. .

Who is Ed Philpot?
Make POP Your Homepage
Send Comments

The POP Book List

The Things They Carried: by Tim O'Brien

Blue Blood: by Edward Conlon

His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis

Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward

After Tet: The Bloodiest Year In Viet Nam by Ronald H. Spector

The Threatening Storm by Kenneth Pollack

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

John Adams by David McCullough

Truman by David McCullough

First You Have To Row A Little Boat by Richard Bode

Website Picks

NY Times
Talking Points Memo
Donkey Rising
The Hamster
Media Notes
Washington Monthly
The Note
WSJ.com OpinionJournal
The Washington Note

NH Websites

Mark Fernald - NH Progressive Network

Rose On Boats

2009 Archives

Week of 2.10.08
Week of 3.2.08
Week of 6.22.08
Week of 12.14.08
Week of 12.21.08
Week of 12.28.08
Week of 1.4.09
Week of 1.11.09
Week of 1.18.09
Week of 1.25.09
Week of 2.1.09
Week of 2.8.09
Week of 3.1.09
Week of 3.12.09
Week of 3.29.09

Click here for full archives

. . .

April 9, 2009, 1:45 P.M.

I continue to be impressed with Attorney General Eric Holder. He recently asked a federal appeals court to set aside the felony convictions of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. He did so because of numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct by the government lawyers who were responsible for handling the case. Holder did the right thing, a complete reversal of the practices of his predecessors.

There is no question that what Holder did was right. There is also no question that this is not the type of behavior that the Bush administration would have ever engaged in. For the past eight years, the Justice Department was transformed into a political department of the White House. Its lawyers were picked more because of their religion than for their competence, and its priority was the prosecution of political enemies. Holder said when he was nominated that things were going to change. The Stevens case proves that he meant what he said.

I imagine, based on the information that was withheld from Stevens’ lawyers during the prosecution, that the convictions were likely going to be overturned. I also imagine, based on the existence of the massage chair, the improvements to the chalet and other goodies, that he actually was taking goodies form his oil company buddy, that he is not as innocent as he now claims to be. The fact is, however, that there are rules that apply to prosecuting crimes in our society. If it’s not done by the rules, we all suffer. Holder knows that, and it’s refreshing to have our government once again playing by the rules. There is a lot of damage to repair in our national reputation, but this is a good start.

Let’s remember what happened here. After eight years of a justice department that was tasked with prosecuting the administration’s political enemies, the attorney general of the United States just let a corrupt member of the opposite political party go free!

Another thing to remember is that Stevens’ convictions were overturned, that does not mean that he is innocent. He is not innocent. He is a corrupt, dishonest politician who could have been convicted without the evidence being withheld. Stevens owes his freedom to his political enemies. Interesting to say the least.

Sarah Palin, of course, doesn’t get any of this. She actually called for Sen. Begich, who defeated Stevens in last November’s election, to step down in order for there to be a runoff election. She apparently doesn’t get the difference between “conviction vacated” and “innocent” or even “not guilty.” Do-over election? Give me a break.

There is no support in Congress for this idea and there is not mechanism by which such an election can be forced. The idea is just stupid, positively Palinesque, if you will. If is fun, however, to watch Republicans rage against the prosecutorial misconduct by lawyers hired by the Bush administration. It would be nice if, in all their ranting, they once acknowledged that Stevens was convicted, albeit in a flawed way, because he was guilty. He is free because of the flaws in the process and because of the character of his current government.

April 9, 2009, 1:40 P.M.

I have been truly impressed with the President’s recent visit to Europe. He has already raised our national image and raised our standing on the world stage. All in only one visit.

Of course, we have a long way to go to undo the damage our country has suffered at the hands of Bush and Cheney, but at least we have begun the process. We have done so against a backdrop of arrogance and defiance by Cheney and members of the Bush administration, but the President has stood so tall as to make the mistakes of his predecessors begin to fade in his shadow.

President Obama is not leaving the G20 with everything he wanted, but he is also not giving away the store. The negotiations, the international monetary strategy, and the politics aside, he is leaving the G20 having gained the respect and allayed the fears of the international community over the role of our country in the economic, political and military future of the world.

April 9, 2009, 1:30 P.M.

On April 5, 2009 the body of Air Force Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers of Hopewell, Virginia returned to Dover Air Force Base. As a result of the Obama administration’s revocation of the eighteen year ban, imposed by President George H. W. Bush in 1991, on media coverage of the return of fallen U.S. servicemen, photographers and reporters were present.

The ban has not been lifted completely, and coverage is only allowed with the permission of the family. I have always been of a mind that there should be access to those solemn ceremonies, and that the arrival of flag-draped coffins provides a start reminder of the true cost of war. More than that, however, it honors the service of those who died in uniform, and it highlights their service. Soldiers returning from war, dead or alive, should not be hidden away.

I do like that individual families get to make a decision about whether or not there will be media coverage. It is, and should be, a decision made with the family’s privacy, religious beliefs, and personal opinions in the forefront. Absolute secrecy, however, reduces the concept of war to a distant, video game-like concept that we don’t have to know about if we choose to remain ignorant.

March 31, 2009, 4:40 P.M.

Dick Cheney's remarks abroad have offered new insight into the Bush administration. Despite the near historically low approval ratings, almost global disdain for their policies and talk of international war crimes prosecution, Cheney is still trying to market the failed world view of the Bush doctrine. The problem is that, despite the overwhelming evidence of deceit, disregard for law and policy and an impressive campaign of human rights violations, Cheney continues to have a voice for his twisted world view.

