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Assessing the U.S. Economy and Second Term Presidencies; A Global View of Education

Aired December 1, 2013 - 10:15   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.

The first thing we'll do on today's show is take a step back and look at today's America. The Obamacare debacle, the political strife, the Iran agreement, through the lens of history with a panel of smart historians: Walter Isaacson, Nancy Gibbs, John Meacham and David Nasaw.

Then, has CEO pay gotten so out of control that we need to set a limit on it? That's what one surprising nation has just considered. I'll explain.

And what makes students in South Korea and Finland so much better than their counterparts in other parts of the world including the United States? I've got the woman who wrote the book on it, literally.

Finally, there's barely a dry eye in India or Pakistan after this ad campaign. We'll bring you the reality behind the fiction.

But, first, here's my take: It's Thanksgiving week in the United States, time for Americans to be grateful for their blessings. The one thing you can be sure that most Americans will not be expressing gratitude for is the federal government.

Trust in the federal government is now 19 percent, close to an all-time low. And there does some to be evidence to bear out this poor opinion.

Let's not think about a foreign policy or purported success like the Geneva Accords on Iran, but rather the big complicated projects that government has had to execute over the last decade, Iraq, Afghanistan, a new Homeland Security system, Katrina, Obamacare.

In almost every case, the performance of the government has been plagued with mismanagement, massive cost overruns, long delays and poor performance. It wasn't always so.

In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, federal agencies were often lean, well managed and surprisingly effective. Paul Hoffman, the administrator of the Marshall Plan, used to point out that his project of monumental scope and scale came in on time and under budget. In the early 1960s, the percent of Americans expressing trust in the federal government was in the 70 to 75 percent range. Some federal agencies still maintain a culture of high performance. Think of NASA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Reserve System or the Defense Department's research arm, DARPA. But they're now islands within a broader sea of mediocrity.

Why has this happened? Part of it is cultural and historical. Americans have always been suspicious of government. Talented young Americans don't dream of becoming great bureaucrats.

The New Deal and World War II might have changed that for a while, but over the past 30 years, anti-government attitudes have risen substantially. Plus, the ever-increasing obstacles, disclosure forms, conflict-of-interest concerns, political vetting, dissuade and knock out good candidates.

The problem is bipartisan. On the right, there are too many people who believe that their role in Washington is simply to attack, denigrate and defund the government.

This relentless onslaught erodes public trust and robs federal agencies of any sense of mission or ambition. Continual budget cutbacks have limited their ability to take on new challenges. Seemingly every agency is in cost-cutting and damage-control mode.

On the left, political agendas and wish lists have trumped a focus on excellence. The federal government has become a dumping ground for all kinds of objectives, from staffing requirements, procurement rules to organizational structures. The rise of public- sector unions has made the workforce less flexible and responsive.

The scholar, Paul Light, author of "A Government Ill Executed," points out that every time Congress passes its new mandates, new layers of management are created to enforce them.

The end product is that By Light's calculation, the average federal employee now receives policy and budgetary guidance through nearly 60 layers of decision-makers.

I have an idea. Why not launch a bipartisan push for a thorough streamlining of the federal government? The last major effort, which was successful, was chaired by Herbert Hoover under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower.

This time, the restructuring should focus on streamlining the administrative structure, creating easier ways for talented people to enter government, and providing the right incentives so government bureaucracies can work effectively and efficiently.

There are those who worry that if government works too well, we'll want more of it, who simply want to starve the beast. But so much of what government is doing badly cannot be outsourced, privatized or abolished. National and Homeland security, after all, are the core provinces of the federal government. If you add in all the private contractors doing government work, there are currently about 15 million people who execute the laws, mandates and functions of the federal government.

Perhaps that number can be trimmed. But surely the more urgent and important task is to make sure that they are working as effectively and efficiently as they possibly can.

For more, go to, read my Washington Post column, and let's get started.

This Thanksgiving week in American history seems different. It seems the parties are further apart than every before. The discord in Washington is worse than before. The government has never been more dysfunctional.

But is any of that really true? I find it crucial to step back every once in a while and take a look at the present through the lens of the past. So we've invited four of our favorite historians to join us.

Walter Isaacson once ran CNN, but he is now the CEO of the Aspen Institute and the author of best-selling biographies of everybody from Steve Jobs to Albert Einstein to Benjamin Franklin.

Nancy Gibbs is the first woman to lead Time Magazine. She's the magazine's managing editor and, therefore, my boss. She co-wrote a great book about the American presidency entitled, "The President's Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity."

