BUSINESS

Congress Prepares To Do What It Does Best (Nothing): Seven And A Half Things To Know

01/31/2013 07:55 am ET

Science has determined that people need to know 7.5 things per day, on average, about the world of business. You can't argue with science. Lucky for you, The Huffington Post has an email newsletter, delivered first thing every weekday morning, boiling down the day's biggest business news into the 7.5 things you absolutely need to know. And we're giving it away free, because we love you, and also science. Here you go:

Thing One: What Is Congress Screwing Up This Time? Remember how Congress managed to delay the fiscal-cliff and debt-ceiling fights, giving us a break from worrying about how they were going to wreck the economy? Well, break time's over.

The Huffington Post and Reuters both report that Congress is, shockingly, in absolutely no hurry to deal with the fiscal-cliff mess that it kicked down the road just about a month ago. What's left of that mess, a big round of spending cuts called "sequestration," takes effect on March 1 and will shave about $85 billion from government spending this year, with more to come in the years ahead.

You might be thinking, so what? Who cares? Particularly if you are a deficit scold, like, say, Bloomberg's Caroline Baum, who argues we should just go ahead and take our bitter medicine now and avoid even worse pain in the future. But another Bloombergian pundit, Michael Kinsley, notes that even the ultimate deficit scold, Pete Peterson, advances the Krugmanian view that we ought to at least make sure the economy is not terrible before we start taking a machete to growth.

And the economy is, how do you say, not so good! In fact, it shrank in the fourth quarter of 2012, the Commerce Department said yesterday, gobsmacking economists, who were looking for moderately healthy growth. Said economists hustled to explain it away as a one-off, driven partly by the effects of Hurricane Sandy on supply chains. Even the Federal Reserve, in announcing its plan to keep on buying bonds to help the economy, suggested the growth pause was due to "transitory" factors, the Wall Street Journal writes.

But the Fed also noted the economy was still too weak to stand on its own. One quarter of negative GDP might be revised away, and it doesn't mean we're in a recession. But this is not the shape we want to be in, less than four years after a horrible recession. Another big cause of the economy's weakness in the fourth quarter was a dramatic cut in government spending, particularly on defense -- which also happens to be the target of the sequestration cuts looming in less than a month. Turns out austerity hurts economies! For some reason Congress still doesn't seem to understand that, or care.

Thing Two: Sad Company Makes Sad Announcement: BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion, near the end of its rope as a going concern, yesterday made its last-ditch stab at relevance, changing its name to BlackBerry and introducing the long-awaited BlackBerry 10, a not-particularly-revolutionary touch-screen smartphone. Will it work? David Pogue of the New York Times seems to think so. Walt Mossberg of the WSJ says, eh, maybe. Quartz's Christopher Mims says not a chance. Count me on Team Mims, sad to say. I'm no Pogue or Mossberg, but there doesn't seem to be much about this thing that is going to convince Android or iPhone users to switch. Oh, also, it's not coming to the U.S. until March. The stock market seems to be on Team Mims, also, sending the stock price down 12 percent yesterday, Bloomberg notes.

Thing Three: Battery Problems? What Battery Problems? You'd hardly know that Boeing's flagship new airplane, the 787 Dreamliner, is indefinitely grounded around the world while air-safety regulators try to figure out what's making its batteries smoke or catch on fire occasionally. In reporting quarterly results yesterday, Boeing said it didn't think the grounding would affect its bottom line much, the WSJ writes. And Boeing's CEO said he didn't see what all the fuss was about -- he thinks the 787's batteries are just fine, and Boeing has no plans to replace them, the NYT writes.

Thing Four: It's Not So Easy Being Too Big To Jail: German banking giant Deutsche Bank this morning reported a $3.5 billion quarterly loss, due in part to its many legal headaches, Reuters writes. Those include probes into its involvement in the Libor interest-rate-rigging scandal, along with money-laundering and tax-evasion probes. Other than that, great quarter, guys! DB said it boosted its capital in the quarter and could be fully in compliance with tougher global capital standards by the end of the year, meaning it maybe won't have to go back to investors to ask for more cash. Although it will need to start making actual money soon.

Thing Five: New York Times Hacked By China: For the past four months, mysterious Chinese hackers have been all up in the New York Times computer system, reading its emails, according to the New York Times. The hacking began after the paper ran stories about how the family of China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had racked up huge fortunes, the NYT says. The hackers gained access to the work email accounts of 53 NYT employees, though it doesn't appear any customer data were taken, according to the NYT. China's defense ministry is shocked, just shocked that the NYT would even suggest the Chinese government had anything to do with it.

Thing Six: The New Subprime Crisis: About a third of all the $900 billion in outstanding student-loan debt in this country is subprime, and about a third of that subprime debt is heading for default, according to the WSJ. And as with the subprime-mortgage crisis, the taxpayer will be on the hook for losses -- the U.S. government makes about 93 percent of all student loans now, the WSJ notes.

Thing Seven: Obamacare Blooper: A bizarre glitch in the Affordable Care Act could leave thousands of poor families without access to health insurance, possibly affecting 500,000 children, the Associated Press reports. The Obama administration says it won't penalize those families for not having insurance, but it can't fix the glitch without the help of Congress -- and Congress, naturally, has no interest in changing the law to help anybody.

Thing Seven And One Half: Barrier Breaker: Happy birthday to Jackie Robinson, born on this day in 1919. In 1947 he became the first black player in Major League Baseball, joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite near-constant abuse and death threats from fans and other players, he won Rookie of the Year in 1947, at the relatively advanced age of 28. He was the National League MVP in 1949, when he led the league in batting. He won a World Series ring in 1955 when the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees. He went to six All-Star games and became the first black player to enter the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility. He died just 10 years later, at the age of 53, after suffering from heart disease and diabetes and the untimely death of his son, Jackie Robinson Jr. In 1997 his number, 42, became the first number retired throughout all of baseball. And in 2004 MLB began honoring Jackie Robinson Day every April 15, when players and umpires all wear Robinson's number 42.

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Calendar Du Jour:

Economic Data:

8:30 a.m. ET: Weekly Jobless Claims for Jan. 26

8:30 a.m. ET: Personal Income And Spending for December

9:45 a.m. ET: Chicago PMI for January

Corporate Earnings:

Aetna

Colgate-Palmolive

Dow Chemical

Hershey

MasterCard

Altria

Nasdaq OMX

Time Warner Cable

UPS

Heard On The Tweets:

-- Calendar and tweets rounded up by Alexis Kleinman.

And you can follow us on Twitter, too, if you want, no pressure: @AlexisKleinman and @MarkGongloff

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