'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, September 28, 2013
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
September 28, 2013
Guests: Anu Bhagwati, Zerlina Maxwell, Juan Ramos, Andrea Powell, Tsedeye Gebreselassie, Jamal Simmons, Bob Ney, David Cay Johnston, Charles Sennott, Christina Bellantoni, Mark Quarterman, Ahmed Samatar, Prabhjot Singh
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-
Perry. On Thursday, we all sat riveted, watching as the final chapter of a
story of unimaginable abuse and exceptional endurance unfolded inside an
Ohio courtroom. The names and faces of Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus and
Amanda Berry first captured national attention on May 6 after a dramatic
rescue ended more than a decade of terror inside a Cleveland house of
horrors. Thursday was the first time since that day that Michelle Knight
was in the same room with the man who held her captive and tortured her for
11 years. And Knight was the only one of the women who came to the
hearing, where Ariel Castro learned his fate after pleading guilty to 937
counts, including rape, kidnapping, and aggravated assault. Life in prison
without parole, plus an additional 1,000-year sentence.
Before sentencing, Castro delivered a long, rambling, horrifying statement,
defending his crimes. But the most compelling moment of the hearing came
when Michelle Knight, the first of the three women to be taken, made a
statement of her own, telling the story of how she survived against all
odds, in part thanks to her friendship with one of Castro`s other hostages,
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE KNIGHT, HELD CAPTIVE FOR 11 YEARS: Gina was my teammate. She
never let me fall, I never let her fall. She nursed me back to health when
I was dying from his abuse. My friendship with her is an unending debt,
was good out of this situation. We said we would some day make it out
alive and we did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Knight also addressed Castro directly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KNIGHT: I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning. I
will overcome all this that happened, but you will face hell for eternity.
From this moment on, I will not let you define me or affect who I am. You
- you will leave - I will live on, you will die a little every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So I want to stay in this moment for just a moment. Because
this moment, seeing a woman come forward to tell her story, not only of her
victimization, but also her determination to survive it is remarkable for
its rarity. So often, survivors of sexual assault are silenced by shame or
by threats into being invisible players in their own narrative. And
Michelle Knight`s courageous act of claiming this space for herself puts
her and the two women with whom she lived through this hell, right where
they belong, at the center of their own story of survival.
But in Knight`s plans for her future, I also hear something else.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KNIGHT: With the guidance of God, I will prevail and help others that
suffered at the hands of others. I know that there is a lot of people
going through hard times, but we need to reach out a hand and hold them,
and let them know that they`re being heard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, although the circumstances of the ordeal experienced by
these three women were extraordinary, the sexual violence committed against
them throughout that ordeal is all too common. Nearly one out of every
five women are raped at some point in their lives, and what I hear in
Michelle Knight`s words is an understanding of that fact and an invitation
to use her experience to embrace and support those who will never have a
moment to tell their own stories. Knight`s choice to stand there on her
story and use it as a platform puts her in good company with others, who
are surviving by using their personal anguish in service of a greater good.
It`s what we heard last week from Trayvon Martin`s mother, Sybrina Fulton,
when she spoke to the National Urban League`s annual conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN`S MOTHER: What is my message to you? My
message to you is please use my story. Please use my tragedy. Please use
my broken heart to say to yourself, we cannot let this happen to anybody
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: "Use my story." It`s the same message we`ve heard from the
Newtown parents of the children killed last year at Sandy Hook elementary
school, bringing their determination along with their broken hearts to
Washington, to advocate for gun reform. All of them, asking that even as
we are horrified by the events that brought them to the national stage,
that we also hear the message they are trying to amplify while they are
standing there in the spotlight. For Michelle Knight, it`s a call for
recognition and a response to the broader culture of sexual violence.
Given all that she has endured, she isn`t asking for very much, simply that
we listen, that we learn, and that we act.
Joining us now is Zerlina Maxwell, a political analyst and contributor to
the Grio.com. Irin Carmon, national correspondent for MSNBC.com, Anu
Bhagwati, a retired Marine captain and now the executive director of the
Service Women`s Action Network, and Juan Ramos, who is the core trainer for
a Call to Men, executive director of Community-Driven Solutions, who has
worked as a court-appointed counselor for convicted abusers. Thank you all
for being here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this was a tough week in terms of this Castro trial, and
it was particularly on Thursday when we were watching it. And Zerlina, I
kept thinking of you in this week, you and I are both survivors, and I was
thinking about the ways in which this kind of coverage is both a trigger,
but also the fact that he gets the thousand years...
ZERLINA MAXWELL, POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is - is also, like the opposite of a trigger, it`s somehow
MAXWELL: Right, and it`s the rare moment where someone who has committed
sexual assault is put in prison for that. Right? So that`s the three
percent of cases that that actually happens. And so justice for this
woman, just - it felt so satisfying and gratifying. But also just her
courage to stand up in front of everyone, because that is so important. So
many of survivors don`t tell anyone, they don`t tell anyone for a long
time, or they`re not believed when they finally do open up and tell
someone. And so being able to stand there and just have support. Because
what stood out to me was that she was hugging so many people in the
courtroom, there were people holding her back, you know, as she spoke, and
it`s that community of support, that love, that, you know, surrounding her,
that is so crucial when you`re going through the process of surviving.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I wanted to, you know, I want to keep our eyes very
closely on Michelle Knight and what she`s asking us to do, but I do want to
pause and listen to one statement that came out from Castro, because as
extraordinary as this moment is, this is the thing that felt most ordinary
to me. So I want to listen for a second as Ariel Castro makes a claim
about Amanda Berry`s behavior since escaping from this decade of unwilling
incarceration and rape. Let`s just listen for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARIEL CASTRO, SENTENCED TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE: If you`ve seen the YouTube
video of Amanda this weekend, that right there itself proves that that girl
did not go through no torture. That woman did not go through no torture.
Because if that was true, do you think she would be out there partying
already or having fun? I don`t think so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And just one more moment, he says something very similar
about Gina DeJesus. I would like to listen to that as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CASTRO: I`d seen Gina in the media. She looks normal. She acts normal.
A person that`s been tortured does not act normal. They would act
withdrawn and everything. On the contrary, I heard the opposite. She`s
happy, the victims are happy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So their survival then gets used against them by the
perpetrator to say that they didn`t have anything to survive. That feels
common to me, even though Castro`s particular form of evil is
JUAN RAMOS, CORE TRAINER A CALL TO MAN: Right. It feels kind of normal,
because that`s what, you know, the perpetrator would say, to take away from
what he`s done and kind of almost justifying his, you know, his actions to
say, well, I didn`t do nothing that bad. She`s out there partying. But
the reality is, that, you know, some may look at this and say, this sick
man is just making this wild, outlandish statement. But the reality is,
that he`s also, he knows all too well what our society and how our
communities respond to this type of violence and abuse of women. So to me,
what I heard there was an appeal to us in the larger community and society
and saying, hey, if I did this, would this woman be out there partying?
Because what happens in rape culture, what happens in sexual harassment is
that women are continuously put in a position, where they have to prove
their innocence before their perpetrators, you know, are found guilty of
what they`ve done. And he`s making, to me, he`s making an emotional appeal
to those of us, especially to those of us men out there who may say, well,
you know, he`s kind of right, you know?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, right. You can - How bad could it have been?
IRIN CARMON, NATIONAL REPORTER, MSNBC.COM: It shows the outer limits of
those kinds of myths about rape. Because this case could not be less
ambiguous by the standards that society has set about rape.
CARMON: Two of these girls were minors when they were kidnapped, they were
lured under false pretenses, they were physically imprisoned with chains.
CARMON: There is no story that you can explain away there, unless you
believe that there`s still some resonance to that idea of that, well, you
didn`t die? I mean what more?
CARMON: How much more of a perfect victim do you need to be than these
three poor girls ...
CARMON: ... these women, and yet he still believes that there would be a
resonance to that story, because it goes to deep.
HARRIS-PERRY: You literally must die ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... in order to prove that you resisted ...
Anu, it just feels to me, again, on this question of rape culture - we
actually have policies instantiating this. So, we are just looking at the
fact that in Ohio, in fact, in 31 states, in 31 states, rapists can sue for
custody of children produced in the context of rape and/or for visitation
rights, in 31 states in this country. Now, in only one state where there`s
a waiting period for abortion can people who have been raped or are victims
of incest even get that waived, right? So, but that idea of, who has to
claim innocence, how much is that a part of rape culture? That you, the
victim, the survivor are actually the one on trial.
ANU BHAGWATI, EXEC. DIR., SERVICE WOMEN`S ACTION NETWORK: I think it`s a
huge part of our culture. I think, you know, even in the institution in
which I work, which is the military, there`s still so much kind of agony
and angst within the military establishment about the idea that we`re being
attacked wholeheartedly. That all men must be bad, all men must be rapists
and, you know, we have to launch a full-scale defense against all of these
attacks when the reality is that we`re dealing with a small group of
extremely effective serial predators that are not being held accountable.
And so, you know, we kind of get paranoid, as a culture, about, you know,
and almost delusional, just like Ariel Castro is clearly delusional about,
you know, accusations that are exaggerated and, of course, women, as Juan
so eloquently put, are always the ones on trial.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have more on this. I know - I know it`s a tough subject.
I know there`s a hard like ick factor to the entire thing, but I`m just
going to ask everybody in Nerdland, just stay with us, because the fact is,
there are thousands of other Michelle Knights hidden in plain sight every
day and I want us to talk about that when we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Before we heard from Michelle Knight at Ariel Castro`s
sentencing hearing, before she was freed from his house three months ago,
she was invisible. Not because she hadn`t been seen for more than ten
years, but because hardly anyone realized her disappearance was
involuntary. During their decade spent in captivity, both Amanda Berry and
Gina DeJesus remained two of Cleveland`s most famous and recognizable
missing people. But when Michelle Knight disappeared after leaving her
cousin`s house in west Cleveland in 2002, her absence went mostly
unnoticed. No widespread police search or breathless media reports. She
vanished quietly into the clutches of a sexual predator. It`s a scenario
that is played out daily on America`s streets. One that just made
headlines this week, when more than 100 children were rescued by the FBI in
a sex trafficking sweep of more than 70 U.S. cities. That arrest - that
sweep resulted in the arrest of 159 traffickers. Joining me now from
Washington, D.C. is Andrea Powell, executive director of Fair Girls, an
organization dedicated to preventing the exploitation of girls worldwide.
Miss Powell, what aspects of this story, or the Castro`s sort of horror
story play out in your work regularly?
ANDREA POWELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FAIR GIRLS: So I think one thing that`s
really important to point out in bringing that connection together is that
sex trafficking is basically organized rape for profit. And the
commonality is that just like Michelle Knight, young women and girls, and
boys, all across the country are going through the same trauma and they`re
often being viewed as potentially perpetrators or that, you know, they
somehow asked for it, because they`re not screaming enough, because they
didn`t die. But the thing is that they need the same compassion and
support that we are seeing across the country, for Michelle Knight. And I
think she`s a true hero, and so are these young women and girls who are
standing up as survivors all across the country.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ms. Powell, help me on this. Because I do think that
this is a real challenge. On the one hand, you know, as a feminist, as a
kind of sex positive feminist, I do want to leave space for the possibility
that some sex workers, adult women, actually do make a choice to be engaged
in sex work, as part of what they do, right? And on the other hand,
maintain the sense of the reality of what trafficking is. And as you said,
organized rape for profit. How do we get really clear about that
distinction and how do we do work around that distinction?
POWELL: So, my organization, Fair Girls, is one of several agencies across
the country, working with survivors of sex trafficking. And I have
actually never met a survivor who`s come into our office who hasn`t already
had experiences of sexual abuse, being involved in foster care. It`s not
like they were standing between choices of being a doctor or being involved
in so-called sex work. That`s not to say that there aren`t those out there
who potentially are really making a viable choice, but the hundreds and
thousands of victims across this country truly are victims of modern-day
slavery. That`s what sex trafficking is. It`s the new face of slavery in
America. And I think that`s what`s really important to point out. And so
it`s not detracting from anyone`s agency ...
POWELL: It`s actually adding to the mission of ensuring that young women
and girls are respected, no matter what they`ve been through, as heroes, if
they`ve gone through this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Andrea, I think that`s so useful. I want to come to you on
this. Because it`s one of the things that we see in this Castro case, that
he was -- the police knew that this was a man who had been violent towards
his own wife, right? And then - and then this is on the backside of it.
It`s actually true over and over again, is that we see that there are these
other acts of what we think of as domestic or private violence. And then
all of a sudden you see these things that are more unambiguously criminal,
you know, activities. Is there a way that we could start holding men
accountable at those beginning stages of acting as predators, before they
get to the super predator stage?
RAMOS: I think there`s always opportunity, where you can start early on.
I think you need to start working, for example, with boys early on, to
really talk to them about who they are, as young men in our communities and
our society. And their relation in relation to women. I think we need to
begin a process. You know, one of the things we believe that at a Call to
Man is that, you know, our mission is really to drive men and boys toward,
you know, respecting and being loving individuals, while also creating an
environment where women are valued and safe. And I think that we need to
show our boys, in specific, who they are in relationship to women in their
communities. You know, we can`t only demand respect and love for the women
that are directly in our lives, without saying that I want that to also be
the fact for another woman who maybe important to another man`s life.
RAMOS: It`s sort of hypocritical, because I can demand something to be
done for someone I respect and love, but yet I`m also perpetrating
something that I`m kind of demonizing. So, we need to kind of get on board
in our community and really begin a conversation amongst men ...
RAMOS: ... to not make this conversation that we have when we have a
tragedy and an atrocity like the one we`re discussing here today.
HARRIS-PERRY: But just the women`s conversation.
RAMOS: Exactly. Let it be a woman`s conversation. But I also wanted to
add that ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold on for a minute. Just real quick. I want to - because
we have to go to commercial in a moment. Andrea, I want to bring you in
just one more moment before we go. What is the key thing that we can do as
a public, if I keep thinking, what if Michelle Knight lives next-door to me
and I don`t realize it because I don`t know my neighbor. What can we do,
to - and just as ordinary people on this question of sex trafficking in our
POWELL: I think the number one thing is keep your eyes open. And if you
see a young girl who looks like she needs help. Maybe you see that she`s
not in school, maybe you see that she`s with older guys over and over
again, reach out, talk to local authorities, or you can call the National
Trafficking Hotline, which is 1-888-373-7888. And that number, you can
call nationally and report a potential case. And even if you`re wrong, you
still could be saving a life. But these girls truly are victims and do
need our support. And it`s worth that call. It`s worth asking her if
HARRIS-PERRY: Yep, Andrea Powell, thanks so much.
And up next, rape culture in institutions, when the people who are supposed
to protect you don`t and won`t.
HARRIS-PERRY: The twisted house that Ariel Castro built was designed to
protect himself and keep his victims silent and hidden. And in some
American institutions that were designed to promote intellectual and
political freedoms, we find instead the same culture of institutional self-
preservation at the expense of survivors of sexual violence. On college
and university campuses, where victims` concerns go unaddressed and
perpetrators go unpunished, and in the U.S. military, where an epidemic of
sexual assault is met with an unwillingness to protect soldiers who have
been victimized and a reluctance to prosecute their cases outside the chain
of command. Now, Anu, I just kept thinking of the many conversations we`ve
had about chain of command and about sexual assault in the military. No
one suggesting that four-star generals are Ariel Castro, but that notion of
like, build the house to protect the perpetrator and not the victims just
felt very familiar, felt resonant in this story.
BHAGWATI: Absolutely, what you`re seeing now is a huge defense that`s
being launched by the military establishment and by Congress members who
have very entrenched ties to the military to avoid change happening. And
what you`re seeing is actually the Senate and the House is people are not
falling along party lines, they`re falling along sort of old guard and new
BHAGWATI: So that even Ted Cruz and Rand Paul on the Senate side - you
know, Tea Party favorites are aligning themselves with reformers like Sen.
Gillibrand, whereas we`ve got moderate Democrats like Claire McCaskill who
are aligning themselves with the old guard military establishment. And
it`s a fascinating thing to look at, but I mean there are people who just
to the death want to defend the military as it was. And you`ve got to ask
these folks, do you want to be on the right side of history, because this
is going to happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s interesting, I haven`t - I haven`t laid the
two lists over each other, but I wonder if the NSA list, you know, the list
of people who are supporting NSA`s right to invade privacy are the same
folks who are wanting to hold on to this chain of command. My bet is that
there are some similarities in the sense of like, must preserve the
institutions just as they are.
CARMON: Because they believe they can trust the institutions with that
amount of power too.
CARMON: That (inaudible) themselves.
HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of which, I wanted to ask you specifically, Irin,
about the college and university piece. Because we know it`s happening in
the military, at least that`s giving us some play - but there`s also true
that there is a whole list of major colleges and universities currently
under fire for not taking appropriate action against sexual assault,
including Amherst, Berkeley, Colorado Boulder, Dartmouth, Georgetown,
Montana, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Notre Dame, Occidental,
Princeton, Swarthmore, the Naval Academy, the University of Virginia,
Wesley and West Point, William and Mary, Yale. All of these are schools
where there are active questions about how they are managing this. What is
it about this willingness to protect the perpetrators rather than believe
CARMON: I think there are two things happening. But first thing is that
we have always, since the beginning of, you know, rape as a definition said
that we take it seriously, and we have often even had the rules on the
books. I recently read that there was death penalty for rape in the early
CARMON: But when we actually have it staring us in the face, we look for
reasons to excuse it away or say that this isn`t that real rape. And then
the second thing I think is what I hear when you go to campuses and you
talk to people is that oftentimes, even the victims, they say, well, I
don`t want to ruin his life.
CARMON: So, the strength, the weight of being at that institution and
saying, these is this pivotal time in our life, these are good boys, you
hear it in the military conversations as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: They`ve got futures in front of them.
CARMON: Right. I don`t want to ruin - I don`t want to be that person who
ruins their life. Despite whatever repercussions were in the victim`s
CARMON: So, I think - yes, there are many positive things about
institutions, but there are also corrosive things that in order to keep
those four walls up ...
CARMON: There have to be lots of lies kept within them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Zerlina.
MAXWELL: Amazing. And I would add Tufts University to that list, my alma
mater. But particularly Yale is egregious, because this week they put out
a report that was supposed to be the, you know, we reviewed title 9 and
MAXWELL: And they were like nonconsensual sex, which is not a thing. So I
just want to point out ...
MAXWELL: We call that rape.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s rape rape, right? There is not a thing called ....
MAXWELL: Nonconsensual sex is not a thing. But also, I just think that
the idea that we don`t believe victims, right? So we need a Michelle
Knight story to actually feel like, oh well, she`s been through it, there`s
proof, there`s chains, we can see it. Steubenville, there`s video, there`s
texts, there`s tweets.
MAXWELL: Then we believe the victims. No, we need to believe all victims,
no matter if they`re chained up or if they`re at a college party and they
wake up and they were sexually assaulted. We need to believe victims. And
that`s what I think the theme throughout all of these things are.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s an interesting point. Like if you can show me the
chains, then I believe that you were restrained. But if the story includes
you having been drunk, then, of course, it`s got to be in part your fault.
And believing the victims doesn`t mean that we take away the responsibility
of a presumption of innocence and due process, right?
But that you don`t necessarily begin with the belief that the victim is
HARRIS-PERRY: In the context of the military, though, this chain of
command thing. I mean, that the idea of something like, nonconsensual sex,
that`s not a thing. I just keep thinking of what does it mean to have to
wake up and actually report to someone who may have been your perpetrator.
That sense of being underneath an institution that is in control of you.
BHAGWATI: Well, we know, because the DoD has statistics, they have told us
BHAGWATI: That the majority of sexual assault victims in the military fear
BHAGWATI: And so if that`s the baseline, then we have to create a system
that does not retaliate against victims. And this legislation that Senator
Gillibrand has introduced will resolve that system. So that there`s no
institutional bias. So that it`s not your boss or your boss`s boss -- it`s
nobody who is going to end up influencing your career that determines
whether or not a case goes forward.
BHAGWATI: It is so simple. You know, in Israel, five years after they
moved away from a commander-centered system, military justice system to a
professionalized prosecutor-run system, reporting went up 80 percent. I
mean, is that -- that`s enough proof, isn`t it?
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And it`s the point that even if there aren`t the
chains, that the fear is a thing -- I mean, I did not tell for years, not
because there was an active threat, but that fear of reprisal and what it
would mean was enough to silence people. And I wasn`t even in a situation
where that person had direct control over my job.
Zerlina, Irin Carmon, Anu and Juan - I do want to say one quick thing
before we go in terms of the structures. There is one structure coming
down. We can report this morning that the home that Ariel Castro held
these women in, will, in fact, be coming down. Michelle Knight visited the
neighborhood, she stood across the street from the home. She talked with
neighbors. She said thank you to them. She is clearly an enormously
magnanimous human being. But knowing that that property is going to come
down strikes me as a good metaphor. Let`s bring the institutions down that
hold people in these circumstances.
How do you hold a poverty hearing without hearing from poor people? My
letter of the week is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last week on this show, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee said
she would ask the House Budget Committee chair to invite our guest, Tianna
Gaines Turner to testify about anti-poverty programs. Tianna is a witness
to hunger and a married mother of three who receives food stamps and other
federal benefits to help make ends meet. But the Republican chairman of
the committee refused to have Tianna to his war on poverty hearing. Thus
my letter this week is to that chairman, Congressman Paul Ryan.
Dear Congressman Ryan, it`s me, Melissa. Look, it is a great thing that
you had a hearing on poverty. That you asked whether we`ve made any
progress in the war on poverty in the past 50 years. I`m actually glad
that you had four experts on poverty programs, including our favorite nun
on the bus, Sister Simone Campbell. But you know what would have been a
hell of a lot better, if you`d actually have heard from someone who is in
fact living in poverty. Someone who`s working and still struggling to feed
and clothe her children and to afford health care. Now, here`s the kind of
thing you may have heard from Tianna, describing her life on our show in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIANNA GAINES-TURNER, FORMERLY HOMELESS: Food insecurity is not just a
depression or stress for an adult, it`s very much on the minds of young
children every day, and I don`t understand how people can sit and sleep
knowing that there`s a child somewhere, eight years old, four years old,
worrying about, is my mom going to eat?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you had the chance to hear her, Congressman Ryan, but
you refused. Only allowing Representative Barbara Lee to enter Tianna`s
written comments into the record. Would things have been different if she
was there? Would you have been able to look Tianna in the eye while telling
her that you care about the poor. At the start of your hearing, you said
you wanted to find ways to lift people out of poverty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R ) WISCONSIN: This is about improving people`s lives. In
this country, the condition of your birth should not determine the outcome
of your life. If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.
That is something that we all believe in and that we all care about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Fantastic rhetoric, but your budget proposals paint a very
different picture. Your so-called "Path to Prosperity" budget would cut
$135 billion from SNAP. You know, the food stamp program that feeds 22
million American households a month. Let`s put that in perspective.
That`s more than six times the amount House Republicans proposed cutting in
their farm bill earlier this year. Even that much smaller cut, $20.5
billion to your $135 billion would be devastating to American families.
According to a new study by the Health Impact Project, the comparatively
small $20.5 billion cut could result in 5.1 million people losing their
food stamps, including more than 1 million children. Hundreds of thousands
of Americans would go hungry. Is that something that we can all believe
in, congressman? The study also found that the SNAP cuts in the farm bill
again, a tiny fraction of the cuts you want, would increase the poverty
rate. That is not exactly lifting people out of poverty. And that
increase in hunger and poverty would lead directly to an increase in
diseases like diabetes and heart disease in adults and asthma and cognitive
impairment in children.
Tell me, Congressman, how exactly is that improving people`s lives? And
your plan doesn`t even save any money. The increase in diabetes alone
would cost $15 billion more in health care costs over the next decade. And
the impact from the cuts you want, Congressman Ryan, would be six times
worse. Could - look Tianna Gaines-Turner in the eye and say that you want
to improve her life while taking away the means to feed her family. Would
you have been able to keep a straight face? Since you refused to allow her
at your poverty hearing, I`m guessing not. Sincerely, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: At Paul Ryan`s budget committee hearing on poverty this
week, Republican lawmakers, the same ones who have voted for Ryan`s safety
net slashing budgets, insisted that they care about the poor and want to
find the most effective ways of alleviating poverty. This led to some
interesting logical contortions. Take a listen to this clip of
Representative Roger Williams, Republican of Texas, questioning Sister
Simone Campbell on the morality of anti-poverty programs. Sister Simone is
the executive director of the Catholic Social Justice lobbying organization
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ROGER WILLIAMS (R ) TEXAS: Don`t you think a lot of this debate is
the fact we`ve lost our family values, we`ve got single parents and so
forth, and we need to get back to that. That that has a lot to do with
what we`re talking about?
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NETWORK: I practiced family law
for 18 years in Oakland, California, and I found, with low-income families,
that the biggest cause of family breakup was economic stressors and not
being able to have enough wages. And so I think the most important piece
that we could do that would support families would be raise the minimum
wage. It would really be a significant support.
WILLIAMS: Raise the minimum wage and not have a maximum wage like this
administration is talking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Maximum wages, that`s not a thing. OK, Williams` comments
were timely, if nothing else. This week, fast food workers in seven cities
walked off their jobs and demanded a living wage of $15 an hour, more than
double the current federal minimum wage. Joining me today a Democratic
consultant Jamal Simmons, David Cay Johnston, author of "The Fine Print."
Tsedeye Gebreselassie who is the stuff attorney with the National
Employment Law Project and Bob Ney, former Republican Ohio - former
Republican congressman from Ohio, and author of "Sideswiped."
So I want to start with you today. Talk to me about this idea of a $15 an
hour wage. I know there`s a current proposal in Congress ...
TSEDEYE GEBRESELASSIE, STAFF ATTORNEY, HELP: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: ... to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
GEBRESELASSIE : ... and ten cents an hour. Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: But these folks are demanding 15. Talk to me about that
GEBRESELASSIE: Yeah, well just - I mean just as background, the federal
minimum wage right now is $7.25 an hour, which is $15,000 a year for a
full-time worker. So, it`s not a living wage, it`s a poverty wage, it`s
even below a poverty wage, depending on how big your family is. And what
the workers are striking for, $15 an hour. I mean these are workers that
work for huge multinational corporations that are making record profits. I
mean McDonald`s posted $5.5 billion in profits last year, compensated its
CEOs $13.8 million last year. And so all these workers are saying is, you
know, we are making poverty wages, the median wage for a fast food worker
is under $9 an hour. All we`re asking is that you share some of the
enormous wealth that we are creating for you and help us, so we don`t have
to rely on public benefits to make ends meet.
HARRIS-PERRY: At this point, Jamal, this point about relaying on public
benefits, feels to me like if there is some way that Democrats can kind of
get in here in this conversation, is actually probably not going to be
around the Sister Simone morality ethics argument. It`s going to be around
the argument that if you don`t raise the minimum wage, you have to keep
supplying food stamps, section 8, and other government support, not so much
to support the families, but to underwrite the enormous profits of
McDonald`s and others.
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: No, absolutely. I think, first of
all, if you`d got people more money, they would be able to then spend more
money. So ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... which stimulates the economy.
SIMMONS: Which stimulates the economy. This is part of what the president
has been talking about, right? So you`ve got the people who make the
bottom 80 percent of workers spend about 110 percent of what they consume.
So, if they had more money, they would spend more money. The wealthy, we
are able to ...
HARRIS-PERRY: And save it!
SIMMONS: And save it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Spend it on your kids` college, you know, 15 years from now.
SIMMONS: Absolutely. So, you know, so you`ve got to do that. And I`ve
always wondered, when we had the health care argument, why Democrats and
progressives didn`t make the argument more often, that if you can get the
government to provide health care, and you free corporations from having to
do that, which allows them to go around the world and compete on a fair
SIMMONS: And I`ve never understood why we haven`t made that argument more
forcefully. I think some of the big companies get it, but obviously it
didn`t work in Congress.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. You`re right. And certainly not yet - so let me ask
a question that also emerged. We heard it in that sound bite, when the
discourse from the right becomes a discourse about the morality of poor
people, who are actually getting benefits. And I`m always made sort of so
nervous by that idea that it`s about family disillusion rather than about
poverty. And Sister Simone is saying, well, poverty is part of what leads
to family dissolution. I know that you have both been a supporter of
government benefits for the poor, but also of some testing around those
benefits, things like working in order to get food stamps. Talk to me
about how Republicans may be thinking about this issue.
BOB NEY, (R ) FORMER CONGRESSMAN, OHIO: Well, first of all, the relating
of morality was a wrong introduction of language into that hearing. That`s
apples and oranges. The hearing was about people struggling, so there was
no reason to bring that in. And I`m sure that the chair himself kind of
grimaced, you know, to himself. But as far as the entire argument, we had
working for welfare dollars, but it has to be something that is
understandably workable. A lot of people say, well, drug tests, for
example, for food stamps. Drug tests, corporate leaders that receive
government money, which corporations do, corporate welfare, you know,
they`re going to spend that and they have a big impact when they go under
and the government has the to bail them out. Now drug test them too.
NEY: So I think the arguments need to be basically on what helps people,
but with some people in my party, they`ve made arguments and bringing in
the morality in the poor. Middle class people have become poor in this
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean ...
NEY: So you have to remember that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And everyone is sort of sitting on the edge now.
Right, we saw some data just this past week that it looks like we`re in a
situation where most American adults, at some point, are going to
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR "THE FINE PRINT": Four out of five, according
to the Associated Press study, which makes perfect sense with me. I`ve had
periods in my life where, you know, there was worry about, if there is
enough food in the house when I was a child. And we`re going to see more
of this, because what are we seeing going on in our economy? Fewer jobs
relative to the size of the population. We are not seeing any growth to
the bottom. And one out of three workers, 51 million workers, they may be
part-time, one out of three workers makes $15,000 a year or less. The
median wage has been stuck at the same level now for - since 1999. We`re
talking about 14 years with no growth in the minimum wage. And yet at the
top we have this tremendous growth.
JOHNSTON: McDonald`s, which, you know, put out this suggestion, to get a
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, exactly.
JOHNSTON: If we would, in fact, get off the employer-based health care
JOHNSTON: And small employers should be in the forefront of this. Not
just big ones ...
JOHNSTON: ... because it`s an enormous drag on their efficiency. We would
see a lot of positive change. In fact, that alone would balance the
budget. Getting our health care costs in line, which we can do with a
single-payer national system.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with me. We have more on this topic. But I also want
to tell our viewers that if you are interested, you can hear from Tianna.
You can go to mhpshow.com where you can read the entire written testimony
submitted by Tianna Gaines-Turner to the House Budget Committee. She
wasn`t allowed to speak, but she did write. And it`s on our Web site.
And up next, banned by the bank. The stunning reason more than a millions
of people can`t even get a checking account.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last week we told you about the growing phenomenon of
prepaid payroll cards, which companies are increasingly using to pay their
workers rather than checks or direct deposit. And some of those cards
charge fees that can total $30 a month. In essence, workers must pay to
get their own money. Despite the fees, the cards can sometimes be the best
choice for workers without a bank account if their only other choice is an
expensive check cashing service. But why don`t they have bank accounts?
Well, one of the reasons is because banks don`t like providing services to
low-income people who keep low balances. A "New York Times" investigation
found this week that more than a million low-income Americans are
blacklisted from opening a bank account, because of minor past mistakes,
like bouncing a check. So this feels to me -- I was like, OK, you`ve got
no food stamps, no social safety net, and you get paid on a card, and you
can`t even get a checking account.
GEBRESELASSIE: Right. Right. I mean I think - I think it just shows that
it is incredibly expensive to be poor in this country and to be working
poor. No matter what ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Please say that again. Please say that.
GEBRESELASSIE: It is incredibly expensive to be poor in this country and
to be a working poor. And that is something that Paul Ryan`s hearing, or,
you know, a lot of the rhetoric around these issues, doesn`t acknowledge.
Is that working people are working extremely hard. They are trying to find
full-time hours when they can get them. They are working two jobs, as
apparently the McDonald`s budget calculator suggest that they do to make
ends meet. And they are not getting ahead. And every single policy that
pushes them further and further down the income ladder hurts us all.
Because we need their consumer spending as, Jamal says, if we want to drive
the economy forward. And so it`s just another stupid policy that lawmakers
really need to address.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do Democrats have enough oomph to take this -- to say that.
To take this on and to run on it in 2014 and `16?
SIMMONS: The real answer is probably no, because the reality is, most
people who vote, when you`re sitting in front of a Democratic map, you`re
looking at the voters, prime voters. And most people who vote,
particularly in a midterm election, are going to be people who go to work
for a living and probably people who make a little bit more money when they
go to work than people who make $9 an hour. So the benefit of the Obama
coalition, was President Obama was a kind of figure that inspired people
who made a little bit less money to go out and vote, and so it changed some
of the math about elections. It`s tougher to do in a midterm. The
reality, though, is until we figure out how we handle this, we are not
going to have an economy that is growing.
SIMMONS: Because we just are not putting enough money in enough of the
people`s hands who are going to do well. If we think about what`s
happening with our gridlock, the average male worker makes $900 less in
real terms than he did in the late 1960s. These men, particularly middle-
aged, white guys in the country, who have seen their wages stagnate, their
wives have to go to work, their kids have to come back home, and no one`s
really talking to them about how do they make things better. And they`re
pissed, excuse my language. And they are stopping action in Congress ...
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I like this - so, right - so right, but so, I was going
to say, so, David, how do we get that angry white man, with the depressed
wages, how do we get him to see his interest as connected to that of
Tianna`s rather than in opposition to Tianna`s?
JOHNSTON: Well, and this is all government policy, this is not economics.
We have to get them to see, that you know, you were better off when 37
percent of private sector workers worked in a union, because 80 percent of
workers` wages were effectively set by union policies. You were - the
companies didn`t give you health care out of the goodness of their hearts,
they did it because you had some power. And that`s the real problem. We
don`t have markets for labor anymore. We have an asymmetrical situation,
where all the knowledge and power is over here, and the workers are
individualized and we have flooded the market since the elimination of
welfare as we knew it in 1995, with low-skilled workers, particularly
HARRIS-PERRY: What about bank accountability, those? Again, I just keep
trying to think coalition building. Is bank accountability something that,
for example, Republicans could get in line with, and say, hey, this isn`t
reasonable that people just can`t even get a bank account.
NEY: Well, part of the problem you have, when I was on financial
NEY: ... the Clinton administration, everybody charged the Hill and said
Glass-Steagall was 1932, it`s old, you`ve got to get rid of it. And then
of course once we got rid of it, we altered it. And then Dodd/Frank had to
come in, because something had to be done about these monsters. And then
the end of result, of course, there was a bailout and they didn`t want
transparency. There`s been a whole history of this. Republicans and
Democrats can grab this issue and do the right thing to do, which is to
make this a fair and balanced system. And what`s good for one is good for
the other. And there can`t be a level where the banks are above the people
in this process. It just can`t continue.
HARRIS-PERRY: Today, Gebreselassie with the quote of the hour ...
HARRIS-PERRY: It is expensive to be poor in America.
And coming up next, I swear, asteroid politics. Congress takes their fight
to outer space. This is not a metaphor. This actually happened. And a
major milestone for schools in the nation`s capital. There is, of course,
more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Would they shake hands? That seemed to be the primary question as Iran`s
new president, Hassan Rouhani arrived in New York City to speak at the same
United Nations General Assembly on the same day as U.S. President Barack
Obama. Not so much what they`d say at the podium but whether or not they`d
bump into each other on purpose or by accident or just shake hands, maybe
fist pump. I mean, it`s a simple gesture that has often signified historic
accords or countries thawing icy relationships.
The handshake between Presidents Obama and Rouhani happened. This is 2013.
Who needs to shake hands to make history when you have technology --
Here was President Obama on Friday afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just now I spoke on the
phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic republic of Iran. The two of
us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran`s nuclear
program. Now, we`re mindful of all the challenges ahead. The very fact
that this was the first communication between an American and Iranian
president since 1979 underscores the deep mistrust between our countries,
but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was a historic moment, but actually President Rouhani
had broken that news himself right before President Obama spoke when he
fired off tweets about the conversation.
All right. To fully grasp how far the U.S. and Iran have come, you have to
understand just a little bit of where we`ve been. The relationship has had
more drama than "Argo." Part of the story involves a handshake that did
happen between the U.S. and Iran.
1977, President Carter met the shah of Iran, who had been in power for two
decades, thanks to a CIA-backed coup. Carter called the shah an island of
stability. Two years later, the increasing autocratic leader was
overthrown in an Islamic revolution, and replaced by the Ayatollah
Khomeini, who declared the U.S. the great Satan.
That same year, 1979, militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held
52 American hostages for 444 days. It was a defining moment. Diplomatic
relations were severed and relations between the two countries would never
be the same.
In the 1980s, relations were further strained when U.S.`s support of Iraq`s
Saddam Hussein, yes, don`t forget that part of history, in his war with
Iran, a war that would last eight years and claim more than a million
lives. In 2002, less than a year after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush
includes Iran in his axis of evil along with North Korea and Iraq. Three
years later, hard line conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is elected and
becomes infamous for his anti-Israel and anti-American tirades and the
It is not a wonder that it is a welcome relief to hear the newly elected
Iranian president say this in his address to the U.N. this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HASSAN ROUHANI, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): The recent
election in Iran represents a clear living example of the wise choice of
hope, rationality, and moderation by the great people of Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Hope and rationality. It sounds great. But as President
Obama pointed out -- the real test will be, quote, "meaningful,
transparent, and verifiable actions."
Joining me are Charles Sennott, the vice president, editor at large, and
co-founder of "GlobalPost"; Christina Bellantoni, political editor at PBS
"NewsHour"; Mark Quarterman, research director at the Enough Project, a
project that works to end genocide and crimes against humanity; and Dafna
Linzer, editor at the MSNBC.com.
Dafna, what did you think of the announcement of that phone call?
DAFNA LINZER, MANAGING EDITOR, MSNBC.COM: I thought it was so fantastic.
LINZER: This is -- I think this is a really important breakthrough. Just
can`t kind of emphasize enough how important this is, what a big deal this
is, and I think also Rouhani`s election was key to this, but this was
something that President Obama has been working towards since his election.
I know one of my favorite lines from his first inaugural was really
designed for this moment when he really addressed the Iranian people and he
said, I will extend my hand if you unclench your fist.
And you`re right, we didn`t get the handshake shot, but a phone call in the
car and incredibly hopeful statements afterwards is much more valuable.
LINZER: Go ahead.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I mean, it`s pretty stunning.
And yet, I have a little suspicion about this, Charlie, and I`m wondering
in part because the president of Iran is a big deal, but the president of
Iran is a president and there is still the supreme leader.
And so, that says to me either the supreme leader has made a shift, which
is now being articulated through the voice piece of the president, which is
a good thing, or as we saw when this president goes back to Iran and part
of what happens in Tehran is he gets egged by people who are, like, I can`t
even believe you talked to that Barack Obama guy on the phone and then
tweeted about it and the tweet gets deleted. Like, should we be
enthusiastic or is this less exciting than it might first seem?
CHARLES SENNOTT, VICE PRESIDENT, GLOBALPOST: I think you have to
understand that Iran is also a deeply divided country, like this one
sometimes is, and that politics plays out in different ways. And you`re
right. I mean, he comes back from this breathtaking moment, this
diplomatic breakthrough. He lands in Tehran and is greeted with a shoe and
eggs by his own hard-liners who are saying you should never talk to the
This is not going to be an easy road, you know, for anyone, certainly not
for Rouhani. And I don`t think for President Obama either. I think this
is going to be very hard to get a lot of confidence in the idea that we
could actually talk with Iran. The thrilling moments that we`ve seen in
the last week of negotiations -- I mean, who wouldn`t welcome that? We
always want to be talking at least. But you can`t forget that during those
three weeks in Syria, the estimates are about 3,000 more people were killed
in the war there. It grinds on. It needs to be stopped. I don`t think
it`s any time to have a warm glow or waste much time tweeting.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes, right. Although I will say that Dick Costolo, who
is the CEO of Twitter, was very apt to tell us that this was. He said, "I
feel like I`m witnessing a tectonic shift in the geopolitical landscape,
reading @HassanRouhani`s tweets. This is fascinating."
I mean, this is fascinating in the sense of this as a new space for
diplomacy. But, Christina, this point Dafna made about the president
saying, OK, I`ll extend my hand if you unclench your fist, both in the 2012
re-election and in the 2008 primary, his discussions of willingness to be
in conversation with Iran prompted a great deal of criticism.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, PBS "NEWSHOUR": Huge criticism. That first debate
April 2007 in Orangeburg, South Carolina. This was the defining difference
between himself and Hillary Clinton when he was looked at as the newbie who
was going up against all these older hands who had been diplomats, Joe
Biden among them, now vice president.
And so, he always said, basically what you said, what`s wrong with talking?
That was his framework from the beginning. And he used to tell reporter
his approached it from this professorial standpoint, like you should just
do a lot outreach. But since he`s been president, you`ve seen a lot of
difference in that and pictures do matter. I mean, we`ve looked at those
pictures, the body language between him and Putin?
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, yes, those pictures matter lot.
BELLANTONI: Republican Party criticism of the fact he would bow to someone
in a photograph. I mean, this -- it does matter back here and the way it`s
perceived back home the fact the tweets got deleted is fascinating.
Mark, should we in a moment like this be having the celebration that the
president seems to be doing the thing that he promised in terms of saying,
all right, I know this is a fraught time, there`s a lot of hot war going
on, there`s even drone attacks coming from the U.S., but at the same time,
I`m going to pursue a strategy that includes conversations with people we
haven`t spoken to in many people`s lifetimes?
MARK QUARTERMAN, RESEARCH DIR., ENOUGH PROJECT: Yes. I think it`s an
exciting week. And the week itself, and we`re going to talk about more
aspects of it -- the Syria resolution among other things -- was a triumph
for diplomacy. It`s something the U.S. has not been exercising as much
over the past 10 years as it might have.
And to paraphrase Winston Churchill, I think we really are at the end of
the beginning rather than the beginning of the end. So we can`t really say
this is wonderful. This is -- this is so wonderful. We have to see what
happens in negotiations on any number of levels.
At the same time, I think we also need to recognize that diplomats,
negotiators sit at two tables when they negotiate. They sit at the table,
but Barack Obama is in effect sitting at a table with Iran, with Rouhani.
But he`s also sitting at a table with people here in the United States.
QUARTERMAN: And Rouhani is doing the same thing, too.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, over the course of what will probably be a torturous set
of negotiations, we`re going to have them both playing to domestic
audiences at times and playing to international audiences at times and then
saying things very quietly.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I mean, it`s clear that Rouhani hard liners will
throw a shoe and it seems to me that certainly our Congress might be
willing to throw a shoe at our president.
Stay right there because up next, I want to ask a little bit about how this
president of Iran is sort of creating a sense of credibility by
acknowledging one sort of important historic moment, what this new leader
had to say about the Holocaust.
HARRIS-PERRY: Iran, thanks to the previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
had quite a bad reputation for espousing a number of wacky theories. Iran
doesn`t have any gay people. Americans are behind the September 11th
And, oh, Iran`s last president was also known for defending those who
denied that the Holocaust ever happened. That`s why more than a few
eyebrows went up when his successor tweeted Rosh Hashanah greetings to all
Jews with especially Iranian Jews back on September 4th. He followed that
up by telling CNN`s Christiane Amanpour in an interview with a quote, "can
the crime the Nazis perpetrated toward the Jews is reprehensible." He also
qualified that remark somewhat, saying he`s not a historian, but rather a
There`s no denying that Iran`s top political person here has now
acknowledged publicly the factual truth of the Holocaust and there is a
significance in that acknowledgment alone. How important is this for just
sort of putting on to the world stage I`m not crazy?
SENNOTT: Well, I mean, it`s important but it`s crazy that we have to see
SENNOTT: And that Iran has for so long had Ahmadinejad being its spokesman
for failing in so many ways to represent the Iranian people. If you go to
Iran, one of the first things you notice is the complete disconnect between
the leadership like Ahmadinejad and the people who you meet. And the sense
particularly in the business elite that lives in Tehran of a yearning to
come in from the cold, to come back from this insane course that the
country has set upon as a theocracy. And there is a lot of movement there
that I think will be very excited about the last few weeks.
But I still maintain we shouldn`t get too excited because there`s a long
way to go. And I still think that we can look at this opening as a
dramatic moment but it`s preceded by weeks and months of failing to see
what`s really going on in the Middle East, of not hearing the music of the
Arab street, and I don`t trust them to hear the music of the Persian street
I just think this administration needs to really focus on the trends of the
Arab Spring and be much more attentive to the yearnings for democracy and
how to get there. They`re too distracted. We were talking whatever
happened to the pivot in Asia? I feel it`s dizzy to watch how this
administration is spinning around in its priorities.
HARRIS-PERRY: But there is almost certainly no taste among the American
people at this moment for any conversation about there is a yearning for
democracy and therefore, we should intervene, therefore we should be -- I
mean, the isolationist sentiment that emerged in the context of Syria was
so clear that it`s somewhat surprising to me that there`s any -- I mean,
the notion of being able to do to anything other than just applaud from the
sidelines when a level of sanity emerges in Iran.
SENNOTT: And it was at the core of Obama`s speech to say that that
isolationism is maybe the most perilous of all for the world. If the
United States doesn`t take this role -- he even used the word American
exceptionalism. He said I think we have that. And he said what`s even
more dangerous is if we back out and there`s a vacuum, who`s going to fill
BELLANTONI: There`s such a generational, shift here, when you even just
think about the past United Nations and how different it is to see, you
know, this president of Iran reaching out and talking to media, making sure
that the American people understand where he`s coming from. This is all
very strategic and he has a goal behind it. And don`t forget all the
economic pressures. They are not happy with the sanctions that have been
placed on them for many, many years, and that`s one reason it`s time to
HARRIS-PERRY: But at the core is still this question of enriching uranium
and the purposes for which it is used. We saw Israel`s minister for
strategy and intelligence responded to the U.N. speech by the Iranian
president by saying that Rouhani comments are to cheat the world and,
unfortunately many were willing to be cheated.
All right. So, we don`t have the sense that somehow Israel in seeing this
is, like, yes.
SENNOTT: Again, it`s how Israel understands it.
QUARTERMAN: Exactly. I was going to say, though, what`s the alternative,
too. There has been a fairly long, involved process with a group of
leading states, the P5-plus-1, to try to stop Iran from enriching further
to have uranium that they would be able to use to create weapons.
But there`s also been -- well, there have been many years of history but
even over the past the 10 years, think about this -- the United States
invaded the country on Iran`s eastern border, Afghanistan. The United
States invaded the country on Iran`s western border, Iraq. The United
States has carried out hundreds of drone attacks in a country on Iran`s
eastern border, Pakistan.
QUARTERMAN: But Barack Obama has pulled back from Iraq, is pulling out of
Afghanistan, was about to put his finger on the button for Syria and pulled
back in order to pursue diplomacy, whether it fell into the president`s lap
or was the plan.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think that we need to put all of these things together
to understand why there might be an opening from Iran. I mean, this
doesn`t necessarily mean there is an Iranian spring happening or that
within the three to six months that president Rouhani would like us to come
to an agreement on their nuclear ambitions, everything will be solved. But
I think we need to look at it -- the totality of the situation.
HARRIS-PERRY: I like your point that the thaw is not just -- sanctions are
certainly part of it. There is an economic self-interest here, but that
the thaw is also in part because of how this administration is managing,
even when domestically it looks difficult for us particularly coming out of
the Bush years.
Stay with us because up next, I want to talk a little bit more about this
administration and their policy and the evolution of the Obama doctrine and
the president`s really big win this week at the United Nations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This comes on the same day that we can accomplish a major
diplomatic breakthrough on Syria as the United Nations Security Council
will vote on a resolution that would require the Assad regime to put its
chemical weapons under international control so they can ultimately be
destroyed. We`ll have to be vigilant about following through, but this
could be a significant victory for the international community and
demonstrate how strong diplomacy can allow us to secure our country and
pursue a better world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama yesterday, just moments after his
historic phone call with Iran`s president, announcing a deal on a U.N.
resolution to eradicate Syria`s chemical weapons arsenal. And then, late
last night the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted that resolution.
The diplomatic advance came just three days after the president addressed
the U.N. General Assembly and unveiled his still-evolving Mideast doctrine.
It became clear the U.S. would not go it alone but would be willing to use
force to secure its interests in the region. Three weeks ago, it seemed
the use of force in Syria was all but foregone conclusion. But today we
seem to be backing further and further away from the brink, at least for
And, Dafna, like your sort of enthusiasm about that phone call was my
enthusiasm about that Rose Garden moment when -- I mean, we just all
assumed he was going to show up and say either we`ve already started or
we`re going, and instead he was like, let`s pause, let`s think about it,
let`s have some talks. How about Putin comes in and talks about it too? I
mean, it was kind of astonishing where we are versus three weeks ago.
LINZER: That`s right. This is a president that, (a), keeps surprising us.
LINZER: And, (b), has not had anything easy at all in the last six years.
I mean --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, you can`t hear a debt ceiling easily done, right.
LINZER: Right. You know, Syria not easy, right. The economy, not easy.
Iran, yes, tons of challenges ahead.
I mean, I think that he is showing us: (a), he is willing -- you know, this
is not somebody who has a one size fit all doctrine. This is not the
doctrine of preemption here that we saw in the Bush administration. He is
picking and choosing very carefully, and he will show you I will use force
in Libya this way. I will do this in Syria this way.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, so, Mark, let me ask you this, because there`s a part
of me as an American doing a little cheer that we didn`t go that we pulled
back from the brink, but the fact is in Syria, the realities of the
calamity that is occurring there, that failing state of human suffering,
remain on the ground. Are we being too self-satisfied by the fact at least
we didn`t use aggression here?
QUARTERMAN: Well, this goes back to the complicated nature and the
experience of Barack Obama since he was president -- the worst economic
crisis since the Depression, trying to get us out of two wars among many,
many other things. And Syria is incredibly complicated and there`s nothing
that we can do. We always talk about what we can do. There`s very little
that we Americans can do quickly that will make it better. And I care
deeply about the protection of civilians and humanitarian and the suffering
The U.S. has increased aid to Syrian refugees. I think that the U.S.
should take Syrian refugees in, too. And that would be a contribution as
well. But in terms of the Syrian crisis, there`s very little the U.S.
One word I thought about a lot as I was watching the speech was the word
"credibility" because that came up so much over the course of this period
of -- will Obama make the strike, will he take up the Russian offer.
HARRIS-PERRY: Will anyone believe what he says?
QUARTERMAN: Will anyone believe what he says?
And there`s the sense, especially from Washington foreign policy experts
and the punditocracy that when you threat on the use force, if you don`t
use force then you lose credibility, and I actually that that`s really not
HARRIS-PERRY: That maybe he actually gained credibility in the foreign
SENNOTT: Framed the speech to the U.N. General Assembly and the threat of
force was so important. And I think the way President Obama laid out his
doctrine or reasserted his doctrine in the Middle East was extremely
important. But I keep coming back to something, which is I don`t get what
the doctrine is.
And if this is indeed a presidency that`s faced a lot of challenges and
things have never been easy, he doesn`t make it any easier for himself if
he designs as he did the two priorities will be Iran`s pursuit of nuclear
weapons and the Arab/Israeli conflict.
I mean, talk about setting yourself up for failure, those priorities
overlook I think a bunch of missteps that are really tricky, but where were
we in the early days of the Arab Spring in supporting the yearning for
HARRIS-PERRY: But would it be preferential to have a president who sets a
lower and therefore more achievable bar and who is more doctrinaire?
Because I guess, you know, this was -- this was the big question about the
red line, right?
So, if I choose not to shoot after I`ve pulled out my gun, you know, now,
oh, I`ll never trust you with a gun -- no, I keep thinking no, no, no, I`m
really glad that Kennedy, you know, pulled back from the blockade.
SENNOTT: Not so much to lower the bar as to take what is the most
practical first step. I would say that in the Arab Spring, in those
moments of hope that were represented so clearly in Tahrir Square, there
was a chance for the United States to step in. I know we can`t effect
change. We were talking about this. How do you really do it?
But did we support civil society enough in Egypt? Did we react quickly
enough? Because that one was much easier.
HARRIS-PERRY: What if we take the point that the president is a learner?
Sometimes I watch this president when he was my state senator, and then my
senator, now my president, is that -- it`s not that he doesn`t make
mistakes but he moves up a learning curve more quickly than most people in
So, is it possible to acknowledge maybe the president or this
administration didn`t get behind Arab Spring as quickly or as forcefully as
it should, but that what he is now doing is powerful foreign policy?
BELLANTONI: And you can`t underestimate for how this White House the war-
wariness underlies everything. It is a backdrop to why the economy
suffered far long time and it`s also how we`re viewed abroad. I mean, this
is an enormous thing that weighs over this White House, and the president
takes that into account on every decision he`s making.
QUARTERMAN: The other thing, I think that`s absolutely right. And I also
wonder, and I only kind of half wondered because I`m not sure. But can you
really establish a doctrine now?
LINZER: Well, you can.
QUARTERMAN: So many of us grew up in the Cold War --
QUARTERMAN: -- when things were explicable, you understood.
HARRIS-PERRY: Communism is bad, containment.
QUARTERMAN: Exactly. You look in this part of the world, you look in that
part of the world. I`m just not sure that it`s really possible. I think
people are trying to take a doctrine out of that speech, and yes, the
speech did make an attempt to establish something of a set of priorities,
maybe not rising to the level of doctrine.
But we live in a very, very complicated world. We live in a world in which
U.S. power is relatively declining in relation to other countries.
SENNOTT: And it will continue to decline in the Middle East. President
Obama defined his doctrine in 2009 in June. Remember when he spoke to the
University of Cairo and he said, "We reach out to you with open hands --
SENNOTT: -- and we think democracy is a universal right"? The Arab Spring
HARRIS-PERRY: And acted.
SENNOTT: And now, where are we? Are we going to allow the Egyptian
military to get away with what many in Egypt see as a coup? Where, how --
how do we balance stability and democracy? Biggest questions that lie
ahead in the Arab Spring.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. It`s not a small point and it`s one when we
go back and look at that Iranian history and our own relationship and
everything from the fact that this president, this president of Iran is
someone who`s involved with Ollie North and the Iran Contra affair, like,
you know, this is -- right, this is not exactly a new question, but it is a
Thank you so much, Christina. I wanted to ask you if you thought John
Kerry was mad, too, after all this. So, at some point we`ll have to talk
But up next, our changing look at terrorism and what makes a terrorist.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last Saturday, at least 67 civilians and security personnel
were killed in a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in an attack by armed
militants. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by al-Shabaab, a
militant Islamist group from neighboring Somalia. So, today, just -- ever
since that moment I`ve wanted to take a closer look at this group.
The word "al Shabaab" means youth in Arabic. It was born out of resistance
to Ethiopian troops who entered Somalia in 2006 to back the weak
At one time the group, made up of unemployed young people, Somali
nationalist and global jihadists, had control of a large part of southern
Somalia, but the Somali government and a peacekeeping force from the
African Union made up of troops from Uganda and Kenya and other countries
have been able to rout al Shabaab from this m cities And towns including a
key port that used to bring in money and supplies for the group.
So, in the wake of last week`s attack, al Shabaab demanded that Kenya
remove its troops from Somalia.
Joining the table now is Dr. Ahmed Samatar, who`s a professor of
international affairs at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Thank you so much for making the trip and coming to talk with us.
I have -- from the moment I needed to report on this last week, I have
wanted to better understand this group. What is it we don`t know about
Somalia and al Shabaab that we should know?
AHMED SAMATAR, JAMES WALLACE PROFESSOR: Many thing, but we don`t have the
time to cover all of them.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. What are some of the things?
SAMATAR: Right, right, two levels. One is to look at Somali society and
one is to look at al Shabaab. In a nutshell, Somali -- people in Somali
society, really, it`s a foreign society, in the classical sense, biblical
sense, almost, and the economic populism that is now so generalized in the
country. Seventy-five percent of the Somali youth at least do not have
SAMATAR: Mogadishu, the capital city, 50 percent of its population are
IDPs, internally displaced people. The largest refugee camp in the world
is in another in Kenya populated by Somalis, 650,000 of them.
This gives you an insight into the country`s economic vulnerability. And
then there`s the decay of politics and the Somali political elite has
become predatory and they cannot, they cannot end the difference, really
get the country out of this mess. So, the state is almost nothing, really.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And this point --
SAMATAR: Let me add one more point. Than the cultural dimension, and the
kind of dehydration which has taken place, when you add the cultural,
economic, and political problems, then it opens up vulnerability of the
Somali people, including invasion from forces outside, there rise is al
HARRIS-PERRY: This point that you make about a failed state, I want to
connect it to the conversation we were just having about Syria, about
Egypt, about the Middle East, because one of the conversations going on
about Syria and about the use of chemical weapons is this idea that we are
-- that failed state is exactly the position we may be in. So, I`m
wondering, is there something we can learn from Somalia with the world`s
eyes now turned there again when it hasn`t been for probably a decade about
the challenges that we now face throughout the world?
QUARTERMAN: Well, Somalia is a quintessential failed state. It fell apart
and broke into constituent parts. The Somali people have been suffering
for decades. I mean, we`re talking about a 2, 2 1/2-year civil war in
Syria, in Somalia, this struggle has been going on for absolutely for
decades. And there really has been no government, effective government in
Somalia for decades too.
I think one thing it says about terrorism about al Shabaab is it was a
terrorist group that wanted to be a government as well, and because of the
intervention of African Union troops, particularly from Uganda and Kenya,
it`s no longer able to be that in the places it was that, so now it`s back
to being a terrorist group again, only a terrorist group as opposed to a
terrorist group with --
HARRIS-PERRY: The power of the state. But then that`s precisely what
makes Kenya vulnerable in this moment, right? So I guess even as we are
strengthening the U.N. over the course of this past week to intervene and
to lay down conversation around sanctions, I think about this example,
then, of the African Union and the extent to which Kenya becomes a target
for al Shabaab in this moment because of their relationship to trying to
change and intervene in the state and in terrorism.
SENNOTT: What al Shabaab also represents is the regrouping of al Qaeda and
an extreme threat to the United States that now that it has been diminished
and degraded certainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, maybe not completely
but a lot, it shifts over to Horn of Africa, it shifts over the these other
place where is the cells are metastasizing and changing and morphing.
And one of the things I`m really interested in is, are we effectively
really taking care of the idea of al Qaeda.
And I would say two things. One is democracy is the greatest retardant
foam that you can spray on the fire of al Qaeda. And when we are in Egypt
and we fail to embrace democracy or we fail to support it sufficiently or
we fail to really, really put everything we have into helping that work, al
Qaeda for years has said any of those Islamists who believe in democracy
are suckers because democracy is a western ploy. What you have to be very
careful of in the situation in Egypt not to give them that argument.
That`s how I see Somalia connected with the discussion.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to pause right there. We`re going to come right back
to this question, because I saw disagreement around the question of al
Shabaab and al Qaeda. And I think it is a central question.
So, stay with us. More on that when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Although al Shabaab is a Somali nationalist organization, it
also has foreign ties, not the least of all its affiliation we were just
talking about with al Qaeda.
The group has also been known to recruit from Somali communities here in
the U.S., particularly in Minnesota`s twin cities, home to the largest
population of people of Somali descent in the country. Since 2007, at
least 27 young men from Minnesota have left to join al Shabaab in Somalia,
prompting an ongoing federal investigation into Minnesota`s Somali
communities, at the pick of al Shabaab`s strength, 50 American citizens
were working with the group according to U.S. authorities.
So this notion that Minnesota twin cities, which is where you live, is
somehow feeding this group and then we hear the words al Qaeda, this makes
me both extremely nervous for the population of Somalis living in diaspora
in Minnesota, saying let`s target and identify them. On the other hand, I
think it`s important that we understand the full complexity of what al
SAMATAR: Well, al Shabaab quintessentially is a Somali phenomenon. It`s
not something primarily that has been export from outside, import in
Somali. But there`s a dimension that`s transnational.
Al Shabaab can be broken into four components. One component number one
are young Somali people, employed Somali youth who are looking for a job.
They don`t have jobs, $50 a month will take them there. So that`s one
The second group is primarily nationalists, and therefore are resistant to
external intervention, particularly military intervention. I want to
reclaim a sense of their own national identity and national historical
Third group are a political group who use the al Shabaab phenomenon as a
way of penetrating into the politics so they will have a stake in the
political dispensations that will follow when Somalia comes back out of the
mess. And then the -- I think the fourth group are the transnational
jihadists. And this is where you find the foreign forces coming from
outside. And their project really is less about Somalia. They would like
to see Somalia that is an Islamic state.
SAMATAR: But their project is to use Somalia as part of this global
project that they have. So to separate those is really important because
the first three are essentially indigenous Somali feelings.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And yet there`s a way in which the sexiness of the
fourth, of the transnational, Islamic jihadist aspect becomes our focus.
So, this week it`s conversations about the "White Widow" and Minnesota Twin
Cities and this idea that there are these -- that there are these sort of
Somali, you know, potential terrorists out there in the world. And I
guess, doctor, is there a way that we feed an obsession instead of with the
indigenous questions of the realities of people living in Somalia for
decades under a failed state, because we get so excited by the idea that
there`s a British lady who`s financing it, right, because she`s the "White
LINZER: Right, instead of focuses on all the men who carried out the
LINZER: I was, like, I want to know more about them. Yes, of course,
there is because we decide what we care about most and what`s in our
interest and who our enemies are. And so, we focus in on this one
question. I think really to the detriment of anything else, about caring
about failed states because they`re failed states, instead of tying every
single discussion to terrorism.
And same with Somali Americans who are working so hard to make it here.
Why don`t we support that? I think there has not been a case in which the
Justice department has prosecuted a Somali-American for terrorism in which
that person has been acquitted in a U.S. court.
I mean, this is -- there`s just a broad conception at work here that is
destructive to the development of that community and also hurts our
understanding of what`s really at stake for us in failed states.
QUARTERMAN: There`s another aspect of this, too, and this is the slapping
the label of terrorism on issues.
Absolutely, the attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi is a terrorist attack.
But as we were talking about during the break, there were numerous attacks,
terrible attacks that occurred around the world, in Pakistan where a
Catholic Church was -- a Christian church was attacked, an attack in
northern Nigeria probably by Boko Haram, an attack in Uganda two weeks
before probably claimed by al Shabaab because Uganda and Kenya are the two
main contributors, troop contributors, and a terrible week in Iraq as well.
And so, much of this is so locally focused, even if there are foreign
fighters involved, that when we start calling it terrorism, then we kind of
end the discussion and end the analysis because then it becomes a
transnational or global issue as opposed to -- well, what`s going on in
Nigeria that causes Boko Haram?
Certainly they probably are linked with al Qaeda groups as well and are
getting some support. But I don`t want the analysis to stop there.
QUARTERMAN: Needs to go further.
HARRIS-PERRY: You and I have talked many times about our desire on this
show to think more carefully, for example, about Africa and African
diaspora. And so, as horrifying as it was that this terrorist attack was
the way in, I thought, OK, but at least we can now try to think of this
moment of the way in about these issues.
Charlie Sennott and Ahmed Samatar, thank you so much for being here. Also,
Mark Quarterman, and Dafna Linzer, I hope you will join us again.
Still to come this morning, a man who was attacked in an apparent assault
of racial prejudice only to turn around and invite his attackers to get to
know him better. Our extraordinary foot soldier is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last week, just hours after we here in Nerdland had a
conversation about profiling and violence, a horrible incident that is now
being investigated as a hate crime occurred right here in New York City.
A Sikh professor who is also a medical doctor taking a walk through his
community in Harlem at about 8:15 when he heard people yelling "Get Osama"
and terrorists. He was attacked by approximately 20 young men on bicycles.
Passers-by helped him to escape. He was left bruised and bloodied and
suffering a fractured jaw.
As much as this attack made us sit up and take notice, it is how the doctor
responded to the violence that led us to invite him to the studio as our
foot soldier of the week.
Dr. Prabhjot Singh is an assistant professor of school of international and
public affairs at Columbia University, also a physician who lives and works
in Harlem and a national community health expert. I`m honored to have you
here on the set today as our foot soldier.
Tell me your reaction to this crime.
DR. PRABHJOT SINGH, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: First of all is, thanks so much
for having me on the show.
Of course, the immediate reaction is certainly shock, but very quickly
afterwards, there was an immediate sense that we have to do something, that
we reaches more deeply than I think what the NYPD, who are doing an
excellent job, can do. We need to actually refocus, redouble our efforts
on this amazing community that we live in and make sure that thing like
this don`t happen to anybody else again.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I`ve read that part of how you believe that could happen
is if these young men or other young men like them in the community
actually learned more about the Sikh faith, came and worshipped with you
SINGH: I`d take that even a step further. I would say to my attackers if
I could, why don`t you spend a day with me in our hard work of taking care
of a community and making it healthier? And what they`d see is that the
people we take care of are people like their aunts, their mothers, their
sisters and during that day, I would ask them to ask me as many questions
as they could about my beard, my turban, my faith -- and I think that
they`d find we have a lot more in common than they ever imagined.
HARRIS-PERRY: Your response isn`t that you would like them to be rounded
up and go to jail.
SINGH: As young men who did something like this they need to take
responsibility for what they did, but ultimately, we need to create an
environment that is healthy and safe in a deeper way than just looking at
incidents as isolated and separate from each other. I think as young men,
they should be able to take responsibility, but aim for a pathway of
personal growth and wisdom, which I don`t see being served by our current
criminal justice system.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, young African-American men living in Harlem know
something about being profiled. Know a little -- we`ve talked over and
over again on this program about the potential violence, the physical
vulnerability of young black men in this city, in cities and states where
there are "Stand Your Ground" laws.
The idea that that lack of empathy, that they could not extend that sense
of their own wrongful profiling towards you feels very -- it makes me feel
like there`s -- what would be the way people could build that kind of
SINGH: You know, my wife`s response was very similar to my own. We --
she`s worried about her 1-year-old, but at the same time, makes -- wants to
engage our community. I feel that the empathy that`s there is between the
mothers of those kids who, after the Trayvon Martin case, I saw worried
about their own son, their own children moving around the neighborhood and
getting profiled. And in that sense, we don`t necessarily need to just go
immediately to those young men, but there`s huge community, a network
around them that also wants to change what our place looks like.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you a little bit about the profiling because
often what happens, whether it was in the context of the horrific Oak Creek
shootings or your own personal horror here, is it gets reported as, well,
they believed him to be Muslim. And as though if in fact you were Muslim
or if you identified, no, I`m not Muslim, I`m Sikh, that this abuse would
SINGH: Well, you know what happened wasn`t an isolated incident. Last
year, I wrote in "The New York Times" an op-ed around anti-Sikh hate
crimes, but after a decade of rhetoric around the war on terror, we see
that the collateral damage permeates our communities all over the place.
It affects people as broadly as transgendered woman who was killed in our
neighborhood last year, and hate really can target anybody at some point.
We really need to make our own communities safer and healthier so these
things don`t happen to anybody that looks or acts differently.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m incredibly pleased to have had at least few moments to
sit here at the table with you and I just -- you should know all of
Nerdland wants you to get better and that what you have given us today is
SINGH: Thank you so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much.
Thank you to Dr. Singh -- and that is our show for today. But, of course,
there`s always two days of Nerdland on the weekend.
So, thanks to you at home for watching. Come back tomorrow 10:00 a.m.
Eastern. We are going to answer some flabbergasting questions about
Obamacare on our brand new "Call in WMHP."
And later, we will be joined by a special guest, Chris Nee, the creator and
executive producer of the immensely popular children`s show "Doc
McStuffins." That`s 10:00 Eastern tomorrow morning.
Right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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