New work by George Scribner
George Scribner, a senior artist with Disney, hails from the old Canal Zone and still maintains close ties to Panama. This is some of his more recent and upcoming work.
On October 21, in a summary trial, former National Police chief and National Security Council director Gustavo Pérez faced charges for illegal possession of two 9 millimeter pistols, a .38 revolver and a submachine gun imprecisely described by prosecutors as a Minimax. The weapons were seized in a January 12 raid on Pérez’s home, in which police and prosecutors looked in vain for Ricardo Martinelli’s missing wiretapping equipment and took Pérez into custody on invasion of privacy charges. Because he had no permits for the firearms, and because prosecutors characterized some of them as “weapons of war” that Panama’s constitution says that only the government may possess, Pérez was charged with weapons offenses. One of the pistols belongs to the National Police. The former chief said that two of the guns were given to him — one by his father, another former National Police chief — and thus he didn’t need permits for those. His lawyer also argued that the submachine gun doesn’t count as a “weapon of war” because its fully automatic firing function had been disabled. But the prosecution claimed that large-caliber semiautomtic weapons count as proscribed military arms. Judge Óscar Carrasquilla will have some statutory interpretation to do, and promised a decision within 30 days. Prosecutor Jossira Rojas asked for a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
The case comes at a time when Panama is reconsidering its weapons policies. There is a decree banning the importation of firearms by anyone other than Panama’s police agencies that is set to expire in early December and a de facto moratorium on the issuance of gun permits to civilians that may also be lifted. Security Minister Rodolfo Aguilera touts the private possession of firearms as a crime-fighting measure, but while the officers serving under him maintain their silence on the matter as required by law, some retired cops, including former National Police chief Rolando Mirones, dismiss the minister’s argument. Mirones argues that more guns in more homes is likely to mean more homicides in domestic violence incidents.
So far this year there have been 41 female homicide fatalities in Panama, most of them killed in domestic violence incidents. The government gives no figures on how many of these involved firearms. Former legislator Teresita Yaniz de Arias, an important figure in the Varela administration’s junior partner Partido Popular, is a veteran campaigner against domestic violence and an opponent of easing Panama’s gun rules. In recent years there has been a hue and cry about “femicides,” including stiffer penalties for homicides in which the victim is a woman. The thinking behind this is not that women are so fragile and innocent that they merit special protection, but an attempt to address the pervasive problem of men — often estranged or former husbands or ex-boyfriends — using violence as a means to control women’s lives.
Getting a handle on the firearms issue is complicated by the lack of a unified registry of firearms. There are some 180,000 guns that are legally registered in Panama and police estimate that at least one-third again that many are circulating in society without permits. At the moment there is a moratorium on prosecuting people for having unregistered guns if they come forward and declare their unregistered weapons to the Dirección Institucional de Asuntos de Seguridad Publica (DIASP) and apply for permits. This moratorium expires on November 1.
If and when the moratorium on imports and permits ends, the government has been contemplating a limitation on that to shotguns and pistols. However, an abrupt about-face last August when Aguilera announced that the importation moratorium was to be lifted, only to have it extended two days later, suggests that there are behind-the-scenes struggles within the Varela administration about what Panama’s gun rules ought to be.
A new World Health Organization report highlights the urgent need to reduce emissions of black carbon, ozone and methane — as well as carbon dioxide — which all contribute to climate change. Black carbon, ozone and methane — frequently described as short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) — not only produce a strong global warming effect, they contribute significantly to the more than 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution.
The report, “Reducing global health risks through mitigation of short-lived climate pollutants,” produced in collaboration with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, reveals that interventions to cut SLCPs can reduce disease and death and contribute to food security, improve diets and increase physical activity.
“Every day, these pollutants threaten the health of men, women and children,” says Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General at WHO. “For the first time, this report recommends actions that countries, health and environment ministries, and cities can take right now to reduce emissions, protect health and avoid illness and premature deaths, which often take the greatest toll on the most vulnerable.”
