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the bird is the word 2
The Violet Sabrewing / El Alasable Violáceo. Foto por Kermit Nourse.

The Violet Sabrewing / El Alasable Violáceo

Kermit Nourse’s Birds of Panama

Today’s hummingbird from Panama is the Violet Sabrewing. This bird can be found at Cerro Punta, a small agricultural town located at 6500 feet close to the border of Costa Rica. For me its one of the nicest places on the planet with the one of the greatest shows on earth –- the hummingbirds which whiz past your ear or perch in front of you just long enough so as not to be photographed. I’ve seen at least seven species there.

El colibrí de hoy de Panamá es Alasable Violáceo. Esta ave puede ser encontrada en Cerro Punta, una pequeña ciudad agrícola localizada en 6500 pies cerca de la frontera de Costa Rica. Para mí su de los sitios más agradables en el planeta con el que de los mayores espectáculos en la tierra –-los colibríes que zumban por delante de su oído o percha delante de usted sólo el bastante mucho tiempo para no ser fotografiados. He visto al menos 7 especies allí.

 

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Atlantic Side bridge
The new Atlantic Side bridge over the Panama Canal under construction, as shown on the National Assembly’s website in mid-October 2016, with the enthusiastic report that it was 52 percent done and there weren’t any cracks in it. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

What the ACP says, doesn’t say, and ignores

by Eric Jackson

The Panama Canal Authority’s (ACP’s) information control game was set up during the Panama Canal’s transition from US to Panamanian administration, under the direction of one Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal, then Minister of Canal Affairs, later President of the Republic of Panama, now a criminal fugitive being harbored by the United States government in Miami. It has not changed very much over the years. Its main features include:

  • Ferocious attacks on Panama Canal employees’ unions and a relentless if not so effective effort find or better yet prevent any whistle blowers;
  • A cozy relationship with the corporate mainstream media based primarily on family and business ties with their owners and managers, and also on the exchange of access for obedient reporting;
  • The breaking of major, controversial or dubious stories through foreign media, whose reporters will neither bring up questions of importance to Panamanians that would not occur to people who have not followed Panamanian realities nor question assertions that any self-respecting Panamanian journalist would not let pass unchallenged;
  • A presumption that Panamanians have no history and no memory;
  • The principle that conflicts of interest are not news, and moreover that because of the lack of any comprehensive Panamanian law on the subject, don’t exist and can’t exist; and
  • A fraud artist’s calculation that suckers — including a whole nation or even the whole world — can’t figure out basic incongruities in a business pitch.

Panama has seen all of that in recent days.

On March 28 La Prensa ran a gushy little ACP press release story about how construction of the new bridge over the Atlantic entrance to the canal is 56.5 percent complete, and that the project will cost $570 million.

Back when the canal expansion project was first announced in 2006, two things jumped out from the ACP’s first charts that called their financial projections sharply into question, although the mainstream media had been bought off with huge “Yes” campaign advertising buys so did not see fit to mention those.

On the revenue side, there was the projection that the growth in US imports from China would grow at the rate of increase that was seen between 2000 and 2005 through at least 2025. Not a series of straight ascending lines as in growth from month-to-month or year-to-year, but an ever-steeper upward curve based on how fast the increase was progressing at the start of this century. But those numbers would, when compared to economic reality, mean that the United States would export all of its industrial production to China and still have money to buy things on the world economy as if no economic disaster struck. So it was immediately apparent that the ACP’s revenue projections were spurious. Those projections failed even before the 2008 worldwide financial crash.

The second dead giveaway was on the project’s expenditure side. The new locks would cut off Colon’s Costa Abajo — that part of the province west of the canal, from Piña to Miguel de La Borda and beyond — from road access to the rest of the country. So where was the bridge or tunnel connection that would necessarily be a part of the canal expansion project? It wasn’t there. As in, an expenditure that would run into hundreds of millions of dollars not included in the price tag advertised by the ACP. And who did that schematic anyway? It was Parsons Brinckerhoff of Boston Big Dig notoriety, a road tunnel project that cost much more than had been advertised to the general public and to state and federal agencies, in which the main trick that was played was putting major necessary components of the job “off the project” and thus out of the calculations.

Add more than half a billion dollars to the canal expansion price with this bridge. That’s about 40 percent more than the bridge project cost had been placed at a few years ago, but set that aside ad a minor frill. The ACP compartmentalized the canal expansion project so as to understate its cost.

But then there are non-financial costs as well. Like the death of a straw man.

