'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, June 2nd, 2013
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
June 2, 2013
GuestS: Nan Aron, Akhil Reed Amar, Caroline Frederickson, Lisa Cook, Peter Goodman, Ian Bremmer, Gordon Chang, Ed Pawlowski, Vanessa Ferreira, Colby Harris, Charles Randolph Wright, Brandon Victor Dixon, Valisia Lekae
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: -- African-American president has been
a narrative under constant rewrite. He doesn`t do much of the damage
caused by his predecessor, George W. Bush, and in the war in Iraq, stopping
the youth of torture and bringing the economy back from the brink.
He would sign into law transformative social policy in the form of the
affordable care act and, yes, he would have frustrating round after
frustrating round after frustrating round of stalemates with Republican
foes on the hill. But, there is one place perhaps more than any other
where a president can leave an indelible mark that continues its impact for
decades after that president leaves office, the courts. Because
appointments to the federal judiciary by law are there until they want to
leave or they pass away.
President Obama`s impact is already clear on the Supreme Court where he has
successfully nominated, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Sotomayor is the
first Latino, the first woman of color in the Supreme Court`s history. And
the court now has more women than it any other time double the number of
women. Bravo, President Obama.
But, compare the president`s appointments to federal judgeships through
2012 to his predecessor and you will find his total of 17 lags behind
everyone from Jimmy carter on. but that`s not because there aren`t
judgeships to fill. In fact, there are 80. Sixteen vacancies in the U.S.
court of appeals and 64 in U.S. district courts. Twenty four nominees by
the president are still pending for those courts.
Not waiting any longer, former principal deputy, U.S. solicitor general
(INAUDIBLE) who was confirmed on May 23rd to the senate, 97 - 0 to be a
judge on the D.C. circuit court of appeals. But the way Republicans are
talking, they like to see it be for 11th seat D.C. court that this judge
would actually be the court`s eighth judge and that would be it.
Yes, you see there are still three more openings on that very important
court. But now, Republican senator Chuck Grassley is pushing a bill the
hilariously named court efficiency act that would reduced a number of
authorized judgeships from the D.C. circuit court. It would mean four
judges nominated by Republican George W. Bush, three nominated by president
Clinton and our most recent nominated by president Obama. Those extra
three openings that he has a constitutional duty to fill, senator Chuck
says forget them.
The Iowa senator calls the D.C. circuit court quote "the least busy circuit
in the country." "The New York Times" editorial board on the other hand
calls Chuck Grassley factually inadequate and suggest his motives the
judicial conference of the U.S. led by none other than chief justice John
Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee to keep the 11 positions.
And President Obama appears ready to oblige. The present, the "Times"
reports, will simultaneously nominate three judges to the D.C. circuit
court of appeals all but daring Republicans but Grassley to std in the way
and know this.
We are talking about a major political fight here. The D.C. circuit court
is known as the second highest court in the land and for good reason. Two-
thirds of the court`s case load involve the federal government in some
civil capacity far more than any other appeals court in the country. It`s
also known as a feeder court to the big bench.
Four of the current nine Supreme Court justices previously served on the
D.C. circuit court. So let`s get real about what`s happening here.
It is not an overzealous staffing plan that Republicans are seeking to
prevent. It`s the potential of a lasting and meaningful legacy left by
President Obama long after he leaves office that they seek to stop at all
Joining me now is a panel chuck full of experts on this topic.
Caroline Frederickson of the American constitution society for law and
policy, Akhil Reed Amar, a law and political science professor at Yale
University and also, a visiting agent professor at Columbia Law school, Nan
Aron, president of the Alliance for justice and Ian Bremmer, political
sciences and president of the Eurasia Group.
It is lovely to have you all here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pleasure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
So, start by telling me why the D.C. court has a court of appeals is
important. We have got a senator saying it is not. That it is just, you
know, they are just not really doing thing. Let`s take it from 11-8. What
happens on that court?
AKHIL REED AMAR, LAW AND POLITICAL PROFESSOR, YALE UNIVERSITY: Well, as
you said, it`s in effect of farm team for the U.S. Supreme Court and you
mentioned four of the current justices. We could also mention Robert Bork
who was nominated to the Supreme Court but didn`t get through from the D.C.
circuit. Doug Ginsburg, another person from the D.C. circuit who was
considered for the high court and didn`t get through. So, there is a
history of manipulating courts size for political reasons claiming
Franklin Roosevelt was very frustrated when the court kept saying no to his
plans. In the early new deals, we proposed expanding the U.S. Supreme
Court from nine to 15. Critics called it a court packing plant. He said
it`s about efficiency because the court is behind his docket. That wasn`t
a very honest explanation.
The real problem was the court was out of sync with the time that in his
first term he got no appointments whatsoever of something at that point had
been unprecedented and he thought the court should sort of reflect the
country but he wasn`t quite honest about that.
When Abe Lincoln dies and the radical Republicans don`t like Andrew
Johnson, they shrink the size of the court to prevent him from having some
appointments. The outgoing federalists when Thomas Jefferson was elected
in 1801 shrank the size of the Supreme Court so he wouldn`t have a first
appointment. There`s a history here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And I feel like, you know, for students who are or
for viewers who, you know, took their last American government class in,
you know, whatever 11th grade and they are thinking, OK, what is it that
the court does again and when we say the court, we tend to mean the Supreme
Court of the United States. We sort of get what`s going on there. Explain
why these lower courts, why something like a circuit court, district court,
the court of appeals matter. What is sort of the structure here that
CAROLINE FREDRICKSON, AMERICAN CONSTITUTION SOCIETY FOR LAW AND POLICY:
Well, absolutely. It`s a great question. You know, actually, the Supreme
Court hears very few cases. The vast majority of cases are decided in the
lower courts. And the D.C. circuit is of particular importance because I
think people don`t realize the number of cases that have to go there.
Major cases involving regulations, whether we want to protect our health or
our environment, workers rights, their major national security cases and
voting. And these are cases that most of them are required to go to the
D.C. circuit. They have an enormous amount of power.
And I would just say one other thing that I think people don`t realize
about this court is that now, even if you said it`s sort of divided 4-4 in
terms of Democratic appointees and Republic appointees, senior judges on
this court hear a great number of those cases and those are divided 5-1.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And I can say there`s a kind of quirky structure.
These 11 are not sort of the equal players that nine on the Supreme Court
are, right? So, you actually end up with a bias. Part of what the
language has been over the course of the past couple of decades around
court appointments has been this discourse of fear of activists judges,
right? And typically that is conservatives making a claim that liberals
will be packing courts with activists judges.
What should we make of a claim like that? Is it a presidential attempt to
make a liberal activist court out of the D.C. court of appeals?
NAN ARON, PRESIDENT, ALLIANCE FOR JUSTICE: First of all, we haven`t heard
that claim by Republican senators recently because in fact most of
President Obama`s nominees have been very moderate.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is one of the quirks of the entire Obama administration
experience is that they actually do moderate policies that enrage e left
because they`re so moderate but somehow get characterized by the right as
ARON: Well, they have been supremely qualified. I would say that you have
to look at the D.C. circuit though in context and that is that Republicans
have had a plan for the circuit.
Going back to Ronald Reagan`s presidency and that is to put individuals,
put judges on that D.C. circuit, hostile to women rights, civil rights,
individual liberties, worker and environmental protections and they have
gone about this with a vengeance.
But during times when there`s a democrat in the office, all of a sudden
Republicans are saying, OK, let`s wait. Let`s not confirm any of the
democratic candidates and then of course when George W. Bush came in, he
put four on easily. Now, we have President Obama, we have three more
vacancies and Republicans are again playing a game with the D.C. circuit.
That tells you just how important that circuit is.
HARRIS-PERRY: So both the D.C. circuit but also when we look more broadly.
I guess part of my concern here is this sense that we are in a position
where the very kind of fundamental structures of our democracy are being --
and suddenly, actually it makes me feel better to knowing that there`s a
history of manipulation because it makes me feel a little bit less like the
sky is falling ad we can`t live to the manipulation. On the other hand, I
keep thinking, this is somehow more important than the personalities
themselves just as idea that we have manipulate the court in this way.
IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: Well, I do think politics are being
played here. And that when we talk about efficiency, of course, this is
Republicans gearing up to make partisan points and keep the court in their
direction. But, there is a problem which is that the second term around we
have a lot of appointments that frankly are not seen to be superstars.
