SILICON LOUNGE: Bush, Gore Marry Tech Firms

Yes, I'm voting for Gore. I'm sure not supporting a semi-literate Texas oil man who prides himself on his liberal use of the death penalty, doesn't know the legal meaning of "affirmative action," would snatch away a woman's right to choose, wants to play educational Darwinism with our public schools, panders to racists at Bob Jones University, arms "law-abiding" Texans with concealed weapons (everyone's law-abiding until they commit a crime -- duh), can't name the world leaders in the news and could care less about our natural resources, especially if there's oil in that thar Arctic.

Sadly, I'm just too pragmatic (and Supreme Court focused) to support Ralph Nader this time, although he is the only candidate who has dared take a critical look at the technology industry and its "cyberselfish" ways (a descriptor coined by Paulina Borsook in her thoughtful book of the same name). Nader questions Washington's (and Texas') devotion to anything high-tech, loudly cheering on the Justice Department's antitrust case against Microsoft, criticizing the tech industries' abuse of workers abroad and at home, and demanding that the government regulate consumer privacy.

But among the two major parties, the candidates haven't gotten loud about anything that's going to annoy the vaunted tech industry. Add to that the tech companies' newfound donation largesse this season -- it has more than doubled its contributions this election cycle over 1997-98 and quadrupled it since 1991-92, reports Info World -- and it becomes obvious why even the Democrats are throwing softballs toward Silicon Valley. Because much of the electorate so far seems to think minimally about the long-term effects of technology policy -- beyond "computers: cool, man" -- it becomes easy for politicos in both aisles to kowtow to the selfish concerns of an industry that, on the one hand, wants to suck up corporate welfare, while the government leaves it alone to innovate consumer rights away.

Sounds like all big business, no? But the difference so far is that both parties are willing to openly play the game. While candidate Gore whines (correctly) about Bush's "big oil" interests, he too is building up a long list of high-tech supporters who want the corporate welfare/hands-off package in return. On Oct. 17, Gore's campaign announced that 440 high-tech leaders have endorsed the Democrat; they immediately posted the list on his Web site. (Ironically, the list promptly crashed both my browsers.) Gore's list, first reported by Newsbytes, includes Pixar's (and Apple's) Steve Jobs, Donna Dubinsky of Handspring (who helped invent the PalmPilot) and even Kevin Ryan of Doubleclick, a notorious aggregator of personal information.

Bush responded to Gore's list of 440 by releasing his own list the next day of, bizarrely enough, exactly 440 high-tech supporters in his camp (up from 300 or so the month before), as reported by Wired News. His list is even more ominous -- a list of high-tech "advisers," many powerful CEOs: Dell's Michael Dell, Cisco's John Chambers and Sun's Scott McNealy (privacy? "Get over it," he says). Both lists include several Microsoft executives.

Most twisted about this list game, though, is that the electorate is supposed to be thrilled by the endorsements of some of the same people who want to "self-regulate" our private information into profits, be left alone to "innovate" monopolies, strangle local economies with federal Internet tax prohibitions (so much for "local control"), increase immigration visa quotes but only for them, make sure their intellectual property rights trump those of the non-techies and even pass Internet censorship laws that would benefit certain sectors (the software filtering folks).

The campaigns contain no substantive talk about technology policy; they just want to convince us which man is most tech-savvy. Gore, certainly, was probably contemplating the meaning of the Internet when Daddy Bush was the only viable political animal in the family. But now Junior certainly deserves credit for being the man to lie down quickest for the tech industry: Across the board, he has advocated everything they want: no Internet taxes EVER (hypocritically from he of the states' rights crowd), all the high-tech visas they want, oodles of corporate welfare and tax credits, minimum privacy regulations and even federal bans on consumer lawsuits (no big brother there, eh?).

The Dems score only slightly better. Obviously, Clinton/Gore/Lieberman are adamant free-traders, allowing tech companies to exploit worldwide workers and resources pretty much at will. Gore has talked a lot about privacy concerns, but this administration has not acted on it, perhaps to avoid a GOP dogfight. Democrats recently signed off on the increase in H1-B visas for high-tech workers (to their credit, they tried to include assistance for non-tech immigrants as well; to their discredit, they bowed to GOP pressure and left it out). And, wisely, the administration has dawdled on a permanent Internet tax ban after appointing a commission that found that such a ban would hurt states' ability to pay for vital services.

Small differences aside, it is clear that the Democratic tech agenda is only slightly more populist than Bush's big-tech support; both allow the tech industry to greedily take, take, take. And it may get worse in the short term: "[T]here's an unending move to deregulation in the private sector while [the Democrats] whore around for big bucks in Silicon Valley," James Love, director of the Nader-founded, Consumer Project on Technology, told InfoWorld.

No doubt, the tech companies have planted their talons firmly in both candidates. Be afraid, be very afraid.

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