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Citizens Against Impunity (CCI) lampoon Comptroller General Federico Humbert for riding horses in parades. Later the high court struck down Humbert’s decree to legalize private contributions to legislator circuit funds. These are often pocketed but are expected to finance cash and goods distributed during election campaigns.

“A prolonged and warned-about institutional crisis”

by Eric Jackson

Whose fault?

PRD secretary general and legislator Pedro Miguel González told La Estrella that there is “a prolonged and warned-about institutional crisis” underway. He blames President Varela and his Panameñista Party for causing it, above all to distract attention from the allegations of Varela’s erstwhile right-hand man, jailed offshore corporate lawyer Ramón Fonseca Mora, that the president took payoffs from the Brazilian construction conglomerate and bribery mill that’s the Odebrecht group of companies.

González’s Panameñista colleague and political adversary in the legislature, Adolfo “Beby” Valderrama, acknowledges that there is a crisis. He blames it on the PRD for bringing up and exaggerating scandals to enhance their own positions in intra-party faction fighting.

Ricardo Martinelli, from his exile in Miami, uses the media whose purchase he financed with government advertising while president to gleefully report all of the nasty things that the PRD and the Panameñistas say about each other and dismiss the many criminal charges against himself and his entourage for their five-year spree as baseless persecution. To add to the crisis atmosphere the ex-president sends in lawyers to jam up the court system and make new claims against Varela in those media that will accept them as possibly credible sources.

A confluence of scandals

We now see mergers of major scandals, affecting all major branches of the national government, with individual players and different institutions pointing fingers at one another.

In the 2014 election campaign a pack of private donors financed vote-buying campaign in which politicians passed out cash, building materials, household appliances, bags of groceries and other valuable in exchange for votes.

A huge sum of money by Panamanian historical standards was siphoned off from government coffers to support the candidates of the then-ruling faction, often under the guise of legislator’s circuit funds to be spent on social projects in their communities — but a current in this stream of illicit campaign funding flowed to politicians who then held no offices and could not pretend that they were circuit funds.

La Prensa ran a series of stories about legislative circuit funds that were just pocketed by the legislators, as in made out in checks to close aides, cashed and thereafter not on any readily documented paper trail. At least, lost without a trace but for extrinsic evidence, some of which is coming out. The daily’s main documentary evidence was from the Martinelli years but its cutting edge of inquiry was about what has gone on since. It turns out that in the Martinelli years more than $403 million in state funds went to legislators to distribute more or less at their discretion. It was not equal, but notoriously used as a tool to get deputies to jump to Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party or its minor MOLIRENA ally. From a number of cases over the years it appears that private donations — often kicked back from government contractors who had overpriced contracts — were commingled with these funds.

Did Odebrecht money go into this mix? Comptroller General Federico Humbert dramatically announced that the Brazilian combine’s money that went to Panamanians in high places or those in their families or entourages was a lot more than the $59 million and four individuals reported in the US plea bargain. It would have been in keeping with Odebrecht’s modus operandi to have given to legislators of all parties in various fashions. But that we do not yet know, nor have we heard it specifically alleged.

Odebrecht’s presidential bets

There are two lawyers who say that Odebrecht money went into Juan Carlos Varela’s 2014 presidential campaigns — Ramón Fonseca Mora of Mossack Fonseca disrepute (now incarcerated awaiting trial) and Martinelli mouthpiece Sidney Sitton. Neither is a totally trustworthy source but current and former Odebrecht slush fund managers are talking and may corroborate what they say. Meanwhile Odebrecht exec Hilberto Mascarenhas testified to a Brazilian electoral court that the company paid millions of dollars for the services of political consultants João Santana and Mónica Moura — a husband and wife team, now both behind bars — in the presidential election campaigns of six countries, including that of Martinelli’s 2014 stand-in, José Domingo “Mimito” Arias. The PRD’s 2014 presidential candidate, Juan Carlos Navarro, denies taking money from Odebrecht and has released official campaign reports that do not indicate any such funding source. However, many of Navarro’s funders were anonymous corporations with which we would not know if there were an Odebrecht tie. So far none of the reported testimony of Odebrecht people has implicated the Navarro campaign.

Church and state

Among the illicit state funding for political campaigns allegations there is now a spectacular one about the Cambio Democratico mayor of San Miguelito, Evangelical pastor Gerald Cumberbatch. Journalist Jean Marcel Chéry, who was a member of the Templo Hosanna mega-church along with Cumberbatch, briefly worked on the latter’s campaign. He says that he resigned over corruption. Specifically alleged are the diversions of at least $700,000 in state funds, some through local governments in Darien. It allegedly went for items like construction materials and some $150,000 worth of bags of groceries for the Cumberbatch campaign to distribute.

