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The Notorious RBG

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away on Friday, September 18, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 87-years old, and had served most honorably on the Supreme Court since 1993, only the second woman in history to serve on the nation’s highest court. Her life was yet another celebration of the Promise of America, a woman who overcame all odds in a male dominated world to become a legal, cultural and feminist icon.

Chief Justice Roberts said, “Our nation has lost a justice of historic stature. We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her, a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”

The Notorious RBG, as she was affectionately called, was a diminutive 5 ft. 1 in. in height and under 100 lbs. in weight, but she dwarfed the obese 6 ft. 1 in., 280 lb. Despicable DJT (Donald J Trump) not just in stature, but in integrity, honor, decency and competence.

Born Ruth Bader in New York in 1933, Ginsburg grew up in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her father, Nathan Bader was a Jewish immigrant from Russia and her mother was born in New York to Polish immigrants. Ginsburg suffered a series of setbacks during her childhood and teens; her older sister died when she was a baby and her mother died shortly after she graduated from high school. She graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in government, and married Martin Ginsburg shortly after graduation.

Ginsburg was one of only nine women accepted at Harvard Law School out of a class of over 500, and even more remarkably, had a one-year-old toddler on enrollment. When her husband took a job in New York, she transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated in 1959 at the top of her class.

After graduation, Ginsburg found difficulty in obtaining employment because she was a woman and a mother. She entered academia in 1963, and was a professor of law at Rutgers Law School till 1972. She then co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where she participated in hundreds of women’s rights and gender discrimination cases.

Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Clinton in 1993. She continued championing women’s rights, reproductive freedom, health care and progressive legislation until her death last Friday.

Just before her death, Ginsburg dictated this statement to her granddaughter, Clara Spera: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Trump is already trying to sully the name of Justice Ginsburg’s family, lying that her final wish about her replacement on the Bench had probably been dictated by Speaker Pelosi or Majority House leader, Adam Schiff.

Nothing is too low for this president, whose decisions are guided by his own abysmal standards.

Within hours of the news of her death, even before her body was cold, Trump and his Senate henchman, Moscow Mitch McConnell, sprang, vulture-like, into action. Trump announced that he would be nominating a justice to the Court later this week, and Moscow Mitch said that he would attempt to have his nominee confirmed before the presidential election on November 3. All Republican senators, currently bar one, have supported what is probably the most disgraceful, hypocritical power-grab in Supreme Court history.

It is a matter of paramount importance for Trump to have a stacked Supreme Court by election date. Current polls indicate that Vice President Biden has a comfortable lead. On Wednesday, Trump was asked at a White House press briefing whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power after election day if he loses. Trump said that this would depend on voter fraud because of his distrust of mail-in ballots. He is already paving the way to take a case of election fraud to the Supreme Court. A Court which, with a majority of six to three, will, in the full glory of Republican sycophancy, hold in his favor. Just like the majority Republican Court gifted George W. Bush the election in 2000.

On Justice Scalia’s death in February, 2016, President Obama nominated Justice Merrick Garland to take his place on the Court, a full nine months before the end of his presidential term. Senator McConnell refused to even hold a hearing on Garland’s nomination in the Senate, stating: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president”. Senator Lindsey Graham concurred, stating that he would oppose the confirmation of a justice to the Court during an election year.

McConnell and Graham, and the Republican Party as a whole, have predictably gone against a precedent they had set for themselves by their determination to appoint Trump’s nominee as a replacement for Justice Ginsburg on the Court, less than two months before the election.

Both Graham and McConnell have proved, once again, that their word is not worth the toilet paper they both use to clean Trump.

The principle of separation of powers is enshrined in the Constitution as a set of checks and balances, under which the executive, legislature and the judiciary are equal and separate branches of government.

In a rare rebuke of Trump’s criticism of a jurist who had ruled against his asylum policy as an “Obama judge”, Chief Justice Roberts said: “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”

A commendable sentiment, which unfortunately falls far short of what prevails today. The Supreme Court is highly politicized and polarized. Trump would have appointed three justices during his first term, who will form a majority in the Court and act according to the Christian right agenda of the Republican Party and the president, with scant regard for the legal merits of the case, for generations to come.

With a Republican stacked Court, the younger generation of Americans can kiss goodbye to progressive legislation promoting universal health care, women’s equality and reproductive rights, income equality, protection of the environment and climate change, sensible gun control and a host of progressive measures enjoyed by citizens of all developed nations in the world.

