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Editorials: Mining and industry; and Dealing with Daesh

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huaca
A huaca, in the tradition of pre-Columbian Panamanian goldsmithing. Photo by Brian Gratwicke.

Forget a national economy based upon extracting minerals to export

A long-running gold mine scandal that has left a couple of hundred unemployed and unpaid workers, a big hole in the ground, a toxic pond, tainted streams and a bunch of defrauded stock market players is barely into its legal reckoning phases. The copper mine that was supposed to save Panama limps along due to low global prices, having changed hands several times but with the plan of ultimately employing only a few Panamanians and exporting unprocessed copper and molybdenum pellets to be made into metal things elsewhere continuing on its course. Now the Varela administration says that early next year it will start issuing new mining concessions. That’s a bad idea because the underlying concept is so flawed that it can’t benefit Panama.

Many Panamanian houses have roofs made of zinc sheets. We don’t have appreciable amounts of zinc, those are imported. Some of our buildings, mostly older ones, have copper sheets in their roofing material. We do have copper. While it may well be true that copper is worth more than zinc on world markets, were we to shelter ourselves under copper that we mine, smelt and process into sheets it would be the source of some good and sustainable jobs for Panamanians. But the mining under proper environmental controls of just enough copper to supply our own industries would not maximize profits to allow a huge multinational mining corporation to compete with its rapacious peers. It would also likely be challenged under “free trade” treaties as an improper import substitution scheme and unfair obstacle to would-be foreign owners of Panama.

Gold mining? Its history here hardly starts with the pump-and-dump Petaquilla Gold insider trading stock swindle that Ricardo Martinelli and his accomplices ran. Mostly gold mining here is a succession of frauds and environmental crimes, but it hasn’t always been that way. Long before the arrival on our isthmus of a culture prone to be driven crazy by the metal, gold was panned from streams and dug from exposed veins, then processed into exquisite objects by many generations of indigenous goldsmiths. We could dispense from the monster-scale open pits and cyanide ponds, mining gold on a scale just large enough to sustainably supply new generations of Panamanian goldsmiths. Young people who might otherwise be tempted to rob others for their gold might find useful jobs that enable them to live in comfort and raise families. Local gold creations, both in traditional styles and new designs, would add yet another attraction to our tourism industry. But of course, there is more money for fewer people in environmental rape and securities fraud.

The problem with mining here is with the prevailing model of our entire economy. Everything is oriented toward a zero-sum game with rich winners and everyone else losing. Mining as a part of a development strategy to benefit the Panamanian people is not on the national agenda. And what, other than lies about labor and environmental protections, is the mining agenda actually being considered? It’s foreign companies destroying large areas of the country to dig up ore, contaminating our waters with chemicals separate the metal from the rock, and exporting the metal to elsewhere, with the government getting a small cut of the action. There is so much money involved that the small percentage looks huge, and typically part of the proceeds go toward bribing public officials to let environmental laws go unenforced and let Panama’s share be reduced in an amount much greater than the payoff to certain individuals in positions of public trust. That’s the norm in mineral extraction economies everywhere.

We don’t need the contemplated mining concessions. Panama would be better off without them. Now if the president is going to come back to us with a mining and manufacturing proposal that makes sense for those who live here, we should consider it.

 

ParisWe weep, we fight, we make peace

The Russians are backing as viable an alternative as their is in Syria, the incumbent Assad regime. That government is monstrous and unacceptable to the United States, but the US alternative of a “moderate opposition” is a made-inside-the-Beltway delusion. In any case it’s a matter best settled among the people who live there, but that’s not happening because neighbors with their geopolitical interests and vicious Sunni religious fanatics led first of all by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are interfering and the rival jihadi groups Daesh (the Islamic State) and al Nusra have had the upper hand. But while squabbling with one anoher both the Russians and the Americans have stepped up their interventions and things are not looking good for Sunni bigots.

