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Beauty Shop: Optional Tax, 'SlutWalk' Opposition

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, India celebrates the end of the Festival of Lights today, but Diwali festivities aren't just limited to that country. We'll take you to Trinidad, where they go big with Caribbean flair.

But first, it's time for a visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where we go to get a fresh perspective on some of the week's news. Today, we'll talk about the latest tax proposal from a GOP presidential candidate. We'll also talk about that open letter from a group of African-American women who take issue with a movement that's meant to empower women and girls. And what's up with Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon in their cringe-inducing interview with Barbara Walters? Are they just keeping it real or should they keep their married folks business under wraps?

With us to talk about these stories are Viviana Hurtado, blogger in chief of the website, the Wise Latina Club; Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. Danielle Belton is back with us. She's author of the blog The Black Snob. And Cynthia Gordy, Washington reporter for TheRoot.com. That's an online publication that focuses on the African-American experience and ideas.

Welcome to all of you. Thank you all so much for joining us.

MARY KATE CARY: Thanks for having me.

DANIELLE BELTON: Great to be here.

CYNTHIA GORDY: Glad to be back, Michel.

MARTIN: Before we dig in, a little bit of fun from last night. President Obama was on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno and, as you know, First Lady Michelle Obama. Of course, they talked about a lot of things. They talked about the news, which is kind of interesting to hear Jay Leno talking about the news. But, you know, they had to talk about First Lady Michelle Obama. She's big on healthy eating and the president talked about the downside of that deal. Here it is:

President BARACK OBAMA: Halloween's coming up.


OBAMA: And she's been giving, for the last few years, kids fruit and raisins in the bag.

LENO: Ooh, yeah.

OBAMA: And I said, you know, the White House is going to get egged.

LENO: Right.

OBAMA: It's just...

LENO: Yeah, you got to go, yeah.

MARTIN: Are any of you doing that? Danielle, are you handing out carrots and all that?

BELTON: I have never done that. I mean, I have an apartment right now, so I don't get many trick-or-treaters anymore, but I was always a - give Snickers bars all the way.

MARTIN: Snickers all the way?

BELTON: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

MARTIN: Feel free to bring some over here.

BELTON: Most definitely.

GORDY: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, what about you? I know you're big on healthy eating, too, but...

CARY: Yeah. We tried that one year and there was an armed insurrection at our house and we're back to Snickers bars.

MARTIN: Your kids were egging your own house.

CARY: Yeah, it was ugly.

MARTIN: So Cynthia, what about you?

GORDY: Oh, no. I don't give out candy because I also live in an apartment, but I know as a child, getting that house where you got raisins and apples was like the most heartbreaking house. So I would never, ever do that to children.

MARTIN: You would never do that to children? Why dash their dreams? They but life for that. But Cynthia, while we're talking about it, what do you make of the president going on these late night, you know, programs? You know, this used to be controversial. You remember that?

GORDY: Oh, I remember.

MARTIN: When the president went on Arsenio, people thought, oh, that's so not presidential, but what do you make of these appearances? Do you think that they're helpful or...

GORDY: I don't know if they're that helpful, but I know that it's part of his strategy to reach out to the American people. I mean, I think he spends so much time trying to reach - well, trying to negotiate with Congress for what he wants and I think he's just kind of, at this point, given up. He says, this isn't working out, so let me just try to make my appeals to the American people where they are.

And, you know, the whole town hall format is limiting. It's whoever happens to be there, whoever's watching on C-SPAN. So going on late night TV shows gives him a chance to reach more people. I think it makes sense.

MARTIN: The going over the heads of the talk or the gatekeepers or whatever. Mary Kate, what do you think about that? As part of the loyal opposition, what do you think about it?

CARY: Yes. The loyal opposition here. When he first starting doing it, he went on Leno or one of those right after the inaugural and I thought...

MARTIN: Letterman, I think. Yeah, Letterman.

