After a gripping public trial, Michael Jackson's former private doctor, Conrad Murray, was today finally found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by an LA jury. Murray, 58, caused the 50-year-old King of Pop's death in June 2009 through his use of the powerful anesthetic propofol. Murray could be sentenced to up to four years in jail—but his conviction is for the least serious of all the various levels of homicide offenses, so it's still possible he could even escape with just probation. He's pretty much certain to lose his medical license after he's sentenced. Murray had admitted to cops in a taped interview that he gave in to Jackson's repeated requests for the sedative propofol, which is normally only used in hospitals. Witnesses also testified that Murray administered the drug in an unmonitored setting, failed to keep proper records, chatted on his mobile phone as the star OD'd and then bungled his resuscitation attempts. Experts said that all these factors played their part in Jacko's death. The jury reached its decision after nine hours of deliberations over two days. Murray showed no emotion as the verdict was announced. His attorneys asked for him to be released on bail pending sentencing on November 29, but Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor denied this request, citing a "significant and demonstrable" risk posed to the public by Murray's "reckless" behavior. Jackson family members Katherine, La Toya and Jermaine hugged and kissed as they left the courtroom.
Plymouth County, Massachusetts, could be the easiest place in the country to drive drunk and get away with it. Massachusetts in general has an astronomical DUI acquittal rate of over 80%, and Plymouth County may well be the "epicenter" of such leniency, reports the Boston Globe. Accused drivers in the county exercise their right to waive a jury trial in 75% of cases, and there's a reason for that: the judges in bench trials here find 86% of such defendants not guilty. And certain judges are particularly sought-after by defense attorneys; for example, Thomas S. Barrett and Toby S. Mooney can boast acquittal rates of 94% and 96% respectively in such cases. Some "quirks" of the law boost these figures. In Massachusetts, refusing to take a breathalyzer can't be held against you in court, and you won't lose your license for it either, as long as you're ultimately found not guilty—which, as we've established, is likely. "The fact that somebody refused doesn't mean anything except that they refused," insists former district court judge Tom Merrigan. "They might have a medical condition, they might have heard stories that these machines are unreliable..." This filmed report examines other examples of Plymouth County's inventively generous attitude towards any driver who may just possibly have been over the limit, such as the 2008 case of 24-year-old Caleb Maddous. He crashed into a house by the roadside no fewer than three times in the same accident, before vomiting and telling a paramedic, "No, I can't drive drunk." He was acquitted.
Some of the shadowiest recesses of the War On Drugs™ have been exposed in a New York Times article by Charlie Savage. It depicts the Drug Enforcement Agency as an out-of-control, secretive outfit, running commando-style units that are notably adept at slipping across borders, executing suspected traffickers without trial, and disrupting drug distribution lines using violence and targeted assassinations. It's a playbook that seems more suited to the Sinaloa Cartel than a legitimate branch of the US government. The article explores the murky world of FAST (the Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team), a section of five commando units within the DEA, created under President George W. Bush. Savage writes: "The evolution of the program into a global enforcement arm reflects the United States’ growing reach in combating drug cartels and how policy makers increasingly are blurring the line between law enforcement and military activities, fusing elements of the 'War on Drugs' with the 'War on Terrorism.'” Secrecy's the name of the game here. Fearing a backlash from their angry citizens, nations often refuse to acknowledge that they've invited US troops onto their shores to fight a proxy war with drug cartels. Even Mexico, which has openly taken its 30 pieces of silver from the US, refuses to let the DEA’s commandos run loose south of the border. But mounting evidence suggests other countries have no such qualms.
