America Speaks

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America Speaks was founded in 1995. According to its website, its mission "is to reinvigorate American Democracy by engaging citizens in the public decision-making that most impacts their lives." [1]

America Speaks "Town Hall" Meetings Carry Pete Peterson Message

PR Video Produced by America Speaks

From 2009 to 2011, the 501(c)(3) organization "America Speaks," which was founded in 1995, was given $4,048,073 by the Peterson Foundation to push out its message on fiscal austerity outside the beltway with a series of "town hall" meetings.[2][3] The meetings coincided with the activities of the Peterson-Pew Commission and the Simpson-Bowles Commission.

America Speaks sponsored 19 town hall meetings in 2010. These "Town Halls for the 21st Century" made headlines when the audience revolted against the message they were being spoon fed. Respected financial writer David Dayden wrote: "The entire event was absolutely designed to create a panic about the deficit among the participants. Slickly produced scare videos talking about the dire straits of the budget were prevalent. Multiple charts and graphs without precise numbers or percentages were handed out. Speakers discussed how “most Americans are concerned about the deficits and debt,” and how we cannot grow our way out of the problem." [4]

Campaign for America's Future writer Roger Hickey wrote that with respect to Social Security misleading information was presented to the audience. "America Speaks gave participants no explanation of the fact that Social Security has its own source of funding, and thus does not contribute a dime to the deficit. Americans actually have been paying extra payroll taxes to create a trust fund that will make sure full benefits can be paid for decades into the future - and thus there is no rational reason to cut Social Security benefits (or raise the retirement age) in order to reduce the Federal deficit. But you wouldn't know that from the America Speaks materials or explanations. The Social Security program is simply presented as another big spending program and participants were presented with various ways to cut benefits."[5]

Economist Dean Baker pointed out that the educational materials had zero discussion of the mismanagement of the $8 trillion housing bubble which collapsed the economy and was projected to add trillions to the deficit.[6]

America Speaks Back, Town Hall Audiences Revolt

In discussing Medicare and Medicaid, Hickey wrote that America Speaks' "background materials actually did acknowledge that the rising budgetary costs of Medicare and Medicaid are driven by the fact that our whole health care system is broken - and costing both the private sector and government programs much more per person than in countries that have much better health outcomes. They even acknowledged that thoroughgoing reform - like single-payer health care system - is the only way to control those rising costs. However, when it came to options the participants were allowed to vote on, they were all variations on how much people wanted to cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits. At this point in the proceedings, the America Speaks founder and President, Carolyn Lukensmeyer had to acknowledge a rebellion in the ranks. People were demanding to have the option of voting for 'single-payer' reform instead of cutting Medicare and Medicaid, and when she announced a complicated process of writing in that alternative, a roar of approval went up from the crowd in several locations. Their press release doesn't report how many people chose this difficult to select option, but the organization clearly had had to scramble to quell a revolt by participants."[7]

Audiences Reject Budget Cuts and Vote for Higher Taxes on the Rich and Wall Street

The Wall Street Journal's Thomas Frank, describing the results of the town hall meetings, had this to say: "The event took place...with thousands of citizens meeting in different cities. They duly absorbed a booklet alerting them to the danger of deficits. They deliberated. And then something funny happened on the way to the consensus. According to a preliminary compilation of results, participants supported 'an extra 5% tax' on incomes of greater than $1 million per year (by 68%) and an increase in the corporate income tax rate (59%). They thought a 'carbon tax' was a good idea (64%) as well as a "securities transactions tax" (61%). On Social Security, austerity was nowhere in sight as 85% backed raising the limit on taxable income, and only a miserable 27% thought that we should 'create personal savings accounts.' Majorities favored cutting defense spending and expressed support for further recovery measures even if they increase the deficit."[8]

America Speaks in LA – They Want Economic Recovery, No Social Security Cuts

Audience Reaches "Surprisingly Progressive Conclusions"

The American Prospect's co-founder and co-editor, Robert Kuttner, writing in the Huffington Post, said, "...[T]hese surprisingly progressive conclusions came, despite the fact that the exercise was heavily funded by the nation's most powerful propaganda organization (the Peterson Foundation) that works to frighten Americans into believing that Social Security and Medicare are bankrupting the country!...The people are often ahead of the leaders and the pundits. If the administration paid attention to where public opinion really is, we'd be hearing a lot more about jobs and a lot less about deficits."[9]

More Resources & Reviews

A citizen attended an America Speaks town hall meeting and reviewed it here on her blog: America Speaks — Let the true message be heard!. Another review comes from Firedoglake's David Dayen, who attended and blogged about a Los Angeles-area town hall meeting; it can be read here: America Speaks in LA – They Want Economic Recovery, No Social Security Cuts. Finally, another review written by Naked Capitalism's Yves Smith, can be accessed here: Backfire at “America Speaks” Propaganda Campaign vs. Social Security and Medicare.

Contact

America Speaks
1050 17th Street, NW, Suite 250
Washington, DC 20036
tel: 202-775-3939
fax: 202-775-0404
email: info@americaspeaks.org

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References

  1. About Us, americaspeaks.org, Accessed January 9, 2013.
  2. Peter G. Peterson Foundation, America Speaks: From Peter G Peterson Foundation, organizational website, accessed January 8, 2013.
  3. Peter G. Peterson Foundation, IRS filling for April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011, organizational tax filing, March 31, 2011.
  4. David Dayden, America Speaks in LA, FireDogLake, June 26, 2010.
  5. Roger Hickey, In Deficit 'Town Meetings,' People Reject America Speaks Stacked Deck, Talking Points Memo, June 27, 2010
  6. Dean Baker, America Speaks Back: Derailing the Drive to Cut Social Security and Medicare, Center for Economic and Policy Research, June 21, 2010.
  7. Roger Hickey, In Deficit 'Town Meetings,' People Reject America Speaks Stacked Deck, Talking Points Memo, June 27, 2010
  8. Thomas Frank, Avoiding the Austerity Trap: Deficit reduction is an unhealthy obsession, Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2010.
  9. Robert Kuttner, It's the Jobs, Stupid, Huffington Post, June 27, 2010.