MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
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 with us from Washington, D.C. Also here in D.C., civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre joins us from our bureau in New York City. And in Boston, Neil Minkoff. He is a doctor who primarily works as a health care consultant. He's also a contributor to the National Review.
Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Obamacare.
PABLO TORRE: What up?
NEIL MINKOFF: Doing good.
IZRAEL: What's up, Doc? What's up, Neil?
MINKOFF: Just living the dream.
IZRAEL: I know. I know that's right.
MARTIN: That's what's up.
IZRAEL: It's been a while, man, so I'm glad to have you in. Listen, man, yesterday...
IZRAEL: ...the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act. They kind of put a ring on it. Also called Obamacare. Surprised a lot of people that conservative Chief Justice John Roberts served as a swing vote in favor of the law. Wow, that was kind of surprising, wasn't it, Michel?
MARTIN: Well, you know - you know, who knows what people really...
IZRAEL: I lost a lot of money on that one.
MARTIN: OK. Well, so - yes. So the - I think the thing that really struck people is that John - well, not just - it was that. It was also the reasoning, but the fact that he agreed with the four liberal justices so-called on the individual mandate, the requirement that people have health care or pay a penalty is within Congress' power to impose taxes.
Now, President Obama was obviously pleased with the ruling. Here's what he said during a press conference shortly after the decision was announced.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm as confident as ever that when we look back five years from now or 10 years from now or 20 years from now, we'll be better off because we had the courage to pass this law and keep moving forward.
MARTIN: As you would imagine, Republicans - presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney also responded to the ruling. I'll just play a short clip from what he had to say.
MITT ROMNEY: Let's make clear that we understand what the court did and did not do. What the court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or that it's good policy.
IZRAEL: Oh my goodness. Man, that dude runs on batteries. Thanks for that, Michel. You know what? So this is one of the most anticipated Supreme Court rulings in recent history. Some people say this ruling could make or break Obama's reelection effort.
Now, we've all heard the analysis in the 24 hours, but you know what? I'm curious about what you guys think. Doc, Neil Minkoff, you know, as a health care consultant, you're probably the closest to what industry insiders, you know, are saying right about now, so you know what? Give us the inside scoop.
MINKOFF: Well, I mean to me the most important thing about yesterday isn't the mandate. I mean, that's the sexy thing and that's the big constitutional principle, and the thing that to me is getting lost in the shuffle is now that states could potentially have the ability to opt out of expansion of Medicaid. Medicaid expansion has been the thing that has frightened me the most about this because Medicaid puts - expansion of Medicaid puts a tremendous strain on the private sector in health care because Medicaid is so underfunded and pays below cost - those costs. That's called the public payer shortfall and private payers are expected to make up that difference.
And about 10 to 15 million people were supposed to be covered by the expansion of Medicaid. There is no state in the union right now where Medicaid isn't already under water before expansion, so if states opt out, the whole balance shifts here.
IZRAEL: You know what? What I'm wondering, also, Doc, is where is - what direction is Romney going to criticize this from? You know, because this is more or less just kind of the bad boy style remix of a Romney idea. You know what I mean? So where is he - you know, it's like the same lyrics, different beat.
MINKOFF: And I lived through that here and here's the thing that I've never understood. So I've been in health care in Massachusetts for my whole career and the thing that I never understood is why anybody would use this as the model. Massachusetts is an unusual state. It's small. It is reasonably affluent. It's reasonably homogenous, and the Massachusetts economy is run by health care industry, and we went from 94 percent covered to 98 percent covered and I've never understood why that served as an example for places in the country that aren't as homogenous and are at, like, 60 percent covered.
MARTIN: Well, that was - actually, that's been Romney's argument on the campaign trail, which is that, you know, his attitude was good idea for Massachusetts. It's not a model for the rest of the country and that is the - kind of the basis of his argument. But I think that - I don't know that he's made it particularly effectively. I mean I don't know.
IZRAEL: I don't, either. I don't, either.
MARTIN: Arsalan, what do you think?
IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, obviously, you know, for us legal dorks out there, you know, to look at the 193-page opinion, what's really interesting is not the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts eventually went with the liberal wing of the court, but it seems from the actual text of the opinion that, you know, the conservative wing, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, with Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wanted to, you know, get rid of the entire law, were basically writing their opinion as though they were going to be the majority opinion.
They actually referred to the, quote, Ginsburg dissent, which makes it seem to us legal dorks out there that Chief Justice John Roberts, you know, flipped at the last moment. I don't know if Scalia, you know, insulted his mamma or what happened there.
