In 2011, $5 Gas, Tea Party Power And An E-Book Boom? The new year ushers in a new Congress injected with Tea Party-backed members, not to mention the unofficial start of the 2012 election campaign. For consumers, e-book readers may become as disposable as pocket calculators, and the former president of Shell Oil predicts $5-a-gallon gas by 2012.
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In 2011, $5 Gas, Tea Party Power And E-Book Boom?

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In 2011, $5 Gas, Tea Party Power And E-Book Boom?

In 2011, $5 Gas, Tea Party Power And E-Book Boom?

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Guy Raz is away. I'm Jacki Lyden.

2010, all a matter of historical record now: the grief, the gizmos, the raging partisanship, the dreams - some of them came true and some didn't.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: What is in store for 2010?

Unidentified Man #2: Anti-immigration movement.

Unidentified Man #3: Low inflation.

Unidentified Woman #1: Green jobs.

Unidentified Man #4: The iPad.

Unidentified Woman #2: Justice John Paul Stevens will retire.

Unidentified Woman #3: Locally grown produce.

Unidentified Man #5: The reinvention of television, putting widgets on it for the Internet, but not having 3-D.

Unidentified Man #6: Twitter, Facebook.

Unidentified Man #7: Two-eighty a gallon...

Unidentified Man #8: More homegrown terror threats.

Unidentified Man #9: Health care reform.

Unidentified Man #10: eReaders.

Unidentified Woman #4: The Senate Democrats are going to lose their supermajority.

Unidentified Man #11: Jobs, jobs, jobs.

LYDEN: Predictions from early in 2010. Our cover story today: What lies ahead in 2011 - in politics, technology, and at the fuel pump - would you believe gas at five bucks a gallon?

That's what John Hofmeister, a former president of Shell Oil, foresees for the end of next year. He's the founder and chief executive of a nonprofit called Citizens for Affordable Energy. He says the reason prices will soar is simple: Demand is back.

Mr. JOHN HOFMEISTER (CEO, Citizens for Affordable Energy): American demand has returned to the 2007-2008 levels.


Mr. HOFMEISTER: Asian demand has increased beyond the 2007-2008 levels.

LYDEN: The jump from three bucks to five bucks, how and why does that happen?

Mr. HOFMEISTER: There's a psychology of oil pricing based on fear - fear of shortage, fear of lack of supply. You have all the countries in the world that are importing oil making long-term contracts in the trading marketplace.

And when the president and the interior secretary said in December that we were not going to pursue more offshore drilling, that sent a shock to the world trading marketplace that the U.S., once again, is not going to contribute to the crude oil supply of the world at a time when the world needs more crude oil. That's pushing prices up.

LYDEN: You're a former oil company executive. As you well know, this has been a political issue - drill, baby, drill. Many, many experts posit that we couldn't possibly drill enough offshore oil to really offset this.

Mr. HOFMEISTER: And I'm not proposing that we drill 20 million barrels a day. I'm proposing that we produce 10 million barrels a day, three million more than today, equal to what we used to produce 35 years ago. The oil is there. There's plenty of it if we would give ourselves permission as a people to go make it happen.

LYDEN: I feel a bit like Scrooge. Is this a scenario that will be or is this a scenario that could be? Is this - is there any better-case scenario?

Mr. HOFMEISTER: Well, I think there are some people convinced that we're past oil, that we should leave it in the ground, move on to alternatives. That's fine to say. But in the practical reality of everyday life in a country that has no mass transit system that enables people to travel without personal transportation, in any measure, then...

LYDEN: You're talking about us.

Mr. HOFMEISTER: I'm talking about the United States of America, yes - then we really have no choice with the 250 million cars on the road today but to put gasoline or diesel into those cars, depending on the engine. And we can talk about new ideas, talk about alternatives, but we live in today's reality, not tomorrow's future.

LYDEN: That's John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil Company. He also wrote a book, "Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk From an Energy Insider."

John Hofmeister, thank you very much for coming in.

Mr. HOFMEISTER: Thank you, Jacki.

LYDEN: Now, if gas actually goes sky-high, it could have a profound impact on the political world. Almost as profound, in fact, as the impact the Tea Party had this past year.

Reid Wilson writes about politics for the Hotline at the National Journal. He's fascinated by what role the newly elected Tea Partiers might take in the Republican Party.

Mr. REID WILSON (Editor-in-Chief, National Journal Hotline): Well, I think we're going to see an immediate role with the Tea Party movement and sort of a highlighting of the schisms between the establishment Republican side and this sort of new populist movement.

One of the very first actions that the new Congress is going to have to take is debating a new budget for the rest of the year. Then about a month later, we're going to see a debate over the raising the debt ceiling. This is something that it's really not an option - people have to vote yes. If they don't, the government defaults on loans and the economy goes back in the tank.

However, with these Tea Party members now in Congress, they came to Washington to cut spending. One of the first things their leadership is going to ask them to do is to vote to allow the government to spend more money. That's not going to be something that's very popular.

So I think you're going to see a lot of these Tea Party members really sort of understanding the ways of Washington very quickly, getting their feet in the fire and having to realize, yeah, we have to vote to raise the debt ceiling...

LYDEN: Yeah.

Mr. HOFMEISTER: ...even though we've promised to cut spending.

LYDEN: So the political landscape becomes more complex. And speaking of that, it's astonishing to think 2011 is really the primary staging year for the election of 2012, the presidential election.

Mr. WILSON: That's right.

LYDEN: So, again, on the Republican side...

Mr. WILSON: Again, on the Republican side.

