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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Panel Discusses WikiLeaks Revelations; Interview With Bill Maher
Aired December 05, 2010 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: This is GPS, THE GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
The big news this week is of course the WikiLeaks. They've been called a historian's dream and a diplomat's nightmare, and everyone is convinced that it is just a disaster for the United States. So let me offer a modest dissent.
First, the cables don't show the United States doing anything duplicitous or underhand or scandalous. Now, remember, in the 1960s and '70s, America was often engaged in operations and policies that were clandestine, and were actually the opposite of its stated foreign policy.
But now, in these cables, there are no stories of coups, attend - attempted assassinations, or closet deals. Washington's secret diplomacy is actually remarkably consistent with its public diplomacy on Iran, on North Korea, on all kinds of issues.
Now, I also have to confess that the level and quality of analysis in these cables is a lot better than I would have guessed. American diplomats come across as sharp, well informed and lucid with their pens or their computer keyboards.
The big substantive revelation is that Arab regimes worry a lot more about Iran than they say so publicly, and they have been urging Washington to do something about Iran, including using military force. Now, that's mighty embarrassing for Arab governments that have been lying to their people, in a sense. But is it so bad for the United States? After all, it confirms the central American argument about Iran's nuclear program, that it is destabilizing the region and is feared not just by the United States or Israel, but by all Arab countries.
You might have noticed the man most furious about these leaks is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran's president says that these cables were actually leaked by Washington to weaken Iran, and I can see why he would think this. The cables make clear that far from being loved in the region, as he often claims, he is feared and despised by Arab leaders.
Of course, it would probably have been better off if all of this had stayed private, but reading through the sum total of this data dump, I came away more impressed and reassured by the way Washington works, or at least the State Department, than I was before.
I write about all this in this week's "Time" magazine, which also has the much-discussed interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Today on the show, we have an all-star GPS panel for you -- Niall Ferguson, Richard Haass and Gillian Tett. We'll talk about WikiLeaks, of course, but also the fate of Europe as the euro comes under new pressures and American budgetary pressures.
Then "What in the World?" 2010 was a real catastrophe. We'll tell you what the floods and quakes and the heat and the rain and the storms might mean.
Next up, he was politically incorrect, now he's real time. Bill Maher joins me to talk about President Obama, the Tea Party, and much more.
And, finally, a "Last Look" at taking national pride a little too far.
Let's get started.
ZAKARIA: Joining me now, Gillian Tett, U.S. managing editor of "The Financial Times;" Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations; and Niall Ferguson, professor at Harvard College and the Harvard Business School. Welcome to all of you.
Richard, the WikiLeaks documents, you -- you know what I think. But you've been a practicing diplomat. This -- this must a nightmare for Hillary Clinton in the sense that she's got to go through a long rolodex of calls, explaining to people, no, we don't actually think you're arrogant. No, you -- we don't actually think you're a moron.
RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: But they actually know that we do think those things. And what you -- you know, the old idea that what's really a gaffe in Washington is saying the truth. This is a gaffe on a large global scale.
That said, Hillary Clinton will be fortunate and then some if this is the biggest challenge or crisis or problem she faces in her four years as -- as Secretary of State. This is not a crisis. It's not a disaster.
Where I think it makes -- creates problems is process-wise, in terms of what people in the future will put down on paper, what people in the future will say. And I worry a little bit about the United States overreacting. I know you're concerned about too much -- that there was too much sharing of information. I'm actually now a little bit worried that the pendulum will swing the other way.
You remember, before 9/11, what was the problem? Everything was in silos. No one would share. So what I'm a little bit worried about is the overreaction to this. We'll probably go from too much sharing of intelligence and information to now possibly too little.
ZAKARIA: But David Cameron called a lightweight in one these cables. Do you think it will matter?
GILLIAN TETT, U.S. MANAGING EDITOR, THE FINANCIAL TIMES: Well, it's certainly pretty embarrassing, but, I mean, as you've written, that in some ways there aren't really surprises in these cables.
What I think the longer term impact, though, is going to be more subtle because it does contribute to a sense of an erosion of U.S. power. Not only have we seen that the U.S. cannot always get its way, it's making some great clumsy mistakes at times, but it can't even stop a junior soldier from eventually leaking all this information.
And I had dinner with some Chinese officials the other night. I also -- I mean, you know, can you imagine what would happen if a Chinese official were to leak this? And they made a point that it wouldn't happen in China because there simply would be more controls.
ZAKARIA: Well, they would be executed if it -- if it happened.
Niall, it's a historian's treasure trove, though. I mean, it's extraordinary, 250,000 of these -- you -- you would normally have to wait 30, 40, 50 years before you'd get to see all this.
NIALL FERGUSON, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, I'd frankly rather wait. I think it's extremely depressing that -- that this kind of thing happens because it -- it renders the whole process in American diplomacy null and void.
But I agree that the content doesn't appear particularly revelatory, and it -- it told people who were more or less in the know what they more or less already knew. But I worry much more about the effect it has on future record keeping as well as future -- traditional diplomacy.
The only consolation I have, before I pronounce the end of history, the nightmare scenario is that that what happens now is that American foreign policy goes down the Goldman Sachs route. Nothing gets committed to paper. It's all done by voicemail, and there's no longer any written record.
That's the nightmare scenario because that means that future historians will suddenly find that the history of the Obama administration's foreign policy stopped in November of 2010 and there wasn't any detectable policy after that.
The only consolation, as I say, is that in the past the State Department wasn't in fact handling foreign policy. It was done through back channels. That was certainly the norm at the time when Henry Kissinger was National Security Adviser and then Secretary of State. I'm just hoping that there are still back channels and that they're not actually being WikiLeaked as we speak.
HAASS: Actually, what Niall's worried about has already happened, in part because of the -- the prosecutorial background now in -- in the United States.
In my experience, over the -- I've been government, I guess, now for -- I don't know, 25, 30 years. In that time, you see a -- a definite pattern where fewer and fewer potentially politically sensitive things or even substantively sensitive things get put down on paper. You never know which Congressional investigation's going to get ahold of it, which journalist is going to get ahold of it and so forth.
So people have become more and more careful. So, increasingly, what historians get is tremendous detail, but not necessarily the most important stuff.
TETT: I mean, I remember going around Washington during the height of the financial crisis and being stunned to find senior officials jotting down key figures on scrap paper. But it worked out (ph), the scrap paper was the only thing they were allowed to throw away and they were scared of committing stuff to -- to e-mail or to (INAUDIBLE) record keeping.
Now, that's going to make Niall's job that much harder in the future when he comes to write the financial history of the 2008 --
FERGUSON: I'll be too old to do that. It will make -- it will make my students' jobs very, very difficult indeed.
I think there's a serious point here that it was already getting quite hard to write the history of the modern period even in the '70s because there's such a deluge of documents, thanks to the Xerox machine.
I think it's going to be virtually impossible to write history in the traditional way about both the Bush administration and the Obama administration. Just imagine the combination of vast quantities of -- of e-mail and all the important stuff on scraps of paper. It's a nightmare for a historian.
ZAKARIA: The one crucial sensitive revelation has been the fact that the Arab regimes have been actually asking the United States to do something about Iran. As I say, I mean, I think in sense this proves America's point, which is this is not just our concern, but that the -- a nuclear Iran is something that scares the whole region.
But, does it help or hurt? Does it -- I mean --
HAASS: Well, I always say, for an American policymaker, the problem is you can't take it to the bank. Just because an Arab leader will tell a visiting American that they're really worried about Iran and you Americans should cut off the head of the snake, i.e., use military force against the Iranians if they get too close to nuclear weapons, is all well and good. But should we get to the point where we or Israel actually do use military force, can we count on Arab elites to stand with us?
I would say maybe not because Arab streets will not be there, and Arab governments, at the end of the day, care most about remaining in power, and they're very worried about getting at loggerheads with their own people. And I think in the Arab streets there's much more support for Iran and Ahmadinejad, to be an instinctive reaction against an American, quote-unquote, "another attack on an Arab" -- or, in this case -- "Muslim country." So I don't -- I don't take a lot of comfort from the idea that the Arab leadership supports us.
The real question also would be would they allow us, say, to us put our planes on their bases? Would the Saudis be willing to put out several million barrels a day of more oil in order to help calm the oil markets? Those are the real issues, and I think the question you have to ask yourself, does this make that more difficult? If so, then it's a real loss.
