Roundtable: U.K. Bomb Plot, Picking a Race Guests discuss the domestic impact of a foiled terrorist plot in London. Also, a new proposal would allow students more choices when identifying their race. Tony Cox is joined by Nat Irvin, professor of future studies at Wake Forest University; Republican strategist Tara Setmayer; and Joe Davidson, an editor at The Washington Post.

Roundtable: U.K. Bomb Plot, Picking a Race

Roundtable: U.K. Bomb Plot, Picking a Race

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Guests discuss the domestic impact of a foiled terrorist plot in London. Also, a new proposal would allow students more choices when identifying their race. Tony Cox is joined by Nat Irvin, professor of future studies at Wake Forest University; Republican strategist Tara Setmayer; and Joe Davidson, an editor at The Washington Post.

TONY COX, host:

This is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Tony Cox. On today's roundtable the foiled terrorist plot in the U.K. has the U.S. on edge. How will it impact each political party's stance on the war on terror? Another controversial video game from the folks who brought us Grand Theft Auto. And a new proposal that would allow students more choices in identifying their race.

Joining us to talk about these stories and more: from our New York bureau Republican strategist Tara Setmayer. Tara, nice to have you on.

Ms. TARA SETMAYER (Republican strategist): Thank you.

COX: At member station WFDD in Winston Salem, North Carolina, Nat Irvin, professor of future studies at Wake Forest University. Professor, nice to have you.

Professor NAT IRVIN (Future studies, Wake Forest University): Hello, Tony.

COX: And at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., Joe Davidson, an editor at The Washington Post. Joe, always good to talk to you.

Mr. JOE DAVIDSON (Editor, Washington Post): Yeah, good to talk with you again, Tony.

COX: All right, let's do this, the political - or the politicizing of terrorist threats is already in full effect and yesterday's foiled plot seems to have upped the ante. In fact, Joe Lieberman has already stepped out saying things about his opponent not fully understanding the danger. And just before that, a day or so ago, Ken Mehlman, the RNC Chairman had this to say.

Chairman KEN MEHLMAN (Republican National Committee): If the Democrats take the House and take the Senate, then we're going to have a leadership that in the Congress that in a time when America faces a very dangerous group of threats responds to it with defeatism and isolationism.

COX: So Joe, I'm going to come to you first. How high on the agenda do you see these latest events placing the issue of the war on terror with regard to the election season and for how long.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, I don't think that the events of yesterday can do anything but have an influence - certainly an immediate influence on the way people talk about the election. I do think it's unfortunate though that something as serious as the kind of plot that was reported yesterday can somehow be dragged into the political mud for strictly partisan purposes.

I think it's unavoidable, however. And I do think that the debate over the war on terror, the war on Iraq, how the United States, you know, responds to terrorism or threats of terror is a legitimate topic for political discussion. And, in fact, should be high on the agenda. But to try to make a real political hay out of something as serious as this, I think that will rub a lot of Americans and voters the wrong way.

COX: Tara what do you say about that?

Ms. SETMAYER: Well, the Democrats fired the first shot yesterday when the rest of the world and the United States - they were congratulating one another for the successes of the war on terror and why we were able to foil this plot - the Democrats sent out a flurry of press releases associating the money we were spending in Iraq versus our national security and domestic security issues.

So the Democrats know that this is a no win situation for them as long as homeland security is thrust to the forefront of political issues this fall. Most political analysts at this point are tearing up their predictions of a week ago for what may take place in November.

Because what this does, it reinvigorates, it reminds the American people of how real the threat is, what we're facing and what the Bush administration has done as far as the Patriot Act, as far as the FISA courts, the NSA surveillance issue. These issues the American people recognize that these are things that we need to do and we have been doing to protect us.

And so once again, Ken Mehlman a couple - about a week ago at a Republican fundraiser in Wisconsin, I think, he mentioned - he revealed what the Republicans are going to do. They're going to focus on, well the Democrats if they take over Congress, they're going to raise your taxes and the white flag.

That started before this incident and you're going to see that theme continue. This is what the Democrats will do if they take over Congress. They're going to start impeachment proceedings of the president…

COX: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on, hold on. Let me bring Nat in here. Nat. Let's take a breath. Let's take a breath. And let's step back for a second and look at this from an academic non-partisan sort of way. And what do you see, Nat, with regard to this issue and how it is likely to be played out from now until November.

Prof. IRVIN: Well, I think Tara just said it all.

COX: Yes, she did.

Prof. IRVIN: Actually, I think that this issue - unfortunately I think Joe's point is as well taken - as well as Tara's - but I regret the fact that the place where we find our country faced with terrorist threats, which will be here for as long as we all are going to be a part of this wonderful country. The reality of the terrorist threat and the fact that we have to then sort of politicize this threat in terms of political slogans is dismaying.

