The Week/the Spin


The economy slowed to its weakest growth in eight years. Gross Domestic Product grew at a 0.7 percent annual rate from April to June, the slowest rate since the first quarter of 1993. (A year ago GDP was growing 5.7 percent annually.) Meanwhile, shares of JDS Uniphase, a fiber-optics firm, fell 10 percent after it reported a loss of $44.8 billion, believed to be the largest in business history. White House’s spin: “The slowdown began in the summer of 2000 and it endures today.” Wall Street’s spin: Help us, Mr. Greenspan!

P olice are investigating whether aides to Rep. Gary Condit obstructed justice. A California woman, Joleen McKay, told authorities that Condit aide Michael Dayton asked her not to speak to them about her affair with Condit. Immediately before police searched his apartment on July 10, Condit threw out the box to a watch that McKay had given him, a witness said. Another woman, Anne Marie Smith, alleges that Condit’s office pressured her not to speak to police. Condit recently allowed authorities to interview him a fourth time. He refused to sit down with private detectives hired by Chandra Levy’s family, although he agreed to answer written questions. Jay Leno’s spin: “It turns out Gary Condit is a conservative Democrat. [And] he’s very conservative. Like they asked him today, ‘When does life begin?’ And he said, ‘When your wife’s out of town.’ “ (To read Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick on the legend of the Washington “G-Girl,” click here.)

Colin Powell won the release of two American residents detained in China. Days before arriving in Beijing, the secretary of state negotiated the release of two Chinese citizens with permanent U.S. residency, Gao Zhan and Qin Guangguang. Gao, an American University researcher, and Qin, who has taught at Stanford, were convicted of spying for Taiwan and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Gao flew to the United States, and Qin, who works for an American pharmaceutical company, elected to continue working in Beijing. Gao’s spin: I did not know that the documents given to me by Chinese scholars could be considered “state secrets.” China’s spin: This is about espionage, not human rights. Powell’s spin: “It is not so much individual cases that should be our principal focus and concern, but the system” in China that jails people without due process.

A presidential commission says that Social Security will go bankrupt in less than a generation if not privatized. Democrats attacked the numbers put out by the commission, which consists of eight Democrats and eight Republicans. The commission’s initial report predicts that payroll tax revenues will fall short of benefit expenditures in 2016. Interest from Social Security’s “trust fund” (surplus payroll taxes from past years) will make up the shortfall for another decade. After that, the “trust fund” principal will bankroll the system, until it is exhausted in 2038. Commission’s spin: The “trust fund” shouldn’t be used; we need to invest payroll taxes in the stock market to ensure year-to-year sustainability. Democrats’ spin: Bush appointed only people already committed to privatization, and the report is alarmist. The trust fund is a perfectly good resource, and the 2016 deadline is based on pessimistic projections that Bush’s own economists ignored when pushing his tax cut. (To read Slate’s Michael Kinsley on Social Security privatization, click here.)

A Cabinet-level panel advised President Bush to legalize several million undocumented Mexican immigrants. The committee, headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft, does not advocate a blanket amnesty for all Mexican illegals but recommends allowing many to apply for permanent residency based on their job history and time in the United States. Congress, which gave residency to about 3 million illegals in 1986, would have to approve the plan. GOP’s spin: Controlling our borders is important, but if that fails, we can’t tolerate exploitive black labor markets. Democrats’ public spin: Bush should include more ethnic groups. Democrats’ sotto voce spin: Hey, showing mercy for undocumented immigrants is our issue!

Eudora Welty died at 92. The short story virtuoso lived in Jackson, Miss., nearly her entire life. She won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics’ Circle Award. Toni Morrison’s spin: “There was a profound kind of intimacy in her writing that was not smart-alecky. She just understood people and revealed things about them very economically.” Critics’ spin: She was a regional writer who ignored the civil rights movement. “She spread fairy dust over the cotton fields and refused to confront, or even explore, any of her pretty characters.” Defenders’ response: Writers need not be political just because they live in a political age. “She is a Southerner as Chekhov was a Russian.”

The American Heart Association says post-menopausal women shouldn’t take hormones to prevent heart disease. For decades doctors believed that hormone replacement therapy reduced the risk of heart attack in women. But two recent studies indicate that it may increase the risk. (Heart failure is the biggest killer of women in the United States.) About 17 million women take hormones to prevent post-menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, brittle bones, and eye degeneration. About 3.5 million also take them to prevent heart attacks. AMA’s spin: We’re not saying that all women should stop taking hormones, just that heart disease shouldn’t factor into the cost-benefit analysis, because the data are murky.

Russian-U.S. nuclear arms cuts may clear the way for a U.S. missile shield. President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in principle to link the construction of the U.S. shield to bilateral nuke cuts. The cuts could replace the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Bush plans to abrogate in order to build the shield. Bush’s spin: “I believe that we will come up with an accord.” Putin’s spin: We made “considerable progress,” but “there has been no principal breakthrough.” Pundits’ spin: If Bush convinces Putin to abandon the ABM Treaty, he will eat his cake and have it too.

Nearly all the world’s countries approved a plan to implement the Kyoto global warming treaty. The Clinton administration helped negotiate the treaty, but the Bush administration refused to sign it and the Senate indicated that it would not ratify it. The agreement binds countries to limit their emission of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide. Spins: 1) This is a complex agreement affecting every facet of industrial life. Finding consensus was a diplomatic triumph. 2) The United States is the world’s biggest greenhouse emitter. Without its signature the document is worthless.

The Internet doesn’t make people depressed. Three years ago a heavily publicized study found a correlation between Internet use and depression and loneliness, but a follow-up study found that the correlation didn’t exist. Scientists’ spin: The Internet has become a more social place since we started our research in 1995. Critics’ spin: Nonsense. The original sample was self-selected, and there was no control group. The study’s faulty conclusions were played up by technophobic alarmists.