On October 16 the National Assembly published an article on their website, wherein they proclaimed the “Third Bridge over the Canal, without cracks and 52 percent done.” As in, two legislative committees visiting the construction site as a part of their oversight role. The lead paragraph concluded that the committees “found no cracks in the structures, as reported.” But WHO reported that? WHERE was it reported? The source of said alleged allegation is unspecified by the legislature’s website, no such claim is recalled by this reporter and none of that information can be found online by a Google search. Maybe someone said something somewhere, but by every appearance politicians seeking to curry favor with the ACP set up and killed a straw man.

But look at the number the legislators’ report cited, and the date. The project was 52 percent done in the middle of last October. Five months later, as the dry season approaches its end, La Prensa, with its unspecified but obviously ACP source, reports that the bridge is 56.5 percent done. There could be some interesting questions based on those two numbers, but ever since 2006 when this reporter declined to be an unpaid acolyte during the referendum campaign the ACP does not answer questions from this direction.

Fallout from the failed Port of Corozal bidding

The proposed new seaport at Diablo and Corozal has run into fierce opposition from several quarters. The ACP evicted the Diablo boat shed owners, calling them “squatters” and accusing them of various illegal activities. Litigation over whether the ousted people will be compensated and how much is pending and will surely continue for years to come. The canal pilots say that a port in that particular spot is a traffic hazard for ships going into and out of the Miraflores Locks. The legislature has been divided into factions backing various contenders — who came and went — for that private port concession. (At one point the big hue and cry was against the Motta family, which had allegedly rigged the process in their favor. But then the company in which they hold a stake was eliminated from the bidding process by a change in the prerequisites for bidders.) It came down to four remaining contenders who ere allowed to bid for the concession, the day to submit bids came — and nobody put in a bid.

The ACP won’t say whether they will continue with the Corozal port project. There are rumors of price reductions so that Panama gains nothing in taxes or shared revenues, but the project goes. The international consensus is that world shipping is in a bad way and that although it may be picking up in some segments it’s a risky investment at this point.

But from ACP circles there now comes “an alternative truth.” The Corozal ports project was set back not because the economics are bad for it at this time, but because a former PanCanal vice president for planning, Rodolfo Sabonge, leaked a confidential ACP feasibility study to Carlos Urrutia, an executive for one of the companies looking at bidding on the port concession. This version has burst upon the public thanks to the effort of ACP board member Lourdes Castillo, who has clashed with Sabonge before.

PanCanal’s inspector general and top officials beg off from comment, saying that it’s a metter under investigation, or that will be investigated.

But there is a big problem here. Sabonge retired from the ACP in 2013. The alleged leak took place no later than three and a half years ago. If one possible bidder was warned off by confidential information from within the ACP, all of the other potential bidders figured out the same stuff on their own anyway, and declined to bid.

There appears to be an even bigger implicit problem. Did someone see an internal document that indicated that something that the ACP was selling really wasn’t such a profitable deal? As in, Sabonge’s alleged offense was spilling the beans on a business deception? As in, the prevailing business model at the Panama Canal Authority is a culture of fraud, of the concealment of material information from potential business partners?

Why Corozal? The imperfectly concealed explanation

One issue that PanCanal unions have brought up is more serious, and what they point out contains the seeds of understanding why the ACP persisted, and it may still persist, in pumping a Corozal project that almost all independent, informed and astute observers think to be a turkey. It comes from a 2015 article in the Mexican edition of the business publication Forbes, in a feature about one of the wealthiest men in Panama, ACP board member Alberto Vallarino. It’s good business journalism, even if Vallarino gives some self-serving accounts of Panamanian business and political history in the article. Of immediate importance here is one paragraph:

Logistics is another of the sectors where his business is betting. There he wants to enter into activities related to transportation. To do this, he acquired a 60-hectare lot southwest of the city, in the reverted areas near what will be the new Panamanian Pacific port of Corozal.

There are other possible explanations, which could be shrouded in ACP secrecy like perhaps a recusal in a process that has never been publicized. But at first glance we are looking at a major league conflict of interest. Depending on the circumstances of when, how and why Vallarino acquired that property, we may be looking at insider trading.

Tugboat privatization

The Pänama Canal unions, the tugboat skippers and pilots in particular, alleged that the Panama Canal Authority was planning to privatize canal tugboat services. The allegation is long-standing. In the middle of March, the canal unions again made the charge, this time by pointing out that the ACP had not made the orders to purchase sufficient tugs to do the work and to a proposal that they had seen which suggested a change in work rules to allow the use of contracted private tugs. The ACP immediately denied it, issuing a vitriolic response that questioned the labor activists’ honesty. Two days later, at a business gathering, a private tug company announced its order of new tugs to provide services to the Panama Canal Authority. The company said that the ACP had awarded it the private tug contract in 2016. The ACP management issued no clarification or apology.

Preparing to cede the west bank of the Panama Canal to China

Article 3 of the Panamanian Constitution provides that:

The national territory can never be ceded, transferred or alienated, temporarily or partially, to other states.

That was one of the very first things that came up in a 1972 convention of the representantes chosen in the 1968 elections, assembled by General Omar Torrijos and his colleagues to give a fig leaf of constitutionality to their military dictatorship. The treaties that ultimately gave the canal and the Canal Zone to Panama were some years in the future but that constitutional provision, like those treaties, was a fundamental political requirement. It was neither some drafter’s intellectual whim nor some strongman’s demagogic promise. It was a national aspiration that burned in the hearts of Panamanians, something for which people had died. Without that section Torrijos could not have had his contsitution ratified.

That military constitution, with a few amendments, is still in effect in Panama.

But much has changed. The former American enclave reverted to Panama, which had only briefly held formal title for a few days between independence from Colombia and the Hay-Buneau-Varilla Treaty that established the Canal Zone. The Cold War ended. Globalization on corporate terms, including the widespread privatization of public assets, swept around most of the planet. The public property of the Soviet Union became the private property of Russian oligarchs, who under the leadership of Vladimir Putin blurred the distinction between the Kremlin’s public sphere and the activities of privatized — that is, stolen — fortunes. The people whom Chairman Mao reviled as “capitalist roaders” gained control of the Chinese Communist Party and the Peoples Republic of China after Mao died, and they also blurred the distinctions between public and private property and their respective functions.

And now the Panama Canal Authority, stung by the business world’s rejection of their Corozal project and still looking for new sources of revenue in light of their failed financial projections for the canal expansion, are looking to another plan.

They didn’t lay this out directly to any Panamanian news medium. To do that would risk questions from a reporter about the plan’s propriety under the Panamanian Constitution. No, the ACP went back to an old page in the playbook and released this one through Reuters journalists in Shanghai on the occasion of ACP administrator Jorge Quijano’s visit there. So on March 28 those of us who pay attention read of exploratory talks to concede parts of the former Empire and Balboa firing ranges on the western bank of the Panama Canal, a parcel of some 1,200 hectares, to three state-controlled and partially state-owned Chinese corporations, the China Communications Construction Corporation, its subsidiary the China Harbour Engineering Company and a separate firm, the China Railway Group.

There will be quibbling about what it means to cede or alientate, or transfer. Lawyers will make their stands about what’s a “state.” “Temporarily” and “partially” will no doubt be parsed into a meaningless twilight zone. But Quijano didn’t try to pull this on any worthy Panamanian reporter.

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Old song, electricity outages that are still with us.

Our power supply: worse than just exploding transformers

by Eric Jackson

Two major electrical outages resulting from transformer explosions at the Condado del Rey power routing station on March 17 and again on March 21 have had some far-reaching consequences and prompted some discomforting questions. The first outage left the Panama City – San Miguelito – Colon metro are without electricity for about 16 hours, and also turned out the lights in large parts of Nicaragua and most of Honduras. The second outage was not so severe but also blacked ou the whole metro area. Since then parts of the Interior that were not affected by the two explosions have been hit by a serious of shorter power outages, here in rural Cocle where most production on The Panama News happens sometimes several per day.

The problem is at ETESA, the state-owned power grid company that’s the one public remnant from the 1998 privatization of the old IRHE public electric company. ETESA buys power from private generators, distributes it across the country and via a Central American power grid connection to other countries, while the retail distribution and billing for electricity happens through another set of private power companies. The natural questions of how, why and who is responsible have arisen. The career of ETESA director Iván Barría Mock is the first and most noteworthy casualty. After a series of sometimes alarming public statements and admissions, he submitted his resignation. As of April 1 Óscar Rendoll, who has worked in the electrical industry for 41 years, including in the management of IRHE way back when, will take over as interim director.

dem also say

In the wake of the first and biggest power outage, ETESA announced that things were not entirely back to normal but they were working on it. People were advised to conserve electricity, particularly by not running air conditioners during peak hours, in the meantime. Then after the second outage the power grid company first put out a Twitter message that everything was back to normal, followed by a statement by Barría warning of possible new outages. In statements that followed Barría warned of electricity cutoffs in areas that use a lot more energy than most other places. That latter bit was a big political problem, as so many of Panama City’s downtown office towers are designed around air conditioning to the point that opening windows to allow natural ventilation is not a viable option, and as the neighborhoods where the country’s richest residents live are also the places where residential electricity consumption is the highest.

