MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR news. Now 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 shape-up this week are writer Jimi Izrael, with us from Cleveland, Fernando Vila is director of programming for Fusion - that's a ABC-Univision venture - with us from Miami. Roving correspondent for the National Review, Kevin Williamson is with us from New York. And here in Washington D.C., contributing editor for The Root, Corey Dade. Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How we doing?
COREY DADE: What's up?
KEVIN WILLIAMSON: It's been a while.
FERNANDO VILA: What up?
IZRAEL: Well, I guess it has. You know...
MARTIN: Kevin, are you mad in advance? Is that what you're trying to tell us?
WILLIAMSON: Well, I - yeah, I understand why it's been a while, I mean, given the fact that your audience hates me.
MARTIN: Oh, no.
IZRAEL: K-dub, don't come in here wining, man. Just take your seat.
MARTIN: Oh, no. It's more of a love - it's a love-hate thing.
WILLIAMSON: Objective fact, objective fact, they hate me. It's all right.
MARTIN: It's kind of a love-hate thing.
WILLIAMSON: It's kind of a hate-hate thing.
MARTIN: Well, we'll see.
IZRAEL: Well, we'll call you a helicopter, man, but in the meantime, let's talk some football - not bullying, not gay rights, not crime today, but the actual game. Now, the NFL Combine is here. It's really like an intense interview process for college players who want to go pro. They run through grueling exercises, all hoping to impress. Personally, I wish the universities did this when their - every year when open tenure track positions come up.
You know, no shots - no shots Cleveland State, no shots case. But I doubt that would be a lot more interesting in my mind then the NFL Combine, but I'm probably in the minority here. Corey Dade, you played college ball. Who are you watching for?
DADE: I am watching two people. I'm watching - the question really is about Johnny Football - Johnny Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback. You know, we'll get to see, you know, him measured out, him graded out. We want to see - I want to see what his size actually is...
IZRAEL: Hey, now.
DADE: His arm strength, and his intelligence and whether or not he has the arm strength to be an NFL quarterback. The other guy I'm watching is Michael Sam. Of course, Michael Sam is the linebacker from the University of Missouri who came out as gay, but he has - as soon as his he did that, his draft status - his draft prospects dropped down. He suddenly was less desirable by some execs. And now they're saying he's undersized, that he may not be able to play - be a down lineman. So I'm looking to see if he actually grades out really strongly, 'cause that may actually undercut all this hubbub and kind of expose them as hypocrites - the team executives.
IZRAEL: Indeed, indeed, indeed.
DADE: We'll see.
IZRAEL: All right, well, Fernando Vila, you know, my Cleveland Browns have their eyes on your Miami homeboy Teddy Bridgewater. You know, of course I'm pulling for Sam, but anyway, how do you feel like he'll do?
VILA: I'm really excited to see how Teddy does. You know, I - he set a local record here in Miami in high school throwing seven touchdown passes in one game. You know, they say he's a little undersized, but he actually came into the Combine the other day weighing 214 pounds, which is, you know, a lot heavier than people had expected. So I think he's - you know, I'm excited to see how he does. I mean, I think he's going to be better than Johnny Football, but we'll see if his performance at the Combine justifies a higher draft spot.
IZRAEL: OK, K-dub, Kevin Williamson, you going to watch the Combine?
WILLIAMSON: Will first of all, I'd like to congratulate everyone here on having the foresight to bring in a Tribeca-based theater critic and poet to talk...
WILLIAMSON: ...To talk about college football, but now that I know what an NFL Combine is I can say that I actually approve the concept because it looks to me like one more step in the direction away from the pretense that college sports has anything to do with college. I have long thought that college sports should just be converted into an outright farm league for professional football, professional baseball, professional basketball. They can give them all the scholarships they want. So, you know, this kind of little dog and pony show they have going on, it actually looks to me like, sort of what the recruiting process ought to look like. So far as my friends from the University of Texas go, I understand it's better not to comment on their last season, so I think...
DADE: Hook them.
MARTIN: All right.
IZRAEL: OK, well, let's keep talking about sports and let's hit the ice, not literally, over in Sochi. Now I'm just glad, personally, the Winter Games are almost over and I can get back to watching real television. Fernando...
