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Kristol Clear at Time

The market doesn't work -- not when it comes to conservative commentators.

Before the Iraq war, rightwing (and middle-of-the-road) pundits claimed Saddam Hussein was a dire WMD threat, that he was in cahoots with al Qaeda, that the war was necessary. The neoconservative cheerleaders for war also argued that an invasion of Iraq would bring democracy to that nation and throughout the region. They were wrong. But they have paid no price for their errors. They did not have to serve in Iraq. None, as far as I can tell, have had sons or daughters harmed or killed in the fighting there. They did not have to bear higher taxes, because George W. Bush has charged the costs of this military enterprise to the national credit card. Though they miscalled the number-one issue of the post-9/11 period, they did not lose their influential perches in the commentariat. Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle, Robert Kagan, Gary Schmitt, Danielle Pletka and others (including non-neocon Thomas Friedman) who blew it on Iraq still regularly appear on op-ed pages and television news shows, pitching their latest notions about Iraq, Iran or other matters.

Foremost among this band is William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and former chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle. Kristol, a Fox News regular, has not seen his standing as a go-to conservative pundit suffered. Moreover, he has been rewarded with a plum posting. Time magazine's new managing editor, Richard Stengel, has invited Kristol to become what Stengel calls a "star" columnist for the magazine.

Both Kristol and Stengel are likable fellows. I usually enjoy debating Kristol on television or radio. He's no hater, and he's no autopilot partisan. Stengel is a thoughtful and cerebral person who once was a senior adviser to cerebral Senator Bill Bradley, a Democrat. So there's nothing personal when I ask, why in the hell does Stengel believe that what America needs now is more Bill Kristol? (Slate media cop Jack Shafer criticized Stengel's pick of Kristol by noting that "Kristol isn't much of a deviation from Charles Krauthammer, an occasional Time 'Essay' writer." Friendship declared: Shafer is a pal of mine.)

It's too late to affect Stengel's decision, but let's take this occasion to review Kristol's record on Iraq, courtesy of a rather cursory Nexis search. It holds no surprises.

On September 11, 2002, as the Bush administration began its sales campaign for the coming war, Kristol suggested that Saddam Hussein could do more harm to the United States than al Qaeda had: "we cannot afford to let Saddam Hussein inflict a worse 9/11 on us in the future."

On September 15, 2002, he claimed that inspection and containment could not work with Saddam: "No one believes the inspections can work." Actually, UN inspectors believed they could work. So, too, did about half of congressional Democrats. They were right.

On September 18, 2002, Kristol opined that a war in Iraq "could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East."

On September 19, 2002, he once again pooh-poohed inspections: "We should not fool ourselves by believing that inspections could make any difference at all." During a debate with me on Fox News Channel, after I noted that the goal of inspections was to prevent Saddam from reaching "the finish line" in developing nuclear weapons, Kristol exclaimed, "He's past that finish line. He's past the finish line."

On November 21, 2002, he maintained, "we can remove Saddam because that could start a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy."

On February 2, 2003, he claimed that Secretary of State Colin Powell at an upcoming UN speech would "show that there are loaded guns throughout Iraq" regarding weapons of mass destruction. As it turned out, everything in Powell's speech was wrong. Kristol was uncritically echoing misleading information handed him by friends and allies within the Bush administration.

On February 20, 2003, he summed up the argument for war against Saddam: "He's got weapons of mass destruction. At some point he will use them or give them to a terrorist group to use...Look, if we free the people of Iraq we will be respected in the Arab world....France and Germany don't have the courage to face up to the situation. That's too bad. Most of Europe is with us. And I think we will be respected around the world for helping the people of Iraq to be liberated."

On March 1, 2003, Kristol dismissed concerns that sectarian conflict might arise following a US invasion of Iraq: "We talk here about Shiites and Sunnis as if they've never lived together. Most Arab countries have Shiites and Sunnis, and a lot of them live perfectly well together." He also said, "Very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president." And he maintained that the war would be a bargain at $100 to $200 billion. The running tab is now nearing half a trillion dollars.

On March 5, 2003, Kristol said, "I think we'll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction and when we liberate the people of Iraq."

Such vindication never came. Kristol was mistaken about the justification for the war, the costs of the war, the planning for the war, and the consequences of the war. That's a lot for a pundit to miss. In his columns and statements about Iraq, Kristol displayed little judgment or expertise. He was not informing the public; he was whipping it. He turned his wishes into pronouncements and helped move the country to a mismanaged and misguided war that has claimed the lives of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. That's not journalism.

