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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Interview with Susan Rice; Interview with Tom Steyer; Trump and Climate Change; Wanting to Have Fun Has Changed History; Cancer and Genetics Examined. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired November 27, 2016 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:10] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: 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'll begin today's show with the current National Security adviser. Ambassador Susan Rice on the fight against ISIS, civil war in Syria, on the new Cold War with Russia and on the next administration. What are the biggest challenges facing Donald J. Trump?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The weight of United States leadership, of the responsibilities of office are quite serious and sobering things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Then global warming. Trump has said it was a hoax. Now he might be changing his mind. Most scientists say it's very real. And this billionaire businessman says he's opening his checkbook to stop any plan to roll back progress on climate change. Meet Tom Steyer.
Also, all work and no play. That's no good. Steven Johnson will tell us just how important it is to have a little fun in our lives.
But first here's my take. So Donald Trump now says in an interview with the "New York Times" that he believes there is some connection between human activity and climate change, that Hillary Clinton should not be prosecuted, and that after one conversation with a retired Marine Corps general, James Mattis, Trump changed his tune a bit about waterboarding.
One might wonder why didn't have that conversation during the campaign or why he pounded home the opposite view on all these topics for a year and a half. But at this point, it does not matter. Trump is president-elect. We should all hope that he flip-flops some more.
In this spirit, let me outline a few news stories that I hope we will see over the next few weeks. Donald Trump wants to keep Iran deal. The president-elect has come to realize that the agreement with Iran has blocked that country's pathways to a nuclear weapon. Furthermore, were the U.S. to pull out, no other country would re-impose sanctions so it would simply hurt American business. I haven't focused so much on the benefits of the deal, Trump said. We have been bombing the hell out of ISIS, says Trump. The president-
elect describes the phone conversation with President Obama in which he learned that the United States and its coalition partners have conducted more than 16,000 airstrikes on ISIS. That's a lot, says Trump, noting that in Syria the Obama administration has been focused on defeating ISIS and not on deposing President Bashar al-Assad. They have been doing what I suggested all along, he noted proudly.
Trumpcare will be a terrific improvement on Obamacare. The Trump administration plans to propose a health care bill that will require insurance companies to enroll people with pre-existing conditions. In return the companies will gain millions of new customers since people will now face a mandate to buy health insurance or else face a $10,000 fine. Much higher than under Obamacare.
I figured out like with houses or cars, insurance can't work unless we are all in, the president-elect explained.
Donald Trump announces sales of the Trump Organization. The president-elect said that he has decided that people deserve a full- time president without even the hints of conflict of interest. And so he's decided to sell all his companies, put the proceeds in a multi- billion charitable trust and ask his children to run it. If they want to get back into business, I will give them each a small few million dollar loan to get started just like my father gave me.
OK, that last one is total fantasy. On the others, I don't know if they'll happen but if they do, great. I know that there are many people who oppose Trump's election and who want him to fail. I don't. It's much better for the country and the world if Trump does well in the White House. That is not normalizing him as some worry but recognizing that the situation is what it is and hoping for the best.
When Trump does do things I disagree with, I will protest. For example, his refusal to properly separate himself from his businesses is truly unconscionable and it makes this country looks like a banana republic. But if he ends up doing things that are sensible, I will cheer.
Trump has a unique opportunity. A vast number of Americans are deeply distrustful of elites in Washington, in New York and elsewhere. They believe that there are simple solutions to the problems that America faces and they resent the country's engagement with the world which they see as harming the average American.
These people have put their faith in Donald Trump. If Trump can help make them understand some of the realities of the world and the constraints on the government, it would be a huge step forward.
[10:05:09] If Donald Trump tells his followers that the Paris agreement on climate change is worth preserving, or that NATO is crucial for global stability, they might actually listen.
For more, go to CNN.com/fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started. Earlier this week, I traveled to D.C. to interview President Obama's
National Security adviser, Susan Rice. There are just 55 days until the next president is inaugurated. In the meantime, there is plenty to keep Ambassador Rice busy around the world including the transition.
ZAKARIA: Ambassador Rice, it is a pleasure to have you on.
RICE: It is good to be back, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Where do we stand in the battle against ISIS? How -- how much further before in your view Mosul falls and then Raqqa falls?
RICE: Well, let me take a second to describe the progress that's been made. The Iraqi Security Forces inside of Iraq have taken back about 55 percent of the populated territory that ISIL originally seized back in 2014. They have now with our support and that of our 68 country coalitions encircled Mosul and they're beginning to move into parts of Mosul.
