'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, March 15th, 2014

March 15, 2014

Guests: Nina Khrushcheva, Jelani Cobb, Adrian Karatnycky, Lisa Cook, Jim
O`Sullivan, Paul Rauschenbush, Michael Peppard, Samuel Cruz, Julie Johnson
Staples, Dennis Van Roekel, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Scot Ross, Dale Ho

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good morning. I`m Jonathan Capehart in
for Melissa Harris-Perry. 16 hours. That is the amount of time remaining
before the world will see the next move in what has become a geopolitical
chess match between Russia and Ukraine. With Ukraine`s Crimea region
caught in the middle. The world is watching, and waiting on pins and
needles, because escalation of events right before the people of Crimea
vote in Sunday`s referendum on whether or not to realign with the Russian
federation has many on edge. From Russia amassing troops along Ukraine`s
eastern border in at least three regions on Thursday to German Chancellor
Angela Merkel warning Russia that it risks, quote, massive political and
economic consequences if Russia continues on its aggressive course toward
Ukraine. To Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Russian Foreign
Minister Sergey Lavrov in London on Friday where their talks broke down
after five hours to President Obama on Friday addressing the conflict in
the region as he was meeting with Irish prime minister Enda Kenny.


hope that there`s a diplomatic solution to be found, but the United States
and Europe stand united, not only in its message about Ukrainian
sovereignty, but also that there will be consequences if, in fact, that
sovereignty continues to be violated.

CAPEHART: But U.S. officials have made clear they see no signs at this
point that the referendum vote could be postponed. So, it is now less than
16 hours to a vote that could have far reaching repercussions and
consequences including serious concerns about military action. The clock
is ticking as the world awaits Crimea`s decision and more importantly,
Vladimir Putin`s next move. Let`s go to chief foreign correspondent
Richard Engel who has the latest news out of Crimea.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Jonathan, preparations are underway for
this weekend`s referendum here in Crimea when the people of Crimea will
decide whether they want to stay as part of Ukraine because technically
this is still part of Ukraine or break away and join up with Russia. The
results, however, may all be a forgoing conclusion because Russian troops,
thousands of them here in Crimea, and pro Russia militias already control
Crimea. They control the airport, the parliament, the train stations, the
roads. The question is what will happen in eastern Ukraine. There was
also a large Russian-speaking pro-Russia population in eastern Ukraine and
for the last two days there have been violent clashes there and quite
ominously, Moscow has said that Russia will do whatever is necessary to
protect Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine, and that is the same rationale
that Moscow gave before it intervened here in Crimea. Jonathan.

CAPEHART: NBC`s Richard Engel in Crimea. Thank you.

As we said, in less than 16 hours, starting at 8:00 a.m. local time Sunday,
the people of Crimea will vote between two options, whether they are in
favor of their autonomous republic reuniting and being subject to Russia or
whether they want to stay part of Ukraine and restore the constitution of
the Republic of Crimea from 1992. And that is where things get tricky.
Because the first voting option is clear. Good-bye Ukraine, hello Russia.
But the second one is not exactly a ringing endorsement to stay with
Ukraine. What the 1992 constitution would do is make Crimea an independent
entity within Ukraine. That still means Ukraine could chart its own course
and choose its own international partners including Russia. As of right
now the consensus is that the next move belongs to Russian President
Vladimir Putin. But after meeting with the Russian foreign minister
yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry indicated Putin is in no rush to
make that move.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: After much discussion the foreign
minister made it clear that President Putin is not prepared to make any
decision regarding Ukraine until after the referendum on Sunday.


CAPEHART: And to be quite frank, Putin doesn`t have to make a move. For
one thing, the vote is expected to go in Putin`s favor given the ethnic
makeup of Crimea. According to the latest census in the region of Crimea,
nearly 60 percent of the population is made up of ethnic Russians, and with
thousands of Russian troops gathered at the Ukrainian border for exercises,
the question isn`t when will Putin make his next move, but rather, just how
worried should we be that his move will involve troop movement over the
Ukrainian border.

At the table Nina Khrushcheva, an associate professor of international
affairs at the New School and the granddaughter of former Soviet Union
leader Nikita Khrushcheva. Jelani Cobb, associate professor of history at
the University of Connecticut who spent a year in Russia teaching at Moscow
State University. Lisa Cook, my old neighbor and associate professor of
economics and international relations at Michigan State University whose
dissertation and current research are on Russia and the former Soviet Union
including Ukraine, and Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow at the Atlantic
Councils Program on Transatlantic Relations. Thank you all for being here.
Adrian, you were the last one to be introduced, but you`re going to be the
first one to get a question. So, from an historical perspective, how
significant is the vote on Sunday to the future of Ukraine and Russia?

significant not only for Ukraine and Russia, it`s significant for the
configuration of the international order in the post-Cold War world. This
is probably as many people believe the most serious threat to an orderly
world and an orderly respect for borders and sovereignty since the collapse
of the Soviet Union. Much more dramatic in terms of its lethality or
potential mayhem than the breakup of Yugoslavia. So, I think everyone is
on (INAUDIBLE) hooks, not only Ukrainian citizens who are, you know,
extremely worried all through the country. And people are sort of packing
in their homes, you know, supplies, preparing for potentially terrible
things. I think it`s a terrible thing for Ukrainians. It`s a terrible
thing for the Russian economy and it`s also a terrible thing for the
international order.

CAPEHART: But you just talk about what part does the region of Crimea
play? Why are we all - I mean we`re talking about Ukraine, but all the
action is on Crimea.

KARATNYCKY: For the moment, the action is in Crimea, but there`s also
action in the eastern territories of Ukraine. If we are purely confined to
Crimea, I think people would be nervous and upset, but a little less edgy.
And, you know, there are thousands of Russian thugs who have been imported
to conduct often under the direction of the Russian security services
protests and violent operations, stabbing of people, et cetera, and
creating mayhem in the eastern territories to sort of create a sense that
Ukraine is chaotic and needs some kind of a peacekeeping operation by
Russia. That`s why the Crimean episode, which would be terrible, you know,
the reconfiguring of borders without mutual concept of the sovereign nation
is itself a problem, but this is now magnified by the possibility of
mayhem, by the possibility of it spreading much further and much wider.

CAPEHART: So, Nina, why is Ukraine so important to Vladimir Putin? It
seems as though he`s almost obsessed with Ukraine.

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, THE NEW SCHOOL: He`s obsessed with Ukraine as many
Russian leaders and Soviet leaders before him, he`s not that original. I
mean there are two countries, that, in fact Soviet and Russian leaders are
obsessed with, one is Georgia and there was a Russian war with Georgia in
2008, which annexed two parts of Georgia and now it is Ukraine, but Ukraine
even more so. Because first of all, it`s a dear neighbor. It really has
been a dear neighbor until a couple of months ago, which is by itself
inconceivable. But also, because originally, I mean I know it`s a very
trite observation, but it`s an important one. Originally we were one
country. It was Kievan Russia in the beginning of the existence of Russia.
So, we are almost as Russians, we as Russians are almost nothing without
Ukraine. And so, that`s why this story is so big and so big for the
Russians today. I mean, there are huge Moscow protests today in support of
the referendum, but also against Vladimir Putin and referendum with "hands
off of Crimea" signs, and there are over 20,000 -- 20,000 people, which is
rather large in Moscow.

CAPEHART: Lisa, you ...



COBB: During the time in Moscow, at Moscow State University I attended the
May 9th celebration, which is, you know, the recognition of the end of
World War II. And this tremendous, tremendous celebration there and while
I was there a young man comes up to me, he hears me speaking English and
says, are you American? And I said, you know, yes, I am. And he says, I
don`t like Americans. And so that I respond and ask him why he doesn`t
like Americans. He said, because you all are trying to turn Ukraine
against us.

And so in a bigger sense what we`re looking at is kind of the psychological
implications of this. You know, with Ukraine the idea of Ukraine being
part of Russia and its fate somehow being a barometer of where the
population is in the post Cold War -- Cold War world.

CAPEHART: So, why do they think that the United States is trying to turn
Ukraine against Russia?

COBB: Well ...

CAPEHART: I mean, I know that there`s a whole --


COBB: We all have answers.

