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Bigio, Branson y el fracaso de la intervención

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El show de Branson no condujo a la caída de Maduro, pero sí a ayudar a que un mes después los presidentes que asistieron a éste pudiesen ser capaces de fundar Pro-Sur.

A un mes del fracaso del mega-concierto para producir el “Día D”

por Isaac Bigio – ALAI
 

Hace un mes se realizó en Cúcuta el 22 de febrero lo que ha sido tal vez el concierto musical gratuito que más estrellas hispanas importantes haya reunido. También se ha tratado del primer mega-concierto enfocado a producir un cambio de régimen, y uno que, en vez de propiciar la paz, se preparaba para el día siguiente generar la guerra.

Hoy pocos se acuerdan de éste y la web de Venezuela Live Aid ya no habla de que su meta era levantar 100 millones de dólares en sus primeros dos meses para ayudar a los sufridos venezolanos. No hay ningún reporte de los fondos recaudados ni de los costos invertidos en montar un escenario y en traer, hospedar y alimentar a artistas que generalmente cobran millones.

Dicho concierto sirvió para reunir a los presidentes de Colombia, Chile y Paraguay, quienes un mes después han dado paso a la primera cumbre de presidentes sudamericanos para fundar la Pro-Sur, un foro centrado en los 7 presidentes del continente que recientemente han llegado al poder ubicándose a la derecha de sus predecesores y que tiene como fin aislar a Venezuela y lograr que ésta cambie de régimen, un objetivo ajeno a los principios no injerencia y que pasa por romper a la anterior Unión Sudamericana de Naciones (UNASUR) que durante una década integró por primera vez a todas las 12 repúblicas de dicho continente, y que hoy ha quedado reducido solo a las 5 que aún mantienen ciertas políticas “progresistas”.

Inédito

En la historia de los conciertos musicales del mundo en la frontera colombo-venezolana se dio un inédito fenómeno. Por primera vez se han dado dos de signo político completamente contrapuestos separados por un puente que divide a dos países de signo ideológico tan antagónico.

En la margen izquierda del río Táchira, en el lado calendario, se dio el concierto organizado por el muy maduro multimillonario Richard Branson y con la presencia de los presidentes de derecha de Colombia, Chile y Paraguay, y en su margen derecha se dio el concierto organizado por el gobierno de izquierda de Venezuela lleno de sus bravos hinchas de Maduro.

Ambos estuvieron a una distancia de 300 metros uno del otro separados por el puente Tienditas, el cual se ha hecho famoso por tener en su medio una barrera impuesta por Venezuela, pero que no ha venido funcionado nunca desde su reciente creación. Pese a la cercanía física y a la lejanía ideo-política ambos shows discurrieron en paz y sin violencia.

Ciertamente que el organizado por el multimillonario Richard Branson se sabía de antemano que iba a tener mucho más gente. Esto, debido a que se organizó con mayor tiempo de antelación y publicidad, por la fama de sus artistas (tal vez ha tenido la mayor reunión en un tablado de artistas tan célebres en la hispanidad), porque la gente sabía de antemano a quienes iban a escuchar, porque estaba muy televisado, y por las decenas de millones de dólares invertidos en éste.

Frente a éste el gobierno venezolano organizó en pocos días un contra-concierto cuyo escenario fue alterado casi en la víspera, que la gente fue sin saber quiénes vendrían a tocar, sin que tuviera ninguna estrella de la fama del show rival y que casi no fue transmitido.

En la página oficial de Facebook del “Presidente Encargado” Juan Guaidó, él colocó una foto aérea del mega-concierto de Branson junto a una del que hacía el oficialismo donde se mostraba éste totalmente vacío y donde él comentaba que se trataba solo de un karaoke. Lo cierto es que, a medida que fue avanzando la hora, se ha podido constatar que el muy improvisado concierto chavista fue aglutinando varios millares, aunque su rival tuvo muchas decenas de miles de asistentes, pero no el millón que prometieron en sus spots publicitarios y ni siquiera los 200,000, según reconoció Univisión, uno de los canales promotores de éste.

En la gran metrópolis colombiana donde se hizo el concierto anti-Maduro viven más de 800,000 personas, mientras que en el lado venezolano hay varios pueblos ninguno de los cuales llega al 10% de tal cantidad, por lo que la demografía también jugaba a favor de los antichavistas.

Al final del “Venezuela Live Aid” apareció Guaidó burlándose de una orden judicial que le tiene prohibido salir del país, con lo cual él no ha dudado en desacatar la ley de un gobierno que no reconoce como tal, por lo cual él queda expuesto a ser detenido (riesgo que tal vez él provoca a fin de que ello pudiese dar acicate a una mayor protesta).

Nicolás Maduro no apareció por allí, aunque sí lo hizo en otro lejano punto fronterizo con Colombia donde se le vio rodeado de una muchedumbre. En cambio, en el concierto chavista sí estuvo su número dos Diosdado Cabello.

Objetivos diferentes

El objetivo del gobierno venezolano no era competir de igual a igual con el millonario show del billonario Branson, sino prepararse para evitar que Guaidó quiera lograr su famoso “Plan D” el 23 de febrero logrando un ingreso masivo de donaciones estadounidenses.

