Geez, so much depressing news today


Talk about depressing news. The following came out just today:

  • The Republicans’ House tax bill includes a provision lifting a 1954 ban on political activism by churches.
  • According to the New York Times, one complaint to NBC about “Today” host Matt Lauer came from a former employee who said Lauer , who is married, had summoned her to his office in 2001, locked the door and sexually assaulted her, instigating intercourse. She told The Times that she passed out and had to be taken to a nurse.
  • North Korea showed on Wednesday that missiles it has developed could reach all of the United States.
  • The House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 38) on Wednesday that would allow concealed-carry permit holders from one state to legally carry their guns in any other state, regardless of any other state’s concealed-carry laws. Additionally, the bill specifies that a qualified individual who lawfully carries or possesses a concealed handgun in another state: (1) is not subject to the federal prohibition on possessing a firearm in a school zone, and (2) may carry or possess the concealed handgun in federally owned lands that are open to the public.
  • Garrison Keillor, the down-home host of A Prairie Home Companion until last year, has been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over allegations of misconduct.
  • With the U.S. Department of State in turmoil, there are reports that President Trump will replace Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who has held his job for only 10 months, with Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA. Politico reported today that Pompeo has no formal diplomatic experience and is widely considered a hawk skeptical of the kind of international deal-making, even with America’s enemies, that many diplomats consider a necessary part of U.S. foreign policy.
  • Yesterday, President Trump shared videos on Twitter that supposedly portray Muslim turmoil, committing acts of violence, images that are likely to fuel anti-Islam sentiments.  UK Prime Minister Theresa May admonished Trump, declaring that he was “wrong” to share anti-Muslim videos posted online by a “hateful” British far-right group. Some MPs in Parliament called Trump “racist,” “fascist” and “evil.”
  • While Trump and Republican members of Congress are pushing to lessen regulation of for-profit schools, California is suing for-profit online-only Ashford University and its parent company, Bridgepoint Education, for misleading students about its tuition costs, burying them in student loan debt and offering little of value in return.
  • Steven T. McLaughlin, a member of the New York Assembly, was only moderately disciplined for sexual harassment after an investigation by the Assembly’s ethics committee found that he had asked a female Assembly staff member for naked pictures. The sanctions include forbidding him to employ interns, and an official statement of admonition from the Assembly speaker. The ethics committee also determined that he leaked the name of his accuser, in violation of instructions he had received that the victim’s name and incident remain confidential.
  • Despite warnings from investment professionals Jamie DimonJack Bogle, Warren Buffett , Joseph Stiglitz and Ben Bernanke that Bitcoin is a fraud, people are still buying it.  Bitcoin advanced yesterday to a high of $11,434 before the reversal took it as low as $9,009,” though “as of 3:36 p.m. in New York, it traded at $9,911.10. “If you’re stupid enough to buy it, you’ll pay the price for it one day,” Dimon said.
  • Media disclosed that the Republicans’ House tax bill includes a provision conferring a new legal right for fetuses. The provision would allow families to open 529 educational savings accounts for “unborn children” – essentially college plans for fetuses. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, argues, “Affirming this language through the tax code would lay the foundation for “personhood,” the idea that life begins at conception thus granting a fetus in utero legal rights. It’s long been the holy grail of the anti-choice movement, since it would be the basis on which they would argue to outlaw abortion entirely.”
  • Media reported that playwright-screenwriter Israel Horovitz has been accused by nine women of sexual harassment. One accuser said she was 19 when she began a summer fellowship with Horovitz at the Gloucester Stage Company in Massachusetts. On her first night, she said, Horovitz drove her to the family home. locked the door, kissed and fondled her,  then led her to his bedroom, where she said he raped her.
  • A Nov. 26-28 poll by pro-Trump group, America First Policies, found Republican Roy Moore ahead of Democrat Doug Jones 46 percent to 45 percent.

    And finally…

  • After spending eight years bitching about the unconscionable $9 trillion increase in the national debt under Obama, Republicans are pushing a tax bill that could add $1.5 trillion or more to the deficit over the next 10 years and maybe a lot more if Congress renews expiring tax provisions.

All this in just one day. Depressing.



Trump’s Folly: the deliberate decline of the U.S. Department of State


“All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means,” said Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China.

President Trump seems to be leading America toward the reverse, where a series of ad hoc decisions, rather than a well thought out foreign policy, and decimation of the U.S. Department of State, may lead to catastrophe.

Dean Acheson, United States Secretary of State in the administration of President Harry S. Truman from 1949 to 1953, pointed out that the successful organization of power is achieved only by the harmonious merging of economic, fiscal, military, foreign, and weapons development policies.

The same principles apply today.

Effective foreign policy requires the application of talent across the board. You need the soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone and bass, the full chorus.

“In the world of policy realism, … effective diplomacy usually involves all four aspects: artful and encouraging language; the use of economic and non-economic sanctions as leverage to shift the opponent’s cost-benefit calculation; the delicate deployment of “or else” threats that credibly back up the diplomat’s commitment to resolve the matter, one way or the other; all backed up and informed by careful, all-source intelligence, Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, argued in Foreign Policy.

I’ve worked in Congress on foreign policy issues and with the Department of State on treaty negotiations, and I’ve been privileged to know many of the talented people there. I believe strongly that in a rapidly changing and challenging international environment, it is essential that the United States have a strong, trusted Department of State with an experienced staff.

But Trump and his Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, appear to be functioning as a two-man foreign policy band, destroying the department, pulling it down piece by piece, turning it into rubble.


“I’m the only one that matters” in setting U.S. foreign policy, President Trump said to Fox News’ Laura Ingraham on Nov. 2, 2017

Tillerson has frozen most hiring and recently offered buyouts to seasoned career diplomats and civil servants in hopes of pushing nearly 2,000 of them by October 2018, according to the New York Times. His aides have fired some diplomats and gotten others to resign by refusing them the assignments they wanted or taking away their duties altogether.

Meanwhile, just 10 of the top 44 political positions in the department have been filled, and for most of the vacancies, Mr Tillerson has not nominated anyone.

With North Korea’s belligerent behavior a major U.S. concern, Trump hasn’t yet nominated an assistant secretary for East Asia or an ambassador to South Korea. With all the troubles in Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, there have been no confirmations of Trump nominees to be ambassadors to any of these countries and there is no confirmed assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs at the Department of State.

With Robert Mugabe having been effectively deposed as President of Zimbabwe and a new president installed in his place, there is also no confirmed assistant secretary for African affairs.

On Nov. 15, 2017 , Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a blistering letter to Tillerson criticizing him and the Trump administration for “…questionable management practices at the Department of State; the attitudes of some in the Administration on the value of diplomacy; declining morale, recruitment and retention; the lack of experienced leadership to further the strength and longevity of our nation’s diplomatic corps; and reports of American diplomacy becoming less effective…”

Another letter, this one written by Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, President of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) for the December 2017 Foreign Service Journal, asserted “there is simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution—and to the global leadership that depends on us.”

“Were the U.S. military to face such a decapitation of its leadership ranks, I would expect a public outcry,” Stephenson wrote. “The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate, and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events.”

Another issue that should be of great concern, but doesn’t get much media coverage, is that the number of applicants taking the difficult Foreign Service test used to identify promising Foreign Service candidates has declined drastically.

According to Stephenson, “…more than 17,000 people applied to take the Foreign Service Officer Test last year…What does it tell us, then, that we are on track to have fewer than half as many people take the Foreign Service Officer Test this year?” The State Department has challenged Stephenson’s numbers, saying the number that actually sat for the test in 2015 was 14,480, compared to 9,519 that took the test this year. That’s a 34 percent drop.

Whoever is right, without a constant flow of new blood, the Department of State will wither.

Maybe that’s Trump’s hope. If it is, it’s seriously misguided.