IFTIKHAR: But, you know, it showed that...
IZRAEL: Got to hate when that happens.
TORRE: As he is watching it.
MARTIN: But here's my question. How do we know that he went with the liberal ring of the court as opposed to that the liberal ring of the court went with him?
See this is the part I always am fascinated with.
IFTIKHAR: Well, because...
MARTIN: How do we know that he wasn't driving that train? Because we know that he was very active in shaping that Citizens United decision.
MARTIN: And we also know that the thing that most surprised that conservatives is that he didn't base his decision on the "commerce clause" but rather own tax law.
So the dissent was actually authored by Anthony Kennedy, who is traditionally that swing vote.
IFTIKHAR: The Sandra Day O'Connor traditional swing vote. He actually authored the dissent, you know, as though they were going to be the majority, meaning that they were going to have Roberts as the fifth vote. That makes it seem to me that he was the swing. It was a last minute thing. Again, we don't know why. Some people are saying, you know, he was trying to, you know, as chief justice, uphold the sanctity of the Supreme Court as not, you know, a political entity - whatever, what have you. But it's really, really interesting moving forward, you know, what kind of role Roberts will now play in the court.
MARTIN: Can I just briefly get Pablo in on this?
MARTIN: Just because, I mean you're looking at this as a consumer pretty much of health care. You know what I mean?
TORRE: Right. Right. So...
MARTIN: And I'm just wondering what you think about it. Just briefly if you can, because we want to get to all the other stuff too.
TORRE: Yeah. Actually Arsalan's point about the bipartisanship and that sort of image of the court, I mean to me looking at this, I was all for, you know, like the idea that the court could rise above kind of an election season and be dispassionate and all that even if it cost Roberts sort of points with the GOP. But to me there's a couple of - there are two quick things I wanted to mention that I think in the longer term are probably huge blows against liberals. Which is the fact that the Commerce Clause, which is clearly designed to limit the powers of federal government is pretty much gutted under Roberts' opinion. And second, that the re-branding of Obamacare as a tax, I mean I was just looking at, you know, GOP conservative sites and everybody's proclaiming, you know, the largest tax increase in the history of the world is what Obamacare is. And it is an election year and I think that could be turn out - that could turn out to be a huge consolation prize for conservatives, coming out of this.
MARTIN: Well, you know, the only other point I'd make about this is one of the things that's intrigued me all along is how many polls say that if you take the label off of it and just ask people about the constituent parts of the law...
MARTIN: ...how many Republicans support it? How many Republicans support it and how many self-described conservatives support it, as long as you don't label it an Obama initiative. And so to me that then becomes the question: Is it the substance or is it the deliverer of the substance? Is that...
IZRAEL: The remix.
MARTIN: So - thank you.
IZRAEL: It's the remix.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Dr. Neil Minkoff; he's a contributor to the National Review and a health care consultant, and a doctor. And Sports Illustrated reporter, Pablo Torre.
Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: All right, Michel. Well, you know what? Let's keep it moving and let's talk about contempt. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted yesterday, to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. They want him to turn over documents related to the gun-walking operation called Fast and Furious.
MARTIN: Well, that was supposed to track gun buyers in Mexico with the hope that it would eventually lead authorities to high-level drug lords. And some of those guns have been traced to crimes, including one that resulted in the death of a U.S. border patrol agent. But the thing that always has fascinated me about this, is that how did this become a partisan issue when the operation started under the George W. Bush administration - started under the previous administration?
MARTIN: So how did this become this big partisan fight? Arsalan, you know?
IFTIKHAR: Well, I mean it's part of, you know, the playbook of the, you know, Republican obstructionists in Congress. I mean this was political kabuki theater. There was a recent exclusive article in Fortune magazine which basically highlighted the fact that the ATF was actually not purposely letting these straw purchases go through. They were actually trying to prosecute but the prosecutors in Arizona were not willing to bring charges. You know there's a - and obviously, you know, this vote taking place on the same day as the health care ruling, the vast majority of the Democratic Caucus walked out of - they didn't even vote against it. I mean so this is something that is going to be really interesting moving forward.
MARTIN: What you think, Jimi? What do you think?
IZRAEL: I think Eric Holder should just take the hit, you know, with some dignity. Why...
MARTIN: He doesn't have a choice.
IZRAEL: Right. I mean, you know, he should just do like Ollie North - and I mean because, you know, a way of it is when you work for the president, you know, you take the gig knowing that at some point you might have - you might be that dude. You might be G. Gordon Liddy.
