The Briefing 11-03-17
Tags: Alcohol, Audio, Balfour Declaration, Gambling, Marijuana
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, November 3, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see what it means that companies are seeking a first mover opportunity when it comes to marijuana, we’ll ask why the news media are buzzing about Buzz, we’ll see how the gambling industry gets people to lose even more of their money, and we’ll take note of a letter that changed history.
Alcohol companies seek “new type of buzz” when it comes to marijuana
Time and again we are reminded that our economic lives reveal the underlying moral reality; that points to the even more fundamental worldview reality. Just a couple of interesting stories that are not so significant, at least in the eyes of the secular world, but should nonetheless have our attention because they point to something even more fundamental than the headline of the article insinuates. Here's an article from a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, it's from the inside business news section; the headline,
“Brewer Sees Growth in Pot.”
The article is by Jennifer Maloney and David George-Cosh, and what we are told here is about a company, the company behind the Corona beer company, that sees a declining market opportunity in beer and other alcoholic beverages and a big capital opportunity when it comes to marijuana. The reporters tell us,
“The U.S. distributor of Corona beer is chasing a new type of buzz. Constellation Brands Inc. has agreed to take a 9.9 percent stake in Canopy Growth Corp., a Canadian marijuana company, and plans to work with the grower to develop and market cannabis-infused beverages.”
Now, one of the spokespersons for the company, the chief executive of the beer company said,
“We think that it’s highly likely, given what’s happened at the state level,”
speaking of the legalization of marijuana nationwide. That's when they plan to go big with this growth opportunity. He said
“We’re obviously trying to get first-mover advantage.”
Now this is in the business section. Not that big a story, but just consider the language that’s used here. Now you have an alcoholic beverage corporation saying that it wants
in terms of what it sees to be the likely nationwide pot market. Also understand the lead paragraph on this story that says that this beer manufacturer and distributor is now interested in a new kind of product that will give the company, it says here,
“chasing a new type of buzz.”
A new type of buzz. It turns out that that kind of language shows up in the same week again and again in a similar kind of story. In this context, the language of
“chasing a new type of buzz”
is intended to operate as what the French call a double entendre, that is an expression that has a double meaning, one of them more apparent, the other of them very thinly disguised under the surface. In this case, the use of the word “buzz” is first of all to attach itself to the buzz of Wall Street. In other words, it's talking about a company making an announcement about a future opportunity for profit and expansion for the business that will lead to a new type of excited conversation about the company, but, of course, all that's against the background of the double entendre. The idea that the real buzz that’s at stake here is the buzz that people are seeking either by means of alcoholic beverages or marijuana. That really gets to something else that’s very revealing in moral terms. It turns out that the only reason to use marijuana in this context is in order to get a buzz, that's a very honest statement. It's a very honest reality. It is the honesty that is often missing in terms of the conversation about what is called recreational marijuana and the legalization of that substance.
So, so far, just in terms of this relatively minor business article, there are two major moral insights. One has to do with the fact that here you have a company that is saying that our ambition is to make sure we get
in terms of this new opportunity, and you also have the language about a company — that double entendre,
“chasing a new type of buzz.”
Later in the article, there's more. A spokesman for Heineken USA said,
“Wine and spirits are not sitting still, and marijuana is being legalized in many states.”
“We have to act now, and we have to do it together.”
Now, the ‘together’ there is rather interesting in and of itself, he means together as a company or an enterprise that wants to offer buzz, and if it’s left out of the new type of buzz, it will find itself at a competitive and profit-making disadvantage. So as it turns out there are other companies that also want that first-mover advantage and don't want to see that ground to the distributor of Corona beer.
The CEO of that company makes a really interesting comment later in the article; as the Wall Street Journal explains,
“he doesn’t see pot as a threat to booze.”
That's a direct quote from the news article. Booze is the very word that is used here.
the paper says,
“if a consumer is going to choose a can of beer, a glass of wine, a shot of liquor or a weed-laced elixir,[this CEO] wants to be able to offer all four.”
Speaking of marijuana as a new product line, he asked a question,
“Could it be a threat? Yes,”
“I guess it could be.”
Then he simply said,
“We’re not going to stand around twiddling our thumbs.”
