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PODCAST: Italy in turmoil, U.S. on the cliff

Houses cling to cliffs over the town center on July 27, 2011 in Positano, Italy.

Italian prime minister Mario Monti plans to resign, and there will be elections early in 2013. Monti, you might recall, was supposed to lead a government of nonpartisan experts who could steer the country out of its fiscal crisis. But his efforts have lost the critical support of the party last in control -- still headed by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Export growth from China slowed sharply last month, although consumers in China were buying more.

McDonalds has been a useful way to chart the downturn in the global economy lately. But MickeyD's today turned in something of a November surprise -- a 2.4 percent rise in sales, helped partly by lowering prices in Europe.

If you find yourself needing to pull in a little extra cash after the holidays, it's not too late to sign up for python hunting. Evidently 12-foot-long Burmese pythons -- the legacy of former pets -- have become a major invasive pest in the Everglades. Last year officials bagged almost 300. So in January Florida's "python Challenge" will award $1,500 to the person who can bag the most pythons in a one-month period. All it takes is a $25 entry fee, a 30-minute training course... And that little something extra that is the reason most of us choose not to hunt pythons in the swamp.

"The lines of communication remain open." You can look for more glimmers of hope at the start of another week of fiscal cliff talks, but that as much official optimism as the key players in Washington can offer this morning.

A government watchdog released a report this morning on the compensation of senior staffers at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The government-sponsored mortgage giants get credit for cutting the pay of their CEOs. But it says other senior employees still make too much.

The 2013 Super Bowl is February third, still months away. But companies have already bought most of the advertising minutes for the game. As usual, the pricey commercials will be dominated by big names with deep pockets. But at least one smaller company is betting big on an ad to win it new business.

And finally, a mall Santa in Toronto is out of a job, after being a little too free with his opinions on sports. According to the Toronto Sun, a three-year-old in a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey climbed upon his lap for the usual routine -- only to be told by Santa that his team stinks. Mom took her fury to Facebook and the rest is history. In Santa's defense, last season the Maple Leafs did finish with one of the worst records in the NHL.

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.
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