The Week/the Spin

Burn, Baby, Burn 

Congressional redistricting will not use statistically adjusted census figures. The Census Bureau told the commerce secretary that it cannot prove that its adjusted data are more accurate than the actual head count—which may have missed 3.1 million people, mostly minorities. The decision will make it easier for the Bush administration to certify the original numbers for use by states when redrawing congressional districts. Congressional Democrats had expected the bureau to recommend adjustment; without the recommendation, they have little ammunition to challenge the administration’s expected decision against adjustment. Census Bureau’s spin: Statistical adjustment is important, but our analysts encountered complications that cannot be resolved by the April 1 deadline. Pundits’ spin: The 2002 congressional elections will be close, and this may tip the balance to the GOP. (To learn how the Census Bureau sells the 2000 count as a lottery game, click here.)

The Pentagon introduced a non-lethal “burn weapon” to disperse crowds. The “active denial system” uses high-frequency electromagnetic waves that create a burning sensation—up to 120 degrees—without actually burning the skin. (The waves penetrate the skin one-sixty-fourth of an inch.) When deployed in five years, it may eventually replace tear gas and rubber bullets as the riot-control method of choice. Pentagon’s spin: This weapon has a longer range than tear gas and rubber bullets and reduces the risk of permanant injury. Skeptics’ spin: Sounds Big Brotherish to us. (To read an “Explainer” on rubber bullets, click here.)

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the Pacific Northwest. It originated 30 miles below Olympia, Wash., and was felt from Portland to Canada. It caused billions of dollars in damage but killed only one and injured only several dozen. (Southern California’s 6.7 temblor in 1994 killed 72 and injured thousands.) Thank-God-it-wasn’t-worse spins: People survived because 1) the epicenter was deep; 2) most buildings in Seattle and Olympia were quake-ready (the Starbucks Center, built in 1912 and home to 2,000 workers, was retrofitted just three years ago); and 3) they were lucky. (To learn how the Richter scale works, click here; to learn what damage will typically result from a given Richter reading, click here.)

Europe slaughtered tens of thousands of livestock to combat foot-and-mouth disease. The discovery of several dozen cases of the livestock ailment in Britain and Ireland has set off waves of slaughter across Europe. (Animal movements to the continent, where there are no reported cases, stopped Feb. 23.) France will kill 20,000 animals; Belgium, 2,000; Germany, 2,000. Because humans can spread the disease, customs agents are requiring travelers to sanitize clothing and baggage upon arrival. Britain has banned rugby tournaments, horse racing, and dog shows. British pundits’ spin: Prime Minister Tony Blair may have to delay this spring’s election or he’ll lose the crucial rural vote. British veterinarians’ spin: Because of the two-to-14-day incubation period, the number of cases will increase before is subsides. U.S. veterinarians’ spin: If you’ve been to England in the last month, don’t go to the zoo! Americans’ spin: First genetically modified food, then mad cow disease, now foot-and-mouth disease. Technophobic environmentalists and alarmist governments have turned Europe into morass of panic. (To learn more about foot-and-mouth disease, click here.)

Another brother of Hillary Clinton lobbied President Clinton for pardons. Last March, Tony Rodham secured two pardons for friends over objections from the Justice Department, the New York Times reported. Rodham says he did not take money for his efforts, although he has a financial relationship with the pardoned couple. The New York Daily News reported that Denise Rich, ex-wife of pardon recipient Marc Rich, is negotiating with prosecutors. Last week, lawyer Hugh Rodham admitted to visiting the White House on Jan. 19, a day before the president pardoned two of his clients. (Rodham has returned the $400,000 he received from the clients; two other clients were not pardoned.) Roger Clinton also lobbied his brother for pardons. He claims he wasn’t paid—all 10 of his requests were denied—but Congress is investigating anyway. Conventional wisdom: Clinton shot himself in the foot and, for the first time, cannot contain the damage. Dissenting spin: As with Flytrap, the investigations are worse than the original offense. Washington’s hyper-legalistic minds want to nullify not just Clinton’s pardons, but the pardon power itself. Public’s spin: This is an important issue, but we’re not sure Congress should keep investigating. 

President Bush pushed his tax cut in a speech to Congress. He argued for a $1.6 trillion, 10-year cut; urged Social Security and Medicare reform; and promised to reduce the national debt by $2 trillion over the next decade. (The Democrats advocate a $750 billion-over-10-year tax cut.) The following day he released a budget outline that advocates a thinner bureaucracy, military base closures, and giving more regulatory power to states. Pundits’ spin: The speech was competently delivered and conservative without being strident. Democrats now advocate bigger tax cuts than Republicans advocated last year. But if the budget surpluses don’t come through, something has to give.  

An appeals court criticized the government’s case against Microsoft. Most of the seven judges challenged the government’s argument that Microsoft acted as a monopoly and harmed consumers. Nearly all criticized District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson for 1) using inflammatory language in his decision against the company last year; and 2) speaking to the press after the decision. Pro-Microsoft spin: Jackson’s decision was so sweeping, and his press comments so outrageous, that the appeals court will find him biased and clear Microsoft. Pro-government spin: The judges recognize that Jackson was irresponsible, but they can’t prove bias. And Jackson’s decision was so sweeping that unless the court proves bias, it has to uphold at least some of the penalties, which would still cripple the company. (To read a “Dialogue” between Thomas Hazlett and Ken Auletta on the trial, click here.)

Consumer confidence reached a four-year low. The Consumer Confidence Index fell for the fifth straight month, while the Nasdaq composite closed at its lowest level since January 1999. The Commerce Department downgraded its estimate of fourth-quarter economic growth from 1.4 percent to 1.1 percent annually. Glass-half-full spin: Most economic indicators—such as auto and retail sales and even GDP—are moderately good. Consumers are scared because 1) they mistakenly think that tech stocks alone can break the economy; and 2) the Bush administration is acting like Chicken Little so Congress will pass a tax cut. Glass-half-empty spin: Housing sales have plummeted, the S&P 500 is near a two-year low, and depressed consumer confidence will soon translate into low consumer spending and a contracting economy.

The Israeli Labor Party joined Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a unity government. The party gets 1) eight ministerial posts (a third of the total); and 2) Sharon’s promise to abide by the land-for-peace principles of the 1993 Oslo Accords (which he had threatened to scuttle). Labor leader Shimon Peres’ spin: If we join, Sharon will make the ideological and diplomatic concessions we want. And Israel cannot afford a divided government in a time of peril. Dissenting Labor spin: “We may become a fig leaf for policies in which we don’t believe.” Pundits’ spin: By forming a stable, moderate government, Sharon may prevent former Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from making a comeback. (To read an “Assessment” of Sharon, click here; to read “Foreigners” on why Sharon might make a good prime minister, click here.)

M achete-wielding Indonesians slaughtered an ethnic minority. Since last week armed gangs of ethnic Dayak men on the Indonesian half of Borneo island have killed at least 400 minority Madurans and displaced thousands. Indonesian troops have done little to stop the marauders, many of whom ride motorcycles and brandish spears. (Dayaks are animist and Christian, while Madurans are Muslim.) Since the 1960s the Indonesian goverment has alleviated overcrowding on the island of Madura by resettling many of its inhabitants to Borneo, which is split between Indonesia and Malaysia. The Dayaks, indigenous to Borneo, accuse the Madurans of stealing their jobs. Cynics’ spin: Racist violence in Indonesia dwarfs that in the Middle East, yet Indonesia is poor and lacks geopolitical importance, so the West ignores it. (To read about the crisis in “International Papers,” click here.)