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Cost of Racism; Interview With Fmr. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ). Aired 2-3p ET
Aired February 16, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Myanmar fights for a fading democracy. I get the view from them. And Congressman Tom Malinowski joins me. He was President
Obama's point man for the country.
HEATHER MCGHEE, AUTHOR, "THE SUM OF US: WHAT RACISM COSTS EVERYONE AND HOW WE CAN PROSPER TOGETHER": Racism leads to bad policy-making. It's making
our economy worse.
AMANPOUR: Racism cost whites too. We crunch the numbers with public policy expert Heather McGhee.
DR. ERIC TOPOL, SCRIPPS RESEARCH TRANSLATIONAL INSTITUTE: We're in for one, hopeful, final tough round.
AMANPOUR: Is the United States winning its fight against COVID? Dr. Eric Topol tells our Walter Isaacson what hurdles remain.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
In the alternative universe inhabited by military juntas, Myanmar's army chiefs insists that their coup is not a coup. It's a point lost on
protesters, who are out on the streets again with a loud message against military rule that has locked up elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her
party officials since suddenly seizing power two weeks ago that's cut off the Internet, cracked down on journalists, and sparked fears of an even
more violent crackdown.
The United Nations is warning of severe consequences if there is any assault on those protesters. And the U.S. embassy says that all their non-
emergency embassy staff can leave the country.
My first guest is one of the journalists at risk of being captured and silenced. And we're keeping their identity a secret in order to ensure
So, welcome from Myanmar.
And let me first ask you, because you're out there on the streets, and you are reporting the protests. Can you tell me what you're seeing these days
and what response the military is taking against protesters?
So, at least where I am at, what you're seeing on the street really depends on where you are. Protesters have now really moved away from these massive
marches through the cities into very targeted strikes and demonstrations at key areas that they're either trying to support or shut down.
So, today, what we saw was, the railway workers were essentially forced back to work by security forces. And people eventually got on to train
lines in order to continue to shut down a key transportation sector in Myanmar.
And we have also continued to see protesters at various embassies either condemning what they perceive to be assistance and -- assistance and
support that they perceive from those countries to the Myanmar military or demanding more action, such as in the case of the U.S. Embassy and a
protest at the U.N.
And over the last few days, what we have seen is more and more military forces on the ground, as opposed to the earlier days of protests, where it
was largely police.
AMANPOUR: So, you have -- you have been around for these protests. You were there, I think, in the beginning, certainly before the democratic
What do you think the pattern is going to be? I mean, you're saying there's more and more physical force on the streets. We understand from various
reports that even potentially some live fire, certainly rubber bullets have been fired at protesters.
Do you think they're going to have enough, the junta, and clear everybody off the streets? Or how do you see it shaping up?
UNKNOWN: I think what will likely happen is a -- quite a protracted struggle. It's always difficult to predict the future.
And while we're seeing a repeat of a lot of the junta's general playbook in terms of suppressing popular uprisings, such as the sort of violence that
we saw in 1988 and 2007, we're also seeing that, while water cannons, beatings, rubber bullets, in some cases, live bullets, have been used, at
least regarding the Myanmar military, this is actually not as violent as they have been in the past.
And the protests have gone on longer than they normally are allowed to, before it turns sort of towards indiscriminate shooting in the streets.
And we have also gotten...
AMANPOUR: So, that's interesting. I'm sorry to interrupt you.
But it's interesting that they are not as violent, you say, as they have been in the past. And I'm wondering, can you tell me what people are
actually protesting? Are they actually protesting for Aung San Suu Kyi, or against military rule? And is there a difference that you can discern
between protesters now and protesters before, when she was locked up, before being released in the mid-2000s?
While there is quite a lot of people protesting for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi, we're also seeing, especially in areas where there are more ethnic
minorities or people who have a much -- who -- for whom -- I know the leadership, National League for Democracy, the previous ruling party, was
not as great and did not provide as much progress as people hoped, a call for the abolishment of the 2008 constitution, which is the constitution
under which the military is justifying the coup under.
And while a lot of people do want her freed, there are also people advocating for different sorts of change and advocating for the freedom of
political prisoners in general.
And I think, in terms of the differences between previous protesters, at least in the 2007 protests, that was very much led by religious leadership,
especially monks. And, right now, what we're seeing is a much more youth- led, a much more civil servants-based leadership and a much more diffuse leadership at that.
AMANPOUR: So, it's much, much broader throughout society. That's another change that's important.
Can I ask you what you fear or worry about? We talked about the periodic crackdowns on the Internet, targeting journalists and independent
information. You are a journalist there. Have you felt any threat? And have you seen any result of the inability to get the message out? Or are people
hearing the news all over the country?
UNKNOWN: As you said, there have been periodic Internet shutdowns, communications lines being cut.
