Quartz Daily Brief—Ukraine sanctions, Wal-Mart goes small, BBVA buys Simple, the mile-low club

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What to watch for today

Ukraine teeters on the brink of chaos. EU officials imposed sanctions on Ukrainian leaders after government troops fired on protesters in Kiev, leaving at least 70 people dead 

Is Mexico’s growth holding up? The country has sidestepped the worst of the emerging market sell-off, but observers are still concerned about growth. Mexico is expected to post fourth-quarter GDP growth of 0.6%, down from 0.8% a year earlier.

Xiaomi makes its first foray abroad.  A mid-priced smartphone is expected to sell out in Singapore, the company’s first market outside of greater China, with a more expensive version due out next month.

The global economy gets a fix-it plan. Finance ministers from the world’s major economies meet at the G20 Summit in Sydney, Australia. The US is pushing back against developing countrys’ criticisms of the Federal Reserve’s tapering plan. 

US-China relations hit a speed bump. President Obama will meet the Dalai Lama to express concerns about “the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China.” The move is certain to anger Chinese leaders, who see the exiled Tibetan as a “splittist.”

While you were sleeping

Venezuela let its opposition leader off the hook—a bit. Leopoldo Lopez was cleared of charges of murder and terrorism, following claims that he incited violent riots that resulted in at least five deaths. But he is still charged with arson and conspiracy, and could face up to 10 years in prison.

Now Thailand’s farmers are protesting. Rural rice farmers are driving their tractors to block Bangkok’s main airport to force the government to pay them under a controversial rice subsidy scheme—joining mostly urban protesters who have been blockading the city for weeks.

Jamie Dimon headed off an uncomfortable vote. JP Morgan  managed to remove a motion to split the jobs of CEO and chairman (paywall) from the agenda of its shareholders meeting.

Wal-Mart goes small. The king of big box retail highlighted plans to offer more smaller stores after it announced weaker-than-expected guidance for 2014, saying low-income American consumers have less to spend due to food stamp cuts and higher payroll taxes.

Brazil moved to shore up its economic credibility, pledging $18.5 billion in public spending cuts in an effort to woo investors and stave off a downgrade. The real strengthened slightly against the dollar on the news.

BBVA bought an internet startup. The 157-year old Spanish bank snapped up Portland’s online banking company Simple for $117 million in cash—showing just how hard it is for Silicon Valley to disrupt the financial industry on its own.

Quartz obsession interlude

Roberto A. Ferdman on how Venezuelan unrest is dividing South America. “Sometimes it takes a crisis to find out who’s got your back. Such is the case for the government in Venezuela, where massive, and at times deadly, protests are being waged against the country’s leadership. On one hand, neighbors like Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador have made clear their unconditional support for Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. On the other, leaders in placed like Colombia, Chile, and Peru have not. These alliances largely—but not always—reflect political and economic interests.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Facebook had to buy WhatsApp. The messaging app is one of the few businesses that could have been a Facebook killer.

Obama missed his chance to save Syria. By failing to act when Syria used sarin gas last year, America’s threats have lost their power (paywall).

Ukrainian unrest is the last vestige of the Cold War. It’s Russia against the West all over again.

Get rid of Ivy League endowment funds. They’re anti-meritocratic and an inefficient allocation of resources.

Surprising discoveries

The powerlessness of positive thinking. Fantasies of success actually lessen your chances of succeeding.

Now you can join the mile-low club. Lovers Deep is a luxury submarine available for £175,000 ($291,690) per couple per night.

Meryl Streep gets more Oscar mentions than God. The actor has racked up four speech mentions in the last decade, compared to the Almighty’s three.

Cat bites are correlated with depression. Are depressed people more likely to be cat owners, or is a cat parasite affecting their brains?

Queen Victoria smoked marijuana. Governmental demonization of cannabis is a recent thing

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, Meryl Streep mentions, and royal stoners to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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