Trump

Rasmussen slaps down mainstream media criticism of its polling

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Rasmussen Reports didn’t hold any punches when responding to criticism from the mainstream media for reporting the latest  figures showing  Trump’s (best of the Western world leaders) popularity. The full comment here. Boom!

What happens when you poke a Russian bear?

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As written earlier in the week, regardless of one’s views on the righteousness of any attack on Syria, Putin is being faced for the first time in a long time, a leader of a foreign nation (nations as it turns out) prepared to stand up to him. Obama fled the Syria battlefield after being given a two hour window when Russia first went to the aid of Assad. If that wasn’t the ultimate sign of a bully in the Kremlin it is hard to think of what is. While sanctions may have bitten to a degree post Ukraine and the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight, Syria is essentially a testing ground for Putin to weigh up Western (specifically Trump’s) resolve. If we look at Russia’s response post the Syrian strike,

The worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard…A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences…All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris…Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.

Kind of says it all really – Russia hasn’t been insulted. Putin has. He must have a glass jaw  like Trump! Two bullies flexing muscle. In a show down Should Putin wish to pick a direct conventional fight against 3 nuclear powers (explicitly mentioned), he knows that ‘mutually assured destruction’ is the very last option in the drawer and next to no chance of being selected despite all of the media beat up. On a conventional basis, Putin wins more battles by stirring up the hornet’s nests in other regions. Lending more support to Iran, Lebanon and Yemen. Destabilize Saudi Arabia and antagonize Israel.

CM wrote,

It is worth nothing that Syria is Rosoboronexport’s (Russia’s military export wing) 2nd largest customer after Iran. Putin is sick of having the West try to remove his clients. Assad is key to Russia’s foothold in the Middle East. With an essentially pro-Iran Iraqi government and Syria as well as Hezbollah Putin has a geopolitical doormat from the troubled separatist states to Russia’s south to Lebanon.

Some arguments have been made about the risks of the American, French or UK strikes killing Russian troops or civilians on the ground in Syria handing Russia free will to attack its enemies. Scroll back to November 2015 when the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter it claimed entered its airspace. Two Russian pilots were killed in the shooting and subsequent rescue. The Russians were incensed but President Erdogan is still in power and Ankara isn’t flailing after seeing its capitol turned into smoldering rubble.

This argument that the Russians weren’t given advance warnings of the attack is ridiculous. Had the Russian defence forces been on proper alert (they most definitely weren’t passed out behind their radar screens after a vodka binge) they would have detected the missile launches. Wind back to the 59 missile launch earlier last year against Syrian chemical facilities. We didn’t hear a peep from Putin. Why now? Of course he is incensed over the booting of diplomats on the nerve agent scandal but this is a showdown of ego.

Think of the long geopolitical chess board here. Should Trump have backed down on Putin’s threats, wouldn’t China’s Xi feel equally empowered to annex Taiwan by telling POTUS that he risks ‘grave reprisals if he meddles with Chinese sovereign territory’?

For all the initial snubbing of Trump by Macron on his historic election win in France, there is no way he would have gone in alone to attack a chemical facility without the guarantee of the military might of America. It is unlikely Theresa May would have done it either. So for all of the ‘unhinged’ lunatic rhetoric bandied about by the media, foreign nations don’t gamble their own sovereignty lightly, especially over something like Syria.

General Mattis has said they plan no further strikes at this stage. Does Putin order his forces to sink a US destroyer in the Mediterranean which launched those missiles? Highly unlikely. He does have the best weapon available to do that (the ‘Sunburn’) but sending US naval vessels to the bottom of the sea on a strategic strike would seem a big response to a targeted hit.

Let there be no mistake. There is a new sheriff in town. Russia has a bloody nose it didn’t think it would find itself. Putin miscalculated that Trump isn’t all Twitter-fueled bluster. Uncertainty in foreign leaders is always a risk for enemies. Trump has shown Putin he won’t be bullied like his predecessor.

