Monday, August 20, 2001

Disputes over military
bases require candor

The issue: A nationwide storm over
military bases is gathering, with the
struggle over Makua Valley being
the focal point in Hawaii.

The storm over military bases that is billowing up from Puerto Rico to Hawaii requires forthright national and local leadership from President Bush to Governor Cayetano and from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the Pentagon to the headquarters of the Army of the Pacific at Fort Shafter. So far, each conflict has been handled separately but now they should be seen and addressed in a comprehensive and coherent manner.

The cross currents of this issue include:

>> The Pentagon and military leaders who want to close redundant bases and to spend the consequent savings on new weapons and better pay for the troops.

>> Powerful members of Congress who oppose any base closure that would mean a loss of jobs and military spending in their electoral districts.

>> Coalitions of anti-military advocates, environmentalists and ethnic activists who seek to drive the armed forces out of their communities or states.

>> Military field commanders who assert that certain bases, such as Makua Valley here and the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, are essential to training, including live-fire exercises.

Complications: The bases that the Pentagon and the anti-military coalitions want to close are not the same. The bases that congressmen and the field commanders want to keep open are not the same. The courts have been dragged into the swirl. U.S. allies and potential adversaries abroad are watching to see whether decisions made here will affect deployment of U.S. forces there. As the cliche holds, everything is connected to everything else.

Thus the need for President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld to speak plainly. Thus the need for unequivocal statements from Army generals in Hawaii where they have sometimes been less than clear about the need for Makua and perhaps too accommodating in an effort to find reasonable compromises with their critics.

Thus the need for commitments from Governor Cayetano, Mayor Harris, the Legislature, business executives and labor leaders on what Hawaii is prepared to do -- or not do -- to keep the armed forces here. Senator Inouye has been clear on his position, but other in Hawaii's delegation in Congress have been less so.

Interestingly, public support for the Army in Makua may be stronger than the politicians have thought. Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat who represents the district surrounding Makua, found in a survey that nearly 70 percent of those who responded favored the continued Army use of Makua.

Leadership now may preclude the fate of Makua and other bases from becoming an election issue next year. If it becomes a political football then, predicting the outcome would be futile.

Smart passengers listen
when flight crew speaks

The issue: Many travelers pay
little attention to safety information
before the plane takes off.

Flight attendants, the most visible of airline employees, are frequent targets when passengers are annoyed by flight delays and lousy food, but when they should have attention, they're often ignored. Too bad because what they're saying during that seat-belt buckling, arm-waving routine before takeoff will be the most important information a passenger will need if something goes wrong.

Few people listen carefully to the preflight lecture, flight attendants say. Frequent fliers may become overconfident because they have heard it so many times they can recite it in their sleep. But equipment differs from plane to plane. Exit doors are not in the same place on every airliner, all life vests don't work the same way and flotation devices -- usually part of the passenger seat -- may vary. Others are lulled into a false sense of security because air travel has become so safe that they think any danger is remote. It is safe, but accidents happen and it is best to be prepared.

Then there's the pessimistic passenger who sees no point in paying attention, believing that an airplane accident means sure death. Not necessarily. A federal study this year found that 96 percent of fliers survived domestic airplane accidents between 1983 and 2000 and 56 percent lived through serious mishaps involving fire and substantial aircraft damage or destruction. Interviews with survivors showed that many had the presence of mind to do as they had been told before takeoff.

Many people take seats in exit rows because of the extra leg room. They should be mindful that with the extra space comes an added responsibility. Other passengers will depend on them to open the doors if need be, so when the attendants ask if they are "willing and able," the question requires serious consideration. In a 1991 collision in Los Angeles, people sitting at emergency exits and given a special preflight briefing were credited with saving 67 lives.

There are many valid complaints about air travel: lost luggage, endless delays, canceled flights. Flight attendants can be short-tempered and rude in the press of human flesh that is an airplane cabin. They wait on you with coffee, tea or whatever, but their primary duty is passenger safety. So concerned that passengers hear their message, some have taken to livening up their lectures by impersonating Elvis or strumming ukuleles. But the information they deliver is too important for such shenanigans.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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