January 19, 2014
Guests: Earl Catagnus Jr., Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Elaine Izadi, Marcus Mabry, Bob Kincaid, Josh Fox, Frances Beinecke, Marcus Mabry, Elahe Izadi, CeCe McDonald, Laverne Cox, Rea Carey, Katie Burgess
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question -- what`s in
the water in West Virginia?
Plus, Laverne Cox of orange is the new black and the newly freed CeCe
McDonald join me live.
And new questions about the war in Iraq and what it accomplished.
But, first, the government`s long history of listening in.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Have you ever taken a look at our list of federal holidays? And it`s not a
long list, because federal holidays are special. Whatever Ted Cruz may
have had you thinKing last year, we don`t shut the entire U.S. government
down for just anybody.
If you are among those who sacrifice and dedicate their lives to the safety
and security of our nation, we take a day to say, thank you for your
service. If you are the only first president of the United States,
congratulations, you get a holiday in your name!
The point is, if you make this exulted list, it means our country
recognizes a contribution so significant and pivotal to our nation`s
history that we must all stop for 24 hours to pay tribute. And there is
only one other individual for whom we reserve that level of collective
commemoration, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
For the last 27 years, the third Monday of January has been the day of
national remembrance for the man who embodies the movement of nonviolent
protests that sparked a transformative civil rights revolution in the
Each year at this time, we revisit the images and moments that have, by
now, become as familiar to us the as our own family photos. King, shoulder
to shoulder, with members of the movement on the march from Selma to
Montgomery, Alabama, to campaign for voting rights. Martin Luther King Jr.
smiling and greeted with a kiss by his wife, Coretta Scott King, as he
emerges from a Montgomery courthouse. And of course, Dr. King on the steps
of the Lincoln memorial, inspiring thousands of listeners on the national
mall, with his dream.
But was it about our nation`s relationship to King that we forget when we
think we`re just remembering because the years have wrapped those black and
white images in a kind of bubble of sepia-toned nostalgia. When we strip
it away, we find a much more complicated relationship between King and our
country than the one we commonly recall. After all, it wasn`t until 2000,
17 years after president Reagan first established the holiday, that MLK,
the day, was recognized by all 50 states.
Now, that`s states with a little "s." But Martin Luther King was also seen
as an enemy of the state, with a capital "S." The federal bureau of
investigations director, FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, is widely reported
to have a personal animosity, bordering on obsession with King. And
despite King`s philosophy of nonviolence, Hoover feared he had become a so-
called messiah, that would galvanize a movement of militant black
Beginning shortly after King criticized the FBI for failing to protect
activists and black citizens, he became a prime target for the FBI`s covert
domestic intelligence program, more commonly known as co-Intel pro.
According to FBI archival documents quote "from late 1963 and continuing
until the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., King was the target
of an intensive campaign by the FBI to neutralize him as an effective civil
In the war against King, no holds were barred. The FBI`s relentless
service of King sought to embarrass and discredit him and to neutralize the
power of the southern Christian leadership conference. King was subjected
to investigations of his inner circle, wiretaps, and monitoring to expose
alleged communist activities. In one instance, he was sent a tape-recorded
copy of extramarital affairs along with a letter that read, "King, there is
only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. There is but one
way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, fraudulent self is
bared to the nation." The CFLT interpreted the letter as an attempt to
blackmail King into taking his own life.
And I was reminded this week of how the threads of this history tie our
nation`s past inextricably with our present, when I heard President Obama
say this during his speech on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In fact, even the United
States proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance. In the 1960s,
government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War.
In fact, during the course of our review, I`ve often reminded myself, I
would not be where I am today, if it were not for the courage of dissidents
like Dr. King, who were spied upon by their own government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: All right, did you catch that? Did you see what he did
there? Tying those threads together?
President Obama is acknowledging that his presidency would not be possible
without the man who was targeted for surveillance by the very state,
capital "S," that the president now leads. Of course, that was a brief
moment in a much longer speech about the real reason that compelled the
president to address the nation this week. He was responding to the
national outrage that ignited after Edward Snowden exposed the NSA`s
In this pivotal moment for the future of the United States` national
security, the president laid out new rules for how the NSA will collect
surveillance information from this point forward. But in invoking the
history of King and the FBI, President Obama raised a much older question
that stays with us until this day. When it comes to the use and abuse of
state power against American citizens, how far is too far?
Joining us now is Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg center
for research in black culture, Elaine Izadi who is staff correspondent at
the "National Journal," Earl Catagnus who is professor of history at the
Valley Port Military College and an Iraq war veteran, and also a military
historian, and Marcus Mabry who is "the New York Times" lead blog editor.
It is so nice to have you all here.
So Khalil, let me start with you as the historian. What does that history
that I tried to lay out, at least in part there, teach us about
surveillance state in which we now live?
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD, DIRECTOR, SCHOMBURG CENTER FOR RESEARCH IN BLACK
CULTURE: Well, it teaches that we don`t learn our history lessons very
well. So, the FBI document that revealed so much of this, there`s a task
force put together in 1977, and it reports on essentially wanted in the
King case. And it makes crystal clear that first the allegation of
communist infiltration in the movement was already on thin ground from the
start. Then, one of King`s trusty advisers, and I think this is really
brilliant, that he himself had renounced to communist party earlier,
because it wasn`t doing enough to help the race problem.
And so, the very reason for the FBI`s justification for going after King in
the first place was discredited by their own investigation of his primary
adviser. And therefore, by 1963, according to this task force looking
back, there was no legal justification for any additional surveillance.
Therefore, it tells us something about how there is a pretext for
investigation. Once that pretext is established, that there`s no legal
ground for that investigation, it`s over. But it didn`t end. It went on
for six years.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I love this and I want to draw out exactly that thread,
that idea that the issue and the thing, I think, that causes us always to
pause when we realize, wait a minute, Dr. King was under this kind of
surveillance. Now we have a federal holiday to him.
Is this notion of the groundwork, the reason that we would engage in
surveillance, particularly on an American citizen. Is there something that
you heard in what the president said this week that suggests to you that we
are going to be shifting, earl, our understanding of what constitutes the
reason that we would be listening in?
EARL CATAGNUS, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, VALLEY PORT MILITARY COLLEGE: No.
Nothing from the president, in what the president said. I think the
president, what he did was what an executive does, and he`s actually
looking towards congress, I think, for legislation on this, and he`s left a
lot of room for maneuver in this speech. One he said, emergency, and words
like emergency need to be defined and it can`t defined through executive
order. They have to be defined through a legislation.
Also, he`s trying to redefine this issue of national security in the 21st
century. This was something that was done in the 20th century with the
anarchist movement and the first wave of modern terrorism. With where we
see this worldwide assassination attempt, that even Theodore Roosevelt said
that the new scourge of the earth is anarchism and that it has to have a
war on anarchy, and we have to, as nations, come together. So he`s trying
to redefine that in here.
I do not think that he has the case. I think that this is a recurrent
theme, all the way back to the early republic with the sedition acts, and
if you speak out against the government, immediately the state itself will
coalesce around itself to support it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, I don`t want to miss that, because I know, you know,
it`s easy to get caught in the weeds of any particular historic moment and
to get, you know, to talk specifically or exclusively about Edward Snowden.
But Marcus, I do want to push this a little bit. Because this idea that
all the way back, that what states do, states with a capital "s," do is
they protect their monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, force, and
coercion. So if you are either suggesting that their use of violence,
force, and coercion is illegitimate, or if you are challenging the
monopoly, because you are actually raising your own, you know, capacity for
force, then the state will, as matter of being the state, is going to
And so, I wonder, like, given that is the core of what a government is,
how, then, democracy is meant to check that. And what we can begin to
think about in terms of rethinking our privacy in connection to security.
MARCUS MABRY, LEAD BLOG EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It`s interesting,
because the president tried to acknowledge exactly that conundrum, right?
So, he started off by saying that we have a greater capacity in the U.S.
state to actually go farther invading people`s privacy not just here, but
around the world, than ever before. And he even suggested that largely,
this power is unchecked. So no one can check it, except for us.
And so, he actually acknowledged that there is this problem. And I think
coming from, as he does, a progressive background, that is,
quintessentially, a philosophical problem. But he had to deal and balance
it out with the realistic problem, the actual reality problem in the world
we live in today, in which we do need to do a greater deal of spying than
ever before, it is believed, to keep the nation safe. Now, where do you
draw the line? And so, he acknowledged there`s this conundrum.
