'Shop Talk': Jobs, Poverty, Perry

GUESTS: author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, film critic Wesley Morris and columnist Mario Loyola.

This week, House Speaker Boehner acknowledged some common ground between his jobs plan and the president's plan, but said Obama's program doesn't quite add up. Also, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the latest poverty figures, and Tyler Perry was reported as the highest paid man in Hollywood.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

Now, it's time for our weekly visit to the Barber Shop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in their chairs for our shape-up this week are author, Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney and editor, Arsalan Iftikhar; film critic, Wesley Morris; and Mario Loyola. He writes for the National Review and he works for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a conservative think tank that favors a limited role for government.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

WESLEY MORRIS: I'm fine. I actually do need a shape-up, actually.

IZRAEL: Wild, wild Wes.

MORRIS: I really need to get one of those.

IZRAEL: Wild, wild Wes. Welcome to the shop. First time in. Good to have you. All right.

MORRIS: Nice to be here.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's get things started with what everyone's talking about, but no one knows exactly where to find: jobs. Now, the president delivered his $450 billion job proposal last week. Two congressmen - yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner said, while there's some common ground between his and the president's plan, Obama's job program doesn't quite add up.

So you mean they don't get along? They don't agree on something, Michel? Clutch the pearls.

MARTIN: I know. Clutch the pearls. Clutch the pearls.

IZRAEL: News at 11.

MARTIN: I'm going to play a little clip of speaker Boehner's remarks at the Economic Club of Washington, DC. I know we played a clip earlier, you know, but the president's speech is carried on, you know, networks and got a lot of attention, so I think it's OK to play another clip of Speaker Boehner's speech. Here it is.

IZRAEL: Drop it.

JOHN BOEHNER, Host:

It strikes me as odd that at a time when it's clear the tax code needs to be fundamentally reformed. The first instinct to come out of Washington is to come up with a new host of tax credits that make the tax code more complex.

IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks for that, Michel. I mean, like, what do you say to that? Right? But - OK. For me, personally, and a lot of my friends, it's really the African American college educated black male that seems to be taking the recession hardest on the chin.

Look, I know he's everybody's president. You don't have to tell me that. But it just seems to me that, while other groups of people, you know, white folks in general and black women - they're doing OK. Black men are taking it the hardest on the chin. Like myself, you know, and of course, it could be regional.

Like I'm in the Midwest now and you guys have heard the story, but I've had headhunters suggest to me to take my master's degree off of my resume, you know, because the burger flippers are winning, the people with high school diplomas and stuff like that. Those cats are winning. Those cats are getting overtime, but...

MARTIN: I don't think that's accurate. It is a fact that black college educated men are twice as likely to be unemployed as white college educated men.

IZRAEL: OK.

MARTIN: But their unemployment rate, overall, is far lower than people with less education. Mario, I think that's...

IZRAEL: I'm just...

MARIO LOYOLA: Their income is much higher.

MARTIN: Yeah. So...

IZRAEL: OK. All right.

MARTIN: But, I mean, that doesn't change the fact that - how frustrating it is when you feel you've done everything right. You've done everything that this society has asked you to do, which is get your education,...

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: ...you know, demonstrate mastery over something and you still aren't making headway. I totally credit how frustrating that has to be.

IZRAEL: Wild Wes.

MARTIN: Yeah.

IZRAEL: Jump in here.

MORRIS: You know, on some level, you know, it's funny looking at the numbers and then trying to figure out what they mean and how they persist the way they do. I feel like it doesn't make a good situation for the president, insofar as, you know, sort of what we're talking about a little bit or the ongoing conversation we have about him is, whose president is he?

But this isn't just - I mean, one of the things about those numbers is that they fit really neatly if, you know, disturbingly, within the larger numbers of poverty in this country and how hard it is - and how endemic it is and how hard it is to overcome.

And it just is kind of weirdly insulting to see Boehner - just seemed to be - I mean, every time I see him, I feel like he's like the villain in a Batman movie. You know, one of these guys...

IZRAEL: Which one, man? You got to be specific.

MORRIS: Just take your pick. I mean, you...

IZRAEL: The Riddler?

MORRIS: The idea is to sort of - I don't know what the outcome is supposed to be for these - you know, for the president to sort of propose something and then John Boehner on the other side sort of says, wait a minute. Wait a minute. In a time when people are unemployed and da, da, da, da, the president wants to offer all these things that he can't really do, so I'm going to offer some things that I can't really do, either - just to sort of prolong doing anything.

IZRAEL: OK. Well, the Riddler it is. OK. Wait. Hold on. Can we get super Mario in here? What do you think of Boehner's plan?

LOYOLA: Yeah.

MORRIS: He is the Riddler, actually.

LOYOLA: By the way, this is - I'm taking a break from my duties as the Barber Shop's ambassador to the Austin City Limits Festival, just to tell you that...

MARTIN: I know, you're a good man.

LOYOLA: Look, what we're looking at is two completely different visions of government, OK? Boehner is not opposing the president just to oppose the president. I mean we - the conservatives really believe that the problem here, the reason why jobs aren't being created is because the regulatory and tax burden on businesses is overwhelming. Between the Sarbanes-Oxley law and that Dodd-Frank law, London has become the world's financial capital instead of New York.

We've got companies relocating to other countries to avoid the corporate tax burden in the United States, which is the highest in the developed world. We've got oil companies moving to Switzerland from Texas because of the income tax rate in Texas. Now what sense does it make to - you're taxing all these companies at 20 percent and then you raise the tax to 35 percent and now they're gone, and now you're getting no tax revenue. I mean and people keep following these policies. I mean look, government is not the solution. And that's the argument that we have with Obama, and it's a legitimate argument.

IZRAEL: A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I'm going to go rogue like Sarah Palin here and say that...

IZRAEL: Uh oh.

IFTIKHAR: ...that this is nothing more than political gamesmanship. You know, the Republicans seem to be willing to keep millions of Americans out of work just to kick one man out of a job in 2012. You know, we talk, you know, Boehner and the Republicans talk about taxes like it's the silver bullet, it's the Holy Grail solution to everything. And, you know, Mario is right that, you know, when corporations are taxed at a 20 percent tax rate or a 35 percent tax, what he fails to mention is that because of our current tax loopholes they virtually pay nothing in taxes.

And so, you know, when Boehner and the Republicans use terms like, you know, small, you know, business owners, I mean there's essentially talking about rich people. I mean this is code for people who make $250,000 plus a year. It's not for the 9.1 percent of Americans who are currently unemployed. Again, this is just political gamesmanship. They are the obstructionist party right now. If Obama came up with a plan to say that the sky is blue, they'd find a way to say no to that as well.

LOYOLA: Yeah, I'll be sending A-Train an e-mail with some data, because...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOYOLA: ...the top 20 percent of income earners pay 80 percent of all taxes.

MARTIN: Well, you know, I credit that this is, these are - first of all let me just say I am grateful to live in a country where competing - sharply competing - visions of government are resolved at the ballot box and not at the point of a gun.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: But, so, I think that we are could say...

IFTIKHAR: Hoorah.

LOYOLA: Here. Here.

MARTIN: Having said that, I do ask, you know, how does this get resolved? Because, you know, voters elected President Obama for his vision. They also elected the current Congress for their vision. So how does this get resolved when they really are kind of staring at each other across this divide and nobody - and they do have - let's just say, let's just credit that this really is about competing economic visions, as opposed to about ego and just wanting to aggregate power for your side and go team. How does it get resolved? How does it get...

MORRIS: That's very generous, Michel.

IZRAEL: Yeah, I was going to say.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, it really is very generous.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, but how does it get, but the fact is, but if you do have a profoundly different vision, you have as much right to advance it as the guy who you don't agree with, right. So what happens? What's supposed to happen here? But what about - Mario, I'll just give you the last word on this. What about what the president said is just let's credit that everybody just that these are honestly and sincerely held competing visions, but it's 14 months until the next presidential election. What's supposed to happen in the meantime?

LOYOLA: Well, it's a competition between how many people believe in the president's vision and how many people believe in the conservative vision. And this is not, you know, the president is not - I sincerely believe he's a smart person, an ethical person, he's trying to be a good leader, but he's not new left. You know, he's not like Bill Clinton. He's not like Tony Blair. He's old left. You know, and people, it's funny to me. People lay charges of racism against the Tea Party and stuff, but the American - the English speaker that conservatives cannot stand is Jimmy Carter, and this president is starting to remind people of Jimmy Carter, and that's the problem we're facing. And so...

MARTIN: OK.

LOYOLA: ...you see stories of the president losing support in his own base, and meanwhile, the conservatives are increasingly, you know, are increasingly - you think it's about personality and stuff? The conservatives think they're fighting for the future of the country.

MARTIN: Well, OK.

IFTIKHAR: Well, Mario...

MARTIN: Arsalan, final thought on this?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean, but conservatives, you know, didn't call Jimmy Carter a crypto Muslim Manchurian candidate, you know, who is secretly born in Kenya. I mean?

LOYOLA: Just a traitor, but whatever.

IZRAEL: They called him a simple peanut farmer that didn't know how to run the country. You know...

IFTIKHAR: Right. But you can't deny there has been a racialist element when there's 29 percent of Americans who still believe to this day that President Obama is a Muslim. I mean there is a racialist element here that is hard to deny.

MARTIN: Can I just ask one thing before we go on to other stuff that we want to talk about? I still, you know, how Secretary Gates - Bob Gates - the defense secretary recently retired, said that one of the things that bothered him is that people seem to have a less and less of a connection to the military. When these poverty numbers came out, I kind of wondered the same thing about that. And I wondered whether is it that people have less and less of a connection to people who are actually living in poverty, so therefore it's harder for people to empathize? I don't know. What are people think about this?

LOYOLA: It's the new segregation, Michel.

MORRIS: Yes. Yes. Yes. I think that's absolutely...

MARTIN: Wesley, you think so?

MORRIS: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that it makes me - I feel on some level, there's a really good movie called her "The Interrupters," it's out right now, that's about the attempt to sort of make gang violence less endemic than it - or it's like violence in general in Chicago less endemic than it actually is. What astonished me about the movie is how A, you don't really ever see poor people in movies and how this movie sort of says a lot about America in general, and how much of America we don't see and acknowledge when we talk about numbers.

I mean we should try to - when these numbers come out I think it'd be really helpful for somebody to try to put faces with these numbers and voices with these numbers and to try to think more about what they mean for people's actual daily lives. I mean we're, the government is so far, or the federal government and these conversations about those numbers and economic plans are so far from the people they actually affect. If there was some way to cut the space in half or remove it so that Boehner and Obama are more directly, more obviously talking to the people whose lives they would affect or these policies, whose lives these policies would affect, it would make a huge difference, I think, in terms of the way these messages play out.

LOYOLA: Well, let's think about the poverty numbers that came out this week, right? We have 45 million people in the United States that are below the poverty line. Now the poverty line is $22,300 or something, it's what three times what you need to feed a family of four. Now think about this for a second. If you live in Houston and you're a single parent in a family of four and you work as a cashier at the supermarket, making $11 an hour, you're above the poverty line. Your household is above the poverty line. So you have 45 million people in this country living - basically what are we looking at? We're looking at single-parent homes, single mother homes where the mother either doesn't work or works only part time. That's the vast majority of the households that are below the poverty line. And that demographic of 45 million people in which you have a single mother who is unemployed or underemployed did not even exist in the 1960s. This was created by the welfare programs of the 1960s.

MARTIN: OK. Well, that's a whole other conversation, Mario, because - that's a whole other conversation.

LOYOLA: Yeah.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're having our weekly Barbershop conversation with Mario Loyola, that's who you just heard. Also with us, Jimi Izrael, and Arsalan Iftikhar, and Wesley Morris. Back to you, Jimi

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. All right. Well, moving on from people making very little money to a guy making lots and lots and lots of cheddar.

MARTIN: Fat bank.

IZRAEL: This is who is making the most cash in Hollywood these days.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MADEA GOES TO JAIL")

TYLER PERRY: (as Madea) I guess nobody told you that I'm Madea. Ma to the damn d-e-a. You understand that? And what I want I get. Do you understand me? I'm from the West End. That's where we cut a fool first and run like hell afterwards. You understand? You don't know me. You don't know the hell you talking to.

IZRAEL: Wow it sounds like Madea is from Chicago. Thanks for that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Is it OK if I laugh?

IZRAEL: What.

MARTIN: Is it OK if I laugh?

IZRAEL: Now wait a second. Now...

MARTIN: You can revoke my cold card.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Hold on. Hold on a second. Now Tyler Perry, he's been criticized by the black American community for creating foolish movies that make black folks look silly, but look, I'm not a huge fan of his but I respect his ability to craft stories with niche appeal that guarantee him an audience every time out. You know, all right, "For Colored Girls" notwithstanding. Like he's not an auteur and he's never claimed to be. He's a businessman and once you realize that, his films become a lot easier to stomach. Wes. Wild Wes.

MARTIN: Well, now that you've told us how we should feel about this, Jimi, thank you. Let me just give the numbers here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: The actor, writer, director, producer raked in $130 million from May of 2010 two 2011. "Pirates of the Caribbean" producer Jerry Bruckheimer took second place, and Steven Spielberg ranked third.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Sure.

LOYOLA: He didn't do anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Wild Wes, you want to kick in?

MARTIN: He's Steven Spielberg. He doesn't have to do anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Wesley, tell me...

MORRIS: You know...

MARTIN: Is it OK that we laughed?

MORRIS: I, you know, Michel, you and I have had this conversation about Tyler Perry a few times. I, you know, initially when it was unclear what he wanted to get from the movie-going audience, becoming a filmmaker, a nominal filmmaker, I was skeptical. But I have to say that I mean, this is not a Tyler Perry problem, our problem with Tyler. This is a problem with the entertainment industry. And it's bigger than Tyler Perry insofar as he can't do it by himself. Do you know what I mean? It's not as though with Tyler Perry has come these great opportunities for other black artists to sort of get a piece of the American movie-going audience.

He has become a business and a phenomenon unto himself and he employs a lot of people who don't get work - who don't get enough work. I think that the studios have - are beginning to see the light and they're doing more things that appeal to audiences. But I just, you know, I like Tyler Perry. I mean I don't like the movies, but I like that he exists. I like that we have him to talk about. I like that we will be - something good will come of this, I believe. You know, and I know, I feel where Spike Lee, for instance is coming from with the whole, you know, shucking and jiving thing and the stereotypes, but...

MARTIN: He's not a fan.

IZRAEL: Yeah. He made comments last year about him.

MARTIN: He's not a fan.

MORRIS: But he's always making comments. And I...

MARTIN: But aren't most movies stupid? I mean is "Jackass" exactly lifting up the rest of the world...

IFTIKHAR: No.

Well, Michel, don't go there.

MARTIN: I know. I mean isn't it...

MORRIS: Don't go there, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Why not? There's a place for it.

MORRIS: I like me some "Jackass."

MARTIN: OK.

IZRAEL: There's a place for it.

MORRIS: "The Hangover," not so much. But I mean I just feel like he occupies so much of our time and our thought because there's nobody else. We have nobody else to talk about.

MARTIN: He's so huge. Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Listen, we've got to remember the adage: don't hate the player; hate the game. I mean this is a guy who was, you know, hustling scripts from the back of his, you know, car and, you know, driving around the South, you know, I mean from his bootstraps and shoestrings. I mean to make $130 million in a year. I mean he's sort of, you know, positioned himself as a...

MARTIN: He owns his own studio.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. As a male Oprah or a Moprah(ph) , if you will. I mean...

IZRAEL: Moprah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: No. No. But he, no, he's done something different than Oprah because he's created...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MORRIS: I know, but those adjectives are loaded.

IFTIKHAR: I'm talking about just, you know...

IZRAEL: It's like champagne and ripple. It's like champipple(ph), right?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: No. I mean just to be an entity, I mean he's an institution and you've got to respect the hustle. He keeps pushing.

IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: What ? Mario, have you ever seen any of his movies? Mario...

LOYOLA: No, I have not.

MARTIN: You have not?

LOYOLA: The last movie I saw was "Chinatown" by Roman Polanski, so I'm still...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOYOLA: ..I'm just getting to...

MARTIN: Somebody get this guy a Netflix subscription, please. OK?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com, and author of his new book, "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era." They were both here with us in Washington, D.C. Mario Loyola directs the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He's also a columnist for the National Review. He was with us from KUT in Austin. And Wesley Morris is a film critic at the Boston Globe. He joined us from Boston. Thank you all so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

LOYOLA: Enjoy your weekend.

MORRIS: Thank you. Have a good weekend.

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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