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Interview with Kofi Annan; Interview with Evan Osnos; Interview with Sal Khan; Interview with FedEx CEO Fred Smith

Aired October 21, 2012 - 10:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

We have a great show for you today. First up, Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations and, more recently, the U.N.'s peace envoy to Syria, I'll ask him whether there's any end in sight for that nation's brutal civil war.

Then, the U.S. isn't the only major power picking a president in the next few weeks. I'll talk to the New Yorker's Beijing reporter, Evan Osnos, about the political tumult in China ahead of the upcoming anointment.

Also, I'll talk to the education innovator, Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy about how best to teach our kids.

And what does a company with almost 700 planes and tens of thousands of trucks worry about? Fuel. I'll sit down with FedEx CEO Fred Smith to talk about the future of energy.

The crucial subject, the future of energy, is also at the heart of our latest GPS special which airs tonight at 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

In "Global Lessons: The Roadmap for Powering America," we'll take you around the world to bring ideas about energy back home.

But, first, here's my take. The second presidential debate has been studied and analyzed mostly as a prize fight, who punched hard, who missed a swing. That's fine.

But there was a substantive aspect to the debate as well. President Obama actually showed up this time and he was engaged and articulate, as was Governor Romney.

As a result, we got a sense of the issues and there is an important and honorable difference between these two candidates. The central question in this election is what will grow the American economy.

Governor Romney's basic answer is lower taxes and a more streamlined tax code and fewer regulations. President Obama's answer to the same question would be investments in education, infrastructure, science and technology, as well as support for important sectors like energy and advanced manufacturing.

Both arguments have merit to them so the question is which is our more urgent problem now? Well, the United States is the 7th most competitive economy in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. It's dropped a bit over the last four years.

Overall, however, whether compared with our own past of, say, 30 years ago when airlines, banks and telecommunications were tightly controlled by government rules or compared with other countries, the United States remains a pretty business-friendly place.

The U.S. economy boomed in the 1950s with tax rates that were much higher than today and Germany, the country that has come out of the current crisis best, is not exactly for low taxes and low regulation.

As I've often pointed out, America is worse off than it was 30 years ago in infrastructure, education and research. The country spends much less than it did on infrastructure.

And, by 2009, federal funding for research of development was half the share of GDP that it was in 1960. The result is we're falling behind and fast.

A decade ago, the World Economic Forum ranked U.S. infrastructure 5th in the world. In the latest report, we were 25th. The U.S. spends only 2.4 percent of GDP on infrastructure, the Congressional Budget Office noted in 2010, whereas Europe spends 5 percent and China 9 percent.

In the 1970s, America led the world in the number of college graduates. As of 2009, we were 14th among the countries tracked by the OECD. Reversing that decline will cost money.

In other words, the great shift in the U.S. economy over the past 30 years has not been a dramatic increase in taxes and regulation, but rather a decline in investment in human and physical capital.

Now, we should really push on both fronts; a better tax and regulatory system and more investments. But, on the substance, Obama is right to emphasize investments.

You may still think he's not a good president, but, by the way, Governor Romney, as he pivots to the center, now talks about spending money on retraining and education and boosting manufacturing and exports.

So let's hope that whoever wins, America gets the investments it sorely needs. Let's get started.

Joining me now, Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary General, the former Special Envoy to Syria and the author of a terrific new book, "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace."

Welcome, Kofi.


ZAKARIA: This is really a wonderful book and, in a sense, we could talk about so many things.


ZAKARIA: But, given that, you know, one of the things you talk about is now at the center of the news ...


ZAKARIA: I have to ask you, ultimately, you wrote a Financial Times article in which you said the major powers have to come together if Syria's going to be solved.

Do you think that the United States needs to change its attitude in some way to make this work?

ANNAN: I think the United States and Russia have to find a way of working together, coming together, analyzing the situation and deciding on the way forward to protect the common interests that everyone has in the region.

In the past, we've had -- there's been too much finger-pointing. Divisions are normal. You will have divisions in every human endeavor. The challenge is to have the leadership to breech those differences and come up with an approach that will solve the problem.

And this is where I think U.S. and Russia will have to come together and work on the Syrian problem.

ZAKARIA: Do you think military intervention could work here?

ANNAN: I'm dead set on it will not work. It will make the situation much worse.


ANNAN: First of all, Libya -- people refer to Libya as an example. Syria is not Libya. Syria is located in one of the most volatile regions of the world.

Syria is next to Iraq, next to Lebanon, where we have had major problems and in a region where you have all sorts of jihadists elements. And, as we know, they've been crossing into Syria.

And because of the nature of the Syrian society, which is a mosaic. I mean people talk about Syria as if it's Shiite and Sunni alone. You have the Shiites and, yes, they are the vast majority, but you also have the Christians and Druzes. There are Syrians, the Turks, the Turkmen and the Ismailia. Where do they turn to? These are people who may neither be with the government or the rebels.

ZAKARIA: But you know people look at the violence and they say -- The Economist Magazine this week has come out in favor of intervention. But they're not clear what that means. They say we should so something. That is the feeling of a lot of people.

ANNAN: Yes, that is the feeling of lots of people and it's been also the feeling of certain groups from the beginning. I mean that's just a group that, for example, propagated the idea that any attempt to mediate gives Assad more time to kill.

I mean I've never heard of anything of the sort. It is a piece of unmitigated nonsense. In effect saying don't even try to resolve it peacefully. Don't give the Syrians hope. Give weapons and let's kill each other.

ZAKARIA: You know who said that? In the vice presidential debate, Paul Ryan named you and he said, "The administration put their faith and Kofi Annan and that was the problem."

ANNAN: No. And he was dead wrong. He was dead wrong. Honestly, this is one of the first situations where I've seen people claim that attempt to mediate complicates allows more killing to go on.

And, in almost every situation, we try to find a peaceful solution. If it works well and good, you save people. Now, you have Syrians who are living through incredible traumas and they are the ones we should be crying for not making statements of don't attempt to resolve it peacefully.

If they were to go in with military intervention and, by the way, I don't sense any urgency of countries wanting to rush in and intervene. Yes, some are sending in weapons, but that's quite different from the kind of the intervention.

But, sometimes, while making these statements and raising the hope of the people that the cavalry is on the horizon, you complicate the situation and really encourage the fighting and the killing to go on. And if it's not going to come, one should look at other solutions.

ZAKARIA: One of the crucial criticisms that is often made is that there was faith placed in the Russians, that the Russians had special influence with Assad and that they were never going to give in because they regarded Assad as a crucial ally.

You met with Putin.

ANNAN: That's right.

ZAKARIA: And you asked specifically these questions to him. ANNAN: Yes, I had a very frank discussion with President Putin and his team and they made it clear and I understood that they also realize Assad will have to go, but how and when. What they do not want is a chaotic breakdown.

And they asked the question when Assad leaves, then what and they've also made the point that the West keeps saying Assad must go and the louder they shout Assad must go, the deeper he digs in and, then, they turn to the Russians to make it happen and to deliver. So we can't do it when these things happen.

But, in Geneva, on the 30th of June when all the foreign ministers of the Permanent Five met with all the foreign ministers from the Middle East, we all agreed that the solution is a political settlement, including the Russians and the Chinese.

And they accepted that the political settlement would mean a new interim government with full executive powers.

ZAKARIA: But then what happened?

ANNAN: Then, I had hoped when they came to New York, they would build up on that. But when they come to New York, to the council, the fighting started again and the West focused on the reference to Chapter Seven and the Chinese and the Russians had told us they could not accept.

And, of course, the resolution got vetoed and they dropped the substance. The substance which I'm confident they will have to go back to or something similar to the Geneva communique.

ZAKARIA: So you think the only solution is a version of the Geneva communique, which is essentially a political resolution of this problem.

ANNAN: Exactly, a political resolution of this problem because the sense that my team -- my side would win and the other side will accept and eventually be cowed and they make the law is not going to happen in this environment.

And this is why everyone has to realize there is no military solution and we need to focus on a political settlement. Nobody has been able to convince me that either one side or the other would win and bring peace to Syria.

ZAKARIA: All right, we have so many other things we could talk about and we're going to try to get you here again to talk about, you know, from Kenya to -- there's just so many things.

But this is a great pleasure. Kofi Annan.

ANNAN: Nice to see you and nice to be here.

ZAKARIA: Now, what to do about Syria is sure to be debated by Governor Romney and President Obama on Monday night. I will part of CNN's coverage that night started at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Don't miss it Up next, the other major political event of the next few weeks, China's leadership change. What will that mean for the rest of the world?


