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.
San Francisco’s transportation agency is a haven for bullying and verbal abuse — but there is hope for change.
Those are the conclusions of the first report from Mayor London
Breed’s independent “ombudsperson” Dolores Blanding, who in October last
year was assigned to investigate an alleged culture of harassment,
including sexual harassment, at the San Francisco Municipal
Transportation Agency, which runs Muni.
Blanding’s appointment by Breed on October 5, 2018 followed a series
of stories by the San Francisco Examiner that exposed unresolved
complaints from women who were groped by colleagues and, in at least one
case, bullied into sex by a superior.
In her report to Breed on January 30, Blanding finally offered a path
forward for the SFMTA after meeting with 55-65 of its employees, while
also providing a scathing look inside the agency.
“A number of MTA employees and managers described bullying and
verbally abusive behavior as being tolerated in the workplace,” she
wrote to the Mayor. “It has been described as a culture of silence.”
At a high level, Blanding recommended more training on cultivating a
culture of respect, structural changes in the human resource department,
making human resources staff “more visible” to the rest of the agency,
holding all employees “accountable” for a safe and productive work
environment, and more consistent discipline for staff “up to, and
And perhaps her most startling recommendation, sources said, was to
make her own job title permanent, and create an independent ombudsperson
who could investigate the agency. She did not say that ombudsperson
should be herself.
Blanding’s report received wide praise from all involved.
Since the culture of harassment and assault surfaced, more than 70
women inside the agency have banded together to form Muni’s own #MeToo
movement, a group called “ChangeSFMTA.”
The women cut across ethnic and class boundaries, from engineers who
redesign The City’s streets to bus drivers. In a statement sent to the
San Francisco Examiner, the women hailed Blanding’s report and praised
the call for a permanent ombudsperson.
“Her recommendations connect dots on some of the SFMTA’s major
workplace issues,” the women wrote. They also were pleased that SFMTA
Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin widely shared Blanding’s findings
with all SFMTA staff.
Breed herself said Blanding’s report is the “first step” in providing
a better workplace for Muni employees, and also referenced her new
legislation strengthening training requirements for city employees.
“Harassment and intimidation do not belong anywhere in our city,” she said in a statement.
The Transit Riders group praised Blanding’s report as a “step in the right direction” to fix the “poisonous” culture at SFMTA.
“Change is very much needed at SFMTA if the agency is going to
deliver a world-class transportation system,” said Rachel Hyden, the
transit riders’ executive director.
Blanding’s six-page report contained detailed recommendations to fix SFMTA’s culture of harassment.
Perhaps one of the most fundamental disconnects is between the
agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity division and Human Resources, the
first of which investigates discrimination complaints and the latter of
which handles other types of complaints. The two departments within
SFMTA do not communicate effectively, Blanding determined, and she
offered recommendations to shore up their work.
Blanding also recommended robust training from the top of SFMTA’s
staff on down, including “respectful workplace” training for SFMTA
managers and supervisors which began January 29.
But some of the issues she found were far more basic.
Employees Blanding interviewed were largely unaware of how to report
issues to the human resources department in the first place, or thought —
mistakenly — that they didn’t have human resources “reps” at all.
Blanding recommended raising the human resource department’s profile,
partly by holding outreach events within SFMTA itself and sending out
newsletters, among other methods.
She also recommended human resources host office hours at one of
SFMTA’s dozen-or-so Muni yards, which are far from SFMTA headquarters.
“I believe it would help identify some workplace issues earlier, and
knowing their HR office is onsite and seeing a representative increases
visibility,” Blanding wrote.
SFMTA has already made some changes in high-level staff. Human
Resources Director Don Ellison quietly stopped working at the agency
last week, and in October last year SFMTA Director of Transit John Haley
retired after he was sued for allegedly groping his assistant.
President Trump appeared in front of a joint session of Congress for the annual address. Here is how his remarks stacked up against the facts.
President Trump leaned hard on the strength of the American economy during his second State of the Union address on Tuesday, but with a blend of precise statistics and gauzy superlatives that are much more difficult to measure.
