May 25, 2013
Guests: Kathy Zito, James Perry, David Cay Johnston, Melodee Colbert Kean, Lawrence Korb, Yves Smith, Stephen Lerner, Pardiss Kebriaei, Ramzi Kassem, Lawrence Korb, David Cay Johnston, James Perry
MELISSA HARRIS PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question, how does a
company with no employees rake in billions in profit? Plus, disaster
recovery and the politics of survival. And my letter of this week is
addressed to Mr. Jackson in Virginia. But first, President Obama calls for
an end to perpetual war.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. President Obama put it all on the
line with his counter terrorism speech on Thursday. The president asserted
his vision for the practical use of drone war fair, the possibility of
bounded presidential powers and a more measured approach going forward when
it comes to the war on terror.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Beyond
Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless global war on
terror. But rather as a series of persistent targeted efforts to dismantle
specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. By my reading, this display of public nuance and
complex reasoning was nothing short of courageous. And here is why.
Because in his nearly one hour speech at the National Defense University,
the president not only put his second term on the line, but the future of
the Democratic Party. Here`s what I think is the reality. The president
has another three and a half years in office. And if any act of terrorism
occurs on American soil or to American interest abroad in that time,
political opponents are going to point to the tone shift which began in
this speech on Thursday, May 23rd as the reason. For the president to say
that the United States will pull back our efforts and redefine the American
vision of global warfare, as we know it, in the aftermath of most Benghazi
and the Boston marathon bombing was a spectacularly (ph) courageous act,
because for more than a decade nothing short of chest thumping militaristic
swagger has counted as strong foreign policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I believe that many of these decisions were motivated by a sincere
desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that all too
often our government made decisions based on fear, rather than foresight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Acting out of fear may have been our immediate response, but
it cannot continue as our main way of dealing with global terror. The
president had to articulate and how America can defend our borders and our
citizens without giving into a self destructive global paranoia, which saps
our revenue, undermines our Democratic commitments and distracts from
realistic threats. If the president means what he says, then we just
entered an entirely new age. One that is not marked by perpetual war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I intend to engage Congress about the existing authorization
to use military force for AMF to determine how we can continue to fight
terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, be clear. The president was not tie-dyeing his shirt
and singing give peace a chance. This president has been ice-veined and
clear-eyed in his willingness to eliminate those that he deems to be
enemies of American safety. And on Thursday he made the case that his
strategy, drone warfare, is both more sophisticated and more restrained.
Now, I get it. You`re all collectively groaning and rolling your eyes at
me through the camera. Because there is a progressive consensus that drone
warfare is unethical and that it kills civilians. But President Obama just
asks us to consider: if putting our men and women on the front lines is a
better alternative? And he simply doesn`t think so.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So, it is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less
likely to result in civilian deaths or less likely to create enemies in the
Muslim world. The results would be more U.S. deaths, more Blackhawks down.
More confrontations with local populations and inevitable mission creep in
support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It has been nearly 12 long and painful years since the
tragedy of 9/11. And while the security of our country is paramount, even
the staunchest supporters of American military dominance would be hard
pressed to support getting involved in another ground war. In Iraq or
Afghanistan or really anywhere. On Thursday the president with as many
details as he was willing to reveal, made his case for why drone warfare
will continue. He even justified the killing of four American citizens in
drone strikes, including Anwar al-Awlaki.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and
is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens and when neither the United
States nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries
out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper
shooting down on an incident crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, whether you agree with him or not, the president just
did a pretty amazing thing. He made the case. He made a careful
(inaudible). He risked a lot to make it. Now it`s time to debate it. At
the table, Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American
Progress. He was assistant secretary of defense in Ronald Reagan`s
administration. Pardiss Kebriaei, a senior staff attorney at the Center
for Constitutional Rights where she focuses on government abuses post 9/11
including drone strikes and Guantanamo Bay. She`s also the lead counsel
for CCR in the Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, which is a case seeking accountability
in the drone strike that killed three Americans in Yemen. Ramzi Kassem is
associate professor of law at the City University of New York School of Law
where he directs the immigrant and non-citizen rights clinic. Ramzi and
his students represent former prisoners of Gitmo. And David Cay Johnston,
an attorney and author of "The Fine Print." Thank you all for being here.
I want to start with you, because I suspect we have many disagreements. I
saw the president as having made a politically courageous speech. Am I
PARDISS KEBRIAEI, REPRESENTING GITMO DETAINEES: You know I think we agree
that it was a good thing for the president to reject the idea of perpetual
warfare. I think it was a good thing to articulate a vision about a time
when the United States responds the way most countries in the world respond
to track the terrorism, which is using their own ordinary laws, the
constitution and where the use of military force really becomes an
exception and not the rule. What I was troubled by or at best confused by
was what he reasserted for the president. And a question about how long --
how far away are we from the future that he articulated? And what I heard
was a reassertion of the very basic premise of this targeted killing
program, which is this premise of global war against al Qaeda not only in
Afghanistan, but against loosely defined associated forces around the
world. And that`s the basic premise and that`s the basic problem here.
And I didn`t hear that the refinements that he talked about, well, that`s a
question, I think, about how meaningful they will be. But the premise
remains, I think.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And in fact, I think some have argued that in fact
by making a case for drone warfare. For making a case that it might in
fact to be better than boots on the ground, that drones don`t bring
cholera, and drones don`t rape and drones don`t (inaudible) many of the
things that actually putting soldiers can bring of negative extra
(inaudible) not only to American troops, but also to the places where they
are, that he then also opens the door for drone warfare over and against
Americans at some point.
RAMZI KASSEM, ASSOCIATE PROF., CUNY SCHOOL OF LAW: And I think the
problem is that drones do bring an extraordinary amount of fear in the
communities that are targeted by drones. And one of the issues that I have
to just add to what Pardiss was saying, with the president`s speech on
Thursday, was that he mentioned the classified presidential policy guidance
that is supposed to govern our use of drones going forward. The problem
with that, of course, is that it`s pure executive fiat. It`s an act of
presidential grace that can be undone by this president of any future
president. And I think it signals that the checks and balances of our
system have failed. The courts have not intervened meaningfully, and
Pardiss can tell you that from her experience in her case. Congress has
not intervened meaningfully to restrain this program. And then the bigger
issue is that it`s classified. So, we don`t know what the criteria are.
So when the president says that someone poses an imminent threat, what does
that mean? And the president says that someone cannot be captured, what
does that mean specifically? And what evidence are we basing this
decisions? So my fear ...
HARRIS-PERRY: But this -- but this is a reality, I want to be careful.
Because it feels to me part of the reason I often end up taking issue with
progressives around some of these issues is my sense that folks want to
create a sort of -- sort of moral absolute, sort of -- and that is easy to
say, look, these are clearly decisions that ultimately led to the death,
for example, of American citizens. That without due process, that is
appalling to us. And yet the reality is we do have a commander in chief in
a complicated world where states are not fighting each other in trench
warfare who should we invest with this decisions except for the elected
KASSEM: The problem is there is no oversight. And what we`re seeing with
the president`s speech on Thursday, is really not a reassertion of
meaningful oversight, it`s an entrenchment. It`s an institutionalization,
it`s a normalization of a very opaque policy. We have no transparency into
how the U.S. government goes about making these decisions. And they are
decisions that affect countless people worldwide. The numbers are
staggering. There are upwards of 3,000 casualties in Pakistan alone since
2004, only two percent are characterized as militant leaders by some
accounts. That`s troubling.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: But Ramzi, when you say no
oversight we do have members of Congress who are briefed on this regularly.
That should be oversight. Now, they may well be failing to do their job.
I think the evidence is pretty clear that we have what -- over 400 of these
drone strikes, some of which have had significant numbers of innocent
people who were killed. But there -- it`s not that there is no oversight,
and I would agree with you thoroughly that the courts have not been willing
to listen to these cases. Courts generally tend to be differential. But
we in view (ph) 21-year-old freshly minted police officers with the power
and authority to kill somebody when there`s what`s called -- exigent
JOHNSTON: And that`s what the president was talking about when he used his
sniper example. So I tend to agree with you that somebody is going to have
this kind of power. Drones are here. They`re not going away until new
technology replaces them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, drones just sort of are, right? I mean drones are. I
think the question is in part the kill list, right? What we are using the
drones to do.
LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Right. I think it`s
important to keep in mind that drones are just the latest development in
the use of military force. I mean you go from bayonets, you know, to tanks
to artillery, to planes and other presidents have used military force even
before the war on terror. When I worked for President Reagan, we bombed
Libya because we did not like the fact that the Libyans were alleged to
have killed some Americans in Berlin, in west Berlin, in a discotheque.
