Editorials, Canal nonsense; and Today’s US voting rights realities

President Varela poses with the security crew during the new locks festivities. Photo by the Presidencia.

George Washington didn’t cut down the cherry tree
and Hernán Cortés did not explore Panama

The consensus here is hope that the canal expansion, now that it is up and running, works well. Is there anyone in Panama who hopes for its failure? But do expect that, despite the successful first few days of operation, some adjustments will have to be made. The onset of strong dry season winds is likely to be a key test and it may be that new locks just can’t be used when the wind blows with such force that big ships stacked high with containers act like huge sails.

At the new locks’ inauguration the hype by the ACP, the politicians and those rabiblanco media that reaped fortunes in a government financed “yes” campaign back in 2006 was, however, in many cases insufferable. Consider:

  • The ineptitude of President Varela’s speechwriters, who most probably were not Panamanian and were writing for one of the most poorly educated electorates on the planet. So was it Hernán Cortés, the Spaniard who defeated the Aztecs in Mexico, who gazed out over the Pacific from the Darien? Any Panamanian who didn’t flunk grade school history would know that it was Vasco Núñez de Balboa.

  • Presidential speeches that downplayed the role of the United States in building the original canal and gave priority to Arnulfo Arias, who had little to do with Panama gaining control over or expanding the canal, over General Omar Torrijos, whose dictatorship’s main positive accomplishment was the canal treaties.

  • All this hype from many interested quarters about this remarkable democratic mandate in the 2006 canal expansion referendum, which was an infamous campaign that included illegal public financing for one side only, illegal government suppression of the pitiful efforts of the other side, outrageous deceptions in the ACP’s presentations to the electorate and elaborate steps to reduce participation on the day of the election. It’s important that the abuses should be remembered because they were in many ways a template for the criminal abuses of the 2014 Martinelista campaign in which even greater sums of public money were used to try to effect the proxy re-election of a thug administration.

  • The complete lack of acknowledgment of serious corruption in the canal expansion, including conflicts of interest that saw the award of the locks contract on a lowball bid to a consortium that included a company owned by the family of and formerly run by the canal administrator at the time, and gave a contract for deficient Spanish tugs to a company represented by the son of the current canal administrator.

  • Failure to mention several major costs required to complete the expansion — the new bridge over the Atlantic entrance and the ferry service in the meantime, the change in the metro area’s main water intake to Madden Lake instead of Gatun Lake, the dredging to deepen the ship waiting areas outside of the canal’s entrances, the project for a new bridge to replace the Bridge of the Americas at the top of the list — that ought to be part of any true price tag.

  • A continuing ACP and government information control game wherein a Panama City protest about the Barro Blanco dam project scheduled for the day before the inauguration was suppressed and information about an injury-causing canal waters collision between two vessels on the day of the ceremonies was misrepresented by the ACP.

The new locks are up and running. Let’s make the best possible use of them. But spare this nation the revisionist history.


Debbie had to step aside, but what’s
needed is a new Voting Rights Act

Debbie Wasserman Schultz retains her title as chair of the Democratic National Committee, but pending the election of a successor she has turned over the duties of that office to labor leader and Clinton loyalist Brandon Davis. The living symbol of a sordid set of political tricks to rig the primary process, Debbie would be an obstacle to the unity of a party split right down the middle. She faces a hotly contested August 2 primary to retain her seat in Congress.

Now comes a general election campaign in which vote suppression tactics will come into play against Hillary Clinton to a greater extent than similar measures helped her on her way to the nomination. In the primary campaign the voter registration tampering, the bogus caucus vote counts, the pro-Sanders districts that “ran out of ballots,” the measures to prevent university students from voting, the reduction in voting venues with little notice and by suspicious criteria and so on were mainly directed against younger voters. Now the arbitrary application of voter ID laws, changes in voting places, voter registration tampering, intimidation, fraudulent vote counts and so on will be applied in a more traditional manner, by jurisdictions controlled by white racists to suppress African-American and Hispanic voting in order to boost the chances of Donald Trump. The stuff that was pulled in the Democratic primary process has alienated many of the younger volunteers who traditionally have done the legwork of voter registration and other measures to circumvent vote suppression against black and Latino communities. Hillary has to win those young activists to her side and it can’t be done with notoriously cynical and petty manipulators of Debbie’s sort injected into the process.

One of the low moments in the Democratic primaries came in Arizona, with the lowest of the low coming from Republicans rather than Hillary people. That was Maricopa County’s “budget cutting” decision to shut down most of the voting sites in Mexican-American neighborhoods, something that would not have been allowed before the US Supreme Court gutted a provision that required jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get prior federal approval for any such changes.

That hole carved out in the Voting Rights Act by Republican appointees on the high court needs to be patched. But this year’s year’s primaries featured ugly attacks on voting rights that were in many cases based on age, affiliation with universities or residence in areas where the favored candidate was likely to lose. The old Voting Rights Act was about racial discrimination and it does need to be restored and strengthened on that count. However, American democracy also needs voting rights legislation that protects other groups from discrimination, makes tampering with voter registration rolls a federal crime and affords greater protection against the manipulation of electronic voting systems. That needs to be an issue in the fall campaign, and a new generation of civil rights leaders needs to be in place to assert it.


Bear in mind…


The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
Dorothy Parker


It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.
David Brin


When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
Hunter S. Thompson


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