The Week/the Spin

Great Caesarean 

The Bush administration may give health insurance to unborn children. The Department of Health and Human Services is preparing guidelines that would allow states to use the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover fetuses. An uninsured mother of an eligible fetus could then receive prenatal care, and the fetus’s coverage would continue after birth. Last year Al Gore proposed extending CHIP to uninsured mothers; a bill in Congress proposes the same thing. Health and Human Service’s spin: This is simply an efficient way to expand prenatal coverage. Pro-choice activists’ spin: If the Bush administration wants CHIP to cover mothers, it should say so. Establishing a pro-life legal precedent is not an acceptable substitute.

President Bush nominated Robert Mueller as FBI director. Résumé: Headed the Bush 1 Justice Department’s Criminal Division, prosecuting Manuel Noriega and John Gotti. Since 1998, U.S. attorney in San Francisco (nominated by President Clinton). Reputation: Tough-minded administrator. Colleagues’ spin: “He’s kind of one of these Jimmy Stewart characters, with old-fashioned American values.” He boosts morale and gets things done. Critics’ spin: Louis Freeh may have made administrative mistakes, but at least he had integrity. As deputy attorney general, Mueller dragged his heels on the BCCI investigation because suspects were Bush family friends. And the supra-national financial crimes of BCCI are exactly the kind that the modern FBI needs to prosecute.

Tampa, Fla., police use “Big Brother” cameras to scan for criminal faces. Tampa police routinely scan and digitize pedestrians’ faces captured by visible surveillance cameras in a local entertainment district, and compare them to faces stored in a criminal database. (Tampa police used similar technology at the January Super Bowl to screen for terrorists intent on entering the stadium.) Cops’ spin: Our use of public cameras is no different from an officer standing on a corner with a mug shot or radar gun. We don’t bother those who don’t break the law. Privacy advocates’ spin: Pedestrians concerned about privacy can avoid cameras in banks and government buildings. Are they now supposed to avoid public places? Once again technology outpaces civil-liberties law.   

Researchers document health risk for mothers who deliver naturally after having a Caesarean. A study of 20,000 women found that mothers who have undergone a Caesarean suffer three times the risk of uterine rupture during vaginal birth as do women who have another Caesarean. Uterine ruptures are rare but can kill both mother and baby. For decades, obstetricians had instructed women with Caesareans never to undergo vaginal birth, but since the mid-1980s advances in Caesarean healing have made subsequent vaginal delivery desirable. Critics’ spin: Uterine ruptures are not life-threatening if an emergency Caesarean is performed. The risk of Caesarean complications must be weighted against the tiny risk of uterine rupture.     

S lobodan Milosevic refused to enter a plea or accept legal defense at his war-crimes arraignment. A British judge entered “not guilty” pleas on Milosevic’s behalf after he refused to respond to his indictment for “crimes against humanity.” (The indictment stems from the 1999 killings of Kosovar Albanians by Serbian troops.) Prosecutors will also charge Milosevic with genocide or earlier killings of Croatians and Bosnians. Last week, after Yugoslavia extradited him to the United Nations tribunal at The Hague, the United States pledged $182 million in aid. Milosevic will be the first ex-head of state to be tried by the U.N. tribunal. Sunny spin: It’s a triumph of international cooperation and justice. Cynical spin: It’s a triumph of international economic pressure over democracy. Milosevic’s spin: “I consider this tribunal a false tribunal and [the] indictments false indictments. This trial’s aim is to produce false justification for the war crimes NATO committed in Yugoslavia.” (To read why Slobo should not have been extradited, click here; read foreign press coverage of the extradition in ” International Papers.”)

Doctors implanted the first self-contained artificial heart in a human being. An internal battery powers the two-pound titanium and plastic pump. An external battery uses electromagnetic waves to constantly recharge the internal battery, which lasts only 30 minutes on its own. Artificial hearts were first implanted in the early 1980s but relied on external wires, which often cause infection. The first self-contained hearts will be used only on patients who would otherwise die within 30 days; the heart is designed to double the patients’ life expectancy to 60 days. Doctors’ spin: These devices will eventually prolong the lives of 100,000 people every year as they wait for heart transplants.

Robert Hanssen pleaded guilty to espionage in exchange for being spared a possible death penalty. The former FBI agent struck a deal with prosecutors to reveal details of his transactions with Russia in exchange for a life sentence in prison. Prosecutors allege that Hanssen gave classified nuclear-war battle plans to his handlers for at least 15 years and received at least $600,000 in cash and jewelry in return. Analysts’ spin: This deal serves the interests of both Hanssen, who wants to live, and the government, which wants to know what he compromised.

American and European regulators blocked two large mergers. The European Union vetoed General Electric’s $45 billion purchase of Honeywell, and United Airlines withdrew its $4.3 billion takeover of US Airways after failing to overcome U.S. Justice Department opposition. Analysts’ spins: 1) The DOJ’s opposition will help fliers. United, Delta, and American (which recently purchased TWA) each control about 18 percent of the U.S. market; a United-US Airways behemoth would have had excessive market power. 2) As long as corporations are multinational, both Europe and the United States will have veto power over mergers.

China’s president said that the Communist Party should allow business owners to join. Jiang Zemin suggested that capitalists should no longer be banned from the 65-million-member party, which runs the government. Jiang’s spin: “We cannot simplistically use whether people have property and how much property they have as a criterion to determine whether they are politically advanced or backward.” Like soldiers, farmers, and intellectuals, capitalists are ” builders of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Analysts’ spins: 1) Wow! If Communists don’t exclude capitalists, what does it mean to be a Communist? 2) The party is already full of de facto capitalists, so Jiang is just recognizing reality.

Vice President Cheney had a cardiac pacemaker installed. The routine surgery corrected an irregular heartbeat. Media’s spin: Hey Mr. Veep, how’s your heart? Cheney’s response: “It seems to be working pretty good. I’m sitting here at my desk working away.”