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Responsible investment of borrowed money

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Could this be a way forward?

by Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Recent financial distress and the promise of financial help by the IMF, opens up a healthy opportunity to consider the manner in which we use the granted relief. Any lender must be convinced that there is a near certainty, that the borrower would exercise prudence in using such monies. Thus the finance should be used in projects where there is more than a fair chance of being successful enough to enable the beneficiary to pay back monies due.

It is reasonable to expect a certain degree of involvement (interference?) by lenders, in coaxing the recipient in such manner as to help avoid repetition of mistakes that have been responsible for the present distress. Unfortunately, cutting back the expenses incurred in providing some seemingly extravagant social or relief measures, can be highly sensitive politically. Our politics have sadly, helped to establish a “dependency syndrome,” reflected in the demonstration placards often voiced as “Diyaw, diyaw”!

Much of the “opposition” to IMF relief, can perhaps be because of denial of the “freedom of the wild ass,” or blunting the slimy skills of the pick-pocket. Better, let us invest the relief intelligently. The discourse can be logical, purposeful and impersonal.

The expected conflict is whether we should use these funds in such a manner as ushered in the fueling of the “Industrial Revolution” of a century or two ago, or seek fresh alternatives.

The fueling of the industrial revolution, is generally regarded historically as a four-step process. Several advances are recognized as having been pivotal. These included – invention of the steam engine, setting up of factories, tapping oil and coal reserves and colonialism to provide necessary raw materials to support manufacture of goods. Thus arose urbanization, exploitation of labour, class distinctions and a host of other new problems.

Popular convention recognizes four sequential steps, vaguely recognized as beginning with the invention of the steam engine and passing through construction of factories especially for textile manufacture, through coal and oil extraction, and colonialism to access sources of raw material and labour.

Chemical developments of new materials especially plastics, Semi-conductors, and computers, advance of fast communications, telephones, fast trains and aircraft plus much besides that are now taken for granted. Some have involved decades of diligent development by thousands of inventors, and millions of workers to turn out the articles and processes developed by researchers.

While these are obviously positive developments, they have at the same time also delivered ruinous environmental pollutants, nuclear weapons of mass destructive potential and of course an exponentially growing population, resulting in crime, inequity, depletion and destruction of natural resources. These have become the major considerations worldwide.

Unquestionably, industrialization has greater expansion potential than agriculture, forestry and fisheries. In our case there is a compelling host of social deficits that should be accommodated. Inexpensive and reliable power is a pre-requisite. This is clearly not there for us. When I look back on my personal experience, of something like 14 years,

I did not experience a single power interruption! This included four years in Iraq, then at war with Iran. The rest were in the “industrialized” West (including UK. USA and Italy) and short stays in Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Israel etc. Not a single blackout! Unreliable power supply is a serious negative for industrialization..

The position of industrial development is much about “factory” technology. Maximum outputs from machinery, requiring the least input of labour. Cheap availability of power and machinery to manufacture are indispensable. Colonialism had much to do with procuring cheap raw material.

Labour in their home countries, was expensive and had to do with high wages and welfare facilities. It is interesting to note that countries in Temperate regions, that require fuel for warming, were still able to easily outstrip Tropical ones, exempt from this enormous burden. Success was achieved by coupling cheap labour with lesser need of expensive raw material.

Does this inversion of requisites for progress, (labour and raw material) create doubts on the applicability of formulae successful in the industrial West against those of the agrarian Tropics? Can we harness the benefits of both worlds and how?

Few would disagree that in our present state, with a long tradition of agriculture, it is natural that this is the sector most likely to respond to change and reform. This broadly speaking, could focus on:-

Protected Cultivation

Protected cultivation, mainly for high value market garden crops such as tomato, capsicum, lettuce and brinjal is no stranger for Up- Country vegetable farmers.A great opportunity exists for utilizing this empirically acquired knowledge, to cultivate the not inconsiderable extents of uncultivated land within a triangle roughly circumscribed by Kalutara, Gampaha and Negombo. It is most likely that improper drainage have rendered these extents unsuitable for paddy.

If so, it becomes an engineering problem, to arrange for proper drainage of these swamps and to enable intensive protected farming. In fact, it may make it feasible for freshwater fish production as well. The proximity of Colombo and the proposed Port City Project, tourist hotels, promise a large high-end and growing market.

