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8/07/12 3:10pm

Silk Road Goes From Strength to Strength

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A package from Silk Road. Photo via

Silk Road is essentially the Amazon.com of drugs and paraphernalia—and one and a half years since it began, business seems to be booming. A recent study of the anonymous black marketplace found that the site makes an estimated $22 million in annual sales, and its operators now generate more than $6,000 a day in commissions for themselves—up from $2,500 a day in February. And the total number of sellers has climbed from around 300 to over 550 in the last six months. The site uses shadowy techniques to hide its location, making it pretty much impossible to identify customers or track their movements. But despite—or perhaps partly because of—this elusiveness, customers have a high level of satisfaction, with 97.8% giving positive reviews. “On a site like Silk Road, where…most of the goods sold are illicit, one would expect a certain amount of deception to occur,” says Nicolas Christin, a Carnegie Mellon computer security professor who conducted the study. “Indeed, a buyer choosing, for instance, to purchase heroin from an anonymous seller would have very little recourse if the goods promised are not delivered. Surprisingly, though, most transactions on Silk Road seem to generate excellent feedback from buyers.” Purchases are made with “Bitcoin,” an Internet-only currency that bypasses the traditional banking system, further reducing detectability.

Silk Road isn't for luddites: some technical know-how is required to get on the site. But despite this, and not despite not advertising at all, it has managed to generate roughly as much revenue as illegal online pharmacies that use spam emails to lure in customers. “If you imagine them selling paperclips and buttons, they’re a stable business that’s growing without advertising or being in the news, just by word of mouth,” says Christin. He cautions that his study only examined a six month period, and that the highly volatile Bitcoin has increased nearly 70% in value over that time period. But however you crunch them, “It’s very bursty and spikey, but overall the numbers are moving up,” says Christin. “It’s a stable marketplace, and overall it’s growing steadily.”

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By Chrisanne Grise

Drug War

8/07/12 2:08pm

Fear and Drug Cartels in Las Vegas

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Is Vegas welcoming some of the wrong
visitors? Photo via

They call it "Sin City" for a reason. Law enforcement officials claim that Mexican drug cartels are now working to establish a direct foothold in Vegas and are using it as a stepping stone to sell mass quantities of drugs to the East. Although the majority of drugs entering the US still come through Phoenix or Southern California, there has been a marked increase in drugs coming through Vegas. Kent Bitsko, executive director of a Nevada-based interagency drug task force, says within the last 18 months there were five instances of direct contact between the region's drug traffickers and Mexican cartels—indicating a step rise in the last several years of cartel-related drug activity. “The only time we will say cartel involvement is when they have the ability to call directly to Mexico and arrange their narcotics to come up here,” he said. Last year, task forces seized more than $66 million in drugs in Southern Nevada—more than double the amount seized in 2010, according to authorities. Most of the confiscated drugs consisted of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and meth. “We’ve done search warrants on homes and found (more than) 100 pounds of meth,” said Lt. Laz Chavez of Metro Police's narcotics section. “There’s no way that much can be sold just in Las Vegas.” Vegas police hope to avoid any cartel violence from occurring in their city, with Bitsko claiming that other US cities, including Phoenix and San Diego, have seen a recent increase in cartel-related kidnappings. “We just want to do whatever we can to keep that from happening,” said Chavez.

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By McCarton Ackerman

European Drugs

8/07/12 12:55pm

Sewage Tests Show Swiss Aren't Squeaky-Clean

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Covered in snow Photo via

The Swiss reputation for sparkling cleanliness is being challenged by a new report that shows the cities of Bern, Geneva, Lucerne and Zurich are amongst the highest for cocaine use in Europe. Published in Science of the Total Environment, the findings were based on tests of the sewage water of 15 million people in 19 European cities. The quantity of cocaine in Swiss city sewers was found to be amongst the highest in all of Europe—even climbing up to four times higher during events such as the Zurich Street Parade and music festivals. The research also found that Europeans consume approximately 356 kilos of cocaine every day—or 10-15% of the global production—according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. "The amounts of cocaine...were in the same range as those European cities with the highest consumption," said Christoph Ort of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. Swiss cities consume, on average, 1.5 grams per day per 1,000 people. Barcelona, London, Milan and Paris aren't far behind, however, with residents of these cities registering average use of 0.5-1 gram of the drug, followed by Scandinavian cities like Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki. The research also indicated that the drug is used most widely in central and western Europe, as opposed to eastern and northern regions.

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By Gabrielle Wuhl

crappy hour

8/07/12 11:40am

Ground Zero Has a Booze Problem

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"Vodka and steel beams don't mix."
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It would seem obvious that you should never drink while operating heavy machinery, but the Port Authority in NYC apparently needed to address that exact issue. In light of several incidents of construction accidents at the Ground Zero site and daytime drinking among workers, the agency is cracking down on workday drinking by upping the budget for its inspector general and adding undercover investigators to the unit. More than 20 workers have already lost their credentials, and it won't stop there. “Look, vodka and steel beams and a construction site don’t mix,” says Port Authority chief Pat Foye. “We are not going to tolerate it. This has been a longtime problem in the construction industry. But this is the most complicated construction project anywhere.” In February, 40 tons of steel crashed 40 stories to the ground, followed by an incident last June where a worker was impaled on a length of steel after falling five feet. Just one day after that, glass rained down on the street after a beam crashed into windows 46 stories up. All of the incidents occurred at 4 WTC, one of the towers being built alongside 1 WTC, nicknamed "The Freedom Tower." It's unclear if the incidents were drinking related, but the Port Authority is refusing to take any chances. “There is no place at the World Trade Center for risky or irresponsible behavior of any kind,” says Bud Perrone, a spokesman for the developer, Silverstein Properties.

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By McCarton Ackerman

effects of marijuana

8/07/12 10:52am

Teen Pot Smoking May Cause Long-Term Anxiety

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Reefer now, madness later. Photo via

Word on the street is that marijuana is relaxing (unless you forget how to breathe or think the cops have bugged your cellphone)—but the paranoia-inducing drug has been found to cause anxiety in teens, according to a recent study from Australia. Published in the journal Addiction, researchers drew from results of a 15-year study (1992-2008) of 2,000 Victorian secondary students, and found that teenagers who smoked pot once a week or more for at least six months, had more than double the risk of developing an anxiety disorder for up to a decade later. The connection between anxiety and cannabis use was consistent even when researchers took other possible explanations into account—such as other drug use or pre-existing mental health problems. “Given that anxiety is the most prevalent mental health disorder in the Australian population…we need to investigate the findings further because it is highly possible that early cannabis use causes enduring mental health risks,'' says the study's lead author Louisa Degenhardt, adding that cannabis use during adolescence seems to have “a persistent association with anxiety disorders” continuing into adulthood. “During the teen years the parts of the brain that are involved in managing emotions are still developing rapidly and it is highly possible that heavy cannabis use at this sensitive point could have long-lasting effects,” says study co-author George Patton, of Melbourne's Murdoch Children's Research Institute. "Some of the changes were in those parts of the brain, the limbic system, involved in emotional processing and that would be the kind of area that we would think would be implicated in problems related to anxiety.”

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By Valerie Tejeda

Headlines

8/07/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: August 7, 2012

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No more margaritas for Jessica? Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise

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