'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, October 27th, 2012
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
October 27, 2012
Guests: Ben Cohen, Valarie Kaur, David Donnelly, Leslie Sanchez, Scot Ross,
Matt Segal, Felicia Wong, Myrna Perez
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST, "MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY": This
morning, my question. What is the strategy for election protection?
Plus, even if this scares you, you`ve got to accept it. Our national
fate rests in the hands of the young. And I`ve been a college professor
for 15 years, but it turns out I know very little about college. But
first, how much money would it take to buy your vote?
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Before we get to politics
this morning, I want to give you a quick update on Sandy. The storm which
overnight had been downgraded to tropical storm status is now back to
hurricane-force winds. Sandy will continue moving away from the
northwestern Bahamas this morning and move parallel to the southeast coast
of the United States through the weekend.
Serious and life-threatening weather conditions are expected as early
as tomorrow evening from the outer banks to New England. Five states, New
York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina plus the District
of Columbia have already declared states of emergency. And a tropical
storm warning is in effect for parts of Florida. We`ll going to have more
updates on Sandy for you later in the program.
But right now, I want to turn to politics. Now, this, my friends, is
$26 and 86 cents. Twenty six, eight six. It`s not a huge amount of money.
Certainly not enough for a spiffy new iPhone 5. But it will get you plenty
of iTunes downloads. It`s not enough to take the whole family to the
movies, but you could probably treat yourself to lunch at Applebee`s.
Now, imagine that $26.86 compounded every second. That is $1,611 and
60 cents a minute. That`s $96,696 an hour or $2.3 million a day.
Suddenly, $26.86 doesn`t seem so modest because $26 and 86 cents is how
much both candidates combined are spending every second of every day this
election cycle which is why on Thursday, we cross a milestone in American
politics. A big fat $2 billion milestone.
The 2012 presidential election has officially become the billion
dollar race twice. In the first two weeks of this month alone, President
Obama, the DNC and related fund-raising committees have raked in $88.8
million. Not to be out done, Mitt Romney`s fund-raising machine and his
friends had hold him $111.8 million. What`s all that cash buying? Let`s
The candidates hope that these dollars are going to buy your votes.
And in these final super heated days of campaigning, they are raining down
e-mails on their donor lifts, multiple times every day. And each message
promises for a small donation, maybe 26 bucks, you can help to ensure
victory for your presidential candidate. For a few dollars more, maybe
just 86 cents, you can ensure that he has a helpful majority in Congress,
too. What a bargain! It`s government for sale for the low, low price of
$26.86 a second.
Now, of course, these dollars don`t buy votes directly, they buy fancy
rallies, convincing direct mailings, irritating phone calls, and of course,
TV ads. Nine hundred thousand ads have aired in the general election race
for the president so far. In just the first weeks of this month, that
means 112,000 pro-President Obama ads have blanketed the airwaves and
97,000 pro-Governor Romney ads have reached your television sets. That`s a
45 percent increase from the number that ran in 2008.
And for the next ten days, 43,000 political ads will air each day.
But with numbers this big, nearly $27 a second, maybe we`ve reached
saturation. I mean, if you`ve seen 42,000 ads, do 43,000 really make a
difference? Just ask Coke and Pepsi if they think advertising dollars
matter. Money can change preferences which is just what the campaigns are
hoping what will happen in Ohio where, let`s face it, votes are definitely
worth more. A hundred and seventy-seven million in campaign funds have
been poured into the Buckeye State to target swing voters living in Toledo,
Dayton, and Columbus and Cincinnati.
Ohio now has overtaken Florida as the state that has seen the most
money spent in this presidential election. This week, Ohio went platinum,
breaking records at $75 million in spending in a seven day period. And
polls show that much of the electorate is concerned about the new heights
of giving and expending. But who can hear their concern over this sound of
all that cash raining down? How much does it cost to buy an election?
To date, adjusted for inflation the most expensive race per vote is
still the 1896 presidential race of the two Williams. Karl Rove`s hero,
political operative Mark Hanna helped William McKinley garner 51 percent of
the vote by outspending William Jennings Bryan, really smooshing that
William into the ground. All these years later, by casting your vote, we
still haven`t topped Hanna.
One political scientists at the University of Denver spent time to
calculate exactly how much each vote cost. And in fact, in 1896 each vote
was worth approximately $15 of today`s money. Two-thousand-eight, each
vote casts cost only about $12. A hundred and sixteen years after the
record was set, get ready for a new one, because 2012 looks to be the year
when campaigns and outside groups combined spend more than $25 per American
voter. Twenty five dollars a voter, 26 bucks a second, it all leads me to
ask, is your vote for sale? And if it is, what does it cost our democracy?
At the table today is Ben Cohen, co-founder of none other than Ben &
Jerry`s Ice Cream and head stamper of the StampStampede.org. Devoted to
bringing awareness to money in politics. Also Valarie Kaur, political
commentator and director of the film "Groundswell." David Donnelly,
executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund. And Leslie Sanchez,
republican analyst and author of "You`ve Come a Long Way, Maybe."
Thanks to my whole panel for being here this morning. So, as we were
doing these calculations, I just kept thinking, I cannot believe that it is
this expensive. Are people`s votes simply for sale?
DAVID DONNELLY, DIRECTOR, PUBLIC CAMPAIGN ACTION FUND: I don`t think
they`re for sale. I think the amount of money in politics is disgusting to
a lot of people. They don`t want to see excessive campaign spending,
particularly all these advertising that`s raining down in the campaign. I
do think that they`re more worried about where the money is coming from
because it`s not coming from them. It`s coming from very wealthy
interests, those that can give $2500 per person which is what you can give
to candidate, those are not average Americans.
It`s a very small slice of the American public. And then, when you
see facts like this past week when Chevron dumped $2.5 million from its
corporate treasuries into super PAC, then Americans really wonder about
whether the elections is for sale, whether government is for sale rather
than their votes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, look, these numbers for me were just
stunning. Opensecrets.org says that given that we`ve got, you know, again,
almost -- we just passed the $2 billion that President Barack Obama is the
candidate who has drawn the most shadow money, this kind of quiet money.
Supporters, shadow money supporters, $1.1 million. Shadow money opposition
to the president $74.1 million. Seventy four million dollars against the
President and it`s shadow money.
VALARIE KAUR, DIRECTOR, GROUNDSWELL: With the amount of money in
elections has always been troubling, but the massive amount of spending
from corporate and special interest groups, this shadow money in this
election is completely demoralizing to me. You know, to bring this issue
home, I really think about my neighborhood in new haven --
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, we`re having a mic problem with you Valarie.
So, we`re going to come back with you. I want these insights, but I also
want my guest to be able to -- I mean, my audience to be able to hear it.
So, Ben, let me ask you, I mean, obviously you`re a businessman and
you have a sort of social vision for the world. But this now is a critical
issue for you. Talk to me about sort of, you know, Valarie is beginning
was saying it`s demoralizing to think about how much money is in the
system. What is the work that you`re doing around this?
BEN COHEN, CO-FOUNDER, BEN & JERRY`S ICE CREAM: Well, we`re trying to
get money out of politics in general, especially big money out of politics.
I mean, I don`t think the issue is, you know, the huge total amount of
money that`s in politics. I think the issue is that the major
contributions to these candidates and PACs are coming from corporations
that are doing it because they have a particular agenda. I mean, it`s
coming out of the corporate treasury because there`s a corporate purpose.
And the corporate purpose is that they want legislation passed that`s going
to benefit their own narrow self-interests.
COHEN: And that`s what`s screwing up the country.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, Leslie, I think that`s what fuels anxiety
producing across, you know, across parties. So, you and I come from
different ideological positions. But that doesn`t mean that we wouldn`t
both be very concerned about the idea, not only that votes are for sale,
but ultimately that candidates are for sale and that those candidates seem
for sale will make a difference in how they govern.
LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN ANALYST: No, I think two parts to that.
One, this is not a cottage industry where we`re talking about company
finance, political ads. It is basically, you know, massively running off
the rails. And there`s a lot of public scrutiny on the Right and the Left.
You`ve looked at everybody from Senator McCain who has talked about
campaign finance reform. But something that is fair, the problem is, when
you get into this, it`s political gamesmanship versus actual reform. You
talk about disclosure whose actually giving to these moneys. But there are
a lot of people when you look at big labor that would be under the
SANCHEZ: I`m saying without sparking the debate, which I`m sure we
will have, is that people want to know where the dollars are coming from,
who is invested but on both sides, you can`t hide it or mask it, on you
know, labor or any other thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, we`ll talk about exactly where is
the money coming from. I want to talk a little bit about Citizens United
and 501(C)(4)s as well. Ben, about your new project to Stamp Money. And
Valarie, I want to fix your mic and get you back in.
