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Editorials: Be safe; and Let Netanyahu swim alone

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Carnival Saturday in Anton. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Come home alive

Carnival is lots of fun, but also entails plenty of risk. Think of yourself, and think of others.

Don’t get so blasted out our your mind on alcohol or some other psychotropic substance that you do something dangerous, like get behind the wheel of a car in that inebriated state. Or make yourself an obvious target for muggers or others who do not wish you well.

If you go out for daytime revelry, remember that with the big crowds all the spaces in the shade may be taken up. Plus, we are getting some record hot days, with high doses of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. You need to wear a hat. Sunscreen might be a good idea. That little folding umbrella that you can stash in your bag is mainly a dry season implement, but in the tropical sun it can be used as a parasol to give you some protection and avoid some painful burns.

So many people are drunk, and a fair percentage of these are not on their best behavior. They might say things that in other circumstances would amount to fighting words, but it’s better to ignore these things as stupid things that drunk people say. Do your utmost to avoid ending your part of the party with a fight.

Are you SO gringocentric in a certain negative sort of way that you think that you need to bring a gun with you to protect yourself at a Carnival site. Stay home.

Let us consider and thank those working, sometimes overtime, to protect us this Carnival season. Thank the cops at the entrances to the Carnival sites, there most of all to keep weapons out. Thank the Transito cops, and wish them no gruesome emergencies to attend this year. Thank the health inspectors, keeping the food sold at the stands safe and the water sprayed from the culecos clean and pure. Thank the SINAPROC lifeguards at the crowded beaches, and along with the bomberos standing by in case of some disaster. Thank the clean-up crews who will be working after everyone else has gone home.

Have a good time. Have a safe time.

 

An injured youth in Rafah. Photo from the Times of Gaza Twitter / X feed.

Cut off supplies and funds for this horror

The Netanyahu regime told residents of Gaza City that they were about to attack, that they should go to Rafah for safety. Israeli forces mercilessly bombardeg Gaza City, making health care workers and journalists special targets. With that city now in ruins, some of Netanyahu’s ministers have met with real estate speculators to talk about plans for Gaza.

Now the Netanyahu regime attacks their deceptively labeled “safe refuge.”

No doubt the Israeli forces have killed a lot of Hamas fighters among the many times that number Palestinians whose deaths they have caused. But have they really depleted the ranks of their enemies?

How many boys and girls who survived this massacre will grow up to be implacable enemies of Israel, guerrillas so hardened that the iDF will wish that they had Hamas back?

Israel has lost this war. The United States has lost face supporting it. It’s time to cut losses and rejoin humanity by leaving Netanyahu to swim alone, without American money or weapons.

 

Alice Walker, speaking at TEDxRamallah in 2011. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

Alice Walker

 

Bear in mind…

 

One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.

Agatha Christie

 

My work is foursquare for chaos. I spend my life personally, and my work professionally, keeping the soup boiling. Gadfly is what they call you when you are no longer dangerous; I much prefer troublemaker, malcontent, desperado. I see myself as a combination of Zorro and Jiminy Cricket. My stories go out from here and raise hell. From time to time some denigrater or critic with umbrage will say of my work, ‘He only wrote that to shock.’ I smile and nod. Precisely.

Harlan Ellison

 

Let no one be willing to speak ill of the absent.

Sextus Propertius

 

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Nicaragüenses: NUESTRO ladrón

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him
Desde su cuenta de X.

Se dicen el gobierno de Ortega:

 

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¿Wappin? ¡Ya es Carnaval! / It’s Carnival now!

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KP
Karen Peralta, desde su cuenta de Instagram. / Karen Peralta, from her Instagram feed.

The playlist on THIS Friday
La lista de reproducción de ESTE viernes

Jhonathan Chávez – Baile Virtual en Hacienda Marigrys Amelia
https://youtu.be/Qfvg3uRbPQ4?si=w-b7yuT3P3PHPqhW

Kafu Banton & Rythmikal in 2021
https://youtu.be/–rKJqyU7sc?si=WwgfUVgWNcKQyWlz

Samy y Sandra Sandoval – Acuarias Amar Puerto Armuelles
https://youtu.be/D9j61o8hF8Q?si=OOS_DfobyVYHUDM6

Danny Rivera y Yomira John – Concierto Siempre Amigos
https://youtu.be/1pku4P1M7pg?si=QtK_xe4GrcmNeUGY

Nenito Vargas y Los Plumas Negras – Evolution Fest 2023
https://youtu.be/ScV4x7phi5A?si=WBfcwi5fqj0WfQ-o

Los Rabanes – Porque Te Fuiste Benito (Album Completo)
https://youtu.be/CjiAy4HFucg?si=leYID9HWEzSFy3H5

Concierto Karen Peralta y Margarita Henríquez
https://youtu.be/tbornvp4O4Y?si=FH3YZhUB3Ai7oAtM

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Jackson, A forlorn campaign

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A PRD billboard near the entrance from the Pan-American Highway to Playa Blanca plays to the annoyance of many whose routines were disrupted by road and street closures during the 2022 and 2023 strike movements. Most Panamanians sympathized with the strikers, but in May’s presidential election contest a majority is not required to win – just a plurality. The roadblock protest is a part of Panamanian political culture. An attempt to criminalize it by the Martinelli regime was not successful. Meanwhile, by making this a campaign issue Gaby Carrizo raises the subjects of the past two years’ strikes, political violence, the strip mining business and his ties to it, his behavior during times of crisis and the general economic conditions in Panama at this moment. People can turn those around, too.

