January 11, 2014
Guests: Leonie Haimson, Cristina Beltran, Ron Christie, Linda Killian, Mark Alexander, Bill Nye, Brian Walsh, Anthony Leiserowitz, Bryan Walsh, Ron Christie, Cristina Beltran, Joan Morgan, Jean Grae, Michael Skolnik
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: This morning, my question: Is a polar vortex
a real thing?
Plus, hip-hop goes to North Korea.
And the schoolyard fight between a conservative congressman and the new
champion of the left.
But, first, the most-talked about traffic jam in the country.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
It`s both the most universal and mundane of daily experiences for people
living in or around the country`s major metropolitan areas, the morning
commute. And for drivers, the daily commute can become a dreaded daily
slog, all because of the bane of a driver`s existence, traffic.
That`s where the average American spends 38 hours of each year, sitting in
a car barely moving. Traffic jams are usually just a local news story,
that is, until this week, because this week the story of one traffic jam
was featured in wall-to-wall national news coverage of what is right now
the biggest story in the country, a bona fide political scandal.
And it revolves around the office of one of the leading contenders for the
Republican presidential nomination in 2016, New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie. This was Christie this week after a series of e-mails and text
messages linked his administration to a commuter nightmare that appeared to
be intentionally orchestrated, seemingly with the sole purpose of political
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I come out here today to apologize to
the people of New Jersey. I apologize to the people of Fort Lee. And I
apologize to the members of the state legislature. I am embarrassed and
humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So to understand how we got here, I`m going to have to take
you all the way back to September 9, when during one typical Monday morning
commute, it was tollbooths that were to blame for the traffic.
Two booths were closed, reducing the normal three lanes of traffic into one
on the George Washington Bridge. The GWB, as the locals call it, connects
New York City, the nation`s biggest city, to one of the city`s most densely
populated suburbs in New Jersey.
Now, the bridge is already infamous for traffic congestion even on a clear
day, when all of its lanes are free and clear, which is what earned it the
dubious distinction of being the busiest bridge in the world. But even by
the GWB standards, September 9 was exceptional.
Motorists, including children, headed to their first day of school were
stranded for hours. And the backup turned the neighboring town of Fort
Lee, New Jersey, into a parking lot, and not just on that one day, but
during the morning commute on every workday that week.
By the end of the week, the local paper, "The Bergen Record," was reporting
on the reason for the lane closures. A spokesperson for the Port
Authority, the agency that oversees the bridge, was quoted in the paper
saying: "The Port Authority has conducted a week of study at the bridge of
traffic safety patterns. We will now review those results and determine
the best traffic patterns. We will continue to work with our local law
Now, that was about all the information "The Bergen Record" could actually
get from the Port Authority on that day, because as the reporter went on to
report -- quote -- "Answers to basic follow-up questions, what was the
goal, who authorized this plan, and why didn`t the Port Authority publicly
warn motorists about it, were met with stone-cold silence."
But it was at least more than the Port Authority that gave the mayor of
Fort Lee when he inquired why his town had been brought to a standstill.
Mayor Mark Sokolich told "The Record" that -- quote -- "I have asked the
Port for an explanation, but they haven`t responded. I thought we had a
good relationship, but I`m beginning to wonder if there`s something I did
wrong. Am I being sent some sort of message?"
As we found from the private messages obtained this week by "The Bergen
Record," the explain behind all of those unanswered questions began nearly
a month before that grueling commute, in, of all places, the personal e-
mail account of one of Governor Chris Christie`s top aides.
August 13, an e-mail sent from Christie`s then deputy chief of staff,
Bridget Anne Kelly, read, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
The recipient, David Wildstein, was Governor Christie`s appointee to the
Port Authority. And his response? "Got it."
A month later, Wildstein gives a direct order to the manager of the George
Washington Bridge to shut down the lanes, bringing traffic on the bridge
and in Fort Lee to a complete stop. And on day two of congested commute,
the mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, sent his text message to Bill Baroni,
who is Wildstein`s boss and Governor Christie`s top appointee at the Port
That one said: "Presently, we have four very busy traffic lanes merging
into only one toll booth and the bigger problem is getting kids to school.
Help, please. It`s maddening."
Within minutes, this text message is sent to Wildstein from someone who is
unnamed in the redacted documents. "Is it wrong that I`m smiling?"
Wildstein responds, "No."
The other person says, "I feel badly about the kids, I guess."
Wildstein again: "They are the children of Buono voters."
Now, that`s Barbara Buono, the Democrat who opposed Governor Christie in
the New Jersey gubernatorial election last week. And there we get the
first evidence for the working theory about the real reasons behind the
orchestrated traffic jam: political retribution against those who did not
support Chris Christie in the election and in particular against Mayor
Sokolich, a Democrat, who supported Barbara Buono instead.
One week after the lane closures, as the press is beginning to catch wind
of the potential political scandal, the mayor texts Baroni, one of
Christie`s guy at the Port Authority, saying -- quote -- "We should talk.
Someone needs to tell me that the recent traffic debacle was not punitive
in nation. The last four reporters that contacted me suggest that the
people they`re speaking with absolutely believe it to be punishment."
By October, reporters were joined in their inquiries by New Jersey
legislators who want to know who ordered the lane closures and the reason
why. After Chris Christie won the November election, he made his first on-
camera appearance to address the still-developing story. And he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Yes, I worked the cones actually,
Matt. Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there. I was
in overalls and a hat, so I wasn`t -- but I actually was the guy working
the cones out there. You really are not serious with that question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: When Christie is asked again about the closures on December
13, two of his Port Authority appointees have resigned.
This time, the governor is a bit more serious with his answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
C. CHRISTIE: I have spoken to everybody on my staff and asked nab around
here and my campaign manger if they knew anything more about this that we
didn`t already know, and they have told me no.
And so, you know, the chief of staff and the chief counsel assure me that
they feel comfortable that they have all the information we need to have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
So that was a month ago, which brings us to where we are today. On
Thursday, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey announced his office is
reviewing the facts to -- quote -- "determine whether a federal law was
Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono called on the
Department of Justice to get involved. And later that same day, Chris
Christie held his most recent press conference, a nearly two-hour
appearance before reporters, where he announced that he had fired Bridget
Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who sent the e-mail saying it was
time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.
Governor Christie also apologized to the people of New Jersey and denied
any involvement or knowledge of the decision to close the lanes.
Now, I know. That was a long story and quite convoluted, but it`s still
nowhere near an end. And despite his best efforts to distance himself,
Governor Christie and his future presidential aspirations remain right in
Joining me now from Trenton, New Jersey, is NBC News national investigative
correspondent Michael Isikoff.
Now, Michael, I understand that you have been poring over thousands of
pages of documents that the Assembly Transportation Public Works and
Independent Authorities Committee of the New Jersey legislature released on
the bridge delays just yesterday. So what have you found?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, actually there`s some breaking
news right now on this.
One of the e-mails that was released yesterday which people are just
noticing is, there`s an e-mail chain in which Patrick Foye, the executive
director of the Port Authority, writes this absolutely furious e-mail
saying that these lane closures are abusive, they`re hasty, ill-considered,
they`re a threat to public safety.
And one of -- and that`s on September 13. One of Christie`s people at the
Port Authority, Baroni, the deputy director, then actually forwards that to
a woman named Regina Egea, who is a stop Christie staffer and is now his
chief of staff.
The tag line, it says, "Urgent, priority high, importance high."
So there`s no indication whether or not she responded to that, but I just
spoke a little while ago with the chief spokesman for the Assembly
Democrats, and he said -- Tom Hester, he said, this e-mail puts Foye`s
complaints about those traffic jams right into the governor`s office.
It makes Regina Egea, Christie`s chief of staff, a candidate for subpoena,
and that John Wisniewski, the chair of the panel who is investigating this,
wants to know what she knew, how she responded to that e-mail, and perhaps
most importantly -- you have played that clip, Melissa, of Christie saying
he asked every member of his staff what they knew and to answer within an
He said he did that about a month ago. Well, what did his now chief of
staff, Regina Egea, say in response to that request?
So, look, it`s just one e-mail. It`s a little bit cryptic. All we know,
it was forwarded to her. Whether she saw it, whether she paid attention to
it, we don`t know. But it`s an e-mail chain that`s going raise a lot of
HARRIS-PERRY: Michael, just quickly, I want to ask you one question here.
In that very long press conference, we do have the governor saying very
clearly now on record that he was not involved in this. Will that -- given
that there are probably continuing subpoenas and this is going to keep
moving forward, is that ever going to become a problem for him, beyond a
political problem? Will that become in any chance a legal problem?
ISIKOFF: Well, look, I just told you, Melissa, that we have this chief of
staff who was informed about this.
