Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:

Huge Improvements

The assistant secretary of the army says the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq is comparable to the post-World War II "Marshall Plan" and "a heroic story maligned often by the news media."

Dean Popps tells The Washington Times that when the Army Corps of Engineers arrived in Iraq, none of Baghdad's three sewage treatments worked, few towns had clean water, the 1950's era electrical system was falling part, and there were no primary health care facilities.

Popps says three years later the sewage system capacity increases by almost a-half-million cubic meters/day, power and water are much more widely accessible, and there are six new primary care facilities with 66 more being built.

Popps says reporters are often brought to some of the sites — but he says positive stories rarely materialize.

Unfair Trial?

The U.S. based Human Rights Watch says Saddam Hussein was not given a fair trial and is calling his death sentence "inherently cruel and inhumane."

Human Rights Watch is against the death penalty in general and is often at odds with U.S. foreign policy. It says judges were not impartial and did not uphold the standards of international law. The group also criticized defense attorneys for staging repeated walkouts — appearing to intentionally delay and obstruct the trial.

The chief prosecutor says the trial was transparent and "fair enough to a dictator who killed dozens of innocents."

Brown Out

The largest student evangelical group at Brown University has been banned from advertising or meeting on campus — but the Rhode Island Ivy League school is refusing to explain its decision.

The Providence Journal reports the 100-member "Reformed University Fellowship" was notified in September by the university chaplain that its charter was being withdrawn. The school has not responded to requests for an exact reason — saying only the group failed to abide by university guidelines and failed to turn in an application on time.

The school's chaplain for Protestants — who is a Baptist minister — accused the group of "contempt and dishonesty" but declined to provide specifics.

The president of the Fellowship says the school has "blacklisted" his group — and says it has lost about a third of its members and has had to move its activities off campus.

Contract Broken

The ABC network has broken its contract with the Assemblies of God Church to run an ad on its message board in Times Square — after initially approaching the denomination about a deal.

A spokesman with the denomination — which has about two million members in more than 12,000 churches nationwide — says ABC brokered the deal after learning the group was going to advertise on the "News Astrovision Screen" operated by the parent company of FOX News.

But right before the ads saying "Life is never hopeless. God gives hope," were to air on ABC's screen — the network backed out. An ABC spokeswoman tells the Lexington Herald-Leader that company policy prohibits advertising religion — and blames the mix-up on an "eager salesman" who was unaware of the rules.

—FOX News Channel's Martin Hill contributed to this report.