Gaby turns the dismissal around – sort of

Photos and comment by Eric Jackson

The controversies leading up to and during last year’s strike coincided with Vice President José Gabriel Carrizo’s anointment as the standard bearer for the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), and followed a 2022 strike in which Gaby Carrizo was acting president while President Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo Cohen was in the United States consulting with medical specialists for his rare form of blood cancer. There arose among the ranks of striking teachers and construction workers on the barricades the dismissive Gaby, tu no vas – “Gaby, you aren’t going anywhere.” The saying caught on in wider social circles, aided by Carrizo’s goofy grin and maladroit campaign moves.

When, after the crisis, Carrizo emerged from his silence during the strike, he held a meeting in his home base of Penonome and declared that the election was shaping up as a two-front battle for the PRD, against the far left on one side and the would-be creole aristocrats popularly known as the rabiblancos – from the Panamanian Spanish word for the White-tailed Hawk – on the other side.

That formulation harks back to the days of the dictatorship that founded the PRD, when General Torrijos overthrew Arnulfo Arias and slapped down many of the privileges of the few wealthy families that dominated the Panamanian economy and on the other hand waged bloody warfare against those factions of the left that would not make peace with the dictatorship. The Moscow-line communists made their peace and accepted their patronage shares, but new left dissidents like teachers’ union activist Floyd Britton were treated much more harshly. He was snatched from the Coca-Cola Cafe in Santa Ana and imprisoned at the Coiba Island Penal Colony. On November 29, 1969 Britton was tortured to death and that date became part of the basis of the name MLN-29, the November 29th National Liberation Movement. It’s a semi-underground Marxist-Leninist political party to which a lot of this country’s labor activists, including the leaders of the SUNTRACS construction workers’ union and organizers of the CONUSI labor confederation, belong. The student organization affiliate of the party, the Revolutionary Student Federation (FER-29) is one of the main factions of campus radicals here.

A lot of history’s waters have flown beneath the bridge since the days of the military strongman who cared about Panama and cared about what people thought of him, as ruthless as he could be. Omar Torrijos is a revered figure to many Panamanians – unlike his successor Manuel Antonio Noriega, who led the country to disaster. Nostalgia for what was can be a tricky thing, but maybe not so much when a third of the vote could make somebody president in an eight-way race.

The cycles of Panamanian electoral politics, the habit of throwing the party that holds that special chair at Palacio de las Garzas out of the presidency in the next election, also work against Carrizo. So the “no vas” dismissal has caught on. Gaby has thus decided to respond and reformulate. “You’re not going to be shut in,” he promises, promising a law against the roadblock protests.

Variations on the theme include a billboard in Penonome proclaiming that you’re not going to see kids dropping out of school because there will be suitable classrooms. As if it’s all a matter of brick and mortar, and not a matter of classrooms with teachers who have been paid on time. But in both 2022 and 2023 teachers’ unions walked our because payment for many of their members was months in arrears.

Another variation, on a hillside in Arraijan Gaby promised passersby that you’re not going to receive less than $350 a month. Oh really? He’s going to establish a guaranteed income for the roughly half of economically active Panamanians working in the informal economy?

moouseketeers
It’s a rough economy that prompts people to do this at a place where the traffic jams up in La Chorrera in order to put food on their table.

At a glance, and those glances do vary from place to place in the country, the national economy is a mess. Yes, blame assignment is part of the game. The COVID epidemic. The worldwide inflation caused when the Ukraine War interfered with established grain supply arrangements. The drought. The “wrong kind” of immigrants. Kids these days. Yadda yadda yadda.

Say what they may, it’s a bad economy for those running for re-election. Should we get mean about it? This government has blown a great deal of money on “decentralization” projects and has relatively little to show for the money, and meanwhile can’t pay its bills on time and faces an enormous looming debt crisis.

A lot can change in a little under three months, but it appears that Panamanians have had enough of the PRD for a while. Leave it to Gaby to be holding the bag.

watermelon man
Somehow we will get by. Panamanians always have.
 

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Jackson, The Chinese competition

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Chinese industry makes a move here

photos and comment by Eric Jackson

Rather quickly, starting last year, a major and conglomerated move by several Chinese industrial brands has announced its presence around Panama. Total tool stores, Carbone machine tools, Dongfeng automobiles and so on, and their outdoor advertisements, have become well nigh ubiquitous.

Do quality and price match the billing? That will be seen over time.

Should economic apparatchiki at the American Embassy be alarmed? They would be foolish not to take notice, but it’s not as if US industry has all of a sudden faced strong opposition. Does Dongfeng grab a share of the Panamanian automotive market? Like Japan’s Toyota, South Korea’s Hyundai, other Asian manufacturers and various European brands before them? But if Panama is neither the US “back yard” nor the captive market of a country that does not effectively protect its own market, it is one more battleground in a global rivalry between the United States and China.

Due largely to Chinese abuses in decades past and the critical importance of the Internet – originally a US military project – to the US economy and government communications, the United States launched some devastating attacks on China’s Huawei technology company. This is probably why Panama does not have a Huawei 5G Internet network, even if the Americans and their advanced allies really don’t have a viable competitor in place. And still, Huawei does sell things in Panama.

It’s also not as if, as they get their feet on the ground and learn the economic lay of the land in Panama, Donfeng has no new US competition. At the El Boulevard shopping center on Penonome’s west side, there’s a new Chevrolet dealership. Is this an opening move for General Motors to fight for the electric car market that’s expected to emerge to dominance? But then, consult the union brothers and sisters of the United Auto Workers about how much of the content of GM products are union-made in the USA. They make it their business to keep track of such things and will add their caveats if and when cars with imported parts that are assembled in the United States – or are assembled in Mexico to bear the brand of a US-based multinational corporation – get billed as US products.

The Chinese competition is here. These companies come to a country with a long-established – since the late 1840s – ethnic Chinese community, a community that has faced some substantial Panamanian racism, including a short-lived move in 1941 to strip all Panamanians of Chinese ancestry of their citizenship. There’s no call for Cold War paranoia, nor for appeals to base prejudices, but the rivalries and capabilities of global giants are facts that Panama must take into account.

Dongfeng
These low-quality photos were taken from a moving bus on a ride between Panama City and the foot of the foothills in Cocle.
 

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Jackson, As the campaign gets underway…

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Anton mayor's race
Opening moves in the election campaign – but actually they have been ongoing. The two ladies on the park bench in Anton? Look past them. You see road construction equipment in the background, and have been seeing a lot of public works ongoing in a great many places where there is a PRD representante, mayor or legislator. What did that party’s astute founder say about more consultation means fewer mistakes? In some places you see people working on projects for which nobody asked, often at a glance money spent unwisely. But then other local politicians with their shares out of the “decentralization” pork barrel may not be in the habit of well-attended public hearings but on the other hand put priority on things that their constituents had been demanding. Not just in Panama, there is this old habit of signs with public officials’ names on them at the sites of public works. But the better politicians act with more subtlety, just letting the voters see that work is being done as the time to vote approaches. Photo by Eric Jackson.

As a MOST unusual campaign gets underway…

by Eric Jackson

IF you are one to generically confuse public opinion polls with prophecy, you really ought to learn some more political science. Even 90 days out, even in Panama’s “newspaper of record.”

On Monday, February 6, La Prensa published the first major “post-Martinelli” survey, which was taken by the rather obscure firm of Mercadeo Planificado SA between January 26 and February 2, with in-person interviews around the country of 1,200 adult citizens. Ricardo Martinelli’s precise status on or off the ballot was and is still not entirely clear, but gears are in motion and it appears that he won’t be on the ballot and the running mate on his signature RM party’s ticket, José Raúl Mulino, will stand in his place. With that presumption taken as a given, the poll sort of suggested a Panamanian turn toward fascism, far-right legislator running as an independent Zulay Rodríguez vaulting from way back in the pack in prior surveys into the leading position – at 14 points. The rankings that La Prensa published on its front page went like this:

Zulay Rodríguez – 14%
Ricardo Lombana – 9%
Martín Torrijos – 9%
Rómulo Roux – 8%
José Raúl Mulino – 6%
José Gabriel Carrizo – 4%
Maribel Gordón – 1%
Melitón Arrocha – 1%
Don’t know – 17%
None of the above – 32%

So let’s apply a bit of history and a bit of political science here. For starters, opinion polls at their best are “snapshots in time,” subject to revisions small or great. Usually in the week or so before the vote there is a polarization in which supporters of candidates without a chance and those truly undecided break toward two front-runners. Here, and across Latin America, what “undecided,” “none of the above” or “don’t know” generally means is that the potential voter saying that doesn’t want anybody to know – not even in a promised-to-be-confidential interview with a polling company worker – does not support the candidate of the party. Those votes will fragment among the alternative candidates, abstention, protest votes and blank or spoiled ballots, but usually they polarize toward one of the leading candidates who is not of the ruling party.

(In this case that’s the Democratic Revolutionary Party or PRD, but the complexity this year is that Zulay sits in the National Assembly as a PRD deputy and Martín is the son of the PRD’s founder, General Omar Torrijos, and served a term as president elected on the PRD ticket. So does the antipathy toward the PRD fall entirely on Gaby, or does it constrain the possibilities for Martín and Zulay as well?)

Zulay, with her preaching of hatred for everybody and everything arguably foreign, her gay-bashing and her rants against the bankers – whom she doesn’t specifically identify as Jewish like many fascists tend to do – the next president? It could happen. Panama has been down that road before, leading to a US-instigated coup on the eve of US entry into World War II to remove one of Hitler’s friends as our president. A few months earlier that Nazi sympathizer, Dr. Arnulto Arias, had promulgated a constitution stripping all Panamanians of non-Hispanic Afro-Caribbean, Asian or Middle Eastern descent or of nonwhite African origin of their citizenship and franchise. We had the author of an infamous Health Ministry pamphlet and former ambassador to Mussolini’s Italy in the presidential chair. After the war he remained popular, having been elected president but overthrown by coups d’etat or kept out of office by fraud several times. Some of the antipathy among Jews – Ashkenazim got to keep their citizenship but Sephardim lost theirs – remain a social phenomenon to this day.

Jackboots goose-stepping through Plaza Catedral? It’s possible, depending on whether Zulay’s 14% is a platform or a ceiling. But beyond her, a statistical tie among Lombana, Torrijos, and Roux, with Mulino and Carrizo lagging a little behind and almost half not stating a preference at this time. It’s quite the unusual race.

 

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Editorial, The Electoral Tribunal and opportunist politicians reach too far

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Don Ricky
Ricky rails against La Prensa, way back when. The man has a record in office, a part of which is documented in the New Business judgment. It’s everybody’s right to criticize the press, but this guy seeks to get his old job back and, like Donald Trump in the USA, is out for revenge. All shades of political appointees – like the magistrates of the Electoral Tribunal – may cry foul, but it’s legitimate for Panamanians to defend fundamental freedoms during this campaign season. Archive photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Martinelli, Roux, Carrizo and the Electoral Tribunal
move against freedom of the press

So NOW, it’s the election crime of “dirty campaigning” to use the image of a candidate without that person’s permission. Especially so if one criticizes that candidate.

So far it is not being applied to the establishment media, not due to any written exception, but just because. It is, however, applied to the social media, and not only to the Twitter/X, Instagram and Facebook accounts of the candidates, but to small media which may or may not be subject to the orders of or even tied to political factions here. The individuals under investigation are not necessarily members of the candidates’ troll teams. More than 20 social media accounts are being investigated for the use of candidates’ photos, including the feeds of such news and commentary media as FOCO Panama and the Voz de Veraguas. Media that were neither consulted before nor invited to sign the supposed “Ethical Pact” are being treated as renegade signatories to an agreement that they never made.

The tribunal purports to ban political “insults.”

It purports to ban news reporting about in-everyone’s-face election crimes like vote buying that identify such acts as such, unless and until months or years after the election some court declares someone guilty of, for example, using public funds to distribute bicycles to the children of voters whom a candidate seeks to sway.

There are more than 1,300 cases now being investigated by electoral prosecutors, and the Tribunal is soliciting more. The sheer volume of the cases means that screens and filters will be devised to drop legitimate cases. Panamanian history suggests that with overly broad definitions, political motives and economic snobbery will play into decisions about which cases to pursue.

Rather immediately Ricardo Martinelli charged FOCO of using his photo without permission. Rómulo Roux has filed a complaint against his opponent Ricardo Lombana, who ran Instagram posts that compared his stands on issues compared to those of other candidates. Gaby Carrizo followed with his denuncia of Lombana’s video. The three complaining would-be presidents would ban anyone but authorized sycophants from referring to them.

Imagine the presumed discount on just about any endorsement that these guys might receive. It’s the baggage that comes with a mind that’s heavy on the authoritarianism and lacking much imagination.

Lombana appears to have revised his photographic editing policies, but says that if the Electoral Tribunal cites him for any dirty campaigning, he will appeal. As well he should.

Panamanian voters have lived through infamous times. Political figures from past administrations are in prison, in hiding to avoid serving prison sentences, appealing criminal convictions, practicing law again after having served sentences arising from public corruption, or awaiting trial for alleged roles in Odebrecht kickbacks or other notorious crimes. Perhaps more galling are the ones who got away based on questionable court or prosecutor decisions, or because Panama has not general purpose law against conflicts of interest when doing the public’s business. People are fed up and a lot of them will say so.

Now, however, a discredited old establishment seeks to suppress the voices of those who are annoyed, and discussion of the reasons for their annoyance. That won’t go over, any more than Noriega times bans on pineapple references worked to save the PRD in the 1989 elections.

The basic issue here is freedom of the press. It’s universal induvidual right, belonging just as much to somebody who tells a mean Gaby Carrizo joke on Facebook or who calls Ricardo Martinelli a crook on Elon Musk’s platform as it does to corporate media like Medcom or La Prensa. The stands that the presidential candidates take with respect to freedom of the press are legitimate campaign issues.

Call center defamation, organized by a political campaign to look massive? Such trolling on the public dime? The Electoral Tribunal has never effectively dealt with those sorts of things in the past. Even if they may have a proper concern about such abuses now, the attempt to shut everyone up, to impose a “nice news” filter on the entire nation, is not a proper response.

What might be the proper response? Perhaps a celebration of our long-standing cultural category of insults. It’s not just the tame stuff of Calle Arriba and Calle Abajo queens’ references to one another. The remedy for insulting speech should be speech responding to that, whether or not insulting. Let our national senses of humor and decency sort out the good insults from the crude ones.

 

Chekhov
Anton Chekhov. Painting by O. Braz.

Man is what he believes.

Anton Chekhov

 

Bear in mind…


The best armor is to stay out of range.

Italian proverb

 

Nothing is really work unless you’d rather be doing something else.

James M. Barrie

 

My lesbianism is an act of Christian charity. All those women out there praying for a man, and I’m giving them my share.

Rita Mae Brown

 

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Soon reach — I hope

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Don’t worry – she only bites people she doesn’t like.

A day of small progress

by Eric Jackson

Still not back to a regular Internet connection at my home. May still be a few days. But I wrote by night, found WiFi Plan A out of service, and put in a few hours of uploading at WiFi Plan B.

It seems that at my house, the router route does not work using Tigo or MásMovil. Arranging to us the usual service I have been, Claro, runs into cell phone problems here but elsewhere it might not. Getting a new 4G Claro-compatible dongle stick and signed up for a monthly plan with the new chip number? That one be one way, a restorationist way. But is Claro just shutting down? Is the wireless modem something that the industry barons are just phasing out? Going with Elon’s satellite service? Can that be done here in El Bajito? Rumor has it that this is the better way, but I don’t know where to get started.

Part of the problem is that if there is a known need, or something interests me, I readily learn it. A lot of other things I just ignore – it was that way with certain things in school, too. That is, until I MUST need to know.

Stuff about celebrities, or old television shows, I probably won’t know. Except that The Ghoul was THE KING. In Ghoul we trusted – nobody else. Why else would your editor think of Voyage To The Planet Of The Prehistoric Women when the concept of unintended hilarious comes up? I’m the kind of guy who explains to bewildered Panamanians who don’t speak English and who have never been to North America the particulars of why eating yellow snow is not a good idea.

Anyway I am on a steep learning curve in more than one direction at the moment.

 

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Ricky the Revolutionary

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him
Ricky the Revolutionary? Right. As people from the inner circle of his 2009-2014 administration get put on trial and sent off to prison one by one, the big boss man’s silence has been deafening. Perhaps they await a revolutionary regime that will pardon them all, and restore lost privileges – jobs, titles, licenses to steal and so on. But a revolution is about a social upheavals, while what the former president promotes is about one man, himself. Cover page of the February 4 edition of La Critica, which the judgment in the New Business case calls to be confiscated from Martinelli because the purchase was financed with stolen public funds.

They’re off and campaigning – except, maybe…

by Eric Jackson

OFFICIALLY, campaign season began on Saturday, February 3. The reality of it has been that political activities have been going on for many months, most notoriously with the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and its allies using public funds to dole out jobs and contracts and jobs to its supporters for public works projects. The old candidate at the ribbon-cutting ceremony sort of political event is prohibited these days, and we shall see what effect that might have.

The election news was dominated by a court decision revealed the day before, on Friday, February 2, wherein the Penal Bench of the Supreme Court rejected Ricardo Martinelli’s last best card to play against his money laundering conviction and more than a decade in prison sentence, which under the Panamanian Political Constitution’s Article 180 makes him ineligible to be president. Surely his lawyers will have motions and petitions to file, and the ex-president from 2009 to 2014 does not get formally removed from the ballot without a separate process to do that that ultimately goes before the three magistrates of the Electoral Tribunal.

Who gets bribed to do what for what price is and long has been a popular topic of gossip about Panamanian justice, but by most appearances this is the end of the line for Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal’s court battles against criminal charges. Except maybe his running mate will win the election in May, be inaugurated in July and pardon his boss. The norm in this country’s political culture, however, is that when a running mate takes the main office he or she brings in his or her own crowd of retainers and relations between the beginning of the election season allies soon go sour.

Could that go differently for the Realizando Metas / Alianza ticket of Ricky Martinelli with José Raúl Mulino on the side? Perhaps. Over his long career Mulino has come across as pliant enough to be the vehicle for Martinelli’s pardon and return to power. Mulino’s game has been ticket jumping in one way or another but always the minor party figure playing the game for a cut of the action. He really has no swooning mass of supporters of his own. Might this be the chance of a lifetime for him, the hitting of the gordito with serie and folio, a prize that he’s not going to willingly give up? We shall see how transferable personality politics can be but it’s probably just a set of academic questions. Fresh polls will give us indications on how it plays in Pacora, and then there is the fact of our first-past-the-post in a crowded field one-round elections that are bound to give us another president with a plurality well short of a majority. The conventional expectation is that this old operative will not catch on as God’s elect to save Martinelli, that Mulino will not be elected as president in May.

Besides Mulino having, as one of his opponents for vice president describes, the charisma of a flowerpot, a factor that’s likely to come into play is the enforcement of another part of Judge Baloisa Marquínez’s decision in the New Business case, the government confiscation of the EPASA newspaper chain. The venerable old El Panama America – which began as an English-language publication arising from the racist Accion Comunal movement of the 1920s – and the better-selling necro porn tabloid will probably be unavailable to Team Martinelli / Mulino in short order. Martinelli has been screrming that it’s a lie by his political foes all along, but a string of court or administrative decisions in several jurisdictions have directly or implicitly upheld that this media empire was purchased with stolen Panamanian public funds that were then laundered through chains of international shell companies and numbered bank accounts.

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Kenia Porcell was forced out as attorney general, but the allegations in this chart of the New Business case that was published by the Public Ministry on her shift have stood up in court.

So, in what might be something close to the penultimate hurrah of La Critica under Martinelli’s control, how was it played? Pages one, two and three dedicated to Don Ricky, with mixtures of bravado, insults and whining. Pages four, five and six largely dedicated to the other candidates. Buried on the right side of page six was a four-paragraph snippet about how Rómulo Roux has filed a complaint with the Electoral Tribunal against Ricardo Lombana, based on the alleged infraction of social media posts that compare Lombana’s stands to those of other candidates, using photos of Roux and the others. Lots of space dedicated to attacking the PRD’s Gaby Carrizo, a tiny swipe at Lombana. Divine whom Team Martinelli fears the most from that, if you can.

The first sign of formal campaign season that this reporter saw while running errands around Cocle was a large billboard for Roux that appeared on the Pan-American Highway on Saturday.

The next morning at the usual bus stop at the eastern entrance to El Bajito, it was difficult to catch a ride. The political campaigns, mostly the PRD and MOLIRENA tickets, had hired out the buses for their campaign events. There were also buses and other vehicles flying Lombana’s, Roux’s and Martinelli’s flags. Sundays usually feature longer waits to get a bus into town, but on day two of campaign season it was much longer.

Martinelli matters will dominate a few more news cycles, but look for the race to in its initial stages settle down to a close contest among Rómulo Roux, Martín Torrijos and Ricardo Lombana, with Gaby Carrizo trying to defy the jinx against a party winning back-to-back elections for the presidency and the two women on the margins, Zulay Rodríguez on the right and Maribel Gordón on the left, trying to move into contention.

 

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Jackson, Truth and crummy imitations

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“…Believe in me, I’m with the High Command….”
Mike and the Mechanics, Silent Running

Authoritarian versus democratic information: knowledge and its simulation

by Eric Jackson

So what do THEY know? So what do YOU know? And what are the true motives of those who would define and limit what others NEED to know?

Always ask the questions, but beware that the answers proffered to you or the conclusions you reach may be wrong. Sometimes DEAD wrong, as in people getting killed over misinformation or disinformation, or foolish blunders based on too little information. It happens to individuals, to institutions and to nations. As many people have warned for many centuries in many languages, truth becomes a precious commodity and a target for destruction in times of war.

As a blogger reading, and sometimes passing on with or without my own comments, other people’s reporting or opinions from other places near or far, I constantly run into such conundra.

Some Colombian gang is said to be running an old drug route through Panama these days, with ties to our political caste? Read more before passing along reports founded upon what the DEA says, or what the PRD says. All journalists and generally speaking all publications have their inherently biased points of view, and that also applies to all sources. Skepticism becomes an essential tool of the intelligent and ethical blogger.

The Israeli government censors the news, or tries to do so, in every place where the Israeli Defense Forces fight or control. A global network of operatives and boosters attempts to extend that censorship, or to implant reports that may or may not be true.

Sometimes their efforts are so old and discredited, and such contrived plays to ignorance, as to be downright corny. I turn on my MSN news feed and see these stories about how Israel took a barren desert and made it grow green. Here or there they might have done some worthy irrigation work since he modern State of Israel was founded, but that area of the Levant was a mostly agricultural place, mostly farmed by Arab Palestinians, who have been dispossessed of and expelled from their farms in successive waves. There are many olive trees planted long ago and tended by Palestinians for generations, now being felled by Israeli settlers, or just seized and now tended by Isralis, sometimes with the fruit of the stolen trees exported from the occupied Palestinian lands with labels saying that the olives are products of Israel.

Do not presume that all war stories from Israeli sources are lies, but don’t accept them at face value as true, either. Basically the same caveats apply to what Palestinian sources say, too. Check your biases and beware the tendency to believe what supports what you already believed.

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Israeli advisors, veterans of the Shin Bet occupation police force, instruct Panamanian presidential guards in racism. Photo by the Presidencia during Ricardo Martinelli’s time in office.

Keep an open mind and don’t rush to judgment. Don’t be bullied about what to believe, either.

The one Palestinian-American in the US Congress, Rashida Tlaib, took a Palestinian story at face value. A rocket hit next to a hospital in Gaza, causing deaths, injuries and many sorts of suffering. Don’t buy that stuff about how someone who lived through that explosion without bodily injury was “unharmed.” Modern medical science knows too much about the effects of traumatic stress to accept that easy dismissal. But the Palestinian account omitted the important fact that it was a “dud” missile fired from Gaza that landed near the hospital, that the deaths and injuries were “friendly fire” casualties. Tlaib, knowing how the Israeli government censors and lies, presumed that was the case and repeated the wrong information until she was shown independently gathered US military information correcting her first impression. She spoke too quickly about that incident but that doesn’t make her takes on the ongoing massacre of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces a pack of lies.

Follies toward which nations get led

Look at Uncle Sam’s lost wars since The Big War. Look at them not through some fanciful notion about keeping scores, but in the way that history judges,the political result after the armies disengage – however they do – at the end of the fighting.

The Korean War was a tie. You can read the conflicting accounts of who did what and when to provoke the fighting, but essentially Kim Il Sung’s regime in the north, armed by the Soviet Union and China, sent its troops south and overran almost all of he Korean Peninsula until the United States sent its troops into the fray, pushing the North Korean forces almost to the border with China and making noises about crossing that line and overthrowing the then only recently proclaimed Peoples Republic of China. Chairman Mao sent in the Peoples Liberation Army, which hurled the Americans back. Fighting went up and down the peninsula, with tremendous losses on both sides, until finally if was agreed to stop the fighting, draw a ceasefire line with a demilitarized zone on each side, and just carry on a de facto truce without anyone declaring victory, admitting defeat or formally ending the war. Is somebody going to count the dead and wounded and assign victory to somebody on that basis? The personwho does that is a fool.

However, China was battered, divided and exhausted by decades of civil warfare when Mao intervened in Korea, but Chinese forces fought the superpower USA to a standstill. Since then China has rebuilt itself as a world industrial, technological, economic, diplomatic and military power. Is some neoconservative arguing that the United States ought to fight China because it can do so and win? That’s reckless. That’s insane. That notion finds some support in both major US political parties. However, I would estimate – as I am not privy to the classified findings and advice – that the word coming from the Pentagon and from the intelligence agencies to the US politicians is that war with China would be reckless and insane.

See, notwithstanding the popular songs of yesteryear about military madness, and the classic satires – “You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!” – most of the professional soldiers and civil servant spooks know better. They tend to be sober men and women, but sworn to uphold the orders handed down by civilian politicians, some of them absolute scoundrels who play to political fan bases surely akin to some of the crowds who went down to the Colosseum to watch lions eat the Christians back during Imperial Rome’s long decline. In an American redux, would there be foxy cheerleaders urging the lions on to victory?

But that’s speculation, and that’s back then. Since Dr. Strangelove first played on the silver screens, the United States lost in Vietnam and neighboring countries, lost in Afghanistan, lost in Iraq and is now losing a lot of respect from democratic-minded people around the world for its supporting role in the Gaza Massacre. Notwithstanding the delusions of those who think that it really doesn’t matter because Biblical End Times are upon us anyway, there are limits to what a US heavy hand can do in today’s world.

And yet you have Republicans in Congress, and the State of Israel, more or less demanding a US war with Iran. As obnoxious at that Islamic state can be at times, understand that they are bigger, better armed and stronger than the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, much more so than Iraq when the United States went to war with that country, far more so that the Assad regime that the United States would have overthrown in Syria but which lives on. Plus, in the USA the responsible bean counters will say that war with Iran would be a ruinous expenditure.

Surely there would be cynical ad writers and dizzy influencers to say otherwise. Plus people with far more political power than brains to hire them and then believe their stuff.

I don’t have access to those classified reports. However, from reading what those who do are generally saying, I would expect that the spymasters and generals are warning against the United Stated being dragged into a war with Iran. I could be wrong, and I would also not be surprised by divided opinions among the military and intelligence elites.

Who should be in on such discussions? Who should be allowed to be informed about the issues at stake?

It’s a big problem when a supposedly democratic nation can’t discuss life-and-death issues. The United States has the problem. Panama has it too.

Some of Panama’s problems have their bureaucratic roots in the old US administration of the Panama Canal and the former Canal Zone, in the US State Department and its missions here, and in the US Southern Command. Those things should be acknowledged but it hurts Panama to blame it all on the gringos. That sort of brushoff ignores and perpetuates our own problems. To the detriment of Panamanians it avoids important questions about the roles of this nation’s bad actors and the conditions from which they arose. It probably makes things worse if we leave it up to the United States to solve these problems, because that tends to maintain a less competent and dependent Panama.

Does a US government whose warrants keep Julian Assange behind bars in England, with a threat of extradition and spending the rest of his life in prison in the USA, have much moral standing to lecture Panama or anybody else about transparency and freedom of the press? At the White House, the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom and Langley they will draw lawyerly distinctions, and draft extraordinary claims for which even ordinary proof is never offered. Relatively few who are not predisposed to believe anything that the CIA or the Pentagon tells them believe in the Assange prosecution. He’s held in prison because in the first instance he published a leaked video of an American helicopter gunship deliberately shooting a Reuters news crew, and killing children while they were at it. As the dispute unfolded the “crime” expanded, via the publication of previously secret State Department cablegrams, to expose a long history of a US foreign policy laced with many lies. As WikiLeaks got into the US domestic it published leaked emails about the shallow and amoral politics of Hillary Clinton’s inner circle and its supporting cast in the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 US presidential campaign. It was probably a Russian leak based on intercepts by Putin’s people, in the end damaging to the United States because it helped to bring on Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency, but it was newsworthy stuff. The greater offense was the behavior in the Hillary camp, not its exposure by Julian Assange.

The Assange case was and is a huge and damaging scandal for America’s credibility in the world. It fits right in with what we have seen for a long time in this part of the world.

When The Panama News started out in 1994, we rather immediately received a missive from a management lady at the US agency known as the Panama Canal Commission. In those years it had Panamanians in top management positions, a heritage of US policies and practices from the days of the old Panama Canal Company, and plans for a “seamless transition” to a fully Panamanian Panama Canal Authority. And what we got was an American notice – a demand, really – that we should not use the services of a brilliant photographer, the now late Carlos Guardia. The note from this American canal middle management lady pointed out that Guardia had applied to work for the PCC but had been rejected on the grounds that he didn’t have a Panamanian driver’s license. However, the big gripe was that he had studied photography in Poland, at a time when it was a part of the old Soviet bloc. Panama was neutral, but the United States insisted on a Cold War blacklist of who could or could not work in journalism here.

Old timers with both the canal and in the press corps backed that up, telling tales of how between the US canal administration and the American Embassy, they could and did bar people from working in the Panamanian news media for many years. Eventually, it came to be a matter of such games played against me.

Back in the 80s, before I moved back to Panama, I used the Freedom of Information Act order my CIA file. As an activist and a journalist, on both the US federal and Michigan state levels, I used freedom of information laws a lot back in the day. (add link to case)

A lot of what I got from the CIA was blacked out. They apparently made much of my arrests as a juvenile and misdemeanor convictions as an adult when I was a teenager, apparently redacting things that might identify their sources. I ran with the WeatherPeople when I was 16, and although my politics went into more democratic directions post-Nixon, I never turned against those folks. Nor against folks from the Black Panther Party nor the League of Revolutionary Black Workers crowds in the Detroit area.

Lots of blackouts there, but in that file the CIA mistook me for a reverend in another county with a name similar to mine, a peace and racial justice activist. To me that said two things – first that the company from Langley saw the suppression of peace and human rights movements in general as a part of their job, and second that they got into lazy, sloppy research because they were the big bad CIA and they could.

(Let me not malign the many honest, intelligent and hard-working men and women of the CIA. Every big, rich country, with or without a warlike culture, needs a good intelligence service. But when an agency combines Murder Incorporated activities with information gathering, when the overthrow of foreign governments is considered a normal pursuit, then exposure becomes an existential threat to the institution – not really to the nation that it’s supposed to serve – and the veil of secrecy that comes down serves to hide all sorts of shoddy work by those working in the institution who aren’t too proud to put out bad work products. Bad work products, and MISSING work products, like Uncle Sam getting blindsided by transformative world events, of agents reporting what they think that the commander-in-chief wants to hear rather than the hard truths that need to be known and confronted. It has been a long time since Congress turned a light on spy follies and right after Frank Church’s US Senate committee did that in the late 1970s, he was thrown out by the voters in the next elections. Nor is it unique to the USA. The humanities are full of satires of authoritarian regimes – Potemkin villages, the Lieutenant Kidze sagas, the legends of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s machinations, the more creative report of members of some of the more notorious US police forces about driving while black traffic stops and so on. The usual effective solutions to such abuses are two-fold – that there is a management that doesn’t put up with such stuff and that there are honest external arbiters for when it happens or is alleged to have happened.)

Back to me. Visiting Cuba in 1979? Visiting the Cuban Embassy here in the 90s? Being Facebook friends with Puerto Rican independence activists and others who had served time for some violent crimes against the state? Passing on the Dutch Pax Christi chapter’s report on the El Aro Massacre via The Panama News?

In that latter case AUC paramilitary thugs, some arriving in a helicopter assigned to the governor of Antioquia province, rounded up the people in a village and made them watch the beheading of 15 people who were said to have ties to the leftist FARC guerrillas. Then the paramilitaries burned houses, rustled cattle and raped women. Who were these thugs? Informally allied with the Colombian military and police forces and part of “Plan Colombia,” the US offense against rebel forces who had been in the field since the late 1940s and who were given the epithet “narco-terrorists.” The AUC? They morphed into the Clan Úsuga, the Gaitanist Self-Defense Units and more notoriously in recent years the Cartel del Golfo, a drug smuggling and human trafficking gang with a presence in Panama and ties in this country’s political caste. Those guys are on the US enemies list these days, big-time.

This past year in Colombia’s news, there was the remote testimony of the former AUC commander in that region, a Mr. Mancuso, now in a US prison on drug running charges after having been extradited from Colombia and tried in the United States. Mancuso said that the AUC did, in fact, use the governor’s helicopter in that assault, with said governor’s knowledge, consent and eager support. And that governor, Alvaro Uribe, went on to be president of Colombia and a key US ally in the region. All the while the State Department was denying the allegation about Uribe’s involvement in the massacre. Now there is some pretty strong confirmation but back then it was considered a national security threat to publish such stuff.

A threat to the security of WHICH nation? A threat to Panama, which over several decades has been repeatedly attacked by this crowd? A threat to Colombia, which might have unraveled had people known about the governor-turned-president-turned-power-broker? A threat to the United States, where a number of politicians who hailed Plan Colombia as this huge victory for democracy or something might have been embarrassed?

Mostly it was a threat to small-minded bureaucrats, fronting for politicians, who consider information control to be the natural order of things and moreover among their duties as government employees. There is no need to get into “deep state” conspiracy dogma to understand that there are people and institutions like this.

An important set of considerations has to do with WHICH nations are entitled to know about matters affecting the personal security of their citizens and whether self-described democracies are entitled to informed debates about what their governments do.

For a more complex example, wasn’t it a matter about which Panamanians had a right to know when a former US Air Force base, supposedly devolved to Panama in 1999, was used in an assault, via Colombia, under the guise of humanitarian aid, on Venezuela over the bridge spanning the international border at Cucuta? Did the American Embassy have any reason to consider this reporter a disloyal American for reporting that to a readership both in Panama and abroad? Did the government of Panama have any solid ground from which to object when The Panama News published a drone photo of this operation that was leaked to us? Was this information that placed Panama’s existence as a sovereign republic at risk, or just something that put some Panamanian politicians’ nationalist credentials in question?

We get down to the differences between democratic journalism and authoritarian propaganda. Who has a right to sort out the inevitable mixes of those things coming over the wire and through the air? Who has the DUTY to the readers to do that?

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Was I an enemy spy for publishing this drone shot of the former Howard Air Force Base being used as a staging area for a Trump administration operation against Venezuela? An enemy of Panama? An enemy of the United States?

The rights and obligations of individuals and nations

The US Declaration of Independence is perhaps the most famous of many documents that declares that all men are created equal. These days many women would find something exclusionary and offensive about that, with cause. It’s also not as if the words that Thomas Jefferson wrote in that declaration were immediately – or ever –put into full practical effect.

Meanwhile, with the march of human progress a somewhat related thought that has come to humanity’s mind is that while individuals might justly be punished for their bad acts, collective punishment for being a member of a group, a minority of one or more individuals in which have done something wrong, is both immoral and illegal.

There are philosophical arguments that run from 1980s declarations by figures of the Reagan and Thatcher camps that deny even the concept of society.

The dispute between individualizing everything and recognizing society and groups within it touches upon cases about the application of the felony murder rule to persons who neither killed anybody nor intended to kill anybody.

The argument reaches, in its larger and more severe applications, to war crimes. A young Jew killed a Nazi official, so Hitler unleashed his rowdy mobs and his disciplined stormtroopers on a pogrom known as The Kristallnacht in which Jews in general were assaulted, robbed, murdered, rounded up to be sent to concentration camps and otherwise swept up in an ensuing holocaust.

Part of the judgment at Nuremberg was a stern denunciation of the concept of collective punishment for crimes. However, part of the process of postwar measures was the dispossession and deportation of ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland and other areas of Central and Eastern Europe. Hitler’s reich lasted 13 years instead of the advertised thousand, and instead of expanding Germany’s “living space” that notion and that set of geographical facts contracted. The German nation collectively paid reparations to other nations that it had harmed – even German pacifists who as a matter of principle had nothing to do with the war crimes and may have actually been punished for their refusal to participate.

All of that history and philosophy set a backdrop for the horrors of the Gaza War. From these ancient and modern norms and precedents arise bases for ethical journalism. The ancient scriptures and legends of contending religions, from Old Testament tales of how him that pisseth on a wall gets smote to Muhammad’s injunction to his warriors to do molest women, children or old folks, nor to mutilate the bodies of slain enemies, from Jewish teachings about not oppressing foreigners to the fate of the Bani Nadr tribe that rose up against Muhammad the king, the zealots of either side can find ample authority for the most decent or indecent things. “Just the facts” reporting that just ignores all of the historical baggage rings hollow, because part of journalism is a determination of which facts are important. It’s the essence of what an editor does.

But as a noteworthy Chinese-American journalist, echoing earlier declarations by a famous and ruthless Chinese politician, told us in their own ways, there is no such thing as “objective journalism.” Everybody working in every mass communications medium, and every publication, is coming from somewhere. From the language used, to the formal and informal education of the person telling the story, from his or her nationality, political and social affiliations, economic interests and belief system, there arise points of view that are inevitably parts of the story. Joie Chen told us that. So did Chairman Mao. Sort out the honest observations from the manipulative propaganda, and the fact that everyone telling a story has a point of view still rings true.

The best thing that a journalist can do, it would seem to me, is to be forthright about having a point of view and what that is to let the readers be more informed about the information conveyed. If that incites the MAGAs to furious rejection of The Panama News and its editor, so be it.

And if it incites Bibi Netanyahu and his supporters to accuse this reporter of being a vicious racist, specifically an antisemite, so be that. Netanyahu is a war criminal and a more ordinary corrupt politician, who chose to provoke intercommunal violence and an atrocious and expanding war to save himself from a legal scandal of his own making.

‘That’s YOUR OPINION!’ many might protest, and true enough. But it’s an informed opinion, instructed by much more than old tales about The Land of Milk and Honey. It’s a point of view informed by archaeology that proves Jerusalem to be older than its Jewish and Arab communities. It’s informed by the geography of an underground river that made Jerusalem resistant to ancient sieges. It’s a news judgment based on some knowledge of international law, and comparative secular and religious law.

People have a right to know these about these things and to argue about them based on good information. Wise people diversify their sources of information, and learn to identify and largely discount unreliable sources and media. And moral individuals will apply their belief systems to the plain facts, to reach judgments. Sometimes those judgments will be painful. This is the nature of the news, as distinguished from stereotypical fiction.

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The death toll on colleagues has few precedents, but a brave press corps, both Arabs and Jews, is telling the world unpleasant truths about the carnage in Gaza and those who are behind it.
 

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