'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, March 1st, 2014

March 1, 2014

Guests: P.J. Crowley, Nikki Silvestri, Marion Nestle, Michael Moss, Paul
McDonald, Trymaine Lee, Michael Skolnik, Bryonn Bain, Juan Cartagena,
Bryonn Bain, Seema Iyer, Talib Kweli, Eunique Jones Gibson

ARI MELBER, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, just how many pushups
can Justin Bieber do? Plus, a special fact check on the latest from Dick
Cheney. And the president`s call to action for young men of color. But
first, when you hear about bolder action from second term Obama, are you
sure which Obama they`re talking about?

Good morning, you guys. I am Ari Melber in for Melissa Harris-Perry today.
And this morning, we are reporting on first lady Michelle Obama`s new plan
for a healthier nation and some surprising new obesity data. Plus,
President Obama`s new initiative as we mentioned for young man of color.
But we begin first with an update on breaking news in Ukraine. A week
after Ukraine`s president was ousted in violent protests, there are now
concerns that Russia is carrying out an armed invasion in Ukraine`s Crimea
region. Now, that`s a predominantly ethnic Russian area in the south. And
just this morning, this is new, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially
asked Russia`s parliament for permission to send his country`s military
into Ukraine. Now, Putin says troops are needed to help protect ethnic
Russians and personnel at the Russian military base in Crimea. Ukrainian
officials say thousands of Russian troops are already arriving there. Now
heavily armed men who refuse to identify themselves have taken up positions
in the airport. A Russian warship is blocking a Ukrainian coast
(INAUDIBLE) vessels. And the newly installed prime minister of Crimea, a
Russian ally, asserted today that he is in control of the areas military.
He`s appealing to Vladimir Putin for help. And the Kremlin says it`s not
ignoring that request. Demonstrators took to the streets of Crimea to show
their support for Russian intervention. And all this unrest here has drawn
a new unscheduled set of remarks. We saw those last night from President
Obama. And that included a direct warning to Russia.


by reports of military movements taken by the Russian federation inside of
Ukraine. Russia has an historic relationship with Ukraine including
cultural and economic ties and a military facility in Crimea, but any
violation of Ukraine`s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be
deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or
Europe. It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be
determined by the Ukrainian people. It would be a clear violation of
Russia`s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders
of Ukraine and of international laws. And just days after the world came
to Russia for the Olympic Games that would invite the condemnation of
nations around the world and, indeed, the United States will stand with the
international community in affirming that there will be costs for any
military intervention in Ukraine.


MELBER: Let`s go now directly, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen
Welker. Kristen, what do we know now and is there any response here on
this breaking news from the White House?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, we`re getting an early response
at this hour, Ari. Just a few moments ago a senior administration official
telling me that the White House is monitoring the situation quite closely
and is in contact with its partners abroad at this hour. That suggests
that there are a flurry of high-level conversations going on as we speak.
As Vladimir Putin continues to escalate the situation, his request to
parliament includes the request that he be allowed to go into the territory
of Ukraine. That is important because it means that he`s not just limiting
his intervention to Crimea, which is, of course, what we saw yesterday.
He`s essentially asking that he have the authority to go into other
Russian-speaking territories. As you mentioned, President Obama came out
yesterday with a stern warning to Russia not to intervene, not to escalate
this situation. For days the administration had been urging Russia not to
intervene, but that diplomacy seemed to fail. President Obama warning of
potential costs if this situation is to escalate. The big question is what
would those costs be? Well, a White House official tells NBC News that
this administration is talking with its partners contemplating potentially
boycotting the G-8 summit, which is scheduled to be held in Sochi later
this year and which, of course, will be hosted by Russia. So that is the
latest here.

We also know that Vice President Biden reached out to the prime minister of
Ukraine yesterday, commended that new government for its restraint and also
reiterated the fact that the U.S. supports that new interim government that
is in place in Ukraine right now. Ari, there`s been a lot of discussion
about whether or not this has essentially returned the United States and
Russia to a Cold War posture.

MELBER: Right.

WEKLER: And U.S. officials have been very adamant. They`ve pushed back
against that characterization. You remember, Secretary Kerry earlier this
week said, this is not Rocky IV. Well, all of these steps that we have
seen over the past 24 hours escalating the situation certainly adding to
the tensions between these two nations.

MELBER: Absolutely. And that also reflects something the president had
said earlier, that this is not about a cold war power games, but rather
stability in the Ukraine. It seems it may be difficult to maintain that
posture here with some escalation. Kristen Welker at the White House,
thanks for your reporting this morning, and we go directly now .

WEKLER: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Thank you. To P.J. Crowley, a former assistant secretary of state
and now professor at George Washington University. P.J., you`ve served the
Obama administration. I want to get your take here on what we`re seeing.
Late yesterday President Obama makes what looked like a pretty clear
statement to his Russian counterpart about not intervening here in Ukraine.
Today, this morning, the news is President Putin is, in fact, seeking to
place military personnel there. Is this, in your mind, a direct response
from Putin to what the president said yesterday?

point. Obviously, Ukraine has a vital importance to Russia and this has
been -- this is a latest episode in perhaps a 25-year effort to define
whether Ukraine is going to have a strong relationship with the West or
stay within the orbit of Russia and the east.

MELBER: Yeah. And let me play for you as well -- let me read to you what
Eric Cantor had said about this because the politics here are relevant.
They haven`t been too divisive, but House Majority Leader Cantor issued a
statement saying "As there have been for Ukrainians who used force against
unarmed protesters, there should also be sanctions against Russian
individuals and entities who use force or interfere in Ukraine`s domestic
affairs." Do you view that as politics or serious policy option that
should be considered here?

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the president put that on the table yesterday. We
said there would be consequences depending on what Russia`s reaction, you
know, to the current events are. I think if you go back, say, four or six
weeks, you know, Vladimir Putin was on offense. He was trying to entice
Ukraine to have a closer economic relationship and political relationship
with the East as opposed to the West. Yanukovych said yes. A majority of
the Ukrainian people reflected by the protests in Maidan, you know, said
no. Now I think he`s playing defense, but simply raising the costs, you
know, for the United States and the European Union. Putin was willing to
write a $15 billion check to prop up the Ukrainian economy. Now that
burden falls to international community, the United States and European
Union. I think what he`s ultimately getting at is trying to create the
same kind of paralysis in Ukraine that he`s created in Georgia back in 2008
so that Ukraine is just struggling to survive and not able to make any
fundamental long-term strategic decisions.

MELBER: Yeah, I think that makes sense. You mentioned the economic
pressures. And the big question being, does that continue to be a
geopolitical power play through economics or as we`ve been reporting with
more armed forces on the ground or coming in, and some of them
unidentified, do we look at something that could be a much more dangerous
military escalation. P.J. Crowley in Washington. Thank you.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: All right now, up next, food fight. First Lady Michelle Obama is
digging in and some of America`s biggest corporations may not like what
she`s saying.


MELBER: Welcome back. For the fourth anniversary of her Let`s Move
childhood obesity campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled several
reforms aimed at helping Americans make healthier decisions about what they
eat. According to the White House, it all starts with the information
people have on what is in their food. That`s why they announced the new
FDA reform that for the first time in actually 20 years changes what you
find on those nutrition facts labels, the ones on the side of food


parents, we have a right to understand what`s in the food we`re feeding our
families because that`s really the only way that we can make informed
choices, by having clear, accurate information, and ultimately that`s what
today`s announcement is all about.


MELBER: All right. And get ready for some sticker shock because while the
original labels were somewhat useful, many companies ended up using serving
size loopholes to disguise how many calories they were packing. Now, that
ends under this rule. In the old days, for example, a pint of ice cream
could be listed as, say, four serving of 200 calories. That would now be
two servings of 400 calories under the new rule. Now, if that doesn`t
sound big, remember, there`s some evidence that information coupled with
public policy nudging can shape behavior. Although, we should say, the
scientific record is mixed on nutritional labels specifically. And the
proposal also ups the font size on labels along with some other common
sense reforms. All sugar, for example, combined in one measurement from
corn syrup to sucrose, to fructose, to, you know my favorite honey. It`s
all condensed so people can actually see whether they want that much sugar
in, you know, a drink. Michelle Obama and her East Wing staff played a key
role in moving the new proposal through the FDA. She was also the White
House`s messenger for another major moment in food this week. Mrs. Obama
worked with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to enable the federal
government to regulate marketing that food companies are sending to our
public schools.


MICHELLE OBAMA: We can all agree that our classrooms should be healthy
places where kids are not bombarded with ads for junk food. And these new
marketing guidelines are actually part of a broader effort to inspire
companies to rethink how they market food to kids in general.


MELBER: The proposed regulations would ban in school advertising for
salty, sugary and fatty snacks that don`t meet federal nutrition
guidelines. And the first lady`s effort to ban the junk food follows up on
something you might remember, a big food move in 2012. When she worked on
adding healthier options to subsidized school meals. And some good news in
a new government health study that`s out this week, this was interesting.
The obesity rate among children between the ages of two and five years old
has dropped by 43 percent in the past decade. That is the first time since
America`s obesity epidemic began in the `80s that those kinds of
percentages have gone down for any age group. Now, many factors are in
play, but as "The New York Times" reported, the drop may come from a
combination of local, state and Obama administration policies aimed at
reducing obesity.

