Quartz Daily Brief—Last-ditch Ukraine talks, Zuckerberg’s complaint, Barclays i-bank overhaul, Princess Di’s revenge

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What to watch for today

Last-ditch talks on Ukraine. US senators will meet with the interim government in Kiev and US secretary of state John Kerry meets his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in London ahead of Crimea’s referendum to join Russia on Sunday. Meanwhile, Russian troops and armored vehicles massed along Ukraine’s eastern border.

A fashionable first day of trading. Shares in English fashion website debut on London’s alternative stock exchange, giving the online retailer an expected £560 million market cap ($930.5 million).

A negative UK balance of trade. January data are set to show a £3 billion trade deficit—roughly in line with the average for the past two years—fueled by high consumer demand, low industrial output, and low oil and gas exports.

American consumers see the glass as half-full. A Reuters and University of Michigan poll is set to show a rise in consumer confidence for the third consecutive month. Yesterday, US retail sales grew by 0.3% after declining for the previous two months, and new unemployment claims fell to a three-month low.

While you were sleeping

Mark Zuckerberg complained to the White House about reports that the NSA infiltrated the computers of Facebook users. “The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat,” Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post.

General Electric moved away from the money game. General Electric unveiled plans to float up to 20% of Synchrony Financial, its North American consumer lending unit, as part of a pivot away from finance.

Tencent had a bad week in China. Dozens of politically prominent accounts on its WeChat service were abruptly deleted, and China’s central bank banned a new payment system that was just rolled out by Tencent and its rival Alibaba. Tencent CEO Pony Ma was conspicuously absent at annual parliamentary meetings in Beijing.

Barclays is planning an investment bank overhaul. A new strategy (paywall) will be announced this summer and the struggling division’s two leaders may be replaced amid rising costs, falling profits, and oversize bonuses.

Another airline ditched Venezuela. Avianca, Colombia’s biggest airline, said it will cut 73% of its flights to its cash-strapped neighbor because it is holding airline ticket revenues hostage.

Hamburger flippers sued McDonald’s. US employees claim they were forced to work unpaid overtime and dry-clean their uniforms.

Quartz obsession interlude

Steve LeVine on why the West is failing to understand Vladimir Putin. “A question not being asked is whether Putin came back to power a very different leader from the one elected president in 2000 and again in 2004; whether, while the Washington lunch group along with Russia hands around the world were microscopically scrutinizing the words and body language of that Putin, a mutation with a very different cognitive and ethical core assaulted Crimea. A figure less pragmatic, higher-risk, and much more likely than his progenitor to act out Russian glory in its imperial prime.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Bill Gates is the world’s most optimistic man. His foundation’s focus is nothing less than human civilization.

Medical school takes too long. With a global shortage of doctors, 14 years of training is excessive.

Britain is in perfect balance with Europe. Moving away from the EU or towards the euro would be bad news, argues George Soros (paywall).

Amazon is finally interested in making money. The Amazon Prime price hike is the first in a long time—but the originally $79 was pretty arbitrary, anyway.

The anti-vaccine movement is killing people. Measles have returned to New York.

Surprising discoveries

Teslas are polluting China. Electric cars require large amounts of Chinese-mined graphite, which is fouling air, water, and crops.

Princess Diana brought down the News of the World. She gave a NotW reporter a royal telephone directory, indirectly leading to the phone-tapping scandal.

India wants people to eat more bugs. The country could be headed for famine, and insects are an alternative source of protein.

What the web’s inventor never expected to be huge online. “Kittens,” says Tim Berners-Lee.

America’s health kick is killing TV dinners. Younger consumers are opting for fresher food.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, edible bugs, and kitten blogs to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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