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Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye Jr.’s funeral. The musician was shot and killed by his father, with a pistol that the son had given the father “to protect the house.” ~ Los ritos funerarios de Marvin Gaye hijo. El músico fue baleado por su padre, con una pistola que el hijo había dado al padre “para proteger la casa”.

Ain’t glorious what feeds the blues
No es glorioso lo que alimenta el blues

Curtis Mayfield – Freddie’s Dead
https://youtu.be/Z9nwcpGZE6A

Gary B.B. Coleman – The Sky is Crying
https://youtu.be/71Gt46aX9Z4

The Specials – Gangsters
https://youtu.be/lgCZN1rU5co

Hello Seahorse! – Criminal
https://youtu.be/3isv2xskFEw

Mississippi John Hurt – Stagolee
https://youtu.be/4scedJs6hC8

Janis Joplin – Ball and Chain
https://youtu.be/Bld_-7gzJ-o

Bobby Fuller Four – I Fought The Law
https://youtu.be/OgtQj8O92eI

Neil Young – Down By The River
https://youtu.be/j6PsBm4VeJQ

Séptima Raíz- Deja Vu
https://youtu.be/zIZFGbbnPDU

Desmond Dekker – Shanty Town
https://youtu.be/cFIqxnSo-gQ

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Hey Joe
https://youtu.be/rXwMrBb2x1Q

Pearl Bailey – Frankie And Johnny
https://youtu.be/oLzo4R4TMOs

Cream – Spoonful
https://youtu.be/5ym7Lsqj90c

The Slickers – Johnny Too Bad
https://youtu.be/lRm7j2UL3YY

Kafu Banton & G Money – No A La Violencia
https://youtu.be/-HkA8MKlngY

 

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the mating call of the eletronic pendejo
He still has his Miami penthouse and Twitter feed, and a dwindling band of acolytes. With the protection of US President Donald Trump and high court magistrate José Ayú Prado, the ex-president might never have to  appear in a defendant’s dock. However, he’s political history. The big split in his Cambio Democratico party is between those engaged in mutiny and those getting ready to abandon ship.

Heading toward electoral fragmentation

by Eric Jackson

Yeah, the PRD has eaten itself alive to the point when the party founded by the son of a Colombian father seems ready to be taken over by demonstrably hypocritical foreigner-bashers, while the Panameñistas are most unlikely to break the cycle of a ruling party getting thrown out in the next elections. So is this the big chance for a Martinelista comeback? Not when partners in crime from the corporate underworld are testifying that Odebrecht put $21 million into the 2014 campaign to make José Domingo Arias the proxy president for Ricardo Martinelli. Not when the Swiss have traced the money trail of millions in ill-gotten gains by the former president’s pompous sons. That Panamanian justice has been unable to get the ex-president extradited for his electronic surveillance of opposition politicians and journalists he didn’t control, and the Public Ministry won’t ask any questions about the systematic electronic sabotage of critical websites, does not mean that these things will be forgotten. Apparently in large part to protect President Varela and his party, who were allied with Martinelli for more than two years, a lot of pertinent questions are officially unasked. But the voters have not forgotten and the best bellwethers of that are the collection of opportunists that were assembled to let Martinelli take control of the legislature — they are packing their bags and changing their coats, again.

That may, however, give one of the discredited major parties a chance. The PRD won the first post-Noriega election, after all, with a little more than one-third of the vote in a seven-way race. The 2019 race appears to be shaping up as one that’s more fragmented than anything since then. Actually, the divide may be even more scattered, because back in 1994 they didn’t allow independent candidates and now that ban is over.

We have the three large — as of 2014 — political parties and two smaller ones that got through to the win something in the legislature. By order of membership, there are the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Cambio Democratico (CD), the Panameñista Party, the Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement (MOLIRENA) and the Partido Popular. We will see them all again. The latter two, and perhaps CC, may struggle to survive.

The hard leftist Broad Front for Democracy (FAD) ran the last time around and didn’t get enough votes to retain ballot status, but they have already collected enough signatures to get on the ballot. Figure that if they hold onto their concept of vanguard and front they won’t be willing or able to make any electoral alliances and will remain at the margins but might elect someone to office in a large field of contenders. One big question that could hurt or help them is the Odebrecht scandals. That thuggish Brazilian company would not only buy politicians across the spectrum, but they would also typically pay off labor leaders. Did they pay large sums to the leaders of the SUNTRACS construction workers’ union, who are among the leaders of FAD? It would be deadly for both the party and the union. Did they reject such offers, or give Odebrecht a measure of peace in exchange for more pay or benefits for rank-and-file construction workers? In those cases FAD and the labor leaders in its front ranks would be enhanced.

Hoping to get on the ballot are an Evangelical party that now denies that characterization, the Independenden Social Alternataive Party (PAIS), headed by former bar association leader José Alberto Álvarez, whose brother is the main reverend at the Templo Hosanna. These people were allied with Martinelli in 2014 and received allegedly improper government support back then. The flock that’s being led into the PAIS of milk and honey is in part running out of the ranks of CD. Will campaigning on a platform of hating queers and opposing sex education swell their ranks? Perhaps. But we are still a mostly Catholic country that’s a bit more tolerant than that.

