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Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Sweet Environmental Victories

In many ways, this Earth Day is a particularly somber occasion. After all, in the past year, we've seen repeated environmental debacles--most notably, the decision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) to drilling for oil. But, with the determination of environmental activists and state legislatures that refuse to bow down to Bush, there are, as always, reasons for hope. Here are five of our top environmental victories in the last year.

** Clear Skies Initiative Dropped: Thanks to a 9-to-9 vote by the Environment and Public Works Committee, Bush's Orwellian-labeled bill--which would have loosened air pollution restrictions for power plants, factories and refineries--did not advance to the Senate. Without Clear Skies, we'll be much more likely to see, well, clear skies.

** Colorado Passes Renewable Energy Initiative: Colorado's Amendment 37, a precedent-setting victory for renewable energy, requires the state's largest electric companies to increase their use of renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and small hydro from less than two percent today to 10 percent by 2015. Amendment 37 is expected to save Coloradans $236 million by 2025, create 2,000 jobs, and significantly reduce gas prices in the state.

**Cleaner Cars: Clean Car legislation--requiring the reduction of harmful auto emissions--is being adopted in California and seven other states, and is gaining traction in five more states. With Canada adopting a similar program, a third of North America's automobile market will require clean cars. Meanwhile, heavy-hitters on the right, including former CIA head R. James Woolsey and uber-hawk Frank J. Gaffney Jr., have been lobbying congress to implement policies promoting hybrid cars, hoping to cut oil consumption in half by 2025.

**Challenging Mercury: In March, the EPA issued a loophole-laden policy that, in effect, deregulates controls on mercury emissions from power plants. In response, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey have implemented stronger controls on mercury--which is linked to nerve damage and birth defects--than the EPA, Meanwhile, nine state attorney generals have filed lawsuits against the agency, arguing that the lax rules jeopardize public health.

**International Victories: Ultimately, there are too many to list, but it's worth starting with the six enviro-activists who won this year's Goldman Prizes, the environmental equivalent of the Nobel.

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

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

Bush's iPod: Take Two

After reading that New York Times article about the President's iPod, I couldn't resist putting together a Top Ten playlist for Dubya. So, in my Editor's Cut last week, I nominated songs like Kid Rock's "Pimp of the Nation," Eminem's "Mosh" and REM's, "The End of the World as We Know It." I even suggested that Bush add that old jazz standard, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy."

But I knew my list included only a tiny fraction of what this President needed to hear. So, I asked readers for their nominations for the "First iPod." Within minutes, terrific song suggestions were pouring in from across the United States. Many of you nominated Radiohead's "Hail to the Thief;" Green Day's "American Idiot" ("custom-written for Dubya," one reader observed); Black-Eyed Peas, "Where is the Love?;" and Edwin Starr's "War--What is it Good for?" Greats like Frank Zappa (especially, "The Torture Never Stops,"), Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs were also at the top of many lists.

I've compiled a readers' playlist from all your emails, but first I wanted to share a few of the interesting comments that came in from across the country:

* W.D. Dean from Burleson, Texas, says: "Here are a couple of songs from the master of stinging social commentary...Frank Zappa. If Frank were still with us he would be having a field day with the current political climate. Two of his songs that come to mind are 'Dumb All Over,' a catchy little tune about the influence of the religious right in American politics, although it could easily describe the entire Bush Administration as well and 'When the Lie's So Big,' a song describing the Republican Party in general, also written in 1980. These songs were definitely ahead of their time."

*Adam Hasty in Nashville, TN writes: "I humbly suggest 'Vietnow' by Rage Against the Machine. It seems more than fitting given the current situation."

* Jean McIntosh from Lawrence, Kansas writes in: "On behalf of all blue staters who happen to live in red states, I'd like to nominate 'Hound Dog' from the late, great Elvis. Because of W's whining about the 'hard work' of the job which he stole from Al Gore; because of the lies of the so-called liberal media (SCLM) who said anyone who belonged to such a 'distinguished family' couldn't possibly be such a sleazy crook; because of his enthusiasm for hunting which is as great as his incompetence at it; and most of all, because 90 percent of the time, he looks as clueless as a lost dog which has just been hit over the head with a large club. "When they said you were a high class/that was just a lie..you ain't ne'er caught a rabbit and you ain't no friend of mine." And the song's pretty catchy too.

*Donna Hill of Plattburgh, NY nominates Terry Jacks' 'Seasons in the Sun.' "Might make ole George think about the men he is sending to war without harking back to the Vietnam era protest songs. And Madonna's 'Papa Don't Preach' should suit the abstinence policy fairly well."

