January 6, 2013
Guests: Howard Dean, Howard Mielke, Jennifer Sacheck, Jacquie Berger, John Rowley, Kasim Reed, Kevin Drum
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question: "Who is
profiting from your new year`s resolution to lose weight?"
Plus, the one element that could be causing everything from high prime
rates to lower IQs.
And the war on poverty, then and now.
But first, are the Democrats ready to get this party started?
Good morning, I`m MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY.
In two weeks, President Obama will take the oath of office for a second
term and move forward with one eye on the political moment of the day and
the other on the political legacy of a lifetime.
But in four years, when the time comes to hand over the keys to the White
House to the successor, so too, will the president be passing on his role
as the head of the Democratic Party. Strong multi-term presidents like
Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan left behind empowered coalition
that continued with electoral victories without the charismatic leader who
helped forge the original alliances.
President Obama`s obligation is to ensure a Democratic Party strong enough
to stand on its own after he`s no longer there to support it. And quite
frankly, without the president to lean on, the Democrats are looking a
little wobbly at the moment.
Right now, the Democratic Party is basking in some residual warm and fuzzy
left over in the wake of the president`s re-election. In December, the
Gallup survey showed that 51 percent of respondents gave the Democratic
Party a favorable rating compared to just 43 percent from the GOP.
But, that`s only temporary. In fact, before the election, you have to go
all the way back to the summer of 2009 to find a time when Americans
weren`t just as disgusted with Democrats as they are with Republicans. So,
the president has his work cut out for him. And while, there are certain
oval office predecessors that he can turn to for guidance for true
expertise on remaking the party, there`s one American icon that President
Obama needs, Martha Stewart. Because no one knows more about party
planning than Martha.
So, for starters, if I were Martha, I would tell the president, a good host
never leaves his party unattended. Rule number one, remain present. Also,
never ever be so consumed with hosting the party that you forget to chill
out, relax and enjoy it. If guests pick up on your stress, they are not
going stick around.
So, if President Obama can make governing look like a good time, he`s
actually much more likely to attract smart, thoughtful, young people who
pursue elected office and keep the Democratic Party going strong.
And be a gracious host. Don`t keep the secret ingredients of that
delicious bean dip to yourself. President Obama is still holding on to the
coveted data base of 16 million voters, volunteers and donors. But, he has
got to share if he wants to keep the party going.
Next, pick a theme. (INAUDIBLE) wearing 20s black tie dinner or a toga
party kegger? Any strong political party must articulate its goals with a
clear, concise and memorable message that signals the vision for 2016 and
Now, here`s a known secret that only the best party planners know, don`t do
it alone. Delegate a few friends, you know, to pick up the ice or plates
and cups. The president needs to identify his field lieutenants to do the
grunt work of building up the party. That means running for office, or
searching for viable candidates to run in 2014 or 2016, building local
party organizations and crafting a cohesive legislative policy agenda on
state and county levels.
Now, once you have done all of that, you still want to make sure that your
party is unforgettable. So, don`t be afraid to shake things up and do
something different. Swap out all your regular light bulbs for the black
light and turn your party into a groovy shack.
Honestly, Newt Gingrich was quite a genius at this. Presentation matters.
Thinking differently about your party also applies to your guests.
Inviting broad, diverse group of people and make sure everyone doesn`t
already know each other. The Democrats need to continue pursuing the
diverse big tense coalition that re-elected President Obama and not just in
solidly blue territory.
Not to be forgotten, music. The fuel to keep a good ranger in full
throttle. Start off with a mix of low key tunes, pumping up the volume and
getting the tempo gradually going until you reach the height of the party
with a song that gets everyone on the dance floor, you know, probably a
And last but not least, make sure that you have food, lots and lots of it
to keep the dancers energized while they are out there. In other words, to
build the cohesive and engaged membership, the Democratic Party has got to
provide training, connections, opportunities to come together for
networking and of course, money. Money, money, money, money to pay for all
All that`s left to do is figure out the Democratic sound track for 2014 and
beyond. And voila, you have the recipe that would make Martha Stewart
proud. They would have put together a party that people will still be
talking about for years and maybe even decades to come.
Here at the table, the mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, Kasim Reed; Kevin Drum,
the political blogger for "Mother Jones"; Karen Finney, former DNC
communications director and now MSNBC political analyst; and John Rowley, a
Democratic strategist and media consultant at Flecher Rally Media.
So nice to have you all here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I`m going to start with you, Karen, because I mean, this
is the deal. On the one hand, we have re-elected President Obama as a
country that`s a step toward sort of continuing his policies.
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: But the question of legacy is really a question of the
strength of the party. What is President Obama likely to leave behind?
FINNEY: Well, I think you mentioned the number of the key things. And I
think if my former boss, Howard Dean, had the right description, and it was
exactly a lot of things you talked about that build the party from the
ground up. Making sure the grass roots is strong, making sure that we are
filling our bench of talent, whether -- and that means mayors, that`s
governors, that`s state legislative races because as we know in the
legislatures, that`s where a lot of legislation gets passed that actually
really impacts, hello, can you say vaginal probe.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Exactly. They can say that in Virginia, we know
FINNEY: Right. But so, really making sure that the pipeline of talent.
But also, you know, in terms of the technology and the data bases and the
expertise, I mean, leaving the DNC, the actual infrastructure in place and
available to candidates and available to the party infrastructure is really
critical. And the best example I can give you of where that failed, is
look what happened to the Republicans.
Karl Rove, I mean, when he was running the Bush campaign, their technology
was state of the art. And yet, it is the RNC, they didn`t have that this
time. They didn`t even have what he had this time. So, and they never
built on what they have. So, it`s not just about what do we have now, but
how do we make sure that going forward, we are continuing to build for the
And the last thing I would say is money, money, money. Make sure the bills
are paid and make sure there is money in the bank.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, I want to go to you on exactly this point,
John. Because it does feel to me like this issue of technology as part of
it, this notion that we have a fast moving technological world that impacts
our politics. So, it`s not just running the old fashioned commercials,
although that is part of it. But, all these other aspects, you run
campaigns. What are the things in terms of the technological aspects of
building this party they need to have their eyes on?
JOHN ROWLEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think one thing that Jim
Messina talked about is they threw out the `08 model and really rebuilt
this campaign. And I think this is an important, intelligent, it is
somewhat ideological discussion as well of not just building on what you
have but think about how the future is going to be different and then
And I think the other thing, when you think what are the weaknesses of the
party right now, you look, we don`t hold Congress in the state legislatures
who really got it handed to us in 2010, how do we rebuild at that level?
And there`s a little bit of an ideological sorting out that we need to
have. In the late `80s and early `90s, the moderates turned on the left of
our party. Now, I think how do we bring in? What does the DLC Democrats
that the blue dogs and moderates look like when we want to take back
legislatures, elect governors, and things like that.
And so, I think, we not necessary that we compromise our principles, but
when you are talking about the big ten, we want to be diverse. But,
there`s an ideological diversity that we really - we are less diverse than
three or four years ago.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mayor, this is, I mean, this is the question of the
Democratic Party in the south, right? And so, when we look at the
Democratic Party in the south, basically, it looks like you. It looks like
mayors, it looks like folks who are in, you know, some local and state
But when we look at the gubernatorial seats in this country, we still have
30 seats held by Republicans at the statewide level across the country.
Only 19 Democratic governors. When we think of who becomes president in
this country, governors and vice presidents, to the most part, end up
becoming president. How do we build a Democratic Party in the south
without giving up, as John was pointing out, civil rights, women`s
reproductive rights and yet, build a big tent?
MAYOR KASIM REED (D), ATLANTA: Well, I would remind us of one word, work.
That`s what`s ahead of us. We have a path. We have seen nationally that I
think the presidency favors Democrats. But, the real work is going to be
exactly where you pointed out, state legislatures. In 2010, we vizierate
at the gubernatorial level.
REED: So, we were very close in governors but in 2010, we got killed. And
so, we have to build that back and then, we need to put together a concrete
plan to take the house. We also have to stay in the future business. By
that, the Republicans continue to practice the politics of subtraction.
And that`s a losing strategy nationally. But, it hasn`t impacted them as
much locally. So, it`s going be up to local Democrats to focus on the fact
that we are the one who is care about the middle class. We are the ones
who don`t encourage vaginal probes for women --
HARRIS-PERRY: Unless they want them.
REED: We are the ones who try to make sure African-Americans have the
right to vote. We are the ones who believe in the dream act. We are the
ones who believe in inclusion for gay and lesbians.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it`s like a kind of messaging piece that you are
suggesting. You know, so, I get that. And I get that the messaging is
part of what a strong party does. It actually helps t delaminate the
But, I`m also wondering, part of it is just the bench, right? So again,
the 30 governors versus 19 governors. But the other thing is when you
start hearing people talking about 2016 and who is going to run, you hear
Hillary Clinton, you hear Joe Biden. And I`m thinking, I mean, I both
appreciate and like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, but that sounds to me
like our bench is not very deep on the Democratic side.
KEVIN DRUM, POLITICAL BLOGGER, "MOTHER JONES": No, it is probably not.
But you know, I would take a little bit different tact on it. I think
that, you know, Barack Obama has a lot of skills, a lot of talents. But,
party building has never been one of them. And I think that, you know, to
build a party, it`s us. It`s not Barack Obama who is going to do it. It`s
all liberals. It is going to a come at is. It is going to be a grass
roots effort. It is going to come from the ground up. You know,
historically, the Democratic Party has been strong when it`s built on the
back of labor.
Now, 50 years ago, union density was, in the private sector, was 30
percent. That`s never coming back. Labor is important, but it is not a
huge national powerful national force anymore. We need to figure out a way
to get back to that. We need a base of the party, which is solely focused
on the middle class and on workers. You know, we have a party that
represents business interest. So, we don`t need two parties that do that.
DRUM: And right now, the Democratic Party is sort of schizophrenic. Yes,
we are the party of the middle class, but also, we are always kind a
looking behind our shoulders.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to let you in here as soon as we come back.
Because we do have your former boss is going to join us right now as soon
as we come back after the break. The ultimate political party planner,
former DNC chair Howard Dean is going to join us. We will get him and
Karen talking about how to get this party going.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back talking about what the Democrats need to do to
build a strong party even after President Obama has left office.
Joining our discussion is someone who knows all about how to put together a
solid party because he spent his tenure as the head of the Democratic
National Committee working to do just that. Joining from Burlington,
Vermont is the former governor of that state, who also of course was
chairman of the DNC from 2005 until 2009, Howard Dean.
Nice to have you.
FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN (D), VERMONT: Thanks for having me on. And thanks
for Karen for beating me over the head until I did get on.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. She is a friend of Nerdland, there`s no doubt
DEAN: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to talk about the 50 state strategy, which is
obviously sort of the branded piece that came along with your tenure of
leadership. But also, you got a lot of pushback from within the party
about saying we have to take this thing national.
DEAN: Yes. Well, look, the Washington party rarely gets what`s going on
elsewhere. Washington is disconnected from the rest of the country. You
know, they are smart, hard working people. But, I think it`s one of the
reasons that it was a great idea that President Obama ran his campaign from
Chicago. You just don`t get what goes on in the rest of the country when
you are in Washington.
And so, it`s not surprising they want to do things it old fashioned way.
In order to build a party, you have to be everywhere. And one of the
reasons that we got clobbered in legislature is not just low turnout and
then off your elections. It`s because our party`s have gotten weak again
in the state level. But, DNC needs to help state parties and then they
train them, as we did. But, they also need to make their own - let them
make their own decisions. People from Kansas know how to win in Kansas.
And people from Washington don`t know how to win in Kansas.
HARRIS-PERRY: I was going to - one of my task as a college professor is to
find every young person who is sitting in my classroom who might have an
ounce of talent, Democrat, Republic and male, female and say have you
thought of running for office? And you know, I tend to say to them, voting
is like the brushing your teeth of democracy. But running for office is
really engaging. How do we get young people, you know, running for
everything from dog catcher to the White House? How do we get that bench
DEAN: Well, you know, things have changed a lot in the last eight or ten
years since I ran for president. That`s what I said because I didn`t say
brushing your teeth, but I said basically, you got a "d" for voting.
That`s the bare minimum. If you really want to do something, you have to
either run or work in like somebody`s campaign and so forth and so on. The
problem is, that`s a lot less salable now because of the sclerosis in D.C.,
young people find that they can change the system without bothering with
There are kids all over this country who are changing schools in the worst
neighborhoods in the country, who are going abroad to run their own foreign
aid programs, independently of the government.
You know, government really is broken. It is not just because people
scream at each other in Washington. It is because you have a small group
of ideological right wingers abandoned by a Supreme Court thinking money
makes the country run. And so, government is unattractive to young people
now. And it`s not going to get attractive to young people until we get
some really reform. And the only way to get reform is to put Democrats in
office because Republicans, of course, would like to go back to the `30s, I
mean, the 1830s by that.
FINNEY: So, governor, I`m going brag on you a little bit. Because part of
what I think was effective was first of all, you know, his idea was we have
to have a business plan for this party. We have to be able to show and get
out of thinking cycle-to-cycle and think long term for the party. So, that
is how you build a bench. It is your - and that`s how you think about, I
mean, Governor Dean was the one in `05 thinking about hey, redistricting in
2010, we are going get screwed if we don`t think about it. And a lot of
people in Washington like, that`s you know, five years from now, who cares.
Guess what, now, we are living that, you know, because we didn`t pay
attention as close as we should.
But the other thing Governor Dean always talks about, I think, is this idea
of the national party sort of showing up and standing up of our values.
For showing up also means, and this is very critical for the Democratic
Party. In the African-American and Latino communities, we will not have,
likely, an African-American at the top of the ticket in the next
presidential election. We have made huge gains with African-Americans and
Latinos. But we know that the Republican Party is going to go after them.
We can`t afford to show up two weeks before the election, which is in our
past. It`s something the governor was committed to doing and reaching out
to people of faith. And so, others who, maybe share a values but are not
necessary the most obvious alliances.
ROWLEY: And we have talked of tactics, but candidates, candidates,
candidates. Because, you know, like any coach knows you are a better coach
when you have a great talent on the floor.
DRUM: That`s right. That`s true.
ROWLEY: And so, we need - I mean, one thing there`s not been a lot of
focus on is developing leaders, developing talent, generating a bench and
getting people of a different profile. I love working for attorneys who
are state legislatures and others, but let`s get more military veterans,
people that are entrepreneurs, community organizers and the nonprofits
sectors and get out in the community outside of just the people who are at
the regular democratic meetings and get some different sort of people to
run because they are going to have different networks that will resolve in
fund raising. And I think people are starved for somebody who doesn`t look
like who they hate in Washington.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Governor Dean, is there one governor we have lost in
your time or in leadership of the party, sort of one thing, the labor that
Kevin gave us was part of that, thinking about the labor movement under
attack and the Democratic Party under attack. But, is there one other
thing that needs to be like laser focus in the second administration as
they look to leave a party legacy?
DEAN: There is, although no president has ever done it. It`s, you know,
having President Obama at the top of the ticket as Karen pointed out is
fantastic. Because it really has underlined the coalition that we have now
with women, Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans
who have been part of the coalition for a long time. Muslims, all the
groups that the Republicans like to hate.
And Obama has managed to crystallize the group of people who are going to
be America and are growing fast. The problem is, all presidents do this.
It`s all about them. So, what`s going on with the DNC for the last five
years is while Obama has been running, in my view, the best campaigns that
have ever run by any Democrat, probably any president ever, it`s
extraordinary what they have done, it`s all about Obama. And somehow that
has to be transferred through the DNC and get the DNC away from being the
re-election vehicle for the president which it always happens. This is not
a whack at Obama. Clinton did it. Carter did it. Everybody does it. But
that`s -- we have to see beyond 2012 and we got to get beyond 2008. This
is not about the president. This is about changing the country in a way
that can make the country vibrant and whole again.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so governor Howard Dean in Vermont. I just tell
you the quick conversation with a conservative colleague saying oh,
Melissa, you guys think in decades, we think in millennium. And I was like
oh, that`s long term.
DEAN: They do. The fifth millennium or something.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have a lot of time to think about it over the next
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. So up next, what it would take to change power
in the House of Representatives in 2014.
HARRIS-PERRY: Even if Democrats do everything within their power to
fortify their party, they still face an obstacle that puts a Dem on even
the best of parties. People can`t make it into the party if they can`t get
pass the line at the door. And in the case of the Democratic Party, the
lines are drawn to create gerrymandered Congressional districts that maybe
keeping their candidates out of elected office.
In the 2012 election, Democratic candidates for the House actually won more
votes than Republicans by a narrow but decisive 49 percent to 48 percent
margin. And yet, thanks to the part to be redistricting based on the 2010
census, Republicans maintained a solid majority in the house. In fact,
according to an analysis from the Center for American progress, Democrats
could have won the popular vote by as much as seven percent points and
still not won control of the house.