Chéry also alleges that Cumberbatch’s wife got a paid leave of absence from a government job with the Martinelli administration to work on the campaign. Cumberbatch calls that latter charge a lie, claiming that his wife’s paid leave was not to campaign but to study to be an Evangelical pastor.

As to the specific charges of public funds diverted to his 2014 mayoral campaign, Cumberbatch won’t directly answer. He calls it old news and says that Chéry is out to destroy him and his church. Chéry said that he quit the Cumbebatch campaign when he realized what was going on and spoke of the matter with the Hosanna Temple’s Reverend Edwin Álvarez. According to Chéry, Álvarez’s response was to ask him how much money he needed to maintain silence. Unlike the many legislators whose uses of circuit funds are challenged as improper, Cumberbatch held no public office when he ran for mayor and would have no cover story comparable to that of the legislators.

Many investigations, some perhaps to block others

Attorney General Kenia Porcell says that her office is pursuing at least six Odebrecht investigations and is looking into the Cumberbatch matter. As to sitting legislators, the Supreme Court would have jurisdiction in those matters so she could not investigate them. Critics accuse her of dragging her feet on corruption cases in general and are particularly annoyed by an oral agreement she made with Odebrecht about them paying $59 million that’s the amount that the US government said that it paid in bribes to Panamanian officials, as part of a settlement with Panama. The objections are about letting the Brazilians off with a light penalty and the possibility that a deal could be used to argue that any investigation of Odebrecht or the officials they bribed here would be blocked as a form of double jeopardy.

Administrative Prosecutor Rigoberto González is investigating a complaint brought by Cambio Democratico attorney Alejandro Pérez, accusing her of abuse of authority and exceeding her powers in investigations against members of Ricardo Martinelli’s entourage. (She has not been investigating Martinelli himself, over whom the Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction.) Pérez brought a motion to disqualify González because en route to their current positions they worked together for many years at the Public Ministry, some of them with González as Porcell’s superior. The Supreme Court rejected that motion.

There are many complaints by anti-corruption activists of Comptroller General Federico Humbert failing to audit, or only incompletely auditing, cases involving public corruption. Now Humbert says that he’s looking into both the Odebrecht contracts — some of which he personally approved — and the matter of legislators’ circuit funds.

Perhaps the most serious of the activists’ complaints against Humbert is a decree he published earlier this year, purporting to legalize and regulate the circuit fund system. Attorney and anti-corruption activist Ernesto Cedeño challenged that decree and the Supreme Court struck it down in a ruling announced on March 16. The vote was 5-1, with three abstentions. But although the comptroller’s decree was thrown out, the system that it attempted to regulate was not.

The National Assembly has refused to look at the conduct of its own members with respect to circuit funds. The legislature’s president, Rubén De León, a PRD deputy, reacted to the La Prensa investigation by creating a numerical code to conceal how much went to which legislator for what in the public records. Ernesto Cedeño has filed criminal charges with the Supreme Court against De León for this maneuver.

The legislature has, however, begun its own investigation of all Odebrecht public works contracts since 2006. But the Public Ministry refuses to cooperate in any way with this. One of the reasons is suspicion that the legislature might give immunity to a witness or purport to make a deal with Odebrecht that would in effect preclude the work that the Attorney General’s office is doing. Great scorn is being heaped on the legislature and the members of its special committee, for one thing because eight of its 11 members are known to have received an aggregate of $47,845,295.00 in circuit funds between 2009 and 2014 and there has been no accounting of these funds nor of any possible private funding that may have been commingled with them. Independent legislator Ana Matilde Gómez, a former attorney general, says that there is ample evidence on the public record to begin an investigation of possible misappropriations of legislators’ circuit funds and questions the National Assembly’s moral authority to investigate Odebrecht under the circumstances.

 

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Bahrain
Journalist Nabeel Rajab faces years in prison for his reporting on Bahrain’s cybercrime scene. Photo by Hambina.

Predators of press freedom use
fake news as a censorship tool

by Reporters Without Borders — (RSF)

Predators of press freedom have seized on the notion of “fake news” to muzzle the media on the pretext of fighting false information. Nonetheless, many of them have taken recent statements by President Donald Trump as a means of justifying their repressive policies. This dangerous trend is a cause for concern to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). At a Washington news conference in February, Trump said: “We have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”

By targeting journalists in this manner, the US president ended a longstanding American tradition of promoting freedom of expression and sent a powerful message to media censors. The Washington Post called it “a gift to tyrants everywhere.”

In January, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan endorsed Trump’s latest allegations that the CNN television network was guilty of broadcasting “fake news” in its report on ties between the US president and Russia.

A warning to the media

The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, appeared to have taken his cue from Trump when he said of journalists in February: “Donald Trump understands that they are an anarchic group.”

Two days earlier, his spokesman issued what he called a warning to foreign media outlets, threatening to “crush” those that endanger “peace and stability” and citing Trump’s treatment of the press as a justification for the warning.

“The so-called fight against fake news has become a propaganda tool for the predators of press freedom,” said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. “Of course, it is more necessary than ever for Internet users to disentangle fact from fiction in the flow of information. However, the fight against fake news should be conducted by promoting free and independent journalism as a source of reliable and high-quality information.”

Russia’s legal ban on the “dissemination of false information”

The Russian telecoms regulator is preparing a draft decree designed purely and simply to block all content that contains false information. Before Trump’s statement, Russia, ranked 148th in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, had already made it a requirement “not to disseminate false information” for bloggers to operate legally. The fight against “misleading information” has been a classic feature of post-Soviet Russia. The bill, imitated by several countries such as Uzbekistan, has enough leeway to allow for the broadest possible censorship.

Since July 2016, content aggregators are required to verify the veracity of reports that they publish if they do not come from media outlets registered in Russia, and could face harsh penalties.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has posted a new section on its official website dedicated to debunking fake anti-Russian news stories published by international news outlets.

Punishing “fake news” denies journalists the right to make mistakes

In sub-Sahara Africa, the concept of fake news is often abused to put pressure on journalists. Some countries’ laws provide for severe penalties without taking account of the intentions of journalists, who sometimes simply make mistakes.

In any case, the penalty is disproportionate to the seriousness of the news report, even if it is wrong. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, insulting the head of state or the dissemination of false news reports may be enough for a journalist to be taken into custody, despite the fact that such offenses were meant to be decriminalized under the 2004 press law.

Last month, six senior Ivorian journalists, including three newspaper publishers, were detained and questioned in Abidjan, accused of “publishing false news” about an army mutiny earlier in the month.

In Madagascar, a new communications code has been strongly criticized by journalists for referring to the criminal code in its rulings on press offenses, which could lead to the criminalization of the profession. It provides for heavy fines for infringements ranging from insults to defamation, and refers to the dissemination of “false news,” an imprecise offense which removes the right of journalists to make mistakes.

In Somalia, the Universal TV channel was suspended on 5 March for broadcasting false reports alleged to have threatened the stability and peace of the region after it referred to overseas trips by the president.

Information control is key for those who want to impose their version of events

The South African government plans to impose a system of online control of the media in order to meet the “challenge” of “fake news.” Growing hostility to the media probably has its roots in an unprecedented crisis in President Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress, whose leaders tend increasingly to silence dissident voices.

In Burundi, the control of news and information is a key issue for the ruling authorities. The government fosters the idea that the media are partisan and that there is an international plot against the country.

Since 2015, any report or statement is instantly interpreted as either for, or against, the government and the goal of the authorities is to impose its version of events as the only one.

In Egypt, journalists are frequently accused of disseminating false information whenever they criticize the government, or report on sensitive issues that upset it. This widespread practice leads to self-censorship among journalists in their coverage of events for fear of joining the long list of colleagues who have been prosecuted and imprisoned.

The investigative journalist Ismail Alexandrani, an expert on the Sinai Peninsula, has been held since his arrest at Hurghada airport on the Red Sea in November 2015 on charges of publishing false information and of membership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Bahrain, the prominent citizen journalist and human rights campaigner, Nabeel Rajab, was accused last December of publishing false news about the kingdom of Bahrain in a cybercrime case. He could face up to two years’ imprisonment on this latest charge, which arises from interviews he gave in 2014 and 2015 to local and regional TV stations on human rights in Bahrain.

Fake news used by French politicians

The use of fake news to silence media critics is not the unique preserve of authoritarian or countries that are known for undermining press freedom. In France, the National Front, through its vice-president Florian Philippot, who has frequently categorized the work of journalists as “fake news.” During the program “l’Emission Politique” on the TV station France 2 on 9 February, in which National Front leader Marine Le Pen took part, the party set up a “fake news alert team” which posted some 20 real-time alerts online “whenever members of the team believed that France 2 journalists put out fake news.”

Presidential candidate François Fillon earlier this month accused TV news channels of falsely reporting that his wife has committed suicide, before admitting no such reports had been broadcast.

In Italy, Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Five Star movement, accused Italian journalists of “manufacturing false news” designed to harm his party. He called for the creation of “a popular jury to determine the veracity of the news published.”

The FNSI journalists’ union said it amounted to the “lynching of all journalists.” Five Star said journalists themselves were responsible for Italy’s low ranking in the World Press Freedom Index.

The United Nations concerned at growth of fake news

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organization of American States, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a joint statement on March 3 expressing concern at the use of “fake news” for government propaganda and to curb press freedom. “Criminal defamation laws are unduly restrictive and should be abolished,” the signatories said.

State actors should, in accordance with their domestic and international legal obligations and their public duties, take care to ensure that they disseminate reliable and trustworthy information.

 

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Armagh
Murals on Irish Street, Armagh.

For St. Patrick’s Day

Hozier – Take Me To Church
https://youtu.be/PVjiKRfKpPI

Ciara Sidine – The Arms Of Summer
https://youtu.be/YUTZLzRBNXQ

The Corrs Unplugged
https://youtu.be/rO31RDWj0g4

Pádraig Mór & Sean Lyons – Song for Marcella
https://youtu.be/cGKPX67xAwQ

Chieftains Live Over Ireland – Water from the Well
https://youtu.be/u8lkptsqriQ

Sinéad O’Connor – Róisín Dubh
https://youtu.be/0YmmAQjCvQ0

In Tua Nua – Don’t Fear Me Now
https://youtu.be/5Kd7j5pDMxQ

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Velarde
Wilbur A. Velarde, US Coast Guard Reserve, whose promotion from Commander to Captain becomes effective starting in April.

Panama native, former PanCanal pilot rises
through the US Coast Guard officer corps

Wilbur A. Velarde was born in Panama, got some of his formal education at the Colegio Episcopal de Panama, worked as a Panama Canal pilot, lived in Gamboa (where his first child was born) and has immediate family members in Panama City and Las Uvas de San Carlos. He’s one of those Panagringos who has achieved distinction serving the United States and continues to do so. A diplomat in his “regular job” and an officer in the US Coast Guard Reserve, effective April 1 Velarde will be a Captain (O-6) when he wears the uniform.

After Colegio Episcopal, Velarde studied at the Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific, where he got his international baccalaureate. In his higher education he got his bachelor’s of science degree in marine engineering at the US Coast Guard Academy and got master’s degrees from Eastern Connecticut State University (organizational management) and the Naval War College (national security and strategic studies).

With the Coast Guard Reserve Velarde works at the Office of International Affairs and Foreign Policy Advisor. In his civilian job at the US State Department he is a foreign service officer assigned to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.

 

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Law 3 of 2008
This decree — found online at https://www.gacetaoficial.gob.pa/pdfTemp/25986/9070.pdf — is Panama’s basic immigration law. However, there are many regulations and policy interpretations that shape the way that this law is implemented.

US Embassy message for US Citizens in Panama

March 15, 2017

The US Embassy in Panama would like to inform all US Citizens in Panama that on March 6th 2017, the Panamanian Immigration Authority (Servicio Nacional de Migracion-SNM) announced new guidance for Panamanian immigration officials on the enforcement of pre-existing regulations. According to the SNM, immigration officials have been instructed to be stricter about the enforcement of the regulation that foreigners entering Panama with tourist status prove that they are in fact entering Panama as tourists and not residing in Panama. Since the announcement, the Consular Section has received many questions from US citizens about this new guidance. Below are the most frequently asked questions along with the responses the Consular Section received from the SNM. Should you have further questions, please reach out to the SNM directly via phone at 507-1800 or visit their website at: http://www.migracion.gob.pa

In order to re-enter Panama on tourist status, does a US Citizen need to return to their country of origin (the country from which they came into Panama) or can they return from a third-country (example: Costa Rica)?

Answer: In the new guidance SNM does not specify if the tourist needs to return his/her country of origin. What is being implemented is that, in most cases, the person needs to leave Panama for a minimum of 30 days before reentering as a tourist.

In order for a person to re-enter Panama on tourist status, what is the minimum amount of time the person needs to spend outside of Panama?

Answer: The new requirement that is being implemented by SNM in reference to time spent out of Panama is a minimum of 30 days before applying for admission, in most cases.

In order for a person to re-enter Panama on mariner visa status, what is the minimum amount of time the person needs to spend outside of Panama.

Answer: According to SNM, mariner visas are valid for 90 days and must be renewed on the 90th day, or the day before, from the date of the previous mariner visa stamp. Mariner visas can only be renewed once before the visa- holder needs to exit Panama. The amount of time the person with the mariner visa needs to stay outside of Panama is not specified by SNM.

If entering Panama on tourist status, does the method of entry need to match the method of exit (i.e. can a US Citizen enter Panama on a plane and use as proof of exit evidence that they own a boat in Panama and plan to exit via boat)?

Answer: The method of entry and exit into and out of Panama does not have to be the same so long as the entries and departures are met legally by using established Ports of Entry – land, maritime or air and admitted by a Panamanian immigration officer.

Do US Citizens with legal Panamanian residency status also require a roundtrip ticket when entering Panama?

Answer: No. A foreigner with legal residence in Panama does not need to show proof of exit from Panama.

Is a person applying for Panamanian residency required to stay in Panama for the entire duration of time required to complete the residency process? If so, what happens if the process takes more than the allotted six months for tourist status.