LISA COOK, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: So certainly with respect to
economics there have been agreements that have been tried, an IMF program
has been in place and then suspended for Ukraine. So, in that sense they
see the E.U. on the borders of Ukraine and if democracy and if capitalism
come to Ukraine and to every part of that region, this accountability --
this kind of accountability will be at Russia`s doorstep and that`s why
Russia is really fearful. And I would agree with Nina, that`s why Putin
would be very fearful. I mean I think this is the classic confusion
between the state and a personality and I think that Putin certainly sees
himself as the state and if you read his biography closely, first person,
you see that he talks about the reason that there are so many Russophobes
in Eastern Europe is because of mistakes. And those are his words,
mistakes that he Soviet Union made. And Hungary and then Czechoslovakia.
And here it is again, it`s actually what they are doing.


COOK: And then Crimea.

CAPEHART: Hold this discussion, whatever happens in Ukraine this weekend,
we`ve already seen promises of reaction from around the world. That part
of the story is next.



JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe the referendum is contrary
to the constitution of Ukraine, is contrary to international law, is in
violation of that law and we believe it is illegitimate. And as the
president put it, illegal under the Ukrainian constitution. Neither we nor
the international community will recognize the results of this referendum.


CAPEHART: That was the strongly worded statement from U.S. Secretary of
State John Kerry on Friday after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister
Sergey Lavrov about the Crimean referendum vote and Russia`s future plans
for the region. So, Nina, I want to start with you and bring up something
that was said by -- more strongly worded, strong words from another
American politician yesterday. Senator McCain who`s in Ukraine with other
members -- other senators. Wrote an op-ed called "Obama Has Made America
Look Weak" writing, but in a broader sense, Crimea has exposed the
disturbing lack of realism that has characterized our foreign policy under
President Obama. It is this world view or lack of one that must change.
So, could President Obama have done anything differently to get a different
reaction or result out of President Putin?

KHRUSHCHEVA: I think they could -- they should have paid more attention to
Ukraine before the crisis broke, because it did seem that the crisis came
as a great surprise to the administration when it first began in November
when Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted president, did not
sign an association agreement with Europe, and suddenly it became such a
big surprise. So this is one issue. And actually, I have to agree with
McCain on this. He was involved in Ukraine. I think that it is about --
it is about Barack Obama`s weakness. Because the problem with Barack
Obama`s leadership may be if we want to call it this way is not really a
way to tell -- is not a way for Putin to say, oh, I have an opportunity,
I`m going to go and invade another country. So it should not be a zero-sum



COOK: So, I would just like to say that I think John McCain has misplaced
his -- his ire or his displeasure. I think Congress made the United States
look weak. Certainly the Senate came up with a plan to help Ukraine. It
needed economic aid quickly. This is where there can`t be equivocation.
They sent him to Crimea to - we came (ph) without anything. Without
anything in hand because of the IMF reforms that needed to be done that we
said that we would do in 2010. No one in -- it could be an inflatable doll
sitting in the White House who I think wouldn`t have been able to do a
better job. Did George W. Bush do a better job? He looked in Putin`s eyes
and he saw something.

CAPEHART: He saw his soul.

COOK: He saw his soul, and his soul just ran under the wheels of tanks
that rolled into Georgia. So I -- I am -- I would say that certainly we
should have paid more attention to Ukraine. We should pay more attention
to that area of the world in general, but I would argue that John McCain
needed something when he showed up because he has been engaged in Central
and Eastern Europe.

CAPEHART: We`re going to talk more about the economics in the bills that
the Congress didn`t move on. Adrian.

KARATNYCKY: I want it say in defense of the president, the president did
make a calculated strategic decision that the -- you know, that Asia and
the problems of the Middle East were the strategic focus of his foreign
policy. He thought this was sort of, kind of all quiet on the western
front, and unfortunately history has bitten him, but he has really stepped
up. I believe the United States is leading. I think the United States is
way ahead of the Europeans. They have, I think, a set of very substantial
and I would say muscular measures they are going to take if Putin continues
with this aggression. I think Russia`s going to pay a very big economic
price. This is going to be a big bite in Mr. Putin`s pocketbook, and that
of the oligarchs, and I think the U.S. has really quickly moved in and
realized that we`ve got to recalibrate. They are recalibrating.


COBB: There`s another set of concerns here, and this is why I think
Vladimir Putin is emboldened. He knows that he, that the United States is
really hedging thinking about its influence in Iran and the nuclear
program. That`s what`s beneath this. And also its influence in Syria.


COBB: I think he`s saying you`re really balancing this out. Do you want
Crimea or do you want Iran? Which of these is a bigger strategic priority?

KARATNYCKY: I really disagree. I think the problem is that if Russia is
behaving in such a dishonorable and unpredictable way, it will not be a
predictable partner to solve either Iran or Syria. I think it throws into
question the whole strategy. Russia cannot be used as an anchor.


KHRUSHCHEVA: I want to say they`re actually both right. It is true that
Putin is calculating that you need me, so I can do whatever I want, and at
the same time if he`s so unpredictable, why on earth do we need him? My
point is not my beef with Barack Obama at all. My beef is with Vladimir
Putin, who keeps saying we`re a European nation, we`re a modern nation, and
suddenly really acts and lectures Barack Obama on messianism in that famous
"New York Times" piece, and yet goes into Ukraine saying, I`m going to save
you, I`m going to save you, I`m a messianic leader. That is a problem.

COBB: If you go back, I`m glad you brought that up. If you go back to
that Time piece, the one thing that Putin says at the outset is that, you
know, we cannot afford to have unsanctioned aggression against, you know,
sovereign nations, and, you know, this will only undermine the U.N. And
we`ll wind up back where we were with the League of Nations. Then he turns
around and kind of brings in all of these forces on the border of Crimea so

CAPEHART: Up next, the real cost of secession. How good old-fashioned
money factors into all this, next.


CAPEHART: When it comes down to it, one of the biggest issues in the
Ukraine versus Russia`s saga is money. Ukraine has been caught in the
middle between staying loyal to Russia and seeking to be part of the
European Union since the 1990s, but the region in the middle now is Crimea.
And while Ukraine has said that Crimea will be financed as normal, and
Russia is ready to provide $1 billion to the region, Crimea stands to lose
a lot if it declares independence and Ukraine decides to cut it off.
Crimea gets more than 80 percent of its water and electricity and 65
percent of its gas from the mainland. Two-thirds of the tourists that
visit Crimea come from the rest of Ukraine, and Kiev funds 800 million of
the $1.2 billion annual regional public budget. Ukraine also faces
financial uncertainty as it needs $20 billion this year and is seeking
international loans and aid, but Ukraine may be out of luck since the U.S.
Congress couldn`t come to an agreement on an aid package and is now in
recess. So, Lisa, what is the difference between the two aid deals that
the Senate and House were proposing?

COOK: So, the big thing -- the big difference between the two was the
Senate one included IMF reforms and the House -- a number of House
Republicans object to those reforms.

CAPEHART: Including the speaker who said that this -- IMF has nothing to
do with Ukraine, but the administration says the IMF reforms absolutely
have to do --

COOK: That`s right.

CAPEHART: -- with Ukraine.

COOK: That`s right.

CAPEHART: Are you able to explain that?

COOK: Yes. Yes. So, what is being proposed is that we switch some money
from one account that we have at the IMF to another account to be able to
help quickly, a more general fund that we`re giving money to, to make sure
that the quota for Ukraine is increased. Increasing the quota means we can
help it more, and we can help it more rapidly. So if we don`t, that means
that our standing within the IMF is compromised. Of course, we still have
a large voting share, but we become less and less credible.

We made the commitment in 2010 to this reform, so this was put in place,
this fund, that we have money in, that we would like to shift money to, was
for emergencies. It was for the 2009 crisis. So, don`t you think it`s
about time that we shift it back? And this would have given us the teeth
to be credible in IMF negotiations.

And the reason I say this is because I helped to negotiate the first post-
genocide IMF program in Rwanda. And you`ve got to have everything on the
table upfront. They have to know what they`re dealing with, and they have
to know that it is credible, because it will not work. We saw this in the
Asian financial crisis. If we know that the IMF program or whatever
program is coming is not credible, then it will not be taken seriously by
the parties involved.

CAPEHART: If I`m not mistaken, the United States is the only nation - is
the remaining nation to ratify this. Everyone else has --

COOK: That`s right. That`s right. That`s right. We`ve already agreed to
it. We`ve already agreed to it in principle and everybody else has agreed
to it.

CAPEHART: Now, Adrian, you help investors and corporations who are looking
to extend their reach into Russia and Eastern Europe, so how could Ukraine
suffer if Russia cuts them off from their gas supply?

KARATNYCKY: Well, not only would Ukraine suffer, but central Europe and
southern Europe would be denied the energy to run their industries and so

CAPEHART: You see the map on the screen showing the pipelines that run
through Ukraine that move into Europe.

