December 9, 2012
Guests: Rea Carey; Herb Smitherman; Jay Angoff; Bob Herbert; Donna Edwards;
Kenji Yoshino; John Annoni; Jessica Valenti; Sudhir Venkatesh; Gabrielle
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, does
wearing an afro wig help you understand blackness?
Plus, Liz and Scout get married. And soon, many other LGBT couples will
And, let`s get real about guns. But first, governors who make you go hmm.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
This Friday, we will reach the first big milestone in the signature piece
of legislation from President Barack Obama`s first term. December 14th is
the deadline for states to notify the federal government about their plans
to set up health care exchanges mandated by the affordable care act.
Republican governors who have been dragging their feet can no longer treat
the reform law like a boogeyman that will disappear if they wish hard
enough. Because, if I may borrow a phrase from method man, when the
American people elected President Obama, they let you know it`s real. Yes,
it`s really real son. Even the president`s political nemesis, House
speaker John Boehner, knows that to be true.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE SAWYER, ABC WORLD NEWS ANCHOR: You had said next year that you would
repeal the health care vote. That still your mission?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think the election
changes that. It`s pretty clear that the president was re-elected, Obama
care is the law of the land.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, of course, Boehner promptly walked those comments back
later that day. That doesn`t make what he said any less of a fact. And
central to the implementation of that law is the creation of health care
Now, let me explain. These ACA exchanges are online marketplaces. In
short, Web sites. The idea is to force insurance companies to play by the
same rules and compete for a large pool of customers resulting in less
expensive premiums for everyone. Here`s how it works. Let`s say you`re
one of the 50 million people in country without health care. And you`re
looking to get yourself covered. You`d log on to your state`s exchange or
you can call a hotline number. But, the goal is to go there and shop
around for whatever plan works best for you and your family.
If you are someone living at 138 percent to 400 percent of the poverty
line, that is a family of four living off an annual income of $31,809 to
$92,200, then you are eligible for government money to subsidize the cost
of your premium. If you`re above that level, you just don`t get the
federal subsidy. Now, the law requires every state to have a place for
people to shop for coverage. And there are three options on how they are
created and operated.
First, states can set up and run their own exchanges or if they`re not
quite ready to tackle is on their own, states can team up with the federal
government for a partnership exchange until they`re ready to handle it
themselves. If a state does nothing, they are, in effect, choosing the
default option of allowing the federal government to run the exchange for
them. All of these exchanges must be ready to start signing up new
customers as of October 1, 2013. And they must be fully up and running by
January 1, 2014. To date, 17 states and the district of Columbia decided
to establish their own state-based exchanges. Five states are opting to
partner with the federal government and 18 states indicated they are unable
or unwilling to establish either of those options.
So, let me pause on that unwilling part for a minute. Like the
unwillingness of some Republican governors to take responsibility for their
own exchanges. Nerdland, it has left me scratching my head. It`s a lot
like back in the 1990s when Arsenio Hall used to ponder things that make
you go "hmm."
I mean, if we know nothing else about the Republican party, we know that
the gospel of the GOP is that states should have control over their own
decisions and big federal government should butt out. So, why is it that
the people who are the staunchest defenders of the idea that states know
better than anyone else what`s best for the states are the very same people
who are content to let the federal government come in and run their health
care markets? Hmm.
Then there`s a cost argument. New Jersey governor Chris Christie vetoed a
bill to set up a New Jersey-run exchange echoing other governors` claims
about uncertainty of the cost for the states. Yes, how is that California,
the state that will run the largest insurance market in the country has not
only decided to run its own exchange but has managed to figure out a way to
do it without touching a single dollar of its state general fund. Hmm.
Finally, let`s take the tally. Republicans lost their fight against the
ACA when President Obama first signed it. They lost again when the Supreme
Court upheld it. Then they lost one last time when the American people
handed the president a mandate on ACA by re-electing him. When exactly are
the Republicans going to give up the fight that they`ve already lost three
With me at the table, New York university constitutional law professor,
Kenji Yoshino, Democratic Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland, senior
fellow at DEMOS, Bob Herbert and Jay Angoff, the former director of the
office of consumer information insurance oversight at the U.S. department
of health and human services.
It is so nice to have you all here.
So Jay, a long intro for what your job was. So basically, your role was to
begin the implementation of ACA. In certain ways you got the plum part of
the job, right where you get to cover your young people longer and the end
of these insurance mandates in certain ways. But this is the hard part.
What should we be looking for?
JAY ANGOFF, FORMER DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF CONSUMER INFORMATION INSURANCE
OVERSIGHT, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Exchanges, if
they`re implemented correctly, can for the first time give individuals who
have had no bargaining power against insurance companies, the same
bargaining power that they would have if they worked for a large business.
Because through these exchanges, 16 million people who haven`t been in the
market before are going to buy insurance, they`re required to buy
insurance. A majority of them will be subsidized by the federal
government. So what a great opportunity that is for insurance companies
and the exchanges if they go to insurance companies and say, we`ve got this
new market for you. We want you to sell policies that provide good value.
We want to have people be able to make apples to apples comparisons among
standardized products. That`s going to drive prices down and improve
HARRIS-PERRY: Now Jay, before we open it up to the table, I want to hammer
home that quite a little bit. Because this is perhaps the thing I`ve found
most confusing around the fight of the ACA. I get the partisan part,
right? I absolutely get that part. What I haven`t been able to quite
understand is why a private industry like insurance, would be against an
expansion of its market that is underwritten by the federal government for
the most part, you know, private companies, insurance companies are getting
more customers and many of those customers with some checks from the
federal government. Why would they be against this?
ANGOFF: They`re not. The Republicans are in trouble because there are
different constituencies. So, there are people, the tea party people, the
idea logs who want to pretend that the affordable care act still doesn`t
exist. They simply are engaged in massive resistance so they want the
governors to do nothing.
On the other hand, the insurance companies, who are much more sophisticated
and the hospitals, they would much rather have the states run these
exchanges because they believe in general, not all of the time, but in
general they will get a better deal from the states. That is the states
will be more solicitous of the insurance companies. That`s the states,
many of them, will not standardize benefit packages, will not really enable
people to make apples to apples comparisons.
So, the insurance companies, ironically, they want the governors and the
states to elect to do the state exchange, whereas, the other part of the
Republican constituency, the tea party people, they just want the state to
do nothing and to allow the federal government to do it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Congressman, why this way of writing the law that still
gives so much of the power to states when we knew that they were going to
be recalcitrant in implementation?
REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: I think, obviously, this represented a
compromise. I mean, ideally, there are those of us who wanted to make sure
that we actually had universality in the system and the federal government
set the standards across the board. And so, instead, what we did is set up
a system that allows states the flexibility of setting up their own
I actually think there`s a good bonus point in here for the administration
and for where we want to go overall for the health care system. And that
is, that now with these recalcitrant governors in the states who don`t want
to set up their exchanges, the federal government gets do that, it gets to
do it across the board in all of these states. And the state like Texas
then becomes a major, major market place for experimentation. Unlike my
home state of Maryland which is only about five million people. When we do
it, you know, we do it for Maryland but not necessarily a bellwether for
the rest of the country. You do it for a state like Texas and aggregate
the other recalcitrants. And then the next thing you know you got
universality in the system.
HARRIS-PERRY: Wait, wait. The Texas case is - I mean, it is like the
textbooks, right, You got the textbook written in Texas and it becomes the
standard. If we take a look, I`m going to turn to you Bob on this.
When we look at the most uninsured states, right, the states where right
now at this moment the most Americans are without insurance, they`re
predictable in some ways. So, Texas is at the top of that. Mississippi is
there, Florida, so you see a lot of the southern states mine, Louisiana,
number 111. Some of them are a little bit more surprising.
But when we look at that list, it actually overlaps with the list that is
most likely to be resisting pretty powerful. I mean, the very fact that
the governors in the states with the least insured people are the ones
BOB HERBERT, SENIOR FELLOW, DEMOS.ORG: It`s bizarre because the GOP is a
party in denial for a long time and a lot of this stuff. What`s
interesting, it seems to me to the point that you`re making is that, if you
come into a state where you have a lot of people who are uninsured and a
lot of people who don`t have a lot of money, it`s more likely that the
federal government will set up a system that will be beneficial to those
types than the states themselves would.
So, the GOP governors, the ultra-right wingers are actually fighting
against themselves in so many ways. One of the ironies is that the battle
cry that goes up against the federal government or any kind of federal
support for health care is we don`t want the federal government coming in
here and taking over our health insurance, our health system when in fact,
that`s exactly what they`re doing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Please come in.
HERBERT: It is very bizarre.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And there`s a way in which it feels like, it`s
revealing that the ideological cleavage about state`s rights, isn`t really
an ideological cleavage. It`s a political one.
