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Character flaws cost lives the final presidential debate



Vijaya Chandrasoma

From 1993, the third week in October has in the United States been dedicated to National Character, a time to “highlight character education and the importance of modeling good character”.

Trump delivered a gem of a Proclamation of National Character Week in the first year of his presidency, in October, 2017. Some especially cynical extracts:

“Character can be hard to define, but we see it in everyday acts – raising and providing for a family with loving devotion, working hard to make the most of an education, and giving back to devastated communities.

“Character is forged around kitchen tables, built in civic organizations, and developed in houses of worship”.

In the three years of his presidency after this Proclamation, Trump has provided the perfect antithesis of the qualities of character he has described. What we see in his everyday acts are examples of pathological mendacity (20,000 lies in that period, according to the Washington Post), of self-serving and corruption, and of unbridled narcissism.

He has raised and provided not for just one family but three, and treated them all with his unique brand of betrayal. His loving family devotion has been displayed in his public exhibitions of lust for his own daughter, Ivanka, hinting at a penchant for the inbreeding traditions of his white-trash hillbilly supporters from the Deep South, who believe in “keeping it in the family”.

He has worked tirelessly to obtain an education which has won him the presidency, a supreme achievement for a man who paid others to take his examinations. His exemplary efforts to give back to devastated communities were illustrated in the humiliating lobbing of paper towels to a crowd of Puerto Ricans at a relief center in the hurricane ravaged U.S. territory.

He knows not the purpose of civic organizations never having participated in one; and rarely goes near a house of worship, except to stand in front of a church, holding aloft a Bible upside down, a display of hypocritical devotion for the benefit of his adoring evangelist base.

And his character has been forged not around kitchen tables and houses of worship, but in casinos, notorious Epstein-style orgies and bankruptcy courts.

Trump proclaimed October 18 – 24 as the National Character Counts week for 2020, with a speech proving beyond all doubt that his speechwriters continue to be blessed with a perverted sense of humor. Some extracts:

“The foundation of any free and virtuous society is the moral character of its people. Personal responsibility, integrity, and other values which define our unique American spirit underpin our system of self-government and inspire us to continue working toward a more perfect union….

“This week, as we continue to unite as one Nation to both defeat the virus and safely reopen our country, we are reminded of how far decency and compassion can go in helping others during times of great challenge and uncertainty….

“Throughout this week, we recommit to being more kind, loving, understanding and virtuous.”

Moral character. Personal responsibility. Integrity. Unity. Decency. Compassion. Kindness. Love. Helping others. Understanding and Virtue. These are arrows in Trump’s quiver of character singularly conspicuous only by their absence.

Trump has never taken personal responsibility for the countless blunders of his administration. He lies that he has done an incredible job in containing the virus, which he has downplayed from its inception. His desperate desire to keep the economy strong, which he conceives is his ticket to re-election, has taken precedence over the health of the people he has sworn to protect. Even today, he mocks people for taking preventive measures like wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds – advice of leading epidemiologists in the world, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Health since the 1980s, who has served under six presidents, Democratic and Republican. Trump recently called this celebrated and world renowned epidemiologist a “disaster” and, “an idiot”. Talk about projection.

Amazingly, as Covid19 hospitalizations and fatalities are increasing in the US at exponential rates, Trump, at a rally in Nevada on Monday, ranted that “Sleepy Joe” will “listen to the science if he is elected”. Which is exactly what Biden has promised to do if he wins the presidency!

At a recent rally in Arizona, Trump mocked CNN, ranting, “You turn CNN on, that’s all they cover. Covid, Covid, pandemic, Covid, Covid, Covid….You know why? They’re trying to talk everybody out of voting. People are not buying it, CNN. You dumb bastards”.

In fact, the “dumb bastards” exhort voters, on an hourly basis during programs, to have their voices heard by voting. On the other hand, Trump tries to avoid all reference to Covid19, as his homicidal incompetence in the mismanagement of the virus is the single main reason he will be denied re-election. He continues to lie about the virus, saying it is “round the corner”, when it shows no sign of abatement. He has talked about the virus rounding the corner so often that he seems to be going round in circles! The reality is that the pandemic is showing a resurgence throughout the world, with infection and death rates at record levels.

The United States, with 4% of the population of the world, has suffered 25% of global fatalities caused by the pandemic. A Report from the Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness, released on October 22, states “we estimate that at least 130,000 deaths and perhaps as many as 210,000 could have been avoided with earlier policy interventions and more robust federal coordination and leadership. The inability of the US to mitigate the pandemic is especially stark when contrasted with high income nations, such as South Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, France and Canada”.

Following South Korea’s or Japan’s protocols and policies would have led to as few as 2,799 and 4,315 deaths, respectively, in the US, the Columbia team estimated. Stunning numbers, representing 97% to 99% deaths in the US which could have been saved. Over 200,000 avoidable deaths, to date, with competent leadership.

President Obama, the epitome of all the character traits required of the US Presidency, and still the most popular and admired man in the country, if not the world, weighed in at a Biden campaign rally in Philadelphia on Wednesday, the eve of the final presidential debate.

Obama gave an unprecedented, blistering, mocking rebuke of the incumbent president on the eve of the final presidential debate. He slammed Trump’s many character flaws, concentrating on his failure in his handling of the pandemic and healthcare, two issues most likely to defeat Trump in a landslide.

President Obama concluded a stirring speech, saying, “What Lincoln called the better angels of our nature, those are still with us….We see that what is best in us is still there, but we’ve got to give it a voice, and we have to do it now.

“We have 13 days…. until the most important election of our lifetimes. And if we pour all our efforts into these 13 days….then we will not only elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, we will also leave no doubt about who we are as a people, and the values and ideals that we embrace.”

Personally, listening to an inspiring speech by a great president, after four years of the racist rantings of an ignorant narcissist, made me weep.

In yet another stunning pre-debate development, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers reported that the whereabouts of 545 children, separated from their parents at the Southern border and caged by the Trump administration, are unknown.

The final debate was held on Thursday, October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee, subject to a restriction imposed by the non-partisan Presidential Debates Commission: the debaters had their microphones muted while their opponent spoke. The moderator was the NBC White House correspondent, Kristen Welker. Both candidates had tested negative on the day. Audience members also tested negative before they were allowed into the auditorium.

Viewers were treated to a presidential face-off in stark contrast of the chaos of the first debate. Thanks mainly to the most professional control by Ms. Welker, the moderator who emerged as the star of the evening.

Republicans breathed a sigh of relief that their leader managed, against all odds, to behave like a human being. Though his lack of compassion when talking about 225,000 Americans killed by the virus, and the fate of 545 children separated from their parents while in the charge of US Immigration authorities, showed that he only just cleared the “human being” hurdle.

As expected, the US response to the Covid19, took center stage, and brought the comment of the night. When the President tried to defend his inexcusable response to the virus, basically shrugging off the fatalities, saying that Americans “will have to learn to live with the virus”, Vice President Biden retorted, “He says we are learning to live with it. We are learning to die with it”. Referring to the Coronavirus virus and the resultant death rate, which is many times higher than any other developing nation, Biden said, “Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as the president of the United States”.

When Trump was praising Republican states and slamming Democratic states, Biden said that he would be the president of all Americans, of the United States.

Trump entertained the audience with his hilarious perennials: that “he has done more for the blacks than Abraham Lincoln”, “he is the least racist person in the room”, “he will release his tax returns as soon as the audit is completed”, and the classic that “he has been tougher on Russia than any other president.” And when he tried to justify his failed relationship with North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un, calling him “a different kind of guy”, Biden retorted, “It’s like saying we had a good relationship with Hitler before he invaded Europe.”

Biden also scored points about Trump’s refusal to divulge details of his mythical healthcare plan after his Supreme Court repeals Obamacare and strips 20 million Americans of their healthcare.

