[ OUR OPINION ]
In Hawaii, forest
PRESERVATION of Hawaii's forest lands is transformed from tree-hugging whimsy to necessity when their connection to the islands' water supply is made evident. It is auspicious, then, that a coalition whose goal is to cultivate awareness, funding and strategies has been organized to maintain and expand forest reserves.
A coalition is organized to protect Hawaii's forests -- and our water.
The Hawaii Alliance of Watershed Partnerships was announced last week on the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the state's forest reserve system. It unites public and private land-owners in efforts to protect upland forests that capture rain and moisture from clouds to provide water for Hawaii.
The system was set up after livestock grazing and tree harvesting denuded thousands of acres of forests across the island chain. Even then, officials recognized that lack of watersheds jeopardized water supplies. Since that time, the state has established reserves that protect not only forests but the endangered species within.
The alliance brings together seven watershed partnerships with hopes that more will be incorporated among the 50 such cooperatives that manage 300,000 acres in the state. The alliance could strengthen the power of diverse groups to push for attention and money to support watersheds and for preventive measures against invasive plants and animals that threaten their survival.
The need for water is obvious, yet supplies are dwindling globally. Almost 1 in 5 people, or 1.3 billion, do not have access to safe drinking water, according to a recent U.N. report, while demand is growing at an unsustainable rate. An estimated two-thirds of the world's population will lack enough fresh water by 2025.
On Oahu, water consumption is estimated at 300 gallons a day while the maximum sustainable yield is about 450 gallons a day. In as little as 20 years, consumption may grow to about 435 gallons a day, leaving a balance too narrow for comfort, especially if watersheds are reduced or deteriorate.
As Suzanne Case of The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii put it, "It's a time to renew and ramp up our commitment to forest protection."
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High court should not
CORPORATE speech is limited to protect consumers from false and deceptive advertising, but some government officials, including a former Hawaii insurance commissioner, have tried to virtually muzzle corporations. The U.S. Supreme Court has an opportunity in a case involving the Nike sportswear company to assure companies that they can engage in normal discourse protected by the First Amendment except in the narrow area of direct commercial activity.
The U.S. Supreme Court considers a case involving free-speech rights of corporations.
Eight years ago, State Farm Insurance Cos. bought a series of newspaper advertisements supporting Hawaii state legislation aimed at strengthening the no-fault bill. Then-Insurance Commissioner Wayne Metcalf accused State Farm of false and deceptive advertising, even though the ads did not describe policies it sold. A state hearing officer rightly dismissed Metcalf's complaint, but State Farm was mum on the no-fault issue thereafter.
In the case before the Supreme Court, San Francisco consumer activist Mark Kasky accused Nike of misleading the public in answering allegations about pay and working conditions in its Asian factories. Kasky used a provision of an unusual California law that allows individuals to file unfair trade cases as "private attorneys general." The lawsuit, which has not gone to trial, seeks restitution of Nike's California profits.
Nike defended itself against the allegations not in advertisements but in a letter to the editor of The New York Times, a letter to the YWCA of America, a press release, and a letter to university presidents and athletic directors. Silence would have been interpreted by many as an admission of the company's alleged wrongdoing.
A series of Supreme Court cases since the 1970s has resulted in a doctrine defining commercial speech, which can be limited, as that which "does no more than propose a commercial transaction." That description does not fit the State Farm ads about no-fault in 1995 or the Nike statements made in 1996 and 1997 about its treatment of employees. Kasky's contention that Nike's purpose was simply "to induce consumers to buy its products" is a stretch.
In a 4-to-3 decision refusing to dismiss the suit against Nike, California's high court redefined commercial speech as speech by a person or organization "engaged in commerce" that conveys factual information "likely to influence consumers in their commercial decision." That definition goes far beyond the doctrine established by the federal court and, in effect, would deny Nike the opportunity to defend its labor practices under First Amendment protection. It should be struck down.