Abundant sunlight, water and land are resources, seldom found together: in this sense this offers a huge potential.

Cage fisheries, mangroves and marine culture

Hundreds of kilometers of concrete-lined distribution channels lie within the Mahaweli Development areas. These constitute a vast potential for “cage fisheries”. These simply, are water-resistant meshes, fixed to a frame of width slightly more than that of the channel. The mesh is of a dimension to confine the introduced fingerlings in a system of constant water flow.

Feeding the fish would be supplemented with kitchen and other digestible domestic waste. Harvesting the fish is by simply lifting up the cage. Fast- growing fish like carp and tilapia should be ideal for such production. An added advantage is that the closest settler population, who directly need an assured source of animal protein, are thus served.

Much of a rich mangrove vegetation that has been degraded, is being helped to restore itself by large-scale planting up with nursery-produced indigenous species. This is presently managed by the Ministries of Environment, Fisheries and the Navy, assisted by volunteers from environment-conscious Associations. This is an important innovative project deserving to be supported.

It is designed to restore the vital breeding areas for crabs, lobsters, brackish-water fish and prawns. A complementary activity is to provide for algae and shellfish like oysters and clams. The value of mangroves in coastal protection was graphically evident when the last tsunami hit us.

” Agro-forestry”.

This is a terminology that has appeared relatively recently to describe a long existent system. Significantly, even in the much maligned “chena system” of shifting cultivation, the preparatory activity is described as “eli peheli kireema,” thus implying that the clearing was restricted, to allow sufficient light penetration required by the intended crop. Similarly, the traditional so called “Kandyan forest garden” is a semi-urban agroforest.

“Agro-forestry” implies a realization of the potential for reclaiming forest habitats, that have been degraded by human activity, with tree species of direct utility. Examples (from a virtually limitless number of options), would include jak, breadfruit, cacao, durian, mango, cotton, coffee, cloves, mangosteen, gamboge (goraka), nutmeg and several species of bamboo.

This would be an excellent opportunity to include jak (largest tree fruit up to 55 kilos and trees that can yield about 200 fruits per year).The choice of species, will mainly be dictated by considerations of canopy heights and spread, to accord with prevailing on site circumstances. Jak seeds (generally wasted) can rival chestnuts as a roadside snack. Utilization of “cashew apple” of which thousands of tons are wasted annually, also merits consideration.

Agroforestry is a departure from the earlier concept that forests were a sanctuary for trees, inviolate by human entry. This has been upturned by regarding forests as a “common good” belonging to and protected from, unlawful trespass, enforced by neighborhood beneficiaries.

The relatively recent and internationally recognized “carbon credits” scheme, is intended to encourage expansion of forests to ensure sustainability, and more urgently, as a means of combating “global warming” which is now accepted as a demonstrable threat to all humanity.

Several actions are designed, as in the case of “carbon credits” and conservation, to encourage countries to expand forest cover. (Incidentally, in Bhutan, noted for its exceptional environment, the existing forest cover of about 70% is declared as mandatory in the Constitution: and this is honoured).

Sri Lanka should position itself to draw maximum benefit from these existing global initiatives.

Crops of doubtful economic value

Red lentil or “Massoor dhal” (Lens esculenta) of which a considerable quantity is imported, will not perform here – simply because of our latitude, (closeness to the Equator). Curiously, some species of lentils require short days, while others need long days: we offer neither. Hence, lentils thrive even in the driest areas of Syria, Iran and Northern Pakistan, as a relatively poorly cared for crop.

Potato too performs poorly at our latitude. In comparison for instance with Bangladesh, notwithstanding climatic problems which abound, farmers are still able to sell their crop for a few cents per kilogram at harvest time. In Temperate countries, yields are about 20 to 30-fold. In Sri Lanka, it is barely six to 10-fold (at best).

It survives only because consumers are compelled to pay a very high price. In fact, the cost of fertilizer alone (at the rate of nearly a kilogram per meter of planted furrow), could hardly be covered from crop sales. In addition, a ton of sprouted “seed” potato is required per acre. The combined cost of seed and fertilizer is well above the means of farmers.

