'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, September 14th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
September 14, 2013
Guest: Katon Dawson, Rob Wilcox, Dorian Warren, Sasha Abramsky, Margarette
Purvis, Monica Potts, Raymond Tanter, Nina Khrushcheva, Ed Husain>
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning, my question: who did the
gun lobby take down this week?
Plus, the new Republican plan to let millions go hungry.
And, the one group of people whose life expectancy is on the climb.
But, first, a major breakthrough in the showdown over Syria.
HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
We have news to bring you this morning of a major development in the
standoff over Syria. A deal reached in Geneva, Switzerland, after three
days of negotiations between the United States and Russia on how to
eliminate Syria`s stash of chemical weapons. It calls for inspectors to be
on the ground by November And all of Syria`s weapons to be destroyed or
removed by mid-2014. And Syria`s President Bashar al Assad has to submit
to a comprehensive - a comprehensive report of all of his regime`s chemical
weapons stockpiles within a week. Secretary of State John Kerry made clear
this morning that he believes that plan will work. But only if the Syrian
regime cooperates fully.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: In the case of the Assad regime,
President Reagan`s old adage about trust but verify. Doveryai no
proveryai, I think is the same - that is a need of an update, and we have
committed here to a standard that says verify and verify. There can be no
games, no room for avoidance or anything less than full compliance by the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: While there is nothing in the framework that threatens
military action if Syria doesn`t comply, the agreement does open up the
possibility of United Nations Security Council action for any violations.
But as the United States has made clear all along and as President Obama
reiterated in his weekly address this morning, the United States reserves
the right to act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are not just
going to take Russia and Assad`s word for it. We need to see concrete
actions to demonstrate that Assad is serious about giving up his chemical
weapons. And since this plan emerged only with a credible threat of U.S.
military action, we will maintain our military posture in the region to
keep the pressure on the Assad regime. And if diplomacy fails, the United
States and the international community must remain prepared to act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Representatives from the United States, Britain, and France
will gather in Paris this Monday to discuss approval and implementation of
the deal, but the most important player in this deal, Syria, remains a
question mark. For more, we go to NBC`s Ian Williams live for us here in
Geneva this morning. Ian, what is the latest in Geneva?
IAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC CORREPONDENT: Hello, Melissa. Well, this is an
incredibly ambitious agreement. One U.S. official briefing after that
press conference saying it was daunting to say the least. The first test
will come at the end of next week. That`s the deadline, by which the
Syrian regime is obliged under this agreement to come up with a list of all
its chemical weapons, all the materials and the sites where these are being
made. Now, under the -- an assessment made by the two sides today there
are, they reckon, a thousand metric tons of chemical weapons in 45
different sites. So incredibly ambitious. And then, of course, we`ve got
this November deadline for unfettered access by inspectors and the deadline
of the middle of next year for this whole process to be complete. But
Kerry making clear that if this roadmap, as he put it, was fully
implemented, it could lead to the -- would lead to the eradication of
chemical weapons and indeed, perhaps be the first step towards a meaningful
diplomatic solution here, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Have we heard yet an important response from the
international community? Obviously, President Obama paused at the brink,
not only opened this up to the democratic process here in the United States
with our Congress, but also now has drawn in the international community.
What responses have we had from that community?
WILLIAMS: Well, we`ve already seen the British welcome this. We`ll hear
more from them and from the French and the Saudis on Monday when they
gather with Kerry in Paris. But, of course, the key player in all this,
the Syrians, and Sergey Lavrov, the - Kerry`s counterpart from Russia, made
it clear today that he had not been in contact with them, so he says,
during this whole three-day marathon negotiation. And, of course the key
test now is precisely how Syria responds to what is a pretty aggressive
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you this, also. Of course the question of the
U.N. Security Council and Russia`s veto vote there has been important.
What about China? Is there a reason to believe that China will be on board
with these new sort of rules?
WILLIAMS: I think so. China has always been pretty low key in its
diplomacy, and that`s been the case with this as well, coming out against
military action, but also saying that it believed in the eradication of
chemical weapons. My sense is that a Security Council resolution that
codifies what we`ve seen today and implies sanctions or some action if the
Syrian regime doesn`t fully comply, but falls short of spelling that out,
because the Russians won`t go along with a clear military threat. Neither
will the Chinese, will get their support. And, of course, there is a wider
agenda here as well, with Iran next door with North Korea. But if this
actually worked it would be an incredibly important precedent for the
elimination of chemical weapons, the Syrians having one of the world`s
biggest stockpiles we believe, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Ian Williams, live from Geneva.
And in fact as Ian just talked about there, if removal of Syria`s chemical
weapons stockpile is the end-all of this deal, we want to take just a
moment to look at what information we have on just what that stockpile is.
The Syrian regime has more than 1,000 tons of chemical weapons according to
French government estimates. And the stockpile is believed to include
nerve agents like sarin and blistering agents like mustard gas. This
morning Secretary of State John Kerry said that the U.S. and Russia had
agreed on the size of the stockpile, but did not elaborate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have reached a shared assessment
of the amount and type of chemical weapons possessed by the Assad regime.
And we are committed to the rapid assumption of control by the
international community of those weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The White House says that it monitors the stockpile closely
and has been for two years. Senior administration officials told reporters
yesterday that the U.S. has a handle on where they are, but did not confirm
nor deny reports that President Bashar al Assad has been moving the weapons
in recent weeks. Before this week, Assad`s government has never admitted
to even having chemical weapons. The Syrian stockpile is among the biggest
in the world, and most countries, including the U.S., have committed to
destroying their chemical weapons. The U.S. last year finished destroying
about 90 percent of its 30,000 tons of chemical weapons, a process that
began more than 25 years ago.
Joining me now live from Washington, D.C., is Raymond Tanter, who served on
the senior staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan
administration. Raymond, thank you for joining us this morning.
RAYMOND TANTER, REAGAN`S NATIONAL SECURITY STAFFER: My pleasure.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask this, obviously part of what the Obama
administration has been talking about over the past few weeks is the
question of sending an international message against the use of chemical
weapons and claiming in part that military strikes may need to be part of
that. Is this solution a sufficient one in terms of sending an
international message about chemical weapons?
TANTER: Melissa, Secretary Kerry referred to a President Reagan adage, but
President Reagan used to tell me when I worked for him that when you`re in
a hole, stop digging. And what President Obama has done is to stop digging
the hole, in fact, pulled President Putin in with him. President Putin has
a tremendous amount to lose if he can`t deliver his ally, President Assad.
So I see a situation where the two men have stopped digging and come
together with some kind of an accord. But, Melissa, the devil is in the
details. Most assuredly as so as Ian has said in this setup piece.
HARRIS-PERRY: In fact, in those detail, how feasible do you think it is to
get a full accounting of and to totally destroy Syria`s chemical weapons in
less than a year? As I just pointed out, the U.S. has been on this path
for more than two decades.
TANTER: Well, if it becomes an accounting situation, this will go on and
on and on. At issue, Melissa, is whether or not the United States can ramp
up the four or five destroyers in the Mediterranean that are now taking off
alert and get some kind of an - even some kind of an authorization of
Congress and the American people to get the military action back on the
table. I doubt whether President Obama can go without the U.N., without
the American people, without the Congress on board, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, I think it seems clear that the president also
thinks that he either can`t or should not go without that sort of
multilateral coalition. It seems like that`s part of what`s been going on
here. But do you think this agreement that Secretary Kerry seems to have
reached here will, in fact, bring those other players on board?
TANTER: Well, the agreement is a godsend for President Obama right now.
At issue is whether or not Iran will cooperate, whether -and try to
undercut the agreement that the Russians and the Americans have put
forward. If Iran lays back, then I suspect that this agreement can start.
And if the agreement begins to fail, at issue then, Melissa will be whether
President Obama will try to get the military stick back on with the promise
-- the carrots that are on the table right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, that question of the stick and the carrot in
international diplomacy is always the challenge. Thank you so much for
joining us this morning. Raymond Tanter.
TANTER: My pleasure.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
And stay right there, because after the break, we`re going to talk the
politics of this extraordinary new development this morning. How President
Obama`s leadership style brings us to a most unexpected place.
HARRIS-PERRY: The nation woke this morning to news of a potential
diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis. With this news will come not only
a readjustment of global positions, but also reassessment of the domestic
political leadership that brought us here. Most critically, should
President Obama be praised or derided for his handling of this crisis?
When President Obama was elected in 2008, he promised a more thoughtful,
deliberate style of leadership, he would not lead us into what he called
dumb wars. But until now, the president`s foreign policy was marked more
by brute force than deliberation, the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the
secret kill list, the unilateral drone strikes.
But now we`ve seen what it looks like when President Obama deliberates.
