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Thing One: A Deal Slouches Toward Washington To Be Born: Brace yourselves for two of the scariest words in the English language: bipartisan compromise.
With just days to go before the entire nation slides down the fiscal escarpment of tax increases and spending cuts mandated by our parliament of geniuses to take effect with the turn of the calendar, there are signs that a deal to avoid the slide is near. Just as Calpurnia dreamed of Caesar's statue spouting blood, every reporter in Washington now sees portents of a deal. The Wall Street Journal, unlike Carl Showalter, enjoys the total effing silence lately from the camps of both President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner. That means they're busy cooking up a deal -- when they're not talking on background to reporters, that is.
Suzy Khimm of the Washington Post likes the sounds of silence, too, and also thinks it's a good sign that Democrats in Congress are now starting to openly haggle about little things that might be part of a Grand Bargain to not only avoid the fiscal slip-and-slide but also fix all of our debt problems forever, amen.
Other observers cheered not silence but happy talk coming from both camps. Bloomberg said public mutterings by both Obama and Boehner had a kinder, gentler tone of late, suggesting there had been some bonding over pizza and Golden Girls reruns. Reuters, meanwhile, was encouraged by an op-ed in the WSJ by Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), saying the GOP should maybe bend on tax rates for the wealthy.
So, hooray, it looks like we're going to have a deal. There will be wild celebrations on CNBC and in the homes of Pete Peterson and Erskine Bowles. But what are we going to be celebrating, exactly? Some liberals are nervous that a deal will include an increase in the Medicare eligibility age, a chip Obama has given away in the past and which Very Serious People consider a necessary sacrifice. The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn explains how this is a terrible idea, hammering thousands of middle-income homes and driving up health-care costs. Meanwhile, we will have wasted nearly two years in an unnecessary argument about how to hurt the economy the least, rather than how to help it.
Thing Two: Banks Receive Stinging Wrist Slaps: Another day, another record fine for bank malfeasance. British banking giant HSBC is set to pay $1.9 billion to settle charges that it stood by and let Mexican drug lords and terrorists launder money, according to the Wall Street Journal. That penalty would set a record for a bank, breaking the one that would have been set by another British bank, Standard Chartered, which yesterday copped to similar charges and will altogether -- including another penalty it agreed to pay back in August -- pay $667 million in fines, the Financial Times points out. This is a lot of money to mere mortals, but to HSBC it amounts to a stiff speeding ticket, points out Quartz's Tim Fernholz.
Thing Three: Federal Prosecutors Punish Stock-Market Success: The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan is investigating a recent Wall Street Journal report that several corporate insiders just happened to buy and/or sell company shares just ahead of news that just happened to make their company's stock price soar or collapse. Hasn't the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan ever heard of coincidences? Sort of like it's a total coincidence that one of the executives cited in the original WSJ article, Big Lots CEO Steven Fishman, announced plans to spend more time with his family one day before the company said it had received a subpoena looking into his trades.
Thing Four: Another Year, Another Recession: Japan, apparently trying to set some kind of record, just entered its fifth recession in the past 15 years. That means it gets the sixth recession free! The fifth recession is apparently the charm, however, writes Quartz's Simone Foxman, pointing out Japan could be in much better shape a year from now. For the time being, however, both Europe and Japan are in recession at the same time. Perfect time for the U.S. to be obsessed with austerity.
Thing Five: Fire Warnings Ignored: The Bangladesh factory that recently burned to the ground, killing 112 people, was inspected last year and found to be a serious fire risk, but at least one Walmart supplier ignored that warning, the Wall Street Journal reports. Walmart told the WSJ it had taken the factory off its list of authorized factories before the fire and was investigating whether other suppliers were using the factory.
Thing Six: Auditing The Auditors: Accounting firms are often terrible at, you know, accounting, according to the nation's top accounting regulator, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. According to the Wall Street Journal, a PCAOB report released yesterday "said the eight biggest accounting firms failed in 22% of the audits it reviewed last year to gather enough evidence to support opinions issued by the firms that claimed a company's internal controls were effective."
Thing Seven: AIG Bailout Nears Completion: It only took four years, but the U.S. government is about to end its bailout of insurance giant American International Group. The Treasury Department said yesterday it planned to sell its nearly 16 percent remaining stake in the company, for about $7.8 billion.
Thing Seven And One Half: Monkey Business: It was a tableau just made for Internet mockery: A monkey in a shearling coat wandering around a Toronto Ikea. So why are there not hundreds of memes yet? Get with it, Internet. Here are the best Ikea monkey memes so far, via Gawker.
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Calendar Du Jour:
8:30 a.m. ET: International Trade Balance for October
Federal Reserve begins two-day policy meeting
Heard On The Tweets:
In general, the louder an industry complains about a policy, the fewer negative impacts that policy has on the broader economy.
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) December 11, 2012
Let's face it, pecan pie is the answer.
— umair haque (@umairh) December 11, 2012
And you can follow me on Twitter, too: @markgongloff