Thursday, June 12, 2008




JK Rowling's speech at Harvard yesterday is absolutely the most transformative, inspiring speech I've ever read. It's worth the read. We should all sign up to join Amnesty International.

By the way, everyone in my family thinks I'm incredibly childish and immature. But at least I'm never bored; there are too many marvelous adventures to go on. (I don't believe in age anyway.) As a big Harry Potter fan, I am absolutely mesmerized by Hogwarts, and gothic castles in general. I also have a morbid fascination with the ruins of Angkor Wat and anything 12th Century Cambodia. What all this means, I have no idea, but I get a chill whenever I think of these places, both real and imaginary. And this includes the historical majesty of Harvard University.


President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of
Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all,

The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I’ve experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have
to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world’s best-educated Harry Potter convention.

Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British
philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.

Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.

Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.

I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.

They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.

I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.

I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling
experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something
on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.

What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.

At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.

I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.

However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in
modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of
fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at
all - in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime
stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory
capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to
them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.

I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.

And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.

Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I’ve used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.

So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is
what matters.

I wish you all very good lives.
Thank you very much.


Let's get this party started. The Democratic Party, that is...

The House sent articles of impeachment against President Bush to the Judiciary Committee Wednesday on a mostly party-line vote: 251-166. Speaking to Veteran Activists, after today's historic vote, Kucinich said that if the Judiciary Committee does not act within 30 days, he intends to introduce another, longer version of the articles of impeachment, with 60 counts instead of 35.

“I am not going to let this go. I am not going to let it go. I’ll just keep coming back and they can pile these things up in committee but I’ll keep coming back,” Kucinich said. “I’ll bring it up again, and there will be more. There will be more.”

We need more lawmakers like Kucinich — who has the highest integrity of anyone in Congress. We've had him and his beautiful wife Elizabeth on our show several times.

On June 11, Veterans in DC delivered 23,000 petition signatures in support of Congressman Dennis Kucinich's 35 Articles of Impeachment. Impeachment Champion Mike Ferner, another of the U.S. Vets presented John Conyers with even more petitions demanding that Congress respect our Oath to Protect & Defend our Constitution v. Domestic Enemy, George Bush.

"While most of the 20 some Veterans were conciliatory and pleased to hand our 23,000 pro-IMPEACH petition signatures to Chairman Conyers, both Iraq Veterans Against the War Board of Directors Co-Chair, Adam Kokesh, and Delaware Valley Veterans Executive Director, Bill Perry, made it clear to Judiciary Chair Conyers that we felt betrayed by Conyers failure to advocate for Impeachment, as he had done earlier, ever since the Downing Street Memos, in April, 2005."

On our radio show The Basham and Cornell Show I have had the honor of interviewing some of the greatest minds in the world (including some conservatives) and what rises to the top is one main point: we have to take our country out of the hands of very misguided — if not sinister men. McCain's irrational war lust will signal the end of America as we know it. Despite his tepid response to the troops, make no mistake, McCain has secretly vowed to continue the Bush agenda, which is to keep America in perpetual war. To continue the "war on an abstract noun." To enrich his cronies in the oil industry. To draft our young sons. We must not allow this flip-flopping, brain-addled, self-serving, manipulative unstable neocon to ever steal the presidency. Even Pat Buchanan — the traditional conservative's conservative says that McCain makes Cheney look like Gandhi.

We are in Yahoo News as WXB102 adds our Vegas radio show to their lineup, the award-winning Basham and Cornell Show. Check last week's post below for podcasts and Mp3 links to a few of our recent interviews with John Edwards, Bill Press, Pulitzer Prize winner Charlie Savage, Pat Buchanan, Valerie Bertinelli...


  1. I saw all of the photos of the Veterans for Peace delivering their mail to Conyers yesterday and as a vet, my chest pumped with pride. Unfortunately, our current congress lacks the fortitude and backbone to do anything about the current situation. It's still more about politics than country with the vast majority of them. Instead of focusing on getting reelected, they should be focused on following what they took an oath to do. "Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign AND DOMESTIC!!!! In other words, they should have been going full tilt boogie against Bush every single time he violated that document and his own oath of office. Shame on Bush and shame on Congress for not doing the right thing instead of the political thing.

    Sorry about that rant. Now back to your regularly scheduled commentators.

  2. The Coming Charity Crisis
    How the struggling economy is hurting donations.

    Daniel Gross

    The latest victims of the sagging economy: charities. In May the annual gala of the Robin Hood Foundation, an event at which a few thousand hedge fund magnates and leveraged buyout titans conspicuously display their wealth and commitment to social justice while rocking out to A-list musical guests (Shakira, John Legend, Sheryl Crow), raised $56.5 million, down 21.5 percent from $72 million the year before. (Tom Wolfe profiled the 2006 gala in Portfolio.) No surprise here. Many of the regulars have seen their net worths crushed in the past year.

    But it's not just the charities of the swank that are suffering. The Salvation Army caters to a somewhat different crowd—i.e., tens of millions of middle-class Americans. And while it had a good Christmas, "since the first of the year, we've seen some slippage," says Maj. George Hood, a Salvation Army spokesman. Overall donations are down compared with 2007, and donations of used clothing and furniture to thrift shops have fallen by 20 percent. While natural disasters typically inspire a spike in donations, Hood says the earthquakes in China, the cyclones in Burma and the floods in the Midwest have yet to generate such an outpouring.

    It would be unfair to say that Americans—whether they are accountants in Kansas City, Mo., or bond traders in Greenwich, Conn.—are becoming stingier. Rather, philanthropy is a pretty large industry. Charitable giving in 2006 was $295.2 billion, according to Giving USA 2006, about 2.2 percent of gross domestic product. For comparison's sake, Wal-Mart has annual sales of about $350 billion. And like every other industry, philanthropy is tethered directly to the health of the overall economy, and in particular to the health of the upper-middle-class consumer. If the past is any guide, it's likely to be a lean year for nonprofits.

    A great deal of the public attention about philanthropy is generated by large, dramatic gifts by really rich people—the types who tend to be unaffected by short-term economic fluctuations. But while splashy donations like the $100 million the Blackstone Group's Steven Schwarzman commited to the New York Public Library might garner large headlines, or land a donor on the "Slate 60," such megagifts in 2006 represented just 1.3 percent of overall donations, according to Giving USA. Rather, it's the smaller donations by hundreds of millions of nonbillionaire Americans that fuel most of the nation's nonprofits. (In 2006 individuals accounted for about three-quarters of donations.)

    With the economy slowing and likely in recession, charitable giving will probably slump this year and possibly next. After all, charitable donations are a lagging indicator, says Robert Evans, managing director of EHL Consulting Group, a Philadelphia-based firm that advises nonprofits on fund-raising. "It's a lagging indicator for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that in the minds of some, philanthropy is a luxury. You pay your bills first and then start making charitable gifts."

    The data seems to bear Evans out. During the last 40 years, according to data provided by Giving USA, charitable giving fell in real terms (i.e., adjusted for inflation) in years in which the economy was in recession, or in years in which there was a significant stock market dislocation. Giving fell in 1980, 1987, and 1990. The last time the economy contracted was in 2001. That year, according to Giving USA, charitable giving fell 2.3 percent in real terms, after having boomed along with the stock markets and the economy at large in the late 1990s. But while the economy resumed its growth in late 2001, charitable giving slumped in real terms in both 2001 (down 1.4 percent) and 2003 (down 0.2 percent). Evans believes giving is less tied to overall economic trends than to traumatic events that might cause donors to seize up for a few months, such as 9/11, the Kennedy assassination, or Watergate. Indeed, 1974, the year the Nixon resignation drama played out, was the worst year for charitable giving in the past 40 years. Donations fell 5.4 percent in real terms that year.

    Evans suggests that the best indicators to watch aren't the hauls from splashy public events such as the Robin Hood gala or the results of the Salvation Army, which relies on middle-class donors. The most effective fund-raising efforts aren't parties but efforts in which people appeal to their friends and colleagues face to face. And over the years, he believes, philanthropy, like the U.S. economy itself, has become more top-heavy. In a prior generation, 80 percent of funds were donated by 20 percent of the people. Now he believes the ratio is more like 90 percent donated by 10 percent of donors. "Today we have to be looking at the high end [those with incomes of more than $100,000 a year] more than ever before." If layoffs of white-collar workers at companies such as Ford continue, and if the United Way campaigns that rely so much on upper-level management struggle, 2008 could be a lean year for nonprofits.

    Thus the poor get poorer and the funding for those who help them get even more scarce.

  3. Check out Robert Rouse's two Friday posts, including his weekly Beatles tribute. Both posts of history will bring you back to today.

    Left of Centrist

  4. Robert - THANK YOU!!!!

    Thank you for your posts, for your service to our country and for your indomitable spirit!!

  5. John McCain Makes Stuff up

    By Robert Parry

    For years now, the U.S. political press corps has traveled with John McCain on his “Straight Talk Express,” buying into his image as a paragon of truth-telling. But the real truth is that McCain routinely makes stuff up, as he did on June 11 in lying about Barack Obama’s “bitter” comment.

