Analysis Of Fort Hood, Health Care, And The Economy

News analyst James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine gives his take on the Fort Hood shooting, the health care overhaul debate in the House of Representatives and the state of the economy.

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GUY RAZ, Host:

Joining me now here in the studio for a look at the headlines of the past week is our news analyst James Fallows from The Atlantic. Jim, good to see you.

JAMES FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: Let's start with Fort Hood. What makes this different from other mass shootings we've had in the country?

FALLOWS: You know, every one of these things that comes up, there is something distinctive about. There was the Amish country shooting two years ago and Columbine, along, you know, back along history through Charles Whitman at the University of Texas. And this one, of course, the objective circumstances were on their face more alarming.

It was on an Army base, the victims were soldiers going off to combat, it was a medical doctor and an Army officer who was doing the shooting, and not simply somebody of an Arabic name, but a practicing Muslim who apparently was calling out al-Akbar, as he shot, according to some reports.

And so if this were - the worst possibility, of course, would be that this was an indication of some sort of terrorist activity or sleeper cell, one would have expected that if that were so, there would've been reverberations around the world and claims of credit and all the rest.

It seems, based on what is known so far, that this is yet again in the toll of these tragic events where people go crazy and we never really know why.

RAZ: Just another madman basically?

FALLOWS: Yes. It sounds harsh to put it that way, given the casualties and the families, you know, that have been just torn apart by this. But that is what has been the case in most of these over the years.

RAZ: Jim, onto health care for a moment. the House looks closer than ever now to passing a bill but passing it along fiercely partisan lines.

FALLOWS: You and I have both been listening to these speeches through the day on the House floor via C-SPAN and the other coverage. And even in the long history of House floor rhetoric, this is pretty extreme. Or the one hand, you have people saying the Constitution is at risk and then all the rest - the proponent is saying we need this as a real step towards reform in America.

What strikes me is the contrast between this and President Obama's campaign rhetoric about red America and blue America becoming one America. Probably, this will go through with no votes from the Republicans in the House. And the best thing you can say is that when the two parties run next year in the midterm elections, at least the divisions will be clear. Their party alignment is pretty obvious on this one.

RAZ: Jim, this week, we learn that the unemployment rate is now the highest since 1982, I believe, but the underemployment figures may be the highest in modern U.S. history.

FALLOWS: You know, we have heard over the last year that this is the worst economic episode since the Great Depression. This is the first really objective proof of that where the number of people who are both officially unemployed and discouraged workers and involuntary part-time workers - people who would like to be working full-time and cannot - comes by the latest reckoning to 17-and-a- half percent, which is the highest on record, higher than the previous time under the early Reagan years.

And that is a sign of the toll this is having on the United States. Also, I think the really sort of challenging aspect here is that even before the financial collapse of a year ago, the sort of polarization economically of the U.S. and other countries was the big problem. And that, obviously, is the factor here.

One other sort of reverse whammy twist here: compared with even the 2001 or 1980 recessions, fewer people relatively have actually been laid off this time than before. The real toll has been people who are not getting hired. And, again, what you're suggesting is kind of polarization. You have the job or you don't, and the gap is sort of increasing.

RAZ: And on your blog this past week, you had a posting that suggested this could last well into 2011.

FALLOWS: That certainly is the case that in even the most benign of recessions the last thing to improve is the employment rate. Because employers naturally wait to see if the business has come back and the risks have gone down. They think, okay, now we can expand the workforce.

So, even in the best circumstances it would take a while and it's possible this rate, already very high, could go up further.

RAZ: Jim, tomorrow on this program, we will be marking the 20th anniversary - a day before rather - of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It happened on November 9th, 1989. Since then, of course, America's foreign policy focus has been totally different.

FALLOWS: It certainly has. And while, of course, the change in the former eastern bloc is the greatest of any in the world over the last 20 years, I'm struck that what people said 20 years ago about the effect on the U.S. is, if anything, understated. That for the previous four decades, our foreign policy had been aligned mainly around containing the Soviet Union. Everything domestically and militarily and rhetorically and all the rest had that as organizing principle.

With the absence of the Soviet Union, number one, we have all this kind of random threat coming around the world, whether it's nuclear proliferation or terrorism or failed states or all the rest. And since that time, economic challenges have loomed larger and larger. The fall of the Soviet Union was the last time we had a weaker economic challenge to worry about. But now, we have Japan 20 years ago, China, India and the rest now.

RAZ: That's our news analyst James Fallows. Jim, thanks so much for coming in.

FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Guy.

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