This is the B team. We had Hillary Clinton. We had Geithner. We had some
extraordinary folks around Obama who weren`t just moderate but were
You saw what happened to Susan Rice this time around when she was almost
floated and then pulled back. But when you look at treasury, you look at
commerce, you look at state, these are big high profile appointments.
People don`t think they are supremely competent.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it is sort pulling back for just the judicial and
looking at administration confirmations in general, you think there`s
something going on here with kind of a second term malaise a little bit.
ARON: Not with judicial.
BREMMER: No. But I think it about more broad on this effects than
narrative while your talk about Obama.
AMAR: When we pull the camera back and talk about efficiency, let`s talk
about the efficiency or lack thereof of the Senate itself. Let`s talk
about filibuster reform and that is an important ingredient in the
HARRIS-PERRY: In fact, that is exactly where we are we going to go.
Before we get to filibuster, which I promise that I want to talk about with
the nuclear option is, I do want to talk about specific people who are
being nominated and sort how supremely qualified they and competent they
may be. So, who are these folks that the president is looking to help him
have a lasting legacy when we are back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The D.C. circuit court of appeals has its hands full and not
just because it`s missing three of its 11 judges, it could soon determine
the fate of Obama care. A federal lawsuit filed in May in Washington
argues that the only state run exchanges, not federal ones, can provide tax
credits and subsidies to enable lower income individuals to afford the
mandated health insurance.
So, pay your taxes or another of the 19 states thus far, which have opted
not to run a state-run exchange and thus, the place in the national
exchange. If the D.C. court of appeals rules in favor of that lawsuit,
that federal money is not available, then a lot of the poor folks will have
to buy federally mandated health insurance and it`s now going to be gone
tossing a big wrench in the Obama care works. And that is just one of the
aspect of the president, legacy over which is a D.C. circuit of appeals
could hold play.
As Emily Bazelon noted last week in "Slate," climb change, immigration and
Dodd-Frank financial reform are also in play. And that`s why these three
rumored contenders for the D.C. court, according to "the New York Times,"
Cornelia Pillard, David Frederick and Patricia A. Millet may prove to be
very important indeed.
All right. What do we know about these three?
AMAR: Just to go back, the two distinct reasons why these are so
important, the D.C. circuit itself hands down important rulings and to
repeat it`s the farm team for the U.S. Supreme Court.
John Roberts was nominated for a very long time ago and they stalled him.
Elena Kagan way back when was nominated for this at the end of the Clinton
administration and she was blocked. So, some of the action going on are
those people that we just talked about are possible Supreme Court nominees
where they got on the D.C. circuit.
HARRIS-PERRY: But even if they may not, they still might be --
AMAR: Elena never got it and yet, you know, that wasn`t the end of things
HARRIS-PERRY: Got it. So what do we know about these folks?
FREDRICKSON: I just want to clarify that we`re not sure these will be the
people who are nominated but they are certainly the names that have been
talked about or in the news.
What I can say is these are three extremely, extremely well qualified
people. Brilliant. Great lawyers. Exactly the kind of people you would
want on the court there . Some of our country`s best Supreme Court
litigators. I mean, they are just hands down, totally competent and
qualified. And I`m please to say that those are the kind of people that
Obama may well be considering.
AMAR: They can`t let litigate so often before the Supreme Court.
(INAUDIBLE) who has just got confirmed, they understand the Supreme Court
which is what you want the D.C. circuit to go because it`s supposed to
think about what the Supreme Court wants and would do. These guys do that
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m just looking at Ms. Pillard, for example, who is with
the ACLU and the NAACP legal defense and education fund. At one point, Ms.
Millett who argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court mostly on behalf of
the federal government. I am wondering on one hand that strikes me is
extraordinary competence, also noted there`s two women there. But, I also
wonder if words like a ACLU, NAACP legal defense and education fund are the
kinds of things that will cause the fight, the battle. And maybe also the
fact that there are two women there which could also help to
demographically shift what the courts look like.
ARON: I think they are so extraordinarily qualified that the fight -- they
can`t make a fight over any of these individual candidates. They just
can`t. All three are amazing and prestigious lawyers. I think that in
part is why Republicans are focusing on the seats because they know they
HARRIS-PERRY: Eliminate the seats.
ARON: Eliminate the seats. Much easier to do. And of course it`s so
hypocritical the Republicans because when George Bush was appointing
judges, senator Grassley and Susan Collins, all voted to fill all of those
seats on the D.C. circuit. They can`t --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, go ahead.
AMAR: If you want to be optimistic, we would take heart from the fact that
(INAUDIBLE) has the same kind of record as these three. And again, is a
possible person for the Supreme Court and in interest of demographic
diversity and excellence was confirmed 97 to nothing. So, they were able
to agree here is a person supremely well qualified. So, if we want to be
optimists, maybe that could happen again.
FREDRICKSON: And if I could just say something to pick up on Nan`s point
about the hypocrisy of the Republicans and Grassley in particular. They
fought like hell to get George Bush`s nominees on the D.C. circuit. When
the case load was not only lower, but they wanted to go right up to the
11th seat and now they say eight. That is plenty. We know the case load
is now higher than it used to be but we are going to say that that court
doesn`t have enough to do.
BREMMER: But we have heard the history, right? I mean, this is not --
yes, it`s hypocritical. But, top try to -- the implication is that only
Republicans are hypocritical in this behavior. And that no one here would
believe that, right. So --
HARRIS-PERRY: Democrats filibustered on previous judicial nominations when
there were Republican presidents.
BREMMER: Absolutely and across the board. And the filibuster reason, we
don`t get rid of the filibuster is because all these folks understand that
they like to use it when they are in power. And you know, life would be
easier for Obama if he was able to sweep in a bigger way. He was on. He
won the presidency but as you know, we still have a balanced government.
ARON: I want an exception and that is Democrats used the filibuster but in
ARON: They filibuster just a handful of judicial nominees. I know I was
there at the time. But, at the moment, now that President Obama is in
office, they have demanded 60 votes meaning almost everyone --
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold the filibuster fire. We are going to come to
filibuster as soon as we come back after commercial. Because there is so
much on this question of does it protect the rights of the minority party
or does it have such an ugly history that we need to blow that filibuster
up when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Senate majority leader Harry Reid is putting his dukes up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: Republicans have chosen to play
partisan political games with dozens, dozens, scores of President Obama`s
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The former Boxer is promising a fight come July if
Republican refuse to move forward on the president`s nomination. He is
bobbing and weaving it at the moment but the fight is over the Senate
filibuster rules, which essentially makes a 60-vote majority necessary to
get anything done which in part is why, nothing gets done. When it comes
to presidential appointments though, that could all change quickly if Harry
Reid chooses the nuclear option by which we mean actually taking away the
ability to filibuster the judicial nominations. Is this a reasonable way
to address this problem?
FREDRICKSON: Well, I mean, I mean, I think there would be a preferable way
which is Republicans actually to do their constitutional duty or for the
president to fill the vacancies on the many courts that we have. But in
light of the way, the things have been --
HARRIS-PERRY: And there are a lot of vacancy, right? We are talking about
the three on the -- bit we are talking about 64 overall.
FREDRICKSON: We got almost a 10 percent vacancy rate on the federal
courts. It is just, I mean, we talk about government efficiency. I mean,
we should look to fill those vacancies.
AMAR: And executive branch vacancies as well.
FREDRICKSON: Exactly. When you have like half of the state department
seems to be empty. You know, there are a lot of things that need to be
done. So, I think, you know, when it comes down to a cost benefit analysis
and you think why should we keep the filibuster for historic reasons in the
senate`s tradition and all that, or you know, should we think about maybe
getting some work done in e government, you know, you start to wonder. The
balance starts to tip.
ARON: Well, here is the situation. It`s not just the judicial nominees
but the head of environmental protection agency, it`s appointees to the
national labor relations board. It`s Richard (INAUDIBLE) still waiting
after two years for a vote to the consumer financial protection and then
you have judicial nominees.
Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell came to an agreement a couple weeks ago over
the course of how these nominations would be handled. Days after that
agreement was signed, Mitch McConnell sent a fund-raising letter home to
Kentucky saying, yes, me. I kept the filibuster.
So, at the moment I think if we want government to run and run smoothly and
effectively, we`ve got to fill these seats.
