Wednesday, December 10, 2014
CALLS TO PROSECUTE AFTER CIA TORTURE REPORT
The United Nations Human Rights Council has called for the prosecution of U.S. officials “responsible for the criminal conspiracy” unveiled in the summary of a Senate report into the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation methods, The New York Times reports. Praising the Obama administration for their courage in resisting calls not to publish the document, an official at the UN agency said under international law, the U.S. has to bring those responsible to justice. “The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorized at a high level within the U.S. government provides no excuse whatsoever,” he said. Other institutions and organizations, including Human Rights Watch have made similar calls.
Yesterday’s summary details “levels of brutality, dishonesty and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish,” The Washington Post writes. The well-documented waterboarding methods were only one step in torture methods that deteriorated into “a series of near drownings” and went as far as submitting some detainees to “rectal rehydration and feeding” and other similarly painful acts. According to The New York Post, the “enhanced techniques” used by the CIA were developed by two “inexperienced” psychologists who were eventually paid $81 million for their work.
The Senate report also rejects previous claims that these interrogations had led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. British newspaper The Independent goes further and notes that one of the report’s conclusions is that this provided no information that stopped plots against the U.S. or its allies. The Daily Telegraph explains how the intelligence agency “exaggerated the importance of information obtained to justify its actions” and lied even to the White House.
President Barack Obama said in a statement that the methods described in the report were “inconsistent with our values as nation,” and “did significant damage to America’s standing … No nation is perfect. But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better.”
In its editorial, The Guardian took a similar view, saying the report was “in one sense, a tribute to the U.S.” and “a huge contrast to the cosy inadequacy of UK policy, practice and accountability.”
PALESTINIAN MINISTER KILLED AT WEST BANK PROTEST
The Palestinian Minister for Settlements Ziad Abu Ein died on his way to hospital after an altercation with the Israel Defense Forces during an olive tree planting protest. According to witnesses, he was hit and shoved by Israeli soldiers, Haaretz reports, though the exact circumstances remain unclear. The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, condemned what he described as a “barbaric act.”
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
SIERRA LEONE OVERTAKES LIBERIA IN EBOLA CASES
Sierra Leone has become the country with the most reported cases of Ebola, overtaking Liberia with 7,780 cases, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization. A total of 17,800 people have been infected with the deadly virus and at least 6,187 patients have died. The head of the global health organization, Margaret Chan, told the BBC that despite “good progress,” the disease was still “running ahead” of efforts to contain it.
In a country estimated to spend billions on faith healers and fortune tellers, many Russians opt for alternative medicine over certified doctors, write Kirill Zhurenkov and Mariya Portnyagina for Kommersant: “Most of these alternative medical providers operate in the shadow economy. There are five officially registered "healers" with the Ministry of Health across the entire Perm Krai region, but just in Perm, the region’s largest city, there are at least 35 different healers advertising their services.
In many ways, the rise in non-conventional medicine is paradoxical: Just as these alternatives have become more popular, demand for homeopath practitioners, who usually have an official medical education, has actually dropped.”
Read the full article, Russia's Murky World Of Alternative Medicine.
NEW LUXLEAKS TARGET SKYPE, KOCH EMPIRE AND DISNEY
The pressure is piling up on the new President of the European Commission and Luxembourg’s former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker as revelations of his and his country’s role in industrial-scale tax avoidance continue. According to The Guardian, the latest documents show that a scheme adopted by Microsoft-owned Skype allowed it to pay no corporate tax over a five-year period. Koch Industries, which is believed to be America’s second-largest private business empire, also has more complex but similar structures to keep its tax bill to a minimum. French newspaper Le Monde reports that the Walt Disney Company also diverts the profits it makes in Europe so as to avoid paying tax in the countries where it does business and in the United States, costing the Treasury “billions of dollars every year.” Both reports point out the important role of accounting firms in establishing such schemes, namely PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and KPMG.
At least 4,272 migrants trying to flee from poverty and war have died crossing seas in 2014, a new United Nations report reveals.
JUDGE ALLOWS APPEAL IN PISTORIUS CASE
South African judge Thokozile Masipa has granted the state prosecutors’ application to appeal Oscar Pistorius’ acquittal on murder charges but refused their request to appeal on the five-year sentence given for the charge of culpable homicide, news agency SAPA reports. The case will now go before South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal. According to the BBC’s correspondent in Pretoria, if Pistorius is found guilty of murder by the panel of five judges, he could still face a minimum sentence of 15 years in jail.
Polar bear twins Nela and Nobby celebrated their first bear-thday Tuesday in Munich's Hellabrunn Zoo.
PERU TO SUE GREENPEACE
The government of Peru announced its intention to press criminal charges against Greenpeace over allegations that activists damaged the UNESCO world heritage site of the Nazca lines during a publicity stunt on Monday, AP reports. “It’s a true slap in the face at everything Peruvians consider sacred,” deputy culture minister Luis Jaime Castillo said.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
Call it British politeness. It took a London court a full hour before realizing that a woman who was testifying was in fact not speaking English but Krio, a distinctive Creole from Sierra Leone.
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.
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
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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