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?’”
Suppressing the struggle: Education and the Discourse of Class
By Anushka Kahandagamage
Protesters defeated the dictatorial Rajapaksa regime, making the Rajapaksas resign from their positions, premiership and presidency, of the government. After the collapse of the dynasty, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a Rajapaksa puppet, came to power with the support of a distorted majority in Parliament. Having got himself appointed as President, without a people’s mandate, Wickremesinghe began to suppress the struggle—the very struggle that led to his ascendency. Hours after Wickremesinghe took oath as President, at midnight, when the protesters were preparing to disband the major GotaGoGama (GGG) protest site, the military stormed in, violently assaulting some protesters, including women and people with disabilities. The military attacked media reporters, including BBC journalists, and destroyed the structures built on the location, prompting many to go to the GGG site in support of the protesters. A witch hunt would soon unfold, and, today, just weeks after Wickremesinghe came to power, arbitrary arrests are commonplace in Lanka, most recent and prominent, that of the trade union activist Joseph Stalin.
The Classed nature of the Discourse:
The Double Standard
National as well as international activists, academics, journalists, students, condemned the arbitrary violent attack on the GGG site. Social media was swamped with video footage of the attack, and posts, condemning the government’s moves. Many social media posts pointed fingers at the military, which was to be expected. But a notable and recurring theme was the link made between the military’s behaviour and its low education level – “Eighth grade passed Army”. Meanwhile, politicians from the ruling party (and others) publicly condemned the protesters’ actions, even calling them drug addicts (kuddo). The social media discourse targeting the military (low education) and the protesters (drug addicts), although coming from very different places, was steeped in a classed and classist language, and reduced their actions—whether of the protesters’ or of those suppressing the protest —to their level of education or social class.
Yet, there were surprisingly few discussions regarding the education level of the President, who commanded the attack on the protesters. There is no doubt that Wickremesinghe, whose past is linked with horrendous acts of violence, commanded the military to attack GGG. He is also behind the arbitrary arrests of protesters, the very people who placed him in power. While people are aware of Wickremesinghe’s violent tendencies, these inclinations are not discussed in relation to his education level. During the protest, when his house was set on fire, along with his personal library, many condemned the burning of the library, emphasizing the importance of ‘reading’ and ‘knowledge’. Ranil Wickremesinghe is seen as an ‘educated’ politician, well-read and knowledgeable about foreign policy and politics. A double standard manifests itself where the violent acts of the military (by no means am I trying to glorify the military) are criticized on the grounds of their ‘low’ education level, while the violence of Wickremesinghe garners little comment.
Violence and Education
There is no essential link between violence and education, rather capitalist structures have conditioned us to associate violence with under privileged groups and lower levels of education. Formal educational structures sustain hierarchies, power and, in our context, neo-liberal market economies. Education socialises the individual in such a way s/he/they come to embody dominant society’s values, beliefs, and attitudes. Educational institutions are particularly efficient in legitimising the current social order since they play a role not only in training workers in the strict sense of providing them with skills to be productive but also in the naturalization of social relations of production. Education thus entrenches the status quo, and, in that sense, is not an innocent space, rather a space where inequality and hierarchies are sustained and reproduced.
We associate ‘low’ educational levels, and underprivilege, with violence, as we are trained to do so by the political-economic structures which glorify the ‘learned’ and ‘wealthy’. While the military should not be glorified, under any circumstances, it should be understood that the soldiers, who attacked the protesters, on the ground, represent the disadvantaged classes, carrying out their ‘duty’ as commanded by a supposedly ‘educated’ President. It is an irony that society sees people who are directly involved in violence as the generators of violence, rather than the decision-makers who perpetrate violence.
Formal educational institutions, driven by capitalist values, serve to produce, reproduce and sustain such hegemonic narratives. Indeed, there is a link between our pathological social condition and our education system. While our mostly market driven education is trapped in narratives of employability, efficiency or productivity—needed to understand a phenomenon beyond what is given—human values and critical thinking remain neglected on the back burner. Under these circumstances, there is a great need for alternative education forms.
Counter narratives and alternative
forms of Education
Education has been crucial to the struggle to depose the dictatorial Rajapaksa regime. In this context, I am referring to the ‘education’ initiatives that have been a key element of the Aragalaya: education on democracy, the constitution, history of struggles, economy and so on. In the GGG site, groups connected to the protest as well as other initiatives organized debates and discussions to raise awareness about economic, political and social issues, to learn about how to utter the correct slogans and how to steer the struggle in the ‘right’ path. In doing so, hundreds of webinars were organized, numerous articles and posts written and videos uploaded. In the GGG main protest site, a library, university, college, and an IT centre were established to support ‘educating’ the people.
