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The Labor Department said the number of people filing first-time claims for unemployment increased by 8,000 to 480,000 last week, far above Wall Street’s estimates of 455,000.

And the other news, percolating up from the denser pages of the economics journals announces the imminent default of Greece on its debts, shaking the Euro zone like an earthquake, especially since also in line for defaults are those other places which, exactly as the US did, went in for a debt-fueled building boom in the last 15 or so years: Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland and… and even the UK.  All the dominoes lined up to do an American-style swoon, for pretty much the same reasons – greed, fiscal folly, hubris.  And of course our All-American swoon has only just begun, despite the weekly encouragements about recovery emanating from the White House or Wall Street mavens, for whom keeping the shell game going as long as possible is either financially or politically necessary:  Americans are not to be trusted with the god-awful truth, and besides they’re already quite angry now.   Mollify them with happy smile lies while the credit card companies, caught in the liquidity squeeze jack up the interest rates, banks tack on new charges and goose the old ones, loans are on terms too costly for anyone but fools, and the economy – or what’s left of it – congeals and freezes.

Everyone on Wall Street is fixated on The Number.

The bank bonus season, that annual rite of big money and bigger egos, begins in earnest this week, and it looks as if it will be one of the largest and most controversial blowouts the industry has ever seen.

So the DOW Jones dipped to 10K almost, having climbed back from 6.6K nadir of a mere 11 months ago.  Aside from the massive infusion of unaccountable TARP slush funds and other interventions to allegedly avert a Depression, nothing really fundamental has changed since then, except of course for more lost jobs, defaulted mortgages, closed businesses, nose-dived retail sales, and other less than happy-face matters.  However, also in the financial pages items is the most important matter of just how much Lloyd Blankfein, of the instantly turned-around profit-making Sachs Goldman, is going to reward himself for the year’s amazing work.  Will it be 100 million, or more or less.  This news is important because his cohorts in the Wall Street game will peg their self-chosen payout to what he does.  No cojones bigger allowed, but can’t be too much smaller or you’ll get notched down on the Big Board Balls game.

Pigs at the trough

Not to be outdone by the honchos of Wall Street, the arts world weighed in with its own bid for out-of-tune-with-the-times award, and at Sotheby’s auction a one-of-six copies sculpture by Alberto Giocometti went down with the gavel at a mere 96 million bucks, plus commission of another 8.6 mil, making for a grand total of 104.6 and the largest single sales figure at auction ever.  The previous record holder, trailing at only $100,000 less, was a Picasso.

The buyer was anonymous, rumored perhaps to be a Russian tycoon.  In a world of fast and loose money all this fits, though the morality of it all eludes some.  To some it seems all a particularly cruel form of, well, bullshit:

UPDATE Feb. 6 2010

Goldman Sachs’s chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, was granted a $9 million bonus on Friday, all in deferred stock, ending weeks of speculation about how he would be rewarded for his remarkable — and controversial — success in running the Wall Street giant over the past year.

The award is well below the $68 million bonus Mr. Blankfein received in 2007, even though 2009 was a record year for the Wall Street bank.

Note the phrasing here: “was granted” by – well, who does the granting? Lloyd Blankfein, CEO, who at the board meeting puts his balls on the table and says “kiss” and they do. And note the drastically diminished number, done as a momentary concession to the political moment wherein awarding himself the rumored 100 million would have seemed gauche. I am sure in the tiny print hidden in the paperwork there’s some manner in which the sum he was properly due, in the minds of Wall Street honchos, is accommodated. Appearances are everything, as these financial thugs know well, as do their tailors.

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