'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, March 31st, 2013
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
March 31, 2013
Guests: Greg Kaufmann, Dan Dicker, Stephen Lerner, Kayla Williams, Aaron Glantz, Anthea Butler, Christiana Peppard, Dan Ain, Katha Pollitt, Chanel Martin, Candace Mitchell
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question., how do we
live our ethical commitments.
Plus, we revisit the topic of black hair.
And America`s veterans are coming home to face new battles.
But first, a reality check about welfare.
Good morning and Happy Easter. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Now, you have probably heard the news that our country is facing an
existential threat to national security. You might be thinking that I`m
talking about the saber rattling out of North Korea, but in fact I`m
referring to the so-called welfare queen.
Yes, that welfare queen made infamous by Ronald Reagan who focused our
national attention on the waste, fraud and abuse at our federal and state
welfare agencies were engaged in. Letting those Cadillac driving single
mothers of this country collect Medicaid, food stamps and welfare under
dozens of different names and Social Security cards. Heck, these ladies
were racking in over $150,000 tax-free a year from the government or so we
That early mean, helped Ronald Reagan capture the Republican presidential
nomination and eventually the White House. And it remains with us today as
part of our popular lure and whether it be in the form of grumbling about
takers or that pesky 47 percent.
But, while the IRS was hunting in the back allies of the south side of
Chicago in the south Bronx for the welfare fraudsters, they sanctified a
multitude of institutionally incentivized national corporation takers. The
direct handouts are exponential.
A recent New York times investigation found that each year our states,
counties and states are handing out over $80 billion to companies in the
forms of incentives, incentives like cash grants, some loans, sales tax
breaks, income tax credits and exemptions, free services and property tax
abatement. And those incentives are going to every corner of the corporate
world and are pouring out of local budgets across the country.
Just last year, South Carolina took on $218 million in debt to help the
multinational aerospace and defense corporation, Boeing, expand its
operations there, offering tax breaks to the lucrative company for ten
years. In return for incentives like that, states have promised jobs and
But the results barely match the value of the awards. In fact, most
municipalities don`t even track how many jobs are created. All too often,
these free flowing incentives benefit only those corporate recipients while
pitting local officials against one another.
OK, take Kansas where $36 million award last year helped to woo AMC
entertainment across the border from Missouri. That switch only produced a
longer commute for its workers and $104 million cut in Kansas state
education budget. Some corporations don`t even have to give a little to
get a whole lot.
In 2009, just a month after General Motors was bailed out with $50 billion
in federal funds, the state of Michigan handed GM nearly an additional
billion dollars in tax credit. The credits can be used to offset the
company`s state tax bills up to 20 years. And GM still closed seven plants
in Michigan along with 50 properties and towns and states that forked over
incentives adding up to billions of dollars in taxpayer money. All the
while, the hometown of gm has been buried in debt.
Banks, including bank of America, UBS, JPMorgan chase, issued about $3.7
million in bonds to cover the deficits, shortfalls and debt payments since
2005, costing the cities $474 million in the process. That`s nearly the
entire budget for the city`s police and fire departments this year. This
isn`t even unique to Detroit.
Even as our local government record shortfalls, servicing debt and
declining revenue basis, many companies are still recouping those handouts.
And yes, we are facing an internal national threat from greedy welfare
queen. The corporate welfare queen who are hollowing out our cities and
leaving all of us poor.
With me today is Anthea Butler, professor of religious studies at the
University of Pennsylvania. Labor organizer, Stephen Lerner and -- with
the Wall Street accountability campaign and justice for janitors. Dan
Dicker, president of -- and senior contributor at thestreet.com and of
course, Greg Kaufman, contributor to the Nation" magazine. He writes this
week in poverty as a column.
I want to start with you, Stephen. Based on what I have just said, are the
incentives for luring businesses to in a municipality worth the cause?
STEPHEN LERNER, LABOR AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: Well, the answer is obvious
on what you sad. It`s no. But, the way to think about this is a giant
extortion racket which is the richest and most powerful companies have this
hold over our heads, which is jobs. And they say to some poor mayor, we`re
going to give you jobs if you just give us a break. Target just did it up
in Brooklyn, Minnesota. They said we are going to create all these jobs if
you give us $2.4 million in cash and $20 million in abatement. And then ,
they don`t get it. And then they say well, if you try to get your money
back, we will move the future off we have here. So, I think, we have to
think about it as part of the massive wealth redistribution machine.
Redistributing from us to the folks who already have too much money and too
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And this is, you know, Dan, I always feel like, OK,
I think we need a robust private sector. I do think it`s important to
generate jobs shall the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people was
in partly encapsulated out ability to make profit from our labor and to
imitate new ideas and to build businesses and sure. But then I look at
this and I think, wait a minute, her is Detroit going bankrupt and it`s
going bankrupt in part to pay back corporations whose profits are higher
than they`ve been since 1950.
DAN DICKER, PRESIDENT, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, THESTREET.COM: Right. Peter
thinks about it, I think, in the right way. The redistribution is really
the way to think about it. And I think your timing of taking on the
subject is very important considering we can see the effects of the
programs, the policy choices, as you put it, five years after all of the
bailouts took place. So, we kind of see, for example, an enormous amount
of money, the tarp, on the federal level. You are talking about the state
level. Bad enough.
The federal level just dwarves what`s gone on at the state level, 740-odd
billion dollars promised, 300 and $245 billion to the banks given out, $50
billion for General Motors, AIG $70 billion, all of this money has gone in.
And in fact, that kind of corporate welfare, now we see the results of that
five years down the road and the results of that have been, as you said,
corporate profits that are off the charts.
CEO payouts that are as high as they`ve ever been in the past. I read an
article the other day about three CEOs breaking now breaking the $100
million a year barrier. And obviously, what`s happening is that
stockholders and particularly the executive group inside major corporations
are the ones who have made out so well. You see that in the stock market.
DICKER: -- which is making new highs every day. I mean, all-time new
highs while in fact unemployment is still awfully high. People underneath
are in a terrible state of affairs and the money that`s been delivered to
regular people has been barely touched.
I was reading about, for example, the FHA streamline program designed, the
president put it into his state of the union in 2010. And what was it
designed to do is help people, refinance mortgages that were underwater.
And n fact, it was a great idea. It was trying to equalize to a little
debris what went to the corporations and what went to actual people. And
they did put aside $8 million for that program. But in fact, only $50
million of it has been given out. All of a sudden, there`s been an amazing
amount of responsibility applied to humans whereas whether it comes to
corporations, there`s absolutely no responsibility applied. Here`s all the
free money, you need. Use it as you like, pay us back when you like.
HARRIS-PERRY: This idea that corporations are people too. Like you just
have to say - so, I was looking at the sort of how tax-free corporations
are these days, Greg. And when you look at the percentage of the profit
that is a tax burden, in 1969 Procter & Gamble just to take one, 40 percent
was the percentage of their profits that was taxes, right? In 2010, 15
percent. And I feel like, you know, here we are in a moment where people
are doing their taxes, right, and we are creeping up on the moment that is
tax day. And that kind of number, I think, is exactly that distinction
between, we`re calling people welfare queens. It`s the corporations that
GREG KAUFMAN, CONTRIBUTOR, THE NATION MAGAZINE: You`re absolutely right.
And yet, nobody is talking about drug testing them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, man. That would be great.
KAUFMAN: It would be high quality drugs, too, in their case.
KAUFMAN: Let`s think about this. We would like to think for all these tax
breaks, we have seen good jobs created. But however, as you know, 50
percent of jobs in this country pay less than $34,000 a year. Twenty five
percent pay less than the poverty line for a family of four, less than
$23,000 a year. And here is a number that I would really like us as
progressives to focus on as much as the 99 percent. There are 106 million
Americans, more than one in three, living below twice the poverty line.
So, below $36,000.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just say it one more time. That`s the number that you want
us to think about.
KAUFMAN: I really do. It is the 106 million. It is more than one in
three Americans living below twice the poverty line which means less than
$36,000 per family a three. And now, they are struggling with the same
impossible choices that we associate with poverty, between the basics,
food, education, health care, housing. Forget about payments. So, I
really think there is organizing potential if we can tap into the common
interest that the 106 million have.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. That`s the evaporated middle class, right? It
is not just - I mean, yes, the poor. And you know, on this program and
obviously in your column, we care fundamentally about the poor. But also,
the idea that that notion of what is poverty has creep up.
ANTHEA BUTLER, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Exactly. And you
know, for people who just couldn`t imagine themselves in position, you have
this loss of wealth and think about the foreclosures, you have lost your
home, what`s supposed to be the American dream. And now, you don`t have
but you see our new welfare queens like, you know, Jamie Dimon and all the
rest of these guys, right, getting the money are living in luxury.
