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Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Tuesday June 21, 2011

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Guests: Richard Wolffe, Alex Wagner, Dana Milbank, A.B. Stoddard, Josh

Trevino, Bill Press, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Jacob Hacker

CENK UYGUR, HOST:  Right-wing governors are in free fall.  It‘s buyers‘ remorse on steroids. 

Tonight, Governor Christie, champion of the Republicans.  Now comes the payback for all his tough guy talk.  New numbers show total rejection of GOP policies crushing the middle class. 

Bachmann slams the federal government, except when she‘s trying to squeeze more money out of it.  That‘s a classic “Con Job.” 

And more resignations from Newt‘s world.  Can a campaign run on one man alone, especially if that man is Newt? 

Plus, CEO pay has gone up 400 percent while your pay has stagnated. 

Tonight, how do we fix it?

Welcome to the show, everybody.  I‘m Cenk Uygur.

Tonight‘s lead, right-wing Republican governors are in massive trouble across the country.  In New Jersey, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Maine and Florida, GOP governors are tanking. 

And the ringleader of that pack is Chris Christie, who today hit his lowest point ever as governor.  His approval rating stands at 44 percent.  That‘s down from 52 percent in February.  And he only has himself to blame.

Here‘s how the governor talks to people in his state who don‘t agree with his radical brand of conservatism. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You don‘t send your children to public schools, you send them to private schools.  So I was wondering why you think it‘s fair to be cutting school funding to public schools. 

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  You know what?  First off, it‘s none of your business. 

I don‘t ask you where you send your kids to school.  Don‘t bother me about where I send mine.  Secondly, I pay $38,000 a year in property taxes for a public school system predominantly that my wife and I don‘t choose to utilize. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Now, of course, it was a local show in New Jersey.  And what‘s with this tough guy attitude?  Yes, I don‘t ask you where you send your kids to school.  Yes, that‘s because she‘s not the governor. 

What do you think of public schools, and what are you going to do about it, and how little you care about the public school system is quite relevant because you are the governor. 

Christie looks like he‘s reading his own press.  Look, as Tea Partiers across the country applaud his tough guy tactics, you can  tell he got caught up in this by the way he answered the next question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Look, pal, I don‘t think you quite understand. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  I mean, what is this, Governor Walnuts?  He‘s got to cool it if he wants to keep his job, because Tea Partiers in Texas don‘t vote in New Jersey.  And the people of New Jersey seem to be pretty fed up with this tough guy routine. 

And Christie is not the only extremist governor whose policies are pulling them down in the polls.  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is at 43 percent.  Ohio Governor Kasich is at 38 percent.  Rick Snyder is at 33 percent.  Maine Governor LePage is at 31 percent, and good old Rick Scott of Florida is at 29 percent. 

Just when you thought it couldn‘t get any lower. 

Look, all those numbers are horrible, which leads to this great irony. 

When these Republican governors got elected in critical swing states like

Ohio and Florida, people thought that was bad news for President Obama‘s

re-election efforts.  Well, as it turns out, it might be the best news he

ever got. 

Joining me now, MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe.  Also with me, Alex Wagner, MSNBC political analyst and reporter for “The Huffington Post.” 

Richard, as the White House looks at those numbers, they‘ve got to be ecstatic that you‘ve got these Republican governors blowing up in their own states, showing people, whether it‘s Florida, Ohio, or anywhere else, well, if you go with a Republican, that‘s a terrible idea. 

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Right.  Well, there are two things to look at here that certainly give the White House encouragement. 

One is the idea of a governor having this sort of slick election machine that can steamroll a presidential candidate.  It wasn‘t ever really true, and certainly looks like it‘s not going to be the case this time around.  Certainly didn‘t happen in 2008. 

But there‘s a bigger argument at play here which the White House wants to engage in and looks like it‘s engaging on its own favorable terms, which is about the size and scope of government.  Really, that‘s what this election cycle is going to be about.

And for Republican governors who have gone out there saying we need a smaller government, we‘re going to win by cutting spending, these numbers do not bear that theory out.  And that‘s a theory that Republicans in Congress have also taken to heart and are now trying to back away from as fast as they can when it comes down to the Paul Ryan budget. 

UYGUR:  All right.

Alex, when we look at Christie‘s policies, you see exactly what Richard is talking about.  He vetoed a tax increase for millionaires that would have generated $637 million.  Then he goes on to make massive cuts in education.  And then the Supreme Court of his own state says you can‘t do that because you‘re hurting the poor in your own state.  And then when you look at the polling on education in New Jersey, people say, no, we want money to go to our schools, not for the millionaires. 

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Absolutely.  It‘s exactly what Richard is mentioning. 

It‘s this fundamental argument about the role of the government and the American public life.  And with Christie, we‘re seeing that expenditures on social programs like education are a big priority. 

I think what‘s interesting about the Christie numbers in particular is there‘s a 17-point spread between women and men.  Women in much bigger numbers disapprove of his handling of the budgetary situation.  And a lot of that, you know, pollsters are sort of extrapolating to say that women care a lot about education. 

They‘re mothers and they care what‘s happening to their kids.  And so while that one woman that sort of went at Governor Christie, or at least asked why he wasn‘t sending his own kids to public school, I think there‘s some—she was giving rise to a legitimate line of criticism and this sense that he‘s out of touch with New Jersey families. 