The report builds off a 2011 assessment by the UN Environment Program and World Meteorological Organization that estimated that a global deployment of 16 SLCP reduction measures would prevent an average of 2.4 million premature deaths annually by 2030. New estimates could raise that to 3.5 million lives saved annually by 2030, and between 3 to 5 million lives per year by 2050. These latest projections take into account WHO’s latest data on deaths linked to air pollution as well as some new SLCP measures.
“Quick action to reduce black carbon, methane and other ozone precursors are much needed now,” says Helena Molin Valdés, head of the UNEP-hosted CCAC. “We know that the sooner we start reducing these pollutants the sooner we will relieve the pressures on climate and human health.”
Top actions for health and climate benefits
WHO rated more than 20 available and affordable measures to mitigate short-lived climate pollutants, including vehicle emissions standards, capturing landfill gas, switching from fossil fuels to renewables, reducing food waste and improving household cooking fuels, to see which have the greatest potential to improve health, reduce SLCP emissions and prevent climate change.
Four interventions rated medium to high in all three categories:
* Reducing vehicle emissions by implementing higher emissions and efficiency standards could reduce black carbon and other co-pollutants from fossil fuels, improve air quality and reduce the disease burden attributable to outdoor air pollution.
* Policies and investments that prioritize dedicated rapid transit such as buses and trains and foster safe pedestrian and cycle networks can promote multiple benefits, including: safer active travel and reduced health risks from air and noise pollution, physical inactivity, and road traffic injuries.
* Providing cleaner and more efficient stove and fuel alternatives to the approximately 2.8 billion low-income households worldwide dependent on primarily wood, dung and other solid fuels for heating and cooking, could reduce air pollution-related diseases and reduce the health risks and time invested in fuel-gathering.
* Encouraging high and middle-income populations to increase their consumption of nutritious plant-based foods could reduce heart disease and some cancers, and slow methane emissions associated with some animal-sourced foods.
“The health benefits that may be obtained from these strategies are far larger than previously understood, and they can be enjoyed immediately and locally,” says Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “The environment and health sectors can now prioritize interventions to meet both of their goals — preventing climate change and ensuring good health.”
The way forward
The release of today’s report is a significant step in WHO’s ongoing work to prevent diseases and deaths related to air pollution — and towards achieving the new global health goal. Target 3.9 aims to “By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.”
In May 2015, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution to address the health impacts of air pollution, which stresses the need for strong cooperation between different sectors and integration of health concerns into national, regional and local air-pollution-related policies.
WHO is piloting a number of these approaches in the urban health initiative it is leading with CCAC, Norway and other partners. The initiative will be rolled out in four cities in 2016. As part of this initiative, cost benefit analysis of key interventions recommended here will be further assessed.
Evidence from previous WHO studies on healthy transport already suggest that shifts to mass transport and the introduction of safe walking and cycling networks are relatively inexpensive when compared with the loss of life and costs of treating people for air-pollution related illnesses, traffic injuries and diseases related to physical inactivity.
Most people never sang that old song all the way to the end. But one multinational brewing corporation is finally ready to belt out the last verse.
The world’s biggest beer conglomerate, Anheuser-Busch InBev, intends to gulp down the second biggest, SABMiller, leaving us with only one behemoth of brewing. The two mega-stouts of mass-market beer have agreed to a $104 billion merger deal.
Both giants are creatures of the global merger-mania that’s consumed the industry in the past decade.
Anheuser-Busch was a St. Louis company built on the Budweiser brand. It was taken over in 2008 by a Brazilian consortium that had previously merged with a huge European brewing conglomerate. So plain old “Bud” is now AB InBev, headquartered in Belgium and also producing Corona, Stella Artois, Modelo, and a host of other brands.
Miller was a Milwaukee company until a similar series of mergers put it in the hands of a consortium controlled by a South American family dynasty and Altria, the tobacco giant that makes Marlboro cigarettes.
Now headquartered in London and named SABMiller, its roster of brews includes Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, and Grolsch. Plus it has joint ownership in the brands of the Canadian-based Molson Coors conglomerate.
These two sultans of suds say that the ABInBevSABMiller conglomeration of conglomerates is necessary for “future growth.” Hogswill.
