updated 8/5/2013 11:24:38 AM ET 2013-08-05T15:24:38

MELISSA-HARRIS-PERRY
August 3, 2013
Guests: Irin Carmon, Juan Ramos, Zerlina Maxwell, Anu Bhagwati, Andrea
Powell, Jamal Simmons, Bob Ney, David Cay Johnston, Christina Bellantoni,
Kayla Henderson, Alison Stewart, Rebecca Davis


MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST, "MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY": This morning, my
question. Why do Republicans hate Mitch McConnell so much?

Plus, Democrats want to capture an asteroid, but Republicans don`t. And
why they don`t like Larry, the very public battle for the next Fed chief.
But first, as a survivor`s hell ends, a perpetrator`s is just beginning.

Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. On Thursday, we all sat riveted,
watching as the final chapter of a story of unimaginable abuse and
exceptional endurance unfolded inside an Ohio courtroom. The names and
faces of Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry first captured
national attention on May Sixth after a dramatic rescue ended more than a
decade of terror inside a Cleveland house of horrors. Thursday was the
first time since that day that Michelle Knight was in the same room with
the man who held her captive and tortured her for 11 years. And Knight was
the only one of the women who came to the hearing, where Ariel Castro
learned his fate after pleading guilty to 937 counts, including rape,
kidnapping, and aggravated assault. Life in prison without parole, plus an
additional 1,000-year sentence.

Before sentencing, Castro delivered a long, rambling, horrifying statement,
defending his crimes. But the most compelling moment of the hearing came
when Michelle Knight, the first of the three women to be taken, made a
statement of her own, telling the story of how she survived against all
odds, in part thanks to her friendship with one of Castro`s other hostages,
Gina DeJesus

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE KNIGHT, HELD CAPTIVE FOR 11 YEARS: Gina was my teammate. She
never let me fall, I never let her fall. She nursed me back to health when
I was dying from his abuse. My friendship with her is an unending debt,
was good out of this situation. We said we would someday make it out alive
and we did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: Knight also addressed Castro directly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KNIGHT: I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning. I
will overcome all this that happened, but you will face hell for eternity.
From this moment on, I will not let you define me or affect who I am. You
- you will leave - I will live on, you will die a little every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: So I want to stay in this moment for just a moment. Because
this moment, seeing a woman come forward to tell her story, not only of her
victimization, but also her determination to survive it is remarkable for
its rarity. So often, survivors of sexual assault are silenced by shame or
by threats into being invisible players in their own narrative. And
Michelle Knight`s courageous act of claiming this space for herself puts
her and the two women with whom she lived through this hell, right where
they belong, at the center of their own story of survival.

But in Knight`s plans for her future, I also hear something else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KNIGHT: With the guidance of God, I will prevail and help others that
suffered at the hands of others. I know that there is a lot of people
going through hard times, but we need to reach out a hand and hold them,
and let them know that they`re being heard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: So, although the circumstances of the ordeal experienced by
these three women were extraordinary, the sexual violence committed against
them throughout that ordeal is all too common. Nearly one out of every
five women are raped at some point in their lives, and what I hear in
Michelle Knight`s words is an understanding of that fact and an invitation
to use her experience to embrace and support those who will never have a
moment to tell their own stories. Knight`s choice to stand there on her
story and use it as a platform puts her in good company with others, who
are surviving by using their personal anguish in service of a greater good.
It`s what we heard last week from Trayvon Martin`s mother, Sybrina Fulton,
when she spoke to the National Urban League`s annual conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN`S MOTHER: What is my message to you? My
message to you is please use my story. Please use my tragedy. Please use
my broken heart to say to yourself, we cannot let this happen to anybody
else`s child.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: "Use my story." It`s the same message we`ve heard from the
Newtown parents of the children killed last year at Sandy Hook elementary
school, bringing their determination along with their broken hearts to
Washington, to advocate for gun reform. All of them, asking that even as
we are horrified by the events that brought them to the national stage,
that we also hear the message they are trying to amplify while they are
standing there in the spotlight. For Michelle Knight, it`s a call for
recognition and a response to the broader culture of sexual violence.
Given all that she has endured, she isn`t asking for very much, simply that
we listen, that we learn, and that we act.

Joining us now is Zerlina Maxwell, a political analyst and contributor to
the Grio.com. Irin Carmon, national correspondent for MSNBC.com, Anu
Bhagwati, a retired Marine captain and now the executive director of the
Service Women`s Action Network, and Juan Ramos, who is the core trainer for
a Call to Men, executive director of Community-Driven Solutions, who has
worked as a court-appointed counselor for convicted abusers. Thank you all
for being here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

HARRIS-PERRY: So this was a tough week in terms of this Castro trial, and
it was particularly on Thursday when we were watching it. And Zerlina, I
kept thinking of you in this week, you and I are both survivors, and I was
thinking about the ways in which this kind of coverage is both a trigger,
but also the fact that he gets the thousand years.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

HARRIS-PERRY: Is - is also, like the opposite of a trigger, it`s somehow
empowering.

MAXWELL: Right, and it`s the rare moment where someone who has committed
sexual assault is put in prison for that. Right? So that`s the three
percent of cases that that actually happens. And so justice for this
woman, just - it felt so satisfying and gratifying. But also just her
courage to stand up in front of everyone, because that is so important. So
many of survivors don`t tell anyone, they don`t tell anyone for a long
time, or they`re not believed when they finally do open up and tell
someone. And so being able to stand there and just have support. Because
what stood out to me was that she was hugging so many people in the
courtroom, there were people holding her back, you know, as she spoke, and
it`s that community of support, that love, that, you know, surrounding her,
that is so crucial when you`re going through the process of surviving.

HARRIS-PERRY: And I wanted to, you know, I want to keep our eyes very
closely on Michelle Knight and what she`s asking us to do, but I do want to
pause and listen to one statement that came out from Castro, because as
extraordinary as this moment is, this is the thing that felt most ordinary
to me. So I want to listen for a second as Ariel Castro makes a claim
about Amanda Berry`s behavior since escaping from this decade of unwilling
incarceration and rape. Let`s just listen for a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARIEL CASTRO, SENTENCED TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE: If you`ve seen the YouTube
video of Amanda this weekend, that right there itself proves that that girl
did not go through no torture. That woman did not go through no torture.
Because if that was true, do you think she would be out there partying
already or having fun? I don`t think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: And just one more moment, he says something very similar
about Gina DeJesus. I would like to listen to that as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASTRO: I seen Gina in the media. She looks normal. She acts normal. A
person that`s been tortured does not act normal. They would act withdrawn
and everything. On the contrary, I heard the opposite. She`s happy, the
victims are happy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: So their survival then gets used against them by the
perpetrator to say that they didn`t have anything to survive. That feels
common to me, even though Castro`s particular form of evil is
extraordinary.

JUAN RAMOS, CORE TRAINER A CALL TO MAN: Right. It feels kind of normal,
because that`s what, you know, the perpetrator would say, to take away from
what he`s done and kind of almost justifying his, you know, his actions to
say, well, I didn`t do nothing that bad. She`s out there partying. But
the reality is, that, you know, some may look at this and say, this sick
man is just making this wild, outlandish statement. But the reality is,
that he`s also, he knows all too well what our society and how our
communities respond to this type of violence and abuse of women. So to me,
what I heard there was an appeal to us in the larger community and society
and saying, hey, if I did this, would this woman be out there partying?
Because what happens in rape culture, what happens in sexual harassment is
that women are continuously put in a position, where they have to prove
their innocence before their perpetrators, you know, are found guilty of
what they`ve done. And he`s making, to me, he`s making an emotional appeal
to those of us, especially to those of us men out there who may say, well,
you know, he`s kind of right, you know?

HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, right. You can - How bad could it have been?

(CROSSTALK)

RAMOS: Right.

IRIN CARMON, NATIONAL REPORTER, MSNBC.COM: It shows the outer limits of
those kinds of myths about rape. Because this case could not be less
ambiguous by the standards that society has set about rape.

HARRIS-PERRY: Right.

CARMON: Two of these girls were minors when they were kidnapped, they were
lured under false pretenses, they were physically imprisoned with chains.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah.

CARMON: There is no story that you can explain away there, unless you
believe that there`s still some resonance to that idea of that, well, you
didn`t die? I mean what more?

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

CARMON: How much more of a perfect victim do you need to be than these
three poor girls .

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

CARMON: . these women, and yet he still believes that there would be a
resonance to that story, because it goes to deep.

HARRIS-PERRY: You literally must die .

CARMON: Right.

HARRIS-PERRY: . in order to prove that you resisted .

CARMON: Right.

HARRIS-PERRY: Sufficiently.

Anu, it just feels to me, again, on this question of rape culture - we
actually have policies instantiating this. So, we are just looking at the
fact that in Ohio, in fact, in 31 states, in 31 states, rapists can sue for
custody of children produced in the context of rape and/or for visitation
rights, in 31 states in this country. Now, in only one state where there`s
a waiting period for abortion can people who have been raped or are victims
of incest even get that waived, right? So, but that idea of, who has to
claim innocence, how much is that a part of rape culture? That you, the
victim, the survivor are actually the one on trial.