During the lead-up to the Gaza offensive, Cheney told Israeli leaders that then President-elect Obama was “pro-Palestinian.” More recently, he has mocked the new administration’s foreign policy and he has questioned our national security since the election of our new President, telling CNN that he believes Obama has made our nation less secure. This from the guy who almost singlehandedly created a whole new generation of radical Islamists by invading a country which really posed no threat to us, and by dropping heavy boots on sacred ground to do it.

This guy still believes that there is viability to his hawkish, crusader views despite the total collapse of his political party and universal rejection of his philosophy. It is a wonder that Cheney travels outside of this country, given the growing drumbeat of international support for war crimes prosecution. Lest we forget, Cheney, Bush and the other major players in their administration have admitted to using torture to gain information from illegally held prisoners. That’s a war crime that, were it committed by an eastern European leader, Bush and the boys would have been frog-marched into The Hague.

Perhaps by focusing his attention on international issues, Cheney hopes to deflect attention from his domestic crimes, like Halliburton’s no-bid contracts, the outing of Valerie Plame or the political execution of US Attorneys who whose to follow the law, rather than executive fiat.

I don’t think Cheney is dumb. Quite the contrary. I also accept that he really believes what he says about national and international politics. The fact that he is in a very small minority does not seem to affect him, and that has always been the problem: a complete lack of connection to reality. This leads to his ends-justify-the-means approach and his complete lack of a moral compass.

Cheney is getting away with his antics because he is marginal. He is really inconsequential because his ideas are so far off base as to be in the lunatic fringe. There is always a chance that being so far out of touch will leave him vulnerable to attacks from those in the international (and national) arenas who are calling for his head. I don’t know that it will actually happen, but it should. He thinks his is above the law and cannot begin to recognize the damage he and his cronies have done. The irony, of course, is that if his is prosecuted, or even investigated, it is the Obama administration to whom he will be forced to beg for help. I wonder if they will remember all those nice things he said about them when that day comes.

March 16, 2009, 10:45 A.M.

Last week Dianne and I saw the movie Frost/Nixon. It brought back a lot of memories for me because I followed the Watergate coverage very closely when I was in high school, and I had a lot of strong feelings about the situation.

The last two years of Nixon’s presidency seriously eroded the constitutional foundations of our government. Nixon abused the office like no one before him and he soured an entire generation on government and government service as a result.

When Nixon resigned there was a massive ground swell of public opinion aimed at seeing that he was punished, prosecuted and humiliated. That was a time when we could still muster a major protest in this country. Ford’s pardon of Nixon, in the face of all of that negative public opinion against the pardon really sealed Ford’s fate, ended any chance he had of re-election and paved the way for Carter’s 1976 sweep. Mickey Mouse could have swept the Republicans from office after the Nixon/Agnew/Ford years.

People really wanted Nixon’s head on a platter. They wanted him humiliated. I think that Ford, rather astutely, saw that the country really was not going to benefit from the domestic prosecution of a disgraced president. Ford wanted the whole sordid affair over and a pardon was the only way to accomplish that goal.

For me, it really did not matter what happened to Nixon. True, I really despised him. I had an in depth unde3rstanding of what had gone on. I read the transcripts of the tapes. I read the New York Times every day during that period of time and I read the Washington Post almost as often. I was a sophomore in high school, but I understood the magnitude of the constitutional crisis. The Saturday Night Massacre scared me because I honestly believed that Nixon would not relinquish power and that we would either see a coup, or that we would see the first removal of a sitting president through the impeachment process. This was also when I learned that impeachment was only the formal charging of a president, like an indictment, and that following impeachment, there would be a trial and vote by the Senate on removal from office.

Even though I despised him, with good reason, I did not care what happened after he left office. I just wanted him gone. It really was not personal. If he went to jail, I didn’t care. I was relieved that he was gone, and that a criminal was gone from the head of government.

Nixon’s crimes were domestic. Ford’s pardon was aimed at healing the country after a terrible period of lawlessness. That leaves me thinking about what to do with Bush, Cheney, Gonzalez, Rumsfeld and the rest of them. Their crimes were perhaps more widespread and serious than even Nixon’s and were no less injurious to our national government. More than that, however, their crimes were possibly war crimes – substantial, grievous and prosecutable violations of international law.

In this case, even a presidential pardon couldn’t help. The president, were he so inclined (and I hope he is not) could pardon the Bushies for their domestic crimes. He could not, however, effectively forgive their international crimes. No one could.

Where I saw Nixon’s pardon as a salve, I have no such view with regard to Bush. The salve for our international reputation may be to serve up the bad guys and to once and for all demonstrate that we as a nation are not above the law. Just like Nixon was not about our domestic laws., so too, our leaders are not above international laws, the ones we helped write and often are called upon to enforce. What credibility do we have in prosecuting war crimes against dictators and criminals when our own leaders profess to be above the law?

Understand my point. I don’t want this to happen and I am ashamed that it is a possibility. But how do we protect our own people from waterboarding, and other forms of torture when we are doing it ourselves? At a minimum, we should do nothing to protect them, and their successors should take notice. We are a nation of laws and we are a part of a larger community of nations striving for the same standards.

Situational morality and selective adherence to law is not acceptable and should not be tolerated. Bush and his buddies should be left twisting in the wind. They did nothing less for us.

March 16, 2009, 10:40 A.M.

During the past seven years, since the September 11 World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, popular television shows have had a strong Machiavellian influence that bugs me. We see shows like “24" where the clear message is that, as long as you get the bad guy, it doesn’t matter what rules or laws you break. In fact, no one who is a legitimate agent of government is capable of getting the bad guy. Only someone operating outside of it can. The ends justify the means.

