August 31, 2013
GuestS: Nicole Auerbach, Roman Oben, Joe Anderson, Diane Epstein, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Dorian Warren, Madison Kimrey, Ed Husain, Christina Bellantoni, PJ Crowley, Tsedeye Gebreselassie, Shaniqua Davis, Andrew Moesel, Dorian Warren
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question. Should
everyone but the players be making big money on college football, plus, the
millions of workers just trying to make $15 an hour. And the 12-year-old
taking on North Carolina`s governor over voting rights. But first, will
the U.S. have to go it alone on Syria?
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. The question on everyone`s mind
today, are we going to war with Syria? The United Nations` chemical
weapons experts left Syria early this morning, about three hours before
scheduled, wrapping up their investigation into whether chemical weapons
were used in an attack last week in the suburbs of Damascus that left more
than 1,400 people dead. The Obama administration believes the Syrian
government is responsible for the attack. And yesterday, both the
president and the Secretary of State John Kerry laid out the case for
American military strikes against the regime. Military strikes that the
president says will be extremely limited.
(BEVIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We`re not
considering any open-ended commitment. We`re not considering any boots on
the ground approach. What we will do is consider options that meet the
narrow concern around chemical weapons, understanding that there`s not
going to be a solely military solution to the underlying conflict and
tragedy that`s taken place in Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY:: No boots on the ground, narrow decisions, but the president
says he has not made an ultimate decision yet on military action. But
Secretary of State Kerry made it clear that when President Obama does make
a decision, the United Nations weapons inspectors` findings will have
little bearing on it.
(BEVIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The U.N. can`t tell us anything that we
haven`t shared with you this afternoon or that we don`t already know. And
because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the
U.N. Security Council, the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act, as it
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So on Thursday, it became clear the administration will not
be able to count on what is normally one of its most reliable allies. U.K.
Prime Minister David Cameron made a passionate argument for military
strikes against Syria and was roundly rebuffed by the parliament. Cameron
made clear he would not overrule parliament`s vote against him. But
Secretary Kerry insisted that there is still strong international support
for a potential strike against Assad`s government. He named Turkey,
France, Australia, and the Arab League in the Organization for Islamic
Cooperation, as allies who would call for the Syrian regime to be held
responsible for the chemical attack.
(BEVIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: America should feel confident and
gratified that we are not alone in our condemnation and we are not alone in
our will to do something about it and to act. The world is speaking out
and many friends stand ready to respond.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The global interest in this conflict is not a contemporary
phenomenon. The Middle East, as we know it, was created by Western
imperialism, specifically by Britain and France, which divided the region
into protectorates after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
France took what would become Syria and Lebanon, Britain took the future
Iraq, Jordan, and Israel. Many of those countries gained independence
during and after World War II, only to see themselves become pawns of the
U.S. or the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Our involvement in the
Middle East is nothing new. But the question remains, are we going to war?
Joining me now is NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, live near
the Turkish border with Syria. Richard, what`s the latest?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: The latest is, we are on tender hooks
and so are many Syrians, to see if the United States will carry through on
its threats, and all indications are that it will. Perhaps even tonight.
We don`t know specifically, but we are all on alert to see if that happens.
The Syrians are starting to make preparations, both Syrian civilians trying
to stockpile whatever they can. Some people are moving out of their homes
if they happen to live near military bases.
The Syrian military is also thinning out some of its key locations. The
military has had two weeks advanced notice, so there are reports from our
colleagues in Damascus that they are moving some of their most precious
equipment out of key locations and spreading it to, one would assume to be,
hidden places. Although there are many satellites now, U.S. and others,
overlooking Syria, so moving large amounts of equipment and personnel would
be quite difficult. But the Syrians, civilians, and the people, and the
military are both getting ready, as is the region. The Turks are also on
alert. They`ve sent some extra troops to their border. The Israelis are
on alert. Everyone is watching to see, not necessarily if the strikes
happen, we think they will, but how big they will be, and how Bashar al
Assad will react.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Richard, the language I used is, are we going to war?
And the president pretty clearly tried to say, no, to that question
yesterday by saying that there wouldn`t be any open-ended commitments, by
saying that, that, in fact, this was going to be narrow. This sense that
this has more to do with his "red line" comment than with any particular
strategic initiatives there. And yet, if in fact we begin strikes tonight
or at some other point and then there isn`t a response or there isn`t an
end to the chemical weapons attacks, does that, in fact, mean that we are
ultimately going to war?
ENGEL: I think right now, you`re raising a very important question. The
United States isn`t going to war. The United States is launching a
military retaliation. The United States has done this in the past. It
bombed Libya under Reagan when there was an attack and the United States
wanted to send a message to Gadhafi. The Israelis twice have already hit -
- they don`t acknowledge it, but they have -- hit targets inside Damascus
when they believed that Hezbollah was receiving weapons. So you can have
military actions without going to war. But it is a slippery slope. What
if the United States starts to attack, which is involving itself
militarily, no doubt, and Bashar al-Assad decides to respond with more
chemical attacks, blames the United States. Hezbollah launches military
action against Israel. Iran takes a provocative action. Then where does
it stop? Do you then have to engage in a war? The United States clearly
doesn`t want to do that. Wants to hit a message -- hit a few targets, and
for this to be contained, but where a battle plan starts and where it ends,
are often two very different places.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you one last question on this question of
strikes. The last time that -- or certainly in our recent history, that
we`ve had success with this, with the question of human rights and then
strikes, military strikes, it took 76 days of military bombardment to make
a difference. The president doesn`t seem, at least at this point, to be
indicating that length of time. We`re talking about maybe a day or two.
Again, it`s hard to know exactly. Do you have a sense, do people there on
the ground have a sense that this is going to be a long-term situation, or
are they expecting something brief?
ENGEL: Most people think that the U.S. strikes will be quite brief. A
day, two days. Usually, the way these things work is there`s an initial
strike, then there`s an assessment of the damage, sometimes the same
targets or new targets are hit again, if they were assessed not to be
completely destroyed or destroyed to the point that they wanted to be
destroyed. The other involvements, if you want to make a very -- a real
difference, and if you want to change the regime, this isn`t necessarily
going to do it.
ENGEL: The only way the regime would change in this case would be if two
days of strikes gave the rebels enough breathing room to go and attack the
country and take over themselves. What you could see is, there`s an
attack, the rebels will try and launch their own simultaneous offensive,
and if Bashar al-Assad isn`t sufficiently weakened, he could, even while
he`s being attacked, launch a very ferocious counterattack against the
rebels and claim fog of war, more chemical weapons could be used, there
could be lots of casualties in this next period. So we really don`t know
how this is going to play out. Either Bashar al-Assad will turn himself
into a turtle, he`ll go down into the bunkers, he`ll ride this out, or
he`ll use this as an opportunity to launch a major counteroffensive against
the rebels who want to use this time to gain momentum.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Richard Engel for joining us from near the
Turkish border with Syria. Greatly appreciate your time this morning.
And here in the studio, to help us sort through many of the complexities of
action in Syria are Colonel Jack Jacobs, MSNBC military analyst, Retired
Army Colonel and recipient of the Medal of Honor. Christina Bellantoni,
who is political editor at PBS "Newshour." P.J. Crowley, former assistant
secretary of state for public affairs. And Ed Husain, senior fellow for
Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Thanks to all of
you for joining me.
Colonel, how do you respond to the various -- the sort of menu that was
laid out for us by Richard?
COL. JACK JACOBS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, I think Richard got it all. I
think there`s not going to be something in the middle. He`s either going
to hunker down, absorb the attack, and carry on, because I don`t think,
necessarily, a couple of days worth of bombing with the cruise missiles are
going to do very much, necessarily, to the -- to Assad`s fortunes in the
war. Or in the alternative, it will escalate into something far nastier
and it will last a much longer period of time. I don`t think it`s going to
be anything in the middle. I think he`s absolutely right.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ed, let me ask you, one piece of this that I started
with and that clearly became the major development with Great Britain this
week is the sense that whatever the U.S. is going to do here, we are likely
going to do it alone, whether it`s short or longer term, at least
initially. Is, particularly these European nations, particularly Great
Britain, as I pointed out, with their very long-term interest in this part
of the world, is it because they think this is really just about a U.S.
president making an utterance about a red line, or do they simply feel they
don`t have a responsibility to be addressing the sets of questions that the
president has laid out here.
ED HUSAIN: I think the Europeans, especially the French, the Brits and
others do feel a sense of responsibility. You correctly identified the
historical role in creating what we now refer to as the modern Middle East.
But that said, the ghost of Tony Blair and the ghost of Iraq hangs rather
large in the British parliament and there`s genuine fear about the
credibility of the evidence as being presented to them. The U.N. inspector
team hasn`t verified the claims and they count claims made more broadly.
