Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 10/17/15
MELISSA HARRIS PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: (INAUDIBLE) their doors and
reconsidering sentencing minors to life in prison. But first, the hottest
thing from this week`s Democratic debate.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And a most remarkable thing
happened at the first Democratic primary debate this week. The top two
contenders for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party had a
substantive discussion about the pros and cons of capitalism. Capitalism.
Something so embedded in our idea of America itself that it seems like a
given. So much so that we might not even know what we mean when we say
capitalism. But we know that it has something to do with competition, with
the free market and with the promise that you will succeed or fail based on
your own abilities, your pluck, your hard work. Or the classic hip hop
group Wu-Tang Clan might define capitalism, “Cash rule everything around
me, CREAM.” See my point? When even the oppositional youth culture is
devoted to capitalism as a basic organizing principle, then you know that
anyone who wants to be president certainly isn`t going to question it.
Except that is exactly what happened earlier this week. In a scene that
had been unimaginable in American politics since the Cold War began. Two
mainstream presidential contenders vying for the nomination of one of the
two major political parties shifted the language from capitalism to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You don`t consider yourself a capitalist
BERNIE SANDERS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do I consider myself part of
the casino capitalist process, by which so few have so much and so many
have so little? By which Wall Street`s greed and recklessness wrecked this
economy? No, I don`t. I believe in a society where all people do well.
SANDERS: Not just the handful of billionaires.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Okay, okay. But the thing is, we`ve come to expect that
from Senator Sanders. Socialist since his college days. He`s become
pretty well practiced at defending his brand of Democratic socialism.
Especially when confronted with polls that say Americans would more
willingly vote for an atheist, gay or Muslim presidential candidate than
for a Socialist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Ac: How can any kind of a socialist win a general election in the United
SANDERS: We`re going to win because first we`re going to explain what
democratic socialism is. And what democratic socialism is about is saying
that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of one percent in this
country own almost 90 percent. Own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90
percent. That it is wrong today in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of
all new income is going to the top one percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Okay, okay, but again, we expect that from the good senator
from Vermont. But here`s what`s crazy. In Tuesday night`s debate, even
Hillary Clinton seen by many as the most mainstream of mainstream modern
capitalists, the presumptive Democratic nominee, she wanted to get in on
the capitalism question too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AC: Is there anybody else on this stage who`s not a capitalist?
HILLARY CLINTON (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, let me just follow up on
that, Anderson. Because when I think about capitalism, I think about all
the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and
the freedom in our country for people to do that and to make a good living
for themselves and their families.
CLINTON: And I don`t think we should confuse what we have to do every so
often in America, which is save capitalism from itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Hey, don`t miss that. Because Secretary Clinton just talked
about, quote, “saving capitalism from itself.” And then she went on to say
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: We are the United States of America and it`s our job to rein in
the excess of the capitalism so that it doesn`t run amok and doesn`t cause
the kind of inequities that we`re seeing in our economic system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, for me, the only thing more surprising than having a
debate about capitalism among top presidential candidates is that we`re
having the debate right now. Because we didn`t seem to really have this
debate in 2008, you know, when the financial system that undergirds our
capitalist economy kind of completely fell apart weeks before the election.
We didn`t have the debate in 2010, excuse me, in 2012, amid a conversation
about wealth and equality in the wake of Occupy Wall Street as a movement.
Now, we`re debating capitalism now. Now, in the midst of a recovery. When
the unemployment rate is just over five percent. That`s way down. And now
when things are far from perfect, but we`re no longer in crisis mode about
the economy, now we`re asking, is capitalism actually good for America.
And it`s not even entirely clear how we`re going to answer.
Joining me now, Matt Welch, editor and chief of “Reason” magazine. Carmen
Rita Wong who is author of “The Real Cost of Living: Making the Best
Choices for You, the Life and Your Money.” Kai Wright, features editor for
“The Nation” magazine. And Jeffrey Miron, who is director of Economic
Studies at the CATO Institute. And director of Undergraduate Studies at
the Department of Economics at Harvard University. Thanks to everybody for
being here. So, I`m going to start with the Harvard professor.
HARRIS-PERRY: How is it that capitalism is supposed to work? Like so even
beyond the question of whether or not it`s operating in that way, in a
given nation, including ours, what are the kind of underpinning beliefs of
JEFFREY MIRON, DIR. OF UNDERGRAD STUDIES, DEPT. OF ECON., HARVARD: The
crucial things about capitalism is that businesses are allowed to enter and
try to do whatever they want and they`re allowed to fail. So, the
government is never putting its hand on the balance in either direction.
So it`s not taxing particular industries or subsidizing any industries.
It`s not bailing out industries that are failing. It`s just letting the
marketplace determine what survives and what doesn`t. And the claim is
that when we do that, we get an efficient production. We get the most
output per unit of inputs. We get a very productive healthy economy.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels to me like - like part of what undergirds are a
set of assumptions. So that idea that we get the most efficient has
everything to do with a belief about how individuals then enter into that
marketplace the way that they make choices, how much information they have,
and that feels to me like part of what was going on in that debate, was the
sort of what capitalism might be good in theory, but it isn`t in practice.
But now you were tweeting that you were going to come here and defend
HARRIS-PERRY: So go for it.
MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF REASON MAGAZINE: Nick Kristof. Let`s sort of
take a big picture globally …
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re going to start with Nick Kristof? Here were go. All
WELCH: A guy who is not necessarily known for being a market
fundamentalist. He had an interesting column earlier this month talking
about the greatest contemporary story, that isn`t really told, which is the
incredible reduction of poverty over the last 20 years. 25 years in the
world. We`ve had - we`ve gone from extreme poverty of 35 percent in 1993
to 14 percent in 2011. That happened around the world. And not because
people woke up and said we need more Bernie Sanders-like policies. It
happened because places that were much more closed, opened up. They
allowed for capital flows. They allowed to those casino horrible stock
market things to happen. That is an amazing story that we forget at our
HARRIS-PERRY: So I hear you. Nick Kristof, though, also for me, part of
what he misses is that there`s two ways to measure a question, like sort of
where are we on poverty. One is the floor, which has clearly come up
globally. And then the other is the gap, right? And so, yes, the floor of
poverty has come up, but the gap has widened. And so that applause that we
heard from Senator Sanders is really about the gap, not about the floor.
KAI WRIGHT, FEATURES EDITOR, THE NATION: Well, I want to talk about the
WRIGHT: I mean the reality is that in the United States when we look at
poverty, yes, there - poverty programs, yes, have worked for certain
people, for seniors, we have all but eradicated, brought up the floor of
poverty. But if you look around the country, poverty has deepened in the
United States to historic terms at this point. If you look at the
concentration of it, and the depth of it, so not just the number of people
who are living below poverty, but the number of people who are living below
half the poverty rate has grown. So the floor, in fact, has fallen for a
lot of people.
CARMEN RITA WONG, AUTHOR “THE REAL COST OF LIVING”: And let me talk about
the gap. I`ll take on the middle.
WONG: The 80 percent of Americans in the middle. When we look at that,
look at the one stat - and this is one I love. To really show how
capitalism can run amok, which is what - she`s referring to - 50 years ago,
CEO pay was 20-1. Now it`s about 364-1. Now, tell me how that is
capitalism working so that jobs are created. Yes, OK. We`ve recovered.
Don`t forget that the reason we`re hearing and talking about this right now
as she mentioned at the top - why we are talking about this right now. If
we recovered. Well, middle America hasn`t recovered. We didn`t
participate in that recovery. What you have is stagnant wages, social
structure, and most people define when they look at capitalism versus
socialism, besides all the scariness of that word, socialism, what they see
is, that means, do not give free health care to anybody, do not help out
people without of work. It`s a very different definition of the business,
the economic definition, and the public`s definition.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, in fact, in fact, actually Mr. Trump who`s running for
the Republican nomination said something very similar in his response to
what happened on that debate stage. Let`s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I watched Hillary last night with
we`re going to give this, we`re going to give that. We`re going to give
that. She`s the poor woman, she`s got to give everything away because this
maniac that was standing on our right is giving everything away so she`s
following! That`s what`s happening! This socialist/communist, okay,
nobody wants to say it.
[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And genially a great piece of sound, but I want to go to the
Kai`s point as well here, which is in part this idea that okay, to the
extent that that floor has come up, a lot of it does have to do with our
largest sort of socialist giveaway in this country, which did, in fact,
address poverty for the elderly in this country.
