Tuesday, November 18, 1997

State's rejection
of tree farm on Big Island

THE rejection by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources of the proposed lease of 4,400 acres on the Big Island for a eucalyptus farm could be a costly decision unless viable alternative uses of the land are found.
Oji Paper Co. of Japan had planned a 25,000-acre plantation using the state land, a similar amount of county land and the balance in private lands. A company representative said the unanimous vote by the board killed the project. The loss involves a $40 million investment and the creation of an estimated 300 jobs for the pulp paper project and related businesses.

On the Hamakua coast, the economy has been devastated by the closure of sugar plantations, which left thousands of acres uncultivated. The eucalyptus proposal offered employment. But environmentalists opposed the project and many residents spoke in favor of reserving the land for small-scale farming. The land is said to be suitable for coffee and macadamia nuts.

The Hamakua and North Hilo communities appeared to be generally opposed to the project, and that sealed its fate. But the question of earning a living remains. It is hard to believe that other economically viable uses for the land can be readily found when so much land is now going unused.

It is easy to take a negative position on a project that would mean change. It is not so easy to find alternatives that can succeed. The opponents of this project had better come up with realistic alternatives. Otherwise they will bear the responsibility for hundreds of jobs that these communities can ill afford to lose.

Chinese dissident

IN releasing a prominent dissident and flying him out of the country, the Chinese Communists have offered only a crumb to the critics of the Beijing regime's oppressive policies. Certainly the freeing of Wei Jingsheng is welcome. But it is no cause for celebration or for indulging in the fantasy that China is mending its ways.
No doubt it is the hope of President Jiang Zemin and his cohorts that they can again delude the democratic world. After all, the West has been gullible about Chinese communism in the past. The atrocities of Mao Tse-tung were barely noticed until the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. It took the massacre at Tiananmen Square eight years ago to show the post-Mao regime's true face to horrified millions.

Wei, 47, is a hero of the democratic movement who has been cruelly repressed. He emerged from obscurity in 1979 as a leader of the so-called Democracy Wall movement, when intellectuals posted anti-government essays on a Beijing wall at a busy sidewalk near the leaders' compound. A week after attacking Deng Xiaoping by name, Wei was arrested. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Wei was released in September 1993, when Beijing was bidding to become the host to the 2000 Olympic Games. He immediately resumed granting interviews to foreign journalists and speaking out openly for reform. He was again arrested in 1994 after meeting with John Shattuck, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights. Held for 18 months without a trial, he was sentenced in December 1995 to another 14 years in prison.

Wei was released for a second time 11 days after Jiang returned from his recent visit to the United States. The action may have been delayed to avoid the appearance that China was giving in to pressure from its American critics. The pretext was that Wei needed medical treatment.

The release is being depicted as evidence that the Clinton policy of "constructive engagement" can pay off. That seems fatuous. China has given no indication that it will ease its repression of dissent. If Jiang can make the West grateful for Wei's release, it will only show how easy it is to appease Beijing's critics.

Teamsters corruption

PROMISES of reforming the Teamsters union, steeped incorruption for much of its history, have evaporated amid findings that its president and chief reformer was involved in an illegal scheme to funnel union funds into his re-election campaign. As a result, Ron Carey has been disqualified from the election. Other elements of organized labor are sullied, as well as the Democratic Party. Under the banner of reform, this appears to be the Teamsters of old.
Former federal judge Kenneth Conboy, special adjudicator under the Teamsters' federal cleanup, found that Carey "tolerated and engaged in extensive rules violations" and authorized spending $735,000 in union money "to help his flagging campaign" for re-election. He defeated James P. Hoffa, the son of former Teamsters President James R. Hoffa, last December by less than 4 percent in a mail-in ballot.

Implicated by Conboy in the illegal fund-raising were the AFL-CIO; Andy Stern, AFL President John Sweeney's successor as president of the Service Employees International Union; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and a New York labor lawyer. All but Stern apparently followed through on their commitments to raise cash for Carey.

Conboy's disqualification of Carey may not be the last word on this affair. A federal grand jury has been looking into the corruption, and criminal charges could ensue. The probe could involve money moving back and forth between the Teamsters and Democrats. In a memo that surfaced in July, the Democratic Party's finance chairman asked that $1 million in Teamsters donations be donated to state and local party affiliates.

Since taking office in 1992, Carey had sold off all the jets used to ferry Teamsters leaders around the country, placed 75 locals accused of corruption under trusteeship and led 180,000 United Parcel Service employees through a successful 15-day strike. Those signs of progress now are shrouded in corruption.

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