MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we will tell you why you might want to watch out for some of those apps that you've been merrily downloading on your new Smartphone. That conversation's coming up a little later.
But first, it's time for a visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where we go to get a fresh cut on some of the week's news. Today, we want to talk about those controversial requirements to make it onto the presidential primary ballot in Virginia. That's why only two Republican candidates are on the ballot there. We'll talk about that and if it matters.
We'll also talk about why so many African-American divas are hawking weight loss products and we also want to talk about head trauma in sports as the NFL hits the playoff season.
With us to talk about these stories are Vivianna Hurtado. She is the blogger-in-chief at the website, TheWiseLatinaClub. Danielle Belton is the force behind the pop culture and politics blog, The Black Snob. Michelle Bernard is the CEO and president of the independent conservative think tank, the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. And Kristen Berset is a sports anchor for WUSA TV right here in Washington, D.C.
Welcome, ladies. Happy New Year to you all.
VIVIANNA HURTADO, BLOGGER-IN-CHIEF, THE WISE LATINA CLUB: Happy New Year.
DANIELLE BELTON: Happy New Year.
MICHELLE BERNARD: Happy New Year.
KRISTEN BERSET: Happy New Year.
MARTIN: So we just talked about the Iowa caucuses, but there are some other political headlines making waves right now, and this one is interesting because we've been talking a lot about ballot access issues and these new requirements that are being pushed in a number of states to make it harder to a vote or to require voters to show I.D. in order to vote.
Well, now there's another controversy in Virginia. The requirements to quality for the March 6th Republican Presidential Primary are such that only two qualified. Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor who we just talked about, who was a winner by votes in Iowa, and Ron Paul, Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
So. And there was even some talk about changing the law on an emergency basis and, Michelle, I'm very interested in your take on this because conservatives have generally been the ones pushing these, you know, tough ballot access measures, saying, you know, it's a privilege to participate and - well, it's a right, but it's also a privilege and that the utmost, you know, scrutiny has to be attended to to make sure that only people who are qualified are participating and so forth.
What's your take on that?
BERNARD: Well, you know, I separate the two. In my personal opinion, what I see going on in various states across the country really amounts to nothing less than voter suppression. I think it's illegal and I think we will see many challenges that will make it to the Supreme Court on an emergency basis.
Now, with regard to presidential candidates getting on the ballot in Virginia, the law is the law in the sense that everybody knew that they were running for president. You knew what the requirements were. If you want to run for president, you know you have to get on the ballot and you should have a staff in place that can do that for you. If they're not on the ballot, it's no one's fault but their own.
MARTIN: Vivianna, what do you think?
CLUB: Oh, I agree with what Michelle says and I think what's really important, too, is to note that these laws in Virginia have been on the books for years. There are five million voters registered to vote in Virginia and it requires 10,000 signatures.
And I was looking at some of the blog post comments in the Washington Post article that I read about and there were 64 comments and, overwhelmingly, people - I'm assuming Virginians - said, hey look, this has been around for a really long time. Why were you not able to get 10,000 out of five million voters to sign petitions? It's a little bit embarrassing though, right, for Newt Gingrich because he is a resident, as is his wife, and he can't vote for himself?
BERNARD: Yeah. And the other thing that we should add is, if you think about what's coming up in 2012, Virginia is a battleground state. It seems to me, if I were running, I'd be very focused on making sure I cross every T and dot every I in Virginia, in Ohio, in Indiana, in the states that you know you're going to have to work really hard in.
MARTIN: Virginia is of interest. This is, of course - people call it a purple state. You know, not red, not blue. Republicans had a sweep of the top offices in Virginia in the mid-term elections, but President Obama won the state two years earlier, so it is of interest.
But nobody's going to disagree, Danielle? Aren't you going to sail? You know, boo-hoo, it's sad. Because the requirements - it's not just the 10,000 signatures. It's also who gets to - you have to be registered in Virginia yourself in order to collect the signatures. Nobody's going to give them a boo-hoo?
BELTON: No. The only people this is embarrassing for is the candidates and to me it's very telling about their seriousness, that they did not get this together. I mean, you repeatedly - candidates like Michele Bachmann would say, oh, I'm not a politician. Well, this is, you know, obviously proof of it. You didn't manage to get yourself on the ballot. You know, so it made me wonder how serious were some of these individuals about their strategies past Iowa? I think some of them knew that there really wasn't going to be much going on for them and therefore did not really invest in their other state campaigns.