Diametrically opposed, there is the Creemos (We Believe) party in formation. Prompted by gay rights activists, they say that they are centrist on some of the political and economic issues of our times and progressive on others, but they most emphatically want a secular state, with legalized same-sex marriages, sex education in the schools and anti-discrimination laws and policies that protect Panama’s various minority groups. There have been gay politicians and activists for years in Panama, who have tended to live in fear of exposure and who have been routinely betrayed by those whom they supported whenever it’s convenient. More than a response to the religious right, Creemos is the expression of a civil rights movement grown tired of depending on fickle mainstream parties and politicians.

A current CD deputy, José Muñoz, is collecting signatures to put a new party, the Alianza Por el Pueblo y Para el Pueblo (Alliance of the People and for the People) on the ballot. This new APPPP may have a populist moniker and a techie acronym, but the question is how many other CD deputies will jump on that bandwagon. The most ludicrous of the CD’s chronic turncoats, the self-proclaimed Sexual Buffalo Sergio Gáñvez, is making noises about joining the new Evangelical party instead.

Almost perennial candidate Iván Blasser is working to get the Union Nacional de Independientes (UNI, the National Union of Independents) certified as a party. If a lot of the civil society activists decide to take the plunge into electoral politics and that they need a party, this might be the vehicle that suits them. Or else they might just think that it’s another Blasser project that isn’t going anywhere. We will see if there are sufficient high-profile adhesions and endorsements to make UNI viable.

Then there are the actual independents. One of them sits in the legislature, former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gómez, who got more votes than any other candidate for the legislature in 2014. Entertainer and former Tourism Minister Rubén Blades may come back to Panama to run for president, but his biggest hurdle will be convincing those who would disqualify him because he has mostly not been here. Economist and former Seguro Social director Juan Jované and his Independent Movement for National Refoundation (MIREN) may run again, but he’d have to convince people that this time it was to win the presidency or a caucus in the legislature rather than just bragging rights for who speaks for most of Panama’s left.

The situation is volatile, with nobody and no proposal having yet caught on in the popular imagination. So two years out it looks like a very big field in 2019, which ought to give the pollsters and pundits their share of headaches.

 

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The SoulFire Project — Musicians for Humanity

by Geordie Seed

They’ve been called gypsies, vagabonds and nomads. Personally, I don’t like the generalized undertone given to such terms. Simply put, these are wonderful people. The SoulFire Project’s energy is so infectious that fans follow them from town-to-town and venue-to-venue like groupies. I have become one of those people. Their music is fun, uplifting, diverse and well orchestrated – you can’t help but dance and sing along. The audience ranges from teenagers to seniors, each appreciating something in what they are seeing and hearing. Every performance is like a natural high and I, like many others, simply can’t get enough!

After seeing The SoulFire Project perform in Boquete, Panama for the second time, I felt compelled to know more about this unique collection of people, and approached lead singer and founder, Cooper Morgan. I was immediately struck by his graciousness towards me — a stranger. I could feel then that these people were special. I told him that I’d done some research on their band after their first performance and was quite taken by the power of their message. They are a selfless group who not only want what’s best for planet earth, but also those less fortunate. Since they’re about educating the world, I felt compelled to tell their story to create more awareness. Cooper agreed to give me all the time I needed and invited me to their bus community for a chat.

Parked on the outskirts of town, tucked away in a farmer’s field is where I found Cooper, his band mates (who include his mother) and their bus. This isn’t your ordinary bus — it’s one that has been re-engineered by Cooper and friends to run on recycled vegetable oil and solar power. When possible the crew captures rainwater for drinking and washing and wherever they camp they set up a composting toilet. All kitchen scraps are composted so they can be used as fertilizer. Basically, they walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk.

Cooper Morgan
Cooper Morgan.

Our discussion wasn’t about regurgitating the information currently in circulation about The SoulFire Project — I was more interested in communicating to the public about what these people are doing to enrich the lives of others. Rather than bombard Cooper with generic questions, I asked him to simply share what is most near and dear to their hearts. This is what he had to say. “What is most dear to our hearts is living and traveling in a way that conveys the message about thriving in community. That we live in a way that is as sustainable as possible.

That we help people when we can. Sometimes that’s in small ways, sometimes that’s in big ways. That we can live outside of the system as much as possible, using our impact and influence to create alternative ways and solutions. That there is a different way to live and every little thing we do has an impact.

While it may appear that this lifestyle is fun and carefree, it really is constant work to keep the project sustaining itself/moving forward. It’s always a balancing act between setting up and promoting shows, doing maintenance on the bus, collecting and filtering used vegetable oil, rehearsing, etc., and doing the kinds of projects that make our hearts pound.

The kinds of things we would like to do as projects are things that have a lasting impact. Being able to engage a community and show how doing something as simple as “bottle-bricking” can have immediate impact in two ways — cleaning up the garbage in their community, and building something they need built with “bottle bricks” filled with their “garbage”! Building a bicycle-powered water pump in a community where they currently use a gas-powered pump.

Playing shows for communities who don’t have the luxury of coming to a bar/restaurant to hear us play. Having the resources to do these projects more regularly is the dream that keeps us going.” These aren’t words spoken by a man merely trying to promote a band. I could feel the sincerity of his words from deep within, and these words are reinforced through completed projects.