ZAKARIA: Here in America we're understandably fixated on November 6th, Election Day, but, halfway around the world, there's another regime change in the offing.

November 8th is the day China begins its 18th National Congress during which its next set of leaders will be announced. What does it mean for the world's second largest economy and what does it mean for U.S.-China relations?

I have a great chronicler of China here with me today, Evan Osnos, The New Yorker's correspondent in Beijing. Welcome, Evan.


ZAKARIA: So does this feel like a big transition in China? Just what is the mood?

OSNOS: This is an extraordinary moment. I mean I've been there now for seven years and I've never felt the mood in Beijing the way it is now. This is a moment of actually acute anxiety for the leadership and also for regular people.

It's anxious for the leadership because they realize the people they put in now are going to be confronting a range of issues that, frankly, are more difficult than anything they've faced over the last several years.

For the people on the street, the anxiety is they, frankly, don't know very much about the people who are about to be running their country.

What they know is the following: They know it's a group of men, almost certainly men. It'll be a committee of seven. China doesn't have a single leader. It has a first among equals is the president and his name will probably be Xi Jinping, almost certainly.

Among that group they're highly educated. They have degrees in sociology, law, economics. They are all educated in China. They have some exposure abroad, but these are not people who have come of age overseas.

And, most importantly perhaps, they've all succeeded within the system. They're men who have thrived within the communist party and they're going to do what they can to maintain the status quo and do as little reform, frankly, as they probably can get away with.

ZAKARIA: So let's talk about the sort of the sense of the challenges because it strikes me when Deng Xiaoping set China on its modern course, there were three planks to that. The first was economic reform, market economics, but mainly a kind of aggressively export-driven model, a version of South Korea or Singapore or Japan. But you talk about, you know, substantial rethinking of the model.

OSNOS: Deng Xiaoping made a calculation. He bet on demographics. What he knew was that China had this enormous population of young, underemployed people, people who he could move from the farms to the coast and put them to work in factories and that would be the lifeblood of China's economy.

And it worked beautifully. Frankly, for 30 years, they've had an average growth of 10 percent a year that would be the envy of any other country.

They've brought 500 million out of poverty since 1981, according to the World Bank, which is an astonishing achievement. But what they've also done, in the last few years, is they've exhausted the value of that.

Partly it's demographics. Frankly, they're running out of those young people, that kind of population that would go into those factories.

But, also, that model of creating these enormous, in many cases state-owned enterprises and, then, brining people from the countryside to work in them, in the end it meant that you had this very large gap between rich and poor.

You had some people who were winning extraordinarily well within the system and, then, you had people whose income was not rising as fast. And what you've seen over the last few years is the gap between rich and poor is now larger than at any point since the revolution.

It's larger, in fact, than the United States. This has become an enormous source of tension and it's something that they need and they realize they need to change.

ZAKARIA: Let's talk about the political track. This was meant to be a technocracy, merit-based and what we're realizing over the last year or two is, first of all, there's intense politics and political in-fighting.

The Bo Xilai business made you realize the nature of the kind of ambitions of people trying to get on the Politburo or on the Standing Committee.

And the second is the degree to which there's a huge pervasive and vast corruption of the kind of think of in India and Indonesia. But that China has it too. It's just very well hidden.

OSNOS: In a sense, the corruption in China now is on a scale like nothing we've ever seen simply because the amount of money is on a scale we've never seen.

Now, the question is how much does it matter? Can a country go through this kind of extraordinary corruption and come out the other side stronger.

It's happened in history. Japan was very corrupt, Korea. In fact, the United States, of course, in the late 19th century was extraordinarily corrupt.

What those three examples had, however, are rule of law, independent courts, a free media and the ability for the voters to say let's throw the bums out.

And China's facing a problem where it has this -- recognizes it has this corruption problem, but it doesn't necessarily have the institutional strength to correct it.

So that's one problem. I think the other problem that they're facing now is that, politically, they're actually facing a lot of pressure from their own population even though China doesn't have one man, one vote.

What it has is this extraordinarily vibrant Internet on which people complain about all kinds of subjects and that exerts a kind of force on the government.

If you go around the country, on the street these days, there's enormous frustration. People feel that it's not enough, frankly, just to give me food to eat. Now, I want more.

And that expectations gap is very very volatile and it's up to this new generation of leadership to not just fulfill the most basic responsibilities of government, but really to satisfy these growing expectations of their people.

