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tv   60 Minutes  CBS  August 1, 2021 7:00pm-8:00pm PDT

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>> nine years of work, seven minutes of terror. >> he's talking about the descent and landing of the "perseverance" rover on mars. >> execute entry descent and landing on her own! >> and there goes the descent stage. >> wow! >> big sigh of relief. i almost collapsed over this console. >> part of its mission: to drop off "ingenuity," a mini helicopter that would take off and navigate in the martian atmosphere, much to nasa's delight. ( cheers and applause ) ( ticking ) >> good evening! >> as ford foundation president, darren walker oversees a $14 billion endowment. he thinks philanthropy needs a
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majo re-think. >> it has been normalized in american culture that you can work full-time and still be poor, and lesley, this isn't just an issue for african americans and latinx people. we have, for the first time in america, a generation of downwardly mobile white people. ( ticking ) >> michael lewis has written some of the most memorable books of a generation, introducing us to characters who help us rethink topics we think we understand. his latest: "the premonition," the hidden story of america's response to the covid pandemic. >> it's like a superhero story, where the superheroes seem to lose in the end. the little wrinkle on the end of it is, you know, they learned things that are going to help us the next time around. ( ticking ) >> i'm lesley stahl. >> i'm bill whitaker. >> i'm anderson cooper. >> i'm john dickerson.
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about once-weekly ozempic®. oh, oh, oh, ozempic®! you may pay as little as $25 for a 3-month prescription. >> anderson cooper: it's been a year since the tiny helicopter "ingenuity" and the one-ton rover "perseverance" left planet earth, and they've come a very long way since then. in february, they landed in a hazardous and previously unexplored part of mars called the jezero crater, where "perseverance" will be looking for signs of ancient life. in april, "ingenuity"
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disconnected from "perseverance's" belly and made history, performing the first flights ever in the atmosphere of another planet. it's hard to imagine, but worth remembering as you watch this story we first broadcast in may, that this all happened millions of miles away, in outer space. on april 6, in this desolate martian crater, 170 million miles from earth, "perseverance" posed for a selfie with "ingenuity," the little helicopter it had just dropped off. two weeks later, the rover's cameras recorded "ingenuity's" historic first flight, hovering ten feet off the ground for 30 seconds. it may not look like much, but, for those who'd worked so long to make it happen... ( cheers and applause ) was a reason to rejoice. ( cheers and applause ) j propulsion laboratory in california that's been working on "ingenuity" for six years. how hard is it to fly a helicopter on mars? >> mimi aung: very, very, very hard. ( laughs ) we really, truly started with
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the question of, is it possible? >> cooper: a lot of people thought it could not be done? >> aung: because it's really counterintuitive. i mean, you need atmosphere for the blades to push atmosphere to get lift, and the... >> cooper: the atmer aunhe atmpr mean, the room we're in, right, it'compared to that. it was 1% of the atmospheric density over there. so, the question of, really, can you generate enough lift, you know, to really build-- to lift up anything, that was the fundamental question. >> cooper: in subsequent flights, "ingenuity" has gone higher and farther, traveling more than a mile, in all, over the surface of mars. it is a triumph not only for nasa but for its partners in the private sector who helped make various parts of the helicopter. >> matt keennon: don't let it go. don't freak out. >> cooper: matt keennon has a history of making unusual things that can fly. he's an engineer at a company called aerovironment, which produces drones for military and i mean, that's incredible. ten years ago, for a military research project, keennon and
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his team created this robotic hummingbird, which has a tiny camera onboard. whoa! ( laughs ) >> keennon: there it is. >> cooper: oh, my god. that's amazing.engine ben pipenberg led the aerovironment team that created "ingenuity's" rotors, motors, and landing gear. why was this so challenging? >> ben pipenberg: because it has to be a spacecraft as well as an aircraft, and-- and flying it as a-- as an aircraft on mars is pretty challenging because of the density of the air. it's similar to about earth at 100,000 feet. >> cooper: how do you go about it? >> pipenberg: well, so, building everything extremely lightweight is really, really critical. >> cooper: the helicopter's blades, for example, are made of a styrofoam-like material coated with carbon fiber. ( tapping ) they're stiff and strong... >> pipenberg: you gesense w ghtt is. >> cooper: it weighs nothing. >> pipenberg: yeah, it weighs nothing. >> cooper: ...but incredibly
