The Nation

Will a New Congress Check and Balance Bush?

The wonder of American democracy is the fact that power can be transferred from one party to another peacefully and, at times, even graciously.

The reason for this, of course, is that the United States is governed by a Constitution that assures the power that is transferred is never absolute. Thus, a defeated party and its followers know that they are not consigning themselves to political oblivion when they cede their authority to another group of partisans.

The separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, and protected by that document's system of checks and balances, was designed to assure that neither the executive nor the legislative branch of government could become so dominant that basic rights might be undermined or that the nation itself might be endangered.

There is genius in the design. But it is only fully functional when those who are entrusted with the duty of upholding the Constitution choose, in fact and deed, to do so.

That is the test of the new Congress. The Republicans who controlled the House and Senate but, by their own admission, failed to serve as an effective check and balance on the Bush administration's excesses, have now been consigned to opposition status. The Democrats, who promised a change of direction, have majorities in both chambers.

But the question remains: Have we seen a peaceful transfer of power, along the lines that the founders intended? Or have we merely shuffled some office assignments and changed the names on some doors?

The answer to those questions will come in the response of the new Congress to the excesses of the Bush administration.

Conveniently, on the eve of the swearing in of the Democratic House and Senate, the president set up a challenge that the new Congress can -- indeed must meet.

After signing an otherwise mundane postal reform bill on December 2O, Bush issued a so-called "signing statement" that claimed for himself sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail.

As with the warrantless wiretapping of Americans' telephone conversations, which Bush continues to authyorize, the president's claim of an authority to open letters and packages according to personal whim is contrary to existing law. In fact, this abuse of power is in conflict with the very postal bill he was signing -- not to mention with the privacy protections contained in the Constitution.

"The signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming." says Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies, who explains that "The danger is [that the administration will be] reading Americans' mail."

To be sure, that is a danger and it must be addressed.

But there is a deeper danger,

If this president is permitted to continue writing his own rules -- as did the British monarches against whom the American patriots of two centuries ago revolted. Bush is creating what Thomas Jefferson most feared: an "elective despotism." He is ruling, not as the servant of the people but as the "king for four years" that the drafters of the Constitution sought to guard against.

If power has been well and truly transferred to the new Congress, then Bush will be prevented from continuing to abuse his authority. The president's ability to spy and pry without warrant will be constrained, and his determination to trample the rule of law will be met with Constitutional remedies that the founders intended: censure and sanction.


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

Labor Rights Begin at Home

The right to workplace democracy, that is the right to form a union and collectively bargain, is a human right. Perhaps it sounds overly grandiose to say this, but that alone shows how far labor rights in the this country have fallen. Labor rights are internationally recognized as part and parcel of the broader litany of human rights that constitute the kind of international norms that the US govenrment professes to support. It's not coincidental that that one thing nearly all autocratic and repressive regimes -- from the Communist Party of Poland of the 1980s, to Saddam Hussein, to the current mullahs running Iran -- share is antipathy towards organized labor. It makes sense. Workers coming together to have a say in their workplace is fundamentally a democratic exercise and once they start doing that, who knows what else they'll try to organize around.

For this reason, it's more than a little troubling that a new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research concludes that one in seven workers who try organize a union right here in the US are illegally fired. While the CEPR finds that situation has gotten worse under Bush, the dismal state of labor law enforcement isn't new. Six years ago, even before the Bush administration ushered in an even more anti-union era at the NLRB, Human Rights Watch released a report titled UNFAIR ADVANTAGE: Workers' Freedom of Association in the United States under International Human Rights Standards. HRW found that the US fell short of many international labor rights standards. For instance:

The basic international norm protecting the right to organize is stated in ILO Convention 98: "Workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination . . . more particularly acts calculated to cause the dismissal of or otherwise prejudice a worker by reason of union membership or participation in union activities." The NLRA's Section 8(a)(3) appears to meet this goal, making unlawful any discrimination against workers for concerted activity, including union activity.

