Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Proposal restricts
political expression

The issue: A Republican state representative
has criticized Hawaii's two members of the
U.S. House for voting against a constitutional
amendment that would allow prohibition
of desecrating the American flag.

FOR the fourth time in the past six years, Hawaii's Reps. Patsy Mink and Neil Abercrombie have been provided an opportunity to support American freedoms in defiance of a dangerous assault in the guise of patriotism. The two Democrats voted last week against changing the Constitution to allow prohibition of flag-burning and other desecration of the American flag. We commend them for casting their votes to maintain freedom of expression protected by the First Amendment.

Mink and Abercrombie were criticized by state Rep. Bob McDermott, an Aliamanu Republican who has hopes of unseating Mink in next year's election. The disgust expressed by McDermott was misdirected at the votes cast against the amendment instead of against the act of flag-burning. Of greater concern is that Congress would even consider a proposal to amend the Constitution for the first time in history to prohibit a form of criticism of government.

Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut called the proposal an "overreaction to a nonexistent problem." Amending the Constitution is too serious a matter, he said, to let "a few obnoxious attention seekers push us into a constitutional amendment, especially since no one is burning the flag now."

Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-Va., admitted he was "moved by my heart more than my head" when he co-sponsored the flag-burning amendment shortly after being elected to the House several years ago. "History informs us," he added, "that the strength of America is derived from its basic ideals, one of the most important of which is tolerance for the full expression of ideas, even the most obnoxious ones." Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts put it more succinctly: "It's the mark of a free society that despicable people may act in a despicable way."

McDermott's criticism of Hawaii's two representatives is despicable because it takes the form of attacking the Bill of Rights at its heart. Assailing one of the most cherished, substantive features of American liberty in order to protect a purely symbolic object reveals a troubling lack of understanding of this country.

The House, pandering to people's emotions to which Moran referred, voted 298 to 125 in favor of scorching the First Amendment. Fortunately, it was the first time that fewer than 300 House votes were cast in favor of restricting political expression. Better news is that the Senate, which takes constitutional matters more seriously, can be relied upon, as it has in the past, to keep the First Amendment intact, with no burn marks.

U.S. gets left behind
on global warming

The issue: Bush's rejection of the
Kyoto accord leaves America isolated
from a breakthrough agreement
on curbing greenhouse gases.

An agreement that paves the way for a worldwide effort to reduce emissions of harmful gases linked to global warming may be imperfect, but it is the first important step toward that goal. The lack of involvement by the United States isolates the nation from its responsibilities and diminishes its leadership role on the international scene.

President Bush earlier this year rejected the Kyoto accord as an unsound policy that would hurt U.S. economic interests. He has yet to come up with an alternative to cut the amount of pollutants. With the United States accountable for producing 25 percent of the world's greenhouses gases, it's time he gets with the program.

The agreement reach in Bonn yesterday by 178 countries places specific language into the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty on global warming that was negotiated in Japan in 1997 and signed by nearly 100 countries, including the United States. The plan set rules for emission credits and enforcement mechanisms, and funding of $410 million from the European Union to developing nations to improve emission controls. Formal adoption of the rules will come in October with ratification to follow.

Although some envoys in Bonn were disappointed that more stringent enforcement rules did not materialized, the overwhelming sentiment was that it was a historic agreement.

Many were critical of the United States for leaving a leadership vacuum and praised the European Union for stepping in. "If the United States will not lead, Europe can and will," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, a lobbying group based in Washington.

Others pointed to a more crucial vacancy. Robert Watson, a United Nations climate scientist, contends that although the United States has removed itself from the treaty, it is still obligated to reduce its emissions. Not doing so may negate the worldwide effort.

As president, Bush's priority should be his own country and the well-being of American business interests, but being a world leader also requires a wider view. The issue the treaty addresses is a difficult one that will involve fundamental changes in energy and environmental policy. As long as the United States hopes to be influential on the global scene, so it must be a participant in solving its problems.

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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