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'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Read the transcript to the Saturday show

April 13, 2013

Guests: Matt Welch, Maya Wiley, Greg Kaufmann, Lisa Cook, Mercedes Marquez,
Brendon Ayanbadejo, Dennis Johnson, Sheena Wright, Lisa Cook

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question. Did you
hear about little TV spot that caused all the fuss? Plus, some crazy
lady`s plan to take people`s children. And the un-flipping-believable way
that it all spiraled out of control. Well, yes, this is a conversation
that we in Nerdland welcome, so here we go.

Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Yes, that Melissa Harris-Perry.
The Melissa Harris-Perry who has heard from many of you this week about a
promo by me that has been running on this network. Haven`t seen it? Well,
here it is.


HARRIS-PERRY: We have never invested as much in public education as we
should have. Because of all, we have kind of a private notion of children.
Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven`t had a very
collective notion of these are our children. So part of it is we have to
break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or
kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole
communities. Once it`s everybody`s responsibility and not just the
households, then we start making better investments.


HARRIS-PERRY: So what I thought was a relatively benign statement about
the need to invest more resources into our public education system has
caused quite a conservative commotion. And if we trace this fish tail
back, what has garnered thousands of responses in the form of TV segments,
emails, tweets and phone calls started as a short item on a conservative
blog`s weekend traffic. But it was enough for former governor Sarah Palin
to find the spot un-flipping-believable. And then, my friend, the walls
came tumbling down. Conservative host Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and
several on Fox News devoted considerable air time to this 30-second ad run
by and for another cable news network.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do your children belong to you or do they belong to
the government? Now according to NBC News`s cable operation, it`s not you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You may have been given birth to them, but according to
MSNBC, your kids belong to the community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: MSNBC Melissa Harris-Perry says the collective is
better and kids don`t actually, you know, belong to you.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: She claims that, quote, the community owns your
children. Not you.

GREG GUTFELD: What this is she`s passing the buck to Chairman Mao.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: The nuclear family has always been under attack by
communists. By leftists.

this is the intellectual love child of the great society. And the -- the
sexual revolution. Again, where everyone but no one is responsible.


HARRIS-PERRY: It has since spread virally online. And my own inbox
overflowed. But even though my "Lean Forward" spot has been at the center
of the storm it`s not really about me. I mean I doubt even the angriest
respondents believe that I personally want to take their children into my
household. And I assure you my 11-year-old would not take kindly to my
adopting 70 million siblings for her. So rather than feeling hurt or
angry, I felt curious, curious about what is creating this very strong
reaction and what this is exactly about in terms of this "Lean Forward" ad.
Because this "Lean Forward" ad is doing exactly what it`s intended to do.
They are intended to foster and invite conversation. But why did this
spot? And by the way, I`ve got a bunch of them. Why did this one get so
many tongues wagging?

I think the notion that some people are just haters is simply to easy. I
can see that some people are genuinely upset about what I actually said.
Especially this phrase.


HARRIS-PERRY: We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids
belong to their parents or kids belong to their families.


HARRIS-PERRY: So, so let me just say that -- this -- I stand by that
statement. Families have first and primary responsibility for their
children. The private sphere of our homes and families deserves the great
difference in policy and in practice. Only in the most extreme
circumstances of violence or deprivation should institutions remove
children from families. But I believe our children are not our private
property. They are not just extensions of ourselves. They are independent
individual beings. Allow me to quote the poet, Kahlil Gibran, "Your
children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life`s
longing for itself. They come through you, but not from you. And though
they are with you, yet they belong not to you."

But listen, this is an existential argument and one of which reasonable
people can disagree. And one, which has been more influential in poetry
than in policy. And honestly, remote philosophical debate rarely drives
relentless news cycles, unless, unless it is the core philosophical issue
of our entire history. The balance between individual rights and
collective responsibilities. And that is my bet about what is happening.
This isn`t about me wanting to take your kids, and this isn`t even about
whether children are property. This is about whether we as a society,
expressing our collective will through our public institutions, including
our government, have a right to impinge on individual freedoms in order to
advance a common good.

And that is exactly the fight that we have been having for a couple of
hundred years. Even in this last election when underneath the layers of
the "We built this" meme, was the question of who we are as Americans. Are
we a loosely affiliated group of book-strapped individuals or are we a
people tied to one another, the collective responsibility to care for our
young, our elderly, our poor, even our infrastructure? It`s an old
question, but one that gained renewed meaning after the financial collapse
of 2007 left many asking whether the invisible hand of the market was
enough or whether we need the joined hands of a robust social safety net to
catch us when we fall.

So this debate is not about me, but it is about us. It is about all of our
major issues currently on our political agenda. Because what is a budget
debate, is not a conversation about finding the balance between rights and
responsibilities, between our private earnings and our public investments,
our ability to use our household resources to do our very best for our own
children and the imperative that we use some of those resources to support
children whose households have less than ours.

Or as conservatives thinkers might argue, the need to balance between our
desired today and our need to preserve the promise of the American dream
for future generations, because our kids who will inherit our nation belong
to all of us. And we have a collective responsibility to them. I hit a
nerve with a 30-second promotional ad and the nerve that I hit is connected
to the central nervous system of our democracy at the synopses of civic
engagement is the electoral call current that forges our more perfect

So, rather than shrink from the critics, rather than lash out in defense,
allow me to welcome the debate. And with me at the table this morning,
Matt Welch, one of my favorite libertarian intellectual sparring partners
and editor in chief of "Reason" magazine. And Maya Wiley, a civil rights
attorney and founder and president of "The Center for Social Inclusion."

All right, Matt, I want to start with you, because it feels to me like this
is a negative/positive freedom. A libertarian versus big state question.
Where do you fall on this?

MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REASON: Well, I know you`re not going to
steal my daughter, because you didn`t do it when you had the chance.


WELCH: No, my problem with what your statement was, was that from my
perspective the premise of it was wrong. Right? We don`t lack for
spending money on public education in this country. We spend three times
as much per capita per student as we did in 1970, with the exact same
results as we had, more or less, in 1970. So we already have the social
contract where we have said everywhere that every kid has a right to public
education. That exists and yet public education is not performing. So
that is what we need, I think, to confront. Not some notion that it`s our
overly private sense of our children that we have to somehow break through.
No, we`ve broken through that, actually, but what we haven`t done is
translate that into better education.

HARRIS-PERRY: You see, you know, it`s interesting. We`re going to get
into education more concretely as we move into the second hour. But I do
want to in part put a finger on what you just said. That OK, we have
already broken through that. Because, in fact, that is the part that I
thought would be non-controversial. I thought that there was in fact on
both the left and the right this sense that look, kids are a part of our
collective responsibility. No child left behind. It is -- it really has
been surprising to me to discover that the sort of angle of the debate this
week wasn`t about public education funding, which to me is debatable. But
instead it was about, whether or not we in fact do have a kind of private
ownership stake in our kids.

are two things happening here. One is that the attack on what you said was
taken grossly out of context by those who are making the attack and they
weren`t actually talking about what you were talking about ...


WILEY: ... which was an actual debate about are we actually funding enough
for public education or are we not, right, which is a legitimate
conversation we can have. So I think we should acknowledge that that was
not either fair or intellectually, I think, very legitimate.

WELCH: But ...

WILEY: But ...

WELCH: Thank you.

WILEY: I do think you`re raising this underlying point, which is what is
society`s social contract? And I think, actually, we have seen it
shifting. And we`ve also seen arguments about the fact that it should
shift, which is what you`re pointing to. So, for example, in Mississippi,
there have been tremendous inroads in changing the education formula for a
state that has one of the lowest performing public school systems, in part
that reform was to try to ensure that funds were going to the kids who
needed them the most. Now we`ve slashed, Mississippi has slashed the
budget for the reformulation about how it spends. So it does have impacts
on whether we`re all taking care of each other`s children.

HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting that you bring up Mississippi in part,
because, you know, as I`ve been trying to think through this response, it`s
one of the places where I have felt some sense of agreement with people on
the other side of the reproductive choice argument. Right? So people who
have a position on pro-life typically also understand that the child is
separate from the parent, right? It`s just that for me child begins with
birth and for them child begins with conception, right? But they`re based
still on the fundamental idea that, in fact, there`s a collective interest
in an infant, that does not belong to you biologically. And in fact, in
the first quarter of 2013 we`ve seen states propose 694 new provisions to
address unborn children. So I was sort of shocked that the right would say
to me, oh no, your kid is your kid, to dispose of as you want, because, in
fact, that seems not to be the position.

WELCH: Well, let`s acknowledge that language here matters.


