I'm thinking of a number between seven and eight. These are the seven and a half things you need to know today:
Thing One: Payroll Tax Debacle Watch: At some point in our nation's history we made the fateful decision to leave many important decisions in the hands of our esteemed Congress. As it turns out, that was like handing a toddler a loaded gun with the safety off. The latest example: The payroll tax cut, which is due to expire at the end of this month, raising taxes for vast millions of American workers just when the economy seems to be finding its legs. Including a 2:30 ET hearing before the Joint Economic Committee, Congress is due to hold a series of meetings about whether to extend this cut, part of a $160 billion package that includes extending jobless benefits. Naturally, Congress is being completely dysfunctional about the whole thing, with the two sides not even talking to each other with just scant days to hammer out an agreement, reports Politico: "It's all just business as usual in the dysfunctional Capitol, where neither chamber and neither party appear able to have the minimum level of communication over strategy as a tax increase looms for 160 million Americans."
Thing Two: Greco-European Wrestling: Speaking of tedious, interminable dramas that threaten to set all of our money on fire, we are once again watching Greece teeter on the brink in this the third year of the European sovereign debt crisis. Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, who may have the worst job in Europe right now, today convenes a meeting of political leaders to hammer out agreement on still more austerity measures, while unions are planning a massive strike and Greece's creditors are banging on the door, demanding the rent. Europe's brilliant new plan for Greece, the FT reports, is to put future bailout monies into a special fund rather than give it straight to Greece, so creditors can get paid first and Greece can continue to twist in the wind.
Thing Three: Monkeying With Money Markets: The Wall Street Journal reports that the SEC has a plan to bolster the stability of the $2.7 trillion money-market industry, in which you, me and everybody you know has money invested, and which caused horrific nightmares during the financial crisis. Money market funds are supposed to be safe, but they can get caught naked when short-term lending markets seize up, as tends to happen during financial crises. The SEC wants funds to raise extra capital and wants to keep investors from being able to yank out all of their money at once. Naturally, the mutual-fund industry would rather see these changes happen over its dead body.
Thing Four: Massive Mining Merger: Commodities trading firm Glencore and mining company Xstrata agreed on a $90 billion merger that will create a global powerhouse with money funnels spread throughout the commodity universe, from digging stuff out of the ground to trading it. There are obstacles to the deal, though, including a brewing shareholder revolt and the possibility of an antitrust challenge, the FT and Reuters report. Nevertheless, it's the latest sign of just how much money there is to be made supplying commodities to emerging markets, particularly China.
Thing Five: Un-Friending Facebook: You may not believe this, but apparently not everybody is super enthused about Facebook's pending IPO. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the nation's second-biggest pension fund, owns a stake in Facebook and is not pleased about the fact that founder Mark Zuckerberg will keep a stranglehold on control of the company, including "the right to appoint his own successor before he dies," Reuters reports.
Thing Six: Pet Projects: Oh, Congress, is there no end to your awfulness? The Washington Post puts on hip waders and attaches a clothes-pin to its nose and wades deep into the muck that is congressional earmarks, finding that lawmakers have pushed more than $300 million into projects that are next to or in close proximity to their own properties.
Thing Seven: Clint, Chrysler, Controversy: Chrysler's uplifting Super Bowl ad, which featured Clint Eastwood growling in a tunnel about halftime in America and Detroit's revival, was widely hailed as one of the best ads of the sorry Super Bowl lot. But Karl Rove was deeply offended by it, reading it as an endorsement of the reelection of President Obama and a sign of the creeping tentacles of government into private enterprise. The White House was all like, sure, OK, we'll read it that way, too. But Chrysler denies the ad had anything to do with politics. We tend to believe Chrysler on this one.
Thing Seven and a Half: Speaking of seeing political controversies under every rock, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) was apparently shocked to learn that Planned Parenthood had opened an $8 billion "Abortionplex" in Topeka, Kansas, so shocked that he posted a link to the story on his Facebook page. Except that the story was an Onion piece from nearly a year ago. He has since removed the link, but the blog Literally Unbelievable has preserved it for the amusement of our future alien overlords.