Monday, April 28, 2008

Final Thoughts on Houston Have Your Say

It has taken me a while to get this together, there is so much to think about and write about. I think you can tell by how long it is. Sorry about that.

My initial quick post from Friday (with pictures) can be found here. If you want to see the material written as part of the "live blogging", you can find it here on the HoustonPBS: Houston Have Your Say.
So here we go!

Part I

First of all, I want to compliment KUHT PBS 8 Houston for their top notch planning, programming and help!

The more I examine or "un-pack" this in my mind, the more amazed I am at the participants in this program. A lot of work went into the planning of this and the picking of the people to participate. It showed. Every person was there for a reason, for important reasons, and I must commend the organizers/planners of this show for putting so much time, effort and outright "heart" into it. It showed.

Secondly, the people in the background cannot be complimented enough; they deserve it. They were available to answer questions and help out on a moments notice. Laptops were provided and were ready when we arrived. However, I am one of those throw backs that is pretty cripple when it comes to using those thumb pad thingys instead of a good old fashioned mouse. (Until laptops come with mind reading software, I am stuck with the mouse.) I asked the guy that was helping us if there was a mouse available. He said there was, and voila, a mouse was produced in short order. (It is the little the things that make everything so much better!)

The "Moderator" of all of this, Patricia Gras, was amazing to watch. I don't know what I expected, but I didn't expect what I saw. She was positively flawless. She was able to go from one person to another media, such as phone call or email, without skipping a beat. I realize she had a lot of help in the background, but still the mark of a professional is that it did not show. She listened, responded and kept on. I also like the fact she kept asking for "solutions"; more on that later. (By the way, if more media/journalist types came off as professional and respectful as she did, I think the trust factor would go up significantly.)

I also want to mention that my co-blogger in this, Charles Kuffner, was a complete gentleman. Charles is well regarded in the Liberal/Democrat circles, and frankly, I was a bit on edge about meeting him. Those feelings were completely misplaced. He was nice and kind and had a great sense of humor. Once you can laugh with someone, everything else is just a detail. Humor heals. (Frankly, it is something our leaders need to learn: laugh. Mostly, they need to laugh more about themselves and their opponents. But that is another subject and post.)

My mother, who watches PBS for the BBC programming, called this, "one of the most important programs that PBS Houston has ever put on" and mostly, "it was important for the community to have".
I would have to agree, which brings me to Part II.

Part II

If you talk to anyone for any period of time in Texas, inevitably, the conversation will some how lead into illegal immigration. At least that has been my experience. It touches us all in one way or another: through taxes, long lines in the emergency room or even our children being crowded into classes because other classes must be formed to accommodate children that are not from here, but are here now and can't speak English. These are largely negative experiences.

I got this email before I attended the program that pretty much sums it up:

ILLEGAL Immigrants financially cost my family everyday. I had to pull my son out of our public school because there are in average 3 to 4 non english speaking students in each class, this disrupts my child's education. So I pay for private school and public school taxes. I had to take my son to the emergency room and had to wait for 7 hours b/c the room was standing room only with illegal immigrants who were just sick and wanted free health care, so now I will have to pay for a higher cost to go to a privately run emergency care facility. Our small business has been taxed to the max this year with Rick Perry's new margins
tax almost to the breaking point.

Illegals are breaking our country and breaking everyday middle classed families and I am bitter and frustrated to hell about it!!

This is not to say there are positive experiences that can be derived by people risking life and limb of themselves and their family, to get here. We do have lower priced services because they are willing to work for next to nothing. We are living in a more diverse society, which is not necessarily a bad thing. There are positives.

I can go on ad-infinitum on bad and good experiences that illegal immigration brings to our country. We have heard it just about every day in one form or another for a while now.

In an election or a trial, points, counter-points and counter-counter-points are made. Somewhere along the line, you have to take action. As my mother would put it, "fish or cut bait".

I would suggest that we are at that point. This has been more recently termed the "tipping point".