FERGUSON: Yes, it definitely -- it does make it more difficult. They're all -- and I think this is the most important thing about this story, that now see clearly what was being carefully done behind the scenes to set up an anti-Iranian coalition. And, by making it transparent, I think we may well have destroyed it or, rather, the WikiLeaks leaks have destroyed it.
I think all these regimes are now going to have to go backwards and be publicly photographed with Mr. Ahmadinejad. And I think the whole prospect actually of dividing and ruling in the Middle East just took a massive step backwards.
ZAKARIA: All right. We are going to come back, and when we come back, we are going to talk about the fate of Europe, Ireland, Greece, Italy, perhaps the collapse of the euro, and what is happening in the United States, as well, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FERGUSON: I feel this crisis is very, very close to slipping out of the control of the authorities.
Now, there is an assumption which is very widespread, particularly in New York, that somehow there will always be a rabbit to pull out of the hat in the form of some kind of bailout of such a large sum of money that everybody's worries will go away. Now, I think we've passed the point when that can easily happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Gillian Tett, Richard Haass, and Niall Ferguson.
Niall, Europe. Just when it seems safe to go swimming again, another euro crisis. At the end of the day, is this one of these slow motion problems that no matter what you do, the market will test each one of these countries -- that is, countries that have structurally high deficits? And is it even going to push into countries like Italy, which, you know, don't have -- are not nearly as -- as bad -- badly off as something like Spain or -- or Ireland?
FERGUSON: Well, it already is affecting Italy, actually. And -- and, yes, this isn't over.
This is, in fact, the fulfillment of what the euro skeptics like me predicted 10 years ago when this thing was created, that if you have a monetary union without any fiscal union, in other words, without -- no mechanism for transferring money from the rich states to the poor states, you have an unstable entity that is quite likely to disintegrate.
And now there are two ways in which this is happening. Remember, it's not just sovereign debt, it's also the debts of banks, and these two things have become completely inseparable from one another, because, from the beginning of the financial crisis in 2007, 2008, governments like the Irish government said, rather casually, oh, don't worry. We'll guarantee the debts of our banks. In fact that the banks were economically larger than Ireland itself was, I think, sadly lost on the decision makers and now that is becoming apparent, we have a double problem.
It's not just that certain governments are in deep, deep trouble -- the Irish in particular, but also the Greeks -- it's also that behind that crisis of sovereign debt is a banking crisis which has not been resolved. The Europeans have put this off and put this off. They did not grasp the nettle.
ZAKARIA: Their -- their stress test was much weaker than the ones that the Americans was --
FERGUSON: This is was a stress test the way a dose of valium would be a stress test. It wasn't a test at all. And now we realize just how farcical it was. I feel this crisis is very, very close to slipping out of the control of the authorities.
Now, there is an assumption which is very widespread, particularly in New York, that somehow there'll always be a rabbit to pull out of the hat in the form of some kind of bailout of such a large sum of money that everybody's worries will go away. Now, I think we've passed the point when that can easily happen.
I do not see how you can come up with an amount of money big enough to bail out the entire European banking system without calling into question the credibility of all governments that are doing the bailing out. Unless there's some money, significant money, more than there has been so far, from outside, this thing is going to get very, very much more serious in the weeks ahead.
ZAKARIA: You know, what I'm struck by, Gillian, is the way Angela Merkel has been playing this. The Germans are essentially concerned about the fact that they're having to pay the bills for everybody else.
The result is Merkel keeps saying we're going to get a better deal. We're going to force the -- the investors to pay. But that scares the markets and it actually keeps adding to the bill. I mean, it seems to me an odd principle of bailouts here should be if you're going to do it, do it fast and get it over with because the more you complain, the higher the price gets.
TETT: Well, it's very instructive if you look at, say, the documents released by the Fed this week showing the degree of Fed involvement in bailout. When the crisis hit America, the Fed was able to step in and take some extraordinary measures on an extraordinary scale, and keep the crisis contained.
Try to imagine a situation where any single European entity would be able to do that with such confidence and conviction right now is very hard.
ZAKARIA: In fact, what's fascinating is that the European banks, when they felt that they were threatened, went to the Fed, not to the European Central Bank, because they knew the Fed would have flexibility and -- and speed. Really, there -- seem to suggest the American leadership in this one -- in this one area, one crisis, has been far more responsive and proactive, to use that horrible word, than European leadership.
