August 8th, 2014
06:33 PM ET

Why the big science questions matter for all of us

Fareed speaks with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, about the Big Bang Theory – and how grappling with science’s big questions matters to our daily lives. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

The Big Bang Theory seems to have been – I'm talking about the actual event, not the not the TV show – seems to have been proven even more right, and there’s now this talk about the Inflation Hypothesis. What is it and why is it important?

So recently, there was a result, an observation, that appeared to confirm predictions made in the inflationary universe. So in the...

Inflationary meaning?

Yes, this idea, which was an appendage to the Big Bang, was put forth back in the 1970s, when that word had much higher currency than it does today. So it stuck and it's been with us ever since.

And it refers to an early period of the universe, really early, like fractions of a second after the original explosion, where the universe has a rapid expansion – faster than the speed of light rapid expansion. It is scientifically valid, that prediction and that idea. And it had a whole sweep of expectations that you should look for if it were true.

So people started exploring the universe, checking that box, yes, that's true, too. Yes. Hey, got that one right, as well. FULL POST

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Topics: GPS Show • Science • Space
Is Xi serious about cracking down on corruption?
August 8th, 2014
02:50 PM ET

Is Xi serious about cracking down on corruption?

By Jamie Metzl, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jamie Metzl is a Senior Fellow at the Asia Society. He served in the National Security Council and State Department during the Clinton administration. You can follow him @jamiemetzl or visit his website. The views expressed are his own.

There are many signs that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s unprecedented anti-corruption drive is serious. In recent weeks, an investigation was launched into former security chief and Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, while former top General Xu Caihou was expelled from the Communist Party. Nearly 200,000 party members of all levels have reportedly been disciplined for corruption over the last two years. But if this top down approach is not matched by a bottom-up empowerment of the people being most harmed by China’s corruption pandemic it will have little chance of success.

China’s leadership faces a crisis of confidence among the Chinese people. Endemic corruption has become the rule rather than the exception, highlighted in the social media the government is straining to contain. Downstream effects of corruption – environmental degradation, food and consumer safety lapses, massive inequality, and thwarted innovation to name a few – are suppressing the natural talents of the Chinese people and causing many of China's most capable to emigrate.

Xi has promised that the anti-corruption campaign will snare “tigers” as well as “flies,” senior leaders as well as smaller fry, and he has been true to his word. Those charged include officials from all levels and associated with virtually all major factions.

But because corruption is so pervasive, it’s difficult not to see political and public relations motives. When Chinese media reports critically on the vast wealth accrued by the families of former Chongqing leader Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang, and others, it’s easy to remember the Bloomberg and New York Times reports on the millions of dollars held by Xi’s and former Premier Wen Jiabao’s families. And no one believes that China’s government leaders, among the wealthiest in the world, are getting rich from their salaries alone.

This corruption passes from the top down. Officials in senior positions receive bribes from businessmen they then use to secure their own promotions and strengthen their essential patronage networks according to qian gui ze, the “hidden rules” of the road. It doesn’t end there. Parents in schools across China are expected pay teachers to ensure fair treatment for their children, journalists require envelopes of cash for attending press conferences, doctors in public hospitals demand payment for providing care. Nearly everyone with something to offer can expect additional payments under the table.

For Xi, cracking down on the likes of Zhou in the name of anti-corruption removes his most powerful rivals, demonstrates power consolidation, and is good public relations. But ultimately, corruption in China is not a cancer on the system, it is the essence of it.

Xi and his team are no doubt betting that a top down approach can clean up the system enough, or at least make it look like they doing enough, to prevent the party and government from being delegitimized, while at the same time maintaining the party’s dominant role. But while it might be conceptually possible for China to address its corruption problem with a Singapore-like good governance approach if its leaders were willing to take vows of chastity and poverty, the far likelier bet is that it can’t because the party itself is the problem. As long as the party remains above the law with zero transparency or public accountability, leaders like Zhou are expelled while others have amassed far greater spoils are exempt, and Chinese citizens are sent to jail for protesting official corruption or advocating that China live up to its own constitution, that problem will remain.

If, on the other hand, Xi is serious about addressing corruption, he will need to push the kinds of political reforms required to facilitate bottom-up pressure for accountability and good governance – rule of law, sunshine and disclosure legislation, a free press, conflict of interest rules, supporting non-governmental watchdog groups, empowering the public, etc.  Ultimately, but not necessarily immediately, the Chinese Communist Party will need a mandate by the people conferred through meaningful elections.

Although the Chinese government has delivered spectacular results in many areas over past decades, China is now at a crossroads where nearly every major problem stems ultimately from the distortions of its political system. For the country to realize its potential, these distortions must be addressed.