FREDRICKSON: There are different versions.
BREMMER: I see bigger difficulties in terms of all of these open positions
with the inability of our government to attract capable people because of
the level of scrutiny and background checks because of the difficulty of
ethical conflicts and all of that that so many people with real background
private sector background and the rest aren`t interested at playing the
role where 30 or 40 years ago, there wouldn`t have been that scrutiny.
Everything would get sweet it all at facebook.
If you ask me what structurally problematic, I would say that there is no
question if you got rid of the filibuster you would speed the process.
It`s true. But, do you want to speed the process? How much government do
you want? The U.S. economy is doing better than other economies.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right So, this is a fundamental question. This is a
question of whether or not our founders actually meant for the process to
move forward quickly or not.
AMAR: Which is the constitutional issue. Here are key points. The
founders had no filibuster. No important piece of legislation prior to the
civil war would ever fail because of a minority filibuster. Not one. This
is a new fangled development. The framers believed in majority rule.
Constitution doesn`t say on the Supreme Court -- hang on.
But, the Senate operated by majority rule and so did the house and in each
state majorities ratified the constitution and the Supreme Court always
operated 5-4 and the key point is at a moment a simple majority of the
Senate can change the rules. That`s the nuclear option. The so-called
Now, the question is how broadly do you want to change it? Do you want to
change it just for judicial filibusters? Just for judicial nominations?
For all nominations or for legislation as well. The current version that`s
being propos wouldn`t affect the filibuster for legislation like
immigration reform and other things but maybe just for nominations.
HARRIS-PERRY: Which is a key point.
As a smaller nuclear constitutional option.
AMAR: At a smaller nuclear constitution.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s meaningful, right, because we do expect if a
president is selected to office on the question, right, on the
administration pieces, right, we expect him to be able to pick the people
he is going to work with within some sort of reasonable, you know, kind of
HARRIS-PERRY: But then the judicial piece is as much as policy piece seems
like OK, maybe we could draw a hard wall there, as we started out saying
the judicial piece is the part that lives past the president 20 to 40 years
especially with life spans, right? These people can be on many years after
the president is gone. And my bet is that`s exactly what they don`t want
to draw the line in those legacy positions.
ARON: And the public really wants the Senate to act. Over 2.5 million
people have weighed with their senators. There had been hundreds of
thousands of e-mails. People are fed up. And I can only imagine what the
senators are hearing from constituents back home. We need you to do
FREDRICKSON: Can I just bring us back to the D.C. circuit for one second?
Because I think one of the things we haven`t talked about is a very
disastrous ruling by Republican members of the D.C. circuit saying that the
president really can`t fill vacancies through recess appointments.
So, when you put the filibuster together with the inability now it`s
currently unconstitutional, even though there is the recess clause,
appointment`s clause in the constitution. The president is now hamstrung
and cannot fill vacancies through any avenue. They`ll filibuster if he
tries to use recess appointment power to say I`m going to appoint someone
because I desperately need somebody in this position, ops, sorry,
unconstitutional in D.C. circuit.
HARRIS-PERRY: I learned a lot from you all today.
Thank you so much for being here. And we are going to keep our eyes on
this question because obviously with this many positions to fill, this is
not going away.
Thank you to Caroline, to Akhil and to Nan. Ian is going to stick around a
bit because we are going to talk about China and they are coming for
Virginia ham. I grew up in Virginia.
But first, Mitt Romney once again talking about minority voters. Wow.
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming up, the ham headline heard around the world this
week. It is about a Chinese company that wants to buy Virginia based,
Smithfield foods for $4.7 billion. But before we get to that, the
headlines this week that left us shaking our head saying wow? Seriously?
Mitt Romney. Remember him? Super witch, robotic type ran for president
last year. Well, he is back and this weekend he is hosting party leaders
and donors at a swanky retreat in Utah where attendees can shoots ski with
Paul Ryan and exchange ideas about the future of the Republican party.
And here is one of the hard learned lessons Romney will share with the
class. As he told "the Wall Street Journal" quote "what we have to do is a
much better job appealing to minorities. We have not been able to
effectively translate our message in a way that minorities understand that
it is designed to be of the greatest benefit for them."
Excuse me? In a way the minorities understand. Wow. Seriously, Mitt?
Is it just that we are thick and didn`t understand you? Or could it be
that we understood you all too well and took our business elsewhere. If
you are fellow Republicans actually listen to your advice, you will
continue to lose the votes of the growing minority population in this
country. Actually, wow.
Thanks, Mitt. Seriously.
Moving on. A cheerios commercial brought the races out of the online
woodwork this week when General Mills began airing this commercial
featuring an adorable child and her parents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mom?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, honey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dad told me that cheerios is good for your heart. Is
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Says here that Cheerios has whole grain oats that can
help remove cholesterol. That`s heart healthy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kim!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The apparent races of the girl`s parents provoked some nasty
hate speech online to that point that General Mills disabled the comments
on you tube. Wow, seriously people?
I know I shouldn`t expect much from online commenter`s, but seriously.
Well, it is not all bad. the spot received more positive attention than
negative and General Mills is doubling down on it saying they will
absolutely not pull the ad.
Now, Louisiana, where I live, I love you, but sometimes, wow, seriously.
This week state lawmakers refused to repeal a law that forces schools to
teach creationism whenever they teach evolution. One Republican state
senator Dan Claitor tried to repeal the old defunct law but his fellow
lawmakers said no thank you which is funny since the law was struck down by
the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 but it`s still the Louisiana law. And
apparently it`s going nowhere.
Speaking of Louisiana, yes, FBJ. Forget Bobby Jindal because what did he
do this week but sign a bill into law creating lifetime conceal carry gone
carry permits. Now, in case you forgot, Louisiana has the highest rate of
gun violence in the country and not three weeks ago 19 people were shot at
a mother`s day second line in my neighborhood. Seriously, Louisiana
legislature. You could have been like the U.S. Congress and just done, you
know, nothing but fresh off the heels of a mass shooting you had to go and
make it easier to carry guns around.
FBJ to that and wow, seriously.
And finally, in Florida this week. The mother of 14-year-old Tremaine
McMillan (ph) is accusing Miami police of using excessive force with her
son. According to thegrio.com Tremaine (ph) was at the beach on Memorial
day when police saw him rough housing with friends. When police
approached, Tremaine (ph) turned and walked away and that`s when the report
says police felt threatened by Tremaine`s clenched fists and other body
language. So, they tackled him and put had the 14-year-old child in a
choke hold and charge him with resisting arrest and disorderly. He and his
mother said he did nothing wrong. In fact, they say, he couldn`t have been
clenching his fists because he was carrying his six week old puppy dog at
the time and feeding it from a bottle.
There are critically parts to this story we don`t know yet but we do that
the police tackled and frightened a 14-year-old boy after, what by all
accounts, including police accounts was a nonphysical encounter.
As Tremaine (ph) said, it made him feel sad. So, wow, Miami police.
Seriously? We are going ham when we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ask any southerner and they will likely tell you of holiday
dinners spent anticipating the moment that they would get to slice into one
of the most beloved southern delicacies, the Smithfield ham.
The Smithfield ham begins its life in a small Virginia town where it`s been
salt cured, slow hickory smoke and aged for up two year before you can even
buy it. And any true southern cook can detail the time, love and attention
that goes into getting one ready for the table. Twenty-four hours of
soaking it in water to soften it , get out some of the salts, washing off a
layer of mold that is accumulated during the months of ageing, seasoning
with cloves and brown sugar and then after baking in a 500 degree oven, an
additional six to eight hours to complete the cook cycle.
What ends up on your plate is a delicious sighs of the south that is
authentically American, at least for now. Because there is a multibillion
dollar investment deal on the dinner table. And there it is, the -- and
pending the outcome, the next time you bite into a salty slice of southern
American ham, what you could be tasting is bittersweet taste of Chinese
Smithfield foods, the American company that`s been the source of Smithfield
ham since the turn of the century, is the target of a $4.7 billion cash
takeover bid by the largest meat processing company in China.
Now, it`s not quite a done deal. China`s bid first goes to the review for
the committee on foreign investment in the United States. That`s the body
responsible for making sure foreign acquisitions of U.S. assets don`t
compromise our national security. But unless the committee can make a good
case for why Chinese ownership of American pigs won`t fly, the deal would
be the biggest Chinese buyout of a U.S. company ever. In fact, this year
alone, Chinese acquisitions have accounted for more than 20 percent of the
484 American companies that have been bought by foreign interest. Going
whole hog with the Smithfield acquisition would be a win-win for China.
