Week In Review With Daniel Schorr

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This week, President Obama talked terrorism with his security advisers, a federal grand jury indicted the man accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight, and prominent Democrats announced they won't run for re-election. Guest host Mary Louise Kelly chats with NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr about the week in news.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly, in for Scott Simon.

This week, President Obama talks terrorism with his security advisers, a federal grand jury indicts the man accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight, and prominent Democrats announced they won't run for re-election.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr is with me. Nice to see you, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Oh, welcome aboard.

KELLY: Thank you. Good to be here. Well, the big story this week continues to be terrorism.


KELLY: And President Obama came out and gave a couple of speeches on that, after he came back from his holiday vacation this week. How do you - how did he do?

SCHORR: Well, I think he was a little slow off the mark, I might say. He was in Hawaii and didn't seem to react very much when the news came in of the attack on the Northwest plane. And then he decided he had to say something. And he seemed to move from a position of not wanting to alarm Americans too much and (unintelligible) alarming them enough to realize there is something very important that happened.

KELLY: Now, all these, of course, has prompted by the questions about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who has now been indicted on charges that he tried to blow up this flight en route to Detroit.

SCHORR: Right.

KELLY: Intelligence agencies scrambling all this week trying to explain how it was that they managed not to connect the dots, that they managed to allow this man to walk on to a flight.

SCHORR: Yeah, well, especially(ph) not connecting the dots gives you some sense that there are a lot of the things just waiting to be connected. We're dealing here with a database of 500,000 names. And I think I can understand, if nobody else seems to be able to understand, that it is very, very difficult to put all that together.

KELLY: Do you think anybody should be held accountable for what happened?

SCHORR: Well, I'll follow the president on this. First he talked about mistakes being made and did the typical passive tense, mistakes were made. And finally he came out the way he had to come out, where Truman came out. The buck stops here.

KELLY: The buck stops here. Wonder what you think this episode says about the nature of the war against al-Qaida and its sympathizers, this idea that even as President Obama and his administration are really focused on trying to fight terrorists along that Afghanistan-Pakistan border we hear�

SCHORR: Right.

KELLY: �so much about, meanwhile you have these offshoot groups that can plot operations from elsewhere.

SCHORR: That is exactly right. And they are being given kinds of opportunities, now in Yemen, for example, where you have a very weak government. Some speak of a failing government, some say it's a government which practically has failed. That is where this guy went and that's where he found his training and all of that. It is very, very difficult to keep track when things are in the hands of a government that can't even govern very well. And that's what we have now, a series, one after the other, of where the training takes place by the al-Qaida - Afghanistan, Pakistan. One place right now, the latest entry into the field -Yemen.

KELLY: Another challenge for this still relatively new Obama administration. Well, meanwhile, midterm elections coming up this year. And political maneuvering is already underway. Democrats looking for ways to hold on to that very slim majority that they have in the Senate and now we get news that two long-time Democratic Senators, Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan, are not running for re-election.

SCHORR: And that's right. And that makes four Democratic seats now in the Senate that may be up for grabs during the - during the next election. It tends to be true that a party in power and in general election loses some strength in the first off-year election, tends to be true. And that may be true here. Here in addition, there is a fact that the country is simply not happy with this government, either the Congress or with the presidency.

There are all these terrible problems that the country faces and they tend to say you're in charge, why don't you fix it. And they don't get fixed very easily. This tends now to work against the Democrats. And at the moment, it begins to look as though the Republicans are coasting towards important gains. But I say at the moment it looks because other things can't happen between now and next November, which may change then.

KELLY: We're talking politics and moving onto health care. The House returns from winter break this coming week.


KELLY: They are going to start ironing out differences between the House and the Senate version of the health care bills. These negotiations - they are mostly going on in private. That's unusual. What happened to transparency?

SCHORR: What happened to - yes, it didn't. President Obama when campaigning said that he would let the thing open for it to be seen by C-Span...

KELLY: That's right.

SCHORR: � all on C-Span. Well, it didn't happen. And it's not likely to happen. The fact of the matter is when you come down to wire, and there are very delicate little things you've got to change and agree upon and so on, it really works better if you do it in private. And they know that. So, what they've done for the first time is to say, well, normally we would have a Senate/House conference on this question; they're saying now, well, before that we will have a little kind of private attempt to resolve these things. And so transparency it ain't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: Transparency it ain't. Last thing we want to hit, Dan, the economy. Lots of folks out there had their fingers crossed for some positive news. There were some glimmers of hope back in November, but now we hear employers cut 85,000 jobs in December, that's more than we expected. Unemployment rate steady, 10 percent.

SCHORR: Right.

KELLY: What did you make of that - is the recession lasting longer than expected?

SCHORR: Well, that part of the recession certainly is. I mean, there have been improvements in other areas, but what really counts for most Americans anyway is jobs, jobs, jobs. And you get the, as you suggested, you get to the unemployment figure of about 10 percent. As long as that - that number doesn't move, you cannot speak of a recovery.

KELLY: NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr. Dan, great pleasure to get to interview you.


KELLY: Thank you.

SCHORR: ...my pleasure.

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