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Week In News: Deal Keeps U.S. Afloat, For Now



PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And it's a lifeline that would have been lost for more than two and a half million people in the first two months of next year if Congress had not acted.

RAZ: President Obama earlier today at the White House after the Senate approved a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut. Mr. Obama urged Congress to extend that cut for the entire year when the legislature reconvenes in January.

James Fallows of The Atlantic joins me now as he does most Saturdays for a look behind the headlines. Jim, hello.


RAZ: So Congress has averted a shutdown for the third time this year by passing this bill to fund the government through next September. But by that measure, Jim, it's been a pretty unprecedented year in Congress - three times, the government almost shut down. But at least this time, it seems like the deadlock was resolved relatively quickly.

FALLOWS: Yes. I think there were two important things that's happened in these last couple of days in the Congress, which showed two different dynamics. One was the extension for at least two months of the payroll tax cut. And I think that reflected mainly the Republicans had put themselves in an awkward position where they were going to be blamed for raising taxes on most Americans at a time where the economy is still in trouble. So I think that was a political calculation. This will be fought out through the rest of the election year.

RAZ: The passage of a budget for the entire government for a fiscal year was something that seemed improbable during these showdowns of the last few months, but I think that reflected a struggle within the Republican Party where the senior leadership - Speaker Boehner and leader McConnell - had been working for a while to have an actual agreement to make the government function. And a number of the class of 2010, the Tea Party Republicans in the House, were resisting that. But I think it showed that these sort of more centrist forces, relatively speaking, within the Republican Party had prevailed for now.

Jim, let me turn to a story that we're watching, a pretty bold popular uprising in a very small Chinese village called Wukan over a government-backed land deal. I'm wondering, do you get the sense that ordinary Chinese citizens seem more confident in their willingness to take on the government?

FALLOWS: You know, this is a fascinating showdown. It really is different from anything that we've seen there in recent years in the sense that the government has essentially pulled out of the city. It's now trying to lay cedars and starve them out. We don't really know how this will all sort out.

It is representative, though, of a kind of tension that's been really building up in the last decade of China's super boom where a lot of the lower and poor classes of China feel as if their land is being taken away for these new developments. And there is this kind of a popular rage.

Interestingly, the villagers there are appealing to the central government to come in and protect them from the local authorities. But I think the main lesson is China, for all its successes, has been building up these tremendous internal frictions.

RAZ: Mm-hmm. Finally, Jim, I want to ask you about Christopher Hitchens. He died, of course, this week after a long battle with cancer. And the tributes to him - from friends and foes alike - have been pretty extraordinary.

FALLOWS: Indeed. I guess we try to account for that. Partly, it's because he died relatively young and quite dramatically and painfully and in a public way. He's been chronicling his dealings with cancer in Vanity Fair. He was technically an extremely, almost uniquely, gifted literary and journalistic figure. I think that he covered a range of things.

What he did very best, I think, was the literary analysis he'd done in various places, including The Atlantic, over the past decade. He also had an extraordinary talent for friendship, which, I think, you see reflected in the people paying him tributes. Also, it should be said, he was a great fan of the honest as opposed to (unintelligible) eulogy or obituary for people.

So he would expect it to be said that in this last 10 years of his life, he had really given himself, I would say, excessively and full-throatedly to the cause of war in Iraq and the battle against what he called Islamofascism, which estranged him from many of his friends and supporters. But he was a tremendously gifted figure who will be missed.

RAZ: That's James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic. He joins us on this program most Saturdays. Jim, great talking with you.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.