MARTIN: Because you are a sexist hater. No offense.
DADE: Whoa. Wow.
DADE: Dropping bombs.
MARTIN: And you just resent the fact that - I'm sorry, figure skating is awesome and I would love to see any of you - I'm not being mean, I'm just saying, I'd love to see any of you guys basically pick a person - a woman up over your head while you're running around on two kitchen knives, essentially. I'm sorry, the artistry, the strength.
IZRAEL: I've been there, done that, but...
MARTIN: Then show us - then show us your sequins, man. Let's see it - pictures.
DADE: This is getting X-rated somehow.
IZRAEL: It is somehow. Fernando, let's move on. What's been your Olympic highlight so far?
VILA: Well, I'm with you Jimi, I could care less about any of these sports. I've just been kind of laughing at all - at the media coverage around it. You know, did you see what Matt Lauer said to Bob Costas today? He asked him whether he was taking the redeye...
VILA: ...From Sochi?
VILA: ...It was just a wonderful moment, you know? It's just - live television, anything can happen. Just like on this radio show.
IZRAEL: Bob Costas had - famously had pink eye.
VILA: That's right.
IZRAEL: Try that Purell, bro.
MARTIN: So basically none of you care about this. I'm the only one? I'm basically the only one, right? Ted Ligety - come on, great story. What? Come on, Kevin, come on man.
WILLIAMSON: Well, doesn't it kind of make you miss the Cold War, you know?
WILLIAMSON: There's - everyone talking about this game between the U.S. and the Russians and the Russians getting knocked out. You know, 25 years ago, that would've been really exciting. Now it's just kind of like, eh, Russians, you know, who cares?
DADE: Yeah, the Russians aren't happy about it though...
DADE: ...Neither is Putin.
WILLIAMSON: No, they're not.
WILLIAMSON: Although, you know what I did like on this? I like Simon Doonan's column about the opening ceremonies in which he pointed out that after all of this talk of homophobia and gay discrimination in Russia, that they put on basically the gayest pageant in the history of public pageants with glow in the dark fur and things that just could not have been more stereotypically offensive to everything that the Russians lately are claiming to be against.
DADE: That's like a wicked irony.
WILLIAMSON: Yeah, yeah.
MARTIN: So you did watch the opening ceremonies?
WILLIAMSON: No, I didn't.
IZRAEL: Corey Dade, you got something?
DADE: Well, I don't know about highlights, but I think I saw a low light or maybe a low, low light. Lolo Jones, Lolo Jones, you know, she, you know, another Olympics has come and another defeat has been dealt to dear Lolo. But the haters have been merciless. They have been just - first of all, I mean, it started just over the idea that she got on the team to begin with as a bobsledder. Another bobsledder just said the USOC was corrupt - the process was corrupt for selecting her. And then, you know, they were the only bob - women's bobsledding team not to medal out of the three and basically it's because of her. She forgot to hit the brakes on the last go and they finished 11th.
And, you know, I thought - I was like why, why is everyone continuing to hate on her, you know? And, you know, it's like - I thought what was interesting is, you know, I saw an article by The Wall Street Journal talking about her and the fact that, you know, against all that hate about whether or not she's justified physically, she graded out as the number two physically gifted women's bobsledder on that team. So she got it honestly, or so we think. You know, so I - it's just the hate of Lolo continues.
IZRAEL: I think the hate started because she was on - she was in the Twittersphere, you know, lamenting her - she couldn't find a man...
DADE: Couldn't find a man? Well, couldn't find a man...
IZRAEL: ...Yeah, right.
DADE: ...Who didn't want to have sex 'cause she's a virgin and as a Christian she wants to save herself for marriage.
MARTIN: She embraces celibacy.
IZRAEL: Totally respectable.
MARTIN: Perfectly legitimate point of view.
DADE: And they went off.
MARTIN: Well, you know what? People didn't like Shani Davis like 8 years ago and then when he started medaling, all of a sudden they were liking him. They said, oh, he had an attitude and all of this other business and he wasn't a team player, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So, you know, and then of course when he started medaling, you know, the worm turned. So I just, you know, I take it with a grain - and would we be talking - I mean, would we be talking about the bobsled otherwise? I think not.
