Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Your Tax Dollars At Work!

Over $750,000 to study interpretive dance...

“The Dance.Draw system will enable dancers' motions, tracked via small RF transmitters worn in satin cuffs, to act as input streams that can be flexibly applied as control parameters for interactive visualizations. The system will log dancers' motions and will be able to composite video of the dancers with different visualizations, enabling post-hoc analysis of the choreography and exploration of prospective mappings between the motion and the projected media."

And people say we don't have a spending problem?

Goodbye to All That Claptrap - And Good Riddance: Don’t Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out, Mike Lofgren!

Mike Lofgren, a former staffer for Republicans on the House and Senate Budget Committees, has penned a ridiculous screed in which he rants about why he hates Republicans.  A sadly misguided relative sent it to me, and I noticed that it had gotten some play on some of the lefty blogs, so I put together a debunking/fisking/response to Lofgren’s absurdities, in the hope that others might realize how ridiculous his argument is.  I’ve inserted my comments in line with the original, which is indented below.

Both parties are rotten - how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats' health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats' rank capitulation to corporate interests - no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.

This guy is claiming that the problem with the health care bill was that it didn’t introduce single-payer, and claims he’s a Republican?  I find that really hard to believe.  Actually, my speculation is that Lofgren may be a Democrat, and just happened to work on the Republican side of the aisle, but I don’t know, and it isn’t really relevant to how awful his argument is. 

The reason that there are “corporate interests” involved in the health care bill is because we need the potential for profits to drive health care innovation going forward – no profits means no new treatments, because there’s no way to make any money.  Maybe Mr. Lofgren should read some Adam Smith.

But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.

Given that the Democratic Party invented “machine politics” (Tammany Hall, the Pendergasts, etc.), I’m not sure that the comparison works as well as Mr. Lofgren thinks it does.

To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.

Where are Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, and the list of Democratic “crackpots”?  Also, I’d note that none of the Republicans he mentions are committee or sub-committee chairs…how are these folks the face of the Republican Party?  I hadn’t even heard of some of these people, and I can recognize members of Congress by the sounds of their voices….Allen West, while he is a Tea Partier, voted FOR the compromise bill to increase the debt ceiling, and I wouldn’t consider Michelle Bachmann a “leading” candidate in the primary – her irrelevance in the debate the other night and the fact that she’s only drawing about 4% of Republican primary voters is pretty good evidence of that (although Lofgren wrote this a few weeks ago, so we’ll let this one slide).

It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill. A couple of months ago, I retired; but I could see as early as last November that the Republican Party would use the debt limit vote, an otherwise routine legislative procedure that has been used 87 times since the end of World War II, in order to concoct an entirely artificial fiscal crisis. Then, they would use that fiscal crisis to get what they wanted, by literally holding the US and global economies as hostages.

If this was the worry, then why didn’t Harry Reid just vote to increase the debt ceiling last year when Democrats still had control of Congress?  He could have just increased it and been done with it; instead he wanted Republicans to be forced to “own” the debt along with Obama and the Democrats.  Also, if we actually had any Presidential leadership, Obama could have dealt with the situation in the spring, when we weren’t running up against the ceiling, but he waited until the last minute to try and gain leverage.  Republicans out-smarted Reid and Obama, using the vote as a way to put an emphasis on the fact that the government is spending TOO MUCH DAMN MONEY!  Now the left is crying that a serious conversation about how much our government spends is akin to taking hostages.  Maybe you agree that we should be spending more than at any time since WW2, but you have to make an argument, not just complain that your opponents are hostage-takers like a whiny little bitch.

The debt ceiling extension is not the only example of this sort of political terrorism. Republicans were willing to lay off 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees, 70,000 private construction workers and let FAA safety inspectors work without pay, in fact, forcing them to pay for their own work-related travel - how prudent is that? - in order to strong arm some union-busting provisions into the FAA reauthorization.

And now we’ve moved on from being hostage-takers to being terrorists!  Awesome….Anyone familiar with the legislative history on this issue would know that the Republican House passed the FAA authorization; it was the Senate which refused to pass it.  The union provisions that the Democrats wanted removed from the bill were lobbied for by UPS, as they were facing higher labor costs than FedEx, and wanted to use legislation to become more competitive.  It’s not all business vs. the people, as both parties raise massive amounts of money from the business community, and large corporations are happy to use their lobbying clout to benefit themselves at the expense of their competitors.

Everyone knows that in a hostage situation, the reckless and amoral actor has the negotiating upper hand over the cautious and responsible actor because the latter is actually concerned about the life of the hostage, while the former does not care. This fact, which ought to be obvious, has nevertheless caused confusion among the professional pundit class, which is mostly still stuck in the Bob Dole era in terms of its orientation. For instance, Ezra Klein wrote of his puzzlement over the fact that while House Republicans essentially won the debt ceiling fight, enough of them were sufficiently dissatisfied that they might still scuttle the deal. Of course they might - the attitude of many freshman Republicans to national default was "bring it on!"

Back to hostage takers….OK….When the House was passing the Ryan Plan, and Cut, Cap, and Balance, where were the Democratic plans to deal with the debt ceiling?  Harry Reid and Obama just sat on their hands through the debate, and demanded that the House send them the bill they wanted, which they failed to explain in specifics.  How is that leadership?   At one point in the negotiations, Boehner and Obama had an agreement in principle on a plan that included $800 billion in new revenues.  It was Obama who backed out at the last minute and demanded that Republicans agree to a 50% increase in the revenue number.  Rather than try to hit a continually moving target, Boehner walked away from that deal, and built his own plan which passed the House.   And in the end, it was the Republicans who got the compromise bill over the finish line.

It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.

Now we’re cultists!  Got it.