So, to me, it says a lot about how serious some of these candidates were in their run for president.
MARTIN: Kirsten, are you going to give us a boo-hoo on this?
BERSET: No. I feel like it's a bunch of excuses being thrown out. They've had since July 1st to get these voters and, you know, to get the signatures and the fact that four of them didn't even submit anything and, I mean, they've had all this time and they keep saying, well, the deadline was December 22nd, right in the middle of the holiday season.
But I agree that it's very telling about the candidates' campaigns. I mean, they've had months to do it. They can't do it. It's, like you said, a battleground state and the fact that they either didn't even attempt or, you know, now are crying foul, it just seems like a bunch of excuses.
MARTIN: This is a tough crowd. I'm not going to call in sick. The dog ate my homework. No note for you. In fact, we're fingerprinted on the coffee mug.
If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having a visit to the Beauty Shop, where we're getting a fresh cut on issues in the news. With us are Vivianna Hurtado, Danielle Belton, Michelle Bernard and Kristen Berset.
Well, let's switch gears and talk about sports. It's the college bowl season. The NFL playoffs start this weekend and there's been a lot of discussion, Kristen, about athletic injuries, especially concussions. It seems that this issue has really come to the floor of late.
The NFL recently announced a new policy to have a certified athletic trainer at games watching from the booth who will be in contact with the medical teams on the field. And this comes after Cleveland Browns quarterback, Colt McCoy, suffered a concussion from a helmet-to-helmet hit.
I'll just play a short clip from, you know, what you were hearing if you were listening to the game, watching the game.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTBALL GAME)
SPORTS ANNOUNCER: And now he throws at the last second and completed it as he got planted - and I mean planted - and he's down and there's flags down, as well. At the very end of this play, as he lets go of the football, here comes Harrison. Look at the head snap back, helmet-to-helmet. No question there, Brad.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTBALL GAME)
MARTIN: You know, this is my question, Kristen. Is this like hockey, in a way - which is also a sport where head trauma is finally being talked about in a way that it has not been previously, where really, people are talking out of both sides of their mouth because you've got the stirring music. You're coming up. It's not - you know, on the one hand - yeah, this is bad. We should pay attention. We need to, you know, attend to this.
On the other hand, you know, these guys are heroes.
MARTIN: Their toughness is celebrated. What's your take on it?
BERSET: Well, from the clip we just heard, Harrison is known for some nasty hits on some players and the issue with Colt McCoy - he got hit, went out for a couple plays, came back in and then, after the game, he was having concussion-like symptoms. And I've been in the locker room talking to some players that have suffered a concussion and I've even seen it in personal life, people that have had concussions and, you know, they're just not right.
And one of the players - I used to cover the Baltimore Ravens and one of the players, for weeks, was just still dizzy and the lights were still bothering him and it kind of goes both ways, though. I know the NFL is putting these new policies in and, like you said, the one with having the trainer up in the booth and he can't tell the teams to take a player out, but he can give his medical advice.
MARTIN: But what does that say? If he doesn't have the authority to take a player out, then...
MARTIN: ...what's the point of having him there if he can't override the interests of the people who are...
BERSET: Well, in that...
MARTIN: I'm not deriding the professionalism of the...
MARTIN: ...medical professionals who are associated with the team, but they're getting a check from the team. So...
BERSET: Yeah. And I'm curious about the same thing because he's up in the booth. He's simply watching just playback of the game, but at the same time, there was a story. One player got hurt but the trainers were attending to the quarterback, so that player - one lineman went back in and suffered even worse problems, even though he had already had a concussion.
So there's so much going on on the sideline that the trainers on the sideline couldn't divide their focus among the two. So that's kind of what that trainer is supposed to be up in the booth.
But, you know, the players - there's been a lot of lawsuits recently with former NFL players that are suing the league, saying they held back information about concussions. But a lot of it is up to the players, as well. I mean, yes, they don't want to be taken out of the game. Yes, they want to be in there and play. But now, as we're seeing the effects and these athletes have that died because you really can only test the brain after they've died in an autopsy.
But now that all this stuff is coming out, the players, I think, need to have their own responsibility, as well, and say, I'm not feeling well. Maybe I should - even though I know, you know, the way players are, they want to go back in.
