Iran's Top Clerics Call Shenanigans
The Washington Post leads with word from Tehran, where opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi yesterday published a dossier accusing the government's supporters of orchestrating electoral fraud on a massive scale; meanwhile, a newspaper with close ties to the government accused Mousavi of being a "foreign agent" employed by the United States. The New York Times also leads on Iran, reporting that the country's most important group of religious leaders yesterday branded the recent election and the resultant new government illegitimate; the move marks the most significant split in the country's clerical establishment in recent memory and could undermine the ruling regime's efforts to dismiss Mousavi as a traitor.
The Los Angeles Times leads with an investigative report on "storm chasers"—the traveling contractors and insurance salesmen who descend in the aftermath of natural catastrophes, promising to help victims rebuild their lives. Regulators and advocacy groups say the niche industry is rife with corruption, with fraudulent storm chasers preying on both insurance companies and disaster victims. "Every disaster has them," says the leader of one victim-advocacy group. "They're literally like vultures circling."
In a 24-page document released on his Web site, a commission appointed by Mousavi yesterday accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's supporters of waging a massive campaign of bribery and ballot stuffing to ensure their candidate's victory in last month's disputed election. The report stops short of providing a smoking gun but gives the most detailed account yet of the opposition's grievances, accusing the Interior Ministry, which counted the votes, and the Guardian Council, which ratified the election, of institutional bias and accusing the Revolutionary Guard of seeking to influence the election results.
The LAT reports that the release of the dossier came as the editor of a state-owned newspaper with close ties to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni accused Mousavi of shilling for Iran's foreign enemies and demanded that he be put on trial for his "frightful crimes and overt acts of treason." But in a blow for Khameni, the NYT reports that Iran's most important body of religious leaders threw its weight behind the reform movement yesterday, directly criticizing the Guardian Council and accusing the government of betraying the ideals of the revolution. That's arguably the most significant crack to have appeared in the Iranian clerical establishment in the Islamic republic's 30-year history, analysts say, and will make it much more difficult for the government to paint opposition leaders as traitors or criminals.
Of course, yesterday was Independence Day, but while the fireworks popped and fizzed and tourists proposed to one another atop the Statue of Liberty's newly reopened crown, North Korea took the opportunity to thumb its nose at the United States by firing seven missiles into the Sea of Japan. The barrage—the largest such test for three years—was interpreted as a warning against efforts to construct missile shields, which can be vulnerable to multimissile attacks; still, Pentagon officials said newly deployed radar systems would make it possible to knock out any long-range missiles launched toward U.S. territories.
Pyongyang's saber-rattling raised the stakes ahead of President Obama's arrival tomorrow in Moscow, where talks are likely to focus on missile defense and nuclear proliferation. (The NYT takes the opportunity to front a piece eying Obama's youthful screeds railing against nuclear weapons and the evolution of his vision of a nuclear-free world.) The talks will be Obama's first major diplomatic encounter with an unfriendly rival, notes the Post; the NYT says that much will depend on Obama's ability to parse the power dynamic between President Dmitri Medvedev and former President (and current Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin, who is widely assumed to be Russia's true ruler.
The Organization of American States voted late last night to suspend the membership of Honduras, reports the NYT,but stopped short of calling for sanctions against the interim government responsible for the overthrow of elected President Manuel Zelaya. The country's deposed leader repeated his pledge to return from forced exile in Costa Rica later today; the interim government said that he would be arrested if he did so, prompting church leaders to beg for calm. U.S. officials admitted to the Post that they had misread the Honduran political landscape and had been unprepared for direct clashes between Zelaya's populist government and the country's social and military elite.
Back home, the NYT off-leads on news that with real-estate values slumping, record numbers of homeowners are disputing their property tax bills in an attempt to ride out the recession. "It's worthy of a Dickens story," said one real-estate assessor. "These people are desperate." The surge in tax disputes is creating a budget nightmare for local governments; with property tax revenues falling for the first time since World War II, municipalities are having to raise taxes and slash services in order to stay solvent.
Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth pens a lengthy apology to readers after this week's disclosure that the paper sent out fliers apparently seeking to sell lobbyists off-the-record access to journalists and Washington power-brokers. "As publisher it is my job to ensure that we adhere to standards that are consistent with our integrity as a news organization," Weymouth writes. "Last week, I let you, and the organization, down." (Slate's Jack Shafer couldn't agree more.)
And, of course, all the papers continue to ponder Sarah Palin's decision to step down as Alaska's governor. With the soon-to-be-former governor keeping a low profile, the papers were left poring over her Facebook updates in search of edification; little was forthcoming. Still, the Post finds room below the fold for a piece speculating that Palin had grown weary with the scrutiny that followed her sudden rise to national prominence and struggled to reconcile her waning regional popularity with her efforts to regain control of her national image. "Palin simply got tired of the ritual media humiliations, along with the mundane reality of governing," reckons the Post's Howard Kurtz.
Ben Whitford writes for the Guardian, Mother Jones and Newsweek.