MARTIN: I think not. So, there's that.
DADE: There is that.
MARTIN: And I have to be honest with you, my son has such a huge crush on Lolo Jones that I have to defend her. You've ever seen like a 10-year-old stare at bobsledding, that's because of - yeah, there's that, so. We're having our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, Kevin Williamson of National Review, The Root's Corey Dade and Fernando Vila, who's with Fusion. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: OK, well, from sports to politics. President Obama wants the minimum wage raised and clothing retailer, The Gap agrees. They just announced the minimum wage will be $9 this year and $10 next year. Wow, I think I might have to go cop an application. Maybe Michel...
MARTIN: Yeah, well, could we get the friends and family discount though if you do?
IZRAEL: Absolutely, you know...
MARTIN: Keep us on the list.
DADE: We're about to fall into The Gap.
MARTIN: Well, this has been a big - this is a big political issue right now, it's a big issue that's being discussed. I mean, the Congressional Budget Office supports the idea of raising the federal minimum wage. It says 900,000 people would be lifted out of poverty with a wage increase to $10 and 10 cents an hour, but there could also be a cost. The CBO estimates that there could be about 500,000 jobs lost. I mean, this has been the essential debate, you know, all along. This is what the Speaker of the House John Boehner, said about this last month.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We know from increases in the minimum wage in the past that hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans have lost their jobs. And so the very people the president purports to help are the ones who are going to get hurt by this. When you look at African-Americans and Hispanics, they're the people who never have a chance to get on the economic ladder.
MARTIN: Well, what about that though, Jimi? I mean, the argument is that this advantages the already employed at the expense of the unemployed. And if the bigger policy issue is getting more people off the unemployment roles, then this is the wrong policy prescription for that time. So what are your thoughts about it?
IZRAEL: Michel, you know what? Going - it's going to help some, it's going to hurt some, but like most change in America, it is absolutely positively necessary. You know, that's just the way it is. You make an omelette, you break some eggs, I'm sorry for that, you know, but I didn't make those rules. I just - so that's just the way of it. That's the way I see it. Fernando, you want to weigh in?
VILA: Yeah, you know, the minimum wage is always difficult to debate because economists are largely split on the issue, almost evenly. So just - basically just fall - people just default to all the ideology. But I think some important context in this debate to know is that, you know, the minimum wage has been - is at its lowest it's ever been since the 1960s in real terms 'cause the - most of the increases that have come since then have fallen behind inflation.
DADE: That's correct.
VILA: And in that time the productivity of the average American worker has doubled. So, you know, it's this theory that, you know, the big story of the great recession has been an economic recovery without job gains. Where profits are ever higher but they're mostly drawn out of increased productivity rather than sort of increased wages. So this is like a small step to redress that in a way. Whether it causes distortion or not in the labor market is probably true, but the sort of net positives probably outweigh the negatives.
MARTIN: Kevin, what do you think?
WILLIAMSON: Well, the minimum wage is not going to be $10 an hour or $9 an hour or $5 an hour, it's going to be what it always is - which is zero. You don't change the minimum wage - the real minimum wage - through law. What happens, as the CBO pointed out, is there are always trade-offs in economics. So you may get some people out of poverty, but you're going to put - now that 500,000 out of work was the mid-range. The upper end of the CBO's estimate was 900,000. So you're talking about, you know, putting a lot of people out of work. Now if your policy goal is to increase the purchasing power of people who work but don't make a lot of money, there are lots of ways to do that besides increasing the minimum wage. For instance, by expanding the EITC or doing what I'd like to do, which is turning it into an outright negative income tax.
MARTIN: The Earned Income Tax Credit, for those who don't know.
WILLIAMSON: Right, so there are ways to do that, but, you know, what the president has done here and what the Democrats are pushing is a raise in the minimum wage for its own sake, which is going to create these trade-offs you don't necessarily have to get. And the reason they're doing that is because they want to hand a victory to their political base that's clamoring for it, even though they don't understand what the real consequences of it are.
