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'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Read the transcript to the Saturday show

October 26, 2013
Guest: Silky Shah, Julian Zelizer, Kavita Patel, Igor Volsky, Diane
Ravitch, Pedro Noguera

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. This
week, the Republican Party has me feel like maybe it`s time for a mascot
change, a little less elephant and a lot more coyote. Mr. Coyote, that is,
known to his friends as Wile E. Classic cartoon fans will remember him as
one of the stars of the Looney Tune animated series. The smart guy whose
obsessive focus on stopping the roadrunner leads him to all kinds of wacky
shenanigans enabled by ACME company gadgets. The bomb. The rocket. The
flying bat suit. The giant slingshot. It seems to me the Republicans
would be able to relate because this week they reached into their own grab
bag of schemes and unveiled the latest strategy in their ongoing attempt to
stop the Affordable Care Act from running. Investigate it to death. On
Thursday, the House held the first and what will be a series of hearings
before multiple committees to figure out who, what, and why behind the
botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, federal exchange website.
During Thursday`s hearing, members of the House Energy and Commerce
Committee grilled a panel of executive representing the contractors
responsible for building the online insurance marketplace. Angry lawmakers
from both sides of the aisle expressed legitimate concerns over the
contractors` inability to foresee the technical glitches that have plagued
the site since its launch.


REP. ANNA ESHOO (D) CALIFORNIA: This is the 21st century. It`s 2013.
There are thousands of Web sites that handle concurrent volumes far larger
than what was faced with. You keep speaking about
unexpected volumes, Miss Campbell. And that really sticks in my craw. I
have to tell you that. Because as I said, there are thousands of websites
that carry far more traffic. So I think that`s really kind of a lame
excuse. Amazon and eBay don`t crash the week before Christmas and
ProFlowers doesn`t crash on Valentine`s Day.


HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So there`s that technical argument. But then
there are those Republican members of the committee who made it clear that
troubleshooting a website was among the least of their concerns.


REP. JOE BARTON (R ) TEXAS: You`re telling every American if you sign up
for this or even attempt to you have no reasonable expectation of privacy.
That is a direct contradiction to HIPAA and you know it.


HARRIS-PERRY: What? That`s was Texas Republican Joe Barton taking one of
the executives to task over a line of code on that he says
would violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, more
commonly known as HIPAA, a law protecting the privacy of medical
information. Except Barton left out one detail that makes his privacy
boogeyman a lot less scary. The Website doesn`t ask customers for their
personal medical information, a point made most emphatically by New Jersey
Democrat Frank Pallone.


REP. FRANK PALLONE, (D) NEW JERSEY: HIPAA only applies when there`s health
information being provided. That`s not in play here today. No health
information is required in the application process. And why is that?
Because pre-existing conditions don`t matter. So once again, here we have
my Republican colleagues trying to scare everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the gentleman yield?

PALLONE: No, I will not yield to this monkey court or whatever this is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a monkey court.

PALLONE: Do whatever you want. I`m not yielding.


HARRIS-PERRY: Yes! Now despite Representative Pallone`s Jersey-style
smack down, don`t be surprised if the Republicans Obamacare is violating
your privacy line becomes a recurring theme because scare tactics have long
been one of their screw strategies to undo Obamacare. Remember death
panels? That was the one pulled out of the bag by Sarah Palin way back in
2009 in a post on her Facebook page. And despite being repeatedly
debunked, Republicans insisted on bringing the death penal mitt back to
life. Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann almost single-handedly kept it
on life support.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R ) MINNESOTA: But it`ll be very unpleasant if the
death panels go into effect. You bet this can happen. That is what I`m
worried about. This is literally an issue of life and death.


MHP: Republicans seeking to stop the ACA share the same inability to learn
their lesson as our friend, Wile E. Coyote, neither ever actually succeeds
in their plots. But here`s the thing about the coyote. No matter how many
times he gets squashed under a boulder or catapults himself into a wall or
just blows himself up, he just keeps on trying. Which seems to be one
lesson the Republicans have learned, because they have been trying and
failing again and again and again for a long time. Remember the summer of
2009? Town halls to inform citizens in Democratic districts about the ACA
were disrupted by organized Tea Party mob protests that erupted sometimes
in violence. Later that fall, they resorted to good old-fashioned
heckling. That was when South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson was moved to
shout, "You lie!" when President Obama said in his joint address to
Congress that his health plan would not cover undocumented immigrants. And
when it finally came time to vote on the law, Republicans threw every
procedural obstacle in the book at the Senate to approve the law.
Filibusters and 30 hours of debate and even calls on the Senate floor for
prayer. The Democratic senators would miss the vote. They tried it, they
kept on trying it, even after the Affordable Care Act was passed, with
legal challenges all the way up to the Supreme Court, refusing to expand
Medicaid or establish state-run health insurance exchanges, voting more
than 40 times to repeal, defund, or dismantle Obamacare.

And, of course, in true Wile E. Coyote form, showing how willing they are
to go over a cliff and take the rest of the country along with them in the
pursuit of their prey, even when it meant their party and their poll
numbers were going splat. But, hey, hitting rock bottom never stopped the
coyote and we shouldn`t expect anything less from these Republicans. The
attack by interrogation that started Thursday, at the Energy and Commerce
Committee, will be followed up with another hearing on October 30Tth , with
Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and another hearing
before the Ways and Means Committee, an additional hearing before Oversight
Committees. And hey, if questioning Obamacare into oblivion isn`t enough
for Republicans to make it go away, maybe they can borrow some ACME
invisible paint from the coyote. Joining me now is attorney and NBC Latino
contributor and "USA Today" columnist Raul Reyes. Also, Julian Zelizer who
is professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and
author of "Governing America," which must be a novel, fiction. OK, Kavita
Patel, a primary care doctor at Johns Hopkins Medicine and a fellow at
Brookings Institute. And Igor Volsky who is managing editor of So nice to have you all here.


HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me just start. If we were more charitable than I
was in my Wile E. Coyote .


HARRIS-PERRY: . metaphor, is there something that these hearings can in
fact accomplish?

DR. KAVITA PATEL, JOHN HOPKINS MEDICINE: I think these hearings can allow
for people to get some of the answers that they were looking for. I mean
just even hearing some of the back and forth between the contractors reveal
to us just how much kind of went into why this website didn`t work. But at
the same time, I think as the secretary and then the CMS, the Medicare and
Medicaid administrator testify next week, they`ll talk about how much
they`re actually doing. They`re enrolling people in Medicaid, or enrolling
people in state-based and the federal exchanges and people are getting
their accounts processed.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, let`s back up for just one second. Because one of the
things that`s been surprising to me in the midst of this conversation about
all of the failings and failures and glitches in ACA as a website in, is the fact that, in fact, Julian, the public opinion about
Obamacare has improved at the same time. Are you at all surprised that
public opinion seems to be warming towards ACA even as there are all these
new stories at is, you know, sort of bedeviled by these

predicted. Meaning as some of the benefits started to roll out, even with
the website problems, that people would feel better about a program that
wasn`t just this abstract monster but actually delivering benefits. That
said, I do think in terms of policy, not politics, the administration needs
to get this right. Because this is a core part of the promise of the
program and you want to keep that public opinion rolling the right way.

So, you know, I was up at 5:00 in the morning prepping for the show as I
often am and I thought hey, why not just go on the site? You know, because
I have health insurance, I hadn`t gone on the site. So, I did, right? So
at 5:00 a.m., not much traffic, it turns out. So, I`m on the site and I go
through and I had a little moment where I got stuck on something so I did
the live chat and, you know, handled that and it came right -- I`m just
wondering, how bad is it? Like at this point -- and I guess on the one
hand there`s the glitches and on the other hand there`s sort
of the ACA. You know, if you look at these two things, is ACA actually in
trouble? Is just the website in trouble?

website is a big part of the ACA. In the very beginning, it was really
rough. A very small number of people who are actually able to create an
account. Now they`re saying it`s about 90 percent can create an account.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yep, I got an account .

VOLSKY: There you go, but only about 30 percent can go all the way through
and sign up for coverage, right? The good news, and this is what we`re
seeing in the states, is that once people get to the actual coverage and
they look at the tax credits, they are assuming they`re the correct numbers
they`re seeing on the website, they like what they see. The coverage is
comprehensive, in many cases it`s affordable. So the product seems to be
good. The trick is getting the uninsured to it and .

HARRIS-PERRY: To the product.

