January 26, 2013
Guests: Steph Herold, Bob Herbert, Matthew Westfox, Jimmy Ramirez, Ralph Da Costa Nunez, Derrick Cobb, Eboni Boykin, Anu Bhagwati, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Chloe Angyal, Jack Jacobs, Bob Herbert, Spencer Ackerman
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question -- can
President Obama end perpetual war? Plus, the real fight over reproductive
rights. It`s about access. And we`re going to go below the line to hear
from America`s homeless children, but first, these boots were made for
combat. Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. This week marked the
second of two seismic shifts in the United States military in just over two
years. The first was December of 2010 when President Obama signed the
repeal of the "Don`t ask, don`t tell" law ending a policy that mandated
shame and secrecy as requirements for service. The second happened on
Thursday when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta joined the Joint Chiefs of
Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey and made this announcements.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We must open up service opportunities for
women as fully as possible. And therefore today, General Dempsey and I are
pleased to announce that we are eliminating the direct ground combat
exclusion rule for women. And we are moving forward with a plan to
eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Just like that, 200,000 military combat jobs that were once
off limits to women are now potentially open to any woman who meets the
qualifications. More importantly, the official policy for women in the
U.S. military has now caught up with what has long been the reality for
women in the U.S. military. Women already make up 15 percent of the
overall force and 17 percent of the officers in the military, but the
Pentagon`s latest decision updates a 1994 policy change that prohibited
women from serving in ground combat units. Only, excluding women from
combat units never excluded them from the consequences of conflict. Women
have been working alongside combat units in support roles that put them
right in the middle of conflicts where the new front line is wherever the
next IED or mortar attack or suicide bomb happens to be and while the U.S.
military`s old policy discriminated against women as the casualties can
attest, those attackers did not. 283,000 women have been deployed to Iraq
and Afghanistan since 2001, and since then, more than 800 women have been
wounded and more than 130 killed in those conflicts.
So the Pentagon`s announcement was not only welcomed, but long overdue,
more importantly, it also shatters what has been a nearly impenetrable
brass ceiling. The highest ranks of the military are most likely to be
populated by officers with combat experience, which meant that before now,
they were most likely populated by men, now the contributions of women in
combat will both be recognized and rewarded with equal access to leadership
opportunities in the Armed Forces, but even as we recognize the historic
weight of this moment for women in the military, we also cannot ignore its
resonance for our larger democracy. Because whatever your opinion of the
U.S. military, there is no denying that offering up one`s life in service
to the country has always been the very embodiment of American citizenship.
And in particular for the country`s most marginalized people, military
service has historically been the basis for the strongest claim to their
full U.S. citizenship rights. Take, for example, the civil war when
enslaved men fled behind so-called enemy lines to the north, they asserted
their humanity with the demand that they be allowed to join the Union Army
and fight against the Confederacy. Black soldiers in World War I came home
to find themselves the targets of lynchings and beatings. Why? Because
they were wearing their uniforms in public. But it was the very fact of
their service that W.E.B. Dubois believed bound them as citizens to their
Speaking of the chilly reception that those soldiers received at home,
Dubois wrote in the 1919 issue of "The Crisis" magazine, "This is the
country, to which we soldiers of democracy return. This is the fatherland
for which we fought, but it is our fatherland. It was right for us to
fight. The faults of our country are our faults. Make way for democracy.
We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the
United States of America or know the reason why. But it wasn`t until World
War II that Dubois`s imperative would begin to become fully realized,
African-American who like the Tuskegee airmen and the first group of black
nurses to join the Army Nurse Corps served with honor and distinction
during the war and the increasing sense that their military sacrifice could
not coexist with their second-class citizenship was the spark that helped
ignite the civil rights movement. Again and again, history provides us
with examples of people who found recognition as citizens through military
service. European immigrants who became fully American through their
inclusion in the Armed services. Young people who served in Vietnam and
came home to win the right to vote for those between the ages of 18 and 21.
The members of the LGBT community reminding us that the right to love and
live openly cannot be divorced from the right to fight and die in the same
way. And today, America`s women who`ve won the right to serve equally as
they wage war on our enemies abroad, even as they still face the battle for
equality at home.
At the table with me this morning, Colonel Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor
recipient and MSNBC military analyst. Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine
officer, she is now the executive director and co-founder of Service
Women`s Action Network, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The
Nation" magazine, and Chloe Angyal who is here with us to discuss this
fundamental questions. I`m sorry, they had you initially in there as Bob
Herbert. And I`m looking at you and I`m like -- you are totally not Bob
Herbert. It`s lovely to have you at the table. Colonel Jacobs, let me
start with you. This president, I believe, we will look back on this first
term, on his legacy and see that part of what he did is to make enormous
cultural shifts in the American military. How are they being received in
COL. JACK JACOBS (RET.), MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT: Surprisingly well, as a
matter of fact. Indeed, you could be excused for thinking that the lifting
of the ban was just a gratuitous decision on the part of the administration
before Panetta left, and so he wanted to leave some legacy, and did -- but
that is not -- you would be wrong. This decision actually came from the
chiefs of staffs of all the services who, themselves, have spent plenty of
time in combat and presided over nation at war for more than a decade and
came to this decision completely and independently by themselves. And
that`s why Panetta was sitting there with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, the initiative to lift this ban decades` old came from the
HARRIS-PERRY: And it is -- it is supported in the public opinion. When we
look at Gallup polling on women in combat, we see that there is just
overwhelming support, in a country where we are so divided on so many
questions, there is actually overwhelming support for this, with 74 percent
of all adults, 73 percent of men, 76 percent of women, and look at that,
Democrats and Republicans, at 83 and 70 percent support. Will this begin
to -- fundamentally alter who women are within the Armed Forces or is it
already true that this is who they are and now this is recognition for it?
CAPTAIN ANU BHAGWATI (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: This decision, excuse me,
was absolutely, made as a result of the sacrifices made by hundreds of
thousands of women in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last ten years. The
Pentagon didn`t need to do any additional research or studies as it did
when it was considering repealing "Don`t ask, don`t tell." All the proof
was left on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I agree with
Colonel Jacobs, this was -- this is extremely significant because of the
joint chiefs really taking this to the Secretary of Defense and saying we
don`t need any more proof. But I have to say, you know, it was a result of
our lawsuit that really nudged the DOD in this direction. The DOD learned
from court cases to overturn "Don`t ask, don`t tell." It didn`t want to
pay out millions of dollars in legal fees and have the courts decide this.
The DOD really likes to determine these sort of national ...
BHAGWATI: .. historic types of decisions on its own.
HARRIS-PERRY: With its own policy.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, "THE NATION": It`s -- that
image is so stunning in a way ...
VANDEN HEUVEL: Panetta sitting with the head of the joint chiefs, because
you think of our history, you think that you -- as -- just in 1974, the
Equal Rights Amendment was basically closed down, shut down for a lot of
reason, but one was the specter of women serving in combat.
VANDEN HEUVEL: So nothing happens without demands in our country, your
lawsuit, other protests, but this shows that all of that talk about how the
military can`t survive in a cohesive way if gays join, if African-Americans
join, now women. You don`t hear many voices. You saw that poll.
VANDEN HEUVEL: ... even those voices you would predict to hear, are saying
-- so dangerous, because the military does become a proxy for how gender
VANDEN HEUVEL: ... is, sexuality is viewed in our country. Now, would I
like to see different ways of defining our citizenship?
VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes. Because I think you say this is a triumph for common
sense and equality, women`s voices need to be heard at the highest levels
of every institution in our society, but you can still say, I wish that the
military and militarism didn`t dominate our society in the ways it does.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. This is the challenge, I think, for progressives who
on the one hand have been doing nothing, but calling for drawing down of
combat troops in general, but then on the other hand wanting to talk about
sort of how critical this institution has been. Chloe, I wanted to ask you
about this, we were going back and just sort of looking at some of the
statements made and Newt Gingrich back in 1995 said that "females have
biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days, because they get
infections." But then in 2013 just of this year, Marco Rubio saying,
"women are already in combat, to begin with, and we should be putting our
best soldiers forward regardless of their gender. Just that juxtaposition
of like -- somehow apparently we`re getting infections in the ditch that
men don`t get. Versus, come on, here, you know, (inaudible) both are the
CHLOE ANGYAL, EDITOR, FEMINISTING.COM: Well, I don`t know about you -- but
I take all my advice on gender from Newt Gingrich.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, especially on my bodily functions.
JACOBS: Yeah, that`s right. All your medical advice.