HAASS: Because we have the institutions that have the capacities both physically -- in this case, in terms of the resources that they're -- that are available -- and also politically. They have the discretion. The Fed is an extraordinary institution.
You know, in a democracy like ours, the idea that we transfer the degree of authority to that sort of an institution that's quite autonomous, in some ways, is quite remarkable. And when you look at the history of the last few years, the head of the Fed and some others really deserve, I think, an extraordinary amount of -- of credit -- no pun intended there -- for having made some very big decisions, essentially on their own.
And we're playing with the stuff of history. A very different Fed or a very different chairman, I think things could have turned out quite differently. It reminds you off on how much individuals can really change the course of events.
ZAKARIA: Niall, when you look at the big problem -- you alluded to this earlier -- there was -- there are some people, and people in New York and finance, who say, look, at the end of the day Germany can't afford to write these checks. It's just a question of how it happens, but you take the sum total of all these debts, and the Germans can't afford it.
But you're saying that we're -- we may be past that point.
FERGUSON: I think we are past that point. This is all about Germany, and it's all about the end of the German appetite for writing checks to the periphery of Europe.
ZAKARIA: So -- so explain what you -- what you're saying. You know, precisely, what happens? (CROSSTALK)
FERGUSON: Let me put this really simply, Fareed. Do the Germans want to be the bankers to the United States of Europe? In other words, do they want to create a truly federal system in which it will be clearly understood that they, as the rich country, the core of the system, will be making regular transfers from their taxpayers to taxpayers on the periphery, in less productive, less efficient countries like Ireland and Greece?
ZAKARIA: No, no. I understand. But, I mean -- so play this out for me. You have these -- you have -- what is happening right now is this is becoming much more expensive for the Irish, for the Spaniards to borrow. What happens? If the Germans refuse to write these new checks, does the euro collapse?
FERGUSON: But it doesn't even need to be the Germans. Remember, you have to get collective agreement on -- on a bailout. We saw that in the case of Greece, and it's quite possible to imagine that more than one country would balk at the idea of another great big commitment. All these governments, after all, have rather large deficits to start with, so making it even larger is not very appealing.
So what's the alternative? If there isn't going to be another super large bailout, much larger than the Irish one, it eventually boils down to this -- does the European Central Bank turn on the printing press and engage in its own version of quantitative easing, too? In other words, does it go head to head with the Fed in trying to print its way out of the problem?
Now, if that can't happen and there can't be a kind of classic bailout by taxpayers, then there really is no other European solution in view. It therefore requires either the United States, once again, to step up as it did in the teeth of the crisis.
Or let's not forget our friends in Beijing because there's a wonderful opportunity here for China to diversify its vast international reserve at rather a good price. And I'm looking closely to see whether there's going to be a deus ex machine from China to try to bail out the Europeans when it becomes clear that the Europeans can't bail themselves out.
ZAKARIA: So the -- the Chinese would actually go in and -- and buy European --
TETT: Well, I would --
FERGUSON: It's already begun.
TETT: Yes. I was in Dublin a couple of weeks ago and the jokes going around in Dublin were can we -- how many of our Irish banks can we sell to the Chinese? I mean, bring in the money however we can. ZAKARIA: What does all this mean for the United States? Because, you know, we have a big structural deficit. We've -- our (INAUDIBLE) commissioners trying to get some kind of solution, not getting much political traction yet?
HAASS: Well, two things. One is we're -- we are vulnerable to what happens in Europe. What we've learned in the past and we're seeing now, is contagion. What happens there doesn't stay there, if you will. Europe is not Las Vegas when it comes to the financial world.
The Fed -- we were just talking about all it can do, but, at home, we're also seeing all it can't do. The Fed essentially admits that they've reached the limits, pretty much, to their tools. They've played most of their cards, to switch metaphors.
We've now turned to the fiscal debate, finally, at long last, and we know we have to put ourselves on a trajectory where we begin to reduce our deficit meaningfully, bring down the size of the American debt. It's unsustainable where it is and where it's heading.
The question is not whether we can design ways to do it through mixes of revenue cuts and taxes and the rest. It's whether you can build the politics and the political foundation for doing it. And I would simply say not at all clear we can, that the gap still between Republicans and Democrats, between the White House and the Congress, is too large.
