La reciente reducción de pena al periodista holandés Okke Orrnstein recuerda el caso de Rosie Simms –periodísta científica canadiense que divulgó el maltrato a indígenas panameños, por mineras canadienses en Petaquilla.
Los reportajes de Orrnstein lograron retirar el socio holandés del consorcio que financia la (misteriosa) hidroeléctrica Barro Blanco.
Orrnstein también se opone a Petaquilla….
Ambos periodistas reflejan el terror a la transparencia, que caracteriza al régimen que nos gobierna –tanto en su versión original, como en su actual re-edición….
El 20 de enero 2012 la señorita Simms fue detenida en Tocúmen por Migración, por considerar que su propuesta colaboración en un documental de la CBC sería “un riesgo a la seguridad nacional”.
El habeas corpus interpuesto inmediatamente, TARDÓ CUATRO AÑOS en declarar que la canadiense de 24 años realmente no constituía tal peligro. Como canciller de la época, el hoy presidente de la República ha de saber cómo, a las pocas horas de su detención, Simms pudo retornar al Canadá con un caso pendiente ante un Órgano Judicial presuntamente “autónomo”….
Hoy, ya conforme a sus atribuciones legales, don Juan Carlos Varela redujo la pena de Orrnstein –porque se lo exigió en su discurso de apertura de la Conferencia Anti-Corrupción “caiga quien caiga” don José Ugaz.
Huelga decir que la condena de Orrnstein por calumnia e injuria habría sido solicitada por abogados de alto perfil en el Partido Panameñísta reinante.
Ambos casos corroboran que, en la mal-llamada “república” de Panamá, los cambios significativos llegan desde fuera. Y que nuestro Estado de derecho no es más que (otra) ficción jurídica…
Subrayan además cómo la auto-censura del periodismo local demora aún más nuestro (urgente) desarrollo integral.
Así las cosas, resulta fácil entender qué pasó en el (vergonzoso) Caso Waked.
“Para muestra, un botón.”
Los medios locales TODOS han acallado la noticia traída al tapete por la mentada Estrella de Panamá.
Según la Decána, fue el representante personal del presidente Varela ante su aliado en Washington quien interpuso formal denuncia por (supuesta) extorsión de parte del director de un medio digital. Ello lo mantiene desde hace meses con sus huesos en la cárcel El Renacer, mientras los tiempos de la “Justicia” se mueven al paso de la procesión de Taboga, como suele suceder cuando se trata de un clásico “incidente confuso”, donde la realidad choca con el Poder y/o Don Dinero.
Ni La Estrella le dio seguimiento a su inusual primicia.
Ello, a pesar que el caso en su fondo se desvirtúa el debido proceso legal, que supondría proteger al periodismo de tales excesos de poder.
Pero aparentemente NINGÚN “comunicador” –ni quienes gozan de inmunidad legislativa– comparte que una “extorsión” al plenopotenciario en nuestro principal destino diplomático no fuera (ex oficio) del interés-público…. pese a que todos reclaman ese derecho a la información como su modus vivendi….
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A dozen better causes than
Santa Claus for socialites
a holiday guide with a bias toward intelligence and freedom
If you are celebrating the victory of post-truth and gloating over the suffering of those unlike yourself that this will enhance in the coming year, this may seem hilarious to you. If your are concerned about the rise of irrationalism and suppression of information and would rather not be kept in the dark about the world around you, there are people and groups that you would be well advised to support if you can. Regular readers of The Panama News, and particularly those of you who follow our Facebook postings, will recognize many of these groups and causes. It has been a rough year for most of them, in part because progressive folks in the USA and the American diaspora spent a lot of their disposable money promoting the Bernie Sanders campaign that may have set the stage for things to come but fell short of victory. Across much of Latin America as well as in the USA, repressive and truth-unfriendly forces have gained the upper hand and moves as quickly as possible to muffle critical voices. Yes, freedom of expression is under threat, but probably worse is the flip side of this, your endangered right to accurate information and intelligent commentary about it. Here are 12 year-end investments that you can make to shore up your right to know. These graphics are all interactive and will get you to the respective donation functions.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research is one of the least endangered institutions on this list, and also one of the most valuable. The plutocrats have a glut of well financed think tanks that churn up unworthy stuff for corporate politicians and media to repeat. CEPR is OUR think tank.
The for-profit Google is an imperialist monster whose search engine gets gamed by Nazis so that you “know” that the Holocaust never happened, and the for-profit Microsoft churns out software with planned obsolescence so that you will have to buy new computers with new programs when the old stuff worked well enough. And then there is Mozilla, the not-for-profit folks who created the Firefox browser and who stand with a few others at the forefront of the crucial battle for a free and open Internet.
The Americas Program is one of the progressive media that had a very hard time in 2016. Based in Mexico, it’s the online home of Laura Carlsen, whose journalism is indispensable if you want to know about what’s going on in Mexico and, thanks to other folks who publish on this website, Latin America in general.
The Wayback Machine isn’t Sherman and Peabody’s toy anymore. It’s the nonprofit Internet Archive that does much to keep hackers and other scoundrels from erasing the electronic public record in order to keep you in the dark. In many ways it’s the cutting edge library that’s holding the line against a new Dark Age.
ALAI started out in Brazil, with some Liberation Theology Catholics at its core. It has grown into the multilingual information agency and forum of Latin America’s left, publishing articles in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. It’s not the property or tool of any particular government or political party and that makes it all the more valuable when progressive forces need critical friends rather than dull sycophants.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs started back in the dark days of the 1970s “Dirty Wars,” when the dominant Washington narrative was about those wonderful freedom fighters, the death squads and the dictators, who were winning the Cold War for freedom and democracy by stealing or canceling elections and disappearing those with different ideas. Nowadays the same kind of folks who thought General Pinochet was a wonderful guy tend to proclaim the wonderful victories of the War on Drugs and COHA systematically debunks that stuff. A very important aspect of this think tank is that it has a core of veteran Latin Americanist professionals surrounded by a much larger group of student interns, and is thus training the next generation of activists, academics and journalists.