We are there folks. The time has come to quit 'yer bitching and do something. Action. Solutions. It is time.

I can guarantee you one thing, no one will like it. NO ONE.

Part III

When I arrived at the PBS studios, I pretty much expected to see a whole lot of screaming and histrionics. I was laughing with Kuffner that we were in the "front row" (to be said in the voice of Bob Ukecker of Mr. Belvdere fame), half way expecting to see the great action. Those things never materialized and that is a very big part of this story.

Instead of that, the participants were quiet, respectful and listened.
For the first time in a looooong time, I saw a bunch of people talk to each and not at each other.

It has been my experience lately, that even when I speak to someone that agrees almost exactly as I do, they are still speaking at me. (Needless to say, that occurs when you are talking to someone that is polar opposite in viewpoint.) Kuffner told me has had the same experience.

That is why this program was so incredible.

The other part of it was that it was optimistic. How often have you discussed "current events" with anyone that agreed or disagreed with you that you walked away optimistic?

The program was in two parts: the first hour that aired live on Thursday night, and a second 45 minutes that was taped to be "aired" on the website. In between the two segments, was a 15 minute break to allow everyone to stretch legs and run to the restroom. Most everyone got up and talked to each other.

That's right, to paraphrase Ghostbusters, dogs and cats talking to each other.

This was perhaps the most important part of the evening even though it was not on film. People with different points of view were talking to each other about the subject matter with respectful manners, and they were were trying to get to the bottom of the situation. There was back and forth; real discussion. I honestly believe that if PBS would have taken out "handy cams" or used the big boom camera to zoom in on these conversations, they would have been worth gold. Kuffner agreed with me on this.

Part IV

Now for the nitty gritty. This is the part I am going to lose almost everyone.

There were 3 people that really stood out to me and framed the night that I would like to mention.

Please understand that there were a lot of statements and people that said very interesting and meaningful things, even though I am not setting them out here specifically.

1 - Atul Khotari- President of the Mahatma Gandhi Library. Mr. Khotari really set up the whole situation for me. His words were reminder of what this country is all about. I don't have his exact words but it was something to the effect that people crave freedom. It can not be taken out of them. They flock to the light of freedom and liberty. To have economic success on top of that, only increases the draw.

I have course have butchered his statement, but it was simple and eloquent. It also was a keen reminder to me what we are all about. Freedom and liberty. In other words, the more successful we are as a country, the more people will want to be here; the more people will risk to get here.

He also went on to mention that more needs to be done to reform the countries in which these illegal immigrants come from. I would agree with this. I would further suggest that the countries in which illegal immigrants come from, encourage this immigration in order to keep the clamour for reform down. It is used as a "pressure valve".

2 - Richard Shaw - Secretary/Treasurer, Harris County AFL/CIO. Mr. Shaw mentioned several things. First of all, part of the "devil's bargain" of the problem of Illegal Immigration is that we (the U.S.) allows these people to come here so they can work for low wages in places Americans don't want to work. I think that is not quite right; I think a lot of Americans will work these jobs, but for more money than what employers will pay.

It is a horrible and sticky situation: employers in order to be competitive and profitable, will pay illegals low wages; at the very least, employers do not pay taxes on illegal employees that is paid on comparable U.S. citizen employees. This lower operating cost means they make more money. Competitors will then at some point or another, have no choice but to lower costs or hire illegals. It is a horrible circular situation. In the meantime, the illegals are working for very little money and they are ripe for further exploitation (such as not being paid at all; who would you call and complain to?).

I have been appalled at the treatment of these people for quite a while. I am still at a loss as to why so many think that it's OK to do this.
Mr. Shaw has been working on getting these people unionized. He mentioned that anytime they are, they are then fired and replaced by non-unionized illegals. The whole cycle starts over again.

I like it. I think Mr. Shaw is on to something, plus it utilizes current laws and is simple. Unionize the illegals, bring their wages up what U.S. citizens make. Employers are then all "equal" as to cost. It will then be a decision as to hire an illegal or hire a U.S. citizen.