This is going to be a very difficult fight. ISIL has been entrenched there for several years now. They've built up very significant defenses. And so we can't expect that to be quick and easy. But I believe that in due time that will succeed and we are working assiduously to support the Iraqi Security Forces when they do that.
In Raqqa, in Syria, the aim is to begin the process of isolating and ultimately seizing Raqqa. The isolation phase has begun recently. We are supporting that again with our coalition partners. This is a complicated endeavor because the force that is best capable of conducting the isolation consists not only of Syrian Arabs but also Syrians Kurds. And Raqqa will need to be ultimately taken by Syrian Arabs who would be more accepted by the population in Raqqa. But that isolation phase has begun and doing these two things simultaneously in Mosul and Raqqa is designed to put pressure from multiple angles on ISIL simultaneously.
ZAKARIA: Is Russia fighting ISIS and fighting Islamic terrorists in Syria?
RICE: Only on the margins. It is now -- it is the case that they have taken some strikes against ISIL, that they've taken some strikes where they claim to be al Qaeda. But their business is quite clear. It's to prop up Assad and it's to wipe up the opposition, most of which are moderate opposition, not extremist opposition. They claimed to have shared interest as we do in defeating ISIL. And I think they do have that interest as a secondary interest because their proximity to Syria and the risk that Chechens and others who have come to fight inside of Syria would come back into Russian territory. But if you look at how they have devoted their effort and sources, it has been predominantly to back Assad, go after the opposition indiscriminately in large numbers, the moderate opposition into a lesser extent to deal with ISIL.
ZAKARIA: You have been in on almost all of President Obama's meetings with Putin, the famous shots of just the three of you, the four with you with a translator. What is it you think that Vladimir Putin wants? What are his goals for Russia?
RICE: Well, I think Putin's primary goal was to see Russia ascending as a global power. And Russian pride and nationalism to be restored. Putin, as you know, is former KGB, he very much lamented the fall of the Soviet Union and the period that Russia went through when it was economically and politically much weaker. And I think he views his mandate and his purpose as to restore Russian glory and to do so with the expense of international law and norms when it serves its purpose.
ZAKARIA: What would happen if the United States were to slap 45 percent tariffs on China or label it a currency manipulator? You've dealt with the Chinese.
RICE: Well, Fareed, first of all, to put -- let's deal with the 45 percent tariff suggestion. Chinese have made it very clear including in U.S. bilateral discussions and in President Obama's meeting with President Xi just the other day that they don't seek a trade war with the United States.
[10:10:07] They seek what -- to use their term win-win cooperation and the economic sphere and the security sphere even as we have to deal with real differences we have between us. But President Xi was also very clear that -- you know, that China has its own very significant economic interest and if it were -- if there were an action directed against China and its interest in the economic sphere, there would be an equal reaction.
And so this could very well be the beginning of a significant trade war if that were in fact pursued. It could have very serious ramifications for the global economy.
ZAKARIA: Similarly what happens if the president were to decide that he wanted to tear NAFTA, renegotiate it?
RICE: Well, you know, Fareed, I don't want to go through every one of these what ifs because they are what ifs, and I think we need to understand that campaigns are campaigns and governing is governing, and they're very different things. And the weight of the United States leadership, the responsibilities of office are quite serious and sobering things. And I think we need to allow the president-elect time to put his team together to formulate his policies and see what in fact those policies prove to be.
ZAKARIA: And we will be back in a second. Much more with National Security adviser Susan Rice.
[10:15:32] ZAKARIA: Back now. More of my interview from earlier this week with Susan Rice, President Obama's National Security adviser. We met in the Secretary of War Suite in the Eisenhower executive office building on the White House grounds.
ZAKARIA: Through this transition, the reports we are getting that President-elect Trump has been calling foreign leaders or receiving calls without the State Department being involved, either in translation or having a government officials on the line to take notes and to be able to perhaps brief him before or after. Is that true?
RICE: I'm not in the middle of these phone calls, Fareed, so I can't independently verify that. I have seen the same reports you have. And if it were the case, that would be not the typical approach.
ZAKARIA: Has President Obama ever talked to a foreign leader without having a note taker on the call?