And Rick Scott is very—he‘s cut of the same cloth.  This is someone that is proposing a 10 percent cut in education.  He has teachers unions suing him, he has police unions suing him, he has state workers unions suing him.  I mean, he is not a friend to labor or state workers. 

UYGUR:  Richard, there seems to be this imbalance among the Republicans, because the more radical they are, the more national Republicans and Tea Partiers like them.  So they love Chris Christie.  They want him to run for office, maybe even vice president.

But when you go to his own state, well, they don‘t like those radical policies.  And, in fact, if you ask them—and they did ask them in New Jersey—hey, do you want Christie to run for vice president?  Sixty-one percent said that that would be a bad choice for VP for the Republicans.  Only 32 percent thought it would be a good choice. 

So is there this disconnect here?  And are these guys making a really bad political mistake thinking a state like New Jersey is the same as Tea Partiers in Texas and Oklahoma? 

WOLFFE:  Well, I‘m sure there are a lot of Tea Partiers in New Jersey.  That doesn‘t surprise me.  The delusion that Republicans have had in successive cycles is that New Jersey is somehow in play, and Chris Christie is the latest expression of that when it comes down to a presidential race.

You know, I saw Karl Rove predict that they would take New Jersey with Christie Todd Whitman there at the helm, and they didn‘t come close.  In 2004, they didn‘t come close.  They certainly didn‘t‘ come close in 2008.

I don‘t think it‘s going to be any different this time.  But what Christie represents, the reason why he may be a veep candidate, not maybe on his own ambition, but if you have a Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket, the reason is because of that kind of macho approach to the ideological warfare which satisfies the base that may be disillusioned by having a centrist candidate, if they go for a centrist candidate as the nominee. 

So, I can see why the dynamic is there, but when you look at the cold hard facts of New Jersey politics in terms of presidential races, Republicans are as far away as ever from it. 

UYGUR:  You know, Alex, as I look at this, I think there are two different factors in all these different states.  And one is, governors like LePage in Maine and Christie in New Jersey, they‘re too harsh.  And as you said, they‘re turning off women voters, let alone overall voters.

I mean, LePage is a disaster.  We showed you, 31 percent.  And that guy is toast, right? 

And he‘s attacking labor, he‘s attacking everybody.  The one side of it.

The other side of it is I think this growing sense in the country of we‘ve given enough to the millionaires, right?  So we‘ve given enough to the corporations.  And whether it‘s Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, et cetera, I get it, Republicans want to help the rich.  And not every one of us is a millionaire, and we don‘t like that. 

WAGNER:  Right.

UYGUR:  Is that like, you know, basically the fruition of those Republican ideas that the American people don‘t like? 

WAGNER:  Well, it‘s this fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats, how we‘re going to balance the budget.  And Republicans fundamentally believe that tax increases should not be on the table.  And so a lot of these cuts are just being borne on the backs of the poor and the disenfranchised and the elderly and those that don‘t have voices loud enough to be heard in state capitals around the country. 

You kook at what‘s happening in Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, the governor there, refuses to raise taxes on natural gas drillers, which is a huge growing industry in the state.  Instead, he wants to make those cuts to education and to social programs. 

And I think, you know, you‘re looking at these states, what are we talking about?  We‘re talking about Ohio, we‘re talking about Florida, we‘re talking about Pennsylvania.  These are battleground states in 2012.  And to have that amount of public disenfranchisement about Republican proposals is not a good sign. 

However, for the White House, it‘s manna. 

UYGUR:  Now, let‘s talk about that, Richard, because—how it affects the race in 2012, right?  Because now there‘s a new study out that shows that, hey, you know what?  Four of the critical states actually have unemployment that‘s larger than the national average—that‘s Florida, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina.  But 10 swing states actually have lower than the national average, and that puts into play 106 electoral votes. 

Now, that seems to favor the White House.  Obviously, these governors being a total disaster favors the White House.  But at the same time, when you‘re around 9 percent unemployment, that‘s really bad for an incumbent. 

How do you think it eventually plays out? 

WOLFFE:  Well, let‘s just take this specific debate here about spending cuts, because unemployment is going to play out.  The two candidates are going to play out against each other.  It‘s not this president against those governors.  It‘s going to be this president against the Republican nominee.

But just in terms of spending cuts, this president is going to go out there saying, look, I cut spending, we did a deal when it came to the government shutdown, there‘s going to be another deal when it comes down to racing the debt ceiling.  So he‘s going to say, I made reasonable cuts, I made smart cuts, but, actually, we have got to keep this economy going and we have got to have smart tax cuts and some tax rises as well. 

He‘s going to take that centrist ground that is his natural home.  It was in 2008.  It‘s not going to make some of the base happy because he‘s going to say that some of the Bush tax cuts will survive. 

But that‘s his natural place.  And he can actually credibly say to Independent voters, I‘ve gone some way, I‘m not going to be the extreme figure who says we‘re going to slash everything and shut down government departments. 

