March 29, 2014
Guests: Gordon Chang, Nina Burleigh, Charles Sennott, Silky Shah, Lara
Setrakian, Michael Peppard, Julie Johnson Staples, Samuel Cruz, Taylor
Branch, Dave Zirin, Jeffrey Kessler, Sarita Gupta
MELISSA HARRIS PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question, did you miss
me, Nerdland? Plus, the pope, the president and the politics of the poor.
And, how college football just might save the American labor movement.
But, first, the president and the first lady take the globe by storm.
Good morning. I`m Melissa HARRIS-PERRY: This week the White House was
utterly focused on President Obama`s signature piece of domestic
legislation, the Affordable Care Act. And as we enter the final days of
Americans to secure insurance through online exchanges for the 2014
coverage, this campaign to ensure last minutes enrollments has been
massive. But for his part, President Obama this week was on the political
campaign of another kind - a global campaign with stops in the Netherlands,
Belgium, Italy, the Holy See and Saudi Arabia. On Thursday he sat and
spoke with Pope Francis at the Vatican and today he leaves Saudi Arabia
where he met with King Abdullah on Friday. The White House noted the
purpose of the president`s travels with this specific, pointed and
inspiring language. "To mobilize the international community and some of
our most important partners in the world, at a time when the United States
is dealing with a number of important challenges." Yes, the president went
abroad to get people to help us do stuff that is important and challenging.
You see, this statement is this kind of vague notion. It is a far cry from
the international enthusiasm that marked Senator Obama`s 2008 European tour
when he was still an aspiring presidential candidate. At that time
candidate Obama seeing the very embodiment of possibility for America to
regain the role of symbolic leader carrying the shining ideals of
democratic self-governance, inclusion and rule of law that has dimmed since
our nation`s invasion of Iraq in 2003. So palpable was the hope for an
Obama presidency to create a new American legacy that he was awarded the
Nobel Prize for peace just 11 months into his presidency. Those early
travels and accolades were all about big ideas, broad themes and agenda
setting, but this week the president sometimes revisited those themes, but
you did not have to be paying even very close attention to realize that
this trip was not about theory, it was about very real events.
And this time the speeches had an overriding theme, Russia, its reported
40,000 to 50,000 troops on the border of Ukraine, and what the world must
do to ensure those troops don`t cross that border.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Europe and
America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the
Ukrainian people. We`re united in imposing a cost on Russia for its
actions so far. The truth of the matter is that America`s got a whole lot
of challenges. Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its
immediate neighbors, not out of strength, but out of weakness.
If anyone in Russian leadership thought the world wouldn`t care about their
actions in Ukraine or that they could drive a wedge between the European
Union and the United States, they clearly miscalculated.
Russia`s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed
self-evident, that in the 21st century the borders of Europe cannot be
redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations
can make their own decisions about their future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: There is some evidence this morning that the president`s
efforts this week just may have had an effect. On Friday Vladimir Putin
called President Obama and the two spent nearly an hour on the phone
discussing Ukraine and de-escalation. The two agreed to have their top
diplomats speak further about ways to diffuse the crisis. This moment is a
significant test for President Obama. Back home political allies and
opponents wait to greet the president on implementation of health care
reform and abroad the world waits to answer two questions. Has the United
States sufficiently rebuilt its moral authority to convene our allies for
action against Russia`s aggression and can the United States enforce its
threats and sanctions? Answering those questions has global consequences.
At the table, Charlie Sennott, vice president and co-founder of GlobalPost
who is an award-winning foreign correspondent with 25 years of experience.
Nina Burleigh, a writer for "Rolling Stone" who has written about President
Obama`s foreign diplomacy. Lara Setrakian who is co-founder and executive
editor of "Syria Deeply" who is also an award-winning journalist. And
Gordon Chang, columnist at Forbes.com who blogs at "World Affairs" journal.
So nice to have you all at the table.
Charlie, I`m going to start with you. How important was that phone call in
providing us some evidence that we might actually be moving towards de-
CHARLES SENNOTT, FOUNDING EDITOR, GLOBALPOST: I think the phone call is
very important. This was quite a serious event that was unfolding and I
think it was a lot of theater, a lot of bluster, a lot of macho and I think
to see it get diffused is very important because there`s a lot of
peacemaking to do. There`s a lot of diplomacy that`s underway. This is a
time of very active diplomacy from the White House and the State
Department. They want to get successes in Syria, they want successes in
Iran on the nuclear program and they want to try to restart
Israel/Palestine. The truth is they can`t do this without Russia. So,
seeing this come together, I hope, will now sort of put in place again the
chess pieces the way this White House wanted to have them arrayed as they
went forward with some very active diplomacy.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it`s interesting - I see you nodding a bit as Charlie is
talking. So, do you see ultimately the possibility that as much as this
has been this crisis, this impending, looming crisis, and in certain ways a
loss in the context of Crimea, that this might actually provide an
opportunity for the Obama doctrine to evidence itself as a success?
LARA SETRAKIAN, SYRIA DEEPLY: A small but hopeful opportunity for the
Obama administration. That phone call was the first sign of an off ramp to
de-escalate this crisis in Crimea. All of those other issues, Syria, Iran
and beyond, European security, all hang on a constructive U.S. -Russian
relationship. And we have seen no sign of that for weeks leading towards
impending catastrophe. Now, it`s a very, very narrow window to try to
convince Putin to change anything about how he`s approaching anything, but
certainly Crimea. And he has - this doesn`t change the strategic balance
of anything that`s happening now, but there`s at least a glimmer of hope
that they can restore some dialogue.
HARRIS-PERRY: This point that you`ve made here I think, is critical,
really, that both of you made. That the issue isn`t really about Ukraine
itself. It`s not - I mean, certainly for the Ukrainian people it is, but
in terms of American diplomatic interest, it is not about this piece of
land per se, and it may not even be about the economic questions that we`ll
talk about in a bit, but in part that all of the rest of the balance is
based on this relationship. Gordon, I want to play something for you.
This is the president speaking on CBS in an interview. And he`s suggesting
there might be a misreading problem going on. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What I have repeatedly said is that he may be entirely misreading
the West. He`s certainly misreading American foreign policy. We have no
interest in encircling Russia. And we have no interest in Ukraine beyond
letting the Ukrainian people make their own decisions about their own
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Gordon, he`s saying, we don`t want Ukraine, we just
support democracy and self-governance.
GORDON CHANG, FORBES.COM: Yeah, and I think the real problem here, though,
is that the president`s policies assume that the world is the way it was at
the end of the Cold War. That - now the major powers had a common interest
in peace and security. You know, what we have seen over the last couple of
years is that they don`t. You know, both China and Russia have been
grabbing territory from neighbors and certainly destabilizing their
respective regions. So, perhaps those assumptions that have guided us for
two decades are no longer true. And if that`s the case, then that means
our policies are going to have to change. As much as we don`t want them
to, but I think that that very well - is much in the cards. Because China
and Russia are not the way we want them to be.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, even as the president is making this claim that
potentially Putin is misreading the West, you`re suggesting that there may
be a misreading of what constitutes our - the global interests of the sort
of nation state players? You wrote recently and we`ll talk more about this
as we push on about the president`s decision making relative to Syria.
Is this emblematic of what Gordon is talking about here, that the sets of
interest we think we have, in fact, might be quite different than the
interests as they are understood by the players themselves within these
nations and states?
NINA BURLEIGH, WRITER, "ROLLING STONE": Well, I mean my reporting on that
story had to do with the fact that what we talk about here, what we`re
having these discussions on the air, the president is making speeches,
there is a lot going on in the background. There is a lot going on that we
don`t know about and so there are discussions going on between people, the
State Department and with the Russian counterparts all the time. And what
you see in the news and what we`re talking about isn`t really the full
BURLEIGH: So I think that the interests that we`ve been discussing here
are constantly being discussed in the background and that`s the story.
That`s the story behind the story needs to be brought up. And it`s in
their interests to keep it quiet sometimes. So this phone call last night
BURLEIGH: May have - there may have been many things that led up to it
that you and I and the "Washington Post" don`t actually know about. And
you only find out about it six months later as I did in my reporting on the
Syria episode in August.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. Stay with that, because I want to go to
exactly that, Charlie, I want to ask in part about so as we talk about
issues of diplomacy, as we think about what Obama doctrine looks like, how
much of that is the capacity to perform, to perform one thing, right,
visually? So that other sorts of diplomatic efforts can be happening
behind. When we come back, President Obama on the question of the use of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There`s no expectation that they will be dislodged by force and so
what we can bring to bear are the legal arguments, the diplomatic
arguments, the political pressure, the economic sanctions that are already
in place to try to make sure that there is a cost to that process.
