'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, December 23rd, 2013
Read the transcript to the Monday show
THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
December 23, 2013
Guests: Zeke Emanuel; Michael Hiltzik; Dorian Warren; Isabel Wilkerson; Hunter Walker
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Exactly one shopping day left for
Christmas and for health insurance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All that last-minute shopping is underway.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Want insurance by New Year`s Day?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The new deadline will be tomorrow for the ACA.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy holidays.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Obama administration extends the deadline by one
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will that be enough for people to sign up?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People want to sign up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The product is still wanted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More and more people are signing up every day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can`t fix this mess.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Republicans continue to rubber neck on health care.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spend more money, have less choice and less freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Republicans want to run on Obamacare.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any and all problems with the Affordable Care Act.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can`t fix this mess.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the only matter that they do have --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You`re seeing the real push and pull here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This definitely will be a political issue in 2014.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There have been a lot of problems.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The system is getting better but they are getting fix.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Still need data.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is how worried are you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How high is that error rate?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And our most frequently asked question, who the
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The government says the systems are running smoothly
on health care.gov.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Over a million people have now signed up on the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of good things in Obamacare that people
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ultimately it will be judged on whether it delivers.
O`DONNELL: Today, the White House announced that President Obama himself
has enrolled in a health insurance plan through the D.C. exchange. And
advance in today`s deadline, the president enrolled in a health care plan
made available by the Affordable Care Act on the D.C. market place. The
president is one of the 85 percent of Americans who gets his health
insurance through his employer and like previous presidents is privileged
to receive health care from the military.
The act of the president signing up for insurance coverage through the D.C.
exchange is symbolic since the president`s health care will continue to be
provided by the military. But he was pleased to participate in a plan as a
show of support for these marketplaces which are providing quality
affordable health care options to more than a million people. The
president selected a bronze plan.
More than one million people visited healthcare.gov before 5:00 p.m.
eastern today according to the centers for Medicare and Medicaid services.
Because of the high demand that had more than 60,000 people on the home
page at the same time, the administration extended the enrollment deadline
for another day.
Anticipating high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from
multiple time zones we have taken steps to make sure that those who select
a plan through tomorrow, December 24, will get coverage for January 1st.
Joining me now, Ezra Klein, columnist for "the Washington Post" and an
MSNBC analyst, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, and MSNBC contributor and the chair of
medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, he
serves as a special advisor for health policy in the Obama administration,
and Michael Hiltzik, a Pulitzer-prize winning business columnist for the
"Los Angeles Times."
I`m just going to give a word to the control room as we begin here in Los
Angeles. I am hearing this echo in my ear of everything that is being
said, but we`ll through it.
Ezra Klein, one more day and one more delay in the rules for enrollment.
EZRA KLEIN, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Although not a bad delay, it
is good for people that notion day.
I think it`s worth being clear about what this deadline is because I don`t
think it`s such a big deadline in the scheme of things. This is a deadline
to have insurance that begins by January 1st. You can still, on January
1st, have insurance to begins a couple days after that. You can have -- I
mean, you can keep signing up. It is rolling enrollment.
This is simply a deadline to have it by the beginning of the year and that
is important. And the people is particularly important for our folks whose
other plans cancelled the last couple of months and as such if they don`t
sign up by the end of tomorrow night, they could go with the coverage gap
beginning of the year. And if somebody gets sick or hurt, you could have
huge catastrophic medical costs.
But in general, this is not the end of people`s ability to sign up for
Obamacare. This is simply the end of their ability after tomorrow night to
sign up for it such that it will actually trigger before the first of the
O`DONNELL: I want to take a look at one other change that was made
recently and it came up on Friday, the president talked about it on Friday
when he talked to the press. Let`s listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That make sense that as we
are transitioning to a system in which insurance standards are higher,
people don`t have unpleasant surprises because they thought they had
insurance until they hit a limit and next thing you know they still owe
$100,000 or $200,000 or $300,000 for a hospital visit, that as we
transition to higher standards, better insurance that we also address folks
who get caught in that transition and their unintended consequences. That
was the original intensive grandfather cost that was in the law.
