Guest Host: Melissa Harris-Perry
Guests: Eugene Robinson, Jared Bernstein, Terri Sewell, Wendell Pierce
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, GUEST HOST: Gracias, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: De nada.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next
Rachel has the night off. Remember when this happened, remember when
Mitt Romney formerly announced he was running for president and nobody
noticed because the Sarah Palin bus tour/media circus stopped in New
Hampshire on a very same day for clambake.
Or how about when Rick Perry used the same weekend as the Ames, Iowa,
straw poll to kick off his campaign? You mean there are other people doing
this running for president thing, too?
All of which we around the newsroom today recalled when the White
House announced that President Obama planned to give his big jobs speech
before a joint session of Congress one week from tonight, which is when the
Republican presidential candidates are all planning to debate right here on
MSNBC. Not just on the same night but at the exact same time.
Now, the debate has been scheduled for quite a long time, and lots of
people have been saying that President Obama needs to get tougher with the
opposition, especially in his negotiations with Republicans who over and
over again seem to walk away, getting everything they want.
Well, here he is acting like a Republican, right? Here`s President
Obama stepping on GOP presidential candidates and reminding them that he
is, after all, already president. Except John Boehner is also already
speaker of the House.
So, in a high-level date book duel, the speaker tells the president in
a letter this afternoon that basically the night of September 11th (ph)
doesn`t really work for him for a joint session of Congress. How about
September 8th instead? Yes, we really like September 8th, nothing else
going on September 8th, right?
Oh, yes, apart from the NFL kickoff, my beloved Saints are playing the
reigning champs from Green Bay. I think it`s clear what the public will be
watching on the 8th.
So, the White House says they cleared the date with Speaker Boehner
before going public, something the speaker`s office denies. As of an hour
ago, both sides were reportedly meeting, hopefully with their date book,
trying to figure something out. Either way, this kind of public tit-for-
tat appears to be unprecedented.
Ken Kato, the historian for the House, tells us that he believes while
these types of disagreements have happened in the past, they`ve always
taken place behind doors. The kind of fighting that went on today, well,
that kind that we all know about -- that looks like it`s never happened
Being president may give you control of a lot of things, but
apparently control of Congress is not one of them.
Here to talk about who`s going to save the date here -- Eugene
Robinson, Pulitzer prize winning columnist and MSNBC political analyst.
Good to see you tonight, Gene.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLTICAL ANALYST: Good to see you tonight,
HARRIS-PERRY: Wow, have you ever heard of a refusal of a request like
this from the president of the United States?
ROBINSON: Not publicly, no. We haven`t heard of it.
Now, if you think about it, there must have been times when presidents
wanted to come and do a joint session on a certain day and either the
speaker of the House or the Senate majority leader or both or somebody
thought that was the wrong day and they worked it out. But I have never
seen this sort of public dissing of a presidential request, nor, frankly,
have I seen a presidential request that so clearly was designed to big foot
the other party.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Clearly, there`s politics going on here. And,
you know, clearly part of that politics is about the president, you know,
stepping into this moment.
But the fact is that Boehner, as speaker of the House, is not actually
part of the GOP presidential primaries here. So, is he just protecting
these fellow Republicans despite the fact that he doesn`t, in fact, have
sort of any responsibility over them? Or is there something more insidious
going on with the speaker?
ROBINSON: Well, two possibilities. One, he`s protecting his party --
his party`s big night, it`s Rick Perry`s debate debut, and he could be the
nominee, and you want somebody to watch him. And if the president is on at
the same time, nobody`s going to watch him. So it could be that.
Or it could be a warm up for the recession the actual jobs plan is
going to get when it comes to Capitol Hill, which is probably going to be
"no, we really don`t like that color, and this is too large and that`s too
small, and we won`t do any of them."
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, look, it seems like this is clearly been
a relationship between the speaker and the president where the speaker
bending is not really part of what happens. So, why pick a fight, why sort
of demonstrate again the unbendingness of the speaker? Doesn`t this put
the president in a position of once again having to be in a conciliatory
relationship when he could have just chosen another night?
ROBINSON: Well, he could have. One, he could have believed that the
speaker had no choice but to acquiesce, because after all, it`s a request
from the president of the United States and speakers usually do acquiesce.
