“I say again, and I will say again and again: No American boy will be sent to Europe to fight in a foreign war.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1940 re-election campaign. [I may not have recalled FDR’s words precisely but the meaning and the spirit, mendacity, is intact. – The Editor.]
WRITING last month about the president’s “war on drugs” reminded me how hard it is to believe anything the government says about drugs. I can recall the period when marijuana was said to transform its users into “drug fiends” who were likely to attack the first person they met on the street. When heroin became popular, this description was moved to that drug, and also the danger of death to the user was publicized to the point where one would believe that an addict could not survive more than a week or two.
I had no reason to disbelieve this until I became aware that this person was confessing that he had been a heavy heroin user for 19 years or some such, and there he stood, looking as healthy as the next person. The present line is that crack is very likely to kill a user instantly; yet we are again hearing people (Bill Cosby’s daughter, for example) say they have been heavy users for two years and seem to show little effect. If crack were as dangerous as the government claims, there would be no crack problem – the users would simply be self-eliminating.
I was reminded that the president, himself, seemingly any president, doesn’t hesitate to lie to us whenever it is convenient. In a speech from the White House, President Bush held up a bag of cocaine which he said was purchased in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. In a few days, the newspapers reported that the purchase had been written into the president’s speech in advance, and that the Drug Enforcement Agency had been given 24 hours to fulfill the prophecy. That agency then lured a drug seller to the park specifically to provide the president with his example.
The drug seller was arrested and just recently appeared at his trial. It turned out that the informer used by the DEA to lure him to the park had difficulty doing so, mainly because the drug seller did not know where Lafayette Park was or where the White House was and finally had to actually chauffeur the seller to Lafayette Park. The DEA tried to film the purchase of the drug but the cameraman was attacked by a homeless woman who was occupying a bench in the park and who thought he was trying to photograph her.
Thus the intended incriminating pictures merely showed the seller entering the park and leaving the park. Another DEA agent’s microphone did not work so they missed the audio recording of the sale. Further the seller handed the drug packed to the government informer instead of the DEA agent. According to the newspaper, the jury at the trial was in stitches, and the judge said that it sounded like an episode from the Keystone Kops. Perhaps President Bush did not know these facts when he gave his speech, but he certainly knows them now, and he has made no apology. It is plain that he is an accessory, either before or after the fact, to an attempt to flimflam the American people.
It is also interesting that if he wanted to point out an actual phenomenon in Lafayette Park, he could have said that a homeless woman found what refuge she could on a bench there in clear sight of the White House, but this reality is not what the president had in mind for us.
As this is being written (December 1989), the Washington Post reports that the trial of the above-mentioned drug seller resulted in a mistrial because of a hung jury. It was reported that the jury voted 11-1 for an acquittal because they felt the seller had been set up by the government. A DEA official said after the trial that he saw nothing wrong in the DEA’s actions. I am not surprised.
Before the echoes from this had died down, we learned the president had sent a secret mission to China. In the furor over this, Secretary of State Baker said that it was the first visit since the protesters were murdered. Almost immediately we learned that it was the second visit – that a group had gone shortly after the massacre. And that happened in spite of the administration’s announcement, just a few days before, that it was ending all exchanges with Chinese leaders because of the bloodshed in Tiananmen Square. Baker said he was sorry to have misled “some” people – “some” being about 250 million Americans.
Then on the outbreak of war in Panama, we learned that President Bush had broken his campaign promise not to plea bargain with Noriega and had offered to forget the drug charges if Noriega would leave Panama. And then we heard that Noriega had, through seven presidential terms, been on the payroll of the CIA. And on and on.
When President Eisenhower was caught in a public lie in the Gary Powers case where he maintained the U-2 spy plane was a weather observation plane, he was obviously embarrassed at getting caught. You could see it in his face. Nevertheless he did it knowing that the Russians already knew the truth, and that the only people he was attempting to deceive was the American people who trusted him. (It was common for people to say that whatever one might think about Eisenhower that he was at least sincere.) He is the last president to exhibit any public discomfort when caught in an outright lie.
It was President Reagan’s habit to give, in every public speech, concrete examples to support whatever argument he was making. It became routine for the media to investigate these examples and find out that whatever he said happened had, in almost every case, not happened that way. This seemed not to embarrass the president, nor did it inhibit him from doing the same thing in his next speech. Nor was there ever any public outcry about his habitual lying. Do we now expect our presidents to lie to us routinely?
This Christmas we learned that even the button President Reagan pushed to turn on the lights of the Christmas tree on the Ellipse was a fake; it had no connection with the tree lights. It makes one wonder why President Bush’s people bothered to have the actual drug purchase take place. If they were going to falsify it, why not just baldly lie about the event in the first place?
