Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 02/14/15
DORIAN WARREN, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question, will “50 Shades of the Grey” color the way we view sex.
Plus the chill down in the Deep South. And why 2016 could prove disastrous for labor in America. But first, how do we define hate?
Good morning, I`m Dorian Warren in for Melissa Harris-Perry. It`s been a week of mourning for a university community in North Carolina after three Muslim American students were shot to death Tuesday night at their apartment complex near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The victims are a 23-year-old Deah Barakat, his wife 21-year old Yusor Abu Salha and her sister, Razan Abu Salha who was 19. The suspect, 46-year old Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself in after the shooting and was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Hicks had at least a dozen firearms and a large stash of ammunition in his home according to search warrants released yesterday.
Police say Hicks shot the three students over an ongoing dispute about parking in the condominium complex where both he and the newlywed couple lived. But the families of the victims and Muslim advocacy groups believe Hicks, an atheist who condemned religion, was motivated by religious hatred and are calling on the FBI to investigate the shooting as a hate crime. The father of the sisters Dr. Mohammad Abu Salha talked about the killings Thursday on Ronan Farrow Daily.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. MOHAMMAD ABU SALHA: Even though the murderer can say that it was a parking dispute, whatever he was picking on, he came to that apartment with his gun two or three times before the murder on different occasions. My daughter Yusor complained and she told us that she felt that man hated them for the way they looked and the Muslim garb they wore. She felt the heat has risen after she moved into the apartment and her friends came to visit. And most of them wore our Muslim attire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: Chapel Hill police have said they will continue pursuing leads to determine if the shooting was hate motivated. And they are getting assistance on the investigation from the FBI, which announced that it opened a parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether federal laws were violated. Yesterday President Obama responded to the shootings with a statement saying, “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like or how they worship. Michelle and I offer our condolences to the victims` loved ones. As we saw with the overwhelming presence at the funeral of these young Americans, we are all one American family. Whenever anyone is taken from us before their time, we remember how they lived their lives.”
The funeral service held Thursday on a field in North Carolina State University drew thousands of mourners to remember the three victims, all of whom grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and attended North Carolina State as undergraduates. Razan Abu Salha was a sophomore in North Carolina State where she studied architecture and environmental design. Her sister, Yusor, was going to enroll next fall at University of North Carolina`s Dental School where she would have joined her husband Deah, who was already a doctoral student at the school. The couple had just gotten married in December of last year and had plans to open a dental practice together in the future.
Now as the country mourns their loss, this case is raising new questions about when a hateful incident rises to the level of a hate crime. Joining me now is Dr. Jonathan Metzl, director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society and professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. Raul Reyes, attorney and contributor for nbcnews.com, Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Christina Greer, assistant professor at Fordham University. Thank you all for joining me this morning.
And Raul, I want to start with you and ask you from a legal standpoint, why does it matter whether or not the shooting is classified by the police in North Carolina as a hate crime? And we know the FBI at this point is pursuing an inquiry, but not a full investigation. So, explain to us.
RAUL REYES, ATTORNEY: It absolutely matters because with a hate crime, generally charges in a hate crime can be used to bump up penalties from another crime to make them more severe. So, for example, if you`re talking about something murder, vandalism, assault, if there`s an element of bias, that brings in the hate crime charges and can put it to the higher charge. However, in this case, North Carolina does not specifically have a hate crime law. They have a law against ethnic intimidation. But yet at the same time, it`s significant that the FBI has opened the inquiry because when we looked at the level of anti-Muslim bias and hate crimes, it does not occur in a social or political vacuum. I think before 2001 we had something like 20, 30 hate crimes against Muslims a year. In 2001 it spiked. And since - it`s still like five times above average.
WARREN: And just a missed point. We do have data to show the spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes, which after, as you said, after 9/11 went up. And then actually never went back down to the levels.
REYES: It`s still about five times - the pre 9-11 levels.
WARREN: Let me follow up quickly and ask you how would you prove a hate crime in a case like this?
REYES: Well, one thing I also think is important to remember in proving a hate crime, it is not necessary to establish that it was motivated or driven by bias against someone for their gender, religion, national origin or even as the perception. It only has to be in part. It does not have to be wholly motivated bias. So, if there`s anything, and I think just on the circumstances, this is ongoing case. There`s something to that. And not necessarily these Facebook posts that we`re hearing about. The fact that as I understand it, that this man, you know, he had problems with many of his neighbors, but he didn`t have problems with the young man when he lived there alone. Problems began with that apartment when the two young women lived there with the hijab. That alone would be a suggest that there is anti-Muslim bias.
WARREN: So, John, let me turn to you and ask you other than the legal consequences, what`s the value in the findings of the investigation for this community and the family who have been very clear saying they believe this to be motivated by religious hatred?
DR. JONATHAN METZL, CTR. FOR MEDICINE, HEALTH AND SOCIETY, VANDERBILT: Sure. Well, you know, I think I take Raul`s point, thank you very well and I think that, you know, it`s to be seen whether this was a hate crime by the legal definition. But I would just say, in the snippets that we know about the case already, that really the specter of race and racism seem to be all over this for a couple of reasons. Again, just from the preliminary reports. One is that just because it`s a parking dispute doesn`t mean it`s not also a racist interaction. Everyday racism can manifest itself.
WARREN: It can be both simultaneously.
METZL: Exactly. So, just because it`s the parking dispute, it doesn`t mean that it`s not something else motivated by race. And the second is, you know, for me this is an increasingly problematic public performance of a kind of militant armed threatening white masculinity. And so, this performance of kind of the angry white man with a gun who is, you know, monitoring the parking and he`s the kind of, you know, guardian of the rules and things like that. You know, we`re seeing this increasingly across the country in less benign - in less pernicious forms with, you know, open carry and things like that. But here`s the kind of lethal consequence of this performance of white masculine.
WARREN: I want to come back to that point on white - the performance of white masculinity in a second. But Christina, I want to ask you about the ways, in which - in the deaths of Trayvon Martin, more recently the death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner that have sparked social justice movements. And in fact, this week the #Muslimlivesmatter began trending on social media. There`s been outrage both domestically and internationally about these killings in North Carolina. Does this feel like a galvanizing moment for Muslim Americans?
CHRISTINA GREER, ASSIST. PROF., FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: I think it could be and I hope it is. I mean in many ways, with Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and so many others, right? So many communities were saying, well, this is just an isolated incident so I don`t really understand why you`re all are so - or so outraged. And what we clearly know is that this is, in some ways, coordinated efforts for some, but, you know, black lives matter is holistic approach, at least trying to become a holistic approach to recognize that these are not sort of random one-offs that happen in small towns and cities across the country. And I think, you know, hopefully this tragedy will actually help so many people recognize that these incidents actually happen more frequently than we know.
This one because it`s three individuals and so young and so dedicated to serving others, sort of made national attention. But we know that Trayvon Martin was the first child murdered by a vigilante, right? We know that Mike Brown clearly was not the first child murdered by a police officer. So, when we think about solidarity, what I`m really hoping is, when we think about the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Muslim Lives Matters movement, hopefully somehow these two movements can figure out what they share in common so that the solidarity actually builds. Because we know that these are not isolated incidents for any of these communities. And so, if we can translate this deep hurt, right, that we feel and sort of this moment in this country where there are many white men who feel incredibly desperate. Right? This is their nadir (ph). And so, it`s not for us. And so, we should use it as an opportunity to work together.
WARREN: Richard, really quickly. I just want to get you to respond to this question about the difference in the response we have seen to, say, the Boston marathon bombing, the massive and immediate mobilization when the perpetrators of acts of violence at home are Muslim versus when the victims are Muslim. Why do we fail to ask some of the same questions or respond in the same way?
RICHARD COHEN, PRES., SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CTR.: That`s a good question. You know, of course, 9/11 was the Pearl Harbor of our time and it, you know, it just changed the focus of law enforcement tremendously. All resources going to kind of jihadi terrorism and ignoring domestic non-jihadi terrorism. And the incident in North Carolina, so many other incidents tell us that we have to have a balanced approach to the phenomenon.
WARREN: Stay right there. When we come back, we`ll hear from the family of one of the North Carolina victims.
WARREN: On Thursday, the oral history project StoryCorps hosted this recording from one of the victims of the North Carolina shootings, Yusor Abu Salha that she made during a conversation with her former teacher for StoryCorps last summer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YUSOR ABU-SALHA: Growing up in America has been such a blessing and, you know, although in some ways I do stand out, such as, you know, the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering, there`s still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is, you know, our culture. And that`s the beautiful thing here is that it doesn`t matter where you come from. There`s so many different people from so many different places of different backgrounds and religions …
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely.
