Friday, February 19, 2010

Of High Treason and Economic Incompetence: The Reagan Years Revisited!

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

Ronald Reagan was already a 'grandfather' figure when he came to office in 1981. It may be unfair to say that he won the election with a single phrase: 'Well....there ya' go again!' In retrospect, it is all that one remembers of Reagan's empty promises and equally empty platitudes! Those and a head nod won him the White House. It is this surface veneer we remember --not his cowardly refusal to assent to Mikhail Gorbachev's offer of complete nuclear disarmament, not his two year long 'depression' which left millions homeless, not the act of 'high treason' called Iran/Contra.

Reagan was no friend of the poor, the working class, the cities. On numerous occassions, Reagan would offer up his own version of 'let them eat cake'. Reagan implied that the poor were lazy and welfare recipients 'crazy'. He invented --full cloth --a 'welfare Grandma' who drove a cadillac and had ripped off $150,000 from the government using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards and four fictional dead husbands. Many reputable journalists tried to find this 'welfare cheat'! None succeeded! At last, they were forced to admit that this infamous 'welfare cheat' did not exist. She was either one Reagan's bald-faced lies or one of his many psychotic delusions. I will be charitable to Reagan's memory. She did not exist! Reagan was not nuts, he was just a common, goddamned liar! Tragically, the image stuck. Reagan might have known it would. The lasting image of the 'Cadillac driving' cheat was behind the 1996 'welfare reform law' which the GOP stuck on Clinton who, to his shame, signed. It demonstrates the power of the 'big lie' technique which the GOP clearly learned from Hitler.

Of aids victims, he might as well have said what he really believed: 'let them die and decrease the surplus population!'. Reagan is evidence if not proof that evil is what Nuremberg psychologist Dr. Gustav Gilbert said it was: 'the utter lack of empathy!'.

Recessions, like the one following Ronald Reagan's improvident tax cut of 1982, harm workers. American recessions, like periods of prosperity, are inequitable in their effects, harming wage earners at the outset and paying off a tiny elite on tax day. The conservative economist Joseph Schumpeter confirmed as much when he compared recessions to a "cleansing douche", a characterization that lifelong goppers must surely apply to everyone but themselves and their country club cronies.
"When you think about what Ronald Reagan did to the American people, to the middle class to the working people," former Sen. John Edwards shot back at an event in Henderson, Nevada.

"He was openly -- openly-- intolerant of unions and the right to organize. He openly fought against the union and the organized labor movement in this country...He openly did extraordinary damage to the middle class and working people, created a tax structure that favored the very wealthiest Americans and caused the middle class and working people to struggle every single day. The destruction of the environment, you know, eliminating regulation of companies that were polluting and doing extraordinary damage to the environment."Edwards added, "I can promise you this: this president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change."

Washington Post, Obama's Reagan Comparison Sparks Debate

When I think about what Ronald Reagan did to this nation, I think of how he struck at and perhaps killed-off a viable labor movement. I think about how middle class families made homeless lived under bridges and overpasses in boomtown Houston. I think about how Reagan, like Bush, waged a phony war on terrorism during which terrorist attacks increased some three fold. I think about how Ed Meese waged a war on porn even as a gay prostitution ring operated right out of the White House. I think about how Ronald Reagan neutered affirmative action, the fairness doctrine, and the industries that had kept the middle class in the middle class. I remember how Ronald Reagan was worshipped by the gullible who remembered Reagan's reign at the Republican National convention of 1992: "Reagan made us feel good about ourselves", they swooned.

Reagan was both a liar and hypocrite. He occupied the White House with a mandate to cut federal spending. It was his raison d'etre. Conservatives bought it. Reagan became the biggest spending 'President' in U.S. history, doubling the size of the Federal Bureaucracy, tripling the deficit! He would escalate the military budget, enriching his crones on K-street and the Military/Industrial Complex.

Reagan can be given no credit for restoring the nation's prosperity. It was not enough that he destroyed the labor movement, he would cut off its raison d'etre by exporting jobs and industries abroad. Whatever economic growth occurred benefited only the upper quintile, a fact easily proven by cold, hard stats available to the public at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. His tax cut of 1982 benefited only the upper quintile and, inevitably, the chasm between the rich and everyone else widened. To be expected, wages declined; home ownership declined; infrastructure declined.

