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Silicon Valley types launch D.C. think tank

Some prominent Silicon Valley names are behind a think tank and advocacy group that launched today in Washingotn, D.C.

The Economic Innovation Group describes itself as “an ideas laboratory and advocacy organization dedicated to forging a more dynamic, entrepreneurial, and innovative U.S. economy for the 21st century” which will “convene leading voices from the public and private sectors, develop original policy research, and work with policymakers to advance legislation designed to bring new jobs, investment, and economic growth to communities across the nation.”

It’ll be led by former Obama Administration senior economic advisor Steve Glickman and John Lettieri, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and trade association executive. And the group’s Founders Circle includes angel investor Ron Conway of San Francisco; Rebecca Lynn, co-founder of Canvas Venture Fund in Menlo Park; Brigade chairman Sean Parker of Los Angeles, formerly of Napster and Facebook; Joseph Sanberg of Los Angeles, co-founder of Aspiration.com and Pt Capital; Dana Settle of Los Angeles, co-founder of Greycroft Partners; and Ted Ullyot of Hillsborough, investor and Facebook’s first general counsel.

“It’s time for a paradigm shift in the way we think about growth, investment, and job creation. Important voices are missing from the policy debate, and Washington is mired in the same, stale conversations,” Glickman said in a news release. “We’re bringing together entrepreneurs and investors who are at the vanguard of our economy to tap into their ideas, resources, and creativity to help increase economic opportunity around the country.”

Settle said the uneven economic recovery has left many communities behind. “We need greater engagement from leaders in the private sector – not simply to advance their own interests, but to help address national challenges that go beyond the boundaries of any single industry.”

EIG’s Economic Advisory Board will be led by Kevin Hassett, economic policy director at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and former advisor to several Republican presidential candidates; Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and former chief economist to Vice President Joseph Biden; Steven Davis and Austan Goolsbee, both at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business; Kenneth Rogoff at Harvard University, and Matthew Slaughter at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.

Hasset said the group “inhabits a unique space in the policy ecosystem that has been vacant for far too long, bringing a fresh and entrepreneurial voice to Washington” and will “take the best bipartisan ideas from the academic and think tank communities, and help ensure they receive the attention and support they deserve.”

EIG will first policy event is scheduled for April 15, 2015, in partnership with The Atlantic and coinciding with the release of the group’s first white paper, authored by Hassett and Bernstein and focused on unlocking capital to revitalize distressed communities.

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Political transparency protests set for Thursday

Activists are planning 50 events in cities coast to coast – including Berkeley and Walnut Creek – on Thursday urging President Obama to sign an executive order requiring contractors that do business with the government to disclose their political spending.

The rallies will include a news conference outside the White House, at which hundreds of thousands of petitions will be delivered.

For now, companies bidding for public contracts need not disclose their campaign spending; activists say this creates a corrupt pay-to-play system in which money from government contracts can secretly be used to re-elect those who award the deals. With an executive order, Obama could force contractors to disclose their spending so citizens can see which elected officials get the most contributions from them.

Thursday was picked for the national event because it’s the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, which increased the flow of money from corporations, unions and the wealthy into politics.
Activists will gather at from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at South Main Street and Olympic Blvd. in Walnut Creek with signs, music, petitions and information sheets.

In Berkeley, activists will have a table on the University of California’s Sproul Plaza near Sather Gate from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with en masse photos – featuring a large prop flashlight to “shine the light on political corruption – at noon and 2 p.m.

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California politicos praise Harry Reid

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Friday he won’t seek re-election in 2016.

As jockeying begins to see who’ll replace him as Senate Democrats’ leader (Chuck Schumer? Dick Durbin? Elizabeth Warren?) and as Nevada’s senator (Brian Sandoval? Joe Heck? Ross Miller?), California Democrats were effusive in their praise of Reid.

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“There’s no one I’d rather have on my side in a legislative battle than Harry Reid. His leadership, friendship and passion will be missed when he leaves the Senate.

“I’ve known Harry and Landra for more than 20 years and have enjoyed their friendship. Together, Harry and I have taken on a host of issues on behalf of our neighboring states. It’s especially been a pleasure working with Harry on the preservation of Lake Tahoe and other issues that bring out the best in us.

