MIKE HONDA - THE UN-TITAN
By David Bacon
The editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle thinks a Silicon Valley Congressman should speak for the billionaires who have a voice and want an even louder one.
Perhaps thanks are due the board for making the choice between Mike Honda and Ro Khanna so clear. If we want a Congress member, it argues, who will be a voice for "those high-tech titans (Eric Schmidt of Google, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo among them)" we should follow its recommendation and dump Mike Honda, and install Ro Khanna.
The board goes further. "The word among tech executives [who have graciously passed it on to the board] who are supporting Khanna is that incumbent Honda generally has been supportive of their positions. They just want more. They want -- and this district deserves -- a stronger voice in Washington."
Of course, most people who live in this district are not billionaires. In fact, according to Working Partnerships' report on economic polarization in Silicon Valley, Life in the Valley Economy (http://www.wpusa.org/Publication/#LIVE12), the number of households with incomes under $10K (inflation-adjusted) more than doubled - up 127.7% (from 11,556 in 2000 to 26,310 in 2010). The number of households making $50,000 to $199,000 dropped from 62% to 55%.
"Whereas in the hourglass economy of the 1990s," its report said in 2010, "the Valley saw a shrinking middle class with some middle class families falling down and others rising up, the real income distribution trend is now shaped less like an hourglass and more like an old-fashioned Victorian gown: small on the top, squeezed ever tighter in the middle, and ballooning out at the bottom."
In 2012, in the middle of the Valley's "economic recovery," it added, "From 2000 to 2010, real median household income in the Valley has fallen by 19% - more than three times the national decline. It's not that the region has stopped producing wealth. Total personal income flowing into Silicon Valley increased, as did per capita earnings for workers. But a disproportionate share of this growth is flowing to a small segment of highly compensated individuals - leaving the majority of working families struggling to get by on reduced incomes."
In other words, creating a good business environment for the "high-tech titans" benefitted them, but didn't benefit the vast majority of people. The "commitment to meritocracy" lauded by the editorial as its reason for supporting Ro Khanna, is actually a commitment to the welfare of the wealthiest 1% of Silicon Valley. Perhaps Mr. Khanna is committed to the welfare of more than the titans. It doesn't seem likely, though, given that those titans are financing his race, and that according to the Chronicle, he condemns "ideological protest votes or budgets."
It is to Mike Honda's credit that he has been concerned, throughout his political career, with the welfare of the Valley's working families, especially middle and low-income families. The editorial does recognize Honda's "unwavering commitment to civil rights." That commitment was shown last year, when he supported immigrant workers who were losing their jobs as a result of the overzealous application of immigration "silent raids" at local worksites. These were the ordinary working people of the Valley -- construction workers, cafeteria workers and the people who process our recycling.
Mr. Khanna, who worked on trade policy at the Department of Commerce, supports the "more competitive, free and fair trade [that] grows the economies of participating nation [from his website: http://www.rokhanna.com/economy]." These are the trade policies like NAFTA, and now the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, that displace millions of farmers and workers in countries like Mexico, plunging them into poverty and giving them no alternative other than migrating in search of work, including to the U.S. He calls for allowing U.S. corporations (Silicon Valley giants prominent among them) to repatriate the enormous profits they've kept outside the country in order to avoid paying taxes on them.
It's a familiar idea -- support industry with subsidies, tax credits and political clout, and industry will create jobs. Unfortunately, the record of the Valley titans is that they've taken the subsidies over the years, and then relocated tens of thousands of jobs out of the Valley, searching for low wages and even bigger subsidies.
Silicon Valley industry has a long record of hating unions, of chemical contamination of the environment, of avoiding the social costs of industrial expansion, and of using the wealth generated in our community to try to bend politics its way. In California we've had two decades of experience with industrial titans who want to buy their way into office, to better serve the interests of those already at the top of our society.
Most people in Silicon Valley recognize that Mike Honda, a former schoolteacher, is not one of them. Thanks to the Chronicle editorial board for pointing that out.