And the lack of clarities to what exactly the objective is here, is it
limited strikes or is it the removal of the regime. And in the absence of
the regime being removed, the higher risk of the regime, of the Assad
regime, again using chemical weapon, and does that then mean we`re involved
in a protracted war? Those questions have not been clarified to the extent
that the leader of the opposition in the U.K. parliament would have liked.
And as a result, the U.K. parliament voted against it.
But I also think, you hit the nail on the head when you talked about the
fact that the Arab League and local governments have, on the one hand, in
private encouraged the U.S. to strike, but in public, the Arab League said,
no, we don`t support a strike. So sadly the U.S. does find itself in
isolation in this particular instance.
HARRIS-PERRY: And let me ask you, P.J., because on exactly this point
about the sort of shadow over Iraq and this notion of verification, we
heard from - from Putin, I just want to look at what Putin said earlier
this morning, that "this is why I`m sure this is just a provocation of
those who want to drag other countries into a Syrian crisis. Those who
want the support of powerful international players, primarily the United
States. I have no doubt about this with regard to our American colleagues
and friends who say that the government forces have used chemical weapons
of mass destruction and who say that they have proof of this. Let them
show the evidence to the U.N. in the security federation." This sense of,
show it, you have no proof.
P.J. CROWLEY, FMR. ASSISTANT SEC. OF STATE: Well, I think the United
States made a compelling case yesterday that connects this chemical attack,
you know, to the Assad regime, whether Assad ordered it or his chemical
forces just undertook it. But I think we have to put this in large
context. We have been engaged in this war for two years. 100,000 people
have been killed. Right now we`re in a policy of containment. You know,
which is, we`re trying to say to Assad, look, you`re involved in your own
survival, but chemical weapons can`t be a part of this equation. And this
odd phenomenon of defending 1500 deaths via chemical weapons, but not
necessarily yet having the formula to deal with the death of 100,000 people
CROWLEY: -- at the hands of Bashar al-Assad. The homerun here is
introducing outside force to try to get back to a political process that
has been stalled for several months. That`s the play, it may or may not
HARRIS-PERRY: P.J., that`s exactly where we`re going to pick up when we
come back, is this question of how long these deaths have, in fact, been
occurring under this regime, and why chemical weapons become sort of the
moral question, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The civil war in Syria has been raging for more than two
years. More than 100,000 people have been killed, including 7,000
children. Almost 2 million have fled the country, filling refugee camps
across the borders with Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. 4.25 million more were
displaced within Syria. The United States has, until now, resisted direct
involvement in the war, with no clear opposition leader to support the
potential for ripple effects throughout the region, including in Israel,
and an extremely war-weary American public. Now that is almost certain to
change. But why? Because now 1,400 people, including 400 children, have
been killed by chemical weapons. The pictures are haunting. But the death
toll is a fraction of the total killed and injured and made homeless by
conventional weapons like ballistic missiles. Still, a chemical attack
violates long-standing international law. In Secretary Kerry`s words
yesterday, it crosses a red line set up nearly a century ago following
chemical attacks in World War I. And to fail to respond, he says, is to
open the floodgates.
(BEVIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: This matters, also, beyond the limits of Syria`s borders. It is
about whether Iran, which itself has been a victim of chemical weapons
attacks, will now feel emboldened in the absence of action, to obtain
nuclear weapons. It is about Hezbollah, and North Korea, and every other
terrorist group or dictator that might ever again contemplate the use of
weapons of mass destruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Christina, is it reasonable for us to react differently
to a smaller number of deaths from a particular technology?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, POLITICAL EDITOR, PBS NEWSHOUR: Well, from a
position of how the president wants to be received in the world, it`s
reasonable for him. You know, it`s not necessarily our place to be able to
say how you should react to certain different types of things, but they are
making very clear that this is a different scenario. And the president
laid it out and it`s very interesting the way that they sent out the
secretary of state, because he`s someone who was a very fervent anti-war
voice in Iraq and he is making this case, trying to say, I understand where
the American people are on this, we`re not going to repeat these same
mistakes. And so, in laying out the case for what looks like military
action, as we`ve been talking about, they`re really also trying to get at,
we get why you`re skeptical of this.
HARRIS-PERRY: On this question of not making the same mistakes, P.J., it
kept feeling like this president and this administration is dealing with a
bunch of ghosts. And they were talking about Iraq and Afghanistan, but it
also feels to me, with Samantha Power, with Susan Rice standing there, we
know, with the president`s here, that there`s also a kind of Clinton era
moment here. And in part, perhaps, a concern about allowing a Rwanda to
happen. Am I off in thinking that that ghost is in the room?
CROWLEY: Well, I mean there is a narrative about never again, but what is
the line at which -- I mean, the United States rhetorically has said, Assad
has to go. It is U.S. policy, but it has only, up until now, backed up
that policy with political effort, you know, and some, you know, light
arms, but not direct military involvement. So there is a larger
international question. But I think we`re seeing, you know, Jack and I are
used to dealing with a Vietnam syndrome. Now we`re dealing with an Iraq
syndrome, you know, which is skepticism about what military action can
actually accomplish. That`s not necessarily a bad thing. You know, based
on our limited successes and disastrous failures, most recently, in Iraq,
but there`s also a skepticism about American power, its role in the world,
and this gap between what we say and what we`re prepared to do. And this
has potentially longer range, you know, implications.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me -- yeah, please.
HUSAIN: You mentioned Rwanda --
HUSAIN: -- but there`s a real risk that by removing Assad, what we we`re
going to create is a genocide against the minority communities inside
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there any possibility that we would be removing Assad
with these strikes?
HUSAIN: Not necessarily with these strikes, but if he then uses chemical
weapons again and again, we`re drawn into this war, much more than we`re
anticipating. And that`s -- there`s a real risk that could happen. He`s
got no incentive not to use these weapons. I mean - come and have Nasser
(ph) in Egypt used them in Yemen in `67. Kerry rightly identified that the
weapons were used against Iranians by Saddam Hussein in the `80s. And
there have been 30 instances so far of Assad using these weapons on a
smaller scale, and having pushed him into a corner, where he now feels that
this is, perhaps, his last option to use against the opposition. There`s,
god forbid a chance that he may do that again. If he does so, if he is
then removed either by the opposition or by U.S. and other bombings, the
real fear is what we`re seeing in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Libya, that Sunni
majority is turning on their religious minorities.
HUSAIN: Christians, Druze, Alawites and others inside Syria genuinely fear
a backlash against them. And that`s where, I think the Rwanda thought
ought to enter our heads. The genocide in Syria of the minorities at the
hands of the Sunni majority.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so that sort of empirical reality on the ground, about
whether or not Syria, in fact, has a sufficient civil society, and a set of
organized alternatives that could fill a vacuum if Assad was gone is sort
of the deep empirical case here. But there`s also a theoretical one here
about nation states and about sovereignty. And about whether or not,
simply as a result of the use of particular kind of technology or even
human rights violations, that the U.S. or anyone else has a right to step
in on the sovereignty of another nation. And sort of, then, where is that
line? Is that line for us as Americans using the death penalty against our
own citizens? Is it there because we force-feed people in Guantanamo Bay?
Like it does feel like there`s also a theoretical question, but do we - are
we meant to just put that on the side because of the realities of human
CROWLEY: But the dilemma here is that, you know, whatever military action
is taken, will not be legal. It will not probably even be seen as
legitimate. You know, Kosovo is in the back drum here. And while it was
illegal in 1999, it was broadly seen as legitimate. But by the same token,
you know, we have a situation where the United Nations is the provider of
that legality and that legitimacy, and has been deliberately sidelined --
CROWLEY: -- by opposition from Russia and China. So in part, it`s about,
also about, you know, who upholds the international standards that we hope
we`re advancing in the 21st century. And it`s, you know - and so, I think
that President Obama has drawn an appropriate red line. He may not have
done it purposefully, but having drawn it, it is vitally important to
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s exactly where we will come back and talk next. I
want to talk more about the president`s credibility and the extent, to
which that is what is driving these decisions in the next few days.
(BEVIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: It matters because a lot of other countries, whose policies
challenged these international norms, are watching. They`re watching.
They want to see whether the United States and our friends mean what we
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Secretary of state Kerry speaking out about U.S. credibility
on the world stage. There are other types of credibility. The credibility
our president and our country`s policies both at home and abroad have, with
us, as well as with the world audience. So let me ask, colonel, if we go
in, a few days of strikes, maybe there`s a cessation in the action of
Assad, vis a vis these people relative to chemical weapons. Is that enough
to establish us as a strong world force on this question?
