High on crystal meth, this man escaped from North Korea

Satellite photo of North Korea (outline added)

Kept in the dark: North Korea at night

In 2009, a 25-year-old North Korean man escaped the country, swimming across the Tumen River.

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, he said, “I inhaled about ten hits before I went to the river. I felt really focused, all I could think was go, go, go. I didn’t sleep for two days after that.” He now lives in Seoul and did not want his name revealed, presumably fearing reprisal from the regime. From WSJ:

Before his defection to South Korea, he says he used the drug, known as “bingdu” or “ice” in the North, off and on for about three years.  He says it was easy to score, dealers worked the streets of his hometown of Hamhung, South Hamgyung Province.

As for the 25-year-old defector, he says he never felt addicted to ice and looks back fondly on his experiences getting high with his friends in the North.  But like many other things he’s left behind, that aspect of his life stopped at the border.

A 2013 study in a North Korean science journal confirms the prevalence of methamphetamine use. Kim Seok-hyang, a co-author of the study, estimates that 40-50% of adults in North Korea use crystal meth.

Crystal meth use has been growing there since the 1990s. From Business Insider:

Opium was once the North Korean drug of choice, but the fields dried up in the middle of the last decade. But now meth is being embraced. In March, a report alleged an unknown number of North Korean diplomats were given about 44 pounds of illegal drugs to sell on trips abroad. (Including a diplomat in at least one Eastern European country!)

Meth use has apparently become so widespread that Kim Jong Un tried to enforce a crackdown on meth use in the northern parts of the country almost two years ago. So far, it doesn’t seem the effort was effective.

David Miranda’s detention proves the innocent have plenty to fear from overbearing anti-terror laws

david-miranda-2.si

The saga of Edward Snowden’s extra-legal whistleblowing continues.

The British government detained David Miranda for nine hours at Heathrow airport. He is the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and the British government has been pretty unhappy about the Guardian reporting on Edward Snowden’s leaks — documents which they have access to. (Recently, the British government pointlessly destroyed hard-drives belonging to the Guardian despite knowing there were copies of all the leaked documents and the newspaper could easily continue its reporting without the hardware.)

To put it plainly, the British government used an anti-terror law that gives it extraordinary powers in order to detain a man for knowing someone they don’t like. The common-sense complaint that such laws could be abused has been heard since 9/11 while those in power insisted that the innocent have nothing to fear. As Simon Jenkins points out, the detention of David Miranda proves this to be absolutely false.

For me, the most interesting and terrifying thing about the NSA story has to be the inevitable corruption of anyone who has the boundless ability to spy on citizens’ communications. The temptation to spy on people for personal reasons, to commit blackmail, extortion, and generally wield the threat of ruining the lives of others must be overpowering. Similarly, the power to detain innocent civilians without cause clearly offers temptations of its own.

Simon Jenkins has very good article in the Guardian about the ongoing story and what it he thinks means. An excerpt:

…the modern state is gathering, storing and processing for its own ends electronic communication from around the world; far more serious, it reveals that this power has so corrupted those wielding it as to put them beyond effective democratic control. It was not the scope of NSA surveillance that led to Snowden’s defection. It was hearing his boss lie to Congress about it for hours on end.

Last week in Washington, Congressional investigators discovered that the America’s foreign intelligence surveillance court, a body set up specifically to oversee the NSA, had itself been defied by the agency “thousands of times”. It was victim to “a culture of misinformation” as orders to destroy intercepts, emails and files were simply disregarded; an intelligence community that seems neither intelligent nor a community commanding a global empire that could suborn the world’s largest corporations, draw up targets for drone assassination, blackmail US Muslims into becoming spies and haul passengers off planes.

The United States and its British allies continue to use their post-9/11 powers in order to protect those same powers while citizens continue to lose faith in (and grow scared of) their governments. Whether all of this comes to a climax or slowly loses the public’s interest remains to be seen.

21 Chinese parents attempt suicide after being tricked into enlisting their sons in the PLA

Fuxing Hospital, Beijing

Fuxing Hospital, Beijing

On Tuesday, twenty-one parents in China drank pesticides in an attempted mass suicide. They said their sons were promised jobs by the government’s Ministry of Railways if they enlisted in the People’s Liberation Army. Because none of them were university educated, they accepted.

From The Independent:

All wearing the same white T-shirts with the words “Harbin Railway Bureau” printed on their chests, the petitioners attempted suicide by ingesting a poisonous substance near the Beijing West Railway Station.

The petitioners were escorted by police to a Beijing hospital. Nine of them were released in the afternoon. According to the Independent, the hospital declined to comment on how many of the parents remained there.