ISIKOFF: You`re getting very close to him at this point. You also
obviously have his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, who was fired this
week because she clearly knew something about this.
Look, there`s no smoking gun here that proves Christie knew about this.
But you have a lot. You have David Wildstein, who took the Fifth Amendment
this week. His lawyer said if he gets immunity, he is willing to tell what
he knows. It`s likely others who subpoenaed, given the criminal
investigations under way, including Bridget Kelly, are going to take the
They have got a constitutional right not to testify when there`s a criminal
investigation going on. So it`s hard to see how Christie can have all
questions answered about this when the top people involved are invoking the
Fifth Amendment and not testifying.
People -- for him to have a credible presidential run, at a minimum, people
are going want to have the full story here. And unless we hear from all
these key witnesses, all -- including Wildstein, who took the Fifth
Amendment, it`s going to be hard to see how we get the full story.
Thank you, Michael, our NBC national investigative correspondent, Michael
We`re going to have more people to bring into this conversation as soon as
I get back.
And I want to get into one of the most important things that Governor Chris
Christie said at his press conference on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
C. CHRISTIE: I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its
planning, or its execution. I had no knowledge of this -- of the planning,
the execution or anything about it. I had no knowledge of this, and
neither did the chief of staff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Just in case you missed it, that was New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie making it absolutely clear that he had no knowledge of the
decision to close lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September.
But not everyone is buying it. One of his most vocal skeptics is Barbara
Buono, his Democratic opponent from last year`s race for New Jersey
And here`s what she I had to say yesterday to my colleague, Thomas Roberts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA BUONO (D), NEW JERSEY STATE SENATOR: Look, it`s one of two things.
Either the governor is lying or he`s incompetent. But my prediction is
He will be leaving the governor`s office before his term is up, but it
won`t be to run for president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining us at the table is Linda Killian, who is Washington
journalist, senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for
Scholars and author of "The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of
Independents," also Mark Alexander, law professor at Seton Hall University,
former senior adviser to Barack Obama and former Democratic candidate for
the New Jersey State Senate, Cristina Beltran, who`s associate professor of
social and cultural analysis at New York University and author of "The
Trouble With Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of Identity," and Ron
Christie, contributing columnist at The Daily Beast and former special
assistance to President George W. Bush.
Thank you all for being here.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to come to you as Jersey guy and law professor, in
part because we have here a clear statement from Governor Christie, saying,
I had nothing to do with it, but we have these Fifth Amendment invocations
that always feel a little unfair to me, because you`re supposed to able to
in invoke the Fifth so that you do not self-incriminate, but politically
they appear to be self-incriminating.
MARK ALEXANDER, LAW PROFESSOR, SETON HALL: Absolutely.
And the thing that I think is important here is that you can`t just say,
oh, I don`t feel like answering, I plead the Fifth.
There`s got to be some possibility that you will race a criminal charge and
this would lead to your conviction. So, at the very least, when you take
it from the legal side, it implicates something very serious on the
There is absolutely some possibility that David Wildstein and whoever else
pleads the Fifth, they could be charged and convicted on some sort of
crime. We don`t know what that is. But to me, that leads to the
political. If there is some potentially criminal activity, and we know the
people at the top are saying we might have done something criminal, and the
governor says I didn`t know about this, the fish rots from the head.
That`s the old expression. And I think here we see a lot of people at the
top who are doing something which is very shady. And I`m not sure what the
governor actually knew, but it doesn`t look good if there`s potential
criminal charges involved.
HARRIS-PERRY: Part of what is useful here to me, Linda, is the language
that Mark is using, that it doesn`t look good if there are potential
criminal charges involved.
And so because we cannot at this table know what Governor Christie did or
did not know, but we can know that it does not look good that this moment,
this level of discourse around this shifts suddenly who Governor Christie
is, from the kind of golden guy who is the Republican winning a blue state
at 22 points, to a guy who seems to be, as his opponent there said, either
incompetent or criminally involved.
LINDA KILLIAN, AUTHOR, "THE SWING VOTE: THE UNTAPPED POWER OF
INDEPENDENTS": Well, voters, people who love Chris Christie thought he did
great job in the press conference.
People who don`t thought it was more of the same old bullying crap.
HARRIS-PERRY: Rorschach test, yes.
KILLIAN: Whenever a politician has to begin with, I am not, I am not a
bully, I am not a crook, you know, you have problems.
And the voters haven`t made up their minds yet, but I have eight words for
you: "I did not have sex with that woman."
So, if it turns out he was lying, there`s a problem. For most voters,
there`s not a problem if he wasn`t lying.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, it`s interesting, because the fact that you invoke
that moment, Clinton, obviously, Clinton goes the full way on the legal in
the sense that he actually does end up getting impeached for it, although
not removed from office, which is of course the political part.
Part of what might be the test here at least -- there`s a question here
about whether there`s something criminal happening. Right? But the
president ends up being impeached, but because of his politics ends up not
being actually removed from office in that moment.
Is this then potentially, Ron -- in other words, do we get to learn just
how genius or how incompetent politically the governor is about he`s able
to ride through this moment?
RON CHRISTIE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH: I think we do.
I there are only two things in this case. Number one is, either the
governor knew and he lied about it, which it`s pretty cut and cry, or,
second, he had political staff that were doing things to have political
retribution against a mayor who refused to endorse him for reelection.
I think Peggy Noonan had a very interesting take on this yesterday in "The
Wall Street Journal," where she said there are policy people who are
involved in policy, and then there are political people who are involved
for the win. And sometimes they`re so much more interested in getting that
win and continuing to get that high from that, as opposed to focusing on
what`s right for the government. And I think that Governor Christie really
could find himself in a situation here where he might have political folks
who were looking for the win, as opposed to actually doing the right thing
for the constituents.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, as much as the notion that the fish rots from the head,
let me just ask, Ron, is it possible that there axes to grind politically
in a small state like New Jersey, for example, between the chief of staff
or even the deputy chief of staff and folks in Fort Lee that actually
weren`t about -- I mean, there`s a way in which like a gubernatorial race,
being mad at the mayor of Fort Lee seems like almost too heady.
And I`m taking, let me be working for the governor and say my husband is
the mayor of Fort Lee. You just might get some scandal. Right? Just in
the sense like, is it possible that there was some kind of political
machinations, but that they actually weren`t at the level of the governor?
R. CHRISTIE: Well, it`s possible.
I mean, the lawyer in me says I`m not going to speculate, given the fact
that we don`t know what their political motivation was. We don`t know
whether it was retribution. We don`t know whether it was small ball
But I do want to address one thing when we say the fish rots from the head.
And there`s some interesting corollaries that you can draw from this case
to what has gone on with what the current president is dealing with, where
the president of the United States has not in many viewpoints been very
forthcoming about what happened at Benghazi, where you had four innocent
people who die.
And so my thing is the media is making such a circus over Governor
Christie. The media is going 24/7 special prosecutor. No one died in this
particular case, but you had four innocent Americans that we still haven`t
got on the truth about.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, so, I appreciate sort of politically what you did
there. That was good politics. I appreciate the stick and the move and
the turn to Benghazi.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m saying that was good.
But I do think that there`s something very different here. And I think
that both things can be true at the same time. And I also think, by the
way, that what we have seen about the information out of Benghazi suggests
something very, very different than what`s going on here.
All that being said, hold for me, everybody out there, because, when we
come back, I do want to talk very specifically and come to you, Cristina,
on the question of scandal and whether or not scandal is an appropriate way
for us to be thinking about who should and should not be governing when we
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
C. CHRISTIE: I`m heartbroken about it, and I`m incredibly disappointed.
I`m just stunned. And what does it make me ask about me? It makes me ask
about me, what did I do wrong to have these folks think it was okay to lie
to me? And there`s a lot of soul-searching that goes around with this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: My feelings, my soul, my searching, me.
You know, I wanted to ask you in part because there was like -- there was a
lot of interesting politics going on here about taking certain kinds of
responsibility, deflecting other kinds.
But I just kept thinking, all right, it feels these days as though a public
official can be taken down by scandal and that some scandals are exactly
the right kind of scandals to take down a public official, Watergate, and
other kinds of scandals feel to me like they`re just ginned up sorts of
things that take people down when, in fact, they don`t tell us much about
how that person governs.
First of all, sort of in general, what do you think about scandals, and,
secondly, what kind of scandal is this one?
CRISTINA BELTRAN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ANALYSIS, NEW
YORK UNIVERSITY: Well, I think this is a very dangerous scandal for him,
partly because it fits into the larger narrative that people have about
HARRIS-PERRY: The bully.
BELTRAN: The bully, the guy who was sort of petty, vindictive, local,
willing to kind of punish people who don`t obey him in different ways.
