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7/26/12 10:30am

LA Parole Sweep Sends Dozens Back to Jail

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Cops swooped on 400 parolees.
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Seventy people were arrested, and seizures included 30 grams of cocaine and 156 grams of marijuana, as the largest surprise parole sweep in California's history took place in Los Angeles County yesterday morning. Around 700 federal, state and local law enforcement officers came to the homes of 400 parolees, who were cuffed while their homes were searched for potential violations. As well as drugs, officers confiscated five pitbulls—possibly used for dogfighting—and 20 fully grown marijuana plants. One child was taken into protective custody. An estimated 7,000 of LA County's 16,000 parolees are thought to have gang ties, and “Operation Guardian” was meant to counter a spike in gang-related crime. “It keeps them on their toes,” says parole agent Rick McKail. “They don’t know when we might come out.” Arthur Mosqueda, an assistant manager for the department’s Los Angeles division, adds “By doing these surprised or unannounced searches, you have the opportunity to take guns off the streets…then we’re all safer.” Parole officers say that they're often the only buffer that parolees who want a fresh start have against the ever-present gang life and violence—their job is to encourage them to seek rehabilitation programs and employment.

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By Valerie Tejeda

Headlines

7/26/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: July 26, 2012

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Kennedy had blamed her DUI on a seizure.
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By Gabrielle Wuhl

Politically Incorrect

7/25/12 5:13pm

Drug Money Funds Kentucky Voter Fraud

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Votes often go for 50$ a pop. Photo via

This is not your average case of voter fraud. In a drug-ridden political scandal straight from America's heartland, major cocaine and marijuana dealers have admitted to buying votes in order to steal elections and guarantee protection from politicians. The state is now cracking down on the fraud in a series of court cases, and so far, more than 20 public elected officials and others have been convicted or plead guilty in the last two years in the Eastern District of Kentucky alone. Kerry B. Harvey, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, describes the scheme as “very extensive, organized criminal activity, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars and in many cases that involves drug money.” The area faces enormous financial difficulties, which has helped the practice of vote-buying to thrive. “These folks go out and hijack the local elections for their own purposes and then they use those jobs to enrich themselves and their confederates,” Harvey says. Prosecutors say that more than $400,000—much of it drug proceeds—was pooled by both Democratic and Republican politicians over several elections, and used to buy the votes of more than 8,000 voters. “When it comes to vote buying, it’s an everyday thing,” says Michael Salyers, a former magistrate candidate who is now serving jail time for buying votes in 2010. “It’s pretty much like jaywalking."

Major drug dealers allegedly give candidates money to buy votes, or line up bribed voters themselves, in exchange for protection once the candidate was elected. "I've also bought, traded, bought votes for different candidates," testified Eugene Lewis—a Democratic Board of Elections Judge who is also a convicted cocaine trafficker and marijuana dealer. "I would pay them right in the booth…You would not believe the percentage of people, from school teachers down, that I have bought their vote from. It's unbelievable." J.C. Lawson, another convicted marijuana and cocaine dealer, also testified that he helped win elections by giving candidates "voters and people and money," and he even gave the sheriff about $20,000 for his race. Lawson admits the money came from drug dealing. In order to fight the conspiracy, an election integrity task force and special hotline have been set up to prevent voter fraud, and investigators have been placed across the state. “If you sell your vote, you are selling the heart of democracy,” says Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. “If the government belongs to someone who is out there buying votes, rather than the free will of the people, then it doesn’t belong to everybody. It is very central to our democracy, so I think this work is very important.”

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By Chrisanne Grise

AIDS 2012

7/25/12 3:56pm

Drug Users Take Global AIDS Confab by Storm

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Drug user and sex workers protest.
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The AIDS epidemic has devastated injection-drug users worldwide, and their plight—and the neglect of it—is stealing headlines this week at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. "AIDS 2012" has attracted 20,000 scientists, advocates, media, Big Pharma and big names—from Hillary and Bill Clinton, Laura and George W. Bush, and much of Obama’s cabinet to Bill Gates, Elton John and Whoopi Goldberg. Even the entire AIDS Quilt is on display—all 1.3 million square feet, memorializing the 600,000 Americans killed by AIDS. But the relatively small contingent of drug-use activists has set much of the agenda—above all, on needle exchange—with some crafty early actions. Along with sex workers and men who have sex with men, drug users are among “criminalized groups” in most of the world; it’s no coincidence that these groups include most of the 33 million people with HIV.

On Sunday, the activists disrupted the opening press conference to protest federal laws blocking current or former IV-drug users from entering the US. President Obama, who won praise from the AIDS community in 2009 for lifting the longtime travel ban against people with HIV, refused to grant a blanket waiver for advocates for IV drug users (many are former addicts) to attend the bi-annual conference. The protesters’ slogan—“Nothing about us without us”—immediately became AIDS 2012’s mantra. “Drug users run our own clean syringe programs and have had real success, but are not being used as models of success,” said Alan Clear, executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. “Why? Stigma.”