Firing a worker for organizing is illegal but commonplace in the United States. Many of the cases examined by Human Rights Watch for this report reflect the frequency and the devastating effect of discriminatory discharges on workers' rights. An employer determined to get rid of a union activist knows that all that awaits, after years of litigation if the employer persists in appeals, is a reinstatement order the worker is likely to decline and a modest back-pay award. For many employers, it is a small price to pay to destroy a workers' organizing effort by firing its leaders.

None of this is going to even begin to change until we reform the way unions are certified. As the labor movement has argued repeatedly, the current NLRB election process makes it nearly impossible for workers to form a union because it's so easy for employers to simply fire or threaten to fire the troublemakers. That's why we need card-check elections. Here's to 2007 being the year of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Going Local

Most ActNow readers will be familiar with many of the well-known liberal bloggers and blogs. Sites like The DailyKos, Talking Points Memo, Atrios and The Huffington Post all draw massive daily audiences for their largely national commentary, reporting and analysis.

But there's a quieter revolution taking place among local blogs that are increasingly engaging the maxim that all politics is local. With a tight focus on the frequently unique, quirky issues of small municipalities, these blogs are offering an invaluable resource that is usually legitimately impossible to find elsewhere.

But how to find them? Since the internet doesn't come with zipcodes attached to urls, it's not always obvious how to discover these nodes of conversation and community? One good way is to read former Nation editor and current Executive Editor of Personal Democracy Forum Micah Sifry's recent post detailing Seven Ways to Find Local Political Blogs. It's an extremely useful primer on how to access what you want to know online. And if you have other suggestions for ways to go local, please let us know in the comments field below.

Murtha: No Surge For Bush

In the first really bold move of the new Congress, Jack Murtha told Arianna Huffington in an interview published today that he plans to block Bush's plan to escalate the war in Iraq by refusing to fund a so-called "surge" of additional troops.

From Arianna's interview:

When we asked about the likelihood of the president sending additional troops to Iraq, Murtha was adamant. "The only way you can have a troop surge," he told us, "is to extend the tours of people whose tours have already been extended, or to send back people who have just gotten back home." He explained at length how our military forces are already stretched to the breaking point, with our strategic reserve so depleted we are unprepared to face any additional threats to the country. So does that mean there will be no surge? Murtha offered us a "with Bush anything is possible" look, then said: "Money is the only way we can stop it for sure."

He says he wants to "fence the funding," denying the president the resources to escalate the war, instead using the money to take care of the soldiers as we bring them home from Iraq "as soon as we can."

As chairman of the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Murtha has power over the war purse. He's right: the only way to prevent a surge is to refuse to fund it. And the only surefire way to end the war starts with blocking the $100 billion supplemental bill President Bush plans to hand the Congress soon. Many Democrats have been reluctant to pursue such an approach. Maybe Murtha's latest statement--like his dramatic call for redeployment in November 2005--will wake up his party.

The Year of the Democratic Woman

History will be made on Thursday morning with the US Capitol serving as a backdrop as Nancy Pelosi is sworn in as the first woman Speaker of the House. Pelosi was unanimously elected Speaker last November to serve in this position that is third-in-line to the Presidency.

But what is being touted as "The Year of the Democratic Woman" extends far beyond this important victory.

Minnesota elected Amy Klobuchar as its first-ever female Senator. Klobuchar ran as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate, and joins newly elected Senate colleagues Jon Tester, Sherrod Brown, Jim Webb and Bernie Sanders in winning on an economic populist platform.

Anti-war candidate Carol Shea-Porter is the first woman ever elected by New Hampshire to represent the state in Congress. She too ran on a populist message in a solidly Republican district, and spoke out strongly against the war and for accountability and oversight, particularly with regard to war profiteering.

In all, eleven Democratic women will serve in the Senate and fifty in the House.

In the Senate, Barbara Boxer is the new Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman. As I noted in a previous post, Sen. Boxer is a welcome change from global warming denier James Inhofe – a breath of fresh air, one might say (bad pun, but true nonetheless). Only four women have previously served as chairs of Senate committees prior to Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (who will now chair the Rules and Administration Committee). And Sen. Patty Murray (WA) will become the fourth-ranking Democrat in the Senate as the newly elected conference secretary.

