Monday, January 12, 1998
THE stability of the Indonesia government has come into question as a result of the collapse of the economy. President Suharto, who has ruled for more than 30 years, is for the first time hearing public calls for him to step down.
U.S. should try to help in Indonesian crisis
In the past such criticism of the regime by prominent figures wouldn't have been tolerated. But the situation is changing rapidly as a result of the economic turmoil and the position of the 76-year-old president is suddenly vulnerable. Questions about his health - there are rumors that he suffered a mild stroke - add to the uncertainty.
It is widely acknowledged that Indonesia has one of the most corrupt governments in the world, with the president's family brazenly using their influence to acquire business interests and enrich themselves. Despite the corruption, economic growth has been spectacular and millions of people have been lifted out of poverty.
But Indonesia has been caught up in the turmoil sweeping through East Asian economies. Unemployment is growing in the cities and in the countryside the people are experiencing the most severe drought in decades.
Conditions became dramatically worse last week when Suharto unveiled the budget for the next fiscal year. Market analysts said the budget lacked concrete proposals to follow through on the reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund in October in exchange for a $43 billion rescue package. Also the budget did not address a key issue - whether Suharto's family would include itself in the reform process. The result was to further damage confidence in the government's management of the economy. The rupiah has lost 70 percent of its value since July.
Suharto has now pledged to implement the reforms demanded by the IMF. President Clinton urged him to act to stabilize the economy. A senior U.S. delegation is visiting Indonesia and the IMF's two top officials are in Jakarta.
Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world and the largest in Southeast Asia. If Suharto steps down, it may be difficult to achieve a smooth transfer of power after years of authoritarian control.
Clinton seems to be taking the right approach by prodding Suharto to implement the reforms needed to restore confidence. The United States and other major nations of the world financial community should try to keep the situation from getting out of hand by providing an economic cushion. But the crucial decisions must come from Suharto himself.
CHILD care is a "motherhood" issue if there ever was one. Working mothers - that is, mothers working outside the home - need it, and many have a hard time paying for it. Enter the government. President Clinton has proposed a package of grants and tax breaks to help make child care affordable for working families.
Included in the package are a $7.5 billion increase over five years in the state block grant program offering subsidies for child care, making 2 million children eligible and expanding the program beyond welfare recipients to include lower-income families; and $5 billion over five years to expand income-tax credits parents can take for child-care expenses.
But not all mothers choose to take jobs outside the home. Some take the more traditional course of staying home to raise their children. Providing a subsidy for child care in effect discriminates against stay-at-home mothers - and those whose relatives or friends watch their children without renumeration. This may not be intentional, but the message it conveys is that society prefers that mothers take jobs and put their children in child care.
In the case of women on welfare, the subsidy is justified by the need to encourage welfare recipients to find jobs and get off welfare. But extending the subsidy beyond that category can be challenged.
For low-income families, an across-the-board tax reduction or tax credit for families with pre-school-age children seems preferable. That would leave the decision on how to spend the money - whether for child care or some other purpose - to the recipients. Stay-at-home mothers, who are no less deserving than working mothers, would benefit equally.
The difference is between the big-government approach, which tries to influence behavior, and the libertarian one, which prefers to let people make decisions for themselves.
PARIS has its Eiffel Tower, London its Big Ben. Copenhagen has the Little Mermaid, a diminutive statue sitting on rocks on the harbor. Inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen story and erected in 1913, the figure has become a national symbol. About a million people a year come to view it.
The Little Mermaid
This apparently displeased some misanthrope, who sawed off her head. Three days later, the severed head was dropped off at a television station by the same free-lance photographer who said he discovered the decapitation after receiving a call to go down to a harborside park to see what had happened to the statue.
The statue was mutilated in the same way once before, in 1964. The original head was never found and was replaced with another modeled after the original.
Hawaii's counterpart to the Little Mermaid would be the Kamehameha statue across King Street from Iolani Palace. It has never been mutilated, but the palm trees that formerly encircled it were removed back in the 1960s by a state crew that was fooled by a prankster.
The palms were never replaced, but the Little Mermaid's head certainly will be. Such symbols are too precious to lose.
Rupert E. Phillips, CEO
John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher
David Shapiro, Managing Editor
Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor
Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors
A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor