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Friday, June 11, 2004

I did a little looking at the Democratic Underground for outrageously vitriolic responses to Ronald Reagan's death, but things seemed a little subdued at the moment I poked my head in. I did find a little essay by Ron Fullwood (at least that's who's book he's plugging), and it occurred to me that I'd yet to do any fisking on this blog. Got to have some fisking! Yep, so I decided to fisk it. Yessiree, fisky disky doo... Hearby followeth the aforesaid fisking - I’m the one in the brackets:

Ronald Reagan's administration, at his direction, limited and sought to eliminate numerous government programs that low and middle income individuals and families relied on to survive.

[Those people are all dead now. Damn. No, wait, their ability to survive is just limited now, sorry.]

Many Americans, abruptly cut off from a welfare system that barely met basic needs, staggered into a newly created, two-tier wage system that provided less pay for new-hires for the same work performed alongside their more fortunate co-workers, with little or no benefits. Many immediately fell further behind because of the absence of basic health care, child care, and rental assistance, which many of the new positions would not provide.

[If only they had remained unemployed they could have continued having their basic needs barely met by that welfare system instead of being subjected to the indignity of productive labor in which their pay increases in accordance with their seniority. It still wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been so abrupt, or if the new jobs could have all come with lots of benefits. Incidentally, as a low income American, I resent the implication that we "stagger".]

One of the tactics used by Reagan, as he attempted to soften the political blow, was to call on private charities to absorb the burden of the disenfranchised poor without the benefit of federal support. The predictable result was a disintegration of an impoverished community, a disproportionate number black and Hispanic, labeled as greedy and excessive for accepting help which seldom brought them above poverty level. The Reagan administration claimed that the increasing number of welfare recipients were an impediment to economic recovery, although welfare represented less than 1.5% of the budget.

[Gosh darn him all to heck for expecting private charities to continue functioning as they have for centuries, even as their coffers are flooded with contributions from all those slick-haired Gordon Gecko types who's disposable incomes were increased by the unconscionably counter-revolutionary tax cuts that shockingly increased the gap between the rich and the poor, reminiscent of the way that gap always increases whenever average income increases across the board. I must admit to having a little trouble grasping the second sentence of the above paragraph, but it seems to be saying that an impoverished community disintegrated, and that this is not a good thing as one might suspect, but actually a very bad thing for some reason. The third and final sentence is simply delightful, putting me in mind as it does of an amusing number trick that I've been meaning to teach all the kiddies about for some time now. It turns out that the total federal budget is represented by an extremely high number! As a result of this, it's easy to make almost any quantity seem very small by expressing it as a percentage of that budget. Try it, nothing you can think of ends up as 78% of the federal budget, unless you do something funny, like lumping defense together with all medical research and agricultural subsidies. Conversely, write out any small percentage of “the budget” as an actual number, and it'll have more zeros than there are cells in your body. Aside from this, there may possibly be certain other logical problems with so strongly implying that the only possible way that an increasing number of welfare recipients can be an impediment to recovery is if welfare represents a very high percentage of the budget.]

In response to the nation's burgeoning debt crisis, Reagan and his cronies in Congress made countless Americans ineligible for public assistance with an arbitrary adjustment of the levels of eligibility. Reagan's welfare reform movement gave the back of the hand to federal job training programs.

[If only there were some other way of getting job training, other than federal programs! Then the people who're off welfare now could learn how to work a shovel, a keyboard, or a spatula, instead of just milling about in the street and blocking traffic until they starve to death and their corpses pile up on the dung-smeared cobblestones and cause cholera outbreaks. I assume that by "cronies", the author means Senators and Congressmen who were in agreement with Reagan about what needed to be done about the debt. I'm pretty sure that things like ages of consent and levels of eligibility for public assistance necessarily have an arbitrary component to them. At some point, you just have to pick a number.]

Reagan saw no need for the federal government to finance low income youngster's college education and sought to reduce the federal role in education altogether in his attempt to eliminate the Dept. of Education.

[Eliminating the Department of Education is of course a terrible idea, because it serves a function. Doesn't it? Before it existed, Americans were much more poorly educated, weren't they? Then again, maybe the education system worked better BEFORE it had to deal with federal interference, from people as far removed as is conceivably possible from the actual education process. Now that I think about it, didn’t tuitions used to be much, much, much, much, much, much lower before the price was (predictably) artificially inflated by just the sort of federal interference that invariably drives prices up?]

Funding for low and middle income housing assistance and community redevelopment was all but eliminated, creating a stagnation in the nation's poorest neighborhoods. The nation's poor were systematically locked out from opportunity and legislated into a state of perpetual depression, farmers and migrant workers, union laborers, industrial workers, and everyone else who was scraping by at or below poverty level.