But mostly, even if they hire an illegal (which is still against the law), they will at least be paying taxes.

They key to most of the complaints is that illegals are not paying into the system. I know, a lot pay Social Security, which they will never see. But most do not pay income tax because they are being paid "off the books". There is nothing that will make a very normal person unhinged quicker than to bring up a tax scoffer. If an illegal has to pay the same expenses an American citizen has to pay, being here may not be quite the deal it is now and therefore, not quite as attractive. Conversely, those that are here paying into the tax system would be considered more acceptable since they are paying into the system.

3-State Sen. Dan Patrick: Sen. Patrick participated a lot. Surprisingly, Sen. Patrick and many of the participants, found common ground on some subjects. Chief among them, that it is time to get something done.

During the filming of the taped segment, Sen. Patrick came right out and said a very politically risky, yet bold statement: both sides of the political spectrum need to step away from the rhetoric and work together. He mentioned that if the room of people present were given the task of coming up with a solution in 30 days, it could be done. I agree with that. Even more surprisingly, Kuffner agreed with me too.

This is what I mean that it was almost a "magic" night. There was a lot of agreement and getting along. For instance, in the taped segment, someone mentioned (not sure who) that it costs $5,000 for a Coyote to bring someone over the border illegally. Sen. Patrick suggested that it should only cost $2,500 for someone to come to this country legally.


I found a very surprisingly high level of optimism that these problems could be solved.

My Grandfather used to tell me that the main thing that set the U.S. apart from pretty much the rest of the world is the idea that problems could be solved. It was a matter of rolling up your sleeves, and working to solve the problem. We have strayed away from this and have instead become engaged in "stand-offs".

We all need to remember that no decision is a decision and no action is a action.

I think this program was a small reminder of how things could be again.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Thoughts on "Houston Have Your Say"

If you tuned in to Houston Have Your Say last night expecting to see me on the TV, you would have been either annoyed or relieved to learn that I was on the sidelines with a laptop, liveblogging it instead. That was a somewhat daunting prospect for me, as my initial foray into that form of media wasn't terribly successful. You can read my efforts as well as those of my co-liveblogger Ree-C Murphy here and see how I did. At the very least, I think we got a lot more detail than the Chron story includes.

I'm still kind of taking it all in, as is Ree-C, who posted some pix from our vantage point here. I'm going to give a few thoughts here now, then think about it some more and see if I can come up with a coherent narrative.

- I don't know what I expected of this going into it, but I do know that I expected a fair amount of acrimony, and I was pleasantly surprised to see things remain mostly civil. There were a few jabs thrown by UH/HCCS Professor Luis Salinas and Sen. Dan Patrick at each other, but the funny thing is that in between the two segments, and again after the send half, the two of them were talking to each other, in a fairly calm manner. Here's Ree-C's observation from last night:

During the break, I noticed that people were getting together and talking with each other without animous. It was outstanding. It is the way is should be.

Solutions are made person to person. Kuffner said that Patrick and Salinas should be put in a room together and the door locked until they come up with workable solutions. I would agree in principle on that. These people in this room could be the key to working out solutions. It will depend on how far they carry it later...

(Hey, if I can talk to Kuffner with cheer and humor, anything is possible. Right? ;)

Indeed. Though, as I mentioned to someone later, a shared affinity for bad 80s TV shows, which we had, can break a lot of ice. If Mr. Belvedere can't bring us all together, what hope do we have?

- On a more serious note, I have to say that Sen. Patrick was one of the more pleasant surprises for me from this event. He got his talking points in, and he's way too fixated on "sealing the border" for my taste, but I do believe he really wants to find a solution, which is not something I would have said 24 hours ago. This dropped my jaw:

Dan Patrick: "We have to remove the fear from all sides." Calls "amnesty" a buzzword, and says a small group of people in this room with 30 days to come up with a solution would be able to do so. I must say I agree with him. There may be hope yet. Ree-C is with me on this.