I think that these shows reflect the opinions and values that are cultivated by our leaders. It is propaganda, pure and simple.

Just like Josh Marshall identified that fact that Washington is still “wired” Republican, I think television and the entertainment industry are still “wired” Machiavellian (or more precisely, Chenian). This will take time to undo, but it needs to be undone. Our popular media reflects our popular culture, but right and wrong, good and bad, have to be measured by an objective standard. In our society, there are rules and laws which are not situational. Morality is not situational. It’s simply not acceptable to kill someone because you are a cop and he is a “bad guy,” and it’s not acceptable for TV to try to make it okay.

No one is or should be above the law. The ends don’t justify the means, and wrong is wrong, regardless of the situation. Let’s try to keep it that way. It’s a lot earlier than trying to sort through the alternatives.

March 4, 2009, 4:45 P.M.

And by the way... regardless of your race, color, ethnicity or other differentiating factor, pull up your pants, straighten out your cap (and for goodness sake, take it off when you are inside) and think about how you can improve your personal lot, rather than thinking about what the world, your family, or anybody else owes you. I’m not talking about style. I’m talking about attitude. We are going to need energy, innovation, ambition and creativity to get us out of this economic mess. There are opportunities for people who go out and make them. It will be really hard to seize the day when you are tripping over your shoelaces or trying to run with your pants around your knees.

March 4, 2009, 4:30 P.M.

Attorney General Eric Holder recently challenged us all to think differently about race in America. He did so by saying that we are “cowards” when it comes to the discussions about race and I think that he is correct. I also think that the discussion needs to move beyond what has become the most recent sticking point that centers around the question of “how far we have come versus how far we still have to go.”

This argument to me is a lot like refusing to negotiate a peace treaty without first negotiating the shape of the table. It doesn’t advance the substantive discussion at all, and it stands as an impediment to real progress.

As the argument now goes, blacks want to say that, despite recent events (the election of Barack Obama and the appointment of Eric Holder to name a couple), racism is still pervasive and we have a long way to go before we are a “race neutral” society. Whites want to say that we have come very far in this struggle, citing the same examples, and that for us to move further, blacks need to acknowledge and accept this as a fact. To me, both observations are accurate. The emphasis on either is where we get hung up. The fact that we still get hung up on anything about race means we still have a long way to go (in both directions). Unless we focus on the discussion, rather than hiding from it (as Holder suggests) we cannot move beyond the current stalemate.

Where the cowardice comes in, I think, is in the details. We should get beyond the “where we have come/where we still need to go” discussion and talk about why we still notice that people are of a different race or color. For some reason, we think as a society (or, more accurately, as two societies) that to embrace our differences is to give up on individuality or that to even notice that there are differences is of itself racist. Here, courage is needed.

I do not feel threatened by people of color in any way. In many respects, I envy their rich heritage, culture and character forged in adversity and struggle, and tempered in art, music , poetry and industry. I say that while recognizing many of the same components of my own heritage and character bred of my own ancestry. Put simply, we need to better understand and appreciate each other, while maintaining our own identity. I don’t care to be black and if I were black, I would not care to be white.

No one alive in this country today was a slave or owned a slave (of course, there are sad, notable exceptions, but I hope my point is obvious). For that reason, a full, fair and honest look at our history is warranted, but our past has to stop driving our future or we will not move forward. I cannot understand, nor can I apologize enough, for the horrors of slavery, segregation, bigotry and prejudice. At some point, what has been said and done needs to be enough so that the focus can be on how far we need to go, rather than how far we have come.

The current economic crisis presents a perfect opportunity. We are now facing adversity that transcends race. We are mired in a struggle that we can all face together, and that will strengthen us all. This will, if we let it, give us a common endeavor, faced from equal footing which will become a common bond that is not defined by race.

In order for this experience, this test, to unite us, it has to involve a degree of common sacrifice to which we can all relate. That’s the whole message of the Obama candidacy, and hopefully his presidency. We are all in this together and it is going to be difficult.

I’m really tired of this being so much about individuals. After 9/11, people were asking what they could do, what sacrifices they could make. Unfortunately, the previous administration lacked the courage, foresight and frankly, credibility, to honestly answer that question. I want people, all people, to respond to this crisis by changing their behavior and their attitudes so that hard work, perseverance, entrepreneurial spirit and personal courage are rewarded regardless of race or any other dividing or differentiating factor.

As I have said before, I also want our approach to economic stimulus to be about us making things again, and about us having an infrastructure in this country that recognizes that we need to move away from our own needs and desires to a more responsible and community-oriented approach to personal and economic interaction, but that is another discussion.

Truly, the only color which should be of any interest in this process is green, otherwise we will all, regardless of our ethnicity, be in a similarly leaky boat.

February 10, 2009, 8:20 A.M.

I got home from a County Commission meeting last night just in time to catch the last third of the President’s press conference. Man, is he impressive. Just three weeks into office and President Obama has an astounding command of facts and issues. He answered multipart questions with ease and grace and his answers were informative, illustrative and imaginative. He really sounded like he knew what he was talking about. What a refreshing change.

It appears as though the civility thing is here to stay, as is this new “knowledge” thing. The President, while selling his stimulus bill to all of us, did not degenerate to partisan sniping. Oh, sure, he took a few good shots at “those who got us into this mess” (I’m paraphrasing), but this was not the focus. The focus was on getting a bill passed and the money flowing into our cash-starved economy.

