The Zeitgeist Checklist

Zeitgeist Checklist, Civil War Edition

What Washington is talking about this week.

Amman, a Plan
Iraq. The administration gets huffy over the term “civil war.” Its proposed alternative, “the War of Iraqi Aggression,” hasn’t caught on. President Bush meets with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Jordan, calling him “the right guy for Iraq”—immediately after a leaked memo by his national security adviser says exactly the opposite. The Iraq Study Group, meanwhile, takes a study break to pose for Annie Leibovitz in Men’s Vogue. Expect to see James Baker cradling Lee Hamilton in his arms on a wind-swept dune while squinting into an Iraqi sunset. 

George Allen Got Off Easy
Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejects Rep. Alcee Hastings’ bid for intelligence-committee chair, saving herself potential embarrassment. In the other chamber, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb thinks his razor-thin victory was a mandate for attitude. In response to President Bush’s question, “How’s your boy?” Webb replies, “That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President.” Bush reminds self to find Webb fils a nice quiet patrolling gig in Ramadi.

He Knows It When He Sees It
Climate. The Supreme Court chambers heat up, as the justices hear arguments for enforcing vehicle-emissions standards. Scalia’s rant alone, in which he reminds everyone he’s “not a scientist” and therefore doesn’t “want to have to deal with global warming,” increases the nation’s carbon footprint tenfold. Meanwhile, Al Gore promises Jay Leno an “uncut” edition of An Inconvenient Truth will feature “glacier on glacier action.” If 2008 doesn’t pan out, we hear there’s an open spot at The Laugh Factory.

It’s Hard Out Here for a Pope
Religion. Pope Benedict XVI visits Turkey to patch up that whole Islam v. Christianity thing. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan refuses to see the pope, except for a 20-minute hello at the airport. Benedict backs Turkey’s bid for European Union membership, only to see the European Commission swat it down. Conclusion: Popin’ ain’t easy.

From Russia, With Polonium
Russia. Fallout over the death of poisoned former spy Alexander Litvinenko continues this week, as British officials demand answers from President Putin. A British probe discovers traces of polonium-210 on five planes—three British and two Russian. A shaken (not stirred) Tony Blair suggests he and Putin resolve this like real men, with a winner-take-all round of Texas Hold ‘em.

Next Stop, Guinness
Pentagon. While defense secretary nominee Robert Gates opposes a fast exit from Iraq, President Bush opposes a fast exit for Donald Rumsfeld. According to Newsweek, Rumsfeld may stay at the Pentagon until after Dec. 29, in order to break Robert McNamara’s record for consecutive days served. Why he wants people drawing McNamara comparisons right now is a mystery.

All I Want for Christmas Is My Enriched Uranium
North Korea. His nation crippled by trade sanctions, Kim Jong-il agrees to resume nuclear talks. Still, the United States twists the knife by banning export of iPods and other luxury goods to North Korea. Now, North Korean refugees will have to flee on foot instead of by Segway.

Party Like It’s 1959
Latin America. An ailing Fidel Castro kicks off his celebrity-studded 80th-birthday-party gala by not attending. Luckily, he can still watch it on every channel. A nearly victorious Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won’t be able to attend either, citing a previous commitment to eliminate term limits. In Ecuador, economist and outspoken Bush critic Rafael Correa leads the polls; a victory would group him with Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales in opposing U.S. trade policies. Bush speechwriters look up Spanish for “axis of evil.”

Off to the Races
2008. After declining to run for a third term in the Senate, Bill Frist throws in the towel, narrowing the shortlist of potential Republican presidential nominees to … everyone else. As Giuliani and McCain continue “testing the waters,” Democratic Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack ignores the “No Running” sign and dives right in. Barack Obama announces plans to visit New Hampshire next month as part of an effort to gather support from grass-roots Democrats, party leadership, and Ludacris.

Take the Money and Drive
Business. About 38,000 Ford Motors employees take buyouts after the company posted losses in the billions. The severance checks run as high as $140,000—enough to buy 351 PlayStation 3s, 560 Nintendo Wiis, or a copy of Microsoft Vista.