ZAKARIA: And the third part of Deng's strategy was to be pro- American. And what I'm struck by is you've talked to Chinese -- average Chinese people, businessman, certainly officials and they all believe that China and the United States are inevitably going to have confrontation and that the United States has essentially decided to contain China.

OSNOS: And there is an unfortunate pattern if you go back through history, which is that an existing superpower is rarely comfortable with the rise of a new superpower and China's acutely aware of that.

And I think they have an expectation that, ultimately, the United States will do something to try to curb China's rise. Recently, we had these protests in Beijing which were against Japan involving an issue over islands in the South China Sea, a territorial dispute.

But, beneath that issue, in fact, what it was really about was about competition between China and the United States and everybody I talked to in those protests said to me ultimately, we think the competition will be between the United States and China about supremacy in the world.

When the economy slows down, as it is now, China's leaders allow their people to rally around the flag. It's the one thing that drive everybody together.

You know China no longer has an ideology that makes any sense to them, but what they do have is great pride in the Chinese nation.

And so what we need to be prepared for over the next couple of years is that the Chinese people will probably be expressing their anger against the United States.

An, in some cases, it will actually be that they're angry at the United States. In other cases, it'll just be because that's the form of political communication that is allowed.

You're allowed to complain about the United States even when what you're really complaining about is your own government.

ZAKARIA: Do you think the Chinese have a preference between Obama and Romney?

OSNOS: I think they've been surprised to say that -- they've surprised themselves by how much they don't like Mitt Romney.

They thought he was their man. They said this guy's Harvard- educated, he organized an Olympics, which is something they understand. And they've been surprised to discover that he has had pretty strong rhetoric on China. And I think they might be just happier with the status quo.

ZAKARIA: Evan Osnos, pleasure.

OSNOS: My pleasure, thanks.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.


ZAKARIA: Now, for our What in the World segment. Earlier this month, the Pakistani Taliban opened fire on a school bus. Two girls were shot. At first, it seemed a familiar story. The Taliban, after all, has bombed hundreds of schools, especially those for girls.

But here's what's new, mass protests ensued against the Taliban and in favor of women. That's startling and refreshing in Pakistan. This past week, thousands of demonstrators thronged to the streets to protest the Taliban's brutality toward women.

They're rallying around one person, 14-year-old, Malala Yousafzai. Malala was one of the girls who was shot on that school bus. She was not an accidental target. The Taliban directly sought her out and shot her in the head.

They wanted to kill not only Malala, but what she stood for. Here's why:


MALALA YOUSAFZAI: I will show them Koran, what Koran say. Koran didn't say that girls are not allowed to go to school.


ZAKARIA: Malala exposed the lie of Islamic extremists and they were willing to kill her for it, but she survived and so has her argument. Her courage in taking on the Taliban has inspired moderate Pakistanis.

We've been waiting for this kind of moment for a while. What will it take for moderate Pakistanis to unite against extremism? For years now, fundamentalist groups have tried to turn Pakistan into a theocracy.

They've scared girls into foregoing school. They've repressed women. They've pushed for Draconian interpretations of Pakistan's blasphemy law, but where was the push-back?

Just last year, when the State Governor Salman Taseer spoke out against the misuse of the blasphemy law, he was gunned down. Outside the court, his killer was greeted with rose petals. Where was the public outcry?

Perhaps the last time we saw sustained public anger against the Taliban was three years ago when a video of a woman being flogged circulated on the Internet and on Pakistani TV. That moment led to mass support for military action against the Taliban.

So perhaps the tide is turning once again. Pakistanis often blame the West for their problems, protesting against America, against drone strikes or even against YouTube.

But the real enemy lies within and it took a 14-year-old to bring that to people's attention. Pakistan's youth literacy rate is only 71 percent. Take South Asia as a whole and that number rises to 80 percent. It rises to 90 percent when you take the whole world into account.

Girls fare especially badly in Pakistan. There are only 79 Pakistani school girls for every 100 school boys. In South Asia, that number is 95, and in the whole world that's 97.

But you don't need a world bank database to spot these trends. Ask any school girl in Pakistan. Women are often seen as the stealth reformers of Islam. As they press for their rights, it will force a more liberal and flexible interpretation of the religion. And while politicians have been cowardly and hesitant, a 14-year-old girl has led the charge. Here's wishing her a complete recovery so she can get back in the fight for her country and her religion. We'll be right back.