KARATNYCKY: Absolutely. You know, so it`s a mutually dependent. Gazprom
shares have been plummeting precisely because people are worried that
Europe will be diverting its purchases and seeking LNG and other sources.
And alternatives. Russian oil, 50 percent of Russian oil is bought by the
European Union. That is an easily substitutable process. So businessmen
in Russia today are talking about Russia heading into a deep recession.
The market is down. The currency is down 15 percent. The market is down
15 percent. Some stocks are trading way down. Of course, people make
money on shorting as well, but -- you know, but the point is in the real
world, Mr. Putin is stirring up a hornet`s nest that will bite Ukraine
severely, but can also bite the stability of Russia.

COOK: I think one of the most interesting things that happened, I think
this is the real canary in the coal mine, the chairman of Gazprom sold all
of his shares in Gazprom. Gazprom used to be --

KARATNYCKY: Right before the Crimean invasion.

COOK: Right before the Crimean invasion. It used to be if it were valued
properly the largest by value company in the world. He has zero shares in

CAPEHART: That is -- that`s incredible.

COOK: So we can talk about investors being skittish. That`s worse than

CAPEHART: The technical term for that is freaked out. Stay with us, we
know Russia and Ukraine have a lot riding on the referendum in Crimea, but
for one country in particular, the stakes are especially high with millions
of lives hanging in the balance. That story is next.


CAPEHART: While the world watches to see what Crimea and Russia will do
next, the one country that could be most affected by the outcome is Syria.
Four reports released this month illustrate that dire circumstances Syrians
face after a three-year conflict. A report by UNICEF estimates 9.3 million
Syrians are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. And since March of 2013,
the number of children affected by the conflict more than doubled from 2.3
million to 5.5 million. On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
appealed to both the U.S. and Russia to revive stalled peace talks to end
the civil war in Syria. But while Russia and the U.S. focus on the
escalating tensions within Ukraine, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is said
to be taking advantage of the situation. He`s going forward with plans to
crush the opposition and securing re-election for another seven years. For
more on that, let`s go to NBC`s chief global correspondent Bill Neeley in
Damascus, Syria.

When people here want to show their support for President Assad, they`ll
wave the Syrian flag, but they`ll also wave the Russian flag. We saw it in
a demonstration just here. Russia is President Assad`s main backer,
supplying him with arms, equipment and money, and giving him diplomatic
cover at the U.N. Security Council. Russia has blocked a number of Western
resolutions against President Assad in recent years. For Russia, it`s a
matter of national interest, both here and in Ukraine, and it centers on
Russia`s navy. Here, the Russians have ships at the Syrian port of Tartus.
And that they want to defend, just as in Ukraine. Their Black Sea fleet is
based in Sevastopol. But there`s no question Russia`s attention has
shifted from Syria to that crisis in Ukraine, and people here feel somewhat
resentful. They feel that the world is forgetting Syria, forgetting its
problems after three years -- and, remember, today is the third anniversary
of the day protests began against President Assad. So the crisis in
Ukraine, no question it`s the biggest crisis Europe has faced since the end
of the Cold War, but this is the worst war in the world at the moment.
140,000 dead. The world`s worst humanitarian crisis. This appears to be a
war without end.

From Damascus, Jonathan, back to you.

CAPEHART: That was NBC`s Bill Neely from Damascus. Let me bring in the
panel. Nina, how important is the result of the Russia/Ukraine conflict to
what ultimately happens in Syria?

KHRUSHCHEVA: I think it is very important, first of all, as the
correspondent said. It is the largest war we`re now facing or the most
famous before Ukraine. Ukraine`s story came in, but also it really shows
how dangerous Vladimir Putin is. Because first he was keeping Syria away
from repercussions for, Bashar Assad from repercussions from what he`s
doing to his people, and now he`s creating a very, very serious crisis in
Ukraine. So I think the condensation (ph) should be about Putin even more
because he increasingly acts like a rogue state president. So in many
decisions, on sanctions and visas, on visa bans and whatnot, this should be
taken into consideration more than ever before, because he`s now
responsible or partially responsible for two crises, one in the middle of
Europe and another one in the Middle East.

CAPEHART: Is it safe to say that Assad is emboldened by Putin`s action
against Ukraine?

KHRUSHCHEVA: Absolutely.

CAPEHART: Is that a stretch?

KHRUSHCHEVA: I think so. No.

COOK: This is something that it depends on, that Russia depends on, that
as soon as we were distracted by something like an Olympics, there would be
another plan that is in the works so that they can operate in terms of
foreign policy to achieve their goals, to achieve their foreign policy.

KARATNYCKY: I want to do a little bit of a reality check. I think there
is such a thing as overstretch. Keep in mind that the economy of Russia is
about the size of the economy of Italy. Apart from nukes, the veto at the
United Nations and an overly robust military --

CAPEHART: Those are three big things.

KARATNYCKY: Those are three big things, but Mr. Putin doesn`t have a lot
of extras to be dominating and playing that kind of a role in the world.
Partly, you know, yes, it`s the U.N. -- the U.N. gives him
disproportionate influence and power and we need to try to bring him on our
side, but I think the problem is that his behavior in Ukraine puts into
question whether he will be a team player on all these other issues.

CAPEHART: So if Russia stays distracted -- and that`s probably a flip word
to use considering what`s happening in Ukraine -- but if Putin is dealing
with Ukraine, is there anybody who Bashar al-Assad will actually listen to,
to ratchet down what Bill Neely I think accurately called the worst war in
the world? I stumped the panel.


KARATNYCKY: No. The Iranians. I mean, look, Russia`s game is not
friendship to the Syrian people or even to the Orthodox Christian
authority. It`s really all about oil. It`s really about the game with
Iran. If Iran becomes more -- Iran is not subject to sanctions, the
Russian stranglehold on oil and gas becomes far less important. There are
alternative routes. Azerbaijan oil and Iranian oil and gas can move more
slowly towards Europe. That`s the big thing, the game that he`s playing in
Iran in being a disrupter in Iran and encouraging the worst of Iran and
encouraging this instability is all about gas routes, all about trade
routes, and keeping Europe much more dependent on Russian gas.

CAPEHART: Were you going to say something?


COOK: And there are many ways to diversify. So this is -- this could be
fleeting. Shell is one company that has showed up in Ukraine and is
thinking about mining and making sure that the gas reserves there are
exploited. So Putin is living in this world of thinking not it has a
monopoly on a number of different economic relationships, and one could
argue that this is the ultimate strategy, but there are many other things
that can be done. Oil can be gotten from Norway and could be done so
easily. So -- and it`s less dependent, European Union is less dependent on
Russian oil, Russian gas as it was in 2009.

KHRUSHCHEVA: Just quickly. Because he`s relying on military industrial
complex, and we know from history that once you invest in military
industrial complex, it eventually is going to fall. That`s what I think
eventually will happen to Vladimir Putin.

CAPEHART: There`s one map we didn`t get to show that I wanted them to put
on the board, and that is the map of Ukraine and where the Russian troops
have been amassing on the border, just to show how serious this is. When
we talk about Putin being distracted, just how serious this situation is in
Ukraine and the repercussions that will have around the world, from Syria
to, as you mentioned I think in an earlier answer, Iran. As you can see
there, there`s the map. The location of Russian troops basically circling
the eastern part of Ukraine.

Thank you, Dr. Nina Khrushcheva, Lisa Cook and Adrian Karatnycky. Jelani
Cobb, you`re going to stick around. Up next, my letter of the week goes to
the member of Congress who was all too articulate. We know what you said
and we definitely know what you meant.


CAPEHART: This week, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan found himself trying
to dance his way out of these comments he made Wednesday on Bill Bennett`s
"Morning in America" radio show.


REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WISCONSIN: You know, your buddy Charles Murray or Bob
Putnam over at Harvard, those guys have written books on this, which is we
have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular of men
not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working, or
learning the value and the culture of work. And so there`s a real culture
problem here that has to be dealt with.


CAPEHART: 24 hours worth of backlash later, Congressman Ryan`s office
responded saying in part, "after reading the transcript of yesterday
morning`s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I
was trying to make. I was not implicating the culture of one community but
of society as a whole." Got that? He didn`t mean inner cities in
particular, he meant society as a whole. The congressman went on to say
that, quote, "I have witnessed amazing people fighting against great odds
with impressive success in poor communities. We can learn so much from
them, and that is where this conversation should begin."

