'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, June 23, 2012
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
Guests: Lee Fang, Alicia Menendez, Peter Edelman, Bakari Sellers, Catherine Crier, Raul Reyes, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Jelani Cobb, Carol Adams, Rachel Swarns
HARRIS-PERRY: This morning, my question, what`s more important?
Political posturing or the help of seventh graders? Plus, the farm bill
ensures that cereal makers have their corn syrup, but it won`t make sure
that hungry kids have cereal for breakfast. And how the first lady`s
personal story belongs to many others. But first, guilty. Former Penn
State coach Jerry Sandusky will almost certainly spend the rest of his life
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. As Jerry Sandusky was led
out of the courthouse in handcuffs late last night, the gathered crowds
cheered and the once revered Penn State University football defensive
coordinator was convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse. Sandusky`s
story is one of both heinous personal crimes and utter institutional
failure to protect the most vulnerable -- our children. But this is also a
story about the power of courage, the courage of survivors, who chose to
come forward to share their pain and their torment, and by putting Sandusky
away, they ensured that no one else will ever be his victim. I`m joined at
the table by Catherine Crier, former judge and an Emmy award winning
journalist, and Raul Reyes, attorney and NBClatino.com contributor, but
first, let me bring an NBC News correspondent, Ron Allen, who`s in
Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Hi, Ron.
RON ALLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. How are you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m doing OK. You know, obviously, everyone`s eyes
have been riveted right there on Bellefonte waiting for this verdict, which
came very late last night. Tell me a little bit about what you saw on the
ALLEN: Well, it was really an amazing night. As you said, there were
two days of deliberation building up to this. It was late Friday night.
We had no idea whether the jury was going to continue into the weekend or
whether they would announce a verdict at any hour. Suddenly, we were
getting rumblings that the attorney general for the state was here. There
was rumblings that Jerry Sandusky and his wife were suddenly in a car
coming this way and then we knew we got our 20-minute announcement that
there would be a verdict. The crowd started building. There were people
from -- across this community, hundreds of people who came here. Many
saying that they wanted to be here to witness what was going to be a moment
of history. And a moment of catharsis. I don`t think anybody really
thought that Jerry Sandusky would be found innocent of many of these
charges if any. I think the big question was whether he would be convicted
of everything. All 48. Here`s the headline from the local newspaper. It
says "Guilty" and here is a picture of Jerry Sandusky with a blank stare on
his face. And what you don`t see behind this, was a very emotional scene,
one of the victims, hugging the lead prosecutor in the case, in tears and
saying, thank you. It was that kind of night. It was that kind of trial.
A lot of emotion and as you said in your introduction, this is an
institutional problem. So there`s still a long way to go. There are still
many cases to come.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Ron, obviously ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... you know, your point there about the victim, the
survivor standing there. Hugging, finding some closure, but obviously in
it being a big story, it`s also about this entire town. In certain ways,
about the entire state that have a sense of stake in Penn State. In the
football coaches. In their sense of attachment to that institution. The
cheering crowds, what -- sort of what was that particular set of emotions
ALLEN: Well, interestingly it felt like a sporting event. It felt
like a rally. And that, what more fitting for Penn State University?
Because I think more than anything, it`s about Penn State University and
their football program. The president of the college was fired. Joe
Paterno, the legendary coach was fired and then died a couple of months
after that. There are two other top administrators who are going to face
criminal charges in the coming weeks and months. There`s an internal
investigation that focuses on who knew what, when that could bring down
more administrators at Penn State. This has tarnished the school`s
reputation for perhaps decades to come. Hopefully not, but for a long time
to come, it`s very, very enduring and searing what happened here and last
night, the outpouring of emotion was something of a release of that.
People say this is a milestone. They know it`s not the end. In some ways,
it`s just a beginning. Because now that we`ve gotten past Jerry Sandusky,
there`s again, just infinite questions remaining. Just last week, there
were two more victims who came forward publicly including Matt Sandusky --
Jerry Sandusky`s adopted son -- so again, this goes very, very deep.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, but the moment we met Matt Sandusky, made his
story public was obviously emotional for everyone. Thank you, Ron Allen.
I appreciate you being here to talk with us. Now, I want to turn to you
guys, Raul and Catherine. So obviously, I mean I think particularly folks
who were in Pennsylvania today are emotional. Those of us who are parents
are emotional. Anyone who`s ever had a sense of attachment to community
based organizations like the one that Sandusky was running, that sense of
vulnerability. Talk to me a little bit not just about the case, but what
this means sort of more broadly for all of us.
CATHERINE CRIER, ATTORNEY: Think, though, just several months ago,
when I was listening to Ron, picture that came to mind were -- was in the
moment when Paterno was fired.
CRIER: All the students protesting his firing. How dare you do this?
Now, it doesn`t take but a few months and the rally is on the other side.
And this is why we need to be so careful. There`s a real problem here. We
get swayed by emotions. We want to protect our institutions, our loved
CRIER: But sometimes, we have to remove those blinders and go here is
the real world and the cold hard facts, and it was great to be
congratulatory last night. Applauding the prosecution and this and that,
but I kept thinking and saying, where were you in `98?
RAUL REYES, ATTORNEY: Right.
CRIER: Where were you in 2002, even when -- when Paterno had to go?
How many people were upset saying, maybe -- you know, let`s sort of bury
this conversation. We don`t want to look--
CRIER: We prefer our heroes and our status quo. We need to be
REYES: And what was so striking to me in his closing argument, Mr.
Amendola, he made it -- as you know, as just part of his defense, he says
is it, are we to believe that only in retirement in the last 15 years that
this man became a serial child predator? But you know, you can look at that
from the other way. More -- and I think it cuts two ways. That most
likely, he may have been doing this his entire career.
REYES: It`s only been this last period that we know about it, and the
thing that`s so important is that we must respect the -- you know, when a
child comes forward with the story like this, we must respect it. And no
matter you know what the circumstances because ...
CRIER: Then you look back and there were even investigations.
REYES: Even the parents didn`t believe them.
HARRIS-PERRY: That was one of the most ...
CRIER: The cops, the university.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this is one of the most searing moments, is that
unlike most cases of sexual assault, there was a corroborating eyewitness
to one of these assaults, and I think that is part of what is so nauseating
here. This idea that there was, that in the institution, people who had
HARRIS-PERRY: ... very strong reasons to believe that this was going
REYES: And this is just the tip of the iceberg because going forward,
you know, there are still other people who are going to come forward.
There`s going to be tremendous liability for Second Mile, for the
university. For the athletic -- department of athletics, maybe even the
commonwealth. So, there is so much going on, this is just the tip of the
iceberg. And it is a great to celebrate this verdict, but there are still
so many people out there. It`s very commendable that these guys can come
in and tell their story, but for me, also, one of the most wrenching things
was that in court, you know, we didn`t see this, but in court, they give
their testimony, but they showed pictures of them at that age. At age 11.
CRIER: Yeah, right, exactly. Not a grown-up man.
REYES: So, a parent, you know, it`s -- that is really the gut test.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it came -- and Penn State was pretty -- you`re
talking -- we`re talking a little bit about the liability, they were pretty
restrained in their comments, right, so saying ...
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, right, saying basically "... the legal process
has spoken. We have tremendous respect for the men who came forward to
tell their stories publicly. No verdict can undo the pain and suffering
caused by Mr. Sandusky, but we do hope the judgment helps the victims and
their families along their path to healing." This sort of path to healing
language rather than any sense of obviously their own complicity in this.
CRIER: Yeah. There`s one comment, I would love the viewers to look
at the story about the Monsignor in Philadelphia. We had a verdict
yesterday. This was -- this was revolutionary in the sense that first time
a church administrator ...
CRIER: ... was held responsible for endangering a child, but they
acquitted on conspiracy, so we`re back to a lot of Catholics on the jury
not blaming anybody, but we`re back to, OK, he`s the bad guy, we don`t want
to talk about the obvious bigger picture. Same thing we`ve got here. The
moment this story broke, I said what we`re not going to hear are whether
it`s alums, powerful alums, the football program, university officials and
even law enforcement that knowingly turned their backs.
REYES: And it`s a very parallel situation where the scandal breaks,
was their first instinct is to protect Joe Paterno ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. That`s right. That`s right.
REYES: ... to protect the athletic department, and meanwhile, we have
these kids who have, you know, been brutalized and suffered horrific abuse.
It`s very similar to what`s been going on with the Roman Catholic Church.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s telling these kids -- right, telling these
kids who are now adults, you matter less.
CRIER: Or you`re dispensable.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right, right.
REYES: Go away!
CRIER: Yeah, absolutely.
REYES: Very disturbing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much, Catherine and Raul for being here.
Obviously, it`s the tough morning, but also maybe one where we`re starting
to get on the path to some healing. Not just for the family, but maybe for
our institutions as we start to talk about what is happening here.
Up next, the secret meetings happening out west this weekend. We`re
trying to get our foot in the door.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`ve got a riddle for you. When is left
right? The answer is today. Because today, the political right wing has
taken over the left coast, which this weekend is playing host to the masses
of the conservative universe. Everyone who`s anyone in the Republican
Party at this very moment or once the Pacific time coast wakes up is on the
West Coast attending one of two weekend gatherings, where the guest list
may include the biggest names in conservative money and power.
One of those events, we all know about, that`s Mitt Romney`s three-day
retreat at the Deer Valley resort in Park City, Utah. He`s going to give
700 of his biggest fund-raisers the chance to get up close and personal
with their favorite presidential candidate. And while the guest list is
invite only, if you pressed your face against the window, you`d see a room
full of GOP heavy weights. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the
2008 GOP nominee, Senator John McCain. V.P. shortlister, Louisiana
Governor, Bobby Jindal and Republican strategist, Karl Rove just to name a
few. My kind of party -- Karl Rove, Condi Rice. OK.
But now, about 750 miles southwest of Park City is San Diego,
California. And this is the site of another convention organized by
Charles and David Koch. The billionaires often portrayed as bogeymen who
bankroll conservative causes and keep Democrats up at night with nightmares
of attack ads funded by bottomless pockets. If you pressed your face up
against that window, you`d see, well not very much. You`d see, let`s just
say that the window is a lot less transparent. The Koch convention is so
shrouded in secrecy, that a San Diego alternative weekly is sponsoring a
find the Koch brothers contest to figure out where in the city it`s even
being held. Politico.com, who first reported on the convention, says that
the Koch brothers political operation has evolved into something more akin
to a political party, and that this weekend`s gathering is focused on
consolidating their power and extending their reach.
According to the report, many of the dozens of rich conservatives
invitees are expected to write huge checks to pool cash distributed among
Koch-approved groups, and potentially boosting the Koch`s 2012 spending
plan beyond their historic $395 million goal. It`s also a chance for the
Kochs to show off their increasingly robust political machine, including a
growing voter database project.
So, as, of course, you know, here in Nerdland, we`re not ones to
suffer conspiracy theories kindly. In fact, we`ve taken great pains on
this show to debunk the idea of the dark, smoky, secret backroom meetings
of millionaires and billionaires plotting to take over the country. But
then we saw the Politico article about a secret meeting of millionaires and
billionaires plotting to use their money and influence to expand their
already formidable political power to take over the country, or at least to
turn it into a place more suitable to their business interests.
We got a little uncomfortable, so now let me state this clearly, we do
not have 100 percent certainty that the meeting is even taking place. We
called multiple representatives for the Koch brothers and their interests.
We spoke with one and asked point-blank, can you confirm or deny that such
a meeting is taking place as reported by multiple media outlets? He chose
to neither confirm nor deny. It is that big a secret. And to be fair,
look, rich liberals, the few that we have, they`re also having their own
secret meetings and in rooms with curtains that are closed for the rest of
us, but these are citizens, private citizens, well within the rights as
Americans to come together as a group of kind of like-minded individuals
talk about how they like to spend their money. But when that money
influences the outcome of elections, it stops being a private conversation
among friends, and when those closed rooms have implications for our shared
and very public democracy, aren`t we entitled to know what`s going on
Joining me here at the table, Lee Fang, an investigative reporter who
has spent the last three years covering the Koch brothers. Also, Kathleen
Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Professor
of the University of Pennsylvania of Annenberg Center for Communications.
Alicia Menendez, host of "HuffPo Live." And Peter Edelman, law professor at
Georgetown Law. Thanks to all of you for being here.
Lee, I want to start with you. You were thrown out of one of these
Koch brothers secret meetings. Tell me about that.
LEE FANG, FREELANCE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, you know, I found
out about the similar event that happened in January in Indian Wells, and
given the importance of these meetings and how they affect public policy, I
decided to try to check myself into the hotel and intend -- and find what I
could report. Unfortunately, they threw me out. And the few details I was
able find, I went to the airport there and just kind of cataloged the
planes as they came in to figure out, you know, who are these donors ...
FANG: ... because it`s 100 percent secret. But, you know, two years
ago, I was the first to report a -- a brochure (ph) that explained what
really goes on at these events, and that`s kind of how other public started
to take an interest.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, and so, Koch brothers is a name that probably
most New Yorkers, for example, know from their philanthropic work. Right?
So, before you started doing this kind of investigative reporting, if I
said Koch brothers, you would think about, you know, the Koch brothers as
arts patrons, or you would think about the Koch brothers as hospital, you
know, emergency room patrons. Why are -- and the reason you know it is
because their names are on their philanthropic work, right, they have
plaques to them. Why then keep their political work so secret? Why be so
non-transparent about that?
FANG: Well, I -- when -- here`s just one important detail of the Koch
meetings. The person who hands out the grants to think tanks, these issue
ads groups, some of these grassroots organizations, these two gentlemen
named Richard Fink and Kevin Gentry -- they are the philanthropy heads of
Koch Industries, but they also double as some of the chief lobbyists at
Koch public industries. So their main job is to advance to the business
interests of Koch Industries. So a lot of this quote/unquote,
philanthropy, is not necessarily for the public interest, it`s for the
private business interest of that multinational conglomerate that is Koch
industries and many of their allies.
HARRIS-PERRY: But so -- we get in trouble sometimes when we`re trying
to kind of, you know, trace what`s going on with Koch money. And we`ll
often hear, well, look, you know, private industry or private individuals
giving money to public concerns is part of what America is. Is there
something different about what`s going on with Koch?
ALICIA MENENDEZ, HOST, HUFFPOST LIVE: There is. I mean, when you
look at their philanthropy, it is in fact philanthropic, that which happens
publicly. What happens behind closed doors is very much in the interest of
an elite set of people. It`s funny that we talk about transparency,
because we know what they`re in there talking about. They`re talking about
deregulation. They`re talking about making sure that things like the
estate tax are not renewed in the next Congress. They are exclusively
looking at things that benefit a very small portion of people, and that`s
why they don`t want it to be out there in the public.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what`s wrong with that? OK, if I`m a wealthy
person, I`m an American, I have interests, and my interests are in the
estate taxes. I actually have an estate to pass on. What`s wrong with me
using the resources that I have to bring to bear? I mean if I`m an older
person, who is relying on Social Security, I get together with my friends
at the AARP and we try to, you know, address things that will address older
folks. If I`m in the NAACP, we`re going to try to make sure we`ve got
racial justice happening. How is it that the Koch brothers is somehow
different from these other organized interest groups, which will use
whatever resources they have? Whether it`s money or whether it is the issue
of, you know, sort of being able to mobilize voters?
FANG: May I give you an anecdote?
FANG: In 2010, the Koch brothers secretly funded the group called the
Regulation Reality Tour. They were sponsoring a bus tour in pivotal states
where they wanted to pressure senators to pass legislation to restrict the
EPA from being able to regulate carbon emissions. A big priority for Koch
industries. But the group went out and they dressed as EPA police and they
would go out to people as kind of street theater, and they said if the EPA
is allowed to move forward, the EPA will send these carbon police to your
church and shut down your church. It will shut down your refrigerator.
They won`t allow you even to breathe. Because you breathe carbon dioxide.
They used a lot of misinformation and they never said that who they were
really being funded by, a big conglomerate that has big stake in this EPA
HARRIS-PERRY: So, is it misinformation? Is that the real issue -- not
their secrecy, not that we can`t press our nose up against the window
because we don`t know what window the building might be on because we don`t
know where the meeting is happening. But is it because they`re using
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, ANNENBERG PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: Here is what
we can say historically. When you get further removed from the candidate,
you become more attack driven and you become more deceptive. You do that
on the left and you do that on the right. When advertising moves to
political parties from candidates in 1996, higher level of attacks, higher
level of deception. When PACs emerged, the same thing happened. Issue
advocacy groups, the same thing happened. And what you`re seeing now is
the distinction between C4s, which don`t have to disclose anything, and
super PACs and groups who you can at least identify. AFSCME -- American
Federation of State, Local and Municipal Employees, and what we saw when we
looked at that pattern in this year, we looked at the top four spending
super PACs, top three, and then AFSCME, because that put -- that was in
fact fourth on the list for the primary period through Wisconsin. We found
57 percent of their advertising contained at least one deception called out
by one of the fact checking organizations. C4s -- no disclosure.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And so, if we`re talking about the C4s, we`re
talking about not the campaign ...