He also returned to a theme
that dominated the second year of his presidency — a quest for a border
wall with Mexico to cope with what he said is a crisis of crime and
drugs in the United States caused by illegal immigration.
two issues dominated his address, which in tone was more measured than
his biting Twitter feed, but in substance contained numerous claims that
were false or misleading.
Here is what Mr. Trump said and how it stacked up against the facts.
“The U.S. economy is growing almost twice as fast today as when I took office, and we are considered far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world.”
This is false.
American economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third
quarter of 2018. Growth in Latvia and Poland was almost twice as fast.
Same for China and India. Even the troubled Greek economy posted
stronger growth. And a wide range of economic analysts estimate that the
growth of the American economy slowed in the fourth quarter, and slowed
even further in the first month of 2019.
recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods — and now our
Treasury is receiving billions and billions of dollars.”
This is true.
Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on certain imports from China — and imported
steel and aluminum from around the world — federal tariff revenues have
increased. Revenues from customs duties, which include tariffs, rose by
$13 billion in the third quarter of 2018 compared with a year earlier,
the Commerce Department reported. Technically, that money is paid by
Americans who bring the goods across the border, and it is often passed
on to American consumers in the form of higher prices.
“My administration has cut more regulations in a short period of time than any other administration during its entire tenure.”
This is false.
The Trump administration has slowed the pace of adopting new rules, and it has moved to roll back some existing or proposed federal regulations, particularly in the area of environmental protection. The White House claimed that as of October, a total of $33 billion worth of future regulator costs had been eliminated. But experts say the scale of the rollbacks in the Trump era still does not exceed extensive cuts in federal rules during the Carter and Reagan administrations, when rules governing airline, truck and rail transportation were wiped off the books, among other changes.
have created 5.3 million new jobs and importantly added 600,000 new
manufacturing jobs — something which almost everyone said was impossible
to do, but the fact is, we are just getting started.”
This is false.
Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that since January 2017, when Mr.
Trump took office, the economy has added 4.9 million jobs, including
454,000 jobs manufacturing jobs. Far from being “impossible,” that is
closely comparable to the pace of job creation during some two-year
periods during the Obama administration, and significantly slower than
the pace of job creation in manufacturing in the 1990s.
Wages were “growing for blue-collar workers, who I promised to fight for. They are growing faster than anyone thought possible.”
This is true.
are rising faster for construction and manufacturing workers than
workers in service occupations, according to the Labor Department.
“More people are working now than at any time in our history.”
This is misleading.
While the total number of people working in the United States is higher than ever, it is not because of the president’s policies. It is because more people than ever live in the United States.
border city of El Paso, Tex., used to have extremely high rates of
violent crime — one of the highest in the entire country, and considered
one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, immediately upon its
building, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of the safest
cities in our country.”
This is false.
El Paso was never one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, and crime has been declining in cities across the country — not just El Paso — for reasons that have nothing to do with border fencing. In 2008, before border barriers had been completed in El Paso, the city had the second-lowest violent crime rate among more than 20 similarly sized cities. In 2010, after the fencing went up, it held that place.
Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in our country. In
response, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful
barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.”
This is misleading.
apprehensions decreased by 91 percent in the San Diego sector between
the 1994 fiscal year, right after the original border fencing was
completed, to the 2018 fiscal year. But, according to the Congressional
Research Service, that fence alone “did not have a discernible impact”
on the number of immigrants crossing the border into the United States
“As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States.”
This is exaggerated.
At the end of January, a new caravan
of thousands of migrants from Central America was headed north, and
some of the travelers said they intended to try to cross into the United
States. But many in the caravan have said they plan to remain in
Mexico, thanks in part to policies put in place by the new Mexican
government. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has made it easier for
Central Americans to get visas and work in Mexico. President Trump’s
warnings of an imminent invasion from new caravans is overstated.
hope you can pass the U.S.M.C.A. into law, so we can bring back our
manufacturing jobs in even greater numbers, expanding American
agriculture, protecting intellectual property, and ensuring that more
cars are proudly stamped with the four beautiful words: Made in the
This is exaggerated.
revised trade deal with Canada and Mexico, known as the United
States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, does include provisions that are
intended to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States — like
minimum wage provisions for some auto manufacturing. But some economists
have said those provisions could ultimately push more manufacturing —
and jobs — outside North America. The deal does allow American farmers
to sell more dairy products to Canada. But the trade pact has yet to be
approved by Congress, and both Democrats and Republicans say that is
unlikely to happen without significant changes.
