Fallows On The News: Haiti; Google; Mass. Politics

The earthquake in Haiti, and the world's response, dominated the headlines this week. Host Guy Raz talks with James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, about that and the week's other top stories, including Google pulling out of China and the wild Senate race in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy's seat.

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GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

And all of us this week have been watching the tragic scenes in Haiti and a reminder of how a moment, a few seconds can bring so much misery.

President RENE PREVAL (Haiti): It's incredible. You have to see it to believe it.

Mr. FELIX AUGUSTIN (Consul General, Haiti): We need people in the medical field to go down to Haiti as soon as they can.

President BARACK OBAMA: To the people of Haiti, we say clearly and with conviction, you will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten.

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RAZ: That was President Obama this past week. And earlier, Haitian President Rene Preval and the Consul General Felix Augustin.

James Fallows joins me, as he does most Saturdays, for a look past the headlines.

Jim, good to talk to you.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, "The Atlantic Monthly"): Nice to speak with you, Guy.

RAZ: First, Jim, of course, to Haiti and a country that was already facing deprivation on a colossal scale before the earthquake, now seems to be teetering on the edge of total collapse.

Mr. FALLOWS: I think the first way in which we all have to respond is this just is a human disaster of a scale, I think, few of us can remember. I was looking the most recent figures coming out of Haiti, and if they turn out to be tragically true, it would be on a proportional scale as if every single person in the state of Louisiana had drowned during Hurricane Katrina.

RAZ: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FALLOWS: Of course, now, the world and the United States are trying to respond. It made me think of William James' famous essay, "The Moral Equivalent of War," in which he argued that the worst in human experience - war and catastrophe - often brought out the best in human generosity. And he said, wouldn't it be nice if there was some way to have the good part of human nature without the disaster? And that's a thought we have now, too.

RAZ: Indeed, yeah. Jim, of course, there was some other news this past week. And I want to ask you about a story that seems to have left the Chinese government speechless, for the moment at least, that Google, which has been frustrated with privacy issues and government censorship, might just pull out of its biggest potential market in the world.

Mr. FALLOWS: We could talk for an hour about it. But I think there's two elements worth stressing right at the moment. One is the fascinatingly divided reaction within China itself, where there has been some predictable nationalistic reaction, especially by the young netizens, as they're called, saying, Google, good riddance. You couldn't make it here anyway, et cetera, et cetera.

But at the same time, a number of Chinese people have acted mournful and shocked. And it's not so much that this will really make any difference in the information they can get because there are ways to escape the Great Firewall. But symbolically, this seems like a step away from cosmopolitanism, which many people in China want. So that's one thing.

The other is the fact the Chinese government has been essentially silent about this since Google announced this decision. I think that's partly because the Chinese government is known to be fairly weak in immediate crisis management, but also because I think there's now thinking on all sides about whether some accommodation can be worked out to meet all parties' needs and keep Google there.

RAZ: Jim, onto a story that in an ordinary week would get massive coverage. It's been largely obscured by the tragedy in Haiti. But the chiefs of the largest banks testified on Capitol Hill this past week. It's bonus season. Huge bonuses are being doled out. And this week, JPMorgan reported a record profit this past quarter.

Mr. FALLOWS: You know, there was a clich´┐Ż I loved last year or, what, a year and a half ago as this crisis was deepening where people would say, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. FALLOWS: And I think there's increasingly the possibility the crisis that nearly brought the world economy down over the last year and a half maybe wasted in the sense of reform.

While things were falling apart, I had this fascinating interview in China with a man named Gao Xiqing, who essentially is China's money master for the U.S. He invests China's money in the U.S. And he was giving the diagnosis, which seemed very similar to the U.S. diagnosis. The problem was, too much debt, too much money on Wall Street, too much speculation, too little regulation.

And as we come out of the crisis, it looks as if we're surviving it with none of those problems addressed except the too much debt part. But disproportionate payoffs and Wall Street, that is an issue. And I think it's interesting that the administration is trying both symbolically and in substance to address that in some way.

RAZ: Mm-hmm. Well, finally, Jim, to the special election in Massachusetts to fill the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. This was initially written off by Republicans. I mean, Massachusetts, being one of the most liberal states in the union, now it seems the Republican candidate, Scott Brown, might just have a chance to win.

Mr. FALLOWS: This really is almost incredible. The reason we'll all be watching our TVs on Tuesday night to see how this turns out is that our democracy, with its hundreds of years of history, turns out to depend on these really odd and idiosyncratic circumstances of how this bi-election in Massachusetts is going to go, like the butterfly ballots 10 years ago. So I'll be watching, as I assume you will be, too.

RAZ: Indeed. That's our news analyst, "The Atlantic's" James Fallows. You can catch all his latest musings at his blog. That's jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.

Jim, thanks so much.

Mr. FALLOWS: My pleasure, Guy.

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