UYGUR:  You know, last thing here, Alex, it‘s interesting, because I might not like some of those policy proposals that Richard is talking about, but when it comes to the politics, I mean, does it help him to say I‘m a centrist, and I agree to some of these radical Republican proposals, or does it hurt him to say I agree to some of the radical Republican proposals?  And I know he‘s saying he‘s a centrist, he only agreed to some of the radical proposals.  I would argue that he shouldn‘t agreed to any of them. 

WAGNER:  Well, I don‘t think you‘re going to hear the word “radical” out of Barack Obama‘s mouth.  I do think there‘s something to be said for engendering a feeling that we‘re all in this together.  And I think that when we look at Chris Christie, it‘s an “us versus them” proposition.  I don‘t send my kids to public schools; therefore, I shouldn‘t really care about what happens there. 

And what the public wants is some sense that we‘re all sharing this burden.  We  know we are in economic strife.  We know that we‘re going to have to make some painful cuts.  But everybody should have to make painful cuts, and that includes corporations, businessmen, and the wealthy.

UYGUR:  Yes.

WAGNER:  And there‘s this sense right now that there‘s a real cleave between the people without money and the people with money. 

UYGUR:  Let me tell you something, you‘re 100 percent right, Alex. 

We‘re out of time here, but I‘ve got to say one last thing to everybody. 

OK?

Look, if the president came out and said we got a deal—and Richard is right, we‘ve got a good centrist deal—and we have increased revenue by raising taxes on corporations and the rich so that everybody pays their fair share, as Alex pointed out, OK, I get it, that‘s centrist. 

They‘re not going to do it.  They‘re not going to do it.  If they do, fantastic. 

WOLFFE:  Well, that‘s going to be the argument for 2012.  That‘s going to be the argument about Bush tax cuts in 2012.  That cannot be decided by congressional leaders and the president—

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  I‘m tired of waiting for the progressives or the Democrats to actually doing something progressive.  Now they tell me I‘ve got to wait until 2013?  How about you do it now?  That‘s my proposal.

But we are out of time. 

Richard Wolffe and Alex Wagner, you guys are great.  Thank you so much. 

WOLFFE:  Thanks, Cenk. 

WAGNER:  Thanks, Cenk. 

UYGUR:  And when we come back, Michele Bachmann wants smaller government and less spending, except when it comes to her own pork, of course.  Bachmann got caught with yet another “Con Job.”

And more fuel to the fire.  John McCain doubles down, blaming the wildfires on illegal immigrants.  And his excuse is horrible and he‘s demagoguing as usual.  We‘ll show you the tape.

Plus, it just keeps going worse.  More Gingrich staffers quit on Newt. 

Is anyone left on the staff?  And how long can this doomed campaign go on? 

And Jon Huntsman hits the big leagues and shows what a rookie he is. 

We‘ll show you the mess he made today. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, “LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  We put together a segment for you folks tonight.  It‘s called “Get to Know Jon Huntsman.”

Take a look. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s actually no reason to get to know Jon Huntsman.  This has been “Get to Know Jon Huntsman.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  That was fantastic.  That was last week. 

But today was one of those days for Jon Huntsman.  It was supposed to be his big day when he was announcing his candidacy, but the whole thing showed why he might not be ready for primetime at all. 

Things were delayed off the bat because the generator being used to power his podium microphone died.  And then, from there, things just got worse.

Press credentials handed out to the media misspelled his first name, “John” instead of “Jon.”  You know you‘re not getting much traction when your own team doesn‘t know how to spell your name.  It‘s not like he‘s got a complicated name.  It‘s not like it‘s Cenk Uygur.

Anyway, those same press passes also misstated the location of the event.  Liberty Park is in New Jersey, not in New York.  But the hits just keep on coming.

He became the first campaign to get a talking to from the Obama campaign, which released this statement: “Governor Huntsman has embraced a budget plan that would slash our commitment to education, wipe out investments that will foster the jobs of the future, and extend tax cuts for the richest Americans while shifting the burden onto seniors and middle class families.”

But it‘s not just the left that‘s hitting him.  Here comes the right. 

They‘re coming out swinging, too, including Rick Santorum.  Who‘s that?

He released this mock Huntsman ad complete with a man on a motorcycle. 

It hit him for refusing to sign an anti-abortion petition.  

(MUSIC)

UYGUR:  You‘ve got to give it to Santorum.  That was actually kind of funny.  I like irrelevant Rick Santorum hitting irrelevant Jon Huntsman. 

But look, hey, all of this could be good news for Huntsman, because this is the first time anyone has bothered to pay any attention to him.  And he had to be ecstatic about that Letterman joke, too. 

All right.  Joining me now, columnist for “The Washington Post,” Dana Milbank.  He‘s done some great reporting today on the Huntsman rollout.  And associate editor and columnist for “The Hill,” A.B. Stoddard. 

All right, Dana.  It‘s interesting, because he‘s polling so bad.  When they did a poll in Iowa, he didn‘t get one person, he got one person.  Right?  But yet, he gets the first press release from the Obama White House attacking him.

So there seems to be a little bit of a disconnect there.  And would the White House be better off just ignoring him? 

DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, look, on the one hand, clearly he‘s not quite ready for primetime.  It‘s even worse than some of those things you reported.  When they came up with his Web site today, it listed the phone number as “1234567890.” 

UYGUR:  Well, at least it‘s not one of those sex lines.  That happens every once in a while.

