The Week/the Spin

Mirage Penalty

The House overwhelmingly passed a bill repealing the “marriage penalty.” The legislation, which has bipartisan support, would provide tax breaks to all married couples, even those that suffer no penalty for filing together rather than separately. (Two-income couples are usually penalized, and couples with high-income husbands and stay-at-home wives usually benefit.) The Republicans’ spin: It’s tax relief plus family values. The Democrats’ spin: We shouldn’t help so many rich couples, and can’t we save Social Security first? (In Slate, Robert McIntyre explains why the marriage penalty is less punitive than politicians pretend.)

About half the passengers aboard a hijacked Afghan plane applied for asylum in Britain. The terrorists—who commandeered the 727 from Kabul and diverted it to London—gave themselves up without harming passengers or making political demands. Authorities arrested 21 people, suggesting that hijackers and some passengers conspired in a ruse. The media’s spin: Which are the hijackers and which are the hostages? Labor and Tory spin: Britain has become a ” soft touch” for asylum seekers; we will not reward terrorists. Afghans’ spin: Better to be forced to London at gunpoint than  live under the Taliban.

Computer experts believe that more than one party perpetrated this week’s massive Web-site attacks. Hackers crippled at least nine Web sites, including Yahoo,, eBay,, E*Trade, Datek Online Holdings, and Excite@Home. An attack on came within an hour of its IPO, and an attack on ZDNet came the morning after an earnings report. Authorities believe that multiple hackers tried to one-up each other by using widely available underground software such as Stacheldraht to flood the Web sites with bogus page requests. (They did not steal secure information, and each site recovered after several hours.) The FBI’s spin: We’ll find you. Dataheads’ spin: Not likely. “There is no sure way to defend against this type of hacking,” and no sure way to trace the hackers. Tech investors’ spin: We’re a little worried, but we’re not panicking. Net-security stock-owners: Go hackers! (Click here to read Slate’s “Moneybox” on how the smart money has flowed to the Net night watchmen.)

Michael Jordan will endorse Bill Bradley for president. Falling further behind in the polls, Bradley will air a TV commercial in key primary states in which His Airness—who has never endorsed a candidate—commends ex-New York Knick Bradley for his stances on gun control and health care. Bradley’s spin: Jordan is ethical, unlike some candidates we know. Gore’s spin: Oh yeah? I got an endorsement from Jordan’s mom. Pundits’ spin: If Jordan can save this tanking campaign, it’ll be more miraculous than anything he did for the Chicago Bulls.

Steve Forbes quit the Republican presidential race. After finishing third in Delaware (John McCain finished second despite not having campaigned there), Forbes announced his withdrawal Thursday. Forbes hurt GOP front-runner Bob Dole with negative attacks in 1996 and had been expected to do the same to George W. Bush this year. His exit leaves just three candidates in the Feb. 19 South Carolina primary: Bush, McCain, and Alan Keyes. Forbes’ spin: ” There’s nowhere above 13 or 14 percent to move.” We’re not endorsing anyone, though. Bush’s spin: If Forbes’ supporters liked his flat tax, they’ll love my huge tax cut. McCain’s spin: If Forbes’ supporters liked his outsider image, they’ll love my insurgent campaign. 

A simple leaky pipe foiled last month’s test of anti-missile technology. Researchers concluded that the interceptor—intended to destroy incoming missiles—became “blind” when gaseous nitrogen leaked from a tube, causing infrared sensors to overheat. The Pentagon delayed a third test (the first was successful) until late May. This summer, President Clinton will decide whether to spend an additional $12.7 billion to complete the project ($60 billion has been spent since 1983). Scientists’ spin: See, the technology works after all. Congress’ spin: What’s Clinton’s rush? We shouldn’t decide this in an election year. The Pentagon’s spin: If we don’t start now, the system won’t work by 2005, when Iran and North Korea develop ICBMs.

French school nurses will dispense morning-after pills to girls. The program, started last month, allows nurses at junior high and high schools to distribute each pill on request. The pill, Norvelo, must be taken no later than 72 hours after sex. The French government’s spin: This is the only realistic way to lower the rate of surgical abortions. Catholics’ protest: The pill is an abortion, and it represents ” the banalization of sex.” Parents’ gripe: Our hedonistic offspring, figuring they can rely on the pill, will throw away their condoms and get STDs.

Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate. The kickoff featured a biographical video in which the ex-law firm partner declares, “I make a mean tossed salad and a great omelet.” Her spin: “I may be new to the neighborhood, but I’m not new to your concerns.” Liberals’ spin: A fine start, but let’s see you perform off the stage. Right-wing conspiracists’ spin: She’s ” a packaged hybrid begging for a job.” Left-wing Tupperware ladies’ spin: She’s “inspiring” and ” looks like a princess.” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s spin: I work so hard for New Yorkers, I’m willing to appear on five TV shows in one morning. New York Conservative Party’s spin: Both candidates are hopeless liberals.

Russian forces have driven Chechen rebels out of their capital, Grozny. Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his war against the rebels has been won. Many Chechen militants were killed or mutilated last week after being lured into a Russian minefield, but thousands are still hiding in mountains south of the city. About 1,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the war. Putin’s spin: We have taken the city; now don’t forget to vote March 26. Skeptics’ spin: Some city. Historians’ spin: You took Grozny in 1996, and the rebels just kicked you out. Chechens’ spin: We will fight for another 50 years. Civilians’ lament: Who cares about politics? Everything is ruined and dead.

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.