SUSAN STAMBERG, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Susan Stamberg.
This week the Labor Department's unemployment report brings more bad news for the U.S. economy. Iraqi and American forces struggled to control Shiite militias in Basra, and the presidential candidates still on the trail - all three of them.
NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us as just one of you. Hello, Dan.
DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Susan. We're on the trail too.
STAMBERG: I guess. Fascinating poll results this week from CBS News and the New York Times. Eighty-one percent of Americans think that this country is on the wrong track. That's some big number.
SCHORR: I think it's probably the biggest number I've ever seen for being on a wrong track. Clearly you're looking at an American public which is partly confused and partly angry about the way things are going. I think that 81 percent figure comes probably equally from two big issues: the economy at home, which I think is for most Americans a primary issue, and then the war in Iraq. And they add up to 81 percent.
STAMBERG: Yeah. And on the economy, unemployment figures have come out as well. U.S. economy losing 80,000 jobs in the month of March, and that was the third consecutive month of job losses. So, can anyone still raise doubts over the notion that we are in a recession?
SCHORR: I don't think they're even trying anymore. The Treasury secretary, Paulson, said we may be in through(ph). I mean, it's a game they play, apparently, when you say recession then things have to happen. And so they prefer not to call it that but it's kind of silly. It's a recession.
STAMBERG: Mm-hmm. Let's talk about the war now. Last week there was a crackdown on Shiite militias in Basra and it showed some serious cracks, breakdowns in the mission…
SCHORR: Oh my God…
STAMBERG: …over there.
SCHORR: …oh my God, yeah.
SCHORR: Mind you, this is Prime Minister Maliki's army, which the United States is backing with as much funding and as much training as you can give it. On their own, the Iraqi government decides it's going to get rid of the Shiites who are holed up in Basra.
They attacked, they thought they would clean them up and lo and behold, they were pushed back. They didn't make it. And this new U.S.-supported army on its first trial of a real, real fight lost. And that, of course, is really quite alarming.
STAMBERG: Yes, but also there were the disappearances. There was something like a thousand Iraqi soldiers who either deserted or refused to fight. And the Iraqi officials eventually had to step in to broker a ceasefire.
SCHORR: There's no real strategy there, and they really have to look for what it is they're trying to do, what it is they can possibly succeed in doing. To go in and say we're going to clean up Basra in an attack and failed to do it, that's very bad.
STAMBERG: Mm-hmm. There was a meeting of NATO members this week. President Bush went to it. And on one of the key issues whether Georgia and the Ukraine are to be admitted to NATO. The president said that should happen but the Russians are against it. What's the reasoning?
SCHORR: Well, the Russians are very unhappy about what they consider to be containment of Russia by these outside powers. And the idea of expanding NATO up to the borders of Russia hits them very hard, and they're prepared not to stand for it.
STAMBERG: In the meantime the president goes to meet Russian leader, Mr. Putin. They began their relationship in a rather cozy way at the start of this administration. Bush saying he could look in the soul of this man and…
STAMBERG: …he saw someone he could reach out to. Now, things have certainly chilled over time.
SCHORR: The one thing that Russia really wants to stop is the Bush plan to build a missile defense system and put elements of it into Poland and into the Czech Republic. The Russians say you'll really look as though you're looking down our throats if you do that. They oppose it and they're lost in the case of the Czech Republic where it's going to happen.
But Poland says they're not ready to go along with this yet until they get more and more assurances.
STAMBERG: Mm-hmm. Back home again on the various campaign trails. You have Senator Obama raising $40 million last month. Dan, what was it that Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois said years ago about money like that?
SCHORR: Oh dear, yes. He once said, you know, a billion here, a billion there -after a while it gets to add up to real money, you know.
STAMBERG: So there's Obama with 40 million - he's got a few billion to go. But he's closing in on Senator Clinton in Pennsylvania. Also the Clintons releasing their tax returns.
SCHORR: Well, apparently there's nothing wrong with the return as far as we yet know. I found very interesting that since leaving the White House the president, assuming with his wife, have earned $100 million…
SCHORR: …in lecture fees and other such things. Boy, there's nothing like being an ex-president.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STAMBERG: I guess, and the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain. He talked a good deal this week about his military…
STAMBERG: …experiences, his years as a prisoner of war…
SCHORR: Well, not just in the military. You know, he talked about his youth, he talked a lot about frequenting strip joints. He talked about fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy. This is a new kind of thing where you go around poking fun at yourself or telling about how you were when you were a kid and all of that.
And apparently wherever he goes, they're lapping it up.
STAMBERG: Thanks very much. NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.
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