At the grassroots, and particularly in the social media, allegations began to be made by activists. With a little time lag, many of these began to appear in the mainstream media. These were tales of political intrigue, conflicts of interest and flat-out incompetence. The explanations from Barría made things worse and the silence of the ETESA board — Minister of Economy and Finance Dulcidio De La Guardia, Minister of the Presidency Francisco Sierra and National Energy Secretary Víctor Urrutia — did nothing to reassure anybody.

ETESA and its board, like so much of the Panamanian government, has been on a political patronage rotation. Every five years the top people and many in the lower ranks are fired. Some of the people who are let go will be among those few who know how to run more than a small part of the system. Most of the replacements will be political activists or relatives of politically important people, but some will be professionals in the field, and some will be old hands who lost their jobs in previous political patronage shuffles. But the returning old pros will come back to a different team, with a system that has been physically changed and that relies on a different set of business relationships.

Typically contracts are also rescinded, renegotiated or reassigned in every transition. Because of the extreme abuses of the Martinelli years, the transition at ETESA was all the more severe.

So who is Iván Barría? A competent engineer by looking at his resume. But also the brother of Aurelio Barría Mock, the executive vice president of Grupo Motta, the family-owned combine that’s the nation’s biggest private economic power. The Motta family sponsored the Independent Movement (MOVIN), the support of which was a key factor in Juan Carlos Varela’s election to the presidency. But lately MOVIN and President Varela have had a falling out over a number of issues and it has resulted in something of a government shuffle not caused by Varela reviewing situations and deciding to make changes but by people who are not Panameñista Party loyalists leaving posts in the current administration.

Among the contracts quickly rescinded once Barría took the helm of ETESA was the maintenance contract for the Condado del Rey power station. That was in 2014. However, no new maintenance contractor was employed and critics say that there were no proper adjustments to do that work in-house.

One of the Martinelli-era contracts that was revised, in 2015, was a provision of the deal with Odebrecht that allowed the company to negotiate and settle eminent domain claims for the long-planned ETESA Line 3. The corrupt Brazilian company stood to receive a percentage of all such settlements after an aggregate of $7 million was passed. The contract was modified to require ETESA approval of any settlement. It is said by critics that had Line 3 been in place the load on the transformers that exploded would not have been so great and the outages caused by their failure would not have been so extensive. But this power line has been tangled up in litigation, with lawyers taking their bites. (Have real estate speculators bought land along the route, based on inside information?) It’s a mess, with fingers being pointed in various directions for the slow progress.

Meanwhile almost all of the transformers and other equipment at the Condado del Rey facility are by ordinary ratings old, at 75 percent or more of their ordinary useful life expectancy. People can argue about whether that’s Panamanian maintenance culture or the habit of enterprises everywhere that live hand-to-mouth.

In any case, important organizations like the Panamanian Society of Engineers and Architects (SPIA) and the Chamber of Commerce have demanded that ETESA be put back in order, with various recommendations about how that should be done. Changes in the ETESA contracting system are suggested in most of the offered remedies.

One of the complaints that Barría had lodged, echoed by some of the business critics, is that ETESA has to go through government contracting procedures and these are too slow. But in 2015, a decision to move away from primary reliance on hydroelectric power in the direction of gas-fueled electricity generation was jammed through in just a few days. That contract, set to go into effect next year, was made without any real opportunity for environmentalists or others to object to its carbon emission and thus climate change implications. Competing bidders also complained about the almost nil evaluation process — three days to evaluate 27 offers. The winner there? Gas Natural del Atlantico (GNA) got a 10-year contract to generate 350 megawatts of power to be distributed through ETESA. And who is GSA? It’s a partnership between the US-based AES and Grupo Motta. At the time Iván Barría denied that there was any conflict of interest involved in his brother being VP of Grupo Motta.

Panama has no general conflict of interest law. National and international anti-corruption groups have been advocating one for many years.

President Varela has announced an audit of ETESA management decisions. Apart from that the National Public Services Authority (ASEP) says that it will hire an independent investigator to assign blame and recommend solutions in the wake of the power outages. And the president urges the public to conserve energy and show some patience in the several weeks that he expects it to take for the damages from the two blackouts to be repaired.

