December 8, 2012
Guests: Carmen Wong Ulrich, Loretta Sanchez, David Cay Johnston, Matt Welch, Greg Kaufmann, Eugene Jarecki, Doug Fine, Eve Ensler, Ashley Bryant
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, which
Americans are going over the cliff without a safety net?
Plus, how Washington state is stirring the pot.
And sex education with Tony award-winning playwright, Eve Ensler.
But first, beware, our fiscal policy is under attack from amoral cyborgs.
Good morning, my fellow Americans. I`m Melissa Harris Perry coming to you
from the MSNBC studios at Rockefeller Center in New York City. And I
interrupt our program to bring you the following news. Cyborgs are among
us. New reporting has uncovered the extent to which these artificial
entities have taken over our country. And I bring you this shocking news
now, right before our eyes, they have been taking over all of our nation`s
institutions, slowly extending their control over our political, legal, and
economic systems with their insatiable appetite for profits and prophets
alone. These amoral immortals are decimating the rights of workers,
consumers and voters. They are not criminals, they typically stay within
the law, but they can live forever. Even when they take a death blow, and
bleed out, a quick cash infusion from investors or taxpayers can keep them
going. You may not notice them yet. But soon, they will amass every
single asset capable of generating hefty returns. These undead are
recreating our civic and political culture in service of politics and
policy that fuels their voracious desire for capital.
And how do these automatonic corpses disguise their altered state? They
have simply taken the form of average friendly Fortune 500 companies. You
might remember the warning signs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Corporations are people,
my friend. We can raise taxes and - of course, they are. Everything
corporations earn ultimately goes to people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS PERRY: Yeah, taking human form and speaking in plain English, these
corporate creatures have systematically shifted the cost of doing business
onto the consumer and the taxpayer. With unfettered power to consume, the
corporation has been pilfering our paychecks, feasting on subsidies and tax
breaks. All while forcing us to pay more for, well, everything. And now,
legalese is all that stands in the way of their total control. We live in
their society. One governed by the rights and demarcations of privatized
OK, this I know. My claims are a little exaggerated. But if you are
reading between the lines this week, you can see the outline of this
automatonic takeover. The back and forth fiscal cliff on Capitol Hill in
the past few days has sounded more like a Washington stage production of
"War of the Worlds." Hey, the Mayan calendar may have been correct after
all. Because right on time, congressional Republicans are crafting a
doomsday scenario for the fiscal cliff.
Reportedly, the plan would allow a vote on extending only the Bush middle
class tax cuts and nothing else, effectively slamming the ball into the
president`s court for a new year`s showdown on the debt ceiling. There
would be no compromise forthcoming on extending unemployment or altering
the tax code to close those loopholes or raising federal revenues.
This end of days talk from House Republicans masks the real crisis facing
our country. One manufactured by those creature corporations that our
politicians have allowed to thrive off of our democratic lifeblood. What
is missing in the urgency of this January 1 manufactured deadline, is any
talk of the very real fiscal foibles plaguing our country. We have
continued to ignore the ways in which policy have systematically created a
government for and by the corporate entity. So, when Republicans asked for
a balanced approach, or when Democrats asked for top earners to pay their
fair share, both sides are still ignoring the sources of the fiscal crisis.
When so many Americans do not make a living wage, the economy cannot
recover nor can our budgets be balanced. Because so many more of us are
being forced to rely on a fiscal floor that only our federal government is
now capable of providing, running up our federal debt and demanding
increasing government spending that no fiscal crisis deal will address.
In his book, "The Fine Print," my guest today, author David Cay Johnston
explains, quote, "No other modern country gives corporations the unfettered
power found in America to gouge customers, shortchange workers and erect
barriers to fair play." That is the very real fiscal cliff that American
consumers and workers are standing at the precipice of. And with me now is
Syracuse University law professor and Pulitzer Prize winning investigative
reporter, David Cay Johnston, who provides the details on how corporations
- big corporations use plain English to rob you blind. In his new book,
"The Fine Print." Also, at the table, Democratic Congresswoman Loretta
Sanchez of California, Carmen Wong Ulrich, who is the personal finance
expert and President of ALTA Wealth Management and editor-in-chief of
"Reason" magazine, our buddy, Matt Welch. So nice to have you all at the
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Good morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, David, I stole that cyborg a bit from your text.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR "THE FINE PRINT": Wonderful.
HARRIS-PERRY: And think of -- I thought it was useful to - this framework
that you have - OK, we are going to call them people, but the kind of
people that they are is not immoral, but amoral, right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Interested only in profits, willing to work within the law,
but in a way that erodes sort of what our capacities are democratically.
Play that out for me.
JOHNSTON: Well, society is defined by its rules. And what we have been
doing in this country quietly and without the news media covering is
rewriting the rules. The rules of competition are being either thwarted or
repealed. Basic consumer rights, everyone in America since 1913 has had a
legal right to a telephone. You have to pay for it. But if you say, hook
me up, they had to give you a telephone. That`s been repealed in six
states. And done in the way that the phone company, even if there are
competing lines running down your street can say, sorry, Melissa, we are
not going to serve you.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to stop right there on the telecommunications part,
because I think the language over the past week or so has been about this
$2,000, right? If we go over the fiscal cliff, you are going to have this
$2,000 increase in taxes for the average household. But I want to look at
what the inflated prices we are currently paying for things like our
401(k)s, our bank fees, our electric utilities, our corporate electricity,
our garbage companies, our state tax from the pipeline overcharges. Look,
they add up to $2,390. We are already paying that extra tax - but we are
paying it directly not into - into our government, which provides the
social safety net, we are paying it to corporations that are making big
JOHNSTON: And one of the key things corporations have been doing is
finding ways to privatize redistribution upward, it is not trickled down,
which was invented to deride Reaganism, but it is Amazon up or Niagara up.
And the single biggest and important trend is corporations pocketing taxes
so they never get to the government. There are now 2,700 companies in 19
states, with hundreds of thousands of workers, every big brand name company
you have ever heard of, gets to keep some or all of the state income taxes
withheld from their workers paychecks. And the workers don`t know this,
because they are treated as having paid their taxes, and the company gets a
tax credit equal to those taxes in a confidential document. And all over
the place, that`s what`s happening. Our tax dollars are being diverted to
corporations through gifts, through tax credits, through all sorts of
HARRIS-PERRY: So, how do we get into a conversation where we can talk
about these elements rather than this sort of manufactured crisis?
CARMEN WONG ULRICH, PERSONAL FINANCE EXPERT: Well, you know, here is the
thing is in your book, you really draw it here, that the fact that these
businesses are built a lot on ignorance. And I have to say, a lot of
industries, including the financial industry, is built on the fact that you
have a bunch of people that know their product and know how to structure
it, so that regular folks don`t know what`s going on. Now, I don`t think
people are ignorant. I think people are actually really, really smart.
ULRICH: But there is so much to know ...
ULRICH: ... when you have a giant corporation coming in and basically
structuring everything, so they can take those bank fees that never used to
be there anymore and all those other fees you outlined. And here is the
thing: with the fiscal crisis, it is a matter of understanding. So, when
you look at the middle class, I have to say, I think a lot of folks maybe
they don`t even understand what`s going on, but they do understand how
Washington works. They do understand. And then we have seen this
blustering before when the stimulus bill was going through. We are going
broke. We didn`t go broke.
ULRICH: Things will be fine. But understanding how all this works and
that the cliff is not a cliff and that the deficit is not going to go up.
It`s actually been going down. Those things are very important to
understand, here, to see through that prism and get what`s going on.
HARRIS-PERRY: Congresswoman, I feel like this is - the part of what was so
helpful to me about David`s text as I`ve been sort of trying to think
through this fiscal cliff, is the sense that we often hear from elected
leaders about kitchen table politics. We saw the president actually go to
the kitchen table this week. And yet these sort of kitchen table economics
of sort of how we are paying to subsidize these corporations does not seem
to be part of the conversation happening in Washington.
REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ, (D ), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think you have a lot of
Congress people, especially on the Democratic side, who realize the true
meaning of what each and every one of us is paying for. I`ll give you an
example. Carolyn Maloney, right here, of New York, she authored the Credit
Card Bill of Rights. And I know because I was her number two. And we
pushed very hard to get this bill through. Now, it could have been a lot
stronger. It started out a lot stronger. But of course, there are the
pressures from the credit card companies, and banks and others, the
financial industry, if you will, to push back. And, you know, we had to
find the votes to push something. But that`s one of the reasons now you
get your credit card bill and you have that little place where it says, if
you pay the minimum payment of $25, whatever it is, it is going to take you
50 years to pay off your balance. You know, on the other hand, if you pay
$86 this month, it will take you three years. Now, I`ve had a lot of my --
the people that I represent tell me that really tells me something.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s actually helpful.
