'Shop Talk': President Obama Talks Tough On Oil Spill Author Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, sports writer Dave Zirin and Johns Hopkins political science professor Lester Spence discuss President Obama's recent comments about the Gulf oil spill. They also weigh in on a recent incident along the U-S-Mexico border, which resulted in the shooting death of a teenage boy. And the guys talks World Cup 2010, which kicked off this week in South Africa.
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'Shop Talk': President Obama Talks Tough On Oil Spill

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'Shop Talk': President Obama Talks Tough On Oil Spill


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, sportswriter for The Nation and EdgeofSports.com Dave Zirin and Johns Hopkins political science professor and blogger Lester Spence. Take it, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

LESTER SPENCE: Hey, what's up, man?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Pretty good, man. Great.

IZRAEL: DZ, I'll have what he's drinking. What's up, DZ?




MARTIN: Jimi, you seem to be having some problems hearing, is that right? Are we having trouble hearing each other?

IZRAEL: Can you hear me?

MARTIN: I can hear you. Okay.



MARTIN: All right, well, let's start...

IZRAEL: Michel, I'm getting a weird signal, some, like, cross traffic from Latin American radio.



IZRAEL: I'm, like, what is - can we keep it in motion? 'Cause we got a lot to cover.

MARTIN: Okay. We do.

IZRAEL: So, let's just jump right in, right?


IZRAEL: So, you know, Monday Border Patrol agents along the U.S./Mexico border got into a confrontation with teenage Mexican boys allegedly, allegedly throwing rocks at them. There was a hot piece by Brakkton Booker on the TELL ME MORE Web site that you should check out about this. Now, it ended with the fatal shooting of one of them. He was reportedly on the Mexico side of the border, Michel.

MARTIN: You know, this has been an ongoing story, and we reported on it yesterday, too, with a reporter from there. But Attorney General Eric Holder expressed, quote, "regret for the shooting." I mean, it's still being investigated. Obviously, this is a very tragic incident. But, Jimi, you've just got to ask if throwing stones at federal agents, you know, was that an appropriate use of force? I don't think it's unreasonable to ask that question, do you, Jimi?

IZRAEL: I don't. What I do think is I wonder, do the agents, do they have a less-than-lethal option? You know, like, rubber bullets. I mean, if we have to protect the border, can we have some options?

MARTIN: Ruben, have you done - you've done some reporting on this.


MARTIN: Tell us what you're finding out.

NAVARRETTE: I have. Here's what I've picked up about the - the incidents are called rockings, you know, it's referred to by the Border Patrol agents. I've been down to the border in three different places, in Arizona, in Texas and in California over the last 10 years, 15 years. And in the last decade or so, I've been hearing more, in the last seven, eight years, more concerns from the border patrolmen about rockings.

And it took me a while, I think, because I've never been a position where I've, you know, been on the border having people throw rocks across the border saying, nah, nah, nah, you can't get me 'cause I'm on the other side of the border. And I - it took me a while to take this seriously. But as I - I started to, because after all, what's rocks and bullets, right? Rocks and bullets. But the more I thought about it and the more I heard about it and the more I spoke to these Border Patrol agents, it's a very serious deal.

People get hurt from the rockings, but also if somebody knocks you out, they can have access to your weapon at that point. You know, basically, they throw a rock, you're unconscious. They take your weapon around, and they kill you. And the next thing you know, they're handing your spouse a folded flag at the funeral.

MARTIN: I hear you. I hear you.

NAVARRETTE: So this is very serious. This is a very serious deal. And these kids started off on the U.S. side. They ran across to the Mexican side thinking immunity, started throwing the rocks. The agents have a right to protect themselves. There should be an investigation. Good for Holder. But I've talked to some very sober Border Patrol agents and supervisors who say, we need to take this rocking stuff seriously.

MARTIN: Well, that's an important perspective. That's an important perspective on that. And, Lester, what about you? Do you have any thoughts on this?

SPENCE: Yeah. I don't - from what I understand, rockings, the number, the percent of rockings are only, like, three percent. And that's actually gone down. I think there is something to be said for protecting people in the Border Patrol from these types of events. But I think what's also going on is we've got this narrative about the border being unsafe and that we are somehow under attack. And this type of incident is kind of a natural consequence of how we interpret - how we articulate what's, like, kind of this constructed crisis.

MARTIN: Well, except that there's a lot of violence along the border, not necessarily on the U.S. side, but, I mean, we've also reported on that. I mean, the fact is that there were two people who were connected to the consulate who were shot to death only a couple of weeks ago.


MARTIN: So, is that - I mean, there is not imagined violence along the border. It's not necessarily related to border crossing, but the fact that there are - you know, the kidnappings, all of that other thing. It's not imagined.

