A couple of days ago, I profiled an astroturf organization called Up To Us. Up To Us attempts to manipulate college students across America into working for free for a gigantic public relations scheme. Participating students devote two weeks of work to promoting the political message of Peter G. Peterson, an 87 year-old investment banker and former Secretary of Commerce under Richard Nixon. In return, the students have the chance to receive just one meal – but they have to compete against each other for it.
What kind of person would expect young people to work for him for free? Peter G. Peterson has devoted his life to helping the rich get richer at the expense of everybody else. His investment banking schemes earned him billions of dollars by pressuring companies to keep employee pay low. Peterson became so enamored with this arrangement that he began to look for ways to expand it beyond the private sector, to transform the federal government of the United States of America into a machine for protecting the wealthy while squeezing working Americans.
Twenty years ago this week, Peter G. Peterson published a book as a kind of manual for this political agenda. Entitled Facing Up: How to Rescue the Economy from Crushing Debt and Restore the American Dream, the book tried to convince Americans that if the government did not reduce spending on domestic programs, the national debt would soon wreck the USA. Time was short, Peterson warned. Well, that was back in 1993, and in all that time, the national debt has yet to wreck the American economy. Instead, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression was caused by greedy Wall Street investors like Peter G. Peterson.
Regardless of these events, Peter G. Peterson refuses to change his tune. Though his predictions about impending doom resulting from the national debt have repeatedly failed to come true, Peterson keeps at it, claiming like a believer in the economic End Times that, unless the USA stops taking care of its responsibilities to working Americans, the fabric of civilization will soon come undone.
Peterson’s favorite tool for promoting his debt crisis conspiracy theory is astroturf – fake grassroots campaigns. He started with Unity08, an organization that was created by millionaires and billionaires, but sought to convince gullible journalists that it was a spontaneous expression of grassroots demand for a presidential candidate in the 2008 election that would just so happen to promote all the political positions held by Peter G. Peterson himself.
Unity08 was a pathetic failure, as American voters quickly caught on to the dishonest scheme. Peterson, always willing to ignore reality in pursuit of his political vision, simply arranged with his friends to change the name of the Unity08 organization to Americans Elect. In 2012, Peterson’s efforts once again failed. Americans Elect became a laughing stock. By that time, however the Peter G. Peterson Foundation was created, establishing full time employment for one of Peterson’s sons, and serving as a conduit for an increasing number of astroturf operations.
Among the new round of fake grassroots organizations spewed forth by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation was Owe No – a “group” with the mission of promoting the idea that the national debt needs to be decreased through cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare – just like all the other Peter G. Peterson sock puppets. Owe No claims to be a “national public awareness campaign whose mission is to educate Americans about the causes and consequences of the projected growth in federal debt levels and engage them in a national movement to address these important fiscal challenges.” Owe No urges votes to “join other Americans who are calling on our leaders to take steps to end our debt crisis.”
So, how large of a national movement has Owe No managed to create, using the big piles of money provided by Peter G. Peterson to prop up its operations? How many Americans are working with Owe No to call on their leaders to end the “debt crisis” that has failed to materialize in the two decades since Peter G. Peterson wrote about it in his first book?
56. Owe No has attracted the attention of 56 Americans. That’s the number of people, including members of Peter G. Peterson’s family, who have signed up as followers on the Owe No Twitter account. That’s 1.12 people per state. By comparison, the Dutchess County Fair, which does not claim to be a national movement, has 1,434 followers on its Twitter account.
It’s Twitter account is about the only part of Owe No that is still in operation, actually. Owe No still posts tweets once every few days, but it hasn’t posted any items in its “News” section since May of 2011. The Owe No web site still focuses on trying to fix the federal budget for the upcoming year of 2012. The rest of the world has moved on to the 2014 budget, but the supposed national movement of Owe No has not.
While it lectures the rest of us about the proper distribution of resources, Owe No has itself become an emblem of the failed application of resources.