Quartz Daily Brief—Europe edition—No Plan B for US, Cyprus trashed, most overlooked stories of 2012

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What to watch for today

The National Rifle Association in the US will yield on gun laws in a press conference, or not. The gun lobby has a history of dodging the issue of gun control in the wake of America’s (numerous) mass shootings, but its actions in the wake of the most recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut might be different. The organization promised that today’s press conference would include a “meaningful contribution” to the solution to such tragedies.

The end of the world. Generally, the dates of projected apocalypses pass without incident, but in China, an eyebrow-raising 20% of those surveyed said today’s the day it all comes crashing down.

Important news that US companies want to bury. The Friday before the Christmas holiday season is traditionally a great time to announce news that you’d like to see disappear down the memory hole as quickly as possible. (See: NRA press conference.) On Monday Dec. 24th, markets will also have a shorter day to react to any news announced after they close on Friday.

While you were sleeping

US “fiscal cliff” loomed closer. Republican House Speaker John Boehner cancelled a vote on his ‘Plan B’ combination of deep spending cuts and tax increases on Americans earning more than $1 million after concluding support within his party was lacking. His inability to get consensus raises questions about his leadership and lowers the odds of a negotiated solution to the fiscal cliff.

‘Suspect’ investments in US. A report by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US concluded that at least one unnamed foreign government had directed companies to acquire critical American technologies (paywall) in a “co-ordinated strategy.”

RIM reported first subscriber drop. The BlackBerry maker recorded its first fall in user numbers, with one million customers leaving in the three months to Dec. 1. Revenues dropped by nearly half but the company’s loss was significantly less than analysts expected ahead of its launch of a new generation of smartphones.

US charged Singapore banker over Olympus fraud. Prosecutors alleged that Chan Ming Fon played a key role in the $1.7 billion accounting fraud uncovered at the Japanese electronics company by misleading auditors for years about company assets in the Cayman and British Virgin islands.

US emerged for Nike. The sporting goods company reported a 17% rise in North American revenue, offsetting an 11% fall in China where it will revamp its offerings with tighter-fitting clothes.

Cyprus rating tumbled. Standard & Poor’s cut its rating on Cyprus’ sovereign debt two notches to triple C plus, seven notches below investment grade, while keeping a negative outlook because of the “considerable and rising” risk of a default.

Bernard Madoff’s brother received a 10-year prison sentence. Peter Madoff agreed to forfeit all assets, up to $143.1 billion, as punishment for his role in his brother’s huge Ponzi investment scheme. He pled guilty to conspiracy, falsifying records and dodging taxes.

Quartz obsession interlude

Steve LeVine names the eight most disruptive geopolitical events of 2012: “For Saudi Arabia, 2012 marked a year of growing apprehension as a frightening trend emerged: that by the end of the decade, according to mid-range forecasts, two new hyper-producers—Iraq and the US—will be pumping some 14 million barrels of oil a day, a 58% jump from today’s production levels. And that’s not even counting Iran, which is also likely to have resumed full-tilt production, churning out four million barrels per day (bpd), an increase of 1.3 million bpd from current production. All in all, OPEC will have much less influence over a world awash in oil.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

How luxury brands fail e-commerce 101. This company sold out of an $840 reindeer leather apron this holiday season, by re-introducing the one thing that’s usually missing from luxury brands when they move online: the human touch.

Did the human hand evolve for fighting? We’ve long been a pugilistic species, and the evidence is in our balled up fists, says science. Overall, violence has been declining for thousands of years, perhaps because we learned to use our hands for anything but combat.

Europe is giving up on Putin. The leader of Europe’s largest country has failed to undertake democratic reform, putting distance between Russia and the EU.

Americans love their guns. Always have, always will.

Surprising discoveries

China’s cities are filling up with poor people. China has 160 million “rural migrants” who are banned by law from gaining the same benefits as residents of cities, and they provide the country with a significant portion of its labor supply.

Danes want to build a manned space rocket and give the plans away for free. In part of a larger trend of “open source” hardware, a pair of engineers and their 20 or so helpers want to make Denmark only the fourth country ever to launch a manned rocket into suborbital space.

The future of animal protein is mealworms. One kilogram of mealworm protein can be grown on just 10% of the land required to grow a comparable amount of cattle. When roasted, they taste “just like nuts or seeds.”

Facebook will let you spam people outside your network for just $1. Of course, the point is that if it costs you money to send a message, it’s probably not spam.

Africa’s mobile phone market grew forty-fold in just the past 10 years. The total size of the market is now greater than either the EU or the US.

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