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Week In News: Scandal In The Secret Service



SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: I'm a firm believer that if the culture of an organization is going to change, or mistakes like this aren't going to be repeated, heads have to roll. And that's why I think you're going to find more heads rolling.

RAZ: That's Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, of Iowa, on the prostitution scandal that's tarnished the reputation of the Secret Service. For more on this story and others, we're joined now by James Fallows of The Atlantic. Jim, happy Saturday to you.

JAMES FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: So three more Secret Service agents are without work today, Jim, in the wake of that scandal - of course, that came to light last weekend - in Colombia. That is now six members of the Secret Service gone because of this scandal. A lot of attention now focusing on the culture at that agency, Jim. But is there evidence that it's going to change?

FALLOWS: I think it almost has to. And I think - you have Senator Grassley saying the kinds of things he did; that's an indication. Here is why I think this is such a big deal, apart from just the titillation. If you've worked with the Secret Service either as a reporter or in government, or even if you've seen depictions of it on TV or in the news, you recognize that - how much of the whole government depends on trust in the Secret Service's judgment; that if there's an attack - for example, of 9/11, Vice President Cheney was just hustled down the hall without his permission by a number of agents; the agents say, you know, where he can go, what he can do, etc.

And so when you have an episode that calls into such gross doubt, the basic judgment of the Secret Service - even though these weren't people immediately around the president - it does suggest that this is going to be a Katrina-like moment for the whole agency, where they're going to have to examine what kind of values they're promoting, and how they're policing them.

RAZ: Jim, for the first time ever, the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, issued new air-quality standards for companies that are involved in hydraulic fracturing or fracking - the method of extracting oil and natural gas from deep within rock formations. The EPA is saying these companies will now have to capture the toxic gases released during the process. A lot of anger about this from both sides - from environmental activists and also from the oil industry.

FALLOWS: You know, five years ago, people had no idea how much natural gas would be provided through these so-called unconventional means, as is the case now. People are suggesting that it could make a major difference in the amount of oil supply that's available from the United States. But obviously, there are problems. There are earthquake risks and groundwater pollution and carbon emissions.

RAZ: As we've seen in Ohio - several earthquakes in the last few months.

FALLOWS: Exactly. And so I think that while these EPA regulations don't deal with a whole spectrum of possible problems and certainly aren't the end of the story, to me, they're at least a heartening beginning of trying to accept a new technology and reign in the problems we know most about right now.

RAZ: Let me ask you about a completely different topic. It seems like another super airline is in the works. American and US Airways appear to be closer to announcing a merger. Will this be good for air travel if it happens? Will it be good for consumers?

FALLOWS: I think counterintuitively, it may be. And I think the main reason would be that neither American on its own, nor US Air on its own, might have the scale and strength and resources to compete in the long run with the newly humongous United-Continental combine, and the Delta-Northwest-associate other airlines combine.

And so it probably is better for the air travel industry, and for consumers, if there are three competitors of scale and who meanwhile, are having some price competition from the likes of Southwest and JetBlue. So I think anything in the airline industry has its ups - I was going to say ups and downs; I meant its goods and bads. But this, I think, is probably better for the industry as a whole.

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's the national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can find his blog at Jim, thank you so much.

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