CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. And it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop - the last one of 2013. The guys are going to talk about what's in the news, what's on their minds. And sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week, writer Jimi Izrael joining us from Cleveland, also Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor of The Islamic Monthly and founder of TheMuslimGuy.com. He's in Chicago. And with us in Washington, D.C., Corey Dade, contributing editor for The Root. And then we can't forget Pablo Torre, senior writer with ESPN. He is joining us from New York. So, Jimi, take it away.
JIMI IZRAEL: C-Headlee, how you doing?
HEADLEE: I'm not bad. How are you, my man?
IZRAEL: I'm making it work. Thanks so much. Everybody, welcome, welcome, welcome to the shop. How we doing?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.
PABLO TORRE: Happy New Year.
IFTIKHAR: What's cracking?
COREY DADE: What up, dog?
IZRAEL: Hey, you know. So wait a second. It's almost the new year. So everyone's kind of going crazy with their year-end best-of list. Let's get some of what's been underreported. There's loads of stories that haven't gotten a ton of ink spilled. Now, me personally, I read about the AIDS vaccine - not the AIDS - the HIV vaccine back in The Times in September. I've not - and it led the news for, like, a week. But I haven't heard much about it since. And I would really like to see more reporting - I would have liked to have seen more reporting on that. I want to see more reporting on that going forward. Also of some concern is Justin Bieber's retirement - you talk about an underreported story.
IZRAEL: You talk about an underreported story
HEADLEE: It's because he rescinded after, like, an hour.
IZRAEL: You talk about an underreported story, you know, I need to know if there's anything left to belieb in. I mean, so that's just me. Pablo, P-dog, let's give you the over-under question. What was the most underreported story this year?
TORRE: Yeah, well, I think on a moral scale, I mean, I think the Central African Republic being on the verge of genocide is probably somewhere up there. But because it's so far away, because it's, quote-unquote, Africa, people generally assume it to be this mess. We're sort of desensitized to it, which is really unfortunate. Domestically, though, to me, I think it's people's changing attitudes towards marijuana because there was a Gallup poll in October - 58 percent of Americans think the use of marijuana it should be legal. An AP poll said it had fallen - people who opposed legalizing small amounts of marijuana had fallen from 55 percent to 29 percent.
And then you have another poll in January saying 53 percent of respondents say that the government should treat marijuana the same as alcohol. I think there is a tremendous conversation to be had about why people are changing their opinions and what that public opinion shift does in terms of opening avenues to research, in terms of understanding, in terms of business, in terms of capitalism. And I don't think people - my demographic is so over it that I think that, you know, there's a weird dissonance there in terms of how much we should be talking about it.
IZRAEL: But why are attitudes changing? Anybody want to chime in here? Pablo, I mean, you're first in, so, I mean, maybe you can give us a clue. Why are attitudes changing? Did Cheech and Chong do that?
HEADLEE: It's been a long time since the last Cheech and Chong movie.
TORRE: Yeah, I was going to say our demographic - my demographic, I think, missed out on Cheech and Chong. And so there's this really - I just think that we're so not, you know, startled by. I think there are actual, like - the health effects of alcohol, for example, the concerns, they're just not present with marijuana. We don't really see the health negatives and the side effects. I think there's a logic taking place where we're just sort of like, why is alcohol legal but this would not be? Why isn't this being taxed to fund other good things in society? I think it's a first-hand and kind of a logical reasoning kind of thing.
HEADLEE: I just want to point out every time Pablo says my demographic, he's calling the rest of us old.
IZRAEL: Yeah, I didn't want to say that.
TORRE: That's right.
IZRAEL: But, yeah, clearly, he's...
IZRAEL: ...Himself as a young head...
IZRAEL: ...Everybody else as an older head. Pablo, thank you for giving us the weed report, my dude. A-train, you know, you think Syria could've gotten more press, yeah?
HEADLEE: We just lost Arsalan. The connection...
IZRAEL: We lost him?
HEADLEE: We did.
IZRAEL: How did that happen?
TORRE: Arsalan was so offended by my demographic commentary.