ANU BHAGWATI, EXEC. DIR., SERVICE WOMEN`S ACTION NETWORK: I think it`s a
huge part of our culture. I think, you know, even in the institution in
which I work, which is the military, there`s still so much kind of agony
and angst within the military establishment about the idea that we`re being
attacked wholeheartedly. That all men must be bad, all men must be rapists
and, you know, we have to launch a full-scale defense against all of these
attacks when the reality is that we`re dealing with a small group of
extremely effective serial predators that are not being held accountable.
And so, you know, we kind of get paranoid, as a culture, about, you know,
and almost delusional, just like Ariel Castro is clearly delusional about,
you know, accusations that are exaggerated and, of course, women, as Juan
so eloquently put, are always the ones on trial.

HARRIS-PERRY: We have more on this. I know - I know it`s a tough subject.
I know there`s a hard like ick factor to the entire thing, but I`m just
going to ask everybody in Nerdland, just stay with us, because the fact is,
there are thousands of other Michelle Knights hidden in plain sight every
day and I want us to talk about that when we get back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS-PERRY: Before we heard from Michelle Knight at Ariel Castro`s
sentencing hearing, before she was freed from his house three months ago,
she was invisible. Not because she hadn`t been seen for more than ten
years, but because hardly anyone realized her disappearance was
involuntary. During their decade spent in captivity, both Amanda Berry and
Gina DeJesus remained two of Cleveland`s most famous and recognizable
missing people. But when Michelle Knight disappeared after leaving her
cousin`s house in west Cleveland in 2002, her absence went mostly
unnoticed. No widespread police search or breathless media reports. She
vanished quietly into the clutches of a sexual predator. It`s a scenario
that is played out daily on America`s streets. One that just made
headlines this week, when more than 100 children were rescued by the FBI in
a sex trafficking sweep of more than 70 U.S. cities. That arrest - that
sweep resulted in the arrest of 159 traffickers. Joining me now from
Washington, D.C. is Andrea Powell, executive director of Fair Girls, an
organization dedicated to preventing the exploitation of girls worldwide.
Miss Powell, what aspects of this story, or the Castro`s sort of horror
story play out in your work regularly?

ANDREA POWELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FAIR GIRLS: So I think one thing that`s
really important to point out in bringing that connection together is that
sex trafficking is basically organized rape for profit. And the
commonality is that just like Michelle Knight, young women and girls, and
boys, all across the country are going through the same trauma and they`re
often being viewed as potentially perpetrators or that, you know, they
somehow asked for it, because they`re not screaming enough, because they
didn`t die. But the thing is that they need the same compassion and
support that we are seeing across the country, for Michelle Knight. And I
think she`s a true hero, and so are these young women and girls who are
standing up as survivors all across the country.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ms. Powell, help me on this. Because I do think that
this is a real challenge. On the one hand, you know, as a feminist, as a
kind of sex positive feminist, I do want to leave space for the possibility
that some sex workers, adult women, actually do make a choice to be engaged
in sex work, as part of what they do, right? And on the other hand,
maintain the sense of the reality of what trafficking is. And as you said,
organized rape for profit. How do we get really clear about that
distinction and how do we do work around that distinction?

POWELL: So, my organization, Fair Girls, is one of several agencies across
the country, working with survivors of sex trafficking. And I have
actually never met a survivor who`s come into our office who hasn`t already
had experiences of sexual abuse, being involved in foster care. It`s not
like they were standing between choices of being a doctor or being involved
in so-called sex work. That`s not to say that there aren`t those out there
who potentially are really making a viable choice, but the hundreds and
thousands of victims across this country truly are victims of modern-day
slavery. That`s what sex trafficking is. It`s the new face of slavery in
America. And I think that`s what`s really important to point out. And so
it`s not detracting from anyone`s agency .

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

POWELL: It`s actually adding to the mission of ensuring that young women
and girls are respected, no matter what they`ve been through, as heroes, if
they`ve gone through this.

HARRIS-PERRY: Andrea, I think that`s so useful. I want to come to you on
this. Because it`s one of the things that we see in this Castro case, that
he was -- the police knew that this was a man who had been violent towards
his own wife, right? And then - and then this is on the backside of it.
It`s actually true over and over again, is that we see that there are these
other acts of what we think of as domestic or private violence. And then
all of a sudden you see these things that are more unambiguously criminal,
you know, activities. Is there a way that we could start holding men
accountable at those beginning stages of acting as predators, before they
get to the super predator stage?

RAMOS: I think there`s always opportunity, where you can start early on.
I think you need to start working, for example, with boys early on, to
really talk to them about who they are, as young men in our communities and
our society. And their relation in relation to women. I think we need to
begin a process. You know, one of the things we believe that at a Call to
Man is that, you know, our mission is really to drive men and boys toward,
you know, respecting and being loving individuals, while also creating an
environment where women are valued and safe. And I think that we need to
show our boys, in specific, who they are in relationship to women in their
communities. You know, we can`t only demand respect and love for the women
that are directly in our lives, without saying that I want that to also be
the fact for another woman who maybe important to another man`s life.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

RAMOS: It`s sort of hypocritical, because I can demand something to be
done for someone I respect and love, but yet I`m also perpetrating
something that I`m kind of demonizing. So, we need to kind of get on board
in our community and really begin a conversation amongst men .

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

RAMOS: . to not make this conversation that we have when we have a tragedy
and an atrocity like the one we`re discussing here today.

HARRIS-PERRY: But just the women`s conversation.

RAMOS: Exactly. Let it be a woman`s conversation. But I also wanted to
add that .

HARRIS-PERRY: Hold on for a minute. Just real quick. I want to - because
we have to go to commercial in a moment. Andrea, I want to bring you in
just one more moment before we go. What is the key thing that we can do as
a public, if I keep thinking, what if Michelle Knight lives next-door to me
and I don`t realize it because I don`t know my neighbor. What can we do,
to - and just as ordinary people on this question of sex trafficking in our
communities?

POWELL: I think the number one thing is keep your eyes open. And if you
see a young girl who looks like she needs help. Maybe you see that she`s
not in school, maybe you see that she`s with older guys over and over
again, reach out, talk to local authorities, or you can call the National
Trafficking Hotline, which is 1-888-373-7888. And that number, you can
call nationally and report a potential case. And even if you`re wrong, you
still could be saving a life. But these girls truly are victims and do
need our support. And it`s worth that call. It`s worth asking her if
she`s OK.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yep, Andrea Powell, thanks so much.

And up next, rape culture in institutions, when the people who are supposed
to protect you don`t and won`t.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS-PERRY: The twisted house that Ariel Castro built was designed to
protect himself and keep his victims silent and hidden. And in some
American institutions that were designed to promote intellectual and
political freedoms, we find instead the same culture of institutional self-
preservation at the expense of survivors of sexual violence. On college
and university campuses, where victims` concerns go unaddressed and
perpetrators go unpunished, and in the U.S. military, where an epidemic of
sexual assault is met with an unwillingness to protect soldiers who have
been victimized and a reluctance to prosecute their cases outside the chain
of command. Now, Anu, I just kept thinking of the many conversations we`ve
had about chain of command and about sexual assault in the military. No
one suggesting that four-star generals are Ariel Castro, but that notion of
like, build the house to protect the perpetrator and not the victims just
felt very familiar, felt resonant in this story.

BHAGWATI: Absolutely, what you`re seeing now is a huge defense that`s
being launched by the military establishment and by Congress members who
have very entrenched ties to the military to avoid change happening. And
what you`re seeing is actually the Senate and the House is people are not
falling along party lines, they`re falling along sort of old guard and new
guard lines.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

BHAGWATI: So that even Ted Cruz and Rand Paul on the Senate side - you
know, Tea Party favorites are aligning themselves with reformers like Sen.
Gillibrand, whereas we`ve got moderate Democrats like Claire McCaskill who
are aligning themselves with the old guard military establishment. And
it`s a fascinating thing to look at, but I mean there are people who just
to the death want to defend the military as it was. And you`ve got to ask
these folks, do you want to be on the right side of history, because this
is going to happen.

HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s interesting, I haven`t - I haven`t laid the
two lists over each other, but I wonder if the NSA list, you know, the list
of people who are supporting NSA`s right to invade privacy are the same
folks who are wanting to hold on to this chain of command. My bet is that
there are some similarities in the sense of like, must preserve the
institutions just as they are.

CARMON: Because they believe they can trust the institutions with that
amount of power too.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

CARMON: That (inaudible) themselves.

HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of which, I wanted to ask you specifically, Irin,
about the college and university piece. Because we know it`s happening in
the military, at least that`s giving us some play - but there`s also true
that there is a whole list of major colleges and universities currently
under fire for not taking appropriate action against sexual assault,
including Amherst, Berkeley, Colorado Boulder, Dartmouth, Georgetown,
Montana, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Notre Dame, Occidental,
Princeton, Swarthmore, the Naval Academy, the University of Virginia,
Wesley and West Point, William and Mary, Yale. All of these are schools
where there are active questions about how they are managing this. What is
it about this willingness to protect the perpetrators rather than believe
the victims?

CARMON: I think there are two things happening. But first thing is that
we have always, since the beginning of, you know, rape as a definition said
that we take it seriously, and we have often even had the rules on the
books. I recently read that there was death penalty for rape in the early
American colonies.

RAMOS: Yes.