La estrategia de Maduro parece haber sido neutralizar todas las demás fronteras para concentrarse solo con la que tiene más flujo, la que hay con Colombia. Un día antes cerró totalmente la frontera con Brasil y cualquier tipo de transporte aéreo o marítimo con las Antillas holandesas, hasta lograr que la corona de dicho país les asegure que no van a permitir el envío de la “ayuda humanitaria” a la oposición.

Por su parte la Cruz Roja, las Naciones Unidas y algunas otras instancias de caridad que también operan en Colombia se han negado a que los alimentos y medicamentos enviados por EEUU y sus aliados a los opositores venezolanos sean considerados como “ayuda humanitaria” porque, aducen, tiene un alto contenido politizado y no independiente o neutral, son rechazados por el gobierno del país al que se le están destinando y porque no se le puede obligar a ningún Estado a aceptar ésta contra su voluntad, y máxime cuando Caracas aduce que dichos paquetes son un “caballo de Troya” para facilitar una intervención extranjera.

Branson, por su parte, quien siempre aparecía en el estrado queriendo ser la única figura central que brille y evitar que cualquier político aparezca para eclipsarlo, bien puede haberle querido decir a su amigo Guaidó que él, pese a no ser venezolano, es capaz de movilizar con su dinero y sus artistas tanta o más gente que él en Caracas.

La politización del Live Aid

Hace 7 quinquenios se dio el primer Live Aid hecho gracias a la unión de los mejores talentos artísticos de la lengua inglesa para recaudar fondos para las víctimas de la sequía etíope. En el verano nórdico de 1985 se llenaron grandes estadios en Londres, Nueva York y otras metrópolis en un evento visto por casi 2 mil millones de almas (entonces el 40% de la humanidad). Sin embargo, esta secuela de conciertos con fines pacifistas, pluralistas y altruistas ahora ha sido tergiversado.

Esta vez se puede haber dado el mayor ensamble de artistas hispanos en una tarima pero el mega-concierto no fue para una causa independiente apoyada por todos, como bien pudo haber sido uno hecho en distintas urbes latinoamericanas o venezolanas para recaudar unidos gentes de todas las tendencias fondos para las personas que pasan por penurias en Venezuela o en las naciones latinoamericanas que vienen de padecer terribles calamidades naturales como Brasil, Bolivia, Perú o Haití.

Branson decidió tomar inconsultamente el nombre de Live Aid y hasta parte de su símbolo original (la parte de arriba de una guitarra eléctrica en posición vertical) para haber hecho un concierto extremadamente politizado e inclinado, además, hacia un extremo político.

Éste, a su vez, en vez de ser pluralista y pacifista, era abiertamente partidario de derrocar al mandatario del país vecino y, al menos uno de sus principales artistas y hasta el propio Guaidó, han advocado la posibilidad de pedir a los EEUU y a los vecinos de Venezuela que la invadan para garantizar el pase de la ayuda y terminar sacando a Maduro.

Un cantante venezolano dijo que al día siguiente del concierto iba a empezar la libertad en Venezuela pues se iba a salir el dictador. El Puma dio las gracias a Colombia, Brasil y EEUU por su apoyo, fustigó al marxismo y dijo que ya es hora de acabar con 20 años de ignominia y también de todas las dictaduras izquierdistas de América, mientras que otro artista dijo que hay que cambiar no solo al gobierno en Venezuela sino también en Cuba y en Nicaragua, una meta tan propugnada por Trump. El Puma no dijo nada de los dictadores de derecha y nadie ha mencionado a los miles de colombianos que han muerto en la violencia política (de lejos mucho más que en Venezuela).

Uno de los presentadores aparece con una camisa con la grosería “Maduro: Coño de tu madre” mientras que personas que él hace hablar piden que se vaya Maduro y entre Guaidó, consignas que serán repetidas por otros en el escenario.

La mayor parte de los artistas que tocaron en el concierto del propietario de Virgin cobran fortunas por cada presentación y su opulento modo de vida dista mucho del de los sufridos pueblos de Venezuela y de Colombia, mientras que nadie se atrevió a recordar los altos índices de pobreza, miseria y carencias de servicio de salud, empleo y educación en la propia Cúcuta o en la pauperizada Guajira y otras zonas fronterizas de Colombia, algo que no es de exclusividad solo de Venezuela.

El evento fue hecho para juntar y politizar gente para luego quererlos organizar para pasar la “ayuda humanitaria” al día siguiente, el mentado 23 de febrero, en el cual desde el escenario se llegó a decir que sería la fecha en la cual llegaría la libertad y la caída de Maduro.

El concierto chavista no quiso tomar el membrete de Live Aid y se centró en llamar a defender al gobierno contra el “imperialismo” y Trump, preparando a su gente para hacer dos acciones: una de contención a una posible violencia o entrada masiva de contenedores, y otra para buscar dar 20 mil cajas de comida y servicios gratuitos de salud a los colombianos del otro lado del río, tratando de contrarrestar la ofensiva “humanitaria” del presidente Duque.

Así, la tradición a-partidaria del Live Aid quedó partida y se dieron dos conciertos partidarizados. Uno que se atrevió a usurpar el legado del Live Aid y que promovía al bloque partidario Mesa de Unidad Democrática y otro hecho por el Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, al cual Guaidó acusa de usurpar el poder.

