September 22, 2013
Guest: Lisa Cook, Tamara Draut, Diane Brady, Matt Welch, Daniel Denvir,
Gordon Chang, Tony Corbo, James Baker, Sandra Baker, Khalil Muhammad, Tom
Wopat, Adepera Oduye
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: First, scores dead, hundreds injured,
and a terrifying situation still unfolding in Nairobi, Kenya.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
We begin with the breaking news still underway in Nairobi, Kenya. More
than 24 hours after a deadly hostage standoff began at a crowded luxury
mall, masked gunmen linked to Islamist militant group are still holed up in
the building. At least 59 people are reported dead and 175 others injured.
Four Americans are among those hurt. A North Carolina woman was inside the
mall at the time of the attack and described the scene.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENDITA MALAKIA, KENYA SHOOTING SURVIVOR: You could hear, while we were
back there, them methodically going from store to store, talking to people,
asking questions, shooting, screams, and then it would stop for a while,
and then it would go to another store.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group based in neighboring
Somalia is claiming responsibility for the attack. They say it is revenge
for the Kenya`s crackdown on the group in Somalia which began two years
ago. Al-Shabaab has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and has been linked to
other violence in eastern, Kenya. But that is their most brazen attack
NBC`s Ron Allen joins us now by phone from Nairobi with the latest.
Ron, are you there?
RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Yes, I am, Melissa. How
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, it is a tough morning in terms with that news. Tell
me what the situation and the scene is there in Nairobi.
ALLEN: Well, at the moment, it does not feel like something that is coming
to an end. It feels like something that is more or less a stalemate to
some extent. The tell was because of death toll jumped to 59 and the
number of injured jumped to 175. And beyond that, it`s really hard to get
a real clear assessment of what`s actually happening inside the mall. We
believe that there are anywhere from 10 to 15 gunman who are still the. We
believe they have as many as 30 or more hostages. There are reports that
they are confined to one area of the mall, perhaps an area near a
supermarket, which is one of the largest stores in the mall.
This morning, there were reports from neighbors in the area hearing the
barrages of gunfire. People have been moved back. We were moved back
several hundred yards from the entrance to the mall. It`s a huge thing.
You know, four stories. The authorities say they have evacuated more than
a thousand people to safety during the past 24 hours as this situation has
But at this point, it appears to be an enduring situation. The question is
how patient will authorities be. Will they try to push forward. Will the
militants holding hostages make demands? There`s not a lot of
communication at this moment. Night is about to fall here. And it appears
that we`re about to go in another cycle of this overnight.
But again, the government is trying to send off the message. They say they
have the situation under control, but it`s really unclear what exactly is
going on. And there are scores of people from this community who are
waiting for word for people who are not accounted for. Again, a number
that`s not easily discernible, but a significant number, nonetheless.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ron Allen, clearly, a continuing situation. Thank you for
joining us from Nairobi and stay safe and thank you for reporting for us.
ALLEN: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: For more on the standoff and the group that is claiming
responsibility, I would like to turn now to NBC terrorism analyst, Roger
Cressey, who joins me from Washington.
Nice to see you this morning.
ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: You too, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, tell me a little about this group, Shabaab? Who are
they and what is their goal?
CRESSEY: Well, al-Shabaab is an out core (ph) of the Somali civil war.
They were the military wing of the Islamic courts. That took over parts of
Somalia, central and south Somalia on the 2006/2007 time frame. And it is
the thing to understand about that, this is very clan-based. It is very
Somalia focused in terms of its origins and what most of their objectives
are. There is a lot of rivalry within the movement. There are leadership
changes. And what they try to do is they have tried to take over Somalia
and turn it into an Islamic state. Neighboring countries, principally
Ethiopia and Kenya, working with the United States and others, have done
everything they can to defeat them. There`s a U.N. presence inside Somalia
right now as well working with the transitional government, trying to
maintain some sense of stability.
Al-Shabaab had control of southern Somalia for some time and Kenya launched
a military offensive about a year and a half ago and liberated a southern
port town of Kismayo (ph) from al-Shabaab. And ever since then, al-Shabaab
has pledged that they were going to retaliate for it. And what we have
seen at the mall at Westgate could be the result of that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, speaking of mall (INAUDIBLE), I want to talk about
that and how this might be part of the strategic efforts here, of al-
Shabaab. Because this is a mall -- I think we need to understand, this is
where many people gather. It`s a social space. Some of the people`s names
we have already begun to hear, who have passed away as a result of this, or
people who are very high-level, you know, individuals. Can you give me a
sense of whether or not attacking this mall is particular to the goals of
CRESSEY: Well, the Kenya/Somalia border has been porous for years, as well
as the (INAUDIBLE) in the maritime border. So the Kenyans have been trying
to figure out how do we contain al-Shabaab inside Somalia and do not allow
them to come in. And what al-Shabaab has tried to do is, attack targets
that really inflict tremendous pain on the government of Kenya as well as
loss of life. And this type of mall where expats go, where the upper
middle class Kenyans go. There`s a particular symbol to that. If we`re
killing Kenyans as well as expats in this type of facility, we`re sending a
message, which is we are going after the foreign population. Tourism is
the second largest source of income for the Kenyan government. And
obviously, it`s a tremendous attack against the prestige and capability and
confidence of the Kenyan government. Those are the two main objectives
that al-Shabaab is trying to accomplish.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, is there something for the community to learn, either
about the issue of a soft target, like an upscale mall, or about this
group. I mean, is this group itself a threat beyond sort of its porous,
its neighbors where there are these porous boundaries. Is there something
we should know about al-Shabaab related to al-Qaeda in broader
CRESSEY: So first in the soft targets, it`s been a concern for decades
now. This is not new. It just merely reaffirms what many in the
counterterrorism community have always worried about. This is a highly
coordinated attack. They clearly have at least 12, maybe more gunmen. So,
they infiltrated into Kenya, they did reconnaissance on the target, and
then in a coordinated movement, attacked the target to inflict maximum
lost. So, soft targets remain a high priority here.
Al-Shabaab`s reach, there was some debate about that. Although they did
claim responsibility for a bombing in Uganda in 2010 during the World Cup
where over 70 people were killed and the relationship to al-Qaeda is pretty
simple which is their leadership pledge by either allegiance to al-Qaeda,
back in February of 2012. So there is a relationship there, members of al-
Shabaab have traveled to Afghanistan.
And Melissa, there`s also what I will call an axis of al-Qaeda concern,
where al-Qaeda in Yemen has worked closely with al-Qaeda in Somalia. They
train together. There is information exchange, tactics and techniques.
That area concerns U.S. officials. Does al-Shabaab have the ability to
project power and threats against the United States and the homeland?
Absolutely not. But Somalia Americans have gone to Somalia to fight within
the civil war for clan reasons motivated by their ancestral country and the
obligation they felt to support their local tribe.
The concern that law enforcement and counterterrorism officials have, is
that these individuals could ultimately come back to the United States and
if they so chose to, then plan and potentially launch to attacks here.
That hasn`t happened, and I don`t want to overemphasize that, but that is
in the back of the minds of the counterterrorism community.
Thank you, Roger Cressey in Washington this morning. We really appreciate
you being here and helping us to think a little bit more about this.
CRESSEY: You bet, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we are going to have updates for you throughout the day
on MSNBC about this still-developing situation in Nairobi. Also, there
will be continuing discussion of very new breaking fuse this morning about
75 in Pakistan killed in a suicide attack. There`s a lot of news. We will
continue to have that news here on MSNBC.
But when we come back, we are going to turn back to domestic news and why
the one percenters are having an especially good week.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, everyone. I have a confession to make. I like porn.
Specifically, I like one percenter porn and this week started off with a
bang. Bow chick a wow, wow. This is my kind of one percenter porn. It`s
the annual "Forbes" 400 list, which showcases the richest one percenters in
the world and it was announced on Monday. One percenters like cover model,
big daddy Warren Buffett, who is part of a group that is worth a record
$2.02 trillion. That amount is double from just a decade ago and is equal
to the economic output of Russia. And the minimum net worth for this
player`s club is $1.3 billion. That`s right. $1 billion doesn`t cut it.
But the cover isn`t nothing when you compare it to the centerfold. Yes.
Just look at those assets! They`re so bad and so good! The Walton`s
occupy, and I`m not kidding here, positions six through nine on the list
and are worth a combined $136 billion. And if the Walton`s money isn`t
sexy enough for you, surely their power is. And it was on display last
week when D.C. mayor Vincent Gray vetoed legislation for a living wage bill
aimed directly at Walton`s shopping (INAUDIBLE) Wal-Mart. So money, power,
So on Monday, I was ogling and ogling (ph) the one percenters and their
sexy cash, then came Tuesday. And on Tuesday, more economic numbers were
released. And Tuesday`s numbers conflicted with Monday`s one percenter
According to the U.S. census numbers, the picture is pretty bleak for
American households with medium income when adjusted for inflation down
nine percent from the high in 1999. And those numbers for the poor weren`t
that much better, since the poverty rate held steady at 15 percent, since
last year, unchanged from 2011.