The Project Syndicate is the opinion section for those who ignore the deceptive or ignorant memes but pay attention to the well-reasoned opinions of those with whom they disagree. You will find opinions and analysis that you will like there, however. Their stall of contributors includes Nobel laureates, former top diplomats and government ministers and leaders of industry and academia. You get heads up about what’s about to come down and insights on what just happened here.
God’s a southpaw and some of the fingers of God’s left hand are Jewish. This is the progressive, intelligent and decent publication that Rabbi Michael Lerner started, the Jewish expression of the liberation theology, if you will, but now reaching out to a network of spiritual progressives from many denominations.
Corporate coverage of what happens in Panama is awful. The Google News filiter of what it lets through about this country is one of the best arguments for an alternative search engine of the global South. Especially on the English-language side, the ragtag little band who cover The Crossroads of the World is terribly short-handed and Okke’s part can’t be spared. As these words are written, we expect Okke Ornstein to be released from prison shortly. However, his legal bills are not paid, we don’t know the terms of his release and what further legal battles will be necessary, and there is still the fight in Europe to unfreeze his Bananama Republic website, which was obtained by hustlers wielding a reprehensible Panamanian court decision. So just because this irreverent Dutchman gets on the loose again doesn’t mean that his need for our support goes away.
So WHY should The Panama News add to the cacophony of the constant Reader Supported News fundraising campaigns? Because both as a news aggregator and as a publisher of original stuff, RSN is worthy. Screechy falsehoods and celebrity trivia they don’t do — because you have more important things to read.
OtherWords is gringocentric and people-oriented. It’s one of Jim Hightower’s hangouts and home to the cartooning of Khalil Bendib. Those two features are usually overshadowed by something or another in their weekly postings, but even without all of the other contributors those two make this media project well worth saving and expanding.
Finally, The Panama News has been covering the isthmus for quite some time. Our 22nd anniversary is later this month. We have weathered all sorts of attacks that would have put other small media out of business. We have done that by a solid commitment to the truth and no commitment at all to the power brokers who would control all stories. Help us continue the fight, and expand at least enough to bring in a younger generation to keep it going for another 22 years and more.
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President Varela commutes Okke Ornstein’s prison sentence
by Eric Jackson et al
[Editor’s note: Okke Ornstein’s name appeared on a list of prisoners who will be released before Christmas by virtue of presidential sentence commutaions or grants of parole. Ornstein’s release is a reduction of sentence, rather than a full pardon. There may still be ongoing legal consequences or proceedings, depending on decisions to be made by Ornstein and by the government. What’s possible, what’s affordable and what’s worthwhile are three separate things, each to be looked at from two different perspectives. The following is from an email sent by Ornstein’s most loyal supporters to others who stood by him in various ways.]
We’re thrilled to be writing you with great news: Okke will be released this week!
The presidential pardon absolves Okke of the “crimes against honor” conviction that led to his arrest and a 20-month prison sentence. While Monte Friesner’s lawsuit against Okke should never have gotten this far to begin with, we’re of course relieved that the pardon will free Okke. Once he’s out, Okke will pursue a principled resolution by taking his case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Thank you for being a huge part of #FreeOkkeOrnstein. Your initiatives and support helped apply pressure in the right places at the right times. Friends, we did it!
We are truly grateful for all the diplomatic and advocacy initiatives taken on Okke’s behalf. The transparency, free press and human rights organizations played a major role in making Okke’s situation an urgent matter for the Panamanian government. Under the sophisticated leadership of Ambassador Dirk Janssen, the Dutch Embassy in Panama worked tirelessly to formulate solutions. We would have been lost without the expertise and guidance of Ambassador Janssen’s team.
As noted on the Donate page of our campaign website, Kimberlyn is managing the financial aspects of Okke’s legal affairs. She initially planned to provide all donors with a final accounting after the dust settled a bit, yet she is opening that up to everyone on this list now. You can find every receipt and funding source to-date listed in this Google Drive folder. The accounting should be self-explanatory, as the folders are clearly labeled and organized, but Kimberlyn would gladly answer any questions about it (the $0 amounts on the Expense Sheet are donations in-kind — we wanted to show these forms of generosity too!).
We share the accounting now for a couple of important reasons. One is that some troubled people are publishing libelous claims that we are running a scam (we will be addressing their claims through the appropriate civil channels). The other is that we are facing a burdensome debt for Okke’s legal fees, and we would appreciate any additional monetary supportthat anyone can offer.
We’re waiting for news about whether a case involving a deceased person (Clyde Jenkins) will be heard this week. Stay tuned… For now, you can look forward to hearing from Okke when he gets out of Renacer.
In deep gratitude,
Kimberlyn David and Esther Ornstein (Okke’s partner and oldest daughter, respectively)
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How an identity thief and fraud artist was installed as the unelected chair of Democrats Abroad Panama, and the tale of his short reign and ugly downfall
To boldly go where hustlers
have never gone before
by Eric Jackson
The author was a protagonist in these events, and things in any way autobiographical are always inherently suspect. Moreover, 2016 was the year that American politics — “American” in the narrow gringo sense which Latin Americans often find annoying — gave rise to the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year, “post-truth.” Even if scrupulous loyalty to the facts prevails, in tales of political conflict there are layers of context and differences of perspective, such that which facts are important is a matter of opinion. Take those things as given, and perhaps you will hear wounded shrieks and allegations of libel that are evidence of different perspectives. I stand by this story.
One of the major contexts, it seems to this writer, is what makes this tale of things that mostly happened between March and May still topical in December. Many things were done by a corporate faction of the Democratic Party, led by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to rig the presidential nominating process in favor of Hillary Clinton, who at the outset was shown by polls to be quite unpopular within the party, let alone with independents and Republicans. As the primary season wore on, this faction imploded at the top because some of its more unsavory behavior was revealed by way of leaked emails. Wasserman Schultz and three other top DNC officers were forced to resign in the middle of a campaign year, a staggering organizational blow from which the Clinton campaign never recovered. But the sorts of behavior that decapitated the DNC in the summer of 2016 had been ongoing within the party at many levels and in the wake of the stunning Democratic defeat in November there are now struggles ongoing for control of the party at various levels. What happened in Panama has its unique features but it’s also a microcosm of larger things. Some of the people involved in setting up the disastrous two-month interregnum in Democrats Abroad Panama are as these words are written seeking to retain, regain or increase their power and influence within the Democratic Party. Rank-and-file Democrats ought to know, and should not have to depend on the propaganda judgment of Russian hackers — or some such — to know.