I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq
and Syria. Just two years ago. Today, we have liberated virtually all of
the territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty monsters.”
This is true.
The Defense Department reports that the Islamic State now controls only around 20 square miles of territory in Syria, down from 34,000 in 2014. But many of the gains against the Sunni extremist caliphate began under President Barack Obama, with the Trump administration continuing Obama administration policy. And the top American military commander in the Middle East told a Senate hearing on Tuesday that the Islamic State could return if the United States and its allies abandoned the fight. In December, Mr. Trump announced he was withdrawing American troops from Syria.
condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies
have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a
state of abject poverty and despair.”
This is misleading.
has become a popular talking point among American conservatives. It is
true that the rule of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela has brought
that country to economic ruin. Inflation is at astronomical rates, and
ordinary people are struggling to get basic food and health supplies.
Three million citizens have fled. Some of the collapse can be traced to
Mr. Maduro’s economic policies, which do fall under the broad label of
socialism. But analysts say that corruption, the lack of rule of law and
the absence of democracy — all the hallmarks of a dictatorship — have played just as big or larger roles.
I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right
now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.”
There is no evidence.
2016, at the end of the Obama administration, there was no sign that
the United States and North Korea were about to go to war, though
Pyongyang had been conducting nuclear tests and Mr. Obama had continued
economic sanctions. In Mr. Trump’s first year in office, he increased
tensions with North Korea by attacking its leader, Kim Jong-un, in a
series of Twitter posts, which prompted hostile statements from
Pyongyang. Mr. Trump wrote that North Korea’s actions would be met with
“fire and fury” and called Mr. Kim “Little Rocket Man.” Analysts said at the time that the chances of war between the two nations had grown because of these exchanges.
in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that
would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from
This is misleading.
Jan. 22, the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision
Roe v. Wade, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Democrat of New York, signed the
Reproductive Health Act. The new law ensures a woman’s right to an
abortion in New York if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned. It does not
broadly allow abortions until shortly before birth, as Mr. Trump
suggested. Instead, it will allow for an abortion after 24 weeks to
protect the mother’s health or if the fetus is not viable. Under the
prior law, abortions were allowed after 24 weeks only if the woman’s
life was in jeopardy.
“We had the case of the governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.”
This is false.
In an interview last month, Gov. Ralph Northam said that he supported a late-term abortion bill that would loosen restrictions on the procedure, and allow women to consult with a doctor on an abortion up to, but not including, the time of birth.
The governor, a pediatric neurologist,
also talked about some of the dangerous medical emergencies that
pregnant women could face, such as carrying a nonviable fetus. He said
that in such a case, the mother would deliver the infant and then, “the
infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family
desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and
the mother.” While Mr. Northam was talking about an end-of-life care
discussion in the case of a child that would not live, Republicans
seized on his remarks as evidence that Mr. Northam supported killing
babies after their birth.
was contributed by Eileen Sullivan, Michael Tackett, Linda Qiu, Edward
Wong, Eric Lipton, Eric Schmitt, Adam Liptak, Binyamin Appelbaum,
Caitlin Dickerson, Charlie Savage, Coral Davenport, Glenn Thrush, Helene
Cooper, Jim Tankersley, Julian E. Barnes, Katie Benner, Matt Phillips,
Robert Pear and Thomas Gibbons-Neff.
A man and woman walked out of a subway
car at the 51st Street station in Manhattan and darted into the next one
on the same train. A plainclothes police officer noticed.
was rush hour on a Tuesday evening in September on the busy No. 6 line.
