Ok, this guide is for anyone interested in enabling power management on his or her debian system/laptop. First you need to install a couple packages.
apt-get install acpi acpid modconf
and make sure you don't have apm (the old power management package).
apt-get remove --purge apmd
next, you need to enable the cpu frequency apci control module in the kernel, so do
go to the key "kernel/arch/i386/kernel/cpu/cpufreq" and enable "acpi" (make sure there is a + off to the right) and the appropriate speedstep funtionality for your processor (note that i don't know which processors most of the speedstep choices correspond to, so enabling this is at your own risk).
you're now good to go. you can add the battery monitor to your gnome panel now (or do an "apt-cache search acpi" to figure out what package you need for your particular window manager). suspend the system with
echo 3 > /proc/acpi/state
i'm sure there is more interesting functionality than this (like cpu frequency control), but i haven't delved that deep yet. post any interesting finds here. good luck.