President Clinton attacked Afghanistan after our embassies in east Africa
were blown up and also Sudan, because this is where Osama bin Laden had
been before he got to Afghanistan. I think what the president did was very
courageous because this is a new thing. And we need to understand how
we`re going to use it. As David said, he`s been telling Congress just like
we have to inform Congress when we have an intelligence act, you know, a
finding. And, you know, the fact of the matter is, we have been doing this
a long time. You know, under President Eisenhower, we didn`t like the
government of Iraq - so we over -- I mean in Iran. So we overthrew it. So
I think the real key is, will all of the agencies of government fulfill
their constitutional responsibilities.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want -- I want to come back to exactly this issue. And
Pardiss I want you to jump in when we get back. Because I think there is
this question of whether or not the president has set out something that I
think we take as a truism. Executives never pull back power. And yet it
sounded at least like he was opening the door for that. So when we come
back, more on the question of whether or not the president is actually
willing to constrain executive power.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Unless we discipline our thinking, our definition, our actions, we
may be drawn into more wars we don`t need to fight or continue to grant
presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts
between nation states.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The idea that presidential power can be bound, now that`s
something we haven`t heard in a while. And it`s a far cry from the message
of President George W. Bush towards the Taliban after the tragic events of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH: Give the United States full access to terrorist training
camps so we can make sure they are no longer operating. These demands are
not open to negotiation or discussion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was a time when a wounded America was in search of
answers and we`re going to always remain vigilant, but the scope of how our
leadership reacts going forward is going to have to change. The time for
restraints on accountability is here. And so let`s talk about restraint
and accountability. When we look at the numbers of drone attacks in
Pakistan we are looking at a total of 355 strikes. These are unofficial
numbers, right? But 355 strikes with upward of 3,000 people killed,
including up to 300 civilians, more than 2500 militants in Yemen, 69
strikes killing more than 800 people with militants, potentially, at 750 of
both individuals and civilians also being killed. Are we, in fact, in a
place where our president is being held accountable?
KEBRIAEI: Well, one thing I have to say about those numbers, as you notice
they were from the New America Foundation. They were not from the
KEBRIAEI: So, one basic point, if we`re going to talk about transparency
and oversight is how much -- how much we don`t know still about this
program. The government hasn`t yet released basic data about the numbers
of those killed, who they are, where these strikes are occurring, what
exactly the criteria are. And I don`t think we`re still clear about that.
There is a presidential speech. There is a fact sheet released from the
White House about what the criteria would be for targeting. But we don`t
know the basic things. We don`t have the legal memos, for example, that
justify these strikes. And as far as congressional oversight, you know,
during the confirmation process for John Brennan, it took the Senate
committee tasked with oversight of the program demanding the legal memos
justifying the killing of U.S. citizens from the White House to get that
kind of basic information. That`s as far as congressional oversight. And
the president didn`t really make the case or make clear how that would
change going forward, he said (inaudible) proposed.
HARRIS-PERRY: The one that we do know is the name of the 16-year-old boy
who was killed. And this came up in a heckler of the president`s speech.
Let`s listen for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about Abdulrahman al-Awlaki? 16-year-old
American, killed by drones. Is that the way we treat a 16-year-old
American? Why was he killed? Can you tell us why Abdulrahman al-Awlaki
was killed? Can you tell the Muslim people their lives are as precious as
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: For that moment, we`re getting a lot of play because that`s
-- that is one piece -- it`s one name that we have that -- and the name of
a minor, of a child, who was killed clearly not on the kill list. Who was
killed as collateral damage in this. And it has become sort of a rallying
point for those who don`t think that the president is accountable.
KEBRIAEI: Just on Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, we represent him in our case with
the ACLU. And I actually don`t want to give the president too much credit
for the just -- too much credit, because it took two years. It was the
right thing to do to acknowledge his death and the death of four other --
three other American citizens. The rest of us have known that. It took
the Justice Department two years to acknowledge this death. So, the right
thing to do, we`ve got a case pending in federal court. The thing to do
now is to allow that case to go forward. And if Eric Holder is going to
justify the legality of those strikes in a letter to Congress, his Justice
Department should be prepared to defend the legality of its actions in
court instead of moving to dismiss our case.
KASSEM: We can`t forget that the point about transparency is central. The
difference between the Libya scenario that Larry brought up was that we
knew the reasons for U.S. military interventions in Libya. The bases were
clear. The difference with the scenario where you have a police officer
stopping someone on the street, or even using lethal force, we know at
least what standards are supposed to apply legally to that sort of
intervention. The problem here is that we are talking about lethal force
against unknown numbers of citizens of other nations and U.S. citizens and
we just have very little visibility into it. As a public. As the American
people. We have very little visibility into the standards that are
governing that radical use of force.
JOHNSTON: Ramzi is right, there`s the point that I think is much broader
than this. It`s about the Obama administration. They have this attitude
that they don`t have to answer questions from journalists if they don`t
like the question. They declare we`re going off the record -- I`m sorry,
the journalist controls the privilege entirely. Nine days after the
president was elected, I called -- I wrote a piece about how I called the
White House press officer, and I`ve been calling him back to the Dixon days
and people wouldn`t say who they were who answered the phone in the White
House press office. And how that suggested something troubling. So we`ve
seen some ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Also, take -- walk with me on this for a moment -- because
earlier I called you an attorney, and where you are actually an
investigative journalist who teaches at a law school. So talk to me about
the investigative journalism piece for a minute. You know, I`m not a
journalist, right? I`m a schoolteacher who happens to have a television
show, and I sometimes miss the amount of emotional angst and potentially
also sort of structural difference that is going on with this White House.
I hear it from journalists all the time. That this White House is somehow
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s very hard for me to believe that vis-a-vis the
eight years, for example, of the George W. Bush administration or even of
the Clinton era, there really is something structurally different?
JOHNSTON: Yes, yes, there is. And this -- the Obama administration is
much less open to journalists than Bush was. Now, a lot of people
criticized reporters in the Bush years for letting people talk without
being named. Every (inaudible) in "The New York Times", but one, I name
people by name, rank and serial number. The Reagan administration was much
more open. I mean I had vigorous tough conversations on the phone and in
person with people from the Reagan administration. They may not like your
questions, but they respected that it was their job to answer them. The
Obama people are like, well, what are you asking that for? What do you
want to know that for? And if they don`t like the questions, they just
don`t get back to you in many cases.
KORB: I`m glad (inaudible) it`s a nice thing about the Reagan
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s a lot here ...
KORB: Let me tell you something here which I think is very critical. The
press let us down in the invasion of Iraq.
KORB: They did not do their job.
JOHNSTON: Yes, yes, right.
KORB: That`s when they blew it. And then when you`re talking about what`s
going on, here`s the Congress, when they passed the authorization for the
use of military force, the language was very broad. And they didn`t put a
date on the end of it, unlike the Patriot Act. So, what I think the
president is trying to do, whatever else you think -- is OK. We have got
to end this. You, guys, are going to play your job. I mean if you want,
let`s work together. And you know, we`ll set down the ground rules and as
David (inaudible) they were telling Congress about all these drone strikes.
In other words, they`ve been letting them know. Now, if our elected
legislators don`t want to play that job, and I think it goes back to the
point you made in the beginning, they don`t want to be blamed either if we
HARRIS-PERRY: Yep, yep. This is -- I mean this is a fundamental question.
In fact, it`s one that I think is also with the core of the reluctance
around Gitmo, which we are going to come back and be directed on that
conversation, because that`s the other really deep issue. We are going to
Cuba when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sometimes a politician makes a promise never intending to
keep it. At other times the unkept promises of an office holder tell us
more about the constraints of the office than the honesty of the man.
Which one is the case with President Obama and his quest to close
Guantanamo Bay? He talked about it during his 2008 campaign. It was one
of the very first executive orders that he signed after he took office as
president in 2009. And Gitmo was also part of the president`s big security
speech in May of 2009.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: By any measure the cost of keeping it open far exceed the
complications involved in closing it. That`s why I argued that it should
be closed throughout my campaign. And that is why I ordered it closed
within one year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that year came and went. And so, more than a year after
taking office the president spoke about the frustrations of not being able
to deliver on his campaign promise of closing Gitmo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: You know, we have succeeded on delivering a lot of campaign
promises that we made. And one where we have fallen short is closing
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Added to the equation now are the 103 detainees who are on a
hunger strike to protest the perpetual confinement without due process.
This is what the president had to say about that escalating situation last
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I don`t want these individuals to die. Obviously, the Pentagon is
trying to manage the situation as best as they can. But I think all of us
should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s the question. Why are we doing this?
KASSEM: My view is that, unfortunately, it`s been a complete lack of
political will on the president`s part. There`s been a pattern in this
presidency of when it comes to detention issues to make a grand speech,
sign a piece of paper and then act as though it`s problem solved. What we
need now is some real concrete follow-through. I didn`t see anything, that
was particularly applause worthy in the president`s speech on Thursday when
it came to detention issues. Of course, lifting the moratorium is a
necessary first step, as someone who is called for that -- necessary, for
the step I commend the president on doing that. But it is not sufficient.