CARY: Was it Letterman? And I, at the time, thought he was overexposed. He was, you know, lowering the respect for the office of the president, you know, stuff like that. Now, I think it's kind of probably in his favor because I think his problem now is so many people view him as aloof or arrogant and this kind of makes him real again, gives him a sense of humor. He doesn't seem very happy lately with all the debt negotiations and things like that, and I think it's making him a little more human. I think it's probably a pretty smart PR move.

MARTIN: And he got some good jokes off. Remember, the president was asked, of course - Jay Leno asked him about, you know, what's he think of the opposition there and he said he's not going to weigh in until they vote each other off the island, and he said he'll pay attention. He got a big laugh for that.

Now, one candidate who's getting renewed attention is Rick Perry, the Texas governor. He's proposed a simplified tax plan that he says could be filed on a postcard. He wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal yesterday detailing the plan, which is short op-ed, right? And it's essentially a 20 percent flat tax that is optional. So Mary Kay, what do you think about this?

CARY: I think it's a reaction to Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan. There's a Quinnipiac poll out this morning. Herman Cain is now at 28 percent ahead of Mitt Romney, who's at 23. Rick Perry's at four. So clearly, he needed to sort of lob a hail Mary pass out there.

I think that his support directly went over to Herman Cain and Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan has the beauty of challenging the status quo, of addressing this inequity that everybody sees, that Warren Buffett's been talking about. There's a great op-ed in The Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago called, "Flat is the New Fair" and it made the argument that liberals and independents should be behind the flat tax because it stops this phenomenon of GE paying zero taxes and Warren Buffett paying less than his secretary. It would broaden the tax base, have more people paying lower taxes instead of a few people paying a lot or a little.

The bigger problem here that neither plan, Rick Perry nor Herman Cain addresses, is that there's a smaller and smaller minority of Americans paying taxes and a larger and larger majority needing services that they're not paying for. And most people think that's not a good status quo. That's not sustainable.

So I like both ideas just because they challenge the status quo. People think we need some change in the tax code and this is one way to do it. But there's problems, like you're saying. It's a little too high. It doesn't take away the deductions. It's not a perfect plan.

MARTIN: And he says it's optional, which is always kind of amusing. And you know, that's always amusing. Optional tax plan. Hmm, I opt for none.

CARY: Well, what he says is...

MARTIN: I opt to go to Puerto Rico where they don't pay a federal tax.

CARY: The problem is he says you can stick with your current tax rate. Well, if it's below 20 percent, why would you bump up to...

MARTIN: Yeah. Why would you?

CARY: ...20?

MARTIN: Why would you if you're the higher...

CARY: If you're above...

MARTIN: ...income, you're in the 33 percent.

CARY: So, of course, you'd take the deal, the 20.

MARTIN: Why would you? Yeah.

CARY: So it's really a tax cut for the people at the top rate. So optional doesn't work. It's a gimmick.

MARTIN: Cynthia, also, one of the criticism, of course, is that these flat tax plans are considered to be inherently regressive, which means as they hit lower income people harder, that lower income people wind up paying more - although Rick Perry says he would address this by giving people an automatic credit of - what? Is it like $12,500?

GORDY: Twelve-five, I think. Yeah.

MARTIN: For every member of the household, which would mean that some people with lower incomes would not pay any taxes. So Cynthia, talk about some of the other feedback around this plan.

GORDY: Well, I think the biggest thing that a lot of people were saying is that this automatically gives a huge tax cut to the wealthy. I mean, this is in part designed by Steve Forbes, who - you know, I think when you have a tax plan that's designed by a billionaire, a good rule of thumb is to ask who it benefits. And unsurprisingly, I mean, one organization did a sort of analysis of it and found that Steve Forbes himself, from the plan that he designed, would get a $1.9 billion tax cut when all is said and done under this plan.

So I think the idea on the surface of a flat tax always sounds like a good idea to people. It sounds like it makes sense. It's simple. But when you parcel a little bit more closely, the support tends to taper off because you see the people who are benefiting from it the most is not a lot of people.

