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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Who's Advising Donald Trump on Foreign Policy; Russian President Vladimir Putin's Syria Surprise; Who's Responsible for the Rise of Trump?; Economics of Drug Trafficking; Former Astronaut Battles Climate Change. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired March 20, 2016 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:09] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
We have a great show for you today starting with Russia's surprise move pulling out of Syria without any warning, saying the job is done.
I'll talk about that and more with the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass. A man who Donald Trump says he trusts on foreign policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I like him a lot.
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ZAKARIA: What does Haass have to say about the Donald? I'll ask him.
And who's the blame or congratulate for the rise of Donald Trump?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We're going to win, win, win, and we're not stopping.
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ZAKARIA: Many say it's his own party. But political analyst and author Thomas Frank says perhaps we should look across the aisle at the Democrats. He'll explain.
Then it's a $400 billion a year business. Drugs. It's illegal, lucrative and risky. It runs like a big business. The economist Tom Wainwright will tell us about it.
And astronaut Pierce Sellers has lived an amazing life. More than 30 days in space, three shuttle missions, six space walks. He's gazed down at the earth from 220 miles up in space. Now he doesn't know how much more time he has on this planet and what he has decided to do with his last days will inspire you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got 500 days. I'm going to use them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. The Republican surrender has begun. Having described Donald Trump as an unacceptable, unconservative, dangerous demagogue, the party establishment appears to be making its peace with the man who keeps winning primaries.
The "Wall Street Journal" editorial page argued vociferously against Trump for months pointing out that he is a huckster and a catastrophe, warning that if Donald Trump becomes the voice of conservatives, conservatism will implode along with him. Yet this week it ended a lead editorial urging Republicans to continue to see if Mr. Trump can begin to act like a president and above all to decide who can prevent another progressive left presidency.
Marco Rubio has called Trump a con artist and compared him to third world strongmen. He has said Trump has no ideas of any substance, has spent a career sticking it to working people, is trying to prey on people's fears and encourages violence at his rallies. But he says at this moment he intends to support whoever emerges as the Republican nominee.
So do John McCain and House Speaker Paul Ryan who has taken the rare step of intervening in the campaign three times to reprimand Trump for his ideas and rhetoric. Even Lindsey Graham who has called Trump the most unprepared person I have ever met to be commander-in-chief will not explicitly say he will not vote for him. Indeed, there is currently just one Republican senator has committed to not voting for Donald Trump.
Ironically, conservatives today are in somewhat the same position that Republican moderates were in 1964 as Barry Goldwater steamed towards the Republican nomination. It's difficult to understand today how dramatic a break that was for the Republicans. As Geoffrey Kabaservice documents in his illuminating book "Rule and Ruin," the party had prided itself on its progressive stand on race from Abraham Lincoln onward.
Goldwater, on the other hand, had opposed the Supreme Court's 1954 decision to integrate schools in "Brown versus Board of Education' and the pivotal 1964 Civil Rights Act. A hundred years of Republican work on civil rights would be thrown away, the moderates felt, were they to nominate Goldwater.
Trump marks in many ways an even larger break from the past than Goldwater. The modern Republican Party has been devoted to free markets, free trade, social conservatism and expansionist foreign policy and fiscal discipline especially on entitlements.
Remember that the speech that launched Ronald Reagan's political career was an attack on Medicare.
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RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES : To disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project.
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ZAKARIA: On every one of these issues Donald Trump either openly disagrees or, as with abortion, has a fast track record of disagreement with conservatives.
Over the last decades Republican support for immigration reform and free trade has already been collapsing. But Trump's nomination would transform the party into a blue-collar populist, nationalist movement with a racial element, much like many others in the Western world.
