Tuesday, December 22, 1998

Legislators should
focus on economy

LEADERS of the upcoming Legislature agree that the session's top priority will be to deal with Hawaii's economic problems. Although some indications point to an improvement in the economy, a prolonged recession in Japan could create continued difficulty for the state's tourism industry, which in turn would eliminate the possibility for full recovery any time soon.

Governor Cayetano pointed out last week that state tax collections for the first five months of the fiscal year were up nearly 5 percent over last year. However, the Council on Revenues predicts an increase far less than that for the full year.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts more gloom through next year. In its year-end World Economic Outlook, the IMF predicts that Japan's gross domestic product, which sank 2.8 percent this year, will shrink an additional 0.5 percent over the next year. "Recent data point to a continued deepening of the recession," it said. And the IMF has a history of underestimating the severity of the global financial crisis.

The bleak forecast should cause Hawaii legislators to focus on measures aimed at keeping Hawaii afloat. "If you can't kick-start the economy, if you can't get business to prosper, you are not going to get the revenues you need to run state government, and that's the bottom line," says House Speaker-elect Calvin Say. Senate President Norman Mizuguchi agrees, adding the possibility that legislators may have little or no time to address other social issues.

The Legislature should concentrate on the state's economy, but not necessarily to the exclusion of everything else. Voters' approval of a constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to ban same-sex marriage should prompt legislation aimed at protecting the rights of unmarried domestic partners. A blue-ribbon panel's recommendation for a new law allowing and regulating physician-assisted suicide also deserves consideration. Other worthwhile legislation is likely to emerge.

Say and Mizuguchi are right to keep their colleagues' efforts trained on enlivening Hawaii's economy in the face of continued recession in Japan. That doesn't mean legislators should wear blinders that prevent consideration of all other measures.


U.S.-Russian relations

ONE consequence of the U.S. and British bombing campaign on Iraq was further deterioration of Russia's relations with the West. After several years of what seemed to be growing into a partnership with its former adversaries, Russia has ousted economic reformists from the Kremlin and seems to have shifted to a nationalistic foreign policy. The euphoria following the collapse of communism has subsided and the future is unclear.

Russia has been in economic crisis since August, when the ruble was allowed to tumble in value and prices skyrocketed. Many Russians have become disillusioned with market reforms that seem to reward criminality and create oligarchs whose riches fail to trickle down to the masses. President Boris Yeltsin responded to the economic crisis by sacking the reformists and putting former Soviet managers in charge.

When U.S. and British planes began dropping bombs in response to Iraq's refusal to allow weapons inspections, Yeltsin withdrew his ambassadors to Washington and London in protest. Russia, which has cultivated friendships with anti-U.S. Islamic regimes since its Soviet days, has irritated the U.S. by its continued flow of nuclear technology to Iran.

U.S.-Russian tensions also can be seen elsewhere, including disputes over distribution of U.S. food aid and tolerance of anti-Semitism in debates before the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, where the Communists have a plurality. There are signs that the Duma will refuse to ratify the START II treaty, which would cut U.S. and Russian strategic arms stockpiles by more than half.

Hovering over all this is Russia's need for continued economic assistance from the West and a consensus that it should continue down the bumpy road to a market economy. Neither Russia nor the United States wants a return of the Cold War.


Freedom of speech

Apornographer offering a million dollars for sexual dirt on politicians and wealthy businessmen pouring riches into the white supremacist movement test the limits of the First Amendment. However, tailoring free speech to harness Larry Flynt or two millionaires calling themselves The 11th Hour Remnant Messenger would be a blow to freedoms cherished by all Americans.

Hustler publisher Flynt's million-dollar offer resulted in the uncovering of Rep. Bob Livingston's extramarital affairs and his decision to turn down the House speakership and resign from Congress. Although Flynt can be likened to yellow journals such as the National Enquirer and the Internet's Matt Drudge, the mainstream press has indulged in exposing politicians' sexual escapades, including Rep. Wayne Hays (Washington Post), Gary Hart (Miami Herald), Rep. Dan Burton (Indianapolis Star and News) and Rep. Helen Chenoweth (Idaho Statesman).

Concerns about racist and anti-Semitic poster mailings financed by California computer millionaires Vincent Bertollini and Carl Story have as much to do with the huge expense of the posters as the message. The white supremacist movement always has been strapped for cash. The injection of money by the two men, who now live in Idaho, which has been hospitable to supremacist groups, is unprecedented.

Fortunately, extremist ideas, however well-financed, have failed in America's marketplace of ideas. Americans also have been circumspect in judging politicians' private lives. The First Amendment will survive these latest scorching rounds.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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