Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Newt Gingrich’s dubious claim of a ‘normal’ no-interest charge account at Tiffany

NEWT GINGRICH: You know, we don't do elaborate things.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Did you owe a half-million dollars to a jewelry company at one point?

GINGRICH: We had a revolving fund.

SCHIEFFER: Well, what does that mean?

GINGRICH: It means that we had a revolving fund. It was a –

SCHIEFFER: I mean, who buys a half-million dollars worth of jewelry on credit?

GINGRICH: No. It's a — go talk to Tiffany's. It's a standard, no-interest account.

SCHIEFFER: How long did you owe it?

GINGRICH: I have no idea, but it was paid off automatically. We paid no interest on it. There was no problem with it. It's a normal way of doing business.

SCHIEFFER: Well, I mean, it's very odd to me that someone would run up a half-million-dollar bill at a jewelry store.

GINGRICH: Well, go talk to Tiffany's. All I'm telling you is we are very frugal. We, in fact, live within our budget. We owe nothing.

— Exchange on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” May 22, 2011

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s claim of being “very frugal” reminded us of this Reliable Source item from 1999:

When Newt and lady love Callista Bisek shared dinner at the Old Angler's Inn in Potomac Saturday night, he ordered the priciest item on the wine list — a $450 bottle of 1983 Chateau Latour. That's twice the price of the restaurant's next most expensive wine — a $220 Opus One Baron de Rothschild 1996 from California's Mondavi Vineyard.

Unfortunately for Gingrich, he overpaid — the 1983 was a mediocre year for the Latour vineyard. But perhaps he learned his lesson from overpaying for so-so wine and now he’s frugal?

We’re not sure. But we are also puzzled by his claim that he had a “standard, no-interest account” at Tiffany & Co. The disclosure filings that Gingrich’s third wife, Callista, provided to the House of Representatives when she worked for the Agriculture Committee listed debts to Tiffany of $250,001 to $500,000 on a “revolving charge account” for two straight years. (The disclosure forms also show debts of $15,001 to $50,000 to American Express.)

Would Tiffany really charge no interest for that period of time on that amount of money?

The Facts

As Gingrich urged, we tried first to talk to Tiffany. We e-mailed and called three different spokesmen in the New York headquarters. One spokeswoman curtly said they were aware of Gingrich’s comments and they would try to respond. But so far, we have received no answer or explanation.

Then, we looked at the current installment credit application form posted by Tiffany on its Web site. That form shows an annual interest rate of 21 percent for the state of Virginia, where Gingrich and his wife live. That interest rate is charged if you do not pay the balance off in full within 25 days after the close of each billing cycle.

That would be a hefty interest charge in a year—about $50,000 on a $250,000 loan. Gingrich’s wife’s filings cover the 2005 and 2006 calendar years, and indicated the couple at that time had between $1 million and $2.5 million in assets.

The filings also certainly suggest that the Tiffany bill was not paid off every month in full, since the same figure is listed for two years straight. (Callista Gingrich then left the staff of the House Agriculture Committee, and was no longer required to file a disclosure statement, so it is unclear whether or when the loan was paid off.)

We checked with credit-card experts. They said Gingrich’s comments made little sense.

“It doesn’t sound plausible to me,” said Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research at CreditCards.com. “Store credit cards almost never carry these kinds of terms, and it is highly unlikely for an exclusive retailer like Tiffany’s.”

Some department stores, such as Sears, might offer a few months of “same as cash” credit for buying major appliances. But Woolsey said a store like Tiffany is not going to offer zero-interest credit for purchases of jewelry, given the type of clientele it attracts. “Maybe with Zales, but not with Tiffany’s,” he said.

John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com, said Gingrich’s comments made sense only “if he had some sort of no-interest grace period. You can't revolve a balance and not pay interest unless there is a zero percent interest rate. Carrying a balance of up to $500,000 and not paying interest is anything but ‘normal.’ ”

However, he added that Tiffany “isn't your normal retailer, and upscale retailers are notorious for cutting special deals with VIPs like entertainers, athletes, and political figures.”

