The Zeitgeist Checklist

Zeitgeist Checklist: Stock Plunge Edition

What Washington is talking about this week.

Grin and Bear It Business. The Dow Jones industrial average plummets 416 points, the biggest stock plunge since the 2003 Iraq invasion, but then bounces back 52 points—just enough for Wall Street to step down from the windowsill. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan stokes fears early in the week by mentioning the R-word. Fed officials dismiss the suggestion and hope Greenspan focuses a bit more on a different R-word: retirement.

Il At Ease
North Korea. The Bush administration concedes it only has “mid-level confidence” that Pyongyang is enriching uranium—which, by Bush standards, must be somewhere between a really strong hunch and a nagging feeling. Meanwhile, Kim Jong-il’s No. 2 reiterates the North’s commitment to abandoning its nuclear program. And that’s why he’s No. 2.

Trophy Atrophy
Movies. The Oscars come and go. Observers attribute Eddie Murphy’s loss for best supporting actor in Dreamgirls to the unforgivable Norbit. Likewise, they attribute Babel’s best picture loss to the unforgivable Babel. During a presentation with Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Gore intones: “My fellow Americans, I’m going to take this opportunity to formally announce my intention to …” And the orchestra swells. Gotcha! Still, Democratic strategists weigh the potential of a Gore-DiCaprio ticket.

McCain Relieves Unbearable Suspense: He’s In 2008. Sen. John McCain inches his way toward candidacy, announcing on the Late Show With David Letterman that he will make the big announcement in April. Can we please get some legislation on announcement limits? In the Romney camp, a 77-slide PowerPoint presentation leaked to the Boston Globe outlines Romney’s strategy to position himself the “anti-Kerry.” Doing 180s on abortion, gay marriage, and gun control should be a promising start.

Appeasement Alert! Middle East. A suicide bomber attacks a U.S. military base in Afghanistan during Dick Cheney’s visit. The battle-hardened Cheney—he’s seen a grown man get shot in the face, after all—was unfazed. Meanwhile, the United States agrees to put down the rhetoric and join talks with Iran and Syria on stabilizing Iraq. Lee Hamilton and James A. Baker III exchange a leaping, freeze-frame high-five.

It’s Not a Quagmire—It’s a Quagmiracle!
Iraq. A majority of Americans favor a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, according to a poll. But Cheney argues a troop pullout from Iraq would escalate the war in Afghanistan, although probably not as much as invading it did. McCain apologizes for saying the lives of American troops in Iraq were “wasted,” explaining he meant to say “sacrificed.” Loyal Republican Hill staffers adopt plan to get “totally sacrificed” Friday night.

A House Divided Against Itself, We Cannot Stand Congress. House Democrats struggle to agree on a plan that would condition Iraq war funding on getting troops better equipment, including night-vision goggles. That way, soldiers can actually see the shrapnel penetrate their thinly armored vehicles. Across the aisle, House Republicans push for a vote on the homeland security committee appointment of Democratic Rep. William Jefferson, who stored $90,000 worth of alleged bribe money in a freezer. Frankly, he sounds perfect for the job: Find a terrorist ring, he’ll freeze their assets.

Sanity Offense Law. A federal judge determines that Jose Padilla is fit to stand trial, despite claims by his lawyers that torture has rendered him psychologically unable to assist in his own defense. Of course, if defendants had to be psychologically capable, Michael Jackson would never have set foot in court.

Global Warming Traced Back to Gore Household Climate. Fresh off an Oscar win, Al Gore gets slammed for owning a house that reportedly consumed 221,000 kilowatt hours in 2006—the exact amount needed to screen An Inconvenient Truth on a wall-to-wall plasma screen 24 hours a day for a year. The governors of five Western states agree to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, which should just about offset Gore’s consumption.

 Race Relations
Race. A genealogical study reveals that Rev. Al Sharpton’s great-grandfather was a slave owned by relatives of late segregation supporter Sen. Strom Thurmond. Too bad Thurmond couldn’t be around for a tearful reconciliation—or to demand reparations for having to be associated with Sharpton.