With Russian help Assad’s forces have pushed back al Nusra and non-jihadi opposition forces in the Damascus area, and lifted the Islamic State’s siege of Kweires airbase near Aleppo to the north. With American help Kurdish and Yazidi forces have taken Sinjar in northern Iraq and in so doing cut one of the main Daesh supply lines into Syria. Moscow complained that US drone strikes were worse than ineffective because there were no spotters on the ground directing fire, and without acknowledging any relationship Washington sent in US special operations forces, and whether or not because of these ground troops acting as spotters an American drone strike killed a bloodthirsty Daesh media star, the British computer programmer and Daesh cutthroat Mohammed Emwazi, more popularly known as Jihadi John. That death in no way disrupts the would-be caliphate’s command and control system but is an embarrassment that goes along with a string of battlefield defeats.

So Daesh is lashing out. On October 31 their affiliate in Egypt, Wilayat Sinai, bombed a Russian passenger jet taking tourists from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg, killing all 224 souls aboard. On November 11 they set off two bombs in the predominantly Shiited southern Beirut suburb of Burj al-Barajneh, killing at least 23 people including three residents of Dearborn, Michigan. A three-year-old American boy, Haider Mostapha, has been left as a wounded and traumatized orphan in a Lebanese hospital, crying for his slain parents. On November 12 in Baghdad they attacked the Shia funeral of an Iraqi soldier who had died fighting against Daesh, killing a least 44 people. The next day came the much more heavily publicized (in the West) attacks on Paris, one of which was aimed at an American rock band and its fans.

Daesh needs to be crushed and its survivors treated as war criminals. But after that the people who live in the affected region need to sort things out for themselves, perhaps with Americans and Russians guaranteeing the peace but certainly not dictating the terms of a peace. Whether Syria and Iraq will continue to exist within the borders that the British and French drew for them after World War I really is not and should not be for outsiders to decide. Powerful and not-so-powerful neighbors may object, but Kurdistan’s fate as a nation that runs its own affairs is at stake. How the Syrians and Iraqis rule themselves after the war is to be determined. Perhaps the United States should play an Iranian card, not by any sort of formal alliance but just by distancing itself from Saudi Arabia.

There is much more, and much less, at stake in the peace process that will need to come. An end to religious-based warfare the rule of international law on a generally accepted basis have to be the main goals. Superpower status symbols need to be studiously ignored. In the emerging energy economy, who controls Middle East oil is becoming ever less relevant no matter what politicians and corporations want to make of that point. But we need to make peace. Endless war is not a viable option for the Americans, the Russians, the French or those who live in the Middle East.

 

Bear in mind…

If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.
Winston Churchill

 

The only thing worse than a man you can’t control is a man you can.
Margo Kaufman

 

To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
Sun Tzu

 

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The Panama News blog links, November 13, 2015

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The Panama News blog links, November 13, 2015

gCaptain, Ships waiting up to 11 days at the Panama Canal

Splash 24/7, ACP moves to cut ship delays

Sohns, Does climate change threaten the future of the Panama Canal?

Hellenic Shipping News, The melting Arctic is like “discovering a new Africa”

JOC, Panama transshipment boom from expanded canal unlikely

The Maritime Executive, Operators queueing up for Panama’s Corozal port

E&N, San Francisco quiere ser la puerta de Panamá a Asia

Berkshire Hathaway, Fitch has a negative outlook on Tocumen SA bonds

Solar Industry, Urban Green Energy embarks on Panama expansion

EFE, La FAO quiere fortalecer su sede en Panamá

ANDES, Concesiones mineras en Panamá se empezarán a otorgar en el 2016

FAO, Caribbean billfish conservation meeting in Panama

Mongabay, Peru creates “Yellowstone of the Amazon”

STRI, How much did indigenous peoples alter the Amazon forest?

Archaeology, Genetic study finds traces of original Caribbean population

BBC, Study says no woman is “totally straight”

Brin, Peering upward and outward

Time, These four states and a terror group rule the social media

The Intercept, Edward Snowden on how to reclaim your privacy

CNN, Hackers breach FBI

Winter, How law enforcement can use Google timeline to track you

AFP, Detienen por corrupción a funcionarios judiciales en Panamá

The Tico Times, Cuban migrants trapped on Panama – Costa Rica border

AFP, Lío diplomático entre Panamá y Venezuela

Video, La violencia en Changuinola cinco años después

BBC, Peru-Chile land border spat

Human Rights Watch, Ecuador’s crackdown on protesters

Carlsen, US military aid and the Tlatlaya Massacre

Caribbean News Now!, Nephews of Venezuela’s first lady arrested in Haiti

Salazar & Araujo, The sexual violence legacy of Colombia’s civil conflict

Lyderson & Cardona-Maguigad: Part 1, The many faces of gold mining in Colombia

Lyderson & Cardona-Maguigad: Part 2, The many faces of gold mining in Colombia

Stiglitz & Guzman, A step forward for sovereign debt

Ben-Ami, Internet or Intifada?