For consumers and beer industry workers, the deal is about shrinkage. The new colossus would control 70 percent of all US beer sales and would own nearly half of the world’s top 40 beer brands. It won’t hesitate to use this monopolistic muscle to shrink consumer choice by squeezing independent breweries out of bars and retail outlets. And the merged entity is already planning to cut thousands of jobs.
That’s an awfully bitter brew.
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also the editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, and a member of the Public Citizen board.
Take the Wayback Machine to Panama City in 1856, when the California Gold Rush was still underway, the Dred Scott case was percolating in the American courts toward the next year’s decision that would do so much to provoke a bloody civil war, and this gringo named Jack Oliver thought it appropriate to steal from an Afro-Panamanian fruit vendor, and to introduce a gun into the argument when the vendor objected. Dozens of people, mostly Americans, were killed and the first of several US military invasions of Panama ensued.
Fast forward to 2014. This gringo named Sage Million was one of the “sovereign citizens” who colonized the El Volcan area. The sovereign citizens have many variations on a rap that began with a white supremacist group that calls itself the Posse Comitatus (not to be confused with a US law of that name). That routine originally went that because the rebellious states of the old Confederacy were obliged to adopt state constitutions that ratified the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution as a prerequisite for readmission to the Union, those amendments and all US constitutional changes that came thereafter, and the very existence of the federal government. and the things that it does and has done, are illegitimate, null and void. Consider that the 13th Amendment abolished slavery to know how reactionary that is. Consider that the 14th Amendment provides among other things that every person born in the United States is a US citizen to know how reactionary Donald Trump is. But there are other strains of sovereign citizens who say that it wasn’t until the 17th Amendment in 1913, which provides for direct election of US senators, or the 1934 Gold Reserve Act, that the national government became “unconstitutional.” In any case, the sovereign citizen rap is that by the time that Hawaii became a state in 1959 everything that the US federal government did was illegitimate.
That being so, Mr. Million figured, Hawaiian statehood and Hawaii’s state laws are illegitimate, ESPECIALLY the one giving rise to the warrant for his arrest for allegedly having sexual relations with a 10-year-old girl. He also considered himself so personally sovereign that Panamanian and Costa Rican borders didn’t apply to him. In the course of an illegal border crossing Panama’s SENAFRONT arrested him and the US embassy notified Panama of the state warrant for his arrest. Just one short-eye perv who’s a bit crazier than most? Well, that too, but Sage Million had both open and silent supporters in the gringo community here.
That’s scary, because some modern-day Jack Oliver who considers that young cholas have no rights that a white gringo is bound to respect could rather quickly inflame the deadliest of passions. A mob enraged about something like that may not inquire about what sort of American they would be attacking, especially if the ultra-right element of the gringo community shoves its way in front of the TV cameras and represents itself as the voice of all Americans here.
So is it just a matter for amusement when dozens of American families heed a call by Rick Wiles and Daniel Daves to drop everything in the USA and head to Panama, and then they start to show up in Boquete?
Consider that they are not just urging senior citizens to come retire here. Many of the people who have come to Boquete due to the urging of Wiles and Daves are working age Americans who are not millionaires and won’t qualify for pensionado, investor or special professional visas. They are coming here intending to violate Panamanian labor and immigration laws. And what about the advice that Daves gives his followers about protecting themselves? He not only says that every “Christian” of his variety ought to be packing a gun, he’s advising people to get portable anti-aircraft weapons to shoot down drones. Panama is conflicted about gun policies at the moment, and perhaps our Security Minister Rodolfo Aguilera is so far off the deep end as to like the idea of foreigners who are illegally here carrying surface-to-air weapons around. Were the National Police interested in a military coup, that sort of thinking around the cabinet table would be a readily available excuse. But although I think that Aguilera gets his information from Hollywood fiction to an extent unacceptable in a Panamanian government minister, I don’t think he’s for gringo fanatics going around Panama armed with weapons of war.
