The Week/the Spin

Cuba Getting Junior

The Immigration and Naturalization Service ruled that Elián González should be reunited with his father in Cuba. González’s Cuban-American relatives had argued that he should remain in the United States after he was rescued from a shipwreck in which his mother died. Protesters blocked traffic in Miami, and González’s family promised to appeal the ruling, charging that the INS was giving into blackmail by Castro. INS supporters countered that 1) the ruling was based solely on legal concerns; and 2) the only blackmail was Cuban-Americans’ threats of political retribution against the Clinton administration. The INS’s spin: He’s being reunited with his family. Cuban-Americans’ spin: He’s being denied a better life in the United States.

Al Gore and Bill Bradley debated in New Hampshire. In their third meeting in a month, they clashed over health care and gun control and agreed on support for gays in the military. But most pundits said personality and leadership–not policy issues–were the true points of contention: Gore deemed Bradley “too intellectually removed” to deal with real-world problems; Bradley charged that Gore was not removed enough from the “Washington bunker” to generate creative solutions. The rosy Democratic spin: The frequent debates help both candidates practice “crisper critiques of one another and more polished defenses of their positions.” The gloomy Democratic spin: The constant sparring over character issues makes them both less likable. (Slate’s Jacob Weisberg offers his assessment of the debate in ” Ballot Box,” and William Saletan offers another take in “Frame Game.”)

U.S. stock markets plunged. Tuesday’s declines were the most severe in more than a year: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 3.2 percent, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq dropped 5.5 percent. Asian and European markets followed suit. The apparent cause: Investors waited for the new tax year to reap profits from recent stock gains. The counterintuitive causes: Wall Street darling Alan Greenspan was nominated for a fourth term as Federal Reserve chairman, and Y2K economic disruptions never surfaced–both of which increase the likelihood that the Fed will raise interest rates. Wall Street shrugged off the decline as a “necessary and expected” correction. Skeptics termed it an indication that investors are “even more confused than usual about what stocks are really worth these days.” (James Surowiecki explains why an interest-rate hike would bad news for stocks in this “Moneybox.”

Y2K came and went without terrorism or technological snafus. Airplanes stayed airborne and ATMs dispensed cash as usual. Observers said the Y2K bug’s threat 1) was averted thanks to diligent preparation; 2) had been exaggerated by greedy programmers so that customers would commission expensive repairs; and 3) won’t pass until companies and governments have used their “backroom systems,” which were not repaired as thoroughly as critical programs. (“International Papers” sums up the millennium coverage from around the globe.)

Israel and Syria began peace talks. Syria wants to regain control of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967. Israel wants security guarantees and the restoration of normal diplomatic relations. The initial discussions were deemed “rocky,” with each side claiming that the other was not following the agenda. Israel and Syria called the impasse a “crisis” that threatened to derail the entire peace process. Skeptics charged it was manufactured to convince Israeli and Syrian citizens that their representatives bargained hard. The Clinton administration downplayed the dispute, saying 1) no one expected a breakthrough in the talks’ first round; and 2) the difficulties show that “the two sides [are] getting into the knotty issues.” Separately, Israel and Palestine agreed to a plan for Israeli troop withdrawls from parts of the West Bank.

Florida State won college football’s national title. With a 46-29 Sugar Bowl victory over No. 2 Virginia Tech, the undefeated Seminoles became the first team to hold a No.1 Associate Press ranking throughout the entire season. Sportswriters were happy for 1) Florida State receiver Peter Warrick, the undisputed star of the game, who “redeemed” himself after last year’s arrest and suspension for theft; 2) Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who got his first undefeated season and second national championship in 40 years of coaching; and 3) the Virginia Tech players, who “put season-long criticism of their toughness to rest” with a valiant comeback attempt.

Elizabeth Dole endorsed George W. Bush. In her long-expected announcement, Dole likened Bush to Ronald Reagan and said he would repair the presidency’s tarnished image. Analysts called it a win for 1) Bush, who gains support from women voters; 2) Dole, who increases her chances of nabbing the vice presidential nomination; and 3) John McCain, who can again cast “Bush as the charmed insider and [himself] as the scrappy outsider.”

Boris Yeltsin resigned. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became Russia’s acting president and is expected to win the presidency by a wide margin in March elections. In his surprise resignation speech, Yeltsin admitted his failings. Pundits agreed he had botched much of his job but also noted his shrewdness in 1) capturing the world’s attention on New Year’s Eve; 2) cutting his losses before his communism-busting legacy was further tainted by a money-laundering scandal or the war in Chechnya; and 3) designating his likely successor, who has immunized Yeltsin from prosecution.

La Niña is altering winter weather. The effects of the cooler-than-normal Pacific Ocean currents include 1) balmy temperatures on the East Coast; 2) tornadoes in Kentucky and Mississippi; and 3) cool weather in California. Midwesterners ran for cover. Easterners celebrated with “giddiness usually reserved for the first days of spring.” Pessimists called the weather a ” spooky” reminder of Mother Nature’s power and predicted further climatic changes from the greenhouse effect.

The Indian hijacking crisis was resolved. The still-unidentified Islamic terrorists released their 155 hostages after India agreed to free three of their jailed comrades. The hijackers were given 10 hours to leave Afghanistan and have presumably vanished into Pakistan. India accused Pakistan of backing the hijacking and giving shelter to the terrorists. Pakistan accused India of playing politics with the hijacking. The rest of the world again worried about a nuclear confrontation between the two countries. The Washington Post denounced Afghanistan and Pakistan for “trying to have it both ways on terrorism. They play host to terrorist groups, yet wax indignant when terrorists hijack an aircraft.” (Slate’s “International Papers” rounds up overseas reactions to the hijacking, and ” Explainer” outlines the history of the Kashmir conflict.)