Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—France and China sag, Fiat’s Chrysler play, Wal-Mart’s donkey recall, famous dead cats

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What to watch for today

A huge Antarctic rescue is underway. An icebound Russian ship is offloading more than 50 passengers to a helicopter from a Chinese ice-breaking ship after being stranded for more than a week.

Wal-Mart’s donkey meat scandal. The retailer has pulled “Five Spice” donkey meat from stores in China after tests showed that it contained DNA from other animals, including fox. If it’s anything like the European horsemeat scandal, this could take a while to fully unfold.

The US plays peacemaker. US secretary of state John Kerry arrives in Israel to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, with the following caveat: Don’t expect a “big breakthrough.”

Ecuador gives socialism a good name. The economy is on track to expand 4%, according to government projections, thanks to hefty public investment in infrastructure and social programs.

While you were sleeping

French manufacturing ennui. New HSBC manufacturing data showed that France, which sank to a seven-month low, is the laggard in an otherwise improving euro zone. British’s purchasing manager’s index eased slightly from the previous month’s blistering three-year high.

China manufacturing slowed. Its HSBC PMI fell to a four-month low of 50.5 in December due to a worrying contraction in new export orders, in line with Wednesday’s official numbers. Elsewhere, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Indonesia all achieved their highest PMI marks in months.

Arson at Chinese consulate in San Francisco. An unknown man poured gasoline onto the entrance and set it on fire, causing extensive damage but no injuries.

Japan’s population decline is accelerating.The number of Japanese fell by 244,000 in 2013 as the aging country’s births plunged and deaths soared.

Fiat scooped up the rest of Chrysler. The Italian carmaker reached a deal with the United Auto Workers union to pay $3.7 billion for the 41.5% of Chrysler it didn’t already own. Investors applauded the deal, sending Fiat shares up more than 15%.

Fukushima could be in the middle of another meltdown. Radioactive steam plumes could spell more trouble for the crippled nuclear power plant, but no one knows what’s causing them.

Snapchat got hacked. Recently courted by Facebook, the social-sharing app known for selfie photos released phone numbers and usernames for more than 4.6 million North American users.

Quartz obsession interlude

Todd Woody on why China is building a massive solar power plant in the middle of nowhere. “China has become a growing profit center for Chinese solar companies. In 2012 China accounted for nearly 13% of Trina’s revenues; this year the company estimates the domestic market will provide as much as 30% of its earnings. The US market is expected to supply just 15% to 19% of revenues, down from 25.5% last year.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Edward Snowden deserves better “than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight,” and should receive clemency or a plea bargain to resolve US espionage charges.

There’s no such thing as cruelty-free cocaine, and people in Mexico are tired of footing the bill for US users.

Bitcoin is a “high-tech dinosaur soon to be extinct.” If you discount bitcoin’s encryption, it’s merely a private currency like those issued by London merchants in the Middle Ages.

Company boardrooms need more philosophers. They understand the human plight of customers better than most businesspeople.

High-tech helmets won’t save American football. Fewer parents want their kids playing football now that everyone knows about the prevalence of brain injuries.

Surprising discoveries

Millennial angst is a re-run. Youths in the Victorian era faced a similar disconnect between their rootless lives and society’s expectations.

Dogs prefer to poop facing north or south. Researchers found a correlation between “excretory positioning” and the Earth’s magnetic field.

Five important cats died in 2013. The New York Times saw fit to eulogize them.

Americans started recycling back in 1690. With such an early start, you’d think they’d recycle more than 3% of their plastic. But, no.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, cat memorials and high-tech helmets to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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