Jon Meacham's latest is, "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power." He's also written about Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. And he was my boss when he was the editor of Newsweek.


And David Nasaw is professor at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York and the author of books on Joseph Kennedy, the new one, Andrew Carnegie and William Randolph Hearst, among others.

Walter, I'll start with you because I've been struck by the reaction to President Obama's Geneva agreement with Iran. Furious reaction from the right.

And I was thinking back to your book on Kissinger. When Nixon and Kissinger, you know, made the opening to China, they were selling out Taiwan. And conservatism in America had been founded in some ways on support for Taiwan by Henry Luce of Time Magazine among others.

And they were cutting Taiwan off. They were giving its U.N. seat of China all within a day or two and, yet, the conservative opposition wasn't that bad. They managed to get them -- win them over.

WALTER ISAACSON, AUTHOR/BIOGRAPHER, CEO, ASPEN INSTITUTE: You know, that's the meme of the week, too. Is Iran like China? Make an opening to it. ZAKARIA: Right.

ISAACSON: And, in some ways, you know, that's a little bit shallow. But there is a strategic interest that Henry Kissinger would have truly appreciated, in fact, he does because he's talked about it recently, which is there's certain interests that Iran has had.

It's only been 37 years we've had this falling out with them. When Kissinger was in power, it was a cornerstone of the Nixon doctrine, a good relationship with Iran.

So you could do with Iran, play them off with the Sunni powers just as Kissinger played off China to Russia and it could be a very great strategic coup. I also think this whole deal is a pretty -- is a grand breakthrough.

ZAKARIA: But think about Bill Buckley's opposition to the opening to China. It all melted away pretty soon. I mean they reconciled themselves to the fact that this great cause that conservatives had championed was now -- you know, we were on the other side. We were for red China.

JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR/BIOGRAPHER, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, RANDOM HOUSE: Right. It was a tough time. I mean George Herbert Walker Bush was the U.N. ambassador up here trying to save Taiwan at the same time Kissinger was in China.

There'd been complaints about that and Kissinger will point out that he didn't tell the Secretary of State either. So ...


ISAACSON: He certainly tell Bush -- and Bush, he left him out to dry. Yes.

MEACHAM: But I do think, to my mind, the most tired analogy is Munich and you're seeing this a lot on the right right now. This is the next Munich, the new Munich.

You know, there was a Munich, but when you play that card, I think you really have to have a bit more behind it than you do here.

ZAKARIA: Germany was the second richest country in the world with the world's largest army.


ZAKARIA: Iran is, you know ...


ZAKARIA: I think its GDP is about the size of the Pentagon's budget.

What do you think? NANCY GIBBS, AUTHOR, MANAGING EDITOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, I think, you know, there are no historical analogies more perilous than comparing Munich or a Nixon and China from which we have generations of perspective to a deal that is hours, days old.

You know, this could prove to be a turning point as, obviously, the president would like to argue that it's a long, overdue reset of a relationship.

But it all could also fall apart. This is why everyone is, you know, making the point, this is a test. And even Obama is using the term. This is a test. Let's see what their intentions are. Let's not guess.

Let's actually, you know, take them at their word to the extent of OK, let the inspectors in, slow down the enrichment process. Are you serious about moving to a different footing, returning to the community of nations?

You know, we're going to know how this turns out, but it's going to take more than an hour-and-a-half to make a judgment.


ZAKARIA: David, I have to ask you about something, which is this is all come at a time when Obama has been battered and trust in government has been battered by Obamacare.

I mean you were writing about the Kennedys, about Joseph Kennedy, but that was the last time, particularly Jack Kennedy's time, when trust in government was incredible.

I mean 73 percent of Americans said they would trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time in 1960. It's now 19 percent.

DAVID NASAW, AUTHOR/BIOGRAPHER, PROFESSOR, GRADUATE CENTER, CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK: Watergate didn't help and I don't know that we've ever really -- I think we lost a generation because of Watergate followed on Vietnam.

I mean the -- and it's not simply government. I mean if we look at all the major institutions, if we look at the church, if we look at higher education, we can look at all these institutions.

The 60s rebellion quieted down, but it left a mark and I don't think these institutions have entirely recovered their credibility.