* David Carlson from Santa Cruz, CA nominated a song due out this summer--James McMurtry's "We Can't Make it Here Anymore." "It's going to be on his new album 'Third World Turnpike' due out this summer, but he has been playing it live and causing a stir in his shows this spring. A critic for the local paper described the song as a 'kind of lament for the wrenching economic changes that have turned places like rural Texas into battlegrounds between opportunistic corporations and people trying to eke out a living.' It describes the various indignities of working class life in almost journalistic detail, but McMurtry also points fingers, at the politicians and CEOs who he sees as victimizers of patriotic, decent Americans."

* "We need to get some Dylan into his iPod, " writes Steve Elworth of Brooklyn, NY. "Otherwise, George W suffers from even more severe cultural illiteracy. 'Masters of War,' 'With God on Our Side.' 'Highway 61 Revisited,' 'Ballad of a Thin Man,' and, of course, 'It's All Right Ma,' because he has to remember that 'sometimes even the President of the United States has to stand naked.'"

* Paul Blumberg from Bloomington, Indiana writes, "To help Bush balance his budget (impossible with all his tax cuts) we might add 'Pennies from Heaven.' He'll need 'em."

* "I recommend, " writes Julie Bolcer from Brooklyn, "that Mr. Bush listen to XTC's 'Dear God,' and 'We'd Like to Thank you, Herbert Hoover,' from the soundtrack to the musical 'Annie.'"

I'm grateful for all the mail, and based on the more than 300 nominations that came in, here's a new and expanded playlist for George W. If he knew what was good for this country's heart and soul, the President would stop deceiving and denying and start downloading. If he won't, we should--if you have an iPod, create your own "Dubya Playlist."

Hail to the Thief, Radiohead

American Idiot, Green Day

Where is the Love?, Black Eyed Peas

War--What is it Good For?, Edwin Starr

Bu$leaguer, Pearl Jam

Masters of War (and many others, including Idiot Wind and It's All Right Ma), Bob Dylan

White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land (and I Ain't Marching Anymore), Phil Ochs

The Torture Never Stops (and others like When the Lie's So Big), Frank Zappa

Bombs Over Baghdad, Outkast

Nowhere Man (also The Long and Winding Road and The Fool on the Hill), The Beatles

Gimme Some Truth, John Lennon

Papa Don't Preach, Madonna

Hit The Road Jack, Ray Charles

This Land is Your Land, Woody Guthrie

What's Going On, Marvin Gaye

Bring the Boys Home, Freda Payne

Burning Down the House, Talking Heads

Political Science (and Rednecks), Randy Newman

Asshole from El Paso, Kinky Friedman

I'm Too Dumb for New York City and Too Ugly for LA, Waylon Jennings

What's So Funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding?, Elvis Costello

Excitable Boy, Warren Zevon

War on War, Wilco

Nobody's Fault But Mine, Led Zeppelin

Everybody's Been Burned, The Byrds

Eve of Destruction, Barry Maguire

And from Richard Myers out of Furlong, PA: "How about 'The End' by The Doors--as in less than four years and counting?"

Here's to that! In the meantime, let's keep adding to George W's iPod. Click here to keep those suggestions coming.

Sweet Victory: Maryland Stands Up To Wal-Mart

With the federal government content to let Wal-Mart run amok,it has been left up to the states to protect workers from the retailbehemoth's excesses. This past Saturday, April 9, Maryland showed America'slargest corporation who's boss.

Maryland's House of Delegates voted 82 to 48 to approve a bill thatwould require all businesses in the state with more than 10,000employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on healthbenefits for workers (or, alternatively, donate the funds to thestate's Medicaid program). Wal-Mart, with its 15,000 employees, is theonly such company that does not already spend 8 percent on health care foremployees--and thus, the direct target of the bill. Spearheaded byMaryland for Health Care, the legislation was supported by a coalition ofover 1,000 organizations representing Maryland's health, business, andcommunity interests.

"We're looking for responsible businesses to ante up...and provideadequate health care," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles). Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich Jr., who is expected to veto the bill, lashed out atDemocratic legislators. Cowed by Rush Limbaugh's criticisms of themeasure, Ehrlich claimed the bill had made a mockery of Maryland.[Note to Marylanders: when your Governor cares more about Rush'sopinion than yours, you're in trouble. Thankfully though, with a widemajority of the Senate having approved the bill, Ehrlich's vetodoesn't stand a chance.]

Wal-Mart's critics hope that other states will follow Maryland's lead.The Center for Community and Corporate Ethics, headed by formerdirector of the Democratic Party's Senatorial Campaign Committee AndyGrossman, plans to distribute copies of Maryland's Fair ShareHealth Care Act to state legislators in all 50 states. Already, sevenstates are considering similar measures.

The surge of anti-Wal-Mart activity has pushed the corporation into PRcrisis mode. On April 6, in its latest attempt to soften its image,Wal-Mart invited over seventy journalists to its corporateheadquarters in Arkansas. And on Tuesday--responding to a newly-formedcoalition of environmental and labor activists--Wal-Mart announced thatit would donate $35 million over the next decade to the National Fishand Wildlife Coalition's preservation efforts.

Don't count on Wal-Mart to become another Ben and Jerry's. But, withcontinued pressure from activists and legislative action from thestates, America's corporations could face a future in which socialresponsibility is no longer optional.

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

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

George Bush’s iPod Playlist

Did you see the story the other day about George W's iPod? Seems he's had it since July, when his freewheeling twin daughters gave it to him as a birthday present. Dubya has some 250 songs on it--a paltry number given the 10,000 selections it can hold.

As the New York Times reported, "Mr Bush, as leader of the free world, does not take the time to download the music himself; that task falls to his personal assistant who buys the individual songs and albums." (And you can bet there's no file sharing.) As for an analysis of Dubya's playlist, it's interesting that the president likes artists who don't like him. He has John Fogerty's "Centerfield," which was played at Texas Rangers games when Bush owned the team and is still played at ballparks all over America. However, Bush hasn't gone so far as to include "Fortunate Son"--the anti-Vietnam war song about who has to go to war that Fogerty sang when he fronted Creedence Clearwater Revival. (Remember how that goes: "I ain't no Senator's son...some folks are born with a silver spoon in hand.")

Reading the Times report did evoke one sheepish confession: I share something in common with George W. Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" is a top ten fave on my iPod playlist too. Seems the Irish folk-rocker is a Bush favorite going way back.

So, thinking of those thousands of empty slots on Bush's iPod, I'd like to nominate a few new songs for the leader of the free world's playlist. Here's my top ten:

Kid Rock, "Pimp of the Nation"

Eminem, "Mosh"

Beastie Boys, "It Takes Time to Build"

John Mellencamp, "To Washington"

George Thorogood, "I Drink Alone"

The Castaways, "Liar,Liar"

REM, "The End of the World As We Know It"

Steve Earle, "The Revolution Starts Now"

The Clash, "I'm So Bored with the USA"

And that old jazz standard, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy"

I'm sure you readers have lots of better nominations. Please click here to let me know what you think and we'll see what we can do about getting Dubya's IPod some new music.

P.S. Judith Regan Goes West: What was that story about Regan and her new West Coast, Murdoch-financed, multimedia empire/salon doing on the front page of the Gray Lady yesterday? If the New York Times is going to do second-rate versions of New York Observer stories, could they at least drop in a graf about Regan's trsyt with Bernie Kerik down near Ground Zero.

Sweet Victory: Montana Acts Patriotic

Last week, we highlighted state minimum wage increases in Vermont andNew Jersey. This week, once again, we salute states that refuse tomarch lock-step with the Bush Administration's radical agenda.

On Monday, Montana became the fifth state to officially condemn theUSA Patriot Act. Joining Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont--not tomention more than 375 local governments--Montana's state legislaturepassed the strongest statewide resolution against the Patriot Actyet, according to the ACLU. Inan overwhelming bipartisan consensus, Montana's House of Delegatesvoted to approve Senate Joint Resolution 19--which discourages statelaw enforcement agencies from cooperating in investigations thatviolate Montanans' civil liberties--88 to 12. Earlier this year, theresolution passed in the state Senate 40 to 10.

"I've had more mail on this bill than on any other, and it's 100percent positive," said House Member Brady Wiseman (D-Bozeman).Republican Rick Maedje (R-Fortine) said the resolution "protects ourstates' rights and is what true Republicans in every 'red state'should be doing."

SJ-19 also recommends that the state destroy all information gatheredunder the Patriot Act that is not directly related to a criminalinvestigation, and calls on librarians to inform citizens that theirlibrary records are unsafe from federal investigations.

Although the resolution does not carry the weight of the law, itsimpact is already being felt in Washington. On Tuesday, AttorneyGeneral Alberto Gonzales, speaking before the Senate JudiciaryCommittee, agreed to minor modifications of the Patriot Act, and saidhe was "open to suggestions" about additional changes, a notabledeparture from John Ashcroft's hard line stance. And on Wednesday,Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Larry Craig(R-ID) introduced the Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE)act.

