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Quartz Daily Brief—Yellen’s confirmation, US cold snap, JPMorgan-Madoff settlement, a lonely pope

By Heather Timmons

What to watch for today

A $2 billion JP Morgan Madoff settlement. The bank is preparing to make criminal and civil settlements with federal authorities over claims that it ignored the fraudster’s Ponzi scheme.

Janet Yellen is confirmed as Fed chair. The US Senate is expected to greenlight Yellen’s nomination as central bank head. If it does, she’ll take over from Ben Bernanke at the end of the month.

State of the services industry. Purchasing managers’ indices come out both for the US and for the UK, which unexpectedly fell to a six-month low, giving an update on their increasingly important service sectors. The euro zone services PMI slipped slightly.

Record low temperatures in the US. An Arctic cold front could bring the lowest temperatures in 20 years to much of the country, with half the nation at 0°F (-18°C) or lower. Thousands of flights were canceled (and Disney’s Frozen won the weekend box office).

CES kicks off. The Consumer Electronics Show, the industry’s mega-jamboree, formally begins in Las Vegas with keynotes by the heads of Intel and Audi. (Connected cars are going to be one of this year’s big themes).

Over the weekend

Osborne wants budget cuts. The chancellor called for reductions of 25 billion pounds ($40.9 billion) in UK government spending after next year’s election.

China economy data continued to disappoint. The HSBC services purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for December dropped to 50.9 from 52.5, staying barely above the level that indicates expansion. A wide range of December economic measures have shown a sharp fall-off in activity as government support has receded.

Israelis and Palestinians agreed on gas, at least. The two sides made no breakthroughs in their latest peace talks, but the Palestinian power utility signed a 20-year, $1.2 billion deal with US-based Noble Energy and its Israeli partners for gas from Israel’s offshore Leviathan gas field.

A $930 million satellite deal foundered due. A United Arab Emirates purchase of French intelligence satellites fell apart after the buyers discovered US-made components that would have enabled remote access to secure data.

Jihadists took Fallujah. An al-Qaeda affiliate, ISIL, took control of the city where some of the bloodiest fighting of the Iraq war took place. Iraqi forces said they could kick out the militants in two to three days, but it’s still a severe blow to the government of Nouri al-Maliki.

Bangladesh held a failed election. Fewer than half the parliamentary seats in the country’s 10th general election were contested because of an opposition boycott, and 18 people died in clashes between police and protesters

Bitcoin bounced above $1,000. The crypto-currency, which had at one point fallen almost 50% from its December record of $1,238 per bitcoin, shot back up on news that online games-maker Zynga would start accepting bitcoin for in-game purchases in some of its games.

Quartz obsession interlude

Matt Phillips translates Fed chairman Ben Bernanke’s parting shot on the US economy. “‘The FOMC’s decision to modestly reduce the pace of asset purchases at its December meeting did not indicate any diminution of its commitment to maintain a highly accommodative monetary policy for as long as needed.’ Translation: Even though the Fed is getting out of the bond-buying business, the Fed Funds rate is going to stay low for quite some time… In short, Bernanke still thinks the economy is pretty weak.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

The UK housing crisis embodies everything that’s wrong with neoliberalism. Thatcher’s sell-off of public housing is still haunting Great Britain.

Cancer will never be defeated. Unlike viruses, germs, and heart disease, tumors are the result of a basic evolutionary compromise.

The US looks worryingly similar to ancient Rome. The republic’s collapse was heralded by similar political paralysis.

Fiat’s troubles are far from over. CEO Sergio Marchionne swung an amazing deal with the Chrysler acquisition, but the company is still on extremely shaky ground.

Africa needs a Marshall Plan. A program of reform, infrastructure-building and industrial development is the only way to contain a vast jobs short fall in the next few years.

Surprising discoveries

Everyone you know just got engaged.  A third of all engagements happen between Thanksgiving and New Years Day.

The pope can’t get his phone calls answered. Pope Francis called a small convent in Spain on New Year’s Eve, but nobody answered.

Ancient Egypt’s master beer-brewer. Archaeologists have unearthed his tomb.

The world leaders with the longest names. The winner: Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana of Madagascar.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, engagement rings and ancient beer recipes to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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