OBAMA: So, yes the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving
the peace. And yet this truth must co-exist with another, that no matter
how justified, war promises human tragedy. War itself is never glorious.
And we must never trumpet it as such.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was a much younger and more refreshed looking President
Barack Obama back in December of 2009 giving his acceptance speech for the
Nobel Prize in Peace. And the sentiment that the president expressed then
has everything to do with his foreign policy now. As my guest Nina
Burleigh noted in a new article in "Rolling Stone" called "Obama Versus the
Hawks", the piece takes a look at the reaction to the president`s actions
though he may have been called weak on foreign policy when it comes to
Russia and Syria, he may, in fact, have used diplomatic means backed by
(INAUDIBLE) force to bring Russia to the table and prevent U.S. troop
involvement in Syria. So, Nina, you go back and basically revive this
notion of a muscular president, of a strong president rather than a weak
one. But by changing our definition of what constitutes weak and strong.
BURLEIGH: That`s right. I mean, in Washington, especially among the
neocons and the McCains, if you haven`t lobbed a few tomahawks, you`re not
presidential. And when Obama pulled back on Syria in August, he was
criticized, as you know, I mean, you know, he threw it to Congress and,
boy, he took down American standing, he took down American credibility and
we heard this over and over again. And yet here we are six months later,
the red line was crossed. That`s why they were -- that`s why the war drums
were beating. The red line was crossed. 50 percent of the Syrian chemical
weapons are offloaded. They`re almost on schedule. They`re going to be
out of there by June. That is a success story, right? There was not one
single missile fired and what you get is these stories about, well, it`s -
you know, Putin handed that to him. That was an accidental victory, right?
And my reporting, you know, six months later people are now willing to talk
about it. They had been talking about this for months.
BURLEIGH: They had been engaged deeply with the Russians for a year before
that behind the scenes. So it`s all about the theater. It`s all about
moving the missiles into place and then he didn`t. He pulled back.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me underscore exactly the point that you`re making
about sort of how it was initially received and how as you called them the
hawks continued to talk about it. Let`s listen to Senator McCain talking
about the president just earlier this month at AIPAC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R) ARIZONA: There is a broad array of options that we
have. Why do we care? Because this is the ultimate result of a feckless
foreign policy where nobody believes in America`s strength anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Charlie, a feckless foreign policy with no strength?
SENNOTT: Look, I think - I think Nina is right on the money that there`s
this sense that this hawks call him a weak president. They want to paint
him that way. They love to overlook the fact that he is the one who
brought bin Laden to justice, permanent justice. They want to overlook a
lot of the strength he`s made. But I`ve got to say, this week I think the
theater caught up with the president. If you go back to look at this
amazing speech and -- when he received the Nobel Prize. The more important
speech I think was in Cairo in June 2009.
SENNOTT: In Cairo, he said to the whole Muslim world, we reach out to you
with open hands. He said democracy is a universal value and we will back
you on that. That defied American foreign policy, particularly in the
Middle East. When we really were about supporting stability over
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, and stability that was ultimately brought at the price
of repression of the people.
SENNOTT: Exactly. Egypt being case in point. So, the people of Egypt
heard President Obama, I would argue. It certainly contributed to the
movement which became known as the Arab Spring. I was in Tahrir Square. I
heard those young people and what they wanted, and what they want is
democracy. Now when the United States allows that democracy to be
derailed, look, Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who became
president, failed governance, the guy was not a good leader, but he was
elected by the people. When you allowed the military junta to come in and
overthrow Morsi, as much as we may not like Morsi, we may not like the
Muslim Brotherhood, you have now undercut your entire argument that you
believe that democracy is a universal right.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is interesting, Lara. In part, this sets up two
different possibilities what would constitute the definition of a
successful foreign policy. Even the question of whether or not the
reduction of the Syrian chemical weapons represents a success may depend on
whether or not you are a Syrian person still dealing with the brutality of
that crisis, right? And, similarly, whether or not, you know, sort of this
discourse actually leads to an Arab Spring that changes how people are
SETRAKIAN: Absolutely. And it also calls into question what you can call
a win essentially. 50 percent of those chemical weapons are out, but
they`ve missed a sequence of deadlines. This is not where we wanted to be
with chemical weapons at this point in time. On top of it, President Obama
may be called feckless at home, he`s called much worse overseas at this
point. Across the Middle East, people saw that play as indecisive, as a
sign that President Obama said Assad must go. Why is he still there? So
what do America`s words mean anymore? And so much, you know, is made out
of sort of looking at specific plays in the game and specific moments of
foreign policy. But if you take a step back holistically, we have lost
credibility over the past few years.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is so important. We have to take a break. But this is
so important. I can remember distinctly what it was like to travel as an
American before January of 2009 when President Obama was not rated and
after it, and there was a sense of, oh, we`re going to re-establish kind of
that American rhetorical discursive capacity. And I am interested to think
about now sort of how the world is thinking about us. But when we come
back we`re going to take a look at the far-reaching impact about these
tensions between the U.S. and Russia. I`m telling you, it comes all the
way to Brooklyn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: History has a funny way of moving in twists and turns and not just
in a straight line so, you know, how the situation in Crimea evolves in
part depends on making sure that the international community stays unified.
HARRIS-PERRY: What do Brooklyn and Russia have in common? Well, if the
Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has anything to do with it, a lot.
On Monday the owner announced the plans to put the Nets under the control
of one of his Russian companies and that the NBA quickly released a
statement saying it had received no application nor is there a process
underway through our office to transfer the ownership of the Nets to
another company. So the next day Prokhorov tempered talks of his transfer
and - for his company, released a statement that said, this is a long
process which may or may not come to fruition and nothing is imminent.
Whether it happens or not, this brings up an interesting complexity when it
comes to who can be affected by the standoff between the U.S., Western
Europe and Russia. As Russia`s eight wealthiest man with a net worth of
reportedly somewhere between 10 and $12 billion in assets, this Nets owner
could, in fact, be particularly vulnerable if Western powers continue their
escalation of economic sanctions against Russia. The move to transfer the
control of the Brooklyn Nets under one of his Russian companies would allow
him to heed Putin`s ban on politicians having foreign assets. And
economically, the value of staying loyal to Russia is essential during the
Ukraine crisis. As his net worth has already dipped a whopping $811
million this year. Now, despite the fact that I was shocked to discover
that it is not Jay-Z who owns the Nets .
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, the .
SENNOTT: He has to register as a Boston Celtics fan. I think we should
impose sanctions on the ...
HARRIS-PERRY: On the Nets. I mean for me it looks -- for me this was --
you know, I mean in certain ways a silly kind of, you know, side story, but
it is indicative of how globally interconnected we are. And it felt to me,
Gordon, a little bit like going back to your point of this is not the post
-Cold War world, this is a world, in which, you know, a Russian owner holds
a team in Brooklyn.
CHANG: Yeah. I mean, but this is - also was true in 1914 where you had a
globalized world. Everybody thought that each other`s interests in the
other country prevented war and of course what happened? You know, the
greatest war up until that time. And so I think, you know, right now
certainly if we were to sanction Russia more severely it would hurt us, but
there`s some very important things going on here because the Europeans, of
course, are very, very concerned about what`s happened. Because he`s just
CHANG: He might go for the rest of Ukraine. You`ve got the Baltics,
you`ve got Moldovia (sic), you`ve got Poland.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you have those gas pipe lines moving through Ukraine,
and you can see them moving through Ukraine to Western Europe. That is
where - I mean, you know, that visual helps you to see what the immediate
interests for Western Europe are.
CHANG: And the one thing that the president can do is he can eliminate -
or abolish the restriction on the export of LMG (ph). Because if we were
to do that, we could make Europe much less dependent on Russia. If we were
to make Europe much less dependent, we could actually use our economic
leverage and really push the Russians to a better place. We are not doing
that right now. So, you know, it works both ways, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: This question of how a sanction could ultimately harm the
economic interests of the sanctioning country is fascinating for me. And
I`m just wondering like as we look at this global interconnectedness, as we
look at those gas pipelines into Western Europe, as we think about the
Nets, what would an effective sanctions policy - effectively harms Putin do
potentially to us?
BURLEIGH: Well, I don`t think you can use the word vulnerable when we`re
talking about a billionaire.
BURLEIGH: Let`s pull back a little bit, OK?
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I like that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, so that`s very .
