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Shop Talk: Republican Race, 'Avoid Ghetto' App


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, NPR's own political editor, our political junkie, Ken Rudin, and from 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?

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hey, I'm your puppet.

MARIO LOYOLA: Buenos dias.

IZRAEL: Alrighty, then. Well, Iowa and New Hampshire - they're in the can and Mitt Romney is two for two now. And next up for the GOP presidential primaries: South Carolina and Florida, which many political watchers say are do or die for some of these candidates, Michel.

MARTIN: Now, go ahead, Ken. Well, Ken's going to tell us who's getting voted off the island next.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Our own political junkie. Who's next, man? Who's next to get voted off the island?

RUDIN: Well, I would kind of think that Jon Huntsman didn't really survive New Hampshire. He did say that, you know, it's a ticket to ride but we don't care, as the Beatles would say. He spent all his money and time and effort in New Hampshire. He bypassed Iowa, thinking New Hampshire would give him new life. He tried to do what John McCain did by winning in New Hampshire and making a big deal for his candidacy, but 16 percent, third place finish. I think Jon Huntsman's really just going through the motions.

The real story is Newt Gingrich because, right now, it seems like the Republican Party, for the longest time, was finding it difficult to coalesce around anybody, let alone Mitt Romney, who may not have been sufficiently conservative.

Now that he's won Iowa and New Hampshire, now that he has a lead in the polls, at least, in South Carolina and Florida, it may be a Mitt Romney nomination to lose and that's not good enough for people like Newt Gingrich, who just feels that he had the nomination in his grasp until negative campaign ads destroyed him in Iowa.

MARTIN: You know what's so interesting, though, is how this whole question of the super PACs and the outside money, money that can be funneled into campaigns or not funneled into campaigns, but in support of candidates apart from the political parties seems to be changing the game at this early stage.

RUDIN: That's the Supreme Court Citizens United decision that really changed everything and opened up money that we've never seen before in the campaign.

MARTIN: And the reason why we're talking about this is that you talked about how Newt Gingrich is really the story here. The former House speaker pledged to stay positive on the campaign trial, but after his weak showing in the Iowa caucuses, he blamed that on attack ads for distorting his record. Now, he's got his own ads targeting Romney in South Carolina, which I understand are largely funded by one large donor.

I'll just play a short clip. Here it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Romney opposed a Contract With America, raised taxes and offered government-mandated health care with taxpayer funded abortions. But now he tells us, trust me. I'm a conservative. Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney - he'll say anything to win. Anything.


MARTIN: What'd you think about that, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Well, you know, Michel, according to the Washington Post yesterday, the GOP has gotten Newt again to pledge that he's going to play nice going forward. But you know what? For what? Politics, it's a dirty business and I'm always amazed when these party people and career politicos, you know, they start to whine about attack ads and distortion from the competition. Oh, poor baby. But this is the way the game is played, right?

This is what I'm thinking and it's up to us, the electorate, to educate ourselves about who these people are and not rely on the competition to give us the skinny.

Ken dog. Ken...

MARTIN: Wait. Let me just clarify one thing. That ad...


MARTIN: ...that we just heard was an ad that was a Newt Gingrich ad. That was not one of the super PAC ads, so if that was one of the sane positive ads, I just really can't wait to hear what one of the negatives sound like.

IZRAEL: Well, let's give him a chance going forward. Ken Rudin.

RUDIN: Let me just say one thing. And nowhere is politics played more dirty than in South Carolina. Remember, eight years ago when John McCain was running, they talked about how he had a black baby out of wedlock when, of course, the real story was that he and his wife adopted a baby from Bangladesh and that was the whole story.

But it's very dirty, very ugly, very critical in South Carolina and Newt Gingrich, you know, grew in his political power, grew in this kind of politics. It may his last stand, but he won't go quietly.

IZRAEL: Super Mario, Mr. Loyola, your think tank receives funds from Texas Governor Rick Perry. Let's just get that right out front, but does he have a shot?

LOYOLA: Well, from his book.


MARTIN: From his book.

IZRAEL: Well, not from his pocket, but I'm just saying, does he have a shot?

LOYOLA: I think his last stand is probably in South Carolina, so we'll see next Saturday. I think the race will be significantly clarified after that day.

MARTIN: Don't you think, though...

LOYOLA: But I just want to say something about...

MARTIN: Go ahead. Go ahead, Mario. I do want to hear from you, but...

LOYOLA: Well, I just want to say...

MARTIN: ...I'm just curious why he's not doing better in South Carolina because it would seem that he is a Southern governor. He does have a very consistent record as a conservative. You would think that he'd be doing better.