Putin doesn’t want a hot war with America. The best way to strike at the US is like the last 6 decades. Undermine her at every opportunity. Supply her enemies. As mentioned before, if the Russians didn’t think it worth hitting back at Turkey for deliberately targeting its fighters, it is unlikely that Putin, no matter how ‘insulted’ he might feel will take a strike not aimed at Russians as a pretext to pick a fight with Trump. Putin has worked out the US president’s measure. He miscalculated. He won’t make that mistake twice.

For the media, running all the scare campaign stories is not only highly irresponsible (as it did over Yemen’s attacks on Saudi Arabia) but proving the lack of depth of analysis. They can beat Trump over the head all they wish but should note the actions of Macron and May following him into the region as a tacit approval of the US leader. Was he the madman they portrayed him as in the first place they would have stayed well out of it.

Watch for Putin’s response (unlikely but will threaten it will come when the evil Americans least expect) and think deeply about why it is important that the real despots (Putin, Xi, KJ-U, Erdogan) around the world no longer have the ability to exercise free will in knowledge that the worst they face is a slap on the wrist from the UN.

Sounds more like grounds for congratulation than censure. 

Zucker feasted on your consent to be a sucker

Whatever the outcome of this hearing, much of the data collected was willingly offered by Facebook users. It was they who told people where they took vacation, the restaurant they ate or birthday they celebrated. It was they who adorned their avatar with a transparent French or rainbow flag as a back drop after another terrorist attack or to show support for same sex marriage. It was they who clicked the check box to agree to the “terms and conditions” immediately without reading it. Is that Zuckerberg’s fault? Questions however must be asked with respect to the ability to access microphones and cameras unbeknownst to users. How flagrantly was privacy law violated beyond that agreed by users?

For as much as Zuckerberg might look an evil violator of privacy laws (he may yet be proved to be so), if one wants real anonymity, social media is the last place to find it. It is doubtful anyone posts happy snaps on social media as a pure storage back up device. Many people crave attention and more than ever their self-actualisation stage in the ‘hierarchy of needs’ is driven by likes and shares rather than the Abraham Maslow’s original theorem of 75 years ago. The higher the ratio of “selfies” would probably be highly correlated to attention deficit disorder. Protesting the use of the data provided is a grossly naive assumption if not borderline negligent. Tucked away in the fine print of the words and conditions would surely have FB gaining their complete consent.

Ted Cruz took it to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on whether the social media giant ‘censors conservative’ news. He replied, “Silicon Valley is an extremely left-leaning place.While denying that he knows the political affiliations of the 15~20,000 staff who police content he said the group does its best to remove things that are considered hateful (e.g.hate speech, terrorism), hurtful or distasteful (e.g. nudity). It was brought to Zuckerberg’s attention that black conservatives (and Trump supporters) Diamond & Silk had their page blocked with 1.2 million followers on grounds of  “being unsafe to the community”. In any event, Zuckerberg deflected many of the questions in his testimony on grounds of the size of the organization but admitted not enough was done to police itself. Power corrupts…? Absolutely…?

Which brings the whole argument surrounding ‘free speech’ and social media sites exercising subjective political bias. It was only several years back that openly gay shock-jock Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter for causing ‘offence’ to a Ghostbusters actress. Yet what is offence? Where is the line drawn? What offends one might not offend another. However the censor would seemingly be able to use his or her subjective opinions, values and biases which makes it pretty clear what the outcome will be. President Trump learned that when a disgruntled Twitter employee temporarily suspended his account. Do not be surprised when we’re simply told to “get with the times” and accept the party line. Resistance is futile. It is the simplest way to shut down sensible debate.

Anyone active on social media is well aware of the risks of being targeted, trolled or attacked for expressing differing views. However do users require, much less want to submit to the machinations of the thought police? Shouldn’t they be free to choose what they view or pages they subscribe to? Indeed hate speech (not to be confused with difference of opinion) has no place but the majority of users are likely to be able to make that assessment without it having been arbitrarily made for them.