RICE: I don't know ever, but our practice and I think the traditional practice in the White House is that, you know, these are calls that are prepared well in advance. The president is well briefed. The calls are transcribed and there's a record.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about one that's very important which is, could the United States withdraw from the Iran deal? What would it looked like if the United States wanted to tear up the Iran deal?
RICE: Well, first of all, Fareed, let's remember what we have accomplished with the Iran deal. The deal has been in place for now, almost a year and a half, and Iran has abided by its obligations consistently under the Iran deal. It's removed 98 percent of its enriched uranium. It's dismantled two-thirds of its centrifuges and all of its advance centrifuges. It's put concrete into the plutonium reactor and disabled its ability to operate. We have the most comprehensive and intrusive inspection regime ever instituted against a nuclear program.
So all of Iran's pathways to a potential nuclear weapon have been cut off and so this deal is working for the American people, for the people of the region, for our allies and partners who are most threatened by Iran's nuclear program. And so to scrap it when it's working would put us outside of the bounds of what is an international agreement. It would be breaking our faith, not Iran breaking its faith, but the United States breaking its faith, not just with Iran but with the European Union and Germany and Britain and France and China and Russia, and the United Nations Security Council which has endorsed this deal.
And so we will be isolated. The ability for us to influence Iran thereafter would be gone. They will not have the constraints of this agreement so they can resume their nuclear program unabated. It may be that if they do that, then we're left with few options but to contemplate the use of force to create an outcome that we already had accomplished peacefully through the nuclear deal. And we would find ourselves without the sanctions regime that put the sufficient pressure on Iran that we were able to achieve the deals. So it's a win-win for Iran. They are out from under. We are
isolated. Our allies and our partners are furious of the United States and their nuclear program can proceed unabated. It doesn't serve our interest. And I think that when people contemplate the realities, this is not rhetoric anymore. This is in fact our -- the responsibilities of those who are governing examine the alternatives, a rational determination would be that it is manifestly in the United States' interest to maintain the Iran deal.
ZAKARIA: Susan Rice, pleasure to have you on.
RICE: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, a billionaire says he'll spend as much as it takes to battle back if President-elect Donald Trump decides to dismantle the progress that has been made on climate change.
Tom Steyer will be with me when we come back.
[10:23:37] ZAKARIA: Donald Trump claimed in a tweet that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. He also said he would cancel the Paris agreement. While on Tuesday at the "New York Times" Trump changed his tune a bit, admitting there were some connectivity between humans and climate change, and saying he would take a look at the Paris agreement. And from still has a leading climate change denier as the head of his EPA transition, his actions and contradictory words have climate change activists concerned.
My next guest is stepping in to say he will counter Trump with some of his billions if he were to try to roll back energy regulations.
Tom Steyer has made his billions in hedge funds. He now spends hundreds of millions on climate change activism. He told Reuters last week he would spend whatever it takes to fight Trump on climate change.
TOM STEYER, FOUNDER, FARALLON CAPITAL MANAGEMENT: Fareed, thank you for having me.
ZAKARIA: Tell me what exactly you are most worried about among the many things that Donald Trump has said?
Well, I think that if you move away from progressive energy policies and clean energy, you are putting the safety of Americans at risk, you're putting the prosperity of Americans at risk, and you're putting American leadership in the world at risk.
ZAKARIA: Now Donald Trump does say he's going to reverse a lot of these executive actions that Obama has taken whether it's on coal fired plants or vehicle emissions. [10:25:07] What could you do? He's president and he will have that
STEYER: I think that the strongest power in the United States of the America is the will of the American people. And I think if the American people understand what's going on and what the consequences are of what's going on, they will realize that their future is at stake, and that's the conversation we intend to try and engage in.
ZAKARIA: But how? What will you do to -- presumably you're talking about creating a kind of national protest movement.
STEYER: Actually during 2016, we engaged in as much field work, as much direct voter-to-contact as we could. So we believe then that, you know, we need Americans to speak to each other on issues of the day and that's what we did then. We were on over 370 college campuses. We knocked with our partner on more than 10 million doors. We registered over a million people. So we'll continue the kind of grassroots field work, the kind of grassroots citizens-to-citizen conversations that we did in 2016.
ZAKARIA: But are you dishearten? You've spent some say $69 million, $70 million. Certainly the outcomes in the presidency and the Senate and the House of Representatives have not been what you would have hoped for.
