Almost Everything That You Are Pissed Off About Today is Ronald Reagan’s fault.

Posted by

7/9/2018

I am not exaggerating, I will prove it here that if you are pissed off about something going on in the world today you can most likely blame it on Ronald Reagan, directly or tangentially.  I even went back and added “Almost” to the headline and “most likely” to the preceding sentence as an afterthought, because I suppose things like volcanos and the success of Nickelback would be difficult to connect to any President.

You will see that this is ideologically neutral. Some of the items listed will piss off conservatives, some will piss off liberals; most should piss off everybody.  The difference is that for some reason, self-described conservatives still worship Ronaldus Maximus  as some sort of demigod, while liberals and moderates tend to have opinions more varied across the spectrum. Historically, he is still garners favorable ratings for a modern-era President, second only to John F. Kennedy.  My theory is that this is simply rosy retrospection.  Baby boomers, who are still the most populous cohort, were in their prime during the Reagan era, they were enjoying the prosperity made possible by their antecedents, so they conflate these things with who was in office.

Illegal Immigration/Border Crossing/Undocumented Immigrants

Call it whatever you want, but there are a large number of people in this country, who came from other countries without following the law.  Whether by unlawful entry or overstaying visas, there are over 11 million by current estimates.  How we should treat those that are here now, and how we should handle those trying to come here is a different debate for a different day.  The fact is, prior to Ronald Reagan taking office, there were between 2-3 million and now that number has increased four-fold at least, holding steady for nearly 10 years.

How is this Reagan’s fault?

In 1986 Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which gave amnesty to most of the aliens currently residing in the U.S. in exchange for increased border security, greater penalties for employers who exploited undocumented workers, and stricter immigration policies. Over the next couple years of horrible implementation, the border security was never increased adequately, employers continued to ignore “guest-worker” laws, and the available pathways to lawful residency and citizenship became narrowed and so buried in legal red tape they became nearly non-existent.  Don’t take my word for it:

President Reagan, in 1986, signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized close to 3 million undocumented immigrants. The law was supposed to be a comprehensive solution with provisions intended to clamp down on border security. These provisions were never enforced, and the subsequent explosion in illegal crossings has resulted in some 11 million illegal aliens living in the United States today.

Rick Perry, Fed Up! (2010)

Mental Health

A comprehensive study in 2000 found that anywhere from 2.3 to 3.5 million people spent at least a few nights throughout the year on the streets.  Common current estimates are that about 1.5 million people utilize homeless shelters or transitional housing at any given time.  It’s difficult to get an accurate snapshot-in-time count of the actual number of homeless people nationwide, so samples and estimates are necessary.

SOTH2016_Chart2

Of the homeless, at least 1/3 are suffering from untreated severe mental illness, which is the main cause of their homelessness; even more suffer from less severe mental illness which is at least a contributory cause of their situation.

How is this Reagan’s fault?

Reagan, as governor of California, began the nationwide process of deinstitutionalizing the severely mentally ill when he signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act.  At the time, the LPS Act made sense, anti-psychotic drugs had reduced the need for institutions, and those institutions had earned reputations of being nothing less than dungeons and warehouses for the mentally ill.  Media reports of absolute horror-shows scenes of shock therapy, isolation, abuse, and neglect had most people supporting the idea of closing them at the time.  Unfortunately, there was no effective follow up for these patients and often, the burden of care simply shifted from mental hospitals to prisons, within a year after passage of the LPS, the prison population in San Mateo, CA doubled.  Those who didn’t end up in prison were often left homeless and desperate, living on the streets and reliant on those very community mental health centers which Reagan would defund 12 years later.

In 1980, shortly before leaving office after one term, President Jimmy Carter signed the Mental Health Systems Act in 1980, in an attempt to fix the nation’s ailing public mental health system.  Shortly after taking office, Reagan signed the  Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 which repealed most of this and effectively killed federal funding of community mental health centers.  The money that was slated for funding mental health was instead given to the states as block grants, which enabled them to spend on, well, whatever they wanted to.

Mass Incarceration

Currently, the United States has the highest per-capita rate of  imprisonment in the world.  Nearly 1/2 of all prisoners in federal prison are there on drug offenses, while about 16% of state inmates have drug offenses as the most serious offense.  By the end of  Reagan’s tenure as President, the national population of prisoners had nearly tripled.

prison pop

How is this Reagan’s fault?

Reagan’s war on drugs can be attributed to a 1000% increase in the number of imprisoned on drug offenses, from 41,000 in 1980 to over 488,000 by 2014.  Increased sentences for nonviolent drug offenses as well as an increased disparity of arrests and sentences based on race, can all be traced to the Reagan administration.

This, along with the aforementioned public mental health policy, have all contributed to the mass incarceration problem America now faces.  64 percent of local jail inmates, 56 percent of state prisoners and 45 percent of federal prisoners have symptoms of serious mental illnesses according to statistics from the Bureau of Prisons.

The National Debt

When Ronald Reagan took office, the gross national debt was about 32.5% of the country’s annual income, the lowest debt-to-income ratio since before WWII. The debt for fiscal year 1982 was a paltry $144 billion, by the time his second term ended that amount increased 186% to $255 billion, the percentage compared to debt had nearly double. Keep in mind, this was during a time without a major war or conflict.

 

How is this Reagan’s fault?

