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Interview With Activist Nathan Law; Interview With "Crook Manifesto" Author Colson Whitehead Interview With "Weird Finance" Host And "Finance For The People" Author Paco De Leon. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired July 21, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NATHAN LAW, ACTIVIST: I believe that what I'm doing is paving my way home. And when I am home, that would be a democratic and free Hong Kong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: As China tightens its grip on Hong Kong, I speak with targeted dissident, Nathan Law, about living with a bounty on his head.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLSON WHITEHEAD, AUTHOR, "CROOK MANIFESTO": Race is one of the forces working upon us him, class definitely, money. And I'm trying to, you know,
juggle all these different things, because they all work upon us in different ways.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: -- in his new book, "Crook Manifesto," Pulitzer Prize winning author Colson Whitehead returns to the overlords and the underbelly of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PACO DE LEON, HOST, "WEIRD FINANCE" AND AUTHOR, "FINANCE FOR THE PEOPLE": There was so much expectation when it came to student loans being forgiven,
and when the Supreme Court struck that down, a lot of people have felt left out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: -- with the end of Student Loan Forgiveness looming, Michel Martin speaks with millennial financial expert Paco de Leon.
Plus, a final farewell to Jane Birkin, the 1960s muse who inspired fashion, film, and song.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
We begin with Beijing tightening the screws on Hong Kong. After a top Chinese intelligence official was chosen to lead the territory's national
security regime. Now, this comes as China bolsters efforts to track down the leaders of the country's pro-democracy movement, putting bounties on
the heads of outspoken activists.
Western nations have condemned the move. British Foreign Minister James Cleverly saying this earlier this month, we will not tolerate any attempts
by China to intimidate and silence individuals in the U.K. and overseas. The U.K. will always defend the universal rights of freedom of expression
and stand up for those who were targeted.
He also called on the territory to remove the controversial National Security Law, which is the sweeping legislation brought into force in June
of 2020 after years of large pro-democracy demonstrations. Hundreds have been arrested under the law. Amnesty International says it has "devastated
the city's freedoms and created a human rights emergency." But Hong Kong says it is essential for national security.
Earlier this week, I spoke with one of the dissidents living in exile. Nathan Law was forced to flee his home after helping lead protests in Hong
Kong. Nathan is one of eight activists being sought by police who are offering $128,000 for information leading to his arrest. Here's our
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Nathan Law, thank you so much for joining the program. It is just over two weeks ago that the Hong Kong police issued a $128,000 in U.S.
dollar value bounty for eight overseas pro-democracy activists. That is the largest bounty issued by Hong Kong police. The maximum sentence is a
lifetime sentence. What is your reaction? How do you feel about your own security right now?
NATHAN LAW, ACTIVIST: Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me on the show. For me, it's definitely a shock, because it's unprecedented.
There's never been anyone who is being awarded this large amount of money because of political crime. And police have said that they will pursue us
So, for me, it's definitely a shocking news. But it is not the first time I am wanted. And for me, I've been live in quiet a discreet life and I've
been really aware of my surroundings and where I go. So, for me, I will continue my efficacy work, and try to continue to protect myself while
GOLODRYGA: You have said you view this warrant as a badge of honor. Explain how.
LAW: For me, it is unavoidable to be persecuted by the regime, because people resisting under the authoritarian regime. It is basically trying to
disrupt this regime, and they will definitely go after you afterwards.
So, for me, it is definitely not a surprise that they will continue to persecute me and put all these charges on my name. But it is also a
reflection of the advocacy work that I've been doing, how effective they are, and how much change we've managed to mobilize on the international
stage so that the regime is actually scared of us, it's actually trying to put extra pressure on us, so to silence us.
GOLODRYGA: The alleged crimes that you are being charged with include incitement to secession and collusion with a foreign force or external
elements to endanger national security. How do you respond to those charges?
LAW: For me, as a Hong Konger, I am just voicing out for my fellow Hong Kongers, because when they are in Hong Kong, it is impossible for them to
do any political work now. The National Security Law criminalize all free speech. And whoever speaks against the Chinese governments, most likely
they will end up in jail.
So, for me, my duty is to speak up for them and all the meetings, all the hearings, all the congressional meetings, with all the politicians, I'll do
it for Hong Kong people, and I'm not agents of any kind, and I think all these things should fall into agreement of very lawful and legal political
advocacy work if I were in a democratic country.
GOLODRYGA: You mentioned the National Security Law, it was introduced in 2020. And just now, we hear that China has appointed a top intelligence
officer, and that is Dong Jingwei, to run Hong Kong's National Security Office. In addition to that, Hong Kong is prepared to announced a new law
called Article 23 that will allow officials to encompass espionage and treason among other offenses that were not included in the initial 2020
national security legislation.
Talk about the significance of that and this new element in terms of doubling down on national security and the introduction of a new officer
LAW: Well, the upcoming Article 23 legislation espionage actions will be a huge blow for any foreign entities operating in Hong Kong, no matter
they're international NGOs or even government officials, because I think it is, well, large -- most likely a preparation for the attack to Taiwan,
because they believe that Hong Kong is a spot of foreign agents.
So, they have -- they will implement this law to basically go after people who they think may help Taiwan or may help countries that China doesn't
like. So, there will be a big wave of persecution of foreign entities, workers and foreign NGOs, or even people, they see them as spy, no matter
whether they are truly or not.
