Quartz Daily Brief—Europe edition—Ukraine fighting, US troops exit Afghanistan, Detroit demolition bill, insect snacks

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What to watch for today

Retaliation in Ukraine? A strike against pro-Russian rebels who took an airport in Donetsk left more than 30 dead, and could escalate the Russia-Ukraine clash, or bring president Petro Poroshenko and Russian officials to the negotiating table. 

A job opens up on the Federal Open Market Committee. After Jeremy Stein resigns from the board (paywall) of the US central bank to return to his previous job at Harvard, there will be three vacancies among the committee’s seven seats. Former Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer was confirmed to the board yesterday.

Edward Snowden speaks up. The NSA whistleblower filmed his first interview with a US television network in Moscow last week. Considering Snowden’s hour-long session at tech conference SXSW in March, some are asking whether the media is giving him too much airtime.

Affordable housing takes center stage. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund kick off the sixth annual Global Housing Finance Conference in Washington, in an attempt to bring more affordable housing to citizens across the globe. The conference will run until May 29.

While you were sleeping

China’s “golden era” for property ended. Vanke, the country’s largest property developer, is now making homes for owner-occupiers, not for investors. President Yu Liang said that the downturn is coming, and selling to buyers who want to live in the homes they purchase will be a source of stability for the company after decades of selling to those hoping to flip a home.

Obama mapped out Afghanistan troop withdrawals. All but 9,800 US troops will leave the country this year, and the rest by 2016, just before Obama leaves office in early 2017, the US president said. Republicans protested the idea, saying that hard-fought gains would be lost in a withdrawal.

New Zealand business confidence fell off a cliff. An 11 point drop in May, to 53.5, put business confidence at the lowest level since October, just a week after consumer confidence took a serious tumble. Higher interest rates, a strong currency, falling dairy prices, and a flat housing market are behind the change in sentiment.

Britain investigates GlaxoSmithKline. The UK’s Serious Fraud Office opened a criminal investigation into the drug maker and its subsidiaries, which is already facing fraud charges in China.

General Electric could partner with the French. CEO Jeff Immelt told French lawmakers that the company wouldn’t be against partnering with the government (paywall) in a deal with Alstom—a counter to Siemens, which has promised to create “two European champions of worldwide reach” (paywall) if it is allowed to buy Alstrom’s rail business.

US stocks hit a record high… Fresh off the back of its Friday peak, when it closed above 1,900 for the first time, the S&P 500 ended Tuesday at an all-time high of 1,911.91. The index was bolstered by a takeover bid for Hillshire Brands and strong economic data.

…and employment in some areas is near capacity. Employment in some regions and industries is nearly full, Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank president Dennis Lockhart said. Loose monetary policy is still required to support other sectors, Lockhart said, adding he could tolerate inflation of 2.5%—higher than the Fed’s 2% target—to see more people in work.

Detroit’s demolition bill came in. The cost of dealing with the bankrupt city’s 85,000 substandard buildings could total $1.9 billion, or $2,600 per resident, according to a new report from the blight team tasked with the job. More than a fifth of all Detroit’s properties need some sort of repair.

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on why China’s war on pollution is bad for its economy. “Recent analysis of economic data by Wei Yao, an economist at Société Générale, found that “Chinese policymakers are getting serious about air pollution.” So serious, in fact, that those efforts are already hurting GDP performance—something the government has so far shown to be its biggest priority. Yao says GDP will slow 0.35 percentage points cumulatively from 2014 to 2017 because of air pollution mitigation efforts, and she expects the economy to take the biggest blow this year. The biggest indicator comes from China’s industrial output—the output of China’s manufacturing, mining and materials sectors—where growth has slowed significantly since September, when China’s cabinet rolled out its air pollution action plan.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

In support of the low-profile commencement speaker. There’s a lot to be said for speakers who don’t charge $35,000 to show up.

Ukraine’s new government should head east. It needs to stick to its promise to be inclusive towards the whole country.

The internet no longer serves the public interest. Tech giants’ relentless corporatization and winner-take-all attitudes are making a mess of the web.

“Global warming” is a more effective term than “climate change.” The latter is more accurate, but “global warming” sounds scarier.

Italy could teach European leaders a thing or two. While the rest of the EU was electing euroskeptic parties to the European parliament, prime minister Matteo Renzi’s centrists dominated the Italian vote.

Amazon is putting customers last. It’s punishing them for its failure to reach agreements with suppliers, and that’s going to lose it business.

Mixing football and politics is a risky game. Latin Americans no longer accept (paywall) that “football and glory are a plausible substitute for healthcare and good governance.”

Surprising discoveries

Skype will soon live-translate your voice. It’s already good enough to work from English to German.

Google’s next driverless car doesn’t have brakes or a steering wheel. There is a panic button though.

It can take 45 days to create a single corporate tweet. In this case, the tweet got zero retweets and two favorites.

Seoul is the most Starbucks-saturated city. With 284 locations, it just beats the second-ranked city: New York.

A farm that breeds insects for human consumption just opened in Ohio. Crickets, for example, are a high-protein snack.

Tinder is being overrun with tiger photos. So many men have posed with big cats (paywall) in their dating profile pictures that a backlash has begun.

Indonesia has the highest rate of entrepreneurs working in the shadow economy. For every legally registered business, there are 130 shadow economy firms.

American CEOs are earning more than ever. The median pay packet is now above eight figures, a 9% increase from the year before.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, corporate tweet advice, and insect snacks to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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