[10:05:12] This would be a very different party from Ronald Reagan's or Paul Ryan's. 2016 might well go down as a critical election. One that scrambles the old order, perhaps without setting up a new one. In this respect, it looks like 1964. Also an election that realigned politics shifting southern whites to the Republican Party ever since. Then too there was enormous energy, new voters and a candidate who thrilled his supporters. Then, too, the establishment could not muster the courage and unity to oppose Goldwater. Too scared to push back against the energy and devotion of new populist forces. So instead the Republican Party went to the polls in November divided and it lost 44 states.
For more, go to CNN.com/fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
After 9,000 sorties by Russian jets, President Vladimir Putin suddenly announced this week that he was pulling his forces out.
Did he succeed? Did he fail? What explains the decision and what does it mean for the battered country and region?
To discuss this, Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and Clarissa Ward is a senior international correspondent for CNN, just back from a daring reported trip into Syria. But first I have to ask Richard about something that made the news two weeks ago that concerns him personally.
When asked who his foreign policy advisers are, Richard, as you know Donald Trump has been very cagey, recently said he consults himself. But one name he mentioned was you. And it has everyone wondering what the nature of it was.
You told NPR you offer all the candidates briefings as part of the Council on Foreign Relations' mission and that that he in fact took you up on it. So I guess my question is, what was he like in that meeting? Ben Carson says there are two Donald Trumps. There's a thoughtful intelligence man when you meet with him in private. Did you find that?
RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, as you said, we offered briefings to all the candidates, Democrat and Republican alike. Quite a few took us up on it, quite a few have also come to speak at the Council. I don't go into details of any of the meetings or briefings, but as you would expect lots of questions are asked. I tried to explain what I see as some of the fundamental currents of the world. And there was a back and forth. In the case of Donald Trump we spent about an hour together, it was the end of -- it was the end of August.
ZAKARIA: You know there is a petition that has been signed by a whole bunch of very senior Republican foreign policy officials including, for example, Robert Zoellick, the former trade representative and deputy secretary of state, denouncing Trump and committing not to serve in a Trump administration. If Donald Trump asked you to be secretary of state, would you?
HAASS: What you saw in that letter was in some ways the -- a reflection of the tensions within the Republican Party on foreign policy. You had realist and I suppose I am one of those who believe that the purpose of American foreign policy ought to be to influence the foreign policy of others, tend to be multilateral. You have people who are more neoconservative who see the purpose of American foreign policy more to transform others often done unilaterally.
The two groups of people reflecting those two schools were quiet critical of people like Mr. Trump who come from a different tradition, as you know. It tends to be more nationalist, more suspicious of America's role in the world. More critical of allies who are seen as not doing their fair share.
So I thought that letter simply reflected again the debate within the party. We've got a long ways to go. We're seven or eight months away from the election. Let's see how things play out.
ZAKARIA: That was a very thoughtful answer, Richard. But it didn't answer my question. Would you serve as a secretary of state?
HAASS: Fareed, it's so premature. I'm not even considering that sort of thing yet. I've got a great job, a full-time job. It's just speculation on steroids to start imagining who's going to be the nominee, who's going to be the president, and who's going to serve. I think questions like that are just simply way ahead of where we are. One thing we should have learned from this electoral cycle is nobody has any idea how things are going to play out.
ZAKARIA: All right. Let's get to substance then.
Clarissa, give us a sense of the kind of fundamental facts on the ground first. Has the Russian mission succeeded in what its effort was which was to secure the Assad's regime and its grip on power in Syria?
[10:10:11] CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As you said, it was quiet clear spending time on ground that the real purpose of the Russian military intervention was to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and certainly in the province of Latakia and also particularly in Aleppo, there were significant gains made by the regime on the back of that Russian air cover.
At the same time I think a lot of people were very surprised by Russia's announcement that it was sort of mission accomplished because there is still work to be done in terms of if the Assad regime wants to take back Aleppo entirely, for example. And so I think a lot of people are trying to speculate what was the real reason behind Russia's decision to withdraw these troops. Are they worried that there's mission creep? Are they worried that they're hemorrhaging funds and their economy at home is already hurting so much with these low oil prices and sanctions?
ZAKARIA: Richard, what do you think? Is this a success for Putin?
