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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for the People VS Donald Trump for the Virus

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by Rajan Philips

Four years ago, a minority of American voters unwittingly perpetrated a fraud on their country. In November this year, the American people will have the opportunity to vote wisely and retake their country. In 2016, a technically ill equipped and morally debased candidate won the presidential election thanks to the chicanery of an electoral college system against an eminently qualified but cruelly maligned candidate. Hillary Clinton who lost the election to Donald Trump, would have made history as the first female American President if she had prevailed in the electoral college vote just as she won the popular vote. But having a woman succeed an African American President was too much for America’s mastodons. Pundits blamed it on the Clinton baggage that the American right and the national media had piled on her and her erratic genius of a husband over 40 years of their conjugal public life. This time there is no excuse for a repeat blunder. The Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris carry no baggage. The only darts that can be flung at them are – he is too old, and she is too bi-racial. There is no other political stump for Donald Trump to stand on. Except fraud.

And fraud is what Trump seems to be banking on for this election. If it was covert and indirect fraud in 2016, Trump is now ready for direct and blatant fraud. From the time he became candidate for the 2016 election, Trump has been calling the American electoral system a fraud and basing it on the canard that the voting system is manipulated in favour of minorities and illegal immigrants. The reverse is, in fact, the case. What is fraudulent about the American electoral system is the systemic voter suppression targeting minorities and marginalized communities through any means possible. But that is not Trump’s concern. His reason for crying fraud is to prepare his base to reject the November election results which he fears will go against him. Every day he is pulling a new trick from outside the rule book to subvert the system and extend his stay in office even after an electoral defeat.

In his latest detour last Thursday, he was reaching to a new ally in the right wing nut organization called QAnon. The organization operates on the theory that “there is a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who rule the world,” and that these Satan-worshippers have infiltrated the American “deep-state” and are plotting against their President Donald Trump and his supporters. Even as Trump was signalling this organization to rile up his base, Facebook was taking down thousands of groups and accounts sharing QAnon messages on its platforms. In another poetic setback, Steve Bannon, the creator of far-right Breitbart News who went on to become the CEO of Trump’s 2016 campaign down its home stretch, and later White House Chief of Staff for political strategy, was arrested on Thursday for allegedly defrauding “We Build the Wall” campaign that was set up to raise private funding and build sections of Trump’s border wall against Mexico.

Trump will dismiss every indictment as a deep state ploy against him, and use it to reinforce his core white American support and retrace his 2016 victory path. His difficulty this year is that he has to defend his record in office, especially his terrible failure to contain the new coronavirus, whereas in 2016 he had the advantage of projecting himself as the new outsider marching on Washington to take down the establishment. To ‘drain the swamp in Washington,’ was his clarion call in the last election. Now, the Trump swamp stretches all over America and spills over beyond its borders.

 

No certainty

There is no certainty of a Democratic victory given the electoral college system which can thwart the verdict of the popular vote as it did in 2016. If they were to falter again similarly, it would be the third time this century that the Democrats would have won the popular vote but lost the election. Trump’s popularity and approval ratings are at the historically low at the 30-40% levels, but they are disturbingly high compared to other western democracies where governments and leaders with similar performance could hardly have their popularity upwards of 20%. Trump’s 30-40% ratings are indicative of the deep divisions in American politics, which Trump irresponsibly aggravates at every opportunity.

However, these numbers might be deceptive to Trump the same way they were deceptive to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Hillary Clinton’s consistent but narrow leads in national polling concealed her vulnerability in the handful of swing states which she eventually lost by small margins. Only a few pollsters, perhaps only one among them as far I know, consistently commented on this vulnerability. In 2020, Trump’s national polling between 30-40% is concealing his vulnerability in the same swing states that he snatched from the Democrats in the last election. Biden is currently leading Trump in these states by a healthy margin. But no one is making any final prediction for sure. Adding to the shock of the last election is the uncertainty of Covid-19, and no one is rushing to predict the outcome.

