'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, February 16th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
February 16, 2013
Guests: Valerie Jarrett, Lawrence Mishel, Katon Dawson, Dorian Warren, Sister Camille d`Arienzo, James Martin, Nancy Giles, Barbara Andrews, Barbara Ransby
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: This morning, my question -- if you are not
Catholic why should you care who is pope? Plus, my one-on-one interview
with White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. And the case for $9 an
hour. But first, for those of you keeping track as you can tell by our
cute little bug, it is the MHP show`s first anniversary. What a year it
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. In 1919, a young Army colonel,
along with hundreds of his fellow soldiers boarded a convoy of military
trucks departing from Washington, D.C. They were embarking on the first
ever U.S. Army coast-to-coast motor transport train averaging the mere five
miles per hour, it took the caravan two months to reach San Francisco,
driving along the local lanes and state roads that were in such disrepair
the soldiers had to fix 88 bridges themselves just to complete the journey.
Years later, that same young soldier, Dwight D. Eisenhower, found himself
again on the road, but this time as a general commanding the allied forces
in World War II.
Along the pristine freshly built roads of the German autobahn. Eisenhower
and his troops took full advantage of the roadways built by Nazi Germany
using them to defeat the axis forces, the German superhighway left a
lasting impression on the young general. One that would grow into a grand
plan once he became president. Even before his election, Eisenhower
envisioned a national highway system 40,000 miles long that would be quote
"as necessary to defense as it is to our national economy and personal
safety." As president, Eisenhower set out to gather national support
complete with a made-for-TV style campaign ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this century, America has become a nation on wheels.
We ride on wheels to work, to shop, to play, to go about any place we want
to go. We depend on wheels to bring us the food we eat, the clothes we
wear, the things we use, but when we depend on wheels, we depend also on
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: But of course, as all things in Washington tend to go, the
34th president struggled with the lack of consensus. Governors, Democrat
and Republican, fought Eisenhower on what they called his plan for the
biggest federal aid programs, calling the Republican president to task for
running away from his staunch opposition to federal encroachment on state
sovereignty. It was in fact the Democratic senator from Virginia, Harry
Byrd, who tried to block Eisenhower`s plan. Byrd was known as a pay as you
go man, and he had a wild hatred for debt.
After a lot of coalition building President Dwight Eisenhower`s dream
became a reality with the signing of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956,
allocating the $25 billion to build 41,000 miles of road over 13 years.
Two years later, in the midst of highway construction across the country,
Eisenhower found himself leading an economy that had dipped into the worst
recession since the Great Depression, and boy, was he glad to have the
federal highways project well under way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DWIGHT EISENHOWER: This is not a dream. It is not a visionary project for
your consideration. Work is going on right now. And it will go on more
rapidly and more effectively as each month passes until the job has been
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: By the 1960s, an estimated one in seven Americans was
employed through the automobile industry, and what was supposed to be a 13-
year project had extended to create almost 43,000 miles of standardized
roads, 54,666 bridges crosscutting 1.6 million acres of land. Finally
being completed in 1991. This week, echoing President Eisenhower`s vision
of a truly united states, our current president called for a reinvestment
in our nation`s crumbling infrastructure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: America`s energy
sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair.
Ask any CEO where they`d rather locate and hire, a country with the
deteriorating roads and bridges or one with high speed rail and Internet.
So, tonight, I propose a "fix it first" program to put people to work as
soon as possible on our most urgent repairs like the nearly 70,000
structurally deficient bridges across the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: In our most recent recession, 2 million construction jobs
were lost, and as of now, our unemployment rate is stuck at 7.8 percent,
with mandatory sequestration cuts on the horizon, that would see 1.2
trillion (ph) lot off of our national budget, the Congressional Budget
Office issued an updated fiscal outlook for the next decade, showing that
the GDP will grow slowly this year, because of the fiscal tightening,
mandated by sequestration. In fact, the CBO found the growth would improve
by 1.5 percent this year, if it weren`t for the planned cuts. Perhaps, we
need to heed the advice of an economist who came before President Obama or
even before President Eisenhower`s time, John Maynard Keynes who warned the
boom, not the slump is the right time for austerity.
With me today is economist Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic
Policy Institute, Dorian Warren, professor of political science and
international public affairs at Columbia University, a fellow at the
Roosevelt Institute, MSNBC contributor Ari Melber, who`s also a
correspondent for "The Nation" magazine, and Katon Dawson, national
Republican consultant and former senior adviser to Governor Rick Perry.
All right, I`ve got a table full of guys, this never happens on MHP show,
but I am fascinated by this idea that it is growth and in fact, a kind of
courageous growth experiment that might be what we need in our lean times.
Lawrence, talk to me about the sequester, is there some reason we need to
be cutting right now?
LAWRENCE MISHEL, ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE: Well, I agree with you,
Melissa, that the priority this nation has is to create jobs and to
dramatically lower unemployment, is not only that we have 7.8 percent
unemployment now, that`s higher than it got at the worst moments of the
last two recessions, according to the CBO, at the end of 2015, the
unemployment rate will only be around one percentage point less. Now, when
that -- that much at the national level we know it is double that for
blacks and we know that it`s putting downward pressure on wages for middle
class workers, for low-wage workers. We know that incomes have fallen
already by nine percent over this recession. Still, they are unlikely to
recover as we maintain unemployment at the levels we have. So, to me, that
is the absolute priority and I throw my weight in there with Lord Keynes,
the -- and this is a conversations we shouldn`t be having right now.
MISHEL: As you said, slow growth, we (INAUDIBLE) calculated across 600,000
jobs to do the sequestration this year. Just on this year`s jobs.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Ari, it feels to me like the argument for deficit
reduction in the `90s, during the Clinton era, was you have to have deficit
reduction, because interest rates are higher for borrowing, and so, you
know, you don`t have the kind of investment. That is not the circumstances
we are finding ourselves in now. Is there any reason for us to be having
angst about the deficit at this point?
ARI MELBER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: No!
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
MELBER: No, and the -- the whole point you just made is important, because
for people with a memory, one of the central Republican arguments early on
was, if we do this, you know, these interest rates will go up and that will
be a problem, that is not the case even with some of the drama that is
going down in Washington. That is why you have to take a step back what
Republicans have done very well and obviously it`s going a long term for
opposition as you just showed with Byrd, demonizing debt decades ago is
this notion that debt is a bad word. I remember when liberal was a bad
word in Washington, those days have finally ended as you saw "The New York
Times" headline about the president`s liberal inaugural address and no
shame in that. But ...
MELBER: But debt is still, according to the deficit schools, and the
serious people in Washington is a bad thing, and that is insane. If you
look at the bond market, it is a place where people buy and sell debt.
MELBER: If you look at Mark Zuckerberg who is successful, he just got a
mortgage which is a 30-year debt proposition ...
MELBER: ... because whether you are a business, a household or a
government, especially when you are a government, you want to take the
proposition that sometimes you need money to spend money to do things, and
later, often you`ll make it back at a higher yield. That is the whole
concept. So this idea that debt is a bad thing is wrong.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, and Katon, look, I saw, you know, as Ari was kind of
saying liberal is not a bad word anymore, right?
KATON DAWSON, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: He is my friend and we just
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, look, I mean the construction of the interstates was
the single largest earth-moving project in world history, right? Even more
so, than the Panama Canal, like what we did, the billions of tons of earth
we moved to make that happen, and it goes on until 1991, this is the -- we
do big things, right, this is the idea of doing an enormous thing that is
good for the country, that has a recognition of the economic and the
national security aspects of it. The Republican Party, for the all of
their, you know, moments now, used to be a party of big things and now I
hear it as a party of no, and a party of making all of these -- just big
cuts, not doing big things. Can you guys regain something on this?
DAWSON: Well, I think let`s get back to the Republican president of
Eisenhower who got the country behind him, and it also was a defense issue
about -- you saw the time it took to move from one section of the country
to the other to protect our country. But he did a big thing, and a bold
thing, but remember, this was a general who won a war, everything was set
up for him. I disagree with debt. I meat that`s what worries most of my
Republican friends. Is the amount of debt that we are piling up on the
HARRIS-PERRY: It did not worry you, guys, when you were making the debt?
DAWSON: Well, that`s right, but remember, we also got kicked out. I mean
we got kicked out of office, because of the debt and then back in because
of spending. That would be my opinion. But I do think that, you know, one
thing, is Republicans can`t just say no, they`ve got to offer solutions. I
agree with Newt Gingrich, you can say, no, no, no. You look at Gingrich
and Bill Clinton and they came together and let credit (INAUDIBLE), but
they addressed really big problems.