And so, there`s a great disparity. And so, what people think they should
have and what they actually have is not matching up. They can never get
it. This American dream, you know, unfortunately, of being able to take
care of yourself is over. It is also because we`ve given that dream over
to the corporations. They are the ones who get the recipient of now what
the American dream really is. So, I think in a sense, it`s this 106
million, plus all the rest of us who have to wake up and say we cannot
allow this to go on any longer. We cannot allow these things to go on
But, as soon as we come back, we are going to stay on this question of
where the real welfare queens are and I`m want to talk about the welfare,
Walmart loop and connect the dots when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Despite recent good news about the recovery of our economy
at the top of the food chain, our federal social safety net programs
continue to catch more and more Americans. Enrollment in the supplemental
nutritional assistance program or SNAP has jumped 70 percent since 2008 to
a record 47.8 million recipients as of the end of 2012. The congressional
budget analysts expect participation to expand again next year.
The rising poverty rate in the labor market as low wage jobs outpace middle
income jobs three to one. And many of the low wage jobs are found in the
retail sector. The nation`s biggest retail employer, you guessed it,
Walmart. It pace its average sales associate and estimated $15,576 a year.
For a family of four, that`s well below the poverty line of $22,050, making
that employee eligible for food assistance.
Food assistance that goes right back into the pockets of our corporations
because a 2010 report estimated that more than a third of all food stamps
redeemed in the United States were used, you guessed it, at Walmart stores,
adding up to 4.5 percent of the company`s total sales. The traditional
welfare is corporate welfare.
So Greg, we pay the employees poverty wages, the social safety net gives
them food stamps. The only place where they can then spend those food
stamps is back at the place that paid them poverty wages, the Walmart
KAUFMAN: It`s a good day to be a Walton in America, isn`t it? I mean, and
thank God we do have these food stamps.
KAUFMAN: Because if they kept four million out of poverty in 2011 and for
every $5 in food stamps expenses, there`s $9 in economic activity. But
obviously, it goes back to the issue of where are the good jobs that are
going to pay people enough to feed their families?
You know, for the last year, I have been talking to janitors who work for
some of the most expensive, richest corporations in America who go home and
they need food stamps, they need Medicaid, they need a second job and they
read about in the newspapers how they are not spending enough time with
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. They`re bad parent.
And so, on the one hand, yes, I mean, what food assistance is doing is
keeping people from starving, but also subsidizing Walmart.
LERNER: I think what the corporations on the right have realized is the
best defense is good offense. So, they`re out here screaming about people
on food stamps and entitlements, when it`s a subsidy to them.
LERNER: You know, I don`t know if your show is ready for this radical
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s go.
LERNER: But, I think there is a direct relationship between what you pay
people and how much they earn.
HARRIS-PERRY: You just blew my mind. You mean, if you pay people a fair
wage, they will have earned a fair wage?
LERNER: Yes. And so, what happens is the whole thing, it`s like so wacko.
You can call is Walmart, target, B of A, whatever you want to call it. You
empowers your workers, then, the state basically, we all subsidizing them
because you have to eat. That`s still allowed. You have to eat. And
then, you whine away about free market and say isn`t it terrible that the
government is spending all this money on these poor people that you made
poor. It really -- it`s sort of psychotic, pathological behavior, blaming
the people you hurt while you`re richer at any point in human history.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it really is that part. Like it is in fact corporations
were hurting. It would feel different like if it was, look, the times are
tough. Everybody had got, you know, sort of take a little bit of the pain.
But in fact, record profits.
BUTLER: Record profits. And you know, it sort of like all I can think
about when you say this, this is like, this is like sharecropping except
this is a giant company store, right, and the company store is feeding
itself off of both the government and the people that it`s enslaving.
So, if you have this system that`s going in this constant circle of
sharecropping, they`re robbing both sides. They are robbing our government
and they are robbing us. And they are robbing us because they won`t even
pay the taxes that they are supposed to pay.
And that is the biggest thing. I mean, we can talk about the tax breaks
they get. But let me tell you, I got a friend who works for a corporate
tax lawyer and they are evading lots of taxes and it is through the tax
law. So, when we talk about these things, you can`t get away from the fact
that they`re not even paying into the system. They are not even paying
what they should be paying.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. This is one of the things we see with Walmart, is when
you look down at what they do, they actually systematically each of the
locations challenge property tax assessments, right, so that even if
supposedly those initial incentives have worn off, they are, nonetheless,
keeping themselves from having to even paying the most basic --
DICKER: And we have to remember that the economic pie is fixed. It
doesn`t get larger or smaller. There`s only a certain amount of capital to
go around. So, every time that we deliver a tax break to a Walmart, every
time we give a land grant to a Walmart, every time we move some credit,
some tax credit for it, what does is it puts less money into the state and
the federal coffers and that means less money for food stamp programs, for
health care, for education, for child care, all of these programs take cuts
on the back of what`s become corporate welfare. And that`s something that
has to be remembered because otherwise, you forget that there`s a limit to
how much money that you can have spending. And it`s not the fault of
people who are on the lower end of the spectrum that they`re not making it.
If all the money supposed to be going to the government that is supposed to
be used for social safety net is going for a corporate safety net.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask the politics of this. Because it seems to me
like the natural sort of political ally here would be governors and mayors,
right, that on the one hand, you get why governors and mayors make these
choices and have these incentives. But they`re getting held hostage,
right? Shouldn`t they be in line with the janitors unions at this point?
LERNER: You know, it`s funny, they are verbally in alliance and they say
the right thing. But, this hostage thing is really so pressing because a
company comes and says, I`m going to move if you don`t give me what I want.
And people are so terrified of it. And I think it speaks to why we need to
built a broader movement that fundamentally challenge the power that these
You know, I was joking the other day, I don`t know if you saw on that
paper, but that Sarkozy, the former head of France is now going to work for
a private equity company. And if government is primarily an apprenticeship
to becoming a millionaire when you leave, if it`s like it used to be people
that know you become a carpenter`s apprentice and then, you are a full-time
carpenter, you can make a good job. This little gig of being governor,
this is just a setup so that you can go to work -
HARRIS-PERRY: Sit on the corporate board.
BUTLER: Scott Brown just did it. Scott Brown just did the same thing.
So, this is the thing, you do your time, you put your favors in and then
you move up the ladder and you go into private equity firm or something and
make all of your cash.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to take a quick break. And when we come back,
Greg, I want you to - we are going to talk about the disability question.
And I`m going to let you read the creep of.
And I tell you what, also, Anthea, you know, you said that sharecropper
thing. You have to write that up for the blog. People are going to be mad
you called Walmart a sharecropper.
BUTLER: Well, I will.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, new reporting showed that over the past three
decades, the number of Americans receiving disability benefits has
exploded. Currently, each month 14 million Americans are collecting
disability support, costing the federal government $250 billion each year.
According to the reporting on NPR, the number of former workers on
disability has been doubling about every 15 years. So, the fund has
inevitably become taxed and is expected to run out of money in 2016.
Some analysts attribute this to demographic factors, such are aging baby
boom generation, the growth in women`s employment and the rise in the
retirement age. Some 70 percent of the disability are in fact over the age
of 50. The rise in disability rolls may also be part of the stress point
in the overall collapse of our public safety net.
So, I wanted to come to you on this, Greg, because the NPR theories this
week, I think, generated a lot of angst for people. In part because it
sound like disability is going to be the new welfare means. That when you
look at the rising rolls, it feels like we can say, he`s a cheater, these
are people who don`t belong there. Nick Christophe (ph) had that column
back in December saying we should throw kid who are on disability off
because it keeps their parents from encourage canning them to learn to read
so they can collect a check. Where are we going with this?
KAUFMAN: Well, you hit it on the nose. It sounds like it`s going to be
the new welfare because it is. It`s going to be the new welfare queen.
And to quote Colonel Potter of "mash," it`s horse hockey. I mean, one of
the things in the (INAUDIBLE) said people are moving from Keana (ph) to
disability because it`s too hard to get --
HARRIS-PERRY: You can see, like you can see it. If you look at the TANF
grant, the grant chart, and sort of how it`s declined and you look at the
disability chart and how it has increased. The top one is TANF, that`s
what we typically called welfare at the direct cash payments, the bottom
one is disability. You can see they fit together like puzzle pieces. So,
people were moved off of one to the other but, in an overall sense, but not
the same individuals.
Yes, right. It`s apples and oranges. Because if really people were moving
- OK, first, I got to say about TANF, you know, before the black grant was
created, because they want to do this with disability now.
OK. For every 100 families in poverty with children, 68 received cash
assistance. That was in 1996. Now 27, OK? So, when you hear about block
granting disability get very afraid.
