Disturbed. Wikimedia photo by Sven.

Tuning in from The Crossroads of The World

Bob Dylan – Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues

Ronnie Davis – I Won’t Cry

Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life

Kafu Banton – Cuando se Viene de Abajo

Buena Fe y Silvio Rodríguez – La Tempestad

Caetano Veloso – Sozinho

Disturbed – The Sound Of Silence

Zahara – Imali

Eddie Vedder & Beyoncé – Redemption Song

Café Tacvba – Que No

Els Segadors – Catalan National Anthem

Joss Stone & Nneka – Babylon

Playing for Change – Stand By Me

Prince Royce – Darte un Beso

Julieta Venegas at the Flamingo Bar Theater in Miami


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The Panama News blog links

a Panama-centric selection of other people’s work
una selección Panamá-céntrica de las obras de otras personas

Canal, Maritime & Transportation / Canal, Marítima & Transporte

Reuters, Moroccan phosphate ship arrested here over Western Sahara challenge

La Estrella, Fuerte recuperación muestra el sector marítimo de Panamá

Sports / Deportes

La Estrella, Penedo con otro triunfo fuera de sus fronteras, Randall Delgado in the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation

Telemetro, La panameña Roper se cuelga el oro en Ekaterimburgo

The Quint, Swedish woman drops all to go kite surfing

Economy / Economía

La Estrella, Ingresos del gobierno caen

NASDAQ, Odebrecht O&G announces debt restructuring deal

El Siglo, ETESA ocultó información a la ASEP

La Estrella, Retiran proyecto de “modernizar” a IDAAN

TVN, La Corte Suprema emite fallo en contra de Uber Panamá, First Quantum about to start production at Colon copper mine

ALAI, Ecuador withdraws from its remaining investment treaties

Eyes on Trade, NAFTA renegotiation?

Science & Technology / Ciencia & Tecnología

STRI, Heavy predation is low-down — in latitudes and altitudes

Healio, So far dengue vaccine looks effective against all serotypes

CNN, Chagas Disease is deadlier than was thought

ScienceAlert, Bioengineered “pancreas” ends one diabetic’s need for insulin shots

The Guardian, Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

Yale Climate Connection, Worrisome first quarter 2017 climate trends

News / Noticias

Financial Times, INTERPOL arrest note for Ricardo Martinelli

Telemetro, Aprehensión de casa de familia Martinelli

Reuters: Panama to tighten immigration policy for Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua

La Estrella, Estacionamientos en la ciudad

BBC, Vene opposition burns a man to death for the cameras

E&N, Periodista será candidato presidencial por alianza opositora en Honduras

Colombia Reports: When Santos visits Trump talks about Venezuela, not Colombia

Público, Convulsión política sobre la victoria de Sánchez en el PSOE

El País, La independencia de Cataluña será inmediata si no hay referéndum

The Intercept, The FBI’s fake documentary about the Bundy family

La Tribuna Hispana, Herramientas antiterroristas para cazar a indocumentados

The Hill, Trump base shows signs of cracking

Newsweek, Alex Jones calls Manchester victims “liberal trendies”

The Guardian, Gianforte has financial ties to US-sanctioned Russian companies

Newsweek, David Brock’s complaint against Bernie Sanders dismissed

Opinion / Opiniones

Buen Abad, Teoría de la risa falsa

Shiller, Understanding today’s stagnation

Wallerstein, Global Left vs. Global Right from 1945 to today

Hamilton, How Macron won and how he will govern

Greenwald, Chelsea Manning is free

Drew, The White House crack-up

Palast, How can we stop Crosscheck and get our country back?

Taibbi, Roger Ailes was one of the worst Americans ever

Sanders, OAS compromised by its secretary-general

Reader Supported News, Slain Mexican journalist Javier Valdez in his own words

Gómez, Investigaciones en Caso Odebrecht

Simpson Aguilera, Mutando de mafiocracia a estado fallido

Blades, Glosas Dominicales

Sagel, Con el agua hasta el cuello

Culture / Cultura

TRT Español, Panamá presidirá reunión de la Convención de 1970 de UNESCO

E!, El esposo del PM de Luxemburgo cambió la historia del mundo con esta imagen

TVN, El Huevo Rosa es otorgado a Luis Sagel (Pin Pin)

Afro American, DC students visit the black side of Panama


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The Birds of Panama: The Ruddy-breasted Seedeater / Las Aves de Panama: El Espiguero Pechirrrojizo. Foto y nota por Kermit Nourse.

