Return to Transcripts main page
President Biden Holds Call With President Putin; Interview With Margaret Atwood; The Women Problem; America's Opioid Epidemic. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 07, 2021 - 13:00:00 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.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello. Good to see you again.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): High stakes, as President Biden and Putin hold crucial talks. Is Russia really planning to invade Ukraine? And, if so,
what will dissuade him?
MARGARET ATWOOD, NOVELIST AND POET: To create a future that works, we must work together.
AMANPOUR: Building practical utopias. The queen of the dystopian novel shifts her focus to a society we would want to live in. Booker Prize winner
Margaret Atwood joins me.
ED BISCH, FOUNDER, RELATIVES AGAINST PURDUE PHARMA: The very first time I heard the word OxyContin, my son was laying in his bed dead from it.
AMANPOUR: The harrowing impact of the opioid epidemic. Hari Sreenivasan speaks to victims advocate Ed Bisch about losing his son, and Beth Macy,
author of "Dopesick."
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
With the specter of war in Europe hanging in the air, the American and Russian presidents today held an emergency high-stakes video meeting, which
lasted just over two hours. The aim? Nothing less than preserving the existence of Ukraine.
President Biden has warned Putin not to invade his neighbor. But with as many as 100,000 Russian troops already amassed on the border, fears of an
incursion are high. The Kremlin denies it has any such intention. So, what is Putin's game? And how can he be deterred?
With nightmares of how he annexed Crimea back in 2014 still haunting the Western alliance, its leaders put on a show of unity ahead of this call
with threats of painful sanctions and support for the Ukrainian military. But with so much distrust built up between Russia and the West, what chance
does diplomacy have now?
Here to discuss, Alexander Vershbow, who was U.S. ambassador to Russia under President George W. Bush and deputy secretary-general of NATO under
President Obama, and, from Moscow, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov.
Gentlemen, welcome to the program.
This is a very high-stakes moment, exemplified by this call the two leaders have just had. So there are 100,000 troops. The CIA thinks that there's a
plan for 175,000 or more to come to the border.
Let me ask you both, and first, from Moscow, you, Andrey, is Putin preparing the nation for an invasion, for some military action? What do you
think of the risk of an invasion into Ukraine?
ANDREY KORTUNOV, DIRECTOR GENERAL, RUSSIAN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL: Well, my personal take is that if President Putin were really planning
invasion, he would have done it in a very different way, something similar to the operation in Crimea.
And if he acts in such a demonstrative, in such an explicit way moving his troops along the border, it means that the goal is different. And my guess,
my best guess, that it is the game of the deterrence, rather than the game of preparing an attack against Ukraine.
AMANPOUR: And what would they be deterring?
KORTUNOV: Well, I guess, that, in Moscow, they are concerned that, in Kiev, they might attempt to go for a military solution to the Donbass
problem, because the popularity of President Zelensky is going down.
He faces reelections and maybe a small victorious war is something that can be entertained in Kiev. Whether it is right or wrong, it's not a question,
but these concerns do exist in Moscow. And I think that Moscow is trying to deter Kiev from seeking a military solution to the Donbass problem.
AMANPOUR: OK, interesting, Donbass, of course, being that area on the east of Ukraine which has been the scene of now a stalemate, but fights between
Russian forces and Ukrainians for the last many years.
Alexander Vershbow, Ambassador Vershbow, do you agree with Andrey Kortunov's analysis of what Putin might do?
ALEXANDER VERSHBOW, FORMER NATO DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL: Well, yes and no.
I think I would agree with him that, at the moment at least, Putin is not preparing his people for a war with Ukraine. It would not be quite so
visible in terms of the mobilization of these sizable forces. I think that he's laying the groundwork, though, for multiple courses of action, to
include an invasion in January or February.
But, in the short term, he's trying to, I wouldn't say deter. I'd say he's trying to intimidate the West and Ukraine. And I don't think it's about a
potential Ukrainian military solution to the Donbass. They are not that foolish to try to win it back by force. And they have been quite clear in
their public statements that they are ruling out any military takeover of Donbass.
That was the same mistake that Georgian President Saakashvili made in 2008. They're not going to repeat that.
But when it comes to intimidation, they're trying to intimidate the Ukrainians into giving up their aspirations for NATO membership, to curb
their cooperation with NATO. And they want NATO to back away from its military support for Ukraine.
And, ultimately, Putin is actually looking for a pledge that NATO expansion will never happen when it comes to Ukraine. And a lot of these demands are
not going to be easy for Biden to accept. And I have a feeling, even though we don't have the details of the call yet, that he pushed back on many of
AMANPOUR: So, if you were -- I mean, if you were engaged in negotiations with the Russian president, what would you say, Ambassador Vershbow, to
And I don't just mean the threats of sanctions and the rest. But what would you say to, OK -- quote, unquote -- "allay his fears" of Ukraine/lash NATO
getting closer and closer to the Russian border?