Video, Laura Carlsen on marijuana legalization

Avnery, The cats of Ariel

Pérez Esquivel, En Argentina hay que votar y no hacerse el oso

Jamaica Gleaner, Reggae Boyz face tough Panama test

Boxing Scene, Guillermo Jones return pushed back to November 20

Boxing Scene, Nica Concepción vs. Giovanni Segura on December 17

Amérca Economía, Panamá es el octavo peor país para manejar en el mundo

Variety, Abner Benaim is doing a Rubén Blades bio documentary

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Panama Jazz Festival concerts schedule

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PJF 2016Click here to enlarge this chart.

Randy Weston headlines at the 2016 Panama Jazz Festival

 

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Harrington, Limites del crecimiento

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gatun lake
Lago Gatún. Foto por Roger W.

Limites del crecimiento

por Kevin Harrington-Shelton

 

¿Como no recordar así el mensaje tan elocuente que nos llega de las Sagradas Escrituras, del agua como símbolo de purificación y vida?
La recuperación de tal dimensión espiritual asegura y presupone un ENFOQUE APROPIADO a los problemas éticos, políticos y económicos que tocan sobre el complicado manejo del agua por todos los interesados, sea en las esferas nacionales e internacionales.
Benedicto XVI

 

Aún cuando entre las maravillas del mundo actual se destaca la proliferación de medios electrónicos por informarnos, con frecuencia los periodistas a cargo de las distribución masiva de información simplemente no lo logran hacerlo de manera que incentivar el pensamiento (y no sólo repetirla cual papagayos). Y no sólo en Panamá. La concertación de la población contra la prolongada sequía en California brinda un ejemplo de su subutilización para democratizar el conocimiento, en términos que pueda entender la mayor parte de población posible.

En su presentación ante las Naciones Unidas, el Papa Francisco tendió puentes sobre el cambio climático en su orientación hacia el cuidado de la casa-común de la humanidad. Nuestra mayordomía de la Creación nunca ha sido más claramente expuesta. California muestra el resultado de no querer reconocer que el crecimiento tiene límites –e ilustra como no enfocar el desarrollo en el Tercer Mundo. Es el tercer estado más extenso de USA y (si fuera un país) sus 40 millones de habitantes habrían construido la novena economía más poderosa del mundo. Su centenaria atracción de inmigrantes laboriosos y talentosos ha super-impuesto una moderna y sofisticada economía sobre un marco inicial básicamente agrícola, en valles extraordinariamente productivos en razón de su soleado clima. Hoy, sólo un 2% de su economía origina del sector minero y agrícola. Esfuerzos realmente titánicos habían logrado mitigar el problema de escasez de agua, construyendo embalses en las montañas de su Interior, así como mega-acueductos para transportarla hacia una costa del Pacífico característicamente árida.

Pero desde 2010 California es presa de una sequía más larga de las acostumbradas. En enero 2015 su gobernador ordenó medidas de conservación cada vez más severas. Los medios de comunicación han cumplido con divulgarlas, tal cual, sin contribuir con su sana crítica. Ejemplo. Medidas urbanas, tales como evitar largas duchas, frecuentes lavados de ropa, abuso de servicios sanitarios, jardinería, golf, etc., podrían ahorrar anualmente unas 750 millones de hectáreas-pies de agua. (En contraste, para comenzar a entender este mega-guarismo, nuestro propio Lago Gatún podría embalsar 2 millones de hectáreas pies, que es el promedio de lo que anualmente produce la cuenca del río Chagres. Pero, a diferencia de California, en Panamá sólo se pueden usar solo algunas pulgadas en la superficie para los esclusajes –porque las naves deben poder navegar sobre el resto de lo embalsado. Si se desfoga demasiada agua, no podrían transitar tantas barcos a la vez.)

