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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

Is it impossible to have hope?

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So, a woman has lost again to a man. I refer here to Matale District SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne having to concede her bid for Deputy Speaker of Parliament to some bod of the Pohottu Party, who, sad to say makes only a negative impression on Cass. Conversely, Kaviratne looks competent, capable, trustworthy, able to communicate and command, and most importantly speaks and conducts herself well balanced. So different from most of the MPs, particularly of the government side, who lack education, and in appearance and behaviour – decency. Please, take my word for the fact that I am not a party person. What I want in our representatives is education and decorum. And they should at least once in a while use their own heads and make decisions that are good for the country and not follow the leader through sheep like, sycophantic obedience. Of course, even more than this is self interest that prompts the way they act and decisions are taken, especially at voting times.

Rohini Kaviratne made a bold statement when, as Wednesday’s The Island noted, she told Parliament “the government was neither run by the President nor the Prime Minister but by a ‘crow.’” Utterly damning statement but totally believable. Deviousness as well as self-preservation is what motives action among most at the cost of even the entire country. And, of course, we know who the crow is – kaputu kak kak. Cass lacks words to express the contempt she feels for the black human kaputa, now apparently leading the family of kaputas. Why oh why does he not depart to his luxury nest in the US of A? No, he and his kith are the manifestation of Kuveni’s curse on the island. Strong condemnation, but justified.

You know Cass had a bold kaputa – the avian kind – coming to her balcony in front of her bedroom and cawing away this morning. Normally, she takes no notice, having developed sympathetic companionship towards these black birds as fellow creatures, after reading Elmo Jayawardena’s Kakiyan. She felt sorry for the crow who cawed to her because his name has been taken to epithet a politico who landed the entire country in such a mess. And he is bold enough to attend Parliament. Bravado in the face of detestation by the majority of Sri Lankans! Cass did not watch afternoon TV news but was told father and son, and probably elder brother and his son attended Parliamentary sessions today – Wednesday May 18. May their tribe decrease is the common prayer; may curses rain on them. Cass recognises the gravity of what she says, but reiterates it all.

I am sure Nihal Seneviratne, who recently and in 2019, shared with us readers his experiences in Parliament, moaned the fact that our legislature always lacked enough women representation. Now, he must be extra disappointed that political allegiance to a party deprived Sri Lanka of the chance of bringing to the forefront a capable woman. Women usually do better than men, judging by instances worldwide that show they are more honest and committed to country and society. The two examples of Heads of Government in our country were far from totally dedicated and commitment to country. But the first head did show allegiance to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in fair measure.

As my neighbour moaned recently: “They won’t allow an old person like me, after serving the country selflessly for long, to die in peace.” Heard of another woman in her late 80s needing medical treatment, mentally affected as she was with utter consternation at the state of the country. One wonders how long we can be resilient, beset on every side by dire problems. But our new Prime Minister was honest enough to voice his fears that we will have to go through much more hardship before life for all Sri Lankans improves.

Thus, my choice of pessimistic prediction as my title. Will we be able to hope for better times? Time will be taken but is it possible to have even a slight glimmer of hope for improvement?

There is much debate about the appointment of Ranil W as PM. We admire him for his knowledge and presence. But the greatest fear is he will defend wrong doers in the R family. Let him be wise, fair and put country before saving others’ skins. He has to be praised for taking on the responsibility of leading the country to solvency. He said he will see that every Sri Lankan has three meals a day. May all the devas help him! The SJB, though it refuses to serve under a R Prez, has offered itself to assist in rebuilding the nation. Eran, Harsha, and so many others must be given the chance to help turn poor wonderful Sri Lanka around. And the dedicated protestors, more so those in Gotagogama, still continue asking for changes in government. Bless them is all Cass can say at this moment.

Goodbye for another week. hoping things will turn less gloomy, if brightness is impossible as of now.

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Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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