Answer: If the person has an ID that shows that his/her residency is in process, the person is fine to leave and return to Panama. If there is no ID, then the person should exit as a tourist (i.e., before the sixth month approaches).

How long does the FBI Identification Record process, required for purposes of obtaining residency in Panama, take? Can this process be expedited?

Answer: For information on the FBI identification record process, individuals may visit https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/identity-history-summary-checks. According to the FBI website, the current turnaround estimate for these records is 12 to 14 weeks plus the amount of time the results may take to arrive in the mail. Currently there is no option to receive the response electronically. For questions on this topic, individuals may call (304) 625-5590 or write an email to identity@ic.fbi.gov

Tourists are only allowed to drive in Panama for 90 days. Is there an exception for this given that tourists are allowed to stay in Panama for 180 days?

Answer: According to the Transit authority foreigners that enter Panama as tourists are not permitted to obtain Panamanian drivers’ licenses and are only allowed to drive with a foreign license for 90 days. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Can SNM waive the FBI Identification Record process if a person does not exit Panama for two years? If so, would there be an exception to the 180 day stay limit for tourists for a person trying to obtain this waiver?

Answer: If a person stays in Panama for more than two years then the FBI requirement does not apply. The waiver of the FBI requirement applies to those people that stay in Panama two years, without exiting. In these cases, a fine is paid by the person for overstaying their tourist visa and the person is only required to present a PNM police record rather than the FBI check.

 

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Weni
Weni Bagama, in the yellow nagua dress, under arrest. Archive photo by Chiriqui Natural.

Latest news about Barro Blanco

by Osvaldo Jordan — Alianza para la Conservacion y el Desarrollo (ACD)

Last week, on the twentieth anniversary of the Comarca, the Ngäbe-Bugle General Congress (delegates) ordered the resignation of its entire board for signing an unauthorized agreement with a Chinese company last year. This means that the new board will now have to start from scratch examining the Barro Blanco situation.

This breaking news had been completely silenced by the national media until Weni Bagama went onto prime time national TV to explain the situation two days before the hearing at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC) in Washington, DC.

At this point, we should probably zero in on this hearing expecting the Government of Panama to give an official response to the M10 proposal of lowering the Barro Blanco reservoir before the Comarca level. Please try to watch this hearing live and engage international media to break the blockade that has been imposed in Panama.

Unfortunately, I also need tell you that we are still short on funds to cover all of the travel expenses.

You can pitch in for travel and other expenses by depositing money this this bank account in Panama:

Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (ACD)
Banistmo Cuenta #0101183912

or see

 

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BenDib The president is fooling himself. Is he fooling us, too?

by Jim Hightower — OtherWords

Some people who attain high public office grow in their position of trust. Some, however, just bloat.

Bloat has been on spectacular display in the first months of Donald Trump’s presidential tenure. He had a disastrous start, choosing a cabinet and staff mostly made up of ideological quacks, incompetents, and Wall Street grifters.

Yet, buoyed by his explosive ego, Trump pronounced his start historic: “I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done,” he boasted at a recent news conference.

Sadly, he’s right.

For example, they made a reckless, unconstitutional attempt to ban millions of Muslim immigrants from our land. They had to ax the kooky guy Trump chose to be his national security adviser. And they’ve apparently been caught colluding with Russian meddlers in our politics.

Some record!

And now Trump has embraced a GOP replacement of Obamacare, hailing the “Trumpcare” substitute that will jack-up our health care costs, cut benefits, and eliminate coverage entirely for millions of working-class and poor people — while also sneaking in yet another underhanded tax cut for the rich.

It’s so awful that even hordes of Republican lawmakers have gagged, refusing to swallow it. Yet, lost in self-deception, Trump calls it “wonderful.”

We have a president who’s detached from reality, careening from one mess to another. But who will say: “The emperor has no clothes”?

He’s so far gone that when he read his recent address to Congress straight off the teleprompter, without his usual pugnacious ranting, Republican enablers of his antics and even the media establishment applauded him for being “presidential.”

Huh? The speech was a nasty wad of lies and right-wing nonsense. If the occasional appearance of sanity is all we ask of Trump, then his reign of insanity will be our fault.

 

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La Migra

A weak president’s facile immigration crackdown

Panamanian immigration law is a disorderly mess that Ricardo Martinelli’s ill-intended changes made worse. Panama’s immigration bureaucracy is one of the more sordid parts of a generally corrupt government. Driven by the collapse of the oil economy, climate change and political and economic upheavals, human migration is a growing and disruptive force in much of the world. Of course Panama is unable to go on as before.

