Hard Hitting Debate

Among the questions moderator John King put to the Republican presidential candidates the other night were some ridiculous choices.
The grunting CNN reporter asked such deep matters as Coke or Pepsi, Leno or Letterman, Elvis or Johnny Cash? (Maybe it’s this attitude and trivialities that got us Obama in 2008.) While we winced at home, the candidates squirmed at these asinine inquiries.
So at Democrat debates will the same kinds of questions be asked of presidential, senatorial or congressional candidates? If so, I have some that another moderator could apply.
For instance, the old Clinton favorite, boxers or briefs? Supposing some of the Democrats are women we could change that to Playtex or Spanx? How about rhinoplasty or botox? That one could swing to either sex.
Pinot grigio or chardonnay?
Lady Gaga or the Black Eyed Peas?
Crack or meth?
Portuguese water dog or rescue pup?
The New Republic or Mother Jones?
Rachel Maddow or Lawrence O’Donnell?
CFLs or LEDs?
Whole Foods or Costco?
Well, you get the picture.
Wouldn’t that save us a lot of anxiety over those other issues like terrorism, the economy and silly old debt?

“Textbook Stagflation”

Poor economic numbers continue to rattle Americans.
Today the May consumer price index was up .2% with the the index for all items less food and energy increasing .3% in May. This is the largest increase since July 2008. Year over year this amounts to a rise of 3.6%.
In other words, inflation is on the march. The government says “the food at home index repeated its April increase of up .5% as four of the six major grocery store food group indexes increased, with the index for meats, poultry, fish and eggs rising the most.”
Combine those increases with reports such as today’s Empire manufacturing number, which plunged from up 11.8 to minus 7.79, and that is what economist Rick Santelli calls “textbook inflation.”
The future General Business Conditions index fell 30 points, reaching 22.5, its lowest level since early 2009. Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge agrees with Santelli. “And the kicker: margins continued to collapse as prices paid fell less than prices received. This is what stagflation is, pure and simple.”
World wide, there is also brewing domestic uncertainty in China. The Wall Street Journal reports, “A wave of violent unrest in urban areas of China over the past three weeks is testing the Communist Party’s efforts to maintain control over an increasingly complex and fractious society, forcing it to repeatedly deploy its massive security forces to contain public anger over economic and political grievances.”
India is also seeing food prices rise about 11% and Brazil is experiencing inflation, too.
In short, everything is going in the wrong direction.

