Connect to share and comment

The big picture view of an ever-changing global economy.

The Daily Show: Catholic League wins a round over "vagina manger" joke?

Delta Airlines pulls its ads. Jon Stewart nemesis Bill Donohue of the Catholic League claims victory. Up next: Kellogg's?
Catholic league calls for boycott of jon stewart daily showEnlarge
The Catholic League called on the Daily Show's host Jon Stewart to apologize for remarks made in a segment of his show on April 16, 2012. The League threatened to boycott his show if he did not issue an apology. (Dimitrios Kambouris/AFP/Getty Images)

What do vaginas, airplanes and breakfast cereal have in common?

And no, this is not the start of some bad joke.

The answer: each is playing a role in the ongoing and increasingly vitriolic public relations battle between The Catholic League and The Daily Show.

The corporate kerfuffle is over Jon Stewart's April 16 joke, which placed a photoshopped image of a manger in front of a vagina.

Stewart's bit was part of a longer satirical examination that conflated GOP statements about women's rights with the long-running Fox News "War on Christmas" (hence the vagina manger joke).

Here's the whole clip. The "offending" bit occurs just before the five-minute mark:

As it was probably intended, the Daily Show story angered many conservatives, and Catholic League president Bill Donohue quickly launched a series of press releases that attacked Stewart and demanded an apology.

Stewart eventually offered this retort on his show: “I’m not going to censor myself to comfort your ignorance."

Today, the plot thickened.


Macro chatter: Europe votes against austerity

Around the world in business and economics: Europe's budget cutters get voted out. Warren Buffett calls the stock market a "psychotic drunk," and a strong dollar is holding Australia back.
Buffett meetingEnlarge
Warren Buffett had peanut brittle at his annual meeting a.k.a. the "Woodstock of capitalism" in 2011. (Andrew Beatty/AFP/Getty Images)

Need to know:
European voters have had enough of government budget cutbacks. 

Voters in France and Greece ousted leaders pushing government spending cuts and instead picked candidates who are against the austerity measures being criticized for holding back a European recovery.

Francois Hollande won the French presidency from Nicolas Sarkozy while Greece's dominant political parties failed to win enough votes in Sunday's election to form a ruling coalition.

Greek voters embrace of anti-bailout parliamentary candidates is increasing worries that Greece won't commit to the budget cuts it needs to make to stay in the euro zone.

The elections were essentially referendums on current European economic policy and their outcomes could be the best thing for the euro zone, Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times. "It’s far from clear how soon the votes will lead to changes in actual policy, but time is clearly running out for the strategy of recovery through austerity — and that’s a good thing," Krugman wrote

Want to know:
Romania already is planning to ease up on at least one of the austerity measures it implemented in 2010.

Romania has convinced the International Monetary Fund to allow it to begin raising public sector wages and run a higher budget deficit than a bailout deal it made with the IMF would dictate, Reuters reported.

Romania is the European Union’s second poorest member. It cut public sector wages by 25 percent, and things haven’t gone well.

Romanians have been staging violent protests against austerity measures like spending cuts and tax hikes, and the Romanian government has already collapsed twice this year.

Dull but important:
Australia’s strong dollar may be getting in the way of its growth.

Australia’s central bank cut its growth forecast, saying a strong Australian dollar was hurting the country’s exports. The value of Australia’s dollar has risen an estimated 70 percent since 2008, making its exports far more expensive to the rest of the world.

It's a particularly big problem for Australia because it is the world’s largest exporter of iron ore and coal.

Just because:
Warren Buffett held his annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, Neb., this weekend where he worked hard to reassure investors that both he and his Berkshire Hathaway were going to be ok.

Buffett revealed Berkshire Hathaway has got $20 billion or so to throw around for a good investment and said that he might want to buy a few more newspapers. He also told investors not to focus on share prices too much because the stock market sometimes acts like a “psychotic drunk,” the Berkshire Hathaway-owned Omaha World-Herald said.

Berkshire Hathaway stock has been underperforming the market for the past few years but that hasn't stopped thousands of investors from making an annual trip to Omaha. 

Shareholders are allowed four passes to the meeting, which draws thousands has become something of a Woodstock capitalists. In case you’re curious, buying one share of Berkshire Hathaway stock to get in will set you back about $122,000.

Strange but true:
Attention wealthy travelers, you can now have a drink with Sir Richard Branson on his Virgin Atlantic airlines — at least until he melts.