Cooper stated that they wanted to be involved in projects that have a lasting impact. One such example involves generating electricity for a farming family of ten. Three years ago, The SoulFire Project was in Boquete for a series of performances. They needed a place to park their bus, so they struck a deal with the farming family, who to this day allows them to park in the spot where we conducted our interview.

It was during this stay that the band was invited to the farm house. The first thing they noticed was that the eight children had to do their homework by candle light. For many of us, it’s hard to believe that in this day and age a family was living without electricity. The band surveyed the property and felt they could tap into a natural water source. With the aid of a $20 bike dynamo (a mechanism used to drive the water wheel), a wheel found in a recycle yard, $6 in various PVC fittings and nozzles, and the purchase of four LED lights, a natural power source was created. It’s important to note that all the funding for this initiative came from the band. They barely make enough money to sustain themselves, yet they’re selfless enough to spend money on families in need. When Cooper described the exuberant expressions on the faces of the children experiencing electricity in the house for the first time, it gave me chills.

welcome to the machine
The bike machine

Other SoulFire projects include: building recycling bins for a school using bottles filled with waste materials (known as Bottle Bricking), building a solar oven, teaching children to play music, and educating others on how to adapt their vehicles to run on vegetable oil. By using recycled vegetable oils, generally acquired from restaurants, they’re saving the owners of the restaurants time and money and preventing them from disposing of the oils in an environmentally unfriendly way.

The SoulFire Project creates awareness through their shows, events, fans, club owners, and social media. Three years ago, they created an event called “Somos Más” — English translation, “We Are More.” This event was intended to create awareness and interest and to inspire others to be more sustainable. It’s all about education and we all could be doing more.

veggie oil power
Filtering the vegetable oil.

SoulFire played at Big Daddy’s outdoor venue in Boquete, Panama several hours after our interview. It was a night I’ll never forget. The band performed songs in Spanish, Portuguese and English. The venue was packed, the dance floor was vibrating, the band members were smiling and I felt like a teenager once again. With the audience screaming for an encore, the band played the always popular “No Borders.” The title says it all, and it also reinforces the band’s beliefs to live as one.

I caught up with Cooper after the show and he informed me the band would be leaving in two days for Bocas Del Toro, Panama. Since Bocas was on my travel list while in Panama, I booked a trip with the hope we’d cross paths again. During my second night in Bocas, our group took a boat taxi to the popular restaurant “El Ultimo Refugio” (The Last Refuge). As fate would have it, SoulFire was booked as the band for the evening.

On this evening, Cooper wasn’t the lead man. He was playing the box drum to allow room for an aspiring young female vocalist to display her talents. As the night progressed, two more locals joined — one fellow on the saxophone and a female violinist who appeared to be no older than seventeen. They were awesome! There are no egos in this group. It’s always been about, and always will be about helping and supporting others. Cooper said “I want to help more than I am now. It’s a necessity for me to incorporate helping people with my love of music.” Most of the band’s time is spent raising funds simply to survive. Imagine the positive impact if we could create a movement by coming together as a collaborative. For The SoulFire Project, it’s all about spreading the word about community and sustainability. With increased exposure and more contributions, there will be additional funds to assist more families and communities. If this band can live their lives unselfishly, it’s not too much to ask of the fans who enjoy their performances to donate to the cause.

Mahatma Gandhi once said “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love. The smaller the thing, the greater must be our love.” Whether you’re a lover of music, dance, people, sustainability, or planet earth, The SoulFire Project is a movement worth getting behind. I hope to see you there.

 

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resistance

Americans: when you are done laughing, screaming and crying…

It’s hard to think of a more stupid course of conduct than Donald Trump and his minions have taken with respect to “the Russians.” You would think that whatever happened in the campaign, a president-elect, and then president, would have the sense to establish an arm’s length or more distance from foreign powers, especially from traditional rivals, for the sake of protocol if nothing else.

You don’t have to — and shouldn’t — buy into the neoconservative and “humanitarian interventionist” arguments in favor of a Cold War II with Russia to understand the caution that is due in US dealings with not only Vladimir Putin and his government, but the whole crowd of oligarchs and mafiosi upon whose shoulders Putin rose to power. If we are to be told as complete and truthful a story as we are owed, that story has get into Donald Trump’s direct and indirect ties with the Russian and Eastern European underworld and its diaspora as well as his and his surrogates’ dealings with the Russian government. The point of all that would not be to negate Trump’s campaign call for better relations with Russia, let alone get onto a war footing with that vast and well armed but impoverished country. It’s to guard US interests and institutions.

We are not talking about treason here. We are talking about major conflicts of interest, gross disloyalty and a cover-up as serious as the one that got Richard Nixon run out of the White House. Whether there were impeachable offenses is ultimately a matter for Republicans to decide, even if Democrats unanimously say that there were. Moreover, whether the United States would be very well served by the religious rightist Mr. Pence taking over the presidency from Mr. Trump isn’t an easy question to answer.

Eyes on the prize, Americans! There is an immediate preliminary battle in which many lives hang in the balance. The Republicans plan to cancel health care for some 24 million Americans, make it more expensive for most of the rest of the nation, and give the ultra-rich a $300 billion tax cut. That move can be defeated in the Senate, but only by massive popular demand.