JACOBS: Yeah, for a short period of time, but I think everybody expects
there to be something other than that, that it won`t be just a punitive
strike. That there will be some positive, longer term impact, and of
course, that`s not going to happen unless we continue the attacks, which we
can do. The real threat, one of the real threats, is that even if Assad
does not counterattack, use more chemical weapons, kill more civilians, in
bigger and bigger numbers and all the rest of that stuff, if we have no
positive effect on the long-term outcome in Syria, despite what the
president and secretary of state have said about the limited nature of the
attacks, I think there`s -- what credibility we do establish by making this
attack, I think, gets eroded over time.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it felt to me like part of what the president said,
initially, when he came to power was, no unilateral action, a different, a
kind of Obama doctrine in the world, and the notion that we would establish
credibility in a different way. Not that we would establish it through
sheer force and might, but that we would establish credibility through
relationship. Would this undermine that aspect of the sort of new Obama
JACOBS: Well, what P.J. is saying, I think it`s a hope more than anything,
is that this might be the catalyst to get the political -- a political
solution started again. A search for political -- and they`re not mutually
exclusive. I mean you can - we`ve seen it many, many times before. There
was the old fight, fight - talk strategy the North Vietnamese, which worked
tremendously well for them. I mean they managed taking - to take over
Vietnam as a result of it. In the best of circumstances, that`s the
result. But, of course, there`s always danger that the result is going to
be exactly the opposite.
HUSAIN: In the Middle East, the United States is damned if it does, damned
if it doesn`t, in almost every circumstance. You`re right to identify
Obama`s hunch towards diplomacy. He`s tried that over the last two years
in Egypt and today there`s more anti-Americanism in Egypt than at any other
time. So, there`s that point to bear in mind. In Syria, whatever the U.S.
does, it doesn`t do enough for Turkey and Saudi Arabia and other allies,
and whatever it does is going too far for some of the others. So, it
brings us back in this position of difficulty in that it`s much better to
take reputational risk and reputational damage to the U.S. rather than risk
greater loss in blood and treasure for the United States of America and the
BELLANTONI: And don`t forget, this is all happening in the time context of
the president heading to Russia for the G-20 --
BELLANTONI: In a very, very tense situation. And a lot of --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- just say the leaders --
JACOBS: It`s going to be over by then.
BELLANTONI: That`s what they`re looking at. And heading there Tuesday
night. You know, he`s going to come back Friday. It could be over by
HARRIS-PERRY: So, is there one key geopolitical sort of best case
scenario? Is it the - the using the strikes in order to get the talks?
CROWLEY: That is the most fortuitous outcome, but as we all say, that`s a
long ball. In the short-term, I think the reality is, this could continue
tragically for a period of time. I mean civil wars go on for a decade or
more, this is still year three.
CROWLEY: And sometimes political solutions only emerge as it was the case
in Bosnia, after a civil war burns itself out for a while. So it is a
dilemma in that do it - taking action has consequences, not taking action,
as John Kerry said yesterday, has consequences. And I think the strategy
for the moment is not one of transformation. What`s remarkable about the
argument for this attack is, gone is the transformative language of ten
years ago or even two years ago. This is a sober, realistic assessment of
what can be done. It`s a limited step. It open - it can open the door not
only for a political solution, it can, as Jack said, also open the door
that this will be the first act among many that will need to be done over
the course of months and years to try to solve this.
JACOBS: There`s a real object lesson in this whole exercise. We have very
short memories, I`m afraid. But we`ve got to remember how this all
transpired and we had plenty of opportunity to avoid this very situation
and to short circuit our optionality in this. We shouldn`t do this again.
We should think, in similar situations, how to act before we have to do
HARRIS-PERRY: Pause for me, because that`s exactly -- I actually think
that our memories are short-term in some very keen ways and that is our
kind of war weariness. Why it might be a tough sale when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: More than a decade after we invaded Afghanistan and then
Iraq, the American public is tired of war. Which is no surprise,
considering that when a secretary of state comes out like John Kerry did
yesterday, to say that the U.S. knows for sure that a dictatorial regime
has used chemical weapons and that the United States needs to respond, the
first thing that pops into the minds of many Americans, what another
secretary of state did just over ten years ago.
(BEVIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons.
Saddam Hussein has used such weapons. And Saddam Hussein has no
compunction about using them again, against his neighbors and against his
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It is that reminder of the Bush administration`s false claim
of WMDs in Iraq that led this country into a decade of war that is front
and center in American minds right now when we hear this administration
make its case against Syria. And it`s a sentiment that the Secretary of
State John Kerry, and his boss are both very well aware of.
(BEVIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed
information regarding this attack. And I will tell you, it has done so
more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment.
OBAMA: There is a certain weariness given Afghanistan, there is a certain
suspicion of any military action post-Iraq and I very much appreciate that.
KERRY: It will bear no resemblance to Afghanistan, Iraq, or even Libya.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: "Or even Libya." Christina, NBC did two series of polls
this week on August 28th and 29th, asking the American people about this,
asking, should the U.S. take military action in response to chemical
weapons attack? Only 42 percent of respondents said yes. 50 percent saying
no. And then asking, what if military forces limit to launching cruise
missiles from warship? Even then, even if it`s just cruise ships - cruise
missiles from warships, cruise ships are something different, it is only 50
percent support. What does that tell you?
BELLANTONI: Well, on some of the underlying reasons they said, are things
President Obama has said himself. You know, it`s expensive. We need to
keep the focus here at home. It doesn`t make sense to get entangled in yet
another conflict that isn`t ours. But what`s so fascinating about all of
the language that they`re using here, when John Kerry lays out the
evidence, he used - used the word "thousands and thousands of sources."
They talk about the social media element of (inaudible) are coming from
real people, not necessarily from an intelligence community that might or
might not have an agenda. They are talking about releasing all of it and
being very transparent.
When you actually look it, it`s not like it`s, this, you know, declassified
document, that`s what members of Congress are seeing. But they are being
very, very careful to say, we get it. This is why there`s not boots on the
ground. And it`s very interesting, also, with how much the American people
actually understand about, what does military action mean, what is it going
to cost this country, how is it going to - how long is it going to last.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also this, what you`ve just brought up, what the American
people know, how much we understand. I mean, I think we can likely say
that if you gave a blank map to Americans and said, point to Damascus, they
may not come even within a continent of where it is. And another problem
of our public schools, but the other thing, though that happened here in
this poll is we asked, do you think the president should get congressional
approval? And nearly 80 percent of respondents said, yes, the president
should have to go to Congress. Is this a kind of appetite on the part of
the American people for some kind of Democratic progress in the commander-
BELLANTONI: Well, and what`s interesting, is that a lot of people may not
understand how the War Powers Act works and that the president actually has
60 days to be able to actually talk to Congress. But it`s not about
Congress saying, yes, let`s take military action. There`s not like a
stamp, check that box. Instead, this is what the administration is saying.
They are using words like, we`re aggressively consulting with Congress. We
are finding out what input they think we should have under consideration as
the president makes this decision. There are no promises of him saying,
yes, please, tell me what to do here. And given the timing of everything,
Congress is on vacation. They are not coming back until --
HARRIS-PERRY: And honestly, it feels like they`ve been on vacation for
about four years. I mean at this point, it`s awfully difficult to point to
a Congress, like the 113th or the 112th in terms of its inability to do so
many things. And yet at this moment, when we need to take action, one way
or another, and need to do it in a way that demonstrates some sort of
American standing and credibility in the world, we`re meant to go to the
CROWLEY: Well, what`s interesting is, with the British parliamentary vote
earlier this week, Brit parliament was brought back into session early, and
had a significant --
HARRIS-PERRY: A robust conversation.
CROWLEY: You know, you know, debate. And here it`s being done
telephonically with a hand -- you know, briefings to a handful of
congressmen and congressmen and senators. I mean, part of this is about
political ownership. I mean, the Congress has ceded significant authority
and initiative to chief executives, despite the War Powers Act.
CROWLEY: You know, and I don`t think Congress is going to step into
Obama`s way, but then again, Obama is going to own the political result. I
mean, the dilemma, when you turn this to internationally is, is that John
Kerry said yesterday, we are not going to own the civil war and we are not
going to own a particular outcome, you know, in Syria. And that`s a
dilemma. If no one owns - if the United States doesn`t own it, no one owns
it. If no one owns it, no one`s prepared to solve it.
CROWLEY: And that leaves you with the uncomfortable feeling that despite
the action that will be taken in the coming days, it will not necessarily
decisively change the course.