HARRIS-PERRY: Look, so, I want to push on this a little bit, though,
because what I heard you say was, we create a deficit and then this new
spending, but that is the myth, right? Our current deficit is not a result
of some set of new spending, Dorian ...
DORIAN WARREN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: ... that happens under President Obama, I mean that is the
great sort of -- it`s not even -- it`s simply a partisan lie, right,
that`s not where the deficit comes from.
WARREN: No, it comes from the great recession, it comes from our economy
falling dramatically. That is where the debt came from, especially in the
last three years and then you add in a $4 trillion war that we didn`t need
to fight ...
WARREN: ... and tax cuts that no Republican was against when it came to
debt, how much the tax cuts would cost and how much the war would cost, the
silence was deafening ...
WARREN: ... for years and years, and years. But we also have an empirical
example of what is happened in terms of austerity, and that is Europe.
WARREN: If you look at the countries in the Eurozone, they have
administered austerity policies and response to the recession, the global
recession, and for the first time last year they experienced no growth.
And we see youth unemployment rates 40, 50, 60 percent in some of those
countries. So, we have an example, we can go down that road, if we`d like.
Or we can continue down the road that we are on in terms of much more money
in terms of investments ...
WARREN: .. investments and infrastructure and education.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. I`ve got to say even though we are in the Lenten
season of sacrifice, this is really a time, actually, for growing, I`m
going to say Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras on this one. When we come back, I
want to talk a little back about how Senator Elizabeth Warren took the
whole country to Econ 101 school this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy one year anniversary to you, Melissa, to all the
producers of the show. One year of information and inspiration. We love
it. Keep it going.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: We have got multiple people here, anyone else want
to tell me about the last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial? You
know, I just want to note on this, there are district attorneys and U.S.
attorneys who are out there everyday squeezing ordinary citizens on
sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an
example as they put it. I`m really concerned that too big to fail has
become too big for trial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Senator Elizabeth Warren came out swinging at her first
major Senate Banking Committee hearing on Thursday asking hard questions of
regulators of the financial industry and it was a vintage Warren, of
course, first gained national attention because of her criticism of the
deregulation that led to financial collapse, and boy, we are going to need
her, because Wall Street is growing again. The front pages of both "The
New York Times" and the "Wall Street Journal" yesterday touted the spending
spree that has unleashed big businesses pent-up desire to burn some of the
cash they have on hand.
On Thursday, a loan $40 billion worth of deals was struck bringing the
value of mergers and acquisitions announced since January to nearly $160
billion. Merger activity is following in the footsteps of an aggressive
market, which is left up on by nearly seven percent on the S&P`s index just
this year. We even got in on the corporate good times here at NBC
Universal. Just look at the elevators here at 30 Rock, trumpeting Comcast
full acquisition of NBC ahead of schedule.
You see, while the Congress`s handwringing over debt and deficit, corporate
America is grabbing the dollars and throwing them out the window on bigger,
better growing stuff. So I feel like I look at this and I think, OK, if we
are meant to be behaving like corporate America, corporate America is done
with this austerity thing, they are -- they are into the big acquisitions.
MISHEL: Well what is really wrong right now in my view, is that we have
the highest share of the economy and corporate profits in decades. And
that is a sign of an economy that is greatly distorted to have companies do
so well when people are doing so poorly. We should be having an economy
where they both work together. The reason why companies are buying each
other and buying their own stocks, all that sort of stuff is that they are
not investing in production, they are not hiring people, because there is a
shortage of demand. They need to be producing more, they are not producing
enough, because people are not buying stuff. We need to find a way to get
people to buy more stuff, the government can buy more stuff, that is the
Lord Keynes` point that you were making earlier.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the reason people aren`t buying stuff, is because of the
continuing unemployment rate, which when we look at it, is at this point
being driven by a lack of public sector jobs, right? So Katon, I feel like
this is a thing that the Republicans are not always honest about when we
look at the recovery, private sector jobs are up, we have been adding to
them, but public sector jobs are down. So, at this -- down by 627,000 jobs
since June of 2009. So we keep hearing government does not create jobs,
but in fact, it does, and at the moment, it is the government shedding
jobs, which seems to be creating our crisis.
DAWSON: Let`s go all the way down to the municipal places, the cities and
the counties, that`s where your job losses have been massive, because of
the tax revenues, whether it be sales taxes in certain states, whether it
be income tax property taxes. And they are having, a lot of places having
the bounce of budget, or they have so much debt they can`t (ph) attain
anymore, so I can`t blame that only on political city, I can blame that on
a large looming recession that was created by Larry, you agree, a lot of --
a lot of complex issues.
HARRIS-PERRY: But primarily ...
MISHEL: ... by the banks and the deregulation, and by, I think
fundamentalist economics that got us here. And now they are -- people are
really asking the American people to pay the price. They are saying, we
have to pay down the debt quickly, get it down to a low level in ten years
from now, and what they are really saying is, we have to sacrifice jobs, we
have to sacrifice public services to pay off the consequence of what the
banks did to us, and without actually making the banks pay for much. We
could, in fact, get the revenues we need in part through a Wall Street
sales tax, financial transaction tax, we can do things like close the gap
between the taxes on wages and the taxes on income going to property owners
and capital income. That would help a lot, and you know, you are right,
the states are obligated ...
MISHEL: ... to balance their budgets, what the stimulus package did and
what we could do is find a way for the federal government to take on some
debt to be able to help to ensure that we have the firefighters and
teachers we need.
MELBER: Yes, but the other problem for the Republicans is they never like
the answer that helps the economy. Now, that sounds like rhetoric ...
MELBER: But it is sadly true. I wish it weren`t. It`s helpful
politically for liberals and Democrats. But the fact is when you talk
about unemployment insurance and trying to give people a leg up, they are
against that. When you talk about paying people to work in these public
sector jobs, they are against that. And they have negotiated aggressively
to cut public sector jobs, and they`re doing so further, if any of the
sequester really gets real, including in the military context. So ...
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean just this week, a pay freeze on federal employees.
MELBER: And a pay freeze on federal employees.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Which mostly sort of ordinary folks who would in
fact be spending that money on consumer goods ...
HARRIS-PERRY: If they had the income.
MELBER: So, you don`t want to spend on people that need a leg up between
jobs. You don`t want to spend on people who actually have the jobs, so
what do you want to spend on? Oh, well, we can`t spend on anything because
of this deficit. And so, what you realize is, there is not an economic
plan on the other side. And that is what I thought was so strong about the
inaugural address, and we talk about this stuff daily, but the president
really outlined this larger vision that we are in it together.
MELBER: And we have to be there for each other, and that is the central
tenet, that`s why social insurance is such an important part of this, and
what he is faced with on the other side, is a political party that feels no
obligation to be involved in the recovery, whatsoever. And barely claims
to be. And that is why what I find so ridiculous about the deficit is,
even if you think the deficit is a problem, we may disagree, I don`t think
it is as big a short-term problem as you do.
HARRIS-PERRY: But even ...
MELBER: But even if you do, even if you do, the solution is not to start
firing people anymore than if you have a debt problem in your household,
you don`t say, well, one of us is going to stop working.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yep, and in fact, I think there was a moment and as you just
brought up about the president`s speech and it was a moment that I think on
Tuesday no one saw coming. We`re going to talk more about that when we
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Tonight, let`s
declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time
should have to live in poverty and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Proposing an increase to the national minimum wage and then
tying it to the cost of living was, perhaps, the biggest surprise from the
president`s State of the Union address this week The president`s push
demonstrates his second-term focus on stimulating the economy at the street
level. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with White House senior
adviser Valerie Jarrett and asked her what it would take to make the
proposal actual policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR: In all of our communities, we
have people who are living in poverty, and what the president is saying,
that in this country, as great as our country, if you are willing to work
hard, you should be able to live above the poverty line, and making $14,500
is not enough to raise a family on and so he thinks it is important to
raise it up. And it is very helpful for the family and 15 million
Americans will benefit from that, but it is also good for the economy,
because if they have a little extra money in their pockets, they`re going
to go out and spend it, and that is going to be very helpful to the
economy, and so small businesses are going to see people who are coming in
and have just a little bit extra cash to spend, and that will help grow our
economy, and we are so hopeful that because the American people are behind
it, then that will put pressure on the Congress to do right thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we immediately heard, of course, particularly from
Republicans in Congress, the counter argument that raising the federal
minimum wage will reduce the number of jobs that are available, that will
hurt small businesses. What will the president say to make an economic
claim that this is not just good for households, but good for the economy?
