Guests: Richard Engel, Steve Kornacki, Joy-Ann Reid, Craig Melvin, Daniel Denvir, Lila Leff, Jonathan Alter, Megan Behrent, Jelani Cobb, Rex Nutting
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: This morning, Egypt voted, but could the
Arab spring prove the very perils of democracy? Plus, the president`s
spending spree that wasn`t. Try telling the U.S. auto industry that this
administration spends too much. And how is it that the mayor of the
nation`s 68th largest city commands such national attention?
But first, how can we possibly find the answers to America`s education
problems if we are not even asking the right questions?
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Now, I want to start this
morning by thanking my hosts and the graduates of the all-women`s college
Wellesley, where yesterday I had the privilege and the high honor of
delivering this year`s commencement address. And while I provided those
graduates with some words of wisdom as they go forth into the recession
economy they face, I also willed them to take note that the degree they
received confers on them significant privilege. The privilege of an elite
education opens doors to more than employment and income. More education
means better health, it means greater civic participation, it means more
esteem and influence. But quality education is not easily accessible, and
neither are the privileges that go along with it. Those Wellesley women
are the success stories of our national education system, a system that is
imperfect at best and a failure for the majority at its worst.
So I was initially pleased, actually pleased to hear that Republican
presidential candidate Mitt Romney was addressing similar concerns about
education during his speech to the Latino Coalition`s annual summit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here we are in the most
prosperous nation on earth, but millions of our kids are getting a third-
world education, and America`s minority children suffer the most. This is
the civil rights issue of our era, and it is the greatest challenge of our
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Listen up, because you may not hear me say this often.
On this one narrow point, Mitt Romney is right. Education is the civil
rights issue of our era, but only if you extend our era back about 200
years. You see, throughout the 19th century, Southern states made it
illegal to teach slaves to read. In the 1840s, Irish immigrants struggled
to maintain control of their kids` education so they wouldn`t be overly
influenced by Protestantism, and in 1864, the U.S. Congress made it illegal
to teach American Indian children in their own native languages.
Education has long been the terrain of inequality and social control.
So yes, Mr. Romney, indeed education is the civil rights issue of our time.
It`s the greatest challenge of all time. Public education is one of the
most important achievements of the Reconstruction era. The South`s first
system of public education sought to bring thousands of newly freed slaves
into civil society, equipping them with the tools they needed to engage in
public life, and in doing so it actually created a system that provided
poor white children in the rural South with their first opportunities for
You see, public education is the glue that holds our democratic
process together. It is the engine of social mobility. It is the way we
actualize the American dream, or at least it is supposed to work that way.
Unfortunately, the public in public education is endangered by the policies
advocated by Mitt Romney. He and others use the language of school choice,
but choice too often means using public funds for private schools. It
means pitting the interests of teachers against the interests of students.
It means stripping the choice of music, art and sports in order to focus
solely on rote skills that can be tested and measured.
Romney calls for reforming education funding to encourage more charter
schools and vouchers for poor and disabled students to take federal dollars
to the school of their choosing. And choice sounds so good, but not every
student can simply choose their way to a better education.
Romney has spent 35 pages outlining for us an answer, but it seems to
me he hasn`t even asked the right questions. Among my guests this morning,
Lila Leff, founder of Chicago`s Umoja Student Development Corporation. She
spent the past 22 years working on the front lines of urban education,
engaging with thousands of underserved and minority students. Also at the
table, Philadelphia City Paper and Salon.com reporter Daniel Denvir, who
has been covering the biggest ongoing education story in the nation.
Thanks to both of you for being here.
DANIEL DENVIR, PHILADELPHIA CITY PAPER: Thanks for having us.
HARRIS-PERRY: So here is Mitt Romney. He shows up in Philadelphia in
the middle of a quite a fight going on there, and gives to us a 35-page
white paper. So I read it. First seven pages, I totally agree with it,
right? First seven pages, he is laying out the issues of the imperative of
education reform, the fact that we are in a troubling circumstance, the
fact that children from minority and poor neighborhoods are having all
these problems. But then how in page eight does it turn so different?
What is going on in terms of Romney`s conclusions, based on these facts
that I think many the reformers would agree about?
DENVIR: Well, what Romney was doing in D.C. and then later on in West
Philadelphia was attempting to stake out some ground to the political right
of President Obama when it comes to education. That`s going to be a rather
difficult task for him, because except for school vouchers, which use
taxpayer funds to subsidize private school tuition, both President Obama
and Mr. Romney have embraced wholeheartedly the corporate education reform
agenda, which was unleashed by No Child Left Behind in 2002 -- high-stakes
tests to judge teachers and schools, and charters as the -- the solution
for failing urban public schools.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And we`re going to touch on each of these. And
-- because we are going to really take some time this morning, but Lila, I
also want to ask very specifically, I heard you say we are asking the wrong
questions. That the part of what happens with this kind of charterization
or privatization is that we are just asking the wrong questions. What are
the right questions to be asking about our system of education and its need
LILA LEFF, EDUCATION REFORM ADVOCATE: There are a lot of them. I
think that we need to start by saying how can we surround young people with
the support they need to be prepared to enter into our democracy? And I
didn`t hear anything in this report that answered or touched on that.
It feels like the conversation we are having is happening in
polarities, and really in theoretical polarities, but when you look through
that report and you try to find real students living in high poverty
cities, and an answer for them, an educational answer for them, it is
simply not there. So I guess another one of the kind of the right
questions is how can we have school choice that allows all of our young
people, no matter what zip code they are born into, to have access to high
HARRIS-PERRY: And I`m wondering if it is not incompatible with school
choice? So let me just back up a little bit, as we were talking about the
history question here, the question of Irish immigrants being part of
founding the massive Catholic school system in this country. And in the
case of the U.S. South, you can look very clearly in city after city, after
the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, there is massive
disinvestment in the public schools by not only white families that moved
their kids into the private system, but also by the state and city and
locality. They stopped building school buildings. They stopped -- so as
soon as you had choice, right, as soon as we integrated the schools as a
matter of law, the choice operated to segregate schools and to limit the
quality of schools for those who are left behind in the public system. Is
that what would be reproduced in this case with more choice?
LEFF: I think that part of the issue here is on both sides of the
choice conversation is this either/or notion of what it is that will reform
schools. So this idea of sort of with less money in a time of financial
crises, is choice going to somehow miraculously require less money, if we
only find the right group to be running our schools, whether that`s private
or public. And so it feels like the answer has to include saying what is
the partnership between public and private in solving a tremendous problem
in a time of little resource, and that just does not seem to be entering
into the debate.
DENVIR: I think the issue of asking the right questions, which you
mentioned, is crucial. As you said, there is incredible disinvestment in
public education right now. States like Pennsylvania, where I live, and
New York and throughout the country are making enormous cuts to their
public school budgets. And while some charters do a fantastic job
educating children, the research is pretty clear that as a whole, they do
not outperform and sometimes pretty significantly underperform traditional
public schools. So while the charter movement in the education reform
movement has not been an academic success, they have had an incredible
political achievement, which has been changing the terms of the debate,
changing the questions being asked, from the core issues, which are funding
inequity, like you said. Segregation is still an enormous issue. A poor
district like Philadelphia spends about $13 per year per pupil on students,
while wealthy and overwhelmingly white Lower Merion just across the city
line spends $26 --
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, let me pause you right there, because one of the
things I kept reading in this Romney report was the idea we spend plenty of
money, right? So in Romney`s white pages, he keeps saying, look, we spend
plenty of money, we spend more per pupil than many of these other countries
that are outperforming us. The issue is not money, and liberals just want
to throw money at the problem, but money is not the problem. Is that
right, is that wrong?
LEFF: Well, the point that he makes, which is we have spent money
poorly in the educational space through the years is a fair point to make,
but the conclusion he then goes to is so we don`t need money to solve these
HARRIS-PERRY: So what is one of the ways they spent money poorly?
LEFF: A perfect example would be No Child Left Behind, where more
educational dollars were flowing into high-need schools than ever before,
except they weren`t actually getting to students. They were getting to
testing companies to prepare students for tests. So if you looked at the
budget of a school, you would say, oh look, we`re investing a lot more in
schools. If you looked at an individual student and the dollars that
followed that student to bring him to excellence and to being competitive
in our world, absolutely not.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, so we are determining it by saying we are
sending money to this school, the school has so many students, so this is
the amount per pupil, but what we are spending it on is everything from
tests prep, which is going to private corporations, to metal detectors,
security guards, right?