Second, you know, if it were me, and I were the president, which would
be awful for the country, but if I were the president, I would be tempted
to say, well, you know, look, look at congress. They don`t even want to
hear my jobs plan.
And so, you get yourself an auditorium some place and get a nice-
looking crowd there and you call the networks and you get on every other
network -- unfortunately, except MSNBC, which is going to be covering the
debate, and you give your speech.
That`s, you know, that would be one way to approach this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. So, speaking of which, when the president does
actually make this speech, what do you expect to hear from him?
ROBINSON: Well, we know -- we know the components of it, or some of
the components of it. We just don`t know how big they are going to be.
We know there`s going to be an infrastructure bank proposal of some
sort. We know there may be some mortgage relief. We know we`re going to
hear about extending unemployment benefits and the payroll tax holiday. We
kind of know the bits and pieces.
But does he go big or does he go small? Sources at the White House
have told me that progressives will, when they look at the totality of the
plan, agree that the president has, in fact, gone big when you add it all
up. That`s what I`ve heard.
So -- but I haven`t seen the plan or heard any numbers. So, we`ll
have to see.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. Eugene Robinson, MSNBC contributor -- I hope at
some point we get to talk about the Republican debate together. That`d be
ROBINSON: That would be a --
HARRIS-PERRY: Pulitzer Prize winning --
ROBINSON: That would be a lot of fun, Melissa, but I don`t know if
September 7 works for me. I don`t know, we`ll have to work on that date.
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t know. Have a good one, Gene.
ROBINSON: You too.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, with all this big footing going on, the fact
remains that it is ordinary Americans who are getting stepped on as
corporations smack them around. Average unemployed or working two jobs to
make ends meet Americans are being asked to give more, to sacrifice more,
so corporations and rich people can give less, so that bottom line
incorporated and its CEO get to keep more of their money.
Now, despite insisting they oppose any tax increases, several
Republican presidential candidates, as well as the Republican leadership on
Capitol Hill, are proposing that we raise taxes on the poor and working
class while cutting taxes on corporations and rich people all in the name
of job creation.
Jon Huntsman said today that as president, he`d want to focus on long-
term job growth by creating a simpler tax system. Simplify it by
eliminating the taxes people pay on investment income altogether by
reducing taxes corporations have to pay and shuffling all individuals into
only three tax brackets, 8 percent, 14 percent, or 23 percent, which means
if you`re rich, under this plan you`re likely to get richer. Simplicity,
it seems, is more important than fairness.
And if you`re a corporation that makes things, you do better under
Rick Santorum`s job plan which calls for reducing tax rate for corporations
to zero, zip, nada.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Eliminate the corporate
tax if you manufacture here in this country. That will bring a lot of
those jobs back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Maybe if you can find a way to pay Americans $3 a day
that they`d get doing the same work overseas. The deal is all of this talk
is rooted in one basic claim, that if corporations get more tax breaks,
they will hire more workers.
But here`s the thing, corporations in this country are not hurting,
far from it. In this current economic climate with three years now
sustained high unemployment, we can actually see corporations continuing to
make massive profits, never been higher, and it`s not just the corporations
who are profiting, but the guys who run them.
Today, we learned in a new report that 25 chief executives took home
more in their paychecks last year than their companies paid in federal
income taxes. In fact, the head of one of our parent companies, General
Electric, was one of them.
Corporations have one responsibility, and that responsibility to earn
a profit. You can`t be mad at them for doing their job. And it`s pretty
easy to measure if they are succeeding or failing, because there`s only one
metric to measure. That measure is how much they`re making.
Once corporations have figured that they can fulfill their one
mission, making big profits with a smaller workforce, they are never going
back to hiring more people. When you can keep wages low and overwork the
employees you do have, why would you cut into your bottom line by hiring
more people? There`s no incentive to get corporations that are already
earning billions to hire more employees -- what, the goodness of their
Despite Mitt Romney`s world view, corporations are not people. They
are profit-making machines for better and worse.
Here to chat with me a bit about this, I`m joined by Jared Bernstein,
former member of President Obama`s economic team and former economic
advisor to Vice President Biden. Mr. Bernstein is a senior fellow at the
Center of Budget and Policy Priorities and an MSNBC contributor.
Nice to have you tonight.
