by Mark Scheinbaum
November 16, 2011
DUMMERSTON, Vt., Nov. 10, 2011 -- Nothing scares the elites more than democracy.
That was illustrated last week in Greece, when Prime Minister George Papandreou asked for a public referendum on the Oct. 27 bailout engineered by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Under the terms of the deal, Greece would receive a 130 billion-Euro bailout that would be paid for through a 50 percent "haircut" for private creditors on their holdings of Greek debt. In exchange for the money, Greece would sharply cut public sector spending.
When Papandreou asked for the Greek people to weigh in on the deal, finanical markets around the world panicked. The chief brokers of the deal, Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy, were furious.
It didn't take long for Papandreou and his government to be told that it will get no more money from the EU, ECB and IMF until they agreed to accept the austerity measures demanded by the bailout package.
Given the unrest in Greece over the past few months, it seemed almost certain that if the EU/ECR/IMF austerity plan were presented to Greeks for a vote, it would be rejected. That's why the financial markets and Merkel and Sarkozy were enraged. How dare Papandreou actually the Greek people weigh on their financial future, especially after their future had already been decided for them.
The silence from other world leaders regarding Greece's right to economic self-determination was deafening. No one dared challenge the right of the elite, otherwise known as the richest 1 percent of the world, to determine policy for the 99 percent without public input.
Eventually, Papandreou had to scrap the deal, due to the external pressure from the markets and the Eurozone leaders, as well as the internal pressures of Greek politics. He barely survived a no-confidence vote on Nov. 4, and stepped down as prime minster Thursday as his party tried to cobble together a new government.
The elites won. The Greek people lost, stung by the irony that in the birthplace of democracy, they were being denied the right to vote on their future.
We're looking at similar moment in this country. The so-called Super Congress is getting ready to gut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and a variety of other social welfare programs in the name of austerity while refusing to do anything about the two things that have fueled the federal debt - tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations and huge increases in military spending.
In poll after poll, a solid majority of Americans want to see more money spent on health and education, to see Social Security and Medicare preserved, and to see the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes. Yet Congress ignores this message, and is pressing forward with these budget cuts in the midst of the worst recession in decades.
And these cuts, which will further devastate our economy, will never be put to a vote for the 99 percent of Americans who will be most affected by them. That's because if these cuts were put to a vote, they'd fail.
The 1 percent always wins. They have the ultimate veto power on our democratic process.
We didn't get the chance in 2008 to have a say about the trillions of dollars that went to bail out the banks. We were peddled a tale of doom and disaster that would take place if we didn't bail them out immediately. No one had the guts to insist on conditions for that money, such as increased regulatory oversight and forcing the banks to eat their losses.
Instead, they got the money with no strings attached, and the 99 percent suffered so that the richest 1 percent could get richer.
Did the Greeks have a choice? That Greece is a mess is beyond doubt. The unemployment rate stands at about 20 percent. Homelessness is rising. Those who still have jobs have had their salaries cut, while their taxes have gone up. The public sector is barely functioning, and the government is poised to privatize as much of the nation's social services as they can get away with while selling off public assets at fire-sale prices.
But the mess is not solely Greek. As is the case in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and now Italy, speculation and thievery by the banks have played a big role in the European financial troubles. But instead of the banks taking their medicine, entire nations that are forced to play the new financial game of the 1 percent: the capitalism of privatized profits and socialized losses.
And the cry that started in Europe has now been picked up on our shores: "We will not pay for your bailout!"
The Greeks may have lost their chance, for now, to go to the polls and tell their leaders that they will not quietly accept austerity and the dismantling of the public sector after the international banks looted their treasury without their knowledge or consent.
The Occupy movement in this country should take note. It was the pressure of months of protest that forced Papandreou to risk the wrath of the markets by even considering a referendum. He knew there was little chance that the Greek people would eat the Satan Sandwich that the EU, ECB and IMF made for them.
Now, faced with our own version of the Greek ultimatum, Americans have a choice. We can let the financial markets continue to rule, or insist that the American people - the 99 percent - have the right to decide our own economic destiny.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.