What to watch for today
Putin’s state-of-the-nation. The Russian president gives his annual press conference. Expect him to blame Western powers for the collapse of his country’s economy instead of admitting that the real reasons are his invasion of eastern Ukraine and falling oil prices. Over 1,200 journalists will be at the event. It has its own cinematic trailer and everything.
New Russia sanctions. EU foreign ministers will announce measures aimed specifically at Crimea, banning EU firms from investing in the province or exporting oil- and gas-related technology. On Wednesday, Germany said the ruble’s sudden collapse won’t prompt the EU to review its existing Russia sanctions early, meaning they’re in place at least until July.
Nike’s numbers. Investors are expecting (paywall) to see $619 million of earnings on $7.1 billion of revenue in the second quarter, both healthy increases on the same quarter a year ago. The World Cup certainly helped.
Some good economic news from Germany. Ifo’s gauge of business confidence is expected to come in at 105.5, up from its current 104.7. However, that probably won’t stop the European Central Bank launching stimulus measures, which one board member hinted on Wednesday could kick in early in 2015 (paywall).
An end to Nigeria’s oil strike? Leaders of the country’s oil unions are meeting with officials to see if their demands—cheaper gasoline, new oil legislation, repairs for refineries—can be agreed upon. On Wednesday, Nigeria revised its 2014 GDP growth figure to 5.5%, down from 6.4%, due to falling oil prices.
While you were sleeping
Cuba and the US began normalizing relations. The process is likely to move fast; loosened travel and economic restrictions were announced Wednesday and there could be a US embassy in Havana within months, though US Republicans have threatened to block it. They could also prevent the lifting of the 51-year-old US embargo.
Colombia’s FARC announced an indefinite, unilateral ceasefire. The left-wing rebels made a big concession to the Colombian government, which has rejected a bilateral ceasefire during two years of peace talks. The ceasefire, which takes effect on Dec. 30, could hasten the conclusion of the five-decade war that’s killed over 220,000 people.
A mass grave was found in Eastern Syria. More than 230 bodies were discovered by members of a tribe who were finally allowed to return home after battles with the Islamic State militant group in Deir al-Zour province this past summer, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The UN says it received reports of massacre back in August.
The European Parliament stood up for Palestine. The body voted 498 to 88 to recognize “in principle” the idea of Palestinian statehood. The vote is symbolic, but adds to a recent swell of international pressure in favor of the Palestinians, who are also pushing for the UN to call on Israel to pull out of the West Bank by November 2016.
BlackBerry introduced the Classic. The $450 device—which with its 3.5-inch square screen and physical keyboard looks a lot like BlackBerry’s older models—goes on sale ”through local carriers around the world” today. Canada’s Globe and Mail reviewed the phone, saying it “certainly has a lot of quirks.”
Sony Pictures canceled The Interview. After various movie theater chains decided not to show the movie about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un—in the wake of apparent threats from hackers who leaked a trove of Sony documents online—the studio has decided not to release it, at least for now.
Quartz obsession interlude
Zainab Mudallal does some digging on Cuba’s tourism industry. “The latest data from the World Bank shows that Cuba saw roughly 2.8 million international tourist arrivals in 2012, up from 2.5 million in 2010. That’s more arrivals than Iceland, Cyprus, Ecuador, New Zealand, Qatar, and Costa Rica, to name a few.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
The US embargo didn’t make Cuba poor; the Castros did. The country receives masses of tourists, but little of their money reaches ordinary Cubans.
China-US relations have never been healthier. The idea of the two superpowers eventually going to war just doesn’t seem plausible.
The Great Barrier Reef shouldn’t be listed as “in danger.” Australia will do more to protect the reef is the threat of a “danger” listing from Unesco is hanging over its head.
The definition of “job” has changed. 2014 was the year where the working class realized they can’t depend on others for survival; they have to fend for themselves.
Wrecking Russia’s economy would be a disaster for the West. Even if the sanctions dislodge Vladimir Putin, someone worse could take his place.
You lose weight by breathing. When you exercise, your body breaks down fat into water and carbon dioxide.
Angry about climate change? Blame the squirrels. Burrowing animals may speed up the thawing of the permafrost and the release of carbon into the atmosphere.
Helsinki isn’t classy enough. Finland’s capital can’t host the 2016 MTV Europe Music Awards because it lacks enough five-star hotels.
A Texas plumber is all the rage in Syria. When he sold his truck, he didn’t expect it to be resold again and again until it reached the Middle East and was modified with a gun turret.
Good luck getting into these jeans. Anti-virus software maker Norton is teaming up with a clothing retailer to make $150 denim trousers that are impervious to RFID signals.
Click here for more surprising discoveries on Quartz.