VERSHBOW: Well, first, it is important to threaten the consequences that would ensue if Putin did actually carry out an invasion, even not the full-
scale invasion that he's capable of, but even just another smaller land grab or sealing off the Ukrainian coastline.
There's a lot of different options that he has. But I think that, in addition to that, I think the U.S. and its allies need to make clear to
Putin that there is a diplomatic way out of this. It's not by getting NATO to change its treaty at the -- under the threat of an ultimatum.
It's to try to sit down and discuss, first of all, how to actually solve the Donbass conflict. The Minsk negotiations have been stalled for several
years. And both sides, both Russia and Ukraine, are guilty of not fulfilling their promises under Minsk.
And I think the United States can offer to take a much more active part in these negotiations as a way of breaking the deadlock. And at the same time,
some of Putin's concerns are grossly exaggerated, for example, about NATO putting missiles in Ukrainian bases. There are no such plans.
And I don't think the U.S. would dream of doing that. So let's talk in the strategic stability dialogue or in some other arms control forum, and let's
defuse tensions and focus on political solutions.
AMANPOUR: So, Andrey Kortunov, sitting in Moscow there and seeing and feeling what's going on from that perspective, is there, do you believe,
some kind of diplomatic solution out of this, as Ambassador Vershbow just outlined?
And do you believe that Putin, the Kremlin actually takes Americans' threats or commitment to Ukraine seriously?
KORTUNOV: Well, first of all, I don't think that there is any easy solution to the problem that we have right now.
Of course, it would be great to see the Minsk agreements implemented in full, but I don't think that will happen anytime soon. My guess is that we
should start with very small, incremental measures that can defuse the situation and start building confidence on both sides.
That implies that we should restore at least some channels of communication between Russia and NATO. Unfortunately, these channels were lost earlier
this fall, when NATO cut down the Russian mission in Brussels by 50 percent, and Russia had to close down its mission and also to push the NATO
representative office in Moscow out of the country.
So we need to restore communications.So, I think both sides can take some kind of parallel, but maybe unilateral commitments, for instance, not to
deploy a new generation of middle-range and intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. I think that would be a good sign.
And within this broader framework, it will be possible to defuse the situation in Ukraine as well, because, frankly, I see quite well what
Russia is going to lose if it goes after Ukraine, but I do not see what Russia can gain by launching a large war in the center of Europe.
And I'm clearly not the smartest guy on the block, so I'm sure that all the risks are carefully assessed in the Kremlin as well.
AMANPOUR: So that's interesting. Let me just pursue that with you.
And, of course, we have been talking -- you have been mentioning, both of you, the Minsk agreements. Those were the attempts to have a peace process
and resolve peacefully and diplomatically the Ukraine-Russian dispute in the east there.
But -- so what you just said is that Russia -- but you see, they did have an easy go have it in Crimea, right, Andrey Kortunov? Is it possible the
Putin thinks he could have an easy go of it in Ukraine if he does the same thing?
KORTUNOV: I think it's very unlikely.
I think that, definitely, Crimea has been a very special, because, in Crimea, they really wanted to -- at least the majority of the population
wanted to reunite with Russia. I don't think it's the case in Eastern Ukraine. I think civic nationalism in Ukraine is pretty strong and anti-
Russian feelings are flying high.
So I don't think that, by Ukrainians, the majority of them will welcome Russian troops if these troops were to get to be to their soil. So I think
that this is pretty well understood in the Kremlin. That's one of the reasons why I don't believe that we will see Russian military action in
Ukraine, unless there is a major offensive in Donbass.
AMANPOUR: So, indeed, the Ukrainian defense minister has told reporter Matthew Chance that, if Russia tries to do this, there will be huge --
basically, a massacre, there will be Russians going home in coffins, as well as Ukrainians, and put this awful specter out there.
It kind of goes to what you're saying, Andrey Kortunov.
But I want to take a couple of issues sort of quite carefully and have you both weigh in on them.
Alexander Vershbow, there is a -- there seems to be a Russian desire to get the Americans or to get NATO to promise that Ukraine would never join NATO.
Is that even a starter? Can NATO or the U.S. promise that? Or is it something for Ukraine?
What do you think that the diplomacy around that should look like?
VERSHBOW: Well, in my view, that's a nonstarter, from NATO's point of view.
And NATO's treaty dating back to 1949 says its door is open to other democracies in Europe who can contribute to common security. It doesn't
mean they're guaranteed entry, however. And I think the Russians know, as well as anyone, that there's no appetite inside NATO for actually bringing
Ukraine in anytime in the near or even medium term.