So, if the line is, in part, based on gerrymandering, on district that is
are drawn because of the state houses controlled, at this point,
overwhelmingly by Republicans, is there a chance in the red states to
actually build a Democratic Party?
REED: Melissa, it`s happening right now. I don`t want us to be depressed.
Hillary Clinton is not a bad bench to have.
REED: So, it`s happening.
HARRIS-PERRY: We can have another conversation about that.
REED: The point I`m making is this. If you look at what`s going on in
Virginia, if you look at what`s happening in North Carolina, I think that
Florida is gone for the Republicans. And I think that Georgia is going
well for the Democrats. But, we have to do the would recollect.
And Governor Dean really made the point. We have to move away from the
focus of the presidency and really turn that focus, that passion, that
energy and that work into state legislatures and the House of
Representatives. That`s going to be the trick for Democrats.
The trick for Democrats is can we bring our vigor, our energy, our passion,
our technological advances to campaigns where we don`t have the presidency
at the top of the ticket.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the money, right? I mean, the other part of it is a
city council raise or a state referees used to be something that a middle
class or ordinary or schoolteacher could run. And now, you are talking
about hundreds of thousands of dollars to win a city council race in a
REED: That`s true. Our young candidates have to fall in love with the
grind. You can still get out there and outwork other candidates through
traditional means and through the use of technology. I don`t worry about
somebody 50 or 60 running against me from here. I worry about somebody
just 20 or 30 with 40 friends that can get out and knock in five and ten,
15,000 doors. That`s really the fast forward for us. And folks like me
who have opportunities have to build our staff with young people.
The COO for the city of Atlanta is 36 years old. My chief of staff is 43
years old. My city attorney is 45-years-old. I got a senior adviser who
is 30. So, we have to live this. You have to live it. Karen`s got -- we
all have to live it. It`s where they get exposure, that`s where they got
their understanding and that`s how they launch and that`s where they go and
make the first one.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now Kevin, I know you have written a bit that maybe we are
over emphasizing the impact of redistricting and that when we look 2010, it
may be more marginal than we expect in terms of how the redistricting
impacted the number of Republicans that are now controlling the House of
DRUM: Yes. You know, there`s two things going on. There`s
gerrymandering. There`s no question, there`s four or five states where
Republicans tried really hard to build new districts and they succeeded.
DRUM: Ohio. But you know, there`s also, say Texas where they tried hard
and the court overturned it. So, when you net everything out, it looks
like maybe gerrymandering cost Democrats eight, nine, ten seats. And it`s
nothing to sneeze at, but it`s not what lost us the majority. There`s the
second things which is incumbency advantage. The party that controls the
house will keep controlling the house even if they lose by a couple
For 50 years, that benefited Democrats, and it is benefiting Republicans.
So yes, Democrats do have some work ahead of them. We have gerrymandering,
but we also just have to break through that majority. Once we get it back,
the good news is, it`s easier to keep it.
ROWLEY: And there`s good news because I think it is right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s not get depressed.
ROWLEY: We don`t need Prozac, we just need a plan. But to do good thing
that are happening, I mean, one is there is an organization that`s a
national organization called the New Leaders Council that is focused on
training progressive leaders and they have chapters in 20, 30 different
states and cities. They are going build a bench of talent that is out of
the campaign sector in, running for office, helping people. So, that`s
There was something called project new west that is now project new
America. I think they are going to shift their focus or add to the focus
in the south as well in terms -- they got focused on we can take back the
rocky mountain west. We just need research and planning and that happened.
And it`s policy, political and so there`s going to be a focus in the south
now because the south will come back. I mean, we have huge African-
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. The demographics tell us Texas might eventually go.
FINNEY: But also, when you focus a presidential campaign on 18 states,
that means all those other states or places where people aren`t hearing
your message, and you are letting the other side define you.
You know, in 2004-2005, we did polling to try to understand why people who
should be voting for Democrats weren`t. They shared values with us. Its
part how we were talking about things, how are we labeling issues, and sort
of how, like the governor was saying, how you talk about it in Georgia may
be a little bit different than how you talk about it in Ohio. And
understanding those differences.
But, it`s been also, as progressives, we have to be willing to stand-up for
our values and be as aggressive about that as the other side is about, you
know, demonizing the things that we believe in.
HARRIS-PERRY: Turn Wyoming blue.
FINNEY: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. And Idaho, Alaska, the Dakotas too.
All right, we have to take a quick break. But when we come back, it`s been
23 days since the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary. The gun violence
HARRIS-PERRY: Most of the kids were excited, a policeman told NBC News
about the more than 400 children of Sandy Hook elementary school in
Newtown, Connecticut who returned to class this Thursday, in a different
building for the first time since the December 14th mass shooting that took
the lives of 20 of their classmates. The Newtown shooting galvanized the
country`s debate over gun violence and gun control. But, the violence
continued at a steady pace.
Since the tragedy on December 14th. At least 18 people per day on average
have been killed nationwide as a result of a fatal shooting. At least six
people were shot to death between December 14th and the end of the year in
Detroit. A city in which 2012 was one of the deadliest in nearly two
decades. Twelve people before December 14th and the New Year were shot and
killed in Chicago, another city that made headlines for spiking murder rate
And in 2013, our national crisis with gun violence seems on pace to
continue. On the very first day of the New Year, it was at 12:30 a.m.
eastern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, we lost a 17-year-old boy. At 1:00
a.m., in Trenton, New Jersey, we lost a 54-year-old man. At 2:00 a.m. in
Clayton, North Carolina, we lost a 19-year-old a man. At 2: 00 in
Charlotte, North Carolina, we lost a 19-year-old man. At 2:00 a.m. in
Lansing, Michigan a man in his 20s. At 2:30 a.m. in Augustine, Georgia, we
lost a 21-year-old man. At 2:48 a.m. in Cleveland, Ohio, we lost a man
whose age we don`t know. At 3:00 a.m. mountain time in Point Ville,
Colorado, we lost a man whose age we do not know. At 4:16 a.m. central in
Chicago, Illinois, we lost a 20-year-old man. At 5:30 a.m. in
Indianapolis, Indiana, we lost a man in his 50s. We lost them all to gun
violence. Before most of the country was awake on New Year`s Day.
And then just yesterday, four people, two men, one woman and the gunman who
held them hostage in Aurora, Colorado, sight of last year`s mass shooting
in a movie theater. The lead story in this mornings, "Washington Post"
says the White House has a broad gun proposal in the wake of Newtown,
Connecticut. Hurry, please.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there a connection between crime, lower IQs and even a
surge in ADHD? That`s the question asked by the latest cover story in
"Mother Jones." Lower crime, raise IQs, cut the deficit with this? And
just what is this criminal element that may connect all of these seemingly
separate issues? The answer may surprise you.
Present`s new report lead may be the culprit. The rise of emissions from
leaded gasoline between the 1940s to the 1970s, may have had a significant
impact on the increase in crime rate from the 1960s to the late 1980s.
When lead emissions went down, so did crime with the appropriate time lag.
The same correlation can be made between leaded gasoline and teen
pregnancy. Again, the lead emissions went down, so that teen pregnancy.
Now, let`s be clear, correlation is not causation. But, the data about the
effects of lead are surprisingly convincing especially when paired with the
findings that even the smallest bit of lead exposure has a significant
effect in the IQ levels of children under six.
Scariest for me in the report, my home in New Orleans is right in the
middle of this map where lead in both the soil and in old homes still poses
a huge problem for residents. What are we to make about the role of lead
and what should we do about it?
Back at the table Atlanta mayor Kasim Reeed, "Mother Jones" political
blogger Kevin Drum who wrote the investigative cover story, also MSNBC
contributor Karen Finney and Howard Milky, research professor in the
department of Pharmacology at Tulane Universities of medicine.
Howard, I want to start with you because this is your life work in many
ways or at least certainly recently. You have done an enormous amount of
work. Tell us, what is the connection between lead and the negative social
HOWARD MIELKE, RESEARCH PROFESSOR, PHARMACOLOGY DEPARTMENT, TULANE
UNIVERSITY: Well, he way we approach the problem is to map cities. And I
have mapped the city of New Orleans, as you point out, and what we are
seeing is that the areas that have high lead in the environment also have
low school scores. They are areas where the police are spending some time
looking at in terms of high crime rates. And so, that connection is
clearly made when you start mapping.