BHAGWATI: And marital, yes
ANGYAL: Look, I`m thrilled that service women will have equal career
opportunities to advance in the Armed Forces, because, you know, the
military is just -it`s another employer, and we should never ever condone,
you know, employment discrimination in America in any way, but by the same
token, you know, my excitement is obviously tempered by the abominable
rates of sexual violence in our military. And I know and we can tell you
more about that, but we are talking about hundreds of thousands of women
who have been sexually assaulted by their comrades ...
ANGYAL: ... since the U.S. military started admitting women, and we are
talking about a higher chance of being assaulted by one of your own than
being killed by the enemy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And that`s exactly where we are going to go right
after the break, this question of how there is a different kind of combat
for military women, the fight against sexual assault when we return.
HARRIS-PERRY: The new expansion of combat roles was not the only message
to come out of Washington about women in the military this week. Just one
day before the Defense Department`s announcement, a hearing on Capitol
Hill exposed a horrifying irony. Even as we increase the opportunities for
women to protect us from our enemies, our military has failed to protect
women from being sexually assaulted while they serve. On Wednesday, the
House Armed Services Committee held a hearing to review what the
"Washington Post" has called, quote, "potentially the worst sex scandal in
the U.S. military since 1996" at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. To
date, 59 sexual assault survivors have been identified at Lackland and 32
basic training instructors have been charged with crimes related to sexual
misconduct, The hearing revealed a culture of intimidation and fear of
retaliation that keeps survivors from coming forward. It also showed that
stories like this testimony from one of the survivors are all too common.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TSGT. JENNIFER NORRIS (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: -- the rape, and the three
different other predators who assaulted me. You are stuck. If you want a
career, you don`t want to say anything, because you get retaliated against,
you get thrown out, you get beat up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Anu, I want to ask you about the connection between, on
the one hand this decision about combat and on the other hand this reality
of sexual assault?
BHAGWATI: I was extremely proud of the chairman of the joint chiefs of
staff for making that link between sexual assault and combat exclusion. I
left the Marine Corps because of the link between combat exclusion and my
ability to thrive in the Marine Corps. Sexual harassment and
discrimination was part of my daily life in the Marine Corps. And when I
filed an equal opportunity investigation against lieutenant who was
sexually harassing our Marines, he was promoted, he was given command. All
of the things that Jen Norris was just talking about in that clip are
absolutely true in all the service branches. It is important to remember
hat Lackland is just one base ...
BHAGWATI: And the reason we know about Lackland and the scandal, it was a
horrific scandal, is because of a fantastic reporting by local military
reporters around that base, but sexual assault and harassment is happening
at virtually every base in every service branch, and the final thing I
would say about that is sexual assault is really not a function of sex, it
is not about women either, almost as many men in the military are sexually
assaulted as women. Over time, the numbers actually pan out evenly ...
BHAGWATI: 40 percent of the veterans being treated at V.A. hospitals
around the nation for conditions related to military sexual trauma are men,
and we cannot forget that this is not a women`s issue, this is a military
issue, it`s a leadership issue.
HARRIS-PERRY: I really appreciate you making that link, in part, because,
you know, some of the -- and there`s been very little outcry about the
combat decision, but some of it has been oh, you know, you`re going to have
the situation, where -- this was Kathleen Parker writing for the
"Washington Post" where, you know, soldiers will see the 18-year-old girl
next to them, and it will, you know, impact their decision making. And it
is so important to say, look, this is not about sex, this is about
BHAGWATI: And I have to say, you know, when I saw sexual assault happening
in my own unit and I reported this to senior officers, just like Jen said,
they swept this incidents under the rug, and I as someone who had a fair
amount of privilege as a company commander and as a captain, was extremely
disappointed, really devastated that senior officers did nothing about
this. The people who stuck up for the women who were being sexually
harassed and assaulted in my unit were all infantrymen, and it`s really
important to remember, again, leadership is not about gender, the guys who
stuck up for the women in these cases in my experience were infantrymen.
JACOBS: The leadership is the independent variable. At the end of the
day, these things don`t happen in units that are well led, and they do
happen in units that are poorly led. And the only way you can fix it and
eliminate bad things of all type from happening is to make sure that good
people are the leaders and you eliminate bad leaders.
BHAGWATI: And how do you -- and how do you cultivate as a matter of
institution the kind of leadership that does not allow these sorts of acts?
JACOBS: You have to do it at every level. You have to -- it has to start
at the top, the people at the top like General Dempsey and General Odierno,
have to be on board understanding that leadership makes a difference and
people have to be acculturated properly when you enter the service. And if
you don`t do that, no matter how strong the leader is at the top of the
food chain today, a generation from now, we will be back to where we
started from, you have to start with culture.
ANGYAL: I think that`s such an important point, because cultural change
takes time, right, and its sustainability requires constant vigilance. I
mean one policy alone won`t end discrimination against -- against anyone in
the military, and, you know, it`s official policy of the U.S. Armed Forces
that they don`t tolerate sexual violence of any kind and look how well
that`s working out. I mean it`s against federal law, to pay a woman
differently for doing the same job as we pay a man. And look how well that
is working out.
JACOBS: The enforcement is pretty important.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right.
ANGYAL: Yeah, enforcement and cultural change are absolutely necessary.
It`s not just about policy, equality takes more than that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. With more on the issues of what our military is
and the kinds of engagement we have around the world, thank you to Anu
Bhagwati, for being here, and the rest are all going to be back for more.
But before we get to the rest of that conversation, I`ve got a letter to
the Supreme Court and what it can learn from the Pentagon when we come
HARRIS-PERRY: Before Brown versus the Board of Education, before the 1964
Civil Rights Act, there was executive order, 9981, President Truman`s 1948
directive to end discrimination against military personnel on the base of
the race, color, religion or national origin. And it was considered the
first major blow to segregation policy. It is a surprising historical
truth that the U.S. military despised as an engine of war by many
progressives has been a leading institution in America`s fight for racial
equality, and because the opinions of military leaders carry great weight
with many Americans, I thought I would remind one American in particular
just where the military stands on a decision he will be making very soon.
My letter this week is to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as he
considers a challenge to the affirmative action program at the University
Dear Chief Justice Roberts, it`s me, Melissa. Remember last June when you
were the deciding vote in the Supreme Court`s decision to uphold the
Affordable Care Act, yeah? That was a pretty cool way to ensure your
legacy and in truth, it gave me faith that despite your ideologically
derived positions and willingness to overturn established precedent, you
just might be open to reasonable evidence-based arguments about what is
good for our country. Which is why I now draw your attention to the
affirmative action case before you. "Fisher versus University of Texas,"
the one that challenges the practice of including race as one of the
factors in the college admissions process. Now I know you have made your
thoughts on affirmative action known before, most notably in 2007 when you
wrote that "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop
discriminating on the basis of race."
Mr. Chief Justice, you know better, it is not that simple. Racial bias is
both pervasive and deeply entrenched, but we are not helpless, we know how
to address it. And one of the best examples of how to do so is on your
desk right now. Right there, under that picture of you swearing in
President Obama twice. Yeah, there it is, there it is. The Friend-of-the-
Court Briefs filed by a who`s who of retired military generals and admirals
including three former chairmen of the joint chiefs. Now, the first thing
you are going to notice, Mr. Roberts, is that affirmative action works,
according to the Briefs, between 1967 and 1991 as a result of an aggressive
policy of affirmative action, the Pentagon nearly quadrupled minority
representation among its commission officers. Compared to the private
sector, were less than two percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are
African-American, the U.S. Army can boast that eight percent of active duty
officers are black.
But the success of military affirmative action is not just cosmetic, it`s
critical. Mission critical. The brief points out that any ruling in the
University of Texas case could have an impact beyond academia and that
without affirmative action, the military could struggle to develop a
diverse officer corps, saying, a highly qualified and racially diverse
officer corps is not a lofty ideal, it is a mission critical national
security interest. Mr. Chief Justice, 27 United States military generals
and admirals are trying to tell you something essential about affirmative
action. It makes us safer. And one of the keys to a diverse military
leadership, the college ROTC programs including the one at the University
of Texas where the military turns to find future officers.
Now, I have my criticisms of campus-based ROTC programs, but if we are
going to draw our officer corps from our colleges, we have to make sure our
colleges look like our country, so Chief Justice Roberts, when you consider
your decision in the pending "Fisher versus the University of Texas" case,
please listen to the generals and admirals with more than 1,200 years of
combined service who are trying to tell you something important. If you
end affirmative action, you are making our country less secure. Surely,
that is not what you want your legacy to be. Sincerely, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: At the second inaugural address on Monday, the president
said something remarkable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting
peace do not require perpetual war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: More than a decade after 9/11, the president of the United
States suggested that we do not need to be in a state of perpetual war.
