More Excellent News from the Youth Front

A week ago I got an email from a young reader. Here’s what he sent me:

Dear Sir,

I’m in 8th grade and visit your blog almost every day. I enjoy shooting my uncle’s handgun (a Smith and Wesson .44 special). I also like politics and am interested in what you have to say about current events. You’re definitely one of my favorite bloggers. (Sucking up never hurts.)

My 7th period Civics teacher assigned our class a writing assignment yesterday and, because I respect your opinion, I was hoping you could reply briefly.

She passed out columinst Ted Ralls article about Ronald Reagans death to the class yesterday and assigned us a 2 page paper that addresses a list of issues that the column mentions. She listed 10 questions but we only have to answer 3. These are the 3 that I decided to answer:

1. “According to the author, the Reagan administration slashed AIDS research budgets in order to fund tax cuts for the upper 2% of American taxpayers. As a result, AIDS research was set-back at least 8 years, resulting in the deaths of millions of innocent people and costing billions of dollars in health care costs. Knowing what we know today, what would you have said to Ronald Reagan about AIDS the day he was elected President?”

2. “The author notes that the Reagan administration illegally authorized the sale of 107 tons (!) of anti-aircraft missles to the nation of Iran in order to support an extremist right-wing insurgency in Nicaragua. Iran was – and remains – a staunch enemy of the United States. The author argues that because Mr. Reagan violated an act of Congress and provided material support to the enemy he should have been tried for treason and faced the death penalty. Do you agree that people – even presidents – who sell weapons to enemies of the United States should be prosecuted?”

3. “After retreating from Lebanon (a country in the Middle East) in 1983, Mr. Reagan ordered the invasion of Grenada, a tiny island in the Caribbean. The author says that this was a way for him to “look tough” by bullying a country that couldn’t fight back. Do you agree with Reagan’s decision to invade a peaceful country most Americans had never heard of in order to “look tough?” Reference George Bush’s similar efforts to “look tough” after the tragic events of 9/11.”

I wasn’t born when Reagan was president, so I’m not very familiar with the background behind the questions. Ms. Hawthorne told me she supports gun rights, she is definitely a very smart teacher, and I respect her opinion. However I think the assigment is biased by the tone of the questions.

This is due Friday and I’m trying to find articles that argue with Mr. Ralls conclusions. I’ve googled “Reagan + AIDS”, “Reagan + Iran” and “Reagan + Grenada” among many others. Alot of what I found agrees with the author, more or less. If you have time before Friday, do you know of a link that deals with one or more of these topics and offers a counter-argument? I know you’re busy, so PLEASE don’t take any time to help unless you know of a link immediately. It’s not a big deal, I’ll definitely get the paper done regardless. Thanks in advance for any help.

Well, after sucking up, and then invoking the RCOB™ by mentioning that subhuman pustule Ted Rall, of course I had to help out. So I gave him a pointer to a site showing government spending on AIDS from 1981 through 1999, and a PBS (!) site for an overview of the invasion of Grenada. On question #2 I was not as sanguine. I told Mr. Pomeroy:

In regards to question #2, Ronald Reagan was, in my humble opinion, in the wrong.

Strategically I understand what he was doing, but he was doing it outside the law. The weapons were sent to Iran to be used in the then-raging Iran-Iraq war, not “to free hostages in Lebanon” – or at least not ONLY for that reason. Better, I assume, that they fight each other than sit and plot against us. Plus, the money from those sales went to fund support for the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua – people who were none too savory themselves. Had this gotten out, the scandal probably would have resulted in impeachment. As much as I hate to say it, he should have been prosecuted for it. As one of my favorite people to quote – Justice Louis Brandeis – said:

“Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subject to the rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for the law. It invites every man to become a law unto himself. It invites anarchy.”

However, Reagan was successful in his effort to defeat communism both in South America and in the Soviet Union. To me, that mitigates the crime. But it does not negate it. If we allow leaders to violate the law, it does damage to the entire system. What good is it to defeat an external enemy if the system we are striving to save collapses from internal rot?