Macro chatter: Disappointing news for the US job market and Canada's got banks of steel

Around the world in business and economics: US job growth disappoints. German workers strike for pay raises, and Canada is home to many of the world's strongest banks.
A sign points to an employment fair in the Queens borough of New York. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Need to know:
The percentage of American adults working or holding out hope of finding a job has fallen to the lowest level in 30 years.

The US added 115,000 jobs in April, a number that isn't enough to keep up with population growth or bring down the unemployment rate under normal circumstances. Still, the US unemployment rate in April fell to 8.1 percent, its lowest level in three years. 

This is a cloud with a decidedly gray lining: the decline wasn't due to job growth but was instead a reflection of just how many given up.

Employment growth in the US has slowed sharply since the beginning of the year, and people working in warehousing, transportation, construction and for the government fared the worst in April.  

Want to know:
Unemployment may be a problem
 in the US and across much of Europe, but in Germany labor unions are demanding nice pay raises.

Tens of thousands of German workers have gone strike this week, disrupting everything from air traffic to the production of Porsches and Audis.

Hundreds of companies have been affected so far, and the workers on strike are making a pretty strong argument. German industrial giants like Volkswagen have making lots of money and workers say they want a bigger piece of the profit pie.

Dull but important:
Sorry Wall Street, your banks aren’t the strongest in the world. Banks in Singapore and Canada dominated Bloomberg’s list of the world’s strongest banks. 

Singapore’s Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. was named the world’s strongest bank for the second year in a row. It was one of three Singapore banks to make the top 10, and a local economy that stayed strong through the global recession helped it get there. 

Canadian banks captured four of the top 10 spots, an amazing feat for a country with just eight publicly traded banks. It should come as no surprise, though. Canada makes its banks put more capital away for rainy days than international standards require.

The strongest US bank was JP Morgan Chase in thirteenth place.

Just because:
Men are out shopping women online, and it’s not because they’re busy buying gifts for their sweethearts.

Of the roughly 19 million six-figure men online, nearly half spend more than $4,000 a year, the marketing firm iProspect said in its latest digital dissection of the affluent male. A quarter of the men make purchases each week, and they’re often buying clothes or accessories.

The one thing they’re not doing is buying you a gift. Nearly 85 percent of the men shopping online are shopping for themselves.

Strange but true:
High metal prices can apparently be really motivating. 


Macro chatter: Target vs. Amazon, from frenemies to enemies

Around the world today in business and economics: Jobs are tough to find in the US but tougher to find in South Africa. Target cuts the Kindle, and Mario Draghi says the ECB isn't looking at pushing record-low interest rates further down.
Joanely Carrero restocks shelves at a Target store in Miami, Florida. Target just said it would stop selling Amazon's kindle. Target has become an Amazon showroom and that's made Amazon more of a foe than friend for Target. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Around the world today in business and economics: Jobs are tough to find in the US but tougher to find in South Africa. Target cuts the Kindle, and Mario Draghi says the ECB isn't looking at pushing record-low interest rates further down.

Macro chatter: Dow hits 4-year high, Facebook eyes May 18 IPO

Around the world today in business and economics. Need to know, want to know, and strange but true.
Kodak theaterEnlarge
Tourists take snapshots outside the Kodak Theatre on May 1, 2012 in Hollywood, California, the venue that hosts the annual Oscars show which was renamed the Dolby Theatre on May 1, 2012, after the audio pioneer gained naming rights previously held by the bankrupt camera company Kodak. (Robyn Beck /AFP/Getty Images)

Need to know:
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is partying like it’s 2007. 

The Dow on Tuesday closed at its highest level in more than four years, lifted by a strong set of US manufacturing data and by big gains for Sears, Bank of America and American Express.

The strong day comes after a tough April but has brought the Dow within about 6 percent of its all-time high reached in October 2007.

Want to know:
Facebook’s big day might be just around the corner.

Facebook is hitting the road to pitch its stock to investors next week and will likely hold its IPO around May 18, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Facebook also is trying to promote organ donation, an idea Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told ABC News was inspired by his girlfriend. 

Dull but important:
Unemployment in the Euro zone has hit a fresh record.

Unemployment among euro area countries rose to 10.9 percent in March, the latest data from Europe show.

While Spain and Greece remain two of the worst countries in Europe for job seekers, Austria, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany are among the best. 

Just because:
Rupert Murdoch has been called “not a fit person”
to run an international company.

