Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—A Trump-less debate, Japanese rates go negative, goodbye BRICs, hello TICS

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What to watch for today and over the weekend

There’s still a chance that Syria peace talks could happen. Originally due to start earlier this week, talks are now scheduled to begin today. That is despite members of the opposition to president Bashar al-Assad’s government announcing a boycott of the Geneva summit yesterday, claiming Assad’s forces failed to end airstrikes.

David Cameron negotiates an EU “emergency brake.” The British prime minister meets with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, in Brussels to discuss a possible restriction on migrants’ welfare benefits. His current proposals aren’t flying with Eastern European nations.

African leaders vote on sending a peacekeeping force to Burundi. Leaders want to send 5,000 troops to end violence that erupted there last year, after president Pierre Nkurunziza sought a third term; Nkurunziza says any troops will be treated as hostile forces. Amnesty says it may have discovered mass graves in Burundi.

Will Takata’s CEO step down? Shigehisa Takada plans to meet with major automakers to discuss the possibility of financial support to keep the airbag manufacturer alive, following a long-running safety scandal. A precondition of financial support would be Takada’s resignation, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall).

A crucial deadline for US-EU data-sharing arrives. Negotiators have until Sunday to come up with a replacement for the “safe harbor” agreement, which allowed the transatlantic transfer of EU citizens’ personal data. The deal was invalidated by the EU, whose concerns about privacy are clashing with US tech ambitions.

While you were sleeping

Japan surprised markets with a negative interest rate. The central bank voted to reduce the benchmark borrowing rate to -0.1%, in a fresh attempt to raise inflation. As expected, the bank kept its quantitative easing target at 80 trillion yen ($677 billion) per year.

US Republican presidential hopefuls debated. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Ted Cruz (but not front-runner Donald Trump) spent much of the debate arguing that they wouldn’t support a path to citizenship for the US’s undocumented immigrants. That’s despite the fact that each previously backed such a plan.

The Murdochs closed in on a lucrative slice of Europe’s air waves. James Murdoch, the son of media mogul Rupert, confirmed he will once again become the chairman of Sky, Europe’s biggest pay-TV broadcaster. That reignited speculation that Rupert’s 21st Century Fox studio may eventually buy out the 61% of Sky it doesn’t already own.

Germany curbed its refugee intake. Economy minister Sigmar Gabriel announced that Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco are to be classified as safe countries, making asylum claims more difficult. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party and two others each agreed on the measure.

France and Spain turned in respectable GDP figures. The French economy, the euro-zone’s second-largest, grew by 1.1% in 2015, and saw few side effects from the November terror attack. Spain booked 3.2% growth for the year, narrowly missing expectations. Still, it is expected to outperform the rest of the bloc (pdf) in 2016.

Video game sales gave Sony a power-up. The Japanese electronics company reported an operating profit of 202.1 billion yen ($1.7 billion) for the final three months of 2015, well ahead of expectations. Sales of PlayStation 4 games, as well as cost cuts, offset a decline in revenue from smartphone components.

Quartz obsession interlude

Alice Truong on how Google’s longer maternity leave policy helped the company.  “These changes do more than to make new mothers feel welcomed in the workplace. Because turnover is costly for businesses—by one estimate it costs 20% or more of an employee’s salary to replace him or her—companies, too, benefit from keeping female employees and their expertise.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Tokyo is the best city in the world for food. Even its convenience stores and McDonald’s are better.

It’s time to stop segregating Oscar nominees by gender. The notion that men and women approach acting differently is outdated.

The BRICS are dead, long live the TICS. That’s Taiwan, India, China, and South Korea (paywall).

Surprising discoveries

A town in Italy has had its first birth in 28 years. Pablo takes the number of people in the town of Ostana to 85.

Mexican drug smugglers used to accept Levi’s 501s as cash. In the late 1980s, the jeans were a sign that you’d made it.

The humble binder clip is the world’s best gadget. It can be hacked into an iPhone dock, a toothpaste squeezer, and even a projectile weapon.

There’s a molecular switch that may turn obesity on and off. The epigenetic change explains why identical twins can be different weights.

Some of the most valuable info about ancient humans comes from their poop. Dozens of researchers focus only on fecal matter.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, ancient poop, and Levi’s jeans to You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day.

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