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.

No comments: