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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Interview With President Hamid Karzai; Interview With Mohamed El-Erian
Aired June 26, 2011 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: This is GPS, THE GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
We have a very important show for you today. The world heard President Obama's Afghanistan plan this week, but what is the Afghan response? We will find out in just a moment. I have an exclusive interview with the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.
Then, we'll introduce to you a nation that will have only 364 days this year while the rest of us enjoy 365. "What in the World?" indeed.
After that, is Greece on the brink of bankruptcy? Does it matter? Is America? We'll ask the man who should know the answers to all these questions, the CEO of the world's largest bond trading firm, Mohamed El-Erian.
Next up, crowd sourcing the U.S. constitution. I asked for your ideas for amendments. We got an extraordinary response, and we'll talk to Jeff Toobin about the realities of amending the U.S. constitution.
All that, and more. But first, here's my take.
This week, we got a real insight into the way Barack Obama's strategic mind works. From his campaign on, Obama has clearly felt that the United States has a lopsided foreign policy, with too large a military commitment to certain crisis points on the globe. He has wanted to rebalance American foreign policy to shift the focus away from the problems of the past -- Iraq, Afghanistan -- and focus on the challenges of the 21st Century, the rise of China and Asia more generally.
Well, this week, he made good on those ideas, announcing a significant drawdown of troops from Afghanistan, effectively reversing the surge that began 18 months ago. When he came into office, the United States had almost 200,000 troops engaged in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. By next year, it will have half that number, most of them in non-combat operations.
Some would wish this drawdown was slower, others faster, but Obama has basically made the right call. Look, the United States cannot disengage instantly from a war it has fought for a decade with allies from dozens of other countries, international institutions, and commitments made to those allies and the Afghan people. Henry Kissinger once said getting out of a war is not like switching off the channel on a television set.
I understand that General Petraeus and other key advisers wanted a smaller drawdown to consolidate the gains that American forces have made in Afghanistan. But there will never be the perfect time. Afghanistan is a troubled country, in which some progress has been made, but parts of the country remain unsettled, beyond Kabul's control, and with some Taliban control. That would be true now, it will be true two years from now.
The Taliban cannot be defeated purely militarily. They will reconstitute. At some point, you will have to find a way to bring them into the governing structures of the country. They are an indigenous force in Afghanistan, representing part of the large Pashtun community.
The much bigger problem with stabilizing Afghanistan is that the solution does not lie in the number of American troops or Afghan troops. It lies with getting Pakistan, specifically the Pakistani army, to cooperate in this endeavor, and, right now, the signs in that direction are troubling.
There are signs everywhere that the Pakistani military has been infiltrated by radical Islamists who view the Taliban as their natural allies and the United States and the west as their natural enemies. This week, a brigadier general was arrested for his ties to the extremist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Last month, well armed militants stormed an important naval base in Karachi, an operation that clearly required internal help. Also last month, a brave Pakistani journalist who had detailed this Jihadi infiltration into the military was tortured and killed almost certainly by the Pakistani Intelligence Services, which does deny it. And, of course, Osama Bin Laden could not have been happily ensconced in a villa in an army cantonment without some help from some elements of the Pakistani military.
The Pakistani military has been trying to deflect attention from these problems by stoking anti-Americanism at home. It has been trying to cozy up to China. It has been trying to thwart sabotage any serious investigation into its problems.
If it continues on this path, a path of conflict, isolation and geopolitical games, it will mean backwardness for Pakistan. And it will mean no peace for Afghanistan.
Let's get started.
ZAKARIA: President Karzai, thank you so much for joining me.
PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: Well spoken. ZAKARIA: You know, Mr. President, there was a big debate in the United States about what exactly the president should say, and there were some who felt he -- he should have announced a slower withdrawal, some a faster withdrawal. If you were to -- had a magic wand, would you have preferred this to be a slower withdrawal?
KARZAI: The announcement that was made last night by President Obama is welcomed by the Afghan people. The number of troops that he has announced to be withdrawn this year and the -- the rest, next year, is a sign that Afghanistan is taking over its own security and trying to defend its territory by its own means. So we're happy with the announcement.
As for the number of troops, we have no opinion on that.
ZAKARIA: No opinion, meaning you leave it to the military commanders? But when you look at what the Red Cross says, security in Afghanistan is at its worst point, the number of violent deaths are at the highest point. How could this be the optimal number, given the security environment you're in?