But, you know, if people were moving from TANF, while all these women and
children were getting kicked off, you would see a rise in disability with
people with dependents. In fact, it`s gone down since 1996. Nearly one-
third of people receiving disability in 1996 had a dependent, now it`s 20
percent. And with kids, for every 20 kids leaving TANF, one is now on
So, there`s really not much there except it`s a dramatic story. And so,
people are taking anecdotes and running with them.
DICKER: Just a quick point on the numbers. I mean, when you`re on
disability, you are not part of the unemployment numbers. And that is
really important because as this disability rolls have expanded, what they
have done is they have given us a sort of false sense of confidence in the
way that we have been recovering since the financial disaster, with the
employment numbers under eight percent and so forth. But in fact with the
disability rolls expanding, we are not really making the kind of progress
in the way that we want to in unemployment. People who never were on
disability before, in fact, maybe 15 years ago depended upon their
condition would not have applied for disability, now feel like it`s the
only way to supplement, to survive as opposed to --
LERNER: But, I just want -- I have to be honest. I turned the report off
on the radio. So, maybe this is unfair because I didn`t hear the whole
thing. But, when the reporter started talking about my boss has a bad back
and itch a bad back and we don`t get disability. I was so pissed off
because have you been on a paltry line lately, have you worked 12 hours a
day mopping floors. It is like, with all due respect to the media, I know
it hurts your back, you know, to write an article here. But, it`s like a
total disconnect about what life is like for most workers here. And how do
you get up and get a job when there isn`t a job?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Look, this point about that, I will say that I think
that NPR did try to get a little more nuance on this, but it is a real
challenge. When you say bad back and you have the kind of job I have where
you sit all day, right, you just sort of don`t get, that when you say you
have a bad back and you`re a janitor, that is disabling for the kind of
work that you do. It simply is disabling.
LERNER: Yes. And you know, whether -- I think like the really, really
rich folks are so far from productive labor, since their labor is basically
stripping other people`s money and putting in their wallet, that they can`t
imagine what it means to physically hump garbage, which is what it`s
called, rabbit dumpster do to all that kind of work, they can`t imagine it,
and then they`re going tis, tis, tis (ph). I can`t believe these people
are getting, what was it, $11,000 or whatever the average number.
BUTLER: Some little bit amount. And then, the whole this is like when
you`re working these jobs, you usually can`t afford the insurance that you
have to pay for. So, you are already sick, OK? You can`t afford good food
to eat to keep you from having sugar as we call it or high blood pressure.
So, this also is just collaborated by each other. So, what we have all
these people going on disability, part of it is about the system but part
of it is about we are breaking people. We are literally breaking people in
little cheap jobs that they can`t get enough care for.
DICKER: And part of it is about the jobs that we are creating. That`s
really what it`s about. If we spent more money instead of to giving
corporations, we just come to our town and open a Walmart, but some
training to put people in a place where they can attract better technology
jobs and not have to do all this kind of back breaking work.
KAUFMAN: To Steve`s point, the NPR picked an outlier in southern and
Appalachian areas where jobs are predominantly, you know mining, forestry,
manufacturing. So, they say, one out of four people are collecting
disability. Well, it`s because those jobs are gone. And in fact, there`s
a high disability standard. You have to have a physical or mental
impairment that keeps up from earning a thousand dollars a month on an
ongoing basis and 60 percent of the applications are rejected. But, in
those areas, you`re allowed to look at, if I have a high school education
am I -- what can I switch to?
BUTLER: Nobody is giving you any training. This is the other thing about
the kids too, you know.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. And this question of kicking kids off as a way,
and I loved your point in response to Krisoff (ph). If you`re looking for
money in the budget, look at the defense budget. How about not the
Thank you to Stephen Lerner and to Dan Dicker and Greg Kaufmann. Anthea is
going to hang out and be back a little bit later in the show.
But up next, I want to talk about the fight of the American`s veterans.
Different wars, the same battle.
HARRIS-PERRY: Forty years ago this month, the last U.S. troops left
Vietnam. Yet, many of them are still struggling with the parting gift that
keeps on giving. Agent Orange. In our vault this morning, a look back at
some of the troops affected by the infamous chemical agent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For almost ten years American forces sprayed Agent
Orange in Vietnam, a way to kill the jungle in which the enemy had been
hiding and sprayed our own soldiers too.
JIM DONAGUE (ph), VIETNAM VETERAN: Got on our skin and our water and our
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the time Jim Donague (ph) left Vietnam, he had skin
cancer, has had many diseases since. Has come close to death, has asked
the government for help.
DONAGUE (ph): When I went to the VA for help, I was losing weight, I was
ill. My spleen was swelling. The VA basically told me to get lost.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jim Donague (ph) and an estimated 100,000 others were
told Agent Orange wasn`t the problem. Many were sent to psychiatrists,
were told it was all in their heads.
DONAGUE (ph): The rage is incomprehensible. It goes beyond rage. It`s
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some studies blamed Agent Orange for 27 diseases,
several of them fatal.
DONAGUE (ph): Catch-22. You can`t receive benefits for Agent Orange
poisoning until you`re dying. By the time you get the check, you`re dead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Nearly 40 years later, the number of disability claimed for
Vietnam veterans continues to mount even as new claims come in for the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many Vets are left waiting years for help. Their
wars are over, but the fight continues.
More on this and what this country must do when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: After the department of defense, the next largest department
is the one supposed to take care of returning soldiers, the department of
Veterans Affairs. Commonly referred to as the VA. And it is even bigger
than it used to be. The VA added more than 4,000 new workers since 2008.
And they have spent $537 million on a new computer system. One they never
even had before the last secretary took over in 2009. Let me say that
again slowly. The year 2009. They got a computer system.
In other words, the VA simply didn`t have a computer system for dealing
with the veterans` claims until then. But now that they do, everything is
working great, right? Well, according to the March 11th report in the
center for investigative reporting, not only are 97 percent of that claims
still on paper, but the backlog of claims increased during the current
administration for merely mountainous to astronomical. The number of
veterans waiting more than a year for benefit, 11,000, but as of December,
it was 245,000.
Joining me live in San Francisco is the reporter who brought the facts to
light, Aaron Glantz, the center for investigative reporting. Also here at
the table, are MSNBC contributor and former U.S. Patrick Murphy, the first
Iraq veteran to serve in the U.S. Congress and Kayla Williams, the fellow
with the Truman national security project and center for national policy.
Also, the author of "love my rifle more than you, young and female in the
Aaron, I want to start with you since your reporting largely brought this
issue of the VA backlog to light. What is the central problem facing the
VA right now?
AARON GLANTZ, CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING: The central problem is
that they`re not able to deal with this flood of Iraq and Afghanistan
veterans coming home at the same time that a lot of Vietnam veterans are
finally being allowed to claim illnesses caused by Agent Orange.
This is a paperwork problem. You know, they have so much paperwork ha they
just simply can`t put it through. And as you mentioned, the documents that
we obtained showed that even though they had spent half a billion dollars
trying to computer eyes this thing over the last four years, 97 percent of
these claims are still on paper. There`s a complete dysfunctionality,
there`s a bad management at most of their regional offices. And at the end
of the day, what this meant is that if you come home from Iraq or
Afghanistan and file your first claim in New York City, you`re going to be
waiting an average of 642 days for your benefits. So you got blown up by
an IED in Iraq or Afghanistan and now you`re, you know, trying to get a new
life together in New York. You lost your job, your job was being a
soldier. You got a monthly paycheck for that. You`re looking for new
work. You need to take care of your health care need. But you will be
waiting almost two years to get your benefits from the VA.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now Aaron, I want to bring in Kayla here because I know that
you have been through the VA process since returning as has your husband.
And I know that you had a somewhat different experience than what`s being
described by Mr. Glantz here.
KAYLA WILLIAMS, AUTHOR, LOVE OF RIFLE MORE THAN YOU: Absolutely. Now, and
I did go through the system before the backlog took route. But, I think
it`s important to add nuance to this discussion. Veterans who are coming
out of the military today go through a completely different system. The
integrated disability evaluation system or IDES. And they are not part of
that big number. It`s streamlined. It`s a very different process and not
part of that huge backlog number. It`s important to note that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, who is in the backlog? Those are Veterans from prior
WILLIAMS: So, 40 percent of them are new claims and 60 percent of those
claims are people either filing for higher ratings or adding new items.