[Tragically, the many Americans who had moved off of welfare and into jobs in which the new-hires are paid less than the More Fortunate were forced to move out of the stagnating poor neighborhoods and into shallow materialistic suburbs, just like Edward Scissorhands! Oddly enough, I don't recall any of Regan's critics referring to the 80's as a "depression" during his Presidency. Usually, they called it a "decade of greed", in order to make economic prosperity sound like a bad thing. Only much later did they acquire the testes to imply that the economy at that time was in worse shape than during the recession that preceded his tenure. Homelessness was definitely a problem though, but it vanished the day Clinton was inaugurated, only to resurface the day W was inaugurated. By the way, what happens when you sink BELOW poverty level? Do you shrink down to the size of an atom, or travel backwards in time, or what?]

Reagan compounded the alienation of the nation's poor by granting a massive tax break to those individuals and corporations that were already prospering. Although these well-off folk's traditional indifference to the needs of the nation's poor had led to the need for legislation that protected and enhanced equal opportunity, Reagan claimed that they would share their tax-break enhanced wealth. However, newly created tax shelters successfully trapped the wealth that was supposed to "trickle down" to the poor in the form of jobs and opportunity.

[Interesting that the segment of the population from which all philanthropists are drawn is traditionally indifferent to the needs of the poor. Presumably the ones who are genuinely concerned about the poor are the ones who oppose any policy that might tend to make them easier to employ. This paragraph teaches us that the real purpose of taxation is not to provide revenue for the government to use to perform its necessary functions, it is to make the poor feel less alienated by seizing the wealth of any who dare to prosper. This might seem like a bad idea, since it is the prosperous corporations and individuals that are normally supposed to provide jobs for most people, but it isn't. Tax shelters somehow keep the prosperous from hiring any new employees, no matter how large their profit margins get, so it's actually BAD for the economy for them to be further from bankruptcy. If certain individuals and corporations are already prospering, this is a sign that you are not taxing them enough.]

Investment schemes were encouraged and developed, such as IRAs and Money Market accounts. Government bonds were offered at low rates with anticipated high returns. This effort by Reagan and his congressional cronies was presented as an effort to encourage savings, which would, in part, justify the huge tax cuts to the upper end of the income scale. Naturally, the ones who benefited the most were those who already had enough money or income to invest the amounts needed.

[Of all the schemes of Reagan and his cronies, encouraging investment must be the one that had the worst economic effects. Ironically, the VERY PEOPLE who made the investments benefited more directly from them that the people who DID NOT make the investments! This, of course, was very harmful to the working class, since every time Bill Gates makes a dollar, one disappears from your pocket, and it has no effect on unemployment rates, since companies with very small profit margins are no more reluctant to hire new people than are companies with very large profit margins.]

The median income at the time for Blacks barely rose above $18,000 annually. The majority of lower income Americans put their money into passbook savings, if they had any money to save at all. To invest the amount of money needed to facilitate and maintain high-yield investment accounts, an investor would have to earn more than $22,000 annually. This largely excluded most black wage earners from these investment opportunities. Whites with median incomes over $24,000, not surprisingly, outnumbered black and Hispanic investors by as much as 6 to 1. The gap widened when considering longer term, higher yielding investments that required more capital, such as CDs, interest checking, U.S. government securities, and municipal and corporate bonds. The lack of substantial monetary investment is one reflection of the growing disparity between upper and lower income Americans.

[Unlike the economic climate of other periods, in which people with no money to invest benefited from rising stock prices just as much as the people who were actually invested in the market, and in a very direct and immediate way. Indirect benefits, such as the company you work for not going out of business, don't count of course.]

The Reagan administration attacked every federal program that helped those at poverty level gain a foothold in a fast rising economy. Many who were denied access to public assistance slipped further into depression, invisible because of distorted and misleading figures on poverty and unemployment provided by the Reagan Labor dept. The overall projections did not illustrate the proportional plights of individual minority groups.

[Not content to curb spending on programs, he ATTACKED the programs with froth flying from his fangs. Federal programs are necessary to help those at poverty level (what about those below it?) gain a foothold in a fast rising economy, because fast rising economies are so hard on those folks. The programs wouldn't be so necessary if only the economy wouldn't rise so fast! Then all these proportional plights wouldn't be so bad in comparison to the overall projections. Freedom is slavery.]

Despite the fact that many former welfare recipients eventually returned to work, 31% of adult blacks remained at poverty level compared to only 11% of adult whites. In the aftermath of the Reagan administration, black children made up 43% of the nation's poor. Reagan's insensitivity to the nation's poor was pointed up by his refusal to meet and work with members and leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus.

[The importance of a President spending his limited time resources trying to get the economy in the best possible overall shape pales in comparison to showing your sensitivity by sucking up to Commies who claim to represent an entire race, but won't have anything to do with any members of that race who do not subscribe to Marxist economic, political, and social orthodoxy. When the unemployed actually get jobs, this is a bad thing if the percentage of whites who gets jobs is higher than the percentage of blacks who do so, and it probably indicates that the executive responsible for the policies that put people back to work has something personal against blacks.]

