The Week/the Spin

Consuming Crisis 

{{power lines#100124}}California will issue $10 billion in bonds to buy electricity. The emergency bill {{will create#2:}} $300 of debt for every Californian. The state will purchase about a third of California’s electricity demand, using its market share to negotiate lower rates. California retailers must also reduce outdoor lighting by half or pay $1,000 fines. Consumer groups’ spin: “This is the biggest bailout since the S&L crisis.” Taxpayers should not  have to pay for utilities’ greed. {{Washington state’s spin#2:}}: The feds must impose price controls on the wholesale energy market or California’s problem will become the Northwest’s. Counterspins: 1) California’s incompetence is {{not contagious#2:}}. The Northwest has learned from its neighbor and won’t make the same mistakes. 2) More price controls? {{The solution#2:}} to Cali’s harebrained, half-hearted deregulation plan (i.e., deregulating the wholesale market but not the retail market, leaving the utilities to eat the cost differential) is whole-hearted deregulation, not more regulation. (To read the Explainer’s “California Energy Crisis FAQ,” click {{here#1790:Show=1/19/2001&idMessage=6914}}).

{{ashcroft#99887}}The Senate confirmed John Ashcroft as attorney general. The 58-42 margin {{was#2:}} the slimmest ever for an attorney general nominee. Eight Democrats and 50 Republicans voted yes. Earlier this week, Interior Secretary Gale Norton’s 75-24 approval {{ended#2:}} weeks of lobbying by environmental groups opposed to her pro-landowner, anti-regulation record. Democrats’ spin: We could have blocked this with a filibuster but chose not to. Don’t nominate any more right-wingers, Mr. President.

The New York Giants probably stole the 1951 pennant. In Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, several Giants players {{confessed#2:}} to stealing catchers’ signs during home games, confirming a decades-old rumor. Thanks to the late season scam, the Giants overcame a 13 1/2-game deficit to win the National League championship in a three-game tiebreaker against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Giants won the third game 5-4 (at home) on a bottom-of-the-ninth three-run homer by Bobby Thomson, the famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” The modus operandi: A telescope-wielding spy in the center-field clubhouse would pinch the signs and electronically tip the dugout, which secretly hand-signed the batter. Thompson’s spin: “The question is, did I take the signs that day? I’d have to say more no than yes. I don’t like to think of something taking away from [my home run].” Cynics’ spin: We’re shocked, shocked! In baseball, cheaters are those who get caught. {{Outraged fans’ spin#2:}}: Corking bats and throwing spitballs fall in a gray area. Planting telescopes and installing buzzers crosses the line.

The economy grew 1.4 percent annually in the fourth quarter. It is the {{slowest growth in five years#2:}}. Annual growth was 2.2 percent in the third quarter of 2000 and 5.6 percent in the second quarter. As expected, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates a half point at its Wednesday meeting. Two days later, the government {{reported#2:}} a January unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, the highest in 18 months. Glass-half-full spin: The economy grew 5 percent in 2000, its best performance since 1984. {{Glass-half-empty spin#2:}}: Manufacturing statistics show that the economy is already contracting. And “mass layoffs” (more than 50 people at a time) {{have increased#2:}} more than 50 percent since 1999. The Fed cuts have come too late. Welcome to the recession.  

{{bombers#98112}}A Libyan was convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103. Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi {{was sentenced#2:,,2-76713,00.html}} to life in prison for the “Lockerbie” bombing that took 270 lives, but he could be paroled in 20 years. His co-defendant, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was found not guilty and set free. Under agreement with Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who had harbored the defendants for years, the three-judge trial took place in the Netherlands under Scottish law. Al-Megrahi can appeal. {{Victims’ spin#2:}}: “20 years for 270 murders is less than a month per victim.” Britain and the United States should go after Qaddafi. {{Analysts’ spin#2:}}: The courts may bring justice to the actual terrorists, but they’ll never work against the ringleaders; the West must resort to military force. {{Qaddafi’s spin#2:}}: When I release my evidence exculpating al-Megrahi, “the judges will have only three choices: either to commit suicide, to resign or to admit the truth.”

