Editorials: #NoALaReelección — another reason; and Cyber war

Senility is when a whole legislature thinks that this is a cute trick.

Uh huh. Nice try.

More than a decade ago, there was an attempt to give the political patronage appointees who inhabit the legislature civil service status. In 2008 there were civil service exams, the motions were gone through — and not too long afterward came Ricardo Martinelli, who had other ideas. Civil servants in the legislature became, except for a few old timers, a dead letter. There have been no civil service exams since 2008. 

To complicate matters, neither in 2009 nor in 2014 did any political party win a majority of seats in the National Assembly. In the Martinelli years there was executive interference in the form of cutting or increasing legislators staff budgets or circuit funds to coerce defections to Martinelli’s party. In Varela’s time there has been a series of deals among the the three main parties that has included staff salaries, money for phantom employees who don’t actually work for the legislature, control of the sports federations so as to pervert the Panamanian Olympic Committee among other things, and plenty of flat-out theft.

The legislature’s appointee, Comptroller General Federico Humbert, eventually stopped signing the checks for a lot of that stuff. ‘How dare you audit us!’ was the multi-party response. “But it was my company!” was one legislator’s response when it was revealed that the legislature was paying the salaries of that enterprise’s workers. Same as when we learned that another deputy’s staff salary fund was used to pay workers at her family’s chicken company. And when we learned to sports leagues that didn’t exist, with legislative aides paid to run the scams.

Now comes a new “civil service” attempt, including severance and retirement benefits for those who are hired on as political patronage temporary employees. No exam this time. There is a provision that they showed up for work — whether at the legislature, the chicken company or the Guna Yala baseball league they won’t say.

How to blunt citizen outrage? First bury the proposal by assigning it two numbers so that when there is a hearing under one number, journalists and the public can’t readily find it in the government database. Then tell the legislative workers that they’re in trouble if they leak the details.

But some will continue to dig, reading a lot more than should be necessary to find the thing:

Click here to read the thing. Should we say ‘Read it and weep?”

Of course not. Those of you who are Panamanian citizens should read it and vote against any incumbent seeking another term. Let’s throw the whole lot of them out on May 5.



Once upon a time — in 2010 — there was a malicious computer worm called Stuxnet. It is said by a number of sources, none officially confirmed, to have been a joint US and Israeli project to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons program. As in, messing up the controls of a uranium enrichment plant so that centrifuges ran way too fast until they broke. Turns out, however, that the Stuxnet infection did not stay confined to Iran. As you can see by the color coding on the map, it hit Indonesia pretty badly, was a serious problem in India, and spread to much of the rest of the world, including the United States and Israel. Wikimedia graphic, from a presentation to the European Union.

Cyber war

“This will be a war without blood. And we are not prepared.”

Kamala Harris on cyber war, at a CNN town hall

We could get into science fiction, or recent history. Senator Harris was pretty optimistic. But even though the complete score is necessarily shrouded in military secrecy, it was a very good thing that she raised the subject as a political issue. Surely it is.

Have some of the recent Venezuelan power outages been due to a US attack on that country’s power grid via the Internet? If that is true, people died in hospitals where the power went out.

The Stuxnet attacks on Iran were accompanied by a series of bomb attacks on Iranian scientists and a senior defense official. The government in Tehran claimed that this violence was related to the cyber attack.

And what of the world’s first suspected cyber war, the brief conflict between Russia and Estonia in 2007? Estonia’s emergency assistance number was shut down by a malicious computer program. Did someone die because an ambulance, the police or the firefighters couldn’t be promptly called? Perhaps.

In any case, the senator sees the issue and understands its importance. She demonstrated that she’s thinking about defending the USA — not bullying some smaller country, not a regime change to shape the world to Washington’s liking, but defending the United States of America.

Many vital US communications, infrastructure and industrial systems need to have better defended controls. The integrity of voters’ ballots needs to be assured against hackers. Online hecklers foreign and domestic need to be identified and ejected from the public discourse of the American people.

There are a lot of concepts to be debated. Is it better to have more secrecy, or more transparency? Should we try to build impregnable defenses, or resilient systems that can be easily enough attacked but bounce right back? Are whistleblowers and journalists spies? Is ignorance bliss?

American democracy is stronger because Senator Harris emphatically raised this point. However, that’s just a bare start on a debate that should take place.



They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS.

Emma González

Bear in mind…


Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.


It is so difficult to draw a clear line of separation between the abuse and the wholesome use of the press, that as yet we have found it better to trust the public judgment, rather than the magistrate, with the discrimination between truth and falsehood. And hitherto the public judgment has performed that office with wonderful correctness.

Thomas Jefferson

Literature is huge – they can’t fit her even into the Library of Congress, because she keeps not talking English.

Ursula K. Le Guin



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