So, this is actually a scary time. It is not only for that local Hong Kongers who have been facing so much police brutalities and political
persecution, but also for people who are like from the other countries, they will also face the same amount of pressure.
GOLODRYGA: And we should note, under this National Security Law, authorities have sweeping power, and actually enjoy immunity from the
city's laws that have been in place before it. What do you say to those in terms of the extradition now for you and your arrest that other countries
also have extradition laws? How does this make it any different from what we see in the United States? We should note, also has extradition laws with
other countries around the world. What's the difference here?
LAW: In these extradition agreements they are always close to saying that, we don't extradite people because of political inclination. So, for
countries which have any extradition with Hong Kong or China, most likely they won't accept it if they have a stronger flow. And for many countries
like the U.K. and some of the other European countries, they have already uplifted the extradition treaty with Hong Kong, because they foresaw that
the Hong Kong government would manipulate it in order to achieve political gains.
So, for me, I have to choose my destination very carefully. I only go to countries with strong (INAUDIBLE) like the U.S., European countries and
countries in other parts of the world. And also, avoid going to countries where they are very close to China.
GOLODRYGA: We know that your family home was raided last week. Your parents and your brother were taken in for interrogation and questioning by
Hong Kong police. What more do you know about what transpired and how they're doing?
LAW: I don't have any direct contact with them. (INAUDIBLE) it's definitely worrying, to some extent it's terrifying. But for me, it's very
clear that they are in no ways supporting me because the way that the government wanted to fabricate our stories that I am being supported by the
people that they interrogate or they arrested, which this is not true. I'm doing these advocacy work on my personal capacity, and I take all
responsibility for my actions.
So, no one else should take responsibility because of what I do. And if the government is trying to pursue me for life, please do it. Just don't do it
to the others who are completely innocent.
GOLODRYGA: Do you think this type of tactics, these intimidation tactics - - there's one opposition activist that I spoke with recently, also from China, that had moved to Australia said that, you know, he was forced to
cut off all ties and relations with his family in order to hopefully offer them a bit more security back at home, do you find yourself in a similar
position? Do you think these intimidation tactics could actually work?
LAW: When I left Hong Kong three years ago, I have already issued a public statement saying that I'm severing my ties with my family. They're in no
way supporting me, and I'm doing everything on my own personal capacity.
Of course, Beijing government, Hong Kong government, has stepped up the intimidation tactics. They've wanted me, putting a bounty on me, arresting
my former colleagues or harassing the people that I love. There's definitely a step up. And therefore, the International Community should
react in a stronger way. There are a few actions to combine, the British government, including sending a diplomatic call to the Chinese embassy to
answer all those questions. I think those are steps forward. And I really do hope that democratic countries can also step up their actions to hold
these perpetrators accountable.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. The British foreign office minister, we should note, warned that the U.K. government would not tolerate Hong Kong's "campaign of
fear," intended to intimidate and silence any wanted activists. We know that the United States, the U.K., and Australia have all now halted
extradition treaties with Hong Kong, but there doesn't seem to be any sign that this National Security Law will be rolled back or dialed back in any
shape or form. Do you think that that will require even more pressure from some of these western countries?
LAW: Definitely. There should be much more pressure from democratic countries who -- to which the Chinese government and Hong Kong government
roll back all these atrocious prosecutions. For me, it's definitely a matter of whether we can make China aware that the path that they are
walking, which is totally authoritarian model of a government is no longer serving their goods. I do believe that unless there is a big change in
Mainland China, unless they understand that the pathway that they are taking forward is no longer working, it is really difficult for us to have
a turning point in Hong Kong.
So, for me, I've always told all these political policymakers that when facing problems in Hong Kong, the crux is in Beijing, and we have to double
down on pressure to them. We have to reduce our reliance with them and we have to make sure that they understand what they're doing, it's going to
harm themselves, so that we can have a future in Hong Kong.
GOLODRYGA: Over the past decade, we have seen opposition movements and protests in Hong Kong, the Umbrella Movement as well, and the most recent
protests did turn violent. And there had been some suggestion, even from western allies who had been sympathetic, that perhaps that violence was
counterproductive. And obviously, you know the Chinese argument, that these National Security Laws were put into place to restore order.
Looking back, what do you make of those arguments and do you think things could've been handled a bit differently in terms of the activists and their
LAW: Violence is never what we wanted. But if you saw the trajectory of how the protests has evolved, we could see that, at first, it was
completely peaceful but the police brutality was just so much and they enjoy immunity and they've been exerting all this terror and violence to
the people on the frontline. And those people, they felt a sense of danger, a very immense sense of danger and they decided to adopt force, to self-
It's easy to condemn them, but, well, it's much more difficult to find the crux of it and try to change it and try to make a way out. And the way out
is, we have to implement accountability on the police force, and we have to stop the police brutality first. So that both sides could feel safe when
they are doing protests and when they are trying to express their voice, and that is that way out.
GOLODRYGA: Nathan, as we noted, these charges that you are facing could lead to ultimately a life sentence in person. That is the maximum penalty.
You already spent time in prison, two months, I believe, and that was in 2017 for your participation in the Umbrella Movement. What was that
experience like for you? And are you prepared, at some point, perhaps, to continue to face jail time again?