SANCHEZ: It`s really helpful. It really tells me something. You know,
they were doing other things. If you had a balance of $1,000 on your
credit card and they hiked that credit card rate from 15 percent to 20
percent, they would apply that 20 percent to the $1,000 you already had on
SANCHEZ: Well, you can no longer do that. You have to actively - they
have to tell you what`s going to happen, and you have to actively bring on
more debt at that percentage, you get to pay the old piece under that. I`m
going to tell you, there was such push back on that, it`s amazing we got
that through. But there are people who understand all these hidden fees,
all these little things. You know, I mean, I don`t have cable in my house.
SANCHEZ: And there is a reason for it.
SANCHEZ: I don`t watch it enough to pay that amount of money.
HARRIS-PERRY: But thank God all of you out there in Nerdland have cable in
SANCHEZ: I really (INAUDIBLE). And we have cable where my husband`s home
is, you know ...
HARRIS-PERRY: But that to me - I mean, but that could be said, isn`t that
then the argument for regulation of business? On the one hand, like we
hear that if we had deregulation, we will have competition that will bring
prices down. Cable and telecommunications is kind of the perfect example
of how deregulation does not bring prices down. And you actually see an
inflation of those prices (ph).
MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHEIF, REASON: Deregulation is most difficult in
places that have natural, quote, unquote, monopolies.
WELCH: Let`s set that aside for a second. Deregulation of things like
airlines where there wasn`t any natural monopolies, is opposed, in almost
every case, by the industry being deregulated, right? Because you get to
lock in your profits. Corporatism is a bipartisan affair, 1,000 percent.
"The New York Times" has done a great series this past week about, for
instance, 48 different states give money - tax increment, financing and all
these kind of holidays to Hollywood Studios, for people making audio-visual
entertainment. We are broke, right? OK?
States are specially, state and local governments are broke. Jennifer
Granholm is sitting there and throwing subsidies out to people who are
going to start movie studios in Pontiac. No, it is not going to be a movie
studio in Pontiac. Right? So as soon as we get in the mind-set of where
we are going to be making deals to get jobs, this is what helps to cause
this kind of problem. And with regulation in general, we think, to answer
your question, that if we just regulate this, we are going to, you know,
reduce the influence of corporations being able to write and gain these
regulations. Unfortunately, it is a perpetual surprise to a lot of
progressives. The more that you regulate, especially if the regulations
are complicated or like kicked down a lot of decisions to future regulators
like Dodd-Frank and Obamacare both do, the more the affected corporations
are going to write those rules.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right there. We`ve got much more on this, and
particularly this question of sort of how states and localities are using
these incentives and losing the tax dollars. It`s a critical issue. And
if there is one thing that should give us reason to worry about our elected
leaders, choosing to do the right thing, it can be summed up in two words,
Bob Dole. That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: On Tuesday, Congress once again delivered another sign that
they are not interested in mending their obstructionist ways. Earlier this
week, the Senate was set to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities which has already been ratified by 126 countries
worldwide and seeks to protect 700 million people with disabilities from
discrimination. The convention was based on the landmark Americans with
Disabilities Act, which came to pass with the help of Republican Senator
Bob Dole. The former Senate Majority Leader was on hand to compel his
fellow Republicans to ratify the U.N. treaty. But even an 89-year-old
former colleague confined to a wheelchair couldn`t unblock this party`s
intransigence. 66 votes were required in the Senate to ratify the treaty.
Yet somehow 38 U.S. senators, all of them Republicans, found reasons to
vote against it. They voted against a treaty that said people with
disabilities need to be afforded the same rights as other people. 38
senators voted no. And yet these are the people we`re expecting to do what
is best for the country and find a compromise to avert the fiscal cliff.
How`s that going be working for us? Next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER: There are a lot of things that are possible to put the revenue
the president seeks on the table. But none of it is going to be possible
if the president insists on his position, insists on my way or the highway.
That`s not the way to get to an agreement that I think is important for the
American people and very important for our economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was House Speaker, John Boehner, saying the same thing
he has been saying for weeks and weeks. Here we are, another week closer
to that January 1 deadline and Washington is stuck in the same political
feedback loop with the speaker playing to the podium and the president
playing to the people. Here is President Obama on Thursday in a made for
television photo op with that average middle class family in Virginia.
And it is down to these two men now. At the speaker`s request, the deal
will be hammered out without Senate leaders or Congresswoman Pelosi. It is
now up to the two men that explicitly embody the politics of both sided to
fight to try to reach a deal.
OK. I`m interested in this family that the president went and sat with,
because the Santana and Massenburg family is an inter-generational family.
They live together, the husband and wife and then the mother-in-law, so
they are sitting there, saying it takes all four of us to raise the kids,
it takes all four of us to pay the bills. And I`m thinking, not only have
we moved beyond a time when one income could support an American family, we
are now at a point where four working adults are required. Isn`t this sort
of the bigger issue than where we are on the fiscal cliff?
JOHNSTON: Yeah, if you are a family values person, how can you possibly
support this low wage economy where we are pushing wages down and down?
And we now rank second in the world, in the modern world, only slightly
better than South Korea in the share of our workers with low wages. We
have flooded the market with low wage workers. It is a very serious
HARRIS-PERRY: And this feels to me like where the social safety net
question is coming in. So, if we look at Wal-Mart workers, who are the,
you know, the quintessential sort of low wage workers, the fact is that the
state of California, Congresswoman, ends up paying $86 million in basically
social safety net, right, so food subsidies and the floor that is not
provided by Wal-Mart, the employer. Isn`t this the thing that we need to
be having a conversation about?
SANCHEZ: Yeah, and that`s one of the reasons the Republicans have such a
problem with Obamacare, for example. You know, because we are really
talking about moving away from employer-based, in a sense, you know,
requirement of where you work for your safety net ...
SANCHEZ: ... and really saying everybody should have it and, by the way,
everybody is going to put in towards it, and a lot of employers are having
a problem. Because for once, we are telling them, people need to be
insured. It would have been better in my opinion if it wasn`t a health
care insurance reform.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just health care reform.
SANCHEZ: But this is a route going down towards what we need, which is
that all Americans should have an ability to walk in at a very local arena
and get a physical, get a checkup. And if something is wrong with them,
start down the road to improving their health. And that`s - and when we
see that happen, I mean I can`t tell you how many businesses are scared to
death of the fact that we are finally going to push back on them and say,
you need to also take care of your employees.
JOHNSTON: But Loretta, the better solution is to take this off the back of
small business. My sons and I have a business.
JOHNSTON: It is - why are we spending any of our time dealing with
people`s health? You know, people`s religion, their views of the world,
their race is none of our business, who they love is none of our business,
but their health care is.
Small business people know that this is a terrible burden on them. Let`s
get this off the books of business, where it is inefficient, and on to the
books of society. It`s what every other modern country has done. We spend
per capita in comparable dollars, purchasing parity dollars, $2.64 per
capita for every dollar the other modern countries spend on health care.
And if we just got to the level of the French, who have universal care, no
out-of-pocket costs, and probably the best system in the world, it would be
the functional equivalent of eliminating, almost totally eliminating, the
individual income tax. That`s how much we are wasting.
ULRICH: The idea of entitlement, I hate this word, too, but if you think
about the fact that, you know, they are saying, you know, these folks think
they are entitled to health care, entitled to this and entitled to that,
and you are entitled to a 15 percent tax rate? That`s a subsidy. That is
its own form of welfare. You get to not be taxed. And therefore, we lose
billions of dollars, but you want to make sure that people don`t make the
right wage, don`t have health insurance. But somehow it is OK that you are
paying barely anything in taxes.
HARRIS-PERRY: And not only entitled to a subsidy on the taxes, but
entitled to us subsidizing their low wages, right?
ULRICH: Right. Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we are entitled to enormous profits that are pulled from
the labor value of workers and then through food stamps, through, you know,
through, the provision, and through Medicare ...
HARRIS-PERRY: But we end up literally subsidizing these big corporations
making big profits.
SANCHEZ: But let`s go back to the small business thing. Because I do not
want to leave on this table the fact that somehow small business is going
to be detrimentally affected by Obamacare.
JOHNSTON: Oh I don`t think...
SANCHEZ: How big is your - how big is your small business, let`s say?
JOHNSTON: Well, we only have two people, my two sons, who are covered by
the health care.
SANCHEZ: OK, two people, so if you are a two-person company, you are a
small business person, Obamacare is not going to affect you in any way,
other than the fact that you are going to be able to go either to a small
business thing and actually ...
SANCHEZ: ... as an employer pick up some affordable health care for your
SANCHEZ: ... or if you don`t want to be involved, the individuals will go
to the individual health care insurance place, where they will purchase
their own insurance, but it will be at a level that will be -- that they
will be able to afford.
