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The Pope's 'Seismic Shift'

Many of the most devout followers of the most famous of all victims of capital punishment, the Nazarene who was crucified on the Calvary cross, took a long time to recognize that state-sponsored execution is an affront to their history and their faith. For close to 1,500 years, the Catholic Church taught that the state had a right to punish criminals "by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty."

For centuries, that line in the Catechism of the Catholic Church was used by Catholic politicians--and others who sought a moral justification for their actions--to place a veneer of legitimacy on even the most cavalier executions of the young, the mentally handicapped and the innocent. Even as Pope John Paul II moved the church closer and closer to explicit opposition to the death penalty during his long tenure, the loophole in the Catechism remained.

Then, in 1997, Sister Helen Prejean, the American nun and death penalty abolitionist who authored the book Dead Man Walking, asked Pope John Paul II to close the loophole. Later that year, the Pope removed the reference to the death penalty from the Catechism and, when he visited the United States two years later, he denounced the death penalty as "cruel and unnecessary." Referencing moves by countries around the world to ban capital punishment, the Pope declared in St. Louis that, "A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil."

So pointed and passionate was the Pope's message on the issue that the then-governor of Missouri, Mel Carnahan, a Baptist and a supporter of capital punishment, commuted the sentence of a condemned man who was scheduled to be put to death by the state several weeks after the Papal visit.

It is to be expected that the death of a pope will be attended by hyperbole. And the passing on Saturday of John Paul II has proven to be no exception to the rule. The late pontiff has been credited with everything from defeating communism to healing the age-old rift between Catholics and Jews, just as he faces legitimate criticism for everything from undermining the fight against AIDS by preaching against the use of condoms to consigning the women of the church to second-class citizenship.

The legacy of a pope who served twenty-six years, five months and seventeen days--longer than all the popes in history, save St. Peter and the nineteenth-century pontiff Pius IX--will, of course, be subject to debate. Wise souls will for centuries ponder the accomplishments and the missteps of the man who began his earthly journey as a Polish boy named Karol Jozef Wojtyla and ended it as one of the most recognized and respected figures in the world.

But one aspect of this pope's legacy is not up for debate. During John Paul II's pontificate, the Catholic Church closed the loophole that had served as all-too-many justifications for the taking of the lives of prisoners of the state. New Orleans Archbishop Francis Schulte said the change opened up "a whole new area (of consideration) for many Catholics." Sister Helen Prejean described it as a "Seismic shift" in church teaching. That shift had a profound influence on former Illinois Governor George Ryan, who declared the capital punishment system in Illinois "broken," and commuted the sentences of all 167 inmates sitting on death row in Illinois jails in 2003. And it continues to be felt today, as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops wages a newly launched national campaign to end the use of the death penalty in the United States.

There will be many grand eulogies to mark the passing of Pope John Paul II. But none will be more eloquent than the ongoing campaign to bar the barbaric practice of state-sponsored execution. Perhaps John Paul II was not the most modern pope, but he recognized the progress of society and moral teaching when he preached that, "Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform."

WMD Commission Stonewalls

The stonewall continues.

On Thursday, President Bush's commission on weapons of mass destruction intelligence released a 692-page report that harshly criticizes the US intelligence establishment. It notes that "the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of it pre-war judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. This was a major intelligence failure." That's no news flash. The Senate intelligence committee issued a report last July that said the same. But like the Senate committee, Bush's commission--cochaired by Judge Laurence Silberman, a Republican, and former Senator Chuck Robb, a Democrat--ignored a key issue: whether Bush and his aides overstated and misrepresented the flawed intelligence they received from the intelligence agencies. As I wrote about days ago, Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, promised last summer that his committee would investigate the administration's prewar use (or abuse) of the WMD intelligence after the 2004 election, but more recently Roberts backed away from that vow, claiming such an inquiry would now be pointless. The commission, which claimed it found no evidence that Bush officials pressured intelligence analysts to rig their reports, notes in a footnote,

Our review has been limited by our charter to the question of alleged policymaker pressure on the Intelligence Community to shape its conclusions to conform to the policy preferences of the Administration. There is a separate issue of how policymakers used the intelligence they were given and how they reflected it in their presentations to Congress and the public. That issue is not within our charter and we therefore did not consider it nor do we express a view on it.