More immediately, the Court, with its iron clad majority, is scheduled to make a ruling on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which is due to be heard on December 10, 2020. Repeal of Obamacare, without a replacement healthcare plan, will cost at least 20 million Americans their healthcare insurance, plus 100 million more will be destitute, when treatment for Covid19 will be withdrawn as a pre-existing condition. Trump has been promising a healthcare plan to replace Obamacare “in two weeks”, since his inauguration in 2017. Another blatant lie.

Democrats are not without teeth against the injustices of the composition of the Supreme Court. The Judicial Act of 1789 created the Court with six justices. Over the years, Congress has altered the number of seats in the Supreme Court, from a low number of five to a high of 10. If the Biden/Harris ticket is successful in November, and the Senate flips as seems likely, Democrats can add to the number of seats on the Bench and so mitigate the domination of a radical Republican Supreme Court.

However, if Trump wins, Americans would be faced with the establishment of the Trump dynasty, patterned on the Kim Jung-un regime of North Korea. Or the system of an autocratic kleptocracy, as practiced by his Russian mentor. We can only hope that American democracy will be resilient enough to withstand the onslaught which will certainly be engineered by Trump and Putin if he loses re-election in November.

The death of Justice Ginsburg has provided Trump with another talking point as a distraction to his colossal mismanagement of Covid19 during the last vital weeks before the election. The virus approaches seven million+ infections and 201,000+ preventable deaths, numbers far higher, per capita, than any other nation in the world. But Trump keeps lying that he has done a phenomenal job and recently awarded himself an A+++ for his management of the virus. In fact, he showed monumental contempt for the millions of families who have lost their loved ones to the virus, when he declared at a rally in Ohio on Monday, that “it (Covid19) affects virtually nobody”.

In his desperation to win re-election showing no regard for the safety of regular Americans, Trump is holding “super spreader” rallies for his supporters, with no masks or social distancing, contravening local regulations with impunity. Rallies which will only contribute to another spike in the spread of the virus. A senior member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Ms. Olivia Troye, who resigned from the Task Force last week, said that “Trump had a flat-out disregard for human life during the pandemic.”

The honored memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will endure long after the treasonous corruption of the past four years is a distant memory. Trump’s presidency, and the behavior of his neo-Nazi cult of enablers, will be denounced by future generations as one of the most contemptible aberrations in the nation’s history. Or as veteran journalist and author of the most recent book exposing Trump’s criminal mismanagement of the pandemic, Bob Woodward put it, “Historians writing about Donald Trump’s presidency and his handling of the Coronavirus will be asking, ‘What the F… happened to America?’”

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Neuro-science that underlies Buddhist philosophy

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Dr Channa Ratnatunga

Buddhist philosophy does not mention the Brain, only the mind or citta. It does not mean that the organ i.e. the brain was unknown at the time. Recorded in the Maha-Vagga, ’the book of Discipline’ of the Tripitaka, one Jeevaka Kohombacha a reputed physician was trephining the skull, presumably to drain blood accumulated within the skull. He would have known how it could affect brain/mind function.

In the Western front, it was Galen who was thought to be the 1st to attempt changing the existent opinion, in 200AD; he held that it was the brain and not the heart that was the seat of ‘intelligence’.

We have now moved on far beyond. I thought it appropriate to place Buddhist philosophy on a more scientific footing by correlating it with current Neuro-biology of Neuroscience. The data is both subjective and objective as a science.

‘The Reptilian Brain ’

A portion of the brain of all vertebrates, becoming more prominent in mammals, more than birds and reptiles is the reptilian brain. It is now described as the Limbic system. It deals with a whole lot of reflexes which deals with survival. For a species, the typical instinctual behaviours are involved with it: flight-fight reaction, aggression, dominance, territoriality and ritual displays. In mammals, specially the higher groups, which include Chimpanzees, Gorillas and man, it subscribes to most emotional responses for survival, procreation and other basic needs of fulfillment i.e. of thirst and hunger. Links through the hormones and the autonomic nervous system, permits fulfillment of the different roles it is responsible for.

Structurally they are constituted by the sensorial input through the Thalamus (other than smell), Hippocampus, Amygdala, hypo-thalamus and the Cingulate Gyrus of the Brain (see diagram) below.

All emotional responses, are kept controlled by the pre-frontal cortex often described as ‘the leader of the Orchestra’.

Hence inbuilt into all of us by millennia of selection are reflexes for survival. Social anthropology teaches us that security of survival is enhanced by belonging to a society. After all, we are inbuilt to be, a social animal. Dominance in the society, needs suppression of competition to get the cream of both the spoils for; food and procreation. Both Tribalism and a hierarchy, is born and needs to be sustained. Anger, greed, theft, promiscuity and other ill-gotten traits are hence a part of our inbuilt armamentarium. Most are inherited by being installed on our limbic system (in the human brain). The degree of pre frontal lobe control to keep checked these primitive urges is what Buddhist philosophy is all about.