Pero allá estas enormes cantidades sólo representan una mínima fracción del agua requerida en la agro-industria de California. Ejemplo. El agua requerida para ún sólo rubro componente de su ganadería intensiva (la alfalfa) asciende a 2,500 millones de hectáreas-pies anuales. E ilustra cómo toda sociedad ha de imponer prioridades en su crecimiento, conforme a sus respectivos recursos.

En democracia, los periodistas deben contribuir a la comprensión de esta realidad, presentando hechos en forma que sean fácilmente comprensible a la población. Esto no ha sido del caso en Panamá. Un incesto entre los intereses tras los concesionarios de medios masivos con virtualmente todo el resto de nuestra economía los impide cumplir con esa obligación.

Ejemplo. Y coincidentalmente sobre este mismo punto del agua. Los concesionarios de “nuestros” medios han encubierto la realidad, que con sus actuales estructuras hídricas el Canal no podrá llegar a optimizar la inversión en la Ampliación dentro del calendario previsto. Esto se sabía desde ANTES del Referéndum de 2006. Pero intereses anti-patriotas manipularon esta información (que se sabía desde 2 años antes, cuando se cercenó la Cuenca Occidental de lo que se presentaría al electorado panameño para su aprobación, aunque el proyecto inicialmente concebido la incluia), ya que su derrota era previsible, si entonces se le hubieran opuesto los grupos rurales a ser afectados en dicha Cuenca ampliada. En una desleal estrategia de “Divide y conquistarás” de todo nuestro estamento político, próximamente se les impondrán a estos campesinos embalses adicionales, ante el hecho-cumplido de que el agua del Lago Gatún simplemente no alcanzará para la Ampliación próxima a completarse.

Quienes comemos tres veces al día tenemos una obligación para con quienes no comen, y la mejor forma de cumplirla es perseverando en una vocación profética en promoción de un Estado de derecho que funcione como debe –sin manipulación de la información.

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¿Wappin? Thursday morning music not found on the radio here

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bjork
Björk. Photo by Mick O.

¿Wappin? Thursday morning music that’s not on the radio

Lightnin’ Hopkins – Long Gone
https://youtu.be/bKDhRGxighg

The Corrs – Little Wing
https://youtu.be/QLeuRTwTL6s

Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci & Brian Blade – Live @ Blue Note Milano
https://youtu.be/ZA-Xt_MXPig

Miles Davis & Charlie Parker – A Night In Tunisia
https://youtu.be/KxibMBV3nFo

Carmen Souza – Verdade
https://youtu.be/6os21T2ukqY

Yomira John – Solita
https://youtu.be/9B4G7wppIuY

Mongo Santamaria – Sofrito
https://youtu.be/n__CQt-Xykc

Santana & Eric Clapton- Ji Go Lo Ba
https://youtu.be/4n2d1_OIHZ4

Michael Shrieve – Communique “Approach Spiral”
https://youtu.be/8khsPjZWYS8

Lizz Wright – Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly
https://youtu.be/LBV0K68ZO60

Hello Seahorse! – La Flotadera
https://youtu.be/GMoFiHHEL3o

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
https://youtu.be/IXdNnw99-Ic

Tangerine Dream – Betrayal
https://youtu.be/XOkfBbVZEGo

Björk – Lionsong
https://youtu.be/MWHpoJT3qK4

Luther Allison – Low Down and Dirty
https://youtu.be/2vFqHF8dAWE

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MOVADUP, Por la salida anticipada del rector

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MOVADUP
En “exilio”, celebrando el aniversario de la fundación de la Universidad de Panamá. Foto por MOVADUP.

Por la salida anticipada del rector

por el Movimiento de Adecentamiento de la Universidad de Panamá (MOVADUP)

El pasado 29 de octubre de 2015, el rector de la Universidad de Panamá, Gustavo García de Paredes, dio el discurso central en el Acto Anual de Rendición de Cuentas, ocasión que aprovechó para anunciar que no se postularía, en el próximo proceso electoral, al cargo que hoy ostenta, para el periodo 2016-2021.