So, when I was having a tough time reconciling Monday`s happy news numbers
for the one percenters with Tuesday`s bleak new numbers for the rest of the
American people, so on Wednesday, it was back to happiness for the richest
among us. The Federal Reserve announced it would continue buying bonds at
$85 billion a month to stimulate the economy. That news sent stocks
soaring. The Dow rose one percent and closed at a record high of 15,676
points. The S&P 500 went to 1.2 percent to close at a record high of 1,725
points. So, yes for the one percenters who already had a lot of money on
Monday to begin with.
So I guess the argument can be made that it helps the overall economy. But
maybe not, since even more numbers on Thursday basically screwed up the
whole week for me and may have very well cured my one percenter porn
addiction, at least on that day. Because on Thursday, the house
Republicans led by Congressman Eric Cantor voted to make it harder for the
people most in need to be able to eat, by ripping a giant hole in the
safety net. By a vote of 217-210, the house passed the nutrition reform
and work opportunity act that would cut $39 billion from the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP over the next decade. That plan would
eliminate SNAP benefits for four million to six million low-income people.
And then there were Friday`s numbers. Thousands of people standing in line
for hours for the chance to spend hundreds of dollars to get Apple`s new
iphone, 5s and 5c. An estimated five to eight million phones will be sold
before the weekend is over.
So, OK, let`s get this straight. While four to six million Americans now
have to worry more than ever about how they will be able to afford food,
those of us who have the privilege to do so are ling up for a phone, which
many of us, let`s face it, already have, but we still wanted to spend $400
to upgrade it to the smaller, shinier, newer version.
Yes, this week has made it more clear than ever that we are, in fact,
living in at least two different Americas where the haves have increasingly
more, and the middle class and the poor have the odds stacked against them
and the whole damn thing is rigged like they ever before.
At the table, Matt Welch, editor in-chief of "Reason" magazine, Tamara
Draut, vice president of policy and research at Demos, Diane Brady, senior
editor at "Bloomberg Business Week" and Lisa Cook, assistant professor of
economic and international relations at Michigan State University.
Thank you all for being here this morning.
So Tamara, I really do, I have sort of a thing with the "Forbes," because
I`m just so fascinated by the idea of what that kind of wealth is. But
this inequality that I talked about this week, that we saw so clearly in
the news this week didn`t just happen, right? It`s a result of policy,
right? What are those policies?
TAMARA DRAUT, VICE PRESIDENT OF POLICY AND RESEARCH, DEMOS: Whole slew of
policies. We have been on sort of a three-decade binge of creating
policies that by and large, as you said, stack the deck towards the
wealthiest, towards corporate interests, and leave everybody else behind.
And I think there are three or four key ones. One, the minimum wage, you
know. When you think about economic inequality, you also have to think
about political inequality. Because what happens is, as the wealthy
capture more money, they also leverage that money into stacking the deck.
And the greatest example of that is, we have only raised the minimum wage
three times in three decades. Contrast that with what we`ve done with
capital gains tax. We have cut capital gains taxes three times in a span
of six years. It`s incredible to think about that. So play that out.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Just that, right, just that notion of cutting capital
gains three times in six years and raising the minimum wage only three
times in 30 years is a dramatic kind of difference.
But let me ask you this, Lisa, because one of the things that was
surprising to me, on the one hand, it seems like we have this growing
inequality. But I`m also shocked by the persistent nature of certain kinds
of inequality, particularly at the middle. So, we were looking at that
median income chart by race, which came out as part of the census report.
And the stunning thing for me, there`s a lot of lines the there, but the
really stunning the thing is the extent to which it goes up, goes down, but
the gap in median household incomes in race is the same from about 1967 to
now. How is that possible?
LISA COOK, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: You know, we`re
astounded by it. And I know the White House is quite worried about it. We
were worried about it when I was at the council of economic advisers. But
there`s no answer to that. I was certainly reviewing the data from the
last 50 years, from 1963 to the present for African-Americans, and we are
right where we were before, and it is astounding that that`s the case.
Because education had increased, all the things that you think would
augment this have not done anything. And I think that the median income
has, you know, converged a lot, up to the late 1970s, after World War II,
and then it just exploded after the 1970s. So in addition to policy, it`s
technical change, skill-based technical change, it`s globalization, it`s
So, that`s declined over this period. Sometimes you see that as
guaranteeing the floor. And there are a number of different factors. More
people participating in real estate and fans. All of these drive these
inequalities. So African-Americans may not have access, for example, to
the jobs in finance and real estate. May not have access to skill-based
there will change jobs. This is probably where we`re finding this gap.
DIANE BRADY, SENIOR EDITOR, BLOOMBERG BUSINESS WEEK: I think one of the
things that`s interesting, where you`re seeing shrinking in the public
sector, and that is going to be place of opportunity. I think for
minorities one factor. And how you make it today is often
entrepreneurialism. And so, then you get into the access to loans and
finance. And I think so, a lot of those factors have really worked against
African-Americans in terms of job growth.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask you about what we should be most worried
about, as we look at sort of all of these data that we have seen this week.
Should we be most concerned about floors, about gaps, or about mobility,
right? Because those all seem to me to be three different kinds of
measures of the health of where we are.
BRADY: Well, and I think you can`t just have one solution, but clearly,
the fact that we have not addressed the minimum wage is important. But I
think, also, education is critical, because I think of one example where a
job-sharing program, a friend of mine, a girl who was 16 said she wanted to
be a teacher, and she said, what college are you going to go to? And she
said, I have to go to college?
This girl had to idea that college was a critical step in the same way high
school was a critical step, maybe a hundred years ago. We need to make
education a bigger priority, more flexible, more of a lifetime commitment,
and also not so expensive.
HARRIS-PERRY: Matt, I want you to weigh in a little bit here. Because,
you know, all of the ladies at table thus far have suggested a certain
amount of government engagement here in order to address both that
government engagement helped to create these inequalities, and that, for
example, tinkering with the minimum wage, increasing it might make a
difference. But I feel like the reason readers who are viewing would say,
wait a minute, you have got to stay out of tinkering with this.
MATT WELCH, EDITOR IN-CHIEF, REASON MAGAZINE: Well, I mean, one thing to
look at is, you talk about 1967 being a period from which we haven`t really
changed much, we had the great society in the mid-60s. So it might be a
time to revisit the great society work, which is really a place that makes
a lot of people nervous to revisit. But some of the interventions we`ve
seen over the past 40 years haven`t produced the promised result.
If you look at when the lower quintile did best, it was under Bill
Clinton`s second term. What happened to under Bill Clinton`s second term,
among other things, government was about after the size it is now. It was
$1.8 trillion, was his last budget. He balanced the budget. And suddenly,
people started moving.
What we should be concerned about, in my view, is not, you know, this plate
of fruit? Right, the one percent has this much of this fruit. Income is
now and wealth is not a plate, right? It`s a dynamic, grow thing. So,
what we should be focused on, like a laser beam, is mobility. And the
question is, OK, 40 years ago, if you were in the bottom 20 percent, you
had a one percent chance of moving up, right? Right now it`s 57 percent,
so it`s better, which is contrary to a lot of people`s headlines. But I
think we all agree, that`s not nearly enough. So what can we do to remove
barriers to , a lot of which come in the form of government intervention.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to take a quick break and I`m going to let both
Lisa and Tamara beat you up as soon as we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s be clear. I`m not mad at folks for making big money.
But I am worried when those who have the big money show very little concern
for those who don`t. And right now the people tasked with ensuring that
everyone is playing on a level field are overwhelming rich.
Based on data compiled by opensecrets.org in 2011, the total net worth of
all members of the U.S. Congress was about $4 billion. Just about half of
the members of the U.S. Congress are millionaires. 2010 media net worth of
a Republican in the House of Representatives was $843,250. Democrats came
in about $650,000. And on Thursday, 217 Republicans in the house joined by
not a single Democrat voted to cut SNAP, the Supplemental Nutritional
Assistance Program, by $39 billion over the next decade.
Now, I don`t know about you, but it`s concerning to me that the people who
are voting to take food off of poor folks` tables are the one percenters of
So, this is the point you were making earlier about interconnection between
or this is part of the point about interconnection between inequality in
our economy and in our politics.
DRAUT: Yes, it`s astounding. And there were so many disturbing aspects to
the SNAP vote. The debate around it, you know, it felt like we were back
in welfare reform: language, same playbook.
You know, the distance between the one percent and everybody else has never
been greater. Either culturally, economically, you know, we are a
segregated society. We don`t run in -- so many of our Congress members
have no idea what it`s like to work two jobs or commute for an hour and a
half to go check out, you know, to be a cashier at Wal-Mart.