WELCH: But this thing is still baked into the system? It`s still - yeah,
the fatal flaw of the health industry in this country. It is the World War
II era. You know, the employer has to do this because we couldn`t increase
wages back then. And that was the link. We had an opportunity, I think,
during the Obamacare discussions to break that once and for all, so that we
could take our own health care from A to B to C.
SANCHEZ: But you are looking at company -- you are looking at company --
SANCHEZ: -- universal health care. I just don`t want to leave it out
there in the domain that somehow small business is going to be adversely
affected by this.
ULRICH: No, no, no.
SANCHEZ: I think that small business ...
SANCHEZ: It is going to be positive.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s very positive.
The issue with that small business, small business right now is impacted by
this overall tax structure, which is benefiting the large corporations.
ULRICH: ... their workers with wages, with, you know, lower wages because
health care costs so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, is there any possibility of coming to a political
agreement about these sort of more entrenched, deeper questions? You
talked about the Credit Card Consumer Protection Act.
I mean where are we - is there any possibility ...
JOHNSTON: Not today or tomorrow.
ULRICH: Yeah. Yeah.
JOHNSTON: But if you are going to make change, we didn`t dig ourselves
into this hole overnight. And change takes time. I mean, Elizabeth Cady
Stanton raising her eight children and Susan B. Anthony spent their entire
lives before they got back the right for women to vote. And this will take
time. People have to work at it. But yes, of course, we can change it.
SANCHEZ: You know, and what most people don`t realize is that think about
how -- the amount of money, political money that`s been put against a
person like Nancy Pelosi.
SANCHEZ: Now, Nancy Pelosi, you can say a lot of things, but at the end of
the day, Nancy Pelosi is an Italian-American grandmother.
SANCHEZ: And she carries the values of that, of exactly that. And so,
when you saw -- OK, it wasn`t perfect, but when you saw Obamacare actually
breakthrough and make it ...
SANCHEZ: It was because the burden was on Nancy to pull it through.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s part of what makes me nervous, that Nancy Pelosi is
not at the table.
SANCHEZ: Well, and hello. And that`s why for over and over and over, they
have demonized her and over and over and over they have wanted to eliminate
her. Some even on the Democratic side. Why?
JOHNSTON: Because she ....
SANCHEZ: Because she is actually the values person in the room saying ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. And I want to - I want to - we are going to break
now. But as soon as we come back, I`m going to talk on another value
that`s getting demonized, and that`s about the rights of workers to
organize. My letter is next. And this week, it is to the governor of
Michigan. Why is the birth place of modern labor movement trying to kill
unions when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Washington`s partisan`s stalemate over the fiscal cliff has
left the future of America`s recession-battled middle class hanging in the
balance. But meanwhile, in Michigan, a Republican-controlled government
has had no problems pushing through a different kind of legislation that is
threatening to erode one of the very foundations, upon which the American
middle class was built. Just this week, Michigan`s House and Senate passed
right-to-work bills that would allow private and public sector workers to
opt out of paying union fees in an organized work place. All that`s left
now is a signature from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who has promised to
sign the bill, effectively killing unions in Michigan once it reaches his
desk next week.
I`d like to ask him to reconsider, which is why I am addressing my open
letter this week to him, "Dear Governor Rick Snyder, it`s me, Melissa.
I`ve got to tell you that your decision to pass right-to-work legislation
in Michigan has me feeling a bit of deja vu. After all, before this sudden
change of heart, you were the one who`d previously discouraged your fellow
Republicans in Michigan`s legislature from advancing right-to-work law. It
reminds me at least a little bit of your counterpart in the neighboring
state on the other side of Lake Michigan. Scott Walker didn`t make unions
a big issue in his campaign. But there he was last year leading the charge
to strip Wisconsin workers of their collective bargaining rights.
But a bit of bait and switch isn`t all that the two of you have in common,
is it? Because your push to pass right-to-work in Michigan was launched in
partnership with the same guys who bankrolled Governor Walker`s campaign to
undermine workers rights, the Koch Brothers and their group Americans for
Now, the Koch Brothers also paid big-time into Governor Walker`s campaign.
And as the saying goes, you have to give the devil his due. But you are
your own man, right? There is still time to make a different decision.
After all, this is Michigan we are talking about. I know that 23 other
states already have passed right-to-work laws, but Michigan is the
birthplace of the organized labor movement. Is this really the legacy you
want to leave for the state that gave us the UAW and helped revive the U.S.
You`ve said that this new law is about freedom in the work place. But that
is only true if you mean the employers who are free from the checks and
balances of a strong union to protect the rights of the people they employ.
And that`s only true if you mean restricting the freedoms that all workers
enjoy, thanks to the organizing work of unions, because, you know, like the
freedom to support themselves and their families, thanks to fair wages and
employer-based health care and the retirement benefits or the freedom for
workers to have time to spend with their families thanks to the 40-hour
workweek and paid holidays and family medical leave. All workers rights
that we now take for granted but that we wouldn`t have at all if it weren`t
That`s why you are so off base with your claim that the right-to-work law
would only affect the 17.5 percent of Michigan workers who are still union
members, because the rights that unions fight for are ultimately enjoyed by
all workers, whether they have ever paid a cent of union dues or not.
Governor, you and I both know that when you weaken unions, you also weaken
those rights like benefits and living wage that have been essential to the
survival of the American middle class. You also know that right-to-work
laws decrease union membership, which in turn leads to a drop in middle-
class income. Workers in right-to-work states make an average of $1,500
less in annual income, and are less likely to have pensions or healthcare
benefits. As the middle class struggles to rebound from that recession, I
urge you to not let Michigan be among those states adding insult to injury.
Before you sign that bill next week, think again.
HARRIS-PERRY: As we mentioned earlier, for most Americans, the fiscal
cliff would be more of a slide. If Washington fails to reach a deal by the
end of they year, most of us will feel the impact gradually. But for
millions of Americans, the consequences will be immediate and severe. The
latest job numbers show that while the national unemployment rate dropped
to 7.7 percent, the long-term unemployment numbers, those for whom finding
work has been elusive for six months or more, now includes 4.8 million
Americans. And those folks are at particular risk. That`s because
December 31st is also the expiration date for Federal Emergency
Unemployment Insurance. The program passed into law in 2008 uses federal
dollars to give extra weeks of jobless benefits to unemployed Americans who
have already passed the cutoff for their state benefits. If no deal is
reached, 2.1 million people will see an immediate end to their federal
unemployment benefits and fall over the edge of that cliff without a net.
Back with me are author and law professor, David Cay Johnston,
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and finance expert Carmen Wong Ulrich and
joining us today, for "Below the Line", is Greg Kaufmann, a contributor for
"The Nation." Greg has been one of the most consistent voices on poverty
in America, regularly writing about this issue on his weekly blog at
thenation.com "This Week in Poverty." So Greg, I want to start with you,
because this feels like as much as we keep saying, it`s not really a cliff,
it`s curbs, for these 2 million people, it is a cliff.
GREG KAUFMANN, CONTRIBUTOR, THE NATION: It absolutely is a cliff. And
first, I just want to thank you for your weekly "Below the Line" segment,
because it is a real service. And you were mentioning the 2 million people
who will immediately lose benefits. By the first quarter - end of the
first quarter next year, another 1 million and if we don`t renew the
insurance program, unemployment insurance program, more than 5 million
people next year will lose benefits. And that`s going to have a real
impact from a poverty perspective. In 2002, unemployment insurance kept
3.2 million people from falling into poverty. Last year, 2.3 million.
Part of the reason for that decline is, I`m sure the congresswoman knows,
there was a provision in the Recovery Act that provided an extra $25 a week
for people. That was not renewed.
HARRIS-PERRY: And hundreds of thousands of children are part of that,
right? Because it keeps families ...
KAUFMANN: That`s right. 600,000 - 620,000 people - kids in 2011.
KAUFMANN: So, if we don`t renew the un insurance program -- unemployment
insurance program -- you are going to see that impact in the numbers of
people living in poverty in 2013.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Carmen, this is kind of the ultimate fiscal cliff
ULRICH: This is so much more terrifying to me than the cut of anything
else. Because here is the thing. Even if you are one of those automatons
who doesn`t care about these people ...
ULRICH: ... on the other side of it, we are talking about the economy,
participating in the economy.
ULRICH: You take out $30 billion, which is the money that goes to these
folks, you take that out of the economy, all that money gets spent
ULRICH: If you remove that, you are going to in essence lose. Because
that 30 billion actually turns into closer to $48 billion in terms of
spending, keeping jobs, and not just their jobs, but keeping the jobs of
other workers. And if you think about it, these folks are not sitting
around. The jobs don`t exist. They are not there.
HARRIS-PERRY: And not only they are not sitting around. I love this - we
saw this new research that shows that when people receive unemployment
benefits, they are more likely to be looking for work. Folks who are
receiving unemployment benefits actually spend more hours per day looking
ULRICH: And it`s part of the requirement. It`s a requirement.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Than folks who don`t receive it.
JOHNSTON: Because they will make more money if they can get a job. And
the problem is, we don`t have the jobs. We need to recognize that we have
now 12 years of experience with the Bush tax cuts. We`ve lost almost one
year`s wages over those 12 years ....
JOHNSTON: ... compared to where we were if you adjust for inflation and
the number of people since 2000. It has been an utter failure. And think
about it - we can`t afford a little more tax for people who have more than
enough, but by golly, people who are out of work with children, we are
going to cut $25 a week out of their support. That is immoral, it is
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s tiny - I just want - I want to be really clear that
people know just how small this is. When we looked at average benefits
collected by workers, we are looking at $291 a week, which for most of
these families means not even half of their basic expenses are covered.
This is just keeping people from being - I mean not just below the line,
but so far below the line that it would - is this a place where Democrats
and Republicans can come together in Congress?
SANCHEZ: I come from Orange County.
SANCHEZ: It`s $200 a month - and remember, that`s average. So, if you
were making a lot of money, your payment might be $400 or $500. If you
were barely making minimum wage, your payment might be $100 a month. So,
when you look at the high cost of just housing in Orange County, it doesn`t
cover anything, honestly.
SANCHEZ: I mean, people are really struggling. And I see that. But here
is the problem. I mean we have extended and done this now in the last
three or four years, I think, three times as I recall. I voted each and
every time to help with this. Each time it has become more and more
difficult to find the votes. First of all, and especially in the House of
Representatives. You are going to remember where I work, in the chamber
where I work, the Republicans control it.
SANCHEZ: And what most people don`t realize is to a large extent, the
person who controls the House of Representatives, it`s a win or take all
system, I mean Speaker Boehner has to decide to bring this up ...
SANCHEZ: Speaker Boehner has to decide that a majority of his people will
come on that vote. And we Democrats can certainly help, but he is not
going to bring something to the house floor where it`s, you know, where
it`s 200 Democrats and 19 Republicans, and the rest of his Republicans vote
against it. That`s against his own interests. He won`t be speaker very
SANCHEZ: That`s the reality in which I work. So, then the Republicans, a
majority of the Republicans in the House of Representatives have got to
believe in this. And honestly, they don`t. They don`t.
HARRIS-PERRY: But is there a way to get them to believe in it through the
argument that you make, Carmen?
So, I am almost certain we are not going to get them to believe in it
through - through like, you know, help poor people and poor children. I
mean not - which is not to say that Republicans don`t care about poor
children. But the narrative about how we should care about poor children
is so ...
ULRICH: It is too easy to turn that into kind of welfare and all that
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Welfare discourse, but this language of, like, it
stimulates the economy. Poor families go and spend this money on these
JOHNSTON: Well, this thing is even more efficient. Look what Chris
Christie is trying to do. I think both Cuomo in New York, if he works as
hard as Christie at this, could ride all the way to the presidential
nomination in four years. Getting at the infrastructure. Let`s hire
people to do the work. We`re - our roads are falling apart. Anybody who
goes to Europe knows, they spend twice as much as we do of their economy on
their infrastructure. Our roads are falling apart. I just tried - I had
to pay the pothole tax again and have my car realigned because of a
JOHNSTON: Our bridges are falling apart. We just had a railroad bridge
collapse in New Jersey. Our water mains are falling apart. We are going
to have people killed because we are going to have another Johnstown flood
sooner or later, we are going to have more natural gas pipeline explosions
like the one we had in San Bruno and other places.
HARRIS-PERRY: I hear you. I hear you.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to come back on this, and I hear you. But I
just - I want to be careful we don`t think that unemployed workers are
mostly 40-year-old able-bodied men with the capacity to build roads.
Because so many of them are actually, you know ....
ULRICH: But they are spending that money.
ULRICH: And it turns into $48 billion.
HARRIS-PERRY: As soon as we come back, more on exactly this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Yes. Yes. As soon as we come back, I promise, more
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re talking about the possibility of federal long-term
jobless benefits coming to an end on January 1st. Greg.
KAUFMANN: Yeah, I just wanted to comment off of your point that who are
the long-term unemployed? I mean they are disproportionately older
workers, over 50 ...
KAUFMANN: ... women and minorities. And these benefits are a real
lifeline for them. You know, I talked to a guy - Richard Crow (ph), in
eastern Ohio, who worked for a steel mill for 34 years. New ownership came
in, 13 months later, they declared bankruptcy. Workers` contract got
thrown out in the courts. And he has worked, you know, people - there is
the stigma that people are just sitting around ...
KAUFMANN: He has applied since May for 157 jobs. When he applies to steel
mills, they are hiring 20-year-olds with no experience. When he ...
HARRIS-PERRY: And they are cheaper.
KAUFMANN: Yeah. He went to UPS to apply for a job delivering packages.
The woman looks at his resume and says, wow, you worked in the steel mill
your whole life. He says, yeah. Well, do you have any experience
delivering packages? He said, you know, I wanted to tell her yeah, once a
year, when I dress up as Santa.
KAUFMANN: You know, this is what people are going through.
KAUFMANN: I spoke to another woman, 59-year-old laid off African-American
woman in Colorado Springs, laid off from a senior assisted living facility.
She is - she gets $200 and something a week. She is worried that she is
going to be homeless. That happened to her in 2002.
So we really have to, you know.
SANCHEZ: But it isn`t just women and minorities.
SANCHEZ: I mean, where I come from - and older people. It`s older people,
it really is. After 50, I mean people really don`t want to hire you. I
mean, I do these, you know, in front of the supermarket things, sort of
like the Gabby thing. I mean, she actually learned it from us, right? And
I`m amazed. One time I went and I was in front of a Vietnamese grocery
store, OK, largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam in my district.
And I get there at 9:00. I`d send out notices, I`m going to be in front,
come talk to me. And there must have been, the first 30 people were Anglo
men. Some over 50, the first one says to me, I`ve been unemployed. I need
you to vote to get the unemployment done. I said, yes, we`re going to do
that. He said -- I said, can you tell me, sir, what - you know, where you
come from? He goes, I`m a guitar maker. You know, Orange County, guitars.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
SANCHEZ: And we have got three or four. All of them, of course, have
closed down. Nobody - and I kind of looked at him. I said well, you know.
And he says, I`m a craftsman. I got real skill - yeah, I`m a guitar maker.
I`ve worked for three of the - but everybody is closed down now. And then
he said, and I looked at him, and I just kind of said, well, you know, kind
of like in a recession, people really - that`s a luxury item, a guitar. I
get that. He goes, I have applied all over the place for anything and
everything. And then he said to me, you know, if this runs out, I still
have to feed my family, my wife and my three children. He said, even if I
have to go and steal food or do something, that`s what you do for your
HARRIS-PERRY: And David ....
HARRIS-PERRY: And David, I want to ask you a little bit on this question.
Because before we were talking about states giving away big tax breaks for
so-called to attract business. And part of what`s going on with the
federal unemployment insurance is this relationship between feds and
JOHNSTON: Indeed. The state and the local governments are now giving away
$1,000 per year for every family of four. This is a massive redistribution
program. Now, and let`s not forget that in 2010, the Republicans won
control of the House when they said we`re all about jobs. All we`re
focused on is jobs. Really? I haven`t seen any evidence of that
What we need is a massive jobs program. And two, if we don`t get it in the
next two years, then in two years, hopefully, we will have a Congress that
will say, we have work to be done. We don`t want people to be idle. You
know, minds are a terrible thing to waste and so is labor. We need to put
people to work. But we shouldn`t be at the same time making these
giveaways. And by the way, a lot of these giveaways are designed to
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I want to be really clear. These are giveaways to
the corporations. They are not giveaways to the workers.
JOHNSTON: New York State constitution has an absolute ban on giveaways,
voted in two to 1 in 1846, in 1874, in 1938 and 1967. And we are giving
$1.4 billion at least to the hereditary ruler of Abu Dhabi. And how does
the New York Supreme Court justify this? Well, the state can`t make a
gift, but if it creates an agency ...
JOHNSTON: And gives them the money, it can give it away. And by the way,
if you are a drug dealer, think about that, if you don`t touch the drugs,
apparently, you can get away with it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, and this - I mean this is precisely the point that
like what - who are we subsidizing at this point, are not the poor
families, the unemployed workers ...
JOHNSTON: The plutocrats.
ULRICH: Right. I mean, this your argument, I know what you are talking
about here, we need a stimulus, if anything, in the jobs - for jobs. We
have a couple of million people who have been out of work for a year, and
millions more out of work for six months. They are the last people that
are going to get hired. And this is the thing, they are not just sitting
there. The jobs don`t exist. Economic Policy Institute, there are still,
only one job for three people. You can break that down to maybe one job
for two people, if you want to be a little cynical. What`s going to
happen? If you don`t create the jobs, we cannot get rid of this problem.