KARZAI: Regardless of what the security situation in Afghanistan is, it is the responsibility, it's the job of the Afghan people, to defend their country.
Having said that, I can confirm to you today -- and I've -- and I've had this confirmed by the local means, not by government means or -- or the means of NATO, that security in parts of the country has improved, that life is better now. Of course, not desirable, but better.
ZAKARIA: But there is -- you know, the Afghan NGO points out, the NGO Safety Office in Kabul points out, that there have been a 66 percent increase in attacks by insurgents. Why do you think this is happening?
KARZAI: Not -- not the kind of attacks that would -- that would worry us. These are incidents, not attacks of the kind that would enable anybody to take a village or -- or a road, or -- these are IED attacks and suicide attacks, so -- which we can not stop unless we have addressed the root cause of all of this trouble.
So in terms of overall security of the country, in terms of the mobility of the forces, the mobility of the people, things are better.
ZAKARIA: You know, there has been considerable worry in the United States about some of your recent comments, particularly, you know, you talked about the fact that the United States' forces are in danger of becoming an occupying force in Afghanistan, which prompted the outgoing Ambassador Karl Eikenberry to say you are risking losing support in the United States when we have troops there risking their lives to try to secure Afghanistan and build it. To have you describe them as an occupying force is very unhelpful.
Do you regret having made that -- that comment? KARZAI: No, I don't regret having made that comment. That comment was not seen in -- in the full sentence that I spoke. This was after the incident of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, where children were -- were killed in an aerial bombing, and where I said no more of such aerial bombings on our residents. And the question was what if they continue?
Now, if Afghanistan is a sovereign country, when Afghanistan asks that these operations cease, and, even then, if they continue, this means that we are not in charge of our country, and that of course becomes an occupation. It was in this context that I spoke, and I stand by that.
ZAKARIA: You know, people worry that -- that you might be playing a game of trying to whip up a certain amount of nationalist sentiment against an outsider like the United States, a game that has been played in Pakistan, for example. Are you trying to gain popularity by stoking a certain amount of anti-Americanism?
KARZAI: No. The United States and the rest of the world, they came to Afghanistan after September 11, and the purpose of that was to bring security to the United States, to Europe and to the rest of the world. Afghanistan cooperated in that in the fullest of terms. For a number of years, we took casualties and we were silent.
But then, the war did not go in the direction that we -- that we advised, that we felt should go. But our casualties kept increasing. The Afghans need a -- a return to normal life.
My statements are neither hostile nor inflammatory, nor designed to -- to get anything but an understanding from our partners that the Afghan people need to feel secure, that the Afghan people need to see this war or this fight against terrorism take a direction in which they can see the end of the tunnel.
ZAKARIA: One of the things that people worry about in terms of the legitimacy of the Afghan government, the legitimacy of Afghan forces -- you talked about the -- the growing acceptance of the Afghan National Army. What they worry about is the legitimacy of your government and of corruption, and some of it, as you know, is often directed, those attacks, toward you or your family, your brother.
Do you believe that you can -- you can claim that your government is less corrupt than it was before?
KARZAI: I can claim that we're working harder than we did before. I can claim that we know a lot more of the corruption and the sources within Afghanistan and outside of Afghanistan than I knew before. I can claim that the Afghan government, under the circumstances, is doing its best to handle this. I can also claim that Afghanistan would be a lot better place if our international partners cooperated with us on corruption and cleaned things at their own end, as well.
ZAKARIA: You understand the frustration of the American taxpayer who -- who sees that the United States has disbursed $16 billion to Afghanistan in developmental aid over the last 10 years and does not seem to see enough in return for it. The money does not seem to have achieved much.
KARZAI: The money, where it was invested directly, has achieved. The United States has been growth for us. The United States has been schools and clinics for us. But the United States has not invested in major infrastructure projects for us, like dams and electricity that we can produce for -- for all.
We have an argument about that. Afghanistan has made its point of view very, very clear. For example, a -- a project in Kandahar for the protection of electricity, where the U.S. government spent $215 million on providing generators, we disagreed with. We felt that this money could be spent better by building a dam in that region, that would give a lasting, sustainable economic environment to the people of -- the region. So if -- if the investment of the United States is done in consultation with Afghanistan and based on Afghan priorities, it will produce a lot better result.