“I’m particularly thankful for Harry’s support during the process of releasing the CIA torture report. Harry knows what it’s like to be in a dogfight. He knows what it’s like to be attacked from all sides. I always knew that after a particularly bad week I’d get a call from Harry offering his support, telling me he was behind me all the way.

“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together, and I look forward to two more years of working side-by-side to do even more. The nation is better off because of Harry Reid.”

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

Barbara Boxer“I have known Harry Reid for more than thirty years and since the day I met him, Harry has given every bit of his energy and every bit of his devotion to his job and his loving family. Harry is a fearless leader who listens to all sides before taking a stand. He has known heartache in many forms, but he never let it get in the way of his hopes and dreams and dedication to every family in America. Harry is one of a kind and I am grateful that we worked together for so many years for the good of Nevada, California and the country we love.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“With Harry Reid’s decision to retire, Congress and our country will lose a patriot, pioneer, and one of the greatest leaders the Senate has ever known. Senator Reid is a master of the Senate, a reliable fighter for America’s hard-working families, a legislator whose leadership stretches back more than three decades.

“From his earliest days in the House to his tenure as Democratic Leader in the Senate, Harry Reid never forgot the hard-working families of Nevada he is so proud to represent. He has brought their values, their pioneer spirit and their determination to the Congress, and he has been an unsurpassed champion for the rights and opportunities of every American.

“It has been my great honor to call Senator Reid a dear and trusted friend for so many years. More so, I have been privileged to work with him in enacting historic and consequential legislation for our country.

“In the darkest days of the financial calamity, we worked together to pass the legislation that rescued our economy. We worked to pass the landmark Dodd-Frank consumer Wall Street reform bill, the most significant consumer financial reforms in a generation. We passed the Affordable Care Act and ensured that, in the United States of America, affordable, quality health care is the right of every American, not the privilege of the few.

“Senator Reid leaves a historic legacy of strength and achievement on behalf of the American people. He has helped to dramatically expand American investments in clean energy, passed bold and comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate, championed the Violence Against Women Act, and welcomed a record-breaking generation of new women Senators.

“His leadership and ability command respect on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress. Without question, Senator Reid’s departure is an irreplaceable loss for our entire country. But as he announces his hard-earned, well-deserved retirement, I wish him, his wife Landra, and the entire Reid family all the best in happy years ahead.”

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Muslim group plans Sacramento lobbying blitz

A Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group will focus its California lobbying blitz next month on bills dealing with police surveillance, equal pay for women, and a freeze on tuition at state colleges and universities.

CAIRCalifornialogoThe California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is planning its 4th annual California Muslim Day at the State Capitol for Monday, April 27. They’ll be reaching out to legislators about issues that impact the Muslim community broadly, and to push for three bills in particular.

SB 178, the California Electronic Communication Privacy Act by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would provide protection against warrantless government access private electronic communications such as emails, text messages and GPS data that are held on smartphones, tablets, laptops and other digital devices. Police would have to go to a judge and get a warrant before accessing such information.

SB 358, the California Fair Pay Act by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would will help to ensure that women are paid equally when they do the same work as men, and protect workers from retaliation when they inquire or speak out about wage differences at work. CAIR notes that in 2013, a California woman working full-time earned 84 cents to every dollar earned by a man doing the same job; the gap is considerably wider for women of color.

AB 42 by Assemblywoman Young Kim, D-Fullerton, would require the California Community Colleges and California State University – and ask the University of California – to freeze tuition and fees at their 2014-15 levels while the tax hikes enacted by voters as Proposition 30 of 2012 remain in effect.

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California lawmakers globe-trot to Cuba, Japan

With the Legislature in recess next week, California’s top lawmakers – and a few Bay Area members, too – are leaving Sacramento to do some globe-trotting.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Agriculture Committee Chair Henry Perea, D-Fresno, will lead a trade delegation of legislators, academics, and agriculture industry representatives to Cuba from Monday, March 30 to Friday, April 3.

They’re aiming to build ties with Cuban policymakers, farmers, and businesses, and to explore options for California and Cuba to collaborate not only in agriculture but also in telecommunications, construction and banking.