KENJI YOSHINO, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: That`s
absolutely right. I want to go back to the affordable care act decision.
Because, I think if you look at the states` rights folks, they would
actually disagree with the characterization of round two of Obama care with
the Supreme Court, you know, upholding it.
So, of course, you are right that, you know, the Supreme Court did upheld
Obama care. But, what the states` rights will point to on that decisions
are two strands of a kind of sleeper strands in that opinion that are
actually pro states rights.
So, Chief justice Roberts for a majority of the court says that it violates
Congress`s power under the commerce clause. So, he is placing real
restrictions on the commerce power which has been the traditional ace
through which the federal government exerted authority over the nation.
Second, there are real restrictions placed in the spending clause now,
having to do with the Medicaid provisions rather than the exchanges or the
individual mandate. And that spending clause restriction is also going to
So, these are seeds to not be too much of a conspiracy theorist that the
Supreme Court is planting that it expects to grow in the future. And
people who are concerned with state`s rights are reading that opinion
saying we have allies in the Supreme Court now. We can do more.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s part of why the reelection of President Obama was so
critical was because we`re looking at potentially two more Supreme Court
justices in the next four years.
Hold on to the Medicaid. We are going to stay on that. But, when we come
back, just before we get to a conversation about Medicaid, we are going to
go to New Jersey. Because we saw a lot of those states were former
confederate state, but New Jersey. New jersey has an absurd justification
for refusing to get on board. We`ll go there when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), GOVERNOR, NEW JERSEY: If you`re going to tell me by
December 14th that I got all those information. If I don`t have the
information, I can make a smart decision. So, if you can`t give me the
information, you run it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was New Jersey governor Chris Christie a few days ago
attempting to convince Jon Stewart why it made sense for him to veto a bill
to run a state run health exchange.
Joining my panel from Detroit is the Doctor Herb Smitherman, assistant Dean
of community and urban health at Wayne State University school of Medicine.
Nice to see you, doctor Smitherman.
DOCTOR HERB SMITHEMAN, ASSISTANT DEAN OF COMMUNITY AND URBAN HEALTH, WAYNE
STATE UNIVERSITY, SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Nice so see you. Thank you for
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. What do you make of the governor`s argument?
SMITHERMAN: Well, I`m sorry, I didn`t hear the exact argument. But I
would say that 95 percent of the cost of the ACA are really the expansion
of Medicaid and the health insurance exchanges. Most of those costs
actually borne by the federal government. For example, the Medicaid
expansion of the almost trillion dollars over ten years, $930 billion is
federal money. The subsidies for the expansion of the exchanges, it`s
about $800 billion borne by the federal government. Most of these dollars
are borne by the federal government.
The one thing I did want to say is that right now we spend in this country
about $100 billion a year on uncompensated care or free care for the
uninsured. And 20 percent of those costs are borne by state and local
governments. That is $20 billion a year. So, if you`re talking about the
expense that the states will bear for example for the Medicaid expansion,
it`s about $8 billion, $8 billion over ten years. Actually, they`re going
to be getting - you know, we`re going to be eliminating almost $200 billion
in costs they currently spend on the uninsured by the state and local
HARRIS-PERRY: So Dr. Smitherman, one of the reasons I love having you on,
it`s like you`re always such a wealth of information about what the
implementation actually looks like.
And so Jay, I wanted to ask you, because what we heard the governor saying
was well I just didn`t have enough information. So, you were in the
administration during the ACA passage. Did you guys just not do a good
enough job and this has been, I think, a critique from a lot of media
sources and the public, and just telling people what the ACA is, how it`s
going to impact their lives and how it`s going to be implemented?
ANGOFF: Yes. In particular, in May of this year, we put out guidance on
exactly what the federally operated exchange would look like. So, governor
Christie does know what to compare New Jersey to. I`m a little surprised
because New Jersey traditionally has been a pretty progressive state. The
state insurance department has been very progressive and generally in a
ANGOFF: So, I`m a little surprised about that. And also, there`s a
separate funding stream in the affordable care act that states can access
if they establish their own exchanges but not if they don`t establish their
own exchanges. So, it really doesn`t make too much sense.
HARRIS-PERRY: They`re actually turning down money here. The one way that
it makes sense if you think of Christie as running for office, right? That
what he is doing is running for 2016, Bob, and that he somehow believes
there is still a basis for running against Obama care in 2016.
HERBERT: Well, this is what I mean by the GOP being in denial. They are
captive of the ultra-conservatives, sort of the right wing in their party.
And so, they think politically and then they end up in opposition to what`s
happening in the nation, not just in terms of voting and election. I mean,
they`re on the wrong side of history in some of these issues.
And so Christie is up against that. New jersey is not a backward
HARRIS-PERRY: And neither is Louisiana or Mississippi. Having lived in
both, I`m just saying.
HERBERT: I am not going to dump on your state or your home state of
Louisiana. But Mississippi has had some problems going back a number of
decades, you know. But the Republicans are never going to make any headway
politically and they`re never going to make headway socially/legislatively
if they remain in denial about where the people are on some of these big
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, I want to ask you about this, congressman. I think
part of what we see in the case of Chris Christie that`s so surprising is
that, he just literally embraced the president around Sandy, right? So
Sandy hit, you have this enormous cost associated with it. He goes as
governor and says I`m going to partner with the federal government to
address the needs of my people in a disaster. Well, hello, governor.
Health care is also a disaster.
EDWARDS: Well, and for two years in the two-year time frame, three years
that the states have had to review implementing the health insurance
exchanges, there`s been plenty of time to put that information together.
After all, there are plenty of states that have done that. And I think
what has happened, this becomes another way to litigate the affordable care
act only the parties are already done and the American people are done.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ship is sailing. Right.
EDWARDS: And so, I think you know, if the president waited two years to
implement Sandy relief, governor Christie would be really annoyed. And so,
he needs to get on with it. I mean, 100 percent, I think, of the cost of
the Medicaid expansion is actually borne by the federal government.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we are going to come to exactly this issue of Medicaid
as soon as we come back. Dr. Smitherman, I`m going to bring you back in.
And Kenji, I want to talk to you also about tenth amendment issues and
Medicaid here when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Earlier I told you about the options on insurance exchanges
for everyone living above 138 percent of the poverty level. But, what
about the people below the line? Those are the individuals living off of
just $15,415 a year or the families of three living on just 26,000. For
those, the poorest of uninsured Americans, the affordable care act lowers
the eligibility floor for Medicaid which expands coverage to an estimated
17 million more people by the year 2016. Or it would if some of those
people weren`t being left behind by the governors of their own states.
Although, Supreme Court`s decision on the ACA upheld most of the law, it
also gave states the choice to opt out of Medicare expansion. And as of
today, nine states have given a definite no to expanding coverage to their
poorest uninsured with an additional six likely to follow their lead. This
despite the fact that the federal government will be the ones shouldering
the lion`s share of the cost.
Dr. Smitherman, I want to come to you quickly on this because it does feel
to me like there is two things going on here. Both, in the refusal to set
up of the exchanges and the refusal to expand Medicaid despite the fact
that the cost is carried by the federal government. It means that the
poorest and most vulnerable people will be the ones most left out of what
ACA can do.
SMITHERMAN: Exactly. If you look at some of these states that are talking
about refusing, the expansion of Medicaid, for example, Texas, it has the
highest number of uninsured in the United States, 26 percent. Florida, 25
percent. Georgia, 22 percent. Louisiana, your favorite state, 22 percent.
HARRIS-PERRY: My favorite state but not my favorite governor.
SMITHERMAN: Yes, right. But if you look at the amount of money you`re
talking about that they`re turning down. For example, Texas is talking
about turning down $66 billion over ten years for its poor and for its
uninsured. Florida, $65 billion. Georgia $33 billion. Louisiana $16
billion for its uninsured and its poor. This is unsustainable.
Like you said, 95, 97 percent of all the resources are going to be borne by
the federal government. And the important issue also to know is that 83
percent of the people we`re talking about, that is the uninsured, work
every day. This is the working poor.
SMITHERMAN: We`re not talking about freeloaders or people just sitting
around doing anything. Most of this population actually works two or even
three jobs. So, we are talking about the working poor.
HARRIS-PERRY: That said, Dr. Smitherman, you know, I think, there`s a kind
of an epidemiological claim to be made, that even if they were freeloaders,
there`s a kind of human rights to health care.
SMITHERMAN: Yes, of course.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. But I feel you. That`s kind of the politics
But, Kenji --
SMITHERMAN: That`s the label of the Republican GOP party. You know, they
keep sago owe they`re using these terms. They`re incorrect actually.
