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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.”

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Pool report from President Obama at Stanford

Here are the pool reports I’ve filed today from President Obama’s visit to Stanford University for the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection. Click here for our main story on the overall summit.

Stanford University President John L. Hennessy began speaking at11:31 a.m. to introduce the President. Hennessy said Obama understands the challenges of cybersecurity, as “an avid Blackberry user” and the first president to be electronically connected, he had to give that up upon taking office.

President Obama came to the podium at 11:33 a.m. to a standing ovation, with students in the balcony roaring.

“Yes we can,” he echoed a particularly enthusiastic audience member’s call.

The President praised the Stanford campus’ beauty. “I’ve got to admit, I kind of want to go here – I was trying to figure out why a really nice place like this is wasted on young people who don’t fully appreciate what you’ve got.” He also thanked the university for hosting this summit, and noted that members of his administration including Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, Penny Pritzker and others are Stanford alumni who “bleed Cardinal red.”

“This is the place that made nerd cool,” he said. “I was thinking of wearing some black-rimmed glasses with some tape in the middle, but I guess that’s not what you do anymore.”

“But, I’m not just here to enjoy myself.”

The President said the economy continues to recover, with an unprecedented streak of job creation and middle-class earnings starting to rise. “More than any other nation on earth, the United States is positioned to lead in the 21st century,” he said, and that means leading in technological innovation.

The President noted Stanford and its environs were the birthplace of Hewlett-Packard, the mouse, and the internet itself, “innovations for cloud computing, student projects here became Yahoo! and Google. Those were pretty good student projects.”
He said if all companies traceable back to Stanford formed their own nation, “you’d have one of the largest economies in the world, and a pretty good football team as well.”

“Just as we’re all connected like never before, we have to work together like never before, both to seize opportunities and to meet the challenges of this information age,” he said.

LOTS more, after the jump…
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CA17: Unpacking the Honda e-mails story

Congressional candidate Ro Khanna’s supporters are abuzz over today’s San Jose Inside story that says Rep. Mike Honda’s staffers violated House rules against mixing campaign activity with official business.

Sourced from emails provided by a former Honda aide who says he quit after being pressured to help out on the campaign, the story’s most biting claim is that Honda’s chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, early last year coordinated with Lamar Heystek, then the Honda campaign’s political director, on whom to invite to a State Department roundtable.

Heystek wrote that he had compiled “a list of South Asian tech/investment folks who’ve donated to candidates in the past” but not to Honda. Van der Heide replied, “Great lists — how are we doing outreach to them for $? Can we at least collect emails and send newsletters or something if we can’t do straight asks electronically now? Also do you have the list of the South Asians now endorsing/supporting MH? I want to make sure we are including all of them. Invites going out first thing Monday morning.”

This constitutes a mixing of official and campaign events that’s verboten under House ethics rules (House Ethics Manual, page 150), even though Van der Heide’s e-mails came from her personal account and not during work hours, the story says. Heystek left Honda’s campaign in March 2014.

Honda office spokesman Ken Scudder issued a statement Wednesday evening saying “it is the policy of the Congressman, and under the rules of House Ethics, for the office to keep separate official work and campaign activities.

“While it is commonplace for office staff to choose to volunteer their time on campaigns, all of our staff who volunteer do so on their own time and volition, and without the use of official resources,” the statement said. “In this instance, while not a violation of House Rules, we should have taken more care to prevent the appearance of coordination.”

Honda’s campaign declined to comment Wednesday, as did Khanna’s.

It’s not entirely clear what sort of influence Honda or his staff would’ve been peddling here; whether those who attended were eventually hit up for campaign donations; and if they were, whether and how much they gave.

Honda’s staff told San Jose Inside that the event in question was a Feb. 21, 2013 roundtable at Santa Clara University with Mitul Desai, who at the time was senior advisor for strategic partnership in the State Department’s South and Central Asian Bureau. (The event appears in San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra’s archived calendar for February 2013.)

Yet when Desai’s boss, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake Jr., joined Honda a month later to host a roundtable at Microsoft’s Sunnyvale campus on the U.S.-India relationship, Honda sent his constituents an e-newsletter basically inviting anyone who wanted to attend:

2013 roundtable invitation

Nor is there evidence that Honda himself knew of the emails anytime before today. Still, there’s at least an appearance of impropriety if not an out-and-out ethical violation in official staffers and campaign staffers conferring about whom to invite to official events. Your thoughts, readers?

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Next week’s Commonwealth Club politics panel

Please come join me, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci and San Jose State University Professor and political analyst Larry Gerston at the Commonwealth Club of California’s “Week to Week” political roundtable and social next Tuesday evening, Sept. 16 in Palo Alto.

Moderated by club vice president John Zipperer, we’ll be chewing the fat about Tesla’s decision to site its battery “gigafactory” in Nevada instead of California; the campaign against Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper’s effort to split California into six states; and other hot political topics and campaigns.

We’ll be in the Schultz Cultural Hall at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, 3921 Fabian Way in Palo Alto; a wine-and-snacks social starts at 6 p.m., and the program starts at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $10 for club members or $20 for non-members and are available online; students get in free with valid ID.

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Obama returns to Bay Area on May 8

President Obama will return to the Bay Area on Thursday, May 8 for a pair of high-priced events to raise money for the Democratic National Committee.

Tickets for a reception at the Palo Alto home of Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer start at $1,000 for individual guests, while $5,000 buys a place in the photo line; $7,500 buys access and photos for two; $10,000 buys co-chair status; and $32,400 buys all that plus membership in the DNC Presidential Partners Program.

Mayer hosted Obama for a DNC fundraiser in October 2010, when she was still an executive at Google.

“We need the resources to put Democrats in office to move our country forward,” says the invitation to this upcoming event. “Since we do not take money from special interests, corporate lobbyists, and political action committees, we rely on dedicated Democrats like you. Please join us for a reception to support this important work.”

Obama also is expected to do a roundtable with about 20 tech executives that same day somewhere in Silicon Valley, with seats going for the $32,400 maximum contribution. It’s not yet known whether he’ll do any official events while he’s here, or whether he’ll be staying overnight.

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Obama to attend three Silicon Valley fundraisers

President Barack Obama will attend three fundraisers in Silicon Valley on Wednesday, May 23.

First up will be a campaign roundtable to support the Asian American/Pacific Islander community at 4:30 p.m. that day in Palo Alto’s Garden Court Hotel; tickets for that cost $35,800 per person.

Second will be a 5:30 p.m. dinner at the Atherton home of Lisa and Doug Goldman, also at $35,800 per person. Doug Goldman – a retired emergency physician, software company founder/chairman, and prominent philanthropist – is the son of Levi Strauss heirs Richard and Rhoda Goldman, but I doubt that guests at this dinner will be wearing jeans…

And third will be a 6 p.m. rally-type reception at Redwood City’s Fox Theater. Tickets for that event cost $250 for general admission; $1,000 for premium seating; or $7,500 for a seat plus a photo reception, with up to two additional guests in your photo at $2,500 each.

The first $5,000 of a contribution will go to the president’s re-election campaign, half each for the primary and general elections. The next $30,800 will go to the Democratic National Committee. And any additional amounts will be divided among battleground states’ Democratic party committees as follows, up to $10,000 per committee: 17 percent to Florida, 16 percent to Ohio, 13 percent to Pennsylvania, 11 percent to Colorado, 11 percent to North Carolina, 11 percent to Virginia, 6 percent to Nevada, 6 percent to Wisconsin, 5 percent to Iowa, and 4 percent to New Hampshire. Or, a contributor can earmark his or her contribution to a particular destination.