WELCH: There`s a different thing, you know, there`s one point to say that
society has recognized that there is a community responsibility for
handling children or having public policy that affects children that are
not their own. There is a difference between saying that and saying, we
have to get over this private notion that our kids belong to ourselves.
Kids and parenthood is kind of a sensitive topic.

HARRIS-PERRY: It is. Right. No doubt.

WELCH: You might have learned this week. And so, when you say we have to
get over this notion, people say hold on. You know, I have that notion, I
mean this is a country that accepts as asylum refugees those who are not
allowed to home school their kids in other countries, right? They have a
pretty private notion of it. And they`ve paid for it, dearly. And we have
acknowledged this as a country as you should be able to do that if that`s
what you want to do. So, I mean it`s a sensitive discussion.

HARRIS-PERRY: Interesting. We`re going to go to break, because I want to
get really into the policy questions of housing and of education and all of
this on exactly this topic. We`re going to stay for the next two hours on
the question of collective responsibilities. But before I go, I do also
want to just give us (inaudible) and listen to somebody else who said
something very similar to this. It`s my not so much ideological twin,
Colin Powell. Let`s listen to him as we go.


COLIN POWELL: Where the family is broken or where the family is not up to
the task, the rest of us must step in to help as mentors, tutors, foster
parents, friends to kids who desperately need responsible adults to show
them the way. Tens of thousands of our neighbors have already stepped
forward. Tens of thousands who realized, that our children are a gift from
God not only to their parents, but to all of us. They belong to us all.
We are all responsible for them.


HARRIS-PERRY: For the last 40 years, a bipartisan Congress has kept up a
commitment to fund the housing choice vouchers, that had kept low income
families from becoming homeless. The section 8 voucher program offers a
subsidy for families with children living who are living below the poverty
line. The elderly and people with disabilities who would be unable to
afford housing without financial help. To find the housing of their choice
on the private market. It`s a policy decision that puts into action our
collective understanding that every American has a right to a safe,
affordable place to call home. And for most of the last four decades, that
policy has had solid support from both sides of the aisle in Congress.
Which has renewed vouchers nearly every year for families currently
enrolled in the program until now.

After Congress dropped the meat cleaver of sequestration on March 1,
hacking away at domestic spending, families like those who depend on
Section 8, will soon be the ones feeling the cuts. And the sequester will
force the local agencies responsible for administering the vouchers to
eliminate housing assistance for up to 140,000 families. This human cost
of sequestration is detailed in a new report from the Center on Budget and
Policy Priorities. And it`s a subject of a column by "The Nation"s "This
Week in Poverty" writer, and Nerdland friend, Greg Kaufmann. He joins us
here today at the table along with Lisa Cook, assistant professor of
economics and international relations at Michigan State University. So,
Greg, I want to start with you, because you wrote passionately about this.
Looks like this question is getting real, and it`s getting real for poor
people. What is -- what`s at stake here?

GREG KAUFMANN, CONTRIBUTOR, THE NATION: Well, we are just moving in the
wrong direction from the collective perspective. I mean if you think about
the people who are receiving housing vouchers, the average income for the
household is $12,500 a year. As you mentioned, half of the recipients are
people with disabilities or seniors. The other half are families with
children. Only twice in those -- the last 40 years did we not renew the
vouchers, didn`t cut them down. And you know what? That was under George
W. Bush, and those vouchers still have not come back. So, what we need to
realize is that, if we go in this direction, $140,000, 140,000 vouchers
lost, we cannot count on them coming back any time soon. Even though
demand for them is rising. And only one in poor families ...


KAUFMANN: ... receives them. Who are eligible.

HARRIS-PERRY: But -- I mean -- so -- I mean part of it is, this is about
expanding eligibility, right? That even at this moment only one in four
receives them. We were looking at the figure of how sequestration is going
to create this funding shortfall. And it is pretty stunning. Where you
can see the little cut, but then there`s this huge cut that happens when
sequestration hits and all of a sudden you see this big dramatic drop. So
-- so, this -- I want to -- yeah -- there`s the drop, right, that`s the
drop that happens with the housing voucher short falls. So, Lisa, I want
to ask in part -- I mean we could make a sort of ethical or moral argument
about the need to help people without means to have housing. But what is
the economic cost of suddenly having a 140,000 new homeless families?

it`s sinister. So, homelessness is the first thing that we should be
concerned about. We should be concerned about the recovery. So this
housing demand that sped up. Certainly, if one accommodate many of those,
we would see housing construction pickup. So what we have is a nascent
housing recovery. We have housing starts that have been increasing. We
have housing prices that have been increasing. We want to keep this going.
This is still a fragile recovery. And one more knock, this could be death
by a million cuts.

HARRIS-PERRY: So Matt, I know that section 8 is exactly the kind of sort
of market being, you know, sort of intervention by the government.
Libertarians typically say, wow, that is going to create a lot of negative
externalities that you don`t -- you don`t even mean to be creating.

WELCH: Well, let`s -- let`s pull the focus backwards a little bit here and
talk about sequester and government spending as a whole. And how it
relates to this. Bill Clinton`s last budget was $1.8 trillion, Barack
Obama`s first was $3.6 trillion. Right? So we have spent a lot more money
as a government, much of them under George W. Bush. We`ve increased the
cost of government over that time. So every government program, military,
everything has been goosed for the last ten years. And so, when you cut
this much and then you have these terrible outcomes, you have to ask the
question, what did we do with that money before? And then, if we think on
any given day, government spending is a zero sum game, so you`re competing
for different things. When you`re giving money to Monsanto in the form of
farm subsidies, that money is not going to section 8.


WELCH: So if you treasure a safety net, which you do, you need to look
around and everyone needs to look around. What are we spending money on
that we shouldn`t? Why is the cost of government going through the roof
when we don`t feel like we`re getting the same benefits out of ...

HARRIS-PERRY: Well, yeah, I mean you`re definitely not going to get me to
support Monsanto. Like, yeah, let`s get rid of that. I mean that`s right
-- that`s clearly exactly the kind of giveaway that is problematic. But,
you know, the one thing I would wonder about, though, Matt, is the way that
you formulated that. You said that there`s a zero sum game, which also
assumes the fixed pie. And the other possibility is that you can ask
wealthier people to pay a fairer share.

WILEY: That`s right. So, part of that -- I mean, of course part of that
increase in spending Matt is talking about also went to actually try to re-
energize the economy to the tune of over $700 billion, which is actually
the exact same thing that George Bush did. So, you know, there`s no
question that there are times when we must spend, we should spend and it
actually helps us solve some of our problems. I also agree that we have to
look at what we`re spending on. But the reality is we`ve also been cutting
the revenue. And if we don`t start thinking about how we`ve got some
corporations like Monsanto who are getting public dollars to make private
profit are also often paying very little to nothing in taxes, so they`re
not part of investing in our children`s future collectively the way the
rest of us are.

KAUFMANN: Melissa, and also I mean while I agree that we need to look at
how money is spent, obviously, you know, there`s still the issue of these
140,000 families. And this is already starting to take effect. I mean and
I`m not trying to pick on New Orleans, but recently ...

WELCH: Go for it!

KAUFMANN: You know, they have given vouchers to 700 families on the
waiting list. The families hadn`t found places yet, and they said, hold
on. We need those back. And that`s not just New Orleans. That`s
happening in a lot of places. And normally, say, I have a voucher and then
I get a good job so I don`t need it anymore. That`s next in line, he would
get it. They`re not -- they`re not giving them out. They are saying, we
are going to hold on to it. San Diego just said no more vouchers until
2014. 30,000 people are on the waiting list.

And so, ultimately - while this -- and they`re writing people who have
vouchers now and saying hey, you`re good now, but by the end of the year
you might not have it. And all of these things the Center on Budget Policy
report, by Doug Rice who just did a phenomenal job. They suggest that all
of these things are going to drive families to neighborhoods with higher
crime, lower performing schools and less access to jobs.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And we know that the impact then on children is a
lifetime impact, right? So children who are in deep poverty in their young
years end up having lifetime - 70 percent likelihood that they are also
going to live in poverty. There is another side to this housing story
we`re going to continue to talk about. And that is -- that`s the piece
that is -- that`s at the top. It`s about home ownership and foreclosure.
But before we go to break, it feels like a good time just to mention this.
My book, "Sister Citizen" is now out in paperback. Just saying.

Up next. We`re going to continue to talk about the housing issue and issue
of -- even you`re paying your mortgage, you still might lose your house.