HARRIS-PERRY: So there`s at least three different layers of this research
showing this connection. One is, like Professor Mielke`s mapping these
relationships in a cross-sectional ways in the time that they are
occurring. The other is the time lag data about lead gasoline emissions
and the kids who were exposed to it grow up, you see a crime wave. Lead
gasoline emissions go down. The kids grew up under the lower ones, then we
have lower crime. And there`s this individual level data about IQ and
Kevin, this report was terrifying to me.
DRUM: Yes. In addition to the statistical evidence, kids who grew up in
the `50s, early` 40s and `50s. Lead emissions mostly affects children,
right? So, it affects their brain development.
Now, we have known for a long time that lead affects IQ and school scores.
But, in the last ten years or so, there`s a whole new line of evidence
suggesting and it also affects areas of prefrontal cortex in the brain.
And those are areas that affect emotional regulation, judgment, impulse
control, aggression. And second, all the things that you would think that
might lead to more violent crime. And sure enough, when you look at the
graphs you put up there, it does.
Now, in addition, there`s been a study going on for a long time at the
University of Cincinnati. It started in 1981. And they took about 400
children and they followed them. Every six months, they would measure the
blood levels in those children. They would also measure how they are doing
in school and a bunch of other things. And what they found was that, as
they grew up when they tested them at 5-years-old, they were doing a little
bit worse in school. When they tested him at 15-years-old, they were
getting juvenile delinquency. At 25-years-old, they were having higher or
rest orates for violent crimes.
The higher the lead level in the blood, the worse it got. Now, it took a
long time. You have to wait 25 years to finally make that connection with
violent crime. But, there was absolutely clear in the data. The higher
the blood level, the more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Professor Mielke, what I will say is I still have a bit
of angst as a former statistics professor. And that is just to say -- I
taught that and political science classes. My first thought was, is this
an ecological fallacy? In other words, are we looking at like these
collective data and these collective things going on. But these
neighborhoods where kids are growing up with high level also have a ton of
other sociological indicators that might also be related to being more
likely to have poor performance in school more likely to be arrested
because we know there are more likely to be policed.
So, I`m just wondering, how solid is this as a scientific and statistical
matter, how much should I be convinced by these data?
MIELKE: I think the main convincing data right now is the MRI data for the
brain damage that is being seen for individuals with children where lead
poison compared to individuals who are not poisoned as children. And that
-- it`s a very clear difference between the two. And I think it`s the main
HARRIS-PERRY: How much lead does it take to be lead poisoned?
MIELKE: Very small amounts. I happen to have a demonstration with me.
These are one gram packets. Within each of the packets, there`s one
million micrograms. We are worried about children who get exposed to six
micrograms per day. One six millionths of what is in this package. So, if
you start paying attention to quantities, that`s a million of micrograms.
You don`t even see it. Same we did, totally invisible.
In every gallon of gasoline, there were two grams. Back in the 1960s, most
cars had 20 gallons in them. So, 20 gallons, that`s 40 grams. Ten cars,
400 grams, almost a pound of lead. That was introduced into the atmosphere
during that period of time. And it caused enormous difficulties to our
population. Huge increases in the amount of blood lead. We knew, even in
the 1980s, half the population had exposures above 15 micrograms per
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, here is my fear, though. If I can test the blood
of my constituents and I can find a sugar packet full of lead in them,
should I putting ankle bracelets on them because I know that with sometime
within the next 10 to 15 years, they are going to commit a crime like --
this is my fear for a local policymaker that you say well, these kids have
already been exposed. They are already potential super predators. And so,
let`s go test the blood of all our constituents and start policing them.
REED: Yes. But you know, we are the firewall against that. Shows like
this elected officials who actually care about solving the problem. We are
fortunate in Atlanta, we had less than 90 people murdered. A violent crime
is at 1969, 1970s levels. But, we also have people that cared about this
issue and were on the front lines, a lower turn of side bill. The Turner
foundation in Catholic planet raised this issue immediately.
The president`s administration put lead based paint removal at the top of
their priority when we were administering funds doing the American recovery
and investment. We won the grants, did significant work in this area.
So, this is a space, Melissa, where we don`t have to figure that out and be
so smart. We know lead hurts our kids. And we now have substantial data
that shows those individuals go on to commit crimes so we should be more
active in removing lead, we should learn about the information that the
doctor talked about, the science is solid and now we just need to act
without making bad thoughts.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, I want to talk about what the good policy
might look like and why it really does pays to get the lead out. That`s
HARRIS-PERRY: A weakened economy should not stop us from protecting
citizens for continue to lead exposure. Because of the terms of lead
abatement justify the cost. According to the report in "Mother Jones"
magazine, $10 billion is the annual cost of a 20-year program to replace
lead painted windows in an older home. $10 billion is also the estimated
annual cost of cleaning up lead-laden soil. But $210 billion a year four
decades could be the annual return for the lead reduction efforts. An
estimated $60 billion generated by kids with higher IQs who go on to earn
higher incomes. And $150 billion in savings from an estimated 10 percent
reduction in crime.
Karen, political will is part of this.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this Congress cut, the 112th, you know our favorite
FINNEY: They did so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Well, they were not doing much. They managed to do
this. They cut the CDC budget for lead poisoning prevention by 94 percent,
cutting it back from $29 million to $2 million. So, if I am in a city, if
I`m a mayor with a good perspective on this, if I`m on the city council in
New Orleans and I recognize how bad it is, they don`t have the money to do
FINNEY: But is also from a policy perspective and a political perspective,
it means taking the longer view, right? It means going beyond the craft
arguments of the date that we need to cut spending, cut, cut, cut.
But, understand, what are the implications of some of those cuts? I mean,
the things you are talking about, this is 20, 30, 40 years ago. Decisions
were made that are impacting us now. And it feels like, in terms of
congress` level, we are not able to make those kinds of decisions. And for
example, those kinds of cuts, we don`t even know what kind of negative
implications that may have for the next 20 years. And yet, at the local
level also, we got to make sure that they have the ability to have that
sort of long-term thinking. Because clearly, we are stuck in Congress in
this political tactic to political tactic to political tactic, not actual
long term governing and thinking of the big issues.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. But, one of the things I was interested in, it is not
only do e we seem to like political. I was surprised in the report about
how much the academic community has pushed back against this. That
criminologists, sociologists, political scientists who are doing these
kinds of works has been shied away from a lead based explanation for these
DRUM: Well, that`s true. And it`s mainly because, first of all, this
evidence is sort of new. You know, ten years ago, the association between
lead and violent crime was an intriguing idea. But it was the last ten
years, a tremendous amount of new evidence has come forward and really made
it into a solid case.
But yes, criminologists tend to think in terms of sociological
explanations. It`s least, its culture, its drug, its poverty and so forth.
And those are all important. Those all do contribute to crime in a big
way, but lead contribute in a big way, too.
And you know, what you would really like to see is people taking it
seriously. One of the reasons I wrote the article was exactly that. Even,
if they are going to push back, I just want them to take it seriously. Go
ahead and study it. Try to put holes in the argument. At least take it
seriously and really figure out what is going on with it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, have we talked about the criminology aspect of it. But,
it felt to me like there was another potential policy aspect, and that is
education. I think of these national level or even state level rules for
sort of outcomes in education. And I`m looking at this map and as you
pointed out, not only is it is map where crime is in the city, it`s also a
map where you often have low performing schools. Ought we be mapping lead
right on top of our expectations for educations outcomes and not in fact
saying you have to close your school because you might have actually
dealing with students who are lead poisoned.
MIELKE: Correct. The mapping of a city is really easy to do. It`s much -
and ethically, it`s more important to do something like that where you get
at the source than to measure blood level. And we use the child to
indicate what is environment is like and we are trying to turn it around to
primary prevention in measuring the environment and try to prevent the
child from getting exposed. It turns out soil is very easy to measure that
the amount of lead in soil. And we are doing a lot of work in the city of
New Orleans to try to advance changing the environment so that children
don`t get exposed.
I really appreciate that shift to say that rather than thinking of the kid
as the problem, we begin to think about the environment and then starting
to manage it.
Thank you so much, Professor Mielke for traveling up and hanging out with
us Nerdland. Everybody else is back for more.
And coming up in our next hour, why your resolution to lose weight may be
doomed from the start.
And revisiting the war on poverty then and now. More Nerdland is next.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
If you are like millions of Americans, your New Year`s resolution involves
losing weight. It`s one of the top promises we make to ourselves every
January 1st. And with ads like these bombarding the airwaves, who can
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSICA SIMPSON, CELEBRITY: I`m Jessica Simpson. And this year, it`s all
about new beginnings for me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another year, another diet. Yes, take it off, put it
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love bread. I love cheese. Did I say I love
chocolate? I`m human.
