Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—Bombings in Russia, China’s soaring debt, inflation in Japan, “sad characters” in Asia

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What to watch for today

Israel will release Palestinian prisoners. About two dozen prisoners will be released today ahead of New Year’s day peace talks among US secretary of state John Kerry, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

A former F1 star’s prognosis. Michael Schumacher, the Formula One racer, underwent brain surgery and remains in critical condition in a French hospital after a skiing accident.

US pending home sales are due. Sales of existing homes have underwhelmed in recent months, but economists expect a rebound. The numbers come amid rising interest rates, which may or may not affect the housing market in 2014.

The SEC questions insurers. The market regulator has asked big insurance companies to disclose the cost of shutting down controversial “captive” insurance units, the Wall Street Journal reported. (paywall)

The UK’s New Year Honors list will be published. Cyclists and Olympians were among those picked a year go, but Queen Elizabeth II won’t be awarding knighthoods to soccer star David Beckham or Wimbledon champion Andy Murray this time, according to local reports.

Over the weekend

Two bombers struck in Russia. At least 32 people were killed after two bombs exploded in less than 24 hours in the industrial town of Volgograd, Russia. They mark the third deadly attack in three months and a major blow for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is determined to project an image of stability in the run up to the Sochi Olympics.

Chinese government debt soared. Local government debt hit $2.95 trillion in June, a 67% increase from the last audit at the end of 2010.

France’s “millionaires” tax is going ahead. The country’s constitutional court has approved president Hollande’s contentious plan to levy a 75% tax rate on salaries above €1 million ($1.37 million).

A crackdown on corruption and smoking in China. Hundreds of lawmakers in the Chinese city of Hengyang have been dismissed after accepting bribes in a huge case of electoral fraud. Meanwhile, the Communist Party forbade officials from smoking in public.

Japan managed some inflation. In a boost for Abenomics, consumer prices rose 1.2% last month, the highest rate in five years. Japan’s central bank has set a target of 2% in its battle to avoid inflation.

Quartz obsession interlude

Herman Wong looks at Asia’s words of the year, and finds they’re a bunch of sad characters: “Unlike Oxford Dictionaries’ choice for word of the year, these characters capture a sense of people’s anxiety and, in one case, of collective achievement.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Bitcoin is evil. Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman attempts to distinguish between the positive and the normative in the heated debate over the popular digital currency.

Hollywood is evil. The New Yorker takes a critical look at the unfortunate (and surprisingly similar) messages purveyed in Leonardo diCaprio’s latest two films, Gatsby and Wolf of Wall Street.

A glimpse at the world’s economic giants, 15 years from now.  What if conventional wisdom on the “endless rise of Asian and Latin American autocracies” is wrong?

Is e-cigarette advertising just like tobacco cigarette advertising? We’ve taken a look. You be the judge.

Surprising discoveries

Charlie Chaplin was a complex individual. Lapham’s Quarterly takes a look at the double life led by the silent film star.

Long distance travel has come a long way. In 1930, it took a full day to get from New York City to Philadelphia, a trip that takes about an hour these days.

If Christmas were forever. This would be a good reading list.

Ecstasy’s popularity knows no borders. A study of drugs bought on the illicit online marketplace Silk Road using bitcoin found that MDMA was most popular in the US, UK, and Australia.  

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, e-cig ads, and knighthood nominations to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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