Monday, March 30, 2009

Vice President Biden's daughter may have been taped using cocaine

The New York Post reports that a person (and his lawyers) is peddling a video that purports to show Ashley Biden, the daughter of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, snorting cocaine at a party in her home state of Delaware.

This person is a disgusting sleazebag.

Any sensitive or compassionate person must empathize with Vice President Biden and his family. One of the most horrid experiences a father can have is for his daughter to be publicly humiliated and held up to ridicule, whether the facts are true or not. None of us would ever want a videotape of our child's indiscretions made public. Persons who seek to profit from such indiscretions are contemptible.

All of us should empathize with Ashley Biden. Whether this video accurately depicts her or not, she has been victimized. We know that about twenty million Americans use illegal drugs, and that half of all American adults have used an illegal drug at least once. She is being held up to ridicule for something that does not deserve ridicule. Even if she had snorted cocaine at a party, her privacy has been terribly invaded. (It is worth noting that there will be people who will feel completely justified in attacking Ashley Biden because she is suspected of using cocaine. There will be people who will feel justified attacking Vice President Biden for the policy positions he has taken because his daughter is rumored to have used cocaine. He is not responsible for his adult daughter's use of drugs.)

Even the President has admitted his use of illegal drugs, including cocaine, as a young man. President Clinton's brother, Roger, had a cocaine problem.

Imagine if video images of the admitted drug use by young Barack Obama had been made and been made public. The accomplishments of his career would have been inadequate to stem the damage to his ability to serve the public in high government office. It is remarkable to reflect that notwithstanding his admitted drug use, the American people overwhelmingly voted for him, implicitly affirming that his judgment and moral character were sound enough to be president.

If Ashley Biden has used cocaine, I do not consider it shameful or morally blameworthy. Cocaine's pleasurable effects are well known, as are its dangers. I, and millions of others, consider skiing to be extremely pleasurable too, yet it is often lethal to thousands, as we witnessed a few days ago with the death of actress Natasha Richardson, and the less recent death of U.S. Rep. Sonny Bono. Life is risky, period. People have a right to pursue risk and pleasure simultaneously. Indeed, sometimes they are inextricable!

Unfortunately, because cocaine has been made illegal, the inherent dangers of its use are compounded. These risks include adulteration by harmful chemicals, a growing problem right now. DEA reported last October that 30 percent of seized cocaine was adulterated with levamisole (a drug that can compromise the immune system), a 10-fold increase over the previous October.

The most common risk for a young adult like Ashley is the risk of a criminal arrest, prosecution, punishment, and loss of liberty. 1.5 million persons were charged with the crime of simple possession of a controlled substance in 2005. Every arrest for the act of using cocaine is a tragedy because that act does not warrant punishment or stigmatization.

A lesser risk for Ashley, and persons like her, is that she develops a dependence on cocaine. That would be equally tragic, but which again does not warrant punishment or stigmatization.

Sadly, dependence can deplete one's bank account, and many cocaine dependent persons sell cocaine in order to finance their dependent use. Simply selling drugs to other willing adults also does not warrant punishment. (Of course, it is likely that most drug sellers do not pay taxes on their income selling drugs which is appropriately punishable. Many drug sellers cut the potency of the drugs they sell, and that is a fraud upon their customers which deserves punishment. Many drug sellers adulterate the drugs the sell, and that is both a fraud and creates unknowing and unconsented-to health risks for their customers, and that deserves punishment. And many serious drug sellers need to resort to the threat of violence simply in order to protect themselves, their inventory, their receipts, the employees, and their customers from the significant threat of robbery. Drug sellers can't hire legal security firms or off-duty police officers for protection.)

There is one certain consequence of the use of cocaine, however. The proceeds of the purchase of the cocaine finance criminal organizations (the infamous cartels), and their use of violence and corruption. This has the certain consequence of violence and corruption, which is a plague upon the people of Mexico, Colombia, and dozens of other nations in our hemisphere. This terrible consequence of buying cocaine is the certain result of bad public policy choices, but it can be fixed.

I commend Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for speaking the truth last week about the role of U.S. demand for drugs as a driver of the prohibition violence and corruption in Mexico, and of the general failure of American anti-drug policies. Parenthetically, none of the proposals of the various border and interdiction initiatives the Administration is announcing will do much to stop the flow of the drugs north to the U.S. or the profits south.

My heart goes out to the Biden family. If these circumstances are true, one way that America might appropriately respond is to at last recognize that use of drugs is normal behavior, like premarital sex.

Fornication is still a crime in many jurisdictions, but really, our society now considers it a private matter.

Perhaps at some point we will consider those who circulate videos of persons using drugs will be considered victimizers in the same way we think of pornographers. And we will consider the persons depicted victimized and they will have our compassion, not our blame.

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