As Stephenson wrote, “Where is the mandate to pull the Foreign Service team from the field and forfeit the game to our adversaries?”




Zimbabwe’s fate: Uganda redux?

Every day, reports of hate-driven devastation in some distant (or nearby) locale remind me that human evolution includes the repetition of atrocities on a scale that defies all reason.

              “Survivor Cafe” by Elizabeth Rosner


The people in the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, were ecstatic earlier this week, celebrating and dancing in the streets.

Zimbabweans celebrate in the morning sun after President Mugabe resigned in Harare

After 37 years in power, Robert Mugabe had resigned as president on Tuesday, Nov. 21.

“We’re very hopeful that change is coming, it’s just so exciting for us,” Zee Musuna told a CBC News reporter in Harare. “Today has been a bright and beautiful day for all of us, because it’s the news we’ve been waiting for for a long, long time,” said his companion, Zviko Barikano.


Zee Musuna (L) and Zviko Barikano

If you knew Uganda’s post-colonial history, you would understand why such optimism for Zimbabwe could well be short-lived.

A SIDENOTE: My interest in Uganda is based on personal experience. I graduated from the University of Denver in 1967 with a B.A. in International Relations focusing on Africa and was accepted into a graduate program in African development at Makerere University, part of the University of East Africa in Kampala. I was thrilled, but my draft board was not. This was, after all, during the increasingly bloody Vietnam War and the United States was heading toward instituting a draft. My draft board strongly cautioned me against leaving the country, dashing my Africa plans, but not diminishing my interest in the continent. Since then, I have often found myself wondering whether I would have survived Uganda’s turmoil if I’d gone there.


University of East Africa, Kampala, Uganda

Uganda, adjacent to Kenya in East Africa, became independent from Britain in 1962.


The people in the streets of Kampala, Uganda’s capitol, were ecstatic, celebrating and dancing in the streets..


The country’s new leader, Milton Obote, was initially hailed as a man of conscience and dedication.


Milton Obote in 1962

Over time, however, Obote’s commitment to democratic rule eroded and he became increasingly autocratic and repressive.

In 1964, anti-Obote elements tried to push him out. Obote arrested the principal plotters and suspended the 1962 constitution.

In 1967, Obote introduced a new constitution that further strengthened his executive powers. That same year he promoted an ally, Idi Amin, to brigadier general and in 1968 to major general. By 1969 Uganda was effectively an oppressive one party state.


Idi Amin

In January 1971, Amin deposed Obote, dissolved the government and took sole control of the state.

People in the streets of Kampala were ecstatic, celebrating and dancing in the streets.

But it didn’t take long for euphoria to turn to horror as Amin turned to savagery against his own countrymen, initiating what the New York Times called “an 8-year reign of terror”. The Amin cabal quickly morphed into a despotic regime, wreaking havoc on Uganda’s economy and its people.

“If one historical figure could be said to embody the continent as it is stereotypically imagined — dark, dangerous, atavistic and charged with sexual magnetism — it would be Idi Amin Dada,” said Andrew Rice, author of “The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget. Murder and Memory in Uganda.”

 The International Commission of Jurists in Geneva estimated the number of people killed by Amin at 80,000-300,000. Exile organizations and Amnesty International estimated 500,000.

In 1979, Amin fled Uganda, eventually finding sanctuary in Saudi Arabia, and Yusufu Lule was installed as president.

People in the streets of Kampala were ecstatic, celebrating and dancing in the streets.

Yusufu Lule lasted just 68 days, before being replaced by Godfrey Binaisa. He was overthrown by supporters of former Ugandan president Milton Obote in May 1980.

People in the streets of Kampala were ecstatic.

Following an election of questionable legitimacy, Obote was sworn in as president for a five-year term on December 15 1980, promising a government of national conciliation.

Setting the tone for his rule, Obote made a memorable speech in western Uganda to a gigantic audience.