Current studies of neuroscience, using; functional MRI and other imaging and electrical recording procedures have shown that Mindful Meditation enlarges the prefrontal cortex (i.e. more cells, synapses in this area) of the brain. Mindfulness skills are now recognized in the west, as premium in many areas of human endeavour. In fact, it is hailed as the ‘way to go for evolution for the human kind!

As long as we have the Limbic system installed for survival, we will continue to volitionally (think, speak and act) behave to survive, permitting the karmic energy to be formed. Maybe the survival apparatus was installed to maintain sentient life-forms in the universe, a part of nature (could even be a natural law i.e. like gravitation). The Buddha discovered it and showed a way to avoid it, so securing avoidance of karmic generation.

With this background permit me to speculate on the philosophy we have tried to give a more solid scientific background.

The ultimate truth of human existence, we all seek: the ultimate reality, has to be within Nature, bound by laws, known and; as yet unknown that govern it.

Nature as we know it consists of the physical universe as we know it, the dark matter we are not yet familiar with, energy and dark energy associated with it and the sentient life forms that inhabit, so far in at least on our planet.

Science so far has not made inroads into the nature of sentient life forms, other than to define their detailed physical structure, the nature of their behaviour, their evolution by natural selection (Darwin). It is not known what forces form life forms; why they grow? Why the varied circumstances of their individual existence; what their designated purpose is and where they go after death. Into this vacuum, walks religion!

Having said this, all the tribalistic institutions, ceremonies, incantations, etc. that have since developed around a variety of prophets, are at best, a means of keeping man, a social animal, controlled. Society is competitive and to maintain a semblance organization within, laws have to be promulgated. The unknown, have at various times been deified, i.e. the sun, fire, a creator, a destroyer, etc. The Latin saying by Petronius; ‘Timor primus in Orbe, Deos fecit’ (Fear caused Gods first on Earth) has much to say for itself, as does the pithy advice of the Persian philosopher poet Omar-Khayam, referring to the sky and presumably deities, ‘lift not thy hands to it for help, as it rolls impotently on as thou and I’. Security offered by herd behaviour of a tribe, or as offered by supernatural power or being, in trying circumstances is a human need and faith helps. Religion Modern society needs to be re-thought, as to its place.

Returning to the subject of this essay, Newton (Laws of Motion), Einstein (Laws of Gravity), Maxwell (Laws of Electro-Magnetism), the strong and weak force of atomic structure, and others have propounded physical laws for, that govern matter and the known energy forms that exist in the Universe. Based on the accuracy of the application of such laws, man has set foot on the moon. Science prides itself on accuracy and being evidence-based.

If sentient life-forms too are part of nature, the detailed laws have yet to be postulated by science. Unlike the study of matter, a need to understand the ‘nature of existence of life-forms’ has not yet been undertaken by the scientific community. After all, survival and procreation to live on the harsh environment that exists at the time seems to be their only purpose.

To hypothesise, speculatively, could it be that Siddhartha Gautama, by meditative practice of a high order, enlarging his pre-frontal cortex of the brain, broke into ‘the insightful realization of how life forms are governed: it’s laws in nature’.

As evidence-based data has to be adduced for this possibility, I will now place evidence, as to these conclusions, speculative no doubt.

It is claimed that he realised the truth of reincarnation, i.e. rebirth, samsara and the sorrow. We sow and we reap, and the Karmic law will enact Samsara for eons to come.

Rebirth will account for the protean differences that exist in human form, circumstances, talents, life events (Narada Mahathera’s text reproduced in The Island last Poya Day (01 Oct). Stevenson’s1 detailed scientific enquiry on children who could recollect past lives, birth marks attributed to trauma provides anecdotal evidence.

The scientific value of past life regression (PLR) by psychiatrists using hypnosis on selected subjects, Near Death Experiences (NDE) is difficult to assess. For instance, it has been shown that diminished blood flow to the brain as experienced in certain circumstances can simulate NDE.

This leaves the practising Buddhist to focus on meditation to see the veracity of the truth of rebirth. That rebirth is sorrow, I think can be realized, as death in most life forms be it animal or insect, is painful. According to Buddhism, to be born in a human life-form with pre-frontal decision making ability is a great opportunity to negate rebirth and sorrow. This opportunity is yours.

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What’s the Plan?