LAW: The few short months that I spent in jail was definitely relatively short compared to the ones who are spending time in jail now in Hong Kong.
But definitely, I had a feeling of how it looks like to stay behind bars. You are being treated like a number, like a good. They will call you by
your number, and the only things that you can say to the officers inside were sorry, sir, thank you, sir, and yes, sir. There's no way you can say
no. That is how dehumanizing and how they want to blunt your critical thinking when you are serving time. So, that was definitely not a pleasant
And I do think that for now the political situation has worsened. So, the condition in jail for political prisoners are worse than what I had
experienced six years ago. So, it is really difficult. And I've got lots of friends who are spending time there for years, more than two and a half
years, without knowing when they could get that because the verdict has not yet been delivered.
So, this situation is really heartbroken. And I really do hope that we could put more pressure to the Hong Kong government and urge for them to
release them as soon as possible.
GOLODRYGA: Nathan, it wasn't so long ago, as you said, just six years ago, that you were elected to the legislature there in Hong Kong. What is the
future for you and that movement? And do you still have aspirations to return to some form of government leadership, perhaps, as a public servant
LAW: For me, I am now a political refugee in the U.K. I got my asylum two years ago. So, this would be, at least, my shot to a middle-term home. I'm
continuing my international advocacy work by spreading the voice of Hong Kong and standing up against the Chinese regime. We really do need a lot of
aspiration and spirit do you sustain in this very difficult situation. As we know, China is the largest authoritarian regime in the world. They're
really, really powerful.
But for me, I always believe that at the end of the day, justice will prevail. It may take decades for me to return to Hong Kong. I may no longer
look young. I may go back with all my gray hair, but I will definitely be back. I believe that what I'm doing is paving my way home. And when I am
home, that would be a democratic and free Hong Kong.
GOLODRYGA: What is your message to your supporters who are still back at home? And is it harder to continue the fight that you are pursuing right
LAW: The government is trying to cut all the connections of the others to me. They are trying to say that I am very dangerous, any sort of connection
with me would lead to political consequence, legal consequence. We have to be strong and we have to be united. Please, don't self-censor because of
it. Please don't back down because of more terror. Please be as brave as you can.
GOLODRYGA: Nathan Law, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
LAW: Thank you so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: In response, Hong Kong Security Bureau said this interview was far from the truth. Stating in part, we strongly oppose and condemn the
unreasonable smearing of the Hong Kong National Security Law, and the demonization of the actions taken by the National Security Department of
the Hong Kong Police Force in accordance with the law.
No country will watch with folded arms, acts and activities that endanger national security. The actions by NSD are reasonable, rational, legal, and
indeed, necessary. Fundamental rights and freedoms such as the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are protected under the basic law and the
Hong Kong Bill of Rights. However, such rights and freedoms are not absolute, and can be subject to restrictions prescribed by law that are
necessary for, amongst other reasons, protection of national security or public order.
The office also called laws criticism of Article 23 of the basic law ahead of legislative proposals "despicable and irresponsible."
Well, turning now to one of the summer's hottest reads. Novelist Colson Whitehead is one of the illustrious few writers ever to win two Pulitzer
Prizes. But for readers who love a good crime caper, his new book called Crook "Manifesto" is refreshingly not illustrious. It's a sequel to
Whitehead's much loved "Harlem Shuffle."
And while his hero, Ray Carney, is back in the game, the rules are changing faster than Ray can keep up with. The new book jumps into 1970s Harlem, as
New York is burning and going bankrupt all at the same time. And where all Ray Carney really wants is tickets for his teenage daughter to see the
Jackson Five in concert.
I spoke to Colson Whitehead about corrupt cops, scheming crooks, and the A, B, C, one, two, threes of Ray Carney's fall from the straight and narrow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Colson, it's great to see you. Welcome back to the program.
COLSON WHITEHEAD, AUTHOR, "CROOK MANIFESTO": Hey. Hi.
GOLODRYGA: Congratulations on the book, "Crook Manifestos," sequel to "Harlem Shuffle." Ray Carney is back.
WHITEHEAD: Yes. So, it's been a very exciting project. You know, I've never done a series before. So, having a character in a world I want to
keep going back to has been really rewarding.
GOLODRYGA: It's interesting that you use his storyline, that you've said that you really became enamored with him as a character as the sequel here.
Why did you want to bring him back into the world of fencing (ph)?
WHITEHEAD: The simple version is I kept coming up with more capers and adventures. You know, there are robberies, there are heists, there are
revenge schemes, a missing persons case. And so, I kept coming up with more and more things for him to do, and the canvas became bigger. Not just about
one man for a couple of years in the '60s, but him in the '70s, then the '80s, and then the city over that time.
GOLODRYGA: So, once a fence always a fence, once a crook, always a crook?
WHITEHEAD: For him, you know, he has a dark side. You know, he wants to be an upstanding citizen, but in the back of his head, there's a voice saying,
let's do some crimes.
GOLODRYGA: So, you talk about in the first book, let's compare 1960s New York to 1970s New York. And you do something here that you did in your
first book, and that is really home in on three years, and this is 1971, 1973, and the bicentennial year of 1976. Why pick those three years?