ZAKARIA: All right. We got to take a break. When we come back, we'll ask is this always going to happen in second terms? Is this the second term curse? When we come back.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Walter Isaacson, David Nasaw, Nancy Gibbs and Jon Meacham. Nancy, let me try another theory with you which is that second terms are almost by definition now going to be bad. Because if you think about, after the 22nd Amendment, after they've said, you know, you can't run for more than two terms, you had Eisenhower who had a pretty good second term.

After that, every president has had a lousy second term. And, you know, I wonder whether the fact that the president is now, by definition, not just tradition, but by constitutional fiat, a lame duck in his second term means that he just doesn't have the kind of shadow of power that he had, the political heft.

GIBBS: It's true that there are certain disadvantages, whether it's the certain lack of political juice or the fact that often the A- team that could recruit from your first term is tired and may be replaced by a second string team.

But I also think that the whole second term curse doesn't really hold up. It's a little bit of a sloppy analysis because we have, of the modern president, you had two of them Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton who were more popular, on average, during their second term than they were in their first.

You -- and then we have an example ...

ZAKARIA: Despite Iran-Contra and the ...

GIBBS: Despite Iran-Contra, despite impeachment. There was even a point where I think Bill Clinton calculated that impeachment was now working for him.


GIBBS: That his opponents had overreached and he was going to come out ahead.

Then you have the example of someone like Harry Truman even who, even though he -- you would have thought he was cursed, left office at immense levels of unpopularity, he is the patron saint of all second term presidents because he's now routinely ranked among the top 10 presidents in our history.

So it doesn't really hold up, but it is certainly true that we have watched a number of presidents hit rocky pieces of road in their second terms and we're watching that now.

ZAKARIA: The guy you -- you're writing about now just didn't have a chance to get a second term.

MEACHAM: Didn't get one. George Bush, Sr. He didn't. And I think Nancy's exactly right. Part of the second term problem is simply mathematical. You have twice as much time for the weight of the world and all sorts of problems to come to bear.

And I think it is striking that of those two presidencies you mentioned in particular, Reagan and Clinton, and even to the extent, I remember Fareed writing this at the time, the 2007/2008 George W. Bush. They were starting to get things right, particularly on foreign policy.

Because suddenly, Congress -- George H. W. Bush used to talk about how much he disliked talking to subcommittee chairmen about H.R. 62. H.R. 62.

ZAKARIA: He and Obama have something in common obviously.

MEACHAM: They have ...


MEACHAM: But foreign policy where they feel more unilaterally enabled is a place where I think you will begin to see the president focusing more and more.

NASAW: But the danger is the mid-term elections because every president since 1900, with the exception of Clinton rebounding from impeachment, has lost and lost rather heavily that mid-term election.

So the president's recover their popularity, but after the mid- term election there's very little they can do with it.

ZAKARIA: That's why I want to -- just as a party political figure, he seems to lose power once he's out of the game. His second inaugural ...

ISAACSON: Yes. If last year when we did show, I told you that he would have gotten a deal a Syria, they got rid of chemical weapons, he would have had an opening to Iran in which they were stopping enrichment at a 5 percent level ...

ZAKARIA: But that's classic. It's all foreign policy ...

ISAACSON: Right. And, by the way, if -- and this is a big if, you know, the website gets working and people start signing up for healthcare, it's a major transformation in life, a major transformation that I think most of us want, which is better healthcare coverage for all Americans.

So you will have had an astonishingly good second term that's really being held up at the moment by a glitch in health care websites and some of the bad mistakes he made on the promises.

ZAKARIA: But if you're right, then the Tea Party's really about social issues. Immigration reform is a dead letter because those 80 people in the House are simply not going to pass it.

MEACHAM: I think the other thing that happens here is as a president runs his last election, his view gets broader and broader at just the moment everyone else is in the system, to go to David's point, gets narrower and narrower.

They all have another election. Everyone who gets to deal within Congress has another election. He doesn't. So suddenly talking to John Kerry is a -- has a lot of appeal, talking to Susan Rice has a lot of appeal.

ZAKARIA: In your book, did you find that the ex-presidents, when they reflected, were there regrets. Would they look back on, particularly that second term, because that was their last chance to do anything.

GIBBS: They all left office with regrets about things they had left undone, every single one of them. No one felt they had gotten the job done. And that's the -- I mean that's the nature of the beast, but they were very aware of time running out.

And Clinton went nuts. I mean he was just pacing around the White House ...

MEACHAM: (inaudible) on Camp David and the Middle East.

GIBBS: Yes. They're just -- they're so aware even if they're exhausted and even if they had a powerful 8-year run, that the time is running out and there were always things like that.