Up next the CEO of FedEx talking about America's energy future. Don't miss it.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. I want to go straight to Beirut where CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is monitoring a tense situation. Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, earlier on today after a funeral for a top intelligence official slain on Friday, an angry crowd surged toward the prime minister's office here. Tense clashes with the police, tear gas used, flares used, live rounds of gunfire certainly fired at one point to disperse these angry crowd demanding the resignation of a government they see here as being too close to Syria and not having done enough to stop Friday's assassination.

We're now seeing a calming of this particular scene. A hard course staying behind political leadership coming to try and talk to them, but most importantly, the military enforced now down one side street, evidently trying to send the message that perhaps it's time for these protest crowd to go home. But really, these scenes of violent confrontation strike in the very, very political heart of this country. The censor (ph) of Beirut will cause many Lebanese to worry. These images spill out across the television, of copycats who will counter-protest across the country. Friday's assassination causing many to be on edge, and certainly that unease will (inaudible) in the hours ahead, Candy.

CROWLEY: That's our Nick Paton Walsh. He is monitoring the situation in Beirut. Please stay tuned to CNN, because he'll be there for us all day. Nick, thank you. Keep us posted and stay safe. Now back to FAREED ZAKARIA GPS.

ZAKARIA: I want to tell you about the latest GPS special, which is premiering tonight for viewers in North American. It's called "Global Lessons:. The GPS Road Map for Powering America." IN it, we take you to Denmark, which is completely energy independent, to France which gets 75 percent of its electricity from nukes with no problems. We'll talk about the immense potential of the sun as an energy source and how the United States is similar to Saudi Arabia in one important way. I think you'll really enjoy it. Don't miss it. Tonight, at 8:00 and 11:00 Eastern and Pacific for viewers in North America.

Right now, though, a look at why we need to look for alternatives to petroleum or the man who should know. Fred Smith is the CEO of FedEx. His company's fleet of almost 700 planes and more than 90,000 cars and trucks burn an astounding 1.5 billion gallons of petroleum last year alone. He's on a mission to change that. Thanks for joining me, Fred.


ZAKARIA: Tell me about FedEx's view of the global economy because you have an almost unique position because you're -- anyone's making anything, just shipping it via FedEx, or UPS, or DHL, right?

SMITH: Beginning in late spring you've seen a significant slowdown in the world trading economy. Largely because of Europe's problems. China got rich by exporting things to the United States and Europe so it's not coincidental that their economy is declining relative to their previous spectacular growth, particularly in terms of their exports to Europe and to a lesser degree the United States. And our economy is growing but only slightly.

ZAKARIA: Let's talk about gas prices because this must be a subject near and dear to your heart. I mean via Fedex, you must be one of the largest consumers of petroleum. How is it that with the world economy and the shape you're describing gas prices have until very recently still been very high?

SMITH: Well, I think this is really one of the most important things about the slow growth in the United States and the issues in Europe that has not been widely recognized. Over the last ten years, the average American middle-class family has seen the percentage of its disposable income spent on gasoline go from about four percent to six percent. In 2001 people were spending about $1,350 or so, in that middle-class consuming family for gasoline. In 2011 that was $2,650. So it's a $1300 tax on consumption to do the same activities that were done before. Now, fortunately, there's this fantastic oil and gas revolution that's under way. The shale gas and the shale oil, so it may turn it around. But we're exporting about $350 billion a year. It's the biggest source of our balance of payments deficit.

ZAKARIA: That's the money we're paying to petroleum producing countries ...

SMITH: Correct.


SMITH: ... To import. To import.

ZAKARIA: You've done a lot of work on this, you are very concerned about energy independence but also alternate energy. How -- petroleum is often seen as the one place -- the one place you still always need petroleum is transport.

SMITH: It is.

ZAKARIA: But, of course, you use -- that's all you use, trucks and planes. Talk about what you see as the future for trucks and even for planes?

SMITH: In the month of September, it was the biggest sales month ever for the Toyota Prius. That's a hybrid gas/electric vehicle. And the Chevy Volt has been panned in the media. It's a marvelous bit of technology, and the diversification of transportation away from petroleum. And into -- for light duty vehicles, hybrid electrics and pure electrics, is a -- as big part of our national security is buying F-35 fighter planes. So it is something that we definitely should promote, and the same is true of natural gas for the heavier vehicles.