What we need to see are prisoners being released and everything else that
the president said was either not helpful or downright harmful and then, of
course, he forgot Bagram.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, yes. And I want to get to Bagram in a moment. But
before we get -- I want to pause for just one second. Because I think part
of what happens here is we use the language of detention. And it sounds as
though the men who they are -- are simply detained. And they are simply
sitting there -- and I want you to help because on this one I don`t quite
show (ph) in the same rules and regimen (ph) around drones, but I have deep
outrage about what are doing in Guantanamo. And particularly when people
get clear about the circumstances there. So what are the kinds of
circumstances that your clients are facing?
KASSEM: Well, right now, and, you know, Pardiss can add to this, you know,
I represent -- my students and I represent a number of prisoners at
Guantanamo. One of them Muaz Al-Alawi, we received official confirmation
from the U.S. government that he is being forced fed right now by a tube.
We also received the official confirmation that he was injured in a raid on
April 13th where we -- my understanding for my client was that he was shot
at close range five times using steel -- rubber coated steel bullets, which
are potentially lethal. My other client, Ahmed Al-Darbi, his father passed
away two weeks ago. I mean these are men who have been in U.S. custody for
over 11 years. If the U.S. government hasn`t been able to make a case
against them, then they should simply be released and returned home.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, of course, the security question then emerges. And
that question is, even if they were not initially enemies of the state.
After being detained in those kinds of circumstances, have we in fact now
created them as enemies of the state, and if so, then how do we manage the
ethical problem of having, in fact, generated that sense of them being
enemies and yet it`s our fault that we have done it and yet the fear of
them, releasing them to a place like Yemen.
KEBRIAEI: You know, I can speak for the clients that I represent and the
men that I`ve met since 2007 over the years I`ve been done with the base
every eight weeks or so since them. And I can tell you that people who I
know and who I have met want to be released. They want to return to their
families. There want to restart their lives. There are hundreds of men
who are now living in Europe, resettled in Europe, or who are back home,
who are peacefully rebuilding their lives without incident. So, there`s an
overblown myth or thought of perception of recidivism or what is going to
happen if let these people go. The sky is not going to fall. They`re
going to -- they are going to live their lives.
HARRIS-PERRY: If they`re home.
KEBRIAEI: Even to Yemen. You know, there were releases, including one of
our clients to Yemen in 2009. Six men who were returned. They`re living
there, they`re with their families. They`re getting married.
HARRIS-PERRY: People want to go home.
KEBRIAEI: They want to go me.
KASSEM: And that`s extremely important. I mean just yesterday I spoke to
a released client in Yemen, a released client in Saudi Arabia, a released
client in Algeria, they`re all living peaceful normal lives with their
families. There is no indication, and even by the U.S. governments, all
numbers, which are questionable, upwards of 77 percent of the prisoners who
have been released from Guantanamo have not done anything even remotely
questionable or suspect.
KORB: Well, even if they do.
JOHNSTON: I`m sorry. Go ahead.
KORB: No, obviously there are risks, but the benefits far outweigh
whatever risks you have. And I`ve got to tell you, what -- and I couldn`t
tell you how disappointed I were with Obama? I worked in his campaign that
he backed off on this after Congress put up some resistance. He could have
used executive power to have done more and everything. And then they threw
Greg Craig, the White House counsel who is doing this, under the bus. And
I think you have too many people who had been in government before and
said, well, you`ve got to focus on this. You`ve got -- he was different.
And we had hoped he would be different. But I think he fell, you know, to
a lot of the people -- well, you`ve got to work on health care. You`ve got
to do this.
No, this was a ...
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to stay -- we`re going to tell exactly this
issue. Because the fact is that although he has constraints, there are
other things he can do. And I want to talk about what he can do when we
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Given my administration`s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda`s
leadership. There is no justification beyond politics for Congress to
prevent us from closing a facility that should have never been opened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama on Thursday at the National Defense
University making his best case for why Guantanamo Bay should be, but is
not yet closed. But, David, you were saying there are things he can do
even prior to the closing ...
JOHNSTON: My understanding of the law is he can send people back home and
he has lots of authority he is not using here. And those people who have
this original (inaudible) of the Constitution they should be really deeply
offended by this. One of the reasons we had the revolution was the British
would just lock you up forever if they wanted to.
JOHNSTON: This is just totally offensive to our values and it makes us
look terrible to the rest of the world and causes very long term damage.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it does feel to me like on the one hand the reason that
(inaudible) don`t have this particular sort of response is really about a
discriminatory perspective that these people with these kinds of names who
are going to be released at these kinds of countries simply don`t deserve
the same human rights as the rest of us.
KASSEM: And that`s -- and you, you know, you`ve basically pointed to the
elephant in the room. You know, that`s the distinguishing factor. It`s
the reason why these policies are acceptable and applied to certain
demographics. And they would be completely unfathomable when applied to
others. I mean think about being taken away from your family, being thrown
in a Caribbean gulag for 11 yours. You have not been tried. You have not
been charged. You don`t even know if you are ever going to see your family
again. I think that`s -- you have to start there to understand why the men
are going on hunger strike. My clients have told me and Pardiss`s clients
have prior told her the same thing: they do not wish to die. That is not
a gesture of desperation, it is a life affirming gesture that is intended
to exercise their autonomy and their dignity in the only way that they can
in these really extraordinary circumstances.
KEBRIAEI: And given, though, that they have gone on hunger strike. And we
are not -- and let`s remember, the only reason why President Obama actually
talked about Guantanamo in his speech is because of these hunger strike.
KEBRIAEI: So it`s the men there ...
HARRIS-PERRY: They put them to cells on ...
KEBRIAEI: That`s exactly right. And right now there are over 100 people
on hunger strike for over three months. There are over 30 people being
force-fed, life sustained on liquid formula. It`s going to get worse. And
though people I`ve talked to do not want to die. It`s a dire situation
down there right now, both in terms of conditions and health. And the
president -- what I wanted to hear in his speech was an urgency of action
that sort of matches the urgency of the situation. What he didn`t talk
about was as you said, the existing -- the existing authority that he has
despite the restrictions in Congress. He has -- there`s a national
security waiver, under the National Defense Authorization Act, under which
he can transfer 86 men that he, his own people, have said don`t need to be
KEBRIAEI: And the fact that he didn`t talk about that group and didn`t
talk about ...
HARRIS-PERRY: And not just talk about them and say, and this is what I
will do next week. I will send the ...
KORB: The Secretary of Defense can give a waiver if to anybody who raised
this question. And the other thing, the airport the other day I ran into
an old colleague from the Reagan administration. Real conservative person.
And he did not want to let them. And I said well, what about the fact that
it costs a million dollars to keep each one there? And he said, wow! Let
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there is even -- there is even a deficit hawk argument
HARRIS-PERRY: But the far -- the far more in terms like there is, I think,
and certainly it was what the president was trying to address in that he
was indicating to us that there is a thing that makes us Americans, that
persist throughout the world. And though sometimes we do the wrong things,
sometimes we make the choice that we did at Hiroshima or in Nagasaki, but
then we have to make a choice as a country to say that use of force was
incorrect, we were -- we were making the wrong choices when we interned
people. And so we are now going to pull back. And this is the moment when
we have to reaffirm our Americanness. I also appreciate that the hunger
strikers are not trying to die. They`re trying to generate autonomy in the
context of something that strips their humanity, something we certainly
know about from the experience of American slavery. And the language of
before I would be a slave I would be buried in my grave and go home to my
lord and be free. Just that idea of creating human freedom within the
context of horrible human (ph) conditions. Thank you to Pardiss and Ramzi.
Lawrence and David are going to come back later, I promise.
But up next, speaking of slavery, I`m going to talk about a Republican who
doesn`t seem to understand what the word slave means. I have got a letter
to Virginia`s potential next Lieutenant Governor E.W. Jackson.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week we had our first glimpse of the Virginia
Republican Party`s nominees in the state`s general election in November.
After ten hours and four ballots, delegates to Virginia`s Republican
Convention enthusiastically nominated their choice for lieutenant governor,
a right wing reverend you`ve probably never heard of before now whose only
political claim to fame was winning five percent of the vote when he ran
for the U.S. Senate last year, who is now poised to hold the second highest
office in the state of Virginia. And since he`s a relative novice in this
game, I thought I`d better write him a letter with a bit of advice.
