Week In News: Domestic Oil Drilling

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President Obama switched gears on the issue of domestic oil drilling Saturday, announcing that he will extend leases for oil companies to drill in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, joins host Guy Raz to discuss this and the week's other top stories.

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

President BARACK OBAMA: Last year, America's oil production reached its highest levels since 2003. But I believe that we should continue to expand oil production in America.

RAZ: That's President Obama from his weekly Saturday morning address. The president has now ordered the Interior Department to speed up oil and natural gas drilling in the United States.

For more on that story and others we're following, we're joined by our friend James Fallows of The Atlantic.

Jim, good to have you here.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Hello, Guy.

RAZ: I want to start with the president's announcement today. Gas prices are averaging $4 a gallon. Republicans accuse him of not tapping into domestic sources of oil and gas. So he has ordered the Interior Department to go ahead and speed up this process. Is this why he's doing it now? Is this political pressure?

Mr. FALLOWS: Sure. This has to be a political move just because by definition, it would be years and years before these new leases could have any effect on the energy supply.

And strictly as politics, you have to say this is preferable to the response during the previous gas price spike during the 2008 campaign, where several of the candidates, not Obama, said the answer was to have a gas tax holiday.

RAZ: Right.

Mr. FALLOWS: But I think that the real political answer here in the deepest sense is a reminder of how dealing with energy problems is an all front effort. There is no cheap or easy or consequence-free source of energy in the long run. Nuclear has its problems. Renewables are expensive. So this is one more reminder of that fact.

RAZ: Later in that speech, which, of course, anyone can read online, the president went after the oil companies. He's done this before. It's a populist move. He's basically saying they get $4 billion tax break and Congress is supposed to be voting on ending those tax breaks next week. That doesn't seem likely. So I guess this is all part of that whole thing.

Mr. FALLOWS: Sure. And if you think that there's any industry, which at the moment seems the least deserving or sympathetic candidate for tax breaks, it would be the oil and gas companies right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Jim, I want to go in a different direction, because as you know, this week, just as news came out that the president plans to address the thorny topic of the Middle East, his top envoy to the Palestinians and Israelis, George Mitchell, quit. And most people say out of frustration.

Mr. FALLOWS: And that would certainly be a reasonable response by former Senator Mitchell. Certainly, the omens look unpromising for the next couple of years because of domestic politics within Israel, especially about settlements and about the recent developments on the Palestinian side, especially statements by Hamas.

I think also a reflection here is some of the limits of what you could think of as the super negotiator model that many presidents have applied over the years.

Senator Mitchell actually did this successfully under President Clinton when he brought together the Northern Ireland factions and Richard - the late Richard Holbrooke had done it during the Dayton Peace Accords. But often in the American history, this model has led to some disappointment. I think Senator Mitchell is seeing that now.

RAZ: Finally, Jim, Facebook versus Google. It seems that Facebook, which is a company that talks a lot about transparency, has done something pretty underhanded. They hired - apparently hired a prominent PR firm to anonymously encourage reporters to write nasty things about its rival Google. What do you make of that?

Mr. FALLOWS: I think this is bad. It's bad for Facebook. It's bad for Burson-Marsteller, the PR company. You know, every big company has its problems, and Google itself has all sorts of lawsuits all around the world. But I have a constructive suggestion here. Google has used its motto, don't be evil, and is often being criticized for not living up to that model. I think the new motto for Facebook could be, be less evil.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: OK. Maybe they'll take you up on it. That's The Atlantic's national correspondent James Fallows. He joins us here on this program most Saturdays.

Jim, thanks.

Mr. FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

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