Five terrible things Ronald Reagan did as President

I recently came across a post by something called Blue Nation Review titled 5 Terrible Things Ronald Reagan Did As President, by Jesse Berney. As a casual Reagan fan, I was curious to hear about these terrible things.

Conservatives like to pretend that Presidents Day is a holiday for the exclusive celebration of Ronald Reagan, their favorite president and a man they lionize as an earthbound saint crossed with the world’s manliest cowboy.

So it’s a good idea to remember Reagan’s real legacy: a bad president surrounded by bad people who did bad things. Here are five of the worst things Reagan did as president to remind you exactly the kind of leader he was.

Straw man introduced? Check.

Now let’s entertain the compelling reasons why President Reagan was a Really Bad Man™.

5. Reagan Stole Money from the Social Security Trust Fund

Remember those Saturday Night Live sketches in 2000 where Al Gore promised to put Social Security in a lockbox? (If you’re too young to know what I’m talking about, Al Gore is the man who invented the Internet and came up with the global warming hoax.)

The reason Gore was so committed to protecting Social Security is that Ronald Reagan used the funds as his personal piggy bank. After his tax cuts devastated the federal treasury, ushering in the era of giant deficits we’re still mired in today, Reagan raised Social Security taxes, ostensibly to protect Social Security for future generations. Instead, he dumped that money into the general treasury fund to reduce the deficits he had created. Speaking of corruption…

Do a Google search for Social Security general fund.

The first result is a page on the Social Security Administration’s website, headline: Debunking Some Internet Myths- Part 2.

Here’s the first item:

Q1. Which political party took Social Security from the independent trust fund and put it into the general fund so that Congress could spend it?

A1: There has never been any change in the way the Social Security program is financed or the way that Social Security payroll taxes are used by the federal government. The Social Security Trust Fund was created in 1939 as part of the Amendments enacted in that year. From its inception, the Trust Fund has always worked the same way. The Social Security Trust Fund has never been “put into the general fund of the government.

The whole thing is worth reading, but I’ll leave it at that. Claim disproved with one Google search and one click.

Verdict: false.

Next?

4. Reagan Filled His Administration With Corrupt People

No administration was as corrupt as Ronald Reagan’s, not even Nixon’s. His attorney general resigned after he was involved with a company that received illegal no-bid contracts. His secretary of the interior, who thought his job was to sell off federal lands to defense contractors, was indicted on multiple counts of perjury.

Reagan’s vice president and successor, George Bush, pardoned six separate people for their roles in the Iran-Contra affair, including Reagan’s National Security adviser and his secretary of defense. Speaking of Iran-Contra…

Example 1: “His attorney general resigned after he was involved with a company that received illegal no-bid contracts.”

Response: Reagan’s second attorney general was Ed Meese. A special prosecutor appointed to investigate Meese’s involvement in the Wedtech Scandal ultimately found no grounds for legal action against him. Meese later resigned with a clear name, saying he had been “completely vindicated.”

Meanwhile, two members of Congress, both Democrats, resigned due to the scandal. Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-NY) was “convicted of 15 counts of obstruction of justice and accepting illegal gratuities” and was sentenced to eight years. The other was Robert Garcia (D-NY). Two Maryland state senators connected to the scandal also resigned and did jail time, both Democrats.

Example 2: “His secretary of the interior, who thought his job was to sell off federal lands to defense contractors, was indicted on multiple counts of perjury.”

Response: James Watt served as Secretary of the Interior from 1981 to 1983. Thirteen years later, Watt was “charged with felony counts of perjury and making false statements to cover up his work as a consultant seeking Federal aid from HUD after he left the Government in 1983.” Watt pled guilty to a single misdemeanor that did not occur while he was a member of Reagan’s cabinet, that concerned a department other than the one he had led, and that resulted in a fine and probation.

Example 3 is repeated below, and you don’t get to count it twice.

Verdict: false.

Next?

3. Reagan Presided Over the Iran-Contra Affair

In 1985 and 1986, Ronald Reagan sold arms to Iran, locked in a horrific war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, for cash and the release of U.S. hostages. The sales to Iran violated sanctions against Iran.

But much of the money that came from the sales was diverted to fund the Contras, right-wing rebels fighting the left-wing Sandinista government of Nicaragua. That was in violation of laws against helping the Contras.

As noted above, George Bush had to pardon several Reagan aides in the wake of the scandal. Speaking of aides…

Reagan-can-he-recoverIt’s interesting. President Reagan’s worst moment in office was his (somewhat successful) attempt to free American hostages being held by radical Islamic terrorists, by allowing a deal between Israel and (supposed) moderates in Iran, while rogue members of his administration directed funds to democratic allies fighting for freedom in Central America, and were fired or resigned.