The birds of Panama / Los pájaros de Panamá

photo and note by Kermit Nourse

Today’s bird from Panama is the Ruddy Breasted Seedeater. There are many seedeaters from Panama but this one is my favorite. I have several photos of the seedeaters taken in the Las Lajas area of Chiriqui, eating grass seeds.

Hoy la ave de Panamá es el Espiguero Pechirrrojizo. Hay muchos espigueros desde Panamá, pero esta es mi favorita. Tengo varias fotos de la seedeaters tomadas en Las Lajas, área de Chiriquí, alimentándose de semillas de pasto.


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Speech about the New Orleans Confederate monuments

by Mayor Mitch Landrieu

The soul of our beloved City is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way — for both good and for ill.

It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans: the Choctaw, Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando de Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Color, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese and so many more.

You see: New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures.

There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum — out of many we are one.

But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.

America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission.

There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.

As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other.

So, let’s start with the facts.

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.

First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.

It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.

Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy.

He said in his now famous ‘Cornerstone speech’ that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears, I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us and make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago so we can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and more perfect union.

Last year, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need to contextualize and remember all of our history. He recalled a piece of stone, a slave auction block engraved with a marker commemorating a single moment in 1830 when Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay stood and spoke from it.

President Obama said, “Consider what this artifact tells us about history … on a stone where day after day for years, men and women … bound and bought and sold and bid like cattle on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet. For a long time the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history with a plaque were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.”

A piece of stone — one stone. Both stories were history. One story told. One story forgotten or maybe even purposefully ignored.

As clear as it is for me today … for a long time, even though I grew up in one of New Orleans’ most diverse neighborhoods, even with my family’s long proud history of fighting for civil rights … I must have passed by those monuments a million times without giving them a second thought.

So I am not judging anybody, I am not judging people. We all take our own journey on race. I just hope people listen like I did when my dear friend Wynton Marsalis helped me see the truth. He asked me to think about all the people who have left New Orleans because of our exclusionary attitudes.

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

We all know the answer to these very simple questions.

When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. We can’t walk away from this truth.

And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing and this is what that looks like. So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once.

This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and, most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong.

Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division, and yes, with violence.

To literally put the confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, it is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future.

History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.

And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else — to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd.

Centuries-old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place.

Here is the essential truth: we are better together than we are apart. Indivisibility is our essence. Isn’t this the gift that the people of New Orleans have given to the world?

We radiate beauty and grace in our food, in our music, in our architecture, in our joy of life, in our celebration of death; in everything that we do. We gave the world this funky thing called jazz; the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages from different cultures.

Think about second lines, think about Mardi Gras, think about muffaletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think. All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing something better; everything a product of our historic diversity.

We are proof that out of many we are one — and better for it! Out of many we are one — and we really do love it!

And yet, we still seem to find so many excuses for not doing the right thing. Again, remember President Bush’s words, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we need each other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial. We still find a way to say “wait, not so fast.”

But like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “wait has almost always meant never.”

We can’t wait any longer. We need to change. And we need to change now. No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain.

While some have driven by these monuments every day and either revered their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans see them very clearly. Many are painfully aware of the long shadows their presence casts, not only literally but figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that the Confederacy and the cult of the lost cause intended to deliver.

Earlier this week, as the cult of the lost cause statue of P.G.T Beauregard came down, world renowned musician Terence Blanchard stood watch, his wife Robin and their two beautiful daughters at their side.

Terence went to a high school on the edge of City Park named after one of America’s greatest heroes and patriots, John F. Kennedy. But to get there he had to pass by this monument to a man who fought to deny him his humanity.

He said, “I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride … it’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us. This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It’s a sign that the world is changing.”

Yes, Terence, it is, and it is long overdue.

Now is the time to send a new message to the next generation of New Orleanians who can follow in Terence and Robin’s remarkable footsteps.

A message about the future, about the next 300 years and beyond; let us not miss this opportunity New Orleans and let us help the rest of the country do the same. Because now is the time for choosing. Now is the time to actually make this the City we always should have been, had we gotten it right in the first place.

We should stop for a moment and ask ourselves — at this point in our history, after Katrina, after Rita, after Ike, after Gustav, after the national recession, after the BP oil catastrophe and after the tornado — if presented with the opportunity to build monuments that told our story or to curate these particular spaces … would these monuments be what we want the world to see? Is this really our story?

We have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations.

And unlike when these Confederate monuments were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new symbols, but to do it together, as one people.

