Barbershop: Can Super Committee Save Sour Economy?

Aug 12, 2011
Originally published on August 17, 2011 6:24 am

The Barbershop guys weigh in on the Super Committee picks, TBS' cancellation of George Lopez's show and the 25th anniversary of the film "She's Gotta Have It." Guest host Allison Keyes speaks with author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and reporter Gautham Nagesh.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ALLISON KEYES, host: I'm Allison Keyes, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

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 their chairs for a shape-up this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, and staff writer for the congressional newspaper, The Hill, Gautham Nagesh.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Allison. How are you doing?

KEYES: I'm good. How are you doing?

IZRAEL: Makin' it work. Makin' it work (unintelligible). Hey, everybody. How we doin'?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Good, man.

GAUTHAM NAGESH: Great.

IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop. Gautham, first time in. What's up, G? Welcome.

NAGESH: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

IZRAEL: All right, well, let's get it started. So we're going to talk about the supercommittee selection. Now, as part of the congressional debt deal, these are the members charged with figuring out how to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion - that's with a T - dollars, and they're supposed to have a plan by Thanksgiving. Good luck with that, huh, Allison?

KEYES: Right. They have to come up with at least 1.2, but they're trying to get to the 1.5. And we talked about that a little earlier in the show. There are 12 members, 11 men, one woman. The first nine members named to the committee were white, but that was until House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made her selections yesterday. She appointed Representatives James Clyburn, who's black, and Xavier Becerra, who's Hispanic - sorry. Jimi?

IZRAEL: That's all right, 'cause it's not my name you massacred.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEYES: Oh, wow. It's like that? Wow.

IZRAEL: But I mean, for me...

KEYES: Trying to turn a page. Trying to turn a page.

IZRAEL: OK. Well, you know, for my part, I don't care about the color composition of the committee, and I'm probably not alone on this, so much as that we get results. And - well, check this out. The other important thing to remember is that these people on this team, they were hand-picked by their party's leadership.

KEYES: Yes.

IZRAEL: So I'm more inclined to think, well, we're going to end up with some fist-fighting or a tie. Ruben, what's your take on the supercommittee?

NAVARRETTE: I think you're right. I think that the fact that these are all hand-picked people, I mean, what enormous power that the leaders in each party, the majority leader, the minority leader in both House and Senate had to make these choices. And I think that they are going to adhere to the people who chose them. I think that these are incredibly valuable seats. We already know of at least one case of one member of this committee who has - lobbyists, you know, working on his behalf have already started to use the fact that he's on this committee to raise money. It's about money, baby. It's about the money.

Because you can go out there to fundraisers and say, you know, our guy was important before he was a member of Congress. Now he's really important. He's a member of 12, not just a member of 435. And so, in that regard, you want to take care of the people who took care of you and got you with those seats.

I am a little discouraged, though, and it's worth noting. I mean, you have these 12 members. You have one woman, I mean, just one woman. You have one African-American, one Latino. This is an old story for us. You get a group of people together, you give a token representation to a woman, to a Latino, an African-American, and the rest of the folks are white males.

I mean, white males are very well represented, thank you very much. I know we had talked before about getting up a collection on their behalf, Jimi, I think because they were complaining about not being able to get jobs in this new economy. But I think they're doing good.

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: I think they're doing good. I think they got these - the lion's share of these positions. It's going to be a real hard cut, though, the deficit reduction task is very daunting. And I'll just leave you with this, you know, those days where you get back and you do your books at the end of the month, you figure out your money. You say there's just so little coming in and so much going out, you are doing really well compared to the U.S. government. The U.S. government, as we have learned over the course of this discussion, is completely insolvent.

KEYES: Ruben, come on, now.

NAVARRETTE: They put out a lot more every month. You know, they spend, like, 300 - I think it $300 billion - $300 billion a month, is it?

KEYES: Ruben, don't make me start ticking at you.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, I know. And they have to borrow almost...

KEYES: Tick, tick, tick, tick.

NAVARRETTE: Borrow about half of that. So, in any, case it's a long, hard road. I wish them well - good luck.

