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America’s Uncivil War

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

Donald Trump was finally prised out of the White House on the morning of January 20, hours before the inauguration of President Joe Biden. He acted true to form and character by refusing to conform to a centuries-old tradition of the outgoing president welcoming the president-elect, both at the White House and at the Inauguration ceremony. Trump’s lack of grace was, however, a source of great relief for President Biden and everyone participating in the ceremony. There is little doubt that had he decided to attend, Trump would have transformed a historic occasion into a ridiculous spectacle all about himself.

Trump left the White House by helicopter to Andrews Air Base, where Air Force One awaited to take him to Florida. A small invited crowd of 200 people, supporters and curiosity seekers, with his tearful children and their families forming a row of mourners, were in attendance to bid him farewell.

Trump’s statement, thankfully short on time, predictably long on lies, was about his “achievements”. He predicted that the “great numbers” he had created during his presidency – numbers representing the worst economic and health crises faced by the US in living memory – will “skyrocket downwards” under the Biden administration. He thanked his family for the “remarkable” work they have done for the country. And he ended with an ominous statement: “So just a goodbye, we love you, we will be back in some form’’.

Trump may unknowingly be echoing sentiments of another Republican president, who concluded his farewell address, saying: “Once you begin a great movement, there’s no telling where it will end”. We know now where Reagan’s movement ended. In a society with a lopsided taxation system which dismantled a hitherto thriving middle class and created corporations and billionaires of vulgar wealth, resulting in the greatest income inequality the country has suffered since the Great Depression. We can also predict where Trump’s movement was heading before his defeat. Headlong towards the destruction of democracy, and the establishment of an authoritarian dynasty ruled by white supremacists.

The Department of Homeland Security recognized a heightened threat of violence by the issue on January 27, with an amazing grasp of the obvious, of a National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin. The DHS remains concerned that Homegrown Violent Extremists, emboldened by the breach of the Capitol on January 6, will continue to target officials and government facilities, and represent the greatest threat of domestic terrorism facing the nation today.

A man was arrested Thursday, with his car parked at a police intersection near the Capitol, in possession of a handgun with 20 rounds of ammunition, a list of members of Congress targeted for assassination, and “Stop the Steal” paperwork. Washington’s Acting Police Chief has requested that the barricades built after the recent insurrection be made permanent, transforming the beautiful capital city into a virtual fortress.

Speaker Pelosi stated that “The enemy is within the House of Representatives”, implying that members of Congress are complicit in the ongoing violence. A rebellion based entirely on Trump’s Big Lie, that the November election was stolen from him, in spite of the fact that 60 cases of election fraud had been dismissed by the Courts, including Trump’s handpicked Supreme Court, for lack of a shred of evidence.

The societal excretion of the plague of violent white supremacy in America depends entirely on the role today’s Republican Party will play, whether it will remain the Party of Trump or rediscover its roots as the Party of Lincoln.

As long as the leaders of the Republican Party keep embracing the vile specter of Trump, keep kissing the ring of the King, as House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy did in Florida last Thursday, the next eruption of a violent insurrection of white supremacists will always be round the corner.

The immediate problem for Trump will be his next permanent domicile. He is currently residing at Mar a Lago, in, Florida. According to a contract he signed with the Town of Palm Beach in 1993, converting, for tax purposes, his estate from a residence to a private club, he would be allowed to reside only a maximum of 21 days per year, seven consecutive days per visit. But Trump, being Trump, will continue breaking the terms of the contract, ad infinitum. His neighbors at the small town of Palm Beach have been protesting against his residence at Mar a Lago, to no avail. During Trump’s first weekend as a private citizen, sky banners flew near his residence, which read, “Trump Worst President Ever” and “Trump You Pathetic Loser Go Back to Moscow”. However, Trump remains unfazed. He knows no shame.

Actually, he does not have many choices. He has property in New York, but the attorneys general of Manhattan and the Southern District of New York are gleefully awaiting his return; they have multiple charges with which to greet him, sexual transgressions, money laundering, insurance and taxation fraud, etc. Besides, he is pretty universally hated by New Yorkers. Russia? Unlikely, he owes Putin too much money; and, as he is no longer of any use, Putin may even decide to Navalnyze him.

His one hope may be to seek asylum in Sri Lanka, or in one of the many Sri Lankan enclaves in the USA, where, strangely, he still has many swarthy fans. Maybe one of these wannabe white devotees can afford him refuge. A Win Win solution for a bunch of Losers.

Trump’s second impeachment trial continues to be the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. The Article of Impeachment – inciting an insurrection – was handed over to the Senate last Monday, by a procession of the nine Impeachment Managers from the House. A ceremonial procession through the hallowed halls of the Capitol, the very scene of the crime of insurrection and murder, in which both the prosecutors and the jury were both the victims and the witnesses. A solemn ceremony which has occurred only four times in the nation’s history, with Trump playing the “Leading Man” in two of them.

The Senate trial began Tuesday, with a 55 to 45 vote in favor of the constitutionality of the trial of a president after he has the left the office. It is interesting that 45 Republican Senators voted that the heinous crime of incitement to insurrection is not worthy of trial.

A bipartisan deal was struck to delay the start of impeachment proceedings until February 8.

The one defence available to Trump’s lawyers (when he finally succeeds in getting a team together; not an easy task, considering his legendary reputation for welshing on legal fees) would be to deny the legality of the trial. The Constitution does not specifically address the conviction of an ex-president. However, there are many precedents where senior civil officials have been impeached and convicted after they have vacated their posts. Trump will also benefit by the delay as the violence of January 6 recedes in the rear-view mirror, and the temperature lightens as time goes by.

The Prosecution will benefit by new evidence against Trump being revealed every day. The New York Times reported that Trump had planned to fire Acting Attorney General Rosen for refusing to sign a letter from the Department of Justice, drafted by Justice Department minor official and Trump lackey, Jeffrey Clark, instructing election authorities in Georgia to overturn the results of the state. Trump planned to replace Rosen with Clark, who had indicated his willingness to comply with Trump’s desperate act of corruption. Also, several of the 150 insurrectionists arrested after January 6 have confessed that they had been incited by Trump to lay siege on the Capitol and overturn the “stolen” election.

The importance of Trump’s conviction is that it will bar him from holding public office in the future. He has been talking about running for the presidency in 2024, perhaps under the banner of a new party of his creation.

President Biden has ambivalent thoughts about the timing of the Senate impeachment trial. He is as disgusted as are we all at Trump’s assembly and incitement of a mob of white supremacists to storm the Capitol, an insurrection that had been months in the planning. Trump supporters came within an inch of mass assassination of Senators and Representatives, including Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Pelosi.

The insurrection was grotesquely highlighted by the construction of a gallows, complete with noose, on the Capitol grounds, and the chants of “Hang Mike Pence”, “Where’s Nancy Pelosi”, “Fight Like Hell” and “Stop The Steal”. These slogans echoed the words Trump screamed, Hitler like, at a rally outside the White House, minutes before the mob stormed and broke in to the Capitol, vandalizing offices, defacing property and stealing documents. Five people were killed during the riot, including a Capitol policeman who was bludgeoned to death. Hundreds more suffered injuries. Two other Capitol policemen have taken their lives since the insurrection.

And the mob was an inch away from breaking into the area, with their stated motive of assassinating Vice President Pence and other lawmakers who were in session. The Capitol police managed to hurry the terrified Senators and Congressmen into safety in the nick of time.

While these acts of terrorism against the Capitol were unfolding, Trump made no effort to quell the violence, ignoring desperate calls for help from Senators and Congressmen and delaying the deployment of the National Guard. All the while watching, with his family and cronies, the riots on television, in enthusiastic support at the nearby White House. The National Guard was ultimately summoned, and the crowd dispersed, only after acts of great damage, vandalism and murder. Strangely, no arrest was made on the day, and the insurrectionists were allowed to go home, unharmed and unarrested, indicating the possibility of complicity of Law Enforcement in the insurrection. Equally strangely, no efforts were made to whisk President Trump away to safety from the scene of a violent insurrection in the environs of the White House, normal procedure when the president’s safety is even remotely at risk. Complicity at the highest levels?

While President Biden feels that the impeachment trial would be inevitable, he needs the Senate to confirm his cabinet appointments immediately, so that he could begin the arduous task of governing. He is anxious to address the quadruple crises left behind by the Trump administration – pandemic, economic, climate and immigration. He needs the full attention and action of both arms of Congress to pass the necessary legislation vital to combat these national crises. As a start, Biden has proposed a massive $1.9 trillion stimulus payment, which will provide relief to millions of Americans suffering, facing eviction and hunger, to thousands of small businesses forced into closure, and the necessary funding to the states to expedite the production and distribution of the vaccine.

The Senate impeachment trial is a political process, not a legal one. Trump will probably be acquitted by a jury of 100 Senators unable to reach the two-thirds majority needed for conviction, Republican Senators whose decisions will be guided not by their conscience but by political considerations and fear of Trump’s prevailing malevolent influence.

Whether Trump is convicted or acquitted by the Senate, the Department of Justice should take a long hard look at bringing criminal action against him. There is an abundance of evidence indicating that Donald Trump is guilty of planning and inciting an insurrection, of plotting the assassination of lawmakers, of attempting to destroy the democratic traditions of the nation. In short, guilty of sedition, even treason.



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Features

UNFORGIVING CONSEQUENCES OF DEFORESTATION

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By Eng. Thushara Dissanayake

A forest is much more than a group of trees. Clearing of forests for agriculture has been an age-old practice. We accepted chena cultivation as a traditional livelihood of the rural poor. Secondly, we had ample forestlands throughout the country. Another cause of deforestation is development activities, besides logging and gem mining in some cases. Because of these acts, either legal or illegal, our forest cover has fast dwindled posing many serious environmental issues.

According to the World Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), by 2015, the estimated forest area in the world equaled 31 per cent of the earth’s surface area, most of which was located in tropical areas such as Africa, South America, and Indonesia. Today, according to experts, we have only 17 per cent of the forest cover left in this country.

People are the ultimate managers of forests and the higher their level of knowledge and awareness, the better their ability to conserve forests. It is unfortunate that recent incidents prove that people are not serious about the environment.

We are living in an era where climate change has become a major challenge. Ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere, mainly by the burning of fossil fuels has caused global warming, which renders myriads of bitter consequences. In the meantime, deforestation has been identified as the second major driver of climate change. It is forests which can help us reduce the excessive amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere playing a leading role in the fight against global warming. Forests act as a carbon sink and probably the only entity that is capable of carbon regulation. On average, the amount of oxygen produced annually by an acre of trees is about 2,500 kg while the annual oxygen consumption of a person is 750 kg.

Trees relieve people from stress and make them more comfortable while enhancing their well-being. Without trees, the world would not be beautiful and appealing. The earth has millions of different varieties of trees. Many trees do not remain the same throughout the year. When we plant a tree, we are emotionally attached to it and keen to observe its growth day by day. Sometimes we plant a tree to mark a special event and it may be our birthday, the day of marriage, or the demise of a close relative. Bhutan introduced the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, which is used to measure happiness and well-being of its people. One of the four pillars of GNH is environmental conservation.

Even our tourism industry, which is one of the main sectors that bring us foreign exchange, vastly depends on the natural beauty of this country. If we fail to maintain its unique natural beauty, the country will cease to be a tourist attraction, jeopardising the industry.

The contribution of trees to the ecosystem is massive. Trees improve air quality by trapping solid particles, retard rainfall-runoff and thereby mitigate floods, increase groundwater recharge, and preserve soil by preventing erosion. The sustenance of our river system largely depends on the central forest area being the source of water. Not only forests but even green areas such as shrubs and turfs inside forests also contribute to the ecosystem immensely. Although they receive less attention, they can filter air by removing dust and absorb many pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

Forests are home to wildlife. The same is true of humans and the survival of humans is also dependent on forest conservation.

 

The way forward

If the concept of vertical development is followed, not only in major cities but also in other areas, the acquisition of forest areas for human settlements can be significantly minimised as high rise buildings will obviate the need for many acres of land. Modern technology has to be used in agriculture together with methods that could contribute to high water use efficiencies to increase productivity rather than expanding agricultural land areas. Human settlements in less developed rural areas should be discouraged. There are large amounts of barren lands, including abandoned paddy lands, that could be used for afforestation if a proper mechanism is put in place to compensate landowners. These are several effective strategies which should be implemented sooner than later as policy interventions on all fronts are required to protect our existing forests. If the country’s forest cover shrinks further, we will all have to face bitter consequences sooner than expected.

 

(Eng. Thushara Dissanayake is a Chartered Engineer specialising in water resources engineering with over 20 years of experience)

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HYPOCRICY OF OUR COLONIAL MASTER!

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Irrespective of what happens at the UNHRC, there is one thing we should never forget; the arrogance and hypocrisy of our colonial master! The behaviour of the British Government is despicable. The UK has taken from the ‘nouveau-evil empire’––the US––the task of pressuring member nations of the UNHRC to vote against Sri Lanka! All this for the crime of defeating terrorism! Is this what is expected of the so-called leader of the Commonwealth?

It is a shame that the British representatives have not read Mathias Keittle’s excellent, well-reasoned piece “A German Analyst’s View on the Eelam War in Sri Lanka” which appeared in The Island on 28 February.

Considering there are allegations that some friends of high-ranking politicians of the British government made a mint from Covid-19 epidemic, one begins to wonder whether the Tiger-rump has helped some of them line their pockets. After all, it cannot simply be for a few votes. It will be interesting to see if the British government can counter what Matias Keittle so emphatically stated:

“Sri Lanka eliminated a dreaded terrorist group, with intricate global links, but receives little credit for it. Unlike elsewhere in the world, Sri Lanka has succeeded in resettling 300,000 IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). There are no starving children for the NGOs to feed but this gets ignored. Sri Lanka has avoided mass misery, epidemics and starvation but the West takes no notice of this. Sri Lanka has attained enviable socio-economic standards for a developing country while eliminating terrorism but gets no acknowledgement. The government of Sri Lanka and its President continue to enjoy unprecedented popular approval through democratic elections but this is dismissed. The economy is functional, but remains not encouraged by the West.”

My concerns perhaps are confirmed by what Lord Naseby, a government peer sitting in the British House of Lords, has stated. The following from the statement by Lord Naseby published in The Island of 5 March under the title, ‘Lord Naseby asks why Adele not prosecuted in the UK for child recruitment’, surely, is an indictment on the British government:

“I am astounded how the UK or any other Member of the Core Group can possibly welcome the High Commissioner’s so called ‘detailed and most comprehensive report on Sri Lanka’ when it is riddled with totally unsubstantiated allegations and statements completely ignoring the huge effort to restore infrastructure and rehouse displaced Tamils and Muslims, who lost their homes due to the Tamil Tigers.

“Furthermore, I question how the UK government knowingly and apparently consciously withheld vital evidence from the despatches of the UK military attaché Col. Gash. Evidence I obtained from a Freedom of Information request, resisted by the Foreign Office at every stage for over two years. These dispatches from an experienced and dedicated senior British officer in the field makes it clear that the Sri Lankan armed forces at every level acted and behaved appropriately, trying hard not to harm any Tamil civilians who were held by the Tamil Tigers as hostages in a human shield.

“This conscious decision totally undermines the UK‘s standing as an objective Leader of the Core Group; made even worse by the impunity for not prosecuting the LTTE leader living in the UK, largely responsible for recruiting, training and deploying over 5,000 Child Soldiers – a real War Crime. It is time that the UK Government acknowledges and respects the recommendations of the Paranagama Commission, which involved several international expert advisers, including from the UK – Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Rodney Dixon QC and Major General John Holmes.”

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, has strived so hard to strengthen the Commonwealth of Nations so that the UK could successfully transform itself from a colonial master to a friend of the past colonies but Her Majesty’s Government seems to be behaving in a manner to undermine Her efforts. Her Majesty’s vision of friendship and cooperation seems to be countered by the bully-boy tactics of politicians.

The excellent editorial “Should SL follow UK?” in The Island on 24 February concluded with the following:

“Anything Westminster goes here. It is the considered opinion of the defenders of democracy that Sri Lanka should emulate the UK in protecting human rights. What if Sri Lanka takes a leaf out of the UK’s book in handling alleged war crimes? In November 2020, the British Parliament passed a bill to prevent ‘vexatious’ prosecutions of military personnel and veterans over war crimes allegations. This law seeks to grant the British military personnel, who have committed war crimes, an amnesty to all intents and purposes. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has ascertained evidence of a pattern of war crimes perpetrated by British soldiers against Iraqi detainees, some of whom were even raped and beaten to death. Curiously, the ICC said in December 2020, it would not take action against the perpetrators! Too big to be caught?”

the UK may argue that it has to protect military personnel against vexatious prosecutions. If so, they should understand the position of Sri Lanka. We know that the US administrations, be it under Obama, Trump or Biden, run more on brawn than brain but we expect better from the UK. Why or why do they have to behave like a poodle of the US.

Is this not hypocrisy of the highest order? Shame on you, the British government!

 

 

 

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ASIAN DEMONSTRATORS AND THE AMERICAN DREAM

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The US was always a selective supporter of democracy, and now it is a diminished one. 

By Ian Buruma

One month ago, in Myanmar, protesters against the military coup gathered around the United States Embassy in Yangon. They called on President Joe Biden to make the generals go back to their barracks and free Aung San Suu Kyi from detention. Her party, the National League for Democracy, won a big victory in the 2020 general election, which is why the generals, afraid of losing their privileges, seized power.

But is the US Embassy the best place to protest? Can the US President do anything substantial apart from expressing disapproval of the coup? The protesters’ hope for a US intervention shows that America’s image as the champion of global freedom is not yet dead, even after four years of Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ isolationism.

Demonstrators in Hong Kong last year, protesting against China’s harsh crackdown on the territory’s autonomy, even regarded Trump as an ally. He was erratically hostile to China, so the protesters waved the stars and stripes, hoping that America would help to keep them free from Chinese communist authoritarianism.

America’s self-appointed mission to spread freedom around the world has a long history. Many foolish wars were fought as a result. But US democratic idealism has been an inspiration to many as well. America long saw itself, in John F Kennedy’s words, as a country ‘engaged in a world-wide struggle in which we bear a heavy burden to preserve and promote the ideals that we share with all mankind.’

As Hungarians found out when they rose up against the Soviet Union in 1956, words often prove to be empty. The Hungarian Revolution, encouraged by the US, was crushed after 17 days; the US did nothing to help those it had egged on.

Sometimes, however, freedom has been gained with American help, and not just against Hitler’s tyranny in Western Europe. During the 1980s, people in the Philippines and South Korea rebelled against dictatorships in huge demonstrations, not unlike those in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Myanmar in the last two years. So, of course, did people in the People’s Republic of China, where a 10-meter tall ‘Goddess of Democracy,’ modelled on the Statue of Liberty, was erected on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The Chinese demonstrations ended in a bloody disaster, but pro-democracy forces toppled Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship in the Philippines and South Korea’s military regime. Support from the US was an important factor. In Taiwan, too, authoritarianism was replaced by democracy, again with some US assistance.

But what worked in the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan is unlikely to work in Thailand, Hong Kong, or Myanmar. The main reason is that the former three countries were what leftists called ‘client states’ during the Cold War. Their dictators were ‘our dictators,’ protected by the US as anti-communist allies.

Propped up by American money and military largesse, they could continue to oppress their people, so long as the US saw communism as a global threat. Once China opened for business and Soviet power waned, they suddenly became vulnerable. Marcos was pressed on American TV to promise to hold a free and fair election. When he tried to steal the result, a US senator told him to ‘cut and cut cleanly.’ Marcos duly ran for his helicopter and ended up in exile in Hawaii.

Similarly, when South Korean students, supported by much of the middle-class, poured into the streets, angry not only with their military government, but with its US backer, America finally came down on the side of democracy. Dependent on American military protection, the generals had to listen when the US urged them to step aside.

The generals in Thailand and Myanmar have no reason to do likewise. Biden can threaten sanctions and voice his outrage. But with China willing to step in as Myanmar’s patron, the junta has no reason to worry very much (though the military has been wary of China up to now).

Thailand’s rulers, too, benefit from Chinese influence, and the country has a long history of playing one great power against another. And because Hong Kong is officially part of China, there is little any outside power can do to protect its freedoms, no matter how many American flags people wave in the streets.

Dependence on the US in Europe and Asia, and the clout that Americans held as a result, was sustained by the Cold War. Now, a new cold war is looming, this time with China. But US power has been greatly diminished since its zenith in the 20th century. Trust in American democracy has been eroded by the election of an ignorant narcissist who bullied traditional allies, and China is a more formidable power than the Soviet Union ever was. It is also vastly richer.

Countries in East and Southeast Asia still need US support for their security. As long as Japan is hindered from playing a leading military role, because of a tainted past and a pacifist constitution, the US will continue to be the main counterweight to China’s increasing dominance. But as Thailand’s deft balancing of powers demonstrates, US allies are unlikely to become ‘client states’ in the way some were before. Even the South Koreans are careful not to upset their relations with China. The US is far; China is near.

This pattern is to be expected. US dominance can’t last forever, and Asian countries, as well as Europeans, should wean themselves from total dependence on a not-always-dependable power to protect them. Being a ‘client state’ can be humiliating. Yet, the day may come when some people, somewhere, might miss Pax Americana, when the US was powerful enough to push out the unwanted rascals.

 

(Buruma is the author, most recently, of The Churchill Complex: The Curse of Being Special, from Winston and FDR to Trump and Brexit.)

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