Smithfield food is the world`s largest producer of pork. China is the
world`s largest consumer of pork. It`s a match made, I`m sorry to do this,
in hog heaven. The demand for all that pig has to offer is also driven in
part by China`s middle class which explode over the last three decades
along with higher income and standard of living of the average Chinese
citizen. The Chinese would acquire the American secret sauce that goes
along with all that pork.
When China invests in American companies, it`s not just adding a China new
asset to its economy, but the technical knowhow and process related
knowledge that goes along with it. And yet even as the United States and
China, the world`s two largest economies are increasingly intertwined, the
necessary partnership between the countries often isn`t an equal one or a
two-way street when it comes to investment and trade opportunities.
Joining me now Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Groups, Forbes.com
columnist Gordon Chang who is author of, "the coming collapse of China,"
Peter Goodman, executive business editor for "the Huffington Post" and
Lisa Cook, a former member of President Obama`s council of economic
advisers, now an assistant professor at Michigan state University.
Thank you all for being here.
So here`s the question. Why does China want Smithfield ham? What is
useful here about this acquisition?
BREMMER: Look. They are the largest consumer of pork. They are also the
largest producer. So, on that talk about bringing home the bacon, right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Good. The drinking game.
But the fact is that they do need access to as much food stuff as possible
with merging middle class. This is a $4.7 billion deal. It would be the
largest acquisition ever made by the Chinese into an American corporation
We are going to let it happen. We are going to let it happen in part
because we export a lot more than we actually need. There is not a
national security issue here. It is not like a big telecom company that
the technologies particularly sophisticated or extraordinary. And also, we
do want the Chinese to have stake in American growth.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Gordon, is it true that there really is no national
security issue because, you know, we have been doing all of this kind of
GMO and Monfento (ph) that sort of thing. Is it possible pork is a
national security problem?
GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST, FORBES.COM: Yes, I don`t think it is. I agree
with you. But, I don`t think though, that the Chinese want Smithfield
because they want to be able to buy pork. You don`t spend $7.1 billion --
and that`s the price tag of this when you add in assumption of debt to be
able to buy stuff. And this thing about food safety technology they have
been talking about, that doesn`t make sense either.
I think what the Chinese really want to do long-term is to be able to sell
pork in the United States and what they are really paying for is the
distribution channels of Smithfield because eventually they realize that
their population in China will level off if five or six years, maybe even
earlier than that. And you know, I think the Chinese economy isn`t as
strong. We are starting to see real problems there. And so, essentially,
I think the Chinese realize this is what they need to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it`s about us being a market and not them being the
LISA COOK, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: And they want
other things from us like they want exposure to western standards of
corporate governance and capabilities that they don`t already have. I
mean, these are things, technology and other things that they are not used
to managing. So, they are not also used to managing any kind of complex
international operations. So, I think this would be a big boom for them.
It`s not just about the market.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I was kind of purposely, Peter here, kind of ginning up
what I think of is almost silly level of nationalism by making it about the
Virginia ham. But even though I was, you know, being silly or tongue and
cheek in this case, the fact is that we hear it all the time. The sense
that Chinese are coming. They are acquiring our goods. And most
importantly they are acquiring our debt. Should we be nervous about it?
PETER GOODMAN, EXECUTIVE BUSINESS EDITOR, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Yes, we
should be nervous about the fact that so much of our debt is held by a
foreign central bank that with the push of a computer mouse could sell some
of it and send the dollar plummeting. Now, that`s not likely to happen if
somebody else were to sell about it first, if the Chinese central bank
decided that the Saudis were nervous that jihadist were arguing and
pressuring that somehow bankrolling, the haven, was, you know, not good
politics and the Chinese actually decided that it became rational --
GOODMAN: But, my point is, here we have a situation where, I would argue,
there`s a national security imperative that we embrace a deal like this.
Whereas Ian says, the same entity that owns so much of our debt and could
unload it very easily is talking about getting seriously invested in our
economy. You can`t simply sell off a bunch of pork farms and production
plants and distribution network with a click of a mouse. You are in for
the long haul when you are in a deal like that. That`s a much more stable
situation for Americans to be in than to have so much of our debt --
So, we rather have them own the companies than just owning the debt.
BREMMER: Well, let`s be clear. This deal was announced the week before
the first meeting of Xi Jinping with Barack Obama when she is president.
Clearly, that was vetted at the top levels of the Chinese government. They
understand, they want to show that they are bringing something to the U.S.,
something that is not going to be hugely partisan, hugely problematic.
It`s a deal meant to get done. I think it feels pretty good.
But let`s be clear. There are lots of places where Chinese investment into
American equities would be problematic because of the technology grab,
because the state would use it because they don`t have rule of law and they
will squeeze American corporations. And finally, Chinese do hold a lot of
our debt but they are not number one anymore.
Japan is number one. And part of the reason for that is because the
Japanese are more politically orientated toward the U.S. and the China is
trying to leverage away, a lot more south-south trade, a lot more direct
bilateral denomination of local debt. They don`t want to be the largest --
GOODMAN: I agree that there are areas in which foreign direct investment
from China would be inappropriate but all of the more reason to embrace the
ones where we don`t have problems. Auto parts for instance.
CHANG: But the thing that I`m concerned about the political direction from
Beijing on this acquisition like this one and also the acquisition of AMC
theaters. Because in both cases, you had a Chinese company which was a
number one in its market, which was supposedly the fastest growing market
in the world, pigs on one hand and theaters on the other but they invested
the United States in declining markets for pork and theaters.
And I think there`s a political direction here that we have to sort
through. And I`m not concerned really that much about pork, but on the
other hand I`m concerned about the general issue of political direction
because -- .
HARRIS-PERRY: But, there are these images of the pig carcasses and this
notion that maybe the food standard safeties which we are meant to as a
country, we`re supposed to be making sure that no matter who owns the
company that they are addressed but we don`t do a good job of it, right?
And so, I think there`s an angst that if there`s an outside entity that
doesn`t have the same national interest that we have a food safety concern.
CHANG: And we do have a real food safety concern because in March and
April, the authorities pulled out nearly 20,000 pig carcasses from the
river that runs through the middle of shanghai and some of that meat ended
up on Chinese supermarket shelves.
You know, we do not want that staff coming across the United States. There
is an issue. We do not inspect enough. We inspect maybe one percent of
the Chinese stuff that comes across. And the Chinese, you know, it`s not a
question of technology. The Chinese have food safety scandals one after
another because of the corruption in the political system which means you
cannot inspect in China.
HARRIS-PERRY: Got it. Hold it. There`s a lot more. Of course, the
necessary partnership with China is going to go well beyond something the
economy. There`s also fundamental questions of our international safety.
More when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we have been talking about China as a necessary partner
for the United States and looking at the relationship through a prism of
economic growth. But, so too, is there any essential relationship between
the two countries when it comes to foreign policy and it can be summed up
into two words, North Korea.
So, not only as economic partners, but also if we`re talking about the
interest toot devalue the American dollar, what are the Chinese interests
around, for example, North Korea?
CHANG: I think one of the things is that every time North Korea engages in
provocations, we rush to Beijing and say please, please, will you do
something about your North Korean allies and the Chinese are pragmatic and
they get concessions from us.
You know, this year we had treasury secretary Jack Lew, chairman of joint
chiefs Martin Dempsey. We had secretary of state Kerry, all go to Beijing
after North Korea acts up and we ask for help.
So, I think The Chinese like this dynamic. I mean, they are reconsidering
their North Korean policies. But nonetheless, I don`t know if we are going
to see a real fundamental change.
BREMMER: They like the dynamic of being asked for help. But the North
Koreans have been annoying the Chinese senselessly. And the fact is that
the troubles that the Chinese are having with North Koreans and the fact
that it`s been difficult for them to actually ease those provocations has
the China-South Korea relationship driving the South Koreans much closely
toward the U.S., something they assertively don`t want to have happen.
