Roundtable: Cops on Steroids, Dems in 2008

Topics: The political outlook for Democrats in 2008; New York City kindergartners learning about HIV/AIDS in public schools; cops and firefighters linked to steroid abuse; and a new cartoon featuring racially significant superheroes who fight stereotypes. Guests: Robert George, editorial writer at The New York Post; Callie Crossley, cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press in Boston; and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, professor of globalization at New York University.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. On today's roundtable, we'll talk about the revelation in south Florida that some police officers and firefighters have been buying steroids. And a new cartoon titled Minoriteam pokes fun at racial stereotypes.

Joining us today to discuss these topics and more, from Harvard University studios, Callie Crossley, social and cultural commentator on the show Beat the Press in Boston, and Marcello Suarez-Orozco, professor of globalization and education at New York University. He's in our New York bureau. Plus Robert George, editorial writer at the New York Post, he's also in the Big Apple.

Thank you all and welcome.

Mr. ROBERT GEORGE (Editorial Writer, New York Post): Good to be here.

CHIDEYA: So before we get to all these topics, let's start with U.S. labor secretary Alexis Herman--former labor secretary. She was talking about the Democrats in 2008 rejiggering the way that we get into the primaries. Now the GOP had been floundering for some time, yet critics have said that no Democratic leaders have pounced on the opportunity to gain ground. Marcello, is that accurate?

Prof. MARCELLO SUAREZ-OROZCO (Professor of Globalization and Education, New York University): Yeah, I think that would be accurate to say that even though there are very important opportunities and openings now, the Democrats are proceeding, perhaps, too cautiously in moving forward the agenda that will be needed to take back the White House and the Congress.

CHIDEYA: Robert, let's go to you. You often write about how the GOP operates on the national scene. What are people in the GOP, the Republican Party, saying about what's going on and the Democrats', in some cases, inability to capitalize on any Republican issues?

Mr. GEORGE: Well, I think Farai, off the record, the Republicans for the most part are saying that goodness that the Democrats can't get their act together because I think Republicans recognize that they've got a heck of a lot of liability going into the midterms. Obviously, you've got the ongoing Iraq war--but even worse are issues involving Katrina, the deficit, this kind of general sense that the White House and Congress is out of touch, particularly corruption within the Republican Congress involving Delay, Duke Cunningham resigning, a number of others, possibly facing indictment.

They see what could be a real gathering storm against them. However, the fact that, so far at least, the Democrats haven't really come up with--what could be considered a comprehensive alternative to go up against the Republicans. So right now the best thing that the Republicans have going for them is the, for want of a better word, the incompetence of the Democrats.

CHIDEYA: Callie, let me throw you back to the thing that started this. The Democratic Party rejiggering its primaries, trying to get different states and different faces into the mix early, is that really important?

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Commentator, Beat the Press): It's absolutely important. I think that former labor secretary Alexis Herman was clear about that, and when we look at the populations of Iowa and New Hampshire and recognizing that for so long, really up to this point, these are the states that make a determination about what the fates of the parties will be. And it eliminates folks who might have something else to offer.

I note that last week in New Hampshire, for example, was already Bill Richardson and Mitt Romney on the Republican side, and Wesley Clark, Clark and Richardson for the Democratic side. These are folks already up there. They haven't announced, but they're feeling it out trying to see what's going on.

So we can see that these states have an important role to play, and if they are to be the only places that the parties come away with a determination about who should represent them, then I think that folks of color, and not just African-Americans, are once again shut out of the process in a big way.

Mr. GEORGE: Well, if I was...

Mr. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Yes, the system--if I…

Mr. GEORGE: Go ahead.

Mr. SUAREZ-OROZCO: If I may, the system is especially anachronistic as the census data suggests, the real center, demographically speaking, of the nation is moving away from those two regions of the country increasingly towards the west and really the southwest. So there really and out of touch quality to this, the system we have now in place in terms of failing to acknowledge that geographic transformation and the new the locus, gravitational locus, of the future of our country.

Mr. GEORGE: I would say - I mean I'm certainly…

CHIDEYA: That was Marcello and going to Robert.

Mr. GEORGE: I'm certainly no privy to the insides of the Democratic Party, so I'm not going to necessarily advise them. However, I would say, however, that part of the problem I think that the Democrats have had is a perception that their party is slightly too--and particularly Kerry in the last election--their party is too liberal for the rest of the country. And one of the things that having say Iowa and New Hampshire come in early is they are, relatively speaking, somewhat conservative states and it may actually behoove the party to keep those states foremost in the primary process, but you know, that's for the Democrats to figure out.