In an effectively functioning market of opinion-trading, Kristol's views would be relegated to the bargain basement. And he ought to be doing penance, not penning columns for Time. But -- fortunate for him -- the world of punditry is a rather imperfect marketplace.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Ford, Cheney, Checks and Balances

There has been much discussion over the past several days about the many contributions former President Gerald Ford made to the American political experiment.

Surely, his was a steady hand at the helm of a ship of state that Richard Nixon had steered into turbulent waters. And, surely, the grand old Republican's moderation was a necessary corrective against the sort of ideological abuses committed by too many of his fellow partisans.

But Ford's greatest contribution involved the respect he showed for the system of checks and balances that the founders established in order to protect and maintain the Republic. A man of Congress who came to the Oval Office by the accident of appointment rather than the design of candidacy, Ford moved in the first months of his presidency to renew proper relations between the executive and legislative branches.

Critics may suggest that Ford exceeded his powers as president with his decision to pardon his scandal-plagued predecessor.

While presidents are afforded the authority to grant pardons, it is certainly reasonable to disagree with the decision to clear Richard Nixon before Congress and the courts were done with him.

It is impossible, however, for anyone who cares about the right working of the federal government to disagree with what Ford did next.

After he pardoned Nixon "for all offenses against the United States which he... has committed or may have committed or taken part in" while his disgraced predecessor occupied the Oval Office, the 38th president voluntarily appeared before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee to testify under oath regarding his decision.

Contrast Ford's respect for Congress with the belligerent disregard for the institution shown by members of the current administration. Vice President Cheney, Ford's former White House chief of staff, has been particularly foul – not to mention foul-mouthed – in his rejection of congressional oversight.

In mourning Ford's passing, Cheney referred to the former president as his "mentor." Fair enough. If the current vice president has honest regard for the model established by his former boss, Cheney should honor Ford's legacy by accepting the invitation of incoming House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, D-Michigan, and several of his colleagues to testify before Congress regarding the role played by the Office of the Vice President in 2003 moves to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

The request came last year, when it was revealed that Cheney was actively engaged in efforts to undermine Wilson's credibility after the veteran diplomat revealed that the White House had inflated the "threat" posed by Iraq before the U.S. invasion of that country, there. Those efforts appear to have included a move to expose the identity of Wilson's wife, Valarie, as a CIA operative.

"In response to significant public scrutiny, President Gerald R. Ford came to Capitol Hill on October 17, 1974 to testify before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice on why he pardoned President Richard M. Nixon," Conyers, incoming House Government Reform Committee chair Henry Waxman, D-California, and New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey wrote to Cheney last year. "At the time of President Ford's appearance before Congress, you served as his Deputy Chief of Staff and later became his Chief of Staff. With that precedent in mind, we respectfully request that you make yourself available to appear before Congress to explain the details and reasons for your office's involvement -- and your personal involvement – in the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative."

Ford knew he owed the Congress – and, by extension, the American people -- an explanation for his actions in 1974, and he provided it. By willingly offering that explanation in testimony under oath to members of the House who had the authority and the position to question him respectfully but frankly, he undid at least a measure of the damage done by Nixon during the Watergate years.

Cheney and other members of the Bush administration owe the Congress – and, by similar extension, the American people – an explanation for their actions not just in 2003 but since 2001. Without a show of respect for Congress similar to that provided by Ford three decades ago, the damage done to the system of checks and balances by the Bush-Cheney White House will deepen and darken into not just a cancer on the presidency but a threat to the Republic itself.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

'Gruesome.' 'Barbaric.' 'Politicized.' 'Farcical.'

While much of U.S. media coverage of Saddam Hussein's execution has strained to echo the Bush administration's suggestion that "justice" was done, the international reaction to the hurried hanging of the former dictator has recognized what one of the world's top experts on the Middle East refers to as the "gruesome, occasionally farcical" nature of the process that led to the execution.

"It's tawdry," Rosemary Hollis, the director of research at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London, said of the execution. "It's not going to achieve anything because of the way the trial was conducted and the way the occupation was conducted. Life in Iraq has become so precarious that many people are saying it was safer under Saddam Hussein - it makes the whole thing look like a poke in the eye as opposed to closure or some kind of contribution to the future of Iraq. The purpose should have been to see justice done in a transparent manner... the trial was gruesome, occasionally farcical, and failed to fulfill its promise of giving satisfaction."

