Wednesday 15 April 2015

Episode 25: How to Manage a Press Attack

From Under Dark Clouds

After a messy legal battle with the Vatican and a very public breakdown, a British media celebrity seeks asylum in a sleepy Greek mountain village. 

Can he keep his head down until it all blows over, can he hell! He gets himself elected as Mayor!

PaparazziThe dogs had the scent and soon they would be on the doorstep baying for answers to questions I didn't understand. Doorstep interviews wasn't something I could do, it wasn't my thing, they would hound and bark and throw statements at me to make me angry, to catch me off guard. I reversed slowly into the armchair and fell into its familiar embrace. Dear Blogees, it was my only guard.

The wife was still carving slices from Socrates, who it turns out had known for some time about my fallen celebrity. He had been Pretty discreet about it, though. I suppose I owed him one for that. She stopped and let out a squall, she must have noticed my distress. She snatched the car keys from the rack and whipped past Socrates nearly knocking the Bushmills from his hand.

“The boys! They’ll be at the school. If those vultures so much as—” She stopped by the door. “I’ll cut your fucking cock off!” She wasn't going to get provisions for my shattered nerves.

A plague of hacks on my boys. I shuddered, you know I really believe she would do it.

The thing with journos is that they cannot be stopped, once they have the scent they will not stop until the chase is done and they have their Dictaphones and notepads full of front page salacity. Hacks are voracious beasts but thankfully they have very little higher brain activity, everything is instinct and their attacks can be managed.

Socrates was on the phone and by the tone of his face, I knew he had a plan and I needed someone with a plan right then, preferably a plan that involved me coming out on top. I looked at him and he threw the Bushmills in my direction. I have cat-like reactions. Whiskey, embrocation for the soul.

His conversation ended with the word NOW! He pocketed his phone and disappeared upstairs, I disappeared into the warmth of Irish arms.

He reappeared with my red golf trousers and a ‘Punisher’ t-shirt. He threw them at me. “Put this on!” I hadn't worn this getup since the first day in court when I thought I was going to win. “You've got a green leather jacket, like a coat, a military—. You know. FIND IT!”

This was Greece in July. It was 40 degrees out there. I protested. He found it in the wardrobe while I was trying to untangle the bottle from the fly of the red checked trousers. They were snug even without the bottle. Married life had padded my bones.

As we left the house, the wife arrived with my heirs, safe and sound. I ruffled their hair as we passed.

“Sort this out!” She yelled as she herded the kids to the safety of the homestead. “I'm not going back to being the centre stage in a freak show!” She covered the boys’ ears. “DON’T FUCK IT UP THIS TIME!”

As we left the village, a white van with a wok on the roof passed in the opposite direction. They had found us. Fortunately the way house numbers and street names don’t work in Greek villages, even if they had our address, they would never find us without help from the postie or a crack fraction of old ladies. I knew that this would not stop them, just delay the inevitable. I called the missus and told her to head down to the basement and answer to no-one.

Pulling up in front of an abandoned warehouse it occurred to me to ask what the fuck was going on.

“You are going to be interviewed. You are going to tell them that have brought your family to the land of your wife’s ancestors and have tried and will continue to fight for the rights of you fellow man, here in Greece.” He leaned over the seat and instructed the driver to park in the shade and be ready for a quick exit.

I finished the bottle and opened my eyes wide to my mentor. He wasn't buying it.

Sitting in the make-up chair was like home. The girl on the other end of the brush knew me and some of the better parts of my career.

By the time I was under the lights and cameras facing the over-made-up blonde with the questions, I was riding a bike.

She told me about how much she loved my work and even quoted a couple of my lines. She didn't seem to have any problem with me talking about my cock for an hour, she even thought the movies I did were good.

She uncrossed and recrossed her legs and adopted a terse expression then continued with my activist work. I unsloached and met her gaze via her legs.

“So, why are you here in Greece?”
I went into the line Socrates gave me.

“It would have nothing to do with your legal spat with the Catholic church, then?”

“Listen,” I began. “They got that all wrong. A knee jerk reaction from a hubristic, oppressive church who needed to reassert their relevance in a world that no longer recognises their hegemony.”

“You deny you are the messiah?”

“No, there is no onus on anyone to deny or support such a claim. I—”

“You believe that you are here to execute God’s will?”

Just behind the glare of the cameras, I saw Socrates frantically slashing his throat with a flat palm. His face a chewed toffee of vexation.

“And how do you think the Greek-Orthodox church will react to your claims?”

I leaned forward in my chair composing my riposte. “The orthodox church—”

She touched her ear and cut me off, laughing. “The orthodox church has no such insecurities is what you mean?”

Socrates deflated and nodded.

“Yeah, sure, The Orthodox church—”

“The Greek-Orthodox church,” She corrected.

“Totally! Well it’s an integral part of the rich weave of Greece’s culture along with Aristotle and Zeus.” Socrates coughed. “I love living here and since I began toiling shoulder to shoulder with the Greek people, I have understood the unmitigated injustice of the Eurocrats, committed against the very crucible of modern civilisation. A blasphemous affront against Olympus and all the Orthodox gods.”

“Yes, of course.” She did that thing with her legs again. “Your children are Greek, aren't they?”

Were they?

She touched her ear-piece again and asked me if I would be standing in the elections planned for early next year. I told her that I was challenged enough with the demands of the town hall and maybe that should be the full extent of my political career.

“Could you be convinced?” She asked with a sparkle.

“Of course I could, but my wife would kill me!” She smiled coyly and she may well have blushed but the weapons-grade cosmetics protected her prudence.

She announced my name to the camera accompanied by an unfamiliar adjective then turned and thanked me heartily.

The lights came up, she stood up and looked down. “Nice pants.” and walked out.