STEYER: They certainly weren't. We were surprised and obviously disappointed. We had an incredibly great day in my home state of California on November 8th. But the fact of the matter is where we were, the conversations that we had, the arguments that we engaged in all worked out really well both at home and California and around the country. So as far as we are concerned, standing up and fighting for traditional American values, the dignity of Americans, the prosperity of Americans, the safety of Americans is something that we will never back away from. So we have no intention of doing that now because there have been setbacks.
ZAKARIA: What is the greatest accomplishment in the Obama years on climate change and energy policy more generally? What do you look at as the signature achievement?
STEYER: I don't think there is any question but the Paris agreement is the signature achievement when it comes to energy and climate for the Obama administration. That was something that was really started in bilateral agreements with the Chinese and Indians. It's something where there is no question that President Obama is the person who is the leader of the world. It's the agreement that the most countries in history have ever signed onto. It was something where his moral, intellectual and economic leadership were paramount. It said something about where the United States stands in the world, where we choose to stand, where we traditionally stood. And it was something that he should be very, very proud of.
ZAKARIA: Do you believe that there is a real clean energy industry that has the kind of jobs that can rival the old ones that are presumably going to be more threatened or in danger like coal? Is there -- are there enough jobs in solar and in wind to appeal to Americans?
STEYER: Fareed, if you look at the numbers, it is very important to recognize that people working in the old fossil fuel industries took those jobs as good paying, decent jobs for Americans to support their families. And as Americans it's really important that we understand that there was nothing wrong in what they did. They need to be supported. But we also have to face facts. There are fewer than 75,000 coal miners in the United States of America. The whole United States of America.
Just in my home state of California, there are probably 550,000 people working in clean energy, that most of those people are working in advance electricity generation, that's solar, that's wind, that geothermal. And a lot of them are working on -- you know, making commercial buildings more energy efficient. But we have -- we probably have almost 10 times as many people working in clean energy just in my home state, as there are coal miners in the entire United States of America.
Clean energy is actually something that creates a lot more jobs. There is a myth out there that this hasn't happened, that it's not true. The fact of the matter is the cost of clean energy either will be or already is cheaper than fossil fuels in most of the United States. So there is a myth that somehow we're going to be more prosperous if we just go backwards.
And I would ask you, when is the last time we got more prosperous by going back to old technologies and turning away from the innovation, the entrepreneur ship and the skill of American business. I just don't think that makes any sense. I think people have refused to look at the facts in their face.
ZAKARIA: Can Donald Trump withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement?
STEYER: Well, he says he's going to try. And, you know, I think that that would be a tragic mistake. If you look at what people around the world are saying right now about the Paris agreement, they are looking to the Chinese government and to Angela Merkel for leadership of the world. That means who they're specifically not including, and that's the United States of America. For us to take our leadership of the world and throw it out the window is a tragic mistake. We have been the leader of the world for a century. And to just walk away from that for some short-term political gain is something that I find, you know, shockingly misguided.
ZAKARIA: Tom Steyer, pleasure to have you on.
STEYER: Fareed, thank you so much for having me.
ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," the show so far has been quite serious -- fascinating, but serious. Now it's time for some serious fun, a look at why play and leisure are the building blocks of the modern world. The best-selling author Steven Johnson, when we come back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAKARIA: How did the desire to have a cup of coffee lead the way to the Enlightenment?
Is Pokemon Go just the beginning of the hybrid world that we will all live in 20 years from now?
In his new book, "Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World," Steven Johnson argues that our desire to have fun has changed the trajectory of history. How? Well, listen in.
ZAKARIA: Steven Johnson, pleasure to have you on.
STEVEN JOHNSON, AUTHOR: It's great to be back.
ZAKARIA: So the basic argument of this book seems to be that fun is incredibly productive, innovative and changes the world?
JOHNSON: Yeah, and we have this tendency, when we think about what are the forces that are driving history, to assume that those forces are the desire for conquest and power or affluence or survival. And that is obviously part of the story. But it turns out that, really, a surprising amount of change in society, both technological innovation and political change, social change, comes out of this other side of our humanity, which is the desire to be delighted or amused or to be in this kind of playful state. And many things that start as toys and games end up triggering all these changes that you would never, kind of, anticipate from the start.
ZAKARIA: So some of this is even just things like wanting to have a cup of coffee?
ZAKARIA: Explain how that translates into something much bigger?
JOHNSON: So coffee comes to the European capital, particularly to London, around 1650, 1660, and tea arrives right around the same time. And this is important partially, we should say, just because it changed the diets of Europeans who had basically been drinking alcohol all day long. They would drink beer for breakfast, all through the day.
