Guys In The Shop Talk Politics, Porn

The Barbershop guys have their say about the week in the news. Two prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus face ethics probes, another loses her seat. Hip-hop music star Wyclef Jean says he is running for President of Haiti. And actor Laurence Fishburne’s 19-year-old daughter considers a job as a porn star. Joining the conversation: freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, blogger and Johns Hopkins political science professor Lester Spence and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

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

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 freelance writer, Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney and author, Arsalan Iftikhar; blogger and Johns Hopkins political science professor, Lester Spence; and Sports Illustrated reporter, Pablo Torre. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, what's good? Welcome to the shop.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney, Author): Hey, hey, hey.

Professor LESTER SPENCE (Political Science, Johns Hopkins University; Blogger): Hello.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): What's up?

Mr. IZRAEL: All right, well, you know what? It's been a rough couple of weeks for the Congressional Black Caucus, also known as the CBC. Now there's concern that the group, which calls itself, quote, "the conscience of the conquerors," may not be living up to that slogan.

Now, two of its more prominent members are at the center of ethics allegations, and a third member and former chair lost her seat in Tuesday's Michigan primaries, Michel.

MARTIN: You know, we talked about the ethics issues earlier in the week, so people can perhaps refer to that conversation for the full details. But just to recap in case you didn't hear: of course, New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, longtime member, former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he was slapped with 13 ethics charges late last month.

Of course he says he's going to fight those. Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, she's also a former CBC chair. She's been criticized for her involvement with a bank that received stimulus funds where her husband was on the board. The formal charges haven't been made clear, but she said she is fighting those. And as you alluded to, Michigan congresswoman, former CBC chair, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, lost her primary on Tuesday.

We just talked, actually, to the man who defeated her, State Senator Hansen Clarke. And now, here's a short clip from her concession speech on Wednesday morning. Here it is.

Ms. CAROLYN CHEEKS KILPATRICK (Former CBC Chair): We did not win the election. I will be a servant and continue to do that. There were six candidates in this race. Unfortunately they made it two(ph), and that's okay.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

MARTIN: Yeah, she sounded sad. She sounded sad.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, really. You can hear it in her voice. Thanks for that, Michel.

MARTIN: Lester Spence, the good doctor. Dr. PolySci up in this piece, break it down for us, please.

Prof. SPENCE: Yeah, I think that well, I think it's important to understand that the three cases are very different. So Rangel...

Mr. IZRAEL: How so?

Prof. SPENCE: Rangel had a long history of potential violations. It's not clear that Representative Waters actually has an ethics violation, as much as she tried to do a lot of work for black banks when the economy failed, and she ran into problems there. And then in Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick's case, she's getting she was unelected largely or she was booted out of office - largely because of her son.

So it's important, in talking about these cases, recognizing that there are three distinct cases. But, yet, and still, we can use this as an opportunity to talk about the ways that the Congressional Black Caucus can become can come closer to becoming the moral voice of America that it used to be when it was conceived.

MARTIN: Well, is the real issue, though, Lester and I totally take your point - but one of the issues that's emerged here, is the fact that there are eight formal investigations before the House Ethics Committee, in all of them - eight formal investigations all involved African-Americans. And then some people say, well, what's the problem here? And some people say, well, that these people that these - is there a problem with their conduct? Or is there a problem with the fact that they are - African-American politicians are subjected to an additional layer of scrutiny? That's sort of a I think I would be curious about your take on that.

Prof. SPENCE: I think using Rangel is the best case is the best/worst case. I think it's probably both. That is, African-Americans are probably more likely to be subject of scrutiny. But at the same time, they are - they have a higher standard, not only because they're black as far as how the outsiders look at them, they also represent constituencies that are often the hardest hit by problems that we have. So, yeah, they have - they are likely subject to differential treatment because they're black, but they have to step their game up.

Mr. TORRES: And, actually, and this is Pablo just jumping in, there is a commonality, though, that I thought was interesting. I think there are a couple of variables here, and it's not just race. It's also the fact that if you look at these, these lawmakers under investigation, the eight basically average ten terms a person, each. And these are really super entrenched they were super entrenched incumbents that haven't really been threatened or checked, because of the hold they had over their constituencies.

So I think its not just race. Its also the idea that you have a bunch of people who maybe haven't had the accountability that you might expect for a lawmaker.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. TORRE: And people who've been in power for so long that, you know, that you want maybe a change just because theyve been there for such a long time.

MARTIN: Its interesting. Gene Robinson of the Washington Post wrote a column saying that, Rangel saying - strongly defending Rangel on ethic grounds, saying that his - if he had a crime, it was that he has a large ego.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: But that's not against, you know, if that were a crime then the jails would have to be much larger.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, and I was actually going to this is Arsalan.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I was going actually quote Gene Robinson of the Washington Post, and former Barbershop compatriot of ours, in saying that in Rangels case he was quote - not, he was trying to satisfy his ego, not line his pockets. You know, I think what interesting also to keep in mind, you know, piggybacking off something that Pablo just said, is that, you know, this, you know, if you look, you know, before this recent group of cases that weve seen, you know, weve predominately seen white politicians getting caught up in these sorts of ethics - Rangels, you know, we had obviously former GOP Majority Leader and Dancing With The Stars reject Tom DeLay, you know, who was cast under a cloud for a very long time on ethics charges.

And then, of course, on the Senate side, we have Senator John Ensign, the Republican from Nevada, who not only is facing ethics violations in terms of financial dealings but also, you know, using those financial dealings to pay for an alleged mistress that he had.

And so I dont think that this is as much an issue about race as it is about political hubris. Like, you know, Pablo said, a lot of these congressional leaders have been entrenched for many, many terms and decades. And so, you know, like Gene Robinson said, you know, I think that this is more about hubris than actual, you know, ethical, you know, criminal conduct.

Mr. IZRAEL: Speaking of hubris, hip-hop superstar Wyclef Jean.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Thats so cold. Thats so cold. Thats wrong. Thats cold.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: How dare you.

Mr. IZRAEL: He's made a - you know what? Hes made a living fusing melodies and hooks to make chart-topping hits, and nobody could take that away from him, but yesterday he announced his latest endeavor and he wants to become Haitis next president. Really?

MARTIN: Yeah, I know. Well, yeah, really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: He was on CNN last well, excuse me, did we not have former actor as president of this country? I mean I'm just I'm just saying.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I mean but he also, I mean Ronald Reagan...

MARTIN: Do we not have a former actor as governor of the largest state in the United State? I'm just saying.

Mr. IZRAEL: But they'd also held other offices.

MARTIN: No, they didnt.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Not Arnold.

MARTIN: No, they didnt. Well, Ronald Reagan did.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, not Arnold. Not Arnold.

MARTIN: But Arnold Schwarzenegger didnt and his first political office was of governor.

Mr. IZRAEL: And look at how Arnold stumbled.

MARTIN: Of a state whose economy is larger than that of many countries.

Mr. IZRAEL: Arnold needed a whole army of advisers so he didnt fall on his face. You know, Arnold isn't the best case for Wyclef Jean running for Haitis president. I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Do you want to hear what Wyclef had to say? He was on CNN.

Mr. IZRAEL: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Would you like to hear it? Okay. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show, Larry King Live)

Mr. WYCLEF JEAN (Musician): ...January 12th, I would say over 50 percent of the population is the youth population. And we suffered for over 200 years. Now that our country has problems, it's a chance to rebuild from the bottom on up.

And I don't even say I'm trying to be president. I'm being drafted by the youth of Haiti. Right now is a chance for to us bring real education into the school, infrastructure, the security, and proper jobs. So this is some of the reasons that I'm running.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I would vote for him.

Mr. IZRAEL: No. No. Its like hes Sharptonitis. You know that disease where youre in the limelight for like a minute so you think that, you know, even though you haven't been dogcatcher, you could suddenly be king of the world, right? Give me a break.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Pablo? Pablo, is this a good thing for Haiti and for Wyclef?

Mr. TORRE: Well, first off, I think if the youth were drafting people in America, Justin Bieber would be president at this point.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: So I dont think that necessarily proof of anything. But I do think, I mean as long as this isn't a vanity project for Wyclef, as long as this isn't something to feed his ego just, jumping off of something we just talked about...