In his "Manual of Parliamentary Practice," Thomas Jefferson wrote that it is less important that every rule and custom of a legislature be absolutely justifiable in a theoretical sense, than that they should be generally acknowledged and honored by all parties. These include unwritten rules, customs and courtesies that lubricate the legislative machinery and keep governance a relatively civilized procedure. The US Senate has more complex procedural rules than any other legislative body in the world; many of these rules are contradictory, and on any given day, the Senate parliamentarian may issue a ruling that contradicts earlier rulings on analogous cases.

The only thing that can keep the Senate functioning is collegiality and good faith. During periods of political consensus, for instance, the World War II and early post-war eras, the Senate was a "high functioning" institution: filibusters were rare and the body was legislatively productive. Now, one can no more picture the current Senate producing the original Medicare Act than the old Supreme Soviet having legislated the Bill of Rights.

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.

The senate has NEVER been a majoritarian body – as George Washington once said, “we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it."  Also, remember Democrats talking about the importance of the filibuster and collegiality towards the President’s party back when Bush was President?  Now, it has become a tool for “totalitarians” according to people like Lofgren.  I wonder if his tune will change in 2013, when we have a Republican President again.

John P. Judis sums up the modern GOP this way:
"Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today's Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery."

So now we’re angry racists!  I’m having trouble keeping all of these insults straight.  Lofgren is suggesting that opposing federal legislation that you disagree with makes one a racist totalitarian….does that mean that this label would apply to people who oppose the Patriot Act, which was passed (and reauthorized over and over again) by a bipartisan majority of Congress?  People oppose legislation all the time – it’s called politics, not nullification.  Throwing in a historical term that is associated with the post Civil War South is just a way to inflame passions, and has nothing to do with the current issues we face as a nation.

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

And a reputable source whom I won’t name just told me that Mike Lofgren is a clown.  He heard this “a couple of years ago”?  Was this when the Republicans had a minority in the House, and didn’t even have the votes to mount a filibuster in the Senate even if they wanted to?  And how were they going to obstruct in the Senate without a filibuster?  It seems like this is just something Lofgren made up to make it sound like the opinion wasn’t just his own.  Also, this argument is very similar to one that Glenn Beck makes from the other side – that Obama is seeking to destroy the American economy, and is implementing policies to achieve that goal.  I give Lofgren’s argument about as much credit as I’d give to Glenn Beck’s theory about Obama and Cloward-Piven strategy – that is to say, very little.  Attacking your opponents’ motives generally shows that you don’t have a good argument.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s - a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

It’s a lot more likely that the reason low-information voters take a “pox on both houses” view is because they really don’t care about the government – they’re just trying to live their lives.  When they see that the government or even controversy in the news relating to politics is intruding on their lives, they look past a lot of the “he said, she said” arguments and conclude that neither side is really looking out for them – which is a lot closer to the truth than the arguments Lofgren is making.  I would also note that Lofgren is basically trashing the electorate here, saying that they’re too stupid to know what’s good for them.  Reminds me of Berthold Brecht’s poem “The Solution”:  “Wouldn't it / Be simpler in that case if the government / Dissolved the people and / elected another?”

The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable "hard news" segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the "respectable" media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the "centrist cop-out." "I joked long ago," he says, "that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read 'Views Differ on Shape of Planet.'"

The media is terrified of being criticized for bias?  In what universe?  There’s only a little bit of irony in the fact that Lofgren cites Paul Krugman to back up this point – Krugman is a columnist for the New York Times, which is generally considered “respectable” media (I don’t agree, but that’s an argument for another day).  I don’t think the Times, the Washington Post, NPR, NBC, CBS, ABC, or even Fox News are that worried about seeming biased – if anything, their bias has become even more prominent over the last decade or so.

Inside-the-Beltway wise guy Chris Cillizza merely proves Krugman right in his Washington Post analysis of "winners and losers" in the debt ceiling impasse. He wrote that the institution of Congress was a big loser in the fracas, which is, of course, correct, but then he opined: "Lawmakers - bless their hearts - seem entirely unaware of just how bad they looked during this fight and will almost certainly spend the next few weeks (or months) congratulating themselves on their tremendous magnanimity." Note how the pundit's ironic deprecation falls like the rain on the just and unjust alike, on those who precipitated the needless crisis and those who despaired of it. He seems oblivious that one side - or a sizable faction of one side - has deliberately attempted to damage the reputation of Congress to achieve its political objectives.

Lofgren has provided no evidence for his belief that Republicans want to destroy people’s faith in the government other than his anonymous source, yet he now hangs his argument on it.  If this were the goal of Republicans, they aren’t doing a very good job, because they’re only tying the results of the Democratic Congress in 2010 in terms of approval ratings.  In fact, the reputation of Congress has been atrocious for years now, under both Republican and Democratic leadership.

This constant drizzle of "there the two parties go again!" stories out of the news bureaus, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends. The United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions - if government is a racket and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, but they effectively canceled the political results of the election of President Obama by 69 million voters.

I’m seeing this argument used on the left as the justification for an idea – that the media should stop giving people on the right a forum for their arguments, because they are wrong, and presenting their views only legitimizes them.  But if people on the left feel they have the better argument, why run from the fight? 

Our “democratic institutions” have lost their reputation because the government has grown to the point that it is ineffective, not because of Lofgren’s imagined Republican bogeymen.  Some countries, even democracies, require their citizens to vote, which would lead to more of the “low-information voters” that Lofgren deplores being involved in the process – I’d say it’s far better to leave voting to the people who are willing to make the effort to vote on their own.  The argument about the 2010 election is completely dishonest – mid-terms always see lower turnout, and 2010’s was actually quite high when compared with other mid-terms in the past.  It wasn’t a “cancelling” of Obama’s election, either – just putting a check on his leadership.  We won’t get to “cancel” the results of 2008 until November of 2012.