Perhaps this should not be surprising, but more than a decade after
President Bush committed troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan and initiated
an ill-defined global war on terror, it was actually a relief to hear the
commander-in-chief suggest the possibility that war could end. On May 2nd,
2011, U.S. troops killed Osama bin Laden. That same year, 2011, our troops
came home from Iraq, the next year in 2014, we should be bringing an end to
U.S. troops and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Is perpetual war finally over?
Maybe. The president favors a smaller and leaner military, one whose
limited size could likely discourage international engagements and he seems
eager to refocus troops away from battles in the Mideast and towards the
cooler, maybe even cold engagement of global balance with Asia. This is
not clear that the president can end a perpetual state of war, but now it
seems like a good time to ask what would a more peaceful world look like.
At the table, Colonel Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient and MSNBC
military analyst, Spencer Ackerman, national security writer for "Wired"
magazine, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The Nation"
magazine and Bob Herbert, distinguished senior fellow at Demos. Is the
long war over?
BOB HERBERT, SENIOR FELLOW, DEMOS: I`ve been hearing this, you know, it
was -- wasn`t the World War I, that was supposed to be the war to end all
HERBERT: You know that, and I was in the service during the Vietnam era.
I was not in Vietnam, luckily, but, you know, we were supposed to be over
at the end of Vietnam, and then there was supposed to be the peace dividend
at the end of the Cold War. I`d have given up on thinking about the end of
VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, I think, President Obama would like to find a
different engagement with the world, and that would mean nation building at
home, but even while he speaks those glorious words, we are at perpetual
war. I think the largest problem is you step back and you ask why is
global war the appropriate framework for combating terrorism, that in some
ways is the original sin. Post 9/11, the authorization to use military
force has made the world a global battlefield and has allowed the
escalation of drone warfare, which we`ve seen escalate under President
Obama, secret counterterrorism programs, special ops and the embrace of
state secrecy, so until this country, maybe we are not ready yet, can
escape the spasm of fear, find a different way to approach safety and
security, understanding that these methods are not going to increase our
security, and that we should come home and find ways to build a new -- new
internationalism that does not measure our security by weapons, but about
the education and roads and bridges we build and how we find a way to lead
a global economic recovery in this time and create global development and
jobs, but instead we are still locked (inaudible) until we end ....
JACOBS: But not without threats. There is no ...
VANDEN HEUVEL: No, but ....
JACOBS: Not without threats.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Is global war the appropriate way to wage it?
JACOBS: And the answer that is no, and part of the problem is this, of the
instruments of power that we exercise around the world, we are lousy at
state craft and have been for a long time. We don`t know how to use
properly and effectively the economic instruments of power and we don`t
know how to integrate them either. And the result of this is that we go to
the default instrument of power, the guys who really know what they are
doing in the narrow sphere, which is the military -- if you want stuff
blown up, I`m good -- you want the stuff blown up? I`m the guy. You want
people killed? Call me. But that is not how you stop the preponderance of
threats to the United States. We need to be able to integrate our
instruments of policy, and we are lousy at it, and until we get better at
it, we will be constantly calling on the military instrument of power, and
it is not appropriate.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is this because of the different kind of threat. I mean is
that -- was this true even when our primary threats were other nation
states or is this mostly true sort of being lousy at it, because it is no
longer nation states, but rather actors, stateless actors within them.
JACOBS: I agree that the proliferation and fragmentation of threats to us
make the application of national power much more difficult, but it puts
even a greater premium on good leadership, good integration of power and
good relationships around the world. It just makes it more difficult for
us who does a lousy job at it, it makes it more difficult for us to do a
SPENCER ACKERMAN, WIRED MAGAZINE: It strikes me as quite a cop-out that
after 11 years of doing this, the United States government still does not
properly know how to do it properly. And, you know, speaking to Katrina`s
point, there was something that President Obama said when he was engaging
in one of his primary debates in 2008 with Hillary Clinton, in which he
said he didn`t just want to end the war in Iraq, he wanted to end the
mindset that got the United States into Iraq, and I think a fair reading of
his record shows that that`s not really been a fight that he has pressed.
The United States under President Obama has proliferated aerial warfare
from Afghanistan into Pakistan, into Yemen, into Somalia, and now there are
some open questions about whether this goes further into West Africa, with
the U.S. support for the Mali incursion that the French are pulling off.
If you would imagine a plane at 30,000 feet that took off during the Bush
administration, that plane is global warfare, perhaps if you wanted to rack
up the withdrawal from Iraq and depending on how you want to look at
Afghanistan differently, perhaps, Obama has taken it down to 10,000 feet,
be but it is flying at a parallel -- at a parallel level to the earth.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s -- this just part of what I am wondering is, you know,
we started the day by saying that this president is going to leave a legacy
of having shifted the demographics of the military, this is going to look
culturally and look demographically quite different, but then the question
is, whether or not he is also leaving behind a new strategic way of
imagining who we are. For good or for worse (ph). So, first I saw the
question of is it lean or is it smaller and is it doing a different kind of
VANDEN HEUVEL: I think he is. And I think it is not his own doing, it`s
the nature of the trajectory of U.S. national security and foreign policy.
I think we are beginning to see the end of occupation land mass wars as we
do draw down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for a peace and justice community
for those who are citizens, we have to think how we engage with this new
warfare, which is going to involve aerial drones, which is going to involve
special ops, and what that means at a time when there is great support in
this country and a need to cut an extraordinarily bloated defense budget,
which is higher than it was at the height of the Cold War, if we are going
to fulfill the promise of this nation, you have to believe President Obama
wants to do that, but at the same time, it`s very tempting, because it`s
leaner and less expensive in some ways to do what he is doing.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Katrina, that is exactly what we are going to come back
when we come back after the break, is going to talk about the drones, but
as we leave, I want to leave listening a bit to Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton who made a claim just this week that we need to start thinking
about a strategy that does not just lurch administration to administration,
but is a new strategy. Let`s listen to her as we go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Let`s be smart and learn from
what we have done in the past and see what can be transferred into the
present and the future. And let`s be honest in trying to assess it to the
best of our abilities. I think this committee could play such an essential
role in trying to answer your questions and put forth a policy that
wouldn`t go lurching from administration to administration, but would be a
steady one like we did with Colombia, like we did in the Cold War. Let`s
be smart about this. We have more assets than anybody in the world, but I
think we have gotten a little bit, you know, off track in trying to figure
out how best to utilize them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you remember this moment from the final presidential
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think Governor
Romney maybe has not spent enough time looking at how our military works.
You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did
in 1916. Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the
nature of our military has changed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It was more than just a great zinger, although it was that,
but it was also a glimpse into an element of the Obama doctrine. President
Obama has aggressively pursued new technologies as a way to redrawing the
front lines on the war of terror. In the first term, he committed fewer
boots to the ground and more drones to the sky. Since 2004, the United
States has committed 347 drone strikes in Pakistan with eight of those
coming in the last 30 days. In Yemen and Somalia, there have been 55 drone
strikes since 2002, seven of those have been in the last 30 days. The
president`s use of drones raises questions and criticisms. It even
inspired NYU grad student Josh Begley`s DroneSream Twitter feed that
documents years of U.S. drone attacks. And on Thursday, the person in
charge of gathering reports on humans rights and counter-terrorism at the
U.N. launched an investigation into U.S. drone program. 25 specific drone
strikes will be investigated, an action that has been praised by opponents
of the program. Spencer, you have written a ton on this. What should we
be thinking about these new technology and this new way of waging war?
ACKERMAN: We should be thinking less about the platform used for waging it
and less about the strategy that it implements and to some degree
accelerates. What I mean by that is the drone itself is not qualitatively
a transformational thing in warfare. We are basically talking about aerial
bombardment. We are using a smaller weapon to do it, and that -- that size
is just going to shrink, so you`re going to have less power, you know,
applied to a particular target, but when you look at how the thing is
applied, it does not look so much different, even if the pilot is, you
know, thousands of miles away rather in the cockpit. What this adds up to
is an acceleration of the idea that warfare can be made cost-free. And if
it is cost-free to the United States and it`s less visible to the media,
then it can spread around the world with a great accelerant effect, and
that is what you have seen under President Obama.
HARRIS-PERRY: Spencer, I really -- I appreciate that, because what I have
found irritating is the extent, to which drones have become a progressive
or liberal mean that you just scream whenever you`re like disagreeing with
some other topic, right, and you just say well, drones, and I always wanted
to say, whoa, whoa, whoa, is your issue here about the technology, right,
is it about the drone, or is it about the secrecy, the killers, the matrix,
because it feels to me like the question is when we have new technologies,
how we manage and deploy them is far more important than the issue of the
ACKERMAN: Right, the drone does not fire the weapon by itself, human
beings in a chain of command fire it. What we don`t have is, is inside,
what we don`t have is disclosure into, first, the strategy that it`s
implementing and second, how effective that strategy is, and third how it
impacts human beings on the ground who are not terrorists.
