Meth trafficking in SE Asia reaching ‘alarming levels,’ UN warns

The production and trafficking of methamphetamine in the Mekong Delta region of Southeast Asia is rising at “alarming levels,” the United Nations has warned.

The area has long been notorious for opium and heroin, especially the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

But experts say organized criminal groups have invested in methamphetamine as a response to market forces and because it’s easy to hide and move the laboratories where the drug is made.

The warnings about the escalating drug trade came during a meeting of drug and law enforcement officials in Myanmar’s capital of Naypyidaw.

Myanmar Deputy Home Minister Major General Aung Soe said a regional approach was needed to squeeze the supply of materials into the region.

“A top priority for us (Myanmar) is a regional precursor strategy that will slow the supply of chemicals and pharmaceutical products into drug producing areas of the Golden Triangle,” he was quoted as saying by the UNODC.

The regional drug market for both heroin and methamphetamine is estimated to be worth around $40 billion, according to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

While opium and heroin production in the Mekong is on the decline, some countries have already performed more seizures of methamphetamine than all of 2017 combined, the UNODC said.

Methamphetamine from the region has been found and seized in large quantities across the Asia-Pacific, including in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Record-breaking drug busts have also been made in Myanmar and Thailand this year, while authorities in Australia seized a record 1.2 metric tonne shipment of methamphetamine in December, though that was believed to have originated from China.

“Significant changes have been underway in the regional drug market for a number of years now,” said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC representative for Southeast Asia.

“Responding to the situation requires acknowledging some difficult realities, and agreeing to new approaches at a strategic regional level.”

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Bratz maker gives up on Toys ‘R’ Us

The billionaire behind Bratz and Little Tikes toys is waving the white flag.

Isaac Larian said Monday that he will no longer try to save Toys “R” Us.

“I am most disheartened that the legacy of the retailer will be lost for future generations,” Larian said in a statement provided to CNNMoney. He added that he wasn’t able to reach a deal with the company’s lenders.

The Los Angeles Times first reported the news.

Larian, the CEO of MGA Entertainment, announced in April that he had placed a $675 million bid for 200 of the remaining 735 Toys “R” Us locations in the United States, and almost all of more than 80 locations in Canada.

Toys “R” Us rejected the offer a few days later. Sources said at the time that the offer was too low.

Soon after, Larian told CNNMoney that he had decided to drop his bid for the Canadian locations, but that he hoped to make a US offer work.

“We were about 10% below the winning bid for Toys “R” Us Canada. So that gives me hope for our US bid,” he said on April 23. “We have the financing we need. It’s now a matter of determining how much more we’re able to bid.”

Larian hoped that by keeping Toys “R” Us stores open, he would be able to save jobs and protect the toy industry.

“I’m an optimist. I think things are going to work out,” he said at the time. “The people handling the sale, I think they’re genuinely trying to save the stores here in the US.”

The toy megastore filed for bankruptcy in September, hoping to shed debt and reinvest in its stores. The plan didn’t work, and Toys “R” Us said in March that it would sell or close all of its US stores.

Toys “R” Us declined to comment Monday.

Larian’s decision comes soon after his efforts to merge MGA Entertainment with struggling toymaker Mattel fell flat.

Last week, Larian shared an email exchange with CNNMoney that revealed the merger attempt for an undisclosed sum. Mattel stock has been cut nearly in half in the past few years. The company was hit hard by the bankruptcy of Toys “R” Us.

“The Mattel board unanimously concluded that this proposal is not in the best interests of Mattel and its shareholders,” read the response from Mattel’s outgoing CEO Christopher Sinclair, dated Thursday. “Mattel is not interested in further discussing the matter with you.”

Larian has been waging a legal battle with Mattel over the copyright of Bratz dolls for more than 10 years.

— CNNMoney’s Chris Isidore contributed to this report.

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Manafort accuses Mueller team member of leaks

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort accused a prominent member of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of leaking details of the investigation into the political operative to a media organization.

Manafort says in a new filing that lead special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who now leads the prosecution against Manafort, communicated with The Associated Press last year to share details of the investigation into Manafort, who at that time had not been indicted. Manafort rests his accusation in the court filing on the writings of freelance journalist Sara Carter.

According to Politico, Manafort has been charged in Virginia for tax evasion, bank fraud and failure to report foreign bank accounts. He has been charged in Washington D.C. fir money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent for his Ukraine-related work.