Eyes on the prize, Democrats! Once our primary battles are over, we need to unite in 2018 and drive the Republicans out of control of the House of Representatives. This year and next we need to replenish our roster of presidential possibilities by electing many new Democratic governors and senators.

Eyes on the prize, Panamanian and US dual citizens! You may consider events in the USA to be far away and irrelevant to your life, but what Donald Trump is doing risks the safety and economy of the whole world, including trade-dependent Panama. If you have a US passport you should also have and use a US voter registration.

Nobody gets America out of this mess except ourselves.

 

Let the chips fall

Our comptroller general and high court magistrates aren’t chopping away at the Odebrecht scandal and other sordid legacies that haunt our daily headlines. Attorney General Kenia Porcell may or may not be, but she has little to show so far.

Nothing happening here? It may happen that the pile of chips will end up including the public lives of those who refused to chop when it was their duty.

 

Bear in mind…

 

I really wonder what gives us the right to wreck this poor planet of ours.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

 

So, centralism, army and absolute authority have been correlative ideas, inseparable, sisters like the Furies, designed to produce people’s ruin and humiliation.
Justo Arosemena

 

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt

 

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M. Odebrecht
Marcelo Odebrecht, doing time in Brazil, is singing for his freedom. The former CEO is accompanied by a chorus of current and former executives of the Brazilian-based construction conglomerate.

Swiss hand copies of Odebrecht’s bribe records to Panama

by Eric Jackson, from other media

Swiss prosecutors have sent four copies of a six-terabyte file, said to be the entire contents of the central bribe archive for the Brazilian-based Odebrecht that was captured in a raid on the company’s offices in Switzerland, to their Latin American counterparts. Panama’s Public Ministry is one of the recipients.

The archive, kept on a server and encrypted in the MyWebDay program, details billions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks paid in more than a dozen countries. Odebrecht’s bribes department, the “Structured Operations Division,” used a system of heavily encrypted and off-the-books communications called Drousys to discuss illegal payoffs, then eventually accumulated the records of their activities in at least a couple of central computer archives, one in Angola and later another in Switzerland.

Perhaps there was one in Brazil as well — when the scandals began to break in Brazil, computers and servers were shipped from there to Panama and have yet to be recovered. In any case, Swiss police conducted a series of raids on Odebrecht, its subsidiaries, partners and agents and sometime in 2016 recovered a server that they say contained the bribe archive. There were further raids, asset seizures and criminal prosecutions as the Swiss made progress on decyphering, understanding and corroborating information they found on the confiscated server. Now, according to reports in the Peruvian press, copies of the huge file have been sent from Switzerland to Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Panama.

In Brazil there have been some detectives, prosecutors and judges who are unwilling to protect anyone in the massive public corruption scandal revolving around the state-owned Petrobras oil company and a joint partnership between Petrobras and Odebrecht, the Braskem chemical company. Dubbed Lava Jato by Brazil’s police — Car Wash in Brazilian Portuguese — the scandal has taken down politicians of all major Brazilian political parties and some of the minor ones and spread way beyond Braskem and far from Brazil’s borders.

The 2015 jailing of Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht and his subsequent 19-year prison sentence, and threats against the company’s continued existence, have prompted a certain amount of cooperation with investigators in Brazil. The videotaped testimony to judges and prosecutors of many company employees runs into hundreds of hours and has resulted in criminal cases in several other Latin American countries. Seven Latin American republics — but not Panama — have requested the information from those depositions. It’s Panama’s for the asking, but whether we have the Portuguese translators or the budget to hire such is another question. Then there is the matter of whether there is a will to know.

In the United States, where Odebrecht operates and is known to have made payoffs to foundations and political action committees of politicians who were or would be involved in decisions about the company’s contracts, there was a prosecution for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a dozen jurisdictions other than the United States. There were non-disclosure agreements in a plea bargain that ended that case, but in part because of the insolvency of Puerto Rico and the demand of bond holders to know whether their interests were compromised by Odebrecht bribes to officials in that US-controlled island, the US court files in the case have been opened to the public.

The Swiss apparently followed independent records of electronic international and domestic Swiss banking transfers to identify and corroborate many of the transactions described in the seized server. The US National Security Agency would have all of those data as well.

Panama would now, in addition to the product of its own investigations — the profundity or lack thereof which is as per Panamanian law not public information — have the Swiss archive and access to the Brazilian testimony and the US court records. There is a long and established pattern of Odebrecht’s operations, wherein they paid politicians in power to rig bids in their favor and opposition politicians, would-be competitors and labor leaders to go along with their schemes. There have already been allegations from several quarters about figures in the Martinelli administration and members of the Martinelli family taking large bribes. The pattern would suggest, however, that the previous Torrijos administration and the current Varela administration were also corrupted, that all three major parties in Panama’s National Assembly were on the take and that construction industry and construction union officials were also paid.

This pattern of conduct may be the reason for Comptroller General Federico Humbert’s promise to investigate all Odebrecht contracts in Panama — 17 so far — being pared down to a perfunctory probe of just one of these projects, the Cinta Costera III. It is alleged by Humbert that the one controversial public work, with its viaduct around the Casco Viejo, was seriously overvalued. But it now appears that Humbert won’t undertake any investigation into the conduct of the Varela or Torrijos administrations. That, in turn, would give Attorney General Kenia Porcell the excuse not to proceed with criminal investigations because she can’t without the comptroller’s audits.

