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US Presidents: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Contents

Contents

Barack H. Obama

George W. Bush

William Jefferson Clinton

George Herbert Walker Bush

Ronald Wilson Reagan

James Earl Carter, Jr.

Gerald R. Ford

Richard M. Nixon

Lyndon B. Johnson

John F. Kennedy

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Harry S. Truman

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Herbert Hoover

Calvin Coolidge

Warren Harding

Woodrow Wilson

William H. Taft

Theodore Roosevelt

William McKinley

John Adams

These are my notes from books and articles that I have read over the years. There is no attempt to be complete; when I find out something new, I add it to the list, but I don’t particularly go looking for things to add. Also, I’ve attributed some things to Presidents that are probably more Congressional than Presidential based simply on the date. Finally, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of my sources; I’ve tried to avoid adding things that are not well documented, I cannot say that the authors I’ve read don’t have biases in their selection of material. Finally, some things (particularly CIA actions) started in one administration and culminated in another, so attribution is sometimes arbitrary.

Most of the items about the CIA come from William Blum’s Killing Hope.

Contents

Barack H. Obama (2009-)
George W. Bush (2001-2009)
William J. Clinton (1993-2001)
George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
Ronald W. Reagan (1981-1989)
James E. Carter (1977-1981)
Gerald R. Ford (1975-1977)
Richard M. Nixon (1969-1975)
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1940)
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
John Adams (1797-1801)

Barack H. Obama (2009-)

Good

  • Increasing Federal CAFE standards for 2012-2016 and granting California’s AB1493 waiver request
  • Many small, good stimulus bill items
  • Minor improvements to U.S. for-profit healthcare system (H.R. 3590, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) starting in 2014 (but with significant flaws)
  • Executive Order 13489 revoking Bush’s Executive Order 13233
  • Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
  • 2011 EPA mercury rules
  • Calling CIA torture torture
  • New START Treaty with Russian Federation
  • Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

Bad

Ugly

George W. Bush (2001-2009)

Good

  • Plans to abandon the requirement that the U.S. military be able to simultaneously fight two major wars.
  • Sponsoring U.N. Security Council resolution 1397
  • Signed campaign finance reform bill (hardly adequate, but at least it was something)
  • Forced Senate majority leader Lott to step down
  • President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (at least the intent, if not the implementation)
  • Signed SORT arms control agreement
  • Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) with Russian Federation

Bad

  • Outsourcing government functions to private companies (privateering)
  • Military tribunals
  • Environment
    • Killed some of Clinton’s end of term environmental regulations (“let them drink arsenic”)
    • Drastic cuts in EPA budget
    • Proposed Energy Plan
    • Relaxed clean-air rules for old factories
    • Changes to forest management policy to benefit logging industry
    • Changes to Clean Water Act regulations that allow dumping of solid waste (e.g. mine tailings) into streams
    • Attempts to exempt methyl bromide from the ozone treaty
    • Mercury policy
    • Failed to submit Persistent Organic Pollutant treaty for ratification
    • Failed to ban lindane
    • Opposing REACH in Brussels
    • 2005 Energy Policy Act exempted fracking from Safe Drinking Water Act (the Halliburton Loophole)
    • Ignoring science in designating habitat for endangered species
  • Secrecy
    • Executive Order 13233 torpedoing the Presidential Records Act
    • >750 signing statements to undermine acts of Congress
    • Prohibiting Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, from informing Congress of his $500B to $600B estimate of the drug benefit change (the CBO estimated only $395B)
    • Refusal to turn over energy task force records
    • Stonewalling Freedom of Information Act requests
    • Failure to cooperate with 9/11 commission (many items, with the general theme that politics and particularly preventing politically embarrassing disclosures was more important than the work of the commission)
    • No-Fly List
  • Politics
    • Exploiting the California energy crisis
    • A lie a day keeps the Democrats away
    • Firing Lawrence Lindsey for estimating Iraq war cost at 2-4× White House estimates ($100-200 billion instead of $50-60 billion)
  • Domestic
    • Failed Hurricane Katrina emergency response
    • Budget cuts for other regulatory agencies (e.g. FDA, FEMA)
    • FEC rulings gutting campaign finance reform
    • FCC rulings allowing further media consolidation
    • Failure to clean up the corporate mess (e.g. not following through on SEC budget increase, keeping Harvey Pitt too long)
    • Elevated Michael Powell to chairman of FCC
    • Estate tax reduction/elimination
    • Libby pardon
    • Allowed Federal Assault Weapons Ban to expire
    • Legalization of warrantless wiretapping (S. 2248 (110th): FISA Amendments Act of 2008)
  • Foreign Policy
    • Opposition to the International Criminal Court
      • The American Servicemen’s Protection Act of 2002
      • Forced poor countries to sign mutual immunity pacts
    • Opposition to international treaty to control small arms
    • Opposition to international biological warfare treaty
    • Rejected the landmine treaty in August 2001 (Clinton also failed to sign)
    • Declared it would not be bound by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (signed in 1969, but not ratified)
    • Opposition to a G8 Plan for Cleaner Energy in Genoa, July 2001
    • Withdrew from the UNESCO World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, September 2001
    • Opposition to WTO Ministerial Conference plan of November 2002 to help poor nations buy medicines to AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other diseases
    • The “axis of evil” designation, combined with the Iraq threats, pushing North Korea and Iran further toward nuclear capability
    • Ignoring multiple warnings on Al Qaeda before 2001.09.11, prioritizing Iraq over Al Qaeda before and after
    • Looking into Putin’s eyes and being hypnotized
    • Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • Iraq
    • The Iraq war justification (e.g. Powell’s Security Council testimony), lying about weapons of mass destruction
    • Allowing the looting of Iraq’s museums (but protecting the oil ministry)
    • Deciding on an Iraq invasion in April 2001
    • Waging the war so incompetently that it will cost the US $3 trillion (according to Stiglitz and Bilmes)
    • Releasing identity of CIA agent to punish her husband
    • Failure to manage KBR (formerly Kellogg Brown & Root) (see Pay Any Price, by James Risen)
    • Giving one billion dollars of Iraq Central bank money to Commander’s Emergency Response Program and spending and losing it with no oversight or accounting
  • Afghanistan
    • Failing to abide by International law in attack on Al Qaeda / Taliban (e.g. bypassing the U.N., ignoring the Geneva convention)
    • Allowing opium production to resume
    • Failing to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed in the war
    • Allowing warlords to reemerge
  • Economy
    • Very weak job creation
    • Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation in 2007 switched from 100% bonds to 55% stocks and real estate.
    • Federal Reserve Bank first-round bailout of AIG.
  • People
    • George Tenet (CIA) — too weak to stand up to the neocons on Iraq intelligence