ISAACSON: But you have to remember the one thing George W. Bush was really furious about not getting done was immigration reform. And so, you know, he wanted that.

ZAKARIA: OK. I'm going to ask a silly, McLaughlin-style question. One year from now, will President Obama's approval ratings, they're I think at 39 percent now, will they have substantially improved, by which I mean 5 percent higher than they are now?

ISAACSON: Oh, absolutely. And I think you'll see healthcare kick in and I think that's going to actually be very popular and I think you'll probably see an Iran deal, which will transform our entire policy in that region and the Syria deal. I think he's on the upswing.

MEACHAM: Five percent is almost margin of error. If you are talking about ten, probably not.

NASAW: Yes, I think absolutely. I think it's -- you can correct a website. It may take time. It may take more time than he ever expected but that can be corrected.

ZAKARIA: And that will transform?

NASAW: I think it has to.

GIBBS: I think he's going to run into other problems with the Affordable Care Act other than the technical ones.

ZAKARIA: This is your cover story.

GIBBS: This is going to be battled by anecdote for the next 12 months.


GIBBS: I'm not convinced. But I also think five points is setting the bar low. So I do think he ...

ZAKARIA: All right, so five, but not ten?

GIBBS: Five but not ten.

ZAKARIA: Nancy Gibbs, David Nasaw, John Meacham, Walter Isaacson, thank you so much. Lots more up ahead. What in the world, why one of the world's most capitalist and business friendly countries attempted to cap CEO salaries at 12 to 1? I will explain.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington with a check of the headlines. At least four people are dead, 63 injured in a train derailment in New York City. The southbound metro north commuter train went off the track shortly after 7:00 this morning. A law enforcement official on scene says the train operator told investigators he applied the brakes, but the train didn't slow down. Some 100 first responders are on the scene as is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The Obama administration says there has been "dramatic progress" in improvements to the troubled federal healthcare website. In a telephone briefing with reporters, officials said they've met the goal of fixing the site so that it works for the vast majority of users. The administration set a November 30th deadline for improving the website which has been plagued by frequent crashes and other glitches since its launch.

Shock and sadness in Hollywood over the death of actor Paul Walker. The star of the "Fast & Furious" movie franchise was killed Saturday in a fiery car crash near Los Angeles. Police are still investigating the cause of the crash but say speed was a factor. Paul Walker was 40 years old. Those are your top stories. CNN will have extensive coverage of the New York City train derailment coming up at the top of the hour. Now back to Fareed Zakaria GPS.

ZAKARIA: Now for a what in the world segment. If there's one country in the world that looks like a utopia, its name must be Switzerland. This is a country that has it all. The average income is $82,000. 65 percent more than the average American income. Everyone has great healthcare, child care and education. The unemployment rate is three percent. There is almost no corruption. According to the OECD of the 34 developed countries surveyed, the Swiss have the greatest degree of trust in their government and, of course, it is a spectacular country with great traditions of skiing, cheese, chocolates and wine. What possibly could go wrong? Well, quite a lot actually. The Swiss are furious about income inequality.

The story is a familiar one. According to Reuters, in 1984, top earners in Swiss firms made six times as much as bottom earners. Today, they make 43 times what bottom earners make. At some banks and firms, CEOs make 200 times the salary of the lowest paid employee. Now, before you assume things about Europe and European attitudes toward capitalism, remember that Switzerland is one of the most business friendly countries in the world. The conservative Heritage Foundation has an index of economic freedom, Switzerland ranks fifth in the world, well ahead of the United States of America. But in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Swiss have become far more concerned about the nature of today's free market system, so some Swiss political groups came up with a plan. It's called the one is to 12 initiative. The highest paid company executive should make a maximum of 12 times what the lowest paid employee makes. In other words, no one should earn more in one month than someone makes in a year. The proposal was put to a national referendum last week. I think it would have been disastrous if it had passed. Thankfully better sense prevailed. You see it's a worthy notion to tackle income inequality, but by capping CEO salaries or those of senior executives to a fraction of what the market sets, you could be sure of a massive exodus of top talent and indeed top companies.

According to the World Economic Forum, Switzerland ranks first in the world for attracting workers and third for retaining them. Those rankings obviously would have plummeted. Right or wrong, top earners would have moved somewhere else or companies would have played illegal games. This was only the latest referendum. In March, a majority of Swiss voted to end what we called "golden handshakes" for top business leaders. In other words, no more giant exit packages for CEOs. Another vote is in the works. The Swiss are debating a proposal to give every citizen a minimum cash stipend of $2,800 a month for doing nothing at all. Basically free money that arrives in your checking account every 30 days.

