The Week/the Spin

Family Values 

Bombings killed at least 13 in Israel. A Hamas suicide-bomber blew himself up outside a shopping mall immediately before the Jewish Sabbath, killing himself and at least six others. In retaliation, Israeli fighter jets bombed a Palestinian security building in the West Bank, killing at least six. (It is the first time Israel has used planes, rather than helicopters, against the West Bank since 1967.) Hamas’ spin: This is retaliation for Israel’s murder of six Palestinian policemen earlier this week. Israeli burial official’s comment: “I … saw the guts and intestines and internal organs of people scattered all over.” Bomber’s spin: “Whoever believes that God’s religion will be victorious without holy struggle, without blood, without body parts is living under an illusion.”

Utah held its first polygamy trial in nearly 50 years. The state has charged Tom Green with bigamy and failure to support several of the 25-30 children he fathered by approximately 10 women. Prosecutors claim Green is currently “married” to five wives (he has divorced the others). Most of the “marriages” were not licensed by the state, but Utah claims that multiple nonlicensed marriages are still illegal. Green will be tried separately on charges of child rape stemming from one marriage to a 13-year-old. Utah allowed polygamy until it became a state in 1896. Mormon Church’s spin: Don’t look at us. We don’t recognize Green as a Mormon, and we don’t condone his behavior. Green’s defenders’ spin: Most polygamists are not prosecuted. This is a political case designed to clean Utah’s image in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Utah’s spin: Green bragged about his wives on television. We have to draw the line somewhere. Green’s spin: I work hard to feed my family. Polygamy is part of my religion, “Mormon fundamentalism.”

A boy who shot his teacher when the boy was 13 was convicted of second-degree murder. Nathaniel Brazill, now 14, had been charged as an adult with first-degree murder. He is the second boy in Florida to be so tried in the past five months. (In January, 14-year-old Lionel Tate was convicted of first-degree murder—which carries a mandatory life sentence—for killing a 6-year-old playmate when Tate was 12.) A judge will determine Brazill’s sentence. Spins: 1) The second-degree conviction was a sensible compromise between manslaughter and first-degree murder. Maybe Florida juries take age into account after all. 2) He got second-degree only because the jury determined that the gun went off by accident. His age had nothing to do with it. 3) Yes, but these cases might force Florida to review its juvenile law.

Stocks soared after a half-point rate cut by the Fed. The market remained flat on Tuesday immediately after the Federal Reserve’s fifth half-point cut this year. But on Wednesday the Dow and S&P 500 gained about 3 percent (the Dow reached 11,000 for the first time since September), and the Nasdaq gained nearly 4 percent. Spins: 1) The Fed has convinced the markets that the economy will recover. 2) Still, the Dow is up only 2 percent this year, and the Nasdaq is down 9 percent. Investors remain bearish, and there’s nothing the Fed can do. 3) Stocks have remained flat because long-term interest rates are still high. And rates are still high because investors are banking on a recovery.

L ouis Freeh apologized for the FBI’s misplacement of McVeigh documents. The FBI director told a House panel that he took full responsibility for the thousands of legal documents never given to Timothy McVeigh’s lawyers. Earlier this week, McVeigh’s lawyers indicated that he may seek to delay his execution—now scheduled for June 11—or even seek a new trial. Last week the Justice Department delayed the lethal injection of McVeigh, originally scheduled for May 16, after the FBI discovered the missing documents; this week a field office discovered 10 more documents. Oklahoma bombing co-defendant Terry Nichols, who was convicted of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison, has asked the Supreme Court to reopen his case. Justice Department’s spin: The documents do not cast reasonable doubt on McVeigh’s guilt, but this is about fairness. We will investigate why this happened. Critics’ spins: 1) Six years after the bombing, and a week before the execution, they discover the documents? It’s suspicious. 2) No, it’s just another FBI screw-up. McVeigh lawyers’ spin: Yes, McVeigh has admitted to the bombings, but if he was part of a larger conspiracy, wouldn’t the public want to know? (Read this“Frame Game” for an argument against killing McVeigh.)

Fewer than one in four U.S. households contain a married couple with children. In 1960, 45 percent of households contained such families. The Census Bureau also reported that 1) single-mom-with-kids households (7 percent of all households) are growing at more at than four times the rate of husband-and-wife-with-kids households; 2) nearly 10 percent of couples living together are unmarried; 3) more than a quarter of households contain just one person; and 4) a third of U.S. households are non-family (i.e., singles living alone or with non-relatives). Spins: 1) The nuclear family is dead. 2) No, rates of divorce and single motherhood actually slowed in the ‘90s. But the elderly are living longer, and couples are taking longer to get married. 3) Because single mothers are poorer than married couples, and because fewer households have kids, schools and kids suffer.

The XFL died after one season. The flashy football league started by World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon drew record ratings on NBC prime time during its opening week, but viewership plummeted from there. After NBC dropped the league, McMahon failed to get a cable TV contract. XFL announcer (and Minnesota governor) Jesse Ventura’s spin: The media jackals couldn’t handle our brash attitude, so they ignored us. Analysts’ spins: 1) The XFL is the third failed NFL alternative in 30 years. You can’t beat the champ. 2) You don’t have to beat the champ—the Arena Football League is thriving after 15 seasons, but it doesn’t waste its time comparing itself to the NFL or flaunting “attitude.” (To read Moneybox’s prediction that the XFL would fail, click here.)

The Supreme Court upheld a ban on the sale of marijuana for medical purposes. The unanimous ruling said that a federal statute outlawing all marijuana use overrides state laws allowing medical exceptions. (Several states have passed referendums allowing medicinal pot cooperatives.) Justices’ spin: Federal law trumps state law. Pot advocates’ spin: The ban applies only to the sale of marijuana; we can still grow it and give it away to the sick.

Singer Perry Como died at 88. He crooned show tunes in an easygoing style and hosted a popular TV program during the 1950s. Critics’ spin: He was a mediocre singer, but millions of Americans found him comforting in a comfortable age. Bing Crosby’s take: Como was “the man who invented casual.”

Novelist Douglas Adams died at 49. His The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—a BBC radio serial that evolved into a cottage industry of novels and TV shows— spawned a cult following. (The novel of the same name sold 14 million copies.) Wags’ spin: Is the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything really “42”? Now Adams knows for sure.