Today's Papers

Obama Throws Gays a Crumb

The New York Timesand Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with the latest from Iran, where the Guardian Council’s announcement that it would allow a limited recount of ballots from last week’s presidential election didn’t stop supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi from taking to the streets again. Pro-government supporters also held a rally in Tehran to support President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and chant, “Rioters should be executed!” Mousavi and other reformist politicians rejected the recount plan, insisting that a new election would be the only acceptable solution.

The Washington Postleads with word that the CIA is trying to get the White House to not release “significant portions” of a 2004 report on the agency’s interrogation program. Specifically, the CIA wants to keep out of the public eye passages that describe how these detainees were handled. A heavily redacted version of the 2004 report—”the most definitive official account to date of the agency’s interrogation system”—was released last year, and the administration had vowed to review it and release any more material by the end of this week. But the CIA still hasn’t sent the document to the White House or Justice Department for review. Some intelligence officials say the CIA is doing the right thing, but others insist that most of what is in the report is already widely known. USA Todayleads an interview with the director of the Congressional Budget Office, who warned it won’t be easy for President Obama to achieve savings while reforming health care. He recognized it’s possible to “reap savings in the health sector without harming health,” but it will involve difficult choices. “It’s going to be a long, hard slog,” he said. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with the continuing battles in California over how to reduce the state’s budget deficit. A legislative budget panel refused to endorse some of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deepest proposed cuts and voted to increase some taxes. Schwarzenegger has vowed to veto any tax increases, so the fight continues.

Iran’s government ramped up its efforts to prevent news from inside the country from getting out by revoking press credentials and ordering journalists not to do any reporting on the streets. Foreign journalists and Iranians working for international news organizations are now only allowed to report by telephone, without leaving their offices. The papers point out that government supporters and the country’s state media have been eager to blame foreign media for the recent upheaval. The effect of the clampdown is evident in all the papers, which have far fewer details about yesterday’s events than in previous days. The government is also evidently trying to make sure potential troublemakers are out of the street. Yesterday, men that the WSJ describes as “[t]wo of the reform movement’s leading faces” were arrested.

The rallies yesterday were largely peaceful. But in a must-read piece, the WSJ’s Farnaz Fassihi is alone in vividly reporting how the opposition rally erupted in violence when “a group of plainclothes militia dressed in black and riding motorcycles approached the crowd.” The militia opened fire and shot a man in the neck. “Blood gushed out of his wound as he pressed his palms on his neck and color drained from his face,” writes Fassihi.

Mousavi had called for a demonstration at 5 p.m., but then told supporters to stay away when pro-government forces announced they would stage a rally of their own in the same space one hour earlier. State television heavily promoted the pro-government rally and then covered it extensively. The NYT says there were apparently “less than 10,000” pro-government demonstrators, and the LAT hears from witnesses “that many of the placards and slogans … were in support of Khamenei rather than Ahmadinejad.” For their part, opposition protesters managed to work around communications outages to quickly stage a large, silent march in north Tehran. The numbers didn’t match those from Monday’s huge demonstration, but still tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets.

The NYT highlights that reformist politicians are trying to garner as much support from religious leaders as possible. The LAT notes that Iran’s leading dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, called for three days of mourning starting today for those killed in the demonstrations. Reformist cleric Hadi Khamenei, who is the brother of Iran’s supreme leader, said an independent commission should be set up to review the ballots. Protesters are planning another rally today in Tehran.

In a piece inside, the WSJ points out that the way the Iranian government has chosen to limit access to the Internet shows “the growing technical skill of the country’s Web censors.” Rather than cutting off access entirely, or just outright banning certain Web sites, the Iranian government is taking “a more nuanced—and technically difficult—approach: allowing the Internet to operate, albeit at a slower speed, while using a more centralized approach to blocking specific Web sites.” Some think this might be a way for the Iranian government to claim it never shut off access to the Internet, even if it has made it virtually unusable for most. But apparently that’s not enough. Early morning wire stories report that the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s most powerful military force that answers to the supreme leader, warned that if Iranian Web sites and bloggers don’t remove information that could “create tension,” they would face legal action. In what could turn out to be an eerily prescient op-ed piece, Danielle Pletka and Ali Alfoneh write in the NYT that “you don’t have to be paranoid to wonder if events were following a script” that would end with the Revolutionary Guards having the perfect excuse “for an ovewrhelming assertion of domestic power.”