JARRETT: That`s just the common sense that I mentioned a minute ago. If
you have a little extra money in your pocket, that disposable income gets
spent the same way that people who receive unemployment insurance benefits,
who`ve lost their jobs as the result o this economic crisis that we`ve been
in, when they get that money, they are going out and they spend it on the
economy, and that`s good for the economy. So we think it will help grow
the economy, it will raise people above the poverty level.
And that is what we were talking about, is how can we be a country where if
you work hard and you play by the rules, that everybody gets that fair
shot. And that is who the president thinks about every morning when he
gets up, people who really want that American dream that generations before
in our country had, and figuring out how you could have that robust economy
comes from the middle class, and it comes from providing people with those
opportunities where they can afford a home or they can send their kids to
college, so they can do -- their children will do better than they did,
where they can retire with dignity and a little money in their pocket. And
that is what most people want. And that is what he is fighting for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: To help us understand the impact of a change in the federal
minimum wage is a long-time workers rights advocate, Christine Owens,
executive director of the National Employment Law Project, joining our
panel from D.C Nice to see you this morning, Chris.
CHRISTINE OWENS, EXEC., DIR., NATIONAL EMPLOYMENT LAW PROJECT: Thanks a
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, it was obviously exciting to hear the
president talk about $9 an hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: But you actually supported an even more aggressive minimum
wage increase. Tell me why?
OWENS: Well, we do. And I want to say that it`s wonderful that the
president has put raising the minimum wage on the agenda, it`s long
overdue, the minimum wage has declined in value so much over the last 30 or
40 years that almost any increase is welcomed, but the reality is that $9
will still is not going to lift working families from poverty and it`s not
going to build a strong floor across the bottom of the labor market, which
is where jobs are growing. So we will be supporting legislation that
Senator Harkin and Representative Miller will be introducing that will call
for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. That comes closer to
restoring the minimum wage to its historic value. It will pump a lot of
stimulus back into the economy. It will help 28 million low income workers
and most of these workers are in families with relatively low incomes or
incomes below the median income. Most of them are adults, half of them
work full time and they really depend on these earnings to support
themselves and their families, and this -- Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to underline that, Chris. Because you were just
talking about sort of in the recovery how it is this bottom level jobs that
have been the ones that have come back and (INAUDIBLE), you know, sort of
showed us that in the context of the recession, we lost these middle income
jobs, the jobs that have come back online have often been low-wage jobs.
So is that an indication that this sort of $9 or $10.10 if you got the
proposal that you think is actually closer to moving folks out of poverty,
is that an indication that it will have an even greater effect that we
might otherwise see in the context of the raising of the minimum wage?
OWENS: Yes, I believe so, because the reality is that wages for low wage
workers have been falling, real wages have been falling for the past three
decades, and that was accelerated in the downturn. And as you noted, most
of the job growth in the recovery has been in the low wage sector, but that
also continues a trend of the past several decades. So we actually need to
do things to take affirmative measures to lift the wage floor across the
bottom of the labor market. That is where job growth is occurring now and
where job growth is projected to occur over the next decade. And unless we
take actions to lift the wage floor, we`re going to have more and more
workers and their families who are going to be slipping from the middle-
class into poverty. And the bottom line is people who work for a living
ought to be able to make a living from work. There is nothing in the
economy right now that is driving wages up. So, we need these kind of
HARRIS-PERRY: But, of course, the claim is always, there`s an inflation
area effect, and there is a job killing effect to raising the minimum wage.
So, address those two issues.
OWENS: Well, sure, and, you know, you`re right. This has always the
claim. This has been the claim since 1938 when the minimum wage was first
passed and we were told that we were moving toward socialism with the
minimum wage. The reality is that the very best research that has looked
at 250 paired counties that are contiguous counties in states with
differing minimum wages, and that has controlled for things like regional
economic shocks, growth and low wage employment generally -- that research
has found that there is no job loss effect associated with raising the
minimum wage, nor does raising the minimum wage necessarily lead to
inflation. There are plenty of ways that employers can absorb the cost of
increased wages. Productivity is higher, turnover is reduced, there are
greater efficiencies associated with higher wages and particularly in this
low wage sectors of the economy where so much of the work is based on
people`s attitudes and people`s performance.
OWENS: And people`s job attendance.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Christine Owens.
HARRIS-PERRY: I greatly appreciate your work at NELP. And I am excited
that the president has now put this on the agenda in a way ...
OWENS: We are too.
HARRIS-PERRY: ... that hopefully we`re going to see some movement. When
we come back, the one simple graph that makes the case a 1,000 speeches
could never make.
HARRIS-PERRY: The federal minimum wage have lost 30 percent of its
purchasing power in the past decades. At the same time according to our
friends over at "The Washington Post" Wonk Blog, since 1970, corporate
profits have soared, while labor share of that income has flat lined and
started to fall. Dorian, I know you`ve got a lot to say.
WARREN: So, Melissa, this is an example of an issue that for too long,
ideology has trumped actual empirical evidence. And we have study after
study now that shows that the -- especially the employment effects of the
raising a minimum wage just don`t pan out the way right-wing economics
would tell us it does. So, let me give you an example. San Francisco, we
might think of San Francisco as a good job zone, but the minimum wage
citywide is $ 11 an hour, when they raised it, everybody said the sky would
fall. In fact, San Francisco as far I can tell, is still alive and doing
WARREN: And in fact, with $11 an hour city minimum wage, roughly, the San
Francisco`s economy has grown faster that its neighboring cities and
counties. So it is just not true empirically, when you look at the
evidence. And the last thing I want to say about this is that Christine
Owens mentioned the minimum wage was passed in 1938.
WARREN: ... the other part of that minimum wage law was to end child
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WARREN: Exact same arguments -- or no, we can`t end child labor.
WARREN: If we end child labor, I`m going to go out of business. I`ll have
to raise costs. Exact same arguments throughout the last couple of hundred
years, and it`s just not true.
HARRIS-PERRY: But Katon, you -- or, go ahead, Ari.
MELBER: Well, I was just going to say, I am really glad Dorian said that,
and it`s so important, because we are on MHP one-year anniversary, so we
can have some real talk.
MELBER: The real talk is, no one is really against the minimum wage
anymore. They like to sound principled so the conservatives often position
the argument that way. We have raised the minimum wage 22 times since
MELBER: And as Dorian pointed out, we have minimums in our law and
precedent now. No one stands up and says we should have 11-year olds work.
MELBER: Also, sometimes we did--
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, as janitors, apparently.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, no actually -- Gingrich ...
MELBER: But to be clear ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Started it and weakening the child labor law. So.
MELBER: Well, no, and my point is that there is nothing to be done, but
that at the margins, yes, people say, well, 15 versus 16 or $6 versus $8,
but the bottom line is we need minimums, because otherwise, you live in a
society that has a basically a type of indentured servitude that denies
consent. And the thing about the child labor laws, that`s so important is,
that same reason we don`t want to force children to work, is the reason
that we don`t want no minimums, because yes, someone may have to work for
50 cents ...
MELBER: But the law doesn`t consider that a choice. So this is about our
values and I think Republicans have tried to find some sort of binary
opposition, because it is too difficult to say, you are just against a
little more money for the poorest people who are working, who have jobs.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, if we`ve got the empirical evidence including
the long historical and sort of ethical position that Ari is giving us
here, Katon, in the break you were saying, hey, look, I`ve got an
experience, I am a small business owner, and this, you know, this is not my
DAWSON: Well, there`s small business chaos out there right now anyway.
And I`m a kid who started to work at 14 years old shining shoes and working
at my father`s auto parts stores, so I understood the value of a dollar and
what minimum wage was, which was around $2 when I started working in my
working career. But with that being said, it`s one more time, the
government is going to try to make everything better. I agree that the
minimum wage -- the minimum wage -- is going to be a populist issue and
they are going to raise it to $9, but I remember what happened to me when I
ran a business for 34 years, which is my day job, my night job was
But I remember having to take a hard look at -- as I told you -- to how do
I increase my profits. How do I get better. It does make you get better
as a businessman, because they are going to survive. You`re right. They
will survive in San Francisco, they`re going to survive, but how much more
can the government continue to put these mandates or recommendations. What
this did is, that did throw fire on the Tea Party`s argument of the
Constitution of one more time the government is going to tell South
HARRIS-PERRY: I want Lawrence -- I don`t like --
DAWSON: That we can pile it on.
MISHEL: I want to put this in context.
