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, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, sports editor at the progressive magazine The Nation, Dave Zirin. They're all in Washington, D.C. Joining us from KUT in Austin, Texas, Mario Loyola. He is a columnist with the conservative National Review magazine and he works for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, thanks, Michel. Fellas.
DAVE ZIRIN: Hey.
IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop.
ZIRIN: Great to be here.
MARIO LOYOLA: (Foreign language spoken).
IZRAEL: Super Mario, my dude, all right. Well, you know what? Anybody got an extra 13 hours free right about now? We can - you know, that's about how much time Kentucky Senator Rand Paul...
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Sand Paul.
IZRAEL: Right. I'm always getting him confused with Ru Paul, but anyway, not a senator from Kentucky. But he spent time doing an old-fashioned talking filibuster this week. He was blocking John Brennan's nomination to lead the CIA because of questions about the U.S. drone program. Now, here's a clip of Rand Paul on the Senate floor wondering what would happen if the drones - if we had drones during the Vietnam War in the '70s.
SENATOR RAND PAUL: No one will ever forget Jane Fonda swiveling around in North Vietnamese armored guns and it was despicable. It's one thing if you want to try her for treason, but are you going to just drop a drone hellfire missile on Jane Fonda? Are you going to drop a hellfire missile on those at Kent State?
MARTIN: I know. That was intense. He said that he really wanted answers, though, on how the Obama administration might use drones in the U.S. against U.S. citizens and just to mention, though, Jimi, John Brennan did get confirmed not too long after the filibuster ended.
MARTIN: He said that it ended for - how can we put this - physiologic reasons rather than philosophical reasons.
IZRAEL: Well, yeah. I mean, you know, nature calls.
MARTIN: His body was calling.
IZRAEL: Yeah. Somebody calling. All right. Little shot down to R Kelly. But, anyway, that's like a double entendre. Anyway, but Attorney General...
ZIRIN: On so many levels.
IZRAEL: I know. Right. Attorney General Eric Holder - you know, he responded to the senator's question via Twitter. No, no, no. He actually didn't. I'm just kidding, but it was a very, very short letter that probably could have been a tweet or a Facebook update. It was only three lines long and it said that, no, the president does not have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil. It kind of read like the kind of note my mother would leave me on the refrigerator, you know, when I had, like, a dumb question about something that she didn't want to engage.
But, A train, Arsalan, you know, what did you make of Rand Paul's filibuster? A wakeup call on drones or kind of a waste of time?
IFTIKHAR: Well, to be honest with you, I think that Rand Paul was living like Adele that day because he was rolling in the deep. I think it's important to keep in mind that, you know, far be it from me or many progressives to, you know, praise a right wing tea partier, but when you're getting outflanked to the left, you know, on civil liberties by a tea partier to an administration that's led by a constitutional law professor, you know, I think he has to be given praise.
And, to me, the reason he has to be given praise is because the one person that I found really amusing that condemned him was John Yoo, who's the former deputy attorney general during the Bush administration who was the author of the legal memos that justified the use of torture. And so, you know, to me, you know, when John Yoo is on your side, Mr. President, you're probably on the wrong side of the law and policy.
IZRAEL: That's interesting. Super Mario, Mr. Loyola, weigh in here. Did the senator - did he have a point?
LOYOLA: Yeah. I think what this goes to is the larger problem that we still haven't solved since September 11th, which is that 21st century war - terrorism is like this new hybrid of criminal conspiracy and warfare and, by the way, Arsalan, to be fair, John Yoo's point is that he's equally against the administration as he is Rand Paul and the point that he's making is a point that many of us has made, which is don't try to fit 21st century terrorism into the paradigm of the normal criminal justice system.
On the other hand, Rand Paul has an important point - and others do, too - because people on the right have been wrong. You know, people on the right are wrong to try to fit the 21st century terrorism into the rules of 20th century warfare. And so what we've got is a debate between rules of 20th century warfare and our normal concepts of criminal justice that are sort of not applicable to this new problem of terrorism and so that's still something that we have to engage in a debate as a nation about a comprehensive set of new rules. Otherwise, we're just going to be dealing with these piecemeal debates as they come up. And it's somewhat fantastical, I mean it's not like the president is...
