'Shop Talk': Debating President Obama's Response To Oil Spill

In this installment of our weekly Barbershop segment, host Tony Cox talks with freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and founder of TheMuslimGuy.com Arslan Iftikhar, Sports Illustrated Reporter Pablo Torre and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette. They guys discuss the recent highlights from the NBA playoffs, scrutiny of President Obama's response to the oil spill devastation along the Gulf Coast and weigh in on the the highly-anticipated comedy-romance-drama Sex and the City 2. The film hits theaters this weekend.

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TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Time now 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 this week, freelance writer, Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney�and editor, Arsalan Iftikhar; syndicated columnist, Ruben Navarrette; and Sports Illustrated reporter,�Pablo Torre. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Hey, thanks, Tony. Yo, I'm just a man sitting next to the man. TC, Tony Cox, top cat in the house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Everybody else, what's up? Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Attorney, Editor): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): What's up?

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Doing good, man.

COX: Oh man, well, I will say there's a lot of testosterone floating around today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You noticed that too, right? Imagine that. Well, check it out. We're going to start with an update on the NBA playoffs. Now, Tony, you're from L.A.

COX: Yes I am.

Mr. IZRAEL: So, I know you saw the Lakers game yesterday.

COX: Yes, you know that I did. There was game five drama at the Staples Center last night. Ron Artest, going from the goat to the hero in a last second shot. Here's how it all unfolded with the game tied and 3.5 seconds left.

(Soundbite of basketball game)

Unidentified Man: On Bryant, both teams are over the foul alert. Odom will throw in. Bryant threw and comes up short by...

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man: ...buzzer.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man: Ron Artest who took that bad shot, just a moment ago. The Suns are shocked. They were reviewing, it appears he got it up on time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Wow.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Tony. I wish you guys could see the face A-train is making. Now, the Lakers won the game 103 to 101 and now lead the series three to one. Pablo...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Three to two.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Three to two.

Mr. IZRAEL: Three to two.

Mr. TORRES: Three to two.

COX: Three to two.

Mr. IZRAEL: Sorry about that. I'm sorry. How did I mess that up, right? Pablo, my man.

Mr. TORRES: Yeah?

Mr. IZRAEL: What did you think of the shot? And are the Lakers still favored to win it all this year?

Mr. TORRES: The Lakers are still favored. And as far as Ron, I mean, I'm from New York, Ron Artest is a local legend here. And this is just another instance of Ron Artest doing something that no one would've imagined. I mean, if you look at that play, the Suns don't move, Ron Artest sees that Kobe Bryant - he actually thought he was fouled and is sort of has this instinct to go and do that right after, of course, taking a three with 20 seconds on the shot clock and missing wildly.

And what it just shows is that we have playoffs that have been great. I mean, we have two series on the brink now both at three and two. It looked like the Lakers and the Celtics were going to roll with it and restage the '09 finals, but now we have two series - and most importantly, I think, for our national sporting consciousness, that this is basketball without Lebron James. I think people...

Mr. IZRAEL: Don't remind me, bro, don't remind me.

Mr. TORRES: People can finally enjoy...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: After the news.

Mr. TORRES: They can enjoy some games without the biggest story to hover over all of us this summer.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, A-train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Exactly how many people are in this shop?

Mr. IZRAEL: Right, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: Coming up on the politics hour, the University of Virginia is fighting...

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, A-train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Exactly how many people are in the Shop?

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Exactly.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Disembodied voice of...

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, A-train, give us the over and under of that.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Listen, the NBA playoffs, 40 games in 40 nights, winner go home. At the beginning of the playoffs, I predicted a Celtics/Lakers finals. Everyone laughed at me saying that there's no way they were going to get past Lebron. You know, now we have Boston up three/two against Orlando in a pivotal Game Six tonight at the Garden in Boston. It's basically Game Seven for us in Boston.

What we've seen, amazingly, is Rajon Rondo in these playoffs, has gone from an immature little kid to the second coming of Isaiah Thomas. I mean, this kid has been ridonculous.

Mr. IZRAEL: There's no hyperbole there, right?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Not at all. Well, I mean, he made the cover of Sports Illustrated this past week, as Pablo knows.

Mr. TORRES: He did.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And they subsequently, of course, lost those two games.

Mr. TORRES: They did. They did. But like I said, I think that they're going to finish it tonight. I think it's going to be Celtics, Lakers and I think it's going to be a six or seven game series.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

COX: We'll see, won't we? If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's our weekly barbershop segment if you didn't already know that. We're speaking with journalist Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Arsalan Iftikhar of Boston fame and Pablo Torres. Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, A-train carries water for the Beantown, but it's all right. You know, anyway, thanks, Tony. Listen, we're going to switch gears to talk about the Gulf oil spill. Now, President Obama held a press conference yesterday. He acknowledged he misjudged some things in his handling of the spill, now in its 38th day.

COX: Well, youre about that. In fact, we touched on this earlier in our program today, Jimi. The president has really taken a hit on this. As we said, a USA Today/Gallup poll on Wednesday showed that 53 percent, five-three percent of Americans give Mr. Obama a poor rating. And James Carville, the Democratic strategist and Obama supporter, had this to say about the president on "Good Morning America" earlier this week.

Mr. JAMES CARVILLE (Democratic Strategist): He could be commandeering tankers and making BP bring tankers in and clean this up. They could be the deploying people to the coast right now. He could be with the Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard with these people in Plaquemines Parish, doing something about these regulations. These people are crying. Theyre begging for something down here. And he just looks like hes not involved in this. Man, you got to get down here and take control of this. Put somebody in charge of this thing and get this thing moving. We're about to die down here.

COX: Wow.

Mr. IZRAEL: I feel him. Wow.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: One Ragin' Cajun, as it were.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Come on. Ruben, the R.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yes. Yes.

Mr. IZRAEL: Look. Now we're...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's disturbing.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. You know, we're five weeks into this, you know.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yes.

Mr. IZRAEL: And the media coverage, you know, has it been fair in assessing President Obama's handling of this thus far? What do you think?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No, I dont think it's been fair. I think its been bent over backwards, favor Obama, unfair.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I can't tell you the number of people that I have heard in the media, a lot of it on CNN and elsewhere, making the point - straining to make the point - this is not like Katrina. This is not Obama's Katrina. But in fact, I mean even though there's no comparing the catastrophes in terms of the scale, when you look at it from the other side in terms of presidential leadership, I heard Carville just yesterday say that people Louisiana feel like theyve been abandoned, neglected and forgotten by their government.

Now, where have we heard that before? It was precisely in Katrina. And there's a reason that 60 percent of Americans give Obama either poor or very poor markings - marks - for how he's handled the spill. This is an enormous catastrophe. Just today, its been reported that BP upgraded its estimates of environmental damage from where it was, which was - ready for this? They used to say it was very modest, okay? And it went right from very modest to environmental catastrophe.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I mean that's a heck of a leap, okay? I mean...

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. Well, so...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: So yes, this they were a little off, right?

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And think this is the main point. President Obama has, as we know, many gifts, okay? He has a great intellect. He has - and sometimes you want a cool customer.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: But there is something missing in this guy, and it's that level of passion and engagement on issues he doesnt care about. And when he cares about something like health care, he's all over it, but in this case he hasnt been and it's showing. And when you have Democrats, Democrats in Louisiana who voted for him, saying this kind of stuff, its telling you something is wrong.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wait a second. Hold on a second.

COX: I'm not sure how you could say that the president doesnt care about...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I just did.

COX: Well...

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, I mean...

(Soundbite of overlapping voices)

COX: All right.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well I mean you did say that, but check this out. You know, 68 percent of - in that same poll, same poll, Ruben, 68 percent of people said they want BP to take the lead on this. So wait a second.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, so wait, on one end you want Barack to come in with his wooden staff...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...and his long beard and wave the staff of correction over this hole and make it right. But he's just one man. You know...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Here's the problem, Jimi. At the very beginning of this catastrophe, 37 days ago, I and a lot of other people bought the idea that this was BP's fault, responsibility to clean it up, it was their fault, and so it should be on them.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: The problem is, there needs to be - I dont need Ken Salazar, the Interior secretary down there talking in meaningless rhetoric about how I've got the boot - my foot on their throat, my boot on their throat and all this stuff. I mean if in fact your defer to BP and they screw you, because they drag their feet for 36 days and they dont even communicate with the president or communicate with the Coast Guard the way they should be, and they keep giving these estimates of very modest to environmental catastrophe, where are you?

