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Musical Chairs – The Supreme Court of the USA

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by Vijaya Chanderasoma

According to Article III Section 1 of the United States Constitution, “The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in the Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”

The first Congress of the United States established a Supreme Court with six Justices in 1789. Supreme Court Justices enjoyed lifetime tenure then, as they do now. The Constitution empowers Congress to determine the number of sitting Justices, according to prevailing exigencies of the nation. The number of Justices on the Supreme Court changed six times before Congress settled on the present total of nine in 1869.

The framers of the Constitution expected that the Supreme Court be an independent body, composed of Justices who will interpret and adjudicate on any case before them according to the Constitution and the merits of the case. In short, the Supreme Court is not expected to make the law, it is supposed to interpret and adjudicate the law.

Unfortunately, the modern Supreme Court is not the independent, non-partisan body envisioned by the framers of the Constitution. It reflects the policies and values of the president in power at the time a vacancy occurred. So the composition of the Court depends, at any given time, on a game rather like Musical Chairs, where the incumbent president will appoint to the Court a Justice receptive to his political philosophy when the music stops at the death, impeachment or resignation of a sitting justice.

The music stopped last month when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a progressive Justice appointed by President Clinton in 1993, died after 27 years of distinguished service. President Trump gleefully nominated a Justice who is undoubtedly well-qualified and, more importantly, is in harmony with the radical right-wing values of the Republican Party.

It has long become a tradition, even a decree, for a sitting president to appoint Justices who are faithful to the values of his own party, and expect that those appointed will conform to party lines, conservative or progressive, in the future. While the tenure of the appointing president is restricted to two terms, Justices, appointed with lifetime tenure as they are, are not so constrained. Therein lies the anomaly that has plagued the independence of the Court in recent times.

Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings before the Senate judiciary committee began on Monday, October 12, with the Republican controlled Senate hell bent on having Barrett confirmed before the election, and packing the Court with a right-wing majority which will endure during the next generation.

Republicans are using the Supreme Court not to benefit the future of the country but to ensure the survival of their party. The final confirmation vote of Judge Barrett, the result of which is already a foregone conclusion, will be scheduled for the week of October 26, well before Election Day on November 3.

Judge Barrett is an ultra-conservative jurist. She is a “handmaid” (a high ranking female leader) of a cult-like religious community, People of Praise, a Christian organization which opposes abortion, and holds that “men are divinely ordained as the ‘head’ of both the family and faith, while it is the duty of wives to obey them.” She endorses Originalism, “the judicial interpretation of the Constitution which aims to follow closely the original intentions of those who drafted it”.

Originalism demands a strict interpretation of the original Constitution which denies the inexorable progress of societal norms. If this principle is to be taken seriously, we would live in a very different society, one in which segregated schools under the law and governmental discrimination against women, gays and lesbians would be permissible; where a black man would be worth 3/5ths of a white man, and a woman of any color worthless.

Describing her legal principles, Barrett said in her opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee: “As a judge on the Seventh Circuit, I have carefully considered the arguments presented by the parties, discussed the issues with my colleagues on the court, and done my utmost to reach the result required by the law, whatever my own preferences might be.”

Judge Barrett has refused to answer hot button issues, posed by Democratic Senators and Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris, throughout the Senate hearing. She protested vehemently that she has no political agenda, and denied she had been subjected to any political pressure by the President on her rulings on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which will be the first case she will hear after her appointment, or on any other issue. She stated that the opinions contained in her papers and opinions in the past, which expressed her strong objections to Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling of 1973 guaranteeing women’s right to reproductive freedom, and Obamacare, will in no way influence her rulings in the future.

Senator Feinstein pointed out that when Trump announced her nomination, he said that “the elimination of the Affordable Care Act would be a big win for the American people”, both in the short term and for decades to come. A “win” that would strip tens of millions of Americans of their healthcare insurance cover with a fast-approaching, cold, hard winter, in the throes of a pandemic showing no signs of abatement.

Responding to Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris via teleconference, Barrett made the incredible claim that she was not aware of the Trump campaign promise that he would nominate to the Court a Justice committed to repeal Obamacare. Her response: “I do not recall”. Trump’s anti Obamacare tweets have been, over the years, as self-serving as they have been numerous.

Trump has repeatedly lied that he has a replacement healthcare plan which will be immediately available after the repeal of Obamacare. This so-called “new plan” has been as diligently guarded as Trump’s tax returns. The difference being that Trump’s tax returns do exist and will not be divulged because they will incriminate the president and land him in prison, while a replacement healthcare plan exists only in Trump’s alternative universe.