LEFF: Title I, the whole idea of Title I money following students,
which is the high poverty dollars, is such an interesting one, because if
you look at school choice and how it plays out in reality on the ground,
there are certainly students who are getting a better education because of
it. And then there are bereft neighborhood schools that have fewer
resources than they have ever had, that have less experienced teachers,
often less experienced principals, higher mobility rates, with fewer
dollars within them, and the dollars left now have to make the school as
safe as they possibly can. They are not getting to academic issues with
those dollars, and there are fewer of those.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to come right back, because I really want
to pick up on the charter schools point that you were just making, but
we`re going to bring an advocate of charter schools to the table so that we
can have a broader conversation. We`re going to ask whether or not charter
schools are the answer, or whether or not they are destroying the public in
public schools. And in Philadelphia, a plan to close dozens of public
schools and privatize the rest. You are not going to believe what some
school districts are trying. That is all after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, thousands protested the state-controlled
Philadelphia School Reform Commission`s plan to close 64 public schools and
potentially offer up the entire school system to private management. The
plan would make the Philadelphia school district the laboratory for the
corporate school reform movement. It could allow unprecedented access to
millions of taxpayers money to charter management organizations in an
effort to privatize the city`s public education.
Joining us to discuss charter schools and the discontent is Jonathan
Alter of Bloomberg View columnist, and also Lila Leff, education reform
advocate. But first, we`re going to go to Daniel Denvir of the
Philadelphia City Paper who`s been covering every detail of this story.
Tell us what is going on in Philadelphia.
DENVIR: Well, Pennsylvania, like states throughout the country, has
been making major cuts to public education. In Pennsylvania in the current
fiscal year, Republican Governor Tom Corbett cut $1 billion to public
education statewide. In Philadelphia, that has already led to an
incredible crisis. We have 3,800 teacher and staff positions eliminated
for this year, and the state-controlled school reform commission -- we have
been under direct state control since 2001 -- has taken advantage of that
crisis to propose what would be one of the most radical dismantlings and
privatizations of an American public schools system ever.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the one in the city where I live, which is New
HARRIS-PERRY: -- where we have been under state control called the
recovery school district, right. People tend to think recovery means post-
Katrina recovery, but it was actually recovering from the bad schools,
right? So our state, Louisiana, has been controlling the RSD, but
similarly, used the crisis in this case of a natural disaster rather than a
fiscal disaster to privatize through charters much of the system.
DENVIR: Yes, the disaster in Philadelphia is very much a man-made
one, and was made by the very same political forces and opponents of public
education who are now proposing privatizing the system. And there was not
kind of this big public democratic process about deciding how we as a city
are going to confront these very real fiscal realities. Instead, we have
shadowy outside people paying -- one -- organizations paying the Boston
Consulting Group, a corporate consultancy, with a very clear pro-corporate
education reform stance $1.5 million to develop this plan.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Jonathan, you and I have had many a green room
shouting match about this question of charter schools. I`m no fan of
charters, particularly from my experience of them in New Orleans, but you
have been extremely passionate in your defense of charters as the way
JONATHAN ALTER, BLOOMBERG VIEW COLUMNIST: Well, not as the only way
forward. They are not a silver bullet, they are not a panacea. There are
many bad charter schools, but the top performing charter schools -- about a
fifth of all charter schools -- not only -- not only outperform
conventional public schools -- and remember, charter schools are public
schools. So when you talk about privatization, you are in some ways the
audience is being led to believe that charter schools are private schools.
They are not. They are public schools, so we need to distinguish between
charter public schools. We`re not talking here about private schools and
conventional, old fashioned public schools.
Just to finish the point quickly, so these top five, they don`t --
they don`t only outperform conventional public schools, they crush them.
The KIPP schools, about 110 in this country, they have a graduation rate of
over 90 percent of their students, and the schools that the status quo
schools, often it`s 20 percent graduation. From the same population of
students. Same coming from the same single-parent families, allowed in by
lottery, not skimmed off the top.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I think that is exactly the debate, is, in fact,
that charter schools are public schools. In other words, they get public
funding, but they do not have the same requirements to serve every single
child. I know you have been fundamentally involved in this in Chicago.
LEFF: Right. And I think it is a complicated issue, because I think
the reality is, there are amazing charter schools doing amazing things, and
there are best practices to be learned from them. And when we talked about
creating charter schools initially, the idea was they would become learning
entities that would feed back in and make all public schools better. In
fact, the opposite has happened.
Now, is that the fault of charter schools? Not necessarily, but the
reality is, when charter schools move students out, and the KIPPs and the
Noble Streets and the whomever are willing to have frank conversations and
say, in fact, every student doesn`t make it in our schools. We have very
strong behavioral expectations. We need very high parent involvement.
And so the great thing about those schools is because of zip code, a
student isn`t determined therefore to have a bad education. These are
great options. But again, what happens to the students who get pushed out
of those schools because they can`t make it there? They end up back in
traditional public schools that in fact are not learning lessons from
ALTER: You made an extremely important point. So the challenge
should be not to turn every public school into the KIPP school. The
burnout rate among teachers does not make it possible to leverage up, to
scale up, but to borrow the best practices. So whose fault is that? Is
that some corporation`s fault that the conventional public schools are not
borrowing the best practices from the proven charter models? No, that is a
failure on the part of the conventional public schools, and why a lot of
them do deserve to be closed.
HARRIS-PERRY: But isn`t that a little sort of pitting the folks
against each other in a way --
ALTER: Not really, no, it`s simply telling them, pull up your socks
in these other schools and start adopting--
ALTER: All they need to do is to adopt five or 10, maybe not all of
the KIPP practices, but five or ten of the ones that they can adopt.
Instead, they are not adopting any of them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jonathan, let me make this point. So you said the top
performing charters are models, are among the best.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it is certainly also true, wouldn`t you admit, that
the top performing public schools are among the best -- are among the best
educational opportunities anywhere, right?
ALTER: Well, first of all, charters are public.
HARRIS-PERRY: Traditional public neighborhood -- public schools that
are opened simply by zip code. So having lived in a place of enormous
privilege -- right, I spent five years in Princeton, New Jersey -- in a
highly unionized district, where we paid exorbitant property tax rates, and
in so doing, ended up with extremely, just ecstatically wonderful public
schools, traditional public schools. All the kids in the neighborhood just
kind of walked over to the public schools, like in the 1950s, and that
model, it seems to me, suggested that the issue had as much to do with the
set of assumptions about the quality of the school itself.
When we say good schools, what even counts as a good school? I hear
you on KIPP, but KIPP only ends up being a school of choice for those who
are at the bottom. The fact is, that wealthy parents still don`t opt into
KIPP over say their local private school, or if it were truly like --
ALTER: Because they are not living in the inner cities where the KIPP
schools are located.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure they are.
DENVIR: I think it is rather misleading for you to talk about the top
20 percent of charter schools when the charter school movement very much
led by people at charter networks like KIPP and Mastery have pushed in
states like Pennsylvania and across the country to eliminate caps to
charter school growth, and that is caps to all charter school growth.
ALTER: Yes. It is a great idea to eliminate the caps.
DENVIR: Well, here`s why it is not a brilliant idea. In
Pennsylvania, in the Philadelphia area, we have had 18 charters under
federal investigation since 2008. This is for malfeasance that ranges from
self-dealing real estate transactions to across the board at so many of
these charters, sky high executive compensation, to out and out
In Chester Upland, a nearly bankrupt school district that is currently
suing the state, alleging that the inequitable funding that poor districts
like Chester gets violates the state constitution`s guarantee that every
child has a right to a good education. They are being cannibalized by a
single charter school, the Chester Community Charter School -- excuse me,
can I finish -- that is run by a close ally, Vahan Gureghian, of Governor
Tom Corbett, and they get 41 percent. They enroll the majority of the
district`s K-8 students, and they get 41 percent, their -- their private
management organization gets 41 percent of the public taxpayer dollars
going to the school.
I discovered for the City Paper that not only is it going to this
politically connected buddy of Tom Corbett`s, but that his second in
command at this organization is this guy Jacob Deraghopian (ph), who has
long-standing ties to a convicted mob associate. I mean, there is no
regulation at the district level, at the state level, or the federal level
of what charters are doing. And I can have more examples.
HARRIS-PERRY: No, Dan, I`m glad you brought us there. I`m glad you
brought us there, because part of what we`re going to talk about as we come
back is about teachers unions. Jonathan, I know you have felt like teacher
unions have been standing in the --
ALTER: Some teachers unions.
HARRIS-PERRY: Some of the teacher unions, but standing sort of in the
schoolhouse door on reform, as you pointed out, and your point here about
sort of the lack of accountability, however, in what is happening around
charter schools I think is a really nice connection. So coming up, we are
going to talk more about teachers unions, whether or not they help or hurt
in our education reform. We`re going to add another voice to this
And later in this hour, the people voted in Egypt, and the Muslim
Brotherhood looks like it`s leading. So what does that mean? We will
explain. Don`t go away.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are talking about education, and you are looking at
a live picture now of Vice President Joe Biden delivering the commencement
address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
So as we dissect Mitt Romney`s education proposal unveiled this week,
we find a familiar Republican bogeyman -- the teachers unions. Now, here
is what the governor had to offer in his white paper, what he calls a
chance for every child. He writes, "America remains gridlocked in an
antiquated system controlled to a disturbing degree by the unions
representing teachers. They are consistently on the front lines fighting
against initiatives to attract and retain the best teachers, measure
performance, provide accountability, or offer choices to parents.
