Greece’s Deal with the Devils: Did Anybody Read this Thing?



Alice! We owe $152 billion to the bank!

ATHENS – At least he didn’t say the dog ate the memorandum or go “hummana hummana hummana” while looking sheepish and wiping his face, like Jackie Gleason’s portrayal of Ralph Kramden confronted by wife Alice when he screwed up yet again, but Greek Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis’ excuse for not reading the deal Greece signed with international lenders to give rescue loans to a country that can’t be rescued was just as lame: I didn’t have time. Try using that one next time your teacher asks for the homework she gave you, although if it’s hundreds of pages long and written in arcane high financial terms that even bankers can’t understand you might be forgiven.

But Chrysochoidis is no student, certainly not of economics. He was Citizen’s Protection Minister under failed former Prime Minister George Papandreou, who resigned on Nov. 11, 2011 after more than 18 months of protests, strikes and riots caused by the deep pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and up to 150,000 layoffs demanded by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank in return for a $152 billion failed bailout that created 18.2 percent unemployment and closed 100,000 businesses.

Apparently Chrysochoidis, who is one of the PASOK holdover ministers serving in a coalition government led by former ECB Vice-President Lucas Papademos, which includes the rival conservative New Democracy party and the far Right-Wing LAOS party, which wants immigrants put on lifeboats and shipped out to sea to fend for themselves, hasn’t read a second planned bailout either, this one for $169 billion, because it includes more of the same Draconian measures he supported without knowing he supported them because he hadn’t read them.

“I did not read the memorandum, I had other obligations and responsibilities,” he said. “As Citizens’ Protection Minister, I had to tackle crime. I did not have time to study the memorandum.” It makes you wonder if former Finance Minister George Papaconstaninou, who was replaced by Evangelos Venizelos, who must have read it because he’s taxing Greeks to death, read it either. Chrysochoidis’ lame reasoning could have been used by every Minister: “As Environment Minister I had to tackle polluting coal-operated utility plants run by the state. I did not have time to study the memorandum.” Or, “As Foreign Minister,  I had to do what the United States told me. I didn’t have time to read the memorandum.”  If Chrysochoidis’ jive-talking worked for him, why not Defense Minister? “As Defense Minister, I had to keep Turkey from invading Greece. I did not have time to read the memorandum.” I don’t have to worry about criticism from him because he won’t read this column either.

The truth, of course, is that no one apart from the junior clerks and junior lawyers who work for the Troika, and do all the work while the top officials flit from one 5-Star hotel to the other and eat caviar at the expense of the beleaguered Greek taxpayer, has read the memorandum, and you can bet Papandreou didn’t either. That’s what staffs are for, to give a brief synopsis. In Congress and State Legislatures in the United States, there are thousands of bills to consider a year, most of them hundreds or thousands of pages long, and more boring than an economics textbook, which no one reads either, including the economists who wrote them.

Chrysochoidis had his Rick Perry “Oops!” moment when he opened his mouth and put both feet in them during an interview on SKAI TV when he embarrassed himself, and tried to do a tap dance and ballet at the same time to get out of it. “The negotiations were very horizontal and it was based on an optimistic and simplistic projection that things would develop in a certain way,” he said, proving only that he was horizontal and asleep at the time. “But things do not develop the way you want them and the successive measures created a deeper recession because they reduced liquidity,” words that no one would read even if it would spare them from Guantanamo.

It’s only fair though that he didn’t read the memorandum, as no one at the IMF has probably read the B.S. response memoranda Greece has sent as a condition of getting the money. They’re couched in language that makes Greece look like Qatar, the newly-crowned richest country in the world and apparently so well off that not even a Greek Finance Minister could bring down its economy. Here’s what someone at the Greek Finance Ministry wrote to the IMF on July 4, 2011, apparently in retaliation for the cumbersome language in the Troika memo: “A comprehensive medium-term fiscal strategy has been approved by parliament as well as first-stage legislation to implement policy reforms, in each case as a prior action for this review.” It’s the kind of verbiage that gave many great bits for the late, great American stand-up comedian George Carlin, who hated this kind of obfuscation.

Chrysochoidis is no junior servant, but rather someone who has excoriated Papandreou for bowing to the Troika demands and now wants to take over the party if Papandreou can be forced to take his ironworker death grip off it before New Democracy wins the next elections, scheduled for sometime this decade. Too bad Chrysochoidis didn’t speak up and oppose the austerity measures he apparently no longer agrees with when he was under Papandreou, instead of now jumping up and down on his head. Once he woke up and realized what the deal was, Chrysochoidis could also have voted against it, or resigned instead of kowtowing.

PASOK Members of Parliament, soon to be an endangered species (Environment Minister: “I didn’t have time to read the memorandum. I was trying to Save the Socialists”) as the party has slid to 14 percent in the polls, barely ahead of the Democratic Left, and the Communists, said they now realize they were acting like employees of the IMF instead of politicians. It didn’t matter, of course, because Papandreou just threw anyone out of the party if they disagreed with him, didn’t back the Troika, or had actually read the memorandum, which would have meant they were qualified to read their pink slips.

Nor has Chrysochoidis  – nor any MP, government official nor even the person who typed them – read any other bill, memo, draft, fiat, bull, document, or paper emanating from the government. And before you criticize them, did you read every word of the credit card contract you signed? How about the mortgage on your house indebting you for life, especially if you were a lucky American who signed a sub-prime mortgage deal with adjustable rates that always go up and make bankers rich shortly before you’re put on the street?  Chrysochoidis has some tough challengers to replace Papandreou, including Venizelos, but now has lost any right to criticize them or anyone else. That’s what happens when you don’t do your homework.