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THE CORNERED RAT PRESIDENCY

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

The United States passed a macabre milestone last Wednesday. A quarter million Americans died of Covid 19. The richest and most powerful country the world has ever seen has proved leadership only in the mismanagement of a virus, which has caused, in sheer numbers without any reference to populations, the largest number of Covid19 deaths among all countries worldwide. It beat even the much poorer and nearly four times more populous nation of India by 0.26mn. deaths to 0.13mn. as at November 18, 2020. An even more telling statistic, as of the same date, is that India had a fewer number of cases – nearly nine mn. to America’s 11.9 mn., but amazingly, a higher number of recoveries, 8.38 mn. to the 7.17 mn. recoveries in the country with the most advanced medical facilities and equipment in the world.

There is a light at the end of the end of the Covid tunnel. Much progress has been made in the development of vaccines, which is recognized as the most effective way of curtailing the spread of the virus. New York City-based Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech announced the development of a vaccine with an encouraging 90+% efficacy rate. Initially, Pfizer claims that it can produce 30 to 40 million doses before the end of the year, after receiving emergency authorization from the FDA possibly this week. A quantity enough to save 15 to 20 million people to get an initial shot and a booster two weeks later. Hopefully, these doses will be prioritized to immunize those groups at the highest risk of infection, like doctors, nurses and all those brave and selfless people who risk their lives on a daily basis.

Pfizer predicts that it may be able to ramp up production to 1.3 billion doses per year, starting in two to three months. Other companies, notably Moderna, can finalize the development of their own effective vaccines, and meet the global demand of 16 billion doses per year – in time. The vaccine will sadly come too late for those hundreds of thousands who will die before it becomes universally available. A number which will be increased exponentially in the USA by the criminally inept leadership in the management of the virus.

Donald Trump has ceased to take any action in an attempt to do his duty to protect the American people and control the pandemic, despite deaths from the virus exceeding 1,000 per day since the date of the election on November 3. To the contrary, he has instructed his cronies at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Coronavirus Task Force to deny any information or assistance to Biden’s transition team. As he continues to do nothing about preventive measures, it is estimated 370,000 more Americans will die before Biden takes over as president on January 20, 2021. Medical professionals predict that America would suffer a 9/11 type of tragedy with 3,000 deaths every day, unless preventive measures are taken during the holidays. Simple measures which have long been recommended by medical professionals like wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands and avoiding crowds. Simple measures the Trump administration has been discouraging, even mocking in their futile efforts to keep the economy humming.

The blood of these hundreds of thousands of innocents who have suffered avoidable deaths because of criminal inaction by the Trump administration from the inception of the pandemic, and the thousands who will die during the transition because of Trump’s homicidal intransigence, are on Trump’s head. He has made no announcements of sympathy and caring to the families of the thousands dying every day. Trump called himself a Wartime President when the virus broke in February. If there is any justice, he should be brought to trial for war crimes, for homicidal negligence in his mismanagement of the virus.

There is absolutely no reason for Trump to deny the relevant information and assistance about the virus to the new administration, except a desire to exact vengeance at his electoral rout.

While this tragedy is unfolding, Trump is hunkering down at the White House, watching TV, ranting about how the election has been stolen from him and firing any election professional who disagrees with him. Trump is sowing doubts on, as New York Times’ Tom Friedman says, “the crown jewels of American democracy, our ability to run fair elections”. All the while golfing at Trump International in Virginia, 25 miles away from the White House.

The whole world is watching as Americans are forced to beg for food, with miles-long lines of cars queuing up at food banks throughout the nation. In the richest country in the world.

Sadly, these preposterous claims of election-theft seem to have convinced his Republican party. A recent poll shows that an amazing 70% of Republicans believe, against all evidence, logic and reason, that the election was stolen from their Fuhrer. This is further evidence of the support Trump enjoys not only from his white supremacist, neo-Nazi base, but from Republicans throughout the nation. Only a handful of the Republican leadership has publicly accepted the legitimate election of President-elect Joe Biden. A majority of Republicans feel that the outcome of the recent election, which Trump lost definitively to Biden by over six million popular and 74 Electoral College votes, will be overturned, not by the courts or public opinion, but perhaps by divine will. Whether these Republicans, especially those in the Senate, pretend to believe the rantings of a deluded president because they need his support to cling to power or because they are terrified of vengeance by the Trump private militia, their behavior is contemptible.

The transition period, the Lame Duck presidency, is traditionally used to ensure a smooth transfer of power, and, as Michelle Obama put it, is “a hallmark of American democracy”. Trump’s actions during the interregnum are completely contrary to tradition, though in exact conformity with his actions throughout his life of narcissism, cheating and fraud. He finds himself in a situation where he cannot lie, threaten, steal or bribe his way out. He treats the Lame Duck presidency of the period between the election and the inauguration of President-elect Biden more with the terror and raging desperation of a Cornered Rat. His eyes dart hither and thither, looking for a way out. He feels desperate and helpless as every exit, one by one, is denied to him.

The courts, the election authorities, public opinion, even his own lawyers who are abandoning his cases due to lack of evidence, are shutting down the few means of escape open to him. He now perceives the only way out of his situation is the sewer of his own creation, the noisome filth of his own “Jonestown” he has fashioned for his white supremacist cult, supported by run of the mill Republicans terrified of their imminent loss of political power and white privilege. This alternative universe is Trump’s best bet for a post-presidency life, with doting cult members who grant his every wish, believe his every lie. He may even be dreaming of leading the Republicans to electoral victory in 2024, which then will give him four more years to achieve his ultimate dreams of destroying American democracy and establishing a dynastic autocracy.

Unfortunately, this Utopia of Trump’s delusions will not be available to him. He is only too aware of the hell that awaits him when he no longer has the legal protection of the presidency. Protection created by his servile Attorney General William Barr through a misinterpretation of Article 2 of the Constitution, just as he lied about the Mueller Report to immunize Trump from certain impeachment. According to Barr’s interpretation of Article 2, Trump, as president, cannot be indicted of any crime, even treason, as long he serves as Commander-in-Chief. The president is above the law, a concept abhorrent to all fundamental democratic principles.

Trump may have the power to pardon himself, but such a pardon is limited to immunity from federal crimes only; his powers of pardon do not extend to state crimes. He has already been convicted by the Court of the Southern District of New York, of violations of campaign finance as a co-conspirator. His erstwhile personal lawyer, Michael Cohen has been convicted of this same crime, and he is currently serving three years in federal prison. Trump was also convicted of this crime, anonymously named as Individual One to protect his presidency. A similar conviction and prison sentence await Trump when he is a private citizen on January 20, 2021.

Trump will also be vulnerable to multiple charges brought against him by the Manhattan district attorney on his fraudulent family business practices and his taxes. The release of his tax returns, which will finally be available to the new president, will divulge crimes of tax evasion, money laundering and insurance fraud. They may also reveal the colossal loans he has taken from the Russians, which will certainly provide the reason for his humiliating deference to President Putin. And the multiple charges against him on sexual assault, including statutory rape, are legendary.

President-elect Joe Biden, frustrated in all his efforts to bring some competence and decency to the White House, has described Trump’s ridiculous claims of election fraud, his assaults on the nation’s democracy, his criminal recklessness and inaction on the tragedy of the pandemic, as “incredibly irresponsible” and “damaging in the eyes of the world”. Kindly words in describing a dangerous and raving lunatic.


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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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