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Governing an Ungovernable State; America's Immigration Laboratory; Taking on Egypt's Al-Sisi Imagine a World

Aired April 30, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour, reporting tonight live from Los Angeles.

President Obama has just returned from his pivot to Asia tour of four key Pacific allies. But one of the greatest Pacific powers is right here in the United States, right where we're broadcasting from. That's right, California, with a $2 trillion economy, it is the world's eighth biggest, bigger than South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines combined, bigger even than Russia's economy.

And when President Obama held his first major summit with China's new leader, Xi Jinping, it took place here in California. It is a magnet for visiting world leaders, from Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu to Egypt's deposed president, Mohammed Morsy, who received his doctoral degree from the University of Southern California.

Morsy, of course, has since gone from president to prisoner. And later in the program we'll talk with one of Egypt's presidential candidates vying to replace him in elections next month.

But first we dive into California's once troubled now calming waters with a man who seems to have pulled off an administrative miracle, Governor Jerry Brown.

This state that has powered so much American innovation seemed to have run off the rails in the last decade. It was ground zero for America's devastating housing bubble that fueled the 2008 global recession. And its elected officials were paralyzed by a monstrous $27 billion budget deficit.

For good and for ill, what happens here in California impacts the world. The man behind this state's revival is, of course, Governor Jerry Brown, at 36 years old he was one of California's youngest governors when he first served back in the 1970s. And now he's California's oldest -- and he's not done yet, as he aims for an unprecedented fourth term. This idiosyncratic leader who wrestled recalcitrant legislators and taxpayers into making the really tough choices joined me from the state capital, Sacramento, for an exclusive interview to explain just how he did it.


AMANPOUR: Governor Jerry Brown, welcome to our program.


AMANPOUR: You, to mix all the metaphors, are the turnaround kid in the comeback state. It wasn't so long ago that California was being uttered in the same breath as Spain and Greece during the worst of the economic recession overseas. And now it's turned around.

How did you plug and now have a surplus, a $26 billion deficit, is it just the economy or did you do something special?

BROWN: Well, it is the economy. But we did something special. We cut programs, programs dear to liberals, programs dear to conservatives and builders, the university, child care, a host of very good programs we had to reduce because the money wasn't there. And we faced the music. We took our medicine.

In addition to that, I asked the people of California to vote in a voter referendum called an initiative to raise the income tax on the highest earners and to raise the sales tax a quarter of a cent on everyone else. And that passed with a very strong majority. And so between the cuts, the taxes and the inherent vibrancy and recovery of the California economy, we are now in a surplus position whereas before, as you indicate, we were being compared with failed states.

AMANPOUR: So what about the failed state of Washington, D.C., the dysfunctional state of affairs in Congress between a Congress and the White House? They can't even get a budget together. Is there any lesson from California for the wider country?

Or did you benefit from having a Democratic majority everywhere you looked?

BROWN: That's the point. We not only have a majority of my party, but we got majority rule in terms of our budget, both the spending and the cuts. That's a majority. We don't have a 60 percent rule. And we're not a house divided. We know that a house divided really can't make it for too long.

But beyond all that, there is almost willful inability on the part of the extreme elements there in Congress to come together. So I think it's very disquieting. We see problems in Europe, in Asia, in the world economy. But I think one of the biggest problems is the growing dysfunctionality and therefore the impairment of the leadership role of the United States.

And on the course they're on now in Washington, these two political parties are not coming together in the way that will arrest the decline that seems ominous to me.

AMANPOUR: This is such an important state with such a massive economy compared to whole countries abroad. And yet we know Hispanics will be a majority population in this country; the language will be the dominant language in this country. And yet Hispanics are falling between the cracks when it comes to education, even here in California and around the Southwest. I mean, really lamentable.

How is it going to be possible to make sure that this new majority is going to have the tools to enact their numbers and their responsibilities?

BROWN: Well, first of all, the Latino community is growing in numbers are our universities. Secondly, by raising the minimum wages where a lot of Hispanic people are, that will contribute to family stability. So ensuring the health care, the educational opportunity, the minimum wage, we've now given the right to drive a car, even though people are not documented.

We're going to do all that we can. But we do need a national turn and that takes the Republicans as well ,that we recognize our future, is with so much with our immigrants as well as our native peoples, and together we have to focus on bolstering the human beings and the kids and taking care of our human resource needs and we're not doing that.

I mean, have no doubt about it, in many states, they're making it harder to vote; they're not even providing the health care that is needed. They're not investing in the schools in the way they should. So it's a challenge. But I can say that with all the flaws and problems we have in California, we are taking pioneering steps. We're going to meet our test of responsibility and that's one of the reasons why I am running for a fourth term because I feel now I've got the experience. I've got the determination. I'm going to do everything I can to make the nation state called California an important player in turning around both inequality and some of our other key issues that are not being handled back in Washington.

AMANPOUR: And obviously the rest of the world looks at this, because in many parts of Europe, for instance, immigration is also a very sensitive topic.

Another really sensitive topic that the rest of the world looks at and of course Americans as well, is the issue of gun control.