So, when we`re back, I want to ask about Karl Rove, the man with the
plan and with the cash, way more than $26, making it rain on the campaign.
HARRIS-PERRY: One man has led the effort to spend more on television
and radio ads in the presidential race than any other in recent weeks. Of
course, I`m talking about Karl Rove. His two groups, American Crossroads
and Crossroads GPS have spent more on television and radio ads in the
presidential race than any other super PAC or advocacy group in recent
weeks. Since September 10th, put together, Rove`s groups have spent $47.4
million through October 18th. And just this week, American Crossroads
unleashed $12.6 million for swing state media blitz, including the return
of Clint Eastwood, political operative to our air waves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: Obama`s second term would be a rerun of the
first and our country just can`t survive that. We need someone who could
turn it around fast. And that man is Mitt Romney. There`s not much time
left and the future of our country is at stake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, at least the President gets to appear as himself
rather than as an empty chair and that one. But look, Rove is basically
betting on this kind of spending making a difference. They don`t, you
know, people don`t spend money to advertise unless they think it`s going to
make a difference. Talk to me about 501(c)(4)s that Citizens United is
kind of unleashed on this particular campaign.
DONNELLY: 501(c)(4) is another word for a charity. It`s a social
welfare organization that can spend its money on lobbying or it can spend
its money on influencing elections. It can only spend up to half to this
money influencing elections. In the Citizens United case, back in 2010,
allowed those organizations to take it a step further and use corporate
money to spend directly in the middle of elections, corporate and union
money to spend in the middle of elections to say vote for or vote against.
Now, this money is not new in politics. It just exploded.
DONNELLY: The court decision wiped away the gray area in our campaign
finance law. So now, there are really no limits to what outside groups can
do. And so what we`re seeing now is an explosion in that area. Although
it was a problem that existed before Citizens United.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to pick up just a little bit on what Leslie
was saying earlier. It was like OK, it`s sort of a both sides issue. In
part because the 501(c)(3)s, right? You know, these are all named
obviously for the codes.
DONNELLY: The tax codes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. For the tax codes. The 501(c)(3)s where we
actually see sort of an enormous number of progressive action going on in
these non-profits, everything from housing groups, they are barred, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: They can`t write these checks. They can`t, and so to
me that`s where it feels like there is part of this critical asymmetry
occurring. Is that right, that difference between the (c)(3)s and (c)(4)s?
DONNELLY: Well, it`s only symmetry and the amount of money. Yes.
Really. There are 501(c)(3)s and 501(c)(4)s on both sides of the equation.
There are ones that aren`t ideological at all. You know, sometimes the
group that benefits a local library is a 501(c)(3)s. It`s charitable
organization. A (c)(4) though can spend money in elections. And because
there are so many motivated donors, wealthy donors and corporations on the
right, this election cycle to defeat President Obama, they are pouring
money into these shadowy groups that don`t have disclose --
HARRIS-PERRY: Got you. So, that $74 million spent in opposition to
the President with only $5.1 million spent in opposition to Governor
Romney, isn`t so much because of a law issue, it`s because of an actual
DONNELLY: We saw the same disparity in 2004 when President Bush was
the incumbent, there was a very strong opposition to President Bush on that
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ben, you know, it`s a truism, it`s American
politics, we say if you want to know, follow the money. And you actually
have a strategy for following the money. I`m looking at our table.
KAUR: We brought all the money.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I`m looking at the table here now which looks
like we are apparently going to go down to Florida to a strip club
afterward. But that`s not what`s going on here. Ben, explain to me what
is going on with this money on the table.
COHEN: Well, you know, corporations and, you know, the wealthiest .01
percent of the country are making their money talk by giving gobs of it to
politicians expecting favors in return. And the problem is that that
overshadows the voice of regular people and the Stamp Stampede campaign is
about regular people being able to make their money talk by stamping
messages on it.
COHEN: And this is a message about stamping money out of politics to
pass an amendment to the constitution to say that corporations are not
people and money is not free speech.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, before you can go spend your dollars at your local
business, right? Then you first stamp it and it`s your message to say
stamp the money out of politics. I have a brilliant producer, and I bought
for her a stamp that says "It`s all bs." So, maybe she can put that on her
Valarie, so this is -- while Ben & Jerry`s is over here stamping the
dollar bills which God, I really hope don`t ever end up in anyone`s g-
string. Valarie, talk to me here about what you were saying earlier about
how this feels like maybe a way to start bringing regular people`s voices.
KAUR: Yes. I mean, I am going to take these dollars, Ben, back to
New Haven in my neighborhood where I talk to folks I talked to.
COHEN: You got them, Valarie. Spread them around. Spread them
KAUR: Thank you. Well, what I love about this is it really shows
what`s at stake here. The folks I talked to back at home, you know, these
are largely low-income, African-American, Latino families. They`re just
trying to make ends meet. They don`t have much access to political power.
Our election season is the one time where they feel like they can have a
say in our democracy.
KAUR: And today, what`s happening is that our country`s enormous
economic disparities are being reinforced by our political disparities.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. That`s supposed to be the one moment where
there`s a kind of evening out, right? OK. So, maybe I don`t have big
money to give. But I ought to be able to say every voice counts equally in
the ballot box. Is that changing? I mean, when we look at -- I was just
looking at the amount of outside spending. And if you look at the center
for responsive politics about shadow money, you just see that this is new,
right? So, yes, there`s always been money in politics issue you`re
pointing out, but look at the explosion of it over the course of the past
couple of election cycles, in particular 2012. Leslie, do ordinary people
still have a voice when there`s this much loud spending going on?
SANCHEZ: Well, you know, I think you mentioned a point about the
915,000 political ads. What wasn`t added to that was it`s a 44 percent
increase from 2008. So, you wake up in the morning, your twitter feed is
full of political ads. You looked on YouTube, you got slammed, you know, I
love when I look at Latino videos and I get Romney ads. Oh my God, we
know, we really know.
Is that evidence? Really, you know, what is Google know about me?
But you know, it`s all -- but the truth is, all your mailings and
everything else, I do want to reiterate it is on both sides. There`s
transparency that the public skepticism about this is because for many
years there was not balance in where those dollars were. Now, Is think the
healthy part of this conversation is we`re going to step out of this
election and need to talk about American democracy, the influences that are
in it. And see if there is a fair way to have disclosure because people
want authenticity and transparency.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to talk about exactly this issue in the State of
Wisconsin as soon as we come back. Because I want to go a little bit
beyond campaign cash, there is a lot of money influencing so-called
grassroots mobilization efforts. Oh, these dollars. All right, when we
come back, more on that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Between 13,000 statewide Congressional and municipal
races, not to mention the presidential race, $9.8 billion will be spent
this year, $9.8 billion. What? And that is just the money to get into
office. What about after they get elected? What about the money that
floods into the decision making policy process and legislation writing.
Joining me now from Madison, Wisconsin is Scot Ross of One Wisconsin
Now who has been looking at this very issue coming from his backyard to
influence policy decisions across the country. Nice to have you, Scot.
SCOT ROSS, ONE WISCONSIN NOW: Melissa, it`s a real pleasure to be
here. Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me about the Bradley Foundation. I`ve
spent the past couple of days reading everything about them. And, you
know, they`re kind of -- I guess what I found so shocking is that they`re
bigger than Koch, and I don`t mean Coca-Cola, they`re bigger than the Koch
Brothers in some really important ways, and yet, they`re not really a name
that we know in national politics.
ROSS: Well, yes, Melissa, a lot of people think that the most
destructive right wing elements coming out of Wisconsin might be Scott
Walker`s agenda and Paul Ryan. But it turns out it`s this little building
down in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which houses the Bradley Foundation. And
thanks to some intrepid reporting last year by Dan Bice, Bill Glauber and
Ben Poston of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. We know now that probably
since the Supreme Court declared George Bush the Victor of the 2000
election, they`ve spent in the neighborhood of $1 billion in propaganda to
push forward a right-wing agenda.
That includes funding all aspects of that propaganda whether it`s
think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute. Hoover, Manhattan
Institute, to funding the activities on the ground of voter suppression and
activities that take away the right of the people to exercise that sacred
right of the franchise. And they are massive.
HARRIS-PERRY: Scot, I want to pause here. Because I think this is
important. We`ve been -- I`ve been framing this as, you know, kind of
buying your vote through advertising and that kind of thing. But what I
found fascinating about the Bradley Foundation is that they lay the
intellectual justification for a variety of conservative policy positions.
