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Character flaws cost lives the final presidential debate

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Vijaya Chandrasoma

From 1993, the third week in October has in the United States been dedicated to National Character, a time to “highlight character education and the importance of modeling good character”.

Trump delivered a gem of a Proclamation of National Character Week in the first year of his presidency, in October, 2017. Some especially cynical extracts:

“Character can be hard to define, but we see it in everyday acts – raising and providing for a family with loving devotion, working hard to make the most of an education, and giving back to devastated communities.

“Character is forged around kitchen tables, built in civic organizations, and developed in houses of worship”.

In the three years of his presidency after this Proclamation, Trump has provided the perfect antithesis of the qualities of character he has described. What we see in his everyday acts are examples of pathological mendacity (20,000 lies in that period, according to the Washington Post), of self-serving and corruption, and of unbridled narcissism.

He has raised and provided not for just one family but three, and treated them all with his unique brand of betrayal. His loving family devotion has been displayed in his public exhibitions of lust for his own daughter, Ivanka, hinting at a penchant for the inbreeding traditions of his white-trash hillbilly supporters from the Deep South, who believe in “keeping it in the family”.

He has worked tirelessly to obtain an education which has won him the presidency, a supreme achievement for a man who paid others to take his examinations. His exemplary efforts to give back to devastated communities were illustrated in the humiliating lobbing of paper towels to a crowd of Puerto Ricans at a relief center in the hurricane ravaged U.S. territory.

He knows not the purpose of civic organizations never having participated in one; and rarely goes near a house of worship, except to stand in front of a church, holding aloft a Bible upside down, a display of hypocritical devotion for the benefit of his adoring evangelist base.

And his character has been forged not around kitchen tables and houses of worship, but in casinos, notorious Epstein-style orgies and bankruptcy courts.

Trump proclaimed October 18 – 24 as the National Character Counts week for 2020, with a speech proving beyond all doubt that his speechwriters continue to be blessed with a perverted sense of humor. Some extracts:

“The foundation of any free and virtuous society is the moral character of its people. Personal responsibility, integrity, and other values which define our unique American spirit underpin our system of self-government and inspire us to continue working toward a more perfect union….

“This week, as we continue to unite as one Nation to both defeat the virus and safely reopen our country, we are reminded of how far decency and compassion can go in helping others during times of great challenge and uncertainty….

“Throughout this week, we recommit to being more kind, loving, understanding and virtuous.”

Moral character. Personal responsibility. Integrity. Unity. Decency. Compassion. Kindness. Love. Helping others. Understanding and Virtue. These are arrows in Trump’s quiver of character singularly conspicuous only by their absence.

Trump has never taken personal responsibility for the countless blunders of his administration. He lies that he has done an incredible job in containing the virus, which he has downplayed from its inception. His desperate desire to keep the economy strong, which he conceives is his ticket to re-election, has taken precedence over the health of the people he has sworn to protect. Even today, he mocks people for taking preventive measures like wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds – advice of leading epidemiologists in the world, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Health since the 1980s, who has served under six presidents, Democratic and Republican. Trump recently called this celebrated and world renowned epidemiologist a “disaster” and, “an idiot”. Talk about projection.

Amazingly, as Covid19 hospitalizations and fatalities are increasing in the US at exponential rates, Trump, at a rally in Nevada on Monday, ranted that “Sleepy Joe” will “listen to the science if he is elected”. Which is exactly what Biden has promised to do if he wins the presidency!

At a recent rally in Arizona, Trump mocked CNN, ranting, “You turn CNN on, that’s all they cover. Covid, Covid, pandemic, Covid, Covid, Covid….You know why? They’re trying to talk everybody out of voting. People are not buying it, CNN. You dumb bastards”.

In fact, the “dumb bastards” exhort voters, on an hourly basis during programs, to have their voices heard by voting. On the other hand, Trump tries to avoid all reference to Covid19, as his homicidal incompetence in the mismanagement of the virus is the single main reason he will be denied re-election. He continues to lie about the virus, saying it is “round the corner”, when it shows no sign of abatement. He has talked about the virus rounding the corner so often that he seems to be going round in circles! The reality is that the pandemic is showing a resurgence throughout the world, with infection and death rates at record levels.

