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Sri Lanka’s disgrace, Trump’s worst hurrah, and Biden’s finest hour

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by Rajan Philips

For today’s column I was planning on writing on the ‘use and abuse of science in politics,’ both generally about the tortuous relationship the two have been having throughout the world in this pandemic year, and more specifically about what seems to be becoming the political abuse of science in Sri Lanka. As far as I can think of examples, Sri Lanka seems to be the only country where the government has succeeded in dividing the medical scientific community almost right down the middle. And I cannot think of any other way to describe this development except calling it utterly disgraceful.

Differences among doctors and scientists are not uncommon and they could be positively useful. The current differences among world scientists are about the British vaccination protocol to maximize the number of single dosage recipients by extending the time for the second dosage from three weeks to three months, and to mix and match vaccines for the two dosages. This debate is at the cutting edge of Covid-19 vaccine science.

Closer to stone age is the debate in Sri Lanka about cremating or burying the victims of Covid-19. Somehow, the government seems to have strong armed, or socially pressured, a medically learned opinion that the burial of Covid-19 victims might result in armies of an essentially respiratory virus escaping the buried cadavers and rushing through the earth’s esophagus to infect its ground water! What else could one call this, except disgraceful.

 

Trump’s last and worst hurrah

No one, however, will have any hesitation about calling out as DISGRACEFUL, what Donald Trump did in Washington last Wednesday. It was also dangerous. Over the last two months and more, American democracy has been living through the worst of times and the best of times. True to form, after Trump’s worst hurrah on Wednesday, Joe Biden registered his finest hour on Thursday as President elect.

On Wednesday, January 6, the United States Congress was getting into a joint session of the House and the Senate to perform its quadrennial constitutional ritual of affirming the Electoral College votes and declaring Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the winners of 2020 November presidential election. About the same time Trump was addressing a motley mob of his supporters and egging them on to march on Capitol, while leaving it to them to take whatever course of mischief they could. And they did, storming the Capitol, overpowering security, invading the Senate and House Chambers, forcing the legislators to run for cover, and interrupting proceedings. Five people including a policeman were killed in the melee, and a number of people were injured.

The most shocking aspect of the mob invasion was the total absence of security or police. White thugs were seen freely scaling over parapets on to balconies. It struck everyone who watched the unfolding scenes that it would have been a different story if the protesters were from the Black Lives movement. They would have been gunned down instantly. To his credit, President elect Joe Biden condemned the racist inaction by Police and made it public that his granddaughter, a university student, had emailed him to express her disgust.

This was Trump’s last and desperate attempt to prevent the official declaration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as winners of the November presidential election. Just earlier that morning he had tried to coerce his Vice President Mike Pence to use his totally ceremonial role of announcing Electoral College vote tallies before the joint session, to reject the results of one or more states and throw the whole election into hitherto uncharted chaos. If there could be enough chaos, Trump seems to have figured, he would be able to snatch a second term. Pence refused, and announced his refusal publicly – apparently becoming the first Vice President in American history to publicly contradict his President.

Separately, Trump’s supporters in Congress were trying to challenge and upset the results of six states where Biden’s margin of victory is low. These moves were doomed to fail as a majority of the Congress, in both the House and the Senate, including both Republicans and Democrats, was going to reject these vexations and affirm the clear Electoral College (and the massive popular vote) majority that Biden and Harris had legitimately and legally won. Which the Congress eventually did – by massive majorities, over 300 in the House of 438 members and over 90 out of 100 in the Senate. This was done with the Congress reconvening after the mob interruption, and sitting through the night and finishing its constitutional business in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The 100+ members in the House who ended up voting against the endorsement of the election results are die hard Tea Party supporters on the extreme right of the Republican Party, and the half a dozen Republican Senators who objected to the election results were positioning themselves as candidates for the next (2024) presidential election. But their political calculations have now been trampled and trashed by the Trump mob that ransacked the Capitol. And Trump has disgraced himself far more than any of his many detractors could have.

The man who started his presidency yelling to stop the “American carnage” is now leaving office after failing to incite a mob carnage to extend his presidency. The phrase ‘American carnage’ was written into Trump’s inaugural speech by Stephen Miller, a 30+ right-wing nut, policy wonk and speechwriter. Miller has been the architect of some of Trump’s worst initiatives, especially on immigration. Trump never owned or possessed any pre-meditated political vocabulary or idea when he embarked on his presidential flight. Nor did he come to acquiring anything worthwhile during his tenure as President.