The officer watched as the woman dipped her hand into a commuter’s
purse while her partner stood in front of her, shielding her from view,
according to the officer’s affidavit. The woman lifted out a wallet, and
the officer and his partners closed in.
threw the wallet to the ground, and the commuter quickly identified it
as hers. The woman, Jenny Gomez Velandia, 27, and her accomplice, John
Diaz-Albarracin, 31, were arrested, according to a criminal complaint.
What seemed like a routine pickpocketing had been thwarted.
But the suspects were not routine. Unlike most pickpockets, they had no criminal history in New York City. They were not locals. They were from Colombia and had come to New York for the purpose of stealing wallets on subways, one of several international pickpocket rings to descend on the transit system in 2018, the police said. “They come, they do what they can do, then they move,” said Chief Edward Delatorre, who leads the Police Department’s transit bureau. The woman and man arrested in September were tied to nine other thefts in the subway, the police said.
Little is known
about these international pickpocket crews outside of the narrow scope
of their crimes, the police said. They tend to avoid detection longer
than their local counterparts because they are new faces, and their lack
of criminal histories in the city is to their advantage when they are
caught. They move from city to city, trying to stay ahead of
A three-man ring from
Chile worked the No. 7 train in Queens during the United States Open
last summer, when the platforms were extremely crowded, the police said.
The three were finally caught in Manhattan. On Aug. 28, a straphanger
on an uptown No. 4 train “felt himself being jostled” by a man beside
him wearing a black bag. He realized his wallet was gone, and he told
officers at the 59th Street station, who arrested the man with the bag,
Victor Diaz Jimenez, 33, according to a criminal complaint. He was
carrying, among other things, three MetroCards and four phones.
used to this,” Mr. Jimenez later told the police, according to court
documents. “Everywhere I go, every country kicks me out.”
He described his methods. “This is how I make my living,” he told a detective. “I open the purses, put my hands in and take the wallets out. I pick people who are distracted.” He recalled lifting a wallet from “a tourist on the green line.” He took stolen credit cards to Target to buy watches he sold on the street, he said, and if the card had already been reported stolen, he threw it away.
“I’ve only been here for two weeks,” he said.
police also arrested two teenagers who worked with Mr. Jimenez, Michael
Camilo Joya Pinzto and Jhon Quintero Santos, despite Mr. Jimenez’s
claims that he did not involve them in his work.
That group, like the Colombians, was tied to other crimes: nine previous grand larcenies in Queens and Manhattan — and in Mr. Jimenez’s case, elsewhere in the country. The police discovered an open arrest warrant for Mr. Jimenez from Kansas City, Kan., where he was wanted for charges of larceny and identity theft, according to prosecutors there. Mr. Jimenez remains on Rikers Island, facing a possible extradition to Kansas, and he declined a request for an interview.
America is in the midst of a sea change in policies on pot, and we should all be a bit nervous about unintended consequences.
is required. But it should be reasoned and thoughtful. To tackle recent
claims, we should use the best methods and evidence as a starting
Does Marijuana Increase Crime?
Crime has gone up in Colorado and Washington since those states legalized marijuana. It’s reasonable to wonder about the connection, but it’s also reasonable to be skeptical about causation.
The best method to investigate this may be synthetic controls.
Researchers can use a weighted combination of similar groups (states
that are like Colorado and Washington in a number of ways) to create a
model of how those states might have been expected to perform with
respect to crime without any changes in marijuana laws. Benjamin Hansen,
a professor of economics at the University of Oregon, used this methodology to create a comparison group that most closely resembled the homicide trends and levels from 2000-12.
picked those years because they were after the tremendous crime drop in
the early ’90s and most predictive of crime today,” he said. “I ended
in 2012 because that’s when Colorado and Washington voted to legalize
This model showed that we might have predicted more of an increasein
Colorado or Washington just based on trends seen in comparable states,
even without legalization. When he compared the two states with the
synthetic control, Colorado and Washington actually had lower rates
after legalization than you’d expect given trends.
This is not evidence that legalization lowers crime rates. But it does suggest that we shouldn’t conclude that it increases them. A number of other studies agree.
What About Car Crashes?
A potential misperception involves automobile crashes. Drunken drivers are measurably impaired when their blood alcohol level is above a certain level. We can prove this in randomized controlled trials.