Week in Review: Obama on Race, Passport Breaches This week, Sen. Barack Obama delivered a far-ranging speech about race in America. And two contract workers at the State Department were fired after illegally accessing the presidential candidates' passport files. Susan Stamberg and Daniel Schorr discuss the week's news.
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Week in Review: Obama on Race, Passport Breaches

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Week in Review: Obama on Race, Passport Breaches

Week in Review: Obama on Race, Passport Breaches

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

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

This week, Senator Barack Obama picked up a key endorsement from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, and he responded to criticisms of his former pastor with a far-ranging speech about race in America.

Senator John McCain set out on an extensive trip overseas to meet with foreign leaders. And two contract workers at the State Department were fired after illegally accessing the passport files of all three presidential candidates.

NPR's senior news analyst, Dan Schorr, joins us. Hi, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Susan, nice to be doing business with you again.

STAMBERG: I agree. Let's start with this really fascinating passport story. So there's two contractors. They were fired for snooping through the passport applications of the candidates. What is to find on a passport? What do you think this was about?

SCHORR: Well you know, this Stanley Inc. has a contract worth $570 million in order to provide what are called support services through the passport division of the State Department.

There is a certain amount of information in your passport file, depending what one's looking for, and I won't try to spell it all out, but it has to do with what countries you may have visited, things about your life.

You know, this whole thing would remind me of something that was called opposition research, in which you would try to get information for opposition research. In this case, however, the targets of it were all three presidential candidates, which would make it unlikely. So it remains something of a mystery, but that this was people digging in for some reason that was not very nice seems to be clear.

STAMBERG: Yeah, Senator Obama picked up a key endorsement on Friday. Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, he said he decided to endorse Obama after he heard that speech on race. How significant is this endorsement, Dan, and what did you think about the speech?

SCHORR: Two questions, yes. That was a very important endorsement because there's been a certain amount of tension between Hispanics and blacks, and there was a question of where the Hispanic vote would end up. This is a very prominent Hispanic, Governor Richardson, and they treated that thing rightly, as a key endorsement.

STAMBERG: And the Obama speech?

SCHORR: And the Obama speech. The Obama speech I thought was wonderful. Here was an easy way for anybody to get into a whole lot of trouble, by trying to repudiate the Reverend Wright or trying to distance himself from him, and that would be, if he were scared, the normal thing to do.

He converted that embarrassment into an opportunity. It gave him a chance to talk at great length about the previous generation of African-Americans and the fact that the younger ones can now perhaps put it behind, but that we must recognize that it is not yet all behind us.

STAMBERG: Senator McCain was busy traveling this week. He went to Iraq, Jordan, Israel. He met with the prime minister of Great Britain, Gordon Brown; the president of France, Monsieur Sarkozy. Is this part of a strategy now to polish his image when it comes to foreign policy?

SCHORR: Susan, everything is part of a strategy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHORR: The only question: What is the strategy? In this case, I would agree with you that since it's constantly said that Senator McCain doesn't have enough foreign policy experience, he's loading up on foreign policy experience, and nobody will ever again be able to say that he hasn't visited enough countries.

STAMBERG: And soon, they'll start looking at his passport even more closely. Anyway, one very grim anniversary this week, five years since the start of the war in Iraq. Vice President Richard Cheney made a surprise visit there. He gave a speech at Balad Air Force Base and said that the troop surge has been a major success. The vice president also stopped in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel - how come?

SCHORR: Well, one thing is that Saudi Arabia must be very important. I'm sure there must be - hey, can you really produce a little more oil than you're producing? The trip to Saudi Arabia would be nothing if it didn't include talking to the king and saying, hey, fellows, we need some more oil.

For the rest, it is simply trying to establish the administration's position in the Middle East, which has been under severe trial so far, and it fits the pattern of trying to show by constant traveling that you're doing something, but motion is not the same as action.

STAMBERG: Let's talk about the economy, up and down, roller coasters, a partial recovery this week of stocks after last week's slam-down in the wake of the Fed's emergency bailout of Bear Stearns. Should the Federal Reserve be in the business of bailing out investment banks, Dan?

SCHORR: Well, considering the alternative, they probably have to do it, but as happened during the 1929-1930, when the federal government also came in to provide help, there was a price to pay, and the price to pay was regulation. I doubt, however, whether this administration will go to Congress to get some regulation.

STAMBERG: Regulation has been anathema as a concept in this country since the Reagan administration, so - at least…

SCHORR: Exactly right, exactly right.

STAMBERG: Thank you very much. Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure, Susan, a pleasure.

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