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'Shop Talk': The Dream Act — A Dream Deferred?

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

MARIO LOYOLA: Good morning. How are you guys?

KAI WRIGHT: Lovely to be here.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's get things started with the stoppage, the National Basketball Association lockout. Pablo, man, looks like pretty soon you'll be covering staring contests and beer pong tournaments if the NFL and the NBA continue...


PABLO TORRE: My college experience finally comes in.

MARTIN: I was going to say - right?

IZRAEL: I'm saying if they continue to be MIA, man, what's Sports Illustrated going to do, right? Well, last ditch talks broke down and the collective bargaining agreement between the players and the team owners, expired at midnight, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, yeah. So, of course, we've talked about the National Football League. And now that's two major pro sports leagues shutting down. This is NBA commissioner David Stern. This is how he characterized the negotiations between players and team owners. Here it is.


DAVID STERN: We've got a huge philosophical divide. The players' perspective, as annunciated by their economists, says you've been happy losing money, you should continue to lose money.

IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Michel. Wow. Profound stuff. Pablo.

TORRE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: Yeah, I know, right? They're trying to figure out how to work with the league's $4.3 billion in revenue. That's a lot of money. Break this down for us. What's the problem here?

TORRE: Yeah. The problem is that the NBA owners are crying poor. I mean, we thought the NFL was bad in terms of the lockout stuff. The NFL is printing money. The NBA claims that 22 of 30 teams are losing it. And obviously there's some clever accounting involved there. But the bottom line is that basketball is, relative to the NFL, in a far, far worse place.

So the NBA wants to be more like the insanely profitable NFL. They want smaller player salaries, non-guaranteed contracts, a hard salary cap. Basically all things that would save the owners from their own mistakes, right? These are all things that they can impose on themselves, but they can't seem to do it, so they want legislation in the collective bargaining agreement that says they cannot do it.

And so right now, horribly enough, as Michel said, first time in history, actually, we have an NFL and NBA lockout simultaneously. And, honestly, we should prepare to cover tiddlywinks and beer pong. I mean, this is something that will last. At this point, the canyon is so big that it should last for an entire year, an entire season, which is a shame, obviously, given the interest level and the storylines you've been talking about for an entire year with LeBron James and all of that. And so, the NBA, yeah, it goes on and gets on the backburner and we get to cover, you know, clever accounting rules and labor law, which all sports fans love, obviously.

MARTIN: But, Pablo, could you just clarify one thing for me? What's David Stern's role in this as commissioner?

TORRE: Right. His role is, you know, the cynic will say his role is to answer to the owners and be their whipping boy, essentially. I mean, there's, I mean, realistically there is a certain minority of owner, numerically, who really, you know, the teams that aren't making a lot of money, the smaller market teams and, you know something? Actually, the Boston Celtics owner, Wyc Grousbeck, actually is in this group too.

But basically there's a faction that wants to be like the NFL. And David Stern, his job is to, you know, right now he's aligning with them and he's basically doing their bidding - for better and for worse.

MARTIN: But aren't the finances of the NBA more transparent than the NFL? I mean, isn't one of the issues in the - I guess what I'm asking is what's the difference between the two?

TORRE: Exactly. That's true.

MARTIN: Because one of the issues for the NFL players is that they're saying, open your books.

TORRE: Right.

MARTIN: You're crying poor. We think you're printing money, open your books. They're saying, not going to happen. Whereas, at least on the NBA side, do I have it right that they're - the finances are more transparent?

TORRE: Completely.

MARTIN: So at least they have a more good faith basis for their negotiations.

TORRE: Completely. They do have the documentation. And David Stern, to his credit, has released all of that. The problem still is, you know, and I won't get into the minutia of accounting rules, which I've had to learn about, unfortunately in the past week. There are ways to talk about revenue. I mean, when you get a sports team, that is one aspect of a business. You also get the revenue from all the properties surrounding it.

