I blame Reagan

A while back, I suggested online, somewhat provocatively, that Reagan was the worst President ever. I got surprisingly few responses. Just one, which said:
Reagan the worst president? Really? 
- 20 million new jobs were created 
- – Inflation dropped from 13.5% in 1980 to 4.1% by 1988 
Unemployment fell from 7.6% to 5.5% 
- Net worth of families earning between $20,000 and $50,000 annually grew by 27% 
- Real gross national product rose 26% 
- The prime interest rate was slashed by more than half, from an unprecedented 21.5% in January 1981 to 10% in August 1988
Saving the American economy, bringing down the Soviet Union, freeing 350+ million people from Communism, creating 20+ million jobs . That makes him the worst President? I think Obama and Jimmy have a firm lock on the first and second worst Presidents ever.
Please, whatever you are drinking and or smoking, stop.

The last part is quite amusing, but on the negative side, if his supporters are to be believed his (admittedly very good line) Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall, was the one and only reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Of course, it wasn’t, any more than American disinvestment in South Africa was the only reason for the collapse of the Apartheid regime (and incidentally it rhymes with hate, not light).

Both regimes collapsed because their leaders saw the writing on the wall, and to their very great credit, Gorbachev and De Klerk willingly gave up power and transitioned to a more democratic style of government. They both got Nobel Peace Prizes – Reagan did not.

But I am blaming Reagan for everything, so let us give him credit for bringing down Communism. It was probably not a good thing.

I say that because in even the most cursory reading of history one phrase jumps out again and again: balance of power. Once the Soviet Union crumbled, the US was left as the only power that mattered, at least until Europe united and China flexed its muscles. But more significantly, the fall of communism was not a victory for democracy; it was a victory for capitalism. And the PR machine for capitalism is far more persuasive than that for extreme socialism. The result is that through the miracle of globalization, capitalism is now dominant to the extent that, as reported by Oxfam, referring to 2016, “1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%”. Put slightly differently, “Eighty people hold the same amount of wealth as the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people”.

Eighty people!

The top five are Bill Gates, Carlos Slim, Armancio Ortega, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison. The Koch brothers come in at six and seven because they are only worth 40 billion each, but combined they outrank Gates. And if you take just three of the Waltons, they top the lot with a staggering 104 billion dollars.

I mentioned the Waltons in my letter: I don’t want to be part of a system that allows 6 people (the heirs of Sam Walton) to control as much (unearned) wealth as the bottom 30% of the population. The responses I got showed that many people do not actually think about what they are saying, or understand what they are reading. The common thread was “Good luck to them, they worked hard for their wealth.” They may have worked with the money they inherited; they certainly didn’t work for it. That is what Capitalism does, it grows money to the exclusion of all considerations of fairness, equality, workers’ rights, environmental issues or the future of the planet. Money makes money and the rich get richer. The money going into their pockets has to come from somewhere, so the poor get poorer. Trickledown economics just has not worked. Bill Maher sums it up perfectly: Trickle-down economics is like having three dogs, giving one of them a wiener and expecting him to share it with the other two.

There is much more to be said about capitalism, but here I am busy blaming Reagan for the ills of the world. So moving on.

From the Straits Times of Singapore:
“Mr Ronald Reagan was not universally beloved in the 135 countries of the developing world, nor was he especially well understood. His presidency was often perceived as a swaggering statement about American military and political pre-eminence in a world in which the erstwhile Soviet Union was already imploding. And yet, far more than any post-war American president, Mr Reagan influenced emerging countries, their markets and their governance. In many ways, he can be rightly called the father of contemporary globalization.”

PBS’s The American Experience had this to say: “As the economy rebounded strongly from the recession of 1981-82, (Reagan’s) ratings began to soar even higher. More Americans were working than ever before. New businesses were being started up and Wall Street was robust with activity. Still, worried voices pointed to a ballooning federal deficit as a sign that tax cuts, coupled with increased defense spending was a recipe for disaster. And while “Reaganomics” was helping to produce more and more millionaires, the disparity between rich and poor grew greater and greater. Reagan challenged his fellow citizens to “dream heroic dreams,” but made no mention of making sacrifices for the benefit of future generations.”

So now we have rampant capitalism, globalization (two sides of the same coin) and a rising oligarchy controlling the world. FDR’s comment on that was: That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. Lenin’s comment was a little more ominous: fascism is capitalism in decay.

But he wasn’t done yet. As The New York Times noted in 2011:
More than any other labor dispute of the past three decades, Reagan’s confrontation with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions. It also polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity. Air travel was significantly curtailed, and it took several years and billions of dollars (much more than Patco had demanded) to return the system to its pre-strike levels. And just incidentally Reagan led the actors’ strike of 1952.

I blame Reagan for setting the stage for climate change denial. Why in heaven’s name would anyone think it progress to remove solar panels from the White House roof? I can see the President not getting around to such a forward-thinking move, but to actually turn back the clock and take them off? A slap in the face to Carter who had installed them? A sop to his friends in the fossil fuel business?

I blame him for setting back educational progress. Hidden among his better known quotes is this one: Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because that is what leads to innovative thinking, the sort of stuff that made America great? Reagan proposed eliminating the Department of Education and halved the federal budget for education, while seriously eroding the power of local school districts.

I blame him for messing around with taxes. Reagan started the idea of tax cuts for the wealthy, part of his trickle-down economics. For the rest of us he raised taxes eleven times and tripled the federal deficit.

I blame Reagan for exacerbating the dire population situation. We have Jesse Helms to thank for the ruling that the United States government will not give any monetary assistance to family planning clinics around the world that offer abortion services. Ronald Reagan introduced the global gag rule in 1984 to prohibit foreign NGOs from receiving US family planning assistance even if they try to circumvent the Helms amendment by using non-US funds to provide abortion services, counseling, or referrals, or engage in advocacy within their own countries to liberalize abortion-related policies. I’m not sure how that rule is implemented but the population when Reagan took office was 4.438 billion. It is now over 7 billion and expanding daily. Just take a look at the Population Clock. http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ Look again when you finish reading. The world’s population is growing at about 46 million a year. Make that 50 million –the number has gone up since I started writing this! That is almost the population of Spain every year, and is more than the population of all but the 30 most populous nations in the world. There are 80 sovereign nations with a population of less than 460,000. So the world is growing 10 new nations a year. It is frightening.

I’d like to blame Reagan for voter suppression and the incredible divisiveness there is in the country, but I can’t find enough evidence. There is enough evidence, however, to blame the Republican party. I heard President Clinton in 2013 say that they launched a campaign 40 years ago to become the permanent majority. As Paul Weyrich, one of the creators of the Republican-Religious Right Alliance, a founder of ALEC, and a founder of the Heritage Foundation, famously said: “We don’t want everyone to vote. Quite frankly, our leverage goes up as the voting population goes down”. So much for democracy.

And it doesn’t much matter which party is in power, because there is very little difference between them in terms of their commitment to capitalism at the expense of the people. The only difference that I can see is the way policies are applied. The best way to tell a Democrat from a Republican is to present someone requiring food and shelter. The Democrat will want them housed and fed, even if they be faking need. The Republican will gladly see them starve until all doubt is removed. This anonymous saying is all too true, but leave it to Dave Barry to put things in perspective: The Democrats seem to be basically nicer people, but they have demonstrated time and again that they have the management skills of celery.

So when I read another Reagan quote: The world’s hopes rest with America’s future, I have to disagree. I think there is a better way.

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