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Kaul, The GOP agenda (or lack thereof)


KhalilTo hear Republicans tell it, America’s major issues boil down to Hillary Clinton’s emails, Benghazi and Planned Parenthood

The GOP agenda (or lack thereof)

by Donald Kaul

To hear Republican presidential candidates tell it, you’d think the most important issue facing the nation is Hillary Clinton’s old emails.

Not climate change, not the growing gap between the filthy rich and the deserving poor, and not our crumbling roads, declining schools, or tattered justice system — just Hillary’s emails.

As secretary of state, Clinton used her own private email account for government business and personal stuff. Some messages may have contained classified material (whether it was classified before or after she sent it is in question), making the Democratic Party’s presidential frontrunner appear to have improperly routed government secrets through a privately maintained, non-government server.

None of that looks good, of course. At best it’s very sloppy.

The Republicans, however, are trying to make it seem like the greatest act of treason since Benedict Arnold tried to sell out West Point to the British. It’s part of their grand plan to strangle Clinton’s presidential candidacy in its crib.

And maybe it will work. Republicans have a way of hammering on an issue, saying the same things day after day, even when the facts are against them. Eventually people say, “Gee, maybe there’s a fire there behind all that smoke.”

Why did Clinton do it? She says it seemed more convenient. Earlier this year, she claimed it was because she didn’t want to carry two phones around with her everywhere she went.

That’s lame. A secretary of state is constantly surrounded by dozens of minions who can carry an unlimited number of phones for their chief.

Why did she really do it? I have no idea. It’s precisely the kind of slightly off-center move we’ve come to expect of the Clintons. Their transgressions never seem to add up to much, but they leave you wondering if there’s something shifty going on

Now that she’s finally apologized for using a private email server, the Republicans will forgive her and forget about it, right?

Hardly — I misspoke before. The emails aren’t the only thing Republicans talk about. There’s also Benghazi.

Benghazi is a tragic chapter in our recent history. A US ambassador and three of his aides were murdered in a terrorist attack on their compound in the Libyan city of Benghazi in 2012. Clinton led the State Department at the time.

It was by any measure a classic security screw-up, the kind that happens from time to time. Not much is made of it unless Hillary Clinton is secretary of state.

But she was, so the Republicans can’t let go of it. Rumors have been floated of the secretary interfering with the security at the compound, ordering the military to stand down, even running guns out of the facility. All garbage, of course, but an opportunity to slime a potential political opponent is no time to go ethical.

Republican-controlled standing committees in Congress have conducted no fewer than eight investigations into the matter so far, all fallow. Not satisfied, Republicans formed a special committee to investigate the incident.

That was 16 months and $4 million ago. Now they’ve discovered that some of Hillary’s emails mentioned — you guessed it — Benghazi. That means more hearings on the way.

This from a Congress that’s just come off one of its interminable vacations and given itself 12 days to vote on the Iran nuclear deal, pass a complex spending bill, and stage a welcome party for the pope. Then our lawmakers will go on vacation again so they can go back home and tell voters what a bang-up job they’re doing.

Oh, I forgot. There’s Planned Parenthood, too.

A hardy band of Republicans is threatening to refuse to vote for any spending bill that provides federal health care money for Planned Parenthood, which among other things provides abortions for poor women (though not with federal funds).

They say that if their demands aren’t met, they’ll shut down the government.

That’s it, then. Hillary Clinton’s emails, Benghazi and Planned Parenthood. Solve those and all our troubles are over.


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Hundreds of millions in play on the ACP road show

Video, by an ACP contractor, of the new Atlantic side bridge.

Fundraising in London and the USA to finance a huge bridges and road project that’s being done by the builder and banker-dominated Panama Canal Authority rather than the Ministry of Public Works

The ACP road show

by Eric Jackson

With the member of its board of directors who is most in the news lately, construction executive and alleged bribe coordinator and taker Nicolás Corcione, a fugitive from justice whose whereabouts are generally unknown, four top Panama Canal Authority (ACP) executives are out of the country making a series of pitches to potential investors, looking to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bonds. Canal administrator Jorge Luis Quijano, CFO (the description used when the ACP is in the guise of private business corporation rather than a public entity) Francisco Miguez, vice president for engineering and programs Ilya Marotta and treasury and finance manager Eida Gabriela Saiz are visiting London, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and New York for a series of investor meetings organized on its behalf by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. According to the announcement sent to would-be investors, “A USD-denominated 144A/Reg S transaction MAY follow, subject to market conditions.” It is widely reported that the ACP is looking to raise $450 million for the Atlantic Side bridge over the canal, a project that is about one-third done and whose price has usually been reported as about $366 million.

Commentator Kevin Harrington-Shelton, whose columns often appear in The Panama News and who among other things he has done in his life was the chief interpreter and translator for the Ministry of Canal Affairs when Ricardo Martinelli was minister, notes that this set of meetings is pursuant to US and British security regulators’ disclosure rules but that notwithstanding the organic law that created the ACP, the authority has never complied with the basic reporting requirement of a semi-annual personal report by the canal administrator to Panama’s National Assembly.  He adds that “it is not clear why they ‘forgot’ to include this almost $400 million in the $ 5.2 billion budget shown in 2006 to the people, about what they said the canal expansion would cost. And in this context certain things look a bit incongruous at first blush, even if they might be readily explained.

For starters, why is the ACP raising $450 million to finance a $366 million bridge, a project that’s already well underway and is projected to be done sometime in 2017?

The expected answer from the priesthood of cognoscenti in the Administration Building would be along the lines of “You don’t have your numbers right, Jackson!” But let us see.

On the afternoon of January 8, 2013 — a great information management moment, as January 9, a Wednesday that year, is The Day of the Martyrs, a national holiday and both the crowd heading out to the beach and those already taking a five-day weekend would be paying scant attention to any news — the ACP announced that it had given the go-ahead to the Paris-based multinational Vinci Construction Grands Projets the order to start work on the Atlantic Side bridge project. The cost cited by the ACP at that time was $365.979 million.

Fast-forward two and a half years and the bridge costs $570 million. Might one say that this difference is the cost of the access roads to the bridge itself? At the time Vinci got the order, the ACP was representing that this was included in the price. Now we are told — with no definitive price tag attached — that the project will include at least one more bridge, over the Chagres River to Colon’s Costa Abajo, and road connections at the very least with that western region of Colon Province’s existing road system. So is this all part of the extra $200 million that has been added to the Atlantic Side bridge cost?

The contracts for the second bridge have not been reported as having gone out for bids. The public hearings about the environmental impact of a bridge over the Chagres River and connections with the Costa Abajo road network have not taken place. If location of the western end of the new bridge is any useful suggestion, the road will contiue through where soldiers at the old US Army Jungle Operations Training Center used to play war games in the woods and cross the Chagres onto the old Piña firing range, which is highly contaminated by unexploded ordnance that over the years has killed several people and is still hazardous. Panama’s birders and other environmentalists might also have something to say about a road cutting through that forested area. There are many variables, but at first glance it does not look like an inexpensive job.

But not to worry. We are assured by Fitch, S&P and Moodys that the Panama Canal Authority has an excellent bond rating, a much better one than the Panamanian government has. Might this explain why a road and bridge project that would ordinarily be in the bailiwick of the Ministry of Public Works is being built and financed under the aegis of the ACP instead?

So, if the bond sale road show is going to the United States and Britain, should we presume that the paper will be sold on foreign exchanges? Actually, no. That quintessential rabiblanco institution, Panama’s “newspaper of record” La Prensa, informs us that Panama Bolsa de Valores is ready to handle the bond issue. It quotes Bolsa director Roberto Brenes, who is leaving that job next month amidst a huge Financial Pacific brokerage house scandal that has yet to spread very far beyond Panama’s entire stock and bond regulatory system into other private entities, but begs an awful lot of questions. It quotes former ACP board member Eloy Alfaro, politely failing to mention that until a recent government takeover Alfaro was a director and spokesman for Banco Universal, which played the role of clearinghouse for many of the corrupt financial transactions of the Martinelli administration. (Of course not. To mention that would be gauche, not only in the adopted English sense of bad etiquette, but in the French political sense as well.)

The bottom line is it appears that foreign millionaires and billionaires are being given better access to financial information about a Panamanian public institution than are the Panamanian people.

Boquete Jazz

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Varoufakis et al, A Plan B for Europe

Jean-Claude Juncker: "There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties." Photo by the European People's Party.
The European Commission’s Jean-Claude Juncker: “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.” Photo by the European People’s Party.

A Plan B for Europe

by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Stefano Fassina, Zoe Konstantopoulou, Oskar Lafontaine and Yanis Varoufakis

On 13th July, the democratic elected Greek government of Alexis Tsipras was brought to its knees by the European Union. The “agreement” of 13th of July is in fact a coup d’état. It was obtained by having the European Central Bank close down the Greek banks and threaten never to allow them to open up again, until the Greek government accepted a new version of a failed program. Why? Because official Europe could not stand the idea that a people suffering from its self-defeating austerity program dared elect a government determined to say “No!”

Now, with more austerity, more fire sales of public assets, greater irrationality than ever in the sphere of economic policy, and massive fresh misanthropy in the realm social policy, the new Memorandum of Understanding only serves to worsen Greece’s Great Depression and to loot Greece’s wealth by vested interests, non-Greek and Greek alike.

We must learn from this financial coup. The euro has become the tool of economic and governmental dominance in Europe by a European oligarchy hiding behind the German government, delighted to see Mrs. Merkel doing all the “dirty work” other governments are incapable of undertaking. This Europe only generates violence within nations and between them: mass unemployment, fierce social dumping and insults against the European Periphery that are attributed to Germany’s leadership while parroted by all the “elites,” the Periphery’s not excluded. The European Union has thus become an agent of an extreme right wing ethos and a vehicle for annulling democratic control over production and distribution throughout Europe.

It is a dangerous lie to assert that the euro and the EU serve Europeans and shield them from crisis. It is an illusion to believe that Europe’s interests can be protected within the iron cage of the Eurozone’s governance “rules” and within the current Treaties. President Hollande’s and Prime Minister Renzi’s method of behaving like a “model student,” or in fact a “model prisoner,” is a form of surrender that will not even result in clemency. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said it clearly: “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.” This is the neoliberal adaptation of the “limited sovereignty” doctrine invented by the Soviet leader Brezhnev in 1968. Then, the Soviets crushed the Prague Spring with their tanks. This summer, the EU crushed the Athens Spring with its banks.

We are determined to break with this “Europe.” It is the basic condition needed to rebuild cooperation between our peoples and our countries on a new basis. How can we enact policies of redistribution of wealth and of creation of decent jobs, especially for the young, ecological transition and the rebuilding of democracy within the constraints of this EU? We have to escape the inanity and inhumanity of the current European Treaties and remold them in order to shed the straitjacket of neoliberalism, to repeal the Fiscal Compact, and to oppose the TTIP.

We live in extraordinary times. We are facing an emergency. Member-states need to have policy space that allows their democracies to breathe and to put forward sensible policies at the member-state’s level, free of fear of a clamp down from an authoritarian Eurogroup dominated by the interests of the strongest among them and of big business, or from an ECB that is used as a steamroller that threatens to flatten an “uncooperative country,” as it happened with Cyprus or Greece.

This is our plan A: We shall work in each of our countries, and all together throughout Europe, towards a complete renegotiation of the European Treaties. We commit to engage with the struggle of Europeans everywhere in a campaign of Civil European disobedience toward arbitrary European practices and irrational “rules” until that renegotiation is achieved.

Our first task is to end the unaccountability of the Eurogroup. The second task is to end the pretense that the ECB is “apolitical” and “independent,” when it is highly political (of the most toxic form), fully dependent on bankrupt bankers and their political agents, and ready to end democracy at the touch of a button.

The majority of governments representing Europe’s oligarchy, and hiding behind Berlin and Frankfurt, also have a plan A: Not to yield to the European people’s demand for democracy and to use brutality to end their resistance. We’ve seen this in Greece last July. Why did they manage to strangle Greece’s democratically elected government? Because they also had a plan B: To eject Greece from the Eurozone in the worst conditions possible by destroying its banking system and putting to death its economy.

Facing this blackmail, we also need a plan B of our own to deter the plan B of Europe’s most reactionary and anti-democratic forces. To reinforce our position in the face of their brutal commitment to policies that sacrifice the majority to the interests of a tiny minority. But also to re-assert the simple principle that Europe is about Europeans and that currencies are tools for promoting shared prosperity, not instruments of torture or weapons by which to murder democracy. If the euro cannot be democratized, if they insist on using it to strangle the people, we will rise up, look at them in the eye, and tell them: Do your worst! Your threats don’t scare us. We shall find a way of ensuring that Europeans have a monetary system that works with them, not at their expense.

Our Plan A for a democratic Europe, backed with a Plan B which shows the powers-that-be that they cannot terrorize us into submission, is inclusive and aims at appealing to the majority of Europeans. This demands a high level of preparation. Debate will strengthen its technical elements. Many ideas are already on the table: the introduction of parallel payment systems, parallel currencies, digitization of euro transactions, community based exchange systems, the euro exit and transformation of the euro into a common currency.

No European nation can work towards its liberation in isolation. Our vision is internationalist. In anticipation of what may happen in Spain, Ireland — and potentially again in Greece, depending on how the political situation evolves — and in France in 2017, we need to work together concretely towards a plan B, taking into account the different characteristics of each country.

We therefore propose the convening of an international summit on a plan B for Europe, open to willing citizens, organizations and intellectuals. This conference could take place as early as November 2015. We began the process on Saturday the 12th of September during the Fête de l’Humanité in Paris. Do join us!


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A star apple tree blooms and fruits for the first time

The seeds from a gigantic piece of fruit bought from Mr. Liu's impressie little farm on the Pan-American Highway a bit east of the town of Capira were nurted in a pot, transplanted in the ground a little more than one year ago, and putting our flowers and fruit a bit sooner than expected.
A seed from a gigantic piece of fruit bought at Mr. Liu’s impressive farm on the Pan-American Highway a bit east of the town of Capira was sown and nurtured in a pot, transplanted into the ground a little more than one year ago, and the tree is now putting our flowers and fruit a bit sooner than expected.

What you call them may vary — shall we just call it the good stuff?

First fruits on a young tree

Photos by Eric Jackson

Yes, we know that North America’s apple farmers would throw a litigious fit were these tasty fruit, “star apples” in Zonian English, Averrhoa carambola according to its scientific name, called any sort of apple. Moreover the caimito — an unrelated and not very similar fruit we also have in Panama — is also sometimes called a star apple. In North America they get marketed as “star fruit” and around a Panamanian fruit market if you ask for a carambola, estrella or “fruta china” they will figure out what you mean. (Isn’t it so very typical that to Panamanians almost anything exotic is Chinese? These things are thought to be originally from the islands off of South or Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka most frequently mentioned, but their cultivation all across tropical and subtropical Asia is ancient.) They are in fact not apples, but you can actually get a good result adapting an apple pie recipe using these sliced but not peeled and taking into account that they have a bit more liquid than apples.

Star Apple 3
This, by the way, is part of the editor’s “other job” as a Third World subsistence peasant.


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Harrington, ¿Tenemos alguna política de inmigración?

UNHCR Darien
Un agente del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados revisando el caso de una colombiana refugiada en Darién. De los más o menos 2.300 refugiados ya en Panamá, casi 80% son colombianos. También hay venezolanos, cubanos, centroamericanos y africanos aceptados en Panamá como refugiados. Foto por el ACNUR.

En Panamá vamos de tumbo en tumbo –porque ni los partidos, ni los periodistas forman opinión pública adecuadamente.

¿Tenemos alguna política de inmigración?

por Kevin Harrington-Shelton


Los comunicadores sociales han de ser hombres y mujeres comprometidos con la verdad y la justicia. Por lo tanto, en su tarea de informar deben hacerlo correctamente: comunicar la noticia, no fabricarla y menos manipularla…. Tambíén una verdad a medias es una falsedad.
Conferencia Episcopal Panameña
Construyamos juntos el futuro de Panamá (1990)


Nuestra política migratoria también cae dentro de un estilo del presidente Juan Carlos Varela, caracterizado por el impulso impensado, sin contrapeso de los diálogos que tanto predica — a otros…

Ejemplo. El “Crisol de Razas” (ideado para evitar compartir la bonanza de la ampliación, aumentando la oferta con mano de obra importada) ha sido extendido, para favorecer primordialmente a una industria turística ya subsidiada. Ahora, ante su baja ocupación actual, los hoteles prescinden de mano de obra local y retienen la importada — la que no tiene igual acceso a la justicia laboral en un Ministerio de Trabajo que (también) funciona a control remoto.

El renovar permisos a quienes sabían que tenían fechas de cumpleaños, para engrosar las cuentas-discrecionales del presidente Varela (y ya no de la Presidencia Martinelli) es absurdo. Reteniendo una tarifa discriminatoria contra “las razas prohibidas” es un escándalo. Y se copa nuestra capacidad de absorber nuevos inmigrantes que necesitan refugiarse aquí. Pese a esa realidad, el Presidente reacciona casi pavlovianamente a las crisis-chic que sugiere Washington, tanto en Venezuela, como en Siria (aunque no así ante la deportación de haitianos desde la República Dominicana –porque son negros). ¡Vergonzoso además resultó su paso-atrás al voto comprometido en la OEA! A sabiendas que allí la presión pública propiciaría una salida rápida al problema, cosa que será poco probable en el petit-comité de un diálogo cerrado, con una menor cobertura en los medios.

Sepa Dios qué nos traerá don Juan Carlos desde Guantánamo, pero ya nos metió en el lío de los sirios. Haría mejor en mirar hacia el Norte (de Europa…) para entender qué implica ésta “política” –porque una vez que lleguen los expatriados kurdos, su estadía no será (muy) temporal. Porque con la Islamofobia actual, en los Estados Unidos tardan 12-18 meses para procesar a quienes sí admiten allá. Esta vez no será como cuando los Marielitos, que sí tenían patrocinadores en Miami.

Históricamente, Suecia había sido el país más generoso hacia los refugiados. Al extremo que hoy gasta $4 mil millones anuales en subvencionarlos @ $700 mensuales — y que hoy ya casi 16% de sus habitantes son inmigrantes (del Medio Oriente y del Africa, mayormente). Pese a que se le reconoce a este país vikingo estar entre los más egalitarios del mundo, el intentar integrar a una economía industrializada a refugiados sin mayores calificaciones técnicas no es fácil: luego de décadas, 40% siguen desempleados. Pero ello no disuade a sus compatriotas a aventurarse hasta la gélida Escandinavia. El bajón en la economía globalizada no augura para bien para Suecia; no demorará una reacción negativa en una población racialmente homogénea.

No obstante, allá como acá los medios de comunicación optan por invisibilizar los verdaderos problemas –para ver si se resuelvan solos. Y así no pisan los callos de sus anunciantes

El Papa Francisco nos brinda un parámetro, recordándonos el segundo Gran Mandamiento: “Ama a tu prójimo, como a ti mismo” (Mateo 22:39). Su Santidad sugiere que en Europa cada comunidad de personas consagradas reciba a dos familias de refugiados. Sugiriendo así fijar un límite a nuestra propia generosidad.


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The Panama News blog links, September 14, 2015

The ACP is sending a team abroad in search of financing for the Atlantic Side bridge, estimated to cost $366 million.

The Panama News blog links, September 14, 2015

Video, Valeria Ovando – Tu Fuerza de Mujer

PR, Fitch rates ACP bonds

ANP, Canal de Panamá prepara emisión en el mercado bursátil

Alaska Dispatch News, Arctic prepares for possible cruise ship emergencies

Marine Log, Weathernews beefs up polar routing capabilities

Perth Now, Australians detain Panama-flag bulk carrier over labor abuses

Ship & Bunker, AMP and local players differ about bunker fuel sales

InSight Crime, Why Panama remains a money laundering haven

El Confidencial, Pujol Jr. transfirió coimas a una fundación panameña

Prensa Latina, Panama president ends visit to Cuba

E&N, Panamá y Cuba tendrían tratado para proteger inversiones

PR, Fitch: Slower growth in Panama little cure for bank imbalances

SeeNews Renewables, Entropy buys three solar plants in Panama

Blue & Green, S&P: climatic perils are likely to intensify

Video, Surfeando en la calle en Panamá

Outbreak News Today, SENAFRONT agent dies of equine encephalitis

STRI, Butterfly extinctions on Barro Colorado Island

Discovery News, Genetic islands are stranding big animals

Herzog, Meet the new National Geographic and weep

Video, Es hora de actuar sobre desechos sólidos en Bocas del Toro

CIP Americas, The experts’ Ayotzinapa report

WOLA deplores Leopoldo López conviction and sentence

TeleSur, The distorted “democracy” of Leopoldo López

Weisbrot, US diplomacy experiment with Venezuela runs into trouble

Ishmael, The Guyana-Venezuela border dispute

Orkin, Policing the US-Mexico border with public relations

Eyes on Trade, TPP: What’s to celebrate?

Elías, Vida y muerte del TISA en Uruguay

Video, Chile marks Latin America’s 9/11

Video, Victor Jara – Manifiesto

Beluche, Guatemala: una victoria democrática contra la corrupción

BBC, Police seek to question ex-president Lula

Borton & Nguyen, China and the deep blue sea

Cole, US and Israeli temptations to ally with al-Qaeda in Syria

Video, More than a million people rally in Barcelona for Catalan independence

France24, Tens of thousands join London pro-refugee march

Vice, Debunking those anti-refugee memes

Simpson, Acerca de los refugiados sirios

Boff, ¿Estos no son seres humanos, hermanos y hermanas nuestros?

