The Week/the Spin

A Peace Deal by Next Week?

Kosovo update: 1) NATO hit the wrong targets again in Belgrade. A bomb struck a hospital, the Libyan Embassy, and the homes of several European ambassadors, killing four people. NATO’s explanation: The bomb was “misdirected for technical reasons.” The Yugoslav explanation: The sick and the newborn are “NATO’s ideal targets.” 2) Slobodan Milosevic has reportedly accepted a peace plan drafted by Russia and seven Western nations, with two sticking points: He objects to a peacekeeping force composed of NATO troops and to the withdrawal of Serb troops from Kosovo before NATO stops bombing. Russian diplomats say they’re “not that optimistic” about a deal, but a Milosevic aide predicted “a political settlement in the next week.” 3) NATO consensus on the use of force splintered. Britain called for an invasion of Kosovo. Germany threatened to veto ground troops. Italy recommended a bombing halt for several days after a U.N. resolution is announced. 4) The New York Times reported that NATO Commander Gen. Wesley Clark supports stationing troops on Kosovo’s borders. Clark’s spin: Prepping for ground war will force Milosevic to consider a deal. The counterspin: Prepping for ground war will force Milosevic to call NATO’s bluff.

A 15-year-old student shot six classmates at a suburban Atlanta high school. No one died, evidently because he aimed below the waist. He had a pistol and a rifle but only used the latter. Afterward, he tried to shoot himself but couldn’t do it, saying, “Oh, my God, I’m so scared.” Theory 1: He was distraught because his girlfriend had broken up with him. Theory 2: It was the last day of school, and a classmate said, “he’s been wanting to do this all year long.” President Clinton cited the shooting as another reason to tighten gun laws. The Associated Press called it “yet another school attack in a comfortable suburban community.” The reassuring spin: School shootings are unlikely to happen in your community. The cynical spin: That’s what officials in this Atlanta suburb told parents after last month’s Colorado school massacre.

The Senate passed another gun control measure. The Democratic amendment would require background checks for all purchases at gun shows and for anyone who tries to buy back his gun from a pawn shop. It would also extend some background checks from one to three days. Analysts called it another retreat for the GOP–in part due to the Atlanta school shooting earlier in the day–and a big campaign issue for Vice President Gore, who cast the deciding vote after a 50-50 tie. The liberal spins: 1) We’re dismayed by these school shootings. 2) We’re delighted that these school shootings are discrediting the National Rifle Association. 3) Republicans are fleeing the NRA like scalded dogs. 4) Republicans are defending the NRA like mad dogs. The conservative spins: 1) Gun laws are unenforceable. 2) The Clinton-Gore administration doesn’t do enough to enforce gun laws.

Russian legislators approved President Boris Yeltsin’s choice for prime minister. He is Sergei Stepashin, the head of Russia’s police and security forces. This comes a few days after Yeltsin fired then-Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and survived an impeachment vote in parliament. The spins: 1) Yeltsin has broken legislators’ will to oppose him. 2) Legislators blew off their steam in the impeachment vote and had little interest in fighting over Stepashin. 3) They worried that if they rejected Stepashin, Yeltsin would nominate someone worse. 4) They worried that if they rejected Stepashin, Yeltsin might call a new election, threatening their jobs. 5) They figure they don’t need to reject Stepashin since Yeltsin will fire him soon enough.

The Supreme Court struck down two-tiered welfare benefits. This affects 15 states that restrict newcomers to the benefits they had received in their previous states, ostensibly to discourage people from benefit-shopping. Justice Antonin Scalia joined the 7-2 decision. The spins: 1) It’s a victory for the right to welfare. 2) It’s a victory for equal rights. 3) It’s a victory for liberals who want to block states from restricting civil liberties. 4) It’s a victory for conservatives who want to block states from regulating business and restricting property rights. 5) Rather than pay more to new residents, states will equalize benefits by paying less to old residents.

Israeli voters ousted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was soundly defeated by Labor Party leader Ehud Barak after other candidates quit so that their supporters could unite behind Barak against Netanyahu. The spins: 1) Now the peace process can move forward again. 2) The election wasn’t between a hawk and a dove; it was between a dovish hawk (Netanyahu) and a hawkish dove (Barak). 3) The election wasn’t about the peace process; it was about Israel’s tribal domestic politics. 4) The election wasn’t about issues; it was about voters’ belief that Netanyahu is slimy and untrustworthy. Check the latest election results here.

Charismatic is one race away from winning the Triple Crown. Having won the Kentucky Derby at 31-1 odds (the longest long-shot winner since 1940), he surprised the bookmakers again by winning the Preakness at 8-1. A victory in the June 5 Belmont Stakes would make him the first Triple Crown winner in 20 years. He was such a disappointment earlier this year that his owners tried to sell him for $62,500, but nobody bought him. His jockey in both races, Chris Antley, is coming back from a bout with drug abuse in the late ‘80s and a weight problem last year. The spins: 1) It’s “a fairy tale ride” for “the ex-claimer and the comeback kid.” (“From Nag to Riches,” says the Washington Post.) 2) It’s not such a fairy tale for the horse’s trainer or owners, who have already won numerous Triple Crown races. 3) The horse loves being disrespected, and he strutted before and after the race to show up the bookies.

The Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings controversy flared up again. Jefferson’s descendants 1) invited some of Hemings’ descendants to attend an exclusive family gathering (the “Monticello Association”); 2) voted down a motion to eject the Hemings clan from the gathering; 3) voted down a proposal to make the Hemingses honorary members immediately; and 4) appointed a committee to decide whether the Hemingses are real descendants or impostors (despite demonstrated genetic links). The spin from the inclusive Jeffersons: The rest of the family are racist snobs who won’t acknowledge Jefferson had an affair with a slave. The spin from the exclusive Jeffersons: “We’re not racists. We’re snobs.”