CARMON: But when we actually have it staring us in the face, we look for
reasons to excuse it away or say that this isn`t that real rape. And then
the second thing I think is what I hear when you go to campuses and you
talk to people is that oftentimes, even the victims, they say, well, I
don`t want to ruin his life.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

CARMON: So, the strength, the weight of being at that institution and
saying, these is this pivotal time in our life, these are good boys, you
hear it in the military conversations as well.

HARRIS-PERRY: They`ve got futures in front of them.

CARMON: Right. I don`t want to ruin - I don`t want to be that person who
ruins their life. Despite whatever repercussions were in the victim`s
life.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah.

CARMON: So, I think - yes, there are many positive things about
institutions, but there are also corrosive things that in order to keep
those four walls up .

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

CARMON: There have to be lots of lies kept within them.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Zerlina.

MAXWELL: Amazing. And I would add Tufts University to that list, my alma
mater. But particularly Yale is egregious, because this week they put out
a report that was supposed to be the, you know, we reviewed title 9 and
everything.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yep.

MAXWELL: And they were like nonconsensual sex, which is not a thing. So I
just want to point out .

(LAUGHTER)

MAXWELL: We call that rape.

HARRIS-PERRY: That`s rape rape, right? There is not a thing called ..

MAXWELL: Nonconsensual sex is not a thing. But also, I just think that
the idea that we don`t believe victims, right? So we need a Michelle
Knight story to actually feel like, oh well, she`s been through it, there`s
proof, there`s chains, we can see it. Steubenville, there`s video, there`s
texts, there`s tweets.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

MAXWELL: Then we believe the victims. No, we need to believe all victims,
no matter if they`re chained up or if they`re at a college party and they
wake up and they were sexually assaulted. We need to believe victims. And
that`s what I think the theme throughout all of these things are.

HARRIS-PERRY: It`s an interesting point. Like if you can show me the
chains, then I believe that you were restrained. But if the story includes
you having been drunk, then, of course, it`s got to be in part your fault.
And believing the victims doesn`t mean that we take away the responsibility
of a presumption of innocence and due process, right?

But that you don`t necessarily begin with the belief that the victim is
lying.

MAXWELL: Right.

HARRIS-PERRY: In the context of the military, though, this chain of
command thing. I mean, that the idea of something like, nonconsensual sex,
that`s not a thing. I just keep thinking of what does it mean to have to
wake up and actually report to someone who may have been your perpetrator.
That sense of being underneath an institution that is in control of you.

BHAGWATI: Well, we know, because the DoD has statistics, they have told us
this .

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

BHAGWATI: That the majority of sexual assault victims in the military fear
retaliation.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

BHAGWATI: And so if that`s the baseline, then we have to create a system
that does not retaliate against victims. And this legislation that Senator
Gillibrand has introduced will resolve that system. So that there`s no
institutional bias. So that it`s not your boss or your boss`s boss -- it`s
nobody who is going to end up influencing your career that determines
whether or not a case goes forward.

HARRIS-PERRY: Right.

BHAGWATI: It is so simple. You know, in Israel, five years after they
moved away from a commander-centered system, military justice system to a
professionalized prosecutor-run system, reporting went up 80 percent. I
mean, is that -- that`s enough proof, isn`t it?

HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And it`s the point that even if there aren`t the
chains, that the fear is a thing -- I mean, I did not tell for years, not
because there was an active threat, but that fear of reprisal and what it
would mean was enough to silence people. And I wasn`t even in a situation
where that person had direct control over my job.

Zerlina, Irin Carmon, Anu and Juan - I do want to say one quick thing
before we go in terms of the structures. There is one structure coming
down. We can report this morning that the home that Ariel Castro held
these women in, will, in fact, be coming down. Michelle Knight visited the
neighborhood, she stood across the street from the home. She talked with
neighbors. She said thank you to them. She is clearly an enormously
magnanimous human being. But knowing that that property is going to come
down strikes me as a good metaphor. Let`s bring the institutions down that
hold people in these circumstances.

How do you hold a poverty hearing without hearing from poor people? My
letter of the week is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS-PERRY: Last week on this show, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee said
she would ask the House Budget Committee chair to invite our guest, Tianna
Gaines Turner to testify about anti-poverty programs. Tianna is a witness
to hunger and a married mother of three who receives food stamps and other
federal benefits to help make ends meet. But the Republican chairman of
the committee refused to have Tianna to his war on poverty hearing. Thus
my letter this week is to that chairman, Congressman Paul Ryan.


Dear Congressman Ryan, it`s me, Melissa. Look, it is a great thing that
you had a hearing on poverty. That you asked whether we`ve made any
progress in the war on poverty in the past 50 years. I`m actually glad
that you had four experts on poverty programs, including our favorite nun
on the bus, Sister Simone Campbell. But you know what would have been a
hell of a lot better, if you`d actually have heard from someone who is in
fact living in poverty. Someone who`s working and still struggling to feed
and clothe her children and to afford health care. Now, here`s the kind of
thing you may have heard from Tianna, describing her life on our show in
May.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIANNA GAINES-TURNER, FORMERLY HOMELESS: Food insecurity is not just a
depression or stress for an adult, it`s very much on the minds of young
children every day, and I don`t understand how people can sit and sleep
knowing that there`s a child somewhere, eight years old, four years old,
worrying about, is my mom going to eat?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: So, you had the chance to hear her, Congressman Ryan, but
you refused. Only allowing Representative Barbara Lee to enter Tianna`s
written comments into the record. Would things have been different if she
was there? Would you have been able to look Tianna in the eye while telling
her that you care about the poor. At the start of your hearing, you said
you wanted to find ways to lift people out of poverty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R ) WISCONSIN: This is about improving people`s lives. In
this country, the condition of your birth should not determine the outcome
of your life. If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.
That is something that we all believe in and that we all care about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: Fantastic rhetoric, but your budget proposals paint a very
different picture. Your so-called "Path to Prosperity" budget would cut
$135 billion from SNAP. You know, the food stamp program that feeds 22
million American households a month. Let`s put that in perspective.
That`s more than six times the amount House Republicans proposed cutting in
their farm bill earlier this year. Even that much smaller cut, $20.5
billion to your $135 billion would be devastating to American families.
According to a new study by the Health Impact Project, the comparatively
small $20.5 billion cut could result in 5.1 million people losing their
food stamps, including more than 1 million children. Hundreds of thousands
of Americans would go hungry. Is that something that we can all believe
in, congressman? The study also found that the SNAP cuts in the farm bill
again, a tiny fraction of the cuts you want, would increase the poverty
rate. That is not exactly lifting people out of poverty. And that
increase in hunger and poverty would lead directly to an increase in
diseases like diabetes and heart disease in adults and asthma and cognitive
impairment in children. Tell me, congressman, how exactly is that
improving people`s lives? And your plan doesn`t even save any money. The
increase in diabetes alone would cost $15 billion more in health care costs
over the next decade. And the impact from the cuts you want, Congressman
Ryan, would be six times worse. Could - look Tianna Gaines-Turner in the
eye and say that you want to improve her life while taking away the means
to feed her family. Would you have been able to keep a straight face?
Since you refused to allow her at your poverty hearing, I`m guessing not.
Sincerely, Melissa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS-PERRY: At Paul Ryan`s budget committee hearing on poverty this
week, Republican lawmakers, the same ones who have voted for Ryan`s safety
net slashing budgets, insisted that they care about the poor and want to
find the most effective ways of alleviating poverty. This led to some
interesting logical contortions. Take a listen to this clip of
Representative Roger Williams, Republican of Texas, questioning Sister
Simone Campbell on the morality of anti-poverty programs. Sister Simone is
the executive director of the Catholic Social Justice lobbying organization
network.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ROGER WILLIAMS (R ) TEXAS: Don`t you think a lot of this debate is
the fact we`ve lost our family values, we`ve got single parents and so
forth, and we need to get back to that. That that has a lot to do with
what we`re talking about?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NETWORK: I practiced family law
for 18 years in Oakland, California, and I found, with low-income families,
that the biggest cause of family breakup was economic stressors and not
being able to have enough wages. And so I think the most important piece
that we could do that would support families would be raise the minimum
wage. It would really be a significant support.

WILLIAMS: Raise the minimum wage and not have a maximum wage like this
administration is talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: Maximum wages, that`s not a thing. OK, Williams` comments
were timely, if nothing else. This week, fast food workers in seven cities
walked off their jobs and demanded a living wage of $15 an hour, more than
double the current federal minimum wage. Joining me today a Democratic
consultant Jamal Simmons, David Cay Johnston, author of "The Fine Print."
Tsedeye Gebreselassie who is the stuff attorney with the National
Employment Law Project and Bob Ney, former Republican Ohio - former
Republican congressman from Ohio, and author of "Sideswiped."

So I want to start with you today. Talk to me about this idea of a $15 an
hour wage. I know there`s a current proposal in Congress .

TSEDEYE GEBRESELASSIE, STAFF ATTORNEY, HELP: Right.

HARRIS-PERRY: . to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

GEBRESELASSIE : . and ten cents an hour. Right.

HARRIS-PERRY: But these folks are demanding 15. Talk to me about that
disparity.

GEBRESELASSIE: Yeah, well just - I mean just as background, the federal
minimum wage right now is $7.25 an hour, which is $15,000 a year for a
full-time worker. So, it`s not a living wage, it`s a poverty wage, it`s
even below a poverty wage, depending on how big your family is. And what
the workers are striking for, $15 an hour. I mean these are workers that
work for huge multinational corporations that are making record profits. I
mean McDonald`s posted $5.5 billion in profits last year, compensated its
CEOs $13.8 million last year. And so all these workers are saying is, you
know, we are making poverty wages, the median wage for a fast food worker
is under $9 an hour. All we`re asking is that you share some of the
enormous wealth that we are creating for you and help us, so we don`t have
to rely on public benefits to make ends meet.