HARRIS-PERRY: But theoretically, they could, right? The theory of an
American democracy is that you represent a geographic constituency, that
will have rich people, middle income people and poor people, and the part
of what you supposed to do when you go (INAUDIBLE) is you, in fact, sit
down and you talk with your constituent who tell you, this is what it`s
like to be living in poverty.
COOK: And democracy, I think, is an excellent thing to bring up. Because
you were mentioning that this is a -- what was happening during the Clinton
period, this was a period of low government intervention. And in fact, it
was a -- the longest expansion we would had in recent economic history.
And a rising tide was lifting all boats. So what you get to worry about or
what you should worry about is intergenerational mobility. I certainly
agree with you there. And what we worry about with inequality is something
happening like what happened after the German hyperinflation, or going down
the path of Zimbabwe, where you had extremes of wealth and a constant
fraying of the social fabric. So, I think that`s what we really have to
worry about, and we need to worry about it for now and we need to worry
about it for later.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I want to take a look at the poverty rates here and
just, because this is part of it, right?. So we have -- your point is, OK,
I don`t care if the rich get the whole, you know, plate of food, because we
could grow the plate of food. But those poverty rates, you know again,
clearly, a big high at a point before government intervention, right? So
that intervention there is about the creation of the social safety net.
You asked the question about whether or not, you know, the great society
works. It certainly works to lift people out of poverty. But then it
starts kind of flat lining, not with the great society, but afterward, at
the point which we begin to dismantle the great society program.
WELCH: Well, let`s think about right now with what`s happening with the
employment situation. You cannot fix the income inequality gap if the is
your goal if there are not jobs out there. We have a lower percentage of
Americans employed now than we have had in 30 years. The economy has
consistently undershot projections, hopes, fears, recoveries, and what not.
So you have to have economic policies that create conditions for there to
be jobs. We haven`t done that. That`s as usual.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. I`m down with on that. So, let`s take a moment and
listen to Eric Cantor during the SNAP vote because it think it ties that to
what you have just said. Let`s listen to Eric Cantor for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: The truth is, anyone
subjected to the work requirements under this bill, who are able-bodied
under 50, will only -- will not be denied benefits if only they are willing
to sign up for the opportunity for work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, so, there isn`t work! Your point is, there are, in fact,
an insufficient number of jobs. In the meantime, while we don`t have
enough jobs, we have Republican leaders saying to us, you better work or
else you can`t eat. This is madness.
BRADY: The government does not create jobs.
HARRIS-PERRY: It can!
BRADY: Well, they can, but you have to create conditions and real
incentives for private sector to create jobs. And I think one of the
things that`s missing from the conversation right now is globalization and
the impact that`s had on American workers. Because now we`re not just
competing with each other, we`re competing with China, competing with --
HARRIS-PERRY: But globalization should not create a situation where
teachers are laid off, where firemen are laid off. In fact, globalization
ought to increase the number of teachers and firemen and all those things
in our -- and as you pointed out before, it`s been public sector shrinkage
that has created an ongoing --
BRADY: And it`s putting your resources in places like teachers, so you
have got the flexibility of the workforce.
When you`re talking about mobility, one of the things that stopped the last
income gap that shrunk it, was the fact that Americans were moving around
the country, like no other country on earth will move to where the jobs
are. Now, do we have the ability to move between sectors? For that you
need support --
WELCH: Or just move --
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right with me, because we are going to go this question
of teachers and education. Because we are going to take a quick break.
But as soon as we come back, I`m going to hone in on how these trends are
growing equality are being felt in a very real, concrete upfront way in
Philadelphia in the schools.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have been talking about how the haves have even more
while the rest of America is left with much less. Nowhere is that reality
more tangible than in Philadelphia for students, teachers, and guidance
In May, we saw the bravery of thousands of Philadelphia students as they
walked out of class to protest against severe budget cuts to their
education, including ending arts and music programs and cutting librarians
Fast forward to now where this is a reality for Philadelphia public school
students. Twenty-three schools have been closed. Nearly 4,000 teachers
and other support staff were laid off over the summer. That includes all
270 school counselors in the district, though 1,000 employees were hired
back, including 126 counselors.
In Philadelphia, it`s not even about other having bore, it is about asking
teachers to teach and students to learn with a whole lot less.
Joining me now from Philadelphia is Daniel Denvir, contributor to "the
Guardian" and a reporter at the Philadelphia city paper, where he`s been
reporting on his city`s education crisis.
Nice to have you, Daniel.
DANIEL DENVIR, REPORTER, CONTRIBUTOR, THE GUARDIAN: Thanks, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I mean, -- yes, please.
DENVIR: The so-called doomsday budget, it`s now a reality in Philadelphia.
We have reports of class sizes of up to 40, one nurse for 1,500 students:
Arts, libraries, music, decimated. And a single itinerant guidance
counselor responsible for eight schools and 2,800 students. It`s a
HARRIS-PERRY: Look. I mean, I want to play just for a moment, President
Obama during his second inaugural, said that we should measure our country
by what happens to a poor child in this country. So let`s listen for one
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are true to our creed
when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the
same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American. She is
free. And she is equal, not just in the eyes of God, but also in our own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, how are we measuring up, if that`s the standard by which
we ought to be measuring ourselves as a nation?
DENVIR: Well, Republicans like our governor, Tom Corbett, see this as some
abstract philosophical debate over the role of government, of society. But
these are some of the poorest, most marginalized children in the United
States. And their public school system is being sacrificed on the altar of
the most mean-spirited, anti-poor people in politics. It`s outrageous.
HARRIS-PERRY: Daniel, I want to come out to our panel for a minute.
Because before we went, we had this conversation about government doesn`t
create jobs, but it does create these jobs, right? Guidance counselors and
teachers work for local government. And the idea, as we were saying, that
we as taxpayers are underwriting the billionaire, Walton`s because they
don`t pay their employees enough to not have these food subsidies. But we
are not underwriting the education of poor children to generate the kind of
mobility that, Matt, you said is key. This seems criminal to me.
COOK: So the resources being shifted to Paris and being shifted to local
communities. So, you know, educate yourself. If there`s one person, one
guidance counselor for 2,800 kids, that`s absolutely ridiculous. So this
goes back to your commercial in terms of food and helping children to
develop. I don`t want to teach these dumb kids that a SNAP cut is going to
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because they`re going to be hungry.
COOK: They are going to be hungry and we have a lot of research now, using
randomized experiments that show that kids and people have lower IQs when
they are hungry. So, and we have seen this in many places around the
world. Their IQs are going to be lower. Are we prepared to subsidize them
20 or 30 years from now? I`m not prepared to teach them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Daniel, you have been on that because you have also been, in
your reporting, doing a lot of work around gun violence. And it does feels
to me, we were talking about this on the show yesterday, that these
questions of poverty, of a lack of sense of mobility that would be provided
by good schools, and then now what would be increased hunger in these
communities is also connected to urban violence.
DENVIR: Yes. I mean, that ties in a number of ways. First of all, you
have Philadelphia of one of the highest rates of gun violence than any
major city in the country. So, you have students who are losing friends
and family members to gun violence in the Philadelphia school district,
with great frequency, and they will have no school guidance counselors to
And in the long run, the way a lot of students and people in Philadelphia
are seeing it as a question of priority and government spending. Our state
is currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars to construct a new
prison just outside of Philadelphia. And whatever the reasons for that
are, it`s very difficult for people in Philadelphia to not feel like that
prison is being constructed for students that they know will fail and that
they have let down.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, these are the students that Lisa is talking
about here. If their IQ comes down, if they are already dealing with
difficult circumstances, if they`re coping with PTSD that comes from living
in violent communities, we know how we will subsidize them. We will
subsidize them through the jails.
BRADY: You know, you talked at one point about the lineups outside the
Apple stores this week. And I sometimes think about, what if we put a
tablet, does not have to Apple, a tablet in the hands of every poor kid?
Because that is something -- we have not seen a lot of innovation in the
school system. You think about, we talk about food, but I also think about
the importance of getting technology, some of these online courses.
There`s so much innovation we could be outing into innovation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Don`t get me wrong. I`m down with tablets. But my biggest
concern, there are books in these schools. If I could put a book in every
kid`s hand, I would be really excited.
BRADY: But the reality of what`s happening with, you know, budgets right
now. So, how do we make the education system more accessible. And I think
for us, we are ignoring the poorest kids, we are ignoring them on multiple
levels, I think.