The problem is that Panamanian immigration policy is forever a reaction to this or that problem of the moment, forever structured for the benefit of lawyers and corrupt public officials, forever driven by base passions and never based on a solid plan of where Panama and its economy want to go. It’s worse when the president is unpopular and on the downward slide of the second half of an administration, in which lots of money gets typically spent in futile efforts to return a ruling party to office in the next elections.

Are there scandals about foreign influence? A Brazilian-based multinational corporation has bribed many leading figures of every major Panamanian political party, but the president isn’t strong enough to take a stand against that. The nation’s legal profession, rather than zealously defending a just society for the people who live here, is mainly oriented toward helping rich foreigners evade their country’s taxes — and it doesn’t help that the president’s right-hand man was one of the most notorious offenders. We still have a racist immigration regime, which keeps us from building a high-tech industry based in large part on becoming the land of opportunity for well educated Asians who have little chance to get ahead where they are. The North American who has stolen a lot of money from whence she or he came and seeks to continue a crime wave from this isthmus has a much easier time getting into Panama and staying than does the North American of modest means and working age who has skills that this country badly needs.

And so it is that a weakened President Varela caves to pressure from xenophobic demagogues, takes the course of least resistance and attacks the easy targets. Never mind that the immigrant who runs the arepa stand or juggles at the traffic light not only doesn’t take anybody’s job but actually adds to Panama’s economy and culture. Never mind that the immigrant who has been allowed to continue the border-hopping permanent tourist may own a home, have family responsibilities and play important roles in community projects. Without consideration of equities or the wealth of communities, these people have become the scapegoats for a broken system.

Rational immigration reform presupposes leaders who will slap down ugly hatreds and uphold the national interest. Maybe that’s too much to ask.

Panamanian history tells us that we are about to see the looting of properties owned by those who are being kicked out. Perhaps the ethnic communities whose members are being dispossessed can thwart the hoodlums — who will surely include lawyers and public officials — by creating trusts to preserve the assets of those whom Varela is foolishly running out of Panama.

 

da

Russian bots?

For many years, The Panama News has had to deal with the consequences of online crime while not understanding very much about it. Often the editor could see some of the effect without knowing much about the why and how. Back in 2006 it was observed on the front page of The Panama News:

Some of you had trouble connecting to this website in September, as on a few occasions I did as well. My web server told me of several attempts to hack into the website, some of which got so far as to put things on the index page. Security measures have been upgraded. On one night I got a series of some 3,000 computer generated spam emails to my yahoo.com email box — they were a pain to clean out, but it’s a large box so it was not shut down. My other email box … was repeatedly shut down by email bombs with large attachments, emails asking me to confirm subscriptions to “Belarus Babes” and other such things that someone signed me up for and more “ordinary” spam bundles.

One curious feature of those attacks on The Panama News email boxes was that much of the spam was in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Several months later this reporter went to Parque Omar to observe and interview some folks from a local chapter of Falun Gong who would regularly gather there for exercise, meditation and discussions about the state of humanity. At the time went without notice, but the resulting article was widely copied. Later that year a bot coming from China got into The Panama News website and, without registering a single visit, ran up huge amounts of bandwidth to the exent that the website was shut down. It was the first time this reporter had heard about a bot, a bit of computer code that adds function much as if it were somebody with permission to do so reprogramming the website. This one was easily traced back to China, but as was explained at the time, it could have been sent by anyone from anywhere and just routed through someone or something in China.

Only years later was it discovered that by far the most-read article ever published by The Panama News was that little Falun Gong piece. But upon further inspection, there was no spike in unique visitors at the time, just tens of thousands of connections through London and Prague to the article. As in, a swarm of bots hurling that article in circuitous fashion at and most likely through, past or over China’s Internet firewall. So was the bot attack that shut down The Panama News for a few days the work of the Chinese government? Or was it an indignant Chinese citizen striking back at a medium in Panama that gave scandalous coverage to what he or she thought to be an evil anti-Chinese cult?

As things were explained, the good reasons for the Pentagon establishing a cyber command made ever more sense — as did the reasons to fear such a thing.

Now it turns out that there is a big political controversy in the United States, with charges of “treason” being inappropriately hurled about, that’s about Russian bots. People who hacked into the Democratic Party’s emails and databases used a Cyrillic keyboard and some known Russian software code to do what they did. Now The Guardian tells us that the ultra-right data operators of the Brexit and Trump campaigns used Russian-made bots for three nefarious political purposes:

  • They scour the social media to see what people say they like, identifying their personal hot-button issues and the lies that they are ready to accept without much question, so that personally-tailored propaganda pitches can be made to these millions of individuals;
  • Every time some bit of information — often of the whole cloth fake news — that’s derogatory to a person whose character these alt-right operators seek to assassinate appears in the social media, it gets promoted and geometrically propagated with a great many “likes” and “shares” that are not by real people but by bot-created pages; and
  • Bots are used to fake the popularity of preposterous positions so as to give them higher rankings by the Google algorithms, such that, for example, what the creepy little underground of Nazi Holocaust deniers publish is treated as more legitimate that the accurate story about the millions of people who were systematically murdered by the Third Reich.