WHITEHEAD: I was trying to figure out what years would be good. Say summer of 1977, there's the big blackout. That's a good opportunity for a crook,
but also, too obvious. So, I try to, you know, find my -- pick my hits more carefully. 1971 is the year of the Knapp Commission, a big police
corruption scandal and investigation. So, maybe that's a good opportunity to explore the corrupt cop, Munson. And so, that became one part.
1976, bicentennial, declaration of independence, how far away are we from the ideals in the declaration? So, there's that tension there and a good
opportunity for exploring that idea and satire and putting corny into that discussion.
GOLODRYGA: Was it fun for you doing research to figure out what New York Harlem was like in these two very different eras?
WHITEHEAD: I was seven in 1976. So, I don't remember any of that. And so, yes, going to figure out what people were wearing and how much was a ham
sandwich, finding places in Harlem for action, places to dump a body. I don't usually walk around the city thinking, this is a good place to dump a
body. But then, I have to get into character. So, the research has been, you know, fun and -- fun and interesting.
GOLODRYGA: Can you read a passage for us from the book? Can you do that, please?
WHITEHEAD: So, this is the opening. From then on, whenever you heard the song, you thought of the death of Munson. It was the Jackson Five after all
who put Ray Carney back in the game, following four years on the straight and narrow. The straight and narrow, it described to philosophy in a
territory, a neighborhood with borders and local customs. Sometimes, when he crossed 7th Avenue on the way to work, he mumbled the words to himself,
like a rummy trying not to weave across the sidewalk on the way home from the bars.
GOLODRYGA: So, the crime story kicks off, and it's -- this is really a family story as well, and we learn more about Ray's family and he is a
strait-laced businessman, at times he says he can even go days and hours without thinking about committing a crime. And yet, given everything that
he is living and the environment that he's living in, it's the Jackson Five that pulls him back in to his old world. Why? And how does that relate to
WHITEHEAD: Well, I'm playing with conventions of the crime genre, and oftentimes, a criminal will get out, try to go on a straight and narrow and
then, something pulls him back in. So, I'm having fun with that.
In this case, the Jackson Five is at the -- in the early burst of fame, 1971. It's period appropriate for his teenage daughter to love. And becomes
a tiny little thing, you know, getting tickets for his daughter that mushrooms into a much bigger catastrophe.
GOLODRYGA: It's his teenage daughter, Ma?
WHITEHEAD: You want to please your family. So --
GOLODRYGA: They're different extremes, I guess, dads take.
GOLODRYGA: And this was his. And once he's drawn back into the criminality, Carney blames himself. He says, he had been on the straight
and narrow for four years, but slip once and everybody is glad to help you slip hard. Crooked stays crooked and bent hates straight. The rest is
survival. Talk about what that means, crooked stays crooked?
WHITEHEAD: Yes. I mean, that's what he thinks is the truth. Can you reform? You know, part of the fun about the book, these two books, is
exploring the psychology. He wants to be an upstanding businessman, but has this dark side. He's rejecting his violent self, his criminal self,
embracing it, acknowledging it, ignoring it. You know, the same way that a lot of us are compartmentalized in different ways. So, I'm exaggerating the
way we survive. And hopefully, narrating it in a way that's interesting.
GOLODRYGA: What role does his wife, Elizabeth, play in his life, both in terms of his past and does she know about his venture back to that passed?
WHITEHEAD: He came from a broken home and, you know, part of what he wanted from when he was very young is a stable family life. He is working
on his store. He's working on his marriage, his family. And so, she saved him in a way. And, of course, he has this secret life. And so, can he be
straight with her? I -- you know, I examine that in the book. I got a lot of questions from readers about how much does Elizabeth know? She seems
very smart. So, I had to address that.
WHITEHEAD: She does. And patient.
WHITEHEAD: I've had to address that. And it was funny because this spring, my sister came across a story about our grandfather that perhaps he had run
moonshine for the mob from Canada into New York. And so, I asked my mother, and my mom said, I don't know about that. I'm not sure where that story
came from, what relative. But in the '30s, everyone did something.
And so, even if Elizabeth, Carney's wife, doesn't know, she understands that everyone's up to something, it's a way of driving.
GOLODRYGA: He appreciates how much she tolerates and wants to reward her for bringing her back to a life that she had knew -- known prior to him, on
Striver's Row, right? And you talk about this part of Harlem that she was very familiar with, and yet, he brings her back because it was a sign of
status, that he had worked hard enough to get her back to where she started. And he always feels judged by her family, particularly her mother.
WHITEHEAD: Yes. Her parents are sort of very upper crust black folks, part of a very professional class in Harlem. And he is from the wrong side of
the tracks. And so, race is one of the forces working upon him, class definitely, money. And I'm trying to, you know, juggle all these different
things, because they all work upon us in different ways, and on Carney in particular, because of his makeup -- psychological makeup and what he's
doing and where he is.
GOLODRYGA: The phrase crook manifesto comes to us from a lifelong criminal we meet in this book named Pepper. Who is pepper?
WHITEHEAD: Everyone needs their iota character. And so, Pepper is a seasoned criminal who teaches Carney some of the ways of being a crook.
He's a great foil for Carney. He's an isolate, kind of a sociopath. And ends up being kind of a member of Carney's family. And there's, I think, a
great interplay between them.
So, Pepper gets his own adventure in this story, and Carney is in the background for a couple of pages. And we get to see Carney and his world
through this old crook's eyes.
