Is It A Surprise That The Government Is Monitoring Your Calls?
CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. And it's time to visit the Barbershop. That's where the guys talk about what's in the news, what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape up this week - writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael; sports editor at The Nation, Dave Zirin; Corey Dade, a contributing editor for The Root; they are all here with me in Washington D.C. And joining us from St. Louis, Mario Loyola; he's a contributor to the National Review and with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Okay, take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, C. Headlee. How you doing?
HEADLEE: I'm doing great, how are you?
IZRAEL: I'm making it. Hey, everybody. Welcome to the shop, how we doing?
DAVE ZIRIN: Hey, hey.
COREY DADE: What's up?
MARIO LOYOLA: Que pasa, que pasa.
IZRAEL: Hey, Mario Loyola, C. Dade. Wow, this is like my birthday.
IZRAEL: All right, well, you know what, I do know about you guys, but I'm kind of stiff. I stayed up all night on that game. The San Antonio Spurs - they dug in, they went in and they took game one from Miami Heat. Dave, D. Z., Dave Zirin.
IZRAEL: You weren't excited about this matchup, did last night change your mind at all?
ZIRIN: Oh, I think is going to be a fantastic series. Last night did change my mind. I love the efficiency of both teams. I love the fact that the ball was actually going in the hoop, unlike the conference finals in the East and the West. And frankly, I love the strategy of the San Antonio Spurs, which is collapse on superstar LeBron James - he only scored 18 points last night, about 10 below his season average - and force Miami's 3-point shooters to beat them. Miami only made one of their last nine 3-point shots and they lost by four. That was the game.
HEADLEE: Can we take a listen? Actually, Tony Parker talked about the Spurs' strategy. This is what he said after the game.
IZRAEL: Drop it.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
TONY PARKER: Obviously, LeBron is unbelievable, Dwyane Wade was playing great. We just try to contain them and tried to pack the paint and make sure to take jump shots.
HEADLEE: That's exactly what Dave was talking about. So Jimi, how do you feel about LeBron James, your former hometown hero? How did you think about watching him play?
IZRAEL: You know, you know what it is.
HEADLEE: Uh oh.
ZIRIN: That's a sensitive question.
IZRAEL: No it's not because I'm not one of those people that's like, rah rah LeBron. You know, I'm rah rah free agency for a young black man. But I'm not rah rah LeBron or rah rah Cleveland, although, Cleveland, I love you, sweetheart, my grandma and I love you. But if this is one of them things, like, LeBron, you know this is? We're watching LeBron become Neo. You know, and he...
HEADLEE: Neo in "The Matrix"?
IZRAEL: Right. As in "The Matrix" he was immature and impetuous but suddenly, there is that Larry Fishburne moment where he believes. And we're watching this...
HEADLEE: We're going deep here.
IZRAEL: ...with our - I know, right - with our own two eyes. He is growing into his role as a champion. You know, I believe Miami is going to take this but I believe it's going to war, I believe it's going to be like Rutgers. It's going be real, real serious. C. Dade, Corey Dade, how do you see the series playing out?
DADE: Well, usually, you know, the Spurs are the most boring team in professional sports.
DADE: But last night they showed me something different. I mean, they were, you know, you know, Coach Popovich, he's brilliant. He can morph that team into anything it needs to be to suit the opponent and, you know, I agree with you. I think this is going to be a time where LeBron has to innovate and come up with a way to get open. I think at the end of the day, I think the Heat will figure it out and they'll take it in seven.
IZRAEL: Super Mario, Mario Loyola, you are the Texan in the shop. So I guess that means you're going with the Spurs to take - I'm sorry - you're going with the Spurs to take it all, right?
LOYOLA: Oh, no, no, no, no.
LOYOLA: Wait a minute, wait a moment, wait a moment.
LOYOLA: This puts all of my friends in Texas against all of my family and my cubanitos in Miami. So I've got a problem. I think that Miami is going to take this one.
