Quartz Daily Brief—Libor, iPhone in China, falling yen, robotic arms

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Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for this week

Prosecutors go after the Libor-riggers. US prosecutors are expected to file charges this week, if not today, against people suspected of manipulating the benchmark London Interbank Offered Rate and its European and Japanese equivalents for Swiss bank UBS. These would be the first American prosecutions of individuals; the first Libor-related UK arrests took place last week. UBS is also expected to pay regulators of various countries fines of up to $1.6 billion to settle Libor-rigging charges; that would be three times what Barclays agreed to pay in a similar settlement in June.  

US politicians talk gun control, but will they act? After the shooting of 20 six- and seven-year-old children and six teachers in a school in Connecticut on Dec. 14, various politicians are talking about introducing tighter restrictions on guns. President Barack Obama promised action to help prevent school killings at a memorial service for the victims, without specifying what steps he might take. Gun-control activists have done poorly at convincing politicians that theirs is an election-winning issue, partly because pro-gun groups outspent them by some 15-to-1 in the last election cycle.

Progress on the fiscal cliff, or delaying tactics? Amid reports that Republicans have opened the door to the principle of raising income tax rates for the wealthy, some think it’s now just a matter of the two sides’ haggling over numbers to conclude a deal and prevent the automatic belt-tightening of the “fiscal cliff” from kicking in on Jan. 1. But President Obama and Republican majority leader John Boehner are said to have a testy relationship and little respect for each others’ bargaining skills.

Watch spaceships crash into the Moon. Two NASA probes that have spent the last year and a bit orbiting the Moon creating a gravity map have spent their fuel and will crash into the lunar surface at about 5.28pm EST (6.28am HKT on Dec. 19). You can watch live.

Over the weekend

Apple rebuts China doubts. The US company said it had sold more than 2 milllion iPhone 5 smartphones in the country since Friday, marking its strongest launch in the line yet. Naysayers on Friday had pointed to bad weather and argued Apple fever had cooled in China, with fewer fans camped out for the new model, helping knock the company’s shares almost 4% that day.

Yen falls on Japan election results. The Japanese currency sank to its lowest point against the dollar in a year and a half after the Liberal Democratic Party, which has pledged aggressive monetary easing, won a commanding victory in parliamentary elections.

Mixed results in Venezuela. Henrique Capriles Radonski won re-election as governor of the state of Miranda, reinforcing his position to mount a new campaign for the presidency if Hugo Chávez, currently undergoing cancer treatment, steps down. The opposition however lost ground overall in the polls, losing control of four of the seven states it held.

Libya closes borders. Crossings with four southern neighbouring countries have been closed and much of the south declared a closed military zone amid violence and arms and drug trafficking

Half of Egypt votes for a new constitution. Unofficial results suggest that Egyptians in half the country voted in favor of a new basic law that has upset liberals with some of its provisions about the role of religious law and the powers of the military. Though the vote was not as ringing an endorsement as the Muslim-Brotherhood-led government would have liked, the regions due to vote in the second half of the referendum on Dec. 22 are more rural and more likely to support it.

Singapore and the EU concluded a trade pact. It’s not going to rescue Europe’s economies from their slump, but it could serve as a model for agreements with other Asian countries.

Liberty for the LibertadA UN court has ordered Ghana to release an Argentine navy ship, the Libertad, which was impounded in a dispute between a hedge fund and the Argentine government. The hedge fund, Elliott Management, is still locked in a dispute with Argentina over the payment of defaulted bonds.

Quartz obsession interlude

Zach Seward on how Google is starting to act more like a content company, settling disputes with other content companies on how it excerpts their material in its search results. “It’s not clear exactly how search results will change, but any concession would be significant because Google has long maintained that it has the right to incorporate some information from other websites—for instance, ratings and excerpts of reviews—into its own products… Ceding ground on this issue could have implications for other industries that have also complained about Google’s use of its content and perhaps encourage others to do the same.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

LDP victory less sweeping than it seems. While the conservative party under Shinzo Abe returns to the power it held for decades in Japan with a two-thirds majority in the lower house of the Diet, it will need to strike ad hoc agreements with a heavily fragmented opposition to get legislation through the upper house, and only captured 28% of public support.

The best reporting on guns in America. To understand the country’s conflicted relationship with arms, read through this list of articles rounded up by investigative outfit ProPublica, and this one from the Daily Beast. If you only have time for one piece, read “Battleground America” by Jill Lepore.

A eulogy for Occupy. Musings on where America’s radical protest movement went astray, by one of its most assiduous chroniclers, Quinn Norton.

The worst CEOs of 2012. Most of them, surprisingly, people you probably haven’t heard of.

Buying a New York apartment may not be such a great investment. Data suggest rental rates have been rising more slowly than property prices in recent years, common wisdom to the contrary.

Surprising discoveries

Toyota to become the world’s biggest car-maker again. The Japanese firm is set to rebound from a terrible 2011 as the world’s largest automaker for 2012, fueled in part by strong sales in its home market as distance grows from last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

More Petaboxes needed. The Internet Archive, a nonprofit group with a mission to keep a record of (almost) everything that goes up on the web, is trying to raise $150,000 by year end to pay for three more Petaboxes of storage—each equal to 1 million gigabytes—for next year’s expected needs, after a donor put up funds for one Petabox and promised to match other donations at a three-to-one rate.

Mind-controlled artificial limbs are coming closer. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have published a study trumpeting results from tests of a new robotic arm controlled directly by thought. A woman paralyzed from the neck down was able to operate it with unprecedented fluidity and accuracy.

Drive safely in Dubai, win a car. In an attempt to encourage safe driving, motorists who maintain clean driving records will be eligible for prizes. The bar is pretty low: you can start winning cash prizes if you have no violations for a year. To enter the draw for a car will take five years, though.

Australia is the land of retail opportunity. Foreign retailers are flocking there as markets everywhere else stumble.

In Russia, even elephants drink. Their handler gave two circus elephants a case of vodka apiece to help them deal with the cold when they got temporarily stranded in the middle of a Siberian winter. “Apparently they were happy,” he reported.

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