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We have a new government in Aotearoa; we even have a Sri Lankan born MP! The landslide victory of her party was so marked that some said that even an inanimate object put up as a candidate for the labour party, under Jacinda magic, would have won. Not fair methinks on this young lady who apparently worked her electorate very hard. There is a celebratory dinner to be held for her next month. I look forward to attending that and gleaning a few more facts for my readers. On the other hand I may be banned by the cohorts of her countrymen forming barriers (protective or offensive) around her.

So, the new Government has big plans. Improve the availability of houses, especially for first home buyers since the National Party when they governed allowed foreign investors to buy up multiple properties with small deposits and then making the tenants effectively pay the mortgage, creating a massive shortage of houses. There was also a rather grandiose plan named Kiwibuild that was supposed to “create houses” at low cost and in no time for those who desperately needed them. There is also Child poverty in NZ, believe it or not. Ranging from children not having lunches to take to school, to not having shoes to wear to school and older children leaving school early to work and earn money to support their families. This of course almost exclusively among the Maori and Pacific Islander communities.

Unemployment is also rampant Covid19 is being touted as the excuse but to be frank we were heading for an economic slump before Covid in Aotearoa. This level of unemployment is blamed on the work ethic or lack thereof among the Maori and Pacific Island communities but there is a deeper connotation to this. It was recently found out that the big fishing companies in NZ have been flying in crews for their trawlers from Russia for 25 years! These fishermen fly in during the Russian Winter and crew on the massive sea going trawlers. This was only highlighted because a whole lot of these fisher folk got Covid 19 while in quarantine. The official story is that for 25 years they have been unable to train or find people who can work on these ships from among the people in NZ. If you buy that, I’ll throw the harbour bridge in free!

What is pretty obvious is that big business in NZ is allowed to prosper regardless of the economic implications of them doing so. They are allowed to use and employ foreign sources purely on a profitability basis with no concern for the domestic economy or the strengthening of same. There are lots of semi monopolies, supermarkets being a prime example. All the major supermarkets are owned by two parent companies. Is it a wonder that groceries are so ridiculously expensive in NZ when compared to Australia? Are we denizens of Aotearoa really expected to believe that an oligopolistic enterprise is charging fair prices? Let’s hope the Labour Government with its huge majority that we have just appointed, looks into these matters.

The thing about the traditional Kiwi is that they spend money. They do not save everything to be able to give houses to their children or dowries! Now that they are “trapped” in their islands, they are spending the money they would have used for foreign travel for domestic tourism. They are also spending on improving their houses and property and of course retail therapy. The NZ economy is still not floundering. In fact, it is buzzing, how long that will last is of course the multi-billion-dollar question!

The Pearl doesn’t look that good does it? No income from the housemaids, tourism at a standstill and even the garment factories under fire. The big hotels are closed except for those who have

been able to wrangle a contract to house those being quarantined. I know for a fact the tragedy of the boutique hotels and other mid-sized tourism ventures. All forms of spending must be curtailed, so, the “wheeler” drivers must be destitute. I don’t even want to think about those paying off leases and mortgages.

Now I see many articles to the papers these days. Written by people with qualifications that would take up the first 500 words of the articles I write, and designations that would account for the balance, size of my articles I mean. Some write them like scientific dissertations, other dabble in humour and innuendo, however I have read nothing so far that has any content that shows us a pathway out of the economic morass that the Pearl is in.

Borrowing has its limits and it has connotations that scare the living daylights out of me. Printing money can of course go on and be used to pay wages in the grossly overstaffed Government institutions that are currently closed and distribute largesse to the selected few. If there are any younger readers of what I write, do you know that the Sri Lanka Currency was Rs15 = US$1, when I started working. Can you even believe it? The last time I checked I was not a thousand years old!

How are we going to stop chaos and mayhem hitting the streets? When people cannot feed their families what are they going to do? WHAT IS THE PLAN? If we are going to grow our own food in our back gardens, use our hotels as storage facilities for the produce, re-export and sell off all those ludicrously expensive automobiles that our politicians gad around in, sell our elephants to zoos, find oil off the coast of Mannar or whatever the hell we have to do, shouldn’t we START doing it now?!! Waiting until the proverbial s— hits the fan and then ordering the army out into the streets under martial law may not work O, people of the Pearl.

Maybe, the plan is to fall back on the good old tea industry. Rubber and coconut seem to have been totally decimated. For your information the tea industry that used lay the golden egg has been so mismanaged by brain dead proponents of management theory and with plantations largely handed over to our rival India for management, what else can you expect. The export trade is so fragmented and totally without principals or ethics that any buyer worth his salt has only to fish around among the many exporters to get the rock bottom price for what he wants. Others have used political influence and robbed the funds demarcated for that wonderful institution the Tea Promotion Bureau (a concept far ahead of its time) and built their own family dynasties and brands. That horse or goose is well dead and long buried.