MARTIN: I don't know why there can't be a tax plan for people who consume vast amounts of coffee. That would benefit me. Viviana, we haven't forgotten about you. You know, Perry says he wants to balance the budget by the year 2020, but he says that it won't be easy, even with his tax plan.

So how do you respond to this? How do you read it?

VIVIANA HURTADO: I think that the ladies are spot on. The whole thought of a flat tax and that it continues to come up and that it's become really popular - I mean, there's an ABC News-Washington Post survey that came out that said, you know, in the general population, it's pretty much split with wildly conservative being really in favor of it.

But it does have to - you know, it goes to the fact that for years now we've been trying to figure out - OK, how are we going to have a simplified tax code? Some kind of a reform so that we can increase our revenue base. But at the same time, we need to do that, you know, while spurring economic growth and investment and not having, you know, the ax fall on people who can't afford to pay it.

But there is something to be said that it peaks people's interest and it peaks people's interest because the flat tax, as we said just a little earlier, does seem to be simple and fair. The only thing is the devil's in the details.

MARTIN: Danielle, do you think that this is the kind of thing that could kind of restart things for Perry? As you know, you know, he stumbled. I mean, he's had some really lackluster performances in debates.

BELTON: No. I just don't...

MARTIN: And, you know, he's kind of too hot, too cold.

BELTON: I just don't see this as being the thing that's going to help resurrect him. I mean, he's having to go back to the '90s to basically come up with his, you know, big tax saving idea to bring back the flat tax. And all of these little tax gimmicks between, you know, Herman Cain's 9-9-9, which sounds like he got from the game, you know, Sim City. I'm waiting for the take a penny, give a penny plan, you know, the takesies-backsies plan. It's like they all just seem so - I don't know. It's ridiculous.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're visiting the Beauty Shop to get a fresh perspective on issues in the news.

We're joined by Danielle Belton, author of The Black Snob blog. That's who was talking just now. Also with us, Cynthia Gordy, Washington reporter for TheRoot. Viviana Hurtado of TheWiseLatinaClub.com. Mary Kate Cary, blogger and columnist for US News and World Report and former presidential speech writer.

Moving on, this next topic may not be suitable for all listeners. I'll just say this just because of some of the language that we have to use to talk about it. Earlier this year, as many remember, a Toronto police officer said that women should "avoid dressing like sluts" to deter sexual assault. We talked about that on this program.

That one of the women in Toronto - started in Toronto - has moved, really, around the world - has started having SlutWalk events in order to challenge this line of thinking. This is one of the co-founders of the first SlutWalk in Toronto who talked about this on our program last June.

HEATHER JARVIS: Clothing is not consent. Consent is something that needs to be freely given and not forced. And also, this idea that people get sexually assaulted more often when they're wearing less clothing is a myth. It does not hold true. Studies, statistics, survivor stories, even interviews with rapists illustrate that this is not the case.

MARTIN: Now, Danielle - this is the next wave of this story - that a group of activists wrote what they called an open letter from black women to the SlutWalk. They said that - yes - it's true. Women should be able to wear what they want, but the whole idea of using this term, slut, they feel, you know, is inappropriate, that - you know, that maybe that's fine for kind of advantaged women who are kind of well-protected anyway, and have kind of - that's fine, but just sort of embrace this term.

It's kind of interesting to me because it sort of tracks the whole N word conversation to where some people say, I'm going to reclaim this word. I don't want it to have so much power. And then other people saying, no, you're not. What's your response to this?

BELTON: Well, to me, it really is indicative of the larger schism that exists between black and white feminists. I mean, this comes up over and over and over again where some of that works for issues that white women are dealing with and stigmas that they're trying to get rid of doesn't necessarily always convert perfectly for black women.

Black women are dealing with entirely types of stereotypes, perception issues. It's had to, like, take back the word, you know, slut as a black woman when, often, the only representations you see are black women on television are, you know, women, you know, shaking their derrieres to music videos and you hear people say disparaging remarks about black women, or you have, like, you know, the overweight black woman who's everyone's caretaker and best buddy. So it's like we...

MARTIN: Or sexually voracious.

BELTON: Exactly.

