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Nobel laureates, Open letter to Spain and Catalonia

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Whither Now Democracy in Spain? Mediation and Dialogue or More Violence and Alienation?

An Open Letter to Spain and Catalonia

We watched with growing concern the rising tension between Madrid and Catalonia in the lead up to the October 1st referendum regarding the future of Catalonia. Neither side is free of errors in dealing with the process, which did not start with this referendum but instead seven years ago with the Constitutional Tribunal invalidation of the 2010 autonomy statute passed by the Spanish Parliament.

While little has been done by the central government since then to adequately address the simmering issue, we would not have predicted the extreme and unhelpful measures emanating from Madrid in response to the referendum. The scenes of police brutality, violence and the use of rubber bullets against the Catalonian people on October 1st are not anything we would have expected in today’s Spain. We have joined leaders around the world in condemning the use of force in Catalonia — yet we see the apology of the Spanish government of that violence as a step in the right direction. Yet so much more needs to be done. And time is short.

While we do not take a position on constitutional issues, we believe that mature democracies find ways to allow freedom of expression. Other nations have done so with separatist referendums carried out, for example, by Scotland and by Quebec. In each case the “no” vote won. Scotland remains part of the UK and Quebec part of Canada. We believe that violent responses by a central government to desires for free expression of a citizenry only further heighten hostility and create disaffection where it might not have existed previously.

We support the calls for mediation and negotiations toward a peaceful resolution of the current stand-off between the Spanish government and Catalonia. A people who feel repressed seldom go quietly into the night.

Original signers:

Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize (1997)
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize (1976)
Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Prize (1976)
Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize (1980)
Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Nobel Peace Prize (1982)
President José Ramos Horta, Nobel Peace Prize (1996)
Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize (2003)
Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize (2011)
Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize (2011)

Since this was first published on October 9, more Nobel laureates in various fields have added their signatures. However, with the arrest of prominent Catalan independence activists and Madrid’s moves to suspend the region’s autonomy and depose its elected government, the crisis has deepened.

 

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Bees in the city

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File 20170926 11782 1s6vryo.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Bees living in cities often have to seek out green space like parks, ravines and gardens. Green roofs could offer them some habitat. (Shutterstock)

Bees in the city: Designing green roofs for pollinators

by Catherine Howell, University of Toronto; Jennifer Drake, University of Toronto, and Liat Margolis, University of Toronto

Declining bee populations have been widely covered in the news. It is a pressing issue worldwide as one in three bites of food that we eat relies on bee pollination.

A key factor that affects bees is increasing urban development as people flock to cities. As cities develop, they sprawl into their surroundings, fragmenting animal habitats and replacing vegetation with hard surfaces such as concrete and asphalt. Insects, including a multitude of native bees, rely on soil and plants for foraging and nesting.

Bee habitat and foraging opportunities become smaller and more distant from each other. These segments of green space have become known as “habitat patches,” disconnected pieces of habitat that animals can move between to achieve the effect of a larger ecosystem.

These patches occur in cities and can take the form of ravines, parks, gardens and so on.

Despite the fact that pollinators such as birds, bees and butterflies are better at moving between patches than less mobile species, a continuous habitat is always preferable. Green roofs are seen as a way to make up for ecological habitat fragmentation. But studies and guidelines about where and how to best construct green roofs for pollinators are just emerging.

A wild, non-native bee forages for pollen on the green roof of the University of Toronto’s GRIT Lab. Photo by GRIT Lab

Though domesticated bee species such as the well known European honey bee (Apis mellifera) tend to receive greater attention when it comes to declining population, wild bee species are often found to be even more threatened. Wild bee species are most commonly “solitary” as opposed to “social” and nest in the ground or in existing cavities, not hives.

Of the 20,000 or so known bee species, 85 percent or more are solitary. Rapid urbanization, through paving extensive areas of our environment and loss of vegetative cover, is having a widespread harmful impact on their habitat.

Cities are beginning to recognize the importance of creating and enhancing healthy habitats for pollinator populations that support resilient ecosystems and contribute to a rich urban biodiversity.

The City of Toronto is in the process of developing a Pollinator Protection Strategy intended to raise awareness, develop new education and training, evaluate and investment in green spaces, as well as reexamine city maintenance practices.

Green roofs are mentioned in the Protection Strategy as one way cities can compensate for the loss of ecological habitat and provide valuable foraging opportunities for urban wildlife.

Native or non-native?

Research on the topic of green roofs as pollinator habitats has been fairly limited, but with cities like Toronto adopting bylaws that mandate green roof implementation, there’s an opportunity to study what design decisions are most critical to their success.

Green roof planting choices have been shown to play a part in attracting specific bee species. Sedum species, which are drought-tolerant succulent plants, have always been the most popular choice for green roofs due to their hardiness under extreme conditions, long flowering period and low maintenance requirements.

In fact, in Toronto, a great majority of green roofs are planted with sedum.

Research by University of Toronto Prof. Scott MacIvor and colleagues at the Green Roof Innovation Testing Lab (GRIT Lab) shows that when individual native bees visited sedum, their pollen loads contained other herbaceous flower sources, whereas non-native bees had more full pollen loads of sedum more often.

These findings suggest that if the majority of green roofs are planted strictly with non-native sedum varieties, it could result in a lost opportunity to bolster precious habitat for native pollinators.

It’s important to note that roughly 92 percent of Toronto’s bee species are native. So, favoring non-native plants can provide habitat for non-native bees over native bees, and could consequently lead to increased competition for those native bees.

Site matters

Despite many green roofs being opportune places for bees to inhabit, research has shown that the location of the green roof matters. The higher the roof, the fewer bees were found there. Green roofs implemented above the eighth story would not benefit from any additional nesting resources or attract bees.

This doesn’t mean that green roofs atop skyscrapers are useless, but that they should focus on other benefits such as rainwater retention, air quality improvement and thermal cooling.

In large cities like Toronto, many new high-rise buildings are being built with a “tower and podium” configuration, whereby the first few floors of the building have a wide floor area, often covering most of the block (podium), and the tower is set back from the edge of the building.

The roof of the podium is often used as communal space for the building’s occupants and presents a good spot for a biodiverse green roof that could serve bees’ needs. The study further shows that a decline in green space area within a 600-meter radius around each rooftop results in decreasing species richness (diversity) and abundance.

Toronto’s Old City Hall is seen from the green roof planted on the podium of the new City Hall. (Shutterstock)

Therefore, those designing pollinator habitats on green roofs should consider green space in the surrounding landscape and other features outlined in the City of Toronto Guidelines for Biodiverse Green Roofs.

Considerations and recommendations

Though the appeal of planting green roofs with sedum is evident, limiting the plant palette solely to sedum species could be a lost opportunity to promote native plant and pollinator species in urban environments.

At its worst, this practice could cause non-native bee species to have a leg up on natives as both groups compete for pollen.

It’s important to not only consider plant communities on green roofs, but also the building height and its proximity to other habitat patches to provide as much foraging habitat as possible for bees.

We still need new research into nesting opportunities for ground-nesting bees in the green roof growing medium, as well as the connectivity between ground level landscapes and green roofs, to better understand the ecological value of green roofs in sprawling urban regions.

 

Catherine Howell, Research Assistant, GRIT Lab, University of Toronto; Jennifer Drake, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Toronto, and Liat Margolis, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture , University of Toronto

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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Kermit Nourse: Birds of Panama / Aves de Panamá

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Chestnut Headed Orpendola / Oropéndola Cabecicastaña — Psarocolius wagleri. Photo by / Foto por Kermit Nourse.

Birds of Panama: Chestnut Headed Oropendola
Aves de Panamá: Oropéndola Cabecicastaña

by/por Kermit Nourse

The Chestnut Headed Oropendola is one of Panama’s most curious creatures. Their nests look like bags which hang from the tree limbs. He enters the nest head first and somehow turns around again to come out head first. The sound he makes sounds like a bubbly cough. This was a blind shot in a low light situation. He flew over my head and into the palm tree and I couldn’t see him anymore so o just pointed the lens at the noise in the tree.

La Oropéndola Cabecicastaña es una de las criaturas más curiosas de Panamá. Sus nidos parecen bolsas que cuelgan de las ramas de los árboles. Él entra primero al nido y de alguna manera se da vuelta nuevamente para salir de cabeza. El sonido que hace suena como una tos burbujeante. Este fue un tiro a ciegas en una situación de poca luz. Voló sobre mi cabeza y dentro de la palmera y no pude verlo más, así que solo apunté con la lente al ruido en el árbol.

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¿Wappin? Us and Them / Nosotros y Ellos

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Waters
Roger Waters in Barcelona a few years back. Wikimedia photo.

Us and Them / Nosotros y Ellos

Prince Royce – Stand By Me
https://youtu.be/PPgQ4nDLh0s

Larkin Poe – Preachin’ Blues
https://youtu.be/cEWiJR9qeoc

Melodians – Rivers of Babylon
https://youtu.be/o-5E6_qtXAw

Bob Dylan – Every Grain of Sand
https://youtu.be/lhJaENjDEME

Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free
https://youtu.be/HDqmJEWOJRI

Imagine Dragons – Whatever It Takes
https://youtu.be/gOsM-DYAEhY

Linda Ronstadt – Desperado
https://youtu.be/NdhYyJm0Jrg

Centavrvs & Denise Gutiérrez – Por Eso
https://youtu.be/UfeIEusHh58

Jefferson Airplane – Wooden Ships
https://youtu.be/hIccZsURyLc

Danilo Pérez – Across the Crystal Sea
https://youtu.be/jo3BAlJ0jUI

Sia – Rainbow
https://youtu.be/Psnhnr9Xrs4

Alice Phoebe Lou – She
https://youtu.be/NPH9j0qVM3A

Aswad – Three Babylon
https://youtu.be/0Q7SCTOSmt4

Four Tops – Reach Out (I’ll Be There)
https://youtu.be/2EaflX0MWRo

Roger Waters – Us and Them (complete show 2017)
https://youtu.be/70KFk_M4PNo

 

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CD, back to its roots as a family business

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Roux et al
After elections for party delegates that attracted some 20 percent of the Cambio Democratico membership, Rómulo Roux (right) appears with the new head of the party’s women’s branch, Ana Giselle Rosas de Vallarino, and the new CD youth leader, Maidir Miller. Roux, the only member of Ricardo Martinelli’s cabinet who is not in serious legal trouble, calls it the face of change but actually it’s a younger generation of the old political caste. Photo from Rómulo Roux’s Facebook page.

Roux wins the CD delegate elections, seems set to take the party back to its old status

by Eric Jackson

A major political party would not only be a contender for national political power. It would be expected to survive the physical or political demise of its top leader. It would stand for something in most people’s eyes, whether or not they agree with that something. It would be something that its members would rather not destroy.

In some countries, minor parties stand for a belief system, a segment of society or some sort of subculture. Not so in Panama. Here the small parties are businesses. They are bets that whatever major party comes out on top in a national election, it will be short of the support it needs for a working majority in the legislature and thus amenable to deals with small formations, wherein support on key matters is exchanged for government jobs or contracts. Until 2009, that’s what Ricardo Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party was.

Then the nation’s largest party, the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), at the end of a 2005-2009 Martín Torrijos administration in which it gutted the public pension system, passed out poisonous cough syrup that killed hundreds and then tried to cover it up instead of helping the surviving victims, then fell out among themselves in a brawl of broken deals and angry recriminations from which an unreconstructed Norieguista, Balbina Herrera, emerged as the nominee. The image wasn’t softened by Balbina’s promises to shut down news websites that she did not control. So, from the grubby business of the small party world, supermarket tycoon Ricardo Martinelli emerged to win the presidency by a landslide. His party didn’t come close to winning the National Assembly, but through bribery and blackmail he managed to engineer enough defections from the other parties to cobble together a legislative majority.

The looting binge, the manipulation of the legal system, the violence, the massive bribery and graft, the surveillance and appropriation of government databases for partisan uses, the tawdry moves to make himself president by proxy for another term — it all came dangerously close but Martinelli fell short in 2014. We now live in the aftermath. On paper, CD still has some 342,000 members.

The first thing that Martinelli did after losing the elections was to steal the surveillance equipment and databases acquired at public expense. The next thing he did was to threaten the legislators elected on the party ticket for the 2014-2019 term with the files he said he had on every one of them. In the first year of the next administration President Juan Carlos Varela’s Panameñista Party and the PRD, neither close to a majority in the legislature on its own, formed an alliance to keep the CD out. A year later, half of the CD deputies defied Martinelli, who by then had fled the country. Since then, amidst all the fault lines, the party has been above all divided between those who automatically follow Martinelli’s orders from Miami and those who disobey such commands. This past July, 16 of 25 CD deputies aligned with the Panameñistas and a few dissidents from the PRD to make a CD dissident, Yanibel Ábrego, the legislature’s presiding deputy. A Martinelli loyalist crowd, prone to squabbling among themselves and principally led by Martinelli’s appointee as acting party president Alma Cortés and Martinelli spokesman Eduardo Camacho, has retained control of the party apparatus and moved to expel the 16 dissident legislators from the party.

However, Cortés, Camacho and most of the other prominent loyalists are in and out of court and jail on a variety of charges. Against them for the party leadership is the CD secretary general, Rómulo Roux. A former cabinet member, he served as canal affairs minister, then briefly as minister of the presidency, before stepping down for an unsuccessful bid for the 2014 CD presidential nomination. If one discounts the cabinet when Martinelli and Varela were allies for the first 26 months of the last government, of those who came later Roux is the only minister who is not in serious legal trouble. Could it be that he’s a wily attorney from the country’s most prestigious law firm, Morgan & Morgan? Was it scruples? Was it luck? In any case, the suspense in Roux’s life has not been about whether he will get out on bail. With others calling him a traitor, he has been quietly making the rounds of party organizations and elected officials and is on pretty good terms with most of the legislators who have defied Martinelli.

On October 15 CD members went to the polls to elect delegates to local, provincial and national conventions that will culminate in the election of new national party leaders and arrangements for a primary to select the 2019 presidential nominee.