MISHEL: Since the late 1960s, you know, minimum wage is around 15 percent
less than it was then. The productivity of the economy is around 100
percent greater. The workers who are at the low-wage end are far more
educated now than they were then. We have an economy that has not
benefited most people over the last three decades. What is really
important about the minimum wage to me is we need to start having standards
where employers are not competing against each other as to who can underpay
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MISHEL: Who can make, give, provide the least of the workers. So one
small employer may have some minimum wage workers. When they raise their
minimum wage, all the other small employers in the same industry are going
to have to pay their workers more. If one is hurt more than the other, it
is because they are competing based on having lower wages. We need to have
a labor standard, a wage floor. This is also -- I disagree with the
president somewhat on this, I don`t think it is -- I think of it like
Christine Owens does, not about a poverty thing, we want to help the low-
wage workers, there are -- it is an adult working women`s issue.
MISHEL: And those women live in families of all the way up through the
MISHEL: Now, the other thing I (INAUDIBLE) to tell on this is, as I have
been following this research over the last two decades it is going from
less of an adult woman`s issue, to also increasingly more of an adult male
issue, as men...
MISHEL: ... are increasingly low wage.
MISHEL: That`s not -- I don`t want it to be suffering for women, that`s not
good, but we`re talking about what is really going on with the economy.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is American families and American workers and not, by the
way, just teenagers, which is the other argument you will often hear about
the minimum wage. Thank you to Lawrence Mishel. Everyone else is going to
join us a little bit later. But up next, my open letter of the week is
marked with international postage, because it is going to Rome.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I`m sorry, I was just reading a wonderful book by
Melissa Harris-Perry "Where Brains and Beauty Meet Broadcasting."
Saturdays and Sundays on MSNBC. Congratulation, Melissa, and here`s to the
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world with his
announcement that on February 28th, he will become the first pontiff in
nearly 600 years to step down as leader of the Catholic Church. Pope
Benedict`s resignation coincides with the beginning of Lent, the 40-day
period of self-denial and repentance, during which Catholics reflect on the
life and teachings of Christ. The new pope will reportedly be in place no
later than the end of Lent, on eastern Sunday.
So, what`s fitting, that the conclave of cardinals tasked with choosing the
next pope will do so during this time of introspection for followers of the
faith. Therefore, my letter this week is to the cardinals, who will choose
the next pope.
Dear cardinals, it is me, Melissa. When my classes began in my seminary
studies at Chicago`s Catholic Theological Union, I was taught by a priest
from West Africa. I sat in class alongside a nun from Iraq, brothers from
a fraternal order in South America and Irish American lay women from the
north side of Chicago. It was there that I began to appreciate the global
reach and inclusiveness of the church. Despite our differences, we shared
a genuine engagement with Catholicism, not only as a faith, but also as an
agent for social change.
As you know, Catholicism reach extends beyond those of you who hold the
reins of power in Vatican city, and even beyond the church`s global body of
1.2 billion believers. As one of the world`s most enduring and influential
institutions, the Catholic Church also encompasses all of those around the
world who don`t identify with the Catholic faith, but have benefited from
the work of the church and the organizations it has created. And it`s best
-- the church has been an advocate for human rights and the dignity of the
most marginalized people, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless,
providing care for sick and disabled. Here in the United States, the
Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of health care,
human services and education. For low-income families and students of
color, Catholic schools have long been the only affordable alternative for
But cardinals, even as the church has been a channel for good, it has also
been a conduit for injustice around the world. The church`s doctrinal
intransigence and insistence on maintaining the image of the pope as
infallible has come at the expense of policies that recognize and address
realities in the modern world. Women in underdeveloped nations and war-
torn countries need access to contraception to address crushing poverty,
overpopulation and maternal death during childbirth.
And yet, in many of these nations, where the will of the church holds sway
over public policy, you and the Vatican have actively worked to undermine
any attempt at expanding a woman`s reproductive freedom, and not just in
the developing world, but here in the United States, your collective of
unmarried men seek to deny women, employed by Catholic institutions, the
contraceptive coverage that should be guaranteed to them by the Affordable
Care Act. Even if they themselves are not Catholic. And nowhere have your
policies been more devastating than in your complicity in the crimes
against children, committed by the priests who were not held accountable.
As you choose the next pope, you have an opportunity to set a more
inclusive table for world Catholicism, a table that includes a seat for
women who are called to the priesthood, a sit for those whose Catholic
faith is as indelible a part of who they are as their LGBT identities, a
seat for families who opt for birth control to avoid pregnancies or choose
abortion to end one, and most importantly, a sit for all the children who
deserve justice and action instead of a rhetoric or cover ups in response
to their suffering at the hands of abusive priests.
I am not here to dictate to you what Catholicism should teach its
followers, and although I`m not Catholic, my husband is and our family
attends mass every week. I kneel next to extraordinary men and women and
in solidarity with Catholics around the world who are seeking meaning and
justice, and I`m asking you to make a choice that acknowledges their
diverse and complicated lives and honors the best of the faith, that
animates their work. Sincerely, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Pope Benedict XVI will later this month not only become the
first pope to abdicate his post in almost 600 years, but he also retire
from public view. Even before we see the cloud of white smoke emerge from
the Sistine Chapel when a new pope is chosen, Pope Benedict will be, as he
said on Thursday, hidden to the world as he retires to a life of prayer.
And it`s all part of a plan, papal cloistering. He will go to live in his
summer home for a while, and then as the cloistered monastery in the
Vatican is renovated, he will then ultimately move there.
But while he retreats, we are asking what will the Catholic Church look
like going forward? Joining me now, are Father James Martin, Jesuit priest
and also editor-at-large of "America" magazine and author of "Together on
Retreat: Heeding Jesus in Prayer." Also, here with me, is Sister Camille
d`Arienzo, who is sister of mercy, former president of the leadership
conference of women religious rights and also a commentator for 1010 WINS
radio here in New York City.
Father James, I want to start with you, just so that we get a sense of what
becomes possible in this moment. How open is the group of, are the group
of cardinals to a different direction for the Catholic Church?
FATHER JAMES MARTIN, JESUIT PRIEST: Well, I think anything is possible
with the holy spirit. They are very open, but I think what we have to
remember is that all of the cardinals that are currently going to be
electing the next pope, all of the cardinals under 80 were chosen by either
Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict, and so you probably are not going to
see a lot of a change, you know, in a lot of the policies, but really once
the man becomes pope, anything is possible, he can do whatever he wants to
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, and there have been moments where we have seen popes
do pretty extraordinary things, obviously, Vatican II is the great example.
Are we at a moment where we could imagine a Vatican II moment, a Pope John
XXIII sort of moment?
SISTER CAMILLE D`ARIENZO, FMR. PRES. LEADERSHIP CONF. OF WOMEN RELIGIOUS:
Well, I think you let it to the cardinals with a little bit like the
lightning bolt that struck the ...
D`ARIENZO: ... the St. Peter`s Basilica dome a few hours after Pope
Benedict resigned. I think that anything is possible, but if we could
retreat to the essence of Pope John XXIII who initiated the Second Vatican
Council, which the last pope said, not been very happy with ...
D`ARIENZO: If we could go back to that spirit of collegiality, of going to
the people of God and inviting everyone at all levels to read the signs of
the times, which Jesus asked us to do in Matthew Gospel, to see the signs
of the times point to the needs of the people who are longing, longing to
know Jesus and to feel the loving merciful presence in their lives through
an understanding of the sufferings that they endure and the help they need.
HARRIS-PERRY: But this question of sufferings, I mean I want to talk after
we come back from the break, we`ll talk more about this, but this is a pope
who lives -- Benedict, really sort of two minds. On the one hand, really
incredible writings about inequality and poverty and even being to the left
of anybody in the U.S. on redistribution, but then on the other hand,
having this legacy of particularly child sex abuse.
MARTIN: Well, you know, interestingly, he is -- has been very progressive,
as you say, about income redistribution, he uses that word. In terms of
sex abuse, though, I would also say that he is the first pope that ever met
with victims of sex abuse. There is an article out today in the "National
Catholic Report", a very lefty paper that says that, actually, when he was
prefect of the congregation, the doctor of the faith, he was appalled by
this himself and tried to push it through.
I think part of it is, you know, as someone who is at the top, it`s hard to
affect change sort of on the bottom. I think that sex abuse, frankly, that
needs to be laid at the doorsteps of the bishops actually, more than --
more than the pope, so -- but certainly, he can set the tone and the next
pope can be just as strong, if not stronger, and I think he should be,
about the sex abuse and basically talking about it as much as he can, and
meeting with victims, too, and listening, I think that is the really
important thing for the next pope to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to talk a little bit more about the
possibilities of who the next pope will be -- I understand it`s a betting
game online, my goodness, of course, there is. Sister Camille and Father
Jim are going to stay with us. We`re going to talk more on this topic.
And add some more voices to the table.