Now, the preschool set represents a relatively tiny slice of the
population. Some more research for you that shows today`s obese kids are
five times as likely to become tomorrow`s obese adults. The progress of
children is key because today`s obese adults, well, they are not doing so
well. Take a look at this new Gallup survey, which reports that one out of
four American adults are obese. That is the highest rate since this
particular study began in 2008. And it all adds up to a public health care
and economic crisis. Obesity increases the risk for everything from
coronary heart disease to type two diabetes to hypertension. And the
costs, well, about $150 billion a year according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. The first lady`s regulatory efforts are not only
aimed at trimming the fat, if you will, see what we did there, from some of
these obesity numbers. They could also cut into the outsides role the food
and beverage industry plays in deciding what we eat and how we eat it.

And you may have heard about this. This industry has long been resistant
to government efforts of regulation because big food, would, well, rather
regulate itself. According to a 2012 deep dive from Reuters on the
lobbying power of big food, at every level of government the food and
beverage industry won fight after fight during the last decade. They`ve
never lost a significant political battle in the U.S. despite mounting
scientific evidence of the role of unhealthy food and children`s marketing
in obesity. And according to the report, the industry`s pockets are more
than $11 trillion deep and have allowed it to have the loudest and most
influential voice in some of these policy debates. But as of this week,
what`s different here? And why are we focusing on this today? As it looks
like some of those big bucks may stop at Michelle Obama`s White House East
Wing office because she has positioned herself as a champion for America`s
health and her latest move suggests she`s ready to take on the industry
and, yes, a food fight.

Joining us now from NYU`s department of nutrition, food studies and public
health, Professor Marion Nestle, Nikki Silvestri, executive director of
Green for All and "New York Times" investigative reporter and Pulitzer
Prize winner, Michael Moss, author of "Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food
Giants Hooked Us." Thank you all for being here. I`m really excited about
this conversation. The MHP team is excited about it. Michael, let`s start
with the title of your book.


MELBER: The sugar and the fat, we like it, but what you report and
document is that we don`t just naturally like it, but it`s actually been
carefully structured and manipulated by food companies to make us like it
more than we might.

MOSS: When you look at the internal documents, you listen to their own
people talk revealing secrets about how they do it, the overwhelming sense
you get is that they are driving day and night not just to get us to like
their products, but to want more and more of them. I talk about salt,
sugar, fat as the unholy trinity of the processed food industry. They`re
using gobs of it to make their products low cost, convenient so they sit on
the shelf for months at a time and utterly irresistible.

MELBER: Yes, and I should mention, Marion, when you think about the
marketing here, it`s a big piece of this. I said 11 trillion, I meant one
trillion actually is the deep pockets. But look at this pie chart of
television food advertising where some of this money goes. Candy and
snacks, 34 percent. Cereal, 29 percent. Fast food, 17 percent. What -
Michelle Obama was arguing, and I want to know where you come down on this,
is that it is not just choices that are made in the abstract. They are
made in the context of marketing. Often marketing devoted specifically to

Well, people don`t have a clue as to how marketing affects their food
choices. We all think that we`re completely independent and we just go
into a store and choose what we want as if marketing had nothing to do with
it. But food companies are not social service agencies. They are
businesses, and their job is to make a profit and provide profits to
shareholders. That`s their business to do. And they will do anything to
sell products, because that`s what they have to do. And they don`t care if
they sell it to kids. They don`t care if they sell it to people overseas
who are going to be badly affected by it and have problems with their
health. They`re just selling products.

MELBER: Nikki?

NIKKI: That`s true. And marketing to children, in one sense they do care
because then they have customers for life. When I was a small child I
remember such fond memories of going to the fast food chains and playing
after school and having a crush on that cartoon kid that one of the fast
food chains said was going to help me be more acceptable at school because
I was eating those fries, and I think it`s particularly significant when we
talk about kids of color because so many students of color and low income
students, that`s all the food that they have access to.

MELBER: Yeah. I want to play some sound from the president and you talk
about the racial dynamic here. And we want to get to that. This is the
president at the State of the Union talking about why Michelle cares about
this. Take a listen.


MICHELLE OBAMA: So wherever and whenever I can take steps without
legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that`s what
I`m going to do. As usual, our first lady sets a good example. Michelle`s
"Let`s Move" partnership with schools, businesses, local leaders has helped
bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in 30 years.


MICHELLE OBAMA: And that`s an achievement that will improve lives and
reduce health care costs for decades to come.


MELBER: And Nikki, he`s right about that. And we put up the statistics
broadly, at least for very young Americans. But to your point, it`s not
equal across demographic groups.

most food insecure households in America are single African-American
mothers. And when you look at that and then you look at if children are
going to start asking for healthier food, but you have communities that
have no full service grocery stores that have 20 to 30,000 people living in
them. Where are they going to get this food if McDonald`s and Burger King
are the only options that you have that are affordable and recognizable to
you because maybe you also come from a cultural background that doesn`t eat
this kind of food, and what are you supposed to do? There has to be a
holistic solution.

MELBER: You were shaking your head.

NESTLE: I was shaking my head because the drop in childhood obesity among
children age two to five is not equal. The drop is among white children,
among black and Hispanic children it`s gone up, and overall the rates, the
good news from that study, is that there`s been no change in overall rates.

MELBER: Right.

NESTLE: Since 2003. But .

MOSS: That`s the good news.

NESTLE: That`s the good news. That`s the good news.

MOSS: No change.

NESTLE: That`s the good news is there`s no change, but for black and
Hispanics, and particularly poor, low income black and Hispanics. It`s
going up because they get the worst of everything.

MELBER: Right. And when you say the worst of everything, this is
something Michael writes about a lot. It`s not only the worst food, it`s
sometimes to some degree being vulnerable to the worst information and
misinformation. I want to get your thoughts on that when we come back and
look at how big food may push back against some of the first lady`s
proposals. But first, the latest high profile figures to join the "Let`s
Move" campaign.


ready to move?

thing. Let`s move.



MICHELLE OBAMA: And this is the major undertaking involving folks from
across the country, from the FDA to the food industry to advocates
throughout communities in this country.


MELBER: That was, of course, first lady Michelle Obama on Thursday. And
the administration`s new approach could change the way nutrition facts are
listed on nearly 700,000 consumer products. As with any administration
rule now, there`s a legal process where anyone can comment on the rule
before it becomes official, including the people the first lady mentioned.
Regulators are also considering two different designs for the new label.
Look at this. And they`re working on a third label that will distinguish
between the calories per serving and the calories per package for those
large packages that for some of us, for me anyway, can be consumed in a
single sitting.

Now, of course, not every company in this regulated space supports more
regulation. Some business leaders fear the food industry is headed for the
kind of restrictions and even stigma associated with dangerous products
like tobacco. In fact, look at this: one food company consultant was
asked about the food industry`s view of all these plans, and he told
Politico this week, it`s sort of a laundry list of everything the industry
didn`t want.

Michael, what we`ve been talking about and what you write on is what the
industry wants and how it does this. And Nikki was making the point in the
earlier segment about these racial disparities. So, I want to put up on
the screen here a chart that really speaks to this issue. We can see a
breakaway between how communities of colors and others communities are
doing obesity-wise. You can see it pretty clearly there. Two points are
made on that. Number one, that when many low income students end up in
school, sometimes that narrows a little bit as they have school lunches,
when they`re done the right way. And, second, the information that`s
actually provided, the marketing, etc., that you`ve been covering.

MOSS: The - You know, I looked really hard to see whether the companies,
the food giants were targeting kids by race through their formulations, and
I think they`re pretty color blind on that. I mean, they are hitting the
bliss point for sweetness, the flavor bursts for salt, the mal fuel for fat
regardless of race. But the marketing, the marketing that you see, the up
and down the street marketing which they refer to targeting the corner
stores that surround schools in many cities is clearly directed.

MELBER: Yeah, and what is the bliss point?

MOSS: The bliss point is the perfect amount of sugar in a product that
will send us over the moon. They`re products flying off the shelf. And
it`s not that they`ve just engineered it the bliss point for soda and ice
cream. They`ve marched around the store making things sweet that didn`t
used to be sweet before. So, now we`re all expecting sweetness in what we
eat. And for kids, when you drag their little butts over to the produce
aisle and try to get them to eat those Brussels sprouts and broccoli, and
they get those bitter notes, forget about it.

MELBER: Right. Brussels sprouts, by the way, have become a very trendy
adult vegetable in like cool cities. But it`s still hard to get kids to
eat them. You were saying, Marion?

NESTLE: Oh, I was just going to say the food companies market deliberately
to low income minority areas. They look at it as a market and it`s an
underserved market. And they put a lot of money into making sure that
their products are there, available and are explained to those communities
as being something that`s cool, sexy, and totally appropriate.