Are there political forces in Panama that are not bought by Odebrecht? Of course. They are derided as hopeless losers, as pendejos, by the “smart money.”

Might there be an end run around the political blockade? Perhaps if the Swiss archive and evidence from Brazil and the United States were obtained, analyzed and published in their entirety by some non-governmental group. But Panama has criminal defamation laws that would typically be invoked against anyone who publishes such stuff here.

 

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Tom Perez
“They will face the consequences for their assault on our health care on Election Day.”

Resistance is growing

a message to the DNC and Democrats from Tom Perez

This week I rallied with Democrats in front of the US Capitol just before House Republicans cast their shameful votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Ultimately, our efforts to stop them fell short, but our fight is far from finished.

The 24 million who could lose access to health care is not just a number — it represents fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and even newborn babies with heart diseases or cancers that are too costly to treat without affordable insurance. Worse still, the GOP plan would also decimate women’s health care in particular and defund Planned Parenthood. As the bill heads to the Senate, the DNC is firing on all cylinders, organizing Democrats and our allied groups to fight back. Regardless of whether or not Trump and the GOP succeed in repealing the ACA, they will face the consequences for their assault on our health care on Election Day.

On Democrats Live Wednesday night, DNC Deputy Chair Keith Ellison hosted Congressman Dan Kildee who represents Michigan’s 5th congressional district. They discussed the Flint water crisis, the Republican effort to roll back consumer protections and repeal the ACA, and how Democrats are fighting to help people who are still hurting in the aftermath of the financial crisis. You can watch their conversation here.

Folks from across the country have been submitting tens of thousands of questions and hundreds of thousands are viewing the DNC’s live broadcasts. Follow Democrats Live on Facebook, or at live.democrats.org.

Today we kicked off our inaugural meeting of our Unity Reform Commission. The Commission was established at our convention last summer to review our presidential nominating process, make recommendations to increase participation and inclusion in our primary and caucus process, and encourage more voters to participate. Veteran strategist Jen O’Malley Dillon and labor leader Larry Cohen have graciously agreed to serve as our chair and vice chair. You can find out more information about the commission and share your feedback here.

One of the most effective ways we can bring more people under the big tent of our party is to make sure we’re always telling the story of what it means to be a Democrat. We need to take our message into communities we’ve neglected for too long — whether they’re urban communities we’ve taken for granted or rural states we’ve written off. We can’t just talk about how Trump and Republicans are moving us backwards. We also have to share our vision for how Democrats will move us forward.

As our Party grows and changes to better serve the people we represent, our resistance against Trump and the GOP is growing too. From the Women’s March on January 21st to last weekend’s Climate March and the surging opposition against ACA repeal, millions of Americans are standing up and fighting back against an administration that is anathema to the values we hold dear. That energy shows no signs of waning, and we’re working every day at the DNC keep it growing.

We all succeed only if we all succeed.

Best,

Tom

 

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PattiPatti Smith, performing a decade ago in Finland.

Music for ruffled buzzard feathers

Led Zeppelin – How Many More Times
https://youtu.be/pB8JXBTmHXY

Sin Bandera – Mientes Tan Bien
https://youtu.be/tg7QRlINFgQ

Eagles – Lyin’ Eyes
https://youtu.be/r5KtEToyWrI

Dido – White Flag
https://youtu.be/GvYarluqINA

Eric Clapton & Sheryl Crow – Little Wing
https://youtu.be/iEuVH_16vRg

P!nk – Just Like Fire
https://youtu.be/5Nrv5teMc9Y

Carlos Santana & Alicia Keys – Black Magic Woman
https://youtu.be/x7vuDgf_vMU

Marcia Griffiths – Steppin’ Out a Babylon
https://youtu.be/2b6WA-Bg64w

Orianthi & Lacey – Courage
https://youtu.be/fMw7YP4aPR0

The Beatles – A Day in the Life
https://youtu.be/usNsCeOV4GM

Zoé – Nada
https://youtu.be/eiUr2jNgHLA

Alanis Morissette – The Morning
https://youtu.be/ZIo9n_U2SMU

Patti Smith – When Doves Cry
https://youtu.be/5VfUZFPAC5k

Natalia Lafourcade – Mi Tierra Veracruzana
https://youtu.be/3ZIgdr0a07o

Bob Dylan – The Triplicate Tour concert in Amsterdam
https://youtu.be/hFrjJC70OGw

 

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the bird is the word
Foto por Kermit Nourse ~ Photo by Kermit Nourse

La Garza Cocoi ~ The Cocoi Heron

foto y nota por Kermit Nourse ~ photo and note by Kermit Nourse

Today’s bird from Panama is the Cocoi Heron, a species that can be found at the lakes, marshes and rivers throughout South America. Their average height is about 40 inches.

Pájaro de hoy de Panamá es la Garza Cocoi, una especie que puede encontrarse en los lagos, pantanos y ríos en América del Sur. Su altura media es de alrededor de 40 pulgadas.

 

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Ana Matilde
Independent deputy Ana Matilde Gómez — doesn’t she LOOK LIKE the sort of former attorney general who doesn’t care to listen to your nonsense? Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

What did the deputies do in their end-of session rush?

by Eric Jackson

WHAT? You actually TRUST the legislature to do the right thing? Isn’t that the very definition of the word “pendejo” in one of its Panamanian Spanish senses?