He specifically said that the "extremists" on this issue were the main hindrance to a solution. I wouldn't know if he's ever said anything like this on his radio station, but he gave me the impression of acting in good faith. For that I commend him, and next spring when the Lege is in session and bad bills are flying about, I hope he remembers and acts on those words. It's going to take someone like him to change the dynamics of this debate.

- I wish I could say the same thing about some of Sen. Patrick's ideological colleagues, but the others who there representing a nativist perspective gave no indication of budging or listening. The Border Watch guy, who sat next to Patrick, and another fellow whose name and organization I've forgotten (somewhat stupidly, I failed to bring a copy of the guest list home, so I can't look it up), were prime examples of the "extremists" that Patrick said were in the way and inciting fear. Part of the dilemma here is that the nativists have a lot of "facts" that they like to cite that just aren't true. If you can't agree on what the problems are, then you can't even begin to talk about solutions. The fearmongers and xenophobes have to be marginalized in the discussion so that the legitimate concerns can be honestly discussed and dealt with.

- Still, in the end I came away feeling hopeful about this, and I think Ree-C would agree with me on that. Getting these people into the same room and getting them to talk to each other instead of at each other was a good thing, which we need a lot more of. There's still a lot of fear and ignorance out there - sadly, this came through very clearly in the video clips, call-ins to the show, emails that were read, and blog comments we've gotten - and that must be overcome, but for the first time in awhile, I feel like that can be done. It'll take a lot of work, and a willingness for people who agree on some but not all of the fundamentals to speak with one voice about the things they do agree on, but it can be done. Some leadership from our elected officials would help, but this is going to take all of us.

- Finally, I'd like to thank Patricia Gras for doing a fine job as moderator, Julie Coan with KUHT for inviting me to participate, the staff of KUHT for providing us with laptops and Internet connectivity, the panelists for their time and efforts, and my co-bloggers Ree-C and Mizanur Rahman for their camaraderie and for making liveblogging a lot more fun than I thought it could be. Having Ree-C to bounce stuff off of before and while this was going on was a big help for me, and she's right: if we can get along, so can the rest of y'all. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: I see that Michelle, who's been a stalwart in the comments here, saw Sen. Patrick in a considerably more negative light than I did. That's fair, and had he not made his comment at the end about amnesty being a buzzword and extremists hindering the debate, I'd be fully in sync with her assessment. Maybe I'm being naive, but I agreed with that sentiment, and I want to build on it. Doesn't mean we should forget what else he's had to say, of course, and she did a good job highlighting that aspect of it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The end

That is end of the taped segment.

I want to get out there and see what is going on, so I'll get you more info later.

I hope you enjoyed this. I think I can speak for Kuffner when I say the "bloggers" did.

More later!

The end

All wrapped up now. Lots of interesting discussion, more agreement and less dogma than I expected. I'll post some deeper thoughts about this tomorrow. For now, it was a great experience, made better by having fellow bloggers to bounce thoughts off of. Thanks for reading, and good night.

Hour Two: The followup discussion

Continuing the discussion...

Joan Schaan cites numbers, saying between 10 and 30% of crossers get caught, and 10% have a criminal record, though she thinks that might be low.

Charles Foster says "criminal records" will include a lot of minor infractions, and any large group will have some bad actors.

Curtis Collier stumps for the border fence and brings up terrorists. Gordon Quan reminds him that Homeland Security has found no cases of suspected terrorists crossing the Mexican border to enter the country.

A guest who neither Ree-C nor I can identify notes that it costs $5K to pay a coyote to be smuggled into the country.

Alberto Cardenas with Vinson & Elkins and Americans for Immigration Reform puts the blame on Congress for not creating a solution. "We can agree on border security, but what do we do after that?"

Orlando Sanchez reiterates the point that immigrants come from all over, not just Mexico, and agrees with Prof. Salinas about "vilifying" them; he also blames Congress.

Schaan: "The profits of human smuggling are approaching those of drug smuggling."

