The Week/the Spin

Spellbound 

Kenneth Starr’s former spokesman was charged with contempt for tipping off the New York Times. Charles Bakaly will stand trial next week for allegedly leaking sealed information to the Times in January 1999, the Times reported. Bakaly resigned from Starr’s office in March 1999 after an internal investigation into the anonymously sourced leaks. Times’ spin: The central question is whether Bakaly talked to us. Asked for comment, we informed ourselves that we don’t reveal anonymous sources to anyone.

Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak will negotiate “final status” issues at Camp David next week. In his final push for Middle East peace, President Clinton invited the Palestinian and Israeli leaders to his Maryland retreat, where Jimmy Carter finessed the Israel-Egypt peace in 1978. President Clinton’s spin: This will be difficult. Barak’s spin: I’m confident we can make a deal. Arafat’s spin: I’m not. And if there’s no deal by Sept. 13, I’ll declare Palestinian statehood.

Colombia may develop a herbicide to kill drug crops. The research is a condition of the United States’ $1.3 billion aid package to the country to fight drug trafficking. Environmentalists’ spin: This will be the Agent Orange of the Drug War. Scientists’ spin: Nonsense. This herbicide would be a natural fungus harmless to humans. But opium growers can develop fungus-resistant crops.

M illions of children and parents await the fourth Harry Potter book. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (order it here), which will have an American press run of 3.8 million copies, goes on sale Saturday at 12:01 a.m. Author J.K. Rowling, who wrote the first volume while on welfare, has sold 21 million books and has become the third-richest person in Britain. Publishers’ spin: We didn’t even get the manuscript until May. We’ve had to work weekends! Book industry’s spin: Thank God the New York Times created a best-seller list for children’s books, or we would have had to compete with Rowling again. Amazon.com’s spin: We have 9,000 Federal Express trucks ready to deliver 250,000 pre-sold copies. Bricks-and-mortar stores’ spin: Amazon cheated by opening its boxes early. But we still offer the fastest delivery—instantaneous! Warner Bros.’ spin: Just wait for the movie! (And action figures, and key rings …) Parents’ spin: We may have to camp overnight at the bookstore, but at least our kids are reading again.  (To read a Slate“Book Club” on the first three Potter books, click here.)

Mexico’s president-elect promised to root out corruption and reach out to political rivals. On Sunday the ruling party lost the presidency for the first time since the 1929 revolution. Underdog Vicente Fox, who used to be CEO of Coca-Cola’s Mexican division, ousted the Institutional Revolutionary Party by winning the support of most middle-class, urban, and educated voters. International observers’ spin: By and large, this election was free and fair. President Ernesto Zedillo’s spin: “We have proven that our democracy is a mature democracy.” Analysts’ spin: We second that. Mexico is no longer an authoritarian, one-party state. Ironists’ spin: Zedillo, who helped make campaign-funding and balloting fairer, may be Mexico’s Gorbachev. Fox’s spin: I will fight illegal immigration and drug trafficking to the United States, but the United States must do its part. (To read “Foreigners” on why having rich neighbors helps democracy, click here.)

Gas prices may decline due to an increase in OPEC oil production. Oil futures fell 5 percent after Saudi Arabia announced it would unilaterally boost output by 500,000 barrels a day in order to lower prices from $30 to $25 a barrel. OPEC countries have boosted output by at least 350,000 barrels a day since their June 21 meeting, but prices have continued to rise. Saudi Arabia’s spin: If the price remains too high, we won’t optimize revenue. Midwest drivers’ spin: Thank you, Saudi princes! Libya and Iran’s spin: The Saudis are lying. They won’t move without OPEC’s approval.

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.)