JARED BERNSTEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you for inviting me,
Now, is there any evidence -- any evidence -- that corporate tax cuts
BERNSTEIN: There`s really not. I mean, the way you set this up was
exactly right. Let me just explain a little bit more about current
conditions that corporations are facing. If you look at their profits as a
share of GDP, they are extremely high right before the Great Recession,
then they took a hit like everybody else, lots of asset losses that hurt
them. Now, of course, working people got whacked hard as well.
If you now go back and you look in the most recent data, the first
half of this year, corporate profits as a share of the economy haven`t just
gotten back to where they were, they surpassed their prior peak. There`s
nothing wrong with that as you stated in your introduction, except the
following, compensation paychecks, what workers take home, as a share of
the economy, is the lowest it`s been since the year I was born, which was a
long time ago -- 1955, to be precise.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, look, I mean corporations are geared towards this
one goal of profit making. But I`m about to print up a t-shirt with what I
heard you say earlier to one of our producers, which is profitability does
not create jobs. Corporate profitability does not create jobs.
If that`s true, then what are the incentives? How will we get out of
BERNSTEIN: That`s the right question. I mean, if profitability
created jobs, we weren`t stuck in 9.1 percent unemployment, which is where
we`re stuck in the midst of very high profitability.
Look, corporations are not, you know, evil scientists trying to figure
out how to screw the public. What they are trying to do -- as you
suggested -- is to make the highest profits that they can. And right now,
that means selling into economies that are growing, emerging markets.
Which economy is not growing? This one. In the first half of the
year, GDP growth was less than 1 percent. We`re kind of bumping along the
What do we need? We need people to get back to work. This is not
Whether it`s a giant corporation or the small business on the corner,
if customers are coming through the door, I guarantee you they`ll start
restocking their shelves, they`ll start selling into domestic markets,
they`ll start hiring people once again.
That`s why the president`s jobs plan is so important because it`s
geared at getting people back to work.
Remember, this is a 70 percent consumption economy. And if people are
not working and if their paychecks aren`t growing, the economy is stuck in
the mud and that`s where we are.
It`s also why your conversation with Gene Robinson was not exactly the
most uplifting in terms of hope about where this is headed.
HARRIS-PERRY: Indeed, I think you have now giving me the back of the
t-shirt. The front will say corporate profitability does not create jobs,
and the back will say growing GDP does.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget
and Policy Priorities and an MSNBC contributor -- thanks so much for
clarifying that for us tonight.
BERNSTEIN: My pleasure.
HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of jobs, jobs, jobs, President Obama had this
to say from the Rose Garden this morning.
(BEGIN VIDE CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s inexcusable to put
more jobs at risk in an industry that`s already been one of the hardest hit
over the last decade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The president is talking about construction. There`s
an easy way to help, but somebody`s standing in the way. If by somebody
you mean the GOP -- the story is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you`ve been paying any attention to American
politics over the last decade or so, you`d be forgiven for thinking that
the only basis members of Congress vote, their only rational is party
identification, whether they are a Democrat or Republican. But if you know
a member of Congress` political party and you can predict most anything on
how they are going to vote on most issues, the fact is that`s not always
how it`s been.
Up until fairly recently, there`s been some points of consensus that
bring members of opposing parties together. One of these points has been
geography. It used to be, for example, that Democrats and Republicans from
the agricultural states sort of voted the same on agricultural issues.
Didn`t necessarily matter all that much what party they were from.
The same for members of Congress representing the Rust Belt states in
the Midwest when it came to manufacturing issues. There`s always been
these geographic concerns that sort of trumped party affiliation.
Separately, there were also areas of consensus where no matter where
you were from, no matter what your ideology, no matter what your political
party, there were things everyone could agree were good ideas -- things
that passed Congress by overwhelming margins.
Let`s take, for example, highways. The Interstate Highway System that
you and I know and love today, the highway system that tens of millions of
Americans travel on every single day of the week, highways were something
that had to be voted into existence. It`s the result of the Federal-Aid
Highway Act of 1956, which was signed into law from President Dwight
Eisenhower, a Republican president, along with a Democratic-controlled
House and Senate, came together and said hey, building highways is a great
idea for the country, let`s do it.