If one thing is clear about all of Congressman Ryan`s comments this week,
it`s that he does, indeed, have much to learn. So I thought I`d help begin
that conversation today with a letter.

Dear Congressman Ryan, it`s me, Jonathan. By now, you know we know exactly
who you were referring to when you were talking about those men in the
inner city. Your congressional colleague, Barbara Lee of California, made
it plain when she said, "Congressman Ryan`s comments about inner city
poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let`s
be clear, when Mr. Ryan says inner city, when he says culture, these are
simply code words for what he really means -- black." Presumably,
Congressman, this insight into the minds of inner city black men came from
speaking to them directly, since, according to the Washington Post, you
spent much of last year quietly visiting inner city neighborhoods.

And I sincerely applaud your effort, but if you came to the conclusion that
their culture was to blame for black male unemployment being near double
the national average, I can`t help but wonder if you learned anything
during your visit, because if you had, you would have known that the
existence of the inner city and the problems of those who are confined
within it is no accident. Rather, it was the end result of discriminatory
housing policies enacted decades ago by federal, state and local
governments that created a cycle of residential segregation for black
people that persists to this day. You might have learned that policies
like red lining and restrictive covenants and the departure of
manufacturing and commerce from cities created pockets of generational
poverty that were all but inescapable for those who were left behind.

So you wouldn`t have been surprised to see a graph like this, showing black
unemployment has consistently been more than double that the rate of white
Americans for nearly four decades. Nor would you have been surprised to
learn that the recession exacerbated those problems for black men in
particular because they were over-represented in the manufacturing and
construction jobs that were hit hardest by the recession.

Congressman, if you had looked around when you visited those communities,
you would have understood that what you were seeing was the consequence of
that concentration of poverty. You would have noticed the failing schools
without the resources to provide their students with a quality education,
and perhaps you would have reached the same conclusion as the Bureau of
Labor Statistics, that education, not your tailspin of culture, is one of
the most reliable indicators of future employment and income.

Congressman, did you listen, I mean really listen to the stories of those
men in those communities? Did you hear them tell of being targeted by
racial profiling, discriminatory drug enforcement laws, and the cycle of
incarceration that keeps them shut out of not only job opportunities but
also housing and the right to vote? So, no. The problems plaguing the
inner city aren`t created by culture. They are the indirect result of
government policies, and it`s going to take progressive government policies
to solve them, which means you were right about one thing, Congressman. To
end the intergenerational cycle of joblessness and poverty, there is a
group of taxpayer-supported inner city people who definitely have to learn
something about the culture of work -- namely you and the rest of your
colleagues in the do-nothing Congress in Washington, D.C.

Sincerely, Jonathan.


CAPEHART: Tomorrow is the annual St. Patrick`s day parade in South Boston.
Saint Patrick`s Day is a big deal in Boston to say the least, especially in
Southy, a neighborhood that takes a great deal of pride in its Irish
American and working class roots. The parade not only celebrates the
patron saint of Ireland but also Boston`s Evacuation Day, when Bostonians
drove the British out after a 10-month siege in 1776. The parade has been
going on for 113 years, and every year it draws between 500,000 and a
million people to South Boston. It is a celebration of city pride,
cultural pride and patriotism, but for at least 20 years, LGBT Bostonians
have been banned from openly marching in the parade. The last time they
openly marched was in 1992 and 1993, even though in `92 some spectators
threw beer cans and smoke bombs at the marchers. In 1994, organizers
canceled the parade rather than comply with a court order to allow an Irish
American LGBT group to march. Then in 1995, the United States Supreme
Court ruled in a unanimous decision that the parade was a form of
expression, and therefore the private sponsors were well within their
rights to deny anyone they wanted from participating.

No amount of political pressure has changed that ban. Long-time mayor,
Thomas Menino, boycotted the parade throughout his entire time in office.
In the meantime, Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage -- the very
first state to do so. Even the military allows openly gay people to serve
now. The parade`s private organizers, the South Boston Allied War Veterans
Council, say that allowing openly gay groups to march would harm the
parade`s image as a family-friendly institution. This is the same family-
friendly institution where 336 citations were issued for public drinking
last year. There were also 26 arrests at last year`s parade, mostly for
disorderly conduct.

This year there was hope for change -- there was hope for change. Boston`s
new mayor, Martin Walsh, tried to broker a deal, and briefly organizers
said gay veterans could march under the banner of the well known advocacy
group, Mass Equality. But now the deal has fallen apart with accusations
of lying and double dealing on both sides.

Joining me now, Michael Pepper, theology professor at Fordham University.
Jelani Cobb, associate professor at the University of Connecticut.
Reverend Samuel Cruz, Lutheran minister and professor of church and society
at Union Theological Seminary, and Reverend Paul Rauschenbush. I`m sorry,
Paul. Senior religion editor at Huffington Post. And joining us live from
Boston is Jim O`Sullivan, politics reporter for the Boston Globe. Jim, I
want to come to you first. What was different this year that the
organizers and LGBT groups almost had a deal after 20 years? Why did it
fall apart?

JIM O`SULLIVAN, BOSTON GLOBE: Well, I think it was different this year
because you had a new mayor coming in. He has had a history, a decade-long
history of supporting LGBT rights. He wanted to put a win on the board
early on in his administration. He took a different style to the parade
organizers than Menino had taken. Menino had sort of been all or nothing,
very top down, executive style, you`re not going to let these folks march,
well, I`m not going to march either and sort of left it at that. Walsh
tried to broker a deal and tried to use his goodwill in South Boston, which
is part of his political base, and with the gay rights activists, to try to
put it together. What happened was what often happens in these situations,
the pesky media folks got involved and it started to spill out in the
newspaper. When the details got in, it cleaved the gay right groups, and
it split South Boston to some extent, and there was a lot of internal
politicking that took it apart.

CAPEHART: Jim, how big a deal is the parade? How important is it
symbolically for these groups to march and for the organizers to keep them

O`SULLIVAN: Well, the parade is one of the signature events of Boston`s
sort of storied political culture. It`s preceded by a breakfast that`s
really a roast. That`s the really the marquis annual event. So the idea
that the symbolism that folks would be excluded is bothersome to a lot of
people here. Massachusetts, a lot of people in Massachusetts take pride
that it`s been in the forefront of a lot of progressive causes,
particularly gay rights. It bothers some people. It`s -- it bothers folks
in South Boston, that they`re sort of tarred as, you know, in many cases,

CAPEHART: Jelani, I want to bring the conversation to you. How big -- how
important is a parade in terms of a cultural symbol to civil rights

COBB: Well, it`s very important. It`s crucial. What we`re having here is
when we think about kind of the notable civil rights issues in the 20th
century, one of the things that we found again and again around social
institutions are people saying, well, you know, it`s not that we`re bigots,
we just have these particular values, or we have businesses that say, well,
we don`t really have a problem with hiring black people, but our customers
would and so on. I think that becomes -- that`s the issue that makes it a
little bit trickier in terms of navigating this. But at the fundamental
level, it still winds up being bigotry, being ensconced within tradition.
And it has to be uprooted.


REV. PAUL RAUSCHENBUSH, HUFFINGTON POST: Yeah. I did some looking into
the New York parade, and this is one of the oldest parades. It predates
the Declaration of Independence. And some have described it in the 1850s
as a festival of memory, meaning this is an institution, a parade that
looks back and thinks about what we have, what we`ve gained. And what I
think is a challenge for these parades, because New York is going through
the exact same thing on Monday, is what can be done to make it a festival
of now and of the future and looking at the future generations of gay Irish
Americans who want to be included in this festival of memory that is also a
festival of what it will mean in the 21st century to be an Irish American.

CAPEHART: Jim, there`s talk about Sam Adams boycotting the parade in
Boston. How big a deal is that? Or is it just a publicity stunt?

O`SULLIVAN: I think it was a pretty good PR coup for Sam Adams to stand
with the mayor. What`s interesting, political ranks here, very, very few
politicians are choosing to march this year. You`re seeing sort of the
institutional political support for the parade organizers` thoughts erode a
little bit. Their position is becoming I think increasingly untenable as
the political leadership backs away from it.

CAPEHART: Thank you, Jim O`Sullivan in Boston.

Coming up next, the Pope Francis effect. One year later we`ll take a
closer look at his rising star and lingering challenges. What will his
second year bring? And Pulitzer Prize winning historian Doris Kearns
Goodwin joins us live. More Nerdland at the top of the hour.


JONATHAN CAPEHART, GUEST HOST: Welcome back. I`m Jonathan Capehart, in
for Melissa Harris-Perry.