Trump also had the audacity to allege that the Biden family was guilty of corruption, making money from Russia, Ukraine and China. Never has a glass house been so clearly in view!

The consensus was that Biden won the debate, perhaps not as resoundingly as he would have wished. It is also doubtful that the debate swayed the opinions of undecided American voters in any significant way.

Current opinion polls indicate that Joe Biden will win the presidency and drag America from the brink. If, however, Trump causes a major upset and wins re-election, this “harsh, horrifying, unwatchable fever dream will surely be the first line of America’s obituary.”

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Scholar, Advisor, Innovator and Great Friend




Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria, son of Queen’s Counsel NE Weerasooria, studied at Royal College, and entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, and won Harvard Memorial Prize and the Governor General’s Prize. He graduated in Law from Peradeniya, with First-Class Honours, and was later called to the Bar, as an Advocate.

I have known and associated with Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria in different capacities. First, I knew him as a pioneer Law Educator at Vidyodaya University. His students at Vidyodaya, and later even at the Post-Graduate Institute of Management, recall how he lectured, without even a short note in hand, attracting students’ attention, and enthusiasm. Additionally, he focused on teaching Commercial, Administrative, and Constitutional laws, and published texts in Sinhala, one on the Law of Contracts, another on Commercial Law.

His vast knowledge as an author was exhibited, mostly in Banking Law. Some of his publications were on Australian banking systems. Later, he delved into Buddhist Ecclesiastical Law, which produced a monumental work and a Treatise on Sri Lankan Statute Law and Judicial Decisions on Buddhist Temples and Temporalities.

His book ‘The Law Governing Public Administration in Sri Lanka,’ is a text that must be read by all public administrators and politicians. Whilst at Monash University, he wrote ‘Links between Sri Lanka and Australia: A Book about Sri Lankans (Ceylonese) in Australia’, dealing with Sri Lanka- Australia links.

With President JR Jayewardene in Office, Wickrema was appointed as the Secretary to the Ministry of Plan Implementation– a completely different role for him in public service. Working with him was also a novel experience and challenge for officers too, since he pushed them to the deep end to make quick, practical, non-traditional, sometimes unsavoury decisions for the benefit of the public.

He was the innovator of Integrated Rural Development Projects, for which he harnessed foreign assistance, and a performer, evaluator, programmer, and institution builder, proven by the establishment of Secretariats for Women, Children, Fertilizer, Nutrition, Population under his Ministry.

Sri Lanka Planning Service was made a professional service in 1985, for which the initiatives and support given by Wickrema were substantial. Accordingly, planners were made responsible for planning to achieve the goals of the respective institutions, formulate policies, strategies, and evaluate the development projects and programmes.

Wickrema was responsible for enhancing human resources among cadres through foreign exposures, which culminated with some officers obtaining post-graduate degrees, some even PhDs, and reaching apex ranks in public services, i.e. Secretaries of Ministries.

Specifically, his contribution to my work when I served as Government Agent, Nuwara Eliya was substantial. He was the guide, mentor, and sometimes savior. His involvement was on behalf of his brother-in-law Minister Gamini Dissanayake. Wickrema was instrumental in planning Nuwara Eliya through the establishment of Nuwara- Eliya Development Commissioners Committee, where I served as Chairman, with professionals as Commissioners. The initial planning was done by the Urban Development Authority.

He was the key organizer of the Spring Festival in Nuwara-Eliya. I remember how he planned the city and revived the Car Racing event, after a lapse of some years. I remember Upali Wijewardena taking part in the first motor car road race. The new Motor-Cross racing event on the newly constructed track was added to the Mahagastota Hill Climb for motor racers. Motor-Cross racing spread to other areas later. He attended these events and enjoyed the great company.

A little-known fact about Wickrema is that the Sri Lanka Council for the Blind (as President) and Sri Lanka Federation of the Blind (as Advisor) still appreciate his services rendered to the blind community, especially in resource mobilization and housing.

