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Shop Talk: 'Occupy' Is More Trouble Than Progress?


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 shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and author Arsalan Iftikhar, journalist and professor Kevin Blackistone, and from the National Review magazine and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mario Loyola.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.


KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Thank you very much. What's going on?

IZRAEL: Hey, KB, long time. Super Mario. Everybody's here. Let's get the party started, right? Okay. So it looks like everything with the occupiers, man, is coming apart at the seams. Demonstrators across the country took to the streets on Thursday, however, to observe the two month anniversary of the original Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City.

Now, the movement's spread across the country and even overseas. Yesterday, however, police braced themselves for crowds and craziness and, sure enough, scuffles broke out and more than 240 arrests were made in New York City alone. I wonder if that's unusual.

But, anyway, Michel, do we have a clip?

MARTIN: I do, I do. Here it is.


MARTIN: Jimi, let me just add one thing. You know, we've been reporting on this over the course of the last couple of weeks that the protesters have been kicked out of a number of city parks. Officials there are citing, you know, sanitation problems. There have been reports of drug overdoses. There have been some reports of assaults. There was a death in Oakland that we reported on earlier this week. And now, you know, mayors in a lot of cities are calling emergency meetings and some civil rights - there's a lot of intensity around these issues, so some of these mayor have civil rights backgrounds. Right?

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: And now, they're activists. They were former activists before they went to the public life and now they're kicking these people out. So I don't know, Jimi. You take it. What do you think?

IZRAEL: You know what? Well, I was an early critic of this movement and I remain so because, in my mind, sending back soup in a restaurant is far more radical than the Occupy movement could ever hope to be. I'm going to tell you why. Because when you send back soup, there's a coherent complaint, an explicit objective for the demonstrable metric for resolve.

Occupy, in my mind, is just kind of a eulogy for the status quo. It's kind of a note to white America. You know what? Your kids are camped out on your lawn and, dude, they want their privilege back. A-train.

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.

IZRAEL: My man, come in here and get some of this, man, because I know we feel differently about this.

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, actually, I agree with some of what you're saying. I think that, you know, in terms of overall deliverables, you know, at the end of the day, you have all these people who are camped out, you know, in different Occupy campaigns around the country and now the world. And you really want to ask yourself, if you're observing this, you know, well, what's the ask? What are they ultimately asking for?

Yes. We know that, you know, they're part of the 99 percent against the one percent, but again, you know, is there a tangible ask that you're making of Wall Street? Is this more than, you know, just a bunch of people, you know, with bicycle-powered espresso machines and, you know, things like that?

And I think that, you know, from a sort of holistic perspective, I think this does offer an interesting counterweight, politically, to the Tea Party movement. I think that we're going to see the Occupy movement continue to branch into different areas, but I think that, you know, as Michel said - I think, as we're entering into the two month period, you know, what's the end game here? When does this all come to an end?

IZRAEL: Super Mario?

LOYOLA: Yeah. I agree with you guys and I wasn't expecting to. I thought that you guys would be a lot more supportive of - but, you know, it's just - I'm so perplexed by the whole thing. I was thinking the other day, if you line up, you know, every single thing that these guys are saying and eliminate each thing that's contradicted by something else that they're saying, what would be left? I mean, what's the one thing that's not contradicted by something else that they're saying?

And the only thing I could think of is, we've got one-half of the - we belong to the half of the society that doesn't pay any income tax and we think that the people who pay income tax should pay even more income tax. That's the one thing that's not contradicted by anything else that they're saying.

MARTIN: You know, Mario, let me just ask this. And Arsalan made the comparison with the Tea Party movement, as have others. There are internal contradictions there too. I mean does everybody remember, you know keep your government hands off my Medicare? I mean the fact that, you know, which was a sign at one of these rallies - and in fact, we interviewed a lady who was a member of the movement who was part of that very angry group, who was protesting at the midterm elections at the town hall meetings that some of their elected officials were having saying, you know, you're going too far with Obama care and we don't want this, who was a union member who had very, very rich, you know, health care benefits related to her husband's sort of work with the mine workers with the mine workers union who was also receiving a lot of government subsidy, right.


MARTIN: ...and was saying you people get out of it because, and so I guess what I'm saying is that do we really expect grassroots movements to be sort of intellectually coherent in this way? Or is it more is that the wrong metric to use the word that Jimi used?

BLACKISTONE: Well that...

MARTIN: I mean Kevin...

BLACKISTONE: That's one of the problematic criticisms of the, that everybody expects it to be a very sophisticated movement. And people are talking about the need to develop leaders. Well, you know what? They don't need to develop leaders. And that's one of the interesting things to think about the Tea Party...