Demographically, going by Pew Research Centre’s comparison of voting patterns from 1972 (when Nixon won his short second term), Republicans have always obtained a majority of white voters since 1972, while Black and Hispanic voters have overwhelmingly supported the Democratic party. There was no gender gap until the 1988 election, and only in 1992 (with Bill Clinton’s first win) women’s vote started breaking decisively for the Democrats while men’s vote stayed with the Republicans. Until this century, the more educated sections voted Republican while those with less education supported the Democrats. Traditionally, potential Democratic voters did not show up to vote except in the four elections won by Bill Clinton (1992 and 1996) and Barak Obama (2008 and 2012). Bill Clinton in his two wins and Obama in his first made significant inroads into white voters, while Obama won 90% of the black vote and in large numbers in his two victories.

Hillary Clinton maintained the same voter demographic profile as Obama but with a slightly lower voter turnout. Yet, her vote tally of 65,850,000 is second only to Obama’s 69,500,000 (2008) and 65,915,000 (2012) in American history. More significantly, the racial, gender and educational, as well as regional, gaps between the voting bases of the two parties widened the most in 2016 unlike in any previous election. More non-white, female, educated and urban Americans voted Democrat, while their white, male, less educated and rural counterparts voted Republican. Inasmuch as the turnover of the swing states was seen as being due to white working-class votes moving from Democrats to Trump, winning them back became the immediate strategy of Democrats for the 2020 election.

This was also the premise on which Joe Biden launched his presidential bid based on his working class roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the state Democrats lost to Trump in 2016. He projected himself as a moderate candidate. After awkward stumbles in the early primaries, Biden’s campaign took off taking advantage of his strong support among African Americans. With Bernie Sanders, unable to regenerate the enthusiasm he achieved against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries, Biden easily sealed the Democratic Party nomination weeks before the pandemic hit America. He would have run a cautious campaign and tried to win back the lost white working class votes in Midwestern States, but for Trump’s disastrous handling of the pandemic, and the public outrage at the slow killing of George Floyd, on May 25, under a police knee on a public road in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

Obama’s rebuke

There is nothing cautious now about the Democratic 2020 campaign. Democrats have turned the campaign into a referendum on Trump and they are betting on the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket as an appealing restorative alternative to the Trump sickness. The Party’s convention held last week was historic not so much because it was the virtual political convention ever to be held, but really because it was the first when a sitting President was roundly condemned by the opposing Party as being crass, callow, lazy, incompetent, unempathetic and immoral.

Michelle Obama, the former First Lady, led off on the first day with a blistering attack on Trump for his incompetence. Former President Bill Clinton blasted Trump the next day for spending time watching TV and tweeting while letting America with 4% of the world’s population end up having 25% of the world’s Covid-19 cases and deaths. The third day belonged to what the western media has called “boundary breakers” – Hillary Clinton, the first female Presidential candidate; Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House; Barak Obama, the first African American President; and Kamala Harris, the first woman of colour to be nominated as Vice Presidential candidate.

Obama’s convention speech was hugely unconventional. Speaking live from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia with the words of American Constitution inscribed on the walls behind him, Obama tore into Trump and his record in office, showing anger, scorn and even fear – fear for American democracy should Trump win a second term. Incumbent American Presidents are never publicly criticized by their predecessors. Obama’s scathing rebuke of Trump is a speech for history and perhaps a more consequential speech than his no less historic speech on race delivered in 2008 as a first-time presidential candidate. “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” said Obama nonchalantly, and appealed to the American voters to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and stop Trump from winning a second term.

Joe Biden was Obama’s Vice President for two terms over eight years (2008-2015), and sat out the 2016 election when Hillary was the overwhelming favourite to carry the Democratic torch that year. Before becoming Vice-President, Biden was the US Senator from Delaware for 36 years, and made quite a few unsuccessful attempts to win nomination as the Party’s presidential candidate. Now Biden has a good shot at defeating Trump and continuing Obama’s legacy as President. His selection of Kamala Harris is as historic, as it is a repetition of the Obama-Biden ticket, for Kamala Harris with her Jamaican-African and South Indian ancestry is often touted as America’s female Obama.

In her acceptance speech as Vice-Presidential candidate, Harris recalled the first time she uttered the words “Kamala Harris for the people”, as a young Prosecutor in San Francisco. She went on to become the District Attorney in San Francisco, Attorney General for the State of California, and US Senator from California. Now she is making the case for the American people against the Trump presidency. “It is an open and shut case”, she has asserted. Biden and Harris have 72 days to convince the jury.


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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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