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American Opinion

On Attorney General nominee Eric Holder:

When Eric H. Holder Jr. comes before the Senate Judiciary Committee ... for confirmation as U.S. attorney general, he needn't worry about a challenge to his qualifications. The panel has been deluged with testimonials to his intellect, integrity and experience. The harder question for Holder is whether his role as an advisor to Barack Obama's presidential campaign will hamper him in restoring trust to the Justice Department after its politicization by the Bush administration. ...

At another point in U.S. history, it would be unremarkable for a president to install a political advisor as attorney general. Sometimes, as with Robert F. Kennedy, presidential intimates have discharged their duties at Justice in a disinterested way. Others have placed their loyalty above the law -- in the case of John Mitchell, President Nixon's attorney general, to the point of committing crimes. ... The burden on Holder is to convince the Senate that he won't be a kinder, gentler (and smarter) Alberto R. Gonzales.

On one issue -- Holder's involvement in President Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich -- that promise must accompany an explanation of why he didn't try to thwart an outrageous abuse of executive power. But that error isn't disqualifying if Holder can demonstrate that he has learned a lesson and recognizes that the attorney general is the people's lawyer, not the president's lawyer. ...

Los Angeles Times

On Obama's choice for director of the Central Intelligence Agency:

Leon Panetta, President-elect Barack Obama's unconventional choice for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is being criticized for what he isn't. He should be praised for what he is.

What he isn't is someone who has had a long military or national security career, which some politicians and pundits have deemed to be essential in a CIA chief. Why this should be so isn't obvious.

The CIA is a large bureaucracy that does specialized work, as do many other bureaucracies in government and the private sector headed by knowledgeable directors who are nonprofessionals in the relevant field. For this job, intelligence experience is certainly helpful but isn't necessarily essential. A sweeping insider's knowledge of government with a record of sound managerial judgment and achievement -- which Mr. Panetta has in spades -- should also count for a lot. ... The praise for what Mr. Panetta is should be loudest for this: Unlike some others who may have been natural candidates for the job, Mr. Panetta has clean hands and is on record as opposing the use of torture, America's recent shame.

Those hands can lift the stature of the CIA if the critics are confounded and he is confirmed.

The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

On cell phones and driving:

It smacks of more nanny-state paternalism. Not only should drivers be banned from using hand-held cell phones, the National Safety Council says, but they shouldn't be allowed to use hands-free cell phones either.

That sounds like a huge overreaction. ...

But much as we hate to admit it, we think the National Safety Council is right. All states should ban all types of cell phone use in cars -- none do now -- and do so quickly, before the practice becomes more entrenched. ...

It's not about where your hands are, but where your mind is -- on the road or on a conversation.

Talking to a friend in the car is nowhere near as dangerous as talking to a friend on a cell phone while driving, according to a University of Utah study.

Your friend in the car can warn you about an oncoming car.

Your friend on the phone?

All she can hear is the crash.

Chicago Sun-Times

On Roland Burris:

Now that the Illinois House has impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich, it's likely just a matter of time before Roland Burris is seated in the U.S. Senate.

Though, for the most part Burris has a solid reputation and credentials, the circumstances under which he was appointed to Barack Obama's vacated seat remain troubling. Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, allowed himself to be used by Blagojevich in a transparent game of cat-and-mouse.

Blagojevich, who will now face trial in the Illinois Senate, is accused of scheming to sell Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder. And though Burris was one of the governor's stern critics early on, he jumped at the chance to go to Washington when Blagojevich called.

Burris obviously saw an opportunity and seized it. It's just too bad that he didn't take the high ground, as did Illinois' secretary of state, a fellow African-American who would have no part of Blagojevich's ploy.

The embattled governor, who has defiantly denied wrongdoing, although he was caught on tape saying things that made his contention doubtful, tested the currently all-white Senate's courage to turn away an African-American.

And it looks like he won because even Obama, who previously had strong language for Blagojevich's tactics, has indicated he'd like to move on.

Democrat and Chronicle,

Rochester, N.Y.