He’s baaack–the Wall Street billionaire who wants to loot Social Security. This time, Pete Peterson has invented a “news service” to promote his right-wing rants about shrinking the only retirement system available to millions of working people. He styles himself as a patriot saving the nation from fiscal insolvency and has committed $1 billion to the cause (a chunk of the wealth he accumulated at Blackstone Group, the notorious corporate-takeover firm). His efforts might be dismissed as ludicrous–except money talks in Washington, and Peterson is buying DC reporters to spread his dire warnings.
The retired mogul has created a digital news agency he dubs The Fiscal Times and has hired eight seasoned reporters to do the work there. “An impressive group of veteran journalists,” Peterson calls them. I hope they’ve shaken a lot of money out of this rich geezer, because I predict doing hack work for him will seriously soil their reputations for objectivity and independence.
With his great wealth, Peterson could have also bought a newspaper to publish his dispatches, but he did better than that. He hooked up with the Washington Post, which has agreed to “jointly produce content focusing on budget and fiscal issues.” (This media scandal was uncovered by economist Dean Baker, as reported on his American Prospect blog.) The newspaper is thus compromising its own integrity. It’s like buying propaganda from a DC lobbyist, then printing it as if it were just another news story. Shame on the Post, my old newspaper.
The first TFT “dispatch” to appear in the Post–“Support grows for tackling nation’s debt”–made no mention of Peterson’s crusade. But it featured the same devious gimmick the financier has been peddling: Congress should create a commission of eighteen empowered to make the “tough” decisions politicians are loath to face–slashing benefits, raising payroll taxes or both. Other members of Congress would cast only an up-or-down vote on the entire package, no amendments allowed. Supposedly this would give them cover. Look, no hands! We just cut Social Security, but it wasn’t our fault.
This “reform” is profoundly antidemocratic, because it would strip ordinary citizens of their ability to lean on their elected representatives and exact retribution if they get sold out. Peterson has two Senate advocates, Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg, who are self-righteous fiscal hawks. The TFT story describes the federal deficits as a threat to the Republic yet fails to explain why they are rising: the billions have been devoted to bailing out major banks and Peterson’s old chums on Wall Street or to turning around the failed economy or fighting two wars at once.
So why do the TFT reporters (Elaine Povich and Eric Pianin) zero in on old folks and Social Security or entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid? Because those are Peterson’s favorite targets. For at least twenty years, he has flogged Social Security as a blight on our future. He’s a nut on the subject. His “facts” are wildly distorted or simply not true. Never mind; the establishment press portrays him as a disinterested statesman.
This crusade is dangerous because the “respectables” in governing circles and both parties embrace the same reactionary logic. Does government have money problems? Don’t restore the progressive income tax on the wealthy or capital; don’t cut away corporate boodle in the budget–too difficult politically. Instead, let’s whack Social Security while folks aren’t watching.