The Interstate Highway System was one of the largest public works
projects in American history. It was signed into law by a Republican
The Interstate Highway System wasn`t just about putting people to
work, it was also seen as a national defense priority. Remember, Dwight
Eisenhower, the former five-star general, knew that it was imperative to be
able to move things from state to state on high-quality roads in order to
be able to protect this country.
But the other thing the Interstate Highway System did is it helped
expand the middle class in this country, it allowed people to move out of
high-rent districts in the middle of cities and into suburbia. It created
these working class enclaves for people to live outside of cities where
they had access to things like high-quality schools.
Building and repairing highways that link the country is not just make
work, it`s integral to all these other aspects of how we think about our
society, and it`s for that reason that funding highway projects is
something that`s just made sense over the years. It has transcended party
affiliation. Eisenhower`s Interstate Highway Act of 1956 passed the Senate
by a vote of 89 to 1.
Decades later, once highway funding became a routine congressional
matter, it always enjoyed big bipartisan support. The Highway Funding Bill
signed into law first by President Bush in 1991 passed the Senate by a vote
of 79 to 8. When President Clinton signed the next bill into law in 1998,
it passed the Senate 88 to 5. The Highway Funding Bill signed by George W.
Bush in 2005 passed the Senate 91 to 4.
This has been such a consensus activity. This has been seen as such a
net positive for the country that some members of Congress even named these
bills after beloved family members. That 2005 bill was called "Safe,
Accountable, Flexible, Effective Transportation Equity Act, A Legacy for
Users." It went by the nickname SAFETEA-LU. Republican Congressman Don
Young of Alaska had the "LU" added at the end to honor his departed wife,
These highway bills have been good for the country. They`ve added
jobs. They`ve expanded access to rural communities. And as a result,
they`ve been really, really popular among members of Congress. That is,
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama now just moments away from
pushing Congress to pass a new highway transportation bill next week might
not sound sexy, but there are worries this morning it will lead to another
impasse that could shut down Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: House Republicans, at a time when this country
desperately needs jobs, has proposed gutting job-creating highway funding,
at a time when both our job market and our roads and bridges are literally
in a state of disrepair.
In 2002, the United States ranked 5th in the world in the quality of
our infrastructure. Watch what`s happened since then. We`ve dropped all
the way down to 23rd in the world.
And now, the president of the United States finds himself at the
position of nearly begging Republicans in Congress to do this thing they`ve
always done, this thing that we need, this thing that creates jobs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: When it comes to our nation`s infrastructure, our roads, our
railways, mass transit, airports -- we shouldn`t just be playing patch-up
or catch-up, we should be leading the world. At a time when interest rates
are low and workers are unemployed, the best time to make those investments
is right now. Not once another levee fails or another bridge falls. Right
now is when we need to be making these decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Thirty days from right now, the funding for our great
American highways, the highways that helped build this country, will run
out. Four thousand Americans will lose their jobs immediately, according
to the Department of Transportation. And nearly one million more Americans
can lose their jobs if funding isn`t restored by the end of the year.
This is one issue Republicans and Democrats have been able to agree on
even as our politics have grown more and more partisan. What will
Republicans do this time? Tick, tick, tick.
HARRIS-PERRY: This literally just in, in the battle of September 7th,
presidential speech versus GOP debate, it appears the Republicans have won.
The White House press secretary saying in a statement tonight that
President Obama will be giving his speech before a joint session of
Congress on September 8th, Thursday, instead of Wednesday, September 7th
like he`d originally requested. Yes, that is on the same night as the
first NFL game of the season.
Now, here at MSNBC we`re starting to feel more confident that we can
plan out next week`s coverage in ink instead of pencil. There`s that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Pop quiz, how do you know that a state law is onerous?
How do you know it creates unreasonable obstacles and will make exercising
your rights of citizenship more, not less, difficult?
Here are a few hints, a few things to be on the lookout for. One,
does the amplification of that law immediately make you think of 19th
century civil rights violations? Two, does the federal government have to
step in to protect people`s rights? And three, does the governor have to
make a pledge to personally attend the transportation needs of every single
If you`ve answered yes to any of these questions, you just might be a
South Carolina`s Republican-controlled state legislature and
Republican governor have passed and signed a new voter ID law to have a
photo ID in order to vote -- which is something almost 200,000 people in
the state don`t have -- 200,000 people who are otherwise qualified to vote,
200,000 people who, if an election were held today, could not vote in the
state of South Carolina.