HARRIS-PERRY: At this point, Jamal, this point about relaying on public
benefits, feels to me like if there is some way that Democrats can kind of
get in here in this conversation, is actually probably not going to be
around the Sister Simone morality ethics argument. It`s going to be around
the argument that if you don`t raise the minimum wage, you have to keep
supplying food stamps, section 8, and other government support, not so much
to support the families, but to underwrite the enormous profits of
McDonald`s and others.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: No, absolutely. I think, first of
all, if you`d got people more money, they would be able to then spend more
money. So .

HARRIS-PERRY: . which stimulates the economy.

SIMMONS: Which stimulates the economy. This is part of what the president
has been talking about, right? So you`ve got the people who make the
bottom 80 percent of workers spend about 110 percent of what they consume.
So, if they had more money, they would spend more money. The wealthy, we
are able to .

HARRIS-PERRY: And save it!

SIMMONS: And save it.

HARRIS-PERRY: Spend it on your kids` college, you know, 15 years from now.

SIMMONS: Absolutely. So, you know, so you`ve got to do that. And I`ve
always wondered, when we had the health care argument, why Democrats and
progressives didn`t make the argument more often, that if you can get the
government to provide health care, and you free corporations from having to
do that, which allows them to go around the world and compete on a fair
basis.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yep.

SIMMONS: And I`ve never understood why we haven`t made that argument more
forcefully. I think some of the big companies get it, but obviously it
didn`t work in Congress.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. You`re right. And certainly not yet - so let me ask
a question that also emerged. We heard it in that sound bite, when the
discourse from the right becomes a discourse about the morality of poor
people, who are actually getting benefits. And I`m always made sort of so
nervous by that idea that it`s about family disillusion rather than about
poverty. And Sister Simone is saying, well, poverty is part of what leads
to family dissolution. I know that you have both been a supporter of
government benefits for the poor, but also of some testing around those
benefits, things like working in order to get food stamps. Talk to me
about how Republicans may be thinking about this issue.

BOB NEY, (R ) FORMER CONGRESSMAN, OHIO: Well, first of all, the relating
of morality was a wrong introduction of language into that hearing. That`s
apples and oranges. The hearing was about people struggling, so there was
no reason to bring that in. And I`m sure that the chair himself kind of
grimaced, you know, to himself. But as far as the entire argument, we had
working for welfare dollars, but it has to be something that is
understandably workable. A lot of people say, well, drug tests, for
example, for food stamps. Drug tests, corporate leaders that receive
government money, which corporations do, corporate welfare, you know,
they`re going to spend that and they have a big impact when they go under
and the government has the to bail them out. Now drug test them too.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah.

NEY: So I think the arguments need to be basically on what helps people,
but with some people in my party, they`ve made arguments and bringing in
the morality in the poor. Middle class people have become poor in this
country.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean .

NEY: So you have to remember that.

HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And everyone is sort of sitting on the edge now.
Right, we saw some data just this past week that it looks like we`re in a
situation where most American adults, at some point, are going to
experience poverty.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR "THE FINE PRINT": Four out of five, according
to the Associated Press study, which makes perfect sense with me. I`ve had
periods in my life where, you know, there was worry about, if there is
enough food in the house when I was a child. And we`re going to see more
of this, because what are we seeing going on in our economy? Fewer jobs
relative to the size of the population. We are not seeing any growth to
the bottom. And one out of three workers, 51 million workers, they may be
part-time, one out of three workers makes $15,000 a year or less. The
median wage has been stuck at the same level now for - since 1999. We`re
talking about 14 years with no growth in the minimum wage. And yet at the
top we have this tremendous growth.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah.

JOHNSTON: McDonald`s, which, you know, put out this suggestion, to get a
second job.

HARRIS-PERRY: All right, exactly.

JOHNSTON: If we would, in fact, get off the employer-based health care
system .

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

JOHNSTON: And small employers should be in the forefront of this. Not
just big ones .

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

JOHNSTON: . because it`s an enormous drag on their efficiency. We would
see a lot of positive change. In fact, that alone would balance the
budget. Getting our health care costs in line, which we can do with a
single-payer national system.

HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with me. We have more on this topic. But I also want
to tell our viewers that if you are interested, you can hear from Tianna.
You can go to mhpshow.com where you can read the entire written testimony
submitted by Tianna Gaines-Turner to the House Budget Committee. She
wasn`t allowed to speak, but she did write. And it`s on our Web site.

And up next, banned by the bank. The stunning reason more than a millions
of people can`t even get a checking account.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS-PERRY: Last week we told you about the growing phenomenon of
prepaid payroll cards, which companies are increasingly using to pay their
workers rather than checks or direct deposit. And some of those cards
charge fees that can total $30 a month. In essence, workers must pay to
get their own money. Despite the fees, the cards can sometimes be the best
choice for workers without a bank account if their only other choice is an
expensive check cashing service. But why don`t they have bank accounts?
Well, one of the reasons is because banks don`t like providing services to
low-income people who keep low balances. A "New York Times" investigation
found this week that more than a million low-income Americans are
blacklisted from opening a bank account, because of minor past mistakes,
like bouncing a check. So this feels to me -- I was like, OK, you`ve got
no food stamps, no social safety net, and you get paid on a card, and you
can`t even get a checking account.

GEBRESELASSIE: Right. Right. I mean I think - I think it just shows that
it is incredibly expensive to be poor in this country and to be working
poor. No matter what ...

HARRIS-PERRY: Please say that again. Please say that.

GEBRESELASSIE: It is incredibly expensive to be poor in this country and
to be a working poor. And that is something that Paul Ryan`s hearing, or,
you know, a lot of the rhetoric around these issues, doesn`t acknowledge.
Is that working people are working extremely hard. They are trying to find
full-time hours when they can get them. They are working two jobs, as
apparently the McDonald`s budget calculator suggest that they do to make
ends meet. And they are not getting ahead. And every single policy that
pushes them further and further down the income ladder hurts us all.
Because we need their consumer spending as, Jamal says, if we want to drive
the economy forward. And so it`s just another stupid policy that lawmakers
really need to address.

HARRIS-PERRY: Do Democrats have enough oomph to take this -- to say that.
To take this on and to run on it in 2014 and `16?

SIMMONS: The real answer is probably no, because the reality is, most
people who vote, when you`re sitting in front of a Democratic map, you`re
looking at the voters, prime voters. And most people who vote,
particularly in a midterm election, are going to be people who go to work
for a living and probably people who make a little bit more money when they
go to work than people who make $9 an hour. So the benefit of the Obama
coalition, was President Obama was a kind of figure that inspired people
who made a little bit less money to go out and vote, and so it changed some
of the math about elections. It`s tougher to do in a midterm. The
reality, though, is until we figure out how we handle this, we are not
going to have an economy that is growing.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

SIMMONS: Because we just are not putting enough money in enough of the
people`s hands who are going to do well. If we think about what`s
happening with our gridlock, the average male worker makes $900 less in
real terms than he did in the late 1960s. These men, particularly middle-
aged, white guys in the country, who have seen their wages stagnate, their
wives have to go to work, their kids have to come back home, and no one`s
really talking to them about how do they make things better. And they`re
pissed, excuse my language. And they are stopping action in Congress .

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS-PERRY: So, I like this - so, right - so right, but so, I was going
to say, so, David, how do we get that angry white man, with the depressed
wages, how do we get him to see his interest as connected to that of
Tianna`s rather than in opposition to Tianna`s?

JOHNSTON: Well, and this is all government policy, this is not economics.
We have to get them to see, that you know, you were better off when 37
percent of private sector workers worked in a union, because 80 percent of
workers` wages were effectively set by union policies. You were - the
companies didn`t give you health care out of the goodness of their hearts,
they did it because you had some power. And that`s the real problem. We
don`t have markets for labor anymore. We have an asymmetrical situation,
where all the knowledge and power is over here, and the workers are
individualized and we have flooded the market since the elimination of
welfare as we knew it in 1995, with low-skilled workers, particularly
single mothers.

HARRIS-PERRY: What about bank accountability, those? Again, I just keep
trying to think coalition building. Is bank accountability something that,
for example, Republicans could get in line with, and say, hey, this isn`t
reasonable that people just can`t even get a bank account.

NEY: Well, part of the problem you have, when I was on financial
institutions .

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

NEY: . the Clinton administration, everybody charged the Hill and said
Glass-Steagall was 1932, it`s old, you`ve got to get rid of it. And then
of course once we got rid of it, we altered it. And then Dodd/Frank had to
come in, because something had to be done about these monsters. And then
the end of result, of course, there was a bailout and they didn`t want
transparency. There`s been a whole history of this. Republicans and
Democrats can grab this issue and do the right thing to do, which is to
make this a fair and balanced system. And what`s good for one is good for
the other. And there can`t be a level where the banks are above the people
in this process. It just can`t continue.

HARRIS-PERRY: Today, Gebreselassie with the quote of the hour .

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS-PERRY: It is expensive to be poor in America.