Obama administration moves to stop imposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses

Despite comparable usage rates, black Americans are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession

United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Monday a new set of Justice Department policies meant to stop the enforcement of mandatory minimum sentences in order to reduce prison overcrowding. He said the aim was to reduce government spending and improve fairness in the justice system.

A video of Holder’s speech is available here.

Holder said that America has 5% of the world’s population but runs 25% of its prisons.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Holder also introduced a related set of Justice Department policies that would leave more crimes to state courts to handle, increase the use of drug-treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration, and expand a program of “compassionate release” for “elderly inmates who did not commit violent crimes and have served significant portions of their sentences.”

“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech said. “It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

Bradley Manning apologizes for his actions in effort to minimize prison sentence

Bradley Manning at Ft. MeadeBradley Manning, after being convicted last month of a long list of crimes that could earn him up to 90 years of prison time, has apologized and expressed regret for leaking classified data to Wikileaks. The apologies were made during testimony for which he would not be cross-examined by prosecutors.

Some excepts from The Guardian‘s report:

“I am sorry for unintended consequence of my actions. When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people,”

“Although a considerable difficulty in my life, these issues are not an excuse for my actions,” he said. “I understood what I was doing, and decisions I made. However I did not fully appreciate the broader effects of my actions.

“Those factors are clear to me now, through both self-refection during my confinement in various forms, and through the merits and sentencing testimony that I have seen here.

“I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions,” he continued. “When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people.”

The apology will disappoint Manning’s thousands of supporters around the world, who believe he undertook a courageous act of whistleblowing because his conscience demanded it.

Manning has achieved folk-hero status in some quarters, as the first data mass leaker of his kind, comparable to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency who recently disclosed documents about US surveillance activities.

Some of his supporters at the courthouse looked forlorn and were in tears – but pointed out he was facing almost 100 years in prison and had to do everything to seek a reduction in his punishment.

Manning has been jailed since May 2010. His sentencing is scheduled for next week.

Harrowing report from the front lines of the massacres of peaceful protesters in Egypt

Security forces in Egypt have been firing live ammunition in order to disperse peaceful pro-Morsi demonstrators in various parts of Egypt. Supporters of the deposed President have been using sandbags and Molotov cocktails in an attempt to hold their ground. Bel Trew at Foreign Policy posted an article covering’s yesterday’s events in Cairo and Nasr City. Some excepts:

“Most of them are shot in the head or the chest,” said the exhausted looking medic, Ahmed, his green uniform smeared with dried blood. “In my truck alone, four protesters have died.”

“They didn’t give us a chance. They struck us down like animals, I’ve never seen it like this,” said Ahmed Azazy, a 44-year-old businessman from Banha, who was taking a rest from the front line of the clashes by the main encampment. “I can’t tell you the amount of people who died in front of me. Go to the field hospital, see how many bodies there are.”

Hours into the onslaught, hundreds of protesters still held their ground, resisting the security forces with rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown over the makeshift barricades of pavement stones. Meanwhile, women and children remained huddled behind sandbags and concrete walls in a southern corner of the Nasr City sit-in. The gunfire, coming from all directions, was bewildering. Bullets rained down from above and zipped past at street level — protesters claimed they had seen snipers shooting down on the encampment from the overlooking buildings. Black columns of smoke mingled with the impenetrable plumes of tear gas, making it difficult to breathe.

“My son, he’s just 21 years old, he went to help when he heard the gunfire. He cannot get out, we cannot get in, what do we do?” said Mona Salama, 40, a doctor who lives nearby. “There are snipers on the buildings who shot at us as we tried to get in. It’s not safe.”

The article is available here.

Egyptian army massacres 149 pro-Morsi demonstrators under orders from interim President

Update: The death toll has risen to 525, according to Egypt’s Health ministry. while prime minister Hazem Beblawi praises security forces for their restraint.

The Independent is reporting 149 killed and 1,403 wounded in Cairo after interim President Adly Mansour reportedly “gave the army leave” to do whatever was necessary to clear pro-Morsi demonstrators out of their protest camp in the Egyptian capital.

The government has also arrested several Brotherhood leaders and reports have emerged that interim Vice President Mohammed ElBaradei had resigned over the violence.

Though it would definitely be wrong to claim that Mohammed Morsi’s year in office was bloodless, the actions of the military and the interim government should come as a clear a urgent warning. Non-Islamist participants in the 2011 Revolution should be as outraged as Morsi’s supporters over this disproportionate use of violence to disperse peaceful protesters.

One thing these actions accomplish is to confirm the military rulers and their interim President as a worse alternative to Morsi, who was democratically elected but granted himself undemocratic powers following his victory.