JAMIESON: ... but something that is farther removed from the
candidate, then you`re more likely to end up with commercials, advertising
that actually says something that is at least somewhat deceptive ....
JAMIESON: ... as it`s trying to make its claim.
HARRIS-PERRY: That at least one of the fact-checking groups
considered to be deceptive. And so what you`re seeing is anonymity tends
to breed attack and deception. And we ought to, I think, worry about
deception wherever we find it. And we ought to worry about this
relationship between anonymity and deception.
HARRIS-PERRY: And deception. That`s a great point. We`re going to
talk more about the Koch brothers, and I want to point out that we did
invite the Koch brothers or one of their representatives to come on the
show, and they declined, but they did send us a response, and I`m going to
read that response, so don`t go away.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking this morning about a private, very
private, secret, political gathering, maybe, being held in San Diego by
billionaire businessmen, Charles and David Koch. And we invited the Koch
brothers or a representative to join us today on the show. Now, they
declined our invitation, but sent us a statement. We agreed to read an
excerpt from the statement on the air.
The statement reads "Charles Koch and David Koch have publicly and
consistently advocated for limited government, individual liberty and
economic freedom for more than 50 years. During that time, they have
opposed policies that are counter to these principles, regardless of
whether Democrats or Republicans were in power. They have long supported a
variety of groups that analyze and advance thoughtful, reliable, free
market solutions to the pressing economic problems facing our country.
Charles Koch and David Koch support these groups because of their desire to
restore this great country to the principles of individual liberty and
freedom upon which it was founded and to put a halt to the rampant and
unchecked growth of government which threatens all Americans` future
Now, you could actually read their entire statement to us. It is up
on our Website on hpshow.com. Still with me are Lee Fang, Kathleen Hall,
Jamieson, Alicia Menendez and Peter Edelman.
So, we wanted -- I mean I was really excited about the idea of a Koch
brothers representative being here, because I feel like everybody ought to
have their say. We gave them an opportunity with the statement, but they
are also very pointedly sort of went around the table. We told them who
else we would be speaking with, and at each point, they suggested that
everyone else at the table was also guilty of all of the things that we
are, suggesting that they are guilty of to you, which is secrecy and not
making -- and not disclosing. So -- they said, for example, that, Lee,
that your former employer, the Center for American Progress, as well as the
United Republic don`t disclose your donors. Alicia Menendez, your former
employer, the New Democratic Network, keeps their donors` contributions not
public. And then they said of us as professors, that we go to academic
conferences that do not allow the media. And I just can`t even imagine
what the media would want to know about what goes on in our -- I actually
think we`d be really excited to have some press at our conferences, even if
we would have very low ratings. So what say you to these statements by the
PETER EDELMAN, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIV.: I couldn`t wait to
hear what the accusations would be in my case. OK.
EDELMAN: I mean, I`ve worked for a university. I`m chair of a
foundation. Everything that I do, I am on the board of the Center for
American Progress Action Fund. Everything I do is -- discloses where the
money comes from. Completely.
FANG: And you know, I work for the United Republic. We disclose our
donors, so I`m not sure where Koch is getting their facts. But it`s hard
to trust the Koch P.R. shop. You know, in 2009, they put out aggressive
statements to the media saying, we have nothing to do with the Tea Party.
We demand the correction for anyone who associates us with the Tea Party.
Now, they say we`re proud to support the Tea Party and we`ve always
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, and you know, the Tea Party, one of -- maybe the
one that, well, there`s a lot that irritates me. But it`s one of the ones
that irritates me the most, because, you know, to the extent that the Tea
Party was a grassroots movement that came up sort of legitimately from
folks who were -- who lost, but said I still have a voice -- in that sense,
I would support the Tea Party. Not substantively, but in their right to
have a voice even if you lose an election. But to the extent that they are
backed and funded by very powerful interests who make them appear to be
grassroots when in fact they are not, I find that much more -- much more
MENENDEZ: Right, and it goes back to your point about their
misinformation and their theatrics, which is they`ve done a very good job
of selling this information as absolute fact. Including this entire meme
that the Tea Party is completely homegrown.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, so, so despite the fact they don`t disclose
everything, we do have some numbers. And so, this is actually from the
Center for American Progress Action Fund who talks about where the Koch
financial insolence goes. That there`s 85 million donated to right wings
think tanks or advocacy groups. 45 million spent in the 2010 midterms,
another 2.1 million spent in -- 2010 midterms do direct donations, 1.2 to
governors in 2010, 5.2, the state elections. 395 million for a spending
goal for 2012. Now, when you look at sort of each individual congressman,
each individual senator, sometimes, it adds up to nothing more than $2,500,
$4,000. And you say, you`re not buying a lot of influence for $4,000, but
when you look at $395 million as their spending goal in 2012, I just sort
of wonder what else is there that could even counter such a powerful force?
MENENDEZ: Especially since they`ve been doing this for a very long
time. Right, progressives, it`s taken them much longer to come to the
table with their rebuttal to this. So when you look at that first number,
which represents the largest portion of all of this, that`s infrastructure
that they`ve been building for the last 20 years. And that now is paying
off in dividends. Whether that is legislation that they`ve been crafting
at their think tanks that now shows up in Congress. Sometimes you think
that these pieces of legislation that the congressmen are really just
sitting out there (inaudible), right, no, these come from these places, and
these organized efforts come from these places, and that is the thing that
progressives will have a very hard time responding to.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, are we just mad because as progressives we don`t
have the Koch brothers? As I was reading in a book last night, Peter, I`m
reading about the Fields and the Fords and the fact there`s a ton of money
on the left. Although it`s not a ton. It`s actually a little dribble of
money on the left that helps to fund, you know, progressive policy making.
It`s just -- are we just hating like because we don`t have folks this rich
to push our agenda?
EDELMAN: Well, no, all of the things, that -- the Field -- that`s the
Marshall Field family of Chicago, the New York branch was very liberal --
did their giving through publicly disclosed foundations, every grant they
made was reported, everything they get was knowable. This is totally
different. And what you have here, which is so important to this
conversation, is that some of the individual things they`re doing are fine.
It`s the aggregate, and the aggregate is fueled and supported and enabled
by Citizens United.
EDELMAN: So, at the heart of this is the fact that so much of the
money is not the $2,500 that goes to the individual congressperson. It`s
all this stuff that is not disclosed. And it`s just flooding the whole
political process. Plus, the lack of disclosure where legally it could be
done in terms of legislation, and we`re not doing it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we are not doing it. Lee Fang, thank you so much
for coming ...
FANG: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: ... and talking to us a little bit about your
reporting. The rest are staying for more. And up next, President Obama
has promised more transparency and open government, but some of his
policies are kind of, well, you know, off the record for most of us.
What`s so wrong with that? Do we need to know everything? That`s coming up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Accusations that the Obama administration is being less
than forthcoming in a congressional investigation are at odds with the
president`s declaration upon taking office that he would set a new standard
for transparency in government. A memo about transparency and open
government is on the White House Website and it reads, quote, "My
administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness
in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and
establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration.
Openness will strengthen our democracy, promote efficiency and
effectiveness in government.
Four years later, some of the administration`s policies, including
withholding information about foreign drone strikes and opposition to the
Freedom of Information Act requests and aggressive prosecutions of
whistleblowers and leakers, has called that commitment into question. Now,
it would be easy to just accuse the administration of failing in its
commitment to transparency, but I think the more interesting question is to
ask what role transparency plays in our domestic and foreign politics? What
do we want to know? What do we need to know and do we end up with better
policy if more people are in on the secrets? Joining our conversation, is
Jelani Cobb, associate professor at the University of Connecticut, still
with me Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Alicia Menendez, and Peter Edelman, so I`ll
put that question out there, do we end up with better policy if in fact
more people are in on more of the secrets of how we govern?
JELANI COBB, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIV. OF CONNECTICUT: Well, it`s
one of those things that you can`t get one simple answer to, and like many
things in the democratic system, it is the issue of balance. You know, the
thing that we have was kind of a guiding maxim is that sunlight is the best
disinfectant. We think that, you know, the public should know everything.
And certainly, in many instances, Watergate comes to mind and, you know,
kind of with Clinton and other issues with the Secret Service, those are
instances where the attempts to have executive privilege invoked are trying
to prevent the public from knowing something that we really should know.
COBB: But as a historian, and as a historian, of course, I err on the
side of saying, we want to have access to documents.
COBB: At the same time, we look at things and say that there`s an
importance to secrecy, and there`s one good example of this. The Venona
decryptions, which occurred during the Cold War, when the U.S. government
had broken, had decrypted Soviet transmissions dispatches to spies that
were in the United States ...
