Category: CIVIL LIBERTIES

It Is Unspeakable’: How Maduro Used Cuban Doctors to Coerce Venezuela Voters

Yansnier Arias knew it was wrong. It violated the Constitution, not to mention the oath he took as a doctor in Cuba.

He had been sent to Venezuela by the Cuban government, one of thousands of doctors deployed to shore up ties between the two allies and alleviate Venezuela’s collapsing medical system.

But with President Nicolás Maduro’s re-election on the line, not everyone was allowed to be treated, Dr. Arias said.

A 65-year-old patient with heart failure entered his clinic — and urgently needed oxygen, he said. The tanks sat in another room at the ready, he recalled.

But he said his Cuban and Venezuelan superiors told him to use the oxygen as a political weapon instead: Not for medical emergencies that day, but to be doled out closer to the election, part of a national strategy to compel patients to vote for the government.

May 20, 2018, was nearing, he said, and the message was clear: Mr. Maduro needed to win, at any cost.

“There was oxygen, but they didn’t let me use it,” said Dr. Arias, who defected from the Cuban government’s medical program late last year and now lives in Chile. “We had to leave it for the election.”

To maintain their hold over Venezuela, Mr. Maduro and his supporters have often used the nation’s economic collapse to their advantage, dangling food before hungry voters, promising extra subsidies if he won, and demanding that people present identification cards tied to government rations when they came to the polls.

But participants in the schemes say Mr. Maduro and his supporters have deployed another tool as well: Cuba’s international medical corps.

n interviews, 16 members of Cuba’s medical missions to Venezuela — a signature element of relations between the two countries — described a system of deliberate political manipulation in which their services were wielded to secure votes for the governing Socialist Party, often through coercion.

Many tactics were used, they said, from simple reminders to vote for the government to denying treatment for opposition supporters with life-threatening ailments.

The Cuban doctors said they were ordered to go door-to-door in impoverished neighborhoods, offering medicine and warning residents that they would be cut off from medical services if they did not vote for Mr. Maduro or his candidates.

Many said their superiors directed them to issue the same threats during closed-door consultations with patients seeking treatment for chronic diseases.

One former Cuban supervisor said that she and other foreign medical workers were given counterfeit identification cards to vote in an election. Another doctor said she and others were told to give precise voting instructions to elderly patients, whose infirmities made them particularly easy to manipulate.

“These are the kinds of things you should never do in your life,” said the doctor. Like several others, she spoke on the condition of anonymity because she and her relatives could face retaliation by the Cuban or Venezuelan authorities.

‘When They See Us’: Teaser, First Images Unveiled For Ava DuVernay’s Netflix Limited Series On Central Park Five

Unveiling a name change for the limited series, Netflix has dropped the first teaser for When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s scripted, four-part project on The Central Park Five. The release coincides with the 30th anniversary of the incident.

In a statement, Netflix says in part: “The media dubbed the men The Central Park Five and they were forever linked to that name.  The new title aims to break them free from that moniker. This is a story told from the perspective of the five men. It is important to everyone involved in the project to give these men an opportunity to tell their story and the series should have a title that represents their story.”

“In 1989, five Black and brown teen boys were wrongly accused of a crime they did not commit and branded The Central Park Five, a moniker that has followed them since that time. In 2019, our series gives the five men a platform to finally raise their voices and tell their full stories. In doing so, Korey, Antron, Raymond, Kevin and Yusef also tell the story of many young people of color unjustly ensnared in the criminal justice system. We wanted to reflect this perspective in our title, embracing the humanity of the men and not their politicized moniker,” says DuVernay.

The official description of the series: Based on a true story that gripped the country, When They See Us will chronicle the notorious case of five teenagers of color, labeled the Central Park Five, who were convicted of a rape they did not commit. The four-part limited series will focus on the five teenagers from Harlem — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise. Beginning in the spring of 1989, when the teenagers were first questioned about the incident, the series will span 25 years, highlighting their exoneration in 2002 and the settlement reached with the city of New York in 2014.

Portraying the young versions of the five are Jharrel Jerome, Ethan Herisse, Caleel Harris, Asante Blackk and Marquis Rodriguez.  Jerome will also play the adult version of his character, alongside Chris Chalk, Freddy Miyares, Jovan Adepo and Justin Cunningham as the others.

Felicity Huffman and Vera Farmiga will play members of the prosecution team, while Michael K. Williams, John Leguizamo, Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, Kylie Bunbury, Storm Reid and Marsha Stephanie Blake play family members of the accused. Famke Janssen, Aurora Perrineau, Omar J. Dorsey and Adepero Oduye also have roles.