In the absence of any evidence of systemic voter fraud in any election
at any level, people are comparing this latest barrier to voting to the
notorious Jim Crow laws of the late 1800s and early 1900s. And it`s
because of those laws set out to disenfranchise African-Americans that nine
states, including South Carolina, have to get voting laws approved by the
So, this week the federal government pulled the emergency brake on
South Carolina`s voter ID bill. The Justice Department wrote in a letter
to the state asking it to clarify some things. For example, how do people
get a voter registration card, how will they know about the changes, how
will election officials be trained? All good questions, none of which the
Department of Justice thinks has been adequately answered.
As for how will people get voter registration cards, Republican
Governor Nikki Haley offered to drive each and every single one of them to
get IDs. Quote, "Find me those people who think this is invading their
rights, find them and I will got take them to the DMV myself and help them
get that picture ID."
But that`s not how things have worked out. Rather than the governor
being inconvenienced, it`s tax payers who will have to pay for them to get
there and eligible voters who will have to be the ones being
Governor Nikki Haley announced the creation of the state
identification card day. So, here`s what you, Mr. or Ms. South Carolina
voter need to do if you want a state-issued voter ID card, which you`ll
need to vote, if you don`t already have a picture ID.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We are having a photo
identification day on September 28 that we will allow to help people get
the picture IDs that they need.
KEVIN SHWEDO, SOUTH CAROLINA DMV DIRECTOR: An individual will pick up
the phone and dial a number 1-855-STATE-ID. And they`ll request
transportation. During an initial call, our employs will ask you for your
name, your address, and contact information. And a DMV employee will
explain the requirements to get you an identification. We will not give
you an appointment at that time. We are going to call you back and
During the confirmation call, we will give you a two-hour window for
pick up. We`re going to talk you through what documents are required to
get you your ID. We`re looking for a birth certificate. We`re looking for
a Social Security card. And we`re looking for proof of residency.
On the 28th of September, our license examiners will come to your
house to pick you up.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
HARRIS-PERRY: You got all that? No problem, right? Especially if
you`re elderly, disabled, work shifts, have kids, care for a sick parent.
Joining us now is Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Democrat of Alabama -- a
state with its own brand new voter ID law this year.
Congresswoman Sewell, thanks so much for being here.
REP. TERRI SEWELL (D), ALABAMA: Thank you so much, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, it is not just South Carolina. According to the
Brennan Center, at least 34 states have proposed voter ID bills this
session, and you, from Alabama, you know, from the district that represents
Thelma, you guys in the state also have a new voter ID law. What are your
concerns around your state`s new law?
SEWELL: Well, my state`s new law would actually be very similar to
South Carolina`s law, in which they would require valid photo ID in order
to vote, and frankly, I think that it really will disenfranchise,
especially our seniors, many of whom don`t drive, many of whom are used to
showing their Social Security card, which doesn`t have a photo ID, but yet
it is a validly-issued government ID.
And so, I just really feel like think there`s something in the air
that is really looking to disenfranchise and really make sure certain
segments of the population don`t get out to vote.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, and precisely on this question about certain
segments of the population, I know when you talked to producers earlier
today, you were talking specifically about a member of your family who you
felt could be disenfranchised by this sort of bill.
SEWELL: Absolutely, Melissa. See, I grew up in Alabama, my dad has
had several strokes and is currently in a wheelchair and has been for the
past six years, and he votes using his Social Security card. And dad
doesn`t have a valid photo ID or driver`s license because he doesn`t drive
anymore. And it`s really a hardship to try to get to make sure he gets a
I mean, luckily, we have home help, and my mom is in good health and
we can, obviously, get my dad somewhere. But there are so many people in
my district who will not be able to get a valid photo ID.
I think that this is unfair and, really, I`m hoping that just as in
South Carolina, the Justice Department will intervene when it comes to
Alabama`s law as well. I think that it is not fair to so many people in my
district who are either elderly, disabled -- some of our young folks don`t
have photo IDs.
And so, I think it`s really important that we encourage voter
participation and not discourage it, especially in the civil rights
district that I represent.