I don't think Americans have really bought into the idea that the deficit needs to be tackled in a -- in a serious way. I don't think the commission quite sold Americans on the -- the seriousness of this -- of this problem and why it affects ultimately every American and they should be prepared to -- to sacrifice for it.
So what I'm worried about is we ultimately don't take the steps and ultimately, almost, we put ourselves in the position of Europe, that one day we wake up here in America and we find out that the world is essentially treating us the way that certain European countries are being treated now despite the fact that we have the reserve currency called the dollar.
FERGUSON: Which I've been saying since the spring, a Greek tragedy, and it began in Greece. It could happen to the United States.
And, indeed, when you look at the fiscal numbers the OECD just published, the report in the last -- in the last week or so, the U.S. fiscal position is now worse than that of any of the European countries in terms of the size of its structural deficit and what it would have to do to bring that under control. Only Japan is worse.
ZAKARIA: On -- on all these wake-up calls, we will have to leave it.
Niall Ferguson, Gillian Tett, Richard Haass, thank you very much.
We will be back.
ZAKARIA: 2010 was a disastrous year, a catastrophic year, and I'm -- I'm not talking about the economic crisis or the elections cycle for the Democrats. I'm talking about mostly natural catastrophes. That's according to a couple of new reports. The insurance giant Swiss Re takes a look at the big picture and says 2010 was a terrible year in terms of human and economic loss.
Last year, 2009, 15,000 people were killed by severe catastrophes. This year, that number is 260,000 and counting, the highest death toll since 1976. Last year, 2009, economic losses from these events totaled $63 billion. This year, that number is $222 billion, and we still have 26 days to go.
That's one of the highest losses in the past 30 years. In fact, the three top losses of the last 30 years have all been in the past five years.
Now, interestingly, the big insurance companies didn't have to cough up all that much more in 2010 than in 2009, and that's because much of the deepest devastation was in Haiti and Pakistan, and in both places insurance barely touches.
Those floods in Pakistan also played heavily into this other study out, this one from Oxfam. The humanitarian organization says those floods which killed 2,000 people were part of another spike. Oxfam's report says climate-related disasters killed 21,000 people in the first nine months of 2010 alone, more than double the number killed in all of 2009.
These death tolls come from Munich Re, one of the Swiss Re's biggest competitors. The two firms are the world's biggest reinsurers.
Tom Friedman has an ultimate term for global warming. He calls it global weirding. Why? Because, as he says, the hots are expected to get hotter, the wets wetter, the dries drier, and the most violent storms more numerous.
The globe has seen a lot of that this year. If you look at Pakistan, in one town there this summer, temperatures hit 53.7 degrees. That's not Fahrenheit. It's not a low. That's Celsius. That is almost 129 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the fourth highest temperature ever recorded on earth.
There was a terrible winter wind storm in Europe at the end of February. It left in its wake more than 60 dead, one million people without power, and $3 billion in insured losses. In some areas of Russia, temperatures were 14 degrees Fahrenheit higher than their long term average in July and August.
"Newsweek" reports that there were no fewer than 135 separate daily rainfall records broken on the East Coast of the United States in September. And, to top it all off, 2010 could break the record for the hottest year since record keeping began 130 years ago.
Now, I'm not an expert, but the data does seem to point in the direction of global weirding.
And we'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": You know, one of the big arguments during the health care debate that the Republicans put forward, one of their major talking points, was why are we messing around with the greatest health care system in the world? I don't know. Maybe because the U.N. ranks it 37?
You know, the -- these people, they love the truth. They just hate facts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: "Politically Incorrect" was the name of the show Bill Maher hosted in the 1990s. It's also an apt description of the man himself. Now host of eighth HBO's hit show "Real Time", I find Maher to be one of the sharpest observers of American politics and life in general out there. It doesn't mean I always agree with him. I always find him funny, though.
Several times over the past few years, he has asked me questions. This time it's my turn. Welcome to the show, Bill Maher.
MAHER: Nice to be here.
ZAKARIA: So Obama. How do you think he's responded to the shellacking so far?
MAHER: He looks beaten down. That's what disturbs me. You know, I thought when we elected the first black president, as a comedian, I thought two years in I'd be making jokes about what a gangster he was, you know. And not that he's President Wayne Brady. I thought we're getting (INAUDIBLE).