But hey — just because Panamanian law provides that preaching ethnic, political, racial or religious hatred is a deportable offense if a foreigner does it, our gay, lesbian and transgendered citizens are “fair game” here. In Panama it’s “legal” to hate queers. Plus, one of the questions that is not looked into during this country’s immigration procedures is whether the applicant suffers from paranoid delusions.
Set aside all of the creepy xenophobia that comes from legislator Zulay Rodríguez’s mouth — but all resident gringos should be aware of the threat that it represents in the presence of American extremists in Panama. And for those of us who are citizens, whether or not duals like me, there is a duty to Panama’s sovereignty — not only from hostile nations but also from individuals who consider themselves to be sovereign powers superior to the Panamanian people and to the flawed republic that happens to be the only one we have.
Balance those things against the universal human right to believe in whatever stupid thing that you want to believe. It’s not the first occasion for Panama to balance such considerations. But I think that if Wiles or Daves are found in this country, they should be arrested for illicit association to violate a number of Panamanian laws, and that all of their followers who have come here or seek to come here should be carefully examined on an individual basis. Panama really needs a better defined and more consistent policy about these sorts of colonizations.
Uno de los misterios más sibilinos en el Palacio de las Tortugas es por qué aún no se ha dado un cambio de gabinete. No porque el presidente Juan Carlos Varela lo disponga, sino porque los ministros serios (que sí empujan la carreta rumbo al desarrollo del país) no rehusen a continuar cargando con los ministros politiqueros (para quienes el gobernar es un cheque cada quincena). Ya el ministro Jorge Arango Arias provocó lo correcto, cuando el nepotismo del Instituto de Mercadeo Agropecuario. Los ministros serios saben que hoy la cosa no anda por buen camino, mientras que a los otros (incluido el mandatario) no les importa ni el robo, “con tal que sea legal”.
Pero esta semana surgieron indicios que esto podría cambiar. En negación de encuestas públicas que desde hace meses reflejan que el panameño no comulga con su caer en la tentación de “espíritus animales” (al decir de Lord Keynes), que descuida la ralentización que la economía global imprime sobre la nuestra local, el Palacio opta por darle a la sinhueso, sea con silencios mediaticos, espectáculos judiciales o anunciando proyectos faraónicos con costosísimas campañas publicitarias. Distrayendo de la raíz del problema que –por decisión del propio Varela– no se ejecuta política alguna de contención del gasto, pero sí se “ahorra” la mitad del Presupuesto de Inversiones (fulcro de la economía local). Porque saben esto, es que los diputados suplentes no tienen recato alguno en exigir un aumento de $3 mil para llegar a $6 mil. Y por eso es que la única contención del gasto públicamente anunciada por su impacto demagógico –la racionalización del gasto consular– ha desaparecido totalmente de los medios.
Esta semana pareciera indiciarse un cambio. Ejemplo. Luego de críticas poco-veladas de quien bien podría sucederle en la cartera de Obras Públicas, se da la ausencia del ministro Ramón Arosemena en la apertura del tramo final del Corredor Norte -curiosamente- el único ministro que ha hecho traslados de partida de planillas, hacia Inversiones — pecado mortal en el insaciable gobierno Panameñista/Popular. Conocí del área mientras fungí como administrador judicial de PYCSA Panamá, S.A. en su litigio con el Parque Natural Metropolitano, y luce poco probable que dicho profesional en materia vial habría aprobado tal “apertura parcial” sin los debidos controles de calidad de peralte, drenajes y rodavía, alguna interconexión funcional hacia Brisas del Golf/Domingo Díaz/Villalobos, y la iluminación indispensable en una carretera por peajes por esos parajes remotos. Aparte de, contrario al cuento de la propaganda oficial, esta medida politiquera sólo resuelve el problema –por sólo 30 días– para la pequeña élite de personas que tuvieran tanto carro, como PANAPASS. Todo esto sólo para “resolver” un problema que el propio Varela creó, al variar del esquema multimodal del gobierno Martinelli –de movilización masiva desde la 24 hacia la Línea 1 del tren ligero en San Isidro via METROBUS– en vez de crear un nuevo y costoso caos en la vía Domingo Díaz durante 5 largos años….