Given his sociopathic craving for power and fame, Trump turned to the worst and the ugliest in America and among Americans to sustain his politics. His worst hurrah was in trying to goad the Americans, or at least a critically sufficient number of them to overturn the results of the presidential election that he lost by quite a margin. By stubbornly overreaching in the end, he has destroyed the chance of leaving even a partisan legacy of mobilizing over 70 million voters to vote for the Republican Party.

Without the power of the presidency and the social media platform that he exploited, with Facebook and Twitter already beginning to isolate him, and deserted by fleeing of his aids and supporters, Trump will find it difficult to remain in the eye of the political storm as he has been doing for the last four years. As his former Defense Secretary James Mattis has noted, Trump “will be deservedly left without a country.” Scotland has already spurned him by officially saying that he is not welcome to visit his golf club there. In America, Trump will be pre-occupied with legal worries.

With only two weeks left in office, there is no point in impeaching Trump or executively removing him under the 25th Amendment. But the calls for one or both, have certainly rattled him and may have prevented him doing anything outrageous, not only domestically, and also internationally. Within a day of openly inciting his mob supporters to overthrow the election, Trump has been chastened to deliver highly scripted statements that a new administration will take over on January 20 and that he will spend his last two weeks in office facilitating a peaceful transfer of power.

He has not been able, however, to find any decency in him to acknowledge that Joe Biden will be the next President. The only remaining surprise about him is whether he would (self) pardon himself out of future legal jeopardies. Whether a self-pardon will be effective is an open legal question, and in any event, it will protect Trump only from federal litigation and not state litigations. There are cases awaiting him in New York, his hometown and home state. But he might never return there. He is now a registered resident of Florida.

 

America’s Game of Inches

Americans call their national game – American Football, a game of inches. The opposing teams lock one another pushing and shoving to gain ground and advance ball possession inch by inch. Aerial passes were a later introduction apparently following a casual suggestion by President Theodore Roosevelt after his son was badly injured in a college football game. American politics seems to be no different. It is a game of inches – checks and balances and separation of powers. There is no room for aerial passes or sweeping landslide victories.

Joe Biden’s impressive popular vote win would have meant nothing if Trump had managed to hold on to the handful of seats that he narrowly lost. Trump would have squeaked through to a second term thanks to the Electoral College system. And the Biden presidency would have been thoroughly ineffectual if the Democrats did not gain control in both the House and the Senate. The Democrats have a majority in the House, but they had to win both Senate seats in Georgia in the runoff elections held on January 5. The Democrats stunningly won both, for the first time in 28 years. But it was again a game of inches – just about a one percent margin of victory.

 

Until recently, the working of the American political system depended on bipartisan agreements in the House and in the Senate. It was not unusual for a sitting President to be opposed by members of his own party in Congress, and for the President to reach out to the opposing party to secure legislative majorities on a case-by-case basis. The Republicans upended the system when they decided to function as a ‘parliamentary’ opposition to President Obama, opposing everything he did or initiated. The same stalemate would have continued for President elect Biden if Republicans had won at least one of the two Senate races in Georgia, which would have kept the Senate under Republican control.

Apart from the Electoral College system, it is the Senate that provides the biggest check against popular majorities and mandates. James Carville, the coiner of the famous Clinton slogan – “It’s the economy, stupid,” never misses an opportunity to remind his young progressive critics that 18% of the American population (living in 26 rural States) elect 52 of America’s 100 Senators. Therein lies the dilemma of winning big on a progressive agenda in New York and in California and running into Senate roadblocks in Washington set up by small state Senators.

The Georgia wins are a great boost to the new Biden-Harris Administration. Both Biden and Harris are former Senators, and Biden had been a Senate fixture from the Nixon era until he became Obama’s Vice President. He has loads of Congress and Senate experience to draw from as he tries to restore normalcy to American politics and its role in the world after four years of Trump chaos.

Joe Biden may not be the man of destiny, but he is a man of great decency and Americans could not have found a better person to replace Trump and reverse his disastrous course. Biden’s address to the nation on Thursday, the day after Trump’s failed carnage, was his finest hour as President elect. He eloquently went through the long charge sheet against Trump, but he was not interested in impeachment but moving on and turning a new page.

