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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
In the face of on the unprecedented disaster, California residents pray for relief.
I speak with Governor Jerry Brown about the state’s worst ever fires.
Then, Iran calls new U.S. sanctions an act of economic war. Iran’s ambassador to Britain joins me in London.
And with comedy hit broad city and a new memoir in her pocket, I talk love, vulnerability and the rest with millennial superstar, Abbi Jacobson.
Plus, as we come to grips with the dangers of digital media, our Walter Isaacson speaks with a tech world innovator who says technology is still a
force for good.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
In the face of this inconceivable inferno, it is best to let the sights and sounds of the deadliest most destructive fires in California history speak
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Get me the fuck out of here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heavenly Father, please help us. Please help us to be safe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are evacuating Paradise, California. We can’t even see. We don’t know where. So please, please, please pray for us that
we get out of here OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can’t see.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be all right. We just — it will be OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We’re not going to catch on fire, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We’re going to stay away from it. It will be just fine, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We’re doing all right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought the windows were going to shatter because it was just so hot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Some people even said the smoke turned day into night. So far, we know of 44 people who were not able to make it out of the fire safely
and the massive walls of flames continue to burn with intense heat.
Up north, campfire burned more than 6,000 family homes and cause 42 known deaths. And in Southern California, in Malibu and Ventura County, 2 more
people were killed and hundreds more homes are destroyed in the Woolsey and the Hill Fires. Meteorologist say the region remains under critical and
extreme risk today with possible wind gusts of up to 70 miles per hour.
Governor Jerry Brown calls the conflagration the new abnormal. In the face of climate change, a massive residential development, he predicts his state
will suffer many more such catastrophes over the coming decades. He joins me for an exclusive interview about what Californians are dealing with
today and what they are sure to face again in the future.
Governor Brown, welcome to the program.
JERRY BROWN, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: Thank you. Glad to be here.
AMANPOUR: Well, Governor, we have spoken to you many times about these terrible fires in the past. The whole world is watching and really
grieving for California and those who are affected. Can you just give us an exact sitrep right now of the fires, the speed, the number of
BROWN: Well, tragically, in the northern part of the state, so far 42 people have been identified as having perished in the fires. There are
still many that are still missing. So, that number could go up. In Southern California, it’s only a couple at this point.
And I would say generally the fires are still burning. The threat now is greater in the south because the nature of the dry winds. And this whole
thing comes about because the vegetation, the trees, the soil, the dirt is all warmer, it’s dryer. There’s not as much moisture, water in the
environment. And therefore, when these winds come and there’s a spark, these fires just take off and they move very rapidly from one spot to
another and people have very little time to react.
AMANPOUR: And we’ve just seen and we’ve heard these terrible sounds, the sights of what’s going on just before we started to talk to you, and you
can clearly hear the panic and we know that even cars were not fast enough to evacuate people and it was just a really hellacious time for those who
are caught up in it.
BROWN: Well, yes. I mean, there — you know, there’s material, there’s kindlings, whether you call it bushes or trees or grass, when it gets dry –
– and most of the time there’s plenty of moisture but during this period, the end of the summer, now in the fall, it just happens to be very dry.
And of course, in California, the last decade or so, it’s getting drier and warmer, more dry and for a longer period of time. So, that compounds
everything and catches people by surprise. So, the fires just come out of nowhere and people don’t have very much time at all to respond.
AMANPOUR: And you’ve called this the new abnormal, you’ve said that Californians will have to get used to this. And again, we see these
overhead maps and satellite imagery, we can see the smoke really billowing across and affecting even other states as well. And it’s incredible that
these are happening not just in one season, they seem to be happening out of the season as well.
BROWN: Well, this fits in well what the scientists have been telling us. When I say the scientists, I mean well over 90 percent of scientists in
general and 100 percent of those who look at the southwest in this Mediterranean climate that we have, and it’s not just California, it will
be throughout the country and throughout the world.
So, temperatures are going up, probably significantly even in the next 10 years, and that drying, warmth, lack of moisture, the effect on wind
velocity, all of that is going to bring about more — unfortunately and tragically more of what we’ll be seeing — what we’re seeing today and
you’ll see more and more of that on a regular basis.
AMANPOUR: And it really doesn’t bear thinking about. But I want to ask you about the immediate firefighting capabilities. After a threat to cut
off funding over the weekend, President Trump has now declared it a major disaster area. And I believe that means that a whole load of federal funds
are on the block to help, is that correct? Are you getting what you need to try to fight these fires?
BROWN: Yes. We’re getting what we need. And very particularly, we’re getting what we need from other states, Texas and to surrounding states of
Washington, Oregon, Nevada, they’re all helping and even further away. So, we’re maxed out for resources, we have thousands of inmates who are trained
as firefighters to be on the line and they’re there along with the regular firefighters, the highway patrol, local sheriff’s, first responders.
So, everybody’s pulling together to do everything they can to not only fight the fire but help people escape from it.
AMANPOUR: That’s a remarkable image. You’re taking people out of prison to help fight these fires?
BROWN: Well, you do that on a regular basis. There are thousands of inmates who practice and who are employed — have been employed before and
will be employed again.
AMANPOUR: OK. So —
BROWN: So, that’s a very important component of the fire fighting force.
AMANPOUR: So, let me read to you what caused a huge amount of upset in your state, over the weekend President Trump tweeted, “There is no reason
for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year with
so many lives lost all because of gross mismanagement of the forest. Remedy now or no more federal payments.”
All right. Break that down. He’s changed his mind on payments and, as I said, he’s declared this major disaster. But what about mismanagement?
Where does the onus lie there?
BROWN: Well, first of all, you want to understand that more land is owned and managed by the federal government under the president than is in the
hands of California, that’s number one. Number 2, there is increasing management of forest. More is needed and we have to understand
scientifically what we do. Just pulling out all the trees can create even more dryness and lack of moisture and lack of water, it could contribute to
So, it’s one element but there’s a lot of other elements, the winds, the rising temperatures, the dryness that goes on for days and weeks. There
are many atmospheric elements as well as the fact that there are cities in close interface with more forested areas. So, you got a lot of factors
here and I would say that statement, as expressed, misses two fundamental facts. Number one, there are many factors and number 2, the largest
management area is under the direct jurisdiction of the president himself.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, can I ask you then about what you touched on. The extra stress that is being put on this area and areas like it by increasing
populations and people who are moving out to these areas that may not have been fit for habitation or potentially can’t tolerate a so much humanity
there in the midst of all these forests. Tell me a little bit about that and does there need to be a rethink in so-called urban planning or dwelling
BROWN: All right. Well let’s — we should know one historical fact, for over 10,000 years California could only support about 300,000 people.
Today, we have over 40 million. And with that 40 million, we have a lot of technology, obviously, much of it allowing us to be here but a lot of it by
way of emissions of carbon exacerbating the problem. So, that’s one thing.
So, and then the second thing is where are people going? There are not native peoples moving from the mountains to the sea and back again
depending upon the time of the year. People are getting very fixed in fixed dwellings all over the place.
So, yes, we need to look at our planning, we need to revise it but you’re talking about the entire state, you’re talking about modern civilization.
We’re in a world — we’re in a configuration that may not be, and certainly in some respects, is not compatible with the natural environment by way of
fires, winds and the topography of the way the state is constituted.
AMANPOUR: Which kind of begs the question, so what happens in the future? I mean, we read that at one point they campfire, the so-called campfire was
burning fast enough to consume one football pitch every second. I mean, I think Americans can understand that size and that speed.
BROWN: Well, I don’t think we understood it as well as we do today. We learn. Hopefully, really learn from what has happened. And yes, there are
real dangers. But also, we have the threat of massive earthquake. The prediction in California is over 50 percent, some say 60 percent of the
likelihood of a massive catastrophic earthquake, and there are millions of people living in areas that could be affected by that.
So, there’s a lot of hazard here. We live in this — in a world of modern world where we think it’s comfort and prosperity and security, but the
truth of the matter is we’re highly vulnerable in this state as your in New York and in Great Britain and other places. So, we sometimes with the
modern world and all the conveniences and the instant coffee and grocery stores make it look that we’re out of the woods as it were, well, we’re
not, we’re embedded in a very fragile or dangerous and sometimes very hostile environment.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And you mentioned where we are, Europe this last summer had a terrible fire especially in Portugal, in places like that. So, it is
actually a global issue and it happens further afield as well.
I just wanted to ask you because you said we’ve had support from neighboring states, support from around the United States. And Colorado
Republican senator talked about funding in response to what President Trump said over the weekend this is what he said.
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CORY GARDNER, U.S. SENATE REPUBLICAN: I don’t think it’s appropriate to threaten funding, that’s not going to happen. Funding will be available,
it always is available to our people wherever they are, whatever disaster they are facing. I do think though this year we came up with a strong
bipartisan success in fixing the wildfire funding issue that had kind of paralyzed our ability to go out and fight fires and suppress fires and
mitigate next year’s forest fires.
So, one of the great bipartisan accomplishments of this past Congress was actually in the area of forest fires and finding a solution for funding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Do you agree, Governor Brown, that there is a bipartisan —
AMANPOUR: — consensus around this issue?
BROWN: Well, let me put it this way, there is an issue — there’s a bipartisan consensus to get us more reliable money but there’s not a
bipartisan consensus for dealing with the underlying problem. And I know it may sound more remote but I have to say that the temperatures are
warming, the winds are getting more intense, the fires are more likely, the hurricanes are more intense, warming is occurring because of the continuing
and rising carbon emissions, and that’s occurring in many countries in Europe as well as in the United States, and you have an entire Republican
party that is virtually in denial about this as well as the president but you also have leaders in Europe that are not doing when they need to.
What you’re seeing in California is the new abnormal. You will see it in Europe, you will see it in Russia, you will see it in China, you will see
millions of refugees from Africa because the heat will unbearable. And we’re not talking 50 years, we’re talking 10, 15, 20 years and these events
come about in ways we never expected.