So, to some degree, this is a bit of an inflated issue. And it may be to create a pretext for some kind of military action. I hope not, because I do
agree with Andrey Kortunov that, if Russia were to invade even in a small way, just perhaps trying to bite off a bit more territory in the southeast,
it would face significant resistance from the Ukrainians, as they did in 2014.
But now Ukraine has a much more professional, much more capable army, very large reserves, and much more of a kind of sense of national spirit and
identity, which, ironically, Putin has helped to create by putting them under siege for the past seven years.
But there are issues relating to European security, including Russia's relationship with NATO, that can be discussed. NATO used to have a
partnership with Russia. And there may be ways to put that back together again, with assurances about nondeployment of intermediate-range missiles,
as Andrey just mentioned, and other kinds of confidence-building measures.
But asking NATO to basically tear an article out of its founding treaty is simply a nonstarter.
AMANPOUR: So, Andrey Kortunov, from the Kremlin point of view, if I could ask you to sort of be a Kremlinologist for a moment, do you think they
understand that and this NATO thing is hyped up and a reason to stir sort of nationalist fervor?
Do they get it, that NATO, as Ambassador Vershbow just said, has no intention of asking Ukraine or accepting any Ukrainian application, so to
speak, anytime soon?
KORTUNOV: Well, my point is that, in the Kremlin, they take a very legalistic approach to security issues, because they observed the United
States withdrawing from a couple of bilateral agreements with Russia, like ABM Treaty, earlier this century and later on INF Treaty, and the Open
And I think there is concern that, unless there's something carved in stone, the United States is not likely to stand up to its commitments. And
I'm not sure that this is the case with NATO. But I agree with Ambassador Vershbow that it would be very difficult, if possible at all, for NATO to
grant the Russian side such legally binding commitments.
I think the best way to handle this issue is to deprive NATO of its current monopoly status in Europe as the security provider. We should work on Pan-
European organizations like OSCE, for example, to put some meat on the bones of this organization, to make sure that NATO does not have this
monopoly over security matters on the European continent.
AMANPOUR: OK, that's an interesting perspective.
Let me ask you also, then, Andrey Kortunov, to respond to what Ambassador Vershbow basically indicated, that the Ukraine of 2014 is not Ukraine 2021.
They're much better prepared. They're better trained. They have more weaponry, defensive and the like.
This is what the secretary of state tweeted, Antony Blinken: "Spoke with Ukrainian president about Russia's aggression against Ukraine. I reiterated
U.S. support for Ukraine is unwavering. There will be serious consequences for any escalation from Russia."
I think everybody knows that the United States will support Ukraine in any which way, barring boots on the ground, and there's no intentional threat
of the U.S. to get in on any fight. So how seriously does Russia -- well, does Russia accept or understand that Ukraine is much better armed than it
was before, when they tried it last time?
KORTUNOV: Absolutely, it is much better armed. And this is well understood in the Kremlin.
And this is exactly why they are concerned in the Kremlin that, in Kiev, they might revisit the idea of a military solution to Donbass, because look
at what happened in the South Caucasus.
Aliyev was weak. Then he got stronger, and ultimately, he decided to capture Nagorno-Karabakh using military force. And he was successful in
doing that. He turned out to be much stronger than his adversaries in Armenia. And this example might be very instructive to some other leaders
on the post-Soviet space.
Again, I hope it's not the case with Ukraine. But I understand why they are getting concerned in the Kremlin.
AMANPOUR: We're just beginning to get readout from the conversation, the video call, between the two presidents. And, as expected, President Biden
voiced concern to President Putin about the -- he used the word escalation on the border.
And he also basically mentioned and said that they would put very tough sanctions on if anything happened.
Andrey Kortunov, how seriously affecting would those sanctions be?
KORTUNOV: Well, that depends on what sanctions we will see in the pipeline.
If there are sanctions that put Russia in the same league as the Islamic Republic of Iran, these are pretty serious sanctions. If they affect the
Russian energy sector and the Russian financial sector, they would definitely inflict a lot of harm on the Russian economy.
But we should also keep in mind that sanctions of this scale will have a significant destabilizing impact on the global energy sector and on the
AMANPOUR: And as -- from your perspective, Ambassador Vershbow, the -- how would you think -- I mean, what does really the U.S. and NATO have in its
You just heard what Andrey Kortunov said. And if they do and follow through on the threat to exclude Russia, a la Iran, from the international
financial system, won't that just backfire on the West and prevent it from being able to buy things like gas and stuff they might need this winter?
VERSHBOW: Well, indeed, I think sanctions will be -- assuming the Russians do move ahead with some form of aggression, the sanctions are going to be
much more sweeping than anything that's been tried before in relationship to the conflict in Ukraine.