ABU-SALHA: But here we`re all one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: Joining me now from Raleigh, North Carolina, is a member of Yusor Abu Salha`s family, her sister-in-law and Deah Barakat sister, Dr. Suzanne Barakat.
DR. SUZANNE BARAKAT, SISTER OF DEAH BARAKAT: Thank you for having me.
WARREN: First, I want to offer my condolences from the entire MHP crew. And ask you, can you tell me why through your grief it is important for you to be speaking out in this moment?
SUZANNE BARAKAT: There`s so many reasons. The first most being that their story needs to be heard. That people need to know who they were and what they stood for. The second being we need to be seeking justice on their behalf and that this is a pattern. This is not an isolated incident.
WARREN: Sorry. Please continue.
SUZANNE BARAKAT: No, if there`s anything that I can do to help make sure that their deaths were not in vain, then I want to do it.
WARREN: Let me ask you what you think about the police`s determination that the cause was a parking dispute. And can you tell us what, if any, information have the police shared with you and your family as they continue their investigation.
SUZANNE BARAKAT: It`s really interesting to me that on day, I don`t know how many days after the murder, we`re still calling this a parking dispute. I feel like I have addressed this in every single interview. And I don`t think this is why I`m here. I know this is not why I`m here. This - they were not murdered over a parking dispute. Feel free to reference previous interviews. There was no car parked in this “disputed visitor`s parking spot,” which he claimed he owned and belonged to his wife which had been cleared by the apartment complex management as being open to all. No one was parked in that spot. This was premeditated murder. Someone came in to my brother`s home when they were unarmed, murdered them by shooting bullets into their heads execution style. You don`t do that over a parking dispute.
WARREN: Dr. Barakat, even if a hate crime designation for first-degree murder in North Carolina doesn`t necessarily carry any added legal penalties, can you tell us what meaning is there for you in the official classification of the act as a hate crime?
SUZANNE BARAKAT: I think it`s important regardless of the outcome to call it that because it changes so many things. Because this wasn`t an isolated incident that just happened to my family. We live in a time where today it`s socially acceptable, it`s politically advantageous to demonize Muslims. It`s not OK. In the past week alone aside from three family members being shot in their own home, there was a mosque burnt down in Houston. There was a man shot through his apartment door and killed in Ottawa. There was someone badly beat in Dearborn, Michigan just in this past week. I don`t need to dig far. This is …
WARREN: Tell us what, if anything, for you and your family would be an outcome to this case that feels like justice?
SUZANNE BARAKAT: As I have said before, justice means this not happening again. Justice means making reforms on local, national, global levels that ensure what we believe in as Americans. This country was built on the principles of freedom of religion. We take pride in the fact that we are the melting pot of the U.S. that mixes colors, races, genders, everything. And to be living in a time when people are being killed because of what they believe in is not who we are. There is – an immense amount of hatred and prejudice that is weaved into our society against Muslims these days. Chris Kyle, the real American sniper has called Iraqis, has said I hate those damn savages and I don`t give an F what happens to them. A recent presidential candidate has called Muslims infidels and that they deserve to be obliterated. How is it OK, how is it OK to allow a large – not so much of a minority, but a minority to be etherized (ph) and demonized like this? How do we allow a movie like this to obtain six Academy Awards including best pictures and call him an American hero when he`s calling an entire group savages? All you need to do is look at video games. Look at Hollywood.
WARREN: Dr. Barakat, can I ask you very quickly, can you tell us what you want people to know about your brother and your sisters-in-law?
SUZANNE BARAKAT: I want people to know that my brother Deah, his bride Yusor, her sister Razan were what a typical American Muslim family looks like. And it is for that reason that people from all over the world are mourning and grieving. I am getting texts and messages in the thousands saying, I love them as if they were my own because it`s as if they were me. It`s as if they were my brother.
WARREN: Thank you so much to Dr. Suzanne Barakat in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Jonathan, will return later on the program, the rest of my panel is sticking around. And still to come, the Scott Walker effect and the issue that could shake up the 2016 election.
But up next, the real story of Valentine`s Day and the connection to what`s happening in Alabama right now.
WARREN: If you woke up today to flowers, cards, chocolates or candy hearts, stand for the profession of love, Happy Valentine`s Day for you. If, on the other hand, you are among those for whom this day feels like a forced march through a candy-coded gauntlet, well, happy Saturday. However you feel about February 14th as a designated data to show your love, it meant something very different for the real life Valentine because it was on this date sometime around the year 270 A.D. that he died by execution. During a late third century Valentine was a holy priest in Rome under the rule of Emperor Claudius II. At the time Claudius was having a hard time finding recruits willing to leave home to fight his wars. A problem he attributed to the strong attachment between Roman men and their wives and families. So Claudius, deciding the solution was simply to sever those attachments banned young men from getting engaged or married.
Valentine who believed the decree to be unjust defied the law and continued to secretly perform marriages for young Romans in love. But when his actions were discovered, Claudius condemned him to death. Following Valentine`s bloody sentence, beaten to death and then beheaded, he was canonized by the Catholic Church. Today, it`s unclear exactly how the name of St. Valentine became connected over the centuries to the day, on which we now recognize romantic love. But the story of his life still stands as a testament to the defiance of power in the face of perceived injustice and an allegiance with a deeply held belief. And this week it is ironically the same position being taken by an Alabama judge who was also taking a principal stance on marriage, but in a way that would put him at direct odds with the Roman priest because instead of taking a stand for marriage he`s standing in the way.
This week that judge Alabama`s chief justice Roy S. Moore put himself in between same-sex couples who want to be married and the state`s recognition of those marriages with an order that defied a federal court. Same-sex marriages were expected to begin on Monday in Alabama after a federal district judge ruled last month that the state`s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. But Sunday night Chief Justice Moore threw a wrench into those plans when he ordered Alabama probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples the next day, a decision he explained in an interview with CNN this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROY MOORE, CHIEF JUSTICE, ALABAMA: No judge in the United States or federal district court has the right to invent the definition of marriage, which is not even contained in the United States Constitution. And that`s the problem. We have people going in trying to mandate to the state of Alabama that the sanctity of marriage amendment in our Constitution is wrong. That`s simply not right to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: The Chief Justice Moore`s order left Alabama`s 68 probate judges with a quandary. Either comply with the federal court order that indicated an expectation that they issue the marriage licenses or disobey it as instructed by the state`s highest judge who insisted they were not legally bound to follow the federal court`s decision. The result was chaos on Monday in the Alabama court system. Same-sex couples in the state`s largest cities were granted marriage licenses while couples in the vast majority of Alabama counties were denied.
Adding to the confusion was a supreme court, which on Monday said they would not block the federal judge`s ruling that overturned Alabama`s same-sex marriage ban. By Thursday that same federal judge began to bring some clarity to the chaos when she ruled that one probate judge in Mobile, Alabama must issue marriage licenses to four couples who he had previously refused. And Alabama`s other probate judges were paying attention.
Gay rights group, freedom to marry is reporting that as of yesterday more than half the counties in Alabama were issuing licenses to same sex couples. Putting those judges on the opposite side of history from chief justice Moore who may ultimately find himself at odds with the Supreme Court, which is poised to issue an historic ruling when it considers state`s rights to restrict same-sex marriage during oral arguments this April.
Joining my panel now, is Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling professor of law and political science at Yale University. And Akhil, I want to ask you first, is chief justice Moore standing in the courthouse door? Of course, metaphorically speaking, like George Wallace literally stood in the schoolhouse to Oregon school integration. He seems, of course, to think he has a legitimate legal justification to opposing the federal court. Tell us. Is that true?
AKHIL REED AMAR, VISITING ADJUNCT PROF., COLUMBIA LAW: I`m no fan of Judge Moore, and I am hoping and praying for same-sex marriage everywhere as soon as possible, but the Supreme Court of the United States has not yet spoken. And when George Wallace and Orval Faubus are standing in the courthouse door, the Supreme Court had already weighed in with Brown v. Board of Education and we don`t have that yet, so much as I hate to admit it, Moore has a bit of a point technically legally speaking. The federal district judge only sits in the southern district of Alabama. There are other districts, other cities. She doesn`t have, Judge Granade, doesn`t quite have jurisdiction over Birmingham or Montgomery. Only kind of over the Mobile area. So, lawyers in the case didn`t join all the probate judges as defendants as maybe they should have. They didn`t bring a class action. So, here`s the basic point. We`re all hoping and expecting, I think, that the Supreme Court will weigh in on the right side of history, but just hypothetical, suppose, God forbid, Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer and Justice Kennedy got the measles next week and they were out for the next two months. Well, now it`s not so clear that it`s going to be 5-4 or 6-3 for the right - so they haven`t weighed in yet.
