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The Politics Of Superstorm Sandy


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 and culture critic Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. They're both here in Washington, D.C. Pablo Torre, senior writer for ESPN, the magazine, and ESPN.com, is with us from New York City. And Mario Loyola of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and contributor to the National Review is with us from Austin, Texas.

Take it away, Jimi.

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

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

PABLO TORRE: What's up?

IZRAEL: P dog.


IZRAEL: P dog, how you doing? You all right?

TORRE: I am powerless in my apartment, but to all of the friends who've offered their couches, I apologize for snoring and thank you.

MARTIN: All right.

IZRAEL: Well, we're glad to have you in.

TORRE: Powerless on Park Avenue.

IZRAEL: Right. Well...

MARTIN: He probably put, like, a suitcase full of his electronic devices to the bureau. He's, like, got them all plugged in. We feel you. We feel you.

TORRE: I've had to read - I've had to read books this week. It's terrifying.

IZRAEL: Oh, my God, a book. Clutch the pearls. You know what? But, Pablo, you're not the only one. Many people on the East Coast are struggling to get their lives back together after Superstorm Sandy tore at the region this week. Tore it, just devastated. The crisis has people taking a second look at their priorities, their values and, sometimes, their leaders. Right, Michel?

MARTIN: Well, yeah. And, of course, we want to say here again that, you know, we're going to talk about the politics, but obviously, front and center for us is, you know - are people's lives and families and, obviously, our hearts go out to the people who've suffered and lost a lot this week.

But, having said that, that there have been some really interesting political consequences as a result of this that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg surprised some people, at least, by endorsing President Obama. Mr. Bloomberg cited the president's efforts in tackling climate change, something that the mayor believes contributed to Superstorm Sandy. The endorsement came in an opinion piece published by Bloomberg News. It was titled "A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change," Jimi.

IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks for that, Michel. Mario, Super Mario, Mario Loyola, my dude. Michael Bloomberg is a political independent. Ay, carumba. Some folks accuse him of dissing Obama this week for passing on a presidential visit to NYC. It looks like this endorsement - something of a surprise. Yeah?

LOYOLA: Yeah. It's a little bit - yeah. It was a backhanded endorsement, too, because he also accused - in the same endorsement, he accused the president of a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it, which is the essential Republican talking point. Right?

But, I mean, I think, you know, it's very hard to find comic relief in a tragedy like Superstorm Sandy, but Bloomberg sure found a way. I mean, let's agree that this election does not boil down to a choice between climate patterns. Can we agree on that?

MARTIN: That's not why we're here, but go ahead.

IZRAEL: Yeah. That's not why we're here, but we're not here to agree. You know that. This is the Barbershop.

MARTIN: So tell us. So your point is?

IZRAEL: Make your point. Make your point, please.

LOYOLA: I mean, look. I mean, it's not - look, it's not - you know, voting for Obama is not going to bring the climate under control. OK?

IZRAEL: It won't?

LOYOLA: I mean, even if he's the messiah, he's not going to end violent changes in weather. I mean, right? I mean, maybe - you know, there certainly is some plausible human impact on the environment. Increased CO2 is certainly the result of human industrialization and activity. Now, what exactly the impact of CO2 is on the climate remains a matter of a lot of scientific study and a lot of scientific investigation. Right? I mean, it increases water vapor in...

MARTIN: No, it doesn't.

LOYOLA: ...the atmosphere.

MARTIN: No, it doesn't. I mean, honestly...

LOYOLA: It just - yes, it is. Yes, it is.

MARTIN: Could we just - could we just skip this whole - and just say that there is no scientific debate, really, about climate change. Is the question here what we should do about it? Or are you saying that you really think this debate about...

LOYOLA: No, wait, wait, wait.

MARTIN: ...whether climate change is real? Is that really - is that what you're saying?

LOYOLA: No. Climate change is certainly real. Climate change has always existed. It will always exist. The question that scientists are struggling to figure out is what is the impact of increased water vapor due to increased CO2 on the heat trapping of the atmosphere? And it's clear from the latest evidence of the last 20 years...


LOYOLA: ...that the feedback reflective properties of water vapor is a lot greater than their original models thought, which is why we've had a lot less change in average global temperatures over the last 16 years than their models predicted.


LOYOLA: But the point is...

MARTIN: Yeah, thanks.

LOYOLA: ...that, even if - you know, but the point is - look, I mean, even, you know, Al Gore is an influential person, but he didn't make climate theory - he didn't make chaos theory go away. I mean, you know, I read in the New York Times the other day...


LOYOLA: ...you know, it'll be months before scientists fully understand the causes of Superstorm Sandy. No, it won't. It will be never. They will never understand the causes of a superstorm like this.

