Micro Cells, Macro Economics

The U.S. Senate debate on measures designed to expand federally funded research with the use of embryonic stem cells promises to sound familiar – in its claims and its omissions – to the debate held here in California two years ago.
Led by Sen. Arlen Specter – who has been fighting cancer – there will be plenty of tales and moving anecdotes about the life-saving potential of stem cell research. There will be more talk about the show-down that Congress is having with the White House over this legislation. And there will probably be a few more long-drawn out op-eds about politics and religion. But there won’t be a lot of talk about another aspect of the measure – its economic importance to the U.S. And the omission of that argument is worth noting.
There’s nothing wrong with a little bathos and pathos. It’s how laws like this get passed. The California proposition was approved by almost 60 percent of the state’s voters just a few days after one of its most famous supporters, the actor Christopher Reeves, died. And it had hard core Republican support from Nancy Reagan and her son, Ron, still grieving over former President Ronald Reagan’s death. And almost everyone has a relative or friend with a disease or syndrome that might be relieved by the research and discoveries that come from embryonic stem cell research. And that potential should offer a clue to what should be talked about in the debate over this research: Its power to give real economic clout to the biotech industry.
The campaign to create state-funded stem cell research was backed here in California by a group of savvy and smart businessmen, many of them the same folks who brought you Google, Amazon.com and other companies. These venture capitalists many of them affiliated with the powerhouse firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers are interested in the life-saving potential of stem cells. But they are businessmen, not humanitarians.
Stem cell research has the promise to make the biotech businesses as important – in real dollar terms – as the Internet and tech business that have made so much money and effected so many changes in how we live and work. That’s the argument that politicians – particularly Democrats so anxious to show up the White House – ought to be making. For biotech backers in California, the stem cell debate is one about stay competitive against scientists in India, the U.K. and other places that support – even foster – stem cell research.
And most everyone in Silicon Valley knows, federally funded research has been the seedbed of tech innovation for a long time. The federal money that made the valley what it is today – the grants, procurements and research conducted during the Vietnam war and the space race – came here for a reason, however. It’s where the brains were. They were already working in California drawn by a research institute started at the turn of the century by a wacky Gold Rush millionaire now best known for the highways and streets that bear his name.
James Lick‘s decision to fund construction of an observatory and build a telescope – then, the largest in the world – high on Mt. Hamilton a few miles from downtown San Jose, is the beginning of California’s attraction for physicists and astronomers. As Carey McWIlliams recounts, Lick figured that a telescope high on a hill in the clear dry California air, would give a clear and accurate view of the heavens. He was right. The scientists came and they stayed, turning Mt. Hamilton into an important research center for its time. That research center, which is now part of the University of California, attracted scientists and so 50 years later when the feds wanted to fund brains to build missiles, satellites and lunar modules – and the microchips that make them go “boom” – they came to California.
Something similar is already at work with the funding that’s been unleashed over the California stem cell program. The $3 billion initiative – that’s more than $250 million a year for 10 years – isn’t just about the pure research that will be done. It’s about the discoveries that will be made – and commercialized – as that research is conducted along the way. As they say in Silicon Valley, it’s about “the IP” – the intellectual property that will accrue. That intellectual property – the knowledge that’s built up over time – that’s a 21st Century gold mine.
There’s an argument to be made that having private funding for this sort of effort is desirable. The religious one – with which I don’t agree – that the state should not fund the taking of human life, no matter how young. Better to have the sin rest in the private sector. And, of course, there’s the small-government case. Why should tax dollars be spent on what will in the end be commercial enterprises?
Those arguments over look the role that the U.S. government has played in advancing scientific and technological achievement since this country was founded. A look at how Lick’s hunch about telescopes fostered a place for a future industry he could only have imagined is a good example. It’s what has allowed this nation’s economy to dominate the world.
The private funding argument also sidesteps an important element in the role that government plays when it fund research: the ethical and thorough accounting of how public money is spent. Putting moral and ethical decisions in the hands of peoples who are interested in commerce a bit more than the public good is always risky. When the money gets good, the temptations gets stronger. A look at the fate, er, fable created in South Korea is a good example of how dramatically things can go wrong.
The stem cell research legislation is expected to pass and President Bush is expected to veto it. But in doing so he’s acting against the nation’s economic interest. And that’s an argument that ought to be made with a lot more force and vigor.