Dear Bishop E.W. Jackson. It`s me, Melissa. Can I call you Ew? Because
I`ve heard what you have had to say about your politics and, quite frankly,
it`s pretty disgusting. I want to begin my advice to you with a reminder
that as a candidate for public office, you must choose your words
carefully. But it`s a little late for that, isn`t it? The Internet has
already cut wind of some of your greatest hits. You know, like the time
you called the repeal of "Don`t Ask Don`t Tell" a disaster of historic
proportions and said that it must be reinstated or when you said gays and
lesbians are perverted, very sick people. Can`t forget your conspiracy
theory classic about President Obama having "Muslim sensibilities" and
seeing the world "from a Muslim perspective." Oh, yes, and then there was
that time you claimed that liberalism and their ideas have done more to
kill black folks than Ku Klux Klan lynching, slavery and Jim Crow ever did.
Your creative interpretation of the Constitution`s clause counting black
people as three-fifths of a person as an anti-slavery amendment -- oh, oh,
and then that was my personal favorite. Your complaint about African-
Americans. What did you call it? Slavish devotion to the Democratic
Party? Look, I know you proclaimed proudly last week that you are "not an
African-American, just an American."
But even if you want to deny your connection to black people in this
country, you do not have the right to insult us by using "slave" as though
it is some kind of slur. Slavish? If by slavish you mean hard working,
striving for freedom and laying the economic foundation of the country
well, I`ll be that. You see, you`ve got it all wrong. Your choice to join
the Republican Party doesn`t make you more free or independent than black
people who choose to be Democrats. It just makes you really good at
figuring out how to stand out in a radical, right wing base that`s devoid
of diversity. And that`s not even particularly original. I mean just ask
Herman Cain and Allen West. As for your campaign strategy, you might want
to keep one thing in mind. The very people you`ve targeted with those
hateful words are the same people who comprise the voter base that pushed
Virginia from red to solemnly purple and elected President Obama not once,
but twice. So good luck with that.
But as much as I would like to file you away with the colorful cast of Tea
Party characters we have seen come and go, I just can`t. Because although
the lieutenant governor position is largely ceremonial in Virginia, when
it`s time to break a tie in the evenly split state senate it matters. And
we saw that earlier this year with Virginia`s current L.G. Bill Bolling,
broke a tie and effectively delayed tougher restrictions in the state voter
I.D law. But more than that, the gig you`re going for is a step away from
the most powerful position in a crucial swing state that can turn the tide
of national elections, which is why my feelings about you emerging
victorious in November`s elections are best summed up by your tweet in
response to LGBT Pride Month. "Well, it just makes me feel icky all over."
Ew. Sincerely, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: There were protesters at the Department of Justice this
week. Not because the Department of Justice has been snooping into the
phone records of the Associated Press reporters, not because the IRS has
been caught targeting conservative groups. No. Not even because folks are
still mad about "Fast and Furious." Protesters were demonstrating in front
of the Justice Department in Washington this week for a much more visceral,
personal reason. Banks, they say, are illegally stealing their homes. And
they want the DOJ to do something about it. Several days of protests began
Monday as just over 400 homeowners joined several other protesters gathered
in front of the DOJ headquarters in Washington. They were speaking out
about the lack of criminal prosecutions against the financial institutions,
which created the foreclosure crisis. According to reports by Tuesday, the
protest resulted in nearly 30 arrests and several instances of law
enforcement unnecessarily using tasers on activists, according to
eyewitnesses. Yes, protest against the government in a nonviolent fashion
and getting tasered for your trouble. All this comes after signs of an
extensive improvement in the housing market, including a new survey
indicating that the number of Americans in the foreclosure process fell by
almost 25 percent since April of last year. But when we see scenes like
this, of protester Carmen Pittman who successfully fought off the
foreclosure of her grandmother`s home, tasered by authorities on the
doorstep of the Justice Department, everyone including Eric Holder should
understand that this crisis still requires attention.
Joining me now at the table, is James Perry, he is my husband, but more
importantly, the executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing
Action Center and Stephen Lerner, labor and community organizer for the
Wall Street Accountability campaign who took part in the protests this
week. So, Steven, since you were there, I want to start with you. What
were these protests fundamentally aimed at?
STEPHEN LERNER, LABOR AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: Well, the starting point
that people are furious that Attorney General Holder said the banks are too
big to jail -- I mean to -- and so, we said, instead of investigating, it
might hurt the economy if we prosecuted them. And people have had their
homes taken illegally. People who were trapped in a bad loan. People
who`ve been literally evicted from their house at gun point said this is
crazy, the people that caused the crisis are too big to jail. And
apparently, it`s fine to taser off if we`re just trying to get a little bit
of justice here.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, Jim, I want to -- I want to walk to this a little
bit, because it feels to me like people are now (inaudible) -- like, oh,
housing crisis is finally over. You know, home prices are going up,
foreclosing is falling. Why are banks still foreclosing? What is going on
JAMES PERRY, EXEC. DIRECTOR, GREATER NEW ORLEANS FAIR HOUSING ACTION
CENTER: Well, let`s be clear: banks may be doing better, but America is
still struggling. And we still have a very long way to go, and I think the
question here is are banks too big to taser?
PERRY: Because quite frankly there`s so much work to be done in these
communities. There`s a report out of Minnesota that shows that the
disaster was still happening. 140,000 homes have been foreclosed on. $20
billion of wealth lost because of this disaster. And so there may be
people in the market who are taking advantage of the low interest rates and
buying new homes. But the fact is, if you lost your home, this is still a
disaster for you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, all right, so on this wealth loss, and I know you
have written about this. What has happened in terms of the foreclosure
crisis and this notion of just the evaporation of wealth?
LERNER: Well, you know, if you go way back to when the crisis started, $7
trillion of wealth was lost in equity and homes. But what`s happened in
communities of color specifically, they were targeted before the crisis ...
LERNER: ... for subprime loans. Then in the crisis they got hit harder,
and now post crisis, which as you`re getting, who is not -- it`s post
crisis for some people ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
LERNER: What`s happened, and especially in communities of color, is that
foreclosure has continued. People are under water. 13 million people are
underwater. Their homes are worth less than they`re paying. And if you
are underwater, you`re more likely to go to -- go into foreclosure. And
what it really comes down to, though, as last year almost $200 billion of
additional wealth was lost in communities around this color, and with the
amazing number that this report, I guess I can pitch it wealth report now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, absolutely.
LERNER: "Wasted Wealth" report.com says is that in 2000, I think it`s
2005, there was a seven to one gap between African-Americans and whites in
wealth. It`s grown to 15 to one.
LERNER: So what is extraordinary is the recession has actually been a
massive transfer of wealth out of poor communities and working class
communities to the rich banks.
HARRIS-PERRY: But then there`s something that can be done. Right? I mean
James, you brought up Minnesota. And Minnesota just passed a Homeowners
Bill of Rights. It is waiting for the governor`s signature, but it
requires that loan services offer modifications, it bans dual tracking, it
allows homeowners to sue if, in fact, they`re already legally foreclosed
upon. Is this the kind of thing that we need the Justice Department to be
making sure is available to all Americans?
PERRY: So, look, let`s be clear here. That when a disaster happens,
oftentimes once it`s out of the box and the disaster is spread all over the
world, it`s too late then, right? And so, the one entity who can act the
most quickly when the disaster is happening really is the authority that
oversees that disaster. If the Department of Justice would have stepped in
at the very beginning and would have prosecuted bankers who are acting
illegally, I`ve got to tell you, folks are afraid of jail.
PERRY: Particularly bankers, right? And so I`ve got to say, that there
are a lot of things that we can do now to offset the problems. To make
people more comfortable now that they`ve lost their homes, but the fact is
that it`s not too late to jail folks, and this will send a strong message
so that it won`t happen in the future.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, is that what we need here?
LERNER: Well, I think one absolutely we need to jail these characters.
Paying a billion dollar fine to money laundering for HSPS, that`s -- that`s
pocket change. It`s like I leave a tip for lunch, they paid a billion
because they made much more, but I want to make a point out of 25 percent
decline in foreclosure. California has the most foreclosures. Last year
they passed the Homeowners Bill of Rights there. So, foreclosures are down
not because the economy is booming, but because people did the same thing
Minnesota did. They passed a law that said you can`t simultaneously
foreclose on somebody while they`re trying to get a loan modification.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is -- this is a really good point, because it points
out that public policy is actually the intervention that brings it down.
It`s not just sort of happening in a secular trend. And we can just wait.
Stay with me, both of you. Because you`ve been talking a bit about
disaster, James, and when we come back we`re going to talk more about
disaster. We`re going to go live to Oklahoma for the latest on the tornado
recovery efforts and also more broadly, to politics of disaster relief.
Plus, the $30 billion company with no employees. It turns out that it`s
harder to grill an apple that you might otherwise have thought. There`s
more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And we`re going to
turn now to Oklahoma where it`s been five days since a mile wide tornado
touched down for 40 minutes reaping a swath of devastation to the suburban
city of Moore. Monday`s twister was one of the most destructive tornadoes
to descend upon Oklahoma in decades. Leaving massive losses in its wake.