We have a lot to get to this hour, including a look at the first year of
Pope Francis, and new concerns over voting rights in key swing states.

But we begin the dramatic overnight developments regarding missing Malaysia
Airlines Flight 370. Earlier today, Malaysia`s prime minister held a press
conference and announced that the plane left its planned route from Kuala
Lumpur to Beijing, apparently as a result of deliberate action by someone


NAJIB RASAK, PRIME MINISTER, MALAYSIA: This movement consistent with
deliberate action by someone on the plane. In lieu of this latest
development, Malaysian authorities have refocused the investigation into
the crew and passengers on board.


CAPEHART: The prime minister also said that despite media speculation that
the plane may have been hijacked, authorities are continuing to investigate
all possibilities and as part of that investigation in Malaysia this
morning there are reports that police search the homes of the flight`s
pilot and co-pilot.

For more on that, we go now to NBC`s Kier Simmons in Kuala Lumpur.

Kier, what more can you tell us about the developments there today?


Well, that news conference that you showed there was held here, it was
sobering. It was dramatic. Another one of the dramatic things that was
announced is that they have this whole area where they think the plane may
finally have been detected before it really did disappear, and a whole
large part of that is over land. So effectively, they were saying that it
isn`t necessarily the case that the plane went (AUDIO GAP)

CAPEHART: NBC`s Kier Simmons, thank you.

Obviously, we have some technical difficulties with his signal, but we will
continue to update on this story as developments come in today.

For now, we turn to Rome. One year ago Thursday, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio
of Argentina stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter`s Basilica and became
Pope Francis I.

Since then, he has enthralled the world, Catholic and non-Catholics alike,
with his vision of a poor church that serves the poor, his acts of humility
and of piety and his nonjudgmental inclusive tone. According to the latest
Pew poll, most American Catholics have a favorable view of Francis, more
than 2/3 believe he represents a major charge for the better in the nearly
2,000-year-old church. Twenty-six percent are even more excited about
their very faith.

He`s "Time Magazine`s" person of the year. The people`s pope, he draws
enormous crowds to St. Peter`s Square, inspires super pope graffiti and
scolds a global culture of hyper capitalism and apathy towards the poor.

But for all of these images we love, there`s another side to the papacy.
Pope Francis inherited major challenges in the church, challenges that
cannot be solved through inspiring rhetoric alone. Among them are the
Vatican`s finances, especially its 5 billion euro bank which are a mess of
secrecy complete with allegations of corruption and money laundering,
investigations have revealed a financial structure with few rules and
little oversight.

And the church`s sex abuse scandal continues to loom large over the
Vatican. In the United States alone, nearly 7,000 priests have been
accused of sexual abuse of minors since 1950 and dioceses have spent $2.5
billion settlements and other costs.

Efforts to reform how the church prevents and punishing sex abuse by its
clergy have been ongoing for years and Pope Francis has announced a
commission of experts to study best practices in protecting children, but
victim`s advocates have been disappointed that he has not said or done
more. He disappointed those advocates even more by striking a defensive
tone in a recent interview with Italian newspaper, the pope said, quote,
"The Catholic church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved
with transparency and responsibility. No one has done more and yet the
church is the only one that has been attacked."

Here to help us evaluate Pope Francis`s first year on some of these tough
issues are Michael Peppard, theology professor at Fordham University, the
Reverend Julie Johnson Staples, ministry of education at the Riverside
Church, the Reverend Samuel Cruz, professor of church and society at the
Union Theological Seminary and Lutheran minister, and the Reverend Paul
Raushenbush, Sr., religion editor at "The Huffington Post".

Michael, let me start with you.

The comments by the pope really seemed to strike a nerve. Why is that?

year ago we were sitting here and we had this first Jesuit pope. And we`ve
seen some of the wonderful things that a Jesuit can bring. For example,
activating the imagination, to see God in all things and all people. To
set hearts on fire for justice. These are some of the principles of Jesuit

But on this very issue you`re bringing up, it`s true that faithful
Catholics have been disappointed and especially with that most recent
interview. We go back to the establishment of the commission on the
protection of minors and we think, look, he`s centralizing power in a good
way, right? He`s centralizing power to look at every issue involving
laypeople, every issue that undergirded the sexual abuse crisis.

And yet, it seems that new policies aren`t so much what`s needed. That
it`s enforcement of existing policies. There`s already zero tolerance
policies for all of this kind of stuff. And yet, there are examples such
as in Kansas City of U.S. Bishop Robert Finn who is still a standing bishop
in Kansas City, even though convicted of misdemeanor crime for protecting a
child pornographer.

So to faithful Catholics like myself, we look at the rhetoric and the
policies and we say. And we look at the Jesuit inspired spirituality, we
say, yes, yes, yes, right?

And then we look at action and we`re saying, we`re waiting.

CAPEHART: And I have to say, I`m not Catholic. I`m one of those non-
Catholics who`s excited by Pope Francis. I did graduate from a Jesuit prep
school, Saint Benedict`s Prep in Newark, New Jersey.

And I, too, when I read the pope`s quotes, it just sort of -- it took me
aback that here`s this guy who is seemingly great on so many things and yet
on this there`s this huge blind spot.

RAUSHENBUSH: I think what`s interesting is it`s so out of character that
he`s not pastoral in this sense. Like this was an opportunity to be
pastoral as he has been with so many other ideas. He`s gone to the places
where the poor are. He`s known as the slum pope. He`s gone to the
immigrants. But he still hasn`t met with the abuse victims.

So, I think this is an opportunity not to just talk about the programs and
the policies but actually offer pastoral care for those who feel so hurt.

CAPEHART: And you know, before I want to get to -- in a second, Julie,
Cardinal Dolan was on "Meet the Press" and David Gregory asked him this
question about the pope meeting with sex abuse victims. Let`s roll that.


DAVID GREGORY, MEET THE PRESS: The power of symbol here is to meet with
victims. The pope has not done that. Should he do that?

CARDINAL TIMOTHY M. DOLAN: He probably will. I will not be surprised if
he would not. Hope he does. Lord knows I have and Lord knows I think most
bishops and pastors have. Benedict did. So I would anticipate he would as


CAPEHART: Reverend Julie?

school, OK, so I just want to speak on behalf of the La Jolla lawyers out

I mean, first of all, I want to take issue with what you had said, Paul.
He has been pastoral and he has stated that the victims are present in his
daily prayers.

Moreover, I think it`s important to say that he has labeled the abuse as
criminal. So I think that we need to not push beyond the likely envelope,
knowing that whenever there`s a criminal case pending, typically no matter
who it is, they`re not going to step to the forefront and get in front of
bank of microphones.

I`m reminded especially about Barack Obama when he spoke out on Trayvon
Martin which was a criminal case, he was crucified -- if we`ll excuse the
expression in this Lenten season.

CAPEHART: The first time in the Rose Garden?

STAPLES: Absolutely. So, I think that we -- many sides, both progressives
as well conservatives looking at Pope Francis are likely to be disappointed
at times and likely to be elated at times. But that does not take away
from the fact that he has been a transformational figure, bringing a voice
to unheard voices and really re-engaging the church in the public square of
ideas on income inequality and the church has been silent on that issue,
quite frankly since the United States civil rights movement.

CAPEHART: Reverend Sam, you wanted to jump in.

SAMUEL CRUZ, UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY : Without a doubt, it seems like
Pope Francis is horrified over the sex scandal of the church, but I could
imagine that he`s treading difficult waters with this situation because I
don`t know of any other institution that would survive this type of
scandal. There`s no other organization.

So I know he knows it`s a very complicated issue for him to address and not
destroy the whole institution, although that doesn`t negate the fact that
children have to be protected.

RAUSENBUSH: But it has destroyed the institution in some ways. You know,
this is like decimated, hemorrhaging Catholics from the church. It was the
number one important issue for American Catholics leading up to the
conclave and the fact that it has not been a primary thing, and I think,
you know, pastoral, yes, he has spoken about it. Pastoral means face to
face often, and that`s where I --

STAPLES: I think that will come.

RAUSHENBUSH: I think it will come. The surprise here is that when so many
Catholics viewed this as the number one issue, it has not been his number
one issue so that`s where I think it`s interesting.

PEPPARD: When I think back to the big interview with "American Magazine",
which really launched Pope Francis into people`s conscious, as I was
reading it, shaking how many amazing things were in there, there was a
metaphor of the church as a field hospital, which grips so many people`s
imaginations. There`s a line that he repeated, first heal the wounds,
first heal the wounds, repeated that in his interview.