    During a political talk in Philadelphia, McCain claimed that Obama had described “bitter” small-town voters as clinging to religion or “the Constitution” – when the second item in Obama’s comment actually was “guns.”

    But the Arizona senator didn’t stop with a simple word substitution. He added that he will tell these voters that “they have trust and support the Constitution of the United States because they have optimism and hope. … That’s what America’s all about.”

    In other words, McCain didn’t just make a slip of the tongue. He willfully accused Obama of disparaging the U.S. Constitution, a very serious point that, if true, might cause millions of Americans to reject Obama’s candidacy.

    Still, when some of the U.S. broadcast networks – including NBC evening news – played the clip of McCain lashing out at Obama’s purported dissing of the Constitution, they didn’t correct McCain's falsehood.

    That fits with a long-standing pattern of the political press corps giving McCain a break when he makes statements at variance with the truth. Even in the rare moments when he is caught in an inaccuracy – such as accusing Shiite-ruled Iran of training Sunni extremists in al-Qaeda – the falsehood is minimized as an unintentional gaffe.

    However, McCain actually seems to be following a trail blazed by George W. Bush, saying what’s useful at the time even if it’s not true and then counting on the U.S. press corps to timidly look the other way.

    Through all his misstatements, McCain’s “straight-talk” reputation survives.

    Sweeping Denials

    In another instructive case, McCain got away with sweeping denials in his reaction to a New York Times article on Feb. 21. The story led with unsubstantiated suspicions among some McCain staffers that their boss had gotten too cozy with female lobbyist Vicky Iseman, but McCain went beyond simply denying any sexual improprieties.

    He put out a statement declaring that in his quarter-century congressional career, he “has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists.” But that simply isn’t true.

    As the Times story already had recalled, McCain helped one of his early financial backers, wheeler-dealer Charles Keating, frustrate oversight from federal banking regulators who were examining Keating’s Lincoln Savings and Loan Association.

    At Keating's urging, McCain wrote letters, introduced bills and pushed a Keating associate for a job on a banking regulatory board. In 1987, McCain joined several other senators in two private meetings with federal banking regulators on Keating’s behalf.

    Two years later, Lincoln collapsed, costing the U.S. taxpayers $3.4 billion. Keating eventually went to prison and three other senators from the so-called Keating Five saw their political careers ruined.

    McCain drew a Senate reprimand for his involvement and later lamented his faulty judgment. “Why didn’t I fully grasp the unusual appearance of such a meeting?” he wrote in his 2002 memoir, Worth the Fighting For.

    But some people close to the case thought McCain got off too easy.

    Not only was McCain taking donations from Keating and his business circle, getting free rides on Keating’s corporate jet and enjoying joint vacations in the Bahamas – McCain’s second wife, the beer fortune heiress Cindy Hensley, had invested with Keating in an Arizona shopping mall.

    In the years that followed, however, McCain not only got out from under the shadow of the Keating Five scandal but found a silver lining in the cloud, transforming the case into a lessons-learned chapter of his personal narrative.

    McCain, as born-again reformer, soon was winning over the Washington press corps with his sponsorship of ethics legislation, like the McCain-Feingold bill limiting “soft money” contributions to the political parties.

    However, there was still that other side of John McCain as he wielded enormous power from his position as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which helped him solicit campaign donations from corporations doing business before the panel.

    The Times story reported that McCain did favors on behalf of Iseman’s lobbying clients, including two letters that McCain wrote in 1999 to the Federal Communications Commission demanding that it act on a long-delayed request by Iseman’s client, Florida-based Paxson Communications, to buy a Pittsburgh television station.

    Rather than simply acknowledge this fact, McCain’s campaign issued another sweeping denial of impropriety, calling those letters routine correspondence that were handled by staff without McCain meeting either with Paxson or anyone from Iseman’s firm, Alcalde & Fay.

    "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC," his campaign said.

    McCain’s Own Words

    But that also turned out not to be true.

    Newsweek’s investigative reporter Michael Isikoff dug up a sworn deposition from Sept. 25, 2002, in which McCain himself declared that “I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue. … He wanted their [the FCC’s] approval very bad for purposes of his business. I believe that Mr. Paxson had a legitimate complaint.”

    Though McCain claimed not to recall whether he had spoken with Paxson’s lobbyist [presumably a reference to Iseman], he added, “I’m sure I spoke to [Paxson],” according to the deposition. [See Newsweek’s Web posting, Feb. 22, 2008]

    McCain’s letters to the FCC, which Chairman William Kennard criticized as “highly unusual,” came in the same period when Paxson’s company was ferrying McCain to political events aboard its corporate jet and donating $20,000 to his campaign.

    After the Feb. 21 Times article appeared, McCain’s spokesmen confirmed that Iseman accompanied McCain on at least one of those flights from Florida to Washington, though McCain had said in the 2002 deposition that “I do not recall” if Paxson’s lobbyist was onboard.

    First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, who conducted the deposition in connection with a challenge to the McCain-Feingold law, asked McCain if the benefits that he received from Paxson created “at least an appearance of corruption here?”

    “Absolutely,” McCain answered. “I believe that there could possibly be an appearance of corruption because this system has tainted all of us.”

    When Newsweek went to McCain’s 2008 campaign with the seeming contradictions between the deposition and the denial of the Times article, McCain’s people stuck to their story that that the senator had never discussed the FCC issue with Paxson or his lobbyist.

    “We do not think there is a contradiction here,” campaign spokeswoman Ann Begeman told Newsweek. “It appears that Senator McCain, when speaking of being contacted by Paxson, was speaking in shorthand of his staff being contacted by representatives of Paxson. Senator McCain does not recall being asked directly by Paxson or any representative of him or by Alcalde & Fay to contact the FCC regarding the Pittsburgh license transaction.”

    That new denial crumbled, too, when the Washington Post interviewed Paxson, who said he had talked with McCain in his Washington office several weeks before McCain sent the letters to the FCC.

    The broadcast executive also believed that Iseman had helped arrange the meeting and likely was in attendance. “Was Vicki there? Probably,” Paxson said. [Washington Post, Feb. 23, 2008]

    So, in the months ahead, there’s urgency for American voters to figure out whether John McCain is the maverick “straight-shooter” of his usual press clippings or a sanctimonious phony who’s just masquerading as the guy who tells it like it is.

    Is John McCain like George W. Bush, someone who has learned that the mainstream news media – ever sensitive to accusations of “liberal bias” – is hesitant to call a prominent Republican politician a liar, regardless of the facts and the circumstances?

    In this political/media climate, McCain appears to believe he can get away with falsifying key details of something even as heavily reported as Obama’s infamous “bitter” remark

    John McCain is a Liar.

  6. Bye George

    On the eve of George Bush's visit to London as part of his farewell tour, an open letter to the departing US president sums up his legacy, both to his own country and Britain
    David Edgar The Guardian, Saturday June 14 2008 Article historyDear Mr Bush (forgive me, I can't quite manage "Mr President" or even "George"),

    We won't be meeting in person, and we won't even be adjacent, as our government has banned a march (from Parliament Square, tomorrow teatime) in protest against your visit.

    The fact that this isn't much of a surprise is one of the baleful consequences of your presidency. If we did meet, I'd probably ask if you ever speculate how things might have fallen out had supreme court Justice Anthony Kennedy switched sides on December 12 2000, and (an "if", I know) you'd lost the Florida recount and the election. I'd do so because my first beef about your presidency is that it denied us Al Gore's.

    OK, a Gore victory wouldn't have stopped 9/11, and he would probably have been persuaded to take punitive action against Afghanistan. But invading Iraq would have destroyed his party, and, after all, Saddam Hussein didn't try to kill his daddy. Following Bill Clinton's latter efforts, he would have paid more serious attention to resolving Israel/Palestine. But, most of all, he would have given authority and leadership to confronting our most important, and probably most urgent, global challenge. What did you do about your global carbon emissions? Pull out of Kyoto.

    For all the talk of confronting evil-doers and mounting crusades - surely the most accidentally apt analogy of your presidency - the moral cynicism of your attitude to climate change is emblematic. (You do, now, admit to some "commonalities" on the issue with the rest of the world). Your promise to return moral probity to the Oval Office emptied out as soon as you got your feet under the desk.

    Few remember your acceptance speech in the Texas House of Representatives, chosen because of its record of bipartisan cooperation, in which you reiterated your commitment to an inclusive "compassionate conservatism", and hinted at an administration that would acknowledge the thinness of its mandate. What happened next? One of the largest tax kickbacks to the rich in history. By 2012, the lowest 20% of US citizens will have gained $45 (£23) from your 2001 and 2003 tax-cut programme. Those with incomes over $1m a year will be $162,000 better off. Truly, as Joseph Stiglitz puts it, a rising tide will lift all yachts. This 10-year tax cut round gave $1.35 trillion to the American rich. To give an idea of its enormity: you've "only" spent half a trillion in Iraq. The combined $1.85 trillion? Universal healthcare introduced. Public education transformed. The social security timebomb defused at a stroke. You are spending in two weeks on the war what you spend in Africa in a year.

