Quartz Daily Brief—Europe Edition—Obamacare, North Korea, Walmart, ancient cheese

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

US states will make Obamacare a headache to implement. Today is the deadline for states to say whether they’ll set up their own healthcare exchanges, the online marketplaces through which people without health insurance will be obliged to buy it under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It looks like at most 18 states will opt to run their own exchanges, leaving the federal government the task of setting up the rest.

Walmart workers protest in 10 countries. They will try to increase public pressure on the retail chain after rallies against its aggressive anti-unionization practices in the US, and the deadly fire in a Bangladesh factory that Walmart admitted it didn’t know was supplying it with clothes.

You can buy a Casablanca piano at auction. Not, unfortunately, the one Sam played at Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca, but the other one, which makes a brief appearance in the movie at a Parisian café called La Belle Aurore. Even so, Sotheby’s expects the battered and rather tuneless relic—the real sound of which was never actually heard in the film—to fetch from $800,000 to $1.2 million.

While you were sleeping

North Korea said it would put a rocket under its economy with… rockets. More “space satellites,” which is what Pyongyang calls the long-range missiles such as the one it launched successfully on Dec. 12, could really give the economy that much needed boost, Kim Jong Un has said. The pint-sized dictator’s use of ballistic-missile technology was unanimously condemned by the UN Security Council, while the US government called the rocket launch “a highly provocative act” that jeopardizes regional security.

Japanese manufacturers are very gloomy. With a snap election just two days away, the Bank of Japan’s Tankan survey was released today. It showed the most pessimistic mood among large manufacturers since March 2010, in its fifth straight negative reading. Earlier this week GDP data confirmed Japan to be in its fifth technical recession in 15 years. Prior to 2008, the Tankan survey had showed optimism at a 16-year high.

Will Moscow help oust Syria’s Assad? Russia is now pessimistic over president Bashar al-Assad’s future, and the US and Syrian rebels are seizing on this in an attempt to enlist Moscow to help them remove Syria’s deeply unpopular leader. Russia has supplied the Assad dynasty with arms since Soviet time. But Moscow seems to be admitting the Syrian dictator’s time is up.

Rival Egyptian political groups conducted final campaigning for the first round of national voting. Ten areas including Cairo and Alexandria go to the polls Dec. 15 on a new national constitution supported by President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The second round, for the rest of the country, will be held Dec. 22.

Apple lost a patent infringement case for its iPhone camera. After a week-long trial, a US jury decided that Apple infringed on three patents held by MobileMedia Ideas. A determination of damages is next.

Quartz obsession interlude

Christopher Mims on the five most disruptive technologies of the year. “The most disruptive technologies in 2012 include energy storage technology no one thought would ever work, gesture-based interfaces that will make touch screens look as quaint as floppy disks, and computers and connectivity so cheap they’re adding billions more people to the internet.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Is America’s growth strategy for Africa backfiring and helping China? When you favor one country’s imports, you can incentivize other nations to set up manufacturing there to capitalize on the arbitrage. The US’s African Growth and Opportunity Act has no rules-of-origin provisions, so the Chinese gamed it.

HSBC’s drug money settlement is an “insult to every ordinary person who’s ever had his life altered by a narcotics charge.” Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, the journalist who called Goldman Sachs a “vampire squid,” strikes again.

India’s prized public-private partnerships are not as successful as they appear

Are we living in a time of accelerating technological advance? Or is it a time of depressing scientific stagnation?

Chinese authorities are sensitive about public discussion of internal migrants. In Shanghai, Zhan Quanxi has been detained because his 15-year-old daughter Haiti griped on her Sina microblog account about their treatment since leaving Zhuhai, where she grew up.

Surprising discoveries

RBS’ Libor riggers cooked up their trading strategies in a pub called “Dirty Dicks”.  That is a 267-year-old public house in the City of London. Here is more on how they rigged the rate and why it happened.

Much of Europe, and eventually China, too, face aging populations. But that may not be a problem for economies of the nations involved as long as productivity remains at modern levels.

Neither China nor the US like depending on outsiders for energy. But the virtue of energy self-sufficiency may not withstand scrutiny.

If you are crossing a street while texting, you are 3.9 times more likely to do something unsafe. You also will get where you are going slower than your rival paying full attention to the crosswalk.

The US tax return form no. 1040 has grown from 27 lines of information to 77 since 1913. And the instruction booklet has swollen from two pages to 189. Quartz tracks the tax form’s evolution over the years.

In four years, 4179 Toutatis will swoop again in the direction of the Earth. On Dec. 12, the three-mile wide asteroid shot past safely. A question is whether to try to divert it—or any other possibly dangerous asteroid—from striking the planet, an effort that would require up to five years of preparation.

Cheese is good for snowy roadsIn fantastic example of out-of-the-box thinking, a cheese plant in Wisconsin has partnered with the highway department to make a brine that it says stops snowy roads getting too slippery. One can only wonder how that particular conversation got started. Researchers have also discovered that the first cheese was made over 7,000 years ago, which makes you wonder why the conversation didn’t happen sooner.

Do you read The Economist, or only claim to? If the latter, you are not alone.

Best wishes from Quartz for a productive day. Please send any news, feedback, piano bids or texts (but not while crossing the road, please) to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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