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Interview With Conductor Marin Alsop; Interview With Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired January 24, 2022 - 13:00:00   ET




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HAMID KARZAI, FORMER PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: I can tell you that the need is there. And whatever the intensity of that need or wherever the

depth of that need, international assistance is welcome.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): With millions of Afghans on the brink of starvation, is it time for the world to work with the Taliban? I speak to

the former President Hamid Karzai in an exclusive interview from Kabul.

Then: shattering the glass ceiling with the sound of music. I'm joined by the first woman ever to lead a major American orchestra, the legendary

Marin Alsop, and the new documentary "The Conductor."


MATTHEW CORTLAND, SENIOR FELLOW, DATA FOR PROGRESS: The weight of the tragedy is just so heavy.

The terrifying reality of the pandemic for the immunocompromised and the disabled, and why they feel abandoned by the Biden administration.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in New York.

Global attention is firmly focused on the threat of war in Europe right now, as the West fears that Russia might invade Ukraine.

Just a few months ago, the eyes of the world were on Afghanistan, those infamous scenes, as America and its allies ended their 20-year war there.

But now attention is drifting away, just as the U.N. fears the country is on the brink of mass starvation, and it's making an urgent appeal for

billions of dollars for humanitarian aid. Since the Taliban takeover in August, the West has frozen the nation's assets, cut it off from the

international financial system and imposed sanctions.

Now, for the first time, a Taliban delegation has traveled to meet representatives from the United States and other powers in Oslo, Norway,

top of the agenda, the rights of women, which the Taliban promises to address.


SHAFIULLAH AZAM, TALIBAN DELEGATE: We believe on their roles, but every country has their own culture, and based on their laws, based on the

religious values. No one can deny from their rights, absolutely. Afghan government is trying to provide the type of environment for them, and they

will take a part in rebuilding of the country.


AMANPOUR: Now, these same promises have been made since they took over.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai joined me for an exclusive interview about how to deal with the Taliban and how to try to save Afghan lives.


AMANPOUR: President Karzai, welcome to the program.

KARZAI: Happy to be with you.

AMANPOUR: President Karzai, health and aid and U.N. organizations are saying that half the population face severe malnutrition and hunger, and

that, really, the U.N. even said potentially a million children could die this winter if a does not come and if help is not given to the country.

What do you -- what's your reaction to that?

KARZAI: Well, I hope all that doesn't happen. Very much, we want all Afghan children to live and be healthy and be fed.

And if there is any need in Afghanistan to address the hunger of children or the malnourished mothers, if there are any, the sooner the better to be


I can tell you that the need is there. And whatever the intensity of that need or wherever the depth of that need, international assistance is


AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, because this is where you are trying to figure out some kind of normalcy, if I can put it that way, towards your

country from the international community.

The Taliban are in Norway today, the first time the group has been in the West since taking over in August. What do you hope can be achieved with

this delegation in the West?

KARZAI: That's a good sign.

We are happy about the meetings that are -- that have taken place in Norway yesterday among Afghans ourselves, between the Taliban government

representatives, and Afghan personalities and members of the civil society. They had some very constructive talks. Notes were exchanged.


And a statement was made by both sides, a statement of basics, of course, recognizing the need for working together and for the well-being of the

Afghan people. That, too, is a welcome sign.

We welcome these engagements. And we especially welcome the first opportunity of some kind of formal contact between the Taliban and members

of the civil society of Afghanistan and personalities of Afghanistan. That's something very good. We hope it will continue, and it will lead,

sooner, rather than later, to bringing the issues to the expression of the will of the Afghan people.

AMANPOUR: President Karzai, you have seen the massive dilemma the West has found itself in since the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in August.

They don't want to recognize the Taliban as long as it doesn't comply with international norms. And they do not want to send money to the government.

They're trying to find ways around to help the Afghan people without supporting the Taliban at all.

What do you think should happen? One analyst who spent a lot of time, one American analyst, says it's time for the U.S. and the West to -- quote --

"swallow a bitter pill," lift the sanctions and actually work with the Taliban?

Can you tell us what you think should happen for the good of your country?


For the good of Afghanistan, a parallel track of two activities must happen at the same time, one, that we, the Afghan people, the Taliban today as the

government, must begin to work out towards a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, by incorporating especially -- this is the Taliban doing -- by

incorporating the opinions and aspirations of all other Afghans, by enacting a constitution, by moving forward towards opening the schools for

girls this March.