BURLEIGH: And then to his point, I just want to say, I want to say, you
know, bringing Poland in, I mean, you know, redolent of Hitler and World
War II, that`s a little bit overreacting here, isn`t it? I mean let`s, you
know, let`s pull back here. He`s stepped - he`s gone into Crimea. Yes,
there`s Europe and there`s gas but, you know, let`s not go all the way to
Poland. He - they invaded Georgia when Bush was in Iraq. Remember that?
BURLEIGH: And, you know, our war in Iraq did not prevent him. Our muscle
in Iraq did not prevent Putin from doing what he was doing then. So, now
we`re talking about credibility because Obama didn`t drop tomahawks on
Syria? Now we`ve let Putin do what he wants to do? I don`t think so. I
don`t think that`s what`s going on here.
CHANG: No, but the point here, though, is not which means you use, you
know, war or sanctions. The point is that you`ve got somebody who`s
territorially aggressive. You know, grabbed two parts of Georgia in 2008
and the Bush administration did nothing.
And so, now he`s going after Putin .
BURLEIGH: In Iraq, a terrible folly.
CHANG: Well .
BURLEIGH: Which is .
CHANG: Whatever that is.
BURLEIGH: Which is the reason why the United States credibility has been
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, right, right, right.
CHANG: But that`s not the point. That`s an old issue. The new issue is
how do you stop Putin from tearing Europe apart?
BURLEIGH: It`s an old issue that exists to this day.
CHANG: Because he`s now dismembering two countries and he`s probably going
to start working on a third and fourth.
SENNOTT: Melissa, let`s .
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with us. I promise we have more, but stay with us.
Because stirring things up on a world stage is, in fact, becoming a bit of
a family affair for the Obamas. But first, we want to bring you the latest
on the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Earlier today a Chinese
aircraft spotted three suspicious objects in the new search area in the
Indian Ocean. Officials shifted the search area nearly 700 miles to the
northeast after new data analysis suggested that the plane was flying
faster and likely ran out of fuel sooner than previously thought. Multiple
objects have been spotted in the new search area including debris reported
by New Zealand military aircraft. And in what could prove to be a
substantial development, earlier today ship some debris in the water.
However, it is important to note at this time that material is not linked
to the flight that vanished three weeks ago with 239 people on board.
Please stay with MSNBC throughout the day for the latest on this story.
We`re going to be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: When it comes to expressing yourself freely and worshiping
as you choose and having open access to information, we believe those
universal rights, they are universal rights that are the birth right of
every person on this planet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The president wasn`t the only Obama making news on the world
stage this week. During her week-long trip to China, which focused on the
power and importance of education, first lady Michelle Obama made headlines
for the remarks you just heard, in which she maintained that freedom of
speech is a universal right. But that`s not a controversial statement,
particularly here in the U.S., but it is a significant statement in China
where a recent judicial ruling allowed for jail sentences of up to three
years for posting Internet rumors. Hear that Twitter trolls, the first
lady also invoked the U.S. civil rights movement when she said many decades
ago there were actually laws in America that allowed discrimination against
black people like me who are a minority in the United States, but over time
ordinary citizens decided those laws were unfair. So, they held peaceful
protests and marches. They called on government officials to change those
laws and they voted to elect new officials who shared their views.
The first lady may have been telling our American history, but she was
gesturing toward China`s continuing practice of repression aimed at
Tibetans and other ethnic minorities. But the first of these comments did
not go far enough for some. The "L.A. Times" suggested the first lady was
not particularly bold in her statements comparing her visit to a former
first lady`s in 1995. They concluded she is, quote, "no Hillary Clinton."
OK. So, despite that headline, this in part goes to the question of
whether or not discourse matters on that world stage. And you know what we
know is that the Chinese official newspapers and television actually edited
the comments, so not everyone in China even heard them. But difference
does it make, this kind of diplomacy, this kind of soft diplomacy?
SETRAKIAN: It has a huge impact, not just in the words of Michelle Obama,
but in the model of Michelle Obama. Coming to China where first ladies
don`t traditionally have a role in public life and taking part in this kind
of open conversation, encouraging people power. Some of it is the
substance, some of it is the style, but it really makes an inroad into the
Chinese psyche. And that really starts to create a different kind of
consciousness around the United States. Now, she`s dealing in the world
where more than a few governments, China, this week Turkey, others around
the bend have decided to cut off access to YouTube, Twitter, to make this
information thing a thing. And she is really stepping up in a space where
the U.S. still has some moral legitimacy. The open Internet, some sense to
that, despite the brouhaha over how we monitor people.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, so, Gordon, but so, I want to ask. She evokes the
civil rights movement. You talk about moral authority. She evokes perhaps
the moment of greatest moral authority of least of American minorities vis-
a-vis a repressive state. Is that powerful? Does that still carry weight
or in the context of a kind of, you know, Gitmo, drones, death penalty, you
know, U.S., does it just ring hollow?
CHANG: No. It really does resonate with the Chinese people. And also,
the fact that she went there with her mother and daughters.
CHANG: This is three generations in a one-child country where you just
don`t have that. So, there was a lot that was goodness, symbolism in this.
The one thing I was concerned about, though, is that China is going through
an especially coercive, repressive attack on civil society. And the
question is, should any American leader be going to China at this
particular time? Because the reason why the regime invited her was because
they thought that it would bolster their rule, and so that`s why she`s
there. Now, she`s said some really terrific things. The criticisms of
her, I think, were misplaced. But the question is, should she have gone
there in the first place and that`s going to be very controversial as we
start to look about what China really is about.
SENNOTT: You know, panda diplomacy has been important since Pat Nixon.
SENNOTT: And it`s important. And it works. And the Obamas have an
amazing American narrative to share with the world and that is the power of
this presidency. And that presidency on a world stage can have tremendous
impact, but the reality now, where we are with this presidency is that
those beautiful words about democracy as a universal right or freedom of
expression as a universal right, they do ring hollow when we don`t back it
up, when we don`t actually say we`re for democracy over stability. What
we`re proving, again and again in the world is actually, you know what?
That democracy thing, it needs to work for us if we`re going to really get
behind it. And the world is increasingly getting aware of that. And I
think this week, this trip for the Obamas, it really underscores that
weakness while it also highlights the strengths. Look at President Obama
with the pope. That was genuine concern about income inequality. It was a
chance for the president to bond with this very popular pope and highlight
an issue that he really cares about. So, words matter. They`re an amazing
narrative. It brings a lot of power, but you have to live up to the words.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean first ladies are, of course, they are political
BURLEIGH: I just want to throw out. I don`t want to sound like Gwyneth
Paltrow here .
BURLEIGH: But is there a worst job than being first lady? I mean if she
had stepped forward and said something stronger, there would have been
people saying you`re radical, you are, you know, you`re a black panther.
You are - I mean that`s why she is - that`s why she is soft peddling her
job because in the very beginning she was the -- she was the one of that
couple who was more on the left and you see that she had to pull back just
as Hillary Clinton was criticized, criticized, criticized for whatever she
did. Whether at the time she was probably criticized for speaking out too
much in China.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, I mean I would submit that there are jobs worst than
being first lady. But I .
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Of course, which is, of course, I was being glib
about - Gwyneth Paltrow. But it`s an interesting point. When I could -
spend the whole day on trying to think about that interconnection between
the amazing rationalized story, the way, in which that influences her
capacity to perform the theater. But then also, of course, always that as
a couple, she is not the one who gets to back up with power, right? That
is, of course, always resides in the office of the presidency.
Up next, from human rights abroad to human rights right here at home. The
alarming issue that could come back to haunt the Obama administration. But
first this update on the story of U.S./Russia tensions that we`ve been
discussing this morning, NBC News reports that Secretary of State John
Kerry is en route home from Saudi Arabia and has redirected his - was en
route from - has actually redirected his plane and will now travel to Paris
for meetings with his Russian counterpart likely to take place on Monday.
The talks are continuing, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: In the end the success of our ideals comes down to us, including
the example of our own lives, our own societies. We know that there will
always be intolerance, but instead of fearing the immigrant, we can welcome
him. We can insist on policies that benefit the many, not just the few.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama in Belgium on Wednesday making the
claim that embracing immigrants is a mark of our democratic values, but
here in the United States immigrants facing the detention and possible
deportation of their loved ones are asking the president to back up that
claim. On Monday protestors in Alabama chained themselves across the
entrance of the Etowah County detention center calling for an end to
deportation and to protest conditions inside that facility. It`s a
facility that a report by the detention watch network called among the
worst in the country. And inconsistent with basic human rights standards.
