Quartz Daily Brief—Europe edition—Ukraine showdown, France vs. dollar, “Transfomers” China success, unfinished Picketty

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What to watch for today

An armed showdown in Ukraine. Government security forces are preparing to lay siege to Donetsk (paywall), the regional capital of eastern Ukraine and the last major city held by pro-Russian rebels. Ukrainian forces pushed rebels back  over the weekend, after Moscow made no move to help.

India’s parliament gets down to business. India will begin a month-long session that will produce Narendra Modi’s first budget and other major policy initiatives.

Will Afghanistan name a president? The election commission is due to reveal preliminary results of a runoff vote, but front-runner Abdullah Abdullah has accused outgoing president Hamid Karzai of orchestrating ballot-stuffing in favor of Abdullah’s opponent, and wants the results delayed pending an investigation.

Euro zone finance ministers meet in Brussels. On the agenda is Lithuania’s entry to the euro and an update on a long-delayed banking union plan.

Argentina begins debt talks in New York. The talks are only to set conditions for more court-mediated talks with holdout creditors, but they may lead to a deal that could save the country from a July 31 default deadline.

How bubbly is the UK housing market? Taylor Wimpey, Britain’s second-biggest developer, will provide an earnings update that should shed light on a market that is already giddy from the effects of the government’s first-time home buyer support scheme.

Over the weekend

Angela Merkel began a China tour. The German leader started in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, where more than 150 German companies do business. The three-day visit, her seventh to China, will also include talks with premier Li Keqiang and president Xi Jinping.

France hit out at the dollar. French prime minister Michael Sapin said the world needs a “rebalancing” that would end the hegemony of the US dollar (paywall). His comments come after France’s biggest bank was banned from dollar transactions in 2015.

British companies grew cautious. Large UK companies showed a smaller appetite for risk over the last three months, according to a quarterly survey by Deloitte. The drop in confidence comes ahead of an election next year and a potential referendum over pulling out of the EU.

Transformers 4 is on track to be China’s biggest film of all time. It made more than $200 million in its first 12 days, surpassing ticket sales in North America. The movie is also packed with Chinese product placements (paywall).

London’s buses went cashless. Commuters must now use their electronic passes and contactless debit cards to buy tickets; cash payments were already down to just 0.7% of all journeys.

Mexico made a move against its richest man. The senate approved a bill to overhaul its mobile and fixed-line telecom sector, challenging the longstanding dominance of Carlos Slim. His company, América Móvil, has a 70% mobile market share and 80% fixed-line share.

YouTube started blaming ISPs for low-quality streaming. The company joined the fight to highlight issues of net neutrality, as it pointed users upset with slow speeds to a report card showing the relative broadband speeds for various countries.

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on how IBM is using big data to fix Beijing’s pollution crisis. “IBM plans to improve the quality of data by installing its latest generation of optical sensors, incorporating meteorological satellite data and running that through its artificial-intelligence computing system. The visual maps it generates will identify the source and dispersal pattern of pollutants across Beijing with a street-level degree of detail 72 hours in advance.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Wall Street will create the first conscious machines. The financial industry is putting AI research to meaningful use.

NASA could learn from India’s space program. How to pick a visionary goal, and accomplish it on the cheap.

The US and Germany are heading for a divorce. US spying is destroying the bonds between the once-close allies.

The weak Iraqi state is responsible for the ISIL crisis. Anxious citizens are falling back on sectarian identity in times of strife.

The US should stop targeting tax cheats. It’s doing more harm than good (paywall).

Surprising discoveries

Nobody is finishing ”Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” Thomas Picketty’s best-seller may be going largely unread. 

People hate to be alone with their thoughts. Study participants, especially men, preferred to receive an electric shock instead.

Black people were once denied vanilla ice cream in the southern US states. Except on Independence Day.

There’s a plausible scenario to colonize Venus. Not on the overheated surface, but floating 30 miles above it.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, Picketty Cliff Notes, and thought avoidance strategies to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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