COBB: ... and sat on that information. They recognized that by
disclosing that even within the federal government, it would be likely that
it would get back to these very same spies, and they would change their
HARRIS-PERRY: And I want to go a step further. Because I think that
many Americans will get on the side of OK, for national security, we`re
going to need some secrets, right? And I think we`re fairly willing to
allow our administration to make those choices. I`m going to suggest that
secrecy can have value, even in domestic politics. So, we`re thinking
about a highly polarized, very partisan system -- part of what I feel like
is going on with gridlock is you can`t get a good log rolling going in
Congress. Right, remember, log rolling was how you got, you know, domestic
policies passed because this hand washed this hand and sort of folks got it
going, because some of it was happening as deal making behind closed doors.
Not everybody was being held accountable to everything. Is that me just
sort of wanting a little corruption in my tea? You know, in order to sort
of keep the process going forward? Is it really much better if we know
EDELMAN: I think you`re being a little idealistic in the current. I
don`t think log rolling`s available right now.
EDELMAN: I mean, if you could have it -- the answer on the other side
is no to everything. It`s the Tea Party. And so, we have to understand.
HARRIS-PERRY: But that`s in part, right, because of transparency,
right, because every vote is going to be made public to their constituents
who have gone -- who have said go and say no, right?
EDELMAN: I think it`s more than that. And I think they are about --
really taking Grover Norquist very seriously. And drowning the government
so you can get rid of it in the bathtub, but so we have to understand the
yin and the yang here. The complexity. "Fast and Furious," the House has
sited Attorney General Holder for contempt. This is pure politics. This
isn`t about some high minded idea that there should be ...
EDELMAN: ... disclosure and that we should all know about it. And
law enforcement is a legitimate area, investigations are legitimate area
for executive privilege. And so ...
HARRIS-PERRY: And this president has invoked executive privilege far
less frequently than his predecessor.
EDELMAN: Absolutely so. And so, at the same time, we have to
understand that the areas, in which we legitimately say there`s an
appropriateness of executive privilege are very fuzzy on the edge ...
EDELMAN: So it`s easy for a president to claim national security and
very hard to get at that and that`s where we get into a political realm of
publicly calling for more disclosure and having an argument over what`s
appropriate and what`s not. But we really need to say these things for
what they are. What they`re trying to do to Eric Holder and from time to
time, I would say the Democrats, when they -- when we had that division,
are not blameless.
EDELMAN: But this is just pure politics.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, and Alicia, let me ask you a sort of a broader
political question on this transparency, right, because and this goes back
to the Koch brothers. What we do is hold people accountable by voting,
right? We -- so, we need to know so that we can vote them in or out of
office and it feels like with the Koch brothers, we want to know what their
funding, so that we can either vote with our consumption dollars or not, go
and buy their products or don`t go and buy their products. Is there any
claim for secrecy or is it all about no, we`ve got to know so that we can
hold them accountable?
MENENDEZ: You mean is there any claim domestically?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, domestically. Rather than the kind of foreign
MENENDEZ: I do think that people have a right to give -- to see
forth, and not necessarily have that information out in the public, but I
do believe the Citizens United has taken away what was supposed to be the
backstop to that ...
MENENDEZ: ... which is when -- when they did give to some of these
super PACs, which is really where a lot of the ads that we`ve been talking
about in terms of misinformation, anonymity that`s where the money goes.
We would know who`s giving what and when they were giving it. And the fact
that we no longer have that information and that politics, especially this
year. It`s going to be a game of battleship ...
MENENDEZ: ... where you can come in in October and drop a ton of
MENENDEZ: ... on a congressional race or on a Senate race and change
MENENDEZ: And that`s not the way the system is supposed to be set up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Make it awfully hard to -- make the democratic,
with a little D check on the backend.
Up next, why would a governor veto a bipartisan bill that may affect
the life of her only daughter? We`ll tell you about that after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, Republican Governor of South Carolina Nikki
Haley vetoed the Democratic sponsored bill with bipartisan support that
would have provided seventh graders with a free vaccine for HPV. Why?
Because, according to the governor, the vaccine would be quote "another
taxpayer-funded healthcare mandate." Now, HPV is known to cause cervical
cancer in more than 12,000 women a year nationwide. And according to the
National Cancer Institute, the disease will kill more than 4,000 women a
year. Governor Haley once supported a bill that would require the
vaccination. But has since changed her position. Despite the fact that
the Center for Disease Control recommends that the vaccine be given to all
teen girls and women through the age of 26. Joining me from Columbia,
South Carolina is the bill`s sponsor, state representative Bakari Sellers.
Representative , nice to see you.
STATE REP. BAKARI SELLERS (D), SOUTH CAROLINA : Thank you for having
me on this morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what`s the matter with South Carolina? I mean why
would a bill that is impactful on young people`s health suddenly turn into
a partisan fight?
SELLERS: Well, I`m not sure I can answer that question. When I
sponsored the bill, all I was trying to do was help remedy some of the
disparities we have here in health care. And many of those disparities are
due to access. Our governor unfortunately put politics in front of women`s
health and I think that`s a travesty. We have one more opportunity on
Tuesday to override her veto and I need a few more votes, so I`m going to
show this morning and going around the state hoping that we can finally
take a progressive step forward and create healthy communities throughout
HARRIS-PERRY: No, I mean, Representative Sellers, you know, I -- with
all due respect, when I first saw that you had cosponsored this, I thought
wait a minute, how does he end up co-sponsoring this and the mother of a
14-year-old girl, Governor Haley, end up actually vetoing this. So, tell
me how you became the one to introduce this?
SELLERS: Well, Dr. Harris-Perry, I`m only 27 years old, but I`ve been
here for six years in the state House, and what I like to do every day when
I govern is try to make sure that people have access to quality and first
class health care and this was a way we could do that. The medicine was on
our side. The health care community supported us and I thought that we
were half the way there and I really thought that she was going to support
the bill and she didn`t. She`s trying to prove something to someone and
she was right with hypocrisy. As you said earlier, in 2007, she supported
the bill. A more firm mandate than this is. This is very voluntary, very
permissive -- preventive.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because your bill -- your bill is not a
mandate, right? It simply is -- means that more people have access because
it would provide in the context of the state having sufficient funding --
it would provide funding for young people who couldn`t otherwise afford it,
is that right?
SELLERS: That is very much correct. And we do both boys and girls.
And HPV in boys, actually, causes oral cancer, and we`ve seen a spike of
those rates in South Carolina as well. Look, I don`t have any ill feelings
towards the governor or anyone else. But what I do want to do is continue
to move the state forward to stop having discussions about why South
Carolina cannot get in the 21st century. Whether or not it`s education or
a healthcare. And this is just one small step, but the country`s watching
and I think that we can do some positive things here, if we are able to get
this victory on Tuesday.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, I would love to be able to have you back and to
have you report to me, look, in South Carolina, we made a decision to put
children`s health, young people`s health in front of politics. So, I hope
that that happens for you, Representative Sellers.
SELLERS: Well, thank you and thank you and your viewers and we need
their prayers and their phone calls and maybe they can just flood the
governor`s office, and some of my colleagues office, so we can get this
victory. This is important to the health care of our state. This is
important to the children of our state. And that`s what I`m here fighting
for. And I need your support.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. I greatly appreciate you joining me this
morning. Coming up ...
SELLERS: Thank you, Dr. Harris-Perry.
HARRIS-PERRY: And coming up, what is the number of Americans who are
on so-called food stamps? We`re going to talk to you about that, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: One thing used to be reliable that even in the most
polarized times, the Senate would pass the farm bill with bipartisan
support and on Thursday, the Senate approved a ten-year funding bill with a
64 to 35 vote in support of nearly $1 trillion in spending. The bill which
overhauls government subsidies for agricultural production, is expected to
hit the House floor next week and while a few senators will be patting each
other on the back this weekend, there were, of course, a few sticking
points. Mainly, $20 billion in cuts to supplemental nutritional assistant
program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.
Yep, this was a debate about a lot of big numbers, big numbers which
were banded back and forth with different conclusions, depending on which
side of the isle they were coming from. Like how each side interpreted 45
million. That`s the number of Americans who depend on government
assistance to feed themselves. In 2011 alone, the number of people
receiving food aid subsidies, rose to be one out of every seven Americans.