So two years after Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, there still has been no official inquiry into how he and his lieutenants handled the prewar intelligence. The question is whether Bush and other administration officials exaggerated the intelligence community's overstatements. And the evidence suggests they did. Bush claimed Saddam Hussein was "dealing with" al Qaeda before the war, but the CIA had not reported that. Bush said Hussein had amassed a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons, yet the intelligence community had only reported (errantly) that Iraq had an active research and development program for biological weapons. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress have so far succeeded in keeping his role in the WMD scandal out of the picture. (Democrats, where are you?)

The presidential WMD commission found numerous problems within the intelligence community. It says, "we still know disturbingly little about the weapons programs and even less about the intentions of many of our most dangerous adversaries." (This is bad news for anyone who wants to bomb Iran or North Korea.) The report is mostly depressing, as it describes severe dysfunctions within the intelligence establishment. But the commission casts little, if any, blame toward the person ultimately responsible for the intelligence community: the president of the United States. And the current president even bestowed upon former CIA director George Tenet, who was at the helm during this period of screw-ups, the presidential Medal of Freedom. (Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz received one, too. And yesterday the Rand Corporation released a report concluding that his Pentagon failed to plan adequately for the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. The Rand study says that stabilization and reconstruction issues "were addressed only very generally" and "no planning was undertaken to ensure the security of the Iraqi people.")

The WMD commission took only a few modest steps toward addressing--in the most general terms--the role played by Bush and the policymakers in the Iraq WMD intelligence failure. For instance, the commission notes,

The Intelligence Community needs to be pushed. It will not do its best unless it is pressed by policymakers-sometimes to the point of discomfort. Analysts must be pressed to explain how much they don't know; the collection agencies must be pressed to explain why they don't have better information on key topics. While policymakers must be prepared to credit intelligence that doesn't fit their preferences, no important intelligence assessment should be accepted without sharp questioning that forces the community to explain exactly how it came to that assessment and what alternatives might also be true.

It's obvious that Bush did not push the intelligence services in this fashion. As the White House has conceded, Bush did not even read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq produced in October 2002. This was the intelligence community's ultimate summary of its intelligence on Iraq. A close reading of the document could have led Bush or national security adviser Condoleezza Rice (who also did not read the 90-page paper) to raise the sort of questions the commission suggests. But that did not happen. When Silberman was asked at a press conference if Bush had been inquisitive enough, he referred to a passage in Bob Woodward's latest book in which Bush is depicted asking Tenet if the intelligence is sound and Tenet maintains it is a "slam-dunk." That clearly was not good enough.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the Terri Schiavo affair, Bush's screwed-up budget for homeland defense, and other matters.

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The commission also observes,

The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments. That said, it is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.

The commission suggests that it is partly the responsibility of the president to guarantee that conventional wisdom is questioned. But Bush did no such thing. With this report, the CIA is again cast as the fall guy. And Bush escapes merrily.

A government nonproliferation expert with experience dealing with intelligence analysts, who has read the report, sent me his/her assessment. This source asked to go unnamed, fearing retribution at the workplace for publicly blasting the report. Below is an excerpt of his/her analysis:

[The commission] focuses on how and why the dogs barked [and got it wrong]. The real point, however, is: why didn't someone look out the window? And why have no policymakers taken responsibility, anywhere, for drastically wrong assessments on Iraq?

The Commission's report is a good read and thorough. The recommendations -- to collect better intelligence, do better analysis, and communicate better -- however, reflect the absurdity of having intelligence experts tell each other how to do their job better. The users of intelligence should be involved. The Commission had 60 staff members, but only three have identifiable expertise in nonproliferation and none have nonproliferation policy experience. Why didn't the Commission include more nonproliferation experts?

There are lots of reasons....The Commission was appointed by the president and it is politically easier for this administration to focus on intelligence rather than policy failures, for obvious reasons. Nonproliferation experts might point out that even though the intelligence was flawed, someone with enough nonproliferation experience would have asked more questions. Despite the fascinating details of how and why the intelligence on uranium from Niger was faulty, an expert would point out that there were tons of natural and low-enriched uranium already in Iraq: even if Iraq got uranium from Niger, it wouldn't make a discernible difference in the quantity it could enrich. Iraq's first choice would be to take the safeguarded material (just as it planned to do before the 1991 war) and use that. Faster and less complicated. A nonproliferation expert would also know that the CIA's arguments that Iraq was reconstituting its cadre of nuclear weapons personnel were an old, tired mantra repeated since the early 1990s. In interagency meetings ten years ago, I used to ask them, what evidence do you have? "Well," the analysts would say, "we think he's doing it." Apparently their evidence never got any better.

