Slate: What’s the Washington, DC Buzz?

July 4, 2006

The Zeitgeist Checklist
By Dana Milbank
Posted Saturday, July 1, 2006, at 8:29 AM ET

The Zeitgeist Checklist is back. With the blessing of Charles Freund, who devised the checklist for Washington City Paper in the 1980s, Slate and the Washington Post Outlook section are today reviving this weekly gauge of what Washington is talking about.

War on terror: The Supreme Court rules the Geneva Conventions are more than “quaint,” as one Bush lawyer had put it. On the last day of its session, the high court delivers a spanking to the administration over its plan for military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees. The decision in the Hamdan case also rebukes new Chief Justice John Roberts, reversing the ruling he made in favor of the administration when he was an appellate judge.

Homeland security: It’s open season (again) on the press, with Dick Cheney leading the firing squad and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., accusing the New York Times of treason for publishing information about how the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Communication is helping to track terrorist finances. Never mind that much of the information had already been in the public domain—it’s good politics to blame the media.

Culture wars: Confronting budget deficits, a war, and the looming bankruptcy of entitlement programs, the Senate decides to get serious—about flag-burning. After two days of debate, the upper chamber comes within one vote of passing a constitutional amendment on flag desecration. The Senate was reacting to the nationwide wave of four flag-burnings this year alone.

Philanthropy: In typically modest fashion, investor Warren Buffett, the world’s second-richest man, says he’ll give the bulk of his $44 billion to the Gates Foundation. The combined largesse, dwarfing even the Rockefellers’ philanthropy, may have made Oracle Corp’s Larry Ellison feel like the invisible man. He rescinds a $115 million gift to Harvard.

Weather: The federal government is routinely halted at the first sign of snow flurries, but this may be the first time it was shut down by rain. A foot of rain in the capital forces the closure of the IRS, the National Archives, and the Justice Department. But the long arm of the law remains above water: Rush Limbaugh is detained in Florida for possession of Viagra.

Iraq: Prime Minister Maliki continues to reach out to insurgents with talk of amnesty. He says those who have killed Americans and Iraqis won’t be eligible, but Washington is suspicious. Will those who merely maimed Americans be released? And what if they killed, say, Italians? Meantime, insurgents respond to Maliki with a series of deadly attacks on markets, police officers, and military patrols.

Abramoff: The Senate Indian Affairs Committee’s report on the Abramoff affair stirs up trouble for three GOP players: Ohio Rep. Bob Ney, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, and Georgia lieutenant-governor candidate Ralph Reed. The report hints that Ney lied about his contacts with Abramoff’s Native American clients and says Norquist was a conduit for Reed to get Abramoff clients’ money. “Call Ralph re Grover doing pass through,” says one Abramoff e-mail from 1999.

Economy: The government reports that the economy grew at the scorching annual pace of 5.6 percent in the first quarter. Does it mean the Fed has lost its ability to slow things down—and head off inflation? Ben Bernanke’s Fed breaks a record: With this week’s interest-rate increase, rates have been going up for 25 months.

North Korea: Washington’s interest is fading in North Korea’s threat to test its Taepodong II long-range missile. There’s no reason for this other than a short attention span. The Dong is believed to be on a launchpad, and the charter member of the Axis of Evil has not backed down.

World Cup: Seems we dropped the ball. Only 8 percent of Americans were watching the soccer extravaganza, according to the Pew Research Center. And that was before Ghana eliminated the American team in the first round.

The Zeitgeist Checklist also appears in the Washington Post’s Outlook section.
Dana Milbank writes the Washington Post’s Washington Sketch column.


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