Then again, surely as a publicly listed corporation Facebook can decide what it wants to do with its site and let participants in the free market (who use it for no charge) decide for themselves that the obvious bias forces them to seek social media platforms elsewhere. Twitter share price was badly thumped for its blocking of certain groups and its share price is around 1/3rd the peak. It’s overall followers have fluctuated in the 316-330mn range since Q4 2016. The market works. It is taking Facebook’s shareprice to task on the grounds it will suffer for treating its users as mugs. Perhaps a look at activity post the hearings will show just how many mugs are still as active as before despite the threats to abandon the evil Zuck. The share price will respond accordingly.

It begs the question as to why a more conservative outfit hasn’t decided to make a Facebook equivalent which does not censor outside of clear violations of hate speech. Surely offering a replicated platform that didn’t censor free speech would be a massive winner. Users would also sign up to a simple (and SHORT) legal agreement that there is a risk of being offended and to commit to accepting it. Where clear violations of hate speech (e.g. threats of murder, terrorism etc.) are found such things can be reported to the authorities (with terms and conditions EXPLICITLY warning of such repucussions for violating easy to understand rules). Then again maybe Zuckerberg is right. Silicon Valley is indeed an extremely left-leaning [alt-left?] place! So this is why conservatives are behind the 8-ball on a free speech social media platform.

The sad reality is that social media is policed by the left and authorities seem keen to exploit the powers that provides. The examples are too many. Controversial conservatives have been blocked, banned and restricted for the most spurious of reasons. Diamond & Silk are hardly a danger to society. It is almost comical to think that.  Yet aren’t the subscription rates/followers of particular sites indicative of the ‘moods’ of people? Could it be that black, conservative and Trump supporter must be mutually exclusive terms in the eyes of the left’s identikit forcing the Facebook apparatchiks to enforce a subjective shutdown? If a public explanation was provided it would probably just say, “trust our objectivity’. Whaaaat?

At some stage if enough people feel they are being played around with they will choose of their own volition to leave and seek their social media thrills on other platforms. Or will they? It maybe too late. Blatant exploitation of social media by governments looks like an obvious trend. If we are only too willing to give up our data and cede any visibility of the inner circle’s terms of use of it we are on a slippery slope of our own making. Think about how your mobile device allows you to be tracked whenever and however. It can turn your camera or microphone on. It can triangulate your whereabouts anywhere across the world. What you’ve read, listened to and watched. Where are the privacy laws surrounding this? Is your local rep fighting in your corner? Probably not.

Could private conversations with a lawyer (client-attorney privilege) be bugged and used as evidence? Don’t laugh. As an aerospace analyst many moons ago, teams of specialists with anti-bugging devices trawled through the suites of the aircraft manufacturers’ chalets to ensure the opposition didn’t get wind of negotiations with airlines they were both competing to win large orders from. Illegal in the extreme but seemingly exercised by all parties. It was an unwritten rule.

However social media censorship hides deeper problems. It is also increasingly a tool to shut down debate and people like London Mayor Sadiq Khan has met with social media execs to collude on cracking down on ‘hate speech’. Surely policing spurious claims of hate speech is a lesser issue to the immediate threat faced by a capitol which saw its murder rate surpass that of New York. Not so. This is the dangerous turn in social media. Not whether our data is used for targeted advertising for cheap flights but used to pillory, interrogate and shut down innocents. After all social media has a half-life of infinity.

Take the controversial figure Tommy Robinson in England. The UK authorities and media wish us to believe he is an unhinged far right wing bigoted racist thug. Yet despite all of the times he has been jailed (for mostly trumped up charges), silenced and muzzled for publicising what he sees as a major problem in his community (i.e. radical Islam), the growth in followers continues to rise on his Facebook page (706,000). Maybe the authorities should keep tabs on them? Arrest them on suspicion of potentially causing hate crimes. Surely they are cut from the same cloth as Tommy? Afterall it is better to arrest a comedian for teaching a dog to do a Nazi salute to annoy his partner as it is less controversial to the state than tackling real issues. Perhaps authorities should pay attention to why Robinson’s following is so large? It is irrelevant whether one finds his viewpoints offensive or not, a majority of over half a million clearly don’t. He is no saint and would be the first to admit it. Still the authorities are trying everything to shut him down. Social media is being used as a watchdog.