I mean, you know, they fund research. So, they also fund the arts and
things that are kind of community-based within Wisconsin and within
Milwaukee. But that idea of laying the intellectual framework suggests to
me that this is not easily rooted out, for example, with new legislation.
No. I mean, and the thing is, Melissa, you know, they have spent half
a billion dollars. But 60 percent of that is for organizations outside the
State of Wisconsin. And they, you know, they create Science, junk Science
in universities and these think tanks, that is the, you know, moral
justification for these harsh restrictive conservative policies which take
away corporate accountability, which privatize our schools. And that`s one
of their massive endeavors is the privatization of private schools.
And they`ve moved now into funding organizations that are about
propaganda to say that there`s massive voter fraud and justify the
activities in polling places on election days. And that includes, Melissa,
a contribution to True the Vote which ended up being returned because True
the Vote didn`t have its 501(c)(3) status. But true, the vote and
organizations that are working with True the Vote. Hundreds and hundreds
of thousands of dollars to organizations working with True the Vote to put
a million poll workers in election precincts on Election Day.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Val, I want to bring in Valarie Kaur quickly
because she`s been making the point about, you know, sort of on voting day
it should be that every vote counts, you know, the same. But if it`s not
just advertising, they`re actually putting voter suppression efforts in the
field, that strikes me as particularly troubling.
KAUR: Yes. And, you know, what`s especially enraging is that in
this time of economic depression, so much economic waste is being poured
into these campaigns. And the majority is being spent on negative ads.
So, it would be one thing if this kind of money was actually deepening
political discourse. It`s actually cheapening it. So, working at
Groundswell Auburn Seminary, we`re organizing faith leaders across the
country to stand up to money and politics and with Ben organizing folks in
Colorado to pull for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. You say, there`s some kind of solution to this?
DONNELLY: Well, there are a variety of different solutions.
DONNELLY: And I don`t think there`s any one silver bullet. I think
we need to work on a variety of different fronts. But just as important as
getting the money out of politics, we need to think about policies that
bring the people back in, that we can`t simply think about the problem as
one that reduces money in politics. We need to incentivize more
participation. So, through small donor matching fund programs like there
is in New York City and like there is, you know, a variety of states around
the country, right now there`s a big campaign in New York State to try to
get public financing passed.
Governor Cuomo is a big supporter. There`s federal legislation. The
real challenge here is a political one, not a policy one. There are
solutions to these issues. The real question is whether we can build the
political will to adopt anything that puts some of the sanity back into our
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Scot, the argument here is it`s not just money out.
It`s got to be people in. I mean, Wisconsin has a long tradition of
organizing, of populism. Is Wisconsin the place where we can start looking
for some kind of solutions for money out, people in?
ROSS: Well, certainly we saw, you know, in the last two years in
Wisconsin with the, you know, agenda of Governor Walker and the attacks on
workers here and the Wisconsin way of life, that people have mobilized and
are funding against it. In Wisconsin, we were able to get those billboards
taken down, the voter suppression billboards that were funded, you know.
So, there is a great and massive mobilization. Certainly they have
unmatched forces, forces that I want to point out are tax deductible. So
when corporations give money to these organizations, they can get a tax
break out of it.
And in fact, they ran $4 million worth of television ads, Bradley
founded organizations here in the State of Wisconsin, the first ads run to
promote Walker`s agenda during the recall were 501(c)(3) tax deductible ads
paid for by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. And a Wisconsin-based
group that`s almost holy funded by Bradley Foundation. Now those similar
ads are running nationally. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation and
Citizens Against Government Waste, another group that gets money from the
Bradley Foundation are running those ads with China supposedly in 2030
talking about how America collapsed as a result of, you know, debt and
things like that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Scot, I really appreciate you bringing some kind of,
you know, very clear insights into this. And it`s a tough issue. It`s not
going to be fixed overnight. But we`ve got to keep thinking about how to
fix it. So, thank you to Scot Ross in Madison Wisconsin, thank you to
David Donnelly. The rest are back for more.
Now, I wrote my letter to Richard Mourdock on Tuesday night. But I`m
going to read it next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Richard Mourdock is the republican nominee for Senate
in the great state of Indiana. And as Mitt Romney has said, if he wins, he
could be one of the 51 votes needed to overturn Obamacare. But this week,
Richard Mourdock found a way to stand out from the pack, so much so that I
thought I`d send him a note.
Dear Mr. Mourdock, sometimes I still flinch when I`m touched in a
certain way, even if it`s the loving embrace of my husband. I can`t stand
to watch TV shows where rape is the central plot line. And even some
seasons of the year are harder for me. Those of us who are sexual assault
survivors call these triggers. And we spend our lives, the lives that we
lead after the attack avoiding and managing these triggers. A
Congressional debate shouldn`t have to come with a trigger warning. But
apparently, Richard, yours should because in Tuesday`s debate for Indiana`s
U.S. Senate seat, you said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD MOURDOCK, INDIANA STATE SENATE CANDIDATE: I believe that life
begins at conception. The only exception I have for -- to have an abortion
is in that case of the life of the mother. I just -- I struggled with it
myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from
God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape,
that it is something that God intended to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me explain something. Rape and sexual assault are
complicated experiences for survivors. Some of us fight, kick, scream and
resist at every moment. Some of us eventually give in to save our own
lives or to manage the horror. Some of us know that what is happening is
rape and others of us just know it`s wrong but don`t have any words to
describe why. Some of us push the memories down and try to forget and
others of us battle openly with the nightmares and the scars every day.
There is no one right way to survive.
There is no one right way to feel. And as we heal, we learn not to
judge ourselves or to judge our fellow survivors because we learn that
judgment can wound as deeply as assault. If a woman finds herself pregnant
after a rape, we do not judge the choices she makes. Now, I`m descended
from American slaves. And I have four mothers who found themselves
pregnant with children whose birth increased the wealth of the very man who
enslave and raped them.
But somehow through the angst and misery of that experience, some of
those women found a way to love and embrace the children that they bore
from rape. I do not doubt the compassion or judge the choice of a survivor
who carries a rape pregnancy to term. But the whole point is choice,
consent. You see, Mr. Mourdock, the violation of rape is more than
physical. Rapists strip women of our right to choose, of our right to say
no, of our right to control what is happening to our bodies. And most of
our assailants tell us it`s our fault.
And they tell us to be silent. And sometimes they even tell us it`s
God`s will. That is the core violation of rape. It takes away choice.
Now, Richard, you believe it`s fine to ignore a woman`s right to choose
because of your interpretation of divinity. Does that sound familiar? So,
let me explain something to you. When we survive sexual assault, we are
the gift. When we survive and we go on to love and to work and to speak
out and to have fun and to laugh and dance and to cry and to live, when we
do that, we defeat our attackers.
For a moment they strip us of our choices and we heal when we take our
choices back. We are the gift to ourselves and our families and our
communities and our nation when we survive. So let me say this very
clearly to you, Mr. Mourdock and to all of your shameless endorsers, we
did not survive an attack on our consent just to turn around and give up
our right to choose to you. Not without a fight. Are you sure you want to
have that fight? Sincerely, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: On Election Day, in just more than a week, 17 million
18 to 22-year-olds will be eligible to vote in the presidential contest for
first for the first time. They are part of what`s known as the
Millennials, Americans between 18 and 30 who can make a real difference in
this year`s election because they are 29 percent of the electorate. An
estimated 64 million young people are eligible to vote in this election.
And that is up from 48 million in 2008. So, we dug up this NBC News and
nightly clip from July 5th, 1971. That`s the day that younger voters
became a permanent part of the process.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWIN NEWMAN, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The 26th amendment to the constitution
which gives the vote in all elections to 18, 19 and 20-year-olds was
ratified on Wednesday night.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I sense that we can have confidence that America`s
new voters, America`s young generation would provide what America needs, a
spirit of moral courage, a spirit of high idealism in which we believe in
the American dream, but at which we realize that the American dream can
never be fulfilled until every American has an equal chance to fulfill it
in his own life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Thirty seven years later in 2008, young men and women
voted in record numbers and chose Senator Obama by a margin of 34 points.
Their efforts helped to make him President Obama. Now that President Obama
is running for a second term, will young voters show up? Will they choose
him again? Will they become permanent voters with a sense of stake and
purpose or will they`ll going to stay at home and leave the governing to
Still with me to help answer those questions are once again Ben &
Jerry`s Ben Cohen and political commentator Valarie Kaur and welcoming in
for the first time today, Matthew Segal of Ourtime.org and Felicia Wong,
president and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute.