As several provisions of the Patriot Act are set to "sunset" in December,lawmakers pushing SAFE hope to restore privacy protections and limitabusive tactics such as roving wiretaps and "sneak and peak" searches.SAFE, which was recommended to Congress in Montana's SJ-19, has drawnsupport from organizations ranging from the ACLU to Patriots to Restore Checksand Balances, a national network of conservative groups.

Both Red and Blue America agree: Better SAFE than sorry.

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

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

Bush Targets Women's Sports

Coming right off of March Madness, the Bush Administration has launched its latest assault on Title IX, the law that ensures equal opportunities for men and women in schools that receive federal funds.

Recently, the Education Department issued rules that will allow colleges to use email surveys to determine interest among young women in playing sports. "Schools will be considered in compliance with Title IX legislation if survey responses suggest there is insufficient interest among women students to support a particular sport," the Washington Postreported. Such changes to Title IX "will likely reverse the growth of women's athletics and could damage the progress made over the last three decades," NCAA President Myles Brand has said.

I'm the proud mother of a thirteen year old basketball player, who's been the shooting guard for the last few years on her school team. Her dream is to make varsity this fall. She reads the sports section every morning. She knows stats I've never heard of, has watched the entire NCAA season and catches every NBA and WNBA game she can.

Millions of young women have reaped enormous benefits since Title IX was launched. The number of women playing high school sports increased in 2001 to almost 2.8 million, up from 294,000 in 1972. Over the same time colleges witnessed an almost five-fold increase in the number of women playing sports. Title IX has achieved "an explosion of female Olympic stars, college and professional women's teams playing to packed stadiums, new magazines aimed at female athletes But most of all the freedom, strength and joy of a whole generation of young women," journalist Ruth Conniff pointed out in 1997--in a special Sports issue of The Nation (yes, check it out!).

Jocelyn Samuels, the Vice President for Education and Employment at the National Women's Law Center, pointed to the larger issue that "there have been attacks on Title IX since its inception in 1972, but the Congress has rejected those attacks and the courts have rejected these attacks, and every Administration until the present one has upheld Title IX."

In the 2000 presidential campaign, then-candidate Bush told reporters that he "opposed quotas or strict proportionality" in school sports, taking a veiled swipe at Title IX. In Jan., 2002, his true agenda emerged when the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education charging that Title IX discriminated against men by imposing "quotas" or schools, forcing schools to eliminate minor men's teams like gymnastics and wrestling to make room for women who didn't share men's interest in playing sports.

Eventually, the courts dismissed the case. (The courts have consistently declared that these arguments lack merit.) And, while the Bush Administration opposed the NWCA in court, it only defended Title IX on "narrow procedural grounds, the National Women's Law Center argued in "Slip-Sliding Away," its illuminating study of gender policy. Instead of claiming that Title IX is a "fair and flexible" policy, government lawyers argued that the schools must remedy discrimination, not the Department of Education.

Next up, the Administration signaled to its "supporters that they were not abandoning them," Samuels said, when in mid-2002 the Department of Education established the poorly-titled, "Commission on Opportunity in Athletics." Writing in USA Today magazine, Asst. Professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law "Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who won three gold and one silver medal in the 1984 Olympics swimming competition, pointed out that Bush's Commission was "hand-picked, weighted heavily against Title IX," and that its purpose was "to eviscerate Title IX's interpretive regulations via an end-run around the courts, congress and the will of the people."

Adding weight to Hogshead-Makar's charges, the commission's final report recommended drastic changes to Title IX including harmful proposals that schools be allowed to use private donors to fund men's teams; "artificially inflate the percentage of athletic opportunities they give to women," and send bogus "interest surveys" to students to determine interest levels in sports among female students, as the commissioners Julie Foudy and Donna de Varona argued in their brave minority report--a document that then-Education Secretary Rod Paige declined to enter into the public record.

Fortunately, the Administration was forced to backtrack amid a din of public outrage, and the Education Department sent a letter to our nation's schools reaffirming the mechanisms for enforcing Title IX as settled law. That happened in 2003. Fast forward to March 2005. Bush has secured a second term, the NCAA tournament was underway, and the Administration dropped its bombshell on a late Friday afternoon "with little fanfare--now schools could evade compliance with Title IX by using bogus email surveys."

There's an irony here: George W. Bush is a sports nut. He has appeared on the cover of Runner's World, is a former owner of the Texas Rangers and he lifts weights and bikes in a gym. Adding to the irony, First Lady Laura Bush recently returned from her trip to Afghanistan highlighting the drive to secure womens' rights in that long-suffering nation.

Apparently, real-life experiences are no match for the anti-democratic ideology that has dominated policy decisions in the Bush White House. Title IX, a cornerstone of the struggle for gender equality, must be defended.