More Nerdland at the top of the hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Melissa, you are one of the most brilliant people on
television today, I`m so proud that you are on MSNBC and fighting for
racial justice. I hope your show lasts for a long, long, time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back and continuing our conversation about the future
of the Catholic Church.
Joining me now are: Father James Martin, Jesuit priest and editor at large
at "American Magazine". Also with me here is Sister Camille D`Arienzo,
Sister of Mercy, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religion,
and commentator for 1010 WINS Radio here in New York. Also, Nancy Giles,
writer and contributor to CBS News "Sunday Morning" and MSNBC Ari Melber,
correspondent for "The Nation" magazine.
And so, we were joking at the break that if we`re going to talk about the
pope, we should get the black folks and the Jewish folks at the table to
have a conversation.
NANCY GILES, CBS NEWS: We know it.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, look, this is part of it, right? I mean, this is part
of the letter, because the Catholic Church is one thing for the believers.
But the fact is that the Catholic Church is a global institution that
impacts all of us that are in fact not part of the Catholic faith per se.
So does the church in some way take that into account as it begins to think
about its new directions?
MARTIN: Oh, completely. I mean, I think you need someone and the
cardinals know that you`re going to need someone who can speak to the
world, right, not just simply Catholics. And also, more importantly, speak
to Catholics in various other cultures. I mean, we tend in the West to
think of the Western problems. I mean, the center of the church is going
toward Africa and Latin America and Asia.
And so, in a sense, if we get, and I hope we do, get a pope from the
developing world, and I hope we do, a pope from the developing world, I
think that will a big step forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, on the one hand, I love that idea. Love the idea of an
African pope, except, the very things that I was asking for around some
tolerance of broader social issues, in fact, might be worse if we have --
in other words, we see more conservativism among particularly the
leadership of the African Catholic traditions.
MARTIN: Well, and yet more progressivism on some topics issues. Cardinal
Turkson from Ghana, who`s the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice
and Peace, is hugely strong on poverty and income redistribution, things
like that. So --
HARRIS-PERRY: Not so much on the LGBT.
MARTIN: Not so much on that, right.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s tough. And also birth control, which I know runs
against completely Catholic principles, I`m not a Catholic. So -- but I`m
thinking it would be a great thing if someone could at least sort of
introduce the idea that maybe women have a right to sort of control their
reproductive rights, and I don`t think that`s scandalous.
HARRIS-PERRY: Particularly for those who work for Catholic organizations,
but who themselves are not Catholic believers, right? So, talk to me,
Sister Camille, about the kind of changing role of women in the church. I
mean, there was a point when I was a little kid where it was only altar
boys, where you didn`t even have girls in the church as part of it. Where
are we going for women within the context of the Catholic Church?
D`ARIENZO: I fought for years for female altar service. It seems it was
never going to happen. I have been fighting for more than 40 years for
qualified un-ordained preachers, male and female, and I don`t see it
happening very quickly, but I do see it happening slowly.
But I think that perhaps we should go back to Jesus for a little
instruction on this. I`m thinking off a story of Marks` gospel where Jesus
was hurrying with a very powerful man by the name of Jairus to heal his
daughter and woman with a hemorrhage, who had no status at all said to
herself, if I would touch the hem of his garments, I would be healed. And
she succeeded in doing that and Jesus said stopped and said, who touched
Now, he could have gone on, but he gave this woman complete attention,
allowed her to speak for herself in a public place, and had Jairus, the
more important person, wait, and I think that this was a sign to us that to
Jesus, women and men are equals. It has nothing to do with status.
GILES: How did that get buried somehow? Why isn`t that story like right
at the top of the Catholic`s greatest hits? I want to know.
HARRIS-PERRY: And there`s another story, that I want to know, that I took
theology with, who was a Catholic sister at CTU, who tells a story of the
widow who is pleading with the unjust king. And she says that our problem
is that if we imagine that God is the unjust king with whom we are
constantly pleading, then we think that God is sort of a remove and regal
But what if God is the widow and God is in fact the pleading woman, and
just the ability to re-imagine the divine as in fact something that is
requiring not the power that we think of, you know, human power or world
power, but instead, the kind of power that might in fact come through women
and the provisions that women hold.
MELBER: Well, there is a linkage here because you said that you are not
Catholic and neither am I. I wanted to get that out there.
MELBER: But there is a connection here when you look at the Scripture, and
you look at the Talmud, which Jews study, and you look at the Constitution,
which is a beautiful document with amazing values, but imperfect one many
people feel. And part of the struggle I think of any pope or any religious
leader to stay true to those values that we believe are eternal, that are
fundamental, but also try to give leadership and thought and interpretation
in a modern and changing world.
And I think the area of equal rights for women, for people who have
different sexual orientation is a fundamental struggle for many religions,
I can say Catholicism and Judaism included.
I am reminded of another story which is the myth of the owl of Minerva that
flies at dusk to warn you to go home, but people say, always flies to late
to help anyone who`s actually lost in the forest.
And the question for this pope, really, and it`s a fundamental one, has he
been the owl of Minerva? Has he been through warning us, or trying to deal
with problems that are so rooted in this history and frankly in some
crimes, that he was ultimately able to conquer to the satisfaction of many
people, and yet he has done something that -- and I have myself many issues
with this pope -- but he has done something very important that he is a
sort of modern George Washington here, that he has stepped back, I think,
as someone who has worked in politics and watched a lot of people who never
know when to say when and have no humility, but that to me strikes me as a
fundamentally humble act.
MARTIN: Yes, and it shows a lot of spiritual freedom, too, and rare is the
person who will relinquish power voluntarily these days. So, I think it`s
interesting, you know, Jesus points to this both backwards and forward.
And, you know, as sister was saying, Jesus is always going out to the
marginalized, right, and if Jesus were here today --
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Here we go.
MELBER: Father, that is a great way to start a sentence on television, and
works for me every time.
MARTIN: And to whom would he be going? He would be going to the people on
the margins. He was going to the poor. He would be going to the women.
He would be going to gays and the lesbians. He would be going to people
who feel distant from the church. He would be going to sex abuse victims,
So, the church is called to, kind of a sense, return to these roots, but
also look at these roots and see how can they can impel us forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: Father James Martin, I so appreciate that you took us to the
space that is what would Jesus do? It`s a great wristband and a great
Thank you, Sister Camille.
And the rest are back for more as the show continues.
Up next, my one-on-one interview with senior White House adviser Valerie
Jarrett on the president`s newfound passion and we`re not in fact going to
talk what about Jesus would do. But you know, that happens.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hey, Melissa, it`s your old buddy Thomas.
Congratulations on one year here at MSNBC. And I tell you, Nerdland is the
best. It`s the best set because you`ve made it like a Tiffany`s box. Much
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yesterday, President Obama went home to Chicago where he
visited the city`s Hyde Park Academy to speak about gun violence. The
president`s trip came just days after First Lady Michelle Obama`s own stop
in Chicago to attend the funeral of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton who was
shot and killed only a week after performing for the president`s
But alongside President Obama`s words about gun violence which have made
frequent appearances in his speeches since the shooting in Newtown, we also
heard him talk about another subject, and it`s a topic but until recently
had been conspicuously absent from most presidential rhetoric.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, a family with kids
that works hard and relies on a minimum wage salary still lives below the
poverty line. That`s wrong and we should fix it. Cities like Chicago are
ringed with former factory towns that never came back all the way from
plants packing up. There are pockets of poverty where young adults are
still looking for the first job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, the president said the "p" word, poverty. It appeared
multiple times in the President Obama`s talk in Chicago. And of late, the
president has been preoccupied with poverty than we have seen him in the
past. In fact, we took a look at all of the State of the Union addresses
of the first term, and from the inauguration speech and this week`s State
of the Union, he has mentioned poverty more in the last four weeks than he
had in the last four years.
In my sit-down with White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, I asked her
about this new item on President Obama`s agenda.
JARRETT: Well, the president has always been concerned with the poor, and
it began when he was a community worker on the South Side of Chicago,
working with the people who lost their jobs when the steel mills closed.
So, this is something that he`s cared about. And his message I think
throughout his time in politics has been making sure that we are inclusive,
that this is a land of opportunity and equality. And he`s always fought
for those ladders of opportunity.
And now, in the State of the Union, he really unveiled a new program to be
starting to target 20 different high poverty communities around the
country, and really focusing in a holistic way in how we can provide the
residents of the community into ladders of the middle-class. He`s always
talked about growing the middle-class from the inside out. So that means
growing it from the bottom-up, not the top-down.