Vatican Radio, Pope laments false friendships and fundamentalism

Video, The last surviving 9/11 rescue dog

Video, Hero Dogs of 9/11

Greenwald, US human rights jargon

Gandásegui, Los nuevos (o los mismos viejos) dueños de Panamá


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¿Wappin? Soul and her close cousins


Tnia Turner¿Wappin? Soul and her close cousins

The Supremes – My World Is Empty Without You

Curtis Mayfield – Make Me Believe In You

Sam and Dave – Hold On I’m Coming

B.B. King & Dr. John – There Must Be a Better World Somewhere

Tina Turner – The Best

Edwin Starr – War

The Beachers – Africa Caliente

Jimmy Ruffin – What Becomes of the Broken Hearted

Chaka Khan – Ain’t Nobody

The Persuaders – Black Power

The Temptations – Just My Imagination

Dawn Roberson – He’s Been Faithful

Zahara – Umthwalo

Nina Simone – Mood Indigo

War – Four Cornered Room


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Greyhound subsidiary to take over Metro Bus management

Metro Bus
Another addition to Roberto Roy’s jurisdiction, celebrated with a no-bid contract with yet another monopolistic multinational corporation. Photo by Transito.

Government buys out the Colombian MiBus then hands the Metro Bus system’s management over to a new Panamanian subsidiary of Greyhound

A “nationalization” that’s really
just another privatization

by Eric Jackson

All along, the replacement of the owner-operated diablo rojo buses with a quasi-public monopoly has been a problem.

It started in the Martín Torrijos administration with his moves to take the diablos rojos off of the streets and this ludicrous mantra about articulated buses being the solution to the Panama City metro area’s public transportation woes. Never mind that such vehicles are too big to navigate most of the capital’s streets. Never mind that to make such a system work properly a new set of bus lanes which other vehicles physically can’t cross or use is required. He had the nation’s largest party and most of Panama’s ad agencies on his side and he may have thought that he could convince those Panamanians who get around on public transportation of anything. But by removing more than 500 diablos rojos from the streets — about one-third of the metro area’s bus fleet — without any replacements ready. The ensuing chaos and hardships convinced most bus riders that the people running the PRD don’t know or care about their problems and contributed mightily to Ricardo Martinelli’s crushing 2009 defeat of Torrijos’s housing minister.

In comes Ricardo Martinelli and he had a plan. Line 1 of the Metro? That was built and people like it. The purchase of a fleet of Volvo buses, to be privately managed by a Colombian contractor, with another private company handling the payment cards? First of all, the Volvos are larger and less agile than what is needed, given the capital’s and San Miguelito’s narrow streets. Soon enough many of the buses showed dings which MiBus, the Colombian company with the Metro Bus concession, routinely blamed on the drivers. Attempts to smash unions representing the drivers and other Metro Bus employees, shorting the workers on overtime and holiday pay. Rider annoyance with too few routes, too few buses and overcrowding tended to get taken out on drivers, adding to the bad labor relations.

Martinelli’s takeover of the remaining diablo rojo buses and of their terminals was in many cases little different from gangland theft. Plus there were persistent rumors of the Martinelli family having this or that piece of the action, of the bus or bus card companies being used for money laundering or so on. This reporter has heard many rumors, but not seen any proofs. That these are not playing into the post-Martinelli investigations might have less to do with the facts than with private companies, notwithstanding their public concessions, keeping their records are private.

In any case, Juan Carlos Varela inherited a Metro Bus mess and has had to deal with intransigent MiBus and restless workers in his attempts to sort it out. On September 10 he announced the details of the deal:

The government would buy out MiBus for some $260.9 million — more or less. One gets that number from adding up the items in the government’s announcement, but there are debts to be assumed, periods in which claims must be submitted and various payments stretched out over as long as four years. Will interest or claims yet to be judged raise the total cost? That’s to be seen.

The deal includes the purchase of 1,236 buses acquired since 2010 and in various states of repair, assumption of bank debts for the purchase of these vehicles, assumption of the not entirely determined claims of the now former concessionaire’s creditors, payment of back wages and benefits for the more than 4,000 employees whom the Colombians cheated and an additional payment to TMPSA shareholders.