The series was created by Ava DuVernay, who also co-wrote and directed the four parts. Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King from Participant Media, Oprah Winfrey from Harpo Films and Jane Rosenthal, Berry Welsh and Robert De Niro from Tribeca Productions will executive produce the limited series alongside DuVernay through her banner, Forward Movement. DuVernay, Attica Locke, Robin Swicord and Michael Starrburry also serve as writers on the limited series.

Watch the teaser and check out the images below:

Why Would Somebody Fake a Hate Crime?

We still don’t know exactly what happened in the Jussie Smollett case that has dominated the news cycle for the past week. What we do know is that after the Empire star revealed he was allegedly the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime, conflicting reports started to emerge suggesting that Smollett may have been involved in orchestrating the incident. Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, the two brothers who were originally considered suspects, both knew Smollett in advance of the attack and told Chicago police that they were hired by Smollett. After the Chicago PD announced they were “shifting the trajectory” of their investigation, Smollett said in a statement that he is “angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with” and that anyone claiming he played a role in his own attack “is lying.”

While it’s too soon to render a verdict on what exactly went down, if the case does prove to be a hoax, the ramifications are hard to overstate. As we’ve seen in the extremely rare cases involving false rape allegations, they serve as ammo for people looking to undermine the credibility of genuine victims (like clockwork, Donald Trump Jr. is already tweeting about Smollett’s story, in which his attackers were originally described as two men shouting, “This is MAGA country”). But what would motivate someone to pretend to be the victim of a hate crime? We called up Dr. Marc Feldman, who is not involved in the case but is an expert on factitious disorder and Munchausen syndrome by proxy, to learn more about “factitious victimization” — a disorder that causes people to feign victimhood for psychological reasons — and how it could come into play in the Smollett case.

What did you think when you first heard this case might be a hoax?

Munchausen syndrome refers to the most extreme examples of “factitious disorder,” which is the official psychiatric term for people who feign illness or injury for intangible reasons. Ever since I encountered my first case of a woman who faked cancer for emotional reasons back in 1989, I’ve obviously been more sensitive to that possibility than most people ever would be. I try not to falsely accuse people and that’s why I am approaching this subject with a little timidity. But when it does arise I think it’s important that we identify it and help educate the public about it. READ MORE: https://www.thecut.com/2019/02/why-would-somebody-fake-a-hate-crime.html

SF Muni Ignores Harassment Allegations and open Pandora’s box

By Bobby Mardis

A brief conversation with Muni Transit Car Cleaner Lead Person, Valerie Taybron, led to spewing an emotional colloquy on why she has been unable to retire from SFMTA.  She stated that she and others are victims of the mismanagement of their retirement funds, and of years of service.  When digging deeper into what was seemingly an obvious error in paperwork, or maybe a simple accounting mistake has opened up Pandora’s box of gross internal mismanagement on surprising levels.  Sexual harassment allegations and retaliation has hit transportation giant, San Francisco MUNI.  Court documents show that Key management officials at Muni have been under investigation for not only blatant harassment, but also the mismanagement that has plagued SFMTA that has led to endless litigation.

Richmond Resident Valerie Taybron is preparing her case with authorities to address not only the sexual harassment allegations, but also retaliation and racial discrimination actions.  Most recently Muni Chief, John Haley stepped down from Sexual Harassment charges towards his assistant, Sabrina Suzuki, who filed a suit, which led to his early retirement. In an SF Examiner article released on October 31, 2018, the problem runs deep with approximately 60 women giving written testimony to the SFMTA on October 22 addressing sexual harassment allegations. In 2016 Sherri Anderson, a SFMTA employee was another victim of sexual harassment and retaliation by management that recently settled her case based on court documents. (Case #: CGC-16-555748)

Although Ms. Taybron has her own separate complaints against Muni, it is well documented that her case is not an isolated incident.  She has reported her allegations to Ed Reiskin, General Manager Public Transportation, John Haley Deputy Director, Donald Ellison, Deputy Director of HR, and Hector Cardenas Local of 1021 with no resolution, or an attempted investigation. Employees suggest that not only are a good number of sexual harassment issues ignored by management, but also accusers have been continually retaliated against for their complaints. 

In the case of Joycelyn Lampkin, a Muni car cleaner, who alleged sexual harassment by her supervisor, Darryl Person, she filed an official grievance with the HR EEO supervisor Maria Valdez with no resolve.  After Mrs. Lampkin took some time off, she returned to work and inquired about the results of the investigation and Mrs. Valdez responded to the alleged incident by stating, and I quote, “You will rot in hell before I will do anything,” per Mrs. Lampkin.  Much like in the recent February 12th Examiner article that spotlighted change, women who formed SFMTA change see the first change in the stepping down of Mr. Donald Ellison.

