Roundtable: N. Korea and Sanctions, Bumpers and Free Speech
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
On today's Roundtable, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. will protect Japan while North Korea threatens war. And in Georgia, an anti-Bush bumper sticker sparks a federal lawsuit. Joining us today from our New York bureau is E.R. Shipp, professor in journalism, Hofstra University School of Communication, and John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute senior fellow in public policy. And in Nashville, Tennessee, at Spotland Productions we've got Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show Freestyle.
Thank you all for joining us. And let me go to Condoleezza Rice. She's in Tokyo urging the swift implementation of sanctions against North Korea. She's also fearing a second nuclear test there. Here's what she had to say yesterday about that.
Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): We're watching it, obviously, and discussing with other parties as well. I think it goes to say that that would further deepen the isolation of North Korea and I hope they would not take such a provocative act. Because people went out of their way in this resolution to have a strong and firm hand and strong and firm response, but to leave open a door for North Korea to take a different course.
CHIDEYA: Now, today Rice says the U.S. will defend Japan, which does not have nuclear weapons, and it's also a base for 50,000 U.S. troops. People are very afraid of sort of Asian arms race where many different countries will try to get nuclear weapons. John, do you think that that's going to happen or can we prevent that?
Mr. JOHN MCWHORTER (Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute): Well, it's obvious that it could happen, and that despite all of this pretty talk, there's nothing we can do about it. I mean China and South Korea are more tolerant of a nuclear-ized North Korea than being overrun by hordes of North Koreans. The South Koreans don't want to deal with that and the Chinese don't either. And so whatever the implication that there is, that there's some sort of progress being made on this story day to day, the fact of the matter is that we can't change North Korea's behavior.
The only thing that we can do is certainly have radiation sensors at the relevant borders to see if we can intercept them that way. But China, for example, has said that we will not intercept their ships, for example. There's no serious, concrete, punitive measure that we're going to take because it would hurt South Korea too badly and China won't cooperate. And so what we're going to have to deal with is a North Korea that's going to continue to deal with these materials and make these weapons.
And there's only thing that we can control, or try to control, is whether or not they ship that material to other people. And if Japan, for example, decides that they would be more comfortable with a nuclear weapon in this situation, then, let's face it, there's nothing we're going to be able to do about that either.
CHIDEYA: E.R., there are some speculations, International Atomic Energy group said that there could be 30 nuclear countries in a few years, you know, up from what's now eight or nine.
Professor E.R. SHIPP (Professor of Journalism, Hofstra University): That's very true. That's part of the scary part of this period we're in. As John said, we can talk loudly, but there's not a lot to do. Maybe incentives can be given to encourage North Korea not to do more of this nuclear test. In fact, it's not just the second test. There are some talk about of a series of tests that are about to start. There needs to be some incentives. I don't know what will encourage them more than - we've got the sanctions out there.
But we need to find a way to get to the people of North Korea, if that makes any sense. To get to the people of North Korea so that maybe they can exercise some power over their own lives, because these sanctions are really going to hurt them. If you cut back on food and supplies and, you know, medicines and whatever, it's the people who are going to be affected by this. So right now we've got the diplomatic corps talking about what they're talking about. But other than words, there's nothing that's happening.
CHIDEYA: But, you know, the people of North Korea, there have been several documentaries and footage sneaked out of North Korea. The people of North Korea are - some of them barely surviving. It's not necessarily…
Prof. SHIPP: Right.
CHIDEYA: …they may not be in a position to mount a large-scale opposition to their government.
Prof. SHIPP: Well, I hear you on that, but what we're saying is we're at a desperate place. So if the people of North Korea can't do anything, and all we can do is have sanctions coming out of the United Nations and threats of war and all of that, it's very, very, very unlikely that we can keep North Korea from doing what its leaders are saying they want to do.
CHIDEYA: Jeff, you know, again, this U.N. group, the International Atomic Energy Agency says that there could be 30 countries soon with nuclear weapons. And the U.S. was the first. In 1945, we developed nuclear weapons trying, you know, in case of any Nazi development. Now the U.S. and Russia are still the two countries with by far the most warheads. Should the U.S. reconsider taking some kind of a position on nuclear non-proliferation and try to decrease the threat overall, or is it too late for that?
Mr. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Host, Freestyle): Hey, I think it's too late. Everybody wants to be at the table and they want to be a part of the nuclear party. They want to do it for protective reasons. They want to do it for power-sharing reasons. And it's interesting because E.R. brought up a point, if we could appeal to the people. There are people outside of the U.S. who want us to appeal to our government to make some changes. And we - it's hard for us to get our government to do what the mass of the people want to do.
So it's a tough thing. What really scares me in this situation is after you played that soundbite, I'm hearing a kinder, gentler Condoleezza Rice. That means something. I'm not used to…
CHIDEYA: She's scared.