Now, it`s true that there`s some informal advisers that have said recently
that the Chinese have provided a great gift to the United States by getting
the North Koreans to come to the table on negotiations. The reality is
that the gift they brought is the gift of Beijing. And we do need to make
clear that you guys have a lot more to lose and at stake around North Korea
than the Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is fascinating. I love this ruthlessly pragmatic and
also of deeply annoyed, right, and trying to think about how that`s going
to impact the conversation that these world leaders are going to be having
very soon, right? This idea that what we think of as the fundamental
economic concerns of these two countries that are so similar in many ways,
right, that are the greatest polluters and the biggest markets right, and
also need the strategic alliance.
There is more on this. We are going to talk about the summit that could
redefine U.S.-China relations and the protesters who are hitting the road
to go take on Wal-Mart and hottest show on Broadway is coming to Nerdland.
The stars of "Motown, the musical` are joining us for a live performance.
We are two-hour shoe folks. There`s more nerd land at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back to Nerdland. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
The fraught relationship between the United States and China will be the
big pink elephant in the room along with President Barack Obama and the
Chinese president Xi Jinping, when they meet for talks later this week.
Foregoing the pomp and ceremony of a White House meeting for the more
informal setting of a private California mansion, the two leaders will try
to make nice amid looming tensions about the onslaught of alleged Chinese
cyber attacks against the United States. The Chinese government has denied
responsibility for the hacks and theft of secret corporate and government
information. But the United States says have been multiplying every day.
Just yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel placed the blame for the
attacks on a single source.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The United States expressed concern about
the growing threat of cyber intrusion, some of which appear to be tied to
the Chinese government and military.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The United States and China have agreed to launch talks
beginning next month to tamp down the tensions by the hacking. That still
lead to issue hanging between the presidents, adding to an already full
plate that includes trade and investment complex and China`s military
aggression against U.S. allies and interest in Southeast Asia.
With me, Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, columnist for
Forbes.com, Gordon Chang was the author of "The Coming Collapse of China";
Peter Goodman, executive business editor for "The Huffington Post", and
Lisa Cook, a former member of President Obama`s Council of Economic
Advisers now teaching at Michigan State University.
So, Lisa, what should we be expecting from this summit between the
COOK: Well, I think, certainly, they will be discussing this deal with
Smithfield foods even because what we have to do is to make sure that we`re
credible in terms of our own businesses getting into other markets and --
so, that`s the economic side. And we are going to need them for many
different things that we talked about in North Korea just before the break.
But Syria, Sudan, there are a lot of things, Iran, a lot of other countries
that we need them for. So, this partnership has got to develop and they`ve
got to come up with a rapport. They`ve got to be able to work together.
HARRIS-PERRY: In, as I was reading your writings around this summit, I
would say that your general stances, basically cooperation between the U.S.
and China is crucial. Gordon, I feel like as I read your writings around
this topic, you say that`s all wrong and in fact in many ways, it`s
important for the U.S. to assert itself over China in this meeting. Can
you all fight that out?
CHANG: Of course.
CHANG: I don`t think it`s possible to have cooperative relations with
China right now. The point is inside the political system in Beijing there
is disarray. The military is becoming ascendant, we have political
factions fighting. There`s a lot of stuff we don`t know but what it really
means is that Beijing is not able to deal with the world on a good faith
basis, you know. And as we`ve seen for the last two years, China`s
international behavior has deteriorated substantially, sharply.
You know, yesterday, "The New York Times" talked about China claiming 80
percent of the South China Sea as an internal Chinese lake. This is
There`s all sorts of things that China has been doing recently that`s
unacceptable and what we need to do is stop engaging the Chinese and start
telling them they`ve got to act responsibly and we do have tools to do that
because our economy is so much stronger than theirs.
BREMMER: You know, it`s not like I disagree with stuff that Gordon is
saying, it`s just that it`s one side of the equation. When we blame, when
Hagel blames the Chinese for cyber, let`s be clear, there`s two types of
cyber wars. There`s the cyber war of Chinese government against American
critical infrastructure and corporations because of the state capitalists.
They are winning that war, we`re barely fighting it.
There`s the -- the cyber war of the U.S. against Chinese in terms of direct
espionage, you know, sort of against their military systems. We`re winning
that war. We`re better at it. We never talk about that one. The Chinese
We are as exceptionalists as they are. I have no doubt that right now,
we`re heading toward a conflictual relationship. There is no mutual trust
in this relationship.
And furthermore, Obama and Xi Jinping are really both prioritizing domestic
affairs. So, I think it`s going to be a good summit. I think that a lot
has been done in advance to ensure that it`s going to be a good summit on
North Korea, on Smithfield, on a few other issues as well. But after they
get through it, they`re going to ignore each other again. You know --
GOODMAN: Now, there are real issues now. Much of the conflict for years
has been directed at domestic political audiences in both countries. In
China, yes, there`s a lot of corruption, there`s a lot of dissatisfaction
with that corruption, here are a lot of private sector enterprises that get
ripped off by the state sector and they don`t have courts for redress and
there`s grievance there.
But nationalism has been the traditional way that this party that washed
connection to a lot of the ideals that spawned a revolution, 60-some-odd
years ago, has been able to maintain a decent level of public support.
In this country, China has become the explanation for every conceivable
reason why a dysfunctional political system that can`t reckon with the
crisis of the middle class, you know, as a way to say, well, let`s blame
those people 1,000 miles away. Now, there are real issues in this
relationship and we`ve talked about some of them already.
We can expect, though, that both sides at the table when they meet in that
summit, fully understand that dynamic and understand that sorry, Gordon,
that option, let`s not engage, that`s not on the menu. That`s not --
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. I want to push a little bit on exactly this point about
the demonizing of China a minute, because this was really important in the
GOP primary, right? We saw this happen both with the kind of mocking
Huntsman even for speaking mandarin, which became part of it, and then the
language on the right who will say, I`m just going to tell China what to
But it`s not just -- I want to go all the way back to Senator Obama -- and
this was when he was Senator Obama in 2007 in Iowa. I want to just play a
little bit of sound for you here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), THEN-U.S. SENATOR: China can send in toys with lead
in them or tainted foods, and nobody is protecting American consumers and
American workers because somebody else is setting the agenda. Well, that
will change when I am president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this was a co-sponsored bill, him at the time, Senator
Clinton, get the lead toys out. But fast forward 2013, he`s president and
he`s got the very serious realities of the globe and of his economy facing
him and it`s no longer "don`t worry, I`m going to set the agenda". It`s
"we`re going to have to address this" with President Xi.
BREMMER: This problem is getting bigger and it`s getting bigger because
China is getting bigger but not becoming more like us as they get better.
You know, the presumption has always been, well, when they become the
world`s largest economy, they`re going to become more free market in
orientation. That`s not true. I mean, there are some countries
historically that have liberalized as they`ve industrialized, right? And
you saw that with the Brits, of course, and the United States.
But you look at the Habsburg historically. You look at preindustrial
Germany and when they industrialized with an authoritarian system. That`s
what we`re going to see in China. We`re not going to like that.
And the question of how we`re going to deal with each other as those
companies become truly competitive with American firms is a really --
HARRIS-PERRY: So, they can open their market without opening their
CHANG: And actually, they`re closing the markets over the last four or
five years. And then this whole thing about Smithfield, I don`t worry too
much about it. But, you know, the question is, whether we could buy all of
the pork companies in China. I don`t think that we can.
You know, the problem here is, yes, we demonize China but China is
demonizing itself. You know, these cyber attacks, yes, they do attack the
Pentagon and defense contractors, but they also attack the free press and
other institutions of our society -- and that`s completely unacceptable.
You know, they have been interfering with American ships in international
HARRIS-PERRY: The China seas question.
CHANG: The Chinese have been grabbing territory from the Philippines with
military force last year. They sent their patrols into India. They are
trying to take Japanese territory away.
This is really irresponsible destructive behavior. And we`ve got to do
something about it.
And although we`ve engaged the Chinese for four decades, things are getting
worse. So, I think we do need a new paradigm for Chinese relationships
because a lot of what we know about Beijing is absolutely just wrong.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is this new president -- is there any reason to think with
the new president, it will make a difference?
