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The crisis at the southern border

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

Returning violence for violence only serves to multiply violence, adding darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Today, the United States is shrouded in darkness, fighting crises on several fronts: a global pandemic which has already claimed 175,000 lives; a national plague of incompetent, immoral and ignorant leadership; an economic recession with unemployment at levels of the Great Depression; and an immigration crisis at its Southern border, the consequence of centuries of aggressive European colonization.

This humanitarian crisis at the Southern border no longer makes news. The American people have become inured to this injustice, this cruelty, just like the German people became inured to the Nazi treatment of the Jews.

The US will continue to wallow in this darkness with four more years of Trump. As Michelle Obama said at the Democratic National Convention last Monday, “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election.”

Were there only one light to illuminate the darkness that envelopes the nation today, that will be the election, on November 3, of competent, civil leadership we have not enjoyed since January 21, 2017.

The United States is hardly the only country to have made its fortunes on the backs of “uncivilized” peoples. Wealth creation in many of the richest countries of the world today has been achieved through invasion, genocide, slavery and continuing violence.

Harping on history is a futile exercise. What matters is today. The developed nations in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States act as magnets for those seeking escape from political and ethnic strife which continues to plague many of these former colonies. The US is still the lodestar beckoning seekers of opportunity and prosperity for themselves, and education and a bright future for their children. The melting pot, the nation of immigrants, where 98% of its citizens are immigrants.

The conviction of European superiority has never been in doubt, especially in the minds of Europeans. As Cecil Rhodes wrote in his last will and testatement, referring to the Anglo-Saxon race: “I contend that we are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”.

Echoes of Hitler’s fascism in the Germany of the 1930s, when he promulgated the concept of the Master Race, the purity of Nordic or Aryan races among Germans and other Northern European peoples.

The Germans made a straightforward move towards the achievement of a pure race in the 1930s. They decided that the inferior, or impure races, like the Jews, Romanians (Gypsies) and the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, should be eliminated to hasten the evolution of a perfect race. Jews took pride of place as a particularly venomous race, parasites who enervated the purity of humanity. So the Nazis devolved the Final Solution, and just murdered them. If not all, then at least six million of them.

The colonizers of the Americas were perhaps the cruelest of an abysmal lot. In the years after systematic European colonization of the Americas began in 1492, they provided the blueprint for white supremacy, the precursor to Hitler’s Final Solution. They murdered the indigenous peoples to the point of near extinction. They forcibly kidnapped Africans and brought them to work in the cotton plantations in the Southern states of the US and the pineapple fields in the Caribbean. These unfortunates were treated as a species closer to animals than humans, against whom the most despicable forms of abuse and torture, rape, even murder for sport were considered moral, lawful, even expected of them. Indeed, it was the contention of some white Christian Americans that such abuse is mandated by the Bible. Unfortunately, after 250 years since Emancipation, this contention is still shared by some Americans, notably the KKK, White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis and the Trump “Base” of the US.

The English put a unique spin on subjugation and slavery. They proved themselves to be at least as equal to other Europeans in their physical cruelty to the inhabitants of the nations they colonized, but they tempered it with a distinctive brand of psychological cruelty which was far more effective. A brand which, while plundering the resources of the colonies, they made the natives feel that they should be grateful for being the recipients of a great and superior culture. The genius of the English colonizers in the Indian subcontinent and Africa is that they made their victims feel ashamed of their nationality. They questioned their culture, mocked their attire, and ridiculed their languages and religions. They made us ashamed of our darker, richer skin colours, proved even today by the fact that the best-selling cosmetic east of Suez is skin-whitening cream.

The native ruling classes in Ceylon before independence were more British than the British themselves. They wore three-piece suits with a tie in the scorching heat; they went to church every Sunday; they knew their Shakespeare and Chaucer and spoke with an Oxford accent; resplendent in cream flannels, they played cricket in the midday sun, like Noel Coward’s mad dogs and Englishmen; and their drink of choice was whisky with a splash.

I remember when I was in secondary school, it was almost a boast to say, “I say, my Sinhalese (or Tamil) is very poor”. Failing an examination in the vernacular (I am reluctant to say “mother tongue” because, in the ruling elite, our mothers spoke English) was almost a badge of honor. Knowledge of the English language is the kaduwa (sword) that keeps the lower orders ostensibly content with their lot even today.