GOLODRYGA: Why a trilogy?
WHITEHEAD: It's a rule of three. You know, I start off with one book and halfway through, I kept coming up with more and more stories. And I think
if you do two books, you might as well do three. And the canvas was very appealing. The big canvas of 30 years in somebody's life, you know. These
kids are one and two-year-olds. Two-year-olds in the first book. And then, are teenagers. And then, in the third book, they'll be out of the house.
He's in his early 30s, the main character. And then, in his 40s and his 50s. And at the same time, the city is changing as well. And so, capturing
all those different convulsive changes has been a great challenge, but also, you know, really sort of fine and inspiring to me.
GOLODRYGA: The city keeps changing, Harlem is changing. But then you also say, Harlem was the same place it had always been. It's the people who come
and go, and the buildings, but Harlem never budges. Talk about that contradiction.
WHITEHEAD: I think people are the same and I think the city is the same. I love that if you read 19th century writers or early 20th century writers,
writing about the manic hurly burly of the city, it's recognizable to us now. There's a way that the city shapes us, whether it's 1920 or 1960 or
2013. And so, the storefronts change, and 125th street and Harlem changes, and --
GOLODRYGA: The immigrants change?
WHITEHEAD: Immigrants change. And, you know -- and that too. I mean, the first wave of people who came to Harlem were white Europeans, Irish,
Italian, Jewish. They left, blacks from the south came up. And now, 120 years later, Harlem is gentrified. And the great, great grandkids of those
first European immigrants are now coming for the cheap rents and the cool restaurants. And so, the cycle continues.
And I think that constant change, that constant churn of people through the city, you know, sort of lovely to observe and write about.
GOLODRYGA: Another ghost from the 1970s that haunts this book is Vietnam. At one point, Carney's daughter, May, says, somebody has to say it.
Vietnam, the ghetto, it is the same. Do you see links between Vietnam and its ghosts and the history there?
WHITEHEAD: Well, that's the sort of early '70s question about oppression and imperialism. Why are black Americans fighting Asians, fighting a white
man's war on a different continent? And so, I'm trying to capture, you know, the energy of the times. We've mentioned the Black Panthers and the
Black Liberation Army. In the nearly '70s, the Black Panther party is splitting, and the people who want to reform, and then, revolutionaries,
and that's a great opportunity to explore these different ideas about what it is to be black American and American when sometimes our national
interests don't match up with what we want as human beings.
GOLODRYGA: We talk about New York. And you seem rather bullish about New York. One passage that stood out to us was, the city was being tested. It
was always being tested and emerging on the other side in a newer, stronger version for having been laid low, but everyone forgot this from time to
GOLODRYGA: That's an optimistic take.
WHITEHEAD: It is.
GOLODRYGA: And I think it reminds us also what life post-COVID could be, perhaps, as we were so worried about what would happen to the city.
WHITEHEAD: No, I was writing this during the pandemic. And definitely, you know, the streets were empty. I was doing my research, walking around, and
it was such a destroyed landscape and it was really depressing. But I was writing about the early '70s, and in the early '70s, the city was in a
fiscal crisis. Crime was at an all-time high. But at the same time, it was the birth of punk and disco and hip-hop and all that great stuff came out
of this calamity in the city.
And so, I felt energized thinking about that, that I'm writing my little book, but also, there's a tradition of artists and non-artists who are
always, you know, bringing the city back after a terrorist attack and a fiscal crisis, a pandemic.
GOLODRYGA: Your known also for critically acclaimed books on history, right, the "Underground Railroad," the "Nickel Boys," and I'm curious to
get your take on what we're seeing transpire in the country now with an idea that perhaps some history is not worth telling, it's not worth reading
about, it's not something that children should have the opportunity to read in certain states.
As an author, as a historian yourself, how does that make you feel? And does it worry about not only what it does for your industry, but what it
does for children and people of future generations, learning about our history?
WHITEHEAD: No, I mean, it's ludicrous when you can't even mention slavery. You know, some of the legislation is so ridiculous in that extreme. But
pulling back, you know, I think we always get these reactionary moments in American history, you know, the commies are taking over, the P.C. mob is
taking over, that's the late '80s. And now, the woke mob is taking over, and there's backlash to any kind of progressive advancement.
I have to believe that art wins in the end. And I -- you know, and I do believe. I think if you are writing a poem, you are broke in your apartment
writing your poem, painting your painting, writing your novel, you have to believe that if you do it well enough, it will find its place in the world.
And so, all that stuff is -- I have faith in art, not so much in people. And so, I think we --
GOLODRYGA: So, do you think this too will pass?
WHITEHEAD: It will pass. And writers have nothing to do but write, right, and get it off their chest. And so, there will always be that and there
will always be readers waiting.
GOLODRYGA: You're in the middle now of writing the third book on Ray Carney?
WHITEHEAD: I'm at the middle. A little early than that. But --
GOLODRYGA: You're in the process?
WHITEHEAD: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
GOLODRYGA: What can we expect without revealing too much?
WHITEHEAD: It's the 1980. And so, New York City is coming out of the fiscal crisis. Wall Street is booming again. And then also, the late '80s,
we see the Wall Street crash, the AIDS crisis, the rise of crack. And so, there's another phase of being tested in the city. And Carney is being
tested as well.
So, tracking both my two protagonists, Carney and the city, it's just been a really cool project. And I've never done a series before. And so, if I
step back, it's 1,100 pages, and not just one book, but together, 1,100 pages of a man and the city.
GOLODRYGA: Well, Colson Whitehead, congratulations on the book. As you know, I asked if you read the reviews, you said you've read enough, and you
can get a sense of how popular and well praised this book is. And you dress for the occasion as well, the same colors as the book.
WHITEHEAD: In calming mellow yellow, yes.
GOLODRYGA: It's great to see you. Congratulations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: After the Supreme Court ruling, striking down most of President Biden's Student Debt Relief program, loan interest resume on September 1st
of 2023. And payments will be due starting in October. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that one in five student loan
borrowers will struggle to make payments once the pause ends.
Author Paco de Leon host the "Weird Finance" podcast and joins Michel Martin to discuss how people will be impacted by these changes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Bianna. Paco de Leon, thanks so much for joining us.
PACO DE LEON, HOST, "WEIRD FINANCE" AND AUTHOR, "FINANCE FOR THE PEOPLE": Thank you so much for having me today.
MARTIN: So, we call do you because you are a kind of financial advice guru expert and author, you know, focusing on millennials and also creatives.
You know, you've written books, you've written a column. We called you because you have a network of people who are affected by the student loan
phenomenon or crisis or whatever you want to call it.
Student loan interest is going to resume on September 1st of 2023. Payments are going to be due starting in October, that's according to the Department
of Education website. Are you hearing from borrowers in your network, and what are they telling you?
DE LEON: A lot of people are frustrated, and I can understand where they're coming from. Their expectations have been mismanaged. There was so
much expectation when it came to student loans being forgiven, and when the Supreme Court struck that down, a lot of people have felt left out.
So, it kind of feels like somebody is telling you, you know, in a couple of weeks, you're going to have an amazing birthday party, and we're going to
have cake and all your friends are going to be there, and then, the news changes and suddenly, it's, actually, you're not going to have a birthday
party. You're going to eat a tomato and I hope you have a great time. Maybe it's not that dire, but I want to illustrate that people had an idea in
their mind, they really believed that student loans would be forgiven. And now that they have to resume payments again, they feel really frustrated.
I will say, though, there are folks who have been critical all along. They've thought the government is not going to help me, they are not here
to save me, and I feel like those folks feel a lot more mentally and emotionally prepared to start paying their payments again.
MARTIN: And obviously, people knew that there was kind of a policy push to forgive these loans, but a lot of people haven't been paying them because
they have been on pause, right? So, what difference do you think this has made to the people that you are in touch with? And more broadly, to the
people who -- you know, whose financial situations you're acquainted with?
DE LEON: If inflation hadn't been growing at the rate that it was, I think that folks would not -- I think folks wouldn't feel nearly as sensitive to
resuming their payments. So, let's just say, for example, somebody's payment is about $1,000 a month for the last three years, they were not
using that $1,000, in a beautiful, perfect world, they were still taking that money and they were putting into a savings account, maybe even
investing it, maybe even continuing to make their loan payments.
But what I've learned over the many years in my work is that even though we know what's good for us, know the things that we "should be doing" from a
personal finance perspective, one, sometimes we do act outside of our best interests, but two, sometimes things completely outside of our control
impact what we're able to do with our money. And we're seeing what happened with inflation.
So, I think a lot of people are feeling the pinch. They're having to spend more in areas that they didn't necessarily predict over these last three
years, like food, especially. And that is where a lot of people's money is going. So, to take away from where they've been able to put their money, it
just feels like everybody is feeling the pinch.
MARTIN: You remember, like, President Biden, this was one of his key campaign promises. He wasn't the only one on the democratic side, he was
not the only one. I have to say, this was a promise of his. He put forward this proposal. The Supreme Court, you know, blocked the deal at the end of
June. So, people, are they primarily sort of anxious? Are they angry? And if they are angry, who are they angry at?
DE LEON: A lot of people are upset with the Supreme Court, most certainly. A lot of people are upset, in general, that their expectations for their
lives were mismanaged. I grew up -- I'm a millennial. I grew up in the '90s when the economy felt strong. We had a different attitude about how we
consumed back in the '90s. We have this idea that home prices are going to continue to rise, incomes are going to continue to rise. You're going to go
to college and you are going to be better off than your parents. That was told to us.
And for a lot of my peers, a lot of my clients, a lot of the people that I work with and I speak to, they really internalize that belief. They felt
the pressure from society to take out loans, to go to school, because we were told that was the only way to get ahead, that was the only way to be
better off than our parents.
And then, to arrive here, where tuition inflation is completely and utterly out of control, wages have not increased, there is lots of different places
that we can place our anger, and that's really what I'm seeing with folks.
MARTIN: Just the partisan aspect of this penetrate. I mean, the fact is that several Republican-led states and conservative groups are the ones who
filed legal challenges against the Loan Forgiveness Program, which isn't to say there aren't critics in other sectors, but they are the ones who
advanced the opposition and organized around it and took legal action against it. And I'm just wondering if the partisan aspect of it is visible?
