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   December, 2010

The Austerity Is Too Damn High

The Romanian parliament was interrupted by a desperate effort by a private citizen to protest the government’s planned austerity measures.  Adrian Sobaru threw himself off a balcony and onto the floor of the parliament, his shirt imprinted with the words, “You killed our children’s future, you sold us.”

The  Romanian economy has been suffered serious contractions – shrinking by 7% in 2009 – and already accepted a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but the IMF is demanding more cuts and more draconian reductions in critical services in order to qualify for the next installment of the IMF loan.

Measures in Austerity, rather than focusing on long-term growth, has been Prime Minister Emil Boc and the ruling Democratic Liberal Party solution which, despite its name, is actually one of the country’s conservative political parties.

When Mr. Sobaru fell, the parliament was about to cast a vote of no-confidence in the government and Prime Minister Boc’s right wing austerity policy. Opposition members walked out when, in the interest of basic humanity, the ruling coalition refused to delay the vote for more than an hour in light of what had occurred. This, unfortunately, helped Boc survive the vote and continue his short-sighted policies.

Reports indicate that Mr. Sobaru suffered severe facial injuries, but that his wounds are not life threatening. We don’t condone acts of violence against others or against one’s self. We also understand that sometimes, governments must make difficult choices.

What we at the Revolution do not understand is how people think a nation can be righteous and moral when it balances its budget to the benefit of distant, wealthy plutocrats while ignoring the cries of those most in need.

Our hope is that the IMF, countries across Europe, and politicians here in the United States will wake up to the true cost of austerity. The pattern is painfully simple – tax breaks for plutocrats are kept off the table, while programs for the rest of us are all fair game. This is not even about rich and poor. Even though many of the stories written about this global recession focus on the extremes – those who suffer from unemployment and are watching their benefits and hope slip away and the robber barons who not only helped caused the economic collapse, but have actually benefited from it.

This is also about middle class school districts that will be forced to cut corners to make ends meet under the “austerity;” it’s about federal grants and affordable loans for college-age children; it’s about commute times and traffic as our streets  fall into disrepair; and it’s about having enough police and firefighters to keep our communities safe.

While it may be easy to say “this could never happen here,” it also naïve. Romania’s unemployment this year is estimated to be 8% or one percent less than unemployment here in the United States. This is not some distant, undeveloped country, but a member of the European Union that had less than five percent unemployment only two years ago. Make no mistake. It not only can happen here, but unless we take action against those who would sacrifice our children’s future, it will. And that, Speaker Boehner, is truly something worth crying over.

Mobile V. FEC

The FEC just put a halt to political contributions via text message. The CTIA – the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association – accused the FEC of “a history of imposing additional burdens that are above and beyond what the law requires,” but the real problem is the carriers’ inability to deliver contributions in a timely manner. If carriers were willing to address this and a way to more accurately account for who the donation is coming from, we could easily see mobile giving making an impact in the 2012 elections. It just needs to be accountable and transparent.

Instead of criticizing the ruling, wireless companies should address the problems their billing systems might have separating corporate funds from political contributions and also making sure that donors could not use the system to exceed the $50 limit for anonymous donations. These requirements aren’t going “above and beyond the law,” but are necessary to prevent illegal contributions from flowing to candidates. Additionally, federal law requires campaign contributions be forwarded to a campaign within ten days, but mobile companies typically work on a thirty day billing cycle. Many non-profits who have experimented with mobile giving usually find it takes even longer to get their money – sometimes more than 90 days – if they aren’t receiving a large amount of donations. This won’t work for campaigns soliciting donations 3 weeks before Election Day.

As easy as it is to put the blame on the FEC for holding back progress, the real problem is the unwillingness to make changes to the carriers’ system for processing mobile contributions. There is enough unregulated money coursing through the body politic without wireless companies creating a new platform for abuse.

A method for making political contributions via text would be a victory for those who believe in the power of small-dollar contributions, but my desire for justice and accountability is far greater. When the wireless companies take the necessary steps to accommodate the FEC – in time, I believe they will – our democracy will benefit by allowing individuals to more easily contribute to the candidates they support and causes they are concerned about. The potential for mobile contributions remains great, but they must be done right.