MARTIN: Well, exactly. Well, Michelle, what's your take on this? I mean, I know you're all about individual responsibility as I think most people are, but what is your take on it?
BERNARD: Well, I mean, particularly when it comes to this, the players voluntarily engage in this game, so I think that it is up to the players to either decide not to play these sports or, if they're going to play the sports, understand the risks that they take and take it upon themselves to say I'm not feeling well and I've got to get out of this.
I don't think you have a right to say, I'm going to voluntarily and knowingly engage in a sport where I know someone could bang my head and I could get a concussion and maybe even die and then go back and try to sue the NFL.
MARTIN: Danielle, what's your take on this?
BELTON: Well, I think that the reality is here, in the last few years, we've started to take concussions and brain injury more seriously and, a lot of it, I feel like, is a direct result of our wars overseas. We had lots of soldiers coming back with complications from being in intense war zones where their heads had been jostled and they had all these concussion issues.
But the thing is, we reward toughness. It's the same as in the military as it is in the NFL. You're rewarded, you know, financially, successfully, professionally if you can take the hit, if you can be tough, if you come back after injury.
People are celebrated for playing hurt and that's the culture that they exist in. That's the business that they exist in. And it's the same way in the military. If you come out and say, oh, I have post-traumatic stress disorder or I have traumatic brain injury, if your goal is to be a career in the military, that's the end of your career if you say that.
It's almost the same way in the NFL, where you say, oh, I have a problem, they go, oh, we can't play hurt, he's weak, he's soft. You don't want to draft him on your team.
So I think we're taking this - we're separating this from the reality of the business where you are rewarded if you play hurt and you act like it doesn't affect you because it's a macho image.
MARTIN: It is. And there is a macho - in fact, in the military, for example, if you're in the Air Force, you know, a flight surgeon will decide whether you fly or not. You don't decide whether you fly or not. The flight surgeon decides whether you fly or not because - well, there's also risks to you in the air if you're flying at, you know, higher altitudes and if you have a sinus infection, for example.
But they also know that no pilot is going to take himself or herself out. They are not going to do it.
BELTON: Right. It's their career.
MARTIN: It is their career.
BELTON: People will sacrifice their own bodies for their dreams and their goals and their careers. Sometimes, someone has to step in and say, no. You're going to kill yourself.
MARTIN: It is an interesting dilemma, though. But before we move on from this topic, Vivianna, there is news now that Michele Bachmann has officially suspended her campaign. I know you're a huge Michele Bachmann fan.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: You really feel it's a loss to the race. I'm really still puzzled about how somebody who won the Iowa straw poll could then sink like a stone.
I mean, it's been such a tumultuous race, but...
CLUB: I think La Michele, who's - I'll refer to her darlingly(ph) and lovingly - was just a really interesting character because she is this, you know, Tea Party darling. She, you know, was leading the Tea Party caucus in Congress and I think what's going to be really interesting from here on forward is - which Republican Party is going to show up in November? Is it going to be the Tea Party wing? And I think, with Michele Bachmann dropping out, it's a sign that it might not be. This is the...
MARTIN: Wait. If Rick Santorum comes in second, so...
CLUB: Right. And will he be able to continue forward? Is it going to be the...
MARTIN: He's a social conservative just like she is.
CLUB: Exactly. But is he going to be able to say, with the wind in his back from eight votes - be able to do the fundraising that he needs and build the infrastructure out right because he was really bare bones?
At the same time, though, he is a social conservative and he went to all 99 counties in a pickup truck and campaigned and was able to connect with people, you know, through social media, as well.
MARTIN: But the quick question I have, though, here is, why didn't she do better? Does anybody have a theory about why she didn't do better? Michelle.
BERNARD: I mean, you know, there are theories.
MARTIN: The other Michelle.
BERNARD: The other Michelle.
MARTIN: Other Michelle, explain your namesake.
BERNARD: Michelle Bernard is going to try her best to explain Michele Bachmann and how she lost after winning the Ames straw poll. I mean, there are arguments to be had. For example, there are people who are saying that the conservative religious right in Iowa was not comfortable with a woman, that they didn't come out for her. We've heard that come from the Bachmann campaign and from others and it's plausible. It's absolutely plausible.