So how bad of a threat are bots to modern democracies? Perhaps only to the extent that those democracies don’t properly teach civics in their schools. But perhaps they swung the 2016 US presidential election.

So does this all mean that we should follow the neocons — who helped to lead us to a disastrous war for a lie in Iraq — into Cold War II against the Russians?

Consider that the code identified in the reports so far about the DNC hack is several years old and can be bought from ordinary criminal hackers, whether or not that code was originally created for the Kremlin. And consider that Russian mafia families are involved in a wide range of computer crimes and vice, from ripoff forex sites to online pornography to the commandeering of websites and email boxes to create email spam lists to sell on the black market or to distribute spam for things like fake viagra pills.

Putin’s rise to power can in some ways be seen as atop the shoulders of factions of the Russian underworld against other Russian gangsters. Trump has long had associations with Russian mobsters, and his international fundraising spam to wildly inappropriate recipients last summer reeks of the use of a spam list purchased from the underworld.

There are some legitimate things to investigate, but those politicians and wannabe White House advisers who pretend that the world political situation is like the US-Soviet rivalry circa 1955 just prove how unfit they are by doing that.

Russian bots? They are out there and defenses must be interposed and forever improved. A simple open-and-shut case to assign blame and obtain convictions is probably not possible by way of any honest proceedings. But the truth is coming out, and if we don’t get hysterical and don’t let demagogues interpret it for us, it will go a long way toward keeping us free.

 

Bear in mind…

 

Of course the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you — if you don’t play, you can’t win.
Robert Heinlein

 

To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given the chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy. As everyone else, I love to dunk my crust in it. But alone, it is not a diet designed to keep body and soul together.
Bette Davis

 

You don’t choose the times you live in, but you do choose who you want to be. And you do choose how you think.
Grace Lee Boggs

 

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Bernie goes to where Trump won

Editor’s note: There have recently be a number of town hall meetings by the international leaders of Democrats Abroad, almost all of them supporters of Hillary Clinton in the primary, and it was the intention to balance the above video with Bernie Sanders with one of the DA town halls on this same page. But the current leadership has suppressed the recordings of those meetings. Well, fine. However, hiding and denying access will not give them a free pass on scrutiny in The Panama News.

Meanwhile, Democrats Abroad is choosing country chapter leaders and in May in the Washington suburbs will choose the next regional and international leaders. Internationally, Democrats Abroad voted 68 percent for Sanders in last year’s primary. It was 71 percent in Panama.

Almost all of the international leadership was for Hillary. Their main accomplishment was a shrinkage of Democrats Abroad from 53 country chapters to 40 between 2013 and 2016. Some of these people used their positions to retaliate in various ways against those who supported Sanders. These people are by and large running to retain control of the international organization. There have been several online Democrats Abroad town hall meetings in recent weeks, but the international leadership has not posted the video or audio recordings of these online. If they ever do, these will be posted in The Panama News if for historical value only. But so far this is the extent of the available DA video library.

On the Democrats Abroad international Facebook page, however, they ARE posting “party unity” messages like this one, featuring renowned experts like this guy. Which is a good illustration of why there is a movement to reject the old guard’s attempt to play musical chairs and retain control of an organization that they don’t represent.

Ah, well — Democrats. A rumble under the big tent would have plenty of precedent. But the leadership will change because the games that the current ones at the international level of Democrats Abroad play are unsustainable and the rank-and-file of both the progressive and corporate factions of the party know this. Odds are that Tom Perez is not actually a party leader in the mold of Debbie Wasserman Schultz or the current international leaders of Democrats Abroad. We shall see.

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Uri's people
The Israeli Peace Bloc, steadfast even when they’re way down in the polls. Photo by Gush Shalom.

Perhaps the Messiah will come

by Uri Avnery — Gush Shalom

If someone had told me 50 years ago that the rulers of Israel, Jordan and Egypt had met in secret to make peace, I would have thought that I was dreaming.

If I had been told that the leaders of Egypt and Jordan had offered Israel complete peace in return for leaving the occupied territories, with some exchanges of territory and a token return of refugees, I would have thought that the Messiah had come. I would have started to believe in God or Allah or whoever there is up there.

Yet a few weeks ago it was disclosed that the rulers of Egypt and Jordan had indeed met in secret last year with the Prime Minister of Israel in Aqaba, the pleasant sea resort where the three states touch each other. The two Arab leaders, acting de facto for the entire Arab world, had made this offer. Benyamin Netanyahu gave no answer and went home.