And certainly not by cutting the benefits, because then these folks really
do fall off that cliff and are no longer participating in our economy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to David Cay Johnston and to Greg Kaufmann, and
thanks - Carmen, I really, I appreciate that, because it`s -we can look at
the U.K right now and see austerity does not work. Greg and David, you
guys come back at another time. I`m keeping the ladies. Coming up, my
next guest says, we are too high to fail. As Washington state lights up,
are we about to be at the beginning of the end of the war on drugs?
HARRIS-PERRY: History was made on Thursday as Washington state, the state
where I was born, became the fist state to legalize the adult recreational
use of marijuana.
Now, it is still illegal to smoke in public or drive under its influence.
However, that didn`t stop people in Seattle from lighting up by the city`s
iconic Space Needle as smokers celebrated the ground-breaking law after it
went into effect.
It remains to be seen how the White House and Department of Justice will
react as marijuana remains illegal and categorized as a schedule one law.
Although Washington and Colorado were already among 18 states that had some
form of state medical marijuana law.
With the bold new law, the Pacific Northwest pushing the envelope, it`s
possible that many people are fearing this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Damn, all you do is smoke weed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s all right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. People may not be fearing that we are about to become a
nation of smokies from the movie "Friday." But we`ve seen overreaction
before. In fact, a half century prior to President Richard Nixon declaring
the war on drugs in 1971, it was alcohol triggering the moral panic leading
to Prohibition enacted on January 19th, 1920 as a result of the 18th
Prohibition intended to raise our collective character as alcohol was seen
as the root cause of many societal evils. Instead, it resulted in
businesses being close, and $11 billion loss in tax revenue for the federal
government, and it made criminals out of once law-abiding Americans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: As for weeding out the criminals, organized crime thrived. And
by the time Prohibition was repealed, one out of every 40 Americans had a
criminal record. The government finally decided maybe regulating alcohol
was the real ticket to a moral American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, just how did we get to this level of absurdity again?
From Nixon`s the DEA and then there was Nancy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: Not long ago in Oakland, I was asked by a
group of children what to do if they were offered drugs. I answered, just
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Mrs. Reagan, children should say no to drugs, but
should responsible, consenting adults continue to be jailed for minor drug
infractions? Do we ignore the potential benefits taxed marijuana can add
to our economy at a time when the country is still recovering from the
great recession, or do we take steps that mirror the will of the American
people to end the war on drugs, and enter a new era of enterprise that
includes fair and measured drug policy.
At the table: Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of "Reason" magazine, Eugene
Jarecki, director of the documentary, "The House I Live In," which looks at
the failure of America`s drug war; Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez
of California; and Doug Fine, author of the new book, "Too High to Fail:
Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution".
Doug, I want to come to you first on this. What do you think is this new
green resolution that`s possible for us?
DOUG FINE, AUTHOR, "TOO HIGH TO FAIL": Well, in the county where I
followed American cannabis farmers, the value just in this tiny Montecito
County was $6 billion to farmers on the wholesale river. We are talking
about America`s biggest crop. So, we`re looking at $40 billion industry
when the sure nonsense drug war ends, which hopefully will be pretty soon.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the nonsense of the drug war and the one hand, you
pointed out the economic impact and sort of what happens when you look at
that with Prohibition. There`s enormous amount of money that goes out of
the system. But there`s also kind of just sort of another lesson from
Prohibition, part of it is economic. But the other part is about
criminalizing something that is sort of an ordinary practice.
WELCH: We still have more than 700,000 people a year coming face to face
with the justice system in America over marijuana. That is an outrage. It
should be an outrage on everybody`s conscious.
These are people who have criminal record for the rest of their lives. You
won`t be able to get a job. It disproportionately affects poor,
minorities, always has, always will, even though they don`t smoke it any
more than white dudes with beards.
WELCH: It is a shock on our conscious. And what should we be focusing on
right now at this historic pivot point is pressuring politicians, Democrats
and Republicans, in particularly the president of the United States right
now who has a choice how are you going to change your policy, your
enforcement policies in the wake of two states basically succeeding from
your policy and also a majority, a growing majority of Americans who want
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Matt, making this point and using the language of
cessation, I think it`s exactly the moment that always kind of makes me
draw up here, which is to say, look, I normally sit in this seat and make a
pretty strong critique against state`s rights and talk about how state`s
rights have been sort of fundamentally problematic and how important it is
to have a national identity.
And yet, on this one, when I see the DEA, running in to enforce drug
policies on states where you have recreational use of adults in consensual
activity, it does seem like in this moment, maybe I`m a state`s rights fan.
EUGENE JARECKI, FILMMAKER, "THE HOUSE I LIVE IN": Well, this puts us in a
very strange position as a kind of a weird prism on what happened with
Lincoln. Lincoln sought to use the federal government to compel states who
wanted Southern states to keep slaves, to compel them not to keep slaves.
Obama, should he continue the business as usual that they`ve been doing,
which is to exert federal measures over the states to say you cannot
legalize, you cannot pursue drug policies of your own choosing, he would
put himself in a very weird historical position, 150 years later.
Compelling states like Washington or Colorado using the federal government
to, in fact, incarcerate more black people, because what happens when you
have tighter marijuana laws is that, by and large, minorities are targeted
and more and more young black people go to jail.
It`s a terrible moment he would find himself in. And, of course, there`s
all that -- you know, don`t just do something. My hope with Obama is he
takes the opposite advice when you say don`t just do something, stand
HARRIS-PERRY: Just stand there. So, but explain, because I don`t think
that people always understand why it is that you end up with a
disproportionate share of people of color and young people who are
JARECKI: Well, historically, it has to do with the way we police. I mean,
that`s the starting point. Take crack cocaine, for example. We`ve always
historically thought of crack as a black drug. So, we all think --
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s white.
JARECKI: It`s is white, exactly. In use, they always said it was a black
drug. Well, when I was making my film "The House I Live In", I researched
the crack history.
And the reality of crack is it has always been majority used by whites.
Fourteen percent of the country is black, 14 percent of crack users are
black. That leaves whites in the majority of crack using position. Who
would have ever thought?
So, how come when we go into a federal court houses, 90 percent of those
charged with crack offenses are black? That has to do with where the
I`m a white person who lives in a comfortable area. If you take a young
black person who lives in a project, they are swimming in cops all day
long. I live in a comfortable area I can barely find a cop when I need
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Well, this is -- I mean, necessarily with my
experience on even university campuses that you end up with recreational
drug use of various kinds. But nobody thinks, let`s make it clear, nobody
thinks, including me, that it`s a good idea to send police in and drag
students out of dorm, right?
And why do we think it`s a good idea, because we are going to have good
productive lives on the other side of this, and they are just sort of
smoking a little weed in college, everything is going to be fine. But if
you are -- if you are smoking a little bit of weed at the bus stop in a
predominantly black community or on the street corner where you are
visible, then all of a sudden, the policing becomes possible.
WELCH: And let`s remember, in Eugene`s film, which is great, and everyone
should watch it, makes this very clear that history of drug prohibition in
this country is a history of cracking down over disfavored ethnic and
national minorities, period. That is where this all comes from, which
should give us great pause as we think about, you know, having the federal
government try to enforce its own laws over the wishes of states.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me, then about the expense, the cost of this
drug war to us. Is there -- is there a claim here, Congresswoman, that
part of -- as we`re looking at the fiscal cliff about why we should back
off of the drug wars, it`s just too expensive given that it has had very
little impact on, in fact, reducing drugs?
SANCHEZ: Well, I usually don`t try to tack, you now, what is an overall
issue on to something that is happening right now, this fiscal cliff. I
don`t think that`s the way to do it.
What I will say, it`s been pretty obvious that the war on drugs isn`t
working. You know, we`re still at war. We`re not getting anywhere with
So, just as where we were in Iraq and we weren`t getting anywhere, you
know, let`s get out. So, there has to be some change. There has to be
In California, we voted. Of course, you can have a small amount on you and
it`s just a misdemeanor, like running a stop sign. We also put in a law
for medicinal marijuana. And I was for it. I`ve been for it.
I have people -- my mother-in-law died of cancer. She could have used it,
And that also -- at the time, I said, it also gives us an opportunity to do
the pilot project of how do you do this? Do you collect taxes on it? How
do you -- what`s the local regulation? How do you sell it, et cetera?
The unfortunate thing of the experience in California is that the federal
government has come right in the middle of it. It`s gone to landlords and
said, listen, if you don`t get these additional marijuana places out, we`re
going to take over your asset, because this is a cost on drugs and, you
know, that`s it.
I have said to the federal government, to President Obama, you know, get
out of this. Let us take a look at how this works. Let us see if we can -
- if we can do it the right way. And then, maybe we expand it.
