Mad Dog meets NATO, Britain’s plentiful jobs, face mites

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

“Mad Dog” meets NATO. US defense secretary James Mattis (nickname: Mad Dog) is expected to push for higher military spending by European allies when he visits Brussels. His boss, Donald Trump, considers the alliance “obsolete” and has called upon Europeans to spend more on their own security. The US accounts for about 70% of the NATO’s overall defense expenditure.

The US releases key economic data for January. Reports on retail sales, consumer prices, and industrial production will hint at whether (paywall) consumer and investor confidence is translating into an uptick in real economic activity.

NetEase gets a report card. The Nasdaq-listed Chinese online gaming company is expected to deliver a 37% revenue increase for the fourth quarter. Investors will look for hints about a deal with Google that might make the Google Play app available in mainland China, where NetEase’s games have a huge following.

The US Senate considers blocking a regulation on guns and the mentally ill. The Obama-era rule would prevent an estimated 75,000 people with mental disorders from purchasing firearms. Trump is expected to sign a measure to block the rule should the Republican-controlled Senate send it to his office.

While you were sleeping

More Brits went to work. UK unemployment declined to 4.8% in the fourth quarter—the lowest rate in more than 10 years—as the labor market crept closer to “full capacity.” However, wage growth slowed to 2.6% and a report said today that 19 million people are living dangerously close the poverty line; that’s a third of the population.

Other Trump campaign aides also had pre-election contacts with Russia. The New York Times cited (paywall) four current and former US officials who said phone records and intercepted calls showed repeated contact between Trump’s campaign staffers and senior Russian officials in the year running up to the election. No names have been released and the FBI investigation is ongoing.

Beer guzzlers boosted Heineken’s bottom line. The Dutch brewing giant, which is in the process of buying Kirin’s Brazil business, sold 3% more beer last year thanks to thirsty Vietnamese, Mexicans, and Europeans. Its operating profit was up nearly 10%, but it warned of a volatile year ahead.

A Burmese woman was detained in connection with the death of Kim Jong-un’s half brother. A Malaysian news agency said she was picked up in Kuala Lumpur airport but gave no further details. Earlier on Wednesday, South Korea’s spy agency said that two women, believed to be North Korean operatives, poisoned the exiled Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur airport on Tuesday. The plot thickens…

SoftBank announced a $3.3 billion acquisition of an investment fund. The Japanese tech-and-telecom giant, which is preparing to launch the world’s largest private equity fund, agreed to buy Fortress Investment Group. The New York-listed asset manager has a track record in Japan and investments spanning real estate, hedge funds, and private equity.

Quartz obsession interlude

Elaine Ramirez on a new sharing economy in Seoul that leaves Uber and Airbnb in the cold: “Seoul mayor Park Won-soon defends his city as a free-market economy that wouldn’t survive if it weren’t open to foreign companies. But the mayor draws the line between ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption,’ insisting that these startups should be welcomed—as long as they follow the rules.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Billionaires want to end disease, but nature has other ideas. The vast scale of evolutionary time is lost on technologists who only think about data and money.

Trump is dividing Mexicans, too. Anti-Trump protests are seen as an attempt to cover up domestic problems with patriotic unity.

Politicizing science could return us to the Dark Ages. Environmental pioneer Rachel Carson’s warning went viral more than 60 years ago.

Surprising discoveries

Iceland is busting people for driving under the influence of Northern Lights. Erratic lane changes were blamed on the distractingly beautiful aurora borealis.

There are microscopic creatures that live on our faces. Demodex mites have been harvesting oil from hair follicles for at least 200,000 years.

IBM physicists have created an “impossible” triangular molecule. Triangulene may eventually power quantum computers.

Apple’s new reality show is called Planet of the Apps. Contestants make an “escalator pitch” to a panel of celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow.

A surprisingly large number of animals kill each other after sex. The line between “flirty” and “hungry” is a blurry one.

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