03/13/2012 07:58 am ET

The Big Fed Easy: Seven And A Half Things To Know

Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown. But first, here come the seven and a half things you need to know today:

Thing One: Fed Up: Once upon a time, in the early days of the Republic, there was no central bank. Men were men, Ron Paul and his posse comitatus roamed the countryside enforcing the gold standard, and the economy boomed and busted as God intended, creating what Austrian economist Victor von Doom called "Crash-portunities."

Then somebody, probably a communist, went and invented the Federal Reserve, and it's been all downhill since. The Fed meets today to talk about monetary policy, and Fed watchers widely think it will do nothing new, but its statement announcing its decision to do nothing new will be carefully parsed for hints about its intentions. Does it see the economy getting better, meaning it should make policy tighter, or does it still think there's room for more easing to help the economy?

Recent stories by Wall Street Journal Fed watcher Jon Hilsenrath and others have raised an intriguing hint, that maybe the Fed sees the disconnect between a sluggish economy and a strong-ish job market and distrusts the signal of the job market. That could leave the door open for more easing. Fed critics like Spencer Jakab of the WSJ say the Fed is creating risks by distorting the bond market. Others blame Fed policy for the price of gasoline and say it is creating more bubbles. The stock market, meanwhile, hops up and down on one leg like Veruca Salt and demands more bubbles.

Thing Two: Let's All Bash China: The Obama administration plans to ask the World Trade Organization to give China a stern talking-to about its restrictions on rare-earth metals used in high-tech electronics. Bloomberg notes this may be an election-year ploy to neutralize Mitt Romney's constant and vigorous China-bashing -- he claims the very first thing he'll do when he gets to the White House, even before unstrapping the dog from the roof of the moving van, will be to label China a currency manipulator.

Of course, Chinese central-bank officials are suggesting China's currency may be near a state of equilibrium, as evidenced by the fact that China recently showed a trade deficit, the Financial Times writes. China keeps its currency artificially cheap to help its export sector, and most analysts think its trade deficit will disappear as the year goes on.

Thing Three: Retail Therapy: Speaking of the economy, we get a key piece of economic data at 8:30 a.m. ET today, when the Commerce Department reports on U.S. retail sales for February. Our economy lives and dies by your trips to Target for laundry detergent and tortilla chips, so pay attention. Economists think sales bounced back from a weak-ish January, according to, when the government reported surprisingly low car sales.

Thing Four: Can't Get No Mortgage Satisfaction: The New York Times takes a stroll through a new federal housing inspector's report that reminds everybody of just how terribly badly the mortgage-foreclosure process has been handled for years, which is a perfect way to remind us of why the mortgage settlement between the states, the feds and the top mortgage servicers feels like such thin gruel. Ben Hallman and Mike Sacks of The Huffington Post dig through the mountains of paperwork filed in the settlement and say it's still not clear how much the banks will really pay for their malfeasance. And Peter Goodman of The Huffington Post reminds us that the big dirt clod blocking off a housing recovery is FHFA chief Ed DeMarco.

Thing Five: Recovery, Sort Of: Meanwhile there are more pale green shoots in the housing market itself, apparently, with Bloomberg touting something called the Prudential Real Estate survey, which claims to show rising American confidence in housing. The survey was conducted by a real-estate broker and polled people who have recently bought or sold a house or planned to buy or sell a house. Shockingly, this group of people believes it's a totally awesome time to buy or sell a house! Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal leads off its paper with a look at Phoenix, which is held up as a model of a local market on the rebound. OK, but that market got really, really destroyed. That may not be the path other local housing markets want to follow, exactly.

Thing Six: The News Corp Today, Oh Boy: The News Corp scandal has apparently become the British version of The Wire. Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks and five other people, one of whom is apparently Brooks' husband, have reportedly been arrested in dawn raids around Britain, in connection with the ongoing hacking/bribery scandal at News Corp.

Thing Seven: Yahoo Gets Up In Your Facebook: Yahoo warned a couple of weeks ago that it might drop a patent lawsuit on Facebook just in time to cash in on some of the social-networking giant's IPO cash, and yesterday it did just that, saying it wanted Facebook to pay up for using 10 of its patents for web advertising.

Thing Seven And One Half: WiFi Hot Spots Are People, My Friend: As the old Jerry Seinfeld Saturday Night Live skit asked, who are the ad wizards who came up with this one? A humanitarian organization (marketing firm, really) called BBH Labs dreamed up an idea to use homeless people as living WiFi hot spots at the South by Southwest tech conference. This raised not a few concerns that maybe this was a wee bit exploitative.