And when we look at -- I have to agree with Paul, that when we look at
what`s the biggest wound in the American Catholic Church, especially, Peter
Steinfeld`s book, "People Adrift", is all about the effect of this scandal,
that`s the biggest wound.

RAUSHENBUSH: What is also true is that people have not returned to church.
Catholics have not returned to church. There`s no evidence that there`s a
bump, a Pope Francis bump. This is -- I don`t know this, but there may
still be a suspicion of what goes on inside that church and that`s, I
think, the reason this is so pressing because I think that there are
wonderful -- I mean, I`m a huge fan of Pope Francis, but I just think this
is the one area where I would really love to see some really
transformative, beautiful language that really does heal.

STAPLES: Well, I just want to throw out there as a non-Catholic, he is
redirecting the attention of the church to the focus of the gospel of Jesus
Christ. The people are not going to return back to church just because he
addresses a child sex abuse scandal. They`ve got to comfort fundamentals.
That`s what`s going to keep them in church.

And I think by focusing in on love and justice in the way that he has been,
that ultimately is what`s going to be the things that draws someone back to
say, I think I want to turn back to my church.

CAPEHART: You know, we have less than a minute left and we haven`t even
gotten to the finances of the Vatican and Nuns on a Bus and being censured
by the Vatican and the pope -- under Pope Benedict they were reprimanded.
There`s a pope quote that I wanted to read you but I don`t have time to
read it, but Pope Francis reaffirmed the findings, branding the Nuns on a
Bus as radical feminists.

What does it tell you -- tell any of you about the church`s focus on social
justice issues that the nuns have really championed?

STAPLES: I just want to say that the problem for Pope Francis on the
question of equality of women in church, particularly as he negotiates this
question of poverty where globally most of the people who are poor are
women is going to be a problem that he`s going to have to come back to over
and over again.

So I think it`s going to be this dichotomy where on the one hand he`s
asking for full involvement in ministry and on the other hand, of course,
there`s now any opening to even see that women might be able to be ordained
in the Catholic Church. So, it`s a big problem that will be with him, no
doubt, for his entire tenure.

CAPEHART: And we`re going to come back to the income inequality issue in
our next block. Stay right there.

Up next, the pope, the president, the meeting everyone is waiting for. Are
they the new dynamic duo?


CAPEHART: American Catholics aren`t the only ones who have been excited by
Pope Francis`s message for a more equal society. In a speech in December
on income inequality, President Obama specifically asked his speechwriters
to include words from the pope.


inequality has increased. Some of you may have seen last week, the pope
himself spoke about this at eloquent length. How can it be, he wrote, that
it`s not a news item when an elderly home person dies of exposure but it is
when the stock market loses two points?


CAPEHART: And later this month, the two heads of state will meet, when the
president travels to Rome on March 27th. The White House says the
president hopes to discuss fighting poverty and growing inequality with
Pope Francis.

Sam, what should we take from this meeting between the president and the

CRUZ: I hope that the pope is able to really encourage Obama to put his
words where his policies are at. President Obama I`ve supported, but he`s
very connected to Wall Street in a lot of ways and what`s exciting for me
about Pope Francis speaking on these -- the horrors of neoliberal global
capitalism is that he is coming at it from a pastoral perspective.

And, you know, in the past, pontiffs have written about income inequality
but it`s been more in an academic way. They write about it in academic
terminology. This pope is addressing real lived situations. And I think
that`s what`s exciting and positive about what this pope brings to the mix.

CAPEHART: He`s not just addressing them. As the cardinal in Argentina, he
was there on the streets. He knows when he talks about these things it`s
not from up here, it`s from here.

CRUZ: Yes. And, Jonathan, you know, he recently invited Gustavo
Gutierrez, one of the pioneers of liberation theology, to come to the
Vatican. It`s interesting because Pope Benedict spent most of his career
condemning Latin American theology. In some ways, Pope Francis is saying,
listen, we have to really think of the poor.

CAPEHART: Let`s bring it back to President Obama. To what extent can the
president and the pope work together, and in particular, I`m thinking to
what extent can the pope influence members of Congress. And in this case
I`m thinking specifically about Congressman Paul Ryan, Chairman Paul Ryan,
who is -- was Roman Catholic.

STAPLES: I think it`s important to know, though, that presidents meet with
pontiffs and they have been doing these kinds of meetings since Woodrow
Wilson was in the White House. George Bush -- George W. Bush had six
meetings. He gave a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Pope John Paul II.

So, I think it`s going a bit too far to expect these kinds of meetings to
then have direct drawdown influence on members of Congress, although they
are likely to, again, ramp up the rhetoric and the debate around the issues
that actually President Obama has declared is going to be a focal point of
the remainder of his term, which is income inequality, the widening gap
between the rich and poor in the United States, low income workers, fast
food workers, minimum wage. There`s a lot on the table for President

RAUSENBUSH: I think that the real opportunity here especially is
immigration, because that is a place of real confluence with the American
bishops and with -- I think President Obama does have good intension
although he`s gotten a label of deporter-in-chief, and that`s clear that
Pope Francis, this is a hard issue for him.

This is an opportunity to rally people around this and say it`s
unacceptable not to pass immigration reform. It`s really an opportunity --
this is a justice issue but it`s also a gospel issue. I don`t think you
can be a Catholic in the Congress and go against that.

PEPPARD: I also think that the religious right has a lot of influence. So
it`s positive to have a religious leader of the status of the pope having a
more progressive view on the issues of the economy.

CAPEHART: Will the religious right, the American religious right, and I`m
thinking of the evangelicals, the base of the Republican Party, are they
going to listen to someone like Pope Francis?

PEPPARD: I`ll jump in on that one. When you look at the Catholic
teachings on inequality, wealth and poverty, all the way back 125 years,
you always find a correlation, a juxtaposition of charity and justice. You
know, individual acts of mercy, individual acts of charity always have to
be corresponded to just social structures.

In the United States, our two political parties actually tend to emphasize
one or the other, right? And so, they can each find in Catholic teachings,
to say, well, look, this text is all about charity and all about mercy and
all about the individual act of mercy, you see someone on the street and we
make money and we give to charity. The other side looks at it and says,
oh, but it`s also about structural sin and structural reform.

The religious right doesn`t even want the term structural sin at all.
That`s not a term that they would agree exists. So, you got folks on the
left would say, well, charity is not enough. And as a Catholic, I would
say it`s sad because the Catholic teachings are really actually holistic
but sort of like the bible gets treated, different sides are going into
those Catholic teachings and plucking out individual lines, kind of proof
texting their political views.

CAPEHART: You know, we only have, again, less than a minute left. But I
want to bring it back to Nuns on the Bus because you can`t have this
conversation about income inequality and the pope and not talk about sort
of disconnect it seems between the Vatican`s actions against nuns on the
bus and the current pope`s talk of income inequality which from what I
remember is exactly all the things that the Nuns on the Bus are talking

RAUSHENBUSH: The funny thing about the Nuns on the Bus is they were
critiqued for not focusing enough on abortion and homosexuality. This is a
pope who has exactly said let`s not focus so much on abortion and
homosexuality. So, the opportunity here is for everyone to follow the nuns
and let them set our agenda. I mean, these are people working with the
poor and we should let them inform us on what kinds of transformational
politics are needed.

CAPEHART: That`s great.

Guys, thank you very much for being here, Michael Peppard and our three
reverends, Julie Johnson Staples, Samuel Cruz and Paul Raushenbush.

Up next, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin joins us to
talk about the news that has every 16-year-old in America taking notes.


CAPEHART: Last week, the College Board announced major changes to the SAT
college admissions test as a new initiative to promote equity and
opportunity for college bound students. These changes include a return to
the 1,600-point scoring scale, vocabulary questions that are no longer
obscure and more pertinent to college or career paths and are now optional
essay, all changes that will take effect starting in 2016.

Additionally, costly test preparation classes that were available to those
students with means will now be available to all students as the
educational Web site Con Academy will offer free online coaching.

David Coleman, president of the College Board, had this to say when
announcing the changes.


DAVID COLEMAN, PRESIDENT, COLLEGE BOARD: And if the Con Board is serious
about going beyond assessment to deliver opportunity, we must be in front
of the inequalities that now surround the session`s costly test


CAPEHART: But will these changes actually help close the education
inequality gap in this country?

I want to welcome Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National
Education Association, and presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-
winning author, Doris Kearns Goodwin, who join us from Washington, D.C.,
where they`re attending the National Board for Professional Teaching
Standards Education Conference, Teaching and Learning 2014.