MILBANK:  And the address was 123 Main Street.  So, look, ,he‘s got some work to do to get up to speed, though. 

The reason the White House and the Obama campaign takes him seriously is because, if he does survive the Republican primaries, he could be a formidable opponent in the sense that he is sort of an establishment, mainstream Republican, and a lot of the alternatives in the Republican primary are really not from the mainstream.  So the White House sees him as a formidable foe if he gets through the primaries, but that seems like an awful long shot.  I suspect they could hold their fire a little longer.

UYGUR:  So, A.B., how do they do it, right?  Because some of the Bush guys are backing Huntsman as well, so obviously he‘s got some real believers in his camp, even as he struggles to get literally one vote.  But they must believe and they must think that they have a strategy.

What‘s the strategy for getting Huntsman out of the primary? 

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, “THE HILL”:  It‘s a complicated one and a challenging one.  It‘s to knock off Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. 

Like Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman plans to avoid Iowa and avoid contending there and trying to win over social conservatives, so he‘s going to head straight to New Hampshire and hope that he can knock off the default front-runner, Mitt Romney, there by engaging Democrats and Independents in an open primary, where they can come and vote and sort of mess things up for Mitt Romney and win New Hampshire. 

And then he becomes the only establishment choice, the only alternative to Michele Bachmann or any kind of Rick Perry Tea Party candidate.  And so, he heads down to South Carolina after that, hoping he can convince South Carolina Republicans, who are more establishment than people often conclude.  And he hopes there that he will be pretty much the last man standing in the establishment, and the best choice to beat Barack Obama. 

And you know that the president and his team have admitted many times now—well, the president, not on the record, but that Jon Huntsman is the person that they‘re most worried about getting through the primary.  So, I think Dana is right, it‘s a long shot, but it‘s not like he‘s not threatening. 

UYGUR:  Right.  I hear you.  But, A.B., as you laid out the best-case scenario, I thought, OK, you‘ve absolutely convinced me he has no chance.

(LAUGHTER)

STODDARD:  It‘s a tough one.

UYGUR:  That ain‘t going to happen.  None of that‘s going to happen. 

He‘s not even going to come close.

But look, there‘s an interesting poll.  He‘s a Mormon.  Of course, Mitt Romney is a Mormon.  There‘s an interesting poll about Mormons, and obviously more relevant to Romney, who has got a huge lead now.

But look at this.  It says that among GOP voters, 80 percent would vote for a Mormon, but 18 percent would not.  By the way, among all voters, 22 percent would not, which leaves me to believe that Democrats might be more against Mormons, which I find to be a curious position.

But is that real?  I always look at that, Dana, and think, come on, really?  In this day and age people aren‘t going to vote for a Mormon?  What difference does that make?  That seems crazy to me.

MILBANK:  Well, it may be, but that‘s not a terrible number, that the vast majority of Americans are not going to be bigoted, whether they‘re Republicans or anybody else.  So that‘s probably a favorable thing overall.  I mean, there‘s a certain set of Evangelical Christians who have issues with Mormons, but that‘s always going to exist there. 

I don‘t think the Mormonism is going to be Huntsman‘s problem.  I think he has got many more problems to deal with before that.  The foremost one is the whole notion that he wants to be sort of the Mr. Nice Guy of this campaign. 

He gets up there in his announcement speech today and says, “I respect the president.”  He doesn‘t even mention Obama by name.  He wants to run this respectful campaign. 

I don‘t see how you get beyond one percent running that sort of respectful campaign, admirable though it may be. 

UYGUR:  Respectful campaign?  I don‘t know if he knows this, he‘s a Republican.  That‘s not what they do.

MILBANK:  They‘ll eat him alive, Cenk.

UYGUR:  Look, to their credit, they go hard and it‘s good politics.  I wish the Democrats would do that more often. 

Look, the last thing on this, A.B., on the Mormon issue—again, more relevant to Romney, who‘s got a huge lead—it‘s really a primary thing, right?  Because if Romney makes it out of the primaries, it‘s not like bigoted voters are going to be like, oh, no, no, I‘m going to choose the black guy over the Mormon, right? 

STODDARD:  You know, Cenk, I just think that you are probably right that the most active social conservatives who have a problem with Mormons, Evangelicals that you‘re referring to who poll about their problems with Mormons, those are the ones who are going to be more active in the primary process and not the general process.  And so I think that that‘s probably the case, that it‘s a hurdle he has to overcome. 

And I agree with Dana and with you.  I can‘t really believe that a lack of religious tolerance is still going to be that prevalent in 2011, but I guess we‘ll see. 

UYGUR:  Right.  Yes.

Look, I‘m surprised by it, but I welcome the Mormons to all the Ms that get discriminated against in this country, including Muslims and Mexicans.  So now it‘s Muslims, Mexicans and Mormons that have some political troubles.

All right.  Dana Milbank from “The Washington Post.”  The Hill‘s A.B.

Stoddard.

You guys are great.  Thanks for joining me tonight. 

MILBANK:  Thanks, Cenk.

UYGUR:  All right.

Now, ahead, Michele Bachmann caught in another giant hypocrisy.  She was literally arguing for pork barrel projects for her state—literally.  And her excuse is awesome. 

And under fire.  More ethics question surface for Clarence Thomas. 

