Week In Review: Economy, Space, Gay Rights

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Host Scott Simon reviews the week's news with NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr. They discuss the economy, the president's new mandate about the rights of gay couples in hospitals that receive federal funds, and the Wisconsin court ruling regarding the National Day of Prayer.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time to look back at some of the week's major news stories. We're joined by NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And there was some positive economic news this week. Unemployment rate dropped in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: Though nationally it's still pushing 10 percent. New home construction last month was at its highest level since November of 2008. And there seems to be a chorus of analysts saying that the corner in this recession has been turned.

SCHORR: That's true. We've been turning the corner in this recession, I think, every week now for many, many weeks. But let's say this is for real - a real change. Newsweek has on its cover: America is Back. That may be going a little too far, but yes, things are clearly on the mend.

SIMON: When that unemployment rate's still so high, what impresses you about these numbers?

SCHORR: What impresses me about it, first of all, there's some new housing starts. The housing starts have been down for a long, long time. That's very important, because as we know, this started as a housing crisis. Employment up a little bit in certain places - not in Michigan - but yes, in other places. It's yes and no and yes and no, but a little more yes.

SIMON: Let me ask you about President Obama's speech in Florida this week about the space program - space program he wants to chart for the future.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: He essentially said: the moon, been there, done that. Let's leave a lot of the ferrying in Earth orbit to private corporations. But why not go for an asteroid or even Mars? Now, he is disputed in this by no less than the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong.

SCHORR: Yeah. Well, we were talking about jobs just a minute ago. This is now a matter of jobs. It's no longer a matter of where - the moon, Mars, whatever. Here is NASA with its thousands of jobs. And when the president announced that he was going to end the moon program and go for other programs, there was great fear down at Cape Canaveral that what this meant was thousands of jobs lost.

The president assures us that there will be more jobs gained than lost. But somehow whenever you talk about ending something which means jobs, you get a lot of people looking very nervous.

SIMON: And this week President Obama ordered all hospitals that get federal funds have to grant the partners of gay patients visitation rights and allow them to make medical decisions. Let me ask you to cast back in your reportorial experience.

SCHORR: Well, alright, we are talking about using federal funds to make social change. And I am reminded of 1966, when the Medicare law went into effect and when the Johnson administration advised all the hospitals that if they were segregated they wouldn't get federal money.

And so, for example, like Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, a very important hospital in the South - overnight one night as they were getting ready for this, they went through the hospital taking people out of their beds, white people, black people, and putting them one after the other. It was really quite, quite remarkable.

SIMON: Several thousand Tea Party activists came to Washington, D.C. this week and they used the occasion of the April 15th tax deadline to renew their protest against what they see as too big and overreaching federal government.

SCHORR: And taxes.

SIMON: Taxes, yes, certainly, it being April 15th. Do you see the Tea Party movement as becoming an electoral force in the elections this November?

SCHORR: I frankly don't know. I mean, they attract a great many people, but if you look at the makeup of the people who seem to be involved in this movement, you'll find them more likely to be white than black, more likely to be educated than non-educated. You have a slice of our population.

And what they're doing is saying we don't like what we see. But it's a little difficult to figure out what that they want to see. They want to get rid of incumbents, yes. But then the people who will be elected will soon become incumbents as well. I just can't make out the Tea Party people.

SIMON: A federal judge in Wisconsin this week ruled that the National Day of Prayer, which is coming up on May 6 this year, is unconstitutional.

SCHORR: Yeah. The argument there being simply that the government cannot mandate a religious observance. You can be religious, but you can't be ordered to pray at a certain time in a certain way on a certain day. The argument, I'm sure, is not over. This is a district court. We have yet the appeals court. And I'm sure this will end up in the Supreme Court.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. The big international stories that we dealt with this week had to do with natural disasters.

SCHORR: Most of them.

SIMON: Earthquake in China that killed hundreds of people, and then a volcanic eruption in Iceland that has grounded air transportation in Northern Europe.

SCHORR: Yes. What's there to say about it? You know, we think we are the masters of the universe. And every once in a while we are brought up short to be told you are puny little things in the hands of the elements. And I don't know if we need to be reminded of that, but somehow I feel humbler after all these incidents than I did before.

SIMON: NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr. Thanks so much.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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