Certainly, Washington has taken it much, much further. But I think it`s
important that we try new ways in which to handle this, certainly from an
economic standpoint, we shouldn`t be spending all that. Our prisons are
Even in California, we`re beginning to let go of these drug users earlier
because we can`t afford it and because they are least likely to be -- in
fact, if anything, when we put them in, they become criminals inside
because of the systems --
SANCHEZ: -- they have to live under. So, you know, I have said to
President Obama, why don`t you let us work this out and see what this can
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is the claim of states as laboratories of
experimentation and policy to see what becomes possible. We`ve got
California with medicinal. Now, we have the state of Washington with
Make the claim that you would make to a governor that this is the time for
them trying to think about how to do this in their state.
FINE: Well, here`s a statistic. California collected $100 million in
sales tax from just its small medical cannabis, legal, above-ground
industry. The vast majority of farmers in California, I can tell you from
farming -- from following them, rather, not farming, are not yet in that
So when we`re really fully taxing it, we are talking about a significant,
significant economic boost for the country nationwide.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. And that is a claim I think that a lot of
governors would appreciate. We`re going to stay on this topic.
And up next, how Vice President Joe Biden might just be part of this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a long time ago, we made drugs into this huge
thing and we`ve made this so illegal and we`ve made it such a national
issue, with tough on crime stance, I mean, you can`t get elected if you
don`t profess to be tough on crime.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First, we have to join
together to ensure that drug dealers are punished, swiftly, surely and
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s a scene from Eugene Jarecki`s "The House I Live In,"
with a Joe Biden that many of us may not organize. But the vice president
is the same man that coined the term "drug czar" and has been tough on drug
policy throughout his career. His hard line stance or moral authority
approach to drug policy that has prevailed through 40 years-plus maybe why
last year, nearly 758,000 people were arrested for a marijuana law
violation, 86 percent of them for possession only, and why drug offenders
account for nearly half of the overall federal prison population.
So, yes, the billions of dollars spent annually on the war on drugs is
having results. But are they worth the larger price that is being paid?
So, Eugene, I wanted to look at this because this -- you are right, Matt,
the documentary is incredibly important. When we look at support for the
legalization of marijuana, it`s actually quite high in this country. Right
now, 51 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana in some form.
Only 44 percent are opposed.
And when you break that down by age, it really is about young people. So,
it`s sort of a whole generation of young people regardless of their
ideological affiliations are saying, you know what, it just doesn`t make
sense for us to be in a circumstance where we are criminalizing marijuana.
Is it now, therefore, room for the politicians to start at least with that
little bit of room that the marijuana piece gives us of moving towards
legalization and, therefore, bringing down this drug war?
JARECKI: I think the word legalization is scary for most people. It is
smarter to talk about it as tax and regulate, which is what you saw
happened in Washington state and it`s also how the British look at it.
Portugal decriminalized drugs -- all drugs possession across the board 10
years ago. Every single result in Portuguese society has been a huge
success. Drug use by young are down. HIV rates are down. Violence is
down. And the workload of the criminal justice system has dropped
The huge savings they had from that, they`ve taken just a small part of
that, and made one of the most robust treatment systems in the world,
Portugal`s success, sort of is the symbol to the world right now, where
America is looked at having a very primitive policy in this. Our policy is
tough on crime. We took drug addiction broadly 40 years ago. And instead
of dealing with it as a health matter, we dealt with it as a criminal
Our results, look at them by contrast -- 40 years, $1 trillion spent, 45
million drug arrests. And today, drugs are cheaper, purer, more available,
and in more use by younger and younger people than ever before. So, we
have a record of abject failure.
The only thing it has produce us is made as the world`s largest jailers,
with 2.3 million behind bars. And we know about the disproportion of
African-Americans and minorities in that. So, the real question for me is
this is a giant human rights crisis within America decimating poor
communities across this country now increasingly white communities are
being targeted for methamphetamines and over-the-counter drugs.
So, the question is, you know, this epidemic is an epidemic of man`s
inhumanity, the man here in America. So, we can talk about small marijuana
victories, which are valuable, because they show that the public taste, the
public`s sort of opinion on this has shifted. The public does not want to
use waste billions criminalizing nonviolent people as, though, they were
violent. That`s the key.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so -- and that -- and that public taste is the thing
that makes the political space available, right? I mean, this is what can
make -- even though, I mean, we are playing, you know, Rick James and it`s
kind of silly. But the whole point is that there are very real human lives
at stake here. This is the space where finally we can begin to kind of
make some room.
WELCH: There are numbers that the Obama administration is acutely aware
of. And the number is this: more people in Colorado voted to legalize
marijuana than voted for Barack Obama.
FINE: Including 40 percent of Colorado Republicans.
WELCH: More people voted in Alabama for medical marijuana than for Barack
Obama. That is going to get people`s attention a little bit, as well this
clear majority. It`s like gay marriage. That train is not going back to
HARRIS-PERRY: We are getting to a moment where politicians are going to
have to ask themselves, are you going to be the one known to be the last
one to burn a witch?
SANCHEZ: And it also comes down to empirical evidence. I think we need to
-- if it`s available, we need to have -- be approached with the numbers.
I mean, politicians react to good empirical evidence, because remember, if
you`re talking politics, remember what you have -- you have a law
enforcement, a very powerful based group. It`s very difficult to get
elected in a city, for example, if you don`t -- if law enforcement is
against you. You have law enforcement squarely against legalizing
That`s the viewpoint there. So, if you are talking politics, you know, I
think we have to have the information. That`s why I go back to this --
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask why?
SANCHEZ: -- this make pilot programs to gather the information of, is this
working or isn`t?
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to know why is law enforcement against the
legalization of marijuana. Because -- I mean, I get on the one hand this
sort of this tough guy, I want to save (ph) the cop version. But I also
know a lot of police officers with actually a pretty subtle analysis of the
ways in which their own sort of position, particularly on the ground, is
impacted by these kinds of laws. Why are law enforcement so clearly
JARECKI: Sure. Well, at the individual level, we all know law enforcement
officers who we think very deeply and highly about. That`s not the issue.
It`s a systemic issue.
Police officers across this country are incentivized in their pay packet to
conduct small, petty drug arrests. They get -- they do much better racking
up 40, 50, 60 arrests in the course of a month for some -- jacking somebody
up against the side of the liquor store than they ever will if they
research one crime, one murder, one rape. They might spend a whole month
on that, and only get one sort of --
HARRIS-PERRY: But we could change -- it`s just an incentive structure,
right, that`s changeable.
JARECKI: But it is as it is right now. So, you can`t blame the cops. The
cops are living in a world where they are incentivized to sit in their
radio car and basically wait for petty arrests. Of course, I know it`s
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, absolutely.
FINE: In my -- I live in the border area of southern New Mexico. And the
way that the drug war is fought is what convinced me to write this book,
"Too High to Fail," because my next-door neighbor was a retiree, AARP
member who is growing something like 13 plants. One day, I wake up to the
last scene out of "Goodfellas", there`s helicopter coming in. I thought I
was in trouble for some petition I`d signed against fracking.
It turns out, you know, there`s a massive squad carting this old guy off to
jail. Well, it turns a year later that the mayor of a nearby town,
American town, New Mexico -- Columbus, New Mexico is a card-carrying cartel
member in charge of supplying weapons south of the border to, you know,
facilitate the killing down there. And I realized that as well-intentioned
as law enforcement is, most law enforcement that I dealt with in the course
of researching this book really, you know, are trying to do their best.
But as long as the incentivizing and funding is there, it`s basically law
enforcement bureaucracy and prison bureaucracy that we fund to basically
lose this war. All it does is jack up prices.
HARRIS-PERRY: And when we come back, we`re going to take a break. We`re
going to back because the fact is I`m kind of a square on this. It`s
Nerdland. I`m actually a bit of a nerd. We`ll talk about that when we
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUG BENSON, ACTOR: You know how going into this thing I thought that by
day 30, I would be so sick of pot and being high and just be dying to be
done with it or at least take a break for a little while, you know? But,
I`m sitting here, it`s 4:20, and I`m about to light joint number two.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was comedian Doug Benson, who was the subject offer the
2007 film "Super High Me," a rip on Morgan Spurlock`s "Super Size Me."
In the documentary, Doug, who was already a pot smoker, gets clean by going
off marijuana for 30 days and then he fires up all day, every day from
morning until night for a full month. Instead of feeling sick and tired of
pot, he is raring to go for more.
It`s good comedy, but I have to tell you, the film made me feel like it was
a bit of a cautionary tale because although Doug was great, I also felt
like he was not the most motivated guy in the world. And the fact is I`m
sort of a nerd on this, like I`m not actually a user myself, never have
been. But it just feels like the consequences are so enormous.
SANCHEZ: Well, you know, you are talking to somebody, that I don`t even
drink alcohol, let alone do any type of drugs. So, I`m sort of a square on
these things, too.
We talked before about the politics. I said, you know, law enforcement is
a big thing. But it`s also another class of people. And, again, it goes
back to this empirical evidence. I think, why it is important to have
maybe a pilot program to actually gather the information we need to make a
case one way or the other.
The whole issue -- and I saw this in one of my best friends who was
definitely a pothead. The more they smoked, the less motivated --
honestly, the less motivated they were. A person who had everything going
for them, I mean, in the long-run, ended up just hanging out at home
smoking pot, smoking pot, smoking pot, all day long, all the time.
Couldn`t get enough of it. They went on and on and on for years. I mean,
they are now dead.
So, you know, that`s just one little case. So you can`t say, but there`s a
whole group of people that say, look, this is an addiction. It leads to
harder things. I don`t know if that`s true or not.
So, again, you know, getting the sort of evidence that we need --
SANCHEZ: -- to say one way or the other, no, it`s not going to lead.
Maybe that person was --
SANCHEZ: There`s particular personality would have done that anyway in
some sense. I don`t know.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s the moral panic that underlies that 41 percent and
still sort of unwilling to talk about the economic benefits, the
incarceration issues, right?
FINE: I think that anything can be abused. If we take our obscene drug
war budgets, cut them by 90 percent and spend the rest of that on true
education and treatment-based models, the people that are prone to
addictions, for whatever it is, whether it`s alcohols, our real epidemic is
prescription pill abuse. If we can really target these educational and
treatment angles, then we are going to have less examples of what the
congresswoman is talking about.
Also, for those who are not themselves feeling connected or interested in
the debate, two examples of why I still think it`s important for all of
Americans to support ending the drug war. One is from a public safety
standpoint, a public health standpoint. As a father, in my border region,
again, in New Mexico, the number one thing that will increase public safety
in my region is stopping the border violence that goes on with this crazy
The second thing is, it is not as talked about as the social, medicinal
side of cannabis, but the industrial cannabis, North Dakota is -- can`t
wait to get planting hemp again. And it`s actually --
HARRIS-PERRY: And you can make all sorts of stuff out of it.
FINE: Biofuel. My shirt today, by the way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is a hemp shirt.
FINE: It`s a hemp shirt.
Well, bio fuel is a potential to really reduce, significantly -- and
there`s a study out of Oregon state on this -- significantly reduce
America`s dependence on foreign petroleum from hemp as a biofuel.
WELCH: You know, in fairness to some (INAUDIBLE) -- this case is very
WELCH: You know, they are talking about heroin, in addition to two other
kinds of drugs. And use went down.
WELCH: It`s not that -- Ron Paul, of all people, made an interesting point
that one of the presidential debates, it is not the law that`s preventing
you from doing this. We have a sense that like we need a law to tell us
whatnot to do.
Well, if you go to college, you`re going to be exposed to pot without a cop
in the room. It`s just going to happen, and you might inhale. You didn`t.
But other people did. And you know, it`s just going to happen.
So, that`s not the thing that`s not the law that`s stopping you from doing
that. And removing that law is not going to, I don`t think, cause a flood
of people to come in. If they do, it`s a drug that is much incredibly less
dangerous than other drugs, including alcohol.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Including alcohol, and in fact, one of the things --
there is a former prohibition in this country on alcohol. It occurs from
the ages of 18 to 21 when you are old enough to serve your country or vote
but you are not allowed to drink. We know that that is also when, in those
years, we are likely to see the most abuse, when young people are kind of
underground with it. We have that example right here.
JARECKI: I think this comparison to alcohol is probably the best place to
come to in this whole discussion of illegal drugs in this country. Alcohol
is, by every standard, far more destructive to personal health, public
health and public safety, than any of the drugs, even the most severe drugs
on the schedule of illegal drugs in this country. It has a track record
that dwarfs the track record of heroin, dwarfs the record of
methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, et cetera.
So, the real question we`ve asked ourselves is we already had prohibition.
Then we realized it was a total disaster, like we have now put ourselves in
again. Back then, we scrambled for a new system. And the system we came
up with was we regulate alcohol, we tax it and we regulate it.
And what that means is that children cannot consume it.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right.
JACKERI: It`s illegal to sell it to a child.
JACKERI: A grown-up can use it responsibly. But if you go out and you
hurt somebody, you kill somebody with your car.
JACKERI: If it turns out you were drinking, that`s going to be an
aggravating prosecutorial factor.
JACKERI: Why is it that we take less dangerous drugs in this country like
down to marijuana and we treat them more severely than the incredible
horror of alcohol, is astonishing to me. So, let`s unify. Let`s have one
standard, which is a tax and regulate standard and let`s create a serious
education and treatment system in this country so that we can rival a
country like Portugal when we should be leading the world, not following
HARRIS-PERRY: And we`re going to -- I am going to let you lead this
conversation on that. That`s critical and crucial point.
Thanks all the guys for coming. And nobody even brought me a brownie.
The congresswoman is going to come back for some more.
But after the break, let`s talk about sex. Tony Award winner Eve Ensler
joins us at the table. Pot and sex in one day. We`re winning the culture
HARRIS-PERRY: Eve Ensler is having a tough time. The Tony Award-winning
playwright famed for writing "The Vagina Monologues" is reportedly having
issues with her e-mails. In that every morning, she wakes up with messages
that detail the stark brutalities that women face.
Messages like this statistic, one in every three women around the world
will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. Or this woman, one woman in four
has been abused during pregnancy. And we told you last week, a new CDC
report reveals that 6.7 percent of the estimated 1.1 million people in the
U.S. living with HIV in 2009 were young people, ages 13 to 24.
So, how do we raise awareness and create ways to change these numbers?
For Eve Ensler, part of the response is to write. Her latest play is
called "Emotional Creature", and focuses on six young women from around the
world living through adolescence and all the turmoil that comes with the
right of passage.
The show on stage now in New York consists of original monologues,
educating us on the struggles young women go through just being young
We welcome the Eve Ensler, and one of the very talented stars from
"Emotional Creature", Ashley Bryant.
Good morning to both of you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I got to see the play. And I just kept thinking to
myself that there was an aspect that is good, old-fashioned sex ed, like
you look at those statistics that you see on the regular basis and I think
part of this is girls having so little information and feeling so terrified
by the world that they are facing when it comes to the questions of sex.
EVE ENSLER, TONY AWARD-WINNING PLAYWRIGHT: Totally. I think my experience
is, it doesn`t really matter where it is in the world. It`s everywhere.
We don`t talk about the things that most matter to girls and boys.
ENSLER: But we don`t teach girls what sex is. We don`t talk about sex.
There is so much shame surrounding it.
And so, we leave girls highly unprepared to leave reasonable and realistic
and informed choices, which lead them to bad choices.
ENSLER: Which lead them to undo their lives in multiple ways.
HARRIS-PERRY: Shame is such a good -- great word to use there because the
play is constantly moving back and forth on that question of like very
frank talk on the one hand. But, then, also, this sense of like adolescent
shaming on the other hand.
ASHLEY BRYANT, ACTRESS, "EMOTIONAL CREATURE": Absolutely. I think this
play is a really exciting way. We`re having a lot of fun. It`s really
accessible that girls and boys can come and watch and learn and be informed
in an entertaining, fun environment, and in a safe environment, where they
can take that, what they have learned from the show and then go have
HARRIS-PERRY: But it is also a tough environment. I think you, this is
part of -- I e-mailed you before I went to see it. I said, I have a
daughter that`s almost 11. Do you think I ought to bring her? And you`re
like, I`m not sure. When I thought it, I saw exactly, I`m not sure,
because some of it is tough, some of what happens to girls in the world is
ENSLER: No, you know, I think it`s interesting. I think girls 12 and over
should see the play. But I was just doing the 1 billion rising tour that
we will talk about. I was in Mexico City. I was with one of the women
there that is fighting sex trafficking and human trafficking which, by the
way, worth $6 billion a year, you know, industry. We were just walking
down the streets. There were girls, 9, 10, 11, 12, who had been sold, who
had been kidnapped, who had been raped 60 times a day.
So, the kind of lives of women, girls across the planet is so varied. But
it`s all part of the same story, girls not having agency over their bodies.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And that`s what I thought. Like on the one hand,
you`ve got these monologues that are often global girls telling about
horrific conditions like that sort of sexual slavery. The very next scene
might be dealing with teen pregnancy here in the U.S. and yet you feel the
BRYANT: Yes, those stories, they do all connect. It is an experience of a
girl. Do you know what I mean? And so, that`s where they come together.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the fun part felt like -- it`s really the language of
mime. That the fun part is the extent of one`s -- you know, something
about your body, once have empowerment over it, then, all of a sudden, the
world is not like sex is scary and bad and horrible and victimizing. But
sex is kind of interesting and enjoyable and, you know, something to be
BRYANT: And I am in control of my body and this is for me. And that`s a
really important message that this play brings, too. That what I do, what
I think, what I feel, who I love, it`s not for anyone else. It`s for me.
