The Week/the Spin

Right Aid

The House passed broad HMO reform. The bill gives patients new rights, including the ability to sue health plans for denying care. It passed by an unexpectedly wide margin after the House rejected more limited protections proposed by Republican leaders. Supporters’ spin: Finally, insurers will have to pay for their actions. Opponents’ spin: And consumers will have to pay the cost through higher premiums. The Washington Post called the vote a “stunning” sign that Republican leaders have lost the ability to set the House agenda.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush criticized congressional Republicans. First he said House Republicans shouldn’t “balance their budget on the backs of the poor.” Then he said his party often neglects the disadvantaged by focusing on economic wealth. Democrats called Bush a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Republican opponents accused Bush of running for president on the backs of congressmen. But Bush said his comments made a “positive case” for Republican compassion. (Slate’s ” Frame Game” analyzes Bush’s “triangulation” strategy.)

Three people were indicted in the Russian money-laundering case. A former Bank of New York executive and two businessmen were charged with illegally transferring almost $7 billion to foreign accounts without proper licenses. Investigators suspect Russian mobsters and corrupt officials of laundering many times this amount through foreign banks. The FBI spin: This is just the tip of the iceberg. The cynical spin: The way these investigations go, the tip is all we’ll ever see. (Slate’s “Explainer” describes how money laundering works.)

MCI WorldCom bought Sprint for $115 billion. The merger of the nation’s second- and third-largest long-distance companies is the biggest corporate acquisition in history. With MCI’s data communications strength and Sprint’s wireless network, the new company will offer the full range of communications services. Wall Street’s spin: Mammoth companies are the wave of the future, so this marriage is a winner. The government’s spin: Mammoth companies reduce competition, so consumers are the losers. Wall Street’s counterspin: Actually, the merger increases competition with AT&T, which benefits everyone.

The Senate is debating a nuclear test ban treaty. In response to Democratic pressure, Republican leaders scheduled an Oct. 12 vote after delaying the treaty for two years. Despite public support, the Republican majority is almost certain to defeat it. Proponents say U.S. ratification would set an example for the other 150 signatory nations. Opponents counter that it would compromise American security. Republicans’ spin: We’re outsmarting the Democrats by calling their bluff and will win the vote. The Democrats’ spin: You’re outsmarting yourselves by giving us an issue.

A South Korean power plant leaked radiation. The incident, which exposed 22 employees to radioactive water, came one week after the worst nuclear accident in Japan’s history. The risk to the South Korean workers is reportedly ” negligible,” but the condition of the 50 Japanese citizens who were exposed remains unclear. The industry’s spin: The incidents were flukes, and everyone else is safe from future accidents. Local residents’ spin: Everyone else is as safe from accidents as we were.

Vice President Al Gore is campaigning as the “underdog.” He shook up his campaign by moving his headquarters from Washington to Tennessee and challenging Bill Bradley to a series of debates. Gore said he’ll assemble a “leaner, tougher” organization to respond to Bradley, who has recently raised more money than Gore. The optimistic spin: Running as the underdog will energize Gore’s campaign. The pessimistic spin: Pretending to be the underdog when he’s the vice president and front-runner looks ridiculous. (Slate’s “Pundit Central” rounds up the assessments of Gore’s moves; and “Ballot Box” analyzes the importance of being the underdog.)

The Brooklyn Museum of Art opened its “Sensation” exhibit. Record crowds attended the controversial show, which Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had tried to block by halting checks to the museum and filing suit for lease violations. The museum countersued on First Amendment grounds. Giuliani’s spin: Artists are guaranteed freedom, not taxpayer support. The museum’s old spin: Withdrawing support violates this freedom. The museum’s new spin: Thanks for the free publicity, Rudy. Art critics’ spin: The controversy is more interesting than the art. (Slate’s “Culturebox” and “Chatterbox” debated Giuliani’s move. And in “Dialogues,” David Cohen and Deborah Solomon debate whether the “Sensation” art is worth all the fuss.)

Russian troops entered Chechnya. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the army incursion and the preceding two weeks of air raids were necessary to punish Islamic militants for recent bombings in Russia and to prevent the militants from invading Dagestan. Russian troops control one-third of the country, but militias are preparing to battle elsewhere. Chechens were divided over where to direct their anger: 1) at the Russians for clumsy attacks that mostly hit civilians; or 2) at the militants for provoking these assaults. The New York Times worried that the strategy would revive the 1996 Chechen war.

The Supreme Court began its new term. It is expected to be the most controversial term in recent memory, with cases on free speech, church and state, and the federal-state balance of power. Conservatives hope their 5-4 majority will make this the defining term of the Rehnquist court. The New York Times said the decisions are “destined to transform, for better or worse, the legal landscape.”