This tactic of inducing public distrust of government is not only cynical, it is schizophrenic. For people who profess to revere the Constitution, it is strange that they so caustically denigrate the very federal government that is the material expression of the principles embodied in that document. This is not to say that there is not some theoretical limit to the size or intrusiveness of government; I would be the first to say there are such limits, both fiscal and Constitutional. But most Republican officeholders seem strangely uninterested in the effective repeal of Fourth Amendment protections by the Patriot Act, the weakening of habeas corpus and self-incrimination protections in the public hysteria following 9/11 or the unpalatable fact that the United States has the largest incarcerated population of any country on earth. If anything, they would probably opt for more incarcerated persons, as imprisonment is a profit center for the prison privatization industry, which is itself a growth center for political contributions to these same politicians.[1] Instead, they prefer to rail against those government programs that actually help people. And when a program is too popular to attack directly, like Medicare or Social Security, they prefer to undermine it by feigning an agonized concern about the deficit. That concern, as we shall see, is largely fictitious.

Revering the Constitution doesn’t mean that you agree to anything that is done in the name of government.  Conservatives and Republicans generally believe that the Founders intended for the US to have a limited government, and that the functions that weren’t provided for by the federal government could be provided elsewhere.  Lofgren acknowledges that there are limits, but goes on to cite the Patriot Act, which as I have mentioned previously, was passed by a bipartisan majority of Congress, and has been reauthorized multiple times since 9/11, including by President Obama.   He then erratically jumps to prisons, and the injustice of so many people being imprisoned in the US, and blames it on prison privatization, which accounts for only about 4% of the prison population in the country

Undermining Americans' belief in their own institutions of self-government remains a prime GOP electoral strategy. But if this technique falls short of producing Karl Rove's dream of 30 years of unchallengeable one-party rule (as all such techniques always fall short of achieving the angry and embittered true believer's New Jerusalem), there are other even less savory techniques upon which to fall back. Ever since Republicans captured the majority in a number of state legislatures last November, they have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that may disenfranchise university students.

We’ve now moved on to voter ID laws – this guy pings between issues so fast it makes my head spin.  Do liberals believe that minorities are less capable of obtaining ID?  I’ll bet the reason for the differences between DMV offices has to do with changes in population…it would make sense to add hours in places where people are moving, and close offices in areas with declining population.  I’ll also bet that those GOP constituencies are towns with Republican mayors.  Residency requirements have a lot more to do with in-state tuition than anything else – it’s a big difference to the state university systems in terms of money, and the states subsidize the schools, so they want that benefit to go to kids that grew up in the state, not people that just move there for school.

This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don't want those people voting.

Does that mean that because Democrats didn’t support Bush’s democratization policies, they should not support democracy here in the US so they are consistent?  These assertions are getting ridiculous.  I suppose this sort of thing is convincing to people who already believe it, but it’s too vitriolic to actually offer any insight.  Which brings us to….

You can probably guess who those people are. Above all, anyone not likely to vote Republican. As Sarah Palin would imply, the people who are not Real Americans. Racial minorities. Immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Intellectuals. Basically, anyone who doesn't look, think, or talk like the GOP base. This must account, at least to some degree, for their extraordinarily vitriolic hatred of President Obama. I have joked in the past that the main administration policy that Republicans object to is Obama's policy of being black.[2] Among the GOP base, there is constant harping about somebody else, some "other," who is deliberately, assiduously and with malice aforethought subverting the Good, the True and the Beautiful: Subversives. Commies. Socialists. Ragheads. Secular humanists. Blacks.  Gays [I’m not reprinting the word he actually uses –ed.]. Feminazis. The list may change with the political needs of the moment, but they always seem to need a scapegoat to hate and fear.

…the racism and hater charge.  This entire paragraph is nothing more than Lofgren’s fantasy about what Republicans believe.  If somebody wants to debate the merits of policies, that’s great, but assuming that your opponents have only the worst and basest motives for their actions does nothing to solve our problems, which is what Lofgren is supposedly upset about in the first place.  Oh, and Palin was referring to “common people”, and asserting otherwise is ridiculous (and I’m not even a big Palin supporter). 

It is not clear to me how many GOP officeholders believe this reactionary and paranoid claptrap. I would bet that most do not. But they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base with a nod and a wink. During the disgraceful circus of the "birther" issue, Republican politicians subtly stoked the fires of paranoia by being suggestively equivocal - "I take the president at his word" - while never unambiguously slapping down the myth. John Huntsman was the first major GOP figure forthrightly to refute the birther calumny - albeit after release of the birth certificate.

Ahhh, Birthers.  They’re morons.  It’s a silly movement, it has no relevance, and the belief that taking the President at his word represents anything other than taking the President at his word is just dumb “gotcha” bullshit.  And Democrats have nudged up a lot closer to 9/11 truthers…does anyone remember when Michael Moore, who has dabbled in “trutherism”, sat in Jimmy Carter’s box at the Democratic Convention in 2004?  This is sideshow stuff – tell me something important, like what’s your plan for Social Security, chump?

I do not mean to place too much emphasis on racial animus in the GOP. While it surely exists, it is also a fact that Republicans think that no Democratic president could conceivably be legitimate. Republicans also regarded Bill Clinton as somehow, in some manner, twice fraudulently elected (well do I remember the elaborate conspiracy theories that Republicans traded among themselves). Had it been Hillary Clinton, rather than Barack Obama, who had been elected in 2008, I am certain we would now be hearing, in lieu of the birther myths, conspiracy theories about Vince Foster's alleged murder.