And those sanctions have already, I think, slowed Russian economic growth. You really have stagnation in the Russian economy. But NATO and the E.U.
may not have the means to literally cripple the Russian economy. And I think in time Russia will be able to adapt. But I think, in the short term,
it will pay a pretty heavy price.
And that will be combined with continued efforts to arm and equip and to train the Ukrainian armed forces to deter any further Russian aggression.
So, I don't think this is going to be a happy scenario for Russia. As Secretary Blinken has said, they'd be making a big mistake and taking a big
roll of the dice, which is not characteristic of President Putin. At the end of the day, he's not reckless. He's very emotional about Ukraine. He
really doesn't accept its legitimacy as a state, doesn't -- thinks it should be part of Russia, that they're one people.
And he can be a bit irrational about this. But I think, at the end of the day, he's not going to do something truly foolish.
AMANPOUR: OK, so that already is counterintuitive and goes against a pledge, a signed, sealed and delivered pledge, that Russia made
guaranteeing the independence and the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but way back in 1994, when they gave up their nuclear weapons.
So he might be emotional, but it's an internationally protected fact that Ukraine is independent.
I wanted to ask you both in the final minute that we have there are some positives since Donald Trump left office and President Biden came in. Even
the Russians say that. There's agreements to allow new visas for U.S. diplomats in Russia, moving forward on New START arms control, and certain
other things that even the Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov has highlighted.
Andrey Kortunov, do you feel that there is an ability to change the dynamic between President Putin and the current U.S. under President Biden?
KORTUNOV: I think that there are some opportunities, definitely limited opportunities, but there are some. Arms control is one of them.
A number of regional issues might be another opportunity to work together. I would also say that I was impressed with the progress on cybersecurity. I
didn't expect any progress at all, but it seems that they have negotiations. They can work together on issues like the green agenda and
the cooperation in the Arctic region.
So there are opportunities. If there is political will on both sides, a lot can be done, though I think it will be a very, very long road and a very
AMANPOUR: Well, let's see how it progresses.
Andrey Kortunov from Moscow, Ambassador Vershbow from Philadelphia, thank you both so much for talking to us.
Now, those talks come ahead of President Biden's democracy summit, to which neither Russia or China have been invited. Biden has promised to face down
authoritarianism and fiercely defend democracy as part of his main agenda, which my next guest knows is surprisingly fragile.
Margaret Atwood is renowned around the world for her dystopian novels, often about totalitarian systems, in books such as "The "Handmaid's Tale."
With her latest project, though, she takes a turn, focusing on utopias and asking, what can we do better?
And I have been talking to her about this new adventure and a new online learning experience called Practical Utopias: An Exploration of the
AMANPOUR: Margaret Atwood, welcome to the program.
ATWOOD: Happy to be here.
AMANPOUR: So, you are starting on a new adventure, if I could put it that way.
After so much identification with the dystopian, you're about to or you're embarking on a kind of a practical set of courses on how to build a utopian
AMANPOUR: And what does that look like?
ATWOOD: Well, we're going to find out.
But why is because so many people were saying to me, so you have done all of this doom and gloom in your fictional dystopias? Why don't you write a
utopia and give us a bit of cheering up?
The problem with writing literary utopias is that they are usually quite boring, because everything's perfect. And, now, they did turn them out a
lot in the 19th century, because they believed them, that things were just going to get better and better and better. And they'd already invented
steam engines and sewer systems. They discovered germs.
And there was balloon travel. So it was just going to get better. But then along came the 20th century, and we know what happened then. And things
that happened then started as utopias: Everything's going to be great, but we just have to get rid of those people.
So you have heard that story. And it didn't turn out that everything was great. So, how do you try to improve things without having it go pear-
shaped, have everybody marching around in armbands and so forth? And what are the problems that a present-day utopia would try to tackle?
Because previous ones were always addressing their own problems. In the 19th century, it was the class system, worker exploitation, which gave us
unions and Marx and something called the woman problem. They were very keen on the woman problem, which was sometimes called the woman question.
ATWOOD: And, in these utopias, the woman problem is addressed through partly dressing.
Women in the future then wore much less, but did much better.
AMANPOUR: So, in terms of the woman problem or the woman question, would your dystopian novel "Handmaid's Tale" fall into that?
And how amazed are you, probably not, but so much of it has kind of been borne out?
ATWOOD: A lot, yes.
Yes, it would absolutely fit that, because the woman question has not gone away, as you may have noticed. So, yes, it did fit that.
And how amazed am I? Well, I'm actually more amazed than you might think, because I wrote it in '85. And in '89, the wall came down. And then all the
pieces on the chessboard started to move around. And in the '90s, however, people really were saying end of history, and it's all been dealt with,
hooray, hooray. Let's just go shopping. And they weren't paying attention.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And you say...
