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Just Say “No” Says Mitch

Oct
26
2004

Mitch Kapor, co-founder of Lotus Notes, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, now running the Open Source Applications Foundation and a new political site, Of, By and For.org is putting his considerable reputation as a start-up CEO, friend of venture capitalists, and politically savvy Silicon Valley insider on the line.
And he’s telling many people who might normally vote in favor of California’s Prop. 71 to vote against it. The measure would allow the state to sell $3 billion in bonds to fund embryonic stem cell research.


Kapor cites a number of reasons, among them the potential for insider deals and financial hanky panky – imagine that, from Silicon Valley! – as well as just, well, just bad politics in his opposition to the measure.
He’s right. The potential for insider deals – as Connie Bruck spelled out in her New Yorker piece a few weeks ago – is off the charts. Prop 71, backed by Silicon Valley venture capitalists is going to help those very same people – even Kapor’s pals at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers – make a lot of money. It’s a typical Progressive Libertarian move: create something that’s good while creating something from which you can profit. There’s lots of good intentions but the follow-through isn’t exactly rigorous. These are, after all, business people and businesses think of the general public as customers, not as employers to whom they are accountable.
I have already voted here in California. And I voted in favor or Prop. 71. As I’ve said before, it’s a jobs bill, pure and simple. I’m willing to put up with a little shady insider shilly-shally in return for what I think will be a lot of solid research – research that’s foreseen and planned as well as the stuff that’s not anticipated and will, more than likely, be the stuff that drives the Bay Area, economically, for a long time to come.
There’s another reasons I’ve voted for Prop. 71. I think it might be the best we can do right now. It’s a compromise. In urging his friends and colleagues to vote against Prop. 71, Kapor has said funding for stem cells should come from the feds or through the California Legislature. That’s a false hope. Even if Democrat John Kerry wins the presidency, I’m not convinced he’ll pay attention to the need for research and development in this country’s scientific community. It’s great to think he will but the political reality is that it’s not going to be easy. And I’m not sure he’ll have the money to do so at the scale the U.S. needs to catch up.
As for the California Legislature: ain’t gonna happen. You think Congress is run by a bunch of backward-looking, penny pinching, bad-science loving partisans? Well, you’ve never been to Sacramento.

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