ZAKARIA: Do FedEx trucks run on natural gas?

SMITH: We do. We have some prototypical units that are out there, but there is little doubt in my mind, because of the amount of natural gas that's now available in the United States there'll be a significant conversion to natural gas vehicles for industrial activities. And electrification will probably be adopted in the commercial sector quicker because you drive more miles and the advantages of electric vehicles is about 80 percent over a gasoline engine. Not eight percent. It's 80 percent per mile cheaper to operate an electric vehicle than a gasoline vehicle. So it's strictly the capital cost and as the progress and batteries keeps going, it will get better and better.

ZAKARIA: What about planes, which is the final frontier?

SMITH: Well, planes are the final frontier and natural gas, unless it's made into petroleum, which can be done, but it's capital- intensive, and it emits more CO2 than normal petroleum production. So, I think the more likely course is biofuels.

ZAKARIA: Do you thank that will be the future?

SMITH: Absolutely.

ZAKARIA: How soon?

SMITH: You know, I think within the next seven to ten years you'll see a significant portion of aviation being produced with biofuel feed stocks, algae, urban waste, things of that nature, all of the things I just mentioned are being done. They just have not gotten the cost per gallon down to level where it's competitive with petroleum, but it's on a good slope.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you a final question. George Bush's memoirs, something that didn't get a lot of notice. I thought he twice asked you to be secretary of defense. You twice said no. If Mitt Romney wins is he going to get third time lucky?

SMITH: Well, I'm sure that Governor Romney should he win has lots of qualified candidates that would be a better candidate than I was at any point.

ZAKARIA: Fred Smith, pleasure to have you on.

SMITH: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.


ZAKARIA: Politicians experts just about everyone agrees the American educational system is broken and there are many different proposals to fix it. But they are all incremental changes to the status quo. If you want to imagine a revolution listen to Sal Khan. He is the founder of Khan Academy, at its core, the Web-based school has more than 3,400 instructional videos that have been viewed for free almost 200 million times. He's also the author of "The One World School House, Education Reimagined." Welcome back to the show.


ZAKARIA: You say in the book, you think of learning as not just active, but an almost athletic process. Explain what you ... KHAN: Well, it is. I mean your brain is -- I mean I guess it's not officially a muscle, but it is one of these things that if you use it and use it well it will stay invigorated and there's a lot of science that backs that up and a lot of the analogies that I draw to a classroom are -- let's turn it more into athletic practice, where it's not me against the teachers, the teacher is evaluating me. We are passive, it's much more me and the rest of the students and the teacher as our coach, we are working together to become better versions of ourselves. And one thing I go to great pains to talk about in the book is, this model of, you know, students all face at the chalk board and taking notes, and being passive, this is not the way humans have historically learned. This is a 200-year old phenomena, we inherited it from Prussia, the country that does not exist anymore. And so what I argue is, instead of trying to optimize the Prussian model, which is what most of the debate in ed reform is about, on what's the ratio, what's the -- those are important conversations. But like -- we should free ourselves from the model as a whole and instead of saying how do we become more like Finland or South Korea or Singapore, what I argue for is we should become more American. We should -- the things, the reason why more renovation has been concentrated in America, it's because it's most fertile ground for innovation. A failure is not stigmatized. It's entrepreneurial. Those things we need to do in our school system.

ZAKARIA: So, explain what, you know, what does that look like in a physics class for you?

KHAN: In the physics class, they could use online tools, something like Khan Academy, they're working at their own place. They are doing simulations. When you go to physics class, some of the physics class might be the teacher gets the dashboard. Someone, so and so is having trouble with projectile motion. Let me do a focused intervention. Or hey, Sal is having trouble with moments of inertia, Fareed knows it. Let me pair them up and do a peer tutoring session. And if I get really excited about astrophysics, I can go dig deep. There's no such thing as missing class anymore because now the students are all working at their own pace, and the teacher's there to mentor them.

ZAKARIA: So it's highly customized in a sense.

KHAN: You know, the whole reason why we have this kind of assembly line model of education that we inherited from the Prussians, is they were the first people, it's very egalitarian motive to say how do we educate everyone. 300 years ago not everyone got educated. Only the elite got educated, they have personal tutors, it was very personalized. But as soon as you say we want to educate everyone, I mean we want to do it economically, and it was the industrial revolution, well, put them in batches, put them on an assembly line. Throw some information on them at each station and see what sticks. You are going to have some good product. You're going to have some bad product. Now, 200 years later, I think we can rethink that. We have tools that can personalize a scale and really leverage the physical classroom.