CAPEHART: Thanks for being here.

Dennis, I want to touch on those students who, like myself, my SAT scores
prove it, are just not good test takers. Will these changes in SAT help
them? Will it make a difference?

VAN ROEKEL: Well, I haven`t seen the actual new test so I can`t comment on
the specific questions. I think the idea that we provide free assistance
to people is a really important one for bridging that inequality that
exists in the system.

I think as the movement is also towards not having a single major
determined eligibility for college. It`s better to have multiple majors
and consider other factors. And I also hope the conversation includes the
greatest inequity that exists, and that is the affordability of college.

It has increased so dramatically that it`s getting more and more difficult
for just the average American to be able to send their son or daughter to

CAPEHART: Doris, your book "The Bully Pulpit", which focuses on Presidents
Roosevelt and Taft, addresses the widening gap between the rich and the
poor and the effect it has on public education. We mention the new SAT is
supposed to level the playing field.

But what are the real issues that need to be addressed in public education
to close disparity gap?

GOODWIN: Well, I think the most important thing when you think about this
country of ours is that mobility was the promise that every immigrant had
when they first came here so many years ago, that if you worked hard and
used discipline and exercised your talents, you could move up to a place
where your talents would be realized. And given now the gap between the
rich and the poor, the squeezing of the middle class and the problem that
some educational schools in the inner cities are not of the same qualities
as the other educational schools, it`s absolutely imperative that education
be the ladder of opportunity.

And we`ve just got to figure out ways that these kids can be motivated from
the time they`re little to stay in school, to let their talents -- we`re
losing so many people before the system is finished that don`t even have a
chance to go to college, or even forget the affordability, they`ve lost
their impetus before they get there.

So, education is the key to America really.

CAPEHART: No, you`re absolutely right.

Dennis, let me get your view on another disparate we have in this country,
dealing with suspensions. The federal government found that of 3 million
children suspended or expelled during the 2010-2011 school year, seven out
of ten were black or Latino or kids with disabilities.

How would you explain trend? And is there work that needs to be done with
teachers and their perceptions to rectify the issue?

VAN ROEKEL: There absolutely is work to be done. We`ve got to take a look
very hard at the statistics and take the next step to say, what is it we
can do, all of us, the adults within the system to change the statistic?
It`s just unacceptable.

And what we worry about most are the kids who dropped out, it`s the school
to prison pipeline. Too many kids who drop out of school end up later in
prison and we just can`t afford as a nation to waste that kind of human
potential. So, it`s something we care very deeply about at the National
Education Association and we are working heavily with all of our members to
say what is the kind of training and awareness we need to build and what
actions can we take to change that statistic.

And also, you know, the president`s My Brother`s Keeper initiative also
wants to address that school to prison pipeline. But I want to say you
both are going to be introduced by Vicky Kennedy, the widow of the late
Senator Ted Kennedy today. You`re talking about inspiring students through
civic education.

We constantly hear about how American students compare against other
nation`s children in math and science. Are we losing sight of the
importance of history?

GOODWIN: Well, I hope not. I mean, I think history is so important
because it allows us to understand the people who went before us, who lived
their lives and walked the earth so many decades ago, had struggles and
triumphs. They create the contours of the present.

Otherwise, we`re just living by ourselves as if we have to learn everything
all over again. You know, in the old days when I was in school, civics was
huge. We used to sing songs. We had a sense of America. History was a
huge part of our curriculum. And sometimes it`s sliced out right now and I
think we`ll be losing that story telling ability, which is such a part of
all of us as human beings if we lose history.

History is about story, stories about people who lived before.

CAPEHART: History was huge for me when I was in school, too. I loved
history but then again, I was American.

GOODWIN: Hooray.

CAPEHART: Was and continue to be a big old nerd.

GOODWIN: I love nerds.


CAPEHART: Dennis Van Roekel and Doris Kearns Goodwin, thanks so much for
being here.

VAN ROEKEL: Thank you.

GOODWIN: Thank you.

CAPEHART: Up next, this weekend voter suppression, honey badger edition.


CAPEHART: Nerdland, it is time for -- "This Week in Voter Suppression".
"This Week in Voter Suppression".

First, we go to Wisconsin, the Badger State, where Governor Scott Walker
fighting for re-election this November is in a close race with his
Democratic challenger, Madison School Board member, Mary Burke.

But it seems he`s not all that concerned about that. What does he find
pressing? Here`s what he told reporters Tuesday.


GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: The only real thing I thought that was
pressing, may still be, continue to be pressing depending on what the court
reacts on, is voter ID.


CAPEHART: What Governor Walker is talking about is a voter ID requirement
which two county judges blocked shortly after he signed it into law in
2011. It remained blocked through the attempt to recall him in 2012 and
that year`s presidential election. If the courts don`t uphold the law this
spring, Walker promised Tuesday that he would call a special legislative
session to modify the voter ID requirements so that the courts approve.

But that was only Tuesday. So much more time in the week for voter
suppression. On Wednesday, the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Senate voted 17-16
for a bill that would bar counties from offering early voting on weekends
or weekdays after 7:00 p.m. Every Democrat opposed the measure.

Another bill passed by the state senate allows lobbyists to start making
personal campaign contributions the day candidates can circulate petitions
for office. Not even candidates officially yet, they`re just circling
petitions for office.

Joining us is MSNBC national reporter, Zachary Roth, who has been reporting
on voting rights for MSNBC.com. Jelani Cobb, associate professor of
history at University of Connecticut. And Dale Ho, director of the ACLU
Voting Rights Project.

Let me first go to Madison, Wisconsin, where we are joint by this week in
voter suppression frequent guest, Scot Ross, executive director of One
Wisconsin Now.

Now, due to some technical difficulties at our studio, Scott joins us by
phone this morning.

Scot, I know out there you guys like to call it the Badger State, but it`s
starting to seem more like the honey badger state because with these new
rules, absolutely no subtlety here, it`s like the Republican leadership
doesn`t give a you-know-what.

SCOT ROSS, ONE WISCONSIN NOW (via telephone): Well, absolutely, Jonathan.
Thanks for having me today.

Jim Crow is alive and well in the state of Wisconsin, and Scott Walker is
seeking to make -- you know, put him on steroids here. They have attacked
the right to vote -- the sacred right to vote here in Wisconsin over and
over again with voter suppression and voter intimidation. And now that
they have seized control of the state government, they are using their
power as elected officials to enact laws that will make it harder for
minorities, students, seniors, working people and people with disabilities
to access the franchise.

CAPEHART: I mean, I`m just surprised. I`m just stunned by how they`re not
even subtle about what they`re trying to do. Zach, what kind of voter ID
compromise is Governor Walker seeking to make that -- to actually pass
muster with the courts?

DALE HO, ACLU: Well, we don`t really know until we see what the court
rulings look like, right, but I was one of the lawyers litigating the voter
ID case in November. I think two things struck out from that case, right?

One was that the state could produce absolutely no evidence of in person
voter impersonation in Wisconsin in the entire history of the state. So,
there`s not one instance of fraud that this voter ID law could have
prevented. So, there`s no justification for any kind of voter ID law in
Wisconsin whatsoever.

But the second thing that really came out from that trial was there was
evidence of 150,000 voters in Wisconsin who didn`t have ID and that the
rate of non-ownership amongst minority owners was twice as high as that of
white voters in Wisconsin. So, people are going to be prevented from
voting, but no fraud is going to be prevented by this law.

CAPEHART: I just wanted to point out I asked the question of Zach and
looked at Dale. You were very good to answer the question.

Zach, you take a stab at that.

ZACHARY ROTH, MSNBC.COM: Sure. Well, I mean, on the -- on the definition
of early voting, the thing that I found pretty revealing is the rationale
that they`ve come up with for why they need to cut early voting on the
weekends, where they say there needs to be uniformity among all the
counties and for rural counties it doesn`t make sense, it`s not cost
effective to have early voting on the weekends. And therefore, these urban
counties that are more populated and do need early voting on the weekends,
they can`t have it either. So, basically nobody can do it.

And the leader of the Senate, the Republican leader, actually put it like
people -- rural residents feel bad if they turn on the TV and they see
urban voters voting at a time when they can`t vote and to me that -- the
weakness of that argument is really pretty revealing about the real
motivation there.

CAPEHART: Hey, Scot, let me ask -- bring you back into the conversation
because I`m wondering how much will a current gubernatorial race put the
focus on Walker and Republican lawmakers, what they`re attempting?