Más que una decisión autónoma y generosa en pro del relevo generacional, consideramos que fue producto de la presión de una opinión pública adversa, consciente de la concentración excesiva de poder que se vive a lo interno de la Casa de Méndez Pereira y que está alerta frente a las múltiples denuncias de irregularidades y actos de corrupción que hoy son investigados por la Contraloría General y la Procuraduría General de la Nación.

En este sentido, el MOVADUP reivindica el desistimiento de Gustavo García de Paredes a aspirar a la rectoría como una victoria del pueblo panameño y se alegra de ser uno de los vehículos de la voluntad de este con respecto a su universidad.

El apego desmedido al poder, por parte de su máxima figura, se manifiesta en la forma cómo se ha mantenido administrando la Casa de Méndez Pereira a lo largo de 5 periodos de gobierno: interpretaciones acomodaticias o cambios en la ley universitaria frente a la cláusula de no reelección, sistema de ponderación que favorece la manipulación política, clientelismo político exacerbado y persecución feroz contra las voces críticas a su gestión.

Cuando hizo alusión en su discurso a que, con su retiro, la UP concluía su fase “octaviana” y que “podía salir con la corona puesta”, el actual rector no fue nada modesto, a pesar de haberse autocalificado como “espartano”. Su egolatría y arrogancia excesiva lo hizo compararse nada menos que con César Augusto (Cayo Octavio Turino), emperador romano con el reinado más prolongado de la historia, pero también autócrata que reinó gracias al clientelismo, el control militar y los poderes perpetuos conferidos por el Senado. El “apoyo” recibido que reivindica el rector fue sobre la base de la manipulación, el terror o el acarreo obligado de los universitarios, los cuales no lo van a “divinizar” como a César Augusto, una vez concluya su periodo, sino que sacarán a flote toda la verdad oculta de lo que realmente ha acontecido en estos 19 años.

Aunque en el 2012 promovió una reforma estatutaria con una edad de retiro de la docencia (75 años) que no se aplicaba a las autoridades sujetas a elección popular, pues estas podían concluir su periodo aunque hubiesen sobrepasado dicha edad, tal modificación a la reglamentación universitaria constituye, hoy por hoy, una soga al cuello para sus aspiraciones a una eventual postulación, pues la edad del profesor (menos de 75 años) es un prerrequisito para la candidatura a cargo de autoridad, incluyendo el de rector.

En el discurso que comentamos, García de Paredes justificó la persecución política instrumentada a través de procesos disciplinarios amañados, así como defendió su no acatamiento de los mandatos judiciales correspondientes, cuando reprochó a la Corte Suprema de Justicia sus acciones “políticas” de ordenar reintegro a funcionarios que “no actuaron dentro de los parámetros y estatus establecidos”. En este punto fue incluso más allá y, con insensata temeridad, vaticinó que ello acarrearía que “la gente se tomara la venganza en sus manos.”

Asimismo, la utilización de términos despectivos (“la oposición es mala; no aporta, solo critica; eso no sirve; es basura”) para calificar a quienes se contraponen a su administración, deja mucho que desear de una máxima figura de una casa de estudios superiores, quien debería destacar por su trato humano y respetuoso hacia todos los universitarios indistintamente de su origen, condición o creencias. Además de dar muestras con estas expresiones, de una nula existencia de garantías de un proceso electoral imparcial para el próximo año.

El discurso de “Rendición de Cuentas” nada dijo sobre el uso del presupuesto universitario, sobre todo para el nombramiento de “a dedo” de personal docente y administrativo, el mantenimiento de “botellas” clientelares, la triangulación innecesaria de fondos a través de la Fundación UP, las ventas truculentas del patrimonio universitario y las contrataciones públicas con sobrecostos (casos: los CIDETES, la restauración del edificio de Secretaría General, el sistema de seguridad, etc.). Más bien se destacó por su carácter prepotente, intimidatorio y reclamante de poderes omnímodos (interpretación autócrata de la autonomía universitaria) frente a la Contraloría y el Órgano Judicial y su incomodidad frente al ojo avizor de los medios de comunicación social.

