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Quartz Daily Brief—Asia Edition—Japanese diplomacy, Facebook search, Saint Mario Draghi, showers

What to watch for today

Japan goes on a diplomatic road-show.  Prime minister Shinzo Abe  launches a tour  of three of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), seeking a countervailing economic and political alliance to China. The People’s Republic announced  plans to survey the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which it disputes with Japan, and several ASEAN members have coastlines on the South China Sea, where China has also been throwing its weight about .

Some American ideas for gun safety.  President Barack Obama will present proposals for reducing gun violence developed by vice president Joe Biden in the wake of December’s  school massacre . They include closing loopholes that allow gun buyers to avoid background checks—a move that  would have widespread support —as well as various measures Obama could take  without consulting Congress , which would oppose many of them. The announcement comes just after the state of New York passed new restrictions on guns.

New price data from Europe and the US.  Forecasters expect US inflation for 2012 to be at 1.8%, slightly below the Fed’s target, after a mildly deflationary December. The Fed will also release its Beige Book, a collection of anecdata about the US economy. European inflation data from Eurostat are expected to be low too—which could raise more questions about the European Central Bank’s decision to stand pat in the face of the continent’s recession.

While you were sleeping

Facebook announced a new search engine.  “Graph Search,” the clunkily-named new feature at Facebook, hopes to compete with Google  on many kinds of search and offer users a robust new way to track their social lives. It might also be a good tool for recruiters .

Pakistan in chaos as PM faces corruption charges.  After the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of prime minister Pervez Ashraf for corruption charges, demonstrators took to the streets in support of a revolutionary leader while the country’s politically powerful military bides its time.

Germany’s slowdown came into view.  GDP growth in 2012 slowed to a  less-than-stellar 0.7% , as expected, as Germany’s vaunted export engine sputters along with the broader European economy.  Roughly 71% of German goods  were destined for other European countries in 2011.

Christmas in America—the official report.  US retail sales for December—the all-important holiday shopping season—beat expectations, posting a 0.5% gain from the previous month. That trend, along with rising home sales, will be the foundation of US economic growth going forward.

Ratings agencies and oil companies warned of a US default.  While Congress works out a way to raise the debt ceiling, the ratings agency Fitch warned of a potential downgrade , and a conservative political group backed by a pair of influence conservative industrialists told Republicans not to invite disaster .

Explosions kill 82 at Syrian university.  The strike on the University of Aleppo came while students were taking exams,with university officials blaming the Syrian air force for one of the bloodiest attacks yet in Syria’s civil war.

Can France handle the Mali conflict?  The UN Security Council has  unanimously backed  France’s military intervention in Mali against Islamist militants, but officials in the US and the UK are concerned that France has bitten off more than it can chew  and could get bogged down in an ambiguous conflict there.

America’s wealth gap widened.  Figures out today show that nearly one-third of American working families now struggle to cover basic needs— up from 28% in 2007 . While more people are working, they’re turning to lower-wage jobs with less security. The top 20% of Americans earned 48% of all income, while the bottom 20% earned less than 5%.

Quartz  obsession  interlude

Gwynn Guilford on China’s questionable trade data.  “If the problem is big enough for the government to acknowledge, surely the preponderance of fake invoicing means that China is edging into the danger zone, right? Nah, argue Martin Kessler and Nicholas Borst of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. There is a crucial distinction between round-tripping designed to game taxes and the sort of capital flight that reflects a “sell” rating on the Chinese economy. The difference is crucial.”  Read more here .

Matters of debate

It’s too early to canonize Mario Draghi.  Sure, he helped stop the European financial crisis, but what about that recession?

If you can’t get into a top-5 MBA program, don’t even bother. On the plunging value of the MBA .

A Dell leveraged buyout could make it this year’s tech success story.  It starts with Dell killing off its most successful business .

Is China ruining Hong Kong’s transparency advantage? Welcome to the new Cayman islands .

Did the Wall Street Journal get spun?  Parsing the reporting on Apple’s supposed component ordering shortfall .

Surprising discoveries

Brazilian shower habits are a leading indicator of economic trouble.  The country’s over-leveraged middle class—and their expensive grooming habits —spell trouble.  

Some tricky questions for Lance Armstrong’s biggest backer. How much did legendary Silicon Valley banker Thomas Weisel know about drug use in cycling —and did he try to bribe an official of the International Cycling Union?

China busted 670 secret gun manufacturers and distributors last year.  They also seized 2,780 tonnes of explosives during the crackdown, which seems like a lot.

The US Department of Defense wants to predict the future using Twitter.  They should cut it out —that’s a job for journalists.

A Swedish cleaning lady commandeered a train and crashed it into a house.  She has been detained on suspicion of “ public devastation. “

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, questionable trade data or LBO offers to  [email protected] . You can follow us  on Twitter here  for updates during the day.

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