Quartz Daily Brief—Europe Edition—North Korea, HSBC and Mexican cartels, fish with legs

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

Ben Bernanke gives the markets an early Christmas present. The US Federal Reserve chairman is expected to announce that the bank will begin buying $45 billion a month in Treasurys, making for a fourth round of “quantitative easing.” The aim would be to keep interest rates at around zero through 2015. Commodity prices may well rise on the news, as could the already surging global stock markets.

Rosneft takes another step towards behemoth status. The state-owned Russian oil firm has exchanged final purchase papers with four oligarchs who own 50% of TNK-BP, and a closure of their deal seems imminent. In addition to the sale to the oligarchs, Rosneft is buying out BP, which owns the other half of TNK-BP. The deals, worth almost $60 billion, will result in Rosneft producing 4 million barrels a day of oil, and becoming the largest publicly traded oil company.

Egypt’s opposition has an ethical dilemma. The main Egyptian opposition coalition has not yet announced whether or not it will vote in the Dec. 15 constitutional referendum called by President Mohammed Morsi. The coordinator of the opposition coalition, Mohamed El-Baradei, says the opposition “might go to the vote,” but others have said voting would confer legitimacy on Morsi’s proposed constitution. The US government says (video) the opposition’s concerns are “legitimate.”

Google gets its way with patents. The US Federal Trade Commission may announce a settlement of a patent case against Google. The firm has demanded that rivals in travel, shopping and other searches stop using a special class of patents called standard essential patents. Under the settlement, Google would stop seeking injunctions against these firms, but they would have to hold licensing negotiations with Google to use the patents.

Syria’s rebels gain an added measure of legitimacy. Leaders of the western-backed Syrian opposition will take on the mantle of a government-in-exile by unveiling a humanitarian aid plan for badly hurt communities. The aid, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, will be announced by the Syrian National Coalition at an event attended by western dignitaries in Marrakech and could involve arms pledges.

While you were sleeping 

North Korea launched a rocket, scarily and more successfully than in the past. In defiance of international warnings, the hermit kingdom launched a missile that appeared to put an object into space, which North Korea called a “satellite.” South Korea, the US and other nations had urged North Korea not to go ahead with the launch, viewing it as a test of long-range missile technology banned by UN resolutions. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has called an emergency meeting of his top advisors. Here is a chronology of Pyongyang’s missile and rocket launches.

HSBC promised to try harder. Having agreed to pay a record $1.9 billion in fines to settle money-laundering allegations, the bank says it will spend $700 million over the next five years on getting to know its customers better, so it can avoid shady ones.

Delta swept into the UK market with 49% of Virgin Atlantic. The American carrier’s shares posted their biggest gain in five months after it announced the deal, which could give it access to a large number of coveted slots in Heathrow Airport.

Prices are soaring for tin. The metal, which goes into your smartphone, tablet and other devices, has seen gyrating prices since lows last March, and has been up by between 25% and 35% since then. But do not fear a jump in the price tag of a new device if you are looking for one—while necessary for soldering, tin doesn’t comprise much of such electronics.

Quartz obsession interlude

Tim Fernholz on a proposed new framework for fighting global financial meltdowns. “The idea is to make it easier to bring failing global banks in for a soft landing without taking the rest of the world’s banking infrastructure down, too. The framework builds on Dodd-Frank, the 2010 law that overhauled US financial regulation, and reform efforts in the UK. While global banks have been a reality for quite some time now, only recently have regulators been given the powers they say they need to deal with the fallout from the collapse of such a large institution without saddling taxpayers with losses or crunching the financial system.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

China’s ghost towns are not a problem. They may get filled as the economy grows. The country is recovering, and rapid growth often justifies excessive investment.

India doesn’t have much of a bribery case against Wal-Mart. The US supermarket giant is in hot water over corporate lobbying to access the Indian market. Lobbying is banned in India but is allowed in the US, where Wal-Mart sought its advice.

The biggest US-China clash will be at the SEC, not the South China Sea. The American investigation of top accounting firms launched last week could lead to a delisting of Chinese big-big-name stocks including Baidu, Sinopec and China Mobile.

Do scientists have an ethical duty to call out other scientists’ bad work? 

How do you eat a banana? With a knife and fork, naturally. An argument in favor of finishing schools and etiquette training.

When is foreign policy self-defeating? The US has slapped penalties on Russia over the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in detention. Now Russian legislators are working on a bill to impose similar traveling restrictions on Americans, named after a Russian baby who died after his adoption by American parents.

When looking ahead, look behind. The US National Intelligence Council reckons that the period between now and 2030 will be as portentous as those around the years 1815, 1919, 1945 and 1989—it just can’t say precisely how.

Surprising discoveries

HSBC’s Mexican branches were drug traffickers’ favorites. Actually that is unsurprising. But the detail in this story about how Mexican drug cartels moved money through the British bank makes it a compelling read.

Humor has been known to be the best medicine. It is also a highly effective management tool, improving productivity, self-confidence, problem-solving and employee engagement.

Political upheaval is not necessarily a health hazard. Some scholars have blamed a surge in Russian deaths between 1990 and 1994 on the chaotic and stressful economic and political times. But the reason for the spate of dying Russian men may be the simpler one—they drank too much.

Scientists have created a fish that has legsMaybe the next step is to teach it how to ride a bicycle.

Paper towel or hot air dryer? You’re standing there in the bathroom, and you always wonder, right? The answer is a paper towel—they are more hygienic and only slightly more polluting.

And while you’re at it, get your ears symbiotically cleaned. There may be nothing better than a red-billed oxpecker to get the job done, especially if you happen to be an impala.

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