WARREN: We`re going to come back to that point in a minute. But Richard, because you have a little history with this Alabama chief justice, I wanted to ask you what are motivating his actions here? Because he`s giving a legal justification, but he also cited his religious belief.
WARREN: Tell us about it.
COHEN: He has a history of that. You know, he brought in a monument to the Ten Commandments when he was elected in 2011. We sued over, it secured an order forcing him to take it out. He refused. He was removed from office by judicial ethics commission. Now this time, and remarkably, he was reelected by the people of Alabama. We have again filed ethics complaints against him because whatever his technical points might be, he has an obligation not to undermine the confidence to the integrity of the judiciary. And when you start saying, well, maybe I`ll follow an order to Supreme Court, maybe I won`t, Judge Granade is lawless, she is a tyrannical person. I mean that obviously undermines the integrity, the public`s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary and I hope the officials remove him again before he can cause more trouble.
One more point, if I could make. In one opinion, Justice Moore indicated that the state had the power and the obligation to use the power of the sword, including the power of execution in order to protect children from what he called the homosexual lifestyle. The legal citation for that as the professor knows, was Leviticus.
WARREN: All right, so I want to come back to the Supreme Court, which Akhil just said, is hearing arguments in April. The rule is summer. It will be, of course, a landmark decision. I want to play video from a Bloomberg video of Justice Ginsburg who sounds optimistic about how the court will rule.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE RUTH BADER GINSBURG, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I think it`s doubtful that it wouldn`t be accepted. The change in people`s attitudes on that issue has been enormous. I think that as more and more people came out and said this is who I am and the rest of us recognize that they are one of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: OK, I`m thinking about this. And Christina, I want to direct this to you. So, this could be a landmark decision if the court comes down favorably. Roe v. Wade was a landmark decision legalizing abortion, but here we`re four decades later watching as the ongoing fight against reproductive rights are being rolled back. We know about Brown v. Board of Education, landmark decision for school desegregation. It took years for judicial oversight for full compliance and we could argue now schools are just as segregated by race and income as they were 60 years ago. So, Christina, this is a debate a long time debate, especially in political science about the role of courts and social change. Should the Supreme Court rule in favor of same-sex marriage? Is the case closed or should we expect some kind of resistance?
GREER: There`s always going to be a resistance. I mean even though we`re in a shared federal system, I mean there`s still always - there`s going to always be a fight about state`s rights. Especially in the South. I don`t think Alabama is an odd state when we think about the one state right now that`s kind of pushing back.
I think, you know, it would only help the country if the Supreme Court ruled favorably in favor of not just gay marriage, but really framing it as marriage equity, right? So we can think about it as a constitutional right for all Americans actually to get married. Because it isn`t actually listed in the Constitution that it`s between a man and a woman. So, this is- this would be their clarification. That we know that across the country, there will be smaller venues that push back, but I think for the most part public opinion is changing in the right direction. I would say …
WARREN: Public opinion in Alabama?
GREER: Public opinion in Alabama is very much against it. But we`re also seeing a change in cohort, so, you know, as younger people grow up and realize and actually have positive interactions, we have seen this, you know, with black and white relations, with sort of catholic, Jewish, Muslim relations on much slower scale, but it`s happening. So it could only work in favor for the marriage equity movement, but I really think that we need to be careful how we frame it for people moving forward so we understand that it`s a personal, but also a political conversation.
REYES: Yet, it is moving forward because even in Alabama the leading papers in Alabama, like “The Birmingham News”, “The Montgomery Advertiser”, they were - they have come out in favor of marriage equality and against the judge. And I think it`s incredibly courageous of these couples in Alabama to come forward in the society that`s still so dominated by a very conservative religion to come forward and have the marriage`s - attempt to have their marriages recognized. So, even out in Alabama, I think we are seeing the progress, we are seeing a sea change in the attitudes. Slowly, but it`s coming.
WARREN: So much more to say, but we`re out of time. Akhil will be back in the next hour. Thank you to Richard Cohen, the others are sticking around.
Up next, why Scott Walker was deliberately trying to be bland this week.
WARREN: He tried to avoid it. Really he did. His strategic approach just don`t say anything. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, like the rest of us, recently watched his fellow governors Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal fall victim to the would-be president goes to London and gets mocked by the press curse. With Governor Christie it was vaccines. With Governor Jindal, it was a non-existing Muslim no go zones. But it all ended the same way. With disastrous headlines of the kind Governor Walker was determined to avoid. He even said outright that he “rather be bland than stupid or moronic.” Except, according to “The Daily Beast” (INAUDIBLE) he may have been all three. In large part because of moments like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UM: Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution? Do you believe in it? Do you accept it?
GOV. SCOTT WALKER, (R) WISCONSIN: For me I`m going to punt on that one as well.
WALKER: That does you …
WALKER: That`s a question a politician shouldn`t be involved in one way or the other. That`s - I`m going to leave that to you …
UM: Is there any British politician right or left wing would laugh and say, yes, of course, evolution is true.
WALKER: But to me, I said it`s just one of those where I`m here to talk about trade and not find - deprecate another issue. I love the evolution of trade in Wisconsin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: Now, Walker later tried to backtrack by tweeting that he believes science and faith are compatible, but live and in that moment, he punted and that was how Governor Scott Walker went from being talked about as the potential 2016 GOP frontrunner to the latest London flub. But even though this week`s national headlines are all about Walker`s punt on evolution, within the Republican Party shuttled presidential primary Governor Walker is telling himself to both the establishment and Tea Party wings of the party as the guy who can take on the unions. Don`t forget it was just four years ago that Walker used his state`s budget negotiations to strip away collective bargaining rights from most of his state`s public sector unions. That prompted massive protests followed by a recall election, which he won. He actually then went on to win another election after that. And that`s why he`s now making his appeal to Iowa Republicans in what looks like a 2016 campaign by touting his repeated victories over his detractors in organized labor.
And now, other Republican governors seem to be following his lead. Newly inaugurated Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner made headlines this week when he took an unprecedented unilateral step to dismantle his state`s public sector unions. The governor issued an executive order barring unions from requiring all state workers to pay automatic membership fees. And although some legal scholars have suggested that Governor Rauner doesn`t have the power to make this move, he`s going ahead with it any way. So, even though it was a bad week for Governor Scott Walker the candidate, it was a good week for Governor Scott Walker the movement as the battle against unions heats up again. Which leads me to wonder, is this where the GOP is headed? With Scott Walker as their flag bearer and his playbook as the model for governance, will this upcoming election cycle be the political moment when the GOP tries to once and for all end public sector unions as we know them. When we come back, I`m going to ask my panel just that.
WARREN: This week Governor Bruce Rauner of Illinois dealt a huge blow to public sector unions in his state when he unilaterally declared a long standing policy of collecting fees from all state workers unconstitutional. Now if a governor playing the role of Supreme Court justice in interpreting the constitutionality of existing policy sounds a little, let`s call it, brazen, that`s because it is. But there`s a reason why the governor is so emboldened. At the same time that Governor Rauner is making his play against public sector unions, his fellow union basting governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is making a surprising rise from second tier presidential prospect to the party`s new favorite potential 2016 candidate. Does all that suggest that we`re gearing up for another election cycle and possibly a national one this time where public sector unions are in the Republican Party`s crosshairs?
Joining my panel, John Nichols, Washington correspondent for “The Nation” and Yevgeniy Feyman, deputy director of the Manhattan Institute Center for Medical Progress. And John, I want you to explain to us what the heck is going on in my home state of Illinois.
JOHN NICHOLS, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “THE NATION”: Well, Illinois had a Republican waive election in 2014 like everybody else just about. And they brought in Bruce Rauner, an incredibly wealthy man who really got his own campaign going self-financed, initially, at least. And got in trouble early on by saying that he had doubts about the minimum wage - you needed a minimum wage. And then got hit hard enough on that that he decided oh wow, now I`m for minimum wage, but he`s still very interested in messing with a lot of the structural underpinnings of not just a living wage or minimum wage movement, but unions themselves.
NICHOLS: Illinois has very strong unions, as you know, as in Illinois. By background.
NICHOLS: And - and so what Rauner did was go right at the heart of some of the strongest unions in Illinois, AFSCME …
WARREN: The public sector, right. That`s right.
NICHOLS: Teachers and others. And he said, look, we`re not going to go all Scott Walker on you.
NICHOLS: We`re not going to take away your collective bargaining rights or undermine them. But we`re going to take the state out of the work of collecting the so called fair share dues. And fair share dues are just - if you don`t want to join the union, you don`t have to, but you have to pay a little bit for that representation.
WARREN: In terms of the collective bargaining.
