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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

Guests: Howard Fineman, Bill Maher, Melissa Harris-Perry

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST: With competing symbolic plans, with no chance of becoming law flying around the Capitol, tonight we will retreat from the partisan conflict and ask Bill Maher if he can make sense of it all.
But, first, let‘s review how we came to this crisis point.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The people of America have been overcharged and on their behalf, I‘m here asking for a refund.
The world has come together to fight a new and different war.
The military operations to disarm Iraq.
O‘DONNELL: Our debt ceiling is now $14.3 trillion. It will need to be raised in the coming year. This, by the way, is a challenge for Boehner and the House.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The president got into a bidding war with the Republicans over more tax cuts.
O‘DONNELL: Good evening again from New York. An agreement has been reached and the government shutdown has been averted.
UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE: House and Senate negotiators kick up high stakes budget negotiations led by Vice President Biden.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There will be no increase in the debt limit.
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC: John Boehner the other night in a room full of billionaires categorically refused to raise taxes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let‘s talk about the debt ceiling. Officially, we hit it today.
O‘DONNELL: The Senate, bipartisan working group lost one of its six members.
UNDENTIFIED MALE: Speaker Boehner arrived this morning with a failed vote on a clean raise of the debt limit.
O‘DONNELL: The bipartisan debt limit and deficit reduction negotiations, led by Vice President Joe Biden imploded today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having to stay there for the July 4th weekend, no one is shedding a tear over that.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: A grand bargain is looking very elusive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New news that only construed as bad. John Boehner pulled the plug.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: Senate Republicans are prepared to unveil yet another plan.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He‘s going to lay out a kind of a creative way out of this.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: The president announces that he has endorsed in principle what the gang of six or now the gang of seven is working on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The deal between President Obama and Speaker John Boehner is in the works.
O‘DONNELL: There is breaking political news from Washington tonight, House Speaker John Boehner has walked away from the negotiations.
O‘DONNELL: Good evening from New York.
One week from today, the United States Treasury will hit the debt ceiling, meaning for the first time in history, the United States government will not be able to pay all of its debts. House Speaker John Boehner is going back to the drawing board tonight after the new plan he unveiled last night during his first nationally televised rebuttal to President Obama turned out to be less than meets the eye, much less.
The Congressional Budget Office said today the Boehner plan would fall well short of the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts Boehner believed he had come up with. It turns out the Boehner specified cuts would be $300 billion less than what he thought. Tea Party Republicans had already objected to the Boehner plan as being too small a spending cut to be worthy of their support.
That had provoked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to call for unity around the Boehner plan, telling House Republicans to “quit grumbling and whining and call the president‘s bluff bypassing the Boehner plan.”
Now that the Boehner plan has turned out to be a mirage, the grumbling and whining among Republicans has resumed full force.
But having heard Eric Cantor‘s announcement earlier today that the Boehner bill was nothing but a symbolic stunt designed to call the president‘s bluff, the White House rushed to prove the president is not bluffing.
“The administration strongly opposes House passage of the amendment in the nature of a substitute to S-627. If S-627 is presented to the president, the president‘s senior advisors would recommend he veto this bill.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assured reporters today the Boehner plan will never make it to the president‘s desk.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Speaker Boehner‘s plan is not a compromise. It was written for the Tea Party, not the American people. Democrats will not vote for it, Democrats will not vote for it, Democrats will not vote for it. It‘s dead on arrival in the Senate if they get it out of the House.
The Tea Party is in the driver‘s seat for the House Republican now, and that‘s a very, very scary thought. They can either support the Tea Party and their plan, which has no chance of passing, or they can work with us.
O‘DONNELL: Tea Party organizers are claiming the Boehner plan actually violates the cut, cap, and balance pledge that 51 House Republican lawmakers have signed. The ultraconservative foundations The Club for Growth and the Heritage Foundation have both come out against the Boehner plan. The Heritage Foundation fears the Boehner plan could lead to tax revenue increases.
Heritage fellow David Addington writes, “The second set in the plan is a set of recommendations from a new dozen member joint committee of Congress. While the second step of the Boehner plan may produce some useful spending cuts, the second step also allows the committee to propose raising taxes as part of its unamendable, fast track, legislative package.”
David Addington is also the former chief of staff to Vice President Richard Cheney, the same Richard Cheney who infamously marked deficits don‘t matter.