Right now, I'm talking on the phone because the Internet is -- has been essentially shut off on the country again and will be for the next nine
hours or so. And there's a lot of concern about the ability of journalists to do their jobs.
There's been a lot of nighttime arrests. That's a big part of the playbook in terms of inciting, essentially, terror among the populace and among
people who are already working hard during the day, whether that is in a day job, at the protest one of their days, and then are also denied the
ability to sleep at night.
And there's also concerns that, especially as violence tends to start in the outer edges of the country, where there's more ethnic and religious
minorities, before it moves into the center, into cities like Yangon and Mandalay, that we won't be getting news, especially from those areas where
communication was already difficult, and COVID restrictions, as well as sort of the civil disobedience movement in general, makes moving around
harder, that people who have historically suffered even more under the military will be targeted, first and foremost.
And we won't be able to get the news out about that.
So, very briefly, I'm asking you to predict the future. Not easy. But given what you can feel and cents on the streets, given what you have lived
through over the years of this kind of political uprising and military rule, who do you think is going to win this round? How do you think it's
going to end?
UNKNOWN: I really have no idea.
We -- there was reporting today that the military -- there's been an internal order for military personnel to secure supplies of essential goods
for the next three months. And so I think at least the military thinks we're in this for the long run.
AMANPOUR: All right. Yes.
And no doubt you on the streets will be in this for the long haul as well.
We appreciate you talking to us. Thank you so much from Yangon there.
Now, listening in on that, and joining me now, is the Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski. He worked for President Obama to open up
Myanmar and support democracy there. He was also former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.
And the congressman is joining me from New Jersey.
So, you heard what I was asking the journalist there, who we're not naming, for obvious reasons. But I did ask how she thought this was going to end
up. What do you think, in terms of, is the military going to be successful in crushing democracy? And should the United States and other countries do
something to make sure that doesn't happen?
FMR. REP. TOM MALINOWSKI (D-NJ): Well, thank you. Thank you, Christiane.
I think it's not our job, as leaders outside of Burma to predict what's going to happen. We don't know. Our job is to try to promote the best
possible outcome. This is a long-running drama in Burma. We had a multi decade struggle to end military rule, to establish democracy, which led to
a partial transfer of power to civilians in the last decade.
But we have got to remember the military never really gave up power. The military was still in charge of everything having to do with security in
the country. And this is just a reminder that the job of building democracy in the country was unfinished.
So, I think the United States and democratic countries around the world, they have stood with the Burmese people for decades in this effort, and
they're going to continue and have to continue to stand with them.
AMANPOUR: So, what was the fatal flaw, then, in this attempt to open the country up? The United States lifted sanctions because there was some
perceived route to democracy.
And yet, as you say, in that constitution, the military kept a lot of power. How is it ever going to be any different to what we see now? Did you
-- were you worried back then in 2010 or whenever it was that this might happen again?
MALINOWSKI: Oh, sure. I was worried in 2010. I was worried in 2015, 2016.
There was a decision made by the United States and other Western countries to start treating Burma like a normal democracy, to lift all the remaining
sanctions. And I thought then and still think that that was a mistake.
That said, the policy did -- the policy that we all followed did succeed in moving Burma from absolute, total North Korea-style dictatorship to a
country that was much more open. And I think one of the differences you're seeing now with this crackdown is that you have this whole generation of
young people in Burma who have spent much of their lives kind of getting used to being pretty free, freedom of speech and freedom of movement.
And they're more connected to the outside world and to each other. And so they have no intention of going back and are showing great, great courage
in expressing that.
AMANPOUR: And you heard the journalist. I mean, it could be a protracted - - she said that there reports that the military is hunkering down for at least three months in terms of ordering supplies and the like, and it
didn't look like the protesters were going to be backing down.
I spoke to the U.N. rapporteur Tom Andrews, as this junta was creating its coup. And this is what he said to me:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM ANDREWS, U.N. SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON MYANMAR: I think it's clear that the military is afraid of what might happen on the streets.
And that, again, is precisely the reason that it's so important for the international community to speak out and to act, because those who are
champions of democracy and human rights within the country are either terrified or they're in detention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Tom Malinowski, do you think that the international community has done enough? That was two weeks ago, and nothing seems to
have changed. The military has, if anything, stepped up its presence, as you heard from the journalist.
And we have heard talk of live fire and certainly rubber bullets. We know that.
What -- I mean, what do you -- what's everybody waiting for?
MALINOWSKI: Well, look, fighting a military coup is serious business. I don't need to tell you that.
When soldiers decide to seize control of a country, they're not going to just say, oh, gosh, whoops, never mind, we apologize because countries
around the world issue a statement, or at the first sign of public protest.
So, I think -- and any serious observer of this would expect that this is going to be a protracted struggle. And a lot is going to depend on the
balance of forces within the country. How sustained is the protest movement going to be?