    Following 9/11, America received a proper wave of international sympathy for its victims, who hailed from every corner of the planet. Understandably caught up in a wave of grief and defiance, the House of Representatives voted for the display of signs proclaiming God Bless America in schools, and the New York Board of Education passed a resolution requiring all public schools to lead a daily pledge. You set about removing the liberties that that pledge celebrates, with relish and a will.

    Cornering the market in breathless acronyms, the Senate's Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act increased government powers to conduct searches, deport suspects, eavesdrop on internet communications and monitor financial transactions. You appointed Iran/Contra scandal veteran John Poindexter to run an agency tasked with creating "Total Information Awareness" of your fellow Americans. The government can insist that libraries report what books they lend to whom. In a triumph of understatement, your press secretary warned that "people have to watch what they say and do".

    These "people" were Americans. This was before you started up on everybody else. This was before Guantánamo, and Abu Ghraib, and extraordinary rendition. This was when it was still a surprise to hear civilised, sensible politicians and commentators debating the efficacy of torture.

    And then, there was the 2005 election, in which lines snaked round polling stations in South African proportions, and John Kerry received the largest democratic vote in history. Sadly, your election supremo managed to persuade sufficient numbers of previously non-voting Ohian Christian fundamentalists that a vote for Kerry was a vote for gay marriage to secure your reelection. You had already sought to do God in politics with a zeal unknown in US history. White House spokesmen contrast the "reality-based" reasoning of godless journalists with their own "faith-based" thinking. You have made a climate more conducive to creationism than at any time since the John Scopes monkey trial of 1925, in matters great and small.

    Most of all, you have polarised the world, between good and evil, good guys and bad guys, us and them. One of the ironies of the Manichean, "clash of civilisation" model, which has split the world on your watch, is that the very aspects of literal, Wahhabist Islam that westerners have proper worries about - the death penalty, the subordination of women, homophobia, censorship, aggressive warmaking, the divine authority of leaders - are aspects you don't have that much trouble with. And then, there's your effect on us over here.

    Even those without illusions about Labour's new dawn thought the Blair government would do three good big things. First, it would reverse the widening gap between rich and poor. Second, it would protect and perhaps update Britain's much vaunted democratic and civil liberties. And third, the government's obvious ease with the diversity of modern Britain would embed multiculturalism into our institutions and practices.

    All three were going reasonably well, until Mr Blair went to Washington. We know what joining your invasions cost us. What did we get in return? We imported your excuse for the Iraq invasion, and so we also imported the collapse in trust which followed its unravelling. Increasingly, the patriotic values that our government invites newcomers to sign up to have looked less like a welcoming mat and more like a watchtower. In his famous January 2006 "stick a flag in your lawn" speech, Gordon Brown cited a "golden thread" of British freedoms - from Magna Carta to universal suffrage - culminating in the "generous, expansive view of liberty" we enjoy today. Ten months later, Tony Blair announced: "Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it; or don't come here."

    Three months after that, Brown is suggesting that newcomers undertake community service as a condition of becoming British citizens. We imported the self-righteous, "for us or against us", ends-justifying-means mentality, which justifies not only the erosion of civil liberties but the presumptions on which they're based. It seems increasingly difficult to argue that you can disapprove of an activity without wanting to ban or discourage it, that governments and police forces can abuse powers, and that surveillance, punitive sentencing and excessive detention is a threat to the innocent as well as the guilty.

    Last Sunday, Jacqui Smith hoped that her opponents never had to deal with a terrorist outrage that 42-day detention might have prevented, as if there was no countervailing principle at stake. Her opponent on the libertarian side of the argument was Boris Johnson.

    Three days later, all bar 36 of the parliamentary Labour party put themselves to the right of all the parliamentary Tory party bar Ann Widdecombe.

    Following your helpful hints, we have imprisoned foreign nationals without trial, driving detainees and those subject to draconian control orders into mental hospitals.

    Should you or anyone else wish to understand how the ever-tightening legal tourniquet has fuelled resentment in Muslim communities, download Gareth Pierce's magisterial article on detention legislation from the London Review of Books website. Its title is: Was it like this for the Irish? You have made us unlearn the lessons of our own past.

    Those of us who warned that - even as amended - the clauses prohibiting "glorification" of terrorism could be used against biographers of Nelson Mandela or historians of the Boston Tea Party were gently pooh-poohed as alarmist. But even we didn't think the first person to be prosecuted under section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 would be a poet.