GOODMAN: Yes, the dynamic has already changed. I mean, if we get back to
North Korea for a second, I mean, the traditional dynamic was China was in
the American view the key to solving North Korea because China supplies the
food and the fuel and a lot of the aid basically that goes into the
northeast from northeastern China into North Korea. The feeling was you
can`t press China to shut down that border and to really apply sanctions
because they don`t want a bunch of starving North Korean refugees streaming
into one of their most impoverished parts of China that Chinese former
Well, now, we have a dynamic where we`re back to Ian`s part earlier that
Chinese were much more concerned with relations with Korea, they`re worried
that Japan becomes a nuclear power if nuclear proliferation. But they are
taking -- I don`t want to idealize. I don`t disagree with your critique,
Gordon, at all. I mean, there are problems in this relationship and a lot
of ways in which China falls far very short of a responsible global
That said, there are ways in which we now see China behaving in a global
fashion. Taking heed beyond the short-term dimensions on North Korea
HARRIS-PERRY: And mostly because of their own strategic interest in this
GOODMAN: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Ian Bremmer and to Gordon Chang. There is so
much more here and the summit is going to give us an opportunity to not
just think about what might happen but we`ll see what is going to happen.
Peter and Lisa are both sticking around in order to talk about the place
that you can go buy a bunch of those Chinese goods -- Wal-Mart -- when
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PROTESTERS: We`re fired up! Can`t take it no more! We`re fired up!
Can`t take it no more! We`re fired up! Can`t take it no more! We`re
fired up! Can`t take it no more! We`re fired up! Can`t take it no more!
We`re fired up! Can`t take it no more!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Man, there`s nothing like a good social movement protest
Listen, the momentum for change at mega-chain Wal-Mart is building once
again. On Tuesday, roughly 100 Wal-Mart workers in cities across the
country went on strike. Now, that number is small compared to November`s
Black Friday Wal-Mart walkout. But it is growing.
Tuesday was the start of the first prolonged protest by Wal-Mart workers.
Actions include the Ride for Respect, a caravan stopping in nearly 30
cities. The protests will culminate in Bentonville, Arkansas, where
workers plan to voice their concerns at Wal-Mart`s annual meeting this
But don`t feel bad for Wal-Mart. The company that earned more than $466
billion in revenues in the 2013 fiscal year has enlisted none other than
Sir Elton John to perform as part of the events surrounding their annual
But Wal-Mart will also have to use some of their earnings to pay $82
billion in fines after pleading guilty on Tuesday to improperly dumping
hazardous wastes in both California and Missouri.
But let`s face it, for Wal-Mart, that is pocket change.
So, is change really coming to Wal-Mart?
Back at the table: "The Huffington Post`s" Peter Goodman and Michigan State
University`s Lisa Cook.
Joining us also now, Ed Pawlowski, he`s mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania.
I want to start with you, Peter, because, you know, we`ve been talking
about China and this notion that China might be a threat to us and their
business practices and all of that. I keep thinking or it could be that
our own businesses, those that are in many ways sell themselves as deeply
American kind of heartland businesses are the most dangerous to us.
What is the threat that a Wal-Mart business practice represents to our
GOODMAN: Well, these two threats that you exploring are inseparable
because in one sense, Wal-Mart and China represent the largest joint
venture in history. I mean, China has their global procurement system
sitting in Shenzhen, which is a boom town that`s just over the border from
Hong Kong, and they have a tremendous percentage of their goods produced
inside Chinese factories where they are incredibly effective at pushing for
lowest prices at that global procurement center where they will have
representatives from multiple factories seeking bids on the same deal.
You know, they need x number of t-shirts. They`ll have five different
people from five different factories sitting chockablock in uncomfortable
seats, knowing full well that the Wal-Mart agent if they don`t get the
price they like from you, well, they`ll go out and get one of your
competitors right out there sipping, you know, room temperature tea in an
HARRIS-PERRY: Me, too.
GOODMAN: And so, you know, there`s no question that the Wal-Mart force is
the one that we ought to be talking about in terms of what we do about the
decline of middle class opportunity in America. This is a company that is
paying its executives at the same rates as every other publicly traded
company in America.
GOODMAN: This is a company that has extraordinary revenues, tremendous
market share, and they are paying their workers, many of them, poverty
level wages. We are surrounded by people who get up and they go to work
and they work a full week and they have to take care of their families and
they bring home paychecks that make them poor by any standard.
COOK: And I think it`s not just the microeconomic issues. This sort of
this company versus that company, the origins of those companies. But I
think as a macro economists, I see 1.3 million workers as a component of
And I also see a fragile recovery. They need to be able to make something
so they can spend something.
COOK: So I think this is a critical time and it`s not just now. So, you
know, now, we`re in a fragile period, but this is going forward. These
wages have got to change in order for them to be fully participating in
HARRIS-PERRY: So I`m wondering though because you`re talking about the
macro and micro. And I`m thinking, Mayor, that on the sub-micro, on the
level somewhere in between, right, where you are a decision maker and you
have a Wal-Mart in your town and we had a 9-year-old on from Chicago who
said, if you ever became mayor of Chicago, the first thing he would do is
kick out all of the Wal-Marts because Wal-Mart is bad, right?
But I`m thinking, how do you make the decision, right? How do you make a
decision about I need low-cost goods in my community and I need jobs in my
community. They are willing to site here versus demands that we see.
MAYOR ED PAWLOWSKI (D), ALLENTOWN, PA: Well, I mean, that`s the dilemma,
isn`t it? I mean, Wal-Mart, you know, they provide needed goods at an
affordable price for the working poor. Obviously that distribution network
they have that massive global distribution network allows them to keep the
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, he was looking for a
grill, right? Every other retailer that he was looking at, whether it was
Home Depot or Target or K-Mart had the same grill for $299. Wal-Mart had
it to $248. That`s a $51 difference. That`s a pretty significant
So, they are providing lower cost products. You know, obviously, those
same people that are low income are buying products and they obviously have
less -- they have more money to spend on other types of goods which
obviously helps to stimulate the economy in other ways.
But at the same time, what you were suggesting is you have 1.3 million
workers, largest single private employer in the world I think, globally,
it`s like 2.1 million. They are paying employees at -- many of them -- at
below poverty level rates.
And there was just an article out just recently. I think it was in "The
Huffington Post" that the congressional Democrats did a study in one
supercenter, just one supercenter in Wisconsin, and because those folks are
being paid at such the low poverty rates --
HARRIS-PERRY: Ye, we pick up.
PAWLOWSKI: -- we have to pick up as taxpayers, you know? Nine hundred
thousand dollars in additional public subsidy because of food stamps,
because of other Section A housing, whatever, Medicaid, because they`re not
paying proper wages.
Now, we pick that up. That`s one supercenter. Let`s say they are off by
half. That`s $450,000.
GOODMAN: That`s $51 savings, we paid for that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you a question then. Yesterday on the show, a
friend of mine named Carmen Wong Ulrich talked about she -- a couple of
times said Wal-Mart and Costco together -- much of the consternation of
Costco lovers in the world -- who are saying, whoa, Costco is not Wal-Mart.
In fact, they do have a different --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- they provide low cost goods, but there is a membership
entry fee but then they also provide reasonable working conditions.
Why doesn`t a Wal-Mart go to Costco model, at least a Costco model in the
sense of providing reasonable working conditions because they seem to do
all right? They`ve got big profits.
PAWLOWSKI: You know, that`s a good point. The United Food and Commercial
Workers did a study not too long ago. They said if they paid $12 an hour,
$12 an hour to all their employees, that would cost the average Wal-Mart
consumer 46 cents additional, 46 cents.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m willing.
PAWLOWSKI: You can`t even buy one product at McDonald`s for less than 46
So, you know, I think they need to think about how they can be an impact in
the global economy. We talked about China recently in the last segment.
You know, China, 196,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in this country since
2006 because of Wal-Mart imports. Now, if they put that same global
distribution network in play and really focus on American made products,
maybe just have a section like a lot of supermarkets had, organic section
in their supermarkets, if they did that, they could actually probably
stimulate manufacturing back in this country.
COOK: You`re starting -- this is the model of how Wal-Mart works. I think
there`s an alternative. I`m flying in from Michigan.
Henry Ford did this. What he said was we`re going to pay workers a wage
that they can buy these cars. So, you know, you have to make sure that
your workers can actually buy what you`re selling, or buy even better than
COOK: That`s because we`re subsidizing them. This wasn`t Henry Ford`s
vision. It wasn`t with all of this government intervention but the wage
that is being paid to those workers, they can afford the things that are
consistent with middle class living.
PAWLOWSKI: Irony, isn`t it?
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to take a quick break. I want to actually tell
you this. We did beat up on Wal-Mart a bit.