President Obama is on the road selling the stimulus package in areas hardest hit by the current recession and his sales pitch is good and appealing. People are lining up for hours to see and hear him. Less than a month into his presidency, President Obama is already making a dramatic impact in terms of his ability to instill confidence and to allay fears in a really uncertain and scary time.

Of course, popularity, oratory skill and political savvy don’t mean anything without substance and I think this President has it all. Listening to his answers last night left me secure in my belief that this guy really is up to this job, that he is smart and that he has a plan to move forward economically, militarily and indeed politically. I’m sleeping better than I have in eight years.

February 3, 2009, 8:30 P.M.

I thought we won the election? Senator Tom Daschle withdrew his name from consideration as Health and Human Services Secretary today. The President accepted responsibility for appointing Daschle, acknowledging that he screwed up, and that there are not two sets of rules and that mistakes are going to be made.

To me it was refreshing to hear the President admit that a mistake was made. It allows us to move forward without having the matter drawn out unnecessarily. What is important here is the future of health care reform in this country and we can’t afford the distraction of Daschle’s personal mistakes.

For the most part, I am pleased with the first two weeks of the Presidency. We hear from our President every day. He is showing us that he is on top of issues and that he can manage the number of crisis situations which he has inherited, and that he can juggle a few unexpected ones as well.

I have to say that the Judd Gregg appointment leaves me a little concerned. It’s not because Gregg isn’t a good choice, I think he is. I also have to say that Gregg has shown some real leadership on the environment, and real independence from the Bush administration on a few issues. My problem is in the deal between Gregg and Governor John Lynch over Gregg’s Senate seat.

Apparently, Gregg made a deal with Lynch so that Gregg took the job in the Cabinet, contingent upon a promise by Lynch to appoint a Republican to fill Gregg’s Senate seat.

I thought the Democrats won here. Why should our Democratic Governor agree to such a deal? The only thing he should have agreed to is appointing the best person for the job defined as the best Senator to represent New Hampshire. New Hampshire, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, is a solid Blue State today and I expect that, if asked, the majority would support the appointment of a Democrat to fill the seat. Judd Gregg is a popular, moderate, Republican Senator. He will make a good Commerce Secretary. He should not, however, condition his service on anything, and Lynch shouldn’t have sold out his appointment power. Goodness knows what he gets out of the deal. We will have to stay tuned to find that out.

February 3, 2009, 8:00 P.M.

Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie: Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly in a plane crash. February 3, 1958, the day the music died, still evokes sadness and a profound sense of loss to a generation. Their music still moves people, and their deaths, at a young age and before they ever approached their potential, still makes people wonder what could have been.

A short few years after the loss of American Pie and her precious cargo, we lost a president and within ten years our country was reeling from the loss of two more important young men, not to mention the thousands of important young lives lost in Viet Nam during the same time period. History is an important teacher and I am hopeful for the future of our government and our country. We survived the day the music died, the loss of Martine and John and Robert, and the damage to our national standing caused by the Viet Nam war. We survived a civil war, a depression and two world wars. Hopefully, the last eight years won’t do us in, either.

The music didn’t really die in 1958, although I’m sure it felt that way. The economy really is as bad as we think right now. I hope this too shall pass.

January 30, 2009, 11:15 A.M.

Not surprisingly, Rod Blagojevich has been removed from office by the Illinois State Senate. Although the removal was to be expected, I have to say that I was a little surprised that Blago didn’t have enough on at least one Senator to avoid a unanimous vote. In the end, he was removed from office without a single dissenting voice. 59-0.

This week’s media blitz certainly could not have helped. If Blago expected that his direct (via mass media) appeal was going to sway the Senate, he is seriously delusional, and his time would have been much better spent arguing his case on the Senate floor than in a series of Manhattan studios.

But, seriously, he could not have expected (and I don’t think he did) that the media blitz would help him save his job. This is especially evident in his oft repeated “the fix is in” mantra. The only explanation, then, for his media performance this week, yesterday in front of the Illinois Senate, and in his past removal remarks, is to win popular support and perhaps win the hearts of potential jurors.

Blago bears the dubious honor of being only the eighth governor in US history to be impeached and removed from office. Now he faces almost certain criminal prosecution. His populist message can only be aimed at swaying the jury.

Where I once thought Blago had some good defenses, I think his recent interviews have helped rather than hurt he prosecution. With the evidence mounting, the possible testimony of co-conspirators being called right now and the record of Blago’s own statements makes it look pretty bad.

I will be interested to see what the indictment looks like, and what additional evidence comes out before the trial starts. The Blago story continues. Stay tuned.

January 30, 2009, 10:20 A.M.

During this week Graham and his shipmates on the TS Kennedy sailed along the southern coast of Cuba. During the same week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left open the possibility for new and more progressive policies towards our souther neighbor. That is an exciting proposition.

The fifty years of isolation and animosity between our respective countries has really accomplished little. The Castro government is still in power, and only the people of Cuba have suffered from this isolation. There is no weakness in now moving beyond old cold war notions of punishment and sanctions, and toward a more enlightened and progressive approach to Cuban/American relations. What else can we possibly have to gain, and what purpose will continued obstinance possibly serve?

I would love to visit Cuba some day. I would also like to see the day when Cubans can visit the US and can buy those few products that we still make in their local shops. Time has not eroded the strength of the Cuban government, and isolation deprives us of the opportunity to sin over the Cuban people to our point of view because they can’t see, hear or experience the difference.