Obviously, the problem was it didn`t catch enough people. And, you know,
we learned from that and we`re trying not to repeat those mistakes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Zeke Emanuel, that was the president talking about how they are
just simply going to wave the individual mandate for certain people in this
first year based on some of the problems that have occurred in the Web
site. And there is Chuck Todd saying that the individual mandate is
important. Does it have to be enforced? There is a softening of the
individual mandate here and yet the argument from the Obama administration
is that it is still an important element.
ZEKE EMANUEL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it`s certainly an important
element. If you can avoid the adverse selection by which only sick people
go in and healthy people stay out. You do need a mandate for everyone to
go in. I find it a little strange what they did because it affects only a
few thousand people and yet it creates a precedent of not having the -- or
at least the allowing an exemption to the individual mandate. I think you
are going to have lots and lots of individual cases where there is some
hardship or something and you don`t want to keep making lots of exceptions.
So, I probably, would have bit the bullet and recognize that some people
will have to get coverage that will be slightly more expensive and will be
caught in between. But I think making an exception for the individual
mandate means next time someone else will ask for an exception and it
starts a snowball effect which I don`t think is very useful. And
eventually you will have to say no. There is no going back. Voluntary
insurance does not work. You have to have a mandate if you want something
like no preexisting conditions and all the other benefits that you have
from the changes in the law.
O`DONNELL: Michael Kiltzik, you have been reporting here in California for
the "Los Angeles Times" about -- this is one of the more positive stories
is what`s been happening in California including the well functioning Web
site and the ease of enrollment here.
How about what Zeke was just talking about, adverse selection? How about
the mix of patients as we now know it to whatever extent we now know in the
California mix anyway?
MICHAEL HILTZIK, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, I think what they have seen in
California is that it started out at about 20 to 22 percent in that 18 to
34 age range. What has been creeping up, that is exactly what they
expected to happen. They have seen signs that younger healthier enrollees
come in later in the time frame. That is what is happening. I think they
are quite confident that they will get to where they want to be which is
somewhere about 40 percent of the total mix being in that -- those young
invincibles as we call them. And so, they are seeing that. I don`t think
they`re really too unhappy ability the numbers they are getting.
O`DONNELL: Ezra Klein, Zeke Emanuel, you and others on this program have
been saying repeatedly, we can`t -- we have to be patient about when to
make judgments about how these numbers are shaping up.
Looking at the calendar of 2014 and given some of the more important
numbers, the overall enrollment, the mix of ages and health levels in the
enrollment and the premiums that are actually being charged within the
system, when on the calendar will we be able to make reasonable judgments
about the various numbers?
KLEIN: So, the big month for Obamacare in 2014 is going to be March. That
is the final month to sign up before the individual mandate penalty really
hits. And if we look at what happened with Medicare Part D, if you look at
what happened when Mitt Romney`s performance run into affect Massachusetts,
what we have seen over and over again is that people don`t really sign up,
particularly young people or younger people in the case of Medicare Part D
who are needed for these stability of the rest rules of keep premiums low.
So the big question there is going to be when that penalty hits do they get
enough folks both flooding in at the end so they hit to something near to
their enrollment target, which was seven million. But much more
importantly because you can always get five million this year and then make
up the two million next year. Much importantly, do they get a risk pool
that is healthy enough?
Then in the question with the premiums though, something it is, I think,
not all that well known is that insurers are going to have to set their
premiums for 2015 before they truly know their risk pool for 2014. We got
to sudden in spring. And so, they are going to be making an educated
guess. It`s not just going to be a guess about who is in the pool this
year or in 2014. It is also going to be guess about who will sign up in
2015. Even if they don`t get as many young people they want in 2014, if
they think they will come in the next year, because healthcare.gov is
finally working, these people are more comfortable, they are still going to
have to keep premiums at a lower level to be competitive for those folks.
So they don`t just send up with sicker people and in fact, their
competitive for the healthy people. So, there will be KIND of a rolling
set of deadlines that are worth watching over the course of the next year.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what E.J. Dionne said yesterday on "Meet the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
E.J. DIONNE, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think there is something
crazy when people say the government can`t deliver health care. Ever heard
of Medicare? Ever heard of Medicaid? And there`s a mandate to pay taxes
for those things.