Chris Doyle, the London-based director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, was equally dismissive, telling the Guardian newspaper that, "For Bush, Blair and their diminishing brotherhood of diehard supporters, Saddam's demise is their sole concrete victory in Iraq in almost four years. This should have been the crowning glory of their efforts, but instead it may pose yet another risk to their demoralised troops. For Iraqis, some will see it as a symbol of the death of the ancien regime. For some Sunnis, Saddam's death represents the final nail in the coffin of their fall from power. But Iraqis may also see this as the humiliation of Iraq as a whole, that their president, however odious, was toppled by outside powers, and is executed effectively at others' instigation."

Doyle's assessment was shared by Iraqi expatriate Kamil Mahdi, an academic who is now associated with the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Britain's Exeter University. "It will be taken as an American decision," Mahdi said of the decision to execute Hussein and the way in which deposed leader was killed. "The worst thing is that it's an issue which, in an ideal situation, should have unified Iraq but the Americans have succeeded in dividing the Iraqis."

Critics of the trial and execution of the former dictator did not defend his actions. Rather, they recognized the fundamental flaws in his trial by an inexperienced and clearly biased Iraqi judiciary. And they condemned the rush to hang Hussein by a country employing the widely-rejected sanction of capital punishment.

"A capital punishment is always tragic news, a reason for sadness, even if it deals with a person who was guilty of grave crimes," explained Father Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Vatican, who added that, "The killing of the guilty party is not the way to reconstruct justice and reconcile society. On the contrary, there is a risk that it will feed a spirit of vendetta and sow new violence."

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, while officially welcoming moves to hold Hussein to account for killings and other crimes that tool place during his tenure as president of Iraq, issued a statement that said, "The British government does not support the use of the death penalty, in Iraq or anywhere else. We advocate an end to the death penalty worldwide, regardless of the individual or the crime."

Another longtime U.S. ally, Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who in 2003 dispatched his country's troops to support the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, condemned the hanging of Hussein as "a step backward in Iraq's difficult road toward full democracy. Describing the killing as a "political and historical" mistake, Berlusconi said, "The civilization in the name of which my country decided to send Italian soldiers into Iraq envisioned overcoming the death penalty, even for a bloody dictator like Saddam."

Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm criticized the hanging as "barbaric," and similar criticism came from officials of Chile, Spain, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland and the Ukraine.

Speaking for Amnesty International, Malcolm Smart, director of the organization's Middle East and North Africa Programme, echoed concerns expressed by Human Rights Watch and other watchdog groups.

"We oppose the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, but it is especially abhorrent when this most extreme penalty is imposed after an unfair trial," said Smart. "It is even more worrying that in this case, the execution appeared a foregone conclusion, once the original verdict was pronounced, with the Appeals Court providing little more than a veneer of legitimacy for what was, in fact, a fundamentally flawed process."

While Iran, which fought a long war with Iraq in the 1980s, found itself in ironic agreement with the Bush administration's enthusiasm for the execution, most Muslim countries were critical of the timing of the hanging.

The killing of Hussein during the Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, an annual period of religious reflection seem by Muslims globally as a time for showing forgiveness, drew rebukes even from U.S. allies. During Eid, Muslim countries rarely execute prisoners and frequently pardon them.

"There is a feeling of surprise and disapproval that the verdict has been applied during the holy months and the first days of Eid al-Adha," Saudia Arabia's official news agency declared after the execution. "Leaders of Islamic countries should show respect for this blessed occasion... not demean it."

"It had been expected that the trial of a former president, who ruled for a considerable length of time, would last longer... demonstrate more precision, and not be politicized," continued the blunt statement from the Saudis.

Libya cancelled Eid al Adha celebrations and ordered that flags on government buildings be flown at half-mast.

A statement from the Egyptian foreign ministry announced that, "Egypt regrets the fact that the Iraqi authorities carried out the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and that it took place on the first day of Eid Al Adha."

From Cairo, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alaa Al Hadidi complained that the execution's timing "did not take into consideration the feelings of Muslims and the sanctity of this day which represents amnesty and forgiveness."

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

America's Complicity in Saddam's Crimes

Saddam Hussein's execution on Dec. 30 prevents him from being put on trial for his most serious crimes – genocide against the Kurds and the use of poison gas in the Iran-Iraq war. As many as 100,000 Kurds were killed in 1988. Why then was Saddam executed for killing 148 men and boys in the Shiite town of Dujail in 1982?

Human rights activists say the answer is clear: the Bush White House wanted to prevent Saddam from offering evidence of US complicity in his crimes as a defense. It's the same reason the Saddam trial was held under Iraqi auspices rather than in the International Criminal Court: ''It's to protect their own dirty laundry,'' Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times in 2004. ''The U.S. wants to keep the trial focused on Saddam's crimes and not their acquiescence.''