CHIDEYA: Well, I want to move on to something that could become a social issue in some campaign down the road. Along with the ABCs, New York City kindergartners will now learn about HIV. Starting today, kindergartners in public schools will be taught that HIV is a germ, it's not easy to get, and that it could cause AIDS. Now, the changes are required by New York state law, but parents can opt out by writing a letter to the principal.

Is this absolutely necessary for kids so young, Callie?

Ms. CROSSLEY: I think that we're living in a time where this is important information now. My question is how is going to be done because once again, we're just dumping on the teachers. They don't have any training to talk about it, and I think it does a disservice to say it's a germ and you know, it's a bad thing. There's a lot of germs that are bad for people. It doesn't really raise it to the level of importance that I think is behind the initiative of trying to get out to kids what's going on.

Now, someone suggested, well, the kids are hearing about this and they're seeing people in their families and they know something about it. So we have to begin somewhere to discuss it. I think all of that is true, but how you do it is extremely important. And this just makes me a little nervous because I don't see that there are elements in place to make certain that the folks that will be disseminating the information, can do it in a way that's good.

And plus, I think you're going to hear from a lot of parents saying, hey, that's my job to discuss this, not the school system.

Mr. GEORGE: Yes, I agree with you. I agree with you 100 percent there. I just think, I think kindergarten is just--it's ridiculously too young to be telling kids this kind of stuff when you don't have the full, you're not exactly able to tell them that it's about sex or drugs and so forth. If there is a family member that becomes ill, in just the same way as if a family member, for example, got you know, Leukemia, for example, the parents would have to explain to them, well, you know, Aunt so-and-so is sick and then just kind of just leave it at that.

You put, I think you put teachers into way too much of an awkward position by taking a serious issue like that and trying to impart it into a kindergarten language.

CHIDEYA: Well, Robert--go ahead Marcello.

Mr. SUAREZ-OROZCO: May I jump in? This is made even more complicated by the fact that we know through basic research that children bring into the classroom very early on, powerful misconstruction of scientific medical issues. And to start a conversation about HIV/AIDS with scientifically ungrounded and erroneous concepts, HIV is not a “germ.” It seems to me it opens a can of worms that would, down the road, but difficult to address more systematically and more seriously.

When are children ready to metabolize this complicated medical and scientific facts is a question that needs to be addressed. And I concur that we're asking too much of teachers that will be having to answer questions. What if a child wakes up in the middle of the night saying, you know, I didn't wash my hands, now do I have HIV? It seems to me that there are important issues here that need to be addressed that haven't really been addressed.

Are the children ready developmentally to manage these concepts? Do we have a space to contain the anxiety and the concerns that children will inevitably develop as they learn more about these issues. It seems to me that we need to proceed more cautiously here.

CHIDEYA: Let's go to West Palm Beach, Florida where 13 officers are facing suspensions for anabolic steroids. A local company said that between 50 or 60 law enforcement officers and firefighters across the country patronize them, buying these steroids which can cause ‘roid rage or anger. How dangerous is it for officers to use these kinds of drugs without proper medical supervision? Marcelo?

CROSSLEY: It scares me. It's really, really…

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Well, clearly it's very dangerous. It's very, very dangerous to have officers auto medicate, self-medicate. I mean, these are prescription drugs, and it seems to me that they need to be regulated like all other drugs for side effects, for longterm medical side affects and consequences. And it simply is unacceptable to have these self-medication.

CHIDEYA: These officers have been suspended Callie, is that bad enough?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well no, because the taking of the drugs is illegal, so that seems to go, be counterweighted against their whole role as to be folks who uphold the law, with regards to police officers. I guess there are some fire fighters as well, but I just get the image of these people just sort of hyped up on these drugs out there having to make hair-trigger decisions. It's awfully scary on so many levels.

So, certainly, for the police officers, you know with the illegality and what they're supposed to be doing, that's ridiculous. I think, no, it's, more needs to be happening here.

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah, I mean, I think, I mean, I think we're seeing--I mean, obviously, it's been primarily been in sports where we're seeing, we're seeing the explosion in steroids. But from professional athletes down to the high school, the high school, and some cases elementary school level, you're seeing kids using it.

