Category: Today’ News Headlines

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

Bullying, verbal abuse, a ‘culture of silence’: independent investigator makes first report on sexual harassment inside SFMTA

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.

SEE RELATED: Harassment investigations at SFMTA go nowhere, employees allege

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 including, termination.”

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.

SEE RELATED: Muni chief steps down amid growing pressure over harassment allegations

“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.

State of the Union Fact Check: What Trump Got Right and Wrong

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.

The 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.”

The 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.

“We recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods — and now our Treasury is receiving billions and billions of dollars.”

Since 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.”

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.

“We 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.”

The 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.”

Wages 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.”

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.

“The 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.”

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.

“San 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.”

Border 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 illegally.

“As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States.”

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.

“I 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 U.S.A.”

The 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.


“When 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.”

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.

“We 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 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.

“If 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.”

In 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.


“Lawmakers 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 birth.”

On 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.”

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.

Reporting 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.

International Pickpockets Ride New York’s Subway, Pilfering and Profiting The thieves are not known to the police, which helps them evade detection. They also move from city to city, trying to stay ahead of investigators.

In Manhattan alone, transit larcenies were up 15 percent in 2018, with 754 reported cases.

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.

It 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.

She 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 investigators.

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.

“I’m 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.

The 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.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/27/nyregion/pickpockets-nyc-crime.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage

The Reasonable Way to View Marijuana’s Risks

Cannabis has downsides, but speculation and fear should be replaced with the best evidence available.

Are we underestimating the harms of legalizing marijuana?

Those who hold this view have been in the news recently, saying that research shows we are moving too far too fast without understanding the damage.

America is in the midst of a sea change in policies on pot, and we should all be a bit nervous about unintended consequences.

Vigilance is required. But it should be reasoned and thoughtful. To tackle recent claims, we should use the best methods and evidence as a starting point.

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.

“I 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 marijuana.”

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.

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.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/14/upshot/the-reasonable-way-to-view-marijuanas-risks.html