MARTIN: Why don't they, though? I'm curious about that.

BLACKISTONE: Because the Tea...

MARTIN: How do you negotiate? How?

BLACKISTONE: You know why? Because the Tea Party will survive. The Barack Obama movement will not. The Occupy movement will survive. Labor union is getting involved in it. You know, there are, you know, not enough people have written stories about the fact that Occupy has gotten out there with the Verizon workers and some of the other people around the country were on strike and are fighting for better wages and benefits in that kind of thing. And I think that's where the Occupy movement can find its life. Clearly, in a lot of cities right now they've overstayed their welcome and that has been a problem. But I think that their message, the fact that polls have shown that they in fact are echoing sentiments in this country about inequality in terms of wealth and concerns about jobs being created, by corporations who are experiencing record profits and have fat coffers, I think it's very real. So I think it's very good that they're still around, and I think it's more important to brand an Occupy movement...

IFTIKHAR: Right. Right.

BLACKISTONE: ...that can develop people than develop people who once they're gone you have no more movement.

MARTIN: I just figured into that because...

LOYOLA: That's a good point.

IZRAEL: That's going to make a fine T-shirt, too. Yeah, that's going to make a fine T-shirt.

MARTIN: But I think that what the Tea Party folks were talking about was real, too, just like what these people are talking about is real too. It just seems funny to me, and I'm not talking about you guys per se, but it just seems interesting that when people express themselves not in the most polished way, whether it's through the Tea Party or whether it's through the Occupy movement, the first move by the establishment is to ridicule them.

IZRAEL: Wait a minute, Michel.

MARTIN: That you didn't dot your I's. You didn't cross your T's. You don't know what you're talking about. I just...

IZRAEL: But wait a second, Michel...

MARTIN: Go ahead. Yeah.

IZRAEL: Where are the people of color in this movement? Don't you remember how Occupy Atlanta booed John Lewis from the stage? You know, and I think that was one of the more troubling things, that the people are disproportionately affected by why this recession are being marginalized in this movement and they prop up the people of color, you know, for the TV and for the press occasionally, you know, that the cameras will find them, but for the most part, you know, our struggle within their struggle often very, very often gets the short strip, and that disturbed me right off the bat. You know, and I don't know...

MARTIN: OK. All right.

LOYOLA: Kevin...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Mario.

LOYOLA: There's something Kevin said that really I think was a great point, that if you think about it, the Tea Party is sort of the fourth or fifth generation of what you could call the conservative movement, right? National Review, Barry Goldwater, the whole reaction to the great expansion of government that started under Franklin Roosevelt. And when you think about it, if you look at what they're saying and the sentiments, you know, to the extent that they're talking about, you know, expanding government as a tool of justice and as a tool for eliminating, you know, social inequality and stuff like that, that's the new deal. I mean that's the liberal movement as it began to coalesce around, you know, the nationalism of Franklin Roosevelt and, you know, where the Constitution becomes - what was it that Obama called it the day?

MARTIN: Well...

LOYOLA: Some rigid notion about what government should or should not do.

MARTIN: Okay. But, to your point though Mario, a lot of people benefitted from the expansion of government. You know, to Jimi's point they benefited from the expansion of government and seeing now not to wish that benefit to extend to others who happen not to look like them. I think that's, I think that's probably what Jimi's talking about here. Right?

IZRAEL: And not for nothing, when you send back soup...


IZRAEL: ...you want hot soup back.


IZRAEL: You don't have to have political agendas. It's not brain surgery.


MARTIN: OK. He's big on that soup thing. Let me just, let me just...

BLACKISTONE: Soup, I like soup (unintelligible).

LOYOLA: Yeah, but to the extent that....

MARTIN: Go ahead, Jimi. Go ahead, Mario, just finish your last point and then we're going to move on. OK?

LOYOLA: Well, yeah, to the extent that the Occupy Wall Street movement represents just a new iteration of the liberal sentiment in American politics. It is going to endure. It's been around for a long time.


LOYOLA: But it's funny that they're protesting that the establishment that they're protesting is not a Republican establishment. It's the establishment that was supposed to represent them, and it's failed to accomplish, you know, they're in their own restaurant. They're sending their own soup back.

MARTIN: Oh, snap. Okay, Mario.

IZRAEL: Where's my privilege? Oh, my god.

MARTIN: That was good. You got to admit that was a good one.

IZRAEL: I'm out of college. Why can't I have a job?

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. You're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Kevin Blackison and Mario Loyola. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: All right. For the restaurateurs, let's move on to...