ROSS: Absolutely. I mean, Scott Walker is in the fight of his life
against former track bicycle executive Mary Burke. Wisconsin has fallen
from 11th in job creation before Scott Walker took office, to 37th in the
nation. In fact, last month, we have number one -- we were number one for
having the most new unemployment filings in the United States and Governor
Walker`s administration has been personified by cronyism, corruption and

And so, he is seeking to rig the elections so that the voters don`t have a
voice in ousting him from office.

The fact is, and, you know, one of the other members of the panel brought
this up, we have seen in Wisconsin, this extraordinary effort to pass voter
ID and voter suppression laws. The current incarnation of a new voter ID
law would require you, this is what the bill -- this is what the bill they
have is, would require you to go before your friends and neighbors at the
polling place and declare that you are too poor to afford an ID and that --
and then those ballots would be squirreled away in a separate pile.

So I guess, you know, Governor Walker`s vote suppressors could go through
them and do legal challenges to make sure you were poor enough -- you were
too poor to afford an ID. It`s just unconscionable. We were lucky enough
to have Reverend Barber out here for the Moral Mondays down in North
Carolina and he said, we all stand up together to lift and defend the most
sacred principles of our faith and our Constitution, and that is I am my
brother`s keeper.

And that is what`s going on in the state of Wisconsin right now. People
are rising up against this. They`re going to fight for their brothers and
sisters, because when you take away somebody`s right to vote, you are
taking away the very essence of their humanity and the very essence of
being a citizen of these United States.

CAPEHART: I want to thank Scot Ross in Madison, Wisconsin, for joining us
by phone this morning. Thanks so much, Scot.

ROSS: Thank you.

CAPEHART: Up next, from the Badger State to the Buckeye State, the
struggle continues.


CAPEHART: It has become even harder to vote in Ohio in the last month,
with Republican Governor John Kasich signing a pair of restrictive voting
bills, and Republican Secretary of State John Husted cutting voting hours
on Sundays and weekday evenings. It`s like a repeat of Wisconsin.

But as State Senator Nina Turner told MSNBC Zach Roth this week, quote,
"Ohioans are just plain tired of their ballot access being made into a
political tool". So they`re fighting back. From testimony Tuesday,
rallies in the state capital to a resolution in Akron, denouncing the
Republican`s new law, to a Cuyahoga county bill that undermines absentee
ballots and even a possible legal challenge from Democrats to the cut backs
on early voting and the elimination of same-day registration.

And this week an Ohio voting bill of rights cleared a key hurdle on the way
to the November ballot.

Zach, tell us -- I`m sorry, Zach. Tell us, what`s in that and why -- and
why this is such a big deal?

ROTH: Sure. Well, that possible constitutional amendment, which is what
it is, which would add voter protections to the state constitution. Right
now, there`s no right to vote in the Ohio constitution, just as there`s no
right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, by the way. That would actually
put very specific requirements in there where you couldn`t cut early voting
by a certain number of days. It would, I think, bar voter ID laws.

So, it would really protect voting rights very strongly in Ohio. They need
to gather 300,000 something signatures to get it on the ballot and then
they need to pass it. So, it`s a long way from a done deal. That`s what
this is.

CAPEHART: And, you know -- I mean, it`s not like they wouldn`t be able to
get the signatures. We have this graphic poll results. Eighty-five
percent support expanding ability to vote before election day, 85 percent
support same-day registration, and then -- this is what I find the most
remarkable one -- the amount of support for eliminating early voting, zero

COBB: See, this is -- this is the interesting thing here and, you know, I
find myself agreeing with Chief Justice John Roberts in the most ironic
way. But if we remember back to last summer when the Voting Rights Act was
struck down, part of it, a key section of it was struck down, they said
that it was wrong to unfairly stigmatize Southern states based upon their
history and their tradition of restricting black voting. And so,
therefore, they wanted to do away with this section. I actually agree with

Let`s look at what`s happening in Ohio and looking at what`s happening in
Wisconsin and let`s expand this. This was not an argument to say that the
Voting Rights Act needed to be made weaker. It was actually an expression
of the reality of voter suppression now being a national problem, a
national concern.

And this is why we`re talking about these things in northern states.

CAPEHART: So, this is the question I was going to ask you in the last
block before we ran out of time -- how does the Supreme Court Voting Rights
Act decision from last year help or hurt what we`re -- the efforts that
we`re seeing in Wisconsin and Ohio?

COBB: This is the yield of this. And so, what we`re seeing is a kind of
political retrenchment and the concerns and these things have always been
concerns, but if you go back to 2008 when we were on the verge, on the cusp
of seeing Barack Obama elected as president, you know, we were thinking in
the back of our minds, this is going to have repercussions and one will be
that people will be emboldened in their attempts to minimize black
political powers.

We had two elections in which African-American voters outstripped white
American voter participation. We can`t think we know anything about
American history. We can`t think that something can happen like that can
and there won`t be repercussions from it.

CAPEHART: You know, I want to get to what`s happening in Cincinnati.

Zach, you`ve been reporting. What`s happening in Cincinnati exactly?

ROTH: Well, what they`ve done is the Hamilton County board has voted to
move early voting from its location downtown to a suburban location, which,
of course, is much harder to access for urban voters.


ROTH: There`s not good public transportation. It`s going to be very
difficult to get there. Go ahead.

CAPEHART: No, keep going.

ROTH: Well, there was about 24,000 voters in 2012 who took advantage of
that early voting site, so you`re talking about -- it`s hard to put numbers
on it -- but you`re talking about thousands of voters going to be certainly
inconvenienced, possibly disenfranchised by moving it to that suburban

CAPEHART: And I just want to point out, if we put that map up real fast,
this new site is 8.8 miles away, in the mountain area section, northwest of
downtown Cincinnati. To get there, it`s 14 minutes by car, 53 minutes by

So, this is a hardship. This is an inconvenience for those voters in Ohio.

I have to leave it there. Thank you, Zach Roth, Jelani Cobb and Dale Ho.

Up next, the 12-year-old using his favorite toy to help make life better
for millions. Our amazing foot soldier is coming up.


CAPEHART: More than 6 million people in the United States are living with
severe visual disabilities. Many people with visual impairments rely on
Braille to read everything from magazines to "The Hunger Games" trilogy.

But depending on the size of the volume being turned down, the printers
necessary for Braille and busing can cost between $1,800 and $80,000. That
makes for some pricey literature.

But this week`s "Foot Soldier" built a way around the expense by
constructing a new Braille printer prototype, his self-selected after-
school project. All he needed was intellectual curiosity and his favorite
toy -- LEGO`s, naturally.

The 12-year-old Shubham Banerjee`s invention began with a flyer found on
his home`s doorstep. It was a flyer requesting donations for the visually
impaired and that one piece of paper inspired Shubham to scour the Internet
to find out how people with visual impairments read.

All of his research on Braille led to one additional question -- could he
make a low-cost Braille printer on his own?


SHUBHAM BANERJEE, 12-YEAR-OLD: I mean, I didn`t know if it was possible.
But I really wanted to do it.


CAPEHART: So, Shubham set to work at his kitchen table with his LEGO
Mindstorms kit, $350 LEGO set complete with the hardware and software
necessary to build a customized robot.

At first, seven failed prototypes seemed to answer his question. But one
night after four weeks of tweaking his designs after school, Shubham`s
creation printed its first letter, making the successful invention of
Braigo, the name Shubham gave his printer.

Braigo relies on three motors to function. The motors work together to
move a pin across the inserted paper to make Braille imprints. Despite the
ingenuity behind his design, Shubham does not plan to profit from Braigo.
Instead, Shubham e will simply make the design available online for anyone
who wants to summon their inner child and try their handle at LEGO


BANERJEE: I think I`m actually doing something that can actually help


CAPEHART: For using his LEGO set to lay the foundation for low-cost
Braille printing, seventh grader Shubham Banerjee is our foot soldier of
the week.

Now, before we go, I have a pop quiz for you. What percentage of unmarried
women with children under 18 who work full-time live in poverty? It`s
higher than you might think, 13.2 percent. That`s nearly 587,000 women
based on data from 2012.

Intrigued? Well, now, there`s a chance to find out so much more through
the first-ever Nerdland Scholar Challenge. In two days, Melissa Harris-
Perry is going to launch an interactive online experience that walks
through the intersection of motherhood and politics. You can sign up now
by going to the website MPShow.com.

That is our show -- well, yes, that is our show for today. Thanks to you
at home for watching. I`ll see you tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, when we
will dive deep into why President Obama finds himself between a fern and a
hard place.

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


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