And over the past week many observers have claimed that president wasn`t
leading, he was flailing. When the president stepped into the Rose Garden
two weeks ago, I fully expected, we all expected him to announce that
strikes were imminent or already under way. But then the breaks. The
president said he would wait for Congress to decide. A vote was expected
this past week, but then President Obama called for another pause as
congressional leaders struggled to cobble together enough votes and
Secretary of State John Kerry tried to gauge how serious Russia was in its
offer to put Syria`s chemical weapons under international control and
eventually destroy them.
Then this morning, news that this all just may have worked. After a week
of being called weak, flaccid, and not the master of the situation, does
this change our assessment of the president? Joining me now, Ed Husain,
senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations,
Katon Dawson, national Republican consultant and former senior adviser to
Governor Rick Perry. Dorian Warren, associate professor of political
science and international public affairs at Columbia University, and Dr.
Nina Khrushcheva, who is Associate Professor in the Graduate Program of
International Affairs at the New School and senior fellow at the World
Policy Institute, she`s also the great granddaughter of former Soviet
Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
So, actually, I want to start with you, Nina. In part this question of
whether or not what we have seen here is, is strong leadership, is good
leadership by the president or this is just lucky so far where we`ve ended
DR. NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, ASSOC. PROF. INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS NEWS SCHOOL: I
think what we`ve seen now is a political process, which is not good or bad
on its face. The problem I think is that there`s a lot of rhetoric around
that process, and for politics it was way too much rhetoric, especially
with such complex sides involved in this conversation. So I wouldn`t even
judge Barack Obama`s policy so much. However, I would very much judge his
foreign policy advisers in those who write those speeches without thinking
what the next -- the next could bring. And I think that`s where they
really, really failed. They failed on communication probably much more
than they failed on policy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Interesting, I mean, you know, the red line was initially
sort of a one-off. Right? I mean the president was in a back and forth
exchange when he made the red line point about chemical weapons. But he`s
gone on to try to make a claim that, in fact, chemical weapons are
something that we need to draw a red line. Is this, do you think, Dorian,
a sufficient red line, this agreement?
DORIAN WARREN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I think it is, and I think it`s one
where not only do we win and the U.S., but the world wins. I`ve been
thinking the last few weeks that Syria and any military action in Syria
would be President Obama`s LBJ moment.
WARREN: That this would be .
HARRIS-PERRY: And not a good LBJ moment.
WARREN: This would end up being his Vietnam. And now, what I think we`ve
seen is in many ways his JFK moment, of having people around him that can
deliberate and making the deliberation process partly public to say, OK,
let`s look at all the options on the table. I don`t think it was an
accident, frankly, that Secretary of State Kerry said that seemingly off-
the-cuff remarks. I intend to think that was discussed and that was
clearly an option that had been discussed and put on the table in their
private deliberations. So, I don`t think it was an accident that all of a
sudden that came out. I think it was part of a long process of
deliberation that we`ve all been witness to here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we were making sports metaphors earlier. My friend and
colleague Joanna Cubb (ph) earlier this morning sent an e-mail saying, oh
man, this is like the Cold War crossover, right? It was kind of a
basketball claim that the president had had faked and in fact has
demonstrated the capacity to do something surprising here. Why is it my
bet that you probably don`t see this as a moment of great presidential
leadership on the part of the president?
KATON DAWSON, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: The whole thing has seemed very
clumsy to me. You know, not that well-orchestrated. The advisers, whether
it be the Pentagon or the joint chiefs, so a lot of confusion. The only
thing that I can say that made I think Republicans pause is the fact you
had John Kerry, Joe Biden and Barack Obama who have won (ph) in their
current positions, I think or the available, if you have the information
that they have at their fingertips probably wouldn`t be in this position of
threatening war. And that made me think that, you know, I don`t need to
know -- I don`t need to know everything the president knows or the people
know, but for them to be advocating the military strike to me said there`s
something here I`m not getting because they normally would not be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s an interesting point that John Kerry as someone who`s
taken very clear anti-war positions, and the president as someone who`s set
himself up, certainly not as a dove but as someone with restraints around
the question of war, but when they make the claim it implies that there is
something underneath there that maybe hawks making that claim wouldn`t be -
DAWSON: And the political ramifications are here, too fast forward a
little bit, not to be hypothetical, the president didn`t define what a win
was at first and the American public is war weary. That whether it`s
Republican district or a Democratic district, we`ve got the midterms coming
up, but the president doesn`t have to stand for election again, so he`s
doing what he thinks is right. So in the meantime of this, the numbers
aren`t there for war, we`re war weary right now, let`s fast forward. So,
now they`ve defined the win as getting rid of chemical weapons. Here`s the
bad news. The Assad regime, a brutal dictator, is now attacking hospitals
and schools. So this isn`t going to be the end win.
ED HUSAIN, COUNCIL FOR FOREIGN RELATIONS: That`s not new. He`s been
doing that all along.
HUSAIN: But he is American (inaudible).
HUSAIN: That doesn`t minimize, I think, the impact of the deliberations
that the president of the United States put in place. And I say that
because there`s a perception in the Middle East over the last eight to ten
years that the United States is too trigger happy, if cowboy nation is not
prepared to put diplomacy and thought and caveat and the political process
in place. And what we`ve seen is, I mean, yes, Putin wrote this op-ed in
"The New York Times" on Thursday. But something else happened on Thursday
and that was Ayman al-Zawahiri spoke.
HUSAIN: I mean Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qaeda, there
was no consideration in his hour and a half long speech that the United
States was in any way weak.
HUSAIN: If you think the president is weak, ask the people on whom drone
attacks have been lobbied in Yemen or in Pakistan or ask Osama bin Laden,
who`s no longer alive. So there is that consideration I think that people
in the region don`t think that the United States or the president is weak.
In fact, he is within his ability and realm to act, but he has not. He has
said that he will act if he needs to, but he wants to ask not only the U.S.
Congress, but create an international conversation. And this outcome this
morning is the direct result of that conversation.
HUSAIN: So I think in the long term when history is written, I don`t
think this will be a moment of weakness but a moment of intelligence,
strength, and depth.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to pick up on exactly that as soon as we come back,
and particularly on this Putin op-ed and what it says about sort of what
America`s place is in the international community and how the president is
taking us (inaudible). When we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The irony of the deal announced today is that it stems from
cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, a relationship that has been
tense, to say the least, over Syria and Edward Snowden and human rights and
a lot of other things. Russian President Putin even took to "the New York
Times" this week to passively aggressively needle President Obama for his
talk of American exceptionalism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: When with modest
effort and risk we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby
make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.
That`s what makes America different. That`s what makes us exceptional.
With humility, but with result let us never lose sight of that essential
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: In response, Putin wrote in "The Times," "I would rather
disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism. It is extremely
dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever
the motivation." Well, thank you for your valuable input there, Vlad. The
concept of American exceptionalism, that America is fundamentally
different, is widely attributed to French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville,
but the phrase has reportedly really coined by none other than Soviet
dictator Joseph Stalin who in 1929 condemned the heresy of American
exceptionalism when confronted with a report that American workers would
never revolt against the capitalist class because they were different, they
loved money and tolerated inequality like no other working class in the
world. You see, even if you didn`t mean it as a compliment, Russian
leaders have been talking about American exceptionalism for nearly a
century. So is this sort of tit for tat between Putin and Obama finally
resolved in this moment over Syria?
KHRUSHCHEVA: Yes, it is. Well, first of all, I want to say that Stalin
simply quoted de Tocqueville.
KHRUSHCHEVA - Because Stalin was an educated man.
KHRUSHCHEVA: He read de Tocqueville, he knew exactly where America
stands. He also knows what he was talking about and knew, and so does
Putin, because Russia also considers itself an exceptionalist nation.
KHRUSHCHEVA: So that was the very kind of battles of propaganda, we`re
going to accuse you of something that we ourselves believe, but also in
smaller manner, and Putin is a rather small man, although it does seem that
that was a victory for him right now, at least in diplomacy, is that it was
a payback for Obama`s comment on Putin .
HARRIS-PERRY: being a socialist .
KHRUSHCHEVA: . being a socialist slouch, bored kid at the back of the
room. And that was sort of slightly an elegant but at the same -- and also
very lofty way of getting back at Obama personally. And actually that`s
where Putin lost his point, because once it`s become a personal revenge,
that`s it. That argument loses.
HARRIS-PERRY: There was an interesting set of claims up until that point
in the context of the op-ed itself, where he makes some claims about
international law, about the role of the U.N.
HUSAIN: And I realize it`s right to mock Putin for all the right reasons .
HUSAIN: But there are a couple of points that he made, though, pondering.
One of those was the rise of extremism and terrorism inside Syria and the
blowback from that. In other words, terrorists trained inside Syria in the
tens of thousands are now returning or will return to Europe and other
countries. And therefore we will see terrorism in those countries. And is
this something that we want to see, encourage, and therefore live with?