They`re not accurate to the population we`re talking about.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. Kenji, part of how we end up here, right, with
this possibility of framing it this way is because of the carrot and stick
HARRIS-PERRY: Related to the tenth amendment and how the Supreme Court
read ACA on this.
YOSHINO: Exactly. So you know, the tenth amendment says that any power
that isn`t explicitly given to the federal government falls back to the
states. So, unless you can find the power that Congress has and the longer
list of powers in article one, section eight, for example, that Congress is
not permitted to do this.
So, the power that Congress is relying on here is the so-called spending
power. And that has to do with carrots. So, the idea is look, we are not
going to force you do this. This is very different from the individual
mandate. Thank goodness we don`t have to talk about the proper issue
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. Right.
YOSHINO: This is more about incentivizing the states to engage in activity
that the federal government want them to engage in. And how much you can
do -- engage in that kind of encouragement without tipping over into a kind
of coercion that would be commandeering the states in an inappropriate way.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you because the idea was that of a coercive
to tell the state if you don`t expand, then we`ll take your current
Medicaid funding, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: But, isn`t this precisely how the drinking age gets raised
to 21 in every single state. I mean, isn`t it, the one form of the
government did was saying, if you don`t raise your drinking age to 21,
we`re taking your highway funds. Why is this different?
YOSHINO: It`s different because of exactly this issue of the distinction
between encouragement and coercion. So, if you look at the case that
you`re referring to, which is a 1987 South Dakota versus Dole case, the
facts that case fore were the federal government says we`re going to
withhold highway funds if you don`t raise your drinking age from 18 to 21.
And you can see the nexus there, right? Because of drunk driving on the
highways and so on and so forth.
The way in which chief justice Roberts actually writing for a seven-member
majority of the court with respect to this issue and the affordable care
act last June, distinguished that case, as I saying, that was encouragement
because that was just 10 percent of the highway funds. Whereas, this is a
much bigger proportion of state budgets, right, because it is just 20
percent -- .
HARRIS-PERRY: Got you.
YOSHINO: Not just a highway budget but the entire state budget is based --
goes to Medicaid. And then about 50 percent that of is being given by the
federal government. So, he says this is not encouragement. This is a gun
to the head.
ANGOFF: I would just say that the states that now say no, we`re not going
to accept the Medicaid expansion, that doesn`t mean they say no forever,
because, not just because it`s good for poor people. They may not care
about them in particular. But the hospitals want it.
ANGOFF: The hospitals are losing payments they now get to take care of the
uninsured and the -- in exchange, they`re supposed to get the Medicaid
expansion. If they don`t, they don`t get either.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is the crazy Bobby Jindal fight going on, right? If we
look at the map, just sort of the states that are resisting it. These are
also states, and again, particularly in New Orleans and Louisiana, this
massive expansion of building hospitals and all of this sort of thing. But
then not wanting to do the Medicaid.
There is so much more. I know. I want to give everyone more time.
Everybody else is hanging out with me a little longer.
Thank you Jay Angoff for being here. I greatly appreciate it. And also,
to you Dr. Smitherman in Detroit. At some point you have to come from
Detroit and come hang out with us here at the table.
SMITHERMAN: OK. Thank you so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: As well.
Coming up later, the gymnast who the whole world flipped for. Olympics
gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas joins us live onset.
But up next, love and marriage, and the law. Could we soon see the real
equality at the altar?
HARRIS-PERRY: On Friday, the highest court in the land announced that it
will be considering two cases challenging the rights for same-sex marriage.
Although, the Supreme Court may not decide the entire issue of legalizing
same-sex marriage across the country, the questions the court will consider
are certainly going to have a landmark effect on the struggle for marriage
On the docket, are California`s "proposition 8" which amended the state
constitution to specifically ban same-sex marriage and will be considered
alongside New York`s challenge to the federal defense of marriage act or
Although, cases aren`t expected to be decided until next June, the fact
that the Supreme Court is weighing in on this debate, will have a national
Back at the table. New York University law professor, Kenji Yoshino,
Democratic congresswoman Donna Edwards, senior fellow at DEMOS, Bob
Herbert. And joining us is Rea Carey, the executive director of the guy
and lesbian task force.
I`m going to you Kenji, because you`re always here to set my constitutional
framework for me. It`s going to be two cases, right? Tell me what is that
issue in the two separate cases.
YOSHINO: Great. So, I should do them in the order you presented them.
So, the "prop 8" case is about a state ban on same-sex marriage. And so,
there are equal protection and due process challenges. As you know, what
that means is, this violates the fundamental right of fairness of treating
gay and straight couples differently and with equal tax and challenge that
you (INAUDIBLE). You`re denying us the fundamental right to marriage. So,
there`s about equality component and a rights component to it.
If the Supreme Court goes big on that case, it could actually guarantee
same-sex marriage as a law of the land flipping the 41 states that
currently don`t have it and requiring them to have it. I don`t think
that`s going to happen.
On the other hand, I don`t think that the Supreme Court is going to do
nothing because I think that justice Kennedy is not going to want to go
down in history as Roger Tanya (ph) of this time.
YOSHINO: So, I think they`re going to choose a more parsimonious solution.
So, there`s a one-state solution, there`s an eight-state solution. There`s
various ways they can pick. And then, I think that some future Supreme
Court decision is going to wipe out the remaining out liars further down
The DOMA cases are slightly different. I think for the DOMA challenge is
much narrower challenge and I expect it to be much more optimistic about a
kind of flat-out ruling that this is unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The reason I think that, Melissa, is because DOMA doesn`t require any state
to change its marriage laws. All it says is the federal government is
going to return to what the federal government was always doing before. We
were talking about federalism issues earlier in the show. And you know, in
the history of marriage, the federal government has always deferred to
state definitions of marriage. So, let me give you an example.
Some states allow first cousins to marry, other states do not allow first
cousins to marry because kind of prohibitions, incest concerns and things
like that. Whatever the state definitions are, the federal government has
always followed the state definition. So, if a state says they`re married,
the federal government says fine, for the purposes of federal benefits that
keep people married.
In 1996, the defense of marriage act departed from that practice and said
the federal government is going to intermeddle in family law and say that
marriage is only between one man and one woman.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, these are one of the few moments when
progressives like get down with states` rights, right? We were talking
about this yesterday around marijuana legalization. Like suddenly, now
we`re all for states` rights. But similarly, this is where we have finally
started to see some progress.
I mean, what made election night 2012 so exciting in part, is what happened
in Maryland and the fact that Maryland came along on marriage equality.
EDWARDS: Well, exactly. And I think It was inevitable. I mean, it was
really important, frankly, to say that when the president came out in
support of marriage equality, it opened up space, particularly space among
African-Americans where I live to pass marriage equality. You can see this
happening. It`s a generational change. People are looking at this
differently and the law has to catch up.
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t want to interrupt you. But I want to reveal what
you`re saying here. When we look at the recent Quinnipiac polls on
marriage just in general, we see kind of the support in opposition is 48,
46. When we look by age, you can see, it`s really kind of a generational
question. It looks like secular change over time is just going to bring
it. But then, also by race, as you just point out, as much as we hear, it
looks like blacks versus gay`s bizarre narrative that we often here. The
fact that it is by race, we have a majority of African-Americans, 52
percent and a majority of Latinos, 59 percent in support of in fact of
marriage equality in the election in 2012.
REA CAREY, NATIONAL GAY AND LESBIAN TASK FORCE: That`s absolutely right.
There`s been so much progress in addition to the president coming out for
marriage and I agree creating that space. NAACP, national council la Ross
a, labor groups, there`s a broader excitement around the protections of
families in this country and realizing that DOMA is not a nerdy policy
matter that sitting on Capitol Hill. It has real life impact, real life
harm for families around the country. There`s a national discussion
happening about the freedom to marry in this country and the Supreme Court
is stepping into that discussion.
HARRIS-PERRY: And there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm. I mean, I got to
say, like just the level of emotion that people were having, just about the
willingness of the court to hear it was somewhat surprising to me, Bob.
HERBERT: People are pumped up. I`m very surprised by this because, you
know, there was a time not long ago where you couldn`t even mention gay in
sort of like ordinary public discourse. So, there`s been a sea change and
there`s no question about the momentum now. And this is what I mean,
again, about the conservatives or right wingers being on the wrong side of
history. This whole idea of preventing gays from marrying whomever they
want to is going to go down. It`s a question of when that occurs. And
that`s why I agree with Kenji. I don`t think that the Supreme Court is
going to wipe this out and say that it`s unconstitutional for gays to
marry. I can`t imagine that happening. But long-term, gays will be able
to marry whomever they want.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. So, we are going to stay on this issue just a bit
Up next, the other court`s decision on the incredible milestone that we saw
this week on the issue of marriage equality.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was a banner week for marriage equality. On Thursday,
Washington State officially began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex
couples. And within the first six hours, 279 couples were authorized.
