The Week/the Spin

Together at Last

North and South Korea agreed to reunite families and repatriate spies. The deal calls for each nation to send 100 separated family members to the other side for four-day reunions in August. In September the South will repatriate all North Korean spies who wish to go home. Optimists’ spin: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

President Clinton will sign the first campaign-finance reform bill since 1979. Congressional Republicans reluctantly agreed to the legislation, which forces political nonprofits formed under Section 527 of the IRS code to reveal their donors and expenditures. Campaign-ethics hawks’ spin: At least they closed one loophole before the election. Senate Republicans’ spin: Maybe we can delay implementation until after the election. Tax lawyers’ spin: Either way, we’ll find new loopholes. (To read a Slate“Net Election” column on how “527 groups” use the Web to trick voters, click here.)

Scientists cloned two lambs with genetically modified cells. The makers of Dolly inserted DNA into sheep cells, fused the cells with sheep eggs, and produced two lambs with the new DNA. The technique could lead to livestock milk free of proteins that cause allergic reactions in infants. Transferred to pigs—which were first cloned earlier this year—the technique could produce organs that do not trigger rejection when transplanted to humans.

The Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law banning “partial-birth” abortion. In a 5-4 decision, the majority said the law was broad enough to ban all late-term abortions and therefore unconstitutional. Twenty-nine states have similar laws. Justice O’Connor’s spin: Some form of late-term restriction may be constitutional, but this law is too broad. Justice Kennedy’s spin: This law is not too broad. The court is abusing federal power. Justice Scalia’s spin: This decision rivals Dred Scott in its inhumanity. Pro-choice and pro-life activists’ spin: The court is at a tipping point. Remember to vote in November! (To read Slate’s “Medical Examiner” on why partial-birth abortion is no more grisly than other late-term abortions, click here.)

The Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts’ right to ban homosexuals. The 5-4 decision held that the Scouts’ ban was an act of constitutionally protected free expression. Majority’s spin: This decision is not about our beliefs, it’s about whether the Scouts can express theirs. Minority’s view: The Scout handbook says nothing about gays, so the ban can’t be fundamental to their values. (Click here to read Dahlia Lithwick’s Supreme Court wrap-up.)

Elián González returned to Cuba with his father. The Supreme Court’s refusal to consider a final appeal by the boy’s Miami family ended a court order that had required Elián to stay in the United States. Cuban-Americans’ spin: This is a victory for Fidel Castro. Justice Department’s spin: This is a victory for family values. Castro’s spin: Stay calm, comrades, and await further orders.

The United States and the European Union blocked the Sprint-WorldCom merger. The companies withdrew their proposal after the Justice Department decided to oppose the deal, which would have combined America’s third- and second-largest long-distance companies and put 45 percent of the world’s Internet delivery capability under one roof. It is the largest merger ever blocked by regulators. Sprint-WorldCom’s spin: We were willing to sell Sprint’s Internet division, but the EU refused to compromise. EU’s spin: We tried that formula with MCI when it merged with WorldCom, but MCI wasn’t willing to share fiber-optic cable with the spun-off company. Justice Department’s spin: Forget the Internet component. Allowing the merger would be like reconstructing the old AT&T phone monopoly. Anti-globalists’ spin: The EU made its decision last week, before the United States even had a chance to act. What happened to our sovereignty? Globalists’ spin: This was done in tandem. The Justice Department met with the Europeans every day.

Congress agreed to allow cash-only sales of food and medicine to Cuba. The agreement, which also applies to Sudan, Iran, Libya, and North Korea, would require companies to be licensed with the federal government. Cuba could not export anything to the United States. President Clinton is expected to sign the eventual bill. Republican and Cuban-American Democrats’ spin: This is a compromise we can live with. Non-Cuban-American Democrats’ spin: You only agreed to the compromise because you would have lost a showdown vote. Analysts’ spin: Not only is Elián going back to Cuba, he will bring a more lenient embargo policy with him.

Scientists mapped the human genome. The Celera Corp. joined the Human Genome Project (a public consortium) to announce their achievement at the White House. Horse-race spin: Celera beat HGP but declared a draw to be polite to the consortium’s slowpoke academics. President Clinton’s spin: “Today we are learning the language with which God created life.” This map is more valuable than Lewis and Clark’s. Skeptics’ spin: Don’t believe the hype. 1) Most of the genome is filled with useless, evolutionary detritus. 2) We have no clue how most of the useful stuff works. 3) Even if we develop medical applications, we’ve only solved half the nature/nurture equation.

Philip Morris acquired Nabisco. The tobacco-and-food giant’s purchase of Nabisco, maker of crackers and cookies, will give it 22 percent of the snack market. It will remain the world’s second-largest food company. Analysts’ spins: 1) Philip Morris is trying to leave the beleaguered cigarette industry. 2) Philip Morris is trying to leave the lower-profit cheese industry (it owns Kraft) and enter the higher-profit cracker-and-cookie industry. 3) The bigger the company gets, the more power it has over supermarkets.

The Supreme Court upheld the Miranda decision. The 7-2 majority declined to overturn the groundbreaking 1966 case that requires police to inform criminal suspects of their rights. Supreme Court majority’s spin: We might not have reached the same decision if we had been on the court in ‘66, but we’re not going to mess with precedent. Minority’s spin: The Miranda decision was “an immense and frightening antidemocratic” expansion of the Constitution. Screenwriters’ spin: Cop shows just wouldn’t be cop shows without “You have the right to remain silent …”