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May 4, 2004, 9:15 P.M.

The recent reports of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers and civilian contractors are troubling on several levels. First and foremost, supervised or not, the type of behavior exhibited towards the prisoners cannot be justified, explained or in any way minimized. On a human to human level it is no less than appalling. There is simply no excuse for humiliating or harming captives; it violates common decency and fundamental morality. To say that it happened because of a lack of supervision, instruction or a clear set of rules and guidelines for behavior simply does not wash. It was wrong, and the individuals who did it were wrong.

In addition to being wrong, the actions of these people were stupid. Photographing their crimes was colossally stupid. The world wide publication of photos of Americans humiliating Iraqis will fuel the flames of anti-American sentiment worldwide, and will undue any good that might be being done by our occupying army or its civilian counterpart on the ground. It will also serve as justification for the mistreatment of American prisoners, and American citizens worldwide. Anti-American elements now have graphic illustrations to back up their claims of mistreatment of Arabs, and of Muslims by Americans. The individuals who perpetrated these crimes, and the system that allowed this behavior to occur have place future American POWs in grave danger of suffering the same abuse, or worse. Whatís worse, we can no longer meet such mistreatment with any sense of indignation as we have apparently set the standard.

To say to the world that it was only a small group of individuals who were responsible for these acts is not accurate, because it is the system in place in Iraq that has facilitated these abuses. In his report on prisoner abuse, Major General Antonio Taguba made several telling statements. He said that the soldiers operating the prison had not been instructed on how to behave according to the Geneva Convention, and he said that the Army had no jurisdiction over civilian perpetrators of crimes against Iraqis. I donít think education in the Geneva Convention is required to know that what was done to those prisoners was wrong, but I do think that some level of instruction on the treatment of captives should have been high on the list of things to do. If there was any sort of plan at all for how to administer a conquered Iraq, the treatment of criminals, captives and POWs should have been in the manual. Apparently, it was not. The fact that the Army has no jurisdiction over civilian contractors working in conjunction with their military counterparts in prisons and in other jobs where they have contact with Iraqi civilians or prisoners is extremely problematic. It also highlights the need for better civil administration of Iraq. Right now there is no body of law, other than international law, governing the conduct of civilian workers who answer only to their civilian bosses. Some of these civilians are performing what are traditionally military or intelligence-related functions, such as prisoner interrogations.

The lack of preparation, organization and supervision of the post-conquest administration of Iraq highlights the fact that we donít have a plan, we donít have things under control, and we are in over our heads. You just canít justify whatís going on in Iraq any other way. To say itís just a few bad apples takes away the greater responsibility for systemic failure. The mistreatment of prisoners is only a symptom.

The State Department, not the Department of Defense, should be in charge in Iraq. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are trained to fight, not to police, administer and reconstruct. They are being asked, at every level, to perform functions for which they are not trained, and for which they are ill-equipped. What is worse, they are being asked to perform their duties in an increasingly hostile environment. That is not to say that the soldiers are not needed; they are. What is also needed is a clear political strategy to facilitate the creation of a popular civilian administration capable of holding onto power after the soldiers leave.

Ahmed Chalabi and his friends are not the answer. Chalabi has begun to entrench himself in a model reminiscent of U.S. puppet governments of the past. The Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein come to mind. There is evidence of corruption on the part of Chalabi and his family, a consolidation of valuable and useful information under his control and of the installation of his family members in sensitive positions within the government.

Here again, the U.S. model supports the kind of behavior exhibited by Chalabi and others in Iraq. Our Vice President has direct links to civilan contractors who are operating under very lucrative no-bid contracts in the Iraqi theatre, protected by U.S. troops and equipment, all at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Last year, I mused about whether or not a U.S.-style representative democracy could flourish in Iraq. Chalabi seems posed to give it a go.

The President seeks to assure us that the situation in Iraq is under control. It clearly is not. Buoyed by what they see as a victory in Fallujah, insurgent forces are pressing America to gain concessions in other Iraqi cities like those resulting in the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Fallujah. It appears that our government does not know what to do with Iraq, so its solution is to throw more troops at it.