MELBER: Yeah. Isn`t that the battle? I mean we`re talking of an issue of
health and to some degree racial justice and we`ve got a battle between the
powers of very sophisticated Madison Avenue marketing versus government
regulated information. I want to put up a 2006 USDA report on this issue
that found a majority of consumers report using nutrition labels when
buying food. Use has declined for most labeled components, including the
nutrition facts panel, information about calories, fat, cholesterol and
sodium. The decrease in use for actually greatest for people 20 to 29 and
for those with no education beyond high school and those who were primarily
Spanish speakers. Nikki.

SILVESTRI: And that`s why it`s so important to look at the whole picture,
all right? Because when we talk about how childhood obesity decreased
among white children and not among children of color, part of the whole
picture is it if you have a single mother that`s working two different

MELBER: Right.

SILVESTRI: Who is only able to give her child five or $10 to buy lunch or
to buy snacks and you have marketing that is specifically targeted to low
income communities, then you have children that are unsupervised, that are
getting the only food that they have available to them, the food that gives
them a good feeling because of the bliss point and .

MELBER: Which I feel, by the way. I know about that bliss point. I have
hit it.


SILVESTRI: We all have that. We all have that bliss point.

MELBER: And yet without structure of when and how to do that and having
the right information, right, it goes from an occasional treat which is OK.
It`s OK to treat yourself sometimes, right?

MOSS: Of course.

MELBER: But a way of life right without the context.


MELBER: The other point I want to make, Michael, about trans fats is this
is an area where forcing the companies to list trans fats, and we know
this, here`s a 2013, a "New York Times" article talks about it. Forcing
the companies to list trans fats actually led to a change in market demand
that ultimately declined them wanting to put trans fats in foods. So,
there is a way this can work to a degree.

MOSS: These companies are really risk averse, is one thing I learned. I
was very surprised by that. And they`re very sensitive to sales drops.
The slightest drop in sales, so if we`re really reaching a tipping point
here where more and more people are caring about what they`re putting in
their bodies, and it translates into sales decisions, the companies will
try to respond, but I wanted to make a point about the nutritional facts
box. It actually - it makes my blood boil as we talked earlier because,
look, you know, that facts box came out in the `90s, right? And it`s tiny
print on the back of the package. Really hard for me to understand, not
most people, right? And, you know, the most important real estate on the
package is on the front and the companies totally control that. That`s
where they do their touting of low sugar, or low fat, or added calcium and
that`s what grabs people`s attention. But what really boils me is that way
back in 2003 it was none other than Kraft, the largest company of all, went
to the FDA begging them to let them make improvements, not just in the
nutrition facts box. In fact, many of the things that they`re proposing
now, but they actually wanted to put on the front of the packages total
calories as a warning to people. FDA blew them off and ten years have gone

MELBER: Right. And we know that can make a difference. There are local
cities that have taken that regulation approach and said when you go up and
you look at the product, the calories are right next to it. It is like
equal with the headline. That can be a very different message. I want us
to turn to also in the next block the legal piece of this, because there`s
some pretty interesting pursuits of big food as if it were big tobacco.
We`re going to bring in the lawyer who says state attorneys general should
go at the big food the way they once went at big tobacco. That`s next.


MELBER: We have a free market in the U.S., but that`s never meant
corporations are free to lie about their products or smear the science
about public health or they`re free to sell anything to anyone in any way.
Remember this iconic instance of congressional oversight? It was back in
`94. Congress summoned the top seven big tobacco executives to testify
about addiction in their products. One of big tobaccos big arguments that
day continues to echo now, 20 years later. The executives insisted their
products were no worse than junk food. Henry Waxman, the democratic chair
of the committee then tried to eviscerate that equivalency.


HENRY WAXMAN: This morning in your written statement and your oral
statement you compared cigarettes to coffee, tea, sweets, sugar, warm milk,
cheese, chocolate and Twinkies. That`s quite a list. I`m struck by what I
think is a calculated attempt to trivialize the devastating health impacts
of your product. You and I both know that Twinkies don`t kill a single
American a year. They may not add to a healthy diet, but they don`t kill.


MELBER: Or do they? Waxman was, of course, debating a skilled foe in a
national legal settlement where state prosecutors ultimately found tobacco
was addictive. That victory forced the companies to drop $368 billion.
Still, big tobacco`s Twinkie defense was good politics then. And today
it`s probably not good politics or science. Obesity-related illnesses now
outpace smoking as a larger driver of rising health care costs. And some
regulators are considering targeting big food and soda companies with the
same tactics they used then. Starting with the premise that a free market
doesn`t mean free reign to mislead the public or manipulate our nation`s
children. Now, one lawyer wants state attorneys generals to investigate
these companies and make them pay for all this health cost - Joining us
from Houston is a litigator, former food and tobacco attorney, Paul
McDonald. Welcome and what are you trying to do here?

PAUL MCDONALD, CNIL LITIGATOR: Good morning. What I`m trying to do here,
you made reference to the cost. Currently taxpayers bear 100 percent of
the costs associated with obesity related illnesses paid through Medicaid
and what I`m trying to do here is say that what we ought to look at is
whether or not the food manufacturers bear any responsibility. If they
bear more than zero responsibility then there`s a dividing line between
personal responsibility and their responsibility and whatever percentage
falls on them I think should be paid back to the taxpayers as opposed to
taxpayers bearing 100 percent of the costs.

MELBER: Don`t you have to get beyond, though, any cause or link or
addiction? I mean a health club can be addicting, selling music can be
addicting for a lot of us. Wasn`t there more to this case against big
tobacco than just that?

MCDONALD: Well, yes and no. I mean I think there are a couple of things.
I mean with the causal link isn`t just one of addiction although we do have
some evidence of addiction. And addiction-like properties with some types
of food. It`s also matter with the causal link to the illness. Because
what we`re paying for in Medicaid, of course, is the illness and the
treatment and the costs that go along with that. So, the causation issue
is one I think we can cess out especially if we do an investigation in
advance of filing any lawsuits, which is what I`m saying should be done.
An investigation into the industry documents talking to potential whistle
blowers .


MCDONALD: To identify whether or not there is something to go after. If
there`s not, we shouldn`t. But we should find that out and have that
information in the public sphere.

MELBER: Right. And your calls for investigation, we should not that,
definitely made some ways. Politico and other political media have
reported on that. I want to bring in our panel here and stay with us,
Paul. Marion, what we`re hearing here is an idea of regulatory approach
that`s backed by litigation. You`ve been talking as well about the role of
the FDA here, because some of this is picking up the slack where they`ve
been inactive?

NESTLE: Well, I think we need all of it. We need to look at what happened
with tobacco as a way to deal with some of these food issues because there
are many parallels. And that`s one way to deal with it. Another is what
Michelle Obama is trying to do in order to educate the public, reduce rates
of childhood obesity, and given the kind of push back that there is on
this, what she`s doing has to be understood in today`s politics as being
really courageous.

MELBER: Yeah, and Nikki, just briefly. What Paul`s calling for here goes
way farther than what the first lady is trying to do. Is that a matter of
practical Washington boundaries or do you think she should try to at least
give some voice of support for this effort?

SILVESTRI: I think that support of this effort is incredibly important.
Because when you look at the holistic solution, it needs to happen in
communities. Not only do we need to stop the bad stuff, but we need to
invest in a good stuff. And that money has to come from somewhere.

MELBER: So, let me go to Paul on that. Your thoughts? Your final

MCDONALD: Well, again, I mean I think this is part of an overall strategy.
I don`t think it`s one thing that has to be done as opposed to another. I
think it`s something that`s complementary. And again, my main concern and
what I`m trying to do is to make sure that taxpayers aren`t bearing 100
percent of the costs if that`s not what`s fair in the form of higher taxes
and reduced services or both.

MELBER: yeah, that makes sense. And you put it concisely. We`re going to
keep an eye on your effort and we`re glad to have you on MHP today. Thank

MCDONALD: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

MELBER: Yeah, thank you Paul McDonald in Texas. And here in New York, my
thanks to Marion Nestle, Nikki Silvestri and Michael Moss. This is a good
- really good conversation. I`m glad we would be able to do it. And up
next, I have something that I hope you want to hear. It`s for a friend of
ours. It`s my letter to former vice president Dick Cheney.


MELBER: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed some major reforms at the
Pentagon this week. The goal - to make a military that`s smaller and more
targeted. The plans includes eliminating a fleet of aircraft originally
designed to attack Soviet tanks, and saving $75 billion over the next two
years. Now, some Republicans seized on the plan to attack President Obama
and its fine to debate the military`s goals, but one top Republican, a
former defense secretary who styles himself as a hawk`s hawk came out of
retirement to blast the president in a misleading and I think toxic way.
So today, well, my letter is to former vice president Dick Cheney.

Dear Mr. Vice President, it`s me, Ari. We haven`t heard from you in a
while, but you just called in to Fox News about the president`s plan.


DICK CHENEY, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT: By budget considerations. I`d much
rather spend the money on food stamps than he would a strong military or
support for our troops.