ZAKARIA: So, I mean do you imagine in your kind of most ambitious moments that you have this whole debate about education, reform going on, but you've done the kind of end run. Do you imagine that you could -- just transform American education, so that this whole debate of are we enough like South Korea and Singapore gets put to one side, we start a very American kind of individualistic innovation and we end up on top.

KHAN: You know, and I'm careful here, because we are in a very early stage. We're really 30 people operating, you know. I live -- my office is above a tea shop and we think we have a long way to go ahead of us, but part of the hope of this book is to change that conversation, to show you, look, it's not pie-in-the-sky thinking. It's actually more pragmatic thinking than what's going on right now. But I think you're exactly right, the conversation should not be how do we get go from 15th to 14th on the PISA (ph) surveys and get to parity with Estonia. It's how do we leverage the strengths, the strengths that are proven. We are the most innovative country in the world. How do we leverage those things in our own school system.

ZAKARIA: All right. As somebody who has used this -- the website with my son, the thing I have to wonder about, so the first couple of thousand were just you, right, these are videos all done by you. And the subjects range pretty broadly. They were physics, a lot of math, chemistry, do you really know that much physics, chemistry, and biology that you can do 2,000 20-minute lectures about them without preparing?

KHAN: Oh, well, I have prepared deeply. And my wife was also talking about the gift for pretending to be an expert about anything. But no, I prepared deeply, you know, the things that I started of with, whether it's, you know, algebra or I have my backgrounds in finance, those came very naturally and I just did them, but once I started doing history or civics.

ZAKARIA: The history part I understand. But physics, chemistry ...

KHAN: Well, physics was close to my heart. I was a bit of a ...

ZAKARIA: So you were ...

KHAN: Physics and mathlete in Louisiana where I grew up. And so that's close to my heart, but, you know, I did organic chemistry. And that was -- I literally immersed myself in the field, started interviewing a lot of friends who are professors in the field, make sure I had the intuition so I could communicate it.

ZAKARIA: Wow. So it's been a on the job learning for you as well.

KHAN: Yeah, that's the fun thing. That's an adventure for me. I hope I could spend the rest of my life learning and communicating.

ZAKARIA: Sal, ton of pleasure to have you on.

KHAN: Thank you. And we'll be back.


ZAKARIA: 50 years ago today President John F. Kennedy decided that U.S. ships would blockade Cuba or what he called quarantine it.


ZAKARIA: The next day U.S. forces would go to Defcon 3 in the escalating Cuban missile crisis. That brings me to my question of the week. Kennedy, Castro, and Khrushchev were the main players. Dean Rusk was the American Secretary of State. But who was his Soviet counterpart? Was it a, Vyacheslav Molotov, B, Andrei Gromyko, C, Eduard Schevardnadze or D, Anatoly Dobrynin? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer. Don't forget tonight at 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, CNN will broadcast the premier of my latest special, "Global Lessons: The GPS Road Map for Powering America." It's about energy solutions for the future.

Everyone is watching the election predictions of the "New York Times" Nate Silver. Well, now you can read his writing in book form. He has a great new book, "The Signal and the Noise, Why So Many Predictions Fail, but Some Don't." In it he explains how to think about statistics, probabilities, and polls. Oh, and he throws in a chapter on chess as well. It's a once wonderland.

And now for the last look. Kim Jon-un's wife hasn't been seen for over 40 days. And rumors of her disappearance are running rampant. It turns out, she's not the only thing that's disappeared from North Korea recently. This stern looking portrait of Kim Il-sung has kept watch over Pyongyang's main square for decades. Well, as these before and after photos from show, the great leader has been removed and these paintings of communist icons, Lenin and Marx, ousted. So Kim Il-sung's square has had a makeover. What does appear to be in fashion this fall, a happier Kim Il-sung and a cheery Kim Jon-ill. It's too bad these changes are merely cosmetic. It will take more than smiles to feed North Korea's starving citizens. The correct answer to our GPS challenge question was B, Andrei Gromyko, was the Soviet Union's foreign minister during the Cuban missile crisis. Gromyko held that post for an astonishing 28 years. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "Reliable Sources."