The most important part of this protest movement, I think, from -- as an observer from the outside, is that a big chunk of the civil servants who
make up the government of Burma, major institutions, banks, the health care system, they're staying home. There's a massive strike of civil servants in
the country. They are trying to sanction the military themselves.
And what they're asking us to do is to join in that effort by denying resources to the military, to its businesses, to the key leaders of this
country. And so I think we have got a lot of tools that we can use here, which are, I fear, going to have to be used over a period of months, to
help tip the balance to the folks in Burma who are fighting to get their legitimate government back.
AMANPOUR: So, you said correctly that the military junta, which you described as North Korean-style before this latest constitution, is not
going to suddenly say, oops, I made a mistake, let's turn back.
But they did say: I don't want U.S. sanctions and global sanctions.
I mean, it was the pressure that you and the rest of the world put on them last time that did get them to move. And that was very significant. They
don't want sanctions on them.
This is what your colleague former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar told me about how the U.S. would need to get into some kind of working arrangement with
many of the other important countries to force some kind of change from this one to right now. Just take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEREK MITCHELL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MYANMAR: We can't do this alone. We can and we must target the military and those who collude with this
illegitimate new government that's being put in place against the will of the people.
But we have to get our partners or allies like Japan, like Korea, Australia, India is important, Singapore and ASEAN, try to get these
countries to recognize that this is very bad for the future of Myanmar, that it's already set back business interests, stability inside the
country, that we all have a common interest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, do you think that your allies in the region do believe that, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, et cetera, accept that they need to also
step up to the plate -- we're going to talk about China in a second, but your allies?
MALINOWSKI: Yes, I think they do recognize it.
And, by the way, just a word on sanctions. I think we were successful 10, 15 years ago in putting pressure on the military to relax its grip.
MALINOWSKI: And that was a time when they were much more isolated than they are today.
They're much more connected to the global economy, much more dependent on commerce today than they were in 2010-2011. So, keep that in mind.
MALINOWSKI: And, yes, of course, although India, Singapore, they're not going to impose economic sanctions in the way that the United States can,
it's important for the community of nations to be speaking in a single voice.
ASEAN put out a statement on this that was pretty tough for ASEAN. Japan has been, I think, much more helpful, much more concerned than they have
been in the past. Again, this is partly because we're not dealing with a military absolute dictatorship that has been there for 20 or 30 years.
All these countries have gotten used to dealing with the new government, with Aung San Suu Kyi. She was their friend. And now she's in prison. So,
it's a little bit easier to build that coalition, I think, now.
So, what about China? Again, you heard the journalist who we were talking to said that groups of protesters are going to embassies who they perceive
to be supporting the junta. Well, one of those is China.
And the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said -- or the ambassador to Myanmar: "We sincerely hope that the Myanmar people can distinguish right from wrong
and guard against political manipulation, so as to avoid undermining the friendship between the two peoples."
Well, I mean, fine. That's a statement. But China doesn't look like it's doing anything to either -- even attempt to push back what's just happened.
I mean, they're blocking any movement in the U.N. Security Council, along with Russia.
How serious is China's support? And without their help, can anything really be done to reverse this?
MALINOWSKI: Actually, China allowed a statement in the Security Council a few days ago, which was pretty remarkable. Interestingly, Russia is the
closest friend to the junta, more -- more unequivocally a friend to the military than China is.
I think China's caught between competing impulses. They don't exactly want to, like, work with America and Europe to promote democracy in Burma, for
At the same time, the Burmese military is not at all friendly to the Chinese historically. And they had a very good relationship with Aung San
Suu Kyi, who's now sitting in prison. They have got a concern about stability on their border with Burma, about this thing getting out of
So, I don't expect China to be working in league with us on something like this. But I think it is interesting that they are in this middle position.
And they may be sending signals behind the scenes that are helpful, for all I know.
AMANPOUR: A quick reality check. This military junta says it's going to allow democratic elections.
This whole -- the whole raison d'etre this, in their view, was that this landslide that Aung San Suu Kyi had in the latest elections in November,
they said it was rigged or fraudulent or whatever.
Then they charged her with importing walkie-talkies. And then they said they would have elections. But some there are very concerned that they
might just cut her party's -- off at the knees, and not allow the NLD to take part.
Do you think that's a realistic threat and a realistic scenario?
MALINOWSKI: You know, it's -- in a way, it's a no-win situation for the military that -- it's a maybe a strange thing to say, because they're in
charge right now.
But if they allow any kind of opposition to run in the elections, the opposition will win overwhelmingly again, even more, I think, after this.
And if they don't, then it's a complete and total and utter sham that nobody in Burma, no one in the outside world is going to accept.
And I do think Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military, who's now attempting to run the country -- I have met with him. I think he does, on
some level, have a sense that he wants to be legitimate. He doesn't want to be a complete rogue.
