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Quartz Daily Brief—India protests, EU antitrust, golden credit cards, China’s Batman

Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

Fallout after protests over the treatment of women in India.  After Dec. 22 protests demanding justice for a gang-rape victim turned violent, with police beating protestors, Indian officials promised to act swiftly. A former Supreme Court Justice will lead a commission of inquiry and politicians from both the governing coalition and opposition party leaders are calling for action.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in India for bilateral talks. Putin will meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in an effort to repair political, and above all trade ties to the country. India was traditionally a big buyer of Russian defense goods but has been leaning more to Western manufacturers of late. The two leaders could sign multi-billion dollar deals for fighter jets and aircraft engines at the conclusion of the meeting.

Gulf states talk Syria and Iran. The Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudia Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar meet in Manama, the Bahraini capital, to discuss Syria’s civil war and a bellicose Iran. With tensions high in the Middle East, the position of this bloc of oil powers could be key in establishing some stability.

More conflict in Gaza? Reports of the first rocket fired by Gaza militants into Israel since a Nov. 21 ceasefire began could upset a tense situation.

A quiet day in the US and Europe, with markets closing early the day before the Christmas holiday. US markets could be jittery early over a legislative deadlock that could allow America’s automatic austerity package to take effect on Jan 1., though lawmakers will attempt to avoid the trigger with action after a holiday recess.

While you were sleeping:

A Syrian warplane killed dozens waiting in a bread line. Today’s strike against civilians in Hilfaya seems to be part of a pattern of civilian targeting by the embattled regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, which has been using cluster bombs to strike towns believed to be supporting Syria’s rebel army. Meanwhile, UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Damascus in search of a diplomatic breakthrough.

More support for farmers in China.  The country’s agriculture minister announced a plan to protect agricultural land and raise wages for farmers after a weekend conference aimed at balancing gains for urban workers with increasingly tight food supplies

The EU warns Samsung on antitrust. A letter from EU regulators warned the Korean electronics giant that its constant patent litigation with Apple represents an abuse of its market position. The company has already said it will drop some its patent lawsuits against Apple in Europe, but that wasn’t enough to prevent the warning.

Italy’s technocrat prime minister throws his hat in the ring. The Italian parliament was dissolved last week in anticipation of a new round of elections in February, and Mario Monti, the current “technocrat” PM, who has no party affiliation, has said he would lead a government if it were willing to implement his reform package for the fiscally troubled European nation. While that opens the door for Monti’s nomination by Italy’s centrist parties, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi would like to return to office after his resignation last year and despite the scandals that hang over him.

Egypt approves new constitution; the opposition will appeal. In a second weekend of voting, Egyptian voters approved a new constitution pushed by President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist political party. Opposition parties promised to appeal, saying the vote was marred by violence and intimidation.

Grupo Bimbo is preparing a bid for bankrupt Twinkie maker Hostess. Despite concerns about the antitrust implications of a bid, the Mexican baking giant, which already owns American brands like Entemann’s and Sara Lee, will look to scoop up both the snack and bread brands of bankrupt Hostess, the producer of the iconic Twinkie.

Japan’s new prime minister issued a monetary policy ultimatum. Shinzo Abe, elected just last week promising economic stimulus, has warned the Bank of Japan that unless it adopts a 2% inflation target, his government will pass a law forcing the issue.

Trustees of bankrupt MF Global reached a settlement on missing money. The court-appointed administrators in the US and UK  charged with carving up the estate of the failed brokerage firm, which lost $1.6 billion in customer money, have reached a deal they expect will allow them to resolve the case and pay out the firm’s former clients and creditors.

Quartz obsession interlude

Tim Fernholz on how the United States ended up on the long road to the fiscal cliff: “These trends—more ideological parties, procedural rules that reduce the possibilities of compromise, and a history of lax fiscal policy—collided in Obama’s first term. As American political parties behaved more like those in Europe and other countries boasting parliamentary systems that allow governing parties to enact their agendas, US institutions, with their numerous veto points, became more ineffective. Though Obama promised a bipartisan manner, and attempted to deliver it—salting his stimulus plan with tax cuts, adopting the Republican health care framework to deliver the admittedly liberal goal of universal health care—his Keynesian approach to economic policy and liberal positions on social issues ignited conservatives’ anger and lead to their 2010 resurgence in Congress. That, in turn, has lead to the last two years of policy stagnation, with neither side able to convince the other to move forward on anything.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Why can’t we solve big problems? “We can put a man on the moon, so why we can’t solve [Problem X]?” You’ve heard that many times before, and so has Jason Pontin, who explains the obstacles between us and the technological revolution of your choice.

How the murder of Song Jiaoren changed Chinese history. It wasn’t heard ’round the world, but this gunshot had global implications.

Russia and China need to work together to rebalance their economies. Unfortunately, public officials in both countries are butting heads with vested interests.

The speech that explains why Indian woman are outraged over gang rape. And the way they are treated every day.

Surprising discoveries

You can buy a credit card-size gold brick. Why would you want to do that? So you could break off gram-size pieces to use as currency in the event of a financial collapse, of course!

The time travel portfolio. Just follow our investment advice (by travelling back in time) and you could be rich!

China’s top stock commentator is a 26-year old dropout who goes by “Batman.”  Under the blogger name Yerongtian (叶荣添), Hu Bin has captured the attention of China’s 72 million retail investors by being thoughtful, but also bombastic and eccentric: In 2010, he bet that the Shanghai Stock Exchange Index would reach 5800 by the end of the year or he’d throw himself off a Shanghai skyscraper (neither happened).

Interviewing Silvio Berlusconi is a hassle. Pity the Italian journalist trying to get news from former-and-now-aspiring prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who keeps threatening to walk out of the interview.

Best wishes from Quartz for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, feedback, or tiny gold bars to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates during the day.

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