Audit Notes: Echoes of the 1930s, gilded bubble, access journalism

As Greece crumbles, extremism and violence rises

On the echoes of the 1930s tip, the University of Athens’s Aristides Hatzis writes in the Financial Times:

Despite the narrow victory of a centrist party in Sunday’s vote, almost every day extremist violence breaks out in Athens and beyond. Neo-nazis against immigrants, anarchists and leftists. Anarchists, ultra-leftists and other fringe groups of the nationalist-populist camp against riot police, mainstream politicians, journalists, liberal intellectuals, even artists. Add to this a surge in crime and rising tolerance of violence and you have a clearer picture of today’s Athens. Does it remind you of anything?

That’s right. Greece’s situation recalls the Weimar Republic. Violence (and its banalisation), hate, rage, polarisation, fear, despair and resignation. As for the police, it has already taken sides: neo-nazis won by a landslide in polling stations where officers were assigned to vote.

The electoral results demonstrate the dangers to the Greek democracy. The centre-right New Democracy party may have edged ahead, but the parliament, for the first time in Greek history, will be full of extremists. Besides the neo-nazis and a Stalinist communist party there is Syriza, whose leader is a fan of Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. It is difficult to find a notable dictator, even among the great butchers of the 20th century, without a steady following in the Greek parliament. The three protagonists of the dreadful TV incident were also elected. Imagine them together in routine parliamentary proceedings. Golden Dawn members have already made it clear they would come down hard on any member of parliament saying something they strongly disapprove of.

Meantime, read this piece at The Economist’s Free Exchange blog on “Germany, Greece and the Marshall Plan”, which shows how Germany’s economic resurgence after World War II was due to massive debt forgiveness.

— In California, the unemployment rate is 10.8 percent. Add in people who want but can’t find full-time work and it nears 21 percent. More than 1.2 million families have lost their homes to foreclosure in the crisis, and another 800,000 will get foreclosure notices this year.

So what’s a social-media dude who’s about to sell his company to Microsoft for a billion dollars to do? Throw a million-dollar Marie Antoinette-themed party at a $125 million estate for his birthday. Business Insider:

Sacks runs what’s been called the “Facebook for business”—but guests weren’t supposed to use social media or photo-sharing services at all at the party, which also marked his upcoming fifth wedding anniversary.

The theme: “Let him eat cake.” Costume shops from San Francisco to Los Angeles ran out of 18th-century French dresses and suits. Some guests had gowns custom-sewn for the occasion.

Despite this, they weren’t supposed to discuss even the existence of the party, as Sarah Lacy, editor of the PandoDaily tech news site, discovered to her dismay.

Fortunately, Snoop Dogg, who performed at the party, posted a picture of the CEO despite the ban:

— Marketwatch’s David Weidner is leaving the Wall Street beat after 15 years, and he has some parting advice about the financial industry and your business press:

It’s less of a problem since the financial crisis, but the business media are still too cozy with the powerful on Wall Street to do their jobs correctly. The media still fawned over Wall Street stars such as Jamie Dimon at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.; Eliot Spitzer, former New York governor and attorney general, and Jimmy Cayne of Bear Stearns. Why? They all dished tips or dirt on their rivals. Access journalism still dominates the landscape, and you — the reader — suffer for it.

I wonder about this, though:

For all of its problems — and, honestly, I’ve probably complained too much (and at times unfairly) — Wall Street and the business of high finance and banking are vital to the country. After all, from the first continental railroad to the first computer to Facebook Inc., a brokerage or bank made it possible by taking a risk.

I’d say the first computer was financed and created by the government and that Facebook exists because of venture capital, not because of banks or brokerages.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,