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Quartz Daily Brief – Americas Edition – EU banking union, Air Asia, Ukranian lawmakers brawl, Roman QE

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

EU gets closer to banking supervision. European finance ministers have agreed to the first step towards controlling banks across the euro area. They want to hand direct authority to the European Central Bank to directly police lenders across the euro zone and intervene in smaller banks. Broader surveillance could prevent reckless lenders in individual countries dragging entire economies down, as arguably happened in Ireland and Spain. This is not a done deal yet. The onus is now on EU leaders, who meet in Brussels today and tomorrow, to give their full political backing.

Walmart gobbles up Turkish rival? In a deal that is bound to launch a thousand festive-themed headlines, Walmart is potentially expanding in Turkey via talks to buy supermarket chain Migros Ticaret. Newspapers and wires began reporting the talks yesterday. Perhaps Bentonville will confirm or deny this morning.

Air Asia gives Airbus, and British manufacturing, a boost. The Asian budget carrier is expected to announce an order for 100 new planes at Airbus’ facility in Wales today. Airbus’ factory at Broughton in Wales is the UK’s largest single manufacturing plant.

The Gemenid meteor shower strikes. The Gemenids, one of the two biggest meteor showers of the year, will start with as many as 100 shooting stars an hour. The shower will peak on the morning of Dec. 14.

While you were sleeping

SocGen sold most of its Egyptian business. The French bank, which needs to shore up capital amid the European debt crisis, is selling a majority stake in its Egyptian unit to Qatar National Bank for $1.97 billion. The IMF has forecast European banks need to sell $4.5 trillion of assets in order to de-leverage and deal with crisis-related write-downs.

Danone announced plans to slim down. The French food group is preparing a two-year cost-cutting plan to save around €200 million ($261 million) in Europe to cope with the lasting economic downturn in the region. In a statement out today, the world’s largest yogurt group said it would reduce general and administrative costs for the group and its European subsidiaries, and make job cuts.

Ukranian politicians carried on wrestling. A Parliamentary session was suspended after politicians traded blows for the second day. Today, they wrestled with each other in a “mass of bodies” Reuters reported, seemingly brawling over a vote on the ruling Party of the Regions’ nomination for the position of speaker. There were equally rowdy scenes on Wednesday (video). Ukranian lawmakers have a lot to be upset about. Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison for alleged abuse of office while brokering Ukraine’s energy contracts with Russia. Her imprisonment was widely criticized as politically motivated.

Syrian government forces fired scud missiles at rebels. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebels trying to overthrow Syria’s government, according to multiple reports and a US government official. The White House said: “The idea that the Syrian regime would launch missiles in its borders at its own people is stunning, desperate, a completely disproportionate military escalation.”

Quartz obsession interlude

Naomi Rovnick on the Hong Kong real estate bubble that the IMF is warning could pop and do some serious damage. “Hong Kong is currently the world’s most expensive place to buy a home. An apartment just sold there for $60 million. The city’s property market is notoriously volatile. Booms and busts are frequent. Locals in the Chinese city often trade apartments as frequently as Americans would trade shares.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

The EU cannot police the EU. Its member states are too big and too different. They need to avoid faulty policies themselves to avert future crises (paywall).

Sri Lanka is still not stable. Three years after the Tamil Tigers’ defeat, issues that caused the country’s civil war are once again coming to a head.

Finland needs to work out how to deal with Nokia’s decline. Luckily the country is home to a dynamic start-up scene.

This holiday season, it is much better to be Amazon than BestBuy. Physical retailers are losing out to online competitors.  

Stop comparing QE to the Roman Empire’s debasement of silver. Roman Emperor Diocletian really was not as financially imprudent as today’s economists say. And his debasement of silver did not cause the fall of the Roman Empire. So popular warnings that Bernanke should learn from Roman history are probably inaccurate.

Perhaps home remedies are not so primitive? For decades, western pharmaceutical companies have tut-tutted the use of home remedies as unwise and even barbaric. Now, though, a need to find new revenue has some of them researching traditional medicine in China. 

Surprising discoveries

Asians change their trade routes. A historic shift is taking place in trade routes. The highly trafficked route from Asia to Europe and back is much less used, and is being supplanted by an Asia-to-North America axis.

Afghanistan is still leaking billions of dollars in cash. US officials last year installed bulk counting machines at Kabul Airport to stem the smuggling, but they haven’t been connected to the internet or set up to keep track of bills, and VIP travelers aren’t even being checked.

In 1087, the “alcohol only” plan was a fad diet recommended for royalty. People have also been low carb-ing since 1864 

Londoners can now pay bus fares with a tap of their credit cardsIts kind of a “swipe ‘n’ ride” policy. About 8500 London buses are now accepting credit and debit cards. It was not that long ago that passengers sat down and waited for the conductor to come and collect their fares.

There is a shortage of British 90-somethings. Britain has lost some 30,000 nonagenarians, and that is too many, according to actuaries. So where are they?

There is also a shortage of finless porpoises in the Yangtze River. Chinese researchers say there are now a little more than half of the 1,800 cute, dolphin-like creatures that were counted in 2006. And no, it’s not because they’re being eaten.

Best wishes from Quartz for a productive day. Please send any news, feedback or tales of historical fad diets to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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