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Seven And A Half Things To Know: Make or Break For Greece, Stock Market Fuel And Middle Fingers

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Greek communist-affiliated PAME union protesters chant slogans behind a banner reading 'rise up- against capital-troika-PASOK-ND-LAOS (political parties)' while demonstrating outside the Greek Prime Minister's office in Athens against the coalition government and the austerity measures on February 4, 2012.
Greek communist-affiliated PAME union protesters chant slogans behind a banner reading 'rise up- against capital-troika-PASOK-ND-LAOS (political parties)' while demonstrating outside the Greek Prime Minister's office in Athens against the coalition government and the austerity measures on February 4, 2012.

There are 50 ways to leave your lover, but only seven and one half things you need to know today. Here they are:

Thing One: Greece's Latest Make or Break Moment: Oh, hello again, euro-zone debt clown show. For weeks we've been hearing rumors that Greece was juuuust about to reach a deal with its private creditors, aaaaany minute now, one that would trim its debt burden enough to allow it to keep soldiering on for a little while longer. Except, as has often been the case for the past two years, these rumors were just a smidgen on the optimistic side. We've had no deal. And now Greece is yet again at a "make or break moment," as Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann puts it in a Bloomberg report. Because while Greece has been in talks with its private creditors, it has also been under pressure from the "troika," the sexy name given to the IMF, the European Commission and the ECB, to further tighten its already-cinched belt in order to get more bailout money. Except many in Greece are saying enough already with the economy-killing belt-tightening. And if Greece can't reach an agreement with the troika, then it can't reach a debt-reduction agreement with its private creditors, The Wall Street Journal points out. The good news is that Prime Minister Lucas Papademos this morning managed to get an outline of a political deal to avoid the whole house of cards tumbling down immediately, but the details still must be worked out and patience is wearing thin. Stay tuned.

Thing Two: Stock Rocket Running Out of Fuel. The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Friday ended at its highest level since May 2008, back when the Global Financial Crisis was still just a twinkle in Nouriel Roubini's eye. The tech-heavy Nasdaq hit its highest level since December 12, 2000, which happens to be the day the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore. Friday's great jobs report helped drive markets to their latest highs, but Paul Krugman reminds us that the economy is still "deeply depressed," with millions out of work for a long, long time, and the good jobs report raises the risk that policy makers will take their foot off the gas before the economy reaches the finish line. Meanwhile, the stock market's near-doubling since March 2009 has been driven mainly by a quintupling of corporate profits, which has been driven mainly by companies slashing their workforces, selling facilities and hocking their microwaves at the local pawnshop. Those days are over, suggests Jonathan Cheng in a behind-the-paywall story at The Wall Street Journal. Corporate profit margins have fallen in each of the past two quarters, meaning companies are actually going to have to start growing sales in order to keep growing profits. Without that, the stock market might run out of gas soon.

Thing Three: Mortgage-Fraud Settlement Wars: A New Hope: Speaking of interminable negotiations, today is the deadline for states to sign on to a deal between the US government and the nation's banking sector to settle charges that the Too Big to Fail set has been, shall we say, haphazard in its foreclosure practices. Lo and behold, a deal is actually near, according to the New York Times, which says negotiations have helped two big holdouts, California and New York, get more comfortable with signing off. Loyal readers will recall that The Huffington Post's own Loren Berlin had said as much about New York last week.

Thing Four: Syria Deteriorates: Violence in Syria has escalated today, with the government shelling the city of Homs, including "a makeshift medical clinic and residential areas," the New York Times reports, following the collapse of efforts in the United Nations to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to stand down. A long and bloody conflict would be a humanitarian nightmare and also has implications for the stability of the rest of the region, along with the oil market.

Thing Five: Obama's Big Lead. Wall Street is not exactly a redoubt of support for Barack Obama these days, but the stronger stock market, along with improving economic numbers and prolonged exposure to Mitt Romney, have likely helped Obama stretch out a big lead over Romney in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. According to the Post, "Obama leads Romney 52 to 43 percent among all Americans; more narrowly, 51 to 45 percent, among registered voters." Obama has never before topped 50 percent among registered voters in that poll, the Post says.

Thing Six: Big Comeback for Big Auto: General Motors, which just a few years ago needed a bailout from Washington, is on track to turn in a record $8 billion profit for 2011 and maybe a $10 billion profit in 2012, reports The Wall Street Journal (another story behind the paywall, alas). Meanwhile, GM and Chrysler ads have been declared the big winners of the Super Bowl ad popularity contest, Reuters reports.

Thing Seven: Vampire Squid With Heart: We're just guessing, but it would seem Goldman Sachs may have launched a campaign to clean up its image. Last week it said goodbye to long-time PR chief Lucas Van Praag, whose specialty was gleefully pouring boiling oil on reporters. And now it appears chairman Lloyd Blankfein is going to be a "national corporate spokesman" in support of same-sex marriage, reports Sue Craig of the New York Times.

Thing Seven and One Half: It was no wardrobe malfunction or anything, but yes, MIA did indeed flip the middle finger at America during the Super Bowl halftime show last night. In happier news, New York's Super Bowl champion Giants will get a ticker-tape parade in New York on Tuesday morning, Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced.

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