This thing is complicated because President Obama chose to go for a model
that is a market oriented model that Republicans favor of helping people
buy private health insurance. That proves to be very complicated. A lot
of the people saying repeal Obamacare saying it`s just fine to have big
government for people over 65.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Zeke Emanuel, how would you compare the complexity levels of
the Affordable Care Act to Medicare?
EMANUEL: Well, first of all it`s very important to recognize that Medicare
came in, there was nothing there. There was no insurance for people who
were seniors. And so, you were creating a new program on the basis of no
previous existing program. That`s always easier.
On the other hand, you know, the Affordable Care Act is building on an
existing system where 160 million people have private insurance, you have
Medicare, you have Medicaid. So it`s much more complicated.
Plus, the Affordable Care Act is trying to do many more things than
Medicare ever tried to do. It`s going to reduce costs, it has tried to
improve quality, it is trying to change the work force, it has got
incentives through wellness, it has got menu labeling so that we reduce the
obesity rate in this country. So, it`s doing many, many more things than
Medicare ever did.
And I would say that outside of the exchange, not everything is working
perfectly but we`re certainly seeing in the health system in the positive
direction. A lot of focus on reducing hospital infections, a lot of focus
on reducing re-admission rates, a lot of effort to control costs.
And so, we recently did a poll of leading hospital executives of the
biggest hospitals in the country. And two-thirds of them thought that the
health care system would be better by 20 because of the Affordable Care
Act. Almost all of them said that their hospital`s quality is going to
improve, because their cost control will improve over the next decade. So
people who are in the trenches really see that this act is having a
It`s going to take a decade to play out. And I think that is, you know,
we`re an impatient society but when we`re changing basically the economy of
France, you do have to put it into perspective. It isn`t going to happen
in one or two years.
O`DONNELL: Michael, you did some of the earlier reporting on people who
were complaints saying it is horrible for me, the Affordable Care Act. And
you discovered that as they actually literally did not know what they were
talking about. They had not done the consumer homework to discover if they
don`t use this policy. This is what their option is. It seems that those
stories are kind of muting or dying down as apparently consumer information
HILTZIK: Well, I think that`s true. I think the needle has passed that
stage and we are hearing more and more about people who are finding that
they are delighted with the coverage that they have opportunities to get.
They are delighted with the price. They delighted just to be able to get
coverage and not have the fear that if they had a preexisting condition,
they would be out of luck.
But I think we are still seeing that there is a lot of confusion out there.
There is confusion in the press. There is confusion among experts and they
are still a lot of confusion among the public and that, as Zeke just said,
that`s going to take a while to play out. It`s a learning process. People
have learned about health insurance, some of them for the very first time
in their lives. They didn`t know even at a higher premium means lower
deductible and vice versa. This is something that a lot of us knew but
it`s moved from the abstract into the specific and that`s a big change.
O`DONNELL: I got to say the anecdotal here in California that I have been
picking up is pretty positive including two people told me yesterday they
signed up from the California Website in 15 minutes.
Ezra Klein, Zeke Emanuel and Michael Hiltzik, thank you all for joining me
KLEIN: Thank you.
EMANUEL: Thank you.
HILTZIK: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, "Duck Dynasty" madness continues, of course. Phil
Robertson claims that people were happy in the Louisiana 1940s, 1950s,
1960s. Pulitzer-prize winning author Isabel Wilkinson will join us to
discuss what Phil Robertson doesn`t seem to remember or want you to know
about the Louisiana he grew up in.
And 1.3 million Americans will lose their incomes next week when
unemployment insurance expires for them. Dorian Warren and Jared Bernstein
will join me.
And later, a senator calls for a federal investigation of the lane closures
on the George Washington bridge that might -- might have been part of a
Chris Christie political revenge operation.
O`DONNELL: The federal judge who ruled Utah`s ban on same sex marriage
unconstitutional refuse today to stay his own ruling while that case is on
appeal. Hundreds of couples lined up this morning to get marriage licenses
in Utah. And today in Ohio, a federal judge ruled that Ohio must recognize
same sex marriages on death certificates. That case was brought by Jim
(INAUDIBLE), whose spouse, John Arthur, died in October of this year.