Roux put together the Renovacion CD slate, which stands for nothing in particular. By all accounts they won most of the delegates. Also at stake in the October 15 voting were the leaderships of the party’s women’s and youth organizations, and the Renovacion CD candidates for these, Ana Giselle Rosas de Vallarino and Maidir Miller respectively, won their races. Roux wants the presidential nomination and so do a bunch of others, but at this point the 2019 party standard appears to be his to lose. Martinelli’s gang may seek to change those equations by throwing those who just beat them out of the party, but it’s unlikely that the Electoral Tribunal would allow them to do this.

So what has Roux won? The Electoral Tribunal says that about 20 percent of the party’s membership took part in the internal elections. That’s a little under 70,000 people. That’s not nearly enough to win a national election, but sufficient to maintain ballot status and get one of more people elected to the National Assembly. But that was just one of the primaries, one might argue, and the turnout will be substantially higher in subsequent voting, especially in the general election. Will it? Already there are splinter parties forming and CD deputies expressing their intention to join them. A string of court victories and prosecutorial dives that gets all charges against Ricardo Martinelli and his gang off of all major charges would be a distinct possibility, and that may shore up the CD share of the fools’ vote, but that sort of exercise in corruption would likely cost the party many more votes than it would win.

Rómulo Roux has about 55,000 followers on his Facebook page — not all of whom like him — and he seems to have mustered something less to that at the polls on the 15th. Yes, he’s telegenic and will have some money behind him, but it’s very likely that most of the members on the CD rolls are just that on paper. Come 2019 the party’s vote total may well be in the five digits. And that would leave CD where it has usually been, as a family business small party.

Look at Roux’s people who won.

Ana Giselle Rosas de Vallarino is married into the political Vallarino clan, the daughter-in-law of former VP Arturo Vallarino and also related by marriage to legislator Marilyn Vallarino de Sellhorn and disgraced former Panama City mayor Bosco Vallarino. In the Martinelli administration she had a job with the government agency that oversees cooperatives, IPACOOP, and ran for legislator in 2014. At first she was declared the winner over Panameñista incumbent Jorge Alberto Rosas, but that result was challenged because government funds were used to buy votes for her. The alleged extent of it was much greater, but the Electoral Tribunal overturned the result on the basis of 99 checks, in the aggregate amount of $104,500, stolen from the IFARHU scholarship fund and used to buy votes. On the rerun Ana Giselle lost.

Maidir Miller is the son of legislator and CD vice president Mario Miller. The elder Miller has the distinction of being the only post-invasion legislator kicked out of both his party and his seat in the National Assembly by his colleagues. He was a PRD deputy from Bocas and early in the Pérez Balladares administration he was arrested for an alleged extortion attempt against some business owners. He did take the briefcase with the marked bills, but said that it was represented as something else to him. Eventually he was acquitted, but only got back to the legislature by getting elected on Mr. Martinelli’s ticket.

A family business for the political caste, in reduced circumstances not about national power but about sinecures and sales to the government. That seems to be the direction that CD is headed. If the circumstances are all that reduced there are not going to be all that many hack jobs and contracts to go around. Thus the ferocious if unequal infighting. Roux just had the unique in that party advantage of unindicted status.

 

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What the former US presidents are saying

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What all of the living former US presidents are saying

Barack Obama

campaigning on October 19 for Democrats in Newark

What we can’t have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before that dates back centuries. Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That has folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century. Come on!

George W. Bush

October 19 speech in New York

We are gathered in the cause of liberty this is a unique moment. The great democracies face new and serious threats — yet seem to be losing confidence in their own calling and competence. Economic, political and national security challenges proliferate, and they are made worse by the tendency to turn inward. The health of the democratic spirit itself is at issue. And the renewal of that spirit is the urgent task at hand.

Since World War II, America has encouraged and benefited from the global advance of free markets, from the strength of democratic alliances, and from the advance of free societies. At one level, this has been a raw calculation of interest. The 20th century featured some of the worst horrors of history because dictators committed them. Free nations are less likely to threaten and fight each other.

And free trade helped make America into a global economic power.

For more than 70 years, the presidents of both parties believed that American security and prosperity were directly tied to the success of freedom in the world. And they knew that the success depended, in large part, on US leadership. This mission came naturally, because it expressed the DNA of American idealism.

We know, deep down, that repression is not the wave of the future. We know that the desire for freedom is not confined to, or owned by, any culture; it is the inborn hope of our humanity. We know that free governments are the only way to ensure that the strong are just and the weak are valued. And we know that when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy.

This is not to underestimate the historical obstacles to the development of democratic institutions and a democratic culture. Such problems nearly destroyed our country — and that should encourage a spirit of humility and a patience with others. Freedom is not merely a political menu option, or a foreign policy fad; it should be the defining commitment of our country, and the hope of the world.

That appeal is proved not just by the content of people’s hopes, but a noteworthy hypocrisy: No democracy pretends to be a tyranny. Most tyrannies pretend they are democracies. Democracy remains the definition of political legitimacy. That has not changed, and that will not change.