Can his vote be bought? 

Wow, that‘s controversial.  Our “Power Panel” is going to take that on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Michele Bachmann calls for smaller government as she porks out on some federal spending.  That‘s our “Con Job of the Day.” 

“The Huffington Post” reports that in 2009, Bachmann thanked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for approving the expenditure of more than $100 million on pork products by the federal government.  Bachmann wrote, “Your efforts to stabilize prices through direct government purchasing of pork and dairy products are very much welcomed by the producers in Minnesota.  And I would encourage you to take any additional steps necessary to prevent further deterioration of these critical industries.”

So let me get this right.  Car bailouts in Michigan are terrible, but dairy and pork bailouts in Minnesota are awesome. 

You don‘t get any more pork barrel than that.  It is literal in this case. 

Now, defenders of the program say that the government used that pork for food assistance programs, so it doesn‘t technically count as a subsidy.  But conservatives claim not to like that kind of interference in the private sector at all.  They claim the free market fixes everything, except for when it doesn‘t, apparently, and Tea Partiers like Bachmann go begging the government for handouts.  And that wasn‘t the only time Bachmann‘s gone hog-wild for government involvement, her family farm has received more than $251,000 in subsidies. 

What a welfare queen.  She‘s earmarked more than $3 million for a district, and as a state senator, she pushed for $60 million in earmarks.  Her excuse, you‘re going to love this one.  She says when it goes to help her district, that doesn‘t really count as an earmark.  Oh, come on.  You don‘t understand.  That‘s the actual definition of an earmark.  She is hopeless.  But when it comes to people that are not in her district or her immediate family, she doesn‘t seem nearly as understanding of people‘s plight. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  It‘s like if my family was overspending or if your neighbor‘s family was overspending, you would make every decision you could to scale back and then you‘d consolidate.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  So what happened?  Why didn‘t you scale back on your farm or in the businesses in your district?  You know, what?  I have a proposal.  If Bachmann really hates government handouts, I propose she give the quarter of the million dollars that her family got for their farm back.  Come on.  It‘s a challenge, OK?  Michele Bachmann, give it back.  That‘s American taxpayer money.  Otherwise, spare us your ignorant indignation.  Michele Bachmann pretending to hate government handouts as she begs for more bacon is our con job of the day.              

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Welcome back to the show, everybody.  Now to discuss some of today‘s biggest political stories, we bring in our Power Panel.  I like pronouncing it that way. 

Joining me is Bill Press, host of the Bill Press show on Sirius XM radio.  Also with us, Victoria DeFrancesco-Soto, she‘s an assistant professor of Political Science at Northwestern University, and new to the panel, welcome.  And finally, one of our Power Panel regulars, Josh Trevino, vice president of Communications at the Texas Public Policy Foundation Think Tank. 

First question tonight is powerful.  Is Clarence Thomas‘ vote up for sale?  “The New York Times” reports Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been receiving gifts from a conservative Dallas real estate mogul by the name of Harlan Crow.  Among the gifts, a $19,000 bible, a half a million donation to Liberty Central, a Tea Party group run by Thomas‘ wife, and trips to Crow‘s private estate in the Adirondacks.  That must be nice.  Should be point out that Thomas is not been reporting these gifts.  Just today, Think Progress pointed out that back in 2001, the American Enterprise Institute gave a $15,000 of statue of Abraham Lincoln to Thomas after Thomas‘ received the gift, he voted three times in favor of cases involving the institute.  Josh, let me start with you. 

JOSH TREVINO, TEXAS PUBLIC POLICY FOUNDATION:  Sure.

UYGUR:  That sounds pretty bad to me.  

TREVINO:  Does it really?  Because it doesn‘t sound bad to me at all.  Quite frankly, when you read “The New York Times” story, even it acknowledges that Thomas didn‘t violate any code of ethics, he didn‘t violate.

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  Because there isn‘t one.  You know that, right, Josh?  There isn‘t any code of ethics. 

TREVINO:  That‘s my point.  He‘s not bound by the federal judges‘ code of ethics.  No.  You‘re exactly right.  He‘s not bound by a code.  So, why are we, I mean, I know the answer, it‘s a partisan hit, but why are we penalizing him for not adhering to a code that he‘s not bound by?

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  I‘m worried about the Supreme Court justices on any side. 

TREVINO:  Oh, yes.  No, no, you‘re worried about the integrity of the institution, sure, sure.  

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  Go ahead, Victoria.  

VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO, PROFESSOR, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY: 

Gentlemen, let me jump in here.  I think to date we haven‘t seen anything technically legally wrong, but it smells funny.  And, you know, the main reason is the cultural code that‘s deep-seated in the Supreme Court, which is if anything you want to shy away from media attention, and Clarence Thomas with this and with his activities of his wife just keeps bringing media attention.  So, ultimately this cultural code is going to start getting people to ask more and more questions, what is going on here?  What is wrong and we‘re going to say deeper probe.

UYGUR:  Bill, I don‘t think even think that it smells funny, I think that it‘s just flat-out wrong.  I mean, you‘re getting half a million dollars for your wife‘s program, and then all of a sudden, you‘re voting on health care cases, which she‘s arguing against?  That‘s outrageous.  

