'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Read the transcript to the Tuesday show
Guests: Howard Fineman, Robert Reich, Mark Zandi, Joshua Green, Caryl Stern
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: Have you ever had to work on the weekend?
Yes, I have, too. I mean, not too often, but I`ve done. You know what
Congress does after it works on the weekend? Takes a month off.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Finally, the end of the debt debate.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Over for now.
O`DONNELL (voice-over): The debt deal is done. Now, it`s time to
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Crisis averted and now, we`re on to more
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Boy, it`s going to be a hot summer recess
for a lot of members of Congress.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I got 98 percent of
what I wanted. I`m pretty happy.
O`DONNELL: And now, Democrats want to talk about jobs.
TODD: That`s not necessarily good news for Mitt Romney.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Enough talk about the
debt, we have to talk about jobs.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That`s the principle
I`ll be fighting for during the next phase of this process.
PELOSI: Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. You cannot say it enough.
TODD: Still a pretty ugly economy out there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Confidence was very damaged by this spectacle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The politicians won and America lost.
O`DONNELL: The president has some work to do to prove he did the best
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bet he`s making is that he can get what he
wants in the second round.
WILLIAMS: The president clearly now has his fight on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The press likes to play the long game.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People are angry.
They`re angry out there.
REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: It looks like a Satan sandwich.
PELOSI: Some Satan fries on the side.
OBAMA: I want to thank the American people.
JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: You`re not pinning this turd on us.
O`DONNELL: And Mitt Romney promises to start thinking about when to
JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look at Governor Romney --
TODD: Romney released an 11th hour statement on the debt deal.
HUNTSMAN: It`s easy to take a political position later on.
TODD: Literally just after we went off the air.
HUNTSMAN: -- to wait until the debate is over effectively and to take
a side. I don`t consider that to be leadership.
TODD: Mittness protection program.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: What happens when America says where were
you in the war, daddy?
O`DONNELL: At 12:30 Eastern today, August 2nd, the Senate passed the
largest and most unfair deficit reduction bill in history.
The only reason the bill could pass the Senate is that it happened to
include one sentence that raises the nation`s debt ceiling. Shortly after,
President Obama signed the bill into law, thus avoiding a debt default that
would have been catastrophic for an already fragile economy.
With an immediate disaster averted, the president looked ahead to
what`s next, reaching an agreement for an additional $1.5 trillion in
deficit reduction before the end of the year, while somehow simultaneously
focusing on jobs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Since you can`t close the deficit with just spending cuts,
we`ll need a balanced approach where everything`s on the table. Yes, that
means making some adjustments to protect health care programs like Medicare
so they are there for future generations. It also means reforming our tax
code so that the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations pay their
fair share. That`s the principle I`ll be fighting for during the next
phase of this process.
And in the coming months, I`ll continue to also fight for what the
American people care most about: new jobs, higher wages, and faster
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The president again called on Congress to act on his
proposals to create jobs and spur economic growth and infrastructure bank
to help finance construction work on roads and bridges in need of repair, a
payroll tax holiday, an extension of unemployment benefits, patent reform,
and new international trade deals.
There were few members of Congress left in town to listen to the
president`s agenda since Congress is now on a five-week recess.
Congress left town without extending the Federal Aviation
Administration`s operating authority, which is negatively impacting both
jobs and the deficit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There`s another stalemate in Congress right now involving our
aviation industry which has stalled airport construction projects all
around the country and put the jobs of tens of thousands of construction
workers and others at risk because of politics. It`s another Washington-
inflicted wound on America, and Congress needs to break that impasse now --
hopefully before the Senate adjourns so these folks can get back to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: As previously reported on this program, nearly 4,000 FAA
employees have been furloughed and 200 construction projects have been
halted, which has left 70,000 workers idle according to Secretary
Transportation Ray LaHood. And the revenue loss from airline taxes could
reach $1.2 billion if the situation isn`t resolved before Congress returns
Joining me now is Robert Reich, former labor secretary in the Clinton
administration. He`s now a professor of public policy at the University of
California at Berkeley, and the author of "Aftershock," now in paperback.
And Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody`s Analytics. He worked
as an adviser to the McCain campaign and the Obama administration.
Thank you both for joining me tonight.
Professor Reich, I want to go to the question of what have we done to
the economy with this legislation?
ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: Well, the good news, obviously,
Lawrence, is that the economy now doesn`t have the sword of Damocles
hanging over it. We are now can pay our debts. We`re not defaulting on
our national debt, and we won`t face an economic calamity.
The bad news is the president has essentially tied his hands and the
hands of Congress with regard to boosting the economy. Right now, I don`t
have to tell you, joblessness is huge, the economy is not growing. Friday,
we`ll find out how many jobs were created in July
But don`t hold your breath. It probably was not many. We need
125,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth and I don`t know
anybody who thinks we`re going to be there.
So, you need a boost from the government. You need, in my view, a
WPA, Civilian Conservation Corps, maybe exempting the first $10,000 or
$20,000 of income from payroll taxes. You need something to do with
housing. You have to help distressed homeowners. I mean, a lot of things
that need to be done that constitute a jobs program.
But given this deal, it`s going to be terribly difficult, if not
impossible, to muster the political will, the political courage, the votes
necessary to get a jobs bill through.
O`DONNELL: Mark Zandi, how do you see this deficit reduction package
affecting the economy and specifically the job market?
MARK ZANDI, MOODY`S ANALYTICS: Well, I think it was a good deal. You
know, I think it`s not a solution to our long-term fiscal problems. We
need some tax revenue to solve our problems, but it`s a good step in the
You know, when we started debating this, I think everyone came to the
conclusion we needed about $4 trillion in 10-year deficit reduction, $2
trillion of which would be spending cuts, $1 trillion would be additional
tax revenue, and you get another trillion in lower interest payments on the
Well, this deal got us the $2 trillion in spending cuts and interest
savings as well.
So, we`re part of the way there, and I think that`s very helpful.
Now, it`s not going to help the job market in the near term. We`ve
got to do other things to try to support the job market over the next 12,
18 months. But I do think this is a good thing for the economy, for the
job market in the long-term.
We need tax revenue, we need to come back and address that. But this
is a good first step.
O`DONNELL: Bob, Mark says we have to do things in the shorter term on
jobs. You`ve been labor secretary. You`ve been there looking at the
programs and options we have.
Within this budget environment and this spending cuts environment,
what can the Labor Department, what can the president, what can the
Congress get together and do?
REICH: Unfortunately, not all that much. The controls, the caps, the
restrictions in this new deal make it terribly difficult to have a real
economic boost. Whether you call it a stimulus, whether your call it a
WPA, whether you call it extended unemployment insurance, and all of the
other things that the government can do.
Jobs infrastructure bank, for example, something that the president
mentioned today, well, it`s not clear how an infrastructure bank could be
organized without any federal sweeteners at all. And yet, this new deal
makes it very hard to put any federal sweeteners into an infrastructure
So, look, I want to agree with Mark Zandi in terms of the long-term,
over the 10 years, it`s good we got started on deficit reduction. But the
problem is the conservatives have framed the issue right now as if deficit
reduction creates jobs, as if the government, by shrinking the government,
you generate a better economy and more jobs.
And, frankly, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a
giant lie and Obama is going to have a difficult time, as are Democrats,
reversing this lie.
O`DONNELL: Mark, I see you nodding when Bob was speaking. Do you
agree that spending cuts do not create jobs?
ZANDI: Certainly not in the near term. I mean, I think this
disconnect we`re having in the debate is that in the very near term, if you
had spending cuts, you`re going to weaken the economy.
Now, I do agree that in the long run, we need to have spending cuts to
get back to fiscal sustainability. Otherwise, we`re not going to have a
good long run economic performance. But in the very near term, I would
agree with Bob that we need some additional help to the economy.
