In The Shop: Iraq, Joblessness And Baby Daddies
TONY COX, host:
I'm Tony Cox, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. It's time now for TELL ME MORE's 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 with us this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, columnist for the sports blog AOL FanHouse Kevin Blackistone, Reihan Salam, a fellow for the conservative think tank the New America Foundation and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette.
Jimi, how are you?
Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): What's up, T? How you livin'?
COX: I'm doing great. Take it. Tee us up, man. What are we talking about first?
Mr. IZRAEL: Well, first of all, fellas, what's good? Welcome to the shop.
Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): Hey.
Mr. KEVIN BLACKISTONE (Columnist, FanHouse): How are you doing?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Hey, hey. We need some sort of initiation for Tony. That ain't right. He needs to come on out here and pick up a chair and sit down.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COX: You're going to jump me in, huh?
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Right. Go at him with the clippers.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: This is Tony's second time in the shop.
COX: That's right.
Mr. IZRAEL: So, it's all good. It's all good. Well, let's jump right in. You know, we've got a lot to talk about regarding President Obama in the shop today. Now, with the economy as it is, we should start with the whole new unemployment figures thing. Lots of people, lots of folks have been waiting on them, especially politicos, Tony.
COX: You know, you're right about that. Mr. Obama was hoping to see the unemployment rate drop, but instead it bumped...
Mr. IZRAEL: Doh!
COX: I know. But it bumped up a tenth of a point to 9.6 percent. Here's the president from the Rose Garden today.
President BARACK OBAMA: The economy is moving in a positive direction. Jobs are being created. They're just not being created as fast as they need to, given the big hole that we experienced.
COX: So, Jimi?
Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: I guess that's one way to look at it. Thanks for that, Tony. So...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Talk about putting it sunny side up. I know it.
Mr. IZRAEL: Well, right. Well, Ruben, you know what?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yo.
Mr. IZRAEL: Do these latest unemployment figures give you the faith that the U.S. is on the road to recovery, bro?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, speaking as someone who was recently unemployed, now semi-employed, right - like all of us in the shop, we have these four or five jobs we lay on.
Mr. IZRAEL: That's right.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: But, you know, I think that the reason people lack confidence in Obama is he doesn't know how to fix this problem. I don't think anybody knows how to fix this problem. I don't think that having a Republican president in the chair would do any better. There are things you can do in terms of lowering taxes on businesses to create incentives.
But until you have, you know, more consumer confidence, people going out and spending money instead of squirreling it away - which is good for them, it's a smart move for them, but not good for our economy. Until you have companies being willing to go out there and hire people that they need to hire, there's very little the president can do to fix this economy.
So he's being beaten over the head by something that he has very little control over. Now, there's a poetry to this, because I seem to recall that he beat up President Bush pretty good for something that Bush had little control over.
So let's dispense right now with the fallacy that somehow the president can be the economist-in-chief because I don't think the president has - no matter who it is - has as much power over the economy as consumers do.
COX: So it sounds like these guys are saying...
Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know what?
COX: ...Jimi, let me just ask this...
Mr. IZRAEL: Sure, sure.
COX: ...that it's not the president's fault. So whose fault is it?
Mr. IZRAEL: You know what? I think it's too soon to tell in this administration.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Too bad Arsalan's not here. He'd say it was Bush's fault.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Ooh, that's cold. Ooh, that's cold.
Mr. IZRAEL: Ooh, that's not right. That's not right. That's not -that's ridonkulous. Don't go there. Listen, listen, listen: I think it's too soon to tell. What I don't appreciate, but I understand why we need them. But I don't appreciate these snapshots of numbers that kind of keep going up and down. You know, frankly, I'm getting seasick. You know, when Obama's three-fourths of the way through his administration, call me, and then I'll tell you how I feel about the economy.
Reihan, you know what? As, you know, the economic types, you know, they put it that, you know, the nation has shed 54,000 jobs. That's a lot of shedding. You know, what's this going to mean to the White House and to those who tie their fortunes to the president? What do you think?
Mr. REIHAN SALAM (Fellow, New America Foundation): Well, I think that Ruben is right. I think that politically, it might be bad news, but I think that, you know, the president ultimately doesn't have fine-grain control over the economy.
I actually think this jobs report was modestly good news. Private forecasters were anticipating much bigger job losses that didn't materialize. And, actually, they revised the job losses we saw in June and July. So it turns out we actually lost fewer jobs, those two months, than we thought we had.
And, also, you saw pretty surprisingly robust private-sector job growth. Again, it's not where we want it to be, as the president said. But it wasn't actually that bad. And a lot of the job losses come from the losses of temporary census jobs.
So the truth is that, you know, we're modestly moving ahead. I personally think that the president's approach to the recovery was very, very wrong-headed. I think that had the stimulus been designed differently, I think we would've been much better off.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right, right.
Mr. SALAM: But, regardless, the private-sector economy is slowly gearing up again, and I think that there's some reason for optimism.
Mr. IZRAEL: KB.
COX: Hey, Jimi, before you go to the next...
Mr. IZRAEL: Wait, where's KB?
COX: He's here.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: I'm right here.
COX: He's waiting his time. But I want to reset so people will know who we are...
Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.
COX: ...and what we're doing. If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're in the midst of the weekly Barbershop roundtable with journalist Jimi Izrael, Reihan Salam, Ruben Navarrette and Kevin Blackistone. Okay, Jimi, Kevin's been waiting for his turn very patiently.
Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, man. I know he's chomping at the bit. KB, jump in here.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Well, I mean, before I was a sportswriter, I covered economics. So this was pretty much my old wheelhouse, and everybody's correct. The president has never been able to really affect the economic situation in the country, never really will be able to. Much of what he did in the bailout of corporate America was, in fact, wrongheaded, but this is really a swipe of the sweat off the brow, because just a few weeks ago, when the housing numbers came out, they were dismal. And people started talking about a double-dip in terms of the recession.
And this jobs report, while it's a slight blip up, is really negligible - except for, obviously, the actual people who have suffered job loss - and actually is a soft landing from the report from the housing numbers that suggested the economy was heading into a second recession.
COX: Hey, Jimi, this has been a lot of stuff, though. There's a lot of other topics that happened in the White House this week. You want to hit some of the other ones?
Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, man. Like, you know, not for nothing, he also announced combat operations ending in Iraq, officially. He made sure to steer clear of that whole mission accomplished thing that was hung on the banner during a speech by his predecessor, George W. Bush. But I'm not sure anybody's feeling more upbeat by being more, quote, "time to turn the page" in Iraq's future, Tony. I don't know.
COX: You might be right about that, Jimi. Anyway, the president acknowledged that violence would continue in spite of the end of the combat mission, but that America's role in Iraq would be to support Iraq's fledgling democracy. Here's a clip of the president's address. This is from Tuesday.
Pres. OBAMA: Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country. This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office. Last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our efforts to strengthen Iraq's security forces and support its government and people. That's what we've done.
Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks for that, Tony. It was a pretty short speech -18 minutes. And that's almost it. I mean, we got the meat of it right there, you know.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.
Mr. SALAM: That's true.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.
Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks for that. You know, Reihan, so Tuesday's address, you know, it ended the war in Iraq, right? You know, but the U.S. mission in Iraq, you know, was it ever really accomplished?
Mr. SALAM: Depends on what you mean. I mean, I think that it's a thorny issue. The president found himself in an awkward spot. He's someone who thought that the war was a mistake, and yet he had to talk about it in a way that didn't seem relentlessly negative, that didn't seem to actually, you know, not give credit to the tremendous sacrifices made by U.S. troops in Iraq.
I think that we're not really going to know for another 20 or 30 years whether or not Iraq is going to really be a truly stable country, whether or not, you know, the presence of some more-or-less democratic government of the region is going to make some kind of big, positive difference. I certainly think that it was an incredibly expensive decision for the United States to make.
And, also, like, personally, just in terms of my personal reaction to the president's statement, I thought it was weird because, you know, he was able to say that President Bush, you know, he always supported the troops - which is, of course, you know, is the kind of, really, the least you could say about what the president accomplished there.
And because President Obama had criticized the surge strategy, it's not as though he could say, well, there was this dramatic turnaround in terms of what was going on there. So I think that he found himself in a very difficult spot. It's certainly not something that's going to really redound to his political benefit, which might've been something some of his supporters had hoped for. So overall, I'd say it's a wash.
And I also think we are going to enmeshed in that part of the world for a very, very, very long time. You can say that combat operations are over, Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, but my guess is that there are going to be U.S. military personnel who are going to continue dying there for, you know, many years to come.
COX: Hey, Jimi.
Mr. IZRAEL: Yes?
COX: You know, I don't know if you guys saw this. In The Washington Post just today, there was an article with reaction from Iraqis who are not happy with the president's speech because they were, like, hey, the war's not over. Where are you going? You know, you need to be here with us. And there was a lot of reaction like that.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Yeah. And not only that, but part of this agreement is, if I'm not mistaken, that if things get hot and heavy, the Iraqi government can pick up the phone and call the U.S. government and say, by the way, those combat troops, can you send a few back?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's when I'd call 9-1-1. That's a good time to call.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks for that, KB. The R, jump in here, man.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Okay, listen, three things about the Iraq thing. If you want weird, here's really weird. You know, Obama, when it served his political ends in Congress as a senator, criticized the surge, as was pointed out. And then when he needs to replace Stanley McChrystal for some inappropriate comments in Afghanistan, who does he send? He sends the brilliant David Petraeus, okay, who is - who was moved over to head up - from Central Command, to move over operations in Afghanistan.
Petraeus has this claim to fame that he orchestrated the surge. So, you know, Petraeus wasn't a good leader under Bush, but he's a great leader under Obama. So that's weird and crazy. Second thing - you know, the fact that we closed a chapter in Iraq means we get to focus on Afghanistan, you know. Iraq's going to look like elementary school compared to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is so much more complicated.
We do have a justification for being in Afghanistan. It was in Afghanistan that the 9/11 attacks were planned and carried out -planned to be carried out from Afghanistan. And so that's going to be much more complicated.
And then, lastly, I'm always left with just, like, a sense of worry and sadness because the good news about Americans is that we have such a value for human life that we look at a war like the one in Iraq that cost us, you know, 3,000 troops or so, and we are really heartbroken by that. But I wonder what it would've been like to grow up a generation earlier in Vietnam, where we lost 50,000 troops. The fact...
Mr. SALAM: Ruben, one thing I'll throw out there, though, is that a lot of troops have been injured.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: The fact that we - let me just - hold on, hold on, hold on.
Mr. SALAM: A lot of troops have been injured. There are a lot of psychological damage.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: I agree.
Mr. SALAM: We're going to be paying for that for many decades to come.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: I agree. My point is...
Mr. SALAM: So a lot of folks who would've died in an earlier generation did not die in this war because we have the technology to save lives.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: I agree. But here's my point. The point is that you cannot deal with Islamic fascist terrorists who want to kill us, okay, with a sense that because we value human life so much, when we lose 3,000 people and troops, we're calling it a day, because that's a lot for us. It's a good thing that we value life that much. But when you're fighting an enemy that doesn't value life, that's a disadvantage.
COX: Let me jump in, guys, only because our time is running short. And I want to reset who is here and let the audience know what we are talking about. This is the Barbershop. I am joined by Jimi Izrael, Kevin Blackistone, Ruben Navarrette and Reihan Salam.
There was a story that has nothing to do at all, guys, with what we have been talking about, so we're going to make a sharp left turn, a U-turn, almost. We're going to talk about - this is for you, Kevin Blackistone.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Girls? Are we talking about girls? I hope. Come on.
COX: Well, girls - the girls do play...
Mr. NAVARRETTE: We never talk about women here. This is not right.
COX: Girls - they play a part in this. We're going to talk about Antonio Cromartie. And girls definitely played a part in his situation. This is the New York Jets player who was on the HBO show "Hard Knocks," talking about his children and trying - follow me now -trying to name them. Listen to this.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Hard Knocks")
Mr. ANTONIO CROMARTIE (Professional Football Player, New York Jets): So once you leave and get home, you got to be that father figure, you know, that husband. We got Alonso, who is five. I have Keris, who is three. I have my Junior, which is three. I have a - my daughter who just turned three as of yesterday. I have another son named Tyler -yeah, so, he turns three in December. We got another daughter that was born October 16th named London, another daughter that was born named Lelani, who's two years old. And I have my newborn with my wife. Her name is Jersey.
COX: All right, Jimi. I'm going to give this to you and Kevin Blackistone to deal with. Jimi, you know the names of your kids, don't you?
Mr. IZRAEL: Yes, sir.
COX: Okay, good.
Mr. IZRAEL: But sometimes when they're annoying me a little bit, I forget, you know. And sometimes, when they're all around, I'll be, like, yo. Why don't you go get what's-her-name, you know, so we can go get ready to do what we got to do? But, you know, not for nothing, I think the criticism is kind of - it's weird, and always seems to be a criticism that gets slapped on young, black men.
But, you know, nobody's criticizing Clint Eastwood for having seven kids by five women, or Rod Stewart for going seven by five, or Charlie Sheen. He got five by three. And Mick Jagger got seven by four. Kevin Federline, four by two. And Kevin Costner, my man got seven with three. So I'm, like, you know, to me, it didn't feel as if he had forgotten the name of his children.
Mr. SALAM: Antonio's 26.
Mr. IZRAEL: And? Your point is what?
Mr. SALAM: Clint Eastwood is, like, 800 years old. That's more time to have babies.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: So, but what's your point? What's your point?
Mr. SALAM: That's more time to have babies.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Absolutely.
Mr. IZRAEL: What's your point, brother?
Mr. SALAM: I can elaborate. I mean, I actually agree with you that I think that - I don't think that Antonio forgot the names of his kids. I don't think he deserves criticism for that. I think that a lot of people are struck by the fact that a 26-year-old kid has eight children. I think that's pretty extraordinary, and I think that...
COX: And three of them are three years old.
Mr. SALAM: I think that that's what's drawing a lot of attention.
COX: Right. And three of them are three years old, I think.
Mr. SALAM: And three of them are three.
Mr. IZRAEL: I think it's problematic, because it's really hard to be a really good dad to that many different kids. And I'm sure they're not...
Mr. NAVARRETTE: But you don't remember their names, exactly right.
Mr. SALAM: When you're 26...
Mr. IZRAEL: Well, hold on. And they're not in the same city. I think that's problematic, too.
COX: We got to get Kevin in here. Go on, Kevin.
Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, KB.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Yeah, also, let's remember, I mean, that Cromartie also criticized HBO for the way that they handled this segment, because he said this was a second take, and that the first time, he breezed through it. And they asked him to redo it and name his kids more slowly - which, in effect, if that's true, made it sound like he didn't remember the names and ages of the eight children that he happens to have.
Nonetheless, it is unfortunate that he's in this situation. But it just goes to show that some NFL players are not fighters, they're lovers.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COX: And, you know, people who have big families - I once interviewed Joe Jackson about this. He had nine children, you know, and he couldn't remember all of them. After Michael and Janet, it got a little tough to remember the rest of them.
Mr. IZRAEL: Let's ask Mick Jagger to name all his kids.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Exactly.
Mr. IZRAEL: Let's just do that for fun.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: And I'm with that. You know, a few years ago, Sports Illustrated did that.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: In fairness, though, in fairness with the Jacksons, it was like he wanted to forget some of those kids.
COX: Well, maybe you have a point there.
But, guys, our time is out. I wish we have more to talk about. There was a lot of stuff that we had to leave on the table. So what do you say we do this again next Friday?
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Please.
Mr. IZRAEL: Same bat channel.
COX: All righty. Jimi Izrael is a freelance writer journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is the syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group who also writes for CNN.com. And today, he joined us from member station KSTX in San Antonio, Texas.
Reihan Salam is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the coauthor of "Grand New Party: How Conservatives Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream." He joined us from our New York studios. And Kevin Blackistone is a national columnist for the Internet sports blog AOL FanHouse, and a panelist on ESPN's "Around the Horn." And he joined us right here in our studios in Washington.
Once again, gentlemen, thank you very much. See you in a week.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Thank you.
Mr. NAVARRETTE: Peace.
COX: And that's our program for today. I'm Tony Cox, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.