MARTIN: OK. I think the question here - and I'll ask Arsalan this - is, what difference will it make that Mr. Bloomberg endorsed President Obama?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Let me put down my Geology 101 textbook hearing get back to politics.


IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Let's get out of Beakman's World for like a minute and like actually answer the question. Go ahead.

MARTIN: I'm sorry.

IFTIKHAR: It's interesting obviously because, you know, here we have Michael Bloomberg, who is an independent and respected by many people in the Republican Party. And I think his endorsements will speak to some Independents out there, you know, who might be on the fence, you know, particularly in swing states like Ohio and Virginia and things like that. You know, I think it was interesting endorsement. And I'm glad that Mayor Bloomberg brought climate change up and, you know, an endorsement is an endorsement, whether it's backhanded or front-handed.

IZRAEL: Yeah. I...

MARTIN: Well, it's interesting because in that endorsement, I don't know if it was backhanded or if it was evenhanded. I'm not quite sure which because he also said that Mitt Romney seems to be a decent man who has walked away from every sensible position that he ever had and as a consequence you have no way of knowing what his real agenda is...

IFTIKHAR: Right. And...

MARTIN: ...and whether you'd actually get some progress on things that he says are consensus issues. So that was his reason for why he did not endorse Mitt Romney.


MARTIN: Despite the fact that many people think that they have a lot in common given - their business experience and are offering their business experience as their primary credential. So that's why that's of interest.

TORRE: Right.

IFTIKHAR: And also it Mitt Romney decided tomorrow that, you know, he's going to make climate change, you know, part of his platform, we all know that he's not going to care about at least 47 percent of the climate.


IZRAEL: So in true New York style, you know, he kept it real, basically. OK? I mean that's all. He just told the truth. P Dog? Pablo?

TORRE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: You're in New York and you survived the storm.

TORRE: I am.

IZRAEL: Do you really feel like Bloomberg's endorsement really did anything to anybody? Did it have any effect there?

TORRE: Well, look, I mean New York is as blue as it gets. Practically it's not as if this is a domino that's waiting to fall. But, the fact that he is like the world's or the countries, at least, for most technocrat and is the businessman's businessman, I think it said something. That even this guy who is as focused on the margins financially as anybody would endorse President Obama sort of in my opinion, it punctures that balloon a little bit that Mitt Romney is the businessman's candidate.

Now, in terms - so wait. Do we not want to talk about climate change at all? Just to clarify?

MARTIN: You can.


MARTIN: Go ahead. Go ahead.

IZRAEL: I mean we don't need a dissertation, though.

MARTIN: You're to give the Pablo tutorial. Go ahead.

TORRE: I'm not going to...

MARTIN: Go ahead.

TORRE: I did not take Geology 101. But, I mean the idea is that you're putting this issue on the table. I mean being in New York, the stunning thing, and I think this is what gave rise to this very politically opportunist move by Mike Bloomberg is that everyone is talking about the storm. No one was talking about climate change. Now we're all talking about climate change and that...

LOYOLA: Unfortunately.

TORRE: Well...


TORRE: Unfortunately, depending on how much you care about the people who are going to inherit the Earth from us.

IFTIKHAR: Oh, nice. Nice.

TORRE: But in terms of how much we care about climate change, this is now a topic. And whether you think that's going to be a huge change if it's Obama or not, the fact that everyone is forced to talk about is it self useful and that's Mike Bloomberg's point, is that he wants to make this a centrist issue. Climate change is now a centrist issue because Mike Bloomberg is the ultimate centrist.

IZRAEL: All right. All right. All right. All right. So we're going to jump across the bridge from New York to New Jersey, where Republican Governor Chris Christie is giving Obama Girl. Hey, girl, a run for her money.


IZRAEL: And with all the love, he's sending Obama's way, after, after the storm, he was talking about how many times Obama called him, and how helpful he's been, and they even visited victims together on Wednesday. Wow. Michel, we got some tape, yeah?

MARTIN: Well, you know, one of the reasons this is interesting is that Chris Christie is a - was on the, allegedly, on the short list to be the vice presidential nominee on the Romney ticket. He's endorsed and Romney. He's been a surrogate for Romney. And yet, he's been praising the president. And that's actually annoyed some conservatives. And Christie was answering that criticism in this next clip. Here it is.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, you know what? I speak the truth. That's what I always do. Sometimes you guys like it. Sometimes you don't. Sometimes politicians like it. Sometimes they don't. But I say what I feel and what I believe. And I'm just doing the same thing with the president of the United States.

MARTIN: And the other reason this is interesting is that, you know, Rush Limbaugh, I know you all are just wrapped at, you know, at his listening to what he has to say about this, but that he had earlier contrasted Christie with Bloomberg in saying oh, you know, Bloomberg dissed Obama and had said falsely that Bloomberg had endorsed Romney and that's so, you know, so what happens now? So I'm just - also, Jimi, I want to know what you think about this.

