Sunday, July 15, 2001

Speaker’s slippery
maneuvering scuttles
campaign reform bill

The issue: Obstacles thrown up by the
Republican leadership in the House have
stymied a major attempt to reform
political campaign financing.

SENATE passage of a campaign finance reform bill in April was hailed as a major breakthrough because enactment was presumed in the House, which had easily approved similar legislation twice in recent years. Underhanded tactics now have unexpectedly derailed the bill in the lower chamber, but reform efforts in Congress to bring political contributions under control should not end.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert is given primary blame for the House defeat, for good reason. After promising for months that the bill sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin T. Meehan, D-Mass., would receive a fair and open vote, Hastert presided over adoption of rules that would have assured the proposal's dismantlement and defeat. Supporters of the bill, including Democratic Reps. Patsy Mink and Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, chose to reject the rules. The House voted 228 to 203 against subjecting the bill to what Hastert and his allies had turned into a death chamber.

The Shays-Meehan bill, with a dozen mainly technical changes, would have been identical to the Senate bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell D. Feingold, D-Wis. The bill would have prohibited unlimited contributions by corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals to political parties for expenditure on federal elections. Soft money totaled $500 million in last year's election.

Shays and Meehan had packaged those changes to the bill in recent days to broaden support and bring the bill into conformity with the Senate version. However, opponents of the measure devised ground rules requiring that each of the changes be considered as separate amendments on the House floor. The purpose was to defeat some of those changes, causing the bill to unravel and lose support.

Some support of the legislation had been lost before the Hastert-controlled Rules Committee's adoption of the procedural gantlet. Several black and Hispanic Democrats who had supported the bill in the past developed second thoughts, concerned that the ban on soft money would harm the party's voter-registration drives.

Opponents of campaign-finance reform undoubtedly hope that the complexity of House rules will prevent them from being identified among voters as favoring the status quo. They will say they supported a version offered by Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, but the Ney bill was a sham that would have allowed soft-money donations to continue with little change.

Hastert indicated that campaign-finance reform is unlikely to return to the House floor anytime soon. "Right now," he said, "I have no plan to bring up this bill now." Supporters of reform may need to rally public support to bring an end to the corrupt method of financing political campaigns.

U.S. should make best
of an Olympic mistake

The issue: The International
Olympic Committee has given
the 2008 games to Beijing.

The I.O.C. erred in designating Beijing as the site of the Olympic Games seven years from now, but what's done is done and the United States should make the best of it. That means, however, taking a hard look at some of the wishful thinking that has accompanied the Olympic decision.

One myth is that the prospect of the games will soften Beijing's harsh violation of the human rights of foreign visitors and Chinese citizens. With an American citizen having gone on trial in China yesterday on trumped up charges of espionage, China has continued its shameful treatment of visitors and citizens alike. Don't look for improvements anytime soon.

A second myth is that the Olympics will encourage democracy in China as it did in South Korea when the Olympics were held in Seoul in 1988. That argument is flawed because the move toward democracy in Korea started two decades earlier and the Olympics marked a culmination, not a beginning, of that endeavor. China's more recent move toward democracy, in the Tiananmen demonstrations of 1989, was brutally crushed and has not revived.

A third myth is that China will relent in demanding that Taiwan submit to Beijing's "one-China" policy, which includes threats to use military force against the island over which China claims sovereignty. Given the posture that President Jiang Zemin and senior military leaders have adopted, there will be no backing down. Indeed, they may well see the Olympic decision as international approbation and become all the more demanding.

This raises a question that so far appears to have been unanswered: Will Beijing admit a separate delegation from Taiwan to the Olympics? In the past, a team representing Taiwan has competed on an equal footing with all others. Similarly, will Beijing, which has vowed to isolate Taiwan internationally, admit teams from the 28 nations having diplomatic relations with Taiwan but not with China?

Another question: China is detaining 30 Americans or legal residents of the U.S., mostly of Chinese ancestry, on a variety of faked charges. What guarantees will China give that athletes, foreign visitors, and foreign journalists will not be harassed, beaten, or arrested while in China? Their record has not been encouraging.

Still another question: Will the Chinese be able to organize the games with the logistic skill that the sporting world has come to expect, particularly after the splendid example set most recently by the Australians? Experience with large international meetings, such as the poorly run conference of women from around the world several years ago, is cause for concern.

China, with $132 billion in foreign exchange reserves, can surely afford the $20 billion that preparing for the games is estimated to cost. The prospect for corruption in construction contracts in an economy in which dishonesty is rampant, is staggering. That is not really the concern of other people -- unless construction companies stint on materials to save money and erect shoddy facilities.

An experienced China hand, asked what he thought of the Olympics being held in China, shrugged his shoulders and said: "It can't do any harm."

Maybe so, but then it may not do much good, either.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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