♦ The anxiety over Japan’s sales tax may seem bizarre to outsiders, but it will be a stern test of Shinzo Abe’s popularity.
♦ James Politi looks at the impact of the sequester on Head Start, arguably the most high-profile casualty among the anti-poverty programmes.
♦ Nicolás Maduro is looking to blame anybody else for Venezuela’s economic problems – even Spider-Man.
♦ While support for Cristina Fernández ebbs in Argentina, Sergio Massa has risen to become one of the strongest potential candidates for presidential elections in 2015.
♦ Slate magazine imagines how the US government shutdown would be covered by the US media, if it took the same tone that it does in its foreign coverage.
♦ The Washington Post is crowdsourcing for ideas as to how congress can be punished for the government shutdown.
♦ Smuggled letters from westerners caught up in the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood reveal that terrible prison conditions remained unchanged and there is a new willingness to subject westerners to the same treatment as Egyptians, according to the New York Times. Read more
By David Gallerano and Catherine Contiguglia
♦ The tragic ending of prisoner Menes, the Hungarian stork unfairly painted as a spy (as well as a duck) by the Egyptian police and clapped into a prison in the Qena governorate.
♦ A self-organized group of armed citizens is battling – with unexpected success – a brutal drug cartel at Michoachan, in central Mexico.
♦ Japanese economist Takatoshi Ito analyses Japan’s fiscal situation and argues Mr. Abe must press ahead with tax increases.
♦ “We Syrians are human beings of this world, and the world must stop the Assad regime from killing us. Now,” writes Syrian activist Yassin al-Haj Saleh, in his plea for a strong intervention that does not just “discipline” the regime.
♦ A profile of Rwandan president Paul Kagame – who “may be the most complicated leader in Africa”. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Japan’s public diplomacy hovers between the ludicrous and the sinister. In recent months, the country has specialised in foreign policy gaffes that seem designed to give maximum offence to its Asian neighbours while causing maximum embarrassment to its western allies.
♦ Zimbabwe’s state TV service faces its first rival – which is competing with it from South Africa.
♦ China can stop the world’s tallest skyscraper from being built, but it can’t stop the curse of the skyscraper.
♦ David Pilling explains why multinationals operating in China are likely to find the going gets tougher.
♦ China is pushing ahead with dams on the Mekong River, but politicians and dam builders have done little to assuage the worries of local communities.
♦ Western countries including the US and UK may be asked to accept tens of thousands of Syrian refugees because the exodus from the civil war is overwhelming countries in the region.
♦ Have the millions of elderly people being kept alive via feeding tubes become a symbol of an ageing Japan?
♦ Many in Japan are hoping that Shinzo Abe’s pragmatism will win out over his ideology.
♦ Rotimi Amaechi, the governor of Rivers state in Nigeria, has accused President Goodluck Jonathan of condoning “impunity and authoritarianism” in an effort to ensure re-election in 2015.
♦ A generation of Muslim Americans has come of age in the shadow of 9/11, amid a climate that ranges from low-level paranoia to verbal abuse and vandalism. In response, some embrace their faith more fervently, others live in self-imposed isolation.
♦ Western states in the US may break temperature records again this year, but what does this mean for farmers and agriculture?
♦ Israel’s government views the EU plan to label products made in settlements as symptomatic of a greater threat to the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
♦ The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is back and Foreign Policy has a handy guide to the buzzwords that are going to be flying around.
♦ A young conscientious objector has proved tricky for Israel’s army – he would serve if it wasn’t for the Israeli occupation. Read more
♦ Detroit became the largest US city to file for bankruptcy. Time magazine looks at the decay of the city. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein points out Detroit is not alone.
♦ Sunday’s election for the upper house of Japan’s parliament is expected to give Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a stronger platform from which to shoot the “arrows” of his radical economic reforms, but some fear he may also strike a more nationalistic tone.
♦ Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was freed on bail Friday after being sentenced to five years in prison on embezzlement charges the day before. Our Charles Clover examines how his jailing tells you a lot about how political repression has evolved in Russia over the years. Masha Lipman looks at how the Putin government chose to eliminate their political opposition the hard way.
♦ The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley examines the shooting of Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside the Republican Guards’ club in Cairo and finds that it was a coordinated assault on largely peaceful civilians.