And the fact that this fits into a larger narrative I think is really tough
for him. And so I think this is the kind of scandal that doesn`t go away
and because it affects people`s daily lives. It was a commute. It has a
way of kind of growing.
But I think the other aspect of this that`s important and why it might also
stick is something we talked about earlier, is that a lot of voters in New
Jersey voted for Christie not because they supported his policies, but
because they supported the man.
They liked the person more than they liked the policies, at least in a blue
state like New Jersey. So, I think when you`re that kind of politician and
people no longer like you, they don`t have any policy that could -- they`re
no scaffolding to hold onto support.
When people didn`t like Clinton, they still liked a lot of his politics.
Democrats were like, I don`t like you personally, but, publicly, I like the
kind of public choices you make.
HARRIS-PERRY: There was an actual divided in public opinion. What you do
think about Bill Clinton? Nah. What you do think about Bill Clinton`s
economy? Hah! Right? Yes.
BELTRAN: So people -- so the problem for Christie is that he had a lot of
appeal based on who he was, rather than what he believed, based rather than
what he believes.
And so now I think is going to stick in a certain kind of way precisely
because of that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mark, Cristina says that this goes to brand or goes to type,
this notion of Christie as the bully, but also goes against the kind of
brand he was actively trying to craft for himself.
And that`s I think a big problem for Christie right now. He tried to build
a brand by saying, I get stuff done. I work with Democrats to get things
done. And the reality is what we see is that he and his top people,
regardless of exactly what he knew, he has a mode of operating in which
this is absolute bullying, abusive, petty behavior.
And so he can`t come and say, oh, I work with people to get things done.
I`m cooperative sometimes. Sometimes, you have to be tough. But his whole
brand I think has to be reexamined. I think that`s going to be the big
challenge for him going forward, his appeal to others as somebody who will
work across the aisle. That`s gone.
We see what he is really like. We`re seeing true colors of him and all the
people around him.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also, the other piece of his brand was I`m the guy who will
kind of stand up and I will speak the truth, right? And you saw a kind of
reticence, a kind of reluctance to speak certain sorts of things in this
Let me ask then about how a brand shift like that impacts. You brought up
Benghazi earlier, right? And I really don`t want to get into the Benghazi
weeds, but I do think there`s something interesting here about the question
of brand in terms of the administration as well that I just want to connect
all of these things. Right?
This idea that part of what people love about the Obama administration is
the sense of hope and connection, moving forward, right, with the country
and that part of why politically Benghazi has been such a useful battering
ram for the right is because it does seem to shift away from that sort of
hopeful vision of the Obama administration.
KILLIAN: Well, Christie, obviously, he appeared with the president after
HARRIS-PERRY: He didn`t just appear with him. He snuggled him.
KILLIAN: He snuggled him.
KILLIAN: His brand is, as we have talked about, I work for the people, I
am a straight shooter, I care about the people, I can carry a blue state
big. I`m going to run up the board and get all these Democrats to endorse
me. I attract independent voters, I attract Democratic voters.
But what you saw in that clip you that just showed me, I`m disappointed,
I`m sad, I`m frustrated.
What about the tens of thousands of people that sat in traffic, the
ambulances that couldn`t get through? What voters and especially swing
voters that elected Chris Christie want to know is, is he working for us?
Does he care about us, or is he just like any other politician?
KILLIAN: And he sold himself as not being like any other politician, but
this was just like any other politician.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, not about you, what about me.
We`re going to talk about the voters as soon as we get back, because I`m
going to tell you about a record high, a record low, and what those numbers
really mean for politicians like Governor Christie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
C. CHRISTIE: I have considered it over the last four years to be my job to
be the governor of every New Jerseyan, Republican Democrat, independent, or
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, that`s the Chris Christie we`re used to hearing.
Before the scandal of the George Washington Bridge erupted, the New Jersey
Republican was known for his ability to appeal to a broad cross-section of
voters. He was reelected as governor of New Jersey with more than 60
percent of the vote in a heavily Democratic state.
And he won nearly 80 percent of the independent vote. Those independent
voters could be key in any Christie presidential campaign. And according to
a Gallup poll, they are a growing group. Gallup`s survey found for the
first time in history of its telephone interview, a record high of 42
percent of Americans identify themselves as independents.
That`s more than the 31 percent who call themselves Democrats and the 25
percent who identify as Republicans. But not so fast. Before we start to
declare today independents day, I want you to pause with me for a moment
and take look at another graphic.
As you see here in the pie chart from the 2012 "Washington Post"/Kaiser
Foundation study, the vast majority of people who claim to be independent
are really just partisans in independent clothing. According to the
survey, true independents, the ones you see there labeled as the
liberators, comprise no more than 13 percent of the electoral, a far cry
from the record-setting independent voting bloc.
So I know this is your wheelhouse, the swing vote. And you and I have
really disagreed on this, because, you know, my -- the mother`s milk of my
Ph.D. program, right, is that the myth of the independent voter, the idea
that independent voters actually are leaners, that leaners behave pretty
much like how weak partisans behave, and -- and I just want to show you
this from the April 2012 Gallup survey.
The main thing that independents do is sort of not show up. The
conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans, 88, 75 percent turnout,
liberal and moderate Democrats, 75 and 80 percent turnout. Pure
independents, 50 percent turnout. The main thing they do is stay home.
KILLIAN: OK. So here`s some myths that I want to bust, because I feel
really strongly about this. And independent voters feel really strongly
And I e-mailed them yesterday, my little focus group around the country.
What choice do they have? People say that they`re leaners, but where`s the
independent party for them to vote for? Where are the independent
candidates for them to vote for? So they have to make a choice. They have
to vote Democrat or Republican because they have no choice.
But of that 42 percent, highest ever since Gallup has been keeping track, I
think exit polling, academic studies, I think a good 20 percent are true
swing voters, independents. They vote sometimes for Democrats. They vote
sometimes for Republicans. They mix up their ballot.
I did focus groups with them. They have a mix of views, more liberal on
HARRIS-PERRY: I hear you, but, that said, we just do live actually in an
increasingly partisan environment, rather than in an increasingly
I mean, all of the evidence suggests that both that partisans are more
likely to turn out to vote, and that right now partisan identification
almost over-explains what we know about...
I always think that, in some ways, a lot of this has to do with sort of
civic engagement and literacy, right, like which voters are really engaged
with these questions and which are not. I think one of the interesting
things about Chris Christie is he became the sort of symbol of
And I think it`s fascinating in a way, because what did he really do? I
mean, really, I mean, he survived and was competent during a natural
disaster and then he was civil and friendly to the president and took the
HARRIS-PERRY: But this is how partisan the environment is...
HARRIS-PERRY: .. that if you just manage -- if you just managed to not
spit on the president, you`re a moderate.
BELTRAN: That is such a low bar for partisanship.
This is not profiles in courage. This is, I was friendly with the
president during a contentious election. So I really do wonder about it.
But I think we often -- we sort fetishize independent voters still in our
culture. And I think it`s an interesting question.
BELTRAN: I do think we still think they`re the ones who are deciding.
R. CHRISTIE: I think they are deciding.
R. CHRISTIE: You look at the last election cycle, President Obama carried
the independent vote. I think there are so many people in the United
States now who are so dissatisfied with I`m a Republican, I`m a partisan
No, I`m independent-minded. I have my own views and my own thoughts. But
there are certain states and certain instances where you have to caucus
with a party, say, Virginia, for example, where I vote. But, on the other
hand, people -- and we saw this in a Harvard Institute of Politics poll.
The millennials are saying, I don`t want to identify with a particular
party. I`m independent-minded.
And I think that`s the precursor to what we`re going to see for 2016.
HARRIS-PERRY: But let me ask about that, because there`s two different
ways to see that moment of saying, I don`t want to identify with a party.
One is, I`m independent-minded and sometimes might choose one party over
another. And the other is, man, I`m just disgusted. I just hate this
whole system. And like so, for me, part of what the bridge scandal
suggests is not so much that it makes people independent-minded, but rather
it makes them disgusted, and then they out of politics altogether, which is
not so good for the country.
ALEXANDER: And you can also compare this with the approval ratings of
Congress, right, all-time lows. People`s faith in our government is too
low, because what we`re seeing is too often the kind of government shutdown
This current incident, whatever it turns out to be, it`s another thing
which is going to take people`s confidence in the system down. And that
also has an effect on politics, because if your choice is Democrat or
Republican, that`s all you have. But if you don`t like government, well,
you`re not going to like the parties either. And so it`s a big problem
that we have got, having faith in the government.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s such a good point about faith in government, because
typically when you have an argument about faith in government with folks
who really want small government, you can point -- literally point to
Right? What you literally say is, oh, you don`t like government. Well, I
will bet you like your roads. And in this moment, even that most basic
function of government has been undermined.
ALEXANDER: Even the roads are being clogged. And then when it`s a
possibility that people aren`t going to get to work, when ambulances are
stuck, and the answer is, oh, those are the voters of my opponent, that`s
ALEXANDER: And everybody should hate that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, then you really do feel sort of on the outside of this.
All right. Lillian Killian, thanks so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: Not Lillian Killian. That would be ridiculous.
Linda Killian, thank you so much.
Coming up, my "Letter of the Week," but first, this news of the Middle
NBC News has confirmed that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has
died. He`s been in a coma since 2006 after suffering a stroke. Sharon was
a powerful and often controversial figure. He earned the nickname
bulldozer because of his reputation for stopping at nothing. Sharon was a
champion of Jewish settlers and of expanding Israel`s borders, but, as
prime minister, he stunned the world by ordering the evacuation of Jewish
settlers from Gaza.
Ariel Sharon was 85.
We will be right back.
HARRIS-PERRY: More than 1,300 same-sex couples received marriage licenses
in Utah in the 17 days after a federal court judge struck down the state`s
one man/one woman marriage law and before the Supreme Court issued a
temporary stay of that order.
Now, those couples are now in serious legal limbo, because, on Tuesday,
Utah Governor Gary Herbert`s office told state agencies not to recognize
the marriage licenses when considering applications for state-issued
In the words of his chief of staff, "The state recognition of same-sex
marriage is ON HOLD until further notice" -- "ON HOLD," all caps.
The newly wed same-sex couples can not enjoy state benefits for married
couples. They can`t change their names on their driver`s licenses, or
adopt their spouse`s children or file state cases jointly until the case is
settled by an appeals court.
But the question of whether those marriages will be recognized by the
federal government has been answered unequivocally.
And that`s why my "Letter" this week is to U.S. Attorney General Eric
Dear Attorney General Eric Holder, it`s me, Melissa. Now, let`s take a
listen to what you said in a video statement issued this Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I`m confirming today that for purposes
of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered
eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-
These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their
status as the litigation unfolds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, Mr. Holder, you said that really calmly, almost kind of
boring actually. No offense.
But I want to pump up the volume a little bit, because I don`t want to lose
sight of the fact that what you`re saying is a really big deal. You`re
saying that the federal government will recognize Utah`s 1,300 same-sex
marriages, even though the state won`t.
Those couples can get federal benefits, such as health insurance for
spouses of federal employees and the ability to sponsor a spouse for a
visa. The governor`s office in Utah might be putting those marriages "ON
HOLD," all caps, but you, Mr. Attorney General, and the federal government
All those newlyweds out there, their marriage is legal in the eyes of the
federal government, and this from a member of an administration that has
been criticized and vilified and demonized for allegedly overstepping its
bounds and trampling on states` rights, but for imposing the will of the
president on the lives of the people.
But, Mr. Attorney General, did you care about that perception? No. You
just kind of let that thing roll off your back like a duck lets water roll
off of its.
Now, we know you, Mr. Attorney General, and you are much calmer and more
measured than I would be when speaking about these things.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLDER: In the days ahead, we will continue to coordinate across the
federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit
to which Utah couples and couples throughout the country are entitled,
regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: See, Attorney General Holder, you`re deceptive that way,
like a duck, calm and cool on the surface, gliding along all easy peasy,
but, underwater, your feet are paddling furiously, propelling this country
toward justice through the waters of inequality.
Now, I do have one request. If the Utah marriage ban is upheld, if the
state invalidates those 1,300 marriages, I hope that you`re going to
continue to recognize those marriages as valid, even if the state refuses
to do so. Keep paddling, Mr. Attorney General.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, the U.S. House of Representatives` majority
leader, Eric Cantor, took a swipe at a surprising target, New York City
Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Cantor gave a speech on Wednesday promoting a bill that would allow federal
funding for low-income students to follow them to any school, including
private and charter schools. And he singled out de Blasio for his campaign
promises to begin charging New York charter schools rent for sharing city-
owned space with public schools.
Cantor claimed that to charge rent in the New York real estate market would
shut down charter schools around the city.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Just think how many
families are going to be harmed, how many families are going to have their
choice taken away if Mayor de Blasio pursues these policies.
Mayor de Blasio -- Mayor de Blasio should abandon this idea and should
allow instead New York City`s charter schools to flourish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Mr. Cantor also warned that the House committees will remain
vigilant on the issue.
Mayor de Blasio was quick to answer back, telling reporters, "I don`t
typically look for education advice from Eric Cantor."
Joining the table now is Leonie Haimson, who is the executive director of
Class Size Matters, which last year sued the city of New York to stop
charter school co-locations.
So, let me just ask, why? What was basis of that suit?
LEONIE HAIMSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CLASS SIZE MATTERS: Well, what we have
found is that there is no issue more contentious and more distressing to
public school parents in New York City than the issue of co-located
charters, that there`s a perception that charter school kids get better
facilities, they have smaller classes, they have more computers, and often
the kids in the existing public school get pushed out of their classrooms,
that art rooms, their libraries.
Even kids with special needs get pushed out of the rooms they need for
their special mandated services. Right now, the Independent Budget Office
has estimated that kids in charter schools in co-located buildings get
substantially more in public funding than the kids in the public schools.
And that doesn`t count in many cases the millions of dollars that the
charter schools raise privately.
So, there is a perception of separate but unequal often in the same
building. And that causes tremendous strike among parents, teachers, and
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, I have been real clear over the course of the two years
on this show that I`m not a stronger supporter of charter schools,
particularly to the extent that they have come in and taken over entire
school systems, as they have, for example, in New Orleans.
But it always feels to me -- and I don`t have children in the New York
schools. So, I don`t know. My child is the Louisiana, New Orleans
schools. But it feels to me like New York has a better sort of appropriate
mix of what we think makes sense, of private religious, private secular,
public charter, private charter, and traditional public schools, right?
So I`m not a fan of a system being all one thing. Am I wrong? Is there a
move for these charter schools to really take over the traditional public
HAIMSON: Well, during the Bloomberg administration, we have had an
increase from 17 charters to over almost 200, and it`s taken $1 billion a
year out of our education budget.
So there is a perception that the charter sector is growing very, very
rapidly in New York City, primarily because of the provision of free space
and services, which we believe violates state law.
Not only that, but there really is the perception and actually the evidence
to show that charter schools enroll fewer high-needs kids, fewer special
education kids, English language learners, and even kids below the poverty
line, so as our public schools are getting increasingly concentrated with
the highest-needs kids, with the least amount of space and resources to
deal with them.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, so I want to back up to politics here for just a
second, because it is a little surprising to see Eric Cantor yell at a
Like, that is the officially kind of punching down. So, I have a theory
that I want to float. And I want to see if either one of you agree or
think I`m nuts on.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is it possible that the one clear bipartisan position that
Democrats and Republicans have taken has been on this school choice
narrative, and that, from the Obama administration down to Democratic
mayors like Rahm Emanuel, the notion is that there is broad agreement on
school choice, and so by going after de Blasio, Cantor actually will end up
isolating him from the Democratic Party that`s already decided to make this
kind of rightward shift on school choice, and by sort of isolating de
Blasio also isolates the progressivism and populism that is part of de
That`s my conspiracy theory of what is happening in this moment. Do you
ALEXANDER: I would say that it`s in some way safe maybe is what you`re
saying for Eric Cantor to go after this issue, where there is a lot of
Democrat and Republican agreement on these questions.
But what still doesn`t make sense is why this man from Virginia in the
federal government is going after a local official. Every day, ask Eric
Cantor, what`s so important? He will say states` rights, states` ability
to do things.
And now he turns here. So, I think that maybe you want to add to your
conspiracy that maybe there`s a bit of -- I don`t know if it`s hypocrisy to
add to it. But it`s a safe issue for a lot of Democrats and Republicans to
HARRIS-PERRY: He was asked about that. I do want to read that -- because
he was, in fact, asked about that hypocrisy.
And there was a response. And the response was basically, look, Mr. Cantor
believes that local officials should be able to be in control of their own
So this is Megan Whittemore, who is Cantor`s press secretary, said,
"Although the congressman believes that education decisions are best left
to local officials, he has no qualms about challenging the New York City
policies if he thinks they threaten school choice." So...
R. CHRISTIE: That`s exactly right.
I want to go back to the point that there is nothing that Eric Cantor is
going to say or do that you`re suddenly going to have this broad swell of
Democrats that are going to come behind him and say Eric Cantor is the
greatest thing since sliced bread. That`s the honest truth.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Yes.
R. CHRISTIE: The fact of the matter is -- and you pointed this out -- when
Mayor Bloomberg came into office, there were seven charter schools in New
York City. now there are well over 120.