And coming up next, I swear, asteroid politics. Congress takes their fight
to outer space. This is not a metaphor. This actually happened. And a
major milestone for schools in the nation`s capital. There is, of course,
more Nerdland at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.

A giant object hurtling through space on a collision course with our
planet, headed for an impact that will be quiet literally earth-shattering.
It`s the stuff of post apocalyptic nightmares. But believe it or not,
worrying about how to defend ourselves against an asteroid apocalypse isn`t
just a thing that happens in movies like 1998 "Deep Impact" with President
Morgan Friedman, leading the United States efforts to avert certain doom.

Why is it always a black guy is a president when like the world is going to
blow up?

OK. It`s also the stuff of mid-summer Washington politics. Enter
President Obama and the asteroid lasso plan. He put NASA to work and came
up with a solution to catch an asteroid. Nothing to crazy, just a small
one like a little pet asteroid, and to bring it closer to Earth and figure
out how to redirect if a big killer kind ever shows up, now we know to deal
with it before it destroys us.

That`s right. President Obama is giving us our own pet rock from outer
space. NASA is even giving us a video set to some snazzy music showing
exactly how they would send a spacecraft to capture with this kind of
vacuum thingy that would expand out and grab the asteroid gently, moving it
along a more safer path. What is not to love about this?

Well, pretty much everything, according to the people standing in way of
his plan, Republicans in Congress. Twenty-two Republicans overruled 17
Democrats in committee and voted to ditch President Obama`s plan in favor
of their own. The bill now awaiting a vote by the full House instructs
NASA to set up a moon base with the ultimate goal of making a giant leap to
Mars.

If we can`t figure out how to redirect the asteroid, we`ll just get out of
here and get to Mars.

OK. Never mind that there`s only enough money in the budget for one big
space mission, and NASA prefers the president`s plan as one that is both
more economic and more affordable in our current economic reality. Then
again, it`s not like economic reality is ever factored into Republicans`
reactions to the president`s plans back here on Earth.

On Tuesday, President Obama laid out his plan to avoid another inevitable
collision course before it`s too late, the pending implosion of America`s
middle class and the continuing collapse of our already crumbling
infrastructure.

Speaking from the Amazon.com warehouse in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the
president offered Republicans a simple quid pro quo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here`s the bottom line: I`m
willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as
long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a
significant investment in creating middle class jobs. That`s the deal.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: But before the president ever said those words, laying out
his modest grand bargain proposal, congressional Republicans had already
said, no, no, no, no, no. No deal, no grand bargain, not even a far-
fetched moon to the Mars alternative plan to save the economy from doom --
leaving us looking at our economic future with the same hopes as when we
looked to the asteroids in the skies, doing nothing and praying that we`re
just going to survive the hits.

Christina Bellantoni is joining us now. She is political editor at PBS
"NewsHour".

And still with us, former Republican Congressman Bob Ney, Democratic
consultant Jamal Simmons, and David Cay Johnston, author of "The Fine
Print."

All right. They can`t even decide on space. Bob, is this the worst -- I
mean, you were there when you guys shut it down. Is this actually worse
than then?

BOB NEY (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Most people think the Congress is
already in outer space.

(LAUGHTER)

NEY: Let`s make that clear.

I was part of that government shutdown. It was a little bit deferent. We
had the Senate under Republican control and then, eventually, of course,
the Senate, Bob Dole blinked, probably to help the House, too. President
Clinton, his numbers went down during, but came back up afterwards. He
got, you know, elected.

We did get some balanced budgets as Gingrich, the speaker at the time,
points out, but this is a whole different scenario now. This is beyond
dysfunctional. And there`s a lot of blame to go around. The Democratic
side with the Senate, you know, Harry Reid has to run for leader of the
Senate. John Boehner runs for speaker of the House. And that`s kind of
what this is about, just speaking on where I came from, the Republican
side, John Boehner.

And you have to look at his personality. He never had to count votes. He
wasn`t in the whip system, where he had to go out and actually get a vote
and spend all the time to do it.

So, if you look at the flavor of Gingrich, Speaker Hastert and now, John
Boehner -- there`s a different personal side to this. I bring that up,
because people think it`s about Republican and Democrat. It`s about
personalities.

And the speaker has to cater to a group of people. He has to count his
votes, and Speaker Boehner is more interested in counting those votes.
They all need to sit down and look at the big picture. They`re not doing
it. It`s dysfunctional.

They created this fiscal cliff and sequestration, that`s all hype, so they
temporarily solve it. They`re addressing the big picture.

HARRIS-PERRY: I appreciate that. Because I think there`s a way,
Christina, in which those of us who are D.C. outsiders assume that it`s all
personal animus. But then you see pictures of them sort of being friendly
with one another, and you think, how is it possible that they can agree on
nothing, that so little has gotten done?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, PBS NEWSHOUR: They`re saw one another`s great
friends.

HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right.

BELLANTONI: Well, traditionally, divided government has actually produced
a lot of compromise. You`ve seen, particularly in times of economic
prosperity, a lot of good work come out of Congress. But right now, the
most common phrase you`ll read, like in "the New York Times," is such and
such a bill, which passed this chamber, and has absolutely no chance of
passing in the House or Senate.

And there`s all kinds of reasons with that. I mean, you could start with
redistricting and the fact that so many members are safe and are only
worried about primaries from their own party. But there`s also this
fundamental disagreement on like the basic premise of how or government is
funded and how what it is supposed to do.

And that clip you showed from President Obama, people need to get used to
it. That`s the next six weeks, while Congress is back home talking to
their constituents, he`s going to be out there again and again saying, it`s
the House Republicans` fault. They`re standing in my way.

And that doesn`t get us anywhere.

HARRIS-PERRY: SO, this point is such an interesting one, the notion of a
deep ideological divide. Because it feels to me like when the asteroids
have been coming towards us, whether it was -- I mean, yes, whether it was
sort of the immediate post-9/11 America or whether it was, you know, the
financial collapse and the bailout, that in those moments, Democrats, often
to the chagrin of progressives are like, all right, cool, Patriot Act, OK,
bailout, right?

And they actually do. If it feels like the asteroid is coming, they`re
willing to make compromise but here it is coming again and it doesn`t feel
like Republicans are willing to move off of their ideological position to
make some things happen.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Democrats are -- the problem that we
have is we actually believe in government. We think that government ought
to work.

And you`ve got a bunch of people who are sitting in Congress, who have all
showed up, who don`t want government to work. And they are doing
everything they can with their arms crossed and they`re stomping their feet
and they`re not going to let it happen.

And so, it`s a hard case to negotiate with somebody who in action is what
they fundamentally want at the end. So anytime it doesn`t work, they`re
happy.

HARRIS-PERRY: So that is a different kind of Republican problem, then --

SIMMONS: Absolutely.

HARRIS-PERRY: -- that we`re facing, if the goal is not just to do
government differently, but to not do government.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, "THE FINE PRINT": Yes, and there`s clearly
this small group that were elected, when we were told in the 2010
elections, when the new class came in, Republicans are all about jobs,
jobs, jobs. About which they`ve passed exactly zero legislations so far.
But they`ve always been about property.

And, you know, we have single-payer property for flood insurance, for
example. We have crop insurance. We have all sorts of things to protect
property that Republicans are in favor of -- it`s actually kind of
surprising that they don`t appreciate the property damage. Forget the
human lives --

HARRIS-PERRY: Right, with an asteroid coming!

JOHNSTON: Asteroid.

HARRIS-PERRY: That`s true. Right. Don`t make this argument on human
lives, make it on property. That`s good.

NEY: But you know, the president hasn`t --

HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with me, because I do want to ask about what the
president can do and also, I want to be careful not to paint Republicans
with just one brush, because they`re fighting with each other, right?
Many, many brushes.

Lindsey Graham is having a very bad morning. We`ll talk about why when we
come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS-PERRY: If you thought battlefield Washington, D.C. was just about
fighting between Democrats and Republicans, think again, because the
infighting within the Republican Party is about to reach galactic
proportions. Not only is longtime South Carolina Republican Senator
Lindsey Graham facing a growing GOP primary field, which includes one
challenger with strong Tea Party ties, making her bid official today, but
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was eviscerated by Erick
Erickson`s online "Red State" publication, which questioned whether the
Republican Party needed to waste a safe seat on McConnell, who is in a dead
heat in his own Senate race.

Even Republican voters can`t agree on their party`s direction. According
to a recent Pew poll, 54 percent of GOP voters think that GOP leaders
should move in a more conservative direction, and 40 percent in a more
moderate direction, and just 5 percent saying, hey, it`s good the way it
is.

But even with all the internecine battles in the GOP, it remains true that
you can`t beat somebody with nobody, so Democrats will also need to be sure
that they`ve got some somebodies on the ballot.

All right, what? I mean, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, these are folks
who are leaders in the party and they`re getting primaried.

What`s happening with Republicans?

NEY: Well, with McConnell`s case, he is the Republican leader, and he`s
not yielding to Senator Lee`s request to immediately say, sure, we`ll shut
the government down. So, he`s in a box.

Now, he`s going to privately talk to Senator Lee and others to say, you
know, I`ve got to get through my primary.

But he`s in a box. He either comes out and satisfies what his opponent is
talking about in the primary, or he knows not to shut the government down,
because they`re not going to shut the government down, all right? They`re
not going to do it. It`s a lot of smoke and mirrors.