♦ Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy argues that Washington should make a “much broader, more vigorous effort to engage publicly and privately across all Egyptian political groups and segments of the population” – but now is not the moment, with so much anti-American rhetoric swirling around.
♦ They were the irreplaceable loot from the art heist of the century. But to Olga Dogaru, a resident of a tiny Romanian village, burning them was the only way to save her son from prosecution. The problem is that he is the man charged with orchestrating the brazen theft last October of works worth hundreds of millions of dollars from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam. And the works were masterpieces by the likes of Picasso, Monet and Gauguin. Read more
By Aranya Jain
♦Hassan Rohani, the only moderate candidate left in Iran’s upcoming elections, promised reform and unveiled his past in a documentary aired on state TV.
♦ Japan attempts to increase entrepreneurship by making taking out loans easier and encouraging innovation, but changing the system will not be easy.
♦ We are entering a new age of big data, and have yet to understand what this will mean. Our lack of privacy does not end with the NSA, as many big data companies are also able to collect our data trails, and infer things about us from them.
♦ Post-Arab Spring North Africa remains fragile, and is reminiscent of post-Communist eastern and central Europe, but what Africa needs is a role model for democracy.
♦ Snowden claims that the NSA has been hacking China and Hong Kong for years will test Sino-US ties.
♦ This website, via interactive graphics and charts, allows you to explore information about land deals, from a web of which regions are investing in each other to charts that delineate what the land is being used for.
♦ What Mandela’s legacy can leave behind – Roy Isacowitz argues that Israel should emulate Mandela to pursue peace but that it will not do so. Read more
♦ Martin Wolf argues that the UK industrial revolution shows the Reinhart-Rogoff thesis on debt is not always right.
♦ Frigide Barjot and her fellow protesters have taken the heat off Hollande as people take to the streets to protest over gay marriage rather than the state of the economy.
♦ The planting of sugar cane has exacerbated the effects of the worst drought in more than four decades in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
♦ Critics say that Nelson Mandela’s family members have been using his status for their own enrichment. Two of his grandchildren are involved in a US reality show called Being Mandela and his daughter has launched a wine business called House of Mandela.
♦ FT Alphaville take a typically irreverent look at the ‘tweet retreat’ in their Occupational Indifference series.
♦ The number of people in Britain receiving emergency food rations has more than doubled in the past year as inflation eroded incomes and government spending cuts have pushed hundreds of thousands into crisis.
♦ Jacob Heilbrunn at The National Interest examines Israel’s fraying image and the possibility that US interest in Israel’s fortune could wane: “if Israel remains stymied in dealing with the Palestinians… its predicament is likely to intensify. And the range of options for dealing with the country’s mounting problems is likely to expand toward more radical solutions.”
♦ Japanese drivers are getting televisions installed in the front of their cars. “Japanese law prohibits “staring” at a screen while driving, without saying anything about glancing at one.”
♦ The New York Times is debating the usefulness of Nato.
Shinzo Abe in Washington on February 22 (Getty)
It’s rare that the sequel is better than the original movie, but so far Shinzo Abe II is doing much better at the box office than its ill-fated prequel. As we approach the first 100 days in office mark, here are five differences (and a few similarities) between Shinzo Abe I and Shinzo Abe II.
1. Shinzo Abe I had a dull subtitle. Constitutional Amendment failed to excite the public and never got anywhere. Deflation Slayer, on the other hand, the subtitle for Shinzo Abe II, has got everyone talking, from bond traders and currency speculators to ordinary Japanese fed up with economic drift.
2. It is often forgotten that Shinzo Abe I, released in October 2006, had a strong opening. Abe travelled to Beijing and mended relations with China. But the movie quickly trailed off as the plot foundered on a boring and jerky narrative involving disappearing pension records and a series of ministerial scandals. Shinzo Abe II was strong even before the opening credits rolled. Many audience members were so excited that shares soared and the yen weakened even before Abe appeared in the opening scene.
3. The plot of Shinzo Abe II is intriguing. It starts off as a story about a bold economic experiment, but no one knows how it will end. Will the Japanese economy at last gain some traction after 20 years in the doldrums? Or will the gamble end in catastrophe with hyperinflation and capital flight? Read more