(INAUDIBLE) appeared on this program to discuss his case.
Up next, the effect of 1.3 million people losing their income, unemployment
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: We have an emergency here right
now. The check is not in the mail. We want to make sure that it is. The
fact is that people want to work. They want to work below their skill
sets, their education and the rest. And in the meantime, they need this
unemployment check to keep things going. We are not giving up on this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was Nancy Pelosi today during a press conference call on
extending unemployment insurance. In five days, 1.3 million Americans will
lose their unemployment insurance payments after Congress failed to extend
that benefit into the New Year. The emergency unemployment compensation
program provides an average of $300 a week to millions of Americans who
have been without a job for more than 26 weeks.
Before leaving for the holiday recess, senate majority leader Harry Reed
promised to hold a vote on a temporary extension as soon as the senator
On Friday, President Obama said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Because Congress didn`t act, more than one million of their
constituents will lose vital income at Christmas time leaving a lot of job
seekers without any source of income at all. I think we`re a better
country than that. We don`t abandon each other when times are tough.
When Congress comes back to work, their first order of business should be
making this right. I know a bipartisan group is working on a three month
extension of this insurance. They should pass it and I will sign it right
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now are Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the
center on budget and policy priorities and an MSNBC who served as vice
president Joe Biden`s chief economist from 2009 to 2011, and Dorian Warren,
associate professor of political science and public affairs of Columbia
University and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.
Jared Bernstein, I want to take the focus off of the altruistic case for
unemployment benefits and talk about the economic case for these payments
and why they are in our own self-interest, those of us who are employed and
the interest of the overall economy.
JARED BERNSTEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: The easiest way to wrap your head
around that is to recognize that unemployed people don`t have an income
from their job. So when they get unemployment compensation, they spend the
money. And that leads to other economic activity down the line. They go
to stores, they buy stuff that means and inventory needs to b e restocked
and there`s another job there. In fact, the congressional budget offers
the aggressively non-partisan congressional budget office estimates says if
we allow this exploration to occur it will subtract something like between
two and four tenths of growth from GDP next year and that amounts to about
250,000 jobs. We need that employment right now.
So, you`re right. There`s a strong macroeconomic reason to keep the
benefits going as long as the job market remains weak.
O`DONNELL: I want us to listen to something extraordinary that Rand Paul
said about this on Friday. And I think at a lot of holiday dinner tables
in the next couple of weeks, there will be a Rand Paul at the table
somewhere saying this KIND of thing and I think the dinner mates have to be
prepared. Let`s listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Not putting any fault on those who are
unemployed but on those who are hiring people and you say who would you
rather hire? Someone who has been out of work two months or two years and
who will you pick? It`s always the two months.
And so, really, when I said it is a disservice, I mean this, I am worried
about the workers. Not that I think they become bad people by being
unemployed longer, but the longer they are unemployed the less likely they
are to ever get a job again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: So Dorian Warren, your whacky uncle says I`m worried about the
unemployed who are unemployed for a long time, therefore, I want to cut off
their benefits because I`m worried about them.
DORIAN WARREN, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Lawrence, I do have a
whacky uncle but he wouldn`t say that.
This is an ideology that goes back hundreds of year. So, even that English
poor laws in the 19th century and the idea that the poor are poor, the
jobless are jobless, because they are lazy, they are undeserving of our
support. And how amazing to have that point of view at this moment of the
year when Republicans and those on the writer claiming a war on Christmas
Well, this is quite the Christmas spirit. We`re going to say to 1.3
million Americans who have been looking for work, forget you, we don`t
care. And it`s probably good for you anyway. What we know is that from a
recent poll by the national plummet law project, after the support goes
away, only one out of four unemployed workers will be receiving any KIND of
government support, the lowest level since 1950.
So, we have become such a cruel and mean country in this moment where we`re
supposed to be wrapping our arms around everybody in the holiday spirit,
it`s such a shame.
O`DONNELL: Jared Bernstein, Rand Paul is just the perfect poser of the
ridiculous points that have grown into our politics about unemployment
payments. So, I just want to have you respond to one more.
He says, does it make sense for our country to borrow money from China to
give it to the unemployed in America? Why do we need more unemployment
insurance because the economy is stagnant? He says that we are making
unemployment payments because the economy is stagnant. Well yes, that is
BERNSTEIN: That`s right.
O`DONNELL: But to that first point, does it make any sense to borrow money
from China to give it to the unemployed in America?
BERNSTEIN: It certainly makes sense, especially at a time like this, when
borrowing costs are very low to allow the deficit to increase temporally
while we provide much needed support to people who threw no fault of their
own, can`t find employment due to, as Rand Paul himself said, it`s funny.
These guys if they go on long enough they say something that`s true and
correctly pointed out that we still have a weakness in the job market.
It is getting better. The unemployment rate is coming down. But it`s
coming down too slowly. And it`s particularly tough for people who live in
areas where there has not been much job creation. And of course, if you go
to Detroit, the unemployment rate is multiples of the national rate.
So yes, historically, ever since canes, we have recognized that there are
times when temporarily you need to borrow to offset its lack in the job
market, economic weakness, as the economy gets going again, that`s when you
bring your budget deficit down. And the fact that we have gotten it
backwards has really hurt us.
O`DONNELL: Dorian Warren, you have studied our collective intelligence as
a society and there seems to have been a decline in this particular area
where there was once a much larger agreement and a much larger bipartisan
agreement about how unemployment payments function especially in a
recession -- automatic stabilizers was the accepted term for what they are,
KIND of unemotional term but both sides saw it that way for a long time.
WARREN: Yes. You know, unemployment insurance was always considered
separate from other quote, unquote "welfare programs." So food stamps or
cash payments, tanif as we know it now, and now they have been lumped
together. So now, even though people have lost their jobs through no fault
of their own, that means still for most folks on the right that they are
the undeserving poor. That it somehow, they are not trying hard enough.
And that if we reward their laziness, that is bad for the company. Even if
you don`t buy the human misery argument, Jared is right on terms of the
economic argument. It`s bad for our economy and it is bad for all of us
for this to be happening to 1.3 million people a few days after Christmas.
O`DONNELL: Jared Bernstein and Dorian Warren, thank you both for joining
WARREN: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Up next, why the "Duck Dynasty" guy who is obsessed with gay
sex is a phony bible quoter. And more importantly, why is he lying about
the experience of black people in Louisiana when he was growing up there in
the 1950s and 1960s. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: The "Duck Dynasty" madness continues.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This week we learned you can judge a book by its cover.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robertson despite a suspension from the A&E reality
program is defending his remarks saying quote "I will not back up from my
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My idea of happiness is killing things.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quote "I will not back up from my path."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Duck Dynasty" merchandise is back on the shelf at
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And cracker barrel cracked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a restaurant chain backtracked after pulling the
popular merchandise last week in the wake of controversial remarks about
gays and blacks made by Phil Robertson, one of the show`s stars.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So long as it is couching Christianity --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think he`s got a right to say what he wants.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you are a member of the Christian right that means
anything you say has a ready defense and even more ready defenders.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he had the right to say what he believes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To quote, "I will not back up from my path."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the company that signs his paycheck had the right
not to subsidize it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s the raw shucks defense. If you`re a Christian,
and awe shucks you just don`t know any better, it`s totally acceptable on
the right for you to be a bigot. And they are even running a "Duck
Dynasty" marathon over the Christmas holidays for the kids.
O`DONNELL: "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson got in trouble last week for
talking about vaginas and anuses. He told "GQ" magazine, it seems like to
me a vagina, as a man, would be more desirable to me than a man`s anus.
That`s just me. I`m just thinking there`s more there. She`s got more to
offer. I mean, come on dudes. You know what I`m saying? But hey, sin?
It`s not logical my man. It`s just not logical."
Phil Robertson is defending those comments as being the word of God as he
read it in the bible. He is not exactly quoting the bible, but his view of
gay sex does have biblical support. The bible is actually to the right of
Phil Robertson on this one. The bible says that the penalty for homosexual
sex should be death. So, like everyone else who uses the bible to support
a position, Phil Robertson uses the bible very, very selectively, ignores a
lot in the bible.
