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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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Port City Bill Requires Referendum

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by Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne,PC

The Colombo Port Economic Commission Bill was presented in Parliament on 08 April 2021, while the country was getting ready to celebrate the traditional New Year. With the intervening weekend and public holidays, citizens had just two working days to retain lawyers, many of whom were on vacation, and file applications challenging the constitutionality of the Bill in the Supreme Court within the one-week period stipulated in the Constitution. One wonders whether the timing was deliberate.

Special economic zones are common. They are created mainly to attract foreign investments. In return, investors are offered various concessions so that their products are competitive in the global market. Several negative effects of such zones have also been highlighted. The sole purpose of this article, however, is a discussion on the constitutionality of the Bill.

The Bill seeks to establish a high-powered Commission entrusted with the administration, regulation and control of all matters connected with businesses and other operations in and from the Colombo Port City. It may lease land situated in the Colombo Port City area and even transfer freehold ownership of condominium parcels. It operates as a Single Window Investment Facilitator for proposed investments into the Port City. It would exercise the powers and functions of any applicable regulatory authority under any written law and obtain the concurrence of the relevant regulatory authority, which shall, as a matter of priority, provide such concurrence to the Commission. The discretion and powers of such other authorities under the various laws shall thus stand removed.

The Commission consists of five members who need not be Sri Lankan citizens, quite unlike the Urban Development Authority, the Board of Management of which must comprise Sri Lankan citizens only. One issue that arises is that the vesting of such powers upon persons with loyalties to other countries, especially superpowers, would undermine the free, sovereign, and independent status of Sri Lanka guaranteed by Article 1 of our Constitution. It would also impinge on the sovereignty of the People of Sri Lanka guaranteed by Article 3 read with Article 4.

The removal of the discretionary powers of the various regulatory authorities is arbitrary and violative of the right to equal protection of the law guaranteed by Article 12 (1).

Under Clause 25, only persons authorized by the Commission can engage in business in the Port City. Clause 27 requires that all investments be in foreign currency only. What is worse is that even foreign currency deposited in an account in a Sri Lankan bank cannot be used for investment. Thus, Sri Lankans cannot invest in the Port City using Sri Lankan rupees; neither can they use foreign currency that they legally have in Sri Lanka. The above provisions are clearly arbitrary and discriminatory of Sri Lankans and violate equality and non-discrimination guaranteed by Article 12. They also violate the fundamental right to engage in business guaranteed by Article 14 (1) (g).

Under clause 35, any person, whether a resident or a non-resident, may be employed within the Port City and such employee shall be remunerated in a designated foreign currency, other than in Sri Lanka rupees. Such employment income shall be exempt from income tax. Clause 36 provides that Sri Lankan rupees accepted within the Port City can be converted to foreign currency. Under clause 40, Sri Lankans may pay for goods, services, and facilities in Sri Lankan rupees but would be required to pay a levy for goods taken out of the Port City, as if s/he were returning from another country! The mere repetition of phrases such as ‘in the interests of the national economy’ throughout the Bill like a ‘mantra’ does not bring such restrictions within permissible restrictions set out in Article 15.

Clause 62 requires that all disputes involving the Commission be resolved through arbitration. The jurisdiction of Sri Lankan courts is thus ousted.

In any legal proceedings instituted on civil and commercial matters, where the cause of action has arisen within the Port City or in relation to any business carried on in or from the Port City, Clause 63 requires Sri Lankan courts to give such cases priority and hear them speedily on a day-to-day basis to ensure their expeditious disposal.

The inability of an Attorney-at-Law to appear before the court even for personal reasons, such as sickness, shall not be a ground for postponement. These provisions are arbitrary and violate Article 12.

Clause 73 provides that several Sri Lankan laws listed in Schedule III would have no application within the Port City. Such laws include the Urban Development Authority Act, Municipal Councils Ordinance, and the Town and Country Planning Ordinance. Under Clauses 52 and 53, exemptions may be granted by the Commission from several laws of Sri Lanka, including the Inland Revenue Act, Betting and Gaming Levy Act, Foreign Exchange Act, and the Customs Ordinance.

The Commission being empowered to grant exemptions from Sri Lankan laws undermines the legislative power of the People and of Parliament and violates Articles 3 and Article 4 (c) of the Constitution.