This protest is not an isolated incident. The same day in Tacoma,
Washington, dozens of detained immigrants at the Northwest Detention Center
renewed a hunger strike from earlier this month protesting deportations and
conditions in the facility. Joining us now from Washington D.C., is Silky
Shah. The interim executive director of Detention Watch Network, an
organization that advocates for change in the U.S. immigration detention
and deportation systems. Nice to have you this morning.
SILKY SHAH, INTERIM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DETENTION WATCH NETWORK: It`s
great to be here with you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ms. Shah, we tend to focus on the actual act of
deportation that tends to be the thing that we discussed when we were
talking about immigration reform. Tell me why it`s important for us to be
looking at policies around immigration detention?
SHAH: Well, detention essentially makes deportation easier. I think
that`s an important thing to note. So, our deportation policies being
driven by the fact that we need to fill detention beds? And one is the
perfect example of this is the detention bed quota that requires 34,000
immigrants to be detained daily. So, if you need to detain immigrants, you
need to find people to deport.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we have a quota that requires of a certain number of
these beds to be filled?
SHAH: We do. And the appropriations language there`s actually language
that says we shall maintain no less than 34,000 beds. And so, that`s a
major concern for us. And we really need to eliminate the quota to say,
OK, some of the most e egregious detention centers like the Etowah County
detention center really need to shut down. And if we eliminate the quota,
cannot open up space for us to shut it down.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, those kinds of quotas sometimes also exist in our
domestic prison practices as well. And they tend to be related to the
economic interests of subcontractors, private industry who is actually
running these centers. My understanding is that we are similarly
subcontracting on these detention centers for immigrants. Would we be in
the better situation if ICE ran it directly rather than subcontracting to
SHAH: That`s a tough question. I mean most of the 250 facilities that are
used for immigration detention, I think only about six are actually
operated by ICE. They`re not necessarily that much better. But about 50
percent of beds are actually operated by private prison companies and then
a lot of facilities like Etowah are run by county jails. And none of these
facilities have oversight. So, that`s of big concern. There`s no codified
standards for how detention is run. And so, facilities like Etowah, the
conditions, you know, consists of human rights abuses. Such as, you know,
nobody ever gets to go outside. There`s no outdoor recreation. People
spend months or even years in this facility and never go outside. And so
for us, I think, you know, we really need to question why we are putting
people in detention when they`re really there just to determine their
status, to show up to a hearing, to be in compliance with immigration, and
not serving a sentence.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this is important. And it`s part of why we wanted to
talk to you in the context of this kind of global conversation about kind
of the moral authority of the U.S. in talking about issues of human rights
and rule of law. I heard you say basically that what we are doing in the
context of the detention of people for status offenses, not crimes, but
status offences, may, in fact, rise to the level of human rights
SHAH: Absolutely. I mean under the universal declaration, you know,
people should be free from arbitrary arrest, detention, and deportation.
This absolutely arbitrary. And mandatory detention policy that expanded in
1996 said, you know, there`s no due process. A judge can`t say whether
somebody should be contained, whether, you know, that the chief bread
winner of the family, they can`t consider any factors and because of
certain crimes they`re mandatorily detained. There is no due process. So,
that flies in the face of human rights law.
HARRIS-PERRY: So to what extent then does that undermine the capacity of
the first lady, of the president, of any American to make claims on the
rest of the world in our diplomacy, in our conversations about the human
rights abuses of other states?
SHAH: I think it absolutely undermines it, but I think the other thing we
need to keep in mind is that the U.S. is the world`s leading incarcerator.
And it`s the world`s - I mean the detention infrastructure is the largest
in the world and I think we need to keep in mind that a lot of this is
driven by the fact that the U.S. uses prisons in this model and is
incarcerating at a rate that`s completely not sound policy. I mean over 2
million people in prisons around the country. And so, they`re using this
policy. And it doesn`t make sense. This is not what`s happening in the
international context, so it absolutely undermines it.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask you one last thing. I want to listen for a
moment to Speaker Boehner talking about the possibility of comprehensive
immigration reform back in February.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Listen, there`s widespread doubt
about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws, and
it`s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there`s the speaker of the House saying that
comprehensive immigration reform is pretty unlikely to happen any time
soon. What are the immediate remedies that can happen that could impact
this question of detention?
SHAH: Well, first and foremost, we need to eliminate the quota from
appropriations language. That definitely needs to happen. That will open
up space to close down facilities like Etowah, deal with the issues at
Tacoma and really stop holding people in the most egregious facilities.
Secondly, there`s been precedent set in the Ninth Circuit that says anybody
that`s held longer than six months should require a bond hearing. And that
should happen at the national level under a case called Rodriguez. And I
think, you know, Etowah, is a perfect example of people who are there are
held in prolonged detention, months, years in detention. And there should
be a rule that says after six months - I mean this is something that is
very easy to implement and is already happening in the Ninth Circuit. So,
I think we should move towards that and say, you know, people deserve bond
hearings, but ultimately Etowah really needs to shut down.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks to Silky Shah in Washington D.C. I appreciate your
continued work on this issue.
SHAH: Thanks so much for having me on.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. Here in New York to Charlie Sennott and Nina
Burleigh and Gordon Chang. Lara is going to stick around a little bit
Coming up, the president and the pope. Charlie was just mentioning this a
bit earlier. It is a meeting for the ages. And we are going to dig in a
little deeper and try to think about it. But first, an update on missing
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Three weeks after the flight disappeared,
today ships have retrieved some of the debris spotted by aircraft involved
in the search. But Chinese media are reporting that the material is
garbage and not related to the missing flight. The search has now shifted
nearly 700 miles northeast of where crews have been searching. And
investigators say new analysis suggests the plane was traveling faster than
previously thought and therefore ran out of fuel sooner. Australia`s prime
minister says the search is a painstaking process.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We should not underestimate the
difficulty of this work. It is an extraordinarily remote location. These
are inhospitable seas. It`s an inaccessible place. We are trying to find
small bits of wreckage in a vast ocean.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And the search for the missing flight continues. Stay with
MSNBC throughout the day for the latest developments. We`re going to be
HARRIS-PERRY: A highly anticipated moment of President Obama`s world tour
this week was his stop at the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis. The two
world leaders shook hands. I was going for a fist bump, but not
unfortunately. And then they had a private meeting for just less than an
hour. They exchanged gifts. President Obama gave the pope a box of seeds
from the White House garden noting that the pope had ordered Vatican
gardens to be open to the public this year. And the pope gave the
president a copy of "Joys of the Gospel" the document he wrote last year
that criticizes global capitalism and inequality. Joining me now to talk
about this meeting of leaders is Michael Peppard, theology professor at
Fordham University and a contributor to "Common Wheel" magazine. Reverend
Julie Johnson Staples, minister of education at the Riverside Church. Lara
Setrakian who is co-founder and executive editor of "Syria Deeply" and
Reverend Samuel Cruz, a Lutheran minister and professor of church and
society at the Union Theological Seminary. So nice to have you all here.
So, let me just ask in part this question, for example, of church and
society, right? It is framed in this moment of a president meeting with
the pope. Why is this even - even as a matter a kind of the political
theater important? Why does it matter to have an American president with
the - who is a protestant showing up and sitting with the - with the pope?
REV. SAMUEL CRUZ, UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINAR: I think it`s very important,
more so than being important for the president, but for those of us here in
the U.S. who are struggling for the rights of those who are impoverished,
for immigrants and for women`s rights, although the pope has problems in
HARRIS-PERRY: So the president downplayed one of the things we`ll talk
about a little later, which is the question of women`s reproductive rights,
at least, but really talked about the ways, in which he and the pope have a
joint interest in questions of global peace and of fairness and inequality.
Is this just about sort of rubbing a little shoulders with Pope Francis
who`s currently more popular than the president in order to back up his
sort of discourse about inequality?
MICHAEL PEPPARD, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Well, I`ll speak to that. You had
the John Boehner clip on earlier about immigration reform, and I think - I
was talking to Melinda Henneberger of "The Washington Post" last week, and
we were talking about how if the president could do anything effective in
that meeting, maybe it was to give the pope John Boehner`s cell phone
PEPPARD: You know, and say, look, the votes are there, why is this not
happening? Because there`s such an obvious way that the catholic emphasis
on families corresponds to President Obama and Democrats` emphasis on
immigration reform. That it doesn`t have to be about some scary word like
amnesty, it can be just about keeping families together. And that`s a way
that every side should be able to articulate something like this.
MF: So, and you what - what you just said there, the idea of the pope
calling the speaker of the House to influence American public policy making
is certainly precisely those sorts of things that almost kept John F.