Today, the first legal same-sex marriages in the state will take place.
Also this week, a new Quinnipiac poll showed for the first time ever white
Catholics now support same-sex marriages. In other cultural indicators
that the national conscience around marriage equality is starting to turn
the iconic, Jet Magazine, an institution of black publishing, featured its
first gay male couple in its popular wedding announcement section.
And while the real test for equality is to come next year at the Supreme
Court, small steps are beginning to add up to huge strides for same-sex
All right, I`m a little interested, however, in Rea, let`s say we win
CAREY: Let`s say.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let say, we look at the polls and we look at the kind of
trends that`s where we`re moving. Marriage will not solve all of the
fundamental civil inequalities of housing and employment facing
particularly parts of the LGBT community that are largely untouched by
marriage. What does the rest of the agenda look like as the marriage
battle begins to be won sm.
CAREY: That`s exactly right. And in fact, you know, I came back from
Maine after election night and the next day I was struck by something. I
thought thousands of couples across this country are going to go and have
the weddings of their lifetime. They are going to put the picture of
themselves on their desk and some of them are going to get fired. And
that`s where we are in this country.
CAREY: It is an interesting -
CAREY: Legally fired. In 29 states in this country, there are barely any
protections for Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. So, many
people across this country still walk into work every work every day
terrified they will be fired. They can`t secure the kind of housing they
want. They can`t, you know, we could have marriages happening in this
country, transgender people could be going to their friend`s wedding and be
denied a hotel room.
CAREY: So, there are so many --
HARRIS-PERRY: Legally. I don`t want anybody to miss. We`re not talking
about things --
CAREY: Within the law or lack of law for that matter. And so, we see case
after case, and certainly as I like to call it the day after marriage. It
won`t exactly feel like that. A lot of people will wake up and they are
going to realize, marriage doesn`t solve every problem. It doesn`t solve
immigration, it doesn`t solve the poverty of our country and our community
is facing. It won`t solve so many of the issues, economic issues that are
faced by LGBT people in this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: And congresswoman, one of the important arguments that has
made around marriage equality has been about health care, right? So, we
are just talking about healthcare, one of the big arguments made is I got
to be able to cover my partner, my spouse, my beloved under my health care.
If we had universal health care access, then marriage would become less
important for straight and gay couples.
EDWARDS: Well, I think that`s true. But I do think that getting over the
marriage hurdle puts us well beyond where we need to be to get through some
of these other really legal hurdles. And so, I look at marriage, I mean
look, I wasn`t a good straight married person. And so, anybody who wants
to get married, I`m like so happy for them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Good luck with that.
EDWARDS: But, at the same time, I know that it`s been such a barrier, and
then it kind allows us to look at these other things in a lot different
space and with a different kind of public that`s also examination it.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s something about the fundamental humanity of
marriage, Kenji. You know, I know that when loving -- it`s actually post
`64 civil rights act. It is post `65, you know, voting rights act. So, in
a certain way, these other issues have been taking care of at least in
terms of federal legislation. But there was still the need to redress the
issue of interracial marriage.
YOSHINO: Yes. And I think they forget this tricot between civil,
political and social rights that used to be so vibrant back in the 19th
century. But, the idea of social rights, the rights of association as
being the last untouchable place where equality norms would penetrate, I
think it`s really intransient the fact that marriage is always the last
thing, right? So as you say, 1967 is loving versus Virginia. That`s after
we depth sort of employment discrimination, 13 years after Brown versus
Board of education. The Supreme Court had a marriage case on its docket in
1956. But kicked it because it didn`t want to touch it with a ten-foot
pole so waited for more states to come around.
1967 is also the year that guess who`s coming to dinner, right, comes out.
There`s a cultural legal convergence. And I think, we are really at that
moment for the gay community now. One of the historians in the gay
marriage trial, Nancy Kauts (ph), a historian of marriage who said that,
one of the emancipated slaves after (INAUDIBLE) the slaves flocked to get
married. And she testified that one of the emancipated slaves said the
marriage covenant is a foundation of all of our rights. So I totally agree
with Rea that this is just the beginning but it is an important cornerstone
to building full equality for LGBT citizens.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. This is, I mean, this question of sort of how enslaved
people thought about marriage, the extent to which they engaged in formal
marriages and then the extent to which ones given the freedom it became one
of the first things that free people did to represent their freedom is
instructive to all of us. Even as we don`t want to making gay in the 21st
century is not the same as being enslaved. There are the important ways of
thinking about the fundamental humanity of it.
Speaking of which, on the fundamental humanity question, when we come back,
I`m going to share with you one of the most courageous and loving
experiences I had ever had an opportunity to be a part of. It was on
Thursday. Two Nerdland favorites are back to show us the meaning of it
Rea, thank you for being here. I greatly appreciate it. And Bob is
sticking around. So, we are give his voice some more.
HARRIS-PERRY: Despite all this talk about marriage, I`m actually a cynic
when it comes to weddings. Those blessed events that have created a
recession proof industry of conspicuous consumption under the guise of
tradition and love. That`s my cynical progressive feminist voice that
wants to snarl on the practice of weddings. But this week, I was reminded
in the end, I`m a mushy mess when it comes to two fantastic people finding
genuine happiness and deciding to celebrate. Because on Thursday morning,
I attended and cried at the wedding of a couple I first met at the White
House during the LGBT pride month reception in June. An event at which
Scout, a transgender man, shocked Liz, his lesbian girlfriend with a
surprise proposal. We shared their story here on MHP and prompted a flood
of hate mail and even violent responses.
But despite that hate, Scout and Liz chose love and courage in a ceremony
that was at once stark and exquisite, this couple reminded me of what
weddings are supposed to be.
LIZ MARGOLIES, NATIONAL LGBT CANCER NETWORK: I`m Liz Margolies. I`m
getting married today. Me. Married. Scoutie?
SCOUT, NETWORK FOR LGBT HEALTH EQUITY: Yes.
MARGOLIES: I`m home.
MARGOLIES: I went my whole life not getting married. It seems funny to do
it now. And having been a lesbian for so many years with such complicated
feelings about the institution of marriage. I`m embarrassed that I`m
joining the club after all my protests to the contrary. And I still
believe everything I said. But it`s also said why I`m eloping today. And
it feels right for me and scout.
SCOUT: I really like this day. And I guess I had thought that it might
have been our anniversary for a little while. But then, I realized it
actually is the anniversary of when I came out to myself, which was
actually exactly 30 years ago today. So I guess for me, it`s kind
symbolic. It`s the start of an incredible journey and it`s been a happy
day in my world.
I`m looking for my vows. I had them while I was jogging, I was saying them
again and again and again. I had them right. But, I feel like at this
point I should still carry them with me just in case. I will throw them in
my pocket again.
MARGOLIES: We`re on our way to the only LGBT synagogue in New York City.
And we are going to meet in the new building although it hasn`t been
SCOUT: Where is this place? There we go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now what you do by coming together in this fashion is
by creating a model for others. So that others will know that it`s on your
shoulders they get to stand. To live the life of complexity and texture
and with all of the messiness that it entails. Love is possible. You may
kiss each other and break the glass.
SCOUT: We got married.
MARGOLIES: We got married. I still feel like me. It meant more than me.
A lot of more than I thought it would. It`s not for everybody. And I
promise to still fight to change what marriage is as well as its
availability to those who want it.
SCOUT: Decades from now, anybody who is supporting DOMA will feel like a
complete fool. We`re very happy that more and more people are finally
understanding that you`re standing on the wrong side of history to support
something that denies people civil rights and we know we`ll soon be part of
MARGOLIES: To love instead of hate.
SCOUT: Everybody should have the ability to hope for someone who loves
them as much as we love each other.
HARRIS-PERRY: Come June, we can only hope the Supreme Court sees a place
for more Scout and Liz`s in this country.
And when we come back, we are shifting gears. We are getting real about
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
On the last night of her life, 22-year-old Kassandra Perkins had a night
out with friends attending a Tray songs` concert in Kansas City. Less than
12 hours later, Jovan Belcher, the father for almost three-month-old baby,
fatally shot Kasandra after an argument. Belcher then drove to where he
works, thanked his bosses and told them as police sirens approached, "I got
to go. I can`t be here." Then he shot himself in the head.
The main reason we know Kasandra`s name is because of the way her murderer
dressed when he went to work. Like this. You see, Belcher was a
linebacker for the NFL`s Kansas City Chiefs and took his own life at their
practice facility in front of his general manager and coaches.