No, they're clearly not going to be sitting around twiddling their thumbs, they’re going to be running around chasing a new type of buzz.
The same Chief Executive Officer Rob Sands in a statement quoted in a related article in the Chicago Tribune said,
“Our company’s success is the result of our focus on identifying early-stage consumer trends, and this is another step in that direction.”
So, again, from a Christian worldview perspective, what's really interesting is just what's revealed in terms of moral behavior in the headlines from the business pages about a beer company, or actually in this case more than one, wanting to make sure it doesn't get left behind with expanding new business as not only the companies but their consumers are going to be chasing a new type of buzz, and they're also acknowledging that one of their ambitions is that first-mover opportunity. They’re also admitting that they're concerned that this marijuana business could cut into their current business, that's why defensively they're going to have to get into marijuana, they argue, or get left behind.
Fast-food companies quietly make their way into alcohol business
Within this week, Wednesday’s edition of USA Today shifted to another story. The front page of the money section had this headline,
“Fast Food Companies Abuzz About Alcohol.”
Now wait a minute, there's that word buzz again. Perhaps that tells us something about our society that in just a matter of days there are several articles having to do with marijuana and alcohol that use the word buzz in this kind of double entendre. That's the kind of society we are becoming. But Zlati Meyer writing this article tells us that American fast food companies have actually been getting, rather quietly and in some ways almost undetected, into the alcohol business in their fast food locations. In her words,
“Apparently the fast-food industry needs a stiff drink.”
“An increasing number of chain restaurants, such as Taco Bell and Chipotle Mexican Grill, are serving alcohol to lure in new customers who might otherwise go elsewhere to get beer, wine or cocktails.”
She describes this as,
“the competitive world of fast food,”
And, by the way, recent reports in the business pages have indicated that over the last year, the fast food business has been flat, which is to say there was no net growth in the industry, so the only growth is going to come by expanding sales in ways that haven't been previously experienced, and also gaining some kind of competitive advantage over others who were also in the — what it’s called inside the movement — the quick serve restaurant business.
As USA Today tells us, adding alcohol is
“a way to drive up sales. Mixed drinks have a markup of as much as 90 percent … beer [has a markup of about] 25 percent, [that] according to restaurant consultant John Gordon.”
So the article tells that
“Taco Bell plans to open approximately 150 new locations across the United States that will serve beer and frozen mixed drinks. … Pizza Hut, which serves beer and wine at approximately 3,500 of its restaurants, is set to add alcohol to another 200. … Chipotle, test marketing a frozen version of its margarita; Shake Shack, which features ShackMeister Ale and red and white wine, [is also for a limited time offering a wine milkshake] to mark the return of the TV show ‘Will & Grace.’”
Aaron Allen identified in the USA Today article as a global restaurant consultant used that word we've already heard at least two or three times in different articles in the last few days,
“It creates a little bit of buzz – in both senses of the word.”
He says this,
“A lot of beverages with alcohol will have $3-$8 ticket prices, depending on their promotional pricing. Add a few of those on and you increase the check average. You can drive revenue without having to drive traffic.”
Now, once again, the issue here is just observing what this tells us about how the economy reveals underlying moral realities, and beyond that, not just explicitly moral issues, but the lifestyles and what are perceived to be the aspirational lifestyles of a society, in this case of the American people. So you have people who’ve been coming to these quick serve restaurants, and by the way, one of the interesting aspects of those restaurants is that they have been overwhelmingly sold as conveniences for families, they are now seeking to increase the amount of money, the revenue they get from every single ticket, by adding on some very high profit margin items — remember that the sale mixed drinks here we are told comes with a 90 percent margin.
The USA Today article is also candid about some of the complications that come in any attempt to serve beverage alcohol in a fast food restaurant. One of the complications has to do with the minimum age set by legal authorities in most localities for someone who is going to serve alcohol. If you look at those behind the counter in most fast food restaurants, well a good percentage of them cannot legally serve alcohol. That's a problem. But one of the biggest issues that is addressed in this article and implied by the entire series of articles is the question as to whether mom and dad really want to take their kids to a place that is serving, not only in this case beer and other forms of alcohol like wine, but even mixed drinks, that just changes the fundamental character of the experience. There's another very interesting aspect of this article and that's USA Today's admission that some chains have tried to get in this alcohol business only to later get out of it. Listed amongst these is the fact that
“Burger King once had six Whopper Bars in the United States. Now, there are only three [and they are serving only beer].”