HARRIS-PERRY: Congresswoman Sewell, when you talk about the people in
your district -- I always hear this sense of empathy that you have for
them. I remember you being interviewed after the tornadoes that affected
your district as well. And I feel like when I`ve heard proponents and
supporters of the voter ID bill talk it`s without that empathy. They say
things like, well, you need a photo ID to go to a bar or get on a plane.
But, of course, going to a bar and getting on a plane is not part of your
rights as a citizen.
What do you think are the real reasons for a law like this?
SEWELL: I just think that it`s very curious that lately, Melissa,
we`ve seen across this United States, especially in -- in states that are
now run by the GOP, an effort to systemically try to find these voter ID
suppression laws that will actually discourage voter participation. You
know, people in Thelma and across this nation fought and died and cross the
Edmund Pettis Bridge for the right to vote. It is a fundamental right, and
we shouldn`t be looking for opportunities to discourage voter
participation. Instead, we should be encouraging it.
I know that in this particular district, people are so cognizant of
HARRIS-PERRY: Congresswoman Sewell, Democrat of Alabama, thanks so
much for joining me and reminding all of us how important it is to keep our
eyes on this.
SEWELL: Thank you so much, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE HAMILTON, 9/11 COMMISSION CO-CHAIR: We are not yet in the place
in this country where the first responders can talk with one another. Ten
years after 9/11, we are not yet at the place where we know who`s in charge
at the site of a disaster.
(END VDIEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That, the sobering message from the national security
preparedness group composed of former members of the 9/11 Commission.
At a time when we`re having yet another debate about the role of
government following a disaster, in this case, Hurricane Irene, even hard
core libertarians would agree that the most basic tenet of American
government is to take citizens safe. But here we are, 10 years after 9/11,
a government still incapable of getting its act together.
We sent hundreds of thousands of men and women to war in the past
decade to make us safer, Yet here at home, our government is still not
doing all it can to keep its citizens safe.
For most of the past the year, Rachel has been working with NBC News
chief correspondent Richard Engel on a two-part documentary about not 9/11
itself, but the decade after, how 9/11 has changed the country, what we`ve
done and how we`re different now because of it.
Here now is a short clip from that piece, take a look.
RACHEL MADDOW, TRMS HOST (voice-over): The uniting and strengthening
America by providing appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct
terrorism act of 2001, better known as the USA Patriot Act, tears down many
of the walls constructed over the years between law enforcement and spying
-- walls designed to protect American citizens from being spied on by our
own government, walls designed ultimately to protect the presumption of
innocence, walls that came crumbling down on Brandon Mayfield.
(on camera): When did you first have a sense that you and your family
might have been subject to direct surveillance by the government?
BRANDON MAYFIELD: A footprint on the floor that were bigger than any
shoe size we had, so we could only surmise somebody had been in the house.
MADDOW (voice-over): Mayfield and his wife, Mona, were living a quiet
life. But in May 2004, after weeks of what was clumsily intended to be
secret government search and surveillance, federal authorities come
knocking on Mayfield`s door.
MAYFIELD: I said, "If you have any question to ask me, put them to me
in writing," and I could tell right away that wasn`t going to make them go
MADDOW: In March 2004, a terrorist attack on trains in Madrid, Spain
had killed 191 people. Spanish police found a fingerprint near the scene
on a bag of detonators. They sent a photo copy of that print to the FBI.
The FBI decided that fingerprint matched Brandon Mayfield.
MAYFIELD: They started physically, forcibly making their way into my
office. And they proceeded to forcibly handcuff me.
MADDOW (on camera): While you were being taken into custody at your
office, were they also at your house?
MAYFIELD: They had a search warrant at my house. My wife was home.
They had insinuated that I was a terrorist.
MADDOW: Meanwhile, you had been taken into custody, did your family
know where you were?
MADDOW (voice-over): With federal prosecutors pledging to get a
conviction, Mayfield`s legal team grows more concern about his status.
MAYFIELD: I was arrested under the material witness statute, created
to protect witnesses. But the attorney general`s office flipped it on its
head after 9/11, and started using it as an investigative tool. In other
words, to detain somebody without rights, without probable cause as they
continue to gather more information.
MADDOW (on camera): You were never charged with anything though?