WELCH: But we`re not spending less money on them. Per-student spending on
education, K-12 in this country has gone up, adjusted inflation by 2 1/2
times, 40 years, while results have been like this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Granted. But you and I have had this debate before about
all of the invisible spending that is happening for middle class and
wealthy kids, but parents are subsidizing it, right? So that spending is
happening in the summer programs and in the, buying the tablets, and you
know, providing the guidance counseling, that wealthy and middle class
parents can do. It`s not really true that they`re getting an education
that costs the same, because it`s just being subsidized from the private
WELCH: Yes. But why are we getting such worse results for so much more
money? That`s a question and it`s a structural question. And, I mean, I
think it`s inaccurate to say that people who critique this don`t care about
poor kids. Actually, they are focused on it like laser beam. They have
different ideas than teachers` unions do about how to deliver those
HARRIS-PERRY: Daniel, I`m going to give you the last word on this.
DENVIR: It is a structural problem. But the gentleman from "Reason" has
the nature of that structural problem entirely wrong. For the past ten
years, the Philadelphia school district, one of, you know, the poorest,
segregated district has been a laboratory for all of these sorts of free
market reforms. Every student who attends a charter school in this city,
which a third of the district, costs the district $7,000. Even then, you
know, the state-controlled school reform commissions own superintendent
acknowledges that charters are bleeding the school district dry, even
though they have completely mixed performance results and are rife with
corruption. I mean, Philadelphia is ground zero for corporate reform
experimentation. It has failed.
HARRIS-PERRY: I challenge you that New Orleans is, in fact, ground zero.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, but, listen, Daniel, we`re going to stay on exactly
these issues. And coming up in about two weeks, I`m going to do my student
town hall. We are going to have some young people from Philadelphia.
Thank you for your continued reporting.
And when it comes to politics, this may be an off year for elections, but
that doesn`t mean that there isn`t a very well-orchestrated and very loud
campaign going on. What all the Yellen is about, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you thought you wouldn`t have to deal with another hard-
core campaign season until the 2014 midterms, think again. On Sunday,
former U.S. treasury secretary Larry Summers called his buddy, President
Barack Obama with some bad news. Summers withdrew his name for
consideration for the position as Federal Reserve chairman.
Now, when this news was revealed to the world, the markets said, amen! On
Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average shot up almost 118 points and
Standard & Poor`s was up 9.62 points. While the celebration was partly
over Summers` departure from consideration, it was also over who that left
the door open for. And many in Washington, D.C., are yelling for Yellen!
Janet Yellen, if you please.
Senate Democrats were campaigning for her to be fed chair as early as July,
when about a third of them signed a letter not only praising Yellen, but
urging President Obama to nominate her.
The fed chair is one of the most important nominations the president will
make. It`s a nomination that matters to all of us, because the fed chair
is the most influential voice on the committee that could either speed up
or slow down U.S. economic growth. And because Yellen offers a prospect of
continuity from fed chair Ben Bernanke`s reign, which includes stimulus-
oriented policy, that makes those who already have very, very happy.
So coming up, more on why the campaign to nominate Janet Yellen is
important for the economy and history.
HARRIS-PERRY: So now that Larry Summers took himself out of the way, the
campaign to get Janet Yellen nominated as the fed chair is on.
According to "The New York Times," on Thursday, even the White House joined
the campaign by calling senators on Capitol Hill, telling them to get ready
to defend Yellen if she is, in fact, the president`s pick and comes under
attack. If nominated, Yellen`s odds of confirmation should be strong,
given that she already serves as vice chair of the board of governors of
the fed. But, hey, you know, you just don`t ever know with a recovering
economy and congressional obstructionism. And one thing is for sure.
We`re about to learn a whole lot more about who Janet Yellen is.
So what do you all think about Miss Yellen?
COOK: She a brilliant economist. And as a macroeconomist, there are too
few of us. And she`s made it to the top. She has done everything right.
She should be the next fed chair.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you`re not just speaking sort of randomly, you have some
experience with her as a student, is that right, or as a colleague?
DRAUT: She was at Berkeley. Her husband, who is George Ackalof (ph), who
was my first macro professor at Berkeley. And I know her from my
interaction at the White House. And she holds her on in international
settings. So this whole notion of her not having enough gravitas, I think,
is absolutely outrageous.
She has done everything she could to be prepared for -- or anybody could,
to be prepared for this position. So I think she should be the next fed
chair. And I think it`s monumental, it`s absolutely criminal that a
developed country like the U.S. does not yet have a woman at the helm.
It`s only Russia -- we`re behind Russia, again! So we need to stop doing
that. We need to get on board and make sure that she is the next --
BRADY: And I don`t think the fact that she`s a woman is really the issue,
too. I think it is the fact that she`s been a brilliant forecaster, and
she is respected. And this is a job have every eyebrow raised, people read
the tea leaves and say, what`s the central banker think?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, that`s right. And this was the cover of politico this
morning, the lead story, is this question that Yellen getting confirmed may
be much less important or much less difficult than what she`s going to face
once she gets there. In part because every hiccup of the fed chair impacts
DRAUT: Yes. And there`s two other things I really like about Yellen.
One, she has never worked on Wall Street. And two, she has really been On
the Record as seeing the need for more banking regulation. And I think
that`s critical, as we`re still dealing with the fallout of the financial
crisis that we get somebody in this chair that understands that we need
HARRIS-PERRY: So if we connect back to our earlier conversation about
poverty and equality, does the fed chair have any impact on those big
COOK: It does, because of its dual mandate. So, it`s supposed to minimize
unemployment and supposed to make sure that inflation rates are low. She`s
thought a lot about unemployment. And I think many people have talked
about her knowing the human side. I`m not sure I actually like that.
Because, you know, women and economics are supposed to know the human side.
DRAUT: Soft and friendly.
COOK: So, she may as well be a home economist. So, I mean, it`s not
absolutely the same thing. But I think that when you have -- our last
conversation in Washington, my last conversation in Washington, when I was
at the White House, was with her. And I was grateful for that, because we
were talking about the outstanding agenda for economics and bringing that
back to policy. And she was asking some really deep questions that we have
to answer. And it wasn`t like she`s been a functionary, a bureaucrat.
You know, what are the right questions we should be asking? What are the
right data? We don`t have the right data to answer these questions. So we
went through the laundry list. I mean, this is a person who is thinking
deeply. And that`s what you want to have as a fed chair. And a person who
can act as well. She holds her own. She`s no shrinking violet.
WELCH: There`s a connection between what the Federal Reserve does,
obviously, and income inequality. There is an argument to be made that the
past five years, where we have been printing money, repeatedly, that is
effectively a wealth transfer and it`s in the wrong direction. Because it
gooses the stock market, it makes all of our savings. We have 10,000 in a
bank account, you`re to the getting any interest on that thing. But then
it goes to investment banks and everybody else and people who are invested
in the stock market. That`s the wrong direction, ultimately. And so, the
question would be, will she lean into that direction further, going
BRADY: But you have to be very careful, because I think so much of this
job is about confidence, and that`s one thing you have noticed. When a fed
chairman speaks out of turn, the markets can panic --
HARRIS-PERRY: We saw this with Bernanke, repeatedly.
BRADY: You did. And so, you need somebody who can convey confidence, who
actually seems to have a handle on where the economy is going. And you`re
right, can we keep printing money forever? Of course, we can`t. The
question is, how do you try to make it a soft landing?
HARRIS-PERRY: But I want to go a little bit more on this point that we
have no time. Because it does strike me as interesting that the markets
respond to her, and to the notion that she`s likely to be fed chair, by
moving up. But then progressives are also sort of celebrating, this -- and
I think somebody`s getting this wrong. Like, it can`t both be that this is
great for the haves and this is great for the have-nots, could it?
COOK: It could be. It need a better economy and more stable economy and
one that is not being goosed is one that could be better for all,
especially if economic growth means that all boats would be lifted.
Now, with income inequality, now, there`s a lot more that we have to pay
attention to. But that`s not the central bank`s job. What we`ve within
doing in the last five years is extraordinary! This should be fiscal
policy. There is the people who are across the way, the U.S. capital who
aren`t working and they should be the ones doing all of this.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you just made me believe that perhaps there doesn`t have
to be class warfare. We could just come up together.
Tamara Draut, thank you for joining us today.
Also, coming up, we are going to play chicken. Why chickens raised here in
the U.S. could soon be sent halfway around the world to China and then back
again before they make it to your table.
Plus, the right and wrong way to teach kids about slavery. You won`t
believe what some students are being put through.
There is, of course, more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-
Why did the chicken cross the Pacific Ocean? Well, to get to your dinner
plate, of course.
The United States Department of Agriculture recently decided to allow China
to export processed chicken products. In other words, your nuggets and
your patties to the U.S. for the first time, as long as the chickens are
raised and slaughtered in the U.S. or Canada first.
OK, so that trip is about 7,000 miles each way, measuring from Los Angeles
to Hong Kong, and will take at least two weeks each way by ship. Without
counting the time and miles the chicken takes to get from the top chicken
producing states in the southeast U.S. to Los Angeles, that`s a 14,000-
mile, one-month roundtrip minimum for chicken nuggets.