All of these proposals in capitalist and business friendly Switzerland no less reveal a larger global anxiety about inequality. No country is immune. Not even Switzerland, which is actually more equal as a society than many European countries and, of course, much more equal than the United States. In fact, one reason why these votes are taking place is because Swiss law enshrines people power through referendum. There's an important lesson for all of us to learn from the Swiss example. We as a society need to deal with concerns about income equality. If we don't come up with a sensible solution, or a series of sensible solutions, then it is only a matter of time before populism and demagoguery take over with phony solutions that will only make things worse and at that point any sensible measure will seem too little too late.

Up next, are kids in Finland and South Korea that much smarter than kids in America? And if so, why? I have a great guest who actually went to those countries and compared the school systems. Right back.


ZAKARIA: America is exceptional in many ways. Sadly, secondary education is not one of them. The most recent rankings for the program for international student assessment has American 15 year olds ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math among other developed nations. Countries like Finland and South Korea always rank near the top. In the 2011 "GPS" special, we went to those two countries to see what they were doing differently. The investigative journalist Amanda Ripley went one step further. She followed some American kids as they spent a year abroad in high school in those two countries and in Poland. The results are fascinating, the book is called "The Smartest kids in the World And How They Got That Way." Amanda Ripley joins me.

So, what did you find about those three countries that struck you? You actually have three models that you say that they represent. What are they?

AMANDA RIPLEY, AUTHOR, "THE SMARTEST KIDS IN THE WORLDS": So, South Korea is the pressure cooker model. The extreme case of what you see all over Asia where kids are working night and day literally under a lot of family pressure to get very high test scores. Now, South Korea does get those high test scores, but at grave costs. So that's one, the pressure cooker model. Finland is in many ways the opposite extreme of South Korea. Not in all ways, but in some. And Finland is what I call the utopia model. Where your -- they've really invested in quality over quantity, and the kids are on average doing less homework than our kids, but still achieving at the very top of the world on tests of critical thinking in math, reading and science with very little variation from school to school or from socioeconomic status from one to the other.

ZAKARIA: And why did you choose Poland?

RIPLEY: Poland is the surprise. Poland is an example of the metamorphosis. A country that has high rate of child poverty and plenty of trouble and trauma in its background and yet has radically improved its education outcomes over the past ten years. So, Poland is not yet at the level of Finland or Korea, but a place that shows that there is hope. You know, change happens even in places with problems. So, in a way looking at Poland is almost like going back in time and looking at Finland and Korea 50 years ago.

ZAKARIA: Talk a little bit more about the Finland model. Because that's the one that's the most intriguing. What makes Finland work? Why are those test scores so high?

RIPLEY: It's remarkable to everyone including everyone in Finland. They can't quite believe it year after year. One thing that they have done that's very clear and is very unusual around the world is in the late 1960s they shut down their teacher training colleges, which were like ours of highly variable selectivity and quality and they reopened them in the top eight most elite universities in the land as part of a broader reform of higher education. When they did that, it set off a series of cascading consequences that I don't even know that they realized. One thing that happened is the obvious. You know, you eventually have teachers who themselves have the advantage of a very strong education which makes it easier to teach higher order thinking skills.

ZAKARIA: And correct me if I'm wrong, but I think they draw their teachers from the top ten or 20 percent of the graduating class. We tend to draw teachers from the bottom third.

RIPLEY: Yes. Thank you. We educate twice as many teachers as we need. And in many, many of these colleges, there's very low bar for entry. So, you don't have to have very good grades yourself in order to get in. And that's true around the world, actually. That's very common.

ZAKARIA: So, Finland is unusual.

RIPLEY: Finland is unusual, yeah, for doing that. But I think what's really surprising about it and what I noticed when I spent time with kids in Finland is that the kids pick up on this. So there's the signaling effect like economists would say, right, where you know how hard it is to get into teacher training college and that alone isn't enough, but it sends this message to everyone, the parents, the taxpayers, the politicians and the students that this is serious. That you are serious about education and that teaching is really hard. Not just in rhetoric, but in reality. And so it adds this credibility to the whole enterprise that helps kids buy into the promise of education.

ZAKARIA: You also point out something about all of these countries and this is true of all three of them, which is there is almost no sports in the best schools in the world.