Well, he did more research and wrote his paper, which I will reproduce here in its entirety:

Analysis of “Reagan’s Shameful Legacy” by Ted Rall

1. “According to the author, the Reagan administration slashed AIDS research budgets in order to fund tax cuts for the upper 2% of American taxpayers. As a result, AIDS research was set-back at least 8 years, resulting in the deaths of millions of innocent people and costing billions of dollars in health care costs. Knowing what we know today, what would you have said to Ronald Reagan about AIDS the day he was elected President?”

The author writes that the Reagan administration “refused to do anything about the AIDS epidemic, all so they could fund extravagant tax cuts for a tiny sliver of the ultra rich.” However, he does not use any evidence to support his claim.

According to the “CRS Report for Congress, AIDS Funding for Federal Programs 1981-1999”, funding for AIDS increased every year Reagan was President. When he took office in 1981, funding for AIDS was only $200,000. When he left office in 1988, annual funding for AIDS was over 1.3 billion dollars. According to my calculations, that is approximately a 4000% increase in spending. In contrast, during Clinton’s presidency, there was only about a 100% increase in AIDS spending.

Although the author does not mention the “deaths of millions of innocent people”, the question does so I will address that. While some people definitely caught AIDS from blood banks, I would assume (though I don’t have any sources to back this up) that most caught it from unprotected sex and sharing needles. When you knowingly engage in high risk behavior, this does not make you “innocent”. They did not deserve to die but, if they had practiced some basic personal responsibility they probably would be alive today.

I would have told Reagan in 1981, based on what I know today, that he probably did everything he could by funding research. The only thing he should have done differently in my opinion, is also fund needle-sharing programs and condom programs which would have cut down on health care costs since less people would have caught AIDS.


2. “The author notes that the Reagan administration illegally authorized the sale of 107 tons (!) of anti-aircraft missles to the nation of Iran in order to support an extremist right-wing insurgency in Nicaragua. Iran was – and remains – a staunch enemy of the United States. The author argues that because Mr. Reagan violated an act of Congress and provided material support to the enemy he should have been tried for treason and faced the death penalty. Do you agree that people – even presidents – who sell weapons to enemies of the United States should be prosecuted?”

Based on my research, this is a complicated issue that the author simplifies in order to make a point. There were strategic and political goals besides supporting the Contras in Nicaragua that led to sale of weapons to Iran. At the time, Iran and Iraq were at war and supporting that conflict (rather than have them scheme to harm the United States) may have been in the best interest of the U.S. Reagan also compared the Contras to the Founding Fathers during the Revolutionary War. This may have been an exaggeration or even completely incorrect but, it seems obvious that Reagan thought he was doing the right thing and decided to make painful compromises to achieve his goal. I also think it was a different time too. When Reagan was President, Communism was the biggest threat, like terrorism is today.

However, it is clear he did break the law by going around Congress and doing something he said he wouldn’t do (sell weapons to terrorists). He probably should have been prosecuted. However I think the death penalty is extreme in this case. If Reagan was just trying to put money in his bank account or sold weapons to be used against the United States, then maybe. But the evidence points to the fact that although his methods were wrong, his intention was good. In court, this probably would have been a “mitigating factor” that resulted in a much lighter sentence.


3. “After retreating from Lebanon (a country in the Middle East) in 1983, Mr. Reagan ordered the invasion of Grenada, a tiny island in the Caribbean. The author says that this was a way for him to “look tough” by bullying a country that couldn’t fight back. Do you agree with Reagan’s decision to invade a peaceful country most Americans had never heard of in order to “look tough?” Reference George Bush’s similar efforts to “look tough” after the tragic events of 9/11.”

I do not agree that Reagan, or any other leader, should invade a peaceful country in order to “look tough”. Putting people’s lives at risk just to “look tough” is immoral and should be illegal. However, again the facts do not back up the authors claim. There were many other factors involved.