HAASS: Well, absolutely. I don't know if you want to call it the Powell doctrinsky, but this was an attempt to use overwhelming military force for narrow limited political objectives. It's succeeded. What's interesting, you know, the Russians were not trying to transform Syrians into a Jeffersonian democracy for good reason because Russia is not a Jeffersonian democracy and they weren't trying to expand the rid of the government over the entire country.
It wasn't an attempt to pacify all of -- all of Syria on behalf of Assad. So it was very limited, they shored up and propped up their government and now things can play out and I think it was good for Russia's image in the region and on the world stage as a country that's willing and able to do something on behalf of an ally or proxy.
ZAKARIA: Clarissa, there are reports that ISIS meanwhile has lost an additional 20 percent of its territory, is running out of cash. Did you on the ground get the feel that those reports are accurate?
WARD: Well, we had just been in a part of the country where ISIS had a strong presence just months ago. And what was very clear to see I think the main thing that has been hurting ISIS is this real focus on taking out the oil infrastructure. We visited several oil installations that back in the day would have been making ISIS a pretty penny. But they had been taken out by coalition airstrikes and definitely that lack of revenue has absolutely hurt ISIS.
We know also that they've lost significant amounts of territory particularly to the so-called Syrian Democratic forces, the YPG Kurdish forces sponsored by the U.S. But they're also being created and looking for ways to expand elsewhere. We've seen a huge uptick in their activity in Libya. They're striking deals with Boka Haram. So I think it's fair to say that they're definitely trying to think on their feet strategically and work out other low-cost, high-profile opportunities elsewhere in the world.
ZAKARIA: Richard, this week, Secretary Kerry said that there was genocide taking place in Syria. Labeled it as such. Does that -- you know, does that help in the political resolution in Syria, which is -- what are the consequences of labeling it in that way?
HAASS: It's not clear to me it helps unless you're prepared to act on it. And I don't see that the United States or anyone else is, Fareed. I think what we're heading toward is a version of Syria that we've seen now. Essentially 10 times. You've got the government controlling parts of country. You've got the Kurds, the Jews, groups like Nusra, groups like ISIS. And I would expect this is for the time being, for the foreseeable future, this is the new Syria. In some ways like Libya, in some ways like Iraq, the era of consolidated nation states in the Middle East where governments hold sway over the entire territory is essentially coming to an end and there's an increasing disconnect between what the maps look like and what the realities are on the ground.
ZAKARIA: Fascinating conversation. Thank you both very much.
Next on GPS, inevitably the rise and rise and rise of Donald Trump. Where does it come from? What's behind it? My next guest says he can trace it to Clinton -- Bill Clinton that is. Thomas Frank will explain when we come back.
[10:18:54] ZAKARIA: Two weeks ago I offered my take on how the responsibility for the rise of Donald Trump fell flatly at the feet of Republicans. I said the party's moderates had failed to confront and condemn the ugliness that was stirring in their party for decades for fear of being labeled ideological wimps.
Well, my next guest puts the blame or responsibility in a very different corner -- on the Democrats. Thomas Frank is a political analyst and the author of a brand new book "Listen Liberal or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People."
Welcome to the show.
THOMAS FRANK, AUTHOR, "LISTEN LIBERAL": It is great to be here.
ZAKARIA: So your argument is that both parties really have abandoned the sort of classic blue-collar working class man and woman and have become the party of elites.
FRANK: Yes. Exactly.
ZAKARIA: And you particularly talk about what happened to the Democrats under Clinton. Explain what you mean.
FRANK: Yes, so it goes back a little further than Clinton. But basically my idea is that -- we know we think of Republicans as a party that represents business, represents money. The Democrats became over the course of the last 40 years, they went from being a party that talks about the middle class, talks about working people, talks about labor to being a party that is very concerned with the upper reaches of the professional class.
[10:20:08] So this is really who they care about now. And the problem with this --
ZAKARIA: This is sort of --
ZAKARIA: Doctors, lawyers, journalists.
