Friday, December 14, 2001

Gambling tempting
but treacherous

The issue: Lobbyists for gambling
and their Senate ally wager that with
its economy ailing, Hawaii will succumb
to the lure of easy money.

The gaming lobby and its favorite son, Senate President Robert Bunda, are blatantly exploiting the state's ailing economy to prod the state Legislature toward legalizing gambling in Hawaii. Judging from the lukewarm response to their proposal, however, it appears that lawmakers will reject the proposal as they have sensibly done before.

The gambling industry launched its annual offensive on the Legislature earlier this year, this time betting that Hawaii's fiscal problems -- made all the more vulnerable by the drop in tourism since Sept. 11 -- will make gambling more palatable.

Although lobbyists for the industry are only doing what they are paid to do, Bunda is remiss in his duties. As a political leader, Bunda would do better to seek out less detrimental ways to diversify Hawaii's economic base.

Bunda's push comes at a crucial time for the state. Dependent primarily on tourism, Hawaii may think that adding casinos may bolster tourist numbers somewhat. As tempting as that appears, the crime and social problems gambling will bring aren't worth the dollars it may garner.

Gambling may even end up hurting Hawaii by tarnishing its image as a wholesome destination for families. Bunda argues that limiting gambling to casinos and resorts won't affect the state's allure. "If I don't see slot machines in stores and I don't see lottery tickets and gambling is confined to a specific area, I support it," he says. The senator's out-of-sight, out-of-mind notion makes no sense. Just because you can't see the trappings of gambling doesn't mean that its ills would disappear.

Jim Boersema, a lobbyist with ties to Sun International, which operates resorts and casinos, contends that gambling won't change the quality of life here. He is wrong. Other states where gambling is allowed have learned the hard way as crime has increased. If the assaults, murders and thefts associated with gambling on the illegal cockfights here are any indication of things to come, Hawaii should step away from temptation.

Another lobbyist, John Radcliffe, says that no other industry besides gambling will provide the money to "improve our public schools or our university fast enough." However, whatever tax revenues the state may gain from gambling would be offset by government costs for more jails, more law enforcement officers and more social programs.

Lean times mean hard decisions for state leaders and revitalizing the economy won't be easy. Legalizing gambling may look like a quick answer to our financial troubles, but it isn't a good one -- not by a long shot.

Federal court is just
for trying attackers

The issue: The Bush administration
has chosen to try an alleged terrorist
in a civilian court.

REGARDLESS of the motives for indicting alleged al-Qaida terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui in federal court instead of by military tribunal, the decision is encouraging. Military tribunals authorized by the Bush administration because of wartime constraints should be used sparingly and only in cases where rules governing civilian courts would cause intelligence concerns.

In the case of Moussaoui, Attorney General John Ashcroft -- and ultimately President Bush -- apparently decided justice can be achieved through the U.S. court system. Otherwise the Department of Defense would have been contacted to set up a tribunal to try the French citizen of Moroccan descent.

Some members of Congress seem baffled that the decision was made without consulting the Pentagon. Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., suggested the it may have resulted from "frictions" between the Defense and Justice departments. More likely, Ashcroft was reluctant to relinquish the limelight of such a high-profile case. Either way, the result is good and may contribute to avoiding a legal debacle.

Military tribunals are troublesome because they can be held in secret, only two-thirds of a panel can arrive at a verdict and impose the death penalty and no appeal can be made. Those aspects understandably cause consternation among civil libertarians.

Thousands of followers of Osama bin Laden or the Taliban have been captured and are being held in Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says the United States "would like to have control over" senior leaders of al-Qaida and the Taliban. That should include all terrorists who can be linked to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Bringing Afghan foot soldiers to justice should await establishment of an Afghan government and legal system.

Military tribunals are to be used in instances where divulging evidence could jeopardize intelligence. For example, the government is unwilling now to provide specific information about the origin of the bin Laden videotape released yesterday or how it came into U.S. hands. Federal prosecutors are not likely to be allowed to present the bin Laden videotape as evidence in the Moussaoui trial without providing that information to the defense.

The decision to try Moussaoui in civilian court means either that Ashcroft is confident that the videotape is not needed as trial evidence or that prosecutors will be willing to provide the particulars. For now, that is a relief.

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

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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