Reducing the home mortgage interest deduction: enough with the crocodile tears

 

homemortgageinterest

A Christie’s International Real Estate warning.

The tax bill just passed by the Senate would let new homeowners continue to claim a deduction for the interest they pay on mortgage debt of up to $1 million. Under the House bill, existing homeowners could continue writing off interest paid on mortgage debt up to $1 million, but new mortgages would be subject to a $500,000 cap.

The House provision would be calamitous, tragic, disastrous, critics argue.

Reducing or eliminating the mortgage interest deduction “will hurt millions of hard-working American families and marginalize homeownership,” said Granger McDonald, Chairman of the National Association of Realtors.

Slicing the home mortgage interest deduction could lead to a housing recession, said Jerry Howard, CEO of the National Association of Home Builders.

Let’s get real here.

The change proposed by the House wouldn’t really mean much to many taxpayers. You have to itemize deductions to claim the deduction on your tax return now. Only about one-third of taxpayers now itemize and only three-quarters of those claim a mortgage interest deduction, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

But that would change because the tax bill would almost double the standard deduction, from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples and from $6,350 to $12,000 for single filers. With this change, fewer taxpayers would benefit from the mortgage interest deduction. The Tax Policy Center figures the share of households claiming the home mortgage interest deduction would drop to 4 percent. That’s right. Just 4 percent.

That drop would also reflect the fact that, despite a lot of high cost homes in the Portland Metro Area, it’s pretty easy to buy a home for less than $500,000 in most of the rest of Oregon and the nation.

For example, the median home value is $251,100 in Tillamook, $336,600 in Corvallis and $162,300 in Pendleton.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, Americans who applied for a mortgage to buy a home in January 2017 were looking for a loan sized at an average of $309,200. The median home value in the United States is only $203,400, according to Zillow.

 

State Home Values

NAME MEDIAN Zillow Home Value Index
California $469,300
New York $267,100
Florida $192,600
Illinois $163,100
Texas $159,000
Pennsylvania $155,000

 

Georgia $149,300
Michigan $126,100
Ohio $122,400

Only 5.4% of all loans originated in 2017 have been for more than $500,000, according to ATTOM Data Solutions. That’s just 325,000 loans, most of which went to the wealthy.

Want to know the median list price by city, state, zip code, and neighborhood? Zillow’s Home Value tool provides that data.

The three states with the highest percentage of home mortgage loans over $500,000 in 2017 have been Washington, D.C. (35.1%), Hawaii (15%) and California (11.5%), followed by Delaware, Massachusetts and Washington state at about 9%.

They’re the ones who would see their ox gored under the House bill, and it’s the members of Congress from these states in the forefront of wanting to preserve the $1 million level.

In Democrat-dominated California, the pain would be noticeable. In the San Jose metropolitan area, 75% of new mortgage loans as of early November 2017 were for more than $500,000 and the median home price was more than $1 million, according to an analysis by CoreLogic Inc. In the San Francisco metro area, 60% of new loans were for more than $500,000.

“I think that harming the ability for Americans to own their home is like attacking motherhood and apple pie,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), who represents an area that includes Pasadena and much of the San Gabriel Valley, told the Los Angeles Times.

So what the Senate is doing is defending a tax break that mostly benefits a small number of affluent homeowners and distorts the housing market?

The distortion occurs because the tax reduction increases the price of housing. Well-off buyers are willing to pay more because they anticipate deducting their mortgage interest, effectively lowering their monthly house payments.

”… there’s good evidence that cutting back the mortgage-interest deduction would lower prices in high-cost areas, where newcomers find it difficult to move nowadays,” asserts Howard Husock, vice president for research and publications at the Manhattan Institute.

So enough with the weeping and wailing. Reducing the home mortgage interest deduction would be a good thing.

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Wells Fargo: Rotten to the Core  

Bruce Plante Cartoon: Wells Fargo Bank

In April 2017, Wells Fargo launched a new campaign, “Building Better Every Day,”  to reset its public image after apologizing profusely about cheating some customers and agreeing to pay restitution.

It looks like the bank needed more than an expensive rebranding effort.

According to the Wall St. Journal, the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) sent a letter to Wells Fargo in November saying it is weighing a formal enforcement action against the bank over improprieties in its auto-insurance and mortgage operations.

The letter said the bank repeatedly failed to correct problems in a broad range of areas.

The letter came after other allegations against the bank. According to NASDAQ, some of Well’s Fargo’s business customers were cheated when an internal review found that out of approximately 300 fee agreements for foreign exchange trades, only about 35 business clients were charged the actual price they had been quoted by Wells Fargo bankers for the trades. Some of the bank’s foreign exchange bankers were motivated by the fact that, unlike at other big banks, they were paid bonuses based solely on how much revenue they brought in.

Wells Fargo has fired four foreign-exchange bankers, while federal investigators have opened their own investigation of the operation.

In august 2017, Warren Buffet, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, a large investor in Wells Fargo, said he expected bad news to keep coming from the bank. “There’s never just one cockroach in the kitchen,” he told CNBC on Squawk Alley, a CNBC news program.

He was right.

Wells Fargo has a history of malfeasance.

In 2015, the Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program entered into a national settlement agreement with Wells Fargo Bank N.A. (Wells Fargo) requiring that the bank pay $81.6 million for its repeated failure to provide 68,000 homeowners with legally required notices related to mortgage payments. Wells Fargo’s actions violated federal bankruptcy rules, thereby denying homeowners the opportunity to challenge the accuracy of mortgage payment increases.