VOLSKY: To the product. And getting those young and healthy uninsured to
the product.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. So let me ask you something, Raul. This was one of
my favorites this morning on my colleague`s show "Up" Steve Kornacki. He
was talking to one of his Republican guests and said OK, last week y`all
were mad that people had to sign up for Obamacare and this week you`re mad
that people can`t sign up for Obamacare.

RAUL REYES, ATTORNEY: Right. Right. And I thought to myself that`s
exactly kind of the Wile E. Coyote of it. You know, first we`re mad that
there is a mandate, then we`re mad that you can`t follow the mandate.
Are the Republicans, you know, in terms of sort of throwing every acme
thing at it, have they taken their own arguments, some of which may be
legitimate about this program, and simply turned them into what just looks
like sour grapes?

REYES: Right. And going back to the opening of the show, the operative
phrase here is Looney Tunes.


REYES: Because what they`re doing, you know, they have been trying to kill
the ACA, defund it, and did everything, and all of a sudden overnight now
they are outraged that Americans cannot access health care, that people
need help and they need assistance and they can`t get it. So, they`re
doing this incredible pivot. And actually, what they don`t realize with
all this faux outrage, and, you know, certainly some of it is reasonable,
but they`re actually improving the ACA because if we didn`t have such
controversy it would be slower to get fixed. So, in a roundabout way
they`re helping improve it. And I also have to say that some of the
coverage, I believe, around the Web site glitches has been disproportionate
in terms of the overall Affordable Care Act. You know, there`s so much
attention has been focused just on that one aspect. People are saying they
should have done a soft rollout, there should have been more transparency.
But honestly, given the very toxic political environment in which the ACA
is being rolled out, had they done a soft launch it would still be
receiving every bit as much attention as this is. So there`s really -- I
don`t think that`s, you know, a way around it. They`re dealing with, you
know, reality.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, we`re just getting started. We get a lot more on this.
I was saying one of those days when TV is not going to feel like enough
time. Because it`s a ton to do. But stay right there, because when we
come back, I`m actually going to call tech support, not like that, I`m
going to call tech support here, because I want to talk to somebody who can
actually tell us how we`re going to fix, or not, the Obamacare website.
We`re a bunch of nerds, after all.



KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, SECY. DEPT. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: The, the website, is far from perfect. It is getting better
every day. We have had new talent in technology come in. We have new
management talent in. We want it to be a smoothly operating marketplace
for every American who really needs affordable health care.


HARRIS-PERRY: That was the embattled, the Department of Health and Human
Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Friday announcing that the government
has hired a brand-new geek squad to come to rescue of the faulty federal
health insurance exchange. Joining me now from Atlanta is a person who
knows a lot about a team of geeks because he used to be one of them. Clay
Johnson is the CEO of the Department of Better Technology and author of
"The Information Diet." Also, a former presidential innovation fellow, the
same group that the administration is now bringing in to help troubleshoot So nice to have you today, Clay.


HARRIS-PERRY: So just in the simplest terms that even nerds can
understand, even though we are not geeks, what is wrong with this site?

JOHNSON: Well, it`s an interesting question. A lot has gone wrong with
the site. The first thing that`s wrong with it is clearly the people who
made it aren`t very good at programming. You know, any programmer, if
you`ve ever opened a web browser, sometimes if you just sort of explore the
menus there`s this menu item called view source, and you can click on that
and actually see some of the code that`s running inside of
or any website that you go to. And any developer that`s looked inside of
the source of at least the front end of has really -- I
don`t know a better word than face palm.


JOHNSON: But it was really - it really just - but I mean what`s really
gone wrong here is that we`ve lost our management brains for technology.


JOHNSON: And so, in 1996, maybe it was `95, the Republican revolution came
and gutted Congress` brains. It was called the Technology Assessment
Office. And it was this team of people who advised Congress on how to
implement technology and how to implement technology policy. And that`s
why, you know, for me as a technologist when I was watching the hearings
the other day and watching the contractors who are really not qualified to
do this work and the members of Congress who are really not qualified to
ask questions on technology .


JOHNSON: All I could think of was, like, this is like my one-year-old
arguing with my cat.


HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, right. I don`t even want to know which one is the
one-year-old and which one is the cat, but let me ask because this point
that you just made, I think you know, - except that there is some good that
may come from all of this, it is in part sort of -- the American people
starting to ask questions about how common this kind of contracting is
where you are saying to me, look, there are folks doing this work who
simply are not qualified to do it. I can just look at how the code is
running and immediately sort of notice, wait a minute, this is from, you
know, `94 or some other ridiculous time period. How common is that as a
part of the problem of how government projects in general happen?

JOHNSON: These failures are the rule, not the exception. The standings
group came out earlier this year, earlier this week, I`m sorry, and did an
analysis of all federal IT projects of greater than $10 million. And found
that 94 percent of them screwed up in some way, way, shape, or form, and
about half of them failed outright.

Generally, you know, federal IT projects done well are the exceptions, not
the rule. These things always happen, whether it was this
year, last year it was the system for award management or That
cost $181 million and failed. And it happens at the state and local level
too. New York City had CityTime, it was about a half a billion dollar
project that ended up with some indictments. The state of California has a
docketing system that`s $2 billion and use overdue.

HARRIS-PERRY: And Clay, there was this one moment where it seemed like
that wasn`t what was going to be happening and that is during the Obama `08
and the Obama 2012 elections, those campaigns seemed so nimble when it came
to technology, not only the use of kind of social media and new
technologies but actually being very good at how they sent out, you know,
how to get everyone to click that red button and give their $10. Is part
of what`s going on here people just being astonished that our kind of
digital presidency has not been able to deliver?

JOHNSON: That`s the big problem, is that the same people, that same kind
of technology can`t really get into government because there`s this
procurement policy, it`s about 1,800 pages of regulation that keeps small
businesses from coming in and working on stuff like So the
contracts are going to the people with the best lawyers, not the best
programmers. Look, I was Howard Dean`s lead programmer in 2004 for his
presidential campaign and I`m still waiting for that technology to make it
into government. I`m still waiting for the companies that, you know, built
around that campaign to be able to work on government stuff. And they just
can`t, because it`s the barrier to entry is just too high and it needs to

HARRIS-PERRY: Clay, stay with us because I want to keep talking about
this, but also talk about why as much as that`s an argument, it`s not an
argument for why you shouldn`t have Obamacare. So, I want to talk about
the website, fixing that and also what the real problems
with ACA are. It`s not what you think, when we come back.


HARRIS-PERRY: OK. We`re back and talking about the difference between the
problems in ACA and the problems in the website. Igor, I
want to play for you some sound from Frank Pallone from Jersey talking
about another time when there were glitches like this.


REP. FRANK PALLONE, D-NEW JERSEY: When Medicare Part D started up, and I
have this try here, there were all kinds of problems with the website. It
went on for months. These are some of the headlines that appeared in the
newspapers about the problems. But did the Democrats get up and say, oh,
Medicare Part D`s terrible, let`s repeal it or defund it? No. We said
let`s work hard to make it better, and that`s what we did, and the glitches
disappeared and the program became a good program.


HARRIS-PERRY: What`s your response to that?

VOLSKY: Well, this is an important point. You know, a lot of Democrats
opposed Medicare Part D, they thought it was too much involvement from
private insurers, they wanted a different kind of system. But once the law
passed, and once the law became implemented, you had Democratic Congress
people from all over educating their constituents on the plans available,
on the policies available, doing town halls to help people sign up for
prescription drug coverage. And when in the first couple of weeks you had
all these problem, particularly lower income seniors were unable to get
their prescriptions, the pharmacists weren`t getting the correct
information, the government had to delay the tool, the online tool they
used three separate times because they couldn`t figure out the technology.

And Bush administration officials would come to Congress to explain what
the problems were just like you`ll see this coming week, and Republicans
said, well, we understand, this is a very big program.


HARRIS-PERRY: Right. This is - change is hard and slow.

VOLSKY: This is going to have glitches.


VOLSKY: But in the end you`ll figure it out. Don`t prejudge, America.
Give this some time to work. One congressman said I`ve delivered a lot of
babies in my life, he`s a doctor, but this was the smoothest delivery I`ve
ever been part of.


VOLSKY: Now, of course, he`s calling for Sebelius to resign or repeal of
the entire law. It`s not exactly analogous. And we don`t know if the
problems really hold up. Maybe there is deeper problems in the Affordable
Care Act that we just don`t know about. But it`s - just - so, you know,
maybe expected that Republicans at these hearings, they can`t - seem to
hide the glee with which they point out all these .