JACOBS: And it also reinforces the notion that in the end, the sole
objective of this attack is because the president said --
JACOBS: -- that we were going to attack. And it turns out to be its own
reward. And many people find that to be very unsettling.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s also, it`s a reminder that the other piece of
memory, maybe not so much for the American public, but certainly for those
who are thinking forward to 2016, is that President Obama becomes President
Obama, in part because he did take a stand, as a state senator, right,
against that initial war in Iraq. And so you sense his hesitance that was
once a time in this country where being against war would have met that you
never could have been president. In this case, in fact, being against
military action, might come 2016, end up being something that`s on the
Unfortunately, we are out of time for today, but not for the whole show,
but just for this conversation. Colonel Jack Jacobs, Christina Bellantoni,
P.J. Crowley and Husain, thanks to all of you for being here. This is a
critical time for our country. My letter of the week is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, a Montana judge found himself having to apologize
after implying that a teenage victim of sexual assault was complicit in her
own rape. All this as he slapped her adult assailant, oh, so gently on the
wrist. Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh handed down a 30-day sentence
to 54-year-old former high school teacher, Stacey Rambold, who admitted to
a felony charge of nonconsensual sex in 2008, with Cherice Morales, a 14-
year-old student. Rambold landed back in court after breaking the terms of
a plea deal that would have closed his case if he completed sex offender
treatment. During the intervening years, while the case was pending, just
a few weeks before her 17th birthday, Cherice took her own life, and her
mother testified at the hearing that her daughter`s rape had been a major
reason for her suicide.
But that didn`t stop Judge Baugh from concluding during the sentencing that
Cherice was, quote, "as much in control of the situation as the teacher,"
and that the teen was, quote, "older than her chronological age."
So this week`s letter is addressed to the judge, to help clear up a few
things he doesn`t seem to understand. Dear Judge Baugh, it`s me, Melissa.
I would like to think a safe assumption that of all people, a district
court judge in Montana is intimately familiar with the laws in Montana, but
your statements in court on Monday suggest that maybe you could use a bit
of a refresher. So, allow me to help you out.
According to Montana law, a victim is incapable of giving consent if the
victim is less than 16 years old. Incapable of giving consent. Because,
Judge Baugh, a victim less than 16 years old, in this case, a 14-year-old,
is a child. A child like 44 percent of those who are victims of rape. And
the law codifies our collective understanding that children deserve special
protections because their youth and immaturity makes them inherently
disempowered in a sexual, as you call it, situation with an adult. Which
means Cherice, this child, was in no way capable of controlling or
consenting to the actions of the grown man who had sex with her.
And I call her a victim here, not a survivor, because while she survived
for the moment, she ultimately succumbed. So she was no more able to
prevent her rape than she was to somehow age herself beyond her 14 years.
So your statement that she was older than her chronological age, along with
implicating her as a participant in her own assault, amounts to excusing
the crimes of an adult while laying blame on a child that he victimized.
That child, Cherice, isn`t even here anymore to speak for herself. So if
she were, she might tell you that it`s this kind of shaming, the idea that
it is somehow our own fault, that keeps so many survivors, including me,
silent after their rape. And makes survivors four times as likely to
contemplate the drastic action that Cherice ultimately chose, to end their
own lives. Judge Baugh, it`s bad enough that thanks to you an admitted
child rapist will be a free man by the end of the month, but the day after
the sentencing, you defended your decision by saying, quote, "I think that
people have in mind that this was some kind of violent, forcible, horrible
rape. It was horrible enough as it was, just given her age, but it wasn`t
this forcible, beat-up rape." If I didn`t know any better, I would think
you were exchanging your judicial robes for a Republican seat in Congress,
because you`re sounding a lot like former Senator Todd "Legitimate Rape"
Akin before his comments got him voted out of office.
So let me remind you a couple of the same things I reminded him of. First,
rape is rape. Full stop. Second, you hold an elected office too, which
means that as easily as you have been re-elected for the last 30 years, you
can just as easily be voted out. Maybe then you`ll finally understand
consent when you lose your judicial seat with the consent of the voters who
put you there. Sincerely, Melissa.
(BEVIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: We`re fired up!
CROWD: Can`t take it no more!
CROWD: We`re fired up!
CROWD: Can`t take it no more!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was the scene on Thursday when fast food got a little
slower as thousands of workers walked out of hundreds of fast food
restaurants in nearly 60 cities throughout the U.S., demanding a living
wage. A dramatic display of labor`s power, just ahead of the Labor Day
holiday. The mass walkout is the largest organized effort to demand that
fast food companies raise hourly pay from the federal minimum of $7.25 to
$15 an hour and allow workers the right to unionize.
Joining me now is Dorian Warren, associate professor of political science,
international and public affairs at Columbia University and fellow at the
Roosevelt Institute. Tsedeye Gebreselassie who is staff attorney at the
National Employment Law Project, Andrew Moesel from the New York State
Restaurant Association and Shaniqua Davis, who works at McDonald`s and
participated in the nationwide fast food strike.
And I`m going to begin with you, Miss Davis. You had to take time off to
join us on this Saturday morning. Tell me why you are engaged in these
SHANIQUA DAVIS, MCDONALD`S EMPLOYEE: Well, the strike, I feel like, you
know, us workers, we feel like we deserve more than $7.25. We work
extremely hard. Some workers there, we have families to take care of and
$7.25 is just not enough.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you are - Andrew, you`re with the National Restaurant
Association. You`re sitting there next to Shaniqua. She`s a worker in a
restaurant. What is your response to her about her ability to raise her
family, to meet her bills on $7.25 an hour?
ANDREW MOESEL, NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION: Well, I want to make
clear, when you look at these protests, it`s easy to think that every
single restaurant worker makes the minimum wage. In fact, it`s only about
five percent of workers that do that. There`s many more that are able to
go on and make incredible career and life for themselves in the restaurant
industry. Most restaurant owners want to pay their employees as much as
they can, but I`m here to represent the other side of the coin, which is
the fact is, if we pay restaurants more money -- I`m sorry, restaurant
workers more money, there`s just less money to pay more workers and have
more hiring and more jobs and ultimately make the industry grow.
HARRIS-PERRY: So is that it? If we pay Shaniqua $15 an hour, is
McDonald`s simply going to start shrinking?
TSEDEYE GEBRESELASSIE, STAFF ATTORNEY, NELP: Absolutely not. Because
McDonald`s, for example, made $5.5 billion in profits last year, and the
money is clearly there. It just needs to trickle down to the workers. And
to the point about minimum wage, while a small percentage of workers may
make the minimum wage, the average wage in this industry for this front
line workers, is less than $9. And while some, a very small few may go on
to better-paying - better paying jobs in the industry, in general, there`s
a real lack of upward mobility. And that`s a real problem. And you saw
that with the strikes. People who have been working for more than a decade
and were still making a single-digit hourly wage, because the industry is
very flat, only two percent of the jobs are managerial. The vast majority
are these front line positions where the pay is very low.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you - if I were to take, seriously, the idea
that we want to pay our workers the very largest amount, and also make you
completely unique among all employers, because I actually don`t know any
employers who want to pay the maximum amount, but then wouldn`t
unionization, wouldn`t the right to unionize be a way of reaching that
DORIAN WARREN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Absolutely. And remember, this is in
the context of the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh yeah. For jobs and freedom.
WARREN: For jobs and freedom. And remember, one of those demands was a $2
an hour minimum wage, which would be about $13 in change today. So, the
workers like Ms. Davis and their colleagues, they`re right on the money, so
to speak, in terms of what it will take to live a livable life.
HARRIS-PERRY: What difference would it make to you if you made $15 an
DAVIS: I feel like, you know, I could take care of my daughter, you know,
I can go back to school, I wouldn`t have to, you know, be out of college, I
wouldn`t have to drop out of college to work this dead end job. And, you
know, the government wants us to get off of welfare and stop using and
abusing the system, but when these jobs are only $7.25 an hour, how do you
expect us to pay our bills and stay at these jobs when, you know, we`re not
getting paid enough to go back to school.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Andrew, this question of the government having to step
in. Basically, what happens is, a lot of workers on minimum wage end up
needing food stamps and other nutritional assistance, that sort of thing.
So we, as taxpayers, end up subsidizing multi-million dollar corporations.
MOESEL: Well, it`s a choice that we have to make as a society, do we want
to put that onus on small business owners or do we want to put that onus on
us as taxpayers? Right now I think we have a good balance in the system.
And keep in mind, that we also have the National Affordable Health Care Act
coming, we don`t know when, but very soon that is going to give more
benefits to workers and that`s something that restaurant owners are going
to have to pay for. In New York, we actually just had a raise in the
minimum wage, which our industry was supportive of. So we`re happy to have
this discussion. It`s an important one for the country about wages and
benefits, but we need to talk about both sides, we need to rely on facts,
and we need to have an understanding of how the economy works.
WARREN: It`s difficult to get a man to understand something when his
salary depends on not understanding it, as Upton Sinclair said once. With
all due respect, we know that these companies can afford it. And in fact,
the very franchisees are rebelling against the parent corporations, because
they`re getting squeezed. So when Ms. Davis goes on strike with her
colleagues, she`s not striking against the franchisees, she`s striking
against the parent corporations who make the $5 billion in profit and can
afford to ease up on the franchisees, so the franchisees can then pay their
workers a livable wage.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m so glad you`ve said that. We have - we have tried
multiple times to be able to book McDonald`s franchise owners, who are
often unable to come and sit at the table, because of their relationship
with the parent companies, because I think that squeeze is exactly the
point. Like, there are these multi-billion dollar corporations, there`s
Ms. Davis and her family, and in between, there`s a second level to
squeeze. Let me just say, we`re out of time for this hour, but let me say,
I am so appreciative of you finding the time. I know it is hard to find
the time to be here today and for giving us your voice at the table.