Back with me at the table are Lila Leff, Daniel Denvir, and Jonathan
Alter. And joining us now is New York City public school teacher and self-
described union activist, Megan Behrent. Very nice to have you, Megan.
So you know, we were sort of talking a bit in the break about the fact
that no one thinks that the broken system makes sense, right, everyone is
thinking that we need reform, but I got to say, I felt like there was a
time when I was coming up where we had general agreement across Democrats,
Republicans, rich, poor that teachers were underpaid. You know, we just
sort of had this belief that teachers were sort of good folks who were
working hard, who generally did not make enough. You know, that is part of
why you brought an apple to your teacher in the morning, right, because
they just -- and it felt although like suddenly the discourse shifted, and
instead of how do we attract better teachers with better working
conditions, it turned into teachers and the interests of teachers are
pitted against the interests of students, as though what is good for a
teacher is bad for a student? Am I missing something here?
MEGAN BEHRENT, HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER: No, and I think it is
crazy just how much this kind of teacher bashing has become national
pastime. It`s obviously very frustrating for teachers who spend their
lives in classrooms, dedicated to providing public education, to suddenly
find yourself the scapegoat for any possible problem that exists.
And so I think it is time that we actually have to shift some of that
narrative and remind people that teachers are the people on the front lines
fighting for our schools, and that our interests are not in any way
counterposed. I think our starting point in terms of even how I see the
role of a teacher`s union fighting for educational justice is to say that
our working conditions are our students` learning conditions. And so the
two go hand in hand. It`s because I have a union that we can have things
like class size caps, which may be already too high, but without that,
there`ll be nothing preventing that. It`s because we have some of those
protections that we can actually advocate for our students, and I think
that there is an incredible role that teachers unions can play in fighting
for the interests of our students, and I think we are being attacked for
all of the wrong reasons, precisely because that is the role we do play.
DENVIR: And this teacher bashing is really taking a toll. Polls of
teachers show that teacher morale is in the tank right now. And I meet
teachers all the time who are leaving the profession or thinking about
leaving the profession. It`s -- and there is this obsession with right now
increasing the use of high stakes standardized tests to measure teacher
evaluation, even though the research on that shows that they are highly
unstable and inaccurate. And this obsession with getting rid of these low-
performing teachers, when you look at countries that are high performing,
relatively high performing across the board, what you see is that there is
a greater problem in the U.S. with retention, retaining ...
DENVIR: ... and attracting the best teachers, the top performing
teachers. They just pay teachers better
LEFF: If I can -- yes, just a minute. I feel like there are
perfectly reasonable people who would come to the side of being able to
hear these reasonable union arguments if some of the low performing teacher
issues were addressed by the union. So right now the fact that there are
people who -- and it`s been demonstrated are really profoundly
inappropriate with the students, there are people who we know are not
qualified for the job, which are at the very, very bottom percent. And it
is such an eye-catching place that it is very reasonable that people are
saying, I don`t get it, the union does not seem to be reforming itself, it
seems to be protecting people at all costs.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the focus goes right down there to the bottom. I
mean if I ...
BEHRENT: And also -- part of it is I know you are talking about what
other questions we should be asking. I do think one of the first question
we have to ask, is not -- is about kind of bad teacher narrative, but why
is it that 50 percent of teachers leave within the first five years? We are
losing way, way more good teachers ...
BEHRENT: ... and that is a much more central problem. And I think
that even if you look in terms of then the question how do you allow
teachers to be the best teachers that they can possibly be, and you can`t
be the best teacher you can be if you have 170 students a day, and if you
have no real role in the school community. If you look at Finland, right,
which has the second, you know, one of the top ranked education systems in
the world, they don`t actually have an evaluation system. They have a
system that allows teachers real roles in their school in terms of shaping
curriculum, at the collaborative learning environment, and they don`t have
that problem, so I think it starts there and we should learn some lessons
ALTER: They are drawing from the top of the class of college
graduates, and we are not. We are drawing our teachers, unfortunately,
from the bottom.
ALTER: I`m a huge -- I`m a huge supporter of teachers. I have been
involved for 15 years in Donors Choose, which, you know, helps teachers
with classroom supplies. I have always thought that teachers are badly
underpaid. This idea in Pennsylvania of this Republican governor cutting
$1 billion from education is insane.
ALTER: But having said that, the interests of adult interest groups
are not always congruent with that of kids. We have to ask what`s best for
kids, not what is best for adult interest groups, and they are not always
the same. So what we need is a grand ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure, but ...
ALTER: ... what we need is a grand --
ALTER: No, they are not -- they should not always be pitted against
each other, but that pitting is partly because every time somebody
criticizes the teacher unions, we are called teacher bashers. We are not
bashing the teachers. We are critical of certain, not all, but certain
practices of the unions that`s protecting incompetence, who are inflicting
educational malpractice on our children ...
DENVIR: It`s not ...
ALTER: We need some accountability, and we need a grand bargain -- a
lot more pay in exchange for a lot more accountability. And not
necessarily through standardized tests ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right.
ALTER: ... through a much broader assessment of teacher quality.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think -- I think that question of quality and
accountability, we are going to come back to it. Coming up we`re going to
ask about the other central issue here, which is about segregation. Maybe
you don`t believe it, but New York City`s public schools are the most
segregated in the country. And that is up next.
HARRIS-PERRY: The 2009 study by the McKinsey Consultant Group makes
educational disparity clear -- it is racial. African-American and Latino
students are effectively two to three years behind their white counterparts
in school. And take a look at this graphic. Here in New York City, half
of the public schools are more than 90 percent black and Hispanic, making
New York one of the most segregated school systems in the country, behind
only Dallas and Chicago. Segregation may no longer be the law, but in so
many schools it remains the reality. Back with me here are Lila Leff,
Daniel Denvir and Jonathan Alter, and Megan Behrent. So, once again,
Jonathan and I were in a shouting match in the commercial break around ...
ALTER: It`s actually ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it is. It is.
ALTER: It`s great.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think -- that is really where I want to go,
because it is a passionate subject. Nobody thinks that what is currently
happening -- this is my point, I agree with the first seven pages of the
Romney white paper. Nobody thinks that what is happening at this moment is
sufficient, and even as I was doing that introduction, I looked around the
table, I realized, oh my goodness, in most cities in this country, even if
they are majority white cities, or half and half, the public school
population is dramatically more racial minorities, and here we are having
this conversation, I sort of looked out, I was like, oh, where are my black
and brown families and parents?
So I will just say, I`m going to play the role of the black girl here,
which is to say when we talk about the failing public school system, we are
overwhelmingly talking about failures that impact the community that I live
in. So I live in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans. I don`t like what I see
happening in our KIPP school. I am distressed by the movement away from
teachers unions that can actually fight for teacher rule. You know,
teaching at for 15 yeas at these high performing universities like
Princeton, I have 100 kids who say I want to go into Teach for America, and
none of them who say, I want to be a teacher. Like it feels like the
people are just kind of dipping in and out, like there isn`t systemic
ALTER: But my nephew is in Teach for America, and he is staying to
continue as a teacher. In fact, in a KIPP school. It`s just to me it is
anti-intellectual, anti-empirical to say that KIPP schools are somehow bad,
or there is a problem with them. The evidence is in, Melissa. We have 15
years of hard, rock solid evidence that the top performing charter schools
ALTER: ... not the crappy ones, the top performing ones -- and the
crappy ones, I agree with you, should be put out of business in the same
way crappy conventional public schools ...
HARRIS-PERRY: But they can`t -- they get to be top performing because
they get to choose their students.
ALTER: But to criticize KIPP and Teach for America -- by the way,
principals all over the country want Teach for America energy in their
HARRIS-PERRY: No, let me -- let me be really clear about my critique
what Teach for America is. I send my students to Teach for America. I
think Teach for America is great for the young people who go in to be
teachers. I think it was designed to be a program for people who didn`t
want to be teachers, but were going to go off and do other things in the
world, and so, what it did is it said you need to go spend time in an urban
classroom, it will change your perspective in the world, and I think that
is incredibly important. I don`t think you ...
ALTER: It is designed to get wealthier kids into the public school
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t think you can -- I don`t think you can staff a
public school system ...
DENVIR: And then on to a career in the corporate educational reform
LEFF: -- we could spend the rest of our time talking about charter
versus traditional public and not talk about the kids you are talking
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, OK.
LEFF: Which is what is going to solve the problem for young people in
our country to get the education they need to be prepared, to be on fire
about the learning, to want to participate in the democratic process, to be
dying to go to college or continue their training. We are ...
LEFF: Across the board we are failing most of our students, whether
we are talking about charter or traditional public, and if we spend another
four years just fighting in that one question, we`ll lose the point.
ALTER: Totally agree.
LEFF: The point is we need more excellent teachers. The point is we
need to agree about what excellence looks like in a school, and then we
need to mobilize around it with a lot of different ways to do that. And
unless smart people like us can come around the table and have that
conversation, getting into the weeds of what it takes to create systems
that are aligned for support, we are going to continue to fail.
