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Conservative Mogul Buying Up Reporters to Promote His Regressive Agenda

Pete Peterson, the Wall Street billionaire who wants to loot Social Security, has created a "news network" hooked up to the Washington Post.

He's baaack -- the Wall Street billionaire who wants to loot Social Security. This time, Pete Peterson has invented his own "news network" to promote his right-wing rants about shrinking the only retirement security system available to millions of working people. Peterson styles himself as a patriot saving the nation from fiscal insolvency and has committed $1 billion to that 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 does talk in Washington, and Peterson is now buying Washington reporters to spread his dire warnings.

The retired mogul has created a digital news agency he dubs "The Fiscal Times" and hired eight seasoned reporters to do the work there. "An impressive group of veteran journalists," Peterson calls them. I hope they have 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 the budget and fiscal issues." (This media scandal was first uncovered by economist Dean Baker.) The newspaper is thus compromising its own integrity. It's like buying political propaganda from a Washington lobbyist, then printing it in the news columns as if it was just another news story. Shame on the Post, my old newspaper. I predict a big stink like the one that greeted the Post when its publisher decided to hold pay-for-access "salons" for corporate biggies.

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 around Washington. Congress should create a special commission of eighteen senators and representatives empowered to to make the "tough" budget decisions politicians are loathe to face -- slashing benefits, raising payroll taxes or both. Other members of Congress would be prohibited from changing any of the particular measures, and would cast only an up-or-down vote on the entire package, no amendments allowed.

Supposedly, this would give them political 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 the only leverage they have in Washington -- the ability to lean on their elected representatives and exact retribution if they get sold out. Peterson has two advocates in the Senate -- Kent Conrad of South Dakota and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire -- who are self-righteous fiscal hawks. The TFT story describes the rising federal deficits as a threat to the republic, yet fails to explain why deficits on rising. The billions have been devoted to bailing out major banks and Peterson's old chums in 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 Pete Peterson's favorite targets. He has flogged Social Security as a blight on our future for at least twenty years. He is 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 for the people 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 some of the corporate boodle in the federal budget -- that politics is too difficult. Instead, let's whack Social Security while folks aren't watching.

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