So, for example, extending the payroll tax holiday for another year
probably would be a very good idea, because if we don`t do things like
that, there`s already a lot of fiscal drag, fiscal restraint already in
policy that, I think, given the recent economic data and how soft the
economy is probably is not the right thing to do.
O`DONNELL: Bob, we go to the question of revenues in the future.
Mark has said, acknowledged, that we do need revenues in the future. But I
just want to read you from Mark`s report. We`ll use your report, Mark, to
speak for you on this.
O`DONNELL: "On paper, the congressional commission can use either
spending cuts or tax revenue increases to achieve its goal of cutting the
deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. In practice, the commission will
likely agree only to spending cuts."
Bob, is that your view? How do you see this super committee that`s
being created in Congress dealing with the issue of tax revenues?
REICH: Well, Republicans have absolutely refused to raise taxes and
there`s no reason to suppose that by the end of the year, come Thanksgiving
when this commission is supposed to report to Congress and then Congress
has to take up that package and vote up-or-down, there`s no reason to
assume the Republicans are going to change their mind. In fact, I think
they are going to be more dug in, having won essentially their victor on
the debt ceiling, now, the Tea Party feels like it can flex its muscles
So, we`re not going to see any revenue enhancers or tax increases on
the wealthy, even though the rich are richer now than they`ve ever been in
American history and they are taking home a larger slice of American total
income than they have since 1928. Nevertheless, they are not going to pay
their fair share. That means that there`s going to be another struggle
around Thanksgiving or before Thanksgiving, the same thing we`ve been
What happens is Congress is probably not going to reach agreement.
And that means the automatic triggers will come into effect and that`s
where the action is going to be. Those automatic triggers are going to
make a lot of cuts in defense, but also, probably -- probably -- Medicare
and a lot of domestic discretionary programs. That is not going to be good
for an economy that is still in the gravitational pull of this great
recession, and it does not spell fairness.
O`DONNELL: Mark, you know how to talk to Republicans. Quickly before
we go, tell me how you would explain to an anti-tax Republican why we need
tax revenue in the longer run.
ZANDI: Well, I don`t think we`re going to get to the $4 trillion in
deficit reduction that we need without it, and I think reducing tax
expenditures -- those are the loopholes in the tax code, is something that
everyone can get onboard with. I mean, broadening the tax base will
generate a lot of revenue. It will make the tax code more fair, more
efficient, less complex. And you could, in fact, generate so much revenue
that you could lower marginal rates for corporate taxes and personal income
tax. And I think everyone would like to see that.
So, I think that`s something Democrats and Republicans could get on
board with and I think we`ll have a window to do that once we start to
approach the expiration of the Bush tax cuts in 2012.
O`DONNELL: Mark Zandi of Moody`s and Robert Reich, former labor
secretary, thank you both very much for joining me this evening.
REICH: Thanks, Lawrence.
ZANDI: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, Matt Damon rewrites the political caricature of
the American public school teacher. His eloquent argument is tonight`s
But, first, Howard Fineman on what was gained and lost in the debt
ceiling fight. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: Coming up: 2012`s current Republican front-runner for the
presidency is actually campaigning less than any other candidate, earning
his campaign the new label "the Mittness protection program."
And Steven Colbert retells the debt fight as a children`s story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: This summer, the largest billy goat came
clopping up and said, Mr. Troll, I will not raise the debt ceiling unless I
get to gouge out your eyes and throw you off the bridge.
So, the troll had to compromise by gouging out his own eyes and
throwing himself off the bridge.
And the moral of the story is, when the first goat comes along, you
got to tear its head off, have sex with the neck hole and then mail the
carcass back to its brothers and say any of you another goat (EXPLETIVE
DELETED) want to put a hook on my bridge?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Across the country and on the Internet, the American
people have reacted to the debt ceiling deal with a sarcastic and disgusted
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
O`DONNELL: Tea Party activists and leaders told "The Wall Street
Journal" they saw no triumph in the compromise. That doesn`t mean a weary
nation won`t be immediately subjected to the next round of the budget
fight. The deal called for a special congressional committee of 12 members
to find $1.5 trillion in debt reduction over the next 10 years.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other Republicans have said that
they will only appoint anti-tax advocates to their six slots on the
committee. Progressives are now demanding that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid
only appoint people who will protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social
Pelosi came close to endorsing that idea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: Let me say it is more than a priority. It`s a value. It`s
an ethic for the American people. It is one that all of the members of our
caucus share, so that I know whoever`s at that table will be someone who
will fight to protect those benefits.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell -- no,
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- got to correct those things -- is ready
to have this fight over and over again.