I mean, these companies, these billionaires are not - I mean, some of them are losing money, to be sure. Do I think 22 or 30 are claiming a loss in actual revenue, in real time money? I doubt that. And so it's a question of, you know, it's their right, at the bottom line - it's their right to make profit. It's a business. But are they as poor as they think they are? I think that's a dubious claim, to be sure.

IZRAEL: Mm. All right. Thanks. Kai, you're going to be bummed if your Knicks don't take the court, man this fall?


WRIGHT: I think I'm going to go on quite the same. I'm looking forward to the coverage of the tiddlywinks. I think there might be something interesting there, you know.


IZRAEL: Somebody might get an eye put out of something there.

WRIGHT: Yeah. You know.

MARTIN: Curling.

WRIGHT: Curling?

MARTIN: You heard it here first. Curling. We're all going to have to learn curling.

IZRAEL: Hackensack slaps, you know, we could just go on and on with extreme sports. Mario, what are your thoughts, man?

LOYOLA: Well, I just keep thinking about what Winston Churchill had to say about the NBA lockout, and never have so few spent so much time arguing over so much money.



MARTIN: I don't remember him saying that.


IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: Are you sure you did?

LOYOLA: Yeah, he, it's a little known quote.



IZRAEL: Evidently it is, right?

TORRE: But that's an interesting point there. And this is Pablo just jumping back in.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Pablo.

TORRE: I mean, sports fans love these games so much that players and owners despite their, whatever tensions they may have, they can hold this lockout for a year, two years. They know that we're not going to turn our backs on these games. I mean the NFL, the NBA they have to go so far to push and really revolt fans and make them not want to wait and pay for this product that they can really keep this going at least as far as the fan interest goes. So it's really between them. How much money do they think they can get out and right now they're actually finally at the bargaining table with these lockouts.

IZRAEL: Well, I mean so you've got the mic, so what's the over and under? I mean how long do you think this thing will last?

TORRE: I think this is going 365 days. I think this is going on for a year.

IZRAEL: Really?


TORRE: I do. I do. And I - honestly I think we should get ready for that reality. We're not going to have the NBA. I think we will have an NFL season. It may be a little bit delayed but I think we'll get the NFL going because they are actually making a ton of money. And no NFL owner is claiming what the NBA owners are claiming. NBA owners...

LOYOLA: And the Packers just won the Super Bowl.


IZRAEL: And there's - yeah. Right.

LOYOLA: They've got to have a season. They just have to. We Packers fans, we've waited too long for this and, you know?


MARTIN: Mario, you're in Texas.

TORRE: Yeah, what's that about?


MARTIN: You got the - what - I thought you had America's team, yo. What?

LOYOLA: Yeah, but I went to the University of Wisconsin and the whole reason I'm in Texas is that I just want to live in Madison where it's, but for it to be warm all the time.


LOYOLA: And I found that in Austin.

IZRAEL: The truth comes out.


TORRE: It's what they call Texas I believe, the Green Bay of the South.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: Another quote I've never heard but there you go.


MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop segment. We're joined by author Jimi Izrael, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre, columnist Mario Loyola, and editor Kai Wright. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, in happier news, New York state is open for business for same-sex marriages starting in about three weeks. The state legislature - wow, I got caught up in my tongue for some reason - last week approved gay marriage. So Kai, you're an openly gay New Yorker. How significant was this to you?

WRIGHT: Well, it was a big weekend. I mean it came over a gay pride weekend at that. I managed to lose my voice and my phone in the course of the weekend. But I picked up a few rights so I'd say was a big wash.


WRIGHT: You know, I...

MARTIN: But Kai, do you mind if I ask? I was talking to some of the younger folks on my staff. And I was saying to them look, let's recognize that there are a lot of people who still do not agree with this. But the other point is that a lot of the young people on my staff they don't remember what it's like to be told you can't do something because of who you are. They really don't. I mean they don't remember as girls being told no you can't be an astronaut, no you can't be in politics, no you can't do this. They don't remember as people of color, those are people of color, being told no, you know, you think you can be president but no you can't. And, you know, I just wonder is this the last thing that people are...

