Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future
Years ago a political scientist said that the mass media can't influence what people think, but it can influence what people think about. Today it does both. If you're a billionaire who wants to manipulate public opinion, that means you'll keep feeding it stories that serve your ideology and self-interest.
Hedge fund billionaire Peter G. "Pete" Peterson is a master of the art. At a time when 47 million Americans (including one child in five) live in poverty, when our national infrastructure is collapsing and the middle class dream is dying before our eyes, he's managed to convince a few voters, a lot of politicians, and far too many major-media journalists that our most urgent problem is " federal deficit spending.
They don't just want you to be concerned about it. They want you to be afraid.
The front for this effort (one of many assembled by the Peterson Foundation) is called "The Coalition for Fiscal and National Security," and they've assembled a list of prominent figures to promote it. Let us consider the message, and the messengers.
"The single biggest threat to our national security is our debt."
That's a surprisingly bold and naive proclamation, especially from someone of Mullen's stature. It takes a lot of imagination, and some highly implausible assumptions, to believe that our national security is really endangered by federal deficits.
The Peterson Foundation provides both, of course. Unfortunately its manipulated facts and figures fail to make their case, even when taken at face value.
What would a rational list of nonmilitary risks look like? Climate change would almost certainly top the list. Many military experts already consider it a grave national security threat. A bipartisan group of 48 defense leaders and experts -- including, perhaps paradoxically, some of the Peterson group's signatories -- signed a full-page ad last year entitled "Republicans and Democrats Agree: U.S. Security Demands Global Climate Action."
One defense expert called climate change "the mother of all risks."
It's easy to see why. Rising sea levels threaten many of our coastal towns and cities, including most of lower Manhattan. Millions of Americans are likely to become internal refugees in their own country, posing the risk of widespread lawlessness and instability.
Climate change is expected to trigger a number of future conflicts around the globe, as nations and peoples compete for increasingly scarce resources. Some scientists believe that climate change contributed to the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Wealth inequality also belongs near the top of the list. Extreme inequality makes a society unstable. Today millions are trapped in poverty while the 20 richest Americans own more wealth than half the entire nation -- some 150 million people in 57 million households.
Persistent poverty plagues minority communities, while the 400 richest Americans own more than the nation's entire African-American population (plus one-third of this nation's Latinos). There are growing rates of suicide, opioid overdose, and deaths from alcoholism among lower-income whites. Economist Anne Case calls them "deaths of despair."
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