The New York Timesand Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with, while the Los Angeles Timesand Washington Postdevote their top nonlocal spots to, news that Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska was indicted on public corruption charges. Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, was charged with seven counts of making false statements on his financial disclosure forms about more than $250,000 in gifts from VECO Corp., an oil-services company. The indictment states that Stevens "knowingly and willfully engaged in a scheme to conceal" the gifts, which included extensive home renovations and a Land Rover, among other items. "I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that," Stevens said in a statement. The indictment clearly clouds Stevens' bid for re-election this year, and Democrats quietly celebrated as they savored the prospect of winning a Senate seat in Alaska for the first time since 1974.
USA Todayleads with a look at how environmental groups and big businesses are filling a void left by the government by directly cutting "unprecedented deals" that involve trade-offs between new development and conservation. The deals permit businesses to carry out new projects, such as oil drilling or the construction of new power plants, without worrying about opposition from environmental groups. In exchange, companies often agree to preserve undeveloped land or to adhere to strict environmental standards. "These private deals are a pragmatic way to accomplish good things," an environmental lawyer explained.
The NYT and WP point out that Stevens is the highest-profile figure to be indicted in a wide-ranging political corruption investigation in Alaska that was launched in 2004. He also has the rare distinction of being the first sitting senator to face criminal charges in 15 years. And there might be more coming. The WSJ points out that the "indictment was narrow" but the FBI is still investigating "a variety of real-estate deals in Alaska and elsewhere" and is looking into whether friends of the senator benefited from specific earmarks or federal spending that Stevens supported. And there's a lot of that to look into. The LAT notes that Alaska has received the most "pork per capita every year since 1999."
It's no coincidence that Stevens' home state has received so much money from the federal government over the years. He's a powerful senator who has served in some of the chamber's most powerful positions, including as a chairman of the appropriations committee. Everyone describes him as an outsize figure in his home state who was once described by a local paper as "the second-largest engine of the Alaska economy." But the light has been fading, and there were already signs of trouble in his political future before the indictment became public. A poll released earlier this month showed Stevens trailing his Democratic rival by nine percentage points. But before he worries about that election, he must first beat six Republican challengers in the state's primary next month. The LAT reports that some think Stevens might decide to back out before the primary rather than risk losing his seat to a Democrat.
In the Post's op-ed page, Michael Crowley, a senior editor at the New Republic, writes that if Stevens is convicted, "few tears will be shed" for the "meanest man in Washington." Throughout his years in the Senate, "Stevens cultivated a tyrannical image and personalized politics to an extreme degree, dividing the world into friends and enemies," Crowley writes. One of his most famous outbursts involved a promise to travel the country to campaign against every senator who had helped defeat efforts to open an Alaskan wildlife refuge to oil drilling.
Well, in reality, there might be a few tears shed by Republicans. Then again, this was merely the latest in what seems to be an endless stream of bad news for the GOP, so the reaction might not be as dramatic. "We've had nothing but challenges all the way through, so what else is new?" said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. The WP notes that some think the Stevens indictment might even help Barack Obama win in a state that hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.
The NYT, WP, and WSJ all front the collapse of global trade talks in Geneva after seven years of negotiations. Everyone sees it as a sign of the growing power of developing countries, particularly China and India, to set the global agenda. The talks formally broke down after India and China refused to give up the power to increase tariffs on crops if there is an increase in cheap imports. The so-called Doha Round of talks is now "dead in the water," says the WSJ, and there's little hope that it will be revived anytime soon. Many had described it as the last chance to increase free trade worldwide before protectionist sentiments take over in weakening economies. USAT says that the "talks' failure may mark a watershed after two decades of increasing globalization."
The NYT fronts word that the CIA's deputy director recently traveled to Pakistan to confront some of the country's most senior officials with evidence that members of Pakistan's spy service have deep ties to militants operating in the practically lawless tribal areas. The fact that these ties exist is hardly new, but the White House has often steered clear of directly criticizing Pakistan for fear of alienating an ally. The NYT describes the decision to have such a senior CIA official pass on the message as "an unusual one" and says that it could be "a sign" that the relationship between the two countries' intelligence services "may be deteriorating."
Although talks between Washington and Baghdad about a long-term security pact seemed to have reached a deadlock last month, the WSJ reports the negotiations started to move forward after the White House agreed to a "general time horizon" for troop withdrawals. There is still no agreement on a pullout date. While Iraqis are pushing for a 2010 withdrawal, a compromise could tack on a year or two to that goal, along with the necessary caveat that the plan could change if violence increases.
The WP devotes a front-page story to looking into the allegations John McCain and his allies have been repeating over and over again in the last few days claiming that Obama canceled a visit to a military hospital in Germany because he was forbidden from taking reporters along. This is all part of McCain's strategy to portray Obama as a shrewd political operative who has no real interest in the well-being of American troops. There's just one problem: It's not true. Obama's campaign didn't help itself by "offering slightly different reasons at different times" for canceling the visit. But ultimately, "there is no evidence that he planned to take anyone to the American hospital other than a military adviser," says the Post.
Devoting front-page real estate and more than 1,000 words to debunk what seems to be a clearly scurrilous attack could be overkill, but, as the NYT points out in a piece inside, McCain's claim has received lots of attention lately. The Republican released an advertisement detailing the claim, and although it ran as a paid commercial "roughly a dozen" times, it has been shown repeatedly on newscasts across the country. This all amounts to "a public relations coup" for the candidate who was able to get millions to see his ad, mostly without paying a penny.
The WP fronts news that Scrabulous, a popular Facebook application, was disabled for U.S. and Canadian users of the social networking site. The companies that own the Scrabble trademark, Hasbro and Mattel, had been asking Facebook to take down the application since January, but the action was taken only after a lawsuit was filed last week accusing Scrabulous of copyright infringement. "I was getting creamed, so it's probably a good thing in that respect," a Scrabulous fan tells the Post. "The country is probably 10 percent more productive today."