Not, the previous administration didn`t even acknowledge there was a
conundrum. They said, there`s no choice here, you can trust it. He did
acknowledge it, that`s something. But the problem I see here is, I don`t
think it`s going to satisfy the other side. I think the intelligence
community will say this is not enough for us having to go to court more
often to get some legal, as these laws are ruled on by Congress, to get
some legal justification, and of why we must be able to tap here or there.
That`s going to slow us up and make the country more threatened.
On the other side of it, ironically, the civil libertarians and also the
libertarians too cruel, as a friend would say, the Rand Pauls of the world,
are going to say, this doesn`t go far enough on their side of it. So, I`m
not quite sure what we solve, unfortunately, with this trying to split the
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to take a quick break, but Elaine, I`ll come
right to you as soon as we get back. Because I want to suggest that we
also are only looking at one set of institutions and having anxiety about
one set of institutions when it comes to privacy and that we need to expand
our concern. And that in fact, we heard a little bit of that from the
president, yes, earlier this week.
Stay right there. Up next, it is not just about who is checking your
information. It`s also about what they`re doing with it. So stay right
HARRIS-PERRY: A relatively innocuous-sounding word that showed up six
times in President Obama`s speech on Friday is at the center of what he
called the NSA`s most controversial program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Metadata is the information gathered by the NSA`s bulk
collection of telephone members, and it is the part of the program that
made Americans most nervous that the government was reading their texts and
listening to their phone calls.
But as the president pointed out in his speech that`s not how metadata
works, but metadata can tell the government is whose number you dialed,
when you called them, where you were when you made the call, and how long
you spoke. All of the information that your wireless carrier already knows
about you which makes me wonder if we should be worried about who else
besides the NSA is watching what we do?
And so, you know, obviously, I understand, you need to be concerned about
state they have tanks. But I`m also concerned about the fact that Verizon
or AT&T already have all this metadata and they have a profit motivation
and they are not checked by democratic processes.
ELAINE IZADI, STAFF CORRESPONDENT, THE NATIONAL JOURNAL: Yes. And you
know, what is really interesting too is that a lot of tech companies have
actually put aside their differences, their competitive difference ahead of
all of the NSA disclosures or beyond that, to actually push for more
transparency, because they have a profit concern. They feel like, if
customers think that they`re just turning over their information to the
government constantly, that, they`re actually not going to use their
services. So they want more transparency to show that, hey, the government
actually isn`t asking us for all of this information.
But yes, you make a point. I mean, if you look at what happened with the
target hacking and all of these institutions, then, increasingly we`re
living in an electronic society and global society where a lot of our
private information is just tapped in and it`s vulnerable to hackers and
also state hackers.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, the target -- I think the target one is a great
example, because it`s this, you know, wide swath of people, it has an
immediate impact. Folks get, here was my data and, you know, and it was
compromised. The one that`s also got me a little nervous is that Google
recently bought nest. And so, nest are those, you know, it`s so you can
change the settings in your household, remotely, right?
And so, you know, people have them in their new fancy fangled households,
like this is technology. But when Google purchases it and Google is the
self-described -- has a self-described mission of organizing all the
world`s information and now they can see into my house, like, I`m not
saying they`re spying, but I`m not saying that it`s not possible, right,
for Google to then be watching.
IDAZI: Yes. I mean, it`s really the way the word is being structured.
It`s changing so rapidly that we are coming across questions that we`ve
never really had to ask ourselves before. And from a legislative
standpoint, I mean, legislation is always far behind technology and
adapting to that.
HARRIS-PERRY: But is it true we`ve never had to ask them before? Because
I think part of why I wanted to start with King is that, in fact, the most
consistent and detrimental and invasive surveillance in America has been on
poor people and people of color and it has a very old history and continues
to this day, from street side, you know, surveillance cameras, to welfare
officers who were cold into your house in the 1960s, to see if you had a
man there. I mean, we have had an invasive state. It`s just typically
been towards poor people and people of color.
MUHAMMAD: Right, I think there`s definitely something to be said with each
technological revolution brings about greater capacity for either
corporations or governments, which are not separate entities, right? So
even the cold war was a moment of consolidating the ability of private
industry to be the handmaiden of government and prosecuting the war against
communism here and abroad. And so the entanglements of technology are
always part of that strange package. And so, we, learning from the past
have to recognize that there are choices to be made.
One of the things that`s interesting in the Hoover/King relationship is
that it`s clear that Hoover doesn`t actually have infinite capacity to wage
surveillance against the civil rights movement. And so he`s saying in
these memos, well, do we want to put resources? Do we want all our men on
this problem? Give me more. So he actually pushes back in the earliest
days, because the capacity to do this work is not what it is, say, in 2013.
HARRIS-PERRY: I got it.
MUHAMMAD: Nevertheless, it is a direct response to the threat of the most
dangerous Negro, communism, the Negro, and national security, which I think
we can`t let pass, right? So what is the reverse of that? If communism,
so, we must protect capitalism, we must protect white, we must be in the
service of public safety. So that capacity ultimately makes a
discretionary choice and in this case, Dr. King became the choice. In this
case, our core people become the choice. In this case, those who challenge
the redistribution or mal-distribution of wealth in this country become the
CATAGNUS: He`s exactly right. There has to be an antagonism between
government and the corporation, it`s not cooperation, we talk all the time
than we see, because when you see they get in bed with each other and they
work together, that this is what you see, this coalescing of power.
That said, I think that by narrowing it only to people of color and poor
people, I think we need to take a bigger look at it and saying, in general,
if we look at the counter Intel program, they even did the
counterintelligence on Ku Klux Klan. But if you took it is that one
context and only highlight the KKK, everybody can get behind that, the
danger is, is that KKK like terrorism, you can insert terrorism here and
insert anyone and you can now apply that across broadly. How do you define
someone as a terrorist? How do you define someone as a communist?
If I have a Marxist believe, that does not mean that I`m in contention with
the government. So, where does that line -- is drawn? And that`s where
legislation and where the judicial system and the separation comes.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that becomes the thing that is almost more important,
the question of technology. So technology does give capacity and does make
it relatively more unlimited in its ability to collect these data. But the
fundamental political question and intellectual question is how we define
what constitutes a threat.
I appreciate your point about expanding it. I mean, part of why I wanted
to ask this question around poor people and people of color, my former
colleague at Princeton, Professor Wes, used to say post-9/11, all of
America had the opportunity to experience what so many African-Americans
had to experience for so long, the threat of random violence and being
hated for your identity. And so, he questioned whether or not in that
sense of new solidarity, we would create more progressivism, or, as we
actually did, in fact, limit.
More on this, we`ve got a little bit from an interview this morning on this
topic. And we`ll bring Marcus back. I also want to ask him about a woman
he wrote about a biography of.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think amount of the privacy
people, perhaps, don`t understand that we still occupy the role of the
great Satan. New bombs are being devised. New terrorists are emerging.
New groups -- actually, a new level of viciousness. And I think we need to
be prepared. I think we need to do it in a way that respects people`s
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was California Democratic Senator, Dianne Feinstein,
who is also the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, speaking to
NBC`s David Gregory on this morning`s "Meet the Press."
So, Marcus, you wrote a biography that I teach of Condoleezza Rice. And
you know, this language of, you know, the great Satan that others, you
know, that others perceive as a great Satan that and we`ve got to protect
ourselves. I mean, that was really the discourse coming out of the Bush
White House under the rice regime.
And so I`m just wondering, how much that continues to resonate for folks?
MABRY: Well, you know, I think in the Bush administration, I talk about
the book, but I don`t think we`ve acknowledged it significantly enough.
There was a psychosis. After 9/11, these people were the administration.
Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, certainly, were absolutely traumatized,
and they couldn`t admit this publicly, but the fact that 9/11 happened on
their watch. So, whoever them wanted to import responsibility for, for
that attack, CIA, our intelligences agencies not talking to each other, CIA
and domestic, the fact is, it happened on their watch. And they were not
going to let anything like that ever happen again. And they didn`t care.
They would go to any lengths to ensure that didn`t happen.
And so, their feeling really was, it didn`t matter about privacy. All that
matter was security in protecting the America this is never happen again.
