STAR WARS

Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—US-Russia talks, China’s 7.5% solution, Japan’s bitcoin tax, Spain’s prostitution lessons

What to watch for today

US and Russia prepare to chat… Secretary of state John Kerry will meet Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris to discuss how to resolve the situation in Ukraine. NATO will hold parallel talks with Russia in Brussels.

…As both sides brace for sanctions. Russian lawmakers are working on a bill to confiscate EU and US assets in the event that sanctions are imposed. France said Russian assets and visas could be restricted unless the conflict is de-escalated by Thursday.

First look at US jobs. The monthly employment report from private payroll firm ADP is set to show an increase of 153,000 jobs in February, compared to 175,000 the previous month, setting the stage for the more important government figure that comes out on Friday.

A crucial case for shareholders. The US Supreme Court weighs in on an investor lawsuit against Halliburton. If the justices side with the conglomerate, it could cripple future securities class-action lawsuits.

While you were sleeping

China maintained its economic growth target. Beijing isn’t budging from a goal of 7.5% annual growth, even though a lower rate might be healthier in the long run. An annual legislative council also announced a 12% rise in military spending, a drone war on smog, and further reforms to the economy.

The euro zone showed signs of strength. GDP grew 0.5% in 2013, according to a second estimate from Eurostat, and Markit’s purchasing managers’ index for February was revised up to 53.3, from an initial reading of 52.7.

Japan is considering Bitcoin regulations. In the wake of the failure of the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange, regulators plan to tax the digital currency’s transactions (paywall).

Hong Kong democracy was denied. China’s head of Hong Kong affairs said future leaders of the special administrative region will be named by a mainland-dominated committee, dashing hopes of free elections.

Standard Chartered was stung by South Korea. The bank posted its first decline in profits in a decade (paywall) due to volatile emerging markets and particular woes in South Korea, where it took a $1 billion write-down in August.

Iran talked nukes with Japan. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the countries may cooperate on nuclear power issues after he met with senior Japanese officials, including prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Quartz obsession interlude

Rachel Feltman on Cone, the loudspeaker that aims to change music streaming. “Though the device lacks any kind of screen, it works on its own. Users only need the accompanying app if they want to go looking for information on a track they hear. Otherwise, using the personal DJ is as easy as twisting the face of the speaker. A short turn changes songs, a spin breaks into a different kind of music, and voice recognition helps you make specific requests.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Something has gone wrong with democracy. After a solid run in the 20th century, democracy’s advance has stalled.

Five-year olds should learn calculus. Starting with simpler mathematics isn’t effective.

Starbucks is the new local bank. One-third of its transactions are on pre-paid cards, and that’s just the beginning.

Vladimir Putin is losing it. His latest press conference showed him to be rambling, paranoid, and detached from reality.

Thailand’s human-trafficking problem is really about overfishing. Dwindling seafood stocks are pushing unscrupulous skippers to conscript migrant workers.

Surprising discoveries

Poverty-stricken Spaniards can take prostitution lessons. Some feminists are not happy about it.

A predatory flatworm has invaded France. Turns out they have a taste for escargots.

Zombies are a subject of academic discourse. One professor has built his career on them.

Full-fat milk isn’t all that bad. It may even be better at keeping the weight off than fat-free milk.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, zombie thesis proposals, and escargot recipes to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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