(BEGIN VIDEO LCIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: It set the template for
the future. And in the future, no president -- in the near future, maybe
in the distant future, is going to be able to get a debt ceiling increase
without a re-ignition, a reigniting of the same discussion of how do we cut
spending and get America headed in the right direction. I expect the next
president, whoever that is, is going to be asking us to raise the debt
ceiling again in 2013. So, we`ll be doing it all over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now is MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman,
editorial director at "The Huffington Post."
Howard, the MSNBC teleprompter tonight has prematurely labeled Mitch
McConnell the majority leader. But is enough of a winner coming out of
this debt deal and with the lineup of Senate incumbents that are up for
election next year, such that he is possibly on his way to being the next
majority leader of the Senate?
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, quite possibly,
Lawrence, I think he`s one of the winners, politically, out of this,
because he`s really the guy who brokered the deal and he very shrewdly used
the energy of the Tea Party and the threat of the Tea Party to kind of go
to Joe Biden, his old buddy from the Senate, and go to the president and
said, here`s what we`re going to have to do. And I think in the end, the
president pretty much took what McConnell offered with some trims here and
By the way, Mitch McConnell is already describing that special,
especially empowered committee, which we at "The Huffington Post" are
calling the super Congress. He already describes that as the cost-cutting
committee. He said that on the floor today.
It`s the cost-cutting committee, thereby demonstrating exactly how he
views the role of that thing and the type of people he`s going to put on
O`DONNELL: Well, you know, Harry Reid has got something to say about
who gets on that committee, which I`m going to call a super committee, not
a super Congress, because it`s functioning as a committee.
O`DONNELL: I`m not going to get carried away, Howard, with this super
And Harry Reid, in my interview with him some months ago, I asked him
when he thought we might have to make adjustments in Social Security, any
kinds of trims, any kinds of adjustments in order to keep it solvent going
forward. And his answer to me was 20 years from now. He said he wouldn`t
consider doing it for another two decades.
So, that`s his attitude about protecting Social Security going into
this. So, might we expect for him to be appointing real, hard liners on
protecting the programs Democrats need to protect?
FINEMAN: Oh, I think he will, and I think the Republicans have
already acknowledged that Social Security`s probably not going to be at the
heart of what the super committee does, because if the triggers are
reached, Social Security`s left out of the trigger mechanism.
My expectation is that that McConnell and Boehner on the Republican
side and Reid and Pelosi on the Democratic side will appoint hard-liners,
people that they trust to hold the line for the two philosophies and the
two sets of programs you were talking about -- which means it`s quite
possible, I think, that the committee won`t reach an agreement, at which
time we go to the triggers.
And the problem there as Robert Reich was explaining, you`re talking
about withdrawing a lot of money out of the economy at that point.
And let`s make -- let`s say this about defense spending, Lawrence.
It`s not just the conservatives and the hawks who care about defense
spending, most defense spending takes place in the United States, and a lot
of defense spending, whether you like it or not, is a type of spending that
creates jobs. So, you`re looking at a tremendous potential hit to the
economy that would occur next Christmas time, right into the teeth of the
presidential election in 2012.
President Obama, by going along with this deal, may have really dug
himself into an even deeper political and economic hole.
O`DONNELL: MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman -- thank you very
much for joining me tonight, Howard.
FINEMAN: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, finally, some sparks are flying in the
Republican presidential campaign as Jon Huntsman takes on Mitt Romney on
jobs and much more.
And the FBI says it has new information about what happened to D.B.
