'Shop Talk': Rangel Reckons With Judgment, Palin Considers Presidency

In this installment of Tell Me More's weekly segment "The Barbershop," host Michel Martin talks with author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Republican strategist Marcus Skelton, and Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor. They discuss Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who faces censure for financial and fundraising misconduct; Sarah Palin, who says she believes she can beat President Obama in the 2012 election; and whether new airport security pat downs are too invasive.

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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 shape-up this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Republican strategist Marcus Skelton, and NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Thanks Michel. Hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How we livin'?

KEN RUDIN: How are you doing, Jimi?

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

Mr. MARCUS SKELTON (Republican Strategist): Doing great. Doing great.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hopefully nobody's living in a undeclared villa in the Dominican Republic. Uh oh.

MARTIN: That ain't right.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, let's kick things off by coming back to New York Congressman Charles Rangel. Now, as Michel mentioned before, he was convicted of 11 ethics violations this week. And yesterday he found out the suggested punishment for those violations. Censure, Michel.

MARTIN: That was the reference to the villa in the Dominican Republic. That was one of the things that he was accused of not paying taxes on. Ken can clear up that for us. And, Ken, maybe, why don't you just give us some of the details. Some of the charges - what? Using a subsidized apartment in New York as a campaign office.

RUDIN: Right. That he got - he got four rent-controlled apartments in New York. He got - basically he did not report hundreds of thousands of dollars of income he made on this villa. I don't know if it was the Dominican Republic or the notary public. I can't remember the name.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Sorry. But also the fact that he used his letterhead to attract contributions. Here's the thing. I think there are several things. First of all, he is the chairman - he was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. If the guy who's in charge of the tax writing committee doesn't know what taxes he's responsible for paying, that sends a very bad signal. Two(ph) -Nancy Pelosi, when she became speaker in 2006, said she's going to drain the swamp of Washington. And of course she was talking about Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff and the Republicans, not knowing she'd have to be talking about the Democrats. And that didn't go over well with her also.

But also, clearly Charlie Rangel was offered a deal, a plea bargain, basically, months ago. He could've taken it. He didn't. He showed arrogance. He showed bombast. He kept insisting that he did nothing wrong. And by the time he did ask for mercy, you know, it was almost like, and then he said, well, I'm walking out because I don't have a lawyer. It's like the guy who, you know, kills his parents and then says, please, I want to have mercy because I'm an orphan. I mean, basically there are so many things he did wrong that he could've done better and it didn't have to lead to a censure.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, no doubt. Yeah, he had too much swagger on the front end. Then all of a sudden he's pleading. Really? Seriously? He had two years to get his legal counsel together and now he's trying to plead his own case. It's a really sad turn of events, Ken. But you know, I'm wondering is this censure, is it a deserved punishment or is it a heavy hand? Or is it a light touch?

RUDIN: Well, certainly the fact is he was told to step down as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and he did so. He is obviously, you know, he's one of the more powerful members of Congress. The fact is, his power is gone. And that in itself is a tremendous penalty as it is. But, you know, of course, expulsion was never going to be a part of the equation. That was Jim Traficant because of his own corruption. It was Ozzie Meyes because of Abscam. Charlie Rangel didn't go that far.

But I still think, and I think Cynthia Tucker alluded to this earlier, that had he been more contrite, more admitting of what he did, he probably would've gotten a rebuke or, you know, some kind of a rebuke rather than a censure. But censure is pretty powerful stuff. And now when - after Thanksgiving he's going to have to stand before the well of the House and hear the charges being read to him by the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

MARTIN: But, well, I don't know, Arsalan, what do you think?

Mr. ARSALAN: Well, first of all, I should probably hand in the keys to my villa in the Banana Republic. But, you know, Charlie...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: I shop there all the time.

Mr. ARSALAN: Charlie Rangel, you know, I think that the punishment in this case did fit the crime. You know, obviously, you know, we had the midterm elections where a great portion of the American public, you know, was voting against the excesses and, you know, patent corruption that they saw within both chambers of the House. And like Ken said, you know, Charlie Rangel, you know, was, you know, exercising a lot of hubris when dealing with this issue. And so, I think in this case, you know, with the severity of the crimes and the way that Mr. Rangel had handled it, I think that it was a fitting punishment.

MARTIN: He said in his defense - he did have an opportunity to speak to the committee after they had made their decision and when they were deciding what the penalty was, and he just said, look, whatever you decide, I hope that you will put in your report or take note of the fact that Charles Rangel never sought any personal gain. And said that, you know, I'm not corrupt and I would never do anything to bring shame to my family, my community.

So Marcus, what do you think? Do you buy that?

Mr. SKELTON: I absolutely don't. Come on, Rangel. Look.

