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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Friday 14 April 2017

Diplomacy

Image: Getty Images

Out of the shadows

Mike Pence’s actions during his delicate Asia-Pacific trip could gift him an opportunity to step into the light.

American vice-presidents come in many shapes and sizes. Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s principal confidante in the White House, entrusted with handling much of the policy workload. Dick Cheney, Biden’s predecessor, was seen as the belligerent warmonger behind George W Bush. It’s too early to say what kind of “veep” Mike Pence will be but we’ll get an inkling over the next 10 days. On Sunday he lands in Seoul at the start of a tour of Asia-Pacific nations, including Japan, Indonesia and Australia. With tensions in the region mounting – North Korea continues to antagonise its neighbours and China is growing increasingly dominant – Pence will have to tread carefully. Japan and South Korea, in particular, will be looking for reassurance that the US is steadfast in its commitment to them as regional allies. There isn’t much light living in Donald Trump’s shadow but this is a chance for Pence to shine.

Industry

Image: Getty Images

Snack attack

After storms hit Japan’s potato farms, has the country’s crisps industry had its chips?

It’s hard to imagine potato crisps missing from Japan’s convenience stores but in recent weeks the country’s biggest names in crisps have been forced to temporarily halt production. The culprit: a shortage of potatoes from farms on the northern island of Hokkaido. Those farms normally account for more than three-quarters of the country’s potato supply – and a dominant share of the crisps industry – but were devastated by typhoons last summer. Snack food producer Calbee has suspended sales of 18 limited-offer crisps and 17 of its regular products, including its lightly salted, pizza-potato and black-pepper flavours, while rival maker Koikeya has stopped producing its mushroom-flavoured ‘pride potato’ line. News of the so-called potato crisis has triggered panic buying, sending sales rocketing and forcing retailers to scramble to fill shelves. Some consumers have spotted an opportunity with one seller on a Japanese online auction site offering bags of Calbee crisps for ¥98,000 (€840).

Government

Image: Getty Images

Boo year

Bangkok’s decree threatens to turn public festivities into a wash out.

No alcohol, no sexy clothes and no water guns. These were just some examples from a list of “Don’ts” ordered by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration dampening public celebrations for the Thai New Year this week. The Songkran festival usually includes boisterous water fights to wash away bad luck but city officials are calling for more subdued merry-making in line with the nation’s year-long mourning period following the death of King Bhumibol last October. The decree has attracted some ridicule and grumbles about micromanaging – and not for the first time this week. New traffic regulations limiting the number of passengers riding on the back of pickup trucks to six and making it compulsory for back-seat passengers to buckle up has the city’s multitudinous private-transport operators all riled up. But perhaps this set of rules promoting safety is a sensible one to follow.

Art

Image: We are everybody

Good sign

One covert artist is painting a positive picture across the US – about time too.

For some time it has felt as if there is more that divides US citizens than unites them. The mysterious artist behind a set of anonymous billboards, which have sprung up across the country in recent weeks, is trying to change that. Emblazoned with curly calligraphy spelling the word “Everybody” – and accompanied by varied colourful backgrounds – the billboards have appeared across the 40th parallel. With sightings everywhere from Queens to Colorado Springs since mid-March, the signs may not cause people to suddenly forget their differences but we think it’s a welcome nugget of positive news coming out the world’s most powerful nation.

From Monocle 24

‘Welcome to your world’

The Urbanist

The built environment has a direct impact on the way we relate to each other, as well as our cities. In a new book ‘Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives’, architecture critic and scholar Sarah Williams Goldhagen makes a compelling case for human-centred design.

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