'Shop Talk': Budget Battles And Barry Bonds

Political budget battles and baseball star Barry Bonds' guilty verdict are two topics under discussion in this week's "Barbershop" round table. Host Michel Martin hears from author Jimi Izrael, ColorLines.com editorial director Kai Wright, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, and NBA.com sports writer Sekou Smith.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael; syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette; Kai Wright, editorial director at Colorlines.com; and NBA.com senior writer and producer Sekou Smith. That is so messed up. I'm here in the studio by myself. Jimi, everybody's someplace else. Don't forget me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Aw.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): Yeah. Doesn't happen that often, I know.

MARTIN: Don't forget me.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, welcome back, Michel. Your dreams were your ticket out, right? It's nice to have you back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Fellas, how are we doing?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm good, man.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mr. Wright, long time. What's up, man?

Mr. KAI WRIGHT (Editorial Director, Colorlines.com): Long time. Glad to be here.

Mr. IZRAEL: Sekou.

Mr. SEKOU SMITH (Senior Writer, NBA.com): Doing great. How are you doing?

Mr. IZRAEL: Man, welcome to the shop. First in, my man, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. SMITH: Absolutely.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's get it moving. So, let's get started with the back and forth over the federal budget.

Mr. SMITH: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: Now, they avoided shutting down the government last week and now the scrapping over the federal debt. House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan came out swinging and released his proposal for reducing the deficit. And this week President Obama counterpunched with his own plan, Michel.

MARTIN: Jimi, you know what was interesting to me is how the political maneuvering here upended, like, two decades of conventional wisdom here because the argument always was, don't put your hand out first and get it sawed off. I mean, that was really the way people think on something big like this.

So, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan said, you know, enough with that and he released his plan first and dominated the news last week. But then he showed his hand and then President Obama got to react to it and then he got a chance to review it before responding with his own plan.

So I'm interested in whether, you know, what people think about who has the advantage here. And I'll just - and obviously there's a lot of substance to both and really different ideas about what is to be done here.

But I'll tell you that Congressman Ryan, in responding to the president, was not pleased. And I'll just give you a short clip about what he had to say. This is Congressman Paul Ryan, he's the chair of the House Budget Committee.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): When the commander in chief sort of brings himself down to the level of the partisan mosh pit that we've been in, that we are in, it makes it more difficult to bring that kind of leadership.

MARTIN: You think he did, Jimi? Do you think the president went into the mosh pit?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know what? I do. I think he ended up crafting what felt more like - it's more like a partisan pushing match, you know. We're not getting the rich dialogue we need. You know, let me say this. You know, Obama is known for his ability to kind of pacify the masses with rhetoric without providing much in the way of detail and, you know, or of a solution. And, sadly, this is one of those cases. And this time I think he pushed and he pushed a little too hard.

Kai, you've written about this. What do you think?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, I think it is in fact a partisan pushing match. That's the thing, you know. I frankly was (unintelligible).

Mr. IZRAEL: Is that good? Really?

Mr. WRIGHT: I was glad to see the president acknowledge the reality. This is a fight, you know. And it is a partisan fight. And the short-term politics, I think he did a great job, you know. No wonder Paul Ryan got so up in arms - he called him a coward, essentially, for taking on seniors.

But, you know, I think the short-term politics look good for the president, but I agree with you, Jimi. The bigger issue is what happens down the road, you know. I mean, the Republicans won a whole lot of policy in the course of this 2011 budget. Remember, that's the budget that was supposed to be passed by a Democratic - when we had - when Democrats, excuse me, I control, you know, my politics are clear. But when Democrats had control of both houses of Congress and the White House, they were supposed to pass the 2011 budget. And they didn't.

And what got passed was - it is huge, huge cuts. And so, you know, if that's what happens in 2012, regardless of how much game Obama can talk, we're all in trouble.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, the R.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yo. Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Check in, bro.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, let me just start off by saying that, you know, as I've looked at this thing for the last 10 days or so, I like a lot of what Paul Ryan is saying. I don't think that either Boehner, House - John Boehner, the speaker of the House or President Obama have really risen to the occasion. I think that's why they have both ticked off members of their own party and their own constituents are angry at them. And there's a lot of anger, you can see from Bernie Sanders and folks on the left about Obama, thinking he's caved into the Republicans; likewise, folks on the right thinking that Boehner's caved in. But I think that Ryan has exactly the right idea. And having said that, people in the media...