These days, things are a little different. President Obama releases radical Islamic terrorists who return to the battlefield in exchange for a deserter, and the CIA sets up camp in Libya to monitor an arms deal when an American ambassador and three others are killed by radical Islamic terrorists, and members of his administration blame it on a protest over a Youtube video, and are promoted.

Verdict: true enough, but give me Iran-Contra over Gitmo-Bergdahl every day of the week.

Gosh, if #3 is Iran-Contra, there must be some really terrible things ahead. Right?

2. Reagan Refused to Mention AIDS, Then Cut Funding for Research

In the early 80s, a horrific new epidemic ravaged America’s gay population. Because so many of the victims of AIDS were gay, the right-wing viewed the disease as a kind of divine retribution for their sins.

Reagan didn’t mention AIDS in public until September 1985, after more than 10,000 people had died from the disease. In 1986, Reagan called for a report on AIDS but also proposed cutting federal funds for research and patient care as treatments were just starting to make it to market. Speaking of inhumanity towards his fellow man…

If Reagan “refused to mention AIDS,” why did he instruct the surgeon general to prepare a “major report” on the disease in 1986, and why did he form the President’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic in 1987?

As for “cutting federal funds,” Reagan initially budgeted $85 million for AIDS research in 1986, later increased that to $126 million, and then again to $196 million. For his 1987 budget, he increased the request to $213 million.

Verdict: false.

1. Reagan Opposed Sanctions on Apartheid Era-South Africa

When Congress looked likely to pass sanctions on South Africa to battle apartheid in 1985, Reagan vigorously opposed any action. In order to stop moderate Republicans from defecting, he issued a half-assed executive order imposing some sanctions.

The next year, when Congress realized Reagan’s sanctions didn’t have teeth, it overwhelmingly passed a bill imposing real sanctions on the racist regime. Reagan vetoed the bill. Happily there were enough votes to override his veto, and the sanctions became a key part of the eventual end of apartheid.

Ronald Reagan and Congress both put sanctions on South Africa over apartheid. Reagan through executive order in 1985, Congress through legislation in 1986. Reagan vetoed the set of sanctions drafted by Congress, arguing that they would hurt the very people they were intended to help. The disagreement was over the tactics, not the goal.

Is there a similar debate happening today? Actually, yes.

President Obama recently announced a change in relations with Cuba, and called for an end to sanctions, despite saying he was “under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans.” Obama argues the sanctions have hurt the Cuban people but haven’t done much to change its leadership in the five decades they’ve been in force.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and many others in Congress believe the sanctions should remain until Cuba’s leadership makes more concessions. Obama disagrees. Does that mean the President opposes freedom for Cubans, or simply that he disagrees on the effectiveness of the sanctions in bringing about the desired result?

Verdict: false.

Final tally: 4 false, 1 true, but true in the “let’s free U.S. prisoners instead of terrorists” kind of way.

Knowing is Harf the battle: fighting ISIS at the root

What is root cause of terrorism, and what can be done about it?

These were the central questions being discussed in America this week, although much of the media attention was focused more specifically on the answers provided by State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf.

“We cannot kill our way out of this war,” Harf told Chris Matthews in an interview on MSNBC’s Hardball. “We need… to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs…”

When an incredulous Matthews responded that Muslim poverty couldn’t be stopped “in our lifetime, or 50 lifetimes,” Harf continued:

“We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance, we can help them build their economies, so they can have job opportunities for these people. You’re right, there is no easy solution in the long-term to preventing and combating violent extremism, but if we can help countries work at the root causes of this, what makes these 17-year-old kids pick up an AK-47, instead of try to start a business? Maybe we can try– try to chip away at this problem, while at the same time going after the threat, taking on ISIL in Iraq, in Syria, and helping our partners around the world.”

Critics pointed to Harf’s “jobs for terrorists” line as evidence of the administration’s refusal to clearly identify the enemy and of the president’s lack of urgency in providing a military response. For some, it also illustrated the administration’s new doctrine of “strategic patience,” released this month as the official national security strategy.

Conservative cartoonist Michael Ramirez mocked Harf with his usual flair:

The controversy reminded me of the frequent criticism against President George W. Bush, that a country can’t “impose democracy” on another. The Bush strategy, as presented in his second inaugural address, had called for the spread of freedom and democratic rule around the world as a counter to terrorist recruiting efforts.