 

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More on the Impunity Accords

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

The Panamanian authorities’ publicized decision to arrive at a pact wherein they “agree to agree” with the Brazilian criminal conglomerate Odebrecht, at the same time “complaining” against them has been a moral — and also mortal — heart attack.

Odebrecht’s ever-skilled bribery gangsters, who continue to operate with impunity in Panama, have managed to strengthen their tentacles to come out of this indemnified. In recent weeks they have incessantly lobbied and and come to new accommodations, now with Law 4 (formerly Bill 245), which is extremely useful to favor, protect and reward those who pay and those who take bribes.

For the time being in Panama, they have managed to achieve:

1. no action taken here against the company’s property;

2. the preservation of “their existence and continuity of activities;”

3. an understanding that “the buyers of assets of the company are not liable for unlawful acts practiced in the past;”

4. the suspension of all “restrictions on registrations” and / or blocking of assets;

5. the expectation that the “Formal Verbal Agreement” with the Procuraduria will become a non-disclosure agreement, in exchange for “a few million more” of the $59 million offered.

Contrary to what happened in the Dominican Republic, where a judge declared an agreement between their prosecutors and Odebrecht “inadmissible,” in Panama legislators, judges and high court magistrates maintain their silence while all kinds of efforts a deployed to sedate the citizenry, little by little, until they forget about Odebrecht.

Perhaps because of this, in none of the works that continue to run thanks to the overprices and the kickbacks, neither the name nor the logo of the Brazilian company are shown. Thus those who do not see and do not hear, do not understand. They forget faster and better.

The Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, far from auditing and investigating as it should, says it it will rely on the audits that the Comptroller General’s Office will make of 11 projects carried out by Odebrecht. The Comptroller says that it has no staff for this and that it “will only evaluate” some.

The nearly $10 billion spent on Odebrecht contracts represent, conservatively, a billion dollars in bribes. Where, and in whose hands, is this money?

 

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El ciclo ¿Y La Educación Sexual Cuándo? en el Cine Universitario.

Cine: ¿Y La Educación Sexual Cuándo?

por Roberto Enrique King — GECU

Dada la buena recepción que han tenido las películas que cubren diversas expresiones de la sexualidad humana, el CINE UNIVERSITARIO de la Universidad de Panamá, extenderá una semana más, del lunes 27 al viernes 31, el ciclo “¿Y LA EDUCACIÓN SEXUAL CUÁNDO?”, con siete filmes que cuentan historias sobre personas que sufren la ignorancia, intolerancia o violencia de sociedades que no enfrentan las problemáticas que engendran sus estructuras y falsos “valores”. En tandas de 2, 5 y 7 pm y con entrada gratis.

Las películas escogidas bien merecen ser vistas por jóvenes y adultos para tomar cuenta de la necesidad de educar y legislar con inteligencia: en “XXY” (Argentina, 2007) una pareja debe decidir qué alternativa tomar para el futuro de su hija hermafrodita de 15 años; en el documental “PARIS IS BURNING” (USA, 1990) se muestra con sinceridad los festejos y concursos de travestis en el Bronx durante el siglo pasado, el filme fue declarado patrimonio audiovisual por el Congreso de Estados Unidos; en la multipremiada “LA VIDA DE ADELE” (Francia, 2013) una chica de pelo azul se cruza en el camino de una adolescente que busca su identidad sexual y el amor.

En “4 MESES, 3 SEMANAS Y 2 DÍAS” (Rumania, 2007), filme ganador de la Palma de Oro en Cannes, una muchacha enfrenta la desidia de funcionarios comunistas cuando intenta abortar; en la impactante cinta “MICHAEL” (Austria, 2011), nadie imagina que un apacible vendedor de seguros abusa de un niño al que mantiene prisionero en el sótano de su casa; en “IRREVERSIBLE” (2002) la violencia criminal afecta trágicamente la vida de un joven matrimonio parisino; y en “EL DESCONOCIDO DEL LAGO” (2013), un paraje tranquilo que varios hombres usan para tener encuentros sexuales se convierte en una zona donde ronda la muerte. CINE U: teléfono 523-5391.

 

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The Striated Heron sings a gentle song. ~ La Garza Dorsiverde canta una canción suave.