The rich remember Reagan fondly. They alone prospered. Everyone else lost ground. In fairness, that trend was reversed briefly in Clinton's second term but --to be expected --resumed with Bush Jr. Today --just one percent of the U.S. population owns more thant 95 percent of the remaining population combined. The Reagan years were heady boom times for the idle rich, offshore banks and the Military-Industrial complex. But in real America, only poverty and crime increased.

Why does the GOP insist upon repeating failed strategies? Reaganites promised that the stimulated economy would outgrow the deficit and the budget would be balanced "...within three years, maybe even two." It didn't! Reagan tripled the deficit and, on the way, doubled the size of the federal bureaucracy. Reagan's tax cuts were followed promptly by the longest and worst recession since Herbert Hoover's Great Depression. As Robert Freeman correctly points out: "...Jimmy Carter's last budget deficit was $77 billion. Reagan's first deficit was $128 billion. His second deficit exploded to $208 billion. By the time the "Reagan Revolution" was over, George H.W. Bush was running an annual deficit of $290 billion per year."

How will Bush the lesser compare to Reagan? By the year 2002, Citizens for Tax Justice were already writing:
Over the ten-year period, the richest Americans—the best-off one percent—are slated togwb0602a.gif - 10559 Bytes receive tax cuts totalling almost half a trillion dollars. The $477 billion in tax breaks the Bush administration has targeted to this elite group will average $342,000 each over the decade.

By 2010, when (and if) the Bush tax reductions are fully in place, an astonishing 52 percent of the total tax cuts will go to the richest one percent—whose average 2010 income will be $1.5 million. Their tax-cut windfall in that year alone will average $85,000 each. Put another way, of the estimated $234 billion in tax cuts scheduled for the year 2010, $121 billion will go just 1.4 million taxpayers.

Although the rich have already received a hefty down payment on their Bush tax cuts—averaging just under $12,000 each this year—80 percent of their windfall is scheduled to come from tax changes that won’t take effect until after this year, mostly from items that phase in after 2005.

1968 was the year in which measured postwar income was at its most equal for families. The Gini index for households indicates that there has been growing income inequality over the past quarter-century. Inequality grew slowly in the 1970's and rapidly during the early 1980's. ...Generally, the long-term trend has been toward increasing income inequality. Since 1969, the share of aggregate household income controlled by the lowest income quintile has decreased from 4.1 percent to 3.6 percent in 1997, while the share to the highest quintile increased from 43.0 percent to 49.4 percent. Most noticeably, the share of income controlled by the top 5 percent of households has increased from 16.6 percent to 21.7 percent. Over the same time period, the Gini index rose 17.4 percent to its 1997 level of .459.

Income Inequality, Census Bureau

The trend began then has continued: October 2003 figures from the US Census Bureau make stark reading:
Median household incomes are falling The number of Americans without health insurance rose by 5.7 percent to 43.6 million individuals.

The number of people living below the poverty line ($18,392 for a family of four) climbed to 12.1 percent — 34.6 million people.

Wages make up the majority of income for most American families. As "Downward Mobility," NOW's report on workers and wages illustrates, many American workers are facing corporate efforts to cut pay and benefits, which could lead to more American families struggling to stay out of poverty.

The results in black and white:
  • Twenty percent of the population own 84% of our private assets, leaving the other 80 percent of the population with 15.6 percent of the assets.
  • In 1960, the wealth gap between the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent of Americans was thirty fold. Four decades later it’s more than seventy-five-fold.
  • Either way -- wealth or income – America is more unequal, economists generally agree, than at any time since the start of the Great Depression…
  • And more unequal than any other developed nation today.
The most pernicious effect of GOP economic policy is the effect of declining opportunity, a corollary of declining in wealth among all but the very rich.

It is merely rhetorical to ask: why does the GOP seem to repeat ad nauseum utterly failed strategies that have never been shown to work? The answer is simple: the GOP sales pitch is what Reagan Budget Director David Stockman called a 'Trojan Horse'. The purpose of the tax cut is not to trickle down. The tax cuts always do precisely what the GOP insiders know they will do: they enrich the GOP base! Here is how someone who lived through the Reagan nightmare remembers it:

I was in the automotive field at the time, and dozens and dozens of established tool manufacturers, unionized shops, producing high quality tools, small companies with deep roots and real a commitment to the towns they were in all across the Midwest and the local communities, went out of business.