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light. >> keennon: here we go, taking off. >> cooper: this is the first time they've shown an outsider this version of "ingenuity," which they plan to use for education and research. they call it "terry." >> lift-off. >> cooper: here on earth, "terry's" blades are spinning at about 400 revolutions per minute. on mars, in the thin atmosphere, they'd have to spin six times faster to generate the same lift. >> and then land. >> cooper: "ingenuity" cost $85 million to build and operate; "terry," a lot less. but it's still nerve wracking to be handed its controls. >> keennon: all right, go ahead. you've got it. slide it right. you can push it all the way to the right if you want. slide left. >> cooper: wow. >> keennon: i'll bring it up a little bit. now stop. >> cooper: the joysticks we used to fly "terry" are of no use on mars. radio signals take too long to get there. >> keennon: all right. let me take over now. i've switched you out. and we'll go back to the... ( laughter ) >> cooper: even someone as good at flying drones and hummingbirds as matt keennon
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could't fly a helicopter on mars. here's what happened in 2014, in a test chamber that replicated the atmosphere on mars, when keennon tried to use a joystick to fly an early version of "ingenuity." >> aung: surprise. >> cooper: wow. ( laughs ) so much for that vehicle! so, this very quick demonstration must have showed you a human being can't respond quickly enough to control it. >> aung: exactly. >> cooper: so, engineers at the jet propulsion laboratory equipped "ingenuity" with a computerized system that allows it to stabilize itself and navigate on its own. in 2016, the new system aced the chamber test. >> aung: the blades are being commanded, you know, 400 or 500 times per second. >> cooper: they proved it could fly. but "ingenuity" still had to weigh under four pounds and fit in the belly of "perseverance." >> five, four, engine ignition, two, one... >> cooper: and it had to be tough enough to survive the journey to mars. >> ...and lift-off... >> cooper: on july 30, 2020,
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"perseverance" and "ingenuity" took off from cape canaveral. nearly seven months later, as this simulation shows, the spacecraft's heat shield hit the martian atmosphere going 12,000 miles per hour. >> announcer: "perseverance" ready to execute entry, descent, and landing on her own. >> cooper: as he sat in the control room, al chen, the leader of the landing team, had absolutely no control. radio signals would take about 11 minutes to travel from earth to mars. the spacecraft was pre- programmed to descend, maneuver, and pick a landing site on its own. all the work his colleagues hoped to do on mars would be impossible if his part of the mission failed. how long have you been working on this mission? >> al chen: coming up on nine years or so. >> cooper: really? that's a lot of work for seven minutes of... >> chen: yep. nine... >> cooper: ...terror. >> chen: nine years of work, seven minutes of terror. ( laughter ) >> cooper: it's done if the parachute doesn't work. >> chen: that's right. you know, no one wants to be that-- the guy that drops the baton.
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>> cooper: no landing by a spacecraft has ever been recorded as well as this one. there were six cameras capturing it all from different angles. the parachute deployed, then the heat shield fell away like a lens cap, and "perseverance" got its first look at the ground. this is not a simulation. this is what it looks like to parachute onto mars. how fast is it moving at this point? >> chen: yeah, we're still going about 350 miles an hour and still slowing down. >> cooper: so, it looks gentle here, but, in fact, you're-- the-- it's falling at more than 300 miles an hour. >> chen: that's right. we're heading straight down at-- at near-racecar speeds. >> cooper: below lay a series of safe landing spots, but the wind was blowing the spacecraft towards more treacherous territory to the east, and "perseverance" sent a message to earth saying the thrusters it needed to slow down might not be working properly. so, you get a reading saying the jets that are going to help it slow down and control the landing, that they're not working? >> chen: the stopping power. >> cooper: so, what do you do? >> chen: there's nothing you can do, right? everything already happened. that's the mind-bending part of this, right? >> cooper: you are sweating now.