MARTIN: So your argument...
IZRAEL: You might be the dude holding the bag.
MARTIN: But your - excuse me - G. Gordon Liddy broke the law. I just want to mention that.
IZRAEL: OK. My fault. But, OK.
MARTIN: But, so you're saying that you think is political? Or what do you think? Or do - you think - what is it that you're saying??
IZRAEL: I think both and.
IZRAEL: You know. I think both and - and I think he should let history vindicate him if there is any vindication. But in the between time, he should take the charge and keep it in motion.
MARTIN: Neil, what do you think?
MINKOFF: You know, this is a plague on both your houses feeling for me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOANING)
MINKOFF: I feel the same way about this when I feel about contempt charges in the prior administration. It's an election year. It's a big issue. It's going to get people excited and it's a bright shiny toy for us to all pay attention to.
TORRE: Yeah. I think Congress comes off of this just looking, even more dysfunctional. I mean just the theatrics of everything. Obviously there are real issues, the death of a federal agent Brian Terry.
TORRE: But it seems dysfunctional and also on a separate note, it also ruins my Googling for Vin Diesel movies now that all this stuff cluttering my...
IFTIKHAR: Well played. Well played.
MARTIN: That ain't - you ain't right.
IZRAEL: All right, Michel. Well, you know what, let's talk about sports. Pablo - P-Dog.
IZRAEL: Are you hot to talk about the Congressional Baseball Game last night? Nah. You know, nah, nah. I'm just...
MARTIN: That barely qualifies as a game. I'm sorry.
MARTIN: No. No.
IZRAEL: I'm just kidding. You know, what, lets...
TORRE: That would be fun to write about, though.
IZRAEL: Right. Let's talk about the NBA draft instead. No big surprises, really, from last night's picks. We had Kentucky's - hey - Anthony Davis went to the New Orleans Hornets as first pick. Shout out to Kentucky. But Pablo, you're attention was on the 16th pick; Royce White went to the Houston Rockets. In a profile you wrote for this week's Sports Illustrated, you called him quote, "the most perplexing process in Thursday's NBA draft."
MARTIN: I think it's prospect, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Didn't I say prospects?
TORRE: Well, both. Both. The process and the prospect as well.
MINKOFF: No, you said process.
IZRAEL: I said process? Oops.
MARTIN: The most perplexing prospect.
TORRE: Jimi, I got you on this. Don't worry.
MARTIN: And what's really scary is he's actually wearing his glasses.
IZRAEL: Well, at any...
MARTIN: So that frightens me what could be...
IZRAEL: At any rate, Pablo, I'm packing for us, man.
TORRE: Yeah. Well, basically Royce White was the first prospect to come out with a mental illness before the NBA draft. And I did some research on this. It seems like he's the only prospect in any professional sport - at least the big three - to do so. And there's only, for context, there's only one active NBA player right now who has admitted to a mental illness and that's Delonte West, who has been suffering from bipolar disorder. But this is a prospect. I mean this is a guy with millions of dollars on the line. And if you look at even the interviews that the guys who were drafted gave last night, you know, they're still in boilerplate mode. They're still not going to say anything risky. But you have this guy who is putting this issue, which is such a hot button stigmatized issue. Which is...
MARTIN: Which is what? You haven't said what it is. It's - he - he has an anxiety disorder, right?
TORRE: I'm sorry. He has generalized anxiety disorder and a severe fear of flying, which is...
TORRE: ...as everybody has been noting, you know, a controversial and potentially very, you know, a counterproductive thing to confess. But Royce White, his legacy, I mean we talk about all these what comes out of, you know, the NBA draft, a lot - doesn't. We don't really know anything until 10 years hence. But we know that we have now a player to come out with a mental illness, and be drafted number 16 - which is a huge, huge legacy in my mind when it comes to other players potentially becoming more open about this.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Well, you know, people talk about well, you know, should people draft Royce White because of his general anxiety disorder? And, you know, the answer is if you feel it's right. I mean, Houston thought that it was right. I thought, I was hoping he'd slide to number 21 so my Boston Celtics could pick him up.
IFTIKHAR: But I mean, you know, it's like...
MINKOFF: Here. Here.
IFTIKHAR: It's like any, you know, it's like a team not drafting someone because of, you know, bulging discs in their back or a knee injury and things like...
MARTIN: But they could easily have said that - the reason - one of the things that's interesting is you are the civil rights lawyer here.