BILL PRESS, RADIO HOST:  Hey, of course it‘s wrong.  I love this question.  Why should we care about this?  You know why we should care about this?  Because judges should not be for sale.  We expect judges to operate with some kind of at least personal code of ethics, even if there‘s no—and there should be a strong conflict of interest thing at the Supreme Court.  But Cenk, you didn‘t even mention his wife, you know, that Virginia, when she had the liberty central deal, she was taken all kinds of corporate money, most of it unreported, and these were people with cases before the Supreme Court.  Clarence Thomas‘ never recused himself someone case.  He is a walking conflict of interest.  Virginia resigned and got a job with Tucker Carlson.  I suggest maybe Clarence Thomas, of I think Tucker, I have a job for him, too. 

(CROSSTALK)

TREVINO:  All right.  Go ahead.

UYGUR:  You‘ve got that, plus on top of this, you had a case that went to the Supreme Court involving an institute connected to Crow.  It losses eight to one.  The one vote in favor, look at that, what a wonderful coincidence, Clarence Thomas.  Come on, beyond all bounds of reason, isn‘t it Josh?

TREVINO:  No.  Well, I mean, do you have evidence that it‘s more than a coincidence?  I mean, here‘s the thing, though.

(CROSSTALK)

TREVINO:  I know, that‘s crazy, yes. 

Don‘t you think the other Supreme Court justices would be at all concerned of this were a problem.  We‘ve had justice ford had to resign, and that‘s—why aren‘t the other justices, even if only the liberal ones raising this hue and cry.  Why is it only partisan media?

PRESS:  That‘s a good question.

UYGUR:  No, no, look, if you brought to me—no way, no way, if you brought to me a case where liberal is taking, you know, millions of dollars and then voting in that direction, I would hate that.  I don‘t get liberal, conservative, democrat, republican.  I don‘t even damn about that.  I just want our government bought and sold. 

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS:  There is a judicial code of ethics governing everybody else on the bench.  This would not be allowed, getting this money from the developer down there in Dallas or even Crow.  It would not be allowed from any other judge.  So, why should we.

TREVINO:  It‘s irrelevant, because they‘re not any other judge.  

PRESS:  No, they‘re higher than any other judge.  Their standards ought to be higher.

UYGUR:  We‘ve got to move on.  We‘ve got to move on.  Everybody was hurt on that.  Next question is, McCain‘s damage control just fueling the fire?  John McCain‘s taking major heat for saying, there‘s substantial evidence, illegal immigrants caused the massive wildfire in Arizona, now he‘s trying to downplay those comments saying, he was talking about wildfires in general. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I was not referring to the wallow fire.  I‘m puzzled over that there should be any controversy, since the forest service is on record saying exactly what I just repeated.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UYGUR:  Come on.  Is this even a remotely credible argument or is McCain just playing all demagoguing here, Victoria? 

SOTO:  You know, I‘m actually from Southern Arizona, so this has been hitting very close to home.  And what‘s so puzzling about him doubling down is that he hasn‘t only gotten the pro-immigrant groups against him but he‘s got Southern and Central Arizona Republicans mad at him.  Because they‘re saying, you‘re sitting here, spewing anti-immigrant rhetoric.  Why aren‘t you doing something to get more federal funds to fight this fire?  This is the biggest fire that we‘ve ever seen in the history of the State of Arizona.  And he‘s not really doing anything to help the victims, you know, let‘s wait until the fires have died down, and then we can talk about immigration and the unsecure borders.  But for right now, he is just ignoring the (inaudible) issues of what‘s going on. 

UYGUR:  Josh, I want to bring the issue of demagoguing in here.  So, I‘ll read you a quote from 2007, John McCain, he said, “I defend with no reservation, our proposal to offer the people who harvest our crops, tend other gardens, work in our restaurants, care for our children and clean our homes a chance to be legal  citizens of this country.”  That guy in for short used to turn around to like, it‘s all the immigrants, they‘re starting the fire, they‘re starting everything.  Isn‘t that demagoguing?

TREVINO:  I‘m pretty sure that‘s not quite how he said it.  Last night, I read on this, both Senator McCain, Senator Kyl, Representative Flake and Representative Gosar, and all said that the forest service specifically briefed them on the cause of the fire being likely immigrants.  So, the controversy is on this.  That‘s what the statement said.  You can look it up yourself.  It‘s on John McCain‘s Web site.  

PRESS:  No, no, I have.  Look, John McCain.  

SOTO:  But John McCain is such a staunch advocate.  He‘s a Judas of the immigrant movement.  That‘s what‘s puzzling.  

(CROSSTALK)

UYGUR:  Bill, go ahead. 

PRESS:  You know, what?  First of all, John McCain has turned into this old crank that nobody ought to be paying any attention to anymore.  He‘s not the head of the Republican Party.  OK, he‘s a senator from Arizona, but you know what?  This is the Joe Arpaio policy, right in Arizona?  Every time, you‘re not sure of something, blame on Mexico.  I think it‘s disgusting.  It‘s racist.  He ought to be ashamed of himself. 

UYGUR:  And everybody should know that authorities have said in this case, these fires, it has nothing to do with immigrants as far as I know. 

PRESS:  Exactly.

