The heavy shooting is over in Iraq. The Yankees are in first place and the Celtics are in the playoffs. The parka is in the closet and spring has sprung. Will the progress continue? Let’s gaze into the future.

The economy will finally start to slowly bounce back this summer. Ignore all of the economists who tell us that the recession ended a year ago. America’s economic measures, including unemployment and gross domestic product, are too crude to tell us how things really stand. Unemployment misses millions of people who have taken themselves out of the job market or are significantly underemployed. GDP was a pretty good measure when the economy was based on manufacturing, but our services economy does not lend itself to the same type of measurement. We have been in a solid recession for two years.

The economy has lost 2 million jobs since Bush took office. In that same period, stocks have lost a higher percentage of their value than they did under Herbert Hoover! But America’s economy always booms following military success. The layoffs will slow, inflation will remain low, and corporate earning will climb slowly led by the healthcare sector. Demographics are destiny and we aging baby boomers want to live forever and feel good doing it. We’ll spend whatever it takes – or whatever we’ve got – to achieve this and healthcare businesses will prosper.

Al Qaeda attacked America at least twice before 9/11. There was the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa and 17 sailors died on October 12, 2000 when a hole was blasted into the side of the USS Cole in a Yemeni harbor. The operatives who performed this last act recently escaped from a “tightly guarded” prison in Yemen. So much for not be distracted by Iraq in the fight against terrorists.

Whether our antagonists are called Al Qaeda or Hamas or Hezbollah, the religious war being waged against America will continue. Because Saddam was not an Islamic fundamentalist or a significant supporter of them, America’s crushing of his regime will only result in providing an additional justification for jihad against us. It’s the Syrian and Iranian governments that are active backers of our enemies, and Saudi money is probably the most important terrorist resource.

Yet it isn’t governments that are the problem. We can blast any of them to smithereens. The fact is there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people who, given a little training, some munitions, and transportation to their target, are willing to die blowing up Americans. There is no model in the history of warfare that provides a defense. The challenge of the 21st century is to stem the flow of these recruits. No one appears to have a clue as to how to do this. The war on terrorism may well last as long as the Cold War.

Governor Craig Benson will continue to struggle until he begins to listen. Some of you may respond to this statement by saying that he couldn’t do any worse. Even he recognizes he is off to a slow start. He told the Union Leader, “You have to learn when to push and when not to push.” We can assume that he has learned that trying to push a guy with record of anti-gay pronouncements onto the Human Rights Commission isn’t a good idea. He clearly has learned that the New Hampshire state budget is a pretty tight piece of work. Why do folks running for state office keep declaring how they will bring amazing new efficiencies to government that will save millions?

As a taxpayer, we should appreciate the governor paying for staff members out of his own pocket or with campaign funds. It does seem strange having a former Cabletron person, Angela Blaisdell, in the crucial position of homeland security liaison “off the books”. It seems Benson is covering her salary because she wouldn’t meet the education or experience requirements as a state employee. Worse, he has his own personal Karl Rove, a political operative named Rob Varsalone paid by his campaign fund but working right in governor’s office. Varsalone provides the fanciful explanation that “I don’t do anything political out of the governor’s office.” And Al Gore didn’t know those envelopes from the Buddhist monks contained cash.

Benson has begun fudging his no tax pledge. The telecommunications tax was to sunset down to 4.5% from 7%. This is a lousy tax that raises the cost of doing business in New Hampshire rather than hitting corporate profits, but the governor needs the money for his budget, so he is supporting an increase back to 7%. If he listens to the folks around him, he will raise the cigarette tax enough to cover crucial health services and keep in-state college tuitions from exploding (again). The cig tax would still be the lowest in New England.

All in all, it will be a good summer. I promise it will rain only at night, that traffic on Route 16 in Conway will flow freely, and that Democratic presidential hopefuls will keep New Hampshire tourism dollars flowing.

George Epstein is chairman of The Echo Group, a software firm headquartered in Conway. He lives in Madison, where he serves as town and school moderator. He can be reached at

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