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The Big Lie And Voter Suppression

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

The Big Lie, initiated by former president Donald Trump after he lost the November presidential election, that the election was stolen from him, is continuing to attack the foundations of democracy in America, and will have far reaching and deleterious effects in future elections.

A Big Lie, when used as a propaganda technique for political purposes is defined as “a gross distortion or misinterpretation of the facts, especially when used as a propaganda device of an official body”.

The most infamous example of the Big Lie was the one used by Hitler and the Nazi propaganda machine headed by Joseph Goebbels. Historians say that the original Big Lie, that the First World War was started by “an international Jewry”, was a “war of extermination against Germany”. World War I was not lost by Germany in 1918, but their defeat was caused by the betrayal of the Jews.

In his book “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle), Hitler describes a lie “so colossal that no one could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously” when the colossal lie has been accepted as the truth.

The Big Lie must contain an element of truth. Jews have been persecuted and been the victims of pogroms, riots aimed at their expulsion or massacre, since the Crusades, escalating in the cruelty of 19th century Russia and Europe. The Nazis simply made use of this innate race-hatred as justification of Hitler’s Final Solution, the genocide of all Jews.

Hitler also revealed his other great enemy, the Lugenpresse, (the Lying Press), or its modern version, Fake News, which interfered with his dream of a pure Aryan (white) race in Germany, cleansed of Jews, Gypsies and those of impure blood.

Though his Final Solution was doomed to failure, his “dream” claimed the lives of over six millions of Jews and others of “impure blood” in the holocaust.

Hitler shot himself at the end of the war. The name of Hitler is now held in contempt and disgust in Germany and the world.

History is repeating itself. Trump’s Big Lie is that the November 2020 presidential election was stolen from him through massive election fraud; that the election was not lost by him, but he was betrayed by insidious forces, Republicans and Democrats, who stole it from him.

He set the stage for the Big Lie, following Hitler’s example almost to perfection, by identification of his – and America’s – primary enemies as brown and black skinned minorities and immigrants, who were acting against his American Dream of the continuation of white privilege/supremacy, which had held sway for centuries.

Trump identified these immigrant enemies during his election campaign as the Republican nominee for the 2016 presidency. In his opinion, immigration was an invasion. He described the Mexicans and other legal and undocumented Hispanics as a hostile force. “They’re bringing crime. They’re bringing drugs. They’re rapists”. All Muslims, even American citizens, were terrorists. He had only contempt for immigrants of brown skin from shithole countries, as he called them. The brutal treatment of African Americans for centuries hasn’t changed much to the present day, and Trump fanned those flames with his racism.

Once he had identified the main enemy, he named the second threat to Trump’s America – the media, or Fake News, which he dubbed “the Enemy of the People”. He implored his white, ill-educated supporters not to believe what they see or hear. Only he would tell them the truth, on Twitter and on Fox News, the Republican propaganda TV station. And his supporters believed every lie he invented. They attended his rallies in their tens of thousands to show their vociferous devotion.

Trump’s dream had a touch of the truth for white, racist Americans; their fear of imminent danger of the loss of white privilege they had enjoyed for centuries.

The third lie that immediately preceded the Big Lie. When Trump realized that he was going to lose the presidency to Biden, he told his supporters that he would lose the presidency only if the election was rigged.

So the stage was set for the Big Lie, after he was comprehensively beaten by Biden for the presidency in November 2020, by 81 million to 74 million on the popular vote and 306 to 232 in the Electoral College.

After this landslide defeat, Trump and his supporters continued to accuse the Democrats of rigging the election. His legal representatives filed 60 cases of election fraud, which were all thrown out by district and federal courts, even his hand-picked Supreme Court, for lacking a shred of evidence.

Trump’s claims of election fraud were contradicted by his own Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC) which called the 2020 election “the most secure in American history…. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised”.

Trump’s Big Lie was backed by the earlier lies he had implanted on his Republican base that the election will be rigged. The Lie was believed by his base. After all, 74 million Americans had voted for him in spite of this lie, and 3,500 other lies he had used during his presidency, all designed to camouflage his ignorance and criminal incompetence in carrying out the duties of the president.

During the 11-week Lame Duck transition period, Trump continued with the repetition of the lie and obstructed the peaceful transfer of power. He even tried to intimidate the Governors and election officials of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and most famously, Georgia, with an hour-long recorded telephone call, when he was heard to threaten Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, with a felony, unless he “found” 11,780 votes which would give him the fraudulent majority necessary for him to win the state.

All his efforts to overturn his election failed, still his base continued to believe the Big Lie in the face of overwhelming evidence. He recognized that his final opportunity to achieve the unachievable would be on January 6, when Congress, with Vice President Pence in the chair, assembled to perform their constitutional duty of officially certifying the presidency of Biden.

I have written about the events of that fateful day, when Trump supporters led an assault of the Capitol, an insurrection incited by a desperate Trump, which caused six deaths, hundreds wounded and millions of dollars in damage to the seat of American government.

The mob threatened the lives of the entire Congress, calling for the assassination of both Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi. The insurrectionists were finally subdued, and Congress carried out their constitutional duty of declaring the presidency of Biden.

The sad fact that remains is that there are millions of Americans who still believe the election had been stolen from Trump, and will continue sporadic violent attacks on American institutions.

But the big picture is that Trump, and his dream of a pure white America, with the subjugation of minorities, including African Americans and brown skinned immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries, has failed.

Trump will likely be convicted of just about every crime in the penal code, and will die in prison. The name of Trump will, like Hitler’s, be held in contempt and disgust in the history books of tomorrow.

Unfortunately, the Big Lie has influenced state legislators, with 47 states adding new voter suppression laws, designed to make voting more difficult, especially for the poor and the minorities, usually supporters of the Democratic Party. These laws will suppress the votes of a large section of the electorate and pervert future elections and the peaceful transfer of power, the cornerstones of American democracy, perhaps for generations to come.

Republicans have been faced with an unexpected adversary in enacting these voter suppression laws – the corporate sector. Corporations have traditionally supported the Republican Party, and contributed vast sums of money to the election campaign of Republican politicians. In return they have received lucrative tax and ancillary benefits.

In fact, President Biden recently announced his intention to increase corporate taxes to 28% from Trump’s 21%, which makes the current corporate opposition to Republican-backed laws even more bewildering.

Delta and Coke have made statements against voter suppression laws, and the American Football League (AFL) announced change of venue of their All-Star game, which features the game played by the best players of the year, from Atlanta, Georgia (the state whose Governor Brian Kemp, has proposed especially Draconian voter suppression laws) to Denver, Colorado.

In all, over 100 companies, including Twitter, ViacomCBS, Google, Facebook and Uber, have formed a Civic Alliance, which made the following joint statement:

“Our elections are not improved when lawmakers impose barriers that result in longer lines at the polls or that reduce access to secure ballot boxes. We stand in solidarity with voters …. in our nonpartisan commitment to equality and democracy”.

President Biden has called these voter suppression laws proposed by 47 states as a “return to The Jim Crow era” when African Americans were abused under laws similar to the apartheid system of South Africa until the 1990s.

Predictably, Republican senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, made scathing remarks about corporate protests against voter suppression laws, saying that Big Business “will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country outside the constitutional order. … Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box”.

McConnell’s spectacular hypocrisy brings to mind the statement of Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play;

“For ‘tis the sport to have the engineer Hoist with his own petard. And it shall go hard”.

The petard, the little bomb, hoisted on “engineer” McConnell is his own Citizens United Act, which describes corporations as people, and, according to the First Amendment (freedom of speech), permits them to make unlimited contributions to election campaigns. A law which gave a significant advantage to the Republican Party, the party of the billionaires and the corporations.

However, to McConnell’s consternation, the Act also allows corporations the right of freedom of speech, which they are now using, amazingly and admirably, to protest the proposed Republican laws of voter suppression.

These statements by corporate America have infuriated McConnell, who is now ordering his erstwhile allies to “keep giving us your money but keep your damn mouths shut about politics, especially about Republican politics!”

On the brighter side, these voter suppression laws are being challenged in the Courts, and hopefully new laws will be enacted to making it easier, not harder, for all eligible voters to fulfill their constitutional right to vote.

Trump’s criminal and racist actions won’t be easily overcome, the stench will linger for some time. But President Biden has made a very good start in righting the ship of state. He has already taken giant strides in containing Covid-19 and reviving both the job market and the economy. He has also reestablished America’s role as the leader of the Free World in under 100 days of his presidency.