It`s lovely to have you all here. Matt, obviously young voters are as
diverse a group as older voters, in fact, in many ways more diverse, right?
This Millennial generation. But there was something you had to say these
sort of young voters are looking for in 2012, what is it?
MATTHEW SEGAL, CO-FOUNDER/PRESIDENT, OURTIME.ORG: Well, it`s
interesting to see the lead-in with President Nixon to say the words "moral
SEGAL: In high idealism.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, exactly.
SEGAL: Absent from our politics.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Sort of from that moment on, like that was the
both ushering of young people in and the collapse of the idea that moral
courage was part of our politics.
SEGAL: And frankly, my biggest frustration with this campaign is the
absent of high idealism. This is been a race about differentiation. It`s
President Obama, here`s how I differ from Governor Romney. Governor
Romney, here`s how I differ from President Obama. It`s not here is what
I`m going to do in my second term, I`m going to put every young person to
work, serving their country by massively expanding AmeriCorps. Or I`m
going to get every kid free community college so that they can take a
ticket to social upward mobility. And by the way, if there are
obstructionists, I`m going to print names of the ten senators who are
obstructing everything so that every young person would call them. We
can`t just ask young people --
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I love that, I mean, like on the one hand that I
love that. I would love to hear that. But I also know why the president
doesn`t say I`m about to engage in a massive spending program.
SEGAL: But at the same time, there`s a difference between spending
in investment -- excuse me -- smart investment and wasteful expenditure.
Look at the money we spend on people on unemployment insurance. Look at
the money we spend on social welfare programs, on food stamps, in prison
costs. All that could be put into young people`s productivity if their
invested it in the beginning. And the private sector -- we put in money to
a company. It grows. People earn wealth. Everyone wins. In the public
sector, we`re spending $7 on seniors on the output and $1 on kids on the
input. That makes zero sense.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Valarie, Matt is making an argument here about
something he just never heard. And like, I`m just, I can hear the GOP
commercial that would happen. And yet, I like this point about high ideals
and you wrote, Valarie, in your piece for CNN right after the President`s
kind of lackluster performance in the first campaign. You wrote, "Among my
own millennial friends, we don`t debate economic reform without addressing
the immigrant labor force. We never discuss health care without also
grappling with women`s rights. We can`t build a moral economy or health
care system without considering the major social challenges of our time.
Civil liberties, immigration, women`s rights, domestic extremism, climate
change and none of these were even mentioned in the debate." So, is this
that lack of high idealism?
KAUR: Yes. You know, every week I spin on a new college campus.
This week at USC, next week, UPENN, last week, I was at university in
Michigan. And I went to the University of Michigan, Michigan State
football game. And of course, there`s a snapshot of Millennials, kids
dancing the streets, having fun. But they`re also selling t-shirts that
said, "Michigan, we have binders full of women."
These are -- this is just a couple days after the debate.
KAUR: Like, these are young people who are trying to figure out their
lives. But they`re paying attention, they`re still paying attention. And
we want leaders who are connected with issues that we care about. And what
we saw in our political discourse this election season is that too often
our candidates missed opportunities to talk about our staggering student
debt, the environment, the dignity of immigrants, civil liberties, we see
these issues as deeply bound up in one another, and unfortunately, I mean,
or fortunately, depending on who you are, Governor Romney with his 47
percent comment, would just go and borrow money from your parents has done
a worse job in showing how out of touch he is with this generation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. What I feel like we`re hearing from that, again,
in 2012, we`ve got 64 million eligible young voters. That`s up from 48
million and they were decisive, right, in 2008. You`re with the Roosevelt
Institute which is in part, you know, taking young people like this, and
training them for exactly this kind of integrated big thinking. Is there
any way to make that penetrate our presidential process?
FELICIA WONG, PRESIDENT/CEO, ROOSEVELT INSTITUTE: I think their
absolutely is. I mean, I think everybody is right here, that young people
are motivated by values. They are motivated by high ideals, and we see
that at the Roosevelt Campus Network. You know, we have 10,000 students on
100 campuses across the country. And we know what we need to do with them
is to reinvent the way that they are going to engage in the political
process. So what our young people really want to do, of course they want
to vote. Of course they want to register.
But what they also want to do is engage in their own communities.
This is both a values driven generation but also a really practical
generation. They want solutions that they can invent, that they can bring
into their communities, whether it`s improving food distribution, improving
green energy. These are things that they are able to do themselves. And
that is a mode of millennial set of engagement that really can work.
WONG: And I think we can see that throughout the presidential.
SEGAL: Well, Felicia`s reference to local communities highlights the
dichotomy also between volunteerism among our generation and voting for --
SEGAL: The volunteerism you get an immediate efficacy from or
gratification, you see a smiling kid when you`re done tutoring them. But
when you vote in this country, there`s no immediate perceived effect. And
one of the biggest barriers that politician haves to make the case to my
generation about is the fact that voting is so much more than a historic
right and necessity. But it`s something that as to kin how resources and
investments are allocated. So, when we`re going to talk later about
education, higher education is often the first thing on the menu to cut in
many states because young people don`t vote in as greater number. And that
needs to be clearer and more boldly stated by the candidates.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s an interesting point. This thing about like, if
I`m tutoring at the neighborhood school, I get that instant gratification.
If I vote for a candidate, the candidate is a messy, you know, sort of
things and it may or may not turn out. But it also feels to me, Ben, like
part of what that distinction is also between charity and justice, right?
The charity feels good but justice takes a long time. It`s, you know, I
hate to do the, oh, young people need to cultivate patience thing, but it
does feel a little bit like that sense.
COHEN: Well, look at our culture too though. I mean, we have the
high speed internet, fast food. We live in this culture that said, ads
with our legislature process. Meanwhile, you have a gridlocked Congress
where very little, if not anything is getting done. I think this was the
least productive Congress ever.
COHEN: So, reconciling.
HARRIS-PERRY: On purpose.
COHEN: .you know, those two forces at odds is difficult for people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. We`re going to come right back to you, on Valerie
and Felicia as soon as we`re back. Because when we come back, young voters
out there, if you are listening, President Obama really does have a message
specifically for you. That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: I hope every young person who
is listening, don`t believe this idea that your vote does not matter. In
2000, in Gore verses Bush, 537 votes changed the direction of history in a
profound way. And the same thing could happen here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama at the conclusion of his live
interview yesterday with MTV speaking directly to the millennial generation
voters who I`ve been discussing with my guests. So, Felicia, you know, the
President is a professor in a certain way, right? So, you know, here you
are on campus. When he does his professorial thing, is that a connecting
WONG: Absolutely. That`s what we`re hearing from our students. That
they feel, this isn`t a talking points generation. And when any politician
does the talking points, they don`t like it.
WONG: But when the President respects them by explaining policies in
that professorial manner, that`s very connecting for them.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there`s a professorial manner but then, we were
just talking about that MTV town hall that occurred just before the
president sort of makes his appeal. And you were saying to me, yes, I
don`t know. I didn`t feel like his responses felt professorial or even
enthusiastic they felt a little removed.
SEGAL: I agree that young people like being spoken to like, as they
were an intelligent deserving block and furthermore that we don`t like
being talked down to a condescending way.
SEGAL: But the medium of that forum, here, he did not go necessarily
where young people live which ten hours a day is the average amount of time
young people spend online. He was in I think the east room or Oval Office,
laid back in a chair while the students were asking him questions remotely
were pre-vetted by MTV. And it didn`t seem natural. And he also felt as
though he essentially was detached from the whole process. And that`s just
Now, substantively speaking on issues to the biggest question on jobs,
he basically went through his five-point plan, started with manufacturing
which by the way is not might appear the swing states voters but it`s not
the number one growing field where young people want to work.
SEGAL: If you look at where young people want to work, it`s health
and wellness, it`s nursing, it`s health care, it`s IT, it`s education
technology fields. Those are the rising industry -- even tailor whose
talking points toward younger people in that regard and I thought that was
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Valarie. You know, optically, I mean, when young
people look at these choices that they have to make in this election, are
they going to show up for President Obama? Do you think?
KAUR: I`m anxious. I mean, I stay up at night wondering what will
happen in the next four years, the next decade.
KAUR: Wondering if my generation will show up. Because I do think
they can be decisive. But we need some context here.
KAUR: You know, this generation was a generation that came of age in
the shadow of catastrophe. Nine-11, Darfur, Katrina, two wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq, economic instability. In the 2008 election,
President Obama captured our diversity in his being and his breath and
organizing for many of us for him, was felt like a social movement. It
felt like ushering in a new era of our history.
