Today's Papers

Inside the Crackdown

The Washington Post leads with an inside account of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s brutal crackdown in the aftermath of his apparent defeat in the country’s March election. Based on minutes from Cabinet-level meetings and interviews with participants, the Post reports that the Zimbabwean leader had initially been willing to step down but was persuaded by his military chief to remain in power, forcing a bogus run-off election and mounting a campaign of violence against opposition supporters. The New York Times leads on word that the Securities and Exchange Commission is preparing for a major regulatory overhaul, prompting concerns that Bush appointees may seek to dilute rules designed to prevent dodgy bookkeeping and corporate corruption.

The Los Angeles Times leads locally, reporting on a wildfire threatening thousands of homes in Goleta; about6,600 acres have already been consumed, and firefighters said gusty “sundowner” winds could cause the blaze to spread. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, and splashes above the fold, news that tomatoes may not be responsible for a recent spike in salmonella cases, despite official warnings that have reportedly cost the tomato industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales; government food-safety experts now believe that jalapeno peppers may have been to blame for the outbreak.

The morning after his election defeat, Robert Mugabe told aides that he would give a televised concession speech—but the Post reports that his military backers told him the decision was not his to make. Instead, they launched a new election, along with a campaign code-named CIBD— Coercion, Intimidation, Beating, Displacement—that left dozens dead, thousands injured, and hundreds of thousands homeless. The intensity of the violence, orchestrated by about 200 senior army officers, apparently shocked even members of Mugabe’s inner circle; it also forced the opposition’s leaders to stand aside, leaving Mugabe and his supporters to claim victory.

The SEC is planning new rules allowing companies to bypass many domestic financial regulations and shift to international rules and oversight. Accounting experts say the move might allow companies to boost their revenue and earnings by 6 percent to 8 percent; it would also, however, weaken regulation of the financial instruments responsible for the current housing crisis. One legal expert says the plan amounts to outsourcing the regulation of securities: “We would not for a moment tolerate having American auto safety standards set by China or India,” he said. “Why should we do it for financial safety standards?”

Everyone fronts news of the death of conservative icon Jesse Helms, who passed away yesterday at 86. There’s plenty to look back on: Helms spent three decades in the Senate, helped to elect Ronald Reagan, and played a pivotal role in the rise of the modern conservative movement; he also earned opprobrium from liberals for his views on race, homosexuality, and abortion. On the WSJ’s op-ed page, John Fund argues that Helms was not a cartoon villain, but rather a “courtly, principled conservative”. Either way, the paper notes, the old cold warrior would probably have liked the idea of dying on July 4.

More details emerged yesterday about the Colombian hostage-rescue operation: It turns out that one Colombian agent faked a Crocodile Dundee-style Australian accent while talking to the rebels while other agents posed as journalists and shot video footage of the entire operation. The Post and the NYT pore over the video clips, while the WSJ ponders the precise level of U.S. involvement. In a front-page report, the LAT eyes the declining fortunes of Colombia’s rebels, who just six years ago threatened to overrun the country; writing for the Post, Edward Schumacher-Matos says the rescue is a vindication for Alvaro Uribe’s tough tactics but frets that the Colombian president may now seek to ride that momentum to an unconstitutional third term in office.

The Post off-leads on word of the Bush administration’s behind-closed-doors deal  to allow hundreds of thousands of acres of Montanta’s mountain forests to be converted into residential lots. Local officials say they’ll try to block the move, which bypassed environmental assessments and was agreed to without public consultation.

Iraq has seen a rash of female suicide bombers in recent months, reports the NYT, apparently carried out by women who had lost family members in fighting with U.S. or Iraqi troops. The  bulk of the bombings have come in Diyala province, where al-Qaida in Iraq has strong support; security officials say insurgents may be recruiting women because they are generally searched less thoroughly at checkpoints.

President Bush gave his last Independence Day address yesterday at a naturalization ceremony at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home; the NYT and the Post both report on anti-war protesters who repeatedly interrupted Bush’s speech to call for his impeachment. Meanwhile, Barack Obama attended an Independence Day parade in Montana; the Post considers his chances  of tipping the state into the Democratic column, while the NYT eyes his continuing attempt to win over anti-war voters.

A 19-year-old student from Minnesota could face jail time after being charged with a felony for trying to sell his vote on eBay; he had reportedly set a minimum bid price of $10. “We’re not humorless,” the county attorney told the NYT. “But we decided it’s something we just couldn’t blow off.”