MAYFIELD: I was never charged at that point.
MADDOW: Had you ever been to Spain?
MADDOW: Do you speak Spanish?
MAYFIELD: No, my daughter does. And at that time that they were
poring records in our house and documents, they found some of my daughter`s
MADDOW: To be clear, though, when they say they confiscated Spanish
language materials from your house, that was your daughter`s Spanish
MADDOW (voice-over): As Mayfield`s legal team prepares his defense,
they also learn what else had been used to justify his arrest beyond that
MAYFIELD: Virtually everything that was cited as a reason to arrest
me, had to do with my being a Muslim or associating with Muslims. I was
married to Mona Mayfield, aka Mohammad, an Egyptian national. I attended a
One can only surmise one of the reasons I was arrested is because I
was Muslim. And there was this insinuation that somehow being a Muslim
meant that you are a criminal element.
MADDOW: Ultimately, the case is dismissed against Brandon Mayfield,
who later sues the federal government. His legal challenge of the Patriot
Act is dismissed. But federal authorities do issue formal apologies and
Mayfield is eventually awarded a monetary settlement.
MAYFIELD: I grew up in Kansas. So, a handshake and an apology means
something to me.
MADDOW (on camera): You reflect on what this decade has been like,
how would you describe the overall experience?
MAYFIELD: It was the darkest, most harrowing ordeal on myself or my
family ever had to experience. To quote Benjamin Franklin, "Those who
would give up liberty for security will lose both and deserve neither."
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s part of a two-part series that premiers tomorrow
night at 9:00, "Day of Destruction: Decade of War." We hope you`ll watch.
And don`t go away. There`s still more tonight. We`ve got the best
new thing, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is often the part of the show where we do the best
new thing in the world. But since I`m down here in the Big Easy, I`m going
to change it up a little bit today. The best New Orleans thing in the
world today is this city`s survivor spirit.
We are the country still experiencing the brutal effects of Hurricane
Irene. It is a real current ongoing crisis on the Eastern Seaboard and in
New England. And recovery will not be a matter of months. It`s likely to
be a matter of years.
It`s been six years this week since Hurricane Katrina struck. Just
about this time six years ago, the horror of a major American city drowning
before our eyes was still unfolding. Six years later, so many people are
left behind here in the city after the broken levees wreaked havoc on
But here`s the thing: there are so ideas out there for making things
right. And still, so many people with the will to get us there, which is
great, because we here in New Orleans, we need it all. In fact, just this
week, the nonprofit group Kiva, which gets individuals to provide kind of
microloans to businesses opened a program in New Orleans.
And in its first 24 hours, Kiva says that all 14 small business
projects seeking funding got all the money that they were looking for.
And then there`s people like actor Wendell Pierce. Now, you know him
from five seasons starring on the hit show "The Wire." And now, he`s a
trombone-playing star for "Treme," set here in New Orleans.
Yes, I know you`re thinking oh, it`s actor lending his celebrity for a
cause, right? Well, just stop with the eye-rolling because Wendell Pierce
is the real thing. He was born and raised right here in New Orleans.
And ladies and gentlemen, he is the survivor spirit. And that is what
makes Wendell Pierce the best New Orleans thing. He is helping to rebuild
the city around questions of politics, of economics. He`s working in his
neighborhood, childhood neighborhood of Pontchartrain Park. As president
of the Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation, which is
building energy efficient and solar houses.
Now, he`s getting attention for a new project that he`s trying to get
started, to build grocery stores in the underserved New Orleans`
neighborhoods, including one proposal for the Lower Ninth Ward, which
hasn`t had a full service grocery store since well before Katrina.
Now, this is complicated. It`s going to take a lot of determination.
But, Wendell Pierce, I know you well enough to know you are exactly
the sort of person to get it done.
WENDELL PIERCE, ACTOR: Well, thank you very much. I really
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks for being here tonight.
PIERCE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, you and I have actually been political opponents
at various points.
HARRIS-PERRY: There was a point where I was mean mugging you in green
rooms in the back.
But one thing I know for certain about you, is that you have a
profound commitment to this city, to your city. So, when you think about
how tough it is here, after the storm, is it the kind of tough you
expected, or is it something different?