HARRIS-PERRY: About the fact that there`s a broken website. Clay, let me
come to you on this because in this effort now and push to fix this, we`re
starting to learn about the contractors, one of whom -- and this is, I
think, one of the most troubling things that I read this week -- one of
whom is owned by United Health Care, which also owns one of the nation`s
largest insurers. It feels like we`re going to get single pair, but it`s
not really a single pair, but sort of, you know, one nation united under
United Health Care.

JOHNSON: This is probably the biggest failure of this Congress and last
week`s hearings was no one asked about stuff like that or like the fact
that CGI federal lobbied for the passage of the Affordable Care At. Not
one member of Congress asked, hey, CGI federal, what were you doing
lobbying on the passage of the Affordable Care Act before you even had the

HARRIS-PERRY: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

JOHNSON: Nobody asked that.

HARRIS-PERRY: And so, I wonder in part, as we are thinking about the
questions that aren`t being asked, the general contractor who`s been named
to fix the website also came out and said that is fixable
and said specifically by the end of November, will work
smoothly for the vast majority of users. Is that good politics or bad
politics to set a deadline on it?

PATEL: Well, I think it was not only did he say that, but the
administration`s appointed official Jeffrey Zients also said that by the
end of November, you know, this is what we`re going to have. And I think
it`s smart politics for the administration to at least say we`ve got a
deadline that we`re working towards and we`re going to make this goal. I
think it`s a miscalculation to say that the vast majority, what does it
mean and what does it mean that everything will be working because we also
know from the Medicare Part D experience that they had a lot of problems
and they also didn`t have that much enrollment until right before the

HARRIS-PERRY: Right. That`s how people operate.

PATEL: And that`s how people operate. I don`t do my taxes until April.

HARRIS-PERRY: Or, April. April 13th. That`s right.


PATEL: So, we know that.

ZELIZER: One thing that`s common between the website issue and the
contractors, it`s a problem with the health care law from the start,
meaning that was a somewhat Gerry-built system, it wasn`t single pay.


ZELIZER: A lot of liberals criticized the administration. And it relies
on various regulatory mechanisms, it relies on private health insurance
companies participating, and so there were built-in problems and there were
all kinds of opportunities for Republicans to exploit. But I think the
administration has, you know, an even greater burden and even with
Medicare, to get this thing to run because there are so many parts.

HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels like that`s when - like, you know, we started
with this notion of the kind of massive resistance against it, and on the
one hand there is a kind of hypocrisy associated with the problems that
were also part of Medicare Part D, it`s also simply the hypocrisy of trying
to break something, break something, break something, and then when it`s
broken saying oh, yo, it`s broke!

REYES: Now pretending that you`re concerned that it`s not working
properly. And in terms of the context, you know, not just with Medicare
Part D, you can go way back to when we created Social Security.


REYES: There was a ton of problems when it was created. I mean think
about it, to create a system when people didn`t even have Social Security
numbers to identify people with the same names and different .



Look, my favorite is how many glitches there were. And, you know, founding
the country.

REYES: Exactly.

HARRIS-PERRY: You know, that whole Congress situation, the whole working
out of a bicameral legislature. It`s hard.

REYES: It`s normal.

HARRIS-PERRY: It`s normal, and it`s part of when you`re working in a
democracy, right? I mean I can give you an efficient system, right? Just
give me a dictatorial system. I can make it efficient for you, right?
It`s the nature of democracy. Clay Johnson in Atlanta, thank you. I hope
you`ll come back and spend more time helping us geek squad all of this.

JOHNSON: Appreciate it. Thanks very much.

HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks. Up next, for all the focus on the website and its
problems, the website and its problems are not what is really the main
issue with Obamacare. Believe it or not, the most important thing for
Obamacare is that we need more Republicans to do what Ohio`s John Kasich
did. Seriously, this one time only I`m going to say Republicans, act like
John Kasich.




HARRIS-PERRY: may be the only website associated with
Obamacare that`s getting any attention these days, but the exchanges aren`t
the only place where Americans can enroll in health care coverage under the
new law. Nearly half of the people expected to become newly insured under
the Affordable Care Act will be new enrollees in Medicaid, and that website
is working just fine. On Monday, Ohio became the 25th state to sign on the
ACA`s Medicaid expansion after Governor John Kasich sought a federal waiver
to defy his fellow Republicans in the state legislature and expand the
program. The expansion extends eligibility to 275,000 Ohioans, it will
save the state at estimated $404 million over two years. Being one of the
handful of Republican governors to opt for the expansion could also prove
to be a political payoff for Kasich, whose re-election is in 2014. So, the
Medicaid expansion is the one we really ought to be having our eyes on
because it is pure partisanship, right, that is standing in the way of

ZELIZER: Yeah, it`s hugely important. This is how a lot of the people are
actually going to receive their benefits.


ZELIZER: And you`ve had this tension emerge between Republican governors
who say, A, this is going to be popular, and B, the healthcare industry,
and their states wants the money, they always want Medicaid money .


ZELIZER: . combatting against Republican legislative bodies, which many
are not allowing this to happen. So, it`s a big tension. Ezra Klein in
"The Washington Post" said this is part of the website dynamic. They need
the website to work to create the right incentives in these states to get
the pressure toward the Republican governors and give them support.

REYES: But sooner or later, I do believe that it will -- that more states
will opt in because there`s a financial incentive for them to do so. The
states that do opt in, they`re able to cover more people for less. And I
think as time goes by, it might be until President Obama is no longer in
office and this intense racialized opposition to him on behalf of
Republican lawmakers is not there. It may not be until after that. But,
you know, just the Republicans and the conservatives are so focused on the
bottom line. This is something that helps states` bottom lines if they`re
willing to do it.

VOLSKY: If you look at the argument that Kasich made, basically, it`s two
part-argument. One said, we really got to take care of the people who
can`t take care of themselves.

HARRIS-PERRY: The moral, ethical claim.

VOLSKY: The moral, ethical claim. The other one was to say this is going
to be good for Ohio, bringing in all these federal dollars to take care of
these people means we don`t have to pay for uncompensated care. Our
hospitals aren`t as burdened as they are. And he tied it all together with


VOLSKY: He says, you know, Republicans always echo Reagan`s economic,
conservative economic vision, but we forget that Reagan himself expanded
Medicaid multiple times.


VOLSKY: Reagan put in a lot of the price controls into Medicare that are
now part of the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act expands and
borrows from. So there`s really a conservative argument to be made for
Medicare and it`s great to see that you have not only Kasich, but people
like Jan Brewer in Arizona accepting this.

HARRIS-PERRY: This is such an important point. A conservative argument to
be made, but a partisan obstructionism that`s actually standing in the way
of it. In addition to the sort of ideological or sort of good governance
argument, there`s also basically an epidemiological argument to be made,
right, a basic health of the people and what happens if 8 million people
fall through this hole because Republican governors refuse to take the
Medicaid expansion.

PATEL: I mean these are - you`re absolutely right, these are millions of
people who won`t get access to flu shots during flu season, to - you know,
kids making sure that they`ve got access to some of the care that they
need, women, men. I mean you talk about the health implications, and then
you talk about the states that this is in. I mean 20 percent of some of
these millions of population are in states like Texas and Florida.

HARRIS-PERRY: Louisiana!

PATEL: Louisiana. They are big states, in which if you`ve got huge
numbers of people without care, where are they going to go? They`re going
to go to our emergency rooms, they are going to go to free clinics, but we
don`t have as many of those as we used to.

ZELIZER: It`s also relevant, a Medicaid is something familiar to people,
it`s familiar in the state, it`s familiar to voters, so expanding that is
different than other parts of the ACA. Saying let`s do more of what you

HARRIS-PERRY: And what works.

ZELIZER: Medicare was built within the social security system in 1965.
That was the whole argument. Let`s provide health care but through
something people are familiar with.


PATEL: Expanding Medicaid because they know how to enroll people already.

PATEL: They`re taking the SNAP program and all the information, most of
the adults that qualify for Medicaid under expansion already qualify for
programs like SNAP. So the SNAP programs are, like, we`ve got all this
information, we`re just going to pop it in, talk about avoiding website
glitches. They just transfer that information, and there you have it.
People can get care.

REYES: It`s so infuriating that we had this weeks with the -- this week`s
worth of faux outrage on the website that`s not working. This is the real
scandal, the true scandal, that in 2013 there are so many Americans who do
not have and will continue to not have access to quality health care to
improve or save their lives.