Manafort, who maintains his innocence, claimed the AP briefing — which he says happened around the time the news agency published stories about payments to him and his associations with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska — was an illegal leak of grand jury secrets and classified material. Manafort alleged the leaks deprived him of his right to a fair trial.

“It is the long-standing policy of The Associated Press to refrain from discussing our sources,” a spokesperson for The Associated Press said Monday.

Manafort also asked the court to look into leaks coming from the special counsel’s team. The White House has similarly called for an investigation of Mueller’s team due to what President Donald Trump calls conflicts of interest among investigators on the team.

The judge is set to hold a hearing on Manafort’s case in June, but hasn’t indicated if he’ll address the leak accusations.

The special counsel’s office has said in the past that Manafort’s accusations of leaks don’t involve any protected grand jury activity. The prosecutors add that any bias in a jury can be rooted out at trial during jury selection.

The special counsel’s office did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

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Miramar homeowners association pays up after woman loses leg to snake bite

A snake bite cost a woman her leg and a Miramar homeowners association millions of dollars.

A University of Florida study found that venomous water moccasins are more likely to be encountered in the area around Silver Shores than in the Everglades.

“Yes, people are talking about the snakes,” one resident leaving the gated community told Local 10 investigator Jeff Weinsier.

“When it rains, they come out a lot,” Alex Belo said.

Belo lives on the water and says he can barely go outside because of the snake situation behind his home.

Silver Shores is located just west of Interstate 75 on Pembroke Road.

Several of the homes back up to an undeveloped mitigation area. It’s the perfect natural habitat for water moccasins to thrive. 

According to a UF snake study, the chance of a water moccasin encounter occurring in Silver Shores is 8.6 times higher than in the Everglades, Big Cypress or Loxahatchee.

When UF researchers kayaked and walked around the area, they encountered 69 venomous snakes during their three visits.

“The study done by the University of Florida was incredibly revealing in the fact that this is a hot bed for snakes,” Ron McGill, of Zoo Miami, said.

McGill was an expert witness in a case filed against Silver Shores Master Association and KW Property Management after a resident was bit.

“People definitely need to be careful of this now. Snakes are coming out now, especially with the rains,” McGill said.  

Attorney Brent Reitman and partner Joseph Slama reached a $5 million settlement with the HOA and the property management company.

Their client, a Silver Shores resident, was headed outside when a water moccasin hiding in the track of her sliding glass door bit her big toe.

The 37-year-old victim’s leg eventually had to be amputated below the knee as a result, the attorneys said.

Slama and Reitman said their client was never warned about the severe snake issue in her backyard, despite letters and complaints from residents.

They said the issue was discussed several times at board meetings.

The attorneys said the mitigation area that backs up to residents’ homes is owned and maintained by the Silver Shores Master Association.

“They had been getting complaints from residents as early as three years before this happened to our client,” Reitmen said.

“They simply denied that there was a problem,” Slama said.

McGill said the snakes won’t chase people down, and there are ways to prevent getting bit.

“They will go under things like potted plants, they will go under things like grills, they will go under things like garbage cans — anything that they can get under to get shelter and be protected, that is where they will be,” McGill said.

“What’s the message to other homeowners associations that may have a similar problem?” Weinsier asked Slama.

“Get the message out. If you became aware of the presence of venomous snakes in your community, just get the message out,” he said.

An attorney for KW Property Management said the company was not negligent and did nothing wrong. Attorney Frank Simone said the victim was bitten by a wild animal, and the association is restricted in what they can do in the undeveloped mitigation area.

Simone said insurance companies settle cases to cap their financial exposure.

Regardless, warning signs have now been put up in the area, warning residents of the potential dangers. The victim has since moved away from the area.

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Stacey Abrams hopes to be 1st black female governor

“The security guard refused to allow us inside.”

A young Stacey Abrams had traveled with her parents on a city bus to the Georgia Governor’s Mansion so she could be honored along with the state’s other top students.

It was a moment of immense pride for Abrams, the Avondale High School valedictorian, and for her parents, too, who had prioritized education for themselves and their six children despite their own poverty.

But as the African-American family approached the tall black gates that day in 1991, they were stopped by the security guard.

“I distinctly remember him looking at the MARTA bus, looking at my parents and making a decision. The security guard refused to allow us inside. He said it was a private event,” Abrams recalls.