Since taking over two years ago, Xi has moved steadily to consolidate power and isolate his rivals. Up to this point, the anti-corruption campaign can only be seen as part of this process. The big question, however, is consolidating power for what? If Xi proves to be moving strategically towards implementing the political reforms China needs to address its corruption and unlock the great potential of its people in a more open, distributed, and creative system, then the anti-corruption drive will have meaning. The announcement that the party plenum scheduled for October will address legal reform issues is a positive potential step in the right direction.

But if Xi does not push for political reforms, the campaign will simply look like a risky political and public relations maneuver to get rid of rivals, an approach that won’t get China out of its morass.

I hope it’s the former, but the jury is still out.

 

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Topics: China
Zakaria: We need more ambitious strategy in Iraq
August 8th, 2014
12:55 PM ET

Zakaria: We need more ambitious strategy in Iraq

CNN’s New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the advances made by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This is an edited version of the transcript. For analysis of the latest developments, watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

If Iraq falls, what happens?

If Iraq falls, you have a catastrophe because you would have this very, very extreme jihadi group that would be in control of vast not just territory, but one of the five or six largest oil-producing countries in the world with access to revenues in the tens of billions of dollars.

But let's focus on the part that's most threatened right now, which is Kurdistan. The United States, since 1991, in collaboration with Britain and France established a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds. Since then, it has been a bipartisan foreign policy supported by a large part of the international community that the Kurds should be protected. So I think there’s a humanitarian issue here, but there's also a strategic issue.

The Kurds are an extraordinarily vibrant, independent-minded, quite democratic force in the region. They're extremely pro-American, pro- Western. I think there’s a strategic interest making sure that the Kurds do not fall to ISIS. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • United States
Time is right for U.S. to boost India ties
August 8th, 2014
11:07 AM ET

Time is right for U.S. to boost India ties

By Robert M. Hathaway, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert M. Hathaway is director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Asia Program, in Washington, DC. The views expressed are his own.

After a rough patch in bilateral relations, India and the United States have reengaged in a big way.  The U.S. secretaries of state and commerce, John Kerry and Penny Pritzker, were in India last week, while U.S. defense secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in New Delhi on Friday. In September, India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, visits Washington.

Yet for all the diplomatic flurry, the two countries have yet to embrace a common agenda that would lay the groundwork for what President Barack Obama has called “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”

Responsibility for this failure lies with both sides. Until Modi’s sweeping electoral triumph a few months ago, New Delhi had been paralyzed with indecisiveness for several years. In Washington, the Obama administration has never convincingly explained where and how India fits into America’s broader geopolitical vision. Doing so should therefore be Hagel’s top priority during his upcoming trip to India.

One of the hallmarks of Obama’s foreign policy has been the rebalance or “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific.  To create the basis for a long-term Indo-American partnership, but also for reasons having nothing to do with bilateral U.S.-India ties, the administration needs to flesh out how the world’s second most populous country fits into the rebalance. After all, it is difficult to imagine a coherent U.S. approach to Asia that does not give Asia’s largest democracy a central role.

Is India even on Washington’s Asia-Pacific map? FULL POST

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Topics: Foreign Policy • India • United States
August 7th, 2014
10:37 PM ET

Global success stories

By Fareed Zakaria

Wherever you look these days, the world seems on fire. New hot spots like Russia-Ukraine are competing with old ones like Gaza. Festering conflicts like those in Syria and Iraq are getting worse. Even Afghanistan, which seemed in better shape than the other places, had a setback this week. Is there any good news out there?

In fact, some of the most important countries in the world are making remarkable progress, affecting at least 1.5 billion people. Let me give you the good news.

Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. It has more Muslims than Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf states put together. It is also crucially located, in East Asia where great power politics and rivalries are heating up. Only 10 years ago, the fear was that Islamic militants were taking over the country and that it was an economic mess and an unreliable crisis spot in the region. The country has defied all skeptics and last month it took a big step forward.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Fareed's Take
Without shift in Afghan strategy, Taliban only winners
August 7th, 2014
12:58 PM ET

Without shift in Afghan strategy, Taliban only winners

By Scott Smith, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Scott Smith is director of Afghanistan and Central Asia programs at the United States Institute of Peace. The views expressed are his own.

This week’s attack at an Afghan military academy, which claimed the life of a U.S. general and more than a dozen troops, brought back like a recurring nightmare a problem that seemed for a while to have been solved – so-called green on blue attacks on U.S. and allied forces by disgruntled Afghan soldiers or Taliban infiltrators.