Por lo anterior, el MOVADUP declara que el poder de las autoridades universitarias no debe ser ilimitado o absoluto, pues da pie al avasallamiento de los derechos de estudiantes, profesores y administrativos, quienes se convierten en objetos y no sujetos de derechos. Por tanto, luchará por la salida anticipada de Gustavo García de Paredes de la Rectoría, ya que su permanencia en el puesto implicará mayor persecución, burla a las decisiones judiciales y nula imparcialidad en los procesos electorales.

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Anderson, The Golden Years Gap

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dem and we
Just 100 CEOs have as much saved up for retirement as 50 million American families combined. Photo by American Advisors Group.

The Golden Years Gap

by Sarah Anderson — OtherWords

Flo, the Progressive insurance pitch woman in the white uniform and headband, is relentlessly perky. She won’t be when she learns about the double standard that lets her CEO sock away millions more for retirement than she can.

Whereas the Flos of the working world face strict limits on how much they can set aside tax-free for their golden years, many of their bosses don’t.

Flo’s boss, Progressive CEO Glenn Renwick, dropped $26,170,569 last year into his deferred compensation account — that’s $26,152,569 more than Flo would’ve been allowed to invest in a 401(k).

Ordinary workers under 50 (like Flo) can contribute no more than $18,000 per year to a 401(k). But most big companies offer special accounts that allow their top brass to set aside unlimited amounts of their pay tax-free until they retire.

Renwick’s stockpiled more than $150 million in such an account during his more than two decades at the company. That’s enough to generate an $850,000 check every month for the rest of his life.

This double standard is just one reason the CEO-worker retirement gap is now even wider than the income divide.

A new report I co-authored for the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Effective Government finds that the company retirement assets of just 100 CEOs equals the combined golden years savings of 50 million American families — or 41 percent of us.

On top of their special tax-deferred accounts, more than half of Fortune 500 chief executives get traditional pensions that guarantee a stable monthly payment after retirement. That kind of security has gone the way of the typewriter for most American workers.

To cut costs, most companies have shifted to riskier and less generous 401(k)-type plans — or eliminated retirement benefits altogether. As a result, more and more seniors have to rely on Social Security to avoid falling into poverty.

They’ll be hit hard by the government’s recent decision to provide no cost of living increase in Social Security in 2016.

In response, Senator Elizabeth Warren has introduced a bill that would offer a one-year, 3.9 percent bump in Social Security benefits. How would the Massachusetts Democrat pay for it? By eliminating a tax loophole that currently subsidizes excessive CEO pay.

There are many other ways to narrow the retirement divide so that all Americans can look forward to living in dignity in their later years. For one thing, corporate executives should be subject to the same rules that govern the retirement assets of the people they employ.

If Flo the perky pitch woman can’t put more than $18,000 per year in a tax-deferred account at Progressive, her boss shouldn’t either.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is a co-author of the report A Tale of Two Retirements.

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What the Republican candidates are saying

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Leading Republican candidates debate the problems of the United States and the world as they perceive them to be. Read the full transcript of what they said by clicking here.

 

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Two new sets of cracks in the new PanCanal locks

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core sample
Why is a construction problem that yields this concrete core sample being called a design flaw? Because if it is properly diagnosed as a bad concrete pour and properly resolved by tearing out the faulty concrete and redoing the work, that would cause major new delays and probably bankrupt construction companies in Spain, Italy and Panama and possibly some of their suppliers, insurers and lenders as well. Calling it a design flaw allows for a quicker, cheaper and shorter-lasting fix and for those responsible for the bad concrete to litigate with designers in an attempt to pass off some of the costs of their mistake to others.

New cracks in the new locks as the ACP looks for new revenue sources

by Eric Jackson

La Estrella’s Adelita de Coriat, having obtained a memo by a consulting firm for the GUPC consortium that’s building the new Panama Canal locks, reports that two new sets of cracks have been found in the new Cocoli Locks. One of the new problems is a previously unreported and allegedly unrelated fissure in the number three Pacific Locks sill, and now we are told of a “thinner” crack in the number two locks sill, in about the same part of the structure as the one initially discovered in the number three sill this past August.