HARRIS-PERRY: What I`m holding in my hand is a detailed list of the
abusive practices of 11 big banks that led to wrongful forced foreclosure
of 4 million American homeowners at the height of the housing crisis. This
report released this week is a joint investigation between the
comptroller`s office and the Federal Reserve. That illustrates the extents
of the error and wrong doing that were features, not bugs of the banks
foreclosure proceedings.

The numbers are staggering. More than 1,000 members of the military with
completed foreclosures, which means that they were evicted from their homes
in violation of federal law.

More than 800 people who lost their homes, even though they were complying
with the forbearance plan, in which the banks agreed not to go pursuit

More than 230,000 people who worked out a plan with the their bank to lower
the monthly payments and had their homes taken by those banks anyway.

And then there are the 679 people whose loans were not in default. Who
never missed a mortgage payment. And still had foreclosure proceedings
brought against them. 53 of those people ultimately lost their homes.
Yesterday checks went in the mail to the first of the 4 million people
eligible for payment in settlement against the banks. But with the vast
majority of those people receiving a paltry $300 each, it will be cold
comfort after the loss of their homes. Joining me now, is Mercedes
Marquez. She is deputy mayor for the housing -- deputy mayor for housing
to Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, general manager of the Los
Angeles Housing Department and former Department of Housing and Urban
Development assistant secretary for community planning and development. So
nice to have you.


HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me a little bit about this. Because it feels
like it`s illustrative of the patch worker processes, that the banks have,
that there`s not sort of one standard.

MARQUEZ: Well, I think that`s true that there wasn`t one standard. I
think in many ways, we all thought that there was an industry standard and
it`s somewhere there was something like a clipboard, and everyone was
following the same script. But I think in some ways, what we`re finding is
that it wasn`t engineered to hold the scale of problem that this was. So,
it broke through.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you this, and I think this is a tough one,
the one that might get me into trouble. But is part of what is going on
here, that it`s time for us to rethink the kind of ideological imperative
towards home ownership as equivalent to the American dream and to invest in
other forms of housing, like rental housing and low-income housing. Is it
time for us to rethink that a bit?

MARQUEZ: Oh, there`s no question in my mind that we need a balanced
housing policy, and I think I can tell you for sure that the administration
has always felt that we need something more. You know, home ownership is a
wonderful thing, and it`s a great aspiration. But, you know, here in my
own city, here in L.A., we`re city of renters, right? Over 60 percent of
us rent.

And so, we have to understand that the American dream is about making sure
that your children do better than you do. And if you live in great
affordable rental housing, whether it`s in the private sphere or in the
public sphere, and you can get your kids into college that way, and provide
for them, that is what is important. It`s not so much about home
ownership. Although a wonderful thing, but it should work for everybody
and we should make sure that the products that we use to get into home
ownership, decent rates, long-term investment is what we`re doing, not the
kind of thing that led us to very bad products and has a lot of families in
pursuit of that dream making, you know, fairly difficult and often poor
decisions for the long term health of their family.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, Lisa, I want to bring you in on this, because I think
exactly that balance between the decisions that homeowners are making, the
decisions that families are making trying to get into homes versus the
products that they were being offered, how should we see that balance in
terms of where the fault lies?

COOK: It lies in so many different places. So, the first place that it
was is with the banks and mortgage services who inadequately informed the
individuals who took out these mortgages. That`s one place. The other
fault is with the regulators who were not watching this and who weren`t
offering alternatives, who were not creating policy to make sure that this
wasn`t happening. And it certainly -- we have to assume some of the
responsibility, too. Individuals have to -- we have to become more
financially educated about these products and ask for more, demand more.
Make sure that section 8 financing is not being cut. Because as you were
saying before the big, big problem is going to be ten to 15 years from now
with respect to education. We`re going to have a generation of kids who --
multiply 140,000 times two.


COOK: And each of those kids in a new high crime area. And now where are
the costs going to go up? This is going to be the chief investment,
because they`re going to go up in prisons, they`re going to go up in
homeless shelters ...


COOK: I mean this a general equilibrium problem. You pay now and pay
little or you pay later and you pay a lot and you don`t get the outcome you
actually want.

HARRIS-PERRY: Mercedes, let me ask you one last question here, but before
we head out, and that`s -- I just want to take back for a moment to the
section 8 question. You know, this sequestration is going to hit
localities. You`re there in Los Angeles. What is it going to mean on the
ground for housing decisions being made in L.A.?

MARQUEZ: Oh, this is going to have a devastating impact on the city of Los
Angeles. I can tell you hear, we have been working on the issue -- of
homeless issue. Now, we have a very difficult problem here. And at the
moment we have over 400 vouchers, not unlike what was said about New
Orleans that are formally homeless folks, both veterans and families that
are looking for housing now. If we don`t find the solution, those will be,
you know, the first in and last out, right? So, these will be the folks
that will lose the opportunity to find housing. It`s really critical here.

HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Mercedes Marquez in Los Angeles. I`m going to
get the rest of the panel back in on this topic as soon as we come back.



SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Those families that have been
victims of illegal foreclosures, will you be giving them the information
that`s in your possession about how the banks illegally foreclosed against
them? Mr. Ashton?

decision that we`re still considering. We haven`t made a final decision

WARREN: So, you have made a decision to protect the banks, but not a
decision to tell the families who were illegally foreclosed against?


HARRIS-PERRY: Maya, I saw you wanted to jump in on exactly this issue
before the break.

WILEY: There`s so much to say on this issue.


WILEY: I don`t know where to start. But I mean I think the important
thing about this conversation balanced, we do need a balanced housing
policy, we do need rental and home ownership and the thing we can`t lose
right now, in many cities it`s actually cheaper to own a home and pay a
mortgage than to pay rent. And at the same time you can actually grow
assets. You can grow wealth that helps you invest in your children,
whether you own them or the community. And the important thing about that
particularly for communities of color, this voucher issue, you know, lots
of people of color with this voucher have a really hard time finding a
landlord who will rent to them.


WILEY: And so, we have to be honest about that. The mobility issue is big
and important, but we can`t assume that just because a person has the
voucher, they will be able to make use of the voucher. Some of these cuts
are the supports for actually getting the assistance to find the place who
will take the voucher. And those support systems are getting cut as well.

HARRIS-PERRY: It`s such an important point that you made about. On the
one hand, there`s this kind of imperative towards home ownership. And we
can say, oh, we have to -- we have to do away with that. But the fact is,
for communities, particularly African-American, Latino communities, that
have seen the evaporation of wealth since 2008, right? The idea that --
and all of that wealth was in their homes. How are they going to rebuild
it? How will they regrow it?

COOK: And that is an essential question. How are you going to ground
families. So what we know, what economists know about home ownership and
being in the home, not just purchasing a home, is that students, children
in those homes have the opportunity to study quietly. Study in dedicated
spaces, for example, just on a simple level. So again what we`re thinking
about is either we pay now or we pay later. This is going to have
devastating effects. And if we`re asking how we`re going to rebuild
wealth, we have to consider home ownership, we have to consider a lot of
other things.


COOK: I`ll go back to financial education. Maybe it`s -- we just need to
learn to diversify our assets a lot more. And some of them are not
performing the way they did ten years ago, just say the foreign market.
So, we need to be educated about all the assets we can earn.

HARRIS-PERRY: I know, but the child investment piece, when you were
talking about things that go wrong when you end up homeless, or you end up
in these tough circumstances, you talk about led poisoning in your piece.

KAUFMANN: Yeah. I mean definitely one of the -- a lot of programs are
being cut in HUD. And one of the programs is to minimize exposure to lead
for children in older units. So that`s one of the things that are just
being cut. So that`s going to be a problem. But on this issue of the
foreclosure report and the big banks, I mean I think nobody is -- I mean
they are horrible numbers. But I can`t think anybody is really shocked
that this is the bank`s behavior. And, you know, six banks still control
73 percent of the banking assets -- of the assets in the banking sector.

So I really think we have to take on the big banks directly, still. And to
that point, I would just say that -- and collective responsibility. In
Idaho, on Tuesday, U.S. bank is having an annual shareholders meeting. And
they`re in Idaho because last year they were at the corporate headquarters
in Minneapolis, and activists basically took over the meeting. So they`re
going to Idaho, but activists are coming from Minnesota, SEIU 503, largest
union in Oregon is going, and citizens from Idaho. So these are people
coming together from far and wide to help their neighbors with these

HARRIS-PERRY: So -- yes, Matt.