The assailant had reportedly served at the academy for over two years. But regardless of his individual circumstances, it is difficult not to connect this killing with other signs of growing insecurity – a United Nations report citing a 24 percent increase in civilian casualties, a rise in Taliban attacks, and a number of recent political assassinations – to the political wrangling over the presidential election. After all, the election was supposed to produce the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history, but has instead turned into a quagmire. This unending dispute is fraying the fragile political coalition that has held Afghanistan together since 2001, while emboldening the enemy and testing the patience of the international community.

Since the U.S. toppled the Taliban in 2001, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent to rebuild Afghanistan. A political collapse would eviscerate that investment, hurt the emerging generation of modern Afghans, and raise the question of whether Afghanistan can ever be saved from its political demons. The damage to U.S. prestige would be incalculable. FULL POST

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Topics: Afghanistan
August 7th, 2014
11:42 AM ET

How Saudi Arabia can avoid an energy crisis

By Maha Hosain Aziz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Maha Hosain Aziz is a professor of politics (adjunct) in NYU's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and a senior analyst at geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat. The views expressed are her own.

Ask most Americans which country is the world’s largest oil producer is, and you will likely hear some familiar names – Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. Some might suggest Russia, which produces more than 10 million barrels a day. Yet according to recent numbers from the International Energy Agency and Bank of America, it’s another country has taken the lead in global production – the United States. And this new reality raises an interesting question: Is this the beginning of the end of former number one Saudi Arabia’s global oil dominance?

In recent years, everyone from Citigroup to Chatham House has suggested Saudi Arabia – the world’s biggest oil exporter – could face oil shortages in the next 10 to 15 years, prompting many to ask whether the country and its heavily oil-dependent economy are prepared for the potential crisis.

The answer is yes, and no. Local energy demand has skyrocketed, and could increase by 250 percent by 2028, largely due to a population boom that has seen the Kingdom’s population jump from six million in 1970 to over 29 million today. This in turn has prompted the state to explore oil alternatives for domestic energy use. Indeed, in June, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly signed an accord to jointly develop renewable energy and clean technology. In addition, Saudi Arabia has indicated it hopes to become a key market for renewable energy by 2032, with a projected third of the country’s power to come from this source. FULL POST

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Topics: Economy • Energy • Oil • Saudi Arabia
U.S. must step up to prevent nuclear catastrophe
August 6th, 2014
11:44 AM ET

U.S. must step up to prevent nuclear catastrophe

By Martin Fleck, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Martin Fleck is Security Program Director at Physicians for Social Responsibility. PSR and its international affiliate, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. The views expressed are his own.

The anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima this Wednesday is as good a time as any to remember the ever-present danger of nuclear weapons – and the importance of acting to prevent catastrophe.

The world today is fraught with conflict, but most of us don’t pay much attention to nuclear arsenals – nine nations possess a total of more than 17,000 nuclear weapons, according to Ploughshares Fund, while 94 percent of those nuclear weapons belong to the United States and Russia. These weapons pose a profound health risk to all humans. Indeed, as a recent report from Physicians for Social Responsibility and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War outlined, even a “limited, regional” war between India and Pakistan using just 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs – less than 1 percent of the world’s arsenals – would likely result in the deaths of 20 million people outright, cause global cooling for a decade, disrupt agriculture over the entire northern hemisphere, and threaten as many as 2 billion people with starvation.

"To err is human." An accident could happen at any time.  In his latest book, Command and Control, Eric Schlosser documents 78 known incidents where something has gone amiss with the American nuclear weapons enterprise. This includes some well-publicized incidents such as the weapon that fell from a B-52 bomber over North Carolina, started to arm itself, and almost detonated in 1961.  Who knows what hair-raising incidents have happened in other nuclear-armed states?  And with the proliferation of the weapons comes the danger that terrorists will get hold of the materials to make a bomb. We are living on borrowed time. FULL POST

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Topics: Nuclear
August 5th, 2014
06:33 PM ET

What I'm reading: Will U.S. help the Kurds fight ISIS?

By Fareed Zakaria

“The Kurds are among America’s best friends in the Middle East; they are pro-Western, largely secular, and largely democratic,” writes Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker. “Since 1991, when Saddam Hussein’s latest attempt to launch a genocidal campaign against them was thwarted by the United States, the Kurds have more or less governed themselves. During the American war, from 2003 to 2011, not a single American soldier was killed in the Kurdish region. The Kurds regard themselves as culturally and linguistically apart from the Arabs – Sunni and Shia – who inhabit the rest of Iraq. These days, fewer and fewer Kurds even know how to speak Arabic.”

“And that’s the problem, at least according to the United States. Since 2003, American policy toward Kurdistan has been ‘one Iraq.’ That is, no matter how friendly the Kurds are, no matter how pro-Western, American policy has been to keep Iraq together. That means: don’t do anything that helps the Kurds too much, lest they break away from Iraq and declare independence, which is most what most Kurds want.”

“Perhaps the most gratuitous [Obama] administration failing has been its reluctance to respond to the slights inflicted on it even by minor powers,” writes Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post. “Bahrain’s extraordinary expulsion of State’s human rights envoy prompted only a routine statement of ‘concern;’ so did the criminal charges against Saakashvili. The administration could easily punish and deter such governments; ambassadors could be recalled, military aid withheld, exercises and official visits canceled. Instead, the message goes out that the Obama administration can be defied with impunity – and the bank run continues.” FULL POST

Time for Israel to face up to only path to peace
August 5th, 2014
04:25 PM ET

Time for Israel to face up to only path to peace

By Sultan Barakat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sultan Barakat is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, and Chairman of the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit, University of York. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Israel’s repeated wars on the Gaza strip have taken a heavy toll on Palestinian civilian infrastructure, and this latest offensive is no different. Israeli shelling first damaged, then destroyed Gaza’s only power plant, while waves of attacks have shredded power lines and ruptured sewage systems. Indeed, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates as much as two-thirds of the enclave’s population of 1.8 million now lacks or has very limited access to potable water or sanitation services.

But such disregard for basic civilian infrastructure will ultimately prove counterproductive – if Israel genuinely wants a lasting solution to the conflict, it must be made to appreciate that the reconstruction and development of Gaza, not its utter destruction, is crucial.

While the death toll in the strip has continued to climb – even if the current cease-fire holds, it has hit more than 1,800, mostly civilians – the most basic requirements for any kind of dignity and quality of life are being destroyed, and more than 425,000 have been left homeless by the actual or threatened demolition of their homes. Yet the destruction of Gazan infrastructure began long before the first airstrikes and rocket launches of the present conflict. The tiny enclave, measuring about 140 square miles, has been under effective siege since 2007, turning it into what is in many respects the world’s largest open-air prison – even construction materials such as the cement, steel and pipes that are needed to expand the enclave’s water treatment system are banned under the embargo. FULL POST

August 5th, 2014
03:02 PM ET

Turkey's debate on women no laughing matter

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Laughter can be the best medicine – but can it cure misogyny?

Last week, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç gave a speech that sparked a massive social media reaction. Women, he said, shouldn't burst out laughing in public, should know what is appropriate, and should preserve their "chastity." So women shouldn't laugh out loud, and men, he said, shouldn't be womanizers. (Not really equivalent moral standards…)

Hundreds of women responded by posting pictures of themselves laughing in public. There were more than 160,000 Tweets following the comments, using the Turkish words for "laughter," "resist laugher" and "women defy."

The oppression of women in Turkey isn’t a laughing matter, of course. A 2009 report found that 40 percent of Turkey's female population had suffered domestic violence.

This week, the first round of the presidential election begins, and a top challenger to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (who is a favorite for the presidency) tweeted about the incident, saying women in Turkey needed to laugh more, not less. But Arınç stood by his comments, suggesting people focused too much on that part of his speech.

Well, if you say something absurd, condescending, and demeaning to 50 percent of your population, don't be so surprised if people focus on it!

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Topics: Last Look • Turkey
What Libya says about intervention
August 5th, 2014
12:18 PM ET

What Libya says about intervention

By Matthew Waxman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Matthew Waxman is the Liviu Librescu Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law. The views expressed are his own.

Last month, American diplomats and Marines were evacuated from Tripoli. The 2011 international coalition intervention in Libya was supposed to be a step forward for the Responsibility to Protect doctrine – the notion that if a state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities, it becomes the international community's responsibility to do so. Tragically, the current collapse of governance and bloody infighting among factional militias there will instead result in a step backwards for this important principle.

Back in March 2011, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which imposed a no-fly zone and authorized member states to "take all necessary measures" to protect civilians under vicious attack from Moammar al-Gadhafi’s government. The resolution passed with 10 votes in favor and five abstentions, including by permanent members Russia and China. In authorizing force, the U.N. Security Council cited the Libyan government’s betrayal of its responsibility to protect its population. Many advocates of intervention saw this as especially significant because Russia and China, as well as many ex-colonial states of the global South, had generally resisted such infringements on the sanctity of state sovereignty.

During and immediately after the ensuing military intervention that ultimately helped dislodge the odious Gadhafi regime, commentators made two exaggerated claims – in opposite directions. To some proponents of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, this was a defining moment of advancement, although such a claim overstated the precedential value of Security Council consensus on a uniquely isolated government that even the Arab League had shunned. FULL POST

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Topics: Libya
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