Despite the demand from Campaign for America's Future, calling for CNN to at least provide equal time to defenders of Social Security, Medicare and public investment when discussing issues related to debt and the deficit, the sputtering network proceeded this weekend with its planned four hours of unchallenged deficit hysteria propaganda, fueled by the leading attacker of Social Security and Medicare, Pete Peterson, and his acolytes.
But calling the CNN/Pete Peterson presentation merely one-sided is too charitable. That would suggest the CNN audience at least received one coherent fact-based argument.
Instead, if you watched the "I.O.U.S.A. Solutions" program, you would have simply become stupider.
Allow me to give you the lowlights:
1. We reduced WWII debt levels, but we won't tell you how!
In their attempt to offer a history of U.S. debt levels, CNN and Pete Peterson sometimes referenced the fact that America had a higher amount of debt relative to the size of our economy after World War II than we do today.
Yet they saw no reason to mention that not only did our earlier debt fail to destroy the lives of the Greatest Generation's grandchildren, but that our debt levels were reduced not by painful austerity but by investing in our futures.
The Peterson-financed "I.O.U.S.A. Solutions" movie, which anchored CNN's segment, begins on that incoherent note
The narrator fails to reconcile our previously higher debt levels and the lack of any debt-fueled economic crisis:
Since 1789, the year our federal government was formed, we've had our ups and downs with the national debt. Wars and the Great Depression created high debt levels, but we've always been able to bring that back down to manageable levels, even after World War II, which is when our debt to GDP was at its highest point ever.
Then, beginning of the 1980s, the national debt began growing quickly, despite the fact that our country experience relative peace and prosperity throughout that time. Except for a period in the late '90s and early 2000s, when our government was running budget surpluses, our federal budget has consistently been in the red, and the national debt has been on an upward path as a result.
At the rate we are going, we will pass the debt levels we saw at the end of World War II in just 10 years.
The fact that debt levels go "up and down" over the course of our history does not seem to make the hysterics pause.
They could have tried to illuminate what we did back in the 1940s and 1950s that made sure there was a down after the up.
Pete Peterson spent most of his time scapegoating Social Security and Medicare, then manages to cite the great investments of the 20th century, without bothering to connect the dots between investing, growth and reducing debt.
His main point was you have to cut "entitlements," namely Social Security and Medicare.
It's hard to avoid the entitlements if you do simple math. If you got rid of all the Bush tax cuts, which not many people are proposing, if you got rid of all the earmarks that people keep talking about, if you got out of both wars, you would only solve somewhere between 10 percent and 15 percent of the problem. So it is absolutely essential you get where the money is. It's very important on the entitlement.
Then at the end of the segment, Peterson has the moxie to laud the G.I. Bill, the Marshall Plan and the national highway system:
I remind you of what happened after the Second World War. Our public debt was twice as it is now, 122 percent of the GDP. The American people ... were told the truth. There was great leadership. And what did the American people do? They reduced the debt to something like 20 percent, 25 percent of the GDP by the '80s. They paid for the biggest infrastructure program in history -- highways. They paid for the Marshall Plan. They paid for the G.I. bill. Why? Because they understood ... by virtue of the leadership what the truth was.
But of course, Peterson doesn't connect the dots and tell the truth himself.
Those investments did not slash the budget. They grew the economy.
...in 1946, the United States, having just emerged from World War II, had federal debt equal to 122 percent of G.D.P ... how did the U.S. government manage to pay off its wartime debt? Actually, it didn't. At the end of 1946, the federal government owed $271 billion; by the end of 1956 that figure had risen slightly, to $274 billion. The ratio of debt to G.D.P. fell not because debt went down, but because G.D.P. went up...
But on CNN this weekend, you never heard that explanation from the nation's most famous economist, or anyone else for that matter.
2. We'll exploit college grads with debt, and make them think it's the budget's fault!
Perhaps the most disgusting part of the program was when CNN interviewed a college graduate and his parents lamenting at the high levels of debt he and his peers typically face, and then baselessly conflated it with the federal budget.
Well, you know - you know, the debt is huge, and how you're going to pay for it - I mean, when the kids graduate college and they have anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 of instant debt at the age of 22. I owed nothing. You know, my first credit card I didn't get until I was, like, 30 because they weren't available. Now they have credit cards, they have the debt, they - I mean, their - their whole life is built around debt.
That's all true! But the answer to that is to invest in making education affordable, and by cracking down on unscrupulous credit card companies. (All things which the current government is doing, but received no mention by CNN this weekend.)
Cutting the budget, it's an important step in getting out of debt, whether you're an American family like the Navolios, or the United States government.
Maybe if Pete Peterson talked more about the G.I. bill...
3. We passed one of the biggest deficit-reduction bills in history, health care reform, but it doesn't gut Medicare so we hate it!
The new health reform law is estimated to cut the deficit more than $1 trillion over two decades, and many argue even more because the litany of cost controls in the bill are experimental and weren't not assumed to work.
The last health care reform was about coverage expansion, not cost- reduction. Medicare is underfunded $38 trillion already. The Medicare prescription drug added $7 trillion to $8 trillion in underfunding. We need to start dealing with that.
We've gone through this very tortured health care reform and didn't get a lot from it in terms of the long-term challenge we face. David is right that it's more about expanding coverage than containing cost "
Which of these [cost-control] programs will work? We can't know. That's why the Congressional Budget Office doesn't credit any of them with substantial savings. The package relies on taxes and short-term payment cuts to providers in order to pay for subsidies. But, in the end, it contains a test of almost every approach that leading health-care experts have suggested ... None of this is as satisfying as a master plan. But there can't be a master plan.
Recognizing the necessary complexity of the law, and the need for continuing reforms, does not serve the Peterson agenda of gutting Social Security and Medicare. So Gawande's view also was not offered on CNN this weekend.
That's only sampling of the idiocy CNN viewers were subjected to this weekend.
My only solace is how horrible CNN's ratings are on the weekends. So hopefully, only a small portion of America became stupider, thanks to the "Most Busted Name In News."
Originally posted at OurFuture.org
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