That`s about the population the size of Spain and congressional Republicans
pointed to the number 70, which is the percent of increase between 2007 and
2011 of enrollment in the SNAP program and 78 billion, an all-time high in
annual spending on food assistance, which has more than doubled in that
same period, making SNAP the second largest social safety net program
behind Medicaid. It makes up 80 percent of farm bill spending, so the
Republicans Senator Jeff Sessions called for billions to be cut in aid for
the hungry, he called it modest reform. Which led Senate Democrats to
point to a few numbers of their own. 46.2 million, that`s the number of
Americans living in poverty in 2010. Which was the fourth annual increase
and the largest number in 52 years. Citing the USDA and Census Bureau
reports, which say that 49 million people living in food insecure
So for Democratic Senator Kristen Gillibrand, that means that SNAP is
an essential social welfare program not only to save people from going
hungry, but also because for every SNAP dollar spent, $1.79goes back into
the national economy. It`s actually not a bad stimulus measure for local
economy, if you argue it. But by the end of the week, the Senate had
compromised on a more modest reduction in SNAP qualifying funds by $4.5
billion. Republicans called it important savings made through closing a
loophole in welfare reform. So while some Democrats point to those
Americans who depend on the food subsidies, that will have to now make due
with less. So yes, different interpretations of the same numbers. And
when we come back, who is being most impacted by this? It actually might
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. For those of
you who are just joining us, there was news late last night out of
Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and it was a guilty verdict. Former Penn State
University football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was convicted of
45 counts of child sex abuse and he will face a sentence of at least 60
years. The prosecution argued that Sandusky preyed on children he
encountered through the charity he founded to help trouble teens. Now,
that conduit, the charity meant to help those who are most vulnerable
highlights just how at risk our poor and marginalized children are, at risk
in so many ways, not only from predatory pedophiles, but also from poverty
and hunger -- which is where we`re going to go now, to a conversation about
the fact this week, the biggest spending bill before the presidential
election passed the Senate.
The farm bill provides $969 billion in spending over the next decade
and most of it is going to go to provide food security for our nation`s
But the arm of welfare is also extended to those who produce the food
-- $90 billion will be spent on federally crop insurance over the next
decade. So if our big agricultural producers experience weak crop yields
or low prices on the market, the federal government will make sure they get
through until the next growing season.
Insurance companies can now also depend on a steady flow of cash
assistance as well, not a bad for a government-sponsored insurance policy
for our nation`s biggest insurance companies. That is a kind of welfare to
work that we don`t often talk about.
With me are: Peter Edelman, author of "So Rich, So Poor: Why It`s So
Hard to End Poverty in America"; Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg
Public Policy Center; Alicia Menendez of the "Huffington Post": and Jelani
Cobb, professor of African-American studies at the University of
So, Peter, I want to start with you, because at 2:00 in the morning, I
could not sleep, really couldn`t sleep as I was reading your book, "So
Rich, So Poor".
And I think what I found so fascinating about this was the history of
how we got to having a program for food assistance. So, it`s TV, but give
me, you know, the briefest version of what that history is.
EDELMAN: The start of it is when (INAUDIBLE) went down to Mississippi
in 1967 and it was my privilege to go with him at the staff person and I
met my wife on that trip, too.
HARRIS-PERRY: The fabulous Marian Wright Edelman, of course.
EDELMAN: So, it`s pretty important for me.
But we saw, it was just shocking. We saw children there who had
swollen bellies, who had sores on their arms and legs. It was like a third
or fourth world country, unbelievable in the United States of America.
Doctors went down and examined kids after that, found pernicious anemia,
(INAUDIBLE) -- unbelievable.
HARRIS-PERRY: In the middle of the 20th century, in the United States
EDELMAN: Yes. And we found -- and the important thing at the end of
the story, we found people who had literally no income. That`s the long
story in changes of the agricultural economy and trying to drive people out
of the state. No income.
Going through a period that includes President Nixon having done --
having sent a message to Congress, we get food stamps as a national program
to the point where it really is -- we don`t have that kind of near
starvation in America. We have deep poverty. We have 20 million people
who have incomes below half the poverty line. We have 6 million people who
have no income other than food stamps, which only provides an income a
third of the poverty line, but we have that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So at least they`re eating.
And, Kathleen, I know some of your work has been on framing. And I
thought, OK, so, you know, I`m reading Peter`s book and I`m thinking, OK,
this is the story of a government program that worked, right? That the
kind of poverty that Kennedy saw there in the 1960s, that kind of poverty
rarely existed -- that kind of hunger associated with poverty is very rare
in our country now.
And yet the frame that every additional person or family relying on
food stamps is an indication that we`re failing as a country rather than an
indication of look what a great job we`re doing making sure people don`t
fall below some kind of basic, humane basis.
How did that framing shift?
JAMIESON: Well, first, when you take the language of SNAP and use
that acronym, you`re using an acronym that communicates absolutely nothing
to anybody about the problem that`s being addressed.
So, the point that someone claimed that acronym, first, they ought to
be accused of linguistic malfeasance because under that program --
HARRIS-PERRY: I was pretty sure that was Gingrich.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was the Bush administration.
JAMIESON: But under that program are people who are in need and who
are hungry and who are cared for. And so, the question is, what framing
ultimately led to this initiative.
And if you look back at one of the most important ads produced in
1964, you have a major advertising agency that showed children not adults,
white children, black children -- children in rural environment, children
in Appalachia, children in urban environment. The most poignant moment,
there`s a child praying over practically an empty plate that has one small
piece of bread.
What was that frame that said children are hungry in the United
States. How can we tolerate that? That`s the alternative frame.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And it`s a very powerful frame. I`m in love
with this new piece by Monica Potts in the "American Prospect" titled
"Pressing on the Upward Way," art of what she does here is to talk about
this poor county in Kentucky because in part of the issue here, the food
stamp language we heard from Gingrich, right? That President Obama is the
food stamps president is racialized.
And so, part of what happens when you read Monica`s piece about the
kind of struggle in poverty in this rural county in Kentucky is you
recognize poverty is a shared condition across racial categories.
MENENDEZ: It`s a shared condition across racial categories. It`s
also a shared condition across class.
You know, I grew up in Union City, New Jersey. It`s one of the 100
most economically depressed communities in the country. I grew up middle
class, but a lot of my classmates were living in the projects, were on food
You`d go to their house to do homework and you`d see their moms poring
over newspapers looking for jobs. And those kids went to school with every
other kid in the community, right? They didn`t live in the poor section of
town and go to the poor school. What happened to them --
HARRIS-PERRY: They do now.
MENENDEZ: They do now. Twenty years ago, it`s not the case. And
what happened to them happened to all of us.
And if that child shows up hungry in a classroom and is disruptive for
very honest reasons, that disrupts the entire class. And the fact we do
not see this issue in that way, in a sense of community I think is as much
a problem in terms of the framing.
COBB: Can I just touch on a point both Peter and Kathleen have made?
One is in terms of the framing of this. During the Great Depression, the
Farm Security Administration actually sent out photographers.
When we see that great depression photography, that was government
sponsored photography. People like Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks was also
one of the photographers here. And what they did was go out and give the
country an image of what poverty looked like, a sympathetic image of what
poverty looked like.
When we`re looking at poverty now, we`re talking about the economic
downturn. The image we have is associated with the extent that we have any
is the subdivision with the foreclosed home. It does not resonate -- it
does not register with us in the same way.
Really quick about the food stamp language, we actually -- this
actually was a stamp. It was a physical stamp that people would get. You
could spend a dollar and get $1.50 worth of groceries and the stamp was
actually what allowed you to have that extra amount. And that`s where we
get the language of food stamp from.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s fascinating that you say the government u
would send out photographers for us to see the poor. Because I`m thinking,
OK, but every time we talk about the poverty rates, even just the numbers
that I just provided, in many ways, the Obama administration is being
blamed for them, right?
So, the idea that the Obama administration would send out
photographers in order to capture it, in order to say, hey, we need a craft
a social safety net, what we hear back from the right, quite legitimately,
or quite regularly from them, is, well, yes, there`s poor people and that`s
your fault, right?
Again, Peter, I was so stunned that to read that, first of all, that
Senator Bob Dole of Kansas was one of the most notable Republican advocates
of the food stamp program, that he actually fought back and then
particularly the juxtaposition that you make between President Bill Clinton
whose administration you left when he signed the 1996 Welfare Reform Act,
and President George W. Bush who supported the food stamp program so much
so there was an increase in food stamps under George Bush prior to the
I`m sorry, like until I got to this moment in your book, that was not
something that I think most folks are aware of.
EDELMAN: This breakdown in the bipartisan support for food stamps --
and excuse me, I don`t use SNAP -- is new. And it`s part of an attack of
the attack on an all government, except things that help rich people. And
it`s a continuation of the racialization that we`ve had about poverty
policy for a very long time. Food stamps somehow was accepted from that.
The obvious fact is there are more people who are white and poorer than
there are black or Latino.
But from Ronald Reagan with the woman in the Cadillac -- white
Cadillac coming up to the store with her food stamps to Willie Horton,
we`ve had use of race against poor people and minorities for a very long
time and what`s happened now is the food stamps have joined that bad list.
So, what they want to do, this thing that happened in the Senate the other
day, just the tip of the iceberg.
EDELMAN: They want to go after the whole thing. They want so slash
HARRIS-PERRY: Social Security, privatize it, take it all.
EDELMAN: Right. And turn -- food stamps is the new welfare for them.
They`ve have gone to it, and the idea and -- you know, there`s a legal
right to food stamps. You go to the office and you have to get it.
There`s no longer any legal right to welfare.
So, guess what? In the recession, food stamps went from 26 million to
46 million people. That`s a good thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because people were hungry and we had something to
EDELMAN: And they had a legal right. On welfare, 3.9 million to
start, 4.4 million. No legal right, barely helpful. That`s why we have 6
million people on food stamps with no other income. This is about mothers.
This is about children.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. This is -- and them being able to participate
in school, which is whether or not they`re actually going to be able to
have a future.
So, up next, is it the ultimate question voters are going ask
themselves as they go to the polls in November? Are we better off today
than we were four years ago? And is it possible that better off has a
different meaning that we think?
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt
Romney has been hitting President Obama on his main argument, the economy.
And yes, there are some numbers for him to go on.
The Federal Reserve reported earlier this month that the net worth of
the American middle class has plummeted drastically, dropping by an average
of $50,000 from 2007 to 2010. Yet this week, 45 percent of those surveyed
in a "Bloomberg" national poll said they were better off since President
Obama took office. Huh?
Is it possible that "better off" means something beside our bottom
Here with me to discuss is Peter Edelman, professor of law at
Georgetown University; Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the University of
Pennsylvania; Alicia Menendez of the "Huffington Post"; and Jelani Cobb of
the University of Connecticut.
So, I found those numbers interesting and wanted to think about them
in the same framework that we`ve been thinking about, is an increase in
food stamp is good, because it`s an indication that we are caring for
people with very little or is it bad because it means we`re creating
You know, we were looking at numbers saying that for example, although
we have a million more African-Americans with jobs this year than there
were last May, here in New York City, African-Americans are missing out on
the rebound of jobs and yet, polls where you talk to African-Americans
actually feel better about President Obama being in office.
Are there things that can`t be fully captured by whether or not you
have a job, or have income -- something about our collective willingness to
take care of each other?
EDELMAN: Yes, but I think we`re also better off that we were.
President Obama got elected at the bottom of President Bush`s recession.
Let`s remember whose recession this is.
And we`re having a recovery that`s too slow, but it`s moving in the
right direction. And I`m glad to hear those numbers about how people feel
because it says to me that they have a sense that we`re moving albeit
slowly in the right direction.
What we want is for people to have jobs. Good jobs, jobs that pay
enough to live on and we don`t want to have food stamps. Food stamp is
help when we have trouble.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. I appreciate you point it out. It`s not
just about unemployment rates. It`s also about living wages, the capacity
for families to actually manage on their own.
EDELMAN: Absolutely. So, over the next coming out of the recession,
we have long range trouble that we have to talk about, how many low wage
jobs are in this country? Fifty percent of the jobs in this country pay
less than $34,000 a year. Unbelievable. And the wage has been stuck for
almost 40 years, has grown only 7 percent in real terms in that period of
HARRIS-PERRY: And the Low Income Housing Coalition put out data last
week saying there`s no state in the Union where you can live on a full time
minimum wage job. You cannot actually rent a sufficient sort of two
Jelani, is there -- can you even imagine a time when we can get past a
politics that is only about politics on something like food? Is there any
possibility of a kind of like core ethical sort of American sense of our
need to take care of one another in tough times?
COBB: I`m an incorrigible optimist, so I say yes. But it takes a lot
of work. It would take a lot of work.
We`ve talked about this before about just the kind of callousness that
we`ve encountered in the way that we have very little by way of sympathy
for our common citizen. The idea that there is a civic connection among us
is frayed. Those are the things that are at the heart of this.
Even when you look at toward the point Peter was making, in terms of
what we see as poverty and food stamps and, you know, what it does, we`re
talking about people who are making $23,000 a year for a family of three
and half the people who are in this are making half or less than that.
So what we`re doing is saying can we have muster, the civic will to
move people from abject poverty to simple poverty?
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, that`s actually worth saying again, right, that
we`re not talking about a middle class entitlement as "The Wall Street
Journal" said, right? Not a middle class entitlement. It`s about moving
from abject poverty to simple poverty. Like how can we not have the
political will for that?
MENENDEZ: I don`t know, but this issue also extends -- it does extend
into the middle class in a way that when you look at an issue like keeping
people in their homes, you want your neighbor to be able to stay in their
MENENDEZ: Because if their home is foreclosed on, the value of the
entire block drops. So, I think, again, across classes, this is a
conversation that we need to be having.
EDELMAN: And let`s be clear that the problems -- there are serious
problems in the middle class. They are being squeezed.
EDELMAN: But the problems that we talk -- if we talk about the 1
percent and 99 percent, it goes all the way down to the bottom. And the
other thing is we`ve done a lot and we need to remember that all the time.
The public policies that we have are keeping 40 million people out of
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, Social Security worked. Food stamps worked.
They`re actually not failing programs despite the fact that it becomes
discourse. I`ll give you the last word on this one.
JAMIESON: One of the questions is, who`s being surveyed? The poor
aren`t likely to get into these surveys. And these surveys, you`ve got
that part of the population that not only is doing well compared to where
they were, they`re doing substantially better.
And so, aggregating up numbers in this way isn`t the way to get a shot
-- a snapshot of what`s actually out there in terms of aggregates.
And then secondly, what do you mean when you say better off than --
what`s the "than"? Remember, this recession lasted into the first year of
this presidency. You frame it back to 2008 and now, you don`t have a
legitimate point of comparison.
Ask me 27 months and now, you`ve got a different point of reference.
That`s why the president talks about job creation in the last 27 months.
And if you`re in the public sector, it looks worst than it does if you`re
in the private sector for unemployment.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And exactly -- I mean, in fact, the president`s
been harping on that point, that the public sector has been the one
shedding jobs and, of course, the good news around that if you`re a
Democrat is it means that the public sector could fix this by hiring.
Thank you, Peter. I really appreciate you being here.
And the rest of you are coming back for a little more.
Up next, Nerdland hits the road. I return to one of my old stumping
ground, south side of Chicago, where the historian I met with says that, of
course, the first black president came from Chicago. Where else would he
have come from?
HARRIS-PERRY: As a little girl, one can assume that Michelle Robinson
never imagined that she`d be the first lady of the United States. But
while her story is extraordinary, it`s not entirely exceptional.
Michelle Obama`s family, the Robinsons, was one of the millions of
black families who migrated from the Jim Crow South to the urban North, in
the early decades of the 20th century. Yet even as she took her place in
history as America`s first black first lady, the great migration that made
her story possible had begun to reverse.
The first decade of the 21st century has seen a reverse migration of
black Americans moving back to the South. And as of 2010 census, 55
percent of black people live in the South, 18.1 percent in the Midwest,
17.1 percent in the Northeast, and 9 .8 percent in the West.
And from 2000 to 2010, more than thee quarters of the African-American
population growth occurred in the South. Why the change?
To understand the present, we have to discuss the past. So I recently
visited the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Chicago to learn
more about the great migration.
HARRIS-PERRY: I lived in Hyde Park for many years and the DuSable is
a destination, intellectually, culturally, in terms of the community, but
tell my viewers, what is this place?
DR. CAROL ADAMS, DUSABLE MUSEUM: Well, we are the first African-
American museum in the nation. DuSable is the African-descent man from
Haiti who came here from Louisiana, and founded this city. He was first
nonnative settler in Chicago.
He started businesses. He became a part of this. He opened up a
number of places. He had big business. It is on his shoulders that
everything else that has happened out of Chicago for the black community
Chicago`s a very special place.
HARRIS-PERRY: Were you surprised that the first African-American
president, the first African-American first lady found their roots here in
ADAMS: Absolutely not. Your black senators. Where are they from?
Your major leader of major organizations nationally, they come from.
There`s something in the water, you know, or else some kind of special
magic that Chicago this flavor, this feeling, a certain militancy, if you
ADAMS: -- that would lead us to feeling that we were strong enough.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. For folks who may not know what the great
migration is, tell us what the great migration is for black people.
ADAMS: Well, in the last several decades of the 20th century, 7
million African-Americans moved from the South to the North. This was a
post-Reconstruction move. Several people tried to stay to varying degrees
of success. It was a hard time as you know.
Post-Reconstruction, they came back with more repressive laws, and
everything. So people began to move, seeking freedom, seeking opportunity,
seeking jobs of course.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the story of Michelle Obama is deeply linked to the
story of Chicago and to the great migration. Tell me a little bit about
ADAMS: Well, actually, her grandfather came here and they were part
of the movement for opportunity and freedom.
So, Michelle Robinson Obama`s family is typical of many of the
families that came here. They wanted jobs. They wanted freedom. They
were tired of the Jim Crow South.
And Chicago seemed like it had the welcome mat out. You were hearing
about it everywhere. We sang songs about it.
You know, going to Chicago, sorry, but I can`t take you. This was the
place to come. The music was coming from here. Everything seemed to be
There was an energy and it was palatable.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that energy is part of what drew families like the
Robinsons to this place.
ADAMS: That`s right, and great community.
I mean, I`m part of the great migration.
ADAMS: And I came in the late `60s because I was from Kentucky,
graduating from college in Tennessee, so I`m trying to decide where I`m
going to go and feel free.
HARRIS-PERRY: Understanding the great migration, where am I going to
go where I can feel free.
It helps us to understand and explain the backgrounds and ideals of
today`s African-Americans in positions of power and influence, people like
First Lady Michelle Obama.
And at the table is Rachel Swarns. She`s author of the new book,
"American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial
Ancestors of Michelle Obama."
Rachel, so glad that you`re here today.
RACHEL SWARNS, "AMERICAN TAPESTRY" AUTHOR: Thank you so much for
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I greatly enjoyed the book. I am as many of us
are, obsessed with Michelle Obama, so it was really lovely to read this.
But I`ve noticed a lot of the reporting around the book has focused
specifically on the DNA question and her white ancestry -- which is
fascinating and important and worth thinking about. But I also -- what I
found so important about your book is it`s not just Michelle`s DNA story.
It`s you know, not just the first lady`s individual story. It is this
whole big story, this siren song of the North, how the Robinsons even end
up in this place.
Talk to me about First Lady Michelle Obama as part of this larger
SWARNS: It really -- the book really is a look at American history
through the lens of a family, the first family.
And you`re right. It is much more than just DNA. It`s, I try to
trace the journeys of her ancestors across the generations. And the
migration was a big part of that story for them.
HARRIS-PERRY: What happens when we sort of pause and look into the
backgrounds and personal histories of our leaders? I know there`s been
some anxiety about what sort of happens if we trace back, particularly for
those of us who have slave ancestry and ancestors who were part of Jim
Crow? How did you deal with the politics and anxiousness that has emerged
SWARNS: You know, some of this is hard history. It`s hard for people
to look back and think about hard times. Mrs. Obama`s family had front row
seats to some of the biggest moments in history and some of those moments
were in the easy ones. We`re talking about slavery, we`re talking about
But I think it tells us something about ourselves, too.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, as much we talk about DNA, I was kind of
pushing back. I love this picture here because this is a picture of the
Robinson family. And typically, when you see this picture, you think that
the adult woman sitting there --
SWARNS: I know.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- is Michelle.
SWARNS: I know, her mother -- it really is.
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t -- no one could ever deny that Michelle
Robinson Obama is the child of that woman. What about that particular
family? That foursome? What should we know about our first lady that
comes from how she was raised in that family?
SWARNS: Well, really, my book deals with going beyond that family,
looking at her grandparents, and how their ancestors` journeys moved them
to the North.
And Michelle Obama often describes herself as a South Side Girl, born
and raised in the South Side of Chicago. But her ancestors were in
Illinois in the 1860s, if you can imagine. So they were there a long, long
time even before the migration really got going.
HARRIS-PERRY: Rachel, you`re going to stay with us because we`re
going to open this up and talk a little bit more about not just special
people like First Lady Obama, but also special places -- American cities.
So, up next, we`re going to talk about the reverse migration and
whether or not it can swing Republican states.
And also, why cities matter. They matter. They matter.
HARRIS-PERRY: Today, African-Americans are heading back to the South,
inching closer to 60 percent living below the Mason-Dixon line. And what
will this reverse migration mean for the political power of black
communities? Can these new Southerners change solidly Republican states
into battlegrounds or will they find themselves trapped into conservative
strongholds with no one on the national stage interested in addressing
The great migration which we`ve been talking about created generations
of political power and ultimately, an African-American first family. What
will the return to the South mean for black political power? Not only on
the national stage, but also in local elections?
At the table are: Rachel Swarns, author of "American Tapestry"; Jelani
Cobb, associated professor of African-American studies at the University of
Connecticut; Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center;
and host of "Huff Po Live," Alicia Menendez.
So, you guys were all sitting here when I was screaming to my daughter
saying -- you know, my daughter was born on the South Side of Chicago. We
now live in New Orleans. And so, I said to her. What are you? Are you a
Chicago South Side girl or do you think of yourself as a New Orleanean?
We are part of that reverse migration, just as much as the Robinson
family was part of the initial great migration.
What difference do you think that will make politically for us?
COBB: I think it would be a very important difference. One of the
things that we talked about, 1932 through 1964 transition of African-
Americans into the Democratic Party, but what we don`t talk about is why
the Democratic Party had to become receptive to African-African concerns.
As you had -- of course, northern cities are being Democratic
strongholds and strongholds of immigrants voters for a long time in
American history, that as you begin to have black people moving into
northern cities, all of a sudden, mayors and alderman and city council
representatives are thinking that they have to be concerned about the needs
of these individuals who are living in their districts, in their states.
So, this makes the Democratic Party changed its stance, to have that
kind of split personality moment where it`s both the party of Northern --
blacks who are coming North and of Southern segregationists, one of these
things has to give. We`re looking at this in reverse.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s still even true that if you look at blue
states, they`re not actually blue states. They`re just blue cities.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the city is neither powerful enough to carry the
state or not.
COBB: Right. Jackie Robinson, you talk about the integration of
baseball. Branch Rickey, and the Dodgers management is looking in Brooklyn
and saying, look at who lives here and look at who does not come to Dodgers
stadium. That`s how this happened.
MENENDEZ: I also think it creates an imperative for Latinos and for
African-Americans to start working together politically. I mean, you look
at the migrations happening in other ways, which is Hispanics moving to
Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia -- in each of those states, Hispanics are
now 8 percent or more of the population. There are states like Virginia
where they are tipping presidential elections.
We`re not a big enough population by ourselves. And if you can
actually get these two groups to start working in unison, I think you`ll
see a much faster pace towards that change.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, obviously, that question of black brown
coalitions was initially an urban question. It was initially Los Angeles
and the big cities, but it is increasingly becoming a suburban ring
question, right, and sort of whether or not we can end up with black brown
coalitions, right, African-American Latino coalitions, that provide some of
this same kind of incentive from the Democratic Party.
SWARNS: And these populations are putting states like Virginia and
North Carolina into play in a big way.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, there`s no possibility of President Obama
carrying Virginia and North Carolina except for South Asian voters, Latino
voters and African-American voters, right, in 2008.
Is there something as we are thinking about sort of the value of
cities, as we saw in the case of the great migration as a space of saying,
vote to be free and to have economic opportunity. Are Southern cities
where people are now returning to now, are Southern cities spaces of
economic opportunity and spaces of potential sort of personal freedom?
JAMIESON: I think what migration patterns tell you is that people
follow what they perceive as opportunity. They move from states that have
higher unemployment, to states that have lower unemployment. And as a
result, you get churning inside the population and remixing the population
in ways that are extremely productive.
And so, people come into contact with segments of the population that
otherwise, they wouldn`t have real contact with -- particularly, if we keep
an integrated school structure and as children grow up with other children,
who they might not have grown up with otherwise, we create a different
sense of ourselves as a nation.
That`s why the problem occurs when we`ve essentially maintained a
segregated school system even as this population changes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Elijah Anderson`s really smart new book, "The
Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Every Day Life", makes this
argument that cities can provide a space where, stories of this hyper-
segregation, often part of the Chicago story. But that he best story are
that cities provide a cosmopolitan canopy, a place where people can go to
school with kids of different classes and different races and begin to
think about what their interconnections are.
That said --
COBB: Can I make note about that?
COBB: Not long after September 11th, I found myself on an airplane
and there was a man who got on the plane and he had on a traditional garb.
And people looked to him, dark complexion man, and you could see the
tension on the plan ratchet up and I see him walking down, he comes down
I said to him, where are you from? He got very defensive. He said,
well, where are you from?
I said, I`m from Queens and if I remember correctly, we were in the
same break dance crew growing up.
COBB: I swear to God, this is the truth.
And what that spoke to was that cosmopolitan experience. He was a
Muslim religious background. He was of Indian lineage. But me as a person
whose family has migrated up to the South and we had this common connection
in break dancing. And you could see everyone on the plane say, oh, he was
a break dancer, he`s not going to kill us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Can I just say that I have no doubt, even though I`m
not currently on Twitter, that the Nerdland hashtag must be absolutely
going nuts with the desire for you to show us some of your break dancing.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve got a whole table here, all that good stuff.