In our blessed land we all come to the table of democracy as equals.

We have to reaffirm our commitment to a future where each citizen is guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That is what really makes America great and today it is more important than ever to hold fast to these values and together say a self-evident truth that out of many we are one. That is why today we reclaim these spaces for the United States of America.

Because we are one nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice for all, not some. We all are part of one nation, all pledging allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America. And New Orleanians are in, all of the way.

It is in this union and in this truth that real patriotism is rooted and flourishes.

Instead of revering a 4-year brief historical aberration that was called the Confederacy we can celebrate all 300 years of our rich, diverse history as a place named New Orleans and set the tone for the next 300 years.

After decades of public debate, of anger, of anxiety, of anticipation, of humiliation and of frustration. After public hearings and approvals from three separate community led commissions. After two robust public hearings and a 6-1 vote by the duly elected New Orleans City Council. After review by 13 different federal and state judges. The full weight of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government has been brought to bear and the monuments in accordance with the law have been removed.

So now is the time to come together and heal and focus on our larger task. Not only building new symbols, but making this city a beautiful manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.

Let us remember what the once exiled, imprisoned and now universally loved Nelson Mandela and what he said after the fall of apartheid. “If the pain has often been unbearable and the revelations shocking to all of us, it is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of a common understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of the nation’s humanity.”

So before we part let us again state the truth clearly.

The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.

As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history. Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause.

Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest President Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite as one people when he said:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to do all which may achieve and cherish: a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”


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Two dweebs caught in a selfie.

The Visitation

by Uri Avnery — Gush Shalom

Thank God for Oren Hazan.

Without him, this would have been an exceedingly dull visit.

Israel’s cabinet ministers were lined up in the blazing sun at the foot of the airplane stairs for the official reception of President Donald Trump.

It was very hot, there was no shade, dark suits for men were obligatory. Just awful.

Many cabinet ministers did not want to attend. The Prime Minister had to compel them with dire threats.

But lo and behold, when Trump descended from the presidential plane, there was an endless line of receivers. Not only all the cabinet ministers were lined up, but also a large number of infiltrators. It was too late to remove them.

The most prominent among them was Oren Hazan. A simple first-term Member of the Knesset, with an acknowledged gift for vulgarity, he infiltrated the row of cabinet ministers. When President Trump approached his outstretched hand, Hazan produced his cellphone and started to take pictures of himself with the President, who, taken by surprise, cooperated sheepishly.

Within seconds, the photo was all over the world and on many websites. It seems to have made little impression in America itself. But Hazan was proud. It boosted his image even more than the recent court case, where it was found that there was no proof that he provided prostitutes to clients of his casino in Bulgaria.

It was as if somebody was out to prove my contention of last week, that the present Knesset was full of “parliamentary riffraff”. Oren Hazan fits that description admirably.

There were two Donald Trumps this week. One of them was touring the Middle East, being feted everywhere. The second was in Washington, where he was battered from all sides, denounced for incompetence and even threatened with impeachment in the future.

Against the background of his troubles at home, Trump’s Arabian Nights were fantastic.

His first stop was Saudi Arabia. The desert kingdom put forward its best face. The royal family, consisting of a few hundred princes (princesses do not count) looked like the realization of all of Trump’s secret dreams. He was received like a gift from Allah. Even Melania, demure and silent as usual, was allowed to be present (and that in a kingdom in which women are not allowed to drive a car.)

As usual among eastern potentates, gifts were exchanged. The gift for Trump was a 110 billion arms deal that will provide jobs for multitudes of American workers, as well as investment in American enterprises.

After his short stay, including a meeting with a large group of Arab rulers, Trump came away with tremendous enthusiasm for everything Arab.

After a two hour flight, he was in a completely different world: Israel.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have no common border. Though at one point — by the Gulf of Aqaba — only a few miles of Jordanian territory separate them, the two states could just as well exist on different planets.

Contrary to the romance of the desert kingdom, where hunting hawks are prized, horses are admired and women are kept behind closed doors, Israel is a very prosaic place. Trump quickly learned just how prosaic.

Before the airport ceremony, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had a hard time convincing his cabinet to come to the airport at all. It was a very warm day, Ben Gurion airport is an especially hot place, and wearing a heavy, dark business suit is a nightmare for Israelis.

But in the end, the honor of attending was overwhelming. Not only did all cabinet ministers attend, but quite a number of ordinary (in both senses) parliamentarians and the like infiltrated the receiving line, which must have looked endless to the esteemed guest. Hazan was just one of many, though the most colorful.

They did not just want to shake hands. Every one of them had something very important to convey. So poor Donald had to listen politely to each and every one of them reciting his historic remark, mostly about the sanctity of eternal Jerusalem.

The Minister of Police had an urgent news item for Trump: there had just been a terror attack in Tel Aviv. It appeared later, that it was an ordinary road traffic accident. Well, a police minister cannot always be well informed.

(My humble advice: on such hot days, please erect an air-conditioned tent at the airport.)

A word about The Ladies.

I presume that in her marriage contract, Melania Trump undertook to be graceful and silent on such occasions. Along the lines: look beautiful and shut up.

So she stands aloof, slim, statuesque, her profile to the cameras.

Sarah Netanyahu is the very opposite. She is not quite as sleek as Melania, and she certainly does not shut up. On the contrary, she does not stop talking. She seems to have a compulsive desire to be the center of attention in every scene.

When a microphone succeeded in capturing a snatch of her small talk, it was about painting the walls of the official residence in anticipation of this visit. Not very highbrow.

I don’t think that it is wise for Sarah’le to stand next to an international beauty queen like Melania. (Just a thought.)

It all reminded me of a book I read ages go. The first British colonial District Officer in Jerusalem, almost a hundred years ago, wrote his memoirs.

The British entered Palestine and soon issued the Balfour Declaration, which promised the Jews a national home in in the country. Even if the Declaration was a pretext for grabbing Palestine for the British Empire, the British were indeed imbued with a love for this country. They were also quite friendly to the Jews.

Not for long. The colonial officers came, met Jews and Arabs, and fell in love with the Arabs. Hosting guests is a part of Arab culture, a long-standing tradition. The British loved the Arab aristocracy.

They were much less enamored with the Zionist functionaries, mostly from Eastern Europe, who never ceased to demand and complain. They talked too much. They argued. No beautiful horses. No hawks. No noble manners.

By the end of British rule, very few British administrators were ardent Jew-lovers.

As for the political content of Trump’s visit, it was a contest of lies. Trump is a good liar. But no match for Netanyahu.

Trump spoke endlessly about Peace. Being quite ignorant of the issues, he may even have meant it. At least he put the word back on the table, after Israelis of almost all shades had erased it from their vocabulary. Israelis, even peaceniks, prefer now to speak of “separation” (which, to my mind, is opposed to the spirit of peace.)

Netanyahu loves peace, but there are things he loves more — annexation, for example. And settlements.

In one of his addresses, a sentence was hidden that, it seems, nobody noticed but me. He said that “security” in the country — meaning the right to use armed force from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River — will be exclusively in the hands of Israel. This, in simple words, means an eternal occupation, reducing the Palestinian entity to some kind of Bantustan.

Trump did not appear to notice. How could he be expected to?

Peace is not just a word. It is a political situation. Sometimes it is also a state of mind.

Trump came to Israel with the impression that the Saudi princes had just offered him a deal — Israel will free Palestine, Sunni Arabs and Israelis will become one happy family, they will fight together against bad old Shiite Iran. Wonderful.

Only Netanyahu does not dream of freeing Palestine. He does not really give a damn about far-away Iran. He wants to hold on to East Jerusalem, to the West Bank and, indirectly, to the Gaza Strip.

So Trump went home, happy and satisfied. And in a few days, all of this will be forgotten.

And we will have to solve our problems ourselves.


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“Hay que gritar. Es un robo.” Carlos Slim’s boys threatened to have me arrested for shouting at them, when for the third time in a little more than a year they defrauded me. I paid my $16 and change for a month’s worth of wireless connection and I got five days. THEY programmed for a cell phone instead of a wireless modem when THEY took the chip out of said modem, punched in the code on a cell phone, then put the chip back in.’s bait-and-switch scam

by Eric Jackson

For me, it was the third time in a little more than a year. I got my wireless Internet modem chip recharged at the service center in the Albrook Mall, told them that I wanted to put another month on the stick, went to the cashier and paid for a $15 card — more, with tax — the lady punched in the code for me and told me that I was set for a month, and after about five days the computer informed me that the chip had run out.

They had loaded my wireless modem chip as if it were for cell phone service. A rookie error by a company at a locale where you deal with a new person every time, a business that can’t keep employees? Occam’s Razor suggests just that.

So the next time I was in Albrook and had a bit of time to kill, I went to complain and to demand that I get the Internet time for which I had paid. I knew from past experiences that they would tell me that it had never happened before and that the problem was me, in some fashion or another, and I would not have the slightly more than $10 worth of service that was stolen from me restored.

