Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—Russia’s deadline passes, Cameron aide arrested, banana plague, papal F-bomb

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What to watch for today

A tense stand-off continues in Ukraine. A Russian deadline for Ukrainian forces in Crimea to surrender passed without incident. Russia still looks poised to force the issue, and its soldiers fired warning shots from an occupied air base. US secretary of state John Kerry will arrive in Kiev for meetings with the interim government, and the IMF begins consultations on financial aid to Ukraine.

The White House proposes its budget. President Barack Obama will outline his plans for creating jobs (paywall), paring back the military, and raising an extra $1 trillion worth of taxes over the next decade.

US chain store sales are due. Weekly sales have been volatile in recent months but year-on-year figures have remained positive.

China’s National People’s Congress convenes. The annual week-long conference exists mostly to rubber-stamp new laws and policies—as long as delegates can stay awake, and off their phones. More importantly, the country’s new GDP growth target will be announced; most analysts expect no change from last year’s 7.5%.

While you were sleeping

Australia kept interest rates on hold… The central bank maintained its benchmark rate at 2.5% despite a hot housing market.

…And gave Qantas some much-needed good news. The government said it would look into making it easier for foreign investors to invest in the beleaguered airline, after Qantas blamed a huge half-year loss on an uneven playing field with its rival Virgin Australia.

Cameron aide arrested on child porn charges. Patrick Rock was one of the UK prime minister’s chief advisors on policy for online pornography filters. He was arrested after police searched computers at 10 Downing Street.

Facebook mulls internet drones. The company is reportedly in talks to buy Titan Aerospace, whose drones can fly for up to five years without needing to land. That could bring internet to the “next billion” Facebook users in the developing world.

Glencore Xstrata mega-merger results came in. The company’s first annual combined profits climbed 20%, as costs of copper production fell and output rose. The company also said the sale of its Las Bambas mine in Peru is still ongoing.

UK construction PMI missed its targets, thanks to rain and floods that hampered building activity. The Markit/CIPS construction purchasing managers’ index was still a red-hot 62.6 for February, albeit below expectations of 63.

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on the new strain of fungus that threatens to wipe out the world’s banana crop. “Tropical Race 4 is a pure killing machine—and not just for Cavendishes [the most common banana variety]. Scores of other species that are immune to Race 1 have no defenses against the new pathogen. In fact, Tropical Race 4 is capable of killing at least 80%—though possibly as much as 85%—of the 145 million tonnes (160 million tons) of bananas and plantains produced each year.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Obama isn’t losing in Ukraine. It’s not even his battle to lose.

Abenomics may leave quite a mess. The prime minister is fighting an impossible fight, and causing huge damage in the process.

Emerging-markets turmoil has a silver lining. It could make disgruntled voters turf out some bad governments.

Academia does pay. Forget CEOs—university vice chancellors are earning pretty nicely.

There is no gender gap in tech salaries. Women might face other problems in the industry, but pay isn’t one of them.

Surprising discoveries

Bitcoin theft is tax-deductible. One small solace for people who had money in Mt. Gox.

Pope Francis got his blessings and curses mixed up in a shocking slip of the tongue.

A blood test for death will tell whether you’re likely to kick the bucket in the next five years.

Samsung probably spent $20 million on Oscar ads. If you haven’t worked it out already, that selfie was part of the package.

Get a head start on your summer reading. Here are 13 must-read business books about to hit the shelves.

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