Love For Sale

The next time the Direct Marketing Association or the political consultants get together, they need to invite DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas to their gathering.
First, he gets huge press. Political reporters anxious to see this “blogging” thing flocked to Las Vegas last weekend to meet roughly 1,500 laptop totting activists who, if Maureen Dowd’s pet chronicler Adam Nagourney is to be believed, spent a fair amount of time sucking up in person to the folks they spend so much time on-line denouncing.
And secondly, he’s pulled off a trick worthy of PT Barnum. Moulitsas has managed to make political reporters think that he and his 1,500 companions in ASCII are an actual threat to how real political reporting and writing works. Certainly, they’re disruptive, often annoying and they are treating Big Media reporters with little respect, lots of attitude and no shortage of argumentative behavior. All of which is good. No one who loves peace should go into the news business.
But when you get down to it, DailyKos is nothing more than a piece of political direct mail. You go to it, yes. And you can talk to it, yes. And it talks back. But fundamentally, DailyKos exists to serve the candidates Moulitsas thinks are worth backing; to push them forward and denounce their critics (in the press and elsewhere). Nothing more, nothing less. That doesn’t make him a reporter – or even a “media” as he’s so found of saying – it makes him a political consultant. Or a direct mail house – one with a terrible track record, by the way.
Maybe because they do so poorly at the ballot box – only Bob Shrum has managed to build a business off a string of sustained losses – the Kossaks are still trying to have it both ways when it comes to their role in American politics. Used to getting “news” about candidates from opposition research, the Kossaks think that by taking that job away from campaigns, they’re becoming “media.” In that light, it doesn’t matter if their candidates don’t win. It’s the bloggers impact that counts. The Kos bloggers want to storm the barricades – using one of the cheapest tricks in the news business, the spoon-fed dirt-drop – and be welcomed with open arms for their vigor, innovation and “good reporting.” But when it comes to actually understanding the editorial business, they fall short. Crassly imitating the behavior of the pundits they see on television (which they mistakenly think is the zenith of the business) bloggers are flatterers around Big Media stars. Why? So they can become like them. Even a passing reference in a traditional news outlet is worth a lot of traffic and traffic sells advertising and, oh, yeah, it can make you a Big Boy Blogger with influence and power. But once the reporters have pulled out? Well, Big Media is a bunch of clueless boobs who can’t see how wonderful bloggers are and how sorely their work has been neglected.
This is an old story for those of us who have been in and around the tech business. Bloggers, like almost everyone else who has ever discovered the miraculous potential of a piece of software, have decided that they – and they alone, that few, that proud, that chosen (and why are they all men….?) – are agents of profound transformation. They are going to change the world as we know it and their potential power is awe-inspiring, limitless and potentially very lucrative. Similar comments were made about the Segway and were happily reprinted without question or skepticism in Time magazine and other pubs. But can anyone look at a Segway these days without laughing? Don’t get me wrong, the power of self-publishing is everything bloggers say it is (unlike the Segway) but the ways in which it’s being used by this crowd are silly (like the Segway). And often self-defeating (like the ginned-up Segway PR effort).
My favorite Big Media cocktail party story is the one about the Kossak who sharply, repeatedly and publicly criticized an influential editor’s judgement, pretty much calling into question everything but his hair color. A few weeks later, the blogger wrote to see if the Big Media editor would accept his work, making no mention of their public contretemps. The editor wasn’t looking for an apology (well, maybe…) but he flat-out balked at the assumption that harsh, sustained public denunciations would be taken as just another day at the office. Journalism is a pretty competitive business but there’s a difference between having sharp elbows and wielding a switchblade and bloggers, as a rule, don’t know the difference. They often employ their tools at the wrong time with the wrong people. Special note: No matter how nice any one is to Maureen Dowd or Tom Friedman, they are not going to say something nice to NYTimes Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins so your latest post can get an op-ed spot. Promise.