Socrates bounded over. “Well done my boy! A statesman in the making.”

I must confess, the cameras had locked and loaded my Mojo again.

“In a couple of hours, it will be edited and ready for broadcast. By the afternoon it will be on the news. By the evening, on all the channels and tomorrow in the papers. Our message gets out before anyone else.” Socrates slapped my back. “You are the 21st century Byron.”

It was already on Youtube.

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Where it all began Episode 1 

Sunday 5 April 2015

Who is the pilot on the GreekWings flight

The flight deck door is locked, autopilot is set, the passengers are frantically banging on the cabin door but can Greece bank before it crashes into the immovable Alps. And, more importantly, will we have to wait for recovery of the black box to discover who was really at the controls.

In these final few hours before impact the Eurogroup is steadfast in its position of total and complete capitulation by the Greek government before it will consider releasing €7.2 billion bailout funds. After reviewing Athens’ proposals for reform, the guardians of the purse strings have deemed them inadequate and even amateurish. So, what are the options for the eurozone if Greece does not satisfy their demands and defaults on the €450 million payment to the IMF on 9th April and who or what is driving those decisions.

The suspects are:

Alexis Tsipras, 40 year-old ‘Radical’ leader of left-wing coalition party, Syriza who has seen a meteoric rise in the last two years but has been in activism and politics since University. His mandate from the Greek electorate is the lifting of Austerity measures imposed by the Troika of creditors and to keep Greece in the single currency.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, 49 year-old Dutch Labour party finance minister and president of the Eurogroup, the select committee of European finance ministers who since 2015 have jurisdiction over the Euro. His role is to maintain stability of the single currency.

Angela Merkel, 60 year-old German chancellor. She is the leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union. Germany’s position in the union makes it the de facto leader in negotiations but she has expressed a desire not to have the Euro fail under her watch.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem
If Greece defaults and a Grexit occurs then in the short term, the bond markets could go bear and the euro would go into free fall. In this age of bond market sycophancy, this is a big deal.

That said, any concessions given to the Greeks would become a precedent for other struggling Eurozone nations and while the band-aid needed to plug the hole in Greece is relatively small, Italy and Spain or even France could be far more damaging.

The austerity strategy appears to be working for some members such as Portugal and Ireland, both have exited the bail-out programme and re-entered the international credit market, the latter is now the fastest growing economy in Europe. However this is just balance-sheet understanding, many Irish and Portuguese are not seeing the benefits.

Many Eurozone nations would be watching Greece to see how it dealt with the divorce and depending on how painless it turned out or what could be learned from the experiment, there could be more departures from the single currency which could well lead to complete devolution.

Alexis Tsipras
In the event of an ill-prepared and messy Grexit the already fatigued Greek people would loose faith in the young prime minister, not only ending his career but sparking chaos and possibly an opening for the far-right fascist groups to seize control. Greeks have hankered for state reform for as long as I can remember but the reality would cause more collateral damage than they are prepared for.

An unnamed Syriza official recently said that as a left-wing government, faced with the choice of defaulting to the creditors or their own people it was a no-brainer. Brave words indeed but also damn straight, given the choice of paying the mortgage and feeding your kids, what would you do. No-brainer, right?

But his choice is not just death or dishonour.

Greece could gain support from Russia. Syriza harbours within its ranks some far left idealists who may still hold romantic notions of allegiance to Russia. They may not have realised that Putin’s Russia has bypassed communism to revert back to the days of the Tsars. 

However, Russia has its own liquidity problems and would not bailout Greece without some pretty heavy caveats whether declared or implied. Recent events in Ukraine are very telling of Putin’s ambitions. Russian gas supplies to Greece which are used for domestic use and electricity generation have already given it a significant political foothold.

Russians also represent a huge growth in tourism for Greece who are also buying up holiday property. In some tourist areas English has been demoted to third place on menus and shop signs.

Angela Merkel
Germany’s motives have much in common with the Eurogroup’s, but Angela must play to the home audience. Germany is running a sizable surplus due to its reluctance to take advantage of cheaper than cash credit which is available to it and the austerity measures it has been imposing on its own people, which it systematically blames on Eurozone slackers like Greece. Bending to Greece would be a domestic disaster for Merkel. While a short-term fall in the Euro could hurt but foreign currency holdings and cheap exports would buffer the blow and she would be seen as a saviour.

The Euro is significantly undervalued compared to the German economy. It is the only economy that could withdraw from the Euro with money in the bank but a return to the Deutsche Mark would mean more expensive German exports and it would go back to being another European nation rather than the epicentre of an EU empire.
If Greece were to be cut loose this would mean a constriction of the European borders especially in a very strategic area of the Mediterranean.

We forget though, there is a new wave of Eurozone candidate nations in the wings including Iceland, Albania, Montenegro and Turkey. Turkey gives access to the Med and the middle east, Albania and Montenegro who give access to the Ionian across from Italy and who along with Serbia and Macedonia go to bridging the northern members to Bulgaria and ultimately Turkey and beyond.

These candidates may be seen as more manageable than Greece and not to mention, a Greek withdrawal would make Macedonia and Turkey’s integration easier.

So who is in the driving seat then? 

Well, Merkel does seem to have the most options.

Tsipras is between a rock and several hard-places. Threats have been thrown of everything from Russia to opening the roads for Islamist extremists but ultimately his hand is bluff. Varoufakis’ and his post-election European road trip found few allies. His only option may be to steer into Russian and Chinese ploughed fields.

Dijsselbloem represents the auto pilot, his role is the result of programming. He can only prepare for the fallout.

And all the while the bond markets are licking their lips with glee, fail or fly the euro will make many hedge funds even more obscenely rich.

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From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY