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Boris Johnson in Crisis?; Interview With Author Ann Patchett; Interview With U.S. Special Envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar; Interview with Former U.S. Treasurer Secretary Lawrence Summers. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 17, 2021 - 13:00 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): A fragile piece in peril. With Serbs threatening to unravel the Bosnian state, I ask America's special envoy for the region,
Gabriel Escobar, about the worldwide fallout.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Boris Johnson, the party's over.
AMANPOUR: A crisis of trust in Britain's Prime Minister. Boris Johnson suffers a key election defeat amid accusations he broke lockdown rules and
the staggering COVID surge. Is support for the P.M. going cold?
Plus, "These Precious Days," award-winning author Ann Patchett's deeply personal reflection what it all means.
LAWRENCE SUMMERS, FORMER DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: This is a moment for everybody to be risk-aware.
AMANPOUR: Inflation accelerates in the U.S., like around the world. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers gives his take on righting the ship.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
And we begin tonight with a check on peace and democracy and a major threat to the survival of the Bosnian state in the Balkans. Its Serb Parliament
has voted to start pulling out of key joint institutions, like the military, judiciary and the tax system. Since the end of the war and the
U.S.-brokered Dayton accords in 1995, Bosnia has been divided into two semiautonomous regions that are linked by a three person presidency.
And the Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, is stepping up his campaign to secede all together. The Bosnian war in the 1990s was a major humanitarian and
geopolitical disaster for the region and for the West. And, surely, the United States and Europe don't want to repeat the same mistakes a whole
Gabriel Escobar is the U.S. special envoy for the Western Balkans, and he's met with the Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, last week. He's joining me now
Mr. Escobar, welcome to the program.
You have met him a couple of times, most recently last week. Tell me first and tell our viewers why this matters to the United States. Why are you
deployed with such urgency to this task?
GABRIEL ESCOBAR, U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY FOR THE WESTERN BALKANS: Well, Christiane, to begin with, to understand the current crisis, it's important
to understand some of the context within which it's happening.
If you look at the story of the former Yugoslavia, the seven -- of the seven countries, two are members of the European Union, four are members of
NATO, and most of them are enjoying tremendous economic success.
If you look at the Western Balkan states, that's the six countries of the Balkans that are not members of the European Union, four are making good
progress toward European Union membership. In all of this, Bosnia is a complete outlier. It is -- its corruption is the worst in Europe, with the
exception of Belarus and Azerbaijan.
It has 10 times the youth emigration that Serbia does. It has so much negative foreign direct investment that its public sector is now 70 percent
of the economy. And this is all being driven by deep-rooted corruption. People are leaving the country not because they don't want to live in a
multiethnic state, but because they cannot get jobs without corrupt connections.
This is a context in which the current crisis, which is masked as an ethnic crisis, is occurring. But you're right. There are some real threats to
Dayton, most of them coming from Milorad Dodik. So, if our efforts in Bosnia fail, it will put into question all of the success that the region
is enjoying right now.
AMANPOUR: So, Mr. Escobar, the United States, obviously, belatedly, of course, in 1995 did get a coalition together to reverse the Bosnian Serb
gains, and indeed their mission, which was a greater Serbia, which was, as we call it, ethnic cleansing, which was genocide, as it was determined at
the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
So, with all this investment that you have made, is it a question of being distracted, taking your eye off the ball? Why has it descended into what
you describe as the most corrupt and dysfunctional of all the states?
I know, you pointed at Milorad Dodik, but why has this happened?
ESCOBAR: Well, if I had to point to one overarching problem, it has been the lack of a European perspective.
I think it is the promise of European integration that would have forestalled some of this. Now, I'm not saying it's the end-all and be-all.
But I think we have to bring back a European perspective to the region. And this is important.
Every country that has joined the European Union is more prosperous, more democratic and more stable than ever before. This is what we want for the
Balkans. This is the cornerstone of our policy. So we have been working with our European allies to bring that promise back to the Western Balkans.
And, as you have seen, with Serbia, opening up new clusters, with greater involvement in Montenegro, and real prospects for Albania and North
Macedonia, we are bringing that back.
AMANPOUR: So what can you do? And is it part of your mission to stave off total disaster in Bosnia, to get the parties involved, but also the
European Union, to revisit its idea of a Bosnia accession?
ESCOBAR: Well, I have to start by saying that we are completely unified with our European partners on this.
So, yes, so there's a multipart diplomatic effort. The first, as you mentioned, is going to involve having Milorad Dodik step away from
unraveling any more of the central institutions, which is really stabbing at the heart, hitting at the heart of Dayton.
The second is to bring Serbs back into the central institutions, but make those central institutions work for all of the people of Bosnia and
Herzegovina, be they Croat, Bosniak, Serb, or other, and make those institutions work.
From there, we'd like to focus on electoral reform and limited constitutional reform to make the country better able to reach political
AMANPOUR: So, the new German foreign minister has said out and out just recently that the heaviest hammer of sanctions needs to be triggered right
now against Dodik.
How will you get him, as you just said you wanted, to pull back from threatening to pull out of the army, the joint tax, the joint judiciary?
ESCOBAR: Well, first of all, that is very true.
We're encouraging all of our partners, that is, U.K., European Union, bilateral partners, to start looking at sticks, in addition to carrots.
That is not just sanctions, but additional financial measures that will compel people to step away from the brink and compel them to respect the
AMANPOUR: So, I wanted to play for you a little bit of an interview I did with Haris Silajdzic, somebody who will be very well-known to you, who was
chairman of the presidency, and during the war which we covered was the most eloquent moral voice about how the West had abandoned Bosnia to these
genocidal forces perpetrated by the Bosnian Serbs.
He said he feels that it's a repeat of those early '90s, just with a few more diplomatic smiles. This is what he told me last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARIS SILAJDZIC, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE PRESIDENCY, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: The international community has reacted, but rather slowly, and with only a
We need action here. We need to protect Bosnia-Herzegovina and the region from the new war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Mr. Escobar, I don't need to remind you because you're right there doing the work, but it was when the West took his eye off the ball
that all this disaster happened in Bosnia during the 1990s.
Does he have a point that it is close to a repeat of those years or it could sink into that, especially since Milorad Dodik himself has said he
doesn't see Bosnia surviving? Do you agree with that?
ESCOBAR: I don't agree with that at all.
First of all, this is not 1991. There is now a U.N. Security Council mandate for peacekeeping. And we do have a European force mission in the
region. We have a high representative with a range of tools to be able to stop political actors from taking further de-escalating actions.
There is a commitment from both Croatia and Serbia, both of whom are signatories, not to have a war. So, on top of that, we don't see the
capacity, to be honest, of any of the institutions to be able to wage war.
I -- in talking with young people, there is no will to protect Milorad Dodik under these conditions.
AMANPOUR: How -- and, certainly, the opposition has spoken out.
And it's interesting that his very nationalistic conversation is happening as he faces a very tough election coming up next year. I wonder, though,
how seriously or how concerned you are by his constant sort of denigration of the idea that there was genocide, certainly in Srebrenica, and how
corrosive that is to the current political -- the fact that he and his element still deny what happened, certainly in Srebrenica and around that
I spoke to one of the victims in Srebrenica. He survived, but he was on the verge of being killed. And he ended up being a witness in the genocide
trials in The Hague. This is what he told me about Mladic and the Serb agenda as they were -- the Muslims are trying to flee Srebrenica.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We stopped there.
One Serb pushed me and said, get out. He ordered me to stand near the dead people. So I did. Others stood behind me in rows. The Serbs said, don't
look around. Then I heard a lot of shooting and bodies fell on top of me. They were the people standing behind me. I fell too.
If anyone showed signs of life, or if they heard anyone moan, they said, oh, tell us where you are. Where are you? Then they killed him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: How much fear is there that there could be another whole-scale - - wholesale bloodletting there?
ESCOBAR: Well, as I said before, we have mechanisms in place that would prevent that.
So I don't really think that there would be another wholesale...
AMANPOUR: Like what? Sorry. Like what, Mr. Escobar?
There's no force, there's no force that at least certainly international observers don't think could stand up if there was a sudden incursion from
the Bosnian Serbs.
ESCOBAR: There is. There's a European force. And the peacekeeping mandate also extends to NATO. There's a NATO presence in Bosnia.
And, also, Bosnia-Herzegovina is -- we are a partner in Dayton. We are going to make sure that it continues to survive and thrive. We're going to
try to make it thrive. But there is absolute political will not to allow that to happen again.
But I have to go back to my earlier point. Now, the current crisis is a crisis of dysfunction and corruption masked in ethnic language. So, what
Milorad Dodik is looking to do is not really independence for Bosnian Serbs. What he's trying to do is, he's trying to protect his corruption by
eliminating any federal structures that would look into that.
He doesn't want federal regulators, federal courts, or a constitutional court looking at it, which is why he constantly says that he supports the
territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. What he doesn't support is a federal structure that could impede on his corruption.
Now, if you know Milorad Dodik, and I know that you do, in the very beginning, he was very pro-Dayton. He was very pro-U.S., pro E.U., pro-high
representative. And he, in fact, was one of the leaders that helped SFOR more people suspected of war crimes than anybody else in the region.
What's different is now he's deeply corrupt, and he's looking for a way to continue that.
AMANPOUR: You certainly have your work cut out for you.
Gabriel Escobar, thank you so much, indeed, for joining me.
ESCOBAR: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: Now, Britain has usually been a reliable partner in matters ranging from the Balkans all the way to Afghanistan, but it is fair to say
that its influence is diminished post-Brexit and its attention right now is distracted amid a cascade of crises here at home.
On top of Partygate and a major COVID surge, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Tories have now suffered a crushing defeat in a local election. Losing this
sure parliamentary seat last night for the first time ever is testing public faith in the Johnson administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I hear what the voters are saying in North Shropshire.
And in all humility, I have got to accept that verdict.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: But what's the plan to get out of it?
Joining me now to discuss the sudden collapse of Johnson's political fortunes, "The New York Times" London bureau chief, Mark Landler.
And welcome back to the program, Mark.
You have been writing a lot about this. Again, what, in a nutshell, makes this an interesting story beyond the U.K. and a story that the U.S. and
others need to focus on?
MARK LANDLER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think Christiane, as you said a moment ago, the U.K., despite its diminished state, is still a very
important NATO member. If there's going to be a conflict in Ukraine, the U.K.'s support will be vital for Western solidarity.
They're a major trading partner, and they're still one of our closest allies in terms of democratic values, certainly critical to President
Biden's effort to assemble a coalition of democratic countries.
So, politics here does resonate beyond the shores of the U.K. And what's just been surprising is how a prime minister who, after all, won an 80-seat
landslide victory only a little over two years ago now looks like he might be facing an actual challenge to his leadership.
It's a reversal of fortune that's really quite striking, and one that has broad international ramifications.
AMANPOUR: So we're going to dig deep into the domestic with you, but the broad international ramifications,I mean, I guess you would agree that we
already saw with the whistle-blower's testimony about Afghanistan how a totally distracted and apparently uninterested Johnson government did not
react to the fall of Kabul and was unable to bring out all the people who had requested help, having helped the Brits and NATO throughout the last 20
So it's having real-world impact right now.
LANDLER: Yes, that's right.
I mean, Britain has been so consumed with the aftermath of Brexit and trying to shape its identity, its post-Brexit identity, that has actually
been very preoccupied.
And on issues like Afghanistan, as you say, consumed by other things, on issues like Ukraine, it was the host of the United Nations climate summit
about a month ago in Scotland. And yet Boris Johnson found himself again consumed and preoccupied by domestic political scandal, when he might
otherwise have been trying to rally countries around emissions reductions.
So things that happen in Britain do have broader ramifications. But Britain these days is an extremely inward-looking country.
AMANPOUR: So, that political scandal that you're talking about after COP is what led to the resignation of this M.P. and therefore this local
election that we have just been mentioning that his party lost by a massive swing, some 34 percent, to the Liberal Democrat, a sure Tory seat for as
long as that seat has been a seat.
This is what the Liberal Democrat victor, the person who won last night, Helen Morgan, said.
Indeed, I'm going to read out what she said: "Tonight, the people of North Shropshire have said enough is enough. They have said that you're unfit to
lead and that they want a change."
Do you think that was right, Mark? Is this a referendum on Boris Johnson? Because one thing the world will know is that he's kind of always managed
to be an election winner. They -- that's the sort of legend around him. Does this start sort of poking holes in that legend, that myth?
LANDLER: Well, indeed, you're right. His currency as a politician is not so much ideology or a legislative agenda. It's really about his ability to
He's a proven winner. He's done it time and again, and most recently in 2019. The fact that you have seen a very safe Conservative seat now go to
the hands of the Liberal Democrats will raise, I think, fairly profound questions on the part of Conservative lawmakers, particularly because, in
this case, we saw what's called tactical voting, where some Labor Party supporters voted for the Liberal Democrat precisely because they thought
she had the best chance of defeating the Tories.
So, really, this was very much an anti-Johnson, anti-Tory vote. And if some of that tactical voting were translated on the national landscape,
political analysts figure that the Conservatives could be in real trouble in the next general election.
And for Boris Johnson, that's very dangerous, because the reason he is in charge, the reason he's prime minister is not because the party necessarily
subscribes to his ideology. It's because they believe he's a winner. Once he's proven not to be a winner, all bets are off, as is even his hold on
the party leadership.
AMANPOUR: And yet, and yet, and yet, just like Barack Obama suffered in the midterms of 2010, this could just be a protest vote.
Let's just play what Barack Obama said after that drubbing in the midterms back then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, I'm not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like
they -- like I did last night.
OBAMA: I'm sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, a shellacking, but he came back to win reelection, obviously, two years later.
Can you compare the two at all? Could you say this is a protest vote, but the Conservatives will come back when it comes to a general election? Or is
there a lot that's happening all at once, and that this sort of departure of trust and certainly the polls is something more serious?
LANDLER: Well, Christiane, I was actually there when President Obama talked about taking that shellacking, and then I covered his rebound. So
you're absolutely right. It's a very good analogy on one level, which is to say a lot of things went wrong for President Obama in that case.
I think Boris Johnson, likewise, could pull off another comeback if the vaccine booster program, for example, is successful, if he gets through
this wave of Omicron infections that is now engulfing the country. He could perhaps stage a comeback. He was able to do that earlier this year with a
very fast rollout of vaccines.
And it is also fair to say that Boris Johnson is, in the words of many, a political Houdini. He's done it before. I think the difference here is,
there's a sense that this is a government that's not particularly competent. He hasn't surrounded himself with particularly effective
advisers or ministers. So, at a minimum, he needs to do a very big reset.
And there's some skepticism, honestly, that he's going to be able to reset his government sufficiently to turn around his performance. And, again, I
figure he probably has six months, eight months to do that before you get close enough to the next general election that people within the
Conservative Party just to start to make very difficult calculations.
Is this the guy we want to take us into the next election? He needs to turn his fortunes around before people really start asking that question.
AMANPOUR: Let's just take a little level deeper as to what kind of a prime minister, what kind of policies is he all about?
Very reliable pro-Boris, pro-Tory newspapers and columnists have said things like, for instance, a recent one said -- and compared him to Richard
Nixon, accused him of lying consistently.
Another observer, Tom McTague, who's a staff writer at "The Atlantic," says he's been one of the most consequential prime ministers in British history.
"But none of this is to say Johnson is a good prime minister. Not even his closest allies would suggest that right now, merely an important one."
Can you kind of put that round peg into a square hole, so to speak, or vice versa, that he is consequential, but not necessarily good?
LANDLER: Well, I think I think the important thing to remember about the way that Boris Johnson won his landslide victory in 2019 was, he made a
very simple, but very alluring promise to the British people, which is that after three-and-a-half, four years of endless debate and fractiousness over
Brexit, he was going to -- quote -- "get Brexit done."
He was going to put this issue behind Britain, he was going to move Britain into whatever the next phase of its history was. The electorate really
responded to that. They gave him an 80-seat majority. He really trounced the Labor Party, and show that he's a master of sloganeering. He shows that
he has a very good grasp, an intuitive grasp of what the electorate wanted.
The problem is, having delivered on that, having gotten Brexit done, he now needs to define what the post-Brexit reality is for the country. And that's
a very difficult job to do. It's difficult because Britain's less important internationally. It's difficult because Brexit has left a lot of unfinished
business domestically, a very difficult relationship with the European Union.
And so, as Boris Johnson has pivoted from the politician to the leader, I think he's found it very difficult to put flesh on the bones of getting
Brexit done. He talks about this very ambitious strategy called leveling up, where he would bring the economically disadvantaged northern part of
the country more in line with a prosperous south.
That's something that he has perhaps made the centerpiece of his legislative agenda. But, as yet, there's very little definition. There's
very little sense of what that actually means in reality. And I think, as time goes on, the pandemic continues to exhaust people -- remember,
Britain's had a very bad pandemic relative to some other countries -- I think voters are starting to say, well, he got Brexit done, but is he
really the guy to take us into the next stage?
And I think, for the first time in his premiership, we're really seeing people question within his own party whether he's the right man for the
job. You can be a great politician. It doesn't didn't necessarily make you a great leader.
And I think that's what we are witnessing in Britain at the moment.
AMANPOUR: And it is actually incredible to hear what the voters said about -- they say that it's really this video that was leaked about making fun of
these parties in Downing Street and figuring out how Downing Street could cover them up that just really have made them very upset right now.
As you say, we will see whether he's still Houdini in the future.
Mark Landler, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.
And now, from grand political dramas to some intimate reflections next with author Ann Patchett. The novelist behind "Bel Canto" and "The Dutch House"
has written a new book of essays. "These Precious Days" is a collection which covers everything from knitting to death.
And Ann Patchett me now from Nashville, Tennessee.
Ann Patchett, welcome to the program.
Let me just start. It sounds extraordinary for me to say that it covers everything from knitting to death, but it actually does. You have essays on
so many important and mundane issues. What makes a good essay? What makes something that's not just a good dinnertime story?
ANN PATCHETT, AUTHOR, "THESE PRECIOUS DAYS": I think that it's when you can take the personal and the personal then takes a jump to the universal.
So, to me, a good essay is when I'm writing about something very specific that happened in my life that wouldn't have any particular connection, and
yet it jumps forward.
I think about the essay in this book called "Flight Plan," which is about the fact that my husband has been flying since he was 10 years old. And
it's a little nerve-wracking to me, as the wife. That's a circumstance that most people don't find themselves in. But it becomes an essay about
marriage, or really any relationship where there may be something that the person that you really love is doing that makes you uncomfortable, but you
don't get to pick them apart and decide they're allowed to do this, or they're not allowed to do that.
So, in my mind, that's what makes a good essay.
AMANPOUR: And this book is full of them. And it really is so, so interesting, and it's got quite a lot of amazing commentary around it now.
And there's, as I say, so many different stories. But you did also -- I mean, here we are in the middle of the pandemic. You're promoting it from
your book shop area, I think, in Nashville, Tennessee.
PATCHETT: Yes. Yes.
AMANPOUR: You have not been able to get on a plane and go and promote it.
Is that a good or a bad thing? Do you miss not being able to go out and promote? Or are you happy to engage virtually?
PATCHETT: It's so good. It's so good.
If I never get on a plane or sleep in a Marriott again, my life will be better for it. It's wonderful, it's a privilege to go out and meet readers.
I have been doing it for 30 years. And now it is really just a privilege to stay home.
I remember, at the very beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci said no nonessential travel. And that sentence has stuck in my mind. I don't think
I have ever taken an essential trip in my entire life. So the idea that I can conduct my work from the city where I live is brilliant.
AMANPOUR: And also, obviously, I mean, as an aside, as a good byproduct, you will be helping the climate by not getting on a plane.
However, let's move on...
PATCHETT: Isn't the truth?
AMANPOUR: ... to the idea of why you decided to write the essays -- yes, it is. It is. It's true. So, that's a good thing.
PATCHETT: I think about that all the time.
AMANPOUR: You didn't write a novel -- yes. Good. Well, I'm glad. I mean, it's good.
You have said that those -- the pandemic affected various different writers in different ways. I think you said that those who are already enmeshed and
really in the midst of meaty work and -- had no problem carrying on. But those perhaps like you, who were thinking, what was the next project, you
didn't do a novel.
You decided, you came to the conclusion that you would do a book of essays.
Take me through that process. Was it really something that you had to decide what to do in this moment, or that was coming anyway?
PATCHETT: It's interesting.
I was talking to Amor Towles about this. He's a friend of mine. And I was saying to him, "How is your pandemic?" because he was right in the middle
of writing "The Lincoln Highway" when the pandemic started. And he was just in it, and he just kept going to work every day, whereas I was at the very
beginning of a novel, and the world felt so uncertain.
I couldn't imagine starting a big project. And I also couldn't imagine writing fiction at that moment, when the whole world seemed like fiction.
It wasn't that I set out to write a book of essays. It was just that I would wake up in the morning in my house thinking, OK, well, what am I
going to do today?
I was in the middle of the book tour for "The Dutch House." And the second half of the tour got cancelled. And I would think, well, I'm going to write
about what's going on in my house, about what's going on in my life and I would write one essay and then another and another. And the idea that it
turned into a book came much later in the process.
AMANPOUR: So, you introduced the book with a particular insight and it's pretty dramatic. And we've asked you to pick a passage from that and read
it for us.
PATCHETT: Yes. So -- and I'm talking about just this thing, that when I'm writing a novel, I worry that I'm going to die. And because if I'm in the
middle of a novel and I get hit by a car, then the whole novel goes with me. But if you're writing non-fiction, it is different.
So, were I to abruptly exit in the middle of writing an essay, there would be someone around who, with a certain amount of research, could bring it to
conclusion. They may not write the book in the way I would have, but the same facts would be available to them or maybe the facts themselves were
the problem. Imagine can be killed but facts are infinitely harder to snuff out.
I know it might not seem this way. Time works tirelessly to erase facts. This country works tirelessly. But facts have a way of popping up. Their
buoyant truth shining all the more brightly with time. Maybe that was why death wasn't interested in essays. Essays don't die. I decided to go all
AMANPOUR: It's really remarkable piece of writing and observation actually, and there's so many threads in there that one could pick up. And
I guess want to pick up on the issue of death itself, because, you know, "These Precious Days," which you call the book is also the title of the
story. And your account of a sudden unusual friendship with a lady by the name of Sooki Raphael. And she was the personal assistant of the great
actor, Tom Hanks. And she entered your life in a way that you possibly would never have imagined.
Just tell us about that story, how Sooki came into your life, how you and your husband, Karl, really sort of gave her so much and how she returned.
PATCHETT: So, Sooki and I met when I was interviewing Tom Hanks in Washington, D.C. when his collection of short stories, "Uncommon Type,"
came out. I met Sookie for just a few minutes backstage while I was meeting Tom Hanks, actually. And I thought she was just mesmerizing. Do you know
how sometimes you just meet someone and think, oh, I really wish I knew you?
But Tom and I wound up staying in touch because of bookstore business and then he did the audio for "The Dutch House." Sooki was arranging his
schedule. We would be in touch every now and then. And we formed a little friendship over e-mail. And over the two years that we were corresponding,
and then, maybe once a month, so irregularly, I then found out she had pancreatic cancer, she had a Whipple procedure, chemo and radiation, was
pronounced cancer free, had a reoccurrence and was trying to get into a clinical trial very quickly.
And I asked my husband about it and he said, send me her files. I'll see if I can get her into a trial here. So, she came to Nashville to spend 10 days
or two weeks with us, and then she was going to go back to Los Angeles. The trial was going to start at UCLA. But when she came out here, the pandemic
hit. The trial at UCLA was cancelled, as so many clinical trials were cancelled because hospitals were focusing on COVID. Flights were cancelled.
And she was ship wrecked, in a sense, with us.
And we were more or less, strangers. We had met for 10 minutes, two years before. And there were some e-mails in between. My husband was suddenly
doing telemedicine at home, Sooki was painting around the clock because all her life all she had ever wanted was time to paint. And I thought, well, I
better get to work too. So, I was upstairs writing.
And there we were, three adults. Just in a house together, having the most wonderful time. And both because of pancreatic cancer and the pandemic and
the spring in which there were so many tornadoes in Nashville, we were very aware of death and we were very aware of how beautiful life was, and how
special it was to get to spend this time together.
AMANPOUR: It's remarkably affecting. And, of course, goes to the heart of friendships, planned or unplanned. But you also have amazing story about
your fathers. You essentially -- you know, in fact, if I could put it this way, had three fathers. Your birth father and then, you know, your mother
married twice again.
And your actual birth father, he, you know -- I don't know whether it was a joke, but he didn't really encourage you to be a writer. He thought you
should be a dental hygienist. And then, one of your stepfathers, it turned out there was a sort of competition because he wished he could have been
the writer that you, his stepdaughter, was and are. Tell me a little bit about that dynamic.
PATCHETT: Sure. Well, you know, my father was such a smart interesting man and he loved literature and he loved my writing, but he also grew up in a
very, very poor family. His parents came from England to find work in Los Angeles during the depression. He was the first of the seven children in
the family to be born in this country. His father, ultimately, was the janitor at the "L.A. Times." His mom worked -- these are my grandparents,
worked at the lunchroom in the "L.A. Times."
So, when I said, as a college student, as a high school student, hey, dad, I'm going to be a writer, my father wanted more safety for me. It wasn't
that he was trying to crush my artistic intentions, he didn't want me to be poor. And when my mother later married my stepfather, who was a surgeon, he
just wanted to be a writer, he wanted to be novelist. And so, he was always pushing me to be a writer.
It was like my father wanted me to be more like him, my stepfather wanted to be more like me. And then, my mother's third husband was just as
incredibly sweet easy going accepting guy who didn't care what I did for a living. He just wanted me to be happy.
So, it's just a little bit like sleeping beauty being visited by the three graces. They each gave me a tremendous gift. My father made me very tough,
very strong, not reliant on approval. My stepfather gave me unconditional love and my mother's third husband just gave me peace. Yes.
AMANPOUR: That is just beautiful.
PATCHETT: Yes, it was.
AMANPOUR: What a lovely way to end this conversation. We could go on for a lot longer. Yes. "These Precious Days," Ann Patchett, thank you for being
PATCHETT: I really appreciate your time.
AMANPOUR: Now, the public health battle against Omicron is growing up -- is coming up against the economic cost. Like in many countries, inflation
in the United States is gathering steam and hitting people hard with rising food and housing and gas prices.
Walter Isaacson has been speaking to Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers about how to write this ship.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Professor Larry Summers, welcome to the show.
LAWRENCE SUMMERS, FORMER U.S. TREASURER SECRETARY: Good to be with you, Walter.
ISAACSON: So, you've been warning for a really long time that we're going to get hit by inflation. And the fed kind of ignored you until this week
when it decided it's going to raise interest rates, maybe three times next year. Quit buying bonds. Is this too little, too late that they're doing?
SUMMERS: It's probably the beginning of a process, Walter. If you look at it, real interest rates are now 2 percentage points lower than they were at
the beginning of the year, even as unemployment is falling fast and inflation has risen rapidly, and they're talking about an increase of three
quarters of a percentage point in rates next year.
I think they're going to have, over time, have to do considerably more, and it's a very delicate process once you have excessive inflation. The
historical experience has been that it's pretty difficult to contain inflation while at the same time engineering a soft landing for the
economy. So, because things have reached this point, they've got a very difficult challenge ahead of them. Not made any easier by the fairly
significant degree of fraught that we're seeing in financial markets.
ISAACSON: So, tell me. What are the underlying causes right now of the inflation?
SUMMERS: There's one overwhelming cause. And that is that we took an economy that had a shortfall of demand of perhaps 2 percent 30ror 3 percent
of GDP in 2021, and we put 10 percent to 15 percent of GDP worth of demand into it. And so, the consequence was high demand, limited supply pushing
the level of prices up and causing inflation.
ISAACSON: You're talking about the federal spending?
SUMMERS: I'm talking about the federal spending along with the $2.8 trillion that Congress appropriated, largely in the form of transfer
payments of various kinds to non-poor households and to state and local governments.
ISAACSON: So, was that a mistake?
SUMMERS: The size of it was a big mistake, yes. As I warned at the time, we spent a huge amount of money just as households were unprecedentedly
flush because of all the savings they had generated involuntarily because you couldn't take a vacation or go to a restaurant during 2020. On top of
that, you had the fed buying bonds on a massive scale and you had the fed keeping interest rates at zero.
And so, when you floor the car, you go fast, and it feels good. But you're raising the risk of accidents, and that's where we are now with inflation
arousing so much concern.
ISAACSON: So, does that mean you fear that this new build back better reconciliation bill might have too much spending in it and it might
exacerbate this problem?
SUMMERS: Walter, I'm supporting the bill. I think it could be improved in some ways I could describe but I'm supporting it. The spending in it, over
10 years, is smaller than last year's spending was by a substantial margin.
Moreover, unlike last year's bill, the spending is financed with tax increases. Finally, this spending has substantial elements that will raise
the supply potential of the economy that are investing in the country's future. Whereas, the vast majority of the earlier spending represented
ISAACSON: One of the components of inflation right now is the employment cost index. Is that actually a good thing that maybe employment costs are
SUMMERS: It's good that workers are empowered, but when you see shortages of labor that are unsustainable. And as a consequence, you see shortages of
products that lead to product price inflation, the truth is that during this period of employment cost indices, real wages have done less well than
they have done in the proceeding years. It's a little bit hard to tell because when you look at average wages, it's all affected by who is getting
jobs and who isn't getting jobs.
But the historical experience is certainly that turning economies into inflationary economies, as we did in the 1960s and 1970s, as has happened
many, many times in Latin America, as happened in Britain, under progressive governments, inflation is not a friend of the middle class.
You're seeing that in the huge public response. We're seeing to the inflation that we have generated.
ISAACSON: When I'm looking at inflation, one of the things I see is a 50 percent rise in things like gas prices, you know, gasoline prices at the
pump, even probably home heating oil. Is that because of overstimulation that you've talked about or have we laid in so many regulations now that
we're getting a real problem with energy prices?
SUMMERS: I think it's all of the above. It's related to the stimulus. It's related to the, as you say, to regulations. I think it's probably even more
related to the fact that over a long time period, Walter, there's been a tendency in good times for the oil industry to over invest and then, to
lose a lot of money when prices come down.
And investors today are insisting that oil companies don't do that. And that's meaning less supply of oil. Of course, that's reinforced by the
whole anti-fossil fuel ESG movement. But I think there's a fair amount that's just coming from the economics. It's also related to geopolitical
developments in the Middle East and in other places.
ISAACSON: What do you think the probability is of a recession in the next two years?
SUMMERS: I think it's probably a recession beginning in the next two years that we might not recognize at the time. I think it's in the one-third to
40 percent range, given the rather delicate operation of containing inflation in which the fed is going to be engaged.
ISAACSON: And in order to prevent that, would you go back to a policy of looser money or even lower rates?
SUMMERS: I think you have to time things right and they're going to find, they're walking on a very narrow ledge and I just think we just have to
hope that they get it right. I think we need to be prepared if we do find ourselves in recession, in a position to fiscally stimulate the economy and
we'll need -- I hope that there are contingency plans somewhere in the government to be able to do that fairly rapidly. And -- but I think that
it's a difficult balance.
I also think that we need to be very careful about our situation in the financial markets. If you look at crypto, if you look at meme stocks, if
you look at a variety of tech start-ups, if you look at things that are going on in some parts of the housing market, valuations look pretty
elevated. That means there's room for there to be a sharp decline. So, this is a moment when regulators need to be vigilant. People don't make bad
loans and in bad times. People make bad loans in good times. And this is a moment for everybody to be risk aware.
ISAACSON: You say you're worried that we're overheating the economy. What's wrong with that? In a period like this with so uncertainty,
shouldn't we overheat the economy?
SUMMERS: The evidence is that when we say the economy is overheated, what we mean is that it's on a path that is not sustainable. It's on a path
that's going to lead to bubbles in financial markets. It's on a path that's going to lead not to higher inflation, but to constantly rising inflation.
And then, you're going to have to hit the brakes and that's very difficult to do in a controlled way. And the people who are the greatest victims,
when you do, are the people who are most concerned to try to help.
This is the interest theory. This is the experience of what happened in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. Culminating in the Volcker
recession and the election of Ronald Reagan. This is what happened in Britain culminating in the election of Margaret Thatcher. This is a very
extreme form, very different than what we've seen in the United States has been the fairly constant experience of Latin American populism. You spend
and it feels good. But then, you create a variety of kinds of imbalances, debts, unsustainabilities and total paying is less.
If I thought that we could maximize employment and workers incomes, on average over the next five to 10 years by overheating the economy, I would
be for it. I'm not for overheating the economy because I think, ultimately, the consequences in terms of inflation and the response to inflation will
work to hurt the people that are most in need of help.
Many try to moralize this argument. This is not a moral argument any more than figuring out how to build a bridge so that it actually stays up is a
moral argument with an engineer. This is an argument about how the system works and the path of overheating and enjoy it like the path of binging on
chocolate cake is not a path that has had happy results historically.
ISAACSON: One of the problems is COVID and it's been an international problem. Do you think we have the global mechanisms in place in order to
fight pandemics like this?
SUMMERS: No, we are under resourced, we are underorganized and we're under executing on a huge issue. One of the terrible things about Omicron in
addition to all the consequences it's going to have is that it teaches us that there's a much wider range of mutations possible than we had
previously imagined. The means, this could be with for really quite a long time.
Keynes wrote a classic book about the period after World War I called "The Economic Consequences of the Peace," about how Versailles set the stage for
the Second World War. My fear is that somebody will write a book about this moment called "The Economic Consequences of the Dinner." We should be
committing far more resources than we currently are around this issue.
We should be doing much more to organize the effective delivery of vaccines. We should be doing much more genomic surveillance all over the
world so that when things come all we can catch them quickly. Testing two years in is still not widely enough available. And the various
international groups that work on health care are still having turf fights.
So, I would have to say this has not been the success of multilateralism that one might have hoped that it would be.
ISAACSON: Let me ask you just a broad philosophical question. People like yourself, and I'll say people like me, for many years in the '80s and '90s
bought into what I'll call the Davos, Washington maybe Aspen Institute consensus that globalization was a great thing, that low tariffs were a
good thing, that being able to outsource jobs was all right and that automation was good.
And then, there's been a populous backlash around the world against immigration, free trade, those type of things that may have increased the
economy but hurt average people. Have you rethought that general support of globalization, low tariffs, free trade, immigration, automation?
SUMMERS: I think the broad directions are right. I think the broad directions have produced incredible improvements in standards of living for
humanity, and that's where the conversation needs to begin. Should there be a set of complementary policies alongside that probably were
underemphasized? Yes, I certainly think there should be.
I think the most important thing that Biden administration has successfully done in the last year was probably the global -- certainly, in the
international arena, was certainly its moves on global corporate tax cooperation that are important in a technical tax sense and raise revenue.
But more fundamentally, stands to the principle that international negotiation can be for the interest of working people, not for the
interests of those who gather in Davos.
And in a whole set of regulatory areas, we're going to need much more of that kind of international cooperation to make sure that global integration
doesn't come with global disintegration.
But, Walter, I think there's always a tendency to dissatisfaction. And I think if one looks at the historical record of populous nationalist
policies, of (INAUDIBLE) policies to try to stop technology, that is a pretty dismal historical record.
And so, to offer, as the antidote to globalization, some kind of populist anti-globalization, I think is a very dangerous mistake. To answer the
credits with humane reform is, I think, the much better approach.
AMANPOUR: Professor Larry Summers, thank you so much for joining us.
SUMMERS: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, tonight, time for something completely different. In Australia, pop stars are facing some unusual competition at the top of
the charts. A chorus of these endangered birds is at number five right now, beating the likes of ABBA, Michael Buble and Justin Bieber.
"Songs of Disappearance" features 53 native species and it aims to raise awareness of their vanishing beauty. So, let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I love bird songs. And that's it for now. Remember, you can catch us online, and if you ever miss our show, you can find the latest
episodes shortly after it airs on our podcast. You can find it at cnn.com/podcast and all major podcast platforms. Just search for
Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.