Supporters of Iran’s defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi are staging a fifth day of protest today to honor persons killed during the mass demonstrations over the past week. Mousavi accuses President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of rigging last week’s election. Hundreds of opposition activists, journalists and intellectuals have been reportedly arrested in recent days, including former Iranian Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi and Tehran’s former mayor Mohammad Tavassoli. Earlier today, Iran’s most senior legislative body, the Guardian Council, said it will meet the three defeated candidates from Friday’s presidential election to discuss their complaints about the poll.
The Iranian government is now accusing several foreign nations of interfering in its internal affairs. On Wednesday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents US interests in Tehran, to protest what it called “meddling” by the United States because of statements by American officials on Iran’s elections.
The US State Department has admitted it contacted the social networking service Twitter to urge it to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut daytime service to Iranians who are disputing their election. Meanwhile, the video website YouTube has said it has relaxed its usual restrictions on violent videos to allow the images from Iran to reach the rest of the world.
In Washington, President Obama has signed a memorandum to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees, but the President did not offer survivor benefits or comprehensive healthcare, drawing sharp criticism from within the gay community.
President Obama: “Today I’m proud to issue a presidential memorandum that paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation’s pursuit of equality. Many of our government’s hardworking and dedicated and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoy for one simple reason: the people that they love are of the same sex.”
Obama made the policy change by issuing a memorandum, not an executive order. This means the policy change will expire when Obama leaves office. Several prominent gay rights activists have criticized the President in recent days for failing to live up to campaign promises. Last week, the administration filed a legal brief supporting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. On Wednesday, however, Obama said he would work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama has also been criticized for not pushing for an end to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Attorney General Eric Holder testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday and refused to declare President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program to be illegal. Holder was repeatedly questioned by Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
Sen. Russ Feingold: “Now that you’re the attorney general, is there any doubt in your mind that the warrantless wiretapping program was illegal?”
Eric Holder: “Well, I think that the warrantless wiretapping program, as it existed at that point, was certainly unwise, in that it was put together without the approval of Congress.”
Sen. Feingold: “But I asked you, Mr. Attorney General, not whether it was unwise, but whether you consider it to have been illegal.”
Holder: “The policy was an unwise one, and I think that the concerns that I expressed then have really been remedied by the fact that Congress has now authorized the program.”
Sen. Feingold: “But did you think it was illegal?”
Holder: “Well, I thought that, as a I said, it was inconsistent with the FISA statute and unwise as a matter of policy.”
The New York Times has revealed that the National Security Agency is operating a secret surveillance database that contains millions of intercepted foreign and domestic emails. The NSA’s database, codenamed Pinwale, allows the NSA to search through millions of email messages, including correspondence to and from Americans. The Times reports the NSA database even includes some intercepted personal correspondence of former President Bill Clinton.
President Barack Obama laid out his vision for reshaping US financial regulation on Wednesday, aiming to tighten oversight of large firms whose excessive risk-taking triggered the global economic crisis. The proposals have been described as the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial rules since the 1930s.
President Obama: “I am proposing that the Federal Reserve be granted new authority and accountability for regulating bank holding companies and other large firms that pose a risk to the entire economy in the event of failure. We’ll also raise the standard to which these kinds of firms are held. If you can pose a great risk, that means you have a great responsibility. We will require these firms to meet stronger capital and liquidity requirements so that they’re more resilient and less likely to fail.”
As part of his proposal, President Obama called for the creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Obama also wants to give the Federal Reserve more power to monitor “systemic risk” to the economy posed by the largest financial firms. The Wall Street Journal reports executive compensation and hedge funds would also face more scrutiny. Bank regulation would be streamlined somewhat. Financial firms would be required to hold more capital.
The Environmental Protection Agency has declared a public health emergency in the town of Libby, Montana, where hundreds of people have died from asbestos contamination. It is the first time such a declaration has been made by the EPA. For decades, W.R. Grace and Co. mined asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in Libby. Last month, executives from W.R. Grace were acquitted on charges of knowingly allowing Libby residents to be exposed to cancer-causing asbestos. The EPA said it will funnel $6 million to provide medical care for people sickened by asbestos from the mine.
US forces have carried out another drone strike inside Pakistan, killing nine suspected militants. The strike occurred in South Waziristan, the region where the Pakistani military is preparing to launch a major offensive.
Meanwhile, in Somalia, the nation’s security minister has been killed in a suicide bombing at a hotel just north of the capital Mogadishu. The blast killed at least nine other people. On Wednesday, the police chief of Mogadishu was killed in a separate attack.
In Tennessee, Republican State Senator Diane Black is refusing to fire a staffer who sent a racist image of President Obama. The staffer, Sherri Goforth, sent out an email with images of all the presidents of the United States. Barack Obama was depicted in the bottom right hand corner only as a pair of bright white eyes on a black background.
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, a prominent Republican activist has apologized after making a joke on his Facebook page that an escaped gorilla from a local zoo was an ancestor of First Lady Michelle Obama. Rusty DePass is the former Republican state elections director in South Carolina.