Pubdate: Sat, 2 May 1998
Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Author: Molly Ivins, Columnist


AUSTIN -- I love politics, but some weeks I can see why so many people would
rather do something else -- like get a root canal. This past week we had the
edifying sight of members of the Congress of the United States following the
president in resolutely refusing to recognize fact, logic, the public
health, medicine and science in order to make cheap political points -- and
then trashing the president for not having done so as resolutely as they did.

At issue are the facts concerning needle exchange programs for drug users.
If you give addicts clean needles, it dramatically slows the spread of AIDS
and does not increase drug use.

Since you're not in politics, you may think this is good news. Less AIDS, a
better shot at getting addicts into drug treatment programs, and it saves a
big bundle of money -- what's not to like? Bring down the duck, Groucho --
these folks don't know their demagoguery.

If you are President Clinton and your secretary of health, your surgeon
general, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and public
health organizations all tell you that clean-needle programs work, you
override all of them and continue to ban clean-needle programs because you
don't want to give the Republicans an issue. You continue the ban on federal
spending for clean-needle programs even though it makes no sense and means
another 12,045 AIDS cases every year.

Then, if you're a congressional Republican, you not only vote to continue
the federal ban -- you add to it a provision defunding any public health
program or organization that pays for a clean-needle program through other
means. Then you stand up and blame the president for even having considered
lifting the ban.

The rationale (?) for doing this that "we must not send a message to
American children that drug use is OK." Actually, the message we're sending
to American children is that the people who run this country are idiots.

The CDC reports, as reported by Judy Mann in 'The Washington Post,' that
AIDS continues to spread through the population, with women and minorities
at increasing risk, along with young people from 13 to 24. High rates of
infection among intravenous drug users continue. Between 1994 and 1997, 32
percent of the AIDS cases diagnosed were caused by homosexual sex, with that
rate continuing to fall. Meanwhile, IV drug use and heterosexual sex
accounted for 18 percent each of the new cases, with those rates continuing
to rise. Most of the heterosexual transmissions involved women having sex
with infected male drug users.

According to the CDC studies, 33 people a day get AIDS from dirty needles.
Clean-needle programs not only help stop the epidemic but also give drug
counselors a chance to get addicts into treatment programs. They do not --
repeat, not -- increase or encourage drug use, if you believe the medical
and scientific literature on the subject. You can, of course, ignore it,
which is what Congress did, 287-140. I suppose we should be grateful for the
140, who clearly thought they had been caught in a chapter of 'Alice in

Meanwhile, because some in the administration had been making nice noises
about needle programs, House Majority Whip Tom "Mental Delay" DeLay said:
"By embracing and condoning the concept of giving free needles to drug
addicts, President Clinton has raised the white flag of surrender." This was
well after Clinton had decided to continue the ban.

Since Republicans are now interested in the excesses of law enforcement --
as per their bizarrely skewed hearing last week on the harassment of
presumably innocent citizens by the Internal Revenue Service -- perhaps they
will now take a look at the excesses of the War on Drugs.

According to Mann, when the "war" started in the "Just Say No" Reagan era,
it cost $1 billion a year. It now costs $16 billion a year, cocaine and
heroin are cheaper than ever before, and the teen-age use of marijuana has
doubled since 1990.

We now have 1.5 million people in prison; 60 percent of all federal
prisoners and 25 percent of state inmates are doing time for drugs. We have
almost no treatment programs for addicts in prisons, which pretty much
guarantees they will continue when they get out. More than two-thirds of the
War-on-Drugs money goes to law enforcement, with a far smaller percentage
going to treatment programs.

Meanwhile, the narcs are increasingly out of control -- and I'm not talking
about the occasional tragedy in which they get the wrong address, bust in
and shoot some helpless granny. They increasingly fund their own operations
by seizing property allegedly "involved" in the drug trade, no matter how
peripherally. They have seized property belonging to the aunts, uncles,
cousins and grannies of drug users.

The good news for the week is that the Old Newt is back. Just as the media
were dutifully reporting the New Newt Gingrich -- kinder, gentler and
thinner, and the author of a new book about how he learned to be a statesman
- -- back came Old Newt.

At least the House speaker didn't call the president a "scumbag"; that was
left to Rep. Dan Burton, the impartial and Solomonic fellow in charge of the
House investigation of Clinton's '96 campaign finances. (The Senate
investigation was so much fun, we all felt there should be another one,
didn't we?)

"There is no administration in American history with less moral authority
than the Clinton-Gore administration," proclaimed Gingrich, who was fined
$300,000 for lying to Congress. Welcome back, O enlightened spiritual leader.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the 'Star-Telegram.' You may write to her at
1005 Congress Ave., Suite 920, Austin, TX 78701; call her at (512) 476-8908;
or email her at