The key physiological issue here, is that tuber formation requires cool nights. By this token, potato should yield higher in the Jaffna area. Yields would thus be best when tuber formation and filling coincide with the cooler months.

The case of tea is also worrisome, if one takes into account the sunken “capital cost” and the devastating impact on soil fertility, of previously prime land. An unpleasant reality may eventually dawn.As with the case of potato farming, socio-economic considerations, prevail and over-shadow agronomic reality. There is need for dispassionate review. The prognosis is dire and cannot justify continued inaction.

Root crops

One generally associates “dietary carbohydrates” with cereals. However, in several countries the main sources are non-cereal. Cassava and plantain are more common in Africa, while yams (taro and dasheen) are important in South Pacific states. There is enormous untapped potential in root crops for providing dietary carbohydrates. Cassava as a staple and sweet potato (incidentally the second most popular crop in parts of the US), have received some recognition.

Sri Lanka has a great variety of root crops belonging to several genera. Alocasia and Colocasia, (Dasheen/Taro), Diascorea (wel ala) Amorphophallus (kidaran), Croton (innala), Canna (arrowroot) are among the better .known. Ginger and turmeric are the non-food, seasoning and culinary crops of importance.

Spices

The priority need, especially for export, is to maintain quality. In general, Sri Lankan spices are valued for their superior quality. Cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, pepper and nutmeg (mace), are valued in markets abroad. This has to be ensured, and warrants the establishment of a strong monitoring force to retain our leadership position. Cinnamon is perhaps a model success story, where in the face of strong competition from the less expensive “Cassia bark cinnamon,” the authentic form, has still held its own. Incidentally, Sri Lanka at one time had a 100% monopoly of the world market for this spice. Likewise, our pepper outdoes the Indonesian competition, although our position for cloves and cardamom is not quite the best.

Going organic

It is widely known that raising crops organically is preferable to relying on artificial nutrient fertilizers and agrochemicals. The ideal of course is a balance as the best mix.

The tragic misapplication of organic methods of farming especially among our paddy farmers, has driven them to pitiable desperation. This should not have been, and it was unpardonable folly that triumphed. While the hasty, ill-placed amateurism of persons /charlatans was proceeded with, ignoring the cautions of knowledgeable scientists, the proponents of this monstrous folly have conveniently disappeared, unpunished.

How many of these so-called advisors have heard of “biodynamic farming” or the names Rudolf Steiner or Podlinsky – main promoters of perhaps the most radical of organic methodologies. Their concepts, reliant on lunar and planetary positions, tradition, sentiment and mysticism, have drawn much criticism and doubt. The theoretical presumptions and practices are beyond conventional systematic science.

Meanwhile, adherents, farming thousands of hectares, predominantly in Australia, vouch for the success and efficacy of the prescribed methodologies. The claimed economic advantages are unbelievable. Nevertheless, our voluble and enthusiastic promoters, could do no harm by studying the impacts of this seemingly incredible system.

Whatever the impressions are, our previous methods included the conscious adoption of tradition – most importantly, the cultivation of trees for composting. Species like “wild sunflower,” dadap and glyricidia have all but disappeared. If we are serious, these species should be cultivated and not merely gathered. This also applies to claims for biofilm biofertilizer (BFBF), nitrogen fixing legumes, free- living nitrogen fixing bacteria and algae, crop rotations and “Liming”. Maybe the claims for biodynamic farming are unsubstantiated, but this need not deter fair investigation. Financial support for such is compelling.

Agro-exhibitions and Competitions

Such events present a fine opportunity as prompts for use by extension services. Tracking winners for improved methods useful for wider adoption, and no less importantly, sourcing planting materials that can be multiplied rapidly (if necessary by tissue culture) for release. This is most useful for tree fruits, particularly those appropriate for grafting.

The current enthusiasm for home gardening also richly deserves support. Many innovations and potentials ae evident.

The above thoughts are intended as a stimulus to be translated into specific projects that will have significant impacts. If nothing else, it is hoped that at least some may be usefully developed into “bankable” form.



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What’s in a Suit? That which is substantive can be delivered in a Bush Shirt!

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Anura Kumara Dissanayake meeting Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar in New Delhi. (File Photo)

by Rajan Philips

Never mind what Anura Kumara Dissanayake wore in Delhi. Never mind what Ranil Wickremesinghe wears daily. What the people want is not the word salads of sartorial politics by Sunday pundits, but the proffering of substantive politics by contenders for political office. As the pre-election dust takes its own time to settle, two figures are emerging as the primary contenders.

On the right, where he has always been, is Ranil Wickremesinghe. On the left, where he seems inspired to be, is Anura Kumara Dissanayake. If there was any chance of someone racing up the middle, that chance and the politics of that candidate are fast withering. The political house of Sajith Premadasa is a house divided according to insiders and outsiders. Mr. Premadasa will have to put his own house in order before he can be a serious contender for public office.

The impending contest between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Anura Kumara Dissanayake will be a very different one when compared to past presidential elections. First to be noted is the organizational disarray of the mainstream political parties and their electorally opportunistic alliances. The disarray is obvious and needs no elaboration.

It also explains why President Wickremesinghe, the nearly 50-year veteran of a 77 year old party, is still looking for a political launcher for his presidential candidacy. Officially, he will be a UNP candidate with the elephant symbol, but he is looking to be acclaimed as the candidate of a grand alliance. Media columnists are writing about such an alliance, but there are no signs yet of any alliance, let alone a grand one.

The support for President Wickremesinghe is mainly based on his successful stabilization of the economy from where his predecessor left and ran away. Those who are genuinely and perhaps exclusively concerned about the economy do think that Ranil Wickremesinghe should be elected as President to continue managing the economy. But this premise has at least two limitations.

A tentative candidate

One, while it is fair to give Mr. Wickremesinghe credit for what he has done, it would be a stretch to claim that what he has done is something miraculous and that he should contest and be elected President for a new term to continue performing economic miracles. The economy cannot be restored by magic or miracles, and no one should lose sight of the fact that the current stability is primarily due to the moratorium on debt payment. What happens when debt repayment is restarted?

The second limitation to the Wickremesinghe candidacy is that the support for Mr. Wickremesinghe is neither broad nor deep. Otherwise, he should be the one who is topping opinion polls and creating the buzz that Ranil is the man to beat. Mr. Wickremesinghe himself is quite coy about his candidacy. Either he is keeping everyone guessing, or he is guessing himself.

It may be that the President is looking for a broad appeal imploring him to contest the presidential election to keep saving the economy. Similar to the circumstance in which he acceded to the desperate request of Gotabaya Rajapaksa for a helping hand. But there is nothing like that happening now. No appeal by any credible alliance for Ranil to be a candidate. The whole tentativeness of the situation is a symptom of the disarray of the political establishment.

That brings me to the second unique aspect of the upcoming presidential election. That is the emergence of the JVP/NPP as real contender for winning power democratically, and whose unity of purpose and organizational discipline stand in stirring contrast to the opportunism and disarray of the mainstream parties. The JVP’s emergence as a viable contender is as much due to its own maturity as it is due to resonating objective conditions.

The aragalaya that drove Gota away may have turned the tide for the JVP. But it goes beyond that, and it shows the people’s real hunger for an alternative political leadership. And it shows that the people are not warming up to Ranil Wickremesinghe in spite of all the learned views about his capabilities as an economic manager.

AKD’s leadership

The consolidation of the JVP and the emergence of the NPP as its electoral front also owe a great deal to the seemingly collegial leadership of Anura Kumara Dissanayake. He is unique in Sri Lankan politics as the one political leader who has filtered up through the social layers among the Sinhalese without being part of a mainstream political party – the UNP, the SLFP, and later the SLPP. The devolution of political leadership in Sri Lanka – i.e., the transitioning of political leadership from the decadent upper strata of society to the emerging generations – could be a study in itself.

The fact of the matter is that such a transitioning has not been as common in Sri Lanka as it has been in India. There is a long trace of leadership transitioning in India – from the rise of K. Kamaraj as Chief Minister of Madras State (now Tamil Nadu) in 1954, to the ascent of Narendra Modi first as Chief Minister of Gujarat and now the soon to be ‘threepeat’ Prime Minister of India. There is nothing common about their politics, but they represent the shifting of leadership from the upper echelons to the lower strata of India’s hugely stratified society. The example of President Premadasa could be cited as an exception, but it was an exception that could not become a trend.

The JVP and the LTTE interventions could be seen as violent and misplaced efforts to force a transitioning of leadership. Both efforts ended in failure, but the reality now is that even the traditional leadership formations have now imploded. There was a much touted recent transitioning in Tamil political leadership, but that seems to have got mired in legal battles in district courts.

The saving grace here is in the recourse to court battles instead of gun battles. There have been shifts in leadership among the Muslims and estate Tamils, but even the new organizations representing the two communities have become mere appendages to mainstream alliances. They too are suffering from the organizational disarray of their mainstream principals.

In this scheme of unfolding disarray, it is fair to acknowledge the leadership and organizational achievements of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the JVP and the NPP. This is not to say that they are going to win the upcoming elections and that they are going to provide a pathbreaking new government for Sri Lanka. Those proofs will come in whatever puddings they make.

For now, as a point of political observation, what AKD has done so far needs to be acknowledged. India seems to have done that, and it is irrelevant to the current argument why India may have chosen to do that. More to the point, there has been no Indian invitation yet, not even a hint of it, to the newly elected leader of the ITAK.

The gripe over AKD’s Indian visit is really a symptom of the uneasiness in political circles that are unable to come to grips with the disarray among the mainstream political parties and their alliances. Not to mention that for a host of good and bad reasons, the arrival of the JVP/NPP as a palpable parliamentary force is not palatable to many in the commentating business. It is again a symptom of the mainstream disarray that criticisms of JVP/NPP are emanating almost exclusively outside of parliament and from outside formal political organizations. Conversely, it is this vacuum that the JVP/NPP is filling up much to the irritation of its socio-genital opponents.

Their politics and ours

The task for Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the JVP/NPP is to respond to the sartorial politics of their critics with substantive politics of their own. “Their Politics and Ours,” the title of an old pamphlet that Dr. Colvin R de Silva wrote in the early 1950s, takes a different meaning in the new context in which the JVP/NPP is emerging as a real parliamentary contender.

Dr Colvin was intervening in the perennial debates within the left movement in the heady days of the Old Left. That was then. Now, Anura Kumara Dissanayake does not have to get into polemic battles with anyone on the Left. He is in fact the only one on the Left, electorally speaking. He has to differentiate his politics from that of his media critics.

There is another difference between the heady days of the Old Left and Sri Lanka’s desperate times after the Rajapaksa yugaya. The challenge today is not to advance the cause of socialism but to salvage the economy from the pits that it has fallen into. Sri Lanka’s economic irony cannot be any stalker, in that Sri Lanka and Pakistan are two economic laggards in South Asia that is now seen as the principal growth region for an unevenly sputtering world economy.

India is virtually the sole economic engine of the South Asian region, and the challenge facing Sri Lanka is to get in stride with ongoing regional growth instead of lagging behind it.

The challenge facing JVP/NPP is to generate confidence about its abilities for managing the economy the same way it is demonstrating its abilities for political mobilization. As a political organization it does not have to rely on its leaders to read economic textbooks the way Che Guvera read them after the Cuban revolution.

There are enough economists and economic thinktanks in Sri Lanka and the JVP/NPP should not feel shy about tapping them for ideas and as resources. There should be reaching out to professional resources in a very public way to enhance public confidence at the national level, the same way retired military and police officers are reportedly being enlisted at the electoral district levels.

Besides the economy, the JVP/NPP leadership will have to deal with the question of constitutional reform and clarify its position on what could still be called the island’s national question. On the question of abolishing the executive presidency, Mr. Dissanayake has provided a convincing response: there is no time to do it before the presidential election.

President Wickremesinghe has said the same thing, but the difference between the two is that while Mr. Dissanayake is committed to abolishing the presidency, Mr. Wickremesinghe is not. That is a big difference, and one on which Mr. Dissanayake could and should publicly challenge the interim President.

 

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Leading Restoration: WNPS at the Forefront of Conserving Mangrove Ecosystems

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Awareness creating among school children at a mangrove restoration site

One of Sri Lanka’s six RAMSAR wetlands, the Anawilundawa sanctuary is surrounded by a colorful coastline, enhanced by the lush mangroves that shield it, and supported by freshwater sources that are essential to life. Numerous plant and animal species can be found within the confines of this sanctuary, in addition to neighbouring communities whose survival depends on the health of this ecosystem for their survival.