Instead of supporting badly needed legislation that would increase the minimum wage, he lobbied instead for a sub-minimum wage that he claimed would create new jobs for the nation's youth. Reagan ignored the fact that millions of Americans were working to support families with a wage that had become sub-minimum with no increase since '81.

[People on minimum wage get better off every time the minimum wage is increased, because these kind of laws have no effect on the value of a dollar, or on small businesses' ability take on new employees. Ergo, if we could just make the minimum wage REALLY HIGH, poverty would be eliminated overnight. Unfortunately, this would drive the Democrats out of office forever, because there'd be no poor people to vote for them, so never mind. The problems with minimum wage increases are so obvious that it's easier to illustrate them in cartoon form than in words: Picture a ladder that has had the first five rungs sawed off. Every time I've discussed minimum wage laws with proponents, eventually they admit that it doesn't really help anyone, but they continue to say we should raise them anyway, because we need to do SOMETHING.]

Reagan sought to abolish the Small Business Administration which mostly assisted minority owned businesses, while at the same time, calling small business the "backbone of the American economy." Reagan appointed a pro-business Labor Relations Board to deflect the grievances of the nation's displaced workforce.

[The name of the Small Business Administration has the words "small business" in it; therefore in order to support one, you must necessarily support the other. The President ought to make anti-business appointments. That'll show those lousy tax-paying, product making, service providing employers!]

Reagan strongly supported legislation that would have outlawed federal-funding for abortions, a move that would mostly affect those who couldn't afford an abortion, leaving the affluent as the only group of females with the ultimate choice in their own pregnancy, and doom most low income women into poverty by forcing them to have a child they could not afford.

[Reagan compounded this offence by failing to fund federal how-to-take-an-effing-pill training. Fortunately, this legislation didn't pass, so we may eventually end poverty by simply exterminating all of the disadvantaged classes at the earliest stage of infancy.]

Reagan sought to limit the federal role in education by reducing the amount of money in the federal education budget. He appointed a controversial education secretary whose outspokenness on non-educational issues prevented a focus on school problems. Secretary Bennett then suggested, and it was subsequently disproved, that federal student aid was responsible for high tuition costs.

[The first sentence just says that he tried to return responsibility for, and thus control of education, to the states, where it belongs. I withhold comment on the second and third sentences until I can figure out how answering questions from the press on non-educational issues prevents anyone from focusing on school problems, or how it could possibly be disproved that federal aid drove costs up (although I believe it was prices), when elementary economics dictates that this is precisely the effect that they would have.]

Reagan described congressional initiatives to lift the nation's poor out of poverty as misguided compassion. He admonished Americans to "Stand tall", but he repeatedly pulled the rug from under those who found themselves at the lower end of the economic spectrum. Many Americans could not see their way across the abyss that Reagan created between the nation's rich and poor.

[OK, I admit it. My big cowboy hero, who I cannot abide any criticism of because of my repressed homosexual idolatry, actually did sink so low as to describe demonstratively failed policies as "misguided". He then compounded this outrage by calling his opponents compassionate for using these policies to exchange taxpayer's money for votes, knowing that they do not help the poor. They couldn't, anyone helped by a given economic policy is by definition, not poor. The author has successfully demonstrated that unemployed Americans became employed Americans, but that they didn't all benefit equally, so it shouldn't have been done at all. If you look back far enough in history, you come to a time when people generally had about half of what people have now. At that time, the gap between the rich and the poor was by some measures half of what it is now. Presumably, the author would approve of a return to this era.]

I would not hesitate to repudiate those who would claim that Reagan's presidency should be canonized or emulated. Hopefully, historians will not elevate the myth that Reagan actually achieved economic equity and competitiveness, and instead, records the reality of his efforts in systematically targeting and weakening the programs that were in place to shorten the gap between the rich and poor.

[Thank you for not hesitating. This fisking might have been a lot more difficult if you'd thought much more before writing. Through this entire piece, the author has assumed that the national economy is a zero-sum game (how much people have doesn't matter as much as the difference between what they have and what someone else has), and that policies have only direct effects (cutting welfare deprives people of their means of survival, but the tax cuts and de-regulation that make them employable do not provide them with a BETTER means of survival). The only effects of de-regulation were presumably to eliminate the immediate intended effects of the regulations. Dickensian memes are incessantly employed in reference to a time and place in which poverty (relative to constantly rising standards of what constitutes prosperity) is known to correlate with obesity.]

I was kind of planning to dig up one of those people who blame Reagan for everything (climate change, illiteracy, AIDS), and briefly refute each charge. Maybe I'll do that later.

In the post below, the symbols are the ancient Japanese emoticon for goodbye. Each one represents a person weeping and waving, and is a link.

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