You are giving parents a choice. And one of the things that Republicans
talk about in D.C. is the D.C. Hope Opportunity Scholarship that allowed
students in failing, underperforming schools to be able to go to go to a
different school and to have the money follow them.
A lot of Democratic opposition to this is, well, wait a second. You`re
taking money out of the public schools, when, in reality, it`s the teachers
unions don`t like this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I hate to give Ron Christie the last word on this,
but, unfortunately, they`re literally screaming at me in the control room,
as they sometimes do.
But this -- I think that both the politics and the policy of this remain
Leonie Haimson and Mark Alexander, thank you for being here today.
ALEXANDER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Still to come this morning: the redeeming qualities of hip-
hop, and a special treat we are most excited about. Bill Nye, The Science
Guy, is coming to "Nerdland." Of course Bill Nye, The Science Guy, is
coming to "Nerdland."
There`s more at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Now, I don`t know about you, but I was so happy when Wednesday rolled
around, because that meant the polar vortex was over. The polar vortex
caused all sorts of havoc this week and resulted in one of the coldest
arctic outbreak in our country in two decades, even sending temperatures
down into the 20s and 30s in my city of New Orleans.
Now, look, you all, New Orleanians are resilient, but there are reasons why
we live in New Orleans, and cold weather ain`t one of them. So, while a
majority of America was in the vortex, that didn`t stop opinions like this
one from Rush Limbaugh, who said during his Monday show that: "We`re having
a record-breaking cold snap in many parts of the country. And right on
schedule, the media has come up with a way to make it sound like it`s
completely unprecedented, because they have got to find a way to attach
this to the global warming agenda. And they have. It`s called the polar
vortex, the dreaded polar vortex. Do you know what the polar vortex is?
Have you ever heard of it? Well, they have just created it for this week."
Limbaugh`s assertion was countered by none other than NBC`s Al Roker, who
first took to Twitter with the following tweet, showing the definition of a
polar vortex from his 1959 meteorology glossary and followed that with
"Rush Limbaugh claims the polar vortex is a creation of a left-wing liberal
media conspiracy. It`s meteorology 101. No political agenda."
But our Mr. Roker was not done. He took the airwaves on Wednesday to
squash the polar vortex deniers once and for all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL ROKER, NBC NEWS: A lot of folks have been saying there`s no such thing
as a polar vortex and that it`s some left-wing media conspiracy. Let me
tell you something. First of all, we have never used the phrase global
warming or climate change in conjunction with this.
Take a look right here. OK? Polar vortex, there it is, the large-scale
cyclonic circulation in the middle and upper troposphere, specifically two
centers, one near Baffin Island, another over Northeastern Siberia."
OK? So, for all of the doubters out there, stuff it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Dang. Al Roker is riled up and I think it is pretty clear
where he stands on this one, but there is still the issue of climate change
Here`s a Republican senator from Oklahoma on the floor of the Senate this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, there`s been a concerted effort of
people to believe that global warming is taking place, that we`re all going
to die and all of that. At the same time, the evidence out there is just -
- it`s almost laughable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Senator, we all are going to die, like just saying.
OK. This is no laughing matter. Listen, it is quite serious. The senator
is trying to use cold weather to refute global warming and is not
acknowledging that climate change results in extreme weather events.
According to scientific reports, rather than political pronouncement,
global climate change just might be the cause of this record-breaking cold
spell. The southern shift of the polar vortex could have been triggered by
a sudden stratospheric warming event.
In a democracy, people will express and hold different opinions, but
valuing our right to disagree does not mean that we can ignore data. It
does not mean that all conclusions drawn from data are equally relevant.
Even a political conversation should follow some basic rules of the
scientific process. Propose a hypothesis, collect some empirical evidence,
draw conclusions only to the extent that they`re supported by the data.
At the table, Bryan Walsh, a senior writer for "TIME" magazine who covers
energy and the environment, Anthony Leiserowitz -- Leiserowitz?
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ, DIRECTOR, YALE PROJECT ON CLIMATE CHANGE
COMMUNICATION: That`s it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Leiserowitz. Hah-hah. Leiserowitz. OK. You know me and
names. Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and
NYU professor Cristina Beltran and Daily Beast columnist Ron Christie. And
joining us from Los Angeles is Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
So nice to have you.
BILL NYE, THE SCIENCE GUY: And so good to be had.
HARRIS-PERRY: Indeed, it is.
Bill, let me start with you.
Can you just explain in the simplest terms possible how it is possible for
cold weather to be a result of global warming?
NYE: Well, it`s a shift in weather patterns.
So, many of us are familiar with the jet stream. And it moves from west to
east over North America and it dipped especially low a couple times of
year. And that`s due to changing of a whirlpool or circular wind above the
North Pole. So as the Arctic ice melts, as the extent of ice changes, the
amount of sunlight that`s reflected from the surface around the poles
changes and that can change the pattern and cause this circular wind, this
cyclonic flow of air, to dip a little farther south or in the case of New
Orleans quite a bit farther south.
NYE: Now, it`s the kind of thing that`s so subtle.
This is to say this effect lasted just a few days. So tying it directly,
but with a computer model or with the satellite data, tying it directly to
a much larger phenomenon of global climate change is difficult.
NYE: However, it is consistent with what you would expect, as the ice
melts, as there`s more heat energy in the atmosphere and as weather
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. So, part of what I appreciate about how you talked
about that is that it`s complicated, right, not just that the words are
words we may not be used to hearing, but also that we can`t say this caused
this, right, that we just look for data and evidence and how they seem to
And, similarly, I think as we -- as we sort of think about, oh, climate
change agenda vs. climate change denier, that those also seem like
categories that are simply too stark.
So I wanted to show Anthony this really sort of incredible graphic about
how the American public looks at this issue. And, in fact, it`s not just
deniers vs. agenda pushers. It`s actually six categories of the American
And so you can`t tell me about all six, but maybe pick two of them, maybe
the alarmed and the dismissive, and tell me who those folks are.
So, what we found in our research, that Americans don`t speak with a single
voice on this issue. At one end of the spectrum is a group we call the
alarmed. These are people who are convinced it`s happening, human-caused,
serious and an urgent problem, and they highly support policy.
And at the other end of the policy are those that we call the dismissive,
those are firmly convinced it`s not happening, not human-caused, not a
serious problem, and many of which consider it a hoax, that scientists are
making up data, that it`s a U.N. plot to take over the American sovereignty
and many other variants.
But in between those two extremes, you have 70 percent of the American
public. That`s where the bulk of the public is, not at the two extremes.
And yet that`s -- those two extremes are what we generally hear about in
the shouting, especially in the media.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you a little bit about this shouting and ask
whether or not it makes sense to be shouting over something that does seem
So, I recognize the data are neutral and that we draw conclusions from
data, and that reasonable and smart people can draw different kinds of
conclusions from the same data. But there does seem to be a trend towards
not falsifying the hypothesis that is that there is climate change.
Why can`t have -- I mean, why can`t we agree on that, right, like as a
basic set of scientific precepts outside of politics?
BRYAN WALSH, "TIME": Well, I think it`s just difficult because science vs.
politics and the media, they work at different time scales.
When it comes to science, this is a theory with global warming that`s been
built up over really decades of research, very slow to change, very slow to
accept, sort of to adjust to any differences that are happening on a day-
by-day schedule. Well, that`s how the media works. That`s how politics
So you see that sort of jump from it`s cold outside. Suddenly, climate
change doesn`t exist, to now it`s 20 degrees above normal right now in New
York City. Does that mean it exists? But science doesn`t work that way.
Right, but the idea not only that science does not work that way, because I
like this language of sort of being on two different time horizons.
But, Ron, I want to also ask you in this moment. It does seem to me though
like the precepts of how you make a scientific argument. One of the key
ones is that you actually seek to falsify your viewpoint.
So, you set your hypothesis and you actually go look for data to prove your
viewpoint wrong to see whether or not it is robust enough to stand up
against it. And it`s very hard for me to make claims that we in the
political world or the media world operate that way, that we set out a
hypothesis and then look for data to prove ourselves wrong.
RON CHRISTIE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH: I think that`s
And, certainly for me being a lawyer and an author, I`m not going to sit
here and go head to head with the Yalie and the Science Guy.
CHRISTIE: But I would say that from looking at it from a political
perceptive, I think that there are those who are not necessarily
dismissive, but those who say, well, gosh, you have a Nobel physicist who -
- Ivar Giaever, who resigned from the American Physical Society, who said
it`s not incontrovertible that we have global warming.
If you look over the last decade, it looks like in fact the core
temperature has cooled by a percentage point as opposed to have gotten up.