He also chose the occasion to announce his new Attorney General – Merrick Garland, a highly respected Federal Appeals Court Judge, whom President Obama nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016, but only to have him spurned by the Republican Senate on the grounds that it was an election year. Now it is just reward for Justice, for if there is any area that requires immediate restoration after Trump, it is the Department of Justice. Both men recounted that the American Department of Justice (DOJ) was established in 1870 to enforce civil liberties and eliminate the menace of Ku Klux Klan. And they promised that the DOJ will be rebooted to its original purpose.

 

 



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VIOLENT NIGHT —Santa Claus goes Die-Hard this Christmas

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David Harbour as Santa Claus

By Tharishi Hewavithanagamage.

Tis’ the season to be jolly and binge watch Christmas movie classics like ‘Home Alone’, but in a twisted turn of events Director Tommy Wirkola has other plans for audiences. With a screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, Director Wirkola and his team flips the table on the Christmas movie stereotype and gives audiences a scintillating and gut-churning tale starring the beloved Santa Claus. The movie stars, David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Leah Brady, Beverly D’Angelo and Alex Hassell among others.

The film starts with a boozy opening featuring a not-so-jolly, drunk, self-loathing Santa Claus complaining about how children these days are greedy and are ungrateful. The story then shifts it focus on to the über-wealthy but awfully dysfunctional Lightstone family, who have gathered to celebrate Christmas. Siblings Alva and Jason have brought their families to spend time with their mother Gertrude. Alva, her son Bertrude and actor boyfriend Morgan Steele, plan to gain financial benefits from Gertrude, while Jason his ex-wife Linda attempt to fix their marriage for the sake of their daughter Trudy. The ‘holy night’ becomes a more ‘gory night’ as the Lightstone family are taken hostage by a group of mercenaries led by ‘Mr. Scrooge’, who are looking to steal $300 million locked away in a massive vault within the compound. Santa who had arrived to deliver his gifts is unwillingly caught up in the unfolding mayhem, having fallen asleep mid-cookie/booze binge. Santa Claus is soon forced to pull himself together for young Trudy, and deliver more than just ‘lumps of coal’ to the bad guys.

Lightstone family

As the title itself suggests, the highlight of the movie is the violence and it lives up to its name. Wirkola and the team go all in with the violence, plenty of blood and gore and crude language to top it all off. Blood and guts are the last thing one would expect from Christmas flicks. The movie is packed with very graphic action sequences given to audiences from every camera angle possible, so it may not be for the faint hearted.

The film borrows greatly from the quintessential holiday movies of all time— ‘Home Alone’ and ‘Die-Hard’. Both franchises have always resonated well with audiences over different generations and the two titles, in a similar vein, combine action and violence set during Christmas time. The deadly booby traps that Trudy sets up bring back memories of Kevin McCallister’s assault on the Wet Bandits— Marv and Harry and David Harbour’s Santa is basically the new John McClane. Both Die-Hard and Home Alone have done well with striking a balance between the violence and themes about family, love and bringing people together for the holidays. For Wirkola who is amplifying the violence a thousand times over, it is important to not lose the festive vibes amidst the unbridled carnage. The movie manages to balance the scales just enough that it does not hamper the thrill. Wildly entertaining as it may be, the short and rather simple storyline affects the pace of the film. The storyline does not ponder too much over who lives and dies and barely goes into detail about the characters, and fails to give the film solid ground.

Leah Brady as Trudy

The star that truly shines is David Harbour, who is known best for his work as Jim Hopper on the Stranger Things series. He delivers a very natural performance, almost as if he was destined to play the role of a not-so-Saint Nick. He brings his A-game into the violent aspects of the role, while simultaneously delivering heart-warming scenes. Adding his own input into developing the character in the early stages of production, Harbour surely enjoyed this new rendition of Santa Claus. Adding more layers and elements to the character, the movie refers to and expands on the many cultural iterations of Saint Nicholas. ‘Violent Night’ gives audiences a glimpse into Santa’s history with a Viking-style backstory. Going by Nicomund the Red, he topped the naughty list as a warrior who pillaged and killed with his reliable hammer, Skullcrusher. Obviously in this scenario his former lifestyle gives him a greater advantage over the bad guys. Harbour brings great energy and inventively switches with ease between the hard and soft elements that complete the character.

Santa Claus and Mr. Scrooge

Leah Brady’s character Trudy plays a key role alongside Harbour’s Santa, as it’s their relationship that keeps the story running. Trudy depicts the essence of Christmas and is the epitome of everything that is good in the world. She is the emotional core of the tale— a little girl who needs something to believe in. A classic Christmas trope but one that is necessary to push the story forward. Trudy’s character reminds Santa that goodness and kindness is still there, in a world driven by greed and selfishness. The character dynamic helps strike an important balance between the violence and sentimental aspects of the holiday season. The rest of the cast are given ample screen time to work with their characters but don’t necessarily stand out, due to the lack of a solid storyline.