Why? Because with deregulation any hustler could get virtually unlimited financing and set up manufacturing plants overseas producing exact copies of American made tools and flood the US market with them with no fear of the Reagan administration enforcing any laws against them.

It also became easier, and far less risky, to get financing to set up a thousand junky identical chain outlets than it did for small local businesses to get credit or tax relief - restaurants, auto parts stores, hardware stores, grocery stores, florists - thousands and thousands of small businesses chewed up and destroyed.

We have a younger generation of people who have no personal experience with so many things - local businesses and tight knit communities, affordable, convenient and efficient public transportation, wages that allowed one person in a household enough income to support the family, homes that were homes, not investments, easy access to public recreation, confidence in the safety of food and other consumer items, all regulated and inspected for the public welfare, freedom from the relentless intrusion of corporations into our lives, and on and on and on.

Reagan destroyed the country, and if we try to gloss over that (which at the very least Obama's remarks have done) or if we buy into the dishonest rationales and excuses and obfuscations that the Reagan administration used to disguise their agenda and to sell it to the public, we surrender any chance at real change, we bury the coffin forever into which the right wingers have put the left - and by extension, the majority of the American people, and we condemn ourselves to living in this ongoing nightmare of destruction and human suffering.

It is not time to make nice with the Reagan legacy propagandists, even by implication or omission. It is time to relentlessly and fearlessly point out that the crisis the country is in is best described and analyzed as the chickens coming home to roost from the Reagan era.

It is time to fight. It is not time to heal or move on—no matter how attractive and appealing this may be—it is not time to paper over the profound divide in the country, it is not time to accommodate or apologize for

--Found on the Democratic Underground

Paul Krugman can always be depended upon to put this kind of thing in perspective.
Bill Clinton knew that in 1991, when he began his presidential campaign. “The Reagan-Bush years,” he declared, “have exalted private gain over public obligation, special interests over the common good, wealth and fame over work and family. The 1980s ushered in a Gilded Age of greed and selfishness, of irresponsibility and excess, and of neglect.”

Contrast that with Mr. Obama’s recent statement, in an interview with a Nevada newspaper, that Reagan offered a “sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

Maybe Mr. Obama was, as his supporters insist, simply praising Reagan’s political skills. (I think he was trying to curry favor with a conservative editorial board, which did in fact endorse him.) But where in his remarks was the clear declaration that Reaganomics failed?

For it did fail. The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen.

When the inevitable recession arrived, people felt betrayed — a sense of betrayal that Mr. Clinton was able to ride into the White House.

Given that reality, what was Mr. Obama talking about? Some good things did eventually happen to the U.S. economy — but not on Reagan’s watch.

--Paul Krugman, Debunking the Reagan Myth

Reagan/Bush tax cuts are payoffs to the very rich for their support. For everyone else, the GOP prescription is simple: just take another dose of what's making you sick.

Reagan was clearly aloof, indifferent to anyone's plight but his base of ultra rich robber barons, idle rich boys and the war mongers of the Military/Industrial complex. Reagan cared nothing for 'urban voters' which for him meant: 'black people' or 'brown folk'. There was only one black face in his cabinet, that of (HUD) Secretary Samuel Pierce. At a reception, Reagan asked him: "How are things in your city?" Unfortunately, I don't have the reply. I hope it was: "Fuck you, Mr. President!" Reagan got away with a housing scandal because no one knew anything about it until Reagan had left office. How convenient!

It was during the Savings and Loan Scandal, often described as an 'orgy of commercial real estate speculation', that Reagan managed to rise above it all by closing his eyes to 'widespread corruption, mismanagement and the collapse of hundreds of thrift institutions' across the nation. As we have seen recently, the Savings and Loan scandal preceded a huge bailout which stuck the tax payer for $billions$!

Widespread, endemic, institutionalized racial discrimination by banks, real estate agents and landlords, went unrestrained and un-monitored. Big banks exploited what was called 'red lining', openly violating the Community Re-investment Act, to deprive minority and poor neighborhoods of capital. Only eight of some 40,000 applications from banks seeking to expand their operations were denied by the Reagan administration because they had violated CRA regulations.