AMANPOUR: Sorry. I don't mean to interrupt.
But, in 1986 -- and you wrote it, as you said, in '84. In 1986, "The New York Times" even said -- and you're obviously familiar with this -- "I just
can't see the intolerance of the far right as leading to a super biblical puritanism, by which procreation will be insisted on and reading of any
So all of that is tied up. That's the theme of "Handmaid's Tale," the procreation part of it, for sure. They obviously hadn't looked back in
Well, that was Mary McCarthy. And -- but a number of people in that part of the political landscape did believe in the inevitability of democracy, and
it was all going to work, and things were just going to get better. And why was I being so pessimistic?
So, why was I being so pessimistic? The foundational system of the United States was not democracy. It was a theocracy of the 17th century, and it
was puritan. So knowing that and realizing that systems don't just disappear, they get -- they may get sort of paved over for a bit and -- or
they may get built on, but they don't just vanish out of out of time and out of people's heads.
So that's one reason. And the other reason was, all around the world and back in time, these kinds of totalitarianisms have existed. So my question
was, if you were going to have one in the United States, what form would it take?
It would not be: Hi, my name is Bob. I'm a communist. Let's all follow me.
That would not fly in that country. So what would fly? We're seeing it.
AMANPOUR: So, what -- so describe, what would fly?
Because I'm honestly astounded by, again, the prescience that you wrote, because part of the crisis in "Handmaid's Tale" started with an attack on
Congress and the fallout from that. I mean, here, all these decades later, in 2021, we had an attack on Congress, and there are many who believe that
the fundamental democracy of the United States is under threat.
So what does totalitarianism look like in the U.S., or could?
ATWOOD: And when it arrives.
Well, it'll have a lot of God in it, and a lot of things will be done in the name of said word, that if you actually believe in some form of God --
and in the latter part of that book, you would think that such a God would not indulge in these practices. I'm being very circumlocutious here.
Yes. So it have a lot of God in it. It would have a lot of American flags in it. And it would have a lot of, let's get back to the old days in it.
When were those old days, and what was going on in them? So, you can't separate anything that happens in the United States from its history of
slavery and so-called Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws and segregation. That's all very recent.
So, I think the totalitarianisms of the left lead through hope: So, things are going to get much better, except we have to get rid of those people.
And those of the Right lead through fear: unless you follow me and do what I say, terrible things will happen.
And there's a list of terrible things which are specific to each circumstance. But I would say, that's how it goes.
Don't you think?
AMANPOUR: Well, it's fascinating, again. Just really, just watching all of this unfold, things that I personally never dreamed could happen, an attack
on American democracy of all places; rolling back, quote-unquote, "the woman question," which we see right now.
And again, goes to the very heart of "The Handmaid's Tale." And that, I don't need to tell you, the Texas abortion law, the Mississippi abortion
decisions that are about to come up, the idea that Roe versus Wade may be overturned, either in whole or in part.
How -- I mean, you obviously are concerned.
Did you ever imagine though, that when you wrote "The Handmaid's Tale," this amount of reality would shape up so many decades later?
ATWOOD: OK, I've never believed in exceptionalism.
ATWOOD: I've never believed it can't happen here. And one of the reasons I set "The Handmaid's Tale" in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard
University, bastion of democracy, is that I wanted to put it in a very unlikely place.
But if you go back in history, that was the center of 17th century American Puritan theocracy. So I just don't believe it can't happen here. And I do
believe in vigilance. And I'll just pop a little book reco in here. This is the graphic of Timothy Snyder's "On Tyranny." (INAUDIBLE) spells it out.
AMANPOUR: Indeed, we've interviewed him on this topic as well. And, yes, it spells it out.
But here you have now, a Supreme Court that seems to be stacked in favor of rolling back these freedoms; certainly in this case, women have achieved,
legally under Roe versus Wade.
And you have elected members of Congress from various places, who actually speak in words that could be taken from your book. So let's play the
congressman, let me get his name straight, Madison Cawthorn. He's talking about Roe v. Wade and he's a Republican. This happened just this past week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MADISON CAWTHORN (R-NC): Precious works of our Creator are formed and set apart meet death before they breathe life. Eternal souls woven into
earthen vessels sanctified by almighty God and endowed with the miracle of life are denied their birth by a nation that was born in freedom.
God's breath of life blown away by the breath of man. One day, perhaps when science darkens the soul of the Left, our nation will repent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, golly there, Margaret Atwood, first you have earthen vessels, which is a direct reference to the idea that you write about in
"The Handmaid's Tale."
He then went and said, no, the earthen vessel, I mean the fetus, not the woman. I don't know how much one could believe that, given the structure of
his sentence, and then he's talking about science as sin essentially that the Left have to repent for. This is 2021.
ATWOOD: Yes, I know.