For Bush--or the commission--to say he was misled by the intelligence community is not a sufficient explanation or defense. First, Bush didn't ensure the intelligence he received was solid. Then he and his lieutenants repeatedly said in public that the intelligence was beyond doubt, and they made dramatic assertions about the supposed threat presented by Hussein's WMDs that went far beyond what the intelligence (wrongly) claimed. In keeping the spotlight exclusively on the intelligence gang and not turning it also on the policymakers at the White House, the WMD commission has served Bush well, but not the public.

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.

John Bolton: Ally of Drugrunners

John Bolton is a bad penny. He keeps coming back. As I've written before, there are plenty of reasons why he's a horrible pick to be US ambassador to the United Nations. Even if you believe the UN needs reform, you don't send a pyromaniac to fix a house of sticks. Beyond his UN-bashing, Bolton has not just been extreme in his foreign policy views, he has been wrong and reckless: accusing Cuba of developing biological weapons and Syria of posing a serious WMD threat without proof. (The CIA felt obliged to block him from testifying before Congress on Syria and WMDs.) He also has had his brushes with scandal, receiving money from a political slush fund in Taiwan and advocating for Taiwan in congressional testimony (when he was not in government) without revealing he was paid by a Taiwanese entity to write policy papers for it. (He might have even broken the law by failing to register as a foreign agent.) Recently 59 former US ambassadors signed a letter opposing Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the UN; forty-six of these ambassadors served in Republican administrations. (For a full text of the letter, click here.) Now, an alert reader has uncovered more information critical of Bolton. It just happens to be something I wrote with Jefferson Morley for The Nation sixteen years ago--a column which had totally escaped my aging mind.

Readers over the age of 40 might recall that in the late 1980s, there was a fierce fight pitting the Reagan and Bush I administrations against a few gutsy Democrats in Congress--Senator John Kerry among them--who were trying to investigate allegations that supporters of the Reagan-backed contra rebels in Central America were involved in drugrunning. Rather than cooperate in the search for truth, Reagan and Bush I officials withheld documents from the Democrats. They also badmouthed the investigations and did all they could to marginalize these inquiries as nothing but partisan-driven efforts of conspiracy-minded wingnuts. And, to a degree, the GOP obstructionists succeeded. The Iran-contra committees stayed away from the matter. The report produced by Kerry's subcommittee--which concluded there was evidence that supporters of the CIA-assisted contras were drug smugglers--received little media attention. Yet years later, the CIA's own inspector general released two reports that acknowledged the CIA had knowingly worked with contra supporters suspected of drugrunning. Kerry and the others had been right. But the sly spinners of the Reagan-Bush administrations had succeeded in preventing the contra drug connection from becoming a full-blown scandal.

And who was one of the Reagan/Bush officials who strove to thwart Kerry and other pursuers of this politically inconvenient truth? By now you have guessed it: John Bolton. Read on:

From Meese to the UN; John Bolton, nominee for Assistant Secretary of Statefor International Organization Affairs

The Nation, April 17, 1989

By David Corn and Jefferson Morley

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee should take a good look at John Bolton, the nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, a position in which he would, among other things, act as a liaison between the US government and the UN. Currently Assistant AG in the Justice Department's civil division, Bolton was known to be one of Edwin Meese 3rd's most loyal lieutenants. At Justice, Bolton developed a reputation for combativeness. When he attacked the independent counsel law, even a White House spokesman accused him of being intemperate.

Bolton's record as Assistant AG for the Office of Legislative Affairs in 1986 and 1987 merits special scrutiny. He "tried to torpedo" Sen. John Kerry's inquiry into allegations of contra drug smuggling and gunrunning, a committee aide says. When Kerry requested information from the Justice Department, Bolton's office gave it the long stall, a Kerry aide notes. In fact, says another Congressional aide, Bolton's staff worked actively with the Republican senators who opposed Kerry's efforts.

