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The world's first surviving octuplets are in critical but stable condition. They were born three months premature to a Houston woman Dec. 20. The smallest is 10 ounces. Doctors give them an 85 percent chance of survival. The media swarmed the story, noting the proliferation of multiple births due to fertility drugs. The spins: 1) It's a Christmas "miracle." 2) It's a PR bonanza for companies that are donating diapers and baby formula. 3) It's a technological breakthrough. 4) It's not a miracle or a breakthrough, it's reckless self-indulgence, because the kids will either die or suffer lifelong medical problems, and society can't afford to spend millions of dollars on every preemie. 5) If women take fertility drugs and develop multiple embryos, they should abort the extra ones. 6) No, abortion is wrong. 7) If a woman won't abort the extras (as this woman refused to do on religious grounds), she shouldn't take the drugs to begin with. (12/23/98)
China sentenced three political activists to a combined 36 years in prison for trying to organize a Chinese Democratic Party. The charge is "subverting state power." These are the latest steps in a crackdown on activists who have recently tried to form parties or unions, assist pro-democracy magazines, or run for office outside the Communist Party. The spins: 1) The trials were a joke. 2) China's democratic pretensions are a joke. 3) China has violated the treaties it has signed on free speech and political rights. 4) The U.S. policy of fostering Chinese political reform through trade is a joke. 5) Don't worry, China's economic liberalization will eventually lead to political liberalization. 6) Don't worry, China simultaneously released another dissident into exile and allowed a British balloon to fly over its territory. 7) Whoop-de-doo. (12/23/98)
Israel's parliament dissolved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Right-wingers abandoned him, saying he had sold out Israeli security by signing the Wye peace agreement. Centrists abandoned him, saying he had sabotaged the agreement. He agreed to hold new elections next spring. The spins: 1) Netanyahu is finished. 2) That's what pundits foolishly said last time. 3) The left-leaning Labor Party can't win because it is considered too soft on the Palestinians. 4) James Carville, who is advising the Labor Party, will fix that. 5) A centrist general known as the "Israeli Colin Powell" will win. 6) Israeli politics will fragment, nobody will win, and tiny fringe parties will be able to blackmail the next government, just as they blackmailed Netanyahu. 7) The election is good for Israeli-Palestinian peace because it will get rid of Netanyahu's obstructionism. 8) It's bad for peace because it will delay Israeli implementation of the Wye agreement and trigger Palestinian violence. 9) Netanyahu will win re-election by campaigning against the Palestinian violence. (12/23/98)
The House impeached President Clinton. Article 1 (perjury before the grand jury) passed 228-206, Article 3 (obstruction of justice) passed 221-212, Article 2 (perjury in the Paula Jones deposition) failed 229-205, and Article 4 (abuse of power) failed 285-148. Five Democrats voted for Article 1, and five Republicans voted against it, but the media largely agreed with Democrats that it was a party-line vote. Democrats tried to bring up a censure resolution, but Republicans ruled that it wasn't germane. Democrats temporarily walked out to protest the "unfairness" of the proceedings and later staged a rally at the White House to show their support of Clinton, in deliberate contrast to the 1974 visit to the White House by Republican senators who told President Nixon they couldn't save him. The sunny spin: Senate moderates are ready to end this mess if Clinton will just confess to lying and sign a censure deal. The cynical spin: That's what House moderates were ready to do a month ago. (12/21/98)
Incoming House Speaker Bob Livingston, R-La., is resigning. On Thursday, amid reports that Hustler magazine was preparing to expose his extramarital affairs, Livingston confessed that he had strayed from his marriage "on occasion." On Saturday, he shocked his colleagues by announcing during the impeachment debate that he would not assume the speakership and would instead resign from the House. He said he was setting an example for President Clinton, whom he urged to resign as well. Republicans extolled Livingston's courage, lamented the loss of a great statesman, and blamed the ouster on White House dirty tricks. The resignation was also provoked by House Republicans angry at Livingston for failing to disclose his infidelities when he ran for speaker. Democrats, too, lamented his downfall, even as they milked it to illustrate why Clinton shouldn't be made the next victim of the "politics of personal destruction." Republicans plan to name Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., as the new speaker. The official spin: Hastert is too clean to have committed adultery. The unofficial spin: Hastert is too boring to have committed adultery. (12/21/98)
The United States and Britain halted the bombing of Iraq. There were no U.S. or British casualties and minimal Iraqi civilian casualties. U.S. officials claim to have set back Iraq's missile program by a year. They say the new U.S. policy is to contain and deter Iraq's weapons programs (possibly through periodic military strikes), maintain economic sanctions, and foster Iraqi opposition groups in the hope of deposing Saddam Hussein. The U.S. government spin: We're protecting the world and backing diplomacy with necessary force. The criticisms: 1) The U.N. weapons inspections are dead. 2) The Iraqi opposition groups are a joke. 3) The bombing wasn't as effective as military spokesmen say it was. 4) President Clinton lacked the stamina to finish the bombing. 5) If we lack the stamina for four days of bombing, how will we find the stamina for the years of work it will take to topple Saddam? (For more on international reactions to the bombings, see "International Papers" in Slate.) (12/21/98)