Kennedy from being elected president of the United States, right? We are
still a nation that as a matter of institution believes that there ought to
be a separation between church and state.
REV. JULIE JOHNSON STAPLES, RIVERSIDE CHURCH. Indeed. And I think some of
the symbolism that you saw between Obama and the pope really reflects that
separation of church and state. If you think back the echo over the whole
meeting was actually Thomas Jefferson. He`s the first American president
who collected seeds, gave seeds out and he`s the one who set forth the
principles in our Constitution for the separation of church and state.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because he was like a Unitarian universalist?
JOHNSON STAPLES: Indeed. Indeed.
JOHNSON STAPLES: And yes, I mean.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, absolutely. I love the idea that it is the ghost of
Jefferson who also had his own issues with women`s rights and race and
inequality, you know. Slave holder.
JOHNSON STAPLES: Yeah, slave holder and declarer of independence. And the
one who stands behind this musing in a strange way.
HARRIS-PERRY: But that is precisely the kind of complexity these
institutions continue to represent. Everybody stay with me. We have got
more pope and - when we come back.
And coming up next, we`re going to go beyond that symbolism to examine the
substance of the president`s meeting with the pope and the surprising areas
where they agree and disagree.
And a real game changer at Northwestern University. The ruling that could
change everything about both college sports and a labor movement. There is
more "Nerdland" at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa HARRIS-PERRY. This week the pope
met Potus, that`s president of the United States, of course. President
Obama and Pope Francis met for about 50 minutes and talked about a lot of
things they agree about. Income inequality, of course, as well as
immigration reform, human trafficking and conflicts like the war on Syria.
The optics of the meeting were fascinating, and the pomp and circumstance
and the gifts, somewhat awkward smiles and hand shakes. The pope, of
course, is very good at giving us optics that we love. Moments we take at
face value and believe are sincere, like his embrace of a disfigured man
who had come to pray or his patience with children or his visits with the
homeless and the poor.
What a surprising move just yesterday to confess his sins in public after
saying mass at St. Peter`s Basilica. So was President Obama good at
optics, even better at words. We were psyched for the two of them to meet,
to meld minds on fighting income inequality and poverty. But the meeting
wasn`t all sunshine and joy. Optics aside, the two men discussed some
substantive and even thorny topics.
The pope`s secretary of state, one of the most powerful men in the Vatican,
made sure to bring up the contraception mandate in President Obama`s law,
something the Vatican and the American bishops have vocally opposed. The
Vatican highlighted that aspect of the discussion but President Obama was
quick to downplay just how much he talked about birth control with the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He actually did not touch in
detail on the affordable care act. We did not talk a whole lot about
social schisms in my conversations with His Holiness. In fact, that really
was not a topic of conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Back with me in the studio, Michael Pepperd, theology
professor at Fordham University, Reverend Julie Johnson Staples, minister
of education at Riverside Church, Lara Setrakian, we were working on it at
the whole break, who was cofounder and executive editor of Syria Deeply,
and Reverend Samuel Cruz, a Lutheran minister and professor of church and
society at the union theological seminary.
So, Lara, I want to start with you in part because the notion of the
president of the United States and the pope talking about peace in the
world when, in fact, the history of both the Catholic church and of the
United States has, let`s say, peaceful is not necessarily the term one
might most likely use to define and describe them. Can these institutions
now be moved by these men towards the good of generating global peace?
SETRAKIAN: That`s a critical question. What I see in these two men are
two men with common cause and common constraints. They`re both trying to
steer very big ships in a very new direction. They both came in on a wave
of optimism, euphoria. That also sets up very high expectations.
The pope is in his moment of glow. I hesitate to use halo effect. So
tasteless. But he`s really a superstar on the global stage and he has
people`s hearts and minds. And in a moment where global conflict is so
interwoven with sectarian concerns, when you look at the Middle East and
you see fears for the safety and the future of Christians in the Middle
East, the pope has really made that part of what he stands for, they do
find this point of connection where they can try to advance some of these
shared goals and sweep some of the more contentious issues to the side.
HARRIS-PERRY: I like this idea that in certain ways Pope Francis at this
moment is almost like President Obama circa `09 or 2010, still sort of on
that rise. And, of course, those first two years when President Obama had
a Democratic Congress, he also did enormous policy change as a part of sort
of that mandate.
So, let me do the politics here. On the one hand, you`ve got a leader of
the United States and so sometimes we call it the free world meeting, and
yet the president himself, say, well, the pope isn`t really political.
Let`s listen to that for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I don`t think that His Holiness envisions entering into a
partnership or coalition with any political figure on any issue. His job
is a little more elevated. We`re down on the ground dealing with the often
profane and he`s dealing with higher powers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And in one more, let`s listen to Rick Santorum was saying
something somewhat similar but maybe less artfully.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I don`t think the Vatican has
political aspirations. The pope isn`t running for anything and he doesn`t
have any interim elections that he`s worried about. So, you would think
the Vatican readout of the meeting is probably more accurate as to what was
discussed than a president who clearly went there to try to piggyback on
some of the popularity of the pope in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So there`s Santorum on FOX News saying this is politics, but
only on the part of the president. And I think, come on, this is naive.
There`s always politics in the church.
STAPLES: There`s always politics in the church and there`s always poll
continues in the White House. I think a lot of what we have here is
remembering when Ronald Reagan met with Pope John Paul II and there was a
substantial focus on Poland. I think the stakes were very high for both
sides to say that`s not what this is.
And it`s important, speaking of common issues, the two gentlemen at the
time, both Pope John Paul II and Reagan had been assassinated attempts on
their lives. In one, it was a first year of Reagan`s term, second year
Right now, we`re at a totally different arc in the historical cycle. Obama
is on his way out. The pope is on his way in. They`ve got to find the
common ground, but common ground on which they can make a difference.
So, honestly, I think it`s probably not going to be some of the more
polarizing issues for the contraception, or war and peace in the Middle
East, but probably something like immigration where that can be a lasting
legacy for Obama if he were able to turn the needle on that.
HARRIS-PERRY: As much as the U.S. Conference of Bishops and the hierarchy
of the church keep using this language of the polarization around birth
control. We just took a look. You know, I was just like, OK, empirically,
how much of the Catholic, right, does the Democratic Party get in
presidential election years?
And if you look at from 1980 from the Reagan moment, forward to 2012,
basically it`s about half, right? So, in fact, less of the vote went to
the Democrats in the `80s. And now, you`re talking about President Obama
initially elected with 57 percent of the Catholic vote, 53 percent of the
Catholic in 2012. It`s probably in part because the Catholic vote is
probably less Irish Catholic and more Latino Catholic.
But are we overstating this great polarization around ACA?
PEPPARD: I`ll speak to that. I would say, first of all, you`re right.
There is no Catholic vote. Catholics have assimilated to the degree where
they`re indistinguishable on the whole I think of the American voting
patterns. On the ACA, I would say that, getting back to the persecution
of, in Christians in the Middle East, both of these leaders make very clear
that they were talking about peace and persecution in the Middle East if
they were talking about persecution at all, that they were not talking
about persecution of health insurance, premium support and birth control.
So, I think, I just want to get that out there. Catholics have also
supported universal health care as long as anyone in the United States.
That being said, to represent the Catholic leadership if I can -- I`m not a
leader, but you know what I am saying. If I can at least summarize what
their concerns are, I think one is that it took the pro-life Democrats to
get ACA passed. You know, Bart Stupak was such a key member of that. And
there`s that the belief that the deals that they made may not be honored.
So, that`s a concern they had.
And, secondly, you saw Justice Kennedy bring this up, even this -- an oral
argument this last week that maybe --
HARRIS-PERRY: In the Hobby Lobby.
PEPPARD: In the Hobby Lobby case, right, that the relationship between
Congress passing something and agency enacting, maybe the agency went too
far and that`s something Kennedy is thinking about. It doesn`t mean he`s
going to rule that way, but it`s something that`s on his mind which is also
I think part of the Catholic concern.
STAPLES: But I think it`s important to look at this from a global
STAPLES: -- because these are two global leaders. Just last month there
was a global poll that shows Catholics across the world generally break
rank with the church on the question of contraceptives and more over even
in predominantly Catholic countries, France, Argentina, Brazil.