DAVIS: It`s OK.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
Dorian Warren, I`m going to see you in the next hour, Tsedeye
Gebreselassie, thank you for being here, Andrew, thank you for being here
and getting a little bit beat up there, and also to Shaniqua Davis, thank
you for being here.
Coming up next, we`ll take a closer look at the big business of college
ball. I love football!
Plus, the 12-year-old, wait until you meet her, who`s already fighting for
her right to vote. There is more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
And I have a good idea of how millions of you are going to spend your
Saturday afternoon after MHP show. You`ll spend it losing your voice
yelling at the television or singing along with your alma mater, rooting
for your favorite college football team to win its first game of the
season. Forty-four million of us, 19 percent of all Americans, are avid
college football fans, putting it third in national interests behind only
the NFL and the Olympics.
Last year, nearly 49 million fans attended college football games at all
644 NCAA schools, just down a bit from a record high in 2011. But that
means that even if your team stinks and has for many years, you keep coming
back, even when they`re not winning, you`re yelling, war eagle, O-H-I-O,
hook them horns, or roll tide -- the team may represent your alma mater or
your hometown or your home state, and you connect them in part of the way
to connect to your own youth, watching with a kind of innocence.
But college football is not just about a good time and a good game. It is
also really good business, particularly really good business for the NCAA
at the top tier college athletic programs and the television networks that
cover the games.
The University of Texas football program made nearly $78 million last year
alone. Yes, college ball is good business for virtually everyone involved,
except for those who actually play the game.
Those athletes whose blood, sweat, and tears sell all the tickets, jerseys,
concessions and television packages, athletes like Heisman Trophy winning
Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, who as you may heard, enjoyed signing
autographs in the offseason.
The NCAA suspected he was paid for signing autographs. He`s off the hook,
slapped on the wrist for a half-game suspension in his team`s game today
versus Rice. But this is just the latest chapter in a long debate about
big-time college football. Who`s really winning when so many are making
millions off everything remotely connected to the players, except the
student athletes, who can`t even make money off their own signature?
Joining me now, first, is Nicole Auerbach, who is a college sports reporter
for "USA Today," and our friend, Roman Oben, who after playing two sports
at the University of Louisville, went on to a 12-year NFL career as an
offensive tackle. Also, Joel Anderson, senior sports writer at BuzzFeed,
and David Epstein, senior writer with "Sports Illustrated" and author of
"The Sports Gene: Inside the Sign of Extraordinary Athletic Performance."
So nice to have you all here.
Nicole, let me start with you. Is it reasonable to say that college
athletes should either be getting a stipend, a larger stipend, or that they
ought to at least have the right to profit off their own name, likeness,
NICOLE AUERBACH, USA TODAY SPORTS: Well, it`s interesting, because I think
this issue has obviously, in the Johnny Manziel news and this half-game
suspension, and people wondering, why can`t he get paid for his own
autograph or a picture of himself, there really has been a wave of
criticism of those rules themselves. And there has been more push. Should
we pay players, open it up, or should we do with a stipend-type system,
which I think a lot of athletic officials like that idea. A more of a --
you know, just to get through the campus year, these kids can`t have full-
time jobs in addition to their commitment to college football.
So, it sort of -- there might be gray areas or ways that you can sort of
help these student athletes a little bit more without blowing up the system
for, you know, pay the players and, you know, you have unions and trades
and all sorts of whatever you would have with these pro-leagues when you
flat-out pay players.
So, I think there is a push for stipends, $2,000 a year or different
conferences are pushing different things on that.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I stand really in the middle of this. I do have
this sense of, you know, wanting the innocence of college ball to really be
about kids who are students at their university, playing for their college.
But the truth is, it just isn`t that, right? ESPN is making many billions
of dollars off of this. I know that only about 30 percent of college
programs are actually earning a profit, but schools get all sorts of
benefits that we don`t exactly, you know, put a price tag on.
Is it really time to think about money for the players?
ROMAN OBEN, FORMER NFL PLAYER: I think in the rare case that it prevents a
future, let`s say, the combines get scrutinized for anything that he did in
college. When Johnny Manziel goes to the combine eventually, Cam Newton
stole a laptop and was scrutinized for that. In the rare case it prevents
that hardship case, where a person might want to go outside, the
traditional means and get paid financially.
But I think we need to stop having this conversation about life`s not fair,
because these big businesses and the corporations and benefit, and these
poor little kids are getting exploited. Most kids aren`t going to get
drafted. Most of them won`t get the value of a college education, and go
on to become productive members of society.
So, I remember Kevin Ware got injured at Louisville. I`m a Louisville
grad. Everyone started to say, these guys should get paid. So, what if he
doesn`t come back, he still has to graduate with a Louisville degree and
still go on with the rest of his life.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, but it`s not a small. A little later in the hour,
we`re going to talk about the cost of college education and sort of how
burdensome it is for so many people. Is it enough to say, hey, a lot of
these kids are getting educations they would not otherwise be able to
afford? That`s the payment.
JOEL ANDERSON, BUZZFEED: The education is also serves the college purpose
too. I mean, it`s not just for the kids, it`s also to give the guise of
amateurism, you know, it comes under the guise of amateurism. I do think,
though, OK, maybe every athlete doesn`t bring in millions of dollars for
their colleges. But I think the bigger problem is that not being able to
capitalize on your own likeness or not being in control of like your
signature. I don`t think it`s weird to make an argument that somebody
shouldn`t be able to sell their own game pants and not get money for it or
sign, make their own signature and not get paid for it.
I think that`s more of the unfairness. If you isolate that in any other
circumstance, it doesn`t make sense. You explain that to somebody that
doesn`t follow football or college sports, and say, hey, I signed
something, somebody wants to pay me money for it, you know, it doesn`t make
sense in that context.
So, only under the guise of amateurism does that make sense.
HARRIS-PERRY: One key example has been the EA sports, you know, these are
kids, 18, 19, 20-year-old kids. So, they`re sitting there playing these
games and their own likenesses are in the games. But at a minimum, they`re
having to pay to get the game, to download it or whatever. I mean, is it
strange? Because the truth is, we do -- those of us who are renumerated
for being on television, we do lose some control of our image, name,
likeness, that sort of thing, but we`re paid a salary for it.
So, the question is whether or not the transaction of a college education
is a sufficient salary.
DAVID EPSTEIN, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: Well, you don`t lose control of your
image to this extent.
HARRIS-PERRY: No, like this.
EPSTEIN: The Texas A&M press release that announced Johnny Manziel
suspension had a photo on it, a "buy this photo" tag on it. You know, it`s
like the most tone deaf press release of all time. And some of the video
games are trying to argue, well, that`s not -- you know, a player has
dreads and a similar build and a similar rating -- saying, oh, that`s just
EPSTEIN: So, it`s really sort of disingenuous and I think with respect
with the college education, obviously an important thing. But there`s a
lot of evidence suggesting that these players are being brought in,
football`s a full-time job. They don`t have as much time to study, in many
cases they`re not as well prepared as other students coming in and some of
them I think are being done a disservice in their education.
HARRIS-PERRY: So then does the argument become that what you just need is
a minor league sports team for football, just as we have for baseball, and
separate out what`s going on with college. The college athletics becomes
truly amateur. But those on the pro-track go into paid minor leagues.
ANDERSON: I think that would be great, but I don`t think people want that,
because, obviously, there are people that have attachments to that school,
but it`s worth noting that the United States is the only country in the
world that attaches big-time athletics to its higher education systems. So
I don`t think that makes, you know, people -- we`re really invested in the
notion of, like, athletes representing your school and the college sports
represents something larger than itself.
HARRIS-PERRY: And not just emotionally invested, but we were looking at
this dead spin graphic, that was just obscene, because when you look at the
number of states where the person who is the highest paid person is either
a football coach or a basketball coach, the highest paid state worker. So
the states you see in blue are the only states where the highest paid state
worker is not either the college basketball coach or the college football
coach. All the rest of the country that you see there in orange and
yellow, it is the coach of the state athletic team, state college team,
who`s the highest paid state worker in the entire state.
AUERBACH: Well, if you think about it, part of that is because, you know,
if money can`t go back to the players themselves, where does the money go?
And it goes to the athletic departments, the coaches, the athletic
directors. And then you look at these numbers and that`s also what throws
some people off looking at this, too. When you see that student athletes
are getting scholarship or they can`t sign their own autograph or they
can`t make any profit off of their own likeness, their coaches making $5
million a year.