Zogby, Soros, Buffet and Me

Getting a Zogby poll is always an interesting experience. Even though it purportedly wants my opinion, in truth it tells more about Zogby and the media than about what Americans think.
Today’s IBOPE/Zogby poll was particularly intriguing for its topic and length. It didn’t have questions about President Obama or Republican presidential candidates. It was almost exclusively about billionaires.
Zogby begins with asking “When you think of the name X, what is the first thing that comes to mind? There was a blank space to comment on the following: George Soros, David and Charles Koch, Mark Zuckerberg, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg.
This was an irresistible offering. For instance: Soros – Whackjob uber leftist with a Dr. Evil complex; Bloomberg – Moneybags mayor of New York bent on a Nanny state; you get the picture. After that comes how you rate them: Very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, etc.
Next, “When you hear the term billionaire please rate on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being not at all and 5 being extremely, how accurate each term is in best describing your reactions: genius, shrewd, greedy, ruthless, blessed, lucky, selfish, leader, role model, corrupt. No preconceptions there, eh?
A few questions on their responsibilities and a chart for me to evaluate whether these guys are patriotic, Democrat or Republican and the values most important to me (pick two). Then a query as to whether conspiracy theories reflect where there’s smoke there’s fire or they are the figment of peoples’ imaginations. Oddly, I think there might be more choices in life than that.
Having jumped through all those questions, the lengthiest part was still to come. Call it the Rudyard Kipling experience. Everything began, like his famous poem, with the word “if.” The actual questions follow with my theoretical answers.
“If Warren Buffett pledged to give away 99% of his wealth to charity, would that make you more favorable to him?” Me: Depends on how much he gave me.
“If you knew that George Soros has spent much of his fortune and his adult life fighting authoritarian and totalitarian regimes – from fighting apartheid in South Africa to fighting communism behind the Iron Curtain – would that make you more favorable to him?” Me: No, since the “spooky dude” wants to impose his own totalitarian regime as bad as theirs.
“If you knew that Mark Zuckerberg’s social media Facebook has been praised as being a key spark in the spread and organization of the pro democracy revolts that have recently taken place in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries across the Middle East, would that make you more favorable?” Me: Where was he two years ago in Iran and who says democracy has taken root in these places? The Muslim Brotherhood seems to have taken top spot in polls for Egypt’s fall election.
“If you knew George Soros has invested millions of dollars over many years in Baltimore on comprehensive approaches to that city’s problems and that he contributed $35 million at the worst part of the recession to make it possible for every family with kids in New York to get $200 for school supplies, would that make him more favorable” Whoa! Cue the violins! It’s for the children, after all! And there are no strings attached?
“If you knew that Charles and David Koch fight to ensure that environmental regulations don’t impede economic growth or job creation and to ensure that all voices are heard on the science of climate change, would that…” No. I expect that Republicans and savvy businessmen also want clean air, jobs and scientific truth.
“If you knew that George Soros opposed the bank bailout and has spoken out against excessive bank bonuses, would that…” No. Soros and his vast network played a role in our economic problems. He’s known for crashing the currencies in Britain and Thailand to his own advantage. Ditto here.
“If you knew that Michael Bloomberg serves as mayor of New York City and is an independent who solves problems based on accountability, evidence and innovation, would you…” What is this? Isn’t that the job of any mayor?
I noticed as I proceeded in the poll that the percentage I had completed didn’t grow, but went back and forth. For instance, I’d have completed 53%; after the next question I had completed 35%. It was almost as if they kept feeding me questions to get the answers they wanted. If I didn’t see it favorably, I got some more examples of billionaire genius and generosity. Then I’d give the answer they wanted. So the “Ifs” kept coming.
“If you knew that, as a teenager, George Soros spent his time hiding from the Nazis in his native Hungary and later studied economics while working nights as a waiter and that he came to the U.S. where he became a citizen and made his fortune as a successful investor, would I…” Well, if he hadn’t rejected his Judaism, reportedly turning in other Jews to the Nazis and since then opposed Israel, it might be influential. Instead, I know the truth about him.
“If you knew that Warren Buffett lived in the same house for over 50 years and is noted for having other very frugal habits, would you…” Not particularly. Perhaps he just hates moving and besides, he probably has homes all over the world.
On and on it went. Finally, I was asked to rate them again, returning to the very favorable, favorable, etc. choices.
Three statements followed with agree or disagree designation. “Spending one’s own money on political causes is a form of free speech. Government should be allowed to regulate and limit personal political spending. How much would I be willing to contribute to pay off the debt.”
Finally the info on me. How often do I go to Walmart? Church? Do I like Nascar? Investor or union member?
It all seemed about image in this poll, not substance, ideology or facts.
If is a pretty thin word to hang a poll around, I think.
If the poll would allow more answers; If the media reported the facts; If he took true cross sections… And – which is more – you’d be a pollster, Mr. Z.

Numbers Game

“Shoppers are in retreat,” said financial TV host Stuart Varney on the drop in retail sales reported this month. They fell .2% and that marks the first time in ten months that has happened. Part of it was auto sales which were down 2.9% in May.
“This economy is going nowhere,” Varney continued. “The recovery is not as strong as it should be two years after the recession.”
Another factor to consider is the May PPI, the measure of inflation. It weighed in at .2%, higher than the .1% expected. That means prices on most everything are going up and explains the drop in retail sales.