Government-led and government-financed health care is covering
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, yes, I -- this to me feel so critical. The origins
of this pope from whence he comes -- President Obama talked about why he
would understand immigration discourse, but it`s also why he would
understand a discourse around a separation between a church`s position on
birth control and conception versus government policy because in Latin
America, this has been a central issue around poverty. If the people of
Latin America cannot control their fertility and thy cannot control and
sort of leave out of poverty. So, the church doesn`t change -- if theology
doesn`t change its position, but it has sort of backed away from the notion
that it must impose its position relative to policy.
CRUZ: I think this was a difficult meeting for Obama. I think the meeting
went better for the pope and if Obama distances himself from the economic
issue and saying the pope wasn`t political was a way not to deal with the
real issues. Obama was facing the issue that the pope had criticized
global capitalism, which Obama can`t do. Obama has a horrible track record
So, Obama really had to distance himself. This was, in my opinion, a win-
win meeting for the pope and not-so good for Obama.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m so glad -- we`ll take a break and come back on exactly
that issue. There is the sort of giving of seeds and then the pope gives
the book that`s like, yes, your whole practice, not so much.
Stay right there. Up next, the pope and the president trying to find
common ground on an issue that seems far beyond Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I pledge to continue to dialogue with the U.S. Conference of
Bishops to make sure that we can strike the right balance, making sure that
not only everybody has health care but families and women in particular are
able to enjoy the kind of health care coverage that the ACA offers but that
religious freedom is still observed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So now to what the pope and the president do agree
about, the need for serious immigration reform. The pope has made the
plights of migrants a focus of his papacy. And his very first trip to --
as pope outside of Rome was to a Mediterranean island that has become a
refuge for African immigrants trying to make it to Europe.
He says the deaths of thousands of those migrants at the sea is a thorn in
the heart. And he`s often spoken of the plight of migrants worldwide,
comparing them to Jesus, Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt. President Obama
is still holding out hope that somehow that Congress could pass
comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship where
at least legal immigrant status for millions. So, you were just
challenging this as the president`s track record on deportation. We were
just talking about the human rights violations around the tension.
Could you imagine the Vatican actively publicly denouncing the actions of
the United States of America relative to immigration given that its
practices are out of line with the Vatican teachings?
CRUZ: I think the pope is doing that indirectly. Like everything else he
does. He doesn`t challenge things head on but he lets things -- people`s
But the fact is that no matter what, President Obama says about his desire
for immigration reform, his track record is horrible. And this human right
violation and the destruction of families, we rarely talk about this, but a
lot of these people who are being deported, their children stay behind. In
fact, sometimes children are at school and no one comes to pick them up
because they`ve been detained and deported.
So, it`s something that really has damaged Obama`s legacy, in terms of
HARRIS-PERRY: I so appreciate you saying that in part because it helps
give lie to that discourse of the anchor baby that, in fact, if your
children are born in the United States and are born as American citizens.
In fact, it doesn`t anchor the parents. And in fact, we`ve seen the
parents broken up over and over again. And as you were saying this is a
way of talking about immigration reform within an ethical and moral context
that isn`t about terrorism or even about labor anxiety, but it`s about the
maintenance and preservation of families which the right is meant to be in
PEPPARD: That`s right. I`ll even go one step further. It`s a liberty
issue which is the rights. So, Bishop Daniel Flores in Brunswick, Texas,
has the largest Latino diocese. He was on this ad hoc commission on
religious liberty for the U.S. bishops, and he convinced them -- well, he
very forcefully articulated how what they call harboring immigrants is what
the bible commands them to do.
That it`s actually a religious freedom issue. It can`t be outlawed. It`s
in my -- it`s in my mandate. I have to this. It`s an amazing --
HARRIS-PERRY: I love this. Right, if I have to not pay for your birth
control, I also have to have -- I must harbor the migrant.
SETRAKIAN: I have to say that draws a perfect link to how this brings it
all down to the pope and the president which is that for the pope, he comes
from a Jesuit tradition. This is about social justice. He has a
compassionate view on policy frankly, and if you put that together in the
American context, that means caring about people on your shores wherever
they come from and certainly stopping them from being torn apart from their
HARRIS-PERRY: And I -- your point, this is important, this notion of the
kind of Jesuit way of being Catholic, right? And we have seen it so much
in the practices of this pope. A 10-year-old girl had --
STAPLES: Audience with the pope.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, do you want to tell the story?
STAPLES: Just before the meeting of the POTUS and the pontiff, you`ve got
a young girl from I think it`s called Panorama City coming, praying,
begging for the pope to intervene to keep her father from being deported.
And I think just for a bit of time, at least the moment of time we`re in
right now, he is -- he has been released and he is pending a judicial
However, what Barack Obama does not want to be remembered as is deporter in
chief. There`s a lot of arguments around the numbers and whether he
actually has deported 2 million or some number fewer than that. Are they
mostly individuals with criminal backgrounds or not? But the bottom line
is they`ve got to get it sorted out.
And standing between the president and the solution frankly is John Boehner
and a very obstructionist House of Representatives. I don`t see whether he
meets with the pope for anything other than prayer and he asks for it is
going to change that.
CRUZ: I think it`s important to make clear that most of the people who
have been deported don`t have criminal backgrounds.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. These are status offenses for the most part,
right? And, in fact, some of the victims of human trafficking which the
pope and the president spoke about, some of the people who are victimized
by human trafficking are, therefore, status offenders relative to
immigration, end up in these detention centers, in these kind of horrifying
But I just want to underline one more time the point you just made that it
is easy for us to see the state as resting solely in the person that is
President Obama, and this idea of the responsibility for immigration
reform. Yes, he does not want to be seen as deporter in chief. And there
are clearly some actions he can take as the executive, but --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, but the question is whether or not we can get
legislative action. Right.
PEPPARD: One point about the optics of this on the United States. You may
not know that Pope Francis` closest American advisor, Cardinal Sean
O`Malley in Boston, who is a fluent Spanish speaker and very involved in
these issues is going to be organizing something they`re calling Lampedusa
(ph) in the United States, that`s going to have optics of these events that
the pope did for refugees
And I think the pope is very much in support of the idea that all religious
orders, Jesuits, Franciscans, of course, all sisters are to use their
resources in this, when he had them gathered at the Vatican to talk about
how to use their -- some of their, for example, empty buildings that they
had, he had this line that just sticks with me where he said your empty
convents, these empty buildings are not to become hotels where you make
money, they`re not ours. These are for the flesh of Christ who are
refugees. I have chills as even talking about it, right, to say that`s how
we`re going to use our resources.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it is a very, very different way of imagining and
organizing what constitutes the central values of the church and then the
way that`s been laid on the political realm.
Thank you all so much for joining me. I want to thank my guests, Michael
Peppard, reverend Julie Johnson Staples, Lara Setrakian and Reverend Samuel
But up next, the latest news on the devastating mudslide in Washington
state. But, first, some good news -- good news from the great state of
Maryland and a major victory in the fight for equality. On Thursday night,
the Maryland House of Delegates approved the Fairness for all Marylanders
Act, which bans discrimination on the basis for gender identity.
The bill prohibits discrimination against the members of the transgender
community in employment, housing, credit and public accommodation. The
bill now goes to Governor Martin O`Malley who said he is going to sign it.
And once it is signed into law, Maryland will join 17 other states and the
District of Columbia that have passed laws to protect transgender rights.
We`re going to be right back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ordinarily on a Saturday on MHP, we reserve a few minutes to
send a letter with a little admonishment or enlightenment. But this week,
I want to use my time to send my support by acknowledging and recognizing
the victims of last week`s catastrophic mudslide in Oso, Washington. Today
marks eight day in the ongoing search for victims of a massive mudslide
that obliterated a small community in Washington state last Saturday.
As of yesterday, despite the tireless effort of a team by more than 200
local, state, federal search and rescue workers, 90 members of that
community remain missing. Nearly 100 families are still wondering and
waiting for news about their loved ones and others have already received
the worst news possible. Friday the official death toll rose to 17 with
expectation that that number is going to grow.
Among those identified so far was 4-month-old Sonoah Eustice (ph), who was
discovered not far from her grandmother`s body was found on Sunday. The
discovery of the child prompted a moment of silence that has reportedly
accompanied the removal of each victim who has been unearthed from the
wreckage. In the rescue workers` quiet tribute, we can see an example of
what is called for in this instance, a recognition of a frailty of
existence and reverence for the enormity of loss.
There is going to be time enough for the questions about climate change and
its influence on mudslides and other weather-related catastrophes. And
there certainly going to be space to plan for the long road ahead to
recover and to rebuild, and there will surely come the necessary
conversations about how to protect and prevent losses to future natural
disasters that are inevitably going to come.
