'Shop Talk': Rodney King engaged to Juror No. 5

Gets Hitched �"- In our regular weekly segment freelance writer Jimi Izrael, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre, syndicated columnist Gustavo Arellano who writes the column "Ask A Mexican" and NPR's Political Editor Ken Rudin join in to talk about the week’s events. President Obama’s economic address and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his suspension are subjects up for debate.

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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, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre, syndicated columnist Gustavo Arellano, who writes the column "Ask a Mexican," and NPR's political editor, our Political Junkie Ken Rudin. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Hey, Jimi. Yo.

Mr. GUSTAVO ARELLANO (Columnist): What's up?

Mr. IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop. Hey, Michel. Did you miss us?

MARTIN: You were never far from my thoughts.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, whatever, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Don't polygraph me.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right, exactly. You know what? Let's jump right in. You know, while most Americans benefited from a short week because of Labor Day, President Obama got back to work on the campaign trail. He was in Milwaukee on Monday and here in my hometown of Cleveland - yeah, yeah -on Wednesday, talking about the economy. He's taking aim at the GOP. Wow.

MARTIN: Yeah, he singled out Congressman John Boehner, the House minority leader. The president said that Boehner and the GOP are the villains in the piece, responsible for the economic policies that caused the economic downturn in the first place. I'll just play a short clip in case people missed it. Here it is.

President BARACK OBAMA: This week, I proposed a six-year infrastructure plan that would start putting Americans to work right away. But despite the fact that this has traditionally been an issue with bipartisan support, Mr. Boehner has so far said no to infrastructure. That's bad for America. And that, too, is what this election is all about.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, wow. Michel, thank you for that. Ken dog...

KEN RUDIN: Well - yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...you know what? Listen, hold on, Ken. You know, the ancient Africans have a saying: You know, don't start none, there won't be none. Now, you know, if - here's what I think. Here's what I think. You know, why start partisan beef? 'Cause you know what? 'Cause if it walks like partisan beef and it talks like partisan beef, I don't know. I think Obama should really be careful about ginning up this conflict, 'cause it looks like it's along party lines. Ken dog, run it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Well, two things: First of all, you know that John Boehner has the perpetual tan, so he is the only Republican of color in the whole House of Representatives. And I think it's worth mentioning that. Look, I thought it was very interesting that in his speech in Cleveland, the president named John Boehner seven or eight times, which basically elevated Boehner to presidential status, and I thought that was a mistake.

You know, it's one thing to talk about Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress, but nobody knows who John Boehner is. And I think a lot of people - look, first of all, one, people don't know who John Boehner is and, two, the stuff we heard from the president in Cleveland this week is what we heard later in a press conference today and we've heard all summer about how he inherited a mess and how the Republicans are the party of no. But obviously, the polls have not changed, and the polls even look worse and worse as we get closer to November 2nd.

MARTIN: Well, maybe this is a way to narrow the partisanship to the point that - to Jimi's point, when he says don't start none, there won't be none. I mean, I think from Obama's perspective, I think his argument would be they already started it. So he's answering it maybe by focusing on Boehner.

Ken, could it be that his argument is that if other Republicans then can peel off and move along, that he has narrowed his focus to the leadership? And he can say it's not the grassroots. It's the leadership.

RUDIN: True, but I don't think people - when they look about their - the future of their job, their economic insecurity, they don't think of John Boehner. They think of who's in power, and it is President Obama and the Democrats' control of Congress. Rightly or wrongly, they are taking the blame for the 2010 midterm elections.

Mr. TORRE: But I just - and this is Pablo, just jumping in real quick. I think that's kind of the problem, though. I mean, like Michel was saying, I mean, it's already been started, and they've been unapologetically and specifically mentioning Obama's name, of course, since the beginning. And any Republican, you know, will tell you deep down that they're going to win this by targeting him.

And so, at this point - I mean, he's talking to young people, especially, who were once energized by Obama's campaign. I mean, they felt that he's been neutered, that he hasn't been naming enough names. And I think a lot of folks out there feel that, you know, this political rhetoric of taking the high road doesn't necessarily lead to political high ground in an increasingly sort of militaristic bipartisan system. I think they actually want a little bit of fire, even if it's elevating a guy who maybe isn't the ideal counterpoint to Barack Obama.

