When the robot stopped talking

As a young guy I participated in a computer store grand opening. The main attraction was a robot, manipulated by a man with a job stick who threw his voice…


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As a young guy I participated in a computer store grand opening. The main attraction was a robot, manipulated by a man with a job stick who threw his voice into a Dixie cup decoy microphone. The robot appeared to talk.

But the moving robot developed mechanical problems and stalled.

    The audience froze. The operator went over, lifted the robot’s back and adjusted the connector cables, Then the act continued.

    I was impressed how the audience suspended disbelief about what happened before their eyes. No one mentioned they knew the operator was behind the robot. It seems many people only realize what they want to believe.

    That episode came to mind when Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle signed on May 12 a bill allowing state agencies not to respond to follow-up birth certificate requests when they duplicate similar or previous ones.

    Enough is enough with questioning President Obama’s nationality. Put in context, others who have run for president have more questionable places of birth: John McCain (R., Panama Canal Zone), George Romney (R., Mexico) Lowell P. Weicker Jr., (R., Paris), Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. (D., Canada). President Chester A. Arthur (1881-85), was born in Vermont but the “birthers” of his day questioned his eligibility, some claiming Vermont was part of Canada.

Still, some people just won’t accept the facts staring at them.

It makes for good, laughable political entertainment. But propaganda and ignorance and even bad intentions can take over and pass as “facts.”

For instance, truth-tellers are sick from repeating how the immigrants among us provide sweeping economic benefits. Viewed state-by-state, further economic endangerment is a serious risk without them. The Immigration Policy Center ( has been documenting this for a long time.

A breath of sanity was demonstrated in Trenton, N.J. (like Princeton, New Haven, San Francisco and others), which issued a non-official ID so the bearers could cash checks and conduct some normal activity because they know to differentiate between peaceable workers and families from dangerous law-breakers.

Mexico’s president Felipe Calderón’s recent visit to Washington also reminds us why it’s sometimes better to think geographically along with policy issues. For instance, if you don’t want the violence resulting from the crack-down on drug cartels in that country to spill over to our side, you would want our government to ban the sale of assault weapons to keep the bad guys from getting their hands on them.

Think again.

So that raises a pair of questions:

To what extent are our subterranean drug purchases and assault weapons sales responsible for the lawlessness?

And what are we going to do about it?

The same should be said about how a more sober and honest North American economy could be fostered. The North American Free Trade Agreement — good idea — became a roulette wheel tilted toward the U.S. While labor, right-wing and some liberal critics would rather make the U.S. a NAFTA victim, the facts don’t bear this out, even though there are problems with the treaty.


According to a sober report from the Carnegie Endowment, Mexico’s economic growth was slow and job creation weak. That’s because the treaty discouraged industrialization, rural development, poverty alleviation, and environmental protection flexibility.

To balance the ledger, Mexico benefited from dramatic increased levels of trade growth, direct investment, economic stability and rising productivity.

The mistake seems to be that Mexico concentrated too much on deficit reduction when it could have focused more on domestic investment on growth.

Yet, Mexico has been recovering from the global recession, with about a 382,000-job growth this year, and exports are up 40 percent. The fact remains that whether the issue is our growth or theirs, our jobs or theirs, this is one inter-tiered North America of both people and policies.

Whether the focus is immigration or trade or investment, the time is at hand to stop listening to fake news and stereotypes. To do otherwise is to our own detriment and pure folly.

After all, who wants to become a robot with an operator talking into a Dixie cup, mouthing words instead of letting us speak for ourselves, and making our own decisions based on today’s realities, not somebody else’s screwball ideology.

    [José de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. His 2009 digital book, sponsored by The Ford Foundation, is available free at He is author of The Rise of Hispanic Political Power (2003).  E-mail him at [email protected].]



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