MIRON: So, that`s all right. But I think it`s useful to parse Sander`s
position a little bit. He`s not actually criticizing capitalism versus
socialism, the way we would 50 years ago. He`s talking about
redistribution. He is not actually saying that the marketplace is bad, and
producing the most stuff. He doesn`t like the way the marketplace
allocates who gets that stuff. And so the response is, well, are the
policies that redistribute helping the right people. How costly are they.
And all of that. It`s not about should the government own the railroad
industry. Should the government take over all these different industries
the way it did in Britain in the 1950s?
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, I think to me - I want to come back to exactly that
topic as soon as we come back. As that is for me a key difference. This
isn`t about government ownership of the means of production. Instead, it
really is a question about the tax structure. We can talk about that when
we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: But you can have all of the growth that you want and it doesn`t
mean anything if all of the new income and wealth is going to the top one
SANDERS: So, what we need to do is support small and medium sized
businesses, the backbone of our economy. But we have to make sure that
every family in this country gets a fair shake.
Ac: We are going to have a lot …
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And that was Bernie Sanders at Tuesday night`s Democratic
debate. Making this point that he didn`t say, you know, the government
would do better, right, at owning the means of production. That rather,
instead, we just ought to tax the rich.
WRIGHT: Well, and there`s also a conversation behind that, is how is
government – how is public investing in individual`s ability to be in the
marketplace and in the way that throughout the 20th century we invested in
individuals? We sort of reframed a lot of public programs as entitlements
and as supports, but they`re actually public investments in people`s
ability to be part of a capitalist system. And the erosion in that - of
that is what the challenge is in that. I think that`s what particularly a
lot of young folks are feeling, is the erosion of that investment now
coming off of the recession. Where there`s just a lot less opportunity.
And we`re not investing in folks.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels to me like there`s also like the erosion of the
notion of meritocracy. The thing is always - the idea that, you know, the
one story the U.S. had was that we could move up, but also you could move
down. You could be born rich and not necessarily be successful, but that`s
WONG: Oh, it`s, you know, upward mobility is so bad. We are the …
HARRIS-PERRY: As a downward …
WONG: Right. But you`re looking at taxes and tax rates. You know, our
taxes was built at a time when income for most people was how, you know,
money was made. If you look at actually how the one percent get taxed,
their actual tax rates are closer to be 26 percent, because it`s capital
gains. It`s not income. They`re not making money as we go and get
paychecks. It`s a very different tax system. So, we have to look at how
can things shift a bit. I think that`s what he`s referring to. How can we
get more from there? And you saw this story today in “The Times” about,
you know, if you tax the .1 percent and you raise their rates even just
five percent, in actual rates, you could pay for every single undergraduate
education in this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, yeah, let`s look at that. It`s apparently, if we took
that top .1 percent with an average income of $9.4 million, 40 percent tax
rate on that would produce $55 billion in extra revenue. Which would be
enough to cover tuition of all.
WELCH: But there`s an assumption behind that, which is - that needs to be
challenged. Which is that the books are balanced right now. If we just
did this thing, we could pay for this thing. But we`re not paying for a
thing right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I see.
WELCH: We have doubled the size of the national debt over the past eight
years after doubling the size of the national debt previously here …
HARRIS-PERRY: But isn`t that because we stopped taking in enough revenue
in the context of taxes?
WELCH: If we would have kept tax revenue, the growth of government at the
same rate of population and inflation at the end of Bill Clinton`s term and
just kept government growth at that same level, we would be having
surpluses right now. We wouldn`t have …
WONG: It`s been in years –
HARRIS-PERRY: But that`s the war.
WELCH: That`s the deficit is the lowest. Not the debt. No, the debt is
the highest that`s ever been in history.
WONG: But is it necessarily a bad thing if we need it to prop up – the
middle class is gone.
WELCH: The next president will oversee the moments where we`re paying more
every year in debt service than we are for the military. And we don`t pay
a small amount for that military.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, what difference does that make? So - I understand
what that does in my household. Help me understand why that should matter
as a national …
MIRON: What matters is that under current projections from the
Congressional Budget Office, not from some right wing conspiracy nut case,
show that if we keep spending current rates on Medicare, Medicaid, Social
Security, even with a healthy amount of tax revenue, consistent with
historical average, we are Greece. We are bankrupt. We can`t even
remotely pay for what we`re planning to spend.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it`s such an easy - so, let me just - like we are
turning to Greece. But it feels - let`s just take the, you know, the big
entitlement program of Social Security. The idea always is kind of
bankrupt language. But then it`s just the reality that for wealthy people
by about the half - you know, not even wealthy people. For high-wage
earners, by halfway through the year, they`re done paying in. All you have
to do is just raise that cap. People pay in all year. And we`d be
solvent. Like and they wouldn`t even particularly feel it in their
households. That doesn`t feel like a hard fix to me.
MIRON: You could raise the amount of taxes that we`re levying. However
it`s distributed. A huge amount. And it still won`t address the problem
very much because Medicare and Medicaid are growing much faster than GDP
will ever grow. They are becoming bigger and bigger shares of the economy.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we just cut …
MIRON: We have to introduce more better incentives in those programs.
They have to be moderated. Not destroyed, not gutted. But moderated so
that they`re affordable and sustainable.
WELCH: You have to choose between entitlements or a safety net. It`s got
to be one. It`s - are you going to pay for Donald Trump in his retirement,
are you going to pay for his kids, or are you going to say I want the less
well off –
WELCH: to make sure that they don`t have that terrible nasty …
HARRIS-PERRY: No, no, but the answer is, of course, I`m willing to pay for
the wealthy in their retirement. Because they`re the ones that are going
to go and vote. And so what we know is that when we cut loose the poor
from this - from the other category, when it is defined, the social safety
net, than it is so politically vulnerable that within - within one election
cycle that it, too, is gone. I mean check out (INAUDIBLE), I promise, more
on this, more capitalism. But when we come back, I`m going to ask the
question I`m asking all of my graduate students. Why is there no socialism
in the U.S.? It`s a one-word answer.
HARRIS-PERRY: At Tuesday`s debate, Senator Bernie Sanders said the United
States should have a new role model.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: And I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden
and Norway and learn from what they have accomplished for their working
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So we see this comparison a lot that the U.S. is alone, and
nearly alone, among Western democracies in not having universal health care
or guaranteed paid parental leave or many other perks of a socialist
government. But the question is why. What makes the U.S. different? And
the way I tend to frame this to my students is why is there no socialism in
the U.S.? The great Eric Foner question. And there`s a one-word answer,
guy. I`m looking at you …
WRIGHT: Let me see. Could it be race?
HARRIS-PERRY: Could it be? I mean that becomes the kind of standard
story, right, is that in this country, race and racial privilege has
trumped class identity as a way of organizing our politics.
WRIGHT: Well, I mean so we could go way back, right, I mean the whole - if
we`re talking about capitalism in the first instance. The whole system
globally was built on slavery. The modern economy was built - the cotton
was built on cotton which was built on financing, financing slaves. And so
from that moment forward, we`ve been in a discussion about capitalism in
the United States that has, in fact, sorted people by race. And you can`t
– and so when we get back to sort of the public investments that we make
in people and that part of democratic socialism that has been challenged
and difficult particularly in modern times because, coming out of the great
society, coming out of the mid-20th century, we have had a politics that
makes those public investments giveaways to black people.
WONG: Exactly. My answer to you would have been also history. Because
the colonization, right. We are talking about the people that were here
first. Even if you go back to that kind of scrappy, hard scrabble, we`re
going to come here and we are going to build something and then we`re going
to bring people and treat them as non-people, just piling on to that
history. We have such a history of – we can`t all be equals because we`re
not. If you look at Denmark, everyone`s the same. It`s a homogenous
society. You look at us, it`s just not. We have that history and it
really weighs in on us so much. It costs us an incredible amount. And
it`s not tied to capitalism as much as people-think. This is true human
bias at this point.
WELCH: Also, if you look at Denmark, if you look at the number two party
there, the Danish People`s Party is basically a post-Nazi party. They`re
not accepting Syrian refugees. It is not a beautiful story about race and
then, you know, between peoples. And also it`s a place that`s one of the
top 10 or 15 free economies as measured by Heritage Foundation, right-wing
organizations like that. So, it`s not as simple - it`s not Bernie Sanders
land as much as Bernie Sanders might think that it is.
WELCH: And Western Europe for the most part is not necessarily Bernie
Sanders`. The places that are or that tried it, France, three years ago,
elected Bernie Sanders for president, let`s just call Francois Hollande.
Let`s do a millionaires tax. 75 percent. Let`s do all this kind of stuff.
HARRIS-PERRY: He was serious. You want to meet a socialist, here you go,
WELCH: And what happened? They`ve had to run from those policies
screaming because people leave, people left. They did. It just backfired.
It didn`t deliver on all those promises. But I want to say something the
history, and race is a huge part of the history of this country and
sustained on everything. But capitalism didn`t just proceed from a bunch
of people sitting around and saying how can I be the most racist?
WELCH: I know I`m being funny.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s not me, brother. I will hit back.
WELCH: Just don`t get in my shot again.
WONG: We`re on either side of you.
WELCH: But it also proceeded from a notion of individual rights and
individual liberty. And some of the people who helped topple those racist
structures that came or were put upon it were animated just as much by that
notion of individual …
HARRIS-PERRY: But isn`t this …
WONG: They weren`t individuals. There weren`t individuals, right, so
we`re not saying that it`s just about race, we`re saying is that those
rules, those feelings, didn`t apply to everybody. And adding there also
the idea of immigrants. So you mentioned not accepting Syrians. We are a
nation of immigrants, right? So that is actually a lifeblood of this
country. That is actually a huge part of how capitalism can work for
people and can work for this country, if you`re allowed. But the bottom
line is we`re human beings. This is not an economics issue so much as that
is bias and fear of resources.
HARRIS-PERRY: But bias - but we are saying, but to me the issue is the way
that the bias gets baked into the economic …
WONG: Yes, exactly.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the capitalism operates on our preferences, which are
exogynist, which are fixed outside the system, and if racial bias is part
of those preferences because of history, right, because we have this long
history, then doesn`t it mean that the system must consistently have a
corrective, right? So if, in fact, we just have a bias against certain
kinds of bodies, don`t we then have to come in and correct that bias, even
in order to make a free market system operate?
MIRON: Well, we might, but we have to think about how attempts to correct
the bias will operate and whether they will be more productive or - to be
productive or counterproductive? So, there are people who are certainly
concerned that measures that try to address bias like affirmative action
lead to polarization, lead to people feeling angry and upset that they
think that something that they deserve is being taken away. And lead to
devaluing accomplishments of people who are minorities or women that would
have had those accomplishments anyway, and yet then people look at them and
say, oh, they just got that because of affirmative …
HARRIS-PERRY: I know. But professor, you have to let me weigh in, that
nobody needed affirmative action to teach bias against black and brown
people. Like, that bias is pre-existing and then affirmative action comes
and then affirmative action gets used as discourse. But it`s not as though
- it`s kind of like saying that, you know, like all of a sudden white folks
decide to use the “n” word because of hip-hop. No, no, no, it was - they
had already known how to use that word before …
WONG: They just put an “a” at the end.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Before we go to break, I do want to give you some good
news about these preferences within our capitalist system. When we have
some preferences against women in this particular capitalism. But check
this out. The organization, Girls Who Code, is making sure that once the
girls get the technical skills, they can get the job. The founder of the
program Reshma Saujani says that 26 companies, including Twitter, Facebook
and Microsoft, have pledged to hire alum from Girls Who Code. Under the
partnership, students in their freshman or sophomore year of college may be
offered paid internships that could lead to jobs in the tech industry.
It`s one of the lowest participation rates when it comes to women, but that
could all change with help of efforts like this. After the break, Jennifer
Lawrence and Rihanna are going to way in on gender, race, and our
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, Academy Award winning actor Jennifer Lawrence
made a big impact in the social media, or at least the feminist corner of
it, when she wrote in an essay about learning that she was paid less than
her male co-stars in the film “American Hustle.” She attributed the
discrepancy to her failure to advocate fully for herself in contract
negotiations. Writing, quote, “I didn`t want to seem difficult or spoiled.
At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the
Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn`t worry
about being difficult or spoiled.” Also this week, pop star Rihanna was
asked in an interview if her move from Barbados to New York has changed her
awareness of race. She responded, quote, “you know, when I started to
experience the difference or even have my race be highlighted, it was
mostly when I would do business deals. And, you know, that never ends, by
the way. It`s still a thing. And it`s the thing that makes me want to
prove people wrong. It almost excites me. I know what they`re expecting,
and I can`t wait to show them that I`m here to exceed those expectations.”
So I`m wondering what does capitalism do to our biases? Does it magnify
them or does it make them as you might imagine, kind of make them
irrelevant, what do you think?
WONG: It doesn`t make them irrelevant. We`ve seen it in play in just them
in the sense of scale. Cut off a couple of zeros, it`s the rest of us.
I`m aggressive because I want to negotiate my salary or my pay. And it`s
crazy and it`s ridiculous, and it`s actually not market friendly. If you
look at it, now people are starting to finally realize that women buy
stuff, people of color buy stuff, they participate in the economy a lot.
So now we`re getting more of that. But if you think about who makes the
decisions, it doesn`t necessarily reflect who`s buying, right? It`s real
capitalism to make sure that what your produce, you get paid for, no matter
what color or what gender you are. That`s the essence –
HARRIS-PERRY: So on the one hand, we have this sort of notion of women as
workers being paid a wage. We want to make sure - the cover of “New York
Times,” this morning, egg donors what room to name their price, right. So
it is in part about the market in third party reproductive technologies.
So they`re kind of a pure market argument might be, hey, if that`s the
thing you produce instead of movies, you ought to be able to sell that on
whatever marketplace is available. That won`t change racial bias. In
fact, we know it will increase it, right. Because we know blonde blue eyed
Princeton eggs are going to go for a higher price than other ones. Isn`t
that what it – isn`t this the marketplace, as we expect it to work?
WELCH: First of all, the egg donors should be able to sell their damn eggs
and they should be able to dictate prices. Wherever we feel icky about
stuff, like organ donations is a classic example, like kidney donations.
We allow people to sell their own organs - oh, that`s gross, that`s going
to be exploitation. Well, people wouldn`t die in the same numbers that we
do now. Whenever we start to feel icky about stuff, that`s when we
restrict freedom in a way that`s unhelpful. I mean, I think you`re
absolutely right. In terms of, you know, when discrimination happens in a
marketplace, that is a wonderful opportunity for someone else to eat
someone else`s lunch. There`s all this untapped talent you can get. As
someone who manages talent, if there are people widespread in the
journalism industry who are being bad to women who are of child-rearing
age, okay, I`ll be good. You get to have –
HARRIS-PERRY: Go ahead.
WRIGHT: There`s separate conversations here. There`s the question about
individuals in the marketplace and how they behave and what they do to get
theirs, right. And then there`s the question about the ways in which a
great deal of out capitalist activity is about profiting from inequity.
And that`s a separate conversation and one we have to police publicly. And
so this is why we started – why I started with slavery earlier. We have
been profiting off of an equity for a very long time. Whether it`s in the
housing market, whether it`s in Hollywood, whether it`s in egg donors.
It`s the profiting off of racial and gender inequity that`s a problem, and
that requires a public solution that is policing that profit.
HARRIS-PERRY: It does feel like it requires a greater push on the fulcrum
back the other way when it is against the sort of profit motivation. The
Walmart example this week is important, because you say, okay, if you have
a marketplace where you need good workers and now you can – if I step in
and pay my workers more, this ought to provide me the space as an employer
to do better, but that`s actually not what happened. Walmart basically got
punished on the, you know, in the markets as a result of its decisions this
MIRON: I want to push the point that capitalism overall is helping to
reduce these inequities. It`s pushing back against discrimination. It`s
helping exactly the groups we`re concerned about. One example is unions.
Government protected unions were a huge force of discrimination. They
wanted a higher wage. They wanted to keep some people out of the union so
that they were fewer people and therefore higher wage. Who do they keep
out? They kept out African-Americans. Aided and abetted by the federal
government rules that allowed them to do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: But the union story, that`s fascinating. If you look at the
map about where we`re unionized, and where we`re not, it actually is in the
former confederacy where we have the lowest rate of unions. Most folks
have read that as a kind of story that race trumped class as an identity
for political organizing. But you`re also not wrong that in the context of
unions themselves, there`s been a ton of – both of those things are true
at the same time. In part because it feels like, like Kai was just saying,
that`s like, that`s the story.
WRIGHT: That`s the United States.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s the big story.