There were plenty of conspiracy theories about George Bush, too.  It’s an attempt to see your opponent as not only wrong, but illegitimate.  Lofgren should be very familiar with it, because his entire article is about the illegitimacy of Republican governance.  He is a hypocrite, and nothing less.  It’s kind of sad, because this is actually one of the only good points he makes, and yet it is meaningless in the context of his argument.

The reader may think that I am attributing Svengali-like powers to GOP operatives able to manipulate a zombie base to do their bidding. It is more complicated than that. Historical circumstances produced the raw material: the deindustrialization and financialization of America since about 1970 has spawned an increasingly downscale white middle class - without job security (or even without jobs), with pensions and health benefits evaporating and with their principal asset deflating in the collapse of the housing bubble. Their fears are not imaginary; their standard of living is shrinking.

A lot of the period cited here was marked by Democratic control of Congress…score another point for both sides having a lot of blame for the current situation.

What do the Democrats offer these people? Essentially nothing. Democratic Leadership Council-style "centrist" Democrats were among the biggest promoters of disastrous trade deals in the 1990s that outsourced jobs abroad: NAFTA, World Trade Organization, permanent most-favored-nation status for China. At the same time, the identity politics/lifestyle wing of the Democratic Party was seen as a too illegal immigrant-friendly by downscaled and outsourced whites.[3]

NAFTA hasn’t been a huge problem, though I will grant that offering most-favored status to the Chinese may have been mistaken in light of issues with intellectual property and restrictions on foreign investment in China.

While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations' bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let's build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it's evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.

So after Lofgren brought out the race card just a few short paragraphs ago, he’s now going to turn around and talk about how Democrats have dismissed working class whites as racist?  I would use an old phrase about a couple of kitchen implements, but that would be racist.  He’s right that businesses can often stand against enforcement of immigration laws, which is what has frustrated many Republicans on the issue of immigration.  Most Republicans don’t have a problem with a path for immigrants who are already here, but they do want to see real enforcement before we do another amnesty like the one in the 1980’s. 

And then he’s back to playing the race and hater card.  Again.  In the same damn paragraph where he talked about Democrats dismissing the concerns of middle-class white voters.  See the problem here?

How do they manage to do this? Because Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? - can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative "Obamacare" won out. Contrast that with the Republicans' Patriot Act. You're a patriot, aren't you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn't the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?

You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. "Entitlement" has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is "entitled" selfishly claims something he doesn't really deserve. Why not call them "earned benefits," which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don't make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the "estate tax," it is the "death tax." Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash.

Messaging.  It’s all about messaging.  It doesn’t matter if the product is any good, just how you market it.  Lofgren is repeating another argument that has been making the rounds in liberal circles, which is what caused “global warming” to become ”climate change”, and wars to become “overseas contingency operations”.  Obama’s new $450 billion dollar “Son Of Stimulus” is called the American Jobs Act, so I’d guess Lofgren is jumping for joy.  Meanwhile, Democrats are losing the policy debate.

It was not always thus. It would have been hard to find an uneducated farmer during the depression of the 1890s who did not have a very accurate idea about exactly which economic interests were shafting him. An unemployed worker in a breadline in 1932 would have felt little gratitude to the Rockefellers or the Mellons. But that is not the case in the present economic crisis. After a riot of unbridled greed such as the world has not seen since the conquistadors' looting expeditions and after an unprecedented broad and rapid transfer of wealth upward by Wall Street and its corporate satellites, where is the popular anger directed, at least as depicted in the media? At "Washington spending" - which has increased primarily to provide unemployment compensation, food stamps and Medicaid to those economically damaged by the previous decade's corporate saturnalia. Or the popular rage is harmlessly diverted against pseudo-issues: death panels, birtherism, gay marriage, abortion, and so on, none of which stands to dent the corporate bottom line in the slightest.

While Republicans and the Tea Party have plenty of complaints about Washington spending, there has been plenty of anger directed at Wall Street and “big business” since the financial crisis, in the sense that many Republicans, especially those who have affiliated with the Tea Party, didn’t support TARP and felt that banks should be forced to acknowledge their losses.  In the end we might have needed some federal funding to help restructure any banks that failed, but the economy would have been able to move forward.  Instead we are limping along, which is why we have to pay those higher unemployment, food stamp, and Medicaid benefits.

Lofgren’s complaint about “wedge” issues like abortion and gay marriage is misplaced.  Ironically, I hear far more about social issues from liberals than I do from conservatives, especially lately.  Republicans are almost completely focused on the financial and economic state of our country, and the steps we need to take to fix it.  Other issues are important, but they’re on the back burner as long as the economy is struggling and our debt is growing at 8-10% of GDP per year.

Thus far, I have concentrated on Republican tactics, rather than Republican beliefs, but the tactics themselves are important indicators of an absolutist, authoritarian mindset that is increasingly hostile to the democratic values of reason, compromise and conciliation. Rather, this mindset seeks polarizing division (Karl Rove has been very explicit that this is his principal campaign strategy), conflict and the crushing of opposition.
As for what they really believe, the Republican Party of 2011 believes in three principal tenets I have laid out below. The rest of their platform one may safely dismiss as window dressing:

Finally!  I was wondering if he was just going to rant about how horrible and hateful Republicans are by nature, or if he was actually going to tell us the ways we horrible Republicans implement our horrible hate.

In essence, Lofgren’s “three tenets” are really just economic policy, foreign policy, and social policy.  Hey!  Look at the big brain on Mike!  U r soooo smrt, Mike.  He just caricatures these policies in the most ridiculous way possible, and then proceeds to complain that they’re ridiculous.  Way to knock down straw men.