The government has is buying out the Colombian-owned consortium with the Metro Bus concession, the MiBus parent organization Transporte Masivo de Panama SA (TMPSA), and turning it into a state-owned company. (Will they keep the name? At first glance it seems that they will, but do not be surprised if the government’s political cosmeticians suggest a new name to go with a new image.) The purchase is to be made via Transito — the Land Transit and Transportation Authority or ATTT — but then TMPSA is to be turned into a subsidiary of Metro de Panama SA, which runs the Metro trains and is under the Metro’s secretary general Roberto Roy, who is also minister of canal affairs.

Roy, while wearing his canal minister hat, is dealing with the results of substandard work by the GUPC consortium that got its contract for the new locks by way of a lowball bid that was accepted by a Panama Canal Authority whose administrator at the time was dealing with members of his family who are part of the consortium. In is Metro secretary hat, Roy recently oversaw a bidding process in which the scandal-plagued Brazilian company Odebrecht, which was not the low bidder won the contract for Line 2 of the Metro on technical points — arcane specifications set by a committee that included a former consultant for Odebrecht. In both the GUPC and Line 2 cases, it was solemnly pronounced that there had been no conflicts of interest.

So now that Roy is also head of the Metro Buses, what is the first thing to be done? A no-bid management concession contract with the Minnesota-based multinational FirstGroup PLC, better known by its principal US business, Greyhound.

Greyhound, and its Canadian version Grey Coach and subsidiary UK, Puerto Rican and Mexican bus companies, has a record. Its US workers are unionized by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which is not shy about saying unflattering things about the boss. It used predatory business tactics and endless litigation to establish itself as the US interstate and intercity monopoly by the 1970s — and then downsized from 5,851 destinations served in 1977 to 2,300 now. That downsizing cut a large Mexican and Mexican-American clientele in the Southwestern United States out of service but starting in the 1980s Greyhound created or acquired subsidiaries, which became the cross-border US and Mexican Americanos USA and the intra-US Crucero USA. The subsidiaries had lower safety standards and paid their workers much less than the Greyhound drivers, and when the company began switching routes from Greyhound to Americanos buses the ATU filed complaints with the US National Labor Relations Board. After long and inconclusive administrative proceedings the company agreed in 2013 to merge Americanos and Cruceros into Greyhound.


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Alianza Estratégica Nacional, El nefasto Artículo 138 A

ASEP: determinando el destino de las tierras indígenas. Foto por ASEP.

El nefasto Artículo 138 A

por la Alianza Estratégica Nacional

El 23 de enero de 2015, la Escuela Normal de Santiago, Juan Demóstenes Arosemena, fue la anfitriona de la aprobación, en primer debate de la Ley 120, “QUE DEROGA UN ARTÍCULO DEL TEXTO ÚNICO DE LA LEY 6 DE 1997 Y DICTA OTRAS DISPOSICIONES.” ¡Un logro para el Pueblo!

Este perverso Artículo es el 138A, que fue agregado en el año 2013 durante el periodo de Ricardo Martinelli, autoriza a aplicar un procedimiento sumario para el uso y adquisición de inmuebles y servidumbres, cuando la construcción de obras relacionadas con las actividades eléctricas sean calificadas por la ASEP de ‘carácter urgente’, y que las partes no hayan logrado un acuerdo previo en un plazo de 15 días calendarios.

El jueves 20 de agosto de 2015, el HD Quibian Panay, Presidente de la Comisión de Comercio y Asuntos Económicos se reunió con miembros de la Alianza Estratégica Nacional para presentarles una modificación, que constituye nuevamente un instrumento de injusticia y atropello a utilizar por el Estado, a través de la ASEP, contra los legítimos propietarios de tierras, en violación flagrante de la constitución en su Artículo 48 sobre la propiedad privada.

Permitir la modificación sugerida por la ASEP, de poder expropiar forzosamente tierras de dominio colectivo o particular a un propietario, con el fin de entregarlas a otro propietario, privado, para el usufructo de un negocio, no puede ser un acto de interés general, sino un simple despojo que atenta contra la seguridad jurídica y los derechos constitucionales ciudadanos; y en el caso de las hidroeléctricas, es sencillamente salvarle la cara a los grandes inversionistas de su deber por Ley, muchos de ellos simples especuladores. Es menester aclarar que con el Artículo 138 A, la ASEP se arroga el derecho de determinar el “interés de urgente” de un proyecto, tasar la propiedad y tener facultades de Juez Ejecutor.