Human Rights Watch has done more to document Saddam's genocide of the Kurds than any other organization. Their 1993 report remains the most detailed and meticulous account, based on extensive interviews with eyewitnesses and analysis of Iraqi government internal communications. During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam had lost control of Kurdish regions because all his troops had been sent to the battlefields. But as that war came to an end in 1988, he launched his "Anfal" campaign against the Kurds, leveling thousands of their villages and killing 50,000-100,000, mostly by bombing and mass executions.

Saddam's most notorious atrocity was his use of poison gas against Kurds in the town of Halabja in 1988, killing at least 5,000. George Bush cited that attack – "gassing his own people" -- as part of his argument for a US war against Iraq. However back in 1988 the US worked to prevent the international community from condemning Iraq's chemical attack against Halabja, instead attempting to place part of the blame on Iran. [See Dilip Hiro, "Iraq and Poison Gas," TheNation.com, Aug. 28, 2002.]

The US had supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, on the grounds that Iran was a greater threat to the US after the rise to power of the Ayatolla Khomeini.

When the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, Saddam's genocide against the Kurds was no secret. The US Senate passed a bill to penalize Baghdad for violating the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons – they did it virtually without opposition, in a single day.

But the Reagan Administration killed the bill. Political scientist Bruce Jentleson of Duke University told the BBC that they did it "for two reasons. One, economic interests. In addition to oil, Iraq at that point had become the second-largest recipient of government agricultural credits to buy American agriculture . . . . And secondly was this continual blinders of the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam used chemical weapons, most obviously in his 1988 campaign to retake the Fao Peninsula. The had been banned since the 1925 Geneva Convention. His trial for that crime has also been prevented by the execution.

Again his defense was likely to have been that the US did not object at the time. Walter Lang, senior defense intelligence officer for the United States Defense Intelligence Agency at the time, told the New York Times in 2002 that "the use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern" to Reagan and his aides, because they "were desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose."

Trials in Baghdad for other Iraqi leaders accused of genocide against the Kurds and violation of the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons may be held. But as Antoine Garapon, director of the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies in Paris, told the New York Times, even if others stand trial, "the person deemed most responsible would never face judgment."

Thus Saturday's execution of Saddam Hussein seems less an act of justice for his victims and more an effort to cover up US complicity in his regime.

Time Is on Our Side?

"The pace of life feels morally dangerous to me."--Richard Ford, novelist
"Time is on my side" --The Rolling Stones

As the New Year begins, I keep reflecting on Time. It runs through all of our lives--at work, at home, at play--in the ways we structure and conceive of our society and values. I used to think Mick Jagger could do no wrong. But, for better or worse, these days I think Richard Ford gets it right in describing our lives and current condition when it comes to the Big-T--Time.

I know that all too often we can't help it (or ourselves) but in our contemporary technofied life, most of us don't take nearly enough time for our friends and family. Too many Americans even feel guilty for taking time away from their Blackberries, cell phones, text messaging, overtime, frenetic pace and packed schedules. Forget smelling the proverbial roses--we're so busy sprinting from Point A to Point B we don't even spot them in the first place.

So the personal and political question is this: How might we craft a different attitude toward time--one that moves us toward a saner, more humane, more caring country?

In a wonderful book--In Praise of Slowness--journalist Carl Honoré explores the Slow Movement. The Slow Food aspect focuses on regional produce, sustainable agriculture, and taking time to enjoy meals with good company. And while it's something to celebrate (as The Nation did in its first-ever food issue), what truly interests me are other parts of the Slow Movement--the thirty-five-hour work week; educators who advocate for a slower classroom pace and fewer extracurricular commitments; the importance of leisure activities ("the first principle of all action is leisure," Aristotle argued); Tantric sex; and the Slow City movement that addresses everything from reducing traffic to providing family-run businesses with prime real estate to using local, organic produce for school lunches.

But here at home politically, personally, we seem headed in the opposite direction. A single mother working two jobs still finds herself without health insurance or the resources to rise from poverty--much less spend time with her family and friends. Workers lack paid vacation days or paid sick leave to care for themselves or family members. And the right to organize unions that might fight for commonsense time-friendly reforms is increasingly under attack.

The new Congress is expected to pass the Healthy Families Act, a bill requiring all employers with fifteen or more workers to provide one week paid sick leave for full-time employees, and prorated leave for part-time employees. This is an encouraging first step, but can't we do better? Like most other countries in the Western industrialized world?! For starters, affordable, accessible, high-quality childcare would make a real difference in how families--especially women--manage time.

In Praise of Slowness also suggests change through simply "rediscovering the off button." Anyone reading this knows in their gut that multitasking has an adverse impact on both productivity and intellect. (We had plenty of warning on this front--Publilius Syrus, a Roman philosopher from the first century BC, said, "To do two things at once is to do neither.") New York magazine recently reported: "In 2005, a psychiatrist at King's College London did a study in which one group was asked to take an IQ test while doing nothing, and a second group to take an IQ test while distracted by e-mails and ringing telephones. The uninterrupted group did better by an average of ten points.... [But] the e-mailers also did worse, by an average of six points, than a group in a similar study that had been tested while stoned." (Yes, stoned!)

The same article suggests that "obsession with efficiency at work has unfortunately seeped into our attitudes toward leisure, with the multitasking of our downtime as the loony and paradoxical result." So whether we are now working nearly an extra month per year, as economist Juliet Schor argues; or we have five more hours of leisure per week than we did in 1965, as another study indicates--there is general agreement that Americans feel as if they are working more.

As editor of a weekly magazine, "slow" is not a quality I am used to embracing in my daily work! Yet I value what "slow" means when it comes to the role The Nation plays in our media culture--nurturing reflection, trying to make sense of fast-paced events with informed analysis, reason and deliberation. I prize these "slow" media virtues for many reasons--a central one is the challenge they pose to our expanding 36/7 culture, which seems to celebrate speedy War Room-like responses at the expense of intelligent and thoughtful dialogue, debate and engagement.

If we are to produce our best work and also be true to what we claim as our values, this is the year we're going to have to think hard (but take breaks, and perhaps meditate) about innovative and creative approaches to dealing with time. In 2007, my resolution is to make time a political issue--in the classic sense that what is personal is political.

Change the World in 2007

We should all be thankful that 2006 is ending in so much better shape than it started. Media Matters' recent round-up of the most outrageous right-wing comments of the passing year remind us what a huge victory was achieved with the routing of the Bush agenda and the continuing implosion of the Republican Party.

So here's to a hopeful and happy New Year. Around the web, you can find plenty of ideas for resolutions for 2007. CodePink suggests talking to someone different from yourself about why you believe we need to end the war in Iraq, writing one letter to the editor each month, and joining a host of antiwar groups in Washington, DC, on January 27 to present the Mandate for Peace to Congress. (CodePink is also soliciting resolutions, which will be published online.) WireTap surveys young activists across the nation who share their own resolutions you can use to make a difference. Martha Rosenberg offers eleven useful resolutions for Big Pharma in a piece on CommonDreams.

Writing in WorldChanging.Com, philosopher Edward Wolf says the key to being in tune with social change in 2007 will not be what we think, but how we think. "Politics resembles a battle of brands more than an exchange of ideas," Wolf observes. "The blogosphere has blown the doors of civic conversation wide open but hardly elevated the dialogue, as almost any comment string confirms. But that may be changing as social networking and open-source tools reshape the 'spaces' in which people interact. Can new leaders emerge in such spaces?" He thinks so and advises watching for leaders who "embody humility, not those who merely espouse it."

Writing in the same WorldChanging series, Jason Kottke calls for a True Cost rating on food and products, like the nutritional information on a cereal box or the Energy Star rating on a refrigerator. True Cost, as he points out, would allow consumers to make legitimately informed decisions about how they spend their money. When True Cost is factored in, conflict diamonds become a more morally charged choice, as does clothing made in sweatshops. Organic blueberries flown in from Chile may be healthier for your toddler, but how much carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere to get them to your kitchen? What's the energy cost of living in the suburbs, compared to living downtown? Do the people who made the clock hanging on the wall get paid a fair wage and receive health care? Just how bad for the environment (and for me!) is the laptop on which I'm typing or the cell phone on which I'm talking?

Numerous economists have made the case that the value of transactions is determined far too narrowly by the reigning neo-classical economic model. True Cost tries to offer a counter-framework in which the value of an item includes a number of factors beyond its market price, centrally its environmental, social and health costs. The environmental cost of aviation, for example, could add five hundred dollars per passenger to airline travel. Farming and forestry prices reflect the immediate costs of labor and capital, but do not include long-run ecological costs. Paying two dollars per pound for supermarket chicken does not cover the cost of cleaning up rivers polluted by poultry factories. That charge goes to society at large.

In a nutshell, it seems to me that if we can ever make use of Kottke's idea and have some kind of True Cost estimate available to consumers, it would be a major step forward. Working toward that seems to me a good resolution for 2007.

A Show Trial and a Show Execution

Convicted in a show trial that certainly appeared to have been timed tofinish on the eve of last month's US elections, Iraqi President SaddamHussein was hanged in a show execution that just as certainly seems tohave been timed to be carried out before the end of the worst year ofthe Iraq War.

Hussein was a bad player -- a totalitarian dictator who, with tacit approval from the U.S. and other western nation during the 1980s, killed his own people and waged a mad war with Iran. He needed to be held to account. But even bad players deserve fair trials, honest judgments and justly-applied punishments. The former dictator got none of these.

According to HumanRights Watch, which has a long and honorable history of documentingand challenging the abuses of Hussein's former government, theexecution early Saturday morning followed "a deeply flawed trial" and"marks a significant step away from respect for human rights and therule of law in Iraq."

"The test of a government's commitment to human rights is measured bythe way it treats its worst offenders," says Richard Dicker, directorof Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "History willjudge these actions harshly."

For fifteen years, Human Rights Watch had demanded that Hussein bebrought to justice for what the group has rightly described as "massivehuman rights violations." But the group argues that Hussein was notbrought to justice.

In addition to objecting at the most fundamental level to the use ofthe barbaric practice of state-sponsored execution--which is outlawedby the vast majority of the world's nations--Human Rights Watch notesthat Hussein was killed before being tried for some of his mostwell-documented acts of brutality.

The group notes the trial that did take place was fundamentallyflawed.

A niney-seven-page report by Human Rights Watch, issued late last month, details the severeproblems with the trial. The report, based on close monitoring of theprosecution of the former president, found that:

•"(The) Iraqi High Tribunal was undermined from the outset by Iraqigovernment actions that threatened the independence and perceivedimpartiality of the court."

• The Iraqi administrators, judges, prosecutors and defense lawyerslacked sufficient training and expertise "to fairly and effectively trycrimes of this magnitude."

• The government did not protect defense lawyers--three of whom werekilled during the trial--or key witnesses.

• "(There were) serious flaws in the trial, including failures todisclose key evidence to the defense, violations of the defendants'right to question prosecution witnesses, and the presiding judge'sdemonstrations of bias."

• "Hussein's defense lawyers had 30 days to file an appeal from theNovember 5 verdict. However, the trial judgment was only made availableto them on November 22, leaving just two weeks to respond."

The report did not study the appeals process, But the speed with whichthe tribunal's verdict and sentence were confirmed suggests that theIraqi Appeals Chamber failed to seriously consider the legal argumentsadvanced by Hussein's able--if violently harassed--legal team.

"It defies imagination that the Appeals Chamber could have thoroughlyreviewed the 300-page judgment and the defense's written arguments inless than three weeks' time," said Dicker. "The appeals process appearseven more flawed than the trial."

There will, of course, be those who counter criticism of the process bypointing out that Saddam Hussein did not give the victims of his crueldictates fair trials or just sentences. That is certainly true.

But such statements represent a stinging indictment of the new Iraqigovernment and its judiciary. With all the support of the United Statesgovernment, with massive resources and access to the best legal advicein the world, with all the lessons of the past, Iraq has a legal systemthat delivers no better justice than that of Saddam Hussein'sdictatorship.

This is the ugly legacy of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq: Anawful mess of a country that cannot even get the trial and punishmentof deposed dictator right, a justice system that schedules the takingof life for political and propaganda purposes, a thuggishly brutalstate that executes according to whim rather than legal standard.

According to Britain's Telegraph newspaper, "There was nocomment from the White House, which was determined that the executionshould appear to be an Iraqi event." The central role played by the USgovernment in the process was not lost on the Telegraph, however, asthe newspaper noted that: "the transfer of Saddam from American toIraqi custody meant his death was imminent."

The term "transfer" is of course being used in a loose sense, asHussein was hung not in an Iraqi prison but within theAmerican-controlled Green Zone in central Baghdad.

Now that the killing is done, the governments of Iraq and the UnitedStates have confirmed what may have been the worst fear of those whocondemned both Saddam Hussein and the US invasion and occupation thatremoved him from power. The crude lawlessness of Hussein has beenreplaced by the calculated lawlessness of a new regime.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

Most Valuable Progressives of 2006

Any year that begins with Bill Frist and Tom DeLay running the Capitol and ends with Frist out of politics and DeLay headed for trial gets high marks from this quarter. Throw in the polls that show the American people are now firmly in the anti-war camp, the fact that even Republicans are starting to suggest that the best word to describe the president's policies may be "criminal, the prospect that those policies will soon be under the scrutiny of House and Senate committee chairs who have actually familiarized themselves with the term "checks and balances" and 2006 ends on the best note of any year since George W. Bush and Dick Cheney launched their co-presidency.

The voters deserve a lot of credit for the taming of the shrews. But elections do not occur in vacuums. Good election results do not come about by luck or chance. They follow upon bold gestures and smart strategies by elected officials who choose to lead rather than follow, organizations that take chances and individual citizens who understand why Jefferson said that all power should rest with the people.

Here are this one columnist's picks for the Most Valuable Progressives of 2006:

* MVP – U.S. SENATE

Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold cinched the title in March when he proposed that Senate censure President Bush for repeatedly authorizing domestic wiretaps on American citizens without first obtaining a legally required court order. "This conduct is right in the strike zone of the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors," explained Feingold on ABC-TV's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." Republicans cried foul. Democrats ran for cover – with the commendable exceptions of Iowa's Tom Harkin and California's Barbara Boxer. But Feingold was right, as he was right when he called for setting a date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, built a bipartisan coalition to block renewal of the worst sections of the Patriot Act, traveled to Africa to focus attention on the need to address poverty and disease as part of a broader strategy to combat the appeal of Islamic fundamentalists, sponsored legislation urging state and local governments to establish a system to assure that every eligible voter who wants to vote is able to cast a ballot, and when he came out unapologetically for gay marriage. He was even right when he decided that, rather than mount an uphill bid for the 20087 Democratic presidential nod against better-known and better-financed contenders, he would instead focus on turning the key Foreign Relations and Judiciary subcommittees he will chair on the immediate task of challenging the Bush-Cheney administration's policies.

It is a measure of how far Feingold stands ahead of the rest of his own party that some of his stiffest competition for the MVP title came from Republicans: in particular, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, who bluntly compared the Iraq imbroglio to the Vietnam War in which he served and who recognized long before the Iraq Study Group completed its report that talks with Syria and Iran and a renewed focus on resolving disputes between Israel and Palestine were essential steps on the path to peace in the Middle East. Credit, as well, is due Oregon's Gordon Smith for describing the president's Iraq policies as "deeply immoral" and potentially "criminal," and to outgoing Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee for finishing his Senate tenure by blocking efforts to make permanent the president's recess appointment of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

* MVP – U.S. HOUSE

Barbara Lee and her co-chair and fellow California Democrat, Lynn Woolsey, renewed the Congressional Progressive Caucus by hiring an able full-time staffer, staking out a clear set of stances that defined the left wing of the possible, holding forums and hearings on the Iraq War and developing strategies for aiding progressive contenders in House races around the country. The approach paid off. The Progressive Caucus will be the largest ideological grouping in the new Democratic House, and it has the ear – if not always the full agreement – of incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Progressive Caucus members – such as John Conyers, Charlie Rangel, George Miller and Henry Waxman -- and their allies are moving into key committee chairmanships. (Bet on Waxman, who will guide the House Government Reform Committee's investigations of Bush to be a contender for MVP next year.) Lee gets especially high marks for her dogged insistence that Congress go on record in opposition to permanent bases in Iraq – she actually got the Republican House to approve her amendments to prohibit their development. And Lee, who has made the fight against HIV/AIDS a prime focus of her congressional service capped the year off by leading a high-profile move by leaders of the African-American, Latino and Asian-American communities to get tested for the virus on World AIDS Day in order to emphasize the importance of regular testing to fight the spread of the disease.

Tips of the hat, as well, to New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey for repeatedly challenging Dick Cheney to come clean about his role in exposing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame – as part of an effort by Cheney's office to punish Plame's husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, for exposing the administration's misuse of intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – and to another New York Democrat, Jerry Nadler, for his absolute commitment to the Constitution. Nadler, the senior Democrat on the Constitution subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, has been uncompromising and unrelenting in his calls for hearings on warrantless wiretapping, illegal detentions and a host of other Bush administration assaults on civil liberties. Now, he will be able to chair those hearings.

* MVP – EXECUTIVE BRANCH

David Kuo joined the Bush administration as an actual compassionate conservative, serving in the White House for two-and-a-half years as a Special Assistant to the president and then as Deputy Director of the Bush's Faith-Based Initiative. Horrified by the cynicism of the administration, and the barely-cloaked disdain of key players in the White House for the president's religious base, Kuo came clean. He condemned the administration for failing to deliver on its promises to the poor, noting that when issues related to the supposed compassionate-conservative agenda of the president arose: "The White House legislative affairs office rolled their eyes while others on senior staff yawned." In the end, Kuo explained, "From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants. It never really wanted the ‘poor people stuff.'"