The UK’s lower house of parliament in a scathing report said the media mogul exhibited a “willful blindness” to bad behavior by News Corp. publications and nurtured an environment that allowed phone hacking to flourish.

Some speculate the report’s findings could impact whether BSkyB, a broadcaster owned in big part by Murdoch’s News Corp., is fit to hold a UK broadcasting license. Murdoch already is feeling the pressure from shareholders who want him off his company’s board of directors. 

Strange but true:
Next year, you’ll be watching the Academy Awards from the Dolby Theater.


Trashing Condi Rice

The WSJ eviscerates one of its own. Are Republicans hell-bent on self-destruction?
Condi rice unfit vice president romneyEnlarge
Does the party of Sarah Palin find Condoleeza Rice unfit to serve as Vice President? (Evan Sisley-Pool/Getty Images)

BOSTON — For nearly a year now, the eat-your-own Republican primary has made for amusing political drama.

The GOP has seemingly revived the tradition of local theatre with an epic string of debates featuring wing-nuts like Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann.

Key take away message: The right has pitched a very big tent. Sarah Palin is by no means alone among its eccentrics.

But now that Republicans have selected a presidential candidate, the shenanigans are behind us, right?

From the party of Reagan, Bush and Bush we can expect a disciplined, focused and united effort to defeat President Barack Obama in November, right?

Well, may not.

Today, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editorial page editor Brett Stephens weighs in one of the party's brightest intellectual stars, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Rice is currently favored as Mitt Romney's vice presidential nomination, with an approval rating of 80 percent among GOP voters. Her closest rival is Rick Santorum, a political non-starter, having spent the primaries dumping on Romney, his would-be boss.

Although the WSJ editorial page tilts Republican, Stephens doesn't share voters' favorable view of Rice.

And that's an understatement.

Here's Stephen's nut:

"[Rice] was on the wrong side of some of the administration's biggest internal policy fights. She had a tendency to flip-flop when it came to the president's core priorities and her political misjudgment more than once cost Mr. Bush dearly. She was a muddler of differences at the national security council. Her tenure at State was notable mainly for the degree to which the bureaucracy ran her, not the other way around."

Ouch. That's no ringing endorsement.

Objectively speaking, Rice is an asset in the way that "9-9-9" or "End the Fed" isn't.

Regardless of whether you agree with her, she is a widely respected expert on foreign policy, with experience throughout the highly charged Bush presidency. She is eloquent and worldly, a longtime professor at Stanford. In a party that has struggled with gravitas, she certainly knows what newspapers she reads. To convince the electorate that she is qualified, she won't need to claim that Russia is visible from her bedroom window.

Credentials aside, she would also strengthen the already-tattered Republican ticket.

Stephens concedes this point:


Macro chatter: US considers issuing floating rate debt

Around the world today in business and economics. Need to know, want to know, and strange but true.
Hyundai vehicles are parked on the sales lot at Rick Case Plantation Hyundai on April 3, 2012 in Plantation, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Need to know:
While many Americans are trying to lock-in near record low interest rates, the US government is considering financing itself with floating-rate debt, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The rate of interest paid to investors would vary instead of being fixed as it now is. The change would mean fewer potentially stressful auctions for the US Treasury but could bring higher borrowing costs as interest rates rise.

The WSJ said the government may not be as susceptible to rate spikes as it may initially seem because the notes would mature within a maximum two years.

The U.K. and Italy already sell floating-rate government debt.

Want to know:
Unemployment around the world is expected to reach 212 million this year, and government budget cuts have only worsened the world’s labor situation, according to the latest report from the UN's International Labor Organization.

The ILO said fiscal austerity hasn’t been able to keep unemployment from rising to “alarming” levels and has choked off access to money small businesses need to expand and hire new workers.

The report is a little more meaningful after Monday’s news that Spain slid into a double-dip recession and ahead of anti-austerity protests and elections scheduled across Europe this week.

Dull but important:
It’s another busy day for Fed watchers looking for clues on interest rates and the potential for more central bank bond buying. Five Federal Reserve policymakers are scheduled to speak today, and if Monday was any guide it could get interesting.

The Fed’s split as to exactly when it needs to raise interest rates, and there’s still talk of the potential for more quantitative easing.

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher put his foot down about that on Monday, saying doing more to stimulate US economic growth would be like giving Congress cookies despite their fiscal malfeasance.

"We have children in Congress," Reuters quoted him as saying. "They need to be disciplined.

Just because:
Expect more stellar reports from automakers about April sales this afternoon.