JACOBS: Human beings -- human beings when they fire it are quite frankly
very far removed, and not involved in the action. You have no people on
the ground gathering intelligence, it`s -- I think it`s part and parcel of
the whole notion that you can divorce human beings from the acts of war.
And therefore, make war less painful -- far less painful -- or not painful
at all to yourself.
HARRIS-PERRY: And is that the danger that kind of sanitizing the
experience of war?
JACOBS: Of course, it is. No, I think the whole issue of resources is
vitally important, because we forget about this, it always takes more
resources to hold on to an objective than it does to take it in the first
place. I have taken a lot of objectives sometimes by myself and sometimes
with a few other petrified soldiers. And we`ve got -- run off of more than
half of them. It is easy to take an objective, it`s easy to kill somebody.
What are you going to do with that once you do that? And the real irony
and then I`ll shut up about this, is that we have a very short memory. The
notion that you can make war antiseptic is the same notion that was held by
Donald Rumsfeld. You don`t need people, or you certainly don`t need as
many people, because we have got technology, and we can divorce human
beings from the notion of waging war when in fact, it is human cost that
has to be involved and at some juncture some 19-year-old kid with a bayonet
is going to stand on top of the terrain and hold it. And I think it is
supremely interesting that the most recent proponent of this kind of way of
waging war was Donald Rumsfeld.
HERBERT: I have a problem even thinking of this as waging war. What we
are doing is we`re assassinating -- we`re assassinating people who in many
cases we don`t even know who they are. We definitely don`t know what they
have done or if they are guilty of anything. So, we are killing them, and
there`s no due process and it is not on a battlefield, but beyond that,
then we are killing innocent civilians around them, the people that we
refer to as collateral damage, these include the elderly, they include
children and that sort of thing. What are we doing here? This is not all
HARRIS-PERRY: Bob, you know ...
HERBERT: We don`t always know that.
JACOBS: We know that there are enemies and ...
VANDEN HEUVEL: The Council on Foreign Relations released a report a month
ago showing that of the 3,000 killed in drone attacks the vast majority
were not al Qaeda or Taliban leaders.
JACOBS: I`m not concerned. Not concerned.
VANDEN HEUVEL: But are you concerned about the backlash ...
VANDEN HEUVEL: That this is beginning to fuel ...
JACOBS: No. Absolutely not.
VANDEN HEUVEL: In countries which will -- which will impact our security
VANDEN HEUVEL: In terrible ways?
VANDEN HEUVEL: But I come back to the -- until we can find a new way to
engage the world post 9/11, we are at risk of destroying our own security
and destroying the very values that the president has spoken of. He has
given many speeches about the enduring values of this country are right now
being degraded by the very actions we are taking, whether it is in
Guantanamo, whether it is with drones, and it is not to say ...
HARRIS-PERRY: So that ...
VANDEN HEUVEL: It`s also -- it`s not just moral. And I hear you, Melissa
VANDEN HEUVEL: You hear people reflexively ...
VANDEN HEUVEL: ... saying drones, drones, but there is a very fundamental
tactical, strategic issue about what kind of security are we breeding with
these attacks which are fueling anti-Muslim and other anger ...
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to stay on this topic, we`re going to stay on
this topic. It`s too hot. We`ve got way too much more to say on this.
We`re going to stay exactly on this topic. Don`t go away.
HARRIS-PERRY: So drone warfare raises some questions. What are the key
strategic goals and ethics that should drive a deployment of drones? When
do we need authorization versus just asking for forgiveness on the other
side? How does the U.S. ensure that these technologies that limit our
physical risk don`t make us numb to warfare? To me these are the
fundamental questions, collateral damage, it feels to me, is part of war,
it comes with soldiers who bring a different kind of collateral damage,
but the big question is like, if we are not really at war, because we are
not in fact authorized to be at war in Pakistan.
VANDEN HEUVEL: But this authorization to use military force, I`m starting
to keep coming back to it, gave this country emergency powers post 9/11 to
make the world a global battlefield. And I would recommend your viewers to
watch our national security correspondent Jeremy Scahill just made a film
called "Dirty Wars, The World as a Battlefield." It gives you a good sense
of what we`re living at ....
ACKERMAN: If this were happening -- if the 2001 authorization to use
military force was passed in any other country, we would call it the
emergency act. It would look like what we saw Hosni Mubarak passed to give
himself tremendous, tremendous power. And that`s actually something that
really -- should put President Obama really on the hook. This is an issue
where a presidential authority is probably at its peak. He can do so much
unilaterally and so when he puts out a statement during his -- during his
inaugural address about the error of perpetual warfare not to being
acceptable, that`s got to be a down payment on what he actually intends to
do, and right now, you`ve not really seen many signs that he intends to
address it, you`ve seen so many throughout his first term that he has gone
in the opposite direction. Where is the rollback of the war on terrorism?
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean it`s interesting.
ACKERMAN: It`s not under Obama.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, it`s interesting, because the post George W Bush world
does feel like a world, (inaudible) which has a powerful president, but
then the counter example, of course, is Gitmo. And the president on his
first day signing that he is going to close Guantanamo Bay Four years
later not being able to do sot. And it doesn`t seem like lack of
intention, it seems like an inability to do sot, because he is not, in
fact, capable of doing just anything that he wants.
JACOBS: Well, it is a lack of leadership. At the end of the day, we have
such a balance of power, that we come to the conclusion that it really
takes agreement among everybody, the fact of the matter is that under most
circumstances that Congress is the boss. That is the way the Constitution
was written. One of the reasons, I`m going to faint a single factor
analysis, but one of the reasons you still have Guantanamo open is because
the Senate Appropriations Committee refused to appropriate the 80 million
bucks, which is at the end of the day not very much money, the Pentagon
spends more money than that on light bulbs, the Senate Appropriations
Committee refused to appropriate the 80 million bucks to close it. It does
not matter what the president wants at the end of the day. If he is not
willing to fight for that, then the Congress is going to have its way.
HERBERT: Guantanamo is a good example of a problem with drone warfare.
When we opened Guantanamo, the Bush administration told us that everybody
there was the worst of the worst, that you know, you didn`t need to have
due process, they were guilty, they were horrible, et cetera, et cetera.
It turned out that a lot of them were far from the worse of the worse and a
lot of them had not done anything at all, and it`s the same thing with this
drone warfare stuff. We don`t know in all cases who we are killing, and we
don`t know if the so-called collateral damage is the kind of thing that is
worth taking a shot at. So we need to -- we need to roll back and look at
this from some kind of moral perspective, what are we doing here?
ACKERMAN: -- you made a profound point about how drones have become a meme
rather than a fact to be analyzed, and I think Gitmo has gone through the
same kind of circumstance. When you look at how the president has talked
about closing Guantanamo, all of the things that civil libertarians find
objectionable about Guantanamo will survive. Military commissions, Obama
has reformed them in, you know, made them, you know, a permanent fact right
now of legal circumstance. He`s backed down on article III courts for the
9/11 trials and the plan to close Guantanamo to the extent that it still
exists relies on keeping people in indefinite detention without charge
until the end of an endless war. So in -- if, you know, for instance,
there could be, you know, a magical see change in congressional attitudes
toward change in Guantanamo, Guantanamo will exist inside the United States
for this population, the difference might be Obama is not taking more
people under detention.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, right.
VANDEN HEUVEL: You raised a set of important questions at the top, I just
said, the timidity of Congress is something to mark ...
VANDEN HEUVEL: They should be playing the role holding hearings, whether
it`s church committee hearings, war powers resolutions hearings, and asking
this administration to detail, give us the legal memos as to what justifies
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. Those questions that I raised cannot be
answered without -- by the president.
JACOBS: They are Article I ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
JACOBS: ... of the Constitution.
HARRIS-PERRY: Clearly, we are going to talk it all through the commercial
HARRIS-PERRY: ... but thank you to Colonel Jack Jacobs, and also to
Spencer Ackerman for joining this morning, Katrina and Bob are sticking
around. Coming up next, 40 years after Roe v. Wade, why access to abortion
is the issue we need to be talking about? And also, we`re going to go
below the line for an eye-opening look at the young and the homeless. More
Nerdland at the top of the hour.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry in New
Tuesday marked the 40th year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court
decision Roe versus Wade, which found that women had a constitutional right
to privacy and therefore could choose to terminate unwanted pregnancies.
In those 40 years, not one year has gone by without a threat of repeal or
restriction of that right.
But polling released this week by the NBC News/"The Wall Street Journal"
found that seven out of 10 respondents do not want to see Roe v. Wade
overturn. That`s the highest percentage reported since 1989.