You may, however, be one of these people without functional instincts about trust, and who instead of just across-the-board disbelief, looks at the structures of things. If you look at the structure how the sessions of the Panamanian National Assembly work, however, you will probably still be inspired to something less than full confidence.

What happens is that over the course of a session some things, generally things sent by the president’s Cabinet Council, get debated in committees, are the subjects of public hearings, maybe undergo a change or two in the process but are approved by the committee on first reading, then sent on and approved on second and third reading and sent back to the president for signature or veto. As the president has the power of a partial veto, certain sections might get excised that way — it does limit the games that get played with amendments, except that a veto can be overridden by the legislators.

Other things just get blocked. Most controversial proposals made by legislators suffer this fate. Sometimes things sent by other institutions — the Panama Canal Authority, the Electoral Tribunal, perhaps the Presidencia — go down in a wave of public protests or amid the ripples of quiet comments by powerful interests.

Meaningless tweaks in governement structures, the naming of things, the declarations of special days or weeks or months to honor this or that group — those are the usually easy things that condescending deputies can show off to their constituents to prove that they have accomplished things. (But was it a snide Maoist plot against many of the coolest of editorial commentators on the politicians’ labor when the National Assembly declared May 7 to be that special day to honor cartoonists?)

In all, the deputies passed 14 things on the last day of the legislative session, with horse trading and amendments that did not make it to the National Assembly’s website where people can usually go to see the texts of laws to be considered, both the proyectos that generally come from other branches of government and the anteproyectos usually proposed by deputies. Four more laws that had been partially vetoed by President Varela ere reconsidered, with some of the vetoes overridden. This, at the end of a short week in which 30 proposals of law went to the full legislature for votes on third and final reading.

To put it in perspective, in the legislative session from January 2 to April 28 the National Assembly considered 148 matters and passed 80 proposals.

The structure of such jam-ups at the end of the legislature’s regular sessions mean amendments snuck in while hardly anybody was paying attention, laws with lengthy annexes that few read or with maps that go uninspected, fatigue among those deputies who try to actually do the work and a lot of votes on things unread by their lazier colleagues. Set aside whether or not you can trust the smiling politicians who want your vote — the structure of the way their job is done ought to sap your confidence.

Several of these bits of legislation were not spur-of-the-moment, however. They were controversial “leftovers” from previous sessions, perhaps with some last-minute amendments that we will only know when the president has signed them, they are published in the Gaceta Oficial in their final form and we are shocked to learn about the details.

Some of the major things that the deputies did at the end of their session:

The rights of women and families

A sexual harassment law, proposed by independent deputy Ana Matilde Gómez, which attracted most attention for a fine-enforced ban on catcalls on the streets, was approved. She had been working on this since 2015. Get into the text of the law and it calls for studies and action plans that with any decency and awareness shown in the presidential palace will end up with implementing regulations about hostile work environments and many other instances of discrimination in society, not just against women.

There was a partial decriminalization under certain circumstances of child abandonment by mothers in distress. Infanticide and the abandonment of newborns are subjects broached in some of the most ancient legends and literature of Western civilization that have come down to us. In England, their Common Law has developed a presumption of postpartum psychosis that generally makes incidents in which a mother kills or abandons a newborn a mental health issue rather than a criminal case. In the United States, particularly in the bastions of the religious right, a mother who kills her newborn may well face the death penalty and those who abandon their newborns generally face years in prison. It’s not particularly a cultural issue, but rather a matter of how postpartum mental symptoms are actually common, a problem compounded by the breakups of extended families as the result of urbanization, of men who abandon their children and the women they impregnate and of the economic pressures that a single woman may face. So Anteproyecto 1, the first law proposed in the just-ended legislative year — again, by Ana Matilde Gómez — passed on the last day of the year’s second session. The new law creates a Protection System for Abandoned Newborns (SISPRENVA, by its Spanish initials), which among other things excludes criminal prosecutions for mothers who abandon their newborns to health care facilities designated for that purpose.

So do men have family responsibilities, other than to pay child support? The legislature passed a proposal that came its way via Minister of Labor Development Luis Ernesto Carles, which implicitly — and, critics say, timidly — recognizes something of the sort. Employers will have to give three days of paternity leave to public or private sector workers on the occasion of their sons’ or daughters’ birth. Business and labor leaders who spoke at the hearings on this legislation agreed on the principle of paternity leave, which is in line with the laws in most other countries.