And, obviously, it seems to be spilling over into other areas of society, and, I think, we'll be very, very--we'd be very very hesitant to allow people, that we use, I just heard the phrase, “hair trigger”. I mean, you've got people actually have their finger on the gun, possibly using, using illegal substances, putting them into their body. And, obviously, people who are, you know, going into burning buildings and trying to bring people out, they are endangering themselves and endangering the people they are trying to, whose lives they're trying to save as well.

So, I mean, I think this is it's a serious problem. And it may even be more widespread then what we see down in Florida.

CHIDEYA: Well, Robert you know this company that was selling these drugs, it's a local company called Power Medica, which is now defunked. They were telling people to get a doctor's recommendation, and then send stuff on the Internet. A lot of people could argue, who have been through similar situations like this, “I was trying to follow the law.” And there are a lot of confusing laws around buying drugs on the Internet. Should there be more done on that front from the government standpoint, of preventing people from transacting drugs and medical paraphernalia online?

Mr. GEORGE: Well, I'm somewhere in between on that. On the one hand, I'm a little, I get a little bit leery when I, where I see the government wanting to get in the middle and do more regulation. At the same time, as I said, when you, steroids is a dangerous, it's a dangerous business. And it's even more dangerous for some people than others, whether it's cops, whether it's cops who have guns or people in construction or you know airplanes and so forth, or operating heavy equipment.

So, I would say that, particularly the case where you have a lot of these businesses that are within the United States, certainly there should be some more policing of them. Part of the problem, obviously, that we have, many of these places now locate themselves offshore, which makes it that much harder for, say the FDA and other federal authorities to regulate them.

CHIDEYA: I have a final issue for you guys to tackle, and it's not very politically correct. It's a new cartoon called “The Minoriteam” on Cartoon Network. It had its premier last night. The team is made up of superheroes, including a half-Jewish, half-Mexican crime fighter, and a black superhero who runs really fast to burn off anger. They use these racial stereotypes to fight bigotry, let's listen to a clip.

(Soundbite of “Minoriteam”)

Unidentified Man: It's another average day in Corporate City. Average, because as always, evil is being plotted by the the most evilest organization known to man: The White Shadow.

THE WHITE SHADOW: Minions, I have summoned you here today because black-owned businesses are gaining in power.

(Soundbite of cartoon character growling)

RACIST FRANKENSTEIN: Me hate blacks with hands. Me tired of blacks, Racist Frankenstein, hate the blacks.

CHIDEYA: All right Callie, one of the creators of the show is Latino, is this a bit too far?

Ms. CORSSLEY: Well, you know, I watched this, and I watched a couple episodes, because I just wanted to see how I felt. Here's the thing: it's written quite well. It's very distasteful to me, because I think that any time you use the stereotypes to this exaggeration, a lot of people just don't get the joke. And that's the problem. I think, actually, the creators are way more sophisticated than a lot of folks who will be looking at this to confirm what they believe to be true by, about certain minority groups.

And so, that's the problem. It happened with “All in The Family.” Norman Lear realized right away that “hey, I could put out Archie Bunker and make him sound crazy. And I think it's funny, and don't people get the joke?” Well, they didn't. They thought he was funny, and they thought he was funny because of what he was saying and agreed with it.

So, that's the problem, it's cleverly done. I think, you know, it's meant to be, to really challenge some folks around their stereotypes. But I fear that, for a lot of people, they just won't get the joke.

CHIDEYA: We've only got a minute left. Marcelo.

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: The issue again, yeah, again, like in the earlier story of HIV and kids, is that this is saying to children and it will reinforce certain stereotypes. And a lot of the humor and a lot of the more subtle thinking will be missed. And uh…

Mr. GEORGE: Well, we should.

Mr. SUAREZ-OROZCO: …you think…

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah we should keep in mind, though, this particular show is part of The Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, so it's on at, late at night, so it's not focused on kids. I'm interested in watching it, because I think we've seen other things like, such as Undercover Brother, which started out as a satire online and became a movie. The Boondocks as well, they're utilizing cartoons to poke fun at stereotypes, and so I'm hoping that this is going to be, this is going to be a funny thing and something that, and it's something that, you know, can be looked at both on the level of, you know teaching people about stereotypes. But also just funny and amusing and entertaining.

CHIDEYA: Robert you get the last word. In New York, Robert George, editorial writer, New York Post, plus Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, university professor of Globalization and Education at New York University. And in Cambridge, Massachusetts Callie Crossley, social cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press in Boston. Thank you.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Thanks.

Mr. GEORGE: Thanks, Farai.

Prof. SAUREZ-OROZCO: Thank you.

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