The Way Forward

An interesting conversation occurred on this morning’s CNBC Squawk Box. Host Joe Kernan had a guest Scott Nations of Nationshare plus former GE CEO Jack Welch. They were discussing our economy. Kernan suggested that “the only thing that’s going to bring us out of it (recession); the only thing that’s going to create jobs in the private sector; the only way that we’re going to ever recover, it’s going to have to be capitalism.”

Rick Santelli of the Chicago Mercantile joined in. “That’s right. From internal forces, not external forces.”

Welch added his two cents worth (well maybe many millions worth).

“Absolutely. We’ve got to innovate, we’ve got to be productive, we’ve got to have every policy pass through that prism. We want to be exceptional as an economy and a free people.”

Kernan: “There are people who think that it’s the government’s job to invest and to innovate and that it’s going to start there and that’s the two different kinds of people in the world.”

Then Nations touched the essence of the problem. “How do we bridge that gap? Because I have a friend who’s a Democrat and he says he would not vote for a Republican if Abraham Lincoln rose from the dead and ran unopposed. My question to you is how do you bridge that gap? Because you’re preaching to the converted. You have to have that conversation…You can’t write people off because Paul Ryan will never get his plan passed if all he does is get Republicans…How are you going to bridge that gap?”

Then Welch offered some very good advice that all Republican candidates should heed. “By repeating over and over again where you’re going to take the country, why you’re going to take it there and what is in it for the people when they get there. You have to repeat yourself until you gag on it. but you’ve got to get a vision that people buy into, you’ve got to have them believe you mean it and you’ve got to get them there and show them… better jobs, better lives.”

That prompted Santelli to ask, “Scott, I have one question for you. Does your friend have children?”

Nations replied yes, one child.

“My call would be ask him if he could get out of being a Democrat, not start thinking about politics – Democrat, Republican – look his kid in the eye, think about when he was a kid and ask him what he thinks the chances are that his child will make more money, have a better education, a nicer house than him. And after he answers those three questions, ask him one simple question: How do we make your child’s life better? And my guess it’s not going to be be a Democrat or Republican, maybe it will be to think better about the country and escape the ideologies.”

Santelli and Welch laid out the winning campaign right there for 2012. Let’s hope our candidates heed it.

Words of the Week

Lots of interesting turns of phrase this week.
For example, did you know there is an “anxiety index?” Perhaps it is related to the misery index we all experienced under Jimmy Carter. Pollster Frank Luntz asks questions to determine this, connecting it to the right track/wrong track measurements. Seems like it is high and climbing.
The Weiner saga continues to be a fertile linguistics field. Greta Van Susteren, Fox host, concluded he “sexted himself out of the mayoral race.” Maybe she said “sexed”; either would be appropriate.
Neil Cavuto on his show referred to the “fess up” four days after the Weiner denial. “Fess up” has a good feel to it and probably should always follow a mess up.
“Cyber harem” was another phrase spawned by Weiner’s peccadilloes. Hasn’t twitter and facebook brought a whole new dimension to politics?
Second to Weiner, Newt Gingrich had his own linguistics tango. Particularly good: “Newtiny” when his entire staff up and left him and “Newtered” what he did to his own campaign. National Review’s “Newt Is Moot” good, too.
Our biggest trouble spot, the economy, lead to “screwflation.” Hedge Fund expert Doug Kass explains it’s like stagflation with a dash of inflation. Lower interest rates hurt savers like the retired and elderly and then combine with the high cost of food and energy, screwing the average American. Sounds about right.

Weiner Relished Other Scandals

Before he had a scandal of his own, Congressman Weiner went on the Imus program and commented on others’ indiscretions. I bet he feels a little differently about it now.

Before he had a scandal of his own, Congressman Weiner went on the Imus program and commented on others’ indiscretions. I bet he feels a little differently about it now.