Your state has done some very important legislation on gun safety. But recently the federal court here has basically allowed now concealed weapons to be carried. And there's a rush of people to buy these things and to get the permits.

You know, what is it going to take to get sensible gun control and gun safety that actually the majority of Americans want?

BROWN: Well, I think we have among the most extensive gun control laws in American. This latest decision is one that I think will be appealed and I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if a higher court reverses it. And like everything else, it's a balance. We do have a Second Amendment that is of fundamental importance.

But we also have the gun violence, the shootings, and we need some control. I think California has struck a pretty good balance and I think some of these other states ought to come along. But without the federal government enacting similar measures, then we are subject to the -- you know, to the weakest link, which often are the surrounding states.

AMANPOUR: Governor, California is a fabled state. Los Angeles is a fabled city. And yet statewide some 60 percent of your roads and highways are in lamentable condition. Traffic is obviously terrible. You yourself have taken on the idea of infrastructure very seriously. You want to build a major initiative for a bullet train.

But it's become incredibly unpopular. Given the fact that infrastructure is so prominent and works so well in Europe, first of all, why are people making fun of your bullet train initiative?

And secondly, can you even afford it, given the draconian cuts you've made in other vital services?

BROWN: Well, first of all, there are some people making fun of everything. So that's just the way life is. And we take that.

Secondly, it's not really unpopular. It's -- different surveys show different things, maybe a 45 percent approval. I mean, in many parts of Europe, very few governments ever enjoy 45 percent approvals. So there's - - the money for it was voted, at least $13 billion of it, by the people. We have money from the federal government.

Yes, it takes boldness. But ever since the gold rush, people have been coming to California because it is a place of dreams. And if 16 other countries can build a high-speed rail, California can. And we are.

In terms of these roads, yes, we need to have repairs. But remember, we have more Nobel laureates just in the first quarter of 2014, 60 percent of all the venture capital investment in America was invested in California.

This is the place of Google and Apple and Hewlett-Packard, yes, we're going to have some problems. But it's a $2 trillion economy. We're -- if we were a nation state, we'd be the eighth richest in the world. So we're doing a lot of stuff. In fact, I'm going to personally doing that for the state, doing memoranda of understanding with China, with Israel, with British Columbia, in terms of climate change.

So we solve our problems; we have the successes. We have failures. That's part of life but, boy, California is still an exciting place and to be the governor here, is one that I really cherish and we will chip away at each of these issues that are being brought up. And I think we'll be successful.

AMANPOUR: Let me talk about your personal self.

Do you think you will ever run for president again? You are going to run for an unprecedented fourth term as governor.

After that, what?

BROWN: Well, after that, I'll be 80. So what offices I may seek then, I think I should exercise a bit of restraint and perhaps a touch of wisdom.

AMANPOUR: Governor, people used to, I think, very affectionately, call you Governor Moonbeam. Do you feel that you have put that title aside with all the successes that you've had over the last several years?

BROWN: Well, in some ways, I feel I've earned that moniker because of the creativity, the -- and, yes, the unpredictability, but what we've been able to do -- California is the leader in American in solar energy, in efficient buildings, in the number of electric cars, in venture capital, in climate change actions.

So we do a lot. But if you do a lot, you also have to fail a lot. And we learned in Silicon Valley that those who fail go on to create ever greater successes. If you're fearful, well, you may not stumble, but you don't create anything monumental.

So I think a lot's going on here. I feel excited to have the opportunity to serve a fourth term; no one's ever done that. No one will ever do it again because of our term limit law. And I can assure you of this, I will make it the most productive and creative I can. And what label or moniker I will earn after that, I don't know. But I think it's going to be different than anyone I've had to date.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Governor Jerry Brown, thank you so much for joining me from the state capital, Sacramento.

BROWN: Well, thank you, my pleasure and lots of fun.


AMANPOUR: And if there's one thing Hollywood really loves, it's a comeback story. And this state's resurgence is even being hailed by the hard-to-please late-night comics here.


BILL MAHER, HBO HOST: A $27 billion deficit was turned into a surplus. How? Well, it's amazing, really. We did something economists call cutting spending and raising taxes. I know, it sounds like.


MAHER: It sounds like crazy science fiction. But you see, here in California we're not just gluten-free and soy-free and peanut-free. We're Tea Party-free.


AMANPOUR: So digs aside, California has become a state where polarization has given way to a healthy political pluralism. It's a model worth noting across the globe in Egypt, where increased polarizations threaten free elections and the promise of democracy.

One candidate for Egypt's presidency -- in fact, the only candidate to oppose its former military chief -- hasn't give up on that promise. Hamdeen Sabahi joins me from Cairo when we return.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Now Egypt in many ways today it's the land of sighs and horrors and it takes its latest swipe from a powerful U.S. senator who's blocking additional U.S. aid to Egypt because of his outrage over a wave of death sentences after sham trials.

Six hundred eighty-three supporters of the ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsy were sentenced to hang on Monday, charged with murdering one policeman. That's after 529 of them were sentenced to die last month.

After the verdict, families voice their anguish and anger. Less than a month before elections, the mass trials have drawn widespread criticism around the world. Human Rights Watch saying that "Egypt is handing out death sentences like candy."

With that, plus thousands of protesters in jail and a growing crackdown on any kind of political dissent or opposition, Egypt is struggling to convince the world about its commitment to democracy, equality and justice.

Egyptian presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi wants to change that. He's running in next month's presidential elections against the cult-like status of the former army chief, General al-Sisi. So how would Hamdeen Sabahi mend Egypt's broken political and economic systems? And does he seriously think that he stands the slightest chance of winning?

I asked him when he joined me earlier from Cairo.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Sabahi, welcome to the program.

Let me start by asking you whether you are taking on mission impossible. You're the only candidate brave enough to challenge General al-Sisi.

What on Earth do you hope to accomplish?

SABAHI (through translator): Our Egyptian people is used to accomplish mission impossible. We did that on January 25th and on June 30th and my mission seems to some impossible like the two others I mentioned.

But I have a moral legitimacy to go through this election so that the civil powers in the nation can make it to the office of power in order to suppress the dreams of the Egyptian people. I have 5 million constituents who trust me, who have worked for me last time.

We have a generation of youth who is confident and trust their leadership and most of whom stand with me.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Sabahi, Egypt is on life support right now, getting billions and billions of dollars in economic handouts from Saudi Arabia and from the Gulf countries.

Many believe without that it would come to a grinding halt. Thirty percent at least of the Egyptian economy is devoted to subsidies for the people. The next president is going to have to figure out how to end those subsidies and how to wean Egypt away from the handouts and restart the Egyptian economy.

Can you do that? Can any new president be brave enough to do that?

SABAHI (through translator): Yes. We would be able to do that if we rely on Egyptians. Corruption has been consuming about 300 billion Egyptian pounds according to the estimate of the Egyptian government itself, the ones who are in charge of fighting corruption.

Subsidizing the commodities for the poor people can be reduced by about two-thirds and the governmental spending also can be directed to -- by a new taxation system that could increase revenue for the Egyptian economy. And we believe that we will not rely for long on foreign aid.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me now talk to you about the dire political situation in Egypt. Human Rights Watch, many, many other analysts watching what is going on, for instance, have just said that Egypt has been handing out death sentences like candy. You heard me say that in the beginning, 683 people condemned to death in one fell swoop.

Is that the kind of Egypt that you want to see if you are going to be the next president?

SABAHI (through translator): I want an independent judiciary that does not employ it for political purpose. And I believe that the Egyptian judiciary under a democratic authority will be able to correct itself by itself and to amend those kinds of convictions.

AMANPOUR: Some 16,000 people have been rounded up and put into jail since the military has come to power. And 1,000 people have been killed. Many of those are people who have done no wrong and who have had no trial and who have had no access to a lawyer and who are just languishing in jail.

Would you free those people?

SABAHI (through translator): All the innocent people who were imprisoned, it will be part of my project to release them, according to legal proceedings that correct the grievances that they suffered.

However, everyone who committed terrorism will be subject to prosecution and the law. The state will take care of them and eliminate them completely.

The demonstration law is unconstitutional. And I will cancel it as soon as I am elected president. And I will issue a law that protects and otherwise regulates, not prevents demonstration.

And I will release all the innocent people who were convicted according to this constitutional law.

AMANPOUR: Well, on that note, Mr. Sabahi, thank you very much for joining me.

SABAHI (through translator): (Speaking foreign language).


AMANPOUR: And just a quick note, some of those innocent people who are in jail without trial are our journalist colleagues. Hopefully they will take some hope if Mr. Sabahi, unlikely as it is, gets elected.

Egypt isn't the only embattled democracy facing crucial elections. Iraqis are going to the polls today for the first parliament elections since U.S. troops left the country back in 2011.

The resulting hodgepodge of political rivals, Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, just to name a few, are all calling for change. But there's one issue that unites more than it divides, with tragic consequences for Iraqi women. How the horror of child marriage could become the law of the land when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, it's a harrowing story that we've been following from Afghanistan to Africa and in between, and now it has reared its ugly head in Iraq, where new elections are taking place today. Imagine a world where 9-year-old girls can't go to school but they can become wives.

Remember, America went to war in Iraq among other things to bring democracy and human rights after the savagery of Saddam Hussein. The legal age for a woman to marry there used to be 18. But that could soon change.

The Iraqi Council of Ministers has approved a draft law that would cut the age in half, to 9. As incredible as it sounds, base politics and religion have conspired to engineer a world in which children become legally eligible for marriage, puberty for girls having suddenly been deemed to start at the age of 9.

The law, if ratified by the new parliament, would also give fathers total say over their daughters, allowing them to barter these child brides, often when there's no other way to feed their families.

It would also allow for marital rape -- this in a country where 5 percent of young girls are already married before their 15th birthday and 20 percent before they reach 18.

And it's not just Iraq. Around the world, some 10 million girls don't go to school but do keep house as child brides. And until that changes, no matter who wins Iraq's elections, Iraqi girls and women will surely be the losers.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from Los Angeles.