And in California this week, Democratic legislators introduced a bill to
broaden the availability of first trimester terminations by expanding the
pool of providers who can perform the procedure.
But in Mississippi, the state`s only abortion provider is fighting to stay
open as Mississippi`s Republican governor vows to shut it down. According
to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 87 percent of the counties lack an
abortion provider. And even women who live near a clinic may not be able
to access termination services when they need them.
The National Network of Abortion Funds reports that every year 200,000
women need help paying for abortions in part because nearly half of
American women who seek pregnancy termination live below the federal
poverty line and this lack of access can be deadly for women. Before
1973`s Roe v. Wade, complications of abortion were the leading cause of
death among women of child-bearing age and this is especially true of women
As access of abortion once again narrows, it puts women`s lives in danger.
So, while much of the debate about reproductive rights is focused on the
legal interpretations and the Constitution ad the bodily rights of women,
we can`t forget the basic issue of access.
At the table is Chloe Angyal, editor of Feministing.com, Steph Herold is a
board member of the New York Abortion Access Fund and is currently pursuing
a masters degree in public health, Katrina Vanden Heuvel is editor and
publisher of "The Nation" magazine, author Bob Herbert IS distinguished
senior fellow at Demos
Access is the frontier on which we need to be fighting, is that right?
STEPH HEROLD, NEW YORK ABORTION ACCESS FUND: Yes, absolutely. And what a
lot of people don`t know is that after Roe v. Wade in 1976, the Hyde
Amendment was passed. And what that does that is actually prevent Medicaid
from covering abortion, and what the Abortion Funds do nationwide -- there
are over 100 Abortion Funds across the country -- and what they do is help
women pay for their abortions.
And so, that`s what Abortion Funds do, that`s what we`re here to do every
day -- day in and day out. And we really believe that however people feel
about abortion, politicians shouldn`t be able to deny women health care
coverage just because they are poor.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, and, Katrina, this seems to me like, you know, as
much as there is some space, maybe even that 70 percent where people will
stand up for the Planned Parenthood --
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, PUBLISHER AND EDITOR, THE NATION: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- even Planned Parenthood, itself, sometimes talks more
about its other kinds of medical services.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: And what the Abortion Funds do is to make sure that people
have money to access termination.
VANDEN HEUVEL: It`s critical. I mean, you saw that poll, which was
important on the 40th anniversary. People don`t want to overturn Roe v.
Wade. But without access, it is not a reality for low income, middle class
VANDEN HEUVEL: I do think there is some hope that the -- Planned
Parenthood does have a great leader in Cecile Richards. NARAL has a new
leader coming in, Ilyse Hogue, who understands without the right to control
your body, the women don`t have the right to control their economic
security, their fate, their lives.
In this state, Governor Cuomo and a coalition of women`s groups and civil
liberties group have come together for this equality agenda, because you
want to build a reproductive rights piece firmly into a landscape of equal
access, of equal pay, of anti-discrimination, and you have a president who
has committed though he needs to be pushed and you have new women who have
come in, pro-choice women.
But you -- we were talking earlier, the media needs to pay attention to
what it means for low income women in this country to not have the
fundamental right to control their lives, their bodies and their economic
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, Chloe, you know, of course, in the civil rights
communities, we often play Nina Simone`s "Mississippi Goddamn", right?
CHLOE ANGYAL, EDITOR, FEMINISTING.COM: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: And like no more so in this reproductive rights question,
Mississippi has parental consent laws that require parental consent from
both parents. They have a waiting period, they have an ultrasound
requirement, they have a law that says that anyone performing abortions
must have admitting privileges to the local hospital. I mean, it`s a
mountain of restrictions. They have basically made it possible.
And then said, our goal is to make it impossible.
ANGYAL: Right. So, it`s legal, but it`s more or less completely
And the other thing is that we really need to talk when we talk about this
is violence against providers. I mean, violence against abortion providers
in this country, when we talk about it, we need to use the term domestic
terrorism, because that is exactly what it is. And we don`t call it that
because it`s carry out by white American men in the name of a Judeo-
We live in a country that has spent the last decade turning itself inside
out to prevent violence carried out by foreign brown men, and we don`t pay
any attention to the fact that we are under siege. I mean, doctors,
abortion providers and their patients by extension are under siege. Part
of the reason that it`s so hard to get an abortion in some of these states
is that people don`t want to be providing them. It`s too risky. It`s too
HARRIS-PERRY: And part of, of course, what happens is that people --
doctors will still provide them, right? But they don`t provide them in the
clinics that are available to the poor. So, what we know about the pre-
1973 pre-Roe is that women who had private physicians and private
relationships with their doctors could go in and get a DNC in their local
doctors` office and they don`t have to walk that gauntlet of terror, right,
at a clinic.
So, it`s not that they`re not provided. It`s that they`re not being
provided as the most needy.
BOB HERBERT, SENIOR FELLOW, DEMOS: Well, what other thing that I think
this has happened is that the abortion rights folks were intimidated over a
long period of time. So there is no absence of militancy on this panel,
but I think, generally, there`s been an absence of militancy in, I think,
that this whenever that is the case, you tend to lose, the other side which
has been far more militant.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, because there is a kind of shaming effect.
HERBERT: Exactly right.
HARRIS-PERRY: That is --
HERBERT: So you are pro-choice, you can`t be pro-abortion rights, for
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, that`s right. And you can`t -- you somehow can`t be
pro-choice, even pro-abortion rights, pro-abortion funds that help to
provide them, and be pro-family, pro-child, pro-mother.
VANDEN HEUVEL: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, I love that the woman who is the head of NARAL in
Virginia who is right now managing some of this same kind of restrictions
in Virginia is pregnant. She`s like seven months pregnant, right, standing
there yelling at them about the need to be able to make your own choices.
VANDEN HEUVEL: We`ve just come out of a period of this -- first of all,
the calamitous disgusting attack on Planned Parenthood, but we have seen --
the Republicans just went to the retreat where some of the counseling was
like, don`t use the term "rape". I mean, but the extremism that -- you are
right that there was militants on the anti-abortion front, but the
extremism which has seeped into the mainstream of the Republican Party as
they talk about women -- women`s bodies, women`s lives -- I think is an
opportunity for a pro-choice, pro-abortion community to say, we are here,
we control our bodies, we are working with our husbands, brothers, families
to control the foundational right to have the kind of family and lives and
-- you know, we want.
And I think it`s that claim that needs to be stated most powerfully.
ANGYAL: I agree and it`s also really important to note that not everyone
seeking an abortion is a woman and not every woman has a vagina is a woman,
not everyone who is a woman has a vagina -- you know, when we talk about
the most disadvantaged populations, people seeking abortion care, some of
those people are trans, and we need to be talking about that as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And, listen, it feels like the question of sort of
what your body is and the difficult choices that you make around it -- I
mean, if there is any space where we need a little bit of privacy away from
all of the invasive nature of government that conservatives feel so much
angst about it, it is right there on the question of your body.
HERBERT: Which was the point with Roe v. Wade.
HERBERT: And at the time, people thought that it was a settled issue.
This issue was between the woman and her doctor. They would make the
decision, and that was it. Everybody else, you know, get lost. That has
completely changed a little bit.
HEROLD: Let me push back on that a little bit, because I think we`ve
really been trying to -- we`ve been using this frame of between the woman
and her doctor, and it really hasn`t worked. What we need to be saying is
that people can make this decision for themselves. They don`t need a
politician, they don`t need, you know, necessarily their communities,
although a lot of women involve in their families and communities, but they
can make these decisions for themselves. They don`t need someone`s
permission in order to have an abortion.
HARRIS-PERRY: Any type of moral agent.
VANDEN HEUVEL: I do think privacy is a very important frame term.
VANDEN HEUVEL: It means -- I think it`s something we could work with,
because it appeals to a wide range of people.
VANDEN HEUVEL: And that was at the heart of Roe v. Wade.
VANDEN HEUVEL: And there`s such hypocrisy when you saw in Virginia.
Remember the invasive ultrasound while they preached about limited
government and keeping government off your back. Keep government out of
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, when we come -- yes, government just small enough to
fit on the end of the transvaginal probe.
When we come back, we`re going to talk about the reproductive rights
procedure that is so controversial only four doctors in the entire country
will do it.
Stay with us.
HARRIS-PERRY: By the age of 45, about half of all American women will have
had an unintended pregnancy and one in three of them will choose
termination. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly all of them, 88
percent, will have the procedure done in the first 12 weeks of their
pregnancy, and less than 2 percent are performed in the third trimester.
And they are typically due to dire health reasons.
