Wednesday, March 10, 1999

China’s theft of U.S.
nuclear arms secrets

CHINA denied a report that it stole nuclear weapons secrets from the United States, but one day later the Clinton administration, under fire for minimizing the issue for policy reasons, made clear its views by firing a scientist suspected of giving those secrets to Beijing.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson dismissed the weapons designer, a Chinese American identified as Wen Ho Lee, for failing an FBI polygraph test and refusing to cooperate with an FBI investigation of the nuclear secrets theft.

Republicans in Congress charged that the administration had been slow to investigate and act on allegations of nuclear espionage. However, it did not appear that the charges had a partisan origin. The initial report, by the New York Times, attributed the complaints of administration foot-dragging to unidentified American officials, not politicians.

Meanwhile the Chinese Communist regime has been firing propaganda barrages to intimidate the United States into backing away from a proposal to include Taiwan in a missile defense program -- a defense that would obviously be intended as protection from Chinese missile attack. The theft of U.S. nuclear secrets would seem to underline the importance of pursing the missile defense program -- and including Taiwan under its shield if the system is ever deployed.

The firing of the nuclear scientist was preceded by the administration's cancelation of the $450 million sale of a communications satellite to China on grounds that it could have military applications and would not be in the national interest -- another stunning blow to Sino-American relations.

The nuclear theft disclosure also came on the heels of a State Department report blasting China for worsening human rights violations, and a 99-0 vote in the Senate urging the Clinton administration to seek United Nations condemnation of China on the same issue. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright journeyed to Beijing last week but her complaints about human rights fell on deaf ears. That, she was told, was an internal problem and none of the United States' business.

It would be an understatement to say that the Clinton policy of closer engagement with China is in trouble. To blame it on a rebirth of an anti-communist China lobby would be absurd. Getting along with China is important -- but it cannot be solely on China's terms. Fortunately, the Clinton administration's kowtowing to China has stopped.


Prison monitoring

FOR nearly 15 years, the state has operated prisons under a consent decree that it relieve overcrowding and improve conditions. The American Civil Liberties Union, which sought the decree in federal court, now says the system is adequate and federal Judge Samuel P. King plans to end court supervision. However, prison expansion is needed to satisfy any further scrutiny.

Lawsuits filed in the early 1980s by the ACLU resulted in direct supervision by the federal court of the operation of Oahu Community Correctional Center and the Women's Community Correctional Center. King last year signed an order releasing the WCCC in Kailua from the consent decree following construction of a new facility.

Problems persisted at OCCC, where the facility was about 200 over the 890-limit set by the court order as recently as last June. Expansion of the facility and the transfer of inmates to mainland prisons have resulted in a lowering of OCCC's inmate population to 892, well below the prison's new capacity of 1,107.

Alvin Bronstein, who has headed the ACLU's prison reform program, says today's OCCC is "a decent prison" that conforms with modern requirements. Completion of a program to improve health care for inmates is expected to result in the full release of the state from court-supervised monitoring.

Transfer of 1,200 inmates to the mainland was a short-term solution. Governor Cayetano is asking the Legislature to approve construction of a 2,300-bed prison on the Big Island to satisfy needs for increased prison space in the near future. The Legislature should approve construction of a facility either by bonds or leasing from a private developer. Otherwise the conditions that led to the court order could recur.


State budget priorities

THE House Finance Committee has approved a $12 billion state operating budget for the next two years -- an estimated 7 percent increase, or about $210 million. As approved by the committee, the budget reduces Governor Cayetano's budget proposal by 1.6 percent. But little of the increased spending is likely to go to government programs.

Rather, it will fund pay increases for university professors and public schoolteachers that have already been approved by the state in negotiations with public employee unions. Still to be factored into the budget equation is more than $225 million in negotiated pay increases for state workers represented by the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers.

In his re-election campaign, Cayetano promised government employees that he would work for legislative approval of their raises, which had been stalled. Now it's up to the Democratic-controlled Legislature to make good on the governor's pledge, and it probably will.

With the economy still stagnating and funds still tight, for the state to be approving raises for government employees at the expense of funding for important programs is questionable at best. But the reality is that Democratic control of Hawaii government is dependent on the support of the public employee unions.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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