He was a person with subtle wit and humour. While teaching, he used this talent, as a student has reminisced, for “easing the pressure and stress of learning.” His lighter vein utterances and behaviour in groups made him a more sought-after teacher, friend, relative, colleague, and boss. His wit and humour depicted by cartoons in political campaigning, (i.e. The Family Tree), left an indelible mark in canvassing votes at the 1977 Elections. It is recycled even today, making Wickrema’s talent eternal.

I am reminded that even regarding efficiency creation he had humorous comments. I remember his “evaluation of the efficiency” of public officers. He used to quip that when asked to produce relevant documentation within two days to send an officer on a foreign scholarship, knowing it would take weeks, he would swear with utmost certainty that the officer would fulfill the requirement within two days. The best litmus test of the efficiency of an officer is the offer of a foreign scholarship! He lamented that such efficiency is lacking to serve the people.

I have a personal regret. Just before I left for India as High Commissioner, he promised to visit me in Delhi with his dear wife Rohini, which he could not fulfill, bidding adieu in weeks. Hence, I missed his company, advice, wit, and humor before departure.

I may say, he was a great student, scholar, academic, educator, public officer, diplomat, social worker, an advisor, innovator, and above all a great friendly human being, who enjoyed life and made others enjoy too, with his friendship, and camaraderie. Sadly, we will miss him forever.

May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!

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Ethiopia: War in Tigray



By Gwynne Dyer

“Love always wins. Killing others is a defeat,” said Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in June 2018, shortly after surviving a grenade attack at a rally in Meskel Square in the capital, Addis Ababa. How was he to know that just thirty months after saying that he would have to stop loving and start killing?

That’s the problem with being a reforming zealot who becomes Prime Minister: you have to deal with some really stubborn people, and sometimes it’s hard to shift them without a resort to force. That’s why Abiy launched an invasion of Tigray state on 4 November, and so far it’s been doing very well.

“The next phases are the decisive part of the operation, which is to encircle Mekelle using tanks, finishing the battle in the mountainous areas, and advancing to the fields,” Col. Dejene Tsegaye told the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation on 22 November.

Here we are only less than two weeks later, and the federal government’s troops have already captured Mekelle, a city of half a million people that is Tigray’s capital. It’s not clear how many people were hurt or killed in the fighting, but it went so fast that the butcher’s bill can’t be all that high.

In fact, it has all gone so well that Abiy Ahmed’s soldiers are probably thinking they might be home in time for Christmas. When Col. Dejene talked about “finishing the battle in the mountainous areas and advancing to the fields,” however, he was talking about the nine-tenths of Tigray that has seen no federal government troops at all, or at most a brief glimpse as they passed through.

Tigray is exactly the size of Switzerland, with about the same ratio of mountains to fields (although the mountains are somewhat lower). In other words, it is ideal guerilla territory, and a high proportion of the seven million Tigrayans are rural people who know the land. Moreover, they have long experience in fighting the central government’s troops.

That was the old central government, of course: the Communist dictatorship called the Derg, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, that murdered the emperor and ruled the country with an iron fist from 1977 to 1991.

Tigrayans were the first ethnic group to rebel against Mengistu’s rule. They are only 6% of Ethiopia’s population, but the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was the most effective of the ethnically-based rebel groups that finally defeated the Derg.

The federal government that took over afterwards, called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), was formally a multi-ethnic alliance. In practice, however, TPLF cadres controlled most senior posts and prospered greatly as a result – a situation that continued until the EPRDF appointed Abiy Ahmed prime minister in 2018.

It was a non-violent revolution, conducted not in the streets but in ranks of the federal bureaucracy. Abiy was the ideal candidate: in religion and ethnicity he is Ethiopian everyman, with a Muslim Oromo father and a Christian Amhara mother. (In person he is Pentecostal Christian, and very devout.)

As a young man Abiy fought in the war against Eritrea; he has served as a senior intelligence official and knows where the bodies are buried; he is well educated and speaks Amharic, Afaan Oromo, Tigrinya and English fluently. His first and most important job was to prise the fingers of the Tigrayan elite off the levers of government without a civil war.