The memo that forms the core of La Estrella’s story, by the US-British-Dutch consulting consortium of MHW, Iv-Groep and Tetra Tech, cites the two previously undisclosed cracks and GUPC claims that the “new” problem in sill three is unrelated to the one that became apparent when water began leaking during testing in August. Don’t worry, GUPC assures us — the problems only appeared when the locks were subjected to water pressures greater than they will have to withstand during normal use of the locks. (Resistance to a possible earthquake along the Pedro Miguel Fault that runs near the locks? They don’t get into that.) La Estrella also quotes Panama Canal Authority (ACP) exec Jorge De La Guardia and independent civil engineer Humberto Reynolds, with the former reiterating the GUPC’s original claim that the problem is a design flaw and the latter noting the legal consequences of a design flaw claim, wherein GUPC might be suing a design subcontractor for redress. But if the ACP has received the GUPC formal report on the problem with its recommendations for a solution, the press and public have not been privy to that. Informally the GUPC has been saying since early on that the problem is a design flaw and that the solution is the injection of cement into the cracks and insertion of more rebar rods into the structure. That would be a relatively cheap and quick fix. The ACP, while avoiding taking a hard and fast official position, has responded with silence from canal administrator Jorge L. Quijano but statements from lower level canal managers accepting the GUPC’s diagnosis and its idea of a fix.

Any conventional building inspection take on those core samples from the problematic sill number three, however, would whether or not there is a design problem identify a faulty concrete pour that results in a honeycombed structure that can’t properly hold water. Any fix less than tearing out the bad concrete and pouring it anew would be substandard and unlikely to last as long as a proper repair. But that would be quite expensive and time-consuming, especially now that problems have been found in a second sill upon which locks gates slide. Those sorts of delays and added costs would also aggravate business, political and public relations problems that the ACP has independent of the cracks in the new locks.

The PanCanal problem of the moment as reported in the international shipping press has to do with long delays — up to 10 days — for ships waiting to transit the waterway. Part of that appears to be related to some regular maintenance on the Pedro Miguel Locks that people who work for the ACP have told The Panama News has not gone well. The ACP says that to address the problem non-urgent maintenance is being put off, the tugboat crews, pilots, line handlers and mule operators will be working extra hours and there will be booking changes to discourage certain sorts of ships (those under 300 feet long and those that regularly show up at certain intervals without special reservations) from coming through Panama at this time.

The Panama Canal has financial problems that go back to the conception and referendum campaign for the canal expansion, events before Quijano’s shift as administrator. The expansion was predicated on a ludicrous on its face projection in canal usage — the ACP was essentially telling Panamanians that the United States would export all of its industrial production to China and still be a vibrant consumer society that would import a steadily increasing volume of Chinese goods. Any journalist who questioned that was blacklisted by the ACP, but it never got to that point with most of the corporate mainstream news organizations, whose managements were bribed into credulity by huge advertising purchases at public expense by the “yes” campaign. In any case the usage projections, and the associated revenue plan for the canal expansion, were quickly proven wrong. The income shortfall was met by raising canal tolls. However, the higher tolls drove many shippers to other routes, particularly those between East Asia and Atlantic ports opting for the Suez Canal instead of Panama.

The Panama Canal is in financial pain and this problem is not just short-term. To address it the ACP is looking at non-canal businesses such as a new port in the Corozal and Diablo area, a fossil fuel power plant and an oil and gas pipeline. At the same time, ACP revenues are being looked at to address other national problems such as an anticipated shortage in the Seguro Social retirement fund. It becomes a set of political problems due to public institutions upon whose turfs the ACP would tread, private businesses that don’t want new competition and politicians who would rather not see government revenues flow away from their easy reach into an expanded Panama Canal Authority. When the Varela administration submitted the ACP’s proposal for the Corozal-Diablo port to the legislature earlier this year, it only got one supporting vote in the National Assembly’s Public Infrastructure and Canal Affairs Committee.

As has so often been the case, supporting the Panama Canal administration’s request has been promoted as something akin to a matter of patriotism. Why part of the nation’s ports regulation and management scheme should pass from the Panama Maritime Authority to the ACP, and why canal pilots’ warnings that a port in the proposed place would be a navigation hazard are invalid, might be questions treated as beside the point were it, say, 2006. But nearly a decade later the claims of ACP management genius have worn thin and scandals are eating away at the authority’s reputation. The presence on the ACP board of one Nicolás Corione Pérez Balladares, a construction executive and alleged fixer in a huge bribery and kickback scheme for the construction and renovation of Panama’s courthouses, does not help. Nor do the lowball bid and inherent familial conflict of interest — the winning bidder included a company owned by the family of the canal administrator at the time — that have Panama dealing with the GUPC consortium in the first place. Panamanians may not get an accounting from ACP management, but also may be less willing to hand out blank checks.