BRYANT: And I get to make those decisions.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ll pick up on exactly that same topic as soon as we come
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRYANT: My short skirt is not proof that I am stupid or undecided or a
malleable little girl. My short skirt is my defiance. I will not let you
make me afraid. My short skirt is not showing up. This is who I am before
you made me cover it or tone it down. Get used to it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s a song called "My Short Skirt" featuring Eve Ensler`s
Broadway play, "Emotional Creature," and sang by Ashley Bryant and her
Joining us back at the table is Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez from
California, and personal finance expert and more importantly, in this case,
mom, Carmen Wong Ulrich.
You know, look, you and I have talked at this table before about having
young daughters and the sense like part of what we are up to in parenting
is trying to address these very questions.
ULRICH: Absolutely. And, you know, I`m the product -- you have two
Latinas on the panel.
So, you know, sex in a Latina household is nothing. Don`t get pregnant,
OK? If you get pregnant, I kill you. That was it. That was all we
SANCHEZ: I got -- from my father, I got, sex is good just be safe. And
from my mother, I got, don`t you dare do anything. You don`t.
ULRICH: I also went to Catholic school. So "Cosmo" magazine was pretty
much where I learned things.
To kind of tie it into the sense of self-worth, though --
ULRICH: I have to say that, two, in the culture I grew up in, what I saw
was beautiful women that didn`t have a problem wearing certain things and
wearing makeup and also being strong and having some power within
themselves. I think of that as a huge advantage.
And, you know, now, my daughter wants the Barbies and the Bratz and all of
that. But I did, too and I didn`t see it, though, as objectification.
Instead, I saw it as this one is going to be the CEO and this one is going
to own the business.
So, it`s very much play acting.
HARRIS-PERRY: There is a great skit in "Emotional Creature" about Barbie
and girls relationships with their Barbie and the way in which they worship
them initially and then cut their off. I used to marry my Barbie off to
Chewbacca from "Star Wars". But it really is part of question of managing
these images that we get as young women.
ENSLER: Yes. My experience talking to girls is that the images they get
are so distorted and so not about who they are. We were talking last
night. I was out for dinner with my friend.
We were just talking about who is growing up now in this country without
body issues, without anorexia, about insane notions of what women looked
like, what you are supposed to look like. And that`s actually connected to
ENSLER: Because if we were in our full sexual selves, and we were brought
up without chain, we were actually educated about our bodies, we would: a,
like out bodies a lot better, we would know we had agency over our bodies,
we would know we could determine who did what and when to our bodies. But
because so much of it is in the dark, and then we get feed these distorted
images about Barbie.
ULRICH: This is what scares me, is now I see what -- for example, my
brother has three daughters. They get together and they have a Kindle.
Next, they are watching videos -- music videos.
And I`m just -- I`m horrified. What kind of -- the imagery, the depth of
it is so different for this generation as to how deep and ugly it can get.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Congresswoman, it feels to me that like part of -- given
our young ladies are going to encounter these images, that one of the
things we want to do is arm them with common sense, nonthreatening sex ed
early on so they know their bodies and what makes sense and what doesn`t.
What`s the likelihood of -- I mean, you were telling me just before the
break, there is this hyper locality in California. Great state laws but
then it turns out funny at the local level.
SANCHEZ: We have great laws but it`s always about the implementation,
right? And in my particular area, of course, Orange County, California,
considered to be pretty conservative, and, you know, over time, have been
taken over by abstinence-only type of people and those are types of
policies that have been pushed through.
We`ve pushed back. We`ve got a state law that helps us to push back. But
it`s always -- you always have to be on top of it to see how it`s really
being implemented in the classroom. And, you know, I understand mothers
who say, hey, listen, you know, I don`t want my 9-year-old to know about
sex. Maybe that`s too young.
I mean, physiologically, we know, kids are becoming women much, much
quicker than when we were at that stage. So it`s really about how you do
it, when you do it and hopefully we have got good capsules that teachers
can use to get that information, too.
But we`ve all gone through this. I mean, when you are talking about
playing Barbies. You know, I had girlfriends who wanted to have the best
dress on the Barbie, right?
I mean, when I played Barbies, everybody had to have a job. I was the
banker. I had the Monopoly. I controlled the situation.
And yet, knowing where I wanted to go, knowing I was going to do something
with life and everything, at age 16 through age 27, 11 years, I was
anorexic. I mean, I still am anorexic. Once an anorexic, always an
anorexic, it`s a reality of it. Most anorexics don`t live to my age, to
tell you the truth.
But -- so body image and where we get those. We used to get it from
magazines. You know, I got it because I`ve got curves. I`m a Latina.
I`ll admit it. My girlfriends were German-Americans, and they were taller,
My dad used to sit me down and say, you have curves. You are Mexican. You
are born -- you are just different. You cannot be like them. And yet, you
can`t see that when you are young.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s the other skit I really love, where you are all there
in a global on-the-web anorexia site.
BRYANT: Absolutely, yes.
So in that particular scene, we are all talking about from different
places, talking about how our struggles with our different eating
disorders. I like that piece, because it`s funny and it`s upbeat but it`s
real, you know?
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s real.
And I think that for me, Eve, is what I so appreciated. There`s -- there
is a reality and a frankness to this.
More in just a moment, but first, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH
ALEX WITT". Hi, Alex.
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: All right. Melissa, thank you so much. I`m
loving this conversation. But, anyway, we have several reports on the
Supreme Court taking up the same-sex marriage question, including what it
means for marriage equality. Could it soon become the law of the land?
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter recently went to China. You might find
it hard to believe the number one question the Chinese are asking about.
Also, in office politics, my conversation with two-time Pulitzer Prize-
winning columnist Nicholas Kristof. He tells me how he managed to get into
Syria recently, and about one item in his office that`s supposed to make
And while there`s an enormous planet supposedly this way, the Mayan
calendar predicts December 21st is doomsday. NASA is going to say it`s all
myth and we`re going to tell you why. I have been too weird about it, but
in case any of you are.
HARRIS-PERRY: I figure I`m just going to run up all my credit cards for
HARRIS-PERRY: Carmen is yelling at me. I`m not.
WITT: Until the 22nd.
HARRIS-PERRY: Until 22nd, I`m just saying if Earth is going to end. Thank
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming up: how three college students changed the lives of
thousands by getting them some raises. Our foot soldiers are next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Maristella Castro (ph), Heather Paulson (ph), and Layla
McCabe (ph), are the very definition of foot soldiers. These young
California women are college students at San Jose State University who
turned a class project into an effective movement for change.
Listen, their professor told them find a way to make the world a better
place. So after some research, the students learned that San Jose is among
the top 10 most expensive cities to live in, but the minimum wage is only
$8 an hour.
The students decided it was time for a change. They learned that in San
Francisco, the city had raised the minimum wage in 2003 and determined that
San Jose should do the same. They got more students involved. Attended
city hall meetings and met with city council members.
And with the aid of their professor, Scott Myers Lipton (ph), the students
got in touch with the South Lay Labor Council, a group that represents 90
The labor council recommended that the students raise some money and do
some polling -- so they did. The students raised $6,000 and hired a
polling agency, which found that about 70 percent of people polled were in
favor of increasing the city`s minimum wage.
Then the unions got on board. They pledged $100,000. But the students
didn`t just hand off the fight. No, no, in order to qualify for the
November ballot, the campaign needed 20,000 signatures. Within five weeks
and with the help of the labor council the students had 36,000 signatures.
And when they gathered in front of the statue on their campus, a San Jose
State alum and Olympic legend John Carlos and Tommy Smith, they raised
their fists in the air, took off their shoes and marched barefoot to
deliver the signatures to city hall.
They didn`t stop then! Their coalition grew as churches and non-profits
joined in the effort.
And the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce also took notice. They started
pouring money in against the campaign. The mayor of San Jose was against
it, the California Restaurant Association was against it.
But the students didn`t stop. They kept on fighting. And they won.
The ballot measure passed with 59 percent of voters making San Jose only
the fifth city in the nation to implement its own minimum wage increase.
Early next year, San Jose, California, minimum wage will rise from $8 an
hour to $10 an hour -- an increase that will further continue as the
consumer price index goes up, all because three college students decided to
do something, not just study something but do something to make a
For showing how a class project can change the lives of tens of thousands,
Maristella Castro, Heather Paulson and Layla McCabe are our foot soldiers
of the week.
And that is our show for today. Thank you to Eve Ensler, and Ashley Bryan,
Congressman Sanchez and Carmen Wong Ulrich.
And also thanks to you at home for watching.
Tune in tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. We`re going to be looking
at the Supreme Court`s historic move to take up the issue of marriage
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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