Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—Thailand risks sanctions, NSA bugs Afghanistan, Ukraine soldiers killed, the Pope shuns Facebook

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What to watch for today

14 Ukrainian soldiers were killed. Armed men attacked a military checkpoint at dawn, and Ukraine’s interim prime minister said there was evidence Russia was behind the attacks. Meanwhile, European officials are arriving ahead of Sunday’s election, where integration with Europe and the country’s fraught relationship with Russia will be front and center.

Mexico’s economy brightens a bit. Analysts expect first-quarter GDP growth to rebound slightly after last year’s GDP growth fell to a three-year low. That would be particularly welcome news for president Enrique Peña Nieto, who is pushing hard to enact tricky industrial reforms.

US new home sales rise. Analysts are optimistic that April sales will rise for the first time this year, after a slowdown caused in part by the Federal Reserve’s decision to taper its stimulus efforts. Sales are expected to be 425,000 for the month, compared with 384,000 in March.

Pakistan decides on India’s olive branch. India invited Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif to Narendra Modi’s swearing-in as prime minister. Sharif is reportedly keen, but he will have to convince his own suspicious army chiefs.

While you were sleeping

Thailand risks sanctions over its coup. The military’s decision to seize power forces the US to review its relationship (paywall) and may trigger western sanctions. Ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and several of her relatives have been summoned to appear before the military junta, but life is largely continuing as normal in most of the country.

A Chinese oligarch was sentenced to death. Mining magnate Liu Han was convicted of crimes including murder and leading an organized crime gang. He burst into tears in court and said he was framed (paywall).

The NSA recorded ”almost all” Afghan phone calls. Wikileaks reported that Afghanistan was the “country X” whose communications were heavily surveilled by the United States—a detail that had previously been kept under wraps by Glenn Greenwald and the Washington Post, due to fears that the revelation could cost lives.

Spain and Greece’s credit ratings got a boost. A modest recovery in the euro zone’s beleaguered periphery spurred S&P to boost its rating for Spain to BBB, two notches above “junk,” while Fitch Ratings revised its grade for Greece, which nevertheless remains firmly in junk territory.

Google’s next tablet will have a 3D scanner. The company’s prototype device will have a seven-inch screen, two back cameras, infrared depth sensors, and the ability to capture precise 3D images (paywall). The tablet could be released ahead of the company’s annual developer conference at the end of June.

Coca Cola will try selling water to Brits again, spending £3 billion ($5.06 billion) to promote ”glacéau smartwater.” The company’s last attempt failed utterly due to complaints it was asking premium prices for tap water.

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on the battle between Alibaba and for inland China. “Outside the 35 biggest cities—megalopolises like Shanghai and provincial capitals like Chengdu—there are still 125 other cities whose populations exceed one million residents, and many hundreds more with populations of more than 500,000. Brick-and-mortar shopping options there are much scarcer than in the coastal major cities, limiting the quality, safety and selection of available products, says Alibaba’s prospectus (p.130).” Read more here.

Matters of debate

If Thailand was a coup, so was Egypt. US diplomatic judgements are incoherent at best, hypocritical at worst.

Colleges aren’t set up to deal with sexual assault. Faculty panels aren’t capable of dealing with criminal justice matters.

“Socialist” is no longer a dirty word in the US. A Seattle politician’s minimum wage campaign is proof that times have changed.

Resume-based job applications are a waste of time. They’re inefficient information sorters and minefields for bias.

Spy agencies shouldn’t snoop on humanitarian groups. Institutions such as Unicef rely on impartiality and anonymity.

Surprising discoveries

Italy’s economic stats are getting a cocaine bump. Drugs, prostitution, and smuggling will all be included in GDP figures starting this year.

Pope Francis will not be joining Facebook. Twitter is preferable because profanity-ridden replies are easier to ignore.

Music has gone to the dogs. The Pittsburgh Symphony hired five canine performers for a piece written by Mozart’s father.

You don’t need an Ivy League degree to work for a tech giant. Going to a school near its headquarters helps, though.

Desk envy is sweeping the nation. Chair-bound workers want standing desks (paywall) like their colleagues.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, sheet music for pets, and standing desk wishlists to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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