In short summary, Democrats Abroad international counsel Orlando Vidal, supported by three members of the seven-member board of directors, against the opposition of a fourth and with three vacancies, purported to fill the chair without an election and in violation of the Democrats Abroad Panama bylaws. They placed secretary Sean Hammerle in the post by way of the vice chair succeeding to the post of chair after the chair’s resignation, appointing Hammerle as vice chair, then herself resigning and being appointed as vice chair once more. But precisely to avoid such maneuvers the bylaws specify that unique among all other board positions, a vacancy in the vice chair post must be filled by an election.
Who is this guy?
This was not a mere procedural argument as it unfolded. This writer’s objections to Sean Hammerle were because he was a repeated saboteur of decisions made by the Democrats Abroad Panama board of directors and because he told a story of himself that was incredible.
Not “incredible” by the Hollywood meaning of something akin to sensational, that which is so extraordinary as to seem impossible. “Incredible” in the sense of unbelievable on the level of requiring the suspension of the faculties of observation and reason in order to accept as true.
For an initial pair of demonstrations, do a Google advanced search of the key phrase “Sean Hammerle.” Among the 1,500 or so links that come up you will find a few news stories that were not his creations, but in general the impression will be that this is someone who has gamed the Google algorithms to fill the search results with self-promotion.
It’s a common enough technique for companies and even governments. Just about every foreign hustler who sets up shop in Panama does this, too. Then, go to his website that he attempted to erase when called upon it last May, a March 29, 2016 version that, unbeknownst to him, was scanned and stored on the Wayback Machine Internet Archive here. When collated with claims he made to this writer and other members of Democrats Abroad Panama, the man’s story gets more outrageous — but just take that document, with its jump pages, and consider:
He claims “over 20 years in corporate coaching” yet lists no business degree and no business management position held before coming to Panama a few years ago.
He claims to be “an advanced development professional for organizations ranging from budgets with less than $1 million to over $250 million,” and on the “about” page mentions “over $150 million raised globally” — and he’s working in a call center in Santiago?
He claims to be a graduate of Louisiana State University — sort of. The way he puts it, he’s “a Phi Kappa Psi alum (LSU – ’90),” but the initials he habitually sports are not those of any academic degree but rather “Sean D. Hammerle, CFRE.” A CFRE? That’s “Certified Fund Raising Executive” a “credential” that you essentially buy from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, one that indicates no degree and involves no governmental licensing. So if he’s a university graduate, why this display?
Sean’s story became even more questionable when he claimed to this author that he had worked with the Clinton administration; that he had been on college speaking tours and running into students who said that the Bernie Sanders campaign told them that they would not have to repay their student loans; and that he was owner of the OnQ call center in Santiago.
An Internet search elicited no connection between Sean Hammerle and the Clinton administration. There was one posed Obama-era photo of Bill Clinton with Sean Hammerle in front of an Association of Fundraising professionals banner, but no indication of any tie with the Clinton Foundation.
There was no online record of Sean Hammerle having addressed any campus organization anywhere. Not even as a warm-up speaker for somebody else.
Look up OnQ online and you run across a website for the company and an article on the call center by Ricardo Martinelli’s broadsheet daily, El Panama America. The company website lists Hammerle as number four in the management pecking order. The newspaper story mentions the company’s CEO, but not Hammerle.
All this being rather strange to this writer, who looked up the companies with which Hammerle claimed a tie. The Panamanian records open to the public would not show the beneficial ownership of OnQ, which is found in the Registro Civil as “ON Q CONTACT CENTER, S.A.” But look up “Plaid Consulting LLC” and you find another Texas company in another line of business that has nothing to do with Sean Hammerle. This hits an alarm bell. Taking the name of an existing company that’s unrelated and registering it in Panama is one of the hallmarks of fraud. That Sean Hammerle claimed to also be a Texas company of the same name? State and national laws and their prohibitions may vary, but this is a variant of corporate identity theft, commonly used in Panama to deceive and misdirect.
Houston has the distinction of being the first major US city to elect a lesbian mayor, and Sean Hammerle claimed to be a part of that. Indeed, he had been a delegate to Demcratic country conventions and was a sacrificial lamb Democratic candidate for a county office in a very Republican district. In that race he was supported by local gay organizations and publications. But a source in Houston said that Hammerle was not a significant player in either local politics or the area’s gay movement.
And why did this writer look that stuff up anyway?
It was because Hammerle played the persistent role of campaign obstacle interposed by the Clinton camp. When Debbie Wasserman Schultz was trying to suppress debates by limiting their number and scheduling them for times when few people would be likely to watch them, the Democrats Abroad Panama board of directors twice voted to hold debate watching parties. The chair at the time, Hillary Clinton supporter Michael Long, said both times that Sean Hammerle, having these alleged good business connections, would find the place. That never happened.
(It turns out that Hammerle was not a member of the American Chamber of Commerce or connected in any of the significant business circles of Panama. Of course not. Those folks have seen so many fraud artists over the years that exposure to them would have led to exposure of himself. The Panama Papers, after all, are about a country putting out the welcome mat for the world’s hustlers. If you are a Panamanian doing business here and you are defrauded by a foreigner, you may have recourse to the law. If you are a foreigner who gets defrauded, the authorities will laugh at you. American businesspeople who are survivors here tend to have well-tuned BS detectors.)
As primary day approached, the board voted that when the results came in this writer would get press releases in English and Spanish out to the respective media. Hammerle, who hardly speaks any Spanish, objected to the Spanish release and said that “his company’s” translator would have to look at it. We never heard back and the delay was enough to kill any publication of the local results in Panama’s Spanish-language mainstream media.
Why this game with a press release?
The press release and debate party obstruction should be estimated along with Michael Long limiting in-person voting to a few hours on one day in one location. But as it turned out, more people voted in the Democrats Abroad Panama primary than had done so ever before, and 71 percent of them voted for Bernie Sanders. It was that news that Hammerle suppressed in the Spanish-language media.
En route to the primaries, there were problems from above and within. This writer, who runs the Democrats Abroad Panama Facebook pages, had been asking the international organization since August of 2015 about the dates for the primary voting. We finally got notice of early voting on January 23 — about how early voting had begun on January 11. Later this writer was told by a Democrats Abroad member in France that they had received notice BEFORE early voting began. Meanwhile in Panama, past chair and board member Ramona Rhoades had sent out an email urging people to vote for Bernie Sanders. Michael Long threatened to expel her from the board, and this writer challenged his power to do such a thing under the Democrats Abroad Panama bylaws. That challenge was in a two-paragraph email:
This is a primary campaign.The Democratic Party’s lists were given to Patrick Murphy to run a scurrilous Harry Reid emailing demanding Alan Grayson’s removal from the senate primary. The stream of criticism on all sides of the presidential primary race is a fact, including scurrilous attacks on Bernie Sanders’s history in the civil rights movement and so on and so on.
You wanna pull a Hubert Humphrey style purge of the Democratic Party, as was done to the antiwar Democrats to set up´the 1968 fiasco? You don’t have the authority to do that under our bylaws. You can’t live with the heat of a primary race? You should have thought of that before you took your position.
Were Long’s and Hammerle’s vote and information suppression actions with respect to the Democrats Abroad primary in consultation with or at the direction of the international leadership, which was almost all Hillary people? Certainly the practice of driving people out of party posts for supporting Bernie Sanders came right from the top, with Debbie Wasserman Schultz driving congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard out of her position as DNC vice president for going with the senator against the anointed one. So was Long’s threat an imitation of what he saw, or was it ordered or suggested by somebody at the international level? It’s an unanswered question for this writer.
In any case, this writer used The Panama News and pro-Bernie Facebook groups to drum up support for the senator from Vermont, while playing the two candidates very even-handedly in the Democrats Abroad Facebook groups. Social media gag orders issued from the international level of Democrats Abroad in 2013 and blatantly fashioned to favor Hillary Clinton — no discussion of foreign policy, no discussion of electronic eavesdropping, “There is no advantage of drawing unnecessary attention to Democrats Abroad” and so on — were not defied on the local DA Facebook pages.
(In a way, it’s tragic that some of these gag orders were issued and followed. The ban on any discussion about the NSA, for example, prevented Democrats from talking among themselves like adults about how the Snowden revelations confirmed that at least five countries have the capability to intercept the electronic communications of almost everybody in the world. So would a prudent recognition of that and a realization of how long these technologies have existed suggested to Democrats that surely the Russians and Chinese, and probably the French, the Japanese, the Israelis and others, have similar capabilities? Might, instead of the DNC’s fatal hubris, there have been the caution that comes with the expectation that what goes around comes around?)
Bernie won big in the Democrats Abroad primary — 68 percent internationally and more than that here. Michael Long, complaining that “You won the primary by 38 points, it’s not illegal to have some class about it,” announced that he was quitting as soon as he could arrange a transition.
But the Democrats Abroad Panama bylaws don’t allow a chair to select his or her successor and quit If the chair resigns the vice chair moves up to be chair. If the vice chair position becomes vacant, there must be an immediate election for that post. The rule was written that way precisely to prevent the sorts of maneuver that Long suggested, and those bylaws had been approved by Democrats Abroad international.
The vice chair, Francis Wilson, is a missionary who travels a lot and an Intenet semi-illiterate who never figured out how to attend an online meeting. She said that she just could not do the job of chair.
Sean Hammerle wanted to be chair, Michael Long wanted him to be chair, and this writer tried to convince Ramona Rhoades and Francis Wilson, both Bernie supporters in the primary, to oppose this. The suggestion from this part was that Hammerle showed by his actions and his improbable claims that he was a dishonest person, someone unsuitable to head the organization. This writer called for an election instead. Rhoades and Wilson were not convinced.
Mental and social conditions
What was THAT all about? As best this writer, who has a childhood history of surviving domestic violence and as a consequence has dysfunctional instincts about trust, can tell, the reasons for that were psychological and social:
Sean Hammerle is a charming con man, who had wowed not only the other members of the Democrats Abroad board with his claims of wealth and accomplishment, but had also done that in the American Society of Panama. This writer has been hoodwinked from time to time, but the “look you straight in the eye and say what you want to hear” sort of ordinary con man does not do well with this writer, whose emotional instinct or desire to trust just does not work. (It’s terrible for relationships of all sorts, but does at least afford a bit of protection in other situations.) To this writer the claim by a guy who got out of LSU in 1990 that he had worked with the Clinton administration — without leaving any record of it — just screamed out “Con man!” To Ramona and Francis, Sean was this well-mannered and impeccably and expensively dressed for success young professional. They didn’t want to hear from a scruffy old hippie — with no money, whose household is shared with dogs and cats but not people, who has written about his bipolar condition and his troubled childhood, who only has a bachelors degree in history and political science and a doctorate in law — that the guy in the expensive suit flaunting the CFRE is a fraud. They instinctively KNEW that Sean Hammerle was trustworthy because he was very good at pushing all of the emotional buttons to make them believe that. But those buttons don’t work with this old freak.
Michael wanted Sean and may have wanted him even knowing that the guy’s a fraud. There was a certain ideological and social affinity there. Very likely Sean exuded the wealth and status to which Michael aspires. Sean certainly projected the profile of the sort of corporate creature that many in the Clinton wing of the party would like to have replace all of the long-time party activists.
Ramona and Frances were very inward-looking with respect to Democrats Abroad. A succession issue wherein Ramona is a term limited ex-chair, there are two vacancies on the board, Michael is quitting and Francis won’t take the job leaves the choice as smooth Sean versus crazy Eric. Looking outside the universe of the board as it then existed was anathema to them. Francis — with the support of others — had long opposed this writer’s suggestion to reach out to younger people. Dolores Huerta’s claim that Bernie people were demanding “English only” at a casino in Las Vegas was a lie, but Ramona is one of those rare Bernie folks who believe in English only — she opposes Spanish-language ballots, the right of Spanish-speaking people born in the USA to vote, and outreach by Democrats Abroad Panama to dual citizens in Spanish. Although there are probably 20,000 US citizens in Panama, the social horizons of Ramona and Francis are no more than a few hundred people who might be encountered at the American Society, the English-speaking churches, the Theatre Guild, the Navy League and the predominantly white Elks Lodge 1414. It’s an inward-looking, insular, shrinking social world of possibilities to them. Considering an election that involved more than Eric and Sean was unthinkable to them.
This writer has long had a difficult relationship with the American Society of Panama. For the author to join it would be out of the question. It was a problem between this writer on the one hand and Ramona and Francis on the other. Their social worlds centered on this organization that has perhaps two or three hundred members. But over more than two decades of covering Panama, this reporter has time and again seen how American hustlers have flaunted wealth in that crowd, been swooned over, and trolled for new marks for their latest schemes. If the American Society of Panama is your in crowd, you will hear negative things about Eric Jackson if you ask. If that crowd is almost all you know of Panama’s American community, your “polling data” will be skewed.
Enter Orlando Vidal
Olando Vidal has, in December 2016 communications purporting to speak for the Democrats Abroad members of the DNC and for Democrats Abroad in that capacity, been the top signer. He is term-limited out of continuing as Democrats Abroad international counsel when the next slate of officers is chosen, but there is a group in the DA leadership that seems to be eternal, shifting from top post to top post within the organization notwithstanding term limits.
Vidal is the author of the 2016 delegate selection rules by which a more than 2-1 Bernie majority in the primary was rendered into majorities of Hillary electors in the Berlin conference to select both Philadelphia convention delegates and DNC members, and at which he was chosen to be a member of the Democratic National Committee. During the general election campaign when people working in the various Democrats Abroad country chapters were faced with a bewildering variety of questions about election laws and deadlines in various states, however, the office of Democrats Abroad counsel was not sending out any advice, interpretations or warnings.
The man thinks highly of his services. In his self-promotion to Berlin electors en route to the DNC, he sent an email that said:
My firm has allowed me to dedicate, during my past three years of service as your International Counsel, what must now be over 1,500 hours in pro bono work for Democrats Abroad.
Any paying client would have had to spend well over $1 million in the legal services that my firm has allowed me to do for free.
When Michael Long sent out an email saying that he was resigning, he said that he had consulted with Orlando Vidal about his succession plan.
In his first email to board members after being installed, Sean Hammerle wrote:
This all seems a little bit crazy to get the pieces in place, but with our bylaws written as they are with the chair and vice chair having to be of opposite gender, this is how Democrats Abroad legal counsel advised that we proceed.
When this writer questioned Vidal about the basis for him overturning the Democrats Abroad Panama bylaws, he replied to this writer:
Please rest assured that I, DA’s International Counsel, am fully aware of the matter here and have supported the manner in which it has proceeded.
If you wish to discuss it further, I am available tomorrow my evening in Dubai ready to discuss it through Skype.
Otherwise, I suggest respectfully that you move on and support a Country Committee in obvious distress for the benefit of Democrats and our voter turnout in November.
Vidal copied this message to Sean Hammerle, to acting Americas Region chair Jody Quinnell and to the other members of the board. Appended to the bottom was this warning:
This email may be confidential and protected by legal privilege. If you are not the intended recipient, disclosure, copying, distribution and use are prohibited; please notify us immediately and delete this email from your systems. Dentons records and stores emails sent to us or ouraffiliates in keeping with our internal policies and procedures. Please see dentons.com for Legal Notices.
Dentons is a global legal practice providing client services worldwide through its member firms and affiliates. Dentons & Co is a partnership comprising Dentons Middle East Partners LLP and Dentons Middle East Limited. It is registered with the DFSA and authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Any reference to a “partner” means a person who is a partner, member, consultant or employee with equivalent standing and qualifications in one of Dentons’ affiliates.
…as in, his party boss communications are claimed to be protected by attorney/client privilege. This one, of course, could not be. This writer is not and never agreed to be Vidal’s client. Allow a non-client to be privy to a privileged communication and that privilege is lost. This habitual appending of a threat to emails about Democrats Abroad business will work to keep many a person without any legal sophistication from revealing this party business — it’s quite the attack on transparency within the organization.
But let us take at face value, for the sake of argument, Vidal’s claim that one of the recipients, Sean Hammerle, is or was his client. Here we have a highly paid offshore corporate lawyer and former US Department of Justice representative in the American Embassy in Bogota involved in a secretive political process that carefully excluded his writer in a transaction wherein the other board members were all kept in the loop, and thus who did not ask this writer about what was then known about Sean Hammerle, including that he was most probably a corporate identity thief and that there were things about him that raised common warning flags about fraud. Nor did Orlando Vidal do any investigation of Sean Hammerle on his own. A simple question or two and he could have begun to “know his client.” And both in US legal dealings in Colombia and in the offshore corporate law business in particular, “know your client” is a constant mantra and preoccupation.
So Orlando Vidal is a highly paid lawyer with a power resuime? That’s not a defense to legal malpractice.
The Hammerle administration and its one membership meeting
Sean Hammerle immediately sent out a notice to the DA Panama members, prominently featuring his portrait with the halo and a link to his website. This presented an ethical problem for this writer, a conflict between what was known and reasonably suspected and the duty to Democrats Abroad Panama to post party communications on the Facebook pages. This was imperfectly resolved by posting the announcement with the photo, but without the website link.