The fact is, though, that if the Democrats should decide, and I think they will do this, they'll frame the issue in November and have people to ask one question: are you better off than you were the last two years? Are you better off now than you were the last two years ago or four years ago, as Reagan did to Carter. If it's framed that way, the Republicans are going to have a tough time defending their record.

That's the first thing. The second thing is, I don't think the way that the Republicans have framed the issue against the Democrats, you know, tax and spend liberals, soft on defense. I think that is wearing thin. I also think too, to get to the real bottom line, the question America's going to be asking in November - and this is the one the Republicans will run away from - is why are we in Iraq? And given what you know now, should we have been gone into Iraq?

If Republicans can get past that issue then they will win in November. But I don't think that any one particular issue, notwithstanding the terrorist attack foil - the plot foil. It'll be just like Zarqawi who was killed a few weeks ago. The polls went up, people seemed to think that Republicans would win, but fundamentally 62 percent of Americans think this country's on the wrong track.

So any particular event it looks one way one day. Long term I think that the country is really concerned about the direction we're going in and people will have to ask well, who was it that was leading us these last two years, the last four years, six years.

COX: All right, we're going to switch gears entirely now and talk about something completely different. Video games, actually, which is something that I don't know if Tara, you or Joe or Nat or your kids or nephews or whomever, nieces are really video game buffs. But the video game Grand Theft Auto was very controversial because of the violence and it was also very popular and very profitable.

And here comes from Rockstar, the maker of the Grand Theft Auto video game series, a brand new video game called Bully, B-U-L-L-Y, a game with things of school fighting. Now, the game's main character, I'm told, is a 15-year-old Jimmy Hopkins. And the goal is to defend him against school bullies at a fictional U.S. boarding school called Bullworth Academy. Now the character deals with nerds and jocks as well.

I have not seen it, have not played. I've read about it. I'm sure that you all have read about it as well. When you first saw it, though, what was your immediate - your visceral response to it, Joe? When you first heard about this?

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, when I first heard the name of the game, my response was this sound like another game of just wanton violence where they, you know, the bullies or the fighters or the killers seem to be the heroes. And I haven't seen or played the game but I have read - once I read more about it, I did learn that this, as you said, is about this guy named Jimmy who is trying to navigate his way through what one article called the social hierarchies of boarding schools.

So he has to deal with different groups of people, teachers, preppy types, nerds, jocks, as well as bullies. And in the course of doing that he does get into some fights. So upon learning more about the game it seems to have a somewhat softer, if you will, image or approach than the name might imply. However, it is still drawing criticism because of the fighting and the violence. And again, it makes me wonder why there cannot be more games or certainly more games that are popular that deal with something other than fighting. It's not as if all of our children, even our teenage boys go around fighting every day of the week.

COX: You know I will admit that when I first saw Grand Theft Auto sometime back, I was like man this is really - this is something. It's exciting, it's fascinating. And then obviously it has progressed into something beyond that, even more graphic and more violent. Tara, do games like this concern you?

Ms. SETMAYER: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, up here in the Bergen Record, the second largest paper in New Jersey, the front page story on Tuesday or Wednesday was Is Your Child Addicted? And it had a picture of about a 14-year-old boy playing video games. And it was all about how parents can recognize the signs and how this is a growing trend now, with teenagers and their addiction to playing violent video games, and how this turns into socially deviant behavior. Because they're so engulfed in these, they're almost like soap operas. They are concerning, because I think that with this generation of two-parent households working, and not enough supervision with children, they are spending their time in front of the television, whether it's watching violent programs on television, or sexually explicit videos on MTV - now we have a new phenomenon, which is the video game.

And Grand Theft Auto has started an entire different debate, because of all of the elements in that video game.

COX: Um-hmm. That's true.

Ms. SETMAYER: Yes, at first, it seemed exhilarating, because you're driving fast, up and down streets, and there's a certain Mafia portion to it. But then, it goes into graphic sexual activity. You can kill people, run them over. And this is something that we want our children playing?

And even though there are parental warnings - and there's a movement for that, similar to videos and music - are kids really going to not have access to these games? I think it's a dangerous path that we're going down, for our children.

COX: Nat, as a professor, are you seeing any… This may be a stretch, but are you seeing any impact on the behavior of your students as a result of video games?

Prof. IRVIN: Well, I'm a head of the MBA school, so I don't know Tony, whether… I'd say it's more business here. (tape skips)…

COX: Well, you know, they may be playing these games too, you know.