But access has been increasingly restricted in part because of the threat
of violence against health care providers and the legislation aimed at
curtailing the late-term abortions. Since the murder of Dr. George Tiller,
a late term abortion provider who was assassinated by anti-abortion
activists, there are only four doctors in the country willing and able to
perform third trimester terminations.
A new documentary called "After Tiller", which debuted at this year`s
Sundance Film Festival, chronicles the work of these brave physicians.
This is Dr. Shelley Sella in New Mexico.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. SHELLEY SELLA, ABORTION PROVIDER: I think about what I do all the
times and I recognize what I do. And at times, I struggle, and at times I
don`t. But I always come back to the woman.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ours is corpus callosum. Obviously, if the baby
didn`t get part of his brain, what outcome of that can possibly be good and
ours have been great, because it`s guilt no matter which way you go. Guilt
if you go ahead and do what we`re doing or bring into the world and then he
doesn`t have any quality of life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Guttmacher says seven out of 10 women who terminate a
pregnancy would have preferred to have done the procedure earlier, but many
cite financial barriers on obtaining the service, including saving enough,
travel costs, child care costs and lost wages.
Keeping abortion legal is no longer the only barrier to reproductive
So you cannot watch "After Tiller" and not feel how complicated this is --
even just that image of the visibly pregnant belly and the tissues from the
tears, your point about women being moral agents who can make their own
decisions. These are hard decisions. People aren`t making them lightly.
HEROLD: Absolutely. Absolutely.
And what we have to remember, also, is that women are not making these
decisions lightly, absolutely, and they are making them with their family
and their partners. And having politicians think that they can come in to
deny health care coverage, make abortions as they difficult to get as
possible just makes the lives of these people even harder. They are
already going through something tough and the last thing we want to do is
to put more barriers in front of them.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s this space that feels like it is missing in the
conversation around abortion where it becomes either life begins at
conception or life does not begin until the moment that there`s an
independent breath drawn. And anybody who has carried a pregnancy to term
knows that you have some relationship with the pregnancy before the moment
of, you know, the first cry and the slap on the behind.
So it`s -- I feel like we have to get out of just saying, oh, it`s not
really life. It`s nothing. And instead being able to say, sometimes life
leads us to really hard decisions. And it`s not just that we don`t care.
We don`t think it`s life.
HEROLD: Right. We have to really trust women to be able to make these
decisions for themselves. Women can struggle with these moral
complexities. They don`t need politicians to do this for them. They can
come to terms with this themselves, with their families, with their
ANGYAL: And it`s really important to acknowledge that sometimes people
make what in retrospect they believe should be the wrong choice, because we
are moral agents, because we`re human, because we are fallible, and a
danger of a single abortion story is that it was always the right choice,
and, you know, I feel slightly regretful, but on balance, that is how I
would have done.
That`s somehow life works. Like you say, it`s complicated. These are
difficult decisions. Sometime you make the wrong one, sometimes you make
the right one, but that`s the right that people should have in America --
man, woman, anything.
HARRIS-PERRY: And let`s be clear, any reproductive choice that you make
leads to regret and joy. I mean, there`s no person who has parented a kid
who was not at some point was like, what? Why? Right?
And there is no person who gave a child up for abortion that -- excuse me,
for adoption. So, whatever your menu of choice, whether it`s adoption or
abortion or raising your kid, there is always both joy and regret and
feeling that on some days you have made the right decision and on some days
HERBERT: I`m sure that my parents would have been the exception.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, never ever regretted it, not even at 4:00 a.m.
HERBERT: These are obviously in some cases incredibly complicated issues,
and it`s the most complicated, most personal issues that I feel most
uncomfortable leaving to politicians. So, you know, if we have got a tough
call here and the choice is between a woman who is pregnant and whoever she
might want to talk to about it on one hand and say Newt Gingrich on the
other -- yes, I`m going to leave it with the woman.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, absolutely.
Steph, I want to give you the last word here. As we begin to talk about
the access question going forward, what primary policies we need to be
HEROLD: We need to focus on the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid
from covering abortion, and what this means is that people struggling to
make ends meet have inferior health care to people with money, and health
care includes abortion. And we need to make sure that the Hyde Amendment
is repealed so that poor people have access to the same health care that
people who have insurance, absolutely.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, absolutely. It`s very useful.
Thank you to Steph Herold.
And up next, we`re going to talk about the argument for reproductive rights
that is based in religious faith.
HARRIS-PERRY: Think you know where all people of faith stand on the issue
of abortion? Think again. The Movement for Reproductive Health, Freedom
and Access to Abortion is a faith-based cause.
Reverend Matthew Westfox had this to say in an article he wrote for the
Center for American Progress. "`Choice` is not often thought of as a
biblical value and while the Bible affirms the value of sacred conscious --
particularly regarding women regarding their reproductive lives -- the word
abortion never appears in the Scripture. Yet justice is a word found
throughout the Bible and it`s a concept held sacred by many faiths.
Reverend Westfox is here with us now. He`s ordained in the United Church
of Christ and is a pastor at All Souls Bethlehem Church in Brooklyn, New
York, and the consultant to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive
I love your piece.
REV. MATTHEW WESTFOX, RELIGIOUS COALITON FOR REPRODUCTIVE CHOICE. Thank
MATTHEWS: And I love that you say that we can`t skirt it and people of
faith are against abortion and people who are for abortion action must be
godless. Make the theological faith claim for me.
WESTFOX: You know, as I said in that piece, you can`t find abortion in the
Bible. The Bible says about as much about abortion as it does about air
conditioner repair. I mean, it`s a topic that makes just no sense. What
the Bible talks about is justice and talks about compassion. That`s
something that we heard so much in the piece that you did before about the
doctors working since Tiller, because there you got to hear the story of
someone wrestling with these issues.
In my work, so often, I counsel women, I counsel families, who are
wrestling. I have never met someone for whom having an abortion was an
WESTFOX: Yes. What I hear is them really wrestling to figure out where
are they being called in their lives.
And the God that I know, the God that I believe in, tells me to stand on
the side of compassion and to stand on the side of working with families,
with women, as they figure out what can they best do to lead the lives they
need to live.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, it`s always difficult for me when I see the protesters
at the clinics, and I have been a guardian who has walked women in through
the gauntlet. And when they scream about how god hates you or how it is a
sin to -- I keep thinking, who is this angry, mean-spirited God that you
know? Why doesn`t this God, even if you disagree with this choice call you
to some sense of compassion for the women facing this choice?
WESTFOX: You know, there is a part of me that gets angry, but mostly I
feel pity, because I think the power that I know of a loving God -- I have
so much pity for someone who cannot understand a God who sees compassion
for that, because when I see these protesters -- I have talked to so many
people who are harmed by those, you know? And -
WESTFOX: And the stories that I get to hear. There is one woman who I
talked to a couple of months ago and it was -- well, I can`t use the name,
but I will call her Sandra (ph). And we sat together and we prayed
And my mother is Baptist and for me, sometimes, praying is just -- you
know, you light a candle and you talk. And she talked about how for her,
she had two children who she loved dearly and she was struggling to make a
family for them. She couldn`t understand how she could possibly do this
with yet one more child, and she said in that moment, God, I just want to
be a good mama to my kids.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to remind folks that the majority of women who seek
termination services already have children, right? They actually are women
who understand what pregnancy is, who understand what parenting is, who are
making this choice.
We also know that a majority of the women who seek abortion are also people
of faith -- something like 73 percent of themselves are religiously
VANDEN HEUVEL: Reverend Westfox, I haven`t been to church in a long time
and I`m very pleased to be here this Saturday. I feel like I`m in a
church, I want to be in.
WESTFOX: God works always happen.
VANDEN HEUVEL: How do you explain -- how do you -- I mean, how do you
explain that caption of 73 percent of religiously affiliated women, people,
have had abortions? Is it the leadership of the various churches fanning,
fomenting a different vision of God, a less compassionate, more mean-
spirited, because many -- I`ve always -- as a lapse Catholic, I`ve always
been surprised by the disparity between the leadership certainly in the
Vatican and the lay people who have chosen to do birth control or have
abortions as they need.
WESTFOX: You know, I never thought I would quote Richard Nixon on
television, but there is a silent majority here. But the fact is that so
many women have had abortions and yet we don`t know that. Most people
don`t realize that their sister may have had an abortion.
WESTFOX: Their cousin may have had an abortion. Someone in the family
might have had an abortion, but we don`t talk about these things.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is part of the shaming, right? So part of the shaming
is that you -- even if you are a reproductive rights advocate, you don`t
talk about having actually sought an abortion, actually having one, because
it`s still considered this horrible and shameful choice to have made.