And several new polls were released today. A Pew Research Poll found 68 percent say lawmakers should compromise in the debt debate. Just 23 percent say lawmakers should stick to their principles even if it leads to default.
A “Reuters”/Ipsos poll taken overnight shows 83 percent are concerned about the potential of a debt default on August 2nd, and 56 percent say deficit reduction should be a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases.
And, a “Washington Post” ABC news poll asked respondents what changes support to raising the debt -- 72 percent support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 a year, 66 percent support increasing the amount of Social Security taxes on people with incomes over $107,000 a year, 64 percent support raising taxes on hedge fund managers, 61 percent support raising Medicare premiums were wealthy retirees, 59 percent support raising taxes on oil and gas companies.
Joining me now is MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, editorial director for the Huffington Post media group.
Howard, thanks for joining me tonight.
O‘DONNELL: Howard, what‘s the latest reporting on what‘s breaking here on the Boehner plan. They went into the afternoon thinking they had a plan that was what it said it was and the question was just how do we get everyone to coalesce around it, now the plan turns out to be much less than Speaker Boehner thought it was, where do they go from here?
FINEMAN: Well, what‘s breaking on the Boehner plan is the Boehner plan is broken. It‘s broken by the numbers and it‘s broken politically. That group of the—the cut, cap, and balance crowd, that‘s 51 people said in the Republican side, were not voting for it, would be a violation of your pledge to be part of the cut, cap, and balance group if you vote for it.
So, that 51 -- those 51 Republican votes are off the table. Lots of other Republicans are said they can‘t go for it. The anti-tax crowd is against it, and even David Addington is worried about a usurpation of power in Congress by this special committee, what my colleague Ryan Grim calls the super Congress, and David Addington is the guy who did all the lawyering for Dick Cheney to basically start a war without permission.
So, if he‘s worried about a usurpation of power, there‘s going to be lots of Republicans and Democrats who are going to vote against it on that basis, leaving the numbers aside.
O‘DONNELL: Howard, it seems to me we‘re in the zone of symbolic bills being passed around. Harry Reid‘s bill, which inconveniently for the president and the Democrats, gives up any claim toward getting tax revenues in the mix, meets the Republicans on exactly their original terms, which is a dollar-for-dollar match for the amount of the debt ceiling versus the spending cuts and no tax revenue increase.
But it seems that the Reid plan was put out there simply so the Republicans could reject it so then the Democrats could say, look, we offered them everything they wanted and they rejected it. I mean, I don‘t get the feeling that Harry Reid is absolutely crushed that the Republicans rejected his plan. It seems like that was part of what his plan was designed to achieve.
FINEMAN: Sure. I completely agree. We‘re at the point now where barring some kind of crazy miracle, there‘s not going to be any deal. So, the two sides are busy positioning themselves for the post-catastrophe spin. That‘s what‘s going on right now.
If I had to bet where we‘re going to end up, it‘s we‘re going to end up with some kind of short-term extension, no big deal, and then everybody‘s going to blame everybody else for the fact we didn‘t get anything done.
And, you know, you talk about the gang of six, there‘s a gang of 300 million out there, the American people, who are completely fed up with this. They elect representatives to take care of housekeeping chores, and this is a grand housekeeping chore, and they are failing at the process of doing it.
O‘DONNELL: Howard, I‘m wondering, does the same thing go for—it is my sense it does. That Boehner is actually not the most disappointed guy in the Capitol, that he knew he was putting together something that wasn‘t real and that CBO shooting it down is not some big shock to him, that he was just putting something together so that he could claim he was putting something together.
FINEMAN: I think that‘s true, too. I mean, maybe there was a smidgen of sincerity there and, you know, I think Boehner, left to his own devices, would do a grand deal with the president. I really believe that—knowing him and having covered him.
But, yes, they both want to be able to say after we all go off the edge of a cliff that it was the other person‘s fault, and that‘s exactly the situation we‘re in right now, and it‘s a dangerous and unsettling one, beginning to really bother the American people in a way that I—you know, talking to people on the Hill today, the phones were continuing—lines were continuing to burn up, White House switchboard was down for awhile it was so overflowing.
People are disgusted with this spectacle. The president started out months ago saying he didn‘t want to play political games with the debt ceiling. He wanted a clean bill. He didn‘t want a grand compromise on the budget.
Then he decided to get involved in the game and try to work out a grand compromise. But the problem was he was dealing with a incapacitated partner in John Boehner who could never, and probably can never, deliver his own caucus for a vote.