We need to ask for help. We need to remove ourselves from this situation in a safe, orderly and appropriate manner, with some assistance from states that still have credibility in Iraq and in the rest of the Middle East. We canít occupy Iraq forever, and we canít expect that a puppet state will survive: the publicly supported resistance is too strong. The problem is that our President is too disconnected from the big-picture reality of what is going on in the mid-east. His government is too hyper-focused on its plan to oust Saddam and to create a ďdemocraticĒ Iraq to realize that there is no fertile ground for our system to take root there. Our system of government is not the one-size-fits-all panacea. The history, culture and tradition of what we now call Iraq is simply not going to turn into a nation created in our image.

May 3, 2004, 6:30 P.M.

The Walkout: In the case of the Texas Democrats who a year ago took up residence out of state to deny the legislature a quorum to enact a Republican-backed gerrymandering scheme, I was supportive of the action and said so. That walkout differs only slightly from the Laconia City Council walkout last week. The major difference is of course the illegal and unethical response of the Texas Republicans in attempting to end the walkout by the Democrats. I donít think Mayor Fraser called in the FAA to track down Councilors Cowan, Krahulec or Bolduc or that he asked the police chief to drag them back to council chambers to establish a quorum.

What did happen is that three councilors walked out because they knew that they had been outmaneuvered in the chambers, and that they were about to be outvoted on a budget issue. Politics were being played on both sides of the table, and one side took their ball and went home in order to avoid being on the losing side of a vote. I have never been impressed that this is a good political strategy in the long term, but it certainly can be effective at putting oneís point across. Generally, politics is, and should be, about a fair and open exchange of ideas, about give and take, and about discussion and discourse aimed at changing the mind of your opponent, or about building consensus for oneís ideas.

There does not seem to be a lot of consensus building or constructive discourse on the current council, except among the obvious factions. With the current makeup of the council, the leads to an unprecedented number of tie-breaking votes cast by the mayor. The mayor is usually pretty clear about how he feels on an issue, so the factions generally know, or ought to know if theyíre paying attention, how things are going to turn out.

What I also donít see among current councilors is a real open discussion of issues at the table, or any evidence that councilors are vetting ideas amongst themselves. As a result, the council appears dysfunctional, and that is not in the cityís best interest.

The recent walkout was prompted by a move to add $150,000.00 into the school districtís budget for planning money. Councilors Cowan and Krahulec originally supported using money left over from the Woodland Heights project to fund a portion of the amount needed to plan for new middle and high school facilities. That support was apparently withdrawn because the councilors felt that they knew where costs could be eliminated from the school budget, which would allow the district to fund the planning in its current budget request. The district disagreed and the councilors withdrew their support. That is certainly their prerogative.

It is, however, the prerogative of other councilors who support the planning money to find a way to get it back into the budget. That move should have not surprised anyone because in politics, as in opera, it ainít over until the fat lady sings. This is especially true when the final budget has yet to be approved.

There is drama yet to come on this stage, and given last yearís reconsideration move, the drama could play out well past the school districtís deadline for pink slipping teachers. While some in our community and on our council donít see this as a concern, it represents a step back in our cityís budget process and in the respect it shows to the people who choose to work here. To not be concerned by this suggests a serious lack of understanding of what it takes to administer the business operations of a $20 million business that is the Laconia School District.

More significantly, the lack of discourse, of dialogue and of discussion between and among members of the council and between the council and the school district is breeding misunderstanding and mistrust and no good will come of it.

In politics and in government, your side or your idea or your position sometimes prevails and sometimes it doesnít. If you donít show up, you canít convince anyone of the strength of your idea or of the merit of your position. If you refuse to debate, you deprive the community of the open, honest, respectful discourse that should be the hallmark of its government. You have to realize that sometimes you win, and sometimes you donít.