ANGYAL: Even if you are a provider and one of the new blogs is called
"Flyover of a Feminism", and it`s about feminism happening in the flyover
states, outside of California or New York where abortion is more readily
accessible than it is in other places, and they posted a first-person
account of one of the providers who`s going to be practicing in Dr.
Tiller`s old clinic when it is reopened.
And what they said -- what that provider said was, you know, I never
imagine myself doing this work, but I looked at the statistics on the
dwindling numbers of providers and I asked myself, if not me, who? And if
not now, when? And that`s a fundamental social justice question.
And I love being able to hold the hand of a desperate woman and tell her, I
can help you. I mean, that`s -- I mean, I`m not a religious person, but
that`s about the most Christ-like thing I have ever heard.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And I will say, I am a religious person. It`s part of
why I so appreciated the talk, and the piece. And I will say this, at the
best, Catholicism at least provides this loving alternative space, because
the Catholic adoption services are also the largest ones in the country.
At some point I promise we will have a conversation of adoption, and
abortion and all the other choices.
But I so appreciate that you allow me just at least a moment to try to
reflect on the faith-based position around reproductive rights.
Thank you to Chloe Angyal and to Reverend Westfox. Also, to Katrina Vanden
Heuvel, who apparently came to church today.
Bob is going to stay with us.
And when we come back, the life of young and the homeless as told by those
who actually live it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Nothing I can tell you from the safety and the warmth of my
seat here on cable television news can fully capture what it means to be
homeless. While those of us who haven`t experienced homelessness can`t
describe the experience, we can recognize the importance of quantifying it.
And this Monday, New York City will try to do just that. The city`s
Homeless Outreach Population Estimate or HOPE plans to survey the city in
two days, using thousands of volunteers to try to count every homeless
person in the city.
HOPE has been conducting the city-wide survey since 2005. For the first
time, though, another city government group will be doing a different count
that night, the New York Department of Youth and Development will be
counting homeless, runaway and unaccompanied youth. They are asking these
young people to be checking in and be counted throughout the various
dropout centers throughout the five boroughs in New York City between 10:00
p.m. and 4:00 a.m.
Nationally, the Obama administration initiated last year Youth Count!, with
an exclamation point, an interagency initiative to develop strategies for
counting unaccompanied homeless youth up to 24 years old. Eight
municipalities and all of Washington state are participating, including New
So counting homeless youth provides essential data -- data which may help
shock a nation into action and provide guidance for the resources
available. For our part today, we`re going to talk to some people who have
their own unique insights.
Joining me is Eboni Boykin, who was homeless as a teenager and is now a
freshman at Columbia University.
Derrick Cobb, a dancer and model, who was homeless for five years.
Ralph da Costa Nunez from the Institute for Children, Poverty and
And Bob Herbert, distinguished fellow at Demos.
Also with us is Jimmy Ramirez, a formerly homeless teen who is an advocate
for the California Homeless Youth Project. He joins us from Washington,
D.C., where he is a sophomore at Georgetown University.
Thank you all for being here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
EBONI BOYKIN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY FRESHMAN: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jimmy, I`m going to start with you, since you are joining us
I want to ask you about both your experience of being homeless, but
specifically your experience working with homeless youth. What is your
takeaway on efforts like the one coming up Monday?
JIMMY RAMIREZ, WAS HOMELESS AS A TEEN: So I worked for California Youth
Homeless Project in Sacramento, California. It`s a policy initiative for
policymakers to learn about the homeless youth, learn about the scale and
scope of the problem. So, I`ve done a lot of blogging recently on the
recent point in time count that is home youth are going the be included in.
I think it`s very, very important, because now we`re going to put a number
to the estimations that have been going on far too long. So, this number
is a good jumping point to actually eliminate this problem and actually
hold ourselves accountable.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ralph, how do you -- I mean, you are right here in the city.
What do you think of this effort on Monday?
RALPH DA COSTA NUNEZ, INSTITUTE FOR CHILDREN, POVERTY & HOMELESSNESS: I
think it`s a good effort, but I find that there are shortcomings. I mean,
I think we undercount. We do this point in time and then you read Huddle
comes out and say this year, they report that homeless is going down.
Well, it certainly isn`t. If you are on the street, you see it. If you
count the shelters, you see it.
So, it`s a good effort, but we are missing a lot. This issue is much
bigger than any count we`re going to do on one evening.
HARRIS-PERRY: And part of it is that the young people are the perhaps most
difficult to count here, because they are actually asking them to come in
and come to drop-in centers.
When you think of your own experience of being a young person in the
context of homelessness, how would you have been counted? How would they
have been able to find you, to count you?
DERRICK COMB, WAS HOMELESS FOR 5 YEARS: Honestly, that`s a really tough
question to answer, because a lot of the young people, we have a pride
factor to it. We don`t like to admit exactly what the situation or what we
are going through at the particular time. So with the youth, we spend most
of our time trying to hide it and trying to, you know, put on that act and
put up that presence as if nothing is wrong, when in actuality, something
is wrong, and I think that`s a huge part of the problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, the point that you are making right now, Eboni, I
heard you made a similar point when you and I discussed your circumstance
of being homeless before you went to Columbia University.
I want to -- I want to listen for a moment, because you told us a little
bit about your own experiences. And I want to -- let me hear what you said
and then respond to it a little bit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOYKIN: We were pretty much homeless most of my childhood. We were
usually sleeping on other people`s floors or in different homeless
shelters. There were many times that I had to study and I was hungry.
I would say that food was more so an issue when we weren`t in the shelters
anymore, because at least there, they feed you. When I was older, and I
was able to ask my mom why this was happen, she would say, well, I didn`t
make the right decisions and I didn`t stay in school, and if you do this,
things can be better for you.
So, I kind of took that and ran with it. That is what helped know stay
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So you are saying, it helped me to stay focused and I stayed
on course, but the whole time you are selling that story, I was thinking,
that`s a huge sort of effort of will.
BOYKIN: Yes. Absolutely, it was. I mean, but staying focused is sort of
all you can do, because what else? I mean, I could have sat around and
there was nothing to do in the shelters. There were beds and then there
was the cafeteria.
So I had no choice except to be focused and set a goal for myself. It was
either that for pretty much sit around and feel sorry for myself. And I
don`t think that my mom would have been happy with me had I done that and I
wouldn`t have been happy with myself. So I`m happy with the decisions I
HERBERT: You know, I think that people tend not to understand, one, how
pervasive this problem is. I agree with you. I think that it`s growing.
It is certainly not diminishing.
But also to hear Eboni talk about being hungry. So, when I interview the
young people who have been homeless, that always comes up. So people think
of homelessness, but just without a place to live. They forget that you
don`t have any money, and very often people are going hungry, and it is --
it`s a chaotic way to live. We should pay much more attention to it. I
congratulate you for staying on issues like this on this program.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
Jimmy, let me ask you about that, because Eboni is at Columbia University.
You are there at Georgetown. So, I think maybe some sort of kind of almost
an effort to say, well, look, if you focus hard enough, you can still have
But what`s the reality of the experience for young people coping with the
issue of homelessness?
RAMIREZ: So I can speak from personal experience, what got me through to
where I am today is the community of people who invested in me and cared
for me. So, specifically, like my teacher who took me in and a lot of
factors to come together and making me feel adequate, because there were
feelings of inadequacy and one when my homeless situation was taking place.
HARRIS-PERRY: Derrick, I want to ask you, in part, about this question of
community of question, because LGBTQ youth are the most likely population
of young people to end up homeless --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- in part because the community does the opposite of taking
care of them.
HARRIS-PERRY: It often shuns and rejects.
COBBS: Yes, it does actually. It is unfortunate. And, for me, the
circumstances were extremely, extremely tough, but once again, finding the
support system, and finding, you know, me mentors at the Ali, at, you know,
my music producers and, you know, the photographers I begun working with to
really, really give me a sense of everything is going to be all right.
And a lot of the times, I think that the parents need to get more involved
and you know, figure out exactly what is happening with their kids when
they come out rather than pushing them away.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ralph, what I hear is that there is a theme of for kids
who are making it on the other side of this. But there was someone, a
teacher, a photographer, a parent who reached out, who helped to bring them
back. Is that what the organizations are trying to do, is to be that
NUNEZ: That is the story, but it`s difficult to do. These are success
NUNEZ: The other side of the curve is very different. You know, your
typical homeless person in America today is a child. It`s not an adult.
It`s an 11 or 12-year-old child.
And the key issue for these children and so, it`s so important, is
education. Not having home destabilizes your family, it destabilizes your
health, it destabilizes your education. Homeless people, families, move at
least three to four times a year, each of those is a educational setback.
