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Avoiding The Border: Is This Obama's Hurricane Katrina?


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 - Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of themuslimguy.com, is with us from Chicago. Lenny McAllister is a Republican strategist and the host of "Get Right With Lenny McAllister," on KDKA NewsRadio, with us from Pittsburgh. And in our Washington, D.C. studios, Corey Dade, contributing editor for the online publication The Root. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, hey, fellows. Welcome to the shop. How're we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey. What's happening?

COREY DADE: What's up, though?

LENNY MCALLISTER: What's going on, now?

IZRAEL: All right. All right, well, OK. President Obama seems to be in some hot water with his critics over the U.S.-Mexico border situation that's been boiling over in the past few weeks. Isn't that right, Michel?

MARTIN: Well, we've been talking about this a lot on the program, as you probably know. The U.S. is struggling to deal with thousands of people, many of them unaccompanied children and some of them single mothers with children, who've been coming across the border. The conditions are not appropriate. They're crowded and certainly not meant for children. Now, the president went on a southwest swing. Earlier this week, he went to Colorado. He met with Governor John Hickenlooper there. He went to Texas on Wednesday. He talked with Governor Rick Perry there. But he's been hammered by people, including some Democrats who say he should have made some time to visit the border himself, especially in a week when he was filmed playing pool and drinking beer during his visit to Colorado. He was meeting with people there, obviously. He wasn't just, you know, playing pool for himself, but he was talking to constituents. But anyway, this is Congressman Henry Cuellar. He's a Texas Democrat. He's talking about this on MSNBC.


REPRESENTATIVE HENRY CUELLAR: You know, when I saw that, it just really floored me because if he's saying he's too busy to go down to the border, but you have time to drink a beer, play pool - the optics - I mean, just the appearance means that he's not paying attention to this humanitarian crisis.

IZRAEL: Of course he's not, Michel. And thank you for that piece of tape because bodies floating down the street is just like people running across the border. Lenny says some folks are calling this Obama's Katrina moment. Obviously, it isn't. But comparing it to President George Bush's - W. Bush's botched response to Katrina - are you one of those folks? I mean, not to put you on the spot or anything, but...


MCALLISTER: (Laughing) Well, that's the whole purpose of having me on the Barbershop.


IZRAEL: Welcome to the Barbershop, Mr. McAllister. Go ahead.

MCALLISTER: This is not Katrina. I don't want people comparing this to Katrina. It's not his Katrina moment. Are the optics bad? Yes. And more importantly, not just was he playing pool and not just was he having a beer, but he also was in Dallas - north Dallas - raising money, being the epitome of a politician without being the epitome of a leader. That's the issue. Now, we can all agree on that and still say that it's not the same as American citizens stranded and dead in New Orleans after Katrina versus a crisis at the border because he botched the immigration process when he had control of Congress. Those are two different things completely.

IZRAEL: Yeah, thank you for that, Mr. McAllister. Corey Dade, I don't understand what he's supposed to do at the border. Is he supposed to stick his hand out like Charlton Heston and do, like, a Moses? I mean, what exactly is supposed to happen here...

DADE: I think...

IZRAEL: Now, I know you covered the aftermath of the hurricane Katrina. What do you say to all of this, man?

DADE: Yeah, I think what he was supposed to do was come down with his staff and - literally, a staff as in the thing you hold, a rod - and part the sea to allow all the children to go back across the other side. I mean, that - I think that's what they were expecting. But, I mean, realistically, it's totally ridiculous. I mean, Senator John Cornyn from Texas is one of the main ones criticizing him for not coming down. But months ago - in fact, it may have been longer than that - he was one of the main ones who criticized the president for his position on immigration and also the idea - and totally rejected the idea that the president come down to the border for a photo op. And now he and every other Republican are the main ones saying - including some Democrats - saying that he should do it. Was a photo op opportunistic? Would it have been? Yeah. But the deal is, it's about how you respond to this crisis materially. Whether he goes down there and is physically seen on the border is absolutely immaterial because he is already on record - he already has a record of being aggressive in trying to push for immigration reform. So his position on that issue is really not in question here. And the idea of the Katrina comparison is just offensive.

MARTIN: Why is it offensive? I get the impression that a number of people are offended by this, but tell me why. Tell me why.