UYGUR:  All right.  Final question.  Real quick.  This is one minute one.  Newt Gingrich, you know, now two more staffers quit, he‘s got nearly a million dollars in the hole, his fund-raisers are gone.  He‘s in the massive trouble.  Bill, is he done? 

PRESS:  No, you know, because Newt doesn‘t need anybody else, Cenk.  He is a one man think tank, right?  He is a greatest candidate as ever walked the face of the earth.  If you don‘t believe it, just ask Newt Gingrich.  He‘s campaign was over before it started.  He was only out there trying to sell more books, get more money for speeches.  Get out, Newt, it‘s over.  

UYGUR:  All right.  Quickly, Victoria, is he done? 

SOTO:  He is done.  And if he doesn‘t turn off the lights, I think the electricity company will.  

(LAUGHTER)

UYGUR:  John, agreed, done?

TREVINO:  De facto probably du jour.  He‘ll continue on.  

UYGUR:  Hey, we end on an agreement.  I love it when the Power Panel ends on agreement.  All right.  Bill Press, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, and Josh Trevino, you guys were all great.  Thank you.  

TREVINO:  Thank you.

PRESS:  Thanks.

UYGUR:  All right.  Now, when we come back.  This 59-year-old man from North Carolina robbed a bank for $1.  He was hoping to get arrested.  We‘ll tell you why.  It shows how desperate some people have gotten in this country.  And that‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  The Department of Defense is already preparing for the full repeal of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”  That‘s of course the ban on gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.  And they‘re doing that by training troops for the switch, but the House GOP still won‘t let it go.  Twenty nine House Republicans sent a letter to the president saying it‘s too soon to repeal the ban.  But what do these gays think is going to happen? Do they think our troops are scared of gay people or can‘t handle a simple order?  But we know the military is going to be fine.  Thanks to people like Sergeant Major Michael Barrett of the Marine Corps.  He‘s in fact the top noncommissioned officer in the Corps.  He recently defended the repeal to a group of marine, saying, quote, “Get over it.  We‘re magnificent.  We‘re going to continue to be.  Let‘s just move on.  Treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect.  Let‘s be marines.” 

I love that.  Let‘s be marines.  Republicans, is that clear enough for you?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  Every so often, a story helps point out a bigger systemic problem in our country.  Today, that small story comes from Gaston County, North Carolina.  That‘s where 59-year-old James Verone is sitting in jail.  He was arrested for robbing a bank, that‘s his first offense on an otherwise clean record.  He walked into the bank, unarmed, handed a teller a note, demanding $1, then sat down and waited for the police to show up.  Now, he may sound crazy, but he‘s not insane.  He‘s actually just sick. 

Mr. Verone has a long list of ailments, including back and foot injuries.  But he can‘t afford the health care coverage since he lost his job as a Coca-Cola delivery man.  Verone wanted to go to jail for the free health care.  His former employer, Coke CEO Muhtar Kent probably won‘t be resorting to such extremes anytime soon. 

He made nearly $25 million last year.  In fact that astronomical pay is typical for CEOs, the common wisdom is that talent is what urges you those really big bucks.  LeBron James, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, each of them has an amazing talents that justifies their huge paychecks, right?  But of the top .1 percent of earners in this country, that‘s the guys making 1.7 million or more a year.  Only three percent are sports or media superstars.  The majority, about 60 percent are corporate executives.  And they‘ve gotten really good at taking all the money out of the system.  Since the 1970s, the middle-class pay has remained stagnant, but corporate executive pay is up nearly 400 percent.  The gap is among the biggest in the world. 

The CIA world fact book uses the genie coefficient as an indicator of economic inequality.  The U.S. ranks right between Cameroon and Jamaica on that scale.  Congratulations to us.  Canada, the United Kingdom, and even China, are all doing better than we are.  It‘s not just Mr. Verone that‘s sick.  This whole system is sick.  We‘re turning into a third-world country where a few rich people rig the system to get all the benefits, while the rest of us have to figure out how to survive.  Corporate power is out of control and merciless.  We need to regain our democracy. 

Now, let‘s talk about that.  Joining me now is Yale University, political science professor, Jacob Hacker, he‘s a co-author of “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer.”  First of all, welcome.  And secondly, look, as I look at this, Jacob, I met the Coke‘s CEO.  He‘s a lovely gentleman.  There‘s nothing wrong with him.  It‘s not a personal thing, right?  So, I don‘t mean to point him out or anyone else out.  If the problem is the system.  If we allow corporations to rig the system and buy politicians, of course their CEOs are going to make $25 million while we can‘t afford health care.  Isn‘t that the real problem?

JACOB HACKER, AUTHOR, “WINNER-TAKE-ALL POLITICS”:  It is really the problem.  I mean, I think we in the United States believe very strongly in individual determination and self-made qualities, but the fact is when you start to look at what‘s happening to our economy, it‘s really much more about how the overall system is tilted away from working middle-class Americans and towards those at the very top.  I mean, there‘s two parts of this.  One is that we‘ve seen this enormous explosion of income and wealth at the top, and second, we‘ve seen a translation of that money into political power that has meant that those CEOs and others that have done so well have been able to change the rules of the game, have been able to change the public policies in ways that help them.  Just look at the huge tax cuts for the very richest of Americans.  These have meant enormous economic smart bombs, basically, that have gone to the very richest Americans.  