And indeed, I was accused of stupidly buying the wrong plan, the distinctions of which they do not advertise or explain to the customers. I fact what was represented to me was 30 days of Internet connection, I paid for it, and they gave me much less. It’s a classic bait-ans switch consumer fraud.

So, is THIS how Carlos Slim became one of the world’s richest men? Two facts suggest otherwise to me:

1. If a thousand other people get rooked the way I was over the course of a year, that’s less than $40,000 in extra income for the company, with consumer ill will on the other side of the balance sheet. Multiply it how many times, and perhaps all across Slim’s telecom empire, and it still looks like peanuts to a billionaire.

2. They pull this stuff on me at Albrook, but so far never when I recharge the stick in Penonome or Coronado.

So, as much as I can cite a litany of things about Mr. Slim’s business history, I think that it’s not directly from or for him. Perhaps the people at the Albrook venue are running a scam for their profit at his expense. It’s a corporate culture thing, maybe from Slim down but perhaps residing in the sorts of people that his company has hired in Panama.

But the Arab-Mexican billionaire’s company does show a customer unfriendly face, more than the monopolistic practices that most of the clients never consider. It’s unseemly, and at odds with cultural realities that it has become popular among many Americans to deny. There are these stereotypes.

Once upon a time I got to know them as a lawyer working with clientele in Dearborn, Michigan’s Arab community and getting to know the varieties of fraud that flourished among the Palestinians and Lebanese immigrants who were uprooted in terror by the Lebanese civil war. But you know what? The older Arab community, and those who had come from less conflicted places, were rarely like that. Generosity is a big part of Arab culture. Keepíng the customers satisfied is a big part of Arab business culture. The mafia stuff that ended up in lawyers’ offices was one of the many effects of war that those who glorify it will never mention or admit. It’s the abnormality of those who have been acclimated to Hell.

And Mexicans? The conquest of the northern third of their country by the Americans has left many scars and created many realities through good and bad times ever since, with the Mexican bandit stereotypes in US culture a distortion and amplification of something that has actually existed. Now Mexico is a patchwork of war zones, with a mobbed up government whose main political parties are in the pay of the rival warlords, who are mainly in the business of moving drugs into the United States. Such is the made-in-Washington “War on Drugs,” and it reaches into almost every nook and cranny of Mexican society, such that Donald Trump could win a US election by calling Mexicans a collection of thugs. But Laura Nader, the consumer activist Ralph’s sociologist sister, once did a comparative study on how Mexicans and Americans deal with consumer complaints. The standardized “we have never seen this happen before — the problem is YOU” is a banal indictment of US corporate culture, but she didn’t find much of that in Mexico. For all of the horror stories that Americans tell about their experiences in Mexican border towns, she found a far more civilized norm in the ways that consumer complaints are resolved in most of Mexico.

Yeah, well, that was then, but now we have this globalized kleptocracy. Even worse than the people at the top are the wannabes who want to get to the top. Then there are those who have no hope of getting to the top but emulate what they think that rapacious billionaires are like because they think it’s cool. Whatever moral instruction that they may have had to the contrary did not stick. Such is the cultural wreckage of globalization on corporate terms.

In any case, the runaround that I get at the Claro center at Albrook is by traditional lights un-Arab and un-Mexican. It’s just a rootless hustle and nothing new. Read the Old Testament and the Code of Hammurabi and they get into those sorts of business mores. Get into the Gospels and it’s about a Jewish resistance to the corruption of a religious establishment that aligned itself with Roman occupation authorities, a moral revival against among other things the triumph of acquisitiveness over ethics. Martin Luther, Rabbi Hillel and Mahatma Gandhi were all moral revivalists in their own traditions who lodged similar protests. If you want to listen to the world’s real Muslim radicals these days they are not looking to recruit young men with no prospects to explode themselves among crowds leaving concerts but denouncing the decadence, false piety, loose morals and sticky fingers of the oil sheikhs who just got billions of dollars worth of arms from Donald Trump to wage their perverse Sunni jihad.

My complaint? Five-sixths of a $15 Internet service charge, times three? There are many injustices in this world that are far worse. But I am not the only one.

Meanwhile, we hear from the Varela administration that they intend to concentrate the cellular telecommunications scene here in Panama — which is already divided up in ways that create local monopolies, which do get abused. In the Central American banana republics, with their rapacious elites bolstered by death squad regimes, nobody has as many cell phone companies as Panama does, we are told. Therefore, to get in with the business and ethical standards of Honduras, Panama should drop its prohibition on one cell phone concessionaire acquiring another.