Cooper. Yes, we`re going to go way back for this one. The guy who
hijacked a plane 40 years ago, jumped out with $200,000, parachuted down
and was never seen again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: D.B., it looks like I`m going to be taking all the
money now because of the personal humiliation involved, you understand?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grab some sky there, toots. Come on, buddy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Buddy, we`re buddies now? You told the woman we
were acquaintances, you remember that? Don`t insult me, man.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s pretty tough to insult you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Hannah. Oh!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That`s Treat Williams and Kathryn Harrold, who starred in
the movie "The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper," along with Robert Duvall. The
movie offered one possible explanation for the mystery of D.B. Cooper.
The FBI has traced more than 1,000 leads in the case, but there are
new reports that the FBI is pursuing a new suspect.
In 1971, Cooper hijacked a plane over Washington state, threatened the
crew with a bomb, got a $200,000 ransom, then parachuted to freedom.
In the movie, he escaped with the help of his girlfriend. In real
life, the FBI doesn`t know how he escaped and now says it may never know
because their D.B. Cooper suspect may be dead. Even though the new suspect
has been dead for more than 10 years, investigators are searching for
fingerprints or DNA to compare the DNA from Cooper they found on the clip-
on tie that he left on the plane.
Still to come tonight: with the debt ceiling fight over, maybe the
2012 Republican candidates can get some attention, especially if they
attack each other.
And Matt Damon tries to explain to a right-wing Web site why teachers
teach. That`s in the "Rewrite."
O`DONNELL: One day after Willard M. Romney`s campaign staff issued a
written statement announcing his opposition to the debt ceiling deal, the
staff announced some additions to his campaign schedule, which still will
keep him mostly close to home in New Hampshire. Today, Ben Smith coined
the political phrase of the day, possibly the political phrase of the year
so far, when he described Mitt Romney as being in the "Mittness Protection
And there was this headline in the "Des Moines Register," "Don`t Take
It Personally, Iowa, Romney`s Avoiding Everyone."
Joining me now is Joshua Green, senior political editor for the
"Atlantic." Thanks for joining me tonight, Josh. Romney`s position here
as the kind of front-runner who campaigns the least, how long can he keep
that math going?
JOSHUA GREEN, "THE ATLANTIC": Yeah, we`ve kind of got a contest in
the press. I call him "The Phantom Front-Runner." Other people call him
"the Missing Mormon."
It think Ben Smith at "Politico" did take the cake with "Mittness
Protection Program." But look, this has been Mitt Romney`s M.O. from the
very outset. I wrote a column last May joking that he put the invisible in
the invisible primary, because he really just wasn`t showing up to these
That`s a conscious strategy on the part of Romney and his advisors,
who have decided look, we`re in the front-runners in this race. We don`t
have to go out there and mix it up on these day-to-day political fights.
It`s really up to our opponents to force us to engage.
And if they don`t, we`re just going to sit back and enjoy our lead in
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to Jon Huntsman`s vicious, savage attack on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You look at Governor
Romney, you look at some of the others in the race. You can see they`ve
all kind of taken different positions.
It`s easy to take a political position later on. It`s tough to take a
position early on, which is the real world. These are real world issues
and leaders step up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: I guess I should have watched the video before I
introduced it. Is that the best shot Huntsman has?
GREEN: It actually is, yeah. He`s the polite candidate. But look,
he`s also in a position where he has to make attacks, even sort of meek
Huntsman-like attacks like that one, because he`s the margin of error
candidate, as he says himself. And Romney`s the guy on top of the polls.
And at the end of the day, Romney`s the one winning this race, even
though people consider him a weak front-runner, even though he has only a
plurality and not a majority. It`s really up to the folks behind him if
they want to overtake him and knock him out of that top spot, to force him
to engage by attacking him. So far, nobody`s really been successful at
O`DONNELL: The Bachmann campaign is touting her, you know, absolutely
flawless consistency on the debt ceiling and being against it and having
the chance to vote against it in the House. The Paul campaign, the Paul
family, Rand Paul, now, is joining in a mailer that`s going around New
Hampshire attacking Romney for his flip-flops, presumably the mailer paid
for by his father`s presidential campaign.
