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Putin’s invasion of Ukraine eclipses Biden’s first State of the Union Speech

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

The malevolent Russian invasion against Ukraine has had almost exclusive coverage in international, TV and social media. Though the Ukrainians have been fighting fiercely and bravely, it is only a matter of time before Russia’s superior force will subjugate Kiev, Mariupol and other major Ukrainian cities, many of which have already fallen and millions of innocent civilians, men, women and children, suffering intolerable deprivations.

History shows us that the aggression of nations with superior military force against weaker nations, aggression with motives of self-interest cloaked in sanctimonious hypocrisy, will initially meet with success. But in the fullness of time, they will fail, their greed and cruelty exposed to the world. A weaker nation, with its citizens continuing to fight for independence, its leaders willing to die for freedom, will always succeed. Many will die, incredible privations will be endured maybe for decades. But the ultimate rout of the aggressor is inevitable.

Ukraine and its President have shown this fearlessness in extraordinary abundance. In a recent video address to the British Parliament, exhibiting the epitome of defiance, President Zelensky echoed Winston Churchill’s famous speech at that august chamber on the evacuation of Dunkirk during WWII: We shall fight on the beaches …we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…we shall never surrender. He reiterated the determination of the Ukrainian people “to defend their motherland to the end” as the Russian invasion ends its second week of indiscriminate murder and mayhem. An invasion which has already compelled over two million Ukrainians to seek refuge in neighbouring countries like Poland and rendered at least one million more homeless and destitute. Lives and property destroyed in the most brutal invasion in Europe since WWII.

Zelensky’s inspired address was met with a standing ovation from the MPs and the Lords in the Palace of Westminster.

The vast range of financial and import sanctions imposed by the US and the EU against Russia, including personal sanctions against Putin and his billionaire oligarchs, while “they will damage the Russian economy, will not obliterate it”. Unfortunately, it is also likely that these harsh sanctions will make Putin, who cannot afford to lose this war, double down and escalate the violence against Ukraine, with no concern for civilian casualties. Russian targeting of schools, hospitals and churches, war crimes, have become routine. The more desperate Putin gets, the more likely he will threaten the use of chemical, biological, even nuclear weapons. And he may not be bluffing. His erratic behaviour of the past six months, his delusions of grandeur of regaining the glory of the old Soviet Empire, are causing psychiatric suspicions that he is unhinged and losing his mind.

Another real danger is China’s low-profile endorsement of Russian aggression.

If not for the invasion of Ukraine, President Biden’s first State of the Union Speech on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, six days after Russia invaded Ukraine, would have taken centre stage in international media.

For the first time in US history, two women, Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, second and third in line for the presidency, sat behind the President of the United States during a State of the Union address. A unique and remarkable image of history that has been too long in the making.

Biden spent 12 minutes of the duration of his SOTU address of 61 minutes on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He reserved his harshest remarks against the aggression of President Putin, and his highest praise for President Zelensky and the heroic determination of the Ukrainian people to fight the aggressor to the death.

Significantly, the Republican section of Congress was not empty, attended as it was by many Republicans, including Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, minority leaders of the Senate and the House, respectively. The Republican side of the chamber included two radical right QAnon* maniacs, Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who, predictably, spent the entire hour of the speech booing and heckling.

The same Taylor Greene who recently slammed the House Committee presently investigating into the January 6 insurrection as being Speaker Pelosi’s “Gazpacho Police”. What the ignorant Congresswoman from Georgia probably meant was “Gestapo Police”. But who can tell? Maybe these Trumpsters feel threatened by the delicious cold tomato Gazpacho soup of Democrats, on the grounds that its red colour is evidence of their espousal of communism. A conspiracy theory no more outlandish than her previous claims that Democrats are “Satanic Pedophile Cannibals” who eat babies, and that the deadly fires in California were caused by Jews (Rothschilds) firing lasers from outer space.

In his address, Biden did not touch on the courageous defiance of 13 Ukrainian soldiers guarding little Snake Island about 50 km. off the southern tip of the Ukrainian mainland on the Black Sea. When warned by a Russian warship that there will be unnecessary deaths unless they surrendered, the response of these brave Ukrainians, which has since gone viral on the Internet, was: “Russian Warship, Go F… Yourselves”.

Initial reports indicated that all 13 soldiers were killed. However, it is now believed that they are alive and well, held as prisoners in Russia, as heroes in Ukraine. Their words, “Russia, Go F… Yourselves” have become the proud Ukrainian rallying war cry.

This defiant response from a completely outnumbered and outgunned army illustrates the courage and patriotism of the Ukrainians. All Ukrainian men and women are now soldiers, being trained for battle. President Zelensky has also joined the army, no trace of bone spurs. He has been photographed on many occasions in military fatigues, talking and eating with Ukrainian soldiers. Perhaps photo ops, but the image of the President of the country, in battle fatigues, mingling with its citizens is pretty inspiring. Much more so than the ridiculous image of a criminal, egomaniacal sociopath holding a Bible upside down outside a church to prove he is a Christian.

Biden continued, “Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world. But he badly miscalculated.

“He thought he could roll into Ukraine, and the world would roll over. Instead, he met with a wall of strength he never anticipated or imagined.

“He met the Ukrainian people.

“From President Zelensky to every Ukrainian, their fearlessness, their courage, their determination, literally inspires the world”.

Biden also stressed the need for unity in America, when he said, at the beginning of his address, “Tonight, we meet as Democrats, Republicans and Independents. But most importantly, as Americans. With a duty to one another, to America, to the American people, to the Constitution. And an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny”.

“Always” is an optimistic word in the current context of today’s American politics, with the Republican Party still under the control of a defeated and disgraced wannabe tyrant, whose peddled lies about a rigged election 16 months ago are still believed, against all evidence, by 60% of his Party. The midterms next November are currently predicted to yield control of both the House and the Senate to the Republicans led by Trump. Control that will enable Republicans to rig future elections not only by voter suppression and gerrymandering, but by changing the rules so that any future president will be elected not by the will of the people but by the manipulation of the state legislatures. Significantly, this process has already begun in Republican controlled battleground state legislatures like Texas and Georgia.

Such corruption of the electoral process, the cornerstone of American democracy, will bring to an end Lincoln’s dream of the Grand Experiment of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

With his decision to invade Ukraine, Putin counted on taking advantage of an already polarized America and attempt to cause a rift in NATO. He has failed, at least where NATO is concerned, as that organization has shown complete solidarity under the leadership of President Biden.

As for American unity, fingers crossed, but there seems a little light bringing clarity and sanity at the end of the Trump tunnel, a tiny chink in the Republican armour as the former president’s acts of criminal fraud and treason are slowly but surely being uncovered.

Biden stressed that “our forces are not engaged, and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in Ukrainian soil…Together with our allies we are providing support to the Ukrainians in their fight for freedom. Military assistance. Financial assistance. Humanitarian assistance”.

“When the history of this era is written, Putin’s war against Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger”.

President Biden then addressed the pandemic and the economy. His handling of these crises has seen his approval rates plummet to the 30%s. Unfairly, considering he inherited a failed economy, the challenges of a global pandemic, and now, an illegal invasion of a sovereign ally in Europe.

“The pandemic has been punishing. And so many families are living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to keep up with the rising costs of food, gas, housing and so much more”. Biden talked about the extensive American Rescue Plan that was implemented last year, saying “few pieces of legislation have done more in a critical moment in our history to lift us out of the crisis”.

“And it worked. It created jobs. Lots of jobs, our economy created over 6.5 million new jobs last year, more jobs created in one year than ever before in the history of America”.

Biden talked about the economy which “grew at a rate of 5.7% last year, the strongest growth in nearly 40 years, the first step in bringing fundamental change to an economy which hasn’t worked for the working people of this nation for too long”.

The President said, “Reagan’s ‘trickle-down’ theory has only led to weaker economic growth, lower wages, bigger deficits and the widest income and wealth gaps between those at the top and everyone else in nearly a century”.

He talked about the urgency of the passing of his signature Build Back Better bill, currently stalled in the Senate. Though the Democrats have a wafer-thin majority in the Senate, the legislation has been delayed not just by the intransigence of the Republicans, but obstruction by two Democratic Senators from Red States, Arizona and West Virginia, who are more concerned about their re-election than the welfare of the country. He urged the Senate to pass this bill, which will cost less than Trump’s tax cut of 2017 to billionaires and corporations, so that he could continue with his efforts towards building a socially and economically just America.

Biden touched on his science-based and successful strategy to combat the virus, his plans of reducing health care costs, child care, gun control, funding the police, border control, and many other social programs, which will become a reality after the Build Back Better plan is implemented. Long-delayed legislation which will provide tremendous assistance to working poor, address climate change and rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

He concluded by saying that “the State of the Union, is strong, because you, the American people are strong. We are stronger today than we were a year ago. And we will be stronger a year from now than we are today”.

*QAnon is a political conspiracy theory that later evolved into a political movement. It originated in the American far-right political sphere. QAnon centers on false claims made by an anonymous individual or individuals known as “Q”. Wikipedia



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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