That`s call a psychosis because they really did believe that nothing else
mattered except for that. So, this balancing act we see the administration
trying to do, there was no balance problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. They were not even interested. And that notion of
ideology, again, I just I don`t want to miss that kind of what we think of
as the foreign enemy and domestic enemy, simultaneously being driven by
that ideological viewpoint.
Khalil, we were reminded, just recently, the Florida state legislature had
passed a law to drug test welfare recipients. It was struck down by the
federal courts. But then Mississippi turns around and passes its own, you
know, if you want government aid, you have to be drug tested. The notion
of the government, in order to give you benefits, you have to pass up a
constitutional right to privacy. I mean, that is a core ideological belief
about who is the internal enemy in this case, this poor (INAUDIBLE) who are
going to come take our resources.
MUHAMMAD: Right. But it`s also, in the larger context, it is a response
to the perception of the Obama administration and this moment as the great
liberalization of America, the great back door to socialism in the United
States. I mean, in that way, it does --
HARRIS-PERRY: It does like you want to let take polls on a trip to an
actual socialist country. I mean, President Obama maybe a lot of things,
socialist, not so much.
MUHAMMAD: Right. And it takes -- it does take us back to that historical
arc, that takes us to Dr. King, which is to say, you know, what does it
mean in the nation where inequality is so significant and intransigent, who
is responsible for addressing this? And if not the government, whom? And
in this case, the rationale is to say, this is an undeserving poor. That
poverty resides in the character of the individual, resides in the culture
of the community, therefore, this is not about the nation. This is not
about our society.
I mean, to me, that rationale justifies any effort to invade privacy for
the purposes of discounting one`s humanity in this society.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it also feels to me like that ruptures a basic trust,
that is necessary in a democracy. Both that there has to be a certain
level of trust in order to have privacy and human freedom, from the
government to the people, but also that the peep must have a certain level
of trust vis-a-vis their government.
So I wonder, both on this domestic level of privacy invasion and on this
question of whether or not in order to protect our boundaries, we are now
invading the live of American citizens and foreign leaders whether or not
this just ruptures that trust in a way that is difficult for us to mend
IDAZI: What`s interesting about, you know, at the top of the hour, talking
about Dr. King and the FBI surveillance on him and also FBI surveillance on
many activists, and at one point, every black student, nearly every black
student, it is (INAUDIBLE) was under FBI surveillance. But that disclosure
and the Snowden disclosures, both of those happened because of individuals,
private citizens, who stole information or gave information they weren`t
authorized to give. And that sparked a public debate and action. So it`s
really, what we`re seeing right now is a moment in time with the Obama
administration, trying to tow this line. And Obama said, we need to have
this public debate and more robust public debate. But it`s being caused by
private citizens. It isn`t the state being for forthright about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. As I was saying it was like hey, let me tell you.
IDAZI: Yes, we need to talk about this. Yes.
But what`s challenging is the nature of the debate, so much is classified.
I mean, seeing Senator Feinstein, she`s seeing things we`re not seeing,
right? So that`s part of it too.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I do want to acknowledge that, right? I mean, it`s not
just ideological that there are enemies of the state, both internally and
externally. I mean, there really was an Oklahoma City bombing, right?
There really was 9/11. These things are not imaginary. And as a citizen,
I do, in fact, want my state to take action for the protection of its
CATAGNUS: Then the difficult question becomes one of effectiveness and
efficiency, and whether or not this program is effective and efficient and
especially efficiency in government now and how much money is put into
And it has not been a proof, you know, and even the presidents review board
says showed that it is not very effective. And one of the things he kept
going back to is in case of emergency, the city gets shut down, like in the
case of the Boston bombings, that they can then access and query this
The problem with that is that querying a database, as MIT showed in their
studies, is that you can have an entire profile than individual, and as the
counterintelligence agency has from the `50s or from the Truman years all
the way up to, it was ending in the carter years, that it was used for
political enemies. And each -- and it didn`t matter, Democrat, Republican,
whatever it was, they queried that, and used that for political gains. And
where does that fit in that national security structure?
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, bridgegate got nothing on what happened in Truman
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Khalil Muhammad and the other folks are
sticking around for a bit.
But up next, the alarming turn of events Iraq and what Americans know or
don`t know about what is happening over there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just a little more than two years ago, the world watched as
the last of the U.S. convoys left Iraq. The departure may have signaled
the end of the war for Americans, but the violence, bombings, and shootings
barely skipped a beat for Iraqis.
Just yesterday, at least 30 people were killed in bombings and fighting
across the country. These latest fatalities follow a series of car
bombings in Baghdad last week that left at least 21 people dead. In parts
of the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, where U.S. forces fought some of
their bloodiest battles during the war are now being run by militants,
according to Iraqi security forces.
As headlines and lead stories on the evening news about Iraq have declined,
we wondered how Americans are staying informed of the continuing chaos
abroad. So we sent MSNBC.com`s Meredith Clark to talk to a few of New York
City`s tourists and locals to find out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEREDITH CLARK, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: When was the last time you heard
something about what`s going on in Iraq?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last time I heard something about going on in Iraq
has been some months now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it`s probably been a few months since I saw
or heard anything related to a news story about what`s going on Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do remember reading a story about the instability
of the government in Iraq. That`s basically what I remember.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last time I saw something on the news for Iraq was
this morning. It was about -- it was getting out of control, as far as the
bombings were concerned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has been a while since I heard something about
what`s going on in Iraq.
CLARK: When was the last time you heard about what was going on in Iraq?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was on the news yesterday and the days before that
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was in "Newsday" today, you know, just about the
situation over there being unstable, people who had fought over there, sort
of wondering what they had fought for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most recent story I read about Iraq is about the
recent blast killed 47 people. I talk to my colleagues about what`s
happening in Iraq every day. And I mean, the concern is real, so, you
can`t stay off it. You can`t keep your mind off it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, more than ten years after the start of war in Iraq,
renewed debate over what was accomplished.
HARRIS-PERRY: 2014 could mark the end of U.S. combat troops in
Afghanistan. And if troops are withdrawn this year, it will be the second
time President Obama makes good on an original campaign promise, to end
U.S. troop involvement in a war. The first came a little more than two
years ago in September 2011.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the
American military will come to an end. Iraq`s future will be in the hands
of its people. America`s war in Iraq will be over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: A few days after the president`s speech, the soldiers at
Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the last U.S. troops left Iraq, and crossed
the border to Kuwait, leaving behind a nearly nine-year war. A war that
cost the U.S. more than 4,500 American lives and $800 billion.
Even for those who thought the war was won, debate on that very point
continues to this day. According to U.S. intelligence officials, radical
Sunni forces that are linked with Al Qaeda raised their flag in the town of
Fallujah just after the New Year.
And Fallujah is key because it is the site of two of the bloodiest battles
during the Iraq war, in an area U.S. forces fought to shore up before leave
Iraq. Reports of Fallujah falling into the hands of Al Qaeda has left
American soldiers who fought so hard for its liberation despondent, with
one former army captain tweeting, could someone smart convince me that the
black flag of Al Qaeda flying over Fallujah isn`t analogous with the fall
of Saigon because, well, if there is anything that is quintessentially
American, it is our military, and their goal can be seen in their very
mottos. The armies, this will defend or separate fee, all this faithful
for the marine.
So when something they have fought for so hard falls and U.S. ambivalence
to putting anymore boots on the ground runs high, what is a soldier to do?
Joining the table now is also medal of honor recipient and MSNBC political
analyst, Colonel Jack Jacobs.
So let me start with you, Colonel Jacobs. This seems to be a question that
is emerging. Was this war in vain for the soldiers?
COL. JACK JACOBS, RETIRED U.S. ARMY: Well, for soldiers who are focused on
achieving the mission and taking care of each other at the point of
decision, it`s never in vain because your objective is to achieve the
immediate objective, militarily, to hold on to it, and to take care of each
other. So it`s never in vain for a soldier, sailor, airmen, and marine.
At a national strategic level of analysis, however, the analysis is very
HARRIS-PERRY: So, in fact, let`s take it to that level of analysis let`s
listen to former secretary Gates speaking on "Meet the Press" this morning
and his conversation about exactly that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Whether it was Korea or Vietnam
or Iraq or Afghanistan, there is not a conclusion to these conflicts that
end in a victory parade. And the other aspect of this that I think is
important, as we lack a look at the future of war, is that, as I put in the
book and as I said often as the secretary of defense, in the last 40 years,
our record in predicting where we would use military force next, even six
months out, is perfect. We`ve never, once, gotten it right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Colonel Jacobs, do you want to respond?