IZRAEL: You know, Chris Christie, he looks to me like a guy that's really affiliated - well affiliated with the whole concept of flavor of the week. But, that said, not taking anything away from him, I'm happy that he did the right thing. And...

MARTIN: Why is it the right thing?

IZRAEL: Well, he gave props where props where due because the president came in and he was presidential. You know, he's not looking from a plane to see what's happening down below. He's actually on, got boots literally on the ground and trying to make things happen. You know, Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Yes sir. Well, you know, I think, you know, I give Chris Christie mad props for what he's done. You know, any, you know, dime store politician could have turned a national, you know, tragedy like Hurricane Sandy into a political talking point, especially when you've been a surrogate and you've endorsed, you know, one presidential candidate. But Chris Christie decided not to do that. He sent out this great tweet on Twitter on October 31st that said: I will be touring New Jersey with President Obama today. Yes, I am a Republican. Yes, he's a Democrat. But we're also adults and this is what adults do. And that was just gangbusters and I really think it speaks to Chris Christie, his character and, you know, how he's doing as governor of New Jersey.

MARTIN: Let me just ask this one question and I'm just going to take the other side of this question. I'm going to ask Pablo this because you are in New York. There are those who would argue that these presidential visits to disasters sites are really a waste of time. That the resources that, you know, presidents...

TORRE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: That you have to take a huge security apparatus to go anywhere. That is the only the responsible thing to do and you're trying resources away that could be used for direct, you know, service to people. And so I just wanted to ask, does anybody feel that, you know, it might have been nice for the president and for Chris Christie to show that they are adults and that they are going to work together? But that that was actually, you know, that maybe in would be better to stay up there at 30,000 feet into the flyover...

TORRE: Yeah. I mean...

MARTIN: ...and don't, don't stress me?

TORRE: Right. It's funny. I do know about if it's funny. It's interesting that, you know, President Obama wanted to come to New York. And apparently Mike Bloomberg said there's no way that the city can accommodate the entourage of security that will be necessary to accommodate the president because of that very reason. And the reality though, Michel, is that you do need to do this. I mean that's just, that's the ceremonial nature of being any politician, really. It's, even you could show someone a PowerPoint decision tree that says this is what would happen if we need to bring the president in here, we need to devote this many resources to just that simple act...


TORRE: The fact is that people want to see that leader on the news in their neighborhood. Even if they don't see them personally they want to know that there's that bedside manner which is just not available if the guy is flying overhead, even if he's more effective that way.

MARTIN: OK. Well, we going to switch years for the five minutes or so that we have left to talk about some entertainment news? And I understand that that's, you know, we obviously know what the priority is that people's, you know, lives and safety and security and well-being. But...

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: This is big news and people want to talk about it. So let's talk about the fact that Disney has paid billions of dollars to buy Lucas Film, the maker of "Star Wars." Here's a clip from the "Empire Strikes Back." Not that you need it. Here it is.



JAMES EARL JONES: (as Darth Vader) Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.

MARK HAMILL: (as Luke) He told me enough. He told me you killed him.

JONES: (as Darth Vader) No, I am your father.

HAMILL: (as Luke) No. No. That's not true. That's impossible.

JONES: (as Darth Vader) Search your feelings. You know it to be true.

HAMILL: (as Luke) Nooooooo.

MARTIN: Yes, it's true.


MARTIN: Disney says it's going to make a new "Star Wars" film...

TORRE: Spoiler alert. God.

MARTIN: ...and perhaps a couple of others down the line. So Jimi, you know, I have to ask you, are you super excited, super hot?

IZRAEL: I'm not super excited. It just, it makes sense to me in so far as, you know, Disney is all about beating the story out of really great, great properties and the lunch boxavacation(sp) of great stories. And so is Lucas Films. You know, I mean I've probably seen more toys from Lucas Films than I have actually Lucas Films, you know, so it seems like a good marriage.

MARTIN: Are you going to go? Are you going to go?

IZRAEL: I mean why wouldn't I go?


IZRAEL: I mean if it's a good story well told, yeah, I'm always in the theater but, you know, I don't know. Like I said, it seems like a good marriage. I mean all they want is the money, so why not?

MARTIN: Oh yeah. Mario, what about you?

LOYOLA: I mean this goes back to 1970.

MARTIN: Assuming it's not about climate change.

