House of Yes

The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
Nov. 19 1999 9:30 PM

House of Yes

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The House approved a final budget bill. The $385 billion compromise measure, which President Clinton has agreed to sign, passed 296-135. It faces opposition in the Senate because of changes to dairy protections and satellite TV regulations. In the final deal, Clinton gained: 1) additional funding for teachers and police; 2) environmental protections; and 3) money for international relief and foreign relations. The Republicans won: 1) a 0.38 percent across-the-board budget cut; 2) increased spending on defense and veterans' health; and 3) the ability to claim to have protected the Social Security surplus. Optimists hailed it as a restrained and responsible measure that " limits spending in a booming economy." Skeptics called it a pork-ridden sham, based on bookkeeping gimmicks.

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The NTSB remains in charge of the EgyptAir Flight 990 investigation. The agency had planned to relinquish the probe to the FBI for a criminal investigation into whether co-pilot Gamil al-Batouti intentionally downed the aircraft, but the Egyptian government requested more time to analyze the flight data and cockpit voice recordings. Batouti is suspected because: 1) he uttered a prayer immediately before disengaging the autopilot; 2) his controls were in the "nose down" position, while the captain's were in "nose up"; and 3) the captain pleaded with Batouti to help him pull the plane out of its dive. The Egyptian spin: Investigators are "rushing to judgment" based on anti-Muslim bias. The American spin: There's no evidence of any other cause.

The Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates. The quarter-point boost, to 5.5 percent, was the third increase this year in the rate banks charge each other on loans. Despite evidence of slowing growth, the Fed said the move was necessary to prevent future inflation as unemployment declines. Wall Street analysts debated whether the announcement was: 1) bad news, since it curtails business growth; 2) good news, since the Fed signaled that this would be the last increase of the year; or 3) a non-event, since the move was widely anticipated. (Slate's " Moneybox" probes the meaning of the Fed's action.)

A 13-year-old Michigan boy was found guilty of murder. Nathaniel Abraham, who was 11 at the time of the crime, is believed to be the youngest defendant ever convicted of murder as a non-juvenile offense. He could face life in prison, but prosecutors will likely ask that he be detained in a juvenile facility until his sentence is reassessed at age 21. Juvenile justice advocates said the case revealed the inhumanity of trying ever younger defendants as adults. But Michigan Republicans, who have fought for stricter punishment of juveniles, hailed it as a victory for justice and safety.

The White House and Congress tentatively compromised on U.N. debts and abortion restrictions. Congressional Republicans agreed to approve nearly $1 billion in back payments to the United Nations. In return, the Clinton administration agreed to prohibit government-funded relief organizations from performing abortions or promoting abortion rights. If Clinton waives the ban, funding for overseas family planning will be decreased by 3 percent. Abortion activists from both sides called the deal the biggest anti-abortion victory since Clinton took office. The New York Times termed it a huge win for House Republicans, "who walked away with a disturbingly large share of what they wanted." But the administration said the concessions were "largely symbolic" and would "not interfere with family planning programs around the world."

A federal judge suspended California restrictions on ATM fees. The temporary injunction will allow banks in San Francisco and Santa Monica to continue charging non-customers for ATM use until a trial takes place. Last week, Bank of America and Wells Fargo barred non-customers from their Santa Monica cash machines in response to the city's ban on ATM surcharges. Banks' spin: We're winning in the courts. Consumer advocates' spin: But you've already lost in the court of public opinion.

China and the U.S. agreed to terms for China's entry into the World Trade Organization. Beijing will cut tariffs and increase foreign access to its markets. China, which must negotiate separate agreements with other member nations to gain access to the WTO, is unlikely to be admitted before the organization meets later this month. Free-traders hailed it as a victory for: 1) American business, which runs a large trade deficit with China; 2) the Chinese economy, which has been stunted by limited competition; and 3) Sino-American relations, which have been tense since last spring's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Critics worried that the accord would harm: 1) Chinese workers, who may lose their jobs as state industries close; and 2) human rights activists, who may have lost their best bargaining chip. (Slate's " Moneybox" assesses the significance of the accord for Internet firms.)

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Al Gore addressed Microsoft employees. Ten days after a federal judge declared the company a monopoly, Gore was aggressively questioned about his administration's antitrust suit. Although he did not take sides, Gore expressed support for the principles underlying antitrust law, saying they embody the "fundamental American value" of competition. Critics said Gore didn't win many votes at Microsoft. But boosters argued that since he is the most "technologically savvy candidate ever to run for president," he has the computer vote all but sewn up. (In Slate's " This Just In," Gore reflects on his day at Microsoft.)

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Twenty former NBA stars led a fund-raiser for Bill Bradley. Hall-of-Famers, including Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Moses Malone bantered with Bradley and recounted stories of his career, including two NBA championships with the New York Knicks. The Madison Square Garden event raised $1.5 million. Bradley supporters said it gave him a publicity boost, but Gore supporters countered that Bradley is running on his biography and avoiding issues. (Slate's "Frame Game" and "Pundit Central" analyze Bradley's All-Star push.)

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Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield to become the world heavyweight boxing champion. Lewis won the close bout in a unanimous decision, making him the first undisputed titleholder since 1992. It was a rematch of a March fight, which ended officially in a draw but was widely believed to have been won by Lewis. Sportswriters exulted that Lewis finally got what he deserved. But skeptics said that scoring discrepancies revealed "something less than a definitive way of judging a bout."

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