The Week/the Spin

Ballot Ballet

Gov. George Pataki will allow John McCain on the ballot in New York state. Pataki, a Bush supporter, dropped the state’s effort to enforce its complex petition requirements against McCain. According to the New York Times, strategists for George W. Bush had urged Pataki to relent because the dispute was giving McCain a national campaign reform issue. Pataki’s spin: The New York primary “should be about ideas and issues, not about technicalities.” McCain’s spin: Technicalities? Yesterday you said the rules were necessary and fair. Bush’s spin: I had nothing to do with this.

Ford Motor Co. will give computer equipment worth $1,000 to every employee. For $5 a month (which was Henry Ford’s “revolutionary” wage in 1914) the company will offer each of its 350,000 employees a Hewlett-Packard computer, a color inkjet printer, and Internet access. The employees will own the equipment after three years, and Ford will not monitor Internet use or require that use be work-related. United Auto Workers’ spin: This is ” a tribute to the collective bargaining process.” Ford executives’ spin: Partly, but we’re giving computers to non-UAW employees, too. It’s worth the price. Hewlett-Packard’s spin: It sure is. DaimlerChrystler and GM workers’ spin: Where are our computers?

J ohn McCain is running neck-and-neck with George W. Bush in two South Carolina polls. McCain’s big bounce (he was nearly 50 points down two months ago) comes in tandem with a surge in fund raising and volunteers. Bush is attacking McCain’s loyalty to veterans, and Gary Bauer is expected to drop out Friday.

The Senate passed a bill making it harder to escape debts by filing for bankruptcy. The bill also calls for a $1 increase in the minimum wage (to $6.15) and $76 billion in tax cuts for businesses to offset the increased labor costs. Bankruptcies have risen by 80 percent this decade. The bill would make it harder to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy–which allows a consumer to walk away from debt once her assets are liquidated–and would require those who can pay back $15,000 over five years to file for Chapter 13, which requires some repayment. The House version has no tax breaks or minimum-wage increase, and a veto is possible. Consumer groups’ spin: Credit card companies bamboozle the poor into spending more than they can afford, and the banking industry has Congress in its pocket. The banking industry’s spin: Current laws let even the wealthy walk away from their debts. Democrats’ spin: The tax breaks help businesses that don’t need it. Republicans’ spin: You got your precious minimum-wage increase, so be quiet.

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by a quarter point and indicated more rate hikes to come. The stock market yawned, having already factored in the expected move. Stock analysts’ spin: There aren’t many signs of inflation, but we trust Greenspan. The Fed’s spin: The current growth rate will soon overwhelm labor markets, and the stock market boom has caused unsustainable spending. The Senate Confirmation Committee’s spin: We approve Greenspan for another term.

The Coast Guard found the tail and recovered the cockpit voice and data recorders of Alaska Airlines Flight 261. The Mexico-to-San Francisco flight, which crashed off the Los Angeles coast Monday, killed all 88 aboard. The voice recorder shows the pilots regaining some control of the MD-83 after reporting problems with the rear stabilizer, which controls the plane’s pitch. Then the pilots suddenly lose control and complain of flying “inverted.” Several witnesses said the plane hit the water in a corkskrewing nosedive.

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party formed a government with the conservative People’s Party. The European Union and the United States had threatened to downgrade diplomatic relations with the Austrian government if it made a deal with the nationalist party, which won 27 percent of the vote in October. The party’s leader, Jörg Haider, has praised Hitler’s economic policies and called Nazi Waffen SS officers men of “good character.” Before approving the new government, Austria’s president made Haider sign a declaration renouncing the country’s Nazi past. On Tuesday Israel withdrew its ambassador. The EU and U.S. spin: The Freedom Party is anti-immigrant and doesn’t respect democracy. The Freedom Party’s spins: 1) The EU is controlled by Social Democrats; 2) EU countries—which have had relations with Stalin, Mao, and fundamentalist dictators—are caricaturing our views; and 3) Austrians elected us fair and square—now who’s against democracy? The international spin: Here we go again.  

McCain trounced Bush in the New Hampshire primary. McCain won 48 percent of the vote to Bush’s 31 percent. Steve Forbes placed third with 13 percent, Alan Keyes won 6 percent, and Gary Bauer, 1 percent. McCain won among all groups: independents, party members, moderates, and conservatives. McCain’s spin: “We’ve interfered with the coronation.” (Now please give money!)  Bush’s spin: New Hampshire is “a bump in the road for front-runners.” Media’s spin: Go, Straight Talk Express!  GOP establishment’s spin: We’ll see how Mr. Maverick does in South Carolina. Bauer’s gloomy spin: “I’m a fighter, but I’m not delusional.” (To read Jacob Weisberg’s analysis of New Hampshire, click here. To read his description of life aboard McCain’s bus, the Straight Talk Express, click here. For William Saletan’s assessment of whether Bush’s bubble has burst, click here.)

Al Gore edged out Bill Bradley in New Hampshire. Gore received 52 percent of the Democratic vote to Bradley’s 47 percent. Gore won among most groups—labor, women, the poor, and those who care about the economy and entitlements. Bradley won among rich, independent, hyper-educated males. Bradley immediately challenged Gore to weekly debates. Bradley’s spin: We did better than expected and have $2 million more on hand than Gore. Gore’s spin: There are more pointy-headed Bradleyites in New Hampshire than anywhere else, and we still won.

Major League Baseball suspended Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker and ordered him to undergo “sensitivity training” for racist comments. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig also levied a $20,000 fine for the remarks, which “offended practically every element of society.” The players’ union filed an appeal on behalf of Rocker, who apologized last month. MLB’s spin: Rocker “breach[ed] … the social compact” between baseball and the public. Rocker’s spin: My minority friends have accepted my apology, and punishment for “misguided speech unaccompanied by any conduct” is unfair.