Ugly

  • Appointments
    • Dick Cheney (Vice President)
    • Karl Rove (Deputy Chief of Staff)
    • John Ashcroft (Attorney General)
    • Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defense)
    • Alberto Gonzalez (Attorney General)
    • John Yoo (Office of Legal Counsel)
    • Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Secretary of Defense)
    • Douglas Feith (Under Secretary of Defense)
    • Samuel Alito (Supreme Court)
    • Christopher Cox (Securities and Exchange Commission)
    • Stephen Johnson (Environmental Protection Agency)
    • Paul Bremer (Iraq Proconsul)
  • Politics
    • Occupying the White House despite losing the 2000 election (the Florida vote was manipulated through Republican fraudulent voter registration purges, counting illegal ballots, and dirty post-election legal tactics)
  • Environment
    • Abandoned Kyoto treaty and campaign promise to limit CO2, substituting only “research”
    • Denied California’s AB1493 waiver request.
    • Ignored Supreme Court’s Massachusetts v. EPA order to enforce the Clean Air Act.
    • Failed to follow the law on mountain top removal mining
  • Foreign Policy
    • Illegal war on Iraq (which actually started in summer 2002 according to Lt. General T. Michael Moseley)
    • Withdrew from the ABM treaty to waste billions on missile defense
    • Letting the Darfur situation reach the level of genocide before acting, refusing to use the word genocide to describe the situation, and not acting vigorously to get a UNSCR mandating action
  • Fiscal Policy
    • Rekindled deficit spending through tax cuts and spending increases (another “borrow and spend” Republican who thinks the wealthy are insufficiently rich, so the U.S. has to borrow to give them more)
    • Increased US debt from $5,727,776,738,304.64 (2001.01.19) to $10,628,881,485,510.23 (2009.01.16). This 86% increase does not include the legacy of the financial collapse, or the additional $2 trillion that the Iraq war will cost in future years.
  • Human/civil Rights
    • Torture
    • Abu Ghraib
    • Indefinite detention of prisoners without due process in Guantanamo
    • Use of the enemy combatant designation to avoid due process
    • Curtailing rights of suspects and otherwise moving the U.S. toward a police state (e.g. USA PATRIOT Act)
    • Plans to subvert U.S. democracy by accelerating Free Trade Area of the Americas
    • Poindexter’s Pentagon Total Information Awareness project (a database of personal information about Americans)
    • Bypassing the FISA court with its illegal wiretap program
    • Aerial bombing and UCAV attacks that kill innocent civilians
    • Increase of fundamentalism, proselytism in U.S. military
  • Economy
    • Sub-prime mortgage / Collateralized Debt Obligation crisis
    • Paulson plan to buy bad debt from Wall St (Cash for Trash), instead of equity investments

William Jefferson Clinton (1993-2001)

Good

  • Signed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (but Senate did not ratify)
  • Vetoed the worst of the Gingrich congress
  • Further Myanmar sanctions
  • Federal Assault Weapons Ban (aka Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act)
  • Almost balancing the budget in FY1998-FY2000 (a surplus is sometimes claimed, but that counts the social security trust fund)

Bad

  • GATT
  • NAFTA
  • Killed Layla Al Attar with an errant cruise missile in 1993 attack on Baghdad in retaliation for an alleged assassination plot against former President George Bush
  • Failed to sign landmine treaty
  • Giveaway of the digital TV spectrum
  • Bombing Sudan on the pretext of a nerve gas factory
  • Opposed the creation of the International Criminal Court
  • Campaign fund-raising scams
  • Subverting the Iraq arms inspection process (UNSCOM)
  • Violated the War Powers Act
  • Failed to get ratification of various arms control agreements
  • Biased mediation in the peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine (threatened to move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem)
  • End of term pardons
  • Waited until end of term to issue several environmental regulations
  • Giveaway of spectrum in the Telecommunications Act of 1996
  • Took three years to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide as Haitian President
  • Handling of East Asia financial crisis (primarily the IMF’s fault, but the U.S. has an effective veto over IMF policy)
  • Appointed Michael Powell as FCC commissioner
  • Releasing oil from the strategic petroleum reserve for political purposes
  • Defense of Marriage Act

Ugly

  • Added $1,539,684,631,121.04 (37%) to US debt
  • Failed to implement U.S. commitment to greenhouse gas control
  • Bombing of Yugoslavia
  • Killed over a million Iraqis with continued sanctions
  • Blocked efforts to stop the genocide in Rwanda
  • Resurrected missile defense and attempted to destroy the ABM treaty
  • End of term pardons
  • Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000
  • Repeal of Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act)

George Herbert Walker Bush (1989-1993)

Good

  • Phaseout of ozone-depleting chemicals
  • Market approaches to emissions control that worked
  • Various sanctions against Myanmar starting with a ban on arms sales in 1988
  • Signed START I and START II arms control agreements with the Soviet Union

Bad

  • Failed to prevent the invasion of Kuwait
  • Dirty campaign tricks (e.g. Willy Horton)
  • Failed to enact enabling legislation for the Basel Convention

Ugly

  • Veto of Congressional attempts to reinstate the fairness doctrine via legislation
  • Invaded Panama
  • Added $1,042,000,000,000 to the U.S. debt
  • Aided the Guatemala military’s genocide of its Mayan population
  • Appointed Clarence Thomas to Supreme Court

Ronald Wilson Reagan (1981-1989)

Good

Bad

  • Massive military defense spending increases
  • “Stars Wars” missile defense system (aka SDI)
  • Laid the foundation for the Savings and Loan debacle by deregulation
  • Gutted the EPA using hatchet-woman Anne Gorsuch
  • James Watt
  • Government by anecdote*
  • Supply-side economics
  • Lebanon policy (allowing Israel’s invasion and having US marines take sides in the civil war)
  • Appointed Antonin Scalia to Supreme Court
  • Refused to sign Law of the Sea

Ugly

  • FCC repeal of the fairness doctrine in 1985 and veto of Congressional attempts to reinstate it via legislation in 1987
  • Iran-Contra
  • Grenada
  • El Salvador terror
  • Angola
  • So unbalanced the budget that he created a multi-trillion dollar debt legacy: e.g. $1,763,884,000,000 in his 8 years, $1,469,243,000,000 in Bush’s, totaling $3.2 trillion (a 346% increase from the $934,073,000,000 debt left by President Carter to Reagan)
  • Committed treason (negotiating with Iran to delay release of hostages) in order to win the 1980 election
  • Aided the Guatemala military’s genocide of its Mayan population (subverting Congressional bans against military aid to do so)
  • Deregulated derivatives (Wendy Gramm)
  • Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act
  • Executive Order 12333, now used to justify NSA mass surveillance

James Earl Carter, Jr. (1977-1981)

Good

  • Made Human Rights an issue
  • Expansion of national parks
  • Egypt-Israel Camp David accords
  • Presidential Records Act of 1978
  • SALT II arms control agreement

Bad

  • Continued to support and defend dictators and their human rights abuses
  • Handling of the Iranian situation

Ugly

  • Allowed continued slaughter in East Timor
  • CIA forms the Contras in Nicaragua

Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)

Good

  • Safe Drinking Water Act (1974)
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (1976)
  • Strengthening of the Freedom of Information Act (1974) (Ford vetoed, Congress overrode)
  • Executive Order 11905, which stipulated No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.
  • Executive Order 11246

Bad

  • Increased budget deficit

Ugly

  • Allowed and probably sanctioned Indonesia’s invasion and massacre in East Timor
  • Team B, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz

Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)

Good

  • United Nations Population Fund
  • National Environmental Policy Act (1969)
  • EPA (1970)
  • Signed Clean Air Act (1970)
  • Signed Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970)
  • Signed Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act)
  • Signed Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (1972)
  • Signed Endangered Species Act (1973)
  • SALT I arms control agreement
  • China
  • War Powers Resolution of 1973 (Nixon vetoed, Congress overrode)
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
  • Title X of the Public Health Service Act

Bad

  • Spirow Agnew
  • Possible CIA involvement in overthrow of Prince Sihanouk
  • Politicizing abortion
  • Assassination of Fred Hampton as part of COINTELPRO operation
  • Wiretaps for political or personal reasons
  • Operation Chaos
  • Project MINARET

Ugly

  • Watergate
  • Vietnam
  • Bombing of Cambodia and the murder of 600,000 to 700,000 Cambodians
  • CIA destabilization of Cambodian Prince Sihanouk’s government (and possible support of the 1970 coup) that eventually brought Pol Pot to power
  • Overthrow of Salvador Allende and the support of Augusto Pinochet’s reign of terror
  • Corruption (ITT, Somoza, Davidson, Hughes, Rebozo), assassination plot

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)

Good

  • Civil Rights
  • Freedom of Information Act (1966)

Bad

  • Started significant deficit spending to pay for Vietnam
  • Started combining the Social Security surplus and the general account deficit to make the deficit appear smaller
  • Probable CIA involvement in 1967 Greek coup by George Papadopoulos
  • Operation Chaos
  • Project MINARET

Ugly

  • Use of the Gulf of Tonkin incident
  • Invasion of Dominican Republic
  • Bombing and napalming of Guatemala countryside and giving military aid to the government and its death squads
  • Vietnam
  • FBI started campaign to discredit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Overthrow of Brazillian democracy (President Goulart) followed by installation of a military dictatorship

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)

Good

Bad

  • Missile Gap deceit
  • CIA destabilization of Prime Minister Dr. Cheddi Jagan in British Guiana
  • FBI investigation of Martin Luther King

Ugly

  • Bay of Pigs
  • Operation MONGOOSE
  • Vietnam
  • Increased U.S. involvement in Latin American military repression
  • FBI greatly expanded COINTELPRO

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)

Good

  • Stopped the Governor of Arkansas from thwarting a local plan to desegregate a Little Rock high school

Bad

  • CIA interference, murder and terrorism in Indonesia (e.g. captured bomber piolet Allen Lawrence Pope) targeted at President Sukarno
  • CIA destabilization of Cambodian government of Prince Sihanouk
  • Involvement in assassination of Congo’s former President Lumumba
  • Use of the Smith Act
  • Added the phrase under God to the Pledge of Allegiance

Ugly

  • FBI started COINTELPRO
  • Allen Dulles (CIA) and John Foster Dulles (Secretary of State)
    (Steven Kinzer interview about the Dulles brothers)
  • CIA overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh, putting the CIA controlled Shah into power
  • CIA overthrow of democratically elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz, installing dictator Castillo Armas

Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)

Good

  • Executive Order 9981 ending official segregation in the U.S. military and declaring there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) introduced the Fairness Doctrine

Bad

  • Supported and funded the return of Vietnam to France after World War II
  • Sending the Military Assistance Advisory Group to Vietnam
  • Use of the Smith Act

Ugly

  • CIA overthrow of Dr. Muhammed Mossadeq in Iran, restoring Shah
  • CIA overthrow of democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz in in Guatemala
  • Dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki non-combatants to terrorize Japan into surrender

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945)

Good

Bad

  • Smith Act (1940), prosecution and conviction of Eugene Dennis

Ugly

  • Executive Order 9066 — Internment of Japanese Americans
  • Firebombing of Dresden
  • Firebombing of Tokyo

Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)

Good

  • ?

Bad

Ugly

  • Great Depression

Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)

Good

  • ?

Bad

  • Appointed J. Edgar Hoover as director of the FBI

Ugly

  • ?

Warren Harding (1921-1923)

Good

  • ?

Bad

  • ?

Ugly

  • ?

Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)

Good

  • Child labor law

Bad

Ugly

William H. Taft (1909-1913)

Good

  • ?

Bad

  • ?

Ugly

  • ?

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)

Good

  • Expanded national forests
  • Trust busting
  • Reacted to The Jungle by improving food safety

Bad

  • ?

Ugly

  • Continued Philippines occupation and massacres (e.g. 1906)
  • Splitting Panama off from Colombia

William McKinley (1897-1901)

Good

  • ?

Bad

  • ?

Ugly

  • Annexation of Hawaii
  • War on the people of the Philippines

John Adams (1797-1801)

Good

  • ?

Bad

  • ?

Ugly

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