And he has no way of explaining why he believes in some of the teachings of
the bible and disbeliefs many others. Forty-five percent of Americans
agree with Phil Robertson that, and the bible, that gay sex is a sin, but
virtually none of them agree with the bible that the penalty for gay sex
should be death. And none of them, including Phil Robertson, agree with
the bible that prostitutes should be burned at the stake. And none of them
agree with the bible that the penalty for adultery should be death. In
fact, most bible quoters do not believe there should be any penalty for
adultery since most bible quoters like most people at some point commit
adultery. There are no bible quoters left who agree with the bible that
the correct penalty for not observing the Sabbath is death.
Bible quoting long ago became a game, a very selective game. The bible is
not bothered more by gay sex than it is by not observing the Sabbath, but
phony bible quoters like Phil Robertson are. We don`t know why Phil
Robertson is more on obsessed with gay sex than he is with observing the
Sabbath. But it shouldn`t have come as surprise to absolutely no one
especially the A&E network that Phil Robertson agrees with the bible. And
with 45 percent of America and certainly a big majority of the "Duck
Dynasty" audience that gay sex is sinful.
What should have surprised everyone is that a 67-year-old man who grew up
in Louisiana could say that when he was a kid, he -- when he was a teenager
and a young man that he never saw, never a black person who wasn`t happy.
He told "GQ" magazine, I never with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any
black person, not once, where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked
for the farmers. I hood cotton with them. I`m with the blacks because
we`re white trash. We are going to cross the field. They`re singing and
happy. I never heard one of them, one black person say I tell you what,
these dog on white people. Not a word. Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you
say where they happy. They were godly, they were happy. No one was
singing the blues.
Joining me now is author and Pulitzer Prize winner, Isabel Wilkerson. Her
book, "the warmth of other suns," the epic story of America`s great
migration is now available in paperback.
A&E, by the way, says that Phil Robertson will return to the new "Duck
Dynasty" episodes in January.
Isabel, in your book, you tell the story of a family growing up in Monroe,
Louisiana, very close to the "Duck Dynasty" homes that had a very different
experience from what Phil Robertson says he saw in that part of Louisiana.
ISABEL WILKERSON, AUTHOR, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: Yes, well during the
time of the of this period in our country`s history, mid 20th sentry, much
of the south, most of the south was living under a caste system in which
every single thing that a person could do was essentially determined by
what they looked like. They were living in a caste system, this artificial
hierarchy, this totalitarian regime, quite frankly, in which was against
the law to do such basic things as playing checkers with one another
different people across races, playing checkers with one another. There
were actually separate facilities in anything that you can imagine were
segregated. There were separate elevators. There were separate tickets,
ticket counters in which to buy your movie tickets. In fact in Monroe,
there was a swiveling ticket taker who would go from one window to the next
in order to make sure that people could buy their tickets because even the
lines were segregated.
O`DONNELL: And in your book we learn that the great NBA star, Bill
Russell, Boston Celtics legend, grew up in Monroe -- or started his life in
Monroe, Louisiana. And one of the stories that is told in your book is the
time that his father went to a gas station to get gas, just to get gas, and
the gas station operator pulled out a shotgun and put the shotgun to his
head. That is something that I guess Phil Robertson, that is the kind of
thing that Phil Robertson did not see. He said he never saw anything like
that with his own eyes down there.
WILKERSON: Well, that is a perfect example because it speaks to our
relationship between these two groups. There is a cast system in which
people at the lower end of the cast system were not permitted to do such
basic things to be able to look a white person in the eye. They were not
permitted to shake the hand of a person of a different race.
And so, in this particular case in Bill Russell`s father`s case, he was
actually going to get gas and the culture of that world was that white
people were to be served first. And so, Bill Russell`s father had been
waiting to be served and waiting to be served and it had taken so long
because people were coming in and cutting in front of him, which was the
standard, which was the culture. He actually sought to back out. And as
he was backing out, the station owner came over to him and held a gun to
his head and said you will leave when I s you can leave. And his family,
Bill Russell`s family escaped. They fled that same region of Louisiana to
go to California. They went to Oakland. And had that family had not done
that, we might not have even known Bill Russell`s name.
