Quartz Daily Brief—Verizon-AOL talks, SpaceX launch, smart TV battles, Nokia’s smart dumbphone

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What to watch for today

India’s coal strike. Half a million workers employed by state-owned mining companies will down tools for five days to protest a bill in parliament that would open up competition to private firms.

The US Congress gets back to work. The House and Senate will be Republican-controlled for the next two years and will try to roll back many of president Barack Obama’s initiatives. First up: healthcare, immigration, and the US relationship with Iran.

California breaks ground for a bullet train. The $68 billion project to build the first truly high-speed railway line in the United States will take quite a few years, but when it’s done the journey between San Francisco and Los Angeles will take less than three hours.

Fresh protests in Brazil. A bump in bus fares (paywall) caused chaos in 2013, and another increase is about to take effect in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, where the mass protests began.

SpaceX tries to launch—and land—a rocket. Elon Musk’s company is scheduled to launch its fifth supply mission to the International Space Station at 6:20am ET, after technical troubles delayed a launch last month. The company is also trying to land its 13-story tall rocket booster on a floating drone ship, which could lead to a revolution in affordable space access.

While you were sleeping

Verizon is reportedly considering an AOL acquisition. The telecom giant has approached AOL to discuss a possible purchase or joint venture, according to Bloomberg. Verizon is reportedly most interested in AOL’s automated online advertising systems, but the deal would also be a major bet on the future dominance of online video.

Hong Kong targeted protest leaders for arrest. More than 30 people involved with the organizing of last year’s Umbrella Movement— including student leaders, pro-democracy legislators, and media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying—were instructed to report to police headquarters, where they will be arrested on unlawful assembly charges.

Euro zone growth dipped in December. Markit’s composite purchasing managers’ index, an assessment of activity in the manufacturing and service sectors, fell to 51.4 in December, suggesting an anemic increase in commercial activity. The poor data is likely to add more pressure on the European Central Bank to introduce stimulus measures like quantitative easing.

France’s consumer confidence got a bump. Better-than-expected numbers pushed the monthly gauge to 90 in December, the highest it’s been since 2012. Still, France’s sclerotic economy remains a drag on overall European growth.

China’s services sector picked up. HSBC/Markit’s purchasing managers’ index for the service sector was 53.4 in December, its highest level in four months. That will slightly offset a weakening manufacturing sector and a wobbling property market, but not enough to rule out additional government stimulus measures.

Two more NYPD officers were shot. The officers were taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries after being shot while trying to stop a robbery in the Bronx. Police are still searching for two suspected shooters.

Dueling visions for the future of TV. Sony’s Bravia smart TVs will soon run on Google’s Android platform, the company announced at the Consumer Electronics Show. At the same event, Samsung said its smart TVs would run its proprietary Tizen OS, and Panasonic said its 4K TVs would soon run on the Firefox OS.

Quartz obsession interlude

Zainab Mudallal on a nation of workaholics. “Although it isn’t legally required, most full-time employees in the US receive some paid vacation. It’s around 10 paid work days a year in addition to six federal holidays, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonprofit think tank. That may seem like small mercy by Western standards (European workers typically get far more), but the sad truth is that Americans aren’t even using the handful of vacation days at their disposal.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

TV is more enjoyable if it’s legit. Better to delay gratification than to illicitly download shows like Downton Abbey.

Facebook is the new AOL. Silicon Valley is repeating the mistakes of the late 90s.

“Women and children first” is a maritime disaster myth. It’s more like “every man for himself.”

Now is the time to raise carbon taxes. Governments should curb fuel consumption and line state coffers while oil prices are low.

Iran has a chance to shine in the Middle East. The rise of ISIL could help Tehran play the role of “protector state” to Shia minorities.

Surprising discoveries

Drones are fighting mosquitoes in Florida. They’re searching for standing water that might harbor larvae.

Nokia’s new $29 phone is built for Facebook. The Microsoft-owned brand is getting into internet-connected dumbphones.

CNN has video footage to be played at the end of the world. It’s a band playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Lions love Christmas trees. The big cats at London’s zoo are using them as scratch poles.

The chemist behind Viagra has been knighted. Dr. Simon Campbell was originally trying to treat high blood pressure.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, gently used Christmas trees, and knighthood applications to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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