LOYOLA: It's not like I'm afraid that I'm going to get zapped by a drone walking out of the KUT studio in Austin.
IZRAEL: No way that could happen.
IZRAEL: But Dave Zirin, you know, my whole thing, you know, it's funny you guys mentioned debate. You know, were all talking about, you know, the merits of his, you know, protest or whatever. But for me, he wanted a conversation and he got it.
IZRAEL: So mission accomplished.
ZIRIN: Yeah. Imperfect vessel. Very glad to be having the conversation.
IZRAEL: Absolutely. Absolutely.
ZIRIN: And I've interviewed people who've been to the villages in Pakistan that have been hit by drone warfare, and that was the, I thought, the great flaw actually, in his filibuster, was not enough discussion about how this is affecting people in other countries.
ZIRIN: You know, there are only two countries on Earth where Mitt Romney outpolled Barack Obama. One was Israel, which is a whole separate discussion...
ZIRIN: ...the other was Pakistan, a nation of 200 million people that's also a nuclear power. Why is President Obama so unpopular in Pakistan? It's because of drones. And I think far few people in the United States are aware of what's being done in our name overseas. So it's important to shed light on that in a democracy.
MARTIN: Can I ask a question, though, which is that what was the specific point? I take your point about the larger question because one of the things that has been interesting to me is over the course of the campaign, and as we were heading after the presidential campaign, as we were heading into inauguration, a number of groups kept saying what about the drones?
MARTIN: What about the drones? Why isn't this being debated? But was the specific point that he was lifting up really a point?
MARTIN: I mean not to disrespect him because it reminded me of these debates over, you know, wanting to ban Shariah law in the United States, when it doesn't exist.
IFTIKHAR: Right. Mm-hmm.
MARTIN: And so that's why wondered was it really a debate.
IFTIKHAR: I think it is, Michel. This is Arsalan again. And I think what's really interesting to note is a recent development that we've learned is that Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, was recently captured in Jordan and is now being brought to a federal trial in New York City. And so it's ironic and bumfuzzling to some of us that Osama bin Laden's son-in-law is going to get due process in a federal court in New York City, but an American citizen, you know, can summarily be executed in any corner of the world by a robot-operated drone.
MARTIN: Can I ask Mario this question? Was the question he was asking a real question?
LOYOLA: Yeah. I mean..
MARTIN: Or was it one of these like fake questions for the purpose of having a discussion but wasn't really the point? That's what I was curious about.
LOYOLA: Well, I mean look, to pick up on Arsalan's point, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law doesn't deserve due process in an American court and it's dangerous to give him due process, right? I mean what we learned from the trial of the '93 World Trade Center bombing is that the evidence that came out in that trial told al-Qaida that we knew what their entire leadership hierarchy was and that we were tapping their cell phones, and so all of their cell phones went dead. And I mean so the evidence that comes out in these trials in order to give terrorists protections that they don't deserve and don't need, are putting Americans at risk and people have got to understand that.
MARTIN: Dave Zirin, final thought on this?
ZIRIN: Well, just that when we start branding people terrorists willy-nilly without even knowing who they are and what they're doing, that to me is a very dangerous slippery slope and a very dangerous kind of mission creep where we begin to accept practices which might actually scare us, say, in the hands of other people, which is why I actually think the big losers in all of this were members of the Democratic Party in the Senate who did not join Rand Paul out there when I think it's quite clear that if George W. Bush was in power they would have been out there on the Senate floor trying to raise these questions.
MARTIN: You're having - we are having our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Mario Loyola and sports editor Dave Zirin.
Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. So the Venezuelan government says the body of their late President Hugo Chavez will be put on permanent display in a museum not far from the presidential palace. The government announced that, you know, he passed away earlier this week - but in life, he was never shy about delivering a good soundbite. Here is singing - singing, I said - to his people.
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: (Singing in foreign language) (Foreign Language Spoken)
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)
MARTIN: Now what is so terrible? President Obama sang "I'm so in Love with You."
MARTIN: He sang an Al Green song at a fundraiser.
IZRAEL: Well, that clearly was not Al Green, unless Al is doing...
MARTIN: Is that cray cray just to sing? I mean, sorry, what's wrong with that?
