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PETE PETERSON AND THE BILLIONAIRE AMERICASPEAKS EVENT IN PORTLAND

About 30 Portland, Oregon, Jobs with Justice picketers protested the recent Pete Peterson, Philadelphia billionaire, astroturf event in Portland (part of a 33 state teleconference) ostensibly about debt and deficit reduction but targeting privatization of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.
Portland Jobs with Justice picketers were in front of the Convention Center when I arrived. We went around to the back where the 500 or so volunteer participants were agreeing to spend six hours in an event dubbed "AmericaSpeaks" by financier and Philadelphia philanthropist/billionaire, Pete Peterson. A few of us went inside. I lasted about an hour, up to the point where the local and national facilitators said they were going to do one question about the Recession and the Economy (ie, jobs!), since that was 'in the news' at the moment.

Starbucks provided the coffee, and there were muffins, and later, lunch. I never made it to lunch. Apparently, I was the 201st peson to register and therefore just missed out on getting a $25 gift certificate to McDonalds, WalMart, etc. At the table next to me inside, a Libertarian Tea Party organizer, Joe, debated Mary, a senior woman organizer with Portland Alliance for Democracy, about Starbucks. Joe the Libertarian declared "I love Starbucks" while Mary pointed to her t-hirt, "Abolish Corporate Personhood" and said she hated Starbucks.

Emily, the volunteer facilitator (one of two) at our table, passed out glossy, 20-page booklets printed up by the Pete Peterson Foundation. The graphs in the booklets about the federal budget lacked dollar figures but showed percentages, ie, 20% for the Pentagon. There was a four page "pre-event" questionnaire asking participants if they knew the names of their U.S. Senators. There was also a four-page "exit survey" to see if the information presented in the teleconference had successfully influenced and persuaded participants that too many old people (that is, "an aging poplulation") and exorbitant health care costs were the big problems that needed to be fixed by cutting or axing Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

When I insisted, three times, on keeping copies of this material, the second facilitator at our table kept using the cheap sales talk language of why "they" "had" to keep the material. Finally, Emily, a PCC student transferring to Marylhurst this fall, produced a blank four-page "pre-survey" that I could keep. On the filled out pre-survey, I did put that I had heard of the event from Jobs with Justice -- not the radio station in Portland which apparently was promoting the teleconference.

The glossy packet noted that people who were there were there 'by invitation, by radio broadcasts and by several emails sent to them' before the event. I had gotten none of this, since I came to protest the event with JwJ.

The second facilitator at our table, a blonde woman named Debbie from Spokane, told Mary and me to "stop having side conversations." We were attempting to talk about the global economy fixing global poverty, etc., insisting three times that were 'violating' the groudrules, etc.


THE NATIONAL TELECONFERENCE SALES PITCH

The event got started on the big screen in the front of the room, with a listing of the 33 states and big cities which were recruited to particiapate. An Anglo woman and a black gentleman on the screen were the televised co-hosts for the event, and they introduced David Walker, Clinton's Comptroller in the Clinton-Gore Administration. Alice Rivlin, former OMB director (??) was also on hand via teleconference to lend Democratic (DLC?) credentials to the event.

Much of the printed material, and the blonde facilitator from Spokane, talked about "civility and groundrules." Much of the questions on the surverys talked about "the partison tone in Washington DC" and admonished that this six hour event was going to be peaceful, polite, civil, etc.

Electronic voting gizmos were given to all 5,000 participants in the 33 states for instantaneous tallying on questions asked by the teleconference hosts. The Rockefeller Foundation was one of many nonprofit groups listed (about 20 of them) as financiers of the event, along with Pete Peterson's Foundation.

On the question of demographics for "AmericaSpeaks" (which seemed to leave out about 29 countries in the Western Hemisphere -- along with New York State, and a number of other deeply blue Democratic states), the tallied results failed to appear at the bottom of the screen -- not properly framed to show up on the screen. All other questions had the tallies on the left hand side of the screen. The televised co-facilitators noted the teleconference was over-represented by seniors (those most opposed to Obama's health care bill -- the packet noted the health care bill was passed by Obama and Congress, but not that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $1,000,000 per day to defeat it -- even though it lacked both single payer and public option). The facilitators also noted the teleconference was very much under-represented by Hispanic participants -- compared with the general U.S. population.

In the 20-page packet (which no one had time to look at exept the JwJ dissenters like me), on page 19 and 20 the "conclusions" for the event, were pre-printed up: privatize and make severe cutbacks to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had "an insignificant" dollar cost v. debt/deficit reduction; and with no mention of the importance of creating jobs, fighting/eliminating poverty, etc.


JOE THE LIBERTARIAN ATTACKS TEACHERS AND GOVERNMENT SPENDING

Joe, the Libertarian-Tea Party organizer at our table (wearing his anti-Blumenauer button, saying that Blumenaeur was a socialist supported by the Oregonian) -- started out his speech on the state of the economy [this was the one time in the six hour event that the Recession had one question asked about it]: "Jobs, jobs, jobs and education are important" Joe intoned, but then added, curiously, "So, I'm sick and tired of wasteful government spending with short term aid to cities and states like funding all these teachers." Joe supported laying off 300,000 teachers because they weren't real, private sector jobs, and education and jobs were just running up the debt and the deficit, etc. In other words, Joe supported Wall Street making money, just as they had, in the capitalist tradition, befoe the recession started -- and, as a Libertarian, having government fund police and military only (Rand Paul disciple?).

When some of the JwJ dissenters suggested this seemed to contradict itself (ie, rhetorically claiming that jobs and education matter, the advocating massive layoffs of teachers!), Joe and two event facilitators launched into tirades against "people criticizes my statements in a non-polite, far too partisan way."

It was at this point I bailed from the Pete PetersonSpeaks teleconference event. It was easy to see that if I tried quoting Paul Krugman (not to mention John Maynard Keynes, much less Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Robert Knepper, even Robert Rubin or Laura Tyson), that would be deemed "partisan" and "not polite." Creating jobs like FDR did with the WPA, the Federal Theater Project, or, enacting a "Maximum Wage Law" for billionaires like Pete Peterson -- were not suggestrf actions in the 20-page glossy packets, nor would they be tolerated by the volunteer group facilitators at each table.

That would be impolite.

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