The intricate root systems of mangrove forests bridge both land and sea, serving as a powerful ecosystem that supports life and growth. Mangroves are vital towards building the resilience of a nation, by safeguarding our coasts from natural disasters, while enabling livelihoods and empowering communities. Their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide in greater quantities than other non-coastal ecosystems position them as an important source of blue carbon that is crucial to the fight against climate change.

Unfortunately, unsustainable shrimp farming and other human activities had taken a toll on the environment. This now-abandoned landscape was altered by the use of dangerous chemicals, and until 2019, about 45 hectares of what was once a lush forest were dead and bare. Restoration was the need of the hour, yet many challenges lay in store.

Firstly, no formal mechanism for mangrove restoration had been established. Accordingly, the Department of Wildlife, the Forest Department, and the Ministry of Environment partnered with the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka as its principal science partner. With more than 129 years of experience advancing conservation and research throughout the island, the WNPS was ideally positioned capitalize on the strength of teamwork, the rigor of science, and the tireless dedication of its people and partners to develop a sustainable solution.

“The WNPS has long established science as the core foundation of all of its work. The Society also served as the catalyst to bring together diverse stakeholders under the mantle of restoration by bringing in government entities, NGOs, academia, the private sector, surrounding communities and the youth to actively participate in these efforts. In doing so, they ensured that the right science is implemented in this restoration site, while demonstrating the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration to achieve lasting, viable results,” said Professor Sevvandi Jayakody, Science Lead of the Project.

A veritable force of diverse people and organizations transformed a once deserted habitat into a hive of research and activity. Under the direction of the technical team, on-site nurseries were established, experiments were carried out, and natural processes were replicated. A topographical map of the area was created with the help of the Sri Lanka Navy to construct canals that would channel water effectively into arid land. Research labs were constructed on the premises and modern equipment was procured with the collective support of the public sector, business community, and non-governmental organizations. Community members and leaders were mobilized to strengthen these efforts further.

“An intriguing feature of this project is that research is not merely being applied to regenerate these mangrove forests. The science also flows into sustainably enhancing and uplifting the neighbouring community’s livelihoods, while nurturing future youth restoration leaders, with the goal of maintaining these vulnerable environments in the long run,” stated Graham Marshall, Chair of the WNPS Marine Subcommittee

Soil core sampling below ground biomass

The WNPS was further instrumental in shifting from traditional one-time interventions towards long-term partnerships, particularly with respect to obtaining essential private sector funding.

To date, a diverse and growing team of partners have joined hands with WNPS in the journey to restore this vital ecosystem, comprising the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), the Department of Forests, the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, the Hydrography Unit of the Sri Lanka Navy, Lanka Environment Fund, Hayleys Advantis, CEFAS (UK), CSIRO (Aus), Hemas Consumer Brands, Biodiversity Sri Lanka, Star Garments, US Forest Service, and CMA CGM Shipping. Thanks to this coalition for conservation, a previously desolate region has begun to demonstrate signs of life once more. Studies on specific species are yielding encouraging results, and habitats are being progressively restored.

The WNPS and its partners are heartened to note that its trailblazing approach towards the restoration of mangrove ecosystems have contributed towards Sri Lanka being awarded as a UN World Restoration Flagship in 2024, and look forward to advancing the future of sustainable ecosystem restoration in the years to come.

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THE BILLIONAIRE SHOE SALESMAN

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

February is Black History month, celebrated for over a century to focus attention on the history of the origins, the cruelty, the travails, the sacrifices, and achievements of the enslaved people brought from Africa to the Land of the Free White Supremacists in the early 17th century.

However, February has brought nothing but grief to The Donald. Trump was ranked, on February 20, by 154 scholars connected to the distinguished American Political Science Association, as the “45th and rock bottom” of US presidents in history. Even more humiliating was President Biden’s ranking at no. 14, with his most important achievement listed that he “rescued the presidency from Trump”!

The month of February also saw the courts shattering Trump’s dreams of presidential immunity, that he was above the law and therefore immune from the 91 felonies committed during his presidency.

Trump has already been hit with penalties from two civil trials in New York – $83 million for the rape and defamation of E. Jean Carroll and $355 million for inflating the value of his assets and defrauding the US government. Of course he will appeal these judgments. The problem is that any such appeals have to be accompanied by full or at least a substantial percentage of the damages awarded, in cash or bond. Unfortunately, no issuer of bonds will trust Trump with any such transaction.

Many may think that Trump had hit rock bottom when he was, at a campaign rally last week, making a fevered pitch to sell “beautiful” gold painted pairs of sneakers at a “bargain” price of $399 a pop, presumably to help raise the money due as damages on the above judgments.

The price of a high-end pair of Nike sneakers runs at around $100; but, according to Trump, his brand name increases the price of any commodity exponentially. Like the many properties he has illegally overvalued, which is the reason this former president and billionaire has been reduced in status to a Footlocker shoe salesman. A comparison which will likely be resented by those salesmen.

No doubt he’ll raise the necessary funds from his Russian and Saudi Arabian buddies who will be happy to pay millions of dollars for some of the top-secret documents he still has stashed away in one of his Mar a Lago toilets.

I will never forget a statement Trump made in one of his pre-2016 campaign rallies:

“I am really rich. I will be using my own money. I won’t need any contributions from anyone for my campaign or any other reason. I built a very small loan into a company that’s worth many billions of dollars, with some of the greatest assets in the world”.

Only Trump can squeeze in so many lies into a few sentences. The “very small loan” referred to was an inheritance of over $300 million from his father in the late 1990s. His election campaigns have been funded almost entirely by donations from his supporters. After his electoral defeat in 2020, he has been milking his supporters every time he was indicted on felonies, with lies that the crooked Biden administration was persecuting him, on a perennial witch hunt. With all the evidence of his criminal, even treasonous, behavior staring them in the face, members of his cult, even so-called moderate Republicans, continue to humor and fund him.

Trump has long been threatening, if he wins re-election, that the USA will resign from NATO, the most durable and powerful military alliance since World War II. He alleges that fellow NATO members were not paying the minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for their common defense. In fact, last week he said that he would encourage Russia to “to do whatever the hell they want”, even invade any NATO allies who were delinquent in the payment of their dues.

Trump’s love affairs with the despots of the world, right-wing dictators like Russia’s Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban have been an open secret, his admiration and envy of these murderers boundless.

When the tragic news of the death of Putin’s nemesis, Alexei Navalny, was announced last week by the authorities of an Arctic penal colony, the leaders of the United States and most nations of the world condemned Putin for the murder of the leader of the largest anti-Putin movement in Russia. President Biden called Putin a “crazy son of a bitch, a killer, a butcher and a war criminal”, and promised to impose stringent sanctions on Russia as a result of this murder.

In spite of demands from his family that his body be released for humane and private burial, Russian authorities refuse to do so, probably awaiting the disappearance of traces of the poison used to kill him.

And Trump? He was speechless for a week, reluctant to criticize his mentor. When he finally found his tongue, he mentioned not a word against Putin, but predictably made a statement short on grief and sympathy, and long about himself and his mythical grievances. He described himself, with not an ounce of irony, as “the Navalny of the United States”, the victim of oppression, battling the persecution of the ruthless dictatorship of Crooked Joe! Hardly surprising, this is the narcissistic maniac who had previously compared himself to Nelson Mandela, and most famously, to Jesus Christ.

Actually, the analogy couldn’t be more antithetical. Alexei Navalny was prepared to sacrifice his life for democracy. Trump, on the other hand, was prepared to sacrifice the life of his Vice-President Mike Pence to destroy democracy.

It never ceases to amaze me that a felon already convicted of rape and fraud, indicted in four jurisdictions and on conditional bail for a world record of 91 felonies, has the gall to call Joe Biden CROOKED, as he described “Crooked Joe” in a tweet after Navalny’s murder. It’s like the Milwaukee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial murderer who made a delicious meal of his victims, describing a vegetarian as a monster!

February also brought a confession by Alexander Smirnov, former FBI informant, on whose information Republicans based their allegations for impeachment of President Biden and his son, Hunter. Smirnov had previously stated that the Bidens had received millions of dirty dollars from the Ukrainian company, Burisma. He has now confessed to the FBI that his story about the Bidens was a complete fabrication, an invention of Putin’s Russian intelligence. He has since been exposed by the FBI as a “Disinformation Agent” of this Russian spy machine.

Many prominent Republican Congressmen still shamelessly lie that they have complete confidence in Smirnov’s credibility, in spite of the fact that FBI Director, Christopher Wray had warned them two years ago that Smirnov’s credentials were highly suspect. Smirnov is now under indictment for lying and providing falsified documents to the FBI. His testimony has completely undercut the Republicans’ case, and their desperate attempts to impeach President Biden have finally blown up in their faces.

There is no doubt that Hunter Biden was a flawed human being, who acted unethically in accepting money from an Ukrainian company, taking advantage of his father’s position as the Vice-President. Hunter has also admitted there was a period in his life when he was guilty of substance abuse and tax evasion, crimes for which he is in the process of paying his debt to society.

There is absolutely no evidence that President Biden was involved in any way with the activities of his son, a private citizen, during his two terms as Vice-President.

Interestingly, Republicans turned a blind eye when Trump’s children were defrauding the government for billions of dollars, when his daughter, Ivanka and husband, Jared Kushner, were senior employees in the Trump administration.

This complicity of Russian intelligence with Trump’s Republican cult leads to the terrifying conclusion that the Russians are, yet again, attempting to interfere in American elections. The stakes for Putin could not be higher. The re-election of Trump, his lap-dog, to the US presidency in November will open the doors to his ultimate dream of the re-emergence of the Superpower glory of the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). And Trump will attain his dreams of dictatorial power, and use that power to rival Putin as the richest man in the world.

Alexei Navalny’s simple message to his supporters, as shown in the 2022 Oscar-winning documentary, was as ominous as it was inspirational.

“You are not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to use this power”. He ended his message with a maxim often attributed to Edmund Burke, widely known as the philosophical founder of British conservatism: “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”. A message that has guided Navalny’s life, and may prove to be even more powerful in his death, if it inspires the good people in Russia to continue the struggle against Putin’s evil regime and build a better future for Russia.

The good people of Germany ignored the evils of Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s. They did nothing although they saw – and smelled – the smoke of burning human flesh billowing from the ovens of Germany’s many concentration camps. This gruesome evil was finally vanquished, though with international, including American, intervention. But not before the extermination of six million Jews.

Today, the good people of the world, even in Israel, are watching in horror but doing nothing as Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu and his right-wing cabinet intent on a one-state solution in Israel, are continuing to wreak vengeance on innocent Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza (29,000 killed as of date, and counting) for that one day on October 7, 2023. A day when Hamas, a terrorist organization, tortured and killed 1,200 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, kidnapping 140 hostages of various nationalities.

Revenge in the form of indiscriminate air and ground onslaughts by the Israeli Defense Force are beginning to metaphorically smell awfully like the noisome smoke that emanated from the ovens of Auschwitz. And who knows? Netanyahu might succeed in his ambition to wipe out all the Palestinians where Hitler failed in his ambition to exterminate all the Jews. A genocidal parallel, brimming with irony, that will not be lost in the history books of the future.

The tragedy is that this very same scenario exists in the greatest democracy in the world today. The good people of the United States of America are looking on in apathy, doing nothing, as Trump and the American equivalent of the Nazi Brownshirts harass, threaten and attack, not only Jews, but all brown skinned immigrants from “shithole countries”. They listen with enthusiastic anticipation to Trump listing all the Hitler-like measures he will implement to “preserve the pure white blood” of European Americans when he wins re-election.

These domestic terrorists will not surrender the white privileges they have enjoyed for centuries without using every means, domestic and Russian, politically deceptive and criminally violent, to perpetuate their illusion of white superiority.

The good people of America have eight months to wake up to what could well mean the end of their democracy and the position of their leadership of the free nations of the world. And the sad fact is that most people who read this will think I am being alarmingly fear-mongering and hyperbolic. Let me assure you, I am not. Trump’s “movement” presents the greatest danger the United States has faced since the Civil War, basically, for the same reason – preservation of the dominance of White Supremacy. This time around, however, the modern version of the soldiers of the Confederacy will be armed not with muskets but with military style killing machines. And led by an ignorant psychopath.

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