At one time it would be argued that human rights abuses and political oppression served as a justification for continued refusal to relate culturally, economically, politically or diplomatically with Cuba. That moral high ground was lost, ironically, in our actions on the island of Cuba. Our own abuse and illegal detention of our purported enemies undercuts any such position. There is simply no remaining justification for continuing our current policies and they should end. I want to smoke a cigar in Old Habana, and swim on a sunny Cuban beach, and I’m not getting any younger.

January 24, 2009, 4:00 P.M.

The confirmation of Eric Holder as Attorney General has been delayed for a week. There does not appear to be any real problem with the confirmation and Holder has won the support of some key Republicans like Orin Hatch of Utah and Mel Martinez of Florida. He has also been supported by former FBI Director Louis Freeh and Bush’s Homeland Security Advisor, Frances Townsend. So with all this support, why the delay?

Republicans, lead by Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, asked for the delay ostensibly to further examine Holder’s role in President Clinton’s pardon of financier Marc Rich while Holder was in the Justice Department. They also want to know what his position is on prosecuting members of the prior administration for war crimes.

It is difficult of tell at this time if there will be any prosecutions, but the question is one that comes up with every admission of torture, every failed prosecution based on illegally obtained evidence and lingering questions about the invasion of Iraq and prosecution of the war there. These are serious questions that bear on our ability to raise our national credibility and stature certainly, but the idea of prosecuting members of the previous administration requires more thought, and more information, than can be expected from Holder in a confirmation hearing. This is a course of action fraught with danger, but it is not unprecedented.

There must be a balance between the responsibility of our government to follow the law and the ability of our government to function in the future. Clear violations of law should be prosecuted, and should never have been tolerated in the first place. Cases where legislation legitimized the actions of field personnel are less clear, and less straightforward and must be carefully examined.

I don’t think that Holder can, or should, state definitively whether or not these prosecutions will go forward at this time. The issue requires more thought, more research and a little distance from the departure of the Bush/Cheney cadre to be fully developed to the extent that prosecutions can be considered.

Our government, any government, needs to be able to protect its people. Sometimes the actions required are unseemly, or less than perfect. There are, however, moral, ethical and legal lines that should not be crossed. Where those lines lie is for society to define. They are not carved in stone, but drawn and re-drawn in sand based on the political, economic and military requirements of the time. I guess I’m saying that there is a situational aspect to this analysis. Did the times justify the measures? Time will tell, but the consequences of rash judgments and the effect of prosecutions of one administration by another may do as much damage as the crimes themselves if we are not careful in our analysis and measured in our response.

Government is not above the law, but we ask a lot of our government and hope that its actions are consistent with our moral and ethical standards. We also hope that those actions comport with our ideals and national identity, while preserving our security. This is a real balancing act and rash judgments or statements in a confirmation hearing are not in anyone’s best interest.

January 21, 2009, 12:45 P.M.

I love the message Obama's speech gave to the world. The policies of the Bush administration are over and tomorrow is a new day. With a renewed commitment, a new moral certainty, and a bold vision, we will re-examine our alliances, listen to our neighbors around the world and we will make practical and informed decisions in our international affairs. Make no mistake, however, we will continue to do this from a position of strength: "Unclench your fist, and we will extend our hand."

This new President will be tested, of this I have no doubt, but I think he is up to the challenge. I feel safer now. I feel like we can finally listen as much as we talk, and that we can begin to change our own behavior in a way that makes our leadership around the world a welcome and positive force and that we can again act in concert with our allies to address the causes of hunger, global warming, genocide and, yes, terrorism. I haven't been this optimistic in years.

January 21, 2009, 12:30 P.M.

...And How Far We Still Have To Go: I have now watched President Obama's inaugural speech twice and I am struck by the fact that, despite its lack of an individual catch phrase like "the only thing we have to fear" or "ask not what your country can do," the speech as a whole was moving, inspirational and forceful. I was impressed by the fact that this speech did not shrink from defining an entirely new direction for our country or from clearly and emphatically stating an end to the policies of the Bush administration.

The message that I took from this speech is one of real, fundamental and mind-altering change in the relationship between our nation and its people, and our nation and the world. I see the true promise of our country being realized in this presidency, and I see the words of the constitution as I never have before. The Declaration of Independence could only take life when its promise to all men could be recognized, and now it can. We can now, like no time in our past, go out in the world and say that we honestly and truly live out the lofty principles and ideals so eloquently expressed some 230 years ago.

By putting into practice, not just into words, our committment to reasserting our moral standing in the world, we are at once drastically weakening everyone standing against us. I see hope in the recognition that our diversity at home is not our weakness, but our greatest strength, especially when we see our neighbors as equals, as the language of our forefathers promised, and not as less than equal, as our history has shown.

The swearing-in of President Obama on January 20, 2009,the day after we celebrated the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., vividly highlights how far we have come in my lifetime. It should also remind us of how far we still have to go. There are still places in this country where its President is not welcome, and where his life would be in danger if he visited, simply because he is black. Oh, far we still have to go.

January 20, 2009, 8:00 P.M.

Oh, how far we've come: It was with a tremendous sense of pride that I watched Barack Hussein Obama sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. I watched it live, sitting in a friend's office in Manchester, where I was mediating a dispute between a homeowner and a contractor. The internet feeds were so stressed that the best feed we could access was the BBC. How cool is that?!

President Obama took his oath with his hand on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used when he took his oath in 1861. It was not lost on me that it was also the same Bible used when then Chief Justice Roger B. Taney administered the oath. Taney, appointed by Andrew Jackson to replace John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1836, was also the author of the infamous decision in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, which held that no person of African descent, whether free or slave, could be a citizen of the United States because they were inferior.