Angela Blanchard says we'll be insecure until we provide a path to legalization for the current undocumented immigrants.

Erika de la Garza reminds everyone that illegals pay into Social Security but won't be able to collect it.

Lots of statements of problems, but not much in the solutions department, which Patricia Gras is trying to get people to focus on.

Massey Villareal: "We have too much emotion on this issue. It doesn't do any good to yell at each other across the street, we need to sit down at the same table and talk to each other."

More speechifying, still no solutions.

Foster: We had no quotas on Latin American immigration until 1968. With a legal program, many immigrants who come here with their children would maintain ties back home and some would return.

Back to comprehensive immigration reform: What does it look like?

Back row commenter: DREAM Act is earned citizenship, it is not given.

Collier says "take amnesty off the table" and stumps for "earned citizenship".

Cardenas says we have 60,000 non-citizens serving in the military. "We need an ability to begin a registration process for the undocumented immigrants here in order to move forward."

Dan Patrick: "We have to remove the fear from all sides." Calls "amnesty" a buzzword, and says a small group of people in this room with 30 days to come up with a solution would be able to do so. I must say I agree with him. There may be hope yet. Ree-C is with me on this.

Blanchard: "Amnesty is about forgiveness. We've done it before, we'll need to do something like it again."

People who haven't spoken yet are being given the chance to comment. One of them notes that retiring baby boomers are going to need to be replaced in the workforce somehow.

I'm going to hit Publish now while I can.

Taped segment

Joan Neuhaus Schaan of Rice University is talking about how some illegals are being apprehended and 10% have criminal records. It is unclear as to what kind of "criminal record" this is.

Gordon Quan just said that illegals are being used as the "bogey man" as being the cause of crime; in other words, they are scapegoating the illegals.

One lady says that it is hard and cost a lot to cross the border. I agree. It should not be such an arduous process. I think it was Fred Thompson that said we should have a high fence and wide gate. I think that is the way to go.

Alberto Cardenas is talking about how so many were against the 2006 and 2007 legislation, but no one has put up solutions.

Orlando Sanchez made the following points:
1. There are illegal immigrants from all over the world
2. We tend to vilify or scapegoat the illegals, we need to vilify the ones that are sent to Washington and they do not do they job.

At this point, I can't keep track of who is who, so this is going to be more free flow:

Joan Neuhaus Schaan: The lack of security needs to be addressed in order to go forward. The profits for people smuggling is approaching that of drug smuggling. (If you want to see this graphically illustrated, see

One lady: The problem is that we don't know who is here and that makes us insecure.

The participants are begining to call for or to mention as a need "comprehinsive" immigration reform.)

What does that look like: Dream Act; earned legalization. Get them out of the shadows.

Does that mean amnesty for everyone? Collier says take that off the table and instead have "earned citizenship".

Cardenas: We need to find out who is here and get them registered.

Dan Patrick: Remove fear of all sides. Get both sides confident; don't listen to extremes on both sides. If only the participants in this room were given 30 days to solve the problem, he believes it could be done.

Instead of people spending 5K to get here illegally, charge them $2500 to get here legally.

My comment: During the break, I noticed that people were getting together and talking with each other without animous. It was outstanding. It is the way is should be.

Solutions are made person to person. Kuffner said that Patrick and Salinas should be put in a room together and the door locked until they come up with workable solutions. I would agree in principle on that. These people in this room could be the key to working out solutions. It will depend on how far they carry it later...

(Hey, if I can talk to Kuffner with cheer and humor, anthing is possible. Right? ;)

End of first hour

That was the fastest hour I've had in a while. I haven't had time to digest what all went on and give more comments and all. I will do that later.

This is the best part of the show and it's a shame it isn't being shown on TV. Everyone is up and around talking to each other. This would be an awesome part of the show; go gaggle to gaggle and pick up conversations.

It wouldn't surprise me if real solutions would arise from this. Solutions often arise from person to person connectivity...