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CTIA Draws Politicos, Visionaries To Show

Two former presidential candidates and the Declaration of Independence put in guest appearances here at last week’s CTIA Wireless 2008 convention.

Ex-candidates John Edwards and Fred Thompson shared the stage on the third day of the wireless trade show, which previously hosted such luminaries as former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, former British prime minister John Major, Colin Powell and Jimmy Carter, not to mention Neil Armstrong, who made a private presentation to invited guests a few years back.

Edwards and Thompson, however, were overshadowed by the appearance of one of 25 remaining copies of the Declaration of Independence printed on July 4, 1776. It’s owned by TV producer Norman Lear and was brought to the show by carrier Leap Wireless, which partnered with Lear’s Declare Yourself organization, a non-profit organization that encourages 18-year-olds to register and vote.

Sir Richard Branson also appeared, as did Marty Cooper, who was with Motorola on April 3, 1973, when he made the first public phone call from a prototype handheld mobile phone. Cooper received an award from CTIA chief Steve Largent to honor the historic event, which convinced the FCC to include a mandate for handheld wireless phones, not just installed car phones, in the country’s analog-cellular standard.

Branson, who runs the Virgin business empire, recounted his start as a “hippie record-company boss” who entered 300 businesses over the decades, including the airline business in 1984, the railroad business in 1997 and Virgin Mobile in 1999, when he also started Virgin Galactic, which plans to launch tourists and commercial cargo into space.

Speaking of space, Branson suggested that a “technological solution is probably the only solution” to global warming. That solution would extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and it could potentially regulate the earth’s temperature, he said, by extracting gas from the atmosphere when the earth is hot and putting some back when it’s cold. Last year, Branson offered a $25 million prize for the best technological solution to extract the gas and save the planet.

 Though a self-described hippie, Branson clearly hasn’t embraced the Luddite techno-phobia of many of his hippie peers, but to suggest mankind can create a giant thermostat to regulate the earth’s temperature might be taking things to the other extreme.

In their comments, Edwards and Thompson were not so “visionary,” which might explain why they dropped out of the race, nor were their words as profound as those in the Declaration. In fact, they had very little new or noteworthy to say. Edwards railed against the media’s campaign coverage, which focuses on the horse race and not on the candidates’ differences on the issues. “The American people deserve much more than that,” he said.

Nothing new here as I recall TV-news coverage of the 1976 presidential campaign, when network coverage included President Gerald Ford getting his suit soiled by a cow while campaigning on a farm.

Edwards also commented on the world’s interconnectedness. “The consumption of resources is accelerating at a rate that binds all of us together,” he said. The growth of consumption around the world also threatens the planet’s health. “We’re in a great race with China for the honor of the world’s greatest polluter.” That explains why China will be included in the next worldwide global-warming treaty.

The country, he continued, “needs vision to deal with [the world’s] interconnectedness.”

For his part, Thompson bested Edwards in the humor department. Thompson said he arrived in Vegas the previous night “under heavy sniper fire” and passed the hotel’s craps tables, “where he hadn’t seen so many losers since my first presidential debate.”

Now that he’s bowing out of politics, Thompson said he longs to return to the “realism, sincerity and high standards of Hollywood.”

Thompson’s later comments were far more sober. He lamented the “cynicism of the American people,” whom he said have “no faith and confidence in their leaders.” If presidential candidates offer solutions to such issues as “locked-in entitlement spending,” which pales in comparison to Congress’s pork-barrel spending, “who will believe them?” Right now, he said, the country needs “credibility in leadership” because “some of the solutions are not easy ones.”

Because of their cynicism, voters are placing a “premium on personal qualities,” and that, he concludes “explains the phenomenon of John McCain.”

Edwards later picked up on that theme but didn’t name names. “People are looking for conviction and honesty” and not for someone whose convictions “change with the winds,” he said.

I, too, am looking for that candidate and will run through heavy sniper fire if necessary to cast my ballot.