FRANK: Yes. People with advanced degrees. (LAUGHTER)
FRANK: You and me.
ZAKARIA: Yes. Yes.
FRANK: And, you know, the problem with this, I mean, you know, what's -- so what's the big deal, what's the ramification of that is that at some point they really stopped caring about or caring deeply about inequality issues. About issues of economic inequality. I mean, we're just coming off -- coming to the end of the Barack Obama presidency. A man we thought was a great liberal in 2008 and we thought was a man who we would really take on the challenges of his time, at least I thought this.
And now we look at his legacy seven years later and inequality has actually worsened under his presidency. It's a horrifying and amazing thing. And to skip to Trump, if I can, I think that working class voters or at least white working class voters have flocked to the Republicans to the exact same degree as they've been abandoned by the Democratic Party.
ZAKARIA: So you've listened to Trump's speeches and you said there's one thing that's striking about it which is he does in the midst of all the kind of the carnival atmosphere, he talks repeatedly, insistently about one subject, what is it?
FRANK: Yes. It's trade. It's trade. And he seems to be obsessed with it. He spends the lion's share of his time at the podium talking about trade and about -- in particular about companies moving jobs overseas and American workers losing their jobs and what he'll do as president to stop this from happening. And what's funny is that this is not an outrageous or illegitimate issue. This is -- right -- this ought to be a mainstream issue. We should be talking about this subject.
This is -- none of this is to excuse what I think, you know, the intolerant things that he said, the outrageous intolerant things that he says which are absolutely beyond the pale. But this is a legitimate subject. And he talks about it in a very -- dare I say it? A powerful way. And this is -- you know, you want to understand why working class or white working class voters anyway are flocking to Donald Trump. I mean, this is it.
ZAKARIA: But isn't it ultimately a kind of false hope that he's giving them? That, you know, your life is bad. You know, I get that. And it's all because of Mexicans, or Chinese or -- you know, he even goes on about the Japanese.
FRANK: Yes. But he also goes on about our own leaders who made bad deals.
FRANK: Exactly. And also the CEOs. This is the part that surprised me was there's a video on YouTube that you can watch of a room full of workers at a Carrier air conditioning plant in Indiana. And an executive comes out on a stage and tells them, we're moving this factory to Mexico. And, you know, this is people, actual humans, not actors, losing their jobs, finding out that their world is collapsing and Trump talked about in his rallies every -- by the way, everybody has seen this video. Trump in his rallies talks about how he would phone the CEO of that accompany and how he would threaten the guy with tariffs, you know, he would single him out for a really steep tariffs on his air conditioning units when he tries to bring them back in America and sell them. And audiences love this. You know. It's very powerful.
ZAKARIA: But my point is, you can't do that. It's totally illegal and that's not --
FRANK: Yes. That's right. But it was Barack Obama who said in 2008, remember when he was running for president, that he would renegotiate NAFTA.
ZAKARIA: No. Wait. Wait. First of all, renegotiating a whole treaty which of course apply to everybody is one thing.
FRANK: Yes. Yes. It would be tough. It would be hard.
ZAKARIA: Singling out the CEO -- but I just want --
FRANK: No, you're right now. Of course. You'd be right.
ZAKARIA: It's emotional.
FRANK: He's emotionally powerful.
ZAKARIA: It looks like the parties are sorting along class lines where the Republican parties likely to become more a kind of blue- collar populist nationalist party and the Democrats are becoming more the party of urban professionals and such. Does that strike you as right?
FRANK: It's a little more complicated than that but yes, that is the broad picture of the last 40 years. And it's a disturbing picture.
ZAKARIA: Thomas Frank, pleasure to have you on.
FRANK: Thank you so much.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, are you worried about North Korea with its hand full of nuclear war heads? What about a country with a hundred of them and Jihadis to boot. I'll tell you about it when we come back.
[10:28:21] ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment.