Reagan cut federal assistance to local governments by some 60 percent. His administration eliminated general revenue sharing, slashed public service jobs and job training, and all but dismantled federally funded legal services for poor people. Other targets: the anti-poverty Community Development Block Grant program and any program having to do with public transit. It was primarily the 'inner cities', which Reaganites considered to be 'black', which suffered. Reagan's favorite 'urban' program' provided aid to highways and that was favored only because it benefited 'white suburbs' not 'black' inner cities.
I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

--Barack Obama, Washington Post

Following is a very brief checklist of a variety of Reagan abuses that defy easy categorization.
  • During the Reagan years, federal aid to cities dropped from 22 percent to six. Causalities included urban clinics, hospitals, and police.
  • In early 1984 on Good Morning America, Reagan defended himself against charges of callousness toward the poor in a classic blaming-the-victim statement saying that “people who are sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless, you might say, by choice." And to that, I say: bullshit! Prove it!
  • Various groups, community organizations et al, fought to limit the damage. Some victories were won including, during the Clinton years, the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and stronger enforcement of the CRA. But funding for low-income housing, legal services, job training and other programs are still lost and may never be restored short of a revolution that will undo Reagan's very worst legacy: the fact that the rich have gotten exponentially richer as everyone else, including the middle class, have lost gains. I will repeat this until someone gets it: today, just one percent owns more than some 95 percent combine. That is Reagan's most horrible legacy and the one from which almost every other evil springs.
  • Reagan was called the 'great communicator' but used his talent to divide the nation, perhaps, irreparably! Obama inherited a nation in which there is extreme wealth among the very, very, very few but obscene poverty and deteriorating conditions among the many. The middle class is no longer smug but threatened as the increase in foreclosures throughout suburbia will attest.
Iran-Contra: A Case of Treason!

In 1986, the Reagan administration was implicated in two illegal and secret U.S. Government operations stemming from the Reagan's support for Nicaraguan 'contra' rebels. At the time, U.S. law prohibited aid and/or the sale of arms as, in fact, transpired in Iran/Contra. The scandal called 'Iran/Contra' came to light and Reagan administration officials announced that government had sold arms to Iran. Iran was, at the time, an avowed enemy of the United States. It was not so long prior that the U.S. embassy personnel, held hostage, had been released by the 'revolutionary' government in Iran. Proceeds from arms sales to Iran were diverted --off the books --to the 'contra' rebels in Nicaragua.

As the 'scandal' came to light, Attorney General Ed Meese sought the appointment of a 'special prosecutor', a position in which Lawrence E. Walsh would assume the role of 'independent counsel' to investigate and prosecute possible crimes arising from what was already called 'Iran/Contra'.

It was alleged that Director Casey's 'unswerving support of President Reagan's contra policies' encouraged CIA officials to exceed legal restrictions in both operations, though it cannot be said that Iran/Contra was the only origin of CIA 'off the book' operations. The Boland Amendment of October 1984 had sought to prohibit and prevent the CIA from aiding the 'contras' either directly or indirectly. As the 'scandal' came to light, it became increasingly clear that Casey had made an end run around Boland and was, in fact, the architect of North's role in a so-called 'contra-support team'.

North's role --described as 'dove-tailing' CIA activities --violated the Boland restrictions even as Casey ordered and/or supported arms sales to Iran. 'Operatives' Alan Fier and Claire E. George lied to Congress to 'keep the spotlight off the White House'. When the arms ales were made public in November, 1986, it was clear that Congress had been lied to; the people, the nation had been misled.

Four CIA officials were charged with crimes. George, the third highest-ranking CIA official, was convicted of two felony counts of false statements and perjury, i.e, 'lying' to Congress. Two CIA 'operatives' were awaiting trial when they were pardoned by Reagan whom Special Prosecutor Walsh clearly implicated in his 'Final Report' on Iran/Contra matters.
The Iran/contra investigation will not end the kind of abuse of power that it addressed any more than the Watergate investigation did. The criminality in both affairs did not arise primarily out of ordinary venality or greed, although some of those charged were driven by both. Instead, the crimes committed in Iran/contra were motivated by the desire of persons in high office to pursue controversial policies and goals even when the pursuit of those policies and goals was inhibited or restricted by executive orders, statutes or the constitutional system of checks and balances.