Because you could develop a problem later on. You could have a Vietnam
veteran who, you know, had musculoskeletal problems as a result of his
service and then later developed scheme courtesies as a result of Agent
Orange which due to (INAUDIBLE) bold and morally right decision is now
considered presumptive as a result of the Agent Orange exposure. So, that
veteran could go and file and say, now have a new condition. So, there are
a couple of things. And of the people in the backlog, 37 percent are
Vietnam vets, 23 are Gulf war and only 20 percent are current other
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, Patrick, on the one, I mean, that feels
right to me that there would be nuance here. That on the one hand, I`m
looking at the stacks of papers. I`m looking at Aaron`s reporting which
clearly tells me there`s a huge backlog and we know that people are
On the other hand, that it would be more complicated, it`s always more
complicated than the one story. So, how do we start to navigate through
this? If we`ve got money on the table and we got new workers in the VA,
what are the solutions here?
PATRICK MURPHY, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, several things. First,
they`re right. That we need to make sure. And Aaron`s point is correct.
That it`s not digitized enough. And we have to give -- there has been
major investments as you mentioned. But, you have to look at the fact
that, one, there are more veterans. There`s been 2.5 million Iraq,
Afghanistan veterans that have come home. And also, there has been more
benefits given. Not just with PTSD, but as Kayla says, with Agent Orange
and presumption that these injuries are because of Agent Orange or because
of quote "smash stress disorder" or because of gulf war syndrome.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that presumption is new, tight?.
HARRIS-PERRY: In a way you used to have to come and prove as we saw in
that vault. You have to prove that it was Agent Orange. And now, we
MURPHY: Right. So, we have give credit where credit is due. And that`s
President Obama and general Shinseki and the Congress that did the right
MURPHY: But, it has caused unattended consequences. It`s caused a
backlog. And that`s why the mum one solution we could find is make it more
Now, the good thing though, Melissa, is that about 79 percent of the G.I.
bill benefits are digitized. And because it is digitized, electronic,
there`s a basically wait of 24 days as compared to 273 days with these
HARRIS-PERRY: So Aaron, let me come to you a little bit on this. Because
what I`m wondering, if we know that we can get the G.I. bill, you know, for
example moving more quickly through, what are the kinds of claims where you
are seeing people in your reporting, folks waiting a year or two years.
What sorts of things are they waiting for?
GLANTZ: Yes. We are talking about disability compensation claims here.
So, Patrick is exactly right that the VA had the same problem with the G.I.
bill a few years ago and they solved it. The VA has also built an
excellent electronic Medical records system. So now, you don`t to have
your Medical file mailed around the country if you move and you want to go
to the hospital.
But on the subject of benefits delivery, you know, I came home and I`m
wounded and I need a disability check because I can`t work, that`s where
they`re completely dropping the ball. And part of it is, I think, they are
just unable to execute on the various relatively good plans that the
president has come up with. So, not only digitizing, but also hiring new
You know, they were budgeted for 3,300 new workers. But the internal VA
documents that we obtained at the center of investigative reporting show
that they have only added about 300. So, they do have these floods of new
claims coming in as the other guests have mentioned and they were supposed
to have extra people to help them process these claims.
But, the documents that we`ve obtained show they haven`t been able to do
that. And the reason is that people, you know, individuals don`t want to
work in this dysfunctional system if they can find a job doing something
else. And that`s one of the reasons why New York, San Francisco, Los
Angeles, Chicago, these major cities where people can get other options in
terms of jobs, they`re not stacking up even though a lot of new people are
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. Aaron stay with us. There`s more on this
because I want to talk both about the emotional toll of what it means to be
waiting. But also it feels like people working at the VA are good people,
that are not trying to withhold benefits. And so, fixing this is more than
a matter of getting the bad people out and the good people in.
More on that when we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are talking about the issues facing our veterans and the
Veterans administration which is supposed to care for our veterans.
And Kayla, I want to come to you on this because it does feels like folks
who are working at the veterans administration and the administration
itself, they want to be doing what`s right and then, you know, I love "the
Daily Show," and so, I just wanted to show, because part of what brought
this back into the public realm was Jon Stewart talking about Aaron`s
So, let`s just look at how Stewart describes the problem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JEFF MILLER (R), FLORIDA: Let me use this analogy. An x-box and
Playstation can play the same game on the same TV screen but they don`t
JON STEWART, HOST, THE DAILY SHOW: Right. Now. That makes sense. Here`s
the thing. An X-box and a Playstation don`t talk because they`re
competitors. Their mission is to destroy each other, which is not the
relationship we expect from the part of government that takes care of our
disabled veterans and the part of government that creates them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: But you had a different metaphor when you were talking about
what we`re seeing at the VA right now.
WILLIAMS: Yes. So, the previous administration did not plan for this.
They didn`t set anything in motion, they didn`t start transitioning to a
computerized system. And when Obama took office and appointed secretary
Shinseki in 2009. Shinseki started figuring out the problems. Put this
plan into motion, 2010. And the VA has spent a couple of years trying to
develop a computer system that will work.
They have been doing this in an unusual way. Craig Newmark of Craigslist
has written about this extensively that instead of doing it top down, they
have actually been having people would process the claims, work with IT
people to develop a good system. And this year, 2013, is the year that
they are rolling it out and actually transitioning all the regional offices
over to that new system.
In the middle of that, it`s going to be really painful. The legislative
director in his testimony before the Senate said it`s like a kitchen
remodel. When you are in the middle of it, it looks like a disaster. You
may not have a floor, you have no refrigerator, you can`t do anything. But
when it`s done, it`s going to be much better.
And I think it`s important that we all support VA through this process and
veterans can help this by trying to work with VSOS (ph) to develop complete
claims and submit fully developed claims for you say I have everything
already here. It is easier for VA, instead of VA having to go and try to
track down all the supporting documentation.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Aaron, you know, here we have a model that says all
right, look, the VA is in the middle of trying to make things better. And
so, you are just, you know, you`re looking at a kitchen remodel problem.
But then, I`m thinking of it, reading your reporting, one of the
individuals that you report on is someone who calls up and says, I`m
suicidal today. Like today. Right now. And can`t manage to get seen by
anyone because it`s a Friday afternoon. Can`t get in to get seen in order
to be assessed for whether or not they can see someone until Monday
So, like on the one hand, I respect that bureaucracy moves slowly, we got
to get there. On the other hand, what do you do as a veteran from that
moment feeling like you might take your own life?
GLANTZ: Yes. Well, I mean, there is two issues. One is the health care
which we could discuss. And the other is the benefits which is what we`re
discussing today. When you come forward and you say I`m wounded and I need
compensation. And this, of course, improves your access to health care
when you have a service connected disability.
The thing that troubles me, this has gotten so much worse under the Obama
administration as a matter of fact. And this is not, you know, one year or
two years in. I mean, we are in the second term now. So, I think that
earlier on, you know, you could say we`re in the middle of the kitchen
remodel. But now, what we`ve been remodeling the kitchen, on the way into
the second term and the problem as we said, the number of veterans waiting
over a year pour benefits has gone up 2,000 percent under President Obama,
2,000 percent from 11,000 when he took office to 245,000 now.
And you know, Kayla had an easier time getting her benefit. But, she
didn`t get out of the military right now. She got out of the military, you
know, some time ago when the process was going a little bit better.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Aaron, I want to bring back Patrick and just real
quickly because when I hear you say as a matter of (INAUDIBLE), you know,
how bad the numbers are over the course of the past five years. Patrick,
you and I were talking about the politics of this.
MURPHY: Right. Well at first, if any veterans out there watching your
show Melissa and there`s a lot to do, they can call 1-800-273-talk. So,
that is 24/7. They can always call.
HARRIS-PERRY: If they`re feeling.
MURPHY: If they are feeling suicidal or those thoughts. So, there is a
crisis line and that`s 24/7. But, there is a point we do need act with a
sense of urgency. And there has been investments, but there are too, when
we talk about little things like electric I can Medical records. There`s
one system on the DOD. There is one system in the VA and they don`t talk
to each other. And we probably just meant a billion dollars and they are
still not talking to each other and that is not right.
But the fact is this. There are 22 veterans every day committing suicide.
It is going up. This has to be a national call, a national solution. We
just can`t say, hey general Shinseki, hey President Obama, fix this thing.
We all have to have skin in the game because we don`t have skin in the
game. Only less than one percent of Americans have served in Iraq or
Afghanistan. And once, to your earlier point about Vietnam, 78 percent of
the Congress during Vietnam served in the military. Now, it`s less than 22
percent have served in the military. So, they don`t quite understand
what`s going on. But, we all need to make sure we`re hiring these heroes
when they come back. Because that`s a major part of the solution.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. This may be happening at the sort of the
administrative level but this is about all of us.
Thank you both for your service and thank you both for being here at
Thank you also to Aaron Glantz in San Francisco and for all of your
reporting. We are going to keep our eyes on this.