1. The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America's plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP refused, because it could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses. Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction - and even less spending reduction! - than Obama's offer, because of their iron resolution to protect at all costs our society's overclass.

Our deficits have been running at 8-10% of GDP…levels not seen since WW2.  We simply cannot continue to borrow at that rate without the debt swallowing our economy whole; that’s reality, not eyewash (I’ll look forward to Lofgren’s suggestions on how to fix it, but I won’t hold my breath waiting).  And which Obama deficit reduction package is this?  The one from April with the funky 12 year baseline that wasn’t even scored by CBO because, in their words, “We don’t score speeches”?  About $1 trillion of the purported “savings” that Obama offered was for reducing the troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan before 2021, an outcome that would happen no matter what, but is included in budgetary projections based on the current baseline (funny accounting – another reason people don’t trust government).  Republicans (and Democrats – the President’s budget went down unanimously in the Senate) didn’t sign on to Obama’s tax increases because they didn’t want to damage an already weak economy.  The Waltons and the Koch brothers wouldn’t have been affected by the increases Obama was proposing, anyway.  Increases in the marginal tax rate on ordinary income doesn’t affect billionaires much, since most of their income comes from capital gains (more on that below).

Republicans have attempted to camouflage their amorous solicitude for billionaires with a fog of misleading rhetoric. John Boehner is fond of saying, "we won't raise anyone's taxes," as if the take-home pay of an Olive Garden waitress were inextricably bound up with whether Warren Buffett pays his capital gains as ordinary income or at a lower rate. Another chestnut is that millionaires and billionaires are "job creators." US corporations have just had their most profitable quarters in history; Apple, for one, is sitting on $76 billion in cash, more than the GDP of most countries. So, where are the jobs?

Ah, the old Warren Buffett canard.  Buffett is an extreme outlier – building a tax policy around him would be like building a car specifically designed for 100-mph hairpin turns.  Obama until this week had barely even mentioned capital gains taxes, which are the real issue when considering Buffett’s tax bill.  It isn’t an issue of the lower marginal rates on ordinary income signed into law by Bush and Obama, and Buffett said as much in his interview with Charlie Rose  - in fact, he talked about how we were punishing small business owners by taxing passive investment profits at a lower rate than small business profits.  While there might be a place for adjustments to capital gains taxes as part of a comprehensive tax reform, Obama’s just proposing more taxes on top of what we already have, and is increasing the complexity of the tax code in ways that make it impossible for individuals and businesses to plan long-term.  I would suggest that issue has a lot more to do with the amount of cash on the sidelines lately than any argument Lofgren is making.  In fact, I’m not even sure what Lofgren’s argument is here – He jumps back and forth between individual taxes and corporate profits, so it’s hard to tell what he’s trying to say.  Maybe “Apple has cash, Apple make job”?  Business planning is a little more complex than that.

Another smokescreen is the "small business" meme, since standing up for Mom's and Pop's corner store is politically more attractive than to be seen shilling for a megacorporation. Raising taxes on the wealthy will kill small business' ability to hire; that is the GOP dirge every time Bernie Sanders or some Democrat offers an amendment to increase taxes on incomes above $1 million. But the number of small businesses that have a net annual income over a million dollars is de minimis, if not by definition impossible (as they would no longer be small businesses). And as data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research have shown, small businesses account for only 7.2 percent of total US employment, a significantly smaller share of total employment than in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

Does Lofgren understand how business profits are taxed?  Has he ever heard of an S Corp?  “Megacorporations” don’t pay the individual tax rate, but a lot of small businesses do because the taxes pass through to the individual owners.  And there are plenty of businesses that have over $1 million in income that aren’t evil multinational corporations.  Maybe if we called them medium-sized businesses Mr. Lofgren would be happier?  I’m also calling BS on his statistic here; 7.2% of people are self-employed, not working for small businesses.  It appears that Lofgren, as well as the NY Times writer in the piece I linked to here, don’t seem to understand that sometimes more than one person works for a small business.  These people are called employees, and they would not be self-employed, but they do work for small businesses.  I wouldn’t think that would be so hard to understand, but I’ve spelled it out here for those who are mentally challenged.  The real data is as follows:  according to the Small Business Administration (a government organization), in 2007, businesses of less than 50 people account for about 28% of employment, and businesses of under 100 account for about 35% of total employment.  That’s a far cry from 7.2%

Likewise, Republicans have assiduously spread the myth that Americans are conspicuously overtaxed. But compared to other OECD countries, the effective rates of US taxation are among the lowest. In particular, they point to the top corporate income rate of 35 percent as being confiscatory Bolshevism. But again, the effective rate is much lower. Did GE pay 35 percent on 2010 profits of $14 billion? No, it paid zero.

Ultimately, corporations don’t pay taxes.  They are ultimately borne by shareholders, employees, and customers.  That said, Lofgren’s point in this paragraph is exactly why we need corporate tax reform and not a higher corporate tax rate.  For every GE that has an army of accountants and attorneys and lobbyists out there pushing for this loophole or that, there are hundreds of small and medium sized business (the ones Lofgren thinks don’t exist) that don’t have these things, and are getting screwed over as a result.

When pressed, Republicans make up misleading statistics to "prove" that the America's fiscal burden is being borne by the rich and the rest of us are just freeloaders who don't appreciate that fact. "Half of Americans don't pay taxes" is a perennial meme. But what they leave out is that that statement refers to federal income taxes. There are millions of people who don't pay income taxes, but do contribute payroll taxes - among the most regressive forms of taxation. But according to GOP fiscal theology, payroll taxes don't count. Somehow, they have convinced themselves that since payroll taxes go into trust funds, they're not real taxes. Likewise, state and local sales taxes apparently don't count, although their effect on a poor person buying necessities like foodstuffs is far more regressive than on a millionaire.

