The Week/the Spin

Firestone Firestorm

President Clinton will punt on missile defense. He will delay the first step in the system’s deployment—construction of an Alaskan radar station—and leave the decision on the $60 billion weapon to his successor. His delay pushes back the Pentagon’s estimated 2005 completion date. (To read Slate’s “Earthling” on why missile defense won’t protect us from rogue nations, click here. To read an “Explainer” on the difference between “withdrawing” from a treaty and “abrogating” it, click here.)

Firestone and Ford came under siege. The National Highway Transportation Safety Board, which has linked 88 deaths to the 6.5 million tires being recalled, is investigating whether the companies knew about the faulty Explorer SUV tires and concealed the problem. Ford’s stock price has tumbled 18 percent since the recall began last month, and its CEO will testify before Congress next week. The Venezuelan government may file criminal charges against executives at both companies, and several state attorneys general in the United States may file lawsuits. Ford’s spin: It’s Firestone’s fault. Firestone’s spin: We’ve done everything by the book. Analysts’ spin: Trying to save money by delaying recalls doesn’t just cost lives—it brings bad PR.

President Clinton told Colombians that their U.S.-assisted drug war “is not Vietnam.” Visiting Cartagena with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Clinton promised that the United States’ $1.3 billion in military assistance did not amount to “Yankee imperialism.” He held emotional meetings with widows of Colombian narco-police, while authorities arrested several would-be assassins. Clinton’s spin: We’re fighting drug trafficking, not participating in Colombia’s civil war. Critics’ spin: As if the two were separable.

Congress and President Clinton agreed to raise the minimum wage. The Republican majorities in the House and Senate consented to a $1 increase over two years, from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour. In exchange, the GOP extracted a small-business tax cut from Clinton but abandoned an estate-tax repeal. The purchasing power of the minimum wage has declined since the last increase in 1996. In real terms it has declined since 1968, when it bought $7.49 in today’s dollars. Pundits’ spin: This takes an election issue away from the Democrats. The GOP is scared of losing the House. Bush and Gore’s spin: We agree with the increase. Economists’ spin: The economy is so good that 1) a higher wage will not cost jobs; and 2) the marketplace would have raised the de facto minimum wage anyway.

The United States believes that the Russian Kursk sank when its own torpedo misfired. Sonar gathered by a U.S. spy sub indicates two explosions: first a torpedo engine misfiring, then a warhead exploding. The Russians may have been testing a new weapon, the New York Times reported. Russia has maintained that the submarine collided with a foreign submarine or hit an old mine. Russo-phobes’ spin: We’re lucky this wasn’t a nuclear explosion. The secretive, dilapidated Russian military is an accident waiting to happen. Russo-philes’ spin: Sub accidents can happen to anyone. An onboard accident sank a U.S. sub during the Cold War.

Violent crime declined by more than 10 percent last year. The drop—from 37 to 33 violent crimes per 1,000 people—continues a decadelong trend and is the largest one-year decline since the Department of Justice began keeping statistics in 1973. Property crime fell 9 percent, from 217 to 198 crimes per 1,000. The annual survey includes both reported crimes and unreported crimes discovered through interviews. Analysts’ spin: We should thank better policing, a good economy, and aging baby boomers. (To read James Q. Wilson on why the crime rate will rise, and how the government should react, click here.)

Al Gore unveiled a prescription-drug plan. It would cover half the cost of prescription drugs, up to $5,000 a year, for poor old people. Gore continued to hold his post-convention bounce in the polls. Gore’s spin: After Bush’s tax cut, he wouldn’t have money left to help seniors with their prescription bills. Bush’s spin: Gore’s plan is not as generous as it sounds; read the fine print. I’ll have a plan soon. (To read the TV pundits’ take on the race, click here.)

Woody Allen and his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, adopted a second baby girl. She will reach the age of consent in 2016. 

A federal judge ordered Wen Ho Lee released on bail. The former Los Alamos National Laboratory employee must post $1 million to be transferred from near-solitary confinement to home arrest. Lee, who was arrested in December on charges of illegally downloading nuclear secrets, was initially denied bail after the federal government argued that he posed a threat to national security. Lee’s spin: I’m not a spy, and I’ve been targeted because I’m Asian-American. Analysts’ spin: The government’s case is falling apart.

American diabetes rates jumped by one-third in the 1990s. The blood-sugar disease—a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, limb amputations, and heart attacks— increased 40 percent among thirtysomethings and 70 percent among fortysomethings. It kills about 180,000 people a year. Physicians’ spin: In the same time period, the number of overweight Americans rose from one in eight to one in five. That’s no coincidence. Diet and exercise, people!

The government report on TWA Flight 800 faulted Boeing’s 747 design. The National Transportation Safety Board accused the company of placing air-conditioning units too close to fuel tanks, which in turn produced dangerous gas vapors. Earlier in the week, the NTSB said the most likely cause of the 1996 explosion off Long Island, N.Y.—which killed all 230 aboard—was an electrical short near a fuel tank. The criminal phase of the inquiry, which turned up nothing, ended in 1997. The $35 million investigation was the most expensive in history. Media’s spin: This ought to silence the missile-theory zealots. NTSB’s spin: Conspiracy nuts are amateurs who torture the victims’ families. NTSB skeptics’ spin: We’re not zealots or nuts, we just want the public to consider the contrary evidence.