HEADLEE: I think he was offended by being called old. Yeah.
DADE: I think Arsalan could use some more press, I mean the fact that we dropped...
HEADLEE: Oh, I thought you were going to say he needed more marijuana, which...
IZRAEL: Corey Dade, the Corey Dade. On that note, you know, this year's been a big one for Supreme Court cases. You've got your mind on one in particular. Tell us about it.
DADE: You know, the CNN - the show "The Lead," their 4 o'clock weekday show, came out with its own list of the top 10 stories of 2013. And that list included the Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality - huge, huge decision, huge news. But what that list left out was the Supreme Court's decision on another landmark civil rights case, which was this - SCOTUS's decision to gut the most important provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
That got big press right there at the spot. But then right after that, we just shifted on to other news. And that is, you know, they crippled the most successful, the most effective civil rights law in United States history. It's unequivocally the most successful, and it's still needed. And what people don't realize is that this is not an issue about blacks and Latinos simply getting access to vote. This is empowering states and local governments to make all kinds of changes, like changes to your polling place, and you don't know.
DADE: And then you might not be able to vote. That affects everyone.
HEADLEE: Well, we actually have Arsalan back. And, Arsalan, you're a civil rights attorney, so maybe you wanted to chime in here on this idea that the Supreme Court and the Voting Rights Act was underreported.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah, you know, I think that there were a lot of major Supreme Court decisions, you know, that were had in 2013. And I do think that the Voting Rights Act decision was underreported. For me, personally, you know, I wanted to look at some of the major foreign affairs and foreign policy stories that were underreported. And for me, you know, the number one story that goes on the list is the civil war in Syria. You know, we started to hear a little bit about it, you know, early in the year. But, you know, as Bashar al-Assad, you know, essentially cracked down on his entire civilian population, we really didn't see stories about the humanitarian disaster that has happened in Syria.
In addition to Syria, you know, if you look at the country of Myanmar, which is formerly known as Burma, you know, for most foreign-policy aficionados, you know, we've all been following the story of the violence that the Buddhist majority are cracking down on the Muslim minority, known as the Rohingya in Myanmar, and the humanitarian disaster that has occurred there. Similarly, you know, Iraq, for example, has had 8,000 civilians that have been killed in 2013, which is the most violent year in Iraq in recent memory. And in the Central African Republic, you know, there is a major - there's major anarchy essentially going on there which might spill over into Cameroon...
HEADLEE: Yeah, Pablo was talking about that. Yeah.
IFTIKHAR: ...And even have France coming in. Yeah, sorry. My mic was...
HEADLEE: But I got to ask you...
HEADLEE: ...Arsalan - and maybe the other guys will weigh in here - do we really think Syria has been underreported, or are we just not - are people just not paying enough attention? Is it just...
IFTIKHAR: I think it's underreported.
IZRAEL: I think it's the latter.
DADE: And part of it...
IFTIKHAR: I think it's under...
DADE: Part of it's...
IFTIKHAR: It's under...
DADE: ...Also access though.
IFTIKHAR: Well, no, but - yeah, that's true.
DADE: Reporters access to Syria to be on the ground there. That's part of the issue.
IFTIKHAR: Right, but you know, lot of stringers have gone in through Turkey. A lot of people have been reporting from Amman, Jordan and Lebanon, you know, in the refugee camps - things like that. I think that it was vastly more underreported than the Arab Spring uprisings were in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. And I think that the reason is because of the fact that Russia was essentially able to block any sort of U.N. intervention at the Security Council because of their veto power. Essentially, Russia has had the upper hand in the entire Syria debate worldwide.
HEADLEE: Let me get - Jimi, you said you thought it was the latter, right?
HEADLEE: You think that people just aren't caring enough.
IZRAEL: That's what I think. I do think there is some really good reporting coming out. But I just think people are not paying it enough attention.
TORRE: I think Americans have so much...
IZRAEL: There are so many other things going on.
TORRE: I mean, "Duck Dynasty" is...
TORRE: ...So important that we need to...