MARTIN: Can I ask, though, Gustavo, how it's playing?

Mr. TORRE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: So what we need now is a mud fight.

Mr. TORRE: Unfortunately, a little bit, yes. I mean, that's - I think so. I mean, a little bit of a mud fight. I mean, basically, the converse, the alternative hasn't worked.

Mr. ARELLANO: This is Gustavo. I love political mud fights, absolutely. I do think that the right has been ruthless in going after President Obama, rightly or wrongly - I think mostly wrongly. But I agree with Ken. Going after - I can't even pronounce his name Boehner - Boner, I mess up his name all the time...

Mr. IZRAEL: Nice.

MARTIN: Nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARELLANO: And most people don't - I think most people have that. When they think of him, that's who they think of. He's not a classic Republican GOP boogeyman like Gingrich was, like Reagan was, like Sarah Palin is. This is somebody that most people might know. Okay, he's a Senate minority or House minority leader, okay, so what of it? And what that does unfortunately, that's going to even further galvanize the opposition toward Obama, toward the Democrats, toward people who are actually trying to give us a better economy.

Yes, Obama did inherit a bad economy but he can't keep saying that again and again and again. He can remind us that his opposition is working ruthlessly against him. But if you're going to target somebody, target the big boys. Don't target somebody who most people don't know who he is.

MARTIN: Before we leave the whole question of Obama and the week that he's having, I did want to ask Ken and others who want to participate about this whole controversy around this pastor in Florida who said, you know, he was going to burn these Qurans tomorrow on the anniversary of 9/11. Of course, it's the end Ramadan so, you know, a holy period. It's caused a big dustup and to the point where Secretary of Defense Robert Gates actually called the man to say - to urge him not to do it, saying that he was actually inflaming tensions in a manner that would be very destructive for, particularly for troops serving abroad.

And the president had a press conference today where he addressed this question. I'd just like to play a short clip and get your reaction. Here it is.

President BARACK OBAMA: One of the things that I most admired about President Bush was after 9/11, him being crystal clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam. We are at war with terrorists and murderers who had perverted Islam, had stolen its banner to carry out their outrageous acts.

MARTIN: Now, I do want to ask, it's interesting because a lot of people have suggested that President Obama, for whatever reason, has not led to this point as much as he could have or should have on this question. And other people say he's actually done too much. He's elevated the issue beyond where it should have been and by members of his administration. I'm just curious about your take on this.

RUDIN: Well, first of all, it was kind of fun to say that what I most admire about President Bush. This is after a press conference where he ripped Bush and the Republicans for the worst economic climate since, you know, the Great Depression. But having said that, he is in a tough bind. I mean President Obama is in a tough bind, but the fact is, the fact that we're still talking about this guy, when I came to Studio 4B today, there were more people sitting in the studio here listening to this show than attend this Gainesville church.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: And yet, we're spending all this time talking about this guy, about this guy's power and he's being interviewed by people all over the world. It's beyond - right now it's beyond Obama's control. 9/11 is a universal symbol now of what - some horrific thing that happened and yet, we just seem to be focusing on the most ridiculous inane stuff of the whole anniversary.

MARTIN: Yeah, but the argument that has been made is that this has become a recruiting tool for jihadis.

RUDIN: Right.

MARTIN: And we don't control - I don't know. Jimi, what do you think before we go on? I know you have other things you wanted to talk about, but what do you think?

Mr. IZRAEL: I think this guy needs some butts in the seats of the pews and this is the issue du jour. And I think it's a stunt. And this guy, man, this guy, I'm sorry, he's like the William Hung of, you know, who I...

MARTIN: Oh, really?

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

Mr. ARELLANO: Anybody can be a polarizing little figure these days. Just be crazy enough and you'll get the attention.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Yeah, I just, yeah. I just...

RUDIN: Look at Jimi.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That's so cold.

Mr. IZRAEL: I just don't give him a lot, you know, but whatever, man.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, before we, before we - anyway, Jimi, you have other things. Go ahead.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. All right. Well, let's talk about police in Los Angeles who are struggling right about now to quell the anger and violent clashes with members of the Latino community in recent days -now, not for nothing. Many are angered that a police officer shot and killed a Guatemalan-born day laborer in a heavily populated immigrant district of the city, Michel.

MARTIN: Now, this is a, this has obviously touched off a lot of intense feelings. The L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck earlier this week recounted an eyewitness account of how the police shooting took place. This is what he had to say.

Chief CHARLIE BECK (Los Angeles County Police Department): The suspect raised his hand that held a knife and attempted to stab her and the pregnant lady next to her. She said the suspect attempted to stab her twice as well as the pregnant lady. She and the pregnant lady and the lady's children ran across 6th Street. She heard the officers yell at the suspect to drop the knife. All three officers were telling the suspects to drop the knife and then she heard three or four shots. So because of all that, and because it's the right thing to do, I promise you a fair and transparent investigation into the events of this past Sunday.

MARTIN: Yeah, that's interesting that - well, we're still having these, maybe this is inevitable, but I don't know.

Mr. ARELLANO: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, Michel - well, thanks for that, Michel. Gustavo, listen, man I get accused of being a police sympathist because, you know, it's pretty well-known that my best friend of 28 years - just about 30 - is a police officer, so I know that that's a tough gig.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean that's a tough gig. And I think sometime the public, you know, makes it a little - don't tase me, bro - makes it harder than it has to be without, by not complying with police orders. You know, I don't know. Gustavo.

Mr. ARELLANO: It's a tough story. In full disclosure, I have a cousin that works for the Los Angeles Police Department and they do have a tough job. At the same time though, people will always ask the question: well, if you have a drunken guy with a six-inch knife in broad daylight, why couldn't you use other types of force? Say, a pepper spray, as you said, Taser, something other than shooting the guy in the head.

And then the other problem though that's happening, one of the main reasons why people are so upset is because that particular area, the Westlake district of Los Angeles, it's heavily patrolled. But a lot of the people there, they say that the police department there, they care more about hassling just the day-to-day people who are working around instead of the actual gangs who are terrorizing that particular neighborhood.

So what's happening right now in Los Angeles, there's been protests there for the past four days. They're starting to get smaller and smaller in number but it's really touched a raw nerve for that particular community.

And I also have a lot of friends who live in Westlake who live around the area and they're saying yeah, the LAPD, we understand they're trying to do their job but at the same time, they're not really doing enough of a good job for us. And killing, you know, Manuel Jamines, may he rest in peace, that's not anything that's going to help out the LAPD at all.

But at least, I got to say, at least we're not in the days of Daryl Gates anymore. That's the only good thing about this. At least Beck is out there talking to people.

MARTIN: I do have to mention though, you know, the officer involved in the shooting is also Latino, and I wonder if that affects...

Mr. ARELLANO: I know.

MARTIN: ...the way people think about this. Actually, one other little tidbit from the whole world of...

Mr. IZRAEL: The West Coast?

MARTIN: The West Coast world.

Mr. IZRAEL: West side.

MARTIN: RadarOnline is reporting that Rodney King is engaged. You know, speaking of a history of police, you know, civilian conflict. But some are raising eyebrows because of who the soon-to-be bride is. She is Cynthia Kelly, otherwise known as juror number five. She was the lone black juror from Rodney King's civil suit against the City of Los Angeles, where King was awarded $3.8 million in damages. And of course, the money was awarded to him because of the severe beating he received at the hands of four police officers. I'm just wondering, I don't know. It just...

Mr. IZRAEL: Michel?

MARTIN: You know what I mean?

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean my whole - Michel, look, here's me, right? First of all, that was way back when he got that money. And mostly he's squandered that money on Tylenol, I would imagine. You know, reports are that he's...

(Soundbite of ssh sound)

Mr. TORRE: Yeah, it's the rap label.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. And reports are that he's bankrupt, you know. And so, I mean I don't know, love is where you find it. I mean so he's divorced. So he marries this woman who happened to a juror on his case, I don't know. Mazel tov, I say.

RUDIN: But now I hear that he's demanding that they video tape the wedding night because he's so used to being videotaped.

Mr. ARELLANO: Nah.

