Tuesday, March 31, 1998

Bronster as contender
for federal judgeship

HAWAII Attorney General Margery Bronster is emerging as a possible presidential appointee to a spot on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The state's legal and political communities are left to speculate about how and why her name has been put forward. The bewilderment is over a Democratic president apparently deciding on a nominee independently from Hawaii's two senators of the same party. Mark Fox, Senator Inouye's legislative assistant, said Inouye told the FBI, which has begun a background check, that he didn't recommend Bronster and that the White House hadn't followed customary procedures.

In 1979 Senator Inouye and the late Sen. Spark Matsunaga created, in cooperation with the Hawaii State Bar Association, a bipartisan Hawaii Federal Selection Commission. The commission later was disbanded, and the Bar Association's attempts to revive it in the early 1990s were unsuccessful. Inouye might have felt it was no longer needed during a Democratic administration.

However, Inouye's sponsorship of state Supreme Court Justice Robert Klein for a seat on the 9th Circuit has gone unheeded by President Clinton over several years. Fox notes with some chagrin that the White House has "failed to nominate anybody (from Hawaii), much less Justice Klein."

The president instead continued to appoint Californians to fill vacancies on the appellate court, which encompasses Hawaii, California and five other Western states. Inouye was able to tack onto a Justice Department appropriation bill a provision that each state in a circuit be entitled to one spot on the bench. Clinton obviously has decided that Hawaii's spot not be filled by Klein, but the reason is unknown.

Although the FBI has begun a background check on Bronster, the Bar Association has not yet been asked to conduct an evaluation, the normal procedure prior to a nomination. Bronster is a capable lawyer, having served with prestigious law firms in Honolulu and, before that, New York, before signing on with the Cayetano administration. She is currently engaged in supervising the high-visibility investigation of Bishop Estate trustees.

The fact that Hawaii's senators had no part in Bronster's sponsorship amounts to a Clinton administration rebuff for Senators Akaka and Inouye. The reason for the rebuff is difficult to fathom unless it is the product of a novice Justice Department official oblivious to political considerations.


Japanese reforms

THE ailing Japanese economy is about to get a jolt with the introduction of sweeping financial deregulation. The long-range effects should be healthy, by freeing savings for more productive investment. But in the short run there could be a massive exodus of capital with the removal of foreign exchange controls and other restrictions tomorrow. With the economy stagnant, Japanese investors will be able to seek higher returns in the United States and other countries.

The reforms will open financial markets to greater foreign competition and bring new services to savers. Japanese consumers, instead of going to the bank, may soon be able to change their yen into dollars or other foreign currencies at neighborhood convenience stores.

The hope is that the reforms will make better use of the $9.23 trillion that the Japanese keep in very low-interest savings accounts. The annual interest on savings accounts at the average bank now stands at just 0.1 percent.

Other measures scheduled to be phased in by 2001 would further liberalize sales of mutual funds and securities and brokers' commission fees; introduce tougher guidelines to keep banks from amassing too much debt; require disclosure of more corporate information; and abolish barriers between the work of banks, brokerages and insurers.

The speculation in real estate in the 1980s saddled the banking system with billions of dollars in bad loans. With the economy languishing through most of the 1990s, the stock market is worth less than half its peak value in 1989.

Speaking of the reforms, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto declared, "My heartfelt goal is to build a country in which independent individuals can sufficiently exercise their creativity and boldly face challenges to realize their dreams." That would be a far cry from the Japan Inc. system that has built the economy into the world's second largest but is now in serious trouble.


Sex scandal antics

THE investigation of President Clinton's sex life seems to become more bizarre every day.

Independent counsel Kenneth Starr has subpoenaed the records of all books former White House intern Monica Lewinsky has purchased at a Washington bookstore since January, including one about a powerful man having phone sex with a younger woman. What is Starr looking for -- evidence that Lewinsky resorted to a how-to-do-it manual? This appears to be a totally needless invasion of privacy.

Meanwhile the president's lawyer says he didn't know about letters Kathleen Willey wrote to Clinton after an alleged sexual encounter until the White House made them public two weeks ago -- after Willey repeated her accusations on network television. On Saturday, lawyers for Paula Jones filed court papers accusing Clinton of obstructing justice by withholding the letters and messages. On Dec. 15 they had asked that Clinton turn over all correspondence with Willey and were told that no such documents or letters existed.

The White House claims that Jones' lawyers sought the documents from the wrong source, that they are official documents, not Clinton's personal papers. Sure they are. The White House always seems to have trouble finding documents that are requested until they serve the president's purpose.

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