WRIGHT: That`s the context of the 20th century. All of our versions of
investment in the 20th century, whether it was in the labor movement,
whether it was in public, wherever it was at, it was discriminatory. It
actively left out black people and actively left out women. So we have
worked on that over the years. I don`t know we can ascribe that to
capitalism as much as we can to politics and political movements that have
insisted upon changing the rules of the game, whether it be in government
or the marketplace. And so we must – so that is the answer. The answer
is not this – not some magical outside thing. It`s our politics that say
these are the rules of all of these things. And we must ensure there`s not
profiting off an inequity within these systems.
MIRON: My response is yes, these biases exist. These prejudices exist.
They`ve come from many sources for a long time. But there are forces which
push back. Profit maximizing businessmen want to hire the cheapest labor.
If they restrict themselves to only hiring whites, only hiring men, they`re
restricting the supply of labor and costing themselves more. Government
policies that interfered with that just basic capitalist tendency are going
to make things worse, not better.
Different example. Drug testing. People thought if we allow employers to
drug test widely, they would discriminate, it would be bad for African-
Americans because African-Americans use drugs at much higher rates. Turns
out not to be true. And when they were allowed in the states that did it,
they found that employment of African-Americans and their wages went up,
because the tests revealed that in fact African-Americans weren`t using at
high rates. And so those who weren`t using were able to get jobs.
WELCH: But also the drug testing sucks unless you`re a truck driver.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this is our more libertarian -
HARRIS-PERRY: I just don`t want to miss this point. Just give me one
second. My producers (inaudible) me about time, but this idea that, like,
green will trump race. I think - you did not quite say it that way, but
the marketplace can help to correct for this. I guess the problem is, that
once there is a preference that is strongly against people of color, then
actually choosing to have a market that`s open to them can actually reduce
the number of white consumers who will come, and that was true of the whole
context of desegregation of lunch counters. It`s even true in the vote,
right? If you become the party that represents people of color, you`ll
actually see an exodus of white voters. So I mean, I hear you, how it
ought to just work if there`s no bias, but once there is bias, you have to
correct it somehow. So much more to talk about on capitalism, but
apparently what we`re actually going to talk about next is what Joe Biden
is doing right now, the vice president and his travails after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: There is one thing we know for sure about Vice President Joe
Biden. Tonight he`s scheduled to be in New York City to receive a human
rights award. It will be right around here in fact, in midtown Manhattan.
But come on, that`s not what everyone wants to know about the VP. They
want to know if he`ll make his move to ditch that V in his (inaudible).
NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker, what do you know now?
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS: Not a whole lot, Melissa, but look, the vice
president isn`t giving us any concrete signs today. He left his home this
morning. He`s attending his granddaughter`s cross-country meet. Sources
close to the vice president, though, tell me we could get an answer within
the next 48 hours. He`s under intense scrutiny as you know and pressure,
to say whether he`s in or out. And those sources also tell me that Biden`s
family is on board with a run. He`s now calling supporters in early voting
states to gauge whether he actually has a path to winning.
What was interesting was that on Friday, Biden`s close ally, former
Delaware Senator Ted Kaufman sent a letter to former Biden staffers, which
reads in part, quote, “if he decides to run, we`ll need each and everyone
of you yesterday.” That got a lot of people talking, but what we think is
the letter was actually designed to send a signal. Biden wants a little
bit more space to decide, and also he wants to tell his supporters, look,
the door hasn`t closed yet. But as we`ve been talking about all week long,
Hillary Clinton`s top supporters are trying to apply pressure. A lot of
them say this is just too late, and Clinton is showing new signs of
strength this week after that dominant debate performance. One poll even
shows her inching up in New Hampshire. Of course, Bernie Sanders has been
topping here in New Hampshire. And our latest NBC News survey Monkey
Online poll shows that Clinton has a commanding lead nationally, double
digits. President Obama weighed in on Friday. Take a listen to what he
had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I`m not going to comment on what Joe`s doing or not doing. I think
you can direct those questions to my very able vice president. I think
that the vice president, like every other candidate, makes their own
decisions about these issues, and they`ll have to figure out whether it
makes sense for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WELKER: Secretary Clinton was also asked about this Friday. She said
Biden should have the space to decide, but I can tell you that privately,
based on my conversations here at the White House, officials believe it is
time for the vice president to make a final decision.
Now, some of the reasons that Biden is struggling, he`s always wanted to
run for president. He knows this would be his last shot, and of course his
late son Beau urged him to run before he passed away. But those who know
him, who have been talking to him, say the biggest determining factor is
whether he thinks he can actually win. Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me say thank you to NBC`s Kristen Welker. I sure hope
you get the answer first, because I`ve seen you out there, you`ve been
screaming and hollering, asking over and over.
WELKER: I`ve been trying, Melissa. Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks. Up next, how the Supreme Court could change
everything for minors sent to prison for life.
HARRIS-PERRY: The chances for comprehensive criminal justice reform may
never be better than right now. It`s been championed by leaders in both
political parties, and it was a key issue at this week`s Democratic
presidential debate. This morning, in his weekly address, President Obama
announced that in the coming weeks, he will travel the country to meet with
those working to reform the criminal justice system.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Justice means that the punishment should fit the crime. And
justice means allowing our fellow Americans who have made mistakes to pay
their debt to society and rejoin their community as active rehabilitated
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: While all this bodes well for the future of sentencing
reform, but what about those who need real changes right now? That was the
question before the Supreme Court this week. In 2012, the court banned
mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of
homicide. On Tuesday, justices heard arguments on whether that ruling
should be applied retroactively. At the center of the latest case, a man
named Henry Montgomery, who was 17 years old when he shot and killed a
Louisiana sheriff`s deputy in 1963. Montgomery was playing hooky from
school, and the officer was assigned to round up the truants. Montgomery
told authorities he did not mean to kill the officer but panicked while
being frisked. The attorneys argued Montgomery had developmental
disabilities and did not fully understand what he was doing. But he still
received the mandatory minimum of life without parole. And today,
Montgomery is 69 years old and has spent the last 52 years at the Louisiana
state penitentiary. The outcome of his case could have huge implications
for many other prisoners serving life sentences. Like Trina Garnet, who
was 14 years old and developmentally disabled when she set a fire that
killed two people in Pennsylvania nearly 40 years ago. And Quantell Lotts,
who was also 14 when he got into a scuffle with his stepbrother and stabbed
him to death 12 years ago. And nearly 2,000 other prisoners serving
mandatory life sentences for crimes committed when they were still
Joining me now from New Orleans is Joshua Perry, executive director of the
Louisiana Center for Children`s Rights. Nice to have you, Mr. Perry.
JOSHUA PERRY, EXEC. DIRECTOR, LOUISIANA CENTER FOR CHILDREN`S RIGHTS:
Thanks so much for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So what has been the effect of the court`s 2012 decision? I
know it doesn`t impact these folks who are currently in prison, but what
has been its impact over the last few years?
PERRY: Well, what it means for young people who are facing the most
serious penalty that the law has to offer them, short of the death penalty,
is that they have a chance to prove that they are amenable to
rehabilitation and change, and that`s true when we think of the brain
science, and it`s true when we think of what we know about who we were when
we were kids and the kids who we know. 14-year-olds, 15-year-olds, 16-
year-olds, they`re uniquely amenable and susceptible to change. And they
lack culpability. It`s harder for them to make decisions. So this is a
critically important decision that recognizes that kids are different, and
we have to treat them differently in the justice system.
HARRIS-PERRY: On this question of kind of the retrospective aspect which
is currently being decided. Obviously the case I just told about,
Montgomery, this is something that happened in Louisiana in 1963.
Obviously he`s an African American, he`s now spent 52 years in jail. It
does sort of also call into question, like, how just our justice system
was. Particularly when we push back 40 and 50 years.
PERRY: That`s right. Montgomery is about whether we should have a level
playing field across the country for everybody. Because right now, there
are states where Miller (ph) is being treated retroactively. And
unfortunately, there`s a minority of states like Louisiana, where 300 men
and women who are similarly situated to Henry Montgomery are trapped in
prison without even the possibility of demonstrating that they have
changed, that they`re different people, that they`ve developed in positive
ways. So what we were arguing with Montgomery was that there should be a
level playing field across the country for every person who is situated
like Henry Montgomery.