ALTER: You are talking the most sense. That is what we have to get
beyond this thing of corporate educational reform or me, people on my side
of the argument, talking about union hacks, the way Romney is, that is not
ALTER: But both sides have to tone down this ridiculous rhetoric.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s toning down the rhetoric, but I want to hear
Daniel on the actual policy that we are ...
ALTER: It`s terrible (ph).
DENVIR: We need to allow -- we need to allow teachers to actually
teach if we are going to inspire this love of learning in students and this
lifelong intellectual passion. What the No Child Left Behind high stakes
testing regime has unleashed in our schools is exactly the opposite.
Curriculums have been eviscerated. Literature, American history, arts,
music, science, everything that`s not being tested is being cut. Even P.E.
and recess. And so --
HARRIS-PERRY: There is no school, there is just test prep.
DENVIR: It is test prep, test prep boot camps for the poor, and
liberal arts education for wealthy, well-to-do districts. And you talked
about segregation in your intro in "The New York Times," as someone who`s
done some work on that recently, we`ve long had segregated schools. And
what the high stakes test regime has done is formalized that into two
entirely different types of schools ...
DENVIR: ... liberal arts for the wealthy and test prep boot camps for
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to give Lila the last word on this.
LEFF: OK, so one thing about that is, research shows us that tests
are one metric that measures progress. They mostly measure the kind of
progress that records how you will do on the next test you take, but the
really things like grade point average and kind of academic behaviors, the
non-cognitive skills about being able to think, being able to reflect on
your own learning, these are the things that correlate to college
completion and to higher earning. And so we need to align our schools
around more complicated metrics. And these are not impossible or more
expensive things to measure, and so that just feels really important. By
the way, we are failing rich kids in this, too, because we are not creating
thinkers, we are not creating people who look for the next entrepreneurial
innovative idea ...
LEFF: We are creating people who look for the right answer. That`s
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And then (inaudible) Megan, I promise, we`re
going to have you back. I`ve got so much more to say about teachers, and I
really would like to have you back to talk more about it. Thanks to
everyone for being here and having this conversation with me, and this
conversation is not going away. So thank you to Lila, Daniel, Jonathan and
Megan, there is so much more on this issue, and a little bit more of it in
our blog at mhpshow.com.
Coming up, it was election day in Egypt, and the result of the revolt
we all watched Tahrir Square last year. But is it democracy? NBC`s Richard
Engel joins me live from Cairo, that`s up next.
HARRIS-PERRY: This was a historic week in Egypt. In what seems to be
a step towards democracy, millions of Egyptians went to choose a new
president for the first time in generations. The first elected president
since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown after 30 years of rule during the so-
called Arab Spring. And with most of the votes counted, several Arab
television stations suggested that the Islamic Brotherhood`s Mohamed Morsi
was ahead of the pack of nearly a dozen candidates, and those results show
that right behind is former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, a veteran of
Mubarak`s tenure. Now, the two will likely face each other in the runoff
election in June. Richard Engel is NBC`s chief foreign correspondent.
He`s covered Egyptian revolution since last year and is there now to cover
the election. He joins me from Cairo. Hi, Richard.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: How are you? And first of all, I
have to say, this is the first time I`ve been on your show, so it`s good to
join you, thanks for having me on.
HARRIS-PERRY: I am excited to have you. So, these two candidates who
ended up in the runoff here, these are really the most polarizing
candidates, the Muslim Brotherhood and basically old Mubarak regime. So
how was that that we ended up here? What does it mean for what this
election will actually mean for Egypt going forward?
ENGEL: Well, let me put it to you this way. Here in our bureau in
Cairo last night, several people here who were supporters of the
revolution, who were out in Tahrir Square to topple Mubarak when there was
this air of enthusiasm, this revolutionary zeal that anything was possible,
several of them last night in this office were crying when they learned
that these are the two people that they have to choose between. On one
hand, Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood who wants to impose Islamic
law, which is something many people in this country, including Muslims,
don`t want to see. Egypt has a devout population. People go out, they
pray, they fast, they are Muslims in the day-to-day life and don`t see any
need to impose Islamic law in government.
ENGEL: There are also about 10 million Christians in this country who
worry that they could become permanent second-class citizens. On the other
hand, you have Ahmed Shafiq, who was somebody who still praises Mubarak,
who was from the old regime, he was a prime minister. He presents himself
as a strong man, the kind of person who is going to crush dissent, not a
revolutionary, not the kind of change that people went out to see. So
democracy could either allow people to choose Islamic law, which a lot of
people don`t want, or to choose another Mubarak, which is not what they
HARRIS-PERRY: So, how does it ...
ENGEL: I guess it is a question some people are asking, be careful
what you wish for.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, right. And so, I want to ask exactly this, how
does this happen if you have, you know, what we might call kind of a
Twitter generation that was part of driving Mubarak out that stood there,
captured the world`s attention in Tahrir Square, were they not -- did they
not show up to the polls? Did this simply open up an opportunity for kind
of the polarities to vote? How does this happen?
ENGEL: Well, this Twitter generation for one, it is not that big.
The people who are online here, English-speaking, using Facebook, the
activists, it is a very small percentage of this population. Most people
live in the countryside. There is a great deal of illiteracy in Egypt.
The mosque power is still very strong in this country. The Muslim
Brotherhood was able to use that force to mobilize.
On the other hand, the old institutions, the party of Mubarak, the
military was able to unite behind Shafiq. The revolutionaries, the Twitter
generation as you are calling them, who are not that big to begin with,
were also very disorganized, and they split their vote among a number of
candidates and really took themselves out of the contest.
That disorganization was helpful during the revolution, because the
Mubarak security services didn`t really know what to do with these people
who could spontaneously appear in one square, and then communicate in
English with mobile handheld devices in another square. That was very
difficult for the security services to deal with. It did not translate
into political power, because they weren`t organized.
HARRIS-PERRY: Richard Engel, thank you so much. It really is a
lesson in just how complicated democracy in fact is. Thanks for being
ENGEL: Good to be with you.
And coming up, things are better in Cuba, at least some things. I bet
you didn`t think that I would say that. That is up next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last Saturday in Nerdland, a guest had the nerve to
call me Castro, because of the wake of JPMorgan`s losses and Eduardo
Saverin of Facebook renouncing his citizenship to allegedly avoid paying
taxes. I dared to talk about regulations and collective responsibility.
Ooh, the nerve of me. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, but you are not saying that Eduardo
Saverin, I mean this is like, you know, something that Castro would do, in
order to leave the country ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Now I have turned into Castro.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, it took a week, but I have decided, I am Castro.
What? You didn`t think that I would say that? Let me be clear. I`m not
saying that I am Fidel Castro and I`m certainly not his brother Raul -- you
can see that by the obvious gender differences and the lack of facial hair,
I hope. But I am OK with you calling me Mariela Castro. At least somewhat.
Now, we know the Cuba is not perfect. Far from it. In fact, the Human
Rights Watch notes that Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that
represses virtually all forms of political dissent. Arbitrary detentions
and short term imprisonment are also used. In 2010, there were 2,074
arbitrary detentions by security forces. Well, between January and August
of 2011, there were 2,224. And on Thursday, Mariela Castro, the daughter
of Cuban President Raul Castro, and the niece of Fidel, referred to Cuban
Americans as a Cuban mafia, calling them out for supporting economic and
travel restrictions to her country.
But I do have to take at least notice when a country has a seemingly more
progressive stance than ours on even one thing. And in this case, Mariela
is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana,
and has pushed for legalizing same-sex marriage. No, that has not yet
happened, but through her work, she has lobbied the Cuban government to
cover sex reassignment surgery under the national health plan. That`s
right, the national health plan, and it`s been doing so since 2008. So,
while it`s not perfect, it`s a first step on Cuba`s long road to fixing its
wrongs when it comes to human rights.
Oh, no, I`m not really Castro, but I can stop to take notice, no matter how
big or small, when there is a little progress.
Coming up, there has been a debate growing all week about whether or not
President Obama is a big spender. I`ve got to say I hope he is. I`ll
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: Here in Nerdland, there are few things
that we love more than numbers and charts -- maybe you have noticed that we
are giving you more today for example. And we particularly love it when
they go viral -- viral like the latest Kanye and Kim photos. That kind of
So we watch with nerdy glee with this chart from a Tuesday article on
"MarketWatch," the "Wall Street Journal`s" financial Web site, made the
rounds on Facebook. In the article that accompanied the graphic,
"MarketWatch`s`" Rex Nutting writes, "Of all of the falsehoods told about
Barack Obama, the biggest whopper, is the one about his reckless spending
spree. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal
spending is rising at the lowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the
Korean War to an end in the 1950s."
It is, of course, the complete opposite of Mitt Romney`s party line
on the president as spelled out on the governor`s Web site that says,
"Since President Obama assumed office three years ago, federal spending has
accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history."