24 people killed. Seven of them, eight and nine-year-old students at
Moore`s Plaza Towers Elementary School. Nearly 400 people treated at local
hospitals for injuries from the storms, 1200 homes destroyed or damaged.
All told the tornado caused $2 billion worth of damage. Tomorrow,
President Obama will travel to Oklahoma to inspect the scene firsthand.
But, today, the city of Moore is attempting to return to some version of
normalcy with three high school graduation scheduled to go on as planned.
For more on that, I want to go live to Moore, Oklahoma, where NBC`s Charles
Hadlock is standing by.
CHARLES HADLOCK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Good morning, Melissa.
As you mentioned, there are three high schools here in Moore, Oklahoma.
And today everyone gets to take a break to celebrate something positive --
the commencement ceremonies of three high schools. One in particular,
South Moore High School. That`s where a lot of families were affected by
the storm. The school itself really wasn`t.
But a lot of the kids who went there, their parents lost their home. And
one student lost her mother. In fact, she buried her mother yesterday and
today, she will graduate high school.
As you mentioned, President Obama will come here tomorrow to see the
devastation firsthand. And there`s a lot to see.
The path of the storm was 22 miles long. At the widest it was one mile
wide, and at its strongest, it was an EF-5 with winds more than 200 miles
an hour. That was right near the elementary school that took so many lives
Also looking forward on Wednesday, there will be a concert, Healing in the
Heartland. A benefit put together by Blake Shelton and his friends. Reba
McEntire, Vince Gill and Miranda Lambert will be performing in Chesapeake
Energy Center in Oklahoma City, a benefit that will be televised live on
NBC. All of the proceeds will go to help the victims here who are trying
to come back from this terrible tragedy in the center of Oklahoma --
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Charles Hadlock in Moore, Oklahoma, thank
you for keeping us up to date.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tomorrow, when President Obama travels to Oklahoma, he will
be stepping back into his, by the way, well-worn role as comforter in chief
in the aftermath of the disaster. It was only six months ago that the
president visited New York and New Jersey and walked through the wreckage
left behind by hurricane Sandy.
The joining of forces between federal and state governments to recover and
rebuild in the aftermath of Sandy was best exemplified by the
circumstantial bromance that bloomed between the president and New Jersey
Governor Chris Christie.
It was not the first time strange bedfellows found love in the time of a
hurricane. Once President Bush finally got around to taking a look at
post-Katrina in New Orleans from the ground instead of the air, he and then
Mayor Ryan Nagin had their own photo-op. But the appearance of
intergovernmental lovefest doesn`t reflect the reality, that those most in
need are often not feeling the love.
By now, the incompetence indifference in failure of the government response
to hurricane Katrina has been well-documented. Katrina was not an equal
opportunity hurricane. In New Orleans`s poorest and most vulnerable people
were left unaccounted for in the city`s disaster response plan. And they
went overlooked and ignored in the allocation of resources and released
after the storm.
More than seven years a later, a different storm and different cities, but
some of the same calls for help remain unanswered. On Tuesday, the post-
Sandy spark between President Obama and Governor Christie may be rekindled
when the president returns to the Jersey Shore, if Governor Christie`s
recent "MORNING JOE" appearance is any indication.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: The president kept every promise that
he made. And so I don`t have any complaints or arguments with him this
morning on the issue of Sandy relief.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: But it`s more than they can be said for the victims of
hurricane Sandy, many of whom are still waiting to see from evidence of the
$60 billion in Sandy relief funds approved by Congress, mostly for New
Jersey and New York. Tens of thousands of people who are still homeless,
still living in cardboard boxes, on the sofas of friends and families,
still leaving in temporary housing where they`ve taken shelter since the
storm, still wrestling with insurance companies for the funds to rebuild,
still waiting for the government to help them get back on their feet before
they have to face the start in June of what is forecasted to be an
extremely active hurricane season.
One of the people joining me at the table: Kathy Zito just returned last
week to her recently rebuilt State Island home after it was ravaged by 15-
foot wall of water during hurricane Sandy.
Also here is Melodee Colbert Keene, the current mayor of Joplin, Missouri,
who was vice mayor when Joplin was hit by one of the worst tornadoes in
And James Perry, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing
Action Center, who just yesterday addressed the American Bar Association in
D.C. on disaster recovery. He is in full disclosure, also my husband.
And David Cay Johnston, a law professor at Syracuse University, and author
of `The Fine Print".
So, Kathy, I want to start with you. Are you feeling as governor Christie
said, as though everything is working out real well?
KATHY ZITO, HOUSE DESTROYED BY HURRICAN SANDY: I am not feeling the love.
Not at all. It is a disgrace the way we`re being treated. The way we`re
being avoided from the president, the mayor and the governor, showing up 17
days after Sandy to come to Staten Island is obscene. We are not a foreign
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. You`re a borough of New York.
ZITO: That`s right. You know, just -- you don`t want to drive, jump on
the ferry and come across and see us. Seventeen days, disgraceful.
And then to come and promise us the world, we`re going to help you. We`re
going to give you. We`re going to direct you.
Direct you to nowhere, that`s what they directed us.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you represent in your personal story what is true in so
many of these disasters. It`s a natural disaster. It happened. But in
your case, you have a husband who is suffering from M.S., and therefore has
a disability, which means that you are part of that vulnerable population.
ZITO: Exactly, and he`s extremely disabled. We -- he spent 17 days
sitting in a scooter because we didn`t have a bed for him. On the seventh
day after the storm, we went directly to Red Cross and FEMA to get that
help, just get me a bed -- any kind of bed, something. My family will lift
him. Get us the bed.
No problem. Give us your number. We`re going to take it. Here`s the
Email, we have no electric, so don`t do that.
ZITO: They gave us -- no one calls. One week, we go back down. Two
weeks, no one calls. Three weeks, no one calls.
Well, they never called. But after the 17th day a friend of mine, Sean
Sweeney (ph) on Facebook, he said, please, my friend is in desperate need
of a bed. Someone in 30 minutes got me a bed.
HARRIS-PERRY: There it happened.
James, the story that I`m hearing from Kathy is very similar to so many
stories of our friends and neighbors and even experiences that you had
JAMES PERRY, GREATER NOLA FAIR HOUSING ACTION CTR: Sure. It is true that
in New Orleans, the progress and recovery comes for the resilience of
individual people. And it`s so unfortunate because government is really
designed to take care of these situations -- the situations that
individuals can`t do for themselves, government is supposed to step in and
provide help and assistance.
And, fundamentally, we have a government whereby government is not really
designed to take on these issues. And it becomes more difficult when
politics get in the way.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Mayor, I want to ask about this, but I know in New
Orleans, in the case now of Sandy and undoubtedly in Oklahoma, it is folks
who are elderly -- people who are disabled. In the context of Oklahoma, we
saw children, the most vulnerable populations, for whom there seems to be
the least amount of disaster preparedness.
So like as a city official, how do you say, OK, as we`re thinking about the
next time a disaster comes, how do you make sure that it is the most
vulnerable who are accounted for, attested for, rather than assuming the
40-year-old man with a car who is able-bodied, who has plenty of extra
income to buy gas to put in it to drive away?
MELODEE COLBERT-KEAN (D), MAYOR OF JOPLIN, MO: Well, we would like to make
sure -- that`s one thing, is to have a plan. And whether you`re elder,
whether you`re young, whether you`re the 40-year-old that has the car, you
have to have a plan.
And you hope that nothing like this ever happens, but when it does you have
to follow that plan. Not saying that everyone can have that plan and have
some place to go, have the shelter to seek but you have to have at least
the existence of some kind of a plan, and that`s what the city had.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I guess part of what I find sort of compelling and
difficult here is, on the one hand, you`ve got the question of individual
resilience happening. You have government, which is supposed to be here in
the catastrophic moments. But then, it`s sort of like the private sector,
Facebook is able to get you a bed faster than FEMA or even then Red Cross.
PERRY: Well, you know, the mayor said you have to have a plan. But the
problem is that America does not have a plan.
We have FEMA in place, but FEMA is only supposed to come in and deal with
the disaster for a very short period of time. They get in. They get out.
FEMA`s entire budget for 2012 is about $10 billion. But Katrina cost
America more than $100 billion.
So, there`s no way that FEMA by itself can take on this issue. And
consider that Republicans are constantly trying to defund FEMA and take
money away from everything dealing with disaster.
I think it`s one of the most interesting things about Oklahoma, is Senator
Coburn has worked so hard to take funding away from other disaster recovery
efforts, and now, he`s in the very situation of the people he serves
needing the very funding that he`s denied others.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, SYRACUSE: And what is he saying? He`s saying we have
to cut spending elsewhere or people in my state do not get help.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes! At least he stands by it, right?