HARRIS-PERRY: And I am going to leave it there, but that`s precisely the
point. There is something broken here. But the thing that is broken --
yeah, has issues, but the thing that is fundamentally broken
that is keeping the people from having access is this Medicaid question.
Thanks to Dr. Patel for being here. After the break, the 19TH Amendment
and the man whose efforts could make it all for naught. My "letter of the
week" is next.


HARRIS-PERRY: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not
be denied or abridged by any state on account of sex. That is the language
of the 19TH Amendment. And since its ratification in 1920, it has promised
women unfettered access to the polls. But who cares about constitutional
rights when you`re trying to rig -- I mean run elections in Texas? That`s
my question for the recipient of this week`s letter.

Dear Texas Governor Rick Perry, it`s me, Melissa. We are getting to be
regular pen pals. I hate to be a pest, but it seems my earlier letters
didn`t sink in. You remember the one in June about extending the Texas
legislative session 30 days in order to push your anti-abortion agenda? Or
maybe the one about watching out for the Wendy Davis express, a
gubernatorial campaign fueled by the women of the Lone Star State? But
maybe you did get that one, because your recent actions show that you don`t
want those women at the polls.

It seems you started hatching a plan back in June when the Supreme Court
ruled section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. This meant your
state no longer has to get changes to voting laws precleared by the federal
government. Just a few hours after the ruling, Texas state attorney
general, Greg Abbott, declared that the Texas voter ID law would take
effect immediately. And it`s a law that you have supported, lauding its
necessity to combat voter impersonation and saying "Texas has a
responsibility to ensure elections are fair, beyond reproach and accurately
reflect the will of the voters."

Really, Governor? Because less than five -- five voting impersonation
complaints were filed with the Texas attorney general`s office from 2008
and 2010 elections, in which more than 13 million people voted.

This week marked the first election under the new Texas voter ID law, and
we are already seeing which big part of a Texas electorate will be affected
again -- women. The requirement that a voter`s ID be substantially similar
to their name on the voter registration rolls could create big problems for
Texas women voters.

Governor, do you know how hard it is to get your name changed on legal
documents when you get married? Oh, wait. Probably not, since you`re a man
who doesn`t have to worry about such things. But a recent study by the
Brennan Center for Justice found that a third of all women have citizenship
documents that do not match their current legal name. That includes Texas
District Court Judge Sandra Watts, who found that the ID she`s been using
to vote for the last 52 years was suddenly insufficient. On top of that,
between 600,000 to 800,000 registered Texas voters do not have the
necessary government ID to vote.

But before a voter can get the ID they have, they have to have for their
document to confirm their identity, and the cheapest document is a birth
certificate at $22. That is not pocket change. And 81 of your 254
counties don`t even have a DMV office. Some residents have to drive 250
miles to get to the closest location.

So, Governor, the question has to be asked -- are you protecting the will
of the voters or your party`s political interests? Now, you know since
Attorney General Greg Abbott, the same one who couldn`t wait to enact that
voter ID law, is the one running against Wendy Davis. But the rest of us
are not going to sit by idly and let your attorney general become the
governor of the great state of suppression. That`s why the nation`s
attorney general is coming for that law. He filed suit under section two
of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that your voter ID law is discriminatory.

So here`s your homework, Governor Perry. I`m not even assigning you to
read my letters. It`s time to hone your study of the Constitution. My
suggestion, start with the 19TH Amendment, and oh, yeah, the 15TH ain`t bad
either. Call if you need a tutor. We in "Nerdland" are happy to help.
Sincerely, Melissa.


HARRIS-PERRY: Now that the government is once again up and running, what`s
on the agenda? President Obama is working to turn the attention of the
nation and lawmakers back to one of his top agenda item, a policy effort he
said Thursday is quote, "the right thing do."


OBAMA: Everybody knows that our current immigration system is broken.
Across the political spectrum, people understand that. We`ve known it for
years. Everybody wins here if we work together to get this done. In fact,
if there`s a good reason not to pass this commonsense reform, I haven`t
heard it.


HARRIS-PERRY: Okay. So we all know that we need immigration reform and we
all know it will take a bipartisan effort, and we all know that achieving
that kind of cooperation has been nearly impossible. But what many may not
know is how hard it is to pass the gauntlet of our current immigration
process. Even under what might seem like ideal circumstances, the process
is frustrating and expensive.

To learn more about the actual process, not just the policy, "Nerdland"
visited with one couple who is navigating the system right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Emma Varanta (ph) and I`m from a small
southern town in Finland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Jacob Winneke (ph). I`m from Austin, Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We met in Kenya in a city called Kusumu (ph) in 2007.
We got married at Manhattan city hall in February -- March --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: February. 2011. And then right after getting
married, like within two weeks from that we filed our green card -- or my
green card application.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emma must have spent three hours a night every single
night for probably 200 or 300 days in a row studying the process. She`s
probably put a thousand hours into learning about this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The first part of our process was called -- it`s
called adjustment of status. The filing fee is $420, and then for the
other part of it it`s $1,070, which includes so-called biometrics. Those
filing fees for that first part were about $1,500.

Now we`re doing a process called removal of conditions, and that filing fee
I think was $590. So I think if you put everything together you`re talking
somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000.

So I have a green card. Which was issued in July 2011. Before the two-
year green card expires, you have to do what`s called removal of
conditions. And it basically means that we are now proving, again, that we
are really married, we`re a real couple, we`re really in love. I didn`t
marry him for the green card. And I think in immigration, you`re
considered guilty until you prove yourself innocent. The onus is on you to
prove that you`re the real thing and that your marriage is real. But it is
a lot of stress, a lot of money, it`s financial strain, it`s time, it`s
worrying about if you forgot something, it`s waiting for months and months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where Emma comes from, she comes from Scandinavia. I
can imagine it being four times as expensive just because a person comes
from a Middle Eastern country or someplace in Latin America that we may not
have a good relationship with politically. And we just got lucky because
of where she`s from.


HARRIS-PERRY: And all of that is just about getting the extended green
card so that Emma can eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. Joining me
now is NBC Latino`s Raul Reyes, Princeton University`s Julian Zelizer,
Silky Shah, the interim executive director of Detention Watch Network, and
Igor Volsky of

I just kept thinking, we went out and talked with this lovely couple, but
as you heard at the end, basically if it`s this hard for white folks, what
must it be like for people coming either south of the border or for people
from nations we think of as enemies of the American state?

REYES: Right, and not only that, this might seem surprising to viewers,
but this couple is very fortunate. For one thing, they do seem very, you
know, educated that she`s able to navigate the system, but it is a lot of
hours involved, a lot of money involved. She`s also fortunate because
she`s coming from Finland, which is a country that is not oversubscribed in
terms of the amount of visa applications coming. They`re already well
along the path. They are very fortunate.

But to give you an idea of where our system is, and I`m talking legal
immigration, right now, the U.S. government is processing legal immigrants,
their applications from Mexico, going back to 1995. The Philippines, 1998.
So all the talk you hear about play by the rules and get in line, if you
do, you`re still kicking it in Mexico since at least 1995.

That`s why our system is broken. And not only that, it is not -- depending
where you are in the country -- for example, if this couple, say they moved
to Minnesota or somewhere in the West, their application process could be
much faster just because of the vagaries of our patchwork system. It`s not
uniform at all. So people in, say, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, the wait
times are longer. There`s tremendous backlog, all sorts of hoops. Yet if
you happen to be in Salt Lake City or Seattle, it`s much easier. The
system is incoherent and inconsistent just geographically if nothing else.

HARRIS-PERRY: I want to then just ask to follow up on that, so is our
immigration process too hard in the wrong ways, Igor? In other words, I
think we all recognize that you`ve got to have some barriers to entry, but
is it too hard in the wrong way?

VOLSKY: Way too hard in the wrong way. I mean, we emigrated from Russia
and then Israel, and it took us, my family and me, 11 years to get through
the process. Just the paperwork and the lawyers and the waiting and the
uncertainty. I remember the stress it took and the worry it took for my
parents was just remarkable. It really aged them tremendously also over
that period. And the fact that it`s so hard for a family to come to the
United States looking for opportunity, looking for economic mobility, and
you really have to go through just an excruciating process. And as you
say, 11 years is a good story, a positive -- is a success in the system.

HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. Stick with us because we`re going to move from
the stories -- this is as good as it gets. We`re going to move to some of
the stories where it gets much tougher. Why some Republicans may want
immigration reform but still not vote for it. Plus, a provocative look at
who and what is truly responsible for what is broken in America`s schools.
More "Nerdland" at the top of the hour.


HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.

So, this week, I have decided that President Obama must oppose
comprehensive immigration reform. I mean, I`m now utterly convinced that
the last thing that President Obama wants to happen is for our Congress to
create commonsense legislation that will boost the economy and benefit the

How do I know he`s against it? Because on Thursday, President Obama
clearly articulated one of his top goals is ensuring that comprehensive
immigration reform gets done this year.


some of the brightest minds from around the world to study here and then
not let them start businesses here. We send them back to their home
countries to start businesses and create jobs and invent products someplace
else. I`m not running for office again. I just believe this is the right
thing to do. I just believe this is the right thing to do.



HARRIS-PERRY: See, it`s sneaky because it sounds like he supports
immigration reform, but as you and I both know, the best way to make sure
that Republicans in Congress will refuse to act, to ensure they will take
absolutely no action, to be certain that they will stone wall even if it`s
to their own detriment is, of course, for President Obama to say it`s his

Well, there`s one other way to ensure the GOP will stand in staunch
opposition to a policy, present empirical evidence of how it will benefit
the country. They just hate that.

So, here you go, back in July, the Congressional Budget Office said the
current comprehensive proposal would cut undocumented immigration flow by
as much as 50 percent, that it would spend $30 billion on new border
agents, fencing and surveillance and lead to a savings of $135 billion over
the next decade.

And fulfilling every expectation on Friday, the day after President Obama
called for passing the Senate bill, Republicans begin their campaign of
resistance. Republicans reported that they have no plans to vote on any
immigration reform legislation before the end of the year, which for them
is just 19 days that they have left in session.

Even Republican Senator Marco Rubio said, get this, "The Obama
administration had undermined negotiations by not defunding the signature
health care law." Yes. Comprehensive immigration reform is dependent on
defunding Obamacare.

One Republican even compared immigration reform to the affordable care act
in order to justify going at it piecemeal. Said House Judiciary Committee
Chairman Bob Goodlatte in a Thursday night statement, quote, "Our
immigration system is in desperate need of reform. But we don`t need
another massive Obamacare-like bill that is full of surprises and
dysfunction, after it becomes law."

Don`t forget the sequel to this year`s debt ceiling battle is coming up
before February 7th, various governing responsibilities led Republican
Congressman Tom Cole to say on Friday, "We`re not sure we can chew gum, let
alone walk and chew gum so, let`s just chew gum for a while."

And this is why I assume the president must not want immigration reform. I
mean, he couldn`t possibly think Americans` elected officials could walk
and chew gum at the same time. As Greg Sargent pointed out in "The
Washington Post," the president dared House Republicans to prove they could
do more with government than just shut it down.


OBAMA: Now, obviously just because something is smart and fair and good
for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and
labor and the evangelical community and many Democrats and many
Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done. This is
Washington, after all. You know, rather than create problem, let`s prove
to the American people that Washington can actually solve some problems.


HARRIS-PERRY: Clear to me that President Obama must hate the comprehensive
Senate plan, because by pointing out that it is serious, need, beneficial
he`s pretty much ensured it will never pass.

Joining me now to discuss this are: attorney Raul Reyes, an NBC Latino
contributor; Princeton professor Julian Zelizer, author of "Governing
America"; Silky Shah, the interim executive director and communications
director for the Tension Watch Network; and Igor Volsky, who is the
managing editor of

So, Silky, I want to come to you. What is it that is broken about our
system that this current Senate bill could, in fact, address?

SILKY SHAH, TENSION WATCH NETWORK: There are definitely a lot of things
that the Senate bill could address. One thing, I mean, we work on
detention, and one of the things that happened in 1996 under Clinton is we
saw a removal of judicial discretion for a lot of immigrants, including not
just undocumented but people who are permanent legal residents in the
country. And so, the Senate bill would allow for some of those people
mandatorily detained no discretion, mandatory minimum laws, would allow
them to be an alternate to detention. That`s really exciting.

But beyond, that I mean, the Senate bill isn`t going to make a huge
difference on that because on the flip side on detention, the
appropriations committee has actually put in a quota system for the number
of people who are detained. So, for us, the quota needs to be eliminated
if we`re going to see those reforms.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, it is a part way but not fully the way there. I wonder,
I mean, I was joking here about the president must hate it otherwise he
wouldn`t come out for it. But it does feel, Julian, that this should be
like infrastructure, it should be a win. Republicans know they need to do
immigration reform. There`s a lot of push even from the right to do it.

Why is it so unlikely that it`s going to happen?

JULIAN ZELIZER, PRINCETON PROFESSOR: Well, let`s remember, this same
tension played out under George W. Bush when he was for immigration reform
and House Republicans then didn`t want to do this as well. You have
members from similar districts that were talking about what the budget
shutdown who they still don`t to see the electoral incentives to support

And at the same time, they are now also trying to position themselves as
leaders of the party and they want to hold firm not only for their own re-
election but to show Speaker Boehner, to show the Senate Republicans
they`re calling the shots. So, the key is to change the dynamics in those
districts. I think that`s where this game can be won, so that a very
important piece of legislation could pass. Otherwise, it won`t happen.

HARRIS-PERRY: But at the moment -- I mean, "New York Times" reported this
morning that at the moment, all the dynamics in the district are pointing
towards ways to block it, right? So, if you look at this "New York Times"
article this morning, immigration poses threat of another Republican rift,
several Republicans executives and donors who are part of a lobbying blitz
coming to Capitol Hill next week said they are considering withholding or
had already decided to withhold future financial support to Republican
lawmakers they believe are obstructing progress on immigration. So, this
is an attempt to start to move the obstruction.

RAUL REYES, NBC LATINO: Right. And one of the things we`re actually going
to see in this -- in the coming week, there`s going to be another lobbying
push in favor of immigration reform, but it`s going to be by conservatives,
by agricultural lobby, business interests and the faith community. But,
you know, I have to say, since you showed Marco Rubio, how tremendously
disappointing his leadership has been the issue or his leadership.

Marco Rubio was elected and what he was charged with and the reason he
became so ascendant in the party so quickly was twofold. He was going to
make his party -- he was charged with making his party more inclusive and
open particularly to Latinos. On the other side, he was also going to help
sell immigration reform to the Tea Party and many in the GOP. And he has
failed on both of those counts. He has not tried and failed. He`s really

HARRIS-PERRY: He just gave up.

REYES: -- not been a team player. He`s walked away from it. The most
unfortunate thing and why it`s so disappointing, we see the immaturity of
his leadership because every time the going got tough, he either walked
away or just said I`m not for it anymore, I`m not going to do it. That is
very disappointing.

IGOR VOLSKY, THINKPROGRESS.ORG: A lot of people have Rubio rage these

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Sure. All kinds of different reasons.

VOLSKY: But I think the politics also changed after the shutdown in really
a remarkable way. I mean, before the shutdown you at least had a
Republican saying this is a problem, we have to address it, let`s figure
out -- go through the committee process in the house, let`s try to do

After the shutdown, after they were so politically embarrassed, people like
Rubio are now saying we`re not going to do it because Obama wouldn`t cave
on Obamacare. That`s remarkable. We`re not going to do something that`s
good for the country because we were embarrassed politically.

HARRIS-PERRY: This goes back to the 3-year-old and the cat, right, Mike?


HARRIS-PERRY: Which we had the discussion in the first hour, right -- this
idea that this has anything to do with Obama care. I mean, it does take us
back to the Joe Wilson "You Lie" moment, right, which I try to remind
people, folks talk about it as an old-fashioned racism, white man yelling
at a black president. But it was around the issue of whether or not health
care was going to be extended to undocumented persons living in the U.S.,
right? So even in that moment it was kind of an immigration anxiety.

REYES: Even there, we saw some of that anger, although almost at no point
through that whole process in crafting the health care bill was there any
serious consideration that the undocumented immigrants were going to get
health care. And yet they fixated on that.

But to your point, now we see people like Marco Rubio, also Congressman
Raul Labrador saying we can`t do immigration reform now because of the
shutdown that we caused and the big mess that we created, so we`re taking
our ball and going home. I mean, so childish and grossly irresponsible to
all the undocumented people and the families, the communities who are
waiting for this reform that could be life changing.

ZELIZER: This is a moment when social movement pressure matters in
American politics.