Prof. IRVIN: Well… No, no, of course, because it's, you know, the game industry is larger than Hollywood. So no, you do see, generationally, that the game industry, or the game generation - that's a very different way of thinking about both the present and the future. I mean, people who play games, you know we're talking about the negative aspect of it, right now, but it is big business. And it's also a different way of trying to solve problems. And I kind of wish that - and I'm hoping that we're going to see, as this phenomenon continues - and there's a lot more to it than we're going to be able to cover today. But I'm hoping that within the urban communities that we'll start to see more young people creating games where academics are at the other end, rather than the violence part.

You know, this is tremendous technology, that right now is actually being exploited. For the most part we hear about - what we're hearing about today - You know, the bullies, Grand Auto Theft, explicit sex. But the opportunity here, for this technology to be used to develop new role models, academic challenges, solve mathematical problems.

In fact, I'll close with this. Around the world, If you take a place like India, people are actually using video games to actually teach how to be academically superior. I'm hoping, soon, that that's going to hit the urban communities. Right now, it has not hit. We don't have enough young people, enough urban kids, who actually have the skills to design their own video games. Although that has started to happen, but it hasn't reached a point that I'm happy with it.

COX: Well, you know, just like…

Ms. SETMAYER: I just have one quick point on that, Nat - Professor Irvin made. In Washington DC there's actually a program in one of the high schools that is focusing on getting young urban kids involved video gaming and how to design programs. They're starting programs like that in Washington, so there's a positive note, at least along those lines.

COX: You know, just like we tell our kids to not spend so much time watching video games, we've spent more time talking about it than I had intended for us to do.

Prof. IRVIN: Uh oh!

COX: …and our time is running short! And there's another topic I want to get to in the moments that we have left.

And it's important, because it - and Professor, I'm going to come to you first, because for years, multiethnic students have been urging schools and colleges to recognize them as people from more than one race. So now, the Federal Education Department has offered a proposal that would allow students to circle as many categories - racial categories - as they want. The 2000 census, for example, allowed people to circle multiple racial categories. Only two percent did so. How big a deal do you think this is for college students? Professor?

Prof. IRVIN: It's a big deal. It's a big deal for not just college students, but a big deal for America. If you look at what the projections are for the U.S. census in 2050. We look at multi-racials, we're talking about 36 percent would be Asian-Americans, who would claim multi-racial identity; 45 percent Latinos; 89 percent Native Americans; 21 percent whites; and 15 percent blacks. The fact is, at some point we're going to have to deal with the emerging notion of identity in America, and this is as good a time as any. Of course, you know, Identity, race - we've described it before, and especially with the census - deals basically, with the allocation of resources. So it's going to be a bumpy road, but we've got to come to grips with the fact that we're becoming a very different-looking kind of country than we've been, ever in our history.

COX: Joe Davidson, does this… Obviously we know who this will help, do we know who this might hurt?

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, I think it's possible that it could hurt - it could hurt those who look at numbers to bolster their arguments that the black community should have X number of slots, or whatever. Because generally, as it works in this country, if you're not 100 percent white, then you're black. Or, now, increasingly so, of Hispanic. But in terms of the black\white thing, it's always been; if you're not one hundred percent white, you're black. And so now with people having the ability to say, well, I'm somewhere in the middle. For those people who rely on numbers to bolster arguments about degree of goods and services, let's say, that the black community should have, it could hurt that type of arguments

COX: What's your take, Tara. We've got about a minute.

Ms. SETMAYER: Well, this is a personal issue for me, because I am of mixed heritage. And it started in high school when we had to take standardized testing, I didn't have a category to check off, and I became the other. And it was a joke all through high school that, well, the teachers didn't know what to do. My mother is German-Italian, my father is from Guatemala, but I have, you know, I'm dark skinned. So what does that mean? And no one really knew.

And this is something that I think is necessary to - we need to progress into different categories, because just like Professor Irvin said, we are - the population is changing dramatically, and in 50 years, there's not going to be the categories that we have now: black, white, Hispanic - the five categories that we have are no longer going to apply. And even only - even though only 2.4 percent may have checked off may have checked off the multiple racial categories in the last census, I think you will see there will be more of that, just because of the way our culture is changing and the intermingling of races, that that's definitely going to be an issue. And then I'll no longer be an other.

Mr. DAVIDSON: The fact is, most of us have mixed heritage, you know.

Prof. IRVIN: Absolutely.

COX: Absolutely.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Absolutely true.

COX: Thank you all so much, it was really a good discussion today. In New York, Republican strategist Tara Setmayer. In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Nat Irvin, Professor of Future Studies at Wake Forest University. And it Washington DC, Joe Davidson, an editor at The Washington Post. Once again, all of you, thank you very much for a good talk.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Thank you.

Prof. IRVIN: Thank you.

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