JOHNSTON: He is certainly consistent. But we were not dealing first of
all what with need to do in terms of the infrastructure which I have
written in "The Fine Print" and a lot at "Daily Beast" about. So we are
going to continue to have problems.
In Sandy, it looks like seven New Jersey communities may never get the
funds to restore because the law no longer requires provision of funds
services and Verizon has suggested, as it confirmed it made a decision,
it`s just going never provide phone service. That`s the future.
JOHNSTON: We need to be thinking about how do we use government to
minimize harm and maximize benefit in the most efficient way? And that`s
we`re not doing. We had 30 years of government bad, government terrible.
Therefore, we don`t have people who say, how do we do this the best way?
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, one of the things I think people talk about when
they talk about their plan is have your insurance in place, right? You
know, if you`re a responsible homeowner, have your insurance in place.
What has your insurance experience been like?
ZITO: Well, here`s my life due to my insurance and FEMA and Red Cross.
HARRIS-PERRY: These are the papers.
ZITO: There they are.
ZITO: And little scraps and all kinds of things you need to hang onto.
JOHNSTON: It`s going to get bigger.
ZITO: A lot bigger, I`m sure. But insurance has said we`re going to be
there to take care of you. I had flood insurance. I live in an A-zone.
My flood insurance is for $250,000 which covers everything but your
So, that`s fine. I still $250,000, I don`t need content. I need a house
and a place to live.
But do you get? You don`t get the money that you need, $207,000 worth of
damage and so far, I have received just shy of $100,000. But I did get
something from State Farm that was wonderful. I got a letter of
So last month on top of everything else I find out come the end of June, I
need new insurance. Who is picking me up?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, that will be easy to get.
JOHNSTON: State Farm is there until you need them.
ZITO: State Farm, you can forget about that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right there because I want to continue on this topic.
And, Mayor, I want to ask you a little bit about sort of folks in Oklahoma
and other places should be expecting in terms of the long term. We`re more
than seven years after Katrina. You are months and months out from Sandy.
Years after, what can we still be expecting?
HARRIS-PERRY: One of our guests, Kathy Zito, who is a survivor of
superstorm Sandy got this letter from her insurance company that says, "We
regret to inform you that we cannot continue to provide your homeowners
policy insurance coverage and went onto say in order to avoid a lapse in
coverage, you should consider alternative insurance options."
Kathy, this is -- this is pretty extraordinarily the example of why, in
fact, we need a safety net. You have been left without any kind of safety
ZITO: Zero. There`s been none.
And no one is helping. Not the governor. Not the mayor. The mayor is
just -- he`s just gone on my book. I mean, he has done nothing. He has
removed everything we`re rebuilding now and cleaning up.
People just started to get insurance money. So, all the garbage is
everywhere. But he`s very concerned about getting that beach ready to
people to come down and have a parade.
We are living in filth. Do you know that we received letters which I
brought to you, saying that if you put garbage out that is construction
debris, you can be fined? Fine? Are you kidding me.
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re trying to come back from a disaster.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Mayor, when you hear that sort of thing. You`ve been
there with your constituents trying to walk through now for years post-
disaster. What can local government do that actually eases this kind of
KEAN: I think it`s important that you have to have a communication first
of all. Your teams get together.
You have your city manager. You have your city attorney. You have your
public information officer. They have to work as a cohesive unit to be
able to get information out. They work hand-in-hand with FEMA.
You as a city take control of the disaster of your recovery. That is what
is supposed to happen. That`s what happened in our city.
ZITO: I don`t know. I don`t even know. Sleeping. There was a marathon
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, this is the moment when we have to rely. I`m
thinking, you know, in the context of Katrina, for example, for a local
government it would be pretty tough, because the local government itself
was wiped out. Somewhat different than what happened in the context of
either tornado or in the context of Sandy.
But the federal government should have been there and in some ways made
policies that made the problem worse for the most vulnerable, for example
the Road Home program.
PERRY: Sure, in Louisiana, when insurance didn`t come through, the
government said, well, we`ll create something that can come through, road
home. So, they named the program Road Home. And it paid people money to
rebuild their home through a grant program.
But what we found was that overtime, that grant program paid people in
white neighborhoods more money than they paid people in African-American
neighborhoods, which was very troubling.
So, so if you go to the lower Ninth Ward right now in New Orleans --
PERRY: -- it`s still un-rebuild. And I contend it`s because of the major
flaw in the Road Home program.
As you know, we litigated against the Road Home program and got a great
settlement to help people rebuild. But in the end, this is a fundamental
problem where government was not well-prepared. So, the good news is even
though there`s not enough progress in hurricane Sandy, the Obama
administration has taken a different approach. So, there`s a multiagency
task force that`s been working together. Secretary Donovan has been
heading that task force.
And even the problems that we saw in Louisiana, when we look at the plans
for New Jersey and for New York, those same problems aren`t there. Now,
there are new problems and we are going to continue to learn, but it`s the
reason you need a serious disaster infrastructure to fix these problems
HARRIS-PERRY: And you really do have a serious disaster infrastructure. I
mean, we were looking at, just what the weather service is saying about
what we`re looking at. We`re looking at possibly 20 strong storms, named
storms. Maybe seven of them turning into hurricanes. This is not just
somebody else`s problem. This is coming to your doorstep tomorrow.
JOHNSTON: Well, remember, where we have lived since about 1940 in a
meteorologically quiescence period --
JOHNSTON: We are going to have more severe storms. We are running into
serious problems with droughts. We`re going to have more problems with big
fires. Along the Jersey Shore, Atlantic City is sinking because they have
drawn the water out for drinking water, the fresh water.
JOHNSTON: We are going to face a whole series of fundamental problems.
And if government doesn`t exist for the purpose of helping us deal with
these problems, then the options are not pretty.
And I`m thinking, Mayor, like when we think about even the cost or the
disruptions, sometimes we don`t think about the full human cost, family
separation in the context of the storm. Permanent loss of wealth if you
lose a home that you can never get back into. School disruptions for kids.
Even the experience of someone who is dealing with a disability who 17 days
without a bed could mean, life altering problems, right? How do we get to
a place where we`re thinking about those longer term human costs?
ZITO: Well, there should be something in place with people with
disabilities. We had a woman who was deaf who didn`t know the storm was
even coming and no one informed her. She was at a meeting.
My husband, besides the fact of sleeping in his wheelchair for 17 days,
just took his first shower last Saturday.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because there was nothing accessible?
ZITO: There`s nothing accessible and there`s no hotels left because
everybody got to the hotels. You know, we`re able to get in there. Good
bless them. Thank God they have a place to go. I have family.
But there`s no facilities for this. Certain people said, well, you can
come to the hospital and you can go there, but you need to bring
everything. I need to transport a man that can barely sit up, then bring
my Hoyer to be able to lift him and bring my own chair so he can be
Something here is not right.
ZITO: There needed to be something set up. We should have been given
options and opportunities. Don`t tell us we can go into Manhattan into a
hotel, because then I`m leaving my husband with no one to watch him during
the day. What`s going on?
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So for people with the elderly, for people with
disabilities, for people with young children, these are the challenges,
those longer-term human costs.
KEAN: Right. And I think there`s -- I know the American Cross and FEMA
are supposed to have -- I know. I know.
ZITO: I`m hearing you.
KEAN: Because we had that in Joplin. You know, we`re singing FEMA`s
praise, and now I`m sitting here like whoa, because they have done an
exceptional job in Joplin.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, it could be that it`s both end, both that it`s better
now than it was earlier and there are still gabs.
I do want to come back and talk about another aspect of disaster, because
while we may have been in a meteorologically quiescence quiet period, there
is a different kind of disaster that seems to be happening all around us
that we are not paying any attention to, our infrastructure. Our
infrastructure is going to create these kinds of disasters all over the
HARRIS-PERRY: Effectively mobilizing response to a natural disaster
requires tackling dual challenges, preplanning for the uncertainties of
Mother Nature, and quickly and efficiently putting the creaky gears of
bureaucracy into motion when that uncertainty catches us by surprise.
But what about when the disasters are entirely predictable? We got the
answer to that question on Thursday when a large section of a bridge on a
major route between Seattle and the Canadian border collapsed into the icy
river below. There were thankfully no fatalities. But the several
vehicles that were on the bridge when it collapsed and their occupants had
to be rescued from the water.
On Washington state`s list of structurally deficient bridges, the collapsed
bridge was deemed, quote, "functionally obsolete." That`s just one of
nearly 12 percent of highway bridges nationwide, that`s more than 68,000
bridges that are categorized as structurally deficient.
Predictability doesn`t necessarily equate to prevention, while bridge
collapses are relatively rare, they shouldn`t be surprising, given
America`s crumbling infrastructure and the declining spending on public
construction. A report card issued this year from the American Society of
Engineers gave the American infrastructure a "D" minus with an estimated
$3.6 trillion investment needed to bump that up to an "A."
