Editorials, Deep into the SENNIAF scandal; and The Democrats’ agenda

President Cortizo and the minister of social development cut the ribbon on a rural center for children at risk. Better to have such facilities than not, but there are also some harder things that the president and ministers must do. Photo by the Presidencia.

Nito, SENNIAF and us

The president has finally spoken about the SENNIAF foster care home scandals. It was in a thread of seven Twitter tweets. He said essentially the same stuff in a televised statement a short time later.

The president just went after the emotional part of it on the surface, in a superficial sort of way. He’s outraged at crimes against kids. He’s for exemplary punishment. He wants the government agency involved, SENNIAF, to file its own criminal complaints.

There seem to have been some adult foster care abuses here, too. Is the calculation that it’s best not to talk about mentally disturbed people chained up in a religious institution? Plus, Nito heads a government that fired two social workers for reporting on the abuses and he has nothing to say about justice for them.

A huge cultural issue here is the way that Panamanians tend to treat any person with any sort of disability. The people most egregiously wronged here are by and large kids with special needs that can’t be met by parents or extended families. Or maybe they could be met, but the families are annoyed or embarrassed by someone with disabilities among them. Yes, there are government policies that need to be reviewed, but there also needs to be a lot of social and individual introspection about our attitudes. The notion that life is one big competition with a few winners, those who work for them and a bunch of throwaways to be sent to places that people don’t see really does need to be examined and seen for what it is.

Lurking at the edges, and one of the driving issues for the religious right even as they are repelled by church-related organizations playing villainous roles in all of this, is the matter of abortion laws. Some of the protesters out front of SENNIAF believe that a mentally disabled girl impregnated by some man whose job was to protect her should be forced to bear the rapist’s baby, and that even before the birth the fetus should be adopted with legal protection for the “rights” of the purchasers. Meanwhile in many a country fewer children are born disabled because prenatal testing can detect problems and these pregnancies are aborted – as are, in some benighted societies, fetuses with the “defect” of being female. Abortion is an emotional subject, but can we talk about it in terms of real people and real situations, rather than abstract principles?

Adoption laws, the discredited international adoption market and the implications for the rest of Panama’s children if “the more adoptable” babies get exported need to become subjects of national debate. It should not be a discussion driven by lawyers with a financial stake, nor shoppers for babies whether foreign or domestic.

Then there are structural issues about how the government is run, first of all the push and pull between civil service versus political patronage systems, and then the whole neoliberal philosophy of government outsourcing its functions to private contractors whenever possible. The relationship between church and state is implicated, as it has been in myriad ways in every government since the start of the Spanish Conquest.

Those whose job is to protect vulnerable people who abuse their positions to rape them are subject to some stern laws, which ought to be enforced. But all the focus on the cruel punishments that ought to be meted out degrades both those who talk that way and the serious set of discussions that needs to take place.

The lives of human beings without much power to defend their own interests hang in the balance. The people living in those shelters should be the main concern. Not business reasons, the protection of reputations, the vindication of belief systems nor the images of institutions.


It’s a wonderful campaign mash-up, but in the 2022 mid-term elections this sort of pitch will not substitute for concrete economic relief for Floridians nor for a troubled nation. Florida Democrats’ meme.

Democrats need to deliver on campaign promises

How much does Joe Biden owe Senate Republicans, to whom a generation ago he used to reach across the aisle to get things done? How much does he owe the Republicans on a Supreme Court that doesn’t look or act like the one in place when he presided over the Senate Judiciary Committee? How much does he owe the “Never Trump” Republicans like the Lincoln Project?

Very little. Common courtesy, ordinary decency, respect for their fundamental legal rights – those are either required by his oath or in keeping with his personality. But Joe Biden doesn’t owe it to Republicans to let Americans starve, freeze or die of diseases just because the GOP insists on blocking whatever he might do.

In his presidential campaign, and especially in the Georgia runoff for two Senate seats, Joe Biden made some promises to the people of Georgia and the United States. If the Republicans insist that he deliver little or nothing on those commitments, Democrats in Congress and the American people at large demand that he deliver a lot more.

The Republicans played their hand on January 6. Now it’s time for a Democratic administration and Congress to play theirs in the face of deadly crises and a moribund economy. If Democrats don’t do that, it will be but a short respite from all that Trump stood for, even if the man might be in prison for fraud by then. Revenge and ridicule may actually have their proper places, but right now those are tiny concerns, dwarfed by the need for relief.



Bear in mind…

Oh! Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.

Jane Austen

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

George Orwell

We only do well the things we like doing.



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