Mr. IZRAEL: Plus the curls.

Mr. TORRE: Exact - you know, he sort of said really interestingly, you know, I'm not a politician. I'm going to delegate to people who know what they're doing. My question, what I would want to know is, who are those people? Who are the people actually going to be making decisions? If hes going to be the marketing arm for Haiti, which could be a great idea, which could be a great idea to bring an outside voice, someone who is from the United States, which people there, as the Miami Herald reported, actually respect and see as a good thing to have an outsider, if that all works out and hes the face, if hes the figurehead and he has people who know what they're doing running the government, then I think this could be a great experiment, actually, in a place that really needs an experiment to go right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I, you know, I was piggybacking off what Pablo said.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, I think it would be great. You know, honestly, if California, the seventh largest economy in the world could elect the Kindergarten Cop to run its, you know, executive branch, I think that, you know, for me what it helps in doing is itll never take Haiti off the map again. You know, lets not forget also that, you know, Haiti, politically speaking, had to deal with Papa Doc Duvalier, the strong man, you know, who led Haiti for many, many years. And essentially after the earthquake, Haiti sort of fell off the radar internationally. And I think by electing Wyclef Jean, you know, I'm not just saying this because the Fugees are my favorite hip-hop group ever...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...you know, I think that, you know, itll never be outside of the international consciousness the zeitgeist, you know, that weve seen after many natural disasters and I think that, you know, it really could be that, you know, that change and new generation that Haitis looking for.

Prof. SPENCE: This is Lester.

Mr. IZRAEL: Can we have a voice of reason?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. SPENCE: Of reason? California is a failed state. When Ronald Regan took control of the government in 1980s, he created the path that led to our current economic crisis...

Mr. IZRAEL: Preach.

Prof. SPENCE: ...promoting straight-up failed government policy. The government was the actual enemy. As soon as you hear someone say I'm not a politician but I want to run for office, you should be really, really scared.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Prof. SPENCE: Because Haiti's problems are the primary cause of failed politics. So what we actually need is someone who can be really explicit about what these politics are and really explicit about using domestic and international politics to make Haiti a better space.

Now, to the extent that Wyclef can actually create that conversation is a good thing but theres no way in hell excuse my language that we should have a hip-hop star running a failed state.

MARTIN: Well, I just think that your analysis of Californias problems is a little simplified. I dont think its one political leader. I think its a mismatch between part its all kinds of issues with governance there. Its an initiative and referendum system...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: ...that doesnt really allow people to govern. Its a, you know, sort of people allow their pet projects to be on the ballot and...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Prop 8.

MARTIN: And so thats part of the issue here that political leaders can't really govern there. Thats the issue. I dont think its Ronald Regan per se. He may have articulated a philosophy that made it attractive to but, anyway, well, well see. Well see. Well see.

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Pablo Torre and political science professor Lester Spence.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

So the next topic, it's a little disturbing, at least, you know, for some of us and its every fathers nightmare. So actor Laurence Fishburne, you may recognize that name. He was Morpheus from The Matrix and hes the current star of the CBS drama CSI. Well, he has a daughter thats trying to break into acting but she's making her debut in porn.

MARTIN: You know, and this is not - and I just have to emphasize, this isn't some leaked sex tape here. This is - and I think one of the reasons we found this interesting is that it isn't often that people say that this is really what they want to do. I mean they're not pretending that this is sort of...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: ...a mistake. We actually found a clip of an interview with Fishburnes daughter, whose real name is Montana. Shes using the screen name Chippy D and shes on the celebrity blog Carlton Jordan.com.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Ms. MONTANA FISHBURNE: The first time is nerve-wracking. And I mean, like you're on camera, but I have a lot of at-home experience, pretty much, so I feel really comfortable with the camera. The camera loves me. And I love the camera.

MARTIN: So Jimi, I just have to - so just just so - if it was a little hard to hear, just saying...

Mr. IZRAEL: Well...

MARTIN: ...she felt very comfortable with this. And I just to ask, you know, on the one hand, you know, you are a father. On the other hand, you kind of have -tend to have a very First Amendment attitude around entertainment and so forth.

Mr. IZRAEL: Sure, indeed.

MARTIN: I wonder, whats your take on this?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know what? Not for nothing, I mean I have friends in the adult industry and it is not easy money. So beyond being a fathers nightmare on one level for the whole world to see your, you know, your daughters naughty parts, you know, its a tough gig. Its a tough business. You know, but heres me: I want Laurence to come out and support his daughter, because you know what? Youre not going to like all your kids choices. I mean you just, you know that from jump. I mean the minute that, you know, that they start telling you no, which is like, you know, not long after, you know, its like their second word, you know, in life, its like no, then you know that youre not going to like all your kids choices. You know, and if she ever needed a father, she needs a father right about now. So, you know, you've got to respect your kids choices.

MARTIN: But isn't a fathers job in part to exert his own values and if he doesnt agree with it, what should he do?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I mean...

MARTIN: Are you saying he should what should he do?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I'm sure he didnt co-sign this. But what are you going to do? I mean, of course, its your job as a father. You know what? You want to instill in your children what your values are. But, you know, all of us find our own way. I mean very few of us went the way that our parents pushed us, you know. So I think right now, I think, I think she needs her dad and I hope he comes out. And he doesnt have to buy a copy or wear a T-shirt, but, you know, he needs to let the world know that he loves his daughter.

MARTIN: Well, thats interesting. But Lester, youre a father also. I'm interested in your take on this. I think for a lot of people this pushes a lot of buttons because here Laurence Fishburne has worked so hard to be well respected as an actor leading in his field and this kind of over-sexualization of black women is exactly what a lot of people really hate about Hollywood and to have somebody say, well, actually, this is my gig, I think is painful for some people. Whats your take on that?

Prof. SPENCE: Yeah. I agree. I think it is Fishburnes responsibility to be there for his daughter. But the one thing was really - that really troubled me is a comment she said. She said that she was impatient with becoming well-known. You know, she didnt talk about developing a craft, becoming an actor. What she wanted to do was be famous, and theres something that's really problematic about that. So the one thing I try to do as a father is I try to give my kids the ability to make informed choices and I try to show them through my own work ethic how theres a whole bunch of things that you have to work really, really hard for, to the extent that what shes doing here is cutting corners. Not only cutting corners but cutting this specific corner...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Prof. SPENCE: I think that its really deeply problematic. And to that extent, I think what this signals is that there are conversations that Fishburne didnt have with her and he should've.

MARTIN: Thats a tough one. Thats a tough one. Well, we're almost out of time. But we have to talk about the big sports news of the week. Arsalan, Shaq in green pants.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Shaq-Fu.

MARTIN: Whats up? Shaquille going to the Celtics?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Shaquille O'Neal is on the Boston Celtics. He signed a two-year $3 million deal for the veterans minimum of $1.5 million a year.

MARTIN: Happy?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I'm thrilled. You know, I'm just wondering, you know, is he going to change his name from the Big Diesel to, you know, the Big Leprechaun, the Big Chowder?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know. And whats most important, the funny thing is that Glen Big Baby Davis is on the team already. His original nickname was Baby Shaq. So now you have Shaq and Baby Shaq on the same team.

MARTIN: Thats cute. Thats cute. Pablo, what do you think? Is this a plus for the Celtics?

Mr. TORRE: You know, the Celtics need to do something to keep up with the Miami Heat. They need to try something again. Its their own experiment. I dont think, again, I'm not a Boston supporter like Arsalan is. But, you know, they got to do something. I'd try something. Maybe they hit a home run with Shaq, who suddenly decides to lose weight and get in shape again.

MARTIN: Oh dear. Oh my god. Ouch. Ouch. Okay. So Pablo, Brett Favre, play or not play?

Mr. TORRE: Hes going to play. Hes going to play and hell be around for as long as people hate him for.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: So if you want him to go away, stop talking about him, stop hating him. It only feeds into he's like the poltergeist of sports.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. I think thats all the time we have left today. Jimi, thanks, everybody.

Jimi Izrael was with us. Pablo Torre, Arsalan Iftikhar and Lester Spence.

Thanks, everybody.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. TORRE: Thanks.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

(Soundbite of music)

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