OK, let’s look at the data on income tax, as well as all federal taxes, including payroll, excise, and corporate taxes derived through stock ownership as presented by the CBOIn 2006, the top 1% had 18.8% of the income, and paid 39.1% of income taxes, and 28.3% of all federal taxes. The whole top 20% had 55.7% of the income, and paid 86.3% of income taxes, and 69.3% of all taxes. The middle 20% had 13.2% of income, and paid 4.4% of income taxes, and 9.1% of all federal taxes. The bottom 20%, who had 3.9% of the income, paid -2.8% of income taxes (the negative number is due to EITC), and 0.8% of all federal taxes.  So even accounting for these other taxes, the wealthy are still paying a share of taxes that exceeds their share of income.  On the issue of state and local taxes, I think maybe Lofgren should take that up with state and local governments.  Different government, different system, different taxes.  Complaining that the federal government isn’t accounting for taxes that they don’t levy and don’t have control over is just barking up the wrong tree.  If you want state governments to have a more progressive tax structure, fine – but it isn’t the GOP’s fault that it’s not the way you want it.  Incidentally, the wealthy do account for a disproportionate amount of consumer spending, so they likely pay a high percentage of sales taxes as well.

All of these half truths and outright lies have seeped into popular culture via the corporate-owned business press. Just listen to CNBC for a few hours and you will hear most of them in one form or another. More important politically, Republicans' myths about taxation have been internalized by millions of economically downscale "values voters," who may have been attracted to the GOP for other reasons (which I will explain later), but who now accept this misinformation as dogma.

After providing no statistics except his BS 7.2% figure for small business employment, Lofgren now asserts that the belief that the tax burden in the US is primarily carried by the wealthy is a lie.  The data says otherwise, so unless he has something more than hyperbole to back up his assertion, I’d say it’s Lofgren who is lying.

And when misinformation isn't enough to sustain popular support for the GOP's agenda, concealment is needed. One fairly innocuous provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill requires public companies to make a more transparent disclosure of CEO compensation, including bonuses. Note that it would not limit the compensation, only require full disclosure. Republicans are hell-bent on repealing this provision. Of course; it would not serve Wall Street interests if the public took an unhealthy interest in the disparity of their own incomes as against that of a bank CEO. As Spencer Bachus, the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, says, "In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks."

CEO compensation for public companies is already highly transparent…it’s on almost all of the major financial websites, and is heavily documented in corporate disclosure documents.  Because of this, I’m not really sure what Lofgren is referring to, but it may be a provision which required companies to put something in their proxy documents showing the ratio of CEO pay to the average employee in the company (Sections 953 and 955).  This just isn’t a relevant metric, and can be highly misleading – of course the CEO of Wal-Mart will have a higher ratio than the CEO of Goldman Sachs, but what does that tell us?  That Wal-Mart hires a lot of low-skill, entry-level workers, and Goldman hires lots of investment bankers.  It doesn’t really tell us anything about how employees are paid relative to their value, and thus is a waste of the company’s time and energy.

2. They worship at the altar of Mars. While the me-too Democrats have set a horrible example of keeping up with the Joneses with respect to waging wars, they can never match GOP stalwarts such as John McCain or Lindsey Graham in their sheer, libidinous enthusiasm for invading other countries. McCain wanted to mix it up with Russia - a nuclear-armed state - during the latter's conflict with Georgia in 2008 (remember? - "we are all Georgians now," a slogan that did not, fortunately, catch on), while Graham has been persistently agitating for attacks on Iran and intervention in Syria. And these are not fringe elements of the party; they are the leading "defense experts," who always get tapped for the Sunday talk shows. About a month before Republicans began holding a gun to the head of the credit markets to get trillions of dollars of cuts, these same Republicans passed a defense appropriations bill that increased spending by $17 billion over the prior year's defense appropriation. To borrow Chris Hedges' formulation, war is the force that gives meaning to their lives.

McCain wanted to go to war with Russia?  That’s news to me…I thought he just wanted to provide some rhetorical (and possibly material) support to Georgia.  Graham has been out front on the Syrian and Iranian issues, but don’t the Israeli destruction of a secret nuclear facility in Syria and the continued Iranian quest to become a nuclear power show that his argument has some merit?  It doesn’t necessarily mean we should go to war against either of them, but it certainly advocates a strong posture militarily to ensure that both countries know that we take the situation seriously.

A cynic might conclude that this militaristic enthusiasm is no more complicated than the fact that Pentagon contractors spread a lot of bribery money around Capitol Hill. That is true, but there is more to it than that. It is not necessarily even the fact that members of Congress feel they are protecting constituents' jobs. The wildly uneven concentration of defense contracts and military bases nationally means that some areas, like Washington, DC, and San Diego, are heavily dependent on Department of Defense (DOD) spending. But there are many more areas of the country whose net balance is negative: the citizenry pays more in taxes to support the Pentagon than it receives back in local contracts.
And the economic justification for Pentagon spending is even more fallacious when one considers that the $700 billion annual DOD budget creates comparatively few jobs. The days of Rosie the Riveter are long gone; most weapons projects now require very little touch labor. Instead, a disproportionate share is siphoned off into high-cost research and development (from which the civilian economy benefits little); exorbitant management expenditures, overhead and out-and-out padding; and, of course, the money that flows back into the coffers of political campaigns. A million dollars appropriated for highway construction would create two to three times as many jobs as a million dollars appropriated for Pentagon weapons procurement, so the jobs argument is ultimately specious.

