Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—Holder’s drug sentencing reforms, Japanese GDP, US deficit projections, the pursuit of happiness

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What to watch for today

Revamped drug sentencing in the US. The attorney general will relax mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders without ties to drug organizations or gangs.

China tames the Arctic. A cargo ship is sailing from northeast China to Rotterdam through the Northeast Passage, the first time a commercial vessel has attempted the route.

US economy’s magic eight ball.  Deficit projections in the treasury’s budget will give the markets a clear sense of how much the US government will have to borrow to keep working. The government’s tax receipts will also give investors insight into the state of the economy.

Dell duel heads to court. A Delaware corporate-law tribunal is set to fast-track Carl Icahn’s legal challenge (paywall) to Michael Dell’s $24.8 billion buyout offer. The activist investor argues that recent changes to Dell’s voting rules have robbed shareholders of the right to choose between two competing offers.

Beaching the London Whale. US authorities are planning to arrest two former JP Morgan employees suspected of masking $6.2 billion in trading losses. The employees, Javier Martin-Artajo and Julien Grout, could be extradited under an agreement with British authorities.

Over the weekend

Mediocre Japanese growth. The world’s third-largest economy grew an annualized 2.6% between April and June, the third straight quarter of growth, although slower than hoped. The pace may be lackluster enough to deter Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from fulfilling a pledge to increase sales taxes.

GM threw in the towel in South Korea. The car-making giant is scaling down production efforts as rising wage costs and unionism cut into profits. South Korea currently accounts for around 20% of GM’s production.

Pharmaceutical giants under fire in Asia. China is reportedly investigating French drug-maker Sanofi for allegedly bribing more than 500 doctors with about 1.7 million yuan ($277,600) in late 2007. Meanwhile in Japan, investigations into Novartis’s research have uncovered attempts to alter data (paywall) in order to produce positive results.

Metals traders under fire in the US. The US commodities regulator has subpoenaed a metal warehousing company linked to major Wall Street banks as part of an extended probe into price manipulation, originally triggered by complaints by large scale users of metals like Coca-Cola.

Virtual currency under the microscope. New York State’s top banking regulator is probing the business practices of Bitcoin firms to see whether they are complying with money transmission and other laws.

Brazil may go it alone with the EU. After failing to reach a trade deal with the European Union alongside its neighbors—Argentina, Venezuela, Paraguay and Uruguay—Brazil will consider negotiating a separate agreement (paywall) for itself. The deal would cover $80 billion of bilateral trade between EU and Brazil.

Israel raises temperature ahead of peace talks. Israel is pushing ahead with plans to build over 1,000 housing units in contested areas of East Jerusalem and several large West Bank settlements, to Palestinian condemnation, while publishing a list of 26 Palestinian prisoners to be set free as a condition for talks due to start on Wednesday.

Egypt braces for a stand-off. Police were expected to start breaking up camps set up in Cairo by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, but by the early hours of Monday morning had not taken action, suggesting that Western and Arab mediators may be having an impact.

Edward Snowden’s father heads to Russia. Lon Snowden and the family’s lawyer will encourage the former intelligence contractor to return to the US to face federal charges for revealing secret American surveillance programs to journalists, if acceptable trial conditions can be negotiated.

Quartz obsession interlude

Leo Mirani on the coming deluge of digital currencies and the people who control them. ”Crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin or Litecoin are drastically different from social currencies like Ven or the now deceased Facebook Credits. The first kind promise anonymity, have no central exchange mechanism, and their mining requires technical skill and cryptography. The second class are transparent and centralized, and can be created in various ways.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

It’s no longer enough to look at art; we have to experience it too. The obsession with participation is changing high culture too.

Selling guns to teenagers really isn’t such a great idea. The NRA wants under-21s to have more access to firearms, yet data shows they kill people more often.

India’s path to prosperity doesn’t run through cities. Forget grand political proclamations about shifting people from farming; India’s cities can’t cope.

Come for the politics, stay for the money. Washington transforms idealists into members of the get-rich club.

Is the lab-grown burger kosher? Believers of many faiths wonder whether they can try one.

Surprising discoveries

Who’s behind the wheel? The Norwegian prime minister worked secretly as a taxi driver for a day to chat with voters.

Urban bee-keeping is a threat to the species. If you want to help bees, plant flowers.

Crowd-sourcing a cure for AIDS. Smartphone users can now donate the processing powerof their handheld gadgets to the pursuit of scientific discoveries.

Who wants to live forever? Most people in the US want to live a little longer than average, but not very much.

Unhappiness can be blamed on society; happiness is your own creation. Demography has an outsize influence on negativity, while joy is self-made.

Popeye on Mars. A team of Greek students has designed a fully automated system to grow spinach on the red planet.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments and tips for relocating urban bees to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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