But if it’s an intolerable imposition to give oppressed nations the opportunity for self-governance, isn’t it much more invasive and presumptuous to restructure a foreign country’s economy?

I wasn’t the only one reminded of Bush. The following afternoon, Harf took to Twitter and defended her comments by citing the former president.

Harf’s posts represented a shocking reversal for an administration that came to power by running hard against the Bush foreign policy and has been hell-bent on grinding his legacy into the ground.

But Harf wasn’t done yet. Later that evening, she appeared on CNN’s The Situation Room, where Wolf Blitzer repeatedly asked her to explain.

After the third iteration, a frustrated Harf said her comments “might be too nuanced of an argument for some like I’ve seen over the past 24 hours, some of the commentary out there…”

Harf may actually have a point, but part of the disconnect is created by the administration’s unwillingness to correctly identify the source of terrorism, or to even use the terms “Islamic extremism” or “Islamic terrorism,” as Blitzer’s first two questions revealed. Harf says the administration and the State Department “don’t want to give them religious credibility.”

This refusal prevents Harf from making a distinction between the terrorist leaders motivated by radical Islam and the wider population of young Muslims who might not fall under their influence as easily under better conditions — a democratic government, a functioning market economy, etc.

What Harf was trying to say is spelled out clearly in a New York Times news analysis by Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis:

In promoting democracy and freedom as part of the solution to terrorism, Mr. Obama is returning to a theme he has advanced episodically in the past, and one that his predecessor, President George W. Bush, made the centerpiece of his second inaugural address in 2005. Mr. Obama, like Mr. Bush, argues that oppression, corruption and injustice create openings for extremists to exploit disgruntled young people.

…Yet, as he embraced a message similar to his predecessor’s, Mr. Obama offered less emphasis on force than Mr. Bush was known for. Mr. Obama condemned recent terrorist attacks but did not present terrorism as an existential threat like Mr. Bush did, nor did he use some of the phrases Mr. Bush used to refer to Islamic radicalism.

violent-extremismInstead of radical Islam, the administration has decided to combat “violent extremism” and “violent extremists,” phrases used by Harf in these two interviews seven times, and appearing in the brief fact sheet for the White House “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism” a total of 32 times.

The New York Post quotes President Obama as saying, “No religion is responsible for terrorism — people are responsible for violence and terrorism.”

Mr. President, the NRA called; they want their (accurate) cliché back.

The refusal by Obama and Harf to identify and label the enemy contrasts sharply with a lengthy feature article by Graeme Wood in the March issue of The Atlantic, What ISIS really wants.

Wood reveals how ISIS is motivated by radical Islam to establish a caliphate and launch an apocalyptic war.

Defeating ISIS might very well depend on the United States advocating better governance and economic development, to minimize the terrorists’ ability to recruit, in addition to coordinated, armed resistance by a coalition of nations.

But it also requires knowledge of the enemy’s identity, recognition that the political ideology of radical Islam is the main source of the problem among its leadership.

At least some in the previous administration got it right, as did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in this landmark Foreign Affairs article:

The first challenge is the global ideology of violent Islamist extremism, as embodied by groups, such as al Qaeda, that thoroughly reject the basic tenets of modern politics, seeking instead to topple sovereign states, erase national borders, and restore the imperial structure of the ancient caliphate. To resist this threat, the United States will need friends and allies in the region who are willing and able to take action against the terrorists among them. Ultimately, however, this is more than just a struggle of arms; it is a contest of ideas. Al Qaeda’s theory of victory is to hijack the legitimate local and national grievances of Muslim societies and twist them into an ideological narrative of endless struggle against Western, especially U.S., oppression. The good news is that al Qaeda’s intolerant ideology can be enforced only through brutality and violence. When people are free to choose, as we have seen in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq’s Anbar Province, they reject al Qaeda’s ideology and rebel against its control. Our theory of victory, therefore, must be to offer people a democratic path to advance their interests peacefully — to develop their talents, to redress injustices, and to live in freedom and dignity. In this sense, the fight against terrorism is a kind of global counterinsurgency: the center of gravity is not the enemies we fight but the societies they are trying to radicalize.

How can we win a war of ideas if we refuse to acknowledge the enemy’s ideology?

Bumpy road ahead for the nation’s most common career

self-driving-trucks

Is the nation’s most common job about to become obsolete?

That’s my concern as I connect the dots between two eye-opening pieces of information making the rounds online this week.

