Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Luncheon Society/Gov. Michael Dukakis/Los Angeles-Napa Valley Grille, January 8, 2011/San Francisco-Fior D’Italia, March 11, 2011/ Boston–Sandrine’s June 3, 2011

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The Luncheon Society is not merely for lunch these days. In fact, a growing number of gatherings take place in the evening hours and perhaps serve as a welcome final stop before making the long journey home. We started adding nightly gatherings—out of necessity—to make the most out of our Manhattan soirées, but we quickly understood they could easily take place in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  If I catch a quick Southwest flight out of Oakland at 5PM, I can touch down in Burbank a hour later and find myself ready to host a dinner by 7PM.  Then it is back to reality the next morning with the 6 AM return flight back to the Bay Area. Life continues from there.

When I cannot host a luncheon or dinner, friends like Rucker Alex will pinch in and do a wonderful job, as was the case for the Dukakis gathering in Boston.

Over the years, nobody has joined The Luncheon Society more often than Mike and Kitty Dukakis.  The first gathering took place in January 1999, when a group of us flew down to Los Angeles for a quick luncheon. It has become tradition around here that the first gathering of the year (whether lunch or dinner in either San Francisco or Los Angeles) takes place with Mike and Kitty.

Over the years, Mike has usually been several steps ahead of the pack to tell Democrats that good ol’ boring precinct walking wins elections, even in a media state like California. Democrats surged in 2006 on building a 50 state strategy and the strength Obama’s win in such unlikely venues as North Carolina, and Virginia, resulted from grassroots leather on the ground.

Democrats had a short memory and in 2010, it showed.  However, those who remembered those basic grassroots lessons emerged victorious and such was the case with Colorado Senator Michael Bennett. Bennett, who to the surprise of everybody was chosen by Governor Bill Ritter to succeed Ken Salazar (who became President Obama’s Secretary of the Interior) had no natural political base.  He fought off a white knuckle challenge from the Speaker of the House and barely squeaked by in the general election against Tea Party Republican Ken Buck.  Bennett attributes his win to the Dukakis edict. He built an organization on the fly and won those crucial counties.

Dukakis was able to partially organize California in 1988 and reversed the Mondale rout from four years earlier and set the table for Clinton’s win in 1992.  Dukakis organized roughly 15,000 of the states 35,000 voter precincts and while Mondale lost the state by 1.5 million votes, Dukakis only lost the state by a slim 300,000. Clinton would win four years later by 1.5 million votes, effectively turning the state from red to blue on the national level.

I’ve always believed that Dukakis was too hard on himself when reflecting upon 1988. The candidate does not plan the strategy or execute the get-out-the-vote tactics—the campaign staff does.  Until 1992, Democratic strategists remained very green, not unlike the New York Mets of the early 1960’s, and got beaten often on the national playing field.  People forget that Democrats only won one presidential election between 1964 and 1992—and Carter barely won in 1976.  The Republicans, on the other hand, played with the same basic group since 1968.  Jim Baker ran the Ford campaign of 1976 and learned lessons that were parlayed in the 1984 Reagan reelection and 1998 Bush win. When Dukakis lost John Sasso in the early going, they lost their toughest operative. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Healthcare Whistleblower Wendell Potter on his book “Deadly Spin”/Los Angeles—Hal’s Grille/March 3, 2011/Manhattan–Prime House June 8, 2011

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We were pleased that Wendell Potter joined The Luncheon Society for his second appearance, with the Los Angeles group, and a third appearance in Manhattan with our New York group. In late 2010, at a last-second gathering in San Francisco, Wendell laid out the major themes of his book, “Deadly Spin, an Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans.”  Enclosed are the notes from that earlier meeting.

