Monday, December 24, 2001

Drug bust just one step
in breaking cycle

The issue: Authorities dismantled a heroin
ring that ran drugs from Mexico to Hawaii.

THE heroin-smuggling organization broken up last week shows how elaborate drug operations can be and how determined police work and cooperation among law-enforcement authorities can produce good results. What remains troubling is that no sooner than one ring is busted than another fills the vacuum and that treatment for addicts continues to lag.

The smugglers carried the heroin in waist belts and pouches on commercial airline flights from Los Angeles to Honolulu and on to Hilo. Although two people were arrested at Honolulu Airport in October, apparently many others got by undetected.

Since 1995, officials had received hints about the heroin operation, which brought drugs from Mexico across the border into California. A concerted investigation began in November 2000 involving the heavy guns of law enforcement: the U.S. Customs Service, FBI, IRS, the U.S. Attorney's Office and all county police departments. But the break in the case came through a Big Island police detective who was able to establish a rapport with a drug suspect, who then provided authorities with needed information. The result was the arrests of about 40 people here and in California and seizure of drugs, money and weapons.

While only $166,000 was confiscated, investigators say as much as $2 million in drug profits was funneled back to Mexico. Most of the money was transferred by Western Union in amounts of less than $1,000 at a time to avoid raising suspicion.

Ring leaders recruited Hawaii residents to do much of the smuggling; addicts are easy marks for such tasks, police say. The ripples of drug abuse showed up in more thefts and burglaries as addicts sought money to pay for their habits. The heroin would sell for about $180 for a one-gram hit, enough for about a day's use, according to Lt. Henry Tavares of the Hawaii County vice unit.

Authorities acknowledge that the laws of supply and demand will likely induce other drug dealers, large- and small-scale, to fill the gap. Constant vigilance by law enforcement will be required to control the flow of illegal substances.

Further, as heroin and crystal methamphetamine surpass cocaine and marijuana as leading concerns for law enforcement, without funds for treatment of addicts the cycle of drugs and crime never will be broken. As Lt. Tavares conceded, "We definitely need more treatment programs."

Jobless benefits alone
would provide stimulus

The issue: Congress adjourned
without enacting a bill aimed at
stimulating the economy.

BIPARTISAN cooperation led to an encouraging amount of legislation to provide the tools to fight terrorism, a bailout for airlines and assistance for the victims of Sept. 11. However, Congress adjourned divided along traditional lines on how to stimulate the economy. Lawmakers will try to reach a consensus when they return as early as Jan. 2, but partisan differences are likely to extend into the looming congressional elections.

Congress next month should agree to at least one element of the stimulus package -- a 13-week extension of the 26-week limit on unemployment benefits. Republicans appear unwilling to separate that provision from tax cuts, regarding it as negotiating leverage, but they do so at the risk of alienating voters in next year's elections.

The stimulus package took the form of a Christmas-tree bill, overladen with special-interest ornaments reflecting fundamentally conflicting perspectives on economic policy. The success of the war in Afghanistan is bolstering consumer confidence, but some form of congressional action continues to be needed.

The Republican-controlled House had begun work on an economic package before Sept. 11, in response to a recession that began months earlier. It went on to approve a bill providing $100 billion in tax cuts, extended unemployment benefits and tax credits to help the unemployed buy health insurance.

Democrats controlling the Senate produced a bill emphasizing aid to the unemployed more than tax cuts. Neither side was willing to compromise, and President Bush's low profile caused some to wonder how important he regarded the legislation. Bush insisted that he considered the paralysis unfortunate, although he made little effort to reach a compromise.

Republicans accused Democrats who rejected the House package of failing to help the unemployed, but the overwhelming cost of the measure was in tax cuts, nearly two-thirds of which were in the form of rebates to large corporations. Even the conservative Wall Street Journal conceded that the House bill "mainly padded corporate bottom lines."

Senate Democrats hooked onto the gravy train in looking out for their own special interests, carving out subsidies for bison-meat producers, watermelon growers and Amtrak.

Democrats may continue to be reluctant to support a round of tax cuts while anticipating passage in the spring of a $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax-cut bill. Further stalemate may lead them to consider leaving the $100 billion in federal coffers for other purposes, but assistance to the unemployed should be spared from the trash heap.

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

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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