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THE BIDEN TRANSITION

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

The Biden transition finally started last week, with President Trump’s tacit and grudging approval. The U.S. Government Services Administration was instructed to release funds earmarked for the efficient transfer of power to the Biden administration.

Approval had also been given for communication of the Trump medical officials and the Biden transition team. Most importantly, with the Covid19 raging, the services of top medical professionals, specialists in Epidemiology, headed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading epidemiologist in the country, Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Robert Redfield and other leading medical professionals, whose voices had been silenced by Trump, have been recalled. They will bring back policies to fight the virus with scientific strategies favored by President-elect Biden, policies which will better control the rampant spread of the virus caused by the inaction of the Trump administration.

Biden is now receiving the Presidential Daily Briefings, a top-secret document given each morning to the president of the United States. The release of this vital security document, traditionally released to the President-elect from the first day after his election, had been hitherto denied by Trump. These daily briefings keep the next president of the United States abreast of national and international developments which would enable him to hit the ground running when he assumes the presidency in January.

This recognition of transfer of power is the nearest to a concession of defeat that Trump would be able to manage. He is pathologically incapable of accepting that he has been toppled by the American people from his lofty, self-constructed perch of Godlike leadership. In fact, he is currently inciting his cult to violently overturn the results of “the fairest election in the history of the US”, by death threats to the legislators entrusted with the constitutional duty of certifying the Biden presidency.

Trump is violating the unwritten laws of a Lame Duck presidency by taking provocative military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, against the advice of his own security personnel. These actions involve reducing troop deployments in these embattled nations, troops involved in helping local forces to combat terrorism. Trump’s order will leave the remaining American troops unable to fulfill their duties, as they will be primarily engaged in protecting themselves. So Biden will be faced with the unpopular decision of redeploying troops so that they may protect the inadequate numbers of Americans left behind. Which had been Trump’s motive in the first place, anyway – to embarrass Biden, to force him to a difficult decision at the beginning of his presidency. To hell with troops and country.

In spite of all these impediments placed by Trump, President-elect Biden has been making significant progress, clearly indicating the vision of his presidency. He has dismissed the Trump slogan of “America First” which has resulted in “America Alone”. He is assembling an administration designed to help the United States work with traditional allies and resume the leadership of the free world, a role Trump had abandoned by forsaking friends and consorting with adversaries.

Biden has appointed Ron Klain, as his chief of staff. Klain, a veteran democrat who served as chief of staff to two vice-presidents, Gore and Biden, has been a confidante and top aide to Biden since the 1980s. He also served as President Obama’s “Ebola Czar”, during the outbreak of that disease in 2014, and will bring valuable experience in the backdrop of the current pandemic.

Biden has completed cabinet appointments to his foreign relations and security departments, professionals with training and wide experience in their respective fields. He has kept to his determination of espousing diversity in the composition of his cabinet. The list includes people who have had working and personal relationships with Biden over decades, and marks several firsts for America.

John Kerry, President Obama’s Secretary of State and presidential nominee in 2004, perhaps the best known name in the Biden cabinet, has been nominated as the Climate Czar. Kerry will lead the country in taking steps to mitigate the imminent dangers of climate change. America is expected to rejoin the Paris Accord on Climate Change, from which Trump withdrew during the early days of his presidency.

Antony Blinken, one of Biden’s longest-serving advisers is the new Secretary of State. He served as Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration, and is described by Obama as “outstanding” and “smart, gracious, a skilled diplomat, well-regarded around the world”.

Alejandro Mayorkas is the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which he served as its deputy from 2013 to 2016. He’s the first Latino, a Cuban whose family fled the Castro revolution, to run the department also responsible for immigration policies.

Avril Haines is the Director of National Intelligence, the first woman to hold this position. A former aide to Biden, Ms. Haines also served as the deputy director of the CIA.

Janet Yellen, the new Treasury Secretary, has led the Federal Reserve, and is praised as a progressive economist, committed to fight unemployment and inequality of income.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, an African American from Louisiana, is the Ambassador to the United Nations. She was an assistant secretary for African affairs under the Obama and Trump administrations, and the US ambassador to Liberia under Bush and Obama.

The National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan served as deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He has been teaching at Yale Law School since 2014.

