Another massive protest is expected in Tehran today; Obama presents financial overhaul plan.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 18 2009 6:42 AM

Iran Tries To Arrest Its Way Out

The New York Timesleads with the Iranians who continued to take to the streets yesterday even as the government stepped up its efforts to quell the unrest by detaining high-profile reformers. For the first time, the Iranian government accused the United States of "meddling" in its internal politics. Meanwhile, the government increased its efforts to prevent Iranian news from getting to the outside world by blocking Web sites, banning journalists  from covering the demonstration, and threatening bloggers.

The rest of the papers lead with, and the Wall Street Journalbanners, President Obama's plan to reform financial regulations, which he officially unveiled yesterday. The proposals put forward by the White House "would affect nearly every aspect of banking and markets," notes the WSJ. The administration urged Congress to act before the end of the year and, among other things, give more power to the Federal Reserve and impose more oversight of the derivatives market. Most of the papers focus on the proposed creation of a new agency "that would thin the alphabet soup of agencies that keep companies from abusing borrowers, savers and debtors," explains USA Today. The Los Angeles Timescalls the creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency one of the "most controversial provisions" in Obama's proposal. The Washington Postpoints out there is such strong opposition to this new agency that it sets up "a high-stakes contest between the industry and the White House for the loyalty of a few moderate senators who increasingly hold the balance of power."

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Partly due to the continuing crackdown on reporters, no one really knows how many demonstrators took part in the mostly silent demonstration yesterday to support Mir Hossein Mousavi. Most papers go with "tens of thousands," but the WSJ goes out on a limb and says there were "hundreds of thousands" of demonstrators. Moussavi called for a day of mourning today for the people killed in the demonstration. On his Web site, Mousavi called the killing of seven protesters by a government-backed militia "an appalling murder." The NYT points out that the senior prosecutor in the central province of Isfahan has warned that demonstrators could be executed under Islamic law.

How many people have died in Iran since Friday's election? Unsurprisingly, no one seems to know. Beyond the seven deaths that have been officially confirmed, there have also been what the WP characterizes as "persistent but unconfirmed reports" that five students were killed during a raid at Tehran University's dormitories. There are also reports that two other students were killed during a similar raid in the southern city of Shiraz. Iran's Interior Ministry ordered an investigation into Sunday's attack.

The WSJ publishes a hair-raising account of one medical student's experience in the Tehran University raid. He and his roommate apparently barricaded their doors and hid in the closet when they heard the militia approaching. He then heard the militia break down doors and screams from students. "When he came out after the militia had left, friends and classmates lay unconscious in dorm rooms and hallways, many with chest wounds from being stabbed or bloody faces from blows to their heads," writes the WSJ's Farnaz Fassihi.

Many Iranians thought they could get a break from politics by watching their national soccer team play South Korea. But, in a surprise move, six of the Iranian players, including the captain, wore green wristbands, a color that has now become synonymous with support for Mousavi. The LAT points out that while the move demonstrated how support for Mousavi has grown, the newscaster on Iran's state-controlled television tried to espouse a different lesson from the game. "During the game today between Iran and South Korea, it doesn't matter which player scores a goal, so long as Iran wins," he said. The WP reports that Iranian state television aired a program called The Green Wave that accused foreign media of fomenting unrest.

In a front-page analysis, the NYT points out that the man many now refer to as "the Gandhi of Iran" is "in some ways an accidental leader." Mousavi gained huge popularity only at the last minute, and it's not even clear "how far he will be willing to go in defending the broad democratic hopes he has come to embody." He was an insider in Iran's political machine and close to the leaders of the 1979 revolution, until he became a member of the opposition for reasons that "remain murky." His contentious relationship with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is well-known, particularly since they clashed often when Mousavi was prime minister and Khamenei was president. But accidental or not, Mousavi has displayed "steadiness" since the election results were announced, which "has helped solidify his role as a leader and has heartened his followers," notes the paper.