The Striated Heron ~ La Garza Dorsiverde

Photo feature by Kermit Nourse ~ Foto por Kermit Nourse

Today’s bird from Panama is the Striated Heron, one of the 64 recognized species of herons. They are about 18 inches in length and are uncommon in western Panama. I observed this one swimming like a duck and bobbing underwater from time to time.

Hoy la ave de Panamá es la Garza Dorsiverde, una de las 64 especies reconocidas de garzas. Son aproximadamente 18 pulgadas de largo y son poco comunes en el oeste de Panamá. He observado esta nadando como un pato y bamboleándose bajo el agua de vez en cuando.

 

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And yet they persist. Protesters gather in Washington to defend the Affordable Care Act. Photo by Tom Eytan.

Blame the Democrats

by Tom Perez

Yesterday, after failing to get enough Republicans to support his catastrophic health care bill, Donald Trump held a press conference to blame the defeat of Trumpcare on… Democrats.

According to Donald, the reason his health care bill failed in the House is that no Democrats would vote for it.

You’re damn right we wouldn’t.

Paul Ryan and the House GOP were desperate to jam through a health care bill that would cause 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance. Democrats stood firm and made clear that we wouldn’t let that happen. And Donald Trump, master deal-maker that he supposedly is, couldn’t get the members of his own party to vote for it.

If passing Trumpcare was a task on The Apprentice, I’m pretty sure Donald would be fired.

We’ve seen what happens when Donald Trump loses — he starts looking for new ways to rehash old battles. And after seven years and more than 60 votes to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act, you can bet that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell aren’t giving up for good.

Yesterday, we sent Republicans a message to keep their hands off of Obamacare. Let’s make sure they don’t forget it.

 

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The new American resistance

Donald Trump and the ugliest elements of his entourage are worse than a lot of people thought. A growing resistance across the USA and in American communities everywhere is making itself felt. The defeat of the Trump health care denial proposal shows that although Trump’s party controls the White House and both houses of Congress, American society is not defenseless against them.

Look at what the GOP leaders just tried to do. See just how bad their intentions are. They meant to kill many Americans by voiding the health insurance of some 24 million people. They would have imposed age taxes wherein the elderly would have to pay up to five times more than the young for health care. They tried to use this nefarious proposal to conceal a $600 billion tax cut for the ultra-rich. It was too reckless a plan for them to keep Republicans who will face the voters in 2018 in line.

These people will be back, and so will the resistance. If you divide up a presidency by months and make a boxing analogy, consider that the resistance just won round one of an 18-rounder against Trump. So should the resistance come out swinging wildly for round two, and risk errors that will get it knocked out? Should it dance around and try to avoid any fisticuffs, in hope that a one-point lead will hold up to give the Democrats a split decision?

Let’s get some concepts right. The Democratic leadership and the resistance are far from one and the same. The Democratic Party played its big role in the defeat of Trump’s proposal, but the people who burned up the congressional telephone lines and delivered the resistance message to Americans everywhere did not do so in the name of Hillary Clinton. In fact many in the Democratic establishment are afraid of the resistance.

At a recent Americas region meeting of Democrats abroad, international DA chair Katie Solon — a Hillary apparatchik trying to steer a constituency that voted more than two to one for Bernie in last year’s primary — opined that it would be against Democrats Abroad rules for DA country chapters to use their mailing lists and Facebook pages to promote things like the Indivisible protests at GOP politicians’ town hall events that were a big part of defeating the Trump health care denial proposal, or the upcoming worldwide April 22 March for Science. She would have Democrats behave like a Marxist-Leninist cult, abstaining from everything that they don’t totally control, supporting worldwide action against stupidity and injustice everywhere except for where it’s actually happening.

Health care was round one, but now Trump’ Supreme Court nomination and the geometrically expanding scandals about Russian manipulation of US politics are upon us. The resistance and the Democratic leadership may be generally on the same side of those things, but the resistance needs to be broader, smarter and more independent than those who would reduce it to a segment of an email spam list.

The DNC might feel the need to tolerate a Democratic senator who breaks the filibuster against the Neil Gorsuch nomination to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. The resistance would and should be far less understanding, now and in the event that such a person ever again face the possibility of a primary challenge.