WELCH: Here`s something to think about with all of this, however. Is that
housing is a classic government policy were well intentioned policies,
including trying to create more affordable housing, create the exact
opposite of what you want. Because we have this idea that home ownership
is so important. We make - we over-incentivize home ownership and we drive
up the cost. Look around the country where housing is cheapest compared to
what it should be. Or what we think of as normally. Texas has very cheap
housing. Texas doesn`t go around, saying we`re going to pass this law for
affordable housing. They don`t really care about that so much. But what
they don`t have is a lot of restrictions on what you can do with your
property, they don`t have all this sort of government things that add to
the costs of it.

HARRIS-PERRY: I mean undoubtedly there - I mean, you know, we`ve got to go
because there`s commercials and paying for the show and all that, but I
mean - again, you there are really market distortions that occur for as a
variety of reasons. But on the other hand, when you have low-income folks
who are simply priced out of markets, and there, the economic supports,
right, for example, the city of New York, without low-income housing
programs from the government, all of the people who work to make this city
actually run would be unable to live here.

WILEY: And those programs, those government programs help create the
middle class. And we should not forget that. They can be fixed and there
are some fixes we need, but they are important.

HARRIS-PERRY: I want to say thanks to Greg Kaufmann and to Lisa Cook.
Matt and Maya are going to stick around. They`ll be back later in the
program. But up next, community outreach gone wrong. It`s my letter, and
it`s to Senator Rand Paul.


HARRIS-PERRY: I read a lot of letters this week, but don`t worry, I also
found time to write one. And this one is inspired by an especially awkward
lecture at Howard University. Since my dad and two of my sisters attended
Howard, I feel a little possessive of it and pay careful attention to
Senator Rand Paul`s address.

Dear Senator Rand Paul, it`s me, Melissa. Apparently you had a bit of
trepidation about your visit to the land of the bison this week. You said
that some thought you were either brave or crazy to speak on campus?
Really? Because it strikes me as precisely the mission of a university to
give students an opportunity to hear dissenting viewpoints, to interact
with political leaders and to address the major issues of our day. I
wouldn`t characterize it as brave or crazy. It`s just part of Howard`s

But maybe you were nervous because as a libertarian, you know your ideology
stands opposed to the impulse that gave birth to Howard in the first place.
Howard University was established by the federal government. Following the
Civil War, Congress recognized our nation`s collective responsibility to
offer educational opportunities to the freed men and the subsequent
generations of children that would be born into freedom. So Congress in an
act of collective responsibility towards young people established Howard
and later authorized an annual federal appropriation for its construction,
development, improvement and maintenance. But you left that story of big
government Republicanism out of your fascinating revisionist history. This
moment was a gem, though.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R -KY): I think what happened during the Great Depression
was that African-Americans understood that Republicans did championed
citizenship and voting rights. But they became impatient, because they
wanted economic emancipation. The Democrats promised equalizing outcome,
everybody will get something, through unlimited federal assistance.


HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So your theory is that African-American voters left the
Republican Party because they didn`t get enough free stuff.

Let me offer a different take. After Democratic President Lyndon Johnson
signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts, which were passed
by the Democrats in Congress and after those acts established the framework
for black citizens to exercise the franchise and enjoy equal protection.
After those Democratic actions, it was white Dixiecrats who left the party
and found refuge among Republicans. Those who refused to support civil
rights gains were clear that the best party for them in the modern era was
the Republican Party. So folks like Strom Thurmond and large majorities of
white voters in Southern states became reliable Republican voters, because
they opposed civil rights.

And Senator Paul, you know a little bit about opposition to civil rights
legislation, don`t you? Even though when you told a questioner, I`ve never
been against the Civil Rights Act, ever. But "Mother Jones" Adam Serwer
correctly reminded us that in 2010 during an interview with the "Louisville
Courier" journal you said that even though you abhor racism, you do not
support bans on discrimination by privately owned businesses, and that,
Senator Paul, would mean that those students from another historically
black college in North Carolina, ANT, would have just had to live with the
private decision to deny them a place to sit at that Woolworth lunch
counter. Maybe Republicans like you don`t count that as opposition to the
Civil Rights Act? But I bet many Howard students do. And as you said ...


PAUL: All right, all right. You know than I know. And, OK, and that`s -
and I don`t mean that to be insulting. I don`t know what you know and you
don`t - you know, I mean I`m trying to find out what the connection is.


HARRIS-PERRY: So, Senator Paul, I hope you enjoyed your time at Howard and
the applause for your position on foreign policy and ending the drug war,
and the respectful and engaged audience that you encountered. But I also
hope that you learned something during your visit. If you want to do
better with African-American voters, we don`t need you to explain our
history. We need you to make an argument for why your policies are better
for our futures. Hey, we are willing to listen! Sincerely, Melissa.


HARRIS-PERRY: When it comes to collective responsibility, my next guest is
a true team player. NFL star Brendon Ayanbadejo first made headlines in
2009 when he announced his support for same-sex marriage. His voice grew
louder at this year`s Super Bowl which was hosted in my home city of New
Orleans, and it grew louder to use the big game as another platform to
spread his message of equality. And just a few weeks ago Brendan took his
support one step further to the Supreme Court as it heard arguments on
proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.


strengthening the family unit, we`re not only strengthening the communities
by marriage equality. We`re strengthening schools. We`re allowing kids to
stand up taller and be more confident and be happier people.


AYANBADEJO: We`re strengthening America, and we`re also strengthening
locker rooms all across the country. No matter what sport it is, you can



HARRIS-PERRY: I got to say, it sounds like Batman thinks we have a
collective responsibility to make the world better for all of our kids and
I`m proud to have Brendon here at the table with us this morning. Welcome.

AYANBADEJO: Good morning, Melissa.

HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I want to start by apologizing for that power outage
in the city. I don`t know why - what that happened. But, you know, thanks
for being down and playing. But I do want to ask specifically on this
question, why this issue. If this isn`t your issue, if you`re not yourself
gay, why does this matter so much to you?

AYANBADEJO: Well, last night I had the pleasure to see "42" about Jackie
Robinson. He is a UCLA Bruin like myself. And in that movie, the "N" word
was thrown around so much. And I`m proud to say that my daughter doesn`t
know anything about the "N" word. In present day, a homophobic slur that`s
thrown around, it`s a three-letter F word, and my daughter does not know
anything about that word, and she does not in any way, shape or form
associate gay with anything negative. So with that being said, it`s just
that - it`s such an important issue. It`s bigger than LGBT rights. It`s
all about civil rights. And so, we`re headed to a place of equality. And
I just - I have to do my part as an ally. And this is the way that I`m
doing it.

HARRIS-PERRY: Now, let me ask you that part of an ally for a moment.
Because one of the things that can happen, when you`re in the position of
ally, is that the press attention becomes about you, right? Aren`t you a
great guy that you`re standing up as the ally. You know, I felt it as
well, we were together, at the GLAAD awards at one point. And there was,
you know, an ally award that is given. But how do we make sure we keep the
attention also on the communities for whom we are serving as an ally?

AYANBADEJO: Right. Well, I`m not going to ask for permission. I will ask
for an apology if I do go overboard. But without the Branch Rickeys out
there, then the movement is - is slower, it takes a longer time. While the
issue is on the forefront, and it`s so present we have to do as much as we
can. And if you just go back seven months, look at all the change. In
four states legislation has changed in one way or another. We`ve had
people, so many delegates from the Republican Party have come over.


AYANBADEJO: Over 120, I believe, former and current and we`ve made so much
progress so we`re striking while it`s hot. And we`re going to look back on
this issue sooner than later just like we look back on racism.

HARRIS-PERRY: Now, talk to me about why sports matters, I know you`re
partying with the NHL, you would talk about marriages in area. But why -
why are professional sports such an important space?

AYANBADEJO: Well, we feel like we`re a little bit behind. So, I teamed up
with Athlete Ally, I`m an ambassador with Athlete Ally, and we`re trying to
influence the kids and the children, because ultimately it`s going to be
them that are running the country in the future. And I`m not quite as
cynical as Chris Kluwe and I`m not going to say that we should just wait
for other people to die ...


AYANBADEJO: ... that don`t believe in equality. But we just want to go
out there and we want to influence the kids because they are ultimately the
ones that are going to make the difference.

HARRIS-PERRY: You know, when you say that, that point about kids, I think
of, you know, Little League sports and sports for kids even in schools as
being such an important part of how we teach values of hard work and
discipline and accomplishment. It seems like it`s important also to teach
inclusivity here.

AYANBADEJO: Yeah, and I mean in the sports field we`re a little bit behind
society. And if you can play, you can play. It doesn`t matter if you`re
black, white, brown. Whatever sex you are, whatever your sexual
orientation is. If you have disabilities, whatever. Let`s go out there
and let`s teach an inclusive sports environment, a team environment, and
let`s work together, and it will push onto social issues as well.

