Quartz Daily Brief—Russian provocations, US domestic spyplanes, Amazon-Hachette truce, clean-room lettuce

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What to watch for today

Russia pushes Ukraine’s buttons… A spokesperson for Moscow’s foreign ministry said 82 aid trucks will cross the Russian border into Ukraine, amid NATO reports of Russian tanks and combat troops moving into the country. Each country claim the other is breaking their ceasefire agreement.

…And Australia’s. Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered a military flotilla to sail towards Australia as he prepares to attend the G20 summit in Brisbane this weekend. Australian prime minister Tony Abbott accused Putin of “bullying” behavior as he tries to “recreate the lost glories of Tsarism and the Soviet Union.” (paywall)

A new Ebola patient flies to the US. A Sierra Leone doctor with permanent US residency will be flown on Saturday to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, one of four US hospitals with specialized Ebola treatment facilities.

Americans opt for retail therapy. US retail sales for October are slated to rise thanks in part to cheap gas prices fueling early holiday spending, after sales decreased by 0.3% in September.

Congress guns for a Keystone XL vote. The US House of Representatives may push for a vote to move forward with the pipeline—meant to transport oil from controversial Canadian tar sands to the US—before a newly elected Congress takes office in January.

While you were sleeping

The US is spying on phones from planes. The federal government is using scanning devices called “dirtboxes” which are installed on small aircraft covering most of the US population, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall). The devices capture the unique ID numbers of thousands of mobile phones in an indiscriminate dragnet, even when they are switched off.

Burkina Faso agreed on a civilian-led government. A prime minister will be appointed and allowed to form a government ahead of national elections in November 2015, according to an agreement between military, political, and civilian groups. Lt. Col. Isaac Zida seized control on Nov. 1 after longtime president Blaise Compaore was ousted.

Amazon and Hachette put down their swords. The online retail giant struck a confidential multi-year agreement with the publisher that incentivizes it to lower book prices, ending a pricing war that spurred Amazon to freeze pre-orders on Hachette titles. Amazon is trying to persuade the ”Big Five” publishers to price all ebooks at $9.99 and fork over a bigger share of sales.

Halliburton is in merger talks with Baker Hughes. Discussions between the world’s number two and three oilfield services companies are moving fast, sources told the Wall Street Journal (paywall). The combined company would be a $67 billion juggernaut.

NATO jets intercepted a Russian plane in the Baltics. Two Dutch F16 jets escorted the Russian transport plane away from Lithuanian and Estonian airspace because it hadn’t reported a flight plan; Russia’s defense ministry pointed out that the plane remained in international airspace. Lithuania is currently hosting a NATO military exercise.

Standard & Poors said Twitter’s debt is junk. The ratings firm says the micro-blogging service may not generate positive cash flow until 2016, and rated its bonds a BB-, three grades below investment level. Twitter’s share price fell almost 6% on the news.

Quartz obsession interlude

Dan Frommer on Toshiba’s lettuce venture. “Why plant lettuce in a clean room? The obvious answer: Because it’s clean. Everything is tightly controlled, including air pressure, temperature, lighting, bacteria, and dust. The result is a crop that doesn’t need pesticides, doesn’t have bugs, and doesn’t need washing.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

China cares more about the climate than the US… That’s because Beijing has more to lose.

…But then why did China downplay the US climate pact? The enthusiasm gap suggests domestic discontent.

The second Cold War has begun. Even Mikhail Gorbachev is worried about Putin.

Japan needs a ban on hate speech. It would open up the economy to sorely-needed foreign workers.

Surprising discoveries

Norway’s new passport covers must be the world’s coolest. Design studio Neue created these.

Lightning strikes are set to rise 50% this century. Thanks for nothing, global warming.

NASA created an environmentally-friendly drone. If it crashes, the fungus it’s made out of continues the circle of life.

Samsung maxed out on bling. The electronics company plated the back of a 78-inch TV in gold, because why not.

The Godfather has an offer you can’t refuse. You can own his house—featured in the 1972 film—for $2.89 million.

Click here for more surprising discoveries on Quartz.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, gold-plated electronics, and fungus-based aircraft to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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