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Roundtable: Nuke Weapons Cuts, Black TV Viewing

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Tuesday's panel talks about a call from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for nuclear arms cuts, African-American television viewing habits and Arab Americans suing the Denny's restaurant chain. Joining the roundtable are Yvonne Bynoe, author of Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture; Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of northstarnetwork.com; and Jeff Obafemi Carr, co-host of the radio show Freestyle in Nashville, Tenn.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's Roundtable, the secretary of State takes no prisoners. What's your race? The White House needs to know. What black America is watching, and more trouble for Denny's.

Joining us here in our New York bureau: Walter Fields, publisher of the northstarnetwork.com; at NPR in Washington, Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture"; and Jeff Obafemi Carr, co-host of the radio show "Freestyle," heard in Nashville, Tennessee. That's where he is today at Spotland Productions.

All right, folks, let's get right into it. We heard the secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in no uncertain terms letting North Korea know, `If you're thinking about fooling around, you really shouldn't, because we will lay the hammer down.' Now that's a fine colloquial way of suggesting that she is clearly saying to the North Vietnamese, `If you have nuclear ambitions, you should not and we're not going to tolerate it.' Jeff, what's your thought?

Mr. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Co-host, "Freestyle"): Well, my thought is that this--whenever we talk about issues of weaponry worldwide and disarmament, non-proliferation, whatever it's going to be, we find ourselves embroiled as a world in a huge game show. It's a huge geopolitical game show. Who wants to be a superpower? And being a superpower requires money, usually some kind of space program and, of course, weapons. And the US seems to be intent on not allowing there to be any more superpowers with nuclear weapons. I think it's kind of--I've always believed it's a contradiction to try to point to other people and tell them that they can't have weapons, and I think it's dangerous right along now to go out and intimidate the world, given the state of consciousness in terms of the way that the rest of the world is looking at the US right now.

GORDON: Walter, what of the idea--and we've talked about this on a number of occasions on this Roundtable, but it seems to me that the United States in general just still does not hear much of the rest of the world, that they're, frankly, tired of what they see as a paternalistic attitude.

Mr. WALTER FIELDS (CEO, Northstarnetwork.com): Well, you know, it's a classic case of `Do as we say but not as we do.' And I think, you know, it's really bizarre that you would have the secretary of State making such a statement. This is the chief diplomatic officer for the United States, who is basically threatening another sovereign nation. And I think it shows that there is some real concern in the international community about how the United States picks and chooses what nations should possess nuclear weapons, and we don't talk about disarmament. I mean, the fact of the matter is we talked about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but we possessed weapons of mass destruction. The fact of the matter is Israel possesses weapons of mass destruction and refuses to be a part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, so it goes to that contradiction; we're sort of hypocrites--not sort of, we are hypocrites on this issue of nuclear weapons around the world.

GORDON: Yet, Yvonne, if things are to be believed in terms of what the world wants, we see the United Nations talk about non-proliferation this week and a number of others suggesting that we do need to limit or eliminate this. Is there not room to have this discussion even by the United States?

Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author): I certainly think there is room to have a discussion, but I think, as the other guests have mentioned, that we're in a very peculiar state right now in the fact that we don't have the right, frankly, to run around the world and tell other countries what they can and cannot do, especially when we are stockpiling our own weapons of the nuclear kind as well. Moreover, I think there is a sense that people are tired of what the United States has to say in terms of us being the world policeman. So I think that as we're moving forward, we're going to see more and more countries that we perhaps don't have an affinity with who are going to assert their rights to take care of their countries in the best way they see fit, whether that's in other--regards of foreign policy or whether it's this particular issue.

GORDON: Jeff...

Ms. BYNOE: And I think that, as we move forward, I have to disagree slightly. I think that Condoleezza Rice certainly has the right to step forward and say the United States can defend itself. I don't think anything was wrong with that particular statement. I think where we're getting the problem is when we're going to try and now tell other people, you know, `You can't have the weapons that we ourselves possess.'

