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Apple, Obama and gay marriage


Labour Day in New Zealand strikes me as a good time to write about Apple and politics. I know - of good peasant stock, I should be kicking back, beer in hand and watching the footy, and not working. But hey, I prefer soccer and the Under 17 Women's World Cup starts in New Zealand today.

Anyway, Apple recently took the almost unprecedented step of broadcasting its support for what amounts to a workers' rights issue in California.

Apple announced it is donating nearly $180,000 (US$100,000) to the 'No on 8' campaign.

This campaign is fighting Proposition 8, a Californian General Election 2008 initiative to eliminate the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

If Proposition 8 gets voted in, a new section would be added to the Californian Constitution stating "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognised in California."

Apple's official statement said "We strongly believe that a person's fundamental rights - including the right to marry - should not be affected by their sexual orientation. Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8."

Apple cites its history as one of the first Californian companies to offer equal benefits to its employees' same-sex partners as an impetus for its donation to the anti Proposition 8 cause.

Of course, Apple is not the only Silicon Valley company to prominently oppose the ballot. The Los Angeles Times reported that Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have also donated a substantial amount of money to the No on 8 campaign.

While it's not surprising that Apple would publicly fight a clause that could disenfranchise and limit some of its workers' lives, Apple's workers in turn are overwhelmingly backing Obama in his campaign for president.

Mac info site 9to5 Mac reports that while workers at the chip maker (and Intel competitor) AMD donated US$5900 to Obama and US$6100 to his Republican rival John McCain, the figures for Apple were US$98,023 to Obama and $16,950 to McCain. That's nearly six times more to Obama. So I guess you could say that nearly six times more Apple employees support a dynamic and youthful Democrat than support an ageing Republican and his increasingly alarming running mate. You might also note that despite the fact that former Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore sits on Apple's board, people working at Apple Inc feel free to endorse McCain by sending money if they want to.

And hey, if Obama loses, he can always get a post on Apple's board, right? Which is all cool with me, BTW.

And while we're comparing Googles with Apples, Google employees poured even more in Obama's campaign chests - US$485,961 vs $20,600 for the Republicans. In fact, you could categorically say that Silicon Valley employees overwhelmingly support Obama, if you look through all the figures at 9to5 Mac. The average across the 20 largest Silicon Valley companies is five times to the favour of Obama.

It might also strike you as odd that while Silicon Valley seems chock-full of workers who would presumably vote Democrat (if they're sending their wages to Democrats, we must assume they'd also vote that way), these workers happen to live and work in a state (California) that would take the retrograde and anti-humanist step of banning the official recognition of same sex relationships.

Back to Apple - why do Apple workers support the Democrats? Apple CEO Steve Jobs has himself long been a Democrat benefactor, and in 2003 there was even a campaign to get him to run for president. Over the years Jobs has (reportedly) personally donated US$228,000 to Democratic campaigns - and an inexplicable US$1000 to the Republicans. I wonder if the Republican donation was accompanied by a note saying "Don't spend it all at once"?

In case you're wondering what a US Democrat is, despite their livery being blue, they're the rough equivalent of the NZ and British Labour parties. In other words, slightly to the left of centre. A Republican is the US version of NZ's National Party or the Conservatives of Britain, so they sit slightly (or more than slightly, in the case of some Republicans) to the right of centre.

And if you're wondering what 'left' means, people on the left believe humans are intrinsically good, that justice should be shared equally and opportunity should be open to all.

If you're wondering what 'right' means, the right believes people are intrinsically bad so need laws to regulate them, while profit should be allowed to be the primary motivating force. You can see where this logic has led just by glancing at news headlines featuring the word 'recession'. In a nutshell, you could say the right wants to regulate people, not business and the left wants to regulate business for the benefit of people.

It's hard to bring this political thinking back to a company that makes computers, phones and music players. Apple has resisted the temptation to borrow to extremes, yet it's cash rich. It has resisted the temptation to make bargain basement machines, concentrating on packing them with good quality (and recyclable) hardware and software instead. But Apple's base philosophy has always been to make devices that enable people to achieve - and it has grown rich doing so.

How many other companies have done the same?


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