The Righteousness Brothers at it Again
     by Gene Lyons

Both of Arkansas's Republican righteousness brothers have been all
over the local broadcast media recently, and both had trouble keeping their
stories straight. Indeed, so gracelessly did the Hutchinson boys dance around
the truth that a skeptic might wonder how much trouble they think their party
could be in come November. That, or they think Arkansas voters are morons.

For his part, Sen. Tim Hutchinson, the scourge of White House sin
whose chaste relationship with the staffer who subsequently became the
second Mrs. Hutchinson did not-repeat did not, he says-become romantic
until AFTER he'd voted to impeach Bill Clinton and then divorced his first
wife, set what must be a state record by running a TV campaign ad ten
months before his contest with Attorney General Mark Pryor.

In the commercial, all heartwarming front porches and grampaw and
grammaw and cute kids and leafy country roads and pickup trucks, Hutchinson
reminds us about something called the "Social Security Benefits Guarantee Act."
Thanks to Sen. Tim, old folks can rest easy. Their payroll taxes won't be
squandered on tax refunds for George W. Bush's campaign contributors.
No yachts, no second homes in Aspen. at grampaw and grammaw's expense,
no sir. Sen. Tim has done rode to the rescue.

An innocent bystander might wonder if Hutchinson was fixing to run
against Pryor in the Democratic primary. Except, get this, there's no such
law as the "Social Security Benefits Guarantee Act." It exists purely as a
figment of his imagination. Hut-chinson introduced it as SB 806 on May 1,
2001. With no co-sponsors in either party, it's defunct-an election-year
shuttlecock batted into the air to fall harmlessly to the ground. Even if
enacted, John Brummett pointed out in the Arkansas Times, the government
would send you a meaningless IOU. Period.

Then there's Asa, the drug warrior. So far his biggest accomplishment
has been a fiat banning hempseed oil from potato chips because it's derived
from the same species of plant as marijuana. As Dave Barry says, I am not
making this up. (Nor that Asa's boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, has
ordered $8000 drapes to hide a naked female breast on an art deco statue
at the Justice Department. Wouldn't a WonderBra be cheaper?

Columnist Andrew Tobias reports that Ashcroft dispatches aides to remove
calico cats from places he speaks. He supposedly considers the animals
emissaries from Satan. Nobody could make that up.) Anyhow, for potheads
who scarf potato chips in 600 lb round bales to get a buzz, the hemp ban has a
loophole. Hutchinson's order doesn't extend to clothing. In a pinch, you
could eat your hat.

Anyhow, Asa was interviewed on KUAR-FM, Little Rock's NPR station,
on Jan. 25. Host Lisa Ferrell asked him about "rumors" that the Bush
Administration paid Afghanistan's Taliban rulers millions to suppress the
cultivation of heroin poppies before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Did we make payments to the Taliban?" she asked.

"No," Hutchinson said. He added that the Mullahs only pretended to
ban poppy growing to con the west into giving them economic aid while
covertly driving up the worldwide price of heroin. (A textbook example
of the drug war's sheer futility, actually.)

"It was really an insincere gesture on their part," he said.
"But it was, I think, motivated by the hope that they would get more
international assistance."

He emphasized the word "hope," as if to imply that the scheme hadn't worked.
"Did we provide additional international assistance?" Ferrell persisted.

Asa got cute. "I couldn't answer that specifically," he said.  "The United Nations
may have provided some help to them and the State Department may have. But it
did not flow through the Drug Enforcement Administration, so I'm not aware of
exactly what transpired."

As a public service, I suggest Hutchinson consult one Steven Casteel, the
assistant administrator for intelligence at the DEA.  Casteel was quoted in an article
headlined "Taliban's Ban on Poppy a Success, US Aides Say" in The New York Times,
May 18, 2001. Also mentioned was Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's announcement
of a $43 million grant to Afghanistan specifically tied to heroin eradication."We will
continue to look for ways to provide more assistance to the Afghans," Powell said
"including those farmers who have felt the impact of the ban on poppy cultivation,
a decision by the Taliban that we welcome."

On May 24, the Times ran a front page piece by a reporter who visited Afghasistan's
barren poppy fields and noted that a regime known for whipping women for exposing their
ankles, jailing men for trimming their beards, and holding public executions in soccer
stadiums had no trouble enforcing the ban. The article noted that bricks of heroin were
readily for sale in Kandahar and rapidly escalating in value.

Funding the Taliban is something the Bush administration doesn't like to talk about.

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