Heathhallmain_2385835b.jpgCNBC, December 30th, 2013:

Pope Francis' critical comments about the wealthy and capitalism have at least one wealthy capitalist benefactor hesitant about giving financial support to one of the church's major fundraising projects.

At issue is an effort to raise $180 million for the restoration of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York being spearheaded by billionaire Ken Langone, the investor known for founding Home Depot, among other things.

Langone told CNBC that one potential seven-figure donor is concerned about statements from the pope criticizing market economies as "exclusionary," urging the rich to give more to the poor and criticizing a "culture of prosperity" that leads some to become "incapable of feeling compassion for the poor."

Venture Capitalist Tom Perkins, January 25, 2014:

Regarding your editorial "Censors on Campus" (Jan. 18): Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich." [..]

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.

Dealbook, November 9, 2013:

The chief executive of Goldman Sachs, which has attracted widespread media attention over the size of its staff bonuses, says he believes banks serve a social purpose and are "doing God's work."

"We're very important," Lloyd C. Blankfein said in an interview with The Times of London. "We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. [...] It's a virtuous cycle." He said that he understood, however, that people were angry with bankers' actions: "I know I could slit my wrists and people would cheer." But he is, he told The Times, just a banker "doing God's work."

Bloomberg, September 20, 2013:

Charles Munger, the billionaire vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., defended the U.S. financial-company rescues of 2008 and told students that people in economic distress should "suck it in and cope."

"You should thank God" for bank bailouts, Munger said in a discussion at the University of Michigan on Sept. 14, according to a video posted on the Internet. "Now, if you talk about bailouts for everybody else, there comes a place where if you just start bailing out all the individuals instead of telling them to adapt, the culture dies."

Matt Taibbi, September 24, 2013:

AIG has a lengthy history of producing some of the biggest tools on Wall Street. Former CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg was considered one of the world's preeminent unapologetic narcissists even before he sued the government for providing an insufficiently generous bailout. Joe Cassano, former chief of AIG's financial products division, was another. First, he arrogantly blew off the accountants who warned him his portfolio of hundreds of billions in uncollateralized bets might destroy the world. Then, after it all went kablooey, he tiptoed back to D.C. (after first being assured of not being prosecuted, mind you) from his lavish four-story townhouse in London just long enough to tell the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that he had absolutely nothing to be sorry about and they could bite him and his hundreds of millions in earnings if they disagreed.

Now a third AIG executive enters the pantheon of tone-deaf AIG bigwigs: CEO Robert Benmosche, who just told the Wall Street Journal that the post-crash public outcry over the use of bailout money to pay bonuses to executives in Cassano's Financial Products unit was comparable to - get this - lynchings in the deep south. From reporter Leslie Scism's interview:

The uproar over bonuses "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that - sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."

If any of these people had the slightest predilection towards violence, they'd probably be rapists and murderers. Instead, with their primary focus on greed, they've lucked out that their cold hearts and lack of a soul is a perfect fit for one of the last lawless areas in American society: high finance. (The other one, of course, is politics.)

Banksters have something in common with violent sociopaths in that you don't need evidence of wrongdoing to see them for what they truly are, you just have to listen them for five minutes. Like many lunatics, many of these people are proud of what they are and want to defend what they've done, because not only don't they see anything wrong with it, they see it as virtuous.

Is it any wonder that billionaires who share none of the problems facing 99% of world's population would see complaints about their behavior and attitude as persecution and genocide? There's nothing worse to these people than taking away their money, not even ethnic cleansing, apparently. Sitting in a posh office all day dreaming up new scams that haven't been outlawed yet, and paying 14% on a four-billion-per-year fortune is doing "God's work", unless that work entails donating some of those billions to charity to help the poor, in which case they'll take their ball and go home unless the Pope blows smoke up their ass about what great saints they are.

And these morons wonder why people hate them? Amazing.

Rand PaulThe opposition party has been giving a "response" to the State of the Union speech (that they have no foreknowledge of and therefore can't respond to) ever since Republicans began the asinine practice in 1966. It's arrogant, juvenile, and self destructive. Most politicians are damaged by it and yet it's still done every year by both parties.

This year is no exception, and if ever there was plain evidence that the Republican Party is suffering from an identity and policy crisis, this is it. The Republican Party will have no fewer than three responses to the address next week. The official televised response will come from Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington), vice chair of the House Republican Conference.

I'm catching up on Krugman's NYT blog and my mind got stuck on this. It's easy and lazy to invent personal faults as scapegoats for political policy and ideology that you don't like and don't understand. Building a model that analyzes and predicts that behavior is a little more involved than that.

Krugman, via Josh Barro, notes that Republicans don't seem to have a policy for how to deal with recessions:

As [Barro] says, GOP policy prescriptions - deregulate, cut spending (especially on the poor), and cut taxes (on the rich) - are the same when unemployment is above 9 percent as when it is below 5.

Conservative policies being driven by doctrine rather than practical concerns explains that easily enough, but is there more to it than that?

Nobody has died as the result of a foreign terrorist attack in the United States since September 11th, 2001. We spend countless billions of dollars on unending wars in the middle east that routinely slaughter civilians and children in the name of keeping our own butts safe from The Terrorists, money desperately needed to combat a failing education system, a slowly improving health care crisis, and increasing poverty here at home.