 

 



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Features

MICHELANGELO OF ITALY and BARANA OF SRI LANKA

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BY Sampath Fernando

“Every block of stone has a statue inside and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” –

Michelangelo (AD 1475-1564). And he discovered THE DAVID inside a rock of marble around AD 1501-1504.

Barana, the Sri Lankan sculptor, performed a similar act in the 5th Century AD. He was supposed to have accomplished this around 455-477 AD during the reign of King Dhatusena. Avukana is a standing statue of the Buddha near Kekirawa in the North Central province of Sri Lanka. The statue, which has a height of more than 40 feet (12 m), was carved out of a large granite rock face.

 

BARANA, THE SCULPTOR

There are enough historical records about Michelangelo and his paintings and sculpture. Barana was virtually unknown. My speculation is that he was employed by the king, not for his artistry but merely for his skills to get a Buddha statue sculptured. In ancient Sri Lanka, kings were well known for creating Buddha statues and Stupas (dome shaped buildings to preserve relics).

Whatever the reason both Barana and Michelangelo deserve great honour from us. Why? It is amazing the genius of both of them, how they produced such wonderful work of art without the aid of modern cameras and computers, electromechanical drills etc. Also, how did the Romans carve their tall fluted columns which are perfectly proportioned. The magnificence of ancient Egyptian pyramids goes without saying.

 

SPIRITUAL ASPECTS

Michelangelo later in life developed a belief in Spiritualism, for which he was condemned by Pope Paul IV. The fundamental tenet of Spiritualism is that the path to God can be found not exclusively through the Church, but through direct communication with God. I speculate than Barana was a devout Buddhist. Buddhism being the only organised religion at the time. As mentioned earlier the kings spent lot of wealth and employed skilled artists to honour the Buddha.

 

THE PERFECT BUDDHA STATUE

Carved out of the living rock with supreme assurance, Avukana Buddha is a magnificent image. His expression is serene and from his curled hair sprouts the flame called siraspata signifying the power of supreme enlightenment. Although the statue is large and stands straight up with feet firmly planted on the lotus stone pedestal, the body retains a graceful quality enhanced by beautifully flowing drapery clinging to the body.

 

THE TALLEST BUDDHA STATUE IN THE WORLD

The magnificent free-standing (still attached to the original massive rock) statue carved out of a single rock is the tallest Buddha statue in existence today. Following the destruction of similar but much larger statues at Bamiyan in Afghanistan, the Avukana Buddha has gained even greater significance in the Buddhist World.

 

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

My parents were devout Buddhists and school holidays were combined with a family pilgrimage. So, I was taken to Avukana statue with my two brothers and the two sisters to worship the Buddha. I was only about 10 years old. As I reached my adulthood I began to look up to Buddha for his philosophy.

As an octogenarian, I visited the site on 7 December 2019 and venerated Barana for giving us such a marvellous image of art. A combination of philosophy and art!

“I am still learning” said Michelangelo at the age of 87. I can say the same thing now, seven years ahead.

 

(The writer taught Applied Physics at The University of Arts London (UAL) and retired as a professor.)

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Save the Last Dance for me

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By Capt Elmo Jayawardena

elmojay1@gmail.com

A few months ago, I was in Hong Kong, visiting a well-known charity organisation called Crossroads. It was to seek assistance for a project in Sri Lanka. Crossroads has an enormous warehouse filled to the brim with anything and everything; ready to be sent to places where people in need plead.

The store surroundings looked familiar. Then I realised I was standing where the old Kai Tak airport was, now pastured and replaced by the glamour of the new Hong Kong International Airport.

Yes, I have been here before, many a time at that, bringing jet aeroplanes into land on runway 13, turning at the famous Chequered Board at 600 feet and pointing at the short runway besieged by the sea. The final turn and approach was made between sky-scrapers that stood on either side, like sentinels, and one could spot the flat residents’ laundry hanging outside their windows.

The Chequered Board was fixed to the mountainside, big board with orange and yellow squares, clearly to say “Turn now, beyond this is damnation”.