HARRIS-PERRY: I`m a big fan of team sports. And we know that it makes a
big difference for kids when they have an opportunity to be part of them.
Brendon, thank you for joining us in Nerdland.

AYANBADEJO: Thanks, Melissa.

HARRIS-PERRY: I`m greatly appreciate it.

Coming up next, the actual message in my "Lean Forward" spot that seemed to
get missed. Plus, the first lady returns home to her community. How first
lady Michelle Obama is changing the gun debate. There is more Nerdland at
the top of the hour.


HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. We`ve been talking
a bit about the controversy that erupted this week over a promo ad I shot
for our network, in which I advocate for community involvement in the lives
of our children. But somewhere along the line my main intent in the
statement, in fact, the very first line kind of got lost in the kerfuffle.


HARRIS-PERRY: We have never invested as much in public education as we
should have.


HARRIS-PERRY: So that`s it. That was this thing I was going for and
trying to explain. And my main point was and remains that we need to
invest more of our natural resources in public education. And for that,
I`ve received boatloads of not-so-nice responses this week.

But all things considered, at least I`m still here and able to give my

Getting more hate mail than me this week, even though she`s no longer with
us, was the recently departed former British prime minister Margaret
Thatcher. The neoliberal Cold War warrior was not remembered fondly by
all, and in part because of her radical campaign to privatize much of Great
Britain`s industries.

And of course, across the pond, at the same time, President Ronald Reagan
was taking similar steps. Both figures and the work of the neoliberal
project of the 1980s have in large part set the stage that my promo ad was
debuted upon.

Both of these leaders saw their countries as nations at risk in large part
because of the state of disrepair plaguing our public education system.
And so their answer was reformation via competition. The road to education
reform would be driven by market forces, which manifested in the form of
policy such as school choice, high-stakes testing and school closings.

But perhaps most significantly, the result was a lasting impulse to seek
solutions to our public sector problems with the private market.

And it is with that backdrop that my ad for more public investment in
public education was meant; because to me, when I see a collective problem,
I tend to think there`s a collective solution.

So with me this morning is Matt Welch, editor in chief of "Reason"
magazine; Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and the founder and president
of the Center for Social Inclusion; Sheena Wright, president and CEO of the
non-profit organization United Way of New York City; and Lisa Cook,
assistant professor of economics and international relations at Michigan
State University.

So I`m going to come back to you, Matt, because early on in the show, you
said, "That`s just not right, Melissa. We have not failed to invest in
public education."

Make your claim.

capita, per student, adjusted for inflation since 1970 about three times as

HARRIS-PERRY: As we did previously?

WELCH: As we did previously. During -- so that`s a graph that goes like
this. The achievement graph goes like this. So it says to me that the
question is not are we investing enough? It`s how is that money being
invested and why isn`t it working?

HARRIS-PERRY: Now, so Matt, when I look at dollars spent per student, it`s
actually down in most states since 2008. Right? So you`re talking about a
kind of longer trend line, which you say is going up like this.

But then when I look at per state spending, it is -- those red lines are
the amount down that it is now in Alabama, California, Idaho, all the way
down. So the only ones on the plus side are Tennessee to North Dakota.
And that`s since 2008. So that`s the most recent.

WELCH: Does that measure, if you know, stimulus money and federal money
that`s been put into education?

HARRIS-PERRY: So this is, as far as I understand, these are, in fact, pure
-- all dollars spent per student in these localities, and that they have
dropped. You know, that drop is, of course, recent over the longer trend
line that you`re suggesting.

But let me suggest -- or let me ask you this.

Is it possible that we are missing some of the dollars that we are spending
because we`re not really spending them on education? We`re spending them
on things like free and reduced lunches.

We`re spending them on things that, in other countries that provide more of
a social safety nets, kids already come to school with them. So they`re
not getting invested in educational resources. They`re getting invested in
poverty alleviation resources.

WELCH: They`re also getting invested in administration, famously. And
this is happening in the higher education system, which you know as well,
that it`s not necessarily going straight to teachers. Teachers have a good
claim that they haven`t seen their budgets go up by three times.

But there`s been a lot more bureaucracy; there`s been a lot more school
building in a varied expensive way. So it hasn`t been spent wisely in the

MAYA WILEY, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: You know, there`s -- and you are asking
a really important question, Melissa. One of the things to note is that
when we`re looking at education spending, charter schools, so one of the
big innovations that`s supposed to help us crack some of these academic
achievement issues is charter schools.

There`s some really, really good charter schools. There`s some really,
really bad charter schools. Research coming out of Texas has just shown
that actually charter schools in Texas, their administrative costs are
twice the administrative costs of traditional public schools.

So I think actually one of the things -- we saw it in Mississippi as well,
where actually low income schools that were predominantly black actually
had higher administrative costs.

I think if you got under that, I think you would see some of the things
that you`re talking about, which are that they are trying to supplement a
lot of needs that come from being in high poverty communities. And you
can`t really solve schools and educational achievement if you`re not
actually looking at what kind of investments we`re making in families and

LISA COOK, MSU: I would agree that certainly we have to think about how we
are spending the money but I would also think about the level. I guess I`m
the only person here who teaches at a public university. And it seems to
me that I am not getting what actually the university needs and what the
students need.

So because of the $1.1 trillion college debt problem and because of the
recession, we have less (sic) tools to deal with the tremendous demand that
has grown in public schools and public universities.

So, yes, relative to our pay, the administrators` pay is going up. I`m not
going to say much more, because I don`t want to get in trouble. But --


HARRIS-PERRY: (Inaudible) professors.

COOK: Exactly.

HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to -- we can leave it at that.

COOK: We`re just going to leave it at that.

But certainly the demand is coming to our side. We cannot meet this
overwhelming demand. And we need to be the ones doing it. We have got to
be able to provide better value for money. And we have to think about
educating all of our children as much as we can, either we`re doing it
collectively or individually, but the dollars have to come from the federal
government, I think.

another really important issue is that profound disparity in the allocation
of resources.

New York State was the subject of a major lawsuit from the Campaign for
Fiscal Equity, which really laid out very concretely that lower income
communities were not getting even their fair share of what was supposed to
be allocated per pupil.

And it was a deliberate act that needed a remedy. So even in the decline
or the increase or whatever it might be, in some of the most challenging
communities, they`re not even getting their fair share.

HARRIS-PERRY: And this is a historic wrong. So this is also, I guess,
part of my concern about the sort of long timeline.

So I was just -- I had a student who wrote a really brilliant thesis in
part about the inequities in the public school system and was looking at
some of the numbers in the city of New Orleans, in the state of Louisiana
in 1930s and `40s where $63 was being spent per white child and $17 per
black child, and that these schools had sort of 27 students per teacher in
white schools, but 42 per teacher in black schools.

So that`s 1940 (inaudible) expect, of course, in a place like Louisiana to
have a huge disparity.

But it does dig a hole quite deep that even when you start putting
resources in, still doesn`t necessarily get us to a even space when we
start about things, like the achievement gap.

WYLIE: You know, my kids are in the public school system in New York. And
the elementary school that my 9-year old is in is predominantly free and
reduced lunch. There got to be 157 languages in that school. It`s highly
diverse. But it`s diverse non-white. And it`s highly low income, all
right? And the thing that I see in that school -- but that school is in a
district that`s a high wealth district.

So even though it`s a low -- the population of the school -- but for my
kids and a few others -- are low income, it`s benefiting from a district
that is able to provide additional resources to the school.

And so I see it every day in my kids` classroom. And I recognize the
difference in the school that`s, by the way, four blocks away from my house
as well with the same student population in a different district, and
districts are not supposed to have any meaning anymore in a New York City
school system, but it still does.

There`s no wealth in that district. So we can`t separate these things.
The costs of educating these kids are not the same because of some of these

HARRIS-PERRY: But even your indication that you can have a relatively poor
public school population within a relatively high wealth district, I wonder
about -- in part about the question of school choice and parental,
individual choice for your kids, because part of how that happens is that
wealthy families started opting out of the school systems, right?

Even beyond the white flight that we saw from cities was the white flight
that we saw from schools.

And then just the wealth flight, right, from these schools. So on the one
hand I want people to have choice. I mean, who doesn`t want parents to be
able to do the best for their kids? But I worry about what is left behind.

WELCH: Yes. The way I look at it is this. I`m worried -- I just moved
from Washington, D.C., to Brooklyn, New York. And I moved because --

HARRIS-PERRY: (Inaudible) not neighbors.

WELCH: -- because P.S. 58 is a damn good school and they have a French
emergent class for kindergarteners; it`s perfect for my daughter. I can
afford to do that. I mean, that (inaudible) neighborhood (inaudible).