And we are also told that Starbucks, and here I’ll quote,
“paused the roll-out of the Starbucks Evenings wine and craft beer menu at company-owned stores. … Today, it's offered at only a few U.S. airport cafes, which are run by licensees. However, the chain said it will look to integrate beer, wine and spirits into new retail formats like its new high-end concept Reserve Roasteries."
Presumably those new locations are less likely to be targeted towards families. But you add all this together and we’re just reminded that there is no such thing as mere economics, the business pages themselves are never merely about business. Lurking right under the surface, sometimes right on the surface, is a far deeper set of questions and a far deeper understanding of reality.
How the gambling industry gets people to lose even more of their money
Next, while we’re talking about economics and morality, of course we come to gambling, big issues continue to reveal themselves, this time, again, from USA Today. Just in recent days, a headline,
“Mega Millions Looks to Deliver Attention Grabbing Jackpots.”
Now, as we have said, there are few more morally instructive examples, in terms of our contemporary culture, than the state-sponsored turn to gambling for revenue. In particular, the predatory nature of the entire lottery business made more predatory by the fact that the people who are least able, in the sense, to risk money and the loss of that money by gambling are the ones that are directly targeted. The states are praying on their own people, and the most vulnerable of their own people, by seeking to entice them to risk more and more, which means to lose more and more. The article by David P. Willis in USA Today offers this
“Five things you need to know as the ticket price rises to two dollars.”
The bottom line of it is there are going to be some very manipulative techniques undertaken by the lotteries included in this Mega Millions game. One of those is the fact that even though your chances of winning the big jackpot are significantly reduced, they're going to increase the number of smaller prizes because the announcement of the smaller prizes is likely to entice persons to risk more money in gambling because of the appearance that there are more winners. Of course there will be more winners, but concomitant with that is going to be the fact that there are more losers losing more. And even as they're talking about the opportunity to risk more in order to win more, USA Today says, and I quote,
“Overall, the chance of winning any prize will go from 1 in 15 to 1 in 24 with the changes.”
And that's any prize. Most of these prizes are financially insignificant masking the fact that gamblers have actually lost far more money than they may claim or even believe in an instant that they have won. That tells us something else about human nature. Someone who goes week after week, week after week risking say $2 or $10 a week and then wins a $50 prize may be very, very happy about that $50 prize, imagining, only having invested say the $2 to $10 in that given week. Left behind is the fact that they've actually been investing hundreds and hundreds of dollars; that's how the lottery works, that's what these states that offer these lotteries depend upon.
But then a story that appeared in the New York Times, not in the financial pages, not on the front page, but rather on the sports page, and this has to do with the veteran NFL figure Brent Musburger, and, in this case, it is about the fact that he has an entirely new endeavor. He is no longer the host of the CBS pioneering live pregame show “NFL Today,” instead, he is now the announcer on what is known as the Vegas Stats and Information Network, or VSiN. Its described in the New York Times as,
“a family business aimed at building a streaming service offering actionable information for sports bettors.”
It's family because the company was started by his nephew who saw in Brent Musburger an opportunity to grab name advantage and someone who has credibility in terms of sports reporting, in order to shift to what has been virtually forbidden in terms of the NFL and professional sports, and still is, according to the NFL, but what have here is a new streaming network with Brent Musburger, and just note how it’s described here, it is building a streaming service offering actionable information for sports matters. What does that mean? It means information that bettors are suggested to use in order to gain an advantage in placing their wagers.
The New York Times article also cites Musburger as saying that he believes that sports betting is going to become legal within three years. He also went on to say,
“You are not stopping gambling. … Learn to live with it and move on.”
Now considering Brent Musburger's long association with the NFL, and the NFL's insistence that, at least for now, it has absolutely nothing to do with organized betting, Musburger said to the New York Times,
“Let’s face it — gambling is the foundation of the NFL, and every other sport’s popularity.”