    When Martin Amis conducts what he calls a "thought experiment" about the collective punishment of Muslims - travel restriction, strip searching, deportation - he gets defended by Christopher Hitchens in the Guardian. When Samina Malik fantasises about being a terrorist, she ends up in court accused of being one.

    Last month, postgraduate student Rizwaan Sabir was held by the police for six days after Nottingham University found an al-Qaida training manual, downloaded from a US government website, on his computer. Despite his supervisors insisting it was relevant to his research, the university informed the police. The administrator who printed the document out for him, Hisham Yezza, is still detained, threatened with deportation under immigration regulations.

    Like you, we are chipping away at the very things that we are asked to defend. The liberties that newcomers are asked to value and do value are being gradually eroded, because they're here.

    While finally, and cheered on by formerly progressive intellectuals and commentators, our government has blamed homegrown terrorism on the open, tolerant, multicultural, live-and-let-live Britain that, despite all problems and setbacks, has gradually emerged since and despite Enoch Powell's apocalyptic jeremiad of 40 years ago.

    So, is there anything to thank you for? Well, at least, in a number of significant respects, we know where we are. If your predecessor presided over a boom financed by ballooning personal debt, it's good that your reinvention of 1980s gung-ho capitalism has exposed the predictable consequences of an unregulated economy fuelled by greed. The victims of the sub-prime mortgage collapse - small investors and small householders alike - stand side by side with the victims of hurricane Katrina as witnesses to the limitations of the nightwatchman state.

    You've also reminded us of something. For you, the "war on terror" reveals enemies. For its opponents, the war has reminded us what we have in common. Pro-war ideologues have pitted progressive principles (secularism, sexual freedom, individual liberty) against the people we've attacked abroad and demonise at home.

    The events of the last week - in the House of Commons and the supreme court - demonstrate the importance of civil liberties and human rights as a common platform for the powerless and the people who instinctively support them.

    Finally, you've succeeded in doing something that doesn't happen that often in either of our countries: you've made change a popular, engaging and viable political slogan (I see you're even using it yourself). The joke postcard map that contrasted liberal, blue, coastal America with the blood-red central lump of "Dumbfuckistan" is a tempting heresy; the crude, county-by-county electoral map does seem to show that the further people live from other people, the more likely they are to vote for you.

    But the mauves and purples of population-proportionate America remind us that there are married, churchgoing, rural DemocratS; that the American genius is for perpetual reinvention; that your country still retains that spirit of doing the impossible, which not only irrigated southern California but also desegregated the south.

    So your lasting contribution to American politics may be something quite unthinkable a year ago: its first black president.

    If so, the voters who outnumbered yours in 2000, and who turned out in unprecedented numbers against you in 2004, will not have voted in vain.

  7. Thank you, George W. Bush
    Without your dark and spectacular failures, we wouldn't be so ready to leap forward. Kudos!

    By Mark Morford,

    And then it came to pass that I happened to catch the tail end of a recent episode of "Miami Ink," that odd little reality show on TLC about the trials and tribulations of an unabashedly macho but still adorably funky Florida tattoo shop offering all sorts of engaging quirks, especially if you harbor a mild appreciation for decent Koi fish tattoos and giant ridiculous motorcycles and lots of sweaty siliconed sun baked Miami cheese.

    This episode featured the story of a young, fresh-faced Iraqi War vet, a big, shy sweetheart of a kid who, it turns out, had both of his legs blown off at the knee by an improvised explosive device. As a commemoration, he came to the shop to get a giant flaming skull tattooed on his shoulder — a skull with, um, a couple of femur bones stuck in there, somehow, in honor of his former appendages. Well, OK.

    I hereby shall not question the kid's garish taste in body art. But in the process of describing his injury to the artist/camera, the guy said something rather startling, something I didn't quite expect, considering his young age and his lack of legs and the violence with which they were taken from him, even though it's a refrain we've all heard a million times before.

    In sum, he said, You know what? Despite the horror of it, despite the brutal war, it turns out getting my legs blown off was probably the best thing to ever happen to me. It made me appreciate life in a new way, discover new abilities, experience a new vitality. In fact, only through getting my legs blown off do I finally feel truly alive, and what's more, I actually feel sorry for people who don't get to experience life this way.

    That's what he said. More or less.

    Now, I don't always agree with this line of thinking. In fact, I outwardly reject the idea that it's only through trauma, through pain or suffering that you truly grow or learn, find your creative thrust or the "true" meaning of life. It's certainly one way, it's certainly often wildly effective, it's certainly the way it has to happen for some people before they finally wake up, but it's far from the only way.

