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Recalled to Life: America’s Brush with Neo-Fascism

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by Kumar David

Several months ago when things were coming to a boil I argued that despite Trump’s autocratic intentions, expectations of a collapse of democracy in America were unduly gloomy. It was my view that society and polity was more robust than many gave credit for and that at rock bottom fascism was impossible though appalling events were likely – and did occur after November 3, 2020. My case for the sturdiness of American polity was (Quoting):

a) The people are unusually robust and independent. It is very difficult for some Mussolini mob to cow down 100s of millions of over-‘testosteroned’ Americans.

b) Constitutional processes are very strong. If DJT loses the election, as seems likely, he will be escorted out. His riff-raff won’t be able to stop that.

c) Except for the Trump loonies (maybe 25% of the electorate) even the GOP won’t be able to stomach an unconstitutional grab for power. Nor will the Supreme Court, even with the new nominee in place, sanction it.

d) The military will not move grossly unconstitutionally.

In comparison, SL is a banana republic since it does not have (a) to (d), nor does it have deep 200 year old constitutional traditions, nor virile public opinion. (END QUOTE).

I have been proved more correct than I imagined possible but time has moved on and we will, post January 20, have to give thought to America’s future after its brush with disaster. It will not, within foreseeable historical times, become a dictatorship; that is impossible. What is possible is unrest, skirmishes and political instability, mediated by livelihood issues, equity concerns and racial tension. And don’t forget that what transpires in America will be influenced by, and will determine what happens in the rest of the world. My concern for the protection of American democracy – socialism is not imminent – brought a sharp rebuke from a reader, a Mr or Ms Ajay, who cautioned “Sometimes one wonders if (KD’s Marxism) has gone too far in the opposite direction and defected to the West; it appears he is looking at the world through American eyes”. A brief diversion to explore modern Marxism is therefore warranted.

The theoretical and philosophical crux of classical Marxism consists of two concepts; dialectics and the materialist outlook. To keep it simple let’s say dialectics is the same as how science comprehends change, development and evolution. Forget the mumbo-jumbo of interpretation-of-opposites, quantity transforming into quality etc. inherited from Hegel and reflect on how science thinks of change. The classic example of dialectics in science is not Marx, it is Darwinian evolution. Darwin’s observations of species change, followed by Mendel’s population genetics, leading all the way to 21st century genetics (some call it genomics) is dialectical. How and why do things change? What dynamic drives mutations, metamorphoses, transformations and revolutions in the physical, biological and the social world; how do we employ concepts to generalise and abstract processes of change? That is dialectics at work in nature and its comprehension in thought. If you are practical scientist who is not philosophically inclined, forget all this and get on with your real-world science.

The materialist conception of society and history, however, affects us all, especially if you have an interest in sociology or politics. Marx’s materialism argues that the way humans and societies “produce and reproduce” their material lives is crucially important. Work, skills even in primitive times, production and technology, and even war to grab more resources, are the raw material of what is called historical materialism. On this foundation, societies organise, appropriate the usufruct as per their social organisation – class structure – and therefrom issue unavoidable class struggles leading at times to revolutionary makeovers of the state. Ideology, that is what people think of themselves and others, (great Imperial Civilisation, Tamil is the oldest living language, God’s command to subdue the heathen, our glorious Mahavamsa culture) are not garbage, Marx never said that. But he did think that ideas are a product, to a prodigious extent, of the aforesaid social premises. Of course ideas reflects back as any good dialectician will grant. For example, the rise of Islam cannot be grasped without knowledge of Arabian society; but in turn the impact Islam has had on the world is driven by its belief systems. My plea to Mr/Ms Ajay is that I try to be loyal to these essential premises while I think through day to day issues which of course is the job of this column.

What about modern Marxism? True, Marx did not pay enough attention to race and ethnicity and focussed on class. Second, great advances in science and technology, and their intrusion into production and society – just think communications, electricity, IT, aviation, space travel, and the impact of social media – are a new world (Marx would call then advances productive powers) to be assimilated. Third, Marx left his life’s project incomplete. He did not complete Kapital (just the first volume and 75% of the second; the third was a trunk-load of scrawls and scribbles). The work on the State, Finance and Internationalism, once projected by young Marx, would have needed a few life times to complete! Legions of latter day Marxists have devoted themselves, sometimes reaching contradictory conclusions, to these tasks. It is totalising and assimilating all this that makes modern Marxism. It blends seamlessly with the values of the Enlightenment – liberty, reason and justice. This is certainly not the same as ‘Liberalism’ so pejoratively spoken of today.

That was an expensive digression in word-count terms. Enough lofty abstractions, back to my topic. I spoke confidently of political stability in the US but the scene these last two months is distressing. Following the Trump incited storming of the Capitol by extremist mobs fed on lies and conspiracy theories, it has come to light that members of the Capitol Police Force were involved in opening gates and the invasion; officers have been suspended, more than a dozen are under investigation; hundreds of rioters have been arrested; staff are being probed for sedition and conspiracy. The FBI says armed militias are organising in all 50 State capitals on 20 January to coincide with the Biden-Harris swearing-in and a 4,000 person armed neo-Nazi rally is planned for Washington DC. The Mayor of DC, a Democrat has called on people not to attend the inauguration to avoid confrontation. Twitter, Facebook and Amazon have banned Trump; the House impeached him for a second time (another first in US history) a week before he leaves office; the Trump mob is enraged; death threats have been made against Bidden, Harris and Pelosi. What a month!

The Transport Secretary and Education Secretary (Cabinet Ministers) and the Attorney General (Minister of Justice), the National Security Advisor, the White House Chief of Staff and a gamut of officials have resigned in recent days and been replaced by nondescript persons or people of questionable repute. A TV commentator asked “Who is the government? There is no government now”. Two state-powers are running the country in parallel. To resort to a Leninist imagery, it is ‘Dual Power’ but of an unusual form. (Lenin used the term for the September to December 1917 period when two ‘governments’ ran separate structures of state and military command – the Provincial Government and the Petrograd Soviet).

Geographically separated dual power existed in Lanka at the time the LTTE governed the Vanni. I don’t want to overdo it, but the allegiances of sections of US State apparatus these weeks is suspect. I have known America from 44 years ago when I spent a year in New York as a visiting professor, but have never seen anything like this; these ugly shouting matches in public places. I am truly afraid that the US is headed for deep and protracted conflict.

As I write these lines, a suicidal attempt at a Trumpist putsch, with or without his personal involvement, but incited by him, is not impossible. Spokesmen on American TV fear that a desperate lunatic in the White House with his finger on the nuclear button bent on creating turmoil in whose fog he can prolong his tenure is perilous. I have to modify these passages very day as the situation changes. Trump visited Alamo town last Tuesday in a last ditch effort to fire up the faithful. The symbolism is rich; “The Alamo” a fortress nearby, was the site of a battle between Texas and Mexico in 1836 in which every American soldier was killed.

I have asserted in this column on previous occasions that the way forward in America depends primarily on addressing the livelihood concerns of the poorest miserable half of society; this is the way to castrate the Trump base – cutting the existential ground under its feet. However this is premised on the new Administration restoring normalcy in the sense that it can govern at all in the face of millions who believe that the election was stolen. The rioting mobs invoked by Trump are determined to prevent just that; the ultra-right and the fascist are dead set on preventing Team-Biden from getting started on the task of governance. This is dangerous since there may be no option but to meet it head on with force; crush or capitulate. The great undefined then is not confrontation per se but the use of state power. Lanka has had the dreadful experience of what happens when a Sinhala State and a Tamil Insurrection collide violently. No one wins; no one has won yet; the country still lies in economic shambles and the state is turning increasingly authoritarian.

Nevertheless I do not envisage a fatal blow to American democracy within the next four years though the unfolding rebellion is ugly and putting it down by force may be the least desirable but only feasible option. I wonder what my former HK colleagues and Western liberal media and commentators, who encouraged nine months of non-stop rioting and destruction of public property in Hong Kong, now have to say! I hold Hong Kong’s Pan-Democrats, student mobs and their foreign cheer-leaders entirely responsible for the repressive laws enacted by Beijing and for denting the One-Country-Two-Systems programme which was chugging along tolerably, though not without hiccups and burps.

China will become the world’s largest economy and a diplomatic and military power on par with the US soon, but as a global exemplar and a moral influence the American legacy will last. The PRC’s economic model will be the preferred strategy for developing countries, but China’s moral influence will be crippled unless the Communist Party learns to live with other mass inspirations such as Islam in Xinjiang Province.



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Playing politics with science!

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It is obvious that the only way out of this disastrous pandemic is through science––the use of vaccines that have been introduced in double quick time due to scientific ingenuity. It is the duty of politicians to refrain from playing politics with science.

 

By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

If you thought it was only our politicians who played politics with science, you thought wrong. Admittedly, ours are pretty bad as evident from the Dhammika peniya episode. We had our Health Minister freely advertising the concoction by ingesting it in her office and wasting the valuable time of academics by instructing them to test it for efficacy. Getting a pretty bad attack of Covid-19 demonstrated the idiocy of her action but she continues unashamedly to be our Minister of Health!

A Professor of Pharmacology turned politician did likewise. Forgetting what he taught his students, he supported the untested therapies, the explanation given by one of his colleagues being that he behaved as a politician, not a scientist! By implication, even scientists can forget science when they become politicians! Funnily, he was rewarded by being appointed the Acting Minister of Health the day the Health Minister was discharged from hospital, which was rather bizarre considering that during the Minister’s prolonged period of hospital-stay there was no acting appointment! Perhaps, fearing that he might take the bread out of her mouth, the Minister returned to office within a few days of discharge.

Although the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic was very effectively controlled, the loss of efficiency as regards the second wave was due no doubt to allowing non-scientific ideas to creep in. The refusal of permission for the burial of Covid-19 victims in spite of a group of top scientists recommending it, made us look foolish and turned international opinion against the country.

The clamour for vaccination is a welcome sign, more so because the UK is continually producing evidence for the extreme efficacy of vaccination.

The UK was the first country in the world to start vaccination and has already vaccinated more than 21 million of its 66 million population. It started with the Pfizer vaccine, closely followed by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. EU, which was a late starter, was critical of the Oxford AZ vaccine. The French President Emmanuel Macron is obviously guilty of playing politics with science as he was one of the vaccine’s most vociferous critics, calling it “quasi-ineffective” for the elderly. As a result of political comments of this nature, more than half of EU countries limited the Oxford AZ vaccine to those under 65 years, in spite of the European Medicines Agency approving it for all age groups.

Another political appointee, Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, had a public spat with AstraZeneca over gaining more of its vaccine doses and introduced a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; she was forced to reverse her decision, quickly. She then suggested the UK had compromised on “safety and efficacy” by approving the jab so early, despite the EMA reaching the same conclusions as the UK’s internationally-respected MHRA, which approved the Oxford AZ vaccine for all ages. Millions of doses of Oxford AZ vaccine, which they obtained in spite of criticism, remain unused in France and Germany. Why did they not have the generosity to give these to struggling countries like Sri Lanka?

Data released by Public Health England (PHE) shows that both the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective in reducing COVID-19 infections among those 70 years and over. Since January, protection against symptomatic Covid-19, four weeks after the first dose, ranged between 57 and 61% for Pfizer and between 60 and 73% for the Oxford AZ vaccine.

In the over 80s, data suggest that a single dose of either vaccine is more than 80% effective in preventing hospitalisation, around 3 to 4 weeks after the jab. There is also evidence for 83% reduction in deaths from Covid-19 with the Pfizer vaccine and data for Oxford AZ vaccine is awaited.

European aversion to Oxford AZ vaccine is, no doubt, due to Brexit than to science. Very soon, all EU countries would be forced by science to allow all age groups to have the Oxford AZ vaccine which, by the way, is the cheapest vaccine that is easier to transport and store. Politicians who criticised Oxford AZ vaccine have had to eat humble pie but they will no doubt come out with some claim to justify their idiocy!

A Belgian minister, Budget State Secretary Eva De Bleeker, has angered vaccine manufacturers by revealing sensitive and confidential commercial information – the price that the EU has agreed to pay for the leading Covid-19 vaccines. Though her twitter message was deleted quickly, screenshots taken show that the EU agreed prices for the three vaccines used at present are as follows: Oxford/AstraZeneca: €$ 1.78, Pfizer/BioNTech : €$ 12 and Moderna: $18.

Moderna, a Bio-tech company, which has not been profitable so-far, is heading for wind-fall profits and the drug-giant Pfizer will get richer. No one seems to have followed the noble gesture of AstraZeneca, which agreed with the Oxford group to provide the vaccine on no-profit basis.

It is obvious that the only way out of this disastrous pandemic is through science––the use of vaccines that have been introduced in double quick time due to scientific ingenuity. It is the duty of politicians to refrain from playing politics with science.

As Dolly Parton sang with a rewrite of her famous song ‘Jolene’ whilst having her jab:

“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.”

 

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Who wants to live forever?

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The haunting lyrics of The Queen song and the almost plaintive tone in Freddie Mercury’s oh so unique voice, when he sang this song (particularly in his live performance at Wembley), echo through my mind these days. There are two main reasons why longevity is foremost these days.

The first, of course, being the pandemic that is among us. It may be the first time that the civilian population of the entire world is facing the possibility of sudden death, not from incoming fire or even suicide bombers but from an insidious, unseen, minute germ!

The second reason why the length of our lives and prolonging it for as long as we possibly can have been entering my thoughts, is when I see the scramble to get the anti-virus vaccine that I observe in the Pearl. Now, most of us are Buddhists and somewhere in those teachings is a belief that we come into this world with a certain amount of AYUSHA or length of life, and that when that is over the end happens and there is no choice. At least, that is the basic interpretation of undoubtedly very complex teaching.

If that is the case, why this scramble for the vaccine? Why are we using privileged positions (connections to rulers and politicians), connections to doctors, and even the Mayors of certain cities to short-circuit the waiting lists? Older people are complaining that they are being denied the vaccine, why? Those people have probably achieved all their objectives in life, completed successful lives, seen grandchildren or even great-grandchildren, why do they want to deny some young man or woman starting out on life with all those milestones to reach, the vaccine, particularly if they are devoted to the teachings of the Buddha.

Is it selfishness, greed, and avarice, things we should avoid according to these self-same teachings, or is it simply one-up-man-ship and the need to be able to boast that they got the vaccine when the “ordinary” man is still standing in queues and probably infecting each other due to the total chaos and non-observance of Covid protocols in these places of administering the vaccine? Think about it dear readers, especially those of you who have completed productive and useful lives, brought up “successful” children, and as is the way in our society provided them with houses, lands, dowries, and other ways of sustenance. Do we really need to join this scramble for the vaccine? Or, use our position of privilege to probably deny some younger person, with a life to live, the chance of getting it. Is it even our ego (something else we should control and make less significant in our lives and decisions) that allows us to justify our long existence in this world? They need my superior intellect, does this world and this society, therefore I must live as long as possible! Or, is it simply the basic animal instinct to live as long as possible, something that we as humans with our superior brains should be able to think around?

Here in Aotearoa, we have re-entered a level 3 lockdown in our most heavily populated city and a level 2 lockdown for the rest of our country. This has been due to certain non-observance of Covid protocols by people of a clearly identified community, living in a certain part of the city of sails, as Auckland is also known. This is the second time that the community, living in that part of the city has brought about an escalation of the pandemic and stricter lockdowns. It has brought more economic misery and spelled the end of the road to more businesses and enterprises. Now, in the Pearl, we may have resorted to attacking those communities and even rioting. All that seems to have happened here are of course the usual vitriolic racist attacks on the internet and a government decision to vaccinate those areas of the city first, in an attempt to control the pandemic. Wow! in the pearl either all these people would have been rounded up and locked up in a camp in the Vanni or locked down under strict curfew with the threat of being shot if violated. The jury with regard to if the Pearl alternative or the Aotearoa alternative of these should have been used is still out …

Maybe some readers are interested in the outcome of the threat that is looming over us from the upcoming United Nations action in Geneva? I have been trying to get some feedback from “intellectuals” currently living in the Pearl, but they seem distracted, and a feeling of helplessness seems to prevail. The incumbent Foreign Minister seems to think that a humble Indian Ocean Island with what strictly speaking, can be considered a failed or at least failing economy, can dictate terms to the UN, behaving like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Maybe our “new best friend” China, probably aided and abetted by Russia has lent strength to his arm.

Even a “victory’ for Lanka at the UNHCR to this resolution should not be cheered too vociferously, as the countries ranged against us will have long term plans. Every step of this government will be monitored closely. The loss of our garment exporting privileges to the first world could result along with other economic sanctions that would make the cost of living in the Pearl even higher.

One rather interesting possibility seems to be travel bans on certain individuals and freezing of their assets held abroad. Now that could be stimulating, especially if the numbers involved are made public! However, if that was the case, I believe the attempt to rectify the situation would have been given to a more competent person than “the bull in the china shop”!

I cannot resist putting this out dear readers and I apologise profusely in advance. What if someone like Ranil W, was in charge of foreign affairs? Do you think we would have had a more professional approach and had a better chance in dealing with the complicated nuances of handling UN diplomacy, in the long term? At least we may have not insulted and possibly humiliated the visiting PM of one of our allies, Imran Khan of Pakistan! On the other hand, Mr. Khan, you may rest assured that even if you had addressed our parliament, no member would have understood anything you said or even been able to decipher your immaculate Oxbridge accent. It is only those of us who have shut ourselves out mentally from the shenanigans or gone into voluntary exile who watch with dismay, who would have savoured your words and briefly wondered …what if … ?

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Thanks for quick vaccination; harmful dabblers in the occult should be severely dealt with

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There has been much in the daily press on vaccination against Covid-19 in this fair isle of ours, or rather in Colombo and its suburbs

Let’s put aside complaints and say praise be!

Most of what was media-written was on the ensuing chaos of not knowing where to go for the jab; how to get a token; which age group will be given it (apart of course from VIPs and politicians who were close behind frontline health workers). Mercifully, the authorities righted the initial wrong of deciding on prioritizing the 30-65 age group and neglecting the over 65s, who were placed second in the priority list in more enlightened countries following WHO strictures. And so lots have got the jab and we anticipate a drastic drop in infection and Covid death rates. Cass contributed her fair share of criticism in this column but not stridently nor unreasonably. She had not seen the privileged list that passed off as Municipal workers on Tuesday 24 February at the Public Library, Colombo 7, arriving in Mercedes Benzes and SUVs. If she had, her ire would have emerged in pure vitriol! One friend said she enquired from several sophisticates in the queue how they got there, but received mumbled replies. So, a Rose by any other name, even Do-Gooder, smells as bad when it goes unjust! Things got much better and the service worked smoothly once the MOHs came into their own.

What Cass notes in summarizing the issue today is thanks and gratitude to the government and the Health Services particularly, for vaccinating so very many so quickly. People who wrote about this issue, Cass included, were all praise for the actual data takers and vaccine givers. In certain centres, the old and disabled were queued in a different line and vaccinated within an hour.

The gratitude Cass renders is because only part of the total amount of vaccine was gifted by India and the WHO. Our government booked early and paid for the rest, and of the Oxford kind. This vaccine is admittedly relatively cheaper, but it had to be paid for, which cost the government bore. We have to appreciate the massive organization entailed and excuse inevitable hiccups. This fact struck Cass as a feeling of much needed security and elimination of fear was felt, and all for free. Also when a friend in Melbourne wrote they were as yet awaiting vaccination.

 

Black Magic and witchcraft in Sri Lanka

If you thought as Cass did that we would never ever resemble a dark Congo tribe resorting to occult cures or a re-enactment of shades of supernatural superstitious beliefs in witchcraft as in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, in 1692 (where some young girls caught prancing naked cooked up lies about good women in the village being witches), you and Cass were both mistaken. We’ve had these in different styles right here in supposedly majority Buddhist Free Sri Lanka with other religions holding people together, in the 21st century with some of our own doing brilliantly well in advanced scientific disciplines all over the developed world. Cass, as you now know, was born and bred in the hills of Kandy with its most sacred Dalada Maligawa and picturesquely situated quaint temples in peaceful green valleys with the sound of evening pooja bells, joined by Kovil tinkles and Sunday sonorous Church gantara and the cry of the Muzeen. We never had a bali or thovil ceremony. If an inauspicious time descended on the village or a household, it was pirith chanted by Bhikkhus. So to Cass what has been happening very recently is even stranger than to those who have village cousins who dabble in mantra and kodivina with kattadiyas in action.

I refer here to the stupidly preposterous belief in Dhammika’s peniya as both a prophylactic and cure for pernicious Covid-19. Where is that charlatan veda – oops sorry- Kaliamma devala kapurala now? Safe with his ill-gotten gains, we suppose.

The latest voodoo story, but with such a tragic ending, is that of the 9-year-old Delgoda girl who suffered an emotional (rather than mental) aberration and was subject to exorcism by caning her mercilessly. The exorcist could not be a woman; she must certainly be a sadistic aberration herself. Can you believe that she applied oil on the girl and used the cane on her till the kid went unconscious? Was the cane an ordinary one? At first I could not believe the story read in the papers – how cane a person to death, but it was a child receiving the torture and who knows what sort of ‘weapon’ was used. The mother definitely must be punished more severely. Maternal love, even in the animal kingdom, will never allow harming an offspring, so how on earth did the mother watch all that caning. One shot would have torn Cass to the defence of her child, or for that matter any child, with talons extended and blood now not turned to milk as the Sinhala saying goes, but to vitriolic fury. The woman exorcist with supernatural powers and the mother are in police custody. Why doesn’t she do a Houdini and astound handsome Police high-up Ajit Rohana?

People claiming superhuman clairvoyance and divine power crop up everywhere. Cass accompanied a friend to consult a girl in the suburbs of Kandy to find out where her hub had ‘donated’ a fairly large sum of money. This girl had given clear directions to find a lost Persian cat to a third friend; hence the visit. She was a pretty, soft girl of around 18. Once Cass and the other entered the room, the girl changed, was in a near trance and speaking in an entirely different voice, pronounced the reason for seeking her help and said “Look for a man always dressed in long sleeves and thinning hair parted in the middle.” The friend was baffled and defeated by this long shot, but finally she met a man of this description – the father of a girl in her husband’s office. She did not ask for the money!

Such ‘powers’ are temporary; maybe like poltergeist manifestations in a teenager’s home. But going for cures to them is unthinkable. Buddhist bhikkhus and maybe bhikkhuunis, so also certain Christian priests (the bulk of lecherous Father Mathew intrudes here) do have powers of exorcism. A medical doctor is the best bet, in any case, including even mental upsets.

 

Short Takes

Imran Khan’s all too brief visit was a successful veni, vidi, vici in spite of being snubbed ungraciously over the address to Parliamentarians (what a weak, threadbare excuse was offered – C-19 precaution!) and missing out two of our cricket greats: Michael Tissera and Anura Tennakoon from the list of cricket folk to say Hi to the great Cricketer at lunch at Shangri La. What was the success apart from charming everyone and showing off what a Statesman can look like and carry himself off? Why – the Muslims of Sri Lanka conquered. Burial was theirs or so it seemed. But hold it, is it gazetted or is this ‘yes’ like the Prime Minister’s definite ‘can bury’ pronounced in Parliament and then brushed aside and explained by the Gaman as “he was merely expressing his thoughts.”

Main headline in The Island of Wednesday 3 March:” PCol report on Easter Sunday carnage: AG won’t be given ‘sensitive’ volumes.” Why on earth? Is it X-rated and the AG underage?

Picture on page I of same issue of Dr Rajitha Senaratne arriving at the Colombo High Court to appear in a case involving two persons who accused then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa of various crimes. We have long forgotten even a single word of what they said. They will not get off free is Cass’ bet unlike Aluthgamage, who emerged very recently from a court house free as a bird, accused of corruption, Cass recalls.

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