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Views in brief

June 16, 2006 | Page 12

Australia's role in East Timor
Mine safety ignored

Demonizing drug users

WHETHER YOU love him or hate him, want him to go to jail or not, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has become a national symbol for drug addiction. Rush's recent clash with the law reminds us that drug addiction does not discriminate. Unfortunately, our drug policies do.

Rush was investigated for illegally obtaining thousands of addictive prescription painkillers. Criminal charges were dropped against him in Florida when he worked out a plea agreement that included a $30,000 penalty and continued drug treatment.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance has called for treatment instead of incarceration for Limbaugh, saying "The Alliance's guiding principle is that people should not be punished for what they put into their own bodies, but only for crimes committed against others. According to that logic, Rush--even Rush--should be allowed to deal with his issues with drugs privately."

Rush Limbaugh's noxious lack of sympathy for others in similar predicaments tests one's commitment to the idea of non-incarceration, compassion and treatment for all nonviolent drug offenders. Many who normally support treatment instead of incarceration would love to see Limbaugh locked up and get a taste of his own medicine. Rush has demonized drug offenders to his national audience of "dittoheads."

Recently, Limbaugh weighed in on the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) announcement that there were no "sound scientific studies" supporting the medicinal use of marijuana. His diatribe was characteristically callous and harsh toward sick and dying people who use medical marijuana, as Limbaugh blathered, "The FDA says there's no--zilch, zero, nada--shred of medicinal value to the evil weed marijuana. This is going to be a setback to the long-haired, maggot-infested, dope-smoking crowd."

This distain for medical marijuana patients is not the first time Rush showed a lack of compassion to people who use drugs or suffer from addiction.

Limbaugh is the man who scoffed at the idea that African Americans are disproportionately arrested on drug charges, and suggested that the solution was to arrest more white people. Interestingly enough, Mr. Limbaugh sang a different tune when he was the white person who could have easily ended up behind bars if he was not the famous radio personality that he is.

This point is very close to my heart as someone who, through addiction, was sentenced to 15 years to life for a nonviolent drug offense. Even though I am someone who Rush said deserved to be behind bars, I am willing to turn the other cheek and advocate for him to get treatment instead of the jail cell that I was given.

Some might argue that there is a difference between the use of prescription drugs and illegal ones, but as Limbaugh's case underscores, addiction does not discriminate between legal and illegal substances.

Limbaugh contends that his addiction was a by-product of taking painkillers for chronic pain from a back injury. Many people with diseases ranging from back pain to cancer use marijuana to treat pain, nausea, glaucoma and various other symptoms associated with their conditions. Instead of pot, Limbaugh chose painkillers to treat his ailments. What's the difference? One drug is demonized, while the other is not.

One can only hope Limbaugh's experiences with addiction and the drug war will encourage him to join the movement to reform drug policy. Mr. Limbaugh has an enormous platform and reach. If he decided to take up the cause of treatment instead of incarceration for drug users, he could help change laws across the country.

After all, if treatment instead of jail is good enough for him as he struggles with his addiction, surely it is good enough for the thousands of others just like him who struggle with their substance abuse every day.
Anthony Papa, author of 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom and Communications Specialist, Drug Policy Alliance

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Australia's role in East Timor

I JUST read your article online about East Timor ("Behind the violence in East Timor," June 2). I think there's a big question mark over the role of Major Alfredo Reinado that I haven't really seen raised by anyone.

After spending time in military training in Canberra, Australia, last year, this man, in a move described by the New York Times as "bizarre," starts a rebellion and then welcomes Australian troops to come and quell the unrest that he created in the first place!

Meanwhile, the Australian government joins Reinado with uncharacteristically bitter attacks on the East Timorese government, implicitly aimed at Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. It is Alkatiri that secured limited access to Timor Gap oil, thus inducing his dislike in the Australian government.

To summarize, following recent unrest by a potential Australian ally (Reinado), a political enemy of Australia is left discredited and under pressure. Am I just paranoid, or does this scenario have all the makings of covert intervention?
Jason, from the Internet

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Mine safety ignored

HALF OF the electric power generated in the U.S. is produced by coal, but the increase in coal production since 2001 has nothing to do with that. Despite enormous profits enjoyed by the coal industry, little has been spent on making mines safer, reducing levels of coal dust, or compensating miners for working under extremely dangerous and often deadly hazardous conditions.

One reason is that the mine owners cleverly conceal the source of profit from their profit and loss statements. This leaves it unseen on union bargaining tables. Nor is it noticeable as money that can be used to improve safety conditions that can save miners' lives. No, it is only available to buy yachts, prime real estate and the gratification of the fabulously wealthy.

This revenue comes from tax breaks that can be rolled over for future years once the maximum allowance is reached. Under the guise of prompting alternate energy sources to reduce America's dependence on oil, Congress enacted generous tax benefits for corporations developing new energy schemes.

Scheming they can do. They took common coal and spread it with diesel fuel, pine tar, limestone or acid. Some coated coal waste with latex, and then blended it with plain coal to make "charcoal" briquettes for barbeques. This is about the only product that sells. Little of this bizarre garbage has any usefulness, and every item loses money.

Well, not exactly. For example, from 2002-2004, Progress Energy Inc. lost $400 million, but it made $852 million in tax credits. That's a $452 million profit, as a "gift" from U.S. taxpayers. DTE Energy of Detroit made $1.2 billion in the same years.

Altogether, from 2003-2005, an estimated $9 billion in tax credits were earned the "old fashioned" way--removing it from the wallets of American workers. That's the same amount that 20 million taxpayers who earn less than $20,000 per year pay in taxes annually. All of that is handed over to pals of Congress.

Tax benefits do not appear as profits at the coal mines. Consequently, it is often heard that there is no money to spend on the safety of those who dig up the raw material that is then processed at a loss to make billions.

Coal mines are especially dangerous. Far more coal miners from the slow agony of pneumoconiosis, or "Black Lung," than collapsing shafts. This comes from inhaling unsafe levels of coal dust in the air that miners breathe. The stuff is also highly explosive--the leading cause of mine explosions. Highly flammable, it triggers fires in the mines too. But the mine owners protest, saying they have no money to supply safe oxygen, reduce friction which causes sparks, or provide medical treatment centers in work areas.

There is money--$9 billion of it--for investment portfolios, loans, insurance benefits and yachts with fossil fuel tanks that cost over $250,000 just for a fill up.

Twenty million taxpayers simply transferred their tax money into the bank accounts of billionaires. That is the "liberty and justice" legislators meant to provide when elected. They must have known about it, since none claim to be idiots. They simply are totally confident that the rest of us are.
Richard Geffken, Sumter Correctional Institution, Bushnell, Fla.

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