Quartz Daily Brief—Europe and Africa edition—Anglo-American China spat, FBI probes Ackman, Disney’s franchise plans, bomb-sniffing elephants

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What to watch for today

Will Russia lowers its sky-high interest rates? When the ruble started spiraling downward last year, the central bank raised its benchmark rate to an astonishing 17%. It’s since been lowered to 15%, and there may be room to trim it even more.

Brussels considers Greece’s poorest citizens. Humanitarian aid is needed for many Greeks who are hanging on by a thread. Prime minister Alexis Tsipras will discuss their plight with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

SXSW Interactive kicks off in Austin, Texas. The technology conference once helped to popularize Twitter, but now organizers say they are aiming much lower.

While you were sleeping

The FBI is investigating Bill Ackman’s anti-Herbalife campaign. Agents want to know if Ackman’s employees made false statements about the nutritional products company, the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall). Ackman’s Pershing Square hedge fund has placed a massive bet that Herbalife’s stock will fall.

US refinery workers neared an end to their strike. Oil companies and the United Steelworkers union reached a tentative agreement which, if ratified, would end the longest US refinery strike in over 30 years. The four-year contract includes wage raises and addresses issues such as worker fatigue and the use of non-unionized labor.

The US criticized Britain’s “constant accommodation” toward China. The UK decision to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a rival to the US-led World Bank, caused consternation in Washington. “We are wary about a trend toward constant accommodation of China, which is not the best way to engage a rising power,” a US official told the Financial Times (paywall).

UK and US health workers tested positive for Ebola. One American and one British aid worker fighting the ongoing outbreak in Sierra Leone were flown to their respective countries for treatment (paywall). The number of deaths from the epidemic passed 10,000 this week.

A Chinese state-owned company was linked to a Bangladeshi factory collapse. CNBM International, part of China’s CNBM Group, was responsible for the construction of the collapsed factory, according to Bangladeshi authorities. At least eight people died in the collapse, and dozens more are feared dead.

Michael Graves died. The US architect and designer created more than 350 buildings, along with some 2,000 household items (paywall) that were sold through mainstream retailers like Target. Graves, perhaps most famous for his iconic teakettle, passed away at his home in New Jersey at the age of 80.

Commerzbank agreed a $1.45 billion settlement with the US. The German bank will pay US regulators to settle to allegations that it violated sanctions by doing businesses in Iran and Sudan. Commerzbank also agreed to fire several executives involved in the scandal.

Disney’s franchise plans are heating up. Confirmation of a sequel to Frozen, the biggest animated movie of all time, sent shares of Disney and toymakers Mattell and Hasbro higher. Disney CEO Bob Iger also announced two more Star Wars movies on the docket in addition to Episode VII, which is due out in December.

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on China’s attempt to control the afterlife. “Tibetans believe that when a Dalai Lama—their preeminent political and spiritual leader—dies, his spirit reincarnates in a newborn’s body, carrying on the lineage. But the 79-year-old current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has long said the line could end with him. The Chinese government disagrees.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Some venture capital firms have a conflict of interest. They are taking investors’ money to fund their partners’ own pet projects.

Baby Boomers are the lazy generation. Prominent boomers like Bill Clinton shamefully relish their disdain of basic technologies like email.

The argument over climate change needs to cool down. Reasonable people must reclaim the debate from the political extremes.

A European army isn’t going to happen. Duplication of sovereign and NATO functions is what caused the dysfunction in the first place.

America needs to fix its railroads. A decaying infrastructure is to blame for a recent uptick in accidents (paywall).

Surprising discoveries

Tim Cook offered Steve Jobs a partial liver transplant. The former Apple CEO refused and got a controversial full transplant several months later.

60 tons of cosmic dust falls to Earth every day. Microscopic remnants from meteorites and comets may help form clouds and fertilize plankton.

There’s a stunning new island in the Pacific. The scorching-hot volcanic islet near Tonga will likely wash away in a few months.

Archeologists discovered a 250-year-old pretzel in Germany. It was probably thrown out because it was overcooked.

Elephants have a keen sense of smell. They’re being trained to detect explosives in South Africa.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, ancient pretzels, and cosmic dust bunnies to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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