Coming up next in this season renewal, a closer look at how we really do
reap what we sew. And the women who could change forever the way you do
More Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last week, the spring semester break gave me a moment to
pause in my day jobs as professor and TV host and put on another one of my
hats, y gardening cap. Kneeling in my small patch of earth with my hands
on the soil, it occurred to me the beginning of spring is not only a time
for Christians to celebrate the renewal of life through the resurrection of
Christ, it`s not only a time for the followers of the Jewish faith to
remember and give thanks for the lives of children spared.
This season is also a moment for more secular reflection on belief and how
we`ve put that belief into action. After all, what is more about faith
than planting a spring garden? You sow the seeds and nurture them and
watch and wait in the hopes that new life will reveal itself.
Existentialist thinker Henry David Thoreau expressed the awe of this
ordinary miracle when he wrote, quote, "Though I do not believe that a
plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in the
seed. Convince me that you have a seed there and I`m prepared to expect
Of course, thorough was refuting the belief at the time of spontaneous
generation, life from no life. But in this season of renewal, whether
sacred or secular, this idea of faith in a seed gives us a useful way of
approaching a moral and ethical dilemma of our collective choices.
We may have belief but so what? That belief alone is not enough without
planting a seed of action in service of that knowing. This week, we saw
faith in action when Pope Francis did something that was very, well, un-
pope-like in comparison to the standards set by his predecessors.
Pope Francis, the first Jesuit and the first son of the Americas to lead
the Catholic Church added another first in his observance of the Christian
rite of foot washing on Holy Thursday. Previous popes followed the
tradition of washing the feet of their followers in remembrance of Christ
washing the feet of his disciples in a final act of humility.
But Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI chose Catholic priests. Pope
Francis instead washed the feet of inmates at a juvenile detention center
in Rome. And he threw tradition to the wind when he became the first pope
to wash the feet of Muslims and he scandalized the Catholic orthodoxy by
flouting church law when he also became the first pope to wash the feet of
Following the direction of his moral compass and resisting the inertia of
precedent has in a short time become par for the course for this pope and
he has spoken of his desire for the Roman Catholic Church to become, quote,
"a poor church for the poor." He`s already signaled his intent to live as
he speaks by shedding the opulence of the papal apartment in favor of the
simpler residence of the Vatican.
Now, it is far too soon to know what the legacy of the pope will be. But
for the present moment, Pope Francis is sowing a little seed in the world
in his commitment to use the considerable resources of the church to
So, on this spring morning, whether you consider yourself religious,
spiritual or an avowedly secular, it is worth pausing to ask, what seeds
are we collectively sowing to address issues of poverty and inequality?
At the table with me, Anthea Butler, professor of religious studies at the
University of Pennsylvania; Rabbi Dan Ain, the director of tradition and
innovation at the 92nd Street Y here in New York City; Christiana Peppard,
assistant professor of theology and science in the department of theology
at Fordham University; and Katha Pollitt, a columnist for "The Nation"
Thank you all for being here at my Easter table this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks for having us.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let`s just start, how do we take our faith and apply it
to our works in a collective way, without becoming religious talk people in
the public sector?
CHRISTIANA PEPPARD, THEOLOGY PROF., FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Melissa, that`s a
great question. I think that part of the enthusiasm over -- pardon me --
over the ascendancy of Pope Francis to the papacy is precisely the fact
that he is walking the walk, along with the talk that has come from
generations of predecessors. But he seems to be at this point, early on as
suggested, living it in a new way.
The dual emphasis on poverty and the environment are very exciting, because
there`s a lot of richness within the body of Catholic social teaching that
is essentially a reflection on how to love God and love the neighbor. And
the two cannot be torn asunder in Catholicism and in Christianity in
general. So, I think a lot of hope on the ground is precisely that the
pope will continue to bear witness to these issues of global concern and
they`re the kinds of issues that no one of us, despite our best most
charitable intentions, can solve on our own. It`s only with massive
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels like Rabbi Dan, that`s part of what religious
institution provides for us, is simply the collective aspect of it, that,
you know, I was recently and really incredibly honored to be honored by the
National Council of Jewish Women.
And while there listening to them talk about what is Jewish, right, and
they`re talking about it in a way as they are about to go up to the hill in
order to lobby, right? But on the basis in part of deep ethical claims
about what their Jewish identity means about their responsibility relative
to poverty and inequality.
RABBI DAN AIN, 92ND STREET Y, NYC: Absolutely. And I think what we`ve
learned in so many different faith traditions value, or precisely the
teachings and the sayings of Hebrew prophets like Amos and Micah and
Isaiah. And as Isaiah pretty clearly says, what is our responsibility?
What does God want from us? God wants us to feed the hungry, to clothe the
naked, to shelter the homeless. These are obligations that flow deep from
what it means to be a Jewish person and how we go about living in this
And I think, you know, Abraham Joshua Heschel talked about what does a
prophet mean? What is -- a prophet is a person who`s able to hold both
God`s interest and God`s needs in his mind, at the same time that we also
hold the needs of mankind at the same time.
So being able to reconcile those two, understand how God wants us to act
and wants us to be while living the life, walking the walk, and not simply
talking the talk.
A lot of the people that I deal with in downtown New York are young, in
their 20s and 30s. And it`s hard and disillusioned by what`s going on.
They`re living paycheck to paycheck. They have a job, if they even have
the job, they don`t like the job but they feel like they need to hold on to
And when you`re in that sort of crisis moment, it`s hard to consider other
AIN: You`re so focused on getting by and getting through the day, it`s
hard to expand your consciousness to care about the other people who are
right in front of you. Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting to hear you invoke Heschel there, in part
because, you know, we had a conversation on yesterday`s show about allies,
and how to be a good ally and he is of course, the sort of invisible ally
in many ways that folks don`t know about civil rights movement. That there
is no Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights, without that Northern
ally, right, in that space.
And, yes, I`m also thinking, Katha, that, you know, I come from a Unitarian
Universalist tradition initially, in part of why we the rule here. I also
folks on the one hand will say, OK, I love the civil rights movement as
indicative of sort of how religious politics can make great social change.
But I just, (a), don`t believe and, (b), generally think that religion talk
in our politics tends to be more divisive rather than the model of
Hechelian (ph) king.
KATHA POLLITT, THE NATION: Well, I`m here to say that.
POLLITT: Yes, yes, the atheist at the feet (ph).
You know, people have a funny memory about the civil rights movement.
They`ve sort of rid the communist out of it. They`ve rid the left out of
it. They`ve o forgotten that a lot of black churches were not so keen on
it when it started. They were quite conservative. The Catholic Church in
Louisiana was still keeping racial records on who had one drop and who
BUTLER: They might still be.
POLLITT: They might still be.
You know, it was really a much more mixed picture. And at the same time,
you had the religion on the other side. All that Southern baptistery and
whatever religion those --
POLLITT: Whatever the racists were. So, I tend to see religion as --
religion is like a vessel in which you can put whatever you want. And the
good people put good things in it and the bad people put bad things in it.
And then they call that God.
But I don`t -- since I don`t think there is a God, I think it`s really just
us. There`s nobody here but us chickens, you know?
And, I think, you know, it`s really great if a religious institution wants
to do good things. We need that. But ultimately, individual or even
church -- a whole church getting together to do something good, that`s not
going to be enough. We have to do the secular things like big government
programs and that`s where you get into trouble, because a lot of really
nice religious people think that`s really terrible.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, this can sometimes be that disconnect between
charity and justice, right? I`m thinking in the days following Katrina.
There were the Southern Baptists people who are some of the great, the
casserole ladies, right, they baked the casseroles, they came out. But
then they also were not so supportive of the massive infrastructure
spending that was necessary in the days after. So, you`ve got amazing
charity but not always the move towards greater justice.
BUTLER: Exactly. It was all, you know, Bush`s compassionate conservatism,
of course, which really didn`t work in some ways, because part of it was
like a handout and the rest was you all do what you need do. But I think
the importance -- I`m thinking about what you said Katha -- sometimes
atheists can be Christians` best friends and religious people`s best
friends, because they help us shape what we should be doing and to think
about the core tenets of what we believe. If it`s always going to be about
the ideology and not about doing what the faith says you are supposed to
do, then you`ve missed the point.
And I think one of the biggest thing I think has happened in the last 10 to
20 years in this nation is that Christianity, you know, writ large, has
been this kind of prosperity Christianity, right? It`s been the same thing
with the corporations and all of this. And now we get a Pope Francis who
says we need to think about the environment and we need to think about the
And so, now, maybe perhaps we`re going to see a turning. Maybe we can see
people getting back to the basics of what the faith is supposed to really
be about instead of all this.
And the second part is, you can`t be a hypocrite. You can`t do the other
things and expect everybody else to straighten up when the leadership won`t
straighten up either.
