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Biden Navigates Treacherous Waters

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Trump’s attempted coup: Neo-fascism’s last warning to all the world

by Kumar David

Cities across the US erupted in joy to celebrate Trump’s defeat but before you open your best Single Malt and launch out on a spell of revelry take a breath and consider the following. Though that pig-headed, oral-peat splurging, loathsome man has been booted out the picture remains murky. He polled the second highest number of votes (72 million) by any US presidential candidate – let that sink in, the second highest ever! He lost because Bidden with 76 million polled higher. He won three big states Texas, Florida and Ohio. A majority hate him but his admirers stay loyal. Let me pour cold water if you imagine America has come in from the cold (sorry, lousy pun). The Democrats despite strenuous efforts did not seize a single state governorship or state legislature from incumbent Republicans. Most states, in a hugely devolved federal system, remain locked in Republican hands. More bad news, the GOP retains a majority in the Senate till two run-offs are decided in Georgia on Jan 5, 2021. Democrats just managed to retain control of the House of Representatives but the upper house is more powerful in Congress (Congress is both Houses together). The Senate can block appointments to Cabinet, other key positions and the Supreme Court and it can be a thorn in the flesh as Congress controls the purse strings – that is financial allocations and the budget.

Trump lost, but the transition is hazardous. His vote-base did not collapse; it held up, his poll rising from 63 million in 2016 against Hilary Clinton to 72 million in 2020. More disturbing, about half of that belongs to the Trump Base which inhabits an alternative universe presided over by their boss from which he refuses to return to earth. Trump and his looney fringe make false allegations of voter fraud that never occurred. He is inciting his thugs to violence; don’t underestimate what they may do in the transition. This man has no human empathy, he has a Frankenstein streak which is why many doubt his sanity. Extremists are on TV brandishing guns, threatening violence and “civil war”; they demand that the election results be annulled. He is hated for his lies and indecency but he has turned the Republican Party into a Trump Party; the entire GOP melts before his obnoxious persona. This makes the transition, the next 70 days, fraught and the next few years contentious

The Biden Presidency is not going to be a walk in the park. The Trump adoring GOP is determined to undermine climate policy, but Bidden cannot go back on a compact with a Task Force headed by John Kerry and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and endorsed by Bernie Sanders. A 110-page plan drafted by six task forces appointed by Biden and Sanders lays out a roadmap that Biden is committed to despite the declaration of war by Republicans. Healthcare, on which there is a tenuous agreement between the Biden-Harris and the Sanders-Elizabeth Warren-AOC factions will lead to a compromise, but Biden’s wish to be “president for all” will be rejected by Trump’s Base. A bitter defeated Trumpist who introduces himself as Brian C. Joondeph, M.D says “Trump needs our support and prayers as he is the last line between America the Beautiful and the Peoples’ Republic of Biden”; any treachery is ok for the spurned! Biden’s call for calm is wise but make no mistake it will be spurned and America needs to prepare itself for no-holds-barred conflict. ‘Success goes to those who dare and act, it seldom goes to the timid’; will the Biden-Harris leadership measure up? Will Biden mobilise people, the ultimate guardian of their own freedoms?

Never discount the fundamental reason underlying the rise of Trumpism; blue collar workers fear job and income loss in the face of advances in technology and globalisation. Poor whites in the Midwest and across the country are losing out, getting poorer and falling behind. The lower-three income quartiles know that power, income and wealth are in the hands of the top 10%. The Productivity Pay Tracker shows that the fruits of technology, productivity advance and wealth creation have gone to the top. The Democrats are seen as the party of the middle class gentry, climate change, racial equality and the home of culture-elites, removed from the hardships of the poor. My fear is that the Biden-Harris Administration will stay institutionally conservative and in the pockets of Wall Street.

If so, they will miss the boat as yahapalana did. Even when driven out of the White House, Trump like the Rajapaksas is not going away and who knows he may storm back on the backs of the working class, poor whites and maybe blacks and Latinos if the Bidden-Harris team fails to deliver. Kamala Harris is a more troubling than Biden unless she is balanced in the Cabinet by the inclusion of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders like figures, and unless people like AOC keep up mobilisation and hold Biden to his promises. A big mistake would be to imagine that America can return to business as usual; that is business as in the Clinton and Obama eras. Trump and Republican leaders are methodically undermining the transition of power, even refusing the de facto President Elect access to national security briefings. This is dangerous; it is an attempt at a palace coup; it is the road to a Banana Republic. This time it will fail but it is the last warning before the triumph of American neo-fascism, more dangerous than Nazim and inter-war fascism because of US world dominance and hence potentially it can be world transformative. If America goes neo-fascist there will be nowhere for the world to hide; Trump was the last warning.

In Lanka liberal-capitalism replaced Mahinda’s semi-autocracy only to be trounced at democratic elections by a very non-liberal alternative. The reasons in hindsight were twofold; initially, an inexplicable failure 

to prosecute powerful politicos of the Rajapaksa regime who were waist deep in corruption, and second, neglect by a regime chasing the non-sequitur of a liberal-capitalist road to prosperity of mass demands for better living conditions.

 

Biden must not inhibit prosecution of Trump’s financial wrong doings, and needs like a minimum wage and better healthcare must be funded by higher taxes on the wealthy. Circumstances and opportunities are good, the tasks are clear; control Corona, invest in health and education and live up to the promise of a ‘new green revolution’. The tough one is restructuring the economy; Trump’s base will wither if the problems that created it are addressed. The need is leadership; here too prospects are better than SL since the Biden-Harris team is not corrupt, nor incompetent and bickering like the Sirisena-Ranil circus. Biden’s Corona Task Force is not led by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff! It is stuffed with respected and experienced professionals.

Foreign policy is where some things will change, others will not. The US will return to the Paris Climate Accord an Obama centrepiece and the WHO. The Iran Nuclear deal negotiated by John Kerry will be resuscitated in some form. China policy will not change because return of the Mandate of Heaven to the Middle Kingdom terrifies Democrats and Republicans alike. Continuing Sino-American tension is bad for Lanka. The US electoral system held up in 2020 despite ‘technical’ complications (huge mail in ballots, provisional ballots, court orders and recounts) and appalling intervention by none other than the depraved incumbent to undermine electoral processes. Am I applauding liberal democracy of which I am no great champion? Yes, I would have been more dismayed if American electoral democracy had been trashed than by even a Trump victory. Unbelievably, the Republican Party is doing just that! It is amazing that it is standing on its heads equating “a corrupt American electoral process” to a banana republic! “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. Social democracy starts with common or garden justice, decency and truthfulness and adds on social equality, mass living standards and people’s control of state and economy. It’s liberal-democracy plus, not a denial of Enlightenment Values. As a leftist I applaud the resilience of US electoral democracy. Lanka too upheld it in November 2019 and August 2020. My quarrel is not with our exemplary electoral authorities; my quarrel is with the people of Lanka who were foolish in the exercise of their ballot.

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Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Features

Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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