We queried Gingrich’s spokesman, Rick Tyler, for further explanation but as usual did not get a response.

The Pinocchio Test

Gingrich’s claim that he had a “standard, no-interest account” as part of the “normal way of doing business” appears highly dubious. Tiffany does not appear to provide such a revolving line of credit account to regular customers. And Callista Gingrich’s disclosure documents clearly show the debt was carried for at least two years.

So either Gingrich and his wife paid high rates of interest on their Tiffany’s debt — or they received a special deal because of his political prominence. The fact that Tiffany won’t say a word — after Gingrich said to “go talk” to them — certainly raises questions.

Given the facts at hand, under the “reasonable-man” standard, Gingrich earns three Pinocchios for his statement. If new facts come to light, we could adjust this ruling.

Three Pinocchios
POLL: Bill O'Reilly Is The MOST BELIEVABLE Person On All Of Television

A new poll out of Boston's Suffolk University reveals that Fox News and Bill O'Reilly are the most trusted names in news.

By a lot.

More that a quarter of those polled believe that Fox News is the most trustworthy, and 9% say that Bill O'Reilly is the most believable (from a list of 28 choices).

This result is perhaps somewhat less surprising when you consider that O'Reilly has long been the most-watched person on cable news (you don't stay on top for that length of time for no reason).

But as Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center tells US News, it also demonstrates that "the network news have completely lost their brand."

Indeed. Though the fact the network newscasts are slowly dying is not exactly news. However these numbers likely demonstrate a somewhat larger shift than that.

Much to the chagrin of the MSM, journalistic "objectivity" -- long proclaimed to be the ultimate goal of any news organization --no longer engenders an audience's trust.

Judging by these numbers, the audience wants to know exactly where its news source is coming from; transparency equals trust not objectivity. And more than any other network out there, Fox News is clear about its bias.

Here's the rest of the breakdown: CNN clocked in second at 18%, NBC at 10%, MSNBC fourth at 7%, CBS and ABC tied at fifth with 6%. On the anchor front CNN's Eliot Spitzer and NBC's David Gregory each received just two votes.
Radio host says Rapture actually coming in October

OAKLAND, Calif. - California preacher Harold Camping said Monday his prophecy that the world would end was off by five months because Judgment Day actually will come on Oct. 21.

Camping, who predicted that 200 million Christians would be taken to heaven Saturday before the Earth was destroyed, said he felt so terrible when his doomsday prediction did not come true that he left home and took refuge in a motel with his wife. His independent ministry, Family Radio International, spent millions , some of it from donations made by followers , on more than 5,000 billboards and 20 RVs plastered with the Judgment Day message.

But Camping said that he's now realized the apocalypse will come five months after May 21, the original date he predicted. He had earlier said Oct. 21 was when the globe would be consumed by a fireball.

Saturday was "an invisible judgment day" in which a spiritual judgment took place, he said. But the timing and the structure is the same as it has always been, he said.

"We've always said May 21 was the day, but we didn't understand altogether the spiritual meaning," he said. "May 21 is the day that Christ came and put the world under judgment."

It's not the first time the independent Christian radio host has been forced to explain when his prediction didn't come to pass. He also predicted the Apocalypse would come in 1994, but said it didn't happen then because of a mathematical error.

Rather than give his normal daily broadcast on Monday, Camping made a special statement before the press at the Oakland headquarters of the media empire that has broadcast his message. His show, "Open Forum," has for months headlined his doomsday message via the group's radio stations, TV channels, satellite broadcasts and website.

When the Rapture didn't arrive Saturday, crestfallen followers began turning their attention to more earthly concerns.

Jeff Hopkins had figured the gas money he spent driving back and forth from Long Island to New York City would be worth it, as long as people could see the ominous sign atop his car warning that the End of the World was nigh.

"I've been mocked and scoffed and cursed at and I've been through a lot with this lighted sign on top of my car," said Hopkins, 52, a former television producer who lives in Great River, NY. "I was doing what I've been instructed to do through the Bible, but now I've been stymied. It's like getting slapped in the face."