So did the Messiah.

Donald Trump, the comedian-in-chief of the United States, some time ago gave his answer to the question about the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two-states, one-state, whatever the two sides agree on, he answered.

He could just as well have answered: “Two-states, one-state, three-states, four-states, take your pick!”

And indeed, if you live in la-la-land, there is no limit to the number of states. Ten states is as good as one state. The more the merrier.

Perhaps it needed a total innocent like Trump to illustrate how much nonsense can be talked about that choice.

On the fifth day of the Six-day war, I published an open letter to the Prime Minister, Levy Eshkol, urging him to offer the Palestinians the opportunity to set up a state of their own in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Immediately after the war, Eshkol invited me for a private conversation. He listened patiently while I explained to him the idea. At the end he said, with a benevolent smile: “Uri, what kind of a merchant are you? A good merchant starts by demanding the maximum and offering the minimum. Then one haggles, and in the end a compromise is reached somewhere in the middle.”

“True,” I answered, “if one wants to sell a used car. But here we want to change history!”

The fact is that at the time, nobody believed that Israel would be allowed to keep the territories. It is said that generals always fight the last war. The same is true for statesmen. On the day after the six-day war, Israeli leaders called to mind the day after the 1956 war, when the US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Soviet President Nikolai Bulganin compelled David Ben-Gurion to give back all the occupied territory ignominiously.

So there seemed to be only one choice: to give the territories back to King Hussein of Jordan, as the great majority advocated, or to give them to the Palestinian people, as my friends and I, a tiny minority, suggested.

I remember another conversation. The Minister of Trade and Industry, Haim Zadok, a very clever lawyer, made a fiery speech in the Knesset. When he came out of the plenum, I admonished him: “But you don’t believe a single world you just said!” To which he replied, laughingly, “Anybody can make a good speech about things he believes in. The art is to make a good speech about things you don’t believe in!”

Then he added seriously: “If they compel us to give back all the territories, we shall give back all the territories. If they compel us to give back part of the territories, we shall give back part of the territories. If they don’t compel us to give back anything, we shall keep everything.”

The incredible happened. President Lyndon Johnson and the entire world did not give a damn. We were left with the entire loot, to this very day.

I cannot resist the temptation to repeat again an old joke:

Right after the foundation of the State of Israel, God appeared to David Ben-Gurion and told him: “You have done good by my people. Utter a wish and I shall grant it”.

“I wish that Israel shall be a Jewish and a democratic state and encompass all the country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan,” Ben-Gurion replied.

“That is too much even for me!” God exclaimed. “But I will grant you two of the three.” Since then we can choose between a Jewish and democratic Israel in a part of the country, a democratic state in all of the country that will not be Jewish or a Jewish state in all of the country that will not be democratic.

That is the choice we still face, after all this time.

The Jewish state in all of the country means apartheid. Israel always maintained cordial relations with the racist Afrikaner state in South Africa, until it collapsed. Creating such a state here is sheer lunacy.

The annexationists have a trick up their sleeve: to annex the West Bank, but not the Gaza Strip. This would create a state with only a 40 percent Palestinian minority. In such a country there would rage a perpetual intifada.

But in reality, even this is a pipe dream. Gaza cannot be separated forever from Palestine. It has been part of the country since time immemorial. It would have to be annexed, too. This would create a state with a slight Arab majority, a majority bereft of national and civil rights. This majority would grow rapidly.

Such a situation would be untenable in the long run. Israel would be compelled to give the vote to the Arabs.

Utopian idealists would welcome such a solution. How wonderful! The One-state solution! Democracy, equality, the end of nationalism. When I was very young, I too hoped for this solution. Life has cured me. Anyone actually living in the country knows that this is totally impossible. The two nations would fight each other. At least for the first one or two hundred years.

I have never seen a detailed plan of how such a state would function. Except once: Vladimir Jabotinsky, the brilliant leader of the Zionist far-right, wrote such a plan for the Allies in 1940. If the President of the state will be Jewish, he decreed, the Prime Minister will be Arab. And so on. Jabotinsky died a few months later, along with his plan.

Zionists came here to live in a Jewish state. That was their dominant motive. They cannot even imagine an existence as another Jewish minority. In such a situation, they would slowly emigrate, as the Afrikaners do. Indeed, such an emigration to the US and Germany is already happening under the radar. Zionism has always been a one-way street — towards Palestine. After this “solution,” it would go the other way.

Truth is that there is no choice at all.

The only real solution is the much-maligned “Two States for Two peoples,” the one declared dead many times. It’s either that solution or the destruction of both peoples.

So how do Israelis face this reality? They face it the Israeli way: by not facing the reality. They just go on living, day by day, hoping that the problem will just go away.

Perhaps the Messiah will come after all.

 

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