MARTIN: Always hungry for something. I mean, that's the one that...

BELTON: You know, we're fighting, like, a different battle here, so it's going to be a hard sell to get a black woman and tell her that it's empowering to, like, reclaim a word that's used to take away her power.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, what about you?

CARY: I agree with the open letter. I thought, enough already. If they needed to do what they did to attract attention last June, fine. But wouldn't it be more productive for this coalition around the world to start doing something like lobbying for changing the definition of rape or getting rape crisis kits into every emergency room or more hotlines or something.

They need to go to the next level and if you want fewer people to use that word, why are you holding parades and making signs with it and stuff? That's what you would want if you want more people to use the word. I think it would serve all of society if that word went away.

MARTIN: Just to clarify, Mary Kate is not African-American.

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: And so she's saying, you know, I'm not feeling that either.

GORDY: Well, I mean, and also...

MARTIN: I'm sorry. I was just going to go to Viviana on this.

HURTADO: Yeah. And I just wanted to say, you know, let's unite in a results-oriented feminist movement where women wear white lab coats or astronaut suits or medical scrubs or, you know, the Steve Jobs iconic black turtleneck and Levi jeans. Let's make that skinny jeans. And go out and demand more funding for women and girls in technology, science, math.

This is the kind of thing, I think, that we need to be focused on. Yes. It's deplorable the way the word slut was used, and it shouldn't be. I've said many times on this program how I feel about the use of language and how we need to monitor that because all of a sudden if you say it, it just becomes easier to spread and to believe and to just - and how it becomes OK. And it ends up putting people in boxes that - it's just not acceptable to do that anymore.

But this is what we need to be focused on - is what kind of opportunities do young girls and women have when it comes to achieving parody in the workforce, access to education, access to wealth building? So - yeah. I'm going to wear my skinny jeans and my black turtleneck and go to Capitol Hill and lobby for more funding, so that young girls and women can be involved in technology and science.

MARTIN: OK. I'm going to just push on to the last topic and I'm not even going to pretend that this is important. Some things are just too interesting to ignore, and that is this recent 20/20 interview with singer Mariah Carey and her husband Nick Cannon. They offered Barbara Walters a peek at their gorgeous 6-month-old twin babies, and I'm a twin mom, so you know I'm a sucker for that.

But it wasn't all goo-goos and ga-gas that left kind of the blogosphere/Twitter world just all over the place. This was this exchange about this marriage that just was like - oh, I'll just play it. Here it is.


BARBARA WALTERS: You told me that you were afraid that you could never trust anyone again. Do you trust him?

MARIAH CAREY: Sometimes.


NICK CANNON: I'm going to...

WALTERS: OK. I want to hear about this.

CAREY: All right. Can I trust you more than sometimes? You tell me.

CANNON: Absolutely.

CAREY: OK. Then I trust him.

MARTIN: OK. All right. I don't know. Danielle, you want to take it?

BELTON: I just - man, the sound and the tone of her voice, she was venting some things. Like, that's all I thought when I heard her say that. She just seems like life has kicked her up and down. She's had her heart broke. She's jaded.

GORDY: Well...

MARTIN: OK. Cynthia, you're saying...

GORDY: No. I think she's been married before and she's been through it and so she brings that perspective to it. It's not a big deal, though.

CARY: I think...

MARTIN: Mary Kate, sleep deprived?

CARY: Forty years old, sleep deprived with newborn twins. God knows what would be coming out of my mouth.

MARTIN: OK. Mary Kate Cary is a columnist for U.S. News and World Report. She's a former speech writer for President H.W. Bush. Danielle Belton is behind the pop culture and politics blog, The Black Snob. Cynthia Gordy is a Washington reporter for TheRoot, the online news and commentary website. And Viviana, where are you? Viviana is blogger in chief of the...

HURTADO: I'm in San Francisco, home.

MARTIN: That's it. Is the blogger in chief of the website, TheWiseLatina, because she's home in San Francisco. Thank you all so much.

GORDY: Thank you.

CARY: Thanks for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.