We eventually got there after hurricane Katrina inundated my hometown of
New Orleans and killed more than 1,800 people in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Moore, Oklahoma, took those first difficult steps after a massive tornado
claimed lives and homes, schools and businesses when it tore through last
And those efforts to rebound were well underway a year after Hurricane
Sandy battered New Jersey and New York.
But now, now is a time to remember that what was lost in Oso, Washington,
is the same as what is being rebuilt at the sites of all those other
disasters, not just houses but homes, communities of residences, of cabins,
and barns, and most importantly people, people who lived along a county
lane on a hill. In a matter of moments, the lives that were built on that
hill were reduced to a jumble of sheetrock and wood and wiring beneath a
waist deep pile of brown and gray mud, the tragic loss that one small
community is one that should resonate with all of us, because whether that
sudden catastrophe comes in the form of shifting earth or rising waters or
squalling winds or at the hands of other people intending to induce terror,
none of us is invulnerable.
And what matters most in the immediate aftermath of these moments of human
vulnerability is the humanity of how we respond. Once again, we can look
to inspiration of the people of Oso. The residents who have been asked to
stop bringing food to the fire stations because they are already full to
brimming with donations from the community. The heroic workers who spent
hours digging through waist-high mud and the feeling, the crushing grief of
each grim discovery, only to push on and keeping going.
And so even as the meeting of the president and the pope overseas has put
the world spotlight on human compassion and our moral obligations to one
another, we only need to look as far as Oso, Washington, to find a shining
example of that grace much closer to home.
HARRIS-PERRY: The NCAA men`s basketball tournament is down to its final
eight teams, the elite eight. Next weekend, the Final Four, the pinnacle
of the most profitable time of the year for collegiate athletics.
The yearly broadcast rights for the men`s tournament alone are worth about
$771 million. Ninety percent of the NCAA`s entire revenue for the year
2012-`13. As for college football, the NCAA can look forward to an
estimated $7.2 billion for TV rights for the new college football playoff
system that starts this year.
Now thanks to an historic decision on Tuesday it seems that the athletes at
the center of all of this action may finally get a piece of it. And it may
not just be a tipping point in collegiate athletics but in the American
labor battle as well.
The Chicago branch of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday
that Northwestern football players led by their former quarterback Kain
Colter have the right to hold a union election and to be eligible for
workplace rights protections under the National Labor Relations Act.
Colter the day after the decision visited MSNBC`s "THE ED SHOW."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAIN COLTER, FORMER QUARTERBACK: The number one concern for us is that we
don`t have a voice and we don`t have a seat at the table right now. All
these rules and regulations are formed by the NCAA, the conferences, and we
have no input in that. Nobody comes and asks the players, how do you feel
about this? How do you feel you should fit in the equation?
Yesterday`s decision was a huge step in the path for players to have that
voice and have that seat at the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The NCAA signaled its disappointment with a statement that
read in part, quote, "while improvements need to be made," we do not need
to completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of
students over the past decade alone attend college." Northwestern
University itself signified its intention to appeal and had until April 9th
to do so.
If the university follows through, what chance do the athletes have at
reforming a union? About as good as regular unions, which is actually not
all that good.
But as MSNBC reporter Ned Resnikoff wrote on Thursday even if the
Northwestern football players never win an NLRB administered union
election, their organizing drive could set a major precedent for organized
Joining me, Sarita Gupta, who is executive director of jobs for justice.
Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who right before the tournament filed a lawsuit
of his own against the NCAA. From Washington, D.C, Dave Zirin, sports
editor for "The Nation" magazine. And from Baltimore, Maryland, author,
historian, and public speaker Taylor Branch who wrote this foundational
piece in "The Atlantic" in 2011, "The Shame of College Sports".
So nice to have you all here with us today. We`re doing a little ESPN
style five box here.
Professor Branch, I want to start with you because it does feel to me that
what I have read from you and heard from is that this issue is a
fundamental labor rights issue, that the NCAA wants to make a claim about
it being a difficult policy but that regardless of how it actually gets
implemented, the right to organize is a fundamental right, like a civil
TAYLOR BRANCH, THE ATLANTIC: It is a fundamental right. There are many
fundamental rights at stake here. This ruling is already historic in the
sense that it recognizes, gives a chance for college students, college
athletes to have their rights recognized. But it it`s vindicated and it
goes through, it will be truly bizarre as well, because they will be the
first talent pool to win collective bargaining rights before they have
individual bargaining rights.
College players, as quarterback Colter said, do not -- not only do they not
have a seat at the table. They are demonized if they even ask for
anything, if they even speak up. They are literally searched because of
the fiction of the student athlete.
This is a wake-up call for most people to recognize that college athletes
are generating billions of dollars of money while being treated like serfs
with not only no collective bargaining rights but no individual bargaining
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Dave, I want you to pick up right where Taylor Branch
has left off, because, you know, I think for folks who are filling out
their brackets and enjoying their NCAA March Madness, to hear a
distinguished scholar like Taylor Branch say that the NCAA athletes are
serfs can ring strange if you haven`t been following this.
Explain why, as he just said, the notion of student athletes is simply a
fiction and how this impacts it?
DAVE ZIRIN, THE NATION MAGAZINE: Oh, no, absolutely. First, my apologies
to my 9-year-old daughter who thought I was going to be on with Taylor
Swift today. So, really apologies there.
But, second of all, look, this is not a new issue. Upton Sinclair said in
1992, college athletics under the spur of commercialism has become a
monstrous cancer. But what`s developed in the era of the student athlete
is the metastization of that cancer.
I learned this from reading Taylor Branch. But in the 1950s, the whole
idea of a student athlete was developed as a legal term to prevent the
widow of a player named Ray Dennison, who is a college football player who
died on the field of play, from collecting workers` compensation. And the
argument by the NCAA is, well, wait a minute, they`re not workers, they`re
student athletes. So, therefore, we owe them nothing.
But what`s changed, and the reason why the so-called "settled law" that
they are student athletes has been absolutely upended, it`s the way in
which over the last 30 years, cable television money has dramatically
changed the economic relationships at play. Woody Hayes when he coached
Ohio State in the early 1980s made $42,000 a year. The coach now, Urban
Meyer, makes 4 million as a base salary. It is as you said, Melissa, it is
a multi-billion dollar business and yet the position of the player is
exactly the same as it was decades ago.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, I love this. I want to come to you, Mr. Kessler,
on exactly this, because, you know, what I`ve heard Dave saying around this
and now this new ruling suggests the possibility that we`re going to take
apart the very idea of student athlete and instead recognize these athletes
as employees of the university.
Deadspin said of your lawsuit, that it is potentially the NCAA killing
lawsuit and that unlike previous suits, this one does not seek damages but
simply wants to tear down the NCAA. Is that a fair analysis of your
JEFFREY KESSLER, WINSTON & STRAWN: That is a very fair analysis.
KESSLER: What we`re trying to do is strike down the NCAA rulings which say
that colleges can`t give one nickel to these athletes, one benefit to these
athletes beyond the cartel price that the NCAA sets.
So, for example, let`s say Northwestern wanted to give health coverage to
these players after they stopped playing football. The NCAA rules prohibit
that. All we`re doing is seeking to do is to strike down these rules and
let the schools decide what`s fair to the athletes.
Then what will happen is competition will force the more reluctant schools
to follow the more enlightened schools or else they won`t get the players.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, I love this. I just -- it feels to me like this is
one of the few times when the politics of the free market, the politics
between the free schools and the top athletes could have potentially
beneficial effects for labor so that you have the NLRB ruling saying, OK,
you can have collective bargaining rights and you have Mr. Kessler`s
lawsuit potentially saying you can`t set the cartel price which is just a
scholarship. Just important for you to understand this, these students
can`t work as work study students.
I mean, this is just beyond any -- no other student on campus has the kinds
of restriction that these young men and women have to live under be. Is
this a fulcrum point not just for sports but for the American labor
movement? Free market and labor together benefitting?
SARITA GUPTA, JOBS WITH JUSTICE: Absolutely, Melissa. I think this is a
huge and significant ruling, enormous opportunity. As you said, to suggest
that -- or to confirm what we all believe and agree, which is college
athletes are in fact working. Not playing, they`re working.
GUPTA: Student -- these are not student athletes, these are employees of a
large corporation that profits off of the work that they provide and so
what`s interesting in the context of the labor movement, is it actually
reflects what we see happening across the board. There are so many groups
of workers who have been excluded or marginalized because of our broken
labor laws, but are now finding their voice because they need a voice on
Look at models, for example, right? I mean, models are organizing today.