IZRAEL: Gautham, you write about Congress all day. Do you think the supercommittee is going to be able to accomplish what it needs to do, or is this just another kicking-the-can-down-the-road kind of thing?

NAGESH: To be frank, I would be very surprised if they could reach a compromise that would pass an up or down vote in both chambers. We're talking about some very hard-line, from the Republican side, some people are taking a very hard line on spending. It's going to be very unlikely to approve anything that means new revenues, which means new taxes.

And on the other side, Becerra, Clyburn, you're talking about some of the most liberal members of the House. And so that's going to be part of any bargain. With that being said, there's some flexibility in the Senate Democrats. Kerry, I remember, spoke about coming up with some sort of grand bargain. But the odds are they're not going to be able to reach anything that's going to satisfy both chambers. There's just too big of a divide there, in my opinion.

IZRAEL: I'd be surprised if they can decide where to order lunch. A-Train?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. You know, what's interesting on the whole diversity issue is, you know, a Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, and Barbershop colleague of ours, he noted that in a country that's 37 percent non-white, you have essentially a 16 percent diversity ratio on this panel. What's interesting to note is that both Cliburn and Becerra, were the number three and number five respectively, respective Democrats in the House, you know, are essentially there to, in my opinion, to protect entitlement programs - so the Medicare and the Social Security debate. You know, I think that as opposed to the diversity issue, I think it's more for the entitlement issue, here. You know, a lot of the Republicans want to cut Medicare and Social Security. And I think that, you know, their reputation, along with Chris Van Hollen and a few others, are there to make sure that those remain in place.

IZRAEL: Wow. Gautham, you are a panelist on Asian-American Journalists Association Convention in Detroit this week. Is that right?

NAGESH: That's correct.

IZRAEL: And I know you're speaking about reporting on economically depressed areas. Now, as the supercommittee juggles money around, what do you think they need to keep in mind about these areas and the people in them?

NAGESH: Well, I think that you just touched on one of the most important things which is the fact that there is only one woman, there are only two minorities on the panel. It means that there aren't as many people who can speak to the experiences of 37 percent of Americans. Things like food stamps, welfare, pretty much any social welfare program is probably going to come up for further cuts, and some of them have been cut pretty far already. If you don't have someone who can speak to that experience or represents that community, I do think it is more difficult to really weigh the impact of those sorts of cuts.

On the other side, we've got people who are going to oppose any sort of new revenue. I think it would be fair to say that the highest tax bracket is well represented on this committee, and their interests will probably be considered as part of any bargain. Here in Detroit, we've been talking about when you do talk - report on economically impoverished areas, the most important thing to keep in mind is that these are real people. They're not just an unemployment statistic. They live, they die, they, you know, love and have great lives, and they experience tragedy. And this all happens against the backdrop of the recession. And I think that gets lost a lot of the times in the face of these statistics, or trying to sell a narrative about this city in the Midwest is doing badly or, you know, this area on the West Coast is suffering a housing breakdown. It's the people behind it that really matter. And I'm hopeful that some of the more recent additions to the committee will represent that.

IZRAEL: All right.

KEYES: Let me just jump in here, gentlemen, for a moment and say if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes. You are, of course, in the weekly Barbershop segment. We're joined by author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and reporter Gautham Nagesh. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thank you. Well, as Congress looks to reduce debt, George Lopez will be looking for a new job. Ay yi, Poppy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEYES: That's cold-blooded.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Cable network TBS pulled the plug on "Lopez Tight" after just two seasons. His show ended just last night.

KEYES: But he seems to be taking it all pretty well. TBS made the announcement on Wednesday, and here's what he said that night.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOPEZ TONIGHT")

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIENCE CHEERING)

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOPEZ TONIGHT")

NAVARRETTE: So, hey. Did you guys see the news? Unemployment is at an all-time high, and for Latinos, it just got a little higher.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOPEZ TONIGHT")

GEORGE LOPEZ: I did get some good news this morning, though. Sony announced they were doing a sequel to "The Smurfs" movie, so...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOPEZ TONIGHT")

LOPEZ: So today I lost some work because I'm brown, but also, I got some work because I'm blue.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

IZRAEL: Ay, caramba.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Allison. You know, I think the thing with George Lopez - this is just what I think, that TBS really didn't understand the Latino audience. You know, I think George Lopez has been co-opted by the mainstream and doesn't really appeal to his base anymore. That's my feeling about it. I think it's one of those things where, well, once you're on TBS, you know, once the mainstream has you, your base constituency really isn't that interested in you anymore. And beyond the fact that George Lopez may be funny on stage, he may be funny in, you know, voicing the voice of Chihuahuas and an evil villain - shout out to Robert Rodriguez. But he may not be that funny, you know, with his own talk show - shout out to Chris Rock.