LOYOLA: No. No. No. It's not. I mean, you know, Steven Spielberg, from the very beginning was all about making great film as art. And George Lucas told him, you know, what audiences want is popcorn. I mean I think this goes to Jimi's point. And I think that, I think that George Lucas may not really have understood ever why the original "Star Wars" movies were so great, which was really the on screen chemistry between actors, like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. And I hope that Disney keeps that in mind and that these movies are not successful because of their special effects only. I mean they're successful because they have compelling interactions among great actors, and if we get back to that we could have a really great series again. Certainly, the last three were a disappointment.

MARTIN: Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, for even 30 years later and I'm still shocked to learn that James Earl Jones is Mark Hamill's father, but, you know, I think that this...

MARTIN: Why not?

IFTIKHAR: I think this was a great move. Let's not forget that Disney in 2006 bought Pixar for several billion dollars and we've seen what the Pixar brand has become. They also in 2009 bought Marvel - the rights to Marvel Comic movies in 2009 for several billion dollars. So I think, you know, this is a great move as long as we don't see any more of Jar Jar Binks.


IZRAEL: Yeah. I think it's a great business move but for those of us that like stories - those of us that are creatives, you know, it's nah, Disney doesn't know how to tell a good story without throwing in like a product endorsement in there. Here and there.

IFTIKHAR: Jimi, "Lion King?"

MARTIN: Well, Pixar is still great. I mean those stories...

IZRAEL: "Lion King" is all about - are you serious? "Lion King" is all about the merge. Are you serious?

IFTIKHAR: "Lion King" was dope.

TORRE: We are all going to watch these movies.

IZRAEL: It was all about the merge, bro.

MARTIN: "Toy Story" is dope. Come on, man.

IZRAEL: "Toy Story" is a walking commercial. I mean...

MARTIN: So what? It still great. It still...

IFTIKHAR: It still dope. It still dope.

MARTIN: Pablo? Now, OK, with disclosure here.


MARTIN: OK. You are a senior writer for ESPN's magazine and website and Disney owns ESPN. So technically you're...

TORRE: I am actually being, I was just...

MARTIN: ...an employee and you probably have little Dalmatians on your paycheck I bet but...

TORRE: I was just notified that I will be playing Jar Jar Binks's son.


TORRE: That's written news. Pablo Binks, straitened deadline Hollywood.

IZRAEL: You heard it here first.

TORRE: I am a Disney homer I guess. But listen, we are all going to watch these movies no matter what. They made a bazillion, gillion dollars even after we knew the first, second and third prequels were horrible. And I'm also interested in seeing another director besides George Lucas take a crack at this. I mean what if they get really good directors, let's say a Christopher Nolan type worry Josh Wieden...


TORRE: ...somebody who has rebooted stuff before? Who wouldn't want to see that? That would be fascinating. I think George Lucas, his fastball was gone a long time ago. It was going to sit there and do nothing. Why not open it up? Nothing is sacred in commerce in art in cinema anyway, so I'm all for it.

MARTIN: Well, whenever the first movie comes out we'll talk about that. We have like a minute left to get your NBA picks since the season starts - the regular season starts when? Like...

IFTIKHAR: It started.

MARTIN: It started?


MARTIN: So what are your picks? Me, I'm in D.C. and so the Wizards, I'm already out of hope. I'm already out of hope. I'm already somewhere else. But, OK, Arsalan?


MARTIN: Why do we even ask you?

IFTIKHAR: I mean come on. I'm still earn my...

MARTIN: Why do we even bother to ask you?

IFTIKHAR: ... Celtics tape for the last. (Unintelligible) Listen, you know, with the new look Los Angeles Lakers, I mean I would love to see a Boston Celtics and a Lakers final again. I think it would be one for the ages.

MARTIN: Mario, you got to pick.

LOYOLA: Yeah, I'll stick with my roots and stick with the Miami Heat. But I hope Miami fans remember not to be fair weather fans and stick with your...


LOYOLA: Stick with your team when it's not doing so great. Because being a fair weather fan is bad karma. Of course, as a Green Bay Packers fan, I'll never have to worry about that.

MARTIN: Aw, snap. OK. Pablo?

TORRE: It's the Miami Heat. We should all get used to this. The Lakers are looking disjointed and the Heat are as insanely powerful and as easy to hate as ever.


IZRAEL: Against all conventional wisdom, the Cavs.


IZRAEL: Yes. I love it.

MARTIN: That's a good comment. That's a good comment.

Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com. They were both here in Washington, D.C. Pablo Torre, senior writer for ESPN the magazine and ESPN.com. He joined us from our bureau in New York. And Mario Loyola is the director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a think tank focused on the impact of federal policy on states. He's also a contributor to the conservative magazine, the National Review. He was with us from member station KUT in Austin.

Thank you all so much.

IFTIKHAR: Vote for Obama.

TORRE: Thank you.

LOYOLA: Chow-chow.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our new Barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE. Let's talk more on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.