* MVP – STRATEGIC VISION BRANCH

The Democrats actually made more progress on the state level than the federal level in 2006, winning a majority of governorships and an overwhelming majority of state legislative seats. A lot of the credit for those victories, which are essential to the long-term progress of the party, goes to Progressive Majority, the five-year-old multi-issue political action committee (PAC) that was established to enhance the political effectiveness of the progressive movement. Working on local and state-legislative races, Progressive Majority has recruited, trained and steered resources to dozens of candidates – with a special focus on women and people of color – who form the "farm team" for future statewide and congressional campaigns. The dramatic Democratic advances in Colorado – where the party took full control of state government for the first time since John Kennedy was president – Wisconsin, Washington, Ohio and Pennsylvania were a byproduct of Progressive Majority's smart and effective grassroots approach. Indeed, Progressive Majority has been so successful in the seven states where it has operated that party leaders and activists in other parts of the country are clamoring for the group to come into their states.

* MVP – ACCOUNTABILITY BRANCH

When Russ Feingold moved to censure Bush, the activists of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition – who had been pushing for the better part of a year for a congressional inquiry into the administration's warping of intelligence to fit its Iraq War goals – adjusted their focus to promote an even broader and more aggressive critique of the Bush presidency. Nancy Pelosi may have tried to take impeachment off the table, but the AfterDowningStreet.org crew, led by the indomitable David Swanson, kept forcing it back on. Their coalition's website remains the "go-to" place for the latest on investigations, inquiries, subpoenas, legal actions and every other move to hold this president and vice president to account. And their passion for empowering citizens to promote "impeachment from below" and other accountability initiatives has forged a loose-knit but very real national movement. Watch for this movement to get a lot more attention in March, when a drive organized by Newfane, Vermont, town selectman and impeachment impresario Dan DeWalt and others will see dozens of town meetings endorse articles of impeachment.

* MVP – CITIZEN BRANCH

Thomas Jefferson said when left the presidency that he was retiring to a higher position: that of citizen. And it is as a citizen that another former president, Jimmy Carter, continues to make profound contributions to the nation. Increasingly frustrated by the failure of both the Bush administration and Democrats in Congress to take seriously the duty of U.S. officials to operate as honest brokers in the festering dispute between Israel and Palestine, Carter penned the most important book ever written by an ex-president: Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (Simon & Schuster). Carter's frank assessment of the history and current character of the Middle East peace process has earned him vilification from those who would maintain an untenable status quo. Old friends and allies have abandoned him because of his willingness to echo the sentiments of Israeli peace activists by declaring that: "Palestinians must live in peace and dignity, and permanent Israeli settlements on their land are a major obstacle to this goal." Carter has been let down by a U.S. media that is supposed to encourage open debate and discourse. And, yet, he has persevered in explaining to true friends of Israel and Palestine the need to recognize that a lasting peace, while possible, will not be achieved until the United States and other powerful nations get serious about promoting sincere negotiations. "An overwhelming majority of citizens of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Palestine want peace, with justice for all who live in the Holy Land," argues Carter. "It will be a shame if the world community fails to help them reach this goal." As a citizen who happens to have a Nobel Prize for Peace on his mantle, Carter is doing his part to avert that shame.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Ford: Bush Made "Big Mistake" With Iraq War

As the nation mourns the passing of former President Gerald Ford, President Bush has been appropriately respectful. Hopefully, however, the current occupant of the Oval Office's regard for its former occupant will extend to consideration by Bush of what Ford had to say in one of his last interviews.

Asked by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward about the Iraq imbroglio, Ford said in 2004, "(Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and (Vice President Dick) Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction. And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

Both Rumsfeld and Cheney served as White House chief of staff under Ford, but the former president put loyalty to his country ahead of any deference to former aides. He did, however, ask that Woodward not make the contents of the interview public until after Bush's presidency was done, or until after Ford's passing.

As of Tuesday, Woodward was free to reveal Ford's comments regarding Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the quagmire they have created.

Ford explained that he would not have chosen the course adopted by the current administration. "I don't think, if I had been president -- on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly -- I don't think I would have ordered the Iraqi war," said the former president.

Rather, said Ford, "I would have maximized our efforts through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.".

In addition to identifying the specific error with regard to Iraq, Ford spoke more broadly of the Bush administration's flawed vision of the U.S. role in the world.

Ford, a lifelong Republican, expressed the traditional view of his party with regard to military adventures abroad, saying, "I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com