The Week/the Spin

Intellectual Property Fights

A federal judge fined more than $100 million for copyright infringement. The compact-disc-download site must pay Universal Music $25,000 for each title it used from the company—a fine that could reach $250 million. MP3 has settled with four other major labels for a reported $20 million each. Judge’s spin: MP3 has acted more responsibly than another free-music site we won’t name. (Rhymes with Trapster.) But these damages will dissuade would-be pirates from following its wayward path. Universal’s spin: If MP3 were fined the true worth of what it stole from the recording industry, it would fork over billions. MP3’s spin: We merely enhance the listening experience of legal CD owners. Universal didn’t prove it lost any money. Smaller record companies’ spin: Where do we file our lawsuits? Economists’ spin: These pro-industry decisions won’t end digital downloads; they’ll force licensing agreements, which will let the industry in on the booming Net market.

Al Gore proposed an ambitious “economic blueprint.” He promised to increase family income by a third within a decade and to pay off the federal debt by 2012. He proposed a “surplus reserve fund” to store extra tax revenues for national emergencies. Economists’ spin: Gore’s extrapolations are possible but not likely. He’d have to triple the rate of family income-growth, ensure that the economy continues to grow faster than its historical average, and hope that surplus projections are correct. GOP’s spin: He wants to increase workplace regulation, eliminate a nonexistent gender wage gap, and somehow increase productivity by spending more of workers’ tax money. Media analysts’ spin: Gore wrapped old proposals in a clever package to steal headlines from Bush’s prescription-drug plan.

Gloria Steinem got married. The 66-year-old feminist icon had inveighed against marriage for decades. She married South African-born entrepreneur David Bale, father of actor Christian Bale. Steinem’s spin in 1987: “”[Marriage] was designed for a person and a half.” Steinem’s spin today: We were pronounced “partners,” not “husband and wife,” and I’m still going by Ms. Steinem.

George W. Bush proposed a prescription-drug program. The $158 billion, 10-year plan would cover all prescription costs for the elderly poor on Medicare, and 25 percent of costs for wealthier seniors. Gore’s plan is $253 billion over 10 years. Gore completed a 24-hour stump marathon over the Labor Day weekend, and Bush was caught on videotape calling a reporter a ” major-league asshole.” Both campaigns continued to bicker over a debating schedule. Bush’s spin: My drug plan cuts Medicare bureaucracy and will give $48 billion to the states for immediate relief. Gore’s spin: Bush’s plan is inadequate, and after his tax cut he won’t have money to pay for it.

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.)