But we did reach out to Wal-Mart`s national media office for someone to
take the fourth chair and speak on the program with us to comment about the
story, any of those things. We would have read the comment on TV. But
they did in fact decline.
But when we come back, someone who did take us up on the offer. We`ll hear
directly from Wal-Mart workers who are preparing to protest in Bentonville.
We`re going to Arkansas when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking about Wal-Mart workers protesting the
company`s low wages, but 100 employees walk off the job Tuesday at Wal-
Mart`s across the country, joining in caravan to Bentonville, Arkansas.
They plan to picket Wal-Mart`s annual shareholders meeting on Friday.
Joining me now are two protesters who are on their way to that meeting.
Vanessa Ferreira, who worked at a Florida Wal-Mart for eight years
decorating cakes in the bakery. She was fired in May, she says in
retaliation for her efforts to get better wages.
Colby Harris has been working for a Wal-Mart near Dallas for three years.
Colby participated in several protests against Wal-Mart over the past year.
This will be his sixth. He works full time, but at $9.30 an hour, he says
it`s not enough to even move out of his mother`s home.
Vanessa and Colby, thank you for joining me.
VANESSA FERRIERA, FIRED FROM WAL-MART: Thank you.
COLBY HARRIS, STRIKING WAL-MART EMPLOYEE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So start by telling me, Vanessa, why did you first decide to
FERRIERA: Because I didn`t like the respect or lack of respect they were
giving us. The company changed like overnight like three years ago. Their
managers were walking by us with their head down and playing with people`s
schedule and they were -- it was just terrible how they were treating the
people. I couldn`t stand for it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Colby, tell me, what are the sort of key concerns are
issues that you want addressed? I know that respect is part of it. I hear
But what else? What are key things you feel like you need to make Wal-Mart
a decent working environment?
HARRIS: Well, first off, I would like to start off by saying I lost my
voice yesterday while protesting. But some of the changes we`d like to see
would be consistency with scheduling and for managers to start respecting
us as far as the way they talk to us, the fact that a lot of people are
making a poverty wage and can`t afford to even have enough gas to get back
and forth to work.
Not just that, but the working equipment. A lot of us don`t have decent
ways to pull our trucks and things like that. So, it`s not just about the
money. There are several issues, especially the fact that those of us who
are in the organization have been retaliated against for asking for those
So, a combination of all of that is what we would like to see changed.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Vanessa, you say on that retaliation point, you say
that, look, you were working for eight years in the cake decorating. You
say that it felt like it changed overnight and you feel like you
experienced retaliation. It`s your belief that`s why you were fired.
FERRIERA: Most definitely it was retaliation. A couple of months ago we
did an action in a store and my district manager was there taking video of
it. And right after that, a week later, I was called in the office for
A week after that, I`m called in the office telling me they can`t give me
my schedule. I mean, they can`t give me my vacation. And I`ve never had
that refused before.
A week after that I`m in the office because of extended breaks.
FERRIERA: I`ve never heard of extended breaks before.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask you a question. Colby, if I`m watching this
and I say, look, I want to support these folks. I see what`s going on
Does that mean I ought to be boycotting Wal-Mart, I ought to be supporting
and shopping at Wal-Mart? Should I be writing a letter to someone? How
can people support the efforts to make sure that you, that Vanessa and
other Wal-Mart workers get the respect and wages that you`re seeking?
HARRIS: Well, first off, I would like to say that we`re not anti-Wal-Mart.
We`re pro-associate. We`re for the associates and people can get online at
(INAUDIBLE) and they can check out what we`ve done so far and what they can
do to help.
Also, you can go to our Wal-Mart page on Facebook and post your concerns
because even if you don`t work at Wal-Mart, everyone is being affected by
this, if you don`t work there. So, there`s plenty people can do if they
want to help. Send letters into home office let them know that, hey, we
want you to treat workers better because this is the community and we are
the community and we`d like to see these changes made.
And people can also just check out the Web site and see what they can do
protests and pickets and things like that, and they can help us support us
through that way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Vanessa and Colby, I can hear from the intensity of the lost
of your voice, which tells me that you are working hard. I know you guys
are in Little Rock because that`s where there is camera. But you`ve got to
go all the way back out to Bentonville, which is hours away.
I know you`re committed. I appreciate -- particularly given the
circumstances of retaliation, I appreciate so much the ways that you are
standing up for yourselves.
FERRIERA: Thank you so much.
HARRIS: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you for joining us.
Folks, you don`t have to take my word for it. There`s a new congressional
report that says Wal-Mart is, in fact, leeching off the American taxpayer,
just as the mayor was just talking about. In fact, it does impact you even
if you don`t work at Wal-Mart. We are the ones it turns out that make
those wages and those prices low. That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you think what Wal-Mart workers are fighting for have
nothing to do with you, think again. According to a new report prepared by
the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce,
the low wages that Wal-Mart workers earn force them, as we were talking
about earlier, to rely on food stamps and other forms of government aid.
The report estimates that one Wisconsin Wal-Mart supercenter employing 300
people cost taxpayers -- cost taxpayers -- between $900,000 and $1.7
million. So, they are triple dipping, right? They pay low. We have to
pay for food stamps for their employees and then their employees use those
food stamps to buy products and food at the Wal-Mart.
Is the dream of the American middle class where you can graduate from high
school, get a job at the local retailer, earn enough money to buy a home
and educate your children, is that over? Are we done?
We recently had a story at "The Huffington Post" about a guy that works at
a Kentucky Fried Chicken here in New York in Brooklyn. He`s an immigrant
and he`s being supported by cash infusions from his grandmother in Ecuador
just he can pay the bills.
GOODMAN: I mean, talk about a reversal. That`s the immigrant story.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Right.
GOODMAN: In terms of people who are born here, raised here, have this idea
that as long as I stay out of trouble, get a little education, get a job,
work hard, I`ll be OK, that`s simply not true for large numbers of people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Here was Vanessa working eight years at his Wal-Mart. Colby
saying, Colby is a millennial, he`s in his 20s. He`s like, I`m trying to
work. Get out of my mom`s house -- but they are earning poverty wages.
COOK: Exactly. And he`s living in his mom`s house.
So, Moody`s Analytics said this story and it showed that household
formation is going to be one of the big things that takes a hit because of
college debt. Now, he can`t get out of his house.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, Colby is not going to be able to get a wife.
COOK: He can`t get out of his house.
COOK: So, this is going to be a big deal. Each household generates about
-- I think it`s $450,000 in other benefits to the economy. It`s a big
HARRIS-PERRY: So, if Colby could go out and purchase a home, if Vanessa
could buy new kids for her kids, if their families could buy a car -- you
are the car lady on this show.
HARRIS-PERRY: If somebody could go buy a car, all of those would have
GOODMAN: If Colby gets an extra dollar an hour, he`s not sending it to the
Caymans or hiring a state lawyer.
GOODMAN: It`s going out in the local economy.
PAWLOWSKI: I mean, the disparity is so great. The average Wal-Mart
employee makes $15,100.
PAWLOWSKI: Think about that. The average Wal-Mart employee.
Their CEO made $20.7 million. So, if you do the math on that, that`s
137,000 percent difference --
HARRIS-PERRY: But, Mayor, when you say that --
PAWLOWSKI: -- between the average employee and it`s hard for people to
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, if you do say it, Mayor, what people will often say to
that is, well, then you must be a communist. If you want to take these
good people`s money at the top, and redistribute it down to the bottom.
PAWLOWSKI: That`s not what I`m saying. I think we have to do is we have
to figure out ways to work with Wal-Mart and get them to provide a
meaningful wage. If they just paid $12 an hour, UFCW, the United Food and
Commercial Workers, basically did a survey, and like I said earlier, 46
cents per Wal-Mart consumer. I think I`d pay 46 cents. I think would you
pay 46 cents.
GOODMAN: Why pick on Wal-Mart? Let`s have a minimum wage that`s a living
wage across the board.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there`s a political answer to that, right? So, the
president did stand in the State of the Union and say how about raising --
he suggested $12. I know that other folks are asking for $15. That has
gone nowhere because as we were talking about at the top of the show, he
can`t get judicial nominations where there`s a constitutional requirement
that it be done.
Is there any possibility that since it`s not happening with policymakers at
the top, that the work of fast food workers who are striking and Wal-Mart
workers who are striking will finally create the pressure from the bottom?
