Quartz Daily Brief – Americas Edition – Syrian crisis, Google under pressure, India slows, bendy phones

November 30, 2012
November 30, 2012

Good morning, Quartz readers in the Americas! 

What to watch for today:

Google under pressure as regulators close in. Sometime next week, EU and US officials working on various investigations into the web giant will meet to discuss gripes including how Google displays search results and its potentially anti-competitive licensing practices. The Wall Street Journal reported this (non-paywalled summary) last night, but Google has yet to respond. Here is some good analysis of why Google is irritating regulators.

More ominous signs from Damascus. The Syrian capital’s airline is not accepting flights, Reuters reported, citing an aviation industry source. There have also been reports of heavy clashes between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebels. Authorities in Syria yesterday cut off all internet services and most telephone lines. This chart from Google shows the shutdown has continued, making it difficult for news organizations to contact sources inside the country.

A rebound for Brazil. Official GDP figures for Brazil, the slowest-growing economy of the BRIC countries, is likely to show the economy expanded 1.2% in the third quarter from the previous one. That puts the country on track to enter the new year with 4% annualized growth, according to its finance minister.

While you were sleeping:

Germany approved aid for Greece. The German parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of releasing €43.7 billion ($56.7 billion) in aid for Greece. Not doing so may have sparked a Greek debt default and destabilized the entire euro zone, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.

India’s growth slumped to a three-year low. The formerly exciting emerging economy is becoming a crumbling BRIC thanks to government paralysis. The economy expanded 5.3% in the three months to September, its worst quarterly performance for three years. The central bank keeps raising interest rates to tame inflation, while the government keeps handing farmers subsidies, winning support but causing more inflation. So much potential, but politics is holding India’s economy back. Here are some ways the government could reverse the slowdown.

Egypt got a new constitution. The country’s Islamist party finalized a new draft constitution that may usher in an end to the crisis that erupted when President Mohamed Morsi gave himself sweeping new dictatorial powers last week. The final draft limits the amount of time a president can serve to eight years (the previous president, Hosni Mubarak, served for three decades). The Islamists say the constitution, which Egyptians should vote on in a referendum next month, gives people new freedoms. Critics argue it does not go far enough.

China allowed the iPhone 5 into the country… After a really long wait that saw Apple’s share of the Chinese smartphone market slip, Beijing regulators approved the latest iPhone for domestic consumption. Sales may be brisk. Apple products have traditionally been a big status symbol for China’s wealthy. But Samsung is definitely stealing a march on Apple globally, and analysts are increasingly saying that iPhones are no longer cool in China, while cheaper domestic rivals are stealing sales at the lower end of the smartphone and tablet market.

…while also defending a handful of its citizens’ human rights. Singapore has arrested some Chinese immigrants for allegedly taking part in a bus drivers’ strike in the city-state. The Beijing government has expressed serious concerns. Maybe China really is moving—very slowly—towards human rights and democracy. But this is the same country which, in 2010, jailed Australian citizen and Rio Tinto employee Stern Hu for 10 years and did not allow officials from Canberra (video) to attend Hu’s closed-door trial.

A Thai company launched Asia’s biggest rights offering of the year. Thailand’s biggest publicly-traded oil and gas exploration company, PTT Exploration & Production Pcl, said it would sell shares on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, aiming to raise $3.1 billion in the region’s biggest equity offering so far in 2012.

Brinkmanship on the high seas. Somali pirates said they would start killing hostages on a ship nabbed off the coast of Oman in March. The governments of India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh have until tomorrow to pay $2 million ransom, the pirates said.

Quartz obsession interlude: 

Christopher Mims on the $25 tablet computer and the Mobile Web: “Six billion cell phone subscriptions are spread across five billion of the earth’s seven billion people, says Suneet Tuli, CEO of Datawind, maker of the world’s cheapest tablet computer. Yet only two billion people are connected to the internet, which means three billion people have everything they need to connect to the internet—except a suitable device.” Read more here.

Matters of debate:

Secession is the new black. “For years, secession movements have only interested staunch nationalists, reclusive cranks, and geopolitics dorks such as this author. But for a host of economic and social reasons, secession has been creeping back into the news with interesting regularity,” writes Eric Garland.

China’s stock market is plunging because investors do not trust the government. Another reason could be less share-buying by Chinese companies, who like to play the stock market. Some economists view the domestic bourses as a proxy for corporate and local government liquidity.

Hong Kong is becoming less of a shopping mecca. It’s the world’s most expensive city for retail space, but consumer sentiment is weakening in mainland China, whose citizens are a huge source of income for shops in the former British territory.

The future of job creation lies in startups. In the US, new companies are more likely to create jobs than established firms.

What’s in a map? The recent rows between China, India and Southeast Asian nations over maps used in China’s new passports demonstrate just how political and subjective map-making can be.

Surprising discoveries:

Bendy phones are coming. Companies including Samsung are developing flexible phones that users will be able to roll, drop, squish and step on without damaging them. Arrival could be as early as next year.

As is 60-day bread. Scientists have developed a technique they claim will keep bread mould free for 60 days, to deal with the big problem of food waste in developing countries.

It costs more to buy a latte from Starbucks in China than it does in New York City. Earlier this year, Starbucks announced it would raise its prices in China on hot chocolate, fresh-brewed coffee, and espresso drinks—increasing a tall latte’s cost to around $4.20, Quartz’s Lauren Alix Brown writes.

Too much exercise might be bad for your heart. It is not exactly the news couch potatoes have been waiting for. Researchers say it remains safe to exercise for up to 50 minutes daily. But running marathons regularly is also not good for you, they say.

Best wishes from Quartz for a productive day. Please send any news, queries, secession candidates, and bendy phone designs to hi@qz.com, or hit “Reply” to this email.

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