And I just don't see a way out for him, unless they allow an election, either the restoration of this government, which would -- which is what
they should do, or an election that is free and fair. But then he will lose that election, right?
So, they have dug a hole for themselves that's going to be very hard to climb out of.
AMANPOUR: All right, Congressman Tom Malinowski, thank you very much for joining us.
And just a note on tomorrow's program. We will hear more about China's role in Myanmar and relations with the new Biden administration from the U.S.
ambassador, Terry Branstad, who has just left his post in Beijing. He was also the Republican governor of Iowa before that, and we will ask him about
the state of the GOP today. That's tomorrow night.
But now we turn to an economic policy expert and self-proclaimed data nerd, Heather McGhee. Here's how she describes her work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCGHEE: I am a public policy wonk. I investigate data that points to problems in the American economy, problems like rising household debt,
declining wages and benefits, shortfalls in public revenue.
And I try to pinpoint solutions to make our economy more prosperous for more people. I geek out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That was earlier this year.
And McGhee is now turning her analytical eye to racism. She says that it exacerbates inequality, and not just for people of color, but for white
people as well.
Her new book is called "The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together."
Heather McGhee is joining me now from New York.
Welcome to the program.
That was a quite a humdinger of a TED Talk. It was really fascinating.
And I just want to start by asking you, it's kind of a provocative line. You basically say -- and I will quote it for you. You ask in the book: "Why
can't Americans have nice things?"
You say Americans can't have nice things. So, I'm asking you why. Why? What do you mean?
MCGHEE: Thank you for having me on, Christiane.
I don't mean by nice things hovercraft and laundry that does itself and all those technological things that we can't seem to have. I mean things like
modern world-class infrastructure, a public health system that would avoid us having one of the worst-in-the-world pandemic responses, universal
health care, like every other advanced nation with anywhere near our resources has.
I'm an economic policy person, and yet it became clear and clearer to me that what was driving inequality and the American dysfunction is racism in
our politics and our policy-making.
AMANPOUR: Heather McGhee, is that a controversial point of view?
I mean, you obviously back it up with facts and figures. What do you mean about that specifically? Obviously, we hear about inequality all over the
place. We have seen it in the pandemic. We see it everywhere. But when you say it hurts the whole and hurts the white people as well, the majority,
what exactly do you mean?
MCGHEE: I mean that 40 percent of Americans before the pandemic and the economic crisis couldn't pay their basic needs by -- through their
I mean the kinds of record economic inequality that we have seen/. So much of it has been driven by an anti-government politics that I began to call a
drained pool politics. It hearkens back to something that happened across the country during the civil rights movement, where towns used to have
grand resort-style public swimming pools that were, in some ways, just an example of government commitment to a high quality of life, the kind of
social democratic standard of the mid-century in the United States.
But many of them were segregated, like much of the social democratic social contract in the United States. And once integration came, so many towns
drained their public swimming pools, literally drained the water, filled them with dirt, paved them over. Of course, that cost the white families in
the town as well.
And when we see this shift from social democratic policies, high taxes, high investment, good public goods, to the kind of neo-liberal austerity
and inequality that followed, and really in the '70s, '80s and '90s, I think racism is the uncredited actor in that story.
AMANPOUR: So, that story, essentially, you're saying that, because it was integrated, and they didn't -- they didn't know what to do, other than
drain the pool and let nobody go swimming, that that is your metaphor for draining resources away from the whole community each time there is this
segregation in any walk of life.
MCGHEE: That's right.
The United States used to lead the world in infrastructure investments and funding things like big infrastructure projects and free college. And now
we're among the lowest per capita government spending of any of the OECD nations.
What happened? Political scientists Roemer and Lee found that, absent racism in American politics that pushes the majority of white Americans
into the Republican Party, as it has been since Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act -- that was the break between white Americans and the
Democratic Party in the United States -- absent that racism in the politics of the United States, our fiscal policies would look a lot more like
AMANPOUR: That's really interesting.
I want to ask you, because your book and your TED Talks and others are full of anecdotes, real-life situations that you have encountered, as you have
traveled the United States gathering this information and, as you say, geeking out.
You said -- I think you said something like there's nothing I like better than a well-thought-out regulatory system. You know, it's funny, but the
stories are very revealing.
So, one of the stories you tell is about a guy called Gary. And this happened on C-SPAN. And, of course, Gary, basically is white. And he phoned
in with a question. And this then went viral. Like, eight million people saw this. Let's just play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: I was hoping that your guest could help me change my mind about some things.
I'm a white male, and I am prejudiced. What can I do to change, to be a better American?
QUESTION: Heather McGhee.
MCGHEE: Thank you so much for being honest and for opening up this conversation, because it's simply one of the most important ones we have to
have in this country.
And so your ability to just say, this is what I have, I have these fears and prejudices, and I want to get over them is one of the most powerful
things that we can do right now at this moment in our history. So, thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You can see there -- obviously, this was, I think, about five years ago. You can see you're shocked. I mean, you did not expect this man
to admit that he was prejudiced and, on top of that, ask you what he could do about it.
And you said, thank you.
What was the reaction to you saying thank you? And what has been the follow-on between you and him, or how have you used this encounter in your
MCGHEE: I think a lot of people were moved by that exchange because they were expecting a conflict, right. When you race on cable news, you see
conflict. And yet, I was frankly touched by the fact that he identified that overcoming his prejudice would make him a better American. Because our
diversity in the United States could be our super power, and yet, racism has been used as a divide and conquer weapon that impoverishes us all. And
so, there was something about Gary's question that touched me.
He then went on to get in contact with me. We became friends. He has been on this journey of really unlearning a lot of the received stereotypes that
are marketed so aggressively, particularly to sort of white men at a certain age, the right-wing media infrastructure really targets them with
the sort of zero-sum idea that progress for people of color is coming at the white man's expense. And we've become friends. It's helping me see that
there is the possibility of the human transformation. We've got to bet on that possibility or else we are all going to be sitting in the bottom of
the drained pool, and not address the urgent public problems that are holding America back.
AMANPOUR: And the zero-sum paradigm is really profound, because across the board, whenever anybody talks about equality, a group thinks that it's
going to be discriminated against and oppressed. So, how do you do the sums? How do you do the math that if you raise everybody's level that you
are not going to -- you know, it is not going to be at the expense of somebody else's? How do you convince them of that, and what's the real, you
know, dollar and cents?
MCGHEE: I think it is the most single important thing holding back economic progress in the United States and frankly, in many European
countries as immigration is creating more diversity. You start to see a similar impulse, this idea of the zero-sum politics. There are immigrants
getting something at my expense, et cetera.
So, how do we counter that? Well, this is where the part of me that geeks out about the good numbers comes in because, in fact, it's exactly the
opposite. When we invest in our people, when we create the kind of public goods that are the springboard to economic innovation and enterprise and
opportunity, we all stand to benefit. City Group, no less than City Group found this summer that America's willingness to commit to public policies
that would have closed the racial economic divide over the past 20 years have cost the American economy $16 trillion. The Federal Reserve Bank of
San Francisco just said that in 2019 the gap between white men and everybody else cost us about $2 trillion in just one year.
Our country and I think that every country that is becoming more diverse has to ask the question, who all is included in who the people are? Can we
manage to put aside stereotypes and recognize that ultimately, we all deserve the kinds of investments that we know create broad economic
security? And yes, we can afford it. In fact, we can't afford not to.
AMANPOUR: So, that's really incredible when you give those $16 trillion and the 2.6 trillion at the Federal Reserve of San Francisco just
identified as a direct result of racism. You talk about a solidarity dividend instead of the zero-sum paradigm. What does that mean and what
would it look like?
MCGHEE: The solidarity dividend is something that I began to see signs of in this journey that I took to write "The Sum of Us." It's the idea that
when people come together across lines of race, and specifically when white Americans reject the zero-sum paradigm, when they say, you know what, what
unites us is so much more than what divides us, we can start to break through on some of the most important things that our society needs,
cleaner air, like I found in Richmond, California, a tremendously polluted area where multi-racial working class coalition came together to take on
the big polluter in their neighborhood. And before they had done that, there was simply no power among the people to fight back.
I found that in Lewiston, Maine, the whitest state in the United States, a dying mill town, Lewiston, had been revitalized by the presence of African-
Muslim refugees. The main street began to open up and have more vibrancy. They were opening new schools. This is the kind of the way that we need to
replace the zero-sum politics with the solidarity dividend politics that invest in all of our people together.
AMANPOUR: Well, those stories are really profound because unless people hear those stories, they just -- you know, they just -- they can't really
cling on to it. I was, you know, stunned by that story in Maine that you just told and I read about it in the research, I heard it in your TED Talk
and it's a really profound story.
But of course, you know, the Republican Party has always been deemed the party that does best on the economy, on business and this and that. But
they really believe in the takers and the makers to quote Former Speaker Paul Ryan. This is what he said and then I want to ask you about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL RYAN, THEN-U.S. HOUSE REPUBLICAN: There's two problems we have when I call them tipping points. Right now, about 60 percent of the American
people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes. So, we're going to a majority of the takers versus
makers in American and that will be tough to come back from that. They will be dependent on the government for their livelihoods than on themselves.
That's one tipping point. The other tipping point is always entitlements that are exploding the debt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that's -- he was saying that during the sort of tail end of the financial crisis. But I want to ask you, because there was a recent
article in "The New York Times" by the financial journalist, David Leonhardt, and a cowriter who basically posited that the U.S. economy --
and he goes back to FDR, I think, has grown more significantly and more consistently under Democratic administrations than under Republican
administrations. And, you know, the headline is why Republican president is so bad for the economy.