ATWOOD: Yes, it's -- I didn't put anything into "The Handmaid's Tale" that has not already happened. I was very careful about that. And this is
rhetoric that is very familiar but it's familiar from the 19th century.
ATWOOD: Anyway, let's go to practical utopias because this is one of the things that practical utopians will have to consider. They, too, are going
to have to consider the woman question because everybody who has ever made either a dystopia or a utopia has always had to consider the woman
There are a lot of women. You can't yet do without them.
AMANPOUR: And that is probably the world's greatest understatement but let us proceed with that line of thought because you coined a term -- I think
it's eustopia -- you mixed utopia and dystopia. So I want to know how a utopian society, in your view, around the question of women, eliminated
from being the women problem, how does that work?
How do you -- how does that utopia look?
ATWOOD: OK, so I don't come with pre-formed answers. The who idea of practical utopia is on Disco, which is an interactive learning platform, is
that people get together, consider the challenges facing us today and thrash them out.
And they will have some rules of conduct. You can't just scream at people for disagreeing with you. And they will have facilitators to help talk them
through these problems.
So it's going to be a collective enterprise. And I'm not coming with pre- formed answers. So I can't tell you how it's going to look. But it's going to have to look some way.
However, we will be considering the material build -- that is what sort of houses -- we are going to be considering things like what sort of clothing,
what sort of food, what sort of houses.
Our biggest challenge right now is the climate crisis. And the other things that we have been talking about are joined at the hip with that, so it's
all connected. But we're getting together in groups of interested people, which I hope will include people across the board.
So I'd like some materials engineers in there. And we're going to have to be looking at the costs and benefits because there is no free lunch.
So if you do this, what is the result?
If you, for instance, decide that we're all going to have vertical gardens, what are you going to do about wind storms, like that?
AMANPOUR: It really sounds interesting because very few people do actually focus on solutions and the positive side of the social question.
You've got a book of essays, "Burning Questions," coming out next year.
What are the burning questions?
Does it sort of collide with your utopian project?
What are the burning questions -- or some of them -- that you plan to write about?
ATWOOD: Well, it all comes out of the same hat; namely, mine.
So a number of these questions have been with me for a long time. And some of the burning questions are still burning. And they have been burning for
years and years and years.
So I started seven years ago writing about the penalties for us if we continue to clear-cut the Earth. We will actually, especially if we destroy
the oceans, we will stop breathing in any meaningful way.
So I'm writing about those things and also writing about, quote, "the woman question."
(INAUDIBLE) is asking this -- never mind.
Yes. So I do some of that. But some other things as well. In fact, quite a few other things, because the inside of my head, out of which all this
comes, is sort of like your grandmother's attic.
A lot of junk up there. But when you need something, you can go up there and rummage around and you'll probably find it.
AMANPOUR: What did you think, just as an aside, of the TV adaptation of "The Handmaid's Tale?"
And the very fact that it landed I think around the time Donald Trump was inaugurated?
ATWOOD: Well, I know and I didn't do it. It's not my fault. So it launched in April and he was inaugurated in January.
So let us hypothetically suppose that, instead, Hillary Clinton had won the election -- which she did win the popular vote. So if that had happened,
people would have viewed the TV show as, well, we dodged that bullet. And we can now view this in a relaxed kind of way as what is not going to
But in fact, that Hillary did not get elected and everybody was in this state of extreme gloom and anxiety, especially young people, who were not
old enough to remember dictatorships I have known.
So they were going around wringing their hands and saying this is the worst thing that's ever happened. It actually wasn't. But it was pretty
startling. And the result, the culmination, which was the January 6th attack on Congress, was, as you say in England, over the top.
AMANPOUR: Over the top indeed. So finally, I wish we had a much longer time to talk but what makes Margaret Atwood happy?
Because the stories that you tell are distinctly, in my personal opinion, unhappy and worrisome.
And I just wonder what makes you happy?
ATWOOD: What makes me happy?
Well, I don't think there is a cause and effect. I think, some days, you're happy and you feel good and other days you don't. So we pretty much know
what makes us unhappy.
But none of us has a sure-fire recipe for what makes us happy. Let's say that happiness is a by-product.
So when you're working hard at something that engages you, the by-product is happiness. But if happiness is a goal, it's probably one of those things
that you'll never reach, which is possibly why the Americans should not say life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Because it is kind of, if you start pursuing happiness, you're never going to catch it. So a by-product of things that engage you. And quite a lot
engages me right now. And thinking about material improvements and social improvements that would not then turn into a dictatorship is something that
engages me quite a lot right now.
AMANPOUR: That's fantastic. Margaret Atwood, thank you so much for joining us.
ATWOOD: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: A truly brilliant woman.
