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Quartz Daily Brief—Gun control, RBS spanking, more working poor, crying in space

What to watch for today

Some ideas for action on guns. US Vice President Joe Biden will present proposals for reducing gun violence, in the wake of December’s school massacre. They’re expected to include closing loopholes that allow many gun buyers to avoid background checks—a move that would have widespread support—as well as various measures president Barack Obama could take without consulting Congress, which would oppose many of them. New York’s state senate will also vote on a bill to introduce tougher gun laws in the state.

Germany’s slowdown becomes more visible. GDP data for all of 2012 slowed to a less-than-stellar 0.7% increase 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—the official report. US retail sales for December will give a post-mortem on the all-important holiday shopping season. Consensus estimates predict a 0.2% month-over-month gain. Early indications are that retailers resorted to deep discounting to lure shoppers into their stores.

A defense plan for Mali. The UN Security Council unanimously backed France’s military intervention in Mali against Islamist militants. Meanwhile defense chiefs from West African countries will meet today to agree on a supply of troops to bolster Malian forces. Despite French air-strikes, the rebels made gains yesterday, over-running the garrison town of Diabaly.

A constitutional showdown in Egypt. The constitutional court will rule on whether the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, should be dissolved, in the latest stage of a power struggle between the Islamist parliament supporting president Mohammed Morsi and a judiciary more loyal to ousted president Hosni Mubarak. In an unrelated incident, a train carrying army recruits derailed south of Cairo, killing at least 19 people.

America’s wealth gap widens? Figures out today show that the number of working families living below the poverty line increased in 2011, with nearly one-third of working families now struggling 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 report said. Data also revealed that the top 20% of Americans earned 48% of all income, while the bottom 20% earned less than 5%.

While you were sleeping

Did Japan’s central bank just fall into line? At a meeting of branch managers of the Bank of Japan, governor Masaaki Shirakawa said the bank would pursue “powerful monetary easing,” a signal that he will cooperate with demands from prime minister Shinzo Abe that the BoJ pursue an aggressive anti-deflationary policy. Reports are that it’s just a matter of time before the BoJ sets a joint inflation target with the government.

Toyota takes the crown back from GM. The Japanese car maker beat General Motors in total global car sales in 2012. Germany’s Volkswagen also posted its best ever full-year sales, up 34% in the US and 25% in its largest market, China; in the US, it beat a record for its cars sold that was set in 1970.

What’s bad for Apple is bad for Asia. Reports that Apple has cut orders for iPhone 5 parts by half caused shares of Asian suppliers including Sharp, AAC and Samsung to fall sharply.

Billionaire founder Jack Ma will step down as CEO of Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company. The move comes ahead of a possible IPO. Ma, who will stay on as chairman, said it was part part of his effort to hand over management to people born in the 1970s and 1980s.

JP Morgan gets a slap on the wrist for the Whale. US regulators told the bank to fix flaws in its management that led it to lose $6 billion last year to a rogue trader in London, and to tighten up its safeguards against money-laundering, but issued no fines. British regulators continue to investigate it.

While RBS faces a more serious spanking over Libor. Royal Bank of Scotland, which is majority owned by the British government, could be fined as much as £500 million ($804 million) to settle allegations that its traders attempted to manipulate submissions used to set the London interbank offered rate. Some top executives at the bank may be asked to leave over the scandal.

Quartz obsession interlude

Lily Kuo on the massive expansion of the global middle class. “The rising purchasing power of these new shoppers has retailers and market analysts, who have given emerging market consumers their own moniker of ‘the next billion,’ salivating. Multinational corporations have been trying to tap into the Chinese consumer market via tailoring goods to local tastes (‘hot pot’ flavored Lays chips or ‘green tea’ Oreos).” Read more here.

Matters of debate

How do you organize 30 million people? Ask Harvard University, which has sent scholars to study the economics and logistics of the Kumbh Mela festival, which is expected to be the largest human gathering in history.

The belief that China doesn’t consume enough is just wrong.

The US deficit problem really isn’t so bad. And the US debt limit should be abolished.

Why Aaron Swartz is becoming a martyr, and why you should care.

The largest structure ever observed in the universe is a quasar cluster.

Here’s the right way to evaluate teachers.

Surprising discoveries

Herbert Hoover drank Long Island Iced Tea.

It is difficult to cry in space.

The bulls are back, judging by junk-bond prices.

Cats (not bulls) can be excellent stock pickers. (They’re quite nimble.)

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, presidential drink recipes and dire forecasts about the debt-ceiling to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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