And that`s an important question that he raises and I think that`s worth
paying attention to. And the second one is, of course, consequences for
international law. But I think he was absolutely wrong on the question of
American exceptionalism, simply because I don`t think he understands this
country, the fact that all of us can sit on this panel from divergent
backgrounds is testament to American exceptionalism in a way that it
doesn`t happen in the Soviet Union. That people like you and me would not
be considered to be Russians, and to the kingdom come, just because of the
way the Russian historic, ethnic, and racial composition -- and the same
applies to other countries. So, I think it`s a failure on his part as an
individual to recognize what the United States is. But I`d make one last
point. And I don`t think he wrote that op-ed. He may have expressed a few
HUSAIN: . via the phone, to the (inaudible) that some, I hate to say it,
some American somewhere sitting down writing it and submitting it to "The
New York Times," but I don`t think he`s of the linguistic or the
intellectual caliber to put out something .
KHRUSHCHEVA: I actually quite disagree with that.
HARRIS-PERRY: It actually sounded like him to .
KHRUSHCHEVA: Because Putin has been making those arguments in the Russian
press forever, he`s been making those arguments and speeches forever. Now
he got an international worldwide podium and that`s what he -- but
absolutely, 80 percent of that op-ed is pure Putin.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I want to listen for a moment to Secretary Kerry
speaking on Putin and then ask you a question behind that. Let`s listen
for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I want to thank President Putin for
his willingness to pick up on the possibility of negotiating an end to
Syrian weapons of mass destruction. His willingness to embrace ideas for
how to accomplish this goal and his willingness to send Foreign Minister
Lavrov here to pursue this effort was essential to getting to this point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So the president said part of what American exceptionalism
will be is humility and resolve. And for Secretary Kerry, who sort of
started this whole process with this very strong, we`re going to move
whether the international community says, so we`re not to stand there and
say, man, Putin, thanks for all your help. And it`s a good, good job. I
thought, we`re practicing our humility this morning, aren`t we?
WARREN: Another interesting thing about the Putin op-ed is there`s nothing
that would unify Americans more around a divisive issue than Putin writing
in "The New York Times," essentially insulting the president, and all of a
sudden the American public says, whoa, wait a second, he just insulted our
commander-in-chief. So, I think there`s a reason why polls showed this
week that the American public wouldn`t punish their own members of Congress
HARRIS-PERRY: If they voted .
WARREN: If they voted to go to war.
HARRIS-PERRY: But let me ask you this, because it seems to me, though,
because there was all this language of the president is weak and he`s
rolling over for Putin, that despite the fact that the Russian leader takes
to "The New York Times," says these sorts of things, some of which I think
are very valuable sort of international discursive strategies, and some of
which were like, oh, you guys aren`t that exceptional, the fact that the
president and his administration, nonetheless, are like, but you know what,
the big picture here is Syria so we`re not - we`re going to continue to
work with you, does feel like a certain kind of strength that maybe we
hadn`t seen, for example, from "Stay the Course" Bush. Like it`s a
different definition of strength, one that is more personally humble on
DAWSON: Well, let`s put it back down to the diner in Kentucky .
DAWSON: (inaudible). And if we`re going to put Putin versus President
Obama, then the American public is going to have President Obama`s back.
DAWSON: And that`s what we got out of it. I mean, there is a dislike for
Putin, there is a distrust of Russia, and in electoral politics, the
president just won on that op-ed because he called him out. But when you
called him out and you called our leader out, that will unify both sides.
That`s the positive part of it. The negative part of it is, is this is a
complete dialogue that didn`t (inaudible) ahead of what`s happening in the
Middle East and the education of the voting American public of the chaos
that`s going, as Ed told me during the break, this chaos has been going for
years and years and years, whether it be Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, and
there`s a deeper fundamental thing that we`re having to address once we get
past these chemical weapons.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, and in fact, I want to talk as soon as we come back a
little bit about another brinksmanship moment, the Cuban missile crisis.
But then, try to figure out if there`s something about that chemical
weapons that maybe we`re getting wrong in our discussions right now. When
we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: In October 1962, the world hovered for nearly two weeks on
the brink of a conflict with catastrophic implications. U.S. President
John F. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba after discovering Soviet
missiles site under construction on the island nation. The standoff
between Kennedy and Soviet leader Khrushchev was a test of personal egos,
divergent national interests and precarious global power. The choices made
by Kennedy, Khrushchev and other international players in those tense days
averted nuclear war. But even decades later the question of whether
Kennedy was strategically brilliant or blessedly lucky is not entirely
settled. In his classic 1969 article about the Cuban missile crisis, a
scholar Graham Allison writes, "What each analyst sees and judges to be
important is a function not only of the evidence about what happened, but
also of the conceptual lenses through which he looks at the evidence."
Indeed, as we seek to understand our president and his decisions in this
current context of the debate over intervention in Syria, our judgment of
his actions are undoubtedly colored by the lenses we use to see them. What
could we learn from the Cuban missile crisis as we look at this Syria
KHRUSHCHEVA: I think your previous segment was exactly on that, whether -
when John Kerry was speaking, whether he was a cop-out -- he actually
sincerely diplomatically thanks President Putin. And I thought it was a
very wise way to do it, because they were able to step from the brink,
although it wasn`t as much of a brink as the Cuban missile crisis .
HARRIS-PERRY: Of course.
KHRUSHCHEVA: But was brinky enough, and was able to step from the brink
and actually deal with diplomacy and lenses at hand. And I think that`s
the lesson of the Cuban missile crisis because we can interpret
Khrushchev`s behavior one way and Kennedy`s behavior another way and maybe
they both copped out. And maybe they didn`t - who blinked wins (ph).
There`s a lot of articles and books written who blinked first .
KHRUSHCHEVA: . and what not. But I think the lesson is that ultimately
policy is a moving target and they have to -- leaders have to keep in mind
that they have the countries, their constituents at hand and the countries
at hand and the world at hand that they are responsible for. And I think
the Cuban missile crisis was a great example of that, that as ambitious as
both leaders were, and think they could trick each other, they actually
stepped back and decided the World War III is really not worth their
KHRUSHCHEVA: That`s the greatest lesson.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that - that is exactly the lesson that I`m wondering if
we`re missing in the Syria question. So let me just frame this. It feels
to me like the basic conceptual lens we`re working with is that leaders
will only not use chemical weapons, if there is a belt, if there is a
stick, if there is threat of war. But in fact aren`t there -- I mean, I
assume that the reason that most world leaders don`t use chemical weapons
is actually because the things that you have just laid out, because of a
belief in the responsibility of constituency and of world leadership. I
just wonder if we`re still missing that aspect of it, that Assad is outside
of what the vast majority of world leaders will ever do. And that we don`t
necessarily need -- or we need a different kind of red line to describe
sort of not using those sorts of weapons.
HUSAIN: Assad is in a fight to the death.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because of the civil war?
HUSAIN: Exactly. If he doesn`t kill, he will be killed. He`s seen Saddam
Hussein go before him. He`s seen the Libyan leader killed in front of his
own eyes, so to speak. But I think the Cuban missile crisis teaches us
something that`s sort of relevant here, and that`s secrecy. Both the U.S.
president and the Russian leader were in direct communication through
secret channels, and the stand down or if you want to put it in terms of
the diplomatic solution that came about afterwards, was also in the sense
that the U.S. agreed to pull back its missiles from Turkey again .
HARRIS-PERRY: And it was years later before we knew that.
HUSAIN: And it was done quietly .
HUSAIN: Secretly. Now, if we were to turn that on its head, will Assad
use that sort of secrecy to retain his chemical weapons in the way that
Libya, even though we thought the Libyans had decommissioned their weapons,
we found out they hadn`t fully decommissioned their weapons. So, there is
that secret advantage that sometimes -- in the case of the U.S. we use to
the advantage of global peace, but that same thing of secrecy and retention
could be reversed and used by the Syrians in a way that`s harmful.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Khrushchev and Kennedy can make decisions in the context
of the Cuban missile crisis in part because they`re not facing existential
threat to their own leadership. The only existential threat is to the
world community and the possibility of what that World War III would have
looked like. But this notion of secrecy versus publicity - is also - I
mean these guys are fighting it out, Putin and President Obama, fighting it
out in press conferences and "the New York Times," not in direct one-to-one
WARREN: That`s where another - another political science concept comes in
around this is Schattscheider`s concept of expanding the scope of conflict.
And in this case, we see President Obama expanding the scope of conflict,
bringing in other audiences. In the first instance the Congress, which
means the American people, but also at the same time the rest of the
international community. And in many ways that is what the purpose of the
United Nations is, to expand the scope of conflict, so it`s not just
between the U.S. and Syria, but now it`s between the U.S. and the rest of
the world. And you isolate Russia or you isolate China, but you have - you
try to mobilize global opinion. So you bring more people into the fight.
WARREN: . to reach a peaceful solution in this case.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this is diplomacy that requires a level of publicity
rather than those secret channels.