Mr. IZRAEL: Tell us how you feel, man.

Mr. SKELTON: I really am. Six hundred thousand dollars that you don't report to the IRS, when you're head of the Ways and Means Committee...

MARTIN: Which is the tax writing committee.

Mr. SKELTON: Right. The tax writing committee - is oversight. The Isley Brothers went to - one of the Isley Brothers went to jail for the exact same thing.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ron.

Mr. SKELTON: And then you look at what's going to happen to him. If I did, you know, if I got in trouble at my job, it's the equivalent of me going to a company meeting, they reading the charge and say Marcus; you are a very bad guy. And this is supposed to be a huge punishment for Charlie Rangel. This is one...

MARTIN: But he still has to get right with the IRS. I mean, he doesn't not have to pay the taxes because he's...

Mr. SKELTON: Well, it says he does. We'll wait and see. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he'll pay now, you know, after everything he...

MARTIN: So you're saying you think he should've been expelled?

Mr. SKELTON: No. I think what it is, and I expressed a lot of frustration that a lot of other voters felt, that Cornell West talked about it a couple of days ago, there's kind of like legalized bribery and normalized corruption amongst Congress in general. And this is a prime example of that, is that they live by different set of laws than normal folks. And if youre the head of the tax committee and you don't pay your taxes for 17 years, I cannot pay my taxes for two years and I am going to jail and they're not going to...

RUDIN: True.

Mr. SKELTON: You know, they're not going to sit me in front of my peers and read a bad letter to me. So I think that's one of the things that is a growing frustration in Washington. That's, you know, one of the main reasons why Barack Obama got elected to president of the United States, because of this feeling that people have is that they are just doing whatever the heck they want to up here, and this is a prime example of it.

MARTIN: Well, it does beg the question of whether people should go to jail for failing to pay their taxes when the tax code is as complex as it is. But I do take your point. Mary Kate Cary, earlier in the program, said that one of the things this does speak about is the fact that the tax code is as complex as it is for everybody, and that's one of the things that people are frustrated about. Do you think that's a fair point or do you think or tough, no you should pay somebody to do your taxes?

Mr. SKELTON: No. I dont think...

RUDIN: But he's chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

Mr. SKELTON: Yeah. I dont think it's a...

MARTIN: Well...

Mr. IZRAEL: There's an H&R Block on every corner.

Mr. SKELTON: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SKELTON: You know what? If I - I'm going to tell you this. What about...

MARTIN: I'm just throwing - I'm just raising the issue for discussion.

RUDIN: Yeah, what about H. and R. Haldeman?

MARTIN: Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Moving right along. If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly conversation in the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Marcus Skelton, and NPR's own the political editor Ken Rudin.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Now Fox news contributor and star of a TLC reality show, Sarah Palin, is hinting at a possible presidential run in 2012. Now more than hinting, actually.

MARTIN: I was going to say.

Mr. IZRAEL: In an interview - you're right. In an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, she says she hasn't decided whether or not she'll run, but she thinks she has a good chance of winning if she does, Michel.

MARTIN: Okay. And I'll play that. Do you want to hear it? Just so people can hear what she says for themselves.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. Absolutely.

Mr. SKELTON: Yeah.

MARTIN: Here it is. Go ahead.

Mr. IZRAEL: Drop it.

(Soundbite of ABC News' Barbara Walters)

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): Im looking at the lay of the land now, and trying to figure that out, if its a good thing for the country, for the discourse, for my family, if its a good thing.

Ms. BARBARA WALTERS (Journalist, writer, and media personality): If you ran for president, could you beat Barack Obama?

Ms. PALIN: I believe so.

MARTIN: Also, it's been a very good week for Sarah Palin.

(Soundbite of whistle)

MARTIN: She set a ratings record with her eight part documentary series "Sarah Palin's Alaska," debuted Sunday night. And then on Wednesday, yup - well, there you go. Its been a good - the interview with Barbara Walters was on Wednesday, if people want to go back and check it out on Hulu, there you go. So, smack down Obama-Palin, smack down.

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean but Barbara Walters, she's interviewed Elmo too, and he probably doesn't have any delusions of grandeur, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: But, anyway, that isn't a knock on Sarah. That's just like, wow, really? Marcus, now you are a Republican strategist. Do you think that Sarah Palin can win the GOP ticket, let alone beat President Obama, head-to-head, in the 2012 elections?

Mr. SKELTON: Well, I don't know about the general election, but in the Republican primary, with a crowded field, anything can happen. And I think this is one of the things that a lot of people...

Mr. IZRAEL: Really?

Mr. SKELTON: ...are realizing and they are shaking in their boots, realize that Sarah Palin could win this nomination. But the weird thing is, she's either loved or hated across the country. You see as many liberals that don't like her; she has one of the highest rated shows on television. Somebody's watching it. If you go to certain parts of the country there are Sarah Palin bumper stickers everywhere. Now for her being president of the United States, I'm a Republican primary voter. I'm not quite sold on that. She's got a lot of work to do to do that.

MARTIN: Ken...

Mr. IZRAEL: So just like Elmo, she's well loved across the nation, so.

Mr. SKELTON: Well, you never know. I say look, if she doesn't know anything about foreign policy, Charlie Rangel doesn't know anything about taxes, anything is possible in this country.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Well...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Ken.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ken Dog. Ken Dog, get at that.

RUDIN: Here's proof that anything is possible in this country. Bristol Palin is still on "Dancing with the Stars."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

RUDIN: So obviously, anything is possible.

Mr. SKELTON: She dances better than me.

RUDIN: If all the people who vote for Bristol Palin can vote for Sarah Palin for the Republican nomination, or let alone President Obama in 2012, you're right, Marcus. Anything is possible. First of all, it's fair to say that even though her numbers - Sarah Palin's numbers are not great - 44 approve, 47 disapprove - those are the exact same numbers with President Obama right now. So, you know, keep thinking that the Democrats would love to run against Sarah Palin. They said that about Ronald Reagan in 1982. Boy, I'd love to run against this right wing extremist actor, and look how well that worked out for them. But still, look, there's a lot of time between...

Mr. IZRAEL: Ooh.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Ken.

RUDIN: What?

Mr. IZRAEL: No, that was the point well made, bro. I'm sorry. Go ahead Ken.

RUDIN: No. I'll also say, but I mean 2012 is a lifetime from now. Look back, just go back two years to 2008 when the Republican Party was finished forever and Barack Obama and the Democrats were going to run the country forever - and two years later that's changed dramatically, so 2012 is a long way away.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, first of all, you know, to push back a little on my friend Ken here, you know, the main difference between the Ronald Reagan analogy is that, you know, he was running the seventh largest economy in the world and had 54 electoral votes that he could put in play. You know...

MARTIN: And finished his term...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Well, and so...

MARTIN: ...running California.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, for us Democrats the specter of a, you know, Palin-Obama, you know, head-to-head match up, it reminds me of the words of the rapper Bone Crusher, that we ain't never scared.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: This would be like Steve Urkel telling Lebron James that he could beat them in a game of one-on-one. And so, you know, until Sarah Palin knows that Citizens United is a Supreme Court case and, you know, not some local Tea Party affiliate in Wasilla, Alaska, you know, I would take that match up any day of the week.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mmm.

MARTIN: You know it's funny that she just ignites such intense feelings.

RUDIN: Both sides.

MARTIN: Both sides. I mean there are people who would like will wait for hours online is to gaze upon her, in the same way that people waited for hours to gaze upon a Barack Obama. And there other people who just cannot get the words out without just falling into a foaming froth of hatred and vitriol, and that includes Republicans. So it's just interesting that she just generates so much hot feelings.

Mr. SKELTON: And she's confident. She looked Barbara Walters straight in the eye and was like yeah, I can beat them. You know, that was I think the most -the part that, you know, infuriates some people and excites others.

MARTIN: Well, yeah. That's a good point. Okay, so remember when she was asked, I believe by ABC's Charlie Gibson, whether she hesitated at all when she was offered the vice president's position with John McCain. She said no, you have to be built in such a way that you think you can do it. And she clearly is. So it's interesting.

RUDIN: But...

MARTIN: It is interesting. So anyway, let me just jump in right here to say, If youre just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Marcus Skelton, and Ken Rudin.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, okay. Well, you know what? Before we go, this is our last Barbershop, Michel, before the busy Thanksgiving travel rush, so...

MARTIN: Happy Thanksgiving, Turkey Day.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Gobble. Gobble.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: That's it.

Mr. IZRAEL: So we should probably talk about the TSA.

MARTIN: Yeah. That is true I do want ask the guys, I just, this whole issue around these new screening procedures. And one of the reasons we were thinking about this is that, you know, Thanksgiving is the busiest travel period of the year for everybody. And, you know, now I thought women were going to be the ones who were upset about this. You know, these intrusive or whatever you want to call it, close scrutiny. I don't know what euphemism we're using these days to talk about what they're doing. But the thorough pat-down. And a California man named John Tyner kind of raise the issue for a lot of people when he recorded this past down on his phone. And this is what he had to say. Here it is.

(Soundbite of video)

TSA Official: That means I am going to place my hand on your hip, my other hand on your inner thigh. Slowly go up and slide down.

Mr. JOHN TYNER: Okay.

TSA Official: We are going to do that two times in the front and two times in the back.

Mr. TYNER: All right.

TSA Official: And if you would like a private screening, we can make that available for you also.

Mr. TYNER: We can do that out here but if you touch my junk I am going to have you arrested.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Classy guy. Keep it classy, homeboy. Wow.

MARTIN: So Arsalan's in Chicago where he's already in place for the holidays. So I hesitate to ask if anybody came close to touching your junk while you were...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know...

RUDIN: How do you think he got on this program?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Excuse me.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, no. Oh, no.

MARTIN: Excuse me.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, the funny thing guys, is that, you know...

MARTIN: I'll be calling my lawyer and my husband shortly, Ken, to deal with you.

Mr. SKELTON: Oh, oh. Billy's on line one.

MARTIN: That's it.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

MARTIN: Go ahead. Go ahead, Arsalan.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, the funny thing for me is, you know, here I am, you know, after September 11th, I was a six foot four single Muslim male, and so I've had my junk touched at airport and lines for many many years, to the point where I used to joke with the TSA guys, you know, aren't you going to buy me dinner first?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And so, you know, this, you know, this whole not only the touching of the junk phenomena, but the whole full body scanner, you know, that we've seen which basically shows every single contour of the human body, is something that a lot of privacy advocates and civil libertarians on both sides of the velvet rope, you know, are saying is a overreach by the TSA, and it's something that Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano is probably going to be addressing in the very near future.

MARTIN: Ron, what do you say?

Mr. IZRAEL: Listen, I've...

MARTIN: Go ahead. Go ahead, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...had to do, I've had to - this isn't well known, but I've had to do a concert and club security, and sometimes you have to pat people down and you have to touch them in delicate places. And it's for the good of everybody. So this whole thing with TSA, if you know what, if you want to touch my junk I say treat yourself. Don't cheat yourself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Handle your business. Let's all just be safer, please.

RUDIN: Jimi, can I be honest? This is the only reason I fly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Oh, no.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you for that. Thank you for that.

MARTIN: But, you know, but I have to tell you but Jimi gets highly upset, don't touch his hair. That's what's funny about this. Dont touch his hair ever.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Yes. Absolutely not. Nope. Right.

MARTIN: Cross the street. Okay. That's what's funny. Marcus what do you think?

Mr. SKELTON: No, I think he got a wake-up call in getting searched 101. That's what really happens when people, you know, get in trouble and get searched. You know, they, you know, some people go through the building they're not used to the normal line. If you got in trouble for got pulled over on the street this is the exact same thing that happens.

MARTIN: So youre saying welcome to a black man world, right? Black and brown man world.

Mr. SKELTON: I didn't say it. You did.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. SKELTON: But, you know, that...

RUDIN: It's post-9/11 world. It's not black man world.

Mr. SKELTON: Yeah, but it could go that way and...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Right. Right.

Mr. SKELTON: ...you know, he tries to use his constitutional rights, you know, you don't have to go through the scanner if you don't want to. You can get search. That's what research is. You know, and if you want to protect yourself on the plane that's the search youre going to have to go through. But there is a difference between fondling, yes, they have to check up there. I dont know if you watch these lockup shows, people put stuff there so youve got to check and make sure there's nothing there.

MARTIN: But, wow. That's a difficult question.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hey now, wait a second. Go ahead. Go ahead.

MARTIN: Well, I dont know. It's a difficult question because I know that but, you know, we're not guilty. You know, we're not under arrest. We're not in the custody of, you know, the authorities. On the other hand, I understand both Jimi and your point that there's a certain sacrifice that we all make in terms of privacy for the sake of, the safety of all us.

Mr. SKELTON: Well, yeah, you have to pick your poison. Either, you know, get seen half naked or get groped. I mean you've got to pick which one you want. That's kind of how it is now.

MARTIN: What do you pick?

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Spread your arms and cough, bro.

Mr. SKELTON: I'd rather you not touch me. I'll go through the scanner and you could see what I got.

MARTIN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, this is our last get together with me at least, before Thanksgiving so I just wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and I certainly hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Mr. SKELTON: You too.

RUDIN: You too.

Mr. IZRAEL: Back to you, Michel.

MARTIN: All right. Jimi Izrael is the author of "The Denzel Principle" and joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of muslimguy.com. He's also a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He's joining us from Chicago. Marcus Skelton was here with us in Studio 4B. He's a Republican strategist. He's also a grants program advisor for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. And Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. He was here with us in our studio Washington too.

Thanks everybody.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

RUDIN: Gobble. Gobble.

Mr. SKELTON: Later.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Im Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Lets talk more on Monday.

(Soundbite of music)

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