IZRAEL: Okay, all right. All right, well, you know what, let's keep it moving. Now over to the ball field. ESPN is reporting that at least, at least 20 players, including - I was going to say something editorial, but I won't - Alex Rodriguez.
HEADLEE: Thank you, Jimi, we appreciate that.
IZRAEL: Ryan Braun - they are tangled up in allegations of using performance-enhancing drugs. Ay caramba. Color me surprised, Dave. You know, break this down for us, Dave.
ZIRIN: Absolutely. It starts by understanding that there is a clinic in South Florida, an anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis, that's not run by a doctor.
ZIRIN: That's always a clinic you want to go to.
ZIRIN: A gentleman by the name of Anthony/Tony Bosch and - wow, from Chris Bosh to Tony Bosch, see the continuity here. A nice segue.
IZRAEL: Nice segue. You should be in radio.
ZIRIN: Thank you, sir.
IZRAEL: Go ahead.
ZIRIN: And the main issue here though, is that what this shows is that Major League Baseball is about to suspend maybe as many as two or even three dozen players for performance-enhancing drug use without getting one positive test from any of these players. So one of the things this highlights, more than anything, is that despite the literally millions of dollars being spent on a testing program in Major League Baseball, to quote-unquote, catch the cheaters, it's just not working.
IZRAEL: Did I read right, that you think we should legalize performance-enhancing drugs? Did I read that right or was that just an early morning goof? I hadn't had my coffee cup yet.
ZIRIN: I was on ESPN calling out the reefer madness about performance-enhancing drugs, saying that I think that the system is broken. And so the solution lies on the extremes of one side or the other. Either we have to do a genetic coding, testing biological passports, testing players, their blood, on a daily basis, that's one solution. The other solution is, you decriminalize it, regulate it, turn it into a public health issue, and put it under the auspices of Major League Baseball.
IZRAEL: But you know what you're actually saying, David. I mean, if we go with that then we are talking about the end of personal excellence. We're talking about, really, the end of the true champion as we know it. And we are also encouraging kids to take dope, you know, we encourage them to take...
HEADLEE: Well, you're saying you have to or you can't compete.
ZIRIN: I'm saying that the system is currently broken. So we need to think about...
IZRAEL: So break it some more.
ZIRIN: No, no. Sometimes you got to tear it down and start it all over again. And two things. First of all, personal excellence has never really existed in Major League Baseball, whether you're talking about the color line before 1947, whether you're talking about the fact that greenies were passed around locker rooms like they were M&Ms in the '60s and '70s...
HEADLEE: Before we get too far...
IZRAEL: You're going to get some emails behind that one.
HEADLEE: I want to go to Mario here, 'cause Mario, you have a very different perspective on this from Dave's, right?
LOYOLA: Well, yeah. I mean, I think that it's not that different, necessarily. I mean, I think that cheating needs to be stigmatized. And there's also the public health issue. On the other hand, this is another case that we see in so many other areas of American life of overregulation and of too many rules and of too many things being, sort of, you know, being within the ban on performance-enhancing drugs. And so I think that - one angle that I would like to see more discussion of is the fact that this all seems to be up to Bud Selig. And so it's very arbitrary and rules don't work when they're, sort of, arbitrary.
IZRAEL: Okay. And in case people wonder where I read David, I read him at thenation.com.
ZIRIN: Thank you very much.
IZRAEL: You're welcome, bro. Cory Dade.
DADE: Well, you know, I wasn't surprised, I mean, this is baseball. You know, for years they weren't testing at all and now, in this case, you know, they're going hard without actually having any test results, like Dave is talking about. You know, these players deserve due process. If you're going to suspend them, you've got to do it based on positive testing for performance-enhancing drugs. That said, you know, the entire, you know, baseball sport is just riddled with this and it's the same thing in football and so, you know, as long as you are a multimillion-dollar athlete, there will always be ways to get ahead of the testing science, period.
HEADLEE: Yeah. You're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We are joined by culture critic Jimi Izrael, journalist Corey Dade, policy analyst Mario Loyola, and sports editor Dave Zirin. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thanks, Celeste. Well, it's not just Major League Baseball dealing with controversial issues. The Obama administration.