MELBER: Would he? Let`s start with the false choice here. Our soldiers
or our food stamps. Mr. Vice President, we live in a nation where many of
our soldiers and military families are using food stamps. Military
families spend $100 million in SNAP benefits on site at military bases
every year. In any given month, here`s some facts for you. About 900,000
veterans live in households that use food stamps or SNAP. And we should
work towards an economy where our veterans have enough money that they
don`t need SNAP, but right now they do. Mr. Cheney, under your false
choice you wouldn`t be picking soldiers over food stamps, you`d be picking
weapons systems over the many soldiers on food stamps, but you know that.
So why did you grab this comparison out of the thin Wyoming air? Well,
it`s an all too common habit among GOP politicians. Here was Newt Gingrich
in 2011.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER: You want to be a country that
creates food stamps, in which case, frankly, Obama is an enormous success.
The most successful food stamp president (INAUDIBLE). Or do we want to be
a country that creates paychecks.


MELBER: That is another false choice. Well, SNAP benefits are vital to
many people who are out of work, sure. One out of three households using
SNAP include working adults. But their wages do not pay them enough to
survive. That`s key to the minimum wage debate. If people who work are
starving, do we want to subsidize them with benefits or require companies
to pay a living wage? Well, that came up when governors visited the White
House this very week with a twist.


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, (R) LOUISIANA: What I worry about, I heard a question
over here about whether you`ve mentioned the minimum wage. Yes, he did
mention the minimum wage repeatedly to us. And what I worry about is that
this president and the White House seems to be waiving the white flag of
surrender after five, more than five years now of this administration, the
Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better
than that.


MELBER: The minimum wage economy. Now listen close. That is meant as
some kind of slur, but in a regulated market economy a large share of
workers will always be paid the minimum regulated wage. And while the
president is the one trying to make that a living wage, in this Cheney,
Gingrich, Jindal worldview simply thinking about that income bracket is
suspect. There`s a sense of contempt here for the president`s focus on
such Americans. The minimum wage workers or the people using SNAP. And
there`s a rhetorical attempt to disappear the more popular members of these
groups, like veterans from the political mental image. So, Mr. Cheney, I
don`t imagine you or Governor Jindal would criticize the president for,
say, focusing on our veterans on food stamps or our veterans living on
minimum wage though they are part of these groups just the same. Yet you
seem to think you can smear President Obama by associating him with a group
of Americans disfavored in your political imagination regardless of the
data and maybe you think that passes as weighing in on this public policy.
And you know, there was a time when that kind of double barreled military
welfare politicking helped Republicans win presidential elections, but it
hasn`t worked since -- well, it hasn`t worked since you were still in the
White House, and you know that, too. Sincerely, Ari.


MELBER: Among those at the White House Thursday for the launch of
President Obama`s initiative, "My Brother Keeper" were the parents of two
teenaged boys whose death have refocused the president`s and much of the
nation`s attention on the fight of too many young man of color. Jordan
Davis`s parents, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis were there to hear the
president speak about what he called "the moral facing our country helping
young man of color succeed." There was also Sybrina Fulton and Tracy
Martin, the parents of Trayvon Martin and their presence was more than
symbolic as President Obama noted.


OBAMA: In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict with all the
emotions and controversy that it sparked, I spoke about the need to bolster
and reinforce our young men and give them the sense that their country
cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them.


MELBER: Cares about them and values them? Well, "My Brother`s Keeper"
launched one day after the two year anniversary of Trayvon Martin`s death.
Trayvon`s parents will be joining Jordan Davis`s parents again on March
10th for a rally in the march to the Florida statehouse in Tallahassee to
launch their own campaign, a national self-defense campaign to challenge
barriers in the justice system. We`re shining a light on that because they
argue that they want to put and keep people of color in this conversation
and the way the law works. And to mark the two years since Trayvon
Martin`s death, msnbc.com national reporter, our colleague Trymaine Lee
decided to shine his own light on economic inequality and racial strife,
which haunts Sanford, Florida, of course, the town where Trayvon was shot
and killed. It is my honor to introduce our guests, MSNBC.com national
reporter, Trymaine Lee, Global Grind editor-in-chief Michael Skolnik who
was at the White House for that event, as well as Juan Cartagena, excuse
me, President General Council of Latino Justice and poet and actor Bryonn
Bain who`s the author of the "Ugly Side of Beautiful: Rethinking Race in
Prisons in America." Trymaine, I want to start with you. Because you`ve
been doing this reporting. Tell us what you found when you went down

TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC.COM: Two years later, this community, basically
Goldsboro, the historic African American community is still reeling not
just from the spotlight shown down on it after the Trayvon Martin killing
in the case, but they`ve been reeling from centuries of economic
oppression, social oppression. So while the community is still galvanizing
after the cameras have gone, after, you know, national spotlight has gone,
they`re still struggling in so many ways. And I think that`s indicative of
the kinds of issues that brought this entire thing to light. Once Trayvon
Martin was killed, they were the first ones to protest. And when we came
down and we started talking to people in the community layer after layer of
saying there have been issues with the police, there have been issues with
employment, there have been issues with incarceration and overzealous
policing in the community, so they say.

MELBER: And Michael, you were there. You have also been close to these
victims` families. I want to read from something Tanaheesee (ph) coach
wrote after interviewing Lucia McBath. She said you exist, you matter.
You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your
music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you and no one
should deter you from being you. You have to be you and you can never be
afraid of being you.

going to discuss this particular issue today, and they say never cry on
television, but I have to say, you know they, what the president did on
Thursday acknowledging the pain of two families who have lost their child
to senseless violence, and not just on Thursday, what he did a year ago in
the State of the Union by putting Hadiya Pendleton`s parents in the box
next to the first lady and recognizing the pain of black families who lose
their children as just as equal as the pain of white families. And
furthermore, then to launch an initiative and saying that young men of
color are of value. And we have to lift them up, and as a white American,
if the most vulnerable people in this country are young men of color, it is
in our best interests as white people that this program succeeds, this
country can truly prosper.

MELBER: Yeah, and I want to go to Bryonn briefly and we`re going to
continue this discussion after the break. What we saw there was a
juxtaposition that nobody wanted to make for policy or political or any
other reason, but an undeniable juxtaposition between the young men who
graduated that program and that the president highlighted and the young man
whose lives were cut short.

BRYONN BAIN, AUTHOR: Right. I think it points to the fact that we need to
change the narrative that the country is embraced in many ways around black
and around youth. If black children are four times as likely to be born
into poverty, are they to blame for that? You know, this can point to
that, but we need to actually embrace not just the critique of personal
responsibility, but also political accountability to these communities that
have been marginalized and disenfranchised in a systemic way for so long.
That`s where this leading to, for it to be effective, we need to broaden
the analysis I think in that direction.

MELBER: Yeah. I mean I think that`s the issue. We`re going to take a
short break and come back and do a lot more on this, get in all of our
guests, but also really look at what you just put your finger on, which is
what is an historic legacy of inequality and what is ongoing systemic
discrimination today and hearing the president talk about this and as
detailed as we`ve heard him in the second term was really striking. So,
coming up, next it is the president`s deeply personal message. Young man
of color, as I mentioned, in response from Fox News Channel`s Bill
O`Reilly, which is not just trolling because the president and Valerie
Jarrett invited Bill O`Reilly to be there. So, we`re going to look at that
which is important. And this one you`re going to have to see. On Justin
Bieber`s birthday, a closer look at the rising stars of hip-hop, the
question of race and yes, cultural appropriation. It`s "Nerdland" and
that`s at the top of the hour.


MELBER: Welcome. I am Ari Melber, in for Melissa Harris-Perry.

Now, you may have seen this striking photo in your newsfeed this week -- a
line of young black and brown men standing at attention with President
Obama at the White House. This was moments before the president put
attention on them when announcing a new policy.

President Obama did something I think pretty remarkable on Thursday. He
took on the undertow that pulls down so many young men of color in our
society, and he argued that systemic inequities and racism should not be
stuck below the surface of our discourse and our politics. This was not an
announcement about how policies that help all Americans will also help poor
Americans, although that`s fine, or how all policies that deal with
unemployment help all African-Americans. This was an address for young men
of color specifically, and the president spoke about two kinds of

First, those related to the historic impacts of Jim Crow and slavery.
These are areas where black men started out behind and remained often
behind -- take unemployment -- 5 percent for white men roughly, but 12
percent for black men and about 8 percent for Latino men. Among 16 to 24-
year-olds not enrolled in school fewer than half have jobs, and about a
third are in prison or jailed or on provision or paroled.

Those are long term and persistent inequities.

And then the president addressed a second category. Systemic racism that
operates today holding young men of color back even when their work or
their conduct or their choices are the same as other Americans.

Look at smoking weed for example. Black and white people use pot at
similar rates. But black Americans are three times as likely as white
people to be arrested for marijuana or look at what happens when you mess
around in school or cut class and get into a fight which is something we
know a lot of kids do sooner or later.

Well, today, black and Latino students face disproportionate levels of
discipline for similar conduct. They make up more than 70 percent of all
students referred to law enforcement. According to the Department of
Education, we look at this, black students are 3 1/2 times more likely to
be expelled than white students.

Now, only about half of all black, Latino and Native American boys graduate
from high school on time. After citing just some of those statistics
himself this week at the White House, President Obama said this.


BARACK OBAMA: And the worst part is, we`ve become numb to these
statistics. We`re not surprised by them. We take them as the norm. We
just assume this is an inevitable part of American life instead of the
outrage that it is.


That`s how we think about it.


MELBER: Amen to that. And that outrage is partly why on Thursday, the
president introduced My Brother`s Keeper. This is the new White House
initiative meant to help young men of color.


BARACK OBAMA: But the plain fact is there are some Americans who in the
aggregate are consistently doing worse in our society. Groups that have
had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique
solutions. Groups who have seen fewer opportunities that have spanned
generations and by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of
the most severe challenges in the 21st century, in this country, are boys
and young men of color.


MELBER: And because Congress has been mostly a roadblock, the White House
is going forward with an executive task force and a coordinated plan with
private and nonprofit investments. That includes Michael Bloomberg and
nine other initial funders. The financial goal: $350 million over the next
five years to address these obstacles.

But there`s something bigger here. The policy goal is to spotlight and
scale local programs that work like the Becoming a Man initiative in
Chicago for local support and funding from government and civic leaders
around the country, that kind of leadership. Now, it may be a sign of
racial progress that the president`s effort here on Thursday drew a lot of
praise and, to be fair, very few direct attacks from congressional

Some critics, however, say it is still problematic that this emphasis on
civil rights had to wait until the second term, that far more spending is
require at the local level. And some say that yet again, the political
rules for these kind of programs seem to always require a certain kind of
rhetoric when announcing any remedial measures.


BARACK OBAMA: Part of my message, part of our message in this initiative
is no excuses. It may be hard, but you will have to reject the cynicism
that says the circumstances of your birth or society`s lingering injustices
necessarily define you and your future. It will take courage, but you will
have to tune out the naysayers that say the deck is stacked against you,
you might as well just give up, or settle into the stereotype.


MELBER: Joining us now for this conversation, MSNBC national reporter
Trymaine Lee, Global Grind editor in chief Michael Skolnik, who is at My
Brother`s Keeper event, Latino Justice president and general counsel, Juan
Cartagena, and author and artist, Bryonn Bain.

I want Bryonn Bain.

I want to welcome all of you.

Juan, I want to start with you. Your take on what we heard from the
president this week and what it means.

JUAN CARTAGENA, LATINOJUSTICE: Refreshing, energizing and motivating.
This is exactly why we elect people that look like us to public office
because they experience exactly what Mr. Obama did when he was younger and
they`re able to move.

What we need to do is make sure the speaker of the House and the president
of the Senate are talking about the same thing because Congress is the
biggest roadblock here. We created decades of focus on conflating youth,
criminal behavior and race, mostly through congressional policies. We have
to fix that. It`s going to take a long time.

MELBER: And, Bryonn, I want to dip into that tension I just talked about
between systemic racism that continues and personal conduct. The president
was threading a needle. Take a listen to what he said about his own


BARACK OBAMA: I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking
about the harm that it could do. I didn`t always take school as seriously
as I should have. I made excuses. After I was finished, the guy sitting
next to me said, are you talking about you?


I said, yes.

And the point was, I could see myself in these young men.


MELBER: Part of what he was alluding to was that he made some of those
mistakes but didn`t bear the full brunt in his Hawaiian upbringing. These
are his words. Of the type of racialized and unfair policing that exists
in so many parts of this country today.

BRYONN BAIN, ARTIST: Yes. And I think his emphasis is of value. I want
to expand on no excuses because that speaks to me in a different way. I
think there`s no excuse that we build prisons based on fourth grade test
scores. There`s no excuse that we`re putting five year old and six year
old boys and girls in Georgia and Florida in handcuffs, right?

So, we need to expand that no excuses paradigm from the individual to
institutional level for it to have impact. And I think a big part of this
is looking for what`s happening to folks who are currently incarcerated or
formerly incarcerated to get the strategies for how this initiative can
move forward in a really productive way.

LEE: I think the thing about it is that narrative of this in-depth kind of
criminalized class of people, it`s not just in our policies, but it`s your
school principal. It`s the police officer on the corner. It`s the
manager. It`s the hiring manager.

And so, what the president did is by addressing these institutional
systemic issues is bring to light how pervasive it really is. And I think
that`s where we`re going to struggle. And he has cover. And partly
because of the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis cases, a year before Trayvon
Martin was killed, the CDC was saying, look at these double digit black
unemployment rates. Can you do something?

And he could say a rising tide lifts all boats. But after the Trayvon
Martin killing and thousands of black and brown people, and other people,
white students, took to the streets and demanded action and demanded a
brighter light on some of the issues that impact this group -- he said, I
can`t deny that. So, he stands up and says, Trayvon Martin could have been
my son and he looks like me.

MELBER: Yes, I got to tell you, I`ve been following, like a lot of us, the
president for a long time, I remember being on the plane when he was
running in the first presidential campaign in 2008. He obviously had this
fight in him and he obviously spoke about it.

But I don`t think it`s an unfair criticism to note that he spoke about it
almost always universalistically when he could. We understand that and
that`s fine. But at a certain point, if you don`t have any women on the
board and you want women on the board, you can`t just say, well, good
education will result in this.

At a certain point, if you look at the numbers that we`re talking about,
Michael, and you say, oh, I smoked pot, you smoked pot, under our rules in
the aggregate, there is a far greater likelihood, 3.7 times more likely
that someone like you is going to get busted for that than someone like me,
we can`t just deal with that by talking about good policing. We need to
talk about directly stopping discrimination.

SKOLNIK: Absolutely. The thing the president did here that`s really good,
the thing we didn`t have before and why you pointed to it, the lack of
Congress support. So, he went out to the public and private sector and
said, you guys support me. They`re not going to give me any money, they`re
not going to support me. So, you support me.

So here, you know, California Endowment and the Ford Foundation, McArthur,
and Kellogg put up $350 million to support this endeavor and looking at
very specific solutions to these problems. Third grade reading levels,
juvenile justice reform, school suspensions and discipline.

So, saying to America, here`s how we can fix this problem. It`s not just a
problem we have to fix, here`s how we can do it, here are the solutions to
do it, now I have people behind me who are going to support me. Hopefully,
that $350 million becomes $700 million, $1.5 billion, $2.5 billion, more
investment from private and public partnerships.

CARTAGENA: The issue is as well that the institutions in our country are
slowly finally realizing the therapeutic nature of what we`re dealing with.
We`re talking about a cohort of 16 to 20-year-olds. Many of whom are now
get caught up in the criminal justice system, and the human mind, the
Supreme Court is speaking about brain development in young people as a way
to ensure both rejecting capital punishment and life without parole.

We`re finally getting these institutions to talk and to address the issue.
What we need now is our elected officials, all of them, not just the
president, to line up and do this.

BAIN: I want to back Juan on that, but also makes that the importance of
the grassroots organizations that have been doing these work on the ground
for so long cannot be neglected. We need Congress and the Supreme Court to
be on board.

We also have folks in the projects, folks in the prisons who are actually
doing this work on a daily basis, who often get overlooked by these kinds
of initiatives. So, I want to make sure that we bring the Center for New
Leadership, we bring the anti-recidivism coalition from New York to L.A.,
across the country, who are doing this work, who are often get out of this,
to make sure they`re part of the conversation that are informing their best
practices into this next step.

MELBER: Yes. And, Bryonn, when you look at prison and your work there,
the president and Eric Holder have been doing a tremendous amount on
reforming the approach within the law to the incarceration crisis in this
country. We`re actually going to talk more about that tomorrow. But we`ll
be remiss if we didn`t mention here.

BAIN: Yes. Well, Clinton cut the education programs in 1994. And that
was, I mean, a travesty. So, I think that`s something that needs to be

This week, Governor Cuomo was launching an RFP, to return college programs
in New York state. That needs to happen across the country. The Ford
Foundation has an initiative on the West Coast, in California. That needs
to happen here.

MELBER: Say what Cuomo is doing.

BAIN: So, Cuomo was actually -- on Monday morning, these RFP releases, to
actually return the college education programs that were cut 20 years ago
by Clinton under the Crime Control Act. So, that is actually something
that we`ve only had private funding backing that. It needs to be a
public/private partnership.

MELBER: What struck me about the governor`s remarks on that that relate to
all of this is he said, if you look at the data and you educate people
while they`re incarcerated, they have less recidivism. Let`s do that
rather than politicking, and saying that anyone who has ended up in prison
for any reason, we give up on them forever.

We`re going to stay on this. When we come back, we have FOX News Channel`s
Bill O`Reilly. He has suggestions for the president. It involves Jay-Z.
He was talking to Valerie Jarrett. It`s the kind of thing we think you
might want to hear.


MELBER: One of those invited to the White House Thursday to see the launch
of My Brother`s Keeper initiative was our guest today, Michael Skolnik of
GlobalGrind.com, and hip-hop fame.

And also in that standing room-only crowd, well, FOX News anchor, Bill
O`Reilly. Yes, even the president found some humor there.


BARACK OBAMA: And, you know, if I can -- if I can persuade, you know,
Sharpton and O`Reilly to be in the same meeting --


Then it means that -- then it means that there are people of good faith who
want to get some stuff done, even if we don`t agree on everything. And
that`s our focus.


MELBER: Even if we don`t agree on anything -- I would say even if we don`t
agree on everything. My question for Bill is do they agree on anything?
O`Reilly actually went on and spoke with presidential advisor Valerie
Jarrett and offered one of his solutions for the problems plaguing young
people of color.


BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS: Now, I submit to you that you`re going to have to
get people like Jay-Z, Kanye West, all of these gangster rappers to knock
it off. You`ve got a barrage, barrage, barrage, and make it uncomfortable
to have a baby out of wedlock, make it uncomfortable to sell drugs. You`ve
got to reverse the peer pressure. You see where I`m coming from here?


MELBER: You see where I`m coming from. Yes, Bill, we see you.

Gentlemen, what did you make of that?

BAIN: Wow. Wow. I mean, Kanye West as a gangster rapper, that`s a new
one off the bat, you know?


BAIN: But I just think he`s so misguided in his analysis of what`s
happening, you know? The Correctional Association of New York has over 70
years of data, showing the roots of some of these problems and it doesn`t
start with Jay-Z and Kanye at all, you know? We have a serious problem.
We have more people in prison than any other country in the world, and we
want to start with the rappers, you know, who are the low-hanging fruit for
him to go after. I think that`s ridiculous to me.

MELBER: In the media, there`s a technical term for this, when you have to
deal with Bill O`Reilly remarks. It`s a quadruple fact check, because it`s
wrong in like four ways.

But let`s just deal with, as you said. A, Kanye and Jay-Z not gangster
rappers, just catch up your terminology from the `90s, like work with us.

B, Jay-Z is the American story, right? That`s why he was campaigning with
the president. He overcame adversity. The last time I checked, he is pro-
fatherhood, has a child in wedlock and talks a lot about respecting his
beautiful wife.

I don`t mean to be getting up here and be too defensive of Jay-Z, Michael,
but there is a problem when the very examples the right seizes on in
crossover diverse American cultural actually don`t reflect the point
they`re trying to make.

SKOLNIK: When I first saw this I was so offended by his lack of
sensitivity to where America is today, but then I actually -- when I see
this again I think to myself, these guys are old and they`re dying, and
they`re not going to be around as a new America emerges and that`s what the
president put forth on Thursday, which is idea of a new America, where
we`re going to take care of everyone. We`re going to focus on everyone,
whether you`re black, whether you`re white, or Latino, gay, straight,
documented, undocumented, we are going to fight for you and we`re going to
take care of you.

And if you want to put Jay-Z and Kanye West as the problem, gangster
culture didn`t create kids who can`t eat. Gangster culture didn`t create
kids who can`t have clothes when it`s cold inside. Gangster culture didn`t
create low third grade reading levels.

Actually, gangster culture might have done that, but it wasn`t hip-hop. It
was the gangster of corporations that profit off of the destruction of
urban communities, the private prison industry. These corporations
continue to profit and if the president can break that, then we have some

BAIN: Two judges in Pennsylvania indicted for selling kids -- selling kids
to youth detention facilities. That`s gangster. That`s really gangster,
you know?

I mean, we want to not look at the systemic short falls.

MELBER: You`re talking about a case and a documentary where the for-profit
prison industry was in cahoots with the judge sending minors --

BAIN: Kids for cash.


Trymaine, what about the point Michael raises, this isn`t only race, it`s
also age?

LEE: I think not only is it age. But this is to piggyback on what you are
talking about. It`s a political smoke screen. And what`s troubling is it
plays well into the base. So, meanwhile, we can deflect attention and say
it`s because of rappers and we don`t have to get busy in the real work.

MELBER: And yet, Juan, what you saw here was Valerie did go and do the
interview. She actually doesn`t do a ton of these interviews. She sat
down with the Rev, she sat down with Chuck Todd, and she sat down with Bill
O`Reilly and said no to a lot of other people. She found some reason that
they wanted to engage with Bill O`Reilly.

CARTAGENA: Well, you know, the fact is, at one point, we all are surprised
that he was at the White House. The real question is you give him his five
minutes, again, of fame.

But in many ways, racism permeates all of these issues. You remember when
Congress was dealing with issues of violence, particularly drumming up
these images of gangsters and everything, gangs in general for people of
color youth. At the same time, they were also looking at the issues
shootings in suburban schools, most about whites. The conversation and
discourse for that latter example was therapy. How do we deal with these


CARTAGENA: When it came to issues of people of color who are young, the
issues were excessive sentencing, more harsher penalties. I mean, that`s
what we`re dealing with. If you`re finding the president talking about
these issues in a very clear way both talking about race and its
manifestations across the institutions.

MELBER: Yes. I know there`s silver lining there and I don`t think the
rapper counterpunch is working as well, although they had Bill at the White
House. We talk about, Michael had mentioned, we`ll talk about it later.
Not a lot of people were sitting next to him in the crowd. We can get to

Juan Cartagena and Trymaine Lee, thank you very much.

I want to let everyone know about Trymaine`s work here. He is taking
questions about the White House initiative, My Brother`s Keeper, and his
reporting on social justice issues on MSNBC.com. You can go there to Web
site, or to MHPShow.com and get what you need.

Now, when we come back, we`re going to talk more about race and music. The
hottest new video from one of music`s biggest stars and I will say it.
You`re going to have to see it to believe it.


MELBER: Got a question for you. Are you a Belieber? Do you ever Bieber
fever? If so, this is a big week for you and really for the entire
entertainment news world. This is the week the long awaited new video
featuring international teen superstar Justin Bieber was released. Bieber
went from YouTube sensation to a platinum selling single, selling millions
-- 5 million copies on the first full length album if I remember right.

And then he went to canceling many appearances because of unruly crowds of
teen girls creating dangerous conditions, and starring in movies like
"Never Say Never" and "Believe". Bieber`s new video shows off new moves
that fans and reporters have been asking to see for months, moves like the
sobriety test walk and the pushup performed here in a police department
holding cell.

It looks like he does 23 in this scene. Today, Justin Bieber turns 20.
With the mug shot an official part of his headshot portfolio, he`s made a
move from teen idol to an adult with a different and increasingly edgy

This is not just tabloid fodder though, folks. Our culture`s view of
Bieber`s problems with the law and his personal and commercial desire to
invoke some aspects of rap in street life -- well, they open up questions
on how far we`ve come in race and culture and I think in America today.
And yet again, we see some people who want to put hip-hop on trial
literally. We`ll explain.

Next up at the table we have rap perfect and musician Talib Kweli.


MELBER: On Tuesday, the 11th judicial circuit of Florida will continue its
hearing on Justin Bieber`s January 23rd arrest for driving under the
influence, driving with an invalid license and resisting arrest.

Now, no stranger to music star bad boy behavior itself and no less a
cultural critic than Sharon Osborne weighed in last summer on Bieber`s
recent image change, telling "The Daily Beast" that, quote, "He doesn`t
realize he`s white and not black." I`ll put a big end quote on that.

Now don`t take Sharon Osborne`s word for it. Last October, Justin Bieber
himself told "The Hollywood Reporter", quote, "I`m very influenced by black
culture but I don`t think of it as black or white," end quote. There`s a
lot to unpack in a seemingly contradictory statement. But for now, we`re
going to skip that part and look at what Bieber has opened himself up to
because of his look and his lyrics and scenes of his music videos.

There are here serious accusations of cultural misappropriation. Now, of
course, Bieber is not the only white artist who`s worked to break into a
traditionally African-American genre. It`s a music industry technique that
we know dates back at least to Elvis Presley and today, there are white
artists who garner commercial success while piling on critical acclaim.
Rapper Eminem has won 15 Grammy Awards for his music, including six for
best rap album.

And in January, Macklemore and partner Ryan Lewis swept four award
categories at the Grammy`s which included beating Jay-Z, Drake, Kanye West
and Kendrick Lamar for best rap album.

Even Macklemore himself thought that that win against those competitors was
somewhat questionable and following the awards you may have heard about
this he posted a picture to his Instagram account of a text message that he
send to Kendrick Lamar that read partly, quote, "You got robbed. I wanted
you to win. You should have. It`s weird and sucks that I robbed you."

And that text set off a whole new barrage of criticism. "New York Times"
cultural John Karaminika wrote about that text and he wrote, "`I robbed
you` is a strikingly powerful phrase in this context. A white artist
muscling into a historically black genre, essentially uninvited, taking its
laurel in a nutshell, this is the entire cycle of racial borrowing in an
environment of white privilege, black art, white appropriation, while
guilt, repeat until there`s nothing left to appropriate."

That`s a lot to unpack and we have a lot of good people to unpack it.

With us to discuss -- race, rap and cultural appropriations, Seema Iyer,
former prosecutor who practices criminal defense and civil rights law; and
Michael Skolnik, political director to rap mogul Russell Simmons, among
other things. And one-half of Black Star, Talib Kweli, musician and
creator of Kweli.com: plus, poet and prison activist Bryonn Bain.

Welcome to you all. Talib, your thoughts on that controversy?

TALIB KWELI, MUSICIAN: I thought you were going to ask me about Bieber. I
was scared.


KWELI: They brought me here to talk about, Justin Bieber.

You know, first of all, I`m uniquely qualified to speak on Macklemore and
hip-hop because Macklemore and Ryan Lewis graciously took me on their tour.
We did 40 dates sold out everywhere.