In 1986 this chum of Meese also refused to give Peter Rodino, then chair of he House Judiciary Committee, documents concerning the Iran/contra scandal and Meese's involvement in it, Later, when Congressional investigators were probing charges that the Justice Department had delayed an inquiry into gunrunning to the contras, Bolton was again the spoiler. According to Hayden Gregory, chief counsel of a House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, Bolton blocked an arrangement by which his staff had agreed to let House investigators interview officials of the US Attorney's office in Miami. Bolton refused to speak to us on the subject.

Last year Legal Times reported that Bolton, who earned $330,000 in 1984 as a partner at a blue-blood DC law firm, had contacted several private firms hoping to parlay his government experience into a lucrative lobbying job. None were interested in a tainted Meese disciple. Fortunately for him, George Bush and James Baker are less discriminating.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Bush's screwed-up budget for homeland defense, an unrequited offer from radical-turned-rightist David Horowitz, and how the fringe-right is right about the Schiavo judges.

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That article is a blast from the past. But Bolton's truth-smothering endeavors back then are consistent with his subsequent career. He has been an ideological hatchet man, saying whatever he needs to say (whether it's true or not) to press forward his hawkish agenda. Back in the 1980s, he blocked inquiries into the CIA's involvement with drug runners. Now he complains about corruption at the UN and claims to be a force for truth and reform. As a cynical and partisan situationalist who poses as a frank and blunt idealist, he does indeed represent the Bush administration. But the nation deserves better representation at the UN.

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.

The Merchant of Baghdad

Item 1: Proving that the Republicans have no problem ignoring Biblical strictures against usury, the Congress passed a bankruptcy bill that makes life far more profitable for credit card companies and far more onerous for people who have fallen into debt. The government hasn't started building debtor's prisons or shipping off Mastercard defaulters to Australia yet, but more and more Americans will find themselves indentured servants to Visa as a result of this bill.

Item II: 48 towns in Vermont have called for the return of Vermont's National Guard troops. Army recruitment numbers have fallen off a cliff. Tours of duty in Iraq have been extended and extended again. Even the most hawkish neocons admit our forces are stretched to the breaking point.

These two news stories seem unrelated, but they are not.

We pride ourselves on our all-volunteer army, but volunteer armies are based on a series of carrots (cash bonuses, tuition payments, professional training, land grants, promises of citizenship) and can only be maintained if the upsides are sufficiently attractive to outweigh the risks.

As has been proven repeatedly since the Revolutionary War, Americans will not voluntarily sign-up in sufficient numbers unless the nation's wars are short, relatively painless, and infrequent. If they are not, as was the case in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and now in Iraq, some sort of conscription has been needed to maintain the war effort.

Bush has said a draft is a political non-starter, which makes sense: it would put rich Republican donors' children at risk. But, given the fact that it's now much more difficult for poor people to be enticed, how can the American empire find a legal means to press them into service? Or to put it in Shakespearean terms, how is Bush to get his pound of flesh?

As we saw in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 recruitment officers in Detroit targeted strip malls looking for idle young men who were dreaming of college or starting a music career. Don't be surprised if we soon find Army recruitment officers loitering outside bankruptcy courts.

'Wrong Man for the Position'

Adding a powerful establishment voice to the growing campaign against George Bush's appointment of John Bolton to be the next US ambassador to the United Nations, a group of 59 former American diplomats are urging the Senate to reject Bolton's nomination.

Echoing a host of liberal and centrist critics of the nomination, in a letter to Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the diplomats--both Democrats and Republicans--call Bolton, "The wrong man for the position." The letter's criticisms dwell largely on what the ex-diplomats call Bolton's "exceptional record" of opposing American efforts to improve national security through arms control. (For more details on why Bolton is a terrible choice, read recent pieces by The Nation's UN correspondent Ian Willams and the magazine's Washington editor David Corn.)

Bolton is another in a line of extreme in-your-face nominees put forth recently by the White House. It's important to show that they face opposition. Lugar has scheduled hearings on April 7 for the Senate to debate Bolton's nomination. Click here to implore your Senators to oppose the nominee.

Now Bush Is Picking on Kids

Think of Ann Veneman as the Paul Wolfowitz of food policy.

Just as Wolfowitz used his position as the Bush administration's deputy secretary of defense to spin whacked-out neoconservative theories into the justification for an illegal and unnecessary war, so Veneman used her position as the administration's secretary of agriculture to spin equally whacked-out theories about the genetic modification of food and free trade into disastrous policies for farmers and consumers.