IZRAEL: No. Well, there's nothing wrong with that.
MARTIN: No singing presidents.
IZRAEL: But there is some debate about whether Chavez was really a menace to the world or if he was demonized for other reasons. Super Mario Loyola, you wrote about this. What's your take?
LOYOLA: Yeah, I mean it's, you know, I grew up in a Cuban exile family and so this is very near and dear to our hearts. We like Venezuelans a lot. They're a lot like us and, but at the same time, you know, you got to think, 50 years ago when Cubans brought Fidel Castro to power, they had no idea that he was going to, you know, install a Stalinist dictatorship and ruled for 50 years. But if somebody comes to you and says, I love Fidel Castro and I want to be your president and you vote for him, you know, can you really complain when he then overturns the constitution, eliminates the free press, intimidates and arrests political opponents, ransacks their offices, seizes property without just compensation, all the stuff that Hugo Chavez has done in Venezuela, can you really complain?
I mean I have to say, I mean my mother's the world's nicest person but what she has to say about this is not very nice. What she says is (BLEEP). And the Venezuelans really have to know that they elected this guy. So all of the things that you can criticize about Hugo Chavez, it's attributable to the Venezuelan people, and that's a difficult thing to conclude, but I don't see any other conclusion.
MARTIN: Translate your mom for us - as long as it's not cussing.
LOYOLA: I can't on the air. I'm trying to basically...
IFTIKHAR: It is.
IZRAEL: So he says..
MARTIN: It was cussing. It was cussing. OK. Go ahead. Dave?
IZRAEL: Dave Zirin.
ZIRIN: First of all, Mario said a number of things just now were demonstrably - are demonstrably untrue. Currently, according to Amnesty International there are 11, quote-unquote, "political prisoners" in the country of Venezuela, that's the first thing. If you factor that relative to the United States, it doesn't look very good. The second thing is if there's nobody you could describe in Venezuela who would compare to, say, somebody like Bradley Manning, there certainly - who is the person in jail indefinitely for the WikiLeaks scandal in this country. There certainly is nothing like the prison rate. In the United States where two million people are behind bars in the elections that Hugo Chavez won, and he won multiple popular elections in that country, were all deemed by international observers, for example, to be far cleaner than the 2000 elections in this country or 2004. And that's a fact of life.
LOYOLA: Oh come on. That's ridiculous.
ZIRIN: Well, then talk to the international observers. Don't get upset with me. The other thing about, I don't know - and also, Mario, I'm not sure...
LOYOLA: No, no, no.
IZRAEL: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on, Mario.
LOYOLA: That's offensive...
ZIRIN: ...when the last time Mario was in Venezuela - maybe you could tell us - but I was there recently, I don't know Mario, if you were there recently - but there is a, you have to be able to understand why people are mourning in Venezuela. It's because 10 years later, if you are poor in Venezuela, you are healthier, you are more literate, you actually have more opportunity to be able to live your life in a way that doesn't involve dying a poor death in your late 30s then you would be for Hugo Chavez took power. And if we can't understand why people are mourning, then we don't understand his legacy.
LOYOLA: I understand why they're mourning.
MARTIN: Which is why?
LOYOLA: I mean I understand why they're mourning. He's a man of the people. He rose from the people and he distributed - he just got done going through $1 trillion of oil wealth distributed on all kinds of projects for the poor. I completely understand that. But I'm telling you that to compare Venezuelan elections to American elections is preposterous. People get beat up on the streets there. People - opposition offices get ransacked. There's no free press in Venezuela. Do you understand that?
ZIRIN: That's not true, actually.
LOYOLA: I mean and Globalvision's offices got shut down because they were critical of the president. The press has to broadcast speeches of the president for hours on end. There are, the only remaining truly free press in Venezuela belongs to the Capriles(ph) brothers, and Chavez says to them hey, by the way, you want to broadcast stuff, you want to keep your free broadcasters, you have a supermarket chain there and you're going to lose it if you don't broadcast stuff that's favorable to the president. Everybody in Venezuela knows this.
MARTIN: Do you want to weigh in on this?
ZIRIN: When I was there...
LOYOLA: I'm not going to say everybody knows it but a lot of people know it. OK?