SIMPSON: Being healthy is part of who I am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It takes that overwhelming -- this is a diet out of
your head. It`s just, oh, OK, it`s time to eat again, it sounds good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: New Year`s Day is like Black Friday for the $61 billion
weight loss industry. More than 100 million Americans are on a diet. And
that obsession with shrinking our waistlines is boosting a lot of people`s
Consider this, the celebrities talking those diet programs earn an average
of $33,000 for every pound they lose. Now, that is certainly a better
incentive than fitting into your skinny jeans.
But even as you are forking over money for diet books and gym memberships
and weight loss programs, a lot of money is also being spent on the things
that will likely make all of your efforts fail. According to "Reuters",
since 2009, the food and beverage industry has spent $175 million lobbying
to defeat proposals like soda taxes, and government regulation aimed at
making us healthier. As "Reuters" put it, "At every level of government,
the food and beverage industries won fight after fight during the last
And the fight begins before the food reaches your table, which is why farm
legislation is so critical. The 112th Congress, as you might expect,
failed to approve a new farm bill. So, in its final hours, it passed a
slim-down, nine-month extension of a 2008 law. It continues $5 billion in
direct payments to farmers of some crops like corn, a staple in highly
But the bill doesn`t include any new money for our organic and
environmental programs. If we are going change the way we eat, we need to
start with our priorities on the farms.
According to the California Public Interest Group, since 1995, the
government has spent $18 billion subsidizing ingredients commonly found in
junk food. But less than $700 million subsidizing apples, one of the few
fruits or vegetables to get a significant federal subsidy. The end result:
lower prices for the very foods fueling the obesity crisis.
But wait! What if the angst over what we eat and what weigh is totally
unnecessary? A new study published this week in "The Journal of American
Medical Association" found those who are overweight according to their body
mass index had less risk of dying than people who are normal weight. I
mean, everyone dies eventually, but in the short term.
It`s not a free pass to eat everything. Obese people still have a greater
mortality risk overall. But experts say that finding suggests that BMI
should not be the only indication of a healthy weight.
Could this study finally bring a bit of reason to the nation`s obesity
debate? Or will the diet and food industry continue to drive us into a fat
frenzy, while making themselves fatter profits?
Joining me now: Jennifer Sacheck, associate professor of nutrition at Tufts
University, and co-author of "Thinner This Year." Jacquie Berger, the
executive director of Just Food, a nonprofit organization that promotes
fresh, locally grown food in New York. MSNBC political analyst and former
DNC communications director Karen Finney. And also John Rowley, Democratic
strategist and president of Fletcher Rowley Media.
So, Jennifer, if you`re not selling anything in the world, how do people
actually lose weight? What does it take to live a healthy lifestyle?
JENNIFER SACHECK, ASSOC. PROF. OF NUTRITION: You know, I think with all
this media hype, people just have to come down to common sense. You got to
eat a little better, eat a little less and exercise. I mean, it`s a really
And I think with all the things you have spoken about, that article, really
the sense of complacency is going to fuel with overweight tipping into
obesity, it`s the wrong message. I think that so many Americans are
overweight. And they are on the critical edge of becoming obese. And it
doesn`t talk about all the problems that fat in and of itself has for, you
know, things such as diabetes, breast cancer, dementia, et cetera.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. It didn`t tell us about the common issues, right. It
says that you may live and you may even enjoy your life more because you
have brownies. But it doesn`t tell us, right, about the other sorts of
SACHECK: Yes, what you are living with basically.
SACHECK: So, that fat tissue, it does nothing -- BMI does nothing to
measure fat tissue and where that fat tissue is located. So, (INAUDIBLE),
the fat around your midsection that surrounds your vital organ, that`s
what`s so important. I think that`s what the study did lack. What the fat
does, two diabetes risks.
We know that 37 million Americans or 27 million Americans have diabetes,
three times as many have pre-diabetes. And just from going from a BMI of
26 to 27 increased the risk.
So, that fat tissue is important for our health. And to live with that and
the consequence of that, what it costs Americans to basically, you know,
pay for obesity and overweight in the United States is really, really
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And yet, when we back up to the first part of the
answer, which is -- you know, you are telling me, OK, don`t get excited
necessarily by the jam, and yet, eat a little less, eat a little better and
move more. There`s no -- there`s nothing to buy with that.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the fact is there`s a multibillion dollar industry who
says don`t eat a little better, eat a little less and move more. Buy this
product. Use this. Get this gym membership, you know?
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Eat this particular thing on this particular day and this
JACQUIE BERGER, EXEC. DIR., JUST FOOD: Absolutely. And a big part of the
conversation is where you live, the community you live in, the resources
that you have access to, that is going to inform the kind of foods you eat.
So, if you are living in a neighborhood that is known, that people can see
on a map as lower income, there`s going to be fewer grocery stores there.
There are going to be fewer access -- fewer outlets for fresh, healthy,
locally grown food.
And at Just Food, we work to make sure that community health is improved by
increasing access to fresh, healthy, locally grown food. Because what you
-- if you have financial access, meaning you can afford, if you have
geographic access, meaning you don`t have to get on three buses and a train
to get to it, or drive 20 miles in your car and fill up your tank of gas to
get to it. You know, those things are very important.
Do you have information? Do you know how to cook fresh, healthy food? I
mean, we are so convenience-driven, because we are so busy. So, we look
for the middle of the aisle, like what can I buy that is going to stay on
my pantry shelf for a really long time, I won`t have to worry about it.
What can I prepare really fast for my family?
But those choices aren`t always healthy. So, we need access to information
of what we should eat, how to prepare those foods, because it`s not rocket
science. I mean, it is easy to make fresh, healthy food, but a lot of us
don`t have the tools and resources.
FINNEY: But, also, the other piece of this is politically, the debate in
Washington, the conversations is not about food, it`s about nutrients,
right? It`s a very distinct political reason for that, and lobbyists and
So, you know, a lot of people think they are making good choices because,
well, it`s cocoa puffs, right, but it`s nutrient enriched. It can`t be so
Without thinking you are still eating cocoa puffs, it`s still no --
HARRIS-PERRY: All the vitamins -- all the vitamins are now gummy bears.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I`m thinking this can`t be right. Like there`s some way
that eating gummy bears cannot be a vitamin moment.
FINNEY: If you think about food, there`s a reason that certain
combinations of food are healthy, whole food instead of we are going to
infuse something that doesn`t naturally have these nutrients into it. We
don`t know even know necessarily what does it do to your body?
But what does do is again, it fuels this industry of people able to sell
you foods that they say it`s not that bad for you because it`s got
nutrients. So, you`re not poisoning your kids when you give them these
sugar cereals, because it`s, you know, fortified.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels to me like there`s a bit of attention between
the multiple things. On one hand, the kind of politics of nutrients and
how we talk about it and who has access to power to make sure the food
that`s on the shelves are particular kinds of food, with a powerful lobby
And on the other hand, this question of like individual decision-making,
and it feels like so much of what happens here is when we start talking
weight loss, everybody is a Republican, which is everybody is like nobody
made you eat that, you know, cookie. That is your own choice.
SACHECK: But the food industry spends billions of dollars on advertising
then we have the USDA or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spending
millions of dollars to try to educate individuals about nutrition. If you
get the end caps covered with the most profitable foods, you know, you can
make 90 percent profit on a soda, 10 percent on a food or vegetable. So, I
mean, it`s -- I mean, they are powerful.
HARRIS-PERRY: And tell me what soda does. The soda one is the one that
freaks me out, because so many kids have soda as part of their daily diet.
SACHECK: Yes, it`s estimated that 25 percent of teenagers consume three or
more sodas a day, which is really equivalent to a meal. And what soda does
-- it`s just sugar, it`s only energy, calories, it has no nutritional
values. So, it`s a deadliest forces going against us because it gives
nothing besides some quick burning fuel.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels to me like when I hear the soda conversation
and what soda does, and people are like, oh, that`s silly. Well, that`s
what we thought of cigarettes. Like there was a moment when people, you
know, sitting on air were smoking, right? You go to your workplace and
everybody was smoking. And that sort of language about cigarette was also
ROWLEY: Well, there`s been a fascinating development in that. Some of the
major attorneys who are behind the tobacco settlement have now filed about
27 different lawsuits against some of the big agribusiness companies. And
I think and they think they have a much more solid, legal footing than with
the tobacco settlement, because with tobacco, you`ve got a smaller piece of
the economy. With food, you`re talking about piece of the economy in terms
of dollars and consumers.