In the House, no woman has chaired a committee since 1997 and, thankfully, that pitiful streak now comes to an end. Representatives Louise Slaughter, Nydia Velazquez and Stephanie Tubbs Jones – all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) – will respectively chair the Rules Committee, Small Business Committee, and Ethics Committee. Other leadership positions are still being determined.

It should be noted too that the CPC – the largest caucus in Congress – is chaired by Representatives Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee (who have been at the forefront of opposition to the war and leaders in finding a more just path to security), and it includes other strong and tested progressives like Jan Schakowsky, Sheila Jackson-Lee, and Maxine Waters. In fact, 22 of the 64 CPC members in the last Congress were women and that number is expected to rise in the new Congress.

If the 110th Congress is to fulfill its mandate for change it will do so in no small measure through the new and much overdue leadership of Democratic Women. Now let's just hope that the history-making Speaker reflects the Nancy Pelosi who often scored 100 on progressive scorecards, not the equivocating Nancy Pelosi who failed to gain the endorsement of her hometown newspaper.

Join the Marines... for the Summer

The other day, the college-age daughter of a friend received an e-letter from a Marine Corps Officer Selection Officer, inviting her to "an awesome summer training program called the Platoon Leader's Course." Think of it as Marine Corps summer camp. No uniforms ("This is not ROTC!"), but reasonable amounts of moolah. Here's some of what was on offer to her, part of a desperate military's Iraq-era appeal to citizenly duty:

"You will earn approximately $2,400 (six weeks) or $4,000 (ten weeks) plus room and board during the training. How's that for a summer job?.... You will not incur any obligation to the Marine Corps even after completing the training. (You can choose whether or not to continue with the program).... Tuition assistance will be available to you after you complete training this summer. You could potentially earn $8,000 to $25,000 for school, depending on graduation date."

Imagine! The Marine Corps is willing to pay young people to go to a uniform-less summer camp to test their "leadership potential," with no commitment to the Corps necessary. Consider that; then consider what was certainly the President's only significant decision of the holiday season past--to permanently expand the US military by as many as 70,000 troops.

Now, as in some old math problem, the question is: How do you connect these two points. (Hint: Not with a straight line.)

Faced with a December shot across the bow in testimony before Congress by Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker, who warned that the Army "will break" under present war-zone rotation needs, President Bush responded by addressing the "stressed" nature of the US Armed Forces. He said, "I'm inclined to believe that we do need to increase our troops--the Army, the Marines. And I talked about this to Secretary [Robert A.] Gates, and he is going to spend some time talking to the folks in the building [the Pentagon], come back with a recommendation to me about how to proceed forward on this idea." All this was, he added, "to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists."

Ah... that makes things clearer.

Of course, to get those new "volunteer" officers and men, who have generally been none too eager to volunteer for the Army and the Marines in the midst of a disastrous, far-away, increasingly incomprehensible set of double wars, you'll have to pay even more kids more money to go to no-commitment summer camp; and, while you're at it, you'll have to lower standards for the military radically. You'll have to let in even more volunteers without high school diplomas but with "moral" and medical "waivers" for criminal records and mental problems. You'll have to fast-track even more new immigrants willing to join for the benefits of quick citizenship; you'll have to ramp up already high cash bonuses of all sorts; you'll have to push the top-notch ad agency recently hired on a five-year contract for a cool billion dollars to rev up its new "Army Strong" recruitment drive even higher; you'll certainly have to jack up the numbers of military recruiters radically, to the tune of perhaps a couple of hundred million more dollars; and maybe just for the heck of it, you better start planning for the possibility of recruiting significant numbers of potential immigrants before they even think to leave their own countries. After all, it's darn romantic to imagine a future American all-volunteer force that will look more like the old French Foreign Legion--or an army of mercenaries anyway. All in all, you'll have to commit to the fact that your future soldier in your basic future war will cost staggering sums of money to hire and even more staggering sums to retain after he or she has had a taste of what "leadership potential" really entails.