According to an article on the PBS website, the Grenada invasion had been planned long before the terrorist attack in Lebanon. The reasons included Cuban soldiers stationed in Grenada, a Communist coup, martial law on the island, and the construction of an airstrip that could have been used as a “Communist beachhead”. There were also the 800 medical students whose lives may or may not have been in danger. After the fact, some said they were in danger, others said they were not. After the invasion, U.S. soldiers found enough arms for 10,000 men. Although there is not anything necessarily wrong with being armed, it sounds like they were doing more on the island than just being peaceful.

In my opinion, the author is showing bias by only telling part of the story. If the reader did not research the facts, it would be easy to believe what he says. But once you do the research, there is a lot more to it. It makes me think that Mr. Rall is not informed or he is trying to deceive. In my opinion, neither option speaks well for him.

Comparing Grenada to Iraq and Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon is difficult to do because, there doesn’t seem to be much connection. Although I have mixed feelings about the Iraq war, I fully support the war in Afghanistan. Also, we were attacked and I think we need to fight back out of necessity. There are also many strategic and political factors that influenced the decision including strict Wahabist Islam, countries in the region like Syria and Iran which support terrorism, and the flaunting of U.N. resolutions by Iraq for 12 years. There is a big difference between “looking tough” and “being tough” when it is necessary. For the most part, I think Bush is trying to do what is necessary.

Chris also sent me the other seven questions he had to select from:

According to the article, at the end of the 1980’s America was “buried in the depths of a recession and a trillion bucks in debt. It took us over a decade to dig out.” It wasn’t until the less-rightist Clinton administration took office that the economy began to improve. What does this tell you about Reagan’s theory of “supply-side economics”?

The author states that the Reagan administration “turned welfare recipients into homeless people” through welfare reform initiatives. Which do you think is more harmful to society as a whole: higher taxes that help provide necessities for the poor or lower taxes and millions of homeless families with nowhere to go? Would it affect your decision to know that a few welfare recipients took advantage of the welfare system?

The author reminisces about his time in college, when Reagan slashed education budgets, forcing universities to strip their best and brightest students of their scholarships. As a result, many had to take low-wage jobs and have never reached their full potential as members of society. Were tax cuts for the rich worth denying those students a future? Was it just those students who suffered or have we all lost something?

Twenty years ago, many people believed that war with Russia (then the USSR) was a real possibility. The author argues that the Cold War isn’t over. He asks “In which direction do you think those old ICBM’s (nuclear missiles) point today?” Did Reagan give us real safety from a nuclear war or just an illusion? Based on our reading, do you think the USSR was even a real threat to the United States, or was it “manufactured”?

The federal tax code was designed to redistribute income from the most wealthy to the least fortunate. Reagan took steps to dismantle this century-old social contract and now Bush is continuing his legacy. As a result, a tiny sliver of the population now controls 80+ percent of all the wealth in our country. Discuss how this affects our prospect for democracy. What can be done?

The author notes that Reagan, like Bush, “relied on Christianist depictions of foes as “evil” and America. as “good”.” Based on the passage we discussed from “A People’s History of the United States”, do our foes have any legitimate reasons to hate and fear us (excluding the fact that they’re all just “evil”)?

The author draws parallels between Reagan and Bush, including the fact that “both appointed former generals as secretaries of state and enemies of the environment to head the Department of the Interior.” Based on what we’ve learned, what do you think the most likely motive is behind appointments like these?

Chris and I discussed, as you might imagine, the teacher’s apparent leftist bent, despite her stated support for gun rights.

Well, now that you’ve read all that, I thought you’d like to know the last and most important part:

Just thought I’d let you know I got an A minus. She wrote that it was well thought out even though she wrote almost as much as I did arguing with me! Thanks again for your help. I’m very happy with my grade and the paper.

Sincerely,
Chris

Congratulations, Chris. Glad I could help. And keep thinking for yourself. Perhaps you ought to correspond with Bryan Henderson for some ideas.

I haven’t felt this good in a long time!

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