One of the nice things about The Luncheon Society is that I feel comfortable enough to share the hosting duties with others, many of them very close friends. Now that The Luncheon Society has grown beyond its San Francisco origins in 2005 and moved into New York and Los Angeles, with perhaps Boston and Washington, DC down the road, these gatherings will be more of a group affair than anything I imagined when Tim Farley, Tom Koch, and I had the very first luncheon. Thanks to friends like Bobbie Wasserman, who is President of Wave 2 Alliances, she hosted a wonderful luncheon with Wendell Potter and we hope to work with her a great deal.  Thanks to my old pal Shari Foos, whose husband co-founded my favorite record label,  for handling the gathering in Manhattan

At some point in the near future, Wendell will join The Luncheon Society in Boston for another great outing.  Stay tuned. To learn more about Wendell Potter, please link to his website at

This is a story of how a healthcare insider took the bark off of the industry. For nearly two decades, Wendell Potter served as the top Public Relations executive at CIGNA and a health insurance industry insider until he resigned in 2007.  Wendell Potter’s career as an insurance industry whistleblower began in June 2009 as an expert witness in front of a US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, while the healthcare debate was still in full bloom. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/David Onek for San Francisco District Attorney/ San Francisco—One Market Restaurant/March 2, 2011

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David Onek represents a new and progressive vision as he campaigns for District Attorney of San Francisco.

David is a former San Francisco Police Commissioner and top criminal justice staffer in the San Francisco Mayor’s Office. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice and the host of the Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast. David launched his career in criminal justice working with community-based organizations to keep young people in school and out of the criminal justice system.

I am supporting David because he is equal parts sincere and effective.

At the very foundation of David’s campaign is the abiding belief that San Francisco will be safer and fairer if we bring law enforcement and the community closer together. That’s why David is building a powerful grassroots campaign by embarking on a series of 500 community events like this one all across the city.

At the start of David’s campaign, over 1,100 people have already signed on in support – elected officials, community and advocacy leaders, law enforcement officials, legal community members, neighbors and friends. You can learn more about David’s campaign at and can listen to his podcasts at

David Onek should be San Francisco’s District Attorney.

Below is an illustrative interview with Miller-McCune Magazine on how David has been able to forge partnerships to build safer communities.  The article is reprinted below; here is the link.   Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Poet and NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu on his new book, “The Poetry Lesson”/Los Angeles—Napa Valley Grille/February 25, 2011

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While teaching at LSU, Andrei Codrescu dared his students to write a poem that would get them arrested.  His students sat stumped. 

Maybe there were no new worlds to conquer in the classroom, but a half century ago, a simple poem written by Sophie Scholl during the horrors of Nazism resulted in her beheading. During the Cold War, poets and playwrights like Vaclav Havel and others often found themselves jailed or placed under the constant scrutiny of 24 hour surveillance. In oppressive societies, poetry represented a scream from the deepest parts of the soul; in free societies, poetry told the truth.

It was great to have Codrescu back with The Luncheon Society in Los Angeles, his first visit in 2 years. His new book, The Poetry Lesson, represents a summation of a long and successful teaching career. He has a new collection of poetry coming out later this year and we shall see him again in Manhattan.

Codrescu has retired from teaching at LSU and now lives on a large parcel of land in the Ozarks, complete with a spring-filled lake and two caves.  While he may be retired from the classroom, I sense that he is preparing for a renaissance because he can create, destroy, and create again (in true Dada fashion) without dealing with a number of meddling students.

A Note from Andrei Codrescu: “My new book is The Poetry Lesson, is out from Princeton University Press. I’m modestly adding some other opinions, but I must say three things: 1. the bonfire of poetic vanities is ignited, 2. poetry is the currency of the future, and 3. the enemy is at the gates. Friends, the castle is yours. Bring your pets. After a quarter of a century of amusement and terror, here are the maxims of a teaching wretch.  Intro to Poetry Writing is always like this: a long labor, a breech birth, or, obversely, mining in the dark. You take healthy young Americans used to sunshine (aided sometimes by Xanax and Adderall), you blindfold them and lead them by the hand into a labyrinth made from bones. Then you tell them their assignment: ‘Find the Grail. You have a New York minute to get it.” Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Wesley Stace-John Wesley Harding on his new novel and a collection of his new music/San Francisco-Credo/February 25, 2011

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On occasion, Luncheon Society gatherings materialize from thin air at the last moment.  When this happens, things can get crazy and we quietly wonder if we can pull things together in time. However, there are other times when being impulsive is the only route; the experience and the conversation are simply fantastic.  This is especially the case when you’re with somebody as multi-talented as Wesley Stace/John Wesley Harding.