Hammerle went upscale for an April 17 general membership meeting, to which he sent out an email to only some of the membership, arguing that for those living outside of Panama City or whom he though had other commitments it would be inconvenient to attend. The venue, the Wyndham Trypp hotel in Albrook, broke with the Democrats Abroad practice of having easy access to those with limited mobility. While the Wyndham and the Albrook Mall to which it is attached can indeed claim compliance with Panama’s barrier free design rules, for somebody using a walker to get from the huge and crowded parking lot, to the elevators and to the upstairs meeting room would be a daunting challenge. There were 15 people at the meeting, seven of whom had ever attended a Democrats Abroad meeting before. This writer was the only person in the room who was not a member of the American Society. Sean welcomed everyone and acknowledged that he had made some phone calls to get people to the meeting. There was a speaker set up in the room and Sean announced that a dozen people from “his company” were attending the meeting by a telephone connection. He sat at the table with the speaker with Ramona and Francis, making their ostentatious “in crowd” physical statement. People seated in chairs around the room were called to introduce themselves — but nobody on the telephone connection was.
The meeting was ridiculous, discussing the purchase of expensive mainstream media advertising with money that the organization did not have, the sending of things in English to Miami to be translated into Spanish, and nothing about filling vacancies on the board or setting up the actual nuts and bolts of waging a general election campaign once the party had its nominee. A fundraising forum on the FATCA and FBAR rules, something that Democrats Abroad Panama had done before, was decided upon without a vote. Nothing was voted upon at the meeting. This writer held his tongue during the meeting and decided not to stick around in the bar and drink with these people afterward.
The forum was poorly publicized, poorly attended and a money loser. In the meantime Ramona Rhoades resigned from the board.
For representation at the Berlin conference to select DA convention delegates and DNC members, Sean certified the remaining board members, plus one of the American Society socialites he had brought into the organization, Phyllis So. It was a two-day affair, both online and in person in Berlin, with Francis and Phyllis the only electors for the “global” conference on the second day. But that was done with the knowledge that Francis never attended anything online. As it turned out, Francis didn’t get accredited because she didn’t register, and when this writer told her that she treated it as if this writer lied to her. So Panama, with its 71 percent Bernie majority in the primary, was left with Hillary supporter Phyllis as its only elector in the global round at which Hillary supporter Orlando Vidal was elected to the DNC. Ramona somehow thought that because she knew everybody, even though she wasn’t even a Democrats Abroad board member anymore and hadn’t been appointed or registered, she could be a voting elector in Berlin.
The attempted purge
Sean went upscale again, using the Democrats Abroad mailing list to invite members to happy hours at bars where people in suits mingle. No way does this writer take buses from his rural abode into the city to such places for such events.
(Moreover, the author runs The Panama News and posts information about cultural events that take place in bars with some frequency. This has over the years prompted some bar owners to figure that if the musicians playing get a free announcement, then this pendejo who runs The Panama News is also going to post free ads for their happy hour drink specials. It got to the point that email box settings were adjusted to send anything about happy hour to the spam folder.)
On May 12 Hammerle use the Democrats Abroad mailing list to send out a happy hour ad for a Panama City hotel bar, and buried below it in small print — the transcript here is not a screen shot and does not do justice to how well hidden the addendum was — was a notice that in 30 days there would be a meeting to remove this writer from the board of directors. Very carefully and conveniently, there was no location given and all of Sean Hammerle’s supporters maintained a wall of silence about the venue.
But there was already opposition research “in the can” from this writer’s previous investigations, and five people — lawyers, journalists, computer nerds, a librarian (most of whom are or were more than one of these things — were called upon to do various aspects of opposition research to flesh out the story of Sean Hammerle. Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein discovered, after about 15 minutes looking at Hammerle’s website that the claimed “staff” for his claimed consulting company were photographs taken from business organizations and employment agencies in the Sacramento, California area, with new names and invented biographies to go along with the photos on Hammerle’s website.
This information was immediately published, in emails and on Ornstein’s Bananama Republic website and in The Panama News. Hammerle’s American Society crowd scoffed and accused this writer of libel. But Hammerle blinked. Now outed as a thief of both another company’s identity and the personal identities of several individuals. Worse yet from Hammerle’s legal perspective his victims were Californians, residents of a state that has strong laws about that sort of thing and with Hammerle living outside of the USA they would have proper venue to sue him in California. So Hammerle erased his website and replaced it with something not so incriminating. Or so he thought. He had not counted on the existence of The Wayback Machine Internet Archive, which stores a copy of what he tried to erase and deny.
Phyllis So and the rest were still spitting venom at this writer, but other voices in Democrats Abroad Panama began to be raised in opposition to what Hammerle and his clique were doing. The most important of these was that of former vice chair Phil Edmonston. Those who support versus those who oppose party purges at meetings held at secret venues became a dividing line that will surely last for a long time among local Democrats.
Finally David Young, the veteran Welsh-born Canadian journalist and his Newsroom Panama website weighed in. In his moderate and understated way he confirmed that there really was something to what this writer and Ornstein had published. There were perhaps still some English-language media in Panama that might have supported Hammerle — or might not have because he’s gay and he’s at least nominally a Democrat — but when Young took the allegations of identity theft seriously, so did a number of members of the American Society of Panama.
The people “upstairs” in Democrats Abroad were also getting this in close to real time. The California primary had yet to take place and this writer suggested to one of the Democrats Abroad international officials that if Orlando Vidal and his Hillary vipers insisted on going through with this purge, there was the possibility of turning Sean Hammerle into Hillary Clinton’s California running mate.
Did the folks upstairs tell Hammerle and his secret “executive committee” to go away, or was it a matter of Hammerle taking flight and the others going with him? In any case they all resigned, and in a parting email screed said that they did so after consultation with the international leadership of Democrats Abroad. Perhaps some day WikiLeaks might make us privy to those communications.
