business news in context, analysis with attitude

Content Guy’s Note: Stories in this section are, in my estimation, important and relevant to business. However, they are relegated to this slot because some MNB readers have made clear that they prefer a politics-free MNB; I can't do that because sometimes the news calls out for coverage and commentary, but at least I can make it easy for folks to skip it if they so desire.

The Hill reports that Starbucks executives have emailed staff throughout the company “with directions on handling questions from customers about former CEO Howard Schultz’s possible presidential bid.” Those directions are fairly simple - they are urged to “evade” the issue and “diffuse” any discussion of political opinions.

The suggested message they are told to communicate to customers: "Howard’s future plans are up to him.”

A company spokesperson, in confirming the memo, says that “employees will not be penalized for sharing their views as long as they do so in a respectful way.”

The Schultz issue has been front-and-center this week in the wake of the former Starbucks CEO’s announcement on “60 Minutes,” repeated in subsequent interviews in a variety of venues, that he will be taking the next three months to decide whether to mount an independent campaign for the presidency. The announcement generated a lot of tsuris in some corners of the Democratic party, where there is a concern that a Schultz third-party candidacy could siphon off votes from whoever their candidate ends up being, thus reassuring the re-election of President Trump.

However, Steve Schmidt, the former GOP campaign strategist who has been advising Schultz, has said in interviews that Schultz has promised not to be a spoiler - that if he cannot see a path to an Electoral College victory, he will not throw his hat in the ring.
KC's View:
I continue to believe that if this candidacy goes forward, it is going to create nine miles of bad road for Starbucks, drawing it into a partisan debate with which it does not want to engage. Just telling baristas not to engage won’t cut it.

(By the way … there is a certain irony that under new CEO Kevin Johnson, Starbucks is suggesting that employees not engage with customers about a potentially contentious issue. When Schultz was still at the company, he wanted employees to engage with customers over the issue of race relations … which ended up not being a very good idea.)

It was interesting yesterday on “Morning Joe,” when Mika Brzezinski asked Schultz if he knew what an 18-ounce box of Cheerios cost. He didn’t … he said he was a yogurt guy and didn’t eat Cheerios.

Axios notes that this is a time-honored tradition during election cycles, that in 2007 “Rudy Giuliani was asked the price of milk and bread,” and “his answers were not particularly close.” In 1992, “George H.W. Bush was asked the price of bread,” and got it right.

Axios goes on to point out that “Billionaires may be unlikely to know what a grocery item costs, and their actions as president would have limited effects on prices … But they should know the broader trends in the costs that most Americans face.” It suggests that, for example, these questions should be asked of every candidate:

• “How much has the average health insurance deductible for a family of four changed over the past 5 years? How about copays?”

• “What’s the average price of tuition at a public 4-year university? How much has this outpaced inflation over the past few decades?”

• “What’s the average cost of child care in your home state? Is this a greater share of take-home income than it was 10 years ago? 20?”

• “What percentage of 25-year-olds have more than $50,000 in student debt? What percentage of 25-year-olds have purchased a home? How do these compare to 10 years ago?”

“How much of the average American's monthly paycheck goes to rent or a mortgage?”

I agree with all this, and would add a few of my own simple questions:

• “When was the last time you flew commercial?:

• “When was the last time you wanted on a TSA line? For how long?”

• “What does a babysitter cost per hour?

• “How much is premium gasoline per gallon?”