Pero perdura el problema de raíz.
El actual Presidente no reparó en la visita del Director del Fondo Monetario Internacional Dominique Strauss Kahn mientras fue vicepresidente del gobierno Martinelli, quien advirtió mediante remitido público contra el peligro de recalentar nuestra economía sui generis con desproporcionadas inversiones públicas. El optar –inteligentemente– por no tener papel moneda de curso legal forzoso nos obliga a un especial cuidado de las finanzas públicas, para no caer en esa tentación. Nuestra historia económica consiste en sucesivas altas y bajas económicas (Rufino Cuervo y Barreto, 1840: “Quien quiera ver a Panamá que venga, que se acaba” ).
Por las tempestades que hemos de cosechar durante el último trimestre del año –cuando merman las entradas oficiales y aumentan los egresos en razón del Décimo Tercer Mes– no puede culparse solamente “al gobierno anterior”. El gobierno del presidente Varela también ha sembrado estos vientos. Usando como ejemplo el financiamiento de la “descentralización” . El re-avaluo express que la financiarla nace en “la reforma sacaplata”, diseñada por el ingeniero Alberto Vallarino como ministro de Economía y Finanzas y firmada por el hermano del Presidente Varela como presidente del Órgano Legislativa. Cuando el público pegó el grito al cielo, este mecanismo se “suspendió” –no se derogó– para resucitar luego, embozalado en la “descentralización”. Esto se da, porque el esquema financiero del gobierno Varela es simplemente continuación del de Martinelli, solo que aumentando en $250 millones más los gastos de funcionamiento. Lo demás sigue igual: viajes y regalos papales, propaganda excesiva, el PAN, ley de contrataciones públicas, etc. No debiera sorprender cuando, para cuadrar a machetazos nuestras finanzas públicas, al igual que entonces pasó bajo Martinelli, próximamente también se aumente el ITBMS por otros “sólo dos puntos”.
By calling on Israeli Jewish citizens to openly carry arms, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is giving them license to shoot at will and execute Palestinians on the spot, proves that the Israeli government is transforming its own public into vigilantes and gangsters following the official Israeli policy of land theft and summary executions, while providing incentives and protection to settler terrorists. It has thereby generated a culture of hate, racism and violence and translated Israel’s state impunity into lawlessness and individual impunity for its own citizens.
Israel’s acts of aggression and violence have resulted in the killing of 24 Palestinians and the injury of more than 1,200 Palestinians. Israel is provoking violence in Jerusalem and creating a situation of instability and crisis as a cover to exercise control over the Al-Aqsa Mosque and expropriate Al-Haram Al-Sharif, transform the character of Jerusalem, annex more Palestinian land, and escalate its illegal settlement activities. All the while, it persists in spreading a false narrative labeling Palestinians as terrorists, and blaming the victim once again in an act of grand deception.
Yet another generation of Palestinian young men and women, born under occupation and enduring its ruthlessness and cruelty, has again engaged in popular resistance to send a clear message to Israel and the rest of the world that they will not forget or surrender; their spirit cannot be broken and they will continue the struggle for freedom and dignity. They are literally dying to be free.
It was always a question of when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would violently erupt once again, which only proves that, contrary to the prevailing views among a multitude of Israelis, no Israeli government can manage the occupation indefinitely. The current replay of past violent flare-ups points to the dismal failure of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policy.
That said, I do not suggest for a moment that all Palestinians are innocent bystanders; Palestinian leaders, including Abbas, have their share in provoking the unrest. But those Israelis who call on their government to use harsher measures to prevent further escalation should answer a simple question: what happens the day after a successful Israeli crackdown, and where will all this lead to?
They all seem to conveniently forget or ignore that what is fundamentally wrong here is the continuing occupation, which by its own very nature cannot be sustained without paying an increasingly heavier toll on both sides.
The stabbing and killing of innocent Israelis is most reprehensible, and the perpetrators should be brought to justice if they survive the aftermath of their atrocious acts. The Israeli government has the responsibility to take security measures to prevent such criminal acts.