‘Education’ was a thread that wove the struggle together. There were (and are) different debates on education at various levels of the struggle where alternative forms of education were discussed, challenging hierarchy and institutionalized education. The protest has opened up a space for people to pursue alternative educational structures and build counter narratives. Unfortunately, most of these efforts ultimately fall, directly or indirectly, in to hegemonic educational structures, where hierarchy and Sinhala Buddhist hegemony are sustained in different forms. Similarly, the activists and academics, among the protesters, who tried to introduce alternative education forms and counter narratives often fell into capitalist hierarchical structures. The majority of the webinars and awareness raising forums were top-down in nature and were held in one language, discriminating against other language groups.
Furthermore, these forums were frequently clogged with ‘experts’ or the kind of academics who preach their opinions to the ‘uneducated.’
In conclusion, existing capitalist educational frameworks train one to discriminate, based on class and educational levels, normalizing certain ways of life and being. For example, it’s fascinating to see how Wickremesinghe was removed from the violence and education discourse while the military was at the centre of it. Alternative forms of education are needed to question and challenge these hierarchies.
(The author is a Doctoral Candidate in School of Social Sciences, University of Otago)
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
Prioritising protection of Government over the people
by Jehan Perera
According to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the natural condition of mankind was a state of war in which life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” because individuals are in a “war of all against all.” Therefore, it was necessary for them to come to an agreement. The philosopher John Locke called this the social contract. Social contract arguments are that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. Constitutions set out the rules by which societies are governed.
The evolution of constitutional thinking since the 17th century that Hobbes and Locke lived in has been to find ways to regulate the powers of the rulers and protect the people from the rulers. Those who have power need to have checks placed on them. They need to be held accountable. If those who are rulers are not checked or held accountable, they invariably abuse their powers. That power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely has been a truism. Over the past 74 years we have seen that the rulers have used their power indiscriminately some more than others. PTA is an example of a law which was instituted to deal with the Tamil separatist insurgency over 40 years ago, but it still remains-to protect power of the rulers. In the past three years when the rulers of Sri Lanka held virtually absolute power by virtue of the 20th Amendment to the constitution, the situation in the country deteriorated. The country became bankrupt for the first time ever.
The current debate over the 22nd Amendment is to ensure and enlarge the role of civil society to mitigate the powers of the politicians who are rulers. A key question now is with regard to the three civil society representatives who will be in the Constitutional Council. The present formulation of the amendment is that the civil society representatives will have to be acceptable to the majority in parliament (thereby giving the government final say). Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s experience with constitutional reform has been in the direction of further strengthening of the powers of the rulers against the people. The so-called reforms have invariably strengthened the hands of the rulers against the people and justified that it is being done for the sake of the people.
The 1972 Constitution replaced the constitution that the country had inherited from the British colonial rulers. It ensured the independence of the judiciary and of the civil service and also had special protections for human rights and non-discrimination between ethnic communities. However, these protections were removed from the 1972 constitution that sought to empower the ruling politicians on the justification that they embodied the will of the sovereign people. It was argued that the elected politicians were closer to the people than unelected judges and civil servants. But being away from the people makes them non partisan, a value less understood. Judges were sacked when the new constitution came into operation and treated shamefully. The 1978 constitution repeated the activities of the 1972 constitutions. Judges were once again sacked and treated shamefully. At a later point they were even stoned.
It is these cultures we developed that have led to the present crisis of lack of values beyond the economy itself and formed the base for Aragalaya. The 1978 constitution took the centralisation of power in the 1972 constitution even further and centralized it in the office of one person, the executive president. He could now be even above the law, like the kings of old before parliaments that represented the people came into being. The first executive president of Sri Lanka, J R Jayewardene, said that the only power he did not possess was the power to turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man. It is not surprising that with this power going into the hands of the elected rulers, that the abuse of power and corruption should grow without limit. From being a country near the top of Asia at the time of independence, Sri Lanka is today nearer the bottom. The life savings of its people have been halved in half a year and not a single politician has faced a legal accountability process.
The 22nd Amendment belongs to the family of constitutional amendments that began with the 17th Amendment of 2001. This amendment was agreed to by the then president due to the weakening of the government at that time. The JVP then, as now, the party of the disadvantaged in society, gave the lead. The amendment resulted in the reduction of the power of the president and sharing those powers with parliament, state institutions and with civil society. The idea behind the 17th Amendment was to strengthen the system of checks and balances and thereby promote good governance in the national interest. The 19th Amendment that resembles it was the work of a coalition of parties that had opposed the abuse of power of the rulers they had just deposed through an electoral mandate.
However, the limitation on the powers of the rulers has never been acquiesced by those who would be rulers or belong to their party. The 17th Amendment was overturned in 2010 by the 18th Amendment that gave back to the presidency the powers it had lost plus some more. When this led to an increase in the abuse of powers by the rulers, the successor government brought in the 19th amendment to once again reduce the powers of the presidency. This was in pursuance of the mandate sought at the presidential election of 2015. But once again in 2019, those who formed the next government overruled the 19th Amendment and with the 20th Amendment and gave back to the presidency its lost powers plus some more.