Camping said Family Radio would never tell anyone what they should do with their possessions.

"That is between them and God," he said.

But he said he wouldn't give away all his possessions ahead of Oct 21.

"I still have to live in a house, I still have to drive a car," he said. "What would be the value of that? If it is Judgment Day why would I give it away?"

Apocalyptic thinking has always been part of American religious life and popular culture. Teachings about the end of the world vary dramatically , even within faith traditions , about how they will occur.

Still, the overwhelming majority of Christians reject the idea that the exact date or time of Jesus' return can be predicted.

Tim LaHaye, co-author of the best-selling "Left Behind" novels about the end times, recently called Camping's prediction "not only bizarre but 100 percent wrong!" He cited the Bible verse Matthew 24:36, "but about that day or hour no one knows" except God.

"While it may be in the near future, many signs of our times certainly indicate so, but anyone who thinks they `know' the day and the hour is flat out wrong," LaHaye wrote on his website, leftbehind.com.

In 2009, the nonprofit Family Radio reported in IRS filings that it received $18.3 million in donations, and had assets of more than $104 million, including $34 million in stocks or other publicly traded securities.

Associated Press writer Tom Breen in Raleigh, N.C.and AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in New York, contributed to this report.
Payment Method Bypasses the Wallet

Square's new apps allow consumers to pay their bills without swiping a credit card. But the company has competition.

On Monday, Jack Dorsey, Square’s co-founder and chief executive, announced a way for shoppers to pay by simply giving their name to the merchant. Mr. Dorsey, who also co-founded Twitter, said customers would use a new feature on Square’s iPhone or Android apps, called Card Case, to make payments. Merchants would use one called Register to ring up and track purchases.

Using cellphones to ease offline purchases is a crowded corner of tech investment. Most companies are tackling one aspect of purchasing, like mobile payments or coupons. But Mr. Dorsey is thinking big. He wants Square to be involved in every step of the transaction process by replacing cash registers, loyalty cards and paper receipts. “We think it should be one system,” he said.

The start-up faces formidable competition. Square’s goal is to replace cash registers and point-of-sale terminals and the companies that make them, like Verifone. Square is also taking on the many start-ups that offer cellphone loyalty cards, like Foursquare, and competing with Google, Apple, PayPal and major credit card companies and banks to provide mobile payments.

Square’s new payment services are available at only 50 merchants in New York, San Francisco, Washington, St. Louis and Los Angeles.

Shoppers can use the Card Case app to search for those businesses, pay their bill and store receipts. A shopper opens the app, which looks like a brown leather wallet, clicks to open a tab at a store and then gives the merchant his or her name. The shopper’s credit card number is already stored with Square. Merchants see a photo of the Square user so they can confirm it is the same person.

With the Register feature, merchants can appeal to nearby shoppers who have the Square app by posting deals or menus. They can also store receipts digitally and track customer behavior.

Some shoppers said they were uneasy trusting Square with their credit card information when all it takes to pay is a name, not a plastic card.

According to Square, the photos and the fact that people can only pay if they and their phones are nearby adds a level of protection. For purchases more than $50, shoppers also have to enter a personal identification number as they do at an automated teller machine. Mr. Dorsey compared it to Amazon.com and Apple’s iTunes, which store credit card numbers so people can easily make purchases with their e-mail address and password.

Square joins a host of tech companies, phone carriers, banks and credit card issuers that are trying to replace wallets by letting people use their phones to pay. Most of the efforts are in the early testing stages. Unlike Square, most of the others plan to use a technology called near-field communication, or N.F.C., through which phones communicate information like credit card numbers to the merchants.

Initially, the company most in Square’s sights is Verifone, whose point-of-sale terminals and software are in 70 percent of businesses in the United States. In an interview before Square’s announcement, Doug Bergeron, Verifone’s chief executive, said that Square would not catch on for payments because people will prefer N.F.C. technology and have security concerns about using Square.