Biden has been criticized for these appointments, that his administration will just be a continuation of Obama’s policies. Biden denied that his administration will be a third term for President Obama, saying that he has inherited a totally different landscape caused by Trump, the reality of a country polarized as never before in its history. However, he should be commended for the attempt to adopt the policies of the Obama/Biden administration of two terms, which have proved to the most successful in the nation’s history, led by a president considered by many to be the best ever. An administration which pulled the nation out of a deep recession and fashioned a booming economy with 72 months’ continuous economic growth and shrinking unemployment. All done without a whiff of scandal, personal, financial, ethical or political, and with repeated blocking by a hostile Senate.

Trump emerged from his White House bunker on Tuesday for the Thanksgiving tradition of pardoning a turkey. In his address, he continued to flog the dead horse, without a shred of evidence, about how the election was stolen from him. He made this speech during the twin crises of a raging pandemic and crippling unemployment. He had not one word of empathy or concern about these human tragedies, the unparalleled suffering, affliction and death faced by millions of Americans. His only concern is in the pain he is suffering, caused by the delusion of a stolen election. And the growing terror of the fate that awaits him when he loses his presidential immunity and has to face justice for his numerous crimes, as a private citizen.

But he did take credit on Tuesday for the Dow Jones Industrial Average reaching record levels. The irony is delicious. A president taking the credit for a record high stock market caused by his own exit from the White House.

Cob, the White House turkey was not the only pardon Trump issued last week or plans to issue before he is removed from the Oval Office. He has already pardoned Michael Flynn, his National Security Adviser, convicted of collusion with the Russians during his 2016 transition. A crime to which Flynn pleaded guilty, was convicted and awaiting sentence – delayed for four years, thanks to the machinations of Attorney General William Barr. Trump is also considering pardoning other convicted members of his 2016 campaign team, currently serving time; former campaign manager, Paul Manafort and campaign associate George Papadopoulos. Also, long-time associate Roger Stone, whose prison sentence was commuted by Trump. Trump’s motive for the pardon of his fellow collaborators with the Russians is obvious. He is trying to undermine the findings of Special Prosecutor Mueller of collusion with the Russians during the 2016 election, swept under the carpet during his impeachment trial by Attorney General Barr. Findings which cast grave doubts on the legitimacy of his presidency.

Also considered for pardon are Charles Kushner, father of son-in-law and senior White House counsel, Jared Kushner, convicted for tax evasion, Alex Weisselberg, Chief Financial Officer, Trump Organization, Rudi Guiliani and members of the Trump family. The president of the United States has extensive constitutional powers of pardon. He will be acting within the law, though with a complete absence of ethics, in pardoning these criminals.

However, he may not have the power to pardon the greatest turkey of them all: Trump himself. The Constitution makes no mention of a president’s powers to self-pardon. Possibly because the Founding Fathers never foresaw that the American people would be stupid enough to elect an ignorant, criminal lunatic as their president. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

There is a fundamental principle in common law that a man cannot be his own judge and jury, which Trump would be attempting if he tries to pardon himself. However, his servile Attorney General may, once again, subvert the constitution by misinterpreting presidential powers of pardon to enable the president to pardon himself. Possibly the last treacherous act of an Attorney General who will be removed in disgrace come January.

The final chapter of 2020 of the tragedy of the Covid19 pandemic is yet to be written. In spite of dire warnings from health professionals, a record number of Americans are traveling, by car, train and airplane, to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families. Airports and train stations are crowded, social distancing impossible and not all passengers are masked. These family Thanksgiving gatherings have been projected to be “the mother of all super-spreaders”, whose tragic effects will be seen before Christmas with certain spikes in hospitalizations and fatalities.

Unemployment numbers continue to increase, with 778,000 applicants for unemployment benefits added to the rolls in November. There is no prospect of any relief through a stimulus payment, overdue since May. The Senate has gone on vacation, while millions of Americans go hungry and homeless during Thanksgiving, in the richest country of the world.

In admirable contrast, Biden gave a Thanksgiving address full of empathy, compassion and hope. He made an earnest call for unity in a deeply polarized nation. “We need to remember, we’re at war with the virus, not with each other”. He echoed the words of George Washington, quoting from a plaque at Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania, commemorating the first Thanksgiving on December 18, 1777, celebrated during the War of independence.

“Lacking food, clothing, shelter, they were preparing to ride out a long, hard winter…. In spite of the suffering, they showed reverence and character that was forging the soul of the nation. Faith, courage, sacrifice, service to country, service to each other and gratitude, even in the face of suffering, have long been part of what Thanksgiving means in America.”

America is back, after four years of tottering on the brink of a regime akin to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

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Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Features

Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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Features

LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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