It is under the 20th Amendment which is about to be repealed that the corruption and abuse of power in the country reached its zenith and plunged the people into unprecedented economic hardship and poverty. It is these hardships that gave rise to the Aragalaya, or protest movement, that culminated with the physical storming of government buildings and the forced resignations of the president, prime minister and cabinet of ministers. The shrinking of the middle class who have toiled a lifetime are now falling between the cracks and joining the poor and vulnerable created by the government in less than three years. Yet highlighting the priorities of the rulers, no one of the seem to be thinking of compensating those who have lost their savings, only of compensation of what happened to a few of the rulers and their henchmen during the 2015-2019 period or the Aragalaya period in which the houses of the rulers, much beyond their known sources of wealth and income were burned down.
An Indian political analyst Dr Maya John, has written, “Although the Aragalaya targeted not only individual politicians like the Rajapaksas but also the wider ambit of corrupt political forces – as evident in the parallel slogans of “GotaGoHome” and “225GoHome” – the bulk of people’s energy was overtly focused on dislodging certain individuals from political power; indicating the tendency for the ruling establishment to still hold sway with the ouster of particular politicians. As the well-known Sinhalese proverb goes: inguru deela miris gaththa wage (exchanging ginger for chilli), we have simply got rid of something bad and got something worse in return. So, the Rajapksas have been replaced but the same ruling clique and political system remain intact; in fact, in a more offensive reincarnation.”
The protest movement was a reaction to the social tolerance limits, economic hardships, shortages, queues and steep price rises that in effect halved the general income of the people, with some suffering more than others. But the crackdown on them by the rulers has been both subtle and harsh in the present period. Those who gave it leadership are being picked off one by one, put into jail or being put on bail so that they dare not protest again. The unequal and discriminatory treatment of the protest movement is given the veneer of law which the government would he hoping would get it through the monitoring of the UN Human Rights Council next month and preserve the economic rewards of the EU’s GSP Plus, which is given to country’s that are making a genuine effort to improve the lot of their people, poor people not only the rich.
In 2018, parliamentarians who attempted to stage a constitutional coup (which failed because the judiciary stood firm) sat on the chair of the Speaker of parliament whom they had forcibly chased off. They flung chairs and wrenched microphones out of their sockets. But none of them were punished even when the coup failed. However, those who joined the protest movement and sat in the chair of the president are being houndeds one by one and arrested. A protester who took the beer mug of the deposed president has been arrested. But ministers who are accused of corruption, accused reportedly even by diplomats accredited to the country, and ministers who have been convicted by the courts, sit on, in government. Such unequal and discriminatory treatment is likely to cause the sense of grievance to grow especially when the people are faced with price rises and shortages. They form the basis to cause another Aragalaya.
The current version of the 22nd Amendment which gives the rulers the power to pick the civil society members who will be in the constitutional council is not a sign that the government will heed the voice of the people. In this reluctance to be held accountable and to use power in a just manner, is a recipe for confrontation between the rulers and people in the future in which repression will be the response of the rulers who disregard the people. It may explain why the military budget continues to take first place despite the economic collapse. Unless the people’s voices are represented truly in the parliament and the political processes, which can only come through a fresh set of elections, it is difficult to expect accountability in the system which is a formula for disaster sooner or later.
Doing it…dad’s way
Yes, of course, the older folks would all remember Edward Joseph; the young ones may find the name unfamiliar as Edward now lives in Germany and does his thing in that part of the world.
Better known as Eddy, he was with the leader of the group Steelers and they were big in the local showbiz scene…many, many years ago.
While Eddy is now busy, operating as a singer/guitarist/songwriter, in Germany, his daughter, Samantha, has decided to follow in her dad’s footsteps…as a singer/guitarist.
According to Eddy, Samantha decided to get actively involved, this year, and started performing with him, at various gigs,
A few weeks ago, she had the opportunity to perform with dad, to a huge crowd, on big stage, and after her impressive performance, she was asked to come for a casting by the State Jazz band of Frankfurt, whose conductor was in the audience.
She was also discovered by another promoter of a big TV Channel, in Germany, called RTL.
Says Eddy: “So, hopefully, things will work out for her. I never pushed her to do music because I know how hard and competitive, and dangerous, the industry has become.”
The proud dad went on to say that he only gave her the tools of advice, and tips, in singing and playing instruments.
“From that point, onwards, it was all her effort,” he added.
Samantha, originally, was keen to become a Music Teacher, says Eddy, rather than a performer, but now she is gradually getting the taste of the crowds.
“I am grooming her and supporting her in every way I can and hope that she will get better opportunities, in this business, than I had.”
Eddy says that if he was born and bred, in Germany, he, probably, would have come a long way, by now.
“But I am very happy with my life, the way it is.
“I still have my loving mom and dad, a fantastic daughter, a caring partner, my friends and family, and God, on my side, and I am now totally at peace with myself.
“I can proudly say that God has given me the path to be one of the most booked musicians, in my region.”
Most musicians, over there (born and bred in that region), according to Eddy, do find the going pretty tough, where work is concerned, due to the pandemic, and the Ukraine-Russia war, resulting in a food and fuel crisis.
Hopefully, if the scene brightens up, we may see father and daughter, in action, here!
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