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Is the law closing in on the Martinellis, or are they long gone?

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Ricky taunts
A taunting Twitter tweet from one of Martinelli’s newspapers, retweeted by Martinelli.

Most of the Martinelli family has fled while criminal cases against them advance

by Eric Jackson

Are we dealing with confidence, or desperation? One of the usual indicators of likely political fortunes is that those who practice violence but don’t own up to it sometimes get away with it, those who practice violence and vehemently defend it often have better luck, but those who talk about violence that they don’t and can’t put into practice are pathetic losers. When Ricardo Martinelli retweeted a sycophant’s Twitter message about how any violence that befalls Panama will be Juan Carlos Varela’s fault, he may have escaped the latter fate. It was quickly taken down. Plus most of the mainstream media, grown tired of bombastic declarations like October’s pronouncement that being prosecuted for illegal electronic spying is like being raped, just ignored it rather than expressing their outrage. And that might forbode the very worst political fate for Martinelli: irrelevance.

The Supreme Court has decided to accept a half dozen criminal cases against the former president and there are as many more out there still to be accepted or rejected. But all of them are at different initial stages and moving slowly. The most advanced of these cases, about illegal electronic eavesdropping, is at the procedural point of giving formal notice of a possible criminal charge. Martinelli, who is living in apartment 1901 of the Atlantis Building at 2025 Brickell Avenue in Miami, is playing this “You can’t serve me!” game. It appears that notice will be filed through Panamanian diplomats in the United States with US authorities and the high court here will consider him served. He knows, everybody knows he knows, and we can rest assured that his lawyers will argue that he doesn’t know. Notwithstanding that, Panamanian justice should soon be at the point of asking INTERPOL for a “red alert” request for Martinelli’s arrest and extradition. The ball would then be in the Obama administration’s court, unless Martinelli flees the United States for some other country that will have him.

The former president left his wife Marta Linares de Martinelli with a power of attorney to manage his affairs when he fled Panama last January. His eldest son Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares also left Panama last January and in October his younger son Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares headed off in daddy’s jet to the Dominican Republic when prosecutors and the press started to ask about his roles in the Financial Pacific scandal and hydroelectric dam projects in which the Martinelli family held secret stakes. Marta left earlier this month, vowing to return on November 16, but in the meantime prosecutors have asked the Electoral Tribunal to strip her and her son Ricardo’s immunity from criminal investigation and prosecution as candidates for Cambio Democratico party offices. For mother it’s about overpriced government purchases of holiday food bags — about $46 each for things that should have cost $30 to $35 — with suspected kickbacks. For son it’s about a hidden Martinelli interest in a National Lottery game.

Is President Varela especially eager to get the Martinellis back here and before the bar of Panamanian justice? Is the United States disposed to send the former president back here? The answers to these questions are not readily apparent.

At this point only one member of Martinelli’s inner circle, former Supreme Court president Alejandro Moncada Luna, is serving a prison sentence. Five former ministers are behind bars in pretrial preventive detention, as are two former national security directors. A number of other top Martinelli administration officials are under house arrest or subject to travel restrictions. Inner circle member and formally the publisher of Martinelli’s El Panama America newspaper, Gabriel Btesh, is a fugitive. So is the ex-president’s personal secretary Chichi De Obarrio and another businessman and close confidante of Martinelli’s, Ricky Calvo. Others, like former tourism minister Salomón Shamah, have dropped out of public view.

On paper Ricardo Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party is still the nation’s second-largest political formation, but most of the public officials elected on that ticket openly defy the ex-president’s orders. Internal party elections have been put off in the face of the likely prospect that the group will be taken away from its founder and the only boss it has ever known. But it might better serve the current president’s interests to have a Cambio Democratico with a disreputable leader sending out Twitter messages from Miami than a post-Martinelli CD functioning as a more unified opposition party.

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