MARTIN: Oh no. Okay. Oh no.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, no.

MARTIN: Okay. Moving on.

RUDIN: I just read that somewhere. I'm not...

MARTIN: Speaking - moving right along, the NFL is back, fellas. I know you're so excited.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah.

MARTIN: I know you're so excited.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yay.

RUDIN: Go, Yankees.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Pablo, elevate the conversation, please. Look ahead.

Mr. TORRE: I will try.

MARTIN: All right.

Mr. TORRE: Well, I think first off, the most interesting thing about last night's game - and it seems like the entire country watched, it was the most watched season opener I think ever - is that the players all entered the field after the national anthem and held up a one finger. And it wasn't to unify America or whatever. It was because they were standing as united front for the labor dispute that's impending. So that's going to be the cloud that's hanging over this season: Whether we'll even have football next year. But, you know, Brett Favre is back. All the usual characters are back.

My pick for the Super Bowl looking ahead, we've never had a team win the Super Bowl and play the Super Bowl at its own home stadium. I think the Dallas Cowboys actually take it this year. They beat the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning, whose replaced in my opinion, Tom Brady, as the most reliable quarterback in the NFL and we get some - a little bit of history there and a lot of super villainy when Jerry Jones and his billionaire stadium plays host to his own team and crushes the dreams of whatever opponents he may face.

MARTIN: Just for those, for the three people who didn't watch the game, of course, the Super Bowl champs, the New Orleans Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings 14 to nine.

Mr. TORRE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And, of course, it was the Drew Brees, Brett Favre matchup. It was exciting. But Pablo, quickly, do you think we - will there be a season? Will there be a football season next year with everybody's talking lockout? How likely is that?

Mr. TORRE: I think, I mean I think it's very very likely. I think right now if I were to bet the farm, as it were, I would bet on there being a lockout. I think there's a lot of distance between these two parties. A lot of disputes over money. And not even just the principles of how money is shared but just the shear financial reality of it and that's just fairly, you know, at this point billionaire owners versus millionaire players.

I think what would be interesting to see is how the public opinion turns on this. You know, I think sports is ironically one of the few venues where labor relations is actually interesting to a lot of people. And I think it'd be interesting to see whether fans, such as myself and all you guys, side with labor in this instance when they're millionaire players versus these shadowy billionaire owners who seem to be pulling the strings in a lot of these cases.

MARTIN: We have to get picks from everybody else so I can dog you all out later. So, anyway, Ken, who is your pick for Super Bowl?

RUDIN: Well, I think the Cowboys look very good. I'd love to see the Jets. I mean I'm not a Jets fan but I'd love to see, you know, the new cornerback that they signed and he could be a great addition to the team. They look pretty exciting.

MARTIN: And what about you, Gustavo? Picks?

Mr. ARELLANO: Cowboys I think are going to go to the Super Bowl. My pick for the AFC though, is the Tennessee Titans. Between Vince Young, Jeff Fisher, which I think is one of the most underrated coaches in the NFL, and Chris Johnson, you have a powerhouse team right there.

MARTIN: Oh, Jimi, who do you like?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, my picks are always emotional.

Mr. TORRE: Browns? Browns?

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, I got to rock with the Browns. But, you know, I also got to roll with da Bears because, you know, my people are from Chicago. So, you know.

MARTIN: Awesome. Well, you know, you know, it's all about the green right here, the Jets.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well.

MARTIN: The Jets.

Mr. ARELLANO: J-E-T, Jets (unintelligible).

MARTIN: All right. All right.

Mr. TORRE: The Jets, "Hard Knocks." Such a good market. I mean everybody doubts. Why would you do "Hard Knocks?"

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. TORRE: It worked out so fantastically for them.

MARTIN: And if I'm right we'll play this over and over again. And if you all are wrong, why, I'll play that over and over again too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Thanks everybody.

Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Gustavo Arellano is a syndicated columnist who writes the column "Ask A Mexican." He joined us from Costa Mesa, California. Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He joined us from our bureau in New York. Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor, our political junkie. He was here with me in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Thank you all so much.

Mr. TORRE: Peace.

Mr. ARELLANO: Got you.

RUDIN: See you guys.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

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