And these attorneys think that they`ve got clear cut violations with the
law. Whereas tobacco, there wasn`t as much of clear cut violation of the
law. So I think over the next couple of years, this is going to radically
change this issue and bring it into focus. And I think it`s going to
inform some dramatic changes in behavior from the agribusiness industry.
And then what will happen is, I think some of the agribusiness is going to
go Washington like they did on asbestos litigation and other things, and
they`re going to want a bailout. They`re going to want their liability
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, absolutely.
Stay there. We are going to talk more about this, because I want to come
back to Jacquie`s point of how where you live helps to determine what your
clothing size is.
HARRIS-PERRY: When it comes to the battle against obesity, the battlefield
is not always even. Where you live, how much you earn, can all be factors
in how much you weigh. According to the CDC, higher income women are less
likely to be obese than are low income women. And three of the top five
heaviest states are also among the poorest.
But is it a lack of will power or lack of access? If you live in what
experts call a food desert, you have limited access to affordable and
nutritious foods. If you don`t have money for a gym membership, there`s
the old fashioned walking -- unless, of course, you live in a community
where there`s a lack of sidewalks. That makes it impossible for you to
walk safely to and from work or the grocery store or anywhere.
So, how do we make sure everyone, everywhere has a shot at winning at
So, I have to laugh because I look at the Twitter feed and "UP," which is
the show just before this one hosted by Chris Hayes has a pastry plate that
they keep. And their pastry plate has a Twitter feed that is apparently a
little bit irritated by -- or at least a lot of emotions about our segment.
So, it`s true, that not only if you live in a heavy state, but also
apparently if you are an "UP" guest, it is going to be harder to get
But this -- I mean, this is a real issue, Jacquie. This question of, sort
of, what is literally right in front of you. Whether or not you live where
there is a neighborhood grocery store will determine whether you buy
perishable foods or if you get those things that stay on your shelf for
BERGER: It`s true. If you have access to fresh, healthy food, there`s so
much more you can do in terms of nourishing yourself and your family. And
so, the way the communities are built where there is food retail access is
taken into consideration.
There`s a tremendous history of this investment from grocery stores that
have moved out of lower income communities deliberately as a business
decision. It`s a mistake on their part because there`s huge markets there.
And now, they are some policies that are trying to encourage them to come
back. But again, so much of what`s available in a grocery store is not
healthy. The convenience foods are not always best for us and our family.
So, it`s really about increasing access to fresh, healthy locally grown
food. And so, if you look at how much money we are spending, the farm bill
that you mentioned in the introduction, if you look at how much money, the
American public is spending our tax dollars making sure that those foods in
the middle aisles, those foods that are at the fast food store, those foods
are going to be the cheapest.
And so, people are going to gravitate to those foods. But it`s not an
accident. There`s nothing about the way those foods are grown that`s
making them cheep. It`s the fact that the fresh food on this food plate
has no help from American taxpayer dollars. And especially, and the next
time, not a dime of taxpayer dollars is going to go to making specialty
crops which are fresh fruit and vegetables --
BERGER: -- more affordable for Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: But then this class and race piece ends up getting mapped on
this conversation, right? When we look at obesity in America, it is in
part a race issue, so that non-Hispanic, African-Americans, and Hispanics
have much higher obesity rates. We just saw the class piece.
So, it can begin to feel as though wealthy white women with lots of access
to lots of things are talking town to, preaching to less wealthy, working
class women of color and saying you are doing bad things. You are making
the wrong kinds of food choices.
FINNEY: Well, this goes to I think a broader conversation about social
outcomes in that, people don`t -- we don`t have the opportunity to make
good choices, right? I mean, I may want to eat healthy but as you said, I
can`t walk to the store. The store I can get to doesn`t have healthy,
Then it`s not that I don`t want to make a good choice. It`s not that I
don`t want to eat better. I just don`t have the opportunity to make that
HARRIS-PERRY: I work double shifts, so making time to cut up carrots is
harder to do.
ROWLEY: I have an anecdote on that. I move from kind of an urban,
gentrified area, to a more upscale zip code. And the same grocery chain,
which will go unnamed for this moment, had an entirely approach to. What`s
on the shelves, what kind of lighting there was, how updated the fixtures
were, even -- but the management staff looked alike for some reason. But
it was amazing.
ROWLEY: I think organizations like change.org create a great opportunity
to make these corporate people better, corporate citizens on a lot of
different levels and on nutrition and the quality of food.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, as much as like clearly structural change is going to be
part of this, I do wonder, Jennifer and also Jackie, because you do a lot -
- I mean, you`re not waiting for Congress to change this, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: You are doing it one step at a time. If I am a working mom
who has limited time and maybe limited access, what kind of choices can I
make at the margin to improve health? Take away the cosmetic weight loss
piece, the health piece.
SACHECK: Yes. I mean, I think the priority is, if you can -- the
expendable cash that you have, you have to make wise choices. So, you want
to have nutrient rich foods, the big bang for your buck. But you tried to
get, you know, the whole grain breads and fruits and vegetables, which
might be hard.
And then, if you have to do quick serve items, you know, you wanted to be
frozen fruits and vegetables that are not doused in oil and juices. But
I mean, if you live in a food swamp, which is also food dessert, you are
undated with fast food restaurants in these urban cities and you`re working
two jobs and you`re trying to feed your kids, calorie density is important.
You want them to be stay shaded and happy.
So, I think it`s really difficult. But still, you can shop in the grocery
store and make wise choices. And I think this is where education is a big
piece of it and planning ahead.
HARRIS-PERRY: And one of the places where a lot of particularly poor kids
get fed is at school, right? Sometimes, the one meal they can count on is
school lunches. But we know that the lobbies have actually determined that
catsup and pizza count as vegetables in our school lunch program.
BERGER: This is also travesty. And they also, on the way to school, they
will stop at the corner store.
If you have a choice between spending -- if you have, you know, $1, you can
buy four pieces of candy or one banana. So, that -- if you have -- if
that`s your choice, I mean you know what the kids are going to be drawn to.
And it seems like they are getting a bang for their buck.
And so, really, the competition, when the competition is not there in terms
of fresh food access, then the prices will go up. So, you go to -- it`s so
counter-intuitive. You are in a low income neighborhood. The price of
fresh produce is higher. The quality is poorer.
You go into a higher income neighborhood where there`s more competition.
There`s going to be way more produce and the prices are going to be more
FINNEY: And also, think about the amount of resistance and pushback
Michelle Obama got --
FINNEY: -- in talking about obesity and talking about school lunches and
how to be more healthy and how to help educate kid.
I mean, part of the problem is that, you know, a lot of people have no idea
what is in the food that they are eating. It seems really simple, eat real
food. But, again, if you go back to because politically our conversation
is about nutrients instead of food and health, which is also not just be
about losing weight, but like what is actually healthy --
FINNEY: -- you know, kids don`t even know how to make those choices. We
spent, you know, with the food pyramid and all that when I was in school.
I don`t know if kids have access to that. So, they even don`t know how to
make good choices.
HARRIS-PERRY: You brought us exactly where we`ll go after the break, which
is to talk about First Lady Michelle Obama and her appearance on "The
Biggest Loser," which showed us sort of the intersection between pop
culture and the food question and weight loss and politics.
But also, I want to talk about moving. We talked a lot about food, what
about the other side of the equation, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. We are going to be working out with the
first lady, everyone.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Yes.
I don`t know if I`m ready for a workout, but I will make a complete fool
out of myself if it means that more children and families get excited about
the idea of incorporating nutrition and fitness into their lives, so I`m
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Michelle Obama on the last season of "The Biggest
Loser," the moments when politics and pop culture and weight loss all came
And just in time for all those New Year`s fitness resolutions, the new
season of "The Biggest Loser" kicks off tonight in our big sister network,
NBC. It`s another sign that slimming down is actually big business.
So, you know, the thing about "The Biggest Loser", which I have an OCD
obsession with, is that the main thing which they`re doing is exercising,
right? I mean, they don`t actually talk much about food, although
undoubtedly that must be a big part of it. The mean thing we see is seeing
There`s a part of that that I loved. I loved seeing the first lady on the
show. But then there`s also like a social pressure piece about these are
people that were less valuable when they`re this size and more valuable and
better human beings at this size.
How do we counter balance on the one hand, Let`s Move, yes, first lady,
let`s move, but on the other hand, let`s also not denigrate those who carry
SACHECK: Yes, I think it`s so important to understand that people who can
actually treat their body in a healthy fashion, eating a little better, but
if they can exercise and feel great about themselves and they demonstrate
that, I think people have a huge respect no matter what your body type or
size is if you are out there treating your body well.
I think -- you know, I also think if you are doing those things that don`t
make you feel great, you are going to exude a different, sort of, you know,
reception from different individuals.
So, I think when you see someone exercising and sweating it out, again,
that really gives, you know, the opportunity for people to respect you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Unless you are a January New Year`s resolution people who
get a gym membership, and because we know gym membership goes way up.
That`s about 12 percent of new memberships join in January, but then a
substantial portion of them head out of the gym right within three months,
which means January is the worst time in the world to go to the gym,
because people are just --
FINNEY: (INAUDIBLE) they come in March.
FINNEY: But another point on this, there is a whole industry designed to
make us, as women, feel like we are bad human beings if we are not a size
FINNEY: Which we know a real size two these days, depending upon the brand
that you`re buying might actually be a four somewhere and a zero somewhere
else. So much of our culture is built on these ideas of beauty,
particularly for women that are unrealistic when you`re trying to talk
health and nutrition and exercise. I mean, what it takes to be a healthy
person who eats well, that doesn`t mean you are going to be a two and we
can`t all be a two.
HARRIS-PERRY: "Sports Illustrated," right? "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit
issue. The moment, Kate Upton. This moment set off all this dialogue in
the country about what that body is. Is that a thin body, is that a fit
body, is that a fat body?
The woman who -- Jennifer Lawrence, a girl who is in her early 20s, who
plays in "The Hunger Games", the notion that she is somehow, she says of
herself an obese actress who should not have been cast in "The Hunger
Games" because she has -- basically she has a round face. Because she has
a round face, she clearly could not be -- I mean, there is a kind --
particularly as a mother of a daughter, there`s a kind of madness to this
set of social pressure that looks at these bodies and has a critique of
All women at the table are like, yes.
SACHECK: I think it goes both ways. You can pick up a magazine and go,
oh, I`m dying to be them.
SACHECK: The other thing is like walking around and saying, hey, you know,
I can wear a tight tank top and my midsection flowing out and I feel
comfortable because everybody else is like that.
So, I think it`s a real struggle for women and probably not for men, too,
because where you fit in and you do fit in in society. But the wants of
being something different are always there. And there`s huge pressure.
And quite frankly, you know, our environment has been engineered in a way
that makes it difficult to exercise and very difficult to eat right. So,
we take drastic measures to, you know, get those places that we try to want
to go and usually it`s a failure.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I want to stay a little bit on this point, because
food and movement were once connected because we farmed, right? We went
outside and did physical work to create the food or we cooked. And even
just the act of cooking can --
FINNEY: Is movement.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- is movement, right? There`s an expense of energy there
that`s different than microwaving a meal.
BERGER: And we work, I mean, we work with the most beautiful men and women
in New York City, and they are urban farmers, and they are community
gardeners, and they are all shapes and sizes, they are glowingly healthy.
And they spend all summer in their gardens, they know their neighbors, they
grow beautiful food, and they eat and they raw models in their community.
And they are radiant and they are all different sizes.
So, I think engaging people, that is, you know, one of the beautiful things
that Michelle Obama did for her position was say, let`s move in our garden.
Let`s grow our own food. You can even use food stamps to buy seeds to grow
food in your community garden.
And it`s an amazing educational opportunity to expose kids to where their
food comes from, to encourage them to try new foods, because everybody
knows that there`s an age when kids don`t want to eat anything that`s not
white, like fried.
BERGER: If they have grown that food themselves, if they picked that food
themselves, that you have a new level of appreciation and opportunity to
introduce healthy food.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that you tied this one basically into crime
reduction, because if you know your neighbors, right, it actually helps
reduce crime. And then you tied it into education questions. So, there`s
a notion of health here that goes beyond whether or not you could be Kate
Upton or Jennifer Lawrence or any of them. There`s a question there about
like the health of our communities as well as of ourselves.
John, are there actual policy initiatives that legislatively or legally we
can start to move toward so these aren`t just pie in the sky ideas or just
you should do better ideas, but we are actually reengineering the
environment to be healthier for us?
ROWLEY: Well, there are I think the challenges -- the kind of agribusiness
industrial complex is so powerful. And there`s not really much of a
counter balance. So, I do think -- I`d mentioned like change.org and some
of these advocacy outlets out there.
I think that`s one way it has to begin to start getting another message out
so that legislators -- this is something I have dealt with 400 or 500
candidates. And not one of them have if I had to prepare for a nutrition
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow.
ROWLEY: So, until they start getting asked, you are not going to see
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. You prep them for crime questions, but you haven`t
had to prep them for nutrition questions.
FINNEY: How about P.E. in schools?
FINNEY: Get kids moving again.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, that`s right. We cut that so they could make the No
Child Left Behind standards.
FINNEY: All those budget cuts and spending.
HARRIS-PERRY: I will take the pastry plate out for a job any day. She
Thank you to both Jennifer and Jacquie. The rest are sticking around for
But, before we go to a break, I want to give you a quick update on a story
of a courageous teen activist, Malala Yousafzai. In an attack that sparked
global outrage, Malala was targeted in Pakistan by Taliban gunmen for
speaking out in favor of education for Pakistani girls. She was left with
a life-threatening head and neck wounds.
Now, almost three months later, she has been discharged from a British
hospital as recovering at her temporary home in England. Doctors plan to
perform more surgery on Malala within the next month on her way to
recovery. We wish her well.
Up next, we dive into the vault not once but twice. Which president began
the era of helping the people and which one screwed it all up?
HARRIS-PERRY: In our vault today, we have two clips to show you, both
marking turning points in the way America approaches the issue of poverty.
The first goes back to 1964, as this week marks the 49th anniversary of
President Lyndon B. Johnson`s famous State of the Union speech declaring
unconditional war on poverty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Unfortunately, many Americans
live on the outskirts of hope, some because of their poverty and some
because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to
help replace their despair with opportunity. And this administration,
today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, LBJ`s declaration led to program that is have become the
backbone of our social safety net -- programs like Medicare, Medicaid and
food stamps that all helped improve the standard of living for our nation`s
Then, there was 1996 when President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt
Gingrich came together to make a deal on welfare reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: A long time ago, I concluded
that the current welfare system undermines the basic values of work,
responsibility and family, trapping generation after generation in
dependency and hurting the very people it was designed to help. Today, we
have an historic opportunity to make welfare what it was meant to be, a
second chance, not a way of life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And that changed everything. The poor today are still
paying the price for that reform bill put in place in 1996.
So, when we come back, how the war on poverty turned into a war against the
In 1996, President Bill Clinton, with the help of House Speaker Newt
Gingrich signed into law the Welfare Reform Act, a piece of legislation
that altered public assistance so dramatically that Clinton later boasted
that he kept his promise to end welfare as we know it. Well, yes, he did.
And after he switched the program from a federal to state block grants
welfare renamed Temporary Aid for Needy Families, or TANF, cut 8 million
people nationwide just in the first six years of implementation. The
Welfare Reform Act gave states overwhelming power to diminish cash aid to
Among the worst offenders is Georgia. According to "Slate" magazine, fewer
than 4,000 Georgia adults receive TANF assistance even though Georgia`s
poverty rate is the sixth highest in the country. And the assistance folks
receive remained unchanged since 1996, which represents a 30 percent drop
Here to talk about what I think is a dire situation in Georgia, the mayor
of Atlanta, Kasim Reed. Kim Drum, the political blogger from "Mother
Jones". MSNBC political analyst Karen Finney, and John Rowley, the
Democratic strategist and media consultant.
All right, Kasim -- seriously, Mayor, 4,000 people in the whole state? I
know the goal is to move people from welfare to work but to move them from
poverty to above the poverty line.
HARRIS-PERRY: What`s happening in Georgia?
REED: Well, I knew when I saw "Midnight Train to Georgia", it was coming
REED: But I just have to be -- be candid. I mean, federal funding for
TNAF is down $124 million since 2009.
REED: And our state is a very conservative state as it relates to the
REED: So, you have seen very strict enforcement. But there are some
hopeful signs. About half of the TNAF matching dollars come from third
parties in the private sector that`s stepping up in a powerful way. The
number I completely disagree with. I would be more inclined for us to be
on the path we were on. But we`ve got to step up.
When I became mayor, two-thirds of our recreation centers were closed. We
reopened every one of them. Now, in different pilot projects, we are
exploring how to feed our kids, how to provide food.
So rather than just being someone that complains about what`s happening at
the federal level, we are trying to find ways to fill that gap.
HARRIS-PERRY: And maybe --
REED: So, I disagree with the path. But I`m in a very conservative state.