GORDON: Jeff, let's not talk about what should be, but what is. Isn't it inherent in being a superpower and really, arguably, the sole superpower of the world today, that you can do and say these things?

Mr. CARR: I think so. It's the bully's notion of playing with the ball: `If you don't play my way, I'm going to take the ball and go home or I'm going to beat you into submission.' Now we as a nation have to look at this beyond just the political issues globally. And, of course, I have a background in ministry, so I have to mention it. This is very much a moral issue. We have a huge plank in our eye as a nation, but we go forth into the world trying to get the splinters out of the eyes of other nations, and I think if we're not careful, this is going to implode on us. I agree with what Yvonne said, to some extent, but I think that a secretary of State has a right and responsibility to be a diplomat to the world and to build relationships. It's not as if this was a direct threat from the Department of Defense. I think Rumsfeld mentioned a few--several months ago that they had enough military power to fight in Iraq and also in Korea and to launch more than one campaign. That kind of talk usually comes out of the Defense office. You usually look to the Department of State to build and nurture relationships.

GORDON: Well, the...

Ms. BYNOE: But, Ed, also, too, I think that we have to be cognizant of the fact that we're talking about--you're saying what should be. We may not be the superpower in years to come, so if we're going to take that stance now, we have to prepared that someone else is going to do the same to us. And we're looking at the emergence of countries like China, where you know, the population is much more than ours; even India, which is currently still a poor country overall, but their technology is outpacing ours. We have to be cognizant the world is changing and that these tactics that where fine during the Cold War may not take us into the mid-21st century.

GORDON: Yet, Walter, we knew there were no doves in this second term so this comes as no surprise.

Mr. FIELDS: Oh, no, these are all hawks. Believe it. I mean, these people firmly believe in the power of military might. And I think, you know, the world has realigned, but I don't think we should lose sight on the fact why North Korea becomes an interesting proposition. It's really because of China. The United States understands that China is a sleeping giant, and if North Korea awakens and if there's any sort of collaboration between China and North Korea, the US has a problem on its hands. So I think it becomes very difficult at this moment, when you hear the secretary of State using such harsh language, because as the chief diplomat, her first goal should be diplomacy. And it seems as though she jumped right over diplomacy and went to the threat, which I think is troubling in the world community.

GORDON: Yvonne, let me ask you this: Don't you need, to some degree, though, frankly, someone to play the world police? Don't you need someone with a big stick to keep, to some degree, things in line?

Ms. BYNOE: I think that's a great theory, but then you also have to prepare yourself that people will not be beholden to someone with no teeth. I mean, that's been one of the main criticisms of the UN, that they purport that they are trying to galvanize the world around certain concepts, but if a country does not want to be involved in that, doesn't want to follow it, there's very little, actually, policing power to keep them in line. So, again, it's a big bark, but where's the stick to actually keep people in line?

GORDON: Well, one may argue that's why the secretary of State said what she said.

Mr. FIELDS: But the real...

Ms. BYNOE: Well, that's what I'm saying. I think that certainly she had the right to say it. That's where some would disagree. I think that certainly diplomacy is fine, but that assumes that people are going to be following a diplomatic course of action.

Mr. FIELDS: But...

Ms. BYNOE: We've already seen these people are--a lot of...

Mr. FIELDS: The real...

Ms. BYNOE: ...countries are not interested in diplomacy at this point in time.

Mr. FIELDS: The real policing factor in nuclear war has always been the fact that the superpowers understood that they had the ability to destroy each other. That's what kept the Soviet Union and the United States in check. It was this notion that `Yes, we can, but we dare not because we know what follows if one of us does.' Right now you have a situa...

Ms. BYNOE: But we have different...