HEADLEE: Well, all right. Well, then, Corey, what do you think is the most over-reported story?
DADE: "Duck Dynasty." No.
IZRAEL: That's interesting.
HEADLEE: This is the current...
DADE: No, I think what's over-reported - it's a little bit of a nuance. I think what's been over reported is every time a prominent figure makes an anti-gay or racist remark and blowing that out of proportion as far as the coverage of the remark, rather than taking it the step further. The truth of the matter is America cannot have a responsible dialogue about differences between race and gender and sexuality. And so, as a result, every time someone says - it's like, oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness. He said it. She said it. Are they going to get fired? Are they going to lose their job?
DADE: And then it just goes away, and then it bubbles up the next time someone else says it. Instead of getting so upset that someone said it, let's take the next step.
HEADLEE: Of why.
DADE: We don't do that.
HEADLEE: You are listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We are joined by Corey Dade - journalist, who you just heard - also writer Jimi Izrael, commentator Arsalan Iftikhar and sports writer Pablo Torre. Jimi back to you.
IZRAEL: All right thanks, Celeste. So besides what went overlooked this year, let's give the producers here a hand. What are a couple of stories that need to be looked at for next year? Pablo, P-dog, you're first in man.
IZRAEL: Go ahead.
TORRE: I was thinking about this when I was playing my Xbox One last night. And...
IZRAEL: Wait a second, wait a second, wait a second...
HEADLEE: You just had to get that in.
IZRAEL: Why do you got to pop your collar like that?
TORRE: But here's the thing - is that the Xbox One has this HD camera that is watching everything I'm doing. And to me, 2014 seems like the year when maybe we sort of realize - I mean, obviously with Edward Snowden to Xbox is a long jump - but when we talk about surveillance, and we talk about how much we're being watched, I do wonder whether we sort of wake up to this and realize, wait a minute, are we as comfortable as we've been in the past being constantly watched by whether it's our government, by corporations and what that says about our ideas of privacy because when I realized that yesterday, I was like, wait a minute, everything I'm doing is being recorded or watched in some sort of HD way. That's kind of terrifying. Where's the breaking point there?
DADE: And I think maybe there's...
HEADLEE: Plus you can get that humble brag in.
IZRAEL: Why don't you put, like, a - right, well, why don't you put, like, a little swath of tape across the...
TORRE: I'll just wear a mask. Put a paper bag over my head.
IZRAEL: Or something. I mean, that's what I do with my pad, bro. I mean, I got a little tape across the aperture. Arsalan...
TORRE: You're joking but I think that could happen.
IZRAEL: No, I'm not joking, dude. I'm totally serious. Arsalan, go ahead.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah, you know, and jumping off of what Pablo said, I think the Edward Snowden situation is going to be something I think that we're going to see a lot of in 2014. But an interesting story for me that I'd like to see reported on in the upcoming year is the MERS virus, the M-E-R-S virus, which has hit many parts of the Middle East with hundreds of people that have died. It's a respiratory illness. You know, similar - some people say that it could have a similar impact to the SARS virus and bird flu-type stuff. And so, you know, to see these sort of superbugs and how they are reported on in terms of whether we see these as, you know, isolated incidences or if we see these as something that, you know, our World Health Organization is going to have to deal with in the future.
IZRAEL: Corey Dade.
DADE: I think the biggest - one of the biggest stories is going to be whether or not LeBron re-signs with the Miami Heat.
IZRAEL: I got nothing on that.
DADE: All right, I couldn't even keep a straight face on that. I mean, really I just couldn't...
HEADLEE: Come on...
DADE: No, I think one of the biggest stories next year will be the economy. The increasingly - the projections are that the economy is going to gain more strength, that we're going to add maybe about a percentage point of GDP growth. The question will be whether or not that actually spurs hiring in a meaningful way. You have record profits by publicly traded companies, but they're not hiring. So their efficiencies are going up with lower staffing levels. The question becomes whether or not everyone really, really truly starts to feel the impact of an improving economy.