O`DONNELL: Well, as you and I know, since your book came up, Bill Russell
has said that he doesn`t believe that he would have lived if he stayed in
that part of the country, that he and his father probably would have been
killed down there because they would have struggled so hard to fit into
And quickly before we go, there`s a very sharp difference between the
reaction to the sex talk, the gay sex talk, and the racial history talk
that this guy used and I have been struck by the lack of emphasis on this
false racial history that he`s telling.
WILKERSON: Well, I`m hoping that this is a teaching moment for our
country. Clearly, not enough people in our country are truly aware of how
we got to where we are of how the world was so very different within the
life span of many, many adult Americans alive today.
This cast system that I described to you which actually s codified in
Louisiana with Plessey versus Ferguson in 1896, believe it or not, didn`t
end until the 1970s, and so, this is within the life span of people alive
today. And I would hope that we could learn from that. I would hope that
we could see that on some ways, the history is still with us.
O`DONNELL: Isabel Wilkerson, your book has taught us that history, once
again. Thank you very much for joining me tonight.
WILKERSON: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, Chris Christie`s political traffic jam. Now, there
is a call for a federal investigation over whether Chris Christie`s
political cronies broke the law.
O`DONNELL: It`s panic shopping time. Only one shopping day left before
Christmas so what do you get for the person who has everything if you have
one of those people on your list like maybe, say, a Beatle? Well, we know
what one Beatle is getting for Christmas and he`s the one who happens to be
O`DONNELL: Yes, we are going to tell you which Beatle is getting what for
Christmas. That`s coming up in just a couple of seconds, maybe.
But first we`re going to update you on the latest numbers for the KIND fund
kids in need of desks. I`m going to separate this out first with our total
for desks that we have raised since last week, since we last talked about
this. That`s $146,531 for desks. For scholarships for girls since last,
since last Thursday we he raised $120,367 and we already broke the suspense
of that total by showing you that.
Let`s put that total back up again now. This is the total we have raised
in the years we have been doing this here on the program. It`s now
$6,531,512. This began as a program for kids in need of desks in African
schools. That is largely what it remains but we have added to it a
scholarship program for girls to go to high school because they charge
tuition for girls in Malawi. And it is harder for girls to find the money
for tuition and to stay in school in Malawi and so, we have added to our
I want to read to you some of your reactions online, some of your Facebook
Joseph wrote kinda broke. Wish I could do more but you are doing the right
thing. Joseph, thank you very, very much for being concerned about this
and I know people are broke. I know that people are losing unemployment
insurance and I know not everyone can contribute to this and I don`t expect
people to try for whom it will be a great strain. Let`s leave it to those
of us who can help without being a great strain.
On Facebook also, Nancy said we have been doing this every year. We have
now asked our young grandchildren, 23, 16, and 11, to buy us desks in lieu
of personal gifts to us.
I think, Nancy, when you get to have grandchildren of that age, you
probably do have most of your material wishes taken care of by now. And
you can ask for desks instead.
And Ireland on Facebook said, my husband and I are sponsoring a year in
high school for a young woman. What good gift. That`s $177 to keep a girl
in school including room and board in high school in the rural parts of
Malawi which is where we`re concentrating that program.
Nancy Wilson Coleman on Facebook said great idea for remembering my son.
And on twitter, Monica tweeted in celebration of my dad`s last radiation`s
treatment, we are donating to the KIND fund again. Thank you Monica.
Andrea Limon (ph), KIND donation, your politics be damned but with your
heart I found agreement. On behalf of my work team, I donated for a desk
and a bench. I love that. I love that someone who disagrees with my
politics is happy to contribute to this fund.
Believe me, whenever I see those tweets, it really excites me and I really,
really appreciate that.
Adam (INAUDIBLE), Lawrence, the summer camp I work at Camp James raised
$4,300 this summer. Our fund raising -- during our fund raising week,
happy to help such a great cause.