DE LEON: Absolutely. We're living in a time where America is so divided, it's truly heartbreaking to see. And respectfully, I know I'm here speaking
as a media on the media, but we are living in a time where getting people upset is profitable. And so, being able to spin this story, making it
overly political and highlighting the division, it gets people upset, it gets people "engage," which means watching, reading, clicking, and I think
that we can't discount that power of our economy, the attention economy outrage, and all these issues that should be human issues, right?
Because when it comes to burdening our youth with debt, it's overall bad for the economy. My peers are deciding not to have children. They can't
afford to buy homes. A large share if their income is going towards student loans. And at the end of the day, that's not good for the economy. And
taking that to another layer, when education is not affordable and accessible, that's putting America at a disadvantage. If we can't educate
our citizens, how are we going to be competitive in the global economy?
MARTIN: Do you think that the opposition to this is primarily political or partisan, as in, this advantage is one party over another, or do you think
it's sort of ideological? Because what we're hearing from some people is that they feel like it's just -- some people say it's just wrong, you know,
like, its people took out these loans, and they knew what the terms were and they -- you know, if they didn't want to pay the money back, they
shouldn't have taken out the loan?
DE LEON: I think it's both, Michel. I think that some people are looking at this as an entirely political issue. It's an issue of fairness. It's an
issue of, you know, these people are getting something that they don't deserve, right? And I do think other people are looking at it from a more
puritanical perspective and a moral perspective that if you borrowed money, you ought to pay it back.
And while I mostly believe that that's the case, you have to really look at the realities. Students were 18 years old when they were offered these
loans. The rate of inflation, when it comes to tuition, is astronomical. There's few things that have risen in price the way that tuition has, and I
think, really, that's the larger question we have to ask, has education improved by 300 percent or have administrators' salaries improved by that
So, I think there's -- it's a big ball of wax. There's a lot to untangle. I definitely think a lot of people are -- a lot of people see it as a
partisan issue, as a political issue, and a lot of people do see it as a moral issue.
MARTIN: So, let's talk a little bit about some of the things that you raised and let's sort of isolate them. And so, let's talk first about that
Biden administration. I mean, they have -- they've announced a plan to forgive $39 billion in student loan debt for around 800,000 borrowers under
the save or Saving on a Valuable Education Plan. It's not as expansive as his initial proposal, but it does help a lot of people.
I mean, 800,000 is not like zero people. So, who is covered under this? And are people aware that this is a possibility?
DE LEON: So, for the people who are getting blanket forgiveness, their loans are going to be forgiven, it's going to be about 804,000 folks. Those
people -- this is a correction in errors, administrative errors and bureaucratic errors that have been happening.
So, the people who are qualified, you have to have at least made 20 years of payments, which is a lot of payments. So, if you're nowhere near there,
you are not in this 804,000-camp, unfortunately. But for -- there's statistics that has been floating around for many, many years, and it said
that 98 percent or so of folks who applied for loan forgiveness have been denied.
So, another way to look at it is only 2 percent of people over the years who have applied for forgiveness have been granted forgiveness. And this is
a lot -- a big reason is because of administrative and bureaucratic issues. So, the lenders, they are poor at record keeping or borrowers were kind of
put in this gotcha situation, where they needed to have been following these administrative tasks for X amount of years. And then, if you did that
and then, if you have proof of that, then your loan will be forgiven.
So, this forgiveness is frankly a long time coming for these folks. People are already starting to get notified by e-mail. I have spent some time
looking on that Reddit threads and reading people's responses. You know, people are on there saying, oh, my God, I'm one of 800,000. This changes
everything. This is a life-changing amount of money. So, that's been really heartwarming, actually, for me to go on and see people having an entirely
different perspective on student loans, like they're feeling joy and they're feeling gratitude, and I think that, you know, we should all take
that moment to appreciate that this is finally happening for those folks.
MARTIN: Is there an argument though that the Biden administration should have taken this approach to begin with instead of swinging at the fences
for something that was destined to be that controversial? I don't know what your -- what are your thoughts about that?
DE LEON: Yes, I'm trying to think. You know, I'm not necessarily the political expert here. So, I wouldn't know in terms of what the right play
was and how all those chips were going to land. I do think people's expectations were horrendously mismanaged, and that's really frustrating.
And the SAVE program has been -- it was introduced earlier this year, and now, it's taking center stage I think only because Student Loan Forgiveness
was struck down by the Supreme Court. And now, you know, this is an opportunity to highlight this thing that has -- was already being pushed.
MARTIN: Do you have advice for people who won't qualify for the SAVE plan, and especially for people who follow your writings and who do feel the kind
of despair that you're talking about?
DE LEON: Yes. From a practical perspective, I would say make sure that you gather all of your information and that you know your student loan
servicer. That's the first thing. So, Navient was a big player in the student loan game. They left the industry in 2021. So, all those folks
whose launch were serviced by Navient, they're somewhere else.
You need to figure out who your loan servicer is and make sure that they have all of your latest contact details, your e-mail address, your mailing
address, your phone number. And if you're not sure who your servicer is, you can go to studentaid.gov and you can find your account dashboard and
you'll be able to go to your loan services section and see who your servicer is.
And unfortunately, I would say, the other thing that you could do from a practical perspective is practice paying your payment now. So, you can
start taking, you know, what you expect your payment to be and sweeping that into a savings account and doing that over the next few months. And
just living with that and feeling it and seeing how your finances are impacted by it.