O‘DONNELL: That vote, the Boehner vote, was supposed to be tomorrow on the Boehner bill. They‘ve given up on having that vote tomorrow because they don‘t have a Boehner bill anymore.
Howard, it seems to me what each side is trying to say it‘s their fault that it came to this, and they need to say to their own sides, Boehner needs to be able to say to the Republicans and the Tea Party, I never gave up, I was fighting all the way to the end to get us to this, but when we get to August 1st, there is a very simple way out, it‘s a way that has been used more times than they can count, which is the one-page, one-sentence bill, which simply raises the debt ceiling.
Boehner has said repeatedly, we must raise the debt ceiling. McConnell has said repeatedly, the president says, as a last resort, if nothing else, we must raise the debt ceiling. If we get to August 1st, and there is nothing else, can the momentum build to get a bare majority vote in each body for the one-sentence bill?
FINEMAN: Yes, I think that‘s what‘s going to happen, and I think this all will have been a bad nightmare of months of negotiating over something that shouldn‘t have been negotiated to begin with.
Lawrence, this is all a distraction from the two fundamental problems we‘re facing in American economics in society—one is the creation of jobs and demand for the economy, and the other is how we pay for the wars and the welfare state that we‘ve built as the baby boom ages—Medicare, Social Security, wars, taxes, what do we do about all that? This wasn‘t meant to be the place to have that debate, and in the end, it‘s not going to be the place where the debate will be had.
O‘DONNELL: MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, thank you very much for joining us tonight, Howard.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Lawrence.
Coming up, we‘ll get Bill Maher‘s take on everything from the debt ceiling crisis to all those pledges presidential candidates are signing.
Plus, FOX News decides to rewrite its past, Soviet style. It has pulled some embarrassing stuff about the Murdoch scandal from its Web site, but we‘ll show it to you anyway. FOX News gets tonight‘s “Rewrite.”
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, Bill Maher joins me with a look at the debt ceiling and the politics of calamity and how Grover Norquist‘s TV career got started.
And later, how Republican anti-union hysteria has led to defunding the FAA. That‘s right, the Federal Aviation Administration, the people who make sure that you‘re airplanes land safely.
BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: Part of the reasons we‘ve spent the last month arguing about the debt ceiling is that half of the new tea bag Congress signed a vow to never raise taxes. Someone just handed them something, it wasn‘t a gun, a crucifix, or a fetus, so they signed it. Why? Because we‘re rugged individualists who love freedom, now excuse us as we sign this document swearing to do what we‘re told.
O‘DONNELL: With the United States government careening towards a default on its debt for the first time in history, with presidential candidates signing more pledges than they can keep track of, with most of the pledges in direct contradiction to the presidential oath of office, and the advice of experienced economists being ignored by the economically illiterate Tea Party, who better to calm a nation than the Will Rogers of HBO.
Joining me now, host of HBO‘s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
Bill Maher. Thank you for joining me tonight.
Thank you for that introduction, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: Doesn‘t get better than that. Mr. Will Rogers.
MAHER: No, no, no.
O‘DONNELL: Bill, did you see the president‘s speech last night and the Boehner follow-up, and what was your take on it?
MAHER: Disappointed. Terribly disappointed. I don‘t know what‘s going on in this man‘s mind. You know, I like Obama so much, I‘m always trying to understand what he‘s dealing with, and I understand he‘s got a lot to deal with, Washington‘s very tough, and the Republicans are certainly (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Oh, sorry, wrong network for that.
But I don‘t get this giving away the store. I never thought he‘d be caving on the revenue side of it. I thought that was his line in the sand. And he has this reputation as a guy who‘s always caving into the Republicans.
I thought he can‘t do it this time. If he does it again, they will just own him. They will know that all you ever have to do with this guy is wait and you get everything you want—and he does it. I don‘t understand how this is a win for him.
He‘s the reasonable guy. So, what he‘s the reasonable guy? How do you win if they get everything they want and then you sign it?
O‘DONNELL: Well, I‘ve been patient on this question of is he caving now because of this principle of these negotiations that nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, and we seem to be now in this zone of trading bluff proposals, like the Harry Reid proposal, which is the one they give up on any tax revenue, the Republicans immediately shot it down. And so, it starts to—the president supported that one, and that‘s the one he‘d be caving on tax revenue, except it seems it‘s dead, so all they really did was expose the Republicans for not really meaning what they say, meaning here, we‘re going to give you everything you want and then they watch the Republicans just turn that down.