Barrett concealed her virulent anti-abortion beliefs from the Senate Judiciary Committee in a questionnaire she completed before her confirmation hearings. She has also paved the way at the Senate hearing to repeal Roe v. Wade on the grounds that the 1973 ruling was not settled law, not a “super precedent” and so subject to challenge.

Barrett also maintained that she will make any decisions on potential disputes in the upcoming elections based on the facts of each case, and not on political grounds or presidential pressure.

Of course, every Justice, on nomination to the Court by Republican or Democratic presidents, swear that they will maintain their judicial independence during their tenure; that they will not be swayed by political pressure on the outcome of any case brought before them. And then every one of these Justices, Republican and Democrat, proceed blithely to base their rulings on political and party lines on the cases before them. Everyone knows that they have been appointed precisely because of their complicity of laws/rules dear to the appointing president. Barrett is no exception. She is a prime example of the sycophancy currently demanded of Supreme Court Justices.

Barrett will join the two other Trump Supreme Court stooges, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, in impeding laws on gun control (Barrett is a darling of the National Rifle Association – the gun lobby), climate change, LGBTQ rights, the minimum wage, compassionate immigration reforms (sans caged children!), social and economic justice, and a host of other progressive, democratic socialist measures becoming increasingly popular, especially with the younger generation of Americans.

Most importantly, Trump needs a packed Court which will rule on his behalf on any cases he will bring in the event of a disputed 2020 presidential election, in the certain knowledge that a captive Supreme Court will gift him a disputed or even a lost election, a la Al Gore in 2000. In fact, Trump and McConnell are getting this confirmation approved at warp speed with this very purpose in mind.

The Biden/Harris ticket has studiously sidestepped responding to questions about changing the composition of the Court. However, packing the Court with Justices of independence and integrity may be the only path available to the Democrats to mitigate the deleterious effects of a partisan Republican judiciary for decades to come; and to combat an impending threat to a return to a pre-FDR America, Jim Crow, depression and all.

 

After all, Mitch McConnell packed the Court when he denied President Obama’s nominee for the Court, Merrick Garland, even a Senate hearing, even though the nomination was made a full eight months before the end of Obama’s term in 2016. While McConnell is rushing the nomination of Barrett even while a presidential election is in progress.

Trouble is, Democrats will have to win the presidency, flip the Senate and keep the House if they are to seize the power to address the existing inequalities in the Supreme Court. Not an unlikely scenario, given the evidence of current polls.

However, the real test would be to overcome fraudulent efforts by the Republicans to nullify/falsify election results, to legally/forcibly extricate Trump from the White House on his likely defeat, and to mitigate post-election violence which will inevitably follow a Trump defeat.

On an unrelated note, during the Senate hearings, when fatalities caused by a raging Covid19 reached 215,000, with up to 1000+ Americans dying every day, and 30 million Americans unemployed with no prospect of government relief, President Trump was dancing to the music of the Village People classic YMCA at a “super-spreader” campaign rally in Florida.



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Pernicious, ubiquitous strikes

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Railway strike

Local news on most TV channels is almost wholly about on-going strikes and preparations plus controversy on the to-be-held presidential election come October.

Political news is centered on this election. Chief protagonist, the present Prez, has said the election will be held at the correct time this year. UNP side-kicks and a maverick have countered this by saying it need not be held since at the present juncture it is best to postpone change by two years. The present incumbent has a further one year to serve according to the Constitution said the bright spark, who filed an application in the Supreme Court was roundly dismissed by it, with an implied but unsaid upbraiding for wasting the time of the Apex Court.

People surmised filing a case was with the approval of the Prez or his Secretariat if not actual promotion, but RW dismissed that suspicion; “I firmly believe that the President’s term is five years, and I support the Election Commission’s steps to hold the Presidential Election in 2024.”  So there! Three cheers! The Prez is on the side of the people who want an election. It is correct constitutionally too.

Political platforms are raucous with praise of their chosen candidates, with photographs of VIPs who have recently changed loyalties in the forefront, some giving shocks to viewers. They seem to have turned 180 degrees or even 360, now championing a candidate they tore into with sharp barbs of ridicule and criticism. To serve themselves to continue in the most lucrative job in the island, they will turn cartwheels and leapfrog from one party to another. Such are most visible in the meetings held to promote Ranil W, as our next president.