Activists followed up by dropping a banner reading “Clean Needles Stop AIDS” at the Washington Nationals baseball game on Monday night. Then on Tuesday, at a large multi-issue march, protesters upped the ante, demanding, "End the Drug War" in order to end the AIDS epidemic.

Anecdotal evidence suggests, though, that the Obama administration quietly allowed even self-admitted drug users to enter the US for the conference—effectively issuing a silent waiver, dodging the political fallout that would likely have resulted from an official act. (Alexandra Volgina, Russia’s leading activist for the nation’s IV-drug users, who suffer the highest rate of new HIV infections in the world, writes about the ban here.) Yet rather than testing the law, many drug-user advocates announced a boycott of AIDS 2012, holding their own conference-approved “hub” in Kiev two weeks ago, where they videotaped personal messages of protest that are airing at the conference.

The entry ban serves as a potent symbol of stigma, which fuels the discrimination and criminalization that, in all but the most progressive nations, limits HIV prevention to abstinence. Clean needle swaps, despite many studies over 20 years proving their effectiveness at cutting HIV transmission, remain widely outlawed, with opponents making false claims that the exchanges increase drug use. At AIDS 2012, two major studies add still more weight to that pro-exchange case. A long-term study of drug users in Amsterdam, where the world’s first syringe giveaway was set up in 1984, found HIV incidence among the city’s IV drug users close to zero by 2011. A cost-benefit analysis conducted by US researchers concludes that even a 10% expansion of the swaps, costing $64 million a year, would prevent 500 new infections—saving $193 million in unnecessary treatment with HIV cocktails, which average $15,000 a year per person.

Stigma, discrimination and criminalization of drug users are targets for the top-billed speakers at AIDS 2012. Secretary of State Clinton, who was interrupted by protesters as soon as she started speaking at the opening plenary, seemed to welcome the noise. “What would an AIDS conference be without a little protesting?” she asked, to cheers and applause. “We understand that.” Referencing “the needs of injection-drug users,” she vowed that the US will “fight for the resources to achieve an AIDS-free generation.” Rep. Barbara Lee (California—D), a longtime congressional firebrand for progressive AIDS legislation, called for an end to the federal ban on funding needle exchanges, and a litany of other policies like condoms in prisons. Mark Dybul, who was President George W. Bush’s openly gay appointee to head the much-lauded PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), went even further—supporting both syringe swaps and opioid substitution therapy as cornerstones of HIV prevention.

For continuing news on drug user issues and actions during the remaining days of AIDS 2012, check out HIVandhepatitis.com

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By Walter Armstrong

Celebrity Rehab

7/25/12 3:11pm

Rehab Was a Friend to Matthew Perry

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He's been there before. Photo via

Rehab was there for Matthew Perry when the rain started to pour—and now that experience is helping inform his new role as the star of NBC's New Comedy Series Go On. The friendly face of Chandler Bing will be playing Ryan King, a sports radio talk show host who joins a support group to help him cope with the death of his wife. "I don't have a lot of experience with grieving, but I have a ton of experience sitting in circles and talking about my problems," says the former Friends star, who famously spent time in-and-out of rehab for painkiller and alcohol addiction. “I've been doing that for a long, long time so I didn't have to do much research." The actor says he believes in the value of twelve-step programs, and his new TV character—although not an addict—can benefit from learning that "people need people. Not being alone with it, that's what he has to learn." But support groups don't have to be a dismal experience, says Perry, and there is humor to be gleaned from the experience. “The interesting thing is that common bond creates a lot of laughter, a lot of jokes, and a lot of funny." Ever since Friends, Perry has found himself attracted to darker comedies, and particularly characters who are broken and on a path to self-betterment. "I get to do both things I really enjoy; comedy and drama. I hope I'm playing him in a sympathetic way while still being funny."

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By Gabrielle Wuhl

college Drinking

7/25/12 2:06pm

Alcoholic Energy Drinks Linked to More Casual Sex

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A libidinous combination. Photo via

Energy drinks cause hyperactivity, and booze lowers your inhibitions—so it's perhaps not entirely shocking that combining the two would lead to an increase in casual sex, especially among college students. A new study from the University of Buffalo reveals that students who consume alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AmED's)—such as Red Bull and vodka, or Four Loko—are more likely to report having a casual partner and/or being intoxicated during their most recent sexual encounter. Previous research has linked alcoholic energy drink consumption with dangerous behaviors such as binge drinking, drunk driving and fighting—and now getting drunkenly laid, with a risk of STI's, can be added to the list. "Mixing energy drinks with alcohol can lead to unintentional overdrinking, because the caffeine makes it harder to assess your own level of intoxication," said study author Kathleen Miller. "AmEDs have stronger priming effects than alcohol alone. In other words, they increase the craving for another drink, so that you end up drinking more overall." Miller says the increased popular of alcoholic energy drinks may be contributing to the "hook up culture" that is prevalent on college campuses. However, the study found that AmED's do not lead to an increase in risky sexual behavior, such as unprotected sex. Participants in the study were more likely to use a condom during sex with a casual partner than during sex with a steady partner, regardless of their AmED use.

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By McCarton Ackerman

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