So, there are tipping points, we can pass them before we even know about it. So, yes, let’s focus on today but realize the underlying dynamic of
this tragedy is not being addressed, it’s being exacerbated every day everywhere and that’s what I think leaders need to come to grips with.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And it’s quite a passionate statement you made there. Particularly, we not, obviously, that you are soon to be the ex — the
former governor of California, your successor will take over. Well, just sum up, you know, your time in office and particularly on this issue or
others that have meant a lot to you and you feel you’ve got a legacy?
BROWN: Well, I would say that the — in terms of fires, the worse is every year we have to — we go through this and people are dying, they’re losing
loved ones and it’s a horror. And just fighting it in the short term, yes, we have to do it and we should do it. But we got to, you know, look at it
and see the facts.
We know that this planet is changing and that we have the ability to stop the carbon emissions and we’ve got to actually bring them down to zero or
what you’re seeing in California will be the new abnormal all over the world. If I can do anything, I want to keep bringing this to people’s
attention because I think the leaders of the world are asleep.
And I want say, they all got together there in Paris and they didn’t say much about World War I when all these great leaders of Europe and America
were totally stupid in what they did, they create a horror and they didn’t see it. Well, those similar horrors are being generated on a longer-term
basis by the same leaders who are equally as blind, I have to report and that’s very tragic.
AMANPOUR: Wow. That puts it in a really very dramatic and historical context. Governor Brown, thank you very much for all that you’ve been and
a major voice you are on this issue. Thanks for joining us.
BROWN: OK. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, a difficult end to Jerry Brown’s tenure as governor of California. Now, the Trump administration is talking tough about re-
imposing draconian economic sanctions on Iran’s oil shipping and banking industry. Here’s national security advisor, John Bolton, speaking on the
Fox Business Channel just before the midterm elections last week.
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JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: These are not permanent waivers, no way. We’re going to do everything we can to squeeze Iran hard.
As the British say, to make — to squeeze them until the pips squeak, and we’re going to do everything we can. Their choice and the mullahs in
Tehran either change their behavior dramatically or face economic disaster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, the waivers refer to the administration’s decision to exempt some of Iran’s biggest oil purchases including China, India and Japan from
this new ban and that would be for the next six months and possibly even longer.
The White House believes the sanctions will bleed Iran’s economy to the point where the country will no longer be able to fund militant
organizations and terrorism across the Middle East. President Hassan Rouhani says Iran won’t bend to “the language of force, pressure and
threats.” Meanwhile, it is still complying with the Iran nuclear deal which Trump has withdrawn from.
Now, Hamid Baeidinejad is Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. And we want to welcome you, Ambassador, back to our studio here in London.
HAMID BAEIDINEJAD, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.K.: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, you heard what John Bolton said, bleed and squeeze Iran’s economy to the point when you’re going to cry uncle and surrender and
change your comportment, your activities. Is that realistic?
BAEIDINEJAD: We are very sorry that these languages or are used which really are disastrous. We had Pompeo, Mike Pompeo — the Secretary Pompeo
was saying that if Iran wants to feed their nation and have them eat, they should agree with the U.S. and listen to the U.S. These languages are
really extraordinary and not understandable.
As you see, the exemptions that they have been providing to many things around the globe means that the United States has been failed to, in fact,
to create a kind of consensus among the countries to have unified sanctions against Iran than they have been under the pressure from so many Sunni kids
here and there that they want really to continue working with Iran so they have been under pressure to accept to giving some waivers and exemption.
AMANPOUR: But those may not last forever. And in the meantime, you know, these countries are buying your oil. So, what are you saying, that the
fact that India, China and the others are able to keep buying, you are not — you can still maintain your economy? I mean, the economy is hurting.
There’s the devaluation of the currency, there’s, you know, a real spiral in people’s ability to pay for their daily lives.
BAEIDINEJAD: Sure. We started to be feeling the — these hurts from around five, six months ago because the importance here is the
psychological impact rather than having very practical on the ground. So, they started the kind of psychological warfare to frighten our people and
to sabotage our economy. But gradually, we could, in fact, manage to, in fact, find ways and means that we can guarantee that we can continue to
And now, they are on the record to say that they would be zeroing the Iranian oil export, which has not been successful.
AMANPOUR: So, tell me how you’re doing it. I read that you’re trying to find private companies to sell your oil to and then they can export it.
AMANPOUR: Is that what’s happening?
BAEIDINEJAD: We have a lot of alternatives because we have had some experiences from the past and we know that, in fact, the difference from
this time comparing to the previous time is that the countries are not ready to comply with United States’ requests. So, we have enough leverages
to continue our exports.
AMANPOUR: So, you say that but you can see like companies in droves leaving Iran, all sorts of companies that sign deals with Iran came to Iran
in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal have bolted, they do not want to get on the wrong side of the United States. I mean, that must be a serious
threat to our economy.
BAEIDINEJAD: We are not happy that, in fact, the big companies are living in Iran because of the U.S. pressure. But in the meantime, we have a lot
of interest by medium sized and smaller sized companies to work with Iran. And we are in close contact with the European unions that how we can ensure
that, in fact, medium sized and small size companies could continue their work with Iran.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. I’m going to play a soundbite from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo where he laid out
exactly what Iran has to do in order to get relief from these sanctions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We must beginning to define what it is that we demand from Iran. Iran must stop enrichment, Iran must end
support a Middle East terrorist groups including Lebanese Hezbollah Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Iran must withdraw all forces under
Iranian command throughout the entirety of Syria. Iran must end its threatening behavior against its neighbors, many of whom are U.S. allies.
You know that list is pretty long, but if you take a look at it these are very basic requirements.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Have you stopped any of those things?
BAEIDINEJAD: of course not because, in fact, these are just the allegations and some of them very unbased (ph) accusations that United
States is making against Iran. And this is exactly the contradiction that we received in the U.S., that in one way President Trump is inviting a lot
of times that, in fact, President Rouhani would meet in. And in other occasions. we see that this kind of contradictory statements that there are
conditions to be met by Iran.
So, this shows that there is no consistent policy in the United States and they are putting forward conditions that they know better than everybody
else that it’s impossible for Iran to be accomplishing because, in fact, when you started the nuclear deal, for example, on enrichment, that was
possible because the United States shifted its policy from zero enrichment to accept that Iran can have a kind of a level of enrichment.
Now, they are saying that we should come back to the zero enrichment policy, which is impossible. So —
AMANPOUR: So, are you still — I mean, the U.N. agency says that you’re still complying with your end of the deal, under the JCPOA. Is that
AMANPOUR: And will that continue?
BAEIDINEJAD: We are in close negotiations with other — in fact, the countries or partners, China, Russia and the E.U. 3. And the E.U. also is
heavily involved. And we hope that we can reach to an understanding that they would be ensuring that the JCPOA could be, in fact, to continue to be
implemented. If we can additional that understanding, we would be also continuing to be complying with —
AMANPOUR: So, let’s move a little bit wider now because we have also, at the moment, a big international pressure on Saudi Arabia, which the Trump
administration has banked on to isolate and confront Iran in the region. But in the wake of the Khashoggi murder, there’s a lot of pressure now on
The scholar, Vali Nasr, former State Department official, has written today as, “Mr. Trump’s mirage of an Arab order evaporates, a stark reality
emerges. There is no credible Arab challenge to Iran’s regional influence nor is there any prospect of reducing it with American threats and
I assume you’d agree with that but I want to ask you factually, do you feel you are benefiting from the pressure now on Saudi Arabia and its behavior?
BAEIDINEJAD: The benefit that we can get from this new situation is that the West understand better that, in fact, there is no possibility that the
policy of question and intimidation by the Saudi Arabia would be successful in the region because they started the Yemeni war, they, in fact, took
hostage, the prime minister of Lebanon, the blockade — they tried to blockade, in fact, the Qatar and they have had a very understandable
behavior in the region to endangering peace and security.
If now the rest, the United States and, in fact, the European partners, would understand that this policy has been quiet, have devastative impacts
on the security of the region and tried to see what they can do to — in fact, to redress the situation, that would be a benefit that we can get,
all of us.
AMANPOUR: Well, you talked about the Yemen war, and the British certainly believe and the Americans to an extent believed that this pressure on Saudi
Arabia could lead to at least a ceasefire, some kind of solution to this terrible war. You are blamed for supporting the Houthi side. Do you
believe that there’s a moment now, would Iran come to a ceasefire agreement?
BAEIDINEJAD: We have been always agreeing that, in fact, there should be a ceasefire on the ground. And according to the — to our knowledge and our
information, the Houthi government was always ready to enter into a ceasefire agreement but the problem was and is that the coalition of the
Arab — Saudi Arabian and Emirates, they never believed that a political solution is the only way to resolve the Yemeni issue and they always try to
resolve the issue through military forces, which is impossible.
AMANPOUR: And again, about Iran’s behavior, you are trying — Iran is trying to get Europe to play ball, trying to find other mechanisms. And
right in the middle of all of this, the Danish government has accused Iran of sponsoring a murder in Denmark of an Iranian-Arab opposition figure,
apparently a plot to kill. And the Danish foreign minister said an Iranian intelligence agency has planned an assassination on Danish soil. This is
completely unacceptable. In fact the gravity of the matter is difficult to describe.
I mean, that’s a pretty serious knock and a serious allegation to face from the very countries who you hope to try to save you from these sanctions and
BAEIDINEJAD: Exactly. If these accusations would have any ground, we would be the first country to be interested to know more and detail aspects
of these events in Denmark. And we were really faced with the astonishment and surprise to see that without any prior consultation and dialogue with
us, in fact, there was media engagement on this and, in fact, there were statements why did Danish authorities.
We have told them that we are ready to, in fact, enter into a dialogue to see what are the facts on the ground because there are some elements which
are very suspicious, the timing of announcement of this event and incident is very suspicious because. in fact, it was at the verge of — or important
dialogue with the European union and the announcement of the U.S. policy on sanctions. We believe that we have good relations and you can really
tackle with issues through dialogue and cooperation rather than through intimidation and, in fact, going to the media. So —
AMANPOUR: All right. Ambassador, I’m afraid we have to leave there.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much indeed for coming —
BAEIDINEJAD: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: — in on this issue.
BAEIDINEJAD: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, turning now to a completely different lane, one of Comedy Central’s biggest stars, relatable, funny, with a pinch of politics, Abbi
Jacobson is the co-creator, actress and writer of Broad City, which follows the everyday lives of two New York girls.
[13:30:00] The comedian recently pressed pause on her real life too to take a solo road trip across America which inspired her new book. It’s
called “I May Regret This”, a series of self-discovery essays which puts her readers in the passenger seat as she reflects on love, loss, and work.
I spoke to Abbi Jacobson about navigating feminism and comedy in Trump town.
Abbi Jacobson, welcome to the program.
ABBI JACOBSON, AUTHOR, I MIGHT REGRET THIS: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: So I Might Regret This, what might you regret precisely?
JACOBSON: Well, you know, it took me so long to find this title. I think I — this book of essays is just very vulnerable. I was writing very
personally. And, you know, Broad City in a way is personal but I get to kind of hide behind this character the whole time. And this just feels
very much I’m putting much more of myself out there. I don’t think I regret it. But that’s the feeling I had while writing it, was a little bit
like what am I doing.
AMANPOUR: Well, it’s nerve-wracking, isn’t it?
AMANPOUR: I mean vulnerability, intimacy, all of that is just plain nerve- wracking.
AMANPOUR: Why did you go there?
JACOBSON: I think I was feeling — so I went on this road trip. We had wrapped Broad City Season 4. I was feeling so overwhelmed with work and I
was also really heartbroken. I had just basically been dumped a couple months so I was very heartbroken and I needed to get away from anything
that I knew was like my routine life. And I needed to be in L.A. for work and so I planned this road trip by myself.
And I think it’s a mix of me writing in this longer format. I’ve never really written essays or a longer format other than scripts. And it was a
mix of being nervous about that and being nervous about just opening up so much.
AMANPOUR: You say about, you know, writing in the book, “I became a writer because being a working actor wasn’t really happening. I had no control of
my career being just an actor. And as I’ve said before, I enjoyed being in control. So in a bizarre turn of events, I ended up in the driver’s seat
of my acting experience by creating a part for myself.”
JACOBSON: Yes. I entered the world of comedy and was like trying to audition and just could not — I couldn’t get parts on the stage there and
I couldn’t even get terrible commercials. Like I wrote about in the book – –
AMANPOUR: Not even terrible commercials? Forget (INAUDIBLE).
JACOBSON: This is so embarrassing. I was like so — I remember being upset that I didn’t get this commercial for foot fungus cream.
AMANPOUR: Foot fungus cream?
JACOBSON: Yes. Because it was so rare for me to even get an audition for a commercial. But I was like I can’t believe I didn’t get this commercial.
It just was not working out. And then Ilana and I had been doing improv forever together for like three years and we had such a clear dynamic that
felt different than anything else.
AMANPOUR: Let us play this little bit of a clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ILANA GLAZER: Why would you go into a big building today of all days? Abbi, it’s inauguration day.
JACOBSON: I know. I’m sorry, OK.
GLAZER: I also asked about my laser hair removal. Abbi, it’s about to get I Am Legend up in here. You’re going to need those —
JACOBSON: No, dude. But I prepaid for the package. What am I not going to finish a package? I’m sorry. I don’t want a mustache for the
GLAZER: Mustaches are going to be currency soon.
JACOBSON: I mean it’s going to grow back. Leisurely, partly works on me.
GLAZER: I know. I think it’s like the equipment and the settings more importantly.
JACOBSON: OK, OK, OK, it’s happening. We are T minus 60 seconds until Trump is inaugurated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: In this moment of really vitriolic and virulent conversation in public, Trump attacking us, potentially we’re attacking him, how do you
feel about matching like with like? I mean it was very anti-Trump with a lot of swear words, very very vicious. What do you feel about being in
that mix of that rhetoric?
JACOBSON: It’s starting to get a little scary to be so actively anti-Trump publicly. But also as a comedian, I mean that was this we do this like
bridge content going to hack into Broad City that allows us to do content that when we’re not airing. So the inauguration wasn’t only we’re airing
and so that felt like a day that we wanted to comment on.
And they’re always intended to be funny but it’s also — I mean as a comedian, it’s like, yes, funny first but you can’t ignore what’s going on
in the world. And if our voices lend itself to commenting on something that’s important and significant for the time, [13:35:00] I mean that’s
like my job.
AMANPOUR: A lot of what’s happening in our political culture actually directly affects the faith and the rights of women. And I want to play
this really, really sweet clip which is when again you and Ilana are at Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in 2016 obviously before the
election and here it goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLAZER: Oh my God.
JACOBSON: Sorry. We are just so excited.
HILLARY CLINTON: It’s all right. Just take your time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That pretty much sums it up.
JACOBSON: I mean I think she ad lib take your time because we just went on and on. And she was — I mean she was such a pleasure and I wish people
kind of got to see how she was with us on set. She was just laughing with us.
AMANPOUR: You and Ilana have come out and said that she shouldn’t run again for president.
JACOBSON: I mean I adore — I really love Hillary. I think that she has – – was the most experienced person to ever run for president. But I just think that we need some fresh blood in there. We need like somebody new to
come in. I hope she — and then so I said in that interview down there in D.C. too, I hope she continues to do something. I’m so excited to see what
she does next.
AMANPOUR: The rights of women and girls are always in play. You know some are saying that there’s an unseemly backlash against Me Too, not just from
certain male quarters but actually a girl on girl so to speak. Just went to a comedy show in London stand up and she did this routine called Girl On
Girl. And it was actually about the backlash against women from other women and women being encouraged to almost beat up on each other over this
whole Me Too moment. What do you make of it and how do you process and translate that for yourself and for your millennial female and male
JACOBSON: I mean I haven’t experienced that personally, the — like a backlash of women against women. That’s just something that exists that
people expect women to like be competitive with one another. And like a lot of interviews Ilana and I used to do people would just ask us like what
we fight about or like what makes us — and it’s like that’s such a bizarre place to go. Like why is that your go-to question? But I think it might
go into the Me Too movement too where I don’t know if that’s like a narrative that’s put upon the movement.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, it is actually interesting because we see certainly with the proliferation of social media and how young girls,
teenagers, young teenagers are on this all the time. And it’s not just a kumbaya. There is quite a lot of cat fighting and unpleasantness between
young girls on social media. What do you — what’s going on and what do you think you’d like to say about that?
JACOBSON: I mean social media — I have — I’m of two minds of social media because it is why I have a career at all. We started on YouTube and
we shared — you know my whole comedy career has begun because we shared stuff on social media. But it is — like it brings out the worst in us and
it allows us to be anonymous and full of hate.
And like I’m so happy that I did not grow up with social media. Like I got — I think I had Facebook when I was in college. I was like part of the
first round of Facebook. I didn’t even have a cell phone. I cannot imagine what that must be like to be in high school and to be plugged in.
And like the bullying that just exists in person is tenfold on social media because you can hide behind that.
AMANPOUR: So what will the fifth season bring? We’re in the post-election world but, you know, you’ve got at least another two years of this cycle.
What will this next season tell us?
JACOBSON: So this season, we don’t go into feelings about this administration as much as we did in the fourth. It’s commented on, you
know, everyone like one would in their everyday lives. But it’s, you know, it ends. This is the last season and so there’s —
AMANPOUR: That’s it?
AMANPOUR: Why did you decide to end it?
JACOBSON: We — it was tough. We thought about it for a long time. And it’s really about living in New York in your 20’s and we’re playing younger
versions of ourselves. And it just felt like the kind of show that shouldn’t go on forever and that we really want it to be [13:40:00] good.
And we don’t want people — I don’t know. I think you should end when people still love it.
AMANPOUR: A lot of people have looked at Broad City as a real sort of millennial feminist track. The “Wall Street Journal” came out with this
thing like a sneak, what was it? A sneak —
AMANPOUR: Sneak attack. How did you — what did you get from that? What do you think it meant?
JACOBSON: I love that term because when we set out to write the show, you know, we never — we didn’t say, “Oh, let’s make a feminist show.” And
when that came out, we realized, oh, this is a sneak attack because it is so feminist. But it’s just feminist by us being very true to who we are
and what we believe in. I think maybe at the time when we started doing the show, you kind of had to be a little sneaky about it.
I mean when we pitched the show, Girls was on the air as well and New Girl which like very different shows. But when we pitched, it was like networks
should be like we already have a show —
AMANPOUR: About girls.
JACOBSON: Yes. And it’s like there can only be one. And now I feel like it’s way more let’s get more shows like this.
AMANPOUR: Abbi Jacobson, thank you so much.
JACOBSON: Thank you so much. What a pleasure.
AMANPOUR: Now, it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t pick up our phones to do just about everything. But for governments, there’s some
catching up to do. Step forward, Jennifer Pahlka, the former U.S. deputy chief technology officer who now runs Code for America. It’s a group of
tech wizards helping big bureaucratic institutions benefit from the digital age. She tells our Walter Isaacson that it’s not just about apps, it’s
about a complete mind ship for everyone. The pair also chats about the defense innovation board which they both sit on.
WALTER ISAACSON, CONTRIBUTOR: Hey, Jennifer. Thanks for joining us.
JENNIFER PAHLKA, FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CODE FOR AMERICA: Hi, Walter. Thanks for having me.
ISAACSON: You started in the gaming industry. What did you learn from that?
PAHLKA: I was in the business to business media industry doing video game development conferences and trade shows. And it was an amazing time. This
was a world in which people were literally creating new worlds that people could play in. And I think it was really the ambition of that community
that got me lit up. They were —
ISAACSON: And it made it into a community and almost lead to the Web 2.0, right?
PAHLKA: Yes, absolutely. So I was doing this big show, the Game Developers Conference and sort of watching not only an industry grow but
sort of our awareness of what you can do online and what kinds of experiences you can create. And then we transitioned into running
something called Web 2.0 which was really about the participatory web. And that was also just amazing because people not just creating sort of
imaginary worlds but really changing the world that we live in through technology.
ISAACSON: You know the narrative almost leads up to Code for America. This is a very participatory thing where people are creating services in
new ways for government to do services.
PAHLKA: There’s a definite through-line but it’s also true that there’s a huge contrast. So going from a world in which we were working with Twitter
and Facebook and Google and their very early days and sort of telling the story of the participatory web, then looking at how you would bring those
principles and values to government. Well, government works slowly and uses technology in a very, very different way and that was really what got
me started —
ISAACSON: Is that necessary that government has to be slower and use technology different? Or do you think you could really push the government
to be more like a startup?
PAHLKA: Well, we’ve pushed the government to be different every day. I don’t necessarily think it should work exactly like a startup. What I do
think it can do is bring those approaches that you see in the tech platforms and we think of those as being user-centered, iterative, and
data-driven to the government. And I know we can do that because we do it all the time. It’s just that we’ve made government very risk-averse. And
when I say we, I literally mean we the people. We can’t just blame politicians and —
ISAACSON: By risk averse, you mean that if the government makes a little mistake and something —
ISAACSON: — we’ll jump on them. Whereas private industry, they can move fast, break things, and then fix them, right?
PAHLKA: Yes. And governments really learn to the — to do these very long planning processes, where they try to get everything right from the
beginning, and then they roll stuff out. And it often doesn’t work because it hasn’t actually been tested with users. If you look at how the
platforms that we use in our personal lives today were built, they started small and iterative and they tried things, little things, that didn’t work.
So we talk about the start of the world of embracing failure but what we’re really saying is fail small and fail fast because the consequences are
small instead of doing these big, big, big projects. And then when they don’t work, the failure is really devastating.
ISAACSON: So let’s give some examples here. I mean if I needed a car, I’d hit my Uber app or my Lyft app on my phone here. What have you done for
local governments like that?
PAHLKA: Right. So an example of what you would [13:45:00] call an app is something we did in California called Get Cow Fresh. So you know, whether
you would apply online for food stamps was an application that took about an hour to fill out. It had about 50 screens, 200 questions, didn’t work
on a mobile phone. If you tried to use it on a library computer, the computer would time out before you could get through it.
And so we’ve made an application that’s just about seven minutes to fill out, works on your phone. It’s really clear. The language is really
simple. But it’s really just an entry point for gaining sort of situational awareness about what users are doing. We know when they’re
stuck. We follow up with them by text message. And so we think of it as an app but what it really is is an entryway into changing the policies and
operations of the programs based on what the users of the program really need.
ISAACSON: You know you say you follow them by text message too.
ISAACSON: Isn’t that something that would be a radically more simple way to do government if I need my license to just be able to text somebody? Is
PAHLKA: Well, we’re doing it and lots of others are doing it. It requires a sort of whole scale change in, not just the technology that the
government runs, but how the government thinks. We should really be going to where the users are and text message is really where our users are these
days. So we have a bunch of programs that we run where we primarily communicate with the users to the government programs by text, including
one that helps people stay compliant with the terms of their probation for instance.
Much easier to text somebody if you’re about to miss your drug test and you’re on probation. You can text your probation officer and tell them,
“Oh, I missed the bus. I’m going to miss my drug test.” And they can help you make sure that you can reschedule it instead of unfortunately going
back to jail.
ISAACSON: You know this morning, just by happenstance, I was following my Twitter feed and LaToya Cantrell, the Mayor of New Orleans, which is where
I live, tweeted out something that Code for America had done which was called, what is it, Blight?
PAHLKA: Blight Status.
ISAACSON: Blight Status.
ISAACSON: And I looked it up and I actually just went to my phone. Here, I’m actually going to do it here and boom, here it is.
ISAACSON: And it was after the hurricane, the blight. And I typed in — like I can type in Napoleon Avenue and there, boom, done, are all the
things in my neighborhood, all the blight, and then tells us what the status is, latest activity —
ISAACSON: — et cetera.
PAHLKA: It was a great project. We did that back in 2012 with an amazing team and it really changed the conversation between the people in the
neighborhoods who were advocating for various properties to be demolished or rehabilitated and the government. Because prior to Blight Status, there
was no common way of knowing where these properties stood. And so you had these meetings between government and the neighborhood activists that were
just sort of shouting at each other. Once they could literally all be on the same page, they started working productively together.
ISAACSON: And Clear My Record. That one fascinated me. Explain that.
PAHLKA: Well, Clear My Record is driven by what we call the implementation gap. So an example of an implication gap is that in every state, virtually
California where we live, there are remedies that allow people who have old, low-level convictions on their record to clear them. Very often,
these are felonies but they were for maybe dealing marijuana several years ago.
If you have that on your record, it means you can’t get a job, you can’t get student loans, you can’t live in public housing. There are thousands
of statutory limitations to your life that and it means that you’re probably stuck in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. So the people
said, “This is done, why are we doing this? Let’s take this off their records.”
And so something like Prop 47 in California that voters passed allows for it legally. But what it doesn’t do is implement the law. And so several
years later, only about three percent of people who are eligible to do that have because you have to go to a legal clinic between 9 and 11 on Tuesdays.
You have to go get your rap sheet which is by the way written in code and you’re supposed to figure out what it says and verify that it’s correct but
you have no idea what it says.
There are about 10 steps to the process involving lawyers and courts and fees and filing that really it’s very difficult to get through. Unless
you’re incredibly persistent, it takes about a year. What we’ve done at Code for America is show that you can download rap sheets in bulk,
algorithmically read them to determine eligibility, and automatically fill out the petitions for the courts.
So in theory, we can do this at great scale and just actually honor the intentions of the voters in a short amount of time by not making people
petition. And this is how government should run. If we say we’re going to do something, we should do it.
ISAACSON: Now, you can do that one in great scale.
ISAACSON: But it would seem to me that if things require mobile and some, you know, some tech savvy, then we might be exacerbating [13:50:00] the
digital divide a bit when everything that government does is now becoming service as an app you have to do online and on the phone. What do you do
to prevent that?
PAHLKA: Well, certainly mobile is for most people actually greater access than the desktop —
ISAACSON: Computer in a lab, yes.
PAHLKA: Yes. So many government programs sort of moved into the digital age when there was an assumption that you would do this at a computer. For
many low-income people, that can be at a library but as I said, that’s not terribly accessible. So mobile is actually a great way to bridge that
divide to a certain extent.
ISAACSON: You know something else you’ve been involved in is the U.S. digital service which is slightly different. That’s trying to get techies
to sort of the government as part of — you are too, right, as digital service members?
PAHLKA: Yes. So many of them actually are there longer than a year or two now. And same with Code for America, we now take people for long-term gigs
and we put them on particular services. USDS is really just building digital competence right at the center of government. So it’s a part of
the White House and people come in and they’re bringing all of those skills and approaches. Some of them from government but many of them from the
private sector. Many of them from tech companies.
ISAACSON: Is it hard to get people from the private sector that want to go work in government or is it sort of a patriotic thing like serving your
PAHLKA: It is very patriotic. It is something that I think is increasingly seen by the tech community as the most valuable way that they
can give back. Because if you work in government to fix problems, you’re working at the greatest scale that you can possibly work at.
For example, we think about alleviating poverty in this country. Most of us will think about philanthropy, helping people. Well, philanthropy
spends about 42 billion a year on social services, the government spends between 10 and 20 times that. So if you can make a government program just
5 or 10 percent more effective, you can actually eclipse the impact of all philanthropy.
ISAACSON: Another thing that you’ve joined is something called the Defense Innovation Board.
ISAACSON: Which may seem in some ways like a contradiction in terms that, you know, the Defense Department could be that innovative. It started in
the Obama administration with Secretary Ash Carter but then General Mattis, the Secretary of Defense now in the Trump administration has asked you and
the rest of us to continue.
Explain your grandparents who are very part of the military if I remember reading that right. Your parents are a little bit more of that generation
that sort of antiwar generation of the late 60’s. Did you have hesitancy about saying I’m going to go help the Pentagon?
PAHLKA: When I was asked to join, my initial answer was no. I didn’t seem like it was my sort of thing. And the more and more I thought about it, I
realized that it was pretty important for us to bring these approaches that we’re bringing to all levels of government. Particularly, to the Defense
Department where people’s lives are also on the line, Americans’ lives, others’ lives.
And you realize how devastating it can be when we get the technology wrong, we get the systems wrong. It really — I realize there’s a lot at stake
there. And I decided it was important that if I had anything to bring to the table, I should be bringing it to that table as well.
ISAACSON: And did you find the Defense Department to be receptive or are they resistant to technological change when it comes to the type of system
change you’re talking about?
PAHLKA: There is certainly a desire for better technology in the Defense Department broadly. I think what there is is a skepticism that the
bureaucratic processes that have grown up around the Defense Department. And frankly, all around government will allow for it. We have these very
long complex processes of procurement that involve years of writing requirements, documents, and then years of —
ISAACSON: For weapon systems.
PAHLKA: For anything, for software, for weapons, for the most basic things. I mean one of the things that part of the USDS at the Defense
Department, the Defense Digital Services is doing is just the travel system. Everything is harder when you don’t have the right tools because
you can’t get software that works.
So, you know, do they want it? Absolutely, they want change. But they don’t just want technological change, they want what we call pure
bureaucracy hacking. They want to streamline the bureaucracy so that they can do software and systems the way that they’re done well today, the way
that makes systems work for people.
ISAACSON: You know so what I’m hearing you say from Code for America, the U.S. Digital Services, the Defense Innovation Board is not just about apps.
It’s about applying a new way of thinking and new systems of thinking so that we take what we’ve learned in the technology world and apply it to the
rest of our more bureaucratic lives.
PAHLKA: Absolutely. And I think when we say we there, again it’s really everybody has to have that expectation of government. So government’s got
to change. [13:55:00] The vendors and the ecosystem have to change. And we have to expect government to work that way.
And we call it Delivery Driven Government because it’s really about that delivery level where you actually interact with the government services.
If those interactions drive the creation of policy and operations, it’s a fundamentally different game.
ISAACSON: Jennifer, thanks for joining us.
PAHLKA: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: And Jennifer Pahlka clearly has her work cut out for her.
Thanks for watching ‘Amanpour and Company’ on PBS.
And join us again tomorrow.