We are grateful to every penny that the U.S. taxpayer has given to Afghanistan. Afghanistan will account for that part of the taxpayer's money that the Afghan government has spent. Where we are in charge, we are accountable, and we are grateful immensely for the U.S. taxpayer's money. They are hard working people, and that has to be respected.
Where we are not in charge, I hope the U.S. taxpayer would understand our predicament.
ZAKARIA: We're going to have to take a break. When we come back, I will ask President Karzai whether talking with the Taliban is the only way to get peace, and, if so, how he proposes to do it.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with the president of Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, talking about the region after President Obama's speech.
Let me ask you about talking to the Taliban. This has become one of the big issues and I'm now quoting Amrullah Saleh, your former Head of National Security, who says that this is a terrible idea, that there should be -- that -- and that many Afghans don't like the idea of talking to the Taliban, that the strategy you should be pursuing is the complete disarming of the Taliban. Do you believe that's possible?
KARZAI: The Afghan people need peace. The Afghan people want peace. They want their children sent to school. Mothers want to be without worry when they have their children go to school or their husbands to job or when their women go out to work. This country needs to progress. This country needs to live like all other nations live.
Can -- can you have an example in the history of mankind where people would not want peace? This is a desire, a human desire.
Now, we must reach this -- this human desire through reasonable means, through a realistic approach, and that is dialogue, with a condition that the gains of Afghanistan the past 10 years not be compromised, that the gains of our women not be compromised, that our children must continue to go to school, that our constitution be respected and recognized, and that, having fulfilled that, that the Taliban who agree to this and the absolute majority of them agree to this, will return to their homes in dignity.
ZAKARIA: At what level are talks with the Taliban going on? Are they taking place at your level, at the highest levels? Who is talking to -- to people in the Taliban?
KARZAI: The -- the High Council for Peace is authorized by the Afghan people to talk with the Taliban, and they have been talking to the Taliban. They're engaged in -- in that talk with the Taliban. These are initial contacts being made, but these contacts will not yield results, would not give us the results that we seek unless and until the United States, and Pakistan especially, with our other allies, backed with practical application of -- of the means that they have in their disposal.
ZAKARIA: So let's talk about the specific case of Pakistan. Pakistan's intelligence services, the Pakistani military, has influence with the Haqqani faction. The Haqqani faction controls many of the insurgent attacks. What they seem to want from a -- in a peace deal is control over three or maybe four regions, provinces, in Afghanistan. Are you willing to cede part -- parts of Afghanistan to their control in order to get a peace deal?
KARZAI: We are not -- we are not going to make deals on behalf of the Afghan people where a group or a -- or a, you know, a segment, a political segment, is given a part of the country. That will not happen.
Afghanistan has a constitution. Afghanistan has a state structure. Those who join the peace process must respect the Afghan constitution, and the Afghan constitution doesn't allow that.
ZAKARIA: Why has it proved so difficult to -- to bring the Taliban in? Is it that there is no central group, no central address or leader that you could negotiate with? What -- what seems to be the obstacle?
KARZAI: There are forces beyond the means of Afghanistan that are interfering in this process that have power over the process, and unless those forces begin to cooperate, the Taliban will not be able to come forward as -- as a group, as a unified structure.
ZAKARIA: Is Pakistan the key there?
KARZAI: Pakistan is extremely important for a quick solution, yes.
ZAKARIA: Mr. President, I remember the many public disputes that you and President Musharraf used to have as to where the leaders of the insurgency, the leaders of the terrorism, the leaders of al Qaeda were, and you insisted that they were in Pakistan. He denied it. I remembered, you once said to me, when Osama Bin Laden is found, he will be found in a Pakistani city.
It turns out you were right about Osama. Do you still believe that Mullah Omar, for example, is in -- in Pakistan, that the leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban are in Pakistan?
KARZAI: Well -- well, I don't exactly know where Mullah Omar is, and we are talking of a peace process with the (INAUDIBLE) the Taliban, whether they are in Afghanistan or whether they're across the border.
We were just in Pakistan a few days ago. We had a very extensive, very detailed, very heart to heart, brother to brother dialogue, and I sincerely hope very, very much that that dialogue will yield results, you know, for the good of all of us.
ZAKARIA: You sound like you're -- you're getting soft on Pakistan because you're going to have to live with them as American forces draw down.
KARZAI: Well, we have learned to do things that -- that we can do, that we find affordable for us.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you finally, Mr. President, back to the central question. If American troops draw down and the security conditions in Afghanistan worsen, that the Afghan National Army is not able to clear and hold and to maintain security in -- in parts of Afghanistan, would you go back to President Obama and say -- and ask him to revisit the issue and perhaps reverse the withdraw -- the drawdown?
KARZAI: I will not do that. It is the responsibility of the Afghan people to protect their country and to provide security for the -- for the citizens of the country, and if you fail in fulfilling our most important responsibility with regard to our country and our people, then somebody else should take over.
ZAKARIA: Powerful words.
President Karzai, as always, a pleasure, and we hope to talk to you again soon.
KARZAI: Good to talk to you.
ZAKARIA: And we will be back with the strange case of a disappearing date. There is a date this year that simply will not exist. We'll explain.
ZAKARIA: Welcome back.
Come with me now on a long journey to a far off island nation about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand -- Samoa. Its lush volcanic valleys make it a mostly agricultural nation, it has no military whatsoever, and it shouldn't be confused with its neighbor, American Samoa.
Now, if you attempted to visit, do not plan a celebration there on December 30th. Why? Because that day will simply not exist there. The calendar will jump from the 29th of December to the 31st. "What in the World?", right?
Why? It's actually a smart economic decision. You see, Samoa is just 20 miles away from the International Dateline. As the name suggests, it's an imaginary longitude that marks a change in date when we fly or sail or steam over it. That line was created more than a century ago, when it was decided Samoa would be 11 hours behind Greenwich Meantime outside of London, and it's three hours behind Pacific Time in Los Angeles.
The theory went that being on a similar time zone to the Americas would benefit trade and commerce for Samoa, but the times, quite literally, are changing. Samoa now does most of its business with its neighbors.
But Sydney, in Australia, is 10 hours ahead of London, and -- bear with me on the math here -- that means Samoa has been conducting most of its trade with a country that is 21 hours ahead of it. So when it's Friday morning at a Samoan factory, Australian clients are already at the beach on a sunny Saturday. And when the Aussies go back to work on Monday, the Samoans are still at Sunday church, or whatever Samoans do on Sundays.
Come December 29th, that's all going to change. Samoa will leap forward a day, and it will be just three hours ahead of Sydney.
Samoans already made one historic change to align itself with Australia. In 2009, it switched from driving on the right side of the road, as we do, to the left side of the road. Now Samoans can import cheaper cars from next door.
On the one hand, Samoa's Antipodean shift is a story about how economics dictates policy, but it's also a larger narrative about the quiet success of Australia. Australia's growth rate has averaged nearly four percent for the last two decades, higher than almost every other rich country. It may be on the bottom of the map, but it's on top of almost every livability index. The unemployment rate is low, the deficit is almost negligible, it has strong education, universal health care. One could go on.
So how did it get there? Self deprecating Aussies may put it down to good luck. They had good weather, abundant natural resources, and a billion Chinese hungry to mine Australia's metals and minerals.
But that's not the whole story. Australia's real economic rise dates back to the 1980s and a series of forward-thinking reforms. The government floated its dollar and made the central bank independent, it maintained a budget surplus and kept inflation in check, state owned firms were privatized, industries deregulated. When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, Australia's banks benefited from a more conservative regulated approach. They were not overleveraged, so they weathered the storm. And robust trade with China soaked up a potential drop in Australian consumer demand.
Australia's been smart on another issue that plagues American lawmakers these days -- immigration. It has gone from 98 percent Anglo-Celtic population after the Second World War to having a quarter of its current population born abroad. Asians make up 10 percent of the population. Much of the real growth in Australia's GDP can be attributed to immigration and population growth.
There's much speculation about a lost decade for the United States economy. All Samoa had to do to rev up its economy is lose a day. I wish we had that option.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Are you selling U.S. treasuries because you worry that the U.S. does not have the political will?
MOHAMED EL-ERIAN, CEO, PIMCO: We find better value in government bonds outside the U.S. right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley and here are today's top stories.
Authorities say six people are dead and others are still missing from Friday's tractor-trailer truck collision with an Amtrak Passenger Train in Nevada. The driver of the truck slammed on his breaks and slid more than 300 feet before hitting the train, which was carrying over 200 passengers.
In Minot, North Dakota, the Souris River is cresting today, though inches lower than expected. As many as 4,000 homes are flooded and the third of the town has been evacuated. Water levels are expected to begin falling later this evening.
And Pakistani militants launched their second attack in the past two days, targeting the country's police force. No one was killed in today's bombing, but Saturday's attack left 10 officers dead. That attack according to the Associated Press was carried out by a husband and wife suicide team.
And those are your top stories. Now, back to FAREED ZAKARIA GPS.
ZAKARIA: Will Greece default? Will Portugal, Italy, Spain and other nations fall like dominoes if Greece does? Does it matter? And how about the United States? We don't really risk default, do we?
Let's hear from a man who should know. Mohamed El-Erian is the CEO of PIMCO, the world's biggest bond trader. He's also written a superb book on markets and mayhem, and he now joins me.
Mohamed, thank you for joining us.
EL-ERIAN: Thank you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: So let's start with just that question. Is there -- for a long time, the Europeans have -- have tried to find some way that they could kick the can down the road, that they could provide some kind of assistance because I think they fear a Lehman-like event where if Greece falls, it causes a kind of shock to the markets? Is it inevitable that Greece will default?
EL-ERIAN: It is inevitable that Greece would have to restructure its debt. And you're absolutely right. Europe has been kicking the can down the road treating Greek's problem, not as a solvency issue, but as a liquidity problem.
I don't like the analogy of kicking the can down the road. I prefer a better one, Fareed. Think of rolling a snowball down a hill. Two things happen when you do that. First, the snowball or in this case the problem gets bigger. And secondly, the dynamics start accelerating and becoming more disorderly. And that's exactly what's happening in Greece.
Greece has two problems. It has too much debt and it cannot grow. And until these problems are solved, more and more of Europe is going to be contaminated. We had a massive bailout a year ago in Greece -- massive. A year later, every single indicator in Greece is worse off.
ZAKARIA: One part of that reason, a substantial part of that reason, is that it has -- it has had to adopt policies of austerity. Cutting spending, raising taxes, and that when you do it in a fragile economy, of course, you're taking money out of the economy. The government isn't spending on all the things it used to, it's firing people rather than hiring people, all that has a downward spiral effect on demand and the economy.
Does that mean in the U.S. as we face -- as we think about these issues of should we have another stimulus, should we start cutting the budget, is the lesson that while the U.S. economy is fragile, don't cut budgets substantially?
EL-ERIAN: The United States is fundamentally different from Greece in a number of respects. First it has a lot more time. Because the U.S. supplies the global public goods. It supplies the dollar as a reserve currency. It supplies the deepest markets, financial markets, which means that other countries are willing to outsource the savings. This gives the U.S. much more time to deal with its fiscal policy issues.
The second issue is that the U.S. actually is a much more vibrant economy. The problems facing the U.S. are not an engineering issue as much as a political issue. You need political will, you need the Democrats and the Republicans to come together to deal with four structural impediments, and they should be able to do that over time.
So when we look at the U.S., yes, there was a public finance issue, but it's certainly nothing like Greece.
ZAKARIA: So when PIMCO looks at this situation, do you -- are you short of U.S. treasuries? Are you selling U.S. treasuries because you worry that the U.S. does not have the political will?
As you say, in our case, there are many solutions. I mean Greece's case, there really isn't a solution -- there isn't a good solution. We have many solutions, just no political will, at least, nor apparent political will to deal with it.
Does that make you despair enough that you guys are selling U.S treasuries?
EL-ERIAN: We find better value in government bonds outside the U.S. right now, so it's an issue of valuation. You should buy or sell based on price. U.S. bonds have benefited enormously from the Federal Reserve buying them under the QE-2 program, which ends at the end of June.
Put another way, the Fed has been buying about 70 percent of how much of treasury issues. A basic rule as an investor is don't buy something unless you know who else is going to be buying. So when we look at treasuries, we see the big buyer stepping away from the market for certain. And we ask the question who else is going to be buying at these levels and we can't identify another buyer of the size of the Fed.
ZAKARIA: How much time do you think the U.S. has?
EL-ERIAN: Every investor -
ZAKARIA: How much time do you think the U.S. has to put its house in order?