MARTIN: And so technically you could say well, this is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah. And that...
MARTIN: So this is a...
TORRE: ...whole fascinating discussion. Yeah.
MARTIN: But like pregnancy, there's all kinds of ways to lie about it. I mean you could say well, it really isn't that. It's not because of this. Well, not that he would be pregnant, let me just clarify that. I'm just saying that employers can say well, it really isn't that I didn't hire you because you're pregnant.
MARTIN: It's not that I didn't hire you because of your disability. It's something else entirely. You just don't fit into our program. And who is to say they're wrong? So that's...
IFTIKHAR: Right. And there's no way to prove that in a court of law. I think, you know, what piggy-backing off what Pablo said; I think it is important to, you know, to bring this into the limelight. You know, we have people like Ron Artest, Metta World Peace, you know, who has talked about his issues with mental illness, as well. Again, these are not prospects or processes - as Jimi would say.
IFTIKHAR: But, you know, it does, you know, I think it does open the door for other potential prospects in coming years to be more forthcoming about issues that they might have...
IFTIKHAR: ...and, you know, make it more normalized.
MARTIN: But Dr. Minkoff, you know one of the things I was curious about, though, in your mind is that is this good for him? I mean, you know, and obviously he's an adult, he's a grown man and he has a right to make decisions in his own best interest. But you think again, you know, constant travel in the NBA. It's not like, you know, everybody knows John Madden has a fear of flying and he can take the bus.
MARTIN: But you're talking about one game every week
IFTIKHAR: Every week.
MARTIN: You're talking - you can talk about multiple games, multiple cities over the course...
IFTIKHAR: Eighty-two games.
MARTIN: Eighty-two games over the course of a full season. So Neil, what do you think?
MINKOFF: Well, I mean there are those who say that the best thing for a phobia like fear of flying is an emersion technique...
MINKOFF: ...actually just get exposed to hours, and hours, and hours, and hours in the air and eventually you feel more comfortable with it, which is something that I actually think is good and works. But I have a - you know, what I'm worried about what this guy - and I wanted him on the Celtics too. What I'm worried about what this kid, isn't now. I'm worried about what happens when he actually starts playing in the NBA. The NBA is a brutal, brutal environment, with just the most horrible slurs hurled at each other on the court with people questioning each other's manhood, and their abilities and homophobic slurs getting used, like constant. And he has opened the door up for his life to just be incredibly painful over the next 82 games.
MINKOFF: And Houston doesn't have a tough guy enforcer to have his back.
IFTIKHAR: Oh, and once he throws a bo(ph) , I mean he's six foot eight, 260-some pounds. Once he throws a bo(ph) at them I think that they'll shut their mouth.
IZRAEL: Well, you know what? Yeah, I agree with that. I second that emotion. But by the same token you know what? I think I don't know that it matters much. I mean he's lived this long with this disability and so he should go forward. You know...
IFTIKHAR: He'll be fine.
IZRAEL: Yeah, you'll be fine.
MARTIN: That's a good point.
TORRE: And what I would say...
MARTIN: Go ahead, Pablo.
TORRE: ...is that if I were Royce White - and I grew to really like the guy after spending so much time with him - I don't know if I could have done that. You know, I don't know if I would - his agent, you know, the people in his inner circle were all saying, you know, maybe rethink coming out with this at all, ever. You know, he didn't have to.
IZRAEL: I think it was brave.
IFTIKHAR: good for him.
TORRE: And it was just incredibly brave. And, you know, I think when you look forward to what mental illness in sports looks like, I think what you want is it to be treated like any other sort of injury, disease, whatever that can be managed. There's a huge stigma there and it's intangible, which is a huge, huge problem for a business that is built on measurables and trying to wrap your mind around every little thing. But...
MARTIN: I can't imagine.
MARTIN: I can't imagine your even be able to write a piece like this 20 years ago, or 10 years ago.
TORRE: Yeah. Completely.
MARTIN: This is really a very interesting era that we're...
TORRE: He's a pioneer. Definitely.
MARTIN: Yeah. Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. That's who was talking just now. He was with us from our NPR studios in New York. From Boston, Neil Minkoff. He is a doctor who primarily works as a health care consultant. He's also a contributor to the National Review. With us in Washington, D.C., Arsalan Iftikhar, civil rights attorney and founder of TheMuslimGuy.com. And Jimi Izrael, writer and culture critic, also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College.
Thank you so much.
TORRE: Thank you.
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.