Robinson has two best selling books –  ‘Enemy of the State’ and ‘Mohammad’s Koran: Why Muslims kill for Islam’. Is that not evidence that there are more people than the authorities would care to admit to that actually concur with his assessment? Maybe some want to read it out of curiosity? However when many of those same people see an undercover scoop done by the left leaning publicly funded Channel 4 on the inner workings of one of England’s most conservative mosques, praised by politicians as they true face of a peaceful religion. Even though the mosque had promised to clamp down on radical imams, the documentary revealed that despite assurances to government authorities, teachers still encourage students to believe that the only remedy for gays and apostates is to be killed. So maybe Robinson’s followers aren’t as fringe or minor in number as we would be made to believe? With the widespread outing of child grooming gangs across the UK, maybe Brits have had enough of the political hand wringing over politically correct discourse. The more the movement is pushed underground the harder it will be to stop vigilantism. We’ve already seen signs of it emerging. Think of the Guardian Angels in NY during the crime waves in the 1979.

What the Zuckerberg testimony brings to the surface is yet another example made clear to the public of the two tier dispensing of free speech. What worries the public more is that justice seems to be operating under the exact same framework. What the Channel 4 programme exposed with respect to blatant hate speech is incontrovertible. Yet will authorities arrest, charge and jail them as they would a Tommy Robinson? Not a chance. To encourage the murder of people that aren’t part of an ideology can’t be viewed as anything other than a willful threat.  Will the judiciary demand that scholars have their pages scrubbed from social media?

The shoes are on the wrong foot. Earlier this year, Austrian conservative Martin Sellner and his girlfriend Brittany Pettibone were arrested on arrival in the UK, detained and deported. Sellner for wanting to deliver a speech at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park (later delivered by Robinson) and Pettibone for wanting to interview Tommy Robinson (which he later conducted in Vienna). Neither look in the least bit dangerous. In this case, social media backfired on the state. In both cases, the public once again saw the double standards and the pervasive political posturing to beat the ‘controllable’ element into submission. Just as it is easier for the police to fine speeding motorists than actively pursue solid leads on catching grooming gangs the public rightly grows increasingly livid. Social media is being used more widely as a policing tool, with negative connotations. It isn’t just being used to foil terror plots but stomp on the rights of the average citizen.

Still there is some sympathy for Zuckerberg in that many people volunteered their information. If it was used in ways that violated ethical and more importantly legal rights it only goes to prove that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. To that end, can we really expect lawmakers to cramp their own style when Zuckerberg has only highlighted how powerful the information he possesses can be used to sucker us more than they already do. That is the real crime we are seemingly becoming powerless to stop. Talk about the real Big Brother!

Food insecurity & poverty levels by US state & the 2016 election result

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The US Department of Agriculture listed the level of food insecurity by US state as at the end of FY2016. Looking at the data, Deplorables (states that voted Republican (red) in the 2016 election) made up 20 of the 25 states that suffered the most from it. Coincidence? Looking at the % below the poverty line and 19 out of 25 states voted for Trump. Coincidence? There is a touch of irony that the Democrats, which push for citizens to be married to the state, were by and large rejected by those suffering the most and want to be free of the shackles of poverty. So is it any wonder they’d reject the establishment. Should also be a signal for the Democrats to think more widely about what makes the Deplorable tick – not free hand outs. Opportunity!

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Trump’s approval hits 50%

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A new Rasmussen Reports poll finds President Trump has cracked the 50% approval rating among likely voters, putting him ahead of where Barack Obama was at this point in his presidency. On the same day in Obama’s administration – April 2, 2010 – Rasmussen found 46% approved of the 44th president’s performance. Suggests that people are more interested in their daily personal issues than the media’s obsession in trying to find out whether Trump humped a porn star over a decade ago.

The fact is that Trump is polling well ahead of the most recent approval ratings for Macron, Trudeau, Merkel, Theresa May, Turnbull, Shinzo Abe or Pena Nieto. When Obama was in Japan last week he spoke of wantiong to create “a million young Barack Obamas” to take on the baton of “human progress”. No thanks.

