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Editorials: The end of paradigms; and Red Tide in Red Square

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JC and Nicky
He can say what he wants. Two witnesses in positions to know, including his erstwhile right-hand man say that Juan Carlos Varela took millions from Odebrecht. Much like the Chavista former attorney general of Venezuela says that Nicolás Maduro did. The collapse of Latin America’s old political paradigms is not just a left or right phenomenon. Archive photo by the Venezuelan government.

Paradigms coming to an end?

The post-Cold War promise of globalization that would deliver prosperity for all was not kept in the Latin America of the 1990s. After that “lost decade” came the “Pink Tide””of leftist governments in many countries, which coincided with globalization that worked spectacularly for China and led to a demand for Latin American raw materials that boosted the economies of this region for a time. But then the failure of neoliberalism — globalization on corporate terms — to deliver prosperity to the working and middle classes of the developed world, and then the bursting of various financial and real estate bubbles that were presented as proof that the corporate model delivers for the West, slowed the Chinese growth model. That meant fewer orders for raw materials from Latin America, a stripping away of veneers that had covered our region’s chronic problems for a while, and now a series of revelations about just how sleazy the people pulling the strings have tended to be.

Yes, Washington has ugly double standards. Yes, in many Latin American countries entrenched oligarchies or party machines have ensured or tried to ensure impunity for themselves along with deserved or contrived legal problems for their opponents. But there is a generalized breakdown of Latin American political paradigms underway and anyone who thinks it can be controlled from outside the region is thinking wishfully.

This breakdown could lead us back into an era of violence and dictatorship, but perhaps might lead us to some new, better understandings. The threat and the opportunity exist alongside one another.

A better understanding? Left and right, in all of the region’s cultures and governmental systems, that better understanding would be a perfected democracy in which campaigns financed by private donations becomes a horror of the past.

 

Red Tide, soon to visit Red Square

Oye, muchachos de la Marea Roja: one shot of vodka — the real stuff, Stolichnaya, not a US imitation — and a little less than a shot of Kahlúa. Perhaps as a patriotic national project we might develop a suitable Panamanian coffee liqueur to substitute for the Mexican standard, but for now it has to be Kahlúa to be a proper Black Russian. Consume in moderation.

Controversial phantom goal and all that notwithstanding, congratulations to Panama’s men’s national soccer team, and good luck in Russia. The Red Tide is worthy, and let it be shown in Russia that Panama is no fluke.

 

Bear in mind…

 

I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.

John Cage

 

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

Alice Walker

 

Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.

Arthur C. Clarke

 

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After a strange strike, a new IDAAN director

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water czar
Juan Felipe de La Iglesia Tobón, the new water and sewer utility director. Photo by the Presidencia.

New IDAAN director after an unusual strike

by Eric Jackson

Theoretically, the top spot at Panama’s national water and sewer utillity (which does not, however, encompass all of the rural aqueducts) is supposed to go to a competent civil engineer. That, however, is rarely the case. It’s a political patronage job. Usually a dead giveaway when a new IDAAN director is appointed is the structure of what is said about him or her. “He studied at” or “she comes to the post from a job at” are all de riguer. But when you look in vain for “he designed,” “she built,” “he managed” or such — then you have a pretty good idea. When the credentials do not include “previously served in IDAAN as” that’s more or less confirmation. The more usual credentials — most frequently “is related to” or “served on the campaign committee or in the party as” — are never stated.

So after a remarkable nine-day strike at an IDAAN whose previous director left nearly a month before, on October 12 the National Assembly approved Juan Carlos Varela’s appointee for a new IDAAN director. He’s Juan Felipe de La Iglesia Tobón. He studied construction management at Purdue, then got an MBA from an undisclosed institution in Barcelona. He worked in President Varela’s inter-institutional Public Infrastructure Coordinating Unit before coming to IDAAN.

So what was so remarkable about the IDAAN workers walking off the job again? While there were some complaints of seniority raises that did not happen on time, those were side issues, designated for later discussions in the agreement that ended the strike. The walkout was mainly about unpaid private sector suppliers for the utility. As in, arrears meant no timely delivery of a backhoe desperately needed for urgent repairs. As in, unpaid suppliers were not delivering the chemicals needed to treat water taken from surface sources at several plants in the Interior to make the stuff safe for human consumption.

So why would the utility workers care all that much about customer complaints? Because they would as usual be the ones blamed, and for an outbreak of water-borne disease that could be a serious accusation indeed.