SPENCE: Well, it's - okay, so we've got three out of 100 officers that are hit by rocks. Imagine that. So let's think about that situation. So for those three officers, it's not imagined, it's real. Right? But we can blow that three percent up in our heads where we're thinking its 15, 20, 30 percent. That's what I'm talking about.

MARTIN: Oh, well, okay...

NAVARRETTE: But it's more to it than rocks; it's...

MARTIN: Yeah, go ahead, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: It's Molotov cocktails. I was on the phone just yesterday with a friend of mine, Mike Fisher, who's the head of the Border Patrol in the entire country based in D.C. - used to be based in San Diego. And he reminded me that there are Molotov cocktails that are thrown across the border. There was a time where they would set up wire booby traps where, you know, the idea was to decapitate an agent if he was going by in a, you know, an off-road vehicle. And the reason is this is a serious thing. This isn't just like random kids. They're paid money by the drug smugglers.


NAVARRETTE: Okay? They're paid money by the drug smugglers to distract the agents, to distract the agents and to attack the agents so that you can move the drugs off someplace else down the border way. So this is not a toy. This is not a game. This is people who are being employed by serious bad guys to hurt, decapitate, kill agents, distract the agents so I can move my drugs down way.

MARTIN: Hmm. I think those are...

SPENCE: So Lester...

IZRAEL: Hold on.

MARTIN: I think those are two important perspectives, but we got to move on.

IZRAEL: I agree.

MARTIN: So I mean I - it's two important perspectives on this issue. I think that that shows you why the importance of reporting and kind of digging into a story, as opposed to just kind of taking the first headline that comes along. So obviously we'll hear more about this.


MARTIN: So let's move on and talk a little move about, what, the Gulf oil spill.

Jimi, you have some thoughts about that?

IZRAEL: Yeah. On Tuesday, President Obama sat down with NBC's "Today Show," to talk about the Gulf oil spill and his handling of the bigwigs at BP, Michel.

MARTIN: You know, I remember how last week we were talking about whether people felt he had been emotional enough or passionate enough about this. And I'll just play a short clip of he had to say to NBC. Here it is. Hmm.

BARACK OBAMA: I would love to just spend a lot of my time venting and yelling at people. But that's not the job I was hired to do. My job is to solve this problem.

MARTIN: That was what he said on CNN first and then that was what sparked this idea - oh, he's too emotionless, he's too passionless about this. And then he talked to NBC and here is what he had to say then. Here it is.

OBAMA: I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers.

MARTIN: And, of course, that ends with the president saying: So now I know whose blank to kick. So.

You know, so Jimi, the reason I'm curious about your thoughts on this because last week you said, as an African-American man, the president cannot get visibly upset. You're saying his tone would suggest that he's, you know, that he's out of control or that this just would not be well-tolerated.

So now, what do you think? Do you think that he's calibrating this better? Or what do you think?

IZRAEL: You know what? You know what, Michel? There seem to be some call for him to get down on big oil with great vengeance and furious anger. You know, Sam Jackson style, right? You know, and my...

NAVARRETTE: Spike Lee, baby. Just go off. Spike Lee. Yeah.

IZRAEL: Right. Right. Right. And there was my fear that he was going to get barbershop-style and start dropping F-bombs and just clock. But, you know, what he gave was a really purely American outrage. I'm going to tell you how. Because you know what? Butt-kicking is American. You know what I mean? It isn't Ron O'Neal. It isn't Jim Brown. It doesn't have that kind of type of affect.

You know, Shaft kicked butt. John Wayne kicked butt. Real American heroes kick butt. So it was a safe show of emotion devoid of any code or idiomatic confusion. Look, no one wants an angry black man in the White House.


IZRAEL: But what's more American than having a butt kicker in the Oval Office? You tell me, Michel.

MARTIN: I don't know.

IZRAEL: That's right.

MARTIN: That's a difficult question. But, Dave, can I get your take on this because one of - the left, the progressives have been very critical of Obama of late. And this is one of things they've been critical about. They feel that he's not demonstrating - I don't know. It's not - I don't think just about emotion, and how much emotion he's been showing. But they feel that he should have been more proactive around this crisis in a number of areas. Can I just get your take on that? Dave? Can't find Dave.

Lester, how about you? Tell us what you think.

SPENCE: I think there is something to be said for using affect in politics and the left hasn't really - we haven't had people on the left to take up arms, as people on the right have. But the challenge is that unless that affect is actually combined with real politics, what you have is sound but no fury. Right? I mean so...

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

SPENCE: ...in this case, there are number of things that Obama could have done before, even up to now, whether talking about policy, whether you're talking about supporting political officials that support regulation. And he's done none of that, like on purpose. So him talking about whose blank he wants to kick doesn't really impress me.