Belcher`s role as a public figure within a favorite national pastime is a
big part of why people are talking about this instance of gun violence --
that and the fact that the one and only Bob Costas of NBC Sports during a
half time show of last Sunday night`s football broadcast spoke up about
violence, quoting this from a column by Jason Whitlock of FoxSports.com.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS: Our current gun culture, Whitlock wrote, ensures
that more and more domestic disputes in the ultimate tragedy, and that more
convenient store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will
leave teenage boys bloodied and dead. Hand guns do not enhance our safety,
they exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments and bait us into
embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan
Belcher`s actions and their possible connection to football will be
analyzed. Who knows? But here, wrote Jason Whitlock, is what I believe.
If Jovan Belcher didn`t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both
be alive today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: You notice there that Costas and Whitlock referenced not
just Kasandra Perkins, but also the November shooting death of Jordan
Davis, a 17-year-old Florida student who was killed in a hail of bullets
fired at a SUV in which he sat, fired by a motorist after an argument over
the volume of the music that Jordan and his friends were playing.
And we haven`t forgotten the hundreds and thousands of nameless people who
are -- nameless to the media -- who are falling victim to gun violence in
cities like Chicago. How many more Kasandras and Jordans and Trayvons and
Aurora, Colorados, and Gabby Giffords are we going to need before our
political leaders will start to talk seriously about our country`s gun
With me at the table, New York University law professor, Kenji Yoshino,
Democratic Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland, senior fellow at Demos,
Bob Herbert, and John Annoni, who is the founder of Camp Campus, dedicated
to introducing urban, middle, and high school students to various outdoor
Bob, I want to start with you because you`ve written column after column
about the issue of guns and gun violence in our country. Every time, every
time there`s this kind of high-profile incident, we say, now, we`re going
to have the national conversation. But then we never really do.
BOB HERBERT, DEMOS: I think -- I`m very pessimistic on this issue. You
know, we were talking about gay marriage earlier. And that`s an issue
where I think we`re moving in the right direction. There`s a lot of
momentum on important stuff, including health care for example.
On guns, forget about it. I think we`re actually going backwards. We have
these atrocities, periodically. You know, sometimes it seems like almost
every few weeks. And as you say, we talk about it, we`re outraged. We`re
And then we do nothing about it. We make guns more and more accessible.
We make it easier and easier for young people to get their hands-on guns.
Since 1968, when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were murdered, a
million -- more than a million and a quarter Americans have been killed by
guns. More than a million and a quarter -- that`s homicide, suicides,
accidental deaths. That`s just going to continue to rise.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that the vast majority of gun deaths are not -- we`ll
talk a little bit about the ways in which many women do die in the way that
Kasandra Perkins did. But for the most part, they`re not the Aurora,
Colorado, shootings, right? You represent in part, P.G. County, I live in
New Orleans, you know, I lived many years in Chicago.
The gun violence that most of what we see is happening with young African-
American men -- it just feels like maybe part of why we don`t talk much
about it is because the people who are mostly dying of it aren`t very
valuable to us as a country.
REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: I think because -- you know, in the
Congress, we have wide jurisdiction, where we`ve failed to use it is on
this question of guns. You know, I need a handgun to go deer hunting or
duck hunting. We haven`t been able to draw those kinds of distinctions as
a rationale for removing guns from our streets.
And whether you`re in law enforcement or you`re the young African-American
male on a corner in a home, it doesn`t matter. You`re in great jeopardy of
losing your life because of guns.
And so, I do think it needs to be -- it has to be a national priority and
it isn`t just a conversation. And so I think about my former colleague,
Gabby Giffords, who is doing really well right now in her recovery, but
recovering from a gunshot wound that she shouldn`t have had to suffer.
HARRIS-PERRY: And others who were standing next to her who did not
EDWARDS: Others with her and our colleague Ron Barber, same thing.
But, you know, this epidemic of gun violence, and, you know, the fact that
in my congressional district, I can tell you right now where gun shops are.
EDWARDS: You know? And they`re not having a problem unloading those guns
in a manner of speaking to young people who come and purchase them or
somehow acquire them somehow. We`ve got to deal with this.
It`s going to take not just congressional leadership. It`s actually going
to take presidential leadership to open this conversation. And we haven`t
HARRIS-PERRY: Kenji, I want to ask you about the Second Amendment here,
though, because -- so people know I have a scandal obsession. There was a
great line in the film where this week where there`s conversation about, I
bet you stopped after the Second Amendment. He was talking to the
conservative -- like you didn`t need any more of the Constitution after the
But what does the Second Amendment tell us about gun ownership?
KENJI YOSHINO, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, NYU: Right. So the Second
Amendment says a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of
a free state. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be
So, the big debate until 2008 was whether or not that preparatory clause
about a well-regulated militia was if you go back to, you know, what Parker
is doing in grammar now, whether it`s descriptive or restrictive -- Parker
is your daughter.
YOSHINO: Right? And so, if the initial prefatory clause with restrictive,
that means you have the right to bear arms so long as you`re in a militia.
If it`s merely descriptive, the use of guns and militia is just one example
of the way in which you have the right to bear arms.
YOSHINO: 2008, the court`s second interpretation is right. That the
militia is just one example that there is an individual right to bear arms.
This is the Heller case.
In 2010, that right is extended so that it applies not against the federal
government but also against the states, right?
So, that`s from the gun control perspective the bad news, right?
The good news, I think this often gets lost in these debates, is that no
constitutional right is absolute. So let`s think about the First
Amendment. I have a right to free speech. That`s a fundamental right.
But that doesn`t mean I can, you know, yell obscenities at you during the
show. The fact that I have a Second Amendment right doesn`t mean I can
bring a handgun into 30 Rock, right?
So, all of these rights do is to shift the burden on the government to come
up with a sufficiently compelling interest in order to override the right
that I have.
HARRIS-PERRY: It does feel like under almost -- the one problem that
happens when we focus on a single case when we`re talking about gun control
is, then we just start talking about that case. So, in the case of
Kasandra Perkins, it`s almost impossible to imagine from my perspective
when we wouldn`t allow individuals to have in their own home a licensed
I mean, it`s one thing when we talk about assault weapons and, you know,
the kinds of automatic weapons that we see in a lot of street crime. But
it`s really hard to imagine that there`s anything currently on the agenda
that would have restricted Belcher from having a gun.
When we come back, I`m going to bring in my other guest. I`m saving him
until after the break because John and I wanted to complicate this question
of what we think will save inner city kids and what we think will happen.
John has a possibility of saving inner city kids by putting guns in their
hands. You`re going to want to see this when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re talking about the role that guns play in our lives and
how we only tend to examine this in the public sphere when shocking
incidents give us perspective.
One of my guests today is seeking to give young people proper perspective
through proper instruction. His name is John Annoni, an Allentown,
Pennsylvania, educator, who is also the founder of Camp Compass -- a
nonprofit, mentoring, fishing, and hunting retreat where the campers aren`t
just backpacking, they`re also packing.
NBC News Ron Allen profiled the camp in 2009.
RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS (voice-over): John`s classroom is the great outdoors.
That`s why he`s at this range, a lesson about shooting and patience and
persistence, and trying to inspire his students from Camp Compass Academy
to dream big.
JOHN ANNONI, CAMP COMPASS: Now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did it.
ANNONI: There is an element of trying to give our kids the ability to see
something outside of the box.
ALLEN: Skeptics told him he shouldn`t be teaching inner city kids about
guns. But Annoni insists he gets positive results.
ANNONI: Good shot.
Nobody is running around the streets with guns. Our kids are respecting
Those are tools that I use to alter kids` lives.
HARRIS-PERRY: Back with me is the founder and leader of Camp Compass, John
All right. Talk to me about this.
ANNONI: It`s something where for me, growing up, as we know, if you
followed my history, a bunch of abuse. And I happened to get sent to a lot
of camps because my grandmother couldn`t handle me.
So, there I found a love for shooting. Being abused as a child, leaving
the house was the solution. And behind the housing project was a little
plot of land that I found that if I could concentrate on critters, it took
me away. It allowed me to be out of the situation.
And from there, went through school like I was supposed to.
ANNONI: And graduated and came back and started teaching the inner city
school back in my hometown. And started looking and saying, you know, the
books around here aren`t cutting it. What could I do above and beyond,
because, ultimately, it`s my job as an educator to try to do the best job I
can to open up a box for a child.
Started looking at what affected my life. You know, good, bad and ugly.
What affected my life? And when it came down to it, the nitty-gritty of it
was being able to shoot the disciplines that I learned from that, the right
and wrong through my life that I learned from it was part of the solution.
HARRIS-PERRY: Look, I want to -- part of the reason I really wanted to
have you here, I feel like this part of the conversation often drops out.
That there`s an assumption that there is progressives who are against guns
and there are African-American, particularly in cities, who are against
guns and then there are these people who are for guns.
People who are for guns -- I mean, we had the NRA saying that Kasandra
Perkins should have had a gun, should have had a handgun, if she had --
that`s a little -- I`m sorry. One thing missing in the equation is that
the woman owning a gun so she could save her life from that murder.
That`s different from what you`re saying here?
ANNONI: Yes. You know, it`s something -- armchair quarterbacking is easy
to do. You know, we do have a problem. The problem was a gentleman made
the wrong decision or made a decision that`s going to affect not only the
young baby`s life but families. And, you know, from my perspective and my
view, what he did committed a crime, right and wrong.
When somebody talks about, hey, John, you know, you`re going down a
direction that`s a little dangerous -- ultimately myself as an educator,
when I get up in the morning and have the opportunity to help, it`s what I
have to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. Bob, all week -- I want to see what Bob has to
say after John says that. What you got for us, Bob?
HERBERT: What I want to look at is the bottom line. If you have kids at a
camp from the inner city who are learning how to assemble and disassemble a
rifle and learning proper safety and shooting and hunting and that sort of
thing, I`m not hung up on that. What I`m hung up on are the tens of
thousands, scores of thousands of Americans who are murdered by guns, you
know, as the years and the decades pass.
And we`re not -- we`re not addressing that issue. We`re making guns more
and more accessible.
So, we have kids in the inner city. You mentioned Chicago -- a horrifying
number of school kids die in Chicago from gunshot wounds every year. We`re
not doing anything about that.
We feel like we can`t even restrict or register guns properly. We can`t
train people who are going to have access to guns on how to use them.
HARRIS-PERRY: But in his column, Jason Whitlock says these are
interconnected, right? So, I hear you, on the one hand, you see -- you see
out there with the kids.
But we have Whitlock saying, I believe that we have to re-examine our love
aware with guns, they don`t protect us from tyranny. Guns are toys in
America. Guns are dangerous hobby. Guns are a macho accessory, no
different than a sports car.
So, he`s saying actually these things are connected.
HERBERT: We have to get rid of the guns that are out there. We have to
reduce the number of guns that are available and we have to change the
culture of violence in this country that says that if you are upset about
something or someone, the thing to do is to reach for a gun.
Until we start to do those two things, we are not going to seriously reduce
the number of homicides.
ANNONI: I mean, I`d like to -- restructure the culture of violence. You
know, the culture of decision, because there are decisions being made. You
know, I just lost another young man to gun violence. It doesn`t stop me
from wanting to give my other kids life.
It`s something where -- you know, I look and ultimately I look at Mr.
Costas delivering this message and I look and I go, why aren`t we blaming
the camera? The camera delivered the message.
HERBERT: If we can`t -- if we can`t bring a gun into 30 Rock -- which
thank goodness we cannot -- then why can`t we just expand those
restrictions so there are more and more places where you can`t have a gun,
can`t bring a gun?
ANNONI: Because somebody that`s going to do something wrong doesn`t care
what you can do. That`s where I`m looking and saying, you know, the
tragedy that I see is this young football player took his life and took
someone else`s who he evidently loved. He took her life.
But then he went ahead and carried that message to three more people who he
HERBERT: I don`t know what would have happened in the Jovan Belcher case,
you know, if guns were tougher to get ahold of. But I wish he had had a
harder time getting his hand on that gun.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we`re going to go to break. There`s one other aspect of
this case I want to talk about. But as we give out, just to give you a
little love, John, I want to show you a picture on my niece`s Facebook page
on Thanksgiving morning.
ANNONI: Get out of here.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is my dad to the far right in the orange hat. These
are my nieces and my cousins, this is what they spent Thanksgiving morning
doing. I`m so afraid that FOX News is going to say I`m raising a militia.
HARRIS-PERRY: The only point is, I was raised in the South with a father
who is a hunter. I do get your point. I don`t always agree. But I get
it. I understand there`s a position of love from which those things
At the same time, being a New Orleanian and a Chicagoan, I feel the pain of
it. I actually think it`s quite complicated.
But when we come back, we`re going to talk about the other aspect of this.
The fact that Kasandra Perkins did not have to die, it`s not just about
guns, there`s also an issue here about domestic violence when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Most of the talk about the murder of Kasandra Perkins and
the suicide of NFL linebacker Jovan Belcher, the man who killed her, has
been about guns. But we cannot forget the fact that above all, this was an
act of domestic violence.
My colleague at "The Nation", Jessica Valenti expressed this best when she
wrote, quote, "When the media reports domestic violence as random tragedies
or when individual say the perpetrator must have snapped, they enable a
culture of violence against women, because when you don`t contextualize
this part of violence as structural misogyny, you give credence to the myth
that there`s nothing anyone could have done to stop it."
Joining me now from Boston is Jessica Valenti, columnist for "The Nation"
and founder of the amazing site, Feministing.com.
Nice to see you, Jessica.
JESSICA VALENTI, THE NATION: Hi. Thanks for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you name your piece that Kasandra Perkins did not have
to die. Explain your argument there.
VALENTI: The argument is that you know, kind of calling what happened to
Kasandra Perkins a random tragedy kind of comforts us because it makes us
feel like there was nothing we could have done to prevent it. But domestic
violence and domestic violence murders follow a very clear pattern. And
they`re absolutely preventable.
So, while it`s comforting and nice to say there`s nothing we could have
done, absolutely not the truth. And that puts others women`s lives in
danger as we go forward as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, some of those language about -- you know, so I
appreciate the critique of the NFL that is also emerging as part of this, a
critique about issues of whether or not head injuries were part of this.
But the fact is that Belcher killed her but not his mother who was there
and it`s not as though he went on a random shooting spree. He made some
clear choices about those whose lives he took.
VALENTI: That`s exactly right. While we don`t know for sure if there was
past violence in this particular relationship, what we do know does point
to a very clear pattern of domestic violence. We know from college police
reports that Belcher had been in violent and controlling arguments with
women in the past. We know that Kasandra Perkins was leaving or had left
him. Women in abusive relationships are most likely to be killed when
And another risk factor is that pregnant women and new mothers are also at
an increased risk for being killed by their abusive partners. That`s
especially true for young black women.
So, when you take this into consideration, a larger picture really does
start to emerge at that point. It`s very clearly domestic violence.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jessica, I want to bring in the congresswoman here, because
we are right now sitting on a non-reauthoritization of the Violence Against
Women Act just as this not at all random tragedy occurs.
EDWARDS: Right. Well, I worked on the first Violence Against Women Act in
1994. And every time it`s been reauthorized since then, it`s been
noncontroversial. Republicans and Democrats supported that.
Yet, now it sits hanging in the balance, just sitting, waiting to be acted
on because Republicans have put -- have said, we`re not going to -- we`re
not going to do this. We want to distinguish between certain kinds of
victims and other kinds of victims. And precisely for that reason, a lot
of women -- millions of women around this country actually are in great
jeopardy of not receiving the counseling support and intervention services
that they need, so they don`t experience what Kasandra had to experience.
And I think that they`re actually -- the NFL actually does have knowledge
that they describe it as, you know, some difficulties in the relationships.
Well, I suspect that when all of this is out, we`re going to find that in
fact there was a history of domestic violence that and the mere fact that
there was a gun present in the home and in possession of Belcher meant that
it put her at greater risk of losing her life.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jessica, the congresswoman just brought up one of the things
we`ve learned is that apparently this couple had been in counseling. And,
yet, apparently sort of the way that therapists talk about this, counseling
is actually not a good strategy in the context of domestic violence if in
fact violence is occurring in the relationship.
VALENTI: That`s right. Especially when you`re talking about couples
counseling, because then it sets up this framework ha says, it`s the
relationship that`s the problem. It`s a couple`s problem as opposed to
it`s the abuser`s problem and need to deal with the behavior of the abuser.
So, it`s not the right way to go about things certainly.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Jessica, in Boston.
And also to John Annoni here at the table.
The rest are sticking around for more.
Obviously, this is a tragedy, perhaps not a random one but a tragedy. But
still an opportunity for us to try to make some meaning out of the tragedy
and learn something more about who we can be together as a country.
Still coming up: Olympic gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas. But first, the
great pretenders. Are there good intention sending a mixed message? When
we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: In our last hour, we spoke about the Defense of Marriage Act
and the importance of good allies for those seeking marriage equality.
Allies are important. But at times, the ways in which an ally chooses to
support a cause can overshadow the very issue.
There`s Timothy Couric (ph), a young Christian who sought to bring
attention to the church`s views on homosexuality and chose do that by
living as a homosexual man for a year. Who can forget super model Tyra
Banks head turning experiment of wearing a fat suit to bring attention to
the negative treatment aimed at people who are obese.