ZAKARIA: Because, it's important to point out, that the reason was because water was -- was undrinkable because it was poisonous?
JOHNSON: It was -- it was the healthy choice to drink beer for breakfast.
ZAKARIA: You had to do something to kill the germs in water, and they used to do it by, you know, distillation or brewing or fermentation.
JOHNSON: Exactly. So you had... (CROSSTALK)
ZAKARIA: ... tea provided a new mechanism, which is you boil with these leaves.
JOHNSON: And you -- so suddenly you have the population shifts from drinking a depressant all day long to drinking a stimulant all day long, which is -- in its own right was interesting. But what also happened was this new kind of space developed, this semi-public space of the coffeehouse. And London went crazy with coffeehouses. By the end of the 1600s, there were, you know, hundreds of these coffeehouses.
And Charles II actually tried to ban them, saying that people were so distracted by hanging around in these coffeehouses that they weren't paying attention to their "lawful calling and affairs," as he put it. And he issued a decree banning coffeehouses, and that decree lasted one week...
... because everybody was like, wait, no, no, no, you can't take our coffee away from us.
But he was wrong because those spaces, while they seemed like people were just wasting time, they ended up really being the, kind of, the seat of the Enlightenment. I mean, the Enlightenment really happened, in England particularly, in the coffeehouse. It's where the magazine business comes out of; it's where the insurance business -- Lloyd's of London was Lloyd's Coffeehouse, originally. The first, kind of, public museums were in these coffee houses, where they would show curiosities. A lot of early stock market action was in coffeehouses.
And so a huge part of that culture came out of this open-ended, kind of, playful space of hanging out with people and, kind of, chatting in an unstructured way.
And, actually, there is a long history of political insurrection coming out of these spaces, also taverns, right, taverns and pubs. You cannot not tell the story of the American Revolution without talking about the role that the tavern, kind of, network had on that political rebellion.
And, you know, we should get the causality right. The American Revolution probably would have happened anyway, but it would have required a different information network and a social gathering network had taverns and pubs not been invented.
ZAKARIA: What about the game of chess?
JOHNSON: I mean, this is -- you know, the whole history of chess as a -- as a metaphor for society -- there was a book published, basically, on the game of chess. And it was one of the first books ever published besides the Bible, in English, and it was a huge best-seller. And it was a kind of book that we can't really imagine today. One one level, it was, kind of, a game guide, like it was how to get better at chess. But it was also a sociological treatise on how people were supposed to relate to each other in society and the relationship between the king and the queen and the nobility and the commoners and all this kind of stuff.
And it -- it built this kind of vision of society where, instead of the image of the body politic where everyone is part of the, you know, the royal kind of lineage and has to listen to the king, people actually have independent, kind of, contractual relationships with each other. And the chess board became this metaphor for that kind of transition from a medieval society to a kind of early Renaissance society. And chess helped us, kind of, think through that problem.
ZAKARIA: You point out that Europeans, at some point, get fascinated -- 16th, 17th Century, by spices.
ZAKARIA: First, of all, why do they? And what is the consequence of that fascination?
JOHNSON: Well, I mean, it's an even -- it's an even older story in a way, and so weirdly relevant to certainly the framework of this show and where we are today. The whole idea of a global marketplace, of a global economy, where goods produced in one country might be trafficked to another country and consumed somewhere on the other side of the world begins with spices. Spices really are the origin of the idea of an integrated global economy.
And we're still living in the kind of reverberation of that, that initial change. The first integrated spice network were the Muslim spice traders. And all the places in the world where the Islamic culture tried to bring Islam by force, like Spain, for instance, those efforts ultimately failed. Where Islamic cultures took root was all the places where the spice traders successfully did business. And so the map of...
ZAKARIA: So Indonesia and Malaysia...
JOHNSON: Exactly, and all the way into Africa, too, right?
And so the map today of global Islam is the after-image of a map of where spice traders successfully did their business 1,000 years ago.
And then -- and then pepper became huge in the 1300s, 1400s, 1500s. And so really we -- this is where delight and play is such an important part of it. There's nothing nutritionally valuable about a spice, right? It is purely the interest, the flavor, the taste, the spice of life, right? And that just sets in motion this extraordinary set of forces that are still, you know, kind of, shaping the way we live today, 2,000 years later, 3,000 years later.