Karadara kara strikes

Strikes of varied nature and kinds are rampant so much so that half the time news is telecast we see crowds marching or standing around with police facing them. These strikers are three quarter responsible for the chaos the country is in at this juncture when all should be contributing their might to pull the country out of the morass it was pushed into by its leaders. Cass has so many epithets to express her revulsion at these spectacles that are a shame to the country at large. Don’t those sick note presenters, continuously striking non academics, utterly disgraceful and unethical, nay immoral, teachers know the country is still in the economic doldrums and unless everyone pulls his/her weight we will remain down in the sludge of bankruptcy, notwithstanding IMF assistance and nations having shown leniency in our debt restricting process.

The trade unions demand monthly increases of Rs 25,000 and even more. Don’t they have an iota of sensibility in them to know this is no time for strikes whose demands cannot be met and the strikes making worse the parlous state of the country with lost man hours? Many a striker deliberately loses man hours of work when  supposedly working in their jobs: teachers sit chatting in staff rooms, tea breaks are more than an hour long; leave is taken at their whim and fancy, never mind completion of syllabuses or school exams; least of all consideration of the students in their hands.

Cass heard of students who had completed their university degrees not being able to get their certificates due to the prolonged strike of non-academic staff. Thus, employment and even accepting scholarships from overseas universities have been thwarted.

Train strikes came unannounced. Wednesday morning Cass received a call from weekly domestic help: “No trains running and so I cannot come.” She was expecting very urgent financial help. She wakes up on these days of work at 4.00 am; cooks for her family; walks a mile; boards the train and is in my flat at 7.30 am sharp. Now she is never sure whether she will have to turn back with no trains running. When health sector workers strike, and even doctors of the recent past have resorted to this deplorable ruse, it is a matter of life or death to some. A person called Mudalige was seen smilingly distributing leaflets while protest marching, the cause of which Cass could not catch nor fathom. He thinks himself a saviour; he is a destroyer.

A silver lining appeared. Cass watched on TV news Prez Ranil chairing a meeting with financial secretaries. They expressed their opinion strongly and clearly that salary increases were impossible to give and money printing was now taboo with the IMF overseeing matters financially. And the Prez concluded that it was not possible to give in to strikers. That gladdened the heart immensely. We hope he will be of the same opinion regarding MPs’ demand for tax free luxury limos and life-long insurance for them and theirs in addition to the pensions they now receive after just five years of warming comfortable chairs in the Chamber.

The Editor of The Island of Wednesday July 10, has in his style of sharp and spot-on comment, criticism, blame laying and solutions to be taken dealt with this common bane of Sri Lankan existence. (We don’t ‘live’ now, the word connoting security, justified happiness and fairness to all; rather do we merely exist). He writes under the title Strikes, demand and harsh reality and points out the fact that there are about 1.5 million public employees, working out to about one state worker for every 14 citizens. Preposterous! Only possible in SL, a land like no other where politicians and their chits are to be mostly blamed for this imbalance. Culling or weaning of public servants should be started. Then strikers will not go by instigators of strikes who plan to destabilize the country, but cling to their paying jobs.

How the Iron Lady broke the back of strikes

Cass recollected how newly appointed Conservative PM, Margaret Thatcher, manoeuvered to stop strikes of coal miners and earned the hypocoristic of ‘Iron Lady’.

Cass surfed the Internet to refresh her memory. In 1884 –85, UK coal miners’ strike was a major industrial action in an attempt to stop closure of pits that the government deemed uneconomic; the coal industry having been nationalised in 1947. Arthur Scargill was a name remembered as instigator and leader of strike action. Some minors worked and so, starting in Yorkshire and Midland, the back of the year long strike was shaken and the Conservative government went to work and allowed closure of most British collieries.  Margaret Thatcher was credited with breaking up the ‘most bitter industrial dispute in British history.’ The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) strategy was to cause a severe energy shortage that had won victory in the 1972 strike. Thatcher’s strategy was to build ample stocks of coal; to retain as many minors as possible; and to get the police to break up strikes, which were ruled illegal in September 1984; they ended a year later. Miners suffered but the country gained.

It was heartening to hear that the railway has been made an essential service. Station masters said they would go on striking. Drastic measures have to be adopted to stop such anti-national activities.

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Why human capital development is essential for Sri Lanka

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by S. D. Gamini Jayasooriya
Wayamba University
gaminij2025@gmail.com


The development of human capital is of immense importance for the economic development of Sri Lanka. Thus, investing in education and skills training raises the overall productivity and effectiveness of personnel, spurring innovation and economic growth. Analysing the current situation in Sri Lanka, human capital development can be seen to be of particular importance for creating a competitive economy.