The first is an interesting query of U.S. Census data performed by NPR’s Planet Money blog. The authors created an interactive map of the country labeling the most common job in every state. A timeline slider allows users to view a snapshot of the most frequently-occurring job titles each year from 1978 through 2014.

Last year, the most common job in Tennessee and in all but one surrounding state, as well as the overwhelming majority of states in the South and Midwest, was truck driver.

Planet Money explains:

What’s with all the truck drivers? Truck drivers dominate the map for a few reasons.

  • Driving a truck has been immune to two of the biggest trends affecting U.S. jobs: globalization and automation. A worker in China can’t drive a truck in Ohio, and machines can’t drive cars (yet).
  • Regional specialization has declined. So jobs that are needed everywhere — like truck drivers and schoolteachers — have moved up the list of most-common jobs.
  • The prominence of truck drivers is partly due to the way the government categorizes jobs. It lumps together all truck drivers and delivery people, creating a very large category. Other jobs are split more finely; for example, primary school teachers and secondary school teachers are in separate categories.

Caveats aside, the nation’s most common job seems to be on a collision course with one of the two trends mentioned in the first bullet point: automation.

We learn this from a second bit of news contained in articles like this one from Time: In a World of Self-Driving Vehicles, Car Ownership Would Plunge.

As Brad Tuttle writes, “If Google has its way, self-driving cars could be on the road and part of the mainstream perhaps as soon as 2020.”

If cars won’t require human operators fewer than five years from now, how long before transportation companies don’t need truck drivers?

Furthermore, where will Tennessee and the nation send all of these unemployed drivers?

And perhaps even more importantly, what can our public education system do to steer (pun intended) today’s students away from careers that won’t exist by the time they graduate, and toward jobs that don’t exist presently?

We need to come up with answers soon, before we miss the (automated) bus.

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunThe Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project is an entertaining, well-researched and motivating book that prompts readers to assess their attitude toward life and take steps to improve it.

Rubin’s tone is relaxed and friendly, and in the process of sharing her own quirks, struggles and failures, she allows readers to determine what might work for us.

While sharing her nuggets of found wisdom, Rubin takes care to remind us that every person’s experience is unique, and different things will work for different people. This can be seen both in her personal mantra of “Be Gretchen,” and in one of her Secrets of Adulthood, “Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for you – and vice versa.”

Rubin does not claim to be the ultimate authority on happiness, but she gives her own testimony and introduces us to several experts who inspired her, including Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Johnson and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

I was surprised to see Rubin also repeatedly cite a line by G.K. Chesterton, “It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.” The quote comes from Orthodoxy, a book published one hundred years earlier, concerning an entirely different topic, but which I had just finished reading a month ago.

One great feature of The Happiness Project is Rubin’s defense of the whole exercise, and her argument benefits even those most naturally inclined to follow along uncritically. She explains why focusing on your own happiness isn’t a selfish pursuit, how happiness doesn’t mean mindlessness, and why being happy isn’t a trivial goal in the first place.

Happiness isn’t just a natural state of mind, concerning only yourself. Happiness is a choice and a discipline that delivers benefits to the people around you, and has far-reaching consequences in your life and in the lives of your family and friends.

Rubin’s book is a treasure filled with helpful prompts for further contemplation, and it is supplemented by other essays and resources available on her website at gretchenrubin.com.

An interview with TalkGOP on making a difference

TalkGOPLogo2My thanks go to Lynn Sebourn and TalkGOP for the opportunity to join the podcast this week. You can find the TalkGOP podcast on iTunes and follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

You can see and hear TalkGOP Episode 20, Civic Leadership with Mick Wright at TalkGOP.com/20.

TalkGOP’s invitation was prompted by this post from April of last year: What is your political impact? (75 ways to get involved politically). There you will find some ideas for making a difference in your community. You should also check out TalkGOP’s episode from around this time last year, Episode 14: 20 Ways to Make a Difference in 2014. I couldn’t agree more with suggestion #9, “become an expert in a particular political issue.”

Lynn has certainly done that himself, and I appreciate how he’s making a difference for grassroots conservatives and Republicans through the podcast, a medium growing in popularity thanks in part to Serial, a program produced by the folks from This American Life.

In addition to those podcasts, I recommend The Glenn Beck Program from TheBlaze Radio Network, NPR’s Planet Money, Gimlet Media’s Startup Podcast and The National Constitution Center’s We the People Podcasts.

I also listen to two podcasts by Ravi Zacharias, Let My People Think and Just Thinking, and two others produced by ministers of my church: The Andy Savage Show and Highpoint Church – Memphis.