IZRAEL: ...to another group trying to hold a...

MARTIN: Who's sending their hot dog back?

IZRAEL: Right. Sending something back. You know, the NBA lockout is still on. The season is still off, however. Games have been cancelled throughout the middle of December and the only court players are running around in front of the judge these days. KB...


Break it down, man. Where does it stand legally for both sides.

BLACKISTONE: Well, legally right now, you know, the union is decertifying. And what the hope is, is that will mean that the lawyers for the players and the lawyers for the owners will be able to sit down at a table, negotiate some sort of agreement, not necessarily a collective bargaining agreement, but some sort of agreement, to at least get the season started and they can hammer out the details of the CBA. I don't think that's going to happen. I think you're going to be without basketball, NBA-wise for the rest of this year. A lot of people are predicting at the end of last year and I think those predictions are going to come true.

MARTIN: Yeah. I ran to into actually one of the owners recently and he told me that his prediction was that there would not be a season because it was in the interest of most of the owners not to have one.


MARTIN: And he aid the majority of the owners would lose less money if there were no season at all.


MARTIN: That might be why, for example, retired, the legendary retired NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said he thought the players should have taken the deal. This is what he said during a CNN interview yesterday.


KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: I think the deal was reasonable. They might lose 5 or 6 percent of their salary. But in today's economic times that's - everybody's dealing with something like that. So for them to decide that they're going to like not play this season if necessary - 100 percent of nothing is still nothing.

MARTIN: Arsalan, what's the other side of this?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, Ian Thompson of Sports Illustrated actually came up with an interesting scenario where he thought that you know, getting David Stern and Derek Fisher in a room together with a television camera would be one way to solve this impasse, because there's been a lot of sniping from both sides. You know, here you have millionaires and billionaires...

MARTIN: Yeah, but, so what's the other substance to this? Why wouldn't they take this deal? I mean, yes, so they're getting them, you know, what, 6 – what is it? Kevin, help, 67 percent of the revenue. Sixty percent of the...


MARTIN: Fifty-seven percent.

BLACKISTONE: The last, the last...

MARTIN: The owners want 50/50.

BLACKISTONE: Right. They wanted...

MARTIN: Most people think 50/50 is nice.

BLACKISTONE: Right. Right. And there's some other...


BLACKISTONE: There's some other cutbacks there that the players would have to give into - The reduction in the length of contracts, the Larry Bird rights...


BLACKISTONE: ...would be reduced. There's a lot of reductions on the players.

IFTIKHAR: But it also seems as though it's a lot of the big-ticket players - the Kobe Bryants, the Kevin Garnetts, the LeBron James - the people that make the $70, $80 million contracts. It's not, you know, the J.J. Redicks or the other, you know, midlevel...


IFTIKHAR: It's about the 99 percent of the NBA players.


IFTIKHAR: They'd be happy to play. And so I think...

MARTIN: Well...

IZRAEL: You know what? It's so easy to look as this like a bunch of millionaires pillow fighting with sacks of money. But, you know, my grandfather was a union man, so I'm with the players on this. Listen, the players ruin their bodies. They've got kids and housewives to feed. So, you know what, the stakes, they're high for them. They desire to get more of what they deserve. I'm a team player.

BLACKISTONE: Well, I'm with the players too. I mean, you know, let's not forget, I mean it's the owners who imposed the lockout, that's why you don't have a season right now. It's not the players that went on strike. And this thing has been coming to a head for the last two years. Everybody could see the train coming down the tracks. Nobody wanted to jump out there and try and stop it. You know, I think what the owners should do is offer the players some sort of stake within the league. And I think that's something that the players also should seek out.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

BLACKISTONE: I don't think that, you know, and one of the things, you know, there's some hegemony going on here too that I don't that I think a lot people try to ignore. I mean...

MARTIN: Which is?

BLACKISTONE: Which is some of the language coming from David Stern when tells them, you know, here's the deal, if you don't take it then we're going to revert to our original deal which was, you know, even less money than I'm...

MARTIN: Well, but he's not an honest...

BLACKISTONE: That's not even negotiable.

MARTIN: But he's not an honest broker. He represents the owners.


MARTIN: So why shouldn't he take that position because he represents the owners, not the players.

BLACKISTONE: Because he should be wanting to negotiate. Even at this level you should be wanting to enter into negotiations and try and get this deal done.


BLACKISTONE: 'Cause you got to represent your side too.

IFTIKHAR: I mean as an NBA fan...


IFTIKHAR: ...I know Lamar Odom has a Kardashian to feed but we just want to get basketball.


