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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.

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