Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, November 16, 2013 11:24 pm

Deficit hawks caught astroturfing. Color me surprised.

Their ideas aren’t gaining favor on the merits (nor should they) — about 90 percent of Americans think Social Security should be preserved or even expanded, not cut — so they resort to paying people to lie, and they’re real sloppy about it:

Our friend Jon Romano, press secretary for the inside-the-beltway PR campaign “Fix the Debt” and its pet youth group, The Can Kicks Back, have been caught writing op-eds for college students and placing the identical op-eds in papers across the country.

This is the latest slip-up in Fix the Debt’s efforts to portray itself as representing America’s youth. Previously, they were caught paying dancers to participate in a pro-austerity flash mob and paying to gather online petition signers for them.

The newspapers involved in the scam were not amused.

Gainesville Sun to Fix the Debt: “Lay Off the Astroturf and Outright Plagiarism”

The identical op-eds were discovered by Florida’s Gainesville Sun. The paper’s scathing editorial on the topic makes for an entertaining read.

If you liked University of Florida student Brandon Scott’s column last Sunday about the national debt, you also should enjoy columns by Dartmouth College student Thomas Wang and University of Wisconsin student Jennifer Pavelec on the issue.

After all, they’re the same columns.

The identical columns ran last weekend in newspapers in New Hampshire and Wisconsin. They each included the same first-person passage describing the student’s work with the Campaign to Fix the Debt and its “millennial arm,” The Can Kicks Back.

After I was told last week about the column appearing under the byline of different writers in other publications, it was removed from The Sun’s website. Staff with the Campaign to Fix the Debt, who sent out the columns, said they were templates that were supposed to be personalized or otherwise reworded.

The campaign’s vice president of communications, John Romano, said Scott -— an intern with the group — was not at fault.

“This was an inadvertent mistake and the campaign takes full responsibility for it,” he said.


Ooopsie, indeed.

Folks, Fix the Debt is not a grassroots thing. It is not a lot of college kids writing letters to the editor. It is a network of PR agencies led by billionaire Pete Peterson. Peterson, because he is stupid, because he would personally profit, or both, wants draconian spending cuts — along the lines of Simpson-Bowles or worse. There are many problems with that, but the most important one, as the linked article points out, is that such cuts would eliminate 4 million jobs at a time when America needs many more jobs, not fewer. As for the deficit? Well, hey, let’s just ask our good friends at Fox News, who actually provide accurate information this time although they take a little too much time explaining what the numbers mean:

The U.S. government started the first month of the 2014 budget year with a $91.6 billion deficit, signaling further improvement in the nation’s finances at a time when lawmakers are wrestling to reach a deal that would keep the government open past January.

The Treasury Department said Wednesday that the deficit in October fell 24 percent compared with the $120 billion imbalance recorded in October 2012. The deficit is the gap between the government’s tax revenue and spending.

Across-the-board spending cuts and the partial government shutdown helped lowered expenditures in the first month of the new budget year. Higher taxes and an improved economy also boosted revenue.

The October decline comes after the government ran an annual deficit in 2013 of $680 billion, the lowest in five years and the first in that period below $1 trillion. Shrinking deficits could take some pressures off of lawmakers, who are facing a Dec. 13 deal to fund the government and avoid another shutdown.

The deficit is a manageable problem, and we’re managing it — almost in spite of ourselves, what with sequestration, but we’re managing it nonetheless. We do not need dramatic new government spending cuts, unless maybe they’re in defense. (By the way, everything else being equal, a dollar spent on defense benefits the economy substantially less than a dollar spent on something civilianish.) What we need, desperately, is J-O-B-S.

Monday, June 21, 2010 5:22 pm

The Washington Post should just die already

Yesterday the Post apparently published an article by the Fiscal Times. The Fiscal Times is published by Pete Peterson, the billionaire raising such hell about the deficit because his agenda is cutting social spending as an end in itself, not just as a means to long-term deficit reduction, a fact the Post didn’t see fit to share with its readers.

That’s bad enough. What’s worse is that U.S. deficits have far less to do with social spending per se than they do with our absurdly high-cost and inefficient health-care system. Adopting any of a number of other Western health-care financing systems, which run the gamut from total socialization to private, nonprofit funding, would generate long-term surpluses rather than deficits even before we touched other social spending, let alone military spending or our absurdly regressive tax system.

This information is readily available to the public, so we must presume that the editors of The Washington Post are either idiots or corrupt. And call me crazy, but I’m going to presume further that they’re not total idiots.

UPDATE: Peterson is also behind the group America Speaks, which will be holding meetings across the country this weekend to discuss what to do about deficits. As you might expect, the group’s framing has been constructed to try to build consensus around cutting Social Security and Medicare.

Friday, June 18, 2010 9:50 pm

Gettin’ medieval on their buttocks …

… or at least Victorian. David Walker, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation — Peterson’s the guy who’s behind this whole deficit-commission scam to gut Social Security and Medicare — has some interesting notions about civilization. Yea, verily, he wants to bring back debtors’ prisons:

The fact of the matter is, we have to change how we do things. We are on an imprudent and unsustainable path in a number of ways. You talk about debtor’s prisons, we used to have debtor’s prisons, now bankruptcy’s no taint. Bankruptcy’s an exit strategy. Our society and our culture have changed. We need to get back to opportunity and move away from entitlement. We need to be able to provide reasonable risk but we need to hold people accountable when they do imprudent things. It’s pretty fundamental.