Now, what happened, strategist Marcial Gantz (ph) talks about how
there was no concerted effort after the election to keep that base
mobilized, to make that grassroots movement continue to feel like a
movement. And so, four years later it`s no surprise that the President is
now distanced, is now removed. And the real question is going to be
whether Millennials will equate their political disillusionment or maybe
with just kind of still bring up about how politics works with the idea
that their vote does not matter because it absolutely does.
HARRIS-PERRY: It absolutely does. And in fact, we`ll talk more about
how votes matter as soon as we get back. We`ve got more on this week in
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Before we get to "This Week in Voter Suppression", we have some
breaking news. Sandy, which was earlier downgraded to a tropical storm,
has strengthened again to hurricane status. And the threat remains to the
U.S., and it`s five states and the District of Columbia that have declared
a state of emergency.
NBC meteorologist Dylan Dreyer here with a look at the forecast.
Good morning, Dylan.
DYLAN DREYER, NBC NEWS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Melissa.
Yes, this is a huge storm and it has been re-upgraded to a category 1
hurricane. It will mostly likely downgrade back to a tropical storm and
back up to a category 1 hurricane. But it`s not so much the strength of
the storm. It`s the sheer size of the storm.
Tropical storm force winds extend about 450 miles away from the center
of this storm. Notice right now that it`s moving to the north-northeast at
about ten miles per hour. The outer rain bands are just trying to move
onshore through South Carolina, onto the beaches of North Carolina. It`s
raining moderately, but not too heavily. That will change as we go into
later this afternoon and tonight as well.
Watch what`s happening. We`ve got this stalled system to our west.
We have an area of high pressure to our north and east. This whole storm,
instead of continuing on that path to the north and east is going to take a
sharp turn to the west. That`s why we are looking for areas like New
Jersey, somewhere in New Jersey or perhaps just a little south of that down
That`s the detail of the storm that we just don`t know now. But
either way, it is going to affect the Delmarva area into New Jersey with
high surf. We`re also going to see winds perhaps gusting up near about 80
miles per hour on the peak of the storm.
The peak would be about Monday night into Tuesday morning. Look at
those rain totals. Not only is this going to be an issue for coastal
areas, but inland areas as well are going to pick up about eight, nine, 10
inches of rainfall out of this storm. And again, gusts could be as high as
about 80 miles per hour at the height of the storm.
Then it`s going to continue to move inland and we will see it rain
itself out. So, it`s worst for the mid Atlantic region Monday night into
Tuesday morning. We will end up with about four to eight inches of
widespread rainfall with higher, 10-inch reports likely.
A storm surge up to around four to five feet is also possible. That`s
that push of water that moves onshore. That`s going to erode some beaches.
And we are going to see coastal concerns and coastal flooding as well.
Tropical storm force winds, as I mentioned, extend out 450 miles from
the center of this storm. We will see a period of sustained winds late
Monday into most of Tuesday at about 40 to 60 miles per hour.
So, we`ll watch this storm as it continues to churn through the
Atlantic -- Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Dylan.
Honestly, I`ve had about all the hurricane I can take this year.
DREYER: Oh, yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Now, it is time to update you on the latest from
"This Week in Voter Suppression."
Previously when we`ve talked numbers, we`re talking figures with a lot
of zeros, the hundreds of thousands, or by some estimates the millions who
could be disenfranchised because of strict voter laws, many of which,
thankfully, have been blocked or weakened in the court.
But this week, we want to talk about much smaller numbers, because as
we`ve seen from the polls, it`s going to be a close one this year, maybe
even election 2000 close. You remember that year? That was a year when a
minuscule three-digit margin, just 537 votes, in only one state, Florida,
tipped the election to George W. Bush. Maybe it was just one vote on the
Supreme Court. But you get my point.
It`s why this year small numbers can have a big impact on the election
-- as first lady Michelle Obama reminded an audience in Wisconsin late last
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: It could all come down to just a few
battleground states, like right here in Wisconsin, states that could be
decided by just a few thousand votes. When you take that number and you
spread those votes out across this entire state, you know, across hundreds
of cities and thousands of wards, it becomes smaller, right? So when you
break it down, it turns out that just a handful of votes in every ward
could make all the difference in this election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So here in Nerdland, when we hear about
disenfranchisement of any number of voters, no matter how small, we pay
When we first heard last week that Arizona had distributed voter
registration cards with a Spanish translation saying election day was
November 8th instead of November 6th, we were initially willing to give
them the benefit of the doubt. After all, there were fewer than 50 cards
printed. And we could buy the county`s explanation it was an honest
mistake even if Maricopa County, home of the birther king, Sheriff Joe
But just this week, the same mistake happened in the same country,
except this time it was 2,000 bookmarks with the wrong Election Day printed
in Spanish that have been given out to voters. Again, the explanation that
they have used the template from last year, which the election was November
8, and they forgotten to update it to November 6th. OK. More benefit of
But when that same excuse was used to explain a simmer record across
the county in a battleground state that could decide the election, we`re a
little less tolerant of the mistake. Mailers were sent out to more than
2,300 voters in three precincts in Ohio`s Ottawa County that got not one,
but two critical pieces of information wrong. One of them was the same
error committed in Arizona, telling voters Election Day was November 8th
instead of November 6. Additionally voters were also directed to the wrong
polling place at a local high school.
At the table, Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry`s, Auburn
Seminary`s Valarie Kaur, director of Groundswell, also, Leslie Sanchez,
Republican analyst and Myrna Perez, senior counsel for the democracy
program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
Myrna, I`m not a conspiracy theorist, I general dislike. But when not
one, not two, but now in both in Arizona and Ohio, we have Spanish language
printed with the wrong date and always a date that`s after the election,
never before so people can figure it out. Are we in conspiracy land? Is
this a concerted effort, sort of last ditch to suppress these votes?
MYRNA PEREZ, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE: Well, I think what I think
we need to remember is that when there are a lot of election law changes,
we are frequently worried about their being confusion. One of the examples
that I like to point to is notwithstanding the recent Pennsylvania decision
about how the identification requirement was going to apply, there were at
least two counties in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, that had wrong
information on polling, on their Web site. And what that tells me is
voters need to make sure that they educate themselves.
And fortunately, they`ve got help with that. There is a national
nonpartisan hotline. It`s 866-OURVOTE that voters can call if they had any
question. And there`s a line in Spanish. It`s Ve-Y-Vota, 888-Ve-Y-Vota.
So notwithstanding the kind of misinformation that`s going to happen
out there, there are a number of trained legal workers all across the
country that are going to be there to help voters should something like
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Leslie, I have to say -- I am -- I am disturbed
particularly by the Spanish-speaking aspect of this. In part, because
there was a time, not so long ago when Republicans were very much trying to
get the Latino vote and we doing, in fact, a very good job of it,
particularly under George W. Bush.
I`m all for it, I`m all for you convince African-Americans or Latinos
or young people or women to vote for you. I am not all for you suppress
the vote by purposely sending out misinformation.
LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Nobody is going to be for
HARRIS-PERRY: Somebody is for it.
SANCHEZ: I`m not going to defend foolish people or ignorance. What I
do admire is the media scrutiny on this is at a very high level and it
I think that`s one thing we always like to beat up on the media.
That`s one thing that is very, very positive.
There is no doubt that there`s good organizations in these hotlines
and Voto Latino and some other efforts that are making very dramatic
efforts, not only to register the voters but make sure they know when
voting these dates are. Both campaigns have aggressively gone after the
Latino vote. Some will be more successful than others.
And Governor Romney has reached into new territory and did it much
earlier in a primary season than anybody else. So, there are some very
high positives there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure, but the fact is that it`s Republican legislators
and Republican governors and states that are led by Republicans where we
are seeing concentrated voter suppression efforts.
SANCHEZ: I want to address that, because there was a bipartisan
commission that was led by former President Carter that talked about we
needed a unified form of identification, that they needed to have some sort
of paper ballot or trail where we can see where people`s vote counted.
There`s an intense amount of, you know --
HARRIS-PERRY: But to say in the 1970s there was a bipartisan effort
to think about how to make voting more standard across all 50 states is
very different than the kind of --
SANCHEZ: I`m talking about 2005. This is post-Florida --
HARRIS-PERRY: I see.
SANCHEZ: I think in agreement it`s criminal to try to suppress the
HARRIS-PERRY: Yet that is really quite different, I think, Myrna, in
what we`re seeing in terms of the state-by-state individual efforts. I
think -- I want to press on the point you just made. Even to the extent
the courts have turned much of this back, the confusion itself can be
PEREZ: Certainly. That`s why it`s really important that there be a
lot of very good and very concentrated voter education efforts. It also
would do us well to be thinking about election preparedness, and that is
something that a number of organizations including the Brennan Center are
You know, this is a very important time. It`s the one time when we
can all come together as Americans and we all have an equal say. It`s
important that we get it right. We are the leading democracy and we need
to make sure our elections are run accordingly.
HARRIS-PERRY: Valerie and Ben, I`m going to bring you guys in as soon
as we come back, because I do want to talk about there`s been another
conspiracy out there this week. We`re on it here in Nerdland. We`re going
to talk about those voting machines and the stories you keep hearing when
we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: I know from my insistent Twitter feed that some of you
probably think we`ve dropped the ball "This Week in Voter Suppression"
because I know you`ve been seeing headlines like these sounding the alarm
about the connection between Mitt Romney`s big money fund-raisers, his son
Tagg and the company that owns voting machines used in the upcoming
election. And you panicked about it and you tweeted me about it.
I get it. And it`s understandable in an election year where there has
been clear and compelling evidence of voter suppression. But, breathe deep
and then deeper.
What you`ll find is there`s not a whole lot of there, there. Possible
conflict of interest? Sure. Definitely bad judgment to show a political
bias in a process that should be impartial? Absolutely. Evidence of a
conspiracy? Not so much.
All right. So I know that the Tagg Romney has been kind of the story,
but my worry about that is, when we focus on that, we don`t talk about what
is actually happening. The real things that are possible suppressive
efforts in North Carolina, in Virginia, in Ohio, in Wisconsin. Like let`s
keep our eyes on the ball here.
VALARIE KAUR, DIRECTOR, GROUNDSWELL: That`s right. This whole
conversation I have the words of a Florida State Senator Michael Bennett
ringing in my ears. He said, quote, "Voting is a privilege. Why should we
make it easy? I want them to fight for it."
KAUR: This is in defense of the law that Florida passed last year to
limit early voting, effectively taking the Sunday before the election out
of the possibility of voting on that day which, as we know many African-
Americans take their congregations to the polls.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right. The kind of the Souls to the Polls
KAUR: Yes. And who does he want to fight for it? It`s the very
people whose ancestors have already won that fight. It`s people who have
been historically disadvantaged. I think of my grandfather in this moment.
You know, he settled in California as a farmer in 1913. He`s a Sikh farmer
who wore a turbine and beards. For decades, he was denied the right to
become a citizen, denied the right to vote.
When he was able to win the fight in the 1960s, we couldn`t keep him
from the polls. He lived under 94, my father lifted him into a wheelchair
to take him to vote. He wouldn`t tell us who he was voting for.
KAUR: But the right was passed down to generations in my family as
KAUR: The fact that in 2012 we are having to fight the powers that be
to keep those very communities, my community, Latinos, African-Americans,
other historically disadvantaged groups, it`s no longer that categorically
deny them the right to vote, the fact that we`re finding these clever ways
is deeply troubling and requires us to stand up.
PEREZ: I was going to say, there is a positive side, and that`s we`re
winning, right? I mean, most of the laws that have been challenged have
resulted in a pro voter outcome. Most of the laws have been blocked or
And at this point in time, I think all voters should feel confident
that there are lots of folks that have got their back.
KAUR: There`s only so much time -- there`s enough that`s happening
that`s recent in the days before the Election Day to really hold up that
banner, 866-OURVOTE, to have us the citizens to stand up --
HARRIS-PERRY: At this point, it`s beginning to feel comical. I have
an obsession with NBC`s "Parks and Rec." I watch it a lot. I like the
whole idea of small government as a television show.
When I heard this Tagg Romney story, I just kept thinking about this
part of last season`s last show. Let`s take a quick look because it`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "PARKS AND RECREATION"/NBC)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Newports are trying to install these voting
machines at several precincts around town. Watch what happens when I vote
for Bobby Newport.
AUTOMATED VOICE: Good choice. Enjoy a voucher for a complimentary
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shouldn`t we be rewarding our citizens for
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m never against anyone getting a candy bar.
But watch what happens when you vote for me?
AUTOMATED VOICE: Are you sure? Take a second and think it over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, Ben, obviously that`s absurd. Yet somehow it
doesn`t -- the very fact that that the Tagg Romney thing can go viral
suggests people have really lost confidence that our system is fair and
that people do have a sense that, OK, when I go to show up to vote, it`s
going to count.
BEN COHEN, COFOUNDER, BEN AND JERRY`S: Well, I think the absurdity of
black box voting machines is ridiculous. I mean, it goes counter to every
accounting principle there is. You need a paper trail.
COHEN: I mean, in Vermont, we use optical scan. So, you fill out a
ballot, you put it in the machine, it reads it electronically and it`s
fine. If you want to have a recount, there`s something to count.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. There`s a physical thing to count.
COHEN: And the fact of the matter is that on these black box
machines, they`re online. People hack. Computers crash. I mean, we all
know there`s all these glitches with computers.
And so if that`s what you`re relying our election system on, it`s
flawed. And it`s not something people have confidence in.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Myrna, this is kind of a broader issue, like this
is not even just sort of these one-off voter suppression efforts of this
year. Ben is bringing up a broader question of our investment in voting
technology, our investment in kind of the quality of the process. Can that
stay on the agenda once we move past whoever wins in 10 days?
PEREZ: It certainly should. Our democracy is more robust the more
people participate. We need our voters there participating and we need to
make sure that our election officials have the resources that they need.
We need to make sure well in advance of elections that they have all the
provisional ballots they need, the voting machines are working and are up
to date. That we have all the poll workers, that they are adequately
trained, that we have enough people to provide language assistance.
Running an election is an incredibly important task, and we need to
make sure that it is something that we invest the resources in to do so
that we can be comfortable with the outcome.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I had a colleague send -- who goes to church with my
mom -- send me an e-mail. She had gone to early vote in Jefferson Parish
in Louisiana. It`s a good, safe, red state. I mean, this is not a
And yet she said not only did they insist on her showing her driver`s
license which in Louisiana, it turns out you don`t have to show it. They
can ask you, but you don`t absolutely have to show. They have other ways
to have your identity determined.
But there was also a police officer standing there with the poll
worker who kept insisting that she had to show her voter ID.
Now, to me that sense of intimidation is the thing that deeply
concerns me. So again, Louisiana, I think we know who is going the take
that at the presidential level. But that very notion of suppressing the
vote by having a police officer standing there, not to protect your vote,
but to insist to show something you don`t have to show.
PEREZ: What I think is important to remember is there are federal and
state laws protecting voters against intimidation. And we need to put the
business of verifying our elections in trained professionals, and one of
the problems that I`m concerned about is that we`re seeing these
ideological groups putting bullies at the poll who are designed to target
particular types of voters.
HARRIS-PERRY: True the Vote, yes.
PEREZ: I think they`re likely not to be successful. But because this
is the time that we come together and someone is discharging their civic
obligation, we shouldn`t be bedraggling their experience by them having to
answer unfounded or unsubstantiated questions by people poorly trained as
to whether or not they`re eligible.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, Myrna, when you were talking to my
producers before the show, you said there`s going to be a civil rights rain
of fire to protect voters. I`m interested in what that might look like.
So, more on voter empowerment in "This Week in Voter Suppression" when
we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Here`s the thing about using political power to subvert
democracy, it assumes power only works one way. But as we`ve told you
before, voters are not victims. For every effort to restrict the vote,
there has been an empowered counter-effort to expand it.
And those on the side of democracy right now are winning, which is why
today we need to make a slight change in "This Week in Voter Suppression"
to tell you about this week in voter empowerment.
When early voting days were restricted in Florida, African-American
leaders in the state felt like they`ve been handed a lemon by the
Republicans who back the change. So, they decided to take that lemon and
make "Operation Lemonade".
Starting today, as you can see from the video, just this morning, the
first day of early voting in Florida, a coalition of voting advocates,
including our own Reverend Al Sharpton, will be holding rallies at select
polling locations in south Florida, to get out the early vote.
All right. So, Myrna, I said there was a civil rights rain of fire.
I`m married to a civil rights nonprofit director. So, I thought really,
there`s a rain of fire. I should tell James about this.
But tell me what you mean by that.
PEREZ: That was a slightly taken out of context sentence. What I
actually that said, if -- you know, when voter suppression becomes apparent
and we`re doing a very good job of moderating it, we have been very
successful in coming down and stopping it. I think the best example of
this is where we were a year ago.