The full litany about IDAAN could fill many books of horror stories, but there are some notable milestones along the way. Like in the run-up to the resignation of the prior IDAAN director, Julia Elena Guardia, at the beginning of September. In July, beset by complaints from many sides, she blamed “the bureaucracy” and said that if the organization went from being an institute to an authority — that is, from a government department to a semi-autonomous entity that could privatize its services — then the jobs undone might get done.

(Guardia came into office in September of 2014. She was certified in courses taken in the Netherlands in sanitary engineering and sewer systems and has an MBA from Nova Southeastern University. She worked as a consultant before coming to head IDAAN. Most importantly, she is President Varela’s first cousin.)

In the Moscoso administration the government was divided up into political patronage fiefdoms, with Ricardo Martinelli’s Cambio Democratico party as a junior partner. That made the now jailed ex-president minister of canal affairs, and put Guido Martinelli at the head of IDAAN. Guido deducted Cambio Democratico party dues from the paychecks of IDAAN workers whether they wanted to join or not, and although one might think that this illegal practice would have produced the ouster of both Martinellis that was not the case.

In the Torrijos administration IDAAN bought a water treatment plant in Chilibre for more than $1 billion. That there were serious flaws with it when delivered didn’t seem to bother either Torrijos or the IDAAN management — the ribbon was cut before the government changed hands and that was the main thing to them.

Martinelli brought in this more dictatorial than usual management style, such that nobody at IDAAN would take an emergency decision and the top folks couldn’t be bothered to drop everything and come into work in the event of an emergency. So record flooding on the upper Chagres River washed muddy water — trees and all — into the Chilibre plant and nobody who could have acted felt authorized to act to shut down the water intake valves at once. Months of water outages, tainted water and circular finger pointing ensued, with some truly horrific tangents spinning off of the metro area’s water system woes from that omission.

So should be be assured by an agreement to end the strike by which the Varela administration said it would get that backhoe at once and also restock the water treatment plants from which much of the Azuero Peninsula’s population drinks with the necessary chemicals? Should Panamanians be confident in the new leader? At least he gave us a small reassurance. He said that his first task will be to collect arrears in water and sewer bills. That has generally meant poor neighborhoods and more affluent households having their water cut off, with the latter paying up and water riots in the former. There need be no shutoffs to coerce payments to have water riots, though — people who go long enough without will often block the road until the police show up with their helmets, shields and full regalia. But Mr. de La Iglesia assures us that IDAAN will not be privatized, which probably means that there will be no nationwide water uprising.

Fixing systems that have been neglected for decades? That’s another matter. Maybe the new IDAAN director will surprise us.

 

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Jackson, Troll bots

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attacked by nazi bots

Troll bots

by Eric Jackson

This is about somebody else’s story, and my take on it, that was posted on The Panama News Facebook page.

And the overall importance of the story I posted?

I think it’s a tiny puzzle piece of circumstantial evidence, probably not so damning in itself, perhaps useful to show a pattern of conduct. Nothing to go to war about, but if there were a US Congress that cared about defending the United States against foreign intervention in US elections, it would be one item that ought to be considered when drafting new legislation.

Although I am an active Democrat, I think that proper legislation would be neither a matter of pointing fingers at Republicans and Russians nor an exercise in comforting assurances. One of the reasons why Donald Trump is president of the United States is that the Clinton Foundation, for all of the good works they did, was a political operation by which foreign governments, leaders and business interests domestic and foreign bought access to powerful and influential people, with the bet being that one of those, Hillary Clinton, would end up as president. It was also an inter-campaign political structure in which operatives out of political patronage jobs at the moment could be parked in well-paid foundation sinecures until the next campaign. And do some of the more brazen  and indiscrete Israelis brag about how they control the US Congress? And has the United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador Otaiba secured US backing for the Sunni jihad against the Shiites with his parties in Washington? Although it would seem that it today’s US climate there is no such thing as national interest, there is and what happened in the 2016 election campaign flatters no side of the partisan divide and ought to be a concern for all Americans.

The reaction to it? Terrified Trump folks lashed out. More than 100 characters, almost all with no ties to The Panama News or its editor — not Facebook friends, not friends of friends, no ties to Panama, Latin America or the Caribbean — let loose a barrage of denial, dismissal and abuse.

But most probably, mostly not Trump folks. Mostly bots, fake characters made out of computer code and armed with a storehouse of memes and talking points, deployed to shout down conversations that an alt-right which learned its basic Internet stuff from a neo-nazi group called Stormfront and updated it with Russian computer technology thanks in large part to the largesse of the billionaire Mercer family. This stuff is being pulled in the politics of many countries now, in many cases by the same people. They used it for the “Yes” side in the UK’s Brexit campaign. They used it in failed attempts to bring neofascists to power in The Netherlands and France. They used it to get the alt-right represented in Germany’s Bundestag. They drive something from obscurity to the top of search engines and to the attention of fanatics who are real people, and the latter pile on. They used it, for example, to drive Holocaust denial to the top of Google search engines.