Stace, who records under the name of John Wesley Harding, read the opening chapter of his new novel, Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, and then played an acoustic set from his latest CD.  We gathered in the private dining room of Credo, a freewheeling restaurant tucked several floors below the Financial District on Pine Street in San Francisco.  We were in luck; acoustics were perfect as the music resonated off of the cement walls in the basement.

Some are able to compartmentalize themselves into two brilliant double lives; it’s twice as fun as we’re all the better for it. Go for it, Wes.

Days earlier, Wes was profiled in The New York Times, who praised his ability as a “double threat,” in both writing and in music.  He is an inviting person and within a few short minutes the group dove into some great conversation. A hour earlier when he entered into the room, I knew him as recording artist John Wesley Harding; when he left we all knew him as Wesley Stace. We will be together with both (!) in Manhattan on of April 6th, for an evening gathering at a place to be named soon.  Join us if you can.

Enjoy a great interview with Rumpus Magazine posted on February 24th, the day before our gathering in San Francisco. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Silicon Valley pioneer William Draper on his new book, “The Start Up Game”/San Francisco—Credo/February 22, 2011

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In late 2010, I got an email from Becky Draper, a friend and Bill’s daughter, to organize a Luncheon Society to support her father’s book.  Besides being the founding rock upon which Silicon Valley was built, he and Pitch Johnson made those early investments in the valley back in the day when what a VC actually did had to be explained to emerging entrepreneurs. Of course, we quickly said yes.

Draper’s father was a banker at Dillon Reed, an army officer, and diplomat. During the Berlin Airlift, the senior Draper worked with General Lucius Clay, who organized the rescue of the city after it had been cut off by the Soviets. The younger Draper was there too, as an attaché to his father.

After the war and a job at Inland Steel, he and Pitch Johnson headed west to make their fortunes. Those thoughts and other are found in his new book, The Startup Game, and it is a book that has been well-received in many quarters. The majority of those around the table were in the starting phases of their own entrepreneurial efforts.

Since the “q and a” piece by Dan Primack captured so much of the conversation, I just decided to rerun his piece. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Jonathan Alter and Richard Wolffe/Obama Midterm in his First Term/Manhattan—PrimeHouse/February 10, 2011

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Richard Wolffe and Jonathan Alter have put together the best historical first draft of the Obama Presidential Campaign and the first two years of the Presidency. Richard Wolffe wrote Renegade, the inside story of the rise of Barack Obama and his campaign as it emerged from the doldrums of 2007 to the early caucuses and primaries into the Denver Convention in 2008.  The Promise, by Jonathan Alter, follows the Obama White House through the early days of the Obama White House, including the challenges of building out an endgame of Afghanistan and dealing with some of the conflicting personalities on his economic team.  In the third book in the troika, Richard Wolffe returns with Revival, which expands the thematics of his first book and parachutes them right into the healthcare debate.  

Richard Wolffe has joined The Luncheon Society on three occasions (most recently last December 2010 in Los Angeles) and Jonathan Alter has joined us twice, both times in Manhattan.

A great story before we begin.  Steve Schlesinger, the son of Arthur Schlesinger Jr, a former speechwriter for Mario Cuomo and the Director of the World Policy Institute at the New School University reflected on the irony that during the 1980’s his father’s next door neighbor was non-other than Richard Nixon, the bete noire of the Kennedy Administration. His younger brother Robert would look over the back fence only to be shooed away by the Secret Service and when Nixon sat out in the backyard, it was often in full suit and tie.

To get a detailed breakout of the gathering we had in Los Angeles with Richard Wolffe, here are the notes from that gathering.  Revival came out as the profile of the Administration was battered from the midterms, but between the release and that December dinner, Barack Obama made the best use of the Lame Duck session and compiled the best legislative record since Lyndon Johnson’s first full term. Continue reading