Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Starbucks Gone Gay

I’ve spent a lot of time and money supporting Starbucks.  I was so committed to the brand that I spent seven years attempting to convince the company’s international execs to award my team with a countrywide license to bring Starbucks to sub-Saharan Africa. 

Since then, it has been my common practice to have a tall Cinnamon Dolce Latte at least three times a week.  It’s been a good product for me; Starbucks has been a good partner in the community. Its chief executive and founder, Howard Schultz, has been a visionary leader with good business instinct but that all came crashing down on March 20th at the Starbucks’ shareholders annual meeting.

Starbucks decided to double down on mixing its very sound business practices with controversial social politics.

Let’s first recall Schultz’ withdrawal from the Willowcreek Leadership Summit in 2011 after being pressured under threat of boycott by gay activist groups claiming that Sr. Pastor Bill Hybels and his church were anti-gay.  Mr. Schultz caved even though the accusations were untrue.  He did not make his contractually obligated appearance.

In the annual meeting last week, Starbucks shareholder Thomas Strobhar, founder of Corporate Morality Action Center, suggested to Schultz that the Seattle-based company’s prior support of Washington’s same-sex marriage referendum contributed to declining performance. To be clear, the mission of Mr. Strobhar’s organization is to challenge the ethical issues of our times.

Schultz’ response was less than deferential to his shareholder.  Schultz stated that thecompany’s position on same-sex marriage was its way of supporting diversity for its 200,000 employees. He said, “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.” 

Schultz directly implied that Starbucks remains a good investment but indirectly told his shareholder that if he didn’t like the company’s position on gay marriage he could go invest somewhere else.  It’s a free country he quipped.  Unlike Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, and others who have made personal donations to the same-sex marriage campaign, Mr. Schultz drags along his brand at the risk of alienating the masses.

Yes, it is a free country Mr. Schultz and when a business intentionally risks its returns and customer loyalty by unnecessarily choosing sides on the single most controversial and moral issue of our day at the behest of its chief executive, the “free country” may get up and walk away.

Mr. Schultz has every right to speak but everyone knows speaking on behalf of a publicly traded company like Starbucks must be measured and appropriate because a wrong step can crush the company’s stock and hurt investors.  On that basis, Mr. Schultz is using a beloved publicly traded brand to promote his personal political agenda. This is reckless and places the very employees he champions at risk.  He believes that he and the brand are one. What if Mr. Strobhar is right in his assessment?  Does it even matter?

By comparison, Chick-fil-A was attacked because the chairman, Dan Cathy, spoke in favor of traditional marriage last year.  Chick-fil-A is a family owned company. Mr. Cathy, a devout Christian, took a risk in expressing his views for sure but that risk was different.  He doesn’t have shareholders to please.  And recall the national assault by the media and city mayor’s across the country to boycott Chick-fil-A because of Mr. Cathy’s statement.  Somehow there is no room for Mr. Cathy’s faith-based support of marriage.

I doubt there will be any national boycott of Starbucks as a result of Mr. Schultz using his Starbucks brand to support gay marriage.  It seems only liberal activists are intolerant of the views of corporate execs like Mr. Cathy.

But Mr. Strobhar is a shareholder in a publicly traded company unlike Chick-fil-A and has a voice whether Mr. Schultz likes it or not.  

I, on the other hand, am not anti-gay nor am I interested in making a political statement that I disagree with every time I buy my cup of coffee. 

Just as he offered his shareholders an invitation to go elsewhere, Mr. Schultz extended me an invitation.  And on March 23, 2013, I purchased my last tall Cinnamon Dolce Latte because it’s clear Mr. Schultz doesn’t want my investment in his brand either since I believe the institution of marriage is a religious institution, is between one man and one woman, and not subject to societal manipulation.

How will I build a different brand loyalty in my next coffee habit?  One cup at a time.

Follow Marc Little, Author of The Prodigal Republican

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Anti-Politician Dr. Ben Carson

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson bounded onto the political scene in February 2013 when he 
delivered a faith-filled but clearly political speech at the National Prayer 
Breakfast with President Barack Obama sitting just next to him.

Dr. Carson was hugely criticized for espousing common sense conservative 
principles that day.  He also pulled the covers off of a long awaited event in 
American politics:  a speaker who galvanized a nation with cutting truth, 
unvarnished views, common sense and sincerity wrapped in good old fashioned 
Americanism.  Dr.  Carson is The Anti-Politician and one who could lead the 

Dr. Carson did not disappoint when he rendered a similar speech at the 
Conservative Political Action Committee ("CPAC") 40th Anniversary this month. 
This speech, which you can view from the link below, will mark a turn in 
American politics I believe.