My bet is on Ron Paul as being the guy who will be the guy who will
end up throwing the closest thing to what we might be able to call punches
in this campaign.
GREEN: I think it could be. You can`t question Ron Paul`s staunch
conservatism. He votes no on everything and anything. But, you know, I
would actually argue that Romney has been wise in holding back. You know,
last time around, he tried to kind of out-do every other social
conservative and be, you know, tougher and more aggressive and more out
there than anybody else.
And he wound up basically humiliating himself. Nobody bought the idea
that Mitt Romney is this far right conservative. He was the guy who
supported an individual mandate. He`d been the governor of a blue state.
He`s not going to win a contest with Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul when it
comes to who`s the most conservative.
So what Romney`s trying to do is to hold back for as long as he can
and be palatable to enough conservatives to win the nomination, without
alienating general election voters.
O`DONNELL: Josh Green, senior political editor for "The Atlantic,"
thank you for joining me tonight. >
GREEN: Good to be with you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, a 21st century famine. The tragedy in Somalia
But first, Matt Damon takes on the political myth of the incompetent
public school teacher clinging to tenure and ruining education in America.
That`s in the Rewrite.
O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s Rewrite. When I brought home a bad
report card, it never occurred to me or my parents to blame my teacher. We
knew what the problem was. The problem was I just didn`t study hard
enough. Or in some cases, I didn`t have much aptitude for the subject.
And some subjects I was simply afraid of, like chemistry. I never really
knew what was going on in chemistry. And that was not the teacher`s fault.
None of my older brothers did well in chemistry. And they all
promised me that I wouldn`t do well either. And I met their expectations.
I also hated and did badly in anything involving writing of any kind, which
is kind of like wicked ironic, since I then grew up to be a writer.
That just points to the unpredictable ways we learn things. I
couldn`t be taught writing in school. But later, as an adult on my own, I
could somehow get the hang of it. None of the teachers who tried and
failed to teach me how to write should be blamed for my failure as a
There are countless complex variables that go into what we call
student achievement. The teacher is only one of those variables.
More important factors are home learning environments, individual
student aptitudes, individual student effort, the student`s expectation,
the student`s family`s expectation, the number of students in the
classroom, the temperature of the classroom, undiagnosed eyesight
infirmities that make reading difficult.
The list goes on and on and on. And the more professional educators
have consider the factors that go into student achievement, and the more
they have attempted to address those factors, the more our politics have
oversimplified them to the point that, by the end of the first decade of
the 21st century, our politics, Democrat and Republican, has reached the
consensus that all perceived underachievement by students is entirely the
fault of teachers.
This idea has taken hold across the political spectrum. Show business
liberals make documentaries that they think prove it`s all the teacher`s
fault. A Republican president followed now by a Democratic president
adhere to the belief that there`s a regime of standardized testing of
students that will measure not just the student`s achievement but teaching
The blame the teacher movement began not as the product of reliable
research on academic performance, but as a right-wing Republican political
movement, an anti-union movement, specifically an anti-teacher`s union
movement. Teachers unions were targeted by Republicans to take the blame
for any disappointing academic achievement statistics in America.
Republicans targeted teachers as soon as they saw teachers aligning
themselves so often with the Democratic party. Now which party should the
teachers unions have seen as best representing their concerns? The party
that wanted to cut taxes and cut spending on public schools, cut sports
programs, cut arts education, cut the band, cut educational resources
across the board, so that we could then have even more tax cuts?
Or the party that wanted to deliver to teachers the resources they
need in the classroom and the resources that every school needs to provide
a full educational experience? In a cris de coeur to both parties,
teachers went to Washington on Saturday for a Save Our Schools Rally. And
they were joined by exactly one celebrity.
Matt Damon flew overnight from Vancouver to New York and then to
Washington to address the rally and to address a right-wing website that
has blind faith -- blind to the facts that is -- blind faith in the blame
the teacher theory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In acting, there is -- there isn`t job security,
right? There`s an incentive to work hard and be a better actor, because
you want to have a job. So why isn`t it like that for teacher?
MATT DAMON, ACTOR: You think job insecurity is what makes me work
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you have an incentive to work hard.
DAMON: I want to be an actor. That`s not an incentive. That`s the
thing. You see, you take this MBA style thinking, right. It`s the problem
with ed policy right now, is this intrinsically paternalistic view of
problems that are much more complex than that.
It`s like saying a teacher is going to get lazy when they have tenure.
A teacher wants to teach. Why else would you take a (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
salary and really long hours and do that job unless you really love to do
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That`s how crazy the attack on teachers has become.
Comparing public school teachers work incentives to the work incentives of
movie stars. It has never occurred to the teacher haters that teachers
want to be teachers for any reason other than job security. It has never
occurred to them that teachers might want to be teachers because they like
teaching, because they love teaching, and because they care about their
The right-wing attackers of teachers have never even shown the
slightest curiosity about the job performance of another group of
government workers who have very, very high job security, police officers.
And police officers carry guns instead of textbooks. And as we`ve seen in
New Orleans after Katrina and in countless other cases around the country,
police officers have sometimes used those guns to shoot and kill innocent
They have done so accidentally, which is in some cases understandable
and forgivable. And some of the them -- statistically very few to be sure
-- have done so deliberately, maliciously, with full criminal intent. They
have summarily executed people.
The worst teacher in America could never do as much damage as the
worst police officer in America. But the right wing has never even been
slightly curious about evaluating the job performance of police officers.
Never once has Republican world said hey, maybe we should look into how
police officers are carrying out their solemn public responsibility to
serve and protect.
No -- no right wing website in America is investigating or will ever
investigate how well police officers do their jobs. The targeting of
teachers has been a vicious and politically deliberate action. And it has
been so successful that many of its fundamental falsehoods are accepted as
true by both Republicans and Democrats in our ongoing dialogue about public
I spent a few years after college as a Boston public school teacher
and I loved it. But I was never committed to it, committed to it as a
career. I moved on to easier, better paying jobs, like this one. Teachers
who have committed their lives to the classroom deserve better than our
politics has given them. And no one has offered a better Rewrite of the
current political caricature of the lazy, uninterested teacher clinging to
tenure than Matt Damon did on Saturday.
And no more important speech was given in Washington that day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAMON: So I was raised by a teacher who you just met. And my mom was
a professor of early childhood education. And from the time I was in
kindergarten, as she said, all the way through my high school graduation, I
attended public schools.
And I would not trade that education, that experience, for anything.
I had incredible teachers. And as I look at my life today, the things that
I value the most about myself -- my imagination, my love of acting, my
passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity -- all of these
things came from the way I was parented and taught.
And none of these qualities that I just mentioned -- none of these
qualities that I prize so deeply -- none of these qualities that have
brought me so much joy, that have made me so successful professionally,
none of these qualities that make me who I am, can be tested.
Now, I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that`s true.
But it`s more than that. My teachers were empowered to teach me. Their
time was not taken up with a bunch of silly test prep, a bunch of drill and
kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn`t promote real learning.
No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that
classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring
out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us.
They were empowered to unlock our potential.
In other words, they were allowed to be teachers.
I honestly don`t know where I would be today if that was the type of
education I had. I sure as hell wouldn`t be here. I do know that.
O`DONNELL: We turn now to East Africa where the worst drought in 60
years and a lack of humanitarian assistance have left tens of thousands
dead, and over 12 million starving. Worst hit has been Somalia, which has
lacked a central government, in effect, since 1991. The United Nations has
declared famine conditions in two southern areas of Somalia. Both those
areas are controlled by al Shabaab, which the U.S. State Department deemed
a terrorist group in 2008 due in part to its support of al Qaeda.
Al Shabaab has prevented aid from reaching the starving by threatening
and killing western aide workers and diverting and collecting bribes on
supplies. Aide organizations that pay those bribes risk violating U.S.
sanctions that ban providing material support to terrorist organizations.