Levels of Human Capital Development

Human capital development in Sri Lanka can be categorised into three main levels: school-leaving level, higher education, and tertiary levels.

School Level: The primary and secondary level of education are indispensable at the basic level. Promoting quality education for children creates a pool of educated human capital in society. Special attention should be paid to raising the level of education, revising curricula, and integrating the use of new technologies in education processes.

Higher Education: In particular, specific skills and knowledge are cultivated at universities and colleges. Improving funding, research and industry linkages in higher education institutions help to produce ready-made graduates to suit the global market demand.

Tertiary Level: Vocational training and technical education are crucial in preparation of people for the job market with relevant skills. Thus, increasing and enhancing vocational training centers would provide solutions for skill deficiencies in different sectors, making the population fit for the actual needs of the economy.

Sri Lankan Labor Market Overview 2023

The Sri Lankan labor market in 2023 has strengths and weaknesses as discussed below. Currently, unemployment trends are still elevated, especially within the youth bracket, while skills supply does not match the skills demand in the market. There is a lack of qualified workers in a number of fields including the IT, healthcare, and manufacturing industries.

A major part of the population is engaged in the informal economy and most of them may be in the low wage employment. This state of affairs requires proper human capital development policies and the enhancement of skill and formalization of the labor market.

Importance of a Skilled Workforce in Economic Development

Skilled workforce is one of the prerequisites for developing the economy of a particular country. Employment of specialized personnel leads to increased output, creativity, and effectiveness in many sectors. They can respond better to innovations in technology and fluctuations in the market thus promoting more economic growth and competition.

Human capital is also an element that enriches the stream of foreign investment. They are likely to be established in places where human capital is readily available to them in terms of skills. This can lead to the generation of employment, technology distribution and enhancement of the economy on a whole.

Recommendations

To enhance human capital development in Sri Lanka, several strategies should be implemented:

1. Improve Educational Infrastructure: Make sure that there is infrastructure development in schools, adequate provision for the needy student, and teachers are in a position to teach.

2. Strengthen Higher Education: Encourage partnerships between universities and industries to ensure the delivered curricula align with the market needs. Contribute towards the improvement of research and development.

3. Expand Vocational Training: Increase the number of vocational training centers and adjust the offered programs to suit the current employment market. Promote the actualization of vocational education as a worthwhile career.

4. Promote Lifelong Learning: Encourage continued learning through offered adult education and online classes.

5. Government and Private Sector Collaboration: Encourage government and private sector to work together and identify the areas that require skills and come up with relevant training needs.

Conclusion

That is why human capital investment must become a priority in Sri Lanka. Investing in education and skills training of the people at all levels will enable the development of a competent and versatile human resource pool. This will help spur economic development, encourage foreign direct investment, and build a stronger and more competitive economy. It is for this reason that the management of human capital should be done strategically to foster the future growth and stability of Sri Lanka.

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Sixty-five years after entry to university of Ceylon, Peradeniya

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University of Peradeniya

by HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

It was sixty five years ago, and that is very long time ago, on 29 June 1959 that a batch of 378 students from all parts of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) entered the portals of the most beautiful university at that time, the University of Ceylon, situated in the salubrious surroundings in Peradeniya, just four miles from the historic city of Kandy, after having successfully passed the then University Entrance examination conducted by the university itself, to read for our varied degrees in Arts, Oriental Languages, Law, etc.

The atmosphere was filled with excitement and sometimes with dismal and gloomy feelings, varied feelings produced from a sense of uncertainty and new-found freedom. The drive through the campus from the Galaha Road junction through the picturesque setting, well maintained lawns and well-laid out flower beds (Sir Ivor Jennings and Mr. Shirley De Alwis together had done the selection of the trees and shrubs very meticulously to bring out the blending of colours), the imposing architectural marvels of Jayathilaka and Arunachalam Halls, the Arts Theatre, the Senate building, and Hilda Obeysekera Hall and the tree sheltered kissing bend and up the winding road to Marcus Fernando Hall( Mr. Shirley De Alwis had planned out the general scheme, landscaping which was his favourite and all other details), brought thoughts to one’s mind which were mixed with perplexity, bewilderment and abandonment. One was entering a make-believe land, very artificial but, at the same time, very fascinating.