While the top GOP hopefuls like Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) 
towed the conservative party line and ranked at the top of the CPAC ballot when 
the convention ended, Dr. Carson tied for seventh with 7 percent of the vote as 
a political unknown which is huge.  Nowadays, CPAC is often a first look at the 
next presidential contenders so it has become a much-to-do within the Republican 
ranks. So, the speculation surrounding Dr. Carson as president abounds and is a 
political phenomenon much like that seen with the 2004 Democratic National 
Convention speech of then-Senator Barack Obama but only better because he has 
never held elected office.

However, I am not sure Republicans understand Dr. Carson.  I made just a few 
observations that the GOP, and the Democrats,  may want to consider.

Notwithstanding that Dr. Carson is a true conservative as evidenced by his 
ability to speak extemporaneously about conservative values, as a doctor with 
good bedside manners, without a teleprompter, Dr. Carson, unlike all the other 
speakers, is not and has never been a politician.  He is considered a genius and 
is the most renowned neurosurgeon in the world.  That's right - in the world.

While he has strong conservative ideas regarding education, taxes, the role of 
government and religion, he delivers these ideas not as talking points to be 
considered but as an expression of his life's experiences and as a seasoned 
American. He has not come to this moment in his career on the political scene as 
a power hungry ideologue out to save the world.  Rather, he is the product of an 
impoverished upbringing and knows the road to take to get to higher ground and 
is now willing to share that recipe at our bedside. No single GOP hopeful on the 
political scene today bears all of these qualities.

It is often said of anyone flirting with the desire to be president that they 
must have a huge ego to think so highly of themselves.  That does not apply to 
Dr. Carson, in my view. The moment has come to him and not the other way around.

Dr. Carson simply knows right from wrong and applies that to our current 
national issues in a common sense way. There is something unusually comforting 
about him.  Something no politician has exhibited since President Reagan.  This 
will be a challenge for both Democrats and Republicans primarily because I would 
be surprised that if he decided to run for office that he would be in either 
party.  I personally think he is a purist; he's straight down the middle; he's 
not a horse trader of values; these qualities don't fit within the current 
paradigm that comprises the American political system.

If my opinion is accurate, Dr. Carson will decide, as did Sec. Colin Powell,  
that his voice may be far more influential if he continues to speak truth to 
power as an unelected citizen and not seek higher office.

However, if in the final analysis, Dr. Carson decides to run for president, he 
will in that process either change the Republican Party in a way that at present 
is not fathomable or he will lead without it as an Independent.  Please note 
that Independents make up approximately 24 million growing voters compared to 42 
and 30 million for Democrats and Republicans, respectively. (USA Today, "Voters 
Leaving Republican, Democratic parties in droves," 12/22/2011).  

We may be witnessing the birth of a third party led by Dr. Carson that can 
actually win and the beginning of the end of the two party system as we know it.

Dr. Carson would get a vote as an Independent candidate from this Republican.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

California v. Texas in fight for the future

As seen on Reuters
By Sherry Bebitch Jeffe and Douglas Jeffe
MARCH 8, 2013

It is not a national election year, but the “red state versus blue state” wars continue. Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recent foray into California, to lure away businesses and jobs, signals more than a rivalry between these two mega-states. The Texas-California competition represents the political, economic and cultural differences driving American politics today – and for the foreseeable future.
Texas and California are robust political and economic competitors. We don’t know which will be the template for the future. As California emerges from its economic and fiscal doldrums and some of Texas’ vulnerabilities become evident, it is now far from certain that Texas will emerge the victor.

California is a global hub for trade, tourism, culture and the manufacture of ideas and intellectual property. From high tech and biotech to entertainment, travel and logistics, the state’s brand transcends national boundaries. The Golden State tops the nation in agriculture. It also sets the pace on green energy development, which could lead to a dramatic increase in the state’s energy production.
The Texas economy has always been based on energy and agriculture. But the Lone Star State has been building a manufacturing and service base, attracting businesses with lower wage rates, weak unions, a friendly regulatory climate and large fiscal incentives. It remains to be seen whether it can maintain its economic momentum and overcome the inevitable obstacles to growth, such as a popping of the latest energy bubble.

California and Texas are political mirror images. Once-Democratic Texas has  voted solidly Republican for three decades. Once-Republican California is solidly blue. Texan George W. Bush was trounced in California, home of Ronald Reagan and Richard M. Nixon, in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Barack Obama ran up big numbers in California in both 2008 and 2012 – the opposite of his Texas results. This lopsided pattern of support continues: Obama’s approval rating is more than 60 percent in California, just 40 percent in Texas.
California’s Republican Party is on life support. It has no statewide elected officials and sparse representation in both houses of the legislature. GOP numbers are being overtaken by independent voters.
Democrats, meanwhile, are an endangered species in Texas. Yet they have better prospects for future relevancy than Republicans in the Golden State. The  burgeoning Texas Latino population could change the state’s political balance – if it follows the pattern in California. There, Latinos’ increasing numbers and alignment with Democrats have effectively checkmated the state’s GOP.
The enmity between Texas and California goes beyond politics and is more real than other “rivalries.” “New York v. Los Angeles” doesn’t generate any bile because the two cities now have so much in common with each other and so little in common with the rest of the country. Only Northern Californians care about the state’s North-South cultural divide. California and Texas, however, really don’t like each other.
The two states are most sharply divided by their very different cultural and political values.