And, you know, for him to be talking about compromising with the Republicans on the Bush tax cuts, where -- where are they going to draw a line in the sand? When are they going to remember who they are? I'm so disappointed and I still like him and still think there's hope. He could get it yet, but I'm so disappointed that he just seems to be another in a long line of Democrats that come across as wimpy and woozy and whatever word you want to as describe to it of not standing up for what they believe in enough.
The Republicans seem to continually stake out a position further, further to the right and then demand that the Democrats meet them in the middle except that that's not the middle anymore. ZAKARIA: Yes.
MAHER: That's the near right.
ZAKARIA: But, you know, you say Democrats keep doing this. Is there a possibility that the reason they do this is the electorate is further right than you would like it to be.
MAHER: No, I -- I reject that entirely. It's because the Republicans are much better at sticking by what they believe in and they all get on the same page. I mean, a good example, and I think where this administration really went off kilter, was the public option with the health care debate. That was his big issue that's what he staked his administration on. That debate should have started from we're the Democrats, we're the party of the people. We want a single payer plan. Of course that would never pass, but that should have been their position.
The Republicans would be, no, our -- our health care plan is called drop dead or they maybe would have improved it, go screw yourself plus perhaps, meet in the middle at the public option. It is after all an option. To see these people dressed up as the founding fathers who want more freedom, but you don't want an option? It's actually more freedom for you, you see there. That should have been where they stuck it.
And the public option was polling at around 70 percent popularity when the debate started. But see that's what the Republicans do. They take something that's polling at 40 percent and they say, OK, we'll all get on the same page, we'll hammer it home, we'll get it up to 55. The Democrats, they abandon what they -- they didn't run on health care in this last election. This was a big thing that presidents going back to Teddy Roosevelt have tried to get the American people. They got it done and they ran away from it.
Now, the American people don't follow issues that closely. What they follow is who's dominating, who's -- who's standing by what they believe in. What they see is Democrats not standing behind what they passed in health care and so to them, they say to themselves there must be something wrong with it if these people aren't standing up for it.
ZAKARIA: But the big shift if you look 1996 when the Democrats sweep into power, 57 percent of independents voted Democrat. In this election, 57 percent of independents voted Republican. What does that tell you?
MAHER: That tells me independents don't pay that much attention. Independents are people who just throw out the party that's in power because Obama got elected and it didn't immediately start rating 20s. So throw the bums out. By the way, the same bums that they just, you know, threw out two years ago they wanted to put back in. No wonder we can't get anything done in this country.
So, you know, this idea that the independents are these -- these careful thinkers who assess what's going -- I don't think that's who the independent voter is. I just they're -- they're cranky people who want change. They voted for change in '06. They voted for change in '08. They voted -- I don't blame them for being impatient with Obama. He did promise us change and he's delivered some of it. I mean there has been change.
In other ways, he looks too much like what we had before. I could name a whole list of issues where the Democrats and the Republicans really are the same party. When people say, you know, there's not enough bipartisanship, I very often think, no, there's actually too much. On Afghanistan, too much. We have two parties, we have one policy. Gun control, two parties, one policy. Marijuana, two parties, one policy. Lot -- there's a lot of that in this country.
ZAKARIA: But it'd be fair to say that, I mean, your -- your views represent -- wouldn't you say when you want to legalize marijuana, you want -- you're -- you are to the left of the American public.
MAHER: I don't -- again, I don't know about that. I mean, the last poll I saw, 44 percent of the American public wanted to legalize marijuana. Now, that's without anybody in one of the major parties backing that. We had Prop 19 out in California which was on the ballot and it was polling above 50 percent, but no Democrat in the state would get behind that.
I mean, it's really not that controversial an issue to -- to legalize marijuana if you look at the facts. And yet, if it was polling at 44 percent with no Democrat, nobody in either major party getting behind it, don't you think it could be over 50 percent if somebody said, yes, this is the right thing to do? So I think the American public is a lot more left leaning than people think.
ZAKARIA: You know that one of the charges against Obama is he's trying to make America look more like Europe.
MAHER: I hope so.
ZAKARIA: But I think you would say -- you would say good.
MAHER: Of course. Yes. Europe does a lot of -- I mean, we don't want to look like the Greek economy or the Irish economy at this point, but let's be honest. One reason that those two economies are in such bad shape is the banks in America. Not that they didn't, you know, get into it themselves.