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you were just talking about it. >> chen: yeah, exactly. i'm right back there again. ( laughter ) so, yeah. >> announcer: altitude, about 300 meters. >> cooper: to al chen's relief, "perseverance's" computerized landing system did what it was designed to do: it found a suitable landing spot even in rocky terrain. and, despite the warning, the thrusters worked. you can see them kicking up dust as they fire to slow the spacecraft down. >> announcer: skycrane maneuver has started. >> cooper: the descent stage known as the "skycrane" lowered "perseverance" to the ground. it hovered for a moment then flew off to crash a safe distance away. >> chen: and there goes the descent stage. >> cooper: wow. >> announcer: touchdown confirmed-- "perseverance" safely on the surface of mars. ( applause ) >> chen: at that point, big sigh of relief, you know? i almost collapsed over this console. ( cheers and applause ) >> cooper: for two months after the landing on the red planet, a team of engineers, programmers, and scientists here on earth had been living on mars time. it was their job to monitor the rover's health and tell it where to go and how to search for signs of life. while "perseverance" slept to
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conserve energy during the freezing martian nights, the team on earth analyzed the photographs and instrument readings it had sent back. they then prepared a list of things for it to do the following morning when it woke up. >> matt wallace: and so it's just after midnight on mars. the vehicle's asleep. >> cooper: project manager matt wallace explained that a day on mars is 40 minutes longer than on earth. the team's schedule was constantly changing. so, people here are-- are mars night shift workers. >> wallace: ( laughs ) yeah, that's a good way to think of it. >> cooper: but, i mean, working night shift is tough enough, but this is a night shift that's constantly shifting. >> wallace: constantly moving. >> cooper: yeah. >> wallace: that's right. yeah. >> cooper: on "perseverance's" fourth day on mars, it swiveled the powerful camera on its mast and took a look around. a space enthusiast named sean doran put the images together, set them to music, and posted the movie on youtube. even one of the top scientists on the project was moved when he saw it. >> ken farley: i went and got a
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beer and watched this thing scroll by. and that...that was the moment-- when i felt like i was there. >> cooper: ken farley leads the science team that will direct "perseverance" through the jezero crater. it's an area that scientists have long wanted to search for signs of ancient life that may be hidden in the rocks. >> farley: the oldest evidence of life on earth is about 3.5 billion years old. those rocks were deposited in a shallow sea. this crater that you see here was a lake 3.5 billion years ago. so, we are looking at the same environment in the same time period on two different planets. >> cooper: and if it's determined, however long in the future, that, "no, there was not ever life," what does that mean? >> farley: the place where "perseverance" landed, here in jezero crater, is the most habitable time period of mars and the most habitable environment that we know about. this is-- this is as good as it gets, at least with our current understanding of what mars has to offer. and if we don't find life here,
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it does make us worry that perhaps it doesn't exist anywhere. >> cooper: "perseverance" hasn't strayed far from its landing site yet, but its telescopic camera has already spotted a large number of boulders that ken farley says he didn't expect to see in the middle of an ancient lake. so, this has surprised you. >> farley: absolutely, yeah. >> cooper: so, what did those boulders tell you? >> farley: the most reasonable interpretation is a flood. you don't have fast flowing water out in the middle of a lake. you get fast flowing water in a river. and so, what that's telling us is, there was a river that was capable of transporting boulders that were this big. >> cooper: so, what, the lake would have gone down, perhaps, and then later on, there was a flood? >> farley: yeah. exactly. >> cooper: "perseverance" was suppsed to leave "ingenuity" behind after a 30-day demonstration of its flying ability, but nasa officials decided to keep the duo together longer to explore how rovers and helicopters might work together in the future. the fastest that "perseverance"
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was designed to travel is a tenth of a mile per hour. "ingenuity" has already gone 80 times faster, according to project manager mimi aung. >> aung: adding an aerial vehicle, a flying vehicle for space exploration, will be game-changing. >> cooper: it frees you, in a way. >> aung: absolutely, yes. so, a flying vehicle, a rotorcraft, would allow us to get to places we simply can't access today, like sites of steep cliffs, you know, inside deep crevices. >> cooper: after "perseverance" explores the floor of jezero crater, it'll head towards what's believed to be the remnant of an ancient river delta where, billions of years ago, conditions should have been ripe for microorganisms to exist. as this simulation shows, the rover's robotic arm can collect about 40 core samples of rock that'll be sealed in special tubes and left on the planet's surface. nasa plans to send another mission to mars to retrieve the tubes and bring them back to earth. in about ten years, ken farley says, scientists examining those
