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Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Plutocrat elites of "Fix the Debt" get down with the grassroots

by digby

As regular readers know, I have been writing about the latest Pete Peterson Propaganda campaign called "Fix the Debt" for many months. You'll recall its the latest offshoot of the BS Deficit Scare tour, starring Ed Rendell and Judd Gregg and a whole boatload of CEOs rushing to rescue us from our overly indulgent lifestyles and hit us with a bracing splash of tough love.

Or, as they put it:
An organization founded by Erskine Bowles and Al Simpson announced Tuesday that it has raised more than $25 million to launch a national campaign to encourage policy makers to pass debt legislation in the coming months.

The Campaign to Fix the Debt has collected contributions from corporate CEOs and others for a national media campaign and advertising campaign to urge lawmakers reach a solution to the debt crisis.
Who are these knights in shining armor?
Some grown-ups who have been noticeably absent from this conversation have been the heads of the country’s major corporations, who talk a good game about deficit reduction but haven’t invested the time, money and political capital necessary to jolt the political system from its dysfunctional equilibrium.

That’s about to change. Last week, the first battalion of CEOs showed up in Washington, reporting for duty.
During the past year, there have been quiet meetings put together by chief executives such as Cote, Aetna’s Mark Bertolini and JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, and Senators Mark Warner (D) and Saxby Chambliss (R), the ringleaders of the bipartisan Gang of Six. Nudging it along and pulling it all together has been Maya MacGuineas, who for a decade has been sounding the deficit alarm from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

In addition to Cote, Dimon and Bertolini, the charter business members include Sandy Cutler of Eaton, Gregg Sherrill of Tenneco, Marty Flanagan of Invesco, Gary Loveman of Caesars, Thomas Quinlan of R.R. Donnelley & Sons and financiers Steven Rattner and Pete Peterson.
Well, they're finally getting down with the grassroots. Bold Progressives has the dirt:
If you sign up as a volunteer for the group, you’ll be e-mailed a “toolkit” that you’re supposed to use to engage in pro-austerity activism on behalf of the billionaires who run the group.

One of the instructions in the tool kit is to “bird dog” campaign events and town halls that feature Members of Congress. Here’s the sample questions that the campaign is asking people to dog lawmakers with. Notice that they are designed to pressure legislators to agree to cuts to Social Security and enact other devastating spending cuts.

The took kit also instructs activists to “get to the event early to hold signs or pass out literature about the debt,” and to “have somebody ready to record the answer with video, if possible.” Finally, it reminds you to “raise your hand as quickly as possible when the candidate takes questions, speak clearly and confidently!”

Don't you just love the fact that a 25 million dollar campaign financed by millionaire CEOs is telling average people to go to Townhalls and hold up signs? I guess they just don't have any access to power to make their case ...

No, they're brainwashing the citizens, trying to persuade them to sell-out their on interests on behalf of these greedhead plutocrats. But you knew that.

Back in July I started writing about this latest scheme. Before it was called "Fix the Debt" it was called something else: The Moment of Truth Project (and before that something else again.) Bowles and Simpson and their allies have been working this relentlessly:

In researching the Simpson-Bowles fast track solution and came upon a group called the Moment of Truth project: the era of deficit denial is over. It turns out that this is Simpson and Bowles own group, which is out there preaching the gospel. That's to be expected. I suppose it's also to be expected that this is also a project of the New America Foundation, one of our most revered establishment think tanks. 
This is the heart of the Village, the studious centrism that also erroneously defines the leftward end of political power in our country. Certainly many people who are associated with the liberal side of the dial are involved, although it's almost impossible to find any liberal policies among the group's recommendations. 
And they are deadly serious about slashing "entitlements." 
The key thing there is the fact that they are slashing across the board (except for defense, of course.) And then there's the revenue portion of our program, which should be lots of fun to watch since it's composed of magical thinking. (One would think that a debt crisis wouldn't be the perfect moment to lower tax rates, but that's what they're proposing.) 
This is how they propose to fix the deficit. Slash spending and lower taxes. I don't know how they are getting away with this sophistry, but they are. They feel this is their best opportunity to force the rubes to give up whatever small piece of financial security they have and they have no intention of stopping until they achieve this goal.
And as long as they adhere to the idea that low taxes equal more growth,which they explictly state above, they will always have the excuse they need to dispense favors to the "job creators." In other words, for every loophole they close, two will be opened. If you doubt it, read about the machinations behind the scenes of the Dodd-Frank implementation. This is the full employment act for lobbyists and tax attorneys.
And keep in mind that this isn't Pete Peterson, folks (although he is a major contributor.) This is one of the most staid, non-partisan DC institutions doing this. And they are rolling out new projects every few months with the same agenda. (Here's the latest, announced by Simpson and Bowles just last week on CNBC --- with Warren Buffet sitting by their side.)
I hope nobody is under the illusion that this fight is over. I'm not sure it ever will be. When the budget was balanced in the 90s (without radical slashing of "entitlements" much to the dismay of those who want to do it) these folks just laid low and let the government spend all the money in tax cuts and wars. They could have fought it, insisted that the surplus be spent to shore up social security and Medicare but they didn't utter a peep. Then once the deficit returned, they cranked up the old "sacrifice" machine once more.
Thus they have proven over and over again that their real agenda is to degrade our already pitiful welfare state. Their "solutions" prove this --- lower spending, lower taxes ---which leads inexorably to drowning the poor safety net in the bathtub. They don't say this. They say they just need to hold the baby's head under the water a little bit and the baby won't even mind it. (And anyway, it's more important to keep the bathtub clean so they'll be able to "bathe" even more babies.) But no matter how they dress it up as a debt problem, it's austerity lite- soft Randism. 
And sadly, it isn't just Pete Peterson and his billion dollar foundation doing this. It's virtually the entire political establishment.
I don't know anymore what to say about this. Ryan Grim wrote it up for Huffington Post last week, but I'm sure it got lost in all the shuffle.  But here is what all that money is buying:
MacGuineas said she has raised close to $30 million for the Campaign to Fix the Debt, but the goal is "bigger than that." The largest contribution so far has been $5 million from a single donor, she said. (HuffPost guessed that donor was Peterson, and MacGuineas said, "You could go out on that limb.") The rest of the money is being raised from corporate CEOs and other wealthy donors.

The operation has hired 25 to 30 staffers, with plans to potentially double. Along with a paid-media campaign, it looks to influence press coverage in some 40 states with locally focused teams.

The project is growing so rapidly that when HuffPost asked why it wasn't in all 50 states, MacGuineas thought and decided that maybe it should be. "Maybe you just changed policy. Maybe we'll be in all 50 states," she said.

If the president does win a grand bargain -- as he pledged to do during his convention speech -- he will have betrayed voters, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman argued earlier this week. If Obama is reelected, "[n]ow is the time, he'll be told, to fix America's entitlement problem once and for all. There will be calls -- as there were at the time of the Democratic National Convention -- for him to officially endorse Simpson-Bowles, the budget proposal issued by the co-chairmen of his deficit commission (although never accepted by the commission as a whole)," Krugman wrote. "And Mr. Obama should just say no."
Yes, he should.