Even after they granted self-rule and independence to the natives, the Europeans retained economic and emotional control in many of the colonies, some until the 1970s. It took a few decades for the natives to rid themselves of the manacles of colonial subjugation. But for a few notable exceptions like Singapore, this refreshing change gave the natives unfettered freedom and licence to ruin their own countries without any foreign help. At least their wealth and resources were stolen by their own.

Sadly, the inferiority complex and self-flagellation of their hateful black and brown pigmentation persist to the present day among some colonials. There are brown-skinned natives in sovereign nations who yearn for the “good old days”, when they were ruled by the superior white man.

Perhaps this is the reason, this sense of inferiority, that significant numbers of coloured peoples, who hail from Trump’s notion of “shithole countries”, support the white supremacist policies of the Trump administration. As do even some Sri Lankans living in the USA, where overt governmental racism discriminates against their own best interests.

As I said, harping on the past is an exercise in futility. Complaining about the evils of colonialism, after several decades of ruining our countries all by ourselves without any foreign help, is like a middle-aged man blaming his parents for the crimes he has committed.

The immigration laws of the US and other countries of the First World were liberal enough after World War II to invite immigrants to the “mother country”, in the face of a labour shortage in Europe and the Americas after World War II.

 

The influx of refugees is the greatest problem facing the First World today. There is a reluctance, even a fear, to welcome these refugees, fleeing from poverty, violence and strife often initiated, paradoxically, by the very countries to which they are appealing for refuge.

Applications for asylum to the US have exploded and reached a breaking point, threatening its prosperity. An invasion of brown refugees also feeds the threat to its white majority and white privilege, a fear that is being strategically exploited by the Trump administration.

According to current US immigration laws, anyone seeking asylum in the United States has to be accepted until his case for asylum is heard by an immigration judge. These hearings are delayed, causing a backlog and a waiting period for asylum cases, during which the asylum seeker was allowed to remain and legally work in the country until his case is called. The problem is, many asylum seekers never appear for the immigration hearing, often scheduled months after arrival. They disappear into a twilight zone, creating a vast community of undocumented immigrants, who numbered an estimated 11 million in 2017.

This problem was addressed by the Trump administration with typically inhuman measures. Trump has been stoking the white American fear of illegal immigration from Mexico and other Hispanic countries. He made it the core of his successful 2016 election campaign.

Asylum seekers are now not released pending hearing of their cases for asylum, as mandated by law; they are either deported indiscriminately, or detained at the border in the most inhumane conditions, in Nazi-style concentration camps. Children are separated from their parents, and either caged in terrible conditions in camps at the border, or worse, become prey to a thriving business of sexual trafficking and slavery. Many of these kids simply disappear, and the administration, in whose custody they were, has no idea of their whereabouts.

The American Dream is farthest away from the aspirations of these tortured souls. Their only goal is survival, which they will not achieve if they are deported to their own countries and/or are denied asylum by the inhuman immigration policies of the Trump administration. Unless, of course, you are an aspiring white immigrant from Europe; then the rules change dramatically. As Trump once famously wailed, and I paraphrase, “why can’t we get immigrants from countries like Norway, (the whitest nation in the world) instead of people from shithole countries in Africa and Asia?”

Trump longs for the USA to be nation of whites like the Scandinavian countries, with economic, racial and social prosperity. He does not understand that these countries have no history of colonial and racial cruelty caused by invasion and colonization. Immigrants to these nations are few, and largely welcomed regardless of pigmentation. As an example, Sweden has under 400,000 immigrants from Asian and African nations in a total population of 10.23 million (4%) in 2019, compared to the 90 million (28%) immigrants from Asia and Africa in the USA, also in 2019.

If Trump is allowed to continue his racist policies, the US will not end up like a democratic, socialist nation of Scandinavia. He will transform the greatest democracy in the world to an authoritarian dictatorship like Russia.

For Trump, the secret of a prosperous nation is in the blending, as long as the main ingredient in the recipe is vanilla.

