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Thing One: Bunga Bungle: Italy's politics have almost literally become a clown show, and they're threatening to plunge Europe and the rest of the world right back into the nightmare circus of the debt crisis.
Early Italian election results on Monday showed a nearly perfect stalemate between three incompatible political camps, two of which are run by actual or figurative clowns: A protest party led by the comedian Beppe Grillo, and the right-wing populist party of the hustler sex zombie Silvio Berlusconi. The third wheel on this clown car is a center-left party that might have actually demonstrated some governing competence, but which now may have to do business with its antithesis, Berlusconi, in order to head off a re-vote that could result in a landslide for Grillo, Bloomberg writes.
The results shocked global financial markets, the Wall Street Journal writes, driving the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 216 points, its worst day since Nov. 7. The European Central Bank last summer tamped down Europe's debt crisis, first with a promise from ECB chief Mario Draghi to do "whatever it takes" to end the crisis and then with a promise to buy bonds to help countries in trouble. The election results threaten to wreck the ECB's handiwork.
As Reuters' Hugo Dixon explains, the ECB's safety net only extends to countries that are willing to eat from the ECB's austerity menu. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your austerity? But both Grillo and Berlusconi have been loudly anti-austerity. If a fractured Italian government can't agree to stick with the ECB's program, then bye-bye safety net and hello panicky bond market. Again.
This isn't a full-on panic just yet. Italy's ten-year bonds yield less than 5 percent, a far cry from last summer, when they spiked to 7 percent, nearly making them too expensive for Italy to pay without a bailout. But there's still plenty of time for a panic to develop. The political stalemate is still weeks away from resolution, Bloomberg notes, and Berlusconi has called for a recount.
Thing Two: Sequestration Slouches Towards Bethlehem: We're just three days from the end of February and the arrival of the "sequester" a fancy word for draconian government budget cuts taking effect on March. 1. I had to figure that out all by myself, with a calendar, because CNBC strangely is not counting down to the sequester the way it counted down to the Fiscal Cliff. Apparently nobody needs to Rise Above draconian spending cuts! Anyway, even as President Obama is waning everybody of the dangers of the sequester, he is also resigned to the idea that Republicans have no interest in stopping it, Reuters writes. The only question now is just what Obama can do to make it less painful, the WSJ writes.
And the awesome part is that this is only the beginning of our manufactured-debt-crisis woes: We still have a potential government shutdown and yet another debt-ceiling crisis to come, warns Bloomberg.
Thing Three: Boss With Nursery In Office Tells Workers They Can't Stay Home: Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has decreed that nobody at Yahoo can work from home any more, in an effort to make workers collaborate more, the New York Times writes. This is a shockingly retrograde policy, writes the Huffington Post's Lisa Belkin, the opposite of what companies have been doing for years. It's also a threat to worker productivity, writes Bloomberg. But why is everybody so mad at Mayer? Can't they just build a nursery in their office, the way Mayer did for her child? Presto, work-life balance solved.
Thing Four: BP's Day In Court: British oil giant BP, in an effort to not have to pay a few billion extra for the cleanup of the Gulf of Mexico, is taking the federal government, along with several state governments and other companies, to court in a trial that began yesterday with emotional opening arguments. All the while, settlement talks are continuing, The New York Times writes.
Thing Five: Rabobank Next Contestant In Libor Price Is Right: Dutch bank Rabobank may be the next bank to pay a big fine in the never-ending Libor scandal, writes Bloomberg. The only Dutch bank involved in the Libor scandal, Rabobank may pay $440 million to settle charges that it manipulated key short-term lending rates.
Thing Six: Pension? What Pension? The pension has long been going the way of the dodo, and the journey to obscurity has accelerated lately, the Wall Street Journal writes. The big U.S. companies that still pay pensions -- including Boeing, Ford and UPS -- have all recently confessed to huge gaps between what they have promised workers and what cash they have on hand, the WSJ writes.
Thing Seven: Google Sweats Samsung: Google and Samsung have done a pretty good job teaming up to keep Apple in check. But as Samsung has grown more ambitious, and more successful, it is starting to become a big worry for Google, the Wall Street Journal writes.
Thing Seven And One Half: Birthdays: Happy birthday to the New York City subway system, born on this day in 1870; Johnny Cash, born in 1932; and National Public Radio, born in 1970.
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Calendar Du Jour:
9:00 a.m. ET: FHFA House Price Index for December
9:00 a.m. ET: Case-Shiller Home Price Index for December
10:00 a.m. ET: New Home Sales for January
10:00 a.m. ET: Consumer Confidence for February
10:00 a.m. ET: Ben Bernanke Speaks
Heard On The Tweets:
-- Calendar and Tweets rounded up by Alexis Kleinman