ZAKARIA: So one of the lessons I'm taking from your book is that Donald Trump is, I think, a tea-totaler, but he should not try to ban Starbucks.
(LAUGHTER) It might cause a social-political revolution.
But, really, what, when you look at the world today, what other kind of amusements that you think are telling us something about the future of the economy?
JOHNSON: Yeah, that's part -- that's part of the argument of the book, which is that looking at what people are doing for fun now is often a way of predicting the future.
So if you could go back and you looked in the 1800s and 1700s, there were all these little mechanical dolls that were really, in some sense, the first programmable machines that had ever been created, where you had these very advanced forms of engineering with code, kind of, controlling the behavior. And that, if you looked at that, at the time, it just seemed like a toy, right? It was an amusement for the elite. But it was the beginning of all these threads that now are so essential to us, mechanization in labor and in A.I. And all these, and the digital revolution and everything there, was embedded in these toys and games.
Today, I mean, you know, we just lived through something this summer with Pokemon Go, right? I mean, we probably are going to find ourselves, in 10 or 20 years, walking around with some kind of device that gives us augmented reality, as they say, where you've got some kind of glasses, where you're seeing the real world but there's meta- information coming from your computer of some kind that's explaining where to go or who you're talking to or giving you meta-information about stores that you're passing. That is probably going to happen.
Pokemon Go was the first time where we saw a mass adoption of this form, where you're staring at a screen, at the world, but there's super-imposed on that -- in this case, there's an imaginary creature.
JOHNSON: It started as a game.
ZAKARIA: ... that you are living in that new virtual...
JOHNSON: That hybrid world, right, halfway between virtual and the real. And I think we'll look back and we'll say it all started with these kids running around the world capturing these imaginary monsters, but it turned into something much more serious.
ZAKARIA: Steven Johnson, we'll have you back to update us as this...
JOHNSON: In 20 years...
(LAUGHTER) ZAKARIA: Thank you so much.
ZAKARIA: Up next, are we on the verge of personalized medicine that can prevent you from, say, getting cancer?
Yes, says the author of an acclaimed new book, and all it starts with understanding the building blocks of human life, genes. Fascinating science, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: My next guest is a doctor and writer whose last book was a huge undertaking, a biography of cancer called "The Emperor of All Maladies." The book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, deservedly so.
Well, this high achiever has now decided to take on an even more complex topic, the gene. Siddhartha Mukherjee's latest is called "The Gene: An Intimate History."
Siddhartha Mukherjee, pleasure to have you on.
MUKHERJEE: My pleasure, thank you.
ZAKARIA: So in this book, what you say is that, in this area in biology, like in other areas of science, the big news is that we have finally gotten down to the fundamental unit of analysis. Explain what you mean.
MUKHERJEE: Well, the gene is the fundamental unit of analysis in biology, in the same way that the atom is for matter or the bit or the byte is for computing. We've known genes -- about genes for a long time. But the idea -- I mean, the way that we're understanding, the depths and the clarity with which we're understanding genes today and its influence on our lives, on our social lives, our biological lives, is enormous, just like, you know, the understanding of the atom changed the world of physics and just like the understanding of, you know, digitized information changed the world of computing.
ZAKARIA: So if you look at that analogy, what you're saying is really that, when you are able to go down to the essential element of matter in physics, the atom, you are able to then figure out how to manipulate it, how to read information. When you are able to get down to the fundamental unit of information, the bit or the byte, you are able to move it around. Each of them produced an explosion of knowledge and then of applications.
ZAKARIA: Is the same thing happening...
MUKHERJEE: That's happening right now. We are learning to read and write genes, the language of genes, in a way that we hadn't even 10 or 15 years ago. And by that I mean, you know, we can now begin to -- first of all, you can decode the genome; you can sequence them. I call that reading. And you can also, now, change it. You can manipulate it.
And, of course, by manipulating a gene, you're essentially manipulating an organism. Because it's, you know, much like, by manipulating an atom, you manipulate matter; by manipulating genes, you can manipulate organisms.
ZAKARIA: So when we talk about this sometimes, for laypeople, we hear about this dazzling sequencing of the human genome and how it originally cost the government $3 billion or $4 billion; it can now be done for a few thousand dollars by, you know, a machine the size of a small refrigerator.
But it doesn't seem to have changed our lives in the way that, when you think about the quantum revolution of physics, you then say, "and then that produced nuclear fission and produced nuclear bombs." When we look at the world of medicine, has it changed that much?