(The writer is the second son of Tissa Chndrasoma, a well-known Civil Servant of his day, and Mrs. Gertie Chandrsoma. He emigrated to the US at age 49 as his elder boy had won a scholarship to Yale and he decided to get the rest of the family to the US after the 1991 explosion at the Joint Operations Command. Then working for the late Gamini Dissanayake, who had lost favour with the Premadasa government and had himself taken a sabbatical at Cambridge, Dissanayake’s trusted aides, like their boss, thought it best to duck out of sight for a while. A Mahaweli colleague helped him to get started in Los Angeles where he and his wife first did low level jobs. He thereafter lived in Phoenix when his company relocated there and worked on the Clinton campaign in LA and Obama’s in Phoenix. His children seized the opportunities America offered and did very well. He has not regretted his decision to retire to Sri Lanka when peace returned in 2009. He says “I have always loved writing, but my raw hatred of Trump, who is ruining what was a beautiful, compassionate nation which gave me  second chance in life, has give me an incentive to vent and expose him as best I can.”)



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Sinharaja world heritage

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Conservation Outlook Assessment: Significant Concern

By Professor Emeritus Nimal Gunatilleke

Continued from Yesterday

 

Water diverted from Ampanagala reservoir to Muruthawela will be used to meet the irrigation deficit of Muruthawela and Kirama Oya systems and the balance will be transferred to Chandrika Wewa, through existing LB canal of Muruthawela scheme up to 13.8 km and a new canal of 17.0 km. After that, the water requirement of Hambantota harbour is to be transferred to Ridiyagama tank through the Walawe river and Liyangasthota anicuit. However, due to the extreme length of the diversion through the three-river basins of Nilwala, Kirama Ara and Urubokka Oya, it will lead to a massive conveyance losses of the diverted water while on the way to the Walawe basin. Furthermore, enormous costs associated with its construction, a failure to fully realise the intended outcomes due to a shortage of water budget will simply be a burden that Sri Lanka cannot afford with her current economic condition, according to Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi. It may be worth recording that the water ingress into the grouted tunnel of the Uma Oya near Ella has still not been fully repaired, even though the Uma Oya project is nearing completion. An expensive lesson to be learnt on the nature of the weathered geological structure, lineaments and implementing its unexpected and costly mitigatory measures which will eventually to be paid back by this and future generations of tax payers of this country.

According to the Irrigation Department web site postings, Mahaweli Consultancy Bureau has initiated the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), but due to the unavailability of concurrence of the Forest Department, revised TOR has not been issued by the CEA. Therefore, due to the unavailability of updated TOR, the EIA study has been delayed.

Environmentally, the most contentious issue highlighted in the news media is the proposed construction of a RCC dam at Madugeta to build a reservoir for which around 79 ha of forested (and some agricultural) lands in Sinharaja and a portion of prisine riverine forest in Dellawa would be inundated. On the Sinharaja side of the proposed Madugeta reservoir (right abutment) at present there are home gardens and small-scale tea plantations in addition to good riverine forests. In contrast however, proportionately a larger area of luxuriant forest of Dellawa, which is a part of the new ‘Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex’ would go under the chain saw for this reservoir construction (left abutment). The Geo-engineering report of May 2019 on GNDP has revised the siting of the dam to a more favourable location with supposedly reduced impacts but they forewarn that the three core-drilling along the proposed dam axis that had to be temporarily abandoned due to protests made by the villagers, need to be completed to confirm the geological suitability for the dam site.

 

Are there any Environment-Friendly Alternative Options?

As an alternative site for a dam on Gin Ganga, Eng. Nandasoma Atukorale (Specialist Engineer [Hydropower]) has proposed a location at the confluence of Mahadola with Gin Ganga at the village of Mederipitiya, way back in 2006. According to him, the riverbed at this site is 261 masl and have a catchment area of 132 km2. He proposes the construction of a 35 m high concrete gravity type dam that would form a reservoir with a storage capacity of 65 million cu.m and a potential discharge of 320 million cu.m of water annually which could divert 293 million cu. m of water to the SE Dry Zone. Most importantly, this region passes through a relatively narrow section of the river which is ideally suited for a dam according to him. However, geological suitability and socio-economic impacts of local communities need to be investigated, beforehand.

Quite interestingly, Eng. Athukorale claims that ‘although it is not economically very attractive, another 200 million cu.m of water could be diverted to the Nilwala basin by constructing a dam across Gin Ganga at the downstream of the confluence with Dellawa Dola at the village of Madugeta, with an 8000 m long tunnel which could be considered at a later stage provided further water shortages are experienced in the area’.

 

Now that the proposed Madugeta reservoir is receiving heavy criticisms from the environmental front, wonder whether Mederipitiya option proposed by Eng. Athukorale could be revisited for the diversion of Gin-Nilwala river water to the SE Dry Zone.

