Editorials
Wednesday, January 20, 1999

A most extraordinary
State of the Union

AS in the story of the emperor who wore no clothes, members of Congress assembled to hear President Clinton deliver the State of the Union address acted as though he had not been impeached by the House of Representatives and was currently on trial in the Senate. The president performed as if he hadn't a care in the world.

It was a remarkable exercise in denial of reality on the part of all concerned -- even the Republicans who delivered their party's response failed to mention impeachment. It was the strangest set of circumstances ever for a State of the Union address. The reality was that this president was fighting for his political life.

It was a bravura performance, and may have bolstered the president's already high ratings in the polls. His proposal to use the budget surplus to protect Social Security was undoubtedly popular. He studiously avoided mentioning the Republican proposal to use part of the surplus for a tax cut -- which surely has appeal. Indeed, the speech was replete with proposals on how to spend the surplus.

His ideas on education -- abolish social promotions, provide for school choice and give teachers better training -- are sound. But using the federal government's clout to achieve them would further extend Washington's involvement in an area that should be left to the states and local communities.

Clinton showed the country that he can still deliver a rousing speech despite his troubles. The question is whether that will make any difference in the struggle now going on in the Congress over his fate.

Tapa

Trustee selection

HAWAII'S Supreme Court justices, under public pressure, made the right decision in December 1997 to end their role of appointing trustees for the Bishop Estate. The new selection process has yet to be decided. A suggestion by a group of Hawaiian organizations that the justices reassume their role would be a huge step backward.

The justices' decision came four months after publication of the "Broken Trust" essay in the Star-Bulletin by five distinguished citizens. Following the decision, the essay's authors recommended that the probate court should order the attorney general -- after having solicited views, especially from the Hawaiian community -- to develop criteria and procedures for the selection. Since then, the issue of whether certain trustees should be removed has taken priority over the selection process.

In a letter to the editor, four leaders of a group of Hawaiian organizations have urged the justices to resume their role of selecting trustees. The leaders provided no justification except the "integrity of the Last Will and Testament of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop," which prescribed that the justices, acting as individuals, appoint the trustees.

Four of the justices -- Justice Robert Klein dissented -- explained in announcing their decision that continuing to appoint the trustees "would promote distrust and cynicism, undermining public trust in the judiciary." Public distrust of the process because it had been abused for political purposes forced that decision and would return in greater intensity if the decision were revoked.

The letter by the leaders of the Hawaiian groups said their mission was to "improve and change the selection process." Unfortunately, they appear to have wasted a full year of work in reaching a consensus endorsing the very trustee selection process that was properly discarded. They should return to the drawing board and suggest an alternative.

Tapa

Northern Marianas

HAVING been stalled in Congress, efforts to improve the working conditions of garmentworkers in the Northern Marianas have turned to the courts. Lawsuits filed in Saipan, Los Angeles and San Francisco seek $1 billion in damages for exploited workers.

The suits have received national publicity because they assert that 18 well-known retailers and clothing companies conspired with factory owners to deprive workers of their rights by forcing them to work in sweatshop conditions.

The problems of the Northern Marianas workers have been a concern of Hawaii's congressional delegation. Daniel Akaka has been a leader of reform efforts in the Senate. In the House, Neil Abercrombie and Patsy Mink are among the co-sponsors of a reform bill.

Both the House and Senate versions would apply U.S. immigration and minimum-wage laws to the islands. They would allow goods manufactured there to use the "Made in the USA" label only if 50 percent of the work was done by U.S. citizens.

The Northern Mariana Islands are a U.S. commonwealth just north of Guam. The commonwealth agreement exempted the islands from U.S. immigration and minimum-wage laws, but the abuses that those exemptions permitted to occur are intolerable and must be corrected. Federal inspectors have described conditions in the garment factories and living quarters comparable to those in Third World countries.

Akaka welcomed the lawsuits but observed that even if the workers prevail in court "charges in federal law will still be needed as a permanent fix for the grave problems." He plans to reintroduce his reform bill, which was passed by the Energy Committee last year after a well-publicized hearing. In the House, a similar measure has never been scheduled for a hearing by the Republican leadership.

This is one of those issues that takes persistence. The lawsuits, by raising consciousness of the problem, could make it more difficult for Congress to continue to ignore the problem.






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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor




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