HARRIS-PERRY: And he has, and yet, when we looked just -- we did a little
word count of the State of the Union addresses, and this was the most clear
discourse of poverty, itself. So not just saying the middle-class or the
working class, but clearly targeting the issue of the poor and particularly
the working poor and laying out a policy proposal. Is there something --
is it because something has actually shifted for the president in the
JARRETT: No, it`s a natural progression. If you think about what he
inherited when he took office, the banks around the country were on the
brink of collapse, the stock market was in a freefall, we had an economic
crisis in the United States that`s really rippling around the world, and he
had to come in and take immediate steps. Many of those steps helped people
who are out of work, extending unemployment insurance, the earned income
tax credit -- very important for the working poor -- and the child tax
credit, the college affordability tax credit, so that people of modest
means could send their children to college.
And so, I think he has always had those fundamentals as a part of his
overall approach of widening opportunity for all Americans. And I think
what you saw really in this speech in terms of the content was focusing on
this program about this opportunity.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there something that we should know about President Obama
and his second term, about how he`s approaching this second term that will
help those of us who are presidential watchers?
JARRETT: Yes. Well, I`ll tell you, people have asked a lot in terms of
has he changed over the last four years and I think the first lady said it
best in her convention speech, which is that the presidency has not changed
him, it`s revealed him. I think that that`s true, and I think that with
four years, he`s had a lot of experience and just as any of us when you
take on a new job, you know more after four years than when you do when you
And so, I sense a degree of confidence and clarity in the second term. I
think it`s a natural progression of having been through with the American
people four really tough years. But at the end of that, we have generated
6 million jobs in the last 35 months, the automobile industry is back and
he bet on them. A lot of people said don`t do that. We have ended the war
in Iraq. We are winding down the war in Afghanistan.
He`s accomplished a great deal of passing the Affordable Care Act, to make
sure that all Americans have access to affordable health care.
So, I think his confidence that the vision is clear, the election has been
a very clear choice that the American people had for his vision, which is
middle-class-out approach as opposed top-down one. And so, I think with
the American people behind him not once but twice, I think it gives him the
confidence to push what he has heard from them that he wants. And that`s
what he`s going to do.
And he is going to encourage Congress as he did in the State of the Union,
to really keep focused on how we grow our economy, create those jobs,
provide those opportunities here at home and engaging the American people
in that process is something he`s said that he`s going to do a lot more in
the second term. And with their wind at his back, I think he can still do
very big things. We can all do big things.
HARRIS-PERRY: Still with me, Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest.
Joining us are Dorian Warren, associate professor of political science and
international and public affairs at Columbia University, Nancy Giles,
writer and commentator and, of course, Katon Dawson, national Republican
So, Valerie Jarrett said to me, oh, it`s not new. The president has always
been concerned with poverty and it may be true that he has always been
concerned, but this is new discourse. This is new language from the
WARREN: This is clearly a second term agenda item. You didn`t hear
poverty in the first term that much at all. So, I am very pleased.
And your show in particularly has talked about poverty for a year now as an
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. It is.
WARREN: So, it`s welcomed news. And just to provide a little context
without going into the wonky social science --
WARREN: -- it used to be the case that America was the land of the
opportunity, the American Dream, that if you were born poor, you had an
opportunity to make it into the middle class, or even become rich. And we
had all these data to support that.
Now, that is no longer the case.
WARREN: In fact, all the recent data, including the study from the Federal
Reserve shows that after Great Britain, we are the least mobile society
right now, meaning you are much more likely to be in the same socioeconomic
status as your parents --
HARRIS-PERRY: Or even to drop back.
WARREN: Or to drop back, that it was the case 30 or 40 years ago.
HARRIS-PERRY: And when we look at this, I mean, we`ve got nearly 50
million, 49.7 million Americans living in poverty.
And on this point about social mobility, 16 million of them are children,
16 million children are living below the poverty line. And if they are not
mobile, if they are not capable of moving, and also just by race, we are
talking about more than one-third of both African-American and Latino
children living below the poverty line, in a country that is becoming more
African-American and more Latino, more diverse.
Listen, I see in this moment, something new, but I am wondering if there is
any possibility of bipartisanship to address poverty?
GILES: I -- you know what? I don`t know, because listening to the State
of the Union address, trying to be as impartial as I should be --
HARRIS-PERRY: I read your Twitter feed, Nancy. Come on.
GILES: I know.
Look, the proposals that he was talking about were just plain logical. I
mean, we are talking about the income disparity that`s getting worse and
worse. If you invest in education, if you invest in Head Start and all of
that, if you invest in health care and I think that if the health care and
the Affordable Care Act and getting the piecemeal bits through that he got
through, but with the affordable healthcare, that ripples through poverty,
that ripples through people`s opportunity.
I was just really disheartened to see in some logical cases, Republicans
just sitting on their hands or watching John Boehner make those faces about
like he had angina or something. I don`t understand. It`s logic.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels to me, Father Jim, on one hand, it maybe logic,
but there`s also an ethical call here, right? We were talking about the
position of the Catholic Church which in many ways ends up aligning a way
with conservative positions. But on this one, right, the Catholic Church,
as a world church, has been to the left of much of the American political
Is there a way that we might begin to imagine faith-based institutions as
leading and helping to build the bipartisan coalition would look like?
MARTIN: I would certainly hope so, because as you pointed out, the pope is
actually to the left of most politicians, talking about income
redistribution, which is anathema, you know, to a lot of politicians. And
the Catholic Church, you know, based on the teachings of Jesus has always
been sort of in the forefront of working with the poor.
And I would hope that the religious discourse in this country could move
away from of the neuralgic issues. All we talk about it seems is same sex
marriage and things like that, into something like that poor, you know?
And I was delighted the way the president talked about it because I`m no
politician, but in I notice during the campaign, it was all middle-class,
middle-class and middle-class, you know?
MARTIN: I think it`s wonderful that we`re looking at the least among us,
you know, the people who really need help. So, it is a huge ethical issue
for Christians and I think for anyone of, you know, with a moral
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, I want to ask Katon Dawson if he has any
moral consciousness. No, no, I`m just kidding. But when we come back,
Katon, I want to come directly to you because I also think that this --
that the president doesn`t do anything that`s not politically strategic.
So, I also think that he must think there`s an important strategy that
Republicans should think about.
So, up next, how we notice that the president`s newfound passion for the
"P" word is impacting his politics.
But before we go, a quick shout-out to Nerdland Greg Kaufmann, who, of
course, writes the column "This Week in Poverty" for "The Nation" magazine.
He and his wife are celebrating the birth of their third child Gracie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Tonight, let`s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no
one who works full time should have to live in poverty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama making one of four references to
poverty in the State of the Union this week. It with was, as we mentioned
earlier, as many times as he used the word poverty as in all of his first-
term State of the Union addresses combined.
So, Katon, this president is whatever else he is -- he is strategic, he is
political, he understands the -- he is pragmatic. So, why does he think
that talking poverty is good political strategy right now?
DAWSON: Because he doesn`t have to be re-elected. I mean, he presided
over the first term of shrinking economy and high unemployment. He -- it
was a base election. He is a marvelous politician, obviously. But he is
also residing over 47 million people on food stamps and a lot of the
things, whether he created them or not, he has the luxury now, having been
re-elected, to talk about things that matter to the base that elected him.
And it matters.
So, no question that we have a shrinking economy, we have a higher
unemployment on the first term, we had policies that led to that that
didn`t solve it, we had stimulus that some people say did not work, but he
can now and he has a rhetorical edge, he has the advantage and the power of
the White House. And now, what he`s done is he`s laid the marker down, he
got to do something about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to thread the needle, because on the one hand, I
had Valerie Jarrett saying to me --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- this is a deep, ethical commitment on the part of the
president, which, sure, and hear you saying, OK, now, he does not have to
be re-elect, so he got sort of freedom to do it.
OK, sure. But in the center, I think there`s also the possibility that
this president, even though he doesn`t have to get reelected himself has to
lead his party in good stead, and sees that, in fact, there is room to
build the party, particularly potentially among white Americans by talking
about economic inequality and poverty.
WARREN: I think it`s not only among white Americans. I actually think
it`s among Latinos as well.
WARREN: And I think he is laying a trap for the Republican Party here.
So, the Republican Party right now thinks if we -- if we do something on
immigration, we have the opportunity to get those Latino voters. Guess
what Latinos care about when you look at public opinion polls.
HARRIS-PERRY: The economy.
WARREN: Education, the economy, after immigration, right? They care a lot
about those issues.
So, he doing is laying a trap for the party. The Republican Party --
GILES: They`re going to look like they`re just anti-everything, and anti-
the Latino community.
