Monday, January 4, 1999
HONG Kong's opposition party is experiencing difficulty surviving under Communist rule. Martin Lee, leader of the Democratic Party, denied that the party is breaking up but conceded that there is growing disenchantment among its younger members, who want to take their fight into the streets rather than trying to work through the legislature.
Lee blamed the administration of the Beijing-appointed Tung Chee-hwa and new rules restricting the power of legislators. The Democrats can't win in the legislature, he said, and "Tung's administration doesn't want to deal with us." He said it is possible that some members of the party could form a splinter group, but added he didn't think it would happen.
However, the turnover of Hong Kong to China by Britain hasn't meant a total stifling of dissent. On New Year's Day 300 protesters marched through Hong Kong's streets calling for more democracy in China. The march was part of a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.
Meanwhile on Taiwan the opposition Democratic Progressive Party is also reassessing its position in the wake of its defeat in the December elections. The DPP has advocated independence for Taiwan. But China claims Taiwan and has threatened to invade if Taiwan declares independence.
DPP leaders have come to realize that the party's position has cost them the support of many voters who fear China's response if the DPP comes to power. The ruling Kuomintang Party has refused to endorse formal independence, while governing Taiwan as an independent nation in all but name.
A softening of the DPP position on independence could strengthen its prospects for gaining power and give Taiwan its first experience of a non-Kuomintang government. Hong Kong's Democrats ought to keep up the pressure in the legislature despite the odds against them.
CHIEF Justice William Rehnquist complained last year about two conflicting trends that were causing a serious backlog in federal courts -- Senate inaction in confirming presidential nominations to the bench and widening federal jurisdiction for criminal prosecution. In this year's report, Rehnquist says progress has been made in confirming federal judges but it may take the Supreme Court to halt the disturbing extension of the arm of federal prosecutions.
Congress has been enticed into the realm of criminal legislation by heinous crimes that have outraged voters. In recent years, laws have been enacted to extend federal jurisdiction over drug trafficking and crimes motivated by racial hatred. Rehnquist cited types of arson, car theft and recovery of child support as examples of federal intervention. Another example of such pandering was Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie's proposal to make crimes against tourists federal offenses.
"The pressure in Congress to appear responsive to every highly publicized societal ill or sensational crime needs to be balanced with an inquiry into whether states are doing an adequate job in these particular areas and, ultimately, whether we want most of our legal relationships decided at the national rather than local level," Rehnquist said.
Prosecution of crime traditionally has been local and in most cases should remain so except when interstate activity is involved or when the crimes occur on federal property. Federal jurisdiction is appropriate for most gun-control statutes and, despite Rehnquist's apparent misgivings, child support.
Where such justification is not present, the Supreme Court should consider intervening on behalf of the states, as it did in 1995 in striking down a federal law banning possession of firearms near schools.
The growing list of federal crimes that have long been within the sole purview of states is affecting the federal judiciary's resources and budget. A more serious result is the effect this trend is having on the very nature of the federal system and its diminishment of state law enforcement responsibilities.
HONOLULU on New Year's Eve was enveloped in a haze created by exploding firecrackers that appeared even thicker than in past years. Forty people with asthmatic conditions required treatment in hospital emergency rooms.
The firecrackers took their toll in other ways. Surgeons at Castle Hospital worked to reattach fingers on the hand of a man who was injured playing with explosives. Another man was hit on the head by an aerial firecracker.
Fireworks were blamed for two Oahu building fires, including one that did about $50,000 damage in Kaneohe. It could have been worse, but apparently the rain helped. But we can't always count on rain to avert the problem.
Since the state Legislature took fireworks control out of the hands of the counties, no permits have been required to buy firecrackers and the number set off seems to have grown sharply.
In terms of smoke and noise, Honolulu resembles a battleground on New Year's Eve. Obviously many people enjoy setting off the firecrackers, but many others do not. Evidently the politicians think the votes lie with the pro-fireworks people.
The way to persuade them otherwise is for the people who want fireworks banned to make noise themselves -- not on New Year's Eve but during the legislative session.
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