Macklemore told me when he was first nominated for the Grammy, he was like,
you know, I might win and that`s going to be a problem, you know? You
mentioned the word "white privilege" has become a buzzword for liberals and
forward-thinking people. Macklemore, when he was going by the name
professor Macklemore has a record called "White Privilege".

That`s the name of a song. He deals directly with him and Eminem and he
deals with white privilege head on in a more honest way than I`ve heard any
white artist deal with.

MELBER: You mentioned that. We brought the lyrics because it`s that kind
of show.

KWELI: Good. I`m glad you want it.

MELBER: I`m not going to rap it. Let me read from it. This is
Macklemore`s 2005 song.

Where`s my place in the music that`s been taken by my race. Culturally
appropriated by the white face? We don`t want to admit that this is
existing. So scared to acknowledge the benefits of our white privilege.

KWELI: Right. So, some people think that his text to Kendrick was corny.
Some people think his text to Kendrick was completely sincere. But I see
it as an artist who realizes his position and in his culture and is doing
everything in his power that he can do.

You know, he can`t not be white. So --

BAIN: This is the history of black music and culture, right, in this
country, even before Elvis, you know? I mean, blues was called the devil`s
music when . When the white man performed it, and when the white artist
embraced, it was celebrated.

Jazz was seen as a low are form. There were legal cases where the
community sued the jazz clubs because they don`t want the jazz to get into
the babies, you know? And then, now you hard-pressed to find a jazz band
in New York City, that`s all black, you know?

So, that`s part of the history, what Spike Lee called it, the Christopher
Columbus effect, the gentrification. It`s certainly happened in hip hop in
the last 10 years. But hip hop also at its roots was a diverse art form.
Black and Latino male stories primarily, but they were folks who were doing
everything, you know?

I look at Jeff Chan on the West Coast, you know, saying, as being somebody
who`s been, has a respect and honors the art, the culture and craft.

MELBER: And yet, some of this does relate to power and addition. It`s not
only about any individual artist, Macklemore, Eminem or whoever else. You
know, Jay-Z spoke about this back when the Grammy`s were trying give out
rap awards without putting it on TV, and Jay-Z, I don`t think is a racial
matter or otherwise. As a matter of power and business, which is something
he does know about.

He said, "I`m boycotting the Grammys because too many major rap artists
continue to be overlooked. Rappers deserve more attention from the Grammy
committee and from the whole world. If it`s got a gun, everybody knows
about it. If we go on a world tour, no one knows."

SKOLNIK: I think that was part of the disappointment and the anger and
frustrations that came out of the Grammy`s and understand that folks, we
knew Kendrick`s album was a better rap album than Macklemore`s album.
Macklemore made a great album, not sure it should be in the rap category,
but we knew Kendrick`s album was a better rap album.

And the fact that the Grammys had that kind of power to place that award in
Macklemore hands instead of Kendrick`s hands made a lot of people upset.

MELBER: When you say we, I`m going to jump in.

SKOLNIK: The hip-hop generation.

MELBER: Yes, I think, not only we, a lot of the musical discussion.
That`s Macklemore`s premise. He was saying before, during and after he
agreed with that.

SKOLNIK: Certainly. I think what`s amazing and inspiring and interesting
about the generation is that these are conversations that Talib said about
white privilege and racial appropriation and the new America, these are
conversations that we want to have. They are hard conversations, they`re
painful conversation, but as the first inclusive generation, these are
conversations that we want to have.

KWELI: Yes. I totally agree. I think that, you know, the Grammys when
you look at something the scale of the Grammys, anyone who`s shocked at the
Grammys going to the most popular white rapper of the day, I have a bridge
to sell you.

The Grammys have been extremely consistent. The last time the Grammys
surprised me was when they gave Herbie Hancock an award, you know what I`m


KWELI: That`s (INAUDIBLE), I`m thinking `08.

But the Grammy`s have been extremely consistent of appealing to mainstream,
which another word for that is white America. And Macklemore and Ryan
Lewis album appear to mainstream America way more than Kendrick Lamar is.
But it shows ignorance about hip-hop as a culture for the Grammys to make
that decision so cluelessly.

SEEMA IYER, ATTORNEY: Now, I know I was brought on here specifically for
my expertise in Bollywood rap, but I`d really like to open up the
conversation to you gentlemen.

Do you agree though that when you speak about the Grammys, there is some
type of hierarchy in terms of hip-hop and rap? There are different forms
and sometimes, people look at the Grammy`s like it`s so commercialized and
that`s why no one surprised when a white artist gets the award.

KWELI: Well, I think everybody was shocked that Macklemore got it this
year. I think that people -- the general consensus of hip-hop is that
Kendrick Lamar had the best album of the year. And if that`s not the
consensus, people feel like the Drake album, Kanye album, the Jay-Z album
all better than --

IYER: And more authentic rap.

KWELI: More authentic. I mean, that`s the general consensus. But that
doesn`t take anything away from what Macklemore does or what his audience
that supported him has done, because his fans and his consumers put him in
that position.


KWELI: You know, he reached out to his audience, and the people voted with
their dollars. I think that it speaks to the same type of ignorance that
allows Bill O`Reilly to call Kanye West a gangster rapper, by separating
it. Even Kanye has plenty of Grammys, too.

BAIN: I think it`s definitely -- I`m more interested in what`s happening
in hip-hop at the independent level. I think his statement about doing
this with direct label was meaningful to me and to a lot of people --

KWELI: That`s the story of the year.

BAIN: That`s the story that hasn`t been told.

MELBER: What do you mean?

KWELI: That`s the story of the year, is that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis did
not do this with a major label. They did it on their own with their own
label and it got so powerful where they had to employ Warner Brothers to
promote their records. Me as an independent artist, you know, me as an
artist without a label and all these independent underground rap artists,
we should be paying attention to the blueprint that Macklemore and Ryan
Lewis set up rather than the racial overtones of them winning a Grammy.

MELBER: I appreciate that point, and it also goes to whether your
commercial strategy fits with your lyrics and your independence which is
something he cares about. You, for a long time, have been known as a
conscious rapper, maybe incomplete term. I had to find out if I was going
to be a street pundit or conscious pundit.

SKOLNIK: I know it was hard. I know it was hard.

MELBER: Oh, man, sorry. Sorry, everyone.

KWELI: That was a good one.

MELBER: Talib said it was good.

All right. Please everyone --

BAIN: He co-signed. (INAUDIBLE) a do rag on.

MELBER: We may have to cut it off here. No, I`m kidding. We`re going to
stay on this.

When we come back, this is an interesting angle here. There`s another
legal matter that goes to these questions. Are rap lyrics admissible in a
criminal trial? Why that matters, up next.


MELBER: Jay-Z`s 1999 album, "Volume 3: Life and Times of Sean Carter", he
raps, "How come you label your brand a dope `Volume 1` and spread it
through the slums. Fed it to the young with total disregard. Your honor,
the state seeking the maximum charge."

What`s going on there? Well, in that song, "Dope Man", Jay-Z`s music is
metaphorically on trial. He`s lucky enough to come away with a not guilty
verdict. But in real life, it turns out hip-hop artist find themselves
having their music on trial associated with criminality, whether it is
being blamed for encouraging youth to engage in criminal behavior, like we
were talking about with O`Reilly, or as literally evidence probative of
criminal acts.

That`s what happened in the 2008 case, state of New Jersey versus Skinner.
Skinner was accused of attempted murder. And to show evidence of his
propensity of crime, the prosecution read 13 pages of his rap lyrics that
he wrote to the jury. The lyrics contain no reference to the victim or
specifics about the crime. Most were actually years old.

But according to the lower courts, they helped convinced the jury to
convict Skinner. His case was appealed, overturned. And now, it`s
actually heading to the state Supreme Court on Monday. The New Jersey
Appeals Court wrote in that decision I mentioned overturning the
conviction, quote, "We have significant doubt about whether the jurors
would have found defendant guilty if they have not been required to listen
to the extended reading of these disturbing and prejudicial lyrics."

I want to go right to Seema.

You`ve been a prosecutor and a defense attorney.

Briefly, under evidence law, you don`t get to bring in things like this
that are, (a), likely fictitious or artistic and, (b), not relevant be to
directly proving the crime.

IYER: Unless they go to a material issue in the case, such as in this case

MELBER: Broadly though. Not this case, though. Broadly.

IYER: Any case. Motive, intent, identity -- those are reasons why it
would come in. In this --

MELBER: But, generally, before we get there, what I`m asking you is,
generally, do you get to bring in something that you wrote about, say,

IYER: No. If that`s your question, no.

MELBER: Lawyer to lawyer pressing you is, what we`re talking about here
and the reason why it`s concerning, I want to go back to you is, something
that sounds like a hip-hop exception.

IYER: Right, but you`re saying fiction. That was the argument of the
court. The state agreed. The court that overturned the case said fiction.

But the trial court didn`t say fiction. That`s the question of fact of
whether it was fiction or not.

MELBER: Talib?

KWELI: Tat`s where you get into the issue of rappers -- in this case, it`s
amateur rappers -- have the same rights as everybody else. For it to be
presented in a court case that some gangster horror rap lyrics that were in
someone`s car five years ago can at all be considered anything but fiction
speaks to a very, very dangerous prejudice against overwhelmingly young men
of color.