Megaconcierto para la guerra

El mega-concierto de Branson tenía como fin juntar gente para preparar al día siguiente una ofensiva para entrar con todo los camiones con la “ayuda humanitaria” que había venido en los aviones militares norteamericanos.

En uno de los puentes fronterizos terminaron quemándose 3 de éstos e inmediatamente la Casa Blanca y Guaidó responsabilizan a Maduro de ello y llamaron a juzgarlo por crímenes de lesa humanidad. No obstante, The New York Times ha probado que estos camiones fueron incendiados por partidarios de Guaidó en el lado colombiano de la frontera y bajo la protección de las tropas colombianas, así como que éstos no tenían medicinas, mientras que otras fuentes han mostrado que éstos traían otro tipo de carga destinada a promover la violencia callejera.

A pesar de las celebridades el megaconcierto no congregó multitudes y no logró su objetivo de forzar el paso fronterizo. Guaidó, en vez de haber estado el “Día D” en Venezuela se fue en la víspera a Colombia para permanecer más de 10 días en el exterior, todo lo cual quitó fuerza al movimiento.

Branson quiso aparecer como el hombre que revertía a Bolívar. Un inglés gringo que organizaba el gran show para iniciar la liberación de Venezuela. Claro que él no tiene amor por los pobres, sino por el dinero.

Él es la única persona del mundo que es no solo dictador absoluto sino propietario total de dos islas del Caribe en las cuales su palabra es ley, las cuales suman un territorio mayor al del Vaticano, el país más pequeño que hay. Además, él es dueño de otros dos islas, incluyendo una artificial en Emiratos construido por mano de obra semi-esclavizada que no tiene derechos ni sindicatos ni ciudadanía, que si mueren o protestan son enterrados en la arena y que viven en galpones amontonados como sardinas en lata. Por supuesto que en la península arábiga Branson no habla de democracia, pese a que estas monarquías totalitarias nunca han permitido elecciones, partidos o sindicatos, y donde la fuerza laboral vive en la miseria. Para él y para Trump solo conviene hablar de democracia en Venezuela, lo cual para ellos es su derecho a decidir quién ha de ser su presidente.

Hoy los organizadores y protagonistas de dicho concierto se han desacreditado por su participación en ello, y el intento de Virgin de sacar provecho de sus influencias para luego captar nuevos contratos en una nueva Venezuela ha quedado archivados.

 

– Isaac Bigio es historiador y politólogo economista formado en la London School of Economics donde enseñó política venezolana.

 

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¿Wappin? This Friday’s mix

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Mavis Staples in 2012. Photo by Daniel Coston.

¿Wappin? Y en ESTE viernes cultural…

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – Don’t Let The Devil Ride
https://youtu.be/FLQbQidC-Ks

Luci & The Soul Brokers – The Crime
https://youtu.be/Sj2LG3a3oVE

Black Label Society – A Spoke in the Wheel
https://youtu.be/x3GQkZa6kXA

Orishas – 537 Cuba
https://youtu.be/Av_Rn2cegEs

Mavis Staples – Change
https://youtu.be/OZHJRMOPJHk

Wicked Dub Division – Roots and Wings
https://youtu.be/BDX0VOqPyvI

Hozier – No Plan
https://youtu.be/gXq_J29V5Io

Santana & Buika – Los Invisibles
https://youtu.be/1tosh8K1mN8

Rosanne Cash – Pancho and Lefty
https://youtu.be/sKlmDL2gFpo

Burna Boy – Rock Your Body
https://youtu.be/Xho39TPlL4Q

Patti Smith – Beds Are Burning
https://youtu.be/LoWfnFJ52rc

Nella – Voy
https://youtu.be/wGYdmpVVOrQ

Playing For Change – Run
https://youtu.be/_yAkU9X-LIw

P!nk – Walk Me Home
https://youtu.be/J1OsKJW51HY

Charlie Musselwhite & Richard Bargel – Mississippi Beat
https://youtu.be/ALU5g6Qqi08

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The deal is… (3): Is Ricardo Lombana breaking out of the pack?

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“The new constitution is the first pillar of the Another Road for Panama movement, a constitution that should protect the citizens from the abuses of power.”

Despite fake polls, mudslinging and an early PRD lead, is Lombana rising to the occasion?

by Eric Jackson

Yes, he’s an Evangelical. No, he doesn’t want to beat up queers.

Ricardo Lombana has yet to be anointed in the temples of Ricardo Martinelli or Donald Trump. Don’t hold your breath waiting for those things to happen. Reverend Gantry probably wouldn’t endorse him either.

See, Ricardo Lombana has his faith, which he openly professes but compartmentalizes with a belief that church and state ought to be separate. If ever you have caught his expression when talking about the corruption that besets this land, it’s easy to believe that he got that attitude in some church that approved of Jesus Christ’s one recorded act of violence, the scene where he went after the moneylenders with a whip. But Lombana hasn’t been noticed with a scourge of chords on the campaign trail.

And so it goes when you have a religious right railing against feminists and homosexuals, and against sex education in the schools much more than against the sexual exploitation of underage girls by adult men. A religious right with leaders who were on the payroll of Ricardo Martinelli’s kleptocracy.

“I believe in the separation between church and state,” Lombana explained. “One shouldn’t bring his religious beliefs into government decisions.” But of course he would. The bit about “Thou shalt not steal,” for example.