JACOBS: Well, you know, it`s kind of interesting. Let`s assume that we`ve
got three ways we can exert our influence overseas, through diplomatic
means, through economic means, and through the use of the military,
instrument of power.
Of those three, we are lousy at the first two. We have no idea how to
influence people diplomatically. We`re terrible, have always been terrible
at it. It`s catches catch can on the economic front. The only guys who
really know what they`re doing is the military. It`s not for nothing that
the default instrument of power is the use of the military instrument of
Having said that, it`s the least efficacious in trying to influence other
people. And until we get better at the national level, at analyzing the
situation, creating a real national strategy, and integrating all three
instrument of policy, we will continue to rely on the military, send kids
off, and we`re going to have the same lamentations we have today.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to follow up on exactly that and have you to
CATAGNUS: And it`s exactly right. The United States has this narrow idea
of what strategy is, and that is through military force. And when we look
at the Iraq war, we see this, but now we see Secretary Gates hinted at
this, that they were going to a future way of war. Well, that`s not
necessarily the case. Again, maybe a return to a where war is a
continuation of policy by other means and that we have this very narrow
American conception of victory that we are on the battlefield, we are going
to destroy people and we are going to win and come back in the victory
parade. And that`s not the way that war has been fought, up until we see
the Second World War, where we see the ultimate culmination of that. So
what we see is a return back to the way the war was waged. But now,
because of the reduced influence of the nation state in these parts of the
world, we`re seeing individual non-state actors now come out and get
together. And then they are waging politics through the use of war.
HARRIS-PERRY: But American identity is deeply tied up in that war hero
moment, right? We still are, in many ways, just immediately post-world war
II nation, in our sort of civilian understanding of what constitutes war,
still have a lot of angst about the idea that America could lose a war by
And so, part of what I`m wondering is, you know, we`re seeing the Pentagon
for the first time suggesting that it may be willing to send soldiers back
to Iraq for training of Iraqi soldiers. I mean, do you see those as
reasonable uses of this third instrument that we have?
CATAGNUS: We missed an opportunity when we failed to get a status of
forces agreement when we left. And if what we did there was not
necessarily the military at the end, we were the buffer between the Sunni
in the Anal Bar provinces and the Sunni tribal leaders and the Shia in the
Baghdad and so who were highly influenced by the Iranians and that, we see,
then, you see Al Qaeda and the Islamic state.
JACOBS: You know what the problem is here? Over the years, it`s our
capability to use the military instrument has been greatly reduced by our
inability to understand how to use the military. And to paraphrase
Seinfeld, we know how to get the objective. We just don`t know how to hold
on to the objective.
And holding on is what`s important. It always takes more resources to hold
on than it does to get in the first place. We get coaxed into a feeling of
relaxation. We say, we`ll send the marines in, we will sending the army in
and then a miracle happens and it will all be OK. No, no, no. Once we get
the objective, that`s when the work really starts.
MABRY: You talk about heroes. I mean, you carry a purple heart from that
conflict. Do you think Fallujah was a mistake? Was it waste?
CATAGNUS: Absolutely not. Because I teach valley forge military college
security studies program that I teach there, that we wring in, from the
Middle East, we have a high percentage of Middle Eastern students and I
taught my first Iraqi student that actually went to the air force academy
and I have a native Fallujahian that was 200 meters away from me when I
cross the line of the occasion in to the city and has lost his leg. His
father fought for the Americans.
And what I see is those people now, you have to understand the Arab
culture, that this is another way of negotiating society. This is where
they are now, because they see this and this is -- they`re moving out,
waiting for now the battle, the tribal militias to come back in. They`re
going to fight in the streets with Al Qaeda. Maybe the government forces
will move in, and they`ll come back into their city.
They`re seeing this as another 2004 before the Americans came in. The
problem the that because the Americans are not there to perform that buffer
between the regular Sunnis, who are not Al Qaeda types, because they are --
the regular Sunnis are in conflict with the Al Qaeda types. Because we
don`t have that negotiating stance there, we have -- now we have three
people fighting all each other. And if the tribal militias, if those
tribal leaders that align themselves with Al Qaeda, then we have a
situation before 2006.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So hold for me because part of what I want to
ask you, Marcus, also, as we come back is, those sorts of complexities that
people understand on the ground, that Americans, particularly civilian
Americans, don`t know and don`t understand, how difficult it then makes it
for us to hold our own government accountable on these questions, because
of the disparity of knowledge and information, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back and trying to think carefully about this question
about our place in the world, particularly in terms of America`s
relationship to war and war making. We spent the first half of the hour,
Marcus, talking about whether or not democracy can hold accountable a
government around spying and around privacy rights. And I`m thinking, you
know, as I`m listening to the colonel and as I`m listening to Earl talk
about the complexities of on-the-ground realities, I keep thinking, how
does an ordinary citizen hold accountable our lawmakers about the decisions
they`re making about how they deploy troops?
MABRY: Well, I think compared to spying and the trade-off between security
and privacy, this is much harder that be that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes.
MABRY: It makes the spying debate look easy. Because it is just far too
complicated and the way we`re used to, as civilians, think about war and
victory and loss, is incredibly binary. And so, modern warfare is not
something we`re prepared or educated for at all. So, I mean, I don`t have
to be an optimist, because I`m a journalist. I get paid to be a skeptic.
The fact is, I don`t see how you educate a populist of the most powerful
nation on earth to actually be able to hold accountable our government, in
a time when war and win and loss is so un-definable.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Elaine, it seems to me that this -- particularly if we
go back to Colonel Jacobs` point, about our multiple use of we have
diplomacy and economic capacity and we have the war machine, but the war
machine is the only one we seem to be able to use, in part because we`re
not very good at the rest. I want to listen to secretary of state Kerry,
who`s talking about our need to use diplomacy in other places in the world
right now then ask you about it. Let`s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: For anyone seeking to rewrite history or
muddy the waters, let me state one more time what Geneva II is about. It
is about establishing a process essential to the formation of a transition
government body, governing body, with full executive powers established by
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So here he is, talking about Syria, saying, we`ve got to put
Assad out. We`ve got to you know, get in there and have this engagement
with Syria. But we`re in a war-weary nation who feels like we didn`t even
win the Iraq conflict. How can we even effectively engage in this moment?
IDAZI: Yes, they need it. That`s exactly why he`s saying that is because
we are so war weary. If you recall, toward the end of the summer, when it
became clear that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people, the
majority of Americans, even then, opposed military intervention. And look
at now, there`s a recent CNN poll done about the Afghanistan war, the war
in Afghanistan and support for that. And out of the 20 years that they`ve
been asking about support for various conflicts and wars, 17 percent of
Americans supported it.
So, it`s arguably the least popular war that we`ve ever waged. And so, I`m
really underscoring this point of how war weary this country is. And
that`s why the whole debate over what`s happening with Iran, I hate to
pivot that way, but on Iran`s sanctions, it`s really almost a tactical
debate about how to avoid armed conflict. Neither side is saying we want
to go to war. Neither side is kind of accusing the other. I mean, the
White House has accused those who are pushing of additional --
HARRIS-PERRY: Of saber rattling.
IDAZI: Yes, of essentially leading us on a path to war. And so, it is
really -- this is the narrative that we`re operating and the environment
that we`re operating in. Is that the majority of Americans, the public,
who isn`t touched by war the way that those who go and serve in these
conflicts and their families and communities are, day just don`t want any
part of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to go to exactly that. So, if I`m an ordinary
voter and this has suddenly broke down along partisan lines on whether or
not to impose sanctions in Iran, how do I strategically understand whether
or not that sanction is, in fact, good strategically, or not, if, in fact,
I see this as political or partisan instead.
JACOBS: Well, you`re right. It cause when it said that the war is
politics by other means. It is almost impossible for the average citizen
to figure out how to act and what to do, which side to come down on because
his own government can`t figure it out. We don`t know in Syria. We can`t
-- one of the reasons we`re not acting in Syria --
HARRIS-PERRY: We don`t know what to do?