PEPPARD: One of the interesting things that bears up your message, Anthea,
is precisely that there is this legacy in Catholic teaching of a really
strong critique with economic globalization, started with Paul VI, John
Paul II. And we`ve heard a lot of rhetoric about greed and skepticism, you
The new pope is no Milton Friedman, but neither with the previous ones.
PEPPARD: That`s a message that we in the U.S. have overlooked. And I
completely agree with you.
You know, individual charity is great. But you know what, there are
structural sins that permeate the world and they need attention.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to play a game with you guys on exactly that when
we come back. You know, one of my favorite religious writers is Frederick
Bittner (ph), who is a Presbyterian writer. And I -- one of my favorite
stories is this message in the stars in which he imagines that God comes
and writes on the sky, God is. And everybody knows 100 percent that there
definitely is a God. A few months into the message being in the stars, a
little boy looks up at the sky and says, so what? Right? Because the
question isn`t really whether or not we want to be certain that there is a
God, but whether or not that informs us to do anything.
So, we`re going to talk about the "so what?" when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The notion that two months
or three months after something as horrific as what happened in Newtown
happens and we moved on to other things, that`s not who we are. That`s not
who we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama this week making the argument for
urgent and effective response to gun violence. His appeal to America was a
reminder that in the face of a relentless epidemic, we`re a country that
acts, not a country that turns away.
Yet, the political resistance to that action puts the president`s moral
imperative at a crossroads with another fundamental American principle. We
are also a country with a profound allegiance to individual liberty, gun
ownership as an expression of that freedom.
Rising to the challenge of a policy solutions to problem of guns and other
urgent political questions requires grappling with all of these competing
and complex ethical questions.
So, I just want to do what we do, like ethics class 101, which is -- all
right, if you have competing -- if you have competing morals or ethics, how
do you reconcile them? So, what does it matter if you have this ethic or
this belief in God? What difference does it make on gun control?
How do we begin to reconcile this?
Anybody go for it.
BUTLER: Yes. Well, I mean, I think on gun control, we have to think about
we can`t take all of them away right now. So, you have to -- the moral
imperative for us right now is to what will stop this violence from
happening if we can control this. If -- the guy who shot everybody at
Newtown did all the shooting in five minutes, OK?
So, for me the ethical imperative is it would seem we need to get rid of
big magazines, period. OK? So that`s the first thing.
So, you try to do, first, do no harm. How do we do no harm? Let`s take
away the magazines. We can`t get rid of all of the guns. We can set up a
system where we`re thinking about how people use those guns. What can we
But we can`t back away as the president said. I mean, you see those
mothers standing behind you hoping for something that`s going to happen
because they`ve lost their babies to gun violence, you must start to think
about what is morally correct, what is the right thing to do.
And I think in this particular case, it`s banning the magazines is the
HARRIS-PERRY: But, Rabbi, I wonder if we`re indicted like as a public
morality, if we`re indicted nonetheless because we -- the Newtown mothers
are there. But all those mothers in Chicago and New Orleans and Detroit --
I mean, Hadiya Pendleton to keep this going. But for the most part, we
don`t know their names and the loss of their children because largely
irrelevant to our public discourse.
AIN: Right. I think what you have today is a society in which we have
understanding ourselves to the context of our -- the mediums of our
technologies, of our numbers, of our digits. We like to calculate things.
We like to put graphs on things. I saw that you had -- before, you had the
graphics of poverty.
AIN: For each of the people on the graph, that`s a real person, that`s a
real individual. The golden rule, Rabbi Heller (ph) says, is you should
not do unto someone else that which is hateful to you.
But that requires being real, being real with someone, being in dialog with
them and understanding that God`s presence resides in everybody, in every
child and in every person. And having that consciousness and finding a way
to attach that to how we live our life. What the policy decisions that we
advocate for. How do we treat other people that we meet on a day-to-day
basis? That is a conversation.
And I think -- as has been mentioned earlier today, we`ve moved away from
precisely because so much of the religious leadership that I know a lot of
us have been exposed to hasn`t been the best and hasn`t done the greatest
job on behalf of what God calls to us.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Katha, isn`t it all valuable to frame it that way? In
other words to say this is a moral calling, or is that just sort of an
irrelevant way to frame a public policy question like gun control?
POLLITT: I would say that, isn`t the thing about gun control that fewer
people actually own guns than, you know, 40 or 50 years ago. But the
people who own guns are more gun (INAUDIBLE). They have more guns. And
especially since Obama was elected, you`d see this huge uptick because
people, oh, my God, they`re coming for my guns. He`s coming for my guns.
So I think there are real differences about what the rules should be. And,
unfortunately, the Republican Party is -- I mean, not just them. The NRA
is very, very powerful.
So, I think it would be really great if all the religions and, you know,
every pulpit gave a sermon, turn in your guns because now there are laws
being passed in various states saying it`s OK to bring a gun to church.
Why didn`t the churches stand up then and say, no, no guns in our church.
BUTLER: You know, some of the churches have stood up. Think about, you
know, the Episcopal Church this week in Washington, D.C. did a march about
this. They did a whole stations of the cross about this. We don`t have
other churches speaking up. That`s the first thing.
And this is where I say, once again, you all the atheists can help us as
Christians and say, look, it doesn`t have to be this way. Can`t we think
about the perspective and leave God out of it for a second?
BUTLER: Just think about this as human bodies that you don`t want to hurt.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, it feels like there`s a certain power when you are
speaking to someone for example who`s a Christian, and you use the language
of crucifixion. If you`re trying to make an argument about what`s
happening in our communities and you talk about the lynching tree as the
cross, as James Cone does -- then all of a sudden, for people for whom
those sets of symbols are meaningful, when you talk about the lynching tree
as the cross, it reveals something that, in fact, doesn`t happen when
you`re just making an argument without appeal to those religious symbols
PEPPARD: I agree. I think that inhabiting the story, whether it`s
Christian, Jewish, Muslim or a range of other types of crucial stories that
have been passed down to us and vivified throughout time, through
traditions, in context with reality is a very powerful way of speaking to
people`s experience. I think --
HARRIS-PERRY: In context of reality.
PEPPARD: In context with reality, it is important, because, you know, I
think about my own experience. I grew up in Colorado and I was a sophomore
in college when the Columbine High School shootings happened. I -- you
know, I grew up 10, 15 minutes from Columbine High School. So, that was
very proximate. My father died as a result of gun violence.
And there are a range of questions that have to do with the nature of our
liberty. Now, we heard a lot about religious liberty from the bishops and
other groups this year. But when it comes to guns at the very least, I
think the American public has an idolatry of liberty. And that`s
dangerous, and that`s a kind of language that can and should be mobilized,
because just -- again, an example of papal encyclicals, Benedict XVI
referred to rights as, you know, fundamental needs, things to which all
human beings deserve access and empowerments.
But without rights -- rights without duties become mere license. If
they`re not to become mere license in ways that can be deleterious to the
Earth and to other people, then we need duties to go along with them. So,
HARRIS-PERRY: The language of idolatry as well. Yes.
AIN: I know. I mean, I think you`re making a great point. But where is
the conversation taking place? Now in the Jewish tradition, we have these
two interests. I`m a rabbi, I`m not -- like a lot of rabbis -- I`m not an
expert in firearms. We have a tradition of treating another person and
loving your neighbor as yourself. And that was very important religious
But we also have, you know, our history and remembrance especially here on
the sixth day of Passover, that we too were strangers in a strange land.
That we suffered in slavery and when you think backs being a defenseless
minority hasn`t necessarily worked out the best for the Jewish people
throughout history. And so, you have that memory, which is playing a
strong part in terms of how do we have this conversation, how do we talk
about these competing values?
And the problems is there are two types of relationships. We can have an
I/you relationship, or I see you for who you are, and I listen to you and I
don`t need you to do certain things for me or we can have a lot of the
relationships that so many people are having me today, which are those I/it
relationships, which is I need you to do something for me. I need you to
retweet something for me. I need you to be my friend for me.
BUTLER: Exactly. And I --
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, hold right there. I promise more on that.
But the one thing that I have to do is apparently take a commercial break,
when I come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back and trying to think through sort of competing
ethical questions. We were talking about gun control. But I also wanted
to let you pick up where we were.
BUTLER: Yes I was just thinking about how when you talked about these
relationships we have with people, most of the time what happens is we make
these ideologies even more so than the real people themselves.
AIN: That`s right.
BUTLER: So when we talk about things like gun control or, you know, taxes
or what other else animate thing that`s out there that has a moral or
ethical issue to it, it`s the ideology that gets raised. So, the ideology
of the Second Amendment is raised up over more about what human life. And
I don`t think that`s what the founders and the framers would have wanted.
But that`s how it gets spun out when we`re having these intense arguments.