WRIGHT: Oh, by no means.

MARTIN: ...going to be told they can't do because of who they are.

WRIGHT: There are many things that gay people are still told they cannot do. It should be told.

MARTIN: Exactly.

WRIGHT: You know, and there's a lot of, you know, class and race elements to this in terms of who this is going to be useful for. But I think for me there's a bigger picture, you know, I mean, because there's actually, you know, marriage - the whole marriage fight stirs just many emotions inside gay politics and inside gay communities as it does in the nation at large. You know, I mean there's a number of folks, and I've said it some myself, that feel like there's way too much resource put on this when you have things like thousands of gay kids sleeping in the street every night and no money from the state to deal with that.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

WRIGHT: But the thing about this was, you know, if you are someone who believes in the broad definition of civil and human rights, someone who, as a gay person, believes that, you know, you deserve full access to all of this, there's been a lot of loss in the last like 15 years. And American politics is, let's be clear about winning and losing. And, you know, I've seen a lot of defeats and it was nice to win something. It was nice to see folks line up on each side of a political issue and have human rights win out. And that was a really big deal and I think you felt that in the streets of New York this past weekend. You just people felt like they were on the right side of history for once.

TORRE: Completely.

WRIGHT: And I think we can't underestimate the importance of that in the national dialogue. All the polling and all of the strategy laid to the side, we can't underestimate the experience of being on the right side of history for human rights for a state the size of New York.

MARTIN: Well, can I ask Mario this because he's in a state that, you know, obviously Texas is very diverse but different points of view there. Mario, can I just get the view from there where you are? How does it strike you?

LOYOLA: Well, I mean I don't really have an opinion one way or the other. I'm glad that people feel enfranchised and I think it's a good thing when they do. I think that a lot of Republicans, a lot of conservatives, a lot of family values conservative Christians feel somewhat betrayed by, you know, the fact that Republican, a Republican-controlled legislature in New York voted this out.

And, you know, I think they want to preserve - what people are concerned about I think on the right is that this society has gotten too far away from family values and they penalize, you know, childrearing and raising children. And they're concerned that the society isn't encouraging the formation of families as much as it used to. I think that's what people are concerned about. But it's very good that people feel enfranchised. I mean, you know, congratulations, Kai. I mean I think it's a good thing and I have a lot of friends who are very happy about this and I guess I am too.

MARTIN: Does anybody want - go ahead, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Yeah, I mean you know how I feel about it, Michel. You know, I'm down for gay marriage. Not just because everyone deserves to love the way they want it, because but also because you'll never eat better than at a gay reception.


IZRAEL: This is a fact. I've been to a few, you will never eat quite so well.

TORRE: Never eat better.

IZRAEL: Right. Exactly.

MARTIN: No stereotyping here, right? Okay.

WRIGHT: We do a lot of things better.


IZRAEL: But what I'm really concerned about is our accommodationist-in-chief, you know, he's kind of, he's riding the middle again. He's not coming out for. He's not coming out against. You know, and I don't know. It's typical Obama. What you want from this guy, right?

MARTIN: Well, let me just play a clip so people who aren't following this might know what he - in case you don't know what he's, what Jimi's talking about. He hosted an event honoring Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month at the White House on Wednesday. But when he was talking to reporters earlier he refused to endorse same-sex marriage, while at the same time kind of praising New York's state legislators for advancing the rights of gay and lesbian Americans. A little bit maybe of what Kai was talking about here, kind of threading the needle. But here's a clip.


IZRAEL: Right up the middle.

MARTIN: So is anybody else irritated like Jimi is, saying, you know, enough already with that?

TORRE: How hollow was that? Jesus.

LOYOLA: I mean what's really funny about that quote is Obama's slow process of discovering that the presidency is not about telling everyone what they must do.


IZRAEL: Shock, awe, right Mario?


WRIGHT: Well, but the presidency is in fact about having the bully pulpit to lead on particularly on moral issues and issues of great national divide. And, you know, I certainly, frankly, will say was offended for him to show up in New York the night before this deeply important vote where so many people, so many politicians in the states on both sides of the aisle were taking principled courageous stances. And to show up here to raise money from gay people and...

IZRAEL: Right.

WRIGHT: And to split hairs that way on something so important was offensive. But I also want to point out by the way, just going back a little bit on the whole family values question. You know, I think some of the people that are most excited about this ruling are gay families, who in fact, are raising children and trying to those families in the state has been actively standing in the way of their ability to have healthy happy families. So they're some of the most excited folks about this.

MARTIN: I think we're going to talk more about this, like what exactly this means and what the fears are about what this does mean for families. I mean this is an issue it seems like the momentum is certainly in the direction of marriage equality. But there are I think it is still worth talking about so people can talk about what it is exactly that they are afraid of and concerned about.

Before we let you go, another topic: immigration. Two interesting occurrences on that front recently. This, you know, everybody has said immigration reform is a nonstarter this year, it's too close to the election, no consensus, too many, you know, the jobs and so forth like that. But then there's a Senate hearing on something called the Dream Act, which would grant amnesty to some children whose parents brought them into the country illegally.

And then there's the story of this journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas, many of us know him, he's certainly been on this program, who came out as an undocumented immigrant or somebody whose documents were false. He was brought to this country under false pretenses. And I'm just, you know, interested in what we people think about this. Do we think that the immigration debate is in fact alive now? I don't know. Who wants to take this? Jimi, what do you think?

IZRAEL: Yeah, of course it is. I think as long as there's - I mean yeah, as long as we have a republic this debate will be alive because there are people that don't understand that this country was founded on immigration. And, you know, if you can't come to America to dream and to be somebody, where can you go? Canada? Really? Pablo?

TORRE: Yeah?

IZRAEL: What do you think?

TORRE: Here's my thing on the Vargas situation. I thought what he did was incredibly brave and admirable, an incredibly well-written and well thought out essay first off. But the thing that kind of troubled by with sort of a tingeing of that argument is kind of - it's this idea that illegals can be successful people and elites also. Like don't, you know, we're not all strawberry pickers and all that. I mean to me I'm kind of like what does that matter, I mean, right? I mean like we're talking about an issue of principle, right? And we're talking about justice. Does it matter what kind of profession?

Obviously it's good to nudge the public image, the public perception in one direction to show that there is a swath of people. But on principle should it matter that we're - that some illegal immigrants, some undocumented people rather, are sort of more successful than others? Does that matter versus the strawberry pickers?

MARTIN: Mario?

LOYOLA: Well, this is a really tough issue. The Dream Act in particular is a really tough issue. I mean we're trying to open up U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military and, you know, it's people that came here as children and a lot of times they don't even speak the language of their country of origin anymore.

And, you know, but I don't think that this has enough votes to pass in the Senate. I think that the reason Dick Durbin brought this up in the Senate is because it's so painful for Republicans. And, you know, when you're heading into an election cycle, if you want the Republicans - if you want to see Republicans go through pain and suffering, just bring up immigration. That's all you have to do.


MARTIN: You think it's a public policy shtick?

LOYOLA: Yeah. But, I can't see myself...

MARTIN: Do you support the Dream Act yourself?

LOYOLA: Well, I, it's tough, you know, I mean I have to say it's the most sympathetic case of rewarding illegal behavior that I can think of.

MARTIN: Something else we're going to be talking about. Okay. That was mario loyola - sorry to cut you off, but time is one thing they're not making more of. Mario loyola is director of the center for tenth amendment studies at the columnist, national review. It's a think tank, focus on the impact of federal policy on states. He's also a former speechwriter at the pentagon and he writes for the national review. He was with us from member station KUT in austin. With us, Jimi Izrael, freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle," with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Pablo Torre, reporter for Sports Illustrated, with us from New York. And also in New York, Kai Wright, editorial director at Colorlines.com. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

LOYOLA: Thank you.

TORRE: Thank you.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.