So, the chart caught the attention of one particular Facebook
follower, the president, who shared -- who urged his fans to share this
chart, to get the facts out. He clearly preferred his spending record
where he pinched pennies to Mitt Romney version where he is, you know,
making it rain.
Now , Nutting`s notion of our president as a frugal fanny has come
under scrutiny from other analysts who re-crunched the numbers and found
his math to be a little fuzzy. But wait a minute, we are talking about S-
P-E-N-D. That`s five letters.
So, why are both parties treating it like it`s a four-letter-word?
After all, spending $80 billion worth that brought our auto industry back
from the brink, it is spending that fuels the programs at the moral center
of our social policy, about how we take care of those in need, it`s why the
United States is fourth among the world`s highest standards of living. And
while didn`t mind, even though it`s now in dispute that my president was a
big spender, because of those reasons.
So here with me at the table: Steve Kornacki, MSNBC contributor and
senior writer for the salon.com; Joy-Ann Reid, MSNBC contributor and
managing editor of TheGrio.com; and Jelani Cobb, associate professor of
history and African studies at the university of Connecticut.
Joining me from Stanford, Connecticut, the author of that viral
report, Rex Nutting, global commentary editor for MarketWatch.com.
REX NUTTING, MARKETWATCH.COM: Hi. How are you?
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, so, first, respond to your criticism that the
president`s spending simply reaches the wrong conclusion?
NUTTING: Well, you know, people have quibbled with my numbers, but I
still don`t think that I got it wrong, at least not in a major way, it
doesn`t change the story at all, that spending really accelerated before
Obama took office with the TARP bailout and with the expansion of
unemployment benefits and Medicaid and all of the other things that
happened when masses unemployment hits.
But really since then, spending has been on a really flat trajectory.
Even though we have had the stimulus, and the auto bailouts and we`ve had
lots of unemployment benefits paid out, spending really isn`t growing at
all since he took office.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Rex, it seems like the big issue in the numbers
piece for you is about fiscal year 2009 and whether or not we should give
those spending numbers to President Bush or whether we should give them to
President Obama, and it`s odd for me because I supposed I would like to
give them to President Obama in the sense that I would like to see more
spending -- I think that us part of what fuels the recovery.,
But if you read them in the way that you did, then we give them to
President Bush and it makes President Obama appeared to be more frugal.
NUTTING: Well, it is tricky, because the first year of the
presidential term is based one the budget that the predecessor adopted.
But 2009 was different we know because we had lots of extra spending that
happened in the, you know, after Obama came n and we had the stimulus, and
we had another big appropriations bill that was passed under Obama and not
So it is very tricky to figure out, you know, who is responsible for
what spending. I tried to be pretty careful about the way I looked at the
number, and if you ask the CBO, they say $120 billion spent on the stimulus
bill, and a lot of people think it is $800 billion, but a lot of it is in
tax cuts and a lot of that wasn`t spent until 2010 and 2011.
NUTTING: So in that one year, there was $120 billion. I found
another $40 billion that I could attribute to Obama`s decisions to increase
spending, but others have said that maybe it is more like $200 billion or
$250 billion. But whatever the number is, there is not very much extra
spending in 2009 that Obama was responsible for.
HARRIS: All right. Rex, let me back up here no the table.
So on the one hand, we are fighting about was he really just frugal,
and I keep thinking that Ezra Klein made this point recently that we were
in a crisis if we spent. You know, good for you to having done it.
What does the president go towards, you know, sort of making Rex`s
article viral, let`s tell everybody we`re not a spender, rather than the
sort of making it the case, here`s why we should be spending.
NUTTING: Well, I don`t know why that is --
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, Rex, hold on. Let me bring it to the table for
just a sec.
JOY-ANN REID, THEGRIO.COM: I mean, this is one of those issues that
really sort of unmask the two parties, right? The Democrats are very timid
about what it is that they do, right, and the Keynesian notion that you
spend to get out of deep recession than depression is something that`s
tried and true. It worked for the Great Depression. It`s tried and true,
but Democrats are sort of embarrassed about it.
Meanwhile, Republicans don`t care about the spending. I just don`t
buy that. Look at who are the two big spenders are in that chart, Reagan
and Bush two.
REID: And Republicans were too happy to spend. They used to say
deficits didn`t matter. They don`t like spending on social programs. They
don`t like specific spending.
They don`t mind military spending. They don`t like spending on war,
for tax cuts, look at Paul Ryan`s budget, which would balloon the deficit.
I don`t think that the right really cares about spending and deficits. A,
they don`t like Barack Obama, so they don`t like anything he does. And B,
they don`t like to spend on social programs.
HARRIS: That is maybe the understatement of the year, they don`t
like Barack Obama. Missing an opportunity here, those who make an argument
about why spending is good?
STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: The problem is I -- I wonder sometimes if
it is an impossible situation, because I think what really happens is when
the deficit -- it`s no coincidence to me that when the deficit has become a
major issue in American politics, it has also coincided with an economic
downturn. And it suggests to me strongly that a lot of people really don`t
understand the details of who the deficit works or really what the deficit
They just associate it with the economy, debt -- just scary-sounding
word. Your family doesn`t want to be in debt, and why would your
government ever want to in debt especially when the economy is down like
this? You know, I can think back.
You know, there`s so many examples like this, think to the early
1980s, in the first part of Ronald Reagan`s presidency -- what did Ronald
Reagan do? Well, obviously, the deficits exploded under Ronald Reagan
while there was a recession in the early `80s and the Democrats made a lot
of noise of the irresponsible deficit spending of Reagan, they reaped a
windfall on 1992 midterms.
By 1994, the economy had turned around, but the deficit has gotten
worse. Yes, the Reagan deficits never got better, but nobody cared about
the deficit. You know, Walter Mondale tried to make it his issue, that`s
why he said he would raise taxes. Nobody really cared about the deficits.
The only thing they really cared about was the economy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, how people are fueling the households.
And there is a horrible thing that happens when you try to pretend
that the federal macro circumstance is the same as your household and you
actually don`t want the government to behave in the same way as your
JELANI COBB, ADVOCATE REPORTER: You don`t. And one of the things
that`s interesting -- to Steve`s point -- in the midst of the spending
under Reagan, he also bailed out Chrysler. And so, there`s a bailout in
If you look at George H.W. Bush, there`s the S&L bailout there.
If you look at George W. Bush, we have, you know, the we have, you
know, the bank bailout there. None of that is counted as spending. We
don`t think of that as Republicans being wasteful and spending too much
And to Joy`s point, I think this is really about what you spend money
on. If we frame this as investment, it would be a completely different
conversation. But Barack Obama, in the middle of an election year, doesn`t
really have time to talk the same, the way that we`ve been talking about
politics for the last 30 years.
HARRIS-PERRY: Rex, let me ask you one last question on this, and
that is -- so, in your role as someone who is really trying to give us more
information, it`s just hard to watch sort of that informational piece
become so highly politicized. And so, you know, folks at the table were
just talking about, why would you make the argument one way or another, but
is there any room left for us to just talk about sort of the informational
piece, and what is and is not accurate about our government is doing?
NUTTING: Well, I don`t know, because I think that everybody looks at
these numbers through the prism of how they want to see things. You know,
the president was so happy to show that chart, and I just don`t know why,
because it really looks like he didn`t do enough to fight this recession as
I point out in column, and even Herbert Hoover did more. And I`m not sure
why he so proud of that record, except I think he`s bought into this
argument that, you know, debt is a bad thing for the government to have,
and the point that you made earlier about a family -- a family is not the
same as government. Families want to contract their spending during down
times. But that`s when the government should be expanding its spending,
because its spending is our income.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, Rex, I appreciate that, because it could be
that the president has bought into it. It could just be that the president
believes that the folks who have to return him to office have bought into
Rex, thank you for joining us.
We`re going to come back and talk more about the economic
circumstances that not only our families, but our states find themselves
in, when we come back, because the states are fundamentally strapped for
cash and they are swindling money out of their own residence.
We`ll talk more about that and why we need more federal spending.
More, not less.
HARRIS-PERRY: By any accounting of President Obama`s spending record
would be incomplete without a line item for the $840 billion in stimulus
money he signed off as a newly-minted president in 2009. Nearly $300
billion of those dollars were awarded to the states. But three years
later, the states are still facing desperate times, and have been turning
to desperate measures in many cases, robbing Peter to pay Paul.
As "ProPublica" reported this week, robbing victims of unlawful
foreclosures to pay for downed budget deficits. An investigation conducted
by that site found that states are pocketing nearly 40 percent of the $2.5
billion mortgage settlement meant to give some relief to the hardest hit
homeowners. And the more we look, the more we found evidence of struggling
states, sticking drivers with new tolls because they`re too broke to repair
roads, digging themselves deeper into debt to cover pension shortfalls or
kicking thousands of kids off Medicare to cut their costs.
Still here, Steve Kornacki, Joy-Ann Reid, and Jelani Cobb.
