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Trump Leading Only in State of Denial

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Transition Chaos

by Vijaya Chandrasoma

Donald Trump has yet to concede that the Biden/Harris ticket has won the presidency by an overwhelming majority, of both the popular vote and the Electoral College. He alleges that the election has been stolen from him by the Democrats, with ridiculous statements about widespread voter irregularities. Election authorities throughout the nation have confirmed that no cases of voter fraud have been found. Trump chooses by his aberrant behavior to delegitimize not just the incoming Biden administration, but democracy itself. He is acting like a revenant, a corpse revived from death to haunt the living.

Sadly, only a handful of Republicans has advised him of the inevitability of his defeat and the need for a graceful departure.

The worst-kept secret in the world is that Trump is a terrible loser, but he does have the right to question the results of the election until it is formally certified by the Electoral College in December. However, as a Lame Duck president, Trump, instead of co-operating towards a smooth transfer of power, is engaging in the unthinkable. He is planning to burn everything behind him as he leaves the White House. His refusal to facilitate a smooth transfer of power endangers the security of the nation. It would be a great relief if he leaves/is dragged out of the Oval Office, screaming and kicking like the petty little man he is, without starting Civil War II or World War III.

Trump has already refused to release the funds necessary for the transition. He has fired Defense Secretary, Mark Esper and three senior officials in the Department of Defense. He is threatening to get rid of CIA director, Gina Haspel and FBI director, Christopher Wray, for the “crime” of not indicting President Obama, Vice President Biden and Hillary Clinton for spying on his campaign in 2016, a delusion dismissed by the FBI and the Department of Justice as having no merit whatsoever. He has filled these key security positions with party hacks who will obey his orders without question.

The security leadership vacuum so caused may encourage adversaries to take aggressive action to further their national interests with impunity and without threat of American retribution. Russia could continue to make illegal incursions into sovereign nations which were part of the old Soviet empire; China could take control of islands in the South China Sea contested by their neighbors. He has also threatened to release classified information which would jeopardize covert CIA operations in countries inimical to the interests of the United States.

Trump refuses to release the Presidential Daily Briefings, a dossier put together by the leading security agencies designed to keep the president au fait with the global security situation. Traditionally, the President-elect has access to these briefings during the transition, so that he would be able to hit the ground running from the day of his inauguration.

All the while, the pandemic is raging, with the projection that 300,000 American lives will be lost by end-January, if the present administration continues to take no steps towards its mitigation. Trump has callously remained silent about this tragedy, which shows no sign of respite.

Biden has stated his intention of relying on a science-based strategy to combat the virus. To this end, he has already appointed an Advisory Board of distinguished physicians and epidemiologists, headed by Dr. Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General during the Obama administration. Trump’s challenges to the legality of the election during the interregnum means that this Board will be given teeth to their policies only after January 20, 2021.

There is a sliver of light at the end of the Covid tunnel. Pfizer has announced they are on course to produce a working vaccine with over 90% efficacy against Covid19 by the end of the year, which could be released to the American public by end April. By which time, if preventive actions like masks, social distancing and avoidance of crowds are not taken, the nation would have suffered over a half million deaths.

Secretary of State Bill Pompeo, who visited Sri Lanka last week and gave much gratuitous advice to us on democracy and human rights, was asked, at a recent press briefing, about the charade of denial by Trump of the legality of the election and his refusal to facilitate the smooth transfer of power. He stated, against all evidence, that Trump had won the election, and said, smirking, that there will be a “smooth transition to Trump’s second term”. A frivolous statement made by the nation’s chief diplomat, who is supposed to “show the face of the country” to the world at large. He certainly has done that, and the face is as ugly as that of any banana republic. The United States has forfeited the right to sanctimoniously rail against countries committing indiscretions, even atrocities, in the name of democracy, guilty as it has been of those very crimes.

The leaders of many countries have already spoken to President-elect Biden, congratulating him on his election. These congratulatory telephone calls have come from Trudeau, Boris Johnson, Macron, Angela Merkel, and Pope Francis, among many others. There is also a stack of congratulatory messages from other countries, including Sri Lanka, which the State Department has not released, on instructions of the White House.

Among nations to have implied reservations about the legality of the election of President-elect Biden have predictably been Russia, China and North Korea, whose leaders may be distressed that the United States has reversed its four-year slide on the slippery slope towards authoritarianism.

Trump has this uncanny ability to gaslight himself, to convince himself that he is doing a wonderful job, when all evidence is to the contrary. He lives in an alternative fantasyland, in which he can do no wrong. But his great gift, one shared by many successful cult leaders and dictators of the past, is that he is able to so gaslight a vast section of his countrymen, as evinced by the 71 million Americans who voted for his re-election. He enjoys the kind of success enjoyed by Hitler, who persuaded a majority of the German people that Jews presented a clear danger to the prosperity of their country, that his obscene Final Solution was not only rational but essential for their own survival. Hitler himself believed this, and he was able to get the Germans to go to war to preserve these inhuman beliefs. Just as Trump has brought to the surface the white Americans’ innate fears of a black and brown invasion and the erosion of white privilege. He may incite his white supremacist cult, armed with military style weapons, to widespread violence during the interregnum.

Trump suffered an overwhelming defeat in this election. He lost by the exact majority of 306 Electoral College votes that he had won in 2016, which Trump had described as a landslide. The popular majority for Biden was 77 to 72 million votes, a margin never before achieved by any past president. Amazingly, after four years of calamitous leadership which has seen 245,000 Americans killed so far by his homicidal incompetence in the management of the pandemic, an economy reduced to devastation with unemployment and homelessness faced by millions, Trump still managed to garner the highest number of votes ever won by a Republican candidate. The votes so accumulated by Trump, according to exit polls, included 57% of white Americans, a sad commentary on the racial hostility that still inflicts the nation.

President-elect Joe Biden has been remarkably calm in the face of Trump’s continuing assault on the legitimacy of his election. When asked to comment on Trump’s attitude towards the election and the transition, he smiled ruefully and said, “I just think it’s an embarrassment, quite frankly. The only thing that – how can I say this tactfully – I think it will not help the president’s legacy”. With extraordinary tact and restraint, Biden showed his decency by remaining silent on Trump’s post-election antics which are in perfect conformity with the legacy he will leave, a legacy of lies, deception, fraud, misogyny and treason.

It has been a tradition, since the 1930s, to celebrate and honor the legacy of previous presidents with a presidential library built in his home state. The only realistic memorial to the most tragic and dangerous period in the history of the United States would be the construction of a center for the rehabilitation of raving lunatics with dangerously pathological personality disorders. In Palm Beach, Florida.

In conclusion, I am reproducing below the speech of Oliver Cromwell when he dismissed the Rump (you can’t make this stuff up) Parliament in 1653. I wish I had the gift of eloquence that expresses my feelings of contempt towards Trump and his gang of sniveling enablers so perfectly:

“It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice.

“Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government. Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

“Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse. Gold is your God. Which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

“Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defiled this sacred place, and turned the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices?

“Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation. You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance.

“Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which, by God’s help, and the strength He has given me, I am now come to do.

“I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place. Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

IN THE NAME OF GOD, GO!”



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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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