Thursday, November 4, 1999

Congress seeks honesty
in sweepstakes

Bullet The issue: Deceptive announcements of sweepstakes winnings have victimized thousands of gullible people.

Bullet Our view: Legislation nearing final approval in Congress should put a stop to the practice.

One of the cruelest hoaxes in today's America is the mailed announcement that you have won a sweepstakes prize worth thousands, even millions, of dollars. Many of the announcements are deceptive, but you have to read the fine print to discover that.

Most consumers realize that the enticements of sweepstakes mailings are mere marketing ploys, said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., But those deceived, he said, "are some of the most vulnerable in our society and our senior citizens."

Consumers, particularly elderly people, have testified about spending Social Security checks or squandering life savings under the mistaken impression that they were in line to win big prizes.

LoBiondo is a co-sponsor of the "Honesty in Sweepstakes Act," which is nearing final passage in Congress. It passed the House on a voice vote Tuesday after winning Senate approval on a 93-0 vote in August. Minor differences between the bills remain to be worked out.

The measure would require sweepstakes companies to make clear that no purchase is necessary to enter the contest and that buying magazine subscriptions or other goods does not improve the chance of winning.

It would bar the mailings from declaring that a person is a winner unless he has actually won a prize, require that the estimated odds of winning be prominently displayed and prohibit mailings to people who have requested in writing that they be taken off sweepstakes lists.

The flagrant deceptions in sweepstakes mailings have been allowed to continue for too long. The Honesty in Sweepstakes Act should prevent further victimization.


Chechen war

Bullet The issue: Russia continues its assault on Chechnya despite concerns raised by the West.

Bullet Our view: Increased Western pressure is needed to bring a peaceful end to the conflict.

PRESIDENT Clinton's expression of concern about the Russian air and artillery bombing of Chechnya falls short of the pressure needed by the West to force an end to this appalling siege. A threat to reduce economic assistance may be the only effective means of reversing a policy that the Kremlin has adopted for domestic political reasons.

As winter approaches, up to 160,000 Chechens have been forced by the Russian military offensive to flee their homes to neighboring Ingushetia. The army has sealed off the one road leading to Ingushetia, stranding thousands more. Bombs and rockets purportedly are intended for terrorists but have caused misery to the general population.

Russia fears the spread of Muslim fundamentalism throughout the Caucasus region of Russia and is trying to rebound from its defeat by Muslim separatists during the 1994-95 Chechen war. The Kremlin has gained support among the Russian population by blaming Chechens for a series of terrorist attacks that killed 300 people in apartment buildings in Moscow and other cities. The offensive has increased the popularity of President Boris Yeltsin's choice as his successor in next year's elections, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

At a meeting in Oslo, Norway, Clinton expressed strong concern to Putin about the assault on Chechnya. Putin agreed to allow a European aid mission into the region but seemed to remain opposed to mediation.

The Kremlin has suggested that its Chechen offensive is no less justified than NATO's strikes in Kosovo last spring. However, the NATO intervention was aimed at protecting Kosovars from massacres by the ruling Serbs -- just the opposite of the circumstance in Chechnya.

Like the Serb actions in Kosovo prior to NATO intervention, the Russian attack threatens the province's entire population. The West should increase pressure on Russia to find a peaceful end to the conflict.


Disney in Hong Kong

Bullet The issue: The Hong Kong government has made a deal to bring Disneyland to the territory.

Bullet Our view: A Disneyland or comparable attraction may make economic sense in Hawaii someday.

SINCE the return of Hong Kong to China two years ago, the territory's economy has been limping, a casualty of the Asian financial crisis. In addition, many manufacturing companies have moved to mainland Chinese cities.

Now the Hong Kong government has made a deal to bring Disneyland to the territory in an attempt to revitalize the economy. The project will be financed mostly by Hong Kong taxpayers, with the government agreeing to pay $2.88 billion while Disney will invest only $314 million for a 43 percent stake.

Financial Secretary Donald Tsang acknowledged that the territory's profits on the park itself probably will be "not so brilliant," but he reiterated Hong Kong was looking to gain in other areas. The park's construction and operation will help the building industry, hotels, transportation companies, restaurants and stores, he said.

Governor Cayetano once talked about attracting a Disneyland or a comparable facility, to be located in Diamond Head crater, as a way to stimulate the economy, but subsequently backed off. Despite the size of Hawaii's visitor industry, the market here may be too small to interest Disney.

Not so in Hong Kong, with its potential for tapping the huge Chinese market as well as visitors from other countries. Using Diamond Head crater for a theme park was a nonstarter, but the idea of such a facility -- of a size consistent with the Hawaii market and on affordable terms -- may yet bear fruit someday.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

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

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