Waking up to a horror of our own creation

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Some will say I am a pessimist. I’d prefer to be called an optimist with experience. At only age 16 (in 1987) I realized the destructive power financial markets had on the family home. Those memories were etched permanently. We weren’t homeless or singing for our supper but things sure weren’t like they use to be. It taught me much about risk and thinking all points of view rather than blindly following the crowd. That just because you were told something by authority it didn’t mean it was necessarily true. It was to critically assess everthing without question.

In 1999, as an industrials analyst in Europe during the raging tech bubble, we were as popular as a kick in the teeth. We were ignored for being old economy. That our stocks deserved to trade at deep discounts to the ‘new economy’ tech companies, no thanks to our relatively poor asset turnover and tepid growth rates. The truest sign of the impending collapse of the tech bubble actually came from sell-side tech analysts quitting their grossly overpaid investment bank salaries for optically eye-watering stock options at the very tech corporations they rated. So engrossed in the untold riches that awaited them they abandoned their judgement and ended up holding worthless scrip. Just like the people who bought a house at the peak of the bubble telling others at a dinner party how they got in ‘early’ and the boom was ahead of them, not behind.

It was so blindingly obvious that the tech bubble would collapse. Every five seconds a 21 year old with a computer had somehow found some internet miracle for a service we never knew we needed. The IPO gravy train was insane. One of my biggest clients said that he was seeing 5 new IPO opportunities every single day for months on end. Mobile phone retailers like Hikari Tsushin in Japan were trading at such ridiculous valuations that the CEO at the time lost himself in the euphoria and printed gold coin chocolates with ‘Target market cap: Y100 trillion.’ The train wreck was inevitable. Greed was a forgone conclusion.

So the tech bubble collapsed under the weight of reality which started the most reckless central bank policy prescriptions ever. Supposedly learning from the mistakes of the post bubble collapse in Japan, then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan turned on the free money spigots. Instead of allowing the free market to adjust and cauterize the systemic imbalances, he threw caution to the wind and poured gasoline on a raging fire. Programs like ‘Keep America Rolling’ which tried to reboot the auto industry meant cheaper and longer lease loans kept sucking consumption forward. That has been the problem. We’ve been living at the expense of the future for nigh on two decades.

Back in 2001, many laughed me out of court for arguing Greenspan would go down in history as one of the most hated central bankers. At the time prevailing sentiment indeed made me look completely stupid. How could I, a stockbroker, know more than Alan Greenspan? It was not a matter of relative educations between me and the Fed Chairman, rather seeing clearly he was playing god with financial markets.  The Congressional Banking Committee hung off his every word like giddy teenagers with a crush on a pop idol. Ron Paul once set on Greenspan during one of the testimonies only to have the rest of the committee turn on him for embarrassing the newly knighted ‘Maestro.’ It was nauseating to watch. Times seemed too good so how dare Paul question a central bank chief who openly said, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

We all remember the horrors of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in September 2008. The nuclear implosions in credit markets had already begun well before this as mortgage defaults screamed. The 7 years of binge investment since the tech bubble collapse meant we never cleansed the wounds. We would undoubtedly be in far better shape had we taken the pain. Yet confusing products like CDOs and CDSs wound their way into the investment portfolios of local country towns in Australia. The punch bowl had duped even local hicks to think they were with the times as any other savvy investor. To turn that on its head, such was the snow job that people who had no business being involved in such investment products were dealing in it.

So Wall St was bailed out by Main St. Yet instead of learning the lessons of the tech bubble collapse and GFC our authorities doubled down on the madness that led to these problems in the first place. Central banks launched QE programs to buy toxic garbage and lower interest rates to get us dragging forward even more consumption. The printing presses were on full speed. Yet what have we bought?

Now we have exchange traded funds (ETFs). Super simple to understand products. While one needed a Field’s Medal in Mathematics to understand the calculations of a CDO or CDS, the ETF is child’s play. Sadly that will only create complacency. We have not really had a chance to see how robots trade in a proper downturn. ETFs follow markets, not lead them. So if the market sells off, the ETF is rapidly trying to keep up. Studies done on ETFs (especially leveraged products) in bear markets shows how they amplify market reactions not mitigate them. So expect to see robots add to the calamity.