La Alianza Estratégica Nacional propone que el Proyecto de Ley 120 vaya a Segundo Debate y se mantenga el principio inicial de derogar el nefasto Artículo 138 A. Cualquier otro problema que se quiera resolver, referente a necesidades estratégicas para el desarrollo del país, deberá ser parte de otra discusión y proceso.

Rechazar o modificar este principio es, en esencia, facultar la política colonizadora, que permite la invasión de territorios por parte de las transnacionales interesadas en extender sus inversiones hacia nuevos mercados, inundando grandes extensiones de tierra, provocando el desalojo forzoso de poblaciones enteras y creando nuevos cordones urbanos de miseria. Si lo hacen, que los Padres de la Patria paguen el costo de haber legislado para beneficio de los poderosos.

La discriminación, la desigualdad y la pobreza son factores que amenazan a la convivencia pacífica. Estos tres factores existen en las áreas más vulnerables donde los electores son engañados cada cinco años y proponen diputados que no cumplen con sus promesas de campaña.

¡A defender la Ley 120, como fue aprobada en primer debate!…

¡No al despojo de tierras!…


Dado en la Unión Campesina del Lago Alajuela, Puerto Corotú, el domingo 30 de agosto de 2015.


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Kiriakou, My brush with Elon Musk

Elon Musk. Photo by Dan Taylor.

When I accidentally asked the Thomas Edison of our time what he did for a living, he lit up like a Christmas tree

My brush with Elon Musk

by John Kiriakou — OtherWords

About five years ago, a close friend of mine and I had an idea for a television news program. As luck would have it, my friend had gone to high school with a guy who, at the time, just happened to be the president of NBC. We arranged to have drinks at a fancy hotel bar in Washington, just the three of us, to talk about the idea.

That day, Mr. NBC called to say he was bringing a friend along. No problem, I said. The more the merrier.

When the four of us sat down together and ordered beers, I turned to the tag-along. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Elon,” he said. I answered: “Nice to meet you. What do you do for a living, Elon?” He lit up like a Christmas tree.

“I have a passion for technology,” he said, his hands gesticulating wildly. “I created this company. Maybe you heard of it? It’s called Paypal. And I sold it for, like, a billion dollars. Then I took the money and created another company called Tesla.”

“Oh my God,” I interrupted. “Are you Elon Musk?”

He was. I was so clueless that I’d asked the Thomas Edison of our time what he did for a living.

Of course I knew who Elon Musk was. He was the guy who created Paypal. He was the genius behind the electric carmaker Tesla and its long-life battery, which is on the road to disrupting the entire auto industry. He was the visionary behind SpaceX and the 600 mph “hyperloop” service that he says will whisk passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes by 2025.

Musk did most of the talking that night. He talked about entrepreneurship, he talked about technology, and he talked about alternative energy sources, including wind and solar energy. I agreed with most of what I heard, although I think he’s dead wrong about nuclear power being a “clean” fuel.

Musk said several other things that I can’t forget.

First, he said that the United States is falling behind other industrialized countries because we neglect our infrastructure. Building and repairing roads, bridges, and hospitals shouldn’t be controversial or political. It ought to be something we all agree we need. This country should have the best roads, bridges, and hospitals in the world. And we don’t.

Second, he said that our universities should be incubators to the greatest cutting-edge technologies in the world. But colleges and universities have become so expensive that many potential students just can’t afford higher education. As a result, we’re denying ourselves some of the best minds the country has to offer.

And third, he said that the United States is behind the curve — and the rest of the Western world — when it comes to tapping the full potential of solar and wind power. We’ve made a lot of headway since that chance meeting I had five years ago. But if you look at how much renewable energy we’re generating on a per capita basis, it could take us years to catch up to the Germans or the Scandinavians. Even the Greeks are ahead of us on solar power.

I listened, enthralled. I should have gone home, logged onto my brokerage account, and bought as many shares of Tesla as I could afford. I didn’t, though. My loss.

My friend and I never pitched our TV news show either. But we got a first-hand lesson in entrepreneurship from the man who’s arguably the country’s greatest living entrepreneur.

When it comes to our infrastructure, student debt, and alternative energy, our politicians could stand to get a lesson, too.


OtherWords columnist John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s also a former CIA counterterrorism officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


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