Yet for years, challenges have been gathering to the principles we hold dear. And, we must take them seriously. Some of these problems are external and obvious. Here in New York City, you know the threat of terrorism all too well. It is being fought even now on distant frontiers and in the hidden world of intelligence and surveillance. There is the frightening, evolving threat of nuclear proliferation and outlaw regimes. And there is an aggressive challenge by Russia and China to the norms and rules of the global order — proposed revisions that always seem to involve less respect for the rights of free nations and less freedom for the individual.

These matters would be difficult under any circumstances. They are further complicated by a trend in western countries away from global engagement and democratic confidence. Parts of Europe have developed an identity crisis. We have seen insolvency, economic stagnation, youth unemployment, anger about immigration, resurgent ethno-nationalism, and deep questions about the meaning and durability of the European Union.

America is not immune from these trends. In recent decades, public confidence in our institutions has declined. Our governing class has often been paralyzed in the face of obvious and pressing needs. The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy. Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.

There are some signs that the intensity of support for democracy itself has waned, especially among the young, who never experienced the galvanizing moral clarity of the Cold War, or never focused on the ruin of entire nations by socialist central planning. Some have called this “democratic deconsolidation.” Really, it seems to be a combination of weariness, frayed tempers, and forgetfulness.

We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions — forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.

We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism — forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade — forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.

We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments — forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge.

In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have a great advantage: To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.

This is part of the reason we meet here today. How do we begin to encourage a new, 21st century American consensus on behalf of democratic freedom and free markets? That’s the question I posed to scholars at the Bush Institute. That is what Pete Wehner and Tom Melia, who are with us today, have answered with “The Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In The World,” a Call to Action paper.

The recommendations come in broad categories. Here they are: First, America must harden its own defenses. Our country must show resolve and resilience in the face of external attacks on our democracy. And that begins with confronting a new era of cyber threats.

America is experiencing the sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country’s divisions. According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systematic and stealthy, it’s conducted across a range of social media platforms. Ultimately, this assault won’t succeed. But foreign aggressions — including cyber-attacks, disinformation and financial influence — should not be downplayed or tolerated. This is a clear case where the strength of our democracy begins at home. We must secure our electoral infrastructure and protect our electoral system from subversion.

The second category of recommendations concerns the projection of American leadership — maintaining America’s role in sustaining and defending an international order rooted in freedom and free markets.

Our security and prosperity are only found in wise, sustained, global engagement: In the cultivation of new markets for American goods. In the confrontation of security challenges before they fully materialize and arrive on our shores. In the fostering of global health and development as alternatives to suffering and resentment. In the attraction of talent, energy and enterprise from all over the world. In serving as a shining hope for refugees and a voice for dissidents, human rights defenders, and the oppressed.

We should not be blind to the economic and social dislocations caused by globalization. People are hurting. They are angry. And, they are frustrated. We must hear them and help them. But we can’t wish globalization away, any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution. One strength of free societies is their ability to adapt to economic and social disruptions.

And that should be our goal: to prepare American workers for new opportunities, to care in practical, empowering ways for those who may feel left behind. The first step should be to enact policies that encourage robust economic growth by unlocking the potential of the private sector, and for unleashing the creativity and compassion of this country.

A third focus of this document is strengthening democratic citizenship. And here we must put particular emphasis on the values and views of the young.

Our identity as a nation — unlike many other nations — is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility. We become the heirs of Thomas Jefferson by accepting the ideal of human dignity found in the Declaration of Independence. We become the heirs of James Madison by understanding the genius and values of the US Constitution. We become the heirs of Martin Luther King, Jr., by recognizing one another not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.

And it means that the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation.

We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools. And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.

Finally, the Call to Action calls on the major institutions of our democracy, public and private, to consciously and urgently attend to the problem of declining trust.

For example, our democracy needs a media that is transparent, accurate and fair. Our democracy needs religious institutions that demonstrate integrity and champion civil discourse. Our democracy needs institutions of higher learning that are examples of truth and free expression.

In short, it is time for American institutions to step up and provide cultural and moral leadership for this nation.

Ten years ago, I attended a Conference on Democracy and Security in Prague. The goal was to put human rights and human freedom at the center of our relationships with repressive governments. The Prague Charter, signed by champions of liberty Vaclav Havel, Natan Sharansky, Jose Maria Aznar, called for the isolation and ostracism of regimes that suppress peaceful opponents by threats or violence.

Little did we know that, a decade later, a crisis of confidence would be developing within the core democracies, making the message of freedom more inhibited and wavering. Little did we know that repressive governments would be undertaking a major effort to encourage division in western societies and to undermine the legitimacy of elections.