And now finally back to the Beatles. This tweet really popped when I saw
Brian Ray tweeted thanking Lawrence for the perfect gift idea for my boss,
Paul McCartney and his wife, three desks via KIND fund in their name. That
is a fantastic gift. And I have to tell you that I had the great pleasure
at the "Saturday Night Live" party several months ago last season of
"Saturday Night Live" of meeting Paul m McCartney. I didn`t try to get in
his way but he actually sought me out to talk about watching this program
and actually how much he enjoyed it during the presidential election year.
You can imagine what a thrill that was for me to meet one of my childhood
heroes like that.
But nothing has thrilled me more than Brian Ray giving Paul McCartney these
desks for Christmas. When you donate, you can specify that the gift notice
be sent to whomever you choose as a Christmas gift or holiday gift or
birthday gift. You can do it any time of year. That is a fabulous thing
think that these desks are being sent as a gift to Paul McCartney.
We are going to have more updates on this later in the week. We will be
back with more news on it. And again, thank you all very much for your
constant support for this program of the KIND fund is what I mean, not this
television program. That`s not as important as you supporting the KIND
fund which you have been doing since the day I announced it on this
program. Thank you very much.
O`DONNELL: A political traffic jam in New Jersey. That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I know you guys are obsessed with
this. I`m not. It`s not that big a deal. Just because press runs around
and writes about it both here and nationally, I know why that is and so do
you. Let`s not pretend it`s because of the gravity of the issue. It`s
because I`m a national figure and anything like this will be written about
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And now Democrats want to make a federal case out of the
mysterious lane closures on the George Washington Bridge connecting New
Jersey to New York. Senator Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the United
States senate committee on commerce science and transportation has asks
this secretary of transportation to investigate the lane closures. And the
chairman of New Jersey`s assembly`s transportation committee announced
today to talking points memo`s Hunter Walker that will ask for
reauthorization of the committee subpoena power so that his committee`s
investigation in those lane closures can continue into next year.
Joining me now is Hunter Walker, national affairs reporter for "Talking
Points Memo" and Ari Melber, co-host of MSNBC`s, the cycle.
Hunter, which of these investigations should Chris Christie be more worried
HUNTER WALKER, NATIONAL AFFAIRS REPORTER, TALKING POINTS MEMO: Well, I
think in the immediate, the local investigation is certainly gaining more
steam. Today was the deadline for everyone to respond to their subpoenas
and Christie`s two top appointees who had actually resigned from Port
authority have lawyered up and initially asked for extensions. One of them
got in his documents in response of the subpoena at 8:00 sort of after at
the buzzer after the chair of the committee had said I`m going to used any
remedy necessary if this doesn`t come through.
O`DONNELL: Ari Melber, Chris Christie is trying to pretend there is
absolutely nothing here except -- there is nothing here except a couple of
guys having to lose their jobs, get lawyers, criminal defense lawyers and
the United States Senate getting into the investigation along with the New
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE CYCLE: Yes. I mean, we don`t have probative
evidence yet that the governor knowingly did something wrong. What we do
have is a whole bunch of stuff that they have said including the governor
that makes no sense. And so, the very old cliche et cetera that the cover
up can be worse than the crime may not be true here if the evidence leads
to a type of politically corrupt meddling that interfered with traffic or
public safety. Those are big issues. But even if it doesn`t go that far
if they continue to be basically proven as to like have a story that makes
no sense or be lying about it, it`s going to be a real problem for Governor
Christie even if he claims this is only because, for him, he is a national
O`DONNELL: Well, one columnist said "Burgan Record" heard Jackson says
that the problem for Christie in national terms is that people are
convinced that they need to worry about Christie putting forces in power
who base policy decisions on politics then his road through the Republican
primaries will be difficult.
And Hunter Walker, that is the image he has to fear in this.
WALKER: right. As we talked about last week, the DNC has targeted this
scandal with a web video sort of hitting Christie for it. And the reason
they have done so, sources there tell me is that his national brand is so
based on being this straight shooting bipartisan figure. And you know, his
lies that are starting to emerge during this, you know, response here
really, really knocks that out of the park. I mean, you have someone who
is supposed to be transcending politics doing a political revenge scheme.
O`DONNELL: Hunter Walker and Ari Melber, thank you both for joining me
MELBER: Thanks, Lawrence.
WALKER: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes is up next.
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