What to watch for today
Israel will release Palestinian prisoners. About two dozen prisoners will be released today ahead of New Year’s day peace talks among US secretary of state John Kerry, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
The UK’s New Year Honors list will be published. Cyclists and Olympians were among those picked a year go, but Queen Elizabeth II won’t be awarding knighthoods to soccer star David Beckham or Wimbledon champion Andy Murray this time, according to local reports.
A former F1 star’s prognosis. Michael Schumacher, the Formula One racer, is in a coma in a French hospital after a skiing accident.
US pending home sales are due. Sales of existing homes have underwhelmed in recent months, but economists expect a rebound. The numbers come amid rising interest rates, which may or may not affect the housing market in 2014.
Over the weekend
A female suicide bomber struck in Russia. At least 16 people were killed after an explosion at a train station in Volograd, a transport hub in southern Russia, set by a woman officials identified as the wife of a rebel leader from the Caucasus. It’s the second deadly attack in three months and a major blow for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is determined to project an image of stability in the run up to the Sochi Olympics.
Japan managed some inflation. In a boost for Abenomics, consumer prices rose 1.2% last month, the highest rate in five years. Japan’s central bank has set a target of 2% in its battle to avoid inflation.
France’s “millionaires” tax is going ahead. The country’s constitutional court has approved president Hollande’s contentious plan to levy a 75% tax rate on salaries above €1 million ($1.37 million).
Corruption and smoking crackdown in China. Hundreds of lawmakers in the Chinese city of Hengyang have been dismissed after accepting bribes in a huge case of electoral fraud. Meanwhile, the Communist Party forbade officials from smoking in public.
More than a million Americans lost unemployment benefits. Their safety net expired after Congress failed to intervene, though an extension is on the agenda for next year.
Quartz obsession interlude
Herman Wong looks at Asia’s words of the year, and finds they’re a bunch of sad characters: “Unlike Oxford Dictionaries’ choice for word of the year, these characters capture a sense of people’s anxiety and, in one case, of collective achievement.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
Bitcoin is evil. Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman attempts to distinguish between the positive and the normative in the heated debate over the popular digital currency.
Hollywood is evil. The New Yorker takes a critical look at the unfortunate (and surprisingly similar) messages purveyed in Leonardo diCaprio’s latest two films, Gatsby and Wolf of Wall Street.
A glimpse at the world’s economic giants, 15 years from now. What if conventional wisdom on the “endless rise of Asian and Latin American autocracies” is wrong?
Is e-cigarette advertising just like tobacco cigarette advertising? We’ve taken a look. You be the judge.
Charlie Chaplin was a complex individual. Lapham’s Quarterly takes a look at the double life led by the silent film star.
Long distance travel has come a long way. In 1930, it took a full day to get from New York City to Philadelphia, a trip that takes about an hour these days.
If Christmas were forever. This would be a good reading list.
Ecstasy’s popularity knows no borders. A study of drugs bought on the illicit online marketplace Silk Road using bitcoin found that MDMA was most popular in the US, UK, and Australia.