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samples may be confronted with a new and perplexing question. >> farley: how do you look for life that may not be life as you know it? we've never had to do that before. we've never had to actually ask the question. >> cooper: "is there a form of life that we can't even conceive of?" >> farley: yeah. we're going to have to conceive of it. i think that's the whole point of this: we're going to have to start conceiving of life as we don't know it. >> cooper: if all goes according to plan, "perseverance" will be making tracks on mars for years to come. since it's carrying the first working audio microphones on the red planet, we leave you with what it sounds like as the one- ton rover slowly moves across the vast, lonely expanses of mars. ( clank, clank, clank ) since our story first aired, china landed its first rover on mars, about 1,000 miles away from where "perseverance" is located. china's national space
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administration has said it, too, plans to collect samples of the red planet and bring them back to earth. ( ticking ) >> explore the martian surface. >> this is something that we've never done before. >> at from prom dresses to workouts and new adventures you hope the more you give the less they'll miss. but even if your teen was vaccinated against meningitis in the past they may be missing vaccination for meningitis b. although uncommon, up to 1 in 5 survivors of meningitis will have long term consequences. now as you're thinking about all the vaccines your teen might need make sure you ask your doctor if your teen is missing meningitis b vaccination.
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>> lesley stahl: imagine if your job were to give away upwards of $500 million a year, trying to make the world a better place. that is the enviable-- or perhaps unenviable-- task of darren walker, president of one of this country's largest and most prominent philanthropies, the ford foundation. a gay black man who grew up poor in a single-parent home in rural texas, darren walker is probably not who henry ford would have
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chosen to give away the proceeds of the family fortune. walker believes that in this time of stark and growing inequality, of staggering wealth for a few but stagnation for far too many, philanthropy needs a major rethink. and, as we first reported this spring, he's using his checkbook and his charm to make the case that generosity is no longer enough. >> darren walker: so, good evening! >> good evening! >> walker: i'm darren walker, and i have... >> stahl: as ford foundation president, darren walker oversees a $14 billionendowment and a landmark headquarters building in manhattan where more than 1,500 grants are made each year to nonprofit organizations in the u.s. and around the world. its grants helped create giants like public broadcasting and "sesame street," human rights
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watch, and head start, a program walker says made a huge difference in his own life as a poor kid in east texas. he was in its very first class. were you even aware, did you even know what the ford foundation was? >> walker: i had no idea what the ford foundation was. i didn't know what policy was. but i knew that i was a lucky child. and i always felt my country was cheering me on. >> stahl: walker fears that kids living in poverty now don't feel cheered on by their country. so, after he was chosen to lead the foundation in 2013-- he'd been a vice president before that-- he did something radical: >> walker: all of our grant- making in the u.s. and around the world... >> stahl: he announced that every ford foundation grant moving forward would have as its mission fighting inequality in all its forms.
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>> walker: inequality is the greatest harm to our democracy because inequality asphyxiates hope. >> stahl: his argument is that generosity is insufficient. the real goal of giving should be justice. what's the difference between generosity and justice? >> walker: generosity actually is more about the donor, right? so, when you give money to help a homeless person, you feel good. justice is a deeper engagement where you are actually asking, "what are the systemic reasons that put people out onto the streets?" generosity makes the donor feel good. justice implicates the donor. >> stahl: because you're telling the donor they're going to have to change themselves. >> walker: and that they contribute. you're the person who won't let a homeless shelter come into your neighborhood. >> stahl: makes you uncomfortable. >> walker: that's the point.
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>> at the ford foundation, we know that inequality limits the potential of all people... >> stahl: as part of the foundation's new direction, walker changed how it invests its endowment, moving a billion dollars into what are called mission related investments-- like companies building affordable housing. he reduced funding to marquis names like lincoln center, while increasing grants to the apollo theater and studio museum in harlem. >> a $1 billion initiative... >> stahl: another innovation, a new program called build, which gives a billion dollars in grants to nonprofits and allows them to decide how to spend the money... >> the organization is always in the driver's seat. >> stahl: ...even if it's on adding staff, or new computers. this is counterintuitive, because i think most people really want to know that the vast majority of the money they give is going to the program itself. >> walker: all of the unexciting
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parts of a nonprofit has to be paid for-- technology and infrastructure, paying the rent. it is both arrogant and ignorant to believe that you can give money to an organization for your project, and not be concerned about the infrastructure that makes your project possible. >> stahl: walker also made changes internally. he sold the foundation's old art collection, 400 works by white artists, all but one of them men, and bought new works by more diverse, contemporary artists, like this kehinde wiley portrait of a woman from brooklyn depicted as royalty, which he put right at the foundation's entrance. walker comes from a large southern family, whose matriarch was the daughter of slaves. he grew up in rural ames, texas, the segregated part of a county ironically named liberty.
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covid prevented us from traveling to ames with walker, but a local camera crew was able to find his first house-- now abandoned-- so he could give us a virtual tour. >> walker: this house was a little shotgun shack on a dirt road. the thing about a shotgun house, it usually has a door and two rooms. >> stahl: walker's mother, a nurse's aide, raised him and his younger sister on her own. did you ever meet your father? >> walker: i met my father once. i was about four years old and-- my cousin brought me by and said, "joe, this is your son, darren. and, don't you want to say hello anhe wouldn't come out of the house. i actually never saw his face because the screen door covered most of his face.
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>> stahl: that is so painful. >> walker: i think it's painful, but i think it's also-- there's a resilience that comes from that. >> beulah spencer: i knew the lord had something good in store for darren. >> stahl: the resilience really came, walker says, from his mother, beulah spencer. >> spencer: education, education, education. >> stahl: who saved up to buy the encyclopedia brittanica for her kids, one volume at a time. what was darren like as a little boy? >> spencer: oh, my god, i had to pay him to stop talking so much. ( laughter ) i'd say, "darren, if you'd just be quiet for 25 minutes, i'm going to give you a quarter." >> stahl: he was a strong student, was elected to his mostly-white high school's student council, and attended u.t. austin on scholarship for college and law school. he moved to new york to work at a top law firm, then in banking,
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selling bonds, and met his decades-long partner david, who passed away suddenly two years ago. walker put his younger sisters through college, then left banking to do community development work in harlem, and has been in philanthropy ever since. >> spencer: i'm just proud of him. very, very proud of him. >> stahl: especially so when that chatty little boy brought her to a state dinner at the white house, where it was she who didn't stop talking. >> spencer: i was talking to president obama and darren's standing at the background saying, "mother-- ( laughs ) --move, move." >> walker: but she broke protocol, lesley. >> stahl: what'd she do? >> walker: because-- ( laughs ) she was supposed to briefly greet the president and move on. she grabbed his hand-- >> stahl: ( laughs ) and held on? >> walker: --with her hands. ( laughter ) and wouldn't let go. >> stahl: but she had something to tell the president, right? >> spencer: yes. i told him we were praying for him.
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>> walker: hi, bob steele, how are you? >> bob steele: i'm so much better now. >> stahl: if walker has a super- power, it's being able to get along easily with just about everyone. pre-covid, he mingled comfortably with new york high society... >> walker: that was a different party. >> stahl: many, his close friends. with a salary of almost a million dollars, he says he knows what it is to be in the bottom 1% and now the top. >> walker: let me be clear, lesley: i am a capitalist. i believe there is no better way to organize an economy than capitalism. >> stahl: but he says the system has gotten skewed, with the richest 90 people owning as much wealth as the bottom half of the country combined. >> walker: i want to challenge capitalism to do what it's supposed to do, and that is to provide opportunity. >> stahl: so he goes on business channels calling on corporations... >> walker: what happened to those profit-sharing plans for workers? >> stahl: stop putting shareholders ahead of their workers.
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>> walker: it's unthinkable to me that it has been normalized in american culture that you can work full-time and still be poor. that is antithetical to our idea of this country. and lesley, this isn't just an issue for african americans and latinx people. we have, for the first time in america, a generation of downwardly mobile white people. >> stahl: they're making less than their fathers did? >> walker: that has huge implications for our politics. >> stahl: what's interesting is that usually when change comes, the leader is outside the tent, shouting in. you're inside. you're going to all these galas. >> walker: as a person who is sometimes in the room, i think one of the things that i do in the room is to talk about uncomfortable truths. >> stahl: and often, people in
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the room are swayed. walker pulled off a reconciliation between the ford family and the foundation after a nearly 40-year estrangement. henry ford ii severed relations in the '70s after clashes over bringing women onto the board, and policies he considered too liberal. walker used that superpower of his and reached out to matriarch martha firestone ford, then convinced henry ford iii to join a far more diverse board. >> walker: henry, what do you have to say about this? ( laughter ) >> henry ford iii: it's pretty heavy, darren. >> stahl: this was the board's last in-person meeting before the covid-19 pandemic struck. then george floyd was killed, both thrusting issues of inequality to the center of the national conversation as never before, just as nonprofits, including those in the arts,
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were fighting for their lives. >> walker: theaters went dark. museums closed down. all of the kinds of things that we support here at the foundation, were in need, so people were panicked. every one of you had a role to play. >> stahl: working from home, walker thought up a secret plan, something no foundation had ever done: raise a billion dollars by issuing bonds, so the foundation could double its payments to needy grantees in the arts and racial justice. the bonds were rated triple-a, and sold out in less than an hour. it had to be that your background suddenly came in, because you were a bond salesman. >> walker: to be totally candid, it was less my knowledge of the bond market, and more the urgency i felt to do something. >> stahl: walker is calling on everyone to do something.
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he's turned the ford foundation building into a vaccination site, and in a provocative "new york times" op-ed, he wrote that people with wealth and power need to share some. you're asking people who are invested in the system as it is, that grants them all the privilege, to give that up. i don't know if it's within human nature. >> walker: i agree with you, lesley. it's not human nature to give up privilege, particularly if you feel it's hard earned. but at the end of the day, we elites need to understand that, while we may be benefiting from this inequality, ultimately, we are undoing the very fabric of america. we are going to have to give up some of our privilege if we want america to survive. ( ticking )
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when michael lewis began work on his book about america's failed response to the pandemic, he had a beginning, but no middle or end. when you were writing this book, it was still unfolding. had you ever done that before? >> michael lewis: i did something a little unusual with this book. into my lap landed, i think, three of the best of the characters i've ever had. and i thought, let's just write the people and worry about how the story plays out when the story plays out. i got the richest narrative i think i've ever had. >> dickerson: what you describe in the book is a need for people who have the risk-taking muscle, who are going to take risks when the information is bad, because they know if you wait for the information to be good, you'll be going to a lot of funerals. is that where "the premonition," the title of the book, comes from? >> lewis: that's exactly where the title of the book comes from. in this case, i came to appreciate the power of intuition. and it isn't just random
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intuition; it's trained intuition. you have to be able to look around the corner. you have to be able to see a little further that it's-- than is really visible. >> dickerson: you've done this in a lot of your books, though. you find the person who knows actually what's going on but who nobody's listening to. there's something about the way institutions work that the voice that knows what's going on is in the wilderness. >> lewis: there are times when, working on this, it reminded me a bit of "the big short," where the world has collapsed and you find these people who are actually not just predicting collapse but actually describing exactly how it was going to collapse, because they actually understood it. and they aren't the peope you'd expect. >> dickerson: lewis writes that at the beginning of the pandemic, one of those people was dr. charity dean, a disease control expert and the assistant director of california's department of public health. in january of 2020, dean was alarmed when she saw images circulating on social media that appeared to show chinese authorities welding apartment doors shut to keep residents
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indoors. >> dr. charity dean: and watching those videos on twitter, because i had no other source of information, i thought, "they know something we don't, and this is real." california's major airports meant the virus was already circulating in her state. she guessed there might be 100 undetected cases of covid-19. dean did what she called "dirty math" on her whiteboard, plotting what the virus might do to california in the coming weeks. so, you're doing the dirty math on the whiteboard, and you step back and you think, what? >> dean: i thought, "oh, my god. i don't believe this. it's 20 million in may." >> dickerson: her projection of 20 million cases meant half of california's population would be infected within four months, unless officials intervened to slow the virus's path. what was the response when you told your bosses that? >> dean: disbelief, shock, and
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then irritation. >> dickerson: why irritation? >> dean: because i think it's growth of an existential threat. >> dickerson: they didn't even let you use the word "pandemic" when you wanted to, is that right? >> dean: i was asked to not say the word "pandemic" because it might scare people. but i was scared. >> dickerson: and you thought people should be, too? >> dean: absolutely. >> lewis: charity, who thinks she's all alone, all alone in the world, aware in january that this pandemic is going to sweep through the united states, and nobody's doing anything about it, including her state government. and nobody will listen to her. and, all of a sudden, she's introduced to the wolverines. when she finds these people, it's like, yeah, these are my people. >> dickerson: who were the wolverines? >> lewis: the wolverines were a group of seven doctors, all of whom at one point or another had worked in the white house together and who stayed in contact and kind of helped the country navigate various, various previous disease outbreaks.
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but they weren't in the decision-making apparatus in the u.s. government. >> dickerson: why are they called the wolverines? >> lewis: they're called the wolverines because a fellow white house employee dubbed them so. it had some obscure reference to the film, "red dawn..." >> wolverines! >> lewis: ...where these group of high school kids named the wolverines go up and try to defeat the invading russians. >> dickerson: in other words, the wolverines had to take things into their own hands because there was nobody to stop the invading force. >> lewis: that's right. they were a guerilla disease- fighting operation. >> dickerson: because the people actually who were supposed to be fighting the disease weren't doing it. >> lewis: weren't doing it. >> donald trump: we have it under control. it's going to be just fine. >> dickerson: in late january, as president trump and the federal government publicly showed no urgency over the virus, lewis writes that the wolverines tried a workaround-- getting the states to move. it's why the wolverines recruited charity dean, hoping if she could push california to act, the federal response might quicken. >> lewis: she asks one of them,
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"who's running the pandemic response?" and one of them says, "nobody's running the pandemic response. but to the degree that anybody's sort of running the pandemic response, we sort of are." >> dickerson: this is fantastical, i think, to most americans, which is, they think there is something called the centers for disease control, and there are big buildings in washington that have health and human services. why did the wolverines have to do what there are huge institutions designed to do? >> lewis: that's a great question. ( laughter ) that's a very good question, right? in the first place, the trump administration abdicated responsibility for running the for the federal government. he just walked away from that. he said, "governors, you're on your own." >> dickerson: the wolverine whose analysis drove the group was carter mecher, an unassuming former i.c.u. doctor who worked as a senior medical adviser for the v.a. in atlanta. >> carter mecher: the frustration was, when the pandemic virus emerges anywhere in the world, it's a threat to everyone, everywhere. and the messages that we were
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hearing at the time, when we're, you know, looking at the outbreak in china, was that this was not a threat to the american public. >> dickerson: during the bush administration, mecher had helped write a detailed national pandemic response plan. lewis reports that as the covid threat grew in january 2020, mecher spent his days burrowed with his home computer in suburban atlanta from 5:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night, digging for data from open sources to make back-of-the-envelope clculations. he calls it "redneck epidemiology." >> mecher: it really was meant to convey being resourceful, to use whatever data we could get our hands on to try to make sense, because really that's what we were trying to do. >> lewis: this is the big thing. the big thing is, he knows we need to get an answer fast. we need to get an answer before we know for sure because, by the time we know for sure, we'll be overrun. he starts to google websites in wuhan that are in chinese, and he puts them in google translate
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to find body counts, to find how many people have died and when they died. and he finds that the chinese are misreporting dates of deaths and numbers of deaths. carter's able to figure out that this isn't just a bat infecting a person. these are people infecting other people at an incredible rate. >> dickerson: six weeks before president trump declared a national emergency, mecher wrote in an email to the wolverines on january 28: "any way you cut it, this is going to be bad. the projected size of the outbreak already seems hard to believe." >> lewis: carter mecher said, "this is-- this thing is frightening, and i can show you why it's frightening." he wasn't just-- just chicken little. he had a reason. he saw-- he saw the sky falling, and he actually could explain how it was going to fall. >> dickerson: in february, 700 people were infected on the "diamond princess" cruise ship while it was anchored in tokyo bay. mecher determined the infection rate on the ship was 20%. and what happened when you