Obote’s memorable speech at Bushenyi on May 27, 1980

“The liberation of Uganda last year gave us a new lease of life and opportunity to bury our past differences and build a new nation based on unity, peace and prosperity and erect democratic institutions,” he said. “Fellow countrymen, let us therefore take a vow here and now that never again shall we allow a situation to develop in our country which through disunity would enable any individual or, for that matter a group of people to wrest control of our country, destroy our democratic institutions, plunder our natural resources or tamper with the freedom and personal liberty of our citizens.”

But Obote quickly showed himself to be no democratic peacemaker. This time, his five years of rule were marked with bloody conflicts and violent repression.

Obote resumed Idi Amin’s habits of restricting all media, ordering the arrest and torture of opponents, and pushing thousands of refugees into bordering Sudan. During Obote’s second term, thousands died from starvation, massacre or warfare.

In an Amnesty International 1985 report, the organization cited an estimate made by the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs that between 100,000 and 200,000 people died during Obote’s second term of office. A 1992 Library of Congress country study on Uganda stated that estimates for how many people died between 1981 and 1985 is as high as 500,000 people.

So much for “unity, peace and prosperity”.

The seeds of Obote’s repeat failure were sown at the outset of his rule when several former anti-Amin soldiers, led by Yoweri Museveni, fled and launched a guerrilla war against Obote’s regime.

In 1985, Obote was toppled a second time, receiving political asylum in Zambia.

His successor? None other than Museveni, who led a rebel army to victory and became president of Uganda in 1986.

People in the streets of Kampala were ecstatic, celebrating and dancing in the streets.

Thirty-two years later Museveni is still president and the mood is less exuberant.


Yoweri Museveni

According to the Smithsonian, many Western governments regard Uganda as a qualified success from a development standpoint. But that growth is largely confined to the south and Kampala. Elsewhere, deep poverty is the rule.

With a per capita income of $240, Uganda is among the world’s poorest countries, with 44 percent of citizens living below the national poverty line. The nation ranks 146th out of 177 countries on the U.N.’s Human Development Index, a composite measure of life expectancy, education and living standard. Donor countries and international lending agencies cover half of Uganda’s annual budget.

In a “Uganda 2016 Human Rights Report”, the U.S. Department of State said serious human rights problems in Uganda included lack of respect for individual integrity (unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary detention, and other abuse of suspects and detainees); restrictions on civil liberties (freedoms of press, expression, assembly, association, and political participation); and violence and discrimination against marginalized groups.

Other human rights problems included harsh prison conditions, lengthy pretrial detention, official corruption, biased application of the law, societal violence, trafficking in persons, and child labor, the report said.

Museveni appears to still retain support, according to the Smithsonian, but his autocratic drift and systemic corruption risks wrecking his legacy.

A Nov. 21, 2017 report titled “Uganda’s Slow Slide Into Crisis” by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels, Belgium-based organization, is not optimistic about what will happen when Museveni leaves (or dies).

“The public appears to have little confidence that Museveni’s departure will be followed by a constitutional transfer of power,” said the International Crisis Group’s report. “Many expect that groups left out of power will confront the government. In response, the military might step in…”

“Major violence is unlikely for now, but Uganda nonetheless faces the gradual fraying of order, security and governance. Discontent is growing, particularly among youth…,” the group said.

Hard to say how long it will be before the long-suffering people of Uganda are again ecstatic, celebrating and dancing in the streets of Kampala.



Weinstein abused the press, too.

The only reason one will respect you as a journalist is because of your integrity. Your integrity is based on your credibility. Your credibility comes from your truthfulness.

Shaka Ssali, a Ugandan born American journalist


Sexual harassment isn’t Harvey Weinstein’s only sin and women weren’t his only victims. He has also wounded journalists.

Yes, I know, the public’s mistrust of the media is already extreme, but the Weinstein imbroglio has made things worse. It did so by using journalists in his effort to discredit his accusers and employing fake journalists to ferret out damaging information on them.

I’m sensitive to this because I worked as a reporter for 10 years and learned a lot of lessons about the importance of honesty and trust in journalism.

I once investigated an apparent scam artist who was purportedly bilking people out of their money. I was making a lot of progress when the man got suspicious and asked if I was a reporter. I figured it was OK to fudge, so I hemmed and hawed and didn’t admit that I was. When I told my editor what I’d done he pulled me off the story. “We do not conceal our identity as a reporter when asked,” he said. “It undermines our credibility.”


In the Weinstein case, clearly, no such standards of truthfulness or integrity applied to:

  • Black Cube, a private intelligence agency hired by Weinstein to undermine his accusers (Ronan Farrow, who broke the Weinstein spying story in the New Yorker, identified Black Cube as a key player in the Weinstein case).
  • Dylan Howard, the chief content officer of American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, who passed on to Weinstein’s people information gleaned by his reporters.
  • The freelance writer hired by Black Cube who passed on information from women with allegations against Weinstein, including the actress Annabella Sciorra, who later went public in The New Yorker with a rape allegation against Weinstein, or
  • Other journalists enlisted by Weinstein to uncover information he could use to compromise the credibility of women he’d abused.

Unfortunately, Weinstein isn’t the only guilty party in the reporter impersonation game. Recent incidents include:

  • In April 2017, Barron’s, a prominent financial magazine, said it had learned that somebody posing as one of its reporters contacted investment researchers, a hedge fund and the editor of the Capitol Forum, a Washington media outfit, about a controversial stock.
  • On Nov. 15, the Washington Post reported that a robocall from someone posing as a Post reporter offering money for “damaging remarks” about Alabama Republican Roy Moore was fake.
  • Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that on Nov. 13, 2017, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments in a case that grew out of an FBI agent pretending to be an Associated Press journalist as part of an investigation into bomb threats at a high school in Washington state.

In 2015, AP’s general counsel, Karen Kaiser, wrote to then-U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that the government’s conduct in the Washington case raised “serious constitutional concerns.”

“I think it could erode people’s trust in reporters if one of your sources doesn’t know whether you’re really a reporter or the police,” Aaron Caplan, a professor at Loyola Law School, told the Los Angeles Times. “They may be less willing to share information with you. That hurts the public.”

That’s equally true if the public isn’t sure if doesn’t know if you are a real reporter investigating a story or a snitch for the story’s subject.

The behavior of Weinstein’s minions is a shameful abuse of journalism. The media and the public are going to be dealing with its repercussions for a very long time.






Gov. Brown’s new solar power orders are a stealth tax.

Gov. Kate Brown must figure that if Barack Obama could govern by executive order, so can she.

So right before she was to head for Germany to attend the United Nations climate talks she imposed new taxes through Executive Orders 17-20 and 17-21 with absolutely no public debate.


Yeah, higher housing costs!

Brown doesn’t call her Executive Orders a tax. She calls them a direction to the state Department of Business and Consumer Services’ Building Code Division (BCD) to amend the state’s codes with respect to making new residential and commercial structures “solar ready”. She also mandated that all new parking structures for home and commercial buildings be wired for a charger for an electric vehicle by October 2022.

But all this will cost builders extra money, and they will pass those costs on to homebuyers and building users.

So, at a time when the state is struggling with a lack of affordable housing, Gov. Brown is unilaterally imposing additional costs on Oregonians to burnish her credentials with the environmental lobby. Would those now endorsing Brown’s move be as pleased if she had unilaterally eliminated some environmentally- friendly sections of the state’s building code?

There is always a cost associated with retrofitting a building to accommodate solar. With the proper solar ready preparations, these measures may cost less if done at the time of building construction. But the decision on whether to impose a requirement for solar ready structures should be made in a public process.

Building code amendments are typically accomplished by legislative action or the adoption of proposals from the public. Legislative action takes time and requires public hearings. If a member of the public proposes an amendment, the Division insists that proposals:

  1. Be shared with people and organizations that will be impacted.
  2. Be accompanied by substantiating evidence or information to support the change
  3. Include the cost impact the change would have on building construction.