EL-ERIAN: I think the U.S. -- in terms of immediate valuations, I think the end of the QE-2 program is a major event that the market is underestimating. Longer term, I think we have two to three years.
Fareed, as an investor, it's very important to recognize what your alarm clock is. You know, all -- all of us would like to wake up just as the alarm clock is going off, but a lot of us cannot. A lot of us have type one and type two errors. Type one is you wake up before your alarm clock and you just sit there and you're early, but at least you don't miss the alarm clock. The other alternative is you oversleep and you sleep through your alarm clock. Our preference has always been wake up earlier than later. ZAKARIA: Do you think that a default, even if it is temporary and does a six-month extension, but an actual default on the debt limit would be a big event for the markets?
EL-ERIAN: It would be and simply because of the technical linkages. So if the U.S. would not only to fail to get agreement on the debt ceiling, but end up cutting more than just expenditures on transfers and expenditures on federal workers, but actually not meet a debt payment, then we would be in the land of the unpredictable.
ZAKARIA: So your advice to the American political system would be do not -- do not play with this issue?
EL-ERIAN: My advice is please try and get together and solve this issue in the context of a medium term reform package. If you can't do that and you're going to kick the can down the road, kick the can rather than face something that could be catastrophic in terms of legal contracts being triggered.
ZAKARIA: Mohamed El-Erian, a pleasure and we have to have you on again to talk about all the other things we didn't get to. Thank you so much.
EL-ERIAN: Thank you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I just did the math. Wyoming has 400,000 people and two senators and California has 36 million people and two senators. It is hard to justify that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Last week, we brought you the story of Iceland crowd sourcing its new constitution using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to determine what the Icelandic people want to see in their new, all powerful document.
So we thought we'd experiment in crowd sourcing some amendments for the American Constitution. That inspired perhaps the strongest reaction that we have ever gotten here at GPS. Thousands and thousands of e-mails, tweets, Facebook messages and posts on our message board.
About one-third of you thought no revision was necessary and some expressed that opinion rather colorfully, to say the least. Among the other two-thirds, there were some very popular ideas for amendments. Eliminating the Electoral College, which is probably on top of the list.
Other popular amendments included a ban on corporate donations in elections. A six year presidential term with no allowance for reelection. There were some more controversial ideas, a fat tax on unhealthy food, an upper age limit on elected officials, a ban on discrimination of left-handed people. I wasn't aware that that was a big problem. And my personal favorite was limit Zakaria to two stupid comments a month, which I take in to court is over already.
Anyway, to dig deeper on this, the legalities of amending the Constitution and whether or not it's really feasible, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Legal Analyst.
Jeff, we're unusual as a country, we're a very young country, but we have a very old Constitution, and political system, if you think about it, our Constitution, our political system is older than every European country.
TOOBIN: We have the oldest written Constitution of any democracy in the world. And it's only been amended 27 times and it stood us in very good stead, but I think, you know, it is not sacrosanct and it is a good idea to think about what shouldn't have been done in the first place and what -- how you can improve it.
ZAKARIA: Now, when you look at the, you know, I mean, the German Constitution apparently as I've read it once, is very similar to the American one, but it's sort of more modern, more streamlined. It doesn't have some of the kinks you know, for example, people point out that the Second Amendment is a grammatical mess, whatever you may think of the right (INAUDIBLE).
TOOBIN: nearly incomprehensible as a sentence, yes.
ZAKARIA: Right. And so are there things that constitutional scholars look at and say, you know, these were really -- these have been problems for 222 years.
TOOBIN: Well, certainly when it comes to the American Constitution, the two biggest controversies have always been in terms of the structure of the document, the Electoral College and the Senate, both of which give powers to states as states as opposed to individuals.
ZAKARIA: And, you know, the issue with the Senate, of course, is that you end up giving Wyoming's six million --
TOOBIN: Four hundred thousand people -- I just did the math. Wyoming has 400,000 people and two senators and California has 36 million people and two senators. It is hard to justify that.
ZAKARIA: And the justification for that and for the Electoral College was, as you said, that states as states have some kind of inherent quality that deserves representation. And maybe that was true in -- in the 18th Century, but today, I mean, you go -- drive from one state to another, it's very difficult to see why they should have political rights as states. TOOBIN: Right, and particularly small states. Even at the very beginning, the concern was at the time of the framing of the Constitution that New York and Virginia and Massachusetts, which were the big states, would overwhelm the smaller states. It's very hard to see how that applies today, particularly when comes to the Electoral College.