The tone in Iran/contra was set by President Reagan. He directed that the contras be supported, despite a ban on contra aid imposed on him by Congress. And he was willing to trade arms to Iran for the release of Americans held hostage in the Middle East, even if doing so was contrary to the nation's stated policy and possibly in violation of the law.

The lesson of Iran/contra is that if our system of government is to function properly, the branches of government must deal with one another honestly and cooperatively. When disputes arise between the Executive and Legislative branches, as they surely will, the laws that emerge from such disputes must be obeyed. When a President, even with good motive and intent, chooses to skirt the laws or to circumvent them, it is incumbent upon his subordinates to resist, not join in. Their oath and fealty are to the Constitution and the rule of law, not to the man temporarily occupying the Oval Office. Congress has the duty and the power under our system of checks and balances to ensure that the President and his Cabinet officers are faithful to their oaths.

The Reagan era was the beginning of the end. If Reagan was the American 'Augustus', Bush Jr is Caligula. Those writing of the Fall of the American Empire often write as if this outcome is Obama's fault. That's just plain stupid! If Obama were an utter incompetent, he could not possibly have duplicated the thousand cuts inflicted by Herrs Reagan, Bush and Bush the Lesser. Likewise, Clinton. No 'miracle worker', Clinton --in fact --reversed several pernicious, ruinous trends that had begun with Reagan. Given another term, the end of America would have occurred on Bush Sr's watch. Reagan's sorry legacy benefits from the fact that Presidents --competent and incompetent alike --are limited to eight years in which to fuck things up!

The fatal trends, however, were all in place and working overtime when Reagan exited the White House. Therefore, it is not Reagan's fault that the evil empire he helped create did not fall immediately! He tried his best!

To be fair, U.S. Presidents are as incompetent if not as impotent as were the Emperors in Augustus' wake. During the Cold War, the MIC, a latter-day Praetorian Guard, became accustomed to getting all the appropriations it wanted. The power accrued to the MIC during the cold war years meant that 'they' would not simply go quietly into that good night with the fall of the Soviet Union. A new enemy would simply have to be found. The MIC is still around and bigger and 'badder' than ever, openly enriching themselves with the spoils of war.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, it became necessary to invent exterior threats with which to terrorize the populace, around which to build up a military infrastructure. The threat of 'terrorism' has filled the role to the satisfaction of Pentagon brass asses and war mongers. It does not matter to them that 99 percent of what is CALLED 'terrorism' is but the resistance to illegal U.S. occupations, invasions, and interventions. It does not matter to them that most U.S. incursions since World War II have been illegal and purely imperial, intended to enrich the vast and complex array of defense contractors and Pentagon suck-ups.

The most obvious example remains Bush's attack and invasion of Iraq --clearly a violation of every international principle and/or treaty to which the U.S. is bound. Almost if not everything the U.S. has done internationally is illegal but to merely oppose it --as every people has the right under international law --is called terrorism by the U.S. govt. Bush called his opposition in Iraq either insurgents or terrorists. But if you were an Iraqi, you most certainly would take up arms to defend your nation against the invasion by the evil empire. When the British took arms to reclaim thirteen rebellious colonies, it was William Pitt in Parliament who summed up the situation precisely:
If I were an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I never would lay down my arms -- never! never! never!
Because Ronald Reagan bequeathed us a legacy of imperial lawlessness and arrogance, US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq ARE terrorist acts. Deaths resulting from orders issuing from either Bush or Cheney are war crimes described precisely in the federal laws which prohibit them under the penalty of death. See: U.S. Codes, Title 18, Section 2441.

To cover their crimes, U.S. administrations since Reagan have lied to us as a matter of policy. The U.S. government has failed utterly to deal with its own citizens in good faith! It pursues its own agenda and those of its co-conspirators on K-Street and the MIC. It has dealt with the sovereign citizens in bad faith!
A man who does not know the truth is just an idiot but a man who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a crook.

--Bertolt Brecht.
Therefore: our 'leaders' are crooks and the U.S. government has become a crime syndicate if not a rogue nation. The U.S. must withdraw from every middle eastern nation from which it had hoped to steal resources. If I may paraphrase Pitt: if I were an Iraqi or an Afghan, while a foreign troop was in my country, I would never lay down my arms! NEVER!