Musburger went on to say,
“It’s more fun to watch the game if you have a few bucks on it and in this day and age of information, it’s time to bring it in out of the dark. Gamblers are smart people. Let’s treat them like it.”
Musburger in the article openly assailed what he calls the hypocrisy of the NFL when it comes to sports betting. He notes the fact that two of the veteran owners in the NFL, Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tim Mara of the New York Giants, are close friends as well as gamblers. The article tells us that Musburger suggest that
“the NFL should drop its opposition to gambling and start addressing,”
what he said are
“more pressing problems like anthem protests and players’ head injuries, which are contributing to lower television ratings and a decline in participation in youth football.”
“They are trying to figure out how to make money off it … Otherwise, why would they vote 31 to 1 to move the Oakland Raiders here [that means to Las Vegas unless they understood where it all was going?”
Well, once again you may not have been looking for a major morality play in the sports section of the New York Times, but there it is. Of course, the entire enterprise of gambling is based upon the fact that, contrary to Brent Musburger, gamblers aren't smart — if they were smart, they would realize that all those shiny buildings and all of those luxury accoutrements are actually being paid for by gamblers who aren’t making money but losing money. If the house didn't usually win, there wouldn't be a house when it comes to gambling, and here you see the straightforward argument that you're not going to stop gambling, so you might as well just join it and just make it more intelligent and perhaps regulated a little bit, and I guarantee you that's going to look very attractive to states always looking for income. Maybe what we need to do is just give up and allow this gambling in the open, as is suggested by this new streaming network that involves Brent Musburger. Maybe we should just join it, try to dress it up, and clean it up, at least in terms of appearance make it look more middle-class and mainstream, and then maybe we can just declare victory. So, as it turns out, huge worldview implications telling us a great deal about our society, about how economics reveals morality, about how people see an opportunity to create a new market in which they want first-mover advantage, the way that marijuana is now being seen as a necessary opportunity that can't be neglected by others in the business of this kind of entertainment or this kind of product line, and then you have the fact that the word buzz has appeared in his double meaning several times in just one week.
But then the Christian understands that business is never merely about business, sports is never merely about sports, and gambling isn't even merely about gambling; it’s all part of a bigger story that points to the necessity of worldview analysis, which underlines why these stories were even more important than the newspapers that publish them understood.
A letter that changed history: Reflecting on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration
Finally, we're in a season of anniversaries, big anniversaries, a constellation of them, and the danger of so many of them coming together is that some of these important anniversaries will be lost; lost to our memory and consideration. This week we have marked the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation; 2017 also marks the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I, and in October of this year, we also marked the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution that led to the birth of the Soviet Union. But this week also marks another 100th anniversary, this one very important. This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration was an official communication of the British government that led to the establishment of the state of Israel; it’s called the Balfour Declaration because it came in the form of a letter to the leader of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom, Lord Rothschild, and the letter was from Arthur James Balfour, the foreign secretary of the British government in 1917.
In the letter from Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, he wrote,
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
Lord Balfour then said to Lord Rothschild
“I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”
This came at the confluence of several developments. One of them was the rise of Zionism, the organized hope and promise of the establishment of a homeland for the Jews in what had been their historic homeland in what's identified in the statement as Palestine, and there is also the reality of the fall of the Ottoman Empire; coming at the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was, even when the declaration was written, still largely in control of this area of the world. That Muslim empire, however, was coming apart as the Ottoman Empire had sided with Germany in the First World War, and it was fracturing to the point at which it would no longer survive. And in the anticipation of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Lord Balfour offered this assurance to the Lord Rothschild, and you can draw direct line from 1917 in the Balfour Declaration to 1948 in the establishment of the nation of Israel. There's a lot of history in between 1917 and 1948, but the realization of the hopes of the Jewish people for the establishment of a homeland, what we now know as the nation of Israel, is traced back to this assurance made by the foreign secretary of the British government in a letter to Lord Rothschild, dated November 2, 1917.
Great moments in history sometimes come down to a piece of paper, a letter written from one man to another, a letter making a promise, a letter with the signature at the bottom and a date at the top; in this case November 2, 1917. History as we know is far more than that, but in how history actually happens, it’s never less than that.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.