The almost stillborn competitor is Digicell. The decrepit and hated old original from the first days of Panama’s cell phone services is Cable & Wireless, the remnant of the British Empire’s imperial phone company, which has been nailed for securities fraud in the USA and kicked out of by governments in, or rendered marginal by consumers in, many a former British possession. If there is to be consolidation, it will be Claro or Spain’s Telefonica buying up weaker competitors.

The public hearings for such a move would create a good opportunity for all of us who have been cheated in one way or another by — or any of its wireless telecom corporate colleagues — to denounce consumer fraud. It’s just smart economics and politics to object to anything that would strengthen the hands of abusive companies.

Do I want to take my complaint to one of the government institutions that’s supposed to police consumer fraud? I will look into it, but these institutions tend to be captured by the companies that they are supposed to regulate.

An even bigger problem is the limitation of Panamanian jurisprudence. The Civil Code doesn’t have anything like equity in its meaning within Common Law systems. A judge or administrative referee here can’t see a systematic injustice involving many petty offenses and fashion a remedy to be handed down in an injuction. She or he has to look at the applicable statutes and limit any decision to those narrow provision. (Surprise, surprise — when they wrote the laws about telecommunications, lobbyists for the company were on the scene and consumer advocates were not.)

An equitable solution to my complaint would involve the restoration of some 75 days of Internet connection for which I paid and which I didn’t get, but also a cease and desist order to Claro against such practices and requiring some prominent, fair and simple notices on the premises of every Claro store about the various plans that are offered, with receipts clearly spelling out what was bought and who updated the chip. But the sort of solution that typically comes out of Panama’s regulatory system and courts is a combination of restitution and fines in an amount far less than what the company brought in through its improper practice, and that ordered years later.

Shouting at petty managers who won’t look you in they eye as they lie to you because they know that you know that they are lying to you? That serves to let everyone on the premises know that everything is not right. But what Panama really needs is a consumer law revolution that makes hustlers practice their juega vivo other than in the telecommunications industry.

UPDATE: After this insulting hustle being run on me at the Claro office in the Albrook Mall, I did not pay them any money. I did go to one of their offices in Penonome the next morning, and the lady there explained to me that there had been some recent changes in plans, which were contained in a little code guide list for those who ask for it so as to load their chips from a phone.

For $14.99 plus tax I get an “unlimited” package of 30 days worth of service with a 1.5 GB capacity. Gone is the $44 and change option of 30 days at a faster speed, which is relevant in some parts of Panama but I found to be not so different given the limited capacities of their system in my part of the boondocks. HOWEVER, they now have $14.99 smartphone plan, which is “limited” and they advertise as for 30 days of connection at 2 GB. However, with that “limited” plan you get 200 minutes that might be used at any time within a month. Of no use to me to run The Panama News, but perhaps if I want a higher speed for some video conference that might be a reasonable thing to put onto the chip of my other dongle stick.

In any case, what was run on me, and I suspect many other people, was the classic bait-and-switch consumer fraud.


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Where police vehicles go to die, they tend to be stripped for parts to keep the large fleet of law enforcement vehicles on the road.

Where cop cars go when they die

photos by Eric Jackson

The police vehicle maintenance center is behind the Albrook Metro station. It does not exude the aura of spit and polish of a police department that wants to be an army — it looks more like a haphazard junkyard. In fact, that’s part of what it is. When police vehicles die, the useful parts tend to be reused to keep the law enforcement fleet running.

It’s an interesting habitat if you are a cat, but in recent years the National Police have had a cooperative relationship with Spay Panama to keep the feline population of this place under control. There isn’t much need for junk yard dogs, as this is, after all, a police facility that your garden variety maleante will hesitated to loot.


cop cannibalism 2
The sign forbids people to walk through this gate, but this reporter has seen people doing that.


cop cannibalism 3
With the same “canvas” as the diablos rojos, police culture is austere.


cop cannibalism 4
In case of spontaneous revolution, they try to keep a good backup supply of riot squad vehicles ready.


cop cannibalism 5
If there is a great fire or big natural disaster, these caps removed from pickup trucks converted into paddywagons might be quickly pressed into service as parts of temporary shelters from the elements.