NICHOLS: We`re only talking, you know, 5,000 - 6,000 people. I think, you know, roughly a smaller number of folks there.
WARREN: And what happens? So he issues an executive order and then tell us what happens next?
NICHOLS: Well, this is what gets interesting. Because a lot of people don`t know how to cover labor anymore. Because we don`t have a lot of labor writers in America. But if you do cover labor, you know that there`s many stages of these things. So, everybody said, Rauner took the unions down, it`s over. You know, union, just like - No, because you have an attorney general who is a Democrat, Lisa Madigan. You also have a state comptroller, interesting, a woman who was appointed by Bruce Rauner.
WARREN: By Bruce Rauner.
NICHOLS: To a vacancy who …
WARREN: A Republican.
NICHOLS: A Republican who would be up for reelection in 2016, and both of them said I don`t think so. We don`t - It`s Madigan`s interpretation that this isn`t going to work.
WARREN: And the comptroller.
WARREN: Republican comptroller.
NICHOLS: So you have a situation now where the governor`s made this order. You have the people who were actually supposed to implement and say they are not going to do it. We`re going to have a legal fight.
NICHOLS: Now, this is a big deal for one reason and one reason above all others. If you read Supreme Court decisions and you read Samuel Alito`s - and sometimes he`s right in the decision – sometimes he`s right - what he keeps saying how much he`d really like to (INAUDIBLE) unions.
WARREN: Yes. This is in the crosshairs. There`s a Supreme Court case right now that`s pending, focused on …
NICHOLS: And this one could go all the way up.
WARREN: So, I want to get you in here. Because I find it interesting. Conservatives, GOP, presidential candidates have started to talk more recently about income inequality, about poverty to my surprise. But the decline in union membership when you look empirically, the decline in union membership over the last 30 years tracks, according to this chart, tracks pretty well with the declining share of middle class incomes. So, how do you - there`s a relationship there, relationship between inequality. How do you combat income inequality while fighting unions?
YEVGENIY FEYMAN, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE CENTER FOR MEDICAL PROGRESS: Well, I think the relationship is much more tenuous in this chart. It actually gives away - and the reality with the CBO, the Commercial Budget Office, is sad. When they analyze tax records for lower class, not even the middle class, they found that once you adjust for tax benefits, once you adjust for things like health benefits, which have increased over the past 34 years, actually middle income families, low income families are doing better. They are not doing as much better as the upper class is. So inequality is increasing. But that chart alone doesn`t tell us that incomes are stagnating. It`s just telling us that the economy is growing faster than incomes are growing, which is a much more nuanced point. And it doesn`t tell the same story.
WARREN: So there`s no relationship between unions and income inequality whatsoever? Co-incidence?
WARREN: Is it just a coincidence?
FEYMAN: I think there`s absolutely a relationship between unions and income inequality. I just wonder whether there`s a relationship between inequality and how well the middle class is doing. And what we`ve seen is that once you take away countries internationally that are very corrupt, third world countries, and you try to find that same correlation, you actually find that lower inequality tends to correlate with higher GDP growth, higher income growth. So things change.
WARREN: We are finding research that also suggests that lower rates of inequality are related to higher rates of growth. Whether it`s the IMF, whether it`s - there`s a range of studies. All right. We don`t have enough time to debate this.
WARREN: Coming up, it`s not just the GOP thing. The labor battle is brewing with the Dems, the Democratic Party. That`s next.
WARREN: As Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner tries to follow the model set by Wisconsin Scott Walker in taking on his stage unions, there`s some surprising differences in the way that battle is playing out in deep blue Illinois. Specifically, it appears that Governor Rauner will not face the same kind of Democratic opposition that helped propel the high stakes union battle in Wisconsin into the national spotlight.
As political points out, the most high profile Democrat in the state, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel enjoys a friendly relationship with Rauner. And have a mutual enemy, has a mutual enemy in the Chicago Teachers` Union. Meanwhile, the national level of anti-union Republicans jockey for their party`s presidential nomination, the sitting Democratic president has sometimes angered organized labor as a whole by trying to advance a controversial trade deal.
So, if the 2016 election cycle looks to be a year when the right tries to demonize American labor unions, who was left on the left to defend them? And John, when I ask you first, where is the Democratic Party strong defensive organized labor, and especially of public sector unions?
NICHOLS: Well, it`s there, you`ll find it in some states and in some people. I was in Iowa last weekend and Bernie Sanders is there this weekend thinking about a presidential race. Whether he gets in or not, I don`t know. But I can tell you that one of the reasons why there are people who take an interest in Bernie Sanders and in Elizabeth Warren is because of a sense that there are other Democrats who are not necessarily so rigidly or passionately pro-union. And so, there at the base, there`s a lot of passion for this. The unfortunate or challenging reality is as you move up the political food chain, you see people like Rahm Emanuel who frankly trying to balance budgets and one of the complexities is that in this country we have so taken - we`ve taken something so off the agenda that you can`t say, you know, we have got some budget problems here we`re going to have to make Bruce Rauner pay a little more taxes, and so you start to look at your public employees as a way to balance budgets.
WARREN: OK. Christina, I want to get you in here because you like big cities and you like Philadelphia. And we know the Democratic national convention will be in Philly in 2016. We also know that there`s a divide between the Democratic Party, between those that are in sway of education reform, which takes on public unions and teachers unions not for budget reasons, for ideological reasons. How is this going to play out in the 2016 convention in Philadelphia?
GREER: Well, I think we`ll actually have a much more interesting convention than we thought, right?
GREER: I mean I think it would do the Democratic Party a great disservice just to coronate Hillary Clinton without a really important conversation. Right? We see New York Governor Cuomo essentially attacking unions in many ways. We know that not all unions are the same. If inequality, however, we`re going to define this, is going to be the central piece for Democrats and Republicans in 2016, I think clearly labor and what we`re going to do with labor has to have, maybe we`ll just have a reckoning moment, right? Because and it may pit city against non-city, right? You know, we have seen the upstate versus down state conversations in New York several times. But, you know, this is also going to be a larger conversation about how we treat teachers and what does the vision of education look like in this country as well, right? So, I was excited for the shenanigans that the Republicans would give us …
GREER: But may be, I`m hoping for some really substantive debates from the Democratic Party as well.
REYES: Well, I just think that one of the ironic things about this whole discussion about unions and labor and attacking the pension costs and all these different things is that union membership is - nationally is at an all-time low. And in many ways, the weaker unions get, the more Republicans are pushing to curtail them.
WARREN: That`s true, but let`s look at some data on this. Because the difference between public and private sector unions.
REYES: Right, right.
WARREN: So, and the public sector for - is about 1 in 3, it`s about 35 percent. Private sector is less than seven percent.
REYES: Right. But for Republicans it`s a winning issue because when you attack unions, you bring in not just - you bring in tremendous outside contributions like Scott Walker who collected something like $22 million from the Koch brothers and people like that. And I think to, you know, to the discredit, some of our Democrats are maybe eyeing those contributions as well as seeing this as a populist issue that, you know, it`s very easy to demonize unions, or certain teachers unions that have received a lot of bad press, and they can get this contributions, and the unions don`t have the strength to fight back.
NICHOLS: Well, they do have the strength in some places. And I think this is where …
NICHOLS: But let me ask you, this is where we get into a huge conundrum. And it`s a bigger part of what you`re talking about. You said, you know, you mentioned fast track and TPP.
NICHOLS: Democrats have often supported free trade deals that have really kicked the heck out of a lot of industrial cities. Now we have a situation where, yes, public sector workers often have fair contracts with decent pay, decent benefits, may be a small pension. They are under attack through a jealousy politics that says, oh well, now you have lost all these things. We are taking them away from you.
WARREN: And the fact that they still have a lot of money to give to Democrats and elections.
We`re out of time. Thank you so much to John Nichols. Raul, Yev and Christina, we`ll be back in the next hour.
Coming up, a checkup on the Affordable Care Act as a key deadline approaches. And why “50 Shades of Grey” could rake in a whole lot of green this weekend. More “Nerdland” at the top of the hour.
WARREN: Welcome back. I`m Dorian Warren, in for Melissa Harris-Perry.
Procrastinators, pay attention. Tomorrow is the last day you can sign up for health insurance on the Obamacare online exchanges this year. So far, more than 10 million people have signed up for 2015 coverage. Last year, it was 8 million.
Nearly five years after the law was signed, the Affordable Care Act has by many measures been a success. Eleven million people have insurance who didn`t before, 11 million people can now afford to see a doctor who couldn`t before. And the uninsured rate has fallen from 18 percent before the ACA went into effect, for less than 13 percent today.