Put another way, as long as Iraq remains a classic quagmire for the Army and Marines, any plan to expand the U.S. military in order to make it easier to fight such wars in the future, threatens to become a classic financial quagmire as well. In other words, Iraq and military expansion don't fit together well at all. And yet, looking at the state of our military in Iraq in a certain light, expansion seems so… well, logical.

After all, the American military, now at just over 500,000 troops, stood, at the time of the First Gulf War, at 703,000. (Of course, no one now counts the quite expensive hired mercenaries who envelop our military -- the privatized, Halliburton-style adjuncts, who cook the food, build the bases, do the cleaning, deliver the mail and supplies, perform interrogation duties, and so on, and whose increase has been striking as has the growth of rent-a-mercenary corporations whose armed employees are, for instance, all over Iraq.) In addition, it has long been clear that the Armed Forces could not take the strain of failing wars in Central Asia and the Middle East forever, not to speak of increased "commitments" in the Persian Gulf and the normal massive global basing and policing that the Pentagon regularly refers to as our "footprint" on the planet. Added to this, the President seems to be leaning towards increasingly the pressure on military manpower needs by "surging"--the Vietnam era word would, of course, have been "escalating"--up to 30,000 troops into Baghdad and al-Anbar province, while naval and air forces (with an obvious eye to Iran) are simultaneously ramped up in the Persian Gulf.

In light of Iraq, military manpower needs cry out to be dealt with. In light of Iraq, dealing with them any time soon will be prohibitively expensive.

In Washington, this conundrum leads nowhere in particular. Instead, in the spirit of imperial-mission logic (and with the urge to bash the Bush administration for being late to such an obvious support-our-troops position), Democrats simply leaped onto the expand-the-military bandwagon even faster than Republicans. In fact, leading Democrats had long been calling for just this sort of expansion. ("I am glad [the President] has realized the need for increasing the size of the armed forces... but this is where the Democrats have been for two years," commented Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the new House Democratic Caucus chairman.) The Democratic leadership promptly pledged to make such an expansion one of its top reform priorities in the New Year.

To get those numbers significantly higher will, it's estimated, take a decade and unimaginable sums of money (as well as those lowered standards). And, if the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan worsen, as they almost certainly will, and American casualties rise with no end in sight, you can start going through your multiplication tables. This could be considered but a form of ongoing blowback from American imperial shock-and-awe tactics in Iraq and presents some curious choices to our leaders. After all, to take but one example, those most eager to expand the military, with their eyes on the imperial future, should be eager to liquidate the Iraqi mission as soon as possible.

But a far more basic choice lurks--one rarely alluded to in the mainstream. If we voted on such things–-and, in truth, we vote on less and less that matters--the choice that actually lies behind the Marine e-letter to my friend's daughter might be put this way: Expand the military or shrink the mission?

This is the essential question that goes largely unmentioned--and largely unthought as well. In the meantime, money will continue to pour into military recruitment ad campaigns, bonuses, and summer camps. In the meantime, those Marine e-letters will continue to go out. In the meantime, money will continue to pour into the Pentagon and the national security world generally. In the meantime, we will continue to build our near billion-dollar embassy, the largest on the planet, in the heart of Baghdad's Green Zone. In the meantime, the imperial and military paths will continue to fuse, and the Pentagon will continue to take on new roles, even outside "declared war zones," in intelligence, diplomacy, "information operations," and other "self-assigned missions"; so that, as Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times recently described it, even our embassies will increasingly be militarized outposts in the global war on terror.

Shrinking the mission--choosing some path other than the imperial one (in part by redefining what exactly our national interests are)--would, of course, address many problems. It would make paying young people thousands of dollars to test their leadership potential or thinking about scouring Central America for a future Foreign Legion far less necessary. But no one in Washington--not in the Bush administration, not in James A. Baker's Iraq Study Group, which recently captured the Inside-the-Beltway "middle ground" on Iraq policy, not in the Democratic leadership--is faintly interested in shrinking the American global mission. No one in Washington, where a kind of communal voting does go on, is about to vote "no" to that mission, or cast a ballot for democracy rather than empire.