ZELIZER: I mean, during the civil rights movement, you also had a lock in
the leadership. No one was doing anything. And the way that the politics
changed was the movement created pressure in Washington and in the
districts, especially on Republicans to depart from the Southerners who are
blocking progress. And it wasn`t just civil rights activists. Maybe akin
to immigration rights activists. It was actually the faith community in
places like Illinois who were going and they were talking to Republicans
and saying you have to vote a different way on this. And it changed the
vote. It was the same kind of issue.

HARRIS-PERRY: I love it -- and we saw -- this is how the DREAMers became
the one pressure point that was so clear and where there was -- as there
was at certain points in the civil rights movement like this sense of
national interest in this group of young people that we did at least get
the deferred action.

Stick with us. Much more, and I want to come specifically to Silky,
because you mentioned some things we have to talk about. I don`t think
folks know about the quotas, the responsibility to actually requiring us to
detain thousands of immigrants every day, when we come back.


HARRIS-PERRY: Back in June of 2012, one of the demonstrators chose to wear
handcuffs in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a symbolic nod to reason that
according to "The New York Times" that last week, Villegas, an undocumented
immigrant, was awarded a $490,000 and possibly a resident visa that is
generally offered to crime victims.

Why? Because after a 2008 arrest in Nashville, among other indignities she
was shackled to a bed while in labor with the little guy that you see
there. That`s her son. And as our guest Silky Shah details in her guest
post on pour Web site,, that case is just a symbol of a massive
problem of the detention of undocumented immigrants, detention that is run
on a quota requiring at least 34,000 immigrants be detained daily.

Silky, from the moment that you had a conversation with my associate
producer about this requirement, he was walking around going, did you guys
know that there is a requirement that 34,000 people, this kind of bed
mandate -- what is the sort of -- where did that come from, that mandate?

SHAH: It actually came from -- we were talking about this earlier, came
out in 2007 because people didn`t feel like Bush was doing enough. So,
it`s in the appropriations committee. They put it in the mandate.

And, you know, one thing to note about immigration detention, 50 percent of
beds, 34,000 beds are operated by private prison companies --


SHAH: -- that lobby heavily to get these contracts and also, they lobby
the appropriations committee. So, they`ve included this mandate without
any understanding of really who needs to be in detention. I mean,
essentially, you need to find people to deport in order to fill this
mandate. It`s as simple as that.

HARRIS-PERRY: So in a moment like when we`re in now where we have
declining immigration, particularly declining undocumented immigration,
that means you have to reach deeper and deeper down to folks who are, in
fact, not criminals by any definition of what we would think of as
meaningful crime, right? In other words, they`re status offenses, right?
Offense is simply being here without paper.

SHAH: Anybody who`s in detention is there for civil violation. So,
they`re there, they don`t have a sentence. It`s not like the criminal
justice system. You don`t get a lawyer, you don`t have a sentence, you
don`t have a right to a phone call often and you`re there for an
undetermined amount of time.

And they`re there for a civil violation. They`re not -- you know, if you
have a crime, maybe you`ve committed it and you committed it in the past
but you`ve already gone through the criminal justice system, and don`t we
say everyone deserves a second chance, right?

HARRIS-PERRY: Nope. Yes, no.

SHAH: But the other thing I want to point out is of our immigration
detention system, actual lay lot of people who are inside are not just
undocumented but they`re legal permanent residents who have past
convictions. So, pre-the `96 laws that changed this, have a marijuana
conviction, serve their time in the `80s and end up in detention.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, the story of Juana Villegas really again captured us in
part, Raul, because the notion of detention -- I think there`s something
about that language that sounds almost benign, like you`re detained. You
know, when you read the reporting on it they say, oh, they have
televisions. But then you read a story like Juana Villegas and you realize
just how vulnerable people are.

REYES: Right. And, you know, the unfortunate reality the, there are many
stories like hers. We just don`t often hear them because of the way the
system operates. When we talk about this arbitrary bed mandate, you have
to just think of it this way by means of an analogy. Imagine if we had a
prison system where we said no matter what the crime rate, no matter what
was going on in the country, no matter what season or what year, what
decade, we are going to have x number of people in prison.

HARRIS-PERRY: We almost do because of the private incentive. We pretty
much do.

REYES: That`s what we`re doing in immigration detention and the way the
government operates this system. We spoke on it during the break. Because
immigration is a civil violation, you don`t have any of these rights, right
to counsel, you don`t get your Miranda rights, nothing like that, yet from
the time you are detained till the time you are deported you are treated as
a criminal. You`re shackled, you`re behind bars, you can be put in
solitaire confinement. It`s a stain on our justice system.

And there are many people also in the system who are asylum seeker, victims
of domestic abuse, refugees from Central America, all kinds of people get
swept up in the system

HARRIS-PERRY: Igor, it feels to me like consistently there are sort of two
themes that show up in this conversation. One is a national security
theme, the need to protect our borders, and the other one is an economic
competition theme and the idea that these people are taking jobs from good

And I guess I just wonder, like, when I hear these stories or we look at
having to detain 34,000 people, how far are we from -- I mean, because
those are legitimate issues. Economic security, border -- real issues but
they don`t seem addressed by how we do immigration in this country.

VOLSKY: Well, certainly not with this detention system. I want to say
it`s great, we finally found a mandate that Republicans can support. They
can get behind it. They`re for it all the way. Wow. Tremendous.

And, you know, you look at the economic argument. You try to make, you
know, how are you going to convince Republicans to get aboard, try to make
the conservative argument, you make the argument that it grows the GDP,
lifts wages across the board, economic benefits all throughout the economy,
or even on this detention point, you say what about alternatives to this
kind of detention, costs about $10 a day, from $150, don`t you guys like

No, they don`t because there`s other interests, the private prison. So,
there are interests in play. So, you know, there is I think an economic
argument, and that`s an argument that we`re going to hear hopefully this
coming week from the business community, but that has to be paired with
this human argument that the religious groups are going to be pushing for
that grassroots campaign.

HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, grassroots social movement is part of any other
bright lights that you see, Julian.

ZELIZER: Yes, it`s right that business is behind us. They always have
been, but they are organizing against a party they support, the Republican
Party, and there is just -- we passed immigration reform in 1965, and
that`s the influx that we`ve seen, and we`ve never really had a
comprehensive solution, how to deal with everything from security to a path
to citizenship.

So there`s a time -- an issue`s time has come argument. I think there are
many Republicans, frankly, who privately and some publicly agree with is.
And so, I think if you have those three pressure points come together,
there`s a chance, a chance for this to work.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, immigration is one of those things that actually draws
-- people operate on interest will draw a line somewhat differently. One
of the other ones of course is education on which there is actually very
bizarre bipartisan agreement which we`re going to start talking about next.

Let me, first, say thank you to Raul Reyes, to Julian Zelizer, to Silky
Shah and to Igor Volsky for being here.

I`m also going to send everybody over to our Web site. It is functioning,, to read the guest post from Silky Shah, which is online now.

And up next, we`re going to talk to the education leader whose new book
could change everything you think about public schools because she changed
everything she thinks about public schools, when we come back.



OBAMA: We`ve got to make sure that we`re funding education so that
teachers have the support that they need, so that they can support their
own families, so that they`re not having to dig into their pockets for
school supplies, and we`ve got to show them the respect and provide
pathways of excellence for teachers so that they`re treated like the
professionals that they are. It is a hard job. And we`ve got to make sure
we`re investing in them.


HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama yesterday stepping into the intense
debate over education reform as he spoke at pathways and technology early
college high school in Brooklyn, New York.

Now, this debate has been raging since President George W. Bush first
introduced the No Child Left Behind initiative. One of its biggest
champions at the time was education scholar Diane Ravitch who served as the
assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush.

And then, Ravitch changed her mind, became a chief critic of No Child Left
Behind, particularly its emphasis on testing, arguing it did little to
improve public education. In her new book, "Reign of Error," she takes on
school privatization. Ravitch writes, "Public education is a basic
responsibility. We must not be persuaded by a false crisis narrative to
privatize it. It is time for parents, educators, and other concerned
citizens to join together to strengthen our public schools and preserve
them for future generations. The future of our democracy depends on it."

And Diane Ravitch joins me now.

I am so pleased to have you here. I spent a lot of time with the book over
the course of the past week.

Talk to me about why public, truly public education matters.

DIANE RAVITCH, AUTHOR, "REIGN OF ERROR": Public education is one of the
public services that our society provides. We have police, fire,
protection, public parks, public schools. It`s one of the basic things
that a democracy does. If we look to the high performing nations of the
world, they don`t have charters, they don`t vouchers, they don`t teach for
Finland, or teach for Japan. They have professional teachers in a public
school system where the emphasis has been on equity, on making sure that
every school is a good school.