This left the author as the one remaining board member, and Ramona and some others in panic mode thought that the position would be converted into a self-declared chair. This was never contemplated, but perhaps their minds were in totalitarian mode after their support of the coup and purge. With only one member there was no quorum, the old board was dissolved and a new one needed to be elected. This writer wanted to make sure that the local Democrats had an effective campaign in the face of a growing white supremacist threat from the Republicans, and kept on running the Facebook pages throughout. The preference was not to grab for the chair, nor even to seek a position on the board if other people with democratic values and the commitment could be found. When elected to the board in early 2015, this writer expressed a preference for a candidate other than Hillary Clinton — Elizabeth Warren was in mind — but vowed to support the ticket in the general election given the increasingly extreme GOP alternatives. Ramona at that time denounced Clinton and declared that she would not work for her in the general election campaign if she were the nominee.
The chapter was back together with this writer becoming communications director but not a board member. We campaigned as hard as we could, in English and Spanish, to get out the vote for Democrats in November. The Democrats lost, and are now picking up pieces at all levels. Those who gamed the nominating process and promoted maneuvers like what we saw in Panama are looking to consolidate and extent their control over a party they led to defeat. The election is over and it’s never a good time to tear the party apart, but it is time to discuss what happened and to assess who served the party and the cause well and who did not.
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Una lista negra que atenta
contra el debido proceso
por la Fundación Libertad
La Fundación Libertad ve con suma preocupación la amenaza de cierre inminente que se cierne sobre los diarios La Estrella de Panamá y El Siglo, con motivo de su permanencia en la lista creada por la Oficina de Control de Activos Extranjeros (OFAC, por sus siglas en inglés) del Departamento del Tesoro de los Estados Unidos de América.
La lista OFAC es una lista negra que atenta contra el debido proceso legal consagrado en la Sexta Enmienda de la Constitución de los Estados Unidos de América. El derecho al debido proceso legal supone que para que a una persona le apliquen sanciones legales, tales sanciones solo son válidas si resultan luego de que se le haya levantado cargos de manera formal; que dichos cargos le sean comunicados de manera oportuna; que se le presenten pruebas científicas para sustentar los cargos; que se le permita examinar las pruebas en su contra y aportar pruebas para refutar los cargos, y se le permita en general defenderse de las acusaciones elevadas contra él. Todo esto, además, con las garantías de un juez imparcial, y con acceso a una defensa técnica que pueda actuar en libertad y sin temor a represalias.
La lista OFAC es, además, un ejemplo a nivel individual de la política de listas negras adoptadas por organizaciones como la OCDE, la cual se lleva a cabo para imponer políticas públicas que no son del interés de países que, como Panamá, no tienen nada que ganar de las mismas. Al igual que la lista de OFAC, estas listas son subjetivas, no se basan en una norma de aplicación general a todas las naciones, ni tiene como criterio evaluador a un tribunal imparcial. Son condenas sin ley ni juicio. Son la expresión de una nueva forma de imperialismo que atenta con el Derecho Internacional Público y contra la organización que el mundo se dio luego de la segunda guerra mundial.
La Fundación Libertad considera peligroso para las libertades individuales y el Derecho Internacional Público, que un estado o una organización de estados tenga poder para aplicar sanciones contra determinadas personas o naciones, sin tener que someterse al tamiz de un proceso legal que cumpla con el principio del debido proceso.
En el caso de los diarios La Estrella de Panamá y El Siglo, su inclusión en la lista OFAC además implica una amenaza grave contra la libertad de prensa y una amenaza grave a la libertad de expresión de todos los panameños. Esto, no solo por el hecho de que ambos diarios están abiertos a la participación de todos los ciudadanos y habitantes de la República de Panamá, ya que sus páginas a diario publican artículos de opinión -aportados por ciudadanos– de todos los matices ideológicos, políticos o filosóficos; sino además por el hecho de que la libertad de expresión de ambos diarios -los propietarios, accionistas y colaboradores de dichos medios– no es solo el derecho de una persona a expresar sus ideas u opiniones, sino también, y esto es clave, el derecho de la audiencia a escuchar lo que cada persona tiene que decir.
Exhortamos al gobierno nacional a que asuma el papel histórico que el destino ha puesto en su camino. A través de la Cancillería y el Servicio Exterior, el gobierno debe asumir con responsabilidad su deber y protestar en el plano del derecho internacional, contra cualquier medida unilateral, de carácter extraterritorial y lesiva de los derechos humanos a la libertad de expresión y el debido proceso legal o del derecho de autodeterminación de los pueblos, que constituye el cerco económico instaurado contra La Estrella de Panamá y El Siglo, así como cualquier que atente contra los intereses de nacionales panameños a través de listar a la República de Panamá de forma contraria al derecho internacional público. Lo que corresponde es exigir de manera diplomática, pero enérgica, la exclusión de Panamá y de estos medios de cualquier lista negra y el levantamiento inmediato y definitivo de las sanciones económicas correspondientes.
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1. As a preliminary concern, the August 2013 gag order on talking about the NSA also left Democrats Abroad unable to talk among ourselves as thinking adults about what it meant that the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all have the ability to intercept virtually all of the world’s electronic communications — including those of the heads of some quite sophisticated states — and that swapped among these powers were manuals on using these capabilities for political dirty tricks. That’s what the Snowden revelations — which should not have been any shock to anyone who knew about the earlier generation ECHELON system which came to light in the late 1980s — were all about. The Russians and the Chinese (probably Japan, Israel, France and other powers too) would not have similar capabilities? We would be caught unaware after Russia’s little cyber-wars with Estonia and Georgia? Debbie Wasserman Schultz and several other top DNC people should not have been doing the gutter-level stuff which obliged them to resign when it came to light — that’s on them. But the hubris to think that they could discuss that sort of stuff on electronic media without worry of it being intercepted was foolhardy. And had the gag order not been in place, I for one would not have expressed shock at these sneaky bastards at the NSA, but advised caution based on the principle that we are not invulnerable and what goes around comes around.
a. (By the way, the “terrible scandals” about the John Podesta and Donna Brazile email hacks? Those were JOURNALISM scandals, as in sensationalist spins on nothing. They were partisans who played hardball, but did nothing to disgrace themselves. Reporters and editors who breathlessly published these things as big “scoops” made asses of themselves.)
b. (By the way, most of that trove of WikiLeaks stuff has not been published and it should not shock us if Democrats Abroad communications come to light at some point. It would in part depend on whether things were routinely copied to the DNC.)
