Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—Crunch time for Syria, NSA bugging the UN, Bo Xilai’s trial ends, overpriced saline

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What to watch for today

UN inspectors will visit the site of a chemical attack in Syria. Amid condemnation from many of the world’s most powerful nations, Syria agreed to allow UN staff into an area where hundreds of people died last week, apparently from poison gas. The offer comes too late, the US and its allies say, because heavy shelling of the area is likely to have destroyed any evidence of chemical weapons.

US durable goods orders to fall. Economists expect orders of long-lasting manufactured goods to have declined 4% month-over-month in July, from a 3.9% increase in the previous month. A sharp drop in Boeing aircraft orders is largely to blame.

Hamid Karzai’s mission to Pakistan. The Afghan president will seek help from Pakistan’s new government to arrange talks between Afghan negotiators and Taliban representatives.

A senior UN official visits Iran. The organization’s political affairs chief, Jeffrey Feltman, may discuss Tehran’s warning on Monday against military intervention in Syria, and Iran’s support of Hezbollah, the Lebanese group fighting for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The fight for Yosemite intensifies. Massive wildfires threaten several mountain hamlets in the Californian national park as strong winds continue to strengthen the blaze and firefighters step up their efforts.

Over the weekend

Central bankers calmed nerves at the Jackson Hole summit. Top officials from the UK and Japan said their policy initiatives will support global growth even if the US Federal Reserve starts winding down quantitative easing. International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde also said emerging markets could count on continued lax policies from other central banks.

The NSA reportedly bugged UN headquarters. The US National Security Agency secretly monitored the United Nations’ internal video conferencing system, according to Germany’s Der Spiegel, quoting documents from NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The NSA has also admitted a few analysts used its systems to spy on their love interests.

What kept Snowden in a Moscow airport? The former spy agency contractor didn’t take an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Cuba in June because Havana changed its mind about sheltering him under pressure from the US, according to Russian media.

Bo Xilai’s trial ended. Prosecutors in the widely-publicized trial of the disgraced Communist party leader demanded harsh punishments as his trial drew to a close on Monday. Bo was unexpectedly outspoken throughout, though some details of his testimony were censored.

A big deal in pharma. The US pharmaceutical company Amgen agreed to buy rival Onyx for $10.4 billion, 44% over Onyx’s share price before negotiations were announced. The deal will give Amgen access to Kyprolis, a lucrative myeloma drug.

Sinopec’s refining arm is back in the black. Asia’s largest refiner posted a 24% increase in first half net income as its refining business turned a profit after years of loss, boosted by a change in the way China sets its fuel prices.

Mixed economic data from Asia. Singapore reported an upswing in industrial production, which gained 2.7% in July, beating estimates. In Thailand, the country’s trade deficit widened from $1.91 billion to $2.28 billion last month, as exports declined and imports grew.

Matters of debate

America is being hypocritical on chemical weapons. It may be considering military action in Syria now, but in 1988 it supported Saddam Hussein’s use of sarin gas.

It’s time for action in Syria. If there are no limits in Damascus, there will be none elsewhere (paywall).

A weak argument can be more effective than a dogmatic one. Logical, fact-based arguments often fail to convince because they are rejected by listeners unwilling to doubt their own judgment.

Rich nations have an “imperial disdain” for the emerging world. Obituaries for developing nations are premature.

Surprising discoveries

US hospitals are significantly overcharging patients for salt water. In one case a US hospital charged a patient $546 for six liters of saline, worth $5.16.

Cocaine can physically change the brain. Hours after the drug is used, new structures linked to learning and memory can start to grow, fueling addiction.

One million cockroaches escaped a Chinese farm… The insects reportedly escaped a farm where they were being bred for use in traditional medicine.

…and so did two dozen crocodiles. Flooding in China has washed free a group of the reptiles from a farm in Guangdong province.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, inflated hospital bills and escaped crocodile photos to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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