MARTIN: OK. All right. Listen, before I let you guys go, I wanted to ask, I wanted to ask all of you about this. About 152 million people are supposed to shop over the weekend that begins the day after Thanksgiving. That's according to the National Retail Federation. Now, you know, a number of retail workers are saying, you know, enough is enough. Employees of Best Buy and Target have started online petitions against these early sales, saying, you know the stores are opening at midnight on Thursday night...

IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...or Friday morning, which means that employees, some of them have to be there as early as nine. And so they're saying, you know, what happened to this national day of celebration? It's almost like sort of an arms race, or maybe it's a shopping cart race. So, I don't know, I'm just interested in what you all think about that. Mario, what about you? What do you think?

LOYOLA: Well, yeah I do think...

MARTIN: I mean...

LOYOLA: I just think it's so funny that we started this segment with a story about how people don't have the job they'd like.


LOYOLA: And we're ending with a story about how people don't like the jobs they have.


LOYOLA: And I think before we, you know, become a nation of insufferable whiners, let's take a look around and we have to be thankful for...

IZRAEL: It's too late, brother. It's too late, brother.

MARTIN: You're getting your wide screen on, Mario.


MARTIN: You're going to be out there at midnight with your wide screen?

LOYOLA: I'm getting, I'm just thinking about the, you know, I'm going to be in Miami for Thanksgiving, the only chance that anyone ever gets to see a dinner where you serve roast pork and roast turkey with rice and beans.



LOYOLA: And the Packers are playing Detroit that day, and that's all I can think about right now.

MARTIN: Uh-huh. But you have the day off, right?


LOYOLA: I will have Thanksgiving Day off?


IFTIKHAR: And Black Friday.

MARTIN: Yeah. But you have Friday off, right?

LOYOLA: Well, I'm taking my limited, my precious vacation this week.

MARTIN: Okay. Arsalan, what do you think?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I grew up working in retail, different stores and stuff and a lot of people don't understand that, you know, Black Friday and other, quote, unquote "shopping holidays" are paid at a time and a half and overtime.


IFTIKHAR: And so, you know, people are going to be making – whoever is working on that day is going to be making good money. And like Mario said, it's something that, you know, for many people who don't have jobs, you know, they'd be clamoring to be there at midnight to get paid time and a half to work at Target or Wal-Mart.

BLACKISTONE: Absolutely.

IZRAEL: Yeah, I mean for...

MARTIN: Kevin?

BLACKISTONE: For, yeah...

MARTIN: Go ahead.

BLACKISTONE: Well, I just going to...

MARTIN: Well, Kevin, Jimi, I'm going to give you the last world. Kevin?

BLACKISTONE: Yeah, this all just kind of reminds me that people who are out of work in this country are having a tough time and people who are working in this country are having a tough time.



IZRAEL: Welcome to America.

BLACKISTONE: I mean, you know, yeah.


MARTIN: So who's going on those sales? Don't even try to lie to me about it because I'm going to have my mini cam on all of ya'll. Which one?

BLACKISTONE: I can't say so.



IZRAEL: You know what? Not me. I used to work in retail too, just like A-Train and, you know, want I'm sick about hearing about the retail stampedes that occur every year and there are death and injuries. No, I want retailers to make the money. I want everybody working out of retail to make the money. But I hope somebody is working on an app for that, so...

IFTIKHAR: I'm waiting for cyber Monday, cyber Monday.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. Something. Something, man.

BLACKISTONE: There you go.

MARTIN: Why did I ask four men this question who really could care less?


MARTIN: And you know perfectly well it's going to be the ladies who are going to be out there. Well, I won't be out there either, I'll just tell you, I won't be out there. No need for that.

BLACKISTONE: Oh, really?

MARTIN: No need. No need.

IFTIKHAR: You can get my gift online.

MARTIN: Yeah, I'll get your gift online, that's what's up. It's already been ordered. Already been ordered 'cause that's how I roll. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He was with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Mario Loyola writes for the National Review and works for the Texas Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. He was with us from Austin. Arsalan Iftikhar is a legal civil rights attorney, founder of the muslimguy.com, and author of book, "Islamic Pacificism: Global Muslims in the post-Osama Era." And Kevin Blackistone, Kevin Blackistone, I forget where you're teaching now.

BLACKISTONE: University of Maryland.

MARTIN: University of Maryland. I'm sorry. And they...

BLACKISTONE: Sports journalism.

MARTIN: Sports journalism. That's it. That's what's up. He was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you all so much.



LOYOLA: Happy Thanksgiving.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup. I got you.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Tony Cox will be here to talk more with you on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.