An operation in March this year to intercept a half-ton of cocaine touching down in Honduras ended in a firefight that left two alleged drug traffickers dead and a Honduran customs officer injured. The 20-minute shoot-out was witnessed by Honduras's then-Minister for Public Security, Oscar Alvarez, who said, “I don’t want to say it was Vietnam-style, but it was typical of war action.” Tellingly, he declined to say whether the Americans took part in the actual shooting, but according to the Times, another person familiar with the episode confirmed it. There's good reason for denial: federal law expressly prohibits the DEA from carrying out arrests overseas—they may only “accompany” their foreign counterparts on operations. Only in “exigent circumstances” may they open fire. Rule-bending is nothing new when it comes to the War on Drugs, but the idea that the US government—which poses as some kind of benchmark for democracy and liberty—exports secret commando units to perform targeted assassinations and "in-all-but-name" military operations, sanctioned neither by congress nor the people, is deeply unsavory. In truth, it makes the DEA seem as dirty and underhanded as the drug cartels. Of course, admitting that the drug war has been an expensive, bloody folly and reacting accordingly would leave no need for such shady deals and covert violence.
Just in time for Christmas, a Florida-based beverage company is rolling out a new whiskey that packs all the punch of this powerful spirit, but none of the buzz. Called ArKay, this water-based drink is made up of flavorings, chemicals, and colorings, and is packaged in bottles and the more casual aluminum can. Billing itself as “the world’s first alcohol-free whisky-flavored drink,” ArKay is certified Halal to appeal to a market of aspirational Islamic teetotalers, and manufactured in factories in the tropical paradise of Panama. As expected, the beverage has come under fire from the Scotch Whisky Association, and, presumably, anyone with sense. “It is not possible to make alcohol-free whisky,” an SWA spokesman tell The Fix. “This company is trying to exploit whisky’s reputation.”
ArKay is certainly trying to exploit something, though it’s hard to imagine which market the beverage is aiming for. People who don’t drink for religious reasons have never developed a taste for whiskey, while people in recovery are unlikely to have a nostalgic mocktail mixed with canned whiskey. Up next: for those who miss the nasal drip, a non-narcotic cocaine to accompany it.
It's not surprising that most emergency room visits in the United States involve alcohol or drugs. But what brand of alcohol sends the most people to the ambulance? Vodka. Specifically Smirnoff. According to a recent survey of Baltimore hospitals, many of the patients who end up in the emergency room due to alcohol-related injuries, car crashes, or domestic violence had ingested the Russian-made vodka up to six hours earlier. The second most deadly category was brandy and cognac, followed by gin brands like Gilbey's, Beefeaters and Tanqueray. David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which conducted the study, said that nearly one third of all injury-related visits to emergency departments involved booze. While hard liquors like vodka represent about one-third of the total alcohol market, they were implicated in an astonishing 70% of booze-related ER visits. Brandy and gin together accounted for 20% of the ER visits, well above the weight of their small market share. Malt beverages like Steel Reserve and Bud Ice—popular brands with African Americans, who made up a majority of the patients in the study—were favored by 27% of those surveyed. Wine drinkers rarely end up in the emergency room in Baltimore. The report was presented at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Washington, DC.
Ominously, Jernigan also found that “the most commonly chosen favorite [brand] among underage females was Smirnoff… overall the most popular brand of alcohol for adolescent drinkers surveyed.” Vodka makes up the majority of sales in the hard liquor market, perhaps partly because it's less detectable on drinkers' breath—which matters to teens. And the fact that brandy and gin, not beer and wine, were the next largest categories also bolsters the notion that marketing strong drinks to teenagers works: “Youth exposure to alcohol advertising, particularly on television, has grown by leaps and bounds,” Jernigan said. In an earlier study, 42% of teenage drinkers preferred a beer brand and just 3% went for a name-brand wine. 53% favored a distilled spirit.
- Cameraman Killed in Rio Shoot-Out During Police Drugs Raid [The Guardian]
- Pills' Artificial Sense of Safety Can Lull Many into Addiction [DelawareOnline.com]
- Young Drug Users Turn to "Bubble" for a Cheap High [The Guardian]
- Dramatic Drop in Pseudoephedrine Seizures in New Zealand [New Zealand Herald]
- San Antonio Spurs GM Cited for DWI [KSAT]
- Drunk Driver Blamed for Crash, Fire and Power Outage in Sylmar [LA Times]
- Alcohol, Asthma and Allergies Don't Mix [MSN.com]
- Spanish Smugglers Molded Cocaine into Manolo Blahnik Replicas [New York Post]