The Week/the Spin

Oral Examination

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments by lawyers for Bush and Gore. The court could 1) overrule the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to extend the recount deadline (which may preclude the court from ordering a new recount of Palm Beach and Miami-Dade County ballots); 2) support the Florida Supreme Court; or 3) decline to rule. Lawyers for George W. Bush are fighting Al Gore’s efforts in a state circuit court to order an immediate recount. The Bush lawyers will attempt to call more than 90 witnesses. On Thursday a committee of Florida legislators recommended a special session to appoint Florida’s presidential electors for Bush even if state courts order a recount that ends in victory for Gore. Analysts’ spin: The U.S. Supreme Court will ruin its reputation if it mediates the election. Bush’s spin: I’m the president-elect. Gore should concede for the good of the country. Gore’s spin: The legislature has no power to overrule the courts. Bush’s lawyers are trying to delay court action to win by default. Tactical GOP spin: Having Jeb sign a bill giving separate electors to his brother would not be good politics. Sotto voce Democratic spin: We’d be more willing to go to the wall for Gore if we liked him better in the first place. (To read a Slate “Frame Game” on why Bush shouldn’t presume that vote ambiguity makes him the winner, click here; to read Dahlia Lithwick’s dispatch from the Supreme Court arguments, click here.) 

Chile charged Augusto Pinochet with kidnapping. A judge indicted Pinochet for the disappearance of 19 prisoners shortly after the former dictator took power in 1973. Health problems may forestall a trial. Pinochet, who stepped down in 1990, was under house arrest in London from October 1998 to March 2000. The civilian government that succeeded him said 3,197 people disappeared or were killed under his rule. Pinochet’s spin: “As a former president of the republic, I accept all the facts that they say the army and the armed forces did.” Human-rights campaigns’ spin: Justice demands a trial. (The Explainer tells you how to pronounce “Pinochet” here.)

Hillary Clinton may write about her husband’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.“Many others have imputed thoughts and feelings to me,” she said in a radio interview. “I’d like to have the chance to sort my own out and to share those and to talk about what it’s been like. … I’m going to reflect on that. I probably am going to write about it.” Clinton said she would answer feminists who criticized her for sticking by her husband. Publishing gossips’ spin: Unlike Monica, Hillary has secrets left to tell—and they’re worth a big advance. (To read Slate’s “Book Club” on Hillary’s Invitation To the White House, click here.)

Third-quarter economic growth was the slowest since 1996. In the wake of Fed interest rate hikes, annual growth of the U.S. gross domestic product dropped from 5.6 percent in the second quarter to 2.4 percent. (It has been above 4 percent for three years.) Inflation dropped from 2.4 percent to 1.9 percent. Inflation hawks’ spin: Alan Greenspan has avoided the price monster and averted a crash landing. Wall Street’s spin: Greenspan is pushing us into recession. Sell!

The Supreme Court prohibited random highway drug searches. A 6-3 majority ruled that Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure can be overlooked only to protect citizens’ immediate safety—such as with roadblocks for drunken drivers or to capture an escaped violent criminal. Justice O’Connor’s majority opinion: Interdicting drugs is one of many law-enforcement duties; only in special cases can we overlook the Fourth Amendment. Justice Rehnquist’s dissent: The roadblock in question also checks for drunkenness; using a drug-sniffing dog during the same stop poses no additional threat to privacy. Justice Thomas’ dissent: The Framers would not have tolerated any random stops; but since the court has already ruled otherwise, that precedent is binding. 

Israeli hawks forced early elections for prime minister. The Knesset voted to hold elections next year, two years before Prime Minster Ehud Barak’s term ends. Palestinian-Israeli violence—which has killed 280 people, mostly Palestinians, over several months—continued. Barak’s spin: I tried to form a compromise government with Likud, but Ariel Sharon refused. Analysts’ spin: This gives Barak one last chance to forge an agreement with Yasser Arafat. The election will be a referendum on peace. (To read an “Assessment” of Sharon, Israel’s bulldozer, click here; to read one of Arafat, man of inaction, click here.)

The Netherlands legalized voluntary euthanasia. The new regulations require a doctor to 1) determine that the patient’s suffering is “unbearable”; 2) have that determination seconded by a separate doctor; and 3) get parental consent if the patient is between 12 and 16 years old. The doctor cannot suggest suicide; the patient must first request it. Although the practice is tolerated in Switzerland, Colombia, and Belgium, the Netherlands is the first country to legalize it. (Oregon has allowed the option since 1997.) Liberal spin: first marijuana, then prostitution, then same-sex marriage, and now physician-assisted suicide. The Dutch are pioneers. Conservative spin: first marijuana, then prostitution, then same-sex marriage, and now physician-assisted suicide. The Dutch are sick.

Stephen King will suspend Web publication of a serial for which users were supposed to pay voluntarily. He will offer Part 6 of The Plant on his Web site for free but will then suspend writing to resume other projects. In June, he promised to offer the serial for download from his site as long as 75 percent of readers paid a $1 fee. Readers kept up the bargain until Part 4, for which only 46 percent of downloaders paid. Last spring King’s e-book novella Riding the Bullet sold 500,000 copies through a publisher’s site. King’s spin: The serial will continue eventually, but I’ll still expect payment. Analysts’ spin: This doesn’t bode well for voluntary-pay Web publishing.

Control of the Senate also hinges on a recount. Democrats tentatively won their 50th seat, pending a machine recount of Maria Cantwell’s 0.5-percent victory in Washington state and Al Gore’s contested loss to George W. Bush in the presidential election. (If Gore wins, Vice President Joseph Lieberman, now a Connecticut senator, will be replaced by a Republican, leaving the Democrats with 49 seats.) Democratic leaders have demanded co-committee-chairmanships and other majority-party perks if they end up winning 50 seats. Democrats’ spin: Senate leadership always reflects the makeup of the chamber. Vice President Cheney might break ties, but the veep is not a member. GOP’s spin: If Cheney is the tiebreaker, we have control. Analysts’ spin: There’s no precedent for either to party draw on.

Dick Cheney had a small heart attack. Doctors expanded a narrowed coronary artery after Cheney went to the hospital with chest pains. He was not anesthetized for the operation. (It was his fourth heart attack—he also had ones in 1978, 1984, and 1988—but the first since his quadruple bypass surgery 12 years ago.) Morbid legal speculation: If Cheney were to die before the Electoral College meets Dec. 18, his successor would only need the approval of the GOP; if he were to die as vice-president-elect (after Dec. 18), his successor would need congressional approval.