DADE: It's offensive because there are very material distinctions. As someone who was down there on the ground when President H. W. Bush did his flyover, you know, when the response...

MCALLISTER: It was W. - it wasn't H. W. that did that, Corey.

MARTIN: It was W. - George W.. It was 43, not 41. But anyway...

DADE: I'm sorry. My mistake. Right, it was W.. You know, I was down there. And also, I chronicled sort of the narrative of how the federal response went. And you know, this is a president who went down there and made a speech and then said, Brown, you're doing a good job. He said it directly to the person who was botching the response. And all the while, that entire state was drowning, or dying, or being stranded. And, you know, this is not what's happening here. We're not talking about a federal government that's not responding to this crisis - because they are. And to Lenny's point about Dallas - yes, he did a photo op in Dallas. He definitely wanted to raise money. But he also went to the leaders in Dallas who actually did a novel thing. They actually volunteered three facilities to actually house these children, which is the humane approach.

MARTIN: Arsalan, what do you think?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I mean, I think that both Lenny and Corey have already sort of hit the nail on the head. This certainly is not Katrina. You know, I think that, you know, equivocating, you know, thousands of dead bodies floating through the streets of New Orleans with this, you know, 50,000 undocumented immigrants is - I think it's intellectually dishonest. I think it's interesting, you know, people talk about the optics of President Obama not going there. You know, imagine the optics, just from a political vantage point, if he does go there and, you know, Republican candidates, you know, have pictures of President Obama with undocumented immigrants. You know, I can see 30 second ad spots saying, see, look, President Obama supports illegal immigration in the U.S.. And so, you know, I think that there's a little bit of intellectual dishonesty going on here. And this might be Republicans, you know, trying to goad him into going, only to be used for potential political campaign ads.

MCALLISTER: No, it's not.

MARTIN: Well, both sides are trying to - go ahead - but Lenny, I have to ask you this question, though. I mean, Republicans criticize the president when he takes administrative action. But there's a political disagreement over the direction that immigration reform should take. So I guess I - what is it that they think should happen, other than just agree with them when he doesn't, about what should happen legislatively? I mean, I'm just - what is it that he should be doing that he isn't doing? - because when he does take administrative action, they call him a dictator. So...

MCALLISTER: Well, I think the first thing that needs to be understood is the fact that there's having a policy - there's a lack of action that transpired in 2009 and 2010. So to blame Republicans like he's been doing when it comes to immigration over the last several weeks and saying that they're the ones that have stopped immigration reform when we all know that Univision held president accountable - President Obama accountable, both in 2010 and 2012, for not doing anything in 2009 and 2010 - there's something to be said for that. Number two, having a policy position or doing something 500 miles away in Dallas when you're raising money - and that's something not to ignore, Corey, that he raised money, got a couple groups that have some housing. But that's different than going to the border, especially when this is a new crisis. We had immigration issues previously. But when you start having these busloads of children coming here, some of which where there have been reports where up to one-third of all the girls between the ages of 10 and 15 have been sexually molested or raped on their way up from Central America - when you start talking about that, there's a new need, especially when Julian Castro and the Castro twin brothers have been very close to this administration since the convention of 2012.

DADE: Wow.

MARTIN: What's the relevance of that?

DADE: Wow.

MARTIN: What are you - what...

MCALLISTER: There's something to say about going to San Antonio and at least meeting with them...

DADE: Really?

IZRAEL: Uh-oh.

MARTIN: In southern Texas, rather than just staying in Dallas and raising money.

MARTIN: So you think...

MCALLISTER: That's where leadership comes into play.

MARTIN: Which is why, I mean - which is why some Hispanic groups, leaders, have called him the deporter-in-chief. I mean, they feel that his efforts in law enforcement have been too draconian. So, I mean, clearly - you know what I mean?

DADE: He's deported a record number of people - unprecedented in this...

MCALLISTER: In 2012, he also allowed people to stay here in order to turn the tide with the election. So there are two sides to that coin...

DADE: No, not really.

MCALLISTER: And we continuously only want to look at one side or the other. And again, to Arsalan's point, at some point in time you're going to get it either way from Republicans. So you have to make a choice. Do you want to do things as a politician, or things as a leader? He refuses to do things as a leader more often than not...


MCALLISTER: Because he's afraid of the politics. And that's a lame duck president. That is very, very shameful.