Now, the argument in favor of the Electoral College, it used to be that -- well, it gives small states a certain amount of power. When was the last time you saw a presidential candidate campaign in Wyoming or in Vermont or in Delaware? You know, we presidential elections in about four or five states. You know, Ohio, Florida, a few other states in the Midwest, and that's it. All the rest of the states are completely irrelevant, including the small states.
ZAKARIA: There was no real conceivable way in which that could change?
TOOBIN: I think the Electoral College, there is a conceivable way it will change, because there really is very hard to justify this crazy system where people in New York, in California, in Texas, are essentially irrelevant throughout all presidential campaigns except as fundraising sources.
Just the way contemporary American politics is. New York, California are overwhelmingly democratic states. No Republican is going to waste time campaigning there. Texas is a Republican state. So these states are ignored.
And there are millions and millions of voters in these states who get no attention and, you know, it really does affect our politics. The substance of our politics, as well. You know, for decades, we subsidized ethanol in Iowa -- because Iowa, where they grow a lot of corn, was such an important presidential state. I mean -- so this has substantive impact as well as just sort of political science impact.
ZAKARIA: Would it be fair to say that our Senate is probably the most unrepresentative upper House of the advanced democracies with the possible exception of Britain's House of Lords?
TOOBIN: Well, actually, Britain, ever since Tony Blair is much more representative. Tony Blair got rid of the hereditary peers, whereas we still have this ludicrous disproportion in terms of small states and big states having the same amount -- same number of senators. So I think we're actually worse than the House of Lords.
ZAKARIA: And it's interesting. You know, I taught briefly and one of the things I taught was a class on the American Constitution and the debates that came out of the American Constitution which went on for 200 years to the present. And America is unique in that it is founded not on blood and soil nationalism, but on political ideas and the Constitution is the heart of that, and that's why I think people are so sensitive to the idea of changing it.
TOOBIN: People are so sensitive, but -- and, you know, no one has greater reverence for it than do, but it is worth remembering that in 1787, this wonderful convocation that we celebrate, they also enshrined slavery. And for it took 100 years and a Civil War to get rid of that in the Constitution with the 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments. And then it took another 100 years for those amendments to mean anything.
I mean in -- in the 1860s, they said black people could vote, but no one -- no black people voted until the 1960s when, you know, Lyndon Johnson got the Voting Rights Act passed.
So, yes, the Constitution is a wonderful document, but infallible, it never was and it still isn't.
ZAKARIA: Jeff Toobin, fascinating. Thank you so much.
TOOBIN: My pleasure.
ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.
ZAKARIA: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon won a unanimous vote for reelection on Tuesday and that leads to our "GPS Challenge Question," which is Ban Ki-Moon put his hand on the original U.N. Charter to take his oath of office. Where is that Charter kept? Is it, A) the Secretary General's Office in New York; B) the United Nations Archives in Geneva; C) the United States National Archives in Washington, D.C.; or D) the Herbst Theater in San Francisco where it was signed in 1945?
Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer. Make sure you go to CNN.com/GPS for 10 more questions. And while you're there, make sure you check out our website, the Global Public Square where you will find smart interviews and takes by some of our favorite experts. And don't forget, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
This week's "Book of the Week" is terrific. Peter Godwin's "The Fear." It's a beautifully written, harrowing account of the ruination of a country. The country is Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, where Godwin was born. The year is 2008. That's when the nation's long time tyrannical ruler Robert Mugabe lost an election and brutalized his nation as punishment.
And now for "The Last Look." It is the smash hit of the summer in Norway. More than one-half of that nation's population tuned in this week to see what has been billed as the world's longest TV program, 134 hours in length. It isn't some gripping drama with great cliffhangers or a racy mini series, and I guess you could call it a reality show. But humans were only bit players.
It was a live camera, actually 11 of them, showing the ocean, some trees, rocks from a cruise ship as it navigated around Norway. Really, this is what gets the Norwegians to rally around their television sets. Take a look and a listen. I actually find it rather soothing. I guess they did, too. The correct answer to our "GPS Challenge Question" is C, the original U.N. Charter is stored interestingly enough in the United States National Archives in Washington, D.C., not with the United Nations. Go to our website for more.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "RELIABLE SOURCES."