Wednesday, April 28, 1999

Japan strengthens
defense ties with U.S.

Bullet The issue: Proposed guidelines for U.S.-Japan security pact that expand Japanese role
Bullet Our view: Approval of the guidelines is a welcome reaffirmation of the treaty's value.

JAPAN has just reaffirmed its defense alliance with the United States, a gesture that should not go unnoticed in this country, particularly at a time when Sino-American relations are strained. The action came in the form of approval by the lower house of parliament of new guidelines that in effect strengthen the alliance.

The guidelines, the first update of the alliance since 1978, allow Japanese forces to provide more assistance to American troops in Asia and give the United States wider access to air and seaports in Japan.

In the event of a regional crisis, Japan's Self Defense Forces will help with technical support, search and rescue, minesweeping and evacuations. However, the United States will supply the military equipment and forces used in battle. As part of a compromise between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and two minority parties, the guidelines do not include provisions permitting Japanese forces to enforce economic sanctions by inspecting foreign ships. Japan's less powerful upper house of parliament is expected to approve the guidelines in a largely symbolic vote next month.

Approval of the guidelines by the lower house was a victory for Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who leaves tomorrow for the United States.

In a country where pacifist sentiment is strong, any strengthening of the alliance is controversial, and hundreds of protesters marched near the parliament building.

More than half a century after the end of World War II, 47,000 American service personnel are still stationed in Japan, two-thirds of them in Okinawa, under a 1960 security treaty and other agreements. The action in the Diet in effect acknowledges the need for the continued presence of U.S. forces in Japan to ensure the security of the nation and the entire region.


Dark Ages sentencing

Bullet The issue: California's three-strikes law can result in life sentences for multiple offenders.
Bullet Our view: The law can be used to impose overly harsh sentences in cases where the offender is of little danger to society.

JEAN Valjean, the hero in Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. California's three-strikes law is not so lenient. Gregory Taylor, a homeless ex-con who tried to pry open a church's kitchen door to get something to eat, has been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Taylor's case vividly demonstrates how such laws are a return to the Dark Ages.

California law requires a term of 25 years to life for any felony committed by a defendant with two previous serious or violent felony convictions. Taylor, 37, was convicted recently of burglary for using a board to try to open a screen over the kitchen door of St. Joseph's Church in Los Angeles in an early morning of July 1997. Taylor had been given food at the church in the past and had even been allowed to sleep in the church building.

Father Allan McCoy, who would usually accommodate Taylor's requests for food or a ride, asked that the three-strikes law not be applied to Taylor, and several jurors offered to testify for a lighter sentence, but Taylor's appeal of his sentence was denied in a 2-1 vote. Superior Court Judge James Dunn surmised that jurors must have concluded Taylor meant to steal not only food but the church's valuable possessions, such as chalices and alms boxes.

The appellate court's dissent came from Judge Earl Johnson, who compared Taylor's plight with that of Hugo's fictional character. Johnson lamented the fact that "a hungry, homeless man is sent away for 25 years to life for trying to break into a church so he could eat some food he thought the church would be glad for him to have."

California's law amounts to vicious treatment that should be abolished before it is imitated by other states.


Bronster confirmation

Bullet The issue: Attorney General Margery Bronster is facing strong opposition in the Senate to her confirmation to a second term.
Bullet Our view: Rejection of her nomination would be a blow to the state's investigation of the Bishop Estate trustees.

SEN. Colleen Hanabusa says she doesn't know Henry Peters, who used to represent the same area -- Waianae -- in the Legislature that she does and has been a power in Hawaii politics for decades. And she maintains that the historic investigation of Peters and the other Bishop Estate trustees is not the reason she opposes confirmation of Margery Bronster to a second term as attorney general. Both statements strain credulity, but anything is possible, particularly in the Hawaii Legislature.

However, rejection of Bronster's nomination by the Senate would be interpreted as a vote against the Bishop Estate investigation and could impair the state's efforts to hold the trustees accountable. It is no accident that the most vehement testimony against her came from the lead attorney for the trustees.

Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle and Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donohue have endorsed Bronster and said their opinion is shared by law enforcement officials of all counties. Carlisle called her "a remarkable asset to law enforcement."

Also supporting Bronster are the alumni and parents of students at the Kamehameha Schools whose outrage over the mismanagement of the schools by the trustees ignited the movement that led to the state investigation. They know what the real issue is in this fight.

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