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Continuing Dangers to American Democracy

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

Those who cast the vote count for nothing, those who count the votes count for everything. – Joseph Stalin

The Republican Party of America has, almost unanimously, decided to entrust the leadership of the Party to a former defeated president and his cult. A cult whose members have been persuaded not to believe facts and evidence right before their own eyes; who still believe in the Big Lie of a stolen election; and most ridiculously, that the insurrection of January 6 was carried out, not by Trump supporters, but by Democratic Antifa and Black Lives Matter sheep in Trump wolves’ clothing.

An insurrection in which the mob carried Trump banners, Confederate flags, with even one sick Nazi rioter, wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt. The sweat shirt contained the slogan “Work Brings Freedom”, in apparent homage to the German saying “árbeit macht frei” which was emblazoned at the gates of Auschwitz, the most infamous of Hitler’s death camps in pre-World War II Germany.

Over 700 of those domestic terrorists have already been arrested and imprisoned. Many have stated in their defence that they were assembled in Washington, D.C. on that fateful day by Trump. They had been incited by a defeated president to wage war against the government of the United States. The government represented by members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Republican and Democrat, who had assembled in the Capitol to fulfil their formal, constitutional duty of certifying the election of President-elect Joe Biden. These insurrectionists have been charged with minor felonies, and have received mainly very light punishments.

The stakes were raised last week when Attorney General Merrick Garland arrested 11 rioters of the Trump cult, the “Oathkeepers”, leaders behind the insurrection, on charges of “seditious conspiracy”. Garland stressed that the investigation of the Department of Justice had just begun and will persist, wherever it leads, however high or low, as long as it takes.

“Seditious Conspiracy”, according to Wikipedia, is defined as follows:

“If two or more persons in any state or territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

“For a seditious conspiracy charge to be effected, a crime need only to be planned. It need not be actually attempted.”

Would it be possible to define the insurrection of January 6 with more accuracy?

However, leaders of the Republican Party, including Kevin McCarthy, minority leader of the House, whose own life was threatened, and was heard pleading with Trump to call off his dogs of war during the attack on the Capitol, has refused to testify before the legally convened, bipartisan Committee to inquire into the seditious attack on the government on January 6. A subsequent McCarthy speech in the House, a week after the insurrection, recognizing Trump’s responsibility in the coup, has now been covered up. The refusal of Trump loyalists to testify before the January 6 Committee, even at the risk of facing charges of criminal contempt and imprisonment, is clear evidence of Trump’s leadership role in the seditious attack on the government.

Trump himself boasted during a recent interview with a branch of the Radical Right propaganda network, One America News (OAN), that his “Stop the Steal” speech at the Ellipse just ahead of the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was “the biggest crowd I’ve spoken before”. In this speech, he incited his minions to march towards the Capitol and “fight like hell”; that they would lose their country if they did not do so. In his ignorance and his colossal ego, Trump did not seem to realize that this boast was a public admission that his supporters were responsible for the attack.

I had really not been too interested in American politics, even after I emigrated to the United States in 1990. Like everyone in the world, I had followed the racial tensions in the US before the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Vietnam war, the Moon Landing, the Nixon scandal were front page news, which held global attention. The Reagan presidency of the 1980s, which has ultimately proved to be a bigger disaster than Watergate in economic terms, interested me only because of Nancy Reagan’s White House affair with Frank Sinatra.

My contempt for the Republican Party began with the Bush/Cheney administration and the illegal war against Iraq. I worked in the lowest capacity in the Obama campaign in Phoenix, Arizona in 2008, doing vital jobs like licking stamps and answering phones in my heavy Sri Lankan accent.

I was in political heaven when Obama won the American presidency, and really believed the then-host of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart, who completed his post-election show in 2008 with the statement that “we have at last become the nation we always said we were”. A statement which has since been proved by the Trump presidency and administration to be the complete antithesis of the truth. We have now become the nation we were before the Civil War, on the cusp of another, even more violent civil war, threatening the oldest democracy in the world.

I had retired to Sri Lanka after the war in 2009. I had always enjoyed writing, and started writing essays, for my own pleasure, during the Trump campaign in 2016. I submitted one of these essays to the Sunday Island. It was published, and as Shashi Tharoor, the renowned Indian orator and politician puts it, “I can tell you seeing your name in print as the author of an article the first time is the equivalent of that first bar of chocolate or whatever you are addicted to……the first time you see your name in print, you are addicted, and you want to keep writing”. This is true, whether you are a world renowned writer and orator who had his first articles in print when he was 10-years old, or a mediocre, wannabe journalist who had his first article published when he was 75-years old.

So I kept writing, which became easier as my hatred against Trump and his white supremacist tribe grew to be an obsession with each passing month, with each act of criminal incompetence, with each example of fraudulent nepotism and vulgarity, after 2016. Hatred blending with fear, reaching a crescendo with the Trump-incited insurrection of January 6, and the continuing sycophantic behaviour of the Trump cult. A cult which has strong claims of winning a majority in both Houses in the mid-terms of 2022, culminating in the winning of the 2024 presidency, thus permanently destroying democracy in the USA.

Permanently, because Republican states are already enacting laws to make voting more difficult for minorities, voter suppression laws which a new Republican administration will consolidate from 2024. Kevin McCarthy said the other day that, as Speaker of the House from 2022, his only actions would be blocking all Democratic legislation and retaliating against Democrats who had acted against Trump. And once the Republicans claim the presidency with Trump, Desantis or any of those white supremacist presidential aspirants in 2024, the Republican controlled Congress will ensure that there will never be another free election.

I can understand the Radical Right, Christian white supremacists, who are taking this route to contain their white privilege against the approaching Brown Invasion. It is predicted that whites in the USA will be in the minority by 2050, which means, in the eyes of white supremacists, the end of white privilege which has dominated the country for 400+ years. The current Republican Draconian voter suppression laws are aimed at marginalizing voting rights of these minorities.

I can understand these movements of white supremacy spreading in Europe. Countries like France, Germany and Italy are also facing this monster, and their history of racism and anti-Semitism is recent enough for white supremacy to present a real threat to their democracies.

I can even understand the support of conservatives in the USA defending Republican policies, who eschew the idea of a welfare state, which they equate with communism. Even though the greatest Republican president since WWII, Eisenhower, continued with the New Deal social security and welfare policies of Roosevelt. During Eisenhower’s regime, taxation rates for corporations and the wealthy were in the 90%s, which made for a thriving middle class.

A middle class destroyed by successive Republican administrations which reduced these tax rates to 39% (Reagan), 29% (Bush) and Trump (21%). Republican majorities in Congress have thwarted all efforts by subsequent Democratic presidents to increase corporate and wealth tax rates, and so reduce the deepening chasm in income inequality. Efforts by the Biden administration to increase these tax rates by a few percentage points have been blocked in spite of a Democratic majority (50/50) in the Senate, because of opposition by two Democratic Senators from battleground states, Arizona and West Virginia. Democratic Senators Sinema and Manchin are more concerned about securing their own re-election than the welfare of the country. They are also blocking Biden’s signature Build Back Better infrastructure legislation and the Voting Rights Act.

But I cannot understand the mind-set of brown skinned minorities, including Sri Lankans in the United States and Sri Lanka, from the lower middle classes to highly educated professionals, who support a cult completely controlled by the most vulgar, incompetent, narcissistic, fraudulent, treasonous, white supremacist sociopath this planet has seen since Adolph Hitler. A maniac who would classify them as sub-human as Hitler classified Jews, however rich they are; a racist who would undoubtedly classify our nation as a shithole country.

It will take me too much time to list examples proving each of the adjectives I have used to describe this crook. But I will, if required. If these wannabe whites can only get their eyes and asses out of radical right controlled media like Fox News and the One America Network (OAN) for a moment, they will see the truth, even urgency, of my abuse, and recognize the clear and present danger this movement presents to the oldest democracy in the world.

But they won’t and they can’t. Trump reigns supreme in their blinkered eyes and cult-addled brains. I have been writing of the imminent danger to the democracy of the United States posed by this sociopath and his white supremacist enablers in this column over the past few years. I would welcome one of these brown-skinned Trumpers to respond to my vitriol, and prove me wrong.

Again, they won’t because they can’t.



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Features

Scarcity, prices, hoarding and queuing

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By Usvatte-aratchi

We live in a scarcity economy and will do so well into 2024, past the next Presidential elections if it comes then; it may not. (The new minister may open bets.) All economies are scarcity economies; otherwise, there would be no prices. We also live in plentiful economies; look at the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris or San Francisco during day or night. Scarcity is a relative term, as most terms are. A scarcity economy is one where prices rise relentlessly, where cigarettes are more expensive in the evening than they were the same morning. Scarcity economies will have two or more sets of prices: one official, others in markets in varying shades of grey until black. Scarcity economies are where everyone (producers, traders, households) hoards commodities, hoards everything that can be hoarded, at reasonable cost. Scarcity economy is one where productivity is lower than it was earlier, where both labour and capital idle. Scarcity itself may push down productivity. Observe thousands of people standing in queues to buy all kinds of things whilst producing nothing. That is labour idling. Others hang on to dear life in crowded trains arriving in office late to leave early, to get to ill lit homes where to cook each evening they repeat what their ancestors did millions of years ago to light a fire. Money is one commodity that can be hoarded at little cost, if there was no inflation. The million rupees you had in your savings account in 2019 is now worth a mere 500,000, because prices have risen. That is how a government taxes you outside the law: debase the currency. In an inflation afflicted economy, hoarding money is a fool’s game.

The smart game to play is to borrow to the limit, a kind of dishoarding (- negative hoarding) money. You borrow ten million now and five years later you pay 500 million because the value of money has fallen. US dollars are scarce in this economy. It is hoarded where it can wait until its price in Sri Lanka rises. Some politicians who seem to have been schooled in corruption to perfection have them stored elsewhere, as we have learnt from revelations in the international press. Electricity is not hoarded in large quantities because it is expensive to hoard. Petrol is not hoarded very much in households because it evaporates fast and is highly flammable. That does not prevent vehicle owners from keeping their tanks full in contrast to the earlier practice when they had kept tanks half empty (full). Consequently, drivers now hoard twice as much fuel in their tanks as earlier. Until drivers feel relaxed as to when they get the next fill, there will be queues. That should also answer the conundrum of the minister for energy who daily sent out more bowser loads out than earlier, but queues did not shorten.

As an aside, it is necessary to note that the scarcity economy, which has been brought about by stupid policies 2019-2022, and massive thieving from 2005 is partly a consequence of the fall in total output (GDP) in the economy. Workers in queues do not produce. The capital they normally use in production (e.g. motor cars, machines that they would otherwise would have worked at) lie idle. Both capital and labour idle and deny their usual contribution to GDP. Agriculture, industries, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and construction all of which have been adversely affected in various ways contribute more than 75% of total GDP. Maha (winter crop) 2021-22, Yala (spring crop) 2022 and Maha 2022-23 and fishing are all likely to have yielded (and yield) poor harvests. Manufacturing including construction are victims of severe shortages in energy and imported inputs. Wholesale and retail trade which depend directly on imports of commodities have been hit by the sharp drop in imports. Tourism, which is more significant in providing employment and foreign exchange, collapsed dreadfully since late 2019 and has not recovered yet. About 16 percent of our labour force work in the public sector. They have failed to contribute to GDP because they did not engage in productive work due to variegated reasons. Teachers were on strike for two months in 2021. In 2022, so far government employees have worked off and on. Wages of government employees are counted as contributions to GDP, by those that make GDP estimates. However, here is an instance where labour was paid but there was no output equal to the value of those wages. Such payments are rightly counted as transfers and do not count to GDP. For these reasons estimates of GDP for 2021 must be well below the 2020 level. The 3.6 growth in official estimates is unlikely. The likely drop in 2022 will be roughly of the same magnitude as in 2021. These declines are not dissonant with misery one sees in towns and the countryside: empty supermarket shelves, scant supplies of produce in country fares, scarce fish supplies, buses idling in parks and roads empty of traffic. There have been warnings from our paediatricians as well as from international organisations of wasting and probable higher rates of child mortality. It is this sort of sharp fall in wellbeing that engenders the desperation driving young and ambitious people to obtain passports to seek a living overseas. You can see those from mezzo-America amassed on the southern border of US. Will our young men and women end up beyond the wall of China?

Of this lowered supply of goods and services, this society is expected to pay a massive accumulated foreign debt. (Remember the reparation payments in the Versailles Treaty). In real terms it will mean that we forego a part of our lower incomes. Do not miss this reality behind veils of jargon woven by financial analysts. It is not something that we have a choice about. That is where international help may kick in. Gotabaya Rajapaksa government after much senseless dilly dallying has started negotiations with the IMF. There is nobody compelling our government to seek support from IMF. They are free go elsewhere as some who recently were in their government still urge. Examine alternatives and hit upon an arrangement not because it permits the family grows richer but because it will make life for the average person a little less unbearable.

If prices are expected to rise people will seek resources to hoard: money to buy commodities, space and facilities to hoard, security services to protect the property and much more. Rice producers cannot hoard their product because animals large as elephants and small as rodents eat them up. Because of the unequal distribution of resources to hoard, the poor cannot hoard. In a scarcity economy, the poor cannot hoard and famines usually victimise the poor, first and most. If prices are expected to fall, stocks are dishoarded to the market and prices fall faster and deeper. In either direction, the rate at which prices change and the height/depth of the rise/fall depends on the speed at which expectations of change in prices take place. A largescale rice miller claims he can control the price of rice at a level that the government cannot. His success/failure will tell us the extent of his monopoly power.

When commodities are scarce, in the absence of a sensible system of coupons to regulate the distribution, consumers will form queues. A queue is rarely a straight here, nor a dog’s tail (queue, in French, is a dog’s tail which most often crooked). Assembled consumers stagnate, make puddles and sometimes spread out like the Ganges, with Meghna, disgorges itself to the Bay of Bengal. They sometimes swirl and make whirlpools and then there is trouble, occasionally serious. There is order in a queue that people make automatically. To break that order is somehow iniquitous in the human mind. That is why breaking the order in a queue is enraging. For a queue to be disobeyed by anyone is infuriating, and for a politician to do so now in this country is dangerously injurious to his physical wellbeing.

The first cause of rising prices, hoarding and queues is the scarcity of goods and services in relation to the income and savings in the hands of the people.

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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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