MARTIN: Well, I don't know, I'm sorry. I think in the last - a lot of the polling I've seen that there are Republican majorities in a lot of places that also support this increase too.
WILLIAMSON: Oh, everyone supports - everyone supports raising the minimum wage 'cause people are idiots and they don't pay attention to economics and then the fundamentals of...
WILLIAMSON: ...The CBO report are very straightforward. There are always trade-offs. You raise the price of something, demand for it goes down - that's Econ 101.
WILLIAMSON: Unfortunately, we don't teach Econ 101.
MARTIN: All right, well, speaking of demand, we have a couple minutes left, so let me ask you about British actor Idris Elba. Besides being a Hollywood hunk he's a DJ...
WILLIAMSON: Here we go.
MARTIN: ...And he has his own love song. Yes - you want to hear it? No? But, yeah, let's play it anyway.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRIVATE GARDEN")
MARTIN: That wasn't as appealing as I had hoped that it was.
MARTIN: But anyway...
IZRAEL: He sounds like he stubbed his toe.
MARTIN: Can I assist you? Anyway, there's a viral Twitter meme where men are apologizing to their ladies for not being Idris Elba, but then highlighting why they might be better. Examples include, Idris Elba didn't help you look for your phone for 20 minutes even though it was in your purse like it always is, and Idris Elba didn't take you shopping for eight hours and you end up buying one item - I did. OK, so - so you know I'm going to ask you all if you have your own Idris Elba comparison. And there's...
VILA: Well, I, you know, I...
MARTIN: Corey's already heading for the door.
VILA: ...I don't. I mean, you know, I - I honestly think Idris Elba should be the next James Bond and then, you know, the world would...
DADE: Yes, sir.
VILA: ...We would all have to just bow down and there's nothing we can do. We all should just give up.
MARTIN: Corey, what about you?
DADE: Hey, I may be shaken by that idea, but I'm not stirred.
DADE: You know, he's a great guy and, you know, all that stuff but I think the principle difference is I am here, Idris is not, when it comes to a woman. So my woman in particular, I'm here, Idris is not, so there you go.
MARTIN: There it is. There it is. OK, Kevin what about you?
WILLIAMSON: I'm an enormous fan so I can understand why guys would feel threatened by him, but if you're trying to impress your girl because you're not Idris Elba, writing a really crappy poem and putting it on top of a photo is probably not the way to do it. But here's why I like him - because I was a huge fan of "The Wire" and his character Stringer Bell, and going back to my earlier point, the main lesson from Stringer Bell's story arc over all these seasons of "The Wire" was that Econ is really hard. You know, the class that he was taking, that little microeconomics class - it was the one thing in the whole series of the show that he just couldn't handle it - it just kicked his butt.
MARTIN: That was very impressive.
WILLIAMSON: Well, until he got shot - spoiler.
MARTIN: Well, there's that, exactly. All right Jimi, let 'er rip.
IZRAEL: Well, you know, I am not involved and I am not in the market, but I am reminded of my book, "The Denzel Principle," available wherever books are sold - where it kind of suggests that - it suggests that men are being held up to this impossible standard. And yet again, Idris has allowed himself to be recruited into that marketing campaign for the perfect man. You know, and we know nothing of Idris or his politics, we just know that he is tall, dark and handsome. And I guess for some, that is enough, so...
MARTIN: Yes, impossible standards - women, we know nothing of those, right? OK.
WILLIAMSON: I take it, by some, you mean some figure like 90 percent?
MARTIN: OK. All right, all right.
DADE: Shots fired.
MARTIN: Well, Jimi Israel's a writer and adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. You can find his blog at JimiIzrael.com, with us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland. Kevin Williamson is a roving correspondent for the the National Review with us from our bureau in New York. Corey Dade is contributing editor for The Root - that's an online publication that focuses on issues of particular interest to African-Americans - right here in Washington, D.C. Fernando Vila is director of programming for Fusion - that's an ABC-Univision venture - with us from NPR member station WLRN in Miami. Thank you all so much.
VILA: Thank you.
DADE: Yes, sir.
MARTIN: Remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast, that's in the iTunes Store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more on Monday.