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Volume 15, Number 4
February 23, 2009

editorial

Also in this section:
Editorials: Infrastructures of corruption with impunity; and Obama's stimulus victory
Sirias, The necktie
Briger, The move to throw Bernal off the ballot
Jackson, Two legislative races in the Interior
Beck, I'll be the granny
Weisbrot, Will Obama change US policy toward Latin America?
Chávez, Referendum victory speech
Human Rights Watch, FARC massacres members of indigenous community
Wood, Colombia's transgendered awaken
Blair & Bloom, Bolivia's lithium
Kott, Lula's record in office
Hursthouse, China's quest for Latin American trade and resources
Reporters Without Borders, Clinton's comments on human rights in China
Gutman, The Netanyahu calamity
Pilgrim, Upcoming Caribbean elections and regional integration
Leis, Jované and Bernal
Bernal, Vote of confidence
Letters to the editor

Panama's corporate, banking and campaign finance secrecy
Well developed infrastructures
of corruption with impunity

President Obama has yet to make a public pronouncement on the subject. In Congress there are different currents of thought and balances have shifted somewhat, but heads have yet to be counted on trade issues since the changes made in the 2008 elections. Is the US-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement really about to be ratified?

Consider that this would be the first US free trade agreement with a country that has banking and corporate secrecy. Not only that. As we are reminded in the ongoing scandal about ties between the formerly high-flying Colombian hustler David Murcia Guzmán and Panama's ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Panama also has campaign finance secrecy.

When a Panamanian import company was in the chain of negligence that led to the poisoning of hundreds of people who used cough syrup mixed and distributed by the government, the affected families were left with no legal recourse against that company because it's a corporate shell whose owners can't be legally identified due to our corporate secrecy laws.

When Americans are defrauded by pyramid scheme hustlers who park their money here, they have no recourse because the cash disappears into a black hole of anonymous corporations and numbered bank accounts.

When a US company competes for a Panamanian government contract --- or just tries to get a license or permit here --- campaign finance, banking and corporate secrecy laws combine to prevent it from ever knowing if a competitor has bribed government officials to act against its interests.

These sorts of secrecy laws are the legal infrastructures of corruption with impunity. They were designed that way.

A certain amount of corruption will always be with us because greed afflicts all human societies. But rampant corruption needs certain cultural and legal infrastructures to thrive. Wherever a complex of secrecy laws like ours exists, forget about "free markets" and "level playing fields." Forget about the rule of law, for that matter.

Yes, the US Congress might want to pass a US-Panama "free trade" deal for predatory special interest motives, without reference to any lofty principles. But let them not then pretend that it's about free trade, fair play or anything like that.


Obama's economic stimulus victory

Not with a lot of bipartisan cooperation as he had hoped, Barack Obama got his economic stimulus package passed. It was a crucial first step toward resuscitating a US economy that's in far worse shape than most of the American people care to admit.

Although there was no GOP support in the House, Obama avoided a filibuster in the Senate by agreeing not to fight with Republicans about other issues with this bill. The result was necessary but not sufficient action to meet the challenge posed by a recession that could be a depression.

Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the rest of the right-wing propaganda apparatus were outrageous as could have been expected. Over the years of the Democrats' mandate their bizarre spins about how Bill Clinton or Barack Obama created the current economic mess may begin to score points for the Republicans, but right now they sound like the ravings of demented fanatics. They aren't that, of course. They are the trials and errors --- mostly errors --- of a movement that has suffered terrible defeats after eight years of George W. Bush's misrule and growing public disenchantment with a generation of misguided economic dogma that Ronald Reagan brought to Washington.

This is not, however, to say that all criticisms and concerns about the stimulus package that eventually passed were or are misguided. President Obama as much as admitted that when, in a meeting with a delegation from the US Conference of Mayors, he warned that if any of them abused the funds they were about to get, he'd "call them out."

Yes, state and local officials usually have more specific ideas about what needs fixing, and what initiatives are viable, than do Washington functionaries. But many of them have their own dysfunctional bureaucracies, and some of them have their own less than pure motives.

Even worse than those obvious pitfalls will be the urge to rebuild for yesterday's needs. Force of habit, the expectations of interest groups and lack of imagination are very likely, for example, to divert a lot of the money into the continued design of metropolitan areas for cars rather than for people. The oil industry, the highway construction industry, the automobile industry and the people who build and own burger strips and shopping malls are only some of the more obvious groups who will push to have the stimulus money spent to repeat the urban planning mistakes of the 20th century rather than modernizing the country to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Of course crumbling curbs and gutters, structurally unsound bridges, and streets that are patches on top of patches need to be replaced. However, the goal should not be to make such infrastructures as good as the originals, but to make capital investments in the physical facilities that the country will need in the generations after it has kicked its oil addiction and all the habits that go with it.

And how will the United States get urban policies that look toward the future rather than the past? Just maybe by inspirations drawn from the past. The generation of mayors and city council members who can lead the nation to where it needs to go could do much worse than to draw lessons from the great municipal leaders who have gone before them --- the Fiorello La Guardias, Hazen Pingrees and Tom Johnsons. Those were leaders of different times, but possessed of enduring human characteristics like probity, empathy, creativity, adaptability and wisdom.

Yes, Obama has started to show what he can do for a nation in distress. It's now up to other layers of leaders, and women and men of all walks of life, to build on his first accomplishment as president.


Bear in mind...

Judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
Simón Bolívar

If I have learnt anything, it is that life forms no logical patterns. It is haphazard and full of beauties which I try to catch as they fly by, for who knows whether any of them will ever return?
Margot Fonteyn

A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself.
Joseph Pulitzer



Also in this section:
Editorials: Infrastructures of corruption with impunity; and Obama's stimulus victory
Sirias, The necktie
Briger, The move to throw Bernal off the ballot
Jackson, Two legislative races in the Interior
Beck, I'll be the granny
Weisbrot, Will Obama change US policy toward Latin America?
Chávez, Referendum victory speech
Human Rights Watch, FARC massacres members of indigenous community
Wood, Colombia's transgendered awaken
Blair & Bloom, Bolivia's lithium
Kott, Lula's record in office
Hursthouse, China's quest for Latin American trade and resources
Reporters Without Borders, Clinton's comments on human rights in China
Gutman, The Netanyahu calamity
Pilgrim, Upcoming Caribbean elections and regional integration
Leis, Jované and Bernal
Bernal, Vote of confidence
Letters to the editor

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