So, I think that you can have reasonable people who can disagree on this,
but it`s the perspective of, this is politics. It`s about money too.
There`s millions of dollars to be had for grants and research. And I think
there are folks who want to say, oh, there`s global science and let`s
research it some more.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hey, Bill, tell me, is it, can reasonable people disagree on
NYE: Well, not anymore.
The trouble that -- what makes it so difficult is, when this was
discovered, especially by Michael Mann and Rick Elliott and those guys,
they had to extract the information from very subtle changes in data, and
then they had to go back in time, at first just about 1,000 years, and now
about 10,000 years, by looking at ice cores especially, bubbles trapped in
And so what would you -- I say to the viewers, what would you be doing
right now if you weren`t watching this show? That`s right. You would be
watching a rerun of "CSI," I`m sure.
NYE: And so when you find the bubbles of ancient atmosphere trapped in the
ice, that`s the ancient atmosphere.
There`s nobody running around with a hypodermic needle skirting ancient
atmosphere bubbles into the ice. And so the trouble is not that the world
hasn`t been warmer in the past. It has been. There has been more carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere. It`s the rate. It`s the speed at which things
are changing that`s unprecedented.
And this is where you may have heard the expression the hockey stick, where
the world`s temperatures goes more like and this and now it`s going like
that, like the blade of a hockey stick. And that`s the subtle thing that
has been so hard for people to grasp.
But I have a question. I have a question for the political experts.
NYE: And what is it about human nature that makes us embrace this idea of
What makes -- I mean, I don`t know how much time you have spent with
academics, but some of these guys drive around in really fancy cars like
Honda Accord and Toyota Celicas and stuff.
NYE: And so my point being that when you talk -- when people discuss
millions of dollars going to this research, the kind of people that pursue
this pursue it, for the love of it, the fascination with physics and so on.
And so and I will say I spend a lot of time in different cities. I meet
different meteorologists. The meteorologists, these are weather people who
have studied weather for the public good. They all accept climate change
and they`re very concerned about it.
But there is this tone that comes generally from networks to not bring it
up on the air because of the controversy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Bill, stay with me, because as soon as we get back...
NYE: Where does that come back?
HARRIS-PERRY: As soon as we get back, I`m going to get Cristina Beltran to
answer your question when we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right.
We`re back and we`re around talking about the politics of science.
And so I will ask a political scientist Bill Nye`s question, which was, so,
why do we like conspiracy theories? Why are we so attached to this idea
there`s going to be somebody putting ancient bubbles in our ice?
CRISTINA BELTRAN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ANALYSIS, NEW
YORK UNIVERSITY: The giant mysterious plot.
I do think a part of it is the idea of clarify and closure. Right?
Politics is just a space of contingency and uncertainty. And conspiracy
theories are so satisfying, because there`s a plan. And what is really
terrifying I think for people politics is, there is no plan, or that
there`s in fact the space of all kinds of things we don`t know.
And so I think conspiracy theories mean people are thinking about you and
they have a plan. Right? In the realm of politics, when they`re not
thinking about you and they don`t have a plan, that`s much more unsettling.
But I think the other thing I wanted to point out, when listening to all
this, is this is an instance where conservatives are the real
postmodernists, in the sense that they`re the ones who want to destabilize
an unsettled meaning, right?
Democrats want to talk about facts and truth and science, but conservatives
understand the power of language games. Right? They understand that these
ideas are socially constructed or that facts are socially constructed and
they understand that there`s -- about power.
And so I think one of the interesting things that`s going on with
conservatives right now is they keep saying let`s keep discussing it. It`s
not really -- it`s sounds very John Stuart Mill. It`s very clashing,
hostile combatants under banners clashing.
But really it`s about postponing agreement and postponing consensus and
unsettling agreement. It`s not about reaching agreement. It`s about
unsettling and postponing political agreement. And I think it`s very
interesting that the people who critique moral relativism are in fact the
people who are playing it so effectively on the public stage.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, particularly in the space
So, let me ask about a moment 50 years ago when conservatives were less
postmodern, which I loved. We need to right that. And that is 50 years
ago this week, the surgeon general comes out and says smoking is bad for
your health, right?
And there was a time where, the tough week I was having last week, I could
have been smoking on air, as many of my colleagues did 50 years ago, right,
when you would see them kind of smoking on air. And after that landmark
study, which had an equal number of smokers and nonsmokers on it, there was
this definitive moment. They came out, they said smoking was bad.
We ended up with different kind of policies. We have far fewer new
adopters of cigarettes now. Is that possible? Could you convene a panel
and come up with an answer that would then drive policy now? Either one of
you, do you think it`s possible?
LEISEROWITZ: Well, in fact, it has happened.
LEISEROWITZ: There has been a coming together of the scientific
establishment repeatedly over several decades in which they have said, it
is clear, climate challenge is happening. It`s human-caused. It`s bad now
and it`s going to get much worse in the future. And yet there are real
things that we can do right now to begin to address this issue.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it`s not driving policy, in part because people don`t
seem to believe.
I guess part of what I`m saying is when the surgeon general said it 50
years ago, it was like, oh, the surgeon general said it. So, then we acted
LEISEROWITZ: But remember that there was a big industry that was very
happy with the status quo.
And, in fact, the tobacco industry developed an entire strategy, a strategy
that, by the way, has been adopted and grafted directly into climate
challenge using some of the same scientists, using the exact same strategy,
which is keep people confused.
As long as people believe that the scientists do not yet agree, as we just
heard, they will say, well, why take action because it`s not clear yet?
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s important to note, right, that 50 years ago, when
that pronouncement came out, it was made on a Saturday, specifically not to
impact the markets, right, because there were, right, there were big
economic interests here.
WALSH: It still took decades for the tobacco wars to even come close to
There was the line from the tobacco that our product is doubt. For 30-plus
years, they fought a rearguard action to create increasing doubt about
these conclusions. This isn`t really new. What we`re dealing with,
climate change, isn`t new. I mean, it`s harder I think for the average
person to connect carbon emissions to a warming planet, because it is much
more complicated than, well, if you smoke a cigarette, it doesn`t seem like
it`s good for you.
But it still took a long time for that to happen.
Stay with us, everybody, because I`m going go back to Bill Nye, the Science
Guy, who`s still with us. We`re going to talk not only more on this
question, but I`m going to ask Bill about the space where science and faith
collide when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: According to a recent Pew poll, 60 percent of Americans
believe in evolution and 33 percent reject the idea of evolution.
But here`s the number I find most interesting. Between 2009 and 2013, the
percentage of Democrats who believe in evolution has increased from 64
percent to 67 percent. In that same time frame, the percent of Republicans
who believe in evolution has fallen from 54 percent to 43 percent.
Evolutionary biology has not produced any new findings in the past four
years that can account for this seemingly rapid change in public poi about
evolution. This polarization is about the evolution driven in politics,
not in science.
And the issue is so hot that next month Bill Nye, the Science Guy, who has
repeatedly defended evolution, will head to Kentucky for a debate with the
founder of the Creation Museum, Ken Ham.
Bill, let me bring you in here. I am fascinated that, like climate change,
this has become identifiably a partisan issue so that science and evidence
don`t seem to impact much what people believe.
NYE: Well, this is a strange phenomenon.
Everybody -- let me start by emphasizing again, I don`t have any problem
with anybody`s religion. Knock yourself out. The thing that`s always a
concern in science education, evolution is a fact. It`s how we all came to
be. And the main thing for me is the Earth is not 10,000 or 6,000 years
old. It`s not.
The evidence is overwhelming. And if you have a deity that`s going to put
all this stuff here to trick you, that is one mean-spirited deity. And so
I have no problem with anybody`s religion, but we depend on our
understanding of evolution to make flu vaccines, to breed our favorite kind
of dog, to make all the food we eat.
NYE: This is through our understanding of genetics and evolution.
And so it is the fundamental idea in all of life science. And so when we
slip behind, when we allow a generation of science students to not embrace
it and not come to understand sort of the bottom-up quality of it, rather
than the top-down perception of it, this is troubling, because it affects
If we produce a class or several classes of students who don`t understand
the process of science, the United States will not innovate, it will not
create, we will not invent, and we will be outcompeted by those societies
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you a question. One of the things that I
find interesting also from this Pew poll is how people have been
reconciling their religious beliefs with their evolutionary evidence.
And so there`s a whole group of people who will say, OK, I believe in
evolution, but I also believe that a divine intervener or an intelligent
mover is the thing that actually moves it. So, 32 percent who believe say
it`s natural causes. And 24 percent say there`s a supreme being playing a
Is there any reason sort of scientifically to see that reconciliation of a
set of faith claims with the evidence of evolution as problematic?
NYE: I don`t have a problem with it.