And they can do all of that.
ANDERSON: Is this a little naive? I mean, I went to Wake Forest. We
weren`t big-time football, but we were ACC, basketball, and money found a
way to find its way around, you know, a little bit hard for me to think of,
particularly at the top schools, of the athletes on campus as being the
most suffering young people on campus.
OBEN: And going back to your theory about the stipend, let`s say a program
like Ohio State, 800 student athletes, they all give this $200 stipend.
That`s $1.6 million. Where`s that money going to come from and where is
that going to compromise other parts of the athletic budget, the school`s
Because, again, what happened in Rutgers, the basketball coach. There was
such an uproar in the state of New Jersey because of his salary. Not
because of what he did to those kids and kicking them, it was because of
HARRIS-PERRY: What he has been to do as coach.
So, again, it goes to market value. A coach is going to get paid what he`s
going to get paid, whether it`s an Oklahoma program, USC, Notre Dame,
that`s fine. But valuing yourself as a commodity as a student athlete is
Chris Webber said, this over 20 years ago, that he couldn`t afford his own
jersey in the bookstore, and it`s illegal, it`s NCAA`s rules to even get it
from your equipment guys. So it`s damned if you do, damned if you don`t.
But this is the deal we sign up for and we have to play by these rules. I
will give you my education in replace for my services as a college athlete.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold one second, I want to talk about the dream that so many
of these young players have is to go on to the NFL and there`s big news in
the NFL about what the real cost of playing really are, the NFL`s big
settlement over concussions and is it a game changer for the players?
HARRIS-PERRY: Not only is the college football`s 2013 season underway, but
the NFL gets their rolling on Thursday night, with a game between the
Denver Broncos and the Super Bowl champions, Baltimore Ravens. That big
game coming up, the last thing the most popular league in America wants us
to be talking about is the still-heated debate over concussions and their
short and long-term effects on the brains of the players.
Well, they may have sidelined that conversation for now. "Sports
Illustrated`s" Peter King had it first on Twitter Thursday, writing, "The
NFL`s nightmare scenario is over, judge announced a settlement between the
league and the 4,500 players suing over head trauma."
After months of court-ordered mediation, that $765 million settlement will
actually cover more than those suing, 18,000 retired NFL players will
benefit from a settlement that includes $675 million, to a compensation $75
million for medical exams, and $10 million for research and education fund.
OK. So, we`re talking about that other obscene dead spin graphic. There`s
also one for this, where $765 million sounds like a lot of money to me, but
when you look at it compared to the amount of money that the NFL is
expected to make, that`s NFL`s expected profits, $180 billion, that`s the
blue. And that little bitty bit you see down there is the sentiment.
Did they settle too quickly?
OBEN: Well, this has been looming for a few years. If you look at the
pure numbers and say, 4,500 divided into $765 million, that means everybody
gets about $170,000. That`s not true. I mean, at the very least,
everybody will get a free baseline test. There are a lot of intricacies
haven`t been solved yet. And, you look that that number.
I mean, a lot of guys, former players like myself, we are argued, who
really benefits the worst, the guy that played 12 years or the guy that
played two years and was a kickoff specialist and may have an injury from
`85, that it doesn`t -- 12 years later. So, there`s still an argument,
even within the alumni groups I`m apart of about who really benefits from
HARRIS-PERRY: So was it the settlement too little, though? Is this a
victory for the players or not?
EPSTEIN: I think everyone who`s following it thought it was going to be
more than this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I heard $2 billion.
EPSTEIN: Nothing was below $1 billion at any point. And I think, so if
you were giving the players legal advice to get the most money, this is
extremely early in litigation to make a settlement and I think that shows
sort of how desperate, some of the players are in bad circumstances now and
that shows their hand that they settled this early.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I think that feels like the thing we`re balancing
here, is the very immediate needs of people suffering now, the suicide of
Junior Seau and others, just representing for us how bad it is for people
living with these head injuries. But then this settlement comes without
any admission of guilt on the part of the NFL. It doesn`t seem to set up
terms going forward for this to not be a problem anymore.
ANDERSON: Right. Well, it`s actually sort of a dream scenario for the
NFL, because it happens before the season gets started, they don`t have to
pay. I mean, each NFL -- the average NFL franchise is worth over $1
billion. So this is just a drop in the bucket to them. And additionally,
I mean, you`ve got, at this point, a bunch of guys who are not going to be
vested in the system. You`re going to have players that are not, like
Roman said, they`re not going to even get, possibly, some settlement money.
And so they`re going to be sort of locked out. And we`re never really
going to know what their stories are. We`re not going to hear from people
about, you know, what, you know, why did they end up this way. The NFL is
not going to have to talk about what they knew and when.
So, I mean, really, the NFL did, had a big victory here.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to ask you as a fan. So, I love college football, I
love NFL football, I am a huge Saints fan.
How can I watch knowing all of these things, knowing that there`s this
controversy about the players and the NCAA. Knowing that the players I am
enjoying watching on the field in the NFL could potentially be in
circumstances threatening their lives. Is it just that we say, hey, it`s
like the military, people sign up, you know, they`re remunerated for it,
and so that`s how it is? Or do we have responsibilities as consumers of
AUERBACH: Well, I think, one area, and I talked to a lot of different
people about this. I think maybe we`ll see something as -- I mean, if you
have children, are you going to let them play football? Maybe we`ll see
this in years, where it`s more of a -- you know, this is my child, this is
my life, I can control, instead of I`m going to boycott the NFL this season
and my one, you know, channel, my one TV is really going to make a
I don`t know. It`s a very good question. I mean, I don`t know if anyone -
HARRIS-PERRY: But Malcolm Gladwell would say, yes, it is going to
absolutely show up in the context of parents saying it, and so the problem
will be, parents of wealth and means will opt out. They`ll put their kids
in sports where this won`t happen, and that poor parents who are hoping for
the big contract payoff 25 years down the line will not have the option.
And so, will end up with this sort of two-tiered system.
ANDERSON: Yes, we`ve already seen some diminishment in youth league
football participation at this point. There`s been a 6 percent drop, just
over the previous year. And in high school football, I think the number
has -- it`s dropped by like a percentage point.
And so, we`re already seeing parents sort of look at that. So I think
that`s one thing that, like, if anything comes out of this that we should
be concerned about, is that, you know, the NFL, we`ve got guys who are
being compensated. They`re at the top of their profession.
But the kids that don`t get the sort of instruction that NFL players get,
who are being taught by guys who may or may not be qualified to coach, you
know, those are the people that are most aggressive and those are the once
we really need to be focusing on.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, as soon as I said Malcolm Gladwell, you went -- you
gave a total eye roll. Tell me what that was about.
OBEN: I was a fan until he came and said, we need to ban the game.
Everyone`s on this, football`s the bad guy. The answer to the sport is
bad. Football is being coached better, it`s being taught better. You
don`t have the 60-year-old coach with the whistle who`s been doing the same
drill since 1960.
HARRIS-PERRY: Better technology in the helmets.
OBEN: Yes, those guys are all gone.
ANDERSON: You know what, though, that`s not -- because there are still
coaches out there that do drills like, I`m sure you did bull in a ring.
OBEN: Oklahoma, yes, we all did those drills. But, again, U.S. football
is doing heads up football. There`s a lot of things, we can`t keep living
in retrospect about how the game used to be, but each generation will
improve as far as their knowledge of what`s --
HARRIS-PERRY: Tell all my 75-year-old little ladies who are watching at
home what the heads up is, just so that folks know.
OBEN: Heads up football is USA football partnership with the NFL. The
youth government body of the NFL and the P.A., and it teaches about proper
tackling, proper education, and they`re going into little, minute
communities in Alabama, Missouri, whenever, and teaching the proper
tackling that doesn`t encourage, you know, clothesline tackles or head-to-
So this generation from the youth level will trickle up. You`re finding on
the big end, you`re finding more fines for the NFL, and on the youth end,
they are teaching better technique.
EPSTEIN: And those fine -- that`s definitely right. That said, those
fines are going for the kind of hits like the Scud and Patriot missile sort
of safety receiver and the guys who are ending up having their brains cut
up are usually lineman who are taking many, many, sub-concussive hits and
so I`m not sure those rule changes are getting to the people down the line,
but it`s definitely better in terms of preventing concussions.
HARRIS-PERRY: Pause with me, we`re going to talk a little bit more about
the issue of injuries because I want to talk about a player on my own
campus of Tulane whose life was changed forever in just one play.
HARRIS-PERRY: Concussions are hardly the only danger facing NFL, college,
and high school football players, as their season begins in the coming
week. Take the case of Devon Walker, a student where I teach at Tulane
University. Devon used to be a student athlete, a defensive back for the
Tulane Green Wave football team. You see him here, number 18.
