January 10

A Kinder, Gentler Sandinista

The ‘80s are back in Nicaragua, as Sandinista President Daniel Ortega takes office today. The ex-Marxist revolutionary, who waged a decadelong battle against the U.S.-backed Contras when last in charge, is said to have mellowed, this time promising to fight poverty by working with, rather than against, capitalists.

January 11

Pardon Me?

Barring a last-minute pardon, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, goes on trial today for lying and obstructing justice during the investigation into the Bush administration leak that exposed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. Libby’s defense—which amounts to a claim that he was too busy and important to recall details of the affair—took a hit when his mnemonic expert was barred from testifying.

January 14

Spiting ‘Sarko’

The Union for a Popular Movement, France’s ruling rightist party, convenes today to pick a presidential candidate. The unpopular incumbent, Jacques Chirac, has been sparring with his ambitious former protégé and current chief rival, Nicolas Sarkozy (who leads in the polls), for more than a decade, and may pursue a third term.

January 22

Ashcroft’s Bomb

Jose Padilla, the alleged terrorist whom Attorney General John Ashcroft accused in 2002 of plotting to build a dirty bomb, is scheduled to go on trial today in a civilian courtroom. After three years of being held without charge as an enemy combatant, he was indicted last year. The dirty bomb has disappeared from the case, and he is being charged only with supporting terrorism.

January 30

We Do Windows

After a series of high-profile delays, Microsoft’s new operating system, Vista, becomes available to consumers today, with improved security and a slick new look. It’s probably the last such “major software release,” as Microsoft retools its lumbering approach to development for an era of agile, Web-based computing led by Google.

February 1–3

Democratic Debs

The Democratic National Committee holds its annual winter meeting in Washington, D.C. The gathering has become the unofficial launch of the “invisible primary” for 2008, with early presidential hopefuls vying for attention.

February 4

Reinforcing Afghanistan

The United States hopes to signal its commitment to keeping order in Afghanistan by sending a four-star general, Dan McNeil, to take command today of U.S. and NATO forces. The United States will then decide whether to add or cut troops.

February 4

Super Bowl Open Mic

The YouTube-inspired media craze for homemade video will reach all the way to the Super Bowl today. During the game, Frito-Lay, Chevrolet, and possibly the NFL will use TV’s most expensive airtime to feature the winners of their do-it- yourself ad contests.

February 16

Happy Birthday, Dear Leader

Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s squat and famously vain nuclear-powered leader, “officially” turns sixty-five today (few expect a retirement). While some suggest that he was born in 1941, state propaganda colorfully claims he was born in 1942, in his father’s guerrilla camp atop the sacred Mount Paektu, North Korea’s highest peak—and that the heavens marked the occasion with a double rainbow and an especially bright star.

February 17

Blame It on Rio

The writhing bodies at Brazil’s annual Carnaval celebration provided the perfect cover for a heist last year, when thieves armed with a hand grenade stole paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet, and Dalí from the Chácara do Céu before dancing away with their loot. Museums will boost security for this year’s celebration, which begins today.

February 15

The Buck Starts Here

Just in time for Presidents’ Day, the U.S. Mint today rolls out its new series of $1 coins, which feature the U.S. presidents in chronological order. Although the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea dollar coins never caught on, the Treasury hopes the latest design, modeled on the successful state quarters, will finally give the greenback a run for its money.

Also In February

Saddam’s Final Hours

Saddam Hussein, convicted in November, may hang for his crimes this month. His appeals should be exhausted by mid-January, according to the chief prosecutor in the case, and the Iraqi government would then have a thirty-day window to execute him.

Crime and (Some) Punishment

The defendants accused of orchestrating the bombings of Madrid commuter trains in March 2004 come to trial this month. Prosecutors are seeking a sentence of more than 38,000 years for each of the seven prime defendants in the attacks, which killed 191 people and injured 1,824. But the maximum time a prisoner can serve in Spain, which has no death penalty, is forty years.

A Royal Pain

After committing such royal no-no’s as criticizing Flemish nationalists and the European Union, Belgium’s heir apparent, Prince Philippe, faces a constitutional neutering this month that will make the king’s royal duties purely ceremonial.