Unfortunately, Abiy’s approach – merging all the parties based on the various ethnic militias into a single ‘Prosperity Party’ – didn’t work. The resentful TPLF cadres refused to join, and gradually withdrew to their heartland in Tigray. They don’t yet openly advocate secession, but they do point out that they have that right under the current federal constitution.

Whether or not the shooting war began with an unprovoked attack by the Tigrayan militia on the federal army’s base in Mekelle at the start of last month, as Abiy’s spokesmen claim, it was bound to end up here. All Tigray’s cities have now been taken by federal troops, but almost none of the rural areas.

This could be a brilliant victory for the federal troops that puts a swift end to the fighting. It’s more likely to be the result of a decision by the TPLF leadership to skip the conventional battles they were almost bound to lose, and go straight to the long and bloody guerilla war that they might eventually win.

That would mean secession, in the end, for they can never win power back in Addis Ababa. The risk is that if the war goes on long enough, other major ethnic groups may break away from Ethiopia as well. Abiy’s loosening of the tight centralised control that prevailed under the emperor, the Derg and the TPLF has already unleashed ethnic and sectarian violence that has rendered 2 million Ethiopians homeless.

Abiy recently got a PhD in peace and security studies from Addis Ababa University, but he’ll be concentrating on the ‘security’ part for the foreseeable future.



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Safety Equipment and Procedures and Exploding Fire Extinguishes



by Capt. G A Fernando MBA

RCyAF, SLAF, Air Ceylon, Air Lanka, SIA, SriLankan Airlines

Former SEP instructor/ Examiner Air Lanka

By law the Regulator Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL) requires all Airline Crew to annually undergo continuous training and achieving proficiency in Safety Equipment and Procedures (SEP). At the end of the training, also answer a written examination to prove to all and sundry that the particular Flight Crew Member has sufficient SEP knowledge to continue serving in the Cabin or Flight Deck of that Airline, for another year. The SEP questions were relatively easy (no tricks) but each crew member had to score over 80% and carry out mandatory, practical proficiency tests such as operation of aircraft doors and Emergency exits, conduct evacuations, Life Raft operations (in the swimming pool), know the location and use of emergency equipment such as megaphones, Crash Axes, Asbestos Gloves, Emergency Locater Transmitters (ELT’s), the administration of Oxygen, First Aid and use of equipment such as smoke hoods and fire extinguishers to combat Cabin smoke and Fires, The airline is usually delegated to carry out these duties and functions at the behest of the Civil Aviation Authority.

The first year after Air Lanka was established (September 1979), crew members had to go to Singapore Airlines or get the instructors across to Colombo to carry out these checks on behalf of Air Lanka. After about the second year of existence, it was decided that a team SEP instructors/ examiners would be appointed ‘in house’ to carry out this training and mandatory checks. Three of us from the ‘Flight Deck’ crew were appointed to the team. They were First Officer Elmo Jayawardene, Flight Engineer Gerrard Jansz and yours truly. We had, had some experience in crew SEP training in Air Ceylon.

We were sent to the British Airways (BA) Flight Training (Cranebank), UK, during our regular stay overs in London, to undergo refresher training, so that we could incorporate some of the BA curricula in our own (Air Lanka) programs. The then Air Lanka Manager Operations had been an ex BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) Captain. As a direct result of our visit to BA, the then airline doctor (Dr Mrs Sherene Wilathgamuwa) was inducted to the SEP team to lecture the ‘troops’ on not only First Aid but also on delivering babies, with limited facilities on board!  I believe that this information has been extremely useful many times during the last 40 years of Air Lanka. This was not taught to us in Air Ceylon. The training curriculum was developed by the SEP team.  