And the change has been highest among the people of color and the poor. Part of that is thanks to federal subsidies that help people buy insurance on the ACA`s online exchanges. After subsidies, the average premium on the exchanges is $105 a month. And most people on the exchanges are eligible for that federal help, 85 percent of exchange policyholders receive subsidies.
That means of the 10 million people who are signing up for health insurance, 8.5 million will get subsidies to help them afford it, 6.5 million of those subsidies are going to people using the federally run exchange, which HHS operates in the 34 states that have not set up their own exchanges. But those 6.5 million subsidies are at risk and with them the ACA itself.
Next month, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case King v. Burwell. The lawsuit funded by the libertarian group Competitive Enterprise Institute are seeking to undo those subsidies. And the question is why. They claim the billions of dollars in tax credits on the exchanges are illegal.
Here`s what`s happening. The ACA called for an online insurance exchange in each state where individuals can buy health insurance with the help of federally funded subsidies in the form of tax credits. Drafters of the bill expected that most states would set up their own exchanges. A federally run exchange would be set up in states that couldn`t or wouldn`t set up their own.
Opposition to the ACA was much more virulent and long-lived than the Obama administration expected and HHS ended up running the exchanges in those 34 states. So, as it stands you can get subsidies no matter what kind of exchange your state has whether it`s owned or a federally run exchange.
But the lawsuit now that the Supreme Court argues that the federal subsidies were never meant to apply to the federally run exchanges. They quote the legislative text of the ACA that the subsidies would apply to exchanges, quote, “established by the state.” The administration maintains that the language encompasses all of the exchanges, that Congress clearly intended the subsidies to apply to both federal and state-run exchanges.
In March, the Supreme Court will hear those arguments. If the court sides with the plaintiffs and strikes down the subsidies, nearly 10 million people could lose their health insurance and congressional Republicans would finally get what they wanted. The Affordable Care Act, President Obama`s crowning domestic policy achievement would fall apart.
Joining us now, Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling professor of law and political science at Yale University, Raul Reyes, attorney and NBCNews.com contributor, Yevgeniy Feyman, deputy director of the Manhattan Institute Center for Medical Progress, and Tara Dowdell, president of the Tara Dowdell Group, and a business and political marketing consultant.
Tara, I want to ask you first – what are the stakes here. Give us a sense of what`s at stake here, and how important are these subsidies to people benefitting from the ACA.
TARA DOWDELL, TARA DOWDELL GROUP: Well, the stakes are very high. And this is part of an ongoing effort, and as you stated earlier, the Obama administration did underestimate the longevity and the virulence of the attacks against the Affordable Care Act. This is very important because some of the states that have allowed the federal government to set up an exchange are states that probably would not have set up an exchange any way. So, the residents of those states rely on the tax credits and the different subsidies available to them.
So, this is critical. That is exactly why this lawsuit has been brought to bare. It`s to break the back of the Affordable Care Act.
And let me say this, Dorian, because this is one thing that gets missed in this argument. A big part of the Affordable Care Act is actually changing the delivery of health care in this country. It is making sure that we transition from a system where we pay doctors for services to assist them where we pay them to improve health outcomes of the actual patients. That means we`re trying to make people healthier. And by definition, costs go down. That`s something that`s missed. The Republican plan does not address that.
WARREN: Just on cost, Yev, let me ask you – if the subsidies are struck down and 9.6 million people could lose insurance and premiums would go up 47 percent, according to the Rand Corporation. Am I right in thinking that a ruling by the Supreme Court striking this down would seriously undermine the heart of the Affordable Care Act?
YEVGENIY FEYMAN, MANHATTAN INSTITUTES CTR. FOR MEDICAL PROGRESS: Well, what it would do is undermine it in the states. So, you saw the states that did set up their own exchanges. Those states will be fine. Now, Republicans do have an alternative. They had had one last year. They brought another one this year, that according to private scores, would result in cheaper insurance plans and if implemented nationally would result in more people being covered.
I think the reason they have brought that out right now is to basically say to the Supreme Court, you know, if you strike down the subsidies, there`s not going to be total chaos in states because we have this alternative ready to go. And then what they`ll do is put that on Democrats, on the president to sign or to veto. Then they could blame the president for taking subsidies away from the people affected by the ruling.
WARREN: OK, Professor?
AKHIL REED AMAR, PROFESSOR, YALE UNIVERSITY: Go ahead.
WARREN: I want to get you first. What will the Supreme Court be looking at here? How does it make a decision about the intent of the law?
AMAR: Well, I hope they look at the overall purposes of the statute. Here`s a point about intent. Find me one person, one senator, one representative, one actual Senate staffer or any of the countless journalists watching this law being passed over an entire year, the Ezra Kleins of the world, for example, find me one of them who said this statute means what the critics are now trying to say it means. This is an ex-post facto, clever attempt to try to pull a thread and hope the sleeve falls off but no one said that before.
So, that`s one point. And whether we look at the lawmakers themselves, their staffers or the rest of us – very few laws are passed with the world watching. When the world was watching on this. And also –
WARREN: Help us understand what the courts should be looking at. .
AMAR: Well, here`s the second point, look at how the agency of the federal government tasked with actually making it work is understanding it and implementing it. This is a very complicated statute. And maybe if you pull the string, nothing of this thread, nothing happens or maybe the entire thing unravels, even in the other states. We don`t know. I don`t know. With all due respect, you don`t know.
And the judges definitely don`t – you can say a bunch of stuff, but we don`t know. But the agency that was set up by the law to administer the thing says we`re very, very nervous about this reading. This is the wrong reading. It doesn`t make policy sense.
WARREN: Raul, I know you want to jump in here.
RAUL REYES, ATTORNEY: Right, right. Warren, what – you did an outstanding explainer of this whole issue, that was a long explainer. But I think, you know, you can even break it down, even further and just say, what`s at issue. You have this 900-page piece of legislation. There are two provisions that are slightly ambiguous and that could be taken either way.
So, this is going to the Supreme Court under very questionable grounds. And the thing is, there is precedent for how the Supreme Court should look at this. This is not an issue of constitutionality like we saw before with the constitutionality of the individual mandate.
This is a quest of statutory interpretation. On statutory interpretation, the law is clear. First of all, you look to congressional intent. That`s there in the name of the law, the Affordable Care Act. As Tara said, that`s designed to make health care affordable and available to us, many people as possible.
Secondly, if there`s any doubt about that, you defer to the agency charged with enforcing it. In this case, that`s the IRS, and the IRS agrees with the government in this case. So, the law is clear on the subject. This should not be before the court.
WARREN: OK. So, so much more to say. Don`t go anywhere. Stay right there.
Up next, President Obama shames companies who don`t want to provide health insurance. As we go to break, the president recorded a new viral video for BuzzFeed promoting healthcare.gov.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The deadline for signing up – the deadline for signing up for health insurance is February. Febru –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not like any other Wednesday.
OBAMA: That`s not right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wednesday.
OBAMA: February. Man –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wednesday.
OBAMA: February 15th. February 15th. In many cases, you can get health insurance for less than $100 a month. Just go to healthcare.gov.
WARREN: This year, the Affordable Care Act`s employer mandate is going into effect. Businesses with 100 or more employees must offer comprehensive affordable health insurance to their full-time workers. They will face potentially steep penalties if they don`t, and if any of those employees turn to the insurance exchanges instead and get the subsidy.
Some critics of the mandate that`s give – that this gives employers incentives to cut hours below the 30-hour threshold or to layoff or not hire new employees. While it`s too early to engage the effects, there have been stories about employers cutting back.
This week, BuzzFeed reported that Staples, the office supply company, is cracking down on part-time employees, threatening to fire them if they worked more than 25 hours a week. Employees said they believe the crackdown was directly related to the ACA.
BuzzFeed asked President Obama in an interview what he would say to Staples CEO Ron Sargent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: When I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers wages, shame on them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: Staples said they have had a 25-hour limit for part-time employees for more than a decade, predating the ACA. The company also shot back at the president, saying in a statement, quote, “It`s unfortunate that the president is attacking a company that provides more than 85,000 jobs and is a major taxpayer.”
So, before we get to the question of should businesses be shamed for not offering health insurance, I want to go back to one particular legal question that`s really important that we were just discussing. And this is the question of standing.
We know that this week there`s been some reports for the plaintiffs in the case may not actually have standing to sue. Two are veterans eligible for care through the V.A.
WARREN: One will soon be eligible for Medicare and the fourth may not be required to pay the penalty at all.
So, tell us about standing. Why should it matter?
AMAR: Courts, federal courts decide cases and controversies involving real facts and real people. You have to have plaintiffs who have actually been injured, legally injured and they have to sue the proper defendant. We were talking about Alabama in an earlier segment. In Alabama, I said technically, it wasn`t clear to me that the plaintiffs sued the right defendants.