I can`t just morally justify a system in which I have that choice and the
mobility to move, but people who don`t have the means to do that are
sentenced to their neighborhood school. I just can`t justify that system.
And the achievement is yet to be seen. I think it`s about a wash in
schools of choice. But parental satisfaction is much higher. And that
says to me that it means something.

HARRIS-PERRY: Interesting. So we`re going to stay on exactly this
conversation. And in fact, I encourage everyone (inaudible) with us on our

And also anyone in the market for a lovely, slightly used pink sweater? I
have put on eBay the sweater that I wore when reporting the Lean Forward
spot. All of the proceeds will go to the Children`s Defense Fund. Go bid
on the sweater. Stay right there. After the break, where President George
W. Bush and I agree.




government can spend money, and we can help set standards. And we can
insist upon accountability. But the truth of the matter is, our schools
will flourish when citizens join in the noble cause of making sure no child
is left behind.


HARRIS-PERRY: That was President George W. Bush signing his landmark
education bill, No Child Left Behind and sounding a little bit like me in
the "Lean Forward" commercial.

No, not really. Well, maybe a little bit, right, in the sense that I can`t
help but to agree with him there, that we all have a stake in making sure
that no child in this country is left out or left behind especially when it
comes to education. It really is in our national interest to have a well
educated populace.

So I wanted to ask you in part about how then organizations like United Way
and others in the non-profit sector end up filling the gap when parents

WRIGHT: United Way supports over 1,000 nonprofits here in New York City.
And those nonprofits are on the front lines in communities where schools
are failing. And they stand in the gap.

They`re providing the after-school services, the support for families, the
financial empowerment, affordable housing, stability, all of those things
that families need and children need in order to be successful in school.

And so without that safety net that`s created by this incredibly important
industry and sector, our children will not be successful in school, because
we know all of those things impact educational outcome.

HARRIS-PERRY: So make an argument for me about where that -- where that
funding should come from, right.

So, you know, I could be a supporter of things like United Way or
nonprofits and say, as many conservatives do, that is exactly what civil
society should do. Government should not be in the business of that.
Individuals should be making a choice about donating some portion of their
income or the sale of their pink sweaters to places like United Way.

WRIGHT: The public sector absolutely has to invest in this type of -- in
our educational infrastructure and all the things that we need, as does the
private sector, as does individuals. We do need the collective resources
of the entire community in order to support these really, really important
social supports for families. It`s absolutely imperative.

When you talk about the kind of historical underpinnings of the disparities
and investment, you know, the black children got $17 and the white children
got $63. I think one of the things that we have to really understand and
appreciate is that our educational system is based on inequity and
disparity. It was built to ensure that we had a working class. They
didn`t need a certain level of education.

We wanted people to be able to be on those assembly lines, et cetera. Now
we have a knowledge based economy. We need everyone to have the maximum
opportunity to reach their full potential in order for all of us to be
successful. It impacts our GDP, it impacts the business sector. And so
everybody has got to weigh in. Everybody`s got to lean in to get the job

HARRIS-PERRY: So the problem, though, with the -- a collective good,
though, a public good, is that there is always an individual incentive to
shirk, right? There`s always an individual incentive not to be the one
person paying in so that you can still get the collective good.

What are the incentives for individuals and individual households,
especially if they`re not in the public schools, to make sure that they`re
supporting the public schools?

COOK: So I will go back to what I was talking about earlier. You`re going
to pay one way or the other. The question is how smartly you`re investing
your money. So let`s say that you don`t invest in public education or you
don`t invest in nonprofits that help to support public education.

So what is the outcome? So what are these folks doing rather than getting
educated? They`re going to prison. They`re not reaching their potential.
And we`re losing out, not just on GDP now but we`re losing out on GDP in
the future, well being in the future, and GDP isn`t everything. I
certainly understand that.

But health and other desirable outcomes for the society are going to lose
out. All of these will lose out if we don`t say that we`re going to
contribute at some point. For me, it is an investment question.

Are you going to do it now or are you going to do it later?

WYLIE: See, this is where we have to talk about race. And this is what I
thought was part of the underpinning of your Lean Forward act. If we
recognize that we`re an us, then it doesn`t matter that eight, you know,
that half of all 18-year-olds and under are black, Latino, Asian, Native
American, right?

And so when one of the things that we`re seeing is, well, people will make
decisions about investing if we went to a pure private strategy, what they
would say is I will invest in my neighborhood`s school, so that`s me taking
care of my neighbor`s kids. But guess what? Most of our neighbors look
like us, which means we`re not actually recognizing -- and all our
communities are not in the same position.

A friend of mine once said to me, I know exactly what a high quality
education costs. And I said, you do? You know, and the policy wonk in me
was like give me the site, like I need -- I`m going to use that.

And he said, well, it`s $15,000 a year. And I said, well, how do you know?
And he said because that`s what the private school down the road is
charging. And I went, oh, good point. Our kids are getting $8,000. So,
you know, I do think that we can`t just say money doesn`t matter when we
know that for folks that are getting high levels of quality education,
they`re paying a lot of money for it.

And the question is how do we make sure that even as we become more and
more diverse and we are living still very separately that we are actually
making it beyond community.

And that`s the problem with a purely kind of private charity model is we`ll
take care of who we know and who we know are people who tend to look like
us, which means our resources are not being shared in the most strategic
and effective way for the country.

WELCH: But let`s acknowledge that we don`t live in the private charity
model. We live a public school, K-12 model. We live much more private
model on the higher education and higher education also works better.
That`s pretty widely acknowledged. And you get a lot of K-12 people who
can`t cope with higher education because they haven`t been trained.

So we are, I feel like a little bit we`re talking about kind of the straw
man of, you know, we`re not sufficiently deciding to fund education. I
think we kind of are. I mean, California, where I`m from, 40 percent of
all government money has to go to education, K-12. That`s just by law.

So that decision has kind of already been made.

Another thing about the us and the collective thing and it doesn`t -- if
affects education on some level, is that kids are getting ensnared in the
criminal justice system in this country. And there has not been any
political will to say that`s wrong. We are creating 2 million prisoners
here. That is an international disgrace. And they`re being locked up for
things they should not be locked up for.

HARRIS-PERRY: I`m so glad you made that turn, because that`s exactly what
we`re going to talk about just a little bit later in the show, because, in
fact, the first lady showed this just extraordinary empathy in her
conversation about guns.

And but of course, the gun piece and the drug war piece and the
incarceration piece are all interlocking for so many children who then
don`t have the educational opportunities. So more on that.

But up next I got a little story about a little community activist who
could. How an 8-year old helped turn back a bad bill.



HARRIS-PERRY: While many this week were debating our responsibility to our
children, one of America`s children decided that she had a responsibility
to the people of her state.

This guy is Tennessee State Senator Stacey Campfield. And last week I
addressed my open letter to State Senator Campfield because he is one of
the coauthors of a bill that requires the reduction of temporary assistance
to needy families or TANF payments for parents or caretakers of TANF
recipients whose children fail to maintain satisfactory progress in school.

Now the good news is he withdrew the bill on Thursday. I would so love to
take credit and say that our letter made all the difference, but it looks
like the credit may go to 8-year-old Aamira Fetuga.

Aamira, along with her mother and several adults activists, confronted
Campfield about the bill at the state capital on Thursday. And after she
handed him a petition signed by 2,500 opponents of the bill, Aamira was not
done. She followed him down the hall, asking questions like, "Why do you
want to cut benefits for people?"

According to "The Tennessean" newspaper, Campfield walked away from the
confrontation, saying repeatedly that he didn`t think children should be
used as political props.

But little Aamira is not a prop. She`s a constituent, someone to whom he
and his fellow lawmakers have a responsibility. And while she may be too
young to vote, she is certainly old enough to have a voice, and she used it
during the state senator`s entire walk to the chamber.

She said, "I`m worried about the lights being cut off."

And that -- and Campfield then said to her, "That won`t happen as long as
you have a decent parent who can show up to two conferences."

That`s the answer that he gave to an 8-year-old girl, an answer he gave
with his back turned as he was walking away from her, the answer he gave to
a child indicating fear of the lights being cut off.

Well, I got to say, thanks for making my point, Mr. Campfield, because it
seems like you`re suggesting that if you`re a child and you`re poor and you
aren`t lucky enough to have a decent parent, well, no one should really
care what happens to you. But thanks to Aamira, at least those kids won`t
have to worry about the lights getting turned off if they don`t make the
grade. At least for now.

State Senator Campfield says he may reintroduce the bill next year.

