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Quartz Daily Brief—Americas Edition—Egypt unrest, climate-change talks, Putin’s error, bye-bye Barak

By Stephanie Gruner Buckley
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Good morning Quartz readers!

What to watch for today:

Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi tries to mollify his critics. The president has granted himself new powers that include exempting presidential decisions from judicial review. His supporters in the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood say his moves are necessary to prevent the judiciary from disbanding the assembly writing a new constitution for Egypt; today he will meet senior judges, who have hinted at a possible compromise. Critics accuse Morsi of making himself a “new pharaoh.” The decree has sparked demonstrations by both sides across Egypt. On Sunday, clashes in the Nile Delta town of Damanhour turned violent—60 people were injured and a teenager died.

Climate-change talks start in one of the world’s most hostile climates. The irony is surely not lost on delegates to the 18th UN Climate Change Conference, which began today, that their host country, Qatar, produces the highest level of carbon emissions per person in the world and that flights and accommodation for the 10,000-person, two-week confab will produce more carbon than the island state of Niue uses in a year, according to the Daily Telegraph. Still, as Quartz’s Stephanie Gruner Buckley writes, Qatar also faces some of the most severe effects of global warming. And if nothing else, the heat will focus everybody’s minds on the matter at hand.

Catalans vote for separatism, but it’s complicated. In elections that Catalan president Artur Mas had called in order to get a mandate for a referendum on secession from Spain, voters gave two-thirds of the seats in parliament to pro-secession parties, but punished Mas’s own Convergence and Union coalition for poor economic performance by reducing its share of the vote. The autonomy movement has gained popularity as the broader national Spanish economy has weakened—but in order to get a referendum, Mas will now have to reach a deal with another separatist party.

Euro zone officials discuss Greece, again. Euro zone finance minsters meet today for a third time in a matter of weeks with International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank officials to hash out their differences on Greece’s bailout program and unlock aid worth up to €44 billion. Talks have repeatedly faltered over how much time Greece should get to cut its debt, and how to finance a two-year extension granted to meet bailout targets. A German paper reported that EU officials were considering offering Greece a “haircut” to make the troubled nation’s debt more sustainable by reducing it to 70% of GDP by 2020, from the current 120% target.

While you were sleeping:

Bangladeshi protests over a factory fire turned violent (paywall)Thousands of people took to the streets to rally against a fire at a garment manufacturer where more than 120 people were killed over the weekend. Documents have linked the factory to Wal-Mart and other multinational retailers. Wal-Mart appears to have warned the factory last year about “violations and/or conditions which were deemed to be high risk,” though it’s unclear whether Wal-Mart continued to work with it since then. Bangladesh is the second-biggest exporter of clothing in the world after China, but has a reputation for poor working conditions and disregard for factory safety standards. All three staircases in the factory that burned exited to the ground floor where the fire started.

Ping An Insurance announced its displeasure with the New York Times. China’s second-biggest insurance company has threatened to sue an unnamed paper, following The New York Times report that relatives of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao profited greatly from a 2002 deal to buy discounted shares in Ping An from state-owned entities. The company issued a statement on Monday, noting “recent media coverage related to the company, which contains serious inaccuracies, facts being distorted and taken out of context, as well as flawed logic”, and said legal action would follow. The NYT was not named, but a spokesman for Ping An told Reuters that the statement referred to a NYT article published over the weekend.

Ehud Barak said he was leaving politics. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced on Monday that he will quit politics early next year following the coming Knesset elections in January, and devote himself to his family. The surprise news comes even as his Independence party has gained in popularity following military moves in the Gaza Strip. Political opponents applauded his resignation. Yuli Edelstein, public diplomacy minister, in a not particularly diplomatic move, called Barak “the worst defense minister there ever was for Jewish settlement,” declaring today ”the Likud’s independence day,” a play on Barak’s Independence party name.

UBS was fined £29.7 million by UK regulators. The Financial Services Authority handed out its third largest fine (paywall) in history to UBS, for failing to control a rogue trader that cost the bank $2.3 billion in 2011. The Financial Times reported that the regulator cited ineffective computer risk controls and “poorly executed and ineffective supervision”, which allowed Kweku Adoboli to breach risk limits and book fictitious trades. Last week, Adoboli was sentenced to seven years for fraud.

Quartz obsession interlude:

Steve LeVine on extreme weather and the geopolitical impact of Energy Shocks: ”Climate change seems to be a different animal from other energy events, and by extension so is extreme weather….Extreme weather itself could potentially wipe existing nations off the map; invigorate others; create unsurvivable swaths of the Earth, and new, thriving lands from currently inhospitable ones. It could utterly undermine widely embraced GDP forecasts for China, the US and Europe.” Read more here.

Matters of debate:

Russian President Vladimir Putin just made the greatest mistakes of his political career, and is turning Russia into a giant Enron.

Is Egypt President Mohammed Morsi Abe Lincoln in disguise or another Mubarak?

Faster wireless data connections make economies grow faster.

How about a minimum tax on the wealthy? Warren Buffett makes the case for ensuring people like him have to pay at least 35%.

Surprising discoveries:

People make more rational decisions about money when given choices in a foreign language. Common biases disappeared when options were presented in a language other than their mother tongues.

Dubai isn’t content to be home to the world’s largest shopping mall. It’s building an even bigger one.

Vitamin K is more important than we thought. A study in the Netherlands has revealed its surprising and beneficial effects on the human circulatory system.

A psychologist in India says that autistic children can better excel at school. But they should be diagnosed and enrolled in special classes before the age of three.

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