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 and culture critic Jimi Izrael with us from Chicago. Here in Washington, D.C., civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. We hope Pablo Torre will be joining us. He's a senior writer with ESPN.com. We understand he's making his way to the studio. And Jeff Yang is a columnist with the Wall Street Journal online.
Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, Michel, you know it's Asian Pacific Heritage Month, right? And I'm...
MARTIN: I did know that. Yes.
IZRAEL: ...privileged. I'm privileged to be surrounded by all my brothers of other colors from other mothers, so let's get it jumping. Thanks so much...
MARTIN: All right.
IZRAEL: ...for coming out, guys, for a fresh cut. How we doing?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: It's an Asian invasion, homes.
IZRAEL: It's good. Good to have you in. Jeff Yang.
JEFF YANG: Hello. What's up, man?
IZRAEL: Hey, man, I haven't seen you since this morning on the Internet. It's good to see you. All right. Well, let's get things started. President Obama - he's up to it again. He's up to his neck. He spoke about his administration's counterterrorism policies yesterday, or at least he tried to. He got through it despite a relentless heckler. Michel?
MARTIN: You know, he did. He talked about drones. He was at National Defense University. He had signaled - his staff had signaled that this would be a major address, addressing some of the issues that a lot of people had talked about, including drones and closing down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. He was repeatedly interrupted, though, by Medea Benjamin of the activist group Code Pink, and here is a clip.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm about to address it.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: You are commander-in-chief.
OBAMA: Let me address it.
BENJAMIN: You can close Guantanamo today.
OBAMA: Why don't you let me address it, ma'am?
BENJAMIN: You can release those 86 prisoners.
OBAMA: Why don't you sit down and I will tell you exactly what I'm going to do.
BENJAMIN: (Unintelligible) government today.
MARTIN: I was so fascinated by this because Medea Benjamin is so well-known for...
YANG: Right. Exactly.
MARTIN: ...disrupting these events of not just current officials, but former officials...
MARTIN: ...that I'm just fascinated by why they haven't figured that out.
YANG: And she had a ticket.
MARTIN: But, you know...
YANG: She had a ticket.
IZRAEL: And that went on for a bit, you know, before she actually - before she got thrown out and, you know, before we talk about the actual speech, I'm curious what you guys thought about how Obama handled it. Jeff Yang, what did you think of the side show?
YANG: You know, I mean, you could tell he was getting a little bit stressed, but you know, he's a cool cucumber and I don't think that he did any worse than I would have myself. I mean, he didn't, you know, call security to escort her out immediately or something, but I think that she was - I wonder, to a certain extent, whether or not she was let in almost to put a pin in that particular point, you know, that there is a significant part of - I mean, maybe it's some kind of fourth dimensional chess sort of thing, you know, where it's like, let's get the progressive voice out there, you know, put the hecklers out in front. And then Obama kind of looks a little bit more, you know, moderate perhaps, in his decision to push back on the global war on terror as a result. Maybe that's thinking too far ahead.
IZRAEL: Well, he tried to drop some knowledge on her by telling her, you know, that freedom of speech was, you know, letting her - letting him get a word out edgewise, you know, but my whole thing - I'm a big fan of the hecklers. I know that's kind of counterintuitive, but I think we need people like that sometimes. Occasionally, when the shoes aren't being thrown, to keep our leaders - keep our leaders on topic. A-train.
IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.
IZRAEL: Any quick thoughts before we move on, man?
IFTIKHAR: Well, it's good that Medea Benjamin kept her Skechers on, right? I mean, it's one of those situations. You know, as Michel said, you know, Medea Benjamin from Code Pink is very well known to, you know, heckle political administration officials, so anybody who gave Medea Benjamin a ticket knew full well what they were getting.
You know, it was interesting, obviously, to note that, you know, Medea has - she's bipartisan in her heckling. You know, she has heckled - she spent eight years heckling the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and the like and so, you know, if anything, it shows a little bit of consistency, you know, in her heckler-ology.
MARTIN: Well, why don't we wheel around, though, and ask about the substance...
MARTIN: ...of the speech, though.
MARTIN: I mean, Arsalan, what about the substance of the speech? I mean, he gave a very detailed defense of his administration's policy on this particular issue and I'm just interested in what - I mean, the news on Guantanamo wasn't really news in the sense that he established before he was elected that he wanted to close it and the question is, you know, can he close it under his own authority?