And if you're feeling that struggle, you're not able to make ends meet, that's, you know, a big sign that you need to reach out to your servicer
and see what plans are available to you in terms of a repayment plan.
I have some impractical advice, Michel.
MARTIN: Yes. Let's hear it. What is that? Yes. Play Powerball?
DE LEON: Yes, exactly. Play Powerball.
MARTIN: That's not a good plan. Let me just say that, that's not a good plan. What's your impractical advice?
DE LEON: You know, my impractical advice is that we're all living in an uncertain time. There is so much that we can't predict and there's a lot
outside of our control. So, you know, when you're feeling overwhelmed by your finances, just pause. And this is going to sound really silly, but
pause and take a deep breath. And in that moment, find the ways that you feel safe, find the ways that you feel secure.
When your chronically stressed like that, what happens is when you make financial decisions, big or small in that state, you're making them from a
place of stress and anxiety and not from a place of cognition. When that happens, what you do is you "make bad financial decisions," right, because
you're in a bad state. And then, it's a vicious cycle.
MARTIN: Why do you call that impractical advice? I think one of the points that you've been making in your work is that your emotions do affect your
DE LEON: My whole life, my whole career, I've been working in financial services. My first job was as a debt collector for a big bank. So, I
understand the kinds of objections that people have when it comes to my ideas and my advice with money. And I would say, up until kind of recently,
yes, folks did not want to admit or maybe did not see the link between our emotions, how we're feeling and our financial situation, that they impact
one another, especially my peers, especially other personal finance experts.
I think it's really easy to sell this idea that if you follow these steps, and you do these things, then you're going to be OK. But what I've had to
confront with my own personal finance journey and seeing my peers and my friends and my community struggle with their finances is that, oftentimes,
our emotions get in the way. And when people look like they're acting outside of their best interests, oftentimes there are some trauma there,
there is some wounding there, there is some stress and anxiety that's been chronic, and that needs to be addressed so that in the moments we have our
agency we are really doing the best we can with that little window.
MARTIN: I want to note that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that one in five student loan borrowers will struggle to make
payments once the pause ends. This kind of looks back to something that you've talked about earlier which is that, what does it say to you about
either the cost of college education or how we view college education that so many people are in that situation? Does it say something that we need to
think about more broadly?
DE LEON: Absolutely. We are -- America is wonderful for a lot of reasons. And I am grateful that I have the opportunity to build a life in this
country. But one of the big downsides is the size of our country is that everyone is always trying to make a buck off of everyone, and that
permeates our culture. Our culture is just -- it's steep and saturated in that idea. And we're even seen it with student loans.
It doesn't make sense to be profiting off of our citizens in that way. If we help them, if we educate them, if we arm them with skills, with trades,
with knowledge so that they can go into the marketplace, they can actually, you know, add value, create companies, be healthy, effective workers,
again, that is going to be better for the economy overall.
And I think that the way that we're doing things right now is incredibly short sighted. It's how can we make a profit off of anyone at any age and
we're not thinking about investing in our citizens in the long run??
MARTIN: Paco de Leon, thank you so much for talking with us.
DE LEON: Thank you so much for having me, Michel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And finally, we remember Jane Birkin. The beloved actress, singer, and fashion icon who passed away earlier this week at the age of
76. She became a household name thanks to her relationship with French singer, Serge Gainsbourg. And their sultry duet, "Je T'aime Moi Non Plus."
The song was so controversial that it was banned in several countries.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: But she became a star in her own right through acting and fashion, as the inspiration and namesake for the world's most iconic
handbag, her legacy will always live on. She told Christiane the story of how it came to be when they last spoke in 2020.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JANE BIRKIN, BRITISH SINGER, ACTRESS AND FASHION ICON: I was sitting next door to a man on the plane. He was very sweet, because I let my agenda, my
thing where you write your --
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Your diary?
BIRKIN: -- fell onto the ground. My diary, and a lot of other stuff onto the ground. And he said, really, you should have a diary with a pocket on
the inside to keep all these photos and all the mess I've usually got. And I said, well, what can you do? He said, well, give me the diary and I'll
get it done for you. And I said, really? And he said -- and I said, it is Hermes diary. He said, but I am Hermes.
And I said, why didn't you make the bag that's sort of four times the Kelly that you couldn't leave open, sort of, and sort of half the size of my
suitcase, because girls like to have things on the end of their arm to put all their stuff in? And he said, well, draw it for me.
And so, I drew it on one of those sick bags, the vomit bag, in the airplane. And he was true to his word. And when it came to coming over and
paying for the bag, he said, no, it's a gift. And so, I was knocked out. And he said, but we think it's so great that we'd like to give it your name
and to put it out, you know, as a handbag. And he said, we've only had my grandfather's traveling bag and the Kelly, after Grace Kelly, so I'm
But it was funny to come to New York. And they said, oh, Birkin, like the bag? I said, yes, now the bag is going to sing.
AMANPOUR: That's a good one.
BIRKIN: And Lou told me that people say to her, you mean, you're the daughter of the bag? So, I thought, bless me. You know, when I'm dead, then
not only is it "Je T'aime Moi Non Plus," but it will possibly even only talk about the bag.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: What an incredible story. Well, that is it for now. If you ever miss our show, remember you can find the latest episode shortly after it
airs on our podcast. And you can always catch us online at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thank you so much for watching and goodbye from New