Well, here the question is whether or not you have the right plaintiffs. If actually none of the four plaintiffs is really going to be covered and required by the individual mandate, then you have the wrong people in court and maybe the lawsuit shouldn`t even be heard. Now, there might be other people later on, but that`s a year down the road at least probably for the Supreme Court.
AMAR: And in the interim, this law puts down deeper roots. We went from 8 million, you said, to 10 million and maybe next year will be 12. It becomes harder for a judiciary as time passes to yank the thing up by the root and undo it.
WARREN: So, just to understand the punch line here, the court could throw the case out on the standing question.
AMAR: It absolutely could and even if only one judge thinks the standing is a problem, you add that one judge to four others who might be willing to uphold the government`s position on the merit, that might make five. There are all sorts of interesting coalitional possibilities.
REYES: And that lack of understanding speaks to the questionable nature of the case, because a lot of work went into this lawsuit. This is attacking the president`s signature legislation. This is a multimillion dollar lawsuit. These are the best four plaintiffs they could come up with, out of all the people, all the vetting they did? That speaks to the fundamental weakness of this lawsuit.
They could have done a class action. They chose not to do that. It speaks to the difficulty of proving that someone had suffered harm from this provision of the Affordable Care Act.
WARREN: So, Tara, I want to get you in.
DOWDELL: That`s because no one suffered harm.
WARREN: So, I want to get back to businesses and the employer mandate. The president said in that clip that Staples should be ashamed of themselves. Should businesses be ashamed for not offering health insurance?
DOWDELL: Absolutely because –
DOWDELL: – let`s look at this in a larger context. This is part of an ongoing issue in this country. We have seen people`s wages go down. There`s new data out saying that American families make less than 15 years ago. We have seen after people – after the great recession, young people coming out of college. They needed health care. They could stay on their family`s plans until they were 26, thanks to this law. That was a lifeline, if you were a young person who couldn`t find a job.
And I think what we have right now is we have – we cannot have a country where we have really, really rich people and really, really poor people. We see that in other countries around the world and that does not work.
And so, this is part of a larger trend that needs to be addressed. And remember one of the fastest ways a company can improve its stock value is by laying people off. That`s one of the fastest ways to do that. And so, we incentivize CEOs to do that versus actually improving a company. That`s not merit. That`s not American.
WARREN: OK. Yes, let me get you in here. So we were laughing a little bit at the break. There`s an alternative GOP plan. There`s a replacement bill.
Tell us – tell us why – Raul`s laughing at this. Serious. Tell us why we should eliminate the employer mandate like the bill proposes. Why is that a good idea?
FEYMAN: It`s anachronism. It goes back to really, really bad policy from the –
WARREN: From RomneyCare.
FEYMAN: From the Great Depression era, actually. We have created tax breaks for businesses to offer health insurance to middle class and very wealthy families. Those are the ones that benefit from these tax breaks.
At the same time, we`re telling businesses in 2018, we`re going to impose a Cadillac tax on these very high value insurance. Unions are going to be the first to get hit by that. Then, members are going to get hit. Then, companies are going to hit. So, on the one hand, we`re telling businesses to offer coverage. The other hand, we`re telling business, but we`re going to not let you offer coverage anymore than this.
That`s not realistic. Get rid of the employer mandate and focus on the individual market where you have affordable coverage where you have affordable coverage that people can take from job to job. That`s a much better proposition for the American middle class.
WARREN: Raul, quickly, the Supreme Court decides not to dismantle the subsidies. Do opponents have anymore legal tricks up their sleeves?
REYES: If they decide not to dismantle it, I don`t think so, because as the professor said, the longer we go on, those laws entrenched people depending on it and we see increasing number of people getting coverage. The more time goes by, the more people that would be caused by a attempting to unravel it.
WARREN: OK. We have to stop there, unfortunately.
Thank you to Akhil Reed Amar and Raul Reyes, Yevgeniy Feyman and Tara Dowdell.
I want to say a very happy birthday to our good friend Raul Reyes, who decided that the best place to spend some of his birthday and Valentine`s Day was right here with us in Nerdland. So, thank you.
REYES: You`re welcome.
WARREN: We have breaking news out of the Danish capital of Copenhagen. There are reports of shots fired during a free speech panel featuring a controversial Swedish artist. Lars Vilks received threats in 2007 after he portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a dog. Since then, strict security has accompanied his public appearances. The Danish national daily paper reports three officers have been injured. We`ll continue to monitor this breaking news on MSNBC.
Up next, love it or hate it, people are flocking to it in droves. The “Fifty Shades” phenomenon when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My tastes are very singular. You wouldn`t understand.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Enlighten me then.
Why are you trying to change me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not. It`s you that`s changing me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: It`s definite live not your typical date movie. “Fifth Shades of Grey”, which is based on the series of books by British author, E.L. James opened this weekend.
But it`s not just the movie. It`s safe to say it`s more of a phenomenon. Check out these numbers: since 2012, the book series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. During its peak, 2 copies are being sold every second, according to a V.P. of publisher Random House.
And now, the movie of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is primed to break its own share of records. Fandango has reported it`s the fastest selling R-rated movie in 15 years, and that only three movies have ever sold more tickets ahead of opening day. Boxoffice.com predicts the film will bring in $89 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada alone, over the long holiday weekend. “Fifty Shades”, which I should mention is distributed by Universal Pictures, a part of NBC Universal, is shaping up to be a cash cow in other ways too.
Want to buy some branded wine for $17.99? Or how about an item from the official jewelry line for about $150?
And here`s what make this is more stunning. As you have gathered already, the blockbuster franchise is, to put it lightly, very, very racy. In the film, naive college student Anastasia Steele meets a rich CEO Christian Grey whose tastes as he explains are very singular. He wants Anastasia to sign a contract detailing specifically what she will and will not do in the bedroom or his so-called play room.
The film features sex that involves domination, riding crops and, well, you get the idea, especially if you have read the book. It`s a far cry from the more traditional romances that typically grace the big screen.
Precisely because this erotic content has been such a huge commercial success, it`s generated a lot of controversy. On the one hand, “Fifty Shades” has been deemed a celebration of bad choices by women. Others say it qualifies as an unexpected feminist fantasy.
So, joining me now to discuss the movie, Dr. Jonathan Metzl, director for the Center of Medicine, Health and Society and professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, Jill Filipovic, senior political writer at Cosmopolitan.com, Hilary Hallett, assistant professor at Columbia University, and Christina Greer, assistant professor at Fordham University.
And this is an open question, panel. I have to admit for research for this segment, I had to see the movie. But I want to know what you think.
WARREN: Is this a feminist fantasy or is it a feminist nightmare?
JILL FILIPOVIC, COSMOPOLITAN.COM: I don`t know that it has to necessarily be one or the other. I think it falls somewhere in between. I don`t think this is an overtly feminist film, but I do think it`s a good thing we`re bringing the idea of female sexuality and female sexual pleasure into the national conversation.
I don`t know that this film achieves it in the most feminist way possible, but I`m at least glad that we are talking about the fact that women have sex. Women like sex. Women have sexual desires and those kind of run the gamut of, you know, the various tastes. I think that`s a good thing.
WARREN: Hillary, tell us, help us understand why this is so popular.
HILARY HALLETT, ASSISTANT PROF., COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, I mean, I think building off of what Jill is saying, I think that it actually contradicts, you know, so many of the images that we see in mainstream media which tend to focus on a presentation of sexuality that`s very much geared towards men. So, we get gorgeous women, you know, having a quick kiss, penetration, instant sexual ecstasy, right?
So, in my opinion, you know, the film – the book, I have not yet seen the movie, but the books any way, I think part of what`s made them so popular is that they present a landscape of sexuality that is very much focused on a much wider gamut of choices, right?
I think that what a lot of the commentary is left out is that Christian Grey, like him or hate him, you know, is someone who is skilled in the subject of female sexual pleasure, right? This heroin is having a very good time. And, you know, everything that happens in the film is consensual. And they are adults.
CHRISTINA GREER, ASSISTANT PROF., FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: I also think part of what`s going on too is he`s also a billionaire, right?
WARREN: If he wasn`t a billionaire –
GREER: I would be curious, right? I mean, if he were a Walmart worker, I wonder if this would be such $100 million selling novel/movie. We wouldn`t have the movie, right? But I don`t think the way the question stood up, it doesn`t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive as Jill said. But I think part of the fantasy is also that this man with his own helicopter, his own business can actually sort of whip this college girl who is sort of explored this new range of sexual fantasy.
WARREN: I want to ask you in terms of your medical expertise.
