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The Zeitgeist Checklist

By Dana Milbank
Sunday, September 3, 2006

SADR BUT WISER

Last week: 4 Weeks on list: 10

1 Iraq. Many in the capital wonder about Sir Winston Rumsfeld's state of mind after he says those who disagree with him on Iraq are trying to appease fascists. The unfailingly upbeat Gen. George W. Casey Jr. issues a new statement of optimism, quickly disqualified by a gloomy Pentagon report to Congress. Iraq's parliament, emulating our own, wraps up a month-long recess.

BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE

Last week:-- Weeks on list: 1*

2 Democrats. GOP eyes open as wide as Nancy Pelosi's when Stuart Rothenberg predicts that Democrats will gain control of the House in November. Rothenberg and Charlie Cook, the Burger King and McDonald's of political forecasting, have now both switched to Democrat-takeover predictions. Senate still remains Republican in every scenario but Democratic campaign chairman Chuck Schumer's.

WHAT IF BRIT HUME MODERATES?

Last week: 2 Weeks on list: 2

3 Iran. Trying to divert attention from his country's refusal to meet U.N. nuclear demands, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad challenges Bush to a televised debate. The administration, worried the Iranian might sigh like Al Gore, declines the challenge, opting instead for sanctions.

THUD

Last week:-- Weeks on list: 1*

4 Scandal. Valerie Plame leak scandal fizzles out. Newsweek confirms that columnist Bob Novak's first source to unmask the CIA operative was the State Department's Richard Armitage, who was just gossiping. Scandal seekers must look west for sustenance: Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs is caught in Nevada in a Cadillac with three wigs, 15 cellphones and one of his many wives.

FOURTH AND LONG

Last week: -- Weeks on list: 1*

5 Sports. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, his team performing woefully in preseason and in need of a punter, hires out-of-work Tom Cruise. The partnership, First and Goal LLC, will give the Scientologist-actor up to $10 million a year for expenses such as couch repair and replacement.

WHO NEEDS TERRORISTS?

Last week: 5 Weeks on list: 4

6 Homeland Security. As polls show Americans abandoning the administration line that Iraq is part of the war on terror, Bush prepares a round of speeches to reinforce the point while planning much activity for the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Incompetence proves deadlier than terrorism as Comair flight crashes on wrong runway in Kentucky when lone worker in undermanned control tower isn't looking.

FLUSHED

Last week:-- Weeks on list: 1*

7 Weather. Hurricane Ernesto is a washout, and coverage of Katrina anniversary quickly reaches saturation. This compounds misery for cable news after charges are dropped against JonBenet confessor/hoaxster John Mark Karr. CNN's solution: Narrating a Bush speech with audio of anchor Kyra Phillips using the toilet and dishing on her sister-in-law.

ELDERS OF ZION

Last week: 4 Weeks on list: 8

8 Middle East. Israel won't lift its blockade of Lebanon. Hezbollah won't release the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. U.N. won't send enough troops to enforce a cease-fire. Kofi Annan won't stop whining. Meantime, Harvard's Stephen Walt and University of Chicago's John Mearsheimer come to town, guests of a Muslim group, to blame everything on American Jews and Israel.

THE ROAD MORE TRAVELED

Last week: 6 Weeks on list: 2

9 Economy. Census Bureau finds that Washington area has the nation's three wealthiest counties, which can be conveniently accessed by driving through the nation's second-worst traffic. From their Leesburg McMansions and Lexuses snarled on I-66, political Washingtonians have little worry of encountering the 46.6 million Americans without health insurance or the 37 million in poverty.

LIFE IMITATES ALI G

Last week:-- Weeks on list: 1*

10 White House. Brilliantly timed with the release of the new Borat movie, Bush will welcome Kazakhstan's autocratic president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, at the White House and in Kennebunkport. This appears to contradict Bush's initiative to foil foreign corruption, but Americans are unlikely to read about it: New SAT results show the biggest drop in verbal scores in 31 years.

* RESURFACES IN ZEITGEIST AFTER AN ABSENCE. THE ZEITGEIST CHECKLIST ALSO APPEARS IN SLATE, THE ONLINE MAGAZINE AT WWW.SLATE.COM.

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