And Devon was only making a play last September 8th against Tulsa when his
helmet collided with his teammate`s during a tackle, fracturing his spine.
His life was spared, but Devon was paralyzed from the neck down. He`s now
a senior, undergoing physical therapy, and while he`s very much part of the
Tulane football team, he remains bound to a wheelchair.
Nicole, I wanted to talk about Devon in part because obviously it`s
happening on my campus, this kid has got a huge spirit. But it`s also been
interesting to me that since his injury, in certain ways, it`s almost like
Tulane football is almost -- it`s almost more popular, like, almost as
though this tragedy brought people who wouldn`t otherwise think very much
about football on to the side of the green wave when they might otherwise
just be sort of academic students on campus. Which I find both wonderful
and a little awful that Devon`s injury would inspire us in this way.
AUERBACH: Yes, I think we see that every single time there have been -- we
were talking about Eric LeGrand during the break at Rutgers, and it sort of
galvanizes the community. And I was looking at the Tulane Web site, and
right off the home page, essentially, you can go to raise money for Devon
Walker. And also different ways the community has been helping him
So, that is interesting, and I know it is interesting also, because he has
a ton of medical costs that he will have for the rest of his life now. So
it`s interesting, because you`re getting the support and you`re trying to
monetize it, because you want to help him, and I know that part of it was
about, you know, making his house more accessible for him and all of these
things that, you know, yes, came out of nowhere and now the Tulane football
program, and what the community has done for him.
So, you`re right, it`s kind of a weird dynamic where something tragic
happens like that, but sort of galvanizes that community.
HARRIS-PERRY: Devon has a position that sounds a lot like what I`ve heard
you say today. When asked about it, he says, "Look, if a receiver is
coming across the middle, I`m going to hit him hard enough so he`ll never
want to come across the field again. Hitting and injuries are part of the
game, so any way to cut down on injuries is good, but you can`t stop the
way the sport is played. It`s a rough sport. It`s like warfare.
So this kid who`s paying sort of an ultimate, very personal price is
nonetheless is like, look, this is game. But I do wonder if there`s
something almost coercive about the possibility of NFL play. So, that on
one hand, this is the game you`re signing up, but is part of willingness to
sign up for it this idea that in the future, there`ll be this greater
OBEN: It`s still -- we still sign up for it, and I played 12 years in the
NFL, I`m bone on bone in my right knee. I was told at 27, I`d be eligible
for a knee replacement when I turned 50. It`s like happy. But, again,
when you watch these hits and watch them in slow motion and frame by frame,
it`s this much of a difference between a concussion, a spinal injury,
breaking a leg, or just a good shoulder it. A safe hit.
So we always like to live in retrospect and think, what could have
happened, and what should happen. I mean, fines are going off left and
right. The rules are getting safer and safer. And the football fan is
complaining and saying, this isn`t football anymore.
These guys aren`t playing football the way we used to play it, because
people are getting injured. So, they have to do something to at least
decrease the number of these injuries.
HARRIS-PERRY: And in the meantime, though, if you really want to get rich
off football, right, and not ever have to worry about a spinal cord injury,
go own ESPN, right? There`s a recent "New York Times" article on the NCAA,
where they suggested that ESPN is actually the real -- and I don`t mean --
to put ESPN on the spot here, but the money and focus on college football
by ESPN as well as its competitors have transformed the game, creating
sports empires in the midst of academic institutions.
So, the point isn`t to beat up on EPSN, which is part of a, you know, as
MSNBC, is part of a whole network of people who make money by creating
television. But rather to say that all of us who make money by creating
television do so in the relative safety of these spaces while these kids
are one inch, right, from either a safe hit or a spinal cord injury.
ANDERSON: Yes, well, absolutely. I think, you know, it`s sort of
devastating. We were talking about this offstage. I mean, kids are
literally -- I don`t really think there`s a way to make football safer. I
think that you can legislate some of the more dangerous hits, some of the
more, you know, projectile-type hits, but we`re still talking about people
who the goal is to run into each other and to score. I mean, there`s only
going to be able so much.
And I think long-term, we`re just going to have to ask ourselves, are we
willing to live with that? Are we OK? I think that was more what Malcolm
Gladwell was talking about, like are we willing to live with the idea that
we`re sacrificing people to a game that you really can`t legislate, you
really can`t legislate safety into the game.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the answer might be yes.
EPSTEIN: We televise boxing, and boxing is completely medically
indefensible at this stand point.
EPSTEIN: Why don`t we have the same discussion about that? Maybe it`s
because most of those athletes come and go before we even know their names.
But -- so I think there are a lot of deeper questions embedded there.
HARRIS-PERRY: But also, we don`t televise college box. I mean, there`s a
way in which once it is engaged with our institutions of higher learning,
that it becomes -- it becomes problematic about what the core mission of
those institutions are.
EPSTEIN: I think that goes to a lot of things we`ve talked about today
with compensation too, right? So, spending in athletic departments, in big
athletic departments in raising about four times the rate of spending in
universities as whole. And so, you know, a private plane with an alligator
on it, like how does that fit into the core missions of an institution of
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, very -- I -- hmm, how does it? Actually, those are
great questions that lead us in a bit of the conversation we`re about to
have, as we`re going to talk a little bit about the cost of education and
the president`s plan around it.
I want to say thank you to Nicole and to Roman and to Joel and to David.
Hopefully, you`ll come back at some point as we get into bowl season as
But up next, college 101, the president, he got under my skin with his
lesson plan this week.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last Thursday, President Obama traveled to Buffalo, New
York, to address the pressing issue of higher education costs. And he
began with a ringing endorsement of the economic value of a college degree.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A higher education is the
single best investment you can make in your future. And I`m proud of all
the students who are making that investment. And that`s not just me saying
it. Look, right now, the unemployment rate for Americans with at least a
college degree is about one-third lower than the national average. The
incomes of folks who have at least a college degree are more than twice
those of Americans without a high school diploma. So more than ever
before, some form of higher education is the surest path into the middle
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So the president went on to make solid proposals, for making
this path to the middle class more accessible to all. Legislators must
cease their relentless attacks on their own state institutions. We need to
expand Pell Grant availability for the poorest students, and Congress must
devise a permanent solution to the crushing burden of student debt.
I mean, when I heard this, as a full-time college professor for nearly 20
years, I was applauding right along with those enthusiastic students.
Then, President Obama made a sudden turn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We`re going to start rating colleges, not just by which college is
the most selective, not just by which college is the most expensive, not
just by which college has the nicest facilities -- you know, you can get
all of that on the existing rating systems. What we want to do is rate
them on who`s offering the best value so students and taxpayers get a
bigger bang for their buck.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, in the subsequent week, the administration has outlined
a race to the top program for colleges and universities.
So, when we come back, we`re going to talk about whether or not it`s a good
idea to transform America`s world-class system of higher education into a
market place, judged on how quickly and cheaply it produces young workers
for a decimated job market.
Oops, maybe you can already tell what I think of the plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Dr. King was just 15 years old when he enrolled here at Morehouse.
He was an unknown, undersized, unassuming young freshman who lived at home
with his parents. Now, I think it`s fair to say he wasn`t the coolest kid
on campus. For the suits he wore, his classmates called him tweed. But
his education at or helped to forge the intellect, the discipline, the
compassion, the sole force that would transform America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama speaking to the 2013 graduating
class of Morehouse college in May, and that language of helping to forge
his intellect, his discipline, his compassion, his soul force that would
transform America. That`s what all of us hope we are doing. That is what
we want to be doing in the world.
But the administration this week sent out a new proposal for a market
place-like system for institutions of higher learning. And if they failed
to make the grade, they may no longer get the dollars.
And the impact on HBUs, historically black colleges and universities like
Morehouse may be particularly acute.
Joining me now is Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who`s vice president of the
National Education Association. And back with us, Dorian Warren, associate
professor at Columbia University.
OK, I have all the feelings, and I know it`s because this is my real job.
So I had all the -- like, I get this is not everybody`s biggest problem.
But I really was astonished by this market place discourse.
LILY ESKELSEN GARCIA, VP, NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: Well, and I`m a
sixth grade teacher from Utah. And as I was looking at this, we want our
kids in that pipeline to college. We want graduation to be the key to, you
know, we`ll get into higher education, whether that`s trade school,
community colleges, universities, you can go as far as you want to go. And
we`ve never said, we will judge that university by how much money you make,
after you graduate. We talk about like expanding their possibilities.
What it means to be alive.
And so, as I was, like you, listening to affordable college, and going,
yes! Pell Grants, restructure those loans, according to your income. That
makes sense. I went to college on a national direct student loan, 3
percent, had 10 years to pay for it, paid for it in eight. My country made
a good investment in me and got a dividend for that.
So, let`s talk about that. And all of a sudden, and we`re going to rank
HARRIS-PERRY: And that was the turn. I kept thinking, there are a lot of
things broken in our country, tons -- bridges, roads, all that kind of
thing. But our system of higher education is, in fact, for the most part,
not broken. It is broken in that there is such little access, because of
the cost, and the president was addressing that initially. And it`s broken
in that there are these new for-profit colleges that have emerged.
And those deserve very real critique. But most of our state universities,
most of our private colleges and liberal art colleges are really doing
transformative work for young people.
DORIAN WARREN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: That`s right. And you raise a really
important point about frankly how muddled this proposal is, because you
can`t make the assumption that all kinds of colleges and universities, that
costs are increasing for the same reasons. At my very elite university,
Columbia University, the reason why tuition`s increasing is different than
the SUNY system here in New York.
The reason why SUNY is increasing tuition is because the state legislature
is declining to give the amount of support necessary for a robust system of
HARRIS-PERRY: In states across the country, you can see just very clearly,
on the chart, it`s just down, down, down. States are cutting the amount
that they`re investing, their government investing, and because they`re no
longer investing --
WARREN: So, if we want to rate something, we should rate state
legislatures on how well they support their public higher education
Here`s the other problem, Melissa, frankly with the proposal. If it`s tied
to federal support, my university, your university, they`re going to opt
out am so the point, because they don`t really need the federal money.
They have huge, billion-dollar endowments. So if they don`t want the
ratings or they don`t want to be rated, they`ll just opt out, and that`s
not containing costs for students.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, well, Tulane doesn`t, but I get you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tulane wishes it had an endowment of that size. But that
said, it is true that some of the most vulnerable universities and
colleges, those who actually take some of the students from your sixth
grade, you know, class, are the ones that may be most hit by this. We were
looking at historically black college and university graduation rates.
At the top, they are as good as any elite university in terms of their
rates of graduation. Spellman at 79 percent. Howard, 64 percent.
Hampton, up over 54.
But when you go down to the bottom, the bottom five, they actually really
are quite abysmal -- HBU is down to 10 percent, 16 percent graduation
rates. Now, what that suggests to me is we should not put all colleges in
the same category, but also just like costs are increasing at some places
for different reasons, graduation rates are really quite different in these
universities for different -- the university of the District of Columbia,
UDC, is not Spellman in terms of the kinds of students who can afford to go
GARCIA: And again, as an elementary teacher, I kept thinking of all these
parallels to what we have survived, barely survived, from no child left
untested. And I thought, the cautionary tale here, the lessons learned are
just like going over people`s heads. They said, oh, we want to know, and
here`s the good thing, we want to know how well schools are doing. We want
to know if we`re leaving kids behind. Yes, yes, les find out.
And they went, but that`s really hard to do. So let`s just give everybody
a commercialized standardized test and we`ll rank and label your skid
school by how well your special ed kids do, your non-English speaking kids
on a commercial standardized test. And we went -- no. So now we`re going
to do something very similar with higher ed?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it teaches me, there`s another lesson to be learned,
Dorian, that I don`t want to miss, which is there are changes that need to
probably happen in universities and colleges, right? And we`re luddites,
so we don`t like things to change.
How do we on the one hand say, look, Mr. President, administration, and
country, we are willing to be flexible and to change, but turning us into
widget makers is not the right way to do . How do we balance that?
WARREN: Well, if we think grade inflation is a problem now in colleges and
universities, just wait until this goes into effect. Because they`re going
to be -- there`s going to be so much pressure on us to give our students
grades, to make sure they graduate, because that`s one of the metrics.
So, we`re not saying that this is a total, you know -- we should have this
discussion, we should this debate, but let`s talk to administrators, let`s
talk to parents, let`s talk to students and engage them in some solutions
that aren`t based on cookie cutter.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right.
WARREN: No Child Left Behind --
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m down with saying that this is a debate. I`m going to
right now say, Mr. Duncan, Secretary Duncan, if you would like to come on
the MHP Show and have a conversation about higher education and why we`re
not widget makers, I would so love to have you at the table, Secretary
Duncan. OK, seriously, you can come.
Lily Eskelsen Garcia and Dorian Warren, thanks for helping me process my
feelings about this.
But up next, a 12-year-old already fighting for her right to vote. Our
foot soldier joins us live.
HARRIS-PERRY: The 50th anniversary of the march on Washington this week
reminded the nation of the importance of activism and how ordinary
individuals can make a huge difference for all of us. Around the country,
whether it`s by protesting against the infringement of women`s rights in
Texas or staging sit-ins in the Florida governor`s office against "stand
your ground laws" or rallying for moral Mondays against right wing
legislation in North Carolina, hundreds of individuals are fighting.
The problems are big, but some of those individuals are quite small,
literally. Our foot soldier this week is just 12 years old and even though
she can`t vote, Madison Kimrey is fighting for the voting rights of her
fellow North Carolinians.
In addition to attending several Moral Monday protests, Madison has
gathered more than 12,000 signatures on a Move On petition, asking Governor
Pat McCrory to meet with her and discuss his elimination of voting
preregistration for 16 and 17 year olds. So far, the governor has called
the notion ridiculous.
But we couldn`t wait to meet with this young activist. Madison Kimrey
joins me live from Raleigh, North Carolina.
How are you, Madison?
MADISON KIMREY, VOTING RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Hi. I`m good.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Madison, so you`re 12. Do you think of yourself as an
KIMREY: Yes, I do. I love protesting and I mean, I don`t love it,
obviously, I mean, who would love protesting. You don`t want to have to.
But I mean, I like standing up for what I believe in, so yeah.
HARRIS-PERRY: What made you feel like even though you don`t love
protesting because who would want to at such a beautiful point, but why,
why was this something important enough to you to go out and do it?
KIMREY: I just -- I felt like I needed, I mean, I looked -- I research all
the topics, I love learning about new things, but there`s just certain
points that I felt that were important enough to me to just protest and
stand up for what I thought was right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, one of them is voting. Tell me what it is you want to
meet with the governor about.
KIMREY: Well, after the staff person at the mansion gave me the cake that
night, and then Pat McCrory`s spokesperson made the statement to WRAL about
how it was a response to a child`s request and it was a joke, and I thought
that they weren`t actually taking me seriously as to how I felt about it,
so I started the petition and I wanted to sit down and meet with my
HARRIS-PERRY: Go back and explain to my viewers who might not know your
story about the cake.
KIMREY: OK. So I was out there earlier that day, outside the governor`s
mansion across the street, and a lot of like the Planned Parenthood group
and stuff were out there. There were a lot of other nice people. But I
had a voice lesson that afternoon. I live in Burlington.
So we had to go back for my voice lesson but once I got out of my voice
lesson I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and I saw that he had given
them cookies which ally made me mad. Like why couldn`t he go out and
actually speak to them instead of giving them cookies?
So then later that night, about 9:00, I was scrolling through my Twitter
again and I saw that there was still people out there. And so I was like
mom, mom, we have to go back, can we please go back?
And I finally got her to take me back to the governor`s mansion, and that`s
when the staff person came out to close the door of the mansion and we were
all like, hey, those cookies were really good earlier, we want some
brownies. And that`s when they brought cake out to the gates of the
mansion and I went to go get the cake.
HARRIS-PERRY: He did seem to miss the sarcasm there, huh?
KIMREY: Yes. I don`t really understand how. I mean, I started joking
about how oh, Pat McCrory is Marie Antoinette and we started making signs
and all of that stuff. But then after the staff person made the statement
-- the spokesperson made the statement I was like no, they`re not taking me
HARRIS-PERRY: What would you say to people who say that having a 12-year-
old and other young people involved in politics is simply ridiculous?
KIMREY: I feel like not all young people are interested in politics and
that`s OK, but you need to -- if you feel like something`s wrong, don`t be
afraid to take a stand and I feel like a lot of adults think that oh,
people are just putting the kids up to this and all that stuff. And
sometimes that does happen, but 90 percent of the time, the kids know what
they`re talking about and they know what -- most kids have learned
something about the topic that they`re -- and even if they`re forced into
it, they still have at least learned a little bit.
HARRIS-PERRY: Madison, let me ask you this question. Are you planning to
run for office?
KIMREY: I don`t know right now, actually. It`s a possibility.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, tell you what, when you`re ready to run for office,
you let us know. You can make your announcement right here MHP Show, OK?
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you for all of your work and for caring about your
fellow citizens, and for being out there, being involved in politics.
KIMREY: It`s what I love to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Madison.
That is our show for today. Thank you to the really incredible Madison
Who wants to see like a panel of Madison Kimrey and Asean Johnson from
Chicago? Like I`m making a TV show in my head.
OK. Thanks to you at home for watching. We`re going to see you again
tomorrow morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern. We`ll take a closer look at the
president`s speech at the Lincoln Memorial and why the president is more
LBJ than MLK.
Now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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