The military employees roughly 700,000 civilians and 1.4 million servicemen and women, for a total of 2.1 million employed.  Given the $700 billion budget number, that’s about $333,000 per job (and this doesn’t even count all of the military contractors whose jobs are supported by this budget), which is less than a lot of the wasteful stimulus jobs cost, and those weren’t permanent jobs.  Also, the civilian economy does benefit from military research – maybe Lofgren’s heard of something called the Internet, and if not, he might be familiar with GPS.  I think some people have made some money off of those things, but maybe I heard wrong.  We definitely could use some procurement reform, but Lofgren’s assertion that the jobs argument is specious is, well, specious.

Take away the cash nexus and there still remains a psychological predisposition toward war and militarism on the part of the GOP. This undoubtedly arises from a neurotic need to demonstrate toughness and dovetails perfectly with the belligerent tough-guy pose one constantly hears on right-wing talk radio. Militarism springs from the same psychological deficit that requires an endless series of enemies, both foreign and domestic.

Now we’re not just racist terrorist hostage-takers, we’re actually mentally disturbed!  Armchair psychology is useless in a political discussion.  I could talk about how this whole column is about Mike Lofgren lashing out at his former employers because of a deep psychological need to gain acceptance among a group now that he feels rejection in a place where he once worked.  However, since I don’t know Lofgren, I’d rather tell you why what he’s saying is wrong instead of trying to make something up about why he’s crazy.  Maybe instead of trying to analyze people’s motivations, Lofgren should focus on why his opponents are supporting the wrong things.

The results of the last decade of unbridled militarism and the Democrats' cowardly refusal to reverse it[4], have been disastrous both strategically and fiscally. It has made the United States less prosperous, less secure and less free. Unfortunately, the militarism and the promiscuous intervention it gives rise to are only likely to abate when the Treasury is exhausted, just as it happened to the Dutch Republic and the British Empire.

We spend less on the military than on Social Security or Medicare, which are far more likely to bankrupt us than “militarism”.

3. Give me that old time religion. Pandering to fundamentalism is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance in this country and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson's strong showing in the 1988 Iowa Caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution versus creationism, scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary or quaint beliefs. Also around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science; it is this group that defines "low-information voter" - or, perhaps, "misinformation voter."

And who was the Republican nominee in 1988?  Not Pat Robertson.  So Americans tend to be more religious than Europeans?  I would think that would be somewhat obvious, since our country was initially settled by large numbers of people fleeing religious persecution in Europe.  All of the beliefs listed here are completely religious, and have nothing to do with policy (belief in evolution might involve policy, but Lofgren does not reference its teaching in schools or anything that limited).  What does a person’s belief in angels have to do with their policy views?  Something like a third of the population believes in ghosts – what does that say about them? 

The Constitution to the contrary notwithstanding, there is now a de facto religious test for the presidency: major candidates are encouraged (or coerced) to "share their feelings" about their "faith" in a revelatory speech; or, some televangelist like Rick Warren dragoons the candidates (as he did with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of Christology, with Warren himself, of course, as the arbiter. Politicized religion is also the sheet anchor of the culture wars. But how did the whole toxic stew of GOP beliefs - economic royalism, militarism and culture wars cum fundamentalism - come completely to displace an erstwhile civilized Eisenhower Republicanism?

“Our government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith and I don’t care what it is.  With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion that all men are created equal.” –Dwight Eisenhower, 1952

It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes - at least in the minds of followers - all three of the GOP's main tenets.

So he’s going to try and tie all of this stuff together now, huh?  Should be interesting…

Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God's favor. If not, too bad! But don't forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires.

What are the “prerogatives” of billionaires?  Maybe a lot of downscale whites support the ability of other people to make money so they can hire those downscale whites to work in their companies, but I don’t think that’s what Lofgren is referring to.  The US has far greater social mobility than, say, Western Europe, so a lot of middle class people support low rates of taxation because they aspire to someday be wealthy themselves.  There are a number of possible motivations here, so singling out religion in the way Lofgren does is silly.

The GOP's fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter - God ordering the killing of the Midianite male infants and enslavement of the balance of the population, the divinely-inspired genocide of the Canaanites, the slaying of various miscreants with the jawbone of an ass - and since American religious fundamentalist seem to prefer the Old Testament to the New (particularly that portion of the New Testament known as the Sermon on the Mount), it is but a short step to approving war as a divinely inspired mission. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell once writing that God is Pro-War.

The Bible has tales of slaughter, so Republicans are violent.  Sounds like the old violent video games argument.  American fundamentalists prefer the Old Testament?  Are they Jewish fundamentalists?  Liberals love to trot out the Sermon on the Mount – they should read the whole thing; I don’t think it would necessarily fit with their views on religion.  The fact that so many liberals who think of themselves as “intelligent” are currently passing around this article, and talking it up as a cogent analysis, makes me laugh. 

It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there was no debt ceiling problem was Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? - we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.

Ridiculous.  No comment needed, other than that if you believe this stuff, you are truly are paranoid conspiracy theorist.  And I’m not referring to Michelle Bachmann in that regard.

Some liberal writers have opined that the different socio-economic perspectives separating the "business" wing of the GOP and the religious right make it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is no fundamental disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take the country, merely how far in that direction they want to take it. The plutocrats would drag us back to the Gilded Age, the theocrats to the Salem witch trials. In any case, those consummate plutocrats, the Koch brothers, are pumping large sums of money into Michele Bachman's presidential campaign, so one ought not make too much of a potential plutocrat-theocrat split.

Lofgren seems to be suggesting that both groups want to go into the past, so they’re both in agreement.  Huh?  Is this a movie with a Delorean in it?  Theoretically, plutocrats would want small government so they could make money; theocrats would want big government so they can control people’s lives.  We’re getting towards the end here, and all Lofgren is doing is serving up ad-hominems so that liberals can sit at home and nod their heads in agreement, “I just knew they were evil, and this proves it!” 