Up next, the first lady as community activist: how Michelle Obama has
changed the gun control debate.



HARRIS-PERRY: The administration was pushing Congress hard on gun control
legislation this week. President Obama traveled to Connecticut on Monday
and Vice President Joe Biden sat in for an interview that aired Thursday on
"MORNING JOE," right here on MSNBC.

But the most compelling voice on guns this week belonged to First Lady
Michelle Obama, who traveled to her hometown on Wednesday to speak before a
Chicago business and community leaders. What followed was a passion not
plea, not just about guns but children and one in particular -- Hadiya
Pendleton, whose funeral the first lady attended two months ago. Hadiya
was shot and killed in a Chicago park about a week after performing at
President Obama`s inauguration in January.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: And Hadiya`s mother did everything she could
for her daughter. She enrolled her in every activity you could imagine --
cheerleading, majorettes, the praised dance ministry -- anything to keep
her off the streets and keep her busy.

And as I visited with the Pendleton family, at Hadiya`s funeral, I couldn`t
get over how familiar they felt to me, because what I realized was Hadiya`s
family was just like my family. Hadiya Pendleton was me. And I was her.
But I got to grow up.

Hadiya`s family did everything right, but she still didn`t have a chance.


HARRIS-PERRY: With me this morning is "Reason" magazine`s Matt Welch, Maya
Wiley from the Center of Social Inclusion, Sheena Wright of the United Way
of New York City, and Michigan State University`s Lisa Cook.

Also with us, in Chicago is Dennis Johnson, a student at Chicago State
University and a member of the Black Youth Project.

Hi, Dennis.


HARRIS-PERRY: I`m so pleased that had you joined us this morning. Can you
start by telling me about the role of guns in your own life?

JOHNSON: The role of guns here in Chicago. They are pretty available. I
think if she -- everywhere you go, you can find a gun, depending on what
neighborhood you are in. And they are cheap. I don`t know one black
supplier, or -- not one black supplier, but one black engineer or creator
of guns. So the supply here in Chicago`s low-income community seems to be

HARRIS-PERRY: So, you know, I saw the video that you made for the black
youth project where you talk about the --

JOHNSON: Yes, ma`am.

HARRIS-PERRY: -- experience of your own brother being shot, tell me about
that a bit.

JOHNSON: Correct. A couple of years ago, my oldest brother, his name is
Dennis LaShaun Johnson Jr. (ph), he got shot seven times outside the Green
Line in Chicago. And his shooting woke me up. It was as if someone threw
water on my face that it was time to take action and use knowledge and

And, of course, in those types of neighborhoods, there was retaliation.
But I decided -- I decided that there should be another path, another way
that we should take. So that`s what incident was about.

And also, to this day, like I walk up every morning and I also think about
it because it`s not just my brother. There`s plenty of other brothers and
sisters that are out there going through the same situation.

HARRIS-PERRY: Dennis, I want to ask you about something the first lady
said when she was in Chicago. After she was talking about Hadiya
Pendleton, she was also the boys who have been arrested for her shooting.
And she said, what if instead of roaming around with guns, boys like them
had access to a computer lab or community center or some decent basketball
courts. Maybe everything would have turned out differently.

How do you respond to that?

JOHNSON: I respond to that with this. Violence will never cease until we
find a way to make money out of peace. That`s how I would respond to that.

So, we can bring as much as we want. But until we find a way -- I mean,
because you can bring basketball games. What are they going to do when
they get older? Basketball programs, you can have the test club, you can
have after-school programs. But how do you deal with the mentally and deal
with that conscience, you know, or post-traumatic stress and things like

I mean, you can take them off the streets but they still have to go back

HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. So let me pull out from my table. I feel like
you have given us a lot to think and talk about

Sheena, I was moved by the empathy the first lady had both for Hadiya
Pendleton and for the young men who are accused of the shooting. How do we
intervene? If we`re doing all the right things that you`re raising Hadiya,
but the family next door is not, that can then impact your child.

SHEENA WRIGHT, PRES. & CEO, UNITED WAY OF NYC: It can and it will and it
does, obviously. I mean, we intervene by again taking that collective
approach. What the young man just talked about is that our young people
have to have hope. They have to have aspirations. They have to see what
they can achieve, that there`s a path for economic security, prosperity,
that they have a future.

And when our young people don`t have that, don`t even have the vision of
that, and don`t have opportunities and the skills to get there, then they
start to lose hope. And then life becomes not so meaningful. And those
are things we have to tackle head on.

So, it`s about how we give our children aspirations. How we show them the
way as a community collectively and how we deal them with the tools and
skills to achieve it. It`s in our churches. It`s in our homes. It`s in
our nonprofit organizations. It`s in our schools and that`s got to be the
focused and task of our work in raising our children.

LISA COOK, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: And can I just say, I hate to keep
looking at everything through the lens of an economist, but that`s who I

I think this young man is onto something. He is dead right. Until we have
the data to be able to calculate the costliness of gun violence, which has
been battled by and prohibited by the NRA and its lobby in Congress, we are
not going to be able to realize the actual cost of gun violence.

So, let me tell you a story -- and my students who know this, they should
turn off the television. I was a phlebotomist one summer in a public
hospital. And I -- so, phlebotomist draws blood and we had to get blood
from everybody. So a lot of my time we spent in the emergency room.

So, the most cost procedure, the most costly incident was a gunshot wound.
All of the resources of the hospital went towards that one thing. That`s
not a stabbing victim. That`s not the victim of a fistfight. But they
were going to possibly die, more than a 50 percent probability that that
person were going to die. But there were so many resources at the hospital
that were containing that.

So, there`s so many externalities associated with gun violence and we can`t
calculate it because it`s only the CDC now that will be able to calculate
statistics about deaths about gun violence. We haven`t had the data. But
once we get the data and once we do the math it`s going to be a completely
different ball game.

And when he`s talking more being done (ph), there is going to be some sort
of dividend from peace. The only way we`re going to do it is when we have
the data.

HARRIS-PERRY: Dennis, what does that dividend peace look like for you?
What are you imagining -- we were just talking about whether or not young
people can imagine a different kind of future. What does the different
kind of future look like for you?

JOHNSON: The north side of Chicago.


JOHNSON: That`s what I see. A different type where you`re able to walk
and not have to worry about the police pulling you over, asking you where
you`re going, or you don`t have to worry the person of, obviously the
opposite race crossing the street or even the same race crossing the
street, where you`re comfortable, where you don`t have to keep looking
behind you, you know, where you can take a deep breath and you took that
deep breath because it was a good day. Not because you made it home.

HARRIS-PERRY: OK, Maya, I just asked, can you envision a different world?
Oh, yes, up the street, the other side of town.

MAYA WILEY, CENTER FOR SOCIAL INCLUSION: The neighborhood that`s received
public investment. The neighborhood that has had homeownership.


WILEY: The neighborhood in which people have the ability to find and get
work that actually pays their bills through the end of the month, that`s
the difference. And there`s actually really good research to show that,
you know, where we see this level of violence is correlation to a very high
levels of poverty. So, economic and political exclusion and disinvestment.

So, the biggest tragedy in what the first lady`s narrative was, was the
suggestion that if their -- if Hadiya Pendleton`s parents had done -- had
made a mistake, that it would somehow be their fault if she was killed. I
think, going back to your narrative of reason about, aren`t we all
responsible for all the nation`s children, we would actually think, what
are we doing to create the conditions in communities that support children
being able to grow into adulthood, and will we care if those children do
not look like our children?

HARRIS-PERRY: Hadiya -- gosh, I`m so sorry. I`m thinking of Hadiya at
this moment -- Dennis, you blew my whole mind. That was an incredibly
insightful answer and I really appreciate you joining us from Chicago

JOHNSON: Yes, ma`am.

HARRIS-PERRY: And listen, folks -- we`re going to stay on this question.
We`re going to talk about Newtown when we come back. And I -- when we come
back. More on that.


HARRIS-PERRY: On his way back to Washington from his Monday gun speech in
Connecticut, President Obama brought along with him on Air Force One
families of the Newtown victims. They weren`t just grieving families
anymore. They were now advocates about to channel their collective loss
towards a tangible result. Convincing U.S. senators not only to pass
background check legislation, but first, to even let it come up for debate.

And those they couldn`t convince, they tweeted. The 14 Republican senators
who threatened to filibuster the Thursday cloture vote got a social media
message from Erica Lafferty, the daughter of the late principal of Sandy
Hook Elementary, Dawn Hochsprung.

She sent this to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell`s press conference.
"Hey, here is a pic of my mom and sister on her wedding day. I don`t get
that at my wedding in July."

This to Senator Pat Roberts, "My mom was one gunned down at Sandy Hook.
Alyson the baby there will never know her grandma. We don`t deserve to be

And this to her followers, "Going through the list of senators threatening
to filibuster -- calling them one by one. I will be heard."

And the message got through. The Senate dodged the GOP-effort, agreeing
68-31 to allow the bill to proceed. What will happen when it goes to the
Republican-led House?

All right. Newtown on the other side of this. If Hadiya Pendleton and
handgun violence in Chicago was one side, the other side is this mass
killing. It did feel to me like one of the things Newtown did was move us
towards a gun control debate, because those kids did feel like our kids,
because they were young, because they were in school, because they have
families who have done everything right.

As horrific is this tragedy, is this where we finally get legislation?

WILEY: This is going to be a hard battle. I think the problem here is
that the National Rifle Association is spending a lot of gun manufacturer
money to make sure that gun manufacturers still make money, because the
reality is the NRA is no longer representing the interest of its members
because most of its members support this legislation.

HARRIS-PERRY: Particularly the background checks --

WILEY: No, background checks are not a controversial issue. And it`s not
even a partisan -- it`s a bipartisan support. There`s bipartisan support.
It`s rational. They`re not saying to people you can`t own guns. You`re
not saying you don`t trust them. You`re saying, you know what? The one
that used the gun to threaten his wife, maybe he shouldn`t have one. Oh,
yes, and that guy who has a felon record, maybe he shouldn`t. Oh, and the
woman with psychosis, maybe she shouldn`t have the gun.

It`s -- so it`s not very controversial and it won`t -- let`s be honest --
it won`t go a long way to protect the young children of this world.


WILEY: So it`s not even a massive reform.


WILEY: It`s an important reform. I would argue it`s important. It`s
still large on terms of larger problem but it`s important. It`s critically
important and it`s not representing even the interest of gun owners.

HARRIS-PERRY: But, Matt, I`ve been thinking. I mean, if part of what
we`ve been trying to talk about today is balancing our individual rights
over and against our sense of collective or common good, public safety is a
common good, right? And -- but we also have a Second Amendment that has
been at every point understood to mean that we have an individual right to
gun ownership.

How do we balance those?

MATT WELCH, REASON MAGAZINE: Well, actually it hasn`t been understood
until 2008 when the Supreme Court affirmed it. A lot of people debated
that. That`s one reason why their hackles get up when we talk about new
kind of gun control legislation.

You know, constitutionally, we have the ability to control guns. We have
the ability to do background checks and these types of things.

One thing that gets lost a lot in the conversation from president on down
is that it`s very easy to tap into emotion and then to posit that your
opposition is obviously in favor of dead children.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right.

WELCH: And it is obviously --

HARRIS-PERRY: Right, and no one thinks that.

WELCH: -- or is just scared of the National Rifle Association, which is an
organization that wouldn`t have any power if there wasn`t popular support
for gun owner ship in this country. There is. That`s the problem. Not
this one lobbying organization.

So, all of these things that are being talked about, the assault weapons
ban, it`s been studied. It doesn`t really have much of an effect one way
or the other. And it wouldn`t have had any effect on the underlying
incident that precipitated this conversation -- which is also true of
background checks. It wouldn`t have had any effect on this particular
tragedy. That`s worth thinking about, at least, or at least bringing into
the conversation before you change the law.

HARRIS-PERRY: Let me deal with the emotion piece for a moment, because, in
fact, the new -- one of the Newtown moms gave the White House weekly radio
address this week. I thought maybe we could just listen to it for a


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`ve heard people say that the tidal wave of anguish
our felt on 12/14 has receded. But not for us. To us, it feels as if it
happened just yesterday. And in the four months since we lost our loved
ones, thousands of other Americans have died at the end of a gun.


HARRIS-PERRY: So, on the one hand, like I support Matt`s point that we
don`t want to take people who are in opposition to us on a policy issue and
say clearly, you want children to die.

On the other hand, the availability of guns in our country, one of the
predictable outcomes is that children will die.


WILEY: And now -- so, there are two things here. I think it`s absolutely
true to say there is no gun owner that I believe wants children to die.
And I think people should be able to own guns if -- responsibly, right?
And with some good limits because of the impact of guns, with some rational
limits. We`re counterbalancing interest -- interest to life and the
protection of it and interest to private gun ownership.

The thing is that the governor of Colorado said we in passing similar
legislation did so in a libertarian state because we looked at the
statistics, the data, and found it made a huge difference in the number of
former felons, people who had threatened people with violent acts, prevents
them from getting weapons they were trying to get. So it`s not that it has
no impact or there`s no benefit to it. At the same time, it doesn`t solve
all the problems.

And so, I think we had to hold both those things.


WRIGHT: The incremental change is important, and we should appreciate
that. And, yes, there has been a real difference in having these different
voices and different faces. You know, here in New York City, across the
country, there are 3,000 young black men that are killed every day -- the
same number of people that were killed in the World Trade Center. Every
year, 3,000.

And that has been happening year after year after year. And now, we have
some movement because there are different communities that are speaking
out. And that is very important. And we`ve got to take every single step
that we can, but appreciate that it`s not solving all the problems.

But the other piece, I think, in looking at what the young man, Dennis
talked about, the other side of the economic argument. He said, you know,
we need to show a dividend for peace. But one of the things that he said
over and over again is that guns are everywhere. Everybody can get them.


WRIGHT: They are cheap, cheap, cheap.

If we have more gun control in ways that depress the access, because the
price gets too high, we know we`re going to have less young people and
everybody else dead.


WRIGHT: We, you know, tax the heck out of cigarettes. Less people smoke.


WRIGHT: So, there`s an economic imperative to making sure that people
don`t have access --

HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much. I don`t want to miss that he did start
off by telling us --

WRIGHT: Right.

HARRIS-PERRY: -- guns, that`s easy.

WRIGHT: That`s easy.

HARRIS-PERRY: And changing that answer can help to change those lives.

Thank you to my panel -- Matt, Maya, Sheena and Lisa.

Also thanks to everyone at home who has e-mailed and tweeted and messaged
and other ways of supporting this show during the week. We have a lot more
about making the case for community up on our Website at So,
please visit us there and continue the conversation.

And we are not done. Up next, the collectivist that we get excited about
every week -- our foot soldiers! Foot soldier of the week is next.


HARRIS-PERRY: Every week, we choose a foot soldier, someone who answers
the call to collective responsibility. And this week, that foot soldier is
Tonia Lewis-Taylor, a singer and former publicist who founded Entertainers
for Education Alliance, a nonprofit program in New York that aims to help
high school students stay in school.

Tonya grew up in Brooklyn and says that she sees a piece of herself in
every one of the kids in her community. After college, Tonya pursued her
dream of becoming a singer performing backup vocals with stars like Mariah
Carey and Mary J. Blige. She also worked as a publicist with Rockefeller

In 2004, while traveling to schools with Kanye West, Tonya says she became
aware of the staggering dropout rate plaguing many cities. Every year,
more than 1 million students fail to graduate from high school on time.
And nationwide, only about 75 percent of the students earn their high
school diplomas. That number drops even lower among minority students in
urban areas.

And Tonya decided to combine her love of kids and her resources in the
entertainment industry to try and change those statistics. The
Entertainers for Education Alliance launched its first program in 2006 and
it helps connect high school students with college mentors. It sponsors
marching bands and offers workshops on things like bullying and healthy
eating habits.

The students also have a journalism program called "Teen Connect".
Entertainers for Education uses celebrity star power to encourage kids to
stay in school, because Tonya believes students are inspired when they have
a chance to connect with successful people who look like them and have a
similar background.

Even though she has four kids of her own, she says as long as she has life
and health, her mission will always be to help others.

So for increasing educational opportunities for our youth and showing a
strong concern for the community that she calls home, Tonya Lewis-Taylor is
our foot soldier of the week. And we`d also like to thank Yvette McPherson
(ph), who nominated Tonya as our foot soldier.

And if you have people in your community doing great things, let us know at

To find out more about Tonya and Entertainers for Education Alliance,
please check out

And thanks our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m
going to see you tomorrow morning 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Why? Because
Beyonce and Jay-Z went to Cuba and it is all the uproar. Cuba`s
complicated. We`re going to talk about that on tomorrow`s program.

But now, it is time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".

Hi, Alex.

ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hi. Aren`t you going to ask Beyonce to be on
your show again?

HARRIS-PERRY: I basically spend all my time asking Beyonce to be on the

WITT: I know, it`s an open invitation. Here we go. OK. Thanks so much,


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