Mr. FIELDS: Well, right now we have a situation where you have this clustering effect where only certain nations are in possession of these weapons. It creates an imbalance. And right now the world is in balance. And I think the US understands that, and I think that's why the Bush administration will not talk about, you know, non-proliferation for the US, will not talk about the test ban treaty, because its whole goal is a sort of Pax Americana. We're going to become the sole superpower on this globe, and I think that's dangerous even when we're in that position.

Ms. BYNOE: But also, too...

GORDON: All right, let's...

Ms. BYNOE: ...that presumes...

GORDON: Go ahead, Yvonne.

Ms. BYNOE: ...that we're dealing with rational people, and I'm not sure that that can be said. We cannot even just look in this particular context. We can look at some of these people around the world, and I don't think that every leader is rational, is going to necessarily respond to diplomacy. So, again, I'm not necessarily condoning Condoleezza Rice, but I think that we have to be clear. Diplomacy might not look like it used to look. You have to deal with each country and each situation independently and not just use a broad stroke and say, you know...

Mr. CARR: I'm not sure George Bush is rational. I mean...

Ms. BYNOE: Well, that's an opinion. That's a valid opinion.

GORDON: And that's another argument for another day.

Mr. FIELDS: And another panel, maybe.

GORDON: All right, let's take a look at something else that comes out of the White House that has far less global implications but it raised some eyebrows. Secret Service asked guests attending a media reception with President Bush before the annual White House Correspondent Association Dinner on this past Saturday, and that's a dinner--for those of you who've seen the debut of Mrs. Bush's stand-up routine, that was that dinner, the reception before that. One of the things they asked is for people who--and those of us who have attended these functions, who've been to the White House, know that you have to give certain information to get clearance. Race was one of the identifiers, as they call them, that was asked for for this reception. It raised some eyebrows because in previous years, that is not always asked, and a number of people have suggested that the bulk of these people had already been cleared through the White House because it is the White House Correspondent Association's Dinner. That being said, everyone who attends the dinner is not a correspondent. Are we getting too touchy with the issue of race in this aspect, Walter?

Mr. FIELDS: Well, you know, it raises a very interesting question. I've been to the White House twice and had to give information, but I was never asked race. I guess, you know, that just wasn't part of the mix then. But, you know, we also have to remember that perhaps it was because Cedric the Entertainer was the guest comedian at the time, and maybe there was a real concern about who was going--I hate to put it that way, but, you know, more than five of us in a room still causes some concern. So, you know, I think it's disturbing that they would ask that question because it's--usually the folks that you're not looking at are the ones that are going to cause you the most problems. So I think, you know, we should be concerned when this question is asked of anyone.

GORDON: The Secret Service has responded, saying that routinely they ask what they call five identifiers, and that's name, date of birth, Social Security number, gender and race. And as we've mentioned race--all of those in all of my clearances have been the case, and I believe I have on occasion checked race and have not been asked about race before. Jeff, what's your belief here?

Mr. CARR: Well, I think--I don't think race matters. One of the things that we seem to have forgotten is that there is some now bleed-over into the 21st century of W.E.B. DuBois' notion that the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the color line. It's still going on today, and this--apparently the White House is denying this, and they're saying it's the Secret Service, it's a law enforcement issue, and there's plausible denial all over the place--pass the buck. But really, race is a factor in America right now, and as it pertains to the media here, I think it's the responsibility of the journalists here who were at this particular reception, since this issue has been raised to have a conversation about that. I think that--I want to commend you that you're having the conversation today. But it's also a quandary that the journalist will find himself in.

I published a newspaper for 11 years. You want to talk about issues like this, but how do you do that and maintain some kind of, quote, end quote, "objectivity"? And maybe somebody can help me with that, because I'm trying to see how we could fix that, how we could make a statement about that and say that it's not right to ask for race. Because usually when the race is asked for, it has a negative effect on the, quote, end quote, "minorities."

GORDON: Yet there are, one can argue, instances where it is appropriate, and if you are talking about the highest level of security, Yvonne, in this country--and that is, in most people's minds, the protection of the president--they want these identifiers as a means of making sure you are who you say you are.