If you go to the Facebook post cited above and scroll down through all the stuff, you may notice that a lot of the protagonists, real or fake, have been blocked. It’s not out of fear that these personnae may become regular visitors to The Panama News Facebook wall, but to send a message to Mark Zuckerberg et al about bots and mass trolling tactics that need to be curbed. The use of bots to shout down discussion on a Facebook thread is not much different from the use of bots to send huge bundles of email to shut down or take over somebody’s email box or to force a way through an email address linked to a website into the controls of that website. Were US law enforcement interested in protecting anyone smaller than SONY they’d have long since applied existing computer crime laws to that sort of stuff against those without wealth or political connections. But now, of course, the United States has a president who deploys bots by the tens of thousands to distort online discourse. He probably had no personal knowledge of the bot/troll attack on The Panama News, but surely he approves. We are, after all, dealing with a guy who has been in bed with mobsters all of his adult life.

So what’s my policy with bots and trolls on The Panama News Facebook page? Any friend request from someone who does not appear to be a real person is rejected. People who are not Facebook friends who appear on my wall and tell me to shut up, or tell anyone else to shut up, get blocked. Those who appear not to be real people who jump into heated discussions on threads — whichever side of an argument they take — get blocked. Those who are neither friends, nor friends of friends and have no ties to Panama who come into a discussion to inject invective get blocked. This thread had me block more personnae that I have in all the years since 2009 when The Panama News Facebook page went up.

This sort of behavior has not gone unnoticed and finally the likes of Facebook and Google managements are being forced out of their “we’re just a neutral platform that’s run impartially by algorithms” willful ignorance — they call it “constructive knowledge” in Common Law legal systems — and into admissions about what goes on via the services they run. But the answers are not so simple. Many are the governments that would like to impose censorship over the Internet as their supposed response. Many are the governments that would seek national regulation over online services that cross borders at the speed of light, a tendency that could leave us with each advanced technological power with its own version of China’s firewall and the rest of the world subject to other countries’ online warfare. There are serious people, with various different approaches, thinking and writing about the problem. There are also some serious predators thinking about how they can take maximum advantage.

Against the backdrop of far-right cheering, we Democrats are divided. There are those who say that “the tyranny of data” obliges us to copy what the alt-right does. So we see a Democratic Facebook page with several times as many likes for a video than there are views showing on YouTube. The inept “experts” who pocketed a lot of money for running the woefully stupid Hillary Clinton general election campaign have had to leave jobs at the DNC or other sinecures, but most of them are still around in this or that political position and a cadre of wannabes and volunteers who learned what they know from these people are still around. And the facile response of too many of these people is that we should copy what the nazis do.

Me? I am a weird old hippie who fondly remembers what someone with very different politics than mine did way back when. Was American and world culture all locked up by Madison Avenue, with “expert criteria” — bendable by payola — about what will sell and what won’t? Frank Zappa derided “plastic people” and it caught on with the hippies, then seeped out into the general culture. The icon even got into Spanish a few years later, with Rubén Blades doing his rendition of the insult. Certain old norms were laughed into insignificance, even into bankruptcy, for a time. Of course, the purveyors of that stuff from the payola paradigm tended to be replaced by a new generation of morally similar hustlers. But still, we have a successful example of widespread cultural ridicule.

The troll bot technique is generally easy to spot, even in societies where the study of civics has been suppressed. It should be called out and mocked.

 

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Gandásegui, Los partidos políticos

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ellos
La terna de la Embajada Americana y sus amigos. Foto por la Presidencia.

Los escándalos debilitan a los partidos tradicionales

por Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

La campaña política con miras a las elecciones presidenciales de mayo de 2019 aún no arranca. En el pasado, para estas fechas, los partidos tradicionales ya habían lanzado sus candidatos y pre-candidatos quienes buscaban las mejores posiciones para consolidar sus aspiraciones. Usualmente, gana la candidatura el político con mayor ‘carisma’, con las finanzas más ‘boyantes’ y con el respaldo de la Embajada de EEUU.

El orden de importancia de los factores es el inverso al expuesto más arriba. La Embajada de EEUU siempre apoya el candidato que se inclina con más entusiasmo hacia la política de Washington. (Esta realidad no es exclusiva de Panamá). Los informes políticos de los agentes norteamericanos son tomados muy en cuenta por EEUU. En 2009, la candidata del Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD) fue vetada por la Embajada que no consideró a Balbina Herrera de su confianza.