LOYOLA: You know, the interesting thing about these primaries is, I don't think we've ever seen the conservative movement so unified in what it wants and still at a loss to find the right spokesman for what it wants. And I think of all the candidates, of all the major candidates, the governor probably fits the bill better than any of the others. You know, fits the bill more exactly, than any of the others - that's why he sort of catapulted to the top as soon as he announced. But he's got, unfortunately, as somebody said in Texas; he's not running for president of Texas. He connects well enough with people in Texas, but he doesn't connect with people outside of Texas.

And in South Carolina, you know, they're Southerners and they're conservative. But I think by this point that what's driving a lot of his low numbers, disappointing results in the polls, is the fact that people don't think that he's electable. People don't think he's going to be the candidate. People like a winner and that's why they're gravitating towards Romney now.

RUDIN: You're forgetting everything he did during the debates when he fell on his face. I mean yes, he is a great campaigner, he's a great conservative, but he couldn't enunciate anything during the debates and he fell on his face on that. And at the end of New Hampshire, at the end of Iowa, when he says I think I'm going to go home and re-assess my candidacy, why would anybody put any money or confidence in a Perry candidacy if everybody thinks he's going to drop out anyway?


LOYOLA: Right. Well, he went home and reassess his - I think he went home and reassess his bank account, which still had many millions of dollars in it.


MARTIN: OK. Well, there you go...

LOYOLA: But look, even think about it this way, though; think about it this way, even if he had done well in the debates, I think that his campaign still was going to face a major problem, which is that Rick Perry is the reality of the caricature that they tried to make of George Bush. I mean this guy really is a cowboy. For real. And he really does have swagger and he really does, you know, like to, you know, talk to, you know, his commercials are like, you know, him sitting on a crate in a barn. And so...

IZRAEL: And we all know how much swagger people sitting on crates and barns have?

MARTIN: OK. Well...

LOYOLA: Well, I mean that's kind - that's chic in Texas, you know?

MARTIN: All right. Well, let's give - let's let Arsalan get in on this. Arsalan, I think that OK, we see that the Republican establishment - whatever that means - is coalescing around Mitt Romney. Like in South Carolina, for example, Nikki Haley, the governor supported, you know, supported Romney for whatever the – she has her own political problems.


RUDIN: But...

MARTIN: And, of course, Mitt Romney still has a lot of money. Isn't he the candidate though, that the Obama administration is most worried about? Because he does offer the argument that he is the answer to the question that - let's just setting hard core social conservatives aside...


MARTIN: The question for most voters is the economy.


MARTIN: And doesn't he have the best argument of the field, which is that I have a proven track record of knowledge and experience in addressing economic questions, and therefore, I am the man?

IFTIKHAR: Well, I don't think that, you know, he might not have the best answers, but he certainly is the candidate that - whose election this is to lose on the Republican side. I mean, basically, he needs to run out the clock now and make sure that nobody comes back and, you know, surprises him.

I think what's interesting to note - first of all, on Newt Gingrich, you know, I don't trust him, you know, further than I can throw a baby blue Tiffany & Company box. But I think that what's interesting was - NPR earlier reported that a lot of national evangelical leaders, including Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and James Dobson, are meeting on a ranch in Texas to see if they can coalesce and get consensus behind one candidate. And I think that's what's interesting, is that for the first time in a very long time within the Republican Party, the evangelical thought leadership in America is not going to be playing kingmaker, and I think that that is an interesting turn that...

MARTIN: I think that's...

IFTIKHAR: ...for this to be under...

MARTIN: That's really interesting, but that's a nice way to not answer my question, which is that aren't - you are an Obama supporter, early supporter from Chicago.


MARTIN: Isn't Mitt Romney the person that they're really most concerned about? And isn't he...

IFTIKHAR: Well, I think – well, yeah.

MARTIN: Because he's going to - even let's say if he puts South Carolina behind him, he's still got a lot of months to make his argument before November.

IFTIKHAR: He does. But I think that, you know, obviously, you know, Obamacare is going to be one of the things that Republicans attack the most, though, with Mitt Romney's own, you know, health care debacle in Massachusetts that almost mirrors Obamacare, I think that, you know, it's, we'd like to take him on in the general election.

MARTIN: Ken has a final thought on this before we move on.

RUDIN: And that's why the Gingrich attacks on Romney's stewardship at Bain Capital is so devastating because...


RUDIN: ...that is his weak link. You know, Obama is going to go after it in the fall, and so the Republicans to be going after it now is not exactly what the Republican Party needs to go into the general election.

MARTIN: If you're just tuning in, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Mario Loyola and NPR's own political junkie - hour political editor, Ken Rudin. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. OK. Well, let's keep it in motion. Microsoft is talking about releasing this app they're calling Avoid The Ghetto app. Essentially, it would tell users when they're headed into a sketchy neighborhood. Michel, you know, I always rely on my in-laws for that. But...

MARTIN: Nice. Nice.

