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Criminal Intent

The New Republic on nabbing the Bush administration for warrantless spying.

New Republic, Nov. 20 A piece contends that the new Democrat-dominated legislature should take a cue from the late-1990s GOP playbook and stonewall Republican initiatives before they can start, like the Newt Gingrich-led Congress did to President Clinton’s prescription-drug-benefit, minimum-wage, and gun-control proposals. Puppet master Gingrich’s combative legislature imploded, but scaring up scandals (Whitewater, anyone?) was the surest path to installing a Republican in the White House. “By immolating itself, the GOP Congress also blew up the final years of Clinton’s presidency and left Americans desperate to end political bloodsport.” A piggyback piece dreams up a scenario that includes intrigue, impeachment, and contempt-of-court citations—and that concludes with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales being locked up in the Capitol brig. It could happen, the writer insists, if the Bush administration keeps up its insouciance with regard to executive privilege in the NSA debacle—and incoming House judiciary committee head John Conyers is just the man to get the ball and chain rolling.— M.M.

Economist, Nov. 11 The cover piece gives President Bush helpful hints to avoid going down in history books as the commander in chief who fought an ill-advised, losing war while leading his party to a legislative trouncing during the waning years of his tenure. Bush should concentrate on his international image by brokering peaceful deals with countries that harbor physical and/or economic threats, such as Iran, North Korea, and China; cozy up to the Democrats, who now hold the legislative cards; and tone down the cowboy act in favor of a more centrist approach, the editorial recommends. An article upbraids the World Health Organization for concentrating too much on trying to eradicate “lifestyle” dangers in the developing world, such as smoking and obesity, at the expense of fighting urgent contagions like AIDS and bird flu. “Just as human-rights groups get into a muddle when they broaden their focus from torture victims to losers from globalisation, the Mary Poppinsisation of the WHO has meant it has neglected some of its core duties.”— M.M.

New York Times Magazine, Nov. 12 The movie issue features an article explaining why “making a comedy is such a good bet.” Comedies’ low production costs make duds forgivable—and the right movie can bring in a huge return. There’s Something About Mary cost $20 million and brought in $176 million domestically. “A popular comedy is a valuable piece of intellectual property. If it’s made cheaply, it’s the equivalent of investing early in Google.” A profile of bankable comedy star Will Ferrell captures his appeal succinctly: “[H]e has perfected a version of the likable, suburban-born-and-bred, not-too-smart guy who likes to hang out with friends, doesn’t particularly want to grow up … and is happily oblivious to his own ridiculousness.” He’s the king of the abovementioned low-budget comedy, but playing an uptight 9-to-5er in the new movie Stranger Than Fiction was a welcome departure for him. “It was so freeing to not run around and act like a crazy person,” he says.— T.B.

The New Yorker, Nov. 13 George Packer canvasses the Nigerian “megacity” Lagos, currently the sixth most populous in the world and moving up the ladder quickly. Most of its residents have come to seek opportunity but hover at the edge of survival, living in slums and working irregular jobs in its massive informal economy: extortion, prostitution, picking garbage, hawking goods at the side of the road. Most other cities with huge slum populations exhibit some planning and have downtown business districts firmly under the rule of law. Not so, Lagos: “The whole city suffers from misuse.” Packer is critical of Western intellectuals dazzled by Lagos’ legions of small entrepreneurs and its frontier spirit. Lagos is a wretched place to live and, despite new efforts toward planning and law enforcement since the return of democratic elections in 1999, it will probably become worse. He concludes, “The really disturbing thing about Lagos’s pickers and vendors is that their lives have essentially nothing to do with ours. They scavenge an existence beyond the margins of macroeconomics.”— B.W.

New York, Nov. 13 The war in Iraq is lost, so it’s time for the United States to start acting like the “humble superpower” President Bush envisioned during the 2000 campaign, says Kurt Andersen. Bush has tried to counter his father’s “Wasp wimp” image with one of swaggering entitlement, Andersen writes. His suggestion for a hubris-free foreign-policy plan: “[T]emper our long-standing sense of righteous superiority with our hardwired pragmatism—to maintain a clear-eyed view of what’s practical and sensible, to avoid believing our own bullshit.” Yet another profile of Hillary Clinton weighs her chances at nabbing the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Surprisingly, it’s not Chicago phenomenon Barack Obama who might derail the hardworking, collegial junior senator’s shot the White House: It’s Clinton herself. The piece reports that “the Warrior” could decide to stay put because she actually likes being a senator.— Z.K.

Weekly Standard, Nov. 13 An article warns that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would strengthen the insurgency and increase sectarian violence, plunging the strife-filled country further into catastrophe. The fledging Iraqi military is ill-equipped to pick up the slack left by vacating American forces, the author argues: “The Iraqi military cannot function with out significant American logistical presence. It cannot continue to improve in quality without a significant America training presence which includes a partnership between Iraqi combat units and coalition combat units conducting counterinsurgency operations.” The cover piece cheers Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for 20 years of “judicial excellence.” The writer praises Scalia for his “textualist” and “originalist” approach to the Constitution; however, according to one Supreme Court chronicler, Scalia’s vigorous stance on issues such as Roe v. Wade, Miranda, the death penalty, and gay rights “generally failed to win converts.”—Z.K.

Time and Newsweek, Nov. 13 Time’s cover story tackles the tension between religion and science. Several recent books claim that religion is, as prominent atheist Richard Dawkins claims, a “delusion,” but members of the religious community deride them as “followers of ‘scientism’ or ‘evolutionism’ ” who “hope science … can replace religion as a worldview and a touchstone.” In an interview with Dawkins and Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian and the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, the two clash over the compatibility of faith and evolution. Collins doesn’t think they’re mutually exclusive, but Dawkins calls this “a tremendous cop-out.” Newsweek’s cover story reports on the schism in the religious right—while some want to focus on contentious issues like gay marriage, others believe that the faithful should concern themselves with “a wider-ranging agenda, one that emphasizes reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised,” the article says. One such pastor says, “I can’t see Jesus standing with signs at an anti-gay rally.”

Odds and ends: A Newsweek article illustrates how ” ‘potentially the greatest breach of national security’ in decades” was discovered after trailer-park residents reported a domestic dispute. When the police arrived, they discovered a methamphetamine lab—and computer devices containing hundreds of pages of classified documents related to nuclear information. The trailer owner’s girlfriend had worked briefly at the government’s laboratory in Los Alamos, and she claimed that she “intended to destroy the material.” It’s just another security breach in Los Alamos—and the article blames the series of incidents on “laxness and budget cuts.” Time profiles George W. Bush’s press secretary, Tony Snow, who is noteworthy for his ability to stray “past the safety of White House talking points.” It seems to be working, though, as Snow’s briefings are getting more media coverage than those of his predecessor, even if he is “more pundit than spokesman.”—T.B.

The Atlantic, November 2006 A sweeping profile of Hillary Rodham Clinton suggests her successful Senate career may inhibit her presidential prospects. The author describes Hillary’s rise as “a pattern of ambition, failure, study, and advancement.” Since her health-care bill died in 1993, Clinton has played a cautious game, taking “small steps” without much political risk. Despite her name recognition and ability to reach across the aisle, critics see her latest incarnation—no longer the “brashly confident leader of health-care reform”—as unlikely to defeat a popular Republican like John McCain. … A piece examines the emerging genre of dramatic video games. Two programmers spent five years designing Façade, an emotionally charged “interactive drama” that breaks from the dominant action-thriller mold. The game, which features two characters in a marital crisis, may remedy the “real lack of meaning” in video games. But there’s just one problem: “Façade is ingenious, but it is not fun.”— C.B.