Week In News: Oil Spill, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' President Obama traveled to Louisiana this week following criticism of his administration's handling of the ongoing oil spill. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it will be months before a new policy is implemented. Host Guy Raz discusses these topics and more with new analyst James Fallows of The Atlantic.
NPR logo

Week In News: Oil Spill, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/127263481/127263466" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Week In News: Oil Spill, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Week In News: Oil Spill, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/127263481/127263466" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

GUY RAZ, host:

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

President BARACK OBAMA: I'm the president and the buck stops with me. So I give the people of this community and the entire Gulf my word that we're going to hold ourselves accountable to do whatever it takes.

RAZ: The president speaking in Grand Isle, Louisiana yesterday.

James Fallows joins me here most Saturdays for a deeper look at some of the stories we're following.

Hi, Jim.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (News Analyst, The Atlantic): Nice to talk to you, Guy.

RAZ: Jim, it may be too early to even ask this question. But you remember Rahm Emanuel's famous quote never let a serious crisis go to waste? I'm wondering whether this crisis in the Gulf might be an opportunity as well.

Mr. FALLOWS: This is about the most distressing story and phenomenon, an event, a catastrophe that has come up in memory. And it - maybe the normal ways in which we try to fix or cope with things may just be beyond technological and political control here.

And so, to my mind, the only way which in history's eyes we could have seen to make something good out of this disaster would be to use it as a political pivot. To say we're going to change our policy about energy. We're going to change our policy about conservation. We're going to change X, Y and Z. And if that kind of crisis goes to waste, I think in addition to the other devastation on this time, we'll say it's yet another missed opportunity to really go on a different path.

RAZ: So, kind of a Sputnik moment, if you will.

Mr. FALLOWS: Yes, Sputnik moment or even - although this is not fashionable to use a comparison - an energy crisis of the 1970s moment, where Jimmy Carter, whose administration I was a part of, said we have to change our mileage standards, the kind of cars we do, the energy efficiency and it actually did make a difference.

So, Sputnik had a military component, of course. That's not present here. But I think if this BP spill were talked about in the long run in the same sort of category as Sputnik, then some good might have come of it.

RAZ: Jim, another story we'll be hearing a lot about in the coming months, even years, is how the military is going to integrate openly gay service members. How does it change the military substantively?

Mr. FALLOWS: It certainly will change in ways large and small. And I think it's right that you emphasized the coming years, because you can think of this as a continuation of two other historic sociological/political/military changes the U.S. military has made in the past 60 years.

One was starting with the time of President Harry Truman of the (unintelligible) integration by race in the military. And then over the past generation or so, the increasing integration of women into roles that have traditionally been reserved for male service members.

Both of those could be done sort of by fiat, by presidential order and secretary of Defense saying things will be X as opposed to the way they used to be.

But also, there are so many textural details of how people live together, how people in this specific military culture, which emphasizes properly aggression and sort of group unity and all the rest, how it accommodates changes to that preserving what's important about military culture, but also adapting to a broader draw of the national force. And so it will take a long time, but I think we see the process beginning now.

RAZ: Finally, Jim, from time to time on your blog, you like to point out examples of what you regard as egregious acts of bad governance. And I noticed a new one today. Can you describe it?

Mr. FALLOWS: On Thursday afternoon, just before the Senate was scheduled to go to its Memorial Day recess, there was a deal to approve about 80 presidential nominees. We've been in backlog for months and months and months. These were ambassadors, Peace Corps officials, military officials and others who are important to the functioning of the government.

But because one senator, the Republican leader Mitch McConnell, objected to one of these appointments, the man for the National Labor Relations Board, he was able to scotch the whole deal. And so those appointments are now in limbo for the foreseeable future. The embassies are empty. The other posts are vacant and this seems to be not a sensible way to run the nation's business.

RAZ: A lot of these people, potential ambassadors are sitting around with bags packed and nowhere to go.

Mr. FALLOWS: Exactly. And their foreign missions are still empty or there's some deputy chief of mission there. And so, yes, it's proper to have debates about the NLRB and the rest. But I think it's time for a reconsideration of the way in which individual politicians can hold up the whole work of government.

RAZ: In the meantime, the system marches on. That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic and a frequent guest on this program. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.

Jim, you're off to Beijing for a week or so, so we'll talk to you when you get back.

Mr. FALLOWS: I'll talk to you then. Thanks, Guy.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.