PIERCE: It`s the tough I expected because I realized that this wasn`t
going to be a recovery that was going to be happening within a week, a
month, or even a year. You know, our recovery is going to be measured in
decades, unfortunately. And you have to realize that 80 percent of this
great American city was destroyed.
But the one thing I knew that we had here in New Orleans, and that is
on display now is the greatest display of the American esthetic of
fortitude and resilience that we haven`t seen since the end of World War II
and the Marshall Plan.
The difference here is it`s not from government, it`s actually from
the grassroots, from people down on the ground, in the trenches, you know,
and building from the ground up. And so, I wanted to be a part of that, I
wanted to be able to answer that question that many of us are going to ask
years from now, what did you do in New Orleans` darkest hours? And I
wanted to have an answer.
HARRIS-PERRY: You talk about the esthetic. And I think for you as an
actor, as an artist, that`s really sort of a critical part of this. You
have a bit of art imitating life going on here, right? Starring in "Treme"
where the city is working to recover and actually working to recover.
So, tell me about the projects you`re actually involved in here in the
city in real life.
PIERCE: Well, it is art imitating life when it comes to "Treme." And
you know, that`s the role of life. What the thoughts are to the
individual, where you reflect on who you are, where you`ve been, where you
hope to go. That`s the forum of art, for a community as a whole where we
reflect on where we are.
And that was something that I grew up with in Pontchartrain Park. You
know, we were given a baton, a legacy from that Moses generation of
African-Americans who didn`t have access to just affordable homes, you
know, during the segregation, the height of segregation. And because of
their fortitude, because of their march for social justice, that we were
able to create a Mayberry, the neighborhood that was able to send so many
of my generation, the Joshua generation, out into the world and become
successful men and women.
And when I came back to New Orleans, I knew I wanted to recreate that.
It was our responsibility to create that, you know? To those much is
given, much is expected.
And so, I knew we had it within our ranks, within that incubator of
talent, that we can do it ourselves. That`s why we put together
Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation.
But the recovery has to be comprehensive.
PIERCE: So, housing is one thing, and then I decided to also do Food
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, let me actually ask you a little bit about this
kind of comprehensive piece, because what we`re seeing here, the spirit of
the people of New Orleans is the best thing. And yet I think you and I
would both say we see these amazing nonprofits, these incredible
entrepreneurs, people just doing work on the ground for six years, but also
often running smack into government, at the local, state and federal level.
How do we scale the spirit of people to something so that, for
example, something like Food Desert -- I mean, your grocery store could be
an amazing thing, but how do we make sure there`s grocery stores in every
PIERCE: You know, one of the main reasons I decided to create
Sterling Farms, which is going to be our supermarket group, which is going
to go underserved communities, those Food Deserts, where people don`t have
access to sustainable green groceries, you know? And the richest country
in the industrialized world, you somewhere, just a mile from here, kids are
going to go hurry tonight.
And I wanted to challenge that. But the one thing I learned doing
Pontchartrain Park with the housing, was the interface of government can be
tough, more than tough. It can be an oxymoron at times. I mean, there was
money delivered here to the state of Louisiana for the reconstruction of
New Orleans that the state put a prohibition on.
PIERCE: Money to recover New Orleans, but you can`t use it for new
construction. People can`t use it to meet basic flood elevation. You
know, you get the grant but you can`t use it for new construction. That
sort of frustration and barriers you run up against that I decided, you
know, at the same time, while we have this effort going on, when it comes
to attacking Food Deserts, I want to do it completely free market. A
vanilla business entity, where those communities that are underserved are
really thriving with pent up demand. If there`s one thing missing in this
economy it`s demand. Everybody is looking for that and it`s there.
And all those underserved communities around the country and I want to
tap into that.
Let others sit on the sidelines, I`m going to step up to the plate.
HARRIS-PERRY: Wendell, I appreciate all of your work -- the arts, the
politics, the culture, the economics all of that, and my daughter would
like you to throw something for her, the next Mardi Gras.
PIERCE: The next time of Mardi Gras parade, I`ll make sure that
Parker gets something.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks. Great. Thanks for coming in tonight.
PIERCE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Wendell Pierce, star of HBO`s "Treme," president of the
Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation and the best New
Orleans thing in the world today.
Thanks so much for joining me tonight. Next is Ed.
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