Mr. CARR: That means - I mean I've never heard - I mean Condie is really sound as sweet and cool. And I'm not hearing from people like Rumsfeld, who, just a few years ago, was implying that the U.S. could maintain a war on two fronts when we were talking about North Korea. We're not hearing that. While at the same time, North Korea is making some classic soundbites. They're saying that this is a declaration of war. We will not be intimidated. China is going to inspect, but not intercept. Seoul is going to keep some of its key economic programs going. Japan is cooperative, but they're caught in the middle.
North Korea knows all of this. And North Korea appears to be, one, serious. And from all reported reports, it appears that they did detonate approximately a one-kiloton nuke. That is small when compared to the 15-kiloton bomb that the U.S. let loose on Hiroshima, but it's powerful nonetheless. They're, two, unintimidated, at least in their presentation. And they're, three, apparently backing themselves into a corner or being backed into a corner. And I'm concerned about the ramifications of that kind of positioning. Usually it comes to no good when an enemy feels as if it has no choice and has nothing to lose.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Well, the sad thing, though, is that all of what we're seeing in terms of Condoleezza's sweetness and the development of this story on the newspaper's pages day after day, it's a kind of Kabuki. We can't fix this. It's like in the musical Carousel: What's the use of wondering? All the rest is talk. This is just talk. We can't fix it.
CHIDEYA: You're sounding fatalistic to me, I mean…
Mr. MCWHORTER: I'm sounding realistic.
Mr. CARR: I have to kind of agree with John on that, in that China is a real trump card here. There's something that has to be done to create a new relationship that makes us as the United States have to be able to replace the importance of North Korea in that relationship. And to be able to kind of build a bridge that makes them, China, less concerned about instability in that region.
Mr. MCWHORTER: And see the only way that…
Mr. CARR: If that region doesn't handle it, it's crazy.
Mr. MCWHORTER: We'd have to develop a border with North Korea. Unfortunately, China will always have the cards in that way.
CHIDEYA: All right.
Mr. CARR: (Unintelligible) go into Mexico for that, (unintelligible) build any more fences.
CHIDEYA: All right. We're going to stay on this story. It's a big one. But I want to move on to another topic. After the Mark Foley scandal broke, some anti-Republican gay rights activists released a memo naming closeted gay Republican congressional staffers. Now the Christian right advocacy groups, based on the list, are convinced that there's a secretive gay clique in Congress. And there's a group called The American Family Association which is calling, in some ways, for like a purge of gay staffers on Capitol Hill.
John, is this a complete, you know, misreading of what the message of the Foley case is all about?
Mr. MCWHORTER: Farai, to be honest, and I don't mean to sidestep it, but you notice how as soon as we talk about this there are these kind of butterflies in our stomach. I always distrust these issues that kind of go for the gut. I mean it's such fun. I mean it's kind of like the way you can get more attention talking about whether hip-hop is a political statement and talking about how the earned income tax credit can put money into poor black people's pockets.
This one is just - it's too much fun and too trivial for us to be talking about when there are two million people, black people for the record, who have been displaced from Darfur.
I would be very interested to see how the story would be spun if it were cuddly, Jay Leno-esque, veteran Democratic Barney Frank who had been caught doing this. This Republican, his text messages, you know, the people weren't exactly seven or eight years old. I don't know where you draw the line. But in this particular case…
Mr. MCWHORTER: Frankly, really, in many places in the world those people would be considered consenting adults; it's just text messages. This is just sexy and fun, it's bubblegum.
CHIDEYA: Is there…
Mr. MCWHORTER: There are more issues…
CHIDEYA: …well, I think it's worth talking about here because - go ahead, E.R.
Prof. SHIPP: There are some issues here.
Mr. MCWHORTER: There are more serious issues.
Prof. SHIPP: There are more serious issues. We can always discuss that, and we often do on the Roundtable. But this whole idea of a list sounds like McCarthyism. Let's go and out everybody who we think might be gay, who we presume, if they are gay, they must be predators on young people.
This is a serious issue. The Log Cabin Republicans are a gay group. They have been very influential in the party. So what are we saying? We're going to get rid of them?
CHIDEYA: I Do think that, you know, the issue here is not the sex. The issue here is the witch-hunt. And is there, Jeff, a witch-hunt going on on Capitol Hill now for gay staffers, for gay Congress people?
Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: Yeah…
Professor SHIPP: For gay dogs? Gay cats?
Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: Let me make this clear. Amongst many groups and individuals in the conservative Christian right, there is always a witch-hunt going on. If there is no witch-hunt, there is nothing to live for. And this is sad, but I've experienced this. And many of these groups can be quite disturbing at times. The level of conspiratorial paranoia amongst several of these right-wing groups is extremely high.