The early days of Air Lanka wasn’t easy. While an operational profit was made, the ‘debt servicing’ put an unbearable strain on the overall profitability. We had neither a designated training department nor proper equipment. Our ‘wet drill’ constituted jumping into the pool in shirts and trousers for the boys and ‘made up’ Sarees without the ‘fall’ for the Girls, wearing life jackets of course. Initially the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) Katunayake pool was used and subsequently the pools of the two hotels down Katunayake airport road were used till Air Lanka got its own pool. We didn’t even have a permanently deployed Slide/ Raft either for teaching purposes. It all cost money. I was the Instructor in charge of the ‘wet drill’. In contrast SIA I worked for subsequently, had a pool with a ‘wave maker’ to give a realistic experience. There was no doubt Air Lanka at that point of time was ‘pinching pennies’ where crew SEP training was concerned.

To provide fire fighting experience to the Flight Crews we were forced to use regular Industrial Fire Extinguishing equipment to keep the costs down. That was acceptable since the basic fire fighting principles were the same. The fire fighting part of the training was carried out by the Ground Safety Section Instructors who were mainly ex SLAF types. A few months before, Lalantha one of the Chief Stewards was practicing the use of a Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguisher on a fire and the extinguisher exploded and flew off his hand, narrowly missing Leone who was just behind him. The on-board extinguishers were much smaller, lighter and more manageable than the industrial ones. A complaint was filed by me, but treated by the ‘Management’ as a one off case! It seemed as if one swallow doesn’t make a summer!  The extinguisher had been certified as serviced. The Administrative Executive in charge of SEP those days was a young man who had a degree in Marine Biology and perhaps was clueless on safety issues and couldn’t champion our cause.  We were all part time Instructors.

The annual recurrent training programme took two days. On one particular day, Chief Stewardess Jayantha and I were the instructors in charge. When it came to the Fire Fighting exercise, we handed over students of our class to the Air Lanka Ground Instructors and proceeded to the parking apron (opposite the Terminal Building), to check out a Lockheed L1011 ‘Tri-Star’ aircraft which was newly leased, by Air Lanka. It was a pre-owned, aircraft that had arrived the day before. Unfortunately, the locations of and the make of emergency equipment in the same type of aircraft (L-1011) differed from airline to airline. Therefore in the name of air safety and standardisation, it was important to resolve matters before the said aircraft saw service on the line on regular revenue flight services. It was a big deal as all Flight Crew had to know by memory as to where the specific locations of safety equipment were, so that when a ‘push’ came to a ‘shove’, no time would be wasted by the crew members involved, looking for these essential items. It could be a matter of life and death.

 I was not too happy sending the participant boys and girls by themselves for fire fighting and had an uneasy feeling. On other hand, our task too was also extremely important. So it was a case of ‘risk management’ and gave in. 

While we were checking out the new addition to our L 1011 Tri-Star fleet, we received a frantic message saying that another water type extinguisher had exploded and the injured had been removed to the Air Force Hospital across the runway to the Northern side.

Jayantha and I rushed to the SLAF Base Hospital in her ‘Mini -moke’ the long way around, up the Airport Road and via the 20th milepost main entrance along the Negombo road and found two crew members injured and in shock. Steward Senaka who had got the wheel shaped handle smack on his face, had injuries in the same shape and Naomal too had some minor injuries. We were assured by the Air Force doctor, Dr Narmasena Wickremasinghe that injuries were not too serious. We stayed there till the arrival of the next of kin who had been informed and went back to Office to meet Mr Wilmot Jayewardena, the Air Lanka Senior Manager Inflight Services.

When Jayantha and I sheepishly walked into his office he gave us the silent treatment initially and then softly declared that being responsible for the wellbeing of the participants, at least one of us Instructors should have been present when fire fighting was going on, even under the supervision of the Ground Safety Instructors. We accepted our mistake and defused the situation. When I look back now I am amazed as to how we coped with such limited resources to keep the National Carrier going. Safety Experts today, recommend that during risky activity, we should trust our ‘gut feeling’. It is usually correct as there is a connection between the brain and the gut resulting in feelings like ‘butterflies’ in the stomach. Needless to say the lesson was learnt.  

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