Wait, wasn’t Bill Keller on the scene? The NYT’s executive editor, who was a foreign correspondent for many years, will surely have some prescient analysis on the situation, right? No such luck. In a “reporter’s notebook,” Keller uses an anecdote about how he couldn’t Google John Lee Hooker’s name in Tehran—”Oh. Of course. ‘Hooker.’ “—to try to psychoanalyze Iranians and figure out “why so many of their compatriots put up with—indeed, welcome—the paternalism of their quasi theocracy.” Among the pearls of wisdom he gets from “cosmopolitan Iranians”: “We are like sexually abused children.” OK then. All fine observations to be sure, but when the country is falling apart? To be fair, at the end of the piece Keller does relate a scene from Monday’s protest in Ishafan, Iran’s third-largest city. Reports from outside Tehran have been scant, so the fact that the “police response seemed far tougher” there than in the capital is particularly significant.

Obama continued to try to keep a comfortable distance from the events unfolding in Iran, although he did appear to give more support to the demonstrators yesterday. When people discuss whether the White House should get more involved as the events unfold, it’s usually talked about as an all-or-nothing proposition. But in the WSJ’s op-ed page, Dan Senor and Christian Whiton write that by using the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine as a model, there are some clear steps the White House could take to help the protesters without getting involved to such an extent that it would be harmful. The administration needs to be making an effort to speak directly to the Iranian people while always remembering that reformers are the ones who need to “call the shots and indicate how much and what U.S. assistance they want.” At the very least, the administration could immediately increase funding for Radio Farda so Iranians can get more independent information, and give grants to private Iranian groups that could help circumvent Internet restrictions.

The LAT off-leads, and the NYT fronts, word that Obama will extend benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. While the LAT says that will include health care, the NYT hears that “he will stop short of pledging full health insurance coverage” because that might require Congress to get involved. Obama has been under fire from gay rights supporters, who say the president made a lot of promises during the campaign that he now seems in no hurry to fulfill. The outrage has been particularly intense lately since the Obama administration filed a legal brief last week defending the law that forbids federal recognition of marriage between members of the same sex. Due to this increasing disappointment in Obama’s administration, gay rights supporters couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for the news. An adviser to the Clinton administration on gay issues tells the NYT that “more important now is what he says tomorrow about the future for gay people during his presidency.”

The WP fronts news that Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada admitted he had an extramarital affair with a former member of his campaign staff who is married to a former Senate staffer. The affair apparently began in December 2007 and lasted until August 2008. Neither the husband nor the wife has worked for Ensign since May 2008. The WP notes Ensign was “considered a rising star” in the party and had recently made a visit to Iowa in what many saw as an attempt to test the waters for a presidential run.

The NYT and WP front, and everyone covers, Obama’s plan to overhaul financial regulation, which he will officially release today. The administration’s proposal doesn’t really contain any surprises as most of the big elements had already been covered by the papers. The NYT once again informs readers that Obama listened to a wide variety of voices before coming to a decision. Many have been complaining that the final product doesn’t go far enough, and Obama pretty much admitted that his administration was careful not to be too ambitious when he chatted with CNBC yesterday. “We want to do it right. We want to do it carefully. But we don’t want to tilt at windmills,” he said.

The NYT reports that Cave Creek, Ariz., selected its newest town council member with a deck of cards. Two men received the same number of votes for a seat on the council, so a game of chance was used to select the winner. This is all apparently allowed by the state’s Constitution, and “a handful” of local elections in Arizona have been decided with the help of cards or dice. “It’s a hell of a way to win—or lose—an election,” said the 64-year-old retired science teacher who lost his seat on the council when he selected the six of hearts.