Some Democrats may use a combination of selectivity and exaggeration in an attempt to channel public indignation over the Trump crowd’s conflicts of interests and lies about these. One great danger in the “Kremlingate” scenario that is being urged is that while images of an overarching Putin conspiracy are overplayed, the much stronger evidence of a fragmented Russian mob that works in both private and public sectors — and of Trump’s many dealings with such mobsters over many years — gets ignored. Another great danger is a sense of US exceptionalism that fails to notice Russian manipulation in other countries’ elections as well, and that fails to notice the attempts of powers other than Russia to manipulate Washington. America can get blind-sided by some very real threats if Americans fail to discern the complexity of the current situation. The truth of the matter is that both Putin and Trump are mobbed-up politicians whose jobs include the management of geopolitical rivalries. The truth of the matter is a long history of both US and Russian manipulations of other countries’ elections. The difference is that Russia has hardly any democratic tradition to respect or defend, while Americans’ democratic traditions are long-standing even if once again threatened.

The resistance need not wear blinders, and shouldn’t. There’s a country to defend, with eyes wide open and minds fully engaged.

 

he bad?
The president covers “Bad to the Bone.” Photo by the Presidencia.

The maleantes again

2017 has brought us gruesome murder stories, an apparent shift in the routes and venues of international organized crime and consequent spike in gangland hits here, increased public alarm about crime and President Varela’s creation of a new elite police unit with badass uniforms and bigger weapons. For expatriates who have brought US cultural values here and not sunk roots into Panama, the default response may be to move — as if they will find a place where there is no risk of crime.

For everyone else, the advice remains the same. If you don’t want to a visit from a hit man, steer clear of the rackets. Don’t display wealth. Learn enough Spanish to report a crime to police. Join your neighborhood watch group if there is one where you live. Be a helpful, respectful and unpretentious neighbor. Don’t believe in anything that sounds too good to be true. Enjoy this imperfect paradise for what it is.

 

Bear in mind…

The American people have a right to know if their president is a crook.

Richard Nixon

We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.

Leona Helmsley

There are three ways of doing things — good, bad and like I do them.

Pablo Escobar

 

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Pedrarias the Cruel, who in 1519 founded Panama City on the site of an existing indigenous settlement.

The Panama City quincentennial: What’s to celebrate?

by Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo

Panama City was founded in 1519 by Spanish conquerors who perceived the potential of the Pacific Ocean. A few years before, in 1513, Vasco Núñez de Balboa declared all of its littoral to be the property of King Carlos of Spain.

The national as well as the municipal authorities are preparing the celebrate the city’s quincentennial. However, they don’t have an agenda to guide them. The first question asked of them — What do we celebrate? — has been left without answer. The second question — Why do we celebrate? — is up in the air, looking for a place to land. The third question — Who are we who celebrate? — is completely ignored.

The Panamanian capital has had its moments of splendor and also those of decay. It was founded by a rising empire and has been coveted by others anxious to establish global domination. Panama City’s geographic location in large part determines its dynamics and its history. It rests on a narrow strip of land that separates the two largest oceans from the earth. It facilitated the maritime trade of the North Atlantic powers of Europe — and later the United States — with the Pacific. In the late twentieth century China and Japan joined in its interoceanic trade.

The Spanish conquerors exported enormous quantities of silver and gold from the mines of Upper Peru (now Bolivia) to Spain, crossing the barely 80 kilometers of the Isthmus of Panama. The colonial era businessmen and politicians who lived in Panama City prospered in the 16th and 17th centuries. The indigenous population was annihilated early on and the African slaves were brought in. From this epoch the social relations of inequality and discrimination — still with us — developed.

The precious minerals’ loss of value at the end of the 17th century was the starting point of a long period of colonial decline that gave way to the birth of republics at the beginning of the 19th century. The Spanish crown had tried to surmount the contradictions by creating in 1776 the Viceroyalty of New Granada and incorporating Panama within it aegis. The 1809-1924 wars of independence led by Simón Bolívar created the Republic of Colombia, to which Panama City adhered.

However, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that the city recovered some of its old commercial ways, with the discovery of gold in California and the construction of the interoceanic Panama Railway. But Panamanian businessmen were displaced by politicians in Bogota who pulled the strings of power on the isthmus. The businessmen, however, did not stay still, as they were always interested in enhancing the city’s potential in the world of global merchant shipping. In 1903 the Republic of Panama was born and the city was immediately declared to be its political capital.

The 20th century left it mark on the country and the city. Emancipatikno had a price — a very high price. The United States guaranteed the separation of Panama from Bogota. However, the businessmen negotiated a treaty with the United States that turned Panama into a protectorate. The construction of the canal between 1904 and 1914 transformed the city, enclosing it in a “cage” that with time became colonized, militarized and deformed. It produced rapid economic growth but without development. The Liberal politicians’ plans were systematically blocked by the United States. Both Liberal and Conservative politicians bowed before Washington’s power and it was the popular classes, with their student vanguard, who raised the banner of sovereignty. In January of 1964 a popular insurrection against the US occupation bathed the streets and plazas of Panama City in blood.