About marriage equality, wherein Panama might recognize the marriages of same-sex couples? That one he dodges, saying that Panama should have a constitutional convention to replace the current document that dates back to the dictatorship, and that marriage equality is one of the subject that ought to be debated in that process.

Isn’t THAT diplomatic? Lombana, was, after all, a Panamanian diplomat in Washington DC during the Martín Torrijos administration. (Recall that those were years of a Panamanian government led by this country’s by then quite neoliberal affiliate of the Socialist International and a US government under the Republican administration of George W. Bush.)

Lombana makes a point of not passing out $20 bills on the campaign trail, and he doesn’t throw red meat to those looking to scapegoat someone. What kind of a campaign is THAT for Panama?

He got on the ballot in a petitioning process that had him overtake a guy who apparently had copies of government records that are supposed to be confidential, and from those paid people who forged signatures on petitions. The guy he overtook will not face a criminal investigation, but some of his campaign crew might. It was a surge in the last week of petitioning that got Ricardo Lombana on the ballot.

By all credible accounts, the PRD’s Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo is the front runner in the presidential race. But the polls that the Electoral Tribunal approves for publication are lies. They show nobody undecided, while unpublished surveys by more reputable people have shown more or less one-third of the electorate undecided. And things are volatile, as for one thing with the conviction or acquittal of Ricardo Martinelli one might expect his man for president, Rómulo Roux, to gain steam or more likely collapse.

Meanwhile, attorney Lombana keeps talking what the hate mobs will surely consider heresy on the campaign trail: “I worked to help create laws to defend the animals. My commitment is that these laws will be enforced, because animals are also Panamanians who need protection.”

Can he get away with it? Can he win? Perhaps the best indication is that people are attacking him now, mostly by way of fake documents and queer baiting from the religious right.

Figure that in the closing week or two before the May 5 election, if some of the richest people in Panama figure that Nito Cortizo can and should be beaten, a ton of money will pour into support for the chosen one. It might be Lombana.

Perusing the index of recent Facebook slop.

 
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Wakamo, Unionize the NCAA

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“Student-athletes” make billions for others while putting their own futures at risk. Shutterstock photo.

 

It’s March Madness. Unionize the NCAA!

by Brian Wakamo — OtherWords

 

When Zion Williamson’s foot broke through the sole of his Nike shoe on February 20th, the sporting world stood still.

The consensus number one player in college basketball was playing in the biggest game of the season — North Carolina versus Duke — and suffered his startling injury in the opening minute. Williamson’s sprained knee cost Nike $1.1 billion in stock market valuation the next day.

The injury came on the doorstep of March Madness, the NCAA’s most profitable event of the year — to the tune of $900 million in revenue.

Despite the billions riding on his performance, the NCAA insists that athletes like Williamson are “amateurs” — student-athletes there only for the love of the game. It forbids them to make money off their performance, even as they support an industry worth billions. Duke alone makes $31 million off its basketball program.

Williamson has been a force of nature this season, captivating audiences and NBA scouts alike. Enticing those NBA scouts is the only way this 18-year-old can build his own future career — and any sort of injury imperils that future.

High-level “student-athletes,” after all, don’t get to spend much time being students.

They’re supposed to only spend 20 hours a week on sports-related activities. In reality, they spend around 40 hours on practice alone. Schoolwork falls by the wayside, so many schools have outside tutors do the players’ schoolwork and create classes-in-name-only where the only requirement is to turn in a paper.

A few years ago, some former athletes at the University of North Carolina sued the school and the NCAA, claiming they’d been denied a meaningful education. It’s hard to argue with that.

The athletes, in exchange for scholarships, give these schools their lives and put their health at risk. Concussions of football players have sparked lawsuits, and an injury like Williamson’s could cost a player millions in the professional leagues. If they can’t go pro — and their education didn’t do them any favors — what option do they have?

That risk is where the travesty lies. These thousands of athletes who play in the NCAA are often not allowed to enjoy the benefits of the schools they attend (and enrich). If they’re not able to make use of their education, they should be paid for the work they put in.

When college sports revenues are as high as they’ve ever been, the failure to pay the athletes is absurd — but not surprising.

Inequality of all kinds is on the rise, and the gap between the top and bottom of the pay scale is the highest since the Gilded Age of the early 1900s. The NCAA not allowing athletes to be paid — or even sign autographs for money! — is an extension of an economy where unions are busted and people have to work three jobs to make ends meet.

It needs to change. College basketball players are on average worth $212,080 to their program, much more than the cost of their scholarships.

Schools should pay these athletes a share of the revenue their sport brings in. And the NCAA needs to, at the very least, allow for these people to make money selling autographs or appearing at sports camps.

Just as importantly, athletes should be allowed to unionize their teams and fight for their own rights.

Billions of dollars are going to be spent on betting on March Madness games. CBS and Turner paid around $19 billion for the television rights to the tournament. And over $1 billion in advertising is spent on the tournament.

This event is all about the money. We should spread it around to the people who make it worthwhile.

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Kermit’s birds / Las aves de Kermit

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The Golden Hooded Tanager / Tangara Capuchidorada. Found in El Nancito, District of Remedios, Chiriqui, Panama at 638 meters of altitude. / Encontrado en El Nancito, Distrito de Remedios, Chiriquí, Panamá a 638 metros de altitud.