But in many ways, I think we would be a much better country if we acted a little more like Europe. We would have, you know, gay marriage, we would be able to, yes, have marijuana. We arrest something like 750,000 people for marijuana. They don't do that in Europe. Healthcare for people, you know, this idea -
ZAKARIA: But the argument is that they're sclerotic, they -- they don't grow as much, we have a dynamic economy.
MAHER: Do we? We have a dynamic economy. ZAKARIA: Not -- not maybe right this moment.
ZAKARIA: But the argument -- Silicon Valley, you know, there's entrepreneurship.
ZAKARIA: There's so much more dynamic place.
MAHER: Oh, there are great things about this country. You know, why can't we take the good from here and not the bad? Let's not take the sclerotic part. Let's take the, you know, the part of -
ZAKARIA: Let's take the (INAUDIBLE).
MAHER: But, you know, there is one major -- oh, yes -- there is one major party in this country, the Republicans, who will never listen to an idea that comes from another party. You know, their idea of American exceptionalism, that's all they care about.
If you -- if you look at Sarah Palin, what she says, all of them, Mitt Romney's book is called "No Apologies." Not that anybody asked for one. The case for American greatness I think is what it's called. And, you know, they live in this fantasy world where it's always 1945. America's always number one.
Marc Rubio, who's the new teabag senator from Florida, the new -- the new Bobby Jindal, I think, he made a speech, it was astounding. And this is not uncommon for a Republican to talk about this at the CPAC Convention. He said this is the only country in the world where an idea that started out as an idea on a cocktail napkin could wind up being traded on the stock exchange. No, other countries have napkins and stock exchanges. But you see, this is their room full of balls at Chuck E. Cheese. Their fantasy world they live in.
ZAKARIA: And if they actually look at the data and say, well, America is actually 20th on Internet in social world (ph) --
MAHER: In so many -- I mean, we're like 65th in infant mortality, 19th in literacy. You know, one of the big arguments during the health care debate that the Republicans put forward, one of their major talking points was why are we messing around with the greatest health care system in the world? I don't know. Maybe because the U.N. ranks it 37? You know, these people, they love the truth, they just hate facts.
ZAKARIA: When we come back, we will talk more about facts and we will talk about Republicans when we come back with Bill Maher.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAHER: And what I think makes the teabaggers such a non-credible organization is that they pretend to be all about deficit and taxes. You know, they're named after a tax revolt after all. And, first of all, almost none of them understand that their taxes have gone down under Obama. But they're named a tax revolt, but they don't know anything about taxes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley and here are today's top stories.
Iran claims its nuclear program is now self-sufficient. The head of the country's Atomic Energy Organization said today Iran has begun mining Uranium and processing it into yellow cake, nuclear material that the country had been importing. The announcement comes just one day before Iran takes part in a new round of talks over its nuclear program.
North Korea accused South Korea's new defense minister of causing uncontrollable extreme tension in the region by threatening to launch air strikes against the North. South Korea's defense chief said jets would bomb North Korea if its leaders decided to launch another attack.
A tug vessel has begun towing a disabled giant freighter near Alaska's Illusion Islands. The 738-foot Golden Seas ship encountered engine problems Friday. The tow job for the Unalaska, Dutch Harbor is expected to take over 30 hours on rough seas.
Those are your top stories. Up next, more FAREED ZAKARIA GPS and then on "RELIABLE SOURCES", Howie Kurtz looks at the media's roll in the WikiLeaks scandal.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Bill Maher talking about American politics and lots more.
The Republicans, the Tea Party, is there anything about it, any pleasant surprises?
MAHER: For comedians, many pleasant -- they're one a week. I guess , you know, if you want to look at the silver lining, is that in the election we just had, they did not -- the American public did not elect any of the people we thought were the most extreme. Carl Paladino didn't win, Sharron Angle didn't win. Christine O'Donnell didn't win.
America I would never say is burden by being an intellectual country, but they did draw a line in the sand somewhere. They said, you know, some stupidity is just a bridge too far even for us. So that -- that's the good news. The bad news, of course, is that the teabaggers are ascendant. We see that they are already making rank and file Republicans change the way they view things like on earmarks and so forth. I think they're always going to have to answer to the Tea Party because they -- they worry about a Tea Party rebellion against them.