OK. Republicans say that they love the states. State rights we hear
all the time. But when you look at what is happening right now, with the
reduction of the federal support on spending, our states are absolutely
cash strapped. Should the governors be lobbying for more federal spending?
REID: I mean, look at what happened last time. You had governors
like Charlie Crist and others Republican governors who were for getting
that stimulus money and they paid a huge political price for it. It was
very unpopular with the Republican base for you to take federal money.
That was considered a bad thing, to the point where in Texas, you know, you
had Rick Perry saying, you know, we don`t want your federal money, and
people were sort of rejecting it.
Then, it seems to me completely suicidal in a way, because you are
laying off state workers, increasing unemployment in your own state, which
has a ripple-effect throughout the economy. Fewer people working, fewer
HARRIS-PERRY: Fewer people paying taxes to the state to do all of
the things that your state needs revenue for.
KORNACKI: That`s been the most amazing thing watching these
unemployment reports every month, because we`re always saying, OK, here is
the private sector number of the jobs that are created, and then you always
have to deduct, well, here`s the number -- tens of thousands of jobs from
the public sector jobs that is coming off from the last years. And then
you start adding these up during a recession. Yes, and that, boy, really
adds up when you talk about what that would have in the economy.
The other thing that I wonder is you look at sort of dire predicament
of these states are in. I don`t know if you can really measure it, but
what is the effect of the public employee in the state, in terms of their -
- OK, I`m going to go to make a big purchase to help the economy? No, I`m
going to hold my money back, because I don`t know if my job is going to be
HARRIS-PERRY: This map that we found just had us all going nuts.
This map shows that everything that you are seeing in yellow there, in
those states when that foreclosure money showed up, somewhere between zero
and 20 percent of it went to the actual homeowners and these yellow states
are the states that kept 80 percent or more of that money.
So, here you have the final mortgage settlement and excited that the
homeowners will get relief, and the states are like, I`m sorry, we`re going
to need that, because we can`t breathe here.
COBB: Well, one of the things I think is that this is a microcosm of
what we`re seeing, with this kind of push for austerity in general. And
so, it`s almost metaphoric at what we see with, you know, white working
class voters who voted against their interest and then they wind finding
themselves cash-strapped with Republican administration after Republican
administration, we`re now seeing it on the statewide level.
And, you know, one of the things I find most fascinating about this
is that people are talking about whether or not President Obama will win in
Virginia again. Virginia has the historically low unemployment rate, why?
Because of the all of the federal money there.
And so, somehow or another, that story does not get out to the
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It`s basically that little ring of Virginia
that hugs D.C., right, where the folks are living, the Virginia residents.
But they`re actually working as D.C. bureaucrats, government jobs that
actually helps to bolster that economy.
Your point about white class voters. It looks like they are about to
make similar choices. The new -- a "Washington Post"/NBC News poll that
shows that white voters hit with the job loss over the past few years are
actually more likely to say that they believe Mitt Romney over President
Obama will do more to advance their economic interests. So, you got
something like 53 percent versus 38 percent of those who are in the middle-
class, and who are struggling to stay in their class. These are white
working class voters who say that Romney has the solution, but Romney has
austerity measures, right?
REID: It`s the ultimate irony and it`s that "what`s the matter with
Kansas" question? And the people hardest hit by this. I mean, I look at
Ohio, right, places where Republicans are actively vilifying public
employee. They say that government jobs are not even jobs, right, they`re
not even real work. You had police officers, firefighters, people who are
traditionally Republican voters waking up to find the Republican governor:
A, vilifying them, and B, trying to strip the union right. This looks
like a wakeup call in places like Ohio and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and
So, you wonder whether that`s going to translate into the same type
of voter choosing to stick with the president or going with the guy who is
promising more of the same on a national level. It seems so counter
intuitive that when presented with the option of a businessman who when he
was running a business laying off people as the way you increase the stock
price, and thinking that`s the guy that`s going to will help me. It
doesn`t make sense.
KORNACKI: Interesting thing about that poll, too, is when you ask
those same voters, you know, which candidate will do more to help Wall
Street, and the financial institutions? Romney, overwhelmingly. Which
candidate will be more attuned to the interests of the rich? Romney,
So they get at the certain level everything that Obama and the
Democrats are trying to say about Romney, about his values and the approach
to the economy, and yet there is that impulse that is sort of exists
perpetually in the present tense, if you are feeling anxious, you want to
blame the person in charge. You don`t want to explore context.
In Romney, I mean, that is really what he`s building his whole
campaign around, because the economic message is so incoherent in so many
ways, you know, as we want to fight the deficit, but we want to cut taxes
and we want to zap federal revenue. But, you know, it has the appeal,
because at some point people want to get rid of Obama, and that`s what seen
in that poll.
HARRIS-PERRY: And is it also the class warfare narrative? I mean,
the fact that people will say some of -- because he`s going to be best for
Wall Street and he`s going to best for me, is that because we have a long
tradition in this country of not believing that social class matters. So,
whatever is good for rich folks is somehow also good for me.
KORNACKI: I honestly thought that 2008 killed that.
HARRIS-PERRY: You thought that we had figured it out. But, in fact,
KORNACKI: Maybe not.
REID: I think that we have created -- I`m sorry. Go ahead.
COBB: I think the terms you`re looking for is Stockholm syndrome.
HARRIS: Yes, we are captured by the interest of the wealthy.
REID: And it`s almost a culture of worship. I mean, I think calling
someone job creators is an invitation to worship in a sense. It`s saying
that these people are on elevated plain. We should respect them.
It`s Rush`s myth -- if you listen to Rush`s show, what it is
elevating the rich, saying you should respect them. And they are
inherently smarter and better and there is a group of people who have
inculcated that. They have this Ayn Randian view of the wealthy as they
are better and they are going to help me somehow.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s going to -- one thing that I really do sort
of buy as the state is facing a real challenge is the Medicaid question.
And we don`t have a lot of time, but I do -- I just want to kind of lay
this out. The Affordable Health Care Act does potentially create an even
larger fiscal crisis for states based on this Medicaid question, and they
are clearly panicked and starting to try to manage it right at this moment.
But if we have worship for the rich, we clearly don`t have worship to
the poor. What -- you know, is there a reasonable way that states ought to
be addressing this Medicaid question?
KORNACKI: Well, you know, the broader solution, and the only
solution that I can think of that would affect this and generally states in
a situation like this with the recession is somehow we can get out of the
recession in the next couple of years and you have like a Democratic
president, Democratic Congress -- the thing to do in a healthy economy is
to pass some kind of automatic stabilizer program for the future, so that
the next time the recession goes down, there is something on the books that
says, here`s the money we`re going to kick to the states, here`s how we`re
going to do it.
KORNACKI: So you don`t have to go through this fight during the
recession where you`re trying to sell people, now is the time expand
government spending, it`s just going to automatically happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, this is -- this one is just killing me.
So, later this hour, campaign surrogates gone wild, and why it`s
risky business to speak on behalf of your own candidate.
But, first, the making of the next generation of black voters. We
dig into the vault to see where it all began. That`s up next.
HARRIS: It was one of the most fundamental and absolute shifts of
the political affiliation in American history. Since the Civil War and
Reconstruction, African-Americans were dedicated to the Party of Lincoln.
But in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson severed that commitment by signing
the Voter Rights Act into law. The movement was a high point for the still
growing civil rights movement for African-American, one which spawned a
generation of political leaders.
In the nearly 50 years since, that political leadership has morphed
from those who learned through marches on the street, to those who learn in
ivory towers; from those who face violence from local police, to those who
face challenges to their very identity.
This week, the Nerdland crew dug into the vault to witness that
political evolution and how it was displayed on the national stage. Take a
listen to the voices of prime time speakers at Democratic National
Conventions beginning in the 1970s.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REP. BARBARA JORDAN (D), TEXAS: I feel that, notwithstanding the
past, that my presence here is one additional bit of evidence that the
American Dream need not forever be deferred.
REV. JESSE JACKSON (D), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America`s not
like a blanket, one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same
texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt. Many patches, many
pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common
FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD, JR., (D) TENNESSEE: But I also stand here
this evening representing a new generation. A generation committed to the
ideals of the past, but inspired by unshakable confidence in our future.
REV. AL SHARPTON (D), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As a whole
generation of young leaders that have come forward across this country that
stand on integrity and stand on their tradition.
BARACK OBAMA (D), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is not a black
America and a white America and Latino America, and Asian America. There`s
the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
HARRIS-PERRY: And that guy had quite a role when he gave an encore
performance at the DNC four years later.
Coming up, it has been a rough week for that new generation of leader
leaders, and with one of the brightest stars becoming the Bain of the
other`s existence. That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: It may not be the latest reality TV sensation -- but,
folks, it seems with rein the season of surrogates gone wild.
This week, Mitt Romney`s campaign seized on a trend they identified
as, quote, "More and more Democrats are distancing themselves from Obama`s
attacks." In a press release, the Republican campaign named Senator Chuck
Schumer, Governor Deval Patrick, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand among those
who refuse to get in line.