WARREN: Rather than total secrets, right? It`s both operating at the same
time. It`s secrecy and publicity operating at the same time.
HARRIS-PERRY: Man, I - we could nerd that up for a little time.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to say thank you to Ed Husain and to Dr. Nina
Khrushcheva. Thank you so much for joining us today.
And up next, the headlines you have to see to believe.
HARRIS-PERRY: I read the news every day. It`s my job. But sometimes I`m
just so disgusted by what I encounter. Nothing prompts this response more
than the daily stories about gun violence and gun policy in our country.
Like this one last Sunday from the "Des Moines Register." Iowa grants
permits for blind residents to carry guns in public. Yes? For blind
residents to carry guns in public. And while that just seems like a bad
idea, there are gun stories that are truly appalling. Like the murder of
Chris Lane. Chris, a 22-year-old Australian playing baseball in Oklahoma
University, was out jogging when he was gunned down on August 16th by a
group of teens, one of whom told the police, "We were bored and didn`t have
anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody." More recently, this baby,
London Samuels was killed when she was struck by a bullet as her nanny
carried her home from a park in New Orleans. London was only a year old.
And while my hometown was still reeling just a week later, another child in
the city, 11-year-old Arabian Gayles was shot and killed when gunmen began
firing into her home. She was rocking her baby cousin to sleep when the
bullet took her life. One week ago, three-year-old Ella Marie Tucker of
Idaho shot and killed herself with a handgun in Yellowstone National Park
where, since 2010, visitors have been able to carry weapons legally. The
little girl was the first gun death in Yellowstone since 1978. In
Colorado, 18-year-old Primalal (ph) was and two others were trying to prank
a friend last week at her family`s home by leaping out of a closet.
Primalal`s prank surprised the friend, who grabbed the gun and shot her
dead. And in Oklahoma, a grandmother Trebia Strita (ph) 73, told her
husband Melvin to put his gun down, he`d been drinking and had already shot
in a tree stump. Melvin then pointed the gun at her. He told authorities
he wanted to play a joke on his wife. He pulled the trigger, shot her in
the stomach, and killed her.
I just want to stop reading. I want to pretend that these senseless
deaths are not happening. But we have to face these realities because the
gun lobby does not rest even as Americans lose their lives to gun violence.
This week we saw two Americans lose their jobs to gun politics. And that`s
HARRIS-PERRY: Colorado by and large likes its Democratic Governor John
Hickenlooper. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, 57 percent of respondents gave
him strong marks for his leadership qualities and 56 percent for his
honesty. At least half believe that he cares about their needs and
problems. What they don`t like, though, his gun politics. More than half
of all respondents disapproved of the way Hickenlooper handles gun policy,
which includes new, tough restrictions on ammunition, firearm sales and
background checks that went into effect on the First of July.
As the federal government failed to enact gun reform laws after the
shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and the school shooting in
Newtown, Connecticut, some states like Colorado took action on the state
level. But on Tuesday, two of Colorado`s state senators who stood firmly
behind that action, John Morse and Angela Giron, were recalled from office.
The National Rifle Association, as you might imagine, was thrilled. The
statement read in part, "The people of Colorado Springs and Pueblo sent a
clear message to their elected officials that their primary job is to
defend our rights and freedoms. They are accountable to their
constituents, not the dollars or social engineering agendas of anti-gun
That last line there that was directed at New York Mayor Michael
Bloomberg. Now he`s going to be fine, but what about the citizens of
Colorado or other states where lawmakers pay for their gun control votes
with their jobs? Joining the panel is Rob Wilcox, vice president of the
board of directors at the "New Yorkers Against Gun Violence," and our own
host of "Up" right here on MSNBC Steve Kornacki.
So, Steve, I want to start with just the politics of this first and the
idea that these weren`t people who were voted out in an election. It
wasn`t like there was the next election and then, you know, constituents
didn`t like it. That strikes me as democracy. But that they were
recalled. Should I be worried about the health of democracy when you can
be recalled not for a scandal, but for this?
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yeah, no, absolutely. Not every state
allows this, but there are a number of states, I think it`s 17 right now,
that have recall mechanisms in place. And this is something I think it`s a
growing trend. If somebody went back and looked at like the last 100 years
of American politics. I think it`s (inaudible) like one-third of all the
recalls that have taken place in that 100 years have been like in the last
three or four. So, this is something that`s kind of accelerating. I think
- I think there are a lot of sort of interest groups and activist groups
that see an opportunity here to deliver these kinds of messages. And I
think the risk of it is, you know, you can look at politicians around the
country, Democrats or even Republicans who voted for gun control measures
and they have not paid an electoral press for it, they`ve kept their jobs,
they`ve been safe, you know, Tim Kaine in Virginia .
KORNACKI: You keep think of Nelson in Florida. But logic and rational
thinking doesn`t always prevail in politics. The most recent .
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s the understatement of the .
KORNACKI: It`s the most traumatic recent political event.
KORNACKI: And the risk for gun control advocates right now is that this
becomes the most recent traumatic political event. And the next time this
is on the line in the state legislature somewhere or in the Senate, if they
bring back background checks, this is the thing that people on the fence
are thinking about.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I guess part of what I find surprising is that the
deaths don`t shift the political calculus. Why is it that Newtown and
Aurora and these - and the deaths that I just talked about before we came
back from commercial, why don`t they shift what constitutes the political
calculus for ordinary citizens?
ROB WILCOX, NEW YORKERS AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE: I think it has, Melissa, and
I think there`s a couple of lessons that really come out of Colorado and to
be clear about what they are, I mean what the Colorado legislature passed
was commonsense gun laws.
WILCOX: They said we should have background checks when we sell guns, so
that people who shouldn`t have them don`t get them. There was two of the
worst mass shootings in the nation`s history, they said we shouldn`t allow
magazines that can have more than 15 bullets. And those were the two
things that they got recalled for. And the message the NRA has given out
is if you stand for commonsense gun laws you`ll be punished, but that`s
really not what the data shows, that`s not what the election says. And -
and I say that because this election does not show that there was a massive
opposition to commonsense gun laws, because let`s take Senator Morse, for
example, and both senators have similar, you know, facts .
WILCOX: But Senator Morse has 69,000 registered voters in his district.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s, what, like 10,000 people who voted?
WILCOX: 9,000 voted for the recall. That`s 13 percent of the registered
voters. So, here`s your headline for the Colorado recall. It`s not NRA
leads massive outright.
WILCOX: It`s 13 percent of voters disagree with gun policy, vote to
recall. That`s a much different story, but that`s the true story of this
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, the empowerment of that 13 percent to do the work
of recall, so the thing is that that 13 percent then may not hold sway if
we`d have to go to the next election cycle and we have free and fair
elections, and so then they would have to make their case and they`d have
to get 50 percent plus one, that`s kind of how elections work. But when
you have a recall, then, in fact, a highly motivated small group does have
the ability to bring elected officials out of office.
WARREN: And this is why strategically speaking this is very smart of the
NRA, because they understood if we wait until the next election we have a
greater likelihood of losing, but we know in American politics for people
that have intense preferences around an issue, you can mobilize just a
small number of those people that care intensely about one thing, and in
this case it was 13 percent of that district, who the NRA and others were
able to mobilize to recall those legislators. So, yes, is this a problem
for democracy? Yes. But I think there`s a deeper issue here, and it`s
about the incivility in American public culture, that is the real threat to
democracy. As a friend of mine said last night to me, it`s a very
technical term, Colorado is stupid.
WARREN: You can drink, you can smoke marijuana, and you can have guns.
That is -- all at the same time. That is an ingredient, that`s an
ingredient mix for uncivil behavior, and that`s what we`re creating. It
takes, you know, when we talk about freedom, which the NRA likes to talk
about, there are always limits to freedom.
WARREN: Somebody`s freedom is somebody else`s injustice. Right? And
that`s what we see in terms of Trayvon Martin, for instance, in terms of
the final consequence of that freedom is death for some. We set laws to
govern our behavior for a reason because we don`t leave it to everybody to
always act civilly. Sometimes governments have to set norms for all of us
to be civil.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, seriously, on this question of recall, and I want to
talk more about gun policy when we come back after the commercial, but just
on the question of recall, I mean, are you troubled by the idea that
legislators can be recalled not for moral or ethical breaches, not for
stealing money -- I mean, those strike me as reasonable reasons to get
someone out of office before the next election, but just because of policy
DAWSON: They have it on the books. In my state, we don`t. We don`t have
the recall mechanism in South Carolina and a lot of the states I do work
in. When you look at the one issue, the governor had a 56 percent poll
number there, the people of Colorado were unhappy with his position. But
let`s move past all the polls and the fact that the president won one of
those districts by 21 and the other by 19 percent. You`re looking at the
political structure, either you change the law on recalls or not, if you
What happens is the NRA won because they`re very good at one thing.