MAHER: What sort of a way to run a government is this? You worked in government, I didn‘t. It‘s unprecedented as far as anything I certainly remember.
You know, if I was Obama, I would have just started this debate differently months ago by saying, look, you‘re trying to link two things that shouldn‘t be linked.
O‘DONNELL: Right. Right.
MAHER: The debt ceiling debate and the budget. Just start there. He should start there.
The debt ceiling is all about the past, the budget is all about the future. Now, let‘s just start with that premise. And, of course, he never really plays on his own turf. He‘s always, it seems, arguing with himself about their agenda, never arguing for the Democratic agenda.
I keep saying this on my show, wouldn‘t it be a tragedy if we elected a Democratic president, then four years go by and we never attempt Democratic policies?
We‘re not instituting Democratic policies. The policies we are instituting are going to fail and bring the economy down, and then the Democratic president is going to get blamed—blamed but really for using Republican policies.
O‘DONNELL: Which brings us, of course, to Grover Norquist, who I think, Bill, tell me if I‘m right, I think the first time I saw Grover on TV was on your “Politically Incorrect,” your Comedy Central version, where he was one of the panelist. And I‘ve brought him to light here this year, trying to explain who he is.
Now, I think, everyone gets it. They get who he is and what his role is.
But Norquist said some years ago that his mission was to make sure that if a Democrat were somehow, by some miracle, to win the White House again, that the Democrat would not be able to govern as a Democrat—and that seems to be what we‘re seeing this year, whereas you put it, the entire debate is taking place so far in Republican territory.
MAHER: Yes. Well, yes, I will take credit for—or blame really for Grover Norquist. He was one of the many conservatives, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, lots of people who introduced to the American public back in ‘90s on “Politically Incorrect,” when we needed foils for me, and, I guess, they are getting the last laugh since they are actually controlling America now.
But yes, Grover certainly has not changed. I think he came up with this pledge in high school and has not changed. That‘s it. No matter what happens in the world, we cannot raise taxes, and, of course, getting people to sign a pledge so American, because it‘s part of that same intellectual sink hole where we get three strikes you‘re out, and zero tolerance, just things where people do not have to think. That‘s what Americans, especially our leaders, are always trying to do, -- get to a place where you don‘t have to think about anything, which is ironic, these people who always claim that they are belovers of the constitution and the Founding Fathers, this is very much against what the Founding Fathers would have wanted, they‘d wanted you to elect someone who‘s smart and honest to make decision because they are running the government, not blacktopping your driveway.
O‘DONNELL: Now, Bill, this flurry of pledges the Republican candidates have been signing seem to have provoked you this past week to come up with your own pledge.
Can you describe that to my audience in the cleanest terms possible?
MAHER: Cleanest terms? No, sorry. Well, I just said—I said as long as these pledges are here to stay, you know, we were saying this somewhat ironically, that I would make the candidate or try to make them sign my pledge, which had a number of planks, I don‘t know if I can remember them all.
One of them was after you sign this pledge, no more stupid pledges. I think one of them was no more flag pins, because you‘re running for the president of the United States, we can safely assume you‘re on the team. I think one of them was no pledge shirts, no eating in diners, no doing any of that home-spin nonsense you wouldn‘t normally do. Stop kissing ass to Iowa.
And also stop just lying to the American people. Stop telling them our best days are ahead. Be honest and tell them we are gracefully descending into a secondary position in the world and you‘ll do your best to just help us stick the landing.
O‘DONNELL: I assume the signatures are coming in slowly on that pledge, Bill.
MAHER: Yes, very slowly.
O‘DONNELL: There‘s always that torn position, I think, that you can find yourself in—as trying to make light of the situation out there.
As we approach certain events, is there a temptation, is there a temptation over there at “Real Time” to actually want to see, maybe for a few minutes, a day or two, the country go into default just to see what it looks like and see what comedic material might come out of that?
MAHER: No, because I have money, too.
O‘DONNELL: Oh, that‘s right. I forgot about that.
MAHER: Yes, yes. All of us who have money and bank accounts, I don‘t think—no, I don‘t think there‘s any amount of comedic gold that would be worth losing the real gold, and that could really happen.
You know, what I would like to see Obama do is to challenge the banks and the Wall Street to bail us out. You know, we‘ve bailed them out.
A couple of months ago I remember he went to the Chamber of Commerce to apologize to them. I was like, why is he apologizing to them? Government bailed out business, not the other way around.
AIG would be a Halloween supply store right now if it wasn‘t for government. There would be no American automotive business. There would be no banks and Wall Street as we see them today.
And we need money now, and apparently we can‘t raise taxes, but we should. We should ask them for a one-time giant tax increase that we would put in a pot to create jobs, infrastructure, all the things we need to get the economy going, and then we‘ll pay you back later, just like you paid us back, just like the banks paid the government back. Why can‘t it work in the other way?
O‘DONNELL: Bill, the—days left now in this thing before we get to August 2nd and the whole question of default. They still seem to be in the bluff stage of we‘re going to make this proposal, which is really just a bluff to get you to do this. We still seem to be in that zone.
As we go into the weekend, it still comes down to, in the end—the only thing they actually really have to do is pass a one-sentence bill, which changes numbers.
MAHER: Right.
O‘DONNELL: That‘s all it does. They‘ve done it countless times in the past. Republicans have voted for that. Democrats have voted for that.
When we get there, if we get there this weekend, is that where Obama should stand, just get up there and say, OK, you can do this, and you can do this in a half an hour, pass this one-sentence bill, we‘ve tried all the negotiations we can?
MAHER: Well, sure. That‘s what he should do, but you have to understand, that‘s not what the Republicans want to happen. I think there‘s this misconception out there that the two sides, you know, the media, of course, presented them falsely as just equally obstinate—that we‘re working towards this solution and that everybody—nobody wants to see a calamity.
No, I disagree with that. I think a lot of Republicans do want to see a calamity. This is what will bring down the Obama presidency.
You know, they didn‘t have a Clinton there in Obama. There was no scandal. He has nothing that they could launch a crusade about.
This is it. This is what they are launching their crusade about to ever destroy his presidency.
So, it‘s not really in their interest. If they were really about reducing the deficit and the debt, they would have taken the deal he had on the table originally that was a $4 trillion reduction that had almost everything they wanted.
O‘DONNELL: Bill, if we get to that spot and there is some kind of default, from where you‘re sitting, which I think anything is a better perspective than inside the Beltway in Washington, what is your sense of where the blame would fall and how the country would react to the various political players? Would it just be condemning them all or would they recognize that Obama tried harder than anyone else to solve this and the others were just obstructionists? How do you think it would play?
MAHER: I think in the short-term, they would blame the Republicans more. I mean, that‘s what the polls say now. Obama does look reasonable to the people in general. And I think they kind of get it. They certainly want his plan more than they want the Republican plan.
They would rather have this balanced approach that includes some revenues. You know, we can‘t even say the word taxes anymore, not that there are really any taxes. They are just closing loopholes on taxes.
But this is July of 2011. What it would look like in November of 2012, people forget. And all they‘ll remember then—the reality they will be confronted with then is a horrible economy. And again, this is why it‘s such a bad strategy, I think, to not attempt Democratic policies. Because if the economy is going to go down, they are going to blame the Democratic president.
And they are going to think this is what you get when you elect a Democrat. But really what we elected was a Democrat who acted like a Republican.
O‘DONNELL: And that‘s going to have to wrap it for us tonight, Bill. We‘re running out of time. Bill Maher, of HBO‘s “Real Time,” thank you very much for joining me tonight.
MAHER: My pleasure, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, Fox News has ended one of its most embarrassing segments. That‘s in tonight‘s rewrite. And if you‘re watching right now on a Jet Blue flight or on Virgin American, you might want to know that Republicans have decided to defund the FAA.
No, no, no, not the NEA, the National Endowment for the Arts, the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the people who make sure that airplane you‘re on right now actually lands safely. That‘s coming up.
O‘DONNELL: As we‘ve noted here, the debt ceiling limit is something that used to be raised as a matter of routine. There was little debate and no real chance of failure, because everyone knew, even those voting against it, that it simply had to be raised.
The same holds true for funding the Federal Aviation Administration.
Long-term funding was approved time and again just until four years ago. Then Congress could not agree on long term funding, and began approving short-term extensions, 20 of them in the last four years.
But last Friday night, an anti-union stand by Republicans blocked FAA funding and cost the nation‘s airports and thousands of workers dearly. Since Friday, nearly 4,000 FAA employees in 35 states have been furloughed. Traffic controllers are not affected, but engineers, scientists, computer specialists and others are, because the FAA is no longer authorized to receive the tax money collected on airline tickets, which is directed towards the fund that pays FAA salaries.
And 2.5 billion dollars in construction projects in all 50 states are now suspended, as are the jobs those projects provide to outside contractors. Among them, the installation of new runway lights at airports from Seattle to Houston to New York, building new air traffic control towers and other facilities, and strengthening control towers in earthquake-prone cities.
The battle started in April, when House Republicans passed a long-term funding bill only on the condition that employees be restricted in how they voted to unionize. The change would require any worker who didn‘t vote to be counted as a “no” vote.
Senate Democrats insisted that language be taken out. And then House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mika introduced a version that would strip federal subsidies to 13 rural airports that depend on that funding, including airports that just happen to be in the home states of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller in West Virginia, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus in Montana.
All three are, of course, Democrats. According to the Associated Press, “Mika acknowledges that he inserted the airport language into the extension bill partly as a means to send the Senate a message that we want this finally resolved.”
Instead, thousands of public and private sector workers are now unemployed. Small town airports are suffering. And big airports aren‘t getting any safer. All because Republicans who want to make it harder for workers to unionize.
Congressman Mika also opposed the FAA‘s move earlier this year to add more air traffic controllers on light night shift, after some of them fell asleep on duty.
Coming up, Fox News pulls behind the scenes video from the website after contributors are caught saying they don‘t want to cover the News Corp phone hacking scandal. That‘s in tonight‘s Rewrite.
And later, a new poll from the Pew Research Center shows the median income of a white household is now 18 times more than a Hispanic household and 20 times more than that of an African-American family. The country‘s wealth gap gets bigger.
Melissa Harris-Perry joins me.
O‘DONNELL: Time for tonight‘s rewrite. These are difficult days for everyone working in the Rupert Murdoch media empire, including those who haven‘t in any way yet been tarnished by the British phone hacking scandal, including, of course, our good friends over at Fox News. It is an especially tough time to appear on the show “Fox News Watch,” the network‘s program tasked with covering the news media.
Imagine how wicked weird it is to sit there on that show and not dare say a word about the single biggest story in the news media since the saga of who in the Bush administration leaked what to whom about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson.
And it is a truly terrible time for that show to have employed the otherwise fascinating device called “Behind the Breaks,” an online video stream showing what everyone on the show talks about during the commercial breaks.
Here is a “Behind the Breaks” reality moment from the July 9th edition of the show. It begins with Alan Colmes asking Cal Thomas a question we all knew the answer to already.
ALAN COLMES, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: What is cal short for, Calvin?
COLMES: So your name is—Calvin would be your --
THOMAS: That‘s my middle name, Yes.
COLMES: What‘s your first name?
THOMAS: John. I was named after Coolidge‘s two sons.
COLMES: Really? Why did you go with Cal rather than John?
THOMAS: I wanted to identify with the Cal Ripken Jr.
O‘DONNELL: OK, so that is a great example of what you could learn during a talkative commercial break. I knew Cal was short for Calvin, but I didn‘t know Calvin was actually Cal Thomas‘ middle name. I didn‘t know he was named after Coolidge‘s two sons. And I didn‘t know that Cal Thomas doesn‘t know why he calls himself Cal instead of John.
So that‘s a wonderful example of what “Behind the Breaks” could be at its very best, trivia revelations about the Cal Thomas‘ of the world. But then Cal Thomas made the mistake of thinking, because they were off the air and just talking for the Internet, it was safe to bring up the subject that no one at Fox News could talk about.
THOMAS: Anybody want to bring up the subject we‘re not talking about tonight for the streamers?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, go ahead, Cal.
THOMAS: I‘m not going to touch it.
O‘DONNELL: Don‘t worry, I‘m going to let you see that again. It is too perfect a glimpse inside the collective mind of Fox News. There‘s Cal Thomas saying, does anyone want to bring up the subject we‘re not talking about today, by which, of course, he means the single biggest story about the news media that‘s out there, the thing a show like this is supposed to spend all of its time on.
This is a show about the news media. The scandal involving their boss, Rupert Murdoch. Jim Pinkerton then dares Cal Thomas to bring it up. Thomas then dares Jim Pinkerton to bring it up. And then Thomas, in effect, speaks for all of them by saying “I‘m not going to touch it.”
Here it is again.
THOMAS: Anybody want to bring up the subject we‘re not talking about tonight for the streamers?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, go ahead, Cal.
THOMAS: I‘m not going to touch it.
O‘DONNELL: Don‘t bother going to the Fox News website to try to find “Fox News Watch‘s” “Behind the Breaks” segments. For some reason, Fox News has killed the “Behind the Breaks” segments and scrubbed them from their website.
O‘DONNELL: A report from the Pew research center, released today, shows that the median wealth of white households is now 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households. These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter of a century ago, and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the great recession that technically ended in 2009.
The figures show that the recession hit black and Hispanic households much harder than white households. From 2005 to 2009, inflation adjusted median wealth fell by 66 percent among Hispanic households and 53 percent among black households, compared with 16 percent among white households.
As a result of those recession-driven declines, in 2009, the typical black household had just 5,677 dollars in wealth, with wealth measured as assets minus debts. The typical Hispanic household had 6,325 in wealth. And the typical white household had 113,149 dollars in wealth.
Collapsing housing values were the principle cause of the erosion of the household wealth among all groups, with Hispanics actually hit hardest by the meltdown in the housing market, because a disproportionate share of Hispanics live in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, some of the states that experienced the steepest declines in housing values.
Joining me now, columnist for “the Nation” and MSNBC contributor, Melissa Harris-Perry. Thanks for joining me tonight, Melissa.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, “THE NATION”: Thanks, Lawrence. It‘s great to be here with you.
O‘DONNELL: Melissa, I just mentioned I thought in passing a fact that everyone knew in a panel discussion on this network sometime within the last year, that the black unemployment rate is always double the white unemployment rate, that there is always a recession—a depression level of unemployment in black America. And that was greeted as news and unknown.
These are the kinds of numbers that America doesn‘t get in its normal consumption of how‘s the economy doing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. Look, I‘ve said the same thing. When we got to, you know, coming up towards 10 percent unemployment in America overall, and particularly when we saw, for example, Tea Party activists just angry about this. And I thought, sure, we should be angry about that. But man, black folks would have been angry for a couple of decades now, kind of beside ourselves with anger.
At this point, 10 percent would look like—would look like huge success. But part of what we want to remember about these stats is that these are actually worse than the unemployment stats, worse than the wages, because wealth is not a wage. Wages we assume will eventually come back when jobs come back.
But this lost time in building wealth, you can‘t make that up on the other side.
O‘DONNELL: Melissa, the Senate Finance Committee today had a hearing on deficit reduction approaches Robert Greenstein from the Senate on Budget and Policy Priorities testified. And he made the point that “the United States has higher degrees of poverty and inequality than most other western industrialized nations. Deficit reduction ought not to make these problems worse. History shows this principle can be honored if there‘s a will to do so. The three major deficit reduction packages of the last two decades, the 1990, then 1993, 1997 packages, all adhered to this principle.”
Bob Greenstein sounds like a lone voice in the capitol, making this point as something to consider in these deficit reduction packages.
HARRIS-PERRY: Look, it‘s a different way of thinking about it. Instead of saying a rising tide lifts all boats, so people on the bottom, you‘ll just come along. Instead what you do is you focus on how you make things better on the bottom, with an assumption that raising the floor will bring everybody up.
These questions about economic inequalities also produce themselves, for example, on health outcomes. So we see this huge wealth gap. But that wealth gap also looks very similar, for example, in the racial health gap.
So if you, for example, take just African-Americans out of the overall American population, and look at them as a nation on questions of infant mortality, for example, African-Americans as a group are doing far worse than any industrialized nation on infant mortality.
You can do the same thing on diabetes, on heart disease. So these have real impacts for the whole life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness piece.
O‘DONNELL: And these are indications of crisis conditions that we‘re talking about here. And yet it is very difficult for the media to take note of it. There will be a Pew Research study like this that comes out. We will address it. And then the media will very quickly flow back to treating the overall economic numbers, in which these numbers remain absorbed and unnoticed.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I think it‘s in part this notion that talking about specific communities is somehow like special interest advocacy, rather than really thinking about what Americans need overall, and that you can tell the story of the American crisis through the story of those who are most vulnerable.
Take predatory lending, for example. That‘s happening four decades in black and brown communities before it shows up as a general policy. So I think part of it is we have to know that telling these stories is really telling the American story.
O‘DONNELL: Melissa Harris-Perry, thank you for joining me tonight from that studio across the hall. Thank you very much, Melissa.
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