Expanding the military may seem like a no-brainer in response to the Iraq crisis. As it happens, it's anything but. Unfortunately, few ever discuss (as, for instance, Chalmers Johnson did in his book, The Sorrows of Empire) the 700-plus military and intelligence bases we retain around the world or ask why exactly we're garrisoning the planet. No one, in these last years, has seriously challenged the ever expanding Pentagon budget; nor the mushrooming supplemental requests for Iraq and Afghanistan, including the record-setting latest for almost $100 billion; nor, generally, the fact that paying for actual war-fighting is no longer considered an appropriate part of the Pentagon's normal budget process.

No one challenged it when, in 2002, the United States gained a new North American Command (Northcom), making U.S. citizens but another coequal part of the Pentagon's division of its imperial world, along with those who live in regions covered by Centcom, Paccom, and the just authorized Africa Command (Africom). No one challenged the vast expansion of Pentagon intelligence activities. No one offered a challenge as the military took on ever more civilian domestic duties, including planning for the potential arrival of a pandemic disease on our shores or for future Katrinas. No one seriously challenges the plans the Pentagon has on the drawing boards for exotic, futuristic hardware meant to come on line decades from now that, along with futuristic military tactics already being worked out, will help predetermine the wars most Americans don't even know we are going to fight--from the vast mega-slum-cities of the Third World to the borderlands of space.

No one considers what the Pentagonization of our world and the Homeland Securitization of our country is doing to us, because militarism here has never taken on the expectable forms--few vast military parades or displays (despite the almost full-scale militarization of Presidential funerals); few troops in the streets; no uniforms in the high councils of government. In fact, it's one of the ironies of our particular form of militarization that when our military--no longer really a citizen army--goes to war and troops begin to die, less Americans are touched by this than perhaps at any time in our recent history.

Shrink the mission or expand the military? Your choice?

Fat chance.

Keith Ellison and the Jefferson Koran

Despite a cynical campaign by those who would establish a religious test for holding office in these United States, newly elected Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison will swear his oath of office tomorrow on the Koran.

The objections to allowing Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, to take the oath as he chooses were so absurd in character and contention that they could easily be dismissed as a sideshow. But it would be dangerous to do so. The fact is that there has for a number of years now been a concerted effort by sincere if misguided religious zealots and conservative political strategists who delight in exploiting fears of diversity to redefine the American experiment as a Christian religious endeavor.

History does not provide even a soft grounding for this fantasy. The Founders of the country were men and women of the Enlightenment who, while surely imperfect in their thoughts and deeds, wisely sought to burst the chains of what Thomas Jefferson referred to as "monkish ignorance and superstition." They revolted against the divine right of kings, rejected the construct of state-sponsored religion and wrote a Constitution that not only guaranteed freedom of religion but required that: "The Senators and Representatives...and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

The controversy over Ellison's desire to swear his oath on a Koran, which had been stoked by conservative commentators initially, reached something of a fever pitch when Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode, an otherwise obscure Republican, declared in a letter to a constituent that "When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Qur'an in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Qur'an."

Goode made several television appearances during which he pushed this line, even after it was pointed out to him that Ellison was born in the United States and traced his family's roots in this country back at least to 1742.

Goode left no doubt about his disdain for Islam and for its practioners, declaring that "I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped. The Ten Commandments and 'In God We Trust' are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Qur'an. My response was clear, 'As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Qur'an is not going to be on the wall of my office.'"

Predictably, Goode found a forum on Fox News, where he stood by his statements and said, without a hint of irony, that "I wish more people would take a stand and stand up for the principles on which this country was founded."

What made Goode's ignorance of those founding principles remarkable was the fact that he represents Virginia's Albemarle County, where Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743.

On Thursday, it will not be Virgil Goode who pays tribute to Jefferson.

It will be Keith Ellison.

