So much for benching Yanis “.180” Varoufakis. The combative Greek Finance Minister, a self-proclaimed game theory expert, but not at the level of the real genius in the field, the just-departed Beautiful Mind John Nash, is pinch-hitting again in the country’s stalled talks with international lenders.
But this guy is “No Field, No Hit, Big Mouth,” and all he’s succeeded in doing – again – is tug on Superman’s cape, worn by the troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).
The creditors have put up 240 billion euros ($261.18 billion) since 2010 to save Greece from itself and demanded too-harsh austerity measures in return, which created record unemployment, deep poverty and incalculable despair.
But Prime Minister and Looney Left leader Alexis Tsipras then went to the other extreme, promising to reverse pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions, worker firings and halt privatizations of state enterprises laden with the same kind of patronage that brought down the economy.
Tsipras tabbed Varoufakis, a blogger, to handle negotiations with the troika and it didn’t take long before he was – characterizations he denied vehemently – labeled a “gambler,” an “amateur,” and out of his league.
Showing he could have written How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Varoufakis said he could prove he wasn’t dissed at a Eurozone meeting in Latvia in April because he had secretly taped the sessions.
He said he won’t release the proof because he respects the privacy of his colleagues, but you can bet they’ll be watching their words the next time he sits in with them – which he really wasn’t supposed to do because Tsipras had sidelined him. Allegedly.
After the debacle in Latvia where Varoufakis returned empty-handed, Tsipras shook up the negotiating team – allegedly – and gave the leading role to Deputy Foreign Miniser Euclid Tsakalotos, a 53-year-old Dutch-born low-key economics professor.
The problem is Tsakalotos hasn’t been seen or heard since so the reshuffle was a brief PR move by Tsipras and it wasn’t long before Tsakalotos was sent to the showers.
A beaming Varoufakis, showing he still didn’t get it, told the German paper Die Zeit, in his best Alexander Haig voice: “I’m in charge. I’m still responsible for the talks with the Eurogroup.”
He couldn’t stop there with his all-show no-go style. “I’m supported by various government members, not least by good friend Euclid Tsakalotos. The fact that some media are portraying as if he is replacing me in the talks is just another proof of how low journalistic standards have sunk,” he said. Good idea. Shoot the messengers.
Tsipras, who long ago lost control of his Cabinet and SYRIZA motley crew of disparate elements, then said he supported Tsipras after he had briefly replaced him. The Prime Minister must enjoy his vacillations.
Tsipras has said, “That I’m an important part of the government and that I continue to play an important role for him personally,” Varoufakis insisted.
He’s shown his re-emergence to be just as baffling, confusing and irritating as he continued his methodology of “constructive ambiguity,” apparently having watched too much Game of Thrones and thinking he’s figured out this high-stakes political poker in which he is an amateur and a gambler who doesn’t know when to hold them or when to fold them. He’s no Littlefinger.
He still blames the troika for what ails Greece and if he could get away with saying they were the ones who hired hundreds of thousands of deadwood workers he would.
While he has failed to produce a credible list of reforms for three months – leaving Greece with just a month to go before a bailout extension runs out – he says it’s not his fault, a best-selling T-shirt in Greece.
Greece needs a calmer head and steadier hand in these talks to get the release of a long-delayed 7.2-billion euro ($7.82 billion) and a good case can be made against too much more crushing austerity.
But this isn’t philosophy class. It’s the real world and the awful truth is that Greeks would have to bear more unfair measures to prevent a complete collapse, less so if the government, as Varoufakis vowed, “crush the oligarchy” and go after tax cheats.
“Our government cannot accept – and will not accept – a cure that, over a five-year period, has proved worse than the disease,” he wrote. He got one of his few hits on that one before swinging and missing when he couldn’t come up with a plan to bring genuine structural reforms, development and growth instead of just barking all the time.
Example: “It’s about time the institutions, in particular the IMF, get their act together, and come to an agreement with us,” he told CNN. He showed no willingness to find a legitimate compromise to safeguard the rights and hopes of workers, pensioners and poor while honoring debt obligations and convincing the troika for a restructuring, including a partial write-off of what is owed since it can’t be paid back in full. Ever.
There is wiggle room in there somewhere but Varoufakis has eroded any sense the troika will work with him.
So now batting for Greece in the bottom of the ninth is a banjo hitter taunting Bob Gibson to throw at his head, instead of what he should be. Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? Greece turns its lonely eyes to you.