Writing for the Supreme Court, Taney issued this historic assessment of black people:

"It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in relation to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted. But the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken.

They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit."

Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857).

This man took Lincoln's oath in 1861. Lincoln's hand was on the same Bible as Obama's was on today. Oh, how far we have come.

January 17, 2009, 8:00 P.M.

Soon to be former President George W. Bush gave himself high marks for his eight years as President. Unfortunately, he was working off of a scorecard that the rest of us did not have. He really thinks that his was actually a successful presidency, and that the nation and the world are better off. Once again, Bush has completely distorted the facts and attempted to write history to fit his ideology and to generally miss the point.

What is remarkable to me is now little Bush seems to have aged during his presidency. I know that all of the presidents that I personally remember looked markedly older and more tired than when they first took office. I just don’t think that the office affected Bush like the others because he is incapable to understanding the gravity of his errors, and the damage he has done to the office, the nation and our moral standing in the world.

Cheney’s farewell interview was more of the same. These guys are not acknowledging just how badly they have done and how much people actually dislike them. I choose to remember Halliburton, torture, an illegal war, a lousy economy and a loss of international credibility. Bush spoke of his good intentions, but he did not acknowledge or apologize for his grievous errors in judgment, philosophy and, most importantly, life and death decisions like taking his country into a war based on lies and manufactured evidence. That war has resulted in 4,229 dead Americans and over 100,000 dead Iraqis. All he can say is that he regrets that we didn’t find any WMD. Not that he lied about their existence, that they were not found. This is what he regrets?

Bush spoke about how he believes that, as a result of how he views the world, Americans are safer today than they were seven years ago. This statement is ironic in that ush also spoke of our “patient enemy, determined to strike again,” and of how we must “resist complacency, keep our resolve and not let down our guard.” Of course, what he failed to mention is that his actions over the last eight years have inflamed the passions of people in the middle east (and in other Muslim nations) and actually created enemies.

In the face of an explosive growth of hatred for our country around the world, he spoke of “an expansion of liberty abroad.” There is simply no evidence to support this ridiculous assertion, and the attempted imposition of American-style democracy in a part of the world as old as civilization itself cannot be successful. Let's remember Hamas, that demoractically elected organization when we think about exporting democracy.

The truth is we are not safer. We are threatened more now than ever before, and people have redoubled their resolve to destroy us and our way of life because of what our country has done for oil, for Halliburton, and for a philosophy borrowed from men like Cheney, Wolfowitz and Libby, who can only be described as evil.

Still, and in the face of approval ratings of less than 20%, Bush commends himself for “acting decisively” and for making “tough” calls. He fails to acknowledge or admit that many of those decisions were catastrophically wrong.

Perhaps most disturbing was his reference to “moral clarity” and his belief that the world is not a place of gray areas, but that it is a place of stark contrasts, of “good and evil.” This is the face of torture, the most serious erosion of our civil liberties since the civil war, and of the deaths of thousands of Americans in a war we are fighting for all the wrong reasons.

This administration represents a gross moral, legal and administrative failure. They put politics ahead of truth and honor and they did more harm by far than the small amount of good they can claim.

The Bush/Cheney/Rove presidency has weakened our country and harmed its people. They have diminished our international standing and they have harmed people at home and abroad. They invaded a foreign country, they fired good and loyal people for purely political reasons, and they completely blew the Katrina disaster. They swift-boated, lied about and slandered their opponents and they sold out our intelligence community. They illegally imprisoned foreign nationals and tortured them. Then they justified, obfuscated and lied about it.

I expect that the ongoing “legacy project” will continue do focus on issues like moral certainty and courageous decision making. I hope that we call remember the truth, and how bad a president Bush 43 was. They have ruined the economy at home, started two wars, increased the deficit by tens of trillions of dollars, overseen the destruction of a major U.S. city that has still not recovered, seen more people out of work and without health insurance than when they started and they have killed hundreds of thousands of people to boot. Legacy be damned. Good riddance.

January 16, 2009, 5:15 P.M.

Not only are the Bushies trying to rewrite history, but Sarah Palin has started a “legacy project” of her own. Apparently, she wants us to believe that, for example, she went into the Katie Couric interview unprepared because of “bad handling” by the campaign. I’ll give her that. She was not handled well during the campaign because I have no information to the contrary. What must be pointed out, however, is that this interview went badly not only because she couldn’t answer tough questions, but because she couldn’t answer any questions well.

First and foremost, if Palin went into a national news interview unprepared, or not anticipating the tough questions she got from Katie Couric, she deserves what she got. She was running for Vice President of the United States and she could not answer questions about what newspapers she reads? How is that hard?

That interview, like no other single event in the campaign, demonstrated that Sarah Palin was not competent to run for, let alone serve in, the second highest executive office in the land, a mere heartbeat away from the Presidency. She simply can’t claim that she was made to look bad or that she was not well-handled. Palin could not survive, let along master, an interview. If you can’t survive an interview (and thus have to avoid them) you can’t lay claim to a national office.

Since we expect to hear from Ms. Palin again, it is important that her “legacy project” be no more successful than that of the Bush administration. This person is not competent or qualified to serve in national office. She claims to want to avoid major media interviews because she claims that they want to “trick” her or distort her message. In reality, it’s because she does not have the knowledge base, or basic understanding of our government, which would allow her to even learn what she would need to know to be President.