Golden Hooded Tanager ~ Tangara Capuchidorada ~ Tangara larvata

photo/ foto © Kermit Nourse

 

This beautiful species ranges from southern Mexico to northwest Ecuador, where it feeds on berries and an occasional insect. You find them usually in small groups, in forest clearings, scrublands and forest edges on both sides of the isthmus. They are not on the highest of the highlands.

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Esta hermosa especie abarca desde el sur de México hasta el noroeste de Ecuador, donde se alimenta de bayas y un insecto ocasional. Generalmente los encuentra en grupos pequeños, en claros de bosques, matorrales y bordes de bosques a ambos lados del istmo. No están en lo más alto de las tierras altas.

 





 
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Editorial: Freedom, licentiousness, fraud and censorship online

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US Representative Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has had little to say about the flood of bogus political attack messages from Russia, Trump supporters and other pseudonymous sources that characterized the 2016 US presidential election campaign. But now he is suing the owner of this Twitter account and Twitter itself because it’s one MEAN cow to him.

Freedom of expression online: get past the slogans and into reality

This editor was in 2016 and is now one of the moderators of the Expats for Sanders Facebook group. It’s small-time, but expanded exponentially in a couple of waves back then.

In the primary season there was a flood of fake personas — most of them bots (bits computer data not backed by any sort of responsive human being) and a number of them real people operating under false pretenses. Delete those people and bots and there would often be someone screaming about freedom of speech — and almost never was such a person both human and what she or he claimed to be. There were the set-ups, men saying sexist things — the script was to call Hillary Clinton a “whore” — to be then pointed out to Clintonistas in the corporate mainstream media as proof of the vile existence of “Bernie Bros.” There was a genre of ‘I used to support Bernie but now ____’ by characters never identifiable with Sanders at any point and sometimes identifiably the opposite — when these posters were not bots.

The nomination decided, there were waves of scurrilous anti-Clinton messages, some clearly not written by anyone very familiar with American English, a lot memes posted by bots, a lot by humans under false pretenses coming from three main directions that we could discern at the time.

A minor one was actual Green activists trolling for a few recruits for the Jill Stein campaign. There were also bots and fake personas promoting Jill not because they like the Greens but to divert votes from the Democrats.

There were the online pioneering neofascists. From them there was all this “Killary” conspiracy stuff and when there were real people instead of bots one was likely to find a page full of Confederate flags, postings from Nazi sites or so on.

There was all this pseudo-ideological stuff, the main point of which was “Don’t Vote.” There was a heavy preponderance of bots among the carriers of such messages.

Later we found out that there were Russians behind many of each sort of these messages. But I was the guy who got called a Stalinist for deleting messages and blocking those people and programs that posted them.

Donald Trump’s campaign gave the Russians 75 pages of its polling data for the Kremlin to orchestrate its social media interventions in the 2016 US presidential election. Will we now hear the likes of Devin Nunes hollering about “innocent until proven guilty” and “freedom of speech?” No doubt.

But of course, like a group meeting in a hall or a bartender trying to maintain a friendly ambience, it’s legal to have bouncers who eject belligerent people who have come to disrupt the proceedings. The same goes with any social media group.

Is it freedom of the press when a president uses public funds to buy a media empire, which then becomes a partisan attack and disinformation machine? That’s what Ricardo Martinelli did, that’s what El Panama America, La Critica, NexTV and so on are and the dysfunctional Electoral Tribunal and Electoral Prosecutor carefully refuse to admit any of this. But when the tribunal is accused by the Martinelista standard bearer of telling Twitter to erase accounts so as to skew the 2019 Panamanian electoral debate, the magistrates say that it simply isn’t true, that they can’t and didn’t tell Twitter to do anything of the sort.

The game is underdeveloped in Panama, but foreign consultants do get put into play. In 2014 and 2009, the game was “call centers” that mobilized strings of real people assuming fictitious personas to write scurrilous diatribes in the comment sections below articles in the mainstream media. It still happens a bit, but in La Prensa you have to buy a subscription to play the game, some of the papers have electronic alarm systems to pull out the really flagrant stuff, The Panama News just doesn’t allow comments below articles and so on. Panamanian political slop-slinging has come into its own on Twitter and to a lesser extent of Facebook. Instagram and WhatsApp are the expanding new frontiers of this here.

As we saw the other day in New Zealand, social media fascism has reached ugly extremes. In 2016 it was Dutch intelligence — allegedly — that tipped off the Obama administration about the Russian social media game being run on US politics. The Europeans, you see, also have that problem.  (Did Obama already know via National Security Agency eavesdropping, but find it a more palatable cover story to talk about a tip from The Netherlands? It will surely be a question explored for many years by historians.)

In any case there is a great hue and cry from many directions and the giants of the industry — Facebook / Instagram, Google / YouTube and Twitter — have been purging most most vicious of messengers, fraudulent accounts and hate messages. It must be distressing to Donald Trump to have had tens of thousands of his bots kicked out of the social media, but that was done. Very likely lesser Panamanian investors of the same moral cut have suffered similar losses.

Like the “free speech” auxiliaries of the fake personas I have thrown out of Expats for Sanders, Rómulo Roux cries foul. All it really ought to do is raise questions of the gutter tactics he had underway that may have been compromised.