Por el lado financiero, los tres partidos de la elite panameña – el Partido Panameñista (en el gobierno actual), el Partido Cambio Democrático (2009-2014) y el PRD (2004-2009) – han logrado establecer una base financiera que aparenta solidez. El poder económico en Panamá está distribuido en el sector bancario, logístico e inmobiliario. Siguen según su importancia los empresarios comerciales, agroindustriales e industriales. Los partidos tradicionales necesitan el sector financiero, pero éste – en cambio – no depende de esas organizaciones políticas. En las últimas elecciones (2014) se especula que un magnate de las finanzas, quien también está vinculado al gran capital logístico y comercial, contribuyó al triunfo del actual Presidente de la República.

La falta de figuras políticas que puedan convencer a los sectores que conforman el poder económico del país explica la falta de entusiasmo por parte de los medios de comunicación para agitar candidaturas. Recientemente el Tribunal Electoral logró aprobar una ley que reduce la campaña formal a unos pocos meses. Eso no quiere decir, sin embargo, que no se pueda iniciar una campaña que levante el perfil de los candidatos que se consideran más ‘carismáticos’. Nadie nace con carisma. El carisma se construye. Los ejemplos más emblemáticos durante el siglo XX fueron el presidente Belisario Porras, quien hace cien años llegó a la Presidencia sobre la base de su liderazgo durante la Guerra civil de los Mil Días. También Arnulfo Arias triunfó en 1940 por su arrojo durante el golpe civil de 1931 que lo catapultó en los ojos del pueblo panameño. Igualmente, Omar Torrijos logró encabezar un movimiento nacionalista gracias a las negociaciones exitosas frente a EEUU (1977) que culminó con la desaparición del enclave colonial y la transferencia del Canal de Panamá.

La elite panameña actualmente no tiene figuras carismáticas. Han tratado – con resultados negativos – de levantar perfiles asociados a la invasión militar de EEUU de 1989. Ya han salido a la palestra algunos candidatos a la Presidencia que se declaran independientes (no vinculados a los partidos políticos tradicionales). Los independientes con más posibilidades basan sus propuestas en la corrupción que identifica a los partidos de la elite panameña. Creen que el pueblo está cansado de los abusos de los partidos políticos y se volcará a favor de un candidato ‘sin tachas y honesto’. Pero incluso los candidatos independientes tienen que tener el aval de la Embajada, un respaldo económico y carisma. Quizás hay algunos con uno de los atributos mencionados pero le faltan otros.

En 2014 se lanzó Juan Jované como candidato independiente sobre la base de su carisma y honestidad, con un programa popular. Pero le faltaron los otros factores. Jované habría instaurado un gobierno con un plan de desarrollo nacional y erradicando la corrupción. La propuesta que sin duda era la mejor no encontró eco entre la elite del poder y mucho menos en la Embajada. En 2019 volverá a la palestra el Partido Frente Amplio por la Democracia (FAD), que levanta como bandera las luchas sindicales y campesinas (sin excluir a las estudiantiles) de los últimos 70 años. El discurso del FAD no logra penetrar la coraza que la oligarquía panameña ha construido en torno a los sectores populares.

Los partidos tradicionales, sacudidos por los escándalos de corrupción, carecen de un plan de gobierno desde hace 25 años. La elite ahora tiene la esperanza de que los chinos traigan dinero fresco. El pueblo panameño, sin embargo, no quiere promesas de dinero. Quiere un gobierno con un plan que garantice desarrollo y empleo decente (formal) para todos los trabajadores.

 

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Will the yuan circulate next to the dollar in Panama?

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RMB, The People's Currency
China has made a lot of money from its rise as an industrial power. Its elevated status in the world may come to be reflected in its currency being used more often and for more purposes in the rest of the world. Photo by the State Bank of China.

Will Chinese money circulate in Panama?

by Eric Jackson

The government of Panama, having ditched its old friend Taiwan in favor of full ties with the Peoples Republic of China this past June, is not wasting much time on changes that flow from that. Fresh from a series of meetings with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Panamanian Foreign Minister and Vice President Isabel Saint Malo unveiled the two-countries’ 12-point agenda for talks on the new relationship and amplified on that in a presentation to the National Private Enterprise Council (CoNEP) forum. CoNEP’s role in the constellation of Panama’s business organizations is that it represents the larger Panamanian companies that tend to do the most business with the national government and thus rarely has any sort of critical word about any administration, so it was not an openly skeptical audience.

Most of the 12 points are economic, although there are cultural, educational and law enforcement points as well. Some of the economic matters, like designating the Panama Canal as part of the Chinese New Silk Road project, are mainly symbolic. Several points appear to be of great importance, like China’s entry into Panamanian infrastructure construction in a big way that specifically mentions extending the country’s Metro commuter rail system from its now projected end point in La Chorrera all the way to David, and a much expanded Chinese role in Panama City’s banking district.

And then there is the subject of The People’s Currency (renminbi, or RMB), the units of which are the yuan (¥, worth about 15¢ on the US dollar but fluctuating despite government controls). CoNEP president Severo Sousa was upbeat about the possibility of yuan-denominated accounts in Panamanian banks when asked by the Metro Libre, but more guarded about other possible uses. Héctor Cotes, the president of the Panamanian Business Executives Association (APEDE) — people who run but may not necessarily own businesses here, typically less hesitant to criticize government policies and historic champions of improved education to give them a more skilled work force to manage — was more generally upbeat in the same story. He approved the use of any major currency with strong backing, the yuan as well as the euro, in general circulation and use in Panama.

Theoretically, Panama has the balboa and we do have our own coins. However, we have no central bank to issue money and since 1904 the balboa has always meant the US dollar. It is sometimes said that this is the constitutional order, but while some non-binding opinion might hold that this is so, the Panamanian constitution does not say that. The dollar would only be constitutional to the extent that it’s customary and because previous suggestions of a national currency have always been condemned as a species of dangerous lunacy.

Precisely what is meant by using the yuan in Panama surely means a great deal.

Renminbi as a currency to pay the Chinese — and perhaps the Panamanian — employees of Chinese companies doing business in Panama, but not generally accepted by Panamanian businesses? That would suggest something akin to banana plantation scrip, in which once upon a time workers here were paid, but which could only be spent in the company stores. That would eliminate a lot of the multiplier effect of Chinese business activity in Panama and surely set off labor protests.

The yuan in general circulation and use, alongside the US dollar and perhaps other currencies? One might imagine the arcane contract disputes, and the tawdry sorts of upscale people who would consult the daily exchange rate listings before deciding in which currency to pay their gardeners and maids. The rise of money changers — perhaps not at churches where the Gospels are taken seriously, but almost everywhere else — would be an expected retail consequence.

American economist Dean Baker opines that the multiple currency issue would not be a problem in itself: “Many countries effectively use more than one currency. My wife is Danish, so I know a bit about Denmark. While it maintains its own currency, it is common for stores and restaurants to take euros. … In a situation where you have serious problems with corruption, like Panama, having the use of other currencies might increase opportunities, but the underlying problem is the corruption, not the currency.”

There may be questions, well founded or otherwise, about the currency. Washington has complained many a time over the years that the yuan is undervalued against the dollar, driving and distorting the value of bilateral trade imbalances in China’s favor. Two years ago China devalued the yuan, making its exports to the rest of the world cheaper to buy while raising the Chinese prices of anything that anyone anywhere else would export to China. Now on Beijing’s end there are complaints of the renminbi’s exaggerated fluctuations against other currencies, and controversial calls from People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan for a market-set rather than politically determined value for the yuan.

“Capitalist roaders” whom Chairman Mao denigrated or not, however, today’s rulers of China aren’t leaving their country’s economy or currency up to some theoretical invisible hand. China is now the world’s second-largest economy and will soon overtake that of the United States, albeit remaining well behind a number of other countries in per capita income and standards of living. The New Silk Road project is intended to more closely tie China’s economy to those of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, while skirting around sometimes rivals Russia and India. And as oil economies around the world collapse, China is offering trade and investment in renminbi, and for those who accept the yuan instead of the dollar as payment for oil, a special ability to convert Chinese currency into gold. The Saudis and Venezuelans are among those who have expressed an interest, with economic motives for both and a long-running Chavista political position feeding Venezuela’s willingness to replace the petrodollar.

The geopolitical economy against which the questions arise is that “globalization” may have made the very wealthy richer in North America, Western Europe and Japan, but the economies of those regions — particularly of their working and middle classes — have suffered while the process has lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty. China’s internal market can’t usefully absorb all the money that was made by its export economy over the past few decades, they are looking to invest overseas, and they attach many fewer political strings to their credit than do the financial institutions of the powers that they are supplanting across much of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Good relations with China are a hedge against taking distasteful orders from the likes of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund — or so it seems now.

As the 12 points and Saint Malo’s explanation of them have it, though, the role of renminbi in the Panamanian economy is a matter up for discussion, not something that has been decided. It is expected, however, that in mid-November Presidents Juan Carlos Varela of Panama and Xi Jinping will meet and sign more than a dozen bilateral agreement, perhaps among them one of more dealing with the use of the Chinese currency in this country.

 

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The Gingerbread Lady’s down the street. The Tulivieja lives here.

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Come on in. I'll make arroz con mondongo.
Electronic art by Dr. Saúl Alvarado Garrido.

 

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The Democrats Abroad report on overseas US taxation (PDF)

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DA tax reportThe evidence shown in this report is anecdotal, a statistically non-random survey of about four percent of the Democrats Abroad membership. That said, this report is a compendium of real people’s real stories about real situations, and includes the recommendations of the branch of the Democratic Party for Americans living abroad about how to change some of these situations. To read the report click on the cover above or click here.

 

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How The Panama News works on four platforms

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logos

How The Panama News works these days

by Eric Jackson

For more than a decade and a half, the content that goes into the various parts of The Panama News operation has been in terms of daily labor mostly a one-man show but with the labor of many contributors, local and from afar, edited by one person but often submitted or suggested by other volunteers. Since the series of hacker attacks that started months earlier but shut down our website starting in late 2014 until the middle of 2015, we have not been selling or accepting commercial messages. Nowadays The Panama News is a reader-supported small and informal enterprise operating on four platforms:

  • … and then there is The Panama News email list. To get on it, ask at fund4thepanamanews@gmail.com or notice when it gets posted on the Facebook page and the Twitter feed and follow the link.

The Panama News started out at the end of 1994 as a print tabloid. The print edition went defunct in early 2001. The email list began in 1998 and the website began in 2000. The Facebook page was established in 2009 and a Twitter address was reserved at about the same time but lay dormant for a number of years. At one time the editor had a radio show in Panama City and that echoes on in the ¿Wappin? playlists on the website that also get posted on our other platforms. There is a dormant YouTube feed that some day might get activated for that and/or other purposes.

Hackers have shut down the website several times and destroyed the email address from which the original email list was sent. The worst of the hacker attacks, which was a series that probably began in late 2013 but shut the website down starting in late 2014 until it was re-established in mid-2015 also erased many of our archives. Some of our files that died with the old website, however, were saved by the Wayback Machine Internet Archive. (Perhaps some day this archive will be easier to search — it’s a nonprofit foundation, so that would likely depend on their donations.)

We have used various defensive strategies over the years, but the money to approach impregnability — an impossible Holy Grail even if we had the money — has never made that sort of website defense very realistic. Instead our main defense is resilience, backups and multiple ways of publishing that make it harder to take us out entirely across all platforms at one time. During the prolonged struggle with hackers that took the old website down we kept on publishing, with stories appearing as notes or photos on our Facebook page. We had to go that backup again this past June when some malicious code was inserted into our website and it took us a while to figure it out and get rid of it.

Today, across all of The Panama News platforms, we publish much more material than we used to. But most of that is not actually ours. Like Google, like Truthout, Reader Supported News, Nation of Change and many others, a lot of what we do is News aggregation. (Google goes well out of its way to suppress all others and claim dibs on all news aggregation, but when you look at what they promote about Panama they are laughably inept). News aggregation is a form of editing, in The Panama News with a Panama-centric, progressive and bilingual editorial slant. “Panama-centric” does not mean entirely about Panama, but rather, looking out and about from Panama. We look at the neighborhood — Latin America and the Caribbean — that other news aggregators, especially in English, tend to studiously ignore. We pay attention to the maritime and shipping sectors because those are central to the Panamanian economy, even when so far away as melting Arctic ice allowing for new shipping routes that may compete with our canal. We pay attention to science and the environment. We look at the world — after all, Panama is The Crossroads of The World.

Our general attitude is that the most important story in Panama is the economy, but “economy” encompasses far more than the world of men in suits handling large amounts of money. What we eat, what we grow, the state of our oceans, the things that attract people to visit Panama, the purchase of our public officials, the many slings and arrows of living on the isthmus — all of these are economic stories in our sense of it.

The editor is a US-Panamanian dual citizen, formally educated entirely in English, who spent about half his life in Michigan and about half in Panama. As a gringo, he’s a Democrat of the progressive bent. As a Panamanian, he’s an independent on the left side of the spectrum. He’s someone who believes in good government far too much to be an anarchist, and who is far too skeptical about authority to be a Leninist, and who grew up in the in many respects socialistic Canal Zone and was also taught to be aware that it was a racially segregated place and that this aspect of it was a bad thing. It turns out that The Panama News is run by a democratic socialist by inclination who is a micro-capitalist to make a living.