Since GFC we’ve had the worst post recession recovery in history. We have asset bubbles in bonds, stocks and property. The Obama Administration doubled the debt pile of the previous 43 presidents in 8 years. Much of it was raised on a short term basis. This year alone, $1.5 trillion must be refinanced.  A total of $8.4 trillion must be refinanced inside the next 4 years. That excludes the funding required for current budget deficits which are growing despite a ‘growing economy’. That excludes the corporate refinancing schedule. Many companies went out of their way to laden the balance sheet in cheap debt. In the process the average corporate credit rating is at its worst levels in a decade. Which means in a market where credit markets are starting to price risk accordingly we also face a Fed openly saying it is tapering its balance sheet and the Chinese and Japanese looking to cut back on US Treasury purchases. Bond spreads like Libor-OIS are already reflecting that pain.

Then there is the tapped out consumer. Unemployment maybe at record lows, yet real wage growth does not appear to be keeping up. The number of people holding down more than one job continues to rebound. The quality of employment is terrible. Poverty continues to remain stubbornly high. There are still three times as many people on food stamps in the US than a decade ago – 41 million people. Public pension unfunded liabilities total $9 trillion. Credit card delinquencies at the sub prime end of town are  back at pre-crisis levels. We could go on and on. Things are terrible out there. Should we be in the least bit surprised that Trump won? Such is the plight of the silent majority, still delinquent after a decade. No wonder Roseanne appeals to so many.

A funny comment was sent by a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, lambasting Trump on his trade policies. He criticized the fact that America had sold its soul for offshoring for decades. Indeed it had but queried that maybe he should be praising Trump for trying to reverse that tide, despite being so late to the party. Where were the other administrations trying to defend America all this time? Stunned silence.

Yet the trends are ominous. If we go back to the tech bubble IPO-a-thon example. We now have crowd funding and crypto currencies. To date we had 190 odd currencies to trade. Of that maybe a handful were liquid – $US, GBP, JPY, $A, Euro etc – yet we are presented with 1,000s of crypto currency choices. Apart from the numerous breaches, blow ups and cyber thefts to date, more and more of these ‘coins’ are awaiting the next fool to gamble away more in the hope of making a quick buck. Cryptos are backed by nothing other than greed. Yet it sort of proves that more believe that they are falling behind enough such they’re prepared to gamble on the biggest lottery in town. One crypto used Wikipedia as a source for its prospectus.

Yet the media remains engrossed on trying to prove whether the president had sex with a porn star a decade ago, genderless bathrooms, bashing the NRA, pushing for laws to curtail free speech, promoting climate change and covering up crime rather than look at reporting on what truly matters – the biggest financial collapse facing us in 90 years.

There is no ‘told you so’ in any of this. The same feelings in the bones of some 30 years ago are back as they were at the time of Greenspan and Lehman. This time can’t be avoided. We have borrowed too much, saved too little and all the while blissfully ignored the warning signs. The faith and confidence in authorities is evaporating. The failed experiment started by Greenspan is coming home to roost. This will be far worse than 1929. Take that to the bank, if it is still in operation because you won’t be concerned about the return on your money but the return of it!

Deplorably delicious ratings for connecting comedy with real life

Roseanne is back on screens after 21 years. It is all about struggling working class Americans.  According to The Hollywood Reporter, the two episodes averaged a 5.1 rating in the key demographic coming in at 18.1 million viewers, making it the “highest-rated regularly-scheduled scripted show of the last few seasons, as well as the highest-rated sitcom in recent memory”.

So much for Trump haters, given she is portrayed as a grandmother who shares medication with her husband to save money, has a black grandchild, a son back from deployment in Syria while his wife is still serving on tour in the military. Their mid 40s daughter Becky is a widowed restaurant worker looking to become a surrogate mother for $50,000, so she can pay off her credit cards, put a deposit down on a home and buy a car. Roseanne’s sister protests her support for Trump calling her a deplorable.

It is amazing what happens when media companies cater to their audiences. Just like the ballot box, the privacy of one’s TV set allows people to express their true feelings. Real life transcends. Reminds of the success of The Office resonating with so many in the workplace with respect to horrible bosses, office romances and company politics.