A vintage example of boorish US political satire. Nowadays the skewering of the late US President Gerald R. Ford would be acceptable, but the recycling of an old joke about people with cerebral palsy would be considered cruel beyond the pale. Actually, Ford was the most accomplished athlete ever to live in the White House. He may also have suffered from brain damage from repeated concussions in his playing days. For a time a few people made a good living from jokes about how maladroit Jerry Ford was, but people with neuromuscular disorders usually have a hard time making a living. Panamanian culture is cruel about this, with some islands of kindness and understanding. In this campaign season too many politicians affect charity rather than stand up for rights.

And then there is Delmiro Quiroga, the cartoonist who does both some truly brilliant stuff and crap that plays on base prejudices. He’s a fixture in Panamanian popular culture and the other day he got a notice that due to “unusual activity” his Twitter account was suspended.

Delmiro deserves more of a reason than that. Even if Twitter has a right to police its feeds and eject those who promote racism, misogyny, religious intolerance, homophobia and so on.

The problem with that is the vast scale of fraud and hatred that has been injected into the overall Twitter feed. And meanwhile over on Facebook, the fascist mass murderer’s video from the mosques in Christchurch went viral and nobody reported the crime to Facebook. Just a problem in one small corner of the social media scene. If management throws out a great mass of fraud and hatred without taking the time to hear either reasonable or scurrilous objections, that might e understood. But the aggrieved should get a hearing.

It gets us down to what the social media are — an important part of modern life, platforms through which freedom of expression is exercised, and covert nefarious business plans about collecting and selling information about people.

These services are international and that complicates things, but Twitter, Google and Facebook really ought to be bought out and run as public utilities. But by whom and under what sorts of understandings? It’s not an impossible puzzle, but it is a great challenge for our times.

                      

                      

O people! Your Lord is one Lord, and you all share the same father. There is no preference for Arabs over non-Arabs, nor for non-Arabs over Arabs. Neither is there preference for white people over black people, nor for black people over white people. Preference is only through righteousness.
Muhammad                       

   

Bear in mind…

   

In every society, the definitions of sanity and madness are arbitrary — are, in a sense, political.
Susan Sontag

   

Hating people is like burning down your house to get rid of a rat.
Harry Emerson Fosdick

   

To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death.
Pearl S. Buck

   

 
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WHO moves toward world human genetic engineering rules

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Human DNA. UNESCO graphic.

WHO experts pave the way for international governance on human genome editing

by the World Health Organization

The World Health Organization’s new advisory committee on developing global standards for governance and oversight of human genome editing has agreed to work towards a strong international governance framework in this area.

“Gene editing holds incredible promise for health, but it also poses some risks, both ethically and medically. This committee is a perfect example of WHO’s leadership, by bringing together some of the world’s leading experts to provide guidance on this complex issue. I am grateful to each member of the Expert Advisory Committee for their time and expertise.” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

Over the past two days, the committee of experts reviewed the current state of science and technology. They also agreed core principles of transparency, inclusivity and responsibility that underpin the Committee’s current recommendations. The committee agreed that it is irresponsible at this time for anyone to proceed with clinical applications of human germline genome editing.

The committee also agreed that a central registry on human genome editing research is needed in order to create an open and transparent database of ongoing work. The committee asked WHO to immediately begin working to establish such a registry.

The committee has invited all those conducting human genome editing research to open discussions with the committee to better understand the technical environment and current governance arrangements and help ensure their work meets current scientific and ethical best practice.

The committee will operate in an inclusive manner and has made a series of concrete proposals to increase WHO’s capacity to act as an information resource in this area.

“The committee will develop essential tools and guidance for all those working on this new technology to ensure maximum benefit and minimal risk to human health,” says Dr. Soumya Swamanathan, WHO Chief Scientist.

Over the next two years, through a series of in-person meetings and online consultations, the committee will consult with a wide range of stakeholders and provide recommendations for a comprehensive governance framework that is scalable, sustainable and appropriate for use at the international, regional, national and local levels. The committee will solicit the views of multiple stakeholders including patient groups, civil society, ethicists and social scientists.



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Científico con nexos a STRI gana un Emmy

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El Dr. James W. Porter ayudó a realizar el galardonado documental, Chasing Coral, como asesor científico principal y miembro del elenco principal. En esta escena de la película, habla sobre su programa de monitoreo fotográfico submarino a largo plazo, que fue un motivador para la película.

Ex becario del Smithsonian gana un Emmy

por Sonia Tejada – STRI

Cuando Jim Porter empezó su beca pre-doctoral en el Instituto Smithsonian de Investigaciones Tropicales (STRI) en Panamá, a principios de los años setenta, no podría haber imaginado que su experiencia eventualmente lo llevaría a ganarse un premio Emmy.

Su película, Chasing Coral, a la que contribuyó como asesor científico y miembro del reparto, no solo ganó un Emmy como mejor documental sobre la naturaleza en 2018, sino que también recibió el Premio del Público en el Festival de cine de Sundance en 2017, un Premio Peabody en 2017, y fue reconocida como Mejor Película Documental en los Premios Satellite en 2018.

Porter, ahora Profesor Emérito de la Universidad de Georgia, contribuyó con su experiencia sobre los efectos del cambio climático en los arrecifes de coral, particularmente respecto a un fenómeno conocido como blanqueo de corales.