And it`s hard to do that. It`s costly. But it`s far cheaper to do that
than it is to pay for kids going to prison and having all the ills that our
society has. So public schools are crucial to a democracy.

HARRIS-PERRY: One of the things you spend about the first third of the
book or so doing is really taking apart empirically the claims about the
great crisis, what others have called the manufactured crisis of public
education, this notion that it is failing. And, in fact, you demonstrate
that when we look at high school education rates, that there has been an
enormous up tick in high school education in this country. You suggest
also that we should be very careful about looking at those international
comparisons and you say, hey, actually saying that we don`t test as well as
some other countries is not about what we know or what we`re capable of.

Why do so many people believe that we`re in a crisis if we`re not?

RAVITCH: First of all, what I demonstrate using U.S. department of
education data is that test scores in this country have never been higher
than they are today for black children, white children, Hispanic children,
and Asian children. High school graduation rates are at their highest
point in history. The dropout rate is at its lowest point in history.

And yet I am fiercely critical of the status quo because the status quo is
built on this notion which has been built up over 30 years that we`re
failing, our schools are failing and therefore we should just do anything
that it takes to demolish public education because it`s a disaster. So I
argue it is not a disaster. The status quo that we have which is test and
test, privatize and privatize, throw money at consultants instead of
schools, when we talk about the rising cost of education, so much of the
money is going to people who are telling teachers how to teach, telling
principals how to lead, telling schools how to turn themselves around, huge
amounts of money are being siphoned off that are not going into schools.

And so, there are practical things we should do because there is a crisis.
The real crisis is poverty. And the people who call themselves reformers
say don`t look at poverty, and that`s wrong.

HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you, there`s a new anti-testing petition signed
by a large group of people, including Judy Bloom and Maya Angelou, people
who I think of as deep educators at their core.

The petition says in part, "We call on you to support authentic performance
assessments, not simply computerized versions of multiple choice exams. We
also urge you to reverse the narrowing curriculum that has resulted from a
fixation in high stakes testing."

How are both No Child Left Behind founded under a Republican demonstration,
and race to the top, founded under a Democratic administration, both
colluding in this kind testing on the basis on which we judge equality of
our schools?

RAVITCH: Unfortunately, you know, many of us had hoped that when President
Obama was elected, it would mean No Child Left Behind would literally be
scrapped. It`s terrible program. Everybody says it`s failed.

But Race to the Top is built on the same premises as No Child Left Behind,
that is we must race to get higher test scores. The test scores can be --
you can coach kids the way you can coach parents, coach seals. You can
train people to get higher test scores.

What we find in all these international tests is that there are certain
Asian countries that have a test-taking culture, and when their kids come
here, they say they come here for the freedom. They come here for the
spirit. They come here for the opportunity to use their imagination, their
creativity, and that`s what the top part of America is. It`s not the
ability to check off the box and to say, I got one out of four answers
correctly. It`s thinking out of the box.


RAVITCH: So we`re crushing that. That`s what those writers were talking
about. What`s happening to their books is that they`re being assigned as


RAVITCH: And many teachers are saying -- and I don`t know if this is
common core, which is this national standards, many of the teachers are
saying I no longer assign full novels. Well, who writes a novel they
haven`t read as one chapter?

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. You know, your point about No Child Left Behind, we`ve
seen the flexibility that was granted under President Obama, nearly every
state in the country when you look at the map has, in fact, asked for
flexibility to push back. Everything you see in blue there. We know at
this moment it`s not working.

When we come back, Diane, I want to add some other voices to the table as
well, because part -- I think the book is so useful. I also want to ask
whether or not you think that folks are in this because they really just
don`t know any better but they legitimately believe they`re doing what`s
right or if you think there are more nefarious motives and again how we
address what the crisis in public education is. So, stay with us, when we
come back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next year, Anthony`s class will move up to junior high.
Most will go to John Philip Sousa, which a Washington Post called an
academic sinkhole. If Anthony goes to Sousa, odds are, he`ll enter high
school three to five grade levels behind.

Anthony`s class visits that Seed School, the first urban public boarding
school in the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To come and see geography and (INAUDIBLE), you have to
leave to a district and we have to pull out of our own bingo balls, call
your number.


HARRIS-PERRY: That was a scene from one of my least favorite movies, the
2010 documentary "Waiting for Superman," a film that touted charter schools
as all-saving alternative to failing public schools. As Diane Ravitch
points out in her new book, "Reign of Error", the film`s narrative, as well
as the larger public discussion was directed away from the controversial
issue of privatization and towards ideologically appealing concept of

Reformers don`t like to mention the word privatization, although this is
indeed the driving ideological force behind the movement. She goes on to
say the new movement for privatization has enabled school choice to
transcend its tarnished history as an escape route for Southern whites who
sought to avoid court-ordered desegregation in the 1950s and `60s. We`ve
been talking about the state of public education with Diane Ravitch.

And now, joining us is Pedro Noguera, the Peter L. Agnew professor of
education at New York University`s Steinhart School of Culture, Education,
and Human Development and author of the book, "Creating the Opportunity to
Learn" and "Unfinished Business." And Trymaine Lee, a national reporter
for who`s reporting on disparities in mass school closings across
the country.

Thank you both for joining us.

So, Peter, talk to me a little bit about this notion of charter schools as
the salvation for what is wrong with our traditional public school system.

PEDRO NOGUERA, PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, NYU: Well, the history is actually
interesting because charter schools are presented as a way to produce
innovation by freeing schools up from some of the regulations that public
schools were saddled with. And I think there is there`s some evidence that
for some schools, that`s allowed for really good practices and good

However, the mass unleashing of charter schools in many cities has resulted
in greater disparities because the charter schools are not being held
accountable and in many cases not serving the same children, serving more
privileged children an the public schools, which means the public schools
are disproportionately serving the most needed children, and that`s
actually made the job of public education that much more difficult.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, look, living in New Orleans, this is the
reality we have seen post-Katrina is this mass charterization of schools in
the system. Just looking at the data around education, progress in charter
versus non-charter schools, fourth grade reading in math, eighth grade
reading in math and science, we simply don`t see, if you just look at the
chart, there is simply no clear indication that charters are performing

In fact, in all of those non-charters outperforming charter schools just a
bit, and it is this point sometimes they work out but oftentimes they
don`t. What they do, in fact, do, however, what they`re very good at,
Diane, is very good at breaking unions. So, when you look at the percent
of unionized charter schools 87.7 percent nonunionized, 12.3 percent

So, they may not be good on math scores but, man, they`re good at breaking

RAVITCH: Yes. Also many of the charters that post high test scores are
leaving out, as Pedro said, they`re leaving out the children with
disabilities, leaving out the children who are English learners, and they
have the ability to kick out the kids who are troublemakers and to kick out
the kids who have low test scores.

HARRIS-PERRY: Under their zero-tolerance policies.

RAVITCH: Right. And, you know, so this to me is not innovation. What I
fear is that we`re heading in a direction of re-creating a dual school
system because there are cities, for instance, like Minneapolis where the
charters are more segregated than the Minneapolis school district, where
there are charters that are all white, all black, all Hispanic -- I mean,
name the group and they have their own charter school. It`s as if the
Brown decision never happened.

HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels to me, Trymaine, also as though -- so we don`t
even take integration into account as part of how you would define a
quality school. So you`re saying is this a good school, does it rate 1 to
10 or four apples or something. We don`t even ask whether or not
integration in the classroom is part of that.

TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC.COM: And I think it`s not that there`s this madness
from black children sitting next to white children. But we do know that,
you know, poor children sitting next to middle-class children and the
resources they`re afforded does wonders. When you look at a situation like
Philadelphia, for example, 30-some percent of the schools are charter
schools, bleeding those students from the traditional neighbor schools,
taking that money with them.

Meanwhile, the governor and the state are starving the public schools. So,
now, you have the situation where the schools are becoming poorer in these
poor neighborhoods with less resources, no counselors, libraries, with no
librarians to staff them.

So, it`s kind of a mess and we`re seeing this playing out across the

HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you this, though, when I read the text "Reign
of Error," the notion of error is that it`s a mistake, that people with
good goals who want to help children were initially moving it saying, oh,
man, these test scores look bad, what can we do to help? And that what we
see on the back end are these results that they did not expect.

But when I read it, it does read a little bit as though there is nefarious
intent so, people are purposely taking apart the schools. Which one do you
think it is?