2. In this age of widespread vote suppression, the Democratic Party needs to take on much of the aura and many of the functions of a civil rights movement. We should have a comprehensive proposal for a New Voting Rights Act that does many things beyond plug the holes punched in the old one by the Supreme Court in 2013. One of the matters is the possibilities of hacking into electronic vote count systems, for which there won’t be any recourse if there is no paper trail. For voting from abroad we WANT more electronic voting, but we also want it to be secure.
3. We should demand a full and honest investigation of the hacks and leaks. Not a free pass to become mirror images of Trey Gowdy or Joe McCarthy, but the unvarnished truth.
4. What we do in response to the hacks and leaks is a separate bundle of issues. Insistence on a neoconservative warlike posture and vilifying every Democrat who objects would be a wonderful way to further split the party. Pretending that there is no cause for concern would also make the party look foolish if we adopted that position.
5. What WAS it about Trump sending fundraising email spam to members of foreign parliaments and other inappropriate recipients? Quite frankly, the Hillary campaign dropped the ball on the probable nature of THIS computer crime. Trump most likely bought an international spam list on the black market, or a market “cleansed” to be gray. Generally these lists are generated by hackers who break into websites and databases and mine for email addresses. That’s probably what the 2013 Yahoo hack of data on a billion accounts was all about. The hackers often destroy websites in the process, a matter of vital concern to a lot of American small business and small media. There is not one gang in the world that does this sort of thing, but several. Russian mob families are not “the big boss men” who run it all but it is believed that they are deeply involved in the racket. A lot of this stuff comes out of Eastern Europe, a lot out of South America — but in that game one can attack by circuitous routes. Trump has a long record of associations with mobsters, including with Russian mobsters. To attribute what Russian mob groups to the Kremlin is a nonsequitur unless there is more evidence to show that. Russia does jail mobsters, but for all we know the Russian government may also work with “their” thugs. (If this sounds like paranoid fantasy, remember Nixon’s ties with the Vesco gang, and remember the Iran-Contra mess.) Anyway, an investigation of that strange fundraising spam episode ought to be among Democratic demands, even if it’s a demand the Republicans are not likely to accept.
6. The biggest computer issues for DA are probably a database that’s easy to work with and online conferencing technology that works well in places with slow Internet connections. Both DA and the DNC should be looking for the best deals and not somebody who knows somebody. Advanced professionals should guide the search, but the snobbery of people who have the latest equipment and reside in the places with the best connections presuming that there is something wrong with those who don’t is something to screen right out.
7. We have a bunch of computer issues arising from the conversion of the Democratic Party from an organization of activists into an email fundraising list. A lot of people don’t want to be on such a list, especially but not only those who are poor and don’t want to get these “we have your record and you haven’t given” insults. And joining DA should not mean getting on Patrick Murphy’s spam list but not Alan Grayson’s (or so on). There are human-based policy matters to be addressed in addition to the techniques of fundraising.
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During the Cold War, the CIA did everything it’s accusing Russia of doing today — and more.
Even in an election year as shot through with conspiracy theories as this one, it would have been hard to imagine a bigger bombshell than Russia intervening to help Donald Trump. But that’s exactly what the CIA believes happened, or so unnamed “officials brief on the matter” told the Washington Post.
While Russia had long been blamed for hacking email accounts linked to the Clinton campaign, its motives had been shrouded in mystery. According to the Post, though, CIA officials recently presented Congress with a “a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources” that “electing Trump was Russia’s goal.”
Now, the CIA hasn’t made any of its evidence public, and the CIA and FBI are reportedly divided on the subject. Though it’s too soon to draw conclusions, the charges warrant a serious public investigation.
Even some Republicans who backed Trump seem to agree. “The Russians are not our friends,” said Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, announcing his support for a congressional probe. It’s “warfare,” added Senator John McCain.
There’s a grim irony to this. The CIA is accusing Russia of interfering in our free and fair elections to install a right-wing candidate it deemed more favorable to its interests. Yet during the Cold War, that’s exactly what the CIA did to the rest of the world.
Most Americans probably don’t know that history. But in much of the world it’s a crucial part of how Washington is viewed even today.
In the post-World War II years, as Moscow and Washington jockeyed for global influence, the two capitals tried to game every foreign election they could get their hands on.
From Europe to Vietnam and Chile to the Philippines, American agents delivered briefcases of cash to hand-picked politicians, launched smear campaigns against their left-leaning rivals, and spread hysterical “fake news” stories like the ones some now accuse Russia of spreading here.
Together, political scientist Dov Levin estimates, Russia and the US interfered in 117 elections this way in the second half the 20th century. Even worse is what happened when the CIA’s chosen candidates lost.
In Iran, when elected leader Mohammad Mossadegh tried to nationalize the country’s BP-held oil reserves, CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt led an operation to oust Mossadegh in favor of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The shah’s secret police tortured dissidents by the thousands, leading directly to the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
In Guatemala, when the democratically elected Jacobo Arbez tried to loosen the US-based United Fruit company’s grip on Guatemalan land, the CIA backed a coup against him. In the decades of civil war that followed, US-backed security forces were accused of carrying out a genocide against indigenous Guatemalans.
In Chile, after voters elected the socialist Salvador Allende, the CIA spearheaded a bloody coup to install the right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet, who went on to torture and disappear tens of thousands of Chileans.
“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people,” US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger purportedly said about the coup he helped orchestrate there.
And those are only the most well-known examples.
I don’t raise any of this history to excuse Russia’s alleged meddling in our election — which, if true, is outrageous. Only to suggest that now, maybe, we know how it feels. We should remember that feeling as Trump, who’s spoken fondly of authoritarian rulers from Russia to Egypt to the Philippines and beyond, comes into office.
Meanwhile, much of the world must be relieved to see the CIA take a break from subverting democracy abroad to protect it at home.
Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org.
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