The Kremlin have denied that they are cracking down on dissent now that Vladimir Putin has returned to the presidency, but their actions suggest otherwise. First, punk band Pussy Riot were given jail time over an anti-Putin protest, and now an opposition activist has been sentenced to jail for eight years for selling drugs—double the prison term requested by prosecutors. Taisiya Osipova, 28, has remained in jail since being arrested in 2010, but maintains her innocence and claims the drugs were planted on her. Her husband says the case is politically motivated, as the couple are both involved in activism for the opposition group Other Russia. "The authorities are simply taking revenge on my wife," Sergei Fomchenkov, Osipova's husband, was quoted as saying. Nikolai Polozov, a lawyer for the three members of Pussy Riot agrees, tweeting: "The Osipova sentence is the nightmare that is enveloping all of us." Osipova was hoping for an acquittal or suspended sentence, but the judge sentenced her to eight years in prison—even though the prosecutors had only requested four. Fomchenkov says his wife will appeal the verdict, which was reportedly based on testimony from pro-Kremlin activists.
While the Republicans and Democrats hold their respective conventions, the real action is happening online. The Huffington Post's Shadow Conventions aim to provide an alternative to the hot air and photo-ops of the donkey, elephant and pony shows—holding a spirited discussion on the subjects “they will not be talking about in Tampa and Charlotte.” Naturally, a major topic is the War on Drugs. At the RNC or the DNC it’ll no doubt be about as welcome a subject for discussion as pornography. But over at HuffPo you're spoilt for choice. Here are some highlights:
“Why Marijuana Should Be Legalized” features a fascinating interview with Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol members Mason Tvert, Betty Aldworth and Brian Vicente, who talk about their hard work toward getting Proposition 64 passed in Colorado later this year. Prop 64 looks increasingly likely to pass—and if it does, Colorado will be the new front line in the war against pot prohibition.
We also have an illuminating—if rather depressing—glimpse into the lack of contrast between the presidential candidates when it comes to the subject of medical marijuana. While Romney has tried to remain tight-lipped on the subject—even grumbling to one reporter that he’s “not running on the issues of marriage or marijuana”—the indications we do have about his policies are hardly encouraging for progressives. And without vowing to fight marijuana legalization “tooth and nail,” Obama has been happily doing it anyway for the past four years. Ah, democracy.
Then there’s a look into how the American expat community in Mexico feels let down by US drug policies—a piece which rather unsurprisingly comes to the conclusion that when you can literally see, smell and touch the effects of the US-led war on drugs, the idea of spending trillions of dollars to stamp out marijuana use may seem a little…stupid. According to one American real-estate agent who works south of the border, "Many [expats] think that the US should legalize marijuana, which accounts for a large percentage of the profits of the cartels, tax it with revenues going to aid law enforcement along the border."
Next up, LEAP’s Leonard Freiling, a former judge and a leader in the bar of the State of Colorado, writes a spirited op-ed on why both major parties ignore the growing voter fatigue with the War on Drugs at their peril. And just in case it’s all getting a little too serious for you, check out this fun exploration of Hollywood’s evolving attitude toward the war on drugs, as expressed through movies like Scarface, Traffic and Midnight Express. Happy reading!
Behind the laugh track, life hasn't been all chuckles for comedic actor Kelsey Grammer. The former Frasier star and current co-star of Boss on STARZ has revealed that he fell into a deep depression after the abduction, rape and murder of his younger sister Karen in 1975, leading to a more than 20-year addiction to alcohol and cocaine. "The first two years were the hardest. I did some drugs, I did some alcohol, but that was mostly earlier on," revealed Grammer in a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey. "My love affair with cocaine, which was my drug of choice, was motivated by a few other things, about not really deserving the things I had got. Also, I liked it." But while Grammer was originally a functioning addict, a series of drunk driving and cocaine possession arrests soon followed and he ultimately flipped his car while intoxicated. The latter incident led to him checking into the Betty Ford Center in 1996 and Grammer has remained clean of cocaine ever since. "It was fun, I had fun, it just eventually becomes something you can't keep doing... I finally quit blow in 1996, that's when I was done... It's a fond a memory, but it's no longer a friend..." he says. But as far as alcohol, he hasn't cut ties with that "friend" completely, admitting: "I still have a drink sometimes."
A simple behavioral test may soon be able to predict whether individuals are predisposed towards being alcoholics—before they've even started drinking. Yale researchers used Pavlovian conditioning to experiment on mice, and found that those that reacted the most to food cues also displayed more alcoholism-related behaviors—including the inability to stop seeking alcohol and a tendency to relapse—but otherwise did not differ in food-seeking behavior. “We are trying to understand the neurobiology underlying familial risk for alcoholism,” says Jane Taylor, psychology professor at the Yale School of Medicine and senior author of the study, which is published in Nature Neuroscience. “What is encouraging about this study is that we have identified both a behavioral indicator and a molecule that explains that risk.” The team also identified a role for neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) and its modified form, PSA-NCAM, which are involved in the brain's ability to change and remap itself (called "brain plasticity"). The mice with low levels of PSA-NCAM in a particular area of the brain were unable to control their alcohol-seeking urges, while those with higher levels of the molecule appeared less addicted. “This would make sense since alcoholism is associated with a lack of neurobiological and behavioral plasticity,” Taylor says. “The brains of alcoholics seem to get stuck in the same patterns of activity.” This is not the first time scientists have sought to locate alcoholic predisposition in the brain; another recent study found that MRIs may be able to predict risky teen boozing before it happens.
This isn't the best way to make a first impression at a new job. San Francisco's newly appointed Catholic archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, was arrested for drunk driving over the weekend in San Diego. He was booked into a county jail and released on $2,500 bond the same day. In a statement released through the Oakland Diocese, which he has been the Bishop for since 2009, Cordileone admits to having dinner with friends and family before getting in his car to drive home, and apologizes for his behavior—although declining to mention that he had imbibed alcohol with his dinner. "While driving my mother home, I passed through a DUI checkpoint the police had set up near the SDSU campus before I reached her home, and was found to be over the California legal blood alcohol level," says Cordileone in the statement. “I apologize for my error in judgment and feel shame for the disgrace I have brought upon the Church and myself." The DUI charge is just another thing to add to the list in Cordileone's already contentious appointment to the archbishop position: his vehement stance against same-sex marriage has raised more than a few eyebrows in the gay-friendly city.
Hip clothing store Urban Outfitters often pushes the envelope with its provocative t-shirts. But a controversial new line—aimed at teenagers—is causing quite the stir, with slogans like “I Vote for Vodka,” “USA Drinking Team” and “I Drink You’re Cute” spelled out in drunkenly blurry letters. With teen drinking and drug use a perpetual concern, the tees have earned predictable opprobrium in some quarters. "Kids shouldn't be wearing these t-shirts," says Jan Withers, national president of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). "Marketing [alcohol-related products] to teens is not in any way acceptable." Most Urban Outfitters customers are aged between 18 and 24, while their second largest demographic is under-18s. But branded merchandise laws allow clothing with this kind of content to be promoted towards people of any age. Withers believes the messages on the t-shirts will act as a silent form of peer pressure. But she also sees a chance for parents to communicate: "It's a perfect opportunity to talk to kids about the dangers of alcohol use for teens. Part of our mission at MADD is to prevent underage drinking and the research shows that the best way to combat this is to have an ongoing dialogue with our children."