In a complaint written on October 17, to Mr. Ed Reiskin by Ms. Taybron, she alleged that her complaints were intentionally ignored because she was an African-American Female who had previously won a judgment for similar complaints in the past. Lee Summerlot, the Acting Deputy Director at the time, supplied Taybron with surveillance footage of the theft of her personal property along with tracking for her case.   (Continued)…

Ms. Valerie Taybron, Muni Car Cleaner Lead Person, alleges that not only has the harassment continued, but it has also taken on the form of retaliation. “MUNI management, John Catanach, Acting Deputy Director, and Berry Gehret, supervisor, have allowed me to be violated by being sexually harassed, exposed to continued death threats on the job, the stealing of my personal belongings, denied opportunity on promotions, and maliciously stealing from my 40 years of service so that I cannot retire.” stated Ms. Taybron.  Mr. Taybron also alleged that after she took a fall on the job and that Mr. Gehret refused to call an ambulance for assistance. This continued effort to retaliate against her compounds the mismanagement and harassment abuse.

Ms. Taybron has mentioned that she has gone to the retirement board and Michael Guess, Asst. Manager of Retirement for 11 years to date in hopes of retiring with her full benefits. She was repeatedly denied because of suspiciously missing files that substantiate her retirement.  On October 28, she submitted a request for documents to Kate McClure, Senior benefits analyst, which Taybron stated should have only taken three days based on advisement from her union. She has yet to receive the documents.

The HR department is currently under investigation among other issues, for pressuring the closure of pending cases without investigations. As of 11-28-18 Ms. Taybron has yet to receive proper paperwork for her retirement and her complete years of service.  Per Ms. Taybron, Management called her on 11/8/18 to set up a meeting involving a separate issue, however Ms. Taybron would not agree to meet in person without her representatives.  Hector Cardenas, the Union Senior Operations Manager surprisingly informed Ms. Taybron that he did not get involved with retirement issues. Mr. Cardenas also represents the Parking Controllers within the same union who most recently came out in their harassment allegations and blasted him for not supporting them on allegations of sexual harassment with no response.

Muni Execs have their hands full as a result of mismanagement. They are currently also in a racial discrimination case with a Muni employee, Mr. Sampson Asrot who was denied a promotion as a Mechanic supervisor who he contends was purposely overlooked.  This court case is still pending with a continuance in January of 2019.  Per court documents, it appears that a number of issues surfaced in this case within the discovery process have caught the attention of Government officials.  They are currently investigating other serious issues as they have their eyes set on further sanctions. (Case #: CGC16-552737)

Muni is not alone. Sexual harassment is currently going strong in San Francisco, which is even affecting the tech giant, Google. They most recently ousted close to 50 people in the last two years for sexual harassment in the workplace. None of those fired individuals received exit packages.  Muni’s systemic management problems are running deeper than their ongoing discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment issues.  In a September 2018 Examiner article, even Sarita Britt, the former highest-ranking SFMTA female official stated, “They don’t do thorough investigations.”

Muni is just another SF City and County Department that is suffering from sexual harassment and discrimination issues.  After numerous attempts to contact Muni management, Ed Reiskin and Mr. Canatch as well as Mr. Paul Rose in the media division for a statement, they have not responded, or commented to date.

Accusers say that its time SFMTA management to step up and resolve their internal management issues so the company can run more efficiently. Ms. Taybron apparently has to stand in line and wait her day in court. “My lawyer is currently preparing my complaint,” she stated.  Mayor London Breed has gotten involved because these cases and judgments are undoubtedly costing the city significant resources that trickle down to a single bus fare of MUNI customers citywide.

NYPD Commander Allegedly Told Officers to Shoot 50 Cent ‘on Sight’ at Sporting Event

An NYPD commander at a Brooklyn precinct is currently being investigated after allegedly telling his group of officers to “shoot” 50 Cent “on sight” at a boxing match in the city last spring. Per People, deputy inspector Emmanuel Gonzalez made the alleged remarks to his staff at a roll call before the NYPD-sanctioned sporting event took place, which he tried to pass off as a joke in the moment. However, the rapper became aware of Gonzalez’s comments on Sunday morning after The New York Daily News broke the story, and is considering legal action against the commander as a result. “Mr. Jackson takes this threat very seriously and is consulting with his legal counsel regarding his options going forward,” his spokesman said in a statement. “He is concerned that he was not previously advised of this threat by the NYPD and even more concerned that Gonzalez continues to carry a badge and a gun.”

“This is how I wake up this morning,” 50 Cent added on Twitter. “This guy Emanuel Gonzales is a dirty cop abusing his power. The sad part is this man still has a badge and a gun. I take this threat very seriously and I’m consulting with my legal counsel regarding my options moving forward.” People notes that the duo previously crossed paths within the law. Gonzalez filed an aggravated harassment complaint against 50 Cent last spring, which stemmed from the rapper reportedly making threats against Gonzalez on social media after the commander shut down a popular Brooklyn strip club.

California Has a High Rate of Police Shootings. Could a New Open-Records Law Change That?

