#RaceTogether RIP

One week after uniting America in laughter, Starbucks shut down its #RaceTogether effort.

The coffee giant’s white CEO thought it would be a good idea for its busy baristas to slow up the lines to “start a conversation” about race relations in America.

“Start a conversation”?

How tone deaf can you be? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead, protesters were sprayed with fire hoses, and churches were firebombed – but thank goodness Starbucks is here to finally “start the conversation,” right? As silly as the concept is, it’s also amazingly arrogant.

And the poor Starbucks employees were right in the crosshairs on this. Imagine being a 17-year-old, suburban, white barista trying to “start a conversation” with a 60-year-old black man, who might have had to deal with segregation, busing, intolerance, and prejudice. The normally inane Gawker had a pretty accurate postmortem upon finding the internal memo preparing Starbucks staff for the campaign:

Not only, if you are a Starbucks employee, must you make coffee all day with the efficiency of a machine while dealing with entitled dickhead customers. You must also—at least this week—watch a video of your CEO talking about race, print out a USA Today ad, hand out stickers, then remove the original ad and replace it with a special insert. All so that you can “help foster empathy and common understanding in the country” as “the country faces ongoing racial tension.”

If you’re lucky, you make $9 an hour. Sounds great.

The worst part about Starbucks’s campaign was the complete ignorance of what the customer wanted. As JC Penney has found, trying to change your customers’ preferences is usually a bad idea. No one like getting told what to thing – especially by someone you’re paying to feed you caffeine.

Starbucks may have had their heart in the right place, but someone really should have stood up to CEO Howard Schultz and told him this was ticketed for disaster.

Critical Conversations about Possible Democratic Nominees

Last night Lisa Ruth and I talked about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 chances on Communities Digital News’s Critical Conversations podcast – if you missed it live, you can check it out here.

One thing that doesn’t bode well for Clinton is the fresh Reuters poll that shows a 15-point decline for her among Democrats. If Clinton is challenged, she’s awfully vulnerable; the question is whether there are Democrats who are in a position and have a desire to take advantage.

Ranking the Democrats who would be President

My post this week at Communities Digital News talks about the top five contenders for the 2016 Democratic nomination in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s State Department email issues. Here’s how I would rank them in order of their chances of winning the nomination:

  1. Clinton
  2. Vice President Joe Biden
  3. Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  4. Martin O’Malley
  5. Al Gore

O’Malley has been polling behind Jim Webb and Bernie Sanders, but I think he is still more likely to win the nomination. O’Malley has a very narrow path to the nomination, but as a two-term governor he has shown that he can win elections and run a government. Webb is a one-term Senator who wouldn’t have even been that if not for YouTube; Sanders is a socialist who is clearly running to push ideas. If the top five are struck by lightning, the Democratic National Committee would be more likely to draft John Kerry than let either Webb or Sanders carry the banner for a cycle.

Al Gore is dead last because he probably won’t run, though he might dance with the notion of jumping in. If he did, his age and years of media experience would probably lead him to focus on an advertising-heavy campaign, like the one Rudy Giuliani tried to run in 2008. (Fun note: If it did shake out like that, his chances could rest with Florida… again.)

One factor that clouds the potential field is that Democrats might have a tough time in 2016 no matter who the nominee is. Biden, who will be 74 on Inauguration Day 2017, probably can’t wait until 2020 – Warren, who will be 67, might be able to. Her calculated risk may be that Clinton is the inevitable nominee but a probable loser in the general election. Acting like a good soldier now may win her Clinton’s favor and help for a 2020 challenge against an incumbent Republican President.

Kids doing stupid things

A University of California Irvine student committee continues to draw outrage – OUTRAGE! – for banning display of the American flag in a student government office.

The ban is silly, and the outrage is sillier still. Twitter users have posted names and pictures of the members of the committee. It’s overkill that only serves to endanger these students and does nothing to help them understand what’s wrong with what they did, or why people were offended. Isn’t college supposed to be about discussing and understanding other people’s views?