You know, across the country, state legislators were imposing laws
that restricted the rights to vote. The civil rights community, along with
the voters who did their own job in referenda, and the Department of
Justice and the courts all have come together and we`ve blocked and blunted
some of that.
And now, we`ve been seeing acts of suppression. You just mentioned
the incorrect mailers. People were on it. It`s getting fixed. There were
calls being made to voters in Florida.
In Virginia, that said that you can vote by telephone. Your civil
rights community is on it. It got corrected. The Web sites were wrong in
Pennsylvania. Civil rights community on it, we`re fixing it.
And we`ve got election protection, which are literally going to be
thousands of people operating nonpartisan numbers that people can call in
if they have questions.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, here`s my worry. So, yes, I hear the Advancement
Project is planning to have 3,000 or maybe more folks on the ground to do
election protection. But what I`ve been hearing is there are going to be 1
million True the Voters on the ground.
And the True the Voters claiming were there basically to do kind of
election protection against fraud. But my concern is, are we outgunned? I
mean, we`re talking about the money. Ben is still stamping his dollars,
We`re talking about the money being out spent previously. Are we
outgunned in this?
PEREZ: We may be.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s going to be a civil rights rain of fire!
KAUR: I`m getting texts right now, from my very dear friend Iman
Sadeki (ph) who is on the ground in Palm Beach doing voting protection as a
legal observer and he`s worried. He`s worried about the provisional
ballots, the absentee ballots and misprints. But he`s also worried about
the voters who are out there perhaps protecting against voter fraud, but
also perhaps supporting voter suppression.
So, I think that between the massive influx of spending and the
outbreak of voter suppression, that is not an exaggeration to say that good
people, good ordinary people, Republicans, Democrats, whoever you are, this
is a moment to stand up to protect just the act of our democracy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Leslie, I appreciate that you said -- you did clarify
and I should say that outmatched, not outgunned. I do not mean to say that
people are coming -- no, in this day, I think it`s important to say, I
don`t mean to say that people are coming armed.
But if there`s a question about being outmatched, in other words, just
more folks. The kind of intimidation tactics we`ve seen. For example, the
billboards in Ohio saying that this is a felony are meant to direct towards
very specific populations. So, when you start hearing rumors that it`s a
felony if there`s voter fraud, yes, that`s true. But the likelihood --
you`re not going to be arrested if you go to try to vote in the wrong
precincts, right, accidentally.
I am waiting. I want -- I want the Republicans to stand up. I want
them to say we do not support voter suppression.
We want to win. We want to beat President Obama. We want to take the
house and senate but don`t want to do it by stealing it.
Is there any possibility we can get a bipartisan effort to push back
SANCHEZ: Nobody is going to support the idea of voter suppression.
It`s a difference of how we see it. Are we talking about that there should
be some uniform ID that we talked about that the bipartisan committee has
agreed to? Are we talking about there should be a paper trail? Are we
talking about we should do things to clean up election boards, to help them
clean up the list?
HARRIS-PERRY: No, no. So, I`ll tell you what we`re talking about.
We`re saying you should not try to implement the end of early voting just
before an election. You should not try to purge actual citizens from the
rolls. You shouldn`t put up suppressive billboards in black and brown
community. You should not send out, you know, flyers and have the wrong
date. Like that`s what I need.
SANCHEZ: No, people can agree on that. Reasonable people can agree
But are you talking about don`t purge them from the rolls because
they`re also registered to vote in three other states? I mean, it`s the --
that`s where I think people want -- we want to encourage everybody who is
eligible to vote to vote.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, Leslie, the fact is they`re not going to cast
their vote in three states. I mean, they`re not going to get on a plane
and go to three different states and cast three different votes. And the
idea that one should be disenfranchised because you didn`t purge yourself
when you moved --
PEREZ: That`s the election board`s responsibility. That`s also not
the real world example, right? The real world example you want to talk
about is what happened in Florida and Colorado where we had secretary of
states inflate this number of people supposedly not eligible and they used
bad matching criteria, they used outdated lists and scared people into
believing that there were lots of noncitizens on the rolls. And on top of
that, they sent letters to people who are eligible to vote indicating --
HARRIS-PERRY: And they used Latino last names as a way --
PEREZ: Asking them to fight for it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Show it and fight for it.
You know we`re not going to leave this topic in Nerdland. I am going
to say thank you to Leslie Sanchez and Myrna Perez.
Ben and Valarie are going to stay around because right when we get
back, I want to make the case for keeping college just like it is, but also
talk to those who want to reinvent college.
HARRIS-PERRY: As the saying goes, if it ain`t broke, don`t fix it.
But what if it is broke or at the very least in need of repair. And
that`s the question of a recent "Time" magazine cover story asking,
"Reinventing College". The article poses that the next frontier in college
education may not be in the traditional classroom, but rather a virtual
Look, as a professor, I can see the merits of new and innovative
methods and how they can provide for those who might otherwise not have a
chance to attend college, especially in 2006 and 2011, states across the
country have reduced student funding to public colleges and universities.
The percentage of students who graduate at time is 58 percent at four-year
schools and only 30 percent at two-year schools.
And the percentage of students with debt has risen from 46 percent to
66 percent between 1993 and 2011, with the average amount of that debt
increasing by more than $12,000.
So, yes, the numbers students are facing right no are staggering.
Let`s not rush to abandon the traditional classroom just yet. I love the
traditional classroom. But we should see how the new and old can be melded
together to provide the best access, affordability and quality education
for all students pursuing higher education.
At the table: Ben Cohen, CEO and founder of Ben & Jerry`s, Valarie
Kaur, director of "Groundswell" at Auburn Seminary, Matt Segal, president
of ourtime.org, and Felicia Wong, president and CEO of the Roosevelt
I want to come right to you because, you know, you were talking a bit
about this angst with the presidential election and whether or not they`re
addressing issues of students. This, you know, "Time" magazine cover, man,
I think this might be the second copy because it was just ground into my
fingers as I was trying --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right, as I was trying to figure this out --
even assigns homework. That`s right.
So, talk to me about that. Is it time to reinvent college?
MATT SEGAL, OURTIME.ORG: I think the one thing the president did
exceptionally well in his State of the Union Address was, yes --
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I`m sorry, your mic is dead. We`re having a mic
issue today. I promise I`ll let you come back.
Valarie, is it time to reinvent college?
KAUR: I think it`s time to reinvent, but not replace. I come from a
farming family. I had the incredible privilege of getting my education at
Stanford, Harvard and Yale. That kind of access to knowledge, to
mentorship, to networks is something I think every hard working student
should have a shot at. That means a traditional college experience.
But absolutely we need to innovate college so that they`re stepping up
their game, so that they`re making it less expensive for students to
attend, so that they`re making learning more relevant, we`re actually
teaching skills that are more about learning and the doing, that are
relevant after graduation. And so they`re not staggering over so much debt
once they graduate.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, there`s access point. Your point that, you know,
I come from a farming family but here I end up with this college education.
I got to say, the number that blew me away here was only 3 percent, 3
percent are the percentage of students in the top 146 colleges that comes
from families in the bottom fourth of household incomes. Poor students are
not getting this opportunity to end up in college classrooms.
FELICIA WONG, ROOSEVELT INSTITUTE: You know what? That`s a political
choice. That`s the wrong political choice, but it`s a choice that we have
made, and we need to actually reinvent college in part by looking backward.
If you look at my family story, my family, similarly very poor. My
parents were both born and grew up in Oakland, Chinatown. And -- sorry,
grew up in Oakland, Chinatown, but they were able to go to U.C. Berkeley.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was affordable, state school.
WONG: That`s right, that`s right because it was free to the top 12
percent of all students in California in the 1950s and 1960s. They were
able to go because it was down the street from them. That`s the kind of
system we need to get back to.
So, in California, in the middle of this century, we saw obviously the
building of the U.C.s, but we also saw the building of California state
schools and of community colleges. I think it`s worth us talking here
about how to preserve those systems, too, because those are the real
ladders for access.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s interesting -- Felicia talks about free
access that is down the street from you. I think, well, that`s the
Internet. Like, you know, free access that`s down the street from you
isn`t your local college anymore. It is Internet classes.
SEGAL: Which is an interesting point, because as the cost of learning
is becoming cheaper, ironically the cost of education keeps going up and up
and up. So why might that be?
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, interesting.
SEGAL: So, one of the problems -- this is what I like to call the
"U.S. News & World Report" industrial complex, which is that --
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I know this one.