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the things the president highlighted in his recent
speech at the Congressional Black Caucus is these new data showing that
girls who end up in the criminal justice system often are themselves
survivors of sexual assault. We also know that boys who are in the system
have often themselves also been victimized. I guess I wonder sort of how
do we deal with that? On the one hand, saying, once you`ve committed the
crime of murder, we need to be able to hold you accountable for that, but
also recognizing that young people who are survivors of various kinds of
violence and assault, you know, there may be culpability that goes beyond
PERRY: That`s right. We need to hold people accountable when they commit
serious offenses. But children need to be held accountable in age-
appropriate ways, in ways that will actually keep us safer as a community,
and that acknowledges that young people are uniquely able to change and
develop in positive ways.
Yes, it`s true. Girls who fall into the juvenile justice system and the
criminal justice system are highly likely to have been victimized. Boys
are highly likely to have been subjected to trauma. They`re
disproportionately likely to suffer from mental illness. I`ve represented
children being prosecuted as adults facing life in prison without the
possibility of parole who have IQs as low as 42. So we have children who
are brought to where they are through circumstances over which they have no
control. And that`s another critical way in which kids are different than
adults. So frequently, they can`t separate themselves from the social
context they come up in. In New Orleans, one out of five boys and girls in
middle school have personally witnessed a murder. So they`re subjected to
trauma and violence on a level that I think is hard for a lot of people to
understand. But justice – and I listened to the president`s clip. I
think he`s right. Justice also means responding to people in ways that are
age-appropriate and that take their context into account.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to say thank you to Joshua Perry in New Orleans. I
know it`s tough work. But this is maybe a moment of opening where there`s
a lot happening within the context of criminal justice reform. And here in
New York, I want to say thank you to Carmen Rita Wong and Jeffrey Miron. I
hope you two will come back soon. Matt Welch and Kai Wright are going to
stick around in our next hour, because still to come this morning, schools
across an entire state are at risk of closing. But up next, the
president`s decision on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and what it means for
his foreign policy legacy. There`s more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
In 2012, as President Obama was running for re-election, he made the case
to American voters, pointing out not only the achievements during his first
four years in office, but also the legacy he hoped to cement if he was
given another four years on the job. As he envisioned it, that legacy on
foreign policy included the fulfillment of the plan that he laid out during
a televised address from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in May of 2012.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I`d like to tell
you how we will complete our mission and end the war in Afghanistan. Our
troops will be coming home.
Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000
will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue
at a steady pace with more and more of our troops coming home. And as our
coalition agreed, by the end of 2014, the Afghans will be fully responsible
for the security of their country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Two years into his second term, new developments in the
official U.S. policy in Afghanistan suggested that President Obama was
delivering on that pledge. In June of 2013, Afghan forces assumed control
of their country from the NATO coalition.
And a year later, the president gave this update on his plan to withdraw
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 9,800, 9,800,
U.S. service members in different parts of the country, together with our
NATO allies and other partners.
By the end of 2015, we will have reduced that presence by roughly half.
One year later, by the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal
embassy presence in Kabul.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: According to the president`s plan, by the start of 2017, the
small force of about 1,000 troops at the American embassy in Kabul would be
all that remained of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Down from
more than 100,000 at the peak of U.S. war time involvement back in 2011.
Then, just a few months later, in December of 2014, the president announced
the official end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan. The phased
drawdown of U.S. troops would continue as planned. And the new mission,
the 10,000 American soldiers who were still in the country would shift from
active combat to a supporting role, providing training and advice to Afghan
security forces in their fight against the Taliban.
Even as the official U.S. policy in Afghanistan signaled the beginning of
the end of the war that had dragged on for more than a decade and through
two presidential administrations, the reality of what was happening on the
ground in Afghanistan told a very different story. Just a month before the
president announced the end of U.S. combat in Afghanistan, “The New York
Times” reported that he authorized American forces to carry out missions
that could, in fact, put them in direct combat against the Taliban and it
was clear that Afghan forces would bear limited resources and intelligence
gathering capabilities were still far from ready to stop relying on that
The Afghan people, 2014, had been the bloodiest year since the war began.
More than 5,000 members of the Afghan security forces were killed. And the
United Nations recorded more than 10,000 civilian casualties in 2014 alone.
Most of those deaths were caused by the Taliban, which continued pressing
its insurgency with an increasing number of attacks.
And by March of this year, the Obama administration, recognizing both the
intensifying challenges on the ground in Afghanistan and the potential for
ISIS to gain a foothold in the conflict, had made its first major shift in
the president`s time line for withdrawal. At the request of Afghanistan`s
newly elected leadership, the 10,000 American troops still in the country
would remain through the end of 2015, instead of the reduction by half, as
the president initially announced.
And yet, while the new policy signaled a slowdown of President Obama`s
schedule for troops to leave Afghanistan, as of March, the 2016 deadline
for the complete withdrawal was still on track.
That all changed this week when the president made news that this update
about the future of U.S. military involvement in the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I`ve decided to maintain our current posture of troops in
Afghanistan through most of next year, 2016. Second, I`ve decided instead
of going down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016, we
will maintain 5,500 troops at a small number of bases.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: President said his decision was based on ongoing assessments
on the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, including Afghan forces who
still are not as strong as they needed to be, the Taliban, which has
continued to make gains in its deadly insurgency. And according to the
United Nations, has now extended its reach throughout Afghanistan. So
much so that at any point since the war began in 2001.
This week`s announcement represents not only a major shift in U.S. policy
in Afghanistan, but an even more significant rewriting of President Obama`s
legacy – the president who aspired to be a peacemaker in an age of endless
war, is now a president who will follow in the footsteps of his
predecessor, in the extent that he is leaving the inheritance of America`s
longest war in the hands of America`s next president.
Joining me now is Matt Welch, editor and chief of “Reason Magazine”, Nina
Khrushcheva, who is professor of international affairs at the New School,
Kai Wright, features editor at “The Nation”, and Noah Shachtman, who is
executive editor at “The Daily Beast”.
OK, should I be praising this president, who looks at a changing world,
makes a new assessment, and therefore makes new decisions? Or is this a
failure of the president`s sort of promise to get us out?
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, PROF. OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, THE NEW SCHOOL: I think
it`s neither praising the president, neither it`s a failure. I think it
was – it`s a foreign policy decision that is probably very, very
necessary. And in some ways, was almost prepared, because we`ve heard
already that things like that might happen. There`s a question of Iraq,
whether the troops should have been withdrawn when they were withdrawn.
So, in some ways, it doesn`t come as a great surprise. It just comes as a
little shift or big shift in foreign policy. The question is, what is the
executive exit strategy if it`s a strategy indeed? Do they have one? And
whether these almost 10,000 troops would be enough to maintain the current
status, which is already very, very problematic?
So it`s either going to prolong the war or at point it`s going to save the
HARRIS-PERRY: When you bring up the context, the really important way of
thinking about it. But at the front of that is in part this conversation
about Iraq, and I guess part of what I keep wondering is how powerfully the
recent developments in Iraq are weighing on the way the president`s making
this decision in the context of Afghanistan.
NOAH SHACHTMAN, EXEC. EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: I think it sort of
reinforced a narrative already. Look, just to take a step back. When
Obama announced we were going to pull out forces from Afghanistan,
basically nobody in the Pentagon believed it, OK? Like, it seemed like a
political decision. It doesn`t seem like a military driven decision. The
president always gave himself outs as he was making those announcements.
Even this announcement, to bring down from 9,800 troops to 5,500 troops, I
bet it doesn`t happen. You`ll see 10,000 troops more or less in a Hillary
Clinton or Marco Rubio administration.
HARRIS-PERRY: Whoa, sir, just pause. We`re not – saying all of it except
the little end part for a second.
Now, your point here about sort of that folks didn`t even particularly see
it that way. I want to listen. The president was asked in part did he see
this as disappointing. I`d like to play the president`s response and have
you respond to it, Kai.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This decision`s not disappointing. Continually, my goal has been
to make sure that we give every opportunity for Afghanistan to succeed,
while we`re still making sure we`re meeting our core missions. And as I`ve
continually said, my approach is to assess the situation on the ground,
figure out what`s working, figure out what`s not working, make adjustments
where necessary. This isn`t the first time those adjustments have been
made. This probably won`t be the last.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It was a very realist answer. But he was aspirational in
his peacemaking. And so, it`s got to be disappointing relative to those
WRIGHT: Well, you can`t see it as anything other than disappointing that a
third president is going to be leading this war. For whatever else is
true, that`s a disappointing fact about America.
HARRIS-PERRY: Disappointing fact about America or disappointing fact about
the realities of Afghanistan?
WRIGHT: Well, both. I think – so, yes, we have the disappointing
realities of our war making and how we got here in the first place. And,
you know, the fact that there is a blank check for the president to
continue these wars is part of the problem.