Playstations for Peace

These days, kids are multitasking like mad. Two weeks ago, the Washington Post described one high school junior talking on the phone, emailing, IM-ing, listening to Internet radio and writing a paper on her computer--all at the same time!

According to a recent report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, she's far from the only teenager with a flair for multitasking. Kids today are spending six and a half hours a day, seven days a week, with electronic media--and more than twice as much time on video games and computers than in 1999.

Let's face it: We live in a brave new world of blogging, with the iPodization of news, and kids plugged in everywhere. The Washington Post recently ran a separate story about how college students are using interactive mini blogs¨ or "wikis" to create "freewheeling, collaborative" communities, trade ideas and link to each other's essays. Progressives use new technologies like BitTorrent--a filesharing program--that let them create websites like CommonBits.org that allow kids to watch clips from television news programs like the "Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "Democracy Now."

But one new frontier of the digital era has received almost no attention in the mainstream press.

In fact, says David Rejeski, the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Foresight and Governance Project, 'progressives have already occupied the space." He points to several games that are transforming what those active in this community call the "serious games" landscape, many of them with a progressive message. (No, it's not a brand name, but it's the phrase that most people in the industry use to describe the games that carry a serious message.)

Conservatives and too many liberals view video games through a jaundiced lens: they are sources of violence and mayhem that destroy the minds of impressionable teenagers. But, as Rejeski points out, "policymakers have spent far too much time focused on the effects of a small number of violent video releases and lost sight of the pedagogical function and advantages of games in general." True, violence makes video games a highly profitable enterprise.

But it's also the case that the new frontier of the serious game space contradicts those who like to fulminate against video games as a fount of evil. According to Rejeski and other experts, serious games are at a point in their history that resembles the movement towards independent film in its earliest stages. Serious games aren't big money-makers, nor have they truly entered the mainstream.

But they are starting to make waves. The controversial "Escape from Woomera" puts players into so-called "Australian detention camps," so that people will understand what it's like to be a political refugee seeking asylum. Rejeski cited the award-winning "Tropical America" that revives Latin America's past, explaining from a Latin-American standpoint how aspects of the history of the Americas have gotten lost in mainstream versions. "The Meatrix"-- an online film which spoofs "The Matrix"--stars a young pig named Leo, and teaches players about the problems associated with modern farming, as well as the benefits of eating "sustainably-raised meat." At activismgame.com, players must learn to juggle six priorities facing America like revitalizing the economy and providing college tuition relief.

There is tremendous energy and excitement about the potential benefits. Two and a half years ago, Rejeski "had trouble getting 30 people" to attend a serious games conference. In October, 500 people signed up for a serious games conference, a group so large that Rejeski was forced to start turning people away two weeks before the conference even began. Video games are earning more money than the movies--and the age of the average video game player is around 29 or 30. "This is their media," Rejeski said.

At Newsgaming.com, one finds games like "Madrid," which features men, women and children wearing t-shirts that say, "I love Madrid"; "I love New York," and other cities that terrorists have attacked. These people hold candles, as players are instructed to click on the flames so that the flames leap into the air. "Madrid" is a moving expression of hope and mourning, a bold social statement in the face of bloody politics," the Denver Post argued.

At Watercoolergames.org, you'll find a game called "World Heros" that teaches children about Unicef. Players are told that they must lead the UN organization on a relief mission in the developing world to feed people, immunize them, and purify their water.

Henry Jenkins, the director of MIT's comparative media studies program, argued that Newsgaming.com, Kuma Games and other sites are among the "very political games groups made outside the corporate game system" that are "raising issues through media but using the distinct properties of games to engage people from a fresh perspective." Such games, he said, constitute a "radical fictional work."

Rejeski says that among the first games ever developed was a serious game called "Balance of Power" that told players that they had to "keep the world from destroying itself." It was played on an Atari system.

Founder and President of the New America Foundation Ted Halstead would like, he said, to see a serious game developed featuring a "really cool" simulated candidate and then "use it as a tool to get out a bunch of new ideas in politics." Serious games are "a space of experimentation, resistance, critique, innovations, and constant pushing and churning of new content," added Jenkins.

Finally, take the game space itself, which holds great promise. Some 90 percent of children play video games, Gameboys and Playstations have become mobile platforms, and in New York and elsewhere organizers have held sessions in which they've discussed how they can use serious games to spread the messages of the NGO community. Once this vital and expanding community finds a viable business model, serious games look like they'll be the next big thing. Hell, maybe even blogs will seem quaint by comparison.

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.

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.

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