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duh now

The transition to post-neoliberalism

by Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

In the case of Panama the dominant capitalist sectors are unaware that the neoliberal ideology nad policies have now been superseded. To cite some international proofs: Trump, Brexit and global stagnation. The so-called “Washington Consensus” has sunk into a swamp from which nothing reappears. The speculators and those who strip the country of its wealth believe that neoliberalism continues to be a good ideological disguise for their abuses. It’s a problem not only for the governing class — in power since the 1989 US invasion — but also affects all other sectors of the country.

What is meant by neoliberalism? Let’s start with the simplest, what is liberalism? It is “free trade.” It is the ideology that promoted the free circulation of goods in a country, eliminating the collection of taxes by the landowners and also by the church. This capitalist conquest was achieved in many cases in the nineteenth century and in others more recently. Neoliberalism takes an additional step. In the struggle to free the flow of goods, there were regulations, public companies and labor conquests. Equally, “free trade” became a global goal, crossing national boundaries. Neoliberalism ends all the residue of that through deregulation, flexibilization of labor and privatization of public enterprises. It also promotes free trade agreements.

As a policy, neoliberalism went bankrupt with the so-called “Great Recession” of 2008, which provoked a crisis in capitalist accumulation that is still being felt, especially in the USA and Europe. The capitalist system was rescued by the transfer of public funds — of working people’s money — of trillions of dollars to the banking and major industry monopolies. The transition to post-neoliberalism stalled in the middle of the road. The capitalist economy centered in the most developed countries can’t stay stalled forever. On the one hand, the most “conservative” sectors insist on maintaining their ideological positions in defense of neoliberalism. They don’t take into account that it no longer exists. On the other hand, the “progressive” forces propose urgent measures to undermine neoliberal policies. But neither one side nor the other are capable of presenting alternatives.

The reactionary element in Panama insists that it’s necessry to reduce the size of government, to reduce workers’ pay and to give business more subsidies. They have been saying the same thing for 25 years and the country’s political and economic structure continues to decline. It’s no solution.

The Panamanian governments from when President Endara took office in 1989 up to the present day have managed to privatize almost all public services. The most damaging privatization was Law 51 of 2005, which privatized the Seguro Social retirement funds. Those who were incorporeated into a so-called “mixed” sector of private pensions recognized the fraud when they didn’t receive their “individual” pensions in the following decade.

Now the government of President Varela is making an effort to privatize the drinking water service in this country. The international monopolies are awaiting the announcement of an IDAAN offer that would give the more favorable concession terms. They are interested, above all, in buying the water sources in order to monopolize access to the precious liquid. Theypre probably working for an agreement similar to the one for the privatized production, transmission and distribution of electricity that has been in place for two decades. With water they’d create three types of businesses. The first would be the concessionaire of the water sources, such as the rivers, the second would be the water purification plants and the third would be the distribution of water to homes and industries.

Privatization, deregulation and flexibilization do not constitute solutions. They are actually the problem. What is the alternative? Panama has an advantage over other countries. Since 2000 the revenues generated by its privileged position — the canal, the ports and so on — allow for investment in the development of all national resources, especially human resources. Between the begining of this century and 2016 the gross domestic product has multiplied tenfold. In 2016 it reached $57 billion.

If the small elite that is connected to political power — and its enormous benefits — is unable to devise a strategy for the transition to post-neoliberalism, other sectors need to do so quickly and energetically.


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poor kitty
Animal abuse for kicks. WhatsApp photo by one of the perps.

Someone had to die

Someone had to die for the Ministry of Education’s foolish ban on high schools expelling students for serious misconduct to end. Sadly, the one who died was an innocent little kitten, thrown from the elevated Metro Station in San Miguelito to its death. Those who did it thought it was merry fun, took videos and were caught on video by the Metro. Why they were not immediately arrested is a safety and law enforcement concern of relevance to all Metro riders.

In the hue and cry there was the inevitable observation that the perpetrators should see a psychiatrist. Indeed they should, but not as a substitute for penalties under Panama’s animal cruelty laws, for which a lot of people have gone out of their ways to get passed and enforced. The proper procedure would be for them to been seen by a doctor at the juvie home, both as a matter of developing their case files for the courts and to determine if they need some sort of therapy, and which would be best if they do. Psychiatry as a rich people’s dodge around responsibility for antisocial actions demeans both that profession and society, but studies suggest that certain sorts of animal cruelty by kids are often connected with specific sorts of violent crimes when they become adults. An understanding and response to those sorts of conditions should not be confused with an excuse for crimes.