COOK: Well, this is growing. This is not going anywhere. It was people
thought it was morbid at the end of the year and then, all of a sudden,
they come out of the ashes and this has grown according to our Wal-Mart by
25 percent since they had these protests last year.
So, I don`t think this is going somewhere. I think this may be where it
comes from. I think that`s been the Obama administration`s strategy with
support from the ground up trying to get some of the policies put in place
that they want in place and they have no room to maneuver through Congress.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Get that pressure built in.
COOK: Right, exactly.
GOODMAN: What we know status quo is simply not sustainable.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, not of we`re going to have the America we expect to
GOODMAN: Or even an America that`s stable. I mean, you simply can`t have
tens of millions of people, generation after generation, added to the ranks
of the poor and not have consequences. You don`t have to have a crystal
ball to see that.
PAWLOWSKI: The income gap is so out of control.
You know, we can`t just keep vilifying them either. If you just keep
vilifying Wal-Mart and not figure out a way to work with them, we`re never
going to get anywhere. If you look at -- I looked at $466 billion was --
the next highest retail in the world only had $113 billion in sales. They
are three times larger. They`re not going away.
We have to praise their efficiency and what they do well, we got to
challenge them on deficiencies and we`ve got to figure out a way to go
forward or else we`re never going to get anywhere.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s such a good point. I`ll tell you what, Mayor? I will
ask again. I know we asked on the phone all the time. I`ll ask again,
because I think Mayor Ed Pawlowski is exactly right here. I would prefer
not to vilify, I really like to have a conversation.
I would like for Wal-Mart to send someone here to Nerdland. If you want,
we`ll clear the rest of the table and have a conversation, just you and I.
I would love to hear from McDonald`s. Come on, guys. Join the Nerdland
fun. It`s fun here.
Thank you to Mayor Ed Pawlowski, to Peter Goodman, and to Lisa Cook.
Up next, Motown is coming to Nerdland. Please, please don`t miss this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Motown, it was the sound that forever changed music and
reflected our changing times. Acts like Smoky Robinson, little Stevie
Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and, of course, the Jackson 5 and
Diana Ross and the Supremes all became household names under the guidance
of legendary music producer and Motown founder Berry Gordy.
Now, his story has come to life in Broadway in "Motown the Musical",
chronicling the story of the man and the artist who made the label famous.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
HARRIS-PERRY: And I am pleased to have in Nerdland, the director of
"Motown the Musical", Charles Randolph Wright, Brandon Victor Dixon, who
plays Berry Gordy, and Valisia Lekae, who`s nominated for a Tony Award in
the role of Diana Ross.
Good morning, everyone.
VALISIA LEAKE, PLAYS DIANA ROSS, "MOTOWN THE MUSICAL": Good morning.
CHARLES RANDOLPH WRIGHT, DIRECTOR, "MOTOWN THE MUSICAL": Good morning.
BRANDON VICTOR DIXON, PLAYS BERRY GORDY, "MOTOWN THE MUSICAL": Good
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to start with you as the director. Tell any what it
meant to try to bring this story to life.
WRIGHT: It`s outrageous. Berry Gordy was my idol growing up. I grew up
in the South, and we didn`t have a lot of role models, a lot of heroes of
color, and to see a person like him gave me permission to dream, to walk
out of the door and be anything that I wanted to be.
So, working with him was extraordinary because I really got to see how he
did it. How he thinks. He knows more about entertainment than all of us
combined. He`s outrageous.
DIXON: Don`t say that. He might watch this.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Gordy is extremely sympathetically portrayed in the
play, which I had the opportunity to see last night. But there`s a lot of
critique of Gordy out there in the world. And I don`t -- I mean, he`s sort
of a Steve Jobs figure in a sense that you don`t become that person without
having a lot of rough edges as well.
How do you play the sympathetic part, making him so human to us as an
audience, but also maintain that edge that is part of who he is?
DIXON: Well, I think the deal is not to focus on doing one or the other
but to just look at our scenes and look at our story and try to portray the
man as honestly as we go throughout all of the circumstance and not coming
to it with preconceptions of how he is but listen to how he was forced to
handle certain situations. And then also, to really, I guess, navigate the
scenes with scene partners about what this scene means and what conflicts
are arising here and what are those conflicts about, what do they mean and
what are our goals?
So, I wasn`t really looking to portray both sides, but just portray the man
as honestly as I could in every scenario.
HARRIS-PERRY: The full humanity of him.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, I know this is going to sound like a lie because I
would not have believed it had I not lived it. But last night when I went
to see the show the person in the seat directly in front of me was the
Diana Ross, the natural Diana Ross. It was insane.
So, I had the experience not only watching your extraordinary performance -
LEKAE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- but watching Ms. Ross -- she`s seen it before. She was
there in opening night. But also watching her and her lovely daughter
watching you and it was really outrageous old spot, young spot (ph) kind of
HARRIS-PERRY: It was Motown.
LEKAE: That`s our next show.
HARRIS-PERRY: So what does it mean to embody not just a legend but a
living legend sitting in the audience watching you?
LEKAE: First of all, having her in the audience is very comforting to me
because I always feel like she`s with me. But to know that she`s there and
she`s publicly coming out to support Mr. Gordy and the show means a lot
But I truly do love her. To be able to bring her story to life is such a
gift for me because I want everybody to know that, one, she`s just like us.
She`s human. I wanted to tell the truth of who she is and how Mr. Gordy
felt about her and how he still feels about her.
And so to be able to portray her from time she`s 15 to 39 is a magical
experience because she started off an unknown and became a mega superstar
so you get to see her hard work paying off throughout the time line, and
you also get to see this beautiful love story between Mr. Gordy and Ms.
Ross and we don`t get to see that a lot with African-Americans.
And so, here we are promoting such a wonderful thing but not just love but
also friendship and forgiveness, and that is what I love more than
HARRIS-PERRY: The moment that I felt the audience respond just
overwhelmingly was when the Jackson 5 comes out.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I thought, wait a minute. This is something more than
just a performance. This is people in mourning. This is people in
The young boy who played him was amazing.
LEKAE: Amazing, yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: You could feel the people were saying that there was a sense
of loss and joy and celebration at the same time.
WRIGHT: There`s a t-shirt at the Motown Museum that says, "Live it again."
And what we see every night, the audiences come in and they have this
experience. I remember when we did the first preview and Smoky and Marvin
came out and the audience started screaming. They know these aren`t the
WRIGHT: It`s something that happens that`s visceral. And audience --
DIXON: Well, it`s what she says, it`s about heroes. With Michael I think
about it a lot lately watching it because of the reaction for him is so
strong. I think to myself Michael has always been my idol, my artistic
inspiration. But I watch him, I say, you know, what`s lovely and
interesting about this is that he is a legendary figure for us and this is
-- everybody knows this scene. The second the boy comes out --
HARRIS-PERRY: Everybody knows it.
DIXON: That`s the myth of a hero. I said everybody loved this guy. There
was trouble and at the heart even though they wouldn`t come out and say it,
we loved him and that`s what he gave us.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we may mourn his loss.
You are going to perform for us in just a moment. Nerdland is going to
Broadway next in one moment. Before that we need a quick preview of
"WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: I`m going to make it so quick. So, here we go,
everyone. Terrorists overseas new information today on an unusual plot
targeting the U.S. and Europe. You`re going to see how children`s toys may
have played a role in that.
New twists in the search for the suspect in the ricin terror letters. Why
haven`t officials been able to track down a culprit yet?
Saving school. I`m going to talk with a 9 year old who fought back after
Chicago officials said they were going to shut down his school. He said no
And some of the most stunning images of climate change you will ever see.
So, quickly, back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Alex.
Up next, a live performance. We`re going to dedicate it to Belinda`s mom.
It`s her birthday. Happy birthday, mom. "Motown the Musical", live when
we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m thrilled to have a little Motown magic with me this
morning. Tony nominated actress Valisia Lekae and Brandon Victor Dixon
singing "You`re All I Need" from the "Motown the Musical" now on Broadway.
Take it away.
("MOTOWN THE MUSICAL")
HARRIS-PERRY: And that is our show for today. Thank you so much. Join us
again next week. Here in Nerdland. We are going to be taking on the big
issues associated with moral Mondays in North Carolina.
Thanks to you at home for watching. See you next Saturday, 10:00 a.m.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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