And starting this past Tuesday, Newark, New Jersey Mayor, Cory Booker,
started living on a food budget of $30 a week or $4.32 a day, which is
equal to the people in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP
His aim? For people to care about food justice for all.
So, while each of these experiments were noble attempts to bring attention
to issues, they also run the risk of appearing unauthentic by their very
nature of being just that, an experiment.
Not a long-term reality. The reality is experiences alter us and by
pretending to understand one another`s experience, one who is striving to
be an ally can sometimes unintentionally fail to acknowledge his or her own
At the table, Bob Herbert, Kenji Yoshino, Congresswoman Donna Edwards, and
joining us Sudhir Venkatesh, the William B. Ransford professor of sociology
on the Committee of Global Thought at Columbia University.
So nice to see you Sudhir.
SUDHIR VENKATESH, SOCIOLOGIST AND URBAN ETHNOGRAPHER: Thank you for having
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you`re one of the great discipline`s pretenders, in that
the kind of work that you do as a sociologist is to enter into participant
observer work. What is -- what is the value of pretending as a way to
VENKATESH: On the one hand, I applaud the kind of efforts that the mayor
is doing in Newark. You have to draw attention to this. We need to
understand that there`s food security issues.
And so, what better way than to cross thresholds. I mean, he`s done a
bunch of this stuff. He`s known for being on the edge, as it were.
So, I think pretending gives him empathy and he can bring that empathy out.
The problem is it can be short-lived is the problem. So, what would you
rather have? Would you rather hear from a dry sociologist or would you
hear a mayor on his Twitter feed? That`s the age we live in.
So, he has to go out and be provocative and raise this issue. But what`s
going to happen after? Is it tied up with any kind of policy? Is he
educating people in his cabinet?
Those are kinds of questions. It`s great for raising empathy. But the
question -- but 30 days from now, when he gets back on his regular diet, I
think we`re all going to wonder what`s the lasting effect?
HARRIS-PERRY: And I wonder about the extent to which it raises empathy.
So, again, I like the experiment. I find it compelling. I always find
Cory Booker`s Twitter feed compelling and fascinating for all kinds of
But I also worry that there`s something about assuming that you can just
don poverty or don blackness or don queer identity for part of your day or
life. Now I know what it`s like to be poor.
But in fact, without the durability and the inability to get out of it, you
don`t actually quite know what it`s like.
EDWARDS: No. I mean, I think that, you know, elected leaders always bring
a lot of both their personality and their life experiences as they should
to the work that we do and to draw attention to the issues about which
we`re passionate. And so, on the one hand, I think it`s really great.
I talk about going to food pantries, not because I was trying to draw
attention to it, but because I had to live by going to a food pantry to
support myself and my son. I think that that is really important. Not to
lose the policy.
You know, so members of Congress, for example take that food stamp
challenge and then we have to work on the policies and make sure that we
preserve those important nutrition programs.
Cory Booker has the same obligation in the city that he represents to do
the same thing. And so, you know, it`s a mixed bag. But we should always
draw attention to our experiences in doing public policy because then
people know that we`ve lived the lives that they have, which is sort
different from pretending to live the life that somebody does, and then
have the luxury of going -- being able to go back to your own refrigerator
and know that it`s stocked and full.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Eventually. I mean, even if you know it`s 30 days
The fact that -- and yet, Kenji, you and I were talking about this earlier.
There`s something about the fact that because he does it, we end up having
a conversation about it that we might not otherwise have.
YOSHINO: Absolutely. I acknowledge all of the dangers, empathy that the
representative is raising, you know, because you can actually go back to a
more privileged life. But I think the question is always compared to what?
What`s a baseline here for the ethics of this action?
You know, if it`s between sort of abjuring all of your privilege and living
a life of poverty and doing that, then maybe that would be more admirable,
right? It would be more admirable. That`s not really the reference point.
The reference point is are you a mayor who does that or are you a mayor who
doesn`t do that, right?
So, I think what Mayor Booker is doing is in a long and sort of honorable
tradition, that would include, you know, Barbara (INAUDIBLE) nickel and
dimed in 2001 where she went to three different cities around the country
and tried to live on a working wage, a blue collar wage. She got all of
the same criticisms for having -- she was asked if she had a cappuccino
fund on the side, you know? She was accused of being able to go back to
her privilege afterwards.
But it created a national debate about that. If you go back earlier,
"Black Like Me", John Howard Griffin living as an African-American man to
supply him with pigment altering chemicals. You know, he lived as an
African-American man in the South and then went back to the life of white
But I think they all go back transformed and I also think a lot has to do
with how they carry themselves. If they are saying I now totally
understand the plight of the person I`m impersonating, that`s obviously
bogus. But that`s not what they`re saying.
HARRIS-PERRY: But if feels like there`s something more than -- even when
he say that he lived as an African-American man or he lived as a gay man or
that Barbara lived as a poor person, not really, because my blackness is
not my skin color. It`s all of these other attendant aspects of my
humanity that are -- and my culture and my biography. You actually can`t
put it on, right?
And so there`s a way in which I wonder if when we do it that way, we assume
then that each of these -- you know, my sexuality is just who I make love
to, my race is just the color of my skin.
HERBERT: Yes, we have to look at the individual cases. With Cory Booker,
for example, if he`s bringing the -- trying to put the spotlight on hunger
and poverty, I think that`s really important, because, for example, your
show is one of the few on television that will deal with poverty in any
kind of an in-depth way.
Booker is not only talking about poverty. He is immersed in the lives of
his residents in Newark, many of whom are poor. And since he`s a mayor,
he`s in a position to do something about policy.
HERBERT: Other times you`ll see somebody that`s just doing something it
seems like a lark, you don`t see much of an upside for it. So, you have to
look at the individual cases.
HARRIS-PERRY: When I come back, I want to ask about the other aspect of
it. So, part of is it the psychology. But the other part is, you know,
when you write a book about it, they pay you for that. So, there`s a
profit question on the other side.
So, we`re going to take a quick break and when we come back, I want to talk
a little bit more about what do we learn by pretending?
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back and talking a bit about how pretending, how
taking on new identities can help to bring focus to important issues.
Sudhir, I think one of the challenges that happened in this is all of us
then become open to the language of either race pimping or poverty pimping,
because you go out, you gain the information from poor communities, from
black communities, from marginalized communities and then you publish it.
Or you go on the academic job market with it or you run for office with it.
And you end up benefiting in ways that may be disproportionate compared to
the very communities that you`ve studied.
I think this is the main ethical question that we as ethnographers often
face. How do we manage that?
SUDHIR VENKATESH, SOCIOLOGIST AND URBAN ETHNOGRAPHER: I think you have to
turn that knowledge partly into use for people who serve the communities
that you`re studying. Otherwise, it`s a one-way street.
And I had this unique experience where one of my students had to give away
a lot of money, about $78 million. He said I want to start a foundation
and I want to learn about poverty. He said I really want to go deep in it.
So, will you take me to Chicago and introduce me to poor people.
I thought, this is going to be another stunt. But he`s my student, I`ll
He met a squatter named Larry. And Larry said, what if you and I live in
my squat for a weekend? And let`s see if I can help you learn.
The donor thought this is going to be easy. They started at Friday at 5:00
p.m. The guy was very wealthy lasted until about 11:00 at night. He
bought some beer, went to McDonald`s and they agreed they would do it on
$25. That`s it. He was done.
Larry the squatter bought peanut butter, jelly, bread he was ready for the
And over the course of that time, what happened was that the donor learned
something about the ingenuity and creativity of people. He said the
greatest thing that happened to me and the year after that was not that I
learned how to help poor people, which I did. I learned how to help fellow
wealthy white donors better understand before they start giving money away.
So I think that shock value is curriculum, is pedagogy, if done
appropriately can help. It`s just that if it`s a P.R. stunt, it`s very
HARRIS-PERRY: I think I just want to draw that out one more time, because
it`s so often, I think we assume that the person in the position of
privilege has to go have the experience and then speak for the other,
right? And, you know, obviously, it`s a representative you do a lot of
speaking for your constituents, but part of the brilliance of communities
that struggle and I don`t mean to do a like poverty is pastoral and lovely
But that communities actually have all kinds of problem-solving right in
their own communities. We need to tap into what they already know, not
bring our great wisdom to it.
EDWARDS: I think that`s really true. I mean, I think that -- you know,
anything that we can do that empowers communities to identify and tackle
their own problems actually strengthens them for the future. And so, you
have this kind of mix where on the one hand, you want to draw attention to
an issue. You want to make sure that the larger public is paying attention
Part of that is because then you can get public policy dollars,
philanthropic dollars and other kinds of resources to those communities
that then allow them to come up with their own solutions and implement them
in their communities.
