UN Climate Summit, Terrorism In Kenya, Diving Santa

A diver dressed as Santa Claus feeds marine animals in a Manila oceanarium
A diver dressed as Santa Claus feeds marine animals in a Manila oceanarium

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ukrainian authorities and pro-Russian rebels have “agreed in principle” on a “total ceasefire” in the eastern region of Luhansk, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe announced. According to the OSCE, heavy weapons will start being withdrawn from the region on Dec. 6. Such an agreement appears a long way off in Donetsk, where AFP explains that heavy fighting continues around the city’s devastated airport, although negotiations are expected today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced yesterday that he would pull the plug on South Stream, a gas pipeline project that would have run under the Black Sea, providing a route outside Ukraine to feed southern Europe’s gas needs. The alternative, smaller pipeline will go through Turkey. Read more from The Washington Post.

A diver dressed as Santa Claus fed marine animals inside an oceanarium in Manila Tuesday.

Lebanese authorities have detained a wife and a 9-year-old son of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after they entered the country with fake identification cards 10 days ago, Reuters reports. According to Lebanese newspaper as-Safir, the pair, described as a “valuable catch,” were arrested in coordination with “foreign intelligence apparatus.” Meanwhile, the UN’s World Food Programme announced yesterday that it would suspend its aid scheme to Syrian refugees scattered across the Middle East because of lack of funds. More than 1.7 million Syrians will be affected.

As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Michael Bauchmuller writes, this week’s 20th UN Climate Summit in Peru will discuss strategies to combat global warming. One sure way is for investors to steer clear of oil and gas and bet instead on clean energy. “Fortunately, the first pension funds and insurers are taking their money out of the oil business, which is in the best interests of their investors and the insured,” the journalist writes. “The World Bank and other large development financiers are no longer offering credit for new coal-driven power stations. It's absurd that in a country like Germany, which is in the process of changing its energy sources, there is currently serious discussion about whether a subsidiary of the KfW Development Bank can keep financing coal-driven power plants. It cannot, of course. The message must be: Forget fossil fuels.”
Read the full article, Fossil Fuels Must Go The Way Of The Dinosaurs, Now.

At least 36 quarry workers in Kenya were killed in an attack by Somalia-based terrorist group Al-Shabab, the BBC reports. According to residents, the gunmen attacked while the workers were sleeping, separated Muslims from non-Muslims and executed those who were Christians. In a statement sent to AFP, the group claimed responsibility for the massacre and vowed to continue the campaign of violence in Kenya. Meanwhile, on the other side of Africa, Boko Haram attacked northern Nigeria yesterday, following the Friday bombing of a mosque that killed at least 120 people. Read more from The New York Times.


The three co-founders of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central pro-democracy protests announced they would surrender to police tomorrow afternoon and were “prepared for the consequences,” the South China Morning Post reports. The leaders also called on students to retreat from protest sites and instead “transform the movement to extend the spirit of the umbrella movement.”

Amid mounting evidence, North Korea is not denying its alleged involvement in a cyber-attack that targeted Sony Pictures ahead of a comedy film release depicting a CIA plot to assassinate leader Kim Jong-un, Reuters reports. In a message sent to The Verge, the hackers took a similar stance as North Korea regarding Seth Rogen’s and James Franco’s The Interview, which they said is “harming regional peace and security and violating human rights for money.” The website writes, however, that it’s too early to be certain of exactly who is behind the cyber-attack and that “so far, all the North Korea connections are circumstantial.”

Simon, our Italian astrologer, believes this will be a great week for the Taurus who could make a “wonderful discovery.” Find out what’s in store for you in our weekly ‘O Luna Mia horoscope.

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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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