Week in Review: GM Stumbles, Sharon Moves 'Forward'

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Scott Simon reviews the week's news with Daniel Schorr, senior news analyst. Topics include General Motors' financial woes and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's move to form a new political party in Israel.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

This week new developments in Iraq as Sunni and Shia groups are both now demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. A toxic spill in China has left millions in the northeast without running water, and, here at home, the US Justice Department has charged terror suspect Jose Padilla with conspiracy. NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DAN SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And the debate over the US role and persistence of involvement in Iraq...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...the debate seems to be widening, and subtly, or not so subtly, changing from a circumstance of whether, to when and if.

SCHORR: Well, I think you have to understand this as being two debates that are being conducted side by side. One is the debate about why are we there, how did we get there, and that is a debate where the administration deeply resents the suggestion that America was misled by a lot of false propaganda indicating into the war. At worst, they say, `Well, we believed it.' And so if you're willing to say they believed it, it was wrong, the intelligence was wrong and they believed it 'cause maybe they hoped to believe it, at least we don't challenge their motives. Perhaps more immediate is what happens now.

We have--a group representing all the three main parties in Iraq have gotten together, and they begin to say now that they want Americans to begin to move out, they want a time line for doing that. According to newspaper articles, you will have the impression that the military people in Iraq are saying that they would like to withdraw three brigades early next year. So the pressure to do something about getting troops out, or beginning to get troops out, or hoping to get troops out, is growing on both sides.

SIMON: It--the report that you refer to, I guess, was tipped in The Washington Post, the US military's preparing to...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...pull out three brigades early next year.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: Now with the administration still saying we're going to stay the course, does this indicate to you that preparations are under way whatever the official annunciations are?

SCHORR: Well, that's exactly right. The military, obviously, will not move out until Mr. Stay The Course, President Bush, says we move out. But they're beginning to say, `Well, why'--you know, they frequently make preparations for something, which they don't do until they're told to do them, and so, as they look around and see the third Thanksgiving having been spent there, they begin to say, `Why don't we just sort of plan for it? Maybe sometime soon we get to do it.'

SIMON: Half step back in history. This week marked the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: And on Friday Bosnia began talks with the European Union on a stabilization and association agreement...

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: ...looking forward to membership in the European Union. What do the Dayton Peace Accords and the experience of Bosnia over the past 10 years suggest to you now?

SCHORR: Well, it's--it may be the first example of American intervention, late though it was, and even though many thousands already had been killed--but one of the few examples where America has moved in along with other countries, NATO countries--has moved in and actually done some good. There is an accord. There is a peace now. As to whether they get into the European Union--first, what they'll have to do is to cut down the number of presidents and unify their government. You would have to have one single unified government to qualify for membership, but that is a task ahead, and they're apparently proceeding to work on the task ahead.

SIMON: We should explain the presidency for the past few years has been kind of a corporatized office shared by various...

SCHORR: Yeah, well, three presidents representing the various groups there, and now their idea is to unify them.

SIMON: A toxic spill in the Songhua River in China has left 3.8 million people in northeastern China without running water, apparently the result of a chemical plant accident on November 13th that sent benzene...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...pouring into the river. The Chinese government is being criticized both for waiting too long to respond and for not telling the world.

SCHORR: Yes. I guess that's the Chinese Katrina, right? Where...

SIMON: Well, with--the world knew, even if the federal government was slow to respond.

SCHORR: Well, that's right.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: But this is just a matter of one more case, whether it be earthquake in Pakistan or whether it be Katrina and--well, what happens there, and China, too. There is something in this age where governments are simply insufficiently responsive to the needs of people. And so why should China be different?

SIMON: Jose Padilla is going to go on trial, but not for wanting to explode a dirty bomb. The indictment delivered against him this week--Mr. Padilla is an American citizen...

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: ...by birth--was unsealed on Tuesday, and he's charged with conspiracy to kill, kidnap and injure people abroad, and also with providing material support to terrorists.

SCHORR: And that may come as a surprise because the last we had read about him, when he was put into jail as an enemy combatant a couple of years ago, well, he was one who talked about exploding a dirty atomic bomb. And the atomic bomb appears nowhere in the charges against him. I presume what that means is that in order to make the charge against him, they would have to make public some information and submit it to the court which they don't want to do for reasons of secrecy and classification. And as sometimes happens, you cannot make your best case against your defendant if it means you're going to give away information in which you have to hold together.

SIMON: General Motors announced a stunning series of cuts this week: 30,000 jobs; they want to close or cut back operations at 12 plants and produce a million fewer cars...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...every year, trying to cut costs by billions of dollars. What does this mean for the US economy?

SCHORR: Well, nothing good, very obviously. You know, I can still remember during the Eisenhower administration when the head of General Motors, Charlie Wilson, said, `What's good for General Motors is good for the country.' If that was true, then what's bad for General Motors is certainly bad for the country. It's not going to be only General Motors but pretty soon Ford is going to begin cutting down. American industry, which once led the world, now has to follow behind. And thousands and thousands of people are going to lose their jobs and there are not very many good manufacturing jobs left.

SIMON: Now the auto companies have to pay a fantastic amount of health-care insurance on each and every employee.

SCHORR: Yes. They do.

SIMON: And they say, persuasively, to many people, this is driving up the cost of cars considerably, and they just can't compete.

SCHORR: I--it's always said that health costs add $1,500 to the price of every car. And that is probably true. And when they were doing well, that was...

SIMON: And it was just like a couple hundred dollars for Toyota, for example.

SCHORR: Which apparently manages to have cheaper health plans. This was wonderful. The United Auto Workers worked out these agreements. Everybody was very happy with them, including, you know, the automobile manufacturers, because it gave them a certain stability. And then came the point where it got to be too expensive and now they're demanding that they be cut down. If not cut down, added to the price of their car, and they say, `We can't make cars anymore.'

SIMON: And I have to ask you, finally, about the dramatic news from Israel, where Prime Minister Sharon, who was one of the founders of the Likud Party, has quit that party to form a new centrist party that's officially registered under the name Forward.

SCHORR: Forward, yes.

SIMON: What's the significance of this?

SCHORR: Well, the significance of this--this is one of the few parts of the world where something quite astonishingly good is happening, and what is happening is that Sharon, who, indeed, helped to found the Likud Party, but then made his Likud people very unhappy by pulling out of the Gaza Strip and--now has some other ideas which lead toward peace. It's very interesting when the biggest hawk suddenly becomes a kind of a dove. And it's--he's going to fall apart, and he's going to have an election, and he may come out all right.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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