DR. JONATHAN METZL, CTR. FOR MEDICINE, HEALTH & SOCIETY, VANDERBILT: Oh, no.
WARREN: So, there`s a growing course of groups that say the film is glorifying violence against women. The Conservative American Family Association says, the Centers for Disease Control standards of emotional abuse and sexual violence, including nearly every one of the interactions between the two main characters.
Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo wrote a letter saying the movie is a graphic portrayal of a woman agreeing to be abused and degraded in a sexual relationship. There`d even been protesters showing up at theaters in London.
OK, Jonathan –
METZL: Oh no.
WARREN: – in your formal expertise, do you agree with this characterization?
METZL: Well, you know, I should say, of course, there`s a long history in my profession of psychiatry, in particular in psychoanalysis of pathologizing, particularly what`s now called BDSM sexuality, saying it`s based on some kind of pathology.
WARREN: Can you explain BDSM?
METZL: Sure, as you know, bondage, domination, submission, and other things, you know?
WARREN: OK, thank you. So, for those that didn`t read the book.
METZL: Or haven`t been Googling it. I Googled it so much yesterday that I was getting pop up ads for neckties that was really a pretty interesting day for me yesterday.
But I would say that there`s a long history of pathologizing BDSM sexuality from Freud on down. Interestingly, people who are proponents of BDSM now say that actually it`s the opposite. There`s something very healthy about certain kinds of role-playing, people who are dominant becoming submissive, et cetera.
And I watched the movie yesterday also and what I found interesting was it did seem at times to revert to this much older notion of BDSM sexuality as being pathological. So, in that sense, it wasn`t the movie I was expecting in a certain kind of way.
WARREN: But, Jill, I want to get you in really quickly, could this movie in fact, lead to a more expansive view of sexuality in terms of Hollywood film. Just a broader discussion of sexuality?
FILIPOVIC: I hope it does. I mean, you brought up the BDSM community. There`s actually been some really interesting critiques coming out of that community specifically about this film. Basically saying that, yes, consent is important and there is technical consent here, but there`s such a huge power differential.
It is – you know, some of what`s portrayed does seem to be coercive. Do this or I`m leaving. You know, is that real consent? When we talk about consent, are we talking about just saying yes or no, or are we also talking about enthusiasm and affirmative consent and being really excited about what you`re doing, even if that involves being submissive and letting someone else take charge?
And I think one of the bigger criticisms of this film is it doesn`t really walk that line particularly carefully.
WARREN: All right. Hang on before we go. An update on breaking news out of the Danish capital of Copenhagen. We have images of the shooting that happened during a free speech panel.
In this photo, you can see bullet holes in the glass door of the cafe. The panel featured controversial Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who received threats in 2007 after he portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a dog. Since then, strict security has accompanied his public appearances. The Danish national daily paper reports three officers have been injured and police are searching for suspects right now.
We`ll continue to monitor this breaking news on MSNBC and we`ll be right become.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Grey will see you now.
He was really smart, very intense.
To what do you owe your success?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have always been good at people. I have a natural instinct for what makes a person tick.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Christian –
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WARREN: It`s opening weekend for the hotly anticipated “Fifty Shades of Grey” and the movie`s erotic storyline is generating plenty of heat.
Pushing that temperature higher, Beyonce. The film features a sexy remix of her hit “Crazy in Love” which has also accompanied the official movie trailer.
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WARREN: The public got a completely different vision of the star last weekend at the Grammys when dressed in a long white gown. Beyonce performed a powerful rendition of the hymn “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”
Perhaps nothing better illustrates the mixed messages our culture sends about women`s sexuality. The classic ideal of pure and demure, versus the more modern, if you got it, flaunt portrayal of women in the media. And while women themselves may feel more comfortable taking their sexy side public now, there are plenty of people who remain quite uncomfortable with it.
People like former Governor Mike Huckabee, who in his book “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy”, criticizes Beyonce for dance moves that, quote, “best left for the privacy of her bedroom.”
And Montana State Representative David Moore introduced a bill this week seeking to strengthen the state`s indecent exposure laws. The bill has been tabled for now, but if Moore had his way, even tight clothes would be a criminal offense. According to Moore, yoga pants should be illegal in public, anyway. Moore later said he was joking, but Montana`s minority House whip says, regardless of Moore`s intention, the text of the bill supports a culture that demeans women.
So, I want to come to you, Hilary, and ask you stories like this, the yoga pants ban or controversy surrounding the “Fifty Shades of Grey,” suggests in some degree, it`s still very tattoo boo to talk about women`s sexuality in public.
HALLETT: Yes. Well, I think that we see that with young women. I mean, I think that, you know, that women have been trained for at least 100, 200 years to feel a lot of shame talking about their sexuality, which is something that I think a book like this, right, one of the positives in my mind, right, is that it represents an opening up of a conversation.
An encouragement of dialogue, right, between women and men in this case to talk about what they like and what they don`t like, and I think that has been the pressure first to be purely demure and now the pressure perhaps to be, you know, purely sexy, right, again. There`s a middle ground that needs to be found. That can only be found through conversation, right? That`s what will lead to more happiness and fun for everybody in bed.
WARREN: You know, the figure in my head, 100 million books sold is staggering to me. I know, Jonathan, you want to jump in on this.
METZL: Well, a couple of points. I take Christina`s points very well, which is, you know, having seen the movie, the true important pornography for me was the pornography of opulence. It`s kind of like, how much money does this guy have?
WARREN: Of the 1 percent.
METZL: Yes, the 1 percent. It`s kind of like, you know, what we`re fantasizing is the guy who has the custom play room. Everybody else throws it in a box or something somewhere, or something like that.
And so, in a way, there was this pornography of consumption that was part of the sexuality. It was almost like the Facebook movie with sex scenes thrown in. I mean, the other point is I keep thinking about other points in time where we have had books like this, that bring taboo into the framework.
So, if you think about the `70s with “Fear of Flying”, for example, and you know, 1973, that was a book that really changed our idea about – it was a second wave feminism book that changed our idea about gender roles, women who are, you know, breaking away from marriage, refusing the male-female role system.
In a way, what`s interesting about this moment is it seems to be a film at least and a book that doesn`t, in any way, trouble that kind of hetero-normative gender structure. So, we were talking about women`s empowerment. This might be a movie that – you know, that`s a different kind of women`s empowerment but it`s not one that was a refuting gender roles.
WARREN: So, Jill, I`m curious on this in terms of just thinking about how sexuality is portrayed in our culture. It seems to me in the movie, watching the movie, it seems to me, it`s still portrayed through a man`s filter. I`m wondering under what conditions or where might we truly get a look at authentic female sexuality in some ways?
FILIPOVIC: That`s a very good question. I wish I had a magic formula for how to image authentic female sexuality, whatever that means. You know, I think that female sexuality has for hundreds of years been filtered through male control, often through male violence, and in popular culture, through, you know, the male gaze and male portrayals and what men see and women are the kind the objects of being seen.
So, there`s this film criticism line that men watch and women watch themselves being watched. You know, I think you would have to get to a position where women also got to be the watchers and the agents before you`re really se seeing authentic sexuality.
I do think one of the reasons that this film and this story probably resonates with women is because women are so punished for being sexual in public. We`re punished no matter how we do it. So, I having this narrative of this woman who gets to experience sexual pleasure, you know, who gets to have these mind-blowing sexual experiences, but she`s not actually doing anything, so she`s not being bad, it`s being done to her. And she gets to enjoy it, I think that`s a really psychologically safe space for a lot of women who do desire sex and like sex, and want to have sex. But realize there are huge cultural and social consequences for it.
WARREN: Hilary, really quickly, I know that you believe there`s a connection between more open conversations about sexuality and the recent activism on college campuses around sexual assault. You think this movie will contribute to the activism?
HALLETT: Well, I mean, not in a linear way, but it`s part of making women more comfortable talking more explicitly about sex. And so, for instance, one of these cases that`s happening at Columbia right now, right, I think it`s almost unimaginable to think that even ten years, ago a girl would have felt comfortable saying I was having consensual sex and like that, and then he forced me to have anal sex, right? Can you imagine, right?
I think there`s a way that this kind of book, and again, you know, I – the book gives her us her interior dialogue and her –
WARREN: Right, but the movie does not.
HALLET: Right, but the movie does not. So, I think that`s going to be more challenging. But I think that yes, it does contribute to conversations about that break down shame and girl shame, right, about talking about what they like and don`t.
WARREN: We`re out of time on this conversation, unfortunately. We could go on and on I`m sure about this.
Thank you to Jonathan Metzl, Jill Filipovic, Hilary Hallett and Christina Greer. And, by the way, I think the best part of the movie is the album. Thank you, Beyonce.