Chrysler already said this morning that its sales were up 20 percent in April. That's the best April sales figure for the company in four years. 

US auto sales have been making a comeback, and particularly strong sales in March got people’s hopes up. The March data topped off the best quarter for automakers in the US in years and made some people speculate automakers would have to boost production to meet demand.

That’s ringing true for at least Hyundai so far, which said it would hire nearly 900 people to help it make more cars at its Alabama assembly plant.


It's taking McDonald's workers longer to earn a Big Mac in India

Why does it take so much longer for a McDonalds worker in India to earn a Big Mac?
A partially eaten McDonald's Big Mac and fries. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

It takes nearly eight times as much McWork to buy a Big Mac in India as it does in the US.

An Indian worker must now spend 195 minutes frying up French fries, making paneer wraps and building chicken Maharaja Macs to earn enough money to buy a single Big Mac, the Wall Street Journal said after crunching the numbers behind the world’s latest burgernomics research.

Canadian workers get the best deal. They can afford a Big Mac in under a half-hour of work, according to the data from this National Bureau of Economic Research paper by Princeton University economics professor Orley C. Ashenfelter.

Ashenfelter has spent the past decade researching McWages around the world. His goal: to find out how much an hour of work buys.  

Ashenfelter found wage rates of workers using similar skills in similar jobs can differ by as much as 10 to 1. His research is like a Big Mac index for global wage growth, and it offers some fascinating insights to how the value of work has changed in recent years. 

From 2000 until 2007, McWages were growing about 8 percent a year in India but have slowed down so much in the past five years that workers in India now have to work nearly a half-hour longer to buy a Big Mac.

In 2007, just 168 minutes behind a McDonald’s cash register could buy an employee an entire Big Mac.

To put that in context: the average McDonald’s worker in the US would need to work 27 minutes to buy a Big Mac now.


Macro chatter: Spain's shrinking economy and the UK's vanishing pubs

Around the world today in business and economics. Need to know, want to know, and strange but true.
A pint glass of 'Kiss me Kate' beer is pulled in the bar at The Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham, central England, on March 30, 2011. Beer taxes have been rising in the UK and that's been making it harder for pubs to survive. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

Need to know:
Spain slid back into a recession last quarter. The Spanish economy didn't shrink as much as some economists had been expecting, but the data is the latest bit of bad news for one of the countries worst hit by the Euro area crisis. 


Macro chatter: US economy slows down, Samsung's Galaxy beats Apple's iPhone

Around the world today in business and economics. Need to know, want to know, and strange but true.
Apple samsung 2012 03 02Enlarge
A man plays a game on the Samsung galaxy tab 10.1 during a promotional sale at a shop in Phnom Penh last October. (TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)

Need to know:
US economic growth may have slowed down in the first quarter. 

The world's largest economy expanded by 2.2 percent, according to the latest report from the US government this morning. It had been expanding at an annual rate of about 3 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. 

Among the report's bright spots: rising consumer spending driven by booming car sales. 

The number is an initial estimate likely to be revised in the coming months. 

Want to know:
Smartphone and social games are proving to be tough competition for Nintendo. The video game maker behind Super Mario Bros. on Thursday reported its first annual loss ever.

Nintendo said it lost $533 million last year as a strong yen dented profits and sales of Nintendo’s once blockbuster Wii continued to wane.

It’s of course not game over for Nintendo. The company, which started out making playing cards in Kyoto in 1889 has a 2D version of Super Mario and a new Wii in the works.

Dull but important:
Spain’s credit rating got bumped down
for the second time this year as Spanish unemployment rose to a new record.

Standard & Poor’s cut Spain’s rating to BBB+, saying it believed the government might have to take on additional debt to prop up Spanish banks.
Spain’s debt level has nearly doubled since 2008.

Elsewhere in Europe, Netherlands is feeling the heat from Fitch, which has said it could downgrade the country’s AAA rating unless it gets control of its budget, and Italy's borrowing costs are climbing toward the troublesome 6 percent mark.

Just because:
Apple may have the iPhone, but Samsung has the Galaxy, and that device helped it beat Nokia to become the world's largest manufacturer of mobile phone handsets. 

One in four mobile phones shipped last quarter were from the Samsung, which also is the world's biggest TV manufacturer, a new industry report showed.

The company sold nearly 50 million handsets in the first quarter, more than the 35 million iPhones Apple said it sold

Strange but true:
It turns out all that many Americans aren’t retiring to cheap foreign paradises.