They`re very good at grassroots and mobilizing who you said. That`s the
system. They won, the other side lost. So what happened was for once an
election, the NRA was outspent but not outspent totally because they`ve
spent years and years and years building those databases. I know a guy at
one time said something was flooded by about 50,000 cards from NRA members
in South Carolina. So they have an organization that`s very impressive.
It becomes a Second Amendment right. They put everything out there, but
that`s what they have and there are winners and losers.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right there, because this idea of, well, it`s politics
and there`s winners and losers and as long as everybody`s playing by the
rules it`s OK. I do want to come back to this sort of Trayvon Martin or
any of the young people or elderly people who are dying because of guns and
say, yes, but who are the real losers here. Coming up, the real problem
with recall efforts and how House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is leading
the effort to take food from the mouths of children. There is more
Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Last Tuesday was an election day in many places, including Colorado, where
two Democrat state senators were recalled and replaced by two Republicans.
One of the ousted senators, John Morse, told supporters on election night,
"We made Colorado safer from gun violence. If it cost me my political
career, that`s a small price to pay."
Both senators were recalled mostly due to their backing of Colorado`s tough
new gun law which took effect in July. They were not recalled for scandal
or alleged illegal activity. They were recalled for implementing gun
Only 38 recall elections have been held in the history of United States,
and almost half of them since 2011 according to the National Conference of
State Legislators. That was the quote from earlier. And in these Colorado
recall votes on Tuesday the turnout was very, very low, especially compared
to the 2010 election. Only about 11,000 more voters cast ballots in
Morse`s 2010 Senate election, and 10,000 more voted in State Senator Angela
Giron`s 2010 Senate election.
Gun rights groups who pushed recalls would argue that they did so only to
counter outside money from groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns led by
New York`s Mike Bloomberg.
Contributions to Morse and Giron totaled roughly $3 million. Bloomberg,
meanwhile, offered up more than $300,000 to the anti-recall campaign. The
NRA itself contributed around $500,000 to the recall effort.
But is the money what`s wrong with our democracy? Or recall efforts like
Back with me are Rob Wilcox of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, former
South Carolina Republican Chairman Katon Dawson, Columbia Professor Dorian
Warren, and the host of MSNBC`s "UP WITH STEVEN KORNACKI".
So how much did it cost citizens to have these recalls? I mean, what -- on
the one hand, yes, there`s money being spent by the New Yorkers, but
doesn`t it also simply cost the taxpayers to recall folks when they
wouldn`t normally have an election?
KATON DAWSON, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN CHAIRMAN: Absolutely, and a
massive amount of money. You`ve got to open polls. You`ve got to reelect
people. I mean, it`s a whole process that starts over again, and then you
become singly focused.
What the politicians saw was you become singly focused on every vote and
every issue, while recalls are very, very testy here, because now every
politician saw that. Politicians obviously like to stay in office. So
that at the end of the day, the politicians in Colorado and neighboring
states, especially recall states like you said earlier, just saw -- well, I
better be really careful at what I do.
STEVE KORNACKI, UP WITH STEVE KORNACKI: The other thing is there`s an
incentive here. I think this sort of disincentive -- the recall itself
disincentivizes voters from paying the appropriate level of attention to
normal elections --
KORNACKI: -- because the job of the public and the job of the voter in
elections is to be engaged, to ask questions, to scrutinize candidates, to
say these are the issue I cared about, I want to know what you think, and
then if you`re elected, I`m going to hold you accountable for it.
You have recall elections, basically, I can sit the election out, I can
wait a year from now and, you know what, if we don`t like what the
legislators are doing, we`ll kick them out of office then.
Your job as a voter is to do that work during an election and you have to
live with the consequences. One of the consequences is you may have to
wait four years to get the politician out you don`t like.
ROB WILCOX, NEW YORKERS AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE: And if the folks think it`s
an appropriate lesson to draw from this recall, that John Morse shouldn`t
have made the vote he made, because if he is going to legislate for the 13
percent of people who recalled him, then he`s legislating for a vocal
minority. It`s an absolute tyranny of the minority.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is the uphill battle that folks in organizations
like yours are fighting, because the signal, right, the signal that goes
out to the electoral world right now is that pro-NRA signal that regardless
of that small turnout says, if you take these kind of stances we`re coming
for you. And what I hear you pushing back is, no, no, your constituents
really do want this gun control legislation. We can see that. We can see
the popularity of it from the polls.
And yet how do you push back against what is a clear electoral signal here
that it will make you vulnerable if you vote to support gun control
WILCOX: Well, I think it comes down to political courage. And John Morse
and Senator Giron may both said, we knew this was a possibility going in
and we went forward with it.
And, truthfully, when the Colorado gun rights folks wanted to do a recall,
they wanted to recall everyone who voted for this legislation. And they
got two people. And of those two people, they got a tiny minority of those
So, this is about get out the vote. It`s about voter awareness, and it`s
really is about the question, are recalls based on a legislative vote, a
tool that we want to encourage in our democracy, or as John was saying, is
this something that really needs to be rarely used for high crimes and
misdemeanors as you were pointing out for real betrayal of public trust
because you committed a crime?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Dorian, it also seems to me that, we`re talking about
American exceptionalism earlier, and it also seems it`s about turnout and
all that. But it`s also about an American exceptionalism around our guns.
You know, I live in Louisiana and in New Orleans and -- which means that
both the proximity of gun violence and gun ownership are very intimate to
me. I see all of my neighbors are both worried about gun violence and own
guns, right? How do we have a not just sort of mobilize voters but change
the discourse around guns?
DORIAN WARREN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I think it`s changing, and I think
your point earlier about who are the real losers here, the real losers are
the people that lose their lives --
WARREN: -- because of -- children in particular. So, let`s go back to
Trayvon Martin for a minute. There are all these doubts during the
Zimmerman trial about his personal character and behavior. In the same
week as the recall election, what do we learn about Zimmerman, he will use
a gun against his own wife and in-law when he becomes angry. And I think
we have to make it --
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, he didn`t fire the gun. I mean, I will say there`s
some question about that, but certainly there was a return of George
Zimmerman to the sort of public consciousness around whether or not he was
menacing with a gun.
WARREN: Yes. But the broader point is I want to have a set of laws and
norms where I don`t have to worry about the George Zimmermans of the world
when the moment they get angry they decide to fire their weapon and
somebody -- an innocent person loses their life. We have to say, and I
think this is what the two legislators in Colorado said, we have to say we
are putting the public good over your private freedom and private interest.
The public good is safety for all of us and our kids as well, over your
right to be able to kill somebody because you think that`s a definition of
freedom. Freedom is being able to walk the street and not have to worry
about folks, whether they`re George Zimmerman, whether they`re drunk,
whether they`re whatever, shooting me unnecessarily.
HARRIS-PERRY: Steve, you know, it felt to me kind of coming out of our
conversation around Syria, you know, part of how the president has been
discussing Syria and chemical weapons have to do with children and the loss
of their lives and the sense of needing to set an international standard
about the fact that we must make the world safe against this sort of
indiscriminate violence that takes children`s lives.
And I -- and part of the reason I respect that argument is because I
respect that argument on the domestic front. I would also like to make the
world that I live in, in a very intimate way safe from indiscriminate
violence that takes the lives of children. All those stories I told
earlier just tell us that this is not chemical weapons, I get that, but in
my hood, you are much more likely to die from a stray bullet than from a
chemical weapon attack.
KORNACKI: Well, this is -- this may be the next big test for gun control
on the political calendar. A few months from now is going to be the one-
year anniversary of Sandy Hook and Newtown.
The talk, the plan at least before what happened in Colorado this week, I
don`t know where it stands right now, but the talk had been the proponents
of the background check, Manchin-Toomey, wanted to bring it back up in the
first week of December in the Senate, around the one-year anniversary, to
use that pressure a the sort of power of shaming -- it`s been a year, this
chamber has not acted and here`s your chance.
And the question, though, is -- is how does something like -- think of like
Heidi Heitkamp, Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota, this is one of the votes
they would need, if they`re going to get this -- a Democrat from a pro-gun
state. How does she look at what happened in Colorado this week and how
does she balance that? You`ll have the pressure of all the stories of
children from Sandy Hook balanced against what happened in Colorado this
week. And she`s somebody you`re going to have to have weighing on the side
of I want to do something on the one-year anniversary. That`s the next
HARRIS-PERRY: Can the one-year anniversary of Newtown shame legislators
into passing Manchin-Toomey?
HARRIS-PERRY: Why not?
DAWSON: Well, you`re going to -- that argument again, and you just asked
the question so I`ll give an honest answer.
DAWSON: In that argument again, you`re going to bring criminals back up,
you`re going to bring the mental -- the status of mental health in America
back up again, and you`re going to start decriminalizing certain -- certain
groups in this argument. The -- you said it earlier, Melissa, about your
neighbors. They`ve got guns and they`re impacted by gun violence, but they
have the right to have their guns and they want them.