The creator of “Being Mary Jane” is here with what`s coming up on the hit show. Mara Brock Akil is in Nerdland, next.
WARREN: We have new information on breaking news out of the Danish capital of Copenhagen where a shooting happened at a free speech panel.
Joining me now from London is NBC News correspondent Kelly Cobiella.
Kelly, you have new information from Copenhagen police.
KELLY COBIELLA, NBC NEWS: Yes, police have released a brief statement and the information is really limited here. They do acknowledge that a shooting happened at this cafe in Copenhagen this afternoon, that it was a free speech panel, that a very controversial artist was at this panel. You can see from some of the Twitter pictures and the video from local media that there are several shots fired into this glass door. Several reports have as many as 30-bullet holes in this glass door.
In the police statement, there`s information about a getaway car and suggestions that there was more than one shooter and they have a description of a car that they are now looking for.
What you`re seeing now, this gentleman is the artist, the controversial artist who was at this meeting. He has been targeted several times before. His name is Lars Vilks. He`s faced threats for his depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, dating back to 2007.
So, we understand that he was not hurt. That two people at least may have been injured. There`s video of a police officer being taken away in a stretcher, but he appears to be conscious and talking and likely not seriously injured.
But again, shots fired at this cafe where this controversial artist was hosting a talk. No one killed, and police are looking for the shooters.
Back to you.
WARREN: Kelly Cobiella in London, thank you.
Now, we want to switch gears to a much lighter subject. The creative force behind such TV hits as “Girlfriends”, a sitcom about forcing women establishing careers and finding love in L.A., and, of course, the popular football dramedy, “The Game”. Fans of these shows know they all have one particular element in common, the production power of writer/producer and businesswoman Mara Brock Akil.
Her latest project “Being Mary Jane” launched with a movie lens single episode in 2013 and returned with a successful first season in January 2014. The show, BET`s first original scripted drama about a successful news anchor whose personal life is called beautifully flawed, ended season one with more than 5.8 million viewers tuning in for the finale.
This season, viewers are getting more of a glimpse of Mary Jane`s personal life, including her desire for love and a family of her own. And this scene from an upcoming episode, she`s starting fertility treatments.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to help me, Lisa? Just give me the damned shot. I don`t need a lecture or a diagnosis from you. Just a shot, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to make sure you`re doing this for you and not some one out to David.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what? Never mind, I`ll do it myself, thank you.
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WARREN: That`s right. This month, Mary Jane Paul played by Gabrielle Union is back with even more drama as she juggles life, love, family and career.
And joining me now, the creator and executive producer of “Being Mary Jane”, Mara Brock Akhil.
Thank you so much for joining us.
MARA BROCK AKHIL, “BEING MARY JANE” CREATOR: Thank you for having me. Nice to be here.
WARREN: It`s such a pleasure to get a chance – I`ve been a fan of all your shows for a long time now. So, I want to ask you, what inspired you to create “Being Mary Jane”?
AKHIL: Well, it`s interesting, when I was producing, I think around the fifth or sixth season of “Girlfriends”, I started to realize I don`t think Joan would share this with all the rest of the girls. Some of the things we keep to ourselves when we`re not reaching certain goals or certain ideas about who we should be, we start retreating to ourselves and maybe start lying to ourselves and start withdrawing.
So, the idea they would sit around the cafe table and share everything all the time was not true. And so, I was looking for that. And the characters started speaking to me. I mean, not to sound schizophrenic or anything, but it`s – Mary Jane just sort of, this is what I want to say. This is what I want to say.
So I just started jotting notes down and I wanted to – I need a bigger canvas. I need an hour format, I need to go for the emotional moment, and some of the lighter moments, because life is not dramatic and funny all the time. It`s a mixture of both.
WARREN: So, in terms of a mixture of both, the tagline for the show is “beautifully flawed.”
WARREN: Why that phrase and does it speak to what you described to as the different aspects of life?
AKHIL: Well, one of the things that I find, try to do in my work is I find that in creating characters about African-American women, a lot of times, the audience wants positive images, that positive image, because we`re trying to right the wrongs that have done to our image. But I actually think that the positive image can be just as damaging as the negative image, because as human beings, we don`t live in those extremes. Our humanity is in between.
So, “beautifully flawed” is about how all of us as human beings are trying to do the right thing. It may not act out that way, but I think our intention is to be happy, to live a fulfilled life and try to follow our dreams. But we stumble along the way.
WARREN: So, let me ask you, I mean, I just love the pick of Gabrielle Union, too. And, you know, this is in a text of network and cable shows with powerful black women, from “Scandal,” “How to Get Away with Murder”, the president on “State of Affairs”, what`s your take on this broader context that we`re in or this broader moment in terms of black women being portrayed in these positions of power?
AKHIL: Well, we walk the earth in positions of power. It`s about time that we are seen. It`s so often I have had had to experience American culture through the lens of a white woman. Why not it be that we experience American culture, humanity, universal themes of just – you know, through the lens of a black woman? So I think it`s about time. As I do think it`s for other races. It`s time to show what America looks like.
And I think, we have sort of been out of the conversation, so to speak. So, it`s nice that it`s flooding in and it`s getting the validation with the viewers and like we were number one the night we premiered, just like taking over Twitter. Social media, I should say, it`s not just Twitter, but it was – that`s validating. People want to hear our stories.
WARREN: We are, unfortunately, out of time. I have so many more questions. Melissa is going to be jealous she didn`t get to meet you.
We`re glad to have you back.
AKHIL: Well, then, if I can come back and talk with Melissa, too.
WARREN: Indeed. Thank you so much to Mara Brock Akhil.
Up next, keeping the mantra “Black Lives Matter” at the forefront through art.
WARREN: It`s not your usual portrait of Thomas Jefferson. Rather this one shows the curtain pulled back to reveal a glimpse of our third president`s complicated history. More modern images portray stark commentary and history in the making, even before the books are written.
And then, there`s this, an asphalt and chalk portrait combining the faces of Michael Brown and Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and Trayvon Martin – all individuals whose stories shared a common them, but all young men whose stories and lives were unique and separate as well.
These are the images of our foot soldier of the week. Titus Kaphar is a visual artist whose personal experiences led them to explore issues of race and social justice through art. His work is currently on display at both Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City through February 21st.
And I`m pleased to welcome, Titus Kaphar, our foot soldier of the week.
Thanks for joining us.
TITUS KAPHAR, VISUAL ARTIST: Thank you.
WARREN: I`m really struck by all of your pieces. And I want to start with the drawing the blinds collection and the painting that you have of Thomas Jefferson entitled “Behind the Myth of Benevolence”. What is the story behind that?
KAPHAR: I was having a conversation with a woman who taught high school, American history. And she had been teaching about 30 to 40 years and we were having a conversation about Thomas Jefferson. And to make the long history short, at some point, we got to the issue of slavery. She said, well, yes, but Thomas Jefferson was a benevolent slave owner.
I said, I`m not sure I understand what that means. I don`t know that I know what that means. I don`t know if anyone has been called a benevolent kidnapper, benevolent rapist. I don`t know what that means.
There are still generations of people that are still learning this strange, strange history. Not the truth. So, I went back to the studio and this is kind of the piece I produced from that.
WARREN: The next image shows the Michael Brown, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and Trayvon Martin super imposed together. And I want to ask you why you decided to ask them like that and what affect it has.
KAPHAR: I started working on that series quite a while ago. And I was working on a series stacked on top of each other. It occurred to me that these men, though they had different lives, were suffering in the same way, and had died in the same way, and what was it about them that made it so difficult to distinguish between one and the other for the folks that are seeing them on their street and taking their lives from them. So, the pieces themselves really became about the inability to distinguish between one black man and another black man.
WARREN: I want to bring up this third and final one. The next painting is called yet another fight for remembrance. Tell me about this technique you call white washing. It`s a fascinating, fascinating piece.
KAPHAR: This is not the first time I`ve done this, of course. But in this painting, I felt like this has been, maybe the most articulate version for me personally. It`s very much about this idea of being absent and present at the same time. My fear when I was asked to do this piece, commissioned to do this, was that it was going to be a moment where we remember the issues and then it will be erased. It was going to be forgotten. I wanted to depict the image in a way that implied that problem itself, this idea that it could be erased.
WARREN: So much more to say. Thank you so very much to Titus Kaphar.
And if you`re in New York, you can Titus` art at the Jack Shainman Gallery, now through February 21st.
That is our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching.
I want to wish a happy birthday to Melissa Harris-Perry`s baby girl, AJ Perry, who turned 1-year-old today.
I`ll be back tomorrow morning at 10:00 Eastern.
And now, it is time for a preview of “WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT” – Alex.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.