That was Kai Tak, surrounded by hills, minimum length to stop, and the weather gods playing their fancy games so often that we, mere mortals who flew the machines were nothing but puppets on a string.

But we managed; day in and day out to put our aeroplanes down and brake like crazy to make sure we didn’t overrun and tip into the water.

When the skies were friendly, it was a thrill to land at Kai Tak. The runway usually was direction 130 (runway 13) and the wind rolled from the East, nice and steady and we came past Green Island and saw the Chequered Board in front to tell us we have to change direction lest we too got pasted like the Chequered Board on the same mountain. Then came the turn, low and precise to make the final approach, the laundry run, to fly between the buildings and place the wheels precisely at the touch down point to avoid going swimming.

Every time a pilot landed in Hong Kong in the olden days, there was that gleam in the eye. I’ve seen it a hundred times in my co-pilots and I’ve felt the same whenever I made the approach; the accomplishment of doing something right where the demand was high, which sent the adrenalin into overdrive.

The typhoon time was another story. The winds sheared, gusted, backed and veered and the rain swept across the field, diminishing visibility. Dark grey clouds hung low, covering the mountains and the Chequered Board was hardly visible. We went in by the leading lights, which were very powerful strobes that throbbed, giving us a path to follow to take us to the laundry lane. All this was with the wind playing wild symphony and the rain pattering down like machinegun fire. Most times, lining up on the runway for the short final run was almost impossible and that is where the pilot’s skill mattered, kicking rudders and wagging wings like a mad man playing drums just so that the aeroplane landed and stopped all within that little wet and slippery runway with the sea awaiting with open jaws for a luckless pilot’s mistake.

I remember my last flight to Kai Tak, in June 1998. I left home determined to do the landing. Most days, I would let the co-pilot fly, I’ve seen a lot of this airfield and the younger pilots were always grateful for a swing at Hong Kong. But this was my final flight to Kai Tak and I saved the last dance for me, just like the The Drifters sang.

The co-pilot was young and he mentioned he had never landed in Hong Kong. It was a hard call on me. I could not let this young man go and run through a flying career having never landed in Kai Tak. Maybe, years later his first-officer would ask about the infamous Kai Tak approach and my friend would have to answer that he had never done it.

All in all. the deck was stacked against me, there is something called professional courtesy and out went my last dance, “Son, you take it to Hong Kong”.

The weather was bad, the winds were howling, and we went in. The young man turned at 600 feet and the aircraft was bucking and jumping and he hung in there like a rodeo kid but that wasn’t enough.

With 300 feet to go we were pointing at mountains and the field was almost below us and then I took over and went around to the safety of the sky.

One thing I never did in an aeroplane is if I ever took over from a co-pilot, I never gave it back. I flew it and landed it – that was the golden rule, the safe approach.

The rodeo kid and I were now loitering in the sky to await our turn to make the next run. Then it hit me like a thunderbolt, same co-pilot, years later would be a Captain and when his co-pilot asked him about Kai Tak and how it was to fly in he would have to say “I got one chance and I blew it, couldn’t make the field and the Captain had to take over.”

There was no way I could crucify this young man’s soul, make him poor as gutter water in a field where professional prestige mattered most.

‘Son you take it in, go and land this aeroplane.”

That’s precisely what he did. He waltzed with the wind and came through the clouds and turned at the Chequered Board and flew down the laundry lane and lined up the big 747 on the short runway to land as smooth as Mr. Neil did on the moon.

Then I saw the glitter in his eye – Last dance or no dance, I wouldn’t have traded anything for that look. That’s what flying was all about.

It is possible that my rodeo-kid friend would read what I write and remember. It was all between him and me and the old Kai Tak Airport.

He, I am sure by now, is a Captain. I like to think that he too would at times give away his turn to dance just to see the gleam in a fledgling’s eyes. That should be the legacy.

If not, what would we be worth as professional pilots?

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Identity issues continuing to fuel Mid-East conflict

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On the face of it, the decades-long Middle-East conflict is all about who controls which plot of land in the chronically conflict-ridden region. For example, the powder keg city of East Jerusalem is claimed by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. On and off, the city erupts in violence on account of its disputed nature and we are just witnessing a new round of such blood-letting. Ownership of real estate seems to be at the heart of the conflict. But there is more than meets the eye in the conflict and land ownership is just one vital aspect of it.

As important as land and issues relating to material well being that grow out of it is religious identity and connected cultural markers that are seen by the Israelis and Palestinians as defining them as ‘nations’. This accounts for the centrality of East Jerusalem to the complex problem which is the Middle East.

In the latter city are places of worship which are seen as being of the utmost sacredness by the groups concerned. For example, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is sacred to Islam and therefore the Palestinians, and which came under attack in the current round of violence, is located in East Jerusalem. Likewise, numerous are the sites in East Jerusalem which are sacred to the Jews. The Temple Mount is one such structure which is revered by the Jews. But many of these places of religious worship are revered by almost the entirety of the communities of the region, although some groups proclaim exclusive ownership over them.

It is for the above reasons that pronouncements to the effect that ‘Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel’ could be anathema in the ears of a considerable number of Palestinians and many of those of the Islamic faith. Recognizing this statement as true and factual could be tantamount to conceding that all Islamic sacred sites in East Jerusalem should come under the complete control and jurisdiction of the Israelis.

To very many sections professing the Islamic faith in the region, conceding East Jerusalem to Israel would be unthinkable because East Jerusalem is integral to their identity as a people or as a ‘nation’. This is the reason why they would see themselves as fully justified in taking up arms to defend their perceived ownership of East Jerusalem. And ‘native’ places and locations are almost sacred to most communities and ethnic groups because those are the sites where they could practise their religions and cultures. The same line of reasoning holds good for traditional Jews. Since East Jerusalem is home to numerous sites that are sacred to them they would see themselves as justified in possessing the city by even the force of arms.

It is in view of the foregoing that former US President Donald Trump could be said to have destroyed peace prospects in the Middle East to a considerable measure by fully endorsing the position that ‘Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel’. By doing so, the former US President legitimised Israel’s complete hold over the city. But the truth is that ownership of the city is bloodily contested and this has been so for decades.

The question could be asked as to why one group should consider it unthinkable and revolting that the other group should exercise controlling power over religious sites that are claimed by it as well. In short, why are these group antagonisms so deep-rooted? We go to the heart of the Middle East conflict with this question.

In fact, the ‘enmity’ could be centuries long. Its roots could lie in the ‘myths of origin’ churned out by hard line sections in both communities. Both Judaism and Islam revere Abraham, seen as the originator of most theistic religions of the Middle East. Abraham is believed to have had two sons of different natures. At the popular level, each of the adversarial groups in the Middle East sees itself as deriving from the ‘better-natured’ of the sons. Like most popular myths, these notions die hard among the more impressionable sections.

However, there is no denying that land and territorial disputes have been keeping the flames of conflict and war ablaze in the Middle East. This is true of today as it was at the turn of the last century, when the British were seen as implanting the Jews in the land of Palestine at the expense of those who were already inhabiting it. That is, the Palestinians of today. The Jews were seen as growing in number in Palestine and they very soon laid claim to a state of their own in Palestine. Thus were sown the early seeds of the conflict which has bedevilled the region to date.

As matters stand, Israel controls to a considerable degree all contested areas in the conflict except the Gaza strip where the militant group Hamas exercises extensive governing control, backed by some staunchly pro-Islamic extra-regional states. At present, the religious unrest in East Jerusalem has invited the military involvement of Hamas, which development has, in turn, triggered off a spiral of violence between the Israeli security forces and Hamas. At the time of writing, the violence has claimed more than 30 lives.

It is highly regrettable that the violence is occurring in the holy month of Ramadan. It is hoped that the international community would intervene to end the violence and make a fresh effort to work out a political solution to the conflict.

A scrutinizing look at Middle East developments over the decades would indicate a close link between land issues and identity questions. These factors could be said to have been mutually-reinforcing. To the extent to which the Palestinians see themselves as being deprived of land and other means of livelihood, to the same degree are they seeing themselves as suffering on account of their religious identity. This trend aggravates religious tensions. Economic issues deriving from land questions trigger a sense of being victimized on account of religious and cultural markers.

Accordingly, US President Joe Biden has his work cut out. If he is serious about bringing peace to the Middle East, he will launch a fresh bid towards evolving the two-state solution. Under this formula there is a possibility of resolving land issues equitably.

 

 

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