Also, I think on the question of the president`s peacemaking legacy, we do
also have to remember the Iran deal, we have to remember Cuba. These are
important things that have happened in terms of making – in terms of
coming to peaceful solutions to conflict that involve the United States. I
think we need to remember those things.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels to me like, look, when you see the president
engaging in that way, when you see him talking about the Iranian deal, when
you see him talking about opening up Cuba, you get a sense of this is how
the president would like to be engaging the world. And it feels very
Again, he`s saying I`m not disappointed. But there is a kind of difference
in the President Obama who has to continue the war.
WELCH: I think there`s a reason why so many people feel just sort of
unsatisfied, whether they`re hostile or not hostile to the president about
foreign policy. He gave a speech the other week. It was actually a very
interesting foreign policy speech in which he basically said America is not
omnipotent. We can`t put our thumb everywhere on the global scales and
It`s a thing Republicans, of course, when they`re in opposition can`t stand
to hear. They puff out their chests and make no proposals about what they
do differently except be tougher. But he`s unwilling to follow that logic
all the way through.
The fact is, I mean, the facts on the ground in Afghanistan are intolerable
in that we are seeing hills, towns, that Americans died for, going back to
the Taliban right now. And the logic of it is, are we going to stay there
forever. He says we`re going to meet our core missions and objectives.
That`s just kind of mushy talk for I`m afraid to follow through on the
logic, which is this country is screwed, us occupying it is not going to
solve their long-term problems.
And ultimately, we`re going to make that decision, who`s going to be the
last person to die for a mistake, the John Kerry formula.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, maybe. I know correlation and causation is not the same
thing but when you look at the U.S. military presence, right, it really
does tick down during the Obama years in Afghanistan, right? So it`s
coming down, coming down.
WELCH: If you have the surge.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because he`s like, this is the right war, Iraq is the dumb
war. So it surges, then ticks down.
If you look at civilian casualties, they go the exact opposite direction.
On top of that, then the curve goes up this way. Again, not that one
causes the other, but it`s got to be if you`re living on the ground in
Afghanistan, that reduction of troops is correlated with this increase.
WELCH: Southeast Asia was not a pleasant place to be after America left
KHRUSHCHEVA: Right, it`s an exit strategy question. I mean, what are they
doing with Pakistan? What are they are doing in Pakistan in fact where a
lot of these people coming to Afghanistan to create havoc are hiding? I
mean, that`s –
HARRIS-PERRY: The foreign minister of Pakistan is coming to the White
House this week –
KHRUSHCHEVA: They will be finally conversation. Saying why all these
people like Osama bin Laden are hiding in your place, I mean, what`s the
deal there? That`s foreign policy. Whether you get out of the war or come
into the war, that`s a separate question, the second question. The
question is, what is the foreign policy?
HARRIS-PERRY: If there`s a – I hear you, who`s the last person to die. I
understand that. Especially sort of informed by our experience in Vietnam.
On the other hand, I wonder about the sense of responsibility that a nation
takes when you break something, right?
SHACHTMAN: Right, absolutely. There`s that famous Colin Powell pottery
barn analogy about if you break it, you buy it. I think the tough part in
that is – yes, it`s true, nobody wants to have the last American to die
for this place that seems not to be in our strategic interest.
The problem is we`ve seen this before. We know what happens when we pull
out of Afghanistan, right? We know we`re going to see a takeover of some
people we don`t really like and it can be a breeding ground for terrorism
Similarly in Iraq, we pulled out of there and honestly, I mean, most
military assessments are, if we had left those 10,000 troops there, the
chances that ISIS would be running wild in Iraq would be much, much, much
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, want to talk a little bit about the
politics of it. So, I`m going to talk a little bit, if you`re running for
the nomination of the Democratic or Republican Party. What do you do with
this data for the rest of the campaign?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don`t, no one
else will. The military that you have joined is and always will be the
backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only
or even primary component of our leadership in every instance. Just
because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama last may at West Point laying out
his foreign policy doctrine. You get a since that`s what he wants. He
wants to be able to wrap it up at the end of the term and say, yes, see,
not everything is a nail. But here he is having to swing the hammer again.
SHACHTMAN: Yes, absolutely. Just to carry the analogy a little further,
if you don`t nail down every part of the house, right it can fall over. I
think that`s kind of what happened here.
Look, the Obama administration really wanted this war on terror over for
perfectly understandable reasons. You know, it had gone on for years and
years and years. And they`re like, OK, Iraq, done. Afghanistan, done.
Pull it back. And then we`ve sort of seen what happened in the interim,
HARRIS-PERRY: If you are Hillary Clinton in this moment and you`re
running, you`ve been secretary of state in this administration, is this
news about Afghanistan this week generally welcome news? Are you like, OK,
now I get to show my toughness? Is it news you figure actually won`t
impact the election because 10,000 troops really probably throughout four
southern states aren`t actually going to swing the presidential election?
I just sort of wonder what this looks like.
WRIGHT: The future of –
WRIGHT: If you`re Joe Biden, it might be an interesting conversation for
WRIGHT: The place where he can distinguish himself from Clinton is on
foreign policy, in particular, on Afghanistan. And so, I think if you`re
him, you`re thinking, OK, maybe I have a race after all.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, he`s certainly standing there right behind the
president during the moment the president`s announcing this. You get a
sense of both his seriousness. But that the whole administration is not
happy with this having to happen.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, they can`t be, because they have to – they do look
flip-floppy a little bit. Everybody in American politics is always afraid
to be a flip-flopper.
But I think Hillary Clinton already went out and said, well, there was an
expectable decision. She spoke at the New School this summer where she
slightly mentioned she spoke to the council of foreign relations. I think
she`s already preparing herself for that long war. But also distinguishing
herself, saying, I will have an exit strategy. If we have to stay there
longer, we will, but for a good cause.
HARRIS-PERRY: See, I want – go ahead.
WELCH: She`s super comfortable with being a Democratic hawk.
WELCH: Look at the debate, she actually spends one minute defending Libya
as a great policy success. I don`t know how you wrap your mind around that
at all. She spent time talking about how Edward Snowden, that he could
have been a whistleblower but he wasn`t –
HARRIS-PERRY: She`s serious about that.
WELCH: She`s going to stand up to Putin. Everyone who`s out of power has
a lot of unrealistic ideas about what they might do and that are also
vague. But she`s comfortable with it. Democrats are not punishing her in
any way to the extent they disagree with that hawkishness.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I wonder as well for all of the impulse clearly on the
Republican side to put in a novice, right, everybody who`s currently
leading is somebody who`s not part of the political system right now, if
that goes away, if we have a sense of that existential threat of war,
right? If we`re not in war times, do you – I mean, if we are war times,
do you want Donald Trump or Ben Carson as commander and chief?
SHACHTMAN: Right, that`s number one. And then number two, I don`t think
any of the Republican field, I don`t think any of the Democratic fields,
and frankly, I don`t think anybody in the Pentagon, sees Afghanistan as the
Look, let me tell you something, talking to folks at the Pentagon, here`s
the order of things they care about. Russia, ISIS, sort of co-number one.
Maybe al Qaeda, 17 other things. China and then Afghanistan`s somewhere
down here. And so –
HARRIS-PERRY: So, it`s more symbolic, this Afghanistan move.
HARRIS-PERRY: As a political matter.
SHACHTMAN: Yes, that`s exactly right. That`s terrible. 10,000 American
troops, 10,000 civilian casualties. We should be caring a lot more about.
Unfortunately, that`s the reality both in the military and I think in the
HARRIS-PERRY: So if Russia is at the top, do you want Trump? If Putin is
your biggest problem?
KHRUSHSCHEVA: Which actually if Russia at the top, you do want Trump.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, that`s what I`m saying. Because he`s sort of –
KHRUSHCHEVA: There, you do want Trump because Trump Tower in the Red
Square has been Trump`s dream for 25 years.
HARRIS-PERRY: And they`re both, like, ripping off their shirt. You can
see the whole thing.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Riding horses.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, riding horses.
KHRUSHCHEVA: However, I think that is actually – that says it all because
if that`s the priority of the administration, Russia is on the top you want
to make an enemy out of Putin when you can have numerously more dangerous
enemies brooding and creating themselves, just out of nothing. Or a lot on
war on terror? That`s the problem. The priorities then, the priorities
are completely very wrong.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, why is Putin on the top?