By walking out of last weekís council meeting, three individuals made a political statement. I canít condemn the strategy, but I donít agree with the goal. I agreed with the Texas Democrats and, although ultimately they were not successful, they certainly focused attention on their position. So, too, is the case in Laconia, but now itís time to move on, to adopt a budget and to get on with the business of government.

April 26, 2004, 6:45 P.M.

The Devil's In the Details: I have read with interest the recent articles and statements about the school building program. As one of the architects of the current model, I am concerned that the process has gotten off-track.

The Laconia school district facilities plan is rooted in the needs assessment, known as the City Wide Facilities Plan. Based on that plan, the school district developed and implemented a successful model for the renovation and expansion of the cityís elementary schools and the replacement of the middle and high schools. Two former committees made well-researched, practical and cost-effective recommendations to the school board for the replacement of the middle and high school facilities on their current sites. These recommendations were incorporated into the districtís CIP plan that was submitted to the city. Despite discussions in the current committee about alternative locations and schedules, those discussions have not been made, or agreed upon by the entire committee, as suggestions or recommendations to the school board, and the school board has not adopted them. Until such action is taken, the committeeís discussions have little force or effect with regard to the current plan.

That being said, the ideas currently being explored in the facilities committee are good and to the extent that the assumptions underlying the existing plan are being tested, scrutinized, or challenged, the exercise is healthy. As I have often said, if an idea canít stand scrutiny, itís not a good idea. The current district CIP plan is no exception, even though it was thoroughly vetted by two previous committees of equally committed and dedicated individuals, many of whom serve on the current committee as well.

Several apparent suggestions aimed at changing the existing plan give me pause. First, the idea of relocating the high school to another site and ďrenovatingĒ the existing high school into a middle school is misleading. The current high school structure (specifically the sections built in the 1920s and 1930s) does not lend itself to ďrenovationĒ into anything. The problems that make it more cost effective to tear the high school down and rebuild it exist whether it is used as a high school or a middle school. Second, the building of a high school on a separate site sounds, at first blush, like a great idea. The devil lies in the details, however. There are not a lot of sites in Laconia that will work or that can be acquired, and moving the high school and the Huot Tech Center will greatly increase the cost of the project. Moreover, separating our tech school from the rest of the high school should not be considered for educational, community and economic reasons, too lengthy and complex to be discussed here, but weighty enough to favor a single campus. Add to this the cost of site acquisition, water and sewer extension and the loss of additional property on the tax rolls, and the idea looks less appealing, even if a suitable site is found. I remain convinced that the reconstruction of Laconia High School on its current site, with an urban flavor and architecture evocative of the existing building is, and will remain, the most educationally sound and economically viable option. There are already preliminary drawings showing the viability of this option.

A third concern is the suggestion that, if the schools are to be built separately, the high school should be done first. I strongly disagree. The middle school is the least structurally sound and most in need of replacement. The current plan calls for relocating the new building on the existing site and some very interesting preliminary plans have been put forth for how this could be done. Soils issues and structural concerns with the site can and will be addressed with sound engineering. The middle school site is exceptional for its proximity to the park and the lake and the buildingsís design should integrate it into the environment and should allow for the extensive community use envisioned by the earlier committees. The current plan for overlapping construction schedules is sound and should be followed.

My final, and most significant concern is that the effective and efficient planning, development and design model used to bring the elementary schools on line on time and under budget was intended to be employed in the replacement of the middle and high school facilities. The amount needed to accomplish this work in the first phase is not the $360,000 suggested by the council. It is the $750,000 originally requested by the district. A true and accurate cost projection cannot be made until a plan and schematic design are finalized. The true cost of the project cannot be determined until construction drawings are complete, however, the numbers get increasingly refined as the process develops. By not funding the planning and design phases of the project, the city further delays the project, or worse, impairs the ability to accurately project the true cost.

What is most important in this discussion is that the city gets what it needs, gets the most for its money, and that it does so in the most economically responsible manner. Construction costs are rising and will continue to rise at a rate of about 5% per year. Interest rates are going up. On a $40 million project, we will spend about $2 million this year just to wait.

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