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Dot com bombs
Myths of the "new economy" exposed

MOVIES: Secrets of Silicon Valley, produced and directed by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman.

Review by STEVE LEIGH | June 22, 2001 | Page 11

SECRETS OF Silicon Valley will eliminate any illusions you might still have about the "new economy."

This documentary illustrates in clear terms the reality behind the hype--that the high-tech wealth of Hewlett-Packard (HP) and other computer giants is built on the sweat, low wages and ill health of thousands of workers who toil for temporary agencies.

One beautiful feature of the movie is that it exposes the Internet millionaires as pompous and greedy slugs.

One executive tells us that the "new economy isn't about money but about knowledge"--only to later confess that "my money is my energy, my life force."

While computer company CEOs pontificate about how different everything is in the digital age, the movie shows how workers face the same problems as in other industries and other "ages."

Take Raj, a temp worker who speaks up for his coworkers at Hewlett-Packard and tries to organize them.

Raj points out that many of his coworkers have bronchitis, nosebleeds and other respiratory problems--conditions they didn't have before they came to work at HP's plant.

When he raises this on the safety committee, he's first removed from the committee--and then fired.

Another hero of the movie is Magda Escobar, who runs Plugged In, a computer training center for low-income people in East Palo Alto, Calif.

She struggles to find funding to keep her center open--and finally gets a modest donation from HP--what is, in fact, a drop in the bucket compared to the huge corporation's sales.

The truth is that HP has set production quotas at an inhuman pace--but workers, many of whom are people of color and immigrants, have few other options.

Most temps max out at $8 an hour. Compare that to HP's CEO, who rakes in more than $50 million a year!

But we shouldn't worry about this disparity, says Avra Miller, another Internet millionaire, because "greed isn't a bad thing if it makes people do good things."

The film ends by describing some of the "good things" that the greed of Miller and the others has brought about--Silicon Valley has some of the highest housing costs, the largest gap between the rich and poor and most superfund toxic sites of any area in the U.S.

Secrets of Silicon Valley is a well-crafted film that presents the evidence and lets the audience draw its own conclusions.

The so-called "digital divide" is about more than who can afford the latest software.

Go see Secrets of Silicon Valley to find out why.

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