Worried markets, border wall double down, thieving Rudolph

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

A worried Wall Street reopens. US investors return from their Christmas break to markets unnerved by turmoil in Washington. The Dow closed Christmas Eve with deepened losses after its worst weekly selloff since the 2008 financial crisis; Japan’s Nikkei was tepid today after entering into bear territory (paywall) on Tuesday, while Asia, reeling from a $5.6 trillion stock loss this year, braced broadly for more volatility. A full measure of market reactions will come when markets reopen in Hong Kong, Australia, and Europe on Thursday.

Measuring the housing market’s health. In the first of a series of data releases on housing this week, Standard & Poor’s home price indices will give a sense of how well the US residential real estate market is faring. Last month’s data confirmed a slowdown.

Indonesia braces for more extreme weather. Warnings of heavy rainfall could hamper rescue efforts in the search for 150 people missing from Saturday’s tsunami, which crashed into towns on the coasts of the Sumatra and Java islands. As of Tuesday, official tallies count 429 dead, with some 16,000 people displaced.

Over the holiday

Another child died in US border patrol custody. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said an eight-year-old Guatemalan boy died at a New Mexico medical center early Tuesday, after being admitted the previous day with a cold and fever. The news follows the Dec. 8 death of a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl in US custody. CBP officials said they would conduct medical check-ups on children in their custody.

Trump doubled down on border wall funding. After delivering a Christmas message to overseas troops, Trump told reporters that a partial US government shutdown was a “disgrace,” and claimed that Democrats once supported his idea of building a wall along the US-Mexico border. The Senate returns from its Christmas break tomorrow (subscription) to restart budget negotiations.

US retailers saw strong holiday sales. Early data show US consumers spent over $850 billion (subscription) between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 this year, a 5.1% increase from last year, and the strongest holiday sales increase in six years. Analysts warn this trend could reverse next year, as political and economic uncertainty catches up to consumer confidence.      

China put a prominent lawyer on trial. At least two protesters were reportedly arrested in front of the courthouse where Wang Quanzhang’s trial is believed to be taking place. Wang’s three-year detention is among the longest for the hundreds of human rights defenders arrested in the “709” crackdown, named for starting on July 9, 2015. China often puts dissidents on trial around Christmas to attract less scrutiny from foreign observers.

Japan said it will resume commercial whaling. The Japanese government announced today (paywall) it will leave the International Whaling Commission, paving the way for it to return to commercial hunting in its own seas after decades. The move, which will also see it stop whaling in international waters for research, may embolden other pro-whaling nations to follow suit.

A former Nissan executive made bail after a month in custody. Former Nissan director Greg Kelly was reportedly examined at a Japanese hospital after being released yesterday on 70 million yen ($640,000) bail. Kelly had been detained since Nov. 19 for his alleged role in financial fraud. Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, also charged with alleged financial misconduct, remains in jail.

Quartz obsession interlude

Elijah Wolfson on how the world got better in 2018: “A lot went wrong in 2018, so much that it was easy to lose sight of global improvements in the midst of incessant bad news. But while it may be hard to believe, 2018 was in many ways the best year yet to be a human living on Earth.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Join the conversation with the new Quartz app!

Video games can make better humans. Smarter games have the potential to help us become more sensitive, one designer believes.

The art of “humble enquiry” can be life-changing. Learning how to ask questions instead of automatically giving answers can help us stay true to our values.

Chinese food is a quintessential US Christmas tradition. Chinese restaurants have survived decades of suspicion (subscription) to become an unshakable part of holidays.

Surprising discoveries

Mariah Carey’s record-breaking day won’t net much. Spotify’s stinginess makes Dec. 24’s 11 million downloads of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” less impressive.

An errant leak on the International Space Station was an inside job. A mysterious small hole that caused a relatively mild pressure drop looks to have been drilled from the inside.

An artist responded to rejection with a lawsuit. Painter Robert Cenedella claims that five major New York museums are part of an international conspiracy to stifle competition.

Police are on the hunt for a thieving Rudolph. Colorado authorities issued an appeal for information about the mask-wearing suspect with the song,  “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Burglar.”

A cruise ship rescued fisherman stranded for 20 days. The ship, headed to Cuba, discovered the two men in the Caribbean Sea after bad weather forced it to reroute.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, better Christmas songs, and compassionate video games to hi@qz.com. Join the next chapter of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was written by Annabelle Timsit and edited by Jackie Bischof.