‘Violent Night’ is a simple tale that puts a fresh spin (and brutal murders) on the usual holiday flicks. Home Alone and Die-Hard were violent in their own way, but Wirkola is intensifying the bloodbath and catering to largely adult audiences. It’s not every day that audiences get to see a foul-mouthed, drunk Santa Claus who surprisingly turns out to be very good at crushing skulls and delivering nut-cracking blows with a sledgehammer, save the day. David Harbour’s rendition of Santa can sit at the top with the likes of Deadpool and John Wick based solely off the gruesome and highly graphic action sequences it offers. For audiences looking to catch the film Wirkola’s magic guarantees a bloody good time.

‘Violent Night’ is currently screening at Scope Cinemas.

 

John Leguizamo as Mr. Scrooge

Director Tommy Wirkola

 

 

 

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South likely to be hit most by West’s price cap on Russian crude oil

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People protesting in China

Months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly clear that the latter’s traumas would not end any time soon. Nor is the invader registering any notable gains from its fatal decision to annex Ukraine by armed means and might. However, it’s abundantly clear that the destabilizing economic consequences for the world from the invasion are likely to increase exponentially.

The recent decision by the G7, EU and Australia to place a price cap of US $ 60 on a barrel of Russian crude oil is further proof of the West’s intention of weakening Russia relentlessly on the economic plane, but as matters stand, it is the global South that is likely to suffer most from this decision.

Observers of the global oil industry were quoted as saying that the world would need to brace for further oil price hikes as a result of the Western decision and that OPEC would likely reduce its oil output in the days to come with the aim of propping-up prices. Needless to say, these developments translate into graver economic hardships for the more vulnerable economies of the South, although destabilizing ripple effects from stepped-up oil prices would be felt worldwide as well.

At the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, hunger and famine were already taking hold of parts of Africa. Some African countries with the worst food crises are; Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia. Their condition was further aggravated as a result of food and energy prices escalating, close on the heels of the invasion.

It was only a matter of time before these economic aftershocks made themselves felt in even the West. Right now, the West is very much into a ‘Winter of Discontent’, with rising food and energy prices proving to be doubly distressing. Inflation in the UK, for instance, is said to be notably high.

In the Asian theatre, countries such as Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are virtually begging for survival. If not for the largesse of the international community, it could be truly said that Sri Lanka ‘would not live to see another day’. If its multi-dimensional crisis is not resolved expeditiously, Sri Lanka is likely to be categorized by the world community as one of those countries with the highest levels of hunger in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Some other countries in this category from the regions concerned are: Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and North Korea.

Accordingly, the mentioned economically-distressed countries and more are unlikely to survive another series of energy and food price shocks and also remain intact, so to speak. However, with the prospects remaining bleak for a negotiated settlement of the Ukraine crisis, the possibility of the international community alleviating the economic hardships of the South in the foreseeable future is remote. The conclusion is inescapable that the South would need to brace for aggravating material hardships and economic disempowerment.

Wise counsel would need to be brought to bear on the Russian political leadership to enable it to see the no-win situation into which it has brought itself in the Ukrainian theatre. President Putin is unlikely to take the path of negotiations in Ukraine if the latter course would incur for him a loss of face and prestige. The negotiated settlement while ensuring Ukraine’s independence and geographical integrity should guard against the possibility of a drastic loss of prestige and credibility for the Russian President in the eyes of his public at home.

However, the world community is quite a distance away from such a win-win outcome, considering the polarities in thinking and the persisting hostile relations between the main sides to the Ukraine crisis. The solution calls for deft diplomacy of the highest order.

It is left to powers, such as China and India, to take up the challenge of bringing about a negotiated political settlement in Ukraine. China has not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine but is not endorsing it either. Since the Chinese political leadership has entered into what may be called a détente process of sorts with the US, it emerges as a suitable candidate to bring the antagonists in Ukraine to the negotiating table.

President Xi could use the measure of cordiality he established with President Biden before the recent G-20 summit in Indonesia to narrow the differences between the conflicting sides in Ukraine, considering that the West’s staunch support for Ukraine is a vital factor in perpetuating the conflict.