There are threats to our society that far exceed what foreign terrorism presents these days and rather than combating these threats, we hide behind the first amendment and the right to dissent (more often the right to be stupid and hateful). I suppose that's a price we pay, and given how things are in other parts of the world, it's a small price indeed. But in the long run, these threats from inside our borders are the ones capable of destroying our society. Terrorists can kill us and that's obviously pretty bad, but they can't take away our constitutional rights, can't make us stupid and weak, can't blind us to threats that could eventually destroy the planet itself.

That's what we have Fox News for.

James ClapperDNI James Clapper, who has admitted lying to Congress about the NSA.

Charlie Savage and David Sanger have a new story in the Times tonight that perfectly illustrates the truth behind the spin when it comes to domestic spying by the NSA, and President Obama's attempts to shield it from judicial review.

Some of this behavior is more laughable than it is upsetting, because it's gotten so absurd:

Mr. Clapper's unclassified affidavit to the court - he also filed a classified version, the documents state - contrasts sharply with the findings of President Obama's advisory committee on signals intelligence, which said in a report made public on Wednesday that the collection of bulk telephone data was of little proven value.

The panel's experts concluded that "there has been no instance in which N.S.A. could say with confidence that the outcome would have been different" in a terror investigation without the collection of the telephone data. "Moreover, now that the existence of the program has been disclosed publicly, we suspect that it is likely to be less useful still."

Mr. Clapper, however, suggested that the program was one of many that needed to continue, and he discussed a litany of threats, mostly emanating from Al Qaeda and its affiliates, that he said made the program vital. He argued that revealing additional details, including whom it targets or how companies like AT&T and Verizon have given the N.S.A. access to its equipment and data, would be harmful.

It's one thing to bullshit the public about the usefulness of controversial government programs, where officials can't be questioned at length under oath and be forced to provide evidence of their claims. It's quite another matter to bullshit a (real) federal court.

Walker ProtestsVoters protest the controversial policies of Republican Governor Scott Walker in 2011.

I get the feeling today that the conservative pundit class is coalescing around Scott Walker for 2016. Some of it is his book tour, but there's more to it than that. Walker has political victories that Paul Ryan and Chris Christie don't, putting a government boot on the throat of the middle class and his own employees, but isn't seen as either too conservative or too moderate.

If there's anything the pundits love, it's squeezing the middle class to protect government spending and policies to make life easier for the wealthy and corporations.

Real accomplishments are few and far between. Walker's record on job creation is predictably awful, with Wisconsin being the last in the nation in 2011 and probably 2012 as well. That shouldn't be surprising from a party that still believes the fantasy that government can't create jobs.

Stories like this one from Ezra Klein today reminding everyone that Obamacare is made up mostly of Republican/conservative ideas, and not just old ones either, are the kind that need to be spread far and wide. Americans deserve to know the truth about what their government does, good and bad, so they can know who to rightly blame:

This, too, is a success for a longtime conservative health-policy idea. Insurance exchanges have been in every major Republican health-care bill since the early 1990s. They were in Paul Ryan's 2009 health-care proposal. They're the basis of the GOP's plan for Medicare reform.

I have a small soap box so people mostly don't see it, but I've been saying for years that most GOP criticism of Obamacare is insultingly stupid.

What Republicans want to do to Medicare is what Democrats just did with private insurance -- give you "vouchers" or "subsidies" to go buy insurance on the private market. It's the basis of Medicare Advantage, a program that ended up spending more than Medicare does and is generally considered a failure from what I understand.

If it really is a Democrats like it/Republicans hate it paradigm, then Republicans need to be made to understand that they are hating their own ideas:

A conservative commenter on my previous post wrote that he's glad that America isn't a democracy (assuming a democracy is a form of government or civil society where the majority truly rules).

He should be.

If this country were a true democracy, we'd have a sweeping wave of new gun regulations including limits on the number of bullets that a magazine can hold and universal background checks, the latter of which has the support of 90% of the citiznry yet was blocked by Republicans in the Senate.

Same-sex marriage would be legal across the nation and we'd be spending more money on education and less on defense. Obamacare would be expanded, taxes on the wealthy increased, defense spending cut, the minimum wage increased, social safety net programs like Social Security would be forever protected from benefit cuts and program-ending privatization, and we'd see new spending on a jobs bill.

Polls consistently show majority public support for all of that.

Harry ReidI should be working instead of doing this, but I want to expand just a little bit on what I said on Twitter this afternoon.

There's nothing "nuclear" about what Democrats just did in the Senate, revising the rules in the middle of a session on a majority vote which the rules wouldn't normally allow. The argument for this change is that Senate rules are superseded by the Constitution, which says that votes in the Senate are subject to a simple majority.

That's why everyone agrees that it only takes 51 votes to set the rules at the beginning of a new session of Congress. Nobody argues otherwise. If the Constitution dictates that it only takes 51 votes to set the rules -- regardless of when -- then no rule or federal law can change that.

Similarly, that line of thought would make the filibuster rule itself unconstitutional anyway.

What today's action does is return the Senate to the way it was envisioned to function by the founders and the way it is supposed to function according to the Constitution. That was a good start, but the work isn't done. There are other ways to keep extremist judges off the bench, the best of them is probably to eliminate lifetime appointments.

BenghaziSimon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions is yanking the book at the center of the CBS News/'60 Minutes' Benghazi scandal, after CBS apologized for publishing falsehoods.

It's good to finally see some accountability in the media for misleading the public about important issues, but this isn't enough. The real scandal involving Benghazi has been the circus that Republicans have put on in the House of Representatives wasting time on frivolous investigative hearings. More money and time has been spent by the GOP trying put more of the blame for the attacks on the Obama administration than the terrorists who committed it.

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