MARTIN: Hmm. Ruben, where are you on the outrage-o-meter?

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, you know, maybe I spend too much time listening to people who I frankly have a lot of respect for who are rooted in this crisis, like Mary Matlin and James Carville who live in New Orleans with their daughters, and who keep going on television and blasting away at the president and others for not being vocal enough and maybe for being too trusting of BP. A lot of folks think BP has really dealt in bad faith, have been lying about the crisis allegedly, and also giving false information about the estimates and things - how much oil is being spilled out and all that.

So maybe we shouldn't be in business with BP to begin with. But I feel for those folks who are on the ground, including a lot of Democrats who supported Barack Obama.

So when Spike Lee said sometimes you just need to go off and this is an opportunity to go off, I had a flashback to the pain that came down on the first George W. Bush when he seemed to be neglectful during L.A. riots...

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: ...and during Hurricane Andrew, and then on the second W. Bush on Katrina, but also to the credit that a lot of folks gave Bill Clinton for doing well during the Oklahoma City Bombing.

So what we're talking about here is that people expect of their president a certain amount of emotion and investment in a crisis. And so it's a good thing that he cancelled his trip to Indonesia to stay and focus on the Gulf. It's a good thing that he's invested. It's a good thing that he's talking about whose, you know, butt to kick.

Okay. Well, I feel for those folks who say this is still not enough. They want the president invested. I think he's moving in the right direction, Michel. I think that people don't want somebody who's passionateless(ph) in this job.

MARTIN: So can...

NAVARRETTE: And they like the new president.

MARTIN: Can you just take Jimi's question on this? Because he says, so look, you know, the rules aren't different for a man of color whether you like it or not.

NAVARRETTE: Oh, there's no doubt, Jimi's right. There's no doubt he's right.

MARTIN: So do you think that...

NAVARRETTE: There's not doubt he's right. But at the same time, I mean what's the flip side? I mean I agree that this idea of an angry black man is a double-edged sword here. But they don't want someone who is, who seems above the office.


NAVARRETTE: When I saw the president get animated it was because he was talking about trying to get LeBron to leave Cleveland to go to Chicago.



MARTIN: All right, that's cold.

NAVARRETTE: That's where he gets passionate.

MARTIN: That's cold.

NAVARRETTE: Okay, that's where he get I'm there, I'm into that. You know?

MARTIN: Dave, are you there?

NAVARRETTE: Well, show me. Show me that you're passionate about this.

MARTIN: Dave, are you there?

IZRAEL: Let's get the Z to check in.

MARTIN: Where are you on the outrage-o-meter?

DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah, look. Look, there are two ways in which passion is allowed and sometimes it's not allowed. I thought it was interesting that William Kristol - people know who he is, the former chief of staff for Dan Quayle, Fox News talking head. He then jumped in and tried to one-up Obama and say: Real men know whose butt to kick. Of course, he didn't say butt.


ZIRIN: Now, let's leave aside the fact that Bill Kristol looks like the kind of guy who wasn't picked for kickball in elementary school, and doesn't seem to have a political policy that doesn't end with bombing brown people.

MARTIN: Oh, dear.

ZIRIN: I find it interesting that Bill Kristol gets to actually...

MARTIN: Well, I don't think the whole political appearance thing - his whole personal appearance thing - I have to - I have to...

ZIRIN: Oh, okay.

MARTIN: I have to throw a flag on that.

ZIRIN: I know. I wasn't always picked...

MARTIN: I'm sorry. I have to throw...

ZIRIN: All right. Well, it's the Barbershop.

MARTIN: But anyway - all right, I'm just saying. Okay, I'm just saying.


MARTIN: I'm throwing the flag. I'm sorry. Go ahead.

ZIRIN: The Barbershop. You've been in a barber shop.


MARTIN: Go ahead.

ZIRIN: I wasn't picked for kickball either.

MARTIN: Okay. Okay.

NAVARRETTE: I got a flag for LeBron. Okay? If I got a flag for LeBron then you got one for that. I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Okay. But, Dave, finish your point.

ZIRIN: I'm just saying, like, we're not going to solve the crisis by trying to out macho each other, either. We need real solutions to a real devastating crisis.

MARTIN: I got you. Before I let you go, can I just ask Lester about the whole Alvin Greene situation in South Carolina? We talked about that a little earlier in the program: comes from nowhere, unemployed veteran. You know, is a first. And from what we can tell, the first African-American to win a statewide major party nomination in South Carolina, and the guy is not answering his phone now. What's up with that?

SPENCE: Yeah, I think...