“When creditors fail to comply with the bankruptcy laws and rules, they compromise the integrity of the bankruptcy system and must be held accountable.,” said a Department of Justice release on the settlement.

In the summer of 2016, Wells Fargo admitted to the OCC that it improperly charged customers for collateral-protection insurance on their cars financed through the bank.

In July 2017, the bank said it had found 800,000 customers potentially affected by the improper charges, with 274,000 of them forced into delinquency on their car loans as a result and 25,000 cars wrongly repossessed. Wells Fargo said it would refund customers about $80 million in charges.

In Sept. 2016, Wells Fargo settled for $24.1 million with the Justice Department and the OCC over the improper repossession of cars owned by members of the U.S military.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act requires a court order to repossess a vehicle if a service member took out a loan and made a payment before entering military service.

“We all have an obligation to ensure that the women and men who serve our country in the armed forces are afforded all of the rights they are due,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California told the Los Angeles Times. “Wells Fargo failed in that obligation.”

That same month, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $185 million to settle lawsuits related to the bank’s creation of customer accounts without the customers being aware of the activity. The sham accounts were created by employees under pressure to perform or be fired.

Wells Fargo said initially that the practice involved the creation by employees of up to 2.1 million sham accounts. In Aug. 2017, Wells Fargo said it found 1.4 million more sham bank and credit card accounts, bringing the total up to 3.5 million.

As Bloomberg’s Matt Levine put it, “…the Wells Fargo scandal took a lot of coordinated nefarious effort.”

Wells Fargo also found that thousands of customers were enrolled in online bill pay programs without their authorization. Wells Fargo said it found 528,000 potentially unauthorized online bill pay enrollments. Wells Fargo employees set up the accounts to meet product sales goals. In this case, the bank said it would return $910,000 to people enrolled in those accounts without their permission.

With all this, there’s no question that Wells Fargo is guilty of a gross betrayal of its customers’ trust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvey Weinstein’s not the only one spying on reporters

Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech. – Benjamin Franklin

 

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Harvey Weinstein had no qualms about spying on journalists to protect himself, or even using journalists to acquire information he could use against his accusers.

He used Dylan Howard, the chief content officer of American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, who passed on information about Weinstein’s accusers gleaned by his reporters.

Then there was the freelance writer hired by Black Cube, a private intelligence agency, who passed on information about women with allegations against Weinstein.

Sounds creepy. But Weinstein’s not the only one spying on reporters and he’s not the only one trying to undermine and disparage journalists.

ropetreejournalist

Walmart just removed a t-shirt like the one above from its website, following a complaint from a journalist advocacy group.
The shirt was listed on Walmart’s website through a third-party seller, Teespring, which allows people to post their own designs for sale.

The Columbia Journalism Review just reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said criminal investigations into the sources of journalists are up 800 percent and he’s vowed to “revisit” the Justice Department’s media guidelines that restrict how the US government can conduct surveillance on reporters.

Then there’s Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon who sent two reporters to Alabama to dig up dirt on reporting done by the Washington Post about Alabama Republican Roy Moore. Breitbart’s goa, according to Axios, is to undermine the work of Post reporters Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard, and Alice Crites.

How about when the Koch brothers allegedly hired private investigators to dig into Jane Mayer’s past while she was working on her book, “Dark Money,” which accuses the Kochs and other wealthy plutocrats of hijacking American democracy.

At one point, Mayer heard that she was going to be accused of plagiarizing other writers. According to the New York Times, a dossier of her supposed plagiarism had been provided to The New York Post and The Daily Caller. The writers insisted there had been no plagiarism, causing the smear to collapse.

Three years later Mayer said she traced the plagiarism accusation to a firm involving several people who have worked closely with Koch business concerns. The firm was Vigilant Resources International, whose founder and chairman, Howard Safir, had been New York City’s police commissioner under former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

“Smearing Mayer is reflective of Safir’s contempt for reporters and the media in general when he was police commissioner,” said a Newsday reporter.

In June of this year the New York Post reported that the Trump administration was spying on journalists who have been handed leaked information.

The Post said the Justice Department has obtained a legal warrant from the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to conduct electronic surveillance on reporters who were known to have published articles based on leaked information.

The surveillance was reported to be part of the Trump administration’s attempts to clamp down on leaks from within the White House and government departments.

In some respects, there’s nothing new about all this.

In 2013, the Justice Department advised the Associated Press (AP) that Federal investigators had secretly seized two months of phone records for reporters and editors of the AP. The government had obtained the records for more than 20 telephone lines of its offices and journalists, including their home phones and cellphones.

Gary Pruitt, the president and chief executive of AP, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. calling the seizure, a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its news gathering activities.

There’s so much concern within the journalism community about government spying that the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and Freedom of the Press Foundation are teaming up to find out what’s going on.

On Nov. 29, they filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department and several intelligence agencies, demanding records revealing how the government collects information on journalists and targets them with surveillance.

Geez, so much depressing news today

catastrophe

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.

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

crumblingdepartmentofstate

“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.

trumpandstatedepartment

“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-and-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.

Makerere

University of East Africa, Kampala, Uganda


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

map-of-east-africa-community

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

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

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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.

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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.

obotebushenyi

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.

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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.

dancinginthestreetsofkampala

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

DirtyHarvey

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.”

weinsteinsSpies

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.