The new Congressman from Minnesota will declare his loyalty to the Constitution while clutching a copy of the Koran that was once owned by Jefferson. One of many Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist texts that the author of the Declaration of Independence donated to the Library of Congress at its founding, the Jefferson Koran has been loaned to Ellison by the rare book and special collections division of the library.

This is not mere symbolism. Ellison understands the Jeffersonian impulse that underpins the American experiment.

"When I'm officially sworn in, I will do it the same exact way as every other Congressperson-elect who was sworn in," explains the Representative from Minneapolis. "We will all stand up and in unison lift our hand and swear to uphold that Constitution, and then later, in a private ceremony, of course I'll put my hand on a book that is the basis of my faith, which is Islam, and I think that this is a beauty--this is a wonderful thing for our country because Jewish members will put their hands on the Torah. Mormon members will put their hand on the Book of Mormon. Catholic members will put their hand on the book of their choice--and members that don't want to put their hand on any book are also fully free to do that. That's the American way.... I think the diversity of our country is a great strength. It's a good thing that we have people from all faiths and all cultures to come here."

Make no mistake, were Jefferson, Madison, George Mason or any of the other Virginians who put their hands to the task of forging an experiment in religious tolerance and liberty asked to choose between Virgil Goode and Keith Ellison, those advocates for a "wall of separation" between church and state would not hesitate to say that it is Ellison who should be sworn in. And Jefferson, who spoke and wrote so extensively about his interest in and respect for Islam, would surely be honored to know that Ellison's hand will rest on the Koran that an enlightened Founder bequeathed not just to the Library of Congress but to America.


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

Saddam's Aftermath: The Milestone That Wasn't

The Bush Administration hoped that a guilty verdict for Saddam Hussein two days before the midterm elections would boost the electoral fortunes of sagging Republicans. It didn't. Once sentenced, they hoped that his execution would bring some much-needed good news to an Iraq policy in shambles and a country torn apart by an escalating civil war. It hasn't.

It's amazing that the death of Saddam, a man considered by pretty much everyone to have been a horrible dictator, could backfire on the Bush Administration and the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq. But the grizzly hanging--and the nasty cellphone recorded taunts that followed--can now be viewed as yet another chapter in the evolving story of "What Went Wrong."

Saddam's execution, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman noted today, "resembled a tribal revenge ritual rather than the culmination of a constitutional process in which America should be proud to have participated."

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a man increasingly under fire, today detained one of Saddam's guards for possibly leaking the cellphone video. But the Times reported that another man present with a cellphone was Maliki's national security advisor, Mowaffak al-Rubaie. The plot thickens.

The Bush Administration is presently--and rather unconvincingly--trying to blame Maliki for rushing Saddam's execution. "American officials said that they had worked until the last hours of Mr. Hussein's life to persuade Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to delay the execution," the Times reported.

Maybe so. But the Bush Administration is to blame for botching Saddam's trial, by holding it inside Iraq and outside the jurisdiction of international law. If Saddam was given over to the International Criminal Court, there would have been no cellphone pictures, no taunting, no scandal and no execution.

Heroes and Zeroes of 2006

With an abortion ban in South Dakota, a pitched battle over the FDA's approval of the "morning-after" pill for over-the-counter sales, continued struggles over anti-choice Bush Administration judicial appointees and a tumultuous election season, 2006 was a busy year for defenders of reproductive rights in America. One of the most active groups working in defense of Roe v. Wade, NARAL Pro-Choice America, is asking for nominations for the pro-choice Heros and Zeros of this chaotic year.

The comp is fierce for the dubious honor of Zero of 2006 with South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds, Colorado Governor Bill Owens and Eric Keroack, Bush's reactionary nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, all running strong. Fortunately, there are more than enough Heroes of 2006 to choose from, including Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath and the entire NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, which played a critical role in forcing Wal-Mart to end its discriminatory policy against stocking emergency contraception, aka, Plan B and the "morning-after" pill.

Click here to cast your vote, and check out NARAL's Choice Action Center to find up-to-date information about relevant political campaigns in your state and nationwide, timely and fun online features, and step-by-step tools to make it easy for you to bring your pro-choice activism to a new level.