Toni Atkins“With the federal government moving forward with efforts to normalize diplomatic, economic, and commercial relations, it is important for California to also engage with Cuba and expand economic relationships that create new opportunities for businesses in our state,” Atkins said in a news release. “The Assembly wants to do everything we can to create more jobs and business in California, and this trade delegation is one way to help California companies gain a competitive edge.”

The partner organization for the trade delegation is Californians Building Bridges, a nonprofit with years of experience leading cultural, humanitarian and entrepreneurial exchanges between California and Cuba. No Assembly funds are being spent.

Also in the delegation are Bill Quirk, D-Hayward; Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond; Luis Alejo, D-Salinas; Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove; Adam Gray, D-Merced; Jose Medina, D-Riverside; and Rudy Salas Jr., D-Bakersfield – all Agriculture Committee members, or serving districts with agricultural interests. Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, and Republicans on the Agriculture Committee were invited but declined to attend.

Meanwhile, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, will lead a delegation including Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, to Japan from Monday, March 30 through Thursday, April 2. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, is going, too.

The lawmakers were invited by the Japanese government, and they’ll be discussing issues including transportation, seismic safety, clean energy, environmental protection and climate change.

Kevin de LeonThey’re scheduled to meet Monday in Tokyo with U.S. Embassy officials and Japanese officials including Issei Kitagawa, the state minister of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism to discuss high-speed rail. They’ll also meet that day with people from Japan’s Reconstruction Agency, the main entity responsible for recovery from the March 2011 earthquake that devastated part of the nation.

On Tuesday, they’re scheduled to visit Japan’s National Diet, the legislature, as well as to tour the High Speed Rail Operation Center and to ride in a new fuel-cell car produced by Toyota.

On Wednesday they’ll travel to Kobe to meet with the mayor and tour a facility memorializing the January 1995 earthquake that killed more than 5,000 and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, and the recovery efforts that followed. And on Thursday they’ll start in Osaka and then head for Kyoto, to meet the mayor for a briefing on the city’s economy and history.

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Obama cites Fremont firm at trade roundtable

President Obama singled out the CEO of a Fremont company during a trade roundtable Wednesday at the White House.

The meeting – with seven small-business executives from around the nation plus the mayors of Philadelphia and Tampa – was to discuss “the opportunities and benefits of trade as well as the challenges that small business exporters face,” the White House said.

U.S. businesses are selling more made-in-America goods and services around the world than ever before, which builds job growth. But the President wants Congress to give him trade promotion authority to finalize new trade deals that will build on the momentum, while progressives argue U.S. workers will get a raw deal under these expanded trade agreements.

Barack Obama“The perception sometimes is … that the trade agenda is only important for big companies, big corporations, big Fortune 500 or 100 companies,” Obama said at the meeting. “Well, the group that’s sitting around here is made up of small business people or medium-sized business people who are seeing their businesses directly benefit from exports — as well as a couple mayors … who can account for hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars of sales coming out of their region as a consequence of exports.”

Among the executives at the table was Steve Basta, CEO of Fremont-based AlterG, which makes “anti-gravity” treadmills and a bionic leg – products aimed at shortening recovery times, reducing injury, and improving mobility for patients.

“Steve Basta with AlterG has created — or has a company that’s created, new technologies for medical rehabilitation,” Obama said. “He’s able to sell his products overseas, but what he’s finding is in some countries you’ve got tariffs that make his products more expensive and that means fewer sales.”

“And so this is not just the Boeings and the General Electrics that benefit” from trade promotion authority, Obama said “It’s also small businesses and medium-sized businesses directly benefit.”

AlterG is in Rep. Mike Honda’s 17th Congressional District. Honda, D-San Jose, in 2013 joined most House Democrats in signing a letter opposing fast-track trade promotion authority – which they said usurps Congress’ authority over trade matters – both for the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact Obama is trying to seal and for any future trade agreements.

“Twentieth Century ‘Fast Track’ is simply not appropriate for 21st Century agreements and must be replaced. The United States cannot afford another trade agreement that replicates the mistakes of the past. We can and must do better,” that letter said. “We are deeply committed to transforming U.S. trade policy into a tool for creating and retaining family-wage jobs in America, safeguarding the environment, maintaining consumer protection and improving the quality of life throughout the country.”