Quartz Daily Brief—Europe edition—Syrian charm offensive, Norway and Moscow elections, smelling compatibility

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What to watch for today

Barack Obama makes his case on Syria… The US president will tape six TV interviews as he attempts to persuade members of Congress to back the strike against the al-Assad regime and sway public opinion in favor of intervention.

…as does Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian president’s interview with Charlie Rose in Damascus will be broadcast on American television channels CBS and PBS. Rose said that Assad denied reports of chemical weapons attacks against civilians, but no clips of the interview have yet been released.

Norwegians may elect a new leader. Conservative leader Erna Solberg, who has promised to cut taxes and improve healthcare, is expected to be the next prime minister. The new government may have to address a growing property bubble in the Scandinavian nation.

Who won Moscow’s mayoral election? Exit polls put Putin ally Sergei Sobyanin ahead of convicted activist and anti-Putin figurehead Alexei Navalny, perhaps enough to rule out a second round of voting, although Navalny insists that a two-candidate run-off is necessary.

Over the weekend

The 2020 Summer Olympics goes to Tokyo. The Japanese capital defeated Istanbul and Madrid after prime minister Shinzo Abe gave his emphatic assurance that the city would not be affected by radiation from the country’s 2011 nuclear disaster. Winning the bid may worsen Japan’s public debt, which hovers around 230% of GDP.

Australia’s opposition party cruised to victory. The Liberal-National coalition ended the Labor Party’s six-year rule by winning 88 of the 150 parliament seats. New prime minister Tony Abbott pledged to cut a carbon tax, rebuff illegal immigrants and take swift action to boost the economy.

Japan’s economy is picking up steam. Second quarter GDP growth was revised upward to an annualized 3.8% from a preliminary reading of 2.6%, driven by robust capital spending. The revision will likely strengthen the case for the proposed sales tax hike in 2014.

China’s biggest trade surplus since December. Exports grew at an annualized pace of 7.2% in August, while imports rose at a less-than-estimated 7%, pushing the surplus to $28 billion. Separate data on inflation came in at the expected 2.6% rise for August, compared to the year before, although there was further pressure on producers, whose prices fell by 1.6%.

Kerry juggled explosive conflicts in the Middle East. The US Secretary of State briefed Arab diplomats (paywall) on nascent Israel-Palestine negotiations and reiterated the administration’s case for intervention in Syria, dismissing the idea that the US Congress would balk at intervening. Meanwhile, Qatar criticized Israel for continuing to build settlements in disputed territory.

Italy’s number three bank is still floundering. The Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena has more than doubled its capital-raising target to 2.5 billion euros ($3.3 billion), adding to a massive bailout package designed to help the bank recover from a derivatives loss related to a 2008 acquisition.

Smartphone users’ data is not safe from the NSA. The US spy agency can access contact lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information from iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Android-based phones, according to German news weekly Der Spiegel.

Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus is for sale. The Dallas-based department store chain is negotiating with Ares Management and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, according to the Wall Street Journal, to sell itself for around $6 billion (paywall).

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on why real estate in Beijing is more expensive than in Manhattan. “Price rises could be due more to speculation than to a dearth of supply. Especially in big cities, apartments are often seen as investment vehicles more than as homesteads. For instance, even though swanky high-rises are getting more expensive in Beijing, their sales in smaller cities are flagging, suggesting that genuine demand is weak. As Bank of America-Merrill Lynch’s China strategy team noted in March, ‘China is building too many housing units too fast.’ Per capita housing stock, they note, hit 35 sq m in 2011, and is rising by 1.2 sq m a year, putting China in the same league as many wealthy countries.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

The battle to fix the banks is still unfinished. Five years after Lehman Brothers collapsed, a look back at the crisis and what has been done to prevent another one (paywall).

Hospitals could provide better care by innovating like businesses. US hospitals should look to India for inspiration and their own practices for change.

The Syria vote in the US Congress is a lose-lose for Barack Obama. A failure will make his presidency appear impotent, but offering concessions to Republicans to ensure a victory could derail his agenda.

New twist for US gun control. The state of Iowa is granting gun permits to people who are legally blind, citing federal laws that don’t allow discrimination against people with disabilities.

Surprising discoveries

You may have chosen your partner based on how they smell. A growing body of research suggests that we subconsciously choose mates by “smelling” genetic compatibility.

E-cigarettes could be the cure. First-of-its-kind research shows that electronic cigarettes are as effective as nicotine patches in helping smokers quit.

Britain’s Marie Antoinette moment. The UK may soon classify one million of the lowest paid employees as “not working enough,” and force them to earn more, or face a cut in benefits.

How to catch a liar. A study shows that people who are lying in digital messages take longer to respond.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, hastily-written digital messages and e-cigarette fan mail to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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