IYER: You are correct in this case because it could have been fiction, the
lyrics were written three to four years prior to the incident.


MELBER: Right. Not just this case -- let`s go broader. I don`t think
people know the Skinner case alone. The point is that it`s up to be

But as a legal matter, let`s look at what the ACLU found. In the 18 times
that they`ve looked at a set of cases where lyrics were considered in
court, 80 percent of the time the lyrics were admitted.

And, Michael, my premise here and I feel strongly about it is generally
other people who write songs in other genres don`t have their lyrics
submitted. "I shot the sheriff" is generally not submitted in court.

SKOLNIK: Well, but I think we`re seeing hip-hop on trial in many aspects
here, in the criminal court. We saw this in Michael Dunn when he said it
was thug music.

MELBER: Thug music, yes.

SKOLNIK: There were gangsters. I see Bill O`Reilly is saying Kanye West
and Jay-Z are gangster rappers.

So, this perception idea of young men of color being dangerous because they
write lyrics of hip-hop, they listen to hip-hop, they like hip-hop, all of
a sudden they`re dangerous, that`s a horrible precedent to sell.

BAIN: It reminds me the case 20 years ago when Tupac label, Interscope,
was actually -- was brought up because the state trooper Bill Davidson was
killed. And they were lyrics, his lyrics were being pumped in the car by
the shooter, you know? So, I think it`s ridiculous that we have to have
that enter into the conversation as a possibility.

Look at folks being coupled because of the music they`re listening to.

KWELI: It`s not at all a possibility. The thing is, is that there`s a
discussion that`s lasted in popular music since popular music has been
popular. That`s whether or not lyrics influence or can affect behavior.
What lyrics are, song lyrics are symptoms of root causes and pathology and
we have in our community.

And hip-hop gangster rap, violence, hip-hop, misogynistic hip-hop is not
only a problem of a symptom of a root pathology in our community, but it`s
also a symptom of an industry that focuses on selling sex and violence.
So, you have kids who grow up in New York City listening to boom bat rap,
Wu-Tang and all that. These kids grew up with hearing music about sex and
violence in radio, they grew up and they think that`s how you have to be to
be a rapper.

You can`t say that automatically means that these absurd lyrics can be used
as a character study of them.

IYER: In this case, the appeals court made the right decision, but if you
want to have a broader conversation you have to look at other cases where
there are rap lyrics involved in a senseless killing. There was one case
where there was an elderly black man who was killed, and the white man
wrote these lyrics and there was no motive. There was no intent. There
was no identity.

There was nothing but these lyrics that were written close in time to the
event to point to the motive and the intent. In this case, in this case
they were trying to show --

MELBER: But, again, not this case only we`re talking about the standard,
right? The standard of the position of hip-hop and whether what we`re
seeing from Bill O`Reilly and the legal architecture around it is different
a then we treat other songs. I mean, we have the example of Johnny Cash
saying he shot a man in Reno but it`s not generally in evidence.

SKOLNIK: I think here`s a point to say on this show, I want to say this in
front of Talib. There is -- as we talk about some of the negative things
of hip-hop, hip-hop raised me. And your work and your albums that you`ve
put out and the poetry you have contributed to society raised me, and I
want to thank you for that. I think it`s important that we thank the
artists that also put out incredibly positive messages, challenging
messages, that also helped raise this generation.

MELBER: Because we`re out of time, that`s an amazing place to pause. We
can continue it on Twitter or on MHP again, when she`s back. I know she
likes talking to each of you.

Michael Skolnik, Seema Iyer, Bryonn Bain and Talib Kweli --

KWELI: Thank you.

MELBER: I want to mention your Web site, Kweliclub.com. I`m going to say
it again, Kweliclub.com. Check it out. It`s a place to go and find --

KWELI: Direct to fan, no middleman, hand to hand sales.

MELBER: Direct to fan.


MELBER: Independent.

Up next, our foot soldier of the week is responsible for these photos. Be
sure to stay with us. Pure adorable cuteness is up next.


MELBER: Our foot soldier this morning has an unusual and deeply personal
connection to the elections of 2008 and 2012, just days before President
Obama won the 2008 election. Eunique Jones Gibson gave birth to her son
Chase. Four years later, months before the president`s 2012 re-election,
she welcomed her son Amare.

And for Eunique, the re-election of President Obama coming so close to the
births of her two sons allowed for something of a reimaging of the
possibilities that lay ahead for her own children, and, of course, many
others. She sought to capture the opportunities her songs -- excuse me, I
should say her sons, I had hip hop on my mind -- that her sons could pursue
as a result of the president`s groundbreaking election and the achievements
of other trail blazers, both past and present. And thus, "Because of Them,
We Can" campaign.

This was born using children to share the stories of iconic black history
leaders through a photo book, calendar. And, of course, nowadays, a social
media campaign. Now it showcases everyone from the leaders of the civil
rights movement, like Martin Luther King Jr., to modern-day actors like
Kerry Washington to artists like film director, Spike Lee.

Influential musicians, both past, Billie Holiday and present, like MHP`s
favorite, Beyonce. Or how about inventor of the super soaker water gun,
Lonnie G. Johnson?

So what started out as a 28 photo project in 2013 during Black History
Month has now turned into a campaign to keep black history alive, 365 days
a year through the inspiration she provides to children through her
artistry and innovation -- Eunique Jones Gibson is our foot soldier of the
week. Here on set, we`ve got a big book of photos.

Tell us, why did you do this, why children?

EUNIQUE JONES GIBSON, BECAUSE OF THEM, WE CAN: Children need to be able to
see themselves as bigger than they currently are. And I felt like there
were a number of things coming at children that would seek to lower their
self esteem or wouldn`t allow them to dream big. And so, I wanted to
create imagery that will counter that and refute stereotypes.

MELBER: And then you`re working with them. We`re going to put some of
these photos up. How do you get them into some of these poses that look
really cute and fun, but they look kind of natural.

GIBSON: Right, they are natural. So, we showed the kids the pictures, we
tell them who they`re portraying and some come in already knowing who
they`re going to channel for the day. And so, they do. Kids listen and
they nail it.

MELBER: Your son, Chase, as Muhammad Ali. Let`s take one look at that on
the screen here.

How do you get that fist up in the air?

GIBSON: It was -- he`s a very confident kid, very energetic. And when I
showed him Muhammad Ali`s picture and told him he would be a boxer, he did
it. So, he`s naturally confident, and likes Muhammad Ali.

MELBER: And Rosa Parks comes up. How do you do that and take kids who are
really young and give them a sense of what this is? Obviously they`re not
going to understand every aspect.

GIBSON: I talked to them on their terms. Imagine if you couldn`t sit
beside your friend on the bus. And I showed little Bella the picture of
Rosa Parks and placed the plate in front of her and she nailed it.

MELBER: Yes, I mean, that, and people looking at that, it`s inspiring and
goes to the element of it, the core of what it is. And yet, it`s not, of
course, we want to be clear -- we`re putting some up.

It`s not just celebrities, and not just the most famous people that might
be recognizable from civil rights. You really have a whole range. Tell me
about that.

GIBSON: You need to be able to see the breadth, so you need to see there
are engineers, scientist, inventors, there are individuals that you`ve
heard about throughout Black History Month and beyond. But so many other
people that you need to know about.

And so, this book covers everyone from the first African-American to ever
vote to your Barack Obama. So, it`s definitely important to show that.

MELBER: And I`ve got to be real. This is not the only reason you`re here.
But it`s not only your Barack Obamas, it`s also your MHPs, we have one of

Let`s look at that. Melissa Harris Perry, re-imagined as a child. Tell us
about that.

GIBSON: it`s important. Melissa is such a strong voice, not just for
African-American women, but for women in children. Felt it was very
important to capture her as someone for young people to be able to look to
today, to look to and be able to turn on the television and be inspired and
imagine themselves as a future Melissa Harris-Perry. So, very important
for me to put a little kid in her shoes.

MELBER: Yes, you use that word imagine. We know kids have a lot of
imagination. And yet from a very young age, and this is my last question,
from a young age, their imagination is constricted by the world they see
around them. What does this do in your mind, hopefully, to how kids think?

GIBSON: It helps them see these great individuals that we talk about all
of the time, as little people. You don`t imagine Rosa Parks as a 4-year-
old. You don`t imagine the challenges or the things she may have faced.
And so, it helps you to actually see that they were once in your shoes and
what you aspire to be.

And so, if we can just help kids to see you`re going to go through things,
there are going to be people who tell you you`re not smart or you`re not
big, like you think you are. But if you can look to these individuals and
see that they were able to overcome so many challenges to achieve
greatness, then you`ll know that you too can do it as a result.

MELBER: Because of them, we can. It`s a big book. It`s a cool book. And
we wanted to have you on as a foot soldier so people will check it out.

GIBSON: Thank you so much.

MELBER: Of course. Eunique Jones Gibson, thank you very much for being
our foot soldier of the week.

And reminder to our viewers, the book is on sale now.

That is our show for today. Thank you at home for watching. We had fun.
We hope you did.

I will see you tomorrow morning, if you can handle it, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

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

Hi, Alex.



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