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Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—NSA quantum computer, Iraqi siege, Singh bows out, New Year’s asteroid strike

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

What to watch for today

Shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East. US secretary of state John Kerry visits the West Bank to see Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, after meeting Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday.

Economists digest the Bernanke era. The three-day meeting of the American Economic Association starts in Philadelphia, covering themes from income inequality to why the US isn’t recovering faster (paywall). Outgoing Fed chairman Ben Bernanke speaks this afternoon.

A big storm descends on the US northeast. Snow storm Hercules is expected to bring blizzard-like gusts and nearly a foot of snow to much of the region, including Boston and New York City.

While you were sleeping

India’s prime minister bowed out. Two-term PM Manmohan Singh will step down even if his Congress Party beats the odds to win this year’s election. Quartz fact-checked his retirement speech and found a few questionable claims.

Samsung tried to refocus. Chairman Lee Kun-hee called for his employees to redouble R&D efforts and move away from a reliance on hardware. The company’s stock has been hammered on fears of a forthcoming profit warning.

Spain’s unemployment rate plummeted. The total number of jobless fell by 2.4% to 4.7 million—the second-biggest monthly drop ever.

Britain’s housing bubble is still inflating. UK house prices rose by 1.4% last month, the biggest increase in more than four years.

China’s services PMI dropped. The December purchasing managers index dipped to 54.6 from 56 the previous month, adding to evidence of a slowing Chinese economy.

Cambodian police shot striking workers. Security forces fired AK-47s at garment factory employees demanding a doubling of the minimum wage, killing at least three people.

Two key Iraqi towns are under siege. Sunni militants aligned with Al Qaeda and anti-regime forces in Syria seized parts of Fallujah and Ramadi, where some of the bloodiest battles between the US and insurgents took place.

The NSA is building a quantum computer. According to documents provided by Edward Snowden, the US spy agency wants a machine that is vastly more powerful than existing supercomputers in order to break currently invulnerable encryption schemes.

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on what China’s reform plans mean for Macau’s billion-dollar casino business. “[A]s the government gradually loosens capital controls, households and businesses will be able to move capital across Chinese borders more freely—and will have less need to run money through Macau’s VIP rooms. VIP rooms accounted for more than 70% of Macau’s revenues, reported The Economist in 2011.” Read more here. 

Matters of debate

Angry Birds isn’t about the game anymore. It’s about the merchandise.

China will never take over the world. The country’s powerful size is also a fundamental weakness.

JP Morgan got off lightly. A $13 billion settlement won’t change anything about the way Wall St. does business.

Obamacare may not cut health-care costs. Poor people who get subsidized health insurance are more likely, not less, to use the emergency room.

Surprising discoveries

Earth probably got hit by an asteroid on New Year’s Day. Tiny 2014 AA would be only the second asteroid to be detected before it hit us.

Infant mortality and elephant poaching go together. They’re both symptoms of poverty.

Gender equality for crash test dummies. Female dummies weren’t mandatory parts of collision testing until last year.

What gravity would be like if the world were a cube. For a start, you’d be standing at an angle on most of the Earth’s surface.

Pope Francis is a blessing for Rome. He boosted tourism at the Vatican by 180% in 2013.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, Angry Birds spin-offs, and unusual gravitational models to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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