This is pretty simple: Reaganomics, also known as Supply-Side Economics theory or more derisively: trickle-down and voodoo economics.  The idea seems plausible: cut taxes on the wealthy and they will spend more, thus expanding the economy and increasing revenue.  The flaw comes from the fact that when their taxes are cut, the wealthy do not necessarily spend more, they also save more; or at least their increase in spending does not necessarily increase sufficiently to increase enough to offset the reduction in tax revenue.

At the same time Reagan was cutting taxes, his defense spending increased exponentially. It was actually the largest peacetime expansion of defense spending in history.  Moreover, it set the precedent of military spending which has led to the United States spending more on their military than the next 5 countries combined, currently the U.S. accounts for 37% of all defense spending in the world.

HIV and AIDS

Worldwide, at least 35 million people have died from AIDS and it is estimated that 78 million people are currently infected by the HIV virus.  While progress has been made in reducing the number of infections, increasing the lifespans and improving the quality of life in those infected; it is still an international epidemic which kills over 1 million people per year and in some countries the rate of infection is still increasing at an alarming rate.

How is this Reagan’s fault?

AIDS was first recognized by health officials in 1981; however, it was treated as a joke by the Reagan administration early on and not even publicly mentioned by Reagan until 1985.  In 1982, when confirmed deaths from AIDS was around 1,000 journalist Lester Kinsolving asked then press secretary Larry Speakes about what President’s reaction the the CDC announcing the AIDS epidemic; which was taken as an opportunity to question Kinsolving’s (himself a very anti-gay conservative) sexuality and makes jokes regarding his concern.  Over the next 5+ years, HIV and AIDS was considered a “gay plague” and the tone of disdain and denial from the White House was echo by many.  It wasn’t until HIV had entered the blood supply and several high-profile cases had entered the mainstream conversation did the White House begin to pay attention.  It is widely speculated that had Reagan acted sooner with research, awareness and prevention campaign and the import the epidemic truly warranted, the epidemic could have been stopped or at least mitigated, which could have literally saved the lives of tens of millions of people around the world.

Health Care Costs

Currently, the United States of America spends more on healthcare, as  a percentage of GDP (17.9%) , than any other country.  Notably, this does not show any corresponding relationship to quality of healthcare, by outcomes, metrics or benchmarks such as life expectancy.

NHE share GDP

Some of you might point out that healthcare costs began increasing steadily in the 1960s, this is correct; however, when compared to increase in other consumer goods, it is easy to pinpoint when things really went off the rails.

healthcare cpi

How is this Reagan’s fault?

Reagan embarked on a systematic policy of deregulation of healthcare and shifting risk burdens from the payers (private insurance and government) to providers (clinicians and facilities).  This included changing the way hospitals were reimbursed and the way charges were calculated.  In order to offset this, new revenue streams had to be exploited and private investors needed to be tapped.  These investors required expanded profit margins, and the for-profit revolution which was started by Nixon was given a federal government sized shot of steroids.

MS-13

Surely, you jest, you’re thinking right?  How on earth could Ronald Reagan possibly be responsible for a gang whose current members weren’t even born until long after he left office?  Well, looking at the history of Mara Salvatrucha gives a clear picture. MS-13 is, in reality, an export.  In the 1980s, a brutal civil war engulfed El Salvador; the right-wing government versus a marxist guerilla army.  Reagan supported the government -which was more of a military junta- forces, the same government which, as it turned out, was responsible for 85% of the wartime atrocities.  To escape the civil war, many immigrated to the United States.  Most of these immigrants landed in Los Angeles neighborhoods, such as Pico-Union, where the youths were under attack by the Mexican and African American gangs.  Their response was to form gangs of their own, initially for protection, but this is how MS-13 was born.  Within a few years, the gang developed a fearsome reputation for violent retribution, they learned rackets such as protection, and eventually moved into drug trafficking and became affiliated with the Sinaloa Cartel and formed alliances with other gangs such as the Zetas and Mexican Mafia.

Toward the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, a large and justified crackdown on immigrant gangs commenced, and many MS-13 members were returned to the now quite lawless El Salvador.  These gangs filled a power vacuum and took control of entire towns.  They recruit children and essentially commit crimes with impunity.  These are the gangs in Central America who the current wave of refugees are fleeing from.  However in the U.S. MS-13 actually represents a small percentage of street gangs with a population around 10,000 (compared to Crips and Bloods for reference, with 50,000 and 30,000 respectively).  When put alongside other criminal gangs, MS-13 accounts for around 10% of gang activity.

How is this Reagan’s fault?

Reagan’s involvement in the central American civil wars is a clear case of foreign policy blowback.  Not unlike how backing the “Freedom Fighter” mujahideen in Afghanistan led to the creation of al Qaeda; an already well known screw-up I didn’t even get into this this article.

Because of Ronald Reagan, we extended the length of time the civil war in El Salvador by years.  We backed an extreme right-wing military junta who kidnapped, imprisoned, executed and assassinated their own citizens by the thousands; all in the name of communist paranoia.  Now don’t get me wrong, a marxist government may have been another problem, but empowering a sadistic regime who was incapable of governance was probably not a good idea.

In Conclusion

Reagan was just awful, a clusterfuck of short-sightedness, inept policy implementation and botched foreign policy.  I am not saying that other presidents were flawless, most of the them screwed up pretty badly at some point; but they have not be venerated to near sainthood the way Reagan has been.  After nearly two generations later, we are still reeling in the the consequences of Reagan’s brand of conservatism.  More importantly, Republicans are on track to engage in the same sort of historical revisionism to canonize the current rolling dumpster fire in office.

 

 

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