But he`s in that box. So he`s got to respond to that, first for his
primary. Then he has to get re-elected in his Senate position, by his
peers. So, he`s in an ideological box.

BELLANTONI: Mitch McConnell is very politically smart and he has made a
lot of moves. I mean, they`re all kind of Nerdland insider stuff, right,
like taking his former chief of staff, who`s going to be at the National
Republican Senatorial Committee. I mean, they are very much preparing for
a tough race. He knows exactly how to run political races, and you know,
leaders of their party are always challenged.

Look at what happened to Harry Reid. And he ended up surviving that. You
have no idea what`s going to happen, but this is a central point where the
voters of Kentucky aren`t necessarily following the bigger picture Tea
Party battle. They`re looking at what he`s doing.

HARRIS-PERRY: You know, there`s this poll that makes me -- it`s that same
Pew poll that makes me kind of want to do a dance, because they ask
Republicans, who`s the leader of your party? And the person at the top is
John Boehner. But he only has 10 percent.

And if you look at all the other names -- Rubio, McCain, Paul Rand, Paul
Ryan, they`re all down there, 5 percent, 3 percent. But this is my
favorite, nobody is, right? Or, I have no idea. The vast majority end up
saying either nobody is, or I don`t know.

And yet as much of a mess that seems to indicate the Republican Party is, I
look at Virginia, where you`ve got Cuccinelli, you know, tied to McDonnell,
all of this drama, and yet he`s neck and neck with McAuliffe, because
apparently the Virginia Democratic Party couldn`t do any better. And I
think, well, yes, that`s a mess, but if we don`t have any candidates,
that`s going to be how it is.

SIMMONS: It takes a horse to beat a horse in every single election. And
it`s amazing to me that we are at a place in our country where Lindsey
Graham and Saxby Chambliss and these people are considered to be moderates.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

SIMMONS: In 2002, when they were running, and we all ran against them as
the most conservative right-wingers you could possibly imagine. You know,
John McCain faced this fight. He ran hard to the right in his campaign to
keep from having to lose to a Tea Party candidate.

I think, I haven`t seen Lindsey Graham make those kind of moves yet. Maybe
he will over the course of next year, but that may be what it takes for him
to win, which means we lose a partner.

This is bad for democracy, having Lindsey Graham primaried. It`s actually
bad for getting things done in the country.

HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s funny you say that. I was -- the news this
week that the president`s former campaign adviser is going over to the U.K.
for the Tory Party, right, for the conservative party. So I was like, OK,
wait a minute, a Democrat in the U.S. is basically a conservative, right,
in the U.K. They`re basically -- we have no left left in this country.

So, why is that that we`re seeing these clear challenges on the right, but
then not challenging Democrats on the left? Why don`t we see more of that
happening?

JOHNSTON: Well, you see them on the right, because you have this narrow
group of very wealthy libertarians out there, who will fund anything,
because --

HARRIS-PERRY: `Tis the libertarian fight.

JOHNSTON: Yes, they believe in what they`re doing, I think they`re totally
wrong, but they believe in what they`re doing and they will put money into
it, and they`re going to see to it that moderate Republicans are a distinct
species and they`re going to discipline them.

As for the Democrats, the reason they can`t get their act together is their
support structures have been destroyed.

HARRIS-PERRY: Unions.

JOHNSTON: The churches have gone, the unions have gone down. So their
support structures have fallen apart.

SIMMONS: We did have some primaries. Lieberman got primaried, Blanche
Lincoln got primaried in Arkansas. I mean, we have seen this.

BELLANTONI: And in the Arlen Specter phenomenon, too, right? I mean, he
was former Republican turned Democrat. And I think Democrats learned a
little bit of that political lesson that sometimes when you challenge
someone from the left, you end up with a Republican taking that seat.

HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I mean, Mary Landrieu is my Louisiana senator, and it
would not be in the interest of someone interested in having a Democrat to
primary Mary Landrieu, even if you`re not in agreement with many of her
policies.

NEY: But you have a Democrat in the White House, too. And, look, you got
President Obama and the drones. He didn`t close Guantanamo. There`s a lot
of the left -- let`s face it -- very angry with the president.

However, they`re not going to go out and start some type of movement on
members of Congress when you have a sitting Democrat in the White House.
It would be counterproductive. That`s why they`re not doing it.

HARRIS-PERRY: So it`s interesting when you say, when you have a Democrat
in the White House. So, if, in fact, losing moderate Republicans is bad
for democracy, what can the White House do in this moment to help re-
balance the madness going on in D.C.?

NEY: Communication. Look, I served under President Clinton. We used to
be told, don`t go to the White House, whatever you do. Don`t go to the
White House, you`ll come back reversing your vote, which I did.

HARRIS-PERRY: Because he was so charismatic, yes, yes.

NEY: I got myself on a vote I shouldn`t have done on. He was charismatic
but also knew how to utilize the White House. President Obama has not
utilized the White House to as a great extent as he maybe should have.
People say, well, he was in the Senate -- he was only there for a couple of
years -- and thank goodness sometimes -- he doesn`t have that good old boy
standard about him.

But I think the staff and the president should have utilized the White
House a little bit more.

(CROSSTALK)

NEY: He and Boehner had the grand deal, but there wasn`t enough trust
factor at the end of it.

JOHNSTON: I think all the president has to do, and I think what his speech
at Amazon was about is jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

JOHNSTON: We`re for jobs -- and show that the Republicans won`t even go to
get what they want in terms of corporate welfare if it involves jobs. And
that`s a winning strategy, I think, for 2014.

HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with me, because I do want to talk about one of the
things the president does seem to be using the White House for, and that is
a whispering campaign, for Larry Summers as Fed chair. It`s getting louder
and louder and I have got to try to understand why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS-PERRY: It wasn`t supposed to be public, but the battle in D.C. over
the next Fed chair is on. Progressives are up in arms about the
possibility of Larry Summers getting the job.

And they`re not being shy about their opposition, with headlines like,
"Obama: just say no to Larry Summers," and "Six more reasons Larry Summers
should not be fed chair," and "Stop Larry Summers before he messes up
again," and lastly but not least, "For pity sake, let`s not nominate Larry
Summers to be the Fed."

As loud as progressives are being, the White House is whispering back.

According to reports, President Obama backed up Larry Summers in a closed-
door meeting on Wednesday with House Democrats after Summers was criticized
by a congressman.

The lesson here for Democrats, you may not like Larry, but President Obama
does, so if he`s the pick, you may not have any choice but to fall into
line.

David, why Larry Summers?

JOHNSTON: Because Wall Street loves Larry Summers. He got rich off Wall
Street and he will -- I will assure you that if Larry Summers is in there,
it will be one of the worst things Obama has done. He will not do what
needs to be done to continue regulating the banks and fulfilling the second
mission of the Fed: Jobs. Full employment.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

JOHNSTON: That`s not Larry Summers` interest. And you know, Janet Yellen
has been very right on the economy all the way along.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, and Yellen has the support of a large
contingent of people. We had folks writing congressman, writing in and
saying, choose Yellen instead, not Summers.

But this has got -- I think that somehow gets framed as a girl issue, like,
pick the girl instead of the man who said mean things about women. But
it`s not my angst with Summers is about deregulation.

BELLANTONI: Yes, there are different economic philosophies that are at
work here. What`s interesting, you`re showing those clips and one of those
photos is Larry Summers sitting in the White House.

This similar criticism came up when he was deciding as to whether to put
him in as one of his right-hand man for the economy during a major economic
crisis. And he totally pushed all that criticism aside and chose him and
then said, this is a man who helped us through a very, very difficult time.
He has a lot of confidence in that`s what he told Senate Democrats.

So it`s very much saying, yes, I like him, this is why I want to choose
him.

HARRIS-PERRY: So I have occasionally been told that I have sort of Obama-
friendly lenses through which I see the world.

And so, in my Obama-friendly lens, what I want to say is, no, this is deep
strategy, right? The president is floating it so that progressives will
attack it, so he can be like, Larry, I tried, just can`t do it. Is that
possible or is the president really on Summers` side here?

SIMMONS: I think the president likes the people the president likes. If
you look around the White House, he kept a small cadre of people, who from
the campaign all the way through his time in the White House, who have sort
of been around him the whole time.

Larry Summers was part of the committee to save the world, right? Like, he
was part of that group of Geithner and all the folks who came in after the
crisis. He was in the Clinton White House during the Mexican peso crisis.
And so I think the president has probably not taken Larry Summers` side
here.

But if you get into the president`s head a little bit to try to, here is a
guy who has been through crisis, where in a trepidatious time in the
economy, and maybe we need somebody to help steady the ship. And he has
done that in the past.

JOHNSTON: We would have been better through if it would have been somebody
else than Larry Summers.

NEY: You just gave all the reasons not to, the peso crisis. The Asian
crisis, he gave bad advice. And the whole deregulation, he was all the way
behind it, even though he`s not here now when (INAUDIBLE) to mess he did in
2001, he`s Robert Rubin`s guy. Robert Rubin was secretary of treasury,
screwed or every steel worker in this country, supporting illegal dump
steel, facts of life.

And Larry Summers is in that mind-set and he`s being pushed by those groups
of people.