Likewise, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could use his offices as the head of the G-20 to help to bring the crisis in Ukraine to an end. As is the case with China, India enjoys cordial ties with Russia and being a major democracy, India is likely to see the wisdom of ending the Ukraine conflict by peaceful means, in consideration of the need to serve the best interests of the Ukrainian and Russian publics without further delay.

A moral duty is cast on the world’s foremost democracies, such as India, to attach primacy to the wellbeing of people everywhere and in the current world economic crunch, it is the people who are affected negatively most. It stands to reason if the Ukraine invasion is ended through negotiations, there would be considerable relief for people worldwide.

The fact that there is considerable popular unrest against the political leadership of China and Russia at present should further prompt the respective Presidents of these countries to lose no time in doing their best to end the Ukraine crisis by peaceful means. It ought to be clear that their tenures at the helm of their countries would no longer be peaceful, since their policies, domestic and foreign, have only served to trigger internal dissent and unrest. They may deploy state coercion to get such unrest under control but the possibility is that the people’s animosity towards their regimes will explode time and again.

If Xi and Putin would permit wise counsel to prevail they would redress the grievances of their publics by peaceful means rather than court chronic and continuing dissent against their regimes by seeking to quell their popular uprisings through the use of coercion. Next, they should use the expertise they have acquired locally to heal a ‘running wound’ that is bringing distress to people the world over, such as the Ukraine crisis.

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Christmas with the Calibre Team

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The festive season is certainly brightening up and, going by what I see on social media, there will be plenty of festive activities for everyone, and that’s a good sign, indeed, as we missed out on those Christmassy celebrations, the past two years, mainly due to the pandemic.

Choro Calibre and X-Calibre, two unique bands, with energetic musicians, who are focused and passionate to create choral and acoustic music, in their own style, have released their new Christmas cover song…the ever popular Jose Feliciano festive hit, ‘Feliz Navidad.’

This much loved Christmas pop song has been given an electronic colour, and twist, by the Calibre Team.

For the record, ‘Feliz Navidad’ was written, in 1970, by Puerto Rican singer-songwriter José Feliciano.

With its simple, heartfelt lyrics—the traditional Spanish Christmas and New Year greeting “Feliz Navidad, próspero año y felicidad” means Merry Christmas, a prosperous year and happiness”.

The song has been heard, on the radio, by an estimated 3.8 billion people, according to Billboard, where it remains as one of the top 10 best-performing songs on its Holiday 100 chart.

You can check out the new music video, by the Calibre Team, on YouTube, and download the song on Apple Music and Spotify.

Choro Calibre and X-Calibre became a reality, in 2009, when Shamal De Silva, driven by the passion for music, teamed up with a few of his friends and started a choir, and a band.

Shamal De Silva

Shamal began his music career at the age of just eight, probably the youngest church organist at the time, when he started playing at St. Paul’s Church, in Waragoda. Later, he took over the leadership of the College Choir, in 2008, at his Alma-Mater, St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, and went on to win “The Musician of the Year” award, in 2009, for his multi-disciplined musical contributions. He also excelled in his studies and graduated from the University of Colombo.

Explaining the meaning of ‘Calibre,’ Shamal says Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur and it is believed to be the strongest sword – unbreakable, and powerful. And so, the band is named as X-Calibre, and the choral group as Choro Calibre.

Elaborating further, Shamal indicated that the choral group, Choro Calibre, is an international award-winning commercial choir (won three awards at the Asia Cantate Choir Games, held in Thailand), and they perform at weddings, events, and Christmas carols, while X-Calibre is an acoustic band, also doing weddings, events and private functions.

“With our new outlook, new sound, re-arranged music and melodious harmonies, we’ve got some exciting events and productions lined up. We perform different genres and musical eras, ranging from the sounds of golden oldies to the top club hits of today”, said Shamal.

You could check them out, during the festive season, at the following venues:

• 14th December: 7.00pm – Cafe Ivy

• 16th to 25th December: 4.00pm – Cinnamon Grand

• 17th December: 5.00pm – Gold FM 70s show at Taj North Lawn

• 20th December: 7.00pm – Christmas party at Cinnamon Lakeside

• 21st to 25th December: 7.00pm – Cinnamon Lakeside

• 22nd and 23rd December: 8.00pm – Taj Samudra

• 24th and 25th December: 8.00pm – Hilton Colombo

• 22nd to 24th December: 9.00pm – Galadari Hotel

• 25th December 2022: Galadari Hotel

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