And just what was left the Romney campaign salivating? Democrats
accused of not backing the president. And rising political star on the
outs with the Obama campaign.
So, let me refresh your memory with what Newark Mayor Cory Booker
said on Sunday`s "Meet the Press."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D), NEWARK, NJ: I have to say from a very
personal level, I`m not about to sit there and indict private equity. If
you look at the totality of Bain Capital`s record, they have done a lot the
support the businesses, grow businesses.
This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It`s
nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking
private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.
It`s either going to be a campaign about this crap or it`s going to
be a big campaign in my opinion about the issues the American public cares
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of crap, that`s when the proverbial you know
what hits the fan. Booker released his own clarification that night via
YouTube. And Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod hit the airwaves to say
Booker was wrong.
The RNC used Booker`s words to their advantage. They have a petition
going called, "I stand with Cory, support job creation."
Now, you just know that Mayor Booker is hurt that his words are now
fodder for the RNC campaigning. So, what was he talking about? Was it
about the negativity of the campaign ads or the value of private equity or
both? And does all of this speak to the possibility that the new
generation of black politicians see and speak about things differently.
They don`t fall in line with the established guard -- do they risk being
Back at the stable with me are Steve Kornacki, senior writer at
Salon.com, Joy-Ann Reid, managing and Jelani Cobb of the University of
Connecticut, who is also author of a piece in the "New Yorker" magazine on
the dilemma of new black politician.
So, Jelani, this was fascinating to watch. I mean, we asked earlier
in the show, why does anybody care what the mayor of Newark cares about the
presidential election, but the fact is that this particular mayor of Newark
is a big deal.
COBB: This particular mayor of Newark is a bigger deal outside of
Newark than he is inside of Newark, which is kind of the open secret about
Cory Booker. I think what we are looking at here is whether or not he is
metaphorical of that generation of new black politicians that was being
heralded around the time that Barack Obama first became a serious contender
for the presidency. People were comparing him to Harold Ford. They were
comparing him to Adrian Fenty in Washington, D.C.
HARRIS-PERRY: Archer Davis.
COBB: Archer Davis in Alabama. And you know, between those
individuals, only President Obama and Cory booker remained in elective
office. Fenty lost historically the black vote in Washington, D.C.
Arthur Davis made a gubernatorial bid in which he lost the primary in
African-Americans were 50 percent of the primary voters and he did not get
the black voters there in Alabama.
And we`re looking at what Cory Booker`s re-election campaign was like
in 2010, he won, but he did not by the numbers he was expected to win, and
he didn`t win the black vote.
So, I think that says a lot about where his allegiances may be or
where his future may lie as a politician, and maybe this is what we saw on
"Meet the Press."
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I mean, it was shocking the watch the mayor of
Newark, take Cory Booker out of it, just, you know, tell the story if you
have been asleep for 20 years, you know the mayor of Newark was just on
"Meet the Press" not shocking. And then the mayor of Newark was just on
"Meet the Press" defending private equity reforms. I mean, that was an
indication that was something was different in the world.
KORNACKI: You know, the interesting to me is one of the first things
I covered in politics was Cory Booker`s run for mayor in 2002 against Sharp
James. And you had --
HARRIS-PERRY: The "Street Fight" story.
KORNACKI: Yes, they literally made a movie about it. It was so
The dynamite about that race though I was that you had Sharpe James
who was basically a Newark lifer, you know, there yesterday, here today,
will be here tomorrow. And what really did Booker in, in that race was, he
wasn`t here yesterday. He`s here now, he probably won`t be here tomorrow.
And he was trying something really new.
Traditionally, politicians in the city like Newark are doomed
statewide in New Jersey. You can win a mayor`s job, you can maybe win a
seat in Congress that`s based in Newark, that`s about as high as you can
go. To the rest of the state, you are punching bag, you know?
Suburban taxpayer, your money is being wasted in Newark.
KORNACKI: Cory Booker was a guy who began with this sort of built-in
appeal, he came from the suburbs himself, he had all the connections from
the Yale, from Stanford and the Wall Street world and all of this, and
those people were very comfortable with him from the beginning and he went
into Newark to create a story that you could look at it cynically that
would be there appealing to the suburban audience , that would be very sort
of appealing of the high-end donor audience. And he`s cultivated that
base, that high-end donor base, better than anybody had seen in New Jersey
They funded -- 25 percent of his money in 2002 in that campaign came
from Wall Street, and all of the way back then.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that is the most cynical story, right? The most
cynical story is -- and it`s easy to do to Cory this week, because he is
such a nice punching bag based on the story, but the nice story the new
generation of black politicians bringing the resources that had not been
available to a Sharpe James, brings those resources to a city like Newark
so that suddenly a mayor of Newark can end up on "Meet the Press" and can
talk about urban problems, and can talk about reform. So, there are
clearly are sort of two different ways to read that.
REID: Well, the issue that we at "The Grio", we had our writer talk
to Cory Booker and ask him specifically did Bain Capital and he said they
have a good story to tell, too, did they create jobs. So, we asked well,
OK, well, have they created jobs in Newark? And the answer is no.
So he is talking about a story that isn`t about Newark really, and
when he is defending something like private equity, he really truly is
defending his donors and his backers, not an entity that has given
resources to his community. So, I think that`s the problem with this
And I don`t believe for a moment that he wasn`t saying exactly what
he felt on "Meet the Press." I think he believed every word he was saying.
There was a lot of passion in it. He was a passionate defender of private
equity, because I think he believes that.
HARRIS-PERRY: He came back on YouTube. Let`s take a --
REID: The hostage video.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s look at the YouTube video in just a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOOKER: Let me be clear. Mitt Romney has made his business record a
centerpiece of his campaign. He`s talked about himself as a job creator,
and therefore, it is reasonable and in fact, I encourage it for the Obama
campaign to examine that record and to discuss it. I have no problem with
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: He is like, let me speak clear and you can tweet me
here and I don`t like Mitt Romney, and I`m down for the president.
COBB: The only thing missing from that video is the guy in the
background shouting "Death to America."
HARRIS-PERRY: No, no, no.
But it does, and if I cannot, if I cannot count on the mayor of New
York to be the champion of blue collar workers and if I can`t say that
there is at least some few places where local working class people still
control the arm of government still have their voice, and then is that the
end? I mean, is this version of populist democracy just over?
KORNACKI: Well, to Jelani`s point, you know, you probably can`t
count on that starting in the year 2014, because that`s the next Newark
election and like he said, Jelani said, you know, he was running -- in
2010, Booker was running against guy under sealed federal indictment.
Booker had millions of dollars. Booker won this thing with like 58 percent
of the vote.
OK, in 2014, somebody is going to take a serious run at him if he
runs again, and the thinking is that what everybody has said about Booker,
he will use it for two terms and then go statewide and everybody is saying
that in 2014, he wants to go after Frank Lautenberg and up and out for him.
But it`s out of Newark.
HARRIS-PERRY: You think that moment on "Meet the Press" is the call
-- the siren call to all of the potential Booker challengers?
KORNACKI: I think it crystallizes the tension that has been there
all along. It was the same tension that Sharpe James tapped into in 2002
when Sharpe James was vulnerable and he basically said, look, I`m one of
you, Cory Booker isn`t. You know, I reflect your values, Cory Booker
That`s what the "Meet the Press" interview crystallizes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, we will stop beating up on Cory. But we are
going to beat up a little bit on Bain as soon as we come back.
And coming up, we`re really going to ask whether or not private
equity is the thing to attack. We`ll answer that right after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I happen to believe that
having been in the private sector for 25 years gives me a perspective on
how jobs are created that someone who has never spent a day in the private
sector, like President Obama, simply does not understand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, it`s certainly not quite fair to say that the
president has not spent a day in the private sector. We know he was an ice
cream scooper at Baskin-Robbins at one point. But that said, I think
there`s a real question here about whether or not private sector experience
counts as a qualification for being the president of the United States.
To talk about that, back at the table for me are "Salon`s" Steve
Kornacki, "The Grio`s" Joy-Ann Reid, and UConn`s Jelani Cobb.
All right. So, Cory Booker comes back and says, no, no, really, Bain
is on the table. Romney clearly puts Bain on the table. He`s like, I like
to talk about Bain, I like to talk about myself as a job creator, even if
Bain were not private equity, even people had not been laid off, is being a
job creator in the private sector an actual accomplishment that we ought to
account for when voting for president?
REID: This is my favorite, one of my favorite topics, and I`m so
glad that you brought it up, because it is a bugaboo. I never understood
how people in polls give business experience a lot of credit, they think of
that as a positive for being in the White House. It doesn`t translate.
Being in business, your job is to create profit. And if it creating
profit means laying everybody off that you can, reducing your workforce,
cutting wages, that`s what you do. Being in government is not about that.
It`s not about creating profit.