Palin really wants to avoid the media because they ask her questions that she can’t answer, or that she doesn’t want to answer. Her spin on this problem is to say “I just want to speak directly to the American people.” That’s great, but then all we get is the sound bite. No discussion analysis or challenge. Refusing to meet with the press offers an incomplete, biased and superficial picture of the candidate. Palin can’t stand the scrutiny, therefore, she is not qualified to serve and we all need to keep reminding ourselves of that fact.

January 16, 2009, 4:30 P.M.

The confirmation hearings of Eric Holder were nothing less than amazing. He said, flat out, that waterboarding is torture and that, aside from being illegal and immoral, it is ineffective. Holder also stated clearly that Guantanamo will be closed.

What is most amazing is Holder’s frank assessment of his task as Attorney General. He admitted that the department was damaged and that it needed an assessment in short order to determine just how deep and sever that damage is. This is phenomenal clarity on the heels of impenetrable murk, but where it leads us remains to be seen.

Bush administration officials have admitted to torture, by waterboarding and by other means. This is a violation of American law, of international law and of fundamental humanity. After years of dancing around the issue, prosecutors in Guantanamo have acknowledged that human rights violations have occurred, and as a result, they can’t even go forward with prosecutions. They have admitted to war crimes and violations of U.S. law. The question is, what will the incoming administration do about it?

January 15, 2009, 5:00 P.M.

The New York Times reported yesterday that, despite his tax problems, both Democratic and Republican Senators were predicting that Timothy Geithner would be confirmed as head of the Treasury Department. Consensus seems to be that he is a terrific choice and that his expertise well qualifies him for the job. Republicans, such as Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, have expressed concerns with having the head of Treasury, which oversees the IRS, be someone who failed to pay his own taxes, but they seem to be willing to overlook the problem because of his qualifications.

If you think about this for a moment, it really is extraordinary. Republican and Democratic lawmakers are willing to overlook a mistake. In better economic times, this might not be the case, but at least for now, politicians seem to be putting aside politics for practicality. Most importantly, they are willing to put a highly qualified person in an extremely important job, despite what, by all accounts, was a mistake. I’m not so sure that Democrats would have been of a similar mind had this been a Bush appointment a few years ago.

So what has changed? First, I think that the economy really has Washington so scared that Senators are truly willing to put aside politics and judge appointees on their competence. Second, and perhaps equally important, is the Obama factor. He has an astronomical approval rating and he has demonstrated an ability and willingness to approach problems in a bipartisan, pragmatic and practical way. Most of all, however, he seems confident, but not cocky, strong, but not arrogant, and most of all, he seems willing to listen and to seek the advice of people who are talented, strong and outspoken, even if he does not necessarily agree with them. The days of the boy in the bubble presidency are over and Congress knows it. Let’s just hope they can get on board and undo some of the damage caused by the Bush/Cheney/Halliburton operations of the past eight years. 1/20/09 can’t come soon enough. If the confirmation hearings are any indication, things are looking up.

January 13, 2009, 3:20 P.M.

Anyone who thinks that the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States signals an end to racial problems in this country would be naive at best. While it is true that this election signals an historic development and a monumental change in the role that race plays in this country today, the fact of the matter is that there were more than a few people who resisted Barack Obama and refused to vote for him, simply because he is black.

If you have any questions about whether or not this is accurate, consider the story of 23 year old Robbie Tolan. Robbie was shot by a police officer at 2:00 A.M. on December 31, 2008 when he and his cousin, Anthony Cooper, returned to Robbie’s home in Bellaire, Texas from a late night run to Jack In The Box. The boys were approached by a police officer who suspected them of stealing the car.

Robbie Tolan and Anthony Cooper were victims of racial profiling. The car was not stolen, it belonged to Tolan. Tolan is the some of former professional baseball player Bobbie Tolan and he is a professional baseball player himself, having recently played in the Washington Nationals minor league system. He was suspected of stealing the car because his is black and because he was in an upscale, predominantly white neighborhood.

Tolan and Cooper were unarmed when they were shot. The police officer was white and the shooting has sparked outrage in the Houston area. Well, it should, but I remember that this is a part of the world that our next president did not visit during the election. We have come a long way on race in this country, but not nearly far enough.

Robbie Tolan will recover. He may not play baseball again, but he will live. I hope he lives long enough for the breakthrough in race relations that allowed Barack Obama to be elected to trickle down to the streets. The racial thinking in this country is still about us and them. I hope that it will soon be “not about black America, or white America, but about the United States of America.”

January 11, 2009, 8:20 P.M.

At 0900 sharp on January 11, 2009 we saw Graham off on his sea term aboard the TS Kennedy. The Kennedy is a 540 foot freighter converted into a training ship for Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where Graham is a freshman.

Rosalie, Madeline, Dianne and I drove to Middleboro, Mass. on Saturday evening, January 10. Middleboro is about a 30 minute drive from Graham's school and we stayed overnight there so that we could be at the school before dawn in order to be able to spend some time with him before the ship sailed. We were only able to see him long enough to exchange some laundry and last minute necessities on Saturday, so Sunday morning was the last time we could see him for 49 days.

Graham's week prior to departure was filled with preparation, cleaning, repairs, watches and other tasks that brought the Kennedy to life. When we got to the school on Sunday she was a beehive of activity with older cadets directing their younger charges in every aspect of shipboard operations. It was quite something to see, and by the time Sunday rolled around and the work was done, the anticipation was palpable. Graham seemed ready to set sail. He was tired of waiting for a new chapter of his life to begin.