Several matters dealt with by the Bill come under the Provincial Councils List. They include local government, physical planning, and betting and gaming. Article 154G (3) requires that such a Bill be referred to Provincial Councils for their views. As Provincial Councils are not currently constituted, passage by a two-thirds majority will be necessary in the absence of the consent of the Provincial Councils.

The exclusion of the Municipal Councils Ordinance from the Port City area is not possible under the Constitution. When the Greater Colombo Economic Commission was sought to be established in 1978 under the 1972 Constitution, a similar exclusion was held by the Constitutional Court not to be arbitrary. Since then, under the Thirteenth Amendment under the 1978 Constitution, local government has been given constitutional recognition and included under the Provincial Council List. Under the present constitutional provisions, therefore, the Port City cannot be excluded from laws on local government.

The writer submits that in the above circumstances, the Colombo Port Economic Commission Bill requires to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the People at a Referendum. Quite apart from the constitutional issues that arise, such an important piece of proposed legislation needs to be widely discussed. It is best that the Bill is referred to a Parliamentary Committee before which the public, as well as citizens’ organizations and experts in the related fields, could make their submissions.

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Investigative Journalism?

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I usually end up totally exhausted when I finish reading the local newspapers from the Pearl. There are so many burning questions and so much is written about them but there are no conclusions and definitely no answers. For example, we seem to have three burning issues right now and this is not in order of importance.

We have a lengthy report that has been published on the Easter Sunday carnage. Everybody knows what I am talking about. However, no one, be it an editor, a paid journalist or a single one of the many amateurs who write to the papers, has reached a conclusion or even expressed an opinion as to who was responsible. At least not a believable one! Surely there are energetic and committed young people in the field of journalism today who, if asked, or directed properly will go out and find a source that would give them at least a credible hypothesis? Or do conclusions exist and has no one the courage to publish them?

At least interview the authors or should I use the word perpetrators of that report. If they refuse to be interviewed ask them why and publish an item every day asking them why! Once you get a hold of them, cross-examine them, trap them into admissions and have no mercy. It is usually geriatrics who write these reports in the Pearl and surely a bright young journalist can catch them out with a smart question or two, or at least show us that they tried? The future of the country depends on it!

We have allegations of contaminated coconut oil been imported. These are very serious allegations and could lead to much harm to the general populace. Do you really believe that no one can find out who the importers are and what brands they sell their products under? In this the Pearl, where everyone has a price, you mean to say that if a keen young journalist was given the correct ammunition (and I don’t mean 45 calibres) and sent out on a specific message, he or she couldn’t get the information required?

We are told that a massive amount of money has been printed over the last few months. There is only speculation as to the sums involved and even more speculation as to what this means to the people of the Pearl. Surely, there are records, probably guarded by extremely lowly paid government servants. I am not condoning bribery but there is nothing left to condone, is there? There are peons in government ministries who will gladly slip you the details if you are committed enough and if you are sent there to get it by a boss who will stand by you and refuse to disclose his sources.

I put it to you, dear readers, that we do not have enough professional, committed and adequately funded news organisations in the country. We can straightaway discount the government-owned joints. We can also largely discount those being run by magnates for personal gain and on personal agendas. As far as the Internet goes, we can forget about those that specialise in speculative and sensationalist untruths, what are we left with O denizens of the Pearl? Are there enough sources of news that you would consider willing to investigate a matter and risk of life and limb and expose the culprits for the greater good of society? Can they be counted even on the fingers of one hand?

In this era when we have useless political leaders, when law and order are non-existent when the police force is a joke, it is time the fourth estate stepped up to the mark! I am sure we have the personnel; it is the commitment from the top and by this, I mean funding and the willingness to risk life and limb, that we lack. Governments over the last few decades have done their best to intimidate the press and systematically destroy any news outlet that tried to buck the usual sycophantic behaviour that is expected from them by those holding absolute power.

Do you think Richard Nixon would ever have been impeached if not for the Watergate reporting? Donald Trump partially owes his defeat to the unrelenting campaign carried out against him by the “fake news” outlets that he tried to denigrate. Trump took on too much. The fourth estate of America is too strong and too powerful to destroy in a head-to-head battle and even the most powerful man in the world, lost. Let’s not go into the merits and demerits of the victor as this is open to debate.

Now, do we have anything like that in the Pearl? Surely, with 20 million-plus “literate” people, we should? We should have over 70 years of independence built up the Fourth Estate to be proud of. One that would, if it stood strong and didn’t waver and collapse under pressure from the rulers, have ensured a better situation for our land. Here is Aotearoa with just five million people, we have journalists who keep holding the government to account. They are well-funded by newspapers and TV networks with audiences that are only a fraction of what is available in the Pearl. Some of the matters they highlight often bring a smirk of derision to my face for such matters wouldn’t even warrant one single line of newsprint, should they happen in the Pearl.

Talking of intimidation from the rulers, most of us are familiar with the nationalisation of the press, the murder and torture of journalists, the burning of presses to insidious laws been passed to curtail the activities of Journalism. These things have happened in other countries, too, but the people and press have been stronger, and they have prevailed. We are at a watershed, an absolutely crucial time. It is now that our last few credible news sources should lift their game. Give us carefully researched and accurate reports with specific conclusions, not generalisations. Refuse to disclose your sources as is your right, especially now that the myopic eye of the UNHCR is turned in our direction.

All other ways and means of saving our beloved motherland, be it government, religion, sources of law and order and even civil society leadership seems to have lapsed into the realm of theory and rhetoric. Our last chance lies with the Fourth Esate and all it stands for. I call for, nay BEG for, a favourable reaction from those decision-makers in that field, who have enough credibility left in society, DON’T LET US DOWN NOW!

 

 

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The world sees ugly side of our beauty pageants

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Yes, it’s still the talk-of-the-town…not only here, but the world over – the fracas that took place at a recently held beauty pageant, in Colombo.

It’s not surprising that the local beauty scene has hit a new low because, in the past, there have been many unpleasant happenings taking place at these so-called beauty pageants.

On several occasions I have, in my articles, mentioned that the state, or some responsible authority, should step in and monitor these events – lay down rules and guidelines, and make sure that everything is above board.

My suggestions, obviously, have fallen on deaf ears, and this is the end result – our beauty pageants have become the laughing stock the world over; talk show hosts are creating scenes, connected with the recent incidents, to amuse their audience.

Australians had the opportunity of enjoying this scenario, so did folks in Canada – via talk show hosts, discussing our issue, and bringing a lot of fun, and laughter, into their discussions!

Many believe that some of these pageants are put together, by individuals…solely to project their image, or to make money, or to have fun with the participants.

And, there are also pageants, I’m told, where the winner is picked in advance…for various reasons, and the finals are just a camouflage. Yes, and rigging, too, takes place.

I was witnessed to one such incident where I was invited to be a judge for the Talent section of a beauty contest.

There were three judges, including me, and while we were engrossed in what we were assigned to do, I suddenly realised that one of the contestants was known to me…as a good dancer.

But, here’s the catch! Her number didn’t tally with the name on the scoresheet, given to the judges.

When I brought this to the notice of the organiser, her sheepish reply was that these contestants would have switched numbers in the dressing room.

Come on, they are no babes!

On another occasion, an organiser collected money from the mother of a contestant, promising to send her daughter for the finals, in the Philippines.

It never happened and she had lots of excuses not to return the money, until a police entry was made.

Still another episode occurred, at one of these so-called pageants, where the organiser promised to make a certain contestant the winner…for obvious reasons.

The judges smelt something fishy and made certain that their scoresheets were not tampered with, and their choice was crowned the winner.

The contestant, who was promised the crown, went onto a frenzy, with the organiser being manhandled.

I’m also told there are organisers who promise contestants the crown if they could part with a very high fee (Rs.500,000 and above!), and also pay for their air ticket.

Some even ask would-be contestants to check out sponsors, on behalf of the organisers. One wonders what that would entail!

Right now, in spite of the pandemic, that is crippling the whole world, we are going ahead with beauty pageants…for whose benefit!

Are the organisers adhering to the Covid-19 health guidelines? No way. Every rule is disregarded.

The recently-held contest saw the contestants, on the move, for workshops, etc., with no face masks, and no social distancing.

They were even seen in an open double-decker bus, checking out the city of Colombo…with NO FACE MASKS.

Perhaps, the instructions given by Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, mean nothing to the organisers of these beauty pageants…in this pandemic setting.

My sincere advice to those who are keen to participate in such events is to check, and double check. Or else, you will end up being deceived…wasting your money, time, and energy.

For the record, when it comes to international beauty pageants for women, Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Earth and Miss International are the four titles which reign supreme.

In pageantry, these competitions are referred to as the ‘Big Four.’

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