HARRIS-PERRY: That feels like the great work of journalists. Like when
journalism is really doing beautiful work, it`s finding people`s voices.
HERBERT: Exactly. That was the point I wanted to get to. You don`t want
to speak for the other. You can`t drop in for a weekend, a month or even a
couple of years and then speak for the folks that you were with.
But what you can do is give an accurate picture of what they`re
experiencing. You can show other people what the facts are and you can
bring their situation to a larger audience. Hopefully, if these are folks
in trouble, it will be an audience that can do something to mitigate their
pain or their situation.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s almost a part of me like on the one hand loves what
Cory Booker is up to, but then also want to see Mayor Booker always sitting
there with his constituents. With actual folks who can tell us their
YOSHINO: Yes. I think it places some burden on us as listeners too, to
engage in a more active form of listening. Elaine Scarry, the professor at
Harvard, has a great distinction between narrative compassion and
statistical compassion. She uses the example of President Reagan or she
said he had narrative compassion in spades.
So, if he was talking to homeless person, he would tear up. That`s why
he`s (INAUDIBLE) person, it`s a genuine emotional response. But if you
handed him statistics about homelessness, his eyes would glaze over. And
he wouldn`t be able to see the suffering embodied in those numbers.
That`s a cognitive disability that I think all of us have to some degree.
We process information much better through a moving story than the hard
work of going through statistics.
HARRIS-PERRY: I feel like you just made the academic case for multiple
method, you know, kind of methodology. You got to tell the big stories and
then the small stories within.
Thank you to Kenji and Congresswoman Edwards, to Bob and to Sudhir
We`re going to be something a little bit different for a footnote today.
But it is time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" today hosted by
my guy, Thomas Roberts.
THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hi, Melissa. Thanks so much.
And I love the way you planted the rainbow flag so proudly and firmly in
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
ROBERTS: I just tweeted a picture for everybody.
So, we will talk about that too coming up. The Supreme Court taking up
marriage equality. Why are some supporters actually a little worried about
Then Congressman Jim DeMint is being called the Tea Party`s kingmaker. And
now, he`s stepping down. I`m talking to Congressman Mick Mulvaney who is
on the short, short list to replace him.
Plus, what the threat of Syria using bombs loaded with nerve gas, chemical
weapons -- what should the United States do? I`m talking with Ambassador
Dennis Ross about that.
And then in office politics, Alex talks to Nicholas Kristof with a tale of
two receipts that is really going to shock you. You need to see that.
Melissa, we`ll send it back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks so much, Thomas.
And up next, our favorite golden girl. Olympic superstar Gabrielle Douglas
joins us live.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Something pretty cool happened on Friday. I ran into
Gabrielle Douglas here at 30 Rock. And she is the 16-year-old gymnast who
vaulted into our hearts and into history at the Olympic Games in London
With the nearly flawless performance, Gabrielle became the first African-
American to win gold in both the individual all around and team
competitions in the same Olympics.
Now, as I revealed in my interview in my Nerdland with Dominique Dawes just
before the Summer Games, I love women`s gymnastics. I was eagerly
anticipating watching Douglas compete.
This summer, Gabrielle earned a second fan in our household, my 10-year-old
daughter, Parker. And when Parker heard I met Gabrielle, she asked me if
she could take over my normal footnote time and interview her about her new
book, "Grace, God and Glory: My Leap of Faith."
So joining me for a Nerdland exclusive is Olympic gold medal winner
Gabrielle Douglas and my daughter, Parker.
All right. Parker, you had a few questions for Gabrielle.
PARKER, MINI NERD: OK. So, Gabrielle, what did it feel like to achieve
GABRIELLE DOUGLAS, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: I felt amazing to achieve my
dreams knowing that me and my family and I sacrificed so much, and we went
through hardships and difficult times and what I had to overcome to get to
the Olympics. It was just an amazing feeling to be on the top of the
PARKER: So, how important was your family to achieving your dream?
DOUGLAS: My family was definitely important. And it was just amazing they
could come to London and supporting me all the way. And I don`t think I
could have done it without them behind me, just supporting.
PARKER: I heard you had to deal with bullying. What is your advice to
other girls who have to deal with bullying?
DOUGLAS: My advice would be: always speak up. I mean, I was that girl
that held it in. The next day was a bright and shining day.
If you feel like you are being bullied, I would say speak up. I mean, you
shouldn`t have to hold it in and take it. I mean, I was a girl that was
very strong and did that, but I would definitely recommend you speak up and
tell an adult and know that they know best.
HARRIS-PERRY: Parker, can I ask one question, too, as you are going along
in your question? So, as you`re asking that bullying question, so Parker
goes to an all-girl school. Sometimes we talk about like mean girls
culture, but girls supporting one another. You were on a women`s Olympic
Did you experience mean girls culture or did you experience more of the
girls helping and supporting one another?
DOUGLAS: Well, I always experience girls helping one another and when --
in gymnastics world, when you had a hard time, they are like, OK, you can
do it. And they just give you motivational speeches and say calm down,
take a breath. >
HARRIS-PERRY: Go, Parker.
PARKER: So, what is your advice to other girls who have to try to achieve
DOUGLAS: My advice would be if you are trying to achieve your dreams,
don`t ever stop, because the world is yours. And you can overcome. They
are going through struggles.
And the thing is it doesn`t matter what your background is, it doesn`t
matter how much money you have. The thing is if you just trust and believe
in yourself, then you can get there.
PARKER: Are you going to the Olympics ever again?
DOUGLAS: I am thinking about it. Rio 2016 is in my mind. I`m excited. I
think it would be fun.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So I`m interested, Parker, what was your
favorite part of watching Gabrielle Douglas in the Olympics this is year?
PARKER: I loved the back flip and then the vault. Yes, I really love
DOUGLAS: Thank you. It`s fun.
PARKER: You are really good.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you do work with young gymnasts? Is that what it means
to be part of a champion?
DOUGLAS: You mean like coach?
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, coaching or maybe just, you know, I know I saw you all
at the White House recently. Is part of what you do also to go into the
communities and talk with younger girls who are having their own dreams?
DOUGLAS: Yes, I love that when girls come around me and I sort of sit down
and tell me, you know, if you work very, very hard, and if you have the
determination, and the passion and the drive, then you`ll get there. I
love to do that, because I love to be this role model, just passing around
the message saying you really can do it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, Parker and I are the only child daughter and mom and I
saw your mom here when you were here on Friday. You know, Parker, you are
going to be 11 pretty soon and sometimes there`s like momma/daughter
things. Yes, some of that.
How do you manage that as a young woman coming through -- on the one hand,
your mom being support, but also like mom/daughter stuff?
DOUGLAS: What -- what do you mean?
HARRIS-PERRY: Maybe you don`t have mo mom/daughter stuff.
DOUGLAS: Oh, we definitely have mom and daughter stuff. I mean, it`s
normal, because we love each other. And it happens.
But I`m so blessed to have a supportive mom, like her. I mean, she`s a
fighter. I don`t know what I would do without my mom. She`s helped me
through thick and thin. She`s loved on me, she`s cared on me. So, she`s
an amazing mom.
HARRIS-PERRY: You also talk about faith in your book and the importance of
a good strong faith relationship. How do you -- how has that been
important part of your --
DOUGLAS: Faith definitely played a big role in my life. I don`t know
where I would be without it today. God has blessed me so much. He gave me
the opportunity to go to London and represent him and USA. And he gave me
this God-given talent.
So I`m going to share my faith through everyone. I`m going to go around
and express to everyone that God has been so good to me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Parker, you wanted to ask, you asked Gabrielle how young
girls should achieve their dream. What is the big dream you`re dreaming
right about now?
PARKER: I liked the fact that you were the first African-American woman to
go to the Olympics and win the gold medal. I think my goal is sort of to
do that also.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, you`re going to win a gold medal?
PARKER: Yes. I`m going to bring it home.
DOUGLAS: That`s amazing.
HARRIS-PERRY: I feel like I`m going to be signing up for classes I didn`t
know about here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I really appreciate you taking the time, not only to
sit down with us here in Nerdland, and also in our household, we have a
thing we call doing the Gabby, which will change to doing a Gabrielle.
HARRIS-PERRY: But when we are excited and feel like we have had an
accomplishment and something big has happened, what is it we do, Parker?
Yes. We say yes. We are going to give ourselves a Gabby.
DOUGLAS: Oh, awesome. I love that. That`s amazing, I love that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we thank you for inspiring us. Thank you to Gabrielle
Douglas whose book again is "Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith."
And thanks to my kid Parker.
Also, thanks to you at home for watching.
That is our show for today. We`re going to see you next Saturday at 10:00
And right now, coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
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