{{flag#98113}}Georgia adopted a new flag. The {{old flag#2:}} included the stars and bars of the Battle Flag of the Confederacy. The {{new flag#2:}} incorporates a thumbnail of the old flag along with other past Georgia flags under the words “Georgia’s History.” Civil rights groups, which last year persuaded South Carolina to remove a Confederate flag from atop its state capitol, {{had threatened#2:}} to boycott the state. Conservatives’ spin: The Confederate symbol expresses pride in Southern heritage, not racism. Liberals’ spin: Then why was it placed on the flag in 1956, at the height of federally mandated desegregation? {{Atlanta business’s spin#2:}}: Will the new flag convince the NCAA to hold the Final Four here? Then we’re for it. (The mainstreaming of Confederate ideology is chronicled in this Slate “{{History Lesson#97606}}.”)

{{lorin maazel#98042}}The New York Philharmonic chose Lorin Maazel as its new conductor. He {{will succeed#2:}} Kurt Mazur, whose contract expires next year. {{Pro-Maazel spin#2:}}: He’s technically brilliant and loved by his players. {{Anti-Maazel spin#2:}}: He’s old, traditional, and has limited time to devote to the philharmonic. American symphonies are slaves to wealthy, conservative subscribers and ignore young creative talent. {{Pro-Maazel retort#2:}}: A young tyke could never handle the finicky players at the New York Philharmonic. (To read Slate’s Jacob Weisberg on how jet-setting composers like Maazel undermine classical music, click {{here#8798}}.)

Scientists promised a human clone by 2003. Panos Zavos, a Kentucky professor and fertility clinician, said that his private consortium already has clients. Zavos will set up shop in a Mediterranean country. Media’s spin: This is for real. Unlike past publicity seekers, Zavos and Co. have the technical skills. {{Zavos’ spin#2:}}: “We’re curing a problem, rather than just letting someone duplicate their ego.” The Catholic Church’s spin: Altering God’s plan is immoral. {{Dolly the Sheep creator Harry Griffin’s spins#2:}}: 1) It’s not in a child’s interest to be a copy of mom or dad. 2) Most animal clones die before or immediately after birth, so Zavos is immorally condemning cloned infants to death. {{Pro-cloning spins#2:}}: 1) Cloned humans will merely be a variation of identical twins. 2) Copying humans produced by nature is less disruptive than genetically engineering the original blueprint. 3) Cloning humans can’t be stopped; for all we know, it’s already happened. (To read a Slate article on why opposition to cloning is racist, click {{here#1903}}; to read one about the disappearing distinction between organisms and non-organisms, click {{here#10137}}; to read three about the Dolly experiment, click {{here#2426}}, {{here#2427}}, and {{here#98029}}.) 

{{ravens#97955}}The Baltimore Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7 in the Super Bowl. Linebacker Ray Lewis won the MVP award. The Ravens’ defense {{allowed#2:}} only 23 points in the postseason. (Their 165-point regular season stat is an NFL record.) They are the third wild-card team to win a Super Bowl. The game, which set a Super Bowl record for punts, received the lowest rating in 11 years. Critics’ spin: During the last Super Bowl, Lewis was charged with murder. Now he gets nothing but hosannas. {{Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister’s spin#2:}}: “Our defense as a whole is the greatest thing ever to exist.” {{Baltimore’s spin#2:}}: The Colts were stolen from us 17 years ago. Revenge is sweet. TV industry’s spin: The Super Bowl acted {{merely as a warm-up#2:}} for Survivor: The Australian Outback, which had twice the viewers of last season’s premiere. Reality TV now dominates all. (To read why Evil won the Super Bowl, click {{here#97900}}; to read how the international press scoffed at the game, click {{here#97867}}; read a “Breakfast Table” discussion of Super Bowl ads {{here#74857:Show=1/29/2001&idMessage=6964&idBio=229}}.)

{{clinton#97956}}Former President Clinton took heat for his 11th-hour pardon of a fugitive. On his last day in office, Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, an exile in Switzerland accused of rigging oil prices and avoiding $150 million in taxes. {{Justice Department’s spin#2:}}: Rich’s pardon application was misleading and didn’t go through the usual channels. Rich’s ex-wife’s spin: My $1 million in campaign contributions to the Clintons are immaterial to the pardon. {{New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s spin#2:}}: How can you pardon somebody who displayed such contempt for the system? {{President Bush’s spin#2:}}: I may not agree with Clinton’s pardons, but I can’t reverse them. (To read about Rich’s wife caught in a fib, click {{here#2606:Show=1/26/2001&idMessage=6955}}; for a roundup of Slate articles on pardons, click {{here#97909}}.)