And what I think could really happen is that we begin to have a sense of
where we talk about it to kids, just like we used to have the civics class,
you know? If we have a class about ethics, but it doesn`t have a religious
component to it, but just talk about the morality of what you do, there`s a
huge amount of material that has nothing do with religion.
But you can think about what it means to be an ethical member of society.
What do you not do to someone else? How do you manage your anger and your
HARRIS-PERRY: So, my only worry about that, is because I feel like a lot,
I mean, having an 11-year-old, I do a lot of kids reading that sort of
thing. But I feel like we do that, but it`s always about private morality,
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels sort of like to the extent that we talk about
morality in the public sphere, we talk about private morality, who you
should and shouldn`t sleep with, how should or should not dispose of things
in your uterus. I mean, you know, this is -- this is what we think of as
morality, right? But we don`t talk about public morality, what it means.
For example, in your work, that there are millions of people in the world
today without access to water. We don`t call that sin but that certainly
feels to me like at least as much sin as sleeping with the wrong person.
PEPPARD: Right. I think that those are completely great points. One
entree possibly into civic education is precisely in the context of the
bullying epidemic that we`ve seen. I had a kindergartner, and so, she`ll
come home and say, mama, there was a kid on o the playground and he said we
couldn`t play with him. And we discussed it and worked through it.
I mean, she`s 5. OK.
But on the point of global problems and --
HARRIS-PERRY: But 5-year-olds get it.
PEPPARD: They do.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m less worried about them -- in part because they`re good
socialists, right? So, they figure out how to make it work. I`m more
worried about when we want our job and we turn the other people into these
POLLITT: Can I say something?
POLLITT: OK. Well, you know, it`s a very good question to ask why isn`t
religion as concerned about water and economic justice and all these things
as it is and as they mentioned sexual morality.
And I would say that`s not an accident. It`s not just that they haven`t
thought oh, water, right? It`s that one of the things that religion is
about is the control of women. These religions were all invented by men
And controlling women is very important. And the way you do that is by
regulating women`s sexuality. Men`s sexuality a little bit but that`s
never been too effective. But if you read the Bible, they`re always going
on about prostitutes and harlots and barren women and women who --
BUTLER: You know why? Because they`re afraid of the other religions like
(INAUDIBLE) and everybody else, who the women are powerful, right? So,
this is a different thing.
BUTLER: That`s the other part of it. It`s like -- how do you -- you
repress (ph) these women.
But I do think that the more important thing is that if we leave all of the
things aside and you start to begin to think about what is the core of
humanity, what does it mean to be human, what does it mean to be alive, how
are we going to do this together so we can get people clean water and clean
air and clean food, because we`re going to wreck this place if we don`t
start thinking about this in the corporate way.
It`s over with. Everything is melting. Everything is going away. This is
what is so interesting to me about Francis.
But if you think that everything is going to go away and it`s apocalyptic
and the world is going to end anyway, so why do you care?
POLLITT: Half the Christians think that Jesus is coming back in 40 years.
BUTLER: Absolutely. And everything --
POLLITT: Why should they care if the water?
AIN: God demands that we care. That`s one of the things. We are holy
because God is holy. God calls us to be a good person as well.
I think what we have had is -- you know, as you`ve rightly pointed out,
religious leaders who co-opted some of these beautiful messages that we
find in our Bible for their own causes and their own political agendas, and
that really has turned a lot of people off.
According to the Pew Research Study, one out of three Americans under the
age of 30 has no religious identification or affiliation altogether,
because they have stopped seeing it being able to speak to what they value
in their lives and how they come to understand it. That`s a loss. That`s
a crisis of faith that we are experiencing as a country. And what we need
is religious leadership that enables people to understand how we can see
I like that you made the distinction between the religious leadership and
the religion themselves, in part because like I get you on the kind of text
of terror, as we might call some of what happens around women for example
in the Bible. That`s in part because preachers then don`t make a decision,
for example to preach Hagar or to preach Mary Magdalene in particular ways,
So, it`s not even so much that like -- because Bible is also full of Ruth
and of women doing these amazing, independent and quite holy things. But I
think you are exactly right that the religious leaders have a variety of
reasons for wanting to control women`s reproductive.
PEPPARD: I have one point on women and one point on environment. On
women, I think that you`re absolutely right. We need to preach Hagar, we
need to preach Mary Magdalene and say, hey, just because there was a woman
in the New Testament doesn`t mean receives a prostitute.
But also it`s interesting how in contemporary homiletics invoking women can
be seen as kind of, OK, well, we checked that box.
HARRIS-PERRY: Women`s day.
PEPPARD: Yes, exactly, done, OK.
So, part of what has me interested and hopeful is that, for example, Pope
Francis today in his Urbis et Orbis speech remarked on the women at the
tomb and described them as disciples.
It might seem like, duh, to a lot of people but it`s also kind of
revolutionary for the Catholic Church and for the pontiff to be speaking in
this way. Does that mean that then makes women equal citizens around the
world? No, it doesn`t. But it`s a step in the right direction.
So, that`s a point on women.
On environment -- now, I study the Catholic social teaching and
environmental thoughts, specifically freshwater. So I`m delighted that you
brought that up.
I think the Catholic environmentalism hinges on two pivot points: one is
theological, one is ethical. The theological one is that there`s a
discernible order in nature, in the creative world and that that reveals in
some way the goodness of the Creator.
The ethical point is that people living in poverty and especially women and
children, disproportionately bear the burdens of environmental degradation.
PEPPARD: Women walk miles and hours every day to get water. Literally,
their bodies are shaped by the burden. Water is eight pounds a gallon.
PEPPARD: I mean, this is a profound, in a sense, disability, because if
women and girls are getting water. You know what they`re not doing?
They`re not going to school and they`re not having opportunities open to
them. So, it is a justice issue.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, as we wrap here, this moment as we are in
Passover, as we are in spring and planting seeds as we are in Easter, as we
think about sin, to think about sin in a way that allows us to think about
our collective selves, and as we think about planting new seeds, they`re
the seeds that we must plant for our collective selves to create a sense of
justice and equality.
Thank you to Rabbi Dan, to Christiana, to Katha.
Anthea is going to stay with me a little bit because she is literally going
to let down her hair.
HARRIS-PERRY: One of our aims in Nerdland is to keep our audience informed
on a wide array of issues, that range from political to the personal. We
are always thrilled when the work that we do on air inspires others to keep
the conversations going, which is what happened with the segment we aired
back in June on the politics of black hair.
It inspired a whole symposium at the University of Pennsylvania. Take a
HARRIS-PERRY: Why did you decide to do a symposium on black hair?
BUTLER: Well, because your show gave me the idea. When we did that
segment back in -- I thought it was June of 2012, just so many responses
people had to black hair, and I just thought I really wanted to bring this
to the academic world and to the public at large, because so many people
have asked since I`ve been on your show, how do you do your hair,
especially older women?
I want to say you can show your hair and all these permutations and not be
ashamed of it. I think we`re always ashamed if our hair isn`t perfectly
presented to the public. So, today, I will look like Cleo from "Set It
Off" when you see that I have flat twists on and then you will see my hair
come out in full glory.
UNIDENTITIED FEMALE: Doing like a show.
BUTLER: I know people out there going she just snatched her wig. But, you
know, I`m not ashamed of my hair. I love my hair. This is what it looks
like when we get done with it. We`re going to show you the process about
this gets done. I think this is really important because we have so many
stigmas about hair.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The first slide is when she`s having her hair
shampooed and she`s blowing out her hair. This is her hair in the blow-out
stage. A lot of women are wearing their hair in a blow-out. We`re going
to show you how I flat twist, double stand, flat twist her hair to give her
hair texture. So, here she is in all her glory.
BUTLER: We`re going to take it down in front of you so you can see it all
styled and everything so that when I leave tonight, I don`t scare the cab
driver on the way home.
BUTLER: So now you see that I have a whole headed hair -- voila.
HARRIS-PERRY: Anthea`s hair is like its own character on our show. People
love Anthea`s hair. They write in about it. They have questions about it.
Talk to me about just that one client that you have in this thing.
ABENAA TIMAZEE, ANTHEA`S STYLIST: Anthea`s hair and her personality are
both very explosive. And so, when I style her hair, I like her hair to
exude and compliment her personality.
And she is -- some people say, I am not my hair -- but she is her hair.
Her hair is beautiful. It reaches up to the cosmos and her personality
does the same.
ANU PRESTONIA, HAIR SALON OWNER: I love the fact that her hair is not
dyed. That she wears her silver hair the way it is. And I think it would
inspire a lot of women of her generation who don`t see the value of having
their hair and its natural color and in its natural texture.