MARTIN: OK. Well, does anybody else have anything to say about this? I think we're going to move on 'cause I think, you know - I think we've had a good elucidation of what the points of view are on this. So if you're just joining us, we're having our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by Republican strategist Lenny McAllister - that's who was speaking just now - writer Jimi Izrael, journalist Corey Dade and Professor Arsalan Iftikhar. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. OK, gentleman. Let's move along, talk about sports. As it happens, ESPN Magazine's annual body issue hit the stands today, featuring nude athletes to, quote, "showcase an array of sports and body types." OK, they just want to move some magazines. But anyway...


IZRAEL: This year they got Michael Phelps and Venus Williams on the cover - yes. But baseball player Prince Fielder's getting a lot of press for his cover shot. Why is that, Michel?

MARTIN: Well, he's - Fielder is - well, first of all, everybody in this is nude. So it's the body issue. But he's - the buzz is that he's a big guy - that, you know, if he were a woman, we'd say he's curvy. Or our friend Dani Tucker would say - one of regular contributors - she would say he's thick and fit. And here's what he had to say about this for ESPN.


PRINCE FIELDER: I'm still in my prime. But, you know, I've got to be a little more smarter about my fitness as well as my nutrition. I don't like to eat too bad, but I just like to eat good food. I guess I'd like to have a 12-pack. That would be cool.

MARTIN: You know, a lot of people are fine. They're saying, look, this is how it is. I mean, the whole point is that you don't have to be one body type in order to be, you know, fit and to be an athlete. And they think it's all good. And some people say that's driving up traffic around the hash tag #husky - Twitter. So, Jimi, what do you think about that?

IZRAEL: You know what? I think you all are late because I'm from Cleveland - you know, home of Gerald Levert, R.I.P., N - men at large. I mean, we - the men here have been fat and black before it was sexy. And, you know, I'm no stick, you know, at 225. You know...


IZRAEL: I'm holding it down. But, you know, we were fat and black before it was sexy. The men here, sisters, you all know what it's about.


IZRAEL: But fellows - but fellows - you know, Arsalan, what do you think? What do you think?

IFTIKHAR: I think it's great. I think it's absolutely wonderful. You know, in past ESPN body issues, you know, everything - every picture in there has been of Greek gods and Greek goddesses, you know, with their chiseled, absolutely perfect bodies. And I think that showing, you know, an athlete like Prince Fielder - and, you know, keep in mind, he is a good baseball player, you know? He's not just some scrub. He's a good baseball player who doesn't sort of fit that traditional mold of, you know, like, the perfect Greek god or goddess body. I think it's absolutely wonderful for those of us who, you know, have similar shaped bodies and are not perfect like everyone that ESPN normally highlights.

IZRAEL: Lenny. Lenny, no, I've seen you, brother. You could use a pork sandwich. But...


IZRAEL: But should Fielder spend more time in magazines or maybe at the gym, bro?

MCALLISTER: The bottom line is he's making millions of dollars a year hitting a baseball 400 feet. And he does that well, so why mess with it? Listen, I'd rather - you know, and not that I'm looking at Prince Fielder or anything else, but 20 years ago, it would've been John Kruk. Would you rather Prince Fielder or John Kruk? And 100 years ago, it would've been Babe Ruth. So there's always been these tubby sluggers that have been out there in baseball. Heck, this is a sport where Boston Red Sox players that didn't pitch on certain days, just a few years ago, got busted drinking beer in a clubhouse. You can't hear about the NFL, or NHL, or anyplace else. So why are we surprised, when we're talking about major league baseball players, some of them looking like this?

MARTIN: What do you think, Corey?

DADE: Hey, man. I'm a former football player. So I've never been skinny - never wanted to be skinny. So I like it. I have no problem with it. I think anytime we're sitting here talking about the outrageous or controversial nature of a magazine cover, the magazine has succeeded. They're moving units.

MARTIN: Well, the fact is, I saw some data that said that first of all, this issue outsells, both in advertising and on the circulation, every other issue.

DADE: It makes their money for the year. This is where they make their money.

MARTIN: But here's my question - how do you feel about that? I mean, how do you feel about that, Corey?

DADE: Which part?

MARTIN: Well, the nudity part. I mean, the fact is a lot of people are saying - on the one hand, they're saying it's a celebration of the body in all its various forms. But some people say this is just another kind of - it's like, sex sells. It's like, it's really selling sexuality and then pretending that it's something else.

