The Week/the Spin

China Breach

The United States criticized Israel for selling arms to China. The Pentagon urged Israel to stop delivery of a $250 million airborne radar system that may be based on advanced American technology. Israel has reportedly sold $5 billion to $7 billion in military equipment to China in the last 20 years. The nervous spin: China may have obtained our most valuable secrets. The relaxed spin: They still don’t have the technology to make those secrets useful. The Israeli spin: If this was such a problem, what took you so long to complain?

Two banks will bar non-customers from using their Santa Monica ATMs. Bank of America and Wells Fargo, California’s largest banks, adopted the policy in response to the city’s ban on ATM surcharges. Banks are suing to block a similar law in San Francisco. Banks’ spin: We need the fees to maintain ATMs. Consumers’ spin: You need the fees to pad your wallets. Banks’ counterspin: Either way, pricing decisions should be left up to us.

The Army rated two of its 10 divisions unfit for battle. The divisions, based in New York and Germany, reportedly have insufficient troops, equipment, and training for a “major regional war.” The evaluations, based on new, stricter standards, resulted in the lowest ratings in seven years. Republicans said the findings proved that the Clinton administration underfunds and overextends American troops. Skeptics countered that the Army underrated itself in order to get more money.

UnitedHealth Group will stop pre-screening doctors’ medical decisions. The second-largest U.S. HMO said that physicians would no longer need prior authorization for hospital admissions, tests, or minor surgeries. The company will monitor and issue “report cards” on individual doctors’ cost-quality performance. Consumer advocates said the change was: 1) an admission that physicians make better decisions than bureaucrats; and 2) a signal that HMOs must compete on quality, not just price. The industry countered that the move will: 1) save the company money; and 2) reduce momentum for political reforms of health care.

The government won the first round of its antitrust suit against Microsoft. In his “findings of fact,” Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that the company is a monopoly, has abused its monopoly power, and has harmed consumers. Reporters said the opinion was such a slam-dunk for the government that Microsoft couldn’t spin it. Instead, the company dismissed the ruling as the first round of a long fight. (Slate’s “Frame Game” explains how Microsoft’s rivals are spinning the decision to maximize the damage; and “Moneybox“ tells what was the real surprise of the trial.)

Catholics are protesting the release of Dogma. The film features Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as fallen angels who attempt to re-enter heaven using a loophole in Catholic doctrine. Disney dropped the comedy last April because of the controversy, but it was picked up by an independent distributor. Catholics’ spin: It’s blasphemous “hate mail” to the Catholic church. The filmmaker’s spin: It’s a comic ode to religious faith. Critics’ spin: In either case, it’s a great film. (Slate’s “Summary Judgment” assesses reviewers’ reactions and read David Edestein’s review here.)

A “black box” from EgyptAir Flight 990 was recovered. Information from the flight data recorder shows that the plane’s fall began as a “controlled descent” with the pilots still in command. The new data eliminate the possibility that a faulty thrust reverser induced the crash, but investigators say that they must recover the cockpit voice recorder to determine the cause. They continue to consider as possibilities: 1) hijacking; 2) bombing; 3) cabin depressurization; and 4) mechanical failure.

The “Bubbleboy” e-mail virus is spreading. The virus–which places Seinfeld references on a computer’s hard drive–is able to infect machines without the user opening an e-mailed attachment. Users of Microsoft’s Outlook Express can get it simply by highlighting the message’s subject line. The optimistic spin: The virus is ” more playful than destructive.” The pessimistic spin: Now “simply reading e-mails can be dangerous.”

The Director of the International Monetary Fund is resigning. Frenchman Michel Camdessus will step down in February after 13 years as head of the multinational lending agency charged with ensuring global economic stability. The IMF has been criticized for its role in the Asian economic crisis and the bailout of Russia. Conservatives’ spin: Camdessus was too liberal in disbursing IMF funds. Liberals’ spin: Camdessus was too strict  in forcing economic austerity. Camdessus boosters’ spin: Criticism from both sides means he did his job just right.

Germany celebrated the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Helmut Kohl participated in the commemoration. President Clinton called it “one of history’s most remarkable triumphs of human freedom.” Some former East Germans, however, complained of ongoing economic inequities and the “wall in the head” that still divides the country. But the New York Times observed that despite unification’s difficulties, “few wish to go back.”