The United States, with 4% of the population of the world, has suffered 25% of global fatalities caused by the pandemic. A Report from the Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness, released on October 22, states “we estimate that at least 130,000 deaths and perhaps as many as 210,000 could have been avoided with earlier policy interventions and more robust federal coordination and leadership. The inability of the US to mitigate the pandemic is especially stark when contrasted with high income nations, such as South Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, France and Canada”.

Following South Korea’s or Japan’s protocols and policies would have led to as few as 2,799 and 4,315 deaths, respectively, in the US, the Columbia team estimated. Stunning numbers, representing 97% to 99% deaths in the US which could have been saved. Over 200,000 avoidable deaths, to date, with competent leadership.

President Obama, the epitome of all the character traits required of the US Presidency, and still the most popular and admired man in the country, if not the world, weighed in at a Biden campaign rally in Philadelphia on Wednesday, the eve of the final presidential debate.

Obama gave an unprecedented, blistering, mocking rebuke of the incumbent president on the eve of the final presidential debate. He slammed Trump’s many character flaws, concentrating on his failure in his handling of the pandemic and healthcare, two issues most likely to defeat Trump in a landslide.

President Obama concluded a stirring speech, saying, “What Lincoln called the better angels of our nature, those are still with us….We see that what is best in us is still there, but we’ve got to give it a voice, and we have to do it now.

“We have 13 days…. until the most important election of our lifetimes. And if we pour all our efforts into these 13 days….then we will not only elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, we will also leave no doubt about who we are as a people, and the values and ideals that we embrace.”

Personally, listening to an inspiring speech by a great president, after four years of the racist rantings of an ignorant narcissist, made me weep.

In yet another stunning pre-debate development, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers reported that the whereabouts of 545 children, separated from their parents at the Southern border and caged by the Trump administration, are unknown.

The final debate was held on Thursday, October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee, subject to a restriction imposed by the non-partisan Presidential Debates Commission: the debaters had their microphones muted while their opponent spoke. The moderator was the NBC White House correspondent, Kristen Welker. Both candidates had tested negative on the day. Audience members also tested negative before they were allowed into the auditorium.

Viewers were treated to a presidential face-off in stark contrast of the chaos of the first debate. Thanks mainly to the most professional control by Ms. Welker, the moderator who emerged as the star of the evening.

Republicans breathed a sigh of relief that their leader managed, against all odds, to behave like a human being. Though his lack of compassion when talking about 225,000 Americans killed by the virus, and the fate of 545 children separated from their parents while in the charge of US Immigration authorities, showed that he only just cleared the “human being” hurdle.

As expected, the US response to the Covid19, took center stage, and brought the comment of the night. When the President tried to defend his inexcusable response to the virus, basically shrugging off the fatalities, saying that Americans “will have to learn to live with the virus”, Vice President Biden retorted, “He says we are learning to live with it. We are learning to die with it”. Referring to the Coronavirus virus and the resultant death rate, which is many times higher than any other developing nation, Biden said, “Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as the president of the United States”.

When Trump was praising Republican states and slamming Democratic states, Biden said that he would be the president of all Americans, of the United States.

Trump entertained the audience with his hilarious perennials: that “he has done more for the blacks than Abraham Lincoln”, “he is the least racist person in the room”, “he will release his tax returns as soon as the audit is completed”, and the classic that “he has been tougher on Russia than any other president.” And when he tried to justify his failed relationship with North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un, calling him “a different kind of guy”, Biden retorted, “It’s like saying we had a good relationship with Hitler before he invaded Europe.”

Biden also scored points about Trump’s refusal to divulge details of his mythical healthcare plan after his Supreme Court repeals Obamacare and strips 20 million Americans of their healthcare.

Trump also had the audacity to allege that the Biden family was guilty of corruption, making money from Russia, Ukraine and China. Never has a glass house been so clearly in view!

The consensus was that Biden won the debate, perhaps not as resoundingly as he would have wished. It is also doubtful that the debate swayed the opinions of undecided American voters in any significant way.

Current opinion polls indicate that Joe Biden will win the presidency and drag America from the brink. If, however, Trump causes a major upset and wins re-election, this “harsh, horrifying, unwatchable fever dream will surely be the first line of America’s obituary.”


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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