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Thing One: Sequester Watch! Remember earlier this year how we supposedly "avoided" that thing called the fiscal cliff, that act of congressionally-mandated stupidity that threatened to wreck the economy with a $600 billion hit of austerity? Well, it turns out, not so much.
Instead, what we did was blow up the ginormous chunk of austerity into several little pieces. Some of its parts were vaporized, never to bother us again. But large chunks of the austerity asteroid -- austeroid? -- made it through to hit the economy anyway. The payroll tax cut expired, for example, contributing to a hit to economic growth of 1.5 percent from the fiscal-cliff "solution" everybody cheered. For an economy bumping along at 2 percent growth, that is a significant blow. And now another chunk of the austeroid is about to slam into the economy, a series of deep automatic spending cuts called, for dumb Washington reasons, the "sequester," to take effect on March 1. This could cut another 0.6 percent from growth, according to one estimate by Macroeconomic Advisers.
But because we're talking about Washington, attention is only just now turning to what to do about the sequester. President Obama sounded the alarm yesterday in a carefully staged appearance with emergency first-responders, who might take pay cuts or lose jobs or something if the sequester takes place. The New York Times writes that this will be just the first of several such appearances by Obama to call attention to the sequester in the days ahead. Deficit scold Erskine Bowles called the sequester "stupid" and then added three more "stupids" to describe it further.
Obama's White House actually came up with the sequester idea back in August 2011, when it and Congress were building the fiscal-cliff doomsday device as a means to force themselves to eventually make hard choices about the deficit. Despite the warnings of scolds like Bowles and Alan Simpson, who were out selling their latest pointless deficit plan yesterday, no such hard choices are needed right away. Instead, Congress should be talking about how to jolt a sluggish economy back to brisker life. But congressional Republicans have apparently decided to do neither, taking the political hit of letting the sequester take effect -- in order to lay the groundwork for yet another deficit fight in the spring. If the economy grows at all in the first half of this year, it will be in spite of, rather than because of, the efforts of our politicians.
Thing Two: Bruised Apple: Once upon a time, Apple computers seemed invulnerable to hacks and malware and viruses and such. There weren't enough of them out there to make it worth a hacker's while. That's changing, though, and Apple yesterday announced that malware had taken advantage of a weakness in Java script to infect the Macs of some Apple employees, the Huffington Post's Gerry Smith writes. Facebook said last week that it had been hit by the same malware. Apple quickly released an operating-system update, the Huffington Post's Jason Gilbert helpfully points out, which Mac users should go and download immediately. We'll wait here.
Meanwhile, Apple was forced to watch while shares of Google soared to $800, as its own stock price continued to languish well below $500. Just months ago, Apple was at $700 a share and on its way to $800. Now Google may be the new Apple, writes Quartz's Simone Foxman. To add injury to insult, Apple lost a round in a court fight with activist investor David Einhorn, DealBook writes.
Thing Three: Regulators Play Ketchup: Well, that didn't take long. Warren Buffett and Brazil's 3G Capital last Thursday announced a plan to buy H J Heinz, and by Friday the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating possible insider trading, and now the FBI is involved, looking for evidence of a crime. Somebody using a Goldman Sachs account in Switzerland made some flagrantly unusual, and unusually successful, options trades in Heinz just ahead of the deal announcement, so it would seem somebody had inside information. Reuters points out that this is not the first 3G Capital deal to get the insider-trading stinkeye, though 3G has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Thing Four: Ask Not For Whom The Dell Tolls. It Tolls For Thee: Computer maker Dell, whose laptops make lovely conversation-starting TV-dinner trays, announced fairly terrible quarterly results last night. Trouble is, they weren't quite terrible enough to convince shareholders that Michael Dell's plan to take the company private is the best solution, writes the Wall Street Journal's Ben Worthen.
Thing Five: JPMorgan Faces Another Whale Grilling: A Senate panel headed by Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is considering holding public hearings on JPMorgan Chase's "London Whale" losses, the Wall Street Journal writes. This "could prove embarrassing for JPMorgan and [CEO Jamie] Dimon," the WSJ writes, as this panel will probably be a lot tougher on Dimon & Co. than the Senate Banking Committee was last year (although last year's panel did not yet include bankers' nightmare Elizabeth Warren, seen here tearing bankers a new one).
Thing Six: Digital Windfall: A health-industry shift to digital health records, part of the 2009 economic-stimulus plan, has proven to be a huge boon to the companies that provide digital health records, writes the New York Times. Patients and health providers? Not so much just yet.
Thing Seven: Whenever We Needed Money, We'd Rob The Airport: In just five minutes, and without firing a shot, gangsters stole $50 million in diamonds from a passenger airplane waiting to take off from a runway in Brussels, the New York Times writes. No word on whether "Stacks" forgot to get rid of the van.
Thing Seven And One Half: Happy 221st Birthday: On this day in 1792 George Washington signed the Postal Service Act establishing the U.S. Postal Service. Two-hundred and twenty-one years later, it is DOOMED.
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Calendar Du Jour:
8:30 a.m. ET: Housing Starts for January
8:30 a.m. ET: Producer Price Index for January
2:00 p.m. ET: Federal Open Market Committee meeting minutes
Heard On The Tweets:
“Today we’re the best-looking horse in the glue factory,” says Erskine Bowles who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
— Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) February 19, 2013
-- Calendar and Tweets rounded up by Alexis Kleinman