IZRAEL: ...now there will be an app for that.


RUDIN: Your sketchy in-laws.

MARTIN: Well...

IZRAEL: Right.


MARTIN: Let me just say...

IZRAEL: Don't get me in trouble.

MARTIN: Microsoft - you're already in trouble.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: But what Microsoft does not call it the Avoid Ghetto app. They call the feature Pedestrian Route Production and it's designed to help people get where they need to be with the least hassle, traffic or weather conditions. But it also is using crime statistics to direct users around potentially dangerous areas. And people - but there are a lot of people who - it's interesting how this, like, there are literally hundreds of thousands of apps out there now, are there?


IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: But it's so interesting how people immediately zeroed in on this to say, this is just reinforcing stereotypes. And, I don't know, I'm interested in what people think about this.

IZRAEL: You know what, Michel? Can I just tell you, I think this is a great idea. I mean you can't blame the application for the condition of a given neighborhood. Now where I am concerned is for small business owners, 'cause I mean what would be the Google effects of this going forward? So if you're a business and you happen to be in one of these neighborhoods where the ghetto app says, you know, not so great a neighborhood, will your business not show up very high in the Google results? So I mean, I think that's something to consider.

MARTIN: A-Train? Arsalan?

IZRAEL: But beyond that, I mean when it comes out I'm going to download it. I'm down with that. Super Mario, Mr. Loyola?

MARTIN: Well, actually, Arsalan wants to weigh in because Chicago is his town.

IZRAEL: Oh, Arsalan?


IZRAEL: OK. Well...

IFTIKHAR: I think again, what troubles me the most, and I think what troubles a lot of people is how do you define crimes? You know, obviously, you're going to have sex offenders, you're going to have shoplifters, you're going to have domestic abusers in a lot of different neighborhoods that might be lily white and suburban and not, you know, fall under the auspices of this app. And so essentially, I do have some trouble, you know, in the sense that all crimes occur in all neighborhoods. And so how are you defining crimes?

Is it, you know, just violent crimes?

MARTIN: Well...

IFTIKHAR: Is it crimes, you know, with weapons involved? I mean I would say sex offenders and, you know, things like that are also crimes that should be of concern to people.

MARTIN: Well, but shoplifting - does shoplifting affect you...


MARTIN: ...if you're not just - if you go into a store in a fancy neighborhood and that store happens to be one that shoplifters target, that has nothing to do with you, does it? I mean so - I mean what's the relevance to you?

IFTIKHAR: Well, again...

IZRAEL: It's good to know.

IFTIKHAR: Well, but again, we're not told what standard they're using in terms of how they are you're defining crime.


IFTIKHAR: You know, crime is such a, you know, nebulous term - and it goes from nonviolent crimes to violent crimes, and it runs a gamut in terms of degrees. And so I think it is important to understand what Microsoft is trying to do in terms of defining crimes.

MARTIN: Mario, what did you want to say about that?

LOYOLA: Well, I think Arsalan is just annoyed that Chicago is going to be like this huge, like, red avoid zone.


IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Yeah.

LOYOLA: I love Chicago.

IFTIKHAR: Texas is a safe haven.

MARTIN: You wish Austin was, so that you could get people out of your favorite restaurants. So that's your prob. You know we know what's going on.

LOYOLA: No. You know that, you know, we sit on our front porches here and load up buckshot in our, you know, we take, are shooting stuff from our porches.

IZRAEL: Or you can I sit in your barns on crates and swag.

LOYOLA: ...on crates. With a swagger.



MARTIN: Ken, would you use this?

RUDIN: Well, if I was going to a strange city that I didn't know, I'd like to know what's considered a safe neighborhood and not a safe neighborhood. But at the same time, I think of that eight-year-old Brooklyn boy who, that Orthodox kid, who coming home from day camp last summer, and in the safest neighborhood in Borough Park in Brooklyn and he was attacked and dismembered by a member of the Orthodox community in the safest neighborhood in the world. So that's what made me what I thought of right away, because you can talk about dangerous neighborhoods and where it's not safe to work, you can walk in the safest neighborhood in the world and somebody can accost you and you'll never be found from - heard from again. So, and do I think it's a good idea? I think I'd like to know if I'm a stranger to a city, what a neighborhood, perhaps to avoid or at least to be careful, keep my eyes open. But as Arsalan said, horrific crimes could happen anywhere.

MARTIN: So you can meet your bookie somewhere else, huh?


RUDIN: I do that on the fourth floor of NPR.

MARTIN: OK. All right. Well, before we...

LOYOLA: It's really, you know - but there's an interesting, you know, of course, a particular crime can happen anywhere, but the main thing is we want to know what the statistics are. And I...

MARTIN: But you...