That has to happen. There is no excuse there. By reopening the universities, both for boys and girls in Afghanistan, by having the woman

return to the workplace, by making sure that the Afghan educated, the experts, the -- of whom we have now literally hundreds of thousands, that

they don't leave the country, that they stay in the country, that they find plays and work and opportunities in their own country.

So the two tracks moving forward, parallel to each other, will be the best for the country. That's what I have already advised the international

community. And I have also been on this in a frank Afghan conversation with our brothers the Taliban as well.

AMANPOUR: OK, so you call them your brothers, I guess because you don't want to alienate them and because you're very much a consensus-driven


And they are where they are, and you are where you are, and the U.S. is where it is, and it's a complete debacle. So I understand you're trying to

make the best of a bad situation.

But these Taliban people have said that they are not the same as they used to be, that they -- they have learned, or whatever, and others have tried

to say that as well. And yet it doesn't seem to be the case. And they have done over and over again things that keep denying women their -- not just

their rights, but their livelihoods as well.

This is what one analyst has basically said about them. They don't seem overly concerned about the looming humanitarian crisis and that their new

restrictions -- quote -- "smack of a plan to project strength and defiance at a moment when they are in over their heads. They," the Taliban, "are

tending to internal politics and fiddling while Rome burns."

That seems to be the case. And I wonder why you keep trying to give them a break.

KARZAI: Right.

I call them brothers because they belong to our country. They are our countrymen. We belong to the same country. So we're brothers, all of the

Afghan people, the Taliban, those in opposition to them, other Afghans. So it's in that sense of being compatriots with us that I have been referring

them to them as brothers, and for us to find peace and to find an understanding among ourselves, the Afghan people, a way and from foreign

involvement with us, as us, the Afghan people, determining our future.

To the question of women and girls' education, I'm entirely in agreement with you. There cannot be an excuse. There must not be an excuse. And no

excuse is understandable or accepted. The girls of the country must return to school. Islam allows them, period. The woman must return to work. Our

religion allows it, period.


Hijab? Yes, of course. The Afghan women wear hijab anyway, so no compromise on those principles or on the rights or on running the country better.

But yes, we do see compromise on the larger question of the country, and that we all must sit among ourselves and understand each other and work

with one another, in spite of the differences that we may have.

AMANPOUR: So, you and former Foreign Minister, former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah tried to have this conversation in terms of a

transitional government with the Taliban when it was clear that the U.S. was pulling out and that the Taliban were going to take over.

Let's face it. It was totally clear. What do they say to you? Because everything you're saying has not yet taken place. There is no consensus.

There's no transition. They haven't brought people like you or Dr. Abdullah or others into any kind of government. They haven't said what kind of

government beyond what they have now, a caretaker government.

What have they been saying to you? And do you think they will meet all these conditions that you are now telling us about?

KARZAI: Dr. Abdullah and I do not want to be in the government. We have had our time. We have done our part for the country. So there is no need

for us in the government. And we should not be in the government, any government that comes into the future.

But both of us, being citizens of this country, want our country to be good, respectable, and moving forward towards a better future. For that, we

have had good conversations with the Taliban leaders. Our conversations were frank. Our conversations were in a very good environment, and

agreements on principal issues are there.

They're simply saying that they may need some more time. And we have said, all right. But the time has come now. In the month of March on the 20th of

March, which is the Afghan new year, the Nowruz, the Afghan schools open.And when the schools open, we want our daughters and our son's in

schools all over the country, and our boys and girls in the universities all over the country.

So that is what we will continue to push for. And I must say it again. We cannot have a compromise on that. On all other issues, there is a give-and-

take. We're willing to do that.

AMANPOUR: OK, so let me ask you.

You famously put out a tweet, a video, as the Taliban were entering Kabul with your three young daughters from the garden. And you were staying with

Dr. Abdullah at the time, begging people to stay, saying that you would stay, and calling for calm.

So, that was a very powerful statement. And the pictures of you with your kids was very communicative, let's say.

Can you tell me what happened? Because you are on the verge of going to Doha during these U.S.-Taliban negotiations with Dr. Abdullah to come up

with some kind of settlement with the Taliban. And then it all fell apart. What happened on that day, 14th, 15th of August, 2021?

KARZAI: Sadly, it did fall apart.

A day before that, on the 14th, we all had a meeting with President Ghani in which we told him that the country has -- is already lost in a

significant way and that a peace process needs now to move forward with immense speed, and that he must allow and agree to an arrangement with the

Taliban in Doha that finally puts an end to this whole saga of the last three-and-a-half years in the name of peace talks.

And he agreed. And we decided to create a list of the personalities that should go to Doha. Dr. Abdullah and I began to work on it. The next day, we

met at about 10:30 to decide that list, and the list was decided.

And as we're preparing to go to Doha for talks, we saw that Kabul fell. We saw that the president had left the country. It was after that moment when

I found out that the government wasn't there anymore, that officials weren't there anymore, that I thought, well, what to do now in this

complete vacuum of power in the country?

And there is neither the Taliban here nor the government there in a city of five, six million people. So I then stood up to tell the people that, well,

we will be in an extremely difficult situation, but we must try our best, and called on both sides, the Taliban, where they were, and the government,

if there was any present there, to protect the lives of the people and make sure that civilians don't suffer and properties are not damaged.

Unfortunately, that day, we could not leave for Doha to conclude the talks. And the subsequent story, you are aware.


So, are you angry with President Ghani for leaving? And do you believe that he was afraid for his life? I mean, look, the previous time the Taliban

came in, they hung the president from a lamppost in downtown Kabul. That was a famous, terrifying sight.


Do you believe he was in danger for his life, you or Dr. Abdullah, as the ancien regime, so-called, were in danger that time?

KARZAI: That was a very uncertain day. Anything could have happened to anyone, especially to people like us.

But then this is our country. And we have to be with it when it is in dire situation and in a difficult situation. This peril that the country faced

that day was no reason for us to leave. We should have all stayed here.

I'm not going to comment on President Ghani's leaving, whether it was right or wrong for him. But we should have all have stayed our country, and we

should have faced as it came and addressed it and resolved it as it was good for our people and the country.

AMANPOUR: So, let me go back to 2001 and some of the mistakes that were made.

I'm going to play a little clip from an interview that I did with you on the outskirts of Kandahar. You were then moving up into Kabul after the

fall of the Taliban and al Qaeda after the U.S. and the allied intervention.

And we talked about international support for your country. Let me just play this clip.


AMANPOUR: The world has promised before and broken promises to help this country. What makes you think it will be different this time?

KARZAI: The Afghans have learned a bitter lesson. So have the international community. So has the United States.

I must be very blunt. If the world does not pay attention to Afghanistan, if it leaves it weak and basically a country in which one can interfere,

all these bad people will come again.


AMANPOUR: Wow, that was 20-plus years ago, and it's happened again.

How do you feel about that?


Well, it is sad that our country is starting to rebuild from the scratch again, at least in terms of government and institutions. But I'm glad that

war is over. I'm glad that opportunity has come for us to end the conflict.

And, here, the greatest responsibility falls on the shoulders of the Taliban and the government that they have today. They are now in charge, in

that they must make sure that all other Afghans are brought on board and through a consultative process for the future of the country, so the

country does not go back to conflict again, one.

Two, the international community still needs to remain committed to Afghanistan, we are a member of this community. And if we hurt, inevitably,

others will get hurt. And that shouldn't happen. Therefore, my appeal is the same as it was 21 years ago. We must build our country ourselves. But

we must also be a good, respectable, cooperative member of the international community.

And the international community hopefully will do the same towards Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: And yet the economy of Afghanistan has depended almost entirely on the foreign aid budget for the last 20 years.

The Taliban has never governed. It's always just been a movement. It has no experience of governing.

I want to take you again back 20 years and ask you, because I believe this was one of your asks to the U.S. administration of President Bush at the

time, to accept the Taliban surrender and their demand or their ask to come back into the fold.


AMANPOUR: Just describe that and whether you thought an opportunity was lost then.


A great opportunity was lost. The first opportunity was lost during the Bonn conference. The Taliban about should have been there in the Bonn

conference. They should have been invited to the Bonn conference. The second opportunity was lost when there was an opportunity for peace and a

general amnesty all over the country.

And the Taliban were seeking that peace, which was prevented. Pakistan had a great, unfortunately, negative role to play in that in preventing the

return for peace, the vision of peace in Afghanistan. Now, too, this opportunity, I hope, will not be lost neither by the Afghans, nor by those

members of the international community who have an interest in Afghanistan.

So your question is absolutely right and vital for us. Opportunities were lost. And this opportunity that we have today must be gained and gained

fully well


AMANPOUR: President Karzai, thank you for joining us from Kabul today.

KARZAI: Thank you. Good talking to you.


AMANPOUR: Now, the Taliban have restricted many freedoms, as we said, including the freedom to play music, which my next guest believes has the

power to change lives.

Marin Alsop was the first woman to lead a major American orchestra, becoming the musical director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra back in

2007. She also led the prestigious Sao Paulo Symphony in Brazil.

Now her story is being told in a new documentary, "The Conductor." Here's a clip from the trailer.


MARIN ALSOP, MUSIC DIRECTOR, BALTIMORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: Every day from that day when I saw Leonard Bernstein conduct, I thought, I'm never going

to get to do this, because everybody's: No, no, you can't. And the world, the society, everything: No, no, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was more likely for a woman to be a four-star officer in the United States military than to lead a major American

symphony orchestra.

ALSOP: The new conducting teacher, he said: "You will never be a conductor."

I said: "Maestro, conducting is the only thing in life I want to do."


AMANPOUR: And, of course, she achieved that dream.

Marin also joins me now from Baltimore.

Welcome back to our program. It's great to have you. And it's an amazing documentary. And I wonder what you think about it, how you think about it,

as you see it back?

ALSOP: Well, it's -- I have to say, it's wonderful to be with you again.

And it's certainly not my favorite thing to sit and watch myself for 90 minutes. But I feel that the -- it really tells my story. And I hope that

it's able to inspire other women, other young women especially, to pursue their dreams and not get too discouraged along the way.

AMANPOUR: So I want to go into all of that.

But, first, I want to ask you, because you say it as well, you were the first, but you appear to be the last. Nobody has come up since the -- when

you became the musical director to take on -- no woman -- sorry -- to take the helm of a major American symphony orchestra.

How do you assess that?

ALSOP: Well, there's some breaking news on that front..


ALSOP: ... which is that, just in the last few weeks, Nathalie Stutzmann was appointed music director of the Atlanta Symphony, which is in the top


So this is big news. She's a dear friend of mine. I'm absolutely thrilled.

But it still doesn't change, really, this landscape that, after how many years, 16 years, still, there's only one other woman now.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's still really great. And it is really good news.

So let me just start then by asking you to tell us a little bit about your method. I was really captivated by the opening scenes of the documentary,

where you are -- I mean, for want of a better way, I feel like you're practicing, you're in thought, your eyes are closed, you're doing a little

bit of this and that with your hands before you step out onto that particular stage to conduct that particular orchestra that particular


Tell me what you do. What is the prep before you go out to meet them all?

ALSOP: Well, conducting is all about body language and gesture.

And it's -- since we're not making the sound, it's all about how we can draw the sound out of the air and try to represent the music that the

composer has created. So what I'm trying to do is to really get in the zone of connecting with my musicians to enable them to be the best they can be.

It's quite an abstract concept.

AMANPOUR: And you have also said, in terms of connecting, that you view classical music as a route from the greats who created it to all the

generations that have come to.

Talk to me about that connection.

ALSOP: Well, the beauty in music, especially art music, music that really has scope and vision and breadth to it, is that two people can sit in a

concert hall and listen to the exact same piece by the exact same composer, and they can have completely different reactions to that piece because it

resonates in different ways.

As human beings, we're born hardwired for music. I mean, I think the first words that we utter are probably words that we sing, because we're

intoning. And music is really just part of who we are. And every response is a valid response.

So, you and I can have a completely opposite reaction, and it's all valid.


AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you then.

You just said it's ingrained in all of us, no matter where we come from. I wonder what you think of what I posited in the lead-in to you, that now the

Afghan children, the Afghan musicians have been prevented under the new regime from playing music, at least publicly, where anybody might hear and

tell on them.

What do you think that does to a society? And it is a very musical society.

ALSOP: Yes, I was fascinated listening to that -- to your interview.

And, coincidentally, I have been quite involved with the musicians in Afghanistan, the classical musicians at the school and getting the kids


And it speaks volumes, doesn't it, when people come into power, and one of their first dictates is to not sing, to not play music. I mean, to me, that

reinforces my belief that music has the power to really change life. It has the power to connect us on a very fundamental level. And it has the power

to bring us together in ways that words really can't.

So, I mean, it's really telling, isn't it, that was one of their first edicts?

AMANPOUR: Yes. Yes. And it's, frankly, an edict around too much of that part of the world.

ALSOP: Oh, absolutely.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you to go back to a little bit at the beginning?

What first inspired you to want to be a conductor? What was that aha moment, for want of a better phrase?

ALSOP: Well, I was -- I didn't have much choice about being a musician. My parents were both professional musicians.

But -- and I played the violin, and I liked it. But it was that moment when my dad took me to a concert, and the conductor came out. And he started

talking to us in the audience. And he was so enthusiastic and charismatic. And then he turned around, and he started really just embracing the

orchestra and jumping around and having -- it was joy personified.

And that was it. I was hooked. I was 9 years old, and that -- the conductor at that concert was Leonard Bernstein. And I was completely head over heels

in love with him. And I was in love with the idea that I wanted to become a conductor.

AMANPOUR: And, actually, throughout the documentary, there's a lot of imagery of Leonard Bernstein, separate to what you say about him in the

little clips, but you have got books, you have got pictures.

It's like he populates your whole life story in this regard. So I want to actually play a clip where he's sort of mentoring you.

Let's just play it. Then we will talk about it.


LEONARD BERNSTEIN, CONDUCTOR: I want those spaces before the piano each time.

ALSOP: Not this time. I think not, yes.


BERNSTEIN: Why not all the time?

ALSOP: It's such a surprise, beautiful warmth.

BERNSTEIN: So, you cut this off?


BERNSTEIN: Ah. But there's a hole.

ALSOP: Yes. So he tries to...


BERNSTEIN: There's no -- see if you can do it.

It's a little hard.

ALSOP: I know, a little tricky, huh? Well, you stay here.


BERNSTEIN: Also, I do -- I do the...

ALSOP: Bernstein was my hero. And finally becoming his student and being able to work with him was beyond magical.


AMANPOUR: Honestly, Marin, that is such an emotive clip. I mean, the body language between you two, just everything about it is incredible.

But he did also say that: "Marin, when I close my eyes, I don't even know you're a woman."

Is that not the case?

ALSOP: Well, he did. He was -- it was after one rehearsal he was listening to at Tanglewood.

And he usually would run up and jump -- jump on me or hug me. And he was so quiet. And I said: "Oh, Maestro, what -- is everything OK?"

I was very nervous I had done something wrong.

He said -- I went back, and he said: "I just don't understand. When I close my eyes, I can't tell you're a woman."


ALSOP: And I said something kind of cheeky, like: "Well, I don't mind if you come to all my concerts and keep your eyes closed."

But it was really telling for me, because he was from a generation that didn't think of women in these roles, and particularly in the role that he

had inhabited his whole life.


I really felt that he was trying to work it out and come to terms with it somehow. Because, you know, it wasn't a role that he was familiar with

seeing women in. So, I didn't take it in the wrong way. I felt he was really trying to work it through.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And, of course, he probably meant it as a great compliment. And yet, though, it did reenforce the fact that there were no women of that

position that you were aiming for and that you had come across from, you know, teachers and applications and all the rest of it, a big fat no for so

many years. Tell me about, you know, the pushback and how you overcame it.

ALSOP: Well, you know, this was my dream, of course. And the first response, even when I was nine years old, from my violin teacher, was,

well, you're too young. I thought, OK, that's going to be all right. I'll get old. And girls don't do that. You know, so that was the first pushback.

My parents luckily were totally into it. They thought it was a great idea. And they supported me 100 percent. But the outside world and the

establishment was really not receptive. And I tried to get into school. You know, the tricky thing about conducting is that you don't have an

instrument to work with, to practice on. I mean, as a violinist, I could practice, you know, 10 hours a day if I wanted. As a conductor, I couldn't

ever practice, I couldn't try things. So, it's very, very hard to get those first opportunities as a young conductor.

And when I applied to school, I applied to my alma mater, Juilliard, several times, and I would get very close, but never was the door open. And

I really interpreted that as my lack of experience. So, I would go back and try to be better at what I did. But thank heavens things are changing

today. It's such a relief.

AMANPOUR: And now, you have your, I guess for one of a better word, conducting academy, conducting fellowships. And you're teaching women how

to conduct all over. I would like to play just this little clip and we can talk about it.


ALSOP: I had a really interesting question the other day from a male colleague of mine, who said, you know, is it really necessary to have a

fellowship for women conductors anymore? It seems like there are plenty of women conductors around. I mean, it's great that things have changed, but

they haven't changed at the top level yet.

Sixteen years later since the announcement of my appointment, I remain the only woman to head a major American orchestra. So, clearly, this was a

battle that needed to be fought. I'm happy I was the one that could fight it, and I'm happy no one else will have to fight that horrible fight.

VALENTINA PELEGGI, CONDUCTOR: She was the first in many fields. And being the first is a tough job. And I think this is partly why she is fighting so

much for us, because she doesn't want that we pass through the same pain that she went through.


AMANPOUR: So, of course, you mentioned Nathalie Stutzmann and the Atlanta Symphony. She, of course, is from France. I mean, she's not, you know, an

American, I don't believe. So, the issue is still out there for American conductors.

But I thought it was really poignant that some of your students in the fellowship say that they don't -- you hope that they don't have to go

through the pain that you did. You are putting a brave face on it all right now, but it must have been terribly painful for you.

ALSOP: Well, I think that the most painful thing is not being given the same opportunities as others. To constantly have to prove yourself doubly

or triply, you know, that you're not given -- and also, that you're not given the latitude to fail. This is something that's really important in

personal growth and professional growth is that you surround yourself with opportunities to make mistakes so that you can take risks.

I mean, being an artist is about taking risks. And I think those were the painful moments. And through the fellowship, I really have tried to create

opportunities for these women to fail and to fail, you know, majestically and learn from that and grow and develop, because I think that's really

what I missed.


AMANPOUR: And of course, you have kids as well, you know, kids of all different stripes and abilities and backgrounds who were part of, you know,

your teaching group. But just remind us again, because when you did get the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, it wasn't -- you actually said it was the --

something like, it was my worst nightmare. The beginning of your announcement turned into a nightmare for you. What happened and how did you

get over it?

ALSOP: It did. You know, I -- of course, it's not something I really enjoy talking about too much, but I was so excited when the head of the board

phoned me and said, you know, we'd like to offer you the position of music director. I have guest in that orchestra several times and I thought they

were fantastic and had great potential and we could do wonderful things.

And then, a day later, my agent called and said, well, there seems to be some pushback from some of the musicians. Anyway, they -- there was some

kind of movement to really continue the search and not accept me as the music director, and it was quite brutal and made the front page of the

"Washington Post" and other publications. And it was horrible. You know, it was almost like being a victim of a hit-and-run accident. You know, what

happened here?

And so, I decided to -- I thought, I don't want to take this job without speaking to the musicians first. And trying to really explain who I am and

what I could bring to the situation. So, I went to the top of a rehearsal and I spoke with the musicians for about 10 minutes. And I laid out a plan

and I said -- I was very honest with them. I told them, I didn't know if I would ever get over what had happened. But I was willing if they were

willing. But I wasn't going to accept the job unless I had their support. And that seemed to break the ice.

And listen, I love the orchestra. I love the musicians. I respect them tremendously. We have had a great tenure together. And I continue to go

back and conduct a few weeks every year. As a matter of fact, this week, I'm going to be conducting there. So, I couldn't be happier with the end

result, but I think the start was pretty traumatic for me.

AMANPOUR: And you went on to create history together. And we'll be watching for what Marin Alsop does next. Thank you so much, indeed, for

joining us.

And the film opens in U.S. theaters on January 27th and it will air on PBS on March 25th.

Turning now to COVID and in particular, how it impacts those who are immunocompromised and particularly at risk. Matthew Cortland is a lawyer

and policy expert who's faced challenges with Crohn's disease. And they join Hari Sreenivasan us to discuss how the pandemic is affecting the

disabled community.


HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Matthew Cortland, thanks for joining us.

In this pandemic, I know it's hard to discuss an entire population because there's individuals within each population, but if you are

immunocompromised or greater risk for hospitalization or harm from COVID- 19, give me an example of what life has been like.

MATTHEW CORTLAND, SENIOR FELLOW, DATA FOR PROGRESS: If you are one of the somewhere between 2.5 to 3 percent of all Americans, adults and children,

who are immunocompromised, the pandemic has probably been terrifying for you. You know that you're at some greater risk of getting really, really

quite sick, if you should get COVID-19, and that's including if you have gotten your vaccinations and your boosters, you're still at this increased


And so, a lot of people in our community are forced really in order to protect themselves or a loved one that they live with, to really just

dramatically change their lives because it's just not safe to go out into the world. It's not safe for them. You know, particularly right now for

children under five years of age who are medically complex, who maybe immunocompromised, it's a particularly terrifying time to have a medically

complex child who is not eligible for vaccination or who can't get vaccinated, there are some folks in our community who either can't get

vaccinated because of a medical contraindication or if they do get vaccinated, they don't do what we call the jargon, zero convert their body,

doesn't mount a response to that vaccine protect them going forward.


In those folks, really are just desperately trying to avoid, particularly during the surge of Omicron, this highly transmissible variant, they are

just doing everything they can to avoid breathing the same indoor air of their people because that's really the only way they have left to mitigate

that substantial risk of harm to themselves or their medically complex child or maybe they live with an elder, they take care of a family member

who is older in that other higher risk age group.

SREENIVASAN: You know, what you're describing is what New York might have gone through in March of 2020. I mean, we're really just kind of keeping

ourselves indoors. You're telling me that here we are two years later and there are still people having to live like that.

CORTLAND: That's absolutely correct. And it doesn't have to be this way. For so many of our folks, disabled and chronically ill and

immunocompromised, this category of people who are at higher risk of a bad outcome, there's poverty that goes along with disability often times in

this country. Folks who are disabled are more likely to be impoverished, to be living in poverty.

And so, even some of the measures that in March of 2020 folks were able to take in the city and elsewhere to protect themselves, things like having

someone else do their grocery shopping, paying InstaCard or whatever company it maybe, that's not an option available to many folks in the

disability community just because of economics in our community tends to be disproportionately impoverished.

And so, you're absolutely right, it is still a high threat environment for many folks, but there's this disproportionate poverty that goes with it

that makes it really hard to take some very basic steps because we have, to a large extent, sort of been left on our own to fend for ourselves during

this pandemic. There's no organized response that centers the disability community to protect people who are at higher risk.

SREENIVASAN: But why do you think that is? Why do you think that does this population, as you described, it might be, what, 3 or 4 million people in

the United States or more, doesn't have a voice, doesn't have a seat at the table?

CORTLAND: It's really tens and tens of millions of people who have multiple underlying health conditions that put them -- all of us at

increased risk. And why haven't we been centered in this pandemic response? And I think the answer, it's complex and there are a lot of factors, but I

think, fundamentally, public health and medicine are ableist. There's a history of pervasive ablism in these disciplines. And by ablism, I mean,

the sort of systemic devaluation of the lives of people who are chronically ill or disabled pr immunocompromised.

You know, we have a sad and enraging history of ablism in public health. People with these medically these sorts of medically complex conditions

have been viewed as disposable, really. And that thinking is unfortunately still pervasive amongst public health professionals and politicians and

policymakers. And I think that has a lot to do with why the response has now been as protective as it should have been.

SREENIVASAN: So, give me examples of how your community is being left behind? I mean, what are policies where you're not considered in the first

place or what are effects that sort of social policy or public health is happening at a local level? Kind of personalize it for me if you can.

CORTLAND: There's a great recent example in the guidance, the technical guidance that the Centers for Disease Control, that CDC issued around

ending quarantine and isolation. They issued guidance for the general public and they issued guidance for healthcare professionals.

The guidance for the general public tells folks that they can stop isolating and go about their lives, even if they have COVID-19 after five

days if they wear a mask and they avoid immunocompromised folks like me and people who are at high higher risk because of a chronic illness or a


I don't wear a sandwich board that says immunocompromised when I go to the grocery store or the pharmacy. CDC's technical guidance suggests that

average people on the street are supposed to know, just visually, who is in these higher risk categories when it's often not apparent at all. And so,

that's what I mean when we're not really being considered in the -- even in the technical guidance from the premier and public health agency in the


And it's really -- you know, it's remarkable that two years into this thing, they are still not consulting with the disability community and

experts about how to actually, you know, issue workable technical guidance that would actually protect people.

SREENIVASAN: Matthew, you recently tweeted that the Biden administration's pandemic response is a, I'm quoting you here, "A disastrous failure that is

killing marginalized people."


CORTLAND: I personally rely on SSI for many years. I have inflammatory bowel disease that is very difficult to control and I was able to navigate

that system because of my training. And for many years, I lived on about $700 a month. And was subject to program rules that said, if anyone helped

me out by giving me a bag of groceries or helping out with the rent, I would lose one-third of my benefits.

And so, I know what it's like to struggle, to survive when you're relying on that sub poverty, grueling and inhumane system that we laughingly call

supplement security income. I know that, you know, there are statistics that the agency puts out every month. We know there are about 8 million

American who are currently relying on SSI.

And we know that the Social Security administration has the name and mailing address of virtually every person who relies on that program. The

same is true for the millions more who rely on SSDI, that's Social Security Disability Insurance, it's the better known of the two programs. The

federal government has the name and mailing address of virtually every impoverished disabled person relying on SSI and those who rely on SSDI as

well, and could have chosen to at the very least send out these rapid antigen test kits and these protective N95 masks to this incredibly

vulnerable population that because of the federal government's own rule set does not have the resources to protect themselves in this pandemic.

You cannot afford a $24 kit BinaxNOW kit when you are struggling to get by an $800 a month. You cannot afford to go to the store and buy a case of --

you know, a box of N95 masks when you are struggling to put food on the table.

So yes, the administration's response has up until now been something of a disaster for those most vulnerable, those most at risk. Especially given

how readily resources could have been targeted to these just incredible vulnerable populations, and they're vulnerable in part because of

government rules that just require people to be impoverished if they're going to get SSI.

SREENIVASAN: What are you hearing people asking you to advocate for? What are the things in their life that they see need for policy change?

CORTLAND: Folks desperately want a COVID-19 pandemic policy response that doesn't leave the disability community behind. It means things like having

rapid tests that are accessible for low vision and blind folks. Because right now, that's a major challenge. It means having masks that are

available and adaptive.

You know, we have been calling since the start of this pandemic for the federal government to just ship everyone, you know, highly protective N95

masks, PPE. And including, as part of that program, we really need more development of adaptive PPE. I think we finally have one mask with a clear

panel so that folks who lip read can have access to those masks. But we have not seen any investment in sort of adaptive PPE or providing PPE to

impoverished folks.

You know, we finally got an announcement from the Biden administration that they are going to be making N95 masks available, but you're going to have

to go to a pharmacy or a community health center. And for disabled folks, that actually presents a number of problems, right? So, there are mobility

issues, there are transit issues, there's also just asking folk who is are at high risk to either take public transit in the shared air or go into a

pharmacy or community health center, a place where sick folks are gathering to get access to masks. That's not a strategy that is actually most

successful way to give masks to impoverished disabled folks, right?

SREENIVASAN: In a strange way, I don't think there is a parallel to walking a mile in anybody else's shoes exactly, but there are millions more

people who today know what it's like to have basically a health scare with an unknown sort of start date and end date.

So, I wonder if when you look at it, is there any kind of silver lining or hope? Do you think that there's any greater empathy for your community now

than there was at the beginning of the pandemic?


CORTLAND: It's hard when more than 800,000 people have died just in this country and so many of those deaths came from my community to think about a

silver lining. That the weight of the tragedy is just so heavy. And what's more, we're still not safe.

But having said that, my hope is that we emerge from this pandemic with a society that is more inclusive and accessible and that it does not view

chronically ill folks, including folks with long COVID, as disposable.

Now, there's going to be a lot of work that's necessary to get from here to there. I don't know if we will succeed, but I know that this is unlikely to

be the last pandemic that this country or any country faces. And it's vitally important that that shift that you're talking about occurs. I don't

know how to make that happen. I know that there are a lot of folks thinking about it and working on it every day. But for me personally, it's hard to

think about anything other than keeping people alive right now. Because the need is so overwhelmingly desperate.

SREENIVASAN: There's a lot of people, whether through COVID fatigue or whatever, they are saying, OK, I'm double vaccinated, I'm boosted, I'm

almost through this thing. So, there's sort of the heightened level of sensitivity and fear that we had two years ago has clearly dropped. I'm

wondering how far behind are these communities that you're advocating for in terms of getting the help that they need, to feel like they have control

and that they can be functioning in society again.

CORTLAND: It is absolutely true, and I will tell you I'm tired. I am tired of making a risk benefit calculation every time I need to open my apartment

door. And I have graduate training in this. I have the benefit of taking -- you know, I have a book shelf full of like epidemiology and biostatistics

books behind me. I am tired. And I don't always know what the right thing to do is.

And even with all of this training and experience, I want to be clear, if you get COVID, you are not to blame, right? This is -- you know, COVID-19

isn't a moral act. It's a virus that exists to do anything, it exists to replicate. My own partner just recovered from COVID two days ago is when

she tested negative for the first time in 10 days. She was isolating in our bedroom. There's this sense that we are doing public health as a sort of

individual, rugged individual responsibility thing. And that's not how public health works.

Public health is a collective endeavor that at its best protects the health of everyone involved. That's not the approach we're taking. And as long as

we continue to fail to take that approach, chronically ill folks are going to be left behind. People are higher risk are going to be left behind.

And so, there are any number of things we could be doing better than we're doing. And as usual, disabled folks have to fight for it.

SREENIVASAN: Matthew Cortland, senior fellow, Data For Progress, thanks so much for joining us.

CORTLAND: Thank you for having me.


AMANPOUR: That's exactly right. Public health is a collective endeavor.

And finally. tonight, the world of haute couture has lost one of its own. The French fashion designer, Thierry Mugler, has died at the age of 73.

He's name is associated with so much model culture from directing George Michael's iconic "Too Funky" video to designing costumes for one of

Beyonce's world tours. His unabashed embrace of gay iconography in the '80s was way ahead of its time.

Beyonce joined a long list of those paying tribute with a collage of the various outfits that he made for her over the years. Honoring the

designer's flamboyant creations and extraordinary legacy.


And that is for now. Remember, you can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you for watching and good-bye from

New York.