The Nation Special Report: Fix The Debt's Astroturf Roots

We've always believed Fix the Debt was nothing more than Astroturf. The Nation's special issue digs into the backers and their motives.

We've written many, many times about Fix the Debt's backers and the billionaires who created it along with the false flag over the debt, and now The Nation has dedicated an entire issue to this astroturf organization.

Mary Bottari's exposé names the 'puppet populists':

Behind this strategy are no fewer than 127 CEOs and even more “statesmen” pushing for a “grand bargain” to draw up an austerity budget by July 4. With many firms kicking in
 $1 million each on top of Peterson’s $5 million in seed money, this latest incarnation of the Peterson message machine must be taken seriously.

Fix the Debt has hired such powerful PR firms and lobby shops as the DCI Group, the Glover Park Group, the Dewey Square Group and Proof Integrated Communications, a unit of the PR firm Burson-Marsteller, which was the go-to firm for Big Tobacco. In the run-up to the “fiscal cliff,” these firms launched a flashy $3 million media campaign, blanketing Capitol Hill with TV, Internet, Metro and newspaper ads featuring slogans like “Got Debt?” and “Just Fix It.”

Fix the Debt’s stable of CEOs are a PR flack’s dream. Not only are they able to get meetings with everyone from John Boehner to President Obama; they can flood cable news with laughable messages of “shared sacrifice” and be treated with fawning respect. Fix the Debt’s David Cote, CEO of Honeywell, “brings serious financial muscle to the table” when he pushes “market credible solutions,” chirps The Wall Street Journal. There is no mention that Cote is a tax-dodging, pension-skimping hypocrite: Honeywell has a negative average tax rate of -0.7 percent and underfunds its employee pensions by -$2.8 billion, making Cote’s workers even more reliant on Social Security.

Creating a crisis is key. “America is more than $16 trillion in debt,” Fix the Debt’s website warns, calling it “a catastrophic threat to our security and economy.” The CEOs echo this warning, writing to Congress of the “serious threat to the economic well-being and security of the United States.”

Ah, the time-honored tactic of creating a crisis in order to solve it. That's something we're familiar with, right? And as Lisa Graves reports, Pete Peterson has a time-honored track record of doing just that, in business and public:

Fix the Debt financier Peter G. Peterson knows a thing or two about debt: he’s an expert at creating it. Peterson founded the private equity firm Blackstone Group in 1985 with Stephen Schwarzman (who compared raising taxes to “when Hitler invaded Poland”). Private equity firms don’t contribute much to the economy; they don’t make cars or milk the cows. Too frequently, they buy firms to loot them. After a leveraged buyout, they can leave companies so loaded up with debt they are forced to immediately slash their workforce or employees’ retirement security.

In 2006, Blackstone ransacked Travelport, a travel reservation conglomerate, piling on $4.3 billion in new debt, then pocketing $1.7 billion to pay shareholders and itself. Travelport promptly fired 841 workers to meet its new debt obligations. It was a great deal for Blackstone but “a horrible one for Travelport,” according to one investment adviser, who described Blackstone as trading in “poisoned waters.”

Mitt Romney is only one of many who learned at the feet of the master, which is why we have far too much consolidation in the corporate sector and such wealth inequality. Yet to these billionaires, the only answer is to cut Social Security and Medicare. Actually, they'd like to end Social Security and Medicare.

Ed Rendell is one of the reasons this campaign has any traction at all, and The Nation doesn't spare him and the other corporate Democrats:

Peterson has poured an estimated half-billion dollars into schemes so unpopular, so economically unsound and so obviously self-serving that even conservative politicians run from them, as the implosion of the Simpson-Bowles commission illustrates. So Peterson has repurposed his project into what Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) Global Economy Project director Sarah Anderson calls “a Trojan horse” for “filthy rich tax-dodging hypocrites.” With a stable of CEOs, Peterson timed the launch of this new $60 million campaign to exploit the wrangling over the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling and the sequester. Fix the Debt has signed up prominent Democrats and Republicans as spokespeople (many of whom have undisclosed financial ties to firms that lobby on deficit-related issues) and launched “astroturf” campaigns to create the fantasy that young people and seniors are concerned enough about debts and deficits to support Peterson’s austerity agenda.

The most galling part of their effort to me is the myth of intergenerational conflict. Rather than promote a responsible theme that we're all part of the same country and society, they promote the idea that our children and grandchildren will be "saddled with debt" because of the Baby Boom generation. It's not true and it's intended to foster division and resentment.

Much of the information in the special report has been mentioned here and on other blogs and websites. But having it all in one place is helpful, especially when you encounter people who have bought into the false idea that the debt is the single biggest economic risk there is. I would argue that it's not debt, but selfishness and greed that poses the biggest risk, and history would bear that out.

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