SEGAL: -- people rank schools on not only how much money they can
raise, but how much money they can spend, like political campaigns, and on
top of that, selectivity. So we`re valuing prestige over quality access to
learning, over the core competency of the college which is education. So,
these schools are being prioritized to do the wrong thing. And,
furthermore, we`re investing in football fields at University of Florida,
but we`re cutting computer science classes. That makes zero sense.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, this is not a small point, the selectivity
HARRIS-PERRY: Because if selectivity itself is considered a value,
then all you have to do is up the number of people who are applying. One
of the ways you up the number of people who are flying is by having a more
popular sports team, like this is not a small thing.
You know, young people watching the NCAA or watching their ACC
football. They think, oh, I`m going to apply to that school. You`re 17.
You don`t have a ton of information in the world.
More people applying. Keep your admissions the same. Your
selectivity goes up, but without any fundamental change in what`s happening
in the classroom.
SEGAL: Informed consumers buy a car or they buy a home based on price
indices. And we need to have disclosures on the part of schools, what are
your job placement statistics? Allow consumers to pick that with
information and knowledge. What are your debt levels? What are your
default levels? I want to know, if everyone who`s going to the school
defaulting on their loans, that`s a problem. That should be public
And I think a few Democrats in the Senate have a bill to actually ask
colleges -- I think it`s Ron Wyden, to disclose those statistics.
But to getting to the first thing you said, at the president`s State
of the Union Address, he said we can keep protecting the Pell Grant and
giving subsidies to college, but that`s going to skyrocket to the point
where it doesn`t make sense anymore.
At a certain point, you have to encourage colleges or force colleges
to keep their costs in check. And the way to do that is ultimately going
to be, you know, a tough decision and holding higher administrators of
these colleges and universities accountable for the next decade or so.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, I want to ask about this sort of
idea, what would be the metrics you want to have if selectivity wasn`t it.
And in part, yes, jobs. But the other piece of it is -- I value liberal
arts education for itself. So, up next, is the education that students
receive worth the money they pay for it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I`ve been making my whole table laugh talking about
what I hear often at college campuses. So, you know, as a student, college
for you is classes. And as a professor, it tends to be your research and
But administrators use the language when they`re talking about
students, TPUs, tuition paying units. In other words, how do we maximize
the number of TPUs on campus.
One of the ways to get maximum number of TPUs, tuition paying units,
is you have lots of good client services -- a nice gym, good football
field, better looking dorms than I ever imagined, good food, and that sort
How do we, on the one hand, point out that, yes, there`s this market
going on. But at the other point -- as both of you, talk about -- talk
about the fact that education is really the engine for upward mobility in
KAUR: We were talking about young people in the last segment, right?
How do we`re quip young people with the skills and tools that they need to
go out in the world and be good thinkers, citizens and doers.
And I really think the fact that 80 percent of adults surveyed feel
like in many colleges, college is not worth what they`re paying for it
shows there`s a problem, that we need to be training students better. And
we`re seeing innovation happening in different pockets.
At Yale Law School, we started a program where we train law students
to use film and video in their advocacy. It`s an innovation in legal
At Auburn Seminary, it`s a 200-year-old seminary. We are reinventing
ourselves to have faith leaders to do learning in the doing, through
organizing their own campaigns around moral issues.
These kinds of innovations ought to be happening not just at the elite
university, but at the public schools across the spectrum so that students
feel like they`re getting what they`re paying for.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ben, let me ask you this, as someone who is on the
job creator, hiring side -- I understand you said I`ve dropped out of tons
of colleges, right? When you`re thinking about a worker or someone that
you`re going to hire, I think there`s this real tension between schools,
universities wanting to give you a liberal arts education, that makes you a
broad thinker, and on the other hand equip you to get a job in this market.
COHEN: Yes. Well, you know, mostly you want someone who has good
work habits, a good work ethic, you know, someone who is going to show up,
some who`s going to put in a full day`s work and someone who`s got either
good critical thinking skills so that they can learn, so that they can be
doing constant learning.
I mean, what we needed an employee to do five years ago is really
different from what we need an employee to do now.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you`re not training someone for a particular set of
skills. You`re training them for the ability to keep learning.
On the one hand, that sounds like it`s directly related to college
education. But then you said people who show up on time, it sounds like
it`s inversely related to college education.
COHEN: There`s both jobs. I mean, there`s manufacturing jobs and
there`s office jobs.
COHEN: It`s different sets of skills and abilities that we`re looking
SEGAL : The problem with only training people for a very specific
skill set is skills inevitably become obsolete and people need to get
retrain and they get more debt to enroll in a technical or vocational
school for that training. Liberal arts degrees teach you edification, self
actualization, this concept that you can solve complex problem sets
irrespective of what time or decade or era you`re living in. And that is a
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Felicia, on the one hand, I`m with you. Like I
want more investment particularly in community classes, which are these
ladder. But then I worry about a two-tier system, one set of young people,
very wealthy, tuition paying units who get edification unit and another
group who get trained in sort of skill set learning.
WONG: You`re right to worry about inequality, of course. But at a
certain point, we have to invest in the range of colleges. I mean, I went
to an elite school. But I know we have to invest in a range of elite
colleges -- sorry, a range of colleges -- 50 percent of all students now go
to community colleges.
These are places where our local leaders are trained. These are
places where we`re going to have to learn the kinds of skills that you need
in the workplace.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, more in just a moment. First it`s time for a
preview with "WEEKEND WITH ALEX WITT."
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Well, hello to you.
You know, we`re talking sandy everyone. It is a hurricane and again
taking aim at the Northeast. The storm is coming quicker than we first
thought. We`ve got live reports up and down the East Coast for you.
More fallout from John Sununu`s controversial comments on Colin
Powell`s presidential endorsement. What the Romney camp is saying now
Here`s the question: what do Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Ronald
Reagan have in common with a state up for grabs in this election? We`ll
get to that.
And in office politics, Melissa, I spoke with you recently. So I hit
up a few colleagues in the MSNBC newsroom to talk about the election. One
of the topics: what`s next if the headlines read "President-elect Romney."
That`s going to be an interesting discussion and reaction.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Alex. I will be very happy at the point where you
and longer have cross talk about hurricanes. I would be -- I`m ready for
WITT: Me, too. Anywhere.
HARRIS-PERRY: Anywhere. Thank you, Alex.
WITT: All right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming up, what happens to kids whose parents are
incarcerated. Our foot soldier is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: A study released by the U.S. Senate in 2001 found that
70 percent of children of incarcerated parents end up entering the criminal
justice system at some point in their lives. Our foot soldier this week is
trying to change that. Her name is Sharon Content.
And after giving up a Wall Street job to work in the nonprofit world,
Sharon encountered the dilemma of kids with imprisoned parents. It felt
like a problem but no solution.
You see, kids with incarcerated parents face stigma, embarrassment and
shame, holding tight to the secret of having a parent behind bars can
manifest itself in behavioral issues, lack of interest in school work,
anger, even health problems. Sharon decided to give these kids a place to
In 2007, Sharon founded Children of Promise, a nonprofit organization
in Brooklyn, New York, that serves children of incarcerated parents. Now
in a lot of ways, it functions just like an after-school program or a
traditional summer camp. Art classes, sports, academic support.
But Children of Promise offers much more. It also offers a mentoring
program, safe spaces for children to share their similar experiences. And
as of a year ago, also a licensed mental health clinic.
Sharon describes her work in her own words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARON CONTENT, FOUNDER/PRES., CHILDREN OF PROMISE: The real reason
that the program was developed so that we could provide really the mental
health services that our young people need, and to be able to really get at
the root of the problems. If we`re able to get at the root of the
problems, then we can find various outlets for our young people to really
focus on the areas of need in a way that they`re not even recognizing
through the help of support staff that they just see as being their
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So remember that study which found 70 percent of
children of incarcerated parents end up entering the criminal justice
system at some point in their lives. Well, Children of Promise serves 200
young people a year. And its in five years since its inception, not one
child that has been through the program has entered into the criminal
And Sharon`s progress continues. A few months ago, the organization
purchased a 15-seater van which staff used weekly to drive to the different
correctional facilities in New York state which allows children to visit
For taking action to care for the most vulnerable among us and making
a difference in hundreds of lives, Sharon Content is our foot soldier of
And you can learn more about Sharon and her program on our Web site,
MHPShow.com. That`s our show for today.
Thanks to Ben Cohen, Valarie Kaur, Matt Segal and Felicia Wong for
Also thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you
tomorrow morning 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Right now, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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