REED: And the federal government since 2009 cut $124 million from the
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, absolutely. And I think this point about like, here I
am, I`m a mayor in a locality, maybe even a locality that has a
disproportionate share of the poverty, but you are in a state that`s quite
conservative -- and not just conservative, because when we started looking
back behind this, we found, once again, ALEC, right?
So, when we look at these numbers in Georgia at state legislatures, 37
members of the House, 16 of these Georgia state Senate are embedded, have
ties with ALEC. This is the same group we talked about before around stand
your ground policies that have really made headlines in 2012.
Karen, this feels to me, not accidental. It`s part of the Clinton
triangulazation (ph) that we are still living with, but it`s also about
these conservative legislatures who are making it tougher to do the work of
bringing people out of poverty.
FINNEY: Well, and they`ve also done a very good job. And we saw this
during the presidential campaign and the conversation about some of the
changes that conservative governors asked for just for these programs and
they were attacking President Obama on this, which is to say the
stereotypes about people who rely on these programs have done a very good
job of demonizing. We tend to think of African-American and lazy and we
know that some of the statistics are no quite --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not the case.
FINNEY: Right, that`s not the case at all. And yet -- but that, in a very
conservative area, that plays quite well because then it`s like you are
getting tough on those lazy people instead of really understanding that
when you cut these programs, when, you know, perhaps there need to be
changes in these programs to make sure people are able to -- like what is
the path to get back to work? Is it training? Is it retraining services?
But, again, it goes back -- when you oversimplify the message and it`s just
we`re going to make cuts and we`re going to get tough, OK, well, then there
are consequences to that.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what is the message that starts moving? I mean, we --
basically what we saw was `64, you have LBJ declaring a war on poverty,
then you`ve got Bill Clinton coming in in `96. And pretty much from that
period on, Democrats have been on the same side with Republicans in the
sense of denigrating the poor themselves.
REED: Well, you`ve got to remember, if you want to change, the people
change the people. We have removed, with the exception of shows like yours
and Chris` shows, poor people as a part of the national conversation.
I have been guilty of it. The president is guilty of it. It goes down the
line. That`s why this conversation is important.
But it`s also a vital national example because our conservative friends
want to do exactly what they did with TNAF with Medicare.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Yes, it is.
REED: So, when you talk about something that`s people talk about Medicare
and some abstract thing when folks are talking about block granting it to
the states. We have a precise example of what happens when you block grant
a program that was doing real good for people, what happened.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Kevin, when they block granted it, part of what
happened is states like Georgia and others end up keeping the money, like I
want to be really clear. They don`t pass it on to the poor. But then
they`ll keep it and re-divert it to other programs and because it`s coming
as CDBG block grant.
DRUM: Right, exactly. One of the things you have to understand is why
some states are doing this. It`s not just because they don`t want to give
money to poor people. It`s also because they can then take this block
grant, this pot of money, they can use it on other things. And, you know,
this is exactly what they want to do with Medicare.
And more to the point, it`s what Republicans want to do with Medicaid.
DRUM: They want to not only reduce spending on Medicaid. They would also
love for the states to get their hands on it as a block grant, so they can
then take that money and use it for other stuff.
ROWLEY: And Medicaid is a great example of there`s a brewing fight in red
states over the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.
ROWLEY: And this is going to be big, because there`s a lot of money. And
I think there`s a potential of diverse coalition that could be fighting for
Medicaid expansion. It`s not just diverse on the left. It`s across --
it`s kind of the Tea Party against the world because I think hospitals --
this will have a big impact on hospitals if these red states don`t accept
the Medicaid expansion.
A lot of money is at stake. You`ve got the business community and that`s a
lot of money that we wouldn`t be in the economy -- not to mention the
faith-based community and the left and labor. So, it`s going to be
interesting in a few of these states if there`s not little mini-wars on
poverty in the next few months.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s -- the other piece that I guess I found surprising is
the war on poverty at the state level keeps getting shifted back to the war
on poor. And one of the things states increasingly passing are these drug
testing for TANF, so that if you are going to get even these limited
benefits you have to pass drug tests.
FINNEY: How about have your blood tested for lead levels. Let`s go back
to what we were talking about earlier. And we`re talking about access to
the ability to make good choices about your nutrition -- if you are living
where your children are exposed to lead.
I mean, part of the problem, to your point, when talking this war on
poverty is a war on the poor without understanding -- excuse me -- what are
the conditions that are contributing, the environmental factors that are
contributing, one of the social factors contributing to keeping people in
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, here you have folks living in environmentally
vulnerable places where they have lead exposure, where they have crime
exposure. We talked about the gun control, where they may not even have
sufficient access to nutritional foods and what we know, they are often not
sufficient jobs, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the things we know about Atlanta is that it`s been a
city that`s done better in a kind of post-industrial America than some
other cities, right? As the South is rising again, in a certain way,
having jobs makes a big difference to the crime and the other questions.
REED: What we are guilty of, all of us and what conversations like the
kind we are having today really is going to change. It`s putting poor
people in the center of our conversation. I say middle class 100 times a
REED: Everybody talks about middle class. But in Thomasville Recreational
Center, a center that I reopened, the average income for a family is
$19,000 a year, the average household income.
REED: It`s very real for those folks. The center across the street used
to be cold. Folks at the Atlanta community food bank focus on poor people
and live it.
But, you know, we can`t become so disconnected because we are all really
blessed. And certainly among progressives, this is an area where I think
we have walked away from but folks like you are calling us to.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. To have a conversation not only about the poor, but
I think it`s a real conviction here. With people who are, themselves
living in poverty to make sure our tables like this one, we are not just
talking about the poor and the conditions the poor live, but actually
engaging in a real way with people who are living in poverty.
Thank you to everyone. And we are going to have more of this in just a
But, first, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hi to you, Melissa. Great conversation. I`m
glad you are having it.
Let`s talk about this, though. As President Obama considers a broad gun
control plan, do you think assault weapons should be completely banned?
Well, Reverend Jesse Jackson does. We`re going to talk to him about that.
The fallout for aid delay for hurricane Sandy continues. Congressman
Charlie Rangel will be live in studio with his take.
Will the debt ceiling battle become a legacy trap for President Obama?
We`ve got a presidential historian weighing in on that.
And in today`s office politics, Al Roker shares what it`s like to literally
report from the middle of a hurricane. We have some great video of him
just being tumbled over doing that. It`s pretty incredible, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I`ve got to say, when the hurricanes came this year, I
was very happy I am not that kind of TV personality. That is hard work.
WITT: That is hard work for sure.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Alex.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, a chance to reflect and rejuvenate. It`s the New
HARRIS-PERRY: The Janus face of the New Year is an opportunity to look
back even as we move forward. It is the West African concept of Sankofa,
return to get it.
As we move into a second term of the Obama administration, initiate the
113th Congress, and anticipate the decisions of the next Supreme Court
session, it is right to ask what we can learn from our past.
A hundred and fifty years ago, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation
Proclamation. It is an extraordinary, if imperfect, document. And it is a
reminder to our current administration that great leaders summon uncommon
courage to do what is right even when the nation is deeply divided, perhaps
most importantly when the nation is deeply divided.
Fifty years ago, the children of Birmingham, Alabama, took to the streets,
allowed themselves to be led to jail, and turned the tide of the civil
rights movement. Their sacrifices dramatized the inhumanity of Jim Crow
and galvanized momentum for the march on Washington.
Their strategy is echoed today by the DREAMers, who inspired decisive
executive action on behalf of themselves and their families and have placed
immigration reform firmly at the top of the national agenda.
Forty years ago, the Supreme Court`s decision in Roe v. Wade established
that Americans have a constitutional right to privacy, meaning that women
have a right to make reproductive choices without interference by the
government. It is a reminder to our current justices that they are bound
by precedent, even in the face of ideologues working to erode these rights.
Twenty years ago, President Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence
Prevention Act. That is a reminder that we are not powerless in the face
of gun crime. We have choices as a nation to craft common sense policies
that can make us safer.
Ten years ago, having convinced most American lawmakers that Saddam Hussein
was harboring weapons of mass destruction, President George W. Bush
launched an invasion of Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction.
That is a reminder to be careful of fear-driven policymaking. When we act
in fear, whether it is fear of external enemies or of domestic opponents,
we risk compounding the problems we hope to eradicate.
As we embrace the New Year, let us do so in the spirit of Sankofa. Let us
look back to learn the way forward.
That`s our show for today. Thank you to Kasim Reed, to Kevin Drum, to
Karen Finney, and to John Rowley.
Also, thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going to see you again next
Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
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