But, you know, what I think makes the teabaggers such a non- credible organization is that they pretend to be all about the deficit and taxes, you know. They're named after a tax revolt after all. And, first of all, almost none of them understand that their taxes have gone down under Obama. So they're named after a tax revolt, but they don't know anything about taxes. That's one thing.
The other thing is, if they're so concerned about the deficit, where were they when the deficit was going up mostly under Bush? I mean, again, these are those inconvenient things called facts. But most of the deficit was the Bush tax cuts for the rich which were urgently not needed and, of course -
ZAKARIA: Prescription drugs for the elderly.
MAHER: -- prescription drugs for the elderly, the two words that we put on the credit card. That's where the money went. Dick Cheney said during the Bush terms deficits don't matter and they seemed to go along. But suddenly when President Nosferatu takes office, deficits matter very much.
ZAKARIA: How much do you think the Tea Party is about, you know, taxes and libertarianism and how much is it about religion? I ask this because, a, I know how much you love the -- the issue of religion.
MAHER: I do.
ZAKARIA: But when you watched Glenn Beck's rally, what's fascinating is it was mostly about religion.
MAHER: I think he's doing what some people before him have done like L. Ron Hubbard, who's a novelist and decided, you know what, it's a much easier gig to be a religious leader.
ZAKARIA: And tax exempt.
MAHER: And tax -- tax exempt. And you already have people -- I mean, there's a reason they call them the flock, because they're sheep and they'll believe anything. So I think Glenn Beck is seguing (ph) from what he was mostly a political preacher, to a preacher preacher. It is an easier gig and you make more money, you know, Jim Baker kind of money. And so, yes, I think that could be something.
But, you know, the Tea Party -- I'm not the first one to notice this, is really an amalgam of a whole bunch of different types of people and it's some old school John Bircher types, it is some racists, it is actually people who care about the deficit and the debt as I do, as you do, we all do. And I think there is an element -- there was an article in the "New York Times" about a month ago that said an article of faith of all the teabaggers is to believe that global warming is a hoax. And you mentioned religion. I saw one of the guys quoted in the article, a teabagger guy said I've read my Bible. God put the earth here for us to utilize it.
And, you know, we can laugh that off exempt that the guy who's going to be taking over the energy commission, Shimkus, you know this guy. He's Republican John Shimkus. He's a real winner. He says that we don't have to worry about global warming, because in the Bible, God promised Noah after the flood, you know, Noah, the 500-year-old man who got two of every animal on the ship and got them to -- OK. He promised Noah after the flood, he wouldn't wipe out the world again, so why are we worrying about global warming.
I mean, what -- you're a man of the world. What does the rest of the world think of this country? It is embarrassing that we have these yokels who are in charge. They must be laughing at us in almost every world capital when they hear something like that.
ZAKARIA: Bill Maher, always a pleasure.
MAHER: Good to see you.
ZAKARIA: We will be right back.
ZAKARIA: Our question this week from the "GPS Challenge" is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been placed on Interpol's most wanted list. What's he accused of and where? Is it, a, espionage in the U.S.; b, violation of the Official Secrets Act in the U.K; c, sex crimes in Sweden; or d, tax evasion in Australia? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.
Make sure you go to CNN.com/GPS for 10 more challenging questions. And while you're there, don't forget to check out our podcast. You can also subscribe to it on iTunes. That way you will never miss a show and the price is zero.
This week's book is a very timely one. It's one I read years ago. It's called "Secrecy" by he late great senator from the State of New York Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan's piece is that secrecy is basically contrary to democracy and he points out many, many times when it has actually hurt the United States from the Bay of Pigs to the fall of the Soviet Union and the Iran-Contra affair. It's a very intriguing read in light of the WikiLeaks business.
And now for "The Last Look". We'll talk a lot on this show about nationalism and how sometimes it can be taken too far. So here's one example. Singapore's water polo team wanted to show its national pride, so the team put the city state's flag, which feature a crescent moon and stars on their swim trunks for the week's Asian Games.
Some say the pattern might show a little too much enthusiasm. Singapore's Information Ministry is supposed to approve the use of the flag but wasn't apparently consulted here. It called the design inappropriate. And after this week's tournament, you can be sure this uniform will never be seen again.
For this week's "GPS Challenge" question, we asked you what charges landed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Interpol's most wanted list. The correct answer is C, he's wanted in Sweden on sex crime charges. Go to our website for more questions and answers.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "RELIABLE SOURCES".