four groups of jets over the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. According to the BBC, NATO has reported intercepting Russian aircraft more than 100 times this year, three times more than last year, as tensions between the West and Moscow over the Ukrainian conflict remain high. This morning, France’s Finance Minister Michel Sapin said that the conditions were still “not met” to deliver the first of two Mistral warships to Russia, adding that Moscow must play a “positive role” before France can honor the contract. Read more from France 24.

A disaster official has said there is no hope of finding any survivors after a mudslide buried more than 100 workers’ houses at a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka. "I have visited the scene, and from what I saw I don't think there will be any survivors," the official told AP. There are conflicting reports about the possible number of people buried in the mud, with villagers saying the official figure of “less than 100” is too low and that the death toll could exceed 200.

Political geeks rejoice. There’s a new emoticon in town. Can you guess who it represents?

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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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