SHACHTMAN: Why is Putin on the top? Well, there`s several thousand
nuclear weapons. That would be a big reason. There`s been a change in
Russian military doctrine that says that actually a first strike in the
tactical situation might actually be the case. There`s the prowess they`ve
shown in Ukraine. There`s the prowess they`ve shown in Syria.
You know, there`s a real sense that unfortunately, you know, the Russians
are kind of on the march to Cold War-ish. There`s a real sense that Russia
is reemerging as a global competitor to the U.S. in a major way.
KHRUSHCHEVA: That is kind a problem because, you know, if you treat Russia
as a parallel country, that`s one thing. But if you actually want to fight
with Russia because it suddenly is a global competitor, that`s a problem
with your foreign policy, because I think then your priorities are wrong.
WRIGHT: There`s a great many things in the world that we need Russia to
resolve. We are going to have to – we`re going to have to work with
Russia to resolve a great many of these things in the end. So –
HARRIS-PERRY: Are you thinking Mr. Trump is the one to do that?
WRIGHT: I think Mr. Trump with his shirt off in particular.
KHRUSHCHEVA: In Red Square.
SHACHTMAN: I just threw up in my mouth.
KHRUSHCHEVA: In Red Square riding horses together.
HARRIS-PERRY: I will say, it suddenly – you put that thing on the table
earlier I was trying to ignore. As a matter of politics, there is a way in
which Marco Rubio, if that becomes the narrative of the campaign, if it is
about who can manage Putin and who can address Syria and who can do
something about these troops, then, in fact, if you are Marco Rubio, that
makes that pathway a little harder.
WELCH: Rubio is very, very fluent on these issues, whether you agree with
him or not. He`s a hawk`s hawk. He`s very much a neo conservative. But
he understands and talks a lot with fluency about the world there that`s
more convincing than, say, Carly Fiorina memorizing the number of
battleships that we`re supposed to have –
WRIGHT: It has been and is going to be about the economy. We`ve been in
the state of permanent war. People are used to it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it`s one thing before a blind audience to have all of
this nuance on foreign policy.
Thank you to Matt Welch and Nina Khrushcheva, Kai Wright and Noah
Shachtman, although you can`t come back and say President Rubio at my
Still to come this morning, why thousands of students in one state may be
forced to stay home for weeks.
But, up next, we`re going to live to Jerusalem as the latest round of
violence in Israel continues this morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: Three new attempted stabbing attacks this morning in the
occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. In each incident, a Palestinian was
shot dead after trying to stab an Israeli. No Israelis were hurt.
Joining me now from Jerusalem, NBC`s Bill Neely.
Bill, what else can you tell us about these new reports of violence?
BILL NEELY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Melissa. No letup
in the violence here. Sadly, three attempted murders, stabbings. As they
say, three dead Palestinians, all of them teenagers.
In Jerusalem, a 16-year-old was stopped by a police patrol. They asked for
his ID. He handed over his ID, pulled out a knife and tried to stab the
soldier but was shot before he could actually make contact.
Then in Hebron, two incidents. In one of them, an 18-year-old was shot
dead after he pulled a knife on a civilian, on a street. It was actually
the civilian who had a gun. He shot his attacker.
And then a 16-year-old girl approached a policewoman and asked her
directions, then pulled out a knife and tried to stab her in the neck
according to the policewoman who had a gun and, again, shot her assailant.
So, three more dead Palestinians. And some fairly shocking images have
emerged of another attack and just a warning, you may find some of these
photographs quite graphic. They show a Palestinian attacker chasing a
soldier and then using his knife, which is clearly visible, to stab the
soldier after he wrestled him to the ground.
The other soldiers opened fire on the Palestinian. He was killed. The
injured soldier is recovering in the hospital.
So, no letup in these attacks. It`s really difficult for the police and,
indeed, Israeli intelligence, to work out where they`re coming from next.
Most of these attackers, as I say, are teenagers from east Jerusalem. They
carry Israeli ID cards so they`re free to move around. They often speak
pretty fluent Hebrew. They`ve got no criminal or terrorist record. And
they strike at random.
So, for police and everyone involved here, it really is difficult to work
out where the next attack is coming from. But so far, since those attacks
this morning, none this afternoon. But this daily cycle of violence just
keeps spinning. No end in sight, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Bill Neely in Jerusalem.
And up next, the Chicago kickback scandal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I apologize to them. They deserved much more, much
more than I gave to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: For many Chicago children, getting to school is a dangerous
task. Last month, the city suffered more than 60 homicides, the deadliest
September in the city since 2002. And more than 2,400 people have been
shot already this year in Chicago. Many of them school aged children.
The situation is so extreme that the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights
appealed to the United Nations to investigate the dangers faced by students
as a potential human rights violation. President Obama made reference to
the violence on the day his secretary of education, Arne Duncan who is from
Chicago, stepped down. Duncan`s resignation happened to come on the heels
of the mass shooting at Oregon`s Umpqua Community College.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I`m deeply saddened about what happened yesterday, but Arne`s going
back to Chicago. Let`s not forget – this is happening every single day in
forgotten neighborhoods around the country. Every single day, kids are
just running for their lives trying to get to school.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Running for their lives trying to get to school.
It`s worth noting in Chicago getting to school for many young people
recently has been made more difficult. In 2013, Chicago was home to the
nation`s largest ever one-time school closure. The person in charge at the
time was Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, who this
week made clear what her priorities were while running the country`s third
largest public school system. It`s fair to say it wasn`t her students.
After being indicted open charges of corruption and fraud, Byrd-Bennett,
who resigned earlier this year, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of wire
fraud for agreeing to get the school system to award her former employer
$23 million worth of no bid contracts. In exchange, SUPES Academy, the
consulting firm Byrd-Bennett once worked for, would award her $2.3 million
in kickbacks. After she left her post as CEO of the public school system.
Byrd-Bennett who faces up to 7 1/2 years in prison, apologized to the
students of Chicago`s public schools.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT, FORMER CEO OF THE CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS: I am
terribly sorry. And I apologize to them. They deserved much more, much
more than I gave to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: She also released a statement Tuesday saying, “There is
nobody to blame but me. And my failings could not have come at a time of
greater challenges for CPS,” Chicago public schools.
The former educator did leave the Chicago school system at a time of
turmoil. In her first year as CEO, the board of education shut down 49
elementary schools, sending thousands of students to unfamiliar classrooms.
The Chicago Public School system is also in debt. It owes an astounding
$6.2 billion and rating agency Moody`s Investor Service has called CPS`s
financial status precarious.
And in an effort to save up to $140 million per year, the district, which
has seen its fair shake of teacher strikes, has been in a battle with
teachers over pensions. But Byrd-Bennett is not the only one to blame for
the challenges of Chicago public schools, or for the bribery scandal she`s
Her recognition, her indictment, her guilty plea and her apology do not
absolve the system that enabled this corruption. It was Mayor Rahm Emanuel
who handpicked Byrd-Bennett to lead the public school system reportedly at
the request of Gary Solomon, owner of SUPES Academy and a consultant with
deep ties to the Emanuel administration. Solomon, his partner, Thomas
Vranas, and the two companies they ran were also charged in the bribery
scheme. And they both pleaded not guilty.
But let`s be clear about one thing: the inquiry here cannot stop with the
alleged kickback scheme. The inquiry has to be about the entire broken
system. We must question everything that has happened with Chicago Public
Schools these past few years, the shutdowns, the replacement of students,
the pension battles.
When the people responsible for the well being of 400,000 children, and in
this case, predominantly black and Latino children, make clear their
primary motivation is to line their own pockets, we have to question the
entire system, especially when, as the president said, the children they
are meant to serve are just running for their lives trying to get to
HARRIS-PERRY: The state of Pennsylvania is facing a crisis. A statewide
budget holdup might keep thousands of kids home from school for up to two
weeks. The Pennsylvania legislature has been at a standstill on its budget
since the agreement was due on June 30th. If legislators cannot agree by
the end of the month, school districts will have lost $3 billion in state
Now, the prolonged debate over the state budget has forced at least 17
Pennsylvania school districts, primarily in Philadelphia, to borrow money
just to keep the lights on and the doors open. In total, the districts
have borrowed more than $346 million and more than 2 dozen have been unable
to pay tuition for charter schools. The Erie school district which already
owed $9 million in late payments to vendors is hit particularly hard by the
budget standstill. The district is preparing for the possibility of
sending its 12,000 students home starting November 1st if the state budget
is not settled.