The use of excessive force, however, only provokes more intense violent resistance and fuels the already-existing Palestinian extremism which is not likely to abate, however brutal and forceful Israel’s counter-measures might be.
Whether or not the violence was instigated by the Palestinian Authority’s unfounded accusation that Israel is changing the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram el-Sharif is hardly relevant, even if it were true.
If the conflict over the Temple Mount did not instigate the current flare-up, any other incident would have ignited it because the conditions on the ground were ripe for such a violent uprising.
A multitude of Palestinian youths live in abject poverty, are despondent, and have no hope for the future. They feel completely abandoned by their own government on the one hand, and are choked by the Israeli occupation on the other.
The fact, however, that Jerusalem was the flash point is especially worrisome as the city houses the largest number of Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side. If Jerusalem cannot provide the microcosm of Israeli-Palestinian peaceful coexistence, there will never be peace between the two sides.
When it comes to the use of force, Israel will sooner than later prevail, which may calm the situation, but only temporarily. The general shifting of the Israeli population to the right-of-center and the enormous power the settlement movement wields make matters considerably worse.
Extremists on both sides will continue to provoke each other, which will only set the stage for the next bloody confrontation if the political status quo and conditions on the ground remain unchanged.
Israel, rather than the Palestinians, will end up licking its wounds, because irrespective of how many Palestinians are killed and how much destruction they sustain, it is a small sacrifice they happily make in their march toward statehood.
The fact is, a handful of knife-wielding Palestinians can cause such havoc among the Israelis, rob them of their personal safety, and make them psychologically vulnerable.
Meanwhile, Israel’s image is further tarnished as friends and foes alike view Israel, rather than the Palestinians, as the culprit behind this new wave of violence. The persisting occupation and the expansion of the settlements provide a constant flame, and it takes little fuel to make it a raging fire that leaves terrible destruction in its wake.
Those extremists among the Israelis who really believe that the use of force is the only way to deal with Palestinian violence are living in self-denial, and the complacent among Israelis in general do not want to know the truth, preferring to live the life of false comfort that complacency provides.
Moreover, there is no way to take this Palestinian ‘uprising’ out of the regional context. The Arab Spring and the resulting regional turmoil reminds every Palestinian that fighting and dying for a cause is better than living a life of servitude and hopelessness.
Wisdom dictates that Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition rethink their position and devise a long-term strategy not limited to only stem the current bloodshed, but to prevent the vicious cycle of violence by changing the status quo.
Some Israelis and Palestinians might think that time is on their side. They are dead wrong. Time works on the side of those who know how to seize the moment and are committed to finding solutions to endemic problems, instead of waiting and falsely hoping that they can ride the wave of uncertainty and improve their position over time.
Every intelligent Israeli and Palestinian, and there are many, should speak up loud and clear that there will be no winners in this conflict — only losers.
The losses will transcend material, territorial, or physical control, but inflict far more acute damage: the loss of the moral tenet that frees the individual of the responsibility to do what is right. It a dreadful curse because it is self-propelling and allows for ever more latitude to kill and destroy without any sense of remorse.
The mutual acrimonious charges and counter-charges by Israeli and Palestinian leaders do nothing but instigate ever more violence. If Netanyahu and Abbas really want to end the bloodshed, they must appeal to their respective publics, preferably together, and unambiguously state that they are both determined to end the violence.
The question is, do they have the courage, vision, conviction, or will to do what must be done, as neither side can have it their way or wish the other away.
Israel has every right to exist as a Jewish and a democratic state and should protect that with all of its might. However, being that Israel is by far the more powerful party, it should use that might to change the reality on the ground, because its survival as a true Jewish and democratic country depends on the creation of a Palestinian state.
Given past experiences with Netanyahu and Abbas, I seriously doubt that either can rise to the occasion on their own. But for the visit of Secretary of State John Kerry to the region to have any positive effect, Abbas should accept Netanyahu’s invitation to meet during Kerry’s visit. They must promise that the status quo ante will change and together they will chart a new road to peace before it is too late.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.
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