RAVITCH: I think first of all that I would say it`s mixed motives. There
are people who have good motives. There are people who are hope to make
money and are making a lot of money. There are states like Michigan where
something like more than 80 percent of the charters are for profit, where
school districts are being literally handed over to for-profit
corporations, and it`s (INAUDIBLE) Muskegon Heights, Highland Park. What
do these districts have in common? They`re all black districts.

These districts had a deficit that will now become the profit of the for-
profit corporation and public education has not been saved. In
Philadelphia, this is obviously a majority/minority district, suburban
parents wouldn`t permit it. I`ve been in city after city where the schools
are being privatized, sometimes for profit, sometimes not for profit, but
what`s happening is that public education is collapsing and in the suburban
districts, this would not be toll rated.

HARRIS-PERRY: And your point about the parents -- I keep thinking it`s not
like we don`t know what works. What works is the kind of education that
wealthy kids get, but that we keep acting like we have to innovate around
poor kids.

I want to ask more about poverty. I also -- the president said something
yesterday and I want you to fact check it for us, Trymaine, as soon we come

So, up next, President Obama went to high school yesterday, but friends,
there is so much homework to do.

Stay with us.



OBAMA: If we don`t set the right priorities now, then many of you will be
put at a competitive disadvantage compared to other can countries. If you
think education`s expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs.


HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama yesterday speaking at Brooklyn`s
Pathways in Technology Early College School. Now, P-TECH is actually a
six-year public school where students graduate with an associate`s degree
and are first in line for jobs with P-TECH corporate partner IBM.

President Obama`s trip comes on the heels of what many are calling an
alarming new study. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development, the U.S. ranks 16th out of 23 countries in basic literacy
and 21st out of 23 in math. But what do numbers like these really mean?
And is an IBM-sponsored education a solution or a problem?

So I had multiple reactions to the president yesterday, like when he says
you have to treat teachers like professionals, I`m cheering. But he did
say something at one point which, Trymaine, given your research and your
reporting really -- I had to give my president who I adore a side eye.

So, I want to play a brief clip and ask you if you think this is true or


OBAMA: Back in my hometown of Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel`s opening up
schools like this one.


HARRIS-PERRY: Mayor Rahm Emanuel is opening schools? Because what I have
been reporting for the past year is Mayor Rahm Emanuel is closing schools.

LEE: They start the school year with 50 fewer e schools than last year,
OK? So, on one hand, what the president said is correct, if you want to
see the back end costs, look at the prison system. Look at the food pantry
lines. Look what`s happening.

With P-TECH, it`s too early to tell. But in these community where is
they`re closing schools, there`s violence, food insecurity, the abstract
violence of being hungry. That`s what they were missing here.

We have to prepare them with wraparound services. These children are
struggling and we expect them to learn and flourish when their basic needs
aren`t being met at home, in schools. Not to jump back to Philadelphia,
but school with no counselors. These kids in these hardened communities
are coming to school and sometimes the only place they have to turn is the
school but they don`t have a librarian to give them a book, a counselor to
rub their shoulders and tell them it`s going to be OK and keep pushing

So, when we`re seeing that replicated in Chicago, in Oakland, and that`s
what we`re seeing here.

And anybody who`s ever taught will tell you that when you`re in a classroom
with more students it is harder to simply observe, notice, put your hands
on young people who may need just a little extra attention, not necessarily
reading attention but are you OK, because I can see things are different.

I want to read this quote, Pedro, from Diane`s book. "Poverty matters.
Poverty affects children`s health and well being, it affects their
emotional lives and attention spans, their attention and their academic
performance, their motivation and their ability to concentrate on anything
other than day to day survival."

How much is that what is wrong with your schools?

NOGUERA: Well, that is America`s Achilles` heel. Right now, 50 percent of
the children of public schools in the country qualify for free or reduced
lunch. That means that our public schools are disproportionately serving
our poorest children. Poverty is not a learning disability, so let`s be
clear about that. Under the right conditions poor children can be quite

However, when you ignore basic needs like health, nutrition whether or not
they have eyeglasses or access to a counselor, you will see children drop
out in droves, you will see children not thrive. That produces the kind of
situation that the president is alluding to.

My real concern and what I think disappoints me so much is as person who
also admires the president is how little this administration has done to
address this issue. It is, to me, it`s a disgrace and really a shame, that
so little has been done in the name of reform to address the needs of our
neediest children. And that`s where we see failure rampant.

HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I think about this, the case of where I live in
New Orleans. Louisiana is a case study of getting this wrong. You`ve got
Governor Jindal, who called himself a reformer, by giving vouchers of
public money to schools that include online schools for elementary children
and schools that teach creationism as science. At the same time that he
rejects the Medicaid expansion which provides for poor children things like
health care.

How do we shift the education narrative to addressing childhood poverty

RAVITCH: Well, the great hoax of what`s called school reform today is that
it inures the root causes of academic struggling. The root cause is
poverty. Root cause is a combination -- when you have a combination of
poverty and racial segregation, that is a horrible mix. And wherever there
is that combination, you`ll find very low test scores.

So, the reformers say we need merit pay. That`s a hoax. Or we need to
have more privatization. We need to have kids go anywhere, take your
voucher and go anywhere, go to an entrepreneur, go to somebody who hangs
out a shingle, go to a church school that teaches kids on DVDs.

All of this -- this is all nonsense. The child still can`t read, still
goes home and isn`t sure whether there is a home or food on the table, so
we`re ignoring the root problem.

HARRIS-PERRY: Right so, the same people voting for vouchers for school are
also voting against SNAP benefits so that you can actually eat.

Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera, Trymaine Lee, for just scratching the surface
on this.

Up next, turning awareness into action. Why touching your breasts is not
enough. You`ve got to know more in October. Our foot soldier is next.


HARRIS-PERRY: The White House gleamed bright pink on Thursday in honor of
national breast cancer awareness month. More than 25 years, October has
been set aside to promote awareness and engage in national dialogues about
breast cancer prevention.

But this week`s foot soldier has taken the fight against breast cancer from
awareness to state legislative action. Despite regular doctor visits and
mammograms, Addy Jeffrey was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of
2011, three years after her tumor had first begun to develop.

Addie learned that her dense breast tissue appeared white in her mammograms
just like the tumor making it difficult for her doctors to detect the
cancer. Now, Addy told us before her diagnosis, she had no idea breast
density, which is the high ratio of tissue to fat, increases the risk for
breast cancer. This is a condition that affects approximately 50 percent
of women.

In fact, mammograms, the recommended means of early breast cancer
detection, miss one in five cases of breast cancer primarily because of
high breast density. So during her five months of chemotherapy, Addy
joined forces with Greensboro, North Carolina`s Commission on the Status of
Women to draft legislation requiring doctors to tell women their level of
breast density therefore equipping other women with knowledge that would
have helped her detect her tumor many years earlier.

She told us, I thought if there is something I could do to make a
difference once I leave this word, I was going -- it was going to be that I
was going to change to make it better for other women. Addy`s campaign for
new legislation included visits to women`s groups and speeches like this
one delivered on the North Carolina house floor in February of 2013.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: According to American Cancer Society, this year, over
230,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and over 39,000 of us
will die from the disease. I would like those in our audience to please
stand and remain standing if you or a loved one has been affected with
breast cancer.


HARRIS-PERRY: Finally, on July 23rd, Governor McCrory signed North
Carolina`s health bill 467, the Breast Density Notification and Awareness
Bill. Now, the law now requires health care providers to inform North
Carolina women of the level of breast density identified in their

I don`t want you to miss this -- Addy Jeffrey got a bill for women`s health
through the North Carolina legislature. A state house that has hid anti-
reproductive rights measures in a bill for motorcycle safety. This bill
was signed by Governor McCrory, the guy who refused to meet with women
protesting his refusal to stand up for women`s health but brought them
cookies instead, in a state where the odds didn`t seem in favor of common
sense legislation for women`s health.

Addy Jeffrey did not give up and she helped to give the women of North
Carolina one of the few laws they can openly celebrate this year where they
now won`t just touch their breasts, they will know how dense their breasts.
They will know how dense their breast is.

So, for tirelessly working to empower women in her state with knowledge and
to have knowledge that will protect them from breast cancer, Addy Jeffrey
is our foot soldier of the week.

And that`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m
going to see you tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern when my MSNBC colleague
Chris Matthews, offer up "Tip and The Gipper" and host of "HARDBALL", is
going to be here to talk Ted Cruz, Ronald Reagan and the modern day GOP.
You know I`m going to let him finish.

Now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".

Hi, Alex.



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