MUKHERJEE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, so, again, remember that, if you look at the history of physics, quantum physics, there's about 50 years between the decoding, as it were, of that aspect of matter and the -- and atomic energy and the atomic bomb. So we are in the beginning of this revolution. So what's happening?
Well, we're now beginning to read individual human genomes and make decisions about what an individual's disease proclivities might be in the future. We may be able to use some of that information to prevent disease in the future. Cancer, for instance, the sequencing of cancer genomes, figuring out exactly what mutation is beginning -- it's not fully there yet -- is beginning to direct therapy.
So rather than saying, "Oh, you know, you have leukemia or breast cancer; we'll just throw, you know, kind of, the standard therapy at your disease," we are now beginning to figure out exactly what mutations are there in your cancer and what's driving your cancer and try to match that mutation with a particular medicine.
That's a revolution. It's not all there yet. You know, the first attempts have been sobering. But we're slowly moving in that direction. So it's already there.
ZAKARIA: What about the ethical issues involved here?
Part of what you're describing is a world in which it would be possible to edit and select, for example, for children who are male, tall, blond, with high I.Q.s. Is there a danger that somebody could say, "I want to create a master race"?
MUKHERJEE: So, well, we should --we have to -- let's get a sense of what that lineage looks like. So certainly male verses female, we can now figure out. The other things you talked about, height, I.Q., et cetera, are much, much more complicated. They're certainly influenced by genes. But it's -- you know, it's not just genes. It's genes plus environments that determine many of these other issues. That's number one. And, number two, there are many, many genes exerting small effects on these more complex features.
So it's unlikely, I think, in the immediate run, that we will be doing this.
ZAKARIA: Hair color is pretty simple.
MUKHERJEE: Exactly. And so...
ZAKARIA: So we could pick blonds?
MUKHERJEE: There are -- there are simpler versions of our complex features and there's therefore the ethical question of what happens next. This is why it's very urgent for all of us to have the vocabulary. You have to learn about genes. You have to learn about their language. We have to learn about what we've discovered, so that we can understand what to next. If we don't do this, we won't be able to participate in this conversation.
ZAKARIA: Sid Mukherjee, pleasure to have you on.
MUKHERJEE: My pleasure, thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," many Brits might want to throw their politicians into the Thames, especially after seeing how the pound has collapsed in the wake of Brexit. But there is an idea floating around to put them all on the Thames, maybe for as long as six years. I'll explain when we come back.
ZAKARIA: This week Angela Merkel announced that she would run for a fourth term as Germany's leader. Germany currently has no laws limiting how many terms a chancellor can serve. And it brings me to my question of the week.
Who has been the longest-serving chancellor of Germany since the end of the Second World War, Konrad Adenauer, Kurt Georg Kissinger, Helmut Kohl, or Angela Merkel?
Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.
This week's book of the week is "Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity" by Sam Huntington. Huntington was a distinguished scholar and my academic adviser. He foresaw in this book the Trump movement and right-wing populist parties everywhere. And, more broadly, he foresaw that 21st Century politics would not be about ideology but rather identity --a controversial, fascinating book that will force you to think.
And now for the last look. The Houses of Parliament always look stunning on the banks of the River Thames. But they're actually falling apart. A renovation could cost nearly $7 billion. Members of the Houses of Commons and Lords have recommended that the building be vacated for six years, which is how long it will take to complete the work.
So where would the Parliament meet in the meantime?
Some parliamentarians suggested nationalizing a nearby pub for the location. But there are proposals that are a little less traditionally British.
Take a look at these renderings by the architecture firm Gensler. They call this proposal "Project Poseidon" because Parliament would be housed not next to the Thames but on it, literally. The architects say this floating structure would minimize government disruption by keeping it in essentially the same place. The British Parliament told us, however, that they foresee, quote, "significant logistical, access and security challenges" with a floating option.
The last time Parliament was rebuilt after it was bombed by the Nazis, Winston Churchill insisted it be kept smaller than necessary to create the drama of a packed room for important debates. Who knows what inspiration politicians might get if they governed while afloat on the Thames?
The correct answer to our "GPS" challenge question was C, Helmut Kohl. Kohl was chancellor from 1982 to 1998, oversaw the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990. He served for a total of 16 years and 26 days. As for Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor, she's currently serving her 11th year in office. If she wins next year's elections, she could equal Kohl's time in office.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.