Pete Peterson’s puppet populists

Or, everything you really need to know about the sequester “crisis.” Mary Bottari in Common Dreams:

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.”

But as Dean Baker shows, this talking point just isn’t true—and the inventors of Fix the Debt know it. Indeed, they have admitted it: former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, who is on the steering committee, has said publicly that the goal is to create an “artificial crisis” to get Congress to act.

To foster the illusion of a grassroots uprising, Peterson has nursed what the National Journal calls a “loose network of deficit-hawk organizations that seem independent but that all spout the Peterson-sanctioned message of the need for a ‘grand bargain.’”

In addition to throwing money at groups for national tours and town hall meetings, the 86-year-old Peterson is obsessed with creating the fantasy that young people care more about the national debt than their own. This time around we have The Can Kicks Back, complete with a mascot—“AmeriCAN,” a staffer dressed as a giant can—who in December taught former Senator Alan Simpson to dance “Gangnam Style.” This goofy press stunt went viral—Peggy Noonan labeled it “merry and shrewd”—and the group enjoyed puff pieces in The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
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The budget battle is upon us


The real question is whether Boehner, Cantor, Ryan and the rest of the nominally sane leadership are willing to bite the very wealthy defense contractor hand that feeds them. If the President and the Democrats were willing to do the same — as well as risk being tarred as unpatriotic and hating the troops — they could put these folks in a very uncomfortable position and force Boehner to break the Hastert rule again and pass something with mostly Democratic votes. (This time he really could be putting his speakership at risk, but it’s not as if he wouldn’t be well taken care of.)

If there’s a weak link in that scenario, I’m afraid it’s the Democrats who I think are unlikely to push this far enough to force a repeal of the sequester, which is really the only way out. Moreover, I’m not sure the administration really wants that. They still seem to think it’s important to be seen as raging deficit hawks. But it really is the only sane answer to this problem. The sequester was a delaying tactic to get both parties out of a logjam and through the election. They need to end the fiction and move along. After all it’s not as if they can’t play this game again if they choose — there’s always a budget, debt ceiling, appropriations etc they can take to the brink and I’m going to guess that until this economy improves and/or the Republicans purge themselves of their lunacy, that’s exactly how it’s going to go.

The Democrats need to stop thinking they can reach some perfect deal that will allow them to “put it behind them” so they can focus on other issues. It’s just not going to happen any time soon. This is the fundamental political fight of our time. Whatever bipartisan consensus ever existed is gone and we are engaged in an intense battle about the role of the federal government in American life. They need to win one campaign at a time and prepare for the next one. It’s going to be a slog.

Ash Wednesday

Today is my Dead Ex’s birthday. If he were still alive, he’d be 65. This is a piece I wrote about him years ago.

IT WAS FREEZING COLD, and of course I was still driving around with my dead husband’s ashes in the trunk of my old Tercel. My sons weren’t sure what to do with them, and since the fake marble cask was so heavy, I left them in the trunk until they made up their minds.

“Well, there were times you sure sounded like you wanted to put him in the trunk,” said R., my best friend.

“I feel funny,” I said. “It’s so cold. I feel like I should take him a blanket and a Thermos of hot chocolate or something.” He was gone, and years of hard feelings left with him.

I was fifteen when I met him, eighteen when I moved in with him and nineteen when we married. Roy and I stayed married for thirteen years and had two sons, M. and J.

It was one of those cerebral, friendly marriages where we had no real emotional understanding of each other; worse, we lacked compassion. We once thought we’d manage to stay friends despite our divorce but mostly, we could only manage friend-ly. Often, there were hard feelings between us. Most of those hard feelings appeared to be related to money but ultimately, they had to do with the way each of us looked at the world. Roy was afraid of so many things and he tended to hoard things to keep himself safe. He thought money was his armor.

People were so quick to write off my complaints as the embittered exaggeration of an ex-wife. They weren’t standing there in the support hearing when, asked by the judge if he had anything to say, Roy laid out an elaborate explanation of how much it cost him to feed the boys each week. “So you see, your honor, not only should I not be paying more support, I believe I should be paying less.” (At the time, he paid $35 a week for two boys. I was making $16,000 a year. He made more than twice that.)

The judge looked genuinely shocked. “You know, sir,” he said, peering over his glasses, “I have fathers in here all the time, begging for the opportunity to spend more time with their children. I must say, I believe this is the first time I’ve ever had a father ask for a rebate for time spent with their own children. Increase granted!” He banged the gavel.

Oh yes, I could tell stories. But I won’t. I only want to illustrate how out of proportion to life was his emotional attachment to money.
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