Friday, April 9, 2010

Madam Speaker - Read My Lips...(Mini Cooper, UC Berkeley; Ask Jeeves, Haiti, Bio Nano Technology, Robert Reich, Raising Taxes On The Rich).

It will be a bit of a slog to get to the punch line which explains the title of this post ... but here goes:

Picked up at SFO airport by friend in silver convertible mini cooper --

We drive to (fundraiser) dinner at UC Berkeley and are seated next to a friend of my mini cooper friend (well only sitting part of the time because the dinner set up was "international" and you had to wander around to different food stations (e.g. Japan, Mexico, Peru, China, Spain, Italy and one called "Mediterranean Fusion") accompanied by a genuine international student - in our case Roel (pronounced Roole) from the Netherlands - so we wandered Bar Mitzvah like among the food stations filling our plates and THEN sat down) and the friend of my friend turns out to be a Venture Capital guy and the founder of a very successful silicon valley venture capital firm that was an early stage investor in Ask Jeeves. Ask Jeeves made him a lot of money because the early stage guys sold it when nascent search engines were hot and a lot of money was being bet on which one would become dominant and google was considered a pretty dumb name and so he (the VC guy) cashed out and his Ask Jeeves money bought him his private Turbo prop which he pilots himself on weekends from his home in San Francisco to his home in Telluride, which turbo prop is considered the best in its class for safety and short runway capability (important for Telluride) and which he recently lent to a Haitian relief agency to fly some Docs down to Haiti because it has a large fuel tank which is key because no fuel could be picked up in Haiti post earth quake and planes that go there can't pick up fuel for the return because there is no fuel and in talking about planes the VC guy tells me that his father died when he (the VC guy) was 11 years old. Died in a private plane which he (the father) was piloting. I asked if he knew what the cause of the crash was and he said he surmises the same things that cause every aviation accident in varying degrees, e.g., (1) pilot error (meaning less than perfect response to whatever was occurring) ; (2) conditions (meaning probably should not have been flying) and 3) mechanical failure. He says he has very fond memories of flying with his dad when he was a kid (the oldest of four).

In his post Ask Jeeves VC career he has specialized in medical bio-technology and is devoting most of his time now to developing a medical nano-sensor that can instantly diagnose complex whatever-can-be-diagnosed from a drop of blood in 3 minutes (versus the 45 minutes it takes in an emergency room lab now) at a cost of a few dollars (versus the two thousand dollars it costs now) which will pretty-much-revolutionize what will happen to you if you are, for example, at a fundraiser dinner at UC Berkeley and have severe chest pains and rather than have to be rushed to the nearest hospital which is 8 blocks away and upon arrival have blood taken which will be sent to the basement lab and come back 45 minutes and two thousand dollars later, now using nano sensor technology you will be diagnosed instantly by any Doc at the dinner or in the ambulance on the way to the hospital using this nano-sensor and by the time you arrive the hospital will already have your diagnosis; and this device does-in-fact work and is-in-fact in production and will-in-fact soon be a real-big-deal. (FYI Nano = one billionth and is the time it takes light to travel one foot, i.e., one billionth of a second, i.e., a nano second).

And then it's time for the featured speaker, Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration and, according to Newsweek magazine, "one of the top ten Cabinet Secretaries of the last 100 years" (this conveyed by the Dean of International House during his intro) who spoke for 45 minutes (and then took questions) about the "mythology" of the relationship between international trade and employment in the US (the gist of which is that they are not related at all because trade (digression into the the nature of it, the economics of it, the importance of it, the impact of it) has been completely stalled on all political fronts for the last 20 years because Congress will (he predicts) never enact meaningful trade agreements post NAFTA because people believe (mistakenly) that trade agreements mean loss of US jobs which is to his way of thinking so wrong headed and basically moronic that he really cannot believe it. Great speech even though he confessed in response to a question from the back of the room during the Q & A that he did not know how to solve the problem of overuse of antibiotics in livestock production in the U.S. (what this had to do with the subject matter of his speech being lost on me and I think on him although unlike me he was too polite to smack his forehead and silently mouth to the person sitting next to him "what the hell?" probably because - after all - this is California).

So, over Peruvian and Mediterranean Fusion appetizers the VC guy tells us that the night before he (the VC guy) was at a democratic fundraiser and in return for his very large contribution was given a one minute audience with Madam Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and he says to us "so if you have only one minute to make a pitch to Nancy Pelosi what would your pitch be?" (it took me a second to grok what he meant by "pitch" but I got it) and I said, as I scooped up a dab of MF hummus on my triangle of crisped pita), "change the carried interest tax treatment given to hedge fund managers from capital gains rate to earned income rates" thinking to myself, as the words escaped, "lame"... and VC guy stared at me through his Sigmund Freud style glasses (he is a cute Geeky Mogul) and then everyone at the table pitched their "pitch" - "improve health care reform", "do financial reform now"...

So anyway his pitch was, "People in my income bracket should pay more in taxes - raise my taxes".

That was it - a succinct pitch. She said, "Got it".


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