Government involves caring for the people who are the least, caring
for the poor, figuring out what to do about the elderly, about
infrastructure, investing money in things that won`t necessarily make a
profit, railroads, Eisenhower, the highways that they built, that wasn`t
profitable. That was an investment government made.
It`s not -- it doesn`t translate.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, this is not a small point that if in fact, you
know, we look at the Bain record and the value is whether or not he created
profit, Romney is good at it. He just is, in fact, actually very good at
making money, making profits, but that isn`t in fact what government is
meant to be up to.
KORNACKI: And in the other question, you have this background, this
unique background -- does this give you special sort of policy insight?
Does this -- do you have an agenda that comes out of your experience in the
private sector that`s going to be different than anything that`s on the
table right now in national politics?
And if you look at what Romney is offering, Romney is offering
something that basically the Republicans in Congress are now offering.
He`s basically said he wants to sign off on the Paul Ryan budget plan. He
thinks that`s good for the country`s economic future.
It`s sort of irrelevant that he has a private sector background,
because in that sense he would be the Republican president to sign the
Republican budget plan. You look at it on the other side, and, OK,
President Obama really doesn`t have the private sector experience that Mitt
Romney does. But look at what President Obama is saying about the taxes,
and the tax rates on the rich, and Romney will say this kills jobs -- well,
Obama has put himself in the same camp as Warren Buffett.
Warren Buffett knows something about the private sector and they have
a same policy vision there. So I don`t see how Romney`s background
translates to anything unique from the policy standpoint.
So, you know, I say judge by what he did in Massachusetts and what
we`ll do with the Republican Congress. That`s a lot more relevant.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, this is one thing that the CEOs tend to get
frustrated about in the land of the government sector, is in fact that
being president is not like being COO of America. That`s not what the job
is you can`t just sort of hire and fire the Congress at will. I`m sure
there are plenty of people who would like to.
And in fact, some of the most effective presidents were those who
were great legislators. I mean, we think about master of the Senate Lyndon
Johnson. It wasn`t because he was some great CEO who could tell people
what to do, it`s because he could navigate those political waters, at a
very particular way.
I got to tell you, Mitt Romney doesn`t seem like he`s particularly
adept at the navigation of the political world.
COBB: Well, one of the things that this highlights is just the
shortened attention span of the public and the immediate amnesia, because
it was not all that long ago that we were hailing George W. Bush as the
first MBA president, and the first president with an MBA, and we see how
well that played out in terms of the U.S. economy.
The other thing I think about this is in the rhetorical side of it in
terms of using the term job creator -- it implies that there should be a
certain degree of gratitude that people create jobs as a kind of largess
and the rest of us are the unworthy recipients of their goodwill. It just
underscores the extent to which we have moved away from the culture in
which we thought that the backbone of the country was the working people.
We have allowed the fire unions and teachers and police and so on to
be demonized in terms of what happens to public pensions, and this
diametrical opposite of what we were looking at the point whether the
country was actually expanding and growing in the 1950s and 1960s.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s so interesting you say that. When I`m out on the
road, I often hear from folks who love Ed Schultz` show. And the main
thing they love about it is that he keeps making the argument that the
backbone of America are the workers, right? It`s people who are -- the
jobs are not a gift to us, jobs are what we do that build the country and
create the profits for everybody else.
So, will we keep talking about Bain? Is Bain going to be effective,
whether or not it`s good or bad or allowable, will it be an effective tool
in this election?
REID: Well, it`s no going anywhere. I mean, first of all, those
Bain ads were built off of what Newt Gingrich`s super PAC were doing,
right, during the primary -- obviously an effective argument. And I think
that Jelani makes a really good point, is because the working person has
become the villain.
And it`s incredible. It`s just when the Tea Party started, their
villain wasn`t Wall Street. Their villain was the potential that the
homeowners could get free money from the government. That`s how they have
So, we have gotten into the thing of demonizing and villainizing
homeowners who were under water, working. Instead of Rosie the riveter
being on those posters in the `40s, it was like who guy who owned the
factory. It does not make any sense.
KORNACKI: You know, I would say that in terms of the will at work,
there was an interesting finding in the NBC poll that came out this week,
because I have been wondering the same question. I said, you know, we`ve
heard a lot about Bain. He doesn`t seem to be moving anything yet. Maybe
it`s not working.
It found that I think 9 percent of the voters said they have heard of
Bain and they have a positive view of it. About 19 said they have heard of
it, and they have like a negative view of it.
And something about 60 percent sort of heard of it and don`t really
have a view. So it suggests that there are a lot of people out there, if
you look at the ratio right now of the people who don`t know about it, and
the people who can sort of look at it and come to the conclusion that the
Obama campaign is trying to get them to and that`s fundamental.
You have to, if you`re the Obama campaign, you to have to break that
link between people associating private sector experience with economic
competence -- you have to break that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Steve, that that -- and the notion that there is a
learning curve, and that is what you want in a campaign is that you want
the place where people have not yet formed conclusive opinions, because you
can teach them what you want them to know.
In just a moment, the story of one man who hit bottom and is now on
But first, it`s time for the preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT,"
but that`s not Alex. That`s Craig Melvin.
CRAIG MELVIN, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hey there, Melissa Harris-Perry. Good
to see you.
Top of the hour, strange happenings at the John Edwards` trial.
Court watchers say they have never seen anything like it. We`re going to
talk to someone who is there and witnessed it all.
Also, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. He took on Mitt Romney when
the GOP hopeful came to town. We`re going to talk to the mayor and ask him
if he thinks that anything constructive came out of Mitt Romney`s visit.
And the tenor of the presidential campaign -- it is already getting
heated, and we`ve got five months to go. In strategy talk, we`re going to
examine how the next five month just may shape up.
And it is the best in politics, including Rachel Maddow telling us
about the plastic soldier on the cover of the best selling new book.
All of that and lots more at the top of the hour. But for now,
Melissa, back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks, Greg. It really is getting hot in this
election already. It`s like this is joy for the rest of us who cover this
MELVIN: Right. And where do we go from here is the question?
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s going to get better and better. It`s going
to get like the Edwards` trial.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks, Craig.
Up next, from dealing drugs to visiting the White House. One young
man`s remarkable journey of personal growth. He is our foot soldier.
HARRIS-PERRY: There are many ways to refer to our young people who
lose their way. Some call them at-risk or, worse, problems.
This week, our foot soldier uses the term "disconnected" to describe
himself. Our foot soldier once dropped out of high school. He became a
parent in his late teens.
He both sold and used drugs. He`s been shot three times. His older
brother and cousin were murdered.
Twenty-two-year-old Ryan Dalton`s biography reads like the very
definition of disconnected youth. The hand he was dealt was not easy. He
was sixth of 11 children in a family without a father, a family that was
forced to flee New Orleans 8th Ward for Houston when Ryan was 15 and
hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
So, Ryan returned to New Orleans two years later alone to finish high
school. But after graduating and starting college, his life went off-track
again. He dropped out, became a parent, began dealing and using drugs.
His prospects didn`t look good.
But his sister wasn`t ready to give up. She stepped in and helped to
change his life when she returned Ryan on to Cafe Reconcile. It`s part of
a larger program, Reconcile New Orleans, Cafe Reconcile is a non-profit
soul food restaurant located in central city New Orleans which trains
disconnected youth, offering them both culinary and life skills in a 12-
Ryan completed the program in 2009 and since then has done much more
than stay on the straight and narrow. Ryan turned his life from
disconnected to productive, by reimaging the very meaning of urban renewal.
Ryan saw that post-Katrina urban renewal had to be about more than
rebuilding homes and reopening businesses. It had to be about the renewal
of people, human beings. And once he saw this, Ryan got to work.
After graduating from Cafe Reconcile, Ryan worked for seven months at
the New Orleans School of Cooking and now he`s doing the floor training at
the cafe. He`s a national youth ambassador with the Youth Leadership
Institute and he`s back in college pursuing a business degree.
So Ryan is keeping himself busy, which is the very core of his idea
up for consideration in the Spark Opportunity Challenge, which is a digital
contest for youth proposals to create jobs and opportunities. Ryan`s idea
-- the PUSH Project -- would address idleness.
What he says is actually the greater root cause of problems,
including drug use and violence. He`d do that by making use of
underutilized public parks during the summer. He can explain it even
better than me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN DALTON: By doing that, we plan to start summer camps and after-
school programs which would keep the education flowing, not only would it
keep the education flowing, but it would also create employment
opportunities for camp counselors or camp cultures or whatever it may be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk about reimaging a job creator. The capper to
all this is that Ryan was one of three young people chosen to go to the
White House summit on June 4th to discuss community solutions for youth
like him -- youth like he used to be.
We hope that this is one foot soldier who not only stays busy, but
keeps making all those connections. Have fun at the White House, Ryan.
That`s our show for today.
Thank you to Steve Kornacki, Joy-Ann Reid, and Jelani Cobb for
sticking around. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you
tomorrow morning. Why? Margaret Cho is coming back to the table.
And coming up right now, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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