The Week/the Spin

The NRA Shoots To Kill

The House passed compromise gun control legislation. The measure requires background checks on gun-show sales but reduces the time authorities have to perform them from three days to one. A tougher measure resembling last month’s Senate legislation was defeated, despite ardent lobbying by President Clinton and Janet Reno. Everyone agrees it’s a coup for the National Rifle Association, which had been taken for dead after Littleton. Democrats explained the loss by asserting that 1) the NRA distorted the stricter measure, claiming it would lead to confiscation and a national gun registry; and 2) House Republicans are aware of their constituents’ support for gun control but are unwilling to defy the NRA on the cusp of an election year.

The House authorized states to decide whether to let the Ten Commandments be displayed in public schools. Proponents offered the bill as a response to “children killing children.” Detractors called it an unconstitutional violation of the church-state line. The spins: 1) Conservatives sincerely believe that this will prevent youth violence. 2) Conservatives sincerely believe that by attributing youth violence to immorality, they can relieve pressure to pass gun control legislation.

Kosovo update: 1) Western diplomats urged Russia to end its occupation of Kosovo’s main airport. Russia agreed to share control of the airport but still demands its own peacekeeping zone. Western officials say that Russia is too Serb-friendly to be entrusted with such authority and that Kosovars won’t resettle in a Russian-controlled zone. The likely compromise: a Russian “zone of responsibility” inside a NATO-controlled area. (Read Wednesday’s “International Papers” for gloating in the Russian press.) 2) Britain estimated ethnic Albanian casualties at 10,000 and unearthed a Serbian torture chamber full of hideous paraphernalia and photos of suspected victims. 3) More than 33,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo, fearing Kosovar Albanian reprisals. NATO and Serbian church leaders urged them to trust the peacekeepers and stay. Meanwhile, more than 46,000 Kosovar Albanians streamed back in, despite NATO’s warnings of land mines. 4) U.S. officials say President Clinton approved a CIA plan to bring down Milosevic’s government. They claim the plan isn’t directed at Milosevic personally.

A former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army was arrested. The FBI located Kathleen Ann Soliah, a well-to-do doctor’s wife and mother of three, through tips from viewers of America’s Most Wanted. She was indicted in 1976 for allegedly placing pipe bombs under police cruisers (the bombs didn’t explode). Her Minnesota neighbors expressed shock, citing her community involvement and her terrific casserole.

Coke is making Europeans ill. Coca-Cola products were removed from store shelves in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands after dozens of drinkers complained of nausea and intestinal trouble. (See “International Papers” for a European reaction.) The company traced the problem to a preservative used on shipping pallets and a bad batch of carbon dioxide, neither of which presents a serious health threat. Financial experts say the serious threat is to Coke’s overseas sales, which make up 73 percent of its profits.

Al Gore declared his candidacy for president. His speech and accompanying interviews stressed his independence from Bill Clinton. But George W. Bush called Gore “the status quo,” and the White House agreed that Clinton’s agenda will be “a very successful platform for the vice president to run from.” Despite Gore’s announcement, the New York Times and the Washington Post printed editorials about Bush euphoria.

Thabo Mbeki replaced Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa. This is the country’s first handover between democratically elected governments. Mandela received a unanimously fond farewell. Former apartheid supporters called him “a saintly man,” and a conservative white paper declared that he will be “sorely missed.”

Amazon.com bought a stake in Sotheby’s. Their joint online site will auction antiques, collectibles, and rare books. Spins: 1) It’s a revolution in online auctioning! 2) No, eBay had already cut a deal with Butterfield & Butterfield, another art auction house. 3) The partnership between the venerable institution and the brash startup will be awkward. 4) Sotheby’s CEO says they’re a good match: “We both got started as booksellers. … It’s just that we got started 251 years earlier.”

Phil Jackson will coach the Los Angeles Lakers. He’ll make $30 million for five years. Predictions: 1) Jackson will work the same magic with the Lakers that he did with the Chicago Bulls. 2) The magic was all Michael Jordan’s; no amount of coaching could save Los Angeles’ underachieving egomaniacs. Click here for the mostly jubilant local reaction.

George W. Bush kicked off his presidential campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. Vice President Gore will do the same Wednesday in Tennessee. The spins: 1) Bush’s declaration marks the earliest start ever to a presidential campaign. 2) No, he’s been campaigning for months. 3) So when will he lay out his positions? (Read Slate’s “Frame Game” on how Bush flaunts the courage of his clichés. Click here for Time’s luminous cover profile of Bush and here for Newsweek’s more skeptical version.)

Kenneth Starr may release a final report criticizing the Clintons. The New York Times says he won’t try to indict them but might publish a damning account of their behavior. The consensus prediction is that this would jeopardize Hillary’s senatorial ambitions. Starr vows to plot his course independent of the political consequences, but Maureen Dowd says he’s ” still on revenge autopilot.” David Carr and Jill Stewart digest Starr’s move–and Bob Woodward’s new book–in ” The Breakfast Table.”

The New York Knicks reached the NBA Finals. They are the first eighth seed (i.e., lowest-ranked playoff team in their division) ever to accomplish this feat. They will face the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. Sports writers debated whether it’s a triumph for 1) Knicks guard Allan Houston, a previous underachiever who scored 32 points in the decisive game; 2) Coach Jeff Van Gundy, who had nearly been fired earlier in the season; or 3) New York, whose prestige was already bolstered by cleaner streets and lower crime.

Scientists are trying to clone human embryos. The Washington Post reports two attempts by private companies to grow embryos–a practice banned among federally funded researchers but allowed in the private sector. The sanguine spin: The companies are just growing stem cells to cure diseases; they’re not cloning humans. The pessimistic spin: One will lead to the other.