Repressive rivals, along with skeptics here at home, misunderstand something important. It is the great advantage of free societies that we creatively adapt to challenges, without the direction of some central authority. Self-correction is the secret strength of freedom. We are a nation with a history of resilience and a genius for renewal.

Right now, one of our worst national problems is a deficit of confidence. But the cause of freedom justifies all our faith and effort. It still inspires men and women in the darkest corners of the world, and it will inspire a rising generation. The American spirit does not say, “We shall manage,” or “We shall make the best of it.” It says, “We shall overcome.” And that is exactly what we will do, with the help of God and one another.

Bill Clinton

speaking at Dublin City University on October 17

All partnerships that are community-based are held together not because everybody agrees with everybody else, not because we don’t still have our particular identities, but because cooperation is better than conflict or isolation in any environment in which you must be in touch with others.

It’s a simple proposition. But we are re-litigating it now.

George H. W. Bush

from his Twitter feed on October 17

Bush Sr. tweet

 

Jimmy Carter

October 6 op-ed column in The New York Times

New media forms, including social media, are fueling political polarization as people communicate with general audiences and narrowly focused groups, without the deliberation typical of traditional forms of communication. Hacking, misinformation, “fake news” and cybersecurity threats are expanding the power of a few while undermining public confidence in the accuracy of mass media and information. Politicians are using detailed voter information to play to their bases, allowing them to ignore the rest of their constituents.

 

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Gandásegui, The final phase of Panama’s capitalist development?

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Bosco the Clown
Consider the career of THIS guy with an aristocratic surname and lots of politicians in the family, Bosco Vallarino. A CIA operative who used a journalism job with Voice of America as a cover. A public relations guy with the invading US forces in 1989. Went to the USA and got expedited US citizenship, swearing an oath renouncing his Panamanian identity. Came back and got a song and dance television show. Anointed to run for mayor by Juan Carlos Varela, he hemmed and hawed and blamed his mother about renouncing his Panamanian citizenship. His first act in office was double-billing for a junket to Taiwan. He got into a series of fights with Ricardo Martinelli over who would control contracts for the city dump and garbage collection, until Martinelli set him up to take a bribe from Brazilian racketeer Alex Ventura in front of a hidden video camera. Arrested and taken to the presidential palace, he was given the choice of jail or resignation. He quit and left the country, then came back and admitted taking the bribe in a televised interview. Now his principal occupation is making excuses to delay his bribery trial. Ah, the minor aristocracy — not the least thought of doing, let alone investing in, anything that puts Panama to work in any sort of productive way. SERTV photo, caption and electronic modification by Eric Jackson.

The final phase of Panama’s capitalist development?

by Marco Gandásegui, hijo

We face a changing social reality. A few decades ago we had an economy based on agriculture and services offered to the shipping route. The fortunes that had conquered political power collected the crumbs owing to the country’s geographical position. The A great many workers managed to survive by informal labor on the outskirts of Panama City and Colon as well as in rural areas. We had high rates of illiteracy and contagious diseases. We lacked a state capable of defining national policies. It was an unstable political system, subordinated to the hegemonic world power of the time.

The 21st century shows a country quite different from that described above. Political power is in the hands of a financial capitalist class that dominates the transit route — the Panama Canal and its economic environment. There still persists a mass of informal workers in the marginal areas of Panama City. This coexists with a working class and middle classes inserted into the consumer market. The incidence of illiteracy has been reduced to almost zero and the contagious diseases mostly eradicated. Educational levels have stagnated and health services have collapsed for the informal workers who represent more than 50 percent of the population.

Even when the country managed to get the United States to evacuate the military bases surrounding the Panama Canal Zone, pull up the colonial “stakes” around the Canal Zone and turn over the waterway in 1999, it still didn’t have a government capable of defining national policies. The political system continues to be unstable and dependent on the hegemonic power.

In the 20th century Panama went through three phases of capitalist development. The first was the continuation of dependent mercantile capitalism. A major capitalist investment (the railroad and the canal) would reproduce company town capitalist social relations. This was replaced, beginning with the Second World War, with an industrial capitalism dependent on big investments in North American technologies and generated a combative working class and youth movement. Starting with the US invasion of 1989, the Washington Consensus of neoliberal policies dismantled industry and a good part of agriculture. This, in turn, produced a succession of conservative governments (1990-2017) that dismantled the popular organizations and deactivated the militancy of the youth.

The Panamanian industrial bourgeoisie that emerged and prospered between 1935 and 1980 abandoned the manufacturing sector and invested its money in the financial sector. Panamanian banking replaced industry as the “engine” of the capitalist economy. The reforms to the canal treaty with the United States in 1935 and 1955 jump-started industry. It was supposed that the Torrijos-Carter Treaty of 1977 — not considering the one about neutrality — would give the industrial sector the impulse that it needed to be competitive. General Torrijos’s watchword about giving “the most collective use” to the canal revenues was twice replaced after his violent death in 1981. The first was when General Noriega, between 1983 and 1987, tried to transform the former Canal Zone into a center for training an army. The second was after the invasion when Washington turned to “the market as a fundamental tool for assigning the resources” generated by the canal.