He says -- this is his theory and I want to see whether you buy into it. Democrats have been more willing to heed economic and historical lessons
about what policies actually strengthen the economy. While Republicans have often clung to theories that they want to believe like the supposedly magic
power of tax cuts and deregulations. Democrats in short have been more pragmatic.
Do you buy that, because it clearly puts the conventional wisdom right on its head?
MCGHEE: First of all, the dog whistles behind the idea of people being dependent on the government, it's so degrading when, in fact, we know that
the great American middle-class was built by government investment, by generations of free stuff from the Homestead Act that gave out free land to
the G.I. Bill to the subsidized housing that was -- all of that was racially exclusive either in intention or in practice.
And so, what is necessary now is for us to recognize that when we talk about fiscal austerity and yet still find ways to shower tax cuts on the
wealthy, we're really just reflecting a commonsense that right as Leonhardt said, is actually more of a wishful thinking that says that rich people who
are mostly white and predominantly male just deserve lots of money and everybody else should go without. If you say that so plainly, people
obviously disagree, and yet, it's been baked into our fiscal policies.
We know the formula. We know that no economy would succeeds without strong public investments. And also, you know, Paul Ryan, when he talks about
what's wrong with the economy, never talks about corporations suppressing wages. We would not need so many people to have government welfare benefits
if our minimum wage was as high as it was back in the 1960s, adjusted for inflation. We have allowed a lot of corporate greed to be pushed off into
the responsibility and blaming working class and poor people. That's what I think is so important is that we recognize that when we stop denigrating
people for struggling, and this is such a racialized conversation in the United States, it really is, when we stop to denigrating people for
struggling, we really can have a better formula for prosperity.
AMANPOUR: It's really vital. It's such an interesting book. And the stories that you tell from real life across the United States are really --
really, they need to be heard. Heather McGhee, thank you for joining us.
And now, we turn to some tentative good news as new COVID-19 cases and deaths are falling on both sides of the Atlantic, in the United States and
the U.K., which are two of worst affective countries. Still, the variants mean that people are being told to still keep up their guards.
Dr. Eric Topol is a professor of molecular medicine and the director of Scripps Research Translational Institute as of the -- as one of America's
top medical researchers, he has studied the coronavirus closely obviously. And here he is talking to our Walter Isaacson about vaccines, variants and
what to expect going forward.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNNI HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Dr. Eric Topol, welcome to the show.
DR. ERIC TOPOL, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, SCRIPPS RESEARCH TRANSLATIONAL INSTITUTE: Great to be with you, Walter.
ISAACSON: Hey, it looks like new things are getting better in terms of COVID. New cases are down, I think almost 40 percent from a couple of weeks
ago. To what extent -- is that the vaccine kicking in or herd immunity or better social distancing or what just other factors that cause an epidemic
to wax and wane?
TOPOL: Right. Well, it's gratifying to see finally this reduction in the third monster surge, and it appearing to be mostly the distancing and the
masking because the vaccination hasn't yet reached a level where it could have a real dent as we have learned from Israel where most of the
aggressive vaccination is finally taking big hold. But it gets, you know, three or four time as much as we have done so far.
The only major obstacle though, Walter, that we have to face is looming beast of a variant, the so-called B117 that -- what was first seen in the
U.K. That one is starting to be spread in Florida and here in California and some other places, and it could really take off fast because it's
really like a super spreader variant. So, it would be good if we put on all of the pressure now to get containment, because we're in for one hopeful
final tough round.
ISAACSON: The variation in that British mutation doesn't affect the exact part of the spike protein that's encoded in the two RNA vaccines. Is that
right? Those vaccines are still pretty in the effective?
TOPOL: Yes, the good thing -- there's only one good thing about that variant, even though it is a super spreader and it has been linked to a
higher hospitalization and death rate, but it's immensity (ph) that is the resistance of a vaccine appears to be, if anything, modest relative to the
South African variant that we have seen where it is actually quite formidable as far as some resistance.
So, you know, this is a really tough one because it is spread so easily. But fortunately, the vaccines, as again, we have learned from Israel where
it is all B117, that they basically had to confront that very big surge with that variant, and the vaccines have basically conquered it in most
respects. So, that's the good piece of news.
ISAACSON: And you are talking about, of course, the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccines. It seems, but correct me if I'm wrong, that the
AstraZeneca one developed at Oxford may not be as good against some of these variants. Why would that be?
TOPOL: Well, it's a really good question and we're going to learn more in the U.S. trial of the AstraZeneca in Oxford which is due out in the weeks
ahead. The real issue about dosing is uncertain with that vaccine. And the one major paper they published was really hodgepodge of multiple different
But you're absolutely right, Walter, when that was tested in South Africa, in thousands is of relatively low risk young people, there was no effect of
the vaccine. Basically, the infections, these mild moderate infections weren't suppressed. So, that's the only vaccine that's been in South Africa
with that tough variant they have as opposed to Novavax and Johnson & Johnson, which also have been tested there and worked reasonably well. Not
as well as U.S. or other countries.