In a research paper titled ‘Comparison of Alternative Proposals for Domestic and Industrial Water Supply for Hambantota Industrial Development Zone’ Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi makes a comparison among three irrigation projects Kukule Ganga, Gin-Nilwala and Wey Ganga to convey water from the SW wet zone to SE dry zone.

She proposes yet another option that is probably still on the drawing boards to be considered which is the Wey Ganga diversion in Ratnapura District. According to her, this could meet the industrial and drinking water requirement (154 MCM + drinking water) of Hambantota metropolitan area at a significantly lower cost and with less damage to the environment. Further, there is a possibility of augmenting this scheme by diverting a part of Kalu Ganga catchment at a later stage.

Eng. Hettiarachchi further states that ‘by comparing the workload, it could be estimated to be nearly one third that of the Gin-Nilwala diversion. The Wey Ganga diversion can be carried out at a significantly lower cost by local agencies. That can also address the water scarcity of Hambantota metropolitan area including the requirements of international harbour and proposed industrial development zone with the relatively less environmental damage which is a major issue with respect to large scale projects. Construction period will also be less since the workload is less and can be carried out by the local agencies’.

What I have strived to show with this detailed irrigation engineering information available on public domain in the form of research publications, is that the Madugeta reservoir option is not the only one available for taking water from the wet zone rivers to the SE Dry Zone which is indeed a legitimate requirement for agricultural and industrial development of that region.

Pre-feasibility studies have been conducted on these options since 1968 and a considerable wealth of technical information is already available with the Irrigation Department. Apparently, according to knowledgeable irrigation engineers, there are more environmentally friendly, and cost-effective options with greater assurance of water conveyance to the SE Dry Zone available for consideration. It is often the case that during pre-feasibility studies of these large engineering projects, environmental concerns are given the least priority. Steady supply of water during extreme drought events which are becoming more frequent depends very much on the nature of the vegetation cover of the watershed area. These environmental aspects need to be critically evaluated before such costly projects are designed. As an example, although, the major engineering work of the Uma Oya project has been almost completed, its cost-effectiveness is yet to be seen with a denuded watershed, a potential of heavy soil erosion on top of the unexpected heavy expenditure on tunnel boring and other engineering works.

Biologically speaking, the Dellawa Forest Reserve is an integral part of Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex representing the pristine climax forest vegetation of SE wet lowlands and provide a vital connectivity link to adjoining Diyadawa forest of equal significance via the remains of Dombagoda forest. Therefore, clearing a riverine strip of this forest for the construction of Madugeta Reservoir would lead to an irreparable and irreplaceable damage to its characteristic riverine/flood plain forest vegetation.

On the other hand, pledging a reforestation initiative of a much larger area with Hevea rubber as a compensatory measure proposed by the political administration is totally unacceptable. Preserving intact forests in protected areas has no substitutes or replacements. Furthermore, the Natural Heritage Wilderness Area act and the binding articles of the UNESCO Convention on Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, clearly state that causing direct or indirect damage to a natural heritage is legally not permissible.

In summary, the Sinharaja World Heritage Site is already in a state whose biological values are threatened and/or are showing signs of deterioration and significant additional conservation measures have been recommended to restore these values over the medium and long term. Adding more threats like the construction of reservoirs inside protected areas at this stage would inevitably downgrade the values further to a ‘critical conservation outlook’ which is not what the citizenry of Sri Lanka and the world at large would acknowledge as ‘sustainable development’.

The author of this article is a member of the National Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka and he thanks Dr Jagath Gunathilaka of Peradeniya University for providing the geotechnical information described herein. The author can be contacted at .)

 

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US seeking way out of Afghan killing field

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As the Biden administration makes its initial moves to extricate the US’ remaining security forces personnel from Afghanistan, it would do well to ponder on former US President John F. Kennedy’s insightful comment on foreign policy: ‘Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.’ This is a rare nugget on the nature of foreign policy.

Considering the high costs, human and economic, a country could incur as a result of blundering on its foreign policy front, Kennedy could be said to have spoken for all countries. However, there is no denying that the comment is particularly applicable to expansionist powers or ‘hegemonic’ states.

Sensible opinion is likely to be of the view that the US decision on quitting Afghanistan should have come very much earlier; may be a couple of years after its bloody misadventure in the conflict and war-ridden country. Considering the terribly high human costs in particular the US’ 20 long years in Afghanistan have incurred, the US could be said to have committed one of its worst foreign policy blunders, overshadowing in severity the blood-letting incurred by the super power in Vietnam. However, in both theatres, the consequences for the US have been of unbearable magnitude.