    But then, as I'm watching footage of this kid waterskiing and climbing mountains and grinning like crazy on his skinny metal prosthetics, I realized, well now, what an absolutely perfect analogy for our mauled, tattered, shell-shocked nation at this very moment in time.

    Ain't it so? Because America has, figuratively speaking, had its legs blown off at the knee. We have been hobbled and traumatized and numbed, our once indestructible ego ripped away, had our entire moral and ethical infrastructure blasted out from under us in the most bloody and irresponsible and ignoble way possible.

    And the primary explosive that did it? A deadly and useless war. Wait, that's not quite right. It was the inept leaders and disastrous reasoning behind the war, the pathetic cadre of hawks and neocons and insular kill-'em-all demagogues in the Bush Administration who veered the nation so far off course we ended up in a bloody ditch just outside Purgatory, a place teeming with recession and torture and homophobia, Patriot Acts and surveillance and fear.

    And so, like this kid who actually thanked the fates for blowing his legs off, I'm here to suggest that maybe it's time we offered up some sort of warped, tentative thanks to George W. Bush, for all the appalling trauma he hath wreaked upon us. Maybe he is, in a slightly nauseating way, the best thing that ever happened to us. You think?

    Maybe he's exactly what we needed. Maybe Bush's brand of frighteningly inept politicking has been just the right kind of sociocultural emetic to induce a true purge of our congested system, just the thing to finally snap us out of our lethargy. Hell, sometimes you gotta go deep into the darkness to realize just how much you need the light.

    So thank you, George, for exemplifying and embodying everything that's wrong with the neocon agenda, for serving as the final death knell of the failed conservative movement, of a once-noble Republican Party that's run out of ideas and has turned bitter and nasty and paranoid.

    Thank you, Dubya, for setting the stage for Obama and Hillary. Because the truth is, even as recently as eight years ago, if you'd have asked if we as a nation would be anywhere near ready for a female or black president, it would have felt incredibly premature, a good 20 years off before we could entertain such an idea. But so potent has been the recoil against everything you stood for — the misogyny, homophobia, classism, fear of "the other," of foreigners and minorities and alternative beliefs — that we are ready to be inspired and reinvigorated sooner than anyone thought possible.

    Thank you for your embarrassing rejection of science, your refusal to support any climate change initiative, for furthering the war-for-oil agenda, for blocking stem-cell research, for serving all your masters in Big Energy, Big Agribusiness, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Auto. Thanks for gutting the Constitution and front-loading the courts and trying to hack away at women's rights, gay marriage, privacy rights and on and on.

    Because it turns out, inviting all that darkness and corruption and holding back all the energy of progress and change is less about hastening the Second Coming (sorry, better luck next time), and more like pulling back on a slingshot. It just gets tighter and tighter and the pressure builds until eventually you just gotta let go, and then boom — or I should say, Obama.

    Now, this is not to say it can't all happen again. History is, unfortunately, a very bitchy and unreliable teacher. I'm guessing there were plenty of people who, post-Nixon, were saying, well thank God we'll never go through that again, we've sure learned our lesson. I mean, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice and, um, fool me ... won't get fooled again.

    We'll just have to see. For now, the bleeding is slowing, we are finally getting up off the sickbed, testing our shiny new prosthetics, hobbling toward the new. Soon, maybe we'll learn to run, ski, climb mountains, even dance on the international stage again with something resembling grace and renewed self-respect.

    We might even say, you know what? It turns out getting our political, moral and spiritual legs blown off was the best thing that ever happened to us. Dubya actually did us a huge favor. Can you imagine?

    Classic letter to the Madman in chief.

  8. At least 14 Republican members of Congress have refused to endorse or publicly support Sen. John McCain for president, and more than a dozen others declined to answer whether they back the Arizona senator.

    Many of the recalcitrant GOP members declined to detail their reasons for withholding support, but Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.) expressed major concerns about McCain’s energy policies and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) cited the Iraq war.

    Even the Repugs hate McCain.

  9. BBC uncovers lost Iraq billions

    By Jane Corbin

    A BBC investigation estimates that around $23bn (£11.75bn) may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq.

    The BBC's Panorama programme has used US and Iraqi government sources to research how much some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding.

    A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations.

    The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies.

    War profiteering

    While Presdient George W Bush remains in the White House, it is unlikely the gagging orders will be lifted.

    To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq.

    The president's Democratic opponents are keeping up the pressure over war profiteering in Iraq.

    Henry Waxman, who chairs the House committee on oversight and government reform, said: "The money that's gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, it's egregious.

    "It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history."

    In the run-up to the invasion, one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth $7bn that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president.

    Unusually only Halliburton got to bid - and won.

