Award-winning Investigative Journalist Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Award-winning investigative journalist and founder/editor of, Robert Parry has passed away. His ground-breaking work uncovering Reagan-era dirty wars in Central America and many other illegal and immoral policies conducted by successive administrations and U.S. intelligence agencies, stands as an inspiration to all in journalists working in the public interest.

Robert had been a regular guest on our Between The Lines and Counterpoint radio shows -- and many other progressive outlets across the U.S. over four decades.

His penetrating analysis of U.S. foreign policy and international conflicts will be sorely missed, and not easily replaced. His son Nat Parry writes a tribute to his father: Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews.

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Investigation Reveals Interests Behind Astroturf "Fix the Debt" Campaign to Slash Nation's Social Safety Net

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Posted Feb. 27, 2013

Interview with Lisa Graves, executive director of Center for Media and Democracy, conducted by Scott Harris


In the latest in a series of dramatic political and economic showdowns in Washington, D.C., beltway politicians, pundits and much of the nation are now focused on the current debate over the March 1 deadline to avert the sequester. The sequester is measure mandating a series of automatic cuts in the federal budget, that will reduce across the board government spending in military and domestic programs by $85 billion, a down payment on $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade.

For more than a year, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has provoked crisis after crisis over the debt ceiling, fiscal cliff, the sequester and coming soon, the next big deadline to avoid a government shutdown by passing what’s called a “continuing resolution,” by March 27.

Much of the rhetoric coming from conservative politicians around these budget debates revolves around their demand for austerity and to reduce Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. But despite a well-funded campaign to convince the American people that cuts to the nation’s social safety net programs is both necessary and urgent, opinion polls find that Democrats, Republicans and Independent voters all reject these cuts by wide margins. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. She discusses her group’s investigation that reveals the people and interests behind billionaire Pete Peterson’s "Fix the Debt" campaign's drive to urge major benefit cuts to recipients of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

LISA GRAVES: My organization's launched a new website – that's – about Peter G. Peterson, a Wall Street billionaire, the guy who co-founded Blackstone, who has been spending a lot of money trying to persuade people that the debt is the problem and not the economy. What we discovered there was a huge PR (public relations) campaign underway called "Fix the Debt," that operates out of one of the committees that he's, Pete Peterson, has funded and what Fix the Debt does is try to present this issue of the debt as a bipartisan issue in which they're the only supposed adults in the room talking about solutions.

Meanwhile, we know from the work of Fix the Debt as well as the Simpson-Bowles Commission operation, the Commission and their ongoing efforts to influence policymakers, that a real big part of this effort by Pete Peterson is to get his hands, to get the hands of the private sector, in essence, on Social Security and to change Social Security in significant ways to make it harder to access for Americans, to reduce the amount of payments for ordinary Americans and also basically undermine other safety net programs.

And so, what we've discovered is that Fix the Debt is really riddled with conflicts of interest from the top all the way through the organization in terms of people who are the leaders of Fix the Debt, who are corporate lobbyists or on big corporate boards and whose interests are really not the same as ordinary people's interests.

So, the related part of this Fix the Debt and the other parts of the campaign are this notion that Social Security is broke or insolvent. It's not. Every legitimate study of Social Security shows that it's solvent for at least 20 years.

BETWEEN THE LINES: It goes without saying we live in a time where the politics of the country is really centered on the debate about austerity and cutting back government. A big part of the 2012 election campaign was about that topic and Pete Peterson and his group is really trying to work hand and glove with the Republicans who've set up all these mini-crises: the debt ceiling, the sequester and funding the government. A lot of looming deadlines, and there's a push on almost every one of these deadlines to cut back Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. How successful has Pete Peterson been in driving this agenda?

LISA GRAVES: Well, it's interesting, because in some ways he's been very unsuccessful, because when ordinary Americans on one of the bus tours that was related to one of the operations he did a couple years ago, on one of those bus tours, when they heard the information, Americans said, "No! We want more Social Security. We want these programs that keep our grandparents – that we paid into – we want them strong. We don't want them weakened."

And, so in some ways he's not been successful in this very long-standing, ideological hostility to Social Security, that Pete Peterson has evinced. But in other ways, he's been very successful, because right now, in Washington, all you hear about is the debt talk. The only thing occupying the conversation is sequestration, which is a process by which so-called entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are sequestered away from these cuts that are coming to the discretionary spending.

Now, the reason why those programs are not part of these cuts is because they're not discretionary spending. They're mandatory spending because you and I and anyone who gets a paycheck has paid into those programs and it's our Social Security and our Medicaid and Medicare. That's why those entitlements are off the table.

Meanwhile, the Fix the Debt crew and some of the others, they want Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to be part of the negotiations. So when they say they want a balanced approach, what they're saying is they want your health insurance, your retirement to be part of these massive cuts.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Lisa, your group and others recently had a press conference where you were bringing to the attention of the country the fact that Pete Peterson and his Fix the Debt campaign was launching a grassroots or what you might call an astroturf state-by-state campaign in actually 23 states around the country. Tell us what the Fix the Debt campaign is planning.

LISA GRAVES: Fix the Debt is running these big promotions on their site, saying they have over 300,000 people who've signed their very vague petition. But it turns out they bought about 250,000 of those names from a list service that charges a buck or two bucks a name.

There's an effort to basically push this idea that there's this grassroots effort that Americans are clamoring for the debt to be the top priority, rather than creating jobs, when in fact Americans routinely talk about – when they're polled – how making our economy stronger is actually what their top priorities are. Debt is way, way, way down the list. In fact, some Americans know – and many Americans don't know – that our debt is actually going down. That after President Obama, one, was able to push back on the Bush tax cuts, which the Republicans wanted to make permanent forever, the budget deficit started to go down. Whereas, most people think with all this debt hysteria that it's going up. It's not.

Find more information about the Center for Media and Democracy’s investigation on Pete Peterson’s Fix the Debt campaign by visiting

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