Sunday, February 15, 2009

President's Day

I suppose in honor of President's Day "da Times", (tip of the hat to SNL) another paragon of fair and balanced reporting, called on a panel of experts, who are all writers for the Times and thus eminently qualified to opine on the United States, to rank US Presidents. They put Lincoln as number 1. Not that controversial. But surprisingly (or perhaps not too surprisingly given the results when my daughter's poli sci course engaged this past fall in the same ranking exercise) they ranked Ronald Reagan as number 8! Mostly Reagon was credited for his "revolutionary zeal", his economic policies and participation in ending the cold war. Yikes!

As governor, Reagan instituted cuts and opposed additional funding that resulted in damage to a previously good education system in California. That system was further kicked to the ground by Proposition 13 after Reagan left office. However, Reagan's disdain for supporting public education was so overwhelming that in 1970 half of the LAUSD teachers went on strike to protest crumbling buildings, worn and outdated textbooks, and overcrowded classes.

As President, Reagan's economic policies, particularly in deregulation, contributed to the savings and loan crisis in the early '80s, a portent of the current bank crisis arising from lack of regulation. He also left a huge budget deficit due to his tax cuts and continued spending. W's attempt to reinstitute Reagan's "trickle down economics" shows how ineffective and inequitable an economic plan it is. Reagan also eliminated price controls on oil which continued American's delusion that it could use as much oil as it wanted without any consequences.

On foreign policy, let's not forget some of the charming highlights of Reagan's presidency:

  • Iran Contra The administration violated the law by selling arms to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. How Reagan escaped impeachment and prosecution stumps me.

  • El Salvador Reagan provided aid to the right wing government which perpetuated human rights abuses. He vetoed Congress' bill to make such aid contingent on having the Salvadoran government make real progress in human rights observance.

  • Afghanistan In what some believe was the beginnings of his Alzheimer's, Reagan forgot that he did not want to supply Stinger hand held antiaircraft missiles to the mujahideen and instead sent them those arms as well as extensive training by the CIA which they later parlayed into action as part of the Taliban and Al Queda.

  • Cold War Reagan's hard line stand on the Soviet Union and his pushing of "Star Wars" (Strategic Defense Initiative), in the view of some political scientists, extended the cold war rather than ending it. The Soviet Union collapsed because it spent 10 years fighting Afghanistan and its economy went to sh#t.

  • Aid to Angola Reagan loved to interfere wherever he could to change governments if he felt that government was a pawn of the USSR. Reagan's aid to UNITA, whose human rights abuses are shocking, perpetuated the fighting in that country with the support of apartheid South Africa.

The sound bite quote for the choice of Reagan as 8th best President was given to neocon darling Gerard Baker, assistant editor of The Times, "Revived American self-confidence at its lowest ebb." Seriously, Mr. Baker? With a little help from Iran which got its payback later (see bullet point 1 above)

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