SIMMONS: Robert Rubin was also treasury secretary when we have one of the
biggest booms of the American economy and we have

(CROSSTALK)

NEY: -- steelworkers` jobs --

HARRIS-PERRY: So, so let me ask this. Because part of the role of the Fed
is psychological, even more than sort of what they actually do. So much of
it is, when the Fed chair speaks, markets responds. If it`s someone who
has all of this controversy, does that in and of itself, whether he would
be technically good at it or not, does that make it harder for him to take
on this role?

Or do you think Wall Street makes him so much, they`re just like, whoo,
Larry!

JOHNSTON: Because they`re a bank regulator and they want a bank regulator
who`s their guy. With Yellen, at least you will have a clearly predictable
view of the world that she will promote and push. And what do we hear
often? Certainty. We need certainty.

HARRIS-PERRY: Y`all be certain.

JOHNSTON: You get certainty with Yellen.

HARRIS-PERRY: She feels like a little bit of the Elizabeth Warren cloth
from which she is cut. And that`s precisely -- like, as much as a
president is standing up for Summers now, the not doing that around
Elizabeth Warren, and I think, again, there`s inside stories around that,
but it makes me nervous that there won`t be a Yellen appointment here.

BELLANTONI: We don`t know exactly, but indications are that he really,
really likes Summers for all those reasons.

But Congress also really like Ben Bernanke for a long time. It`s not
exactly the best relationship now, but that`s important.

And Larry Summers doesn`t have the best relationship with Congress right
now. During the economic crisis, there were a lot of stories about -- he
had these competing philosophies that he`s pushing within the White House.
This is a very independent job. You`re not sitting in the White House
meetings and doing what the president tells you to do or implementing his
policies, per se.

So, it`s a really different role, and it will raise his stature if there
continue to be these public fights about it.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. So, I`ve got to tell you, I have learned more about
the pedestrian chair in the last two weeks than I ever thought I would
learn. But it is shockingly exciting.

SIMMONS: And it`s important.

HARRIS-PERRY: Deeply important.

David Cay Johnston and Bob Ney, thank you both so much for coming today.

And up next, yes, D.C. is a mess. But there`s one part of it with a really
great headline. The headline you thought you`d never see coming, out of
Washington, D.C.`s public schools.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS-PERRY: Public school students in the District of Columbia, if you
are listening -- take a bow. No, really, I`ll wait. Take a bow. Go
ahead. Because you`ve just scored higher than ever on this year`s annual
math and reading tests, achieving the largest single year gain in
Washington, D.C. since 2008.

Back then, this lady, Michelle Rhee was the chancellor of D.C.`s public
schools, getting national attention and fame for her approach to school
reform and for allegations of cheating on mandated testing. But Rhee`s
notoriety became such that the Washington, D.C. mayor`s race in 2010 became
a referendum on her tenure, a tenure that ended shortly after the current
mayor, Vincent Gray, defeated Adrian Fenty in a Democratic primary.

Rhee`s successor, Kaya Henderson, has put in place several new reforms of
her own, implementing longer school days and a new common core curriculum
and mandating teacher visits to the homes of their students and with their
parents, and she has gotten results.

Students in all eight wards of D.C.`s public schools have improved. The
reading proficiency rates and also math proficiency rates both since 2007.
It`s real progress in education.

But is real progress completely captured by a proficiency test? Critics
might say that the state of urban public education can`t be measured in a
graph.

Joining me now, to talk about this, are two folks who know a lot about D.C.
schools, past and present. This is Alison Stewart, author of the new book,
"First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America First Black Public School," for
which I wrote the forward. And next to her is the current chancellor of
the D.C. public schools, Kaya Henderson.

Back with us again, Christina Bellantoni, political editor at PBS
"NewsHour", and Democratic consultant, Jamal Simmons.

How`d you do it?

KAYA HENDERSON, CHANCELLOR, DC PUBLIC SCHOOLS: How did we do it?

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

HENDERSON: Through a lot of hard work. I`m so proud of our young people
and proud of our educators. And when we came in in 2007, we knew that the
first thing that we needed to do was ensure that we had the very best
teachers in our classrooms and the very best principals leading our
schools. And so, we undertook a number of controversial reforms, but we
have been dogged about getting, growing, and keeping the best educators.

And I think this year, you`re starting to see some of the results of that
investment. We also, in 2010, when I became chancellor, teachers were
saying to me, we`re good at how you want us to teach, but let`s talk about
what we`re teaching, because we don`t have a standardized curriculum. In
fact, I don`t know if what I`m offering my students in ward eight is as
rigorous as what we`re offering our students on the tonier side of town.

And so, we put together a common core aligned curriculum that we are now in
our third year of implementation on. And it is asking -- it`s demanding
much more from our young people, but our educators and our young people are
rising to the occasion.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, I find myself in kind of a funny position with
my enthusiasm about this. In part, because we spend a lot of time at this
table critiquing the notion that tests really tell us where we are, right?

But on the other hand, I feel like, when you have success -- we do so many
bad news education stories, I wanted to do a good news one. That said,
when you look at these tests, you`ve seen some improvement, but what are
the other substantive measures that we need to have, in order to say, our
schools are performing well for our kids?

HENDERSON: So, again, tests are not the end all to the be all, but they
are an objective way for us to look across lots of states, lots of school
districts, and what not. But we look at student satisfaction, we look at
graduation rates. Student satisfaction rates are up higher than ever
before. Our teacher retention rates, we were recognized by the new teacher
project in their report called the irreplaceables, about our ability to
retain highly effective educators.

We find that after a 40-year decline in population, student school age
population, and people fleeing D.C. public schools, we`ve actually staved
off that enrollment decline. And in fact, in a competitive market with
charter schools, where now some 43 percent of our young people are in
charters, previously, for every increase in charters, it meant a decrease
for D.C. public schools.

That`s not the case anymore. We`re holding steady. So I think these are
promising indicators. And this is just the beginning.

HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And it`s only -- and yet, you know, Alison took us
back in history. This is part of why I want to pull you in here, because
in art, the very idea that we would need to be enthusiastic about
proficiency tests in D.C. is surprising, because D.C. was the beginning,
the kind of nascent starting point for black public education.

ALISON STEWART, AUTHOR, "FIRST CLASS": Yes, I tell people, it`s amazing.
When people used to actually try to come to D.C., move their families to
D.C. for their black children to get an excellent education. And I think
lot of the things that your administration has done, is really a lot of the
"back to the future" kind of stuff. The sort of stuff you saw at Dunbar,
the idea that this school is also the home, the extended days. I can tell
you at modern Dunbar, I`ve gone in and see these kids show up for
breakfast.

You know, the idea that a kid has to go to school to get breakfast is a
little sad, but the idea that he can is great.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

STEWART: And, also, the ninth graders are spoken to in a way. I went to a
ninth grade. It`s a pre-class where they`re talking about their futures.
They made them have story boards. What are you going to do in five years?
Where are you going to be in five years?

And I saw these little girls, you forget, 13 or 14 ninth graders, they`re
little -- cutting out her wedding dress. Someone else is talking about I`m
going to be in this prep (ph), because I`ve about this black prep. And the
idea that they are thinking about high school as a stepping stone, that
they can plan for their future, is such a part of what old Dunbar was
about. It`s nice to see it`s going to be part of new Dunbar and a part of
the new D.C. school system`s attitude.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, I feel there`s this community-based narrative,
based in the history. There are these very really new public policy
positions. But there is also the politics, Jamal. And the fact that
schools became the basis on which a mayor`s race was decided. What do you
think of the politics around these kinds of decisions in D.C.?

SIMMONS: Well, first of all, I have to say, it`s a big honor for me, to be
on the same panel with Alison Stewart.

HARRIS-PERRY: I know, I know.

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: So, I`ve got to say, MTV news --

STEWART: Did you register to vote? Did you Rock the Vote?

SIMMONS: But you`re absolutely right. This is a big deal about politics
and I think it`s probably the most important issue that we`re going to face
as a country, because as we talked to in the last segment about expanding
more incomes to the middle class, we`ve also got to spend these ladders to
people so they continue to go up and rise into the middle class.

So that means, and especially for people in disadvantaged communities,
they`re going to have to be focused on things, you know, as well as truancy
and attendance and parental involvement and how much creativity will these
kids have and be able to, you know, exhibit that in their schools.

But in Washington, that wasn`t what it was about. It wasn`t about all
these efforts to improve this. It became really about a personality
contest. The last mayor, I consider him a friend. He`s a really good guy.
He was not the most congenial person.


I think a lot of people in the city were upset that he hadn`t been talking
to them the way he wanted them to, as he had in the past.

I think we`ve gotten -- we haven`t quite figured out what the real politics
are around education. People want this to change. They want radical
change, but they`re not sure, exactly, where it should come from.

HARRIS-PERRY: And pause for me for just a moment. We`re going to take a
break, because we`re going to come back and talk about change over that
sweep of history. Nerdland, while you`re up there in the control room,
let`s see if you can find some vintage Alison Stewart footage, so we know
why we`re excited to be at the table with her, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS-PERRY: The nation`s first public high school for black students has
survived since 1870. And later this month, it will move back to its
original location, looking better than ever.

This is what Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. will look
like this fall, housed inside a brand-new $122 million building, built next
door to the original facility, where a very proud legacy was born.

Despite being racially segregated by law, a short change with public funds,
the school known as Dunbar would feature accomplished teachers such as
Carter G. Woodson, who wrote the seminal work, "The Mis-Education of the
Negro". And, of course, Anna Julia Cooper, one of the foremost scholars
America has ever seen.