    Missing billions

    The search for the missing billions also led the programme to a house in Acton in west London where Hazem Shalaan lived until he was appointed to the new Iraqi government as minister of defence in 2004.

    He and his associates siphoned an estimated $1.2bn out of the ministry. They bought old military equipment from Poland but claimed for top-class weapons.
    Meanwhile they diverted money into their own accounts.

    Judge Radhi al-Radhi of Iraq's Commission for Public Integrity investigated.

    He said: "I believe these people are criminals.

    "They failed to rebuild the Ministry of Defence, and as a result the violence and the bloodshed went on and on - the murder of Iraqis and foreigners continues and they bear responsibility."

    Mr Shalaan was sentenced to two jail terms but he fled the country.

    That $23 Billion is Bush's retirement fund.

  10. Soaring foreclosures are continuing to raise questions about the mortgage industry’s claims that lenders are making a dent in the housing crisis.

    Foreclosure filings last month were up nearly 50 percent compared with a year earlier. Nationwide, 261,255 homes received at least one foreclosure-related filing in May, up 48 percent from 176,137 in the same month last year and up 7 percent from April, foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc. said Friday.

    And McCain says the Bush economy is in good shape.

  11. McCain’s confusion has nothing to do with his age

    By Steve Benen

    I can appreciate the fact that the McCain campaign and Republicans in general are a little touchy about the senator’s age — running to be the oldest president in U.S. history will do that — but that’s no reason to characterize every critical adjective in the language as some kind of slight about McCain’s septuagenarian status.

    Poll after poll shows that more voters trust Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on matters of national security than they do Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois. Hoping to bridge that chasm, the Obama campaign and Democrats harped on comments McCain made on the Today show this morning, repeatedly calling the 71-year-old presumptive GOP presidential nominee “confused,” seeming to feed into concerns voters might have about the Arizonan’s age.

    After McCain said this morning that it’s “not too important” when U.S. troops come home from Iraq, Obama aide Susan Rice said on a conference call that McCain’s comments reveal a “real confusion and lack of understanding of the situation in Iraq” and the larger region. She added that McCain’s series of errors of fact and judgment are “reflective of a pattern of lack of understanding and lack of strategic depth.”

    Reporters, apparently having internalized McCain’s talking points, asked Rice if she was attacking McCain’s age by calling him “confused.” She responded, “[W]hat I meant by that is very simple — on critical, factual questions that are fundamental to understanding what’s going on in Iraq and the region, Sen. McCain has gotten it wrong. And not just once but repeatedly.”

    This comes a month after Obama, responding to an ugly attack by McCain about Hamas, told CNN, “[F]or him to toss out comments like that I think is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination.” McCain, Lieberman, and their GOP allies said this was a shot at McCain’s age.

    Look, this is silly. Every criticism is not a veiled reference to McCain turning 72. “Losing his bearings” has nothing to do with age — it refers to someone who has lost their way. They’re off track. They’re moving in the wrong direction. Likewise, people of all ages get “confused.”

    Maybe McCain and the media can draw up a list of acceptable adjectives that McCain critics can use?

    The kicker is McCain really has been confused. Whether he’s 72 or 22 is irrelevant — he’s been consistently wrong about Iraq, demonstrating time and again that he just doesn’t understand the basics.

    * McCain has been confused about how many U.S. troops are in Iraq.

    * McCain has been confused about whether the U.S. can maintain a long-term presence in Iraq.

    * McCain has been confused about the source of violence in Iraq.

    * McCain has been confused about Iran’s relationship with al Qaeda.

    * McCain has been confused about the difference between Sunni and Shi’ia.

    * McCain has been confused about Gen. Petraeus’ responsibilities in Iraq.

    * McCain has been confused about what transpired during the Maliki government’s recent offensive in Basra.

    * McCain has been confused about Gen. Petraeus’ ability to travel around Baghdad “in a non-armed Humvee.”

    * McCain has been so confused about Iraq, in November 2006, he couldn’t even do a live interview about the war without reading prepared notes on national television.

    And we’re not supposed to say McCain’s “confused”? Why, because it might make him sound old?

    Tell you what, reporters and McCain campaign, pick a better adjective for us. “Confused” sounds like an attack on his age? Fine. You tell me. Befuddled? Bewildered? Baffled?

    The problem isn’t that McCain’s critics are picking loaded terms; the problem is McCain doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about when it comes to his signature issue.

    Why we’re not supposed to mention this is a mystery. I guess I’m confused.

  12. New blog is up - about the flood victims and the boy scouts

    Please someone -- tell me if the levees broke because of faulty engineering -- or was this flooding inevitable??