JACOBS: We don`t know what to do. We don`t -- on the one hand, we`re
saying, well, we`ve got to get rid of Assad. Assad`s a bum and Hezbollah`s
all hooked up in there. And we need to go in and get rid of him. And
Putin, when the door closes says, are you guys out of your minds? Do you
know who is in back of that guy? We can`t -- the average can`t decide,
because the government can`t decide. And until we have some genuine
strategic vision, we`re not going to be able to find our way down.
HARRIS-PERRY: And these will be continuing challenges for all of us.
Thank you, to Colonel Jack Jacobs. Also, thank you to Earl Catagnus Jr.
Thank you for being here. And I hope you`ll be here and I hope you will
Everyone else will stick around for a bit.
Coming up next, the latest on the chemical spill in Virginia and new
concerns about the water.
Also, actress with (INAUDIBLE) and the recently released CeCe McDonald will
join us live for her first television interview since she left prison.
There is, of course, more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Let`s go to West Virginia, where coal is king. The state produces more
coal than any other state of the Union but one, more than 120 million tons
of coal in 2012 alone. And a key part of that mining enterprise is a
company called Freedom Industries, which distributes a chemical used to
Freedom Industries is based in West Virginia`s capital city, Charleston.
And right now, the company is under fire, after a rupture in one of its
storage tanks leaked chemicals and threatened the water supply of
The Elk River, which runs through Charleston and connects to the Ohio
River, flowing into Cincinnati, was tainted after 7,500 gallons of the
compound named -- and I`m going to say this slowly, and quite likely
incorrectly -- methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, spilled into the river
on the morning of January 9th.
The West Virginia American Water Company fearing that the water wasn`t safe
immediately advised Residents of nine West Virginia counties, roughly
300,000 residents, not to drink or bathe in their running water. That was
on the ninth.
Since then, they have given the go ahead for residents to drink the water
again. All the blue on that map means that the water is fine, unless
A statement on the water company`s Web site read, quote, "Due to limited
availability of data and out of an abundance of caution, you may wish to
consider an alternate drinking water source for pregnant women until the
chemical is at a non-detectable level in the water distribution system.
And there are lingering questions about the possible health effects of the
chemical. "The Charleston Gazette" reported two days ago that the key
corporate study used by federal health officials actually tested a pure
form of the chemicals` main ingredient and might not account for potential
toxicity of other components.
In the wake of the spill, President Obama has declared a state of emergency
for the affected counties, and a formal state investigation was launched
and more than two dozen lawsuits were filed against Freedom Industries.
But on Friday, Freedom Industries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
protection, giving Freedom Industries a reprieve from having to answer to
the lawsuits, at least for now.
On set with me now is Josh Fox, director and producer of "Gasland" and
"Gasland 2". Elahe Izadi, who is staff correspondent for "The National
Journal", Frances Beinecke, who is the president of the Natural Resources
Defense Council, Marcus Mabry, is a "New York Times" lead blog editor. And
joining us via Skype from West Virginia is Bob Kincaid, the cofounder of
the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Campaign, and a progressive
broadcaster at the Head On Radio Network.
So nice to have you here this morning, Bob.
BOB KINCAID, APPALACHIAN COMMUNITY HEALTH EMERGENCY CAMPAIGN: Thank you
very much for the opportunity to talk with you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Bob, you have described this circumstance to my producer
as saying, we have allowed West Virginia and the country to be turned into
a liquidation asset for the corporate class. What does that mean and how
is that related to the story I just told about what happened in West
KINCAID: For over a hundred years now, Melissa, everything in this state
has been for sale to the highest bidder. For the most part, that largely
entails the coal industry, but it also entails the chemical industry, going
back to the discovery of brine wells in what would become West Virginia,
way over a hundred years ago.
We have sacrificed the health of the people of this state. We have
sacrificed their ability to raise healthy families. We have sacrificed
everything in order to enhance those corporate profits for people who are
outside this state.
Let`s understand that most of West Virginia is still owned in excess of 90
percent by out of state interests.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, obviously, I mean, that`s kind of an enormous way
of -- so we`re looking at this thing, Josh, and I want to say, so one way
to read this is -- you know, look, we`re doing business. We`re doing
business and a bad thing happens, because sometimes bad things happen when
we`re doing business.
And we feel bad about it and we`re going to respond to it. But instead,
what we`re hearing from Bob, this isn`t just a bad thing happened on the
way to doing some business, that this is a broader problem.
JOSH FOX, DIRECTOR & PRODUCER, "GASLAND": Well, our regulatory structure
in the United States in complete collapse right now. We can`t -- I don`t
haven`t want to qualify this as a spill. A spill is something that happens
by accident. You knock over one of these cups on the table. That`s a
We had 6,000 oil and gas spills in 2012, that was 16 a day, amounts to more
oil and gas spreading in the United States than the entire Exxon Valdez
spill. We hear of this thing.
If you`re following these issues, and this is coal, right? Another fossil
fuel. The fossil fuel industries trade in toxic products, the chemical
that was being stored right above the water intake for 300,000 people, and
more than that, because the Elk River flows down into the Gulf of Mexico.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hello, I live down that part, yes.
FOX: You know, we hear these things every single day, whether it was BP
three years ago or the Kalamazoo, Michigan, spill, that still has 100,000
gallons of crude oil at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River, to the Mayflower
spill in Arkansas.
Now, we see this in West Virginia. This is not a spill. This is a state
of permanent, criminal negligence.
HARRIS-PERRY: Which is not a legal designation, right? This is a
FOX: It`s my analysis, yes, but this is very, very commonplace. And you
know, West Virginia is a state that has been ravaged for a hundred years,
mountaintop removal, throughout the state, blowing the tops off of
mountains in the south, to an explosion of fracking wells in the north part
of the state.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me come to that. The idea that West Virginia, on
the one hand, we were just talking about soldiers as representative as this
kind of American narrative of the hearty American who goes out and does
things that represent who we are as a country.
And I think in a lot of ways, coal miners of West Virginia similarly are.
These are good people who we know don`t earn a lot of money, but who are
nonetheless are kind of, you know, doing work that fuels the rest of who we
are, like I think that`s the romantic version of what the American coal
mining story is.
But then we see something like this, and we see water supplies tainted,
potentially, for hundreds of thousands of people, and of course, obviously,
that notion that if a pregnant woman can`t drink it, it raises all sorts of
FRANCES BEINECKE, PRES., NATIONAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: Well, I think
the reality here, and Josh alluded to it, this is a systemic failure to
regulate and protect the public from industrial activities. This happens
to be in West Virginia. This could have happened in many other parts of
the country. There`s fracking going on in other 30 states, with chemicals
that are also not disclosed.
So this is a failure of the companies, it`s a failure of the state, and
it`s a failure of the federal government to really protect the public and
to ensure that the public knows what they`re being exposed to. I mean, one
of the really grave concerns here is there`s no data on this chemical, that
there is just no information. And that it`s a chemical that was
grandfathered over 30 years ago, under the statute that`s supposed to
protect us, the Toxic Substances Control Act, which is a complete failure.
So, this actually is a wake-up call for America, that we need major reform
of the capital industry chemical industry, if the public is to be
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me play devil`s advocate welcome, Marcus. I was
recently in Panama Canal Museum, and you`re looking at these amazing locks
and everything that happens that makes global trade possible in an entirely
different way as a result of the digging out of the Panama Canal.
And also here are all the people who died and here`s the enormous human
cost. And I think to myself, OK, so then how do we define what counts as a
failure and as of a success?
So, this language that all three of you have used. This is clearly a
failure of our regulation. But I`m also thinking, under all of these
standards, we never build the Panama Canal, right? Or we would have gone -
- or am I wrong, right? So, I want you to push back on this notion of,
well, people have got to die for chemicals -- I mean, for corporate
MARCUS MABRY, NEW YORK TIMES: My partner`s family helped build that canal.
So, we have intimacy with it and sacrifices and narratives.
Unfortunately, I think most of you, you don`t have to be the devil`s
advocate here, because West Virginia`s own senator and his former governor,
on Wednesday, was giving a talk, and he actually said, he`s been the
devil`s advocate for you and he`s doing it from the United States Senate.
And in a speech on Wednesday to clean coal industry, he actually said, what
we have to worry about here is excessive regulation.