If we don`t pay attention to this, if we don`t realize that this isn`t
simply housing issue, it`s truly an educational issue, it`s a children`s
issue and it`s an issue that we are going to pay 10 or 20 or more times for
if we don`t address it now, if we don`t pay attention to it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right there. I really like this point of educational
disruption. We`re going to ask about something pretty extraordinary that
happened at the inauguration when President Obama said something about this
question. I want my guests to weigh in on it.
HARRIS-PERRY: President Obama did something extraordinary in the inaugural
speech. He explained that we need to measure the quality of the nation by
the opportunities that with we offer to poor children.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For we, the people,
understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very
well, and growing many barely make it. We are true to the our creed when a
little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same
chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free
and she is equal and not just in the eyes of God, but also in our own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That moment gave me pause, Ralph, because on the one hand,
he is saying that the critical measure of the nation is when we look at a
child, particularly a girl child, in the bleakest poverty, and what her
opportunities are is how we should measure ourselves, and so how are we
NUNEZ: Well, we are not doing very well.
NUNEZ: If you are poor in the country, at some point in time, you are
going to be homeless. If you`re going to be homeless, it will have an
impact if you`re a child on your education. And the more episodes of
homelessness, if you are back into the system as something (INAUDIBLE),
two, three, four, five years, the probability of you falling behind not
completing school increases dramatically.
This is an issue where we must realize that education is the key, and
education may not be the only chance for poor kids in this country, but
it`s the best chance. And that`s where the resources have to go.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting. It`s a challenge that we face, you know,
for example, on a show like this where we want to talk about it. But then,
of course, the young people who we can go and find to talk about it are
those who have found themselves on the other side of the curb, in part
because that`s then who`s available to us, and then it is way to be
difficult to get to the crux of the -- just two weeks ago, we had the new
freshman congresswoman, Kyrsten Sinema, here on the show and she stated and
talked a little bit about her own homelessness afterward. I want to listen
and I ask you a question, Bob.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D), ARIZONA: When I was a kid, my dad was an attorney
and we were a middle-class family. And during the early 1980s, my dad lost
his job in the great, at that time, a big recession, and we went from
middle-class to poor almost overnight, and end up being homeless, lived
without running water or electricity for two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So my dad was an attorney, we were middle-class, we lost our
job in the Great Recession of the `80s. We went to homelessness.
That is a story of a lot of Americans right now.
HERBERT: That`s what we need to keep in mind that at the bottom of the
homeless problem, crisis that we have in this country is the employment
crisis that we still have in this country. Individuals and families are
homeless for the most part because they don`t have either --they don`t have
employment or jobs that pay enough to pay for, you know, rent or to buy a
So we need to address there are so many issues to address, but really need
to address the fundamental issue of employment here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Of employment and economic opportunity.
Derrick, you are now at a point where -- as a young man, you are starting
to think about employment and economic opportunity and all of that. What
are the lessons that you will take from your own experience of homelessness
as you move forward?
COBB: Well, anything I want is possible. I`m a believer in that, and if I
put my heart, my mind in it, and if I work at it and if I self-educate as
well as look for the educational opportunities, I`ll definitely go far. I
think that`s a big factor for me.
And I wanted to say that to all homeless kids that you have to really start
taking the steps to start to make the change. And once you do that, the
help will be available to you. You just have to be ready to receive it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Eboni, would you underline those same kind of ideas?
BOYKIN: Oh, absolutely. One of the main things I will take into my
adulthood from my experience is anything is possible, you know? Like in a
hard economic time, and there`s all these negative things that come on the
news, and, you know, I have been through enough to know that just enough
hard work and determination can get you pretty far. So --
HARRIS-PERRY: Jimmy, let me ask you also on this question, because I know
you have seen it both from the experience, but also from your organizing
and your own work. On the one hand the story about the structural
difficulties and on the other, about individual perseverance. How do we
RAMIREZ: I completely agree. I think your struggle makes you stronger.
And if you invest yourself into something that you truly love whether
that`d be advocacy or whatever you are into, I think success is just a step
away, and also very important that someone who is there to support you
along the way.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, what I appreciate about all three of you is I know
that part of the job as policymakers and media is to point out the
structural inequities and to change it so it is not so hard, but I also
appreciate that you all embody the thing that President Obama talked about,
that sense of somehow, even in the bleakest of circumstances that you have
something inside of you. And we celebrate, we celebrate that no matter
what the structural circumstances are.
Thank you, Jimmy Ramirez in Washington.
RAMIREZ: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we are going to have more -- thank you, Jimmy --we`re
going to have more in a moment.
But first, it is time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" and it
hosted by new dad and good friend, T.J. Holmes.
T.J. HOLMES, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hey, I have a lot going on these days.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, hanging out at MSNBC, and you`re a new dad.
HOLMES: I came to New York to get some sleep actually. I have to get back
home to Atlanta and get back on duty. But good to see you this morning.
And they are calling it the GOP Electoral College-rigging. This is going
on and folks. A new plan by the GOP, meeting at the GOP, that would have
changed actually the outcome of the last election if their plan was in
place. We`ll explain and see if this thing will actually work.
Also, do the Republicans go too far in their questioning of Hillary
Clinton? And did the Democrats take it too easy on her in the questioning
of Benghazi? I`m going to be talking to one senator who is in the room
during that questioning.
Also, the director of "Zero Dark Thirty" talking about really was going on
behind those controversial scenes.
And in today`s office politics, Alex continues her conversation with none
other than Chris Matthews, talk about a 2016 potential Democratic matchup
that everybody was talking about this week, Joe versus Hillary for
I will see you, what, in about 12 minutes. Melissa, it`s all yours.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. Everybody hang out for T.J. a little bit later
But don`t go away because it`s still a little bit of more of Nerdland on
this topic of food and hunger. We`re going to talk about a new plan for 35
million tons of food. We love our foot soldier this week. Love him.
HARRIS-PERRY: Remember when your mom used to tell you to clean your plate
because there were hungry kids out there without enough to eat? Maybe you
looked at those remaining Brussels sprouts.
But our foot soldier this week takes a much different view. Ben Simon is a
23-year-old senior at the University of Maryland, College Park. And he is
doing something about this statistic. Every year in the United States, 35
million tons of food go to waste, even as 15 percent of American households
experience food insecurity.
Ben saw part of the problem right in the University of Maryland`s dining
hall. Every night at the close of business, food, lots of food, was simply
being tossed. Ben and his friends had a basic question.
Why not donate the unsold food from their dining hall to nearby food banks
and shelters? To sell reluctant dining services executives on the idea,
Ben showed them the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. It
protects businesses, organizations and individuals that donate food in good
faith from being legally liability that might arise from their donations.
So, after that recognition of limited liability the food gates opened. Ben
rallied a group of student volunteers, made sure everyone went through food
handling training and started with one night a week to collect the unsold
food from campus dining halls, package it and deliver it to local food
The cost was minimal. The food was already made. Student volunteers did
all of the work. The only cost was a 10 cent tin to place the food into.
The program called the Food Recovery Network quickly expanded to five
nights a week at the University of Maryland. Then members of the Food
Recovery Network contacted their friends on other campuses and shared the
model. Now, there are chapters at 13 colleges and universities around the
country. More than 120,000 pounds of food have been recovered, resulting
in more than 96,000 meals for people who may not have had meals otherwise.
Chapters of the Food Recovery Network have donated to 21 different
shelters, and students have volunteered more than 5,000 hours to this
cause. But Ben Simon still wants to take it a bit further.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN SIMON, FOOD RECOVERY NETWORK: America has 3,000 colleges and
universities and about 75 percent of them have no food recovery program and
are literally throwing away tens of thousands of pounds of good food every
year that could be donated. Our end goal is to have food recovery nation
where every college in America has a Food Recovery Network chapter that can
have one. It started here at UMD but we want to go nationwide and
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Already the student has become the teacher. Ben is in talks
with members of Montgomery County Council about using his student-run
program as a model to be implemented at the local government level to
create one of the nation`s first county-wide food recovery programs.
For seeing a solution when others only saw piles of waste and for making
all those mothers who push us to be members of the clean your plate club
proud, Ben Simon is our foot soldier of the week.
To read more about Ben and the Food Recovery Network, please go to our Web
site, mhpshow.com. This week`s foot soldier was nominated by Megan Corzine
(ph), an MSNBC employee and University of Maryland Alum.
To pitch a foot soldier of your own go to our Facebook page at
That`s our show for today. Thank you to Eboni, to Derrick, to Ralph and to
Also, thanks to you at home for watching. I can`t wait to see you tomorrow
morning at 10:00 Eastern.
On my program tomorrow, I have an interview tomorrow with a man who didn`t
run. Many conservatives thought that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels would
be their best candidate for 2012, but instead he became the president of
Purdue University. I asked him about that very nerdy move. You can see it
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