US Senate resumes, solo Antarctica success, alien rainfall

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

The US Senate is back in session, but the government remains shuttered. The partial shutdown began Dec. 22 after Donald Trump refused to sign a stopgap bill unless sufficient funding was allocated for a US-Mexico border wall. Democrats have little incentive to negotiate, given that they will take control of the House on Jan. 3.

Travel disruptions in Indonesia. Authorities raised the alert status of the Anak Krakatoa volcano to the second-highest level and imposed an exclusion zone of 5 km (3 miles), days after a crater collapse triggered a tsunami that killed over 400 people. All flights around the volcano have been rerouted, with Krakatoa continuing to spew ash and lava.

US jobless claims are measured. Economists believe unemployment benefit-application data released by the Labor Department will tick slightly upward (subscription). Meanwhile, the Commerce Department will not be releasing its figures on new home sales for November because of the government shutdown.

Consumer confidence is assessed. Forecasters expect the indicator to fall slightly in December. Traders will look for signs of whether the ongoing trade war with China and rising interest rates are beginning to dampen consumer sentiment and spending.

While you were sleeping

China announced in-person trade talks… China’s commerce department said it will hold face-to-face trade talks with the US in January, in a bid to end a months-long trade war that has deeply impacted global markets. Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed to hold off on escalating tariffs and allow negotiations to proceed after meeting at the G20 summit on Dec. 1.

… While Trump considered barring Huawei and ZTE from the US. The proposed executive order would ban US companies from using products from two of China’s biggest network technology companies. American officials claim the equipment may be used by the Chinese government for spying. The UK has also expressed concern about Huawei’s products, while Australia and New Zealand have placed restrictions on its 5G technology.

An American man became the first person to cross Antarctica solo. Colin O’Brady, 33, made the 932 mile (1,500 km) journey in 53 days, covering the final stretch in a sleepless 32 hours. A Briton who attempted the same feat in 2016 died days after he was airlifted just 126 miles from the finish.

Japan executed two death-row inmates. The men were hanged in Osaka for the 1988 murders of two employees of an asset management firm, bringing the total number of executions this year in Japan to 15. That’s the highest since 2008, after 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult were executed in July.

A British cruise entertainer went missing after going overboard. The US Coast Guard is still searching for Arron Hough, 20, who fell off the Harmony of the Seas some 267 miles (430 km) northwest of Puerto Rico.

UK business confidence hit a post-Brexit low. British business leaders are despondent about 2019, according to the Institute of Directors poll, with executives in Scotland and London, parts of the UK that voted to stay in the EU, especially pessimistic. The British parliament will restart its Brexit debate on Jan. 7.

An explosive device outside a church wounded two in Athens. The small blast occurred outside the Saint Dionysios church just before it was due to open for a service. No one took responsibility for the attack, which took place near a heavily policed district where political violence is common.

Quartz obsession interlude

The global dominance of white people is thanks to the potato. In his economic masterwork The Wealth of Nations, the great Scottish economist Adam Smith reveals himself to be a deep admirer of potatoes. The root, he said, was responsible for sustaining “the chairmen, porters, and coal-heavers in London.” In that, he surmised, “No food can afford a more decisive proof of its nourishing quality, or of its being peculiarly suitable to the health of the human constitution.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Join the conversation with the new Quartz app!

Giving up fast fashion can help you shop smarter. Buy a piece of really expensive clothing instead to reduce your contribution to the industry’s wastefulness.

Money managers are on the frontline of the fight against climate change. The world’s biggest investors (subscription) are able to force polluting companies to change their ways.

Low fertility rates aren’t a cause for worry. AI, migration, and being healthier in old age mean that countries don’t need to rely on new births to keep growing economically.

Surprising discoveries

The IRS is turning to social media to catch tax cheats. Budget cuts have the agency hunting for online businesses that contribute to $400 billion in unpaid taxes.

New York City’s most famous prison serves the best holiday dessert. Inmate bakers at Rikers Island take tremendous pride (subscription) in their carrot cake recipe.

Thai Buddhist monks are battling obesity. They’re reliant on donations of sweet food from devotees and not exercising enough.

Strange noises are emanating from Antarctica. Radio signals picked up by the British Antarctic Survey’s space weather station sound like hissing, whistles, and alien rainfall.

Dogs are getting their own Snapchat filters. Nerdy eyeglasses, sparkles, milkbone halos, pizza collars, and other add-ons can now adorn your precious pup’s selfies.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, shopping tips, and carrot cake recipes to Join the next chapter of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was written by John Detrixhe and edited by Jackie Bischof.