Year In Review With Daniel Schorr

It's been an eventful year with two wars, one recession and multiple attempts to fix the nation's health care system. Host Scott Simon reviews some of the major news stories of the year with NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The big story this morning, of course, is out of Detroit as investigators look into an attempted attack on a U.S. passenger plane yesterday. We'll have more on this developing story in just a moment.

But first, NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us with his annual review of the big stories that made headlines throughout 2009. Dan, Happy Holidays.

DANIEL SCHORR: And to you, Scott.

SIMON: Eventful year, wasn't it?

SCHORR: It's been an eventful year, but if you ask me to pick out what I consider the most eventful thing of this eventful year, it would be having an African-American in the White House. We're almost accustomed to it as the year ends, but I really think that this historic thing is not as though we have emancipated ourselves.

SIMON: President Obama, of whom you speak, is presiding over two wars. One in Iraq may be winding down. He announced a widening of commitment of U.S. forces in Afghanistan really within the - almost the same week that he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. How do you see those two theaters now?

SCHORR: Well, I think this is the way things are going to be for this country for the foreseeable future. That is to say that here is Iraq, thought we had it solved, as the year nears its close; there's an upsurge of violence in Iraq. Then we have what is now the big one, and sending more troops and at the same time saying we're sending troop, then we'll start bringing back troops, trying to have it both ways. I believe that we're going to be there for some time to come. This is the future for this great country, which used to be able to dictate to the rest of world and now has to try to take stopgap measures, but unable to rest ourselves free of this thing.

SIMON: And let's, of course, ask about Iran, because there seems to be rising an unrest...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...opposition among many Iranians at the same time a renewed determination by the regime empowered to not only stay in power, but develop nuclear energy and perhaps a nuclear weapon.

SCHORR: Yes. If you ask what was the most menacing thing as we end this year, the most menacing thing on the horizon, it has to be what's happening in Iran. They seem to be edging closer and closer to having some kind of nuclear device. They appear to be unswayed by anything. The Revolutionary Guards, who were the more militant part of that government, apparently are in control now. And if you would ask where we're going to have a lot of trouble in the coming year, I would just start with Iran.

SIMON: The Obama administration had hoped that what they called a policy of engagement, resetting the relationship, would encourage progress, not only with Iran, but North Korea. What's your assessment of the policy of engagement so far?

SCHORR: Well, it hasn't worked yet. I mean (unintelligible) as yet no concrete development that you can say this is the policy of engagement. But the president doesn't give up. And I think he's still willing to engage, but when it comes to what's happening in Iran, they had announced a year-end deadline to cooperate with the United Nations on the uranium enrichment. We're very close to that deadline now, and not the slightest sign that the Iranians are ready to yield.

SIMON: Global climate change conference in Copenhagen. Was this conference different than all the others?

SCHORR: Yes, I thought it was different at least in one respect. They weren't getting anywhere and then the president flew over to Copenhagen, he busted into a meeting that he hadn't been invited to with the Brazilians and Chinese and talked them into it. And they finally got not what they had hoped for, which was a bonding agreement, but they did at least make sure that it didn't go further back from where they were.

SIMON: Let's remind ourselves, of course, the huge domestic story of the year, and it's international too, is the economy. High unemployment over 10 percent in the United States, high rates of foreclosures persist. This news this week that more than 37 million Americans are on food stamps.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: What progress has been made in addressing the recession over the past year?

SCHORR: Well, there has been progress made on everything except unemployment. There were all these little signs of we're coming back, it's getting better and so on, but the one most important part of this, employment, and that is what's called the lagging indicator. Well, it's lagging in a way that it's making a great deal of trouble. But I must say, although you haven't asked me, that I think that the president deserves some credit for his approach to this recession. He managed to go in for stimulating the economy; that has, to some extent at least, worked. I would dare say that had it not been for his intervention, the economy would be much worse than it has been, although it's bad enough.

SIMON: Was Wall Street, and let's say automobile row, bailed out at the expense of Main Street?

SCHORR: It certainly looks that way, or at least if you listen to Main Street, they will tell you it is that way.

SIMON: Of course, health care. As we meet this weekend, the Senate passed its version of health care legislation, it has to be reconciled with the House. What's the significance of this so far?

SCHORR: Immense, immense significance. All the opponents lined up, ready to sink this whole thing, and they brought it through one House, then they brought through the Senate. They have a way to go yet, but what they have gotten, not a lot of people would have predicted they had gotten this far. Big deal.

SIMON: And 140 newspapers, more or less, closed this year.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Is 2009 going to be the beginning of the end for the American newspaper?

SCHORR: Well, it may be the beginning of the end for American newspapers. It's cheaper to do it online than to try to do it in printed pages. And they're being forced to by their economic problems, being enforced to do it that way.

SIMON: Dan, I'm going to be away for a couple of weeks. Be kind with the people who sit here with you...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: ...next couple of weeks, will you?

SCHORR: I'll - I will do my best.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

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