LOYOLA: ...for example in Austin, the east side of Austin has a reputation of being very high crime, so I moved to the south side. Now when I saw the crime statistics, I looked at my friend's house who lives on the east side, and there had been one break-in within 1,000 feet of her house in the last year. Where I've moved, there have been 15 break-ins within 1,000 feet of my house.


LOYOLA: And I wish I had known that before I picked the south side over the east side. I mean I love the south side. But my point being that these statistics are important; people should know them because naturally as, you know, once I saw that there had been 15 houses had been broken into within 1,000 feet of my house, I was like oh, well, I'm going to be up sooner or later, and sure enough, last September my house got broken into.

MARTIN: We're sorry.

LOYOLA: Yeah. This old TV doesn't work anyway.

MARTIN: You know what? We're going to get Tim Tebow to pray for you.


MARTIN: Speaking of...

LOYOLA: Jimi, by the way, did you guys see...

MARTIN: Speaking of, the Denver Broncos, Tim Tebow, voted America's favorite athlete in an ESPN poll. The poll position website found that 43 percent of the people who are aware of his success, credit divine intervention. And so, of course, this is a way to lead us all to what we think is going to happen in the next round of the playoffs this weekend. So, Arsalan, go ahead.

LOYOLA: Well, divine intervention is an interesting thing from the point of view of the people who think that Tom Brady is God, right?

MARTIN: So who do you like? What are you calling for the weekend, Mario?

LOYOLA: I'm completely focused on the Packers. But I just think it was really funny. My friend from Boston posted this really funny picture that has Tim Tebow praying on the sideline saying, God please help me get through the coming ordeal. And there's a picture off to the side of Tom Brady saying, I'm sorry my son, but I'm playing quarterback for the other team.

MARTIN: So you're focused on...

LOYOLA: Ba-dum-bum.

MARTIN: OK. So you're focused on the Packers.



MARTIN: OK. Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, Salon.com had an interesting column called "What If Tim Tebow Were A Muslim?" And, you know, thanked Allah every game or, you know, through his hands towards Mecca, would America still love him? I think that's an interesting question. I think the Patriots are going to spank the Broncos. I think that the Giants might have a chance in Green Bay. I think New Orleans in Baltimore are going to pull it out.


RUDIN: Well, I'm a Giants fan. But the Giants are peaking in exactly the right time. But the Packers are just so deep and so good. I still think the Patriots win. I think the Ravens win. And I think the Saints beat the 49ers in San Francisco.


MARTIN: Lots of cheering going on in the control room there. I don't know what that means. Jimi, do you want to hazard your prediction?

IZRAEL: Well, you know, in so far as I care, you know, I'm rocking with Tebow. I mean I am, but I'm really happy that this conversation has people talking about men and faith. And Jesus is all right with me, so rock on brother. I'm down with that.

MARTIN: But what about Arsalan's point, is that if this were, if he were a Muslim and he touched is forehead to Allah?

IZRAEL: I mean, so Mohammed is OK with me too. I mean...


IZRAEL: You know, so I mean faith is what faith is, so I just, I think the conversation is really important. So, but yeah, I think it's a good question.

MARTIN: Anybody else down with that? Anybody else like that idea? Mario, do you mind if I ask you? We only have a couple of minutes left, but what of Arsalan's point - that if Tebow were a Muslim would people still be cheering him on? What do you think?

LOYOLA: Well, if Tebow were a Muslim in a Muslim country, I'm sure that they would be cheering him on. But, Tebow is a Christian in a Christian country and people are cheering him on.

IFTIKHAR: I think some people would dispute the fact that we're a Christian country.

LOYOLA: Arsalan, we're mostly Christian country.

MARTIN: Would you dispute it? Why don't you just dispute it? Some people meaning you, right?

LOYOLA: Why would you? It's 90 percent Christian.

IFTIKHAR: You know, in a treaty letter that George Washington wrote in 17 - that Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789, he said that we are not a Christian country. You know, our forefathers escaped - came here to escape religious persecution. Religious freedom is of - we have a separation of church and state and that's what makes us not a Christian country.

LOYOLA: Well, culturally we're a Christian country. And I mean that Thomas Jefferson thing - in those days, deism was very popular...


LOYOLA: ...and so they were like...

IZRAEL: And the debate continues.

MARTIN: But one thing we can all agree, you know what? This is a football country. Jimi Izrael is...

IZRAEL: Right. Exactly.

MARTIN: We worship football. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of "The Denzel Principle." He was with us from member station BEZ in Chicago. Mario Loyola is director for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a think tank focused on the impact on federal policy on states and also believes in limited government. He's also a columnist for the conservative outlet The National Review. He was with us from member station KUT in Austin. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, and he's also author of the book "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era." And Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor, our political junkie. Ken and Arsalan were here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you all so much.


RUDIN: Go Yankees.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

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