LOS ANGELES — After her son, Eric, was killed by the police in Los Angeles two years ago when officers mistook a water pistol he was holding for a real gun, Valerie Rivera channeled her grief into activism. She joined Black Lives Matter and lobbied the State Legislature to open to the public California’s records on police shootings, which have long been hidden.

She wanted, she recently wrote in a court filing, to “understand what really happened, and to advocate for change so that officers do not kill civilians, and are held accountable when they do, so that other families do not have to suffer as mine has.”

Her efforts paid off. Under a new state law, Ms. Rivera and other members of the public can now request to see the investigative records, prying open for the first time California’s strict secrecy laws regarding police shootings and serious misconduct by officers.

But, just as activists and state lawmakers have sought to bring decades-old investigative records to light, police unions have tried to jam the door shut. While police departments have said they would comply, police unions up and down the state, including in Los Angeles, have filed lawsuits challenging the law, arguing that it shouldn’t be applied retroactively. The union lawsuits have succeeded in some jurisdictions in getting temporary stays from the court.

The debate has opened up old wounds in a state that has been plagued by a high rate of killings by police officers, and it has showed how contentious and complex criminal justice reform can be, even after reform measures are passed.

California may be one of the most liberal states in the nation — its politics have shifted substantially in recent decades amid sweeping demographic changes — but paradoxes abound, especially when it comes to police matters and criminal justice. The state has the largest death row in the country, and voters, in a ballot measure, have demanded that the state speed up executions.

It also has one of the highest rates of police shootings in the country. Though there is no central database to track police shootings nationally, an analysis of data from 2013 to 2017 by Mapping Police Violence, an advocacy group that maintains a database of police killings, ranked the Bakersfield Police Department as the fifth deadliest in the country.

Now, at least on paper, California has gone from one of the most secretive states on police shootings to one of the most open. New York, by contrast, strictly limits the amount of information on police shootings that is made public.

Some other states, including Alabama, Georgia and Florida, are more transparent than California, according to research by the American Civil Liberties Union. These states allow open access to a broad range of police files, including disciplinary records of individual officers, and not just those concerned with police shootings.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/12/us/california-police-records.html


Crystal Meth Is North Korea’s Trendiest Lunar New Year’s Gift

HONG KONG — Like many across East Asia, North Koreans have been exchanging presents this month to celebrate the Lunar New Year. But rather than tea, sweets or clothing, some in this impoverished, isolated country are giving the gift of crystal meth.

The gifting and use of methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant that has been blamed in health and addiction crises around the world, is said to be a well-established custom in North Korea. Users are said to inject or snort the drug as casually as they might smoke a cigarette, with little awareness of its addictive qualities or destructive effects.

“Meth, until recently, has been largely seen inside North Korea as a kind of very powerful energy drug — something like Red Bull, amplified,” said Andrei Lankov, an expert on the North at Kookmin University in Seoul, South Korea, who directs the news site NK News. That misconception, he said, highlighted a “significant underestimation” within the country of the general risks of drug abuse.

Methamphetamine was introduced to the Korean Peninsula during the Japanese colonial period, in the early 20th century, and defectors have reported that the North Korean military provided methamphetamine to its soldiers in the years after World War II. Since the 1970s, many North Korean diplomats have been arrested abroad for drug smuggling.

In the 1990s, the North’s cash-poor government began manufacturing meth for export, about two decades after it began sponsoring local opium cultivation and the production of opiates, according to a 2014 study by Sheena Chestnut Greitens, a University of Missouri political scientist. Finished meth was typically sent across the northern border into China, or handed off at sea to criminal organizations like Chinese triads or the Japanese yakuza.

But around the mid-2000s, meth production that was “clearly sponsored and controlled” by the government began to decline, the study said. That left a surplus of people with the skills to manufacture meth, many of whom created small-scale meth labs and began selling to the local market.

Amid a chronic lack of health care supplies and medical treatments in North Korea, many people take opiates and amphetamine-type stimulants as perceived medicinal alternatives, Ms. Greitens, the political scientist, said in an email. “Methamphetamine is highly addictive, so it’s easy for casual users to develop more dependence and addiction over relatively short amounts of time,” she said.

The drug’s popularity in North Korea as a Lunar New Year gift was first reported last week by Radio Free Asia, a United States government-funded news outlet. Radio Free Asia quoted several anonymous sources as saying that the custom was especially popular among the country’s young people.

The Radio Free Asia report could not be independently verified, and the North Korean government has long denied that its citizens use or produce methamphetamine. “The illegal use, trafficking and production of drugs which reduce human being into mental cripples do not exist in the D.P.R.K.,” the North’s state-run news agency said in 2013, referring to the initials of the country’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/12/world/asia/north-korea-crystal-meth-methamphetamine-drugs-.html