Taxation

Can we put a starting point on it and blame some particular president? The nation’s public debt has ballooned in the past decade, and there have been all sorts of proposals to raise taxes or fees. These are, of course, unpopular. Whenever word gets out about such a thing, the National Assembly’s deputies tend to get pestered by angry or alarmed constituents. In the Martinelli years there was a proposal to reassess the country’s real estate values for tax purposes. The proffered reason was to revalue the places which, due to the political pressures brought to bear by the rich, were most egregiously undervalued. Gerardo Solís may have had his property unlawfully searched by a government-rented helicopter, but the photos plus the registered tax value of his beachfront property made news that destroyed his 2014 presidential campaign and will probably come back to frustrate his 2019 candidacy. It might have been quite the fairness issue to elect Martinelli’s proxy candidate, except that it soon developed that the plan was not entirely as projected. Sure, some historically undervalued places were getting reassessed. But so were some places that were nothing of the sort There middle class neighborhoods in Panama City which Martinelli’s developer friends wanted to acquire and a steep increase in taxes would force the homeowners to sell to them. Some beach communities — the Eisenmann family’s original Coronado development, for example — would be hard hit, which other beach developments in which the Martinellis reputedly held stakes would be exempt. Did the likes of former Chame – San Carlos Martinelista deputy Junior Herrera pass it off as just a hit on the rich foreigners? Even to the extent that it was, many voting Panamanians do a lot of business with those foreign residents and they were not amused. The reassessments were underway when a public outcry stopped the program in its tracks. There had already been reassessments of many properties in or along Punta Paitilla, Punta Pacífica, Costa del Este, Obarrio, Marbella, Vía España, El Carmen, Coco del Mar, Altos del Golf and the Chame and San Carlos beach areas. Those new numbers were on the books, even though the tax bills had not changed. But the legislature passed a to retroactively call those Martinelli-eras assessments null and void.

Corporate welfare

The Panama Canal Authority never got legislative support for its Corozal and Diablo seaport project. It is said by the canal administrator that this was due to the opposition of the existing port operators — who indeed opposed it, along with local residents, PanCanal pilots and others — but in the final instance nobody wanted to bid on the project. But if the prospects of the container shipping business are so dicey as to prompt trepidation about new investments, the older ports aren’t bailing out. Colon Container Terminal, a division of the Taiwan-based Evergreen, was given a 20-year extension on its concession in Coco Solo Norte for the Colon Container Terminal.

Is the banana industry coming back to Puerto Armuelles? Most probably, and it’s a good bet that the now blight-prone Cavendish banana won’t be what they are growing. With very little debate the legislator approved a contract that essentially gives away the old Chiquita plantations in the area to a Del Monte subsidiary in exchange for a promise to get banana production going again. The hope is that the economically devastated area will get the several thousand jobs that used to exist back. But meanwhile the old plantations were devolved into a cooperative, which more or less went belly-up, and which in turn were divided up into one-hectare farms among that co-op’s members. The contract purports to sell these farms to Del Monte for $7,500 apiece. This will seem like a good deal to many people who expect to get jobs as part of the bargain. But not all of the property owners stand to get jobs, and not all of them think that the price offered is in any way reasonable. Look for court battles over eminent domain to follow, with a just-approved contract by which the Panamanian government holds Del Monte harmless if it is decided that homeowners who object are owed more than is stipulated in a contract to which they are not parties.

Some new political divisions

On Panama City’s northwest side, the corregimientos of Alcalde Diaz, Chilibre, Las Cumbres, Caimitillo and Ernesto Cordoba Campos seceded to form the new municipality of Norte. It was one of those velvet divorces, with Panama City Mayor Blandón’s blessing and in the works since 2015. The copper mine also got its own city, by way of the hiving off of a new municipality of Omar Torrijos Herrera from that part of Colon province’s Donoso district west of the Miguel De La Borda River. Darien’s Chepigana district was also divided, to create the new municipality of Santa Fe. A slew of new corregimientos were created around the country. In Panama City these included Don Bosco, which will be taken out of Juan Diaz, and Las Garzas, which is to be separated from Pacora.

Culture

So many of the special days, changes in the names of things and so on are at their bottom celebrations or promotions of parts of Panama’s cultural legacy. Most of this legislation isn’t particularly worth mentioning. There were a couple of exceptions to this in the late legislative session’s final days. One sets up a foundation (“patronato”) to preserve and restore the architecture and murals of the Juan Demostenes Arosemena Normal School in Santiago, which are internationally noteworthy artistic treasures. The other was a law to regulate classified ads, objected to by some civil libertarians, that would prohibit and penalize messages of a sexual nature. The prostitutes and perverts will have to advertise elsewhere.

Etc.

As mentioned, the cartoonists get their special day, various obscure occupations and professions get real or supposed protection by licensing schemes and certain minor economic pursuits get subsidies or protection from liabilities. However, it has often enough happened in Panamanian history that hidden in some obscure bit of legislation there lurks a far-reaching and important change in the law. As the items in the last-minute legislative rush are signed or vetoed and published in the Gaceta Oficial, certain matters of this sort may come to public attention.

The biggie that passed just a bit earlier: election law changes

A much-amended holdover from last year, the mutilated version of the Electoral Tribunal’s proposed set of election laws was passed in this recent session. Campaign managers are scouring the details and the possibilities they open or close, but the basic outlines are continued campaign financing by wealthy business interests and continued preferences for the political parties and their leaderships. Independents face further discrimination but it’s easier to register new political parties — this probably spells fragmentation and maginalization of Ricardo Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party above all others, as deputies for that discredited formation jump off into new parties. Will it set up something like the seven-way presidential race we had in 1994? Primary elections down the ticket are banned, which gives party bosses rather than the rank-and-file control over who gets to run for seats in the National Assembly. This, too, is likely to drive dissident deputies of the different factions to leave in favor of new parties. Anti-corruption activists are appalled, but just like the machine politicians they despise, they are also reviewing the new law and weighing their options.