And, just as Wolfowitz is being rewarded for his missteps and misdeeds with a prominent new position as president of the World Bank, so Veneman is also moving onto the world stage, as the likely nominee to be the next executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

When Veneman was nominated to serve as George W. Bush's first secretary of agriculture, this column detailed the many reasons why that was a horrible idea. A militant advocate for the genetic engineering of food and an unblinking proponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. entry into the World Trade Organization, and other trade policy moves that were designed by agribusiness conglomerates to benefit agribusiness conglomerates, Veneman was on the wrong side of every issue that mattered to working farmers in the United States and abroad. And as a veteran beneficiary of agribusiness largesse - as a lobbyist, corporate board member and industry insider - she was not about to start listening to reason simply because she was briefly leaving the private payroll to take a government check.

Veneman lived up to the most dire expectations regarding her nomination, creating a record of service to the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of farmers and consumers. She drew the boos of farmers on her rare visits to rural America. And for good reason. She turned the Department of Agriculture into an echo chamber for the advocates of free trade agreements that have dramatically undermined the income and long-term viability of U.S. farmers, and for Monsanto and other firms that are seeking to force farmers to plant genetically modified crops and inject cows with bovine growth hormones.

Worst of all, on issues such as the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States and Canada, she seemed at every turn to be more interested in the business and trade impacts of those revelations than the very real public health issues that they raised.

Veneman has stepped down as secretary of agriculture but, in what has now become a pattern for the Bush administration, her years of disservice have been rewarded with selection to serve as the new executive director of UNICEF, the U.N. agency that is responsible for protecting children's health, welfare and rights.

Veneman is expected to get the job because of the defining role that the Bush administration plays in the selection process, just as U.S. pressure set up Wolfowitz for the World Bank position.

The notion that Veneman would be placed in a position to decide how to feed and care for the planet's most destitute children is every bit as alarming as the notion that Wolfowitz would be charged with providing aid to developing countries.

Indeed, as Ravi Narayan, coordinator for the global secretariat of the People's Health Movement, wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the members of the executive board of UNICEF: "Ms. Veneman's training and experience as a corporate lawyer for agribusiness do not qualify her for the substantial task of leading the agency most responsible for the rights of children worldwide. There is no evidence in her tenure as U.S. secretary of agriculture, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, or deputy undersecretary for international affairs of the USDA of her interest in the world's children or their health and well-being.

"Indeed, her performance in these positions has been characterized by the elevation of corporate profit above people's right to food (U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25). Such a philosophy and practice would reverse almost six decades of UNICEF's proud humanitarian history and prove disastrous for the world's children."

Just as it is vital for responsible Americans to object to the selection of Paul Wolfowitz to serve as president of the World Bank, so it is equally vital that we object to the selection of Ann Veneman to lead UNICEF.

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John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com

Sweet Victory: Fairness at Georgetown

After more than a week without food, the twenty-plus members ofGeorgetown's Living Wage Coalition started to have theirdoubts.

The students, who began a hunger strike on March 15th demanding that the university increase wages for its 450 contract custodians, food service employees, and security guards, had seen little sign of real compromise on the part of the administration. Two students had already been taken to the hospital, and others were suffering from dizziness, nausea, and blurred vision.

But the students persisted, and on Holy Thursday, America's oldestCatholic university officially agreed pay its contract workers aliving wage, increasing compensation from a minimum of $11.33 an hour to $13 by July and to $14 by July 2007.

Upon hearing the news, the ecstatic students shouted "We won! We won!" with campus workers and celebrated with their first meal in nine days: fresh strawberries. "We were stunned," protester Liam Stack told the Washington Post. "This is a real victory."

According to Wider Opportunities for Women, whose reportbolstered the campaign's arguments, the cost of living in Washington DC is one of the highest in the country. For workers such as Maria Rivas--a 60-year-old custodial employee who holds a second job and still earns only $600 a month--the wage increase will help her meet rent, pay for groceries, and purchase medication for her 83-year-old father.

The hunger strike was the final result of a three-year push by theLiving Wage Coalition to improve conditions for contract workers.Students had grown increasingly frustrated by the university'sunwillingness to address the issue--something they saw as especially hypocritical given the school's purported ethos of compassion and sacrifice.

