Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—Merkel’s third term, NSA surveillance ruling, Boeing’s buyback, Neanderthal burials

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What to watch for today

Angela Merkel’s third term begins. Three months of haggling have yielded a coalition government focused on strengthening the EU and bringing energy prices under control. Merkel’s new cabinet includes Germany’s first female defense minister.

Muted inflation in Britain and US. Consumer prices are expected to have risen about 2.2% in the UK and to have barely increased in the US, shedding light on the US Federal Reserve’s two-day policy meeting, which starts today.

The UK opens up to shale gas, publishing a list of areas across the country where companies could explore for shale gas drilling, as well as new regulations and an assessment of the likely impact on water supplies.

A close call for the US budget deal. The Senate votes on a deal that would put an end, for a while anyway, to the paralyzing brinkmanship. Some Democratic senators complain that the deal doesn’t extend  long-term unemployment benefits.

Zimbabwean diamonds for sale. The first auction following the lifting of EU sanctions on the Marange diamond fields, where government troops allegedly killed over 200 workers in 2009, takes place in Antwerp.

Ukraine’s president meets Putin. After spurning the EU, Viktor Yanukovych travels to Moscow to ask for a $15 billion bailout as protestors continue to crowd the streets in Kiev.

While you were sleeping

A blow to NSA phone surveillance. The collection of telephone record metadata that Edward Snowden revealed earlier this year may be unconstitutional, a US district court judge ruled.

Japan is upping its military spending by 2.6% over five years for equipment such as beach assault vehicles and early-warning planes, against a backdrop of ongoing tensions with China.

North Korea marked Kim Jong-il’s death. Thousands of officials gathered in Pyongyang for a ceremony commemorating the second anniversary of the the former leader’s passing. Those on hand included his chosen successor, Kim Jong-un, who recently executed his own uncle in a purge of top leaders.

Singapore’s exports fell. Shipments excluding oil declined by a more than expected 9.3% in November (paywall) compared to the previous month due in part to a 47% drop in pharmaceutical exports.

Boeing’s $10 billion buyback. The company will raise its dividend 50% in its largest-ever share buyback, thanks to strong sales and improved cash flow.

Glaxo will stop paying doctors for promotions. In what could be a first for a major drug company, GlaxoSmithKline will cease its practice of compensating doctors for promoting its products, chief executive Andrew Witty said.

The SEC wants more than $1.1 million from Fabrice Tourre for the former Goldman Sachs employee’s involvement in a failed 2007 mortgage deal.

Quartz obsession interlude

Christopher Mims on how far the “internet of things” will go. “The next layer of the internet of things will require combining disparate streams of data ‘mined’ from reality—everything from your location to the members of your social network. This is called sensor fusion, a task that is basic to all big data projects. Knowing where you are throughout the day won’t mean much, but add in data about who else is present and a computer algorithm can tell you how likely you are to get the flu.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Google is the new Bell Labs. With its investment in autonomous cars and acquisition of Boston Robotics, the company is investing in groundbreaking research that will benefit humanity. (Counterpoint: No, it isn’t.)

A 7.5% GDP growth target is bad for China. It will only make it harder for the country to reform.

Germany should expect a downgrade. The fact that the Netherlands lost its AAA rating is a warning that the German position isn’t so secure.

It’s time to ease up on the college essay. Requiring students to write long papers is a waste of everyone’s time.

Why have no high-level executives been prosecuted for the financial crisis? A US judge flags an “egregious failure of the criminal justice system.”

Surprising discoveries

Water may flow freely on Mars. Seasonal dark streaks have been detected near the red planet’s equator.

Neanderthals buried their dead. New research shows that contrary to earlier assumptions, our evolutionary relatives undertook careful burials some 50,000 years ago.

The best-selling book on Amazon this year is based on a questionnaire developed by Gallup.

There’s a strange new way to get a US visa—be really good at a video game.

Ben and Jerry have only ever really argued about one thing: how big the chocolate chunks should be in their ice cream.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, long-forgotten college essays, and chocolate chunk preferences to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.


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