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October 6, 2003, 12:00 P.M.

Recent motorcycle week discussions and parliamentary hearings at the Motorcycle Week Advisory Board seem to be giving rise to some urban legends. I happened upon Jennifer Anderson, the omnipresent Rally and Race Director, on Laconia's community access channel the other night and heard her state that 40% of the toll revenue for the state was generated during motorcycle week. This statement seemed to me to be, well, kind of unbelievable. It took me a few minutes poking around on the internet and a telephone call to confirm my first suspicions: not true.

The figure is closer to 2%, according to Margaret Blacker, Business Administrator for the New Hampshire Bureau of Turnpikes. Ms. Blacker spoke in terms of vehicle traffic, not revenues, but the traffic figures are analogous to the revenue figures for these purposes. The traffic that passes through the eastern and central turnpike systems during Bike Week accounts for only 2% of the annual vehicle traffic through New Hampshire.

Another myth is that Bike Week revenues return hundreds of thousands of Meals and Rooms tax dollars to the city. Again, not true. As Mike Kitch pointed out in his article in the Laconia Daily Sun last Thursday, more than half of the Meals and Rooms taxes collected by the state last year came from Rockingham and Hillsboro counties. During June of last year, Belknap County’s taxable receipts totaled $13.6 million, while Rockingham’s totaled $58.4 million and Hillsboro’s totaled $51.9 million. Kitch also points out that Rooms and Meals tax revenue is distributed by population, not based on the amount contributed.

I also heard that Belknap County residents benefit from lower taxes because of Motorcycle Week. Again, not true. There is simply no connection between Bike Week and the county tax rate. There is no revenue that the county derives that offsets its costs incurred during Bike Week. Those costs include the relocation of prisoners from the Belknap County jail, extra police details and overtime pay, to name a few.

Statements like “Belknap County residents benefit from lower taxes” or “40% of the state’s toll revenue comes from Bike Week” cannot go unchallenged because they stand in the way of an open and constructive dialog about the future of Bike Week. What’s worse, these myths suggest a widespread economic benefit that does not exist. I have said before and I will say again, most city residents and businesses do not benefit from Bike Week in any way other than in the enjoyment of it.

Having said that, I would agree that many of the city’s businesses do benefit from Bike Week. Indeed, some businesses are able to weather the long, lean winters because of Bike Week. There is no reason why these businesses should not enjoy the success that they do, however, I believe that we should focus on developing the city’s economy in a way that allows those businesses to benefit from the region’s attractions for more of the year. One only has to look to Meredith to see that a year round economy is not only possible, but realistic. As long as we keep falling back on myth and legend to attempt to justify our reliance on one week in June to sustain a portion of our economy, we will never move beyond point and counterpoint.

The fact is that Motorcycle Week does cost money, and it does cause inconvenience for much of the city. If we accept Bike Week as a fact of life in Laconia, then every Laconian should be able to point to some tangible benefit that we would not enjoy if were not for this event. If the city collected an entrance fee from every Bike Week visitor and used the money to purchase and renovate the Colonial Theater, for example, or to create a new riverfront park (the list is endless), then Bike Week would have a direct, beneficial effect on every one of us, instead of just a few vendors. The current method of operation is not in everyone’s best interest, it is only in the best interest of a few.

October 5, 2003, 10:00 P.M.

The attack over the past weekend by the Israelis on targets within Syria opens a potentially new and bloody chapter in Arab-Israeli relations. American support for, or a lack of adequate condemnation of these actions points up the dangers of unquestioning American support for Israel.

I can’t see that Israel’s retaliations for suicide bombings and attacks on Israeli soldiers can accomplish much, other than creating more people willing to die for their cause. That cause on the part of Hamas and Islamic Jihad is the elimination of Israel and the replacement of Israel with a Palestinian state. There is no compromise in these organizations and their members are born in an environment of despair and poverty. This environment is a virtual petri dish for the growth of terror. In fairness, these people don’t see it as terrorism, they see it as war, fought with the only effective tools that they have against a well-trained, well-equipped army.

Recognizing that the use of the Israeli army to attack a suspected training camp in Syria is a serious development, it is disappointing that the U.S. appears to not have been consulted before the attack took place. If we were contacted, it is clear that pro-Israeli voices in our government are clearly in control. I can’t see how this move will do anything to aid our efforts in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world. What this move will surely do is add fuel to the raging mid-east fire that is now claiming the lives of American soldiers on a daily basis. What it will not do is stop the attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad against Israel, or the attacks by Ba’ath party loyalists, al Qaeda operatives or other fundamentalists, nationalists or pissed-off Arabs against U.S. troops.

Our current mid-east strategy, coupled with our failure to press for a workable solution to the Palestinian problem is just plain dumb. True, the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not want peace, they want conquest, but the Palestinian people need to be raised up from abject poverty and subrogation and supported. They need to see another way for their lives to improve before they can support peace and stop supporting Hamas.

The Middle East is not a quagmire, it is the quagmire. The elements that make it so are religious, political, economic, and social. The problems are so multi-faceted that there seems to be no two common views that can be reconciled or that could form a vision for a system in which peace can prevail. The imposition of western will, philosophy, doctrine or might has never served the region well, and it will not now.

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