Ohm Sweet Ohm

Ohm Sweet Ohm

Ohm Sweet Ohm

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 17 2003 8:04 AM

Ohm Sweet Ohm

The New York Times and Washington Post lead with the aftermath of Thursday's sprawling blackout, reporting that power had been restored to virtually all affected areas of the Midwest and the Northeast by midday Saturday. The LAT fronts the post-blackout developments but leads with word that early last month the Pentagon moved to block a report issued by a U.S. military advance team in Liberia that had called for immediate, large-scale intervention in the humanitarian crisis gripping that West African nation.

The papers think things look pretty good with the lights back on, considering the circumstances. Everyone notes the handful of deaths that resulted from the blackout and also mentions the isolated pockets of looting that popped up here and there, but today's theme is by and large one of renewal. To wit, the
airlines say they are creeping toward normal schedules, despite having canceled some 1,700 flights; the subways are back on track in New York; and the light-rail People Mover is once again gliding through downtown Detroit. Rolling blackouts persist in parts of Michigan and Ontario, however, and officials fear they may spread as the demand for electricity spikes with the start of the work week.

Making nice after the brief flurry of cross-border finger-pointing that flared up once the lights went down, U.S. and Canadian officials have announced
plans for a joint task force to probe the still somewhat murky causes of the massive power loss. At the moment, the smoking gun appears to be a set of three power lines in northeastern Ohio, which failed Thursday afternoon after one may have come in contact with a tree. Experts are still unclear exactly how this disruption touched off the wide-ranging cascade that followed, but a piece in the NYT's Week in Review section singles out the connections between separate regional grids as the most likely weakest links. In a front-page piece, the WP mentions that deregulation has increased traffic on some power lines by 400 percent since 1992 and notes that a proposal to beef up oversight of the troublesome inter-grid connections has recently been put forward by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But President Bush is opposed to the plan, as is a strange-bedfellow coalition of Senate Republicans, Southern utility companies, and the Public Interest Research Group, an organization founded by Ralph Nader.

The LAT's lead concerns a 31-person team of military specialists that was dispatched to Liberia on July 7 in order to "make recommendations for an appropriate level of intervention" in that country's civil war. Within 72 hours of its arrival, the group filed a report calling for the immediate deployment of 2,300 Marines and forwarded its recommendations to Air Force One during President Bush's recent tour of Africa. According to anonymous officials who were along on the trip, the report was circulated among representatives of the State Department, the National Security Council (including Condoleezza Rice), and the Joint Chiefs of Staff but was then withdrawn by the Pentagon before the president had seen it. One Defense official told the LAT that pulling the report was "inconsistent with our operational procedures" but denied that the DoD had undertaken a "coverup"; other officials told the paper that the report was held because the team had "exceeded its authority" with its proposals. (The paper estimates that the civilian death toll in Liberia had reached 1,000 by the time the first American peacekeepers came ashore on Aug. 6.) In other news, the NYT notes inside that some officials and aid workers have floated the idea of placing Liberia under
U.N. trusteeship once more West African peacekeepers arrive, an option that was last exercised in East Timor in 1999.

The WP fronts
a report from Iraq about a Sunni cleric who has been providing a prominent Shiite leader with political support and up to $50 million in aid—an arrangement that officials fear could help centralize anti-American sentiment by uniting homegrown opposition across sectarian divides. The story's anonymous sources suggest that Sunni private citizens living elsewhere in the Middle East may be fronting the cash, hoping to undermine Shiite solidarity in Iraq by propping up the faction's more extreme political elements. The papers also mention inside that saboteurs blew up the main oil pipeline between Iraq and Turkey on Saturday, three days after it had resumed pumping crude.

The NYT writes up
a new survey by a British private research group that says that the United States is the fourth most likely country to suffer a terrorist attack within the next year, behind Colombia, Israel, and Pakistan. Security is apparently relative, though: The report judged the decisively not-so-safe North Korea to be the country least likely to fall victim to terrorism.

The  NYT and WP both reefer obituaries of the deposed Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who died in exile in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

The WP goes inside with
a poll in which neither of the major political parties was able to win the approval of a majority of the American people. Republicans found favor with 48 percent of those surveyed, while 46 percent approved of Democrats, figures that were said to have fallen eight to 10 points over the past eight months. And with restlessness in the air, recall fever may be catching on outside the Golden State: Campaigns aiming to remove elected officials are reportedly underway in both  Pittsburgh and Venezuela.

With the re-illuminated East proving that much less evocative after its return to relative normalcy, the papers are looking once again westward in search of striking imagery. A piece in the WP's Arts section, for one, waxes rhapsodic about Arnold Schwarzenegger's
strapping body politic, noting its "soaring V architecture, its bloated but symmetrical arrangement of ripples, tumescences and tubes, its concavities where so few have concavities, its convexities where so few have convexities," and so on. But an oddly moving passage in the NYT turns this conventional wisdom on its ear, painting a disarmingly vulnerable portrait of the musclebound candidate: "Mr. Schwarzenegger, usually magnetic and capable of charming an entire ballroom, has appeared on the campaign trail as something of a nervous hen venturing into a strange barn." 

Benjamin Healy is a staff editor at the Atlantic Monthly.