But I also think -- I don`t think it`s just the base. I agree with Dorian
and I want to expand them. I really think when you look at it between the
Occupy Wall Street and other political economic movements that have come
up, I think that most people think that income fairness is fair, and it`s
moral and that people should be able to make a living wage and have the
union protections or have health care. I really do.
WARREN: Just on that point, there is one word, if the president wants to
solve poverty, there is another word he has to say, and that`s what you
just said -- unions.
WARREN: Unions are the best anti-poverty programs in the country.
GILES: That`s true.
WARREN: And he will at some point have to say something about the labor
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, it`s a lot like the Catholic Church, right? Even if
you are not a member of the union, you are impacted by unions. So, if
you`re not a Catholic, you are impacted by the choices made by the Catholic
Even if you`re not a union member, wages rise in more unionized cities.
DAWSON: Let me tell you the inside thing is here, the president in the
first term went to data mining right after he was elected and we didn`t pay
attention. Let me tell you what he`s done now, and warn the Republican
Party and my friends there. The president hasn`t closed his offices. His
offices are open.
So when you hear the messages now, his social media -- and this is the
brilliance of his side -- his social media and he has found a way to fund
them, and those organizations are out there, and he`s not going to let the
2014 midterm slip by. This is all calculated all down. You`re right. It
is bigger than the base.
Do I think he`s right or wrong? That will be argued out over the next
couple of sessions, but I`m telling you, from my Republican friends, there
is an organization out there that did not quit. They have not stopped, and
he`s going to be going to battle in the midterms and talking about these
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. OFA is now a 501(c)3 organization.
DAWSON: It is.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is perhaps the first time in 30 years that we`re seeing
Democrats begin to organize in the way the Republicans have from the
ground-up. And I love this point about the Latino voters. Again,
interestingly enough, Latinos are also the larger, growing Catholic
If you end -- think about all of these things coming together, if you end
up with a pope who was talking about income inequality and poverty as a
fundamental ethical question and you have a president who is doing the same
thing in the U.S. around public policy, and you have a growing population
of voters who are in both of those, I mean, woe is to the Republican Party,
gerrymandering or not.
MARTIN: But also, I think we need to give him the benefit of the doubt,
basically. I mean, here`s someone who clearly has said I want to take care
of the poor, you know? I really don`t think it`s an issue just for the
base or for the poor. I think even the very wealthiest Americans should be
concerned about people who are on the streets and poor.
I don`t know anyone -- I mean, how could you have a conscience and not care
about that? So, I think this is an issue for all Americans of all ages and
of all sort of wealth levels.
HARRIS-PERRY: You leave 16 million children in poverty out of the ladder,
out of it, and the impact -- remember, he was standing in Chicago when he`s
talking about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, he`s talking about this poverty question in part around
gun violence, right? He`s saying that economic opportunity is part of what
keeps us safe in a community.
DAWSON: Question, what did the president do for the education in the first
term? What`s the quickest thing to --
HARRIS-PERRY: Race to the Top.
DAWSON: How successful has it been?
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, so I have angst with Race to the Top --
DAWSON: I know you do.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- and No Child Left Behind and we are waiting to have the
education conversation thing. But I think he has done as much as any
president. And, in fact, I would argue that it`s interesting for
Republicans to ask that question because Republicans have always been
against federal intervention in education which they`ve seen as a kind of
But that said, you guys are fun.
Thank you to Father Jim Martin and also to Katon Dawson. The other two are
And up next, what I do for fun on the road in Memphis, Tennessee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC ANCHOR: It has become clear to me in the last few
months that Melissa Harris-Perry is not actually a human being, but is some
kind of cyborg or bionic woman, which is the only explanation for how she`s
able to do all the things she`s able to do and to do them well.
So, I will say congratulations to the staff, the human staff of the MELISSA
HARRIS-PERRY show. And sort of residual congratulations to the people that
invented the cyborg that is Melissa Harris-Perry.
HARRIS-PERRY: The men of the civil rights movement tend to dominate our
historical narrative of the movement for racial equality in this country,
men like the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. captured the camera`s a
attention out in front at demonstrations and boycotts. But just as sure as
there was a civil rights movement, there were women who made it possible.
And, recently, I had the chance to visit the Freedom Sisters exhibit at the
National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to start with a little bit of a discussion here about
Ms. Myrlie Evers-Williams. And I want to start with her because she was
recently I guest on the show, and she was bringing so much knowledge and
information. Why the decision to include her.
BARBARA ANDREWS, NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM: You know, one of reasons
Myrlie-Evers Williams that she was included here is because it`s so
important to tell young people especially that you, too, can lead. You,
too, can be as for of change. You know, it doesn`t have to be somebody
from centuries ago, who`s no longer here. There`s still a lot of work to
HARRIS-PERRY: To walk in this space, I had to walk past the motel --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- where Dr. King stood and was assassinated. I just -- I
had to stop and step back a little bit because it just impacts you.
HARRIS-PERRY: When that assassin took Dr. King, he also created Coretta
Scott King in many ways. Is that part of the story of this women civil
rights movement? Is that part of how some of them come to us?
ANDREWS: I think so. I absolutely think so that history sort of thrust
them into the limelight even when they have traditionally been in roles of
mother, and they`ve been, of course, known in the African-American
community. But it thrust them onto the world stage.
HARRIS-PERRY: You can`t pick favorites among civil rights activists. It`s
sort of ridiculous. But if I had to pick a favorite, it is undoubtedly Ida
B. Wells. And, you know, I think it`s probably because she was a
journalist and she was a social scientist, right? She believed that you
could use data and evidence to organize.
And also, she was kind of fancy. I mean, she used to -- you know, she
would buy beautiful clothes and sometimes spend the whole budget on a nice
bag and forget to -- I mean, I just -- I love her for the humanity of who
ANDREWS: And at such an early age, she has to take on so much
ANDREWS: And that makes you want to respect her even more. At age 16, to
have four or more siblings to be responsible for, you know, and she raised
them and she stayed focus, you know, about her work on behalf of the race.
HARRIS-PERRY: Baker was a part of every single civil rights movement of
her entire -- there is no part of it that she doesn`t, at some point,
engage and has been part of.
ANDREWS: Absolutely. And the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and
Martin Luther King recognized her skills and ability. She is one of the
few women who is part of that organization, helped to lead that
organization and really was instrumental in introducing young people to
SCLC, and SCLC to them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, I want to talk about the jelly bean jar, because we
have -- we`ve actually done work with the jelly beans on my show in a
couple of ways. I said, there is something funny about me for counting
jelly beans, because jelly bean jars were part of how people were
disenfranchised in the South.
So, when young people, when the school kids come and they see these jelly
beans, what do think this is about and what do you teach them about it?
ANDREWS: You know, young people are not sure what this is about, and so,
we`re really glad that we have this interactive here to learn what it`s all
about, because the idea that a person would have to guess how many beans
are in a jar, which is what this is all about. And this is a kind of thing
that black voters or those who wanted to vote were confronted with when
they went to registrar`s office.
HARRIS-PERRY: Where does this go see it, touch it, fill it museum fit in
the world for those iPads and e-mail and digital information. Why do I
need to come and stand in Memphis? Why can`t you just send me an email
with an Ella Baker picture?
ANDREWS: African-American museums in particular are really important to
understand the story behind grandma`s quilt you know, to understand the
story behind the, you know, the cast iron pot, you know? That when you
look at grand dad`s ticket stub or his pay stub, you understand what they
did with nothing, and then it helps you to appreciate more where you are.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, we are going back even further. Do you
know who Essie was? You`re going to want to know and you`ll find out why,
HARRIS-PERRY: Throughout Black History Month here on MHP, we have been
highlighting figures crucial in the long fight for racial equality, whose
stories are either unknown or misunderstood.
Perhaps you know the name Paul Robeson, the renown black singer, actor,
athlete, and activist. In the 1940s, Robson was a champion of working
people using his celebrity to speak out against racism and in support of
But today, we are focused on another Robeson and not Paul, but Essie.
Eslanda Cardoza Goode Robeson was a prolific author, activist, and
intellectual in her own right before going on to pursue a PhD in
anthropology. She was the first African-American woman chemist to work in
Columbia University`s Presbyterian Hospital.
Born in 1895, the year before Plessy v. Ferguson made segregation the law
of the land and, dying in 1965, the year of the Voting Rights Act, Essie
was a vital part of Black American movement for equality.
And her commitment didn`t end at the water`s edge. Essie Robeson was a
crucial actor in anti-colonial movements throughout the world. The
marriage between Essie and Paul was complicated, but it was sustained by
their shared devotion to justice.
Joining my panel to tell us all things Essie is Dr. Barbara Ransby,
professor of history and African-American studies at the University of
Illinois-Chicago and author of the new book "Eslanda: The Large and
Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson."