SPENCE: ...there's a real opening for Democratic progressives to come up with really, really strong candidates. And he's not one of them...


SPENCE: ...obviously. But the fact that he can get as far as he did shows that if progressives organized that there's this other world that's possible.

MARTIN: Is he a progressive?

IZRAEL: Lester. No, Lester, Lester...

SPENCE: But the fact that he got as far as he did.

IZRAEL: Wait a second. Lester, let me jump in here and say this. So, Lester, I smell some kind of prank here. You know, I call Manchurian plumber on this joint, man. I don't - I'm not buying it.

SPENCE: Oh, you don't think it's legit at all.

NAVARRETTE: Tell me how (unintelligible). What do you see? Tell me.

IZRAEL: I don't think he's legit at all. You mean some unemployed dude spends, you know, a grip, you know, trying to get on a ballot that he wins. No, out of nowhere. You know what this sounds like? It sounds like the Eddie Murphy movie, "The Distinguished Gentleman," you know, where homeboy got on this ballot and got over with a...

MARTIN: I was so afraid to say that.

IZRAEL: ...with name recognition.

MARTIN: That is the truth. I was thinking the same thing but I was afraid to say it.

ZIRIN: You know what it reminds me of? It reminds - Chris Rock did this interview when Barack Obama was about to been the presidency, and Larry King asked him: Are you proud that a black man is about to become president, perhaps? And Chris Rock said: Not just that it's any black man. I wouldn't be proud of Flavor Flav was about to be president.


ZIRIN: And I'm just trying to make this, yeah - you see where I'm going.

MARTIN: I hear you.

We've got a couple of minutes left, Dave. We got to talk about World Cup. Tell us. Tell us. Our you...


MARTIN: Please tell me you're watching it.

ZIRIN: I mean I'm losing my mind over this. I got my vuvuzela right here. Yeah, it's a little over the top. But, you know, if people want to know my picks - I really like an Argentina team bringing it together and taking it home. I also like Holland, which is like the Phoenix Suns - for people who like basketball. They play like the Phoenix Suns, very exciting stuff.

I really want to encourage people though to embrace the joys of neutrality. You don't have to root for a team to enjoy the World Cup. Just go to your nearest bar and hang out. It's an experience like nothing else.

MARTIN: What are you talking about? Of course you want to root for a team, man. What's the point? There's shopping to be doing. You could be buying jerseys. What's wrong with you?

ZIRIN: Right.

MARTIN: Well, what about the U.S. team? What are the U.S. team's chances? They take on England in the opening round tomorrow.

ZIRIN: Well, as everyone always says: In 1950, the United States beat England one to nothing. And the fact that we have to look back to 1950 says something about United States soccer. So we...

NAVARRETTE: Get it on, baby.

MARTIN: Oh, come on. Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: It's payback for the BP oil spill. It's time to payback for the oil spill.


IZRAEL: Right. Right.

NAVARRETTE: We're going to take it to another level.

MARTIN: Ruben, are you watching? Are you going to be watching?

NAVARRETTE: I watch a little bit of it. It's fun stuff. I got to tell the crowds are amazing. It's really fun to watch the - I just tell you I hope Mexico doesn't win. Because if Mexico wins, about 38 states are going to pass laws to outlaw Spanish. It's going to get bad.

MARTIN: Oh, that's cold.

NAVARRETTE: To outlaw soccer.

MARTIN: Lester, are you watching?

SPENCE: Yeah, I'm rooting for Detroit.


ZIRIN: What?


NAVARRETTE: Right. Bangladesh, baby. It's our year. All right?

ZIRIN: I'm glad one person is rooting for Detroit.

MARTIN: Jimi, are you watching? Show some class.

IZRAEL: Well, I mean I have a little bit...

MARTIN: Come on, I know you're going to watch because you're a man of international appeal.

NAVARRETTE: Here we go.

MARTIN: I know you're going to watch it.

IZRAEL: Well, you know what? I haven't really been down with soccer since, you know, I lost my Pele lunchbox. You know, my significant other, she's rocking with the South Africa so I got to go with that. Right?

MARTIN: Okay. And you have your vuvuzela? You got it?

IZRAEL: I guess.

MARTIN: He doesn't even know what I'm talking about...


IZRAEL: I mean no...

MARTIN: Hey, thank you. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and a...

ZIRIN: He's like vuvuzela? A cream will clear that right up.

MARTIN: ...and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego.

Dave Zirin is a sportswriter for "The Nation" and EdgeOfSports.com. He's also the author of the forthcoming book "Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love." He was with us from Washington.

Lester Spence is a blogger and political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. And he joined us from our Washington, D.C. studios.

Gentlemen, thank you.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

SPENCE: Peace.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

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