Este fenómeno, en que los corales pierden su color y se vuelven blancos, se ha visto en océanos cuya temperatura aumenta tan solo dos grados. El calentamiento de los mares provoca que los corales expulsen a las microalgas que viven dentro de ellos. Cuando lo hacen, pierden una de sus grandes fuentes de nutrientes. A largo plazo, esta es una de las principales causas de muerte en los corales y de la disminución de los arrecifes de coral.

Si esta tendencia continúa, los científicos predicen que hasta el 90 por ciento de los arrecifes de coral desaparecerá en las próximas décadas. Dado que gran parte de la vida marina tropical depende de los arrecifes de coral como zona de cría, la desaparición de este ecosistema sería devastador para la mayoría de los organismos que viven debajo o por encima del agua.

En Chasing Coral, los espectadores experimentan la evolución de esta catástrofe marina de primera mano, a través de los ojos de un equipo de buzos, fotógrafos y científicos, y las tomas secuenciales de cámaras submarinas con efecto de time-lapse. En la película también aparecen una serie de fotos de Porter que muestran los “antes” y “después” de los arrecifes de coral.

“Hay un enlace directo entre la investigación que hice en Panamá a partir de 1969 y la película que ayudé a hacer 48 años después”, dice Porter. “En STRI inicié las investigaciones ecológicas a largo plazo que se convirtieron en el rasgo distintivo de mi carrera y, posteriormente, en la columna vertebral de esta película”.

A lo largo de su trayectoria profesional, Porter también se ha enfocado en educar a estudiantes y al público en general, buscando formas de transformar los resultados de la investigación en información relevante para aquellos fuera de la comunidad científica. Incluso testificó ante el Congreso cuatro veces, sobre los efectos del cambio climático en los arrecifes de coral. Con este antecedente, fue fácil para él convertir la ciencia en narrativa para la película.

“Mi experiencia como profesor, investigador y dando charlas públicas se centra en la lucha contra el cambio climático”, dice Porter. “Chasing Coral documenta las amenazas del cambio climático, por lo que la película es mi contribución a esta lucha”.

El éxito de Chasing Coral no se limita a sus múltiples premios. A menos de dos años desde su estreno, se ha traducido a más de 50 idiomas y se ha proyectado en más de 100 países. También lo adquirió Netflix, donde tiene más de 250,000 reproducciones. Además, el equipo de la película lanzó una campaña para evitar que la pérdida de los arrecifes de coral pase desapercibida y para ayudar a las comunidades a utilizar la película para incubar soluciones locales para su conservación. Para obtener más información sobre Chasing Coral o formas de ayudar, ingrese en: www.chasingcoral.com.

 
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The deal is… (2): high court appointments

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Olmedo Arrocha Sánchez, a veteran Panameñista activist and apparatchik, has replaced Oydén Ortega, who came to the high court as a former PRD legislator and dictatorship political operative, on the Supreme Court’s civil bench. Photo by the National Assembly.

Magistrates approved: new phase of relations between
an unpopular president and a detested legislature

by Eric Jackson

The general rule is that magistrates of Panama’s Supreme Court of Justice serve 10-year terms and only rarely get reappointed.  But when Olmedo Arrocha and Abel Zamorano were sworn in on March 16, it was for a bit shy of a nine-year term for Arrocha and only until the end of this year for Zamorano.

For Zamorano it was just an upgrade of title and perhaps some perks to go with that. He was the suplente (alternate) for the sticky fingered Alejandro Moncada Luna when that partisan operative / magistrate / functionary from Noriega times was impeached and sent to prison for amassing a fortune while in public office, the legitimate provenance of which he could not explain. So Zamorano stepped in as an acting magistrate, with all the duties but with the possibility of a tenure cut short if the president had decided to appoint a replacement for Moncada Luna, along with a replacement suplente. But Zamorano by all appearances is a career judge who has served ably and honorably on a scandal-plagued and disreputable court, so it was convenient to leave him where he was and considerate to formally give him the title of a job he had been performing for years on the court’s administrative bench and plenum.

Arrocha, who just has a licenciatura in law from the University of Panama, has flitted back and forth among the general private practice of law, teaching contracts law at several schools, serving on a drugs commission that has no victory to show in any “War on Drugs,” and as acting head of the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s investment program for the Varela administration. Critics say the appointment was all about his political credentials and that his legal qualifications may meet the constitutional minimums but are unimpressive. In any case, this is an appointment to replace a magistrate whose term ended with 2017 but whose attempts at replacement had been blocked by the legislature until now. So it will be a bit less than a nine-year term for Arrocha.

In the works is another high court nomination, that of Luis Fernando Tapia, to replace Jerónimo Mejía on the penal bench. Like Ortega, Mejía was ordinarily supposed to leave office on December 31, 2017. Thus Tapia’s term, if his nomination is ratified, would also be for a bit less than nine years. Tapia has an 18-year career as court reporter, court clerk and assistant judge in the criminal court system. His qualifications to serve on the high court are denigrated by some critics. There will be hearings about that in the legislature.

The trend in the legislature was at the outset of the Varela administration a cobbled-together governability pact, then a shift to a PRD and Cambio Democratico alliance to block Varela programs and appointments. Now the Torrijistas and Martinelistas are fighting an election campaign against each other and everyone else, so this National Assembly is in a third phase.

