Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—Kerry meets Lavrov and Brahimi, Europe’s banking union, Al Qaeda’s threats, rat police

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What to watch for today

Three-way talks on Syria. US secretary of state John Kerry will meet with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and the international envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, in Geneva. The talks are taking place after Damascus demanded that in return for surrendering its chemical weapons, the US withdraw its military threats and assistance to rebels. Meanwhile, an elite government unit in Syria appears to be moving stocks of chemical weapons around (paywall) to make them harder to track.

Europe considers a banking union. Top policymakers are busy discussing the broad aspects of the union, but are unlikely to get into the nitty-gritty. The project got a boost on Thursday when the European parliament agreed to give the European Central Bank oversight of 130 of the region’s largest banks.

Rising US spending power. Retail sales probably rose 0.4% in August, thanks to strong car sales, but consumer sentiment is likely to have dipped in September. Consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of the US economy, will be a key factor in the Federal Reserve’s decision next week on its stimulus program.

It’s Friday the 13th. Here’s a look at the cultural and religious roots of a superstition that costs the US an estimated $800-900 million in lost business each time.

While you were sleeping

Al Qaeda’s leadership called for attacks inside the US. Ayman al-Zawahiri told members of the terrorist network to “bleed America economically” by staging small-scale attacks inside the country, claiming that such a threat would bring down the economy by encouraging overspending on security.

A US consulate in Afghanistan was attacked. At least three people died when insurgents attacked the diplomatic complex in the city of Herat with a truck bomb and small arms fire. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault. 

China redefined democracy in Hong Kong. Beijing ruled out open nominations for candidates in the 2017 election, suggesting that China wants to maintain control over the autonomous region despite the “one country, two systems” agreement brokered when it was handed back by the British in 1997. The move may increase tension with Hong Kong, where pro-democracy sentiment is widespread.

Sentences in India’s gang rape case. Four men were sentenced to death by hanging after they were found guilty of raping and murdering a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a New Delhi bus. The case drew international attention and sparked a debate in India about the treatment of women.

An ex-RBS trader will face 50 months in jail. Shirlina Tsang was sentenced after pleading guilty last month of trying to hide losses of 19.5 billion pounds ($30.8 million) while she was working as a trader at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Pessimism stalks the BRICS. Global investors are least optimistic about the outlook for big emerging market economies, which fell far behind the US and EU in a Bloomberg poll.

UK house prices hit another record. Surging demand and limited supply has continued to push up property prices in Britain, with values up 0.4% from July to an average of 233,776 pounds ($370,000). London prices have risen by 40% since their last peak in 2009. It’s a different story in Spain, however, where the main property index fell 12% in the last year.


Quartz obsession interlude

Matt Phillips on why the biggest bond deal ever from Verizon might mark the end of the easy money era. “Now the size of the deal would likely mean that Verizon would have to pay some kind of premium. (For a $49 billion offering to succeed, it needs to coax a lot of people to buy.) But it’s also true that investors have been starting to move away from fixed-income products and tilt their money a bit more back into stocks. Such dynamics should, by rights, translate into higher borrowing costs for corporates.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Twitter’s IPO filing underlines just how much the JOBS Act wasn’t about jobs. The legislation didn’t create any jobs, but it did create a lot of hyperventilation about the IPO.

The banking system is even more insane than before the crisis. Here are six reasons why (paywall).

These days Apple is more like a fashion label than an electronics company. When the big “change” in a product launch is color, Apple has become more like Prada and less like Edison.

Anders Breivik is welcome at the University of Oslo. He committed an atrocity, but it is good that the Norwegian mass murderer will study democracy and justice.

Surprising discoveries

Holland is training rats for police service. Five “sniffer rats” named Poirot, Magnum, Derrick, Jansen and Janssen will be used to identify drugs and explosives.

Nerves of steel or tempting fate? Finnair has scheduled a flight today, Friday 13th, with the number designation 666, flying to HEL.

Meet the ugliest animal on earth. The blobfish is shaped exactly like you might imagine, with a ghoulish pallor.

The inventor of the mechanical gear is an insect. The three-millimeter-long insect called Issus coleoptratus uses a toothed gear in its legs to jump.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, rodent police officer uniform designs and good luck charms to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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