One that progressed but did not pass: sex education in the schools

Have the religious fanatics blocked sex education in the schools again? There is strong public support for the general idea, with educators and pediatricians leading the way by pointing with alarm at the increasing prevalence of teenage pregnancies. There is the usual opposition from church groups. The Catholic clergy generally doesn’t like sex education but is more accepting within the limits dfo their taboos, while some of the Evangelicals had ditched that commandment about bearing false witness in their campaign to stop any discussion about sex in the schools. Many Panamanians are shocked and appalled at the Ministry of Education sex instruction materials that they have not seen but they have heard about from Evangelicals. The law looked dead in the first session of this legislature, but came back even stronger in the recently concluded second session. There were a bunch of amendments. It came out of committee on first reading again but in the end it didn’t get to third reading and passage. It will be back. One tangential issue that will give the proposal future strength is a set of scandals revolving around the Martinelli administration’s use of public funds to boost the Hosanna Temple and its star politician, San Miguelito Mayor Gerald Cumberbatch. This controversy, too, will not go away. Although the great majority of Christian conservatives have nothing to do with it the credibility of central players in the campaign against sex education is being sapped.

 

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Varela
Does President Varela  want to leave it as part of his educational legacy that school girls may be bullied and defamed with impunity? Photo by the Presidencia. This photo is not related to the school, the incident or the persons described in this column, but is an illustration of some of those at risk due to government policies described herein.

Is it illegal for schools to protect students?

by Eric Jackson

If a young woman has her image photoshopped into pornography without her knowledge and against her will, and objects to it, whereupon she is shunned, has she been persecuted for the sake of righteousness within the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount?

It’s a point of religious interpretation about which this guy who went to Sunday school at Margarita Union Church way back when is uncertain. About the Anglo-American Common Law there is more certainty. To impugn a woman’s chastity is slander per se at Common Law.

But this is Panama, a Spanish-speaking and mostly Catholic country that organizes its formal justice within the context of a Civil Code justice system. Are the moral precepts all that different? Probably not, but the legal prerogatives of a church-sponsored school are very different.

The Crossroads Bible Church is a Protestant congregation in Corozal, fairly conservative in their interpretation of the holy scriptures but not folks who are particularly identified with the sort of extremism that, for example, holds up the bullying of a gay high school student into committing suicide as the most hallowed exercise of free speech and assertion of Christian values. The church sponsors the Crossroads Christian Academy, where they shelter kids from seeing gangster funerals at the adjacent cemetery and don’t promote the Harry Potter stories, but at which there have been no reports of witch burnings or harlot stonings either. They have a fairly traditional Christian sense of what it decent and what is indecent, of which pornography is among the latter phenomena.

So, what to do when a boy in the 10th grade at Crossroads copies and pastes the image of a female classmate into a pornographic image and spreads it around on the social media? What to when that girl is harassed about it, complains to her parents, who in turn complain to the school?

The fairly traditional thing that a Christian school would do is to expel the offending boy. Moves were made in this direction, but then lawyers, parents of the boy and his friends who were taunting the girl in school intervened. President Juan Carlos Varela’s Ministry of Education was not about to allow the school to expel the boy. He’s back. The girl was the one who had to leave Crossroads.

The little pornographer and his friends are jubilant with their victory. Really, it’s a victory for an arrogant connected caste against all of the English-language private schools in Panama. Other schools have also faced the MEDUCA ban on throwing a kid out of school for doing something which in any other country would result in expulsion. In Panama’s English-language schools there is an extra added intimidation factor — in these days of assertive political xenophobia on top of a traditionally corrupt immigration office, the possibility of a school getting its foreign teachers thrown out of the country is very real.

It’s not an issue that began with the Varela administration, nor does it only affect the English-language schools that hire a fair number of foreign teachers. Recall in 2013 when three kids at Colegio San Augustin in David, a fairly strict Catholic school with high academic standards, hacked into the schools computers and changed grades. The school was set to throw the kids out, but the allegedly strict Catholic Minister of Education at the time, Lucy Molinar, threw out the high school’s disciplinary rules and the senior class walked out on strike against these sort of offenders being allowed in their midst. Molinar, who as a television personality promoted by Opus Dei before her stint in government used to rail against the lack of values in the schools, criticized the striking students for “Satanizing” those who changed everybody’s grades.

It fits right in, doesn’t it? Schools that international tests place among the world’s worst. Rampant cheating at all levels. Universities from which nobody gets thrown out for plagiarism. Teachers with falsified credentials — we even had a pompous rector of our national university with a fake doctorate. University administrators who sell unearned diplomas to alleged students as corrupt as themselves, and who do this with impunity as far as any fear of the application of criminal sanctions that ought to apply. It’s a mess.

But let’s get back to religion for a moment. Isn’t the existence of church-sponsored schools a fundamental aspect of the freedom of religion, the right of parents to guide their children within the framework of their belief system? Isn’t it likewise a fundamental matter of freedom of religion for a church school to prohibit pornography and bullying as parts of life on campus?

Does the president want to do something about the sorry state of Panamanian education? There is too much to do and the economic squeeze is too tight for him to resolve many of the critical issues before his time in office is up. But he can rather immediately issue a decree that calls off MEDUCA when a school seeks to defend itself, its students and its principles against the stuff that his administration at least tacitly approved at Crossroads.

 

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