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As a rule, I like Peter Byrne’s reporting but in this week’s SFWeekly, he’s really screwed up.
In what Congressional candidate Ro Khanna correctly and bravely labels a story with “racist overtones,” Byrne takes a stab at analyzing the Khanna’s first-time effort to win the 12th District Democratic primary against Rep. Tom Lantos. But he bit off more than he could chew. And the every-which-way-but-loose story that appears in this week paper is a mess. The leaps that Byrne makes between Khanna’s first generation Indian backers – men who make their money years before was a glimmer in anyone’s eye — and the candidate himself aren’t pretty. They are racist.

Khanna has no hope of winning; this is his first outing. That doesn’t mean his politics should be scrutinized. They absolutely should. But Byrne, and I suspect many of those who have endorsed Khanna as a Lefty, including San Francisco Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Matt Gonzalez, have made what may come to be classic – and classically erroneous – assumptions about Silicon Valley politics. They have assumed that one position that’s kind of Lefty translates to others.
But Silicon Valley isn’t party loyal, a fact that could have served as one angle for Byrne’s piece; the one he seems to have stared with. He had plenty of opportunity to make this point in his interviews with Khanna supporters. For example, one of his backers, billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla (who has since left the firm with which Byrne identifies him) also supported Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Khanna also has the support of Larry Lessig, an influential voice on the ‘net on copyright and other issues. Lessig — who would probably argue against many of the positions Khanna took as a corporate copyright attorney — has endorse Khanna and raised money for him.
There’s a connection here and it’s not just TCP/IP. The politics of Silicon Valley, politics Khanna neatly represents, are the politics of business and of doing business on the web. This is what I mean when I talk about Progressive Libertarians and it’s what’s definitely new — along with his Indian background — about Khanna and his candidacy. That could have served as a way for Byrne to look at Khanna and his business background but it’s another road not taken.
Byrne also makes the mistake of trying to juxtapose Khanna’s politics against the very complicated and extremely contentious issue of job out-sourcing to India and other countries. Khanna does a good job of making the point that large Silicon Valley companies, like Oracle, are the main outsource culprits and you can read his overly detailed take-down of Byrne’s story here.
Byrne should also have done more research on TIE. The Indian-American organization to which pretty much every Silicon Valley Indian American or immigrant in the area belongs, was started to take money made in the U.S. and invest it in India companies. It was not created to encourage outsourcing. In fact, its main focus has been not on helping American corporations but on helping Indians in India and America by letting them share in the wealth created in Silicon Valley during the bubble. It sponsors business education forums, networking events and the like (I’m a member). And while outsourcing has become do-able in India in large part because of investments made by guys like Khanwal Rekhi, and other Khanna supporter, that’s not an anti-American conspiracy that’s TIE’s fault.
Byrne also skips right over a very important aspect of out-sourcing one that makes it a very difficult issue to put into the black and white, union v. scab, first v. third world fashion that’s come to characterize most political writing these days.
Many American-based Indians think outsourcing is good for both countries because it is helping create and sustain a vibrant and stable middle class. A vibrant and stable Indian middle class will support American interest – political and economic – at a time when, let’s face it, this country could use all the help it can get. Byrne doesn’t wander into that thicket at all. It’s too bad. It might have provided yet another angle for his story: a piece about the very complicated, emotional and financial relationships many Indians have with their native land. That’s a story; one well within Byrne’s reach as a reporter and writer. It’s a shame he didn’t see it.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 12:39 PM | Permalink

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