UYGUR:  Well, you know, I want to show you two facts in that regards, because I think what you‘re saying is absolutely critical.  First of all, you know, these third two giant companies have paid more to their executives than they have paid in taxes.  That‘s amazing.  So, they‘re sucking all the money out to the executives, which is natural in a system that rewards that as long as you get to buy the politicians.  Now, even a bigger point, to that point, is actually graph of federal tax revenue.  When you look at it overtime, you see exactly what‘s happening here. 

Corporate taxes are sinking like a rock.  They don‘t have to pay as much.  We wind up of having to pay more.  And you see the corporate taxes there are in red.  And the payroll tax which is the middle class and all of us pay is skyrocketing up between 1950 and 2009.  That means, the middle class, something has got to pay the taxes.  And it winds up being the middle class and not the corporations. 

HACKER:  Well, it‘s absolutely right.  And you‘re right to say that the United States is really stands out in this regard.  We have the highest levels of income and inequality among rich democracies, but what‘s really striking about this, is that at the same time we‘ve seen that the incomes of the top one tenth of one percent more than quadruple, we‘ve seen tax rates on those Americans come way, way down to the point where, you know, rich men like Warren Buffett say that they actually think they pay a lower tax rates than their assistants do.  

UYGUR:  Yes.  And he‘s put out a challenge to all the CEO saying, if you can show your pay more than in taxes than your secretary, I‘ll give you money.  And none of them have stepped up because they all pay less than their secretary.  It‘s grotesque.  Now, Professor Hacker, we have talked about how we got here and how are we going to get out of it.  So, good luck.  Tell me.

HACKER:  Well, we got here, because in the 1970s and 1980s, we saw an enormous organization of business groups that really poured money into politics, and then to lobbying, to try to rewrite the rules of the game successfully.  And the only way we‘re going to get out of it is if we rebuild some of those organizations like flavored unions and broad, civic organizations that one‘s represented the middle class and were a counterweight to the power of organized business.  

UYGUR:  You know, I think the huge part of this is campaign finance reform.  I think it‘s almost the only issue.  Because as long as rich and powerful people and corporations, and even more importantly corporations, get to pay our politicians.  And they‘re the ones who decide, who gets all the money, who can win reelection.  Well, of course they‘re going to work for the people who pay them.  So, until we fix that, all of our laws are going to be rigged against us, aren‘t they?

HACKER:  Well, I think campaign finance is a huge part of this.  But it‘s also that there‘s this huge amount of money thrown into lobbying.  And I think that doesn‘t usually get considered by people who are talking about campaign finance.  Corporations spend about ten times as much on lobbying as they do just on financing campaigns.  But the way in which money has become so important, politics meant that it‘s changed the calculus of politicians, they care a lot more than they used to about where the money is coming for, and a lot less than they used to relatively speaking about where the votes are coming from.  And I think that‘s the most fundamental problem, is that we‘re translating economic might into political might.  And that‘s not what our democracy is about.  Our democracy is about equality of the—the ability to shape what government does, regardless of whether you‘re rich or poor.  

UYGUR:  They have absolutely warped our democracy.  Corporations are not human beings, they do not have freedom of speech rights, and they‘re robbing us blind. 

All right.  Jacob Hacker, author of “Winner-Takes-All Politics.” 

Thank you for your time.  And everybody, we‘ll be right back.               

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UYGUR:  This week, the Supreme Court threw out a huge employment discrimination class action lawsuit against the retail giant Wal-Mart.  As many as 1.5 million women had sought billions of dollars, because they claimed Wal-Mart‘s policies had led to discriminatory decisions over pay and promotions based on gender.  The court ruled five to four that the suit did not satisfied a class-action requirement that, quote, “there are questions of law or fact common to the class.”  Now, do you know what that means?  It means that even if Wal-Mart was discriminating against all these women, the company was so big, that the women worked in so many different places, and hence could not be considered one group that could sue together. 

Well, as Lila Shapiro put it on Huffington Post, Wal-Mart was too big to sue.  Of course it was the court‘s five conservative justices that ruled in favor of the giant corporation, but it‘s important to point out that the court did not decide if Wal-Mart had actually discriminated against the women.  They just decided that the women could not proceed in the class-action suit.  This isn‘t some ways worst, because the court‘s decision will almost certainly affect other class-action suits.  The decision has tightened the definition of what defines a class-action suit.  Now, do you get why that‘s important.  Because how in the world are you going to find a lawyer to represent you against a huge corporation if you‘re just by yourself?  It won‘t be worth the money the lawyers would spend arguing the case.

So, by not allowing workers to sue together for a common problem, the court has become the guardian of multinational corporations.  They have made the powerful, even more powerful, and have stripped away what little protections the average man or woman had.  This corporate owned Supreme Court has never seen a giant corporation, it didn‘t want to help more or an average American, it didn‘t want to crush.  They handed these companies, the ability to buy our politicians through Citizens United, now they‘ve given them the ability to discriminate against their employees without any recourse.  The five conservative justices on the court might as well work for corporate America, but then ironically, they would have less rights than they do now. 

That‘s our show.  Thank for you watching.  “HARDBALL” starts right now.  

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