IFTIKHAR: Right. Yeah.
MARTIN: And I think most people don't believe - he clearly says he doesn't believe he can, but what about on the drone issue?
MARTIN: That clearly is within the scope of his authority. What do you think about what he said?
IFTIKHAR: Well, it's important to keep in mind that, you know, there's no earth-shattering substantive radical policy change that he outlined in his speech at the National Defense University. But what he did do was offer some insight and a little bit of transparency into programs that really, for all intents and purposes, had no transparency at all, you know, particularly focusing on the drone programs.
Earlier last week, Attorney General Eric Holder, in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, actually for the first time acknowledged that the United States has actually killed four American citizens, including Ayman al-Aliki, who was the purported head of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Jude Mohammed and Samir Khan, who were also American citizens. So this was the first time that the administration actually admitted to killing four Americans on foreign soil through the drone program.
What was interesting to me was his statements on the authorized use of military force - which is known in shorthand as the AUMF up 2001 - which basically granted the Bush administration at the time, you know, essentially a worldwide battlefield and an indefinite war, and President Obama to say that he wants to reign in the AUMF and not re-authorize it, which would actually be a step in a very good direction.
MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?
IZRAEL: I think he promised to be transparent and I think he's kept his promise because a lot of us - or at least a lot of his critics - can see through his equivocating. I don't know that he said anything solid. I'm sorry. And to me, I just want to hear him come out and say, you know what? I'm the president. War is hell. And there's nothing else I can say about it. You know, I mean 'cause to me, I mean that's how I look at it. I mean he's the president. I trust him to make these decisions and I wouldn't want to be him having to make these decisions, but we elected him. Let him make his decisions and don't make them have to dance for his dinner, just, you know, war is hell. It just is what it is. What are you going to do?
MARTIN: OK. Dancing for his dinner is kind of his job though, isn't that?
MARTIN: Anyway, let's move on. You're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Jeff Yang, and sports columnist Pablo Torre has made it to the New York studio. Yay.
IZRAEL: All right.
MARTIN: Back to you, Jimi.
IFTIKHAR: Fashionably late.
MARTIN: Fashionable. All right. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, Obama versus heckler wasn't the only trash talking showdown. Pro golfer Sergio Garcia made a salty remark about Tiger Woods recently.
MARTIN: He did. He was asked if he would have dinner with Tiger Woods at the upcoming U.S. Open. You know that they've had some friction between those two, and Garcia said, quote, "We'll have them around every night, we'll serve fried chicken."
IZRAEL: Doggone it.
IFTIKHAR: Come on, man.
IZRAEL: Well, he apologized, though. Right, Michel?
MARTIN: Yeah, yeah. OK. He says he feels sick about it. I'll just, I play a short clip. Here is.
YANG: Of course he does.
MARTIN: All right. Mm-hmm.
SERGIO GARCIA: I obviously was caught off guard by the question. But don't get me wrong, I understand that my answer was totally stupid and out of place. You know, I have no - I mean I can't say sorry enough about that.
IFTIKHAR: You think?
IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.
You know, fellas, my question, it's simple: Was this racist or was this whole thing overblown? Or is it a little bit of both? A-Train, Arsalan, what do you think? Jump in here, man.
IFTIKHAR: Hell yes, it was racist. And the reason that I say that is because if he was talking about a white golfer, would he have referred to fried chicken in inviting him over for dinner? What was interesting to note for me is the fact that this fried chicken stereotype has apparently made its way across the pond to Spain because Sergio Garcia is from Spain and so, you know, what's interesting is that, you know, we have these tired stereotypical tropes here in the United States but apparently it's making it across internationally as well.
IZRAEL: Well, your boy Jimi likes a yard bird every now and again, so hey, fried chicken is OK with me.
PABLO TORRE: Who doesn't?
IZRAEL: P-Dog. Pablo Torre, you're the sportswriter, man. Weigh in.
TORRE: Yeah. I mean first off, his joke was super corny, let's admit to that. It was just a bad joke and he kind of, if the context means anything, I mean, look, this was a back-and-forth, trash talking brinksmanship for while, and then Sergio Garcia goes and does this and everything is sort of like, oh god, here we go again. I mean this is Fuzzy Zoeller in '97...
YANG: Right. Mm-hmm.