In the LAT's op-ed page, Babak Rahimi writes from Tehran and argues against the government claim that while urban Iranians may support Mousavi, the countryside strongly supports Ahmadinejad. Rahimi did "preelection fieldwork" in several southern provinces and "saw far lower levels of support for the president" than he had expected. "In fact, I heard some of the most ferocious objections to the administration in the rural regions, where the dwindling economy is hitting the local populations hard."

Some of the papers try to insert some perspective by pointing out that while Twitter, and other social networking sites in general, have been playing an important part in the demonstrations, that doesn't seem to be how most Iranians hear about what's going on. "Word of mouth is the main way for Iranians to get information about the protests," notes the Post. "All the websites are shut down," a 21-year-old student tells the LAT. "The phones never work. We find out through word of mouth."

The LAT goes on to explain that there is "a loose network of organizers," mostly made up of students and women's rights activists, who guide demonstrators and urge them to remain quiet and not engage the militias. In an effort to make the resistance as inclusive as possible, these organizers also urge demonstrators to refrain from chanting against the Islamic Republic in general. So far, the government doesn't seem eager to carry out a massive crackdown. "Not only would a Tiananmen Square-style massacre sully officials' claims to popular legitimacy, it would create a whole new set of martyrs who could further galvanize a popular movement," notes the LAT. "Such killings paved the way for the 1979 Islamic Revolution."

Stateside, Obama struck "a populist tone" (LAT) when presenting his plan for changes in regulations for the financial industry. The president said the financial industry often surrounds its financial products with such hard-to-understand jargon that the average American has no option but to be left confused. "The most unfair practices will be banned," Obama said. "Those ridiculous contracts with pages of fine print that no one can figure out, those things will be a thing of the past. And enforcement will be the rule, not the exception."

While Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill vowed to get this done by the end of the year, it's clear there are already doubts about some aspects of the president's plan. First, there's the objections to the creation of the new consumer protection agency that business lobbyists are expected to fight. But some lawmakers from both parties have also said they don't feel quite comfortable giving so much power to the Federal Reserve, particularly considering the central bank failed to pick up signs that there was a recession brewing.

The WSJ says many in Wall Street breathed a sigh of relief that the White House proposal wasn't as hard-hitting as many had feared. In a front-page piece that looks into how the plan was developed, the WP says that coming under pressure from lawmakers, regulators, and lobbyists, the "chief architects held firm to a few reforms they deemed the most fundamental to averting another financial crisis while giving ground on nearly everything else." It's clear the White House wants the public to believe it was tough with industry insiders—Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner "silenced" a discussion between lobbyists "with a string of obscenities"—and wasn't influenced by their concerns. So why is the plan so much more favorable to Wall Street than what was initially envisioned? Well, because officials listened to banking regulators and congressional leaders, of course.

The NYT's Joe Nocera characterizes Obama's plan as "little more than an attempt to stick some new regulatory fingers into a very leaky financial dam." Although the breadth of the plan is no doubt astonishing, the president is proposing "additional regulation on the margin, but nothing that amounts to a true overhaul."

The LAT gets its hands on a new report by the Government Accountability Office that states the United States doesn't have a strategy to stop weapons smuggling into Mexico. More than 90 percent of the firearms captured by Mexican authorities that could be traced have come from the United States. Although individual agencies have taken up disparate efforts to combat the problem, "they are not part of a comprehensive U.S. government-side strategy for addressing the problem," states the report that will be released today.

In the WP's Style section, Monica Hesse talks to crisis management professionals who say Sen. John Ensign's admission that he had an affair isn't really that big of a deal and might blow over quickly if he handles it properly. "The message is: Senator, if you want to shock us, you are going to have to do worse than that." More details could certainly come out that would make the whole thing less palatable, but compared with Larry Craig's adventures in bathroom stalls, Mark Foley's exchanges with underage pages, and Eliot Spitzer's visits to prostitutes, Ensign's affair "is really vanilla," as one expert put it.

Speaking of political scandals, John Edwards gives the WP his "first extended interview since confirming the affair" with Rielle Hunter. Of course, he declined to talk about Hunter or whether he was the father of her baby. Edwards didn't rule out returning to politics some day and refused to declare that running for president was a mistake, stating that it's a "very complex question."

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