And yet, somehow, that is economically and politically feasible enough that
the USDA decided to accept China-processed poultry for the first time ever.
So I ask again, why did the chicken cross the sea?
Joining me now is Tony Corbo from Washington, D.C., a senior lobbyist for
the food campaign at Food and Water Watch, Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of
"Reason," Gordon Chang, columnist with Forbes.com and author of "The Coming
Collapse of China," Diane Brady, senior editor at "Bloomberg Businessweek,"
and Lisa Cook, assistant professor of Economics and International Relations
at Michigan State University.
Thanks to all of you for being here.
So let me start, Gordon, why does this make sense financially to send the
chickens around the world?
GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST, FORBES.COM: This doesn`t make sense financially
for the reasons you mentioned. And I think what`s happening here is that
essentially these four facilities in China are going to be buying some
American chicken. But they`re also going to be buying Chinese birds that
are smuggled through the back door.
CHANG: And if you want to hear about what`s happening in the Chinese food
chain, you just do not like this story.
Look, you know, Chinese chickens are raised in millions, literally millions
of farms across China, including, you know, in my parents` hometown. This
is not a good story because there is no control over this. And those are
going to end up in the United States. Because this is China, which has
really very little control over its food chain.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Tony, then tell me, what`s the politics here? Because
it seems, this is about beef, right? I mean, I just want to make sure that
folks understand that part of what`s going on here is our desire for that
market, and then sort of a back and forth that`s been going on for a
TONY CORBO, FOOD AND WATER WATCH: Yes. Thank you, Melissa, for having us
on. Yes. This goes back to December of 2003 when we had a case of mad
cow. Where one cow in Washington state was diagnosed with mad cow. And as
a consequence of that finding, a number of our export markets dried up.
They stopped importing beef for fear that our beef was contaminated with
And so -- and China was one of the countries that stopped importing our
beef. So in 2004, when the USDA started the slow and arduous process of
reopening our beef exports around the country -- around the world, rather,
they went to China and China said, look, you know, we`re willing to reopen
the beef trade with you all, provided that you start taking some of our
chicken. And so, USDA then started the process to look at the Chinese
poultry processing system.
HARRIS-PERRY: Look, this, for me, is tough. Like, I`ve got to tell you, I
was just saying, I may never eat again after doing the research around
this. This idea that we raise chickens in really disturbing conditions
here in the U.S., we then slaughter them, we then are going to put them on
a ship, send them around the world, and then have them turned into nuggets,
which we are mostly apparently going to feed to our children.
DIANE BRADY, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: Well, and you just raised the point,
which is when you look at what`s happening with chicken here in the U.S.,
it already gives you pause.
BRADY: And this is the lowest part of the food chain, really. The
processed chicken is not like the beautiful, tender breasts that you get.
BRADY: I think the critical question here is, will it be labeled? So if
you force Campbell`s Soup, if you force McDonald`s to say, "Processed in
China," that is going to have a major impact on their desire to be --
getting chicken processed from there just from the public relations point
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So this is a solution that`s basically market-based
solution that says, OK, you have to do what you have to do, but American
consumers are not going to want Chinese-processed chicken and so you`re
going to have to label it. That`s going to leave all of these folks opting
out. But I do wonder, though, there must -- I mean, there must be this --
I don`t -- I don`t believe these sorts of policies have no economic
Is there some reason, Lisa, that makes sense from a macroeconomic
perspective, beyond that just sort of now we open up the China market for
American beef for doing this particular set of processes?
LISA COOK, DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMICS, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: So I think
that turns out to be more of a political question. The beef handlers, the
beef lobby is more powerful than the chicken lobby in the U.S., apparently,
because, I mean, why would we want this to be opened so widely? I mean,
and I think that -- I mean, I think there`s going to be a big backlash.
And I think the other presumption is that wages are going to remain
stagnant in China and that this will make sense in the long run. And we
know that wages are going up in China, and this is not going to be
economically viable. I mean, so, there`s something going on here that an
economist won`t understand, just on its face.
MATT WELCH, REASON MAGAZINE: I mean, it clearly has to be economically
viable to some degree right now or else it wouldn`t be --
COOK: No. That`s what I`m saying. We`re talking about the long-term.
WELCH: China is cheap. You know.
COOK: Yes. Yes.
WELCH: Labor there is cheap. They processes --
COOK: But it`s not always going to be cheap.
WELCH: They cut corners. It`s not always going to be cheap.
COOK: Yes. Yes.
WELCH: One of the good things about international trade, as much as this
has made me not ever want to even think about nuggets again.
HARRIS-PERRY: Any kind of food. Yes.
WELCH: And I`m only going to buy the ones for my daughter that say, you
know, this was definitely not processed in China. But one of the best
things about international trade is that , ultimately not only does it make
both sides richer, especially the poorer country, but they inevitably have
to start raising their standards, or else they`re not going to be able to
sell, while our collective tastes in America will continue to improve
hopefully in such a way that one of these days we`ll actually respond to
Was it a McDonald`s or Burger King ad where, like, what part of the chicken
is the nugget?
BRADY: Well --
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Tony, is that a reasonable sort of -- I mean, again,
that`s a market-based solution, right? So one is a market-based solution
that says, as long as there is an American taste over and against Chinese-
processed food, we won`t have to worry too much about it happening here.
But also that if there is this market, if there is -- if there`s an
economic incentive, then the processing sort of conditions improve this
CORBO: Well, this is the problem. We will not know, we will not know.
Consumers will not know that they are consuming chicken that`s been
processed in China. The current country of origin labeling regulations are
-- have a massive loophole. If the chicken is raw, then it has to be
labeled in the supermarket as to the country of origin. But once it`s
processed, it`s cooked or breaded, it loses its country of origin labeling
And so -- and so that`s a major, major problem. The bottom line here is
that China has always wanted to export its own poultry to the United
States. And this is a first step. This was the first step that the Bush
administration approved in 2006, for China to at least start processing or
cooking U.S. or Canadian poultry and sending it back.
And, actually, between 2006 and 2007, China did have the opportunity to
certify processing plants in China, under that scheme. They never did.
Why? Because they`re waiting for the U.S. to approve the China
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Yes.
CORBO: So that they can export their own poultry to the United States.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right there. That`s exactly what I want to talk about
when we come back. Because I want to talk about a sort of tale of two
chickens. "The New York Times" piece that we first were reading around
this, the sentencing that had me most worried is, no USDA inspectors will
be present at the plants.
I`m going to say that one more time. No USDA inspectors will be present at
the plants. So a tale of two chickens when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We were talking earlier this morning about haves and have-
nots. As you know, this has everything to do with chicken. The haves have
delicious chicken. According to a mindboggling "New York Times" report,
chickens being raised on an Amish farm in Pennsylvania are being fed
nothing but scraps from some of New York`s most well-regarded, expensive
According to the report, this new chicken is so delicious that it
reportedly brought one chef to the verge of tears.
The have-nots have another kind of chicken. According to the Pew
Charitable Trust, most chickens in the U.S. is mass produced in crowded
factory farms and the birds often pumped full of antibiotics that lead to
drug-resistant infections in humans. And now some of that chicken is going
to come on through China, the same China where just this year meat sold as
mutton was discovered by Chinese officials to actually be from, say,
cheaper meat, you know, duck, fox, and worst of all, rats.
They were all dunked into toxic chemicals in order to disguise it and then
where more than 10,000 dead pigs were clogging a Shanghai river.
The chicken that China is already sending here in the form of dog treats,
well, according to the FDA, 500 U.S. dogs have died in the past few years
after eating chicken jerky made in China.
So, OK, Gordon, what I read about China, it has the largest GDP, the
fastest growing economy, and that the reason that we want to do this kind
of trade is because it is good for us economically, but then I see this,
and it feels like Upton Sinclair and the jungle. And, like, wait a minute,
aren`t we just moving ourselves back to a 20th century level of food
CHANG: Or the 19th century level because this really is very bad. The
Chinese always have these food scandals. They always say, it`s not going
to happen again, and then three months later, it occurs. And you`ve got
all these different types of scandals. This is really a problem because
they do not control their food chain.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s communism. How -- how can they not -- because, like --
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, like in a really serious way, if -- you know, I`m
not a communist, but I do like a little government intervention in my
world. And so I am actually a little shocked that a country that has such
a massive government can`t control this.
CHANG: Well, it`s the problem with China`s communist system, which really
is very sort of interesting in the sense that it is supposed to be top
down, but really it`s more bottom up, and you have these local officials
who are able to avoid things. So for instance, you talked about no
inspectors in these plants. That is absolutely critical, because you`re
going to see local officials, because they want to make money, are going to
do all sorts of things at these four facilities, because no one at the USDA
And even if they do put a single or so inspector, those guys are going to
get bribed easily. So this is really a problem. I mean -- and it`s just
HARRIS-PERRY: So --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Matt.
