NEOCONS ATTACK ELBARADEI: Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has emerged as a leading figure in the Egyptian pro-democracy movement and a credible alternative to President Hosni Mubarak. ElBaradei’s newfound prominence has angered pro-Mubarak neoconservatives, such as Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who recently called him “a stooge of Iran.” Former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer and former UN Ambassador John Bolton have added their voices to the anti-ElBaradei neocon caucus.

It’s not surprising that the same people who were so wrong about Iraq’s nonexistent WMDs are once again trying to undermine ElBaradei, who opposed the invasion of Iraq, warning that there was “no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq.” In return, the Bush administration tapped his phone and tried to prevent him from leading a third term at the IAEA. Nonetheless, ElBaradei was unanimously re-elected as IAEA chief and awarded the Nobel in 2005 for his arms control work.

Soon after, the neocons began attacking ElBaradei over Iran. Why? Because he has refused to endorse a US- or Israeli-led attack on Iran, much to the chagrin of war cheerleaders like Bolton. The former IAEA chief has criticized the Iranian government for evading weapons inspections, but he’s advocated a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff. In a 2007 profile, the New York Times called ElBaradei “an indispensable irritant to Iran and its foes.”

His clashes with Tehran and Washington will likely serve him well in Cairo as he navigates the murky landscape of the current Egyptian regime. He has been highly critical of Arab autocrats and the Western governments that prop them up. If ElBaradei continues to annoy neocons in Washington, it means he’s probably doing something right.    ARI BERMAN

JUDICIAL ACTIVISM ON STEROIDS: With a bow to the Tea Party movement, a federal judge appointed by Ronald Reagan determined on January 31 that healthcare reform—at least as imagined by the Obama administration—is unconstitutional. In a seventy-eight-page opinion laced with references to the Boston Tea Party and the skewed takes on history and the Constitution favored by the Tea Partisans, Florida District Judge Roger Vinson accepted arguments advanced by conservative attorneys general against the Affordable Care Act, which was enacted last year.

Vinson’s objection was to the individual mandate, which will require Americans to obtain health insurance as a part of a broad plan to spread risk and reduce the costs. The mandate has drawn complaints from conservatives who don’t want the government getting in the way of insurance-industry profiteering, as well as from progressives who object to requiring Americans to buy insurance from the profiteers. But Vinson didn’t just reject the mandate; he took a wild leap and ruled, “Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional, and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void.”

So a government that can require citizens to pay taxes and fight wars cannot require them to obtain health insurance coverage? That makes scant sense to legal scholars and healthcare analysts; Health Care for America Now’s Ethan Rome calls the ruling “judicial activism on steroids.”

But Vinson’s embrace of Tea Party “logic” could find takers among conservative judicial activists on the Supreme Court, which is all but certain to be called upon to sort out conflicting rulings by various jurists. What if the High Court rejects what conservatives call “Obamacare”? Judge Vinson noted that Congress has the “power to address the problems and inequities in our health care system.” Medicare and Medicaid, both single-payer systems, have been determined to be constitutional. Doctors active with Physicians for a National Health Program are arguing that rather than defend the mandate, legislators should expand and improve those popular programs to provide “Medicare for All.”   JOHN NICHOLS

KEITH ELLISON, D-DEMOCRACY: While President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Congressional leaders were agonizingly cautious in their responses to the democracy protests that swept Egypt, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison knew which side he was on. The first Muslim elected to Congress and a well-recognized player on the international stage (often at the behest of the State Department) was issuing statements, rallying Americans to speak up and constantly sending tweets: ”Ppl of Egypt DESERVE freedom; I stand w/ them.” When Egyptian authorities detained ElBaradei, Ellison’s response was, “Let’s DO something.” He organized a letter drive to get the White House to pressure President Mubarak to back off. Ellison’s pro-democracy idealism was mixed with a knowing pragmatism; a savvy internationalist, he argued that the United States must get ahead of the democracy wave: “We’re always on the side of ‘stability’ rather than justice. So let’s get on the right side this time.”   JOHN NICHOLS

ABORTION UNDER FIRE: In a stunning attack on reproductive rights, Republican Congressman Christopher Smith of New Jersey has introduced the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (HR 3). The bill, which has 173 co-sponsors, mostly Republicans, seeks to expand the Hyde Amendment, which limits federal funding for abortion to cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. HR 3 would further limit the rape exemption to “forcible rape,” redefining who is considered a rape survivor in the eyes of the law. The bill would also impose a tax penalty on people and small businesses that choose insurance plans that cover abortion. “This amounts to an abortion tax, with a goal of stopping private insurance plans from providing coverage of abortion,” says Stephanie Sterling of the National Women’s Law Center.

House Speaker John Boehner has called the bill one of Congress’s top priorities. “These are the same politicians who cam- paigned on jobs and the economy,” says Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “Evidently, House leaders have made attacks on women’s access to reproductive healthcare and the redefinition of rape their new jobs agenda.”   KATE MURPHY