Graduates included Charles Drew, the surgeon who developed ways to process
and store blood plasma and more recently, Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the
District of Columbia`s delegate to congress. Built in 2011, Dunbar High
had a graduation rate just over 60 percent, one of the 10 lowest in all of
Washington, D.C.

The history of Dunbar is the subject of Alison Stewart`s brand-new book,
"First Class."

So all of those famous folks and also your parents.

STEWART: My mom and dad and my grandfather graduated in 1915 from the
school.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, what was the legacy you grew up with versus the reality
that you encountered when you showed up there decades later?

STEWART: Well, my mom was a public schoolteacher, so education in the
house, education, education, education. That`s the way to get ahead.
That`s the way you create a good life for yourself and create a good life
for others.

So, they had PhDs and masters, and, of course, I did the math. They were
born in 1929, they went to school in the `40s, it was segregated. So when
I was working in D.C. as a journalist, I thought, I`m going to go see this
high school. And when I walked in, it looked like a movie set for a sad,
deteriorating high school.

There were picture frames with the alumni on the wall that were tilted and
broken. And I talked to all the kids and saying, do you know the history
of this place? And a lot of them didn`t know it. And I thought that was
really sad.

And I realized because the people who could bear witness to this were in
their 80s and 90s that were really -- it was possible that the history
could disappear. So that`s what really made me want to go around the
country, find these people in their 80s and 90s, talk to them and let me
tell you, who the best interview in the world is -- are old black people.
They do not hold back.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: I`ve seen (ph) everything twice.

HARRIS-PERRY: I want to ask you a little bit about this, because part of
what the text does, and it`s really beautifully written, and talk to us
about the human capital that made Dunbar so great. But I also always
worry, and Alison is very careful about how she parses this in the text,
but I always worried that someone will read a text like this and say, see,
you don`t need money, you don`t need resources.

And by the way, segregation, not such a big deal. In fact, segregation,
good, because it forced us to do -- but our schools right now are
incredibly segregated, when we look at the percentage of African-American
students in the public schools, up over 70 percent in D.C., all around the
country, right, huge proportions of black and brown students go to school
only with black and brown kids, white kids only with white kids.

How do we both capture what was good here, but also say we need the
resources?

HENDERSON: Yes. So, there is no doubt about the fact that we need the
resources. If we`re going to prepare children to be competitive in a
global economy, it means that computers and technology have to be part of
the way we do business. It means they have to be in state of the art
facilities, it means they have to be project-based learning, where they
actually get to interact with other people and what not. But the thing
they liked most about first class is, it really told the story of the
teachers.

Dunbar was great, because its teaching force was great, its principles were
great. And the thing that I think we`re finally having real conversations
about is who is in our classroom, teaching our children. These people were
not just accomplished, they lived in the community that our young people
lived in and so there were connections.

They also communicated that they cared about these young people. They held
them to high expectations. And I`ve been in far too many classrooms where
the people that we are paying actually don`t hold high expectations f for
our young people.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, Christina, I want that. I want those people in our
classrooms. I also want those people in our classrooms in unions. And
part of what`s happened in the teacher quality conversation in our policy
is that we, at the same time, we`re saying we want higher teacher quality,
we often have sort of less quality circumstances for them to work in.

BELLANTONI: It`s really hard. And I have a lot of friends that are
teachers, and in California where I grew up, and then, now, I live in
Washington, D.C., and it is a very difficult scenario for a teacher right
now. And it`s not necessarily the career you strive for anymore.

But one thing that`s great about D.C., I will say, is that you`re seeing so
much diversity in the schools now. And not just, you know, African-
American students, but Hispanic students, Spanish-speaking schools. And
you`re seeing so much of that. That`s helping for a vibrant city and
really, your building a comeback in a way for the city.

But it does create a lot of difficulty when you talk about the politics of
it.

HARRIS-PERRY: Tell me, what is the lesson we should, on the question of
education reform, take away from what`s happened, both in the decline and
then the resurgence of Dunbar.

STEWART: I think, it`s one, you said human capital. It`s all bout -- and
that`s all the way around. That`s about the parents. That`s about the
communities. That`s about the teacher.

Other thing -- we should also point out, Dunbar never desegregated. It
was, I think, Washington legally desegregated. It never integrated. And
that`s another lesson we should learn. Just because someone writes down a
law, doesn`t mean it`s going to happen.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes.

STEWART: You have to keep it on the ground and the grassroots level has to
keep pushing to make the change happen, even after the laws are enacted.

HARRIS-PERRY: Alison Stewart, who if you role the file footage in
Nerdland, has been inspiring all of us to make change for a really long
time, which is why Jamal and I are both --

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS-PERRY: -- about being at the table with Alison.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS-PERRY: Kaya Henderson, and Alison Stewart, Christina Bellantoni,
and Jamal Simmons, thank you all for being here.

And after the break, the woman taking ballet into war zones. You know she
is our foot soldier and she`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS-PERRY: What kind of images come to mind when you think about
ballet? Little girls in fluffy pink tutus and slippers, swans and
nutcrackers, maybe even discipline and structure, rigidity.

But what about genocide, corporate greed, homeless kids?

Our foot soldier made those unlikely connections. As a young ballerina,
Rebecca Davis longed to join a company that composed ballets about
literature, history and real world challenges. And when she realized,
there wasn`t one, she decided to create one herself.

In 2005, she founded a nonprofit dance company in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. And for the next four years, they performed several ballets
on topics ranging from stories inspired by artists like Antigone (ph) and
Van Gogh to real life dramas like the Enron scandal and the crisis in
Darfur.

The Darfur production in particular prompted a lot of positive attention,
and also prompted something in Rebecca. She decided it was time for her to
get directly involved.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REBECCA DAVIS, REBECCA DAVIS DANCE CO.: In 2008, I came to Rwanda for the
first time. And during that trip, I met with street kids who were hip hop
dancers.

I was struck at that time how amazing it is that a kid who doesn`t even
have a home, who doesn`t have food, doesn`t have parents in this case could
have this joy of life just because he dances. And when I saw that huge
passion, that huge love, I went back to my country and I thought maybe
there`s something more that we could do with dance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS-PERRY: And more she did. She`s now created dance programs in
Rwanda, Guinea and Bosnia which help 865 kids with not only dance training,
but computer skills, literacy, language and ethic reconciliation.

Joining me now to tell us more about this amazing program is Rebecca Davis,
the executive director of the Rebecca Davis Dance Company.

This is extraordinary. I love that you bridge art and politics and
thought. What led you to this?

DAVIS: Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here today. Going
through school I had a typical education in Canada. I loved going to
school. I`m really academically oriented.

And every evening, I went to ballet class and I loved that too. And I kept
thinking there must be way that these two things can be the same activity.
And that when we go to the theater at night, we`re not just watching
something beautiful but we walk away and ask questions about our world
today. But unfortunately, it didn`t seem the opportunity to really
participate in something like that. So, that`s why ended up starting RDDC.

As we developed this company and as we created these productions about
social issues and history and literature, we realize there`s also children
in other countries that can be really helped by this mechanism of dance.
That`s what led me to push this mission abroad.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me about working with the kids abroad. What are
the stories that have really stuck with you?

DAVIS: These kids are amazing. The first time I went to Rwanda, I
expected this really devastating society. I knew about the 1995 genocide.
I knew about all of this terrible, terrible history. And I walked there
thinking, OK, I`m going to help these kids.

And what I realized is the kids were helping me. They have such passion,
such a love of life and they have nothing. They`re spending all day on the
street fighting to find one meal. Not three meals, one meal.

They have no access to water, let alone clean water. Most of them are HIV
positive. If there`s a parent in the picture, it`s probably abusive. And
yet these children are fighting to live.

So, working side by side with them, I realize, OK, let`s put dance on the
table and let them develop their energy, their creativity, their self-
esteem, their confidence, basic development skills -- How to learn,
memorize, focus, concentrate from this environment.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, it feels like there`s a broader lesson there. I mean,
we`ve been talking about education reform and one of the depressing things
to me is the extent in which the arts and dance and all of that expression
has moved out of our schools as we focus on the things that can be tested.
What do you think you have learned that tells us about the need to put the
arts back in our schools?

DAVIS: Well, dance specifically is really important because what dance
does is it teaches us basic cognitive skills. If I stand up and say we`re
going to turn around and jump and lay on the floor. That`s three simple
things, right?

But for kids who don`t have these basic educational skills, that`s actually
challenge to learn these three things. When we give it to them in terms of
movement or some other art, they can latch on that and they can feel the
improvement faster. And that teaches them that they have the capacity to
learn.

So, for those who aren`t the book learners, for those that don`t study for
the exams, this is another way to teach them they can develop those skills.
They just need a different end point.

HARRIS-PERRY: I absolutely love it. You are ballet nerd and therefore
always welcome here in Nerdland. Thank you for the work of you and your
company.

DAVIS: Thank you so much.

HARRIS-PERRY: Quite extraordinary.

Rebecca Davis is our foot soldier of the week. That`s our show for today.
Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you tomorrow morning
10:00 a.m. Eastern.

Secretary of State John Kerry is looking to bring together a plan for
Middle East peace in nine months. It`s like a peace baby and we`ll see if
he can deliver.

Now, it`s time for a review of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT". Hi, Alex.


END

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