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Eco paver blocks, made of sand and glass.

What they’ve been doing at the Bocas Recycle Center

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Hoyer: History’s crisis detectives

The Death of Julius Caesar, an 1806 painting by Vincenzo Camuccini. Wikimedia graphic.

How we’re using math and data to reveal why
societies collapse – and clues about the future

by Daniel Hoyer, University of Toronto

American humorist and writer Mark Twain is believed to have once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

I’ve been working as a historian and complexity scientist for the better part of a decade, and I often think about this phrase as I follow different strands of the historical record and notice the same patterns over and over.

My background is in ancient history. As a young researcher, I tried to understand why the Roman Empire became so big and what ultimately led to its downfall. Then, during my doctoral studies, I met the evolutionary biologist turned historian Peter Turchin, and that meeting had a profound impact on my work.

I joined Turchin and a few others who were establishing a new field – a new way to investigate history. It was called cliodynamics after Clio, the ancient Greek muse of history, and dynamics, the study of how complex systems change over time. Cliodynamics marshals scientific and statistical tools to better understand the past.

The aim is to treat history as a “natural” science, using statistical methods, computational simulations and other tools adapted from evolutionary theory, physics and complexity science to understand why things happened the way that they did.

Mosiac of a Roman muse.Mosaic representing the Greek muse Clio from the Severian period, coming from the villa located near the Baccano woods, and exhibited at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome.   Jean-PolGRANDMONT/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

By turning historical knowledge into scientific “data,” we can run analyses and test hypotheses about historical processes, just like any other science.

The databank of history

Since 2011, my colleagues and I have been compiling an enormous amount of information about the past and storing it a unique collection called the Seshat: Global History Databank. Seshat involves the contribution of over 100 researchers from around the world.

We create structured, analysable information by surveying the huge amount of scholarship available about the past. For instance, we can record a society’s population as a number, or answer questions about whether something was present or absent. Like, did a society have professional bureaucrats? Or, did it maintain public irrigation works?

These questions get turned into numerical data – a present can become a “1” and absent a “0” – in a way that allows us to examine these data points with a host of analytical tools. Critically, we always combine this “hard” quantitative data with more qualitative descriptions, explaining why the answers were given, providing nuance and marking uncertainty when the research is unclear, and citing relevant published literature.

We’re focused on gathering as many examples of past crises as we can. These are periods of social unrest that often result in major devastation — things like famine, disease outbreaks, civil wars and even complete collapse.

Our goal is to find out what drove these societies into crisis, and then what factors seem to have determined whether people could course-correct to stave off devastation.

But why? Right now, we are living in an age of polycrisis – a state where social, political, economic, environmental and other systems are not only deeply interrelated, but nearly all of them are under strain or experiencing some kind of disaster or extreme upheaval.

Examples today include the lingering social and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, volatility in global food and energy markets, wars, political instability, ideological extremism and climate change.

By looking back at past polycrises (and there were many) we can try and figure out which societies coped best.

Pouring through the historical record, we have started noticing some very important themes rhyming through history. Even major ecological disasters and unpredictable climates are nothing new.

Inequality and elite infighting

One of the most common patterns that has jumped out is how extreme inequality shows up in nearly every case of major crisis. When big gaps exist between the haves and have-nots, not just in material wealth but also access to positions of power, this breeds frustration, dissent and turmoil.

Ages of discord,” as Turchin dubbed periods of great social unrest and violence, produce some of history’s most devastating events. This includes the US civil war of the 1860s, the early 20th-century Russian Revolution, and the Taiping rebellion against the Chinese Qing dynasty, often said to be the deadliest civil war in history.

All of these cases saw people become frustrated at extreme wealth inequality, along with lack of inclusion in the political process. Frustration bred anger, and eventually erupted into fighting that killed millions and affected many more.

For example, the 100 years of civil fighting that felled the Roman republic was propelled by widespread unrest and poverty. Different political camps were formed, took increasingly extreme positions, and came to vilify their opponents with progressively more intense language and vitriol. This animosity spilled over into the streets, where mobs of armed citizens got into huge brawls and even lynched a popular leader and reformer, Tiberius Gracchus.

An oil painting depicting the fall of the Roman Empire.‘Destruction’ from the The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole, 1836. Wikipedia/ThomasCole

Eventually, this fighting spiraled into full-blown civil warfare with highly trained, well-organized armies meeting in pitched battles. The underlying tensions and inequalities weren’t addressed during all this fighting, though, so this process repeated itself from about the 130s BC until 14AD, when the republican form of government came crashing down.

Perhaps one of the most surprising things is that inequality seems to be just as corrosive for the elites themselves. This is because the accumulation of so much wealth and power leads to intense infighting between them, which ripples throughout society.

In the case of Rome, it was the wealthy and powerful senators and military leaders like Julius Caesar who seized on the anger of a disaffected populace and led the violence.

This pattern also appears at other moments, such as the hatred between southern landowners and northern industrialists in the run up to the US civil war and the struggles between the Tsarist rulers and Russia’s landed nobility during the late 1800s.

Meanwhile, the 1864 Taiping rebellion was instigated by well educated young men, frustrated at being unable to find prestigious positions in government after years of toiling away at their studies and passing the civil service exams.

What we see time and again is that wealthy and powerful people try to grab bigger shares of the pie to maintain their positions. Rich families become desperate to secure prestigious posts for their children, while those aspiring to join the ranks of the elite scratch and claw their way up. And typically, wealth is related to power, as elites try to secure top positions in political office.

All this competition leads to increasingly drastic measures, including breaking rules and social taboos to stay ahead of the game. And once the taboo of refraining from civil violence falls – as it too often does – the results are typically devastating.

Fighting for the top spot

These patterns probably sound familiar. Consider the college admissions scandal in the US in 2019. That scandal broke when a few well-known American celebrities were caught having bribed their children’s way into prestigious universities like Stanford and Yale.

But it wasn’t only these celebrities who broke the rules trying to secure their children’s future. Dozens of parents were prosecuted for such bribes, and the investigations are still ongoing. This scandal provides a perfect illustration of what happens when elite competition gets out of hand.

In the UK, you could point to the honors system, which generally seems to reward key allies of those in charge. This was the case in 2023, when former prime minister Boris Johnson rewarded his inner circle with peerages and other prestigious honors. He wasn’t the first prime minister to do so, and he won’t be the last.

One of the really common historical patterns is that as people accumulate wealth, they generally seek to translate this into other types of “social power:” political office, positions at top firms, military or religious leadership. Really, whatever is valued most at that time in their specific society.

Donald Trump is only one recent and fairly extreme version of this motif that pops up time and again during ages of discord. And if something isn’t done to relieve the pressure of such competition then these frustrated elites can find masses of supporters.

Then the pressures continue to build, igniting anger and frustration within more and more people, until it requires some release, usually in the form of violent conflict.

Remember that intra-elite competition usually rises when inequality is high, so these are periods when large numbers are feeling frustrated, angry, and ready for a change – even if they have to fight and perhaps die for it, as it seemed some were when they stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Put together, fiercely competitive elites alongside scores of poor and marginalized people create an extremely combustible situation.

When the state can’t ‘right the ship’

As inequality takes root and conflict among elites ramps up, it usually ends up hampering society’s ability to right the ship. This is because elites tend to capture the lion’s share of wealth, often at the expense of both the majority population and state institutions. This is a crucial aspect of rising inequality, today just as much as in the past.

So vital public goods and welfare programs, like initiatives to provide food, housing or healthcare to those in need, become underfunded and eventually cease to work at all. This exacerbates the gap between the wealthy who can afford these services and the growing number who cannot.

My colleague, political scientist Jack Goldstone, came up with a theory to explain this in the early 1990s, called structural demographic theory. He took an in-depth look at the French Revolution, often seen as the archetypal popular revolt. Goldstone was able to show that a lot of the fighting and grievances were driven by frustrated elites, not only by the “masses,” as is the common understanding.

These elites were finding it harder and harder to get a seat at the table with the French royal court. Goldstone noted that the reason these tensions became so inflamed and exploded is because the state had been losing its grip on the country for decades due to mismanagement of resources and from all of the entrenched privileges that the elites were fighting so hard to retain.

A woman of the people (personifying the concept of Liberty) amid the bodies of the fallen, holding aloft the tricolour flag.‘Liberty Leading the People’ is a painting by Eugène Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled King Charles X. Wikipedia graphic.

So just when a society most needs its leaders in government and the civil service to step up and turn the crisis around, it finds itself at its weakest point and is unfit for the challenge. This is one of the main reasons that so many historical crises turn into major catastrophes.

As my colleagues and I have pointed out, this is disturbingly similar to trends we are seeing in the USA, the UK and Germany, for example. Years of deregulation and privatization in the United States, for instance, have rolled back many of the gains made during the postwar period and gutted a variety of public services.

Meanwhile in the UK, the National Health Service has been said to be “locked in a death spiral” due to years of cuts and underfunding.

All the while, the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer. According to recent statistics the richest 10% of households now control over 75% of the total wealth in world.

Such stark inequality leads to the sort of tension and anger we see in all the cases mentioned above. But without adequate state capacity or support from elites and the general public alike, it is unlikely that these countries will have what it takes to make the sort of reforms that could decrease tension. This is why some commentators have even claimed a second US civil war is looming.

Our age of polycrisis

There is no doubt that we’re facing certain novel challenges today that people in the past did not. Not just in terms of the frequency and scale of ecological disasters, but also in the way that so many of our systems (global production, food and mineral supply chains, economic systems, the international political order) are more hopelessly entangled than they ever have been.

A shock to one of these systems almost inevitably reverberates into the others. The war in Ukraine, for example, has affected global food supply chains and the price of gas across the world.

Researchers at the Cascade Institute, some of the leading authorities working to understand and track our current polycrisis, present a truly terrifying (and not exahuastive) list of crises the world is facing today, including:

  • the lingering health, social, and economic effects of COVID-19
  • stagflation (a persistent combination of inflation and low growth)
  • volatility in global food and energy markets
  • geopolitical conflict
  • political instability and civil unrest arising from economic insecurity
  • ideological extremism
  • political polarisation
  • declining institutional legitimacy
  • increasingly frequent and devastating weather events generated by climate heating

Each of these on its own would wreak significant devastation, but they all interact, each one propelling the others and offering no signs of relief.

There were polycrises in the past too

Many of the same sorts of threats occurred in the past too, perhaps not on the global scale we see today, but certainly on a regional or even trans-continental scale.

Even environmental threats have been a challenge that humans have had to deal with. There have been ice ages, decades-long droughts and famines, unpredictable weather and severe ecological shocks.

The “little ice age,” a period of abnormally cold temperatures that lasted for centuries from the 14th to early 19th centuries, inflicted mass devastation in Europe and Asia. This poor climate regime caused a number of ecological disasters, including recurrent famine in many places.

During this period, there were major disruptions in economic activity exacerbating food insecurity in places reliant on trade to feed their populations. For example, Egypt experienced what academics now refer to as a “great crisis” in the late 14th century during Mamluk Sultanate rule, as a plague outbreak combined with local flooding that ruined domestic crops while conflict in east Asia disrupted trade into the region. This caused a major famine throughout Egypt and, eventually, an armed revolt including the assassination of the Mamluk sultan, An-Nasir Faraj.

There was also a notable rise in uprisings, protests, and conflicts throughout Europe and Asia under these harsh environmental conditions. And the bubonic plague broke out during this period, as the infection found a welcome home among the large numbers of people left hungry and cold in harsh conditions.

How different countries handled the pandemic

Looking at the historical data, one thing gives me hope. The same forces that conspire to leave societies vulnerable to catastrophe can also work the other way.

The COVID-19 outbreak is a good example. This was a devastating disease hitting nearly the entire globe. However, as my colleagues have pointed out, the impact from the disease was not the same in every country or even among different communities.

This was due to many factors including how quickly the disease was identified, the effectiveness of various public health measures, and the demographic make-up of countries (proportion of elderly and more vulnerable communities in the population, for example). Another major factor, not always recognized, was how social stressors had been building up in the years before the disease struck.

But in some countries, such as South Korea and New Zealand, inequality and the other pressures had been kept largely at bay. Trust in government and social cohesion was also generally higher. When the disease appeared, people in these countries were able to pull together and respond more effectively than elsewhere.

They quickly managed to implement an array of strategies to fight the disease, like masking and physical distancing guidelines, that were supported and followed by large numbers of people. And generally, there was a fairly swift response from leaders in these countries with the state providing financial support for missed work, organizing food drives and setting up other crucial programs to help people manage with all of the disruptions COVID brought.

In countries like the USA and the UK, however, pressures like inequality and partisan conflict were already high and growing in the years before the first outbreak.

Large numbers of people in these places were impoverished and made particularly vulnerable to the disease, as political in-fighting left government response slow, communication poor, and often resulted in confusing and contradictory advice.

The countries that responded poorly just didn’t have the social cohesion and trust in leadership needed to effectively implement and manage strategies to manage the disease. So, instead of bringing people together, tensions were further inflamed and preexisting inequalities widened.

Sometimes societies do right the ship

These pressures have played out in similar ways in the past. Unfortunately, by far the most common outcome has been major devastation and destruction. Our current research catalogues almost 200 cases of past societies experiencing a period of high risk, what we call a “crisis situation.” Over half of these situations turn into civil war or major uprising, about 35% involve the assassination of a ruler, and almost 40% involve the society losing control over territory or completely collapsing.

But our research has also found examples where societies were able to stop political infighting, harness their collective energy and resources to boost resilience, and make positive adaptations in the face of crisis.

For instance, during a “plague” in ancient Athens (probably a typhoid or smallpox outbreak), officials helped organize quarantines and gave public support for medical services and food distribution. Even without our modern understanding of virology, they did what they could to get through a difficult time.

A painting of crowds of ill and dying people during a plague in ancient Athens.‘Plague in an Ancient City’, by Michael Sweerts (circa 1652) is believed to be referring to the plague of Athens. LACMA/wikemedia

We see also amazing feats of engineering and collective action taken by ancient societies to produce enough food for their growing populations. Look at the irrigation channels that kept the Egyptians fed for thousands of years during the time of the Pharaohs, or the terraced fields built high in the Andes mountains under the Inca empire.

The Qing and other imperial dynasties in China constructed a huge web of granaries throughout their vast territory, supported by public funds and managed by government officials. This required a massive amount of training, oversight, financial commitment and significant investment in infrastructure to produce and transport foodstuff all over the region.

These granaries played a major role in providing relief when harsh climate conditions such as major floods, droughts, locust invasions, or warfare, threatened the food supply. My colleagues and I have argued recently that the breakdown of this granary system in the 19th century — driven by corruption among the managers and the strain on state capacity — was in fact a major contributor in the collapse of the Qing, China’s final imperial dynasty.

Elites in Chartist England

One of the most prominent examples of a country that faced crisis but managed to avoid the worst, is England during the 1830s and 1840s. This was the so-called Chartist period, a time of widespread unrest and revolt.

From the end of the 1700s, many of England’s farmers had seen profits diminish. On top of this, England was right in the middle of the industrial revolution, with rapidly swelling cities filling with factories. But conditions in these factories were atrocious. There was virtually no oversight or protections to ensure worker safety or to compensate anyone injured on the job, and employees were often forced to work long hours with minuscule pay.

The first few decades of the 1800s saw a number of revolts throughout England and Ireland, several of which became violent. Workers and farmers together charted their demands for more equitable and fair treatment in a series of pamphlets, which is where the period gets its name.

Many of England’s powerful political elite came to support these demands as well. Or at least there were enough to allow for the passing of some significant reforms, including regulations about worker safety, increased representation for the less wealthy, working class people in parliament, and the establishment of public welfare support for those unable to find work.

Copy of a poster advertising a demonstration in 1848.Poster advertising the ‘Monster’ Chartist Demonstration, held on April 10 1848. Rodney Mace, British Trade Union Posters: An Illustrated History.

The reforms resulted in marked improvement in the wellbeing of millions of people in the subsequent decades, which makes this a remarkable example. Although it needs to be noted that women were completely left out of the suffrage advances until years later. But many commentators point to this period as setting the stage for the modern welfare systems that those of us living in the developed world tend to take for granted. And crucially, the path to victory was made much easier, and considerably less bloody, by having elite support.

In most cases, where tensions mount and popular unrest explodes into violent protests, the wealthy and powerful tend to double down on maintaining their own privileges. But in Chartist England, a healthy contingent of progressive, “prosocial” elites were willing to sacrifice some of their own wealth, power, and privilege.

Finding hope

If the past teaches us anything, it is that trying to hold on to systems and policies that refuse to appropriately adapt and respond to changing circumstances — like climate change or growing unrest among a population – usually end in disaster. Those with the means and opportunity to enact change must do so, or at least to not stand in the way when reform is needed.

Volunteers at building site laying bricks.Volunteers rebuilding a school in Trishuli, Nepal, that was destroyed by the earthquake in 2016. Shutterstock/Mihai Speteanu

This last lesson is a particularly hard one to learn. Unfortunately, there are many signs around the world today that the mistakes of the past are being repeated, especially by our political leaders and those aspiring to hold power.

Just in the past few years, we have witnessed a pandemic, increasing ecological disasters, mass impoverishment, political gridlock, the return of authoritarian and xenophobic politics, and atrocious warfare.

This global polycrisis shows no signs of letting up. If nothing changes, we can expect these crises to worsen and spread to more places. We may discover — too late — that these are indeed “end times”, as Turchin has written.

But we also are in a unique position, because we know more about these forces of destruction and about how they played out in the past than ever before. This sentiment serves as the foundation for all of the work we have done compiling this massive amount of historical information.

Learning from history means that we have the ability to do something different. We can relieve the pressures that are creating violence and making society more fragile.

Our goal as cliodynamicists is to uncover patterns – not just to see how what we are doing today rhymes with the past – but to help find better ways forward.


Daniel Hoyer, Senior Researcher, Historian and Complexity Scientist, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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¿Wappin? Last Friday of February mix / Mix del último viernes de febrero

Beyoncé in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium 2023. Wikimedia photo by Raph PH.

Crossing genres keeps an old mind limber
Cruzar géneros mantiene ágil la mente vieja

Santana – Jingo, live at Viña del Mar 2009

Reneé Armand & Hoyt Axton – Boney Fingers

Beyoncé – Texas Hold ‘Em

Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter

Los Mozambiques – El Presidiario

Taylor Swift – You Belong With Me

Rihanna Giddens – She’s Got You

Lady Gaga – Bad Romance

Sinéad O’Connor – Sacrifice

Mon Laferte – Obra De Dios

Pink Floyd – The Final Cut

Bob Marley – Redemption Song

Rubén Blades – País Portátil


Contact us by email at / Contáctanos por correo electrónico a thepanamanews@gmail.com

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Para defendernos de los piratas informáticos, los trolls organizados y otros actos de vandalismo en línea, la función de comentarios de nuestro sitio web está desactivada. En cambio, ven a nuestra página de Facebook para unirte a la discusión.

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The circuit to El Valle and back, by bus

from the highway
From the Pan-American Highway where you’d turn off to get to my house, the ancient volcano that has Altos de La Estancia on its rim and the town of El Valle of its crater floor, about 30 kilometers away. The mountain hasn’t blown up in 10,000 years, but El Valle still has some warm mineral water springs that belie some magma activity underneath.

Day tripping to El Valle: a five
bus ride photo and gawking tour

photos and comments by Eric Jackson

I get around mainly by bus. I may wear a Detroit Tigers hat in this country of Yankees fans, but it doesn’t make a gearhead, a gringo subject to the Marxist curse of being slave to the machine of me. There are lots of cars on the roads here, but MOST Panamanians get around by public transportation. That still subjects us to the ravages of the internal combustion engine and roads that are generally awful at the moment. It also dooms us to living amidst the gaffes of too many politicians whose thinking equates the physical design of the places where we live for the convenience of cars rather than people to be “progress.”

One of the things that I have done for years, and especially began to do in earnest with the onset of the COVID epidemic, is observe what I see while riding on a bus and try to draw some social, economic, cultural, political and environmental sense of it. This time, it was a trip that has a small part through Panama Oeste province’s San Carlos district but was mainly through Cocle province’s large Anton municipal district, which touches both the Pacific Ocean and the Continental Divide. My downscale barrio of El Bajito and the upscale mountain town of El Valle are both within it.

It’s the every five years election campaign season, the waning days — I hope and some experts predict — of a beastly El Niño drought, and a time of uneven and faltering economic recovery from a worldwide catastrophic plague. There are signs to be seen from a bus window, and while walking or sitting between bus rides.

Some of the signs are literally that — the banners, posters and billboards that candidates and parties put up for the season. Different campaigns have different strategies, strongholds, resources and needs, so an always inexact attempt to estimate how things are going by the outward appearances of sign wars can lead to errors in the simplest of times, let alone in a present-day Panama of severe political fragmentation. WHICH CAUSE is winning the sign wars on this circuit around Anton? CLEARLY it’s “Se Vemde.”

The first leg of my day trip, from my house by foot to the bus stop, then on a San Juan de Dios to Anton bus into the town of Anton, belies some noteworthy political things. All these PRD banners, and poster and signs for our incumbent perredista representante, Carlos Fernández, plus all of these piles of sand and stacks of building blocks on many properties reflecting his distribution of political patronage spoils, those do impress. But those are not present at most places in the corregimiento. There would have to be a huge tidal wave against the currently ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party to sweep Fernández out of office, which might happen but which I don’t expect.

Visible on this leg of the journey are a lot of Rómulo Roux things, both Panameñista and Cambio Democratico, some of them unexpected. A prominently and traditionally MOLIRENA household with Roux stuff — there IS something to these reports of a Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement split, with a faction of the fighting rooster party departing from the alliance with the PRD and opting for corporate lawyer Rómulo Roux’s Democratic Change and Panameñista Party coalition instead. Off the bus in Anton, to grab newspapers and breakfast — tangerines, Powerade, hampao and empanadas — and make a few observations.

Here CD and the Panameñistas may be running together, but it’s the Cambio Democratico guy, El Capi Carrasquilla asking for votes to take PRD incumbent Melchor Herrera’s seat in the National Assembly.
Notwithstanding the alliance headed by the CD’s Roux and his running mate the Panameñista former mayor of Panama City José Isabel Blandón, Ricardo Solís Ponce, son of the comptroller general, is running against both the CD’s Carrasquilla and the PRD’s Herrera for that seat in the legislature.

Well, what about this time of seven presidential tickets and more fragmentation within those alliances in the down-ballot races? Do all the people in the houses with the PRD flags intend to vote for Gaby Carrizo for president, or are some of them Carlos Fernández’s people who my go elsewhere in their presidential choices? There are Panameñista flags, and Roux signs, but no outward indication of Solís or Carrasquilla support. Ricardo Lombana’s Movimiento Otro Camino has flags out and some signs for Lombana specifically, but from a bus going through the corregimiento of Juan Diaz you don’t see signs of his down-ticket running mates, even though they have been out campaigning in the neighborhood. Then there are the Martinelistas — you see RM flags here and there but Don Ricky is not going to be on the ballot. He will be in prison or holed up in the Nicaraguan Embassy, and former Panama Canal Authority board member Lourde “Lulu” Castillo is running hard on the RM ticket to represent Anton in the legislature, but especially for the presidency it’s difficult to fathom where Ricardo Martinelli supporters are going to go. Yes, he has anointed a stand-in, but even if “RM” stands for Realizando Metas it means Ricardo Martinelli, as egotistical and personalist a politician as they get and thus not all that transferrable a brand. We saw that in the 2014 election and the ineffectiveness of surrogacy is probably still a factor.

Is the political science of observing the advertising wars a science at all? Well, with due humility, an INEXACT one. Polls are snapshots in time, watching the publicity is another set of indications but unless something goes dangerously wrong we learn the final score sometime on the evening of May 5, or shortly thereafter.

The second leg — Anton to Las Uvas

Onto another bus, headed toward Panama City but I will get off well before then. Politics have somewhat revived what had been a moribund billboard industry, but economic observation kicks into higher gear.

Work continues, ever so slowly, on matchbox home subdivisions, based on the failed US 1950s and 60s model. Intended for whom? Residential tourism? A middle class that works where? At a glance, sales and occupancy are very slow.

There is this garish new sign, in the now usual style, at the entrada to Juan Hombron. Plus a new caseta there, looking better built than the usual.

In Rio Hato as well, a new sign is in, poorly placed so as to obscure the view of a long-standing little religious shrine. The economy of solid old houses torn down to leave matchbox dwellings as an alternative is the long-running and still very much in evidence tale of this town first established by freed slaves. There are abandoned businesses, and “new” business premises built years ago but never occupied. No planes at the airport when we went by that, either.

Farther on, in and just past Santa Clara, a few old businesses have new management. In Las Guias, then into Panama Oeste and La Ermita and El Higo, there is a bit of construction, mostly private homes, but the look is of business decline or stagnation.

Getting off the bus at Las Uvas, then crossing the pedestrian overpass I noticed this string of little plastic Panamanian flags, tattered and twisted and largely obscured from the view of drivers. The representante’s crew, or whoever, failed to take down the decorations for last November’s patriotic holidays. The country WAS on strike then, but still….

Uphill from Las Uvas

Got onto an overcrowded little bus as soon as I got off of the pedestrian bridge, and unlike the usual found that I was not the only fulo. One gringo got off the bus a few miles up the road in El Copecito. That elderly couple behind me — was that Dutch, or German, that they were speaking? The 60ish woman with the tattoo — a gringa? Along the way there was plenty of advertising in English for real estate or lodging. 

Up to the top of that side of the crater rim, and over. Those folks who volunteer their labor to clean up the lookout had done their job well on this morning.

Do golden frogs say “ribit?” Or do the ones who hang out drinking coffee speak French and smoke cigarettes?

El Valle on a dry Thursday morning

First stop, just up the street and across the street from the bank and its ATM. No, the big check for which I have been waiting has not arrived. It would be far from enough for me to move to Millionaire’s Row in any case.

But before I got to the Caja de Ahorros, a voice came up from behind, warning me that I was walking in the bicycle path. I stepped out of the way and apologized.

El Valle’s bike path system was underway before COVID, its development continued before and after the lockdown and now years of work show in a marked increase in its use. It’s one of several signs that El Valle is well run little town. So does the alcalde claim credit? The representante? The diputado? I think they all had their parts, as did some ministries. Money spent on worthy things, and money allocated and blown, are different things. This is something that went right.

Was it that El Valle is upscale enough that people there had the resource to go on through the hard times working for a better day? That SOMEBODY would appreciate and buy those carefully painted little wooden hummingbirds?


That even as the upscale tourists and the millionaires who have their mountain cottages here might come and go and consider decorative effects, the more plebian customers for whom fish baskets are thought of in utilitarian terms would be back on a better day too?


The museums that tend to grab this reporter’s attention were all up and running, with mostly foreigners on the premises. However, I have also seen kids taken through the local historical museum, dedicated to the tragic Liberal guerrilla general Victoriano Lorenzo, and told by their teachers variations on “This is who we are.”

On the other hand, nature displays on other premises neglect to mention the dreaded man-eating bespectacled fleebydoo moth. Could this be a mythical beast? Shouldn’t there be another museum that features it, and The Tulivieja?


Politically? Is it a mistake to play mostly to the upscale residents of the crater floor, rather than those of more modest means who may work or sell there but live on the surrounding hillsides? The Roux presidential campaign and Lulu Castillo’s RM campaign for the legislature are the most visibly present political expressions in town.

Unless, that is, you consider versions of “clean up after yourself” or “appreciate and respect nature” to be political statements. Those are very big in El Valle. Plus odd reminders to react to wildlife with patience rather than fear.}


Signs of economic activity? Some abandoned things, not nearly so many as during the epidemic, and some things that went out of business forever or temporarily being renovated for new occupancy. And all these new businesses!

A lot are oriented toward tourists. If you LIVE there, wouldn’t you want to just keep your own bicycle, traditional or electric, if that’s a big thing in your life? But if you are a tourist, or a resident trying something new…


This being a Thursday, the market offerings were fewer than usual. I didn’t find any seedlings that I wanted for my farm there on this morning. There are other places in El Valle where I could have found these things, but that sort of shopping was something I didn’t want to do. Otra vez. Grabbed me a cup of coffee at the fonda inside the market, some cat and dog food at Melo, a few other things at the supermarket across from the public market and waited a little while for the next bus.

Up and back

The longer in distance but shorter in time way back would have been to grab an El Valle to Penonome bus and make my way home from Penonome, I took the more direct and time-consuming way and soon enough an El Valle to Altos de La Estancia bus showed up.

On the treacherous road up to the volcano rim we were briefly stopped on a bridge over the La Estancia River. “La Estancia” has various meanings in Spanish, the one I take most likely here meaning “the little farm.” We have had a little rain in Anton these past few day, and surely a bit more in the highlands. So the Rio La Estancia had water in it this time, just a relative trickle.


I got off at the caseta across from the mini-super atop the volcano’s rim and waited. And waited. And took pictures.

What kind of looked like a PAIS party scout group, decked out in their orange and white party colors, hiked by. There are Panamanian laws and general ethical concerns about using the photos of minors, especially if it gets interpreted as the promotion of a partisan campaign. I didn’t take their picture,

Some interesting birds stopped nearby, but I wasn’t close enough to get usable photos.

Looking out the back way toward the mountains of Penonome and beyond, I took this picture of the flora and backdrop. In this weird El Niño year things are flowering and fruiting at somewhat unusual times. A flower picture only tour of this circuit would be an interesting enough task, and would be different in the various times of the year, even a normal year.


Eventually a bus headed “the back way” toward Anton showed up. We wound our way downhill and through what’s more or less the Bible Belt of Anton district. Lots of signs with Lulu Castillo making her pitch to the Martinelistas’ Evangelical base. A bunch of Roux signs probably making the pitch to the same people. A number of houses painting that garish pink that’s one of the Cambio Democratico colors — was this a Roux campaign expenditure? But as soundly thrashing the politicians as “For Sale” did on the first part of this tour, Christian symbols, images, houses of worship and artwork dominated along this way.


So are Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the saints on a roll this election season? Or shall people argue about which version of the Bible, which denomination and who was the cooler saint? Or if Taylor Swift’s boyfriend is actually adept at drop-kicking footballs or people through the goalposts of life? Reading the signs from a passing bus, as noted is not an exact science. Especially when religious beliefs and shifting political events and fortunes come into the mix.

I got home in time for the animals to be fed in time. I got too much sun for a day’s work but it’s a photo excursion that I have taken before and will probably take again. 


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Hightower, Texas gets into slavery again

Texas of course
Texas is trying to ban the use of its roads by people seeking care outside the state — and even dispatching right-wing vigilante groups to chase them. Women in Texas dress as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale” to protest abortion restrictions. Shutterstock photo.

Abortion ban extremists are using
a slave law to repress women

by Jim Hightower — OtherWords

Here’s our big word of the day: extraterritoriality. It expresses a sketchy legal theory asserting that rulers in one state have a right to enforce their laws in another state.

Its most prominent was in the infamous Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required officials in Northern anti-slave states to capture and return escaped slaves to their plantation “owners” in the South, thus applying Southern slave laws in Northern jurisdictions. This abomination was finally repealed in 1864.

But 160 years later, here comes another faction of right-wing zealots trying to revive the slave-law concept of extraterritoriality — this time applying it to any and all American women who dare to make their own reproductive health decisions.

I’m ashamed to say that this repressive use of the doctrine is being led by my state’s misogynistic governor, Greg Abbott, and our corrupt attorney general, Ken Paxton. These two tyrannical men have already saddled Texas women with the most draconian abortion ban in the country, including piously forbidding abortion in cases of rape and incest.

For women to exercise their inherent right to control their own bodies, they’re forced to travel to nearby states. But Texas’s brutal extremists bark that “we’ll ban that, too!” They’ve pushed a flagrantly unconstitutional scheme to outlaw the use of public roads to drive out-of-state for care. And they’ve even sanctioned right-wing vigilantes to follow suspected medical travelers to doctors beyond our borders.

And, going full-tilt totalitarian, the Abbott-Paxton posse has demanded that out-of-state-care groups hand over the names and addresses of Texas women they’ve helped outside of Texas.

Talk about government overreach! Big Brother isn’t just watching… he’s stalking you. To oppose this brutish repression — and to keep it from coming to your state — contact RewireNewsGroup.com/abortion.


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Republican congressman openly advocates genocide

“Any congressional resolutions to censure or expel Ogles?” asked one commentator. Representative Andy Ogles (R-TN), his official House portrait.

‘Kill ’em all,’ Republican Andy Ogles says of Palestinians in Gaza

by Jake Johnson Common Dreams

Republican Representative Andy Ogles of Tennessee said Tuesday that “we should kill ’em all” after an activist pressed him to respond to atrocities that the US-backed Israeli military is committing against Palestinians in Gaza, including children.

“I’ve seen the footage of shredded children’s bodies,” the activist told Ogles. “That’s my taxpayer dollars that are going to bomb those kids.”

“You know what? So, I think we should kill ’em all, if that makes you feel better,” Ogles responded. “Hamas and the Palestinians have been attacking Israel for 20 years. It’s time to pay the piper.”

Watch the exchange:

Ogles, a vocal supporter of arming Israel unconditionally, was among the 212 House Republicans who voted in November to censure Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) on the false grounds that she “justified” the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7.

Following the Tennessee Republican’s call for the mass killing of Palestinians, Democratic strategist Waleed Shahid asked, “Any congressional resolutions to censure or expel Ogles?”

Video footage of Ogles’ remarks was posted to social media hours after the Biden administration vetoed a cease-fire resolution at the United Nations Security Council—the third time since October 7 that the United States has wielded its veto power to block a measure calling for an immediate end to the bloodshed in Gaza.

Hours before the latest US veto, an official with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that Gaza is “poised to witness an explosion in preventable child deaths” as malnutrition and disease spread rapidly across the enclave.

Israeli forces have killed more than 12,400 children in Gaza since October 7, according to the territory’s health officials. More than 600,000 children are currently trapped in Rafah, which Israeli forces are preparing to invade. On average, more than 10 Gaza children per day have lost one or both of their legs since October, according to Save the Children.

“After four months of relentless violence, we are running out of words to describe what children and families in Gaza are going through, as well as the tools to respond in any adequate way,” Jason Lee, Save the Children’s country director for the occupied Palestinian territory, said in a statement Tuesday. “The scale of death and destruction is astronomical.”

“Children are being failed by the adults who should be protecting them,” Lee added. “It’s beyond time for the adults in the room to step up their responsibilities and legal obligations to children caught up in a conflict they played no part in, who just want to be able to live.”


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First Quantum, its new spokeswoman and the true face of terrorism here


First Quantum, su nueva portavoz y la verdadera cara del terrorismo aquí

por Eric Jackson et al

Whatever any of the candidates wish to do, we now see First Quantum putting that widely detested mining operation front and center in the campaign for the May 5 elections:



See https://twitter.com/CJBICHET/status/1760039737786511374






Shall we talk about “terrorism” in last year’s strike?

The gunman who killed people was on the mine’s side. He was a mafia lawyer for the now disbanded financial crimes outfit The Harris Organisation, former consul for South Africa and son of the consul for apartheid-era South Africa. Gaby Carrizo is the son of the manager / CEO for First Quantum’s predecessor in interest in that always unconstitutional concession, Petaquilla Minerals. The gunman’s daughter is married to Gaby Carrizo’s brother. Petaquilla’s founder, principal owner and main brain? That’s former Cocle governor Richard Fifer, who is now in prison for fraud. Yeah, devotees if the Murdoch media hailed the guy as an American “gun rights” hero, but that’s the face and social milieu of actual terrorism in Panama.

Corporations are persons, the legal fiction and neoliberal religion says?

Well, fine. First Quantum is a foreign person not only found in violation of Panama’s constitution, but engaged in a long-running and in-everyone’s-face intervention in Panama’s sovereign political affairs. It should be declared persona non grata and expelled from Panama.


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García-Quismondo Hernáiz, Las baterías de sodio y la recarga inalámbrica

new electric gizmo
Juguete nuevo. Foto temp-64GTX / Shutterstock.

Nos acercan al sueño de coches eléctricos más baratos y con mayor autonomía

por Enrique García-Quismondo Hernáiz, IMDEA ENERGÍA

Las baterías de iones de sodio están emergiendo como alternativas prometedoras para los vehículos eléctricos de gama baja-media. La empresa francesa Tiamat Energy, respaldada por el Grupo Stellantis, acaba de anunciar sus planes para construir una fábrica de celdas de iones de sodio con una capacidad de producción máxima de 5 GWh por año. Este enfoque no solo apunta a reducir costes en la movilidad eléctrica sino también a contrarrestar las problemáticas del litio, un componente crítico en las baterías actuales.

Este tipo de baterías basadas en sodio pueden resultar ideales para automóviles eléctricos de dimensiones reducidas, especialmente aquellos que transitan por tramos de carretera con capacidad de recarga en movimiento. En este contexto, la necesidad de una gran capacidad energética en los coches podría reducirse significativamente.

Recientemente, se ha implementado esta tecnología de recarga sin cables en Detroit, Michigan (EE. UU.), abriendo la posibilidad de baterías más compactas para vehículos eléctricos.

La tecnología de baterías de sodio se basa en el movimiento de iones entre los electrodos de forma muy similar a las baterías de iones de litio, pero utilizando sodio. Este concepto, impulsado por su bajo coste y la disponibilidad de sus principales componentes, plantea una solución a la dependencia del litio, cuya extracción no está exenta de impactos ambientales negativos y cuyos precios son volátiles.

A diferencia del litio, el sodio se puede producir a partir de un material abundante: la sal. Esta materia prima está disponible en gran medida, es sencilla de extraer y asequible.

Luces y sombras de las baterías de sodio

Hasta el momento, este tipo de baterías han mostrado una densidad de energía inferior en comparación con las baterías de iones de litio, lo que se traduce en una mayor carga de peso para almacenar la misma cantidad de energía. A pesar de este desafío, fabricantes de baterías líderes como NorthVolt en Suecia y la alianza entre BYD y Huaihai en China están intensificando sus esfuerzos para superar esta limitación.

El pasado noviembre, BYD anunció la construcción de su primera gigafábrica de baterías de iones de sodio en Xuzhou, provincia de Jiangsu. Con una capacidad de 30 GWh anuales y una inversión de 1 284 millones de euros, se prevé que BYD se convierta en el principal proveedor mundial de baterías de sodio para microcoches.

Una característica destacada de las baterías de iones de sodio es su capacidad para ser descargadas por completo y almacenadas o transportadas en este estado sin degradación, lo cual añade versatilidad a su implementación en aplicaciones de movilidad. A diferencia de las baterías de iones de litio, que pueden dañarse de forma irreversible en una descarga completa, esta característica simplificaría toda la logística de transporte de las baterías, la haría más segura y reduciría más el coste de su comercialización.

Sin embargo, la adopción generalizada de las baterías de iones de sodio enfrenta desafíos importantes. Los costes de componentes como el separador y el electrolito pueden ser considerablemente más altos, lo que podría resultar en un aumento significativo en el coste total de la batería.

Además, a diferencia del litio, la capacidad del sodio para cargarse y descargarse puede disminuir rápidamente durante la vida útil de la batería. Por eso es importante remarcar la necesidad de más investigación para abordar los aspectos técnicos que permitan la implantación efectiva de esta tecnología emergente.

Recarga de las baterías en circulación

En paralelo, la evolución de la carga inalámbrica podría resolver otro problema crítico: la infraestructura de recarga de los vehículos eléctricos. Este método permite cargar los coches durante la conducción, superando las limitaciones de las estaciones de carga convencionales.

La implantación de esta tecnología por parte de la ciudad de Detroit en colaboración con Ford y la compañía Electreon Wireless busca no solo aumentar la conveniencia de las recargas sino también allanar el camino para vehículos con baterías más pequeñas, ya que no se requieren recargas conectadas tan frecuentes.

Este proyecto piloto implica la instalación de 400 metros de tecnología de carga inductiva, ofreciendo un vistazo al futuro de la carga de vehículos eléctricos.

La carga inductiva funciona mediante la transferencia de energía a través de campos magnéticos. Unos raíles ubicados en la calzada crean un campo electromagnético que, cuando detecta un sistema compatible con la carga por inducción en un coche, transmite energía. Esta energía se convierte en energía eléctrica que carga la batería del coche.

Este enfoque podría hacer que los conjuntos de baterías sean más compactos y, por ende, más asequibles, facilitando la transición hacia la movilidad eléctrica. Aunque el proceso de producción es costoso, una evaluación de cinco años determinará si la carga inalámbrica es una alternativa viable a las estaciones de carga convencionales.

En Europa, la empresa Elonroad ha desarrollado una variante de carreteras electrificadas que se ha desplegado en varios tramos en las ciudades suecas de Lund y Maristad. El funcionamiento se basa en tiras metálicas electrificadas en tramos alternos de la carretera que generan electricidad cuando hay un coche conectado a ellas. Para que los vehículos recarguen sus baterías en movimiento, deben contar con un sistema de raíles desplegables que actúan como conexiones, como si se tratara de coches de Scalextric.

Sistemas de carreteras electrificadas de Elonroad.

En este sentido también hay que ser prudentes, ya que hay que tener presente que ciertos aspectos de estos desarrollos están en sus fases iniciales. Si bien estos avances son alentadores, aún se encuentran en una etapa donde la viabilidad comercial debe demostrarse a mayor escala.

Hacia una movilidad eléctrica asequible y práctica

Estos avances son muy relevantes por varios motivos. Por un lado, permiten gestionar mejor la energía y aprovechar las infraestructuras de transporte para que no hagan falta cargas muy largas ni coches con baterías muy grandes y, por tanto, que no se necesiten tantos recursos minerales. Por otro lado, contribuyen a que los vehículos eléctricos sean más accesibles y prácticos para una gama más amplia de usuarios.

Así, la convergencia de coches propulsados por baterías de iones de sodio más pequeñas y baratas y tramos de carretera electrificados en los que los vehículos recuperan energía mientras circulan podría suponer un cambio significativo en la movilidad eléctrica.The Conversation

Enrique García-Quismondo Hernáiz, Investigador en energías renovables, IMDEA ENERGÍA

Este artículo fue publicado originalmente en The Conversation. Lea el original.


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Davidson, Where Putin is really at


Enter Putin’s Russia, Stage Right

by Carl Davidson — Left Links

For several reasons, Putin and Russia have been at the top of the news in the past ten days.

This morning, February 16, we learned of the death of Aleksei Navalny, age 47, in a remote Siberian prison above the Arctic Circle. No cause of death was yet given. But we know for sure only a few years ago, Navalny survived an attempt to kill him with a nerve toxin unavailable to anyone outside certain circles.

Russia’s courts imprisoned Navalny for a list of crimes. Included at the top was his opposition to Putin’s ‘special military operation’ against Ukraine (In Russia, you can be busted simply for calling it a ‘war’). But Navalny committed a much greater ‘crime,’ leading a significantly powerful antifascist opposition to Putin’s rule, one offering a different vision of both Russia’s past and for a different and more democratic future. It’s worth noting that minor parties are allowed in Russia’s elections. But they must observe an unwritten rule carefully: always remain ‘minor’ and not too critical of the new tsar at the top. Whatever other charges were made against him, breaking this one made Navalny a subject of imprisonment and assassination plotting. Our theoretical piece in this week’s issue offers a Navalny article published in 2022. Make what you will of it. We’ll also include a report on Boris Kagarlitsky’s recent re-imprisonment.

But a second matter, the topic of our weekly cartoon above, also put Putin on page one. Tucker Carlson had made his way to Moscow to interview Putin, not quite knowing what to expect. At the opening, Putin asked whether Tucker wanted ‘a show’ or ‘a dialogue.’ Tucker chose the latter, although it might be better described as a two-hour monologue.

Our major media outlets plucked out a few juicy bits about Ukraine, but mainly panned Putin’s talk as ‘boring medieval history.’ As Marxists, however, we’re quite interested in history, both our own views of it and the views of our adversaries, both domestic and abroad. So boring or not, we looked it over.

For starters, Putin reminded us that Russia’s history was long, over 1000 years, much richer, by implication, than any 250-year-old youngsters still wet behind the ears. What was more interesting is how he told it, not as a history from below but from the top. It was a tsarists’ version of history (note that ‘Tsar’ is derived from the Russian version of ‘Caesar’). For those of us familiar with Lenin’s account of the Russian Empire as ‘a prison house of nations,’ the first thing we’ll note in Putin’s account is the absence of the term. It’s replaced by Russia as ‘family,’ and a family that kept gathering a variety of lost relatives back into the fold, and thus welcome at family reunions.

Putin starts in the 900s CE, but really attributes the first in-gathering of relatives to Tsar Ivan IV, a/k/a ‘The Terrible,’ 1547-1584. This Ivan was the first to be named ‘Tsar of all Russia,’ meaning he asserted dominance over the entire prison of nations and started the streltsy (standing army) and the oprichniki (secret police) to make it so. For curious reasons, Putin brushes over the first tsars, including the various Vladimirs. Most likely, the reason was they were Swedes or too intermarried with Swedes, and thus largely vassals of Swedes. The Swedes called the people in the area they dominated ‘the Rus,’ which is how Russia got its name.

So Putin plants a flag with Ivan IV and briskly moves forward, weaving a tale that quickly brings Ukraine into Russia’s fold. It’s not really a separate country, you see, even the name simply means ‘lands on the edge’ of the Empire. In brief, for Russia to be Russia again, this wayward cousin needs to be brought back to sit at the family reunion table. Those asserting otherwise are expressing the views of the Germans and, later, the Nazis who occupied that ‘part of Russia’ for a spell. Can a negotiated settlement with Ukraine bring an end to the conflict there? ‘Of course,’ Putin tells Carlson. But not without ‘DeNazifying’ the territory. Elsewhere, Putin had dismissed Lenin’s position on ‘self-determination, including the right to secede,’ for all the imprisoned nations under the tsars, as simply a ‘mistaken’ viewpoint.

Much of this was reported, in bits, about Carlson’s interview. But one fascinating piece was not, and it says something about Putin’s views of fascism and World War II. Today it’s widely held, both by the left and others as well, that WWII got its start with ‘appeasement’ at Munich followed by the Third Reich’s takeover of Czechoslovakia and adsorption of Austria, then again followed quickly by Hitler’s invasion of Poland, knowing full well, due to Poland’s treaties, that this meant war with the UK and others in Europe.

But according to Putin, we would be wrong. Here’s what he told Tucker:

“So before World War II, Poland collaborated with Hitler and although it did not yield to Hitler’s demands, it still participated in the partitioning of Czechoslovakia together with Hitler. As the Poles had not given the Danzig Corridor to Germany, and went too far, pushing Hitler to start World War II by attacking them. Why was it Poland against whom the war started on 1 September 1939? Poland turned out to be uncompromising, and Hitler had nothing to do but start implementing his plans with Poland.”

So the Poles started it by refusing to give up Gdansk. Hitler had no choice. In a way, Putin is telling us about today. Applying the same logic, his ‘little green men’ (aka, Russian volunteers with their military uniform’s insignias removed and sent into the Donbas circa 2014), just wanted Ukraine’s easternmost provinces (for starters). But the stubborn ‘Nazified’ rulers in Kiev refused to give them up, and thus they started the war, leaving Putin no choice. Putin, you see, is fighting fascism and defending Christendom.

Nice try, Vlad, but no cigar–at least from this corner of the left. What’s truly amazing about our time, however, is the emergence of the GOP as Putin’s ally. Ideologically, they share a contempt for democracy, especially if it means practicing consistent democracy regarding sexuality and gender roles. Pussy Riot, the Russian girl rockers, got busted for that.

It’s easier to understand if we look at Trump’s past using the well-known tool, ‘follow the money.’ Long before Trump aimed at being POTUS, he was in bed with Russian oligarchs. After Trump’s failures in his Atlantic City casinos, they bailed him out from near bankruptcy. At first, all Trump wanted was a hotel in Moscow and beauty pageants there. But Putin, the KGB expert on handling ‘assets,’ aimed higher. Keep this naive mark on a leash. We have bigger plans for him.

So long story short: we now have a Trump bloc in Congress willing to hand over Ukraine and even consider wrecking NATO. The old curse attributed to ancient Chinese seers is: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ For those of us who cut our political teeth in the years of Cold War, the political terrain today is certainly something we never imagined. But here it is, and it’s wise to deal with it, and not deny or minimize it.


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Lunch at Lissy’s and local culture in Anton

Here on the main bus stop for public transportation headed eastbound — toward the city — some popular art. I think it’s unfinished. The image has the name of the town and a depiction of the most noteworthy local religious symbol, Jesucristo de Esquipulas. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Back to routine — sort of — on the Monday after Carnival Week

by Eric Jackson

It’s a habit that could be dangerous if that guy who threatened me in the 2021 home invasion was and is serious. It would probably be even more life-threatening if I am so frantic about it that I can’t sleep or lead some semblance — for me — or a “normal” life.

What I do is shut the dogs in the house — the cats can come and go through the windows, lock the doors and gate and walk almost a kilometer to my usual bus stop in barrio El Bajito in the corregimiento of Juan Diaz, then head into town. Sometimes the town is Penonome, occasionally it’s into Panama City, but usually it’s Anton. As it was this day.

Turning east onto the Pan-American Highway, I looked to the sky over the city dump. Fewer vultures circling than usual on this day, so my bird photography mission will have to wait.

Approaching the town center, these blue hearts painted on the highway where there was a bus accident that killed 19 people a few years back. Then, what was a few months ago in 2023’s abbreviated rainy season a duck pond, now dried up and fitted with irrigation pipes and crop recently planted.

Then comes the regular people-watching stop, the Ministry of Health’s local birthing and infant and maternal health center. A large man, beaming with pride and carrying a tiny newborn, a bedraggled-looking new mother and a grandmother looking very satisfied got on. Panamanian family values that seemed to be working on this day.

Next stop? I wasn’t the only person to call “puente,” for the caseta just before the town’s western pedestrian overpass. Paid my 75¢, got off, went into the supermarked behind me and bought the usual — a bottle of Powerade and a copy each of La Prensa and La Estrella. Hold the necro-porn this time, but the day before I also bought El Siglo, as it had the tale of a double murder near where I grew up.

Coming out of the store, I noticed some new street art in progress and took out my camera, which I almost always carry, to get a picture. Then, without having to go much out of my way lunch decisions. I could go a couple of door west to Sabores and read my newspapers and drink my concoction while eating empanadas or pastelitos — the REAL kind that are baked instead of fried. In the other direction Doña Eva’s was closed. Beyond that, what did the fruit and veggie stands have? Ah, yes, a big Spanish onion to go a contemplated future pasta meal.

Then across the side street, past some more vendors — some selling fruit, some lottery tickets and some with bollos.

That little squeeze is what military tacticians call a defile, a place to get pickpocketed. The game usually gets played with someone creating a brief obstruction and a confederate slipping a hand in from behind. The cops know all about that, too.

Dogs hanging out at the entrance to Lissy’s bakery and chafing table restaurant in hope of a treat add to the potential stumbles for this senior citizen. The little yellow mama dog wasn’t there this time. Whenever she is, she knows that the gringo with the white hair and beard is usually a soft touch to give her chicken bone and maybe part of a carimañola or something.

No chicken on display, baked or fried, and only the fried wheat empanadas. None of the corn meal ones. SO, a rather common Plan B — a couple of hampao and four hsiu mai. That and Powerade as I perused the tales of infamy and opinions about all sorts of things in the newspapers. La Prensa leans oligarchic liberal, La Estrella is more PRD-oriented and also more or less dedicated to neoliberal economic thinking.

What’s a democratic socialist to do? What Karl Marx did all those years at the Royal Library in London — read the bourgeois papers, look askance at the things that seem obviously wrong, assimilate the information that’s almost surely true, synthesize it all into a world view different from that of the people who own those media. Adjust opinions when the facts demand it.

But if Carnival is over, Chinese New Year was not entirely.

Dragon dancers approached. They could be heard easily enough by this hard-of-hearing old buzzard. Ah, Chinese culture — lots of firecrackers. One of the two cops standing just inside the entrance gave a startled look. Little explosions and the training and experiences of THAT job would probably prompt such a reaction.

Dogs? They HATE firecrackers, which physically hurt their ears. The fled in several directions, some of them into Lissy’s.

The dragon dancers also set off another common Panamanian cultural reaction — anti-Chinese racism. A white-haired cholo, not old enough to remember when all Panamanians of Chinese ancestry were stripped of their citizenship for a few months back in 1941, but likely to have heard defenses of that infamous move from elders way back when — started shouting some ugly stereotypes about chinos.

The cops went out and warned the guy to cut out that disturbance. He did not challenge them.

And this fulo went back to reading the mainstream newspapers.


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