DAWSON: They want them and they`re going to keep them. And Melissa Perry
has a gun. I have one.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I`ve been very open about being a gun owner and having
DAWSON: -- back to the basic argument again --
HARRIS-PERRY: But I`d give it up. Let me be clear. I`m a gun owner. I`m
from a family of people who own guns, my father, and I`ve talked about
this, as a black man, grew up in the Jim Crow South, believed he had to be
armed. He taught us how to use guns.
DAWSON: Had the right to have them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, he hunted. But both my father and I, first of all,
don`t need 15-round ammunitions, and I would be willing, if I believed in
the credible capacity of, for example, my police force dad, I would be very
much willing to give up gun ownership for the sense of public safety,
right? I mean, that gun exists in my home because we feel that we live in
a place that is so -- I mean, those things are connected.
WARREN: And, you know, this isn`t about whether you have the right to have
a gun. It`s about a background check.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Right, which I passed.
WARREN: A drive`s license. You have to take a test.
DAWSON: And if you could ever pull the background check out from the
rhetoric and look at the poll numbers, I know people are not opposed to
KORNACKI: But it gets filtered through the political system.
DAWSON: It gets filtered through the argument and we lose on the
background checks because when you check that number you`ll find out that`s
a reasonable argument.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to give you last word here. Yes?
WILCOX: But, look, that`s what Manchin-Toomey is about, background checks.
That`s what the Colorado law was about was background checks, and the NRA
is able to subvert the argument to make it about more, to make it about
taking guns away.
I`m a gun owner and my family owns guns but we`ve also been victimized, and
we`ve lost a loved one to gun violence. And I can tell you that the person
who shot my cousin should not have had a gun. And if background checks
could have worked, she might be alive. And I think if we`re just talking
about background checks, which is what we`re talking about in the Senate,
in the House, in Colorado, we should be able to agree to move forward,
instead of having a recall election where 13 percent of the voting public,
of minority, can scare our elected officials from doing the right thing --
because our elected officials make history by doing the right thing and not
just keeping their heads down and going with the flow.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Rob Wilcox. Also, Katon Dawson, and Steven
Kornacki, host of "UP" which airs on Saturdays and Sundays at 8:00 a.m.
Eastern Time right before this show, right here on MSNBC. Thank you all.
Stay right there because up next is my "letter of the week" to a pretty
interesting guy this week.
HARRIS-PERRY: Before I send my letter today, a word of warning to parents,
this one deals with some adult themes.
This week, a scandal ripped through the hip-hop community when Mr. Cee, a
deejay on the urban station Hot 97 and a foundational figure in the New
York hip-hop scene resigned after admitting to sex with transgendered
women. Mr. Cee quit not because he admitted to criminal activity but
because he felt the shaming and criticism based on his sexual practices
would distract from his effectiveness as a deejay and harm the station.
But see, his program director, Ebro Darden, refused to accept his
resignation and that is why my letter this week goes to him.
Dear Mr. Darden, it`s me, Melissa. I`m writing to you as a lover of hip-
hop music, a feminist, and an ally to LBGT communities.
Let me just say, you surprised me this week. I was warned just seven weeks
after cool hurt threw that legendary party in the South Bronx that started
hip-hop. Hip-hop beats and rhymes are the soundtrack of my life. But with
each passing decade, it has been harder to love hip-hop when it seems so
willing to hate me.
As major corporations gained more control over the music, hip-hop became
increasingly violent, vile, and sexist and your station, Hot 97, has
typically contributed to this trend rather than countering it. So I wasn`t
surprised when despite daily consumption of lyrics that gleefully described
violence against women and give both passive and explicit support to rape
culture, much of the hip-hop community reacting with homophobia-fueled
disgust about Mr. Cee`s sex with transwomen.
I was surprised, Mr. Darden, when instead of joining the shame bandwagon,
you encouraged an open and human dialogue with Cee about the complicated
realities of manhood, identity, and sexuality. These are conversations
we`re committed to having here on MHP show. So to the extent that Cee
engages in illegal solicitation, those actions would of course be
But if Cee`s sexuality is expressed with legal, adult, consenting actions,
then it is wrong to shame him. And not just for Cee as an individual but
more importantly, because the current reaction is really about expressing
disgust with transwomen and labeling them as freakish and abhorrent.
Nerdland friend and trans activist Janet Mock wrote about this issue this
week on her blog, saying, quote, "When a man can be shamed merely for
interacting with a transwoman, what does this do to transwomen? This
pervasive ideology says that transwomen are shameful, that transwomen are
not worthy of being seen, and that transwomen must remain a secret,
invisible and disposable. If a man dares to be seen with a transwomen, he
will likely lose social capital so he must adamantly deny, vehemently
demean, trash and/or exterminate the woman in question."
Mr. Darden, when you intervene this week, you helped to interrupt this
practice. For a moment, you made room to question this automatic reaction,
a reaction that has life and death consequences for transwomen.
You took a stance that wasn`t easy or obviously commercial or even widely
supported. In short, you demonstrated some real courage, and I want to
pause and recognize that you did because it just might be the beginning of
Now, speaking of changes, now that you`re getting a little practice at this
kind of courage, how about changing some of the songs on your play list?
HARRIS-PERRY: Forty-seven million people, that`s how many Americans rely
on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as
SNAP, in 2012. Nearly 72 percent of those SNAP recipients are families
Yet that doesn`t seem to faze Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
In July, he and his fellow Republicans took SNAP out of the farm bill and
the reductions they`re currently working on for the SNAP program are
downright frightening. According to reports, a SNAP proposal that Cantor
is working on would cut the program nearly $40 billion over 10 years.
That`s nearly double the cut in the House agricultural farm bill that was
blocked in June, and almost nine times the amount of the cuts in the
Senate-passed farm bill.
The House proposal would deny SNAP between 4 million and 6 million low-
income people, and those people include destitute adults, low-income kids,
seniors and families that earn low wages. See how they work, they earn low
On top of all of that, there will be cutbacks regardless of the action
Congress chooses to take. Temporary SNAP benefits that were part of the
2009 economic stimulus are set to expire on November 1st. Just in time for
the holidays, which amounts to a monthly decrease of nearly $36 for a
family of four. And if you`re not working, watch out. Cantor`s plan would
allow states to cut off your SNAP benefits if you`re not working or in a
job training program for at least 20 hours a week.
How`s that for compassion and conservativism?
At the table, Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the Food Bank for New
York City, Sasha Abramsky, the author of "The American Way of Poverty," and
senior fellow at Demos, Columbia professor Dorian Warren, and Monica Potts,
senior writer for "The American Prospect."
So, Sasha, I want to start with you because I`ve been reading "The American
Way of Poverty" all week and one of the things you do is try to bring
stories to the fore.
SASHA ABRAMSKY, AUTHOR, "THE AMERICAN WAY OF POVERTY": Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: You spend a lot of time telling us the stories of people
living in poverty. As I watch Eric Cantor I think -- I want to say this on
TV, I don`t think he`s a bad guy, but it does feel like he`s somehow
missing the stories that you are telling. How do we get these stories to
be part of that conversation?
ABRAMSKY: I think you have to listen to people. One of the things that
amazed me as I went around the country, I talked to hundreds of people when
I was writing the book, and the complexity, the diversity of the stories of
poverty I think often times our political classes tend to think in
stereotypes, so we think of the poorest, the undeserving as somehow morally
at blame for their own poverty.
It`s absolute nonsense. There people who work their whole lives, who lost
their jobs. There are people who saved their money and then lost their
houses when the housing crisis hit. There are people who didn`t have
health insurance because their jobs didn`t pay for health insurance and
they went bankrupt when they had a medical emergency.
Now, when you talk to these families and you realize that the only things
stopping them from going to bed hungry at night is their food stamps, not
thousands of dollars a month but a few hundred dollars a month that allows
them to buy basic meals for themselves and their children. And then you
think of the fact that 1 in 7 Americans needs that assistance -- that means
that in every congressional district on average, there`s about 100,000
people on food stamps.
ABRAMSKY: And the Republicans are talking about absolutely ignoring the
needs of all of those people. It`s an extraordinary story.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, I think part of what`s so stunning to me is what a
small percentage of our GDP -- so even if you cut them all, I mean, just
made eve hungry, did away with SNAP, we, in fact, would not much improve
the overall treasury. This is not a particularly expensive program, but it
lifts people out of poverty.
MARGARETTE PURVIS, PRES. & CEO, FOOD BANK FOR NYC: Let me tell you, we`re
going to know the power of SNAP the moment any of these cuts go through.
PURVIS: $40 billion is not a cut that you can say belongs to those people.
It will impact all of us.