The students, who said they were willing to continue the strikethrough the weekend, when the campus would be officially closed, will head home for an especially sweet Easter break.

We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by emailing to: nationvictories@gmail.com.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

States Support the Underdogs

What a month for the Green Mountain State. on March 18th, the VermontCatamounts stunned heavily favored Syracuse for their first NCAAtournament win in the team's 100-year history. And, on the day before UVM's historic win, working Vermonters enjoyed an even more meaningful sweet victory, as the state legislature gave preliminary approval to a bill that would raise the state's minimum wage to $7.25 per hour by 2006 and automatically increase it in years to come.

Boasting one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country--despite its already high (by national standards) minimum wage of $7 per hour--Vermont offers further proof that a higher minimum wage doesn't negatively impact the job market.

Vermont wasn't the only state to see a minimum wage boost last week. On March 14th, New Jersey voted to increase its minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 over the next two years. This is a dramatic improvement compared with the last time New Jersey raised the minimum wage--in 1999--by only ten cents.

It has been eight years since the last federal minimum wage increase (nine years is the longest the country has ever gone without an increase), and so states have begun to take up the cause on their own. Vermont and New Jersey are only the latest examples; last year we highlighted New York's increase, and there are currently twenty-two other states that have either introduced or are preparing bills calling for a higher state minimum wage.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)has been a pivotal force in these fights. "As Congress continues to fail to address this issue, we are seeing a surge in organizing among ACORN, labor, and other activist groups," says Jen Kern, Director of ACORN's Living Wage Resource Center. "What happened in Vermont and Jersey is just the tip of the iceberg. This is a trend...this is a grassroots response to years of congressional inaction."

We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by emailing to: nationvictories@gmail.com. This week, we're particularly interested in any creative antiwar protests that take place this weekend.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

Cultural Barbarism

The sterile term "collateral damage" justifiably brings to mind the human tragedy of war. But the devastating and wanton damage inflicted on the ancient city of Babylon by US-led military forces gives another meaning to the term. In this case, we are witnessing violence against one of the world's greatest cultural treasures. Babylon's destruction, according to The Guardian, "must rank as one of the most reckless acts of cultural vandalism in recent memory."  When Camp Babylon was established by US-led international forces in April 2003,  leading archeologists and international experts on ancient civilizations warned of potential peril and damage. It was "tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain,"  according to a damning report issued in January by the British Museum.

The report, drafted by Dr. John Curtis--one of the world's leading archeologists--documents that the military base, built and overseen by Kellog, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton,  jeopardized what is often referred to as the "mother of all archeological sites." Helicopter landing places and parking lots for heavy vehicles caused substantial damage to the Ishtar Gate, one of the most famous monuments from antiquity. US military vehicles crushed  2,600 year old brick pavement, archeological fragments were scattered across the site, trenches were driven into ancient deposits and military earth-moving projects contaminated the site for future generations of scientists. As several eminent archeologists have pointed out, while the looting of the Iraqi Museum in the first days of the war was horrifying, the destruction of ancient sites has even more dire consequences for those trying to piece together the history of civilization. Making matters worse, the base has created a tempting target for insurgent attacks in recent months.  As Yaseen Madhloom al-Rubai reports in the valuable Iraq Crisis Report (No. 117), "It was one of the seven wonders of the world, but ancient Babylon attracts more insurgents than tourists these days."

"Turning Babylon into a military site was a fatal mistake," the Iraqi culture Minister told Iraq Crisis Report. "It has witnessed much destruction and many terrorist attacks since it was occupied by Coalition Forces. We cannot determine the scale of destruction now. As a first step, we have completely closed the sites, before calling in international experts to evaluate the damage done to the [ancient] city and the compensation the ministry should ask Coalition forces to pay. We will run a campaign to save the city."

That campaign is finding allies among a growing network of archeologists outraged by the unnecessary destruction of an irreplaceable site. John Curtis, author of the British Museum's Report, has called for an international investigation by archeologists chosen by the Iraqis to survey and record all the damage done.

The overall situation in Iraq is overwhelmingly a human tragedy but that does not exempt the US authorities, who set up Camp Babylon, from the consequences of what The Guardian called an act of "cultural barbarism"--carried out in their name by a subsidiary of Halliburton. There must be a full investigation of  the damage caused, and Halliburton should be made to offer whatever compensation is possible for the wanton destruction of the world's cultural treasure.