As a business The Panama News is a failure. It has been since its inception, at the outset because we never had the blessing of Panama’s ad cartel. Around the planet, the advertising supported news paradigm in any case has broken down. Increasingly the norm is that advertisers take advantage of this to try to control the news. News organizations that don’t go along with this feel a particularly tight squeeze, but those that do get noticed as purveyors of corporate propaganda misrepresented as news and tend to lose readership and advertising revenue as a result. A lot of very rich people have come to own major news media, running them for little profit or more often at a loss for their own diverse reasons. Then there is this piranha school of small media run by people who are not rich, some of which are very good, almost all of which are woefully underfunded, working in an online economy but still in many ways like the guy who owned a printing press and published a small circulation newspaper in the USA circa 1800. There is nothing else quite like The Panama News, but it swims with the piranha school. Cooperative relationships among these small media happens from time to time but is mostly a project for the future.

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Things published on The Panama News website are the work of the editor, contributors specifically to The Panama News or articles and graphics syndicated to be in the public domain. The great exception to this is our every now and then feature, The Panama News blog links, which are pages of links to other people’s generally copyrighted work. Our editing to include the links, but hit the links and you go to their websites rather than a cut and paste job on our website. The comments features on our website are disabled, as they have mainly been used for automated spam that aims either to overwhelm the site and grab its controls or just to post advertisements for fraudulent schemes. Even with the various automated programs, the labor involved in policing these features is better applied elsewhere.

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Everything that gets on our website, plus many original posts and photos by the editor that never get on the website, and even more links to stories in other media, plus all this back-and-forth commentary — these are found on The Panama News Facebook page.

We will defend our wall against troll attacks designed to shout us down or shut us down, but by and large people can join the conversation and argue against the editor’s opinion and for things not believed by the editor or contributors. Someone who tries to hijack every thread with stuff that’s not germane so as to shut down discussion, guys who post pictures of their dicks, mass invasions by what appear to be bots posing as people — in these cases they will run into a bouncer. But given the long-running divides in Panamanian society and the increasingly bitter conflicts among Americans, The Panama News Facebook page is maintained as a place where people need not agree to discuss things.

The Facebook page is also used to announce a lot of cultural events. But the high end of Panama’s concert scene is promoted by rabiblancos who disdain everyone but their narrow caste and only provide information on events they promote to rabiblanco media, through rabiblanco ad agencies. We leave them to their snobbery.

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Our Twitter feed gets some links, and most notably some retweeted stuff by others, that is not found on our Facebook page. However, all articles posted on The Panama News website and many of the links posted on our Facebook page do go onto our Twitter feed. The norm with many Twitter accounts is a stream of usually nasty one-liners or trite memes. But Ricardo Martinelli or Donald Trump we are not.

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Our email list includes links to all of the articles (including the blog links pages) posted on our website, the Dichter & Neira monthly opinion polls which others publish and brief paragraphs about various noteworthy situations not reported on the website. There will be graphics and things about cultural and other events that readers may want to attend. There will often be public service announcements about voter registration for Americans living abroad, where and what to donate to relief efforts for those affected by natural disasters or so on. There are graphics that we have not published elsewhere. Our emails get posted on our Facebook page and Twitter feed as well as sent to those on the email list.

Volunteers

We are forever asking for money, generally through PayPal donations, but there are also other ways that people can make financial contributions. But the in-kind contributions — labor in the form of articles, photos, computer expertise and other toil; and things that can range from computers or cameras to coffee or cat food — are also important to the survival of The Panama News.

Perhaps what we need most of all is somebody to manage “the business.” Perhaps. Over the years we have heard and rejected many offers to “monetize” the operation (betray principles of truth and relevance in order to generate money, over which the manager will claim dibs), or give us a “beautiful, professional website” (employ somebody for more money than we have to give us a week turn-around time to get something posted on a superficially artistic website which is impossible to navigate, with the satisfaction of knowing that the person given this contract is a young ne’er-do-well of the most illustrious family); or reach out to new folks with nude pics or sensational click bait (if we get a local cannibalism story we will probably cover it, but the authorities hardly ever disclose the really lurid details that inquiring sickies want to know).

There remains the question of continuity. Over a century and a half, many have been the Panamanian publications that started in English, went bilingual and ended up entirely in Spanish. The English-speaking community has been here that long, has generation after generation repeated the steps of assimilation, and yet survives as a linguistic minority with folks from the Spanish-tongued majority wanting to learn English as well. The thing is, trends like these live longer than people do.

 

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Boff, Meanwhile in Brazil…

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Gilberto Carvalho. Photo by the Brazilian Human Rights Commission.

