The Week/the Spin

Fund-Raising McCain

The Indian Airlines hijackers dropped two demands. The five hijackers, who seized a jet Friday, are still demanding that India release 35 Kashmiri militants, but they are no longer asking for the return of a colleague’s dead body or for $200 million in ransom. Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban faction said the plane would be forced to leave the country if a settlement is not reached soon. India and Pakistan condemned the hijacking (as did the Washington Post), and each accused the other of plotting it. Analysts differed as to whether the concessions would make a settlement more likely or increase the hijackers’ determination to achieve their remaining demand. But most agreed that the incident is “a huge blow” to prospects for peace talks between India and Pakistan. (Slate’s “International Papers” rounds up overseas reactions to the hijacking, and ” Explainer” outlines the history of the Kashmir conflict.)

McCain’s and Bradley’s fourth-quarter fund raising equaled Bush’s and outpaced Gore’s. Bradley raised $8 million to Gore’s $4 million between October and December, bringing him within $2 million of Gore’s year-end total. McCain raised $6 million, and Bush pulled in $7 million in the same period. The Washington Post said McCain and Bradley had “translated their momentum in New Hampshire into a national money boost.” McCain asserted that he’d become a contender. But the Bush camp said McCain wouldn’t survive nationally, pointing to their candidate’s lead in total fund raising ($66 million to $16 million). Bradley boosters said Gore was in trouble: “If Gore were as popular as he should be, people wouldn’t be writing checks to Bill Bradley.” Gore countered that in any other year his fund-raising performance would have set records.

Seattle canceled its millennium celebration. It was expected to draw 50,000 people to the Space Needle. Seattle’s mayor said that while there was no specific threat it was “impossible for federal officials to rule out the area as a terrorist target.” International law enforcement has also begun a “roundup of the usual suspects,” detaining anyone with suspected ties to terrorist groups until the end of Ramadan. The spins, in order of increasing gloominess: 1) Authorities are taking necessary precautions; 2) they’re making everyone more nervous; 3) they’re discriminating against people of Arab descent; and 4) their overreaction is helping the terrorists achieve their goals. Skeptics suggested that the overkill of millennium hoopla was actually the greatest threat to our collective sanity.

The Nasdaq composite index closed above 4,000 for the first time. Its 84 percent, 12-month gain is the largest ever by a major U.S. stock market index. Analysts said the Nasdaq’s technology focus helped it outpace the Dow Jones industrials, which were up 25 percent this year, and the S&P 500, up 19 percent. Reasons to be pleased: 1) this comes on the heels of an economic expansion, not a recession, as previous large gains have; and 2) it underscores the revolutionary potential of new technologies. Reasons to be discouraged: 1) most of the gains were generated by companies with little or no profit; 2) the market is beginning to scrutinize new stocks more closely; and 3) analysts predict a sell-off in early 2000 as investors unload stocks they held for tax purposes.

Wen Ho Lee was denied bail. A federal judge said his release could compromise global security because seven of the tapes onto which he had copied American nuclear secrets remain unaccounted for. In the bail hearing, U.S. attorneys alleged that Lee 1) stole nuclear secrets “sufficient to build a functional thermonuclear weapon”; 2) stored this information on a computer network easily accessible to outsiders; and 3) told a colleague that he “may have accidentally” disclosed secrets to a foreign country. Lee’s lawyers countered that 1) there is no evidence that outsiders ever accessed the information; and 2) Lee took no steps to cover his tracks. Government attorneys’ spin: The evidence shows that Lee was not arbitrarily singled out for prosecution. Lee’s attorneys’ spin: But the insinuations of spying are based on “circumstantial evidence, innuendo, or inference.” Government attorneys’ counterspin: Even so, the case against Lee for security violations is airtight.

Rap mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs was arrested. He was charged with illegal possession of a handgun after an associate allegedly shot and injured three people in a New York club. Combs, who has signed and produced some of the biggest “gangsta rap” acts of the ‘90s, denied the allegations. Observers variously said the incident underscored 1) the imminent decline of the “Puff Daddy” empire; 2) Combs’ futile attempts to gain “street credibility”; and 3) the impossibility of blending the gangsta and corporate cultures.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak rescued his coalition government. He negotiated a budget deal with Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party that controls a quarter of the coalition’s parliamentary seats, thereby averting Shas’ threatened withdrawal from the government. International papers termed it a ” potentially destabilizing political crisis” that could have imperiled peace talks with Syria. Barak’s spin: We reached a fair compromise. Critics’ spin: You were extorted by Shas. The American spin: That’s a small price to pay for peace.

Burger King is recalling 25 million Pokémon toy cases. The toys, distributed in “Kids Club” meals, are thought to be safe. But their round cases have been linked to the suffocation of at least one infant. It is the largest toy recall ever. Burger King’s spin: We’re putting safety first. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s spin: Only because we forced you to. Parents’ spin: We always knew Pokémon was insidious. (Slate’s David Plotz sings the praises of Pokémon.)

President Clinton proposed to expand low-income rental subsidies. The $690 million increase would add 120,000 families to the 1.7 million currently receiving the housing vouchers. Clinton said that expanding the program, which covers up to 70 percent of a family’s rent, would particularly help 1) the homeless; 2) those moving from welfare to work; and 3) urban families that presently live far from jobs in higher-rent areas. Republicans criticized the proposal as costly and only marginally effective. However, the Washington Post doubted whether Republican opposition could defeat a program that has been a political winner for Clinton in the past.

The Vermont Supreme Court granted gays greater partnership rights. The unanimous ruling held that “the state is constitutionally required to extend to same-sex couples the common benefits and protections that flow from marriage under Vermont law.” The court left it to the legislature to determine whether gay couples will get these rights through marriage or domestic partnership. Opponents of gay rights called the decision a “deeply disturbing” blow to the institution of marriage, but they promised to limit its effects to Vermont. Gay rights activists deemed it a triumph of “our common humanity” that paves the way for similar rights nationally. (Slate’s “Explainer” outlines the legal status of gay marriages.)