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Quartz Daily Brief—Europe Edition—Laos, the Wens’ billions, cannibal cop, girlfriend cushions

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

Bad news, perhaps, for Spaniards seeking jobs. Spain reports unemployment figures, and may well continue its slide as Europe’s second-toughest labor market after Greece. Joblessness last month was near 25%, the second consecutive month of increase, and more than double the 11.4% rate across the 17-member euro zone in August. More than half of active job-seekers under the age of 24 cannot find work.

Good news, perhaps, for the US economy. Preliminary figures are released for for third-quarter GDP growth, one of two key final data points ahead of the presidential election on Nov. 6 (the other is the jobs report due on Nov. 2). Analysts are expecting a 1.5%-2% expansion, a gain on the country’s 1.3% second-quarter growth rate that could boost the value of the dollar and increase confidence in Obama—as long as nobody suggests the figures were made up. (That’s you we’re talking about, Jack Welch.)

Greece won’t meet the goals of its bailout. That is according to an anonymous euro zone official quoted by Reuters. Greece is meant to cut its debt to 120% of GDP by 2020 under the terms of its second rescue package, worth €130 billion ($172 billion), agreed earlier this year. The unnamed Eurocrat, reportedly leaking the details of a preliminary report from the IMF, said that it is likely Greece will only manage 136% by 2020, unless it undertakes reforms beyond those already agreed.

Great paradoxes of the age: Laos joins the WTO.  You know Communism ain’t what it used to be when a country run by a Marxist-Leninist party can gain admission to the world’s free-trade club. The WTO is expected to vote to approve Laos’s membership, ending decades of isolation and helping Southeast Asia move toward economic integration in a bid to build a 10-nation trading bloc.

Microsoft gets in on Apple’s and Amazon’s game. The Surface tablet, the first-ever computer built by the software maker, has just gone on sale in the US and is designed to compete with Apple’s iPad and Android tablets. It sells for $499-$699 in America. The debut of Windows 8—the biggest change to Microsoft’s signature software since 1995—has meanwhile been closely watched by PC-makers who hope that the new mobile-friendly software will help to boost PC use as well.

While you were sleeping

Apple’s growth: enormous, but still disappointing. Apple earnings rose a less-than-expected 24% in the third quarter, with the company missing analyst forecasts for iPad sales as consumers instead waited to buy the new iPad Mini, launched earlier this week. Apple is battling a growing group of mobile/tablet competitors, and has had trouble sourcing parts for its dominant iPhone, for which sales soared 56% from last year (ah, the price of success!) Globally, mobile is responsible for the bulk of the company’s growth; overall, total sales have more than doubled in Japan, and they have also grown by leaps and bounds in China.

Amazon’s performance: just plain disappointing. The online retail giant reported a bigger-than-expected net loss, ending 18 straight positive quarters, as a charge related to its investment in daily-deal site LivingSocial offset slower revenue gains. Apparently concerned that Apple’s new iPad Mini could eat away at sales of its own Kindle Fire tablet, Amazon used two full paragraphs of its earnings statement to explain why the Kindle is better. (Amazon’s pitch: its product has higher resolution, has better sound, and costs less. Apple’s pitch: its product isn’t made of plastic.)

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s family may be worth billions of dollars and the brother of likely future premier Li Keqiang controls the country’s tobacco industry. That is according to reports in the New York Times and by the Washington-based Brookings Institution respectively. Chinese officials—officially—make very low salaries. The nation’s censors have been busy scrubbing mentions of the stories from the internet. According to Pew Research, Chinese people’s dissatisfaction about inequality is growing. A joke going round Hong Kong financiers today is: “What does Wen Jiabao call Mitt Romney? The 99%.”

Meanwhile, China’s parliament expelled Bo Xilai, the disgraced former Chongqing party chief who is also very wealthy. Bo’s wife Gu Kailai was jailed in August for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Gu’s sisters are very rich, according to Bloomberg. This is the last official position Bo has been stripped of. He was expelled from the Communist Party last month and charged with a range of crimes.

South Korea’s growth stumbled. The East Asian country’s export-led economy grew 0.2% in the third quarter on the previous three months. That is the slowest rate in almost three years. Demand for Korea’s products, which are commonly high-value items such as mobile-phone memory cards and ships, is falling. South Korea’s fortunes tend to mirror those of other export-led Asia-Pacific nations, and its slowing growth likely provides a snapshot of what is really happening to China’s manufacturers, data on which are unreliable.

Powell backs Obama, again. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served under Republican president George W. Bush, formally endorsed Democrat Barack Obama, as he did in the 2008 election, accusing his rival Mitt Romey of constant flip-flopping on foreign policy and promoting positions that were not “thought through.”

Quartz obsession interlude

Simon Foxman, in our new obsession on the fiscal cliff, exposes another kind of “cliff” that’s right around the corner: regulation. “Everyone is focused on the impending disaster of America’s “fiscal cliff” at the start of 2013, when automatic spending cuts kick in, tax cuts expire, and politicians have to fight another debate over the government’s debt ceiling. But to add to the turmoil, a raft of new regulations are due to come into force at around the same time—a “regulatory cliff” that is the other aftermath of the financial crisis.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

The coming “water wars” won’t realign the world in a new freshwater fight, but they will deepen battle lines in existing regional conflicts, six researchers write.

India, more than any other emerging market, may determine the fate of political and economic developments around the world, say PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian and economics Nobel laureate Michael Spence.

Surprising discoveries

Cannibal cop. A New York City police officer was charged with plotting to kidnap, kill and… um, cook more than 100 women whose names he listed in a file on his computer.

Squirrel birth control. A warm winter in the US has meant a boom in nuts—and in the squirrels that eat them. So researchers are feeding the rodents contraceptive-laced sunflower seeds.

Strolling statues. For centuries, people have wondered how the Easter Islands’ signature stone statues mysteriously took their places overlooking the Pacific without the help of wheels of animals. Scientists now think they know: the statues “walked.”

Curvaceous cushion. A pillow shaped like a woman’s body and called the “Deluxe Comfort Girlfriend Body Pillow” has become worryingly popular.

Best wishes from Quartz for a productive day. Please send any queries, recommendations for WTO membership, and cannibal stories to hi@qz.com.

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