But, you know, I think the other piece of that story that`s
interesting is, it`s part of the kind of broad narrative of culture, right?
And so, how -- the very idea of break dancing, or of culture, as we heard
from the historian, jazz music being part of that bridge that brings people
When we come back, one of the things I want to talk about is -- so we
can tell this nice story of getting to know each other. But there are
active attempts to disenfranchise so that the effects that we saw of the
great migration don`t happen again so that black and brown coalition can
So, up next, we`re going to talk a little bit about President Obama`s
America, which might in fact be a more urban America, because he`s one of
our first presidents in decades. We`ll talk more about this city when we
HARRIS-PERRY: Not since Teddy Roosevelt has another president been so
closely identified with a city. But the election of Barack Obama ushered
in America`s first urban president in more than 100 years.
President Obama -- the cosmopolitan politico -- has called Jakarta,
New York, Los Angeles and, of course, Chicago, home. But what difference
has his presidency made to America`s great cities.
Back with me are: Rachel Swarns, Jelani Cobb, Kathleen Hall Jamieson
and Alicia Menendez.
So, I -- you know, one of the exciting things about President Obama
being elected was this idea that we`re going to have this city president,
somebody whose life story is connected to the great migration. Cities are
the great cosmopolitan canopy, as Elijah Anderson calls them.
What can we see now almost four years into an Obama presidency, about
the role of cities in our country?
MENENDEZ: I mean, I think you see, in terms of what he`s done, he`s
put a number of smart growthers. People are focused on transportation, on
infrastructure -- that`s one part of the urban experience, just making it
more livable on a basic level.
But then you also see him trying to replicate on a national level
things that we`ve seen worked in other cities. So, Harlem children`s zone,
right? Trying to expand that out into this neighborhoods -- promised
You see a lot of good effort, you see it getting very stalled in
Congress. You see something like promised neighborhood, Republicans want
today give that zero dollars for fiscal year 2012. I mean, that is where
things are getting jammed up. So a lot of good intention, not the same
level of action, I think he`d want.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think, you know, as we were talking about before
part of that is happening in part because cities are where Democrats are
from, right? I mean, when we look at people of color, when we look at
labor unions which you say exist, all of those things were highly
concentrated in urban areas so that partisan divide is also often, right, a
city versus ruler debate or rather a city versus suburban divide.
COBB: Right. And I think to Alicia`s point, what we`ve seen is --
that kind of good intentions aren`t necessarily enough and the best example
of this in contemporary policies is what`s happened with the block of
grants, which is a program we don`t normally talk about, but the federal
government giving money directly to cities. And it originated actually,
ironically enough, under the Nixon administration, hoping to get around
states, you know, kind of being the middle person in terms of giving money
to major cities. And that has been deduced 25 percent. So, now, the total
was only about $2.9 billion, which is less that was given in absolute
during the Carter administration.
And so, when we`re talking about Head Start, when we`re talking about
afterschool programs, we`re talking about achieving assistance and the
things that, you know, this money goes to, because at the discretion of the
cities as you see fit and when you cut that, it makes a serious impact on
what happens, a ripple effect will happen to this --
HARRIS-PERRY: And we saw it even in the stimulus act, which did go
through the states rather than directly to the cities. And so, things that
cities really wanted like infrastructure investment was held up often by
far more conservative legislature, interested in more suburban and rural
interests, rather than the interest of cities, which tended to be greener,
than to have greater need for infrastructure, you know, bringing people
together into closer spaces.
This reverse migration that we talked a little bit about before, is
that part of the reason why we`re seeing the attempts at voter suppression
activities? Is it so that the reverse migration doesn`t turn red states
purple? So that it doesn`t have the political effect that the initial
great migration had?
COBB: I think the dynamic here -- it`s the sickening replay of
history where you have populations that leave the South precisely because
of these reasons, precisely for these reasons. And then they return to the
South and you find a updated version of this.
It`s no coincidence that even during reconstruction is done in part
because of the election of 1876 in which black voters in Florida are
disfranchised. People are not allowed --
HARRIS-PERRY: That sounds so --
COBB: People are not trying to have the turns from Florida counted
and we`re looking at the same thing in 2000 and possibly, depending on what
happens with Eric Holder and lawsuit they have here, this being an issue in
HARRIS-PERRY: The idea of 2012 as 1877, it is distressing.
MENENDEZ: And beyond the voter -- you know, all of the voter
suppression, I think a lot of these immigration pieces of legislature that
you see in Arizona, in Georgia and Alabama, it`s not just undocumented
immigrants who are leaving the state. It is the mixed status families.
You see an exodus of Latinos, who are U.S. citizens, leaving these states
and I think there is a very similar calculus. In fact, this is not simply
about undocumented workers.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. Now, we have an internal migration also
caused by a set of Jim Crow policies, in this case, there are these anti-
More in just a moment, but first, it`s a time for a preview of
"WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT". Hi, Alex.
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hello to you, Melissa.
Well, we have some new reaction today. Everyone on the Jerry Sandusky
verdict. I spoke to one of the victims` attorneys and he tells us the
remarkable story of how his client reacted. Plus, why the defense attorney
got booed by the public.
Mitt Romney and the GOP retreat. Why are Jeb Bush and former
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice going? Could they be on the veep short
That lady bullied in the school bus. In a matter of a month, she may
be a very rich woman. Her story gave national attention of some mean kids.
And now, Now it`s a story about the kindness of strangers.
In office politics, MSNBC`s Martin Bashir is at once moving and
moving. We`re going to explain all that. Plus, Martin is going to tell us
a love story, Melissa. It`s quite sweet.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love Martin so much. His team sets up there with
Nerdland the Uppers. We had a goo time the three of us.
WITT: I know. We`re coming -- we did Chris last week and we`re
coming to you soon.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, that`s right. Get our whole floor.
WITT: I got it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, how a 17-year-old girl is planning to change
HARRIS-PERRY: Twenty years after hosting the first Earth Summit, Rio
de Janeiro welcomed the world for another one, now formerly named the
United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
Unlike the initial summit, this one was not very well attended though,
193 nations sent leaders to Rio, many others just skipped it, including the
United States. And activists were not impressed with the paltry solutions
that emerged from all of the talking over those three days.
But whether or not politicians believe it exists, climate change is a
growing problem. And action can be taken now to stem the damage already
done. But the question remains, is there any political will to enact those
solutions? Making that point forcefully and in the face of those world
leaders this week, in Rio, was a 17-year-old girl, Brittany Trilford, and
she is our foot soldier.
Now, she maybe just a teenager, but Brittany has been active in her
native Wellington, New Zealand, for years. She entered the global date
with history competition and she won with this video. We could not tear
ourselves away from it here in Nerdland. Here`s how she ends it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRITTANY TRILFORD, 17-YEAR-OLD: What kind of future do I want? I
want a future where education encourages innovative thinking. I want a
future where we run with natural processes and not against them. I want a
future where leaders will stop talking and start acting. I want a future
where leaders lead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: A jury of Brittany`s fellow environmental activists,
including actors Don Cheadle and Leo DiCaprio, chose her entry out of 22
finalists from around the world. She traveled to Rio this week to deliver
not just a speech, but a speech directly before all of the world leaders
who did assemble at the Rio 20 Earth Summit.
She opened the entire event by reminding the leaders of the promises
earlier from the 1992 Earth Summit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRILFORD: These promises are left not broken, but empty. How can
that be? When all around us, there is knowledge that offers us solution.
Are you here to save face, or are you here to save us?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So one of the MHP producers interviewed Brittany on
Thursday, the day after her speech. When she was asked why it`s important
for someone her age to speak up about environmental concerns, she said,
quote, "We`re going to be the ones who are going to actually bring these
promises to life. We`re the ones who are going to have to live with them."
For not waiting until she`s an adult to speak truth to power, to its
face about the environment, she and her generation will inherit in the
years ahead -- Brittany Trilford is our foot soldier of the week. Be sure
to read our full interview with Brittany now on our blog at MHPshow.com.
And that is our show for today. Congratulations to the Miami Heat and
LeBron James on their NBA championship this week.
And also thank you to Rachel Swarns, Jelani Cobb, Kathleen Hall
Jamieson, and, Alicia Menendez, for sticking around.
Thanks to you at home for watching. I`ll see you tomorrow morning at
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2012 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2012 Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>
WATCH 'THE MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY SHOW' SATURDAY AND SUNDAY AT 10:00 A.M. ET ON MSNBC.
MORE FROM MSNBC
Add msnbc headlines to your news reader: