Editorials: Panama’s momentary political situation; and The gag order on Trump


Same old, same old?

With less than eight months to go before Election Day, Panama’s political order as we have known it looks very unstable.

Ricardo Martinelli, who was a disruptive force as president from 2009 through 2014, has led in most polls. But he’s appealing a more than 10-year prison sentence, has more trials to go, stands to lose his newspaper chain and saw his first VP nominee – his wife – resign from that candidacy. Denounced as a crook by the government of the United States – to which he and his money launderer sons fled, Martinelli offers us the prospect of Noriega times, a Panama under crippling econoimic sanctions.

The Supreme Court could make it all moot by rejecting his appeal, sending him to prison and voiding his political rights for a decade.

In that latter case Martinelli’s new running mate, José Raúl Mulino, would be positioned to step in to head the RM ticket. Mulino is a traditional operative, adept at the game of “alliances” – small parties delivering relative small packages of votes in exchange for jobs or government contracts for some of their members. He could turn out to show some much better qualities as president but that’s quite unlikely to happen.

Or might Don Ricky come up with a doctor’s note or a donation to this or that person and find himself on the ballot and out of prison next May, get himself elected and then pardon himself and his old entourage? Stranger things have happened, but it’s a long shot bet.

Meanwhile the ruling PRD seems to be on a course toward collapse. Having kept key nominations out of their primaries as bargaining chips for alliances, the party has found no partner worthy and willing to field a candidate for mayor of Panama City, so they renominated José Luis Fábrega for mayor. Might the embarrassingly failed mayor get back in on the strength of divided opposition to him? Perhaps. At this juncture it seems unlikely.

Even less likely is the possibliity of the PRD presidentiial victory. It’s not only a maladroit candidate who is the butt of jokes, and not only the traditional popular wisdom of throwing out the party that holds the presidency because that gang of retainers has had their turn at the trough. It’s especially because THIS government has staked its place in history, its present reputation and its leading figures’ future possibilities on the idea of selling a large part of Panama to a foreign corporation as a mining colony.

That neocolonial infamy will likely doom all associated with it. It makes Rómulo Roux, who supports the mining contract, non-viable. It says nasty things about all of Richard Fifer’s political allies and business partners over the years, who include PRD, Martinelista and Panameñista leaders. First Quantum’s concession derives from Fifer’s political plum and it’s a long and disgusting story.

Left standing in the presidential race unsullied by that neocolonial disgrace or serious but lesser outrages are the moderate ex-diplomat Ricardo Lombana and leftist economics professor Maribel Gordón.

The 1917 Silent March in New York City, to protest against lynching and the all-white juries that let these crimes go unpunished. Photo from the archives of the New York State Historical Society.

The gag order

Court orders to remain silent are problematic, for those issuing them often counter-productive. What Federal District Judge Tanya Chutkan has done, however, is not some radical departure from US law. Nor is what Donald Trump trying to do unprecedented in US history.

Judge Chutkan made a public statement about her order, issued after many incendiary declarations by Mr. Trump:

This is not about whether I like the language Mr. Trump uses… This is about language that presents a danger to the administration of justice. His presidential candidacy does not give him carte blanche to vilify public servants who are simply doing their jobs.

It seems that the last straw for the judge was him calling the prosecutor a “thug.”

What Trump is trying to do is inflame the jury pool so as to get at least some jurors who will, no matter the evidence in the federal documents case, vote to acquit. As in jury nullification. As in a practice by which many white supremacists criminals have received impunity for lynchings and other serious crimes. As in the traditional legal tactic of the Ku Klux Klan.

Would the judge be stepping way out of the norms of judicial behavior to idenify this for what it is, to state to a mostly black DC jury pool that Trump is resorting to KKK tactics? Surely it would be. But the Anglo-American Common Law is a study of history, a casuistic system in which precedents matter. It would be both truthful and in the interests of justice to call Mr. Trump’s tactics for what they are.

Scottish writer Josephine Tey, which was a pen name for the very private woman who was born as Elizabeth MacIntosh.

If you think about the unthinkable long enough it becomes quite reasonable.

Josephine Tey

Bear in mind…

Be of the disciples of Aaron — a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah.

Rabbi Hillel the Elder

Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; riches take wings; the only earthly certainty is oblivion.

Horace Greeley

The best jihad is to speak a word of justice to an oppressive ruler.


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