Lofgren links to an article discussing the $35,000 Bachmann has gotten from Koch-linked organizations.  I think he's referring to the same Koch Brothers who gave $20 million to the ACLU to fight the Patriot Act.  They definitely must be consummate plutocrats who only care about themselves and their money…it’s not that they’re principled believers in limited government.  That’s too simple.  There must be something more nefarious afoot here.  CATO, the Koch-funded think tank, also opposed the Iraq war in 2003, so I’m not sure how Lofgren squares all of this – wasn’t he just saying that religion had something to do with it?

Thus, the modern GOP; it hardly seems conceivable that a Republican could have written the following:
"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid." (That was President Eisenhower, writing to his brother Edgar in 1954.)

Republicans have talked about reforming Social Security, not abolishing it.  They’ve talked about ending extensions of unemployment insurance, not ending it all together.  They want to scale back some of the labor laws, not eliminate them.  Farm programs are far less relevant than they were almost 60 years ago when Eisenhower wrote this, which is a reminder that political environments change, so we probably shouldn’t put too much into one quote from a much different world than the one we live in today.  Wasn’t it Lofgren who just said that Republicans wanted to take us into the past, and now he’s pining for 1955?  Are you sure there isn’t a Delorean in this movie?

It is this broad and ever-widening gulf between the traditional Republicanism of an Eisenhower and the quasi-totalitarian cult of a Michele Bachmann that impelled my departure from Capitol Hill. It is not in my pragmatic nature to make a heroic gesture of self-immolation, or to make lurid revelations of personal martyrdom in the manner of David Brock. And I will leave a more detailed dissection of failed Republican economic policies to my fellow apostate Bruce Bartlett.

Totalitarian cultists…you can tell we’re getting to the end here; Lofgren is re-using his insults.  Lofgren left Capitol Hill because he hates Michelle Bachmann, and he’s going to leave it to others to shed any light on why he thinks Republicans are wrong on the economy…which is probably best, given his lack of ability to understand the difference between being self-employed and working for a small business.

I left because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans, like Gadarene swine, to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country's future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them. And, in truth, I left as an act of rational self-interest. Having gutted private-sector pensions and health benefits as a result of their embrace of outsourcing, union busting and "shareholder value," the GOP now thinks it is only fair that public-sector workers give up their pensions and benefits, too. Hence the intensification of the GOP's decades-long campaign of scorn against government workers. Under the circumstances, it is simply safer to be a current retiree rather than a prospective one.

No one is contemplating taking away pensions already earned by federal workers, so Lofgren’s excuse for leaving doesn’t add up.  There have been debates on public sector pensions, but in every case involving larger entities (i.e. Wisconsin), it’s focused on workers making a little bigger contribution to their pensions and health care.  If Lofgren really left a good job in Washington because he might, at some point in the future, have to pay a little more towards his pension and health care seems a little odd.  The irony is, he’s probably one of the people that says rich people won’t change their behavior in response to changes in tax policy, but he’s retiring on the theory that possibly he maybe will have to pay a little bit more at some point.

If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren't after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté.[5] They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be "forced" to make "hard choices" - and that doesn't mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.

You can agree or disagree with Paul Ryan, but he’s one of the most bold and honest members of Congress in terms of explaining and attempting to offer solutions for the budget issues we face.  Ryan also does all of this in a pretty calm and good-natured way, given how heated the political climate is right now.  After trashing his opponents and calling them every name in the book, for Lofgren to paint Ryan as an extremist is pretty rich.  Maybe Lofgren needs to look in a mirror if we wants to see extremism and intolerance.
During the week that this piece was written, the debt ceiling fiasco reached its conclusion. The economy was already weak, but the GOP's disgraceful game of chicken roiled the markets even further. Foreigners could hardly believe it: Americans' own crazy political actions were destabilizing the safe-haven status of the dollar. Accordingly, during that same week, over one trillion dollars worth of assets evaporated on financial markets. Russia and China have stepped up their advocating that the dollar be replaced as the global reserve currency - a move as consequential and disastrous for US interests as any that can be imagined.

Foreigners have been worried for years about the safe-haven status of the dollar, ever since our trade deficits blew out after the dot-com bust, and especially since the Fed engaged in quantitative easing in an attempt to boost the economy over the last couple of years.  The evidence of this has been the rise in the price of gold and other commodities, and the fall in the dollar to near-record lows against other global currencies.  And China and Russia have been advocating moving away from the dollar for a few years as well – pinning it on the debt ceiling debate is incorrect, and shows a very limited view of the economic landscape, driven more by media headlines that by attention to real markets.

If Republicans have perfected a new form of politics that is successful electorally at the same time that it unleashes major policy disasters, it means twilight both for the democratic process and America's status as the world's leading power.

Thank God I’m done with that.  Lofgren really doesn’t have a cogent argument here – he just seems to ping from issue to issue, expressing his loathing of everything that the GOP stands for.  Rather than really address the policies on offer from Republicans, he just latches on to his own perception of what the GOP must believe in their hearts, and proceeds to attack that.  But swatting down straw men and assigning motives to others doesn’t add to Lofgren’s argument, it only shows that he has very little command of the facts and data that are driving the current debates.  In one of the few instances where he offers facts or figures to back up his argument, he flails badly.  His inability to even understand the difference between self-employed people and people who work for small businesses is  sad, and even sadder when you remember that this guy was working for REPUBLICANS on the BUDGET COMMITTEE!  Maybe it’s better he left, because he doesn’t seem to have done well with numbers.