Floods ravage Iowa while Big Oil calls for more drilling.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 16 2008 6:06 AM

Drilling Fields

The New York Times gives more than half of its above-the-fold space to a photo of flood-devastated Iowa, leading with the disaster's impact on crops. The Washington Post leads with an effort in Congress to preserve 2 million acres of wilderness, an amount equal to what it has saved over the last five years. USA Today goes with coming increases in utility bills. The Los Angeles Times leads with a feature on the opportunities presented to state Republicans by California's disastrous financial situation. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with word that Big Oil plans to ask Congress to allow more drilling in the United States. Two Bear Stearns managers may be facing indictments, says a story in the upper-right corner of the Journal's front.

As flood waters roll through Iowa, they are taking a major toll on the area's farms just weeks after the seeds have gone into the ground. With food prices at record highs, it's the last time a farmer would want to lose a crop. More than 1 million acres have been washed out. "In the lean years, we had beautiful crops but they weren't worth much," one farmer says. "Now, with commodity prices sky high, mother nature is throwing us all these curve balls."

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Water runs downhill, and as it does, it will find the Mississippi River, which is expected to crest in the middle of next week. The calamity sent food commodity prices even higher.

A confluence of factors—Democratic control of Congress, communities' increasing recognition that they actually need environments in which to live, and environmentalists' recognition that they must offer concessions to move forward—mean that 2 million acres could be protected under federal control.

"It may not seem like it on most issues, but in this one arena Congress is getting things across the goal line," Mike Matz, executive director of the advocacy group Campaign for America's Wilderness, tells the Post. "Nobody gets everything they want, but by coming together, talking with age-old adversaries and seeking common ground, wilderness protection is finding Main Street support and becoming motherhood-and-apple-pie."

Lawmakers and environmentalists are also raising President Bush's record of opening wilderness to extraction interests as reason enough to reverse course.

In today's USA Today, we learn of nationwide increases in electric bills, the result of climbing coal and natural gas prices. The paper says coal has doubled in the last year largely due to surging demand in India and China, but those two countries certainly haven't doubled their energy usage in a year. Either way, bills are expected to rise by as much as 29 percent.

The L.A. Times offers up a profile in bipartisan cowardice, highlighting a California state budget crisis. Lawmakers have missed the constitutionally mandated June 1 deadline to enact a budget. Democrats are offering a range of new taxes but not specifying what they want to tax, and Republicans are offering a bunch of spending cuts but not specifying what they want to cut. The state GOP is instead using the opportunity to press its legislative agenda: In order to pass the budget, Democrats may need to repeal environmental and labor laws normally addressed outside the spending bill.

The euphemistic-phrase-of-the-year award has a strong candidate in a New York Times Page One piece on Obama's executive management skills. It's important to gauge how he runs a large operation, notes the Times, "as the country absorbs the lessons of President Bush's tenure in the Oval Office." "Absorbs the lessons" is certainly one way of putting it.

Obama, say Timesmen Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg, "is personally even-keeled, but can be prickly when small things go wrong." They call him "a concerned but not obsessive manager" who routinely communicates by BlackBerry—what happens if the president loses his?—and delegates many decisions and most tasks to a core group of staffers. Unlike the current White House tenant, Obama is a night owl, sending messages into the morning hours.

Obama also allows himself to be overruled on issues he doesn't find to be crucial. He apparently disliked the slogan "Change We Can Believe In" and thought his blue and white logo was too corporate and polished-looking.

The LAT fronts a look at the human cost of sugar ethanol and finds it quite steep. Low pay, long hours, and exposure to toxic chemicals make for the foundations of a rotten workday. In much of Brazil, sugarcane is still harvested manually, much as it was by slave labor more than a century ago.

The piece includes the requisite protest-too-much quote from an industry hack. "If there is an industry that has bettered the situation of the worker, it is the sugar cane industry," said Rodolfo Tavares of Brazil's National Confederation of Agriculture, a trade group. "It's an example for the world." No doubt it is.

Democrats may have struck on an ingenious way to deflect Big Oil's demand to open more U.S. areas to drilling: Drill what you have. WSJ reports atop its news box, with an expanded piece on A4, that the amount of available and leased land in production has declined in the last few years and is down to 27 percent. Big Oil says that Congress doesn't understand how the industry works and that it takes time to get land under production.

The Journal notes, however, that Wall Street tends to value oil companies based on reserves, rather than production, providing an incentive for a company to drag its corporate feet. Meanwhile, portraying Big Oil as a collection of greedy scoundrels may not prove politically difficult. The industry is still sending three-quarters of its campaign contributions in the 2008 election cycle to the GOP. In Congress, you often get what you pay for, public calls for more drilling notwithstanding.

Both Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods will live to fight another day—the Lakers head back to Boston for Game 6, and Woods forced a playoff round to begin today. "From an unpredictable lie in the right rough, Woods gouged a wedge out to 12 feet right of the pin. He started to backpedal as the putt neared the hole, paused to make sure it was in, then clenched and pumped both fists toward him with his head to the sky," writes the AP.

USA Today lays the quote from Rocco Mediate, Woods' 45-year-old, peace-symbol-belt-buckle-wearing opponent, across the front page: "Unbelievable. I knew he'd make it."

Ryan Grim writes for the Huffington Post and is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country on Drugs.

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