I am so excited to have you here.
BARBARA RANSBY, AUTHOR, "ESLANDA": I`m excited to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I have spent nothing but hours and hours with Essie over
the course of the past few days. What do we need to know about this woman?
RANSBY: Well, she lived an amazing life. I mean, in some ways, she was a
biographer`s dream and maybe a filmmaker`s dream, and that she lived a
large life, a large personal life, large professional life, large political
life. She traveled to 40 countries on five continents, you know, of
course, at a time when black women`s lives were very circumscribed.
RANSBY: So, you know, she traveled to China few months after Mao`s
RANSBY: She went to the front lines of the Spanish civil war, along side
Paul, to take a stand against fascism. And she took her young son to Sub-
Saharan Africa in 1936. And I think for those of us who jet around from
place to place today, we forget how arduous and dangerous and uncertain
that kind of journey was.
HARRIS-PERRY: She was on a ship with her son, right?
RANSBY: She was on a ship with her son. She was on tiny planes skipping
across the African continent with her son. So, she lived a very bold and
brazened life, but also a life of principle.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, this notion of principle. Part of what was
fascinating to me, as I was reading it, is that she has on the one hand
enormous privilege, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: At least relative privilege as an African-American woman in
this moment, and yet continues to feel that that privilege should always be
put to work, particularly for the black diaspora.
Well, you know, it leaves into your -- from your earlier segment talking
about the P-word and poverty, right? Because, you know, here was someone
who was a wife of an international celebrity.
RANSBY: They had a beautiful home in Connecticut at one point. They
travelled around the world. But she leveraged that privilege and the
celebrity to speak out against injustice in the world, particularly
colonialism, because she became a U.N. correspondent, she wrote and
lectured widely and she was -- you know, she was pretty uncompromising in
what she would say, and unfortunately paid a price for it in the McCarthy
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, she was uncompromising in her politics, but quite
complicated in her relationship with Robeson himself, with Paul Robeson.
Talk to me about how she navigates that marriage in context of her
RANSBY: Right. Well, they had an open marriage after the mid-1930s. At
that time, it was both unusual but not unique. There were other people who
are certainly in the arts had those kinds of relationships and
arrangements. It was a 44-year partnership, not without difficulties.
But I think what began as a passionate love story evolved into a collegial
relationship, a commitment to one another into a set of ideas and values
and a certain kind of comradeship. It was very deep and very profound and
I think a very genuine relationship. But like you say, it was complicated.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, only exactly that, I want to pull out a little bit to
the rest of the panel, because as I was reading, and as I was at the
Memphis Civil Rights Museum, I was reminded how frequently we get women
into the public realm in part through their partnerships and the
relationships of powerful men.
I was thinking about Hillary Clinton who obviously comes to the national
public stage through her role as first lady. I was thinking of the Myrlie
Evers who we had on the show, who came to us initially as the widow of
Is this kind of the pathway where women come to power, to prominence, to
GILES: Well, I think what`s really is that the women who had those
opportunities seized them and really used those opportunities. And I was
thinking of Eleanor Roosevelt.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, right.
GILES: Just when you were speaking about Paul and Essie`s relationship, I
thought, that sounds how theirs evolved into this kind of collegial but
very respectful relationship, and Eleanor used that privilege and really
did try to open up pathways, which I think is pretty great to use that
opportunity and make it into something good.
MELBER: I have a question, because as you were describing this, I was
thinking about there is this rich tradition in American life of certain
black celebrities and leaders really becoming these political voices, not
only on, quote-unquote, "black or civil rights issues", but broader issues.
And Muhammad Ali took a great risk to his career. He was not a brand. He
was not maximizing the profit yield --
MELBER: -- of his image. He was, as you just described with the Robesons,
kind of taking that to do something broader in politics. In nowadays, when
you look at, say, just to pick one, Beyonce, who is just at the Super Bowl
and has her HBO show this week.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just to pick one.
MELBER: That I love, just to pick one that I`m obsessed with. But I think
it`s fair to say that Jay and Beyonce have stayed in a very safe and
mainstream Democratic Party politics role and while they could do
tremendously more if they wanted to take up other issues, they haven`t,
partly because they are a brand. If you`re going to be on a Pepsi can,
you`re not going to be third party, you`re not going to be necessarily,
deeply anti-war. So, am I overdoing that or is that a change we`ve seen?
RANSBY: Well, I had not thought of Essie in the same category as Beyonce -
RANSBY: She was absolutely fierce and gorgeous. But the comparison might
Well, two things I`m reminded of when we talk about the Roosevelts and when
you talk about sort of contemporary folks. I mean, the Robesons, they were
insiders in the certain sense, in arts communities, but then they very much
became outsiders because of their internationalist and progressive and left
wing politics -- and in a sense got blacklisted in terms of history and
Paul literally got blacklisted in terms of his career.
So they had to be a united front from the margins and from the outside, you
know, starting in the McCarthy era. But this question of internationalism
and black celebrities on the international stage, I mean, Eslanda Robeson
left the United States in 1929 with Paul. She returned and they lived in
London for 11 years. She returned in 1939.
She left as an American Negro. She came back as an internationalist, as a
world citizen, as a part of a black diaspora, and third world community,
which was very important at that time.
She knew four heads of states, you know, from Nehru, to Kwame Nkrumah,
Cheddi Jagan of Guyana, to Jomo Kenyatta, who have been a classmate of
hers. So, there`s very, very large sense of herself and her identity as a
black woman, I think, was very much shaped by that global experience.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that line (ph), Barbara. I`m going to borrow that.
She left as an American Negro, but she came back as an international
HARRIS-PERRY: Really lovely.
More in just a moment. But, first, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS
WITH ALEX WITT."
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hello to you, Melissa. Let`s get to it everyone.
A new reported threat from North Korea today. I will talk to Bill
Richardson who visited that country just weeks ago. So, what did he learn
and what did he think they would test with regard to a nuclear weapon.
A new twist today in that cruise ship nightmare. What you might expect
from its aftermath has already happened.
You will hear from the uncle of South African Olympic runner Oscar
Pistorius. He talks about what his nephew was saying about the murder of
his girlfriend. This is all new.
And in office politics, Jonathan Alter talks about how President Obama is
fulfilling his promise in a bigger way than most people give him credit
for. It`s a good interview.
Melissa, back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Alex. I greatly appreciate it.
After the break, we`re going to talk about a 101-year-old who is running
four hours a day. Our foot soldier of the week is the Turbaned Tornado and
HARRIS-PERRY: Usually, when we call someone a foot soldier, we`re speaking
metaphorically -- you know, about those in the trenches, fighting for
justice and equality. But occasionally, a more literal interpretation also
applies. And that is the case this week.
Our foot soldier is a man believed to be the world`s oldest marathon
runner. At the age of 101, Fauja Singh is set to hang up his running shoes
at the end of the month. The man known as the "Turbaned Tornado" began
running marathons at the tender age of 89, as a way to cope with his grief
over the death of his wife and his eldest child.
In 2011, he became the oldest runner to finish a marathon when he crossed
the finish line at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon six hours behind the
winner. He`s run at least eight marathons and along the way, set numerous
records for his age group. He`s starred in an Adidas ad campaign, carried
the Olympic torch and raised thousands of dollars for charity.
But just last month, he ran what maybe the most significant race of his
life, participating in a mini-marathon in India to raise awareness about
women`s rights in the wake of a fatal rape in India that sent shockwaves
around the world. Singh was inspired to participate in the race because of
the women in his life. He said, "I am pained to listen that my daughters
and granddaughters and great granddaughters are no longer safe."
While some have called for the death penalty for those arrested in the
case, Singh`s race focused on the future, calling instead for social
change. Singh`s last marathon will be on February 24th, just five weeks
shy of his 102nd birthday.
But he`s not giving up his beloved sport entirely. Singh calls running his
life and says he will continue to run at least four hours a day to inspire
So for inspiring us with every step and for proving that endurance knows no
age limit and that the race for justice is never over, we choose Fauja
Singh as our foot soldier.
Now, I may not be running when I`m 101, but I do hope to follow Singh`s
example next month. I`m going to be running the D.C. half marathon as part
of the Human Rights Campaign`s Athletes for Equality Team. And I`m going
to be telling you more about my running adventures in the next month.
As Singh reminds us, when you step out for equality, we all win.
And that is our show for today.
Thank you to Barbara Ransby, Dorian Warren, Ari Melber and Nancy Giles.
Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you tomorrow morning,
10:00 a.m. Eastern for the one-year anniversary celebration of Nerdland
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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