Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—Abe’s economic boost, Okinawa base move approved, GM China recall, ramen cakes

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What to watch for today

UN peacekeepers—and perhaps a Chinese envoy—arrive in South Sudan. The two-week-old civil war in the world’s newest state has China worried about its energy interests after rebels seized several oil wells. Beijing is sending an envoy to help with talks, as the UN moves quickly to reinforce its thinly-stretched peacekeeping forces.

Yet more storms hit the UK… Some 14-15,000 homes in England are lacking power, and more heavy rain and high winds are expected. Meanwhile, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority is investigating (paywall) a Christmas Eve power cut at Gatwick airport that left thousands stranded.

…While North America recovers from an ice storm. About 150,000 people are without electricity from Canada and Maine to Michigan after an ice storm last weekend. Utility companies are trying to repair downed lines, but say some people may be in the dark through the weekend. 

While you were sleeping

UPS and Amazon said sorry. Customers who didn’t receive their packages by Christmas Day will get $20 gift cards—and their shipping costs refunded—after a last minute rush of orders and bad weather led to a slowdown in deliveries.

A huge blast in Beirut killed five, including former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohamad Chatah. Chatah was an adviser to ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

GM is recalling nearly 1.5 million cars in China. Shanghai General Motors —General Motors’s venture with SAIC Motor Corp—will recall some 1.46 million automobiles due to a problem with fuel pumps, China’s quality watchdog said.

Okinawa base move approved. Breaking a seven-year stalemate, the governor of the Japanese island signed off on plans to begin relocating the controversial US Marine base to a less populated area.

Thailand’s army chief spoke. Against a backdrop of ongoing street clashes between anti-government protesters and police that left two dead Thursday, General Prayuth Chan-ocha urged calm—but didn’t rule out a military coup.

An economic boost for Abe. A day after his controversial visit to a symbolic shrine, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic plan got a lift, with consumer inflation rising above 1% last month for the first time in five years. Other data showed factory output and retail sales also picked up.

Textron is buying Beechcraft. The company that makes Cessna planes is buying Beechcraft, whose jet plane business has been losing money, for $1.4 billion.

Quartz obsession interlude

Chris Mims on the tech sector’s wasted year. “All in, 2013 was an embarrassment for the entire tech industry and the engine that powers it—Silicon Valley. Innovation was replaced by financial engineering, mergers and acquisitions, and evasion of regulations. Not a single breakthrough product was unveiled—and for reasons outlined below, Google Glass doesn’t count. If it’s in the nature of progress to move in leaps, there are necessarily lulls in between.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Thai protesters want to destroy democracy. Demonstrators say they’re fighting corruption, but their real goal is to restore power to royalist elites who can’t win at the polls.

Public bathrooms should be gender neutral. Men’s and women’s rooms, based on the clear-gut gender binary, create discomfort for all involved, not just gay and trans people.

We know plenty about pot. Those against marijuana claim we’re ignorant of the drug’s medicinal properties, but a huge body of research shows pot is relatively safe and therapeutic.

The US, China, and Japan were losers in Abe’s inflammatory shrine visit. Here’s how Japan’s prime minister changed fortunes around the globe.

Surprising discoveries

Neanderthals are to blame for diabetes. A study shows that a gene variant increasing risk for the disease among some populations may come interbreeding with our ancient ancestors.

A cake that looks like ramen. A confectionery shop in Japan sells cakes that are dead ringers for the beloved noodles.

Our geopolitical forecasting algorithm was five for six in 2013. Thanks a lot, erratic US lawmakers.

Everything you know about gangs is wrong. For one, even gangsters aren’t entirely sure who’s actually in the gang.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, cakes that look like noodles and geopolitical forecasting algorithms to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.


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