That situation was resolved with a check of the guest list — “Abrams” was the very first name — but it left its mark on the teenager. Abrams still doesn’t know if it was her race that caused disquiet, that she’d arrived on public transport or a mixture of the two. But she knows it fueled her drive, a drive that has now pushed her to be a leading Democratic candidate for Georgia governor.

“In front of the most powerful place in Georgia, telling me I don’t belong there, that’s resonated for me for the last 20 years. The reality is having a right to be places does not always mean that you’ll gain admission,” she says, with passion punctuating her words.

While women have not been literally shut out of governors’ mansions, 22 states have never had a female chief executive. They include states with massive populations like California, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

But the rise of women in politics since the election of Donald Trump, which has seen record numbers standing for election, is impacting the highest offices in states, too.

A total of 46 women have filed to run in governors’ races this year, smashing the previous record of 34 candidates in 1994, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. And that group says there are 27 more women they believe will contest governorships in 2018.

Kristi Noem could break the glass ceiling of the governor’s mansion in South Dakota if she prevails in her primary next month. Paulette Jordan won her primary in Idaho, but as a Democrat in a traditionally red state she remains a long shot. In New York, Cynthia Nixon is trailing Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but there are still months before their primary. Valerie Ervin, an African-American, just announced she will change her bid from lieutenant governor to governor of Maryland after the death of her previous running mate. Gwen Graham, the daughter of a former governor, has been ahead of the men in the Democratic primary field in the highly competitive Florida gubernatorial race, but it looks like it will be just men fighting to replace Gov. Jerry Brown in California.

In Georgia, Abrams is vying with Stacey Evans to win the Democratic primary on Tuesday to be the (female) candidate who hopes to turn Georgia blue in November.

The all-female primary has attracted national attention — for the women running, the fact that they share a first name, and the energy among Democrats who believe, again, this might be the year to seize one of the state’s centers of power.

Even though either woman would be the first female chief executive in Georgia’s history, they are emphasizing their differences ahead of the May 22 primary.

Evans also grew up in poverty and became the first member of her family to attend college, thanks to Georgia’s HOPE scholarship. Restoring the broad promise of the HOPE scholarship is now a central part of her campaign. She accuses Abrams during her time as House minority leader of making it harder for students to get funding by working with Republicans to bring in cuts.

Evans, a state representative, is targeting progressives and disillusioned Republicans and moderates in her campaign.

Abrams, who would be the first black female governor in the United States should she win the primary and then again in November, feels that strategy has already failed and would be a sure-fire loser for her in particular.

“I’m very aware that as an African-American woman, I will be doing something no one else has done,” said Abrams.

She believes she can win by targeting minority communities, women and ignored Democrats in rural areas — the kinds of voters who turned out so strongly for Doug Jones, the Democrat who caused the massive upset in the US Senate race in next-door Alabama last December.

“We cannot win by pretending to be something we are not,” Abrams said. “My mission is to demonstrate that if we bring everyone to the table we can win.”

Abrams grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi, one of six children to parents who later attended Atlanta’s Emory University and became ministers. “School, church, family,” said Abrams of her upbringing. She shares stories about a working poor family, whose parents emphasized education yet struggled to pay their bills. Abrams wrote an article addressing her own $200,000 debt in credit cards, student loans and IRS tax payments, telling voters that it should not disqualify her from being governor.

But even as she promises to run “an authentic campaign that is grounded in who I am and what I’ve done” she knows she has to reach people who are different from her.

In two days, she went from an Atlanta-area black church to a north Atlanta-area Mexican restaurant. Her message was clear to both minority audiences: I’m one of you.

From there, she headed far out of the big-city Democratic bubble to Dahlonega, a small former gold-mining town in the foothills of the North Georgia mountains and deep in Georgia’s Trump country.

The overwhelmingly white crowd chanted “Stacey, Stacey, Stacey.” People lined up to take selfies. One woman, moved to tears, embraced Abrams.

Just yards away, pickup trucks, including one flying a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, circled the town square in what appeared to be a display of conservative feelings, but Abrams was not fazed.

“We’re in Trump country. I’ve got to win Georgia. I’ve got to turn out more Democrats everywhere. And this,” said Abrams, referring to her supporters, “is proof that there are Democrats even in Trump country.”

On Tuesday, Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans will find out which campaign hit on the right strategy in their Democratic primary. Both are on the path to challenge state history in the general election. One may set a new national standard in the unlikeliest of American states.

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