The US death toll speaks for itself. At the time of writing more than 2,300 US security forces personnel have been killed and over 20,000 injured in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that over 450 Britons have died in the same quagmire along with hundreds of similar personnel from numerous other nationalities. Apparently, it took an exceptionally long period of time for the US to realize that Afghanistan for it was a lost cause.

The lesson that the US and other expansionist powers ought to come to grips with is that it would not be an ‘easy ride’ for them in the complex conflict and war zones of the South. The ground realities in these theatres are of mind-boggling complexity and Afghanistan drives this point home with notable harshness. Power projection in South-west Asia and persistence with its ‘war on terror’ were among the apparent prime objectives of the US in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq but what the US did not evidently take into consideration before these military involvements were the internal political realities of these countries that are not at all amenable to simplistic analyses and policy prescriptions.

The Soviets ought to have come to grips with some features of the treacherous political terrain presented by Afghanistan in the late eighties but their principal preoccupations were related more to the compulsions of the Cold War. Simply put, the Soviets were bent on preserving the ‘satellite’ status of Afghanistan and their war effort was aimed at this in the main. Preparing Afghanistan for democracy was not even least among the Soviet Union’s concerns, of course.

However, the same does not apply to the US. The latter helped the Mujaheddin in the task of getting rid of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan but its aim was also to have a US-friendly regime in Kabul that would be a veritable bridgehead of US power and influence in the region on a continuous basis. In other words, the US expected the regime which replaced the Soviets to be pro-Western and essentially democracy-friendly. The US did not in any way bargain to have in Afghanistan Islamic fundamentalist regimes whose political philosophies were the anti-thesis of democracy as perceived in the US and practised by it.

However, the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime which eventually came to power in the mid-nineties in Afghanistan, once the Soviets withdrew, defied all Western expectations. As is known, the Taliban was not only repressive and undemocratic but was staunchly opposed to everything Western. There were no hopes of the Taliban working towards Western interests. Besides, the US did not expect to see in Afghanistan a country dangerously divided on ethnic, tribal and religious lines. The problems of Afghanistan have been compounded over the years by the coming together of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda and these groups have world wide Islamic fundamentalist links.

It has been the aim of the US to have in Kabul religiously moderate, pro-democratic regimes but as developments have proved over the past few decades these administrations have not been in a position to hold out against the Taliban. In fact, it is the Taliban that is veritably at the helm of power in Afghanistan currently and years of futile attempts at trying to contain the Taliban have brought home to the US and its allies that they have no choice but to talk to the Taliban in order to secure some respite to effect ‘an honourable exit’ from the bloodied land. This is where matters stand at present.

However, as pointed out by commentators, it is the Afghan civilian population that has suffered most in the decades-long blood-letting in the country. Conservative estimates put the number of Afghan security forces personnel killed in Afghanistan at around 60,000 to date and the number of civilians killed at double that figure.

Accordingly, the Afghan people would be left to face an uncertain and highly risk-riddled future when the last of the US security forces personnel and their allies leave Afghanistan in September this year. The country would be left to its own devices and considering that the Taliban will likely be the dominant formation in the country and not its legitimate government, the lot of Afghan civilians is bound to be heart-rending.

There is plenty to ponder on for the US and other democratic countries in the agonies of Afghanistan. One lesson that offers itself is that not all countries of the South are ‘ready for democracy’. This applies to very many countries of the South that already claim to be democracies in the Western sense. Southern ‘democratic’ polities defy easy analysis and categorization in consideration of the multitude of identity markers they present along with the legitimacy that they have achieved in the eyes of their states and populations. What we have are dangerously volatile states riddled with contradictions. Relating to them will prove to be highly problematic for the rest of the world.

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The Soul

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The Soul (also known as Ji hun) is based on the sci-fi novel ‘Soul Transfer’, written by Jiang Bo in 2012. The novel was widely popular and inspired director Cheng Wei-Hao to adapt the tale into a movie. The story is about a married couple who are determined to uncover the truth behind strange activities in their community. According to the official synopsis for the film from Netflix, while investigating the death of a businessman, a prosecutor and his wife uncover occult secrets as they face their own life-and-death dilemma. The film stars Chang Chen, Janine Chang and Christopher Lee among others.

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