So, there is something soft about that vaccine. We need to learn more. It might just be dose but we will learn more in weeks ahead.
ISAACSON: You are talking about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that turns out to be pretty effective against some of these variants that we have now,
and it is awaiting FDA approval. And now, you have been very strict in saying you should never push the FDA to go faster than their guidelines
allow, but, man, it seems like we're in pretty hefty race is here. Is there a possibility we could speed up the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
TOPOL: Well, I'm with you, Walter, as far as speeding up everything we can because this is the time to get our vaccination rate as high as we can go,
especially that first dose which gives people a real edge. The second dose doesn't have to be necessarily at three or four weeks if we prioritize
The J&J, the first vaccine that would be a single dose is very attractive, but they are not really ready anyway as far as scaling up manufacturing.
So, even if that FDA meeting was the day when they present -- the results were presented by press release, no less they haven't yet been published,
it still wouldn't change our vaccine supply. So, I actually do think that waiting -- there's a standard three-week time from the first submission of
this (INAUDIBLE) authorization at FDA to the convening this so-called Virbac external advisory group. That's what was honored for Pfizer and
Moderna. It's being kept the same for J&J.
I understand this is a national emergency. I'm not sure it would change things really. But I have no problem if it was done in one week or two
weeks actually. We know enough about the vaccine review for this COVID story that we could go somewhat faster.
ISAACSON: And what about other vaccines are you hopeful for? You mentioned Novavax. There's some being used overseas, some China and Russia?
TOPOL: Well, the Novavax looks pretty much as good as the mRNA vaccines. You know, it's a protein. It is a very novel platform in that regard. It
had -- in the U.K., where it was tested, it had 96 percent efficacy just like the mRNA vaccines. It dropped down some in South Africa, but it was
So, I think that one is going to look in the same category as the mRNA vaccines. That gives us three very powerful ones. There was a drop down in
efficacy for J&J, but there's a tradeoff there. They are testing the two doses which could bring it back up and that's also a viral vector,
adenoviral virus vector like AstraZeneca.
The Sputnik V out of Russia was a surprise. That had 91 percent efficacy and it's now been fully published better than we would have expected. And
that, like the AstraZeneca and the J&J, is also an adenoviral vector vaccine. So, the list of options is expanding. There's several vaccines out
there, we need them all to be successful because we have 7 plus billion people we need to get vaccinated and we really can't fully rest until we
get the majority of more population protected.
ISAACSON: We talk about the variations and mutations that have come out of Britain, South Africa, a few other places, but I assume since it's a
coronavirus, there must be 10,000 or so mutations of it floating around saying which one will be more effective. Do the vaccines by targeting the
spike protein in theory, would they protect against almost any mutation and variation to some extent?
TOPOL: Right. Well, this a really important point you're bringing up. The spike protein was an easy target, it's like the side of the barn. And the
fact that these vaccines all worked against the side of the barn and it worked so well is amazing, because, you know, you could get at this virus
lots of other ways. You know, it has many other target points.
So, it is true that when we make antibodies to an infection, or when we get the vaccine to mimic an infection, we make, you know, really tons of these
clones, different clones of antibodies. What's interesting particularly, Walter, is the super human response to the vaccines, because a level of
these neutralizing antibodies that take down the virus and activate it are so much greater than natural infections. And this is a rare virus vaccine
that is super human, which, of course, helps people who even had COVID infection to take them to a higher order level of protection.
The problem is that as the mutations have been occurring, you know, there's 30,000 bases in this virus and any one of them can change, most of those
are innocent, the adage is the variants are innocent until proven guilty and it took over 10 months of the pandemic to find a guilty variant. The
problem we have now is they are starting to see, particularly the South African and Brazil, some immunisty (ph), meaning that the combinations of
these mutations is making it harder for those neutralizing antibodies to truly inactivate the virus. It's not complete. It's partial.
But what we can anticipate is, as we go months forward, perhaps a year or more, there'll be more of this so-called antigenic drift of the virus, more
and more mutations, and we will need to find other targets besides just the spike protein. And what is exciting here is, we can take down this entire
family with a pancoronavirus vaccine, and that's what we should be doing right now, because we can't just chase one variant after another.
Yes, there will be boosters later this year if the need arises, but what about with the next variant and the next one occurs, which inevitably is
what we're going to be facing.
ISAACSON: Bow, when you are vaccinated there's some unsettled issues about whether you can still catch and transmit a COVID. What is your opinion? Are
you still infectious if you have been vaccinated?
