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The Vice Presidency

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Vijaya Chandrasoma

August is the month of Party Conventions in the United States during election years, when Democrats and Republicans formally announce, amidst great fanfare, the nominations for the Presidency and the Vice Presidency of their respective Parties.

Trump is the assured nominee of the Republican National Committee, and he has confirmed that Vice President Mike Pence would be his running mate for 2020. There were some rumours floating around, as his ratings keep tanking, that Trump may make Pence the scapegoat for his mismanagement of the pandemic and replace him on the ticket. However, now that he has settled on his latest scapegoat – China – to take the blame, the 2020 Trump/Pence ticket seems to be a certainty.

The Convention was to be held in grand style in Jacksonville, but it was decided to change the venue because of a surge in Covid19 cases in Florida, the current US epicenter of the disease. Delegates are now scheduled to meet in Charlottesville, North Carolina on August 24, and formally anoint Trump as the Party’s standard-bearer again.

National Party Conventions are usually media bonanzas, with political parties seeking to spread their messages with the election under three months away. However, the Republicans have decided, citing the continuing Covid19 surge, that Trump will accept the Party Nomination in private, and the event will be closed to the press for the first time in history.

The Democratic National Committee Convention is scheduled to be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 18 – 20. The Committee announced, “We are committed to providing seamless access and opportunities for equitable participation for all of our delegates and convention guests…. If you are a member of the media, we’re here to provide you with the resources you need.”

Vice President Biden is the Presumptive Nominee of the Democratic Party, but there has been much speculation about the second half of his ticket. Biden has long indicated that his running mate would be a woman, probably a woman of colour.

It is high time that women, especially black women, who have supported the Party through the ages, are finally being recognized for national leadership. It should be remembered that the Black Lives Matter movement, protesting against systematic police brutality against minorities now gaining momentum in the country, was founded by three black women.

This choice of a Vice President has become of paramount importance to the Party for two reasons. One, Biden is 77-years old, and has unofficially indicated that he probably will be a one-term president. Two, so the selected running mate should be ready and able to take over the presidency seamlessly on Day 1.

The front runners for this important position are:

1. Kamala Harris.

Senator Harris, 55-years-old, is widely considered to be the front runner. She has a diverse background, with an East Indian mother and a Jamaican father. She has served in the US Senate as California’s junior senator since 2017. She is a moderate who endorses single-payer healthcare, the single most important issue facing the country today. She has gained a national profile with her incisive Senate questioning of Trump administration officials, including former Attorney General Sessions and current AG Barr, and Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Harris has already displayed abundant political skills: “strong on the stump, a warm manner with voters and ferocity with the opposition that seemed to spell trouble for Mr. Trump.”

2. Karen Bass, 66-years-old, has recently emerged as a leading contender for the job. A congresswoman from California since 2011, she has also served as the Speaker of the California State Assembly. She is the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and serves on numerous House committees, including the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs. She believes that Climate Change presents one of the greatest challenges facing the country, supports universal health care and campaigns for gun control. She was one of the first members of the Congress to endorse the Green New Deal, the proposed new program popular amongst progressives, which aims to aggressively address climate change and economic inequality.,

3. Susan Rice, 55 years old, is making a comeback in politics. She served in the Obama administration as the US Ambassador to the United Nations and National Security Advisor. She is one of the most accomplished African Americans in the Party, with a long and close relationship with Biden, who, like all potential presidents, values loyalty. However, her role in the Bengazi debacle during the Obama administration, her sometimes abrasive personality and lack of political experience may prove to be insurmountable complications.

4. Gretchen Whitmer, 49-years-old, is presently the governor of Michigan. She is a rising star in the Party, and as Vice Presidential candidate, will almost certainly deliver Michigan, a must-win state for Biden. She recently gained fame when she publicly criticized Trump for his lack of a federal Covid19 strategy. Predictably, this gained the ire of the President, who refused to send help to Michigan “because she wasn’t nice to him”. Her exceptional handling of the pandemic in Michigan has garnered praise, and she has moved to being a viable running mate for Biden. Whitmer and Senator Elizabeth Warren are the two white aspirants for the job.

5. Stacy Abrams, 46-years-old, has made no secret of her desire to run on Biden’s ticket, saying that she is capable of getting a larger slice of the national black vote. A failed gubernatorial candidate in Georgia with limited political experience, it is doubtful that she would be able to take over, if necessary, the responsibility of the presidency on Day 1.

6. Senator Elizabeth Warren, 71-years-old, has been at the forefront of Democratic political leadership since 2014, and was even considered a potential candidate to succeed President Obama in 2016. She has been the senior senator from Massachusetts since 2013 and a candidate for the 2020 presidency, being one of the last to drop out during the primaries. A tenured law professor at Harvard, Senator Warren has been cautioning various administrations since 2000 that the US system works against the middle class and enormously benefits Wall Street, banks and the billionaire class. She was closely associated with one of the most progressive politicians in the Party, Senator Bernie Sanders, who was the last to drop out in the presidential primary contest. With his delegates count in the Primaries, second only to Biden, Sanders commands much leverage in the choice of a Vice President. Though Biden has indicated that his VP choice will likely be a woman of colour, Senator Warren is still believed to be one of the top contenders. She will be an admirable Vice President, whose vast experience in progressive politics makes her ability to assume the presidency seamlessly beyond question.

There may be others. Names like Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Florida Congresswoman Val Demings, are being bandied around. Vice President Biden has promised to announce his choice before Saturday, August 8. You should have the name of the presumptive Democratic VP before you read this article. Maybe he’ll surprise us all.

Of course, this selection will become an exercise in futility if Trump has his way. With Biden leading him by 10-15 points in the polls, Trump is setting the stage for refusing to leave the White House in November, on the grounds that mail-in-voting will be rigged and render the election illegal.

Voting by mail is the sensible alternative to personal voting during this virus, with obvious difficulties in establishing and staffing polling stations, especially in rural areas.

In a recent Fox interview with Hannity, Trump lied: “The USPS (United States Postal Service) is the most corrupt and anti-American way of voting, and has a huge voter fraud rate. Believe me. If I have to shut down the entire mail system in the months leading to the election, I will. It’s the only way this election won’t be rigged by the evil Democrats”.

Trump is demonizing mail-in-voting because such voting will be made easier, especially for Black, Hispanic and poorer voters, who will likely vote for the Democratic candidate.

On July 30, Trump tweeted:

“With Universal Mail-in Voting (

not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

The initial reaction to this preposterous, unconstitutional proposal to delay the election has been hostile. The Federal Election Commissioner, Ellen Weintraub flatly stated that the Executive branch does not have the constitutional power to delay the election, tweeting:

“No, Mr. President. No. You don’t have the power to unilaterally to move the election. Nor should it be moved. States and localities are asking you and Congress for funds so that they can properly run the safe and secure election that all Americans want. Why don’t you work on that?”

Even Republican leaders, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have rejected the idea. McConnell said, “Never in the history of this country, through wars, depressions and a civil war, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time. We will find a way to do that again on November third.”

All official evidence

proves that election fraud by mail voting is so insignificant as to be inconsequential. The conservative Heritage Foundation, found just “14 cases out of roughly 15.5 million votes cast, representing an infinitesimal percentage, in Oregon since that state started conducting elections by mail in 1998”. The Post Office authorities have also confirmed they are fully equipped and able to handle the mailings.

In these circumstances, a real President intent on a valid and legitimate election would summon a bipartisan team, composed of everyone connected with the election – Congress, governors, election authorities, etc. – and demand a Plan for conducting a legitimate, fool-proof election by October 1. That would give him one month to fund and implement consensually agreed recommendations, so that a fair election will be held on the appointed day. But we don’t have a real president.

What we do have is a Justice Department, with Trump toady Attorney General Barr leading it, and a Supreme Court stacked with Trump loyalists sycophantically compliant with even Trump’s most unconstitutional behaviour.

When Chris Wallace asked him at a recent interview whether he will accept an election defeat, Trump said, “I’ll have to see. I won’t say yes. I won’t say no”.

We seem to be rushing headlong towards an autocracy similar to Germany’s Third Reich, with the horrors of White Supremacist tactics and final solutions to the immigration problem. A wannabe Hitler is already firmly in place.

So perhaps it doesn’t matter what 2020 Presidential ticket the Democrats choose. Perhaps the Trump/Putin ticket is here to stay. For life. Or at least till the next US civil war.


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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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