RIPLEY: Right. Kids play sports, but not in school. It is sort of separate from school. Pickup games or community rec centers. But it's not a part of the core mission of school. This is controversial. I get in a lot of trouble when I talk about this. Because Americans love their sports and American kids love their sports. And when I surveyed hundreds of exchange students, you know, they all agreed that sports were more important to their American peers than their peers back home. But many of them, actually, really like that. They liked that there was this school spirit and this bonding. The problem is that sports can sometimes if you don't constantly keep it contained, eat away at the mission of school, which is supposed to be education, right? So when we are routinely spending two to three times per football player what we spend per math student, when we routinely have teachers leaving to go coach away games and have to bring in substitutes and we are spending tens of thousands of dollars on buses for the marching band, that's something that should be weighed against the benefit.

ZAKARIA: It seems to me what you really say is that the systems are quite different in all these three countries. The structures are different. The one thing that's true is there's a psychology that says school is hard. You've got to spend a lot of time at it. You've got to work hard. You've got to succeed and that that's missing in America.

RIPLEY: It's almost exactly the same attitude many of us take toward sports, toward academics. It's literally. This is important. There is a big contest at the end. Not everyone is going to win. To get better, critically, you have to practice and work harder. You know, and get more help. But you're not innately just bad at math, right? So, that's really powerful combination when you take that intensity on education and when you make it rigorous through highly trained, highly supportive teachers and then back it up. You know, kids know if it's -- if this is bogus or not.

ZAKARIA: Did it leave you depressed about America?

RIPLEY: No, actually. Oddly I felt more optimistic when I came back than when I left. I feel like, you know, we have 45 states that have now adopted the Common Core state standards. Big fights still happening and still to come about that. But those are more rigorous in math and reading, which is much more aligned, particularly in math, with what these countries are doing. That's an obvious first step. Not enough, but exciting that it's even happening. In 45 states. I mean that's a huge deal for America. And I think, you know, more and more people are starting to talk about the quality of our education colleges. To get into Education College in Finland is like getting into MIT in the United States. And imagine what could follow if that were true here. I mean you could make a case to pay teachers more and to give them more freedom in the classroom and to finally give that profession the respect it deserves.

ZAKARIA: Good luck getting sports out, though.


RIPLEY: Yes, that's what I'm talking about. That will never happen.

ZAKARIA: Amanda, it's a pleasure to have you on.

RIPLEY: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Up next, is immigration reform dead and what happens in the 2016 presidential election if it is? My interview with the former mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa.


ZAKARIA: Last week, the world's longest commercial flight touched down for the last time. Singapore Airlines discontinued its nonstop flight from Newark International Airport to Singapore. That brings me to my question of the week. What is now the longest distance you can travel on a nonstop commercial flight? If you're a geography wiz, you should be able to work this out. Is it A, Dubai to Los Angeles. B, Sydney to Dallas. C, Hong Kong to New York. Or, D, Johannesburg to Atlanta. Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.

This week's book of the week is "Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty" by Turkish commentator Mustafa Akyol. Akyol argues that the Muslim world needs to embrace not only democracy, but also liberalism. It is really the best book about a modern interpretation of Islam you can find out there. It has an excellent epilogue on the Arab spring.

And now for the "Last Look." I want to show you a video that everyone in India and Pakistan is watching right now. It's about an old man in India and an old man in Pakistan. They may live in different countries today, but before 1947, before partition, under British rule, they grew up in the same town, playing games together. How could they reconnect all these years later? Well, try Google, which of course made the ad to promote its product. A few quick searches of their childhood haunts by tech-savvy grandkids, and a reunion is arranged. Listen in.





ZAKARIA: The ad has been seen by millions of people and it's generated an outpouring of support and nostalgia in India and Pakistan. Now, according to a Pew survey, four out of 10 Indians say Pakistan is their biggest national threat. Six out of 10 Pakistanis say the same about India. But on the flip side, consider this: 70 percent of Indians and 62 percent of Pakistanis say improving relations between the two countries should be a priority. I hope more Indians and Pakistanis can watch Google's ad and remember that they have far more in common than they have differences.

Go to for a link to the full video.

And the correct answer is B, Sydney to Dallas, which covers 8,578 miles. Johannesburg to Atlanta was a close second at 8,439 miles. And that trip would take you a longer amount of time, at roughly 17 hours. Thanks to some helpful tailwinds, Sydney to Dallas is a mere 15.5 hours.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.