Now, this is in the wake of this -- this is what he said. So he went so
far to say, the Toxic Substances Act, which is up dating this winter, he`s
against updating it, providing legislation. He would like to withdraw the
Clean Water Act.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Bob, let me bring you in. Is that the takeaway story
here, that we have excessive regulation?
KINCAID: Melissa, they may say that, but the fact of the matter is, we
don`t have enough.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right.
KINCAID: For instance, what`s already been brought up there, take into
account that 300,000 people are without water right now. But not having
decent water is nothing new in West Virginia. In the mountaintop removal
sacrifice zone of West Virginia, it`s nothing to have a coal company poison
your well, poison your water, inject these same toxic chemicals into your
ground water, into old, abandoned mines, that was used in this particular
We know for a fact that people who simply live near mountaintop removal
communities get sick at vastly expanded rates. There`s a ton of science to
be read, for instance, over at ACHEACT.org. You can read all the peer-
reviewed science studies that show just living in West Virginia can be
hazardous to your health. And the fact of the matter is, while people like
Senator Manchin say they don`t want more regulation, we can`t even get
Senator Manchin to acknowledge that these studies even exist.
HARRIS-PERRY: Bob, I want to go out on exactly that, because we`re going
to come back on precisely that issue and a glimpse of exactly how difficult
life is, right there in West Virginia, in this moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENNY FAUBER, MOTHER OF INFANT: He actually drinks the instant milk. So
you have to have jugged water for him to mix up his formula with. Plus, I
use that water to heat in this kettle, which I heat up water this morning
in the kettle to sterilize his baby bottles, because he can`t drink them
without me cleaning them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s a lot, huh?
FAUBER: It`s a big inconvenience. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour
now to get him fully prepped to wash the dishes, get these bottles
sterilized, his formula made.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, this isn`t fun?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was West Virginia mom, Penny Fauber, last week,
describing what it takes to take care of her 9-month-old son after
thousands of gallons of chemicals poured into the city`s water supply on
January 9th. I`ll remind viewers that the do not drink the water advisory
in West Virginia has now been lifted, but pregnant women are still advised
to stick to bottled water.
And yesterday`s "Charleston Gazette" said that a total of 411 patients have
been treated at 10 hospitals, reported for chemical exposure. There were
no patients in critical condition, none still at the hospital, but 411
So, I mean -- in other words, I don`t want to be an alarmist, but, boy, I
want to sound the alarm, right?
ELAHE IZADI, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Yes, I mean, another point to make is,
yeah, no one wants their water to be -- to have chemicals in it , but it
will be interesting to see beyond this, how West Virginias, if they
organize and push for more regulation, I haven`t been on the ground since
this happened, was from a lot of the reports I`m reading, what I`m hearing
from various individuals is that, oh, we don`t need necessarily more
regulation, but the state failed to withhold -- to enforce the regulations
already there, or we need more regulation for this particular circumstance
to avoid that. But no one really at the top echelons is calling for, let`s
get rid of the coal industry. Because coal drives a lot of the economy
there, and people are concerned whether that`s --
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to pick up on exactly -- let me just look at what
Manchin said and let you respond to it. I think it`s exactly this point.
So, Senator Manchin said in today`s "New York Times" that "Coal and
chemicals inevitably bring risk, but that doesn`t mean that they should be
shut down. To err is human and you`re going to stop living as -- are you
going to stop living because you`re afraid of making a mistake?"
And this is constantly the claim, particularly on these communities, that
they`ve got to make a choice between economic development and their health.
FOX: And this is a completely false argument. Senator Manchin is bought
and paid for by the coal industry, as our Congress and House of
Representatives are bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industries.
We shouldn`t be having a conversation about more regulations. This is
meaningless, because where we have regulations on the books, they`re not
being enforced at all. These state departments of environmental protection
are completely deprived of funds. And they`re not able to go out and
We should be having a national conversation about where we`re getting our
energy from. Look at coal. Even if you developed it perfectly, you`re
still burning tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, natural gas, another fossil
fuel. We have to tie these conversations together.
Seventy-one percent of Americans support more wind farms, 75 percent of
Americans support more solar. We can do everything we need energy wise in
this country, with renewable energy.
Where is President Obama?
We`ve had the greatest environmental catastrophe in American history in the
Gulf with oil. We have the biggest movement against fossil fuel drilling
in the country`s history with fracking for natural gas. We have
mountaintop removal and this kind of disaster related to coal.
We`ve never had a greater moment to work with political will towards the
end of fossil fuels. That is the answer to this question. We`re talking
about chemicals here in the hundreds that are being exposed.
I mean, the incidents of this type that are happening all over the country
-- I mean, we were in here just a few months ago talking about the last
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right. Josh, I love where you`ve taken us. You`ve
taken us to this question of, where`s the political will?
I want to listen for a moment to John Boehner, excuse me, to Speaker
Boehner, who similarly lays this problem at the feet of the president, but
in a very different way, and then I want to get into the politics here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The issue is this: we have
enough regulations on the books. And what the administration should be
doing is actually doing their jobs. Why wasn`t this plant inspected since
I am entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the
books to protect the health and safety of the American people. Somebody
ought to be held accountable here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the leader of the great deregulation party claims that
it`s the president`s fault that something that happened in the `90s, when
he was a state senator, right, that it`s his responsibility, right.
And then, again, keeps us from going to the conversation that Josh is
trying to bring up that, wait a minute, our problem is our reliance on
these very industries.
BEINECKE: Well, the first thing is you have to have adequate safeguards to
protect the public and implement and enforce them. That`s the party of
shrinking government. They`re not giving the government the means, the
federal government, or the state government, the means to do their job, or
holding them accountable to do that.
So, the first thing is, protect the people. The second thing is exactly
what Josh says. We have to pivot as quickly as possible to clean energy.
Right now, we have an energy boom across this country.
Charleston, West Virginia, is not the only place that`s facing the
consequences of this enormous boom. There are communities where fracking
is going on. There are communities where there are pipelines, pipeline
spills, rail accidents that are happening.
People across the country are increasingly alarmed about what they are
being exposed to and what risks their families and their children are being
exposed to. We have to shift that and go towards a clean energy future,
and hold the politicians accountable to ensure that we do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Bob, H.R. 526?
KINCAID: Yes, the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act, Melissa.
That has been in the congress since June of 2012. And the fact of the
matter is, that`s a first step -- a step forward in trying to ascertain why
it is that just being a West Virginian can be so hazardous to your health.
You know, everything that you just mentioned is a function of the feckless
disdain that the political class and the industrial class has for people
who live and work in West Virginia. Back when the birth defect study on
mountaintop removal was released, the National Mining Association said it
was a failure, because it failed to take into account Appalachian people`s
proclivities for incest.
Joe Manchin now says we`re going to quit living because somebody made a
mistake? No, you`re going to quit living because somebody made a mistake,
not because you made a mistake.
KINCAID: When the cancer study was released a few months ago about
mountaintop removal communities, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said, well,
every day, somebody else says something makes you sick.
And now, with regard to this increase in hospital visits, bless my soul if
Governor Earl Ray didn`t step out and say, well, that`s because it`s flu
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So this is so important. I know we`re running out
of time, but, Marcus, I don`t want to lose this, because this is one of the
central issues in environmental justice battles. And that is that local
communities, often under-resourced, cannot use their experiential data to
push back against these major corporations.
So, here we have -- you know, look, we`re going to the hospitals, we have
birth defects and we have cancer. People understanding in their own lives
what illness looks like, and yet are being told by the experts, right?
Sometimes on the environmental side, sometimes on the corporate side,
sometimes on the government side -- you`re just being dramatic. That`s not
really happening as a result of this.
MABRY: That`s a problem, and that has helped, the much greater resources
all those entities have, as opposed to local folks, as also helped to tamp
down what would be local political action to actually change things.
Change who they send to Washington or to the capital.
It doesn`t change, because they`re not empowered to do that. And they
believe that, in fact, they won`t have jobs if they allow regulations,
greater regulation, or these existing regulations to be enforced. Where I
think this joins, where you started your show today, is this question of
And while that may work in the short-term, for expediencies of some
corporate folks, or some folks in Washington or in the state capitals,
long-term, we have a deterioration of trust. And that`s what we started
off with top to have the show talking about. And that is dangerous for
democracy. And that is dangerous for the future of the Western form of
HARRIS-PERRY: Bob Kincaid, I so appreciate you joining us and speaking out
for the people of West Virginia in part, because, you know, so many of us
live in communities who feel like they are often disposable communities.