KEYES: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Ruben?

NAVARRETTE: Yo?

IZRAEL: Were you a late-night G. Lo fan? Not to mention that came on too late for working people.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, that's the...

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Well, you know, it didn't always...

IZRAEL: Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. The point is it didn't always come on that late, right? It was at 11 o'clock - which is a really nice spot - it was until Conan went to TBS. And when George Lopez was at the 11 o'clock spot, he got almost a million viewers - about 950,000 viewers. And then when he went down to an hour later, he got down to 500,000 viewers.

I think a lot of folks who would just like to say it's all about merit, and about, you know, getting the numbers, they have to come to grips with the fact that on cable television, you have various news shows and news personalities who get two or 300,000 viewers a night. And there are stories that are written up in Politico and Huff Post and elsewhere about, you know, how so-and-so is doing really bad in the ratings, and yet so-and-so still has a job and has multiple jobs. And I think the reason for that is that when you are trailblazer, be you Arsenio Hall, you know, in the '90s, or George Lopez now, and you're sort of the one person out there, the old saying about the pioneer takes - the pioneers take the arrows, that's right.

And I think, you know, the way to look at this is to say that you don't have to weep for George Lopez. This guy's a multimillionaire. I've known him for about 10 or 12 years. He's done very well. He broke a barrier in syndication with his television show and, you know, was rewarded for 25, $30 million in signing that deal. He's got houses all over the place. He'll do fine. He does these big concert shows and stuff.

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: He'll do fine. I don't think we, collectively, though, do fine - we, meaning non-white folks who would like to see more non-white folks in late-night, we're not doing fine, and we continue not to do fine. I thought it was telling that Arsenio Hall tweeted the day that George Lopez's show was canceled that he was sorry to see it happen, because he thought that it was part of that important part of that rainbow at late-night. So we get one every couple decades. What can I say?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you got to...

IZRAEL: You know, Arsenio had the good fortune - one second, here, A-Train and then we'll go to you - I think Arsenio had...

KEYES: Okay. Because Jimi, we've got to move this along. Don't make me (unintelligible) you, too.

IZRAEL: All right. I...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I just want to say Arsenio had the good fortune, he - it was about timing. He came in the Cosby era, where black people were in. So I think Arsalan came, was the right - I mean, not Arsalan, Arsenio was the right guy...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: ...at the right time. A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: No, very quickly, I do have to, you know, we do have to give TBS props for giving him a show in the first place. You know, that was a trailblazing move, there. Also, I think it was the Conan, definitely. I think it was that 11 to 12 AM one-hour bump, I think, at the end of the day, you know, that was probably the decision-maker there.

KEYES: So, speaking of new jobs, I want one Jimi, selling beauty products to men. I know you guys have heard about this new study by Univision that shows that Latino men use almost twice as many grooming products - and I don't mean soap and shampoo, I mean hair gel, moisturizer and cologne - than other men do. Now, Univision has an obvious interest in getting ad dollars by saying their viewers are potential buyers. But how many of you guys think this is true? Ruben, what's up with that? Are you that guy in the store with a basket full of beauty stuff?

NAVARRETTE: I don't think I'm that guy, because my six-year-old daughter has been known to...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: ...known to look at me midday and say daddy, you stink, you know.

KEYES: Wow. Nice.

NAVARRETTE: I think that that's how six-year-old kids are, you know. And my response is because I've been running around all day taking care of you and I didn't take a shower yet. I think that the story points to an element of our society, sure, an element of the population, and perhaps in cities like Miami and Los Angeles, where, you know, physical appearance is really, really important. But you get that probably in all communities. You know, it's a little silly. Remember those stories we heard about Harold Ford down in Tennessee getting pedicures? I was supposed to care about that?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: You know, apparently his political opponents thought it was important. So I think it's just one of those stories that people make a little too much out of. It's not something endemic to the whole community.

