The Huffington Post: Returning to Sanity?

Βυ David C. Wittig
Investor in Euroconsultants S.A., an Athens stock exchange listed consulting firm

Who would have thought that returning to Greece meant returning to sanity? But then again, who could have imagined two people more despised by the voting public running for the highest office in the US. According to the Huffington Post, the likely winner, Hillary Clinton is disliked by 53% of Americans. Of course, The Donald has a disapproval rating of 63%, which interestingly is higher than Obama’s highest disapproval rating ever (according to Gallup).

By contrast, Syriza and New Democracy seem downright normal. Last month, Prime Minister Tsipras described the country as “an oasis of stability in an unstable region.” Now while the notion that Greece is, “an oasis of stability,” is a bit far-fetched, he may have a point. Greece is a unique place and while I only consider myself an interested observer, I have two observations for your consideration.

First, Greece has a small immigrant population. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Greece did not try and colonize the world. When you conquer a nation the “flip side” of that action is that the people you conquer want to emigrate to the mother country. Does the UK think by leaving the EU it will stem the flow of immigrants? Perhaps they should have thought about that before they conquered half the world.

The second observation has to do with hate. Hate seems to permeate our everyday lives. It is hard not to draw parallels between this extreme nationalism and the rise of fascism prior to WWII. Contrast the current calls for the “extreme vetting” of Muslims in the US to registering Jews in Germany. And the rise of hate is not just a US phenomenon, you see it in Europe. Strangely, the place where it seems to be under control is Greece. Yes, Greece has the Golden Dawn, but it has never really caught on. Contrast that to Denmark, Switzerland, Hungary and Austria where the far right received over 20% of the vote in their last elections. You would think that with 25% unemployment and Greece being the weigh station for immigrants going to Germany and France that Greece would be more radicalized, but it is not. Maybe 3,000 years of civilization counts for something in a world concerned about the next tweet. In any case, there is a civility that exists in Greece that others might benefit from observing. Of course, this is not to say that Greeks don’t argue. I have seen some of the most amazing screaming matches in Greece, but all problems seem to solved over a coffee.

Now for the insanity …

We are on to the next round of negotiations between Greece and the EU. Greece is running out of money … again, and again, Tsipras is pushing for reparations from Germany for the World War II and forgiveness of debt (the magic “haircut” of Greece’s financial obligations). According to the Greek newspaper, Ekathimerni, “In a speech opening a SYRIZA party conference eight days ago, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras repeated calls for debt relief, saying that his government has implemented reforms demanded by international creditors and that it is their turn to keep their promises.” Tsipras went on to say, “”The Greek people have suffered for so many years and deserve to be compensated.”

The last time I looked Greece had a laundry list of unfulfilled promises starting with non-performing loans, privatizations, pension reform, etc., etc. As for being compensated, I cannot fathom the rationale for a “raise.”

The current headline grabber in Greece has to do with the auction of the television network licenses. The auction by the government was literally conducted in the darkness of night. Not only does this refer to the time, but mysteriously the broadcast feed of the proceedings is unavailable to the public or the bidders.

It is too complicated to explain all of the machinations, but today there are two national channels with a license, two national channels without a license and two license holders without a channel. If you are confused, you are not alone.

Before we conclude that Syriza is crazy, look at the current state of affairs. The old TV stations are still on the air and the government has collected €250 million from the new license holders, who now have licenses, but not necessarily the TV stations themselves. One could conclude that this might be just the situation the government wants … no clear winners, but €250 million in the coffers.

The licensing issue now subject to interpretation by the Supreme Court of Greece. The Supreme Court can uphold the government’s decision to sell the licenses, they could reverse the government’s decision or they could simply send the issue to Parliament for to have the existing law modified. If nothing else, this will be an interesting test of Tsipras’s influence over the judicial branch of the government.

The speculators outside of Greece point to all of this, and predict new elections this year. That is not going to happen. No matter what the polls say, Tsipras is going nowhere.

I will skip my usual discussion of the non-preforming loans, except to say that the longer the NPL situation drags on, the more likely another bank bailout will be required and the next bailout could result in the nationalization of the banks or the seizing of money directly from depositors.

Now for just the truly bizarre. Athens has “Lohan fever.” Yes, just what Greece needs is Lindsay Lohan setting up shop in Athens and opening a nightclub called … Lohan. She also has a new marketing deal with an energy drink called, Mintanine, which she plans to give out during her trips to refugee camps; just what beleaguered refugees’ needs is an energy drink (that story was courtesy of the NY Post).

And it appears President Obama will visit Greece on November 15 and 16. He might want to skip Greece’s annual “I hate America Day” on November 17. November 17 is the anniversary of the uprising in Athens that ultimately led to the overthrow of the military junta (which the Greeks blame the CIA for installing in Greece in 1967). It is a day where most Americans are advised to keep a low profile. The Greeks are pro-American on 364 days per year, but not November 17.

Tsipras will attempt to use Obama’s visit as support of Greece’s position in the ongoing debt crisis. It strikes me as a little odd that the U.S. would choose to insert itself into the EU’s problems on behalf of Greece now that Greece is the least of the EU’s concerns. The Brexit and the coming collapse of the Italian banking system would seem to take priority.

Oh well. In the end we cannot worry about such things. We will go get a coffee and look for that “haircut.”

Source: The Huffington Post (US)