They have not just said things about this group. They`ve also apparently
decided that charity will magically just rise to the challenge.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you`re with the food bank. Tell me about it, because
part of what`s happened here is also your ability to do your work has
First of all, to make it as clear as I could ever make it, we cannot make
up for these cuts. Food stamps really and truly make up the first line of
defense. You want people to be able to go to the grocery store. That is
PURVIS: Coming to a soup kitchen with your baby -- and mind you, there are
500,000 children coming to soup kitchens and pantries in New York City
alone, more children than there are people living in Miami. That`s who
So, this is not something people are looking forward to. We`re supposed to
be the last stop, not the first.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, my back and forth, Dorian, as I was reading
Sasha`s text and the kind of compelling stories of poverty that feel like
they`re not people`s fault, and yet as soon as we go to stories, then I can
tell you the story about the welfare queen or the surfer guy or some other
person who`s doing bad things with food stamps, and I wonder about whether
those narratives end up just balancing themselves out in the mind of
someone like Eric Cantor who says, no, I think there`s abuse and fraud.
WARREN: This is the other side of American exceptionalism that we were
talking about earlier. And this is how I think of American exceptionalism.
We were exceptional among all rich democracies with the most amount of
children in poverty, with the stingiest welfare state, with the notion that
we can`t be each other`s keeper in times of crisis. That`s American
exceptionalism. And we`re out of line with the rest of the world.
The irony here -- and I think this is a great organizing opportunity for
progressives -- the highest rates of food stamp are in the reddest -- food
stamps are in the reddest districts in America.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right.
WARREN: And the reddest districts in America. So, if we are not talking
to the folks in those districts about what their members of Congress, what
their representatives are doing, how it will affect their very live, we`re
missing a huge opportunity to transform this conversation in this c
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s the question I asked earlier about guns and
why, for example, Newtown doesn`t shift the political calculus. I guess I
have the same question here.
Why doesn`t the dissent of some of the middle class and working class into
poverty over the course of this great recession, why hasn`t that shifted
the political calculus? Why aren`t people saying now I`m part of the fore,
so I know those stereotypes are not accurate?
PURVIS: One word: shame. Shame is the underbelly of struggle and poverty.
It stays silent, we can ignore it because throughout this country, we all
know -- children know it, there has to be something wrong if you can`t feed
If you are having hard times, what did you do? That`s the reality. In
Staten Island, where many people think, oh, there`s not a lot of poverty in
Staten Island -- of course, there`s poverty in Staten Island. People have
lost their homes to foreclosure trying to hold on to their homes.
Many of my member agencies tell me there are people who used to write me
checks who now send their kids in to get food.
HARRIS-PERRY: You write a lot about the shaming. You say there are
rituals of consumption that are part of the American process, going to see
a movie, having a coffee with your friends, and that this descent into
poverty for so many people means that they`re shut out of these rituals.
ABRAMSKY: No, that`s absolutely right. When I was talking to people, one
of the things that struck me was there was almost existential loneliness to
their stories. These are people who often times had previously had some
income. They do not have a lot of income, but they weren`t destitute.
And they were used to not thinking too hard before they went to a cafe to
buy a cup of coffee, spend a couple of minutes talking to a friend. Now,
they have nothing because they were counting every single penny they spend.
And they were making these series of choices. Well, I have a few dollars
here, should I buy dinner tonight? But I do, I`m not going to be able to
fill my child`s prescription. Should I let my telephone bill go unpaid?
Will it get cut off this month? Or should I fill my car with gas because
gas has gone up a dollar a gallon and I can`t afford to drive to work?
When you have those kind of choices in your life, you can`t afford to
participate publicly so you sort of shrivel back into yourselves. And the
voices when I talk to people, that sort of sense of collapse
psychologically, I found it such a sad story.
HARRIS-PERRY: And sad on the one hand, but also when I heard you say you
withdraw from public life, that also sounds like it becomes more difficult
to then be engaged politically.
I`m going to keep everybody right here. We`re gong to keep talking about
this question of poverty, of hunger, but also the issue of homelessness,
and the idea of buying the homeless a one-way ticket out of town. We`ll
talk about shaming.
Stay with us.
HARRIS-PERRY: The living below the poverty line can lead people open to a
host of potentially dangerous outcomes. No group is more vulnerable than
the homeless. On any given night in the U.S., approximately 633,782 people
experience homelessness -- 22.1 percent of that group are children, 13
percent are veterans, and 42.6 percent are disabled and unable to work.
Sequestration is hurting this group big time as more than 100,000 homeless
and formerly homeless people will be removed from HUD programs because of
budget cuts. It`s not just the federal government that`s to blame here.
Officials in several states are also putting pressure on the homeless.
San Francisco is suing Nevada for allegedly putting poor and homeless
patients with mental issues on to buses with a one-way ticket to California
and other states, and instructing them to seek care there.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, a faith-based charity says it was threatened
with arrest for trying to pass out food to homeless people within a city
A federal court had to tell the state of Michigan in a decision that they
could no longer throw homeless people in jail for begging because it
violated their First Amendment rights.
In Miami, city leaders are asking a federal court to roll back the rights
of the homeless and in an effort to remove 500 chronically homeless people
from the business district, the city wants the Miami-Dade homeless trust to
spend up to $13 million on hundreds of new beds. The chairman of the
homeless trusts rejects the idea, arguing that overnight, shelter beds are
only a temporary solution.
In addition to having no place to go, there`s also been an increase in
violence independence the homeless according to a recent survey conducted
in South Florida, 4 in 10 homeless men and 3 in 10 homeless women have been
victims of the violence since living on the streets. So, it`s helping the
homeless. We`re criminalizing them and living them open to be victims of
For me, the confluence of the story about food stamps and the extent to
which poor families will now have to spend more money on the basic
necessity of food and the realities of homelessness come together. They`re
kind of a perfect storm of poverty.
MONICA POTTS, THE AMERICAN PROSPECT: That`s right. I think one of the
things we talk about when we talk about shame is that we have to remember
families wait until the last possible minute to seek help so families in
shelters, families living on the streets, they`ve really exercised all the
last of their options. They`ve couch surfed, they`ve borrowed food and
money from friends and family. The people who are being kicked out of
shelters really have no other options anymore.
HARRIS-PERRY: Again, we go to the question of stories. So, the shame
piece, the idea that it`s fundamentally shameful and as we see here
fundamentally dangerous, how then do we take that part of the story, couch
surfing, staying with your cousin, staying with your sister, finally
finding yourself and your children in a homeless shelter, how do we get
that to penetrate policy making?
POTTS: You know, I`m not sure because the stereotype of who is homeless
and the stereotype of who is poor in America has been so ingrained.
So, I spent a lot of time in poor communities around the country, and
people who are very poor, people who are homeless don`t call themselves
that. They don`t realize that they`re poor. They won`t call themselves
homeless. They`ll say they`re still looking for a house.
So, even they don`t always recognize it. And I think that`s a big hurdle.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think for me the other thing that is critical in your
take, Sasha, and important as we move forward, is the number of people who
are working and poor. Just looking at SNAP households, those who are
getting the supplemental nutritional benefits, these are with working age,
nondisabled adults, they have a high work rate. So, those employed within
the past year 87 percent of households where people receive SNAP assistance
have people who have worked in the past year.
You know, this idea that people can, in fact, be in poverty potentially
even be homeless and yet be workers, that does feel like a violation of the
PURVIS: It absolutely is. And I think that for so much of this it`s
important that we all understand that typically what we`re hearing are just
a bunch of notes that are built on like a mountain of myths. It just
simply is not true. And on some levels, it also makes us all feel a little
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, because why do we have to shame other people so we feel
about the decisions that we`ve made?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least that`s not me.
PURVIS: Let me tell you something -- average American does not have enough
savings to ensure that SNAP, homelessness is not necessarily in your
future. You don`t know that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, you`re one illness, one divorce away from --
PURVIS: One missed child support payment.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right.
PURVIS: Happens a lot to women, from being in line at a pantry in a
HARRIS-PERRY: But, Sasha, your book also focuses clearly on some
solutions. When you look at the kinds of policies that we see affecting
the homeless or the congressional policies around nutritional assistance,
what do you see as some of our key solutions?
ABRAMSKY: Well, I think -- first of all, it`s important to broaden the
conversation. If we just think about it as poverty, we`re in a sense
truncating the discussion because this is a crisis triggered not by lack of
resources but by a stunning change in the way our economy and our society
functions. It`s about the rise of a level of inequality that hasn`t been
tolerated in this country for a century.
So we`ve had a tremendous amount of resources flow up the process and at
the same time a tremendous amount of resources taken away from people at
the bottom of the economic ladder. So if we`re going to have solutions --
first of all, we have to have political discussion about what levels of
inequality are appropriate in a democracy.