TORRE: ...referencing, this is echoes of all of the - sort of the legacy of racism that Tiger Woods at his age has already faced. And this speaks to the legacy of golf, really. And look, I think the comment was racist. I don't think necessarily that Sergio Garcia is a virulent racist, but golf has a race problem. And if I'm golf, if I'm the PGA Tour from the European Tour, I am punishing this, I am suspending Sergio Garcia in the same way that the NBA or the NFL or the MLB would and probably harsher, because it has this legacy where this is something that golf has had to grapple with for decades and decades and may be the worst sport on record in terms of having to deal with race relations.
MARTIN: Just to clarify what he was talking about with Fuzzy Zoeller, back in 1997, when he was asked about his thoughts about Tiger Woods' impending success at the Masters, and he joked about Woods' serving fried chicken or collard greens or whatever they eat...
MARTIN: To celebrate. And he wasn't sanctioned by the sport either but he did lose his main sponsor after that.
MARTIN: I don't know. Jeff, what do you think?
YANG: OK. So I kind of agree that this is not per se a Spain thing so much as a golf thing. I mean, come on, you know, golf racist? We're so shocked, right?
YANG: But that said, I do want to put, you know, a point on the fact that there have been incidents of Spanish athletes in the past being kind of racist. I mean if you remember during the Olympics, when...
TORRE: Team photo.
YANG: Yeah, the Spanish basketball team paid homage to Beijing by doing these sort of, you know, slanted eye expressions.
IFTIKHAR: Oh, right.
YANG: And actually, it doesn't even end there. I mean just this morning I was reading that that the head of the Euro tour of PGA actually in attempting to explain away what, you know, our friend Sergio did, said, oh, you know, pay no attention to him. He has a lot of friends or colored as well, or something. It just rolls on and on.
IFTIKHAR: Ooh, face palm.
IZRAEL: Jeff Yang. Thank you for your thoughts on that, man.
MARTIN: You know what's interesting to me, though, is that it's curious that - it brings up again the whole question of Tiger Woods' identity. I mean who famously...
YANG: Oh, yeah.
TORRE: Well, he...
MARTIN: ...decided that he was Cablinasian. And he decided that...
IZRAEL: Yeah, is he black this week? I didn't get that email.
MARTIN: You know, his first ad for American Express talked about his being barred from, you know, golf courses...
MARTIN: ...because of the color of his skin, and then subsequently, you know - so it talks about how - it's just curious to me though...
MARTIN: ...and worth noting that he didn't identify, you know, he didn't say we'll have Pad Thai.
TORRE: This - Michel.
MARTIN: You know, we'll have, you know, we're not going to have noodles. We're going to have - this is the aspect of his identity that he decided to pick on, and that is the question that I'm wondering. Why is that the particular aspect of his identity that he thought was the one to...
IZRAEL: Well, because...
MARTIN: Trying to demean him, right?
IZRAEL: Well, because trash talk is about trying to hurt the other person without trying to hurt them badly, so that's why. You know, he pricked at something that he knows that Tiger is very sensitive about.
TORRE: And I'd also note that this was probably the most vociferous reply from Tiger Woods, albeit on Twitter, in response to a race relations question. As Michel sort of hinted, he's been very marketplace oriented, not really getting involved in stuff like this because he wants to be everything to everybody. But now you finally saw Tiger lashing back a little bit and I kind of liked it.
YANG: You know, realistically...
YANG: I think at this point it probably is good for him to, you know, sort of be seen more as the victim for a little while...
TORRE: Also that.
TORRE: Some brand management work involved.
MARTIN: Or maybe it's his own feelings. This is - I think it's sort of an evolving question - you know what I mean? Maybe his own thoughts about this have changed. I mean - or I don't know, it's so hard to say with celebrities. You never really know what they think, do you?
MARTIN: I mean, you know. But before we go, I wanted to ask you about one more thing. This is something that we talked about in the Shop before. The Boy Scouts of America voted to lift the ban on gay youth serving as scouts, but they wanted to keep the ban. They decided to keep the ban for gay scout leaders. And Jeff, I was going to ask you about this first because you're a former Boy Scout. What do you think?
YANG: I am. I have to admit to that. Well, OK. I had a terrible and traumatic time in the Boy Scouts and I saw firsthand what it was like to be the subject of discrimination - if you will - in my troop, where it wasn't so much that I was Asian but just sort of like a fat kid with glasses. And...
