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April 27, 2003, 6:05 P.M.

No Child Left Behind is a legislative incomplete thought. Despite this fact, the Bush administration and the Reverend Paige have not backed off. In fact, the president told a gathering of governors at a recent meeting that Washington would not be able to give the states any money for education reforms or homeland security, among other things. The main reason seems to be so that we will have the money to rebuild the education, security and physical infrastructure of Iraq.

The president's pronouncements are causing some states, such as New Jersey, North Dakota, Washington and Tennessee to pass resolutions urging congress and the president to fully fund federal mandates, including NCLB. Other states, including Hawaii and Utah, are considering ignoring the bill and forfeiting federal education funds. In New Hampshire, the home state of NCLB advocate Judd Gregg, the legislature is eyeing a bill forbidding the state from spending money not provided by the Feds, on NCLB implementation. NCLB has all the earmarks of a train wreck and local towns and school districts will suffer the damage.

April 27, 2003, 6:00 P.M.

Governor Benson seems bored to me. He has certainly not brought any enthusiasm to the corner office and he does not seem proactive in his approach to the legislature. The governor's first 100 days have certainly not brought us any closer to a resolution of our school-funding crisis. In fact, Benson has been absent on this topic and the result is that several conflicting and mostly unconstitutional plans are being ushered through the house and the senate. The problem with a no-tax policy like Benson's is that it ignores the fact that there are certain basic governmental functions that must be performed and that those functions require a base level of funding. Without those essential services, like indigent defense, police, courts, and education to name a few, the fabric of society begins to unwind. It goes back to the discussion about pie. The American dream is that we are all entitled to a slice of the pie, and that the slice for our children should be just a little bigger than ours was. If some people feel that they have no connection to their government and that it has failed to assist them in meeting their basic needs, they will go elsewhere to get their basic needs met. Elsewhere, according to Benson and his less-government-advocating cronies, should be the private sector where, if there is less government, jobs aplenty will be found.

The problem here is that this just ain’t reality. There is no one in the business of providing those essential government functions at a profit. There is simply no profit to be made in those services. That is why, as a society, we band together and provide those services through government. That, along with the ability to make a tool from a stick, is what separates us from lower life forms. If people cannot have their needs met through government or the private sector, they will take matters into their own hands. That does not mean that they are going to start their own business -- it means that if they can’t get their pie in any other way, they are going to take it.

Despite his apparent boredom, the Gov. seems content to occasionally descend from his perch to proclaim his vision for running government like a business, and then retreat for a long Hummer drive while the rest of us are left to figure out just what the hell that means. Running government like a business is not a bad idea as long as you remember that the business that you are running is not now and was not ever intended to make a profit. It is intended to provide services to the greatest number of citizens with a minimum, and fairly distributed, burden on all citizens. It should also not be forgotten that one of the principal benefits of government is the jobs it provides. Having fewer police on the street will not help when the guys in the paragraph above decide that they can’t wait any longer for their slice of pie.

The Governor looked at the government as just another business when he decided to run for his office. This is apparent from his arrogant refusal to consider that, after the budget is cut to the bone, there might just be some basic needs of the citizens that are not being met, and that government still must provide. The truth is that, if government is a business, it is a service business. Without people, government does not function. It is dependent on its people to provide the services mandated by the society it serves.

There are people waiting months to get court orders upon which their lives, their remarriage, the operation of their businesses and many other issues depend. They are waiting because our court system is grossly underfunded, and people cannot be hired to fill available court positions because there is no money to pay them. There are indigent criminals who are guaranteed legal representation who may not be able to get it because of the Governor's budget cuts. But Benson steadfastly maintains that he will not entertain any talk of taxes (although in an apparent retreat, he now seems to think that gambling might help). None of this points to a solution to the education funding crisis. This issue will almost certainly end up back in the lap of our underfunded court system.

April 20, 2003, 10:00 P.M.

There is much talk about what a post-war Iraqi government will look like, and not all of it is coming from the US. There seems to be a strong message from the major Islamic religious parties in Iraq that they will play a defining role in the future of their country. The free and democratic elections that the US and Britain want may well produce the sort of fundamentalist theocracy that we clearly don’t want.

Speaking on ABC news this morning, Ahmad Chalabi said that “there is a role for the Islamic religious parties, including the Shi’a religious parties,” in the new Iraqi government “because they have some constituencies. But they are not going to be forcing any agenda or any theocracy on the Iraqi people.” The obvious question is: says who? Chalabi may be popular with the US because he speaks English well and talks of democracy like the Bush administration does, but Chalabi and other returning exiled leaders don’t seem to hold much sway within the country. The religious leaders who have held their constituencies together throughout the reign of Saddam, on the other hand, wield a lot of power. They chose to flex some of that muscle with a joint prayer service between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, the likes of which has not been seen in recent memory, and followed that up with a good old Yankee-go-home march through the streets of Baghdad.

Central to the message of this peaceful demonstration was a call for unity among the nations Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish populations. Barry James of the International Herald Tribune reported that “Amid cheers at the Abu Haneefa Al Nu’man mosque in Baghdad a leading cleric warned Americans on Friday to get out of Iraq before they are forced out. Thousands of people took to the streets crying ‘No to America, no to Saddam!’” Another cleric apparently warned that “long queues of holy warriors were lining up to fight the Americans.”

Ahmad Chalabi is the head of the Iraqi National Congress, a group of Iraqi exiles which have enjoyed US support in their mostly ineffectual resistance to the regime of Saddam Hussein. This group, and Chalabi in particular, now enjoy the Pentagon’s backing in their efforts to develop an Iraqi constitution and to hold democratic elections. The problem is that they have no voice within Iraq, and their ties to the US will hamper any efforts on their part to play a role in post-war Iraq. The INC long functioned as a US-backed-sort-of-umbrella-organization purporting to represent the numerous Iraqi opposition groups operating outside of the country. This loose confederation has deteriorated because many of the constituent groups have begun to meet separately, mainly to undermine Chalabi. What’s more, Chalabi went on record as saying that the United Nations should play only a limited role in the reconstruction of Iraq because it had been “less than helpful and dealt with Iraq under Saddam Hussein like it was a normal state.” Other exiled leaders are certain to be more pragmatic on the issue of UN involvement. It is important to note also that if Chalabi cannot hold together a coalition of opposition groups outside the country, he certainly cannot command the attention of the dissonant voices within the country.

If there is any hope for avoiding another dictatorship or fundamentalist theocracy in Iraq, it will only be realized through a true multinational effort. The US simply has too much baggage in the region to go it alone in directing the course for the future of Iraq. We also have a lousy track record and aligning ourselves with someone like Chalabi, who has no support from, and in fact is disregarded by, factions within Iraq does not bode well for us.

There is no history or political precedent for the establishment of a democracy in Iraq. There is no older society on earth, and yet there is no historical or cultural trend that could suggest that democratic institutions could survive in a society that has its legal, economic, and social foundations in the teachings Islam. In fact, the teachings of Islam may be counter-intuitive to the establishment of a western style democracy. Any such form of government would have to be artificially imposed on the people of Iraq and for that reason it will fail. Clearly our recent efforts and our interests in the region will not allow us to simply walk away without having a say in what happens in Iraq. However, there is a real danger that, having won the war, we could lose the peace. In asking for free and open elections we will be asking for the creation of a government that reflects the will of the people of Iraq. This is where our arrogant foreign policy may be our undoing. After all, what will we do if, after there are free and open democratic elections, a theocracy is established and we are told to pack up, go home and stay out of Iraqi affairs? Be careful what you wish for -- you just might get it.


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