The secretive gay clique, now that's a really good one. Now we've got all these individuals that are now sidestepping some of the larger issues that are out there and focusing on whether there is a secret gay clique in Congress. That's pretty pathetic. I do think that we can't, in looking at some of the insanity in terms of the tongue-in-cheek humor of formulating a secret gay clique and what the ramifications of that could be, we can't loss the issue here, and that is the protection of young people who are brought into our government as pages and are expected to be treated with respect and not be victimized. And I think that the issue is that these kids were victimized.
As a father of a young daughter, an older person in the United States, the law says that if you're under 18, you're a kid. And this was something that's wrong. We don't want to marginalize this issue. We want to make sure that we say that we need to have protection for our young people and make sure that they are not victims.
Prof. SHIPP: That is very much…
Mr. CARR: And at the same time they get too scared of gay people, you know.
Prof. SHIPP: That's very much the issue. And we shouldn't turn it into being afraid of gay people and looking for gay people, because Mark Foley was a lot of things. He was probably a pedophilia guy. Now he is trying to come out, I believe today, to talk about how some priest molested him as if that's supposed to be an excuse for him approaching young people.
You're right, the issue really is protecting young people, protecting the page program - it has served a useful purpose - and not getting distracted by things like a witch-hunt for gay people.
Mr. MCWHORTER: I just want to inject one quick thing. If it turns out that this witch-hunt has resulted in tragic number or even any gay people being chased from Washington as a result of this sort of thing, then, as far as I'm concerned, yes, this is a significant issue.
But to the extent that, at this point, it gives all indications of being a matter of political symbolism and seeking votes. That's why I tend to step away from it, because it doesn't seem to me that it's going to actually affect the careers of the people on said list. That's the problem, that it's seems more like a game than like something that is genuine.
CHIDEYA: All right. Well, we will certainly keep checking in and see what the fallout of this is. I want to get to one more political topic. A woman was ticketed for having an obscene anti-Bush bumper sticker. She filed a lawsuit in federal court this week in the state of Georgia. She got the $100 ticket in March after a DeKalb County police officer spotted the bumper sticker which read, I'm tired of all the Bush dot dot. And now it's - she claims -
Mr. MCWHORTER: Did it say dot dot, or…
CHIDEYA: It didn't say that.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Oh, you've had it filled in -
CHIDEYA: Yeah. We can fill it all - you look it up on the Internet.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Okay. I got you. Got you.
CHIDEYA: And so…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MCWHORTER: (Unintelligible). I was like, did it actually say dot dot?
CHIDEYA: It didn't say dot dot.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Okay.
CHIDEYA: So she claims that the arrest caused her emotional distress, and she had not idea that there was this ordinance. Is the ordinance over the top, or does she just have no grounds, E.R.?
Prof. SHIPP: Well, it's kind of funny. We were just talking about something that's strange, odd, et cetera. It's kind of funny. This is from my territory. I grew up down there. DeKalb County is the next county over from Rockdale County, where I grew up.
And we have all kinds of crazy, funny, bumper stickers. There was one at one point when Mary supposedly showed up in Conyers, Georgia on the certain Thursday of the month. We had a bumper sticker that said that you had gotten drunk, gotten - well, I won't use that word.
Anyway, it basically made fun of Mary and that caused us a lot of problems down there. I think this is a case of overkill. But I don't know that this woman is going to win any money on it. That's probably what it comes down now. She wants money out of this particular episode. But it's really…
CHIDEYA: All right. We're going to…
Professor SHIPP: …just a funny…
CHIDEYA: We have very little time, so I want to get Jeff and John, very quickly. Do her First Amendment rights trump their local ordinance? Jeff?
Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: I think her First Amendment rights do trump her the local ordinance, because ordinances - you have a hard time defining what is free speech and what is not? I think it's regional. I think it's pretty sad when you can ride around in Georgia with the rebel flag on your truck and you can ride around rolling - flapping in a rebel flag that's very offensive to many black people there, but you can be arrested for having a sticker like this and get a citation. So I think that…
Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: …definitely her First Amendments rights trump it.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Yeah. Oh, what happened to that woman was unpardonable. But we can't take the message as being that society is permeated with an anti-leftist or liberal bias. Society is permeated with an anti-political bias on both sides. People who express what are called conservative views often run up against similarly biased and often pseudo-legislated interference. And so I think we have a problem with dealing with one another's opinions.
CHIDEYA: All right. John McWhorter, E.R. Shipp, Jeff Obafemi Carr. Thank you so much.
Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: Thank you.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: And as always, if you'd like to comment on any of the topics you've heard on the Roundtable, you can call us at 202-408-3330. That's 202-408-3330. Or e-mail us. Just log on to npr.org and click on Contact Us.
Next on NEWS & NOTES, black and brown political coalitions are forming around the country. Will the racial bridge hold in Chicago? And it's all kicks and twists with my next fitness challenge, capoeira.
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