Evangelical Christians, for example, compose roughly a third of the Texas electorate, about twice that of California. Though Golden State voters approved Proposition 8 in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage, recent state polls show a growing majority favor of it. Texas remains gun country. California, meanwhile, not only has among the nation’s most stringent gun laws, its electorate strongly supports President Barack Obama’s proposals to fight gun violence.
These differences matter in politics and economics. They contribute to decisions by entrepreneurs, corporate executives and workers looking for a “comfortable” place to land.
This most recent kerfuffle began soon after Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to temporarily raise California’s income and sales tax rates passed in November. Texas One, “a public-private partnership that markets Texas nationally and internationally as a prime business destination,” bought a series of radio ads featuring Perry inviting California businesses to move to Texas. Brown shrugged off these efforts as “barely a fart.” Perry followed up with a visit to the Golden State, wooing disaffected businesses and stoking media coverage, local and national.
Perry has courted California businesses before. He came calling at the height of the Golden State’s budget crisis. This time, however, Perry has hitting California on its way up.
Though unemployment in the Golden State is still higher than the national average, it has been falling steadily. Last year, California created more non-farm, non-government jobs than Texas. The poverty rate in California is now lower than it is in Texas.
Similarly, California’s housing market is rebounding – a double-edged sword for business development – and technology is again booming. Sacramento’s fiscal crisis stabilized with the passage of Brown’s tax measure, and revenue is coming in ahead of projections.
A plurality of Californians thinks the state is moving in the right direction, for the first time in years, according to the recent Field Poll. Brown’s approval rating stands at 57 percent. Perry’s approval rating among Texans, is 41 percent, according to Public Opinion Polling.
Perry’s economic assault makes good political sense. It gives him an opportunity to bolster his anti-liberal bona fides by taking on the scary blue giant as the Texan gears up for a re-election run or another presidential try. It would seem that the real audiences for Perry’s sortie are the national media – and Texans who don’t like the Lakers, the 49ers, Hollywood, kale or much of anything about California.
Looking toward 2016, Perry’s “dissing” of California’s economy and business policies also resonates with the Golden State’s GOP primary voters, whose mantra is that the sky has fallen because Democrats and unions are now holding all the political cards. In the debate over which state has the economic edge, both sides have their talking points. Texas has lower taxes, less unemployment and an energy boom – as well as a lower minimum wage. California leads in venture capital and in the innovation and creative critical mass that spark Hollywood and the Silicon Valley.
California’s Pacific Rim ports also provide a strategic advantage for trade. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are both ranked in the top 25 world ports. The climate is also a trump card, as well as the intangibles of glamour and lifestyle. Texas, however, can boast lower housing costs and a business-friendly regulatory system. What both states share are huge infrastructure and environmental challenges.
Much of Texas’ economic muscle actually comes from Washington. It ranks 11th in the nation in the percentage of its budget paid for by federal dollars – 40 percent, while California ranks 37th, with 32 percent.
The Golden State has been over-reliant on income, corporate and sales taxes since 1978, when Proposition 13 slashed property tax revenue. In fact, property tax rates are considerably higher in Texas.
Through boom and bust, income tax rates have been high in the Golden State. So this latest round of tax hikes may not translate into a  tipping point. Companies doing business in California largely complain most about the slow, burdensome regulatory process, not income taxes. They also complain about litigious overkill, a clogged transportation system, the confounding layers of government and the outsize political power of public employee unions.

One of California’s biggest economic drivers has traditionally been its strong educational system. But public higher education has been under the budgetary gun in recent years. The University of California and State University systems are fighting to hang on to their top national rankings and gilt-edged faculty. Private institutions like Stanford, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California help add luster.
With the University of Texas, Rice, Texas A&M and other higher education institutions, Texas i exactly an academic wasteland. But only a quarter of all Texans have bachelor’s degrees, while roughly a third of Californian do Both states are struggling with K-12 funding and the challenge of educating a large immigrant population.
Both states are diverse and becoming more so. Both have substantial non-Anglo populations. It’s not surprising that former President George W. Bush and Perry have taken a softer approach to immigration than most other conservatives. Latinos are close to 40 percent of the population in both states, and the percentage is growing. That is the major reason some Democrats have visions of turning Texas purple or even blue.
California also boasts a large and growing Asian population (13 percent), as compared with less than 4 percent in Texas. African-Americans are about 12 percent of the Texas population and 6 percent in California.
Texas and California are like two powerful teams competing to win the Super Bowl – with political and economic dominance at stake. Think of the governors as quarterbacks – the wily veteran versus the brash maverick. Brown has mellowed to the point where he relies on short passes and runs down the middle. Perry uses long passes to his right flank.
This is a game that promises to go on for quite some time.