Next, we look at the opioid epidemic in the United States. As the country reached 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the most recent 12 month period,
those demanding accountability have rallied outside the Department of Justice. One of them was Ed Bisch.
Since losing his son to OxyContin overdose in 2001, he's turned to activism and founded Relatives against Purdue Pharma. That's the maker of the
addictive painkiller, which was owned by the Sackler family. He's been speaking with Hari Sreenivasan about this campaign along side the author of
"Dopesick," Beth Macy.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN HOST: Christiane, thanks.
Ed Bisch, Beth Macy, thank you both for joining us.
Beth Macy, you have chronicled this national tragedy in both "Dopesick" and now on Hulu and other places. And here is a father in his grief, like Ed,
like so many other parents and family members throughout the country, impacted so personally and tragically by this epidemic.
And give us an some perspective here.
BETH MACY, AUTHOR: At the rally on Friday, we had two former federal prosecutors.
When's the last time you saw federal prosecutors protest in front of the Department of Justice?
You had the former head of the fraud unit. You had the person who's portrayed in the Hulu series. He spent five years of his life. He wrote the
120-page memo. And, you know, just, we just reached the threshold of 100,000 deaths annually a few weeks past, right?
And Ed gathered us all for the rally on Friday. We all stayed in the same hotel.
And that morning, the janitor was saying, what are you here for?
And then he burst into tears because he had lost two relatives 18 years ago to OxyContin.
Think about that.
What crime can you name in the nation that has killed more people and has left fewer families touched?
We now a third of American families have experienced an opioid addiction and the overdose crisis.
And like, what more evidence is it going to take?
It's just so frustrating that we seem to have one justice system for the guy who he used to work with at Subway who's still in jail because he sold
some weed. And billionaires who, recidivist billionaires, by the way, pled guilty in '07, again in 2020 and then slid in through the bankruptcy era
and the profits sliding through on a loophole to get away a third time.
And when you see the families, like Ed, who was leading the charge at the front of the rally in 2007, with a photo of his son, Ed. On Friday, he had
the same exact photo and it now has yellow tape on it and I just think it's time for America to listen to them.
SREENIVASAN: Ed, when people look at the headlines in the past few weeks, they're going to say, oh, well, looks like there's a big settlement. The
victims will be compensated. Why is that not enough for you?
ED BISCH, RELATIVES AGAINST PURDUE PHARMA: Well, the headlines are wrong. They're very misleading.
Number one, this is under appeal. So it's not a done deal.
Number two, the victims are getting less than the lawyers. The victims' average payout will be $5,000, OK, not enough to cover.
MACY: -- funeral expenses.
BISCH: The top payout is $48,000, minus your lawyer fees and expenses. And very few people are going to get that.
So like I say, the average payout, $5,000, it's a sad joke, it really is. I've called that a bankruptcy scam from day one.
And the whole point of it was to give the Sacklers immunity. While there's more and more people and they make it confusing on purpose. Well, that's
more and more people learning what it's all about.
And it seems like this appeal judge realizes what it's really about and, hopefully, she makes the correct decision. And they have made a mockery of
the U.S. justice system. Now they're making a mockery of the U.S. bankruptcy system, so much that there's two separate bills in Congress,
which, unfortunately, are too late to stop them but inspired by their misdeeds.
SREENIVASAN: Beth Macy, these flaws that he's talking about, that are structural, both in the bankruptcy system and the justice system, what led
to this situation, where we have the heads of these companies or this family, are able to walk away so far without any personal liability?
Is it that they, as a company, have paid large amounts, whether it's to lawyers or whether it's to victims?
You know, oftentimes in white collar crimes, we get to hear that phrase, they will do so without admitting any wrongdoing. But in these cases, as
you pointed out, there have been losses that the company has had to admit to.
MACY: OK. So they have agreed to pay $4.5 billion and give up the keys to the company in exchange for full civil immunity. But right before they
filed for bankruptcy, they strategically drained more than $10 billion.
And if you take that $4.5 billion they're supposedly going to pay over nine years and figure in investments, they're going to walk away from the
settlement, if it goes as is, as wealthy as they are right now. And that's why Ed and all the other families of the dead are so upset about this.
SREENIVASAN: Ed, I want to ask a little bit about your son and what prompted you to become so fervent in trying to gather information and
becoming an advocate for other victims of opioids.
BISCH: My son died in February 2001. The very first time I heard the word "OxyContin," my son was laying in his bed, dead from it, the first time I
heard the word.
So I started educating myself and, as I learned more and more and as the deaths grew more and more, I started a website, just to warn kids about,
you know, don't use OxyContin, it will kill you.
Well, through this website, I started getting emails from parents all over the country. And as we learned more and more how this company was lying,
like saying less than 1 percent of patients get addicted and they were propping up pain words, as I've learned that, parents would say, what can
What can we do?