Because the situation is so dire, today the White House relaxed
restrictions for aide organizations operating in good faith.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- new guidance to allow
more flexibility to provide a wider range of aide to a larger number of
areas in need. This new guidance should help clarify that aide workers who
are partnering with the U.S. government to help save lives under difficult
and dangerous conditions are not in conflict with U.S. laws and
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, chief executive officer and president of
the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Caryl Stern. Thanks for joining me tonight,
ARYL STERN, U.S. FUND FOR UNICEF: Thanks, Lawrence. Good to be here.
O`DONNELL: Caryl, what`s your reaction to the White House`s decision
today to ease those restrictions on the aide organizations?
STERN: You know, saving children`s lives shouldn`t be a political
decision. I would hope if it were my child that was starving that the
world would do whatever it takes to save my child. So while it may not be
the best of political circumstances, it`s in the best interest of children.
And I`m proud our president made that decision.
O`DONNELL: Acryl, how do you operate under those conditions, where
you have this terrorist organization that is, in effect, siphoning out some
amount of what people are trying to deliver there?
STERN: UNICEF has a unique situation in that, you know, we`re on the
ground yesterday, today, tomorrow. We are part of that -- being that
trusted neighbor. So we have been working in Somalia. We were able to air
lift some supplies in last week.
And you do the best you can. We have amazingly brave and passionate
workers who, again, are going to do whatever it takes.
O`DONNELL: What do you need now? And what do the other organizations
operating there need now?
STERN: Dollars. We truly need dollars. One of the things I think
the world doesn`t understand when an emergency like this hits -- and you
need to understand this is an emergency on the level of a cyclone or a
tsunami. It`s an L-3, as they call it at the U.N.
We`re not banks. We don`t stockpile resources for this day. That
means you don`t want us to have to make a decision to take money from
another country`s children to save the children in the Horn of Africa. It
is going to take dollars.
O`DONNELL: And Caryl, what do you say to people -- I know when people
think about making these contributions, they want to think of every penny
they hand over as actually going to the problem. And we know with these
people there that are siphoning off some of the money and taking these
bribes and demanding bribes and all of that -- we know that there`s going
to be some drainage of what`s going on in the effort.
What do you say to people in that situation, to donors?
STERN: I say first of all, you work with those organizations, again,
who are large enough, powerful enough, and been on the ground long enough
to know the best way to get supplies there. Check the track records of
organizations. It`s public information.
And secondly, consider it if it was your child. Children shouldn`t be
defined by borders. They`re defined by age. We`re the grownups. If it
were my child, I`d be willing to have some siphoned if it meant the
difference of life or death.
O`DONNELL: Going forward, what is your sense of where we will be a
month from now in this crisis?
STERN: You know, a lot of that depends on the public. We are in need
of 300 million dollars for the next several months, to get us through the
end of the year, to save the lives we`re trying to save right now. And at
this point, we`re 200 million dollars away from that goal.
We are in dire need of dollars. And it is critical that people
respond and see these children for the people that they are. I have heard
stories this past week from workers on the ground, from people who are moms
making choices which child shall live and which child shall not. No mom
should have to make that choice because food is so scarce.
No one should die in today`s day and age because they don`t have
enough to eat.
O`DONNELL: And Caryl, how do you protect your workers in that
environment, where you have these people around them who are -- they are
worse than just bribe takers. They can do worse damage than that.
STERN: They can. Obviously, all security precautions are taken. We
value our workers highly. But they are going in. They are doing the work.
They are putting children first.
O`DONNELL: Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for
UNICEF, thank you very much for joining me tonight. And thank you very
much for your work.
STERN: Thank you. And thank you for your fans, as well, for all
you`ve done for Malawi. Greatly appreciate it.
O`DONNELL: Thanks. You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog,
TheLastWord.MSNBC.com. You can follow my Tweets @Lawrence. "THE RACHEL
MADDOW SHOW" is up next.
Good evening, Rachel. Welcome back.
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