MARTIN: But you're talking about two different issues here. You're talking about two different stories. I mean one, you're talking about the short-term budget deal for 2011, and then there's the long-term plan...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Yeah. Right.

MARTIN: ...that Paul Ryan is out fronting, which is to reduce the deficit overall. OK.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Absolutely. And they're linked as follows...

MARTIN: Sure.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: ...because if you see people saying well, God, you guys are only caring about pushing the ball down the line, you know, till September and calling it a victory on both sides, there's a group of people out there - and I'm one of them - who thinks that we're arguing about the wrong thing. That last week we argued about the wrong thing, which was whether or not there was going to be a shutdown and who was to blame. This week were arguing about the wrong thing, who's winning the politics of it.

I'm going to tell you whose losing this deal. Who's losing this deal is Americans under the age of 50, OK, including us, the people who are going to have to pay for this debt. We're going to have to deal with a $14 trillion debt, who have to deal with government pensions, who have to deal with Social Security and Medicare not being solvent and our tax rates going up.

This is not a race thing. This is not a geography thing. This is not a government worker thing. This is mostly a generational thing. And for those of us who have young kids, and who have to worry about this down the line, when all the Republicans and Democrats are playing golf together in Florida, OK -this is not a partisan thing. I think that we have to have a serious conversation in this country about the fact that we cannot keep going like this, spending money on the credit card. And that's what we should be talking about. And two weeks now we've not done that.

And collectively in the media, in the press, we've talked about one, shutdown and two, who's winning the politics. It's not about politics. It's not about the shutdown. It's about how do you survive and not stop spending all your money on the credit card.

MARTIN: I got to tell you, I'm going to push back on this a little bit because, you know, some people have...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: OK.

MARTIN: ...a lot of people have both. They both have parents and kids that both have to be taken care, number one.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: And number two, and Kai, you wrote about this, you know, how can race not be part of it when some of this is perceived as a transfer from one group to, you know, another? I mean I credit you completely. This is a very important subject and it is...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: But I'm always amused when one politician accuses another politician of being a politician. I mean that's the - politics is a means by which....

Mr. NAVARRETTE: But it's generational.

MARTIN: Politics is...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: But, Michel, you must see it's a generational thing.

MARTIN: Well, let me just finish my thought.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: OK.

MARTIN: Politics is the means by which government happens. So, thing one. And number two, this is - Bob Greenstein talked about this, it's a liberal group that sort of attracts budget issues. And his argument is, is it really, you know, how courageous is it to, you know, put all your, to expect the sacrifice to come with a group that doesn't have lobbyists, which is poor people?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, you know, who else doesn't have lobbyists though is young people.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And because young people typically don't they don't have a voice. You know, Al Simpson, who was on the budget deficit commission with Erskine Bowles...

MARTIN: Former senator from Wyoming.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Former senator from Wyoming and, you know, taught me at the Kennedy School, and he used to have this favorite phrase he used to say to young people all the time: politics is a contact sport. You take part or you get taken apart.

And what I've seen for two weeks now, what I've seen for many many years now is that as long as young people don't participate in the political process they get stuck with the bill. Black, white, purple, it doesn't matter; we're all together in this. If you were born after a certain point in time, OK, let's call it 1960, you are being hosed right now by people who do not care about you because you do not vote.

Mr. WRIGHT: But, you know what? This was actually what was important about the president's speech, actually, is because the deficit discussion is a perfect example where it all matters how you frame the discussion when you're having it, right? And so, you know, there's this false alarm. Yes, the deficit is important, but it's also important to talk about how we cut the deficit, right? So to just leave it at this constant repetition over the last, you know, at least year of we spend too much money, we spend too much money, we spend too much money, and never get at OK, well, what is the money we spend and what is the money we don't need to spend and what values does that reflect? That is the conversation we need to be having. Not just that we spend too much money.

And what was good I thought about the president's response to this whole mess was that he finally got out of the how-much-money-is-too-much-money debate and got into OK, what is it we want to be spending money for? And do we want to be spending money to give tax cuts to really rich people? Or do we really want to be spending money to make sure kids get educations and seniors can retire with security. And that's the conversation, not just do we or do we not spend too much money.

Mr. IZRAEL: That's Kai. Sekou?

Mr. SMITH: Yeah. I think the conversation as always is spent too much time talking about the politics and not about the nuts and bolts of it. Most of the people I deal with everyday can't balance their own checkbooks. So when you start talking trillions and billions in deficits and that sort of thing, you lose.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. SMITH: And I think both sides lose the common people in this argument in this conversation every single time. The same thing you talk about, you go from one week talking about, you know, a shutdown to the next week you're talking about what you're going to spend, who's going to pay for it, how it's going to affect everybody else, but nobody ever talks basic nuts and bolts numbers that the average person can understand. And when you do that everybody tunes out.

MARTIN: Hmm. All right. I'll take that challenge. Maybe we'll try to do that. We'll try to do that on the program. Just if that's true, I mean, we'll try to do it on the program. Try to explain to people. Explain it so you can follow it along.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SMITH: You know what I...

MARTIN: If you're just hold on one second...

Mr. SMITH: Yeah.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop segment. We're joined by author Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, ColorLines editorial director Kai Wright, and NBA writer Sekou Smith.

Back to you Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you. Thank you. We got to keep it moving because we got to talk about...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: OK.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...homerun great Barry bonds.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Mm. Yes.

Mr. IZRAEL: Now, last week we talked about him because he was on trial for lying under oath about steroid use and we were trying to decide whether it was really about steroid use or, as many critics have suggested, because well, he's kind of a jerk, right? Well, on Wednesday, Bonds was found guilty of obstructing justice. But a mistrial was declared on three other perjury counts because a jury couldn't reach a unanimous verdict, Michel.

MARTIN: So what do we do? So what do people think about it? I do know. Sekou, what about, what do you think?

Mr. SMITH: Well, just so I'm clear, Barry Bonds is guilty of being slick is essentially what they found him guilty of. Because the process that he was involved in allows for to you answer questions the way he did and wither your way out of it. This wasn't a deal about Barry Bonds. This was supposed to be about the BALCO investigation, which quite a few people paid steep prices for their involvement in BALCO.

Barry Bonds is actually being, you know, tried for being an absolute idiot. And when I say that I mean when you treat people a certain way for as long as he did in the game of baseball, eventually they're going to have their due. And their due was to get him into court and try and get him put behind bars for something that really has nothing to do with the game anymore and nothing to do with Barry Bonds. It's strictly a dog and pony show for people to get in court and make sure they get the last say about an era that's bygone in baseball.

MARTIN: So should he be prosecuted for being a jerk? I mean because if that's the case...

Mr. SMITH: It happens all the time, Michel.

MARTIN: ...there's a long list of people that we could talk about.

Mr. SMITH: Yeah. Yeah. It happens all the time. I mean it's just, and it just so happens that in sports that's become the new thing to do. You know, baseball has gone through an entire period here where everyone that played baseball in Barry Bonds era is stained for the rest of their lives whether they like it or not. They all have a cloud over them, whether they're guilty or not, whether they've been proven guilty or not, whether they've admitted it or not. Barry Bonds is one of the leaders of that parade and it's not going to change no matter what happens in court.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, do you think he can kiss the Hall of Fame goodbye?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. You know, I think that's a very real possibility now. I mean what we're talking about now with the sentence is basically he could get, you know, in the neighborhood of 18 months or two years and it could be home confinement. I mean it's not going to be, you know, clearly behind bars, I think.

But still having said that, I think it's a real circus. It's a real circus atmosphere to this case. This is like a prosecutor bringing a case to make a name off Barry Bonds. And it depends, what's he on trial for exactly? Is it the are we - as I said, are we trying him because he's a jerk, because he may have used steroids, because he may have lied under oath?

I think it's really important and insignificant if he lied to this grand jury, I don't want to make light of that. But I think there's all this other stuff wrapped up in this. And I, as I listen to the case and I listen to the coverage of it, it just seemed I was confused as to exactly why people were going after him. And I think it's a whole mixture of things about generally how unlikable he's been and somebody trying to make a name off of him and all this other stuff. And it is weird that we have a former president who a lot of people think in fact lied under oath and he's out making speeches and Barry Bonds is going to get home confinement.

MARTIN: Hmm. Let's move on to that other because I have a feeling the rest of you are going to want to weigh in on this other thing. From one sports star to another, Kobe Bryant stepped in it this week for shouting a homophobic slur to a referee. He was fined $100,000, probably a drop in the bucket for a baller like him. But it's still a big, big fine as fines go. The microphones didn't catch what Kobe said but the sportscasters did. I'll just play a clip of what they said about what he said. Here it is.

Unidentified Man: He's yelling at Bennie. And you might want to take the camera off him right now because there are children watching, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, Jimi, what do you think? I mean, Jimi?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I think he has a leadership role and I think what he did was awful. And he should fess up. He should pay the fine. He should apologize. He should come out publicly and just say that wasn't the way to behave and that isn't the way to talk.

Kai, what do you think?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, I think he - I believe he did come out and say, you know, I didn't mean anything by it.

Mr. IZRAEL: It was qualified. I mean that's like the worst...

Mr. WRIGHT: Right. Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...apology I've ever heard. I didn't mean to eat the cookie.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. WRIGHT: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, some people are defending it saying that it doesn't mean what they say it means what the word we're not going to say it.

Mr. WRIGHT: Right.

MARTIN: That it has some generic meaning, like just I'm mad at you or whatever. I don't know. Kai...

Mr. IZRAEL: No. I'm not buying it.

Mr. SMITH: No.

Mr. WRIGHT: But you know what, I think that's actually true. I'll take him at his word and other folks at their word when they say listen, I'm just saying, you know, when I use an anti-gay slur I just mean bad. But the problem is, is if everything bad in the world equates with the word gay or with being gay then we have a problem. You know, and, you know, and it really there is impact here.

You know, I mean I think there's a lot of studies that show that gay and lesbian youth in schools here these slurs all day, everyday unchallenged by educators or adults of other sorts and that it hurts them. That they say, yeah, I have negative reactions from this. And when we saw it last year all of the coverage around suicides amongst gay and lesbian kids, I think, you know, it becomes very, very clear that we have, on a whole lot of levels, we have to do better. But at the minimum we have to stop saying it's OK to say calling someone gay equates - or a slur that equates to that, equates to everything bad. So good for the NBA for fining him.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, it certainly sends a message to the culture. Can you imagine somebody saying the N word...

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean for real.

Mr. SMITH: But I think that...

MARTIN: ...is just a generic, I don't like you? I mean I don't know I got that...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. Yeah. Sure.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, actually, that happened, Michel. There was some hipster on the Internet trying to run around and start a campaign like, you know, I want everybody to be my N word. Just like I was like dude, you come down my way and start talking that mess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You'll end up missing. So there was kind of a pseudo-campaign. But that's not what's hot in the street.

MARTIN: And Sekou, what's hot in the NBA?

Mr. SMITH: I just think that, I think a lot is being, much more is being made of this Kobe Bryant situation than there needs to be. You know, what he said is certainly deplorable and nobody wants to see that sort of language used on television. But after a decade of covering NBA basketball games from about two and a half feet away from where Kobe Bryant was sitting when he said that...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. WRIGHT: ...two things are very clear, the ball is round and there is no such thing as freedom of speech if someone hears it. And the fine, while I think exorbitant, certainly sent the message that the NBA commissioner, David Stern, wanted to send. But the fact is if you take a 12-year-old to an NBA basketball game and expect not to hear foolishness coming out of the mouths of not only players but the people surrounding you in the stands, you're kidding yourself. And...

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know what? Ice-T said, Ice-T hold on Ice...

Mr. SMITH: To make this thing about anything more than but that is really ridiculous.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ice-T said it best. There's freedom of speech. Watch what you say. Real talk. Real talk.

MARTIN: OK. All right. Real talk. OK. I'm so sorry we're out of time. Ruben, next week you have to tell us what you think, or you can blog on it.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Cool. Cool.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Sekou Smith is a senior writer and producer for NBATV and NBA.com. He was with us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the Washington Post Writers Group and CNN.com. He was with us from San Diego. And Kai Wright is editorial director of ColorLines.com. He joined us from our NPR studios in New York.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. WRIGHT: Thank you.

Mr. 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.

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