There are also the predictable calls for draconian punishment. Perhaps if the perpetrators were drawn and quartered in a public ceremony public safety would be enhanced by police and mental health workers taking careful note of just who attends such an atrocity. But severity of punishment is a sop to the streak of sadism in society that doesn’t serve a useful public safety purpose. Reasonable certainty of punishment, though, is an essential ingredient of the rule of law.

Let’s hope that what happened in the public school that these students attended is neither a one-time-only outlier event, nor restricted to just the public schools. For certain serious matters schools should have the right to expel students. This power, however, can be abused and must be regulated to avoid that. Even a crazy kid or one confined in a juvenile detention facility for a crime committed has a right to an education. Racism or other social prejudices must by law not be allowed to intrude into matters of school discipline.

Bottom line? Panama needs serious education reform and one part of that is an end to the “anything goes” attitude that the Ministry of Education has exuded over the years. If that has ended now, then this little orange kitten died as a martyr for Panama’s development in the fields of education and common decency.

Saudi Sunni jihad
The aftermath of the Saudi bombing of a residential neighborhood in Yemen’s capital. Wikimedia image.

Trump and the Sunni jihad

In the Middle East Donald Trump promised more than $400 million to further the Saudi Arabia’s Sunni jihad against the Shiites by, among other things, blowing Yemeni kids to bits with bombs dropped from the air. Then, when the US president was in the Holy Land, a British jihadi of Libyan extraction took his Sunni jihad to the exits of an arena in Manchester, England.

So Trump, in an appearance with Mahmoud Abbas, vowed that “This wicked ideology must be obliterated, and I mean completely obliterated.”

Obliterating anyone in the Middle East, and any and all Muslims, is an idea that plays well with Trump’s white supremacist base. ‘But wait,’ Trump supporters might argue. ‘He didn’t mean….’ And the president probably didn’t himself know what he means, leaving it to everyone else to put his or her own spin on it. But meanwhile, more war to “obliterate” an unnamed ideolgy, an inanimate concept that can’t be shot dead on a battlefield like a soldier or unconditionally surrender like a country. Just like the War on Terror, just like the War on Drugs. Cruel and expensive wars with no exit strategy because victory can’t be defined and even were that done it would not be possible in any meaningful way.

Yet more irresponsible words, and irresponsible actions, from Mr. Trump.


Bear in mind…


Totalitarianism teaches to subjugate; democracy illustrates to convince.
Ricardo J. Alfaro


Marriage probably originated as a straightforward food-for-sex deal among foraging primates. Compatibility was not a big issue, nor, of course, was there any tension over who would control the remote.
Barbara Ehrenreich


If there is no sacred respect for the country, for its laws and for its authorities, society is a confusion, an abyss, a singular conflict of man against man, of band against band.
Simón Bolívar


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bad guys' work
Expensive and often ill-advised public works projects, undertaken with overcharges and kickbacks built in, for the purpose making a few corrupt individuals rich. Graphic by Odebrecht.

Yet more impunity accords

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

There is still an absolute lack of determination on the part of the Panamanian authorities — mainly the Executive, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Comptroller’s Office — to proceed in the case of Odebrecht, that Brazilian mega-criminal enterprise.

This they maintain, mistakenly, with a growing lack of will and interest in the citizens’ inalienable right to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about this scandal, which has done irreparable moral damage to our people, our national identity and our international standing.

It’s a notorious public fact that Odebrecht continues to operate with impunity in Panama, with the blessing and sponsorship of national provincial and municipal officials. Their overcharges and bribes have gone uninterrupted for the past 10 years, while the authorities, especially the Public Ministry, attempts to manipulate the citizenry with fallacies, falsehoods and deceptions.

They continue with this stuff about a “formal oral agreement” between the prosecutor’s office and the criminal conglomerate Odebrecht, in which they “agreed to agree” rather than to duly investigate and impose neither fines nor sanctions for the bribes and other crimes perpetrated. The Attorney General and the Comptroller General, with the prosecutors and auditors under them, happily trample on the Constitution, the anti-corruption treaties and our national dignity.

As I have been saying, bribe givers and bribe takers tread with impunity through our national territory, continue in the public and private positions, while to date Panamanian officials have undertaken all kinds of juggling acts and political and diplomatic maneuvers in Brazil and Washington with that aim of concealing what has been done in Panama.

And again I quote Professor Pizzurno: “Within this scenario those who denounce acts of corruption and demand justice are turned ipso facto into enemies of the state, political opportunists and despicable anti-patriots who end up socially discredited and expelled. This in a way so that, in order to avoid worse things and be turned into social pariahs, they opt for silence.”


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