Currently the Panama Canal Authority collects some $3 billion that it can’t invest in national development projects. In the next five years that will be around $15 billion. About $10 billion will go directly into the governments coffers. This money will be in service to the great foreign corporations that invest in projects ranging from seaports, railroads, mines, shipping and real estate.

Without a national development project, the country has no vision of the future. Nor can we hope to study the opportunities that come to the country. Companies from China threw out the idea of a “bullet” train between Panama City and the Costa Rican border. The people in charge, with their lack of vision, can only guess that they are welcome.

It’s possible that we are in the third and final phase of capitalist development. It is urgent that broad sectors of society, in an organized fashion, assume responsibility for leading this country into the framework of a national development plan.

 

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Richardson, Me Too. And You. And You.

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Me Too
We can’t stop sexual violence until we understand how very mundane it is. Photo by Ashley Rose.

Me Too. And You. And You.

by Jill Richardson — OtherWords

“Me too.”

I posted those words on Facebook recently, along with what seems like every woman I know. A post went viral asking each woman to write the words “Me too” if she’d been sexually assaulted or harassed.

A man exposed himself to me once. Ten years ago. He was in a car, and I was on foot. He called me over and asked me directions to the freeway. I disappointed him by actually giving him directions and not noticing that he was exposing himself until he pointed it out. Then, I walked away.

I called the cops, and they warned me that it was a small step from flashing a woman to actually assaulting her. I was lucky nothing happened to me.

A friend of mine had an even scarier experience. A man grabbed her on the street and then flashed her. When she yelled for help, bystanders mistook her cries for a woman having a spat with a boyfriend, and they ignored her.

Under the #MeToo tag, the stories kept rolling in.

Before long a question arose: Has any woman not been sexually assaulted or harassed?

I know several people who’ve been raped. In fact, I’m not sure I know any woman who’s never faced sexual assault or harassment. Most women can probably say the same, and that’s a travesty.

I doubt there’s a woman alive who’s never been catcalled, but sexual harassment goes far beyond an unwelcome comment or greeting.

For example, right now I know a woman who’s facing sexual harassment from a superior at work that could potentially ruin her career, and another one who already lost a job due to harassment. Sometimes men who catcall women follow them, and make them fear for their safety.

Sexual violence isn’t something that happens rarely. Most of it isn’t the heinous acts that appear on the news — it’s the everyday acts that don’t.

If you want to see the faces of rapists, look around you. Just look around. Men who do this look like anyone. One of the men who assaulted me is now a pediatric neurologist at a prestigious hospital.

Odds are you can’t find a woman — or trans person — who won’t say “me too.”

How many men that you know perpetrated these crimes?

We can’t stop sexual violence until we understand how very mundane it is. Men act shocked and horrified to hear of women’s sexual assaults, but remain ignorant that the perpetrators are other men around them — their coworkers, their buddies, their family, and maybe even themselves.

 

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Bernal, Panama’s first World Cup

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Roman Torres

First World Cup

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

 

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
Martin Luther King Jr.

 

For those of us who love our country, for those of us who act like citizens who are concerned and moved by daily events, so that thing really go better, our joy and rejoicing at the Panamanian soccer team making the World Cup is no less than that of the other followers and fans of that sport.

For those in charge of taking our yesterday, they do not want us to have a tomorrow and they do not let us have today, and we know that their expressions and motivations about this achievement are otherwise.

For those of us who have principles and know that Panama is a country where there are people who do not love the country but also know those us who love it, those of us who rejoice in their happiness — we share in their sadness and their defeats, but also in their triumphs.

Today, as before, other compatriots in the fields of the arts, the science, letters or sports give our country moral encouragement and hope. The first World Cup appearance gives us the opportunity to leave behind the prevailing mediocrity among those who govern us and to commit ourselves to recover our dignity.

Let the world know that Panama isn’t just a canal or a money laundering center, that we are not the Panama Papers, nor are we Odebrecht, that above all, we are Panamanians, who want to take back our country, today hijacked by those who grow moldy to the core.

Let this first World Cup serve to open the necessary avenues for us to live to learn, to leave behind ignorance and mediocrity, to effectively link up with the rest of humanity. Let us learn the teaching of Octavio Mendez Pereira:

In weak and small nations such as ours, over which the clouds of imperialism hover, general culture, science and research mean, more than anything else, autonomy, identity and effective freedom.

 

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Edmonston, Spanish thanksgiving and homily in English at the BUC

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the Vegas shooter's lair

Homily and thanksgiving at the Balboa Union Church on October 8

by Phil Edmonston

Las Vegas Matanza: Irónico

Sí, la masacre de casi 550 personas en Las Vegas la semana pasada par un francotirador fue horrible, pero, también hay algo que es muy irónico:

El empleado de seguridad del Mandalay Bay de Las Vegas, hacía una ronda de rutina por el casino cuando le pidieron que subiera hasta el piso 32. Desarmado, el empleado de 25 años no tenía claro que iba a enfrentarse a un asesino sin escrúpulos, listo para descargarle más de 200 balas. El tirador le vio venir por las cámaras que tenía instaladas en el pasillo y en la mirilla de su habitación.

Cuando se aproximó a su cuarto, el tirador abrió fuego a través de la puerta de la habitación e hirió el empleado en la pierna derecha. El le quitó hierro al asunto asegurando que sólo “estaba haciendo mi trabajo,” aunque el sheriff en Las Vegas, describió su acción como un acto de valentía que posiblemente ayudó a evitar más víctimas mortals a un concierto de country desde la habitación de su hotel.

Lo que es ironico… El agente de la seguridad se llama Jesus Campos, uno de los latinos calificados por el Presidente Trump como violadores, ladrones, y maleantes.

Tengo no más que esto repuesto:

Gracias, Jesus.

End of Times?

The gunning down of over 500 people and the death of 58 last week in Las Vegas by a lone sniper was, indeed, an act of pure evil.

But, it was a predictable evil, fueled by an easy access to firearms and an angry, aging electorate that feels life is ‘rigged’ against most people.

We are seeing the democratization of violence. Innocents gunned down in their schools, homes, and churches. It’s not surprising this has led some Christians to believe that we are in the “End of Times,” just prior to the Second Coming of Christ as prophesied by the Apostle Paul:

“In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good” (2nd Tim 3:1-3).

Everyday we see political and religious ideologies clash with one another all over the world as humankind declares war on itself and threatens a nuclear holocaust. Again, as prophesized by Paul,

“…Hearts will be filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. We shall see the rise of “envy, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness — gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, and others who are foolish, faithless, heartless, and ruthless.” (Rom 1:29-31).

Without a doubt, we are certainly seeing evildoers everywhere, but, we aren’t facing the end of the world. In fact, the ‘good old days’ were far worse, says author Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of our Nature.

Pinker points out that that time promotes progress; and man eventually evolves from violent competition to peaceful cooperation. But, progress isn’t linear and there is a price to pay.

Pinker notes that millions died when the Lord flooded the Earth and ‘rebooted’ mankind; more than 800,000 soldiers died in an American Civil War (for every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of disease) that ended slavery; and 57,000 American combatants died in Viet Nam in a war that was undeclared, unneeded, and unwinnable . Yet, after America abandoned that fight, the loathsome communists morphed into respectable capitalists, and today, Viet Nam is one of the most prosperous countries and largest builder of Ford, GM, Chrysler, and Jeep cars and SUVs in South East Asia. It took a war to get there.

We see everyday miracles in medical care, through improved diagnostic procedures, innovative surgical techniques, and ‘wonder drugs’ that we ‘wonder’ if we can afford as politicians restrict access to those most in need. Diseases like Ebola, polio, smallpox, tuberculosis, and childhood leukemia are not the scourge they once were, although, more of us now die from self-afflicted maladies like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and AIDS.

Remember, as 60s black activist H. Rap Brown said: “Violence is as American as Apple pie.” Rather than heralding the Last Judgment, it is a sign of poor judgment.

 

Gloria

Gun or Birth Control?

“I want any young men who buy a gun to be treated like young women who seek an abortion. Think about it: a mandatory 48-hours waiting period, written permission from a parent or a judge, a note from a doctor proving that he understands what he is about to do, time spent watching a video on individual and mass murders, traveling hundreds of miles at his own expense to the nearest gun shop, and walking through protestors holding photos of loved ones killed by guns, protestor who call him a murderer. After all, it makes more sense to do this for young men seeking guns than for young women seeking an abortion. No young woman needing reproductive freedom has ever murdered a roomful of strangers.”

Gloria Steinem, quoting a 2013 article by William Hamby on Examiner.com.

Two Bears, Bald Men, and a Prophet

This being St. Francis’s month when animals are blessed by priests in churches around the world, I couldn’t resist quoting one animal story found in the Bible about bald men, two bears, and the Prophet Elisha.

Although this sounds like the beginning of a bad joke we read of the prophet Elisha calling a curse down upon a group of “youths” who mocked his baldness (2 Kings 2:23–24).

Here, read the passage for yourself:

“And [Elisha] went up from there to Bethel. While he was on his way, young juveniles came out from the city and mocked him, saying, ‘Go up, bald-head! Go up, bald-head!’ When he turned back and saw them, he cursed them in the name of YHWH. Then two female bears came out from the forest and mauled forty two of those juveniles.”

So, watch what you say around Fido or Snowball. The Lord knows and the bears may be listening

 

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