So we decided to do a protest in 2003 in Orlando, Florida, at one of their lavish doctor seminars.
And they said, oh, what are we going to call ourselves?
And we came up with RAPP, R-A-P-P, Relatives against Purdue Pharma. And now today, there's thousands and thousands of us. Because anyone who ever stood
up to Purdue Pharma, whoever spoke out, they're a member of RAPP.
And I was proud we had close to 200 of them there at the rally on Friday. And it was a moving ceremony.
SREENIVASAN: Beth, one of the things that Ed mentioned that stood out to me, is that phrase, less than 1 percent of people get addicted.
When you watch the "Dopesick" on Hulu or read your book, you find the origin story of where that statistic came from. And then there's almost an
entire lexicon, a vocabulary, phrases or pseudoaddiction. All this comes down to messaging and marketing and a skillful way, again, separate from
But it was unbelievable how systematic it was that we, in America, have changed the conversation around pain, partly due to the interests of more
sales of this specific drug.
MACY: Right. It was Arthur Sackler, Marketing 101, you know, he is the uncle of Richard Sackler. And he turned Valium into mother's little helper,
the first billion dollar drug in American history.
And Arthur and his relatives and cohorts used those techniques to flip the narrative. For 100 years, we had a huge opioid crisis after the Civil War.
Morphine, doctors would just leave morphine and syringes with people and say, "Use as needed."
Well, after that, it became a huge epidemic. The government really cracked down. What Richard Sackler managed to do, using his uncle's marketing
strategies, was to flip the narrative to say, OxyContin is safe and less than 1 percent of cases.
And they just diabolical targeted these communities and the most neglected people in America, the most vulnerable people. And then they stigmatized
them and blamed them for the addictions that they were partially responsible for.
We've got to get over this idea that all drug users are bad, that -- I mean, it was so moving to be able to be with all those families on Friday,
because people would come up to say, "We saw your show, we read your book and, all of a sudden, I understand what my son went through. My son's dead
but now I finally understand."
These people desperately want to get better. It's just they need help and we're not providing that help at the scale to match the scale of the
SREENIVASAN: So, Ed, from the rally this last week, was there something new for you?
BISCH: Yes, during the rally, I got an email from our pro bono lawyer, Michael Quinn, of the ad hoc committee accountability saying that the DOJ
has reached out to him. And they have read our letter that we sent.
And he is trying to set up a meeting for this week, where we get to voice our concerns. And you know, it's a start. It's further than we've gotten
SREENIVASAN: Do you have a specific ask for them, exactly what it is that you want them to do?
BISCH: The DOJ has enough evidence to prosecute. And that's what we're asking, review the evidence. Do your job.
SREENIVASAN: Beth, what do you think the likelihood is of Ed's wish here?
MACY: So I'm a little hopeful.
But should we -- should Ed here have to be making noise now for more years than his son, who was 18 when he passed, was actually alive?
I mean, this man has been through it. And I was also really buoyed Friday by the fact that we had two career prosecutors, including one who used to
work at the DOJ. The evidence is all there. It's all beautifully laid out before them.
We just need people to have some courage so that there aren't two forms of justice, one for billionaires and one for all the rest of us.
SREENIVASAN: Besides the case that's been made in the court of public opinion, I mean, we had recently the attorney general in Massachusetts,
saying that, from what she's seen, she's publicly asked that the DOJ should bring charges against the Sacklers.
Do you think that's likely to happen, Beth?
MACY: I don't want to count this group out, man. I would not want to go against Ed Bisch. He's not giving up. Nan Golden (ph) is not giving up. Nor
are the 300 parents we had out there on Friday.
And they're doing what's right. The Justice's Department's job is to make sure the law has been followed. Purdue Pharma is recidivist criminals. They
have been found guilty in '07 and again in 2020 and now they're skating out through some loophole of the bankruptcy.
And they're going to come out richer than they were. And that is just not right. It's so simple, if you just lay out the facts and look at them.
SREENIVASAN: Beth Macy. Ed Bisch, thank you both for joining us.
MACY: Thank you so much, Hari.
AMANPOUR: And we reached out to the Department of Justice.
And they said, quote, "As a general matter, the department does not confirm, deny or otherwise comment on the existence or non-existence of
investigations, criminal, civil or otherwise. We decline to comment further."
We also reached out to attorneys for the Sackler family and we've not received a response. Last year, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to three
felony offenses, saying the company is taking responsibility for past misconduct.
In a court filing, a lawyer for the family says there is no evidence to support the idea that the Sacklers abused the bankruptcy system.
The Sackler family has apologized for OxyContin's role in the opioid epidemic and the suffering caused. No criminal charges have ever been filed
against the Sacklers.
That is it for now. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.