Basically, the U.S. government and the Obama administration is being held hostage by BP. They should not be in business with BP. They should not be deferring to BP, and I am increasingly beginning to believe that this should've been the case of Obama pushing BP aside and saying we're going to take over here. We're going to hire another private company to come in here and clean up your mess and you are not going to be allowed on our coast for another 100 years, pal.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, I wish we heard this kind of, you know, media outcry when Bush had his catastrophe with Katrina. Everything with Bush happened post-Katrina, you know, and so first of all, let's not forget with Katrina, 3,000 human being died during Katrina. To somehow make it a moral equivalence between Katrina and the BP oil spill I think is duplicitous at worse and disingenuous at best. And so I think that needs to be put into play here also.

You know, at the end of the day, Ruben is right - you know, this is a matter of presidential leadership. But again, we did not see - I mean Robert Gibbs, at every one of his White House press briefings, the first 15 to 20 minutes are all BP oil spill questions. And so to think that the media has not had any sort of pressure on the president is just not, you know, looking at the facts.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Yeah. And another piece to this is that it's unprecedented. What you have him do? It's not like Katrina, where they knew it was going to happen.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: They had some idea that it was going to happen. So Ruben, what was he supposed to do?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, I'll give you one good example. What he's supposed to do right now is - and he can do it today...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right now.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right now.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, okay, has taken it upon himself to say we need to build sand barriers to block as much of this oil from coming to shore as possible. And he has spent three weeks arguing with the bureaucracy at the Army Corps of Engineers because they won't green-light those permits. And I just heard on the radio coming in this morning that Obama has greenlit two percent of those permits. Now, that's a finger in the eye to Louisiana. So if you want to know one concrete thing the president can do right now, he can greenlight those permits, cut the red tape, by fiat, stroke of pen, and get - empower Louisianans to go out there and build those sand barriers. This notion somehow, it's weird for me. On the one hand he's being criticized for not being strong enough, but then he wants to assert his threat and his strength against - who? A future presidential candidate in Louisiana? So...

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Pablo...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He wants to get tough with Bobby Jindal but not with BP?

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, let Pablo in here. Go ahead, man.

Mr. TORRE: Well, the thing that was most interesting to me in just as far as the intensity of the coverage goes, is maybe from a different perspective, but that's about sort of the environmental regulation perspective, that this is really, you know, in recent memory the first, you know, possible point of a culture shift as far as caring about the environment. I mean the fact is we have this situation that's so close to home, that is so tangible. I mean have you guys seen this spill cam? I mean this whole idea is that here's an environmental problem, unlike climate change, unlike the ozone layer and all these other things, which is very, very, almost cartoonishly tangible and menacing.

And I mean the bottom line is - I agree with Ruben to a large extent insofar as President Obama, if he cares about the environment, if he cares about climate change and all these associated issues which are wrangled up in the environmentalist kind of perspective, I think this is one point where he can really, you know, lasso a lot of the public outcry and sort of do something that might move this country in a positive direction.

COX: All right, fellas, we're going to move on to another topic to end today -a very different subject.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oy.

COX: So switch your minds. All right? Switch your minds. Switch your minds. Here we go. We're going to end talking about the film - dont jump on me - "Sex And The City 2."

Mr. IZRAEL: Oy.

COX: Dont jump on me. Here's a clip of Carrie Bradshaw. If you dont know who she is, we'll explain later. Here's a clip of Carrier Bradshaw played as - I know all of you know, especially Jimi - by Sarah Jessica Parker.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yuh.

(Soundbite of movie, "Sex And The City 2")

Ms. SARAH JESSICA PARKER (Actor): (as Carrie Bradshaw) I've always been fascinated by the Middle East. You know, desert moons, Scheherazade, magic carpets.

Ms. ALEXANDRA FONG (Actor): (as Lily York Goldenblatt) Like Jasmine in Aladdin?

Ms PARKER: (as Carrie Bradshaw) Yes, sweetie, just like Jasmine, but with cocktails.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Critics say the film is apparently a lot less sex, and in a whole different city, Abu Dhabi. I see your ticket to the 12:00 show in your pocket, Jimi. I can see it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go on.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Go see "Shrek," baby.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah right. Exactly. You know what? Tony, my problem with this is, they're a couple problems, but Ill just talk about the one. You know, this is a show, it's crafting a narrative that celebrates dysfunctional relationships and women behaving badly without consequences. And the movie, you know, it sounds like a just an extension of the show by inches. Now, you know, and the other big problem is, the show and the film, both written by men, and it disturbs me to see this narrative, this story about women driven by men. You know, it seems to me that the stakeholders aren't at the helm. You know, and instead of being at the helm, you know, they're allowing somebody else to tell the story, to push - and no one wants to push the narrative beyond, you know, the wanton, irresponsible, successful fashionable woman, and that's problematic to me.

COX: So you have daughters. You going to take them to see this?

Mr. IZRAEL: Absolutely not. First of all, my...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: ...my daughter's like 11 so, you know, she, no way.

COX: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: No way. No, baby. Even if she was 21. No way.

COX: Really?

Mr. IZRAEL: No way.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: My daughter doesnt have to know about Jimmy Choo. We can push that off as long as possible.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: Well here's - and I've actually asked a lot of my female...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Pablo.

Mr. TORRE: I've asked a lot of my female friends about this. And I, you know, actually, its funny. I work across the street from Radio City and when the premiere happened, I had no idea why the block was overrun with people. It was so beyond my line of sight. But my female friends have been anticipating this for a while. I mean it's, you know, one explained it to me like this. She said it's like "Transformers" for women as far as...

Mr. IZRAEL: Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: Where they're action movies, you have fashion. You know, instead of explosions you have, you know, things that maybe women appreciate in the degree far more than guys do. But the bottom line being that they're not really expecting that it's good. It's kind of like you go to "Transformers" expecting an entertaining but horrible movie. In the same way this seems to be the case. As the anthropological perspective, this seems to be the case for a lot of my female friends who are not, you know, teeny-bobbers. They're very smart, successful women. They just kind of see this as an escape in the same way that, you know, a horrible action movie that we all go see is.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, off the bat, I would rather go duck hunting with Dick Cheney or give Rush Limbaugh a foot massage than see this movie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: But, unfortunately, being a married man, my wife...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Youre going to get dragged to it anyway.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: My wife is going to drag me to this. And, you know, again, you know, sort of piggy backing off something that Jimi said, you know, I think that what, this whole brand of "Sex And The City" is so devoid of reality.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, here you have a bunch of white Manhattanite women who spend, you know, more on their Manolo Blahnik shoes than I do my Mitsubishi Endeavor.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And, you know, I dont think that it touches upon anything in terms of reality. And from the reviews that I've read, you know, now they go to Abu Dhabi, where I've heard that they just essentially pander to every sort of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, you know...

Mr. IZRAEL: Oy.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...stereotypical trope, you know, the Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves narrative. And so I'm dreading it. But wife...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: All I can say is, you must really love your wife.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I hope she's listening, Ruben.

COX: Well, let me just tell you, as probably the longest married guy in this group, that my wife is watching it today and I'm not.

Mr. IZRAEL: Really?

COX: And she doesnt want me to go, and I dont want to go. That's the secret to a happy marriage.

(Soundbite of overlapping voices)

COX: So I'll you guys how to work that after we get off the air.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I'll take notes.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'll leave my tape recorder on. Help me. Help me.

COX: All right. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego, California. Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He joined us from our New York bureau. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of muslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney. They both joined us from our studios right here at NPR in Washington.

Everybody, thank you very much. Enjoy that movie now.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Take care.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Go Celtics.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

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