But then in terms of specifics, for housing, for example, a lot of people
lost their houses because of the mortgage crisis about four or five years
ago. One of the most interesting solutions that I encountered was
community credit unions in Boston and elsewhere, where they`re going in,
they`re buying the distressed properties back off of the banks, and then
they`re reselling them to homeowners at a more reasonable price with a more
reasonable mortgage, a really creative solution.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. In Richmond, California, they`re actually using
eminent domain to go in, take these properties t not for the purpose of
putting up commercial properties but in fact to sell them back to --
ABRAMSKY: That`s right. You know, it makes me sort of wonder when I hear
Republican leadership in Congress spending all this energy beating up on
poor people, beating up on people on food stamps, belting up on people who
are trying to get health care. How about putting that same energy into a
federal program to maybe buy back distressed properties and use them like
the federal government to creatively keep people in housing?
ABRAMSKY: How about using the might of the federal government to find ways
to get low-income kids fed properly instead of find weighs to take them
away and to criminalize their poverty? Lots of things that can be done,
but the effort is not there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right with us because there`s one more story I want to
When we come back, there is one more group and it`s not group who you might
think whose life expectancy is going down. That`s according to a report by
one of my guests. And we`re going to tell you which group that is, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: The conversation around those living below the poverty line
often centers around communities of color. Yet, a new article from "The
American Prospect" entitled "What`s Killing Poor White Women?" shows that
poverty is color blind and questions that on the rise for the morality for
-- the mortality for poor uneducated white women.
The article cites a study on longevity conducted by a team of researchers
at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and one of their key findings is
that over the past 18 years. life expectancy for white women who don`t
graduate from high school has decreased by five years. That means they`re
dying earlier than the generation before them.
The cause for this? No one knows for certain. But one thing is for sure.
Living in poverty with a lack of access to health care, quality education,
and living wages certainly isn`t helping.
I just found the piece riveting in part because it does challenge our
expectation that the question of poverty and even of premature death is
primarily racialized towards blackness and brownness. What did you learn
in writing this piece and researching it?
POTTS: Sure. You know, I spent a lot of time in Arkansas and one of the
things I learned was that, you know, this is a community in which people
don`t think of themselves as poor. They don`t think of themselves as
needing to sort of gather together to talk about what`s happening to them.
And so, they`re really just devastated. There`s really -- there are no
jobs in these areas. The women especially are isolated from other women.
They`re isolated from people who aren`t their families and they spend most
of their lives as caregivers.
So, that`s what I learned. But by and large, for every member of every
group of -- every member of every group and every race that doesn`t
graduate from high school, the past 18 years have been devastating. There
are no jobs for them. The jobs available to them don`t pay very well.
They`re really not worth it. They don`t provide a ladder into the middle
And something about that, something about really not having hope for your
own future maybe shortening your life span.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Dorian, I feel like that story, that story about
decreasing life spans among white women who haven`t finished high school,
often therefore living in poverty, and this story about a great shift in
our economy ought to also then be this story about well, and so now our
politics begins to change because there will be cross racial alliances that
are economically based and the great class-based movement that we have
never seen in the U.S. will emerge, and yet when you say, oh, yes, I was --
I keep thinking, yes, and they don`t -- and quite folks and black folks and
Latinos who are living in poverty don`t necessarily see and aren`t capable
of building those alliances together.
Are there some sort of solutions politically?
WARREN: Again, I think this is a key moment, it`s a key organizing moment
that we have to take advantage of. Sasha`s right. This is not unrelated
from inequality. And we learned this week that in 2012, the top 10 percent
of Americans took home 50 percent of national income, the highest ever
recorded in our history.
That is not inevitable. Poverty is not inevitable. Homeless is not
inevitable, even though people internalize it as if it`s out there -- some
forces are acting on me and I can`t do anything about it.
And so, the politics has to be first a conversation that, no, actually we
can. I just saw this great film --
HARRIS-PERRY: No, actually, we can.
WARREN: We can change it. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has this
new film coming out called "Inequality For All," and he makes the point
that the economy is nothing but a bunch of rules that we write.
And if it really is a bunch of rules we write, we can rewrite those rules
to take the economy different, to make it work for everyone, to make a
difference, right? We can create something different.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s not just the thing --
WARREN: Inequality kills. That`s what we`re learning. Are we going to
tolerate that as a society?
Or can we organize people to understand, no, you have a voice in how we
write the rules of the economy and how we write the rules of our democracy?
And we can actually extend people`s lives, not decrease them.
ABRAMSKY: Can I jump in? This discussion of inequality is about tied in
with a discussion about scarcity. For many years a part of the political
process is we can`t afford to help the poor, we can`t afford houses --
Now, the analogy that they`re using is Greece. We`re like Greece. We`re
Well, we`re not. Greece is -- every dollar that Greece spend is borrowing
from the European Union, the monetary fund and so on. We`ve got loads of
money and loads of resources in this country. We`re the wealthiest country
in the world.
What we don`t have the political will to use those resources effectively to
create these programs.
So, we`re not a country suffering from a disease like cancer that`s
corroding us from within. We`re suffering from anorexia. We`re choosing
to self-starve our public infrastructure. That`s a crazy way of doing
politics because it makes for a crazy way of doing economics, and millions
of people suffer.
HARRIS-PERRY: I actually think we`re not even quite anorexic, so much as
it is that we`re bulimic because we gorge and overfeed, for example, the
very top, right? This is your point about inequality.
Part of the inequality isn`t sort of because there was this group of people
who were working harder, right? It`s because we created a set of policies
that gorge one group and starve the other.
POTTS: It starts -- 80 percent of the public now, 80 percent of adults now
will spend some of their lives food insecure or jobless or poor and relying
public assistance. So it`s really widespread now. The bottom half is more
than half. And so, that`s another thing that maybe the more that happens
the more people will realize there are political solutions.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet somehow that claim, that sort of -- the more
devastating the inequality, the more likely people will be to rise up does
seem to counter the empirical reality of the world in which, in fact,
people live under crushing poverty in much -- I wonder if there`s a
particular aspect, for example, via the American narrative and the belief
that Americans are supposed to be class mobile that might provide sort of a
basis for that organizing.
WARREN: The interesting thing about the article, because if you think
about the regions where you interviewed people, you think about the data
that show that it`s especially in the South and in many rural areas, you
map that onto the decline in social mobility and we know it`s in South and
particular region where is you have less of a chance of moving from the
poor working class to the middle class, you combine all that, that`s a very
powerful set of facts right now -- lower likelihood of moving up to the
middle class, higher likelihood of premature death.
Again, these are choices we have made to structure our economy and our
politics a certain way, and because they`re choices we`ve made, we can make
different choices --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, we don`t have to vote in Republican governors who
refuse to bring up -- you know, set up Obamacare exchanges and take the
Medicaid expansion. You could make a different choice.
Margarette Purvis, Sasha Abramsky, Dorian Warren, and Monica Potts, thank
you for being here.
And now, here`s a fun fact. Tomorrow is the first day of National Hispanic
Heritage Month. I know it`s the middle of the month. It doesn`t start
until the middle of September. It goes until the middle of October.
In honor of that, we`ve got a foot soldier of the week.
HARRIS-PERRY: This morning, we`ve been talking about the growing
challenges facing the poor. And in a new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal"
poll, we learned that 39 percent of people who describe themselves as poor
working class say they don`t expect to make it into the middle class within
the next five to seven years. Not only are some people losing ground, they
are losing hope. And that`s why this week`s food soldier is someone who is
trying to turn that around, instead of getting depressed over statistics,
she got busy.
Our foot solder this week is Rosie Molinary. In 2007, while touring the
country to promote her book, "Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image and
Growing Up Latina," Rosie was able to speak to dozens of Latinas in high
school. And she found they had big dreams of attending college or becoming
professionals but lacked support to make their dreams come true.
She was also mindful of the daunting statistic that more than half of
Latino children do not graduate from high school.
That`s why in 2008, Rosie founded Circle de Luz, which is Spanish for
light. The group begins working with Latinas in seventh grade and follows
them through high school graduation.
The girls are chosen through teacher nominations and interviews, and upon
graduation they receive a $5,000 scholarship. The funds are raised by a
group of women who are willing to contribute at least $100,000 a year for
each year that the girls are in the program. It`s by growing a circle -- a
giving circle of women for women.
But the girls get something much more valuable than just the money. They
also get a lifeline in the form of mentors who not only provide academic
support but also try to expose the girls to as many new opportunities as
possible -- from the arts and culture, to life skills like cooking,
nutrition, health and wellness and so much more. There are 15 girls
currently enrolled. At the end of October, they will add six more bringing
the total to 21 girls in the program.
And as we prepare to mark the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month
tomorrow, we salute the young women who are creating their own circles of
light. For being a beacon of hope, Rosie Molinary is our foot soldier of
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going
to see you tomorrow 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Soledad O`Brien is going to sit at
the panel here in Nerdland. I`m so excited.
We`re going to have a show focused on anniversaries -- the five-year
anniversary of the collapse of Lehman and the 50th anniversary of the
bombing in Birmingham. Now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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