An attempt to condemn a just man

by Leonardo Boff

On September 19th, Judge Vallisney Oliveira of the 10th Federal Tribunal of Brasilia, Brazil, addressed the complaint lodged by the Federal Public Ministry, (FPM)), against former President Inacio Lula da Silva and Gilberto Carvalho, claiming to have seen evidence of corruption, namely, that the Labor Party, PT, had received 6 million reales for reissuing the 2009 471 Provisional Measure, PM, that provided financial benefits to workers in the auto sector of the Mid-West and North East.

Curiously, former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso was the author, in 1999, of this Provisional Measure, proposed in the Chamber by Jose Carlos Aleluia (DEM) and in the Senate by Cesar Borges (PFL). The PM was approved by all political parties. The idea was to decentralize the production of cars and create a great many jobs. In fact, between 2002 and 2013 the number of jobs rose from 291,244 to 532,364.

The extension of MP 471 by Lula was intended to assure the continuity of the enterprises that socially benefit many. Nothing was asked for and nothing was given in exchange. The FPM offered no proof of the accusation that bribery was involved. Only insinuations and suppositions. This is an extremely fragile base on which to base a complaint, which probably suggests another agenda.

I will not undertake the defense of former President Lula, which will be done by competent attorneys. Rather, I will limit myself to a testimonial about Gilberto Carvalho, the person. We met many years ago, in connection with the work with the Base Communities, the Pastoral of the Workers, the theology workshops in Curitiba, and the Faith and Politics encounters. He lived in a very poor favela in the city, worked later on in plastics and metallurgy factories. Some 30 years ago, he began with Lula a friendship of true brothers. He helped found the Labor Party, PT. Once elected President, Lula named him, during his two terms, Minister-Head of the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic. Carvalho stood with the former President during the times of both the accomplishments and the tribulations that President Lula endured. He always discharged his duties with discretion and a great sense of equity. He distinguished himself as the spokesperson most accepted by the social movements, the Catholic Church and other religious sectors. He showed a special affection for the collectors of recyclable materials and the indigenous.

Carvalho is well known for his serenity and his tireless capacity for listening, and for seeking, along with others, the most viable paths to follow. Those of us who know him well offer with sincerity a testimonial to the high regard he holds for the spiritual world. How many week ends did he pass in the Benedictine monastery in Goias Viejo, in humble prayer and deep meditation, asking the Spirit lights to serve well the people of his country, especially the most humiliated and debased.

He was always a poor man. By selling an apartment he had in São Paulo he acquired a small farm near Brasilia, and it is a pleasure to see the ecological care he gives the chickens that provide eggs for the whole family, the fruit trees and the small field of corn. He never took advantage of the high position he occupied in the Republic.

This is why we understand his “revolt and indignation” against the absurd denunciation presented by the FPM and accepted by Brasilia’s Federal Judge Vallisney Oliveira. In his note of September 19th, Gilberto Carvalho writes: “It is important to note that there is not one single piece of evidence, only insinuations and strained factual interpretations… Neither President Lula nor I ever came close to engaging in the type of bad conduct with which they would stigmatize us.”

Perhaps the final theme of his note expresses his personality, manifesting signs of human virtue of the highest degree: “I receive this denunciation at the moment when I am forced to sell the apartment I had recently acquired and where I lived, because I have been unable to get financing. I have moved to a rented house. But accusations of this nature will not compromise the honor and dignity of a serene and fearless conscience.”

The Scriptures speak often of judges who cast hasty aspersions on the just, or even condemn them. In Brasilia, we are witnessing a malevolent attempt to condemn a just and honest man.

 
Leonardo Boff is a Brazilian philosopher, theologian and member of the Earth Charter Commission.

 

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Ciudadanos por un Clima Vivible Panamá / CCL Panamá avanzando

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La reunión del CCL Panamá en The New York Bagel Company.

CCL, paso por paso

foto por CCL-Panamá

El capitulo panameño de Ciudadanos por un Clima Vivible/Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) es parte de una organización internacional donde miles de voluntarios hacen lo necesario para apoyar a nuestros gubernantes para que tomen acciones efectivas para solucionar la crisis climática. La tarea principal ahora es convencer a los gobiernos para que incluyan el costo de las emisiones de carbono en el precio de la energía, para que las personas que usan menos energía y energía más limpia tengan un descuento en su costo de vida.

Durante el fin de semana, el grupo se reunió con café y bagels para planificar sus próximos movimientos y para entrenarse mutuamente en habilidades de cabildeo. En la reunión se anunció que el sitio web del grupo internacional en español, con una página para Panamá, ya está funcionando en el Internet en https://panama.climavivible.org/.

 

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