Ms. BYNOE: I mean, frankly, I don't have the same problem that the other guests have with the question. I think that certainly there is a danger that when you start inserting race into different categories, it could have a negative--it could be used negatively. But I think in this instance, just because the question had not been asked in the past does not mean it can never be asked, ever. So I think that the real challenge here is if someone says they're black or Latino, what does that really mean in terms of identifying them? You know, when I see a black person, you know, they could be any hue underneath the rainbow, so is that really useful information? I think that's the real question, not necessarily asking the question, but what does that net the Secret Service by knowing that.

Mr. FIELDS: Well, I think you're absolutely right. I mean, that's my point, is what purpose does it serve? I mean, if you're talking from a security perspective, we have to remember, you know, before 9/11, the biggest terrorist attack in this country was committed by a white male. So if they're screening for white men who belong to sort of white supremacist organizations, that's fine. But usually when they ask for race it comes down to whether or not you're black or brown, and has nothing to do with Caucasians. So I get a little concerned when that question is asked, because I know that the negative implications are going to be there.

GORDON: Yet the argument can be, and I'm sure the Secret Service will say, `We didn't ask whether you were a person of color. We asked for your race and therefore, if you are white, you check that box as well.'

Mr. FIELDS: True. But usually if you are white...

GORDON: No, I understand...

Mr. FIELDS: ...you give it a pass, brother.

GORDON: I understand your suggestion there.

Mr. FIELDS: Yeah.

GORDON: But one has to play devil's advocate sometime this morning.

Mr. FIELDS: I will--yeah.

GORDON: Jeff, let me ask you this, because I'm in now a quandary. We spent so much time on the first topic we are in that gray area that if I introduce another topic, I'll get killed. So we will save for tomorrow the study on black TV viewing.

Mr. CARR: Oh, man.

GORDON: It's very interesting--yeah, I know.

Mr. CARR: Oh, man. OK.

GORDON: It's a very interesting study to see what, indeed, we watch, and the disproportionate amount of television--as if we needed a study--that African-Americans watch, and also Denny's, the franchise; they're once again in trouble.

But let's talk about the idea--with about a minute and half left--and the Denny's situation; they're being sued by a group of Middle Eastern men who say that they were discriminated against. The idea of race in this country continues to be the one issue that it seems like we cannot discuss outwardly or even make any real attempts to try to get over.

Mr. CARR: We want to pretend as if it doesn't exist. It's the big black-and-white ogre in the room, and we always pretend it does not exist. And when we have denial going on like that, then reality comes and bites us. And I think we really need to have some serious discussions. Denny's seems to be a popular flash point for having this discussion. They lost $54 million back in, I think, '94. They've had five or six suits filed since then.

GORDON: Right.

Mr. CARR: My grandparents used to say, `Where there's smoke, there's fire, and that's not just Denny's, but there are many companies that are being sued that way. There's issues in the federal government. And yet and still, on the veneer, on the outside...

GORDON: Right.

Mr. CARR: ...we're painted as this wonderful, diverse nation where everyone is treated equally. Yet and still, we have that color contradiction, so to speak.

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. CARR: And we need to continue to put race on the forefront and discuss it and not be afraid to speak frankly and honestly.

GORDON: Well, we'll at least try to continue to do that on this program. I guess that Grand Slam Denny's breakfast is hard to stay away from now.

Walter Fields, Yvonne Bynoe and Jeff Obafemi Carr, I thank you all very much for joining us. Greatly appreciate it.

Mr. CARR: Thank you, Ed.

Mr. FIELDS: Thank you.

GORDON: Coming up, the life and times of singer and disco evangelist Sylvester.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) I know, I know, can't you see, I want to be with you. I want to be with you forever. I want to ...(unintelligible). I want to be with you forever.

GORDON: You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.

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