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plugged that into what a virus that operated that way would look like if it hit the u.s. health system? >> mecher: 300,000 dead is-- is a rough approximation, based on the "diamond princess." >> dickerson: who should be the one with their hand on the bell, saying, "we've got to move, this is bigger than we thought"? >> mecher: c.d.c. >> dickerson: and they weren't ringing the bell. >> mecher: we didn't hear them ringing the bell. >> dickerson: the c.d.c. wasn't just slow to respond. it bungled the most important tool required in the fight: testing for the virus. u.c. san francisco biochemist joe derisi decided to build his own testing lab to help california. >> lewis: and he said, "the centers for disease control doesn't know what it's doing. we can't control the virus unless we know where it is. we can't know where it is unless we test. so we're going to do the tests." >> dickerson: to push for action, charity dean employed her whiteboard; carter mecher, his redneck epidemiology. derisi employed fancier tools. he worked at something called the biohub for the chan
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zuckerberg initiative. had you ever built clinical testing labs before? >> joe derisi: absolutely not. and so, we were actually going to have to build this plane, send it up in the air partially built, and learn how to fly it while we're building it in the air. >> dickerson: they built the lab in eight days. >> derisi: covid-19 for the order code. >> dickerson: it could produce covid test results in 24 hours, and they offered its services for free to county public health offices across california-- which is when derisi discovered how starved for resources public health offices were. >> derisi: we had a whole bunch of clinical results they were sending to a county, and we sent them by fax because that's how they officially receive results. >> dickerson: did you even have a fax machine? >> derisi: no. but we got curbside delivery at best buy and were able to buy a $300 fax machine. it was the first fax machine i'd seen in years. but the problem was, after we faxed these results, we got a call the next day saying, "why did you only return half the results?" we realized that their circa
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early '90s fax machine only had a page buffer that could hold about half the results we sent, so we literally went back to best buy, got another curbside delivery, and drove up a new fax machine up to that county public health office because they didn't have the budget to buy their own new one. >> lewis: i chose my story, my characters, to dramatize those pockets of deficiency in our society so we could see them, because they saw them. i just followed the characters. >> dickerson: there were pockets of success. charity dean helped convince governor gavin newsom to shut down california on march 19... >> gavin newsom: we need to bend the curve. >> dickerson: ...the first state to do so. california has registered 3.8 million covid cases to date, not the 20 million once feared. dean credits carter mecher's vision with giving her the courage to push. so does fellow wolverine dr. matt hepburn, who ultimately led vaccine development for the
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trump administration's "operation warp speed." but still, over 600,000 americans have died. >> lewis: it's like a superhero story, where the superheroes seem to lose in the end. they're there to fight this pandemic and to save american lives. they don't appear to do it, but the little wrinkle on the end of it is, you know, they learned things that are going to help us the next time around. >> dickerson: the stories of each character's struggle to be heard highlight what lewis says is a key point: public institutions are ill-equipped to move fast enough to handle a large-scale pandemic. his characters worry the country is still vulnerable. what connects them, the characters? >> lewis: they love life, they realize how important it is, and they want to save it. and so, they all have some-- this emotional component of when they hear 600,000 americans died. it's not just a number. >> dickerson: michael writes that all of you are motivated by your-- your love of life.
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do you agree with that characterization? >> mecher: my training was in critical care medicine, so i operated i.c.u.s. and in an i.c.u., what i got to see and what i got to witness was the final struggle for a lot of human beings. i got to see the last, last days, last weeks, last moments of a lot of people. and, you know, in sports, they talk about, you know... sorry. they talk about, like, you know, players leaving it all on the field. and, you know, when i would see these patients in the i.c.u., i would watch them in that struggle, and they left everything on the field. everything. and, you know, my question for us is, almost 600,000 people in this country have left everything on the field, and the question is, have we? ( ticking ) (thunder) we took the truck that helped build this country... and made it so it can power our homes.
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