SIA Teabaggers don't think US government is Fab

The annual Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) dinner Thursday night in San Jose, Calif. seemed to focus rather little on chips, and rather a lot on tea. Tea-bagging that is.

Indeed, the only ‘chipping’ in evidence was at the current US government, as angry speaker after angry speaker stood up and demanded an end to taxation, an end to government meddling, an end to foreign workers doing what should be good ole American jobs. “Party like its 1773” should have been the dinner’s tagline (or disclosure, depending on your political sensibilities.)

The first clue that the event would focus more on talk of cutting taxes than cutting edge nanotechnology was that the average age of the attendees was around 70 years old. And at least 30 percent had elegant white moustaches. Always a bad sign.

SIA luminariesThe stench of money pervaded the air as the good old boys slapped each other on the back and congratulated one another for the recent Republican political victories, lamenting only the fact that the party hadn’t taken over both house and senate.

“Stop taxing America out of achieving excellence” was a much repeated rallying call of the evening, with Medicare predictably taking the fall for all of the country’s woes. That and the automobile industry bailout. “Our government can imagine a world without science, but not without chevvys!” boomed one speaker as he took the podium.

It’s worth noting that the SIA recently shifted its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Washington in order to exert more political pressure to achieve its aims.

John Daane, CEO of Altera and outgoing chairman of the SIA told the audience it was critical Washington be lobbied harder about increasing R&D spending, even in times of crisis, although where exactly he wants that money to come from if not from taxes is all a bit of a mystery to us.

Daane also railed on the US education system, warning that the US would lose its “technology leadership” if it didn’t channel more money into the basic sciences – a good point, but again, one which simply can’t be achieved without, ehem, taxes.

But Daane, like the other teabaggers, er, SIA members in the room doesn’t like taxes. Taxes, you see, are un-American.

The US, he said (obviously quoting Fox News), has the second-highest corporate tax rate in the world. And while it may be technically accurate that America has the second highest corporate tax rate of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the statement is in practice false. Actually America has the fourth lowest corporate tax revenues among those nations, because of all the special tax favors the government currently doles out to corporations and because many corporations shirk their patriotic tax responsibilities and park profits overseas.

Americans should apparently not be relying on their government to help the economy, said one speaker. Government should stay out of corporations’ business – except if it wants to just invest lots of money and not expect taxes for it. Real men don’t need government, real men need fabs!

If the U.S. doesn’t make its tax policies more corporate-friendly, said Daane, it risks losing investments in multibillion-dollar chip factories to other countries.

Of course, despite the economic crisis, and the democrats, chip makers have just reported their best year ever, in the entire history of chip making. Indeed revenues are at $300 billion, up 32.8% from last year. But the harbingers of doom and gloom are apparently predicting sales to slow down to just six percent growth in 2011 and 3.4%, really cutting into those billions and billions.

“Stop taxing the so-called rich,” said George F. Will, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Columinist and keynoter at the event. The audience applauded in approval over their filet mignon.

America, he said, was being faced with “intellectual vertigo” and needed to be talked down from this crazy notion of welfare, providing money to pay for medicare for those who can’t afford insurance. Give money to the semiconductor industry instead, leave the old and sick to die, goddamit. Survival of the fittest and all that.

Immigration was a topic of the night too, with several speakers noting how unfair it was that foreign – and better educated – workers were replacing Americans in the workplace. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also came under fire from the SIA’s new president, Brian Toohey, a former head of the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying group.

What did the EPA do to invoke Toohey’s wrath? Well, the organisation wants new rules monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, which sounds sensible, but of course, it would cost the industry millions of dollars in new, cleaner equipment purchases and that – THAT – the SIA simply cannot stomach. Leave the grandchildren to clean up the environmental mess, goddamit, we have money to make and dirty fabs to run.

Actually, that may be a little unfair. After all, it is true that the EPA is somewhat unrealistic in its demands, and it is also true that some of the permits it wants would require chip factories to jump through certain hoops that could take them 12-18months to complete – an eternity in the semi business – but before raising its pitchforks and demonising the EPA, perhaps the SIA would do better to educate the SIA and come up with some compromises? Or would compromising be un-American?

Yes, the American chip industry boasts 185,000 employees which power a $1.1 trillion electronics industry which employ an additional six million people. We get it. It’s very, very important. And yes, the US should absolutely be investing in its science education, in its R&D programs and in its own citizens’ job opportunities, but none of that is going to happen out of empty government coffers with no tax money in them. No, SIA, it’s not fair or right to take away medicare from old people in order to fund the fab which will make chips for the next Dell phone. Sorry.

The first part of your message is sound, SIA, but capitalism without a social conscience is just not right or desirable. However American it may be.