Ukraine Diplomacy, Paris Pollution, Addictive Gaming

President Barack Obama and Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk
President Barack Obama and Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov are meeting today at the American ambassador’s residence in London, two days before the Crimean vote on whether to join the Russian Federation, The Washington Post reports.

  • Kerry is expected to warn Lavrov that a Russian decision to “annex” the disputed region could trigger more sanctions against Moscow. Western leaders have repeatedly called the referendum “illegal,” and Ukraine’s Interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said Kiev wouldn’t recognize the result. But Russian President Vladimir Putin claims it is in accordance with international law. According to AFP, Russia asked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to send observers to monitor the poll. The result of Sunday’s vote will be announced 10 days later, the BBC explains.

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that Ukraine’s interim government asked Washington for arms, ammunition and intelligence support, a U.S. official says President Obama is wary of exacerbating an already tense relationship with Moscow and only agreed to send military rations.

  • This comes after deadly clashes between pro-Maidan and pro-Russian protesters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk yesterday. At least one person died, stabbed to death,Euronews reports. According to RT, another 29 were injured.

  • The referendum in Crimea also has repercussion on stock markets. AFP reports that Moscow was falling by 4% at midday, while Bloomberg writes that European stocks were falling this morning.

  • As Russian media organizations and the Kremlin said their websites had been attackedby hackers, the spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused Washington of banning Russian journalists from Obama’s joint press conference with the Ukraine PM Wednesday. “It seems that in Washington, where they so love to talk about freedom of speech and journalists' rights, they are not ready to follow these principles themselves, preferring to deal only with ‘approved’ media propagating the ‘required’ information,” he said.

  • On the economic front, some in Tehran are noting that if Russia cuts off gas to the West over Crimea, there’s always the “Iran Option.

The search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 was extended to the Indian Ocean, with the United States sending surveillance teams there to help find the plane and its 239 passengers who went missing Saturday, the BBC reports. New data from military radar indicate the aircraft was “deliberately” flown west, hundreds of miles off its planned course. Meanwhile, South China Morning Post reports that Chinese scientists observed a “seismic event” on the sea floor northeast of Malaysia on the day the plane went missing. The Guardian examines the sometimes contradictory claims made this week.

Another body was found last night in the rubble of the two Harlem buildings destroyed by an explosion Wednesday, taking the death toll to eight. ABCreports that investigators are searching for at least one more body. The cause of the explosion has not been determined with certainty yet, but it appears that a water main break may have contributed to the gas line rupture. Read more from The New York Times.

Air raids on the Gaza strip continued for a second night in a row in retaliation for rockets fired on Israel, despite an Egyptian-brokered truce that took effect at 2 p.m. yesterday. The truce seemed to be holding this morning, AFP quoted a military source as saying, but Haaretz later reported that a rocket was fired at southern Israel from Gaza.

Authorities in Paris are making public transportation free today through Sunday in an effort to combat severe pollution in the French capital that is being exacerbated by unseasonably warm weather. Take a look.

Residents of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria awoke to the sound of gunfire and explosions this morning, after suspected Islamist fighters from Boko Haram attacked military barracks, AP reports. More than 500 people have died at the hands of the jihadist group since the beginning of this year.

Maxime Vaudano explores the singular world of cryonics, the quest to freeze one’s body after death in the hope of being brought back to life in the future. Invented in the U.S. in the 1960s, it is spreading internationally, though laws differ from country to country. Like some 2,000 people around the world, the 35 British members of Cryonics UK have applied to join the quest for immortality. They must, however, wait until they are pronounced dead. It's indeed illegal to cryonize people alive, although some think it would increase the chances of waking up. But once the death certificate is issued, the association can legally do as it pleases with the body, provided that the family of the deceased authorizes it. Read the full Le Monde/Worldcrunch article, Afterlife On Ice: Inside The World Of Cryonics.


Check out this cool game in which you have to match and combine powers of 2 until reaching 2048. But be warned: It’s VERY addictive!

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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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