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Quartz Daily Brief—Europe and Africa edition—Thai politician trials, Russian saber-rattling, Scottish muscle-flexing, diamond-loving plants

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

What to watch for today

Thai leaders go on trial. Former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat—the brother-in-law of deposed PMs Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra—is charged with abusing his authority, along with his then-deputy Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, for ordering a police crackdown in 2008 that killed two protestors.

A fraught meeting for Greece. Euro-zone finance ministers hope to make progress but don’t expect to reach a deal to release further loans to Greece at a Eurogroup meeting. The country owes a €750 million ($840 million) payment to the IMF on Tuesday.

Europe tries to defeat human smugglers. The EU’s foreign-policy chief will lay out a plan at the UN security council to use EU ships to attack vessels in Libyan waters before they can smuggle migrants across the Mediterranean. Libya’s government has rejected the plan.

The Bank of England goes steady. It’s expected to keep its benchmark rate at 0.5%. Last week’s Conservative election win means more budget cuts are likely, vindicating the bank’s loose monetary policy.

Republicans give Obama a helping hand. The Senate will consider a bill giving the president fast-track approval for trade agreements, especially the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The treaty is a key Obama policy goal, with long-term consequences for the US economy, that is supported by most Republicans but opposed by many Democrats.

Over the weekend

Russia rattled its newest sabers. For its 70th Victory Day parade, marking the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, Moscow’s Red Square was filled with tanks and nuclear missiles that were only recently unveiled, as well as a regiment of the mysterious troops who invaded Crimea last year.

US companies’s overseas cash pile hit new records. They now hold $1.73 trillion in cash abroad (paywall), inlcluding $439 billion from Apple, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and Pfizer alone. The White House’s plan to encourage them to repatriate income faces several hurdles.

Uber neared a $50 billion valuation. The ride-hailing service is raising between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall). That would make Uber the most valuable venture-backed start up in history, as it expands into logistics and robotic cars, and is criticized for shortchanging its drivers.

The Scots flexed their muscles. Nicola Sturgeon called on Britain to devolve more powers on taxation and welfare to Scotland, after her Scottish National Party won 50 new seats in last week’s British general election. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are both in turmoil after taking a drubbing.

China’s central bank goosed the economy again. The People’s Bank of China cut its benchmark rate by 25 basis points to 5.1%, the third cut in six months (paywall). Rate cuts go only so far, though: China’s big problem is convincing its mostly state-run banks to lend to small and medium-sized businesses.

Liberia was declared Ebola-free. With no new cases in 42 days, the World Health Organization gave the country a clean bill of health. The virus killed 4,716 people in Liberia, more than in either Guinea or Sierra Leone, where the epidemic continues to claim lives.

South Africa’s opposition got its first black leader. The Democratic Alliance (DA) elected 34-year-old Mmusi Maimane, replacing Helen Zille. As the official opposition to the African National Congress, which has ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994, the DA has suffered from perceptions that it’s mainly a white voters’ party, even though that’s no longer true.

Quartz obsession interlude

Mike Murphy on how Amazon might make drone delivery real. “Up to now, Amazon’s drone plans have suggested they would arrive at your doorstep, dropping off packages like a smaller, louder mailman. But Amazon’s [patent] application suggests the company is exploring ways to have its drones come directly to wherever your smartphone is.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Polls are failing. It’s becoming harder than ever to gauge public opinion, as demonstrated by the UK election.

Sustainable fish is unrealistic.  Most people prefer eating sustainably caught seafood, but there just isn’t enough.

We know far less than we think about healthy eating. Nutrition research is mostly flawed or inconclusive.

The US oil boom isn’t about to end. OPEC’s forecast is wishful thinking.

The science of happiness won’t make us happier. Analysis misses the elemental mystery of what happiness is.

Surprising discoveries

Chinese stocks fall at 1:20pm every day. Analysts have competing theories to explain why prices drop after lunch.

The Mars Curiosity rover stopped watch the sunset. It deserved a break after nearly 1,000 days on the planet.

Who wants to play Death: The Video Game? Chinese game built a “death simulator” that lets you experience a virtual cremation.

Be careful with your protest graffiti. A Welsh voter drew a penis on a ballot, and it was counted as a vote for a Conservative politician.

There is a plant that points to diamonds. The Pandanus candelabrum of Liberia prefers soil that contains diamond-bearing kimberlite.

1980s pop music was provably boring. Over the past five decades, the late ’80s had the least stylistic diversity.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, obscene ballot papers, and interesting ’80s songs to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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