I`m sorry. It was a "D" plus. I was feeling it should get a "D" minus
because of the collapsed bridge.
David, this is -- I mean, so maybe you don`t know the tornado is coming.
But you know your bridges are at a "D", our levees are still on a "D", the
only thing getting above a "C" grade is solid waste. And even that`s going
to be "B" minus.
JOHNSTON: Let me try and put this in a ways that maybe the anti-tax
conservatives can grasp.
JOHNSTON: We have an investment in public infrastructure -- roads,
bridges, dams, some of it own by utilities, pipelines. We are consuming
it. We are not maintaining it and replacing it.
What that means is we will be poorer in the future. Commerce depends on
the ability to move goods and services around. We have to have safe water
or we have higher health costs. We have to have pipelines that don`t
explode like the one in San Bruno two years ago that took out a whole city
block and killed among the homeowners the state official in charge of
finding out if the pipelines are safe.
HARRIS-PERRY: My God.
JOHNSTON: So, you know, we are using up wealth, the commonwealth. All the
private wealth in America is built on this foundation of commonwealth.
Take that commonwealth away and we can become Bangladesh.
JOHNSTON: We`re not privileged or special. We`ve got the rules right.
So if we don`t spend the money, we have the lowest interest rates in 700
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, this is the time. Fire sale of infrastructure.
JOHNSTON: And it will create jobs. Those jobs will create other spending.
They`ll bring in tax revenues. The federal budget deficit which is falling
dramatically under the president will go away. We could go back to a
And if we don`t do this -- you know, I heard a leading conservative, I`m
sorry, I don`t remember who it was. The other say that, you know, we`re
not going to put the money into it. We can`t afford it.
Well, if we can`t afford the infrastructure, that the Chinese can afford
with their beautiful highways and all the storm systems that they`re
building, storm systems, if we don`t, then we are choosing to be poor in a
more dangerous world. And I have a piece up on "The Daily Beast" about
HARRIS-PERRY: And, look, at this point, I mean, James, you know, the
Katrina disaster is often presented as the kind of natural disaster that
was about the hurricane. But it wasn`t so much the hurricane, it was the
PERRY: It wasn`t a natural disaster at all. That`s one of the things that
makes the point is that Katrina did not hit the city of New Orleans. It
The fact is that the federal levees failed, and they failed because they
hadn`t been maintained by the federal government. Senator Landrieu for
years and years and years before Katrina urged and pushed the federal
government to appropriately spend to fix our levees. But they didn`t. And
so those levees failed.
And then, the federal government has to pay for it anyway. It`s more than
$100 million in spending and recovery related to Hurricane Katrina. So you
can spend smart in the first instance, or you can spend taking care of the
And here`s the last point: the environment is getting hotter. It`s warming
up. Water is rising. We`re going to have more and more disasters.
And so, if infrastructure can`t deal with the present day issues, if
disasters get worse, then it just means we`re going to suffer more in the
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Kathy, I mean, you live in Staten Island, you care
about bridges. I mean --
ZITO: You know, like when we think about, it`s the only way.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. So what is in trying to leave Sandy, you end
up on bridges that are insufficient, inadequate?
ZITO: It`s just not -- it`s not OK. You know, somebody needs to be
helping us. Somebody needs to be watching over us. That is not our job.
That is the government`s job.
Help us. Do the right thing. Even our waterways, we have a problem. You
know, everybody is saying for 30 years ago, they were supposed to build
something out there to help avoid -- we were still going to get water
regardless because it wasn`t a hurricane. I`m telling you, that was not a
hurricane. That was a tsunami that came through us.
ZITO: They need to do something to avoid this. Don`t sell the houses
closer. Keep some land going.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, of course, always the key point, we are -- it`s a
democracy. We are the government. When we ask for the government we paid
in, we are taxpayers. And we`re not asking for some sort of handout. It`s
a requirement of what our government is here to do for us.
Thank you to Kathy. Thank you to Mayor Colbert Kean, and I just love the
interaction between the two of you. It`s just lovely.
David is going to hang out with us.
Thank you to James Perry, my husband.
Also, the Apple of Congress` eye. How Apple CEO teamed up and managed to
tame the lawmakers ready to do battle over taxes.
HARRIS-PERRY: On Tuesday, a powerful Senate investigation`s subcommittee
meant to demand answers for the CEO of the most valuable company in the
Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple, the maker of iPhone, iPad, iMac, you know it.
Apple is based in Cupertino, California, in 2012 enjoyed sales of $157
billion. That`s $47 billion in profit in just one year.
And what the senators wanted Cook to explain were the findings from this
report. That Apple has some subsidiaries in all of places Ireland,
subsidiaries that pay no U.S. taxes even though the businesses are run from
the United States and their assets are held in New York banks.
According to the report, one Apple subsidiary called Apple Operations
International AOI, manages to have no legal tax residents at all. So it
doesn`t pay taxes to any country. Despite polling in $30 billion in
revenue in the past four years, and get this, it has no employees -- $30
billion in revenue coming to a company with no employees.
Michigan senator and chair of the Senate subcommittee, Carl Levin, asked
the set up the holy grail of -- called the set up the holy grail of tax
Among the report`s key findings, Apple has used a variety of offshore
structures and arrangements and transactions to ship billions of dollars in
profits away from the United States and into Ireland where Apple has
negotiated a special corporate tax rate of less than 2 percent. Apple
utilized U.S. tax holes, loopholes, to avoid U.S. taxes on $44 billion in
taxable offshore income over the past four years, or about $10 billion in
tax avoidance per year.
Understanding the optics of these numbers, Tim Cook had come prepared.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM COOK, APPLE CEO: We pay all the taxes we owe every single dollar. We
not only comply with the laws, but we comply with the spirit of the laws.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And the funny thing happened is Cook`s testimony continued.
Not only did he win praise from the senators, some of whom proudly
referenced their own iPhones as proof of their Mac cred.
But he made a convincing argument and in fact, it was a U.S. tax policy
that had it all wrong. That it was Congress` fault, not Wall Street, that
U.S. corporations pay a fraction of the taxes paid by individual American
With me at the table: Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for
American Progress, union organizer, Stephen Lerner, Yves Smith, who is
founder and creator of NakedCapitalism.com, a finance and econ blog. And
still with us, David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative
journalist and author of "The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use Plain
English to Rob You Blind".
So who am I supposed to be mad at? Is this Apple`s fault? Is this the
U.S. Congress`s fault? This seems wrong.
JOHNSTON: Well, one of the things to understand is very large,
multinational companies. That`s 2,600 out of 6 million companies in
America, they actually can make money off the tax system.
And my column at "The National Memo" this week is about how Apple actually
will profit off taxes. If you can delay paying a tax for 30 years, and to
investment the money, the investment will be more than the value of the
taxes because it`s an interest-free loan.
And that`s what we need to understand. You and I, we have our taxes taken
out of our paychecks before we get them. Big companies, they paid by and
by in the future.
HARRIS-PERRY: That point -- so, David, I spent the morning. I woke up at
4:30 in the morning, got my coffee and tried to understand transfer pricing
and the way that this generates the problem that Cook is not wrong. That
everything that is happening is legal, and yet somehow it feels -- it feels
unfair in comparison to the American taxpayers.
LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: The fact is it`s immoral
because they know what they`re doing. We need to basically have a tax
system that taxes you on where you sell the things.
So, what`s happening is basically the United States gets close to 70
percent of the things sold by the companies in the United States. But we
only get taxes on maybe 50 percent. So, you know, we`re losing $50
billion, $60 billion a year so they can get these loopholes.
And I think Congress basically should say, we tax you on where you sell,
because it`s almost impossible to say, well, where it`s made because on
part from here, one part from there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Wait, which is the transfer pricing is, right? It`s saying
that, you know, you`re doing various kinds of things within the company
itself, and so one part of the company sells it to another party of the
JOHNSTON: Well, transfer rights is where you sell something to another
pocket, from your right pocket to your left, the price you would never sell
to anybody else.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And so, if your left pocket is the one not getting
taxed, if your left pocket is your Irish pocket, right, then that`s where
you put the profits.
YVES SMITH, FOUNDER & CREATOR, NAKEDCAPITALISM.COM: Well, the way this
works in Apple`s case, and there`s an article coming up by tax expert Lee
Sheppard on Monday, where she calls Apple`s behavior brazen, even by the
standards of companies like Google and other tax avoiders. So, the
congressmen are right to be offended. Apple is in the practice of income
shifting is really out on the far end of the spectrum in terms of how they
But, basically, the IRS could significantly cut into this practice on its
own. It`s afraid to go after Congress to go after it. The way,
technically, the way Apple does it and the other big companies is for their
foreign subsidiaries, literally there`s a system they call check the box
where they can file in the forms, check the box and from the IRS`s
perspective, that subsidiary does not exist.