There`s across the board, across industries we will see new sets of workers
because of the changing nature of work, new sets of workers who are
stepping up and really trying to have a voice on the job.
HARRIS-PERRY: And college campuses are a key place. We`re going to talk
about athletes and graduate students working, faculty who need --
particularly faculty contingent who are not protected with tenure, who need
labor organizing. I do just want to point out that Northwestern put out a
statement saying that Northwestern believes the decision of the NLRB
overlooked or completely ignored much of the critical testimony supporting
the university`s position that student athletes are not employees of
Stay with us.
When we come back, Dave, I`m going to come to you and push a little bit
about whether this will create this competition around labor and whether or
not students will not go to places where they don`t have their union
But, first, the latest on the search for the Malaysian Airlines flight that
vanished three weeks ago with 239 people on board. Today, a Chinese
military plane spotted three objects in the new search area in the Indian
Ocean off Australia. Also today, a Chinese ships retrieved some debris
from the area. The Chinese media are reporting that the material is
garbage and not related to the missing flight.
Stay with MSNBC throughout the day for the latest on this developing story.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Wednesday`s ruling by the National Labor Relations Board
may signal the start of unionization in collegiate athletics. So, what
does that mean for colleges in states that are hostile to unions?
In his reaction to the ruling, my guest Dave Zirin explored this question,
writing quote, what if the best players as was suggested to me on Twitter
now avoid the southeastern conference because of their state`s right to
work legislation? They make it more difficult to build a strong union.
Will this leave a state like Alabama where the Crimson Tide, Auburn Tiger
football is king, to repeal its anti-union laws in an effort to keep the
best talent available?
So, Dave, I love that idea that suddenly, they`re not going to go to
Alabama. But part of this ruling, though, I just want to clarify this,
this is for private schools and doesn`t --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- necessarily impact players at state universities but also
the at state universities where we see some of the greatest inequality
where we see some of the highest paid state worker being the football coach
or the basketball coach?
ZIRIN: Yes. And actually, in 39 of 50 states, the highest paid public
employee is either the football coach or basketball coach. But what`s so
interesting about the ruling is that you`re absolutely, right, it`s about
private colleges like Stanford, Notre Dame, Northwestern.
But the ruling states that at public colleges, the players have to go
according to whatever those state`s labor laws are, so that`s another crack
at the NCAA cartel, because there`s this great line from the movie
"Miller`s Crossing" where a henchman says to a mob boss, you only run this
town because the people think you run it. The minute people stop thinking
it, you stop running it.
The minute people stop thinking that the NCAA has absolute control over the
situation, that`s the minute you start seeing people start to say, OK, I`m
going to go to a public school. But maybe I`ll go to California where
there aren`t right to work laws instead of Alabama, because the NCAA can`t
enforce a general controlling authority over all of our behaviors.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, Mr. Kessler, let me ask about exactly that
notion of breaking the idea that the NCAA is a rule maker. There`s a
sports scandal. There`s a scandal.
But the scandal is, in fact, something that isn`t illegal. It`s something
against NCAA rules which, as you`re saying, are unnecessarily punitive
often to the young people. Will this change the whole idea of what
constitutes a scandal in collegiate sports?
KESSLER: Well, I think it should. In any other industry, let`s not kid
ourselves, big-time basketball and big-time football are industries.
KESSLER: In any other one, if the companies got together and said, we
can`t pay workers more than this, we can`t give them benefits more than
this, they would go to jail. That`s a criminal violation of the antitrust
The NCAA has created this myth that everybody is an amateur. The only
thing that`s amateur about this is that the people providing the labor
can`t get anything.
KESSLER: Their employers can`t provide them with a single benefit. Now I
have a little 2 1/2-year-old grandson named Jordan, OK? He`ll probably
never play basketball or football, but I want him to be in a world where he
feels good about how the schools he is attending are treating the people
Right. So I appreciate that. Having grown up at the University of
Virginia, gone to Wake Forest university, gone to Duke University. I am an
ACC girl in my core.
So, I think about these student athletes, Mr. Branch. You know, they`re
the young men and women I went to school with. They`re not just sort of
out there in the world somewhere in the world.
And as I think of you in part as a civil rights historian, someone who has
written on the greatest movements for minority equality in this country,
part of how you framed this almost sounds like share cropping, right? This
idea of a paternalistic system where don`t worry, you know, we`ll have you
provide all the labor and we`ll reap the profits. I don`t want to
overstate it, but it is still college education associated with it, is this
basically a kind of contemporary system of share cropping that the students
find themselves in, Mr. Branch?
BRANCH: Yes. One day, we`ll wake up and kick ourselves and say how can we
be so brainwashed and not recognize this system? You can`t manage conflict
between academics and big-time sports unless you recognize the conflicts
exist. Right now we pretend that big-time athletics and education are the
same thing, and only the NCAA understands how to manage this hypothetical
creature called the student athlete.
So, we have to recognize that these students have been denied this all the
time. Fans cheer and boo. They just want whatever they want. Some
denigrate the athletes or yell at them.
But I do blame universities and faculties for not being able to recognize
the basic distinction between academics, where they`re supposed to be
delivering value to these students and help educating them and big-time
sports where the athletes are creating millions of dollars for the
Those are fundamentally different things. All we have to do to recognize
that is to say the students have the same rights and the athletes as
everybody else. And the whole system will adapt from there.
HARRIS-PERRY: I so appreciate that you just called out the faculty in part
as well because, you know, I spent my entire career on university campuses
as a member of faculties. And universities are meant to be faculty
governed. Far too frequently we are silent on these questions rather than
getting actively engaged.
Stay with us because I have one more question about all these when we get
back. I want to ask that five box ESPN style -- is this in part about
HARRIS-PERRY: I wanted to take a look at this poll. Look at these
numbers. Overall, there is a vast opposition in the public to paying
college athletes. But when you break those numbers down by race, you see a
real distinction. According to this ABC "Washington Post" poll, 51 percent
of people of color support paying college athletes. But opposition among
white Americans is at 73 percent.
We need to think clearly about what the actual job is that these student
athletes are doing.
GUPTA: That`s right. So race absolutely has a role to play in this. We
shouldn`t pretend that it doesn`t. We`re talking about in this case in
particular, predominantly black athletes who are really at risk of injury.
Like, their work puts them at risk of head trauma injury, right?
And what that amounts to is some of the issues that Mr. Kessler race
raised, right? This idea if a university wants to and can provide
benefits, like medical coverage, and access to care that they will need
because of these injuries, that`s huge. That`s part of what`s at stake
But also, what`s at stake is these are young men and women who are also on
a path to an education to get a career. And often are denied being able to
go to classes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Exactly.
GUPTA: They`re being told you can`t go to classes because it`s going to
interfere with your practice.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Dave, you want in on this.
ZIRIN: Yes, just once we dispense with all the niceties, I mean, the NCAA
operates a system that involves the organized theft of black wealth. I
mean, it is wealth created by young black men. They are the people who
overwhelmingly populate the revenue producing sports and that`s not a
coincidence I`m not saying the NCAA created institutionalized racism
disparity in race and poverty but they benefit from it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And look, as this point that Mr. Kessler made earlier
that Taylor Branch has called when he calls faculty to it, we can`t do
better. And no one institution can do better if, in fact, I can govern my
university, I can change the rules of my university, but I can`t change the
rules of the athletic team, because it`s governed by the NCAA.
Is that right, Mr. Kessler?
KESSLER: Absolutely. And one very important point: only 1 percent of
these athletes will ever have a pro career.
KESSLER: So this is their shot. If they can`t get a chance to benefit
from this now, it`s never going to happen for them.
ZIRIN: That`s right.
KESSLER: Thank you so much to Serena Gupta and Jeffrey Kessler right here
in New York. Dave Zirin, as always in Washington, D.C. And Taylor Branch
in Baltimore, Maryland. So fantastic to have all of you.
ZIRIN: Welcome back, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. It`s nice to be back. I wonder if my 6-week-old
daughter is watching.
Up next, the -- up next, we are heading out, but we will see you again
tomorrow morning. That is our show for today. Thanks to you at home for
watching. I`m going to see you tomorrow morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
And remember, if you`re taking the Nerdland scholar challenge, join me
online 12:30 Eastern Time. Yes, about half an hour, for our live chat
about these week`s topics, mothers in the labors force and mothers in
public office. You know, mothers in the labor force, like me, here I am at
work. The baby, she`s not at work with me.
You can submit your questions now by commenting on today`s article. Find
it by going to Nerdlandchallenge.MSNBC.com.
And right now, a preview for "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
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