As we say, you can`t know if there is a deity who created, let`s say, for
example, the Big Bang, 13.7 years ago -- 13.7 billion years ago, and we`re
all a result of that process. That`s unfalsifiable. Could be.
But, nevertheless, the process of evolution is real. We all -- everybody
that we can find on the earth has the same type of DNA. People have
speculated, did life start another way as well and died out and if we
looked in the right places, we could find it without DNA, for example?
That would be an amazing, fantastic discovery worth pursuing. But,
nevertheless, ancient dinosaurs did walk the Earth.
HARRIS-PERRY: And not with people.
NYE: And, so, yes, not with people.
And so the discoveries that have been made just in the last 150 years have
utterly changed the world. And so to us in science education especially,
this is exciting and wonderful and worth pursuing and embracing. And the
practical applications of it are overwhelming.
We used to have one billion, 1.5 billion humans in the world. Now have
almost 7 billion, almost 7.2 billion people, and we`re able to feed them
because of our understanding of science. We all like our smartphones.
We`re talking on television on the other side of the continent, all these
How many people do you know who have not had a lifesaving medical
procedure, appendectomy or what have you, taken antibiotic drugs? These
are all a result of our understanding of science. And so this is the other
HARRIS-PERRY: Bill, hold on for one second.
I want to bring Bryan into this quickly, because, Bryan, I want to ask, in
part, as a public opinion researcher, you always have to ask, is it
possible that people don`t understand the question? So when people are
telling researchers, Bryan, that they do or don`t believe in evolution, is
it possible they don`t know what evolution is, what they`re saying they
believe when they say that?
WALSH: I think that`s quite possible.
And certainly if you quiz people on the actual details of evolution,
whether they believe or not believe, I suspect a lot of people wouldn`t
really be able to answer that that well. It could be a proxy, and it could
be a proxy for, do I believe in science in a larger way, do I trust what
scientists are telling me, or do I feel as if my other beliefs are so
strong that this is threatening and therefore I have to reject it?
HARRIS-PERRY: And that -- I think in part, that idea that it`s top-down, I
think that`s part of what I find distressing here, this idea that to choose
science, to choose evolution would somehow mean to deny one`s political or
I think we have got to recognize there`s an element of political and
ideological identity here with both of these issues, OK, where dismissives
are very afraid of climate change, not because they`re afraid of climate
change, the phenomenon, but because they`re afraid of the potential policy
They`re deeply afraid that climate change will be used as a way to grow the
size of government, to have more intervention over our individual freedoms,
and so on and so forth. So as a result, they`re highly motivated to look
for, to cherry-pick evidence that seems to reaffirm what they believe,
which is that this is all made up because it`s a liberal hoax.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ron, let me ask you this.
As you think about -- you hear so much about the future of the Republican
Party and the questions of can you get young voters, can you get black and
brown voters, but what about just saying that part of what Republicans will
have to do, based on Bill`s point about the need to compete
internationally, globally, is to say, we believe in science, facts, data,
and evidence, and we may have disagreements over all sorts of important
policy issues, but we`re not going to fight anymore about what constitutes
empirical evidence or constitutes the kind of argument that we can come to
CHRISTIE: Well, I think, looking at the Republicans, Republicans have
recognized -- and so have Democrats as well -- that the current protocols -
- you look at the Kyoto protocol, which was rejected 97-0 in the United
The United States doesn`t want to put itself at a competitive and an
economic disadvantage. Why would the United States be curbing carbon
emissions when China and Japan and the developing world aren`t held to the
same standards and aren`t held to the same level?
I think that there`s an argument to be had about science, as you suggest,
but I still think that for the United States, we`re still a coal-burning,
electricity company, that before we put our arm behind our back and say
that we`re going to put ourselves at an economic and competitive
disadvantage, we need to make sure the science is right.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, but that`s a different -- the argument about what we
would do vis-a-vis policy in international global affairs I think is a
perfectly fair argument.
But, Bill -- and won`t only a few seconds here, but, Bill, I do want you to
suggest, because again we heard at the table here that we got to make sure
the science is right. Is there any reason to believe on either the issue
of evolution or on the issue of climate change, is there a debate among
scientists, academic scientists interested in pure science, not in policy-
making, that either one of those things are still up for debate?
NYE: I would say no.
Evolution is a fact. Evolution is how we all got here. The evidence for
that is overwhelming. It`s striking. I have got to tell you, it`s
striking that you would ask me that question. It`s very much like asking
is the Earth round or -- or -- I could go on.
HARRIS-PERRY: No, Bill.
NYE: No, it`s like asking, are there tectonic plates? Is that a real
NYE: Yes, it`s the fundamental idea in all of geology.
And so I want to just emphasize to everybody the economic advantage that
you have when you have a scientifically literate society. And this is
where I just -- one last thing. This is where the space program is unique.
You cannot be first in the world and second in space exploration.
NYE: And this is an extraordinary value. It`s unique to the United
And as a guy who grew up here, I want my country to succeed. And so we
want to have scientifically literate students as they`re graduating. The
time scale of this is not four or five years, one graduating class. It`s
15 years, it`s 20 years after these people get out of college and become
captains of industry.
Thanks for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Bill, thanks so much. And I`m so sorry that we live in a
world where I have to ask you, is the Earth round?
HARRIS-PERRY: Bill Nye, the Science Guy, from Burbank this morning, Bryan,
Anthony, and Cristina, Ron all here from New York.
Up next: the performance in North Korea that really took me by surprise
this week. Uh-uh. I ain`t talking about Dennis Rodman.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, I came across something with important cultural
implications that happened in North Korea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER (singing): Happy
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: No, no, no, I am -- no, no, I`m not talking about Dennis
Rodman singing happy birthday to his self-described best friend, Kim Jong-
un, before playing a basketball game in Pyongyang.
I`m talking about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: All right.
That is a hip-hop video filmed inside North Korea, possibly the first hip-
hop video ever filmed inside North Korea, at least the first we have ever
And the young rappers in that video, Pacman and Peso, made it to Pyongyang
as part of a sightseeing tour, courtesy of a Kickstarter campaign and the
backing of an American hedge fund manager.
Now, Pacman and Peso are from Washington, D.C., and before now, they had
never been anywhere other than the East Coast. When a "Washington Post"
reporter asked them what they thought North Korea would be like, Peso
shrugged. "I mean, the same as here."
"Hear meaning neighborhoods, the shooting, the killing," he elaborates,
"the whole environment," Pacman supplies.
Now, this video got me excited because it`s a reminder of certain
foundational tenets within hip-hop; hip-hop is not just a musical genre.
It`s a methodology, a way of engaging the world. Historian and cultural
critic Professor Robin Kelley, argued in his way -- quote -- "Hip-hop`s
challenge to police brutality sometimes moves beyond the discursive arena.
Their music and expressive styles have literally become weapons in the
battle over the right to occupy public space."
The right to occupy public space. Since its founding, hip-hop has enacted
this right of young people from marginal communities to occupy public space
on their own terms, from the graffiti on trains which turn an artist`s
message all around the city, to boom boxes which forced people in public
spaces to encounter their music, to laying claim to the rights to dance in
a public area, even without an official permit.
The radical populist origins of hip-hop were about public art taking over
public space. So, when I see Pacman and Peso go to film a video in North
Korea to both critique a totalitarian regime and to critique policies back
here in the United States, that feels like the hip-hop I remember and first
fell in love with.
Another nexus of hip-hop and politics, courtesy of a would-be U.S. senator
from Mississippi, is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Meet Chris McDaniel. He`s a Mississippi state senator who
is now challenging fellow Republican Thad Cochran for one of the state`s
two U.S. Senate seats.
But he used to be radio host of a conservative radio program called "Right
Side Radio" from 2004 to 2007. This week, "Mother Jones" reported on a
portion of an audio from that show obtained by the politics blog Dark Horse
Mississippi that allegedly features McDaniel`s voice saying -- quote --
"The reason Canada is breaking out with brand-new gun violence has nothing
to do with the United States and guns. It has everything to do with a
culture that`s morally bankrupt. What kind of culture is that? It`s
According to the reported comments, Mr. McDaniel also wondered this. "Name
a redeeming quality of hip-hop. I want to know anything about hip-hop that
has been good for this country."
We asked Chris McDaniel`s campaign for confirmation that those were, in
fact, his words. In response, we were sent a statement from state Senator
McDaniel that read in part: "Any music, regardless of genre, that glorifies
gun use, encourages violence and condones the mistreatment of women
deserves to be critiqued."
We will have the state senator`s full statement on our Web site,
MHPShow.com, later today.
But for now, I want to turn to my panel, rapper, producer, writer, and
director Jean Grae, cultural critic Joan Morgan, who is author of "When
Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My life as a Hip-Hop Feminist," as well as
Global Grind editor in chief rMD-BO_Michael Skolnik.