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The deal is… (1): a new Electoral Prosecutor

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María Eugenia Pérez de Preciado, likely our next Electoral Prosecutor

A belated end to a national embarrassment?

by Eric Jackson

At long last! The prospect of an Electoral Prosecutor who will perform the functions of that job! The National Assembly willing, of course — and it seems likely they will approve the nominee, electoral judge María Eugenia Pérez de Preciado. On paper she has the credentials, 12 years as an electoral judge, a law degree from USMA, no heinous crimes or flagrant displays of partisan bias on her public record. There is a history here, but not especially hers.

History has been often denied and sometimes treated as a crime here, but some if it is in order to understand the appointment of María Pérez as the next Electoral Prosecutor and why it has the Martinelistas so upset.

Recall this time five years ago, and if someone wants to charge me with doing so, let them. Cambio Democratico operatives were going around with lists and gifts — detailed lists of who was related to whom, who had a government job, who was a member of which party and so on — to buy votes with bags of groceries, scholarships, building materials, home appliances or cash. By all appearances these lists were derived from confidential data stolen from government databases, but the Martinelli proxy re-election campaign pleaded that all of this was available for purchase on the open market.

Confidential government data for sale for electoral purposes? Say WHAT? But nothing officially said because Martinelli had placed a loyalist, Eduardo Peñaloza, as the electoral prosecutor who could be relied upon to look the other way, and he did.

A good way to get into an argument with the members of our political caste is to assert, with some support in the letter of the law, that the purchase and sale of votes is a crime in the first place. But they will pull out interpretations about how doing a voter a favor is not a crime, so long as it’s not with public funds not intended for that purpose and so long as there is no explicit quid pro quo.

In any case, the Martinelistas were buying votes largely with the laundered proceeds of public funds, laundered kickbacks from overpriced public contracts that by and large went into the Cambio Democratico campaign slush fund. The expectation was that a nothing of a housing minister and the first lady would be elected, Ricardo Martinelli would go on running the country through these front people and he would have a working majority in the National Assembly. 

The polls said that it was probably going to work, but although they were all wrong, anyone who looked at any of the reasonably credible ones would have notices this margin of undecided voters. In Latin America “undecided” means intending to vote against the incumbent regime. Where you have a government like Martinelli’s which flaunted electronic espionage against his opponents, ousted elderly couples from their homes of decades to impress rich foreigners and had people killed over land disputes and just to prove how tough the president was, there would be people who took the gifts, told pollsters that they would vote for Cambio Democratico and in the secrecy of the polling booth did something else. 

(Should it have been a surprise? In 1989 Tony Noriega sent his guardia into polling places to vote en masse and tilt an election that his nominee was bound to lose — and it turned out that those soldiers voted for the opposition.)

As it turned out Martinelli’s slate lost but had the largest caucus in the legislature. Except, of course, that many of those initially declared elected were by the thinnest of margins and the use of public funds for vote buying was in some of the most flagrant ways. Mr. Peñaloza would not hear of it, but the Electoral Tribunal magistrates brought charges by themselves, conducted investigations that Peñaloza refused to do, and ignored the electoral prosecutor’s findings that there was no harm done. A number of legislative races went to reruns and in several of these Martinelli’s men and women lost the second time around.

Not only was Ricky that much farther from having the votes in the legislature, but the first thing he did after the election was threaten the members of his party’s caucus, telling them that he has dossiers on every one of them and would take revenge if they did not follow his orders. 

So many of Martinelli’s legislators were always tránsfugas — party-jumping perpetual turncoats — anyway, and the bullying split the CD caucus. That left an assembly with a third-place (17 out of 71) caucus of President Varela’s supporters, a PRD caucus feuding and split almost down the middle after two straight general election defeats, and a CD faction divided between those who would obey the former president and those who would not. For two years a governability pact was cobbled together to keep Ricardo Martinelli from paralyzing government. Then that crumbled as people and parties began to jump off of the Varela ship. For the last year and a half or so, legislators not wanting to be identified with an unpopular president had been blocking his nominees.

A crudely kleptocratic legislature, in turn, had been getting its staffing budgets blocked by the Comptroller General’s office. A civic movement to oust all incumbent elected officials has arisen alongside the budget scandals.

Arrangements seem to have been made. The comptroller is signing legislative payrolls again. The Electoral Tribunal is taking steps to suppress the #NoALaReelección movement. Stalled Varela appointments are now getting through the legislature. One of these is the replacement for Eduardo Peñaloza, who by the calendar of his term was supposed to leave office at the end of this past December. María Pérez is the one anointed by the president.

Ah, but via kickbacks from overpriced contracts for the sale price, and then by the channeling of government advertising while he was president, Ricky Martinelli has a media empire. Which is protesting about the possibility of a new electoral prosecutor in the middle of a campaign season. Which is complaining that Ms. Pérez de Preciado comes from the Electoral Tribunal apparatus rather than a party machine, so therefore must lack independence from the magistrates. But then Martinelli is claiming that he’s too mentally ill to stand trial for theft and eavesdropping, the government shrinks sort of agree and it doesn’t seem like the rants in his newspapers carry so much weight anymore.

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