It was the prelude to the 1977 canal treaties, which put an end to the colonialism and the US military occupation, and in 1999 transferred the administration of the interoceanic waterway to Panama. Since that latter date, Panama City has alleged spectacular economic growth rates. However, there is no development. On the contrary, inequality has increased, poverty has become endemic and families are disintegrating in the city on the eve of its quincentennial. So I urge those who love Panama City to answer the three questions: What do we celebrate? Why do we celebrate? Who are we who celebrate?

 

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WWW

Three challenges for the web, according to its inventor

by Sir Tim Berners-Lee — Web Foundation

March 12 was the world wide web’s 28th birthday. Here’s a message the Web Foundation founder and web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee published that day, on how the web has evolved, and what we must do to ensure it fulfills his vision of an equalizing platform that benefits all of humanity.

Today marks 28 years since I submitted my original proposal for the world wide web. I imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries. In many ways, the web has lived up to this vision, though it has been a recurring battle to keep it open. But over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of humanity.

1) We’ve lost control of our personal data

The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data. Many of us agree to this — albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents — but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for free services. But, we’re missing a trick. As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realize if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it. What’s more, we often do not have any way of feeding back to companies what data we’d rather not share — especially with third parties — the T&Cs are all or nothing.

This widespread data collection by companies also has other impacts. Through collaboration with — or coercion of — companies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online, and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, it’s easy to see the harm that can be caused — bloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizens’ best interests at heart, watching everyone, all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, like sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.

2) It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web

Today, most people find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines. These sites make more money when we click on the links they show us. And, they choose what to show us based on algorithms which learn from our personal data that they are constantly harvesting. The net result is that these sites show us content they think we’ll click on — meaning that misinformation, or ‘fake news’, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases can spread like wildfire. And through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.

3) Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding

Political advertising online has rapidly become a sophisticated industry. The fact that most people get their information from just a few platforms and the increasing sophistication of algorithms drawing upon rich pools of personal data, means that political campaigns are now building individual adverts targeted directly at users. One source suggests that in the 2016 US election, as many as 50,000 variations of adverts were being served every single day on Facebook, a near-impossible situation to monitor. And there are suggestions that some political adverts — in the US and around the world — are being used in unethical ways — to point voters to fake news sites, for instance, or to keep others away from the polls. Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?

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These are complex problems, and the solutions will not be simple. But a few broad paths to progress are already clear. We must work together with web companies to strike a balance that puts a fair level of data control back in the hands of people, including the development of new technology like personal “data pods” if needed and exploring alternative revenue models like subscriptions and micropayments. We must fight against government over-reach in surveillance laws, including through the courts if necessary. We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem, while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is “true” or not. We need more algorithmic transparency to understand how important decisions that affect our lives are being made, and perhaps a set of common principles to be followed. We urgently need to close the “internet blind spot” in the regulation of political campaigning.

Our team at the Web Foundation will be working on many of these issues as part of our new five year strategy — researching the problems in more detail, coming up with proactive policy solutions and bringing together coalitions to drive progress towards a web that gives equal power and opportunity to all. I urge you to support our work however you can — by spreading the word, keeping up pressure on companies and governments or by making a donation. We’ve also compiled a directory of other digital rights organizations around the world for you to explore and consider supporting too.

I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today. All the blogs, posts, tweets, photos, videos, applications, web pages and more represent the contributions of millions of you around the world building our online community. All kinds of people have helped, from politicians fighting to keep the web open, standards organizations like W3C enhancing the power, accessibility and security of the technology, and people who have protested in the streets. In the past year, we have seen Nigerians stand up to a social media bill that would have hampered free expression online, popular outcry and protests at regional internet shutdowns in Cameroon and great public support for net neutrality in both India and the European Union.

It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want — for everyone. If you would like to be more involved, then do join our mailing list, do contribute to us, do join or donate to any of the organizations which are working on these issues around the world.

The Web Foundation is at the forefront of the fight to advance and protect the web for everyone. We believe doing so is essential to reverse growing inequality and empower citizens. You can follow our work by signing up to our newsletter, and find a local digital rights organization to support here on this list. Additions to the list are welcome and may be sent to contact@webfoundation.org

Please share this letter on Twitter using the hashtag #HappyBirthdayWWW

 

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