YANG: ...at the same time, I mean, you know, this is an organization that did not desegregate until 1973.
YANG: The Girl Scouts have allowed, you know, lesbians to be, you know, members and even scout leaders, I believe, for many years. So I think they've got a lot to prove still and I'm still kind of bitter and resentful.
MARTIN: You would let your boy scout? Would you let him scout if he wanted to?
YANG: Would I let my boy scout?
YANG: I mean look, if they wanted to, you know, I'd probably allow them to. But I would inform them of the fact that, you know, there are real issues and they should think about whether or not they are friends or, you know, future friends would be allowed to be a part of this organization. And if that were the case, if they weren't allowed to, do they really want to be a member of it?
TORRE: And I would wonder too - I'm a former Cub Scout - I did my fair share of boat regattas and made Balsa wood. But look, what I would say is there also may be a brand management question here in the other direction that the Boy Scouts should consider. I mean how relevant are the Boy Scouts over time and is this really the direction they want to go in if they are, in fact, pushing back against homosexuality as a concept? I just feel like the future youths of America, as demographics sort of show, will be increasingly less OK with those stances and whether the Boy Scouts wants to adapt with that is maybe a marketplace question too.
MARTIN: Arsalan, what do you think?
IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, as the resident Barbershop lawyer, it would behoove me, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, they do have the legal right to discriminate against whoever they want. But I agree with both Pablo and Jeff that it's definitely a bad look. I mean I know they've lost sponsorships and things like that. And, you know, it really sort of ties into the relevancy question, in terms of how relevant are the Boy Scouts going to be in America moving forward.
MARTIN: Well, what do you make of it as kind of a, as a compromise though, because remember, they voted on this question only a couple of years ago.
MARTIN: And voted to, at that time, to keep the ban. And now this is a change. And I'm just, I mean as a compromise. I mean if you're a person who wishes to be a Scout leader you could understand how hurtful that is, but - to say we don't want you. On the other hand, I don't know, as a compromise...
MARTIN: ...what does it say about the institutions grappling with this?
IFTIKHAR: Right. But what I think is that, you know, if you're going to, you know, pass a policy saying that gay boys can join the Boy Scouts, then why not, you know, actually go forward and, you know, why do you have to, you know, half throttle something when you can actually make a big change and send a message to the rest of America?
MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?
IZRAEL: It's bigoted. It's bigoted. But having said that, I'm OK in living in a country where we can have these conversations. And you can be bigoted if you want. I mean it's your clubhouse. You can let in who you want to let in. It may cost you some money. It may cost you some friends. You know, you're not going to influence people this way. You're not going to be the dinner party guests of choice, but you can be a bigot if you want. God bless America.
IFTIKHAR: Jimi, you can always come to my clubhouse.
IZRAEL: Thanks, bro.
MARTIN: That's what you say now.
MARTIN: Jimi, would you let your son join, Jimi?
IZRAEL: Yeah. I would. My son doesn't really have interest in those kind of things. My older stepson did at one point, but it faded away. But, yeah, of course. Why not?
MARTIN: Well, we've discussed why not.
YANG: I got to tell my sons if they want that they should join the Girl Scouts. That's...
MARTIN: Well it is an interesting question...
MARTIN: ...because there are - some of the churches who house or host some of the Scout troops are saying some of them may not wish to host them anymore and some are saying that they will. So it's clearly an evolving question. Clearly an evolving question.
TORRE: It's such a 1950s "Leave It to Beaver" sort of organization. They need to modernize, I think, personally.
IZRAEL: Yeah, I agree.
MARTIN: I think there's always a place for knot tying. That's what I'm saying.
MARTIN: All right. All right.
IZRAEL: There needs to be like a skateboarding medal or something.
TORRE: Some whittling. Some knot tying.
MARTIN: Skateboard. There might be a patch for skateboarding. We don't know.
Jimi Izrael is a writer...
YANG: Video game patches.
MARTIN: There might be that too. I don't know.
Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also an adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He was with us from NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago. Pablo Torre is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He made it to our NPR studios in New York to join Jeff Yang is a columnist with The Wall Street Journal online. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com here in Washington, D.C. Thank you all.
TORRE: I wouldn't have missed this for the world, Michel. You know that.
MARTIN: I know you wouldn't.
MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our new Barbershop podcast, that's in the iTunes store, or at NPR.org. 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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.