JOHNSTON: Cloak of invisibility for taxes.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, but, Stephen, I wonder, like, is there -- as we have
this kind of conversation, when we talk about fairness, is that just a
ridiculous way to talk about American business, like fairness is not the
issue. They`re following the law.
STEPHEN LERNER, UNION ORGANIZER: Well, but the problem is, they make the
law and then say I`m not breaking it. I think, in the way, the tax thing
is a symptom of a bigger problem.
The system is so unbalanced the corporations are so rich that they can make
the law whatever they want. And we have talked about in your show before,
it`s not just that they avoid -- they avoid taxes on one end, and then they
cut workers` wages on the other end. And then they eliminate pensions,
then they don`t pay local taxes. And then, they say, oh, well, workers get
food stamps because they don`t make enough to live, so we actually are
subsidizing the very companies that avoid taxes.
The whole thing is sort of crazy. It`s hard to say anything but it`s
crazy. But ultimately, I think the thing that comes home to me is these
are not American corporations. They do not care about this country. They
do not care about the people in this country. It`s a convenient place to
have a headquarters.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to come back. I`m wondering again if it`s naive
to think of companies in the way anymore, in the way that we, for example,
thought about the American auto industry, like if Apple is, in fact, a
truly multinational corporation, how are we just going to manage that?
More when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are discussing an issue that extends well beyond Apple.
All in all, we`re talking about close to $2 trillion stashed by U.S.
companies overseas. And you know what they say -- a trillion here, a
trillion there, and soon enough you`re talking about real money.
I mean, it feels like on the one hand, we`ve got these multinational
corporations, but they are, in fact, underwritten and supported and
undergirded by an American government and citizenry.
SMITH: Right. The biggest abusers of these tax provisions are the tech
and pharma. And the tech companies, where would they be without the
Internet, which is a Defense Department creation? And they`re very
dependent on the fact that the Defense Department heavily subsidizes the
education of mathematicians and physicists. Those guys basically go to get
advanced degrees for free.
Pharma gets huge breaks from the National Institutes of Health, which
finances a tremendous amount of drug company R&D. So, the fact these
companies that get huge tax breaks and then go and, you know, A, lobby for
loopholes and, B, in the case of tech, lobby for H-1B visas saying we can`t
get enough good workers in the United State because of the state of our
education system when the lack of tax revenues is one of the --
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s part of the reason we have --
SMITH: Exactly, we have this problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, you know, I kept feeling as I was watching Tim Cook`s
testimony, as though the congressmen were more afraid of him, more afraid
of the idea that Apple could somehow exit the American marketplace.
KORB: Yes. Well, the real problem is campaign finance, because these
people all depend on getting these corporate donations after the Citizens
United case, there`s no limit on what they can do. And we do know that you
can`t get elected these days without a lot of money. So they are afraid of
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s why they`re waving the iPhones around.
KORB: Yes. And we`re not the only ones. David Cameron said the same
thing. We need a worldwide international agreement on corporate taxes.
Until we do that, these people are going to keep exploiting.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Now, but if I`m watching, if I happen to accidentally
turn on MSNBC and I`m normally a libertarian, conservative, maybe even
normally a FOX News watcher and I hear guests say we need a worldwide
decision on taxes, well, I start freaking out, right? Because I say, hey,
the whole idea is to let the free market do its thing and that you can`t,
in fact, intervene in these corporations in this way. And that, in fact,
the whole Cook testimony shows us the whole American problem is in the
corporate taxes are too high.
LERNER: You know, what drive me crazy about this is, these corporations
want the best of both worlds. On the one hand, they want to say free
markets, global trade, it`s all decided by this hand that flies to the sky
and, you know, invisibly guides us.
But then they say we need to make America work. We need to make the
economy in America work. They argue two different things depending on the
And the real argument they make is they are going to make as much money as
they can no matter what. And I just think as we make tax policy, as we do
other policy, we have to remember, they have no loyalty, no love, no caring
for anything in this country except to make more money. And we should call
And what amazed me about Cook is how he went on offense.
LERNER: As we progressives, we go to defense. He went on offense.
He says, I obeyed the law, I could have stolen more money.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, we`re good guys. We pay the taxes.
JOHNSTON: Yes, we pay 2 percent. First of all, there`s no such thing as a
free market, which is a technical term for economists. All markets have
And what these guys are doing -- what Steve is pointing out is they want to
gain rules so we can make sure that you don`t have unions. That you have
low paid H-1B visa workers coming into the country, that you have
government contracts. That you have all these hidden subsidies and we have
rules that say we`ll put our tax where we don`t have money.
The key trick in tax, by the way, to get the state less income, is you earn
the profits in a high tax country and you siphon them out to a zero tax
country, enhances your profits unbelievably.
HARRIS-PERRY: I keep trying to figure out how to get paid in British
pound, right? Same basic theory where how do you end with a currency as
one thing but spending it in another era. That`s basically what taxes are,
right? They are kind of --
JOHNSTON: Well, in this case, it`s American dollars. But we`re using the
accounting rules to move the money from one place to another.
And Apple, through its R&D research and development agreement moves this
out of the country. It`s true their logos are here. But many, many other
companies the logos are offshore.
So, every time you buy "x", they take the profit and turn what is a profit
into a tax deduction. I mean, this is -- the alchemists had it all wrong.
You don`t need the philosopher stone. You need red and black ink and
SMITH: But there is a potential upside in this. It may take a long time
to work this through. All the sort of gain that he`s talking about applies
to income taxes. Corporations love incomes taxes.
Now, the -- as much as the congressman was sort of afraid of taking on
Apple strongly, the revenues that we`re talking about are overseas
And one of the eurozone is in fact the biggest economy in the world.
They`re undergoing austerity. They`ve got a big -- because of their
unhappiness about how many companies don`t pay taxes, there`s a big OECD
tax initiative which is on, that they`re going through kind of a blue
ribbon panel study phase. So, it`s going to take a while.
But Germany, France and the U.K. have all said they will act unilateral if
there is no resolution they like. So, for example -- you know, E.U. is
already unhappy about the tech company`s policy on privacy. What happens
if France puts in an upload tax? And that wouldn`t be deductible. They
have no way out of that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And this is the sort of your point, that we need
this -- we need a larger, if we`re going to have international cooperation.
We`ve got to have international tax, too.
Thank you to Lawrence and Stephen, to Yves and to Dave also.
Up next, the teachers who turned into lifesavers in Oklahoma -- our brave
foot soldiers of the week.
HARRIS-PERRY: Nationwide, the average full-time public teacher`s salary is
about $56,000 a year. In the state of Oklahoma, the average starting
salary for a public school teacher is just about $32,000.
Now, we already know teachers in this country are not treated with the
reverence that they deserve. They often go without adequate pay, without
adequate resources and face absurd standards of measurements for success.
We count on our teachers to ensure our children learn reading, writing,
arithmetic, science, history. We count on our teachers to learn how to
interact with each other. We count on them to enrich our children`s
understanding of the world around them.
And in the face of disaster, be it natural or manmade, time and time again,
we count on our teachers to save our children`s very lives.
Like Rhonda Crosswhite, a six-grade teacher at Plaza Towers Elementary in
Moore, Oklahoma. When the tornado struck in Moore in Monday, she rushed
her children into a school restroom and draped her body over her students
to protect them. One student kept saying, "I love you, I love you, please
don`t die with me."
And there was Susan Haylee (ph), a special education teacher`s aide at
Briarwood Elementary who ushered her first graders into the corner of their
classroom, under their desks away from the windows. During the storm, the
leg of the middle desk went completely through Susan`s calf, but she was
able to maintain focus on keeping the children calm and safe.
Also at Briarwood was first grade teacher Waynel Mayes (ph) who used games
and music to keep her children calm. Waynel pair the students up, gave
them instruments and told them to sing as loud as they could. She even
told them they could scream as they keep singing.
And then there was the amazing story of Anna Kennedy (ph) and Jessica
Simmons (ph), two kindergarten teachers from Plaza Towers Elementary. Anna
and Jessica had their kids get on their knees and cover their heads. And
then the two teachers covered the students with their bodies.
When the first responders came in, they lifted a car and underneath found
the two teachers and beneath Anna and Jessica, their students. And
everyone was still alive, practically unharmed, just a few scratches here
and there. Those are just a few of the names many young lives were saved
in Moore, Oklahoma, as brave teachers used their own bodies to protect
their students under their care.
For being the every day heroes who went above and beyond, literally risking
limb, the teachers of Moore, Oklahoma, are our foot soldiers of the week.
And that`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m
going to see you tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
When we get into the right-wing litmus test going on in the crucial swing
state of Virginia. It`s crazy town over there.
Now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
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