There’s something else bloggers at Kos and other outlets are trying to brush aside. They’re sloppy about money and funding. They can – they have and they will again – be bought. And they will continue to sell their wares – political endorsement and fundraising ability – at a higher and higher price, thanks to ruling by the Federal Elections Commission that keeps them from having to account for any money they spend on behalf of candidates. This is a scandal in the making.
A few years ago, bloggers costs nothing more than a few cheap-o BlogAds. Writers were happy to repay the favor with a nice mention, maybe a fund-raising post. Today, the entry fee is an appearance at a Los Vegas convention and a big party with free sushi and lots of other goodies.
Think I’m making too much of this?
Listen to Moulitsas talking last night on MSNBC’s Countdown (sans – sigh – Olberman). Asked who made the biggest splash, Moulitsas didn’t hestitate. “Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia did create a big sensation. He had a big party. Some criticized it as being a little too lavish. Others, like me, said ‘You know what? There’s so much stupid money being wasted in politics, it’s about time they spent it on meeting some regular people.’ And, at the end of the day, bloggers are regular people. We’re not media elite, we’re not political elite, we’re just people sitting in front of our computer really passionate about politics and if they want to spend a few bucks on us, I say bring it on.”
Ummmm. Since when is a non-practising attorney living in Berkeley, CA and running a website that’s given him a six-figure income a “regular person”? How about a 23-year-old law student living with her parents in Chicago? Or Armando Lorens-Sars, an attorney with a list of corporate clients as long as his arm? “Regular people” pulled into Las Vegas today for the United Auto Workers annual meeting, a session that promises to carry grim news to one of the best-compensated unions in the country, once the backbone of the Democratic Party across the Upper Midwest. Those regular people are not sitting in front of their keyboard and feeling passionate about politics. They’re staring at their family budgets and their depleted bank balances, wondering how they’re going to pay for health insurance and worried that the pension plans they were once promised could disappear entirely. These are regular people and I’ll bet Mark Warner didn’t stick around to buy them sushi. Think anyone from DailyKos thought to hang around that meeting with their fellow “regular people”? Probably not. Which as far as I’m concerned tells you all you need to know. DailyKos and many other bloggers are a group that aspire to be media and political elite; their big interest is in sucking up to those who they think (wrongly) can welcome them into the club.
There are more questions to ask about Kos. My friend Micah Sifry points out that Moulitsas’ reasons for supporting Warner, who is running on the “not Hillary” plank for the Democratic nomination, amount to nothing more than Moulitsas’ endorsement of Warner’s hiring the “right people.” On one level, that’s a charming note of support for Kos’ book co-author, Jerome Armstrong, who has been retained by Warner as a consultant. But it might be something else, too. It may just be a recognition that the Warner campaign – the first candidate Kos singled out when he was asked about the Vegas gathering – is money in the bank for Moulitsas and company.
What’s even more troubling? Most bloggers – partisan to their core – don’t see Moulitsas’ statements as contradictory or incriminating. They think this is business as usual. They’re right – if you’re a political consultant. In that job you’re supposed to take money from your client, the candidate, for your work – which is to get him or her elected. But if you’re “media” – mainstream, traditional, new, or old – this sort of talk ought to raise a few questions about what your job is, how you’re doing it and where your loyalties lie. What – exactly – is the relationship between DailyKos and the candidates it supports? And when are they going to stop being coy about it?

Look Back: Someone is Gaining On You

Steve Westly’s bid to become the Democratic nominee for governor – aka Arnold’s next meal – wasn’t successful. But since he lost that nomination by less than 100,000 votes in a state with more than 10 million voters, his defeat is worth more than the usual “loser” brush-off. Turn out was low, hence the small number. But even that fact bears a look: Politics as usual is politics that bores and frustrates voters.
There are constant cries – pleas, really – for some sort of third party to rise out of the dissatisfaction that Democrats and Republicans have with the folks running their political futures. If the results of this primary don’t demonstrate how strong that feeling is getting within the Democratic Party, I don’t know what does. This movement and its supporters – which I refer to as Progressive libertarians – is both frustrated and interested in politics. Elements of this thinking – which is moderate, business-minded and not very interested in political mechanics – form the basis of John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenger’s campaigns. And while many of the folks who I consider Progressive libertarians trend Democratic, as the pollsters like to say, their moderate message (carried mostly by former Virginia governor Mark Warner) is one many Democrats are reluctant to hear.
In his campaign, Westly treated California for what it is, not what he wants it to be. He ran a campaign for a Red state with Blue trim, ignored the party establishment which lined up behind traditional Democrat Phil Angelides and went to small towns and cities up and down the state’s interior – places where Schwarzenegger triumphs – to see voters. That’s why his poll numbers showed him beating Angeledes earlier in the race. It’s also why the lazy California political press was slow to figure out what he was doing.
But it’s also one of the reasons Westly’s considered a boring candidate. In trying to appeal to the large and vaguely unsettled voters known as moderates, Westly was, well, bland. He tried to have his cake – his status as a party insider – and eat it too – be known as a business-minded outside-the-party guy. He emphasized competence and good government which translated from the business world appeal to shareholders but leave voters a bit nonplussed. This is a tough act to pull off and if Westly were a more charismatic guy – and we’re talking here charisma on the level of a Clinton or Schwarzenegger – he may well have gotten the job done.
He didn’t. But that doesn’t mean Westly’s done. Unlike a lot of tech millionaires, he actually likes politics; he keeps coming back and slogging it out. He’s doing what many wealthy and ambitious men don’t have the patience to do: He’s running for state office, greeting folks who can help him, helping them. He’s running, in other words, for his next office while campaigning for this one. Very smart. Because if all goes as expected, Schwarzenegger only gets one more term and Angelides is going to end this year looking like a big, fat loser.
See, Westly’s strategy can be repeated. Why do you think Gov. Schwarzenegger’s getting on a bus to tour the state today? ’cause he has stock in Greyhound? Westly’s appeal to the same folks who supported Schwarzenegger wasn’t bad politics as Angelides tried to intimate; it’s just not effective Democratic Party politics. But that’s a temporary state of affairs. And that’s the real lesson here.
Why? Because a fair number of loyal Democrats preferred Westly’s message to Angelides. They thought it could – and polls showed it might – have defeated Schwarzenegger. I don’t think that’ the case. But I do think that we’re seeing the beginnings of a trend toward moderation among rank-and-file Democrats. And that has bearing for the fall and 2008.
But don’t try telling that to California Democrats. Like their counterparts across the country, Democrats in this state are pretty oblivious to the new rising tone of moderation. They listen to the fanatics on the blogs – on the left and the right – they are captive to the unions and they believe their virtuous moral argument will triumph and disguise their lack of new ideas, smart thinking or just plain attractive candidates. It won’t. The only good news? .
Angelides, who is a good campaigner (better in many respects, than Westly) won’t defeat Schwarzenegger. Why? Because Gov. Terminator isn’t going to run as a Republican – they have the same problems as Democrats but their candidates are shrewder about their strategy – but as conservative Democrat who just happens to call himself by another name.

The Horror. The Horror. The Repeating Horror

Forget all that stuff you’re hearing about 6/6/06 and the re-release of The Omen (unless the publicity shots of Mia Farrow’s unnaturally unlined face and fuller-than-she-ever-had lips in Rosemary’s Baby are freaking you – which they should). If you’re a Democrat, the devil who rises today from the sheer ugly silliness of the Democratic Primary is named Arnold.

That’s right. Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneger is on the way back. Tomorrow he starts a two-day bus tour softly kicking off his re-election campaign, a campaign that won’t center entirely around his strong personality (which is a little like Farrow’s borrowed lips – fascinating in a “how does she stand it?” kind of way) but around the ballot initiatives he’s supporting to shore up California’s dilapidated physical infrastructure.

A few months of lying low, watching Democrats Phil Angelides and Steve Westly throw mud at each other and Kindergarten Cop Gov. Terminator looks just fine, thank you very much. And make no mistake, Arnold Schwarzenegger – who’s talked repeatedly about how he likes selling his movies – is a smart, good and enthusiastic campaigner.

Democrats can’t say the same thing for very many of the folks running for office. And this isn’t just a California problem. Roughly speaking, the best-known and probably best-liked Democrat running for office is former Governor, former mayor and soon-to-be state Attorney General Jerry Brown. His campaign appeal to besieged Democrats can be summed up in his pitch to party regulars last month in Sacramento: “They didn’t call me Gov. Moonbeam for nothing.” That’s not exactly what presumptive Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton, former first lady, current U.S. Senator, will say when she runs but the nostalgia appeal – to a time when we clear-headed, responsible Democrats were in charge, when the economy was strong and Republicans knew their place – is a good comparison.

It’s easy for Clinton, of course. She’s got no competition and if things in California hold across the country, she may never get a run – literally – for her money. Looking at a less than 40 percent expected voter turn-out today in California, it’s obvious that Democrats have failed to get anyone interested in this election. The pollsters say this is because voters are undecided. Baloney. They’re bored and disappointed. Why? Well, there are fewer and fewer partisans in California so the usual pitches don’t work. Angelides has the unions and, as a result, the party leadership, Westly, the business-minded Democrats (who are probably Independents, anyway). If you’re not in one of those camps – and enthusiastic about beating Schwazenegger – you’re sitting this one out. The growing popularity of “none of the above” as a party selection hurts Democrats, particularly in a state run by an oversized personality like Schwarzenegger.

Making things worse? The game that so many in state politics like to play every election cycle: Term Limits Musical Chairs. It’s a dull game. Nothing seems to change no matter how fast they play the victrola.

Term limits means voters end up with the same old names running for the same old gigs. There’s Brown, of course who is running against state-wide newcomer Rocky Delgadillo (who has really obnoxious audio on his site). But that’s about the only new name near the top of the ticket. Current California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who will probably be replaced by Brown, is himself trying to replace Angelides as state treasurer.

Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante is also trying to swap jobs with another Democrat. He’s running for state insurance commissioner and the seat he’s “termed-out” of is being fought over by Jackie Spiers, a state senator and John Garamendi, the current state insurance commissioner. Whomever wins the Lt. Gov’s primary will face Tom McClintock, who ran against Schwarzenegger for governor and, before that, against Westly for state controller. State Senators Debra Bowen is running against Sen. Deborah Ortiz for the Secretary of State’s job and, of course, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is running for re-election but without much opposition.

Thrilling, huh?

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

It’s hard to know which is harder to credit: The Congress’ alarm at the FBI search of one of their offices, or the realization by Congressional Republicans that uh, the Bush White House doesn’t have their interests – as Congressmen – at heart.

So this is as good a time as any to look – and look hard – at a White House that is trying with all its might to turn back the clock and reclaim what it believes are the privileges and rights of the presidency. The picture is not pretty. Regardless of your party affiliation.

Let’s start with today’s headlines. Congress is upset by the search of a Louisiana Congressman’s office by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat, is under investigation by the bureau for allegedly taking bribes. Why the outcry? This isn’t just a possibly crooked Louisiana politician’s fate at stake, it’s the sanctity of Congressional offices – the right of the peoples’ representatives to conduct their business as they see fit. In the past – with Rep. Tom Delay, with the Abscam scandal of years past, crooked politicians were caught off Capitol Hill. They may have been set up, but they were set up outside the office.

This is important because the FBI does not work for Congress, it works for the Department of Justice which, in turn, works for the White House. Traditionally the Attorney General is the president’s closest political ally, a custom that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is upholding with a vigor that makes his predecessor John Ashcroft look shy and retiring.

Gonzalez is particularly vigorous when it comes to a matter far more important (and, let’s face it, not that unusual) than bribes to a Louisiana pol. At Gonzales’ instigation, the FBI is also investigating the leaks that led the New York Times and the Washington Post to publish stories that embarrassed the White House, stories about NSA spying and stories about secret prisons where supposed enemies of the U.S. have been held by the CIA.

This isn’t the place to dissect the ins and outs of what the Times and Post writers did or how they got their information. But it’s a good bet – it always is in these stories – that some of the information those reporters got flowed through the U.S. Congress or Senate. The right to criticize the White House is a dearly held right in Congress and the U.S. Senate – particularly when the president’s poll numbers are as lousy as George Bush’s. But even if this weren’t just politics – and that’s playing a big role, make no mistake – Congress, as a group, takes attempts to curtail its power very seriously.

That’s why House Majority Leader Rep. John Boehner – who isn’t exactly a stand-and-deliver pol – is talking about a Supreme Court ruling on this question. That may be, in the end, what the White House really wants. Why? Well, they’ve stacked the deck in their own favor on this issue in particular. (And, by the way, Congress should thank its lucky stars that Rep. Tom Delay ain’t running the show anymore; The Hammer would have taken this one lying down).

How has the court deck been stacked? Well, remember Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito? Democrats got up in arms about same and the probability that he’s not a pro-choice justice. But Alito’s something a bit more deadly: he’s a justice who believes in the superior power of the executive office. He believes in the executive’s right to trump other government agencies in the name of what the president believes is the public good. And these days, we have a president who thinks he’s at war so his ideas about the public good are, uh, expansive, to be polite.

So if the Jefferson case goes to the Supreme Court, it may well be that Alito and other members of the court – those constitutional fundamentalists, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas among them – don’t see anything wrong with the FBI searching a Congressional office. But that means the FBI could be permitted to search Congressmen and Senator’s offices, phone records, memos and other documents to search for other kinds of information. This isn’t just a slippery slope, it’s a sharp, dramatic fall off a precipice.

What’s scarier? Things have gone this far. There’s a lot of loose talk out there about impeaching President Bush for his conduct of the Iraqi War. That’s as much a red herring in the debate about the future of U.S. government as the choice argument is in the debate over Supreme Court justices: it’s a nice old chestnut to pull out for sound bites on TV and rally the party faithful but it’s not really what matters.

The issue isn’t just what the administration did – it’s why they did it – and what it means for the future.


Time to get out the WayBack machine and remind folks just how horrible things are getting with the Bush Administration. Summer’s coming to Washington. It’s going to be long and hot.

Even as recently as January, it was hard to really draw the parallels between Bush and Nixon. No longer – Senate Republicans are out for blood (and to save their own asses in November). The leaks about the NSA might have come from within the administration – who’s been screwed out of a big job lately? – but it’s more likely that Congress – specifically Republicans with access to intelligence reports – had a hand in the constant dribble of leaks and revelations.

There is one big difference between this administration and the Nixon administration – this president doesn’t deny anything. Leaked documents? Sure, they did it. Listened in on phone calls? Yup. Secret prisons? You betcha. All part of the war on terror. Gotta get those evil doers wherever they appear!

Well, that argument has started to take a big hit. Take a look at this Wall Street Journal piece about former Judge Michael Luttig and his frustration over the administration’s decision to abandon the “evil doer” argument when it became politically inconvenient. In his letter of resignation, the judge, touted as a future Supreme Court nominee, praised the president’s father, not the man himself. As with Watergate: Republicans with principles are leaving this administration. So, we’ll begin the introductions here: Michael Luttig meet Elliot Richardson.

You know that old saw about those who don’t learn history being condemned to repeat it? Well, it’s time to remind the Bush folks – who are fundamentally all about the politics of consolidating the presidental power that was taken away from Richard Nixon and the office he held in the post-Watergate era – of the people they bring to mind (and the jail sentences they earned, if any).

So, Dick Cheney, meet John Mitchell (conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury)

Scooter Libby, meet John Dean (obstruction of justice)

Karl Rove, meet H.R. Halderman (conspiracy, obstruction of justice).

Porter Goss meet E. Howard Hunt (wiretapping, conspiracy, burglary)

Tony Snow, meet Ron Zeigler.

Joe Wilson, meet Larry O’Brien

Arlen Specter, meet Howard Baker

Lindsey Graham meet Lowell Weicker

That outta get the party started…..

Meet the Fockers

It was the Patrick Kennedy’s late night auto crash that made me realize that I will never, ever ever be free of the Baby Boom generation. Its children will always be with us. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Young Patrick – Congressman Kennedy if you live in Rhode Island – is a bit of a waste-o with a “substance” problem but that’s not the issue. He is, after, all a Kennedy. No, it’s because seeing another version of the same old tired story – a Kennedy stoned out of his mind crashing into something – is bringing home the point that we Boomer Trailers, the younger members of the post World War II birth rate surge, were just, as Shaun Cassidy once put it, Born Late.

This last dismal presidential election was between the Boomers’ two competing – and not necessarily uncomplimentary views – of themselves and their world. We had George Bush, frat boy, who thinks the world is his oyster and who could care less what anyone else, anywhere else, thinks. He embodies post-World War II America’s brash, we-are-the-world attitude that leads by power and then by example. And he’s pretty much happy to let Mom and Dad tell him what to do.

“Meet The Fockers”

Two years ago, Bush was campaigning against John Kerry but he was really running against Bill Clinton and Clinton’s view of the world: The U.S. as a moral leader, one charged with custody of the world and the goal of improving the lives of all its citizens. It leads by example – or likes to think it does – and only uses force reluctantly. And it has no use for the generation of its parents; it wants change. Now.

The differences, however, are cosmetic. Both men see this country as a moral and political guidepost; it is a position both of them – while president – embraced and endorsed. And if there was a failing in the Kerry campaign (Oh, where to begin….) his inability to articulate and reinforce Clinton’s message of leadership by example was tops on the list.

This, of course, leads to all sorts of political trouble; it’s a conversation about the past, not the future. And we badly need a conversation about the future. A nation whose economy is seriously weakened by its inability (Clinton) or unwillingness (Bush) to protect its citizens from the harsh reality of globalization, a nation whose Congress can’t decide how to treat the people who have all but become the backbone of its service economy, is not a country positioned to maintain its leadership role in world affairs.

But don’t tell the Boomers. They won’t believe you. Why do you think the Rolling Stones still tour and charge hundreds of dollars for their tickets? Boomers are rich. Many of them – the sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation – are going to inherit their parents’ savings. It won’t always be huge cash, of course. But it does mean Boomers, as a group, are protected from the economic storms that are going to increasingly divide the wealthy and the once-middle class in this country. More importantly, they think, as they have since they started popping up all over in 1945, everyone’s just like them.

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You are Getting Sleepy….

This will come as a surprise to many of you, but we’re having a gubernatorial election in California. And two Democrats want the job – or say they do – of running against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But looking at their campaigns it’s hard not to nod off from boredom.
These guy call themselves politicians?
The two state-level office holders running for governor, Treasurer Phil Angelides and Comptroller Steve Westly are duking it out – actually, it’s more like their swatting at each other – for the Democratic nomination. The primary is just about a month away and it doesn’t seem like anyone besides a few hearty party regulars has noticed.

Abandon Ship

It looks like the Bush Administration’s determination to let private citizens decide U.S. foreign policy on an ad hoc basis continues this week with China. It’s part of a trend. Hundreds of tasks – prison management in Iraq, for instance – are already doled out to private contractors, so why not turn over Sino-U.S. relations to software execs?
President Bush is meeting with Chinese Premier Hu Jintao this week in Washington. According to the New York Times, Bush feels like he and Jintao get along ’cause the Chinese premier has told the U.S. he’s got his hands full with the nation’s domestic agenda.
He sure does. And that domestic agenda – which includes holding a New York Times researcher on spying charges, locking up a filmmaker, censoring information available to Chinese citizens – has nothingto do with the U.S. Just as the U.S. domestic agenda – immigration reform – has nothing to do with China. What part of “global economy” is lost on the White House? As the Disney folks might say: It’s a small world, after all. Chinese internal politics echoes in the U.S. Just ask any San Francisco politicianwho must contend with a city where 40 percent of the population was born in China.
This is not lost on the Chinese. That’s why Hu is going to sit down with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. If nothing else, Gates has a better sense of what’s going on in China than Bush. Why else would human rights activists be asking Gates to plead their case?
Gates, of course, has spent plenty of time in China. The Chinese treat him the way the Indians treat Bill Clinton. Gates’ photos – photos of him with restaurant owners in Beijing and Shanghai, photos of him in rickshaws – are prominently displayed at local tourist joints. You know, like he’s the president of the United States or something.
But Gates is no diplomat. He’s a businessman. A businessman who’s got contracts and agreements with the Chinese government. Yeah, I know, it’s a public-private partnership with a Chinese entity. That’s the nice way of saying “Chinese government.” Because that’s who owns the “entity.”
This isn’t Gates’ fault. Nor is it the fault of any other software company doing business in China; they are businessmen. Their job is to make money.
But it’s not a good idea for the U.S. government to be abandoning a key part of its duties: Telling the companies based here how to conduct themselves in negotiations with foreign governments and other “entities.” That’s what government is supposed to do; it’s their job. That this administration doesn’t seem to understand that it has a role to play – beyond reassuring itself that all’s well ’cause the Chinese are too busy straightening up their internal affairs – is a wrong step in a bad direction.

Following the Money

It may take a few years – fewer than we think, I’m betting – but San Francisco isn’t going to be the reliable bastion of cookie-cutter Liberalism it has been for much of the past decade.

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