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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.


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