Week In Review With Scott Simon

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Terrorist attacks have dominated the news this week. In his weekly address Saturday, President Obama said that a branch of al-Qaida in Yemen was behind the unsuccessful attempt on Christmas Day to take down an airplane with explosives. Friday, a lethal suicide bombing at a Pakistani volleyball tournament killed around 100 people. The U.S. government has issued a warning for American citizens on travel to India, because of instability in the region. Guest host Ari Shapiro reviews some of the week's international news with Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

Terrorist attacks have dominated the news this week. In his weekly address today, President Obama said a branch of al-Qaida in Yemen was behind the unsuccessful attempt to take down an airplane with explosives on Christmas Day.

And yesterday, a suicide bombing at a Pakistani volleyball tournament killed around 100 people. The U.S. government has issued a warning for American citizens on travel to India because of instability in that region. But the man who usually occupies this host's seat is already in India. WEEKEND EDITION'S Scott Simon is visiting the country with this family.

And with Dan Schorr off this week, we've asked Scott to join us from New Delhi for the weekend review. So, Scott thanks for joining us and thanks for letting me take the reins for your show for the week.

SCOTT SIMON: And, Ari, I think you're doing a great show, by the way. It's been a pleasure to hear you from here.

SHAPIRO: Oh, thank you. Now, I understand there was an incident on your overseas flight that may say something about the times we're in. Describe what happened.

SIMON: Yeah. And certainly terrorism wasn't involved in any way, but a man on our flight was belligerent. He tried to pick a flight with another passenger. When he did, an air marshal stepped in. Soon, there were six air marshals all around the plane telling us to stay seated, don't reach for a cell phone, stay back. They handcuffed the guy, sat on him until we landed in London. Then he was removed by authorities. The man kept banging his head against the wall and shouting, I'm not a bloody terrorist and shouting a fair amount of epithets.

By the way, there was a Scottish heavyweight boxer sitting in front of us. And he kind of left over two people to lend the police a hand, but they sent him back. The point of this is if you're an air marshal or, for that matter, a passenger, you don't assume that it's just a drunken lout. You have to assume that a man misbehaving like that might be staging a rouse to distract attention from what could really be a sinister effort to take over the aircraft or damage it. So, it would have been negligent for the air marshals not to get involved. But I do think these were our times. Incidents will set off suspicions of terrorism until they're proven otherwise. And passengers will no longer sit back and pray for help to lend a hand.

SHAPIRO: Well, we've been talking on the show today about this bombing in Pakistan that killed roughly 100 people. How is that incident being covered in India where you are?

SIMON: As a common a tragedy. But, you know, there's always another concern in India too. India and Pakistan completed almost routinely this week their 19th mutual exchange of information about their nuclear weapons program.

SHAPIRO: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: Now there can be skepticism about how much real information gets revealed. But at the lofty official level right now there's a kind of detente between the two nations.

But every terrorist strike of any kind stokes a concern in India. What if some of those border areas of Pakistan - wouldn't have to be central government -would have fall under effective Taliban or al-Qaida control? What if those areas became staging grounds for strikes inside India? Would calls go up in India? For India, not to trust what it sees as a highly compromised and corrupt Pakistani Army to carry the fight against the Taliban, but should India get involved on its own for its own national security?

Now it's that kind of thinking. It's why year after year the relationship between India and Pakistan is considered to be perhaps the world's foremost potential flashpoint.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Well, here in the U.S., the debate over health care is continuing and people often compare and contrast the American health care system with European health care system. Have you seen anything in India that might be instructive to this debate?

SIMON: You know, I have, because with almost a billion people the kind of health care systems that they have in Western Europe much less the United States are just impossible to contemplate. Now when people in the U.S. talk about bringing down the cost of health care, they usually mean the old trio of waste, fraud and abuse. India is a nation that thrives on bureaucracy and, for that matter, kind of likes waste, fraud and fraud.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: It's arguably a full employment program. It also has some of the best doctors in the world...


SIMON: ...many of whom obviously wind up going overseas. There's a fascinating man here named Devi Shetty. He has a heart hospital in Bangalore. They perform more than 3,000 open heart surgeries a year there. That's double the number than at the Cleveland Clinic, for example. He has 42 heart surgeons. They use what he unapologetically calls assembly line techniques to operate on a mass scale. They bring down the cost of open heart surgery to about $2,000.


SIMON: A literal fraction of what it is in United States. So, Dr. Shetty is making one of the most expensive life-saving operations in medicine affordable for millions of Indians. By the way, his success rate is better than 98 percent, which is even a little better...


SIMON: ...from what is in the U.S. Now, Dr. Shetty famously was Mother Teresa's heart surgeon. But he hasn't taken a vow of poverty. His hospitals are very successful. Over the next couple of years, he's going to open a facility in the Cayman Islands. Now, who's going to come there for $2,000 open heart surgeries? Probably, Americans who don't have adequate health care coverage or Canadians...


SIMON: ...who don't want to be on waiting list in their system. The Wall Street Journal says that some American medical groups are already looking at Dr. Shetty with fascination and maybe some clues for really bringing down costs.

SHAPIRO: Well, just briefly, Scott, I know you love to collect political scandal stories. Have you run across any good ones on your trip to India this time?

SIMON: You know, I - by the way, open the paper any morning, you'll find one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But there is a particularly compelling one. A man named Narayan Dutt Tiwari. He is the Congress party governor of Andhra Pradesh. A YouTube video of the governor has become quite popular. He is shown frolicking with three young women. He has also been accused in a paternity suit. Now, Governor Tiwari says that the videos are fraud, but he didn't say he'd been away hiking in the Himalayan trail.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: He resigned for what he called health reasons.

SHAPIRO: Uh-huh.

SIMON: Now, Ari, here's the punch line. Mr. Tiwari is 86 years old, so a lot of Indians think that his health sounds just fine. Thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: That's a good one. NPR's Scott Simon speaking with us from New Delhi. Thanks so much, Scott.

SIMON: My pleasure, Ari.

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