Joining me now from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is Dawayne Cleckly, who`s
father of a student in Erie Public School and board member at the
partnership for Erie Public Schools, an advisory board member at Central
Tech High School.
Nice to have you this morning, sir.
DAWAYNE CLECKLY, FATHER OF STUDENT IN AN ERIE PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Thank you
very much, Melissa. Nice to see you this morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me both about how you feel and how other parents
in the school may feel about the possibility that your children may not be
able to go to school in two weeks.
CLECKLY: Well, I will tell you this is a serious problem within our
community. So many of our parents in our community are worried about what
happens when or if the school were to close and they would have to turn to
finding child support for their kids, a place for their kids to go during
the day while they worked. This is a very poor community, 80 percent of
our kids live in poverty. The entire school district, the entire school
district is on free lunch.
So, this impacts our community in a terrible way when our legislators
cannot agree on a budget. It`s been three months now.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I`m wondering if you`re talking to your children
about this and about this possibility. Because, you know, this point that
this is a place where young people are actually getting their meals. If
it`s a school system where everyone`s on free and reduced lunch, if the
schools close, does that also mean these kids go hungry?
CLECKLY: You know, it does. That`s something that`s missed in the
conversation. The Erie – Erie`s public schools fed children over 150,000
breakfast meals and over 250,000 lunch meals. We`ve only received $50,000
from the state.
If the doors were to close, many of these students would go hungry because
this essentially when they come to school, this may be their only meals.
So, we are in a situation where the district has made a decision to attempt
to borrow $30 million, which, by and large, which cost the district
$144,000. That`s the salary of two teachers. So, this situation is really
gone out of control.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this is basically a political fight, right? I mean, I
guess I just feel like you elect your legislatures, you elect your
governor. One is from the Democratic side, one from the Republican side.
But the idea that kids, you know, they don`t have a party, they don`t have
a set of ideologies. Shouldn`t they be at the forefront of these
CLECKLY: They should be at the forefront. I don`t see this as – it is a
power struggle in the state. I mean, you have a Democratic governor. You
have a Republican-controlled legislative body.
It`s the same thing we see at the federal level. I don`t, you know, I have
no faith myself in the political system. There are some lawmakers that are
trying to move the issue forward. But at the end of the day, really, the
conversation has to be about the students. And the students are affected.
I`d like to read something to you.
CLECKLY: One child sent this to her superintendant. She says, “Me and my
friends are going to raise money for our school. So far we have raised
$20, but we look to get more. I love Grover Cleveland,” the school that
she went to. That was a fifth grader.
A sixth grader, she wrote, “I don`t want you to lose your job or any of the
Now, this doesn`t pull on the heartstrings for anyone, much less a
politician, and if it doesn`t – if it`s not able, something like this
isn`t able to move the ball forward, I don`t know what will.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it`s one thing to have a bake sale for band uniforms or
something, but the idea that these kids are so worried about losing their
school that they`re raising $20 to try to keep the school open, that just
does not seem like it should be happening in our country.
CLECKLY: Well, I will tell you that our community – again, we have
serious social economic problems. We had a spat of violence over the
summer. Most recent, seven children shot. Two children, children,
And now, the children are going back to school and going to a school –
when they go to school, this is something that`s normal for them. This may
be the – the only normal thing for them. Now, they`re going back to
school. Now they have to worry about, you know, not being able to go to
school. Education is –
HARRIS-PERRY: I was going to say, we know if they`re home, they`re much
more likely to be in circumstances of danger, especially if there is
violence in the communities. I really do hope, not only on the heart
strings but on the political strings. I read at least one commentary said,
oh, don`t worry, sports will save us, if the football team doesn`t suit up
on Friday night. But this is just, it`s too much.
I really appreciate Mr. Dawayne Cleckly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for
joining us. I appreciate your time.
CLECKLY: Thank you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, our foot soldier of the week.
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the central tenets of the American criminal justice
system is that you should be judged by a jury of your peers, but one group
of Americans who gets that privilege is our young people. Our foot
soldiers this week are working on changing that.
The Brownsville Youth Court in Brooklyn, New York, is a program within the
center for court inn innovation which hears low level cases for low-level
offenders between age 10 and 15. And instead of a courtroom by adults the
judges and the attorneys and the jury are all young people. The young
offenders pled their case to a group of volunteers who are in their own age
cohort, and their own community, and the youth court members make up an
eight-person jury which asks the questions and doles out sanctions.
Now, these sanctions are ranging from workshops of decision making, peer
leadership and drug education, to things like reflection essays and apology
letters and community service. Upon completion of the sanctions, the young
offenders could have their charges dropped and the probations dismissed or
the records expunged and the program makes so it that one mistake does not
derail a person`s life, and they can apply in college and jobs without a
criminal record shadowing them at every turn.
Sharese Crouther who runs it and volunteers of the Brownsville Youth Court
are our foot soldiers of the week. Sharese joins me now along with Mikala
Greenidge, who is a Brownfield youth court member.
I am so happy to have you both here.
Mikala, let me start with you, why are – what are you learning as part of
MIKALA GREENIDGE, YOUTH COURT MEMBER: Well, I would say the Brownfield
youth court teaches you not only how the young people can make a difference
in how to help others but it teaches you good life lessons like public
speak, and I am pretty sure that if it weren`t for Sharese, I would not be
talking to you. But it teaches you what is going on in the real world and
the fact that I`m in Brownsville Youth Court, I am making a difference and
I`m proud of that.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so I am extremely proud of you and the model, and talk
to me about what kinds of cases that these young people hear and the
sanctions that they dole out.
SHARESE CROUTHER, COORDINATOR, BROWNSVILLE YOUTH COURT: Yes. So the youth
court here is low-level offenses, things that range from whether a young
person jumps a turn style or doubles up on the fare to school altercations,
to petty larceny and things of that nature.
HARRIS-PERRY: When you are working to make a decision and working tot, do
you find that the young people who are offenders before you are irritated
that young people can sanction them or do they have more respect for it,
because it is other young people?
GREENIDGE: Well, I`m not going to lie, sometimes they don`t take it
seriously because we are so young, and we are around their age group. But
most of the time, I think that it is better for them, because they feel
more comfortable talking to us rather than adults. So, that just – it
makes, I don`t know how to put it exactly, but I think it is better
overall, because we get respected and we have a lot of thanks from the
parents and guardians of the respondents that we get.
HARRIS-PERRY: Are the kids tougher in the sanctions than the adult
decision-makers or more fair?
CROUTHER: Sometimes they can be a little tough. Especially if they feel
like a young person who comes in and may not take it so seriously, only
because they want to offer them different opportunities to kind of
understand the severity of their the actions. However, they are very fair.
They take everything into consideration to the process that the young
person went through at the present of what punishment they received at
home, how their friends may have affected their families, before deciding
their final decision.
HARRIS-PERRY: And what about law e enforcement. You say they are young
offenders, but does the law enforcement take it seriously?
CROUTHER: Yes, one of the partners is the 73rd precinct in Brownsville
where we receive the juvenile reports and referrals from the young people
there, and they tend to be excited about having those cases heard in youth
court before it even trickles down further into the juvenile justice
HARRIS-PERRY: Mikala, before we became on air, you we talked a what about
you want to be when you grow up, and you`re like, I`m not sure yet. But
this does necessarily made you want to be a lawyer. What do you want these
days about you think you might want to be?
GREENIDGE: You know, that is a really good question, because I`m still
Right now, I`m in college and I go to Eugene Lange, the new school, and
right now I am taking classes all over the place, trying to feel out what I
want to do, and so that is still in question.
HARRIS-PERRY: I am a fan of that and a liberal arts education and you are
meant to go to try out all of the things, and when I hear you talking about
taking everything in account and deliberating, these are the skills they
will need no matter what they are doing.
CROUTHER: Yes, the young people who are participating youth court, it is
six months, and it`s my goal of mine to expose them to different
opportunities, and develop skill sets that - skill sets that will transfer
to other areas. Mikala is a great example of that. She stuck with the
program and has developed tremendously. And I know she`s going to be great
at whatever she decides to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Whatever it is. Or maybe more than one thing and you will
decide to do lots of things.
I love this program. I love what it`s doing around the questions of
justice, as well as developing skills for young people. Thank you for
giving your time and energy to it. And it is OK if you don`t know all of
the answers right now.
I want to say thank you to Sharese Crouther and to Mikala Greenidge.
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. Now, don`t
forget, I`ll see you right back here tomorrow morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
But right now, it`s time for preview of “WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT”.
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