I can understand President Nixon’s lies, including his famous one: “I am not a crook.” He had something to lie about. But I don’t understand the routine lying that has become the custom. What is the purpose of it when it is certain that it will be exposed shortly afterward? Surely any president today knows that nothing discussed in the White House is going to remain secret, and that there is thus no chance at all that his lies will not quickly become public knowledge. It looks to me as if presidents are spending a valuable resource, their supposed veracity, for nothing.
It is a bit discomfiting that we have to depend on the incompetence of the DEA or some leak in one or another government agency to protect us from the lies of our presidents.
I doubt if many people could be shocked by any comedy produced by the DEA in Lafayette Park. If the president wanted to shock the public, there are better stories available. Recently in Prince George’s County, the police detained two girls, ages 13 and 9, for suspected shoplifting. In their possession was found cocaine worth about $10,000. The 13-year-old girl said the cocaine had been given to her by her boyfriend. Even the police were stunned. A police spokesman said that they were now accustomed to young boys, 11 or 12 years of age, being involved in the drug traffic, but they had not suspected that little girls were also in it.
The spokesman said: “There are often several little girls standing around in the open-air drug markets; I guess we’ll have to start considering them as part of the market instead of them being the innocent bystanders we had assumed they were.” That two little girls could be wandering around with $10,000 worth of cocaine graphically depicts the prevalence of drugs in our society and surely demonstrates the easy money available in the drug trade.
Or if the president wanted to point out how ubiquitous drugs have become in our society, he could have used the results of a test performed by Lee Hearn, chief toxicologist, Dade County Medical Examiner Department. He examined 125 money bills ranging from $1 to $100 which had been obtained from 10 U.S. cities and found that 121 of them showed traces of cocaine. Cocaine users sometimes roll up bills into tubes through which to snort cocaine. Not all of these bills had necessarily been so used since a cocaine contaminated bill can contaminate other bills in a cash register drawer. The four bills that showed no traces of cocaine were brand new.
The vast amount of money to be made in the drug trade makes it hopeless to deal with the supply side since there will always be instant replacements for those removed from it. Washington’s largest drug distributor was arrested and recently sent to jail for life, but the police say that his removal caused no perceptible difference in the local drug market. The rewards to the supply side are simply worth the risk.
The vulnerable link is the drug user. It is not exactly clear why this is being almost completely neglected. It is reminiscent of the street prostitution problem where centuries of harassing, arresting, and fining prostitutes has no noticeable effect on the prostitution business. The reason is simply that prostitutes, being already desperate, have little to lose, and the police actions are simply considered a part of their overhead. The vulnerable customer is almost never bothered in any way by the police. It is the seller and not the buyer who is seen as the problem.
This attitude seems generally to have been assumed also in the drug traffic. An important distinction is made between possessing drugs for one’s own use and possessing drugs for sale. In many cases the law defines exact quantities which differentiate between these purposes. Yet it is obviously the user who creates the market and is responsible for the drug traffic.
Furthermore it is the user who is vulnerable to police action. In the open drug markets in the city, the customers drive by, stopping at the curb to make their purchases, and long lines of automobiles have been observed as customers awaited their turn. It would be a relatively simple matter to arrest the customers. Their automobiles used to transport their purchases could easily be confiscated. Also recall that these buyers are the American middle-class citizens who have positions, reputations, and sources of incomes in their communities, and they cannot afford to be known as jailbirds or criminals.
Governor Schaefer of Maryland recently proposed a plan that would punish drug users by stripping them of any state license if they were convicted of any drug offenses. This would include all professional people licensed by the state: doctors, lawyers, hair dressers, plumbers, real estate brokers, and dozens of professions. He also wants to suspend for one year the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a substance abuse crime. It is expected that the governor will have difficulty with getting the General Assembly which meets in January to enact some of his plans into law. His stand on users’ responsibility is stronger than any I’ve heard of, and certainly much stronger than the federal stance.
My argument for legalizing drugs is really based on the near impossibility of enforcing a law that the bulk of the people do not support. I cited the prohibition of alcohol as one that could not be enforced. A more benign example can be found in our speed laws. I don’t know what the violation rate is, but it’s certainly high. I can drive all day on the open road at, or very slightly above, the speed limit and not pass a single car but be passed very often by cars exceeding the limit by 10 to 20 mph. People simply do not believe that the speed limit is reasonable, and therefore they will not abide by it. The only real hope that I can see in ending the drug traffic is to convince the middle class, who is responsible for funding the drug business, that their drug buying is harmful to them and to our society and is not socially acceptable. I do not see much effort in this direction.
Hand set in Deepdene; display type is Stymie Medium and the initial is Homewood. Edited and published by Jake Warner who printed 380 copies on an SP-15 Vandercook; cover was printed on a 10×15 C&P.
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