Today's Papers

Watts New in Power Politics

The Los Angeles Times and USA Today lead with yesterday’s unanimous vote by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to impose new price restrictions on electricity sold wholesale in California and 10 other western states. This is also the top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page business news box. The Washington Post and New York Times front the restrictions, but both lead with Vladimir Putin’s post-summit assessment of his relationship with George W. Bush and of his future dealings with the U.S. Despite attending the same interview session with Putin, the two papers differ in their emphasis. The Post’s big print is “PUTIN UPBEAT ON U.S. TIES” while the Times’ is “PUTIN SAYS RUSSIA WOULD ADD ARMS TO COUNTER SHIELD.”

The new energy price restrictions (effective through September 2002) apply to the wholesale rates charged by plant operators, and the LAT and NYT explain best what they do in comparison with the commission’s previous price scheme: By applying to the entire region (not just California) and around the clock (not just during power emergencies), they close loopholes that had been enabling electricity suppliers to export their power out of California only to bring it back in under more favorable selling conditions. Even so, the coverage consensus is that the new regs will not provide immediate or noticeable cost reductions to consumers, although they will probably help California taxpayers by lowering the amount the state, which now buys on behalf of its two main public utilities, has to spend on power purchases. According to the papers, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the deal is the 10 percent surcharge power wholesalers are allowed to charge California buyers. Joe Lieberman is quoted in the WSJ saying, “I’d be hard pressed to understand why you’d impose a surcharge on people who already are paying through the nose.”

USAT says that the new rules from the independent energy agency received a “tepid endorsement” from President Bush, who said they were designed to “mitigate any severe price spike that may occur, which is completely different from price controls.” But one agency commissioner is quoted in the WP as saying that the new regime is “a form of price controls.” The LAT says Bush is sounding a “new, more flexible note.”

Although the WP lead has Putin saying the threat of missiles from “rogue states” like North Korea is not realistic, it finds him sounding “far more interested in compromise and even collaboration on a nuclear defense shield than he has in the past.” But it also has this reaction of his to the idea that the U.S. might build a missile shield whether Russia participates or not: “We have offered to work together. If that is not needed, fine. We are ready to act on our own.” But it’s the NYT that goes high with and gives much space to his comment that that would mean upgrading Russia’s nuclear arsenal with multiple warheads so as to be able to overwhelm such a shield.

The coverage has Putin defending the war he’s conducted against secessionists in Chechnya, as well as the report that he defended it to Bush by comparing the situation with an attempted takeover of Texas. There is also his denial that he is selling nuclear technology to Iran. The WP has Putin’s revelation that China’s president told him China is ready to forget about the tensions stirred up with the U.S. over the EP-3 incident.

The NYT fronts a trend among American corporations intent on keeping their rivals from gaining strength through mergers: vigorously complaining to European regulators, who have jurisdiction over deals that would result in more than $225 million in annual revenue from Europe. Examples cited include: United Technologies and Rockwell lobbying in Europe against GE’s acquisition of Honeywell; Disney doing the same regarding AOL’s purchase of Time Warner; ditto Sun Microsystems versus Microsoft; and Advanced Micro Devices versus Intel. And GTE got Europe to block WorldCom’s purchase of Sprint before the U.S. government rejected it, too. The key man in all of this is the EU’s competition commissioner, Mario Monti. The story says that the trend is on the upswing because American companies perceive the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as less likely to press antitrust issues under President Bush than they were under President Clinton.

USAT fronts the No. 2 person at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, saying that the U.S. should get out of the peace-keeping business, leaving that role to countries like Norway and Canada with a long tradition of such missions while saving the U.S.’ unique military capabilities for war-fighting. Wolfowitz’s big problem with peace-keeping missions: They never end. The paper says he cited as an example the nearly 20-year presence of 865 U.S. troops in the Sinai.

Inside, USAT runs comments made to the BBC yesterday by a psychiatrist who had been retained by accused spy Robert Hanssen’s defense team, but who has since been fired. The shrink says that the main factors behind Hanssen leading a double life “had little to do with spying and much more to do with his emotional pain” caused by fear of his domineering and abusive father and an obsession with pornography.

The WP fronts and USAT reefers Cal Ripken’s announcement that he would retire at the end of this season, ending a 21-year career with the Baltimore Orioles. One question the papers don’t answer: Who was the last player to play so long for just one team?

The NYT passes along parts of the cover letter from the IRS that will accompany those tax refunds going out later this summer: “We are pleased to inform you that the United States Congress passed–and President George W. Bush signed into law–the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, which provides long-term tax relief for all Americans who pay income taxes. … The new tax law provides immediate tax relief in 2001 and long-term tax relief for the years to come,” and will be “just the first installment of the long-term tax relief provided by the new law.” The paper says it was sent a copy of the text by outraged career IRS employees who were alarmed by “its political, promotional tone.”

The NYT reports that the head of the group that lobbies for oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been named by Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton as her special assistant for Alaska. That is special.