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Week In News: Another Shutdown, An Execution And Putin Runs Again

GUY RAZ, Host:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Foreign language spoken)

RAZ: That's Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announcing today that he will seek the presidency of his country a third term that could, in theory, keep him in power until 2024.

James Fallows of The Atlantic is with me now as he is most Saturdays for a look at some of the stories we're following. Jim, hi.


RAZ: Let's start with Putin, Jim, because this happened just a few hours ago. He was, of course, the president of Russia for eight years. He was required to step down four years ago because of term limits. So he became prime minister, now, clearly, this was a holding pattern.

FALLOWS: Sure. And nobody can be very surprised by this news, but that doesn't make it good news. And the reason I say that is it's such a different direction from basically the rest of the world. You see in the Arab countries, there's a moving away from these one-man autocracies that have been there for a long time.

And the other leading autocracy in the world, say, China, has regularized some system for moving people in and out of power. So they have this one-man long-term multi-decade rulers, I think, is somewhat discouraging step.

RAZ: 2024 they're saying.

FALLOWS: Exactly. Yeah.

RAZ: Sticking with foreign news. Most countries are now saying that they will back a resolution in the U.N. granting Palestine non-voting member status if that comes to the General Assembly. That would essentially recognize Palestinian independence. This, of course, leave the United States and Israel very, very isolated right now.

FALLOWS: It does. And this strikes me as a tragic missed opportunity for everybody, including notably the United States and Israel. I remember long ago, I was actually at Camp David when President Jimmy Carter brokered the agreement between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat for the initial Camp David Accords.

And each of those leaders had to move past, way past the sort of extremes of his own constituency to make a compromise. And I think that in the last year or so, it's been Prime Minister Netanyahu who's been most notable for not being willing to do that, not being willing to stop the settlement. So I think this is really a discouraging step.

RAZ: Jim, buried under all of this news, we are about a week away from a possible government shutdown. And I hate to say it, but I'd almost be surprised if Congress was actually functioning properly.

FALLOWS: Yeah, that would be the real astonishment. I've been thinking about all this news we've been having a political dysfunction. And long ago, there used to be a saying in politics, you can't legislate morality. And the point I was getting at was that laws can cover only so much.

And I think as we look at the current Congress, it's not so much that it's rules of operation have changed, it's that the acceptable norms are different. You know, we talked before about the filibuster. Most of the filibusters in U.S. history have happened the last couple of years. It's only been relatively recently that you needed 60 votes in the Senate to get anything done. Until maybe a decade ago, the appropriations process had a kind of order to it. The chairman of committees were embarrassed if they didn't have budget bills prepared in proper time. Now, none of the committees do that.

And there's even - there's an aspect to this, I think, deserves emphasis. Of course, each party has its responsibility for extreme positions. But there's an asymmetry here. The Democrats require the government to work to have their agenda be pursued. The Republicans often argue that the government can't and shouldn't work. So it's more in their advantage to kind of push things to the max as they've been doing.

RAZ: Mm-hmm. Finally, Jim, I wanted to ask you about the two executions this past week both in the South. We'll talk about one of them more in-depth, Troy Davis, in a few moments. But a lot of coverage of these executions.

FALLOWS: Indeed. And I think an aspect of it that I thought deserved even more attention than it got was the activist/one-time comedian Dick Gregory staging a fast outside the execution site of the white man, Mr. Brewer, who'd been convicted...

RAZ: Lawrence Brewer.

FALLOWS: ...Lawrence Brewer, who've been convicting of this horrific murder in Jasper, Texas, I believe, of dragging Mr. Byrd, a black man, to his death. And Gregory was making the case that if you're against the death penalty, you should be against it even for the people who are clearly guilty, or there's no mitigating circumstances, et cetera, et cetera.

And I think that that was also in the context where we see a divergence between the old South and the rest of the country that executions have been going way down the last 20 years in the rest of the country and way up especially in Texas and Virginia. And this adds to the tension of this whole issue.

RAZ: James Fallows is national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can find his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much.

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