HEADLEE: Well, Jimi, last year when we had a similar conversation, you said you wanted public education to be the big topic this year. Do you think that happened?
IZRAEL: I did. No, it didn't. I think it got crowded out of the conversation of these zeitgeists by...
HEADLEE: Well, we've had to talk about Miley Cyrus.
DADE: That's right.
IZRAEL: Well, we had to talk about...
DADE: She was educating us.
IZRAEL: ...What she was twerking with, if she in fact twerking with anything at all. But we were really talking about the Affordable Care Act.
IZRAEL: I think that's what pushed the conversation about education out of the newspaper. I'm hoping for next year 'cause President Obama has hinted at child support reform. And this issue, not at all, you know, unimportant to me because I have several children. So I'm interested if he is going to be federalizing and the how that is going to work and how that's going to set every woman's hair in America on fire. You know, because...
HEADLEE: My hair is on fire now, Jimi.
DADE: Jimi's right, that's a big deal.
HEADLEE: It is.
IZRAEL: It is a big deal, you know, and nobody wants it touched. I mean, my whole thing is that he makes it a requirement. He also - what he folds into it, I hope, will be custody rights and responsibilities. And, you know, so men don't have to go to a separate court - or anybody or women that are paying child support - don't have to go to a separate court to secure the parental rights because - so that's what I'm hoping happens. And if he does that, than the world as we know it may explode.
HEADLEE: All right, well, we have about a couple minutes left. So we're going to do a lightning round here because I want to hear about resolutions you made last year and whether you actually stuck to them. And let's begin with Pablo because you made your resolution here on our air.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVAL RECORDING)
TORRE: My resolution is to get more sunlight. But also because I don't get outside enough. I mean, again, I'm always engaged with my electronic devices and I think getting more sunlight, getting unplugged once in a while is probably a good thing.
HEADLEE: Pablo, I see you on Twitter all the time. How did that resolution go?
TORRE: I mean, I just bought an Xbox One. So...
HEADLEE: He got it in a second time.
IZRAEL: Enough said.
TORRE: Let's call a mulligan maybe.
HEADLEE: All right, Arsalan, what resolution did you make and did you stick to it?
IFTIKHAR: You know, I don't even remember because for me New Year's resolutions are just things that I'm going to break in the upcoming year. I always say that I'd like to lose more weight and, you know, be nicer to people. And I hope I'm nicer to people, but I certainly have not lost any weight.
HEADLEE: So is that still your resolution for next year?
IFTIKHAR: Sure, why not 'cause I'm going to break it anyway.
HEADLEE: Pablo, your resolution for next year?
TORRE: I'm going to try and meditate.
HEADLEE: OK, that's a good one.
TORRE: Keeping with the unplugged...
DADE: And get some light - in the sun.
TORRE: In the sun, exactly, yes.
HEADLEE: While he tweets. Corey, what about you - but I understand you actually don't do resolutions.
DADE: Yeah, which is why I always keep my resolution every year.
HEADLEE: Oh, that's cheating.
DADE: How about that?
IZRAEL: Hey, that's good. That's good.
DADE: That's right.
HEADLEE: Jimi, what about you?
IZRAEL: Last year I believe I resolved to be the best father and husband I could be, and I am doing that and I did that.
DADE: Yes, sir.
DADE: Yes, you did.
IZRAEL: Enough said.
HEADLEE: Is it a different resolution for coming up 2014?
IZRAEL: I got to finish writing a couple of books and I still would very much like to be the very best father I can be.
HEADLEE: Well, that is the time that we have. Jimi Izrael, writer and adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He joined us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland. Pablo Torre is senior writer for ESPN. He joined us from our NPR studio in New York. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and senior editor for Islamic Monthly. And he joined us from NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago. And Corey Dade's been kicking it with me here in D.C. - contributing editor for The Root. Thank you all so much.
TORRE: Thank you.
DADE: Yes, sir.
HEADLEE: If you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, you can look for the podcast. It's in the iTunes store or you can find it at NPR.org. That's our program for today and for the week. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium. Michel Martin will be back with more talk on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.