There are reasons these students voted the way they did. If you like the flag and think it should be displayed, wouldn’t it be worth a discussion? These students in particular may not be convinced, but understanding their thought process would help the next time you ran across someone with similar views. (Conversely, shouting them down probably doesn’t teach them that America is a welcoming mixing bowl of ideas. Rather, it enforces whatever notions they had of America being a country of ignorant patriotism on steroids.)

Either way, they aren’t doing this in a real-world environment. It’s college. It’s where you are supposed to do stupid things so you can figure out they’re stupid.

One has to wonder the same thing about the University of Oklahoma’s expelled the Sigma Alpha Epsilon cheerleaders. What have these kids learned about race relations? What have others learned about the motivations of a dozen or so men who would chant the n-word on a bus? Expulsion seems lazy, just like forcing the UC Irvine student government to re-hang their lobby flag.

In both cases, you’d like to give the people the benefit of the doubt and assume they just didn’t understand their actions. You might have a conversation with them and realize they meant everything they did; but you might learn they are legitimately contrite and eager to make amends.

After all, it’s college. Everybody’s supposed to learn something.

Leon Wolf is right: Benghazi has been over for months.

This week, RedState’s Leon Wolf opined that Benghazi investigations had run their course. He’s right – regardless of how important the scandal is or isn’t, it simply hasn’t stuck to Hillary Clinton.

What’s more, this should have been obvious a month and a half ago, when we were all getting ready for the Super Bowl. Remember the dust-up over whether the Patriots improperly deflated footballs?

All scandals need a name, and most called this one “Deflategate.” But some called it “Ballghazi.” Anecdotally, I heard that version most from New Englanders, who complained that the whole thing was a non-story.  The Washington Post noticed:

This could, of course, be a semantic weakness of “-ghazi” as an scandal label — it suggests a would-be scandal, not an actual one… In that sense, said [Dartmouth Professor Brendan] Nyhan, “-ghazi” functions in the same way as “-gate” — ironically, as a way to mock high-profile controversies as manufactured pseudo-scandals.

It was obvious early on that the -ghazi suffix had the same potential as the -gate suffix, but it hasn’t come to pass. Patriots’ likely cheating exposed that there isn’t a consensus that Benghazi is a legitimate scandal – or at least, what exactly the scandal is. There are apparently other albatrosses to hang around Hillary Clinton’s neck (or so I read), but this isn’t one of them.

Birthday Ramen!

Did you know that today is Momofuku Ando’s birthday? He’s the guy who invented instant ramen, and he would be 105 if he was alive today. You might have learned all this if you’d clicked on the Google doodle that most people saw today:


I didn’t see that.  Since I share Momofuku’s birthday, I saw this:


The alt text – “Happy Birthday, Jim!” – confirmed that this was for me. It’s no mystery how Google found out – I’ve probably volunteered the information dozens of times given all the Google products I use. It was still the creepiest happy birthday I got today.

Hillary had a bad week but made a good decision

My latest column at Communities Digital News looks the least-newsworthy piece of Hillary Clinton news that came out this week: the rumor that she will launch her campaign for President in April. (Heck, even the blue dress portrait of Bill Clinton got more attention.)

The buzz around the latest scandal – Clinton’s official use of non-official emails – reminds me of 2005, when I worked at the Leadership Institute. As a 501(c)(3) organization, LI was careful not to engage in partisan activity or anything which could be perceived as such. One of our promotional posters included images of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher under the word “Yes” juxtaposed against images of Fidel Castro and Hillary Clinton under the word “No.” With Clinton up for re-election in 2006, we started trying to figure out alternatives to replace her on the poster. (That had been done previously when Clinton first ran for Senate, but that was before my time.)

I’m fuzzy on the details but I think we settled on Michael Moore. The point is that we couldn’t speak ill of her once she was an official candidate lest we risk LI’s tax-exempt status. That’s a major reason I think Clinton would be wise to jump in early.