LYDEN: ...who you see as the pro-business, pro-populist candidate? Are the obvious names Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin?

Mr. WILSON: Well, and Mitt Romney really fits in on the sort of more managerial, more business, more establishment side. You've got a number of other governors who are considering running, who would also fit that mold.

Haley Barbour from Mississippi, Mitch Daniels from Indiana, possibly even Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, although he sort of straddles the managerial and more populist side, and then, of course, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, even Newt Gingrich, big names on the populist side who are going to be able to tap into that Tea Party excitement that was so prevalent in 2010.

LYDEN: We know there's going to be a lot of tumult politically amongst the Republicans. Only one candidate can emerge as the winner of the primary. What about the Democrats? Might there be any other serious candidate for president in 2012?

Mr. WILSON: I really don't think so. I mean, the notion that anybody would challenge a sitting president is pretty much gone. Nobody has seriously challenged a sitting president since, you know, since Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter in 1980.

But, you know, President Obama has to reach out. I mean, he's got to rebuild an electoral coalition. And his coalition in 2008 was a - an amalgamation of both liberal Democrats and centrist, even liberal Republicans. He put together coalitions that were able to win states like Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, you know, states that Democrats don't traditionally win. That requires this sort of broad base of support.

President Obama's now going to have to sort of rejigger his entire strategy because he has alienated a number of those portions of the electorate.

LYDEN: Anybody you're going to be looking at to see, you know, who functions best? That's part of the fun of this. Any political stars maybe amongst the new Republican governors?

Mr. WILSON: Well, the new Republican governors, there are plenty. And really, Republican governors are the people who have, in the past, been able to sort of bring a new policy frontier for the Republican Party. That's what they did in 1994 with names like John Engler from Michigan, Tommy Thompson from Wisconsin. There were a number of new governors who really sort of reinvigorated the party.

This year, you got to take a look at somebody like Scott Walker from Wisconsin, Tom Corbett, the new governor-elect of Pennsylvania, Nikki Haley in South Carolina. There are a number of those sort of rising stars who are really going to bring everything to the forefront and try some new things in a different way. And the states can be incubators for ideas at the federal level.

Let's not forget that welfare reform came out of a program that Tommy Thompson tried in Wisconsin. So some of the things that these new governors are going to try now, we may be talking about them in a couple of years on the national level.

LYDEN: Reid Wilson is the editor-in-chief of National Journal's Hotline, thanks again.

Mr. WILSON: Thank you.

LYDEN: In the tech world, 2010 was the year social media exploded. Facebook, for instance, topped half a billion members. But tech writer Clive Thompson sees a reckoning ahead.

Mr. CLIVE THOMPSON (Tech Writer): I think we're going to see a kind of a tipping point in 2011 because a lot of people are becoming uncomfortable with how much they're putting out there. And this is the year we're going to begin to see them scale back a little bit.

LYDEN: And you're basing that on what?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, it's two things. One is that it's what I see happening around me in a lot of people that use it. And also, it reminds me of what we did with the mobile phone. Think about how the mobile phone became mainstream. When it first came along, everyone got overexcited, used it way too much. They were answering the phone at the dinner table, in church, you know, completely inappropriate places. And it took about five years for people to figure out, no, I don't have to answer the phone when it rings.

And I think that same social consensus is going to start to build with social networking, starting this year.

LYDEN: I am fascinated by something - you've written about a program named Broadcastr.

Mr. THOMPSON: Broadcastr, yes. This just got released - it's very interesting. It takes this idea of sort of geographically placed data, like Foursquare, a new step. What you do is you can record a little bit of audio to leave embedded in space so that, you know, when someone goes by there, they'll see a note and think, hey, someone left a message and you can listen to it.

And so, people will do it for playful reasons. You know, they'll leave little messages hidden for each other. Some people will use it to review restaurants. You go inside the restaurant: that was horrible. You know, that was wonderful.

So you're beginning to see this emergence of like really playful, silly, some dumb ways to implant information in geography.

LYDEN: I hope it stays playful. I mean, it sounds fascinating. Here's something. Amazon has sold over five million Kindle since the release of its Kindle 3. What about eBooks in 2011?

Mr. THOMPSON: I think this is going to be a very explosive year for eBooks, because the price of the eBook readers has dropped dramatically. I mean, they've cut by more than half in the last couple of years. I think by the end of this year, you'll see them getting blown out in clearance for like 50 bucks. And that completely changes the dynamic of who's going to buy that device. When it becomes almost as disposable as a pocket calculator, you'll see the vast majority of people switching over to eBooks.

LYDEN: Clive, what's in the offing? What'll get developed?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, you know, in 2010, Microsoft released this cool little thing called the Connect, which is a little device that sits on top of your Xbox. And it looks at your body, and so you can use just waving your arms and moving around to control video games. And that's obviously a lot of fun. People have done, you know, soccer games, dancing games.

But a bunch of hackers immediately set about reverse-engineering it so they could use it to control their computers, and they succeeded. So they can sit there in the middle of the room and, you know, wave their arms to call up their email, or if their hands are messy while they're cooking they could control recipes, you know, by waving their hands and their body.

And over the next couple of years, we'll see the emergence of what you could call gestural interfaces. So the ability to control everything from your audio player to your computer just by waving your hands around almost like Harry Potter-like incantations.

LYDEN: Wow. When I walk in the house and say dust and it does it, I'll think that'll be just fantastic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THOMPSON: Exactly.

LYDEN: That's Clive Thompson, contributing writer for The New York Times magazine, also Wired. Clive, thanks.

MR. THOMPSON: Good to be here.

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