Quartz Daily Brief—Cliff beckons, debt ceiling looms, YouTube defection, Santa tax

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What to watch for today

Barack Obama’s vacation cut short by the fiscal cliff. The President will return early from his trip to Hawaii to reinvigorate seemingly stalled negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over the package of austerity measures that will otherwise start to take effect at the beginning of 2013.

Ireland braces for accidents. December 27 is one of the busiest days of the year for Irish accident clinics, with data showing that cases typically jump by about 40%.

Tropical storm Wukong hits the East Sea. A tropical storm will intensify in Southeast Asia as it moves over the Philippines.

The latest data on jobs and homes in the United States. The Department of Labor and the Census Bureau will provide the latest data on unemployment and housing, two areas of the US economy which have remained resistant to recovery. The latest numbers will help economists determine if the US economy has turned the corner.

While you were sleeping

Egypt’s prime minister focuses on the economy. In his first public speech since voters signed off on his controversial constitution, Mohammed Morsi stressed that his government will turn its attention to bolstering the country’s struggling economy. The Egyptian pound fell to an eight-year low against the US dollar on Wednesday. Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut Egypt’s rating to B- last week.

Syria’s military police chief defects on YouTube. Lieutenant General Abdulaziz al-Shalal announced that he’s defecting from the government of President Bashar al-Assad in a YouTube video. “I declare my defection from the army because of its deviation from its fundamental mission to protect the nation and transformation into gangs of murder and destruction,” he says.

The US will hit the debt ceiling in four days. Tim Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, warned Congress that the US would reach its borrowing limit on December 31, but that the Treasury will undertake a number of accounting tricks to keep the United States solvent. Those measures are expected to provide about two months leeway.

India’s gang-rape victim flown to Singapore. In an attempt to mitigate public outrage, the Indian government has flown the young victim of a brutal gang-rape on a Delhi bus, who is still in critical condition, to Singapore for life-saving treatment. Earlier in the day, the government put retired judge Usha Mehra in charge of a commission to investigate the rape. Violent clashes between police and people protesting the attack have left 100 people injured and one policeman dead.

The world’s biggest petrochemical firm tells Europe it’s losing out. Mohamed Al-Mady, the CEO of Saudi Arabia’s Sabic, told the Financial Times that Europe will lose out on some of the investment sent to the US, China, and the Middle East if its leaders continue to resist controversial new procedures to harvest natural gas, like fracking, which some European countries have banned.

Starbucks tries to fix the fiscal cliff. The coffee chain’s baristas in Washington, DC, will write “come together” on coffee cups sold in the capital, in an attempt to push lawmakers towards a deal on spending cuts, tax increases, and the debt ceiling before the new year.

Quartz obsession interlude

Tim Fernholz on how Germany’s economic and soccer dominance do and do not line up: “Though there are superficial similarities between Germany’s soccer success and its economic program—both involved a comprehensive reform initiative intended to address a national problem—they have some big differences. The soccer revival was built directly on the reinvestment after 2000, but Germany’s ability to withstand the 2008 crisis had less to do with the labor market reforms in the preceding years than with the country’s pre-crisis pessimism, advantageous trade position and history of past reform. Still, imperfect though the comparison is, German soccer and economic reform contain several lessons.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Just how close is an Asian war? An Australian professor weighs in on the tensions between Japan and China.

Europe should prepare for a tough 2013. Although markets appear to accept the fact that the region will fall into recession, lots of shocks could jolt the system.

The US is using less gasoline—but why? It’s about much more than energy efficiency.

Surprising discoveries

Hawaii is dissolving from within. Researchers have discovered that the island states of Hawaii states are actually dissolving at a quicker pace than they’re being broken down by erosion.

Go ahead—eat (some of) that expired food! “Sell by” dates aren’t what should dictate when you toss out your leftovers.

Even Santa Claus pays taxes in Ukraine. The state revenue service, short on cash, is cracking down.

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