Good morning, Quartz readers!
What to watch for today and over the weekend
The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) goes into effect. The successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership—the trade deal Donald Trump pulled the US out of after taking office—goes into force on Dec. 30. The deal cuts tariffs and other trade barriers for its members, among them Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and Singapore.
Japan releases footage in its “radar feud” with South Korea. Last week in the Sea of Japan, a South Korean warship locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane—which can be considered a step away from firing, according to Japan’s defense ministry. South Korea denied the claim.
A big deadline for Sears. Liquidators will likely break the US retail icon into pieces, barring a bid for the whole company. Chairman Eddie Lampert put forward a $4.6 billion proposal to buy the company out of bankruptcy through his hedge fund, but faces a deadline today to submit his offer.
While you were sleeping
Iraqi lawmakers demanded the removal of US troops. Deriding a recent unannounced visit by Trump to the al-Asad Air Base as arrogant, politicians from both sides of Iraq’s political divide called for the approximately 5,000 US troops to leave the country. Trump indicated he has no plans to withdraw them.
Cell phone data possibly outed Michael Cohen. Digital records from cell towers in Prague were reportedly traced to Cohen’s cell phone and dated to the summer of 2016, indicating that he may have been in the city for a meeting with Russian officials. The newly disclosed information could conflict with statements made by Trump’s former fixer, who continues to claim he has never been to the Czech Republic.
The internet freaked out over an Instagram interface tweak. Users accustomed to vertical scrolling suddenly had to contend with tapping, and outrage ensued. The change was short-lived, however, as the company quickly rescinded the update. Instagram’s product chief said it was a part of a small test that “went broad by accident.”
Elon Musk filed to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against him. The Tesla CEO’s legal team said that insulting British diver Vernon Unsworth by calling him a pedophile falls under free-speech protection and shouldn’t be taken seriously, since Musk’s tweets were supposedly a form of “emotional catharsis.”
Quartz obsession interlude
Why do soda and suds come in sixes? Thank Coca-Cola, which wanted a portable number for people to put in their newfangled refrigerators. Except for craft brewers trying the four-pack on for size, the six is now pretty well fixed—but maybe not the plastic film that binds it. Read more here.
Matters of debate
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Low fertility rates aren’t a cause for concern. AI, migration, and better health in old age mean that countries don’t need to rely on new births to keep growing economically.
The West won’t catch up to China in payment apps. Government oversight, low competition, and China’s healthy head-start on fintech has left America firmly in the dust.
Businesses need to rethink affirmative action. The policy should be less about diversity and more about evening a playing field that’s been fundamentally unbalanced by generations of systemic racism.
Michelle Obama is now America’s most admired woman. Hillary Clinton had dominated the top spot on Gallup’s poll for 17 years.
The EU is seeking forgotten women writers. A hefty research grant will fund efforts to rediscover oppressed works by authors, diarists, and other artists from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.
A holiday gift for fascist fanatics. Right-wing populism in Italy is fueling fresh interest in calendars featuring ruthless dictator Benito Mussolini.
MSNBC won the Christmas week ratings battle. The network outpaced its longtime rival Fox News in viewership for the first time in 17 years.
A transatlantic journey in a high-tech barrel. French adventurer Jean-Jacques Savin has embarked on a uniquely ambitious mission, which may help oceanographers study currents.
Correction: Yesterday we stated the US Commerce Department would release figures on new home sales. Due to the government shutdown, it did not.
Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, seaworthy barrels, and soda four-packs to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join the next chapter of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was written and edited by Steve Mollman, Kira Bindrim, and McKinley Noble.