KEYES: You know, I'm sitting across from Arsalan right now, and I think he moisturizes, and his eyebrows are looking pretty fly.

NAVARRETTE: Well, it looks good. He does look...

IZRAEL: How close are you?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEYES: Arsalan, come on.

IFTIKHAR: Listen, any man who says that they've never manscaped before is a bloody liar. So that's all I got to say about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: What is this manscape business?

KEYES: Okay. And Jimi, I know you wear cologne, and I have seen you do some pretty fancy hairstyles. So...

IZRAEL: Yeah, I where Angel for men. It complements my wife's cologne. She wears the same thing, just for women.

KEYES: Aw. He's going to get points for that later.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I always do.

KEYES: Right. But while we're on the subject of cool things, this week marks the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking movie "She's Gotta Have It" by black filmmaker Spike Lee. This was his breakthrough film. It told the story of Nola Darling, a young black woman who refuses to choose between her three lovers - which I loved about that movie. I'm just saying. Here's a clip of them all getting together for Thanksgiving dinner.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT")

SPIKE LEE: (as Mars Blackmon) Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Jamie, let's settle this between you and me, once and for all, man-to-man.

JOHN CANADA TERRELL: (as Greer Childs) What about me?

LEE: What about you? You ain't down, so chill.

TRACY CAMILLA JOHNS: (as Nola Darling) I don't believe you.

LEE: Here's a quarter here, right? Right? Heads...

JOHNS: I don't believe you.

LEE: Tale.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT")

LEE: Call in the air, okay? You're going to call in the air?

JAMIE OVERSTREET: Yeah, Mars.

LEE: You going to call it?

Mm-hmm.

You're going to call it? In the air, right?

OVERSTREET: You can't live without a head, hey?

LEE: Tales. You lose. Nola, will you tell these two gentlemen it's time for them to go?

JOHNS: My fate decided by the flip of a coin.

KEYES: So Jimi, you're blogging about this for us. So give us a sneak peek.

IZRAEL: Well, you know, "She's Gotta Have It," it's an important black feminist film insofar as it gives a young, black female protagonist - and all the black female actresses in this film have agency over their sexuality in a really unconventional way. So there's that. In some ways, I look at Nola Darling, the chief protagonist, she's bookended by the phone sex operator from "Girl 6": women who, richly they believe - they richly believe they deserve it all, you know, whatever the consequences. And...

KEYES: As we do.

IZRAEL: Well, I don't know. Again, whatever the consequences.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: You know, I mean we all know how "She's Gotta Have It" ends, and we know how "Girl 6" ends. So I, you know, there could be consequences for trying to have it all, and I think both of these films kind of underscores that. Important to note that this film was written - "She's Gotta Have It" was written by Spike Lee, and "Girl 6" was written by Suzan-Lori Parks, which is important to note.

KEYES: Ruben, really briefly, what do you think?

NAVARRETTE: This is an incredibly important movie and it launched a great career, and I always look forward to more stuff from Spike Lee. I think he's matured over time. But, you know, you can look back at some of his earlier work, including this one, and say man, that was good. There were some insights there. He really understood it. And I think it's going to stand around for a long, long time.

IFTIKHAR: Mars Blackmon. Mars Blackmon.

IZRAEL: Please baby. Please baby. Please baby, baby, baby, baby please.

IFTIKHAR: Mars Blackmon.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEYES: Well, you can, of course, find Jimi's blog on our website. Go to npr.org, click on Programs, then on TELL ME MORE. Guys, we got to go. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist 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 Washington Post Writers Group, Latino magazine and Pajamas Media. He joined us from San Diego.

Gautham Nagesh is a staff writer for the congressional newspaper, The Hill. He was with us from Detroit. And Arsalan Iftikhar, right here with me in Washington, is a civil rights attorney, founder of The Muslim Guy. Thank you all so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

NAGESH: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

KEYES: That's our program for today. This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Tony Cox will join you to talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.