TOPOL: Well, that is something that we don't know for sure, but my guess is that the more potent the vaccine, the more likely it will achieve this
block of so-called asymptomatic transmission. Basically, you become a carrier. You don't get ill, but the virus has established residence in your
nasal lining, mucosa. And so, if the vaccine is really potent and you have strong neutralizing antibodies that last many, many months, it is more
likely -- and we have initial data from Moderna to support that, that you will achieve near complete or certainly high level of blocking this carrier
state of asymptomatic transmission.
The problem we don't know is how long does that hold up? Because when the shots were never meant to achieve so-called sterilization or mucosal
immunity, they were meant to prevent illness. So, if we get sterilization immunity, even if we get it for months, that's like a bonus factor. We
can't really count on it. So, that's why we need to wear masks because we don't know how long and how good it is. But also, there's probably a
gradient. We discussed early that some of the vaccines are, you know, really high performance, efficacy 95 percent. Those that are in the 60 and
70 percent are more likely to allow for this carrier state.
So, that why the more effective vaccines, the better. And who would have guessed that we would have had vaccines at this extraordinary level.
ISAACSON: The CEO of Johnson & Johnson said that the coronavirus vaccine may become an annual thing like the flu shot. Do you think that's true or
do you think we might be able to just beat COVID and its coronavirus?
TOPOL: Yes. I think the false strategy, unfortunately, Water, will be this booster shot and it could be every year or every couple of year, but a far
better one would be to go after this pancoronavirus vaccine. It is do-able. We could get that without worry of having to have renewal shots. So, if we
can put our minds to that rather than just this so-called put in the South African called bivalent vaccine where we put some of that in and put some
of the original strain or we put in the Brazil strain, you know, there's better way to do that.
And so, my hope is that we won't have to -- look at what we are going through right now for people to get vaccinated. And so, if we have to go
through that repeatedly, that would be really unfortunate. We have to be thinking bigger, and I do think that we will achieve that and I actually
think we can get to that point if really have a concerted effort, make it a priority, scientifically, even by the end of the year.
ISAACSON: How do you think the Centers for Disease Control have done in the past year?
TOPOL: Well, unfortunately, the CDC, which has been a time revered institution around the world was a no show for the pandemic. It was
subjugated by the Trump administration, HHS and the director never stood up. And basically, it was put aside and all of the things it should have
been done throughout the pandemic, we lost so much with the testing in the first two months that we were flying blind, the bad recommendations with
the respect to masks, opening up schools and the economy, that it just was played patsy with the interests of the administrations. So, it's really a
Now, we have a new leader with Rochelle Walensky and I think it's starting to get rebooted and started to get back to where it ought to be. But
unfortunately, you know, we got so far behind in this country. And instead of being an exemplar, we became like the worst-case scenario, and the CDC,
unfortunately, played a role in that.
ISAACSON: How would you rate the FDA?
TOPOL: Well, you know, that is really interesting. I was ready to just give up on the FDA back in August though when I took on the commission,
Stephen Hahn, Dr. Hahn, about his approval in this -- if you remember, this very historic breakthrough press conference with Trump and czar. And I said
that there were no data, Dr. Hahn, to do this, and you called it and others a historic breakthrough and all of the survival benefits.
So, interestingly, he did respond to me days later, and we actually became friends and spoke frequently, and I admire him because he had a very marked
turnaround from being basically passive and accepting anything like hydroxychloroquine or the plasma or whatever it took, if Trump wanted to
get it done, he did it for him. But now, he had developed this new look, which was, we're only going to stick by the science and we're not going to
be trampled or bullied by the administration, and he took them on, both the HHS, the czar and Trump, and he then, with the vaccine manufacturers,
tightened the criteria.
They could have, theoretically, delivered this so-called October surprise that Trump wanted the vaccine in October before the election, he prevented
that because he wanted to get the trials done rather than to half assed with a very limited number of participants to so-called interim analysis.
And he did that and he did it in a way that is really extraordinary laudatory. So, I give him a lot of credit. He left, I think, proud, and he
So, the FDA, interestingly, was the one agency that stood up to the Trump administration when it counted with the vaccines.
ISAACSON: Dr. Eric Topol, thank you so much for being with us and thanks for all you've been on this story.
TOPOL: Oh, I really appreciate the chance to visit with you, Walter. Thanks so much.
AMANPOUR: Standing up for facts and science. And finally, tonight, we remember the salsa music legend, Johnny Pacheco, who has died at the age of
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AMANPOUR: There he is in the white shirt born in the Dominican Republic. Pacheco co-founded Fania Records, the influential label that turned salsa
music into a worldwide sensation. He wore many hats. He was composer, arranger, producer, a music director and he also helped to establish the
giants of Latin music. He was honored with a lifetime achievement awards at the 2005 Latin GRAMMY. So, we end tonight with the 2014 all-star tribute to
Pacheco, he's the man in the white jacket there.
Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.