There were two significant things in respect of our batch of 1959. Ours was the last all- English medium batch to enter the university. The second important thing is our batch was the first batch where all the students were admitted directly without a viva voce, as up to the previous batch the students were selected both directly and some after facing a viva voce.

Though sixty-five years have gone by, we have not forgotten the best experience we had during the three or four years we spent in the beautiful campus. It is sad that many of our batch mates are not with us now having left us and moved into another world and not being with us to reminisce the glorious time we spent as residential undergraduates.

To all those who entered the Peradeniya campus before us and to our batch, that university will remain in our minds as the one and only university in then Ceylon as the University of Ceylon, which had been established by the Ordinance No. 20 of 1942 and situated in Colombo. It was in the early nineteen fifties that the campus of the University of Ceylon was established in Peradeniya.

The single university continued until 1959. It was only in 1959 that two other universities were created, namely the Vidyodaya University (now known as the University of Sri Jayewardenepura) and the Vidyalankara University (now known as the University of Kelaniya) which were established by the Vidyodaya University and Vidyalankara University Act No. 45 of 1958.These two universities were created by upgrading the two famous Pirivenas (Vidyodaya and Vidyalanakara) that were functioning at that time.

That period we spent at Peradeniya was one of the most unforgettable periods of our lives. The friendships that we cultivated while in Peradeniya remain and will not be erased from our minds.

It would be of interest to those who followed us much later to read for their degrees how the undergraduates were selected in our time. We sat the University Entrance examination conducted by the University of Ceylon in four centres, namely, Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna and Galle with the Department of Examinations having nothing to do with it. Thank God! However, if any candidate wanted to obtain the Higher School Certificate (HSC) such candidate had to sit the extra paper at the same examination and if successful received the HSC certificate from the Department of Education.

The results of the examination were not sent either to the schools or the candidates’ homes. The results were published in the daily newspapers. As such, the results of our batch were published in the The Ceylon Daily News of Wednesday March 11, 1959. Thereafter, after a lapse of a certain period of time, the successful candidates received letters from the university informing of the date of commencement of sessions of the academic year, the Hall of residence allotted and the date to report at the allotted Hall.

There was also a document indicating what we had to take, such as a raincoat and cape, etc. and the things that should not be done in which there was one item which stated that ceiling walking was prohibited. This was a little puzzling to us, but we understood what it meant later when we were on the campus. All undergraduates who were privileged to be in Peradeniya at the commencement of the campus and may be about four batches after ours had the best of time in a university in Sri Lanka.

During that time all undergraduates resided in the halls of residence throughout their undergraduate carrier, even if a person’s residence was abutting the campus premises. All those who entered from schools in and around Kandy could have easily travelled from home. But the university rules and regulations did not permit us to do so. Anyway, when reminiscing, we think that it was good that all had to be resident within the campus as we would never have got that experience otherwise.

On the occasion of the EFC Ludowyke Centenary at Peradeniya in 2006, Prof. Yasmin Gooneratne, a distinguished alumnus stated thus:

“Of the terms most frequently heard in connection with the life that we experienced there, one is “A Golden Age”’ another is “Arcadia”. 2It was a magical time” says one classmate.” It was idyllic” says another. Our companions-some of them husbands, wives, or children who did not share the Peradeniya experience, and who now have to hear us talk about it ad infinitum, look skeptical. They don’t believe us.”

“Peradeniya? Three years in Paradise” a classmate said once. “And at the end of it, they even gave us a degree”

“It was as if all the intellectual brilliance in our country had been concentrated in one spot. If the university had been a stage, we students would have been witnesses to the performances of a stellar cast”

During our time in Peradeniya the halls of residence for males were Arunachalam, Jayathilaka, Marrs, Ramanathan and Marcus Fernando. The female undergraduates had as their halls, James Peiris, Sangamitta and Hilda Obeysekera (with Mrs. Cooke, Dr. (Mrs.) Ram Aluvihare and Miss Mathiaparanam as the respective Wardens). During our final year in 1961-62(third year in the case of those who had opted to do a special degree course), a new hall was opened, which had been named after D.R. Wijewardena close to the Kandy-Colombo railway line. With this building being opened, there was a change in respect of occupants of some halls. Ramanathan was converted into a women’s hall and James Peris was made a hall for male undergraduates. The newly opened Wijewardena Hall became a men’s hall. With this change, the male undergraduates who were in Ramanathan Hall were transferred to James Peiris and Wijewardena Halls. (To be continued)

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