Editorials: Unsteady Varela; and A con man going down

Panamanians are very happy about our soccer team going to the World Cup in Russia. It is traditional and sensible national policy to stay out of Russia’s arguments with neighbors and other great powers. But there is a certain sense of protocol missing here. Photo by the Presidencia.

Varela the unsteady

Ill advised photo ops, in some of which he appears a bit drunk. Edging away from the religious hard right with the beginnings of an acknowledgment that gay people have rights, and then a state subsidy to the conservative Opus Dei order. Going to the United Arab Emirates to meet with royalty and appearing to endorse their atrocious Sunni jihad against Yemen. Then going to Jordan to meet with its king and taking some sensible steps toward Panama’s recognition that Palestinians have rights. After months of hemming and hawing, a belated statement that it’s not OK for a member of the Panama Canal Authority board of directors to go into hiding from criminal charges and miss dozens of meetings — and now the National Assembly for its own messed up reasons appears destined to let that one indefinitely slide without decision. Bold statements in Peru about cutting off corruption at its roots, which aren’t matched by anything that is happening here. Prudently moving to end a long-running and failed US policy of isolating Cuba, and then falling in with Donald Trump in carrying some real Panamanian disputes with Venezuela into the zone of ridiculous meddling in the affairs of a sister Bolivarian republic, as badly led as it might be.

The gorilla in the room is Odebrecht, from which President Varela took millions. Can he avoid it by frequent trips abroad, dilated proceedings for everything, appearances now and then to hand out goodies, and a strange mix of righteous and foolish pronouncements? Will that be our destiny until the Pope comes, and after that it will be an election season in which he declines to comment?

There is no obvious and compelling replacement. Each of the other branches of government that might step in is beset with its own problems. The great tragedy of it all is that on the bottom line President Varela is a likable person caught in circumstances. Good will, however, is no sure cure for a drifting ship of state.


On the periphery of the Trump circus

In one ring, where will he go to war and will it be according to WWE Texas death rules, wherein nobody actually dies? Will he attack Syria? The Russians in Syria? Iran? North Korea? Venezuela?

In another ring, will Mueller lower the boom or will Trump fire him and half the Justice Department first? Will Cohen flip? Will members of his own family flip? Will a Russian money trail be proven? Was there explicit coordination between operatives of the Kremlin and the 2016 Trump campaign?

In the third ring we have lurid tales of raunch. Was it just one spanking or is this guy under the discipline of The Leather Nun? Do we call the latest tale prostitution or just an opportunistic relationship? Will there be video recordings released, and will enquiring perverts find them compelling?

But outside the three rings, in the peripheral vision, there is this civil case. The final objections about who is in and who is not in the class action being resolved, a US federal judge in California has finalized a settlement in fraud suit on behalf of some 8,000 former students of the now defunct Trump University. The President of the United States has written a $25 million check to wash his hands of the matter. Yes, it’s a story that has been out there for a couple of years, and yes, it’s a civil rather than a criminal case. But a sitting president has paid $25 million to people who say that he’s a con man to whom they paid money and received little of value, way less than they were led to believe. Worse yet, this is a president in the process of privatizing public education, with the help of an education secretary who married into the Amway sales pyramid scheme.

America took a long road to get to the bottom of this hollow, with “supply side economics,” wars without aims, a mortgage-backed securities fraud that wiped out about one-third of all US assets on the books with impunity for the people who did that, tax and bankruptcy and trade “reforms” and so on. But there we have it. A con man with mob ties, Russian and otherwise, playing “leader of the free world” for an international community that cringes at the thought.

Trump is going down, because whatever might be shown in the more spectacular cases, the bottom line is that he is and always has been a tawdry little crook who is distinguished from mainline prison populations mainly by the amount of money he inherited. Will he go down like Al Capone on tax evasion? Will he go down for money laundering? Will it be a plea on a wire fraud count? Will the obvious obstruction of justice cases be the prosecutors’ low-hanging fruit.

He’s going down, but it doesn’t excuse the Democrats or the nation from coming up with a far-reaching set of changes to dig America out of its present hole.


Bear in mind…

For the sense of smell, almost more than any other, has the power to recall memories and it is a pity that you use it so little.
Rachel Carson


To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.
Isaac Asimov


In university they don’t tell you that the greater part of the law is learning to tolerate fools.
Doris Lessing


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