So nice to have you all here.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to turn to you the question that was asked. Name
one thing that hip-hop has done for this country.
JOAN MORGAN, CULTURAL CRITIC: It makes you wonder.
It`s like, have you just been under a rock for like the last 30 years? And
I think the most frustrating thing is when these statements are made,
because they`re made over and over and over again, is that there`s so much
progressive work being done around hip-hop, from the artists to academia.
We could take it from A. to A.
And just because these people have not engaged it and selectively not
engaged it, you find yourself having conversations that you had like in
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Right. Right.
That idea in part that one would critique something that you have so little
engagement in, and yet part of what I thought was important about what you
said there, Joan, that I want to ask you about, Jean, is it actually isn`t
just like Mississippi state senator living under a rock somewhere.
This moral panic about hip-hop causing all of these social and cultural
problems is often joined by the black middle class, by older folks, and
sometimes even by people who started out as hip-hop heads, and then are
like, oh, no, but the new hip-hop is a problem.
JEAN GRAE, MUSICIAN: Right.
Again, I think it`s interesting that you said 1988. And my first reaction
to the statement was, I think it`s so cool that he hangs out with Doc Brown
and has found a DeLorean and 1.21 gigawatts in order go back in time, when
we were talking about hip-hop really being the scapegoat for things like
And we have progressed so much in that time that it`s -- and the just
blatant ignorance and disrespect, it`s like if someone were talking about
the hadron collider and was like, oh, it`s the particle smashy thingy, just
speaking from such a place of ignorance. Like, it can`t even really be
part of the informed conversations.
HARRIS-PERRY: So speaking of sort of what we think we know and don`t know,
right, and, again, I think certainly McDaniel is one person who said it.
But it`s a narrative, right? But it`s a narrative that`s been consistent
at least, right, since the 1980s.
When we look at the rise of hip-hop music and violent crime, or look at the
rise of hip-hop and overall crime, Michael, they actually depart. As hip-
hop rises, overall crime declines. And as hip-hop rises, violent crime
declines. It`s sort of like very visibly, visually available to us.
What it then that keeps this particular moral panic so attached in our
MICHAEL SKOLNIK, EDITOR IN CHIEF, GLOBALGRIND.COM: Well, I think as a kid
who grew up on hip-hop, I remember walking to the bus stop and trying to
remember the lyrics to Run-D.M.C., "Peter Piper" in 1986, right?
A kid who loved hip-hop, as a white kid, it gave me insight into what is
happening in black America that we didn`t have in the `80s and `90s. We
weren`t accustomed to seeing that kind of lifestyle. And it revealed a
struggle in this country that was real and that continues to be real.
And for people like Mr. McDaniel, they don`t want to admit there still is a
struggle that hip-hop is a reflection of. It is showing that there is
violence in our communities, there is drugs in our communities. And
instead of looking at the mirror and facing reality, they just want to
break the mirror.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me -- hold on. Let me ask you this, because this is
When you say I listened to hip-hop as a white kid and it gives me insight,
you say it with a level of empathy. You say it with a -- it gave me a
level of insight that then made me feel as though I was implicated and
wanted to act.
So much of the consumption of hip-hop, though, it feels to me, particularly
by people, whether -- again, whether they be black middle-class folks or
whether they be white folks of all kinds of classes -- tends to be
consumptive. Ooh, I want to get some of that cool urban blackness to play
on my radio, but actually not connecting to the questions of struggle.
SKOLNIK: Yes, but I think for some that is certainly the case.
I think, as I grew up, I watched many of the kids who I grew up sort of
fell away -- fall apart from hip-hop and out of love with hip-hop. But for
many of us, it kept the movement going and we saw the election of Barack
Obama in 2008 to us as sort of a high point of this cultural movement of
young people, black, white, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, undocumented and
documented, folks coming together and saying, this is what America should
And for folks like Mr. McDaniel, he doesn`t want that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me go back, because I like this idea that part of
what hip-hop is, is about young people on the margins who are in struggles.
So, if we want to answer the question, name one redeeming thing, for me,
the answer is, in addition to just the sonic aspect, right, just the
SKOLNIK: That you can dance to it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. The culture itself should be judged as culture,
right, because the music is just good, right?
The other part of it, though, it did suggest -- and, again, whether it was
through graffiti or through break dancing or through rhyming -- that we
have a voice. And for so many people who were silenced, it provided an
opportunity for voice.
Is that too romantic a vision, because, Joan, you are both a consumer of
and a critic of hip-hop.
MORGAN: I don`t think that it`s too romantic a vision.
I think it`s an informed opinion and interpretation. You know, hip-hop
could not have become the billion-dollar global phenomena that it became if
it didn`t impact many lives in a variety of different ways.
And so, you know, for myself, I would not -- I would not have been able to
make an intervention in feminism in the way that I was if I didn`t have
hip-hop as my base and my starting ground. So, I think that, you know,
there are countless examples of that.
I do want to say, Melissa, that I don`t want to let Chris McDaniel off the
hook for something very specific that he`s doing there. I read his alleged
statement. And he said, "And before you say this is about race, it`s not
It is absolutely about race and how you talk about race in this time of
post-racial America, where it`s just not cool to be overtly racist. But
you cannot separate his statement from the types of bodies that create the
sort of hip-hop that he is talking about.
And he was racializing and stigmatizing, and in that sort of Tea Party
codification, to like, you know, I`m aware that these black and brown
bodies are a problem for you, and I think they`re a problem too.
So I think what he was doing was extremely racially codified, and
sophisticated politics at this particular moment.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with us.
I have one last question on this, and I`m going to take my foot -- my
normal Foot Soldier block to ask this question. And I`m going to ask it of
you when we come back, Jean, because I want to follow up on this global
aspect and ask about the ways in which hip-hop has offered a kind of
skepticism about the American project -- when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back and still responding to that question of what has
hip-hop done that is good or useful for the country.
And Joan brought up the point that hip-hop is a global musical genre and a
global culture. One of the things, it seems to me, that hip-hop has done
that is useful to the country is create some skepticism about the American
project through its connections with South Africa, Cuba, now these kids in
North Korea, suggesting that some of the places that we are told as
Americans are off-limits to us intellectually, culturally or even in terms
of travel, in fact, may have value, especially for those who are on the
bottom of the American system.
And I think just discussing hip-hop has created jobs for kids. It`s
created creative outlets, you know, where they would normally -- might
normally be doing something else. And I`m not saying every kid who was
into rap otherwise would have been a drug dealer, but there is a lot of
instances that happen.
And these kids being able to travel and get off their block and see
something else and being able to be like, OK, even if I just read about it
or saw it on TV, I never got to really experience it, and to realize how
much you`re actually bonding with someone in another country.
And it starts out because of hip-hop, and it starts a discussion. And then
you can talk about things that are so much more relatable. You can talk
about politics. You can talk about family, and realize how close we are as
a whole. So, it`s opened doors all over the world.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I will never forget being in a nightclub in Cape Town,
South Africa, and they`re playing Biggie.
HARRIS-PERRY: And there was like -- there was just this...
SKOLNIK: And know every word.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. And you just -- you felt like, oh, right.
HARRIS-PERRY: I am not just like this Negro -- with a capital N. -- who
have no place from which I have from. I am part of a black diaspora that
includes the African continent.
SKOLNIK: Yes. I was in Cuba in 1999. We went down with Malcolm X
And we brought Mos and Kweli and Dead Prez and Common. And they were
shocked. When they got on stage in (INAUDIBLE) every kid -- and "99."
SKOLNIK: Every kid knew every word to Black Star, every word to Common.
And there was -- as Jean said, there was a connection. There was a bond.
I was in Ramallah last year, in an ice cream in Ramallah. And I heard
Rihanna, the same record in the ice cream store that I heard in Jerusalem.
And the kids are bopping to the same Rihanna record in Ramallah as they`re
bopping in Jerusalem. And to, me, is the power of hip-hop.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It does. It gives a capacity for working-class
people to connect outside of the state.
SKOLNIK: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, even when the state has a set of rules, hip-hop can
evade those rules and allow these connections.
Jean Grae, Joan Morgan, and Michael Skolnik, thanks.
That`s our show for today. And thanks to you at home for watching.
I`m going to see you tomorrow morning 10:00 a.m. Eastern. NBC News special
anchor Maria Shriver is going to be joining us for one of our first looks
at a brand-new "Shriver Report," "A Woman`s Nation Pushes Back From the
Brink." It`s a comprehensive exploration of the impact of poverty on women
and their families across the U.S. and what it might take to solve those
problems. Maria Shriver will take us through her findings right here
tomorrow morning on "MHP."
So, don`t miss that.
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