But, I mean, I quite frankly believe that we are at a point in time in American politics that people looked at Michele Bachmann based on her candidacy, not on her gender. She made a lot of statements that made absolutely no sense. She did well in some debates. She did poor in other debates. But she did not come across as presidential and I think that the longer we had to get to know her, the more uncomfortable people felt with the prospect of a President Bachmann.
MARTIN: Interesting, interesting. Well, that's more to talk about there.
So, finally, it's the new year. For many people, that means a resolution to lose some weight, so don't be shocked when you start to see some celebrities hawking diet products and weight loss plans. If you were watching television, I don't know how you could have missed this one. Here it is:
(SOUNDBITE OF PRODUCT ADVERTISEMENT)
JANET JACKSON: I have a message for anyone who has ever struggled with weight loss. Make Nutrisystem Success your plan. I'm on it and I'm already seeing results. Get on it.
MARTIN: You know, this is the thing - Janet Jackson. The only other ad I really remember her being in was for a mink coat, with what becomes a legend most? So how do you go from what becomes a legend most to Nutrisystem? Danielle, I don't know. Help me out here. And she's not the only. I mean, there's Jennifer Hudson. There's Mariah Carey.
BELTON: It's called a check. Checks are wonderful. You know, you cash them and buy stuff. You know, I feel like a lot of this has to do with - in the case of all three of them, Janet Jackson, Mariah and Jennifer Hudson - they all had very well documented cases of up and down weight loss. You know, Janet Jackson has gone back and forth with her weight over the years and has talked very candidly about the issues.
Jennifer Hudson dropped a whole lot of weight in between, you know, winning her Oscar and her most recent album. And Mariah Carey's weight has, you know, repeatedly gone up and down, you know, depending on her career and what was going on in her life.
So they're attractive in that sense that they're super successful people who've been successful whether they were thick or thin and were willing to leverage that same and their weight issues into a check.
MARTIN: You know, Kristen, I have to ask you this because you are a former Miss Florida...
MARTIN: Yes. And we can see it in (unintelligible) strong cheekbones. But I am curious about this. I mean, would this make you - I mean, obviously, and being fit and presenting an attractive figure is very important in your previous career. It's also important in your current, you know...
BERSET: Yes, yes.
MARTIN: I would argue, particularly, for women. I mean, who are we kidding? So is this something that would make you more inclined to use this kind of product if it was important to your life or less?
BERSET: Well, as it's been said, you know, their weight issues have been very well documented and, yes, getting people like Jennifer Hudson and Janet Jackson, whose concerts have been getting smaller and smaller. It's good money, a good way to revive her career.
And if they can inspire somebody to go out there and really, you know, work hard at losing their weight; you've also got to realize Janet Jackson says she works out six days a week and can afford to have a trainer and can afford all the good food that she needs.
But if it inspires somebody to rethink their lifestyle and go out and try something, great. But I just wish that they would let people realize that these women have a lot more money. They have people on staff to help them get that way, as well. So it's kind of a two-sided - you know, people need to have their own responsibility, as we were talking about before.
MARTIN: OK. So here's the part - are you going to introduce me to your trainer? Because, I'm sorry. You're very cute. I'm sorry.
BERSET: My trainer is - or my motivator is my boyfriend. He's a marathoner, so he gets me out there.
MARTIN: OK, whatever.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: Well, that wouldn't work. Never mind. Kristen Berset is a sports anchor for WUSA in Washington, D.C. She was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios, along with Vivianna Hurtado, blogger-in-chief for The Wise Latina Club. And Michelle Bernard, CEO and president of the independent conservative think tank, the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. Danielle Belton, who runs the blog, The Black Snob, joined us from St. Louis, Missouri.
Ladies, thank you and Happy New Year.
BERSET: Thank you.
CLUB: Happy New Year.
BELTON: Thank you. Happy New Year.
MARTIN: Just ahead, it's been considered clumsy and uncool, but finally, the tuba is having its moment in the spotlight.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: It's all the rage, especially in Mexican bandas in L.A. We'll speak with a musician who's part of the tuba renaissance. That's just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Employment and civil rights lawyer, Carolyn Lerner, was used to fighting for the underdog. Now, she's been appointed to head the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. Her mission: to protect whistleblowers. A news maker interview with Carolyn Lerner is next time on TELL ME MORE. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.