The ship will be at sea for 49 days, stopping breifly in Norfolk for fuel and then on to Tampa, San Juan PR and St. Thomas USVI. The cadets will have liberty in all of the ports (except Norfolk which is only a brief fuel stop). Graham is looking forward to some scuba diving and spending time with friends both new and old.

Of course, this is not a pleasure cruise. The TS Kennedy will be sailed by her company of cadet engineering and deck students. They will operate, maintain, clean, paint and navigate their own ship (under the watchful eyes of the fully licensed captain and officers) and they will be working toward their Coast Guard licenses in doing so.

The morning of January 11, 2009 dawned gray, rainy and cold. By the time TS Kennedy sailed away from her pier and into Buzzards Bay to begin her journey, the skies were clearing and a fresh breeze at her back aided her departure. That departure saw Graham Edward Philpot, once a boy and now a man, standing at the rail with his shipmates. His family could not have been prouder and we can't wait to hear of their adventures (the parts they can tell, of course!)

If you are interested in following the sea term voyage of the TS Kennedy, there are some websites to check out. The official sea term Captain's blog is here and an outstanding cadet blog is here.

To the cadets and crew manning the TS Kennedy, we wish you fair winds and following seas. Good luck, have fun, and for goodness sake, be careful.

January 11, 2009, 8:10 P.M.

The Senate Secretary refused the credentials of Senator-designate Roland W. Burris when he presented them on Tuesday. On Thursday, the Senate leadership, in the persons of Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), stepped back from an earlier statement indicating that the Senate would block Burris from taking the seat. This not so surprising turnaround comes, of course, with some conditions.

It had earlier been suggested that Senate leaders would try to cut a deal with Burris and seat him if he agreed not to run for re-election when the term expires. Of course, Burris refused. He had no reason to accept those terms because neither the Senate leadership nor anyone else had the authority to impose such conditions.

Burris knew that he was not going to be seated on Tuesday. Not because of the taint on his appointment by Rod Blagojevich, but rather because his credentials were not in order. I think Burris knew that, in order to have standing to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to compel the Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to certify his credentials, he needed to be refused on Tuesday. Until he was refused a seat, his complaint was simply not “ripe” for judicial intervention.

Because White has refused to sign Burris’ appointment papers, his credentials are not in order and the Senate cannot seat him. Of course, in its reversal of position, the Senate leadership now says it will seat Burris provided that he “takes possession of valid credentials.” All that is missing is White’s signature. Without the signature, the certificate of appointment does not comply with Senate rules. White refuses to sign off on the appointment because of his obvious disdain for Blagojevich and his belief that the appointment of Burris is somehow not legitimate. He also claims that the Illinois Supreme Court cannot compel him to sign the papers. Wrong on both counts, and as Illinois’ Secretary of State, he should uphold the law, whether he likes it or not. That is what he swore an oath to do. The Supreme Court can compel him to sign because to continue to refuse to do so is without legal right or foundation. Regardless of what Attorney General Mulligan says, the signature is more than a formality; it is a requirement.

Blagojevich is the Governor of Illinois. A criminal complaint, not an indictment, has been issued against him. He is innocent until proven guilty, and he remains the Governor until removed. A conviction, incidentally, is not a sure thing.

Speaking of being seated...

Today, I had the pleasure of being sworn in as a Belknap County Commissioner representing the First District. I was sworn in alongside other elected and appointed county officials and was thrilled to have my wife, daughters and friend, School Board member Stacie Sirois, there to share the honor.

January 5, 2009, 3:15 P.M.

Illinois State appointee Roland W. Burris is headed to Washington for what it appears will be a less-than-cordial reception. Burris, who has been appointed to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama by embattled Governor Road Blagojevich, claims that he will aggressively fight any attempts by the Senate to avoid seating him.

In reality, the Senate should have no choice. Burris has been duly appointed by the still-sitting Governor of Illinois and he has his appointment papers in hand. There is nothing to suggest that the appointment procedure is illegal or improper, or that any other legal impediment exists that would block Burris from taking his seat.

It may be important to remember at this point that, while allegations have been leveled against Blagojevich at this time, he has not been convicted of any crime or impeached by the State legislature. Until the Governor is removed from office or resigns, he is still the Governor with the full power and authority of that office, including the authority to fill Senate vacancies. It may also be important to remember that, as bad as the charges against Blagojevich may look, he remains innocent until proven guilty.

There may be a lot of fuss in the next few days around this appointment, but I expect that Roland Burris will be seated. The Senate has really got no option. There is no legal basis to deny him and the political fallout would be devastating to the new Democratic majority. Of course, there is also the race card which Burris and his supporters are playing with zeal. Just this morning, the talking heads on MSNBC pointed out how bad the Democratic leadership will look if “99 white guys” line up against one, duly elected, black Senator from Illinois.

Of course, this angle is not lost on Burris’ supporters back at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, where Burris enjoyed a rousing sendoff from friends and supporters. You also have to give credit to Blagojevich for an appointment which, while controversial, will ultimately stick.

The appointment will no do Burris much good in the long run because his re-election would seem unlikely, even without the cloud of Blagojevich. Burris has been unsuccessful in several elections (including mayor of Chicago and State Representative) and his support does not seem widespread enough to make him a legitimate candidate. He might have actually improved his chances at an election if he had declined the appointment.

His aggressive playing of the race card suggests that Burris is really interested in carving “U.S. Senator” on his elaborate tombstone, and that he may not be looking at the long game. In the end, his lukewarm credentials, the Blagojevich appointment, and an over-aggressive use of race as leverage into the seat will weigh against him.

Send Tips or Comments to Philpot on Politics

Copyright 2007 Edward Philpot

. . . . .