And I appreciate your voice.
Also to Josh Fox, Elahe Izadi, to Frances Beinecke, and to Marcus Mabry.
Coming up, actress Laverne Cox and transgender activist CeCe McDonald join
us live their first television interview since McDonald`s release from
prison. Her story is up next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Here in Nerdland, we have loved watching Laverne Cox in
"Orange is the New Black," portraying a transgender prisoner named Sophia
Laverne brings humanity and complexity to the role, resisting the kind of
glib and farcical manner in which trans people are often presented.
Laverne said she drew her inspiration for the role from a very specific
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAVERNE COX, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: Every day I showed up to work, I
thought about CeCe McDonald and the many trans women of color all across
this nation, who are unfairly incarcerated. I am still furious, I`m angry
that CeCe is in prison, simply for defending herself.
But I`m so moved by her courage and leadership, even from behind bars.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: CeCe McDonald is an African-American trans woman, who along
with a group of friends, was verbally attacked late one night in
Minneapolis by a group of white people who shouted racist, anti-gay, and
anti-trans slurs. The argument escalated. One of the woman slashed a glass
across CeCe`s face, leaving a cut that required 12 stitches.
In the ensuing fight, CeCe stabbed one of the men in the group in the chest
with a pair of scissors. He died. And CeCe was arrested, charged with
murder, and accepted a deal in which she pled guilty to second-degree
manslaughter and received a 41-month sentence.
She served 19 months of that sentence, getting time off for good behavior
and time served before her sentencing. She served time in a men`s prison,
and during her sentencing hearing, CeCe explained that on the night of the
attack, she saw a racist, trans-phobic, narcissistic bigot who did not have
any regard for my friends or me.
That is not what she saw when she left prison on Monday, because waiting to
greet CeCe was a group of friends and supporters, including Laverne Cox,
who`s working on a documentary about CeCe.
And when we come back, Both Laverne and CeCe are with us live.
HARRIS-PERRY: Today, we are honored to bring you the first television
interview with CeCe McDonald since her release Monday, from the St. Claude
Correctional facility in Minnesota. CeCe, a trans woman, served 19 months
in a men`s prison after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter for
killing a man during a racist and trans-phobic attack on her and her
CeCe joins us now live from Minneapolis. Sitting next to her, Katie
Burgess, who is executive director of Trans Youth Support Network.
And here at my table in New York, Laverne Cox, an actress who starred in
"Orange is the New Black." She`s also a transgender activist and producer
of the upcoming documentary, "Free CeCe," and also joining us, Rea Carey,
the director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Thanks to everybody for being here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, CeCe, this is your first television interview since your
release. And I want to start by giving you the mic. What would you like
to say to us?
CECE MCDONALD, TRANSGENDER ACTIVIST: Well, I`m just really blessed and
excited to be back in the world, so I can begin, or should I say, continue
to advocate and be a leader in the trans community and the African-American
community, and the LBGTQ community, and to be a role model and inspiration
for trans women and trans women of color.
HARRIS-PERRY: CeCe, I want you to know that we had your congressperson,
Representative Keith Ellison, was on the show yesterday, and when we
mentioned that you would be coming on today, we asked Congressman Ellison
if he wanted to make a statement.
And I just wanted to read it to you, because I thought it was lovely. Mr.
Ellison says, "It appears that CeCe McDonald defended herself after a bias
motivated attack came on her. However, any loss of life is tragic, and
therefore I have sympathy for the family of deceased. CeCe`s case reveals
the disturbing intolerance of transgender citizens, and I hope through her
struggle, the plight of trans people has come to greater public awareness."
So I wanted you to know that your representative sees you in exactly that
way, as a role model to give us an opportunity to talk about the
inequalities facing trans people.
MCDONALD: And that`s very, exciting and good to hear, because a lot of
times, people don`t even acknowledge or understand the lives of trans
women, especially African-American trans women, because we always are faced
with such hardships. And it seems like, I feel like sometimes we`re just
taken as props or people just see us as gimmicks and a lot of times, we`re
misunderstood and, you know, people usually don`t take us serious, because
they see us as something other than human beings.
HARRIS-PERRY: The point that CeCe is making there, Laverne, is such an
important one, and is reproduced in our media, reproduced in our popular
culture, over and over. And I wonder, as we think about CeCe`s case, I
keep thinking, had CeCe not been a trans woman, had been a African-American
woman who was attacked in a racial attack, and then ended up going to jail
as a result of defending herself, that the civil rights community around
racial issues would likely have gotten involved in the way that the trans
community got involved in time.
In other words, I wonder if it was hard for the racial civil rights
community to see CeCe as part of the community because she`s a trans woman,
instead of just woman.
COX: Some folks in the black community did. Marc Lamont Hill wrote a
wonderful piece, why aren`t we fighting for CeCe for Ebony.com, that won a
GLAAD Media Award earlier this year. And there were some folks from the
black community --
COX: -- who have been advocating for CeCe.
But I think CeCe`s case really is representative of so many of the harsh
realities and the intersections of transphobia, trans misogyny, racism, and
classes on their face, the lives of so many women of color, right? Our
homicide rate is the largest in the LGBT community. And over 53 percent of
the homicides were trans women, 73 percent were people of color, 16 percent
of transgendered people have been incarcerated compared to 10 percent of
the rest of the population.
So, there`s forces -- systemic forces in our society that say that we`re
not who we say we are, that disavow our identities, we`re always the only
genders that we`re assigned at birth. And that we should not exist, that
we should disappear. What is so powerful about CeCe`s story is that night,
on June 5th, 2011, she said, I will not disappear. I will not be a
statistic. I will not be one of those trans folks who go down and whose
lives are treated as if they don`t matter.
When I met CeCe for the first time, when I was shooting the documentary,
"Free CeCe" a few months ago and I interviewed her in prison, what I was so
moved by and what I said to Jack Garris (ph), our director, she said, this
woman knows that she is loved.
And so many trans women of color out there feel that we are not loved, we
are not wanted we the LBGT community, by communities of color, by women`s
organizations, the women`s community. So, we need a lot of love. Brother
Cornel West reminds us that justice is what love looks like out in public.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right.
COX: And I believe that the fear advocacy that Tyson and the supporters of
CeCe and Minneapolis show us that the lessons are that we can advocate
fiercely for trans women of color. This is what this advocacy looks like
and should look like on a national level.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Laverne, I so appreciate you laying those statistics
there, because I think it also helps us to understand in that moment, and
we can`t re-adjudicate your case, obviously, CeCe, but it is important for
people to understand, at the moment you are faced with that violence, you
are faced with it with this rate of murder and death, so the reactions to
experiencing it, it`s not, you know, this is not a mean hashtag, right,
coming at you. This is the reality --
COX: I think it`s really important to note, too, that Deane Schmidt (ph),
the person who died that night, he had a swastika tattooed on his chest.
He is a known white supremacist. These were white supremacists who
attacked CeCe and her friends that night. Her life was in danger.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right. I mean, so, of course, the difficulty is, we
can`t re-adjudicate the case. There`s a guilty plea. But that said, what
I do want to do as we come back, as I want to take your case, CeCe, and
think more broadly, not only about the question of what happens in that
moment, but specifically about the conditions of incarceration, CeCe, for
you and for trans women in particular. And we`ll dig into that when we get
HARRIS-PERRY: Laverne Cox`s character in "Orange is the New Black,"
Sophia, is not just incidentally transgender. The show explores many of
the issues that arise from being a transgender person in prison. The
reason Sophia is incarcerated is related to theft of the resources to
finance her transition, and a major story arc is that of Sophia struggling
to get the hormone regime from prison officials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you want from me?
COX: I want to see a doctor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can`t go to the clinic unless it`s an emergency.
COX: This is an emergency.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, well, we don`t see it that way.
Was there something else?
COX: Yes. I`d like to report an emergency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So that moment is an extraordinary one.
And, CeCe, I want to come to you on this, because I want to talk to you
about the realities of what it`s like to be a trans woman incarcerated in a
men`s prison, and what that environment entails, what the dangers are.
MCDONALD: Melissa, to be honest, I felt like regardless if it was a men or
women`s prison, prisons in general aren`t safe at all. Of course, I had to
deal with the policy of discrimination and demonizing and de-legitimatizing
of my trans-ness, but, you know, prisons aren`t safe for anyone and that`s
the key issue.
For men and women, in prison, the policies are harsh and strict and very
occlusive (ph) and very belittling.
MCDONALD: And that`s what I felt in prison. I felt like they wanted me to
hate myself as a trans woman. They wanted to force me to be someone that I
wasn`t. They wanted me to pretty much de-legitimatize myself as a trans
woman, and I was not taking that.
As a trans woman, as a proud black trans woman, I was not going to allow
the system to de-legitimatize and hyper-sexualize and take my identity away
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I love, like, that level of resistance, at the most core
human level. And yet, I want to ask about how our policies can help to
assist others in resisting these policies that are dehumanizing in this
way. Because I think CeCe is obviously right, prison is tough for
everybody but the percentage of transgender folks who end up in prison, are
much higher among the committee.
So the percent of people who have gone to prison or jail of all trans
persons, is 16 percent. Of African American trans persons, almost a half,
47 percent. American Indian trans persons, 30 percent. For trans women,
almost one in five, a little over one in five, at 21 percent.
I mean, these are extraordinary numbers, meaning incarceration impacts
trans people at a higher level. What are the policies we need to have in
place for conditions of incarceration?
REA CAREY, NATIONAL GAY AND LESBIAN TASK FORCE: Well, absolutely. And
what Ms. McDonald`s experience shows us is we do need the policies, and
even when they are in place, we need to change hearts and minds and
attitudes. Let us not forget, her experience happened in the state of
Minnesota, the very first state with a nondiscrimination law. We now have
major equality that protect against gender discrimination. And yet this
still happened to her.
We`re just seeing just a few glimmers of hope. We`ve got a long way to go
in terms of creating change for transgendered people in this country,
particularly transgendered people who are incarcerated. A few glimmers of
hope. The Los Angeles Police Department has created a safe facility for
Just this week, we had a ruling out of the first circuit insisting or
upholding a ruling that transgender people must receive the health care
that they deserve, while they are incarcerated. Just like everyone else.
So, we are seeing a few glimmers of hope, but we have a long way to go to
push for change and to push not only for laws, but for changes in hearts
and minds and attitudes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Katie, let me come to you on this.
KATIE BURGESSS, TRANS YOUTH SUPOPRT NETWORK: Yes, I think this was a
really interesting moment, actually, for our campaign, where we`ve been
advocated for CeCe the entire time she was incarcerated. Upon sentencing,
everyone was totally ready to go to bat for her, to advocate for her
placement, wherever she wanted to go, and people were definitely ready to
press charges against the Department of Corrections, file a suit to get her
out of a men`s prison and into a woman`s prison, if that`s what she wanted.
But she made it very clear to us -- a woman`s prison isn`t going to be
safe. A men`s prison isn`t going to be safe. Prisons aren`t safe for
people period. And that we could have gotten wrapped up in trying to
change the kind of policies that are here in Minnesota, that are pretty
progressive, that we would have had a chance of getting some leverage on.
We could have tried to change the way that trans folks are housed in
prisons, or we could have made it very clear that the only way that trans
folks are going to be safe in prison is for incarceration of people to end.
The only way for trans folks to be safe in prisons is for us to fight
against these laws that criminalize things like drugs, sex work, poverty.
People of color and trans folks are finding clear paths to prison because
of laws like that. And that`s where we need to put our focus here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Katie -- I feel like I just listened to Katie talk and had
this aha moment where I was like, well, of course. Exactly what trans
activism does is to do is push against the binary set of assumptions about
what a male prison or a female prison -- or men, like that, it took me a
second, but as soon as Katie started talking about it, right, of course.
Of course it would be trans activism that says, don`t get caught up in this
question whether I`m with this group of people or this. The issue is one
COX: And the issue too is that we are stigmatized and criminalized at
every level of culture, the very nature of the gender binary model suggest
that we trans people don`t exist. When we look at how -- we don`t do
statistics for census. We don`t track trans people in that regard, in
terms of HIV transmission. We do not track transgendered women. We love
transgendered women (INAUDIBLE) sex with men, right?
So there`s constantly this denial of the existence of trans people, and
because of that denial, we don`t get services and are discriminated against
disproportionately everywhere. We have to have policy that acknowledges
that we exist --
HARRIS-PERRY: To even --
COX: So even begin to like sort of dismantle some of the systemic
discrimination that we experience.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much. CeCe, I`m just going to say this as we
go out. I hope that now that you`re home, that you`re just playing on
repeat, every -- like all day long. I just hope you`re playing Beyonce,
flawless, and being like all of the amazing that you are and reminding
yourself that you woke up like this and you are, indeed, flawless.
MCDONALD: Yes, thank you, Melissa!
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, so much, to CeCe McDonald and to Katie Burgess in
Minneapolis, and to Rea Carey and Laverne Cox here in New York.
I also want to note that Rea`s organization is hosting the 26th National
Conference on LGT Equality, Creating Change, where Laverne is giving the
keynote address. The conference starts January 29th in Houston, Texas.
You know, where Yonce`s from.
When we get back, my letter of the week. I didn`t get a chance to send it
yesterday, but better belated than never.
HARRIS-PERRY: On yesterday`s program, we did not get a chance to send our
usual letter of the week. So today, I`m going to close the program with
this week`s letter, or rather, a card.
On Friday, First Lady Michelle Obama turned 50, and last night, she marked
the occasion with a 50 and fabulous celebration at the White House. So,
this morning, my birthday card is to the nation`s first lady.
Dear First Lady Obama,
It`s me, Melissa. Happy birthday. And best wishes for at least another 50
years of good health, great joy, and remarkable achievement.
The life you have already lived was almost unimaginable on the day you were
born, because you were born into a country that was deeply unsettled. In
the months leading up to your birth, the march on Washington revealed the
extent of black discontent with the conditions of life in America.
Four little girls were murdered in the racist bombing of the 16th Street
Baptist Church in Birmingham. And President Kennedy was assassinated,
leaving the nation stunned and a former southern senator in the Oval
Office. Your mother, Marian Robinson, must have felt the tremors of racial
anxiety that were shaking the ground beneath her maternal feet, especially
because it was racial uncertainty and violence that led her grandparents
and tens of thousands of other black Americans out of the south and into
cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland decades earlier.
Indeed, your birth 50 years ago on the south side of Chicago was the result
of a great migration of African-Americans determined to establish new and
freer lives for themselves and their children. But here at the doorstep of
your life, the violence and inequality that they fled was taking center
So I can imagine your mother cradling the weight of your baby self in her
arms, and wondering if her big dreams for you could actually come true.
But oh, they have.
By the time you can sit up on your own, LBJ had signed up the 1964 Civil
Rights Act. Once you were able to act, he`d enacted the 1965 Voting Rights
Act. Just before you turned 2, Dr. King brought his movement to your
hometown, launching the Chicago freedom movement and redirecting civil
rights activism to issues of economic justice.
As you started kindergarten, the first black women undergraduate students
at Princeton University arrived on campus, clearing the path that you would
walk just 13 years later. The year you graduated from Harvard Law School,
Reverend Jesse Jackson captured nearly 7 million primary votes and won 11
states and made the dream of a black American president a distinct
And on the day you turned 50, you did so as the first lady of the United
States, standing as an equal partner alongside your history-making husband,
and surrounded by your own daughters and the mother who must still be
astonished by all you have done.
Little Michelle Robinson from the South Side, studying hard and working
constantly and dreaming big, but also discovering that the activism and
sacrifices and policy changes wrought by your community helped make it
possible to reach previously unimaginable heights. Maybe that`s why during
a White House summit on education on Thursday, you took a moment to remind
us that that work still continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: So my hope is that with this new effort, and
instead of talking about our kids, we talk with our kids. I want to hear
what`s going on in their lives. I want to inspire them to step up and
commit to their education, so they can have opportunities they never even
I`m doing this because that story of opportunity through education is the
story of my life. And I want them to know that it can be their story, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And so you captured in that moment what my father has signed
in every birthday card he ever sent me, "The struggle continues."
Happy birthday, First Lady Michelle Obama!
And that`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching.
Be sure to catch our show next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. We are
going to have the legendary single, actor, and social activist Harry
Belafonte here in studio.
But right now, it`s time for preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
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