SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. More sobering news about the nation's economy this week. Employers cut 533,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate hit a 34-year high. Meanwhile, the Detroit Three returned to Capitol Hill to try to convince lawmakers that U.S. taxpayers should bail out the failing U.S. auto industry. And also, president-elect Obama continues setting up his Cabinet well ahead of the inauguration. NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Dan, thanks for being with us.
DAN SCHORR: Yes, good morning, Scott.
SIMON: Good morning. Now, these numbers from the Labor Department, I think we can say - we can fairly use the word scary. More than half a million jobs were lost, and numbers from the previous two months were not much better. We've heard people start to say things like free fall and downward spiral. What's your assessment?
SCHORR: Well, there's nothing free anymore, but it certainly seems to be very serious. The Bureau of Labor statistics says that this is the worst report they've had to give in their whole existence, which I think it's 125 years. And there's something of a shock involved there, and it probably had an effect on what was going on between the government and the auto industry.
SIMON: Well, because, well, the country grapples with obviously high unemployment rate. The automakers - this time, by the way, they pointedly drove their own cars to Capitol Hill instead of flying in corporate planes. How much of a chance do they have to convince Congress to give them some kind of package over the next couple of weeks?
SCHORR: Well, as of last night, I would have said, not very much. But overnight, apparently, something has changed. There seems to be some kind of agreement in principle that has been worked out between the White House and the Congress under which a certain amount of money - I'm not quite clear how much - would be lent to the auto industry, but apparently coming from funds already available from that big package of $700 million that was voted earlier, or the fund which they had given them for better fuel efficiency. Apparently, they're going to draw on that, at least temporarily, and apparently have found a way, having been shocked into - apparently, shocked by the report on unemployment into doing something before they lose another two million jobs.
SIMON: Let me raise another question. Economists speak of something they call moral hazard, and they caution that once you give special consideration to one sector of the economy, politically and morally, how do you hold back from the same kind of service for another area of the economy? I mean, why - if you give assistance to the auto industry because you gave it to the banking industry, how do you refuse it to the retail industry or the newspaper industry or the movie industry?
SCHORR: I don't know how this would rate under moral hazard, but what's obviously true is that they go by what - how much damage can be done if you don't help.
SIMON: President-elect Barack Obama is expected to use his - the Democratic weekly address today to outline his economic recovery plan. He says he hopes to create two and a half million worthwhile, enduring jobs over the next few months. Where are those jobs and can he get Congress to go along with an expensive plan when they're committed in so many directions already?
SCHORR: You know, I think it's remarkable that Obama has said that you can only have one president in at a time. What is not clear is who he thought that president should be. What is really happening is that he's getting ready to take over. There's every likelihood that the Obama camp is trying to work with Congress to get a big bill through the Congress, maybe just in time for him to sign it on his first day in office. I think that's one of the things they would like to see. But, yes. They really are out to get a big, big plan with schools, libraries, roads and so on. This reminds me very much of Roosevelt's New Deal in the Works Progress Administration, of you put in an infusion of money into helping with the infrastructure, and that helps the economy, too.
SIMON: Last night, a report that five guards from the security firm, Blackwater, have been indicted in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad last year. Where do you expect this case to go?
SCHORR: Oh, I expect this case to go to trial. I mean, what seems very clear is that the Justice Department wanted - this was supposed to be confidential, and it was leaked and probably leaked for a purpose. They've just reached agreement on a status of forces, understanding for American troops in Iraq, and now they found out that contractors, even though not in uniform, have to obey the law. And the Iraqis want it to be Iraqi law, and the Justice Department says, here are these people accused of killing 17. We will also try that.
SIMON: Quick question. You saw "Frost/Nixon." Is that the Richard Nixon you knew in that film?
SCHORR: Pretty much. It was the Richard Nixon I knew, except the Richard Nixon I didn't know what the one who in the end would break down and say, mea culpa, I let my country down. That was not the Nixon I knew.
SIMON: OK. Thanks very much, NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr.
SCHORR: Sure, Scott.
SIMON: And by the way, you can see a video of President-elect Obama's weekly address on our soapbox blog. Go to npr.org/soapbox.
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