My question to the brand-new government of Aotearoa which has a massive majority in parliament and the not so new Government of Sri Lanka which now has the 20th amendment to the constitution passed, is WHAT IS THE PLAN? It better be good and it better be quick, because the people are going to be very desperate real soon. It is solely down to the leadership and there are no excuses!

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Executive presidency or premiership?

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Better option:

by Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

I have been fascinated by politics all my life though not directly involved in it unlike some others in my family. I have devoted some of the free time COVID-19 pandemic has given me to pondering the merits and demerits of the executive presidency and whether it is less democratic than an executive premiership. For a long time, there has been a clamour for the abolition of the executive presidency, but since the election of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa opinion seems to have reversed. The SLPP sought a mandate to abolish 19A and, using the unexpected two-third’s majority, it enacted 20A ensuring reversal to an executive presidency.

On gaining Independence we opted to be a dominion with a Governor-General representing the British Crown; he had some room for manipulation although the Prime minister held the reins of power. In 1972, we became a republic, and the prime minister became even more powerful and a titular President was appointed! J. R. Jayewardene changed all this. Elected with a massive majority in 1977, JR metamorphosed from Prime Minister into an executive president. JR started well, pulling the country out of the economic hellhole created by the Sirima Bandaranaike government, but intoxication with unbridled power affected him.

JR brought about this radical change of having an elected Executive President for good reasons and opted for the French presidential system rather than the American system. Some may argue that JR should have gone for the American system because his main argument was that a presidential system which could produce results quicker was more suited to a developing country. In the American system, Cabinet positions are held by non-elected technocrats. Perhaps, like in the US, had we allowed the elected representatives to debate issues in Parliament, formulate laws governing the country and sit on committees overseeing the appointments for senior posts and performing the function of oversight of their work, a greater purpose may have been served. It would also have prevented politics from turning into a money-making business. The President could have chosen experts in various fields with proven track records to run various ministries to usher in rapid development. Perhaps, this is the sort of radical change we need that warrants serious consideration by those who are tasked with the onerous duty of formulating a new constitution.

JR opted for the French system where all the ministers including the prime minister are elected representatives. The phrase some commentators use ‘Prime Minister is reduced to the status of a peon’ is ludicrous and may well stem from the unguarded statement made by Ranasinghe Premadasa, the first non-executive prime minister. Instead of being impatient, he should have worked towards defining the role of the prime minister in the new system. Of course, JR’s ill-judged remark that he could do anything other than changing the gender, albeit in jest, also contributed to the growing suspicions about the presidency.

All executive presidents, elected directly by the voter at tremendous expense, vowed to abolish the executive presidency just to please the voters but none even attempted to do so. But Gota was an exception, never making such a promise. Further, during the short period he had been in office he had behaved very differently to his predecessors. He has shown that he is there to work, not for the glamour of office. Therefore, I would argue that what matters more than the office is the person who occupies it. This imparts even a greater responsibility on the voter to elect the right person.

In any country, either the president or the prime minister would have to be powerful. In the UK, the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’, Boris Johnson holds power and makes all the important decisions. It is only rarely that Parliament acts to change his decisions. Ranil considered himself to be the executive prime minister and set up various units at Temple Trees, and some of them were not lawful. This too highlights my view that it is not the office that matters but who holds the office.

If not for the powerful presidency, we would still have been fighting terrorism. How the Opposition mocked the war efforts is a long-gone memory. The worst possible scenario is where the power is shared, as happened during the ill-fated yahapalana regime. What is transpiring before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday attacks amply illustrates how security of the country was neglected

The passage of 20A is a turning point in the history of our country. By giving the mandate for this to the SLPP, the voters have opted for a presidential system of government and it is my humble opinion that this was almost entirely due to the statesmanlike behaviour of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. During his campaign he never attacked his opponents but proved his ability to perform any responsibility he was tasked with. On being elected, he dispensed with glamorous frivolities and got down to hard work. He has faced many challenges with vigour and has been successful so far.

What makes Gota different from all other ‘chief executives’ of Sri Lanka is that he is the first non-politician to hols this coveted position. Perhaps, that is what we needed. I do hope he would set the example for what a good executive president should be so that the electorate would not regret the momentous decision it made. I do hope that he would introduce a new Constitution, which gives due place to technocrats and usher in true reconciliation by ensuring that we obey one law as one nation as well as getting rid of race and faith based political parties which have been the bane of unity. The only purpose these parties have served is sowing the seeds of division and disunity whilst making some leaders rich and powerful.

I do hope Gota would prove that the executive presidency is the better option.

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