WELCH: An important point about communism to a philosophical thing.
WELCH: Is that it`s terrible about information. It mangles information
because there`s no pricing mechanisms anywhere.
WELCH: So, you know, you`re not going to see the development of whole
foods, which is great about sourcing everything on a food chain in a
communist country. And you`re not going to have good government
HARRIS-PERRY: So I think this goes exactly to the inequality question.
Tony, I want to bring you in here, because when we look at, you know, sort
of the price of chicken, if you have conventionally raised chickens, you`re
talking about, you know, a dollar per pound or so, but this certified
organic, that you would go get at the Whole Foods, $2.77 a pound, that is
exponentially more expensive.
And so even if we get the market-based solution of labeling it, labeling it
then assumes that everyone has an equal capacity to make choice here.
CORBO: Right. I mean, and -- you know, I think this is going to be a race
to the bottom. I think -- I think you`re raising a very good point, that,
you know, first of all, I don`t know of a chicken shortage in this country.
We slaughter nine billion chickens a year, with a B. I`m talking about
nine billion chickens a year.
CORBO: The USDA recently had to go on to the open market to buy a surplus
of chicken for the school lunch program because there was an excess supply
of chicken. So why are we going to be importing chicken from China? It
just does not make any economic sense.
Now I wanted to raise a point that one of the previous speakers mentioned,
is the fact that, yes, you have a communist system, but what USDA has
consistently found in their inspections of these Chinese poultry facilities
is that the companies themselves inspect themselves. It`s a self-
CORBO: They do not have independent government inspectors in those plants.
And so --
HARRIS-PERRY: Kind of like American banks.
CORBO: Yes. Absolutely.
CORBO: So that`s been -- that`s one of the conditions that USDA has made,
that China has to have its own inspectors in these plants.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Diane.
BRADY: You know, the thing -- what is it -- why do you do you go to China?
It`s for cost. And so a lot of the food scandals we`ve been seen have been
cutting corners to reduce the cost. That was the pet food where they were
mixing in essentially, you know, the equivalent of industrial solvent.
That`s the big issue in China, is you go there because you want to cut some
more pennies off. And so the amount of pressure we`ve put on China to
deliver cheap food, cheap goods, that`s, you know, why you see workers
being underpaid. So I think it`s important to force some level of labeling
because it does tell people something about the philosophy of the companies
using this chicken.
Whether it`s in your soup or your nuggets or whatever, that they felt it
was worth their while to go 7,000 miles.
HARRIS-PERRY: Granted. But the inequality nature of that. So let`s say
that McDonald`s decides -- and I don`t -- let`s -- unnamed food chain --
HARRIS-PERRY: Unnamed food chain makes a decision to use meat that has
been processed -- chicken that`s been processed in China and they label it
as such. So then, you know, Midtowners in New York can say, all right, I`m
on opting out of that. But what we know about food deserts, what we know
about the availability of food for poor people, is it doesn`t matter if
unnamed groups says it`s bad.
HARRIS-PERRY: They just don`t have the option to opt out of buying it.
BRADY: And let`s not forget people in China are aware of this? You know,
people have been to death over these scandals. China consumers are
incredibly worried about the safety of the food in their own country. So
there is pressure coming from both sides on this. They`re not just simply
passively looking at this. They care about what`s happening, because their
kids are dying and they`re getting affected.
CHANG: And you know, Chinese consumers, when they get the chance, will buy
foreign products and even leave China to buy their food if they have the
opportunity. And this is somehow, the FDA, just -- the Agriculture
Department, just completely ignored that. That this is a problem. And
it`s endemic to the system for the reasons that you mentioned and you
CHANG: It`s just --
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So we`ve been talking a little about USDA not
making good policy. I think the other group that I`m interested in here is
OSHA, who make of course make our worker policies.
When we come back, we`ll talk not just about how bad the chicken plants are
for the chickens but how bad chicken plants are for the workers. When we
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking about the potential food safety problems
now that China can export processed chicken to the U.S. under the new
rules, the chicken must have been raised and slaughtered in the U.S. or
Canada in order to be imported back here after processing in China.
But the way we raise poultry here, and we are the world`s largest producer
of chicken for meat, is problematic itself. And the chickens aren`t the
only ones who suffer in industrial chicken operations. The human workers
Some major chicken producers who have outsourced their jobs to labor
contractors, slashing income and benefits in the process, and the work
itself is grueling. Employees work on assembly lines, processing up to 140
chickens per minute. And the USDA has proposed increasing that limit to
175 chickens per minute.
Tony, I want to bring you back in here, because I think as much as we`re
kind of being tough on China, the fact is that in Alabama, in Georgia, in
many of our southern states with very low labor union participation, the
experiences of workers in poultry plants is pretty horrifying.
CORBO: Yes, it is. And Food and Water Watch has been working with some of
the worker safety advocates, for example, the Southern Poverty Law Center
did a wonderful report earlier this year that was -- that was entitled,
"Unsafe at This Speed," that -- where they interviewed some 300 poultry
workers who have chronic diseases now, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis,
that have crippled them.
And there are no safety standards. There are no ergonomic standards for
these workers in these poultry facilities. And as you pointed out, USDA
wants to increase the line speed to 175 birds per minute. And they have
been reluctant, I mean, flat-out reluctant to deal with this workers safety
issue as part of the new scheme.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I mean, this is -- I mean, from that Southern Poverty
Law report, that OSHA does not specifically regulate health and safety of
workers on -- in poultry processing. And the processing line, the whisks
birds through the plant moves at a punishing speed, over three quarters of
the workers say that the speed makes their work more dangerous and that,
"Plant workers, many of whom are immigrants, are often treated as
disposable resources by their employees, threats of deportation and firing
are frequently used to keep them silent."
And this is the other part of the have, have-not story here.
COOK: And I think this is going to be an important experiment with respect
to globalization. So how cheap do we really want our food? Food is
already too cheap. The price of food is not high enough. We`re saying
that we need more inspectors, that we want a safe food supply and food
chain, but what are we putting on the table for it?
That`s with we have to ask. It`s too cheap.
COOK: We`re addicted to cheap food.
WELCH: There is a tension there.
WELCH: I don`t think you can say food is too cheap.
COOK: They`re not mutually exclusive. They`re not mutually -- we can do
both. It`s not as though these are -- you know, there are two goals and
they can`t be reached simultaneously.
WELCH: You can -- yes, you can certainly work on worker safety and
sourcing and all this kind of stuff. But I don`t think saying that food is
too cheap is the right way. We want food --
COOK: It is too cheap.
HARRIS-PERRY: Wait. But this is the constant challenge, right? This is
the challenge of obesity being connected to poverty in this country. And
that processed food is very inexpensive, but then your organic, you know,
Amish bird that only eats truffles or something is -- right. So it -- but
I take this point. Like, we just said, we need food stamps, we feed to
make food readily available to poor people.
And then we`re saying, but, wait a minute, the way that we`re processing
food in order to get it cheap enough for poor people to buy it is, in fact,
inherently problematic for all of us.
BRADY: And look at the fast food worker strikes this year. That ties back
as well. You know, when you`ve got chicken nuggets for a dollar,
essentially, you`re doing that in part by the cost of who`s producing the
food, who`s serving the food. So I do think that when you look at how
little we`re willing to pay for protein and food in this country, it does
get back to the --
HARRIS-PERRY: But is -- but is the cream here -- right, I mean, so we`re
acting as though the cost of food would have to come out of workers. What
if it came out of the massive profits, most poor people shop at Wal-Mart.
The Wal-Mart family is six, seven, eight and nine on a list of the top 10
richest people in this country. What if -- what if we subsidized it from
them? Not from the workers.
BRADY: I don`t think taxing billionaires is how you`re going to be getting
to where it is. If you thought it`d be putting in better standards in
place for how, you know, people are paid, how this food is processed. The
conditions in the factories. That costs money. That`s where you have to
force the companies --
HARRIS-PERRY: Which is why you say that to China, so you don`t have these
CHANG: Yes. And if all you have to do is look at China, when you want to
see, when you have a system that doesn`t have a government that enforces
certain minimum standards, because then you get all the dislocations that
exist there. And they are just numerous. Many of which we have not
CHANG: So, you know, I can understand, you know, why you would want to
have less regulation, but on certain things, you just need to have it. And
food, you know, I don`t know if it`s too cheap or not, but it`s -- it`s a
point where it is cheap because we are not doing certain things that are
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. It is worth noting again that that great piece of muck
raking scholarship that changed what American journalism is was about the
connection between labor standards and food standards and Upton Sinclair,
"It`s the Jungle." Feel free, go buy it, read it this week.
Tony Corbo in Washington, Matt Welch, Gordon Change, Diane Brady and Lisa
Cook, here in New York, thank you so much.
CORBO: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: But up next, the school assignment outraging so many
parents, including me.
HARRIS-PERRY: One afternoon this spring, my daughter called to say she
didn`t want to complete her homework. Now this wasn`t adolescent laziness,
she was disturbed by what she was being asked to do, which was, "Pretend
you are a slave who has decided to escape from Louisiana to Chicago. Go on
Google Chrome and find the distance you have to travel and map an escape
route for you and your family."
The assignment was adapted from an online curriculum, "Escape From
Slavery," and the more I learned about the assignment, the more angry I
Pretending to be an enslaved person is not an emotionally neutral
experience. When I`ve talked with my daughter about slavery, I`ve tried to
express the extreme human injustice and intense suffering that millions
When a child is asked to be -- pretend to be escaping slavery, it`s not
just about mapping a route, it`s about the horror and terror and likely
death and deep injustice. Imagine asking a student to pretend they`re on
the 80th floor of the World Trade Center when a plane strikes on September
11th and then to use building plans to map an escape route. To do that
would dishonor and trivialize the experience of the victims of 9/11.
Also, it`s important to appreciate how discussions of slavery are fraught
for African-American students in predominantly white classrooms. We are
directly related to men and women who were held in intergenerational
chattel bondage in this country.
This is not a theoretical exercise. It`s very much a personal story.
African-American children may not want to share their discomfort because
they fear being teased by classmates because of their personal connection
All that means that slavery needs to be taught, but it must be taught in a
situation that allows complexity and humanity to be at the forefront.
Now managing the effects of this supposedly inclusive history curriculum
has been a challenge. But this week I`ve learned that while I was battling
an assignment that turned slavery into a soulless mapping exercise, another
set of parents were dealing with their daughters` class field trip that
made a lesson about slavery into a traumatic experience that included being
chased and threatened and called racial names.
When we come back, I`ll talk to those parents. We`re going to try to
understand the effects of slavery reenactments as educational tools.
HARRIS-PERRY: Turns out my daughter`s school in Louisiana is not the only
one employing slavery reenactments as parts of the curriculum. Our next
guest had an even more distressing experience with their daughter`s school
in Hartford, Connecticut. According to Sandra and James Baker, their
daughter endured being packed together with other students in a dark room
to simulate being on a slave ship and hiding in the woods from their white
The 12-year-old says she heard statements like "N word, if you can read,
there`s a problem." And "Dumb, dark-skinned negro person, how dare you
look at me." And, "You`re not a person, you`re property."
It was all part of a field trip with the Hartford Magnet Trinity College
Academy last November. And the Bakers say they weren`t informed that the
underground railroad reenactment was part of the curriculum for the four-
day trip. They have since filed a complaint with the Connecticut
Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and just this addressed the
school board with their concerns.
Their daughter now attends another school and we`ve reached out to the
Hartford Magnate Trinity College Academy and the Hartford School District
and both have offered no comment because of the open investigation.
Joining me now are Sandra and James Baker, and Khalil Muhammad from the
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Thank you for reaching out to me. Thank you for being here today. Tell me
a little bit about this field trip in November of 2013.
JAMES BAKER, PARENT: Sure. So we -- the field trip was with an
organization called Nature`s Classroom, and when I heard the name of it and
read a little bit about it, I thought they`d just be going and learning,
you know, which side of the tree moss grows on and things like that.
J. BAKER: So we sent her to a four-day field trip and they stayed
overnight during the whole time. When she came back, she got in the car
and immediately told my wife what had happened. Started telling her what
had happened. My wife called me and said, this is not good. She tried to
keep herself calm.
J, BAKER: But our daughter told us the whole story in her own words, the
things that she experienced. And then we proceeded to try to talk to the
school administration about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me read, as a matter of what we do on air, let me read a
portion of the statement from Dr. John Santos, who`s the executive director
of the Nature`s Classroom. A very long statement. We`ll put the whole
statement up on our Web site at MHPshow.com. But this is a small portion
"Nature`s Classroom does not condone the use of the N word. We would have
taken immediate disciplinary action including dismissal had we known of
this concern. We began an investigation into this specific complaints and
this investigation is ongoing."
And my main thought in reading that was, well, that`s not really the
biggest problem here, right? The use of the N word or not is just a small
portion of what the problem is here. What do you -- how would you identify
what you see as the biggest problem with this reenactment?
SANDRA BAKER, PARENT: Well, number one, it minimizes the African-American
experience in this country. I found it insulting. One of the comments
that was made to my daughter after it was over by the facilitators was, now
you know what it likes -- you know, what it feels like to be bullied. So
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, because slavery was bullying?
S. BAKER: Yes, exactly. It minimized the experience.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, Khalil, you run a perhaps the most important
national repository around black culture. We want our children to learn,
not just our children, we want white children, we want all American
children to learn about slavery. We want them to learn about resistance.
We want them to learn about the underground rebels.
These are critical things to learn in the curriculum. But whether it is
using a Google Chrome map to map your way to freedom, as though that`s what
enslaved people did, they went on their Google, or whether it is this
notion that the experience of the middle passage was a bullying experience,
I just keep thinking, I know your heart is in the right place, but this is
the wrong way.
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD, SCHOMBURG CENTER FOR RESEARCH IN BLACK CULTURE: It
is the wrong way. But the problem really first begins with the fact that
this country has never taken full account of the centrality of the
experience of enslaved Africans. But first of all, our very notion of
liberty is attached to slavery. Not just because King George oppressed the
colonists, but because the day-to-day reality of people treated as property
stood as a constant reminder of how precious freedom really was.
And so it`s built into our DNA, this contrasting metaphor between liberty
and slavery. But also, the economic footprint of slavery made America the
wealthiest nation in the world and shortened the time for that development.
So we`ve got to start dealing with the importance of slavery at the very
It`s got to be infused in what we learned in American history. So
therefore, it can`t be some random Wednesday on some random field trip --
MUHAMMAD: -- where all of a sudden you drop down and you`re in the middle
of the underground railroad reenactment.
MUHAMMAD: You`ve got to begin with children`s literature.
MUHAMMAD: So you could use, for example, scholastics, Henry Box Brown, who
tells the story of Henry Brown, who melds himself to freedom, just as the
opening moment for both the agency of these human beings.
MUHAMMAD: Who were captured from countries in Africa, who brought culture
and language with them, whose humanity was bigger than actually the
experience of being a slave.
MUHAMMAD: He was trying to reconnect with his family.
MUHAMMAD: That`s just the beginning. Then you layer in the difficulties,
MUHAMMAD: The trauma. But you just don`t do it on some Wednesday
afternoon on a field trip.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this, you know, we were talking a bit in the break. For
me, this is one of the challenges. And I don`t mean to like have a pity
part for middle class black families. But it is one of the black
challenges, when we are faced with school systems that are deeply
segregated and often, where equality of educational outcomes is also
related to race of school, in ways that are troubling.
So often we try to opt into the best possible school we can for our kids.
But then the reading, writing, and arithmetic can sometimes be counter to
their very spirits. Like, I know my daughter, very close in age to yours,
she`s 11 1/2, and still on a daily basis like dealing with how that made
her feel about her school that that happened in that space.
S. BAKER: Right. I mean, because -- I mean, she trusted her teachers, we
trusted her teachers, and she`s the type of kid who`s going to do what --
she respects her teachers, so she`s going to do what they ask her to do.
S. BAKER: And you know, they spent three days having fun before they even
brought the kids to the field to do the experiment. So the kids had no
indication that this was going to happen. They surprised them. And I just
want to point out that these are children -- the average child is 10 that
goes on this field trip. So between the ages of 10 and 12.
And no one`s talked about the developmental appropriateness of kids being
in an reenactment or the psychological impact that --
HARRIS-PERRY: The statement from Nature`s Classroom went on to read that
students are always able to remove themselves from the activity or choose
not to participate in the activity, but your point about trusting your
teachers, believing that school is a safe place, you can`t actually just
And I want to go back to your point about your trivializing, Khalil,
because it feels like some things won`t be known. I in fact cannot know in
a bodily way what the experience of the terror of the middle passage is. I
can develop empathy by reading. I can know a deep history, but not only
can I not know it, but I would prefer that my child never actually
experience whatever that terror is. So just as I want us to have empathy
for sexual assault survivors, I don`t want to reenact rape on adolescents.
HARRIS-PERRY: And just as I want them to understand the horror of
terrorism, I don`t want to put them in a burning -- I mean, why would we
think it`s OK to play in this way with slavery?
MUHAMMAD: Well, think about this. So we have almost no cultural
institution in this country that tells the slavery story in an effective
way that would create those moments of empathy and understanding in a
responsible way, with a parent and a child, with a teacher and a student.
So if you think about the effectiveness of the holocaust museum.
MUHAMMAD: -- as a way that both uses abstraction, right, the part of the
exhibit where you see the shoes of these thousands, millions of people who
have been exterminated. And all that`s left behind are these shoes that
get recycled and sold off for manufacturing parts to make German companies
wealthy. Like that is incredibly powerful. And yet, no one is essentially
put into a gas chamber --
MUHAMMAD: -- to experience what it might be to be cooked alive.
MUHAMMAD: So the fact --
HARRIS-PERRY: Nor would we want it --
MUHAMMAD: No. Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Nor is that a necessary part of developing a sense of
empathy in this moment.
MUHAMMAD: That`s right. So, again, back to the larger super structure
here. The fact that we are now, in 2015, just about to build the first
natural museum of African-American history, which is still troubled by how
do you tell the slavery story.
HARRIS-PERRY: Still doesn`t know.
MUHAMMAD: Only illustrates how deeply problematic it is, this reconciling
of these issues. At the junior scholar`s program, which we do at Schomburg
Center, we take middle school students as early as 10 years old, all the
way through high school. We just taught the Emancipation Proclamation
period. How did we do it? We use the autobiography of Frederick Douglas,
and we use the story of Harriet Jacobs who was repeatedly raped by a
Now we took weeks to walk through these common readings with these kids.
We broke them up into age-appropriate groups, so that the 10-year-olds
learned at a pace appropriate to them.
MUHAMMAD: And the 17-year-olds learned at a pace appropriate to them.
That`s the kind of time and space and reflection --
HARRIS-PERRY: That is requires.
MUHAMMAD: -- and carefulness that is necessary.
HARRIS-PERRY: How`s your daughter?
S. BAKER: She`s doing fine. She`s doing fine. Of course, she`s affected
by what happened, but you know, as most kids her age, they don`t want to
talk -- they don`t want to talk about it, you know, it`s hard to talk
about, or even hard for her to articulate her experience and I think just
over the past 10 months, she talks about it periodically and more and more
since the news reports have started coming out about Nature`s Classroom and
seeing the footage on TV and just remembering the experience.
HARRIS-PERRY: Have you been countering with lots of good, positive, sort
of narratives about black achievement and accomplishment and that sort of
J. BAKER: We try to do that a lot.
J. BAKER: You know, talking about all the -- the first set black folks
that have achieved and trying to point out things. My daughter is involved
in dance, so trying to point out, you know, achievements by black dancers
and such. So we try to pump in as much positive as possible.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re obsessed with and love Misty Copeland here on this
show, so there are, in fact, many contemporary and historical models.
Thank you so much to the Bakers for being here. And thank you, Khalil, and
maybe it`s time to think very carefully through how to take the kind of
work you`re doing at the Schomburg and make it available to more.
And you know, just, folks, if you want to do a reenactment of slavery in
your school, how about "Nat Turner`s Rebellion"?
Up next, the stars of the hit Broadway play, "The Trip to Bountiful."
HARRIS-PERRY: American audience took their first "Trip to Bountiful" in a
1953 TV-movie when Goodyear`s Television Playhouse broadcast the story of
an elderly woman longing to leave a cramped city life for the rural home of
The "Trip to Bountiful," one of the most well-known works by American
playwright and screenwriter, Horton Foot, has been re-imagined as a stage
play and an Oscar-winning feature film in the years since that broadcast.
Recent Broadway revival of the show can now add another award to its
accolades, after Best Actress Tony was awarded for the play`s indomitable
lead performer, Cicely Tyson. Tyson is nothing short of a force of nature
in her portrayal of the homesick Carrie Watts, viewing her role with heart
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You feeling better now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think you ought to be getting up so soon?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, ma`am. I`m feeling much better already.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Miss Tyson is accompanied by a fine cast of performers, who
are acclaimed in their own right, including Vanessa Williams, and the two
actors who are joining me today.
Tom Wopat, a veteran Broadway performer and accomplished singer whose
current album is titled "I`ve Got Your Number." `80s babies may also
remember him as Luke Duke from the TV series, "Dukes of Hazard."
TOM WOPAT, ACTOR, "THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL": Agreed.
HARRIS-PERRY: I know. I couldn`t help it. We couldn`t help it.
And Adepero Oduye who first captivated audiences with her lead performance
in the award-winning film "Pariah." You can catch her next upcoming film,
"12 Years as a Slave," coming out in the middle of October.
So talk to me a little about what happens when you re-imagine this story
with a predominantly black cast.
WOPAT: Well, for me, I mean, it really doesn`t factor. The -- they had to
make very few adjustments to the dialogue actually. And, you know, I come
on as the sheriff late in the show and I`m kind of the white authority
figure. But I`m coming there like at 4:30 in the morning to talk to her
about -- I`m supposed to, you know, take her into custody for her son to
come pick her up because she`s almost home.
And I don`t want to be a spoiler, but I take her there eventually. It --
it really works really fine. And actually, when you`re watching the piece
it really doesn`t enter your mind that this was re-imagined.
HARRIS-PERRY: So for me it generates a certain tension, though, that might
not otherwise be there. So you -- when you show up as the white authority
figure then all of a sudden you began thinking oh no, how is this going to
go down? So then when you do take her there --
WOPAT: It does add a flavor, yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. Then when you do take her, there`s a kind of
surprise to it almost.
This idea of home is at the center. And you know, just as I was preparing,
and I read a "New York Times" review of the play that talks about the
moment at which Cecily Tyson stands and sings "Blessed Assurance." And
often African-Americans in the audience sing back in call and response.
Suggesting that there is a kind of home space that is created just by the
ADEPERO ODUYE, ACTOR, "THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL": Yes, I think it`s -- I
think when I saw the play and what I`ve experienced of, you know, being on
stage and just hearing that feedback, it`s -- I think it`s great that
theater can do that, you can get into a space. And I think it`s a
universal story about home. But when you can sit there and really connect
to it in a very real visceral way, whether it be by religion, and it just
comes out of people and they join along.
And I think it`s really special when theater can do that, and I think
that`s what we have here with this experience of the play.
HARRIS-PERRY: And there is something about theater. Right? I mean, so
both of you work in other medium, work in television, work in movies.
HARRIS-PERRY: What is it about Broadway that makes it a unique way of
engaging and telling a story?
WOPAT: The people in that -- in the house. The people in the audience for
that show, they`re the only ones who will see that show. And every show is
WOPAT: It`s hard to believe, but they really are. Last night`s was very
interesting. We had a little technical problem, and so we had to interrupt
it for a couple of minutes. But there`s something about live theater. And
Broadway is the peak. Broadway is the best.
ODUYE: Just the bigness of Broadway and -- yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, it`s interesting for you to say. I hadn`t
really thought of that. So now television our viewing experience is so
different, even with, for example, Netflix or Hulu, where you may not even
be watching it at the same time. But when you do watch it, right?
Everyone sees the same episode.
HARRIS-PERRY: Everyone sees the same experience. But you`re right. Each
one is unique. It has its own hitches or hiccups or sort of emotional
ODUYE: Or somebody in the audience will react loudly to something and
other people will chime in. And so it`s like -- it`s that like collective
group experience, which is why it`s so great to watch movies in a movie
theater. Because yes, it`s great you can watch movies on your computer at
-- you know, on Netflix, but there`s something about watching something
with a bunch of other people and just the energy. There`s nothing --
there`s like it.
WOPAT: And this is really special because this is Cecily Tyson.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Miss International, yes.
WOPAT: She is a force of nature. And -- I mean, this is a really, really
rare occasion to have her on Broadway. It`s been 30 years. And she is
tearing this part up on a daily basis. She hasn`t missed a show. And
we`ve got, you know, 2 1/2 weeks left. So.
HARRIS-PERRY: What is it like to work with her?
ODUYE: It`s joyous. It`s inspiring. It`s just surreal. She is -- I`ve
learned so much just by watching her and how she can -- she can -- the show
is different every day with the same words. Which I think you have to be
really -- you have to be at the high level of your craft to be able to do
that. And yes. And so she`s definitely not to be missed.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.
So I`m so grateful that you all came. I also hope that you will come back.
We are going to want to talk about the "12 Years as a Slave" film
particularly after the conversation we just had --
ODUYE: Yes. Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Around slavery and whether or not we have good ways to talk
about it in this country. I`m hoping that this film will be part of a good
way to talk about it.
ODUYE: I hope so, too.
HARRIS-PERRY: I hope you will come back.
ODUYE: I would love to. I`d love to.
HARRIS-PERRY: And be careful when you go out here. My husband was a big
fan of the "Dukes of Hazard." He might jump on you --
WOPAT: He`s got to come to 54 Below at the end of October. Waiting down
HARRIS-PERRY: That would go big fun. I`d love to do it. So to Tom and
Adepero, thank you so much for being here.
That is our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going
to see you next Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Now it`s time for a preview of "Weekends with Alex Witt." Hi, Alex.
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hello to you, Melissa. Thanks so much.
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