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Quartz Daily Brief—Europe Edition—BP’s US ban, new iTunes, trouble in coupon-land, Geisha coffee

By Naomi Rovnick
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today:

Barack and Mitt meet for lunch. President Barack Obama fulfils a victory speech promise of meeting his one-time rival Mitt Romney, for advice from the former businessman on how to make the federal government more “customer friendly.” What has Romney been doing since he lost the election? Watching the movie Twilight and snapping photos with his wife over Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, US Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner meets with congressional leaders to talk about reducing the US deficit.

The French begin a very long discussion. France launches a six-month-long “national debate” about how to start weaning itself off nuclear power. The debate will be led by seven “colleges” of different interest groups.

New iTunes. Apple is expected to release its long-awaited new version of iTunes. The likely big difference is that it will offer users the ability to stream media after purchasing and downloading it once. So users who download a song to their laptops, for example, will be able to play the same song on their iPhones directly from the internet without downloading it again, making iTunes work more like Spotify and other streaming services.

Groupon considers a change of captain… A regularly scheduled board meeting of the daily-deals website will consider replacing its youthful CEO and founder, Andrew Mason, on whose watch shares have fallen 80% since the IPO a year ago. Groupon is suffering from weak demand in Europe, while online group discounts have lost some of their novelty in the US too. Mason seems rather philosophical: “It would be weird if the board wasn’t discussing whether I’m the right guy to do the job,” he told an investor conference. The shares jumped.

…While rival Living Social plans layoffs.  Also suffering from waning demand for its products, it was widely reported that Groupon’s biggest competitor will cut 400 jobs and part company with the head of its international business unit.

The insurgency in the DRC comes closer to an end… perhaps. Rebel leaders of the M23 movement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo said they would pull out from the city of Goma, which they captured last week. The DRC government says they must withdraw before it will negotiate with them further.

Palestine officially comes into existence… sort of. The UN General Assembly votes today on whether to admit Palestine as a non-member observer state, and the vote should pass easily, after the failure of the Palestinians’ bid for full membership a year ago. Israel, having warned that the civilized world as we know it would come to an end if Palestine were recognized, is now saying that it really makes no difference.

While you were sleeping:

BP temporarily shut out of new US contracts. The oil major has been forbidden from taking on new US contracts by the Environmental Protection Agency, which said the company lacked integrity in its handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster in 2010. It imperils the company’s role as the US military’s top fuel supplier (the US military is the world’s biggest consumer of fuel) and is another blow to the company’s reputation after it agreed earlier this month to pay $4.5 billion to settle criminal claims related to the spill. At this stage it is unclear how long the EPA ban will last, though most reports estimated it could be 18 months. BP said it was working to get the ban lifted.

China wades further into disputed waters. From Jan. 1, Chinese police will board ships that enter parts of the South China Sea the nation claims as its own territory, much to the chagrin of its neighbors.

Stocks up on hopes of a deal over the US fiscal cliff. Republican congressional leader John Boehner said he was optimistic that the fiscal cliff could be averted if Democrats agreed to spending cuts.

Another auto factory for China. General Motors, the world’s largest auto-maker, is planning to build a $1 billion assembly plant in Chongqing. The move westward is part of a broader strategy to take advantage of the growing middle class in second- and third-tier Chinese cities.

People want a piece of Knight. Knight Capital Group, the market middleman that lost $450 million in 40 minutes after a trading glitch this summer, is up for grabs among some of its rival automated market-markers, causing the stock to shoot up.

The SEC goes after SAC. The US Securities and Exchange Commission has served a “Wells Notice” on giant hedge fund SAC, meaning that the agency may file charges of civil securities fraud against the fund. Last week a former SAC portfolio manager was arrested in connection with what authorities say is the biggest insider-trading scheme ever found.

Quartz obsession interlude: 

Advocates of debt-reduction take note: the only time the US has ever had close to zero debt was in 1834-36, writes Quartz’s Matt Phillips, and it achieved this only thanks to a massive sell-off of government land. “And how did the federal government come to have all this land to sell? Why, by removing the people who lived on it, en masse. The expulsion of Native Americans from the southeastern United States serves as a sizable black mark on Jackson’s tenure as president and on the country’s history. According to estimates, around 100,000 Native Americans were removed and 4,000 people died on the forced trek west known as the Trail of Tears.” Read more here.

Matters of debate:

Minimum wage laws are a good thing. For a long time, economists argued that minimum wages actually hurt workers by curbing the demand for more labor. As evidence mounts that having wage floors can boost employment and pay and minimize wage gaps, academics are coming closer to a consensus.

The US handled the financial crisis better than Europe. After the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the US and Europe took radically different approaches: the US focused on helping its private sector, while Europe worked on budget sustainability, a path that means its road to recovery will still be long. As Quartz’s Tim Fernholz writes, the US action amounted to an “invisible bailout“, in which US public debt grew so that private debt could shrink.

The global economy is producing way too much steel. Government-backed companies in emerging markets are adding to a global glut. However, the world does not have enough copper.

China’s new leaders might just be its dream team. China watchers ballyhooed the selection of conservative hardliners on China’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee. But never fear: A streamlined leadership has already consolidated political capital to push through needed economic reforms.

Surprising discoveries:

The heaviest thing Amazon will ship for free weighs almost a ton. It is a fire safe, by the way, which holds 48 guns.  

Starbucks thinks it is the right time to sell $7-a-cup coffee.  Madness or a perceptive vote of confidence for the US economy? The rare brew is named “Geisha”. It’s going to be sold in 46 locations in the US Northwest.

A worthless $65 million piece of art ends up in MoMA.

Twitter could save us from the next epidemic. Researchers from Kansas State University are looking into using social media platforms to map sick people for prevention efforts.

Sex-tape scandals have arrived in China.  Though in an intriguing Communist twist on what is now a humdrum American media theme, the person at the centre of the controversy is not a reality TV star but a mid-ranking government official.

No one was shot or stabbed in New York on Monday. For the first time in as long as police could remember, no one was attacked on Nov. 26, according to police reports, in a city once home to one of the highest homicide rates in the developed world. “Nice way to start the week,” says Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne for the police department.

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