IZRAEL: Of course it is.

DADE: Well, I think the two aren't mutually exclusive. I think you can sell sex or sexuality and still celebrate the beauty of the human body. They almost go together. No, not they almost - they do go together. And...

MARTIN: OK, so what would happen if there were a curvy, thick and fit woman on the cover - a female athlete on the cover?

DADE: It's happened many times.

MARTIN: Really, who?

DADE: Insert Serena Williams.

MARTIN: Serena Williams is not...No, this is, I think...

DADE: She's not thick?

MARTIN: She's extremely muscular. It's a different - I don't think...

IZRAEL: No, she's thick.

DADE: No, she's got a donk.

MARTIN: Really?

DADE: She's got a donk. She's 5' 11'', and she's 150-plus pounds, about 160. Yeah, that's thick. She's a thick girl.

IZRAEL: That's thick. That's thick.

MARTIN: And I'm not going to debate thickness.

DADE: And she's a great athlete.

MARTIN: She is a great athlete.

IZRAEL: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Well, curvier - how about, say, curvier?

DADE: Yeah, well. Yeah, that's happened.

IZRAEL: You mean like Queen Latifah?

MARTIN: Well, I don't - she's not an athlete. But...

DADE: You're going to be hard-pressed to find world-class athletes who are women who are larger, thicker, or curvier, as you put it, than a Serena Williams. Serena Williams is the gold standard for the big, athletic, still-sexy woman.


MCALLISTER: And you're never going to be able find that with women because look at the sports that women play at high levels that are high-profile - basketball, volleyball. Even if you want to go to Olympic hockey, I mean, they're constantly moving. So they're not going to look like a baseball player who, by the way...

DADE: Right.

MCALLISTER: Prince Fielder is a DH, sit on the bench and swing the bat three times a game...

DADE: First baseman, first baseman.

MCALLISTER: Or a first baseman.

IZRAEL: Really good point.

MCALLISTER: So of course he's going to look differently than these ladies would.

DADE: Yeah, all those players - first basement and DH, they're all thick. They're all heavy - and some pitchers. They're the only two positions on baseball who don't really make their money by moving.

MARTIN: OK. All right. Well, I stand corrected.


MARTIN: OK, how about that? I never thought I'd be having a conversation with my male colleagues about thick and fit.

MCALLISTER: Thank god we're recording...


MARTIN: But we are.

MCALLISTER: It's the Barbershop, you know.

IZRAEL: It is the Barbershop.

MARTIN: All right. So finally, we just have about a minute a half left. So listen, we need to find a new way to make money. So everybody take notes. An Ohio man - not Jimi - started a Kickstarter a campaign to make potato salad. He was looking to raise $10, but the campaign went viral. And at one point he hit the $70,000 mark. And so I'm going to ask you. OK, what's your dream Kickstarter campaign? Jimi, what's yours?

IZRAEL: There's a nice, signed Baldwin in another country, the first edition, I'm trying to get a hold of. So hookup your boy, for real.

MARTIN: OK. All right, Lenny. What about you?

MCALLISTER: Probably selling my wife's mystery cheesecake. It's awesome.

MARTIN: Mystery cheesecake?

MCALLISTER: It's a mix of cheesecake and pecan pie. It's fantastic.

MARTIN: Oh, OK. You could've brought us some. Corey, what about you?

DADE: Well, I was - it was a suggestion - shout out to in Diva (ph) in Philly. She suggested I pay - that I raise money on Kickstarter to pay everybody's water bill in Detroit. But I'm not really feeling that charitable. So I say, I'm trying to raise money for my retirement plan. How about that?

MARTIN: Well, OK, yeah. Let's see how that goes. All right, Arsalan. What about you? I hate to break this up during Ramadan, but what about it?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I would start a Kickstarter campaign to make sriracha sauce mandatory in every school lunch in America.



MARTIN: All right. Arsalan Iftikhar is founder of themuslimguy.com and an adjunct professor of religious studies at DePaul University. Lenny McAllister is a Republican commentator and radio host. Corey Dade is contributing editor for The Root. Jimi Izrael is a writer. You can find his blog at jimiizraelrael.com. Thank you all so much.

IFTIKHAR: God bless.

DADE: Yes sir.


MARTIN: And 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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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