When we hear about nuclear threats these days, we think about North Korea or Iran. But what about the country that has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world? And also happens to be a hotbed of jhadist radicalism. That's Pakistan. Quietly without much fanfare, Islamabad's nuclear arsenal has increased dramatically in the last four years by as much as 44 percent according to the Federation of American Scientist.
If Pakistan continues to produce nuclear weapons at its current pace, it could have 251 warheads by 2025, the Federal says, which would be the fifth largest stockpile in the world ahead of Great Britain. Another estimate says Pakistan's arsenal could rank third in the world just five years from now. Behind only Russia and the United States.
And what really worries experts is Pakistan's recent declaration that it has tactical nuclear weapons meant for the battlefield to fend off an attack by its longstanding rival and neighbor India.
That's a dangerous scenario that could lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons and make a nuclear war more likely. Remember Pakistan and India have fought three wars and had the skirmish over Kashmir as recently as 1999. What's more, tactic on nuclear weapons which are generally smaller than most nuclear weapons could be easier to steal experts say raising the possibility that jihadists might somehow get their hands on one.
[10:30:02] Pakistan harbors plenty of radicals with nuclear intentions, radicals with a track record of targeting the nation's military. Taliban militants have mounted successful attacks against military installations all over the country, including gaining access to an air force base in 2012.
There have also been attempts by unknown groups to kidnap technicians and officials at Pakistan's nuclear sites, the Nuclear Threat Initiative watchdog group points out.
The U.S. has been concerned enough about Pakistan's warheads falling into the wrong hands that it has mapped out plans to send in troops to secure them in the event that something goes wrong there, a so-called snatch-and-grab operation, according to an investigation by NBC News.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for coming.
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ZAKARIA: President Obama met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October, urging him to avoid a risky path for his nation's nuclear program. Before that meeting, talks were reportedly held between the U.S. and Pakistan to place limits on Pakistan's arsenal. But they don't appear to have made much progress.
The Obama administration spent years and much of its political capital to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, which doesn't even have a single nuclear weapon. Pakistan already has over 100 nuclear warheads in its arsenal. Maybe the world needs to pay more attention to this actual nuclear arsenal rather than an imaginary one. Next on "GPS," when you think of the illegal drug trade, do you think
of the guy on the corner selling loose joints? Think again. It's a big business, huge, anywhere between $300 billion and $400 billion a year. And the cartels operate like a big business, which is the key to understanding them. A fascinating conversation, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Marijuana is now legal in a few states in America. But don't let that fool you. The global drug trade is still largely illegal, lucrative and exceedingly violent. It is a $300 billion to $400 billion industry. The United States will spend more than $30 billion to fight the war on drugs in this fiscal year alone.
My next guest says we should fight the cartels using a tool they understand, economics. He's written a business manual to explain how drug cartels work. But it is also, he says, a blueprint to defeat them.
Tom Wainwright was The Economist's Mexico City correspondent. He is now that magazine's Britain editor. He's the author of a terrific new book, "Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel."
Welcome, Tom. So why are drug cartels something you want to study as businesses?
WAINWRIGHT: Well, they do just the same things as ordinary businesses. So in Mexico, for instance, the Zetas cartel is involved in franchising its brand. That's how its grown so quickly. Just like, say, a restaurant chain like McDonald's, the Zetas go into local areas and they meet local groups of criminals and say, "Hey, guys, why don't you use our logo; we'll let you use our brand; we'll give you weapons; we'll give you training, and in return, we'd like to take a cut of your earnings."
And using that strategy, the Zetas have been able to spread all across Mexico and down into Central America.
ZAKARIA: And, of course, for these local groups of thugs, it gives them something, which is they're previously unheard of, unknown, and now they're associated with this famous brand, right?
WAINWRIGHT: Absolutely. It makes them much more powerful. Imagine if someone is trying to extort you and you've never heard of them. You might not take their threat totally seriously. But if they say, "Hey, we're with the Zetas," and you've just seen on the news that the Zetas were the ones who carried out that massacre in another city, you're going to take them much more seriously.
ZAKARIA: What are other examples of these kind of business practices?
WAINWRIGHT: Well, the cartels take public relations surprisingly seriously. They're very careful in how their image is -- is used. And one example of this, I found, was when I was in Ciudad Juarez, which is just on the border of the United States. And I was asking the guy who runs the local morgue if he had any safety tips for me, because it's a very, very violent place.
And he said, "Yeah, whatever you do, be careful at quarter to 6:00 in the afternoon."
And I said, "Well, why is that?"
And he said it's because, very often there, the cartels times their assassinations to coincide with the 6:00 evening news. They want to lead the news, and they know that, if they kill someone at quarter to 6:00, they've got a good chance of making the headlines.
So they really -- they take their reputations very seriously, and they're surprisingly professional in how they manage their brands in this way.
ZAKARIA: What I more was struck by about these drug cartels is people will say that the leader was able to survive for many years because, in their local communities, they have enormous support. They have social networks. They have, you know, police protecting them. Why is that?
WAINWRIGHT: Well, you're absolutely right. And it's extraordinary to see when someone like, for instance, El Chapo, this guy, Joaquin Guzman, who runs the Sinaloa cartel. The last time he was arrested, there were protests in his home state of Sinaloa. And it's bizarre because this is someone who's responsible for thousands of murders. And the reason that they're able to get this kind of popular local support is because, actually, they take corporate social responsibility surprisingly seriously.
It sounds very strange, but if you go to some parts of Mexico, you'll find that the cartels have invested in building churches, in building sports facilities, in building housing, and in some areas, they even have primitive social security systems. And all of this is designed to increase their level of public support and to stop them from being reported to the police. And very often it works.
ZAKARIA: And these are parts of Mexico where the state doesn't function very well. So the government is dysfunctional but the cartel is providing social services?
WAINWRIGHT: The state doesn't provide much security. It doesn't provide much for the poor. And this leaves a sort of gap that the cartels can get into. They can say, "Hey, look, we're going to give you some money; we're going to give you small-business loans, for instance." That's something they do. They say, "We're going to provide you with some basic security." And local people, as a result, are less hostile towards them than they might otherwise be.
ZAKARIA: You have a business solution. You say that economists would be better police officers than people trained in law enforcement. What do you mean?
WAINWRIGHT: Well, I think there are various elements to this, but one of the main findings of the book, I think, is that we've been, so far, focusing very, very tightly on the supply side of the business. And I think there's a good economic case for looking instead at the demand side.
What we've been doing so far is trying to eradicate coca leaf in South America. We've been battling the Mexican cartels. We've been locking up dealers in the United States and in Europe. And all that this succeeds in doing -- all this succeeds in doing is reducing supply and pushing up price. And if you push up price, normally you'd expect consumption to go down. But because most of these drugs are addictive, you find that consumption actually remains about the same and all we succeed in doing is inflating the size of this illegal market and enriching those cartels.
ZAKARIA: And you would legalize...
WAINWRIGHT: I would, yeah.
ZAKARIA: ... most drugs?
WAINWRIGHT: I think you can do them one by one. The evidence so far from the United States is that legalizing marijuana has greatly reduced the size of the criminal economy in places like Colorado. For Mexican cartels, for some cartels, marijuana makes up about half of all their income. And so taking that away, giving it to the legal sector of the economy, is devastating for them. It's a huge blow against organized crime.
In Switzerland, they've also legalized heroin, which sounds extraordinary, but they've legalized it in a way that gives control of it to doctors. It's a very, very tightly controlled prescription model, in which doctors can prescribe addicts a dose of heroin. And what this means is that those addicts no longer have to steal to fund their habit. And it also means that those addicts, who themselves are very often dealers, have stopped dealing. It seems to be working. And policies in the war on drugs that actually work are few and far between.
ZAKARIA: Fascinating prism through which to look at the war on drugs. Thank you so much.
WAINWRIGHT: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Up next, why this former astronaut decided to spend the rest of his life shouting from the rooftops about climate change, and why he may not have very many days left to do so. A truly heartwarming, heartbreaking story, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Piers Sellers has spent 35 days in space. He's blasted off in shuttles three different times. He's been out walking in space on six different occasions. But it is not space that he's worried about. It's the earth, and he's recently decided to dedicate the rest of his life to saving it.
Sellers is currently the director of Earth Sciences at NASA, and his great academic interest is climate change. He's been working on it for most of his life, but it wasn't until he got some unexpected news that he decided to devote his very life to the cause.
Piers Sellers, welcome to "GPS."
PIERS SELLERS, FORMER ASTRONAUT: Great to be here, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: So, first, tell us about this unexpected medical news that you got.
SELLERS: Right. Well, last year I hadn't been feeling too well, and eventually, in late October, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And it got to stage four, at that point, which means that your life expectancy is, sort of, in the one to one and a half year time range, you know. And that's about it. So I had to figure out what to do with the rest of the time.
ZAKARIA: And what was your first -- I mean, I think every one of us wonders what would I do in a situation like that, after the panic and the sense of, you know, sorrow and all these emotions swirling in your head, you ask yourself, "Well, what am I going to do?"
SELLERS: Actually, the emotions swirling in the head part took about 10 minutes, to be honest -- you know, very quickly focused on what do I need to do with the time -- you know, the time with a capital T. And I figured out very quickly that all things that one normally wants to do, that you have this, you know, back of your mind bucket list were not interesting. I didn't want to go and hit all the tropical paradise, sort of, destinations. I found out what I wanted to do is I want to spend more time with my family and I want to get back to work as soon as possible to carry on with the important work on -- on climate change.
ZAKARIA: You have had an incredible career. What is it like to walk in space?
SELLERS: It's unbelievable. I know that you, in particular, would enjoy it immensely.
I want you to imagine that you're outside the space station. If you lean forward in your helmet, you can't see the edges of it, so it's just like being there in space without anything else. The visor is crystal-clear. You can see over 1,000 miles in any direction and you're moving at five miles per second. So you're going around the world every hour and a half through day and through night. You see the whole world. You see all the oceans. And on the night side, because you come around the night side of the earth, you see all the cities. They're all sparkling away. You see what humans have done, you know, the great cities we've created, where, you know, all the creativity comes from.
So at the end of all that, you know, I ended up being a lot more fond of my planet and a lot more fond of all us humans who inhabit it, who are part of the planet.
ZAKARIA: And in a way, it was that unique perspective of looking at the earth from space that -- that has motivated you about climate change? SELLERS: Not really. I mean, I was -- understood intellectually the
problem of climate change, you know, as a scientist, because that was the field I worked in for most of my life. But it really brought it home when I was up there in space. I could see how thin the atmosphere is. It's like an onion skin around the world. So it's no surprise that we can very easily affect it and -- and, you know, cause something like global warming, which is what we have.
But the other perspective was that, you know, it's really one place. It's our home. And, you know, we ought to take steps to take care of it.
ZAKARIA: So what are you working on now?
SELLERS: Right now, we're working pretty hard at NASA as a whole on trying to, you know, consolidate the facts about how fast things are changing and where they're changing. So, you know, as you know, the atmosphere is warming; the ice is melting; sea level is rising. And there are various other changes, where precipitation bands move around, which affect where the food grows and where people have access to water. So we're observing all those things from space.
ZAKARIA: But do you think we're moving fast enough?
SELLERS: I remain optimistic. I think we're going to be much later and probably overshoot the 2-degree target. I think that's probably almost a certainty, because just the sheer ballistic momentum of the world's economy is, you know -- pushes us towards that development. But I think that people will realize that there's -- cost-benefit- wise, there's going to be a lot of damage downstream if we don't start taking action, you know, sometime soon.
So the solutions will probably be implemented rather later than the scientists would like. But that's life, right? That's -- that's quite often the case.
ZAKARIA: What do you make of the last hold-out, which is the -- the American -- you know, within the American political system? You hear the Republican candidates. I don't think one of them would agree with you that the science is a done deal.
SELLERS: Well, I can't speak to...
... specific politicians because I am a civil servant. My job is to provide public and policymakers -- you know, both sides, with the fact and the theories. The accepted theories are rock solid, by the way, these computer predictions. So if you don't like the theories, you probably shouldn't get on a jet aircraft because that thing is built on theory, too -- you know, or get in a car.
So I would say that, you know, you can fool yourself, but you can't fool Mother Nature. Reality is reality, and you may have a strong conviction or a personal opinion, but if it conflicts with Mother Nature, she will win every time. ZAKARIA: You say "We have time." I'm sure everyone watching this is
wondering, is there any chance you might have more time than you think?
SELLERS: Well, I would -- always hopeful. And you're looking around for solutions and all the rest of it. But I have to be realistic. You know, my condition has a 1 percent chance of survival. So, you know, I've got 500 days. I'm going to use 'em.
ZAKARIA: Piers Sellers, pleasure to have you on.
SELLERS: You, too. Thanks very much.
ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," the world worries about Donald Trump, except for one country. Can you guess which one? Well, I'll tell you when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Finally, some good news on the climate front. Carbon emissions from energy production have actually leveled off for both of the past two years. This welcome update in the climate battle is being attributed to an increase in the use of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, according to the IEA.
And that brings me to my question of the week: What percentage of new electricity generation in 2015 came from renewable sources, 20 percent, 50 percent, 70 percent or 90 percent?
Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.
This week's book of the week is not a book but a television show. One of my guilty pleasures has been the spy thriller "The Americans," except it's not such a guilty pleasure because it's really high quality and is a wonderful reconstruction of the last decade of the cold war, the 1980s. Season four begins now, so set your DVRs. And if you haven't seen previous seasons, I very much recommend binge- watching over the spring break.
And now for the last look. In recent months, Donald Trump has faced criticism from many angles, from Democrats...
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FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: We should be breaking down barriers, not building walls.
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ZAKARIA: ... to Republicans...
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SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-FLA.: Have you seen his hands?
(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAKARIA: ... to rowdy protesters...
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ZAKARIA: ... to governments...
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(UNKNOWN): What would be an appropriate response?
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ZAKARIA: ... to the global media.
The British parliament debated banning him from entering the country. The Pope said his wall-building promises were not Christian. German press called him "the world's most dangerous man." The list goes on.
In China, the official reaction to Trump has been fairly muted, but China's state-owned paper, the Global Times, published an editorial this week that called trump "a racist, a narcissist and abusively forthright," among many other choice words. It pointed out that Trump's rise was part of a worrying trend, quote, "Mussolini and Hitler came to power through elections," unquote, they wrote, quote, "a heavy lesson for Western democracy." Donald Trump, they argue, illustrates the case against democracy.
But the news isn't all bad for the Donald. On the whole, the media in Russia has been portraying Trump very positively in op-eds, news reports and television programs, with a top anchor on the state-owned TV flatly endorsing him.
Of course, that is probably because Russia's president Vladimir Putin has called him "a brilliant and talented man who is the absolute leader in the campaign."
All I will say is it takes one to know one.
Last week we teased to our last look by asking if the presidential candidates should be talking about legalizing marijuana. Well, Bernie Sanders is in favor of decriminalizing pot and proposed a bill in the Senate that would do just that, but the bill has little support. We should have noted that.
The correct answer to the "GPS Challenge" question is D. According to the IEA's preliminary statistics that were released this week, roughly 90 percent of the world's new electrical generation in 2015 came from renewable sources. What's more, over half of all new capacity came from wind power alone. Significantly, the report highlighted the efforts of one country in particular, China. The world's biggest carbon emitter has reduced its coal usage by about 10 percent in just four years. Coal is now responsible for under 70 percent of China's total electricity.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.