MARTIN: Hold on a second. Hold up. OK. Let Arsalan in on this. Arsalan, you're final...
LOYOLA: Sure, Arsalan.
IFTIKHAR: Well, I think it's important to keep in mind, when you're dealing with, you know, national leaders in today's modern globe you're not going to get, you know, angels or devils. And I think a holistic understanding, you know, both, but he did some clownish things like, you know, stacking the supreme court with loyalists. He, you know, did recently revoke the...
LOYOLA: Oh, clownish?
IFTIKHAR: Clownish. Listen. You know, he did recently revoke the license of the last opposition TV network in the country. But he also, as Dave said, you know, he launched major programs in housing, health care, subsidizing food programs in parts of his country. I mean it's a very oil-rich country and to, you know, distribute the wealth to the poor and disenfranchised in this country I think is going to be a major part of his legacy.
ZIRIN: And I have to say also on a street level, the amount of both media diversity and political debate, on a street corner level in Venezuela would put this country to shame.
MARTIN: OK. Well, we get both points of view on that and I appreciate that. But before we go, Dave, I mean no, I think it's important for people to hear two different perspectives on it. That's why we're here...
MARTIN: ...so I respect both of you for saying what you have to say. Even though Mario, you shouldn't be outing your mom as a cusser. That ain't right. You ain't right at all. But, Dave, before we let you go, you wrote about the effect of Chavez's death on Major League Baseball. Can you just briefly tell us about that?
ZIRIN: It's a huge deal, the relationship between Major League Baseball, for example, and the Dominican Republic is deeply exploitative in terms of how young children are treated when they're signed by Major League Baseball teams. Recently, there was a death of Washington Nationals' prospect Yewri Guillen as a teenager. Venezuela is the second biggest pipeline to Major League Baseball, and over Chavez's time in office, they've cut their number of academies from 21 teams to five because Chavez actually demanded that they have educational components as part of the academies. He wanted to tax them and he wanted them to hire more local residents. And that's why - so what Major League Baseball has done instead is it's just signed people in Venezuela and then whisked them across the ocean to the Dominican Republic, away from their families, so people in Major League Baseball corridors of power are very happy today. And that's why they wouldn't fly the flag at half mast. They refused the request of Venezuela to do that during the World Baseball Classic earlier this week after Chavez's death.
MARTIN: Interesting. Before we let you go, we only have a minute left. Arsalan, I'm just going to go to you on this. ESPN's pick for greatest athlete of all time.
IFTIKHAR: That's right.
MARTIN: The sports science team at ESPN says they measure things like speed, power, reaction time. They picked two sport stars, Bo Jackson, running back in the NFL, a big hitter in baseball. Agree?
IFTIKHAR: Absolutely. I was watching the sports science thing on ESPN even before it happened. And I said that if Vincent Bo Jackson is not chosen there's going to be a mutiny. You know, here you had somebody who at the 1986 NFL combine, ran a 4.12 40, which is 12 hundredths of a second faster than the modern combine record held by Chris Johnson at 4.24. He was the first athlete ever to appear in all star games for two major sports. Anybody who says that Bo Jackson isn't the greatest athlete ever doesn't know diddly.
MARTIN: What about Jim Thorpe? What about Jim Thorpe?
IFTIKHAR: Bo Jackson.
ZIRIN: Jim Brown, greatest all time in football and lacrosse.
MARTIN: Oh, OK. OK. Jimi?
IZRAEL: I wish we measured character. Sadly, we don't so I think I'm going to have to rock with Jim Brown. But I think LeBron is going to make a case given time, LeBron James, yeah.
MARTIN: Mario? Mario?
LOYOLA: Oh, I thought Jimi was about to mention Brett Favre.
MARTIN: Oh, snap.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: OK. He wasn't.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: OK. Mario Loyola - that's who was speaking just now - is director of the Center for 10th Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He's a columnist for the conservative National Review magazine. He was with us from member station KUT in Austin. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com. Dave Zirin is a sports editor for The Nation, and host of Sirius XM radio's "Edge of Sports Radio." Jimi Izrael is writer and culture critic, and adjunct professor at Cuyahoga Community College. Thank you all.
ZIRIN: Thank you.
IZRAEL: Yup, yup.
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. 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.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.