Brown didn’t bother with any of these steps, including projecting costs. She probably doesn’t know what all this is going to cost….or care..

Oregonians should see Brown’s move for what it is, a new tax on homebuyers and a dangerous level of executive overreach.





“I’m sorry” isn’t enough for the UCLA basketball players

Talk about privilege.


UCLA basketball players Cody Riley (L),  LiAngelo Ball (C) and Jalen Hill (R) at a news conference on Nov. 15, 2017.

UCLA freshman basketball players Cody Riley, LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill are hardly run-of-the-mill children. They were recruited to the UCLA not because of their academic promise, but because they were top-notch basketball players. That’s what got them their free ride at the school.

And their detention in Hangzhou China wasn’t because one of them mischievously left a store with a pack of gum without paying for it. Far from it. They were arrested for allegedly stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store. Such sunglasses typically run $600 – $2000.

And their heists went beyond that. Chinese police have surveillance footage of the three shoplifting in three, yes three, stores in a high-end shopping center. These guys were on a shoplifting spree.

Anybody else pulling this stuff in China would be in prison. But these guys avoided prison sentences because of their celebrity and the intervention of no less than the President of the United States.

“Everyone’s making it a big deal,” said LiAngelo’s father, LaVar. “It ain’t that big a deal.”

But it was a big deal. And these aren’t naïve college kids from the sticks. For example, LiAngelo’s older brother, Lonzo, is a Los Angeles Lakers point guard and his 16-year-old brother, LaMelo, is a high school sophomore who has already committed to play basketball at UCLA and has launched his own $395 Melo Ball 1 sneakers.

A suspension after the ritualistic “I’m sorry” shouldn’t let these three off the hook. Their basketball careers at UCLA shouldn’t be suspended. They should be over.


Hy·poc·ri·sy in action: Oregon Senate Committee approves appointments by Gov. Brown that will undermine PERS


Oregon legislators of both parties, with some help from Gov. Kate Brown, took care of their own today (Nov 13) and set up a raid on an already burdened PERS in the process.

The Senate Committee on Rules and Appointments, meeting in a packed Hearing Room B at the State Capitol, approved Gov. Brown’s appointment of two state senators, Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) and Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day), to high-paying positions on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

committeeHeAringSen. Devlin (L) and Sen. Ferrioli (R) appear before the Senate Committee on Rules and Appointments

The Council is a federally funded panel that provides policy and planning leadership on regional power, fish and wildlife issues. Though the Council is a regional body with representatives from four states (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana), Oregon members are considered state employees and take advantage of state benefits, including PERS.

As members of the Legislature, Devlin and Ferrioli are each paid an annual salary of $24,216. At the committee meeting, Ferrioli acknowledged that his new job will be a “lucrative position”. As members of the Council, they will each make $120,000 a year.

Neither man noted that the appointments will also mean big retirement rewards.   Conveniently for Devlin and Ferrioli, they have each been appointed to three-year terms. Lifetime retirement benefits under PERS are designed to provide approximately 45 percent of a state employee’s final average salary at retirement. Final average salary is generally the average of the highest three consecutive years or 1/3 of total salary in the last 36 months of employment.

That means Devlin and Ferrioli will likely end up exploiting PERS for big payouts, potentially rewarding them with hundreds of thousands of extra dollars in benefits. This when PERS is already overwhelmed with billions of dollars in unfunded actuarial liabilities (UAL) and a task force appointed by Brown has just released a report outlining drastic measures that could be taken to partially address the problem.


Attorney General John Mitchell

“Watch what we do, not what we say,” President Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, told the press at the start of Nixon’s presidency in 1969.  Oregonians should do the same with the constant blathering of Gov. Brown and legislators about PERS’ deplorable financial condition and their determination to address the problem. Words, just words.