Hey, I am ALL ABOUT holding people accountable when they do imprudent things. Like giving mortgages to people who never should have gotten them. Like creating mortgages that are designed to fail, then selling them off. Like assigning AAA ratings to financial instruments backed by crap mortgages. Like buying financial instruments you know are crap, knowing that you can resell them at a profit and also make money by betting that they will fail. Like lying about the value of the assets on your company’s books and then making taxpayers take them off your hands at inflated rates.

Yes, a lot of people got over their heads in debt who shouldn’t have and who should have known better. But a lot of honest people, and American taxpayers generally, also were victimized by corporate predators. Hold people accountable? I’d like nothing better.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 2:00 pm

“Obama Administration Has Secret Plan to Raise Your Taxes and Cut Your Social Security.”

It’s true:

Over the past week, top White House officials have been floating a trial balloon for their strategy on the economy. At its core is a decision to put deficit reduction ahead of job creation.

The premise is that the bond markets and allied deficit hawks are demanding action to cut the budget, that Obama lacks the votes in the Senate for a serious jobs initiative, and that polls show voters care more about deficit reduction than about jobs.

So the plan, modeled closely on the work of the Peter G. Peterson foundation and the anticipated report of the president’s own fiscal commission, is a deal that includes cuts in Social Security plus a new Value Added Tax (VAT), in order to get deep cuts in the deficit. As a sweetener to get Republicans to back the VAT, White House officials would cut the corporate income tax.

This is nuts both in terms of whether it actually would help the economy AND in terms of whether it would help Democrats politically. It’s like Obama is bent on repeating all his biggest mistakes in the health-care debate.

Of course, there is some good news:

In the end Republican opposition to a VAT is likely to save the Democrat budget hawks from themselves.

We may end up with a mirror image of the health-care endgame, where the choice was between an unappetizing bill and an even more unappetizing status quo. Only here, the choice may be between an unappetizing status quo and an even more unappetizing package of recommendations from Pete Peterson’s anti-Social Security committee that Congress would have to vote up or down. Fun.

Saturday, May 8, 2010 12:06 am

Deficit reduction: one more scam.

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 12:06 am
Tags: , , ,

I could walk you logically through all the facts that explain why the Pete Peterson-backed Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission is a bad idea likely to produce way more screwing of ordinary workers than it is to truly solve our long-term entitlement problems on fair and equitable terms.

But that would take years and cost hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of innocent lives.

So I could just point out instead that Pete Peterson stands to make a boatload of money directly off the likeliest outcomes from that commission.

Whichever. Really; I’m easy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010 7:56 pm

A challenge to the president

Sir, if you want to talk about “tough choices” in the context of deficit reduction, then man up and put a big-ass wealth tax on the table.

Any old chicken can take money away from the old, poor, sick and voiceless, as we saw during the abortive 2005 effort to privatize Social Security. It takes a real man to stand up to the wealthy who have been hoovering up American wealth for the past 30 years.

You got what it takes, Mr. President? Because I don’t think you do, and I don’t think a single one of the 12 people you and your party appointed to the deficit-reduction committee does, either.

If that turns out to be the case, that’s fine: I don’t know of a soul on this planet who seriously expects any such proposal, let alone for the committee to discuss it seriously, let alone for the committee to recommend it to Congress.

But until that sucker’s out on the table for everyone to talk about, spare me your empty talk about tough choices.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 8:41 pm

Odds and ends for 11/25

  • Roots: Here’s one good reason not to go looking for your birth parents.
  • Coincidence?: On Tuesday, Obama’s top Pentagon official for detainee affairs, who had long and publicly opposed military commissions for terrorism suspects, quits. Today, late in the afternoon on the day before a four-day holiday weekend (for those who work in or cover the government), the government announces it is filing new charges against a terrorism-conspiracy suspect under the Military Commissions Act of 2009.
  • Thanks for that, Tipper: The jackass lawyer who unsuccessfully sued Judas Priest for supposedly causing a kid’s suicide is running for Congress in Nevada — as a Democrat.
  • The master has learned from the student: Charles Lane, best known (if known at all) as the New Republic editor who oversaw serial fabulist Stephen Glass, has taken a page from the Glass notebook and just made crap up about the recent government report on hunger. To quote a commenter elsewhere, I hope his turkey has tapeworms.
  • Piling on: Connecticut joins Ohio in suing the financial-ratings agencies. Woohoo!
  • Memo to Pete Peterson: We know the difference between being concerned about the deficit and being a concern troll, and we know which one you are.
  • It’s working, at least somewhat: The people who prepare economic forecasts for private, paying clients say Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package has helped.
  • The public: “Stop covering Sarah Palin!
  • I wonder who will be disciplined for this screw-up: Former Bush White House spokesbot Dana Perino tells Fox’s Sean Hannity, “We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.” Forget 9/11 (she obviously did); what about the anthrax attacks, the Virginia Tech shootings and the D.C. sniper(s)?
  • Why does Rush Limbaugh hate America?: Rush Limbaugh calls for overthrowing the government. This would not be the first time he has done this.
  • Maybe it’s because of his philosophy*: “But if you live in the universe of lies, the last thing that you are governed by is the truth. The last thing you are governed by is reality. The only thing that matters to you is the advancement of your political agenda. And you tell yourself in the universe of lies that your agenda is so important the world will not survive without it and therefore you can lie, cheat, steal, destroy whoever you have to to get your agenda done because your opponents are evil, and in fighting evil, anything goes. There are no rules when you’re in a fight with the devil.”

*Yes, I understand that he thinks he’s not talking about himself.

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