MARK SAVAGE, SYMPOSIUM ATTENDEE: For me, since I have the kinkiest of the
kinky hairs, most of my life I was talked about. But I had to learn to
BUTLER: It really is hard for people to come out and be themselves from
the top of their head to the soles of their feet. I hope that I`m a model
at least for being happy in your own skin.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, that wig-snatching professor, Anthea
Butler, will be back at the table. She and I are going to talk with some
inventors of a new Web site that is literally hair-raising.
HARRIS-PERRY: A new Web site by four entrepreneurial 20-somethings that
launches at the end of April aims to offer a welcoming space for women to
discuss the very personal topic of our hair.
Madame You will be an online social network where women of color can find
out about products for their hair, get personalized solution and be part of
an engaged community.
Joining me from Atlanta, Georgia, are: Chanel Martin and Candace Mitchell,
the co-founders ofMadameYou.com, which is powered by texturized.
Still with me also, Anthea Butler.
So, ladies, we got really excited in Nerdland about your new project. One
of the things as I was kind reading up, apparently, African-American women
make up only 6 percent of the population. But we are 33 percent of sales
in U.S. hair care.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you guys have picked quite a recession-proof business
CANDACE MITCHELL, MADAMEYOU.COM: Yes, we have. And we know this because
we`ve grown up taking care of our hair at a very young age and we know how
much product we buy. And we know how frustrating it is to figure out what
works best for our hair type. So, that`s what inspired us to come
together, using our technology background in computer science and chemical
engineering to really bring something innovative to the hair market.
CHANEL MARTIN, MADAMEYOU.COM: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s interesting to me, in part, because I suspect
some folks will think it`s odd to talk about hair as like a social network
space or collective or communal space. They`ll say, you wake up in the
morning to do your hair and you go outside. It`s personal.
Why do you think you need a community for this?
MARTIN: Because women are already doing this. If you look at Facebook,
Instagram, Pinterest, women are taking photos of their hair. They`re
searching for hairstyles. There are hundreds of thousands of Facebook
groups where women have gathered together to discuss their hair.
So it`s about time that we`ve created our own space just for our hair.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to -- Anthea, a little bit about this. It seems to
me, folks may not know the history of black women as entrepreneurs runs
right through hair care.
BUTLER: Yes, exactly. (INAUDIBLE) C.J. Walker and others. And, you know,
I don`t know how many people out there did this. I used to go back of
somebody`s house and paid them to press my hair growing up. And that was a
I never went to a real beauty salon until I was much older. So, this has
always been a place where black women can show entrepreneurial skills. And
help each other in the community. But what I think so great about this
project is that it gives a space for everybody to talk to.
It`s almost like a virtual beauty salon but much bigger. You can reach
across the lines. I`ve had people just because of the show you did in
June, people write me from the U.K. and other places around the world.
This is a big concern for women of African descent everywhere.
And we love to talk about our hair and it`s what we bond over it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Candace, as you know, it seems to be, part of what`s at the
core of your business model is that not all women of color have the same
hair. There`s not just one hair grade. So, talk about that a bit.
MITCHELL: Right. I mean, you can tell between me and Chanel, we have
different hair types on our own. So, there`s -- and it`s incredibly hard
to figure out, OK, which one is my hair type. We go on blogs and different
things to figure it out.
But it`s because we`re complex as African women from all aspects of the
world and where we`re from and what`s in our lineage. So, that`s shown
through our hair, a form of expression but shows that we`re different but
we`re all striving for the same thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: You talk about being different. I was talking with one of
my -- the best girlfriends, doing the blowout and the press and curl for
her daughter because it`s Easter Sunday. And, you know, on the one hand,
yes, we`re all different. But there`s also this sense -- I feel like it`s
a new sense to me like somehow natural hair is supposedly, ethically
superior or something. I feel like I want to be sure that we make room for
people to have every hair choice.
MARTIN: Yes. That`s one of the reasons were we created Madame You,
because it`s not just for natural hair. It`s for all hair types. Whether
your hair is relaxed, whipped up, braided up, cut, short, long, we`ve
created a space just for you, because all hair is beautiful however you
decide to wear it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Anthea, that was actually part of the symposium was about,
was trying to talk about how you wear your hair ends up sending these
messages or, you know, even if you`re not meaning to send them. They send
messages to other folks.
BUTLER: Exactly. People see natural hair, they think, you know, oh, she`s
more feisty, or she must this or she must be that. They see your hair
long, and they think, oh, you know, she`s just trying to accommodate.
She`s weak. She`s this and she`s that.
And all these things and emotions put on top of the hair. You had Angela
Davis on yesterday, talking about that. Hair fro (ph) represented
something and people forgot what was going on underneath there, right?
BUTLER: All of this in a sense what`s great about Madame You, is that you
can bring it together, and there`s no shame, there`s no condemnation, it`s
just about hair. And I think that`s what we need the most, especially
with color gradations, hair gradations, we put all of these things in hour
communities about, you know, if somebody has good hair or bad hair and all
this stuff. We need to just kind of flatten all that of and just talk
about hair and how we do it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Candace, I want to ask you, you said about your science and
technology backgrounds, what is the possible technology aspect here in.
MITCHELL: Well, the technology is in actually how we build our site.
We`re actually building a product recommendation system. You`ll be able to
produce your own hair profile on MadameYou.com, and we`ll take the
characteristics and match them with products so that it takes away the time
for you to figure it out on your own. Whether you`re in the store or
online or things like that.
So, we`re developing algorithms and using the technical part on our site to
power the site and make it easier for you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Chanel, I heard some point in the future, I can actually
take a piece of my hair, send it in the mail to you and you can break down
the technology of it?
MARTIN: Yes. That`s definitely in the future. Myself, I`m a chemical
engineer. I have my masters degree.
And that was in our initial plan. We want to be able to tell you about
your hair all the way from its bare physical characteristics. And so, in
our initial planning, of course, you know, it will be basically a
questionnaire in some of our technology behind it, but in the near future,
you will be able to send a strand of your hair in and we can tell you what
products work best for your hair.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I love that. I also say, Chanel and Candace, I
hope that at some point we try to keep our eye on issues of STEM and girls,
and at some point, we hope you guys will come up from Atlanta and maybe
join us here at the table to talk about how to get young ladies doing
things like getting masters degrees in chemical engineering.
MITCHELL: Right. We love to. We volunteer with Black Girls Code
currently and we take every opportunity to inspire girls to go into the
STEM field. So, whenever you need us, we are there.
MARTIN: Yes, we are there.
HARRIS-PERRY: I am, myself, also inspired. Thank you to Chanel and
Candace in Atlanta, Georgia.
And thank you to Anthea for spending Easter Sunday with me.
BUTLER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, this week voter suppression. Here they come again.
HARRIS-PERRY: It may not be an election year but that does not mean we can
rest in our constant vigilance to protect the fragile and increasingly
endangered health of our democracy. Yes, folks, "This Week in Voter
Suppression" is back, with a vengeance.
"The Nation" magazine`s Ari Berman reports that in the first quarter of
2013, states around the country have proposed 55 new voting restrictions.
The suppression proposing states include Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa,
Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New
Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia,
Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
But the worst offender this week is Virginia, where Governor Bob
"Transvaginal" McDonnell signed a new suppression law that will likely cost
the state more than $7 million and disenfranchise more than 850,000
eligible, legal voters. His tool of choice, like that of most of the
states, is the entirely unnecessary government issued photo ID.
And because you followed our "This Week in Voter Suppression" series here
on MHP in 2012, you already know these laws are a solution to a problem
that does not exist. You also know these restrictions have a clear,
disparate impact on the poor, the physically disabled, the elderly, college
students, and black and Latino voters.
These laws do not protect the integrity of democracy. They undermine it.
These laws undermine the basic precept of a healthy democracy. That to
live in a democracy is to have the right to govern, not just to be
governed, to rule not just to be ruled. To be heard not silenced.
And here`s the big one -- to lose without fear that winners take all.
You see, democracy is unique, a powerful and enduring not because it serves
the interest of winners. I mean, totalitarian regimes do that.
Democracy`s special claim on world history is that it protects the rights
and interests of the losers as well.
Winning an election is not the same thing as staging a coup. Democracy is
for losers because it ensures that winners don`t take all. They can only
take their share.
But it also ensures that the less powerful have a stake, a voice, and an
equal capacity for self-governance. "We the People" means all of us, which
is why on Thursday, President Obama signed an executive order creating a
special commission designed to protect our ability to cast a vote and have
a voice. Just in time because the threats to our votes are very real.
And that`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. See
you next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Coming up "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2013 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2013 Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>
WATCH 'THE MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY SHOW' SATURDAY AND SUNDAY AT 10:00 A.M. ET ON MSNBC.
MORE FROM MSNBC
Add msnbc headlines to your news reader: