UP with STEVE KORNACKI
December 15, 2013
Guest: Tsedeye Gebreselassie, Teresa Ghilarducci, Elaine Chao, Christie
Hefner, Rachel Sklar, Josh Barro, Richard Wilson, Adam Serwer, Wells Dixon,
Josh Gershtein, Mary Brosnahan, Mark Green, Rashad Robinson
KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: I`m Krystal Ball filling in again this morning
for Steve Kornacki who has the weekend off, and as the Midwest and East
Coast wake up after yesterday`s big snow storm, things are looking brighter
and clearer this morning. And we`re hoping to get a clear take on where a
lot of things stand. The deadline for Christmas shopping is counting down
fast. I can feel my own stress levels rising, and in just a moment we`ll
be taking a look at the movement to secure living wages for workers at big
box stores like Walmart. Plus, it was one of President Obama`s biggest
campaign promises and one of the very first things that he tried to
fulfill. Shutting down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
But as we all know, he`s met fierce opposition in the five years since. We
have new movement in the effort to end Guantanamo to discuss this morning.
Did you read about the New York City girl profiled in "The Times" this
week? A girl they called "the girl in the shadows." Well, she got us all
wondering about the hundreds of thousands of Americans just like her who
are also living in the shadows and what can and should be done for
America`s homeless. And there was encouraging news this week in the
movement for equality when a new CEO was named as the head of General
Motors. Will a woman at the top really affect the balance of power in the
workplace? We`ve got a lot of amazing and accomplished women joining us.
So you`re going to want to stick around for that. And on Friday, we got
evidence that this year`s unprecedented strikes by Walmart and fast food
workers in cities across the nation are having an impact on the president
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: There is some
basic things that we can do, just to create a better economic environment
for these outstanding mayors. There are some areas, for example, raising
the minimum wage, that could have a tremendous boost in a lot of the cities
where there are a lot of service workers, who get up and, you know, do some
of the critical work for all of us, every single day. But oftentimes still
find themselves just barely above poverty or in some cases below poverty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALL: Now, in his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama
called for raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. But over the past year,
folks like the men and women who clean the floors at Burger King and who
stock the shelves at Walmart have taken to the streets calling for $12 to
$15 an hour. And the voters of SeaTac Washington, SeaTac, home to the
airport for Seattle and Tacoma and the 6,000 workers who labor there, the
people of SeaTac passed the referendum last month to raise their minimum
wage, the highest in the country, to $15 an hour. Now, there are five
states this year, raise their minimum wages in last week. Obama endorsed
the proposal to raise the minimum wage nationwide. Federal minimum wage of
$10.10, a dollar more than what he was proposing just last year.
Public opinion is on his side and new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll out
this week found 63 percent of all Americans support raising the minimum
wage to $10.10. That includes half of all Republicans, even half of Tea
Party members are in support of higher wages. While efforts to raise
minimum wages seem to have momentum, workers face a tougher fight on
another one of their demands, union representation. Today, we take it for
granted that workers at McDonald`s and Walmart and other places like that
don`t have a union. But it has not always been that way. You might have
heard about the big wave of strikes throughout the 1930s that led to
unionization throughout the auto industry. But retail clerks and
waitresses and waiters, they were also winning union protection during that
period. On February 27th, 1937, 100 female clerks at a Woolworth`s Five
and Dime location in downtown, Detroit staged a sit-in and they were up
against really tough odds with cheap prices and more than 2,000 stores,
Woolworth was the retail empire of its time. You could call it the Walmart
of the early 20th century. But the sales girls soon won better wages and
union representation not only for themselves, but for all 40 Woolworth
stores across the city.
By the beginning of the next decade, when the U.S. entered the Second World
War, the labor movement had become so strong that strikes like the one at
Woolworth were an everyday occurrence. But the president at the time
Franklin Roosevelt knew that work stoppages could threaten the nation`s
capacity to manufacture all the uniforms and goods and weapons they would
need to win the war. So he stepped up labor laws, he limited workers`
ability to strike and forced business to settle their labor disputes
amicably. For the most part, it worked. Business and labor worked things
out for the sake of the war effort. But there was one CEO who would not
play ball. His name was Sewell Avery, a staunch conservative who hated not
only unions, but also FDR`s entire new deal. Sewell Avery ran the company
called "Montgomery Ward," a retail giant, it`s kind of an Amazon of its
day. If you lived in the middle of nowhere and needed to buy something,
Montgomery Ward would ship it to you from their mammoth catalog. And in
towns and cities like one Michigan Avenue and downtown, Chicago, Montgomery
Ward had stores.
So when Sewell Avery refused to recognize his workers union it was a really
big deal. These days when businesses tell unions to take a hike, well,
that seems to be business as usual. But not then. The full force of the
U.S. government came down on Sewell Avery. Roosevelt sent in the National
Guard whose soldiers carried Avery out of his office, in downtown Chicago
in October, 1944. The federal government`s message to CEOs across the
country was clear, negotiate with your unions or else. After the war,
Sewell Avery would exact revenge. He teamed up with the National
Association of Manufacturers and with Republicans in Congress, to roll back
the union movement. And in 1947, they succeeded big time. Over the veto
of President Truman, Republicans pushed through the Taft/Hartley Act, a
comprehensive bill that cut a broad range of union activity off at the
Since the beginning of a long unraveling of federal labor law that weakened
service sector unions in particular. And as big box stores and malls
spread out across the suburbs, organizing workers became even harder.
Fast-forward to today, and just one in 20 retail workers is represented by
a union. The laws protecting workers rights are so rarely enforced that
more and more we`re seeing workers taking to the streets. Trying to win
support from the public, from community leaders, from lawmakers, from
anyone they can, they try to win back some of the power and the protections
that they once had. I want to bring in to this conversation Josh Barro,
politics editor for "Business Insider," Tsedeye Gebreselassie a staff
attorney at the National Employment Law Project, Teresa Ghilarducci, I`m
sorry, Teresa, labor economist at the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy,
Analysis at the New School, and Richard Wilson, an employee who`s been
working at a Walmart in Chicago for over two years, he`s also a member of
our Walmart, an organization that supports workers there. And I should
point out that I`ve been talking with and working with some of the folks at
Richard`s organization, our Walmart. Thank you all so much for being here.
I really appreciate it. You braved the snow to be part of this
conversation. That means a lot to me.
And Teresa, I wanted to start with you, with kind of some of the history
picking up on what we were just saying about the way that unions used to be
so strong in this country and really have a voice and be able to protect
workers. And as they declined, we have seen wages fall. How important is
the decline of unions to the story of low wages?
TERESA GHILARDUCCI, THE NEW SCHOOL: Well, as a labor economist, I know
that wage contours, wage levels are set and the economy, they`re also set
in politics and the law and legislation. So the lack of protection for
unions is instrumental in making the United States number one. And
sometimes it is not good to be number one. We are number one in the world
in creating low wage jobs. One out of four workers in the United States is
a low wage worker. Meaning that they make 45 percent of the median wage,
which is now $18,000 per year. So a quarter of our workers make $18,000
per year. And no other industrialized country has that kind of record.
GHILARDUCCI: Greece, that is a mess, as we know, only 12 percent of their
jobs are low wage jobs. Some of the richest, fastest growing innovative
countries like Norway is at five percent. So we have created an
environment where low wage jobs is the business model.
BALL: Right. One of the things that I always look at is this graph that
shows the way that productivity goes up, and it used to be as productivity
went up, wages went up right along with it.
BALL: And somewhere in the `70s .
GHILARDUCCI: That`s right.
BALL: . that became unhinged and also in the `70s, that`s when we really
started to see a decline .
BALL: In unionization. So, to me, it seems very closely intertwined.
GHILARDUCCI: It is, actually. We all know this. Also, the big expansion
of low wage jobs in China. So the unfettered, you know, trade with China
has actually -- this import penetration that causes low wages too. But we
went along with it. And a lot of Chinese employers are really just part of
American companies. So it is not really Chinese workers, it is American
workers using those global supply chains.
BALL: That`s such a great distinction. Once today, like we were just
talking about, since workers face such barriers to unionizing, we are
seeing movements like our Walmart that Richard is involved with taking to
the streets and trying to figure out with labor laws as they are how they
can still have a voice? And I know you work with a lot of these types of
organizations. What sort of models have been effective in providing
workers with a voice in the absence of a union?
TSEDEYE GEBRESELASSIE: I mean we have seen union density decline from 35
percent in the 1950s, the time of that amazing history lesson that you just
gave, to less than seven percent today. And so, we`ve had to figure out -
you know, workers have had to figure out a way to organize. And it is
important to know that you don`t have to be in a union to be able to
organize and, you know, protest unfair labor conditions. You are
protected. The problem is that there is a big gulf between, you know, the
theoretical right to organize .
GEBRESELASSIE: And what happens when you actually do it in practice.
Because as I`m sure Richard will tell us, you know, there are severe
consequences for workers, especially in this economic climate, when they
stand up and protest unfair labor conditions. And so the way that our
Walmart and the fast food workers have been doing it over the last year,
you know, and these are growth industries in our economy as Teresa was
saying, these are the jobs that are growing, but these are the jobs that
are paying literally single digit hourly wages. They have been doing it,
you know, through a combination of just, you know, raising the profile of
low wage work, who are low wage workers, they are adults, they are not
teens, they are supporting families, they are, you know, working two jobs
to get by. In fact, McDonald`s is telling them to work two jobs to get by.
GEBRESELASSIE: You know, they`re being forced to rely on public assistance
to make ends meet.
GEBRESELASSIE: And so I think they have elevated this national
conversation about low wage work and gotten President Obama to even, you
know, say, income inequality is a huge deal in this country.
BALL: Yeah. I think, Richard, that you and people like you have focused
the conversation in this country. And I just have to say, personally how
much I respect you and your courage. Because you`re out there thinking not
just about yourself.
BALL: But you`re thinking about workers across the country and you`re
risking your own livelihood to do so. Talk a little bit about what brought
you to that point, where you decided, you know what, I`m not going to take
this anymore. I`m going to go on strike. I`m going to engage in protests,
I`m going to lift my voice to do whatever I can, both to better my
situation, but also the situation of workers across the country. What got
you to that point?
RICHARD WILSON, WALMART EMPLOYEE: Thank you so much. It is a pleasure
being here this morning. But my story is unique, but it is the same as
workers all around the whole world, around the whole U.S. It just -- we
just -- just decided there we want to have a better life. You know, that
the age of low wage workers is over. It is a thing of the past. And you
can`t survive in this economy making $8.25, $9.25, just things of that
nature. You just can`t survive. And so, my personal story is I did the
right things, I went to college, I got my degree, but .
BALL: Liberty in Virginia, close to where I went to school.
WILSON: Yeah, Liberty University in Virginia. So, I did the right things
only to find out because I owe my school, like, $3,000, I can`t physically
get my degree, so I physically have to be at Walmart. And .
BALL: So you have all the credits you need .
BALL: But because you can`t pay the fees you need to graduate .
BALL: You are unable to get your degree.
BALL: Oh, my gosh.
WILSON: And because of things of that nature I have to be at Walmart. And
so like now I`m a low wage worker. And so, at my store in Lakeview, it is
not the same -- it is the same all over in the whole country, that workers
are one of many who are (inaudible) sick and tired of the way that home
office is treating the associates, you know, cutting hours, making them
work overtime, not getting paid unless it is company approved and taking
extended lunches and things of that nature .
WILSON: Just unfair practices.
BALL: Yeah, I mean we`ve heard reports that -- of what you would call wage
theft, where people are pressured to work overtime, off the clock, right?
And basically the message is, if you don`t like your job here, if you`re
not willing to do those sorts of things, take a hike.
BALL: Because we have got a thousand other workers behind you ready to
take that low wage job. We`re going to pick up on that point and get Josh
Barro in this conversation as well right after this.
BALL: Last month, a few stores in Washington, D.C., there was 600 job
openings and 23,000 job applicants.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you look at that as a rate, that means less than
three percent of them would get hired. Harvard has a higher acceptance
STEPHEN COLBERT: Yes. Walmart is now harder to get into than Harvard.
COLBERT: Though brown students want you to know they didn`t want to go to
either of them anyway.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALL: Stephen Colbert talking about the fact that in D.C. they had 600
open positions at a new Walmart that just opened there and 23,000
applicants. So, Richard, you got into a more exclusive institution .
BALL: . than Harvard. But Josh, I want to pick up with you on point that
both Tsedeye and Teresa started to touch on, which is the fact that, you
know, service jobs, retail jobs are the jobs that we are creating in this
BALL: They`re the jobs that we have. So if we want to address income
inequality, isn`t the best way to address that, to make those jobs good
jobs, to make those jobs that you can support yourself and your family on.
To me that seems like the best way to go.
JOSH BARRO, BUSINESS INSIDER: Sure. I think that`s right. The question
is how to do that. And I think Washington, D.C., actually, provides an
instructive example. Walmart is moving into that market for the first
time, the city council considered a bill that would have effectively
applied a special minimum wage just to Walmart. It would have applied to
certain other non-unionized big box retailers, but importantly it would not
have applied to the incumbent supermarkets that are Walmart`s main
competitors there. And Walmart said, you know, we are not going to do the
expansion, if you pass this law. The mayor vetoed it. Now it looks like
they`re going to get a general minimum wage increase that will apply to
everybody. And that makes a lot more sense. Because retail is a low
margin business. Walmart`s profit is about three percent of its sales.
There isn`t a ton of room to raise wages at Walmart through reduced
profits, though there would be some. The main way that you could have
higher wages at Walmart and other retailers would be to have higher prices.
And that would be because it actually makes the workers more productive.
The reason that low wage jobs are low wage is that, you know, a company
like Walmart does not make a lot of profit per employee. So, if you have
higher prices, you will get higher profits to support higher wages. On the
other hand, you`ll have higher consumer prices.
But so, I think that, you know, minimum wage increases are one of the
policies that are available right now that do produce real standard of
living increases for people who work at Walmart and similar employers. I
also think policies generally that support full employment will tend to
push wages up. That`s what we saw during the 1990s, the one period in the
last 30 years when we really had good wage growth across the entire income
BARRO: But I would caution against expecting that unionization will
produce a lot of wage increases at retailers. Now, I think it may produce
benefits against other kinds of abuses by employers. But the reason that
you got big wage increases, say, in the auto industry from unionization was
that there was a protected market where you had extreme profitability.
Competitors couldn`t come in and undercut you on price at a period in the
BALL: So maybe we should be more protectionist? Is that your argument?
BARRO: Well, one - there are problems with protectionism. Protectionism
would increase wages for certain kinds of workers who are competing with
low wage workers in other countries. But in an open global market, which I
think we have, like it or not, there is a limit to how much you can
increase wages through bargaining.
BALL: What do you say to that, Teresa?
GHILARDUCCI: Not in the retail. Not in retail. Retail is -- in the
United States is really low pay and other countries that do really, really
well, in terms of growth and consumer demand, have much higher wages in the
GEBRESELASSIE: And even retail stores in the U.S., I mean if you look ok
at a place like Costco, they pay much better than Walmart .
GEBRESELASSIE: Then they actually benefit from reduced employee turnover
and cost savings that are associated there. So, there is a model for the
retail industry to pay much higher wages and Walmart, as you know, Richard
was saying, during the break, made $17 billion in profits last year.
GEBRESELASSIE: I know you said that per employee, but, you know, there is
obviously room in .
BALL: And I want to address this - this piece that you said about how, you
know, you have to raise prices a lot in order to increase wages. Senator
Elizabeth Warren actually spoke about this recently with regard to fast
food and McDonald`s. Let`s take a listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: During my Senate campaign, I ate
a number 11 at McDonald`s many, many times a week. And I know the price on
that one. $7.19. According to the data on the analysis of what would
happen if we raised the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years, the price
increase on that item would be about 4 cents. So instead of being $7.19,
it would be $7.23.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALL: Four-cent increase, doesn`t seem like too big of a deal. And
Richard, as a resident Walmartologist .
BALL: You know a lot about Walmart .
BALL: How - I mean do they have to raise prices a ton in order to pay
people a decent wage?
WILSON: Absolutely not. It was actually a survey done actually - that was
actually out that said that Walmart, like, for example, last year Walmart
had $17 billion in sales. $17 billion in profit. $17 billion, that means
after the bills are paid, after the bills are paid, and this is what you
have left over. The Walton family owns 100 -- they`re worth $144 billion.
That is 42 percent of the working population.
BALL: Right. The rest of America.
WILSON: The rest of America.
WILSON: The rest of America. And so where our Walmart, our fight is very
simple. Walmart can pay each employee a minimum of $25,000, that raises
them out of the .
BALL: Out of poverty.
WILSON: Out of poverty. Exactly. The question is that they choose not
to. It is not that they can`t. It has been actually said that Walmart can
actually pay employees $13 an hour if they raise per shopping experience,
64 cents. That`s like after like ten groceries or something like that.
BALL: Right. Well, and I think most Americans, if you put it to them like
that, you know, would you pay 64 more cents a trip in order for folks like
Richard to have wages that are above the poverty level? And, by the way,
do get a lot of folks off of food stamps, the taxpayers` subsidized
benefits. You know, would you be willing to do that? And I bet a lot of
Americans would say yes. We`re going to have some more thoughts on this
topic right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a time when raising the minimum wage was a
bipartisan issue and we did it regularly to protect those hard working
Americans who couldn`t keep up with the expenses of life. Now it has
become a partisan issue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you raise the minimum wage too high, you`re going to
have not more jobs, but fewer jobs and fewer opportunities, particularly
for these young people because, again, about half the people who get the
minimum wage are between 16 and 24.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALL: That was two senators there, arguing about the impact of the minimum
wage. And Tsedeye, one of the things that I think is a particularly
compelling argument is when you have people earning $7.25, if they`re
supporting themselves, if they are supporting themselves and family .
BALL: They`re not going to be able to do it on just $7.25. And we as a
country have said it is unacceptable for people to work and to live in
abject poverty. So, we support them as taxpayers already .
BALL: . through food stamps, through other forms of aid.
GEBRESELASSIE: Which has vital programs, but .
BALL: Which are vital programs, but, it seems to me that conservatives
should be open to the argument that work should pay.
GEBRESELASSIE: Yes. And if you -- I mean what they were saying - you
know, the last minimum wage increase was passed in 2007 during the Bush
administration. This traditionally has been an issue that both Republicans
and Democrats can get behind and you saw that with the amazing polling.
But the problem is that we are in such gridlock in Congress that, you know,
we have only seen Congress vote to raise the minimum wage three times in
the last 30 years. Even though it is clear that it needs to happen and it
is clear that every year that goes by without a raise on the federal level,
you know, purchasing power gets eroded and workers can`t support
GEBRESELASSIE: And that`s why we`re seeing so much activity.
BALL: 52 percent of fast food workers enroll their families in public
assistance program. I mean that doesn`t seem acceptable to me.
GHILARDUCCI: And almost all of them are getting earned income tax credit,
that was expanded by the first President Bush.
BALL: And just explain briefly what that is, for people that don`t know.
GHILARDUCCI: So many people watching this know because they`re actually
filing their income tax return .
GHILARDUCCI: If their employer pays them too little, they get a credit --
a tax credit, they get a check from the federal government, from all other
taxpayers. Which means that - and Walmart knows this, that they keep their
wages low and they know that the federal government, the taxpayers will
fill in those wage gaps.
GHILARDUCCI: So we are -- without a minimum wage or a union, raising the
wages, we are actually just causing more and more money not to come from
Walmart, but to come from taxpayers to subsidize low wage workers.
BARRO: But this is exactly what these policies were designed to do. The
point of the earned income tax credit is to support living standards for
people who earn the low incomes.
GHILARDUCCI: It supports the employers that pay low wages.
BARRO: But so, I mean .
GHILARDUCCI: And that subsidy is for them.
BARRO: But what do we do about the fact that we have this economy, that
for decades has been creating a gap in earnings driven by a gap in
productivity that is widening. And so the .
GEBRESELASSIE: No, productivity is actually on the rise.
BARRO: Productivity is rising, but not for retail workers. The reason
that these - the reason that Walmart jobs and similar jobs pay low wages is
that there are low profits per employee. In industries like this. And so
if we`re going to deal with the fact that we have this widening income gap,
you need policies that are designed to support the incomes of people with
low incomes. And this is what Obamacare is also designed to do.
BARRO: You have a lot of these workers who don`t get health insurance
through work, and the policy is designed to fill that gap. And you can -
you can bemoan that fact, but I think there is good reason that we have
policy designed to .
BALL: Well, to me - I mean to me it is a question of -- from the
conservative perspective, right, it seems to me you would rather have that
coming from the market side than from the government side. And to me, this
is another reason why unions which have been so demonized, right, by the
right, are such a vital part of this conversation, because they bring a
countervailing force to the table, so that there is more of a balance of
power, between the workers who have a voice for themselves and the
corporations who right now have all the cards, are holding all the power.
Richard, I wanted to give you the last word on this topic because this is a
discussion that directly impacts your life.
BALL: I mean, what would it mean to you if you had wages that just allowed
you to earn $25,000 a year. What are you on track to earn this year if you
don`t mind me asking?
WILSON: I`m actually on track to earn about $12,000 this year and I work
average of 32 hours per week.
BALL: I mean are you able to live on your own on that kind of salary?
WILSON: Absolutely not. If it wasn`t for my grandmother, praise her Lord.
BALL: Thank God for grandma, always.
WILSON: Wait, a couple of my goals is actually, like I said before, I feel
in more ways that my American dream has been at least delayed or actually
even stopped by this, by being able to work such lower wages. And I did
everything right. I went to school, I studied, I got the books, I got the
WILSON: But also make a long story short, what $25,000 would do for me, as
far as allow me to pay off Sallie Mae a lot quicker .
WILSON: Get married, next year, hopefully.
WILSON: Thank you. And, you know, have my own family, get a house. Just
pretty much live the American dream.
WILSON: And I believe I can do that. And that`s why our fight is so
important. I`m glad that we`re able to begin a process of change that the
national discussion on wage labor and bring it from the back seat to the
front seat on this time.
BALL: Well, I want to thank you so much, Richard, for being here. I want
to thank you, Teresa, Tsedeye and Josh also so much .
WILSON: Thank you.
BALL: For your part in this conversation. I think that this challenge is
a center of challenge of our time. We have these service jobs. They are
the jobs that we have. And if we want to address income inequality, we
have to find a way for people like Richard to be able to support themselves
and have good jobs. All right.
Switching gears, when staying put and going home are not an option, why
five years later the prison at Guantanamo Bay is still open. That`s next.
BALL: When is a handshake just a handshake? This impromptu meeting
between President Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela`s
funeral this week got everyone all in a tizzy. Luckily, Jon Stewart was
around to provide a little bit of comedic context.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART: Obama had the audacity to greet another world leader.
STEWART: With a gesture so meaningless, you can train a basset hound to do
STEWART: Raul Castro isn`t even Fidel Castro. He`s like Cuba`s Jim
Belushi, he`s good.
STEWART: But he ain`t John. And, by the way, Cuba is not the only country
with a spotty record of imprisoning people in Cuba.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALL: Turns out he`s right. Cuba is not the only country with the spotty
record of imprisoning people in Cuba. We will talk about that other
country. That`s next.
BALL: The U.S. general who was in charge of opening the prison camp at the
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, he now says that it was a mistake. In
an op-ed in the "Detroit Free Press," Major General Michael Lehnert writes
that the facility never should have been opened in the first place. In
retrospect, in his opinion, the entire detention and interrogation strategy
was wrong. He says it validates every negative perception about the U.S.
And let`s face it, there are a lot of people out there who agree with
General Lehnert, a lot of very powerful people and his former commander-in-
chief, he just happens to be one of them. The presidential candidate
Barack Obama promised many times to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He
called the place "a recruitment tool for terrorists." And so with no
surprise that on his second full day in office, as one of the very first
things he would do as president and as a symbol of how things would be
different under this administration than the last, President Obama signed
an executive order that demanded the prison be closed within one year.
When he accepted his Nobel Peace prize later that year, he talked about
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I believe the
United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of
war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a
source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I
ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALL: Just a few days after that speech, President Obama asked the Defense
Secretary and Attorney General to get a prison in Thompson, Illinois,
ready, so the U.S. would have somewhere to move all the detainees to --
once the facility in Cuba was gone. That was the plan. As it worked out,
well, not so much. Lawmakers in Congress did what they do best - they
freaked out and they passed legislation to keep any federal money from
being used to transfer Guantanamo prisoners to the United States. As
Senator Lindsey Graham said, when one of those amendments was being
debated, we don`t want these crazy bastards brought here to the United
States, they want to steal your way of life, not steal your car, have you
lost your mind?
Also, making things just a touch more difficult, severe restrictions on
sending prisoners back to their countries of origin, even those who have
been cleared for release, but there are some signs of change, small ones,
but signs of change nonetheless. Just this week, the House and Senate
reaching agreement on a measure that would keep the prison there open, not
allow transfers to the U.S., not allow the construction of new prisons in
the U.S. to hold Guantanamo detainees, but that would allow Guantanamo
prisoners to be transferred home to other countries if the U.S. no longer
wanted to hold them. In other words, it is a good start.
I want to bring in Rashad Robinson, executive director at Color of Change,
an African-American advocacy group. Josh Gerstein, White House reporter
with Politico, Adam Serwer, a reporter at msnbc.com who has been writing
extensively about the prison at Guantanamo and Wells Dixon, senior staff
attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. Gentlemen, thank you
all so much for being here. And Adam, I was hoping I could start with you
because you`ve been writing about this lately. And you just wrote this
week that Obama just got closer to closing Gitmo. What do you mean by
ADAM SERWER, MSNBC.COM: Well, Congress just finally lifted some of the
transfer restrictions, making it much more difficult for the administration
to transfer detainees who - either some of whom as you said have been
cleared for release, to third countries. And more than half of the
detainees at Gitmo are actually cleared for release. So, what this means
is that most of the population of Gitmo can be more easily sent home.
BALL: Well .
SERWER: Or sent to a different country, not necessarily home.
BALL: Right. So, basically, you have two options with the folks that are
there. Wells, I should let you lay this down. You have represented some
of the prisoners who are being held at Guantanamo. There is 162 people
left there, detainees left there. Who are they? Why are they still there?
What are our options for dealing with them?
WELLS DIXON, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Right, well, there are 162
people as you said, more than half of them have been approved for transfer.
So, we have a huge number of people that the administration has already
decided they don`t want to keep. And so, I think if you look at the
remaining population and you break down the numbers, you can see right away
that -- that the overwhelming majority of people who remain are from the
country of Yemen. You know, for - if the president of the United States
wants to be a superstar on Guantanamo and wants to regain some of the
goodwill that was lost over Guantanamo, he has to deal with the question of
Yemen. And I think that this new bipartisan agreement in Congress will
give him greater flexibility to do that. What he`ll need to do is use that
power in a sensible, smart way in order to transfer some of these men out.
BALL: And, Josh, you report on the White House. I mean what is your sense
of how committed the president is to expanding political capital to make
this a reality? I mean I don`t think any of us doubts that this is
something that he cares about, that he really wants to do. It was one of
his first acts in office in 2008 that just hasn`t gone the way he wanted it
to. Is he willing at this point to really champion the cause, mention it
in the State of the Union again, and put some political capital on the line
to get it done?
JOSH GERSHTEIN, POLITICO: I think he`s willing to expend some political
capital. It`s no question it is on his to do list of things that he wished
could happen in his first term that he`d like to see happen in his second
term. But things went sort of so badly off the rails during the first term
and it was so little effort by the White House, particularly from about
mid-2010 on. This just went completely underground for them that I think
you have to be a little bit skeptical when they say now we`re making a huge
full court press. They have done some things, they`ve put some new envoys
in place, for example, they have done a few, a trickle of releases, some of
which - well, this is not necessarily happy about because of the way they
GERSTEIN: But there does seem to be an eagerness to get the ball rolling.
Of course, whether getting a ball rolling gets you to closing Guantanamo is
another question, because what I`ve seen so far is not really a strategy to
get you to that end state of closing it.
BALL: And Rashad, I see you nodding your head. I mean we should say on
the other hand, the Obama administration was very much behind this latest
deal to make transferring prisoners easier to do and they also have
supported being able to transfer them to the U.S. How do you see the
president`s efforts in this regard?
RASHAD ROBINSON, COLOR OF CHANGE: I mean I think like you said at the top,
you know, this is a good step. I think for everyday people who are
watching this, you know, we want due process in this country.
ROBINSON: We want to believe that while we`re being protected, and that
we`re going to be safe in our communities, we want to believe that our
government is not detaining people illegally, not giving people the
opportunity to have a defense, to be able to stand in front of a court.
And that -- these are the questions that I think this administration has to
answer and will help us be safe all around the world.
BALL: Yeah, I think that`s right. And we`re going to continue this
discussion. We have got much more on the other side of this break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ, (R ) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Until we are presented with a
good, viable strategy for what to do with terrorists who would work night
and day to murder innocent Americans, I have a hard time seeing how it is
responsible to shut down our detention facilities and send these
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALL: Texas Senator Ted Cruz, this summer, making the case at a Senate
committee hearing to keep the prison at Guantanamo open. And, Adam,
respond to Mr. Cruz, if you would, what is the strategy, what do we do with
the people that are at Guantanamo right now?
SERWER: Well, all right, I just want to point out that Mr. Cruz referred
to all the detainees at Guantanamo as terrorists who want to kill
Americans. I mean the truth is that most of these guys have never seen the
inside of a court, they`ve never been convicted of .
BALL: Wait, wait, wait. Ted Cruz saying something that is not completely
factually accurate, I`m falling over in my coffee. Go ahead.
SERWER: But it is, I mean -- I think -- I think as Josh alluded to, this
question of what to do with the detainees who have not been cleared for
transfer is not one that the White House has satisfactorily answered. And
obviously, the civil liberties and civil rights groups have their ideas of
how they would like that to go down. And part of the problem is that while
detainees have been cleared for transfer to third countries, we still - we
still have this almost irrational, supernatural fear that, you know, these
detainees have super powers and they`re going to, you know .
SERWER: . burst out of prison and like the incredible Hulk and start, you
know, chucking bricks in America.
SERWER: I mean it is a very weird situation.
BALL: Yeah. And, I mean, Wells, I think that`s really well put. Because
we have a lot of very scary people in our super max prisons right now. I
mean we have Ramzi Yousef, we`ve got Ted Kaczynski, we`ve got Zacarias
Moussaoui, all in super max prisons. We`re good at keeping people in
prison. This fear that we have of holding even super scary terrorists,
which all the people in Guantanamo are not, in prisons, it seems to me
DIXON: It is unfounded. And I think that General Lehnert said it best in
his recent editorial, when he acknowledged that Guantanamo was opened
because of anger and fear after 9/11. And it is that fear that really
underlies all issues related to Guantanamo. It is that fear and it is what
Adam talked about with respect to the dehumanization of these men that has
allowed Guantanamo to continue to operate, even though almost no one thinks
that it really ought to continue to operate. It is why we, you know, it is
why we`re still arguing about whether detainees should be searched when
they go to phone calls with their lawyers. And it is why the United States
government is willing to send people to countries where they fear torture,
because the lives of these men are just not valued in the same way as
American lives. Unfortunately.
BALL: Go ahead, Rashad.
ROBINSON: You know, but in these high profile discussions that we have,
the fear is also an important tool in our discussions about military
budgets. In our discussions around war and where troops are going to go
and our discussions and choices around whether we invest here at home or
whether or not we`re sort of, know, building up this military industrial
complex. And so, when we have - are having these discussions around
Guantanamo, it is important to remember that it is not simply just about
sort of whether or not we`re going to transfer, you know, prisoners from
one place to another, but it is about a larger conversation that we`re
having in this country.
BALL: About who we are as Americans.
ROBINSON: And how fear .
BALL: What we stand for.
ROBINSON: Yes, and how fear is used to drive these discussions and drive
decisions around where we place our resources.
BALL: Yeah, I think --
SERWER: They were sitting here talking about cutting military pensions and
Gitmo costs, you know, it is going to cost half a billion dollars a year to
run. Like that`s a sort of a crazy situation to be in.
BALL: Yeah. And then the Ted Cruzes of the world say, yeah, but what is
the cost of keeping our people safe? At a certain point, though, you have
to say, we have to stand for our American values. And as Michael Lehnert
said in that op-ed, this is a recruitment tool, right? Guantanamo Bay is a
recruitment tool for terrorists and it is in complete conflict with what we
are supposed to stand for as a country.
DIXON: Absolutely. I mean the values are really important. The costs are
important. I mean the cost underscores the absurdity of continuing to
operate Guantanamo. But the reason to close Guantanamo is really the
DIXON: I mean it is the terrible injustice that has been visited upon the
men who are detained there. Again, most of whom the government doesn`t
want to keep.
GERSTEIN: But then does closing and moving it to the United States really
accomplish anything? I think we do have to keep in mind why would we be
closing it? And if we`re concerned, for example, that holding people
indefinitely without charge is really what the problem is, and that`s what
a lot of people around the world object to .
GERSTEIN: I don`t really care what al Qaeda objects to, but certainly
people overseas are concerned about that .
GERSTEIN: Just moving it to Illinois or anywhere else doesn`t address that
issue. And that is something that president hasn`t fully wrestled with.
He said, I don`t want to hold people in perpetuity, but, in fact, his
policy they settled on in 2009 says that about four dozen of these men
should be held in perpetuity. So, until that contradiction is resolved,
that`s part of why I don`t see how we get to the final end state right now.
BALL: All right. That is a good place to leave our conversation. I want
to thank msnbc.com`s Adam Serwer, Wells Dixon from the Center for
Constitutional Rights and Politico`s Josh Gerstein.
An 11-year-old girl became one of the most talked about people in America
this week. We will talk about her and the thousands that are just like
her. That`s next.
BALL: When it comes to budgeting your monthly expenses, there are general
guidelines that you`re supposed to follow. Formulas to help you figure it
all out. And the most basic of those general guidelines is trying not to
budget more than a third of your take home pay on rent. You should not be
shelling out more than a third of what is left over after taxes on keeping
a roof over your head. And that`s the idea, anyway. The new study out
this week reports more than 21 million households are paying at least 30
percent of their income and in many cases much more than that on shelter.
That is the highest percentage on record. Some people in families can
afford to do that, but many cannot. Families facing those kinds of rent
burdens tend to cut way back on other basic necessities, things like food
and health care. The lowest income households were found to shrink their
food budgets by $130 per month. Unaffordable rents are also a vicious
cycle, because people whose salaries are eaten by their housing costs, are
hard pressed to save or afford to move or transition to a better job or get
a better education.
In some cities you can`t help but spend more than 30 percent. Ask folks in
San Francisco, fighting for some place to live in a tight, tight housing
market, and amid a booming tech sector or ask just about anyone right here
in New York City.
Speaking of New York City, someone here who owns his house announced this
week that he is moving into city housing. At least temporarily for the
next four years. On Wednesday, New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio
came out of his modest, modest by elite New York standards anyway, row
house in Brooklyn to say that he and his family were headed to Gracie
Mansion. The official mayor`s residence. It is a gorgeous place. It sits
on 11 acres overlooking the East River. It`s got a huge porch, a grand
ballroom and recently underwent a $7 million renovation that included new
floors, plumbing, lighting and ventilation as well as fanciful touches like
a four post mahogany bed, and 1820s chandelier and fake bamboo furniture,
you know, if that`s your kind of thing.
Moving into Gracie Mansion is optional. Mayor Mike Bloomberg chose to stay
in his own much fancier townhouse, using Gracie Mansion for official events
only. But de Blasio told the "New York Daily News", quote, "Gracie Mansion
is the people`s house and we`ll be honored to live there, but it`s not the
same as the place where your kids grew up." Another New Yorker`s reaction
to Gracie Mansion caught our eye, though, this week. In fact, it is safe
to say she probably charmed everyone who read about her. She`s a young
homeless girl named Dasani. And when she and her six-grade classmates went
on a field trip to Gracie Mansion in February, she kept looking for the
mayor. She wants to see him up close, this mysterious Wizard of Oz figure
who makes decisions about her life from behind a curtain of political
power. It never occurs to Dasani that the mayor does not live there. Who
could have a mansion and not live in it? Dasani is just one of the 22,000
homeless children in New York City, 22,000 homeless children. Nearly a
third of whom are supported by a working adult.
A "New York Times" reporter spent a year with Dasani and her family as they
shared a room in a Brooklyn homeless shelter only six miles or so down the
river from Gracie Mansion and not far at all from where mayor elect de
Blasio lives now. The shelter is the place where mold creeps up walls and
roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual
predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single
mothers outside filthy showers. The article offered a glimpse into growing
up without a home, and in many ways showed how hard it is to keep from
getting crushed under the weight of poverty, much less getting out from
under it. Because with rent skyrocketing to record levels, how exactly is
any family supposed to get out from under that crushing poverty and get out
on their own? Here to discuss this, I want to bring in Rashad Robinson,
back at the table, the executive director of Color of Change. We`ve got
Mark Green, a public interest lawyer, and New York City`s first (inaudible)
public advocate. He served from `94 to 2001. He`s also host of the radio
show, "Both Sides Now." We`ve got Josh Barro back, the politics editor for
"Business Insider" and Mary Brosnahan and the president and CEO of
Coalition for the Homeless.
Thank you all so much for being here. And Mary, I really wanted to start
with you. I mean this is your life`s work. You focus on homelessness.
Talk to us about some of the things that have exacerbated homelessness in
this city and what we can learn from that in terms of how to tackle
MARY BROSNAHAN, COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS: Well, I think everyone was
just appalled by what "The Times" had on its front page all this week.
Andrea Elliott has done in one felled swoop what many of us are trying to
do - have tried to do for decades, just show how grindingly difficult it is
for a child to stay together, stay on track, and actually make something of
themselves, stay in school. In New York City, since Michael Bloomberg took
office, homelessness has increased nearly 80 percent. And so, what - and
Andrea upholds this out in all of her articles. In the mid-2005, he
decided to cut off all access to federal resources to house homeless
families. And you can see, since he did that, the numbers have just
skyrocketed. New York City is unique in that we have a right to shelter.
But Mike Bloomberg cut off all housing options for homeless families. And
so, families like Dasani`s and others are trapped sometimes for years on
end in these unbelievable situations.
BALL: And Mark, I know that you have seen situations like Dasani up close
and were about to watch the evolution of policy in New York City. What
have you seen that are lessons that we should take from that .
MARK GREEN, FORMER NYC PUBLIC ADVOCATE: Well, when I was public advocate
about 15 years ago, I did a spot inspection of a homeless facility and it
was as bad then as it is now. To show how little it has improved. I
remember visiting and a woman who was pregnant, her water have broken and
no one knew it on the floor she was in. Because people were so
inattentive. Now, Mike Bloomberg has a lot to be proud of as mayor,
transportation and health care, but homelessness is not one of them. He`s
a bottom line businessman. And the metric here, as Mary said, if homeless
goes from 30 to 50,000, and a fifth of the city`s children are poor, that`s
a measure of his Manhattanization, Wall Street policies that didn`t do much
about it. Now, the series that you referred to is fantastic.
GREEN: It ranks with the -- the last century, Mark Rakers (ph), or the
Willow Brook series of about 30 years ago, which led to substantial changes
in mental health policy. Because of the coincidence, I don`t know if it is
a coincidence, of de Blasio coming to city hall and wages being flat and
new homes not being built, this series now could be a spark to real change
BALL: I hope so. That`s a very hopeful take and it certainly has gotten a
lot of attention this week. And, Rashad, I think, you know, part of the
problem here is that we`re talking literally about the powerless. Right?
You know, we see the impact of things like voter I.D. laws across the
country. These are the folks who are almost completely lost in our
political process. So, even when we`re talking about income inequality,
there tends to be a focus on the middle class, which is critical, but we
can`t let people like the 600,000 homeless folks that we estimate to have
in this country just fall off the table.
ROBINSON: And I think that that`s why these series is so important. You
know, there is a story being told from the - our popular culture in our
media, to our news, to the local news that people get, that haves have done
something to put themselves there and the have-nots are there by sort of
their own choices and mistakes.
ROBINSON: And there is not sort of - such a lie and such - so disconnected
to the story of sort of the cuts to our social safety net, to the way this
economy has worked and not worked, to the first segment that we had -- that
you had today around low wage workers. And so of the opportunities for
people to be able to work themselves into the middle class. This story
that is being told and animates public policy and is exactly sort of where
we`re at where we`re at with this kind of homeless population situation
here in new York City and cities all across this country.
BALL: Yeah. Well, and Josh, it seems to me when you think about 600,000
people in this country who are homeless, which is a large number, right,
but it also seems like a number that if we chose to politically, if we made
this a priority, we could deal with it. It seems to me like a political
choice that we do very little about it.
BARRO: Yeah, well, I think it is a symptom of the broader dysfunction in
the economy over the last few years. The economy is failing a lot of
people. People can`t find work. People have stagnating incomes and
substantial number of people can`t find homes. And I think that this is,
you know -- I agree that this is going to be a key challenge for the de
I see sort of two parts to it. One is, people for whom the challenge with
housing is principally a price challenge. And in places like New York and
San Francisco, the fundamental reason that housing is so expensive is there
is tremendous demand for housing and it is very difficult to add housing
units. And so, I think de Blasio is going to do a couple of things. I
think that he will be friendly to construction, and allow the construction
of more housing units which will address that supply side and then there
will be targeted subsidies for people who can`t afford housing. So that
you both get downward price pressure and you get support for people who
need it. And then you have people like Dasani`s family where it is not
just a price challenge, but you have a suite of social services that
BARRO: And that, I think, is the more difficult thing. Because you can
fix people not being able to afford housing with the right building
policies and the right amount of money. I think - you know, but, you know,
when you have a family with, you know, with seven children and with, you
know, with drug problems in the family, and you have a number of things
that need to be done in an integrated manner that are very difficult to get
BALL: Yeah, and Mary, I want you to pick up on that. I do want to point
out, I mean homelessness really exploded in the `80s, right, under Reagan
era, policies which exacerbated this situation. But Mary, speak to what
Josh was just saying about the need for sort of a suite of services when
you`re talking not just about wage challenges, not just about housing,
rent, price challenges, but you are also dealing with sometimes mental
illness, sometimes addiction. What is the best way to tackle these
BROSNAHAN: Well, actually, the 600,000 number obviously that`s not a
BROSNAHAN: There are different needs. But keep in mind that one of the
things that we`ve learned over the past 20 or 30 years is that once a
person is stably housed, it is much easier for them to get the help they
need. So instead of - and this is one of the things that tripped up Mike
Bloomberg, thinking that people have to be fixed before they can get into
housing where even the most severely mentally ill people, my husband used
to work as an outreach worker, putting them directly into housing. They
don`t want to go into shelters, and then work with them once they`re stably
housed and you`ll see that their success rates are fantastic and recidivism
back into homelessness is virtually nonexistent. So, housing really is the
cornerstone. They need the wrapper on services, but that key piece is
housing, and that`s what`s been so desperately missing.
BALL: Yeah. Mark, is that how you see things as well?
GREEN: Yes. It is especially bad in New York City where, like, the most
congested city, small space, wages down, fewer jobs, very expensive to
build housing whether it is affordable or low income, and so the new
administration really has a challenge. Now, but there are precedent. Mike
Bloomberg had a program that was called advantage where they gave rent
subsidies to working homeless. Half the people in homeless families have a
parent who is working, but can`t afford to do it. And so, those kind of
subsidies started being diminished and cut back as you said, Krystal, under
Ronald Reagan, after 1980, he cut back federal funding that there was wage
stagnation at that time, and now the great recession is not something that
happened in the 1700s. We are still feeling the aftershocks, especially in
New York. And so the new administration has a lot of ground to make up,
but this precedent for doing something, if you want to have fewer Dasanis,
one last thing, though, while it was sad and shattering, it was inspiring.
BALL: She`s powerful.
GREEN: I`m not looking for a Hollywood ending here, but this is a young
girl who is very live, athletic, very bright. I mean they chose her, I
guess. And it shows how her dire circumstances, no one is arguing for it,
forced her to be resilient, creative and responsive. Now, if she`s in a
good setting, this young girl, woman, will really flower.
BALL: She could really flower. And we`re going to have some more thoughts
on how we can make sure the Dasanis of the world flower. That will be
right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Rising inequality and declining mobility are bad for our democracy.
Ordinary folks can`t write massive campaign checks or hire high price
lobbyists and lawyers to secure policies that tilt the playing field in
their favor at everyone else`s expense. And so people get the bad taste
that the system`s rigged.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALL: That was President Obama on December 4, talking about the effect
inequality and lack of social mobility have on political participation in
this country. And, Rashad, I mean I think that the president, this is an
issue that he deeply cares about. I think that this is one of the reasons
why he sought public office to start with, and it is something that he
wants to be part of his legacy.
ROBINSON: Absolutely. But I think this also shows us why the politics are
ROBINSON: Why from everything from our campaign financing system to the
polarization in our Congress makes it so hard even when you have the
seemingly most powerful man in the world not being able to push policies
that are actually going to legitimately impact the lives of everyday
people, and sort of uplift people who are in poverty. And even throughout
the campaign season, we constantly hear the conversation around protecting
the middle class, when there is this whole other group of people who we
never, ever see themselves in the middle class, don`t see themselves as
part of the middle class currently and are really struggling to get by.
And need those type of lifelines that public policy and our government
should be providing them.
GREEN: It is great that we`re universalizing this subject, homelessness in
New York, to what is happening with President Obama. This is almost a
paradigm shift. So, Reagan runs and the problem is government, when he
cuts back. And the Republican Party in Washington, what with austerity and
sequestration, those are Washington words.
GREEN: What it means is Dasani.
GREEN: That`s what happens down at the level of our children and poverty.
And so when you combine the pope and his comments, he attacked trickledown
economics. And it was like he was at a Democratic convention. With
President Obama mirroring a century ago Theodore Roosevelt, then the gilded
era had high pay, low wages and it led to a tremendous shift in public
policy. It could again, given this confluence of after the great
recession, a president who believes in government helping people in need as
opposed to cutting their social services to help the economy. That makes
BALL: Well, and, Josh, I mean to that point, on sequestration,
specifically, it is projected that by the end of 2014, 125,000 people will
lose their housing vouchers, that`s the low end projection, the high end
projection is 185,000, so to Mark`s point, that`s fancy speak for more
BARRO: Yeah, and then, but I think if you look more broadly at the
president`s fiscal legacy, the big thing for the poor from the Obama record
is Medicaid expansion. We have -- which goes to make Medicaid into a
comprehensive program that provides health insurance to essentially anybody
who is poor in the United States, so long as their state has taken the
Medicaid expansion. So, I think that there are -- there are issues on the
discretionary spending side, which is what is controlled by the -- by
sequestration, so you have programs like housing vouchers, you have
programs like the women and infants and children program that are impacted
in there. But overall, the president`s two big fiscal legacies are
Obamacare, which includes this big expansion of the health care benefit for
the poor, and a big change in tax policy where we have a top income tax
rate, that`s about 4.5 points higher than when he took office. A top
capital gains tax rate is nine points higher than when he took office.
So the president really has changed policy in the United States in a way
that taxes people more at the top and provide more benefits to people who
are struggling in this economy.
BALL: Rashad, how do we tackle the problem of giving voice to the
voiceless, of making sure that folks like Dasani and her family and others
like her across the country, have an actual say in our political process?
ROBINSON: I mean this is, I think, the moment for advocacy groups like
mine and others, right, who do this work to amplify people`s voices in our
ROBINSON: . to hold government officials accountable and to give this type
of sort of wind behind the back of folks like the president, and others,
who want this cycle of policy to happen, but in moments like sequestration
around debt ceiling issues around, in moments when we`re sort of facing
these big choices around whether or not we`re going to cut from the social
safety net and balance our budget on the most vulnerable, you know, having
sort of the voices of the Dasanis front and center in those discussions and
really pushing them the same way the Tea Party is pushing other voices on
the other side is going to be critically important.
BALL: Yeah, and I think the work, you know, that the "New York Times" did
in highlighting this family, I think, Mark, to your point, has just been
incredibly powerful and I hope does serve as sort of an awakening and a
flashpoint for folks. Mary, I want to give the last word to you. In terms
of policies, nationwide policies, things we can do at the federal level,
what should we be doing to combat homelessness in America?
BROSNAHAN: Well, we know it works. That`s the good news. Section 8 is an
absolutely fantastic program. You showed that very .
BALL: Explain what section 8 is.
BROSNAHAN: Well, section 8 is a portable voucher. So, people are given
the help they need to go out and rent in the private market, they .
BALL: They don`t have to be in a shelter like Dasani.
BROSNAHAN: Right. They pay 30 percent of their income, and it`s very
flexible, and unlike Advantage, it is much more long-term. But we need
more leadership. We do need to hear the voices. But in Washington, just
saying, why aren`t -- why isn`t the -- why isn`t most of the sequestration
cuts coming from the defense budget, for instance, as opposed to cutting
off hope for hundreds of thousands of Americans.
BROSNAHAN: That`s the pivot point.
BALL: I think that`s so true. And one of the things that has been really
frustrating to watch in terms of the conversation around sequestration and
the way things unfolded, this idea of the sky didn`t fall, sequestration,
it is no big deal, it is not really having a big impact when, you know, you
can see in Dasani and other families across the country it is certainly
having an impact for them.
All right, I want to thank Josh Barro with "Business Insider," Mary
Brosnahan from "Coalition for the Homeless," Rashad Robinson with "Color of
Change" and former New York City public advocate Mark Green for a great
conversation. Thank you, all.
All right, shifting gears, we learned this week that a woman will be taking
command of one of America`s biggest companies. One of the big three
automakers, no less. But that doesn`t mean we`re out of the woods on
workplace equality just yet. Some amazingly accomplished women have
gathered here in the studio to discuss this with me. You are not going to
want to miss it. That`s next.
BALL: It is June, 1963, you are a woman, presuming -- presumably working
for a man. And the news of the day suggests that your paycheck may
actually start to look a little different than it did before. So you bring
it up with your boss, maybe something like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t know if you read in the paper, but they
passed a law where women who do the same work as men will get paid the same
thing. Equal pay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALL: What exactly is Peggy from "Madmen" referring to, well, it`s called
the Equal Pay Act of 1963. And although it sounds like something that
achieves full equality, well, it hasn`t quite lived up to expectations. We
will talk about the Peggys of 2013, and that`s next.
BALL: This week it was announced that General Motors has a new CEO and her
name is Mary Barra. And if you`re wondering, yes, she`s the first woman
CEO ever in the auto industry, which is in and of itself undeniably awesome
news. The news was met with some glowing headlines. First woman car
chief, breaking glass ceilings, a company woman. But even though this is
tremendous news, at a very important company, we should not let it obscure
the bigger picture of how far women still have to climb in the business
world. Mary Barra becomes the 23rd CEO to currently run a Fortune 500
company, the total number of CEOs at only 23 out of the whole fortune 500,
that`s only 4.5 percent. More work to do indeed. And in board rooms, the
number of corporate directors is only around 16 percent. Which is better,
but still not even close to 50 percent. The pay gap has started to narrow
in recent decades according to Pew research. Young women starting out
their career are now making 93 cents for every dollar a man makes. That
doesn`t make a whole lot of sense when you consider that more of those
women have four-year college degrees than their male counterparts do.
They also expect the pay gap to widen over the course of their careers, as
they begin to have children, and start to juggle the demands of work and
family. Over half of working mothers say that being a parent has made it
more difficult to advance in their careers. The men who father children,
well, only 16 percent of them say it is presented any career obstacles.
So, Mary Barra`s new job this week is fabulous news. Congratulations,
welcome to the boys club. But I want to open the discussion now to the
question of how much one CEO really equals when it comes to workplace
equality and how much work we still have to do. Here to discuss this are
Christie Hefner, former chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises, the 20
year tenure, she was the longest serving female CEO of any publicly traded
company, she`s now the executive chairman of Canyon Ranch Enterprises.
Chairwoman, I should say. We also have with us the honorable Elaine Chow,
former secretary of labor under President George H.W. Bush. She also was
president of United Way and director at the Peace Corps. We`ve also got
Rachel Sklar, founder of the List, a web community supporting women in
technology. She was also a founding editor at both the "Huffington Post"
and Mediaite. We`ve got to have to pick a bone with you on Mediaite.
RACHEL SKLAR, THE LIST: Nothing at all.
BALL: And this young lady right here, who you may have seen before,
Melissa Harris Perry, host of MSNBC`s "Melissa Harris Perry," which is on
right after this show at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. Welcome, all of you.
I`ve been so excited about this panel. Thank you so much for braving the
snow and coming out to talk to me. And Rachel, I wanted to start with you.
So, we`ve got a new CEO at GM, so mission accomplished, right? We`re all
SKLAR: Oh yeah, we don`t have to worry about it anymore. So, this is the
thing that I always push back on, which is the feeling that oh, mission
accomplished, we have one person. The fact is that there are -- can be
more than just one. It`s - Castor Pollocks (ph) wrote the Smurfette
principle back in 1991, about how generally how there are many men with
lots of personalities, but then there is one woman, and it`s the woman
version of the man`s thing. And I think that this is, as you said, amazing
news, but it is interesting to note that the two previous CEOs were people
who came in from either industries. Mary Barra has been a GM lifer, her
father was a GM lifer, she has spent her entire life gearing up for this
position. So, you know, I mean, this is the woman that was able to ascend.
She had absolutely -- to use a car phrase, they kicked the tires on her,
right? So I think to get to point where a woman can be in the same
position as men when those tires get kicked, and there is still a ways to
BALL: And, Christie, speak to this, because one thing people may not
realize about you, by the time you left Playboy, 40 percent of your
executives were women, which is a phenomenal percentage. Why is it so
important to have women executives, to have women in the board room?
CHRISTIE HEFNER, FORMER PLAYBOY CEO: I think one of the things that is
important, which is why I think we have to be careful phrasing this whole
conversation as if it was just around do it because it is a good thing to
do, it is a smart thing to do. It is a competiveness issue.
We actually lost ground in this country in terms of both the number of
women in the workplace, the number of women in executive offices, the
number of women in legislatures compared to other countries in the last 20
years, and partly I think that`s because of what the Pew poll shows, which
is the lack of flexibility in some of our rules and laws that haven`t
caught up with the fact that now over 70 percent of children are growing up
in families where either there are two working parents or a single mother.
And a lot of our institutions are predicated on the old idea of "Mad Men,"
where in the main, women were stay at home moms.
BALL: Right. Secretary Chao, interested to get your take. It is smart
business to have more women in the board room, to have more female
executives. Companies that have more female executives do better, they
succeed, they`re more profitable than companies that don`t.
ELAINE CHAO, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: It is interesting for GM to select
this wonderful person who is going to be such a trend-setter and who`s
going to be such an inspiration to so many. So first of all, I would say
bravo, of course. And bravo to the excellent example that the board has
now set for the rest of the nation in choosing her. And then bravo also to
the inspiration that will certainly result to millions and millions of
people throughout not only this country, but throughout the world as well.
I think what is interesting to note, as you talk about these statistics,
about women, and wages, and their life long earnings, that you note that
Mary was a lifer. She was a life-long General Motors employee, who did not
take breaks for her -- raising her family or anything. So when a woman
starts out her career -- or as anyone starts out their career, what really
helps with long-time wage increases and promotion prospects, if there is
continuity of service. So what has happened is Mary definitely has -- she
has been a -- she`s -- there has not been breaks in her career.
BALL: My question about that, though, yes, that`s important. That`s
really important to note.
CHAO: That`s going to change, I think.
CHAO: It is a reflection how that -- that was the rule. Those are the
rules of the game, and she played by the rules.
BALL: And the question is, right, you want to play by the rules and you
want to do -- acknowledge the realities of the world that we live in. But
you also, Melissa, want to have some part in shifting the rules, so that
women have more of an opportunity to, you know, have a family, like we do.
And be able to balance. And if they need to, take some time and still be
able to come back into a career, so that not only does that woman benefit,
but the entire country benefits from having the human capital of that woman
HARRIS-PERRY: There have been so many interesting things laid on the table
at this point. One is a question about just sort of the heuristic
possibilities, our schematic reference, who we think a CEO is, so that when
we say the CEO or the doctor or the president, can we imagine in that
moment a woman holding those roles? And so I think you are right about --
the idea that if -- when women hold these roles, perhaps more than any
other single thing they do is to change our perceptual world.
But I think we have to be very careful about the notion of that perceptual
world and who needs to shift. I think, in other words, I think it is less
about like inspiring young girls to think they can be CEOs than it is
shifting the ideas of board members, that they should, you know, think of
the women who are coming through.
That said, then, that point about worker longevity, and the need for worker
longevity to be one part of rising to leadership within a corporation, I
think that says something about workers in general. So certainly about
women, but also about the changing American workforce, which rarely
provides those sorts of opportunities anymore, especially for people who
are the primary or only breadwinner in their family, which increasingly
women are, and that idea that you can come out of school, get a job, stick
with that job for the next 30 years, that isn`t what American work looks
like anymore. If it doesn`t, does that mean then women will not have those
opportunities to climb into leadership.
HEFNER: There is a school of thought, in fact, that more than the one
career at one company mold of, say, our grandparents generation, that it is
going to be a gig economy. You`re going to kind of create your own gigs
along the way. Which is why things like the portability of health care
becomes so critical, and it is why I think a lot of the focus is on making
sure women have a fair shot, you know. Do they have the opportunity to
achieve their potential?
SKLAR: And do they have the tools with which to do so? Because I think one
of the important things, when you talk about women starting at a company,
women are less likely to negotiate on their way in. So right away they`re
set up to make less, as they go forward, because nobody is telling them,
gee, that you should be negotiating. This year, in 2013, the year of lean
in, now we`re all getting the message, women should negotiate for
themselves, they should be aware of their market value and that they should
be prepared to earn it and be given it or look out for it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet most workers in America, male and female, are now
working at low wage jobs, in which there is no opportunity for negotiation
and where they may not even have labor organizing rights to collectively --
BALL: They`re already leaning in.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. They`re already leaning in as far as they can go. I
just want to come back to one point, Krystal, around the ability of women
to do work and to have family. Something that men have typically not had
to question. And, you know, as you saw there, women see it as problematic,
men do not. But typically our domestic value ends up devalue to almost
nothingness within sort of our idea about what women produce in the world.
So the work that we do domestically isn`t typically considered very
valuable. Because of that, the women who we then end up paying to do our
domestic work when we are in the work world, so in other words, everything
from cleaning the home to caring for small children is extremely devalued,
low-paid work. For those women who are then raising their own children,
all of that is depressed. In part because men aren`t the ones who are
BALL: As we have seen women moving in to more male dominated professions,
we have not seen men moving into traditionally female dominated professions
like you`re pointing to, Melissa. And I want to pick up on that thought
and get to much, much more right after this short break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: You know, some advocates argue that the reason that they have women
more involved in leadership positions is they`re gentler and kinder. I`ve
never found that to be the case. They`re as tough, they`re as strong,
they`re as everything as a man is, and vice versa. But the important thing
that is different is just like men, they bring a different perspective.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALL: Indeed. Vice President Joe Biden earlier this month speaking about
women, while overseas, in Asia. Certainly I have a very tough panel of
women gathered here today. And, Christie, I wanted to ask you about there
was this photo that came out, I think last year, of the president`s team in
his office. And it was all men except for Valerie Jarrett`s leg, which is
And then there was another photo more recently of the healthcare.gov war
room. You see a technical team there, and it is a room full, as far as we
can see, all men, except for the one woman right there upfront. And in
some ways, this photo is the one that is more troubling. Because tech jobs
are the knowledge jobs, the well-paying jobs in our society now. We have
got to get more women to embrace technology.
HEFNER: Well, I absolutely agree. I think it is one of the interesting
parts of Mary`s story is that she is a graduate of the General Motors
Institute. She was an engineer. And this whole push to get more women
interested in what are called the STEM subjects, science, technology,
engineering and math. I think it is critical, and not just if you`re going
into a business like the manufacturing of cars, because technology is
influencing every kind of business, every company is becoming a technology
company. And women need to be fluent in and comfortable with technology if
they`re going to be successful.
SKLAR: Rachel, what is the barrier there?
SKLAR: Well, two things. First, you`re correct, that we do need to
encourage women and girls to go into tech and to embrace STEM. And there
are a lot of great organizations doing that. (inaudible). We are getting
there. But I would push back a little bit on the definition of women in
tech, because actually tech is now a huge industry, it overlaps with every
industry. And there is a much more narrow definition of who gets to be a
woman in tech, literally an engineer, a coder, versus men who tend to
occupy a lot of tech positions across all these industries. And nobody
questions their bona fides. I think that my push is always to look at
similarly situated men, similarly situated women, let them have equal
opportunity. We`re still far from that. So that`s where I always return
BALL: And that`s been one of your sort of missions is to make sure, you
know, you see the panel, right, talking about new technology, and it is all
men. And saying, you know, couldn`t you have found at least one woman who
is qualified to be on this panel, right?
SKLAR: It is a question of -- like saying, well there must only be five
things in the world because that`s all I see. And I think it just behooves
everyone for their bottom line to have a better product, to have more
diversity across the board. I agree with Joe Biden there. Who wouldn`t
agree with Joe Biden?
BALL: Secretary Chao, one of the challenges we touched on before is the
fact that young women now, they`re doing pretty well relative to their male
peers, earning more college degrees, they are actually out-earning a lot of
male peers in a lot of major metros, and then that flips once they have
children. And in the U.S., we`re basically alone in the world in the fact
that we do not guarantee paid maternal leave. I think the other company we
have is Papua New Guinea, Lesotho and Swaziland, so not the normal company
that we keep. Why is there political opposition to getting us to the level
of the rest of the world with family policy?
CHAO: Can I just make a comment about the picture, all those guys in that
room doing the website? You`ll notice that the website doesn`t work very
well. I`m not sure that was a great commentary on all these people. Sorry
BALL: This is the fix. They`re doing a much better job. Go ahead.
CHAO: I do really want to emphasize and follow up on Christie`s point
about STEM, you are also right in saying that tech is not just the coders.
It is also the people who are using it. People are now tweeting, doing --
sending all sorts of messages, they`re using technology in different ways.
And certainly the women participation part in that is very high.
But what is of note is that two things about Mary`s career, one is that as
I mentioned, she has spent all her life, you know, in General Motors. And
that longevity of service was critical to her advancement. Now, the world
is changing. So the companies are changing. Employers start changing in
response to the changing demands of the workforce. I`m actually quite
optimistic. What we should be having in terms of public policy are
actually flextime and compensatory time. That actually is not allowed in
the private sector, where as some of that is allowed in the public sector.
So there has to be much more flexible work policies for a more mobile, more
BALL: Which will benefit women and men.
HARRIS-PERRY: I do want to just point out, I just don`t want to miss this,
you asked the question about paid maternity leave. Not only do we not have
paid maternity leave, but precisely at the same moment that these
employment trends are occurring around questions of gender, as you
indicated. More women with college educations, not only are we not sort of
expanding the capacity of women to make choices about their reproductive
lives and their family lives, we`re actually limiting them.
So at precisely the same time, state legislature across the country are
also limiting the capacity of women to make family planning choices in
everything from the availability of birth control to the coverage, even of
-- in private insurance as we saw in Michigan this week, of termination
So I recognize that all those family planning are very broad issues, but we
typically don`t end up talking about them in a moment like this, when we
should, which is about women`s economic lives. We talk about them
exclusively as though they`re social issues as opposed to economic issues
for women. And I don`t think it is an accident that women`s economic
empowerment is going hand and hand with a reduction of women`s reproductive
HEFNER: In response to the question, there is actually now a majority of
support for paid family medical leave. It`s 87 percent of women and 80
percent of men, and Senator Kristen Gillibrand has introduced a bill that`s
acronymed FAMILY that there is broad support for it. I think actually it
represents a way for the United States, to your point, to get in step with
BALL: The problem here - and we have the details of the FAMILY Act up on
the screen, which is not crazy stuff. Right? It just basically gets us to
the level of the rest of the planet. But even though it was introduced and
even though there is broad bipartisan support across the country for it, it
is not looking like it is going to pass in Congress. Why --
CHAO: I`m not so sure all the women senators support this. I think it is
very important to understand the economic impacts of some of the policies.
You know, we want, of course, economic empowerment of women, but we want
also an overall, healthy, vibrant economy.
BALL: Sure, but I --
CHAO: We do not want to put all the burdens on the employer. The economy
is still fragile. We have an unemployment rate of 7 percent.
CHAO: We have a low labor participation rate. I think employers should
not be (inaudible) out with more regulatory requirements.
BALL: We`re missing out as a country if we don`t have women in the
workplace using their full potential. And the rest of the world does this
and their companies --
HEFNER: Even beyond that, after very successful bills in California and
New Jersey, this is not --
HEFNER: This is 0.2 percent contribution weekly by the employer and the
employee. This is an earned benefit. This is the best kind of policy that
helps employers and employees, and is not some government entitlement
program. This is exactly what we should be doing.
BALL: Absolutely. I think that`s -- that`s where we have to end,
unfortunately, there is a lot more to say on this topic. We will be back
with some final thoughts right after this.
BALL: I want to find out what my guests think we should know. Let`s start
with you, Rachel.
SKLAR: I think that everybody should watch for some really smart writing
this week about the new Beyonce album. There is a lot in there, a lot to
unpack. One of the hardest working women in the nation.
SKLAR: And she makes a lot of good, interesting commentary on women. So.
BALL: She is a very talented woman on many levels. Christie?
HEFNER: I think this discussion we`re having about what are the right
programs and policies to support women in the workforce is going to
continue, and this idea of paid family medical leave is one of those issues
that I think could be led on a bipartisan basis by women in Congress, and
we could actually see action on that.
BALL: We`ll be hopeful for that.
CHAO: The good news is that Congress is going to be out next week.
CHAO: The defense authorization bill will pass, and then of course the
budget will pass, and then everyone will go home and enjoy the holidays,
BALL: A little bit of regular order. All right, I want to thank all of
our guests today. Thanks to Rachel Sklar, Melissa Harris-Perry, who is off
getting ready for her own show, which starts in just a few minutes.
Christie Hefner and Secretary Elaine Chao. Thank you all for getting UP
and thank you for joining us and for letting me sit in this weekend. It
has really been a pleasure and an honor. Steve will be back with more "UP"
next Saturday and Sunday. I`m sure he has missed all of you at home very
much. But next is Melissa Harris-Perry. The Boehner backlash, at last,
the speaker speaks and he is not mincing words.
Then again, neither are those he is criticizing. It`s a good old-fashioned
GOP family holiday squabble. Also, seven new billionaires sign on to the
giving pledge. What to do with all that money? Stick around, Melissa`s
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