IZRAEL: Yeah, they're throwing elbows and catching flak for listening in on your phone calls. Wait a second, not quite. I mean, they're not listening to you order your pizza or anything like that are they, Celeste? I mean, they might.
HEADLEE: No, okay, what's come out this week is that the NSA, which is the National Security Agency, has been collecting data, from Verizon and possibly other companies, about phone calls made in the U.S. This would include the names, the phone numbers of the callers, the locations, perhaps of where you are calling from and then the lengths of the calls. Administration officials say it is established policy. It was approved by Congress and it's justified for national security. Let's take a listen here, though, to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Here she is speaking on Thursday about this practice.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Terrorists will come after us if they can. And the only thing that we have to deter this is good intelligence, to understand that a plot is being hatched and to get there before they get to us.
HEADLEE: This may be one of the few things Democrats and Republicans in Washington agree on. Republican senator and frequent administration critic Lindsey Graham defended the practice. But the Washington Post has reported that the federal government has also been collecting information from Internet companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple. Look, I'm seeing a bunch of blank faces. Is anyone here surprised by this? Jimi, are you surprised?
IZRAEL: I'm not, I mean, for me it's another example of Obama cribbing, you know, Bush-era stuff. You know, I don't know if we should give him all the credit for this. He's just continuing some Bush stuff. That's it. But at the end of the day, you know, I'm scared of what it means. I'm scared of what it implies. But I - it's one of those things that just might be an evil for a greater good. I'm not sure. Corey, you want first in?
DADE: Well, I think the idea that they are - it's the PRISM program and if - PRISM, where they are taking - they're using everything - they're tapping, the federal government is tapping directly into the servers of about nine of the biggest Internet companies in the world, including the ones you mentioned, Celeste, also Yahoo. And I think, you know, the illusion that, you know, Americans have privacy needs to kind of be, you know, done away with. But, on the public side, as far as the public is concerned, this may force a clearer discussion about the balance between the right to privacy and the need to evolve to protect national security. Now, what's interesting is there is no outrage on Capitol Hill right now. There's very little outrage. And that's because no one wants to be seen as being soft on terrorism. And so it's going to, you know, I think the public reaction is the thing that'll probably foment a more serious dialogue. But, you know, it's interesting about President Obama's position, you know, before he got elected. He was opposed to this. He was the anti-Bush candidate. Now, you know, my sources in the administration told me something, you know, when you start getting briefings, daily security briefings, about the threats, it is out of this world. And every president changes their position on that stuff.
IZRAEL: Mario Loyola, is this an overreach?
LOYOLA: No, it certainly isn't. I think that the story here is the negative reaction that the media has had to the revelation of the story and the fact that there was a very serious leak of a top-secret court order to Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, that started all this. I think, look, Obama has been a victim of the fantasy that he and his supporters cultivated for many years, that the Bush administration's approach to national security and the rule of law was somehow out of bounds and unconstitutional and unlawful and all of this. And now that they have to embrace many of the same policies they are, sort of, hoist by their own petard. For me it is delightful to see the New York Times come out with a criticism that's absolutely as childish and unreasonable of this president as they were routinely of the Bush administration for many years. And the fact of the matter is that this metadata analysis is really noninvasive and it's a crucially vital tool of national security analysis. It's like when your credit card starts showing charges in South Africa, and your credit card company calls and says, hey, we know that you're not in South Africa because you just filled up at the Exxon station on the corner from your house - so we're stopping, we're halting your card. Do you feel your privacy has been invaded?
HEADLEE: Dave Zirin is - Dave's shaking his head here.
ZIRIN: Mario needs to read his Ben Franklin. Those who would surrender liberty for security deserve neither. And I remember who I heard quote that in 2008, it was Barack - candidate Barack Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: That's right.
LOYOLA: Well, but two thou--
ZIRIN: Let me finish, please. Thank you.
IZRAEL: Hold on. Hold on.
ZIRIN: Thank you. The problem here is two things. First of all, yes, this was happening under the Bush administration, but buy every account, the degree to which the Obama administration has mined data dwarfs what the Bush administration did, that's the first problem. The second problem is the ferocity with which President Obama and his administration has gone after whistleblowers. Once again, not only dwarfing what the Bush administration, and frankly, every other president did, but also to a degree of which that I think we should find unconscionable, Barack Obama once being someone who has supported whistleblowers when he ran in 2008.
DADE: I will say, though there's a difference. Don't confuse - don't confuse whistleblowers with leakers.
IZRAEL: All right, let's not--
ZIRIN: Can I come back on that? Can I--
IZRAEL: No, no, no you can't. Because we're going to break out into a knife fight. Let's move on. First lady Michelle Obama, she made news this week, not for her behind, her bangs, or her biceps, gratefully, but for going head-to-head with a heckler.
HEADLEE: That's right, the FLOTUS was speaking at a private event. An activist named Ellen Sturtz interrupted her and demanded that President Obama take more action on gay rights. We'll hear a part of the first lady's response.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
MICHELLE OBAMA: One of the things that I don't do well is this.
HEADLEE: You really need to watch the whole video to understand what happened. But the first lady left the podium and essentially told the heckler she had a choice. She could either listen to her or take the microphone and the first lady would leave. And then the first lady told the crowd to decide; they did, and predictably, Sturtz was escorted out.
IZRAEL: Yeah, thanks for that, Celeste. You know, I wonder why this became an issue. But for me, it's one of those things, we're always looking for any behavior that the Obamas can do that could be racialized on the low and become kind of fuel for commentary, you know. Anything to call her on some kind of carpet. She's an adult, you know, so I'm not going to gauge her behavior. That's not my place. I'm not going to say whether she reacted appropriately, but, for me, she reacted authentically. And I'm down with that. I mean, that's just me. Mario Loyola, what do you make of it?
LOYOLA: I'm fully behind her. And actually, think she was too nice. I think that if hecklers got smacked right in the face more often, that we'd be a more polite society.
HEADLEE: NPR does not condone any acts of violence.
UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: I think Mario tazed that guy in Florida.
LOYOLA: Look, I'm just in favor of a polite society.
IZRAEL: Mario Loyola, in favor of a polite society.
HEADLEE: Corey Dade, smacking people lately? What do you think?
DADE: Yeah, I think that's the last problem that Michelle Obama needs. But, you know, first her husband was interrupted on the House of the floor - on the floor of the House - and now she's interrupted. You know, the idea - you can make the argument that, you know, the first lady of the United States needs to show a little bit more composure, but, you know, at the end of the day, what makes Michelle Obama really accessible is the fact that she's real. And so, at the end of the day, the idea that someone would heckle her, really, on gay rights? This administration has done more for gay rights than any previously. It's ridiculous.
IZRAEL: And wait a second, and, Corey, it's not her job to show composure. It's your job show to composure when you go see her, bro. Let's get it right.
HEADLEE: All right, there you go.
ZIRIN: In politics, timing is everything. I thought when Medea Benjamin did this to Barack Obama at the National Security University it was actually appropriate because she was confronting a truth of what he was saying about drones. I thought this was wildly inappropriate and Michelle Obama handled herself very well.
IZRAEL: No - I got nothing for that.
HEADLEE: All right, all right. Well, I'm sure that our listeners will have something to stay about that as well, but we want to wrap up the Barbershop for this week. I want to say thank you to Jimi Izrael, writer and culture critic; he's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. Dave Zirin is sports editor for The Nation magazine, host of Sirius XM Radio's Edge of Sports Radio. Corey Dade is contributing editor at The Root. All three of them are joining me here in our Washington D.C. studios. And from St. Louis, Mario Loyola, director of the Center for 10th Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, also, columnist for the National Review. Thank you all, so much.
ZIRIN: Thank you.
DADE: Thank you.
IZRAEL: Yep, yep.
HEADLEE: Remember, if you can't get enough of the Barbershop buzz on the radio look for the Barbershop podcast - it's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today and the week. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Tune in for more talk Monday.