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Why the world is counting on a Biden victory



by Krishantha Prasad Cooray

Next week’s presidential election in the United States of America has become a remarkable event on the world stage. It has exposed the dark underbelly of the American political system and left us all wondering whether America, the world’s oldest modern democracy, is indeed still a democracy at all?

Four years ago, America fell to a strongman. Donald Trump took the national stage with masterful control of the media, hijacking a democratic system, bypassing the traditional scrutiny of presidential candidates by hiding his tax returns, silencing people with non-disclosure agreements and controlling the narrative about his political opponent.

By the measure of an election in any normal democracy, he failed, garnering 2,868,686 fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, a margin of 2.23%. To put that margin in a context that Sri Lankans would understand, Ranil Wickremasinghe lost the 2005 presidential election in Sri Lanka by a narrower margin of only 1.86%. However, under the American system, it is the combination of states you win in the Electoral College that counts, not the number of votes, and Donald Trump became president as a result.

For decades, the battle for the right to vote has been a feature of American politics. Politicians and judges they have appointed frequently succeed in preventing minority groups, young voters or others from voting, and have found ways to have their ballots excluded from the final tally. On more than one occasion, the politicized American Supreme Court has sided with these efforts, further divorcing the American political system from what we in Sri Lanka understand as democracy.

Indeed, we can take pride in our own system. For all the political turmoil that our country has suffered in 72 years as an independent democracy, no one barring the LTTE has ever tried to deny the franchise to any Sri Lankan constituency or to prevent them from voting. More importantly, it would be unthinkable for Sri Lankan courts to even entertain a case seeking to deny the vote to any group of Sri Lankans.

But what is still unthinkable in little Sri Lanka is now the stated path to victory for Donald Trump’s re-election in America. A president who came to power on a technicality is now seeking to unleash a torrent of technicalities to cling on to power. His acolytes are sabotaging the postal service to scuttle the postal vote, rushing to courts across the country to seek rulings preventing votes from being counted, shutting down polling places in urban areas to make it more difficult for poor people to vote, and adopting a flurry of similar strategies not to increase their own vote count, but to reduce the number of votes counted for their opponent.

To those of us who treasure democracy and the institutions that defend it, there is solace to be found in the fact that Donald Trump is the first incumbent American President running for reelection who has not been endorsed by living former Presidents in his own party. Lifelong institutionalists in his Republican party, from former Speaker Paul Ryan to the late Senator John McCain, disavowed him. McCain went so far as to request that Trump not be allowed to attend his funeral.

Hundreds of retired senior military, intelligence and law enforcement officials in America have spoken out not just to oppose Donald Trump but to warn that his re-election would pose a grave threat to the national security and integrity of the United States of America.

What America has seen in the last four years is that when strongmen bluster their way into high office on a façade of glitzy propaganda and magical promises, the reality is that they will spend their time in office making excuses as to why they could not get anything done, and insisting that the only way they can deliver what they promised is if they are allowed more time in office. Meanwhile, they chafe at the democratic and institutional safeguards designed to ensure that our rulers are accountable to their people and serve at their mercy.

With Trump’s failure to deliver on his promises, and his catastrophic handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is reason to hope that his defeat will make way for healing America and making its institutions stronger than they were before Trump began his assault. There is a lot of healing to be done.

Ever since World War II, America has marketed itself as the poster-child for democracy on the world stage, even though the fairness of its electoral system has lagged objectively behind those of several other established democracies like Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and the Scandinavian states.

Despite America’s wide inequalities, it is the country’s evolution that is most romantic. Before being elected President, as an opponent of slavery, Abraham Lincoln explained that America’s Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed that all men are equal, was not a statement of fact but an aspiration to strive for. The concept of equality, Lincoln said, is one that must be “constantly looked to, constantly laboured for, and even, though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colours, everywhere.”

Indeed, the American tradition has been to own up to its country’s dark history and aspire to do better. Whether slavery, the treatment of native Americans or other ethnic and religious minorities, the country has openly and gradually strived to evolve into a less racist and xenophobic, and more inclusive and equal nation, all under the glaring eye of one of the most searing and merciless news media environments in the world.

America’s claim to moral authority around the world has come from reconciling its roots in inequality, slavery and other heinous crimes, owning up to them, accepting its present shortcomings, and actively striving to grow with its founding values, while espousing those same values abroad. Democracies that have shared those values or even overtaken America in their implementation have found in the USA a strong and staunch ally who will stand up to autocratic bullying.

This is why Trump’s rejection, deriding and snubbing of democratically elected leaders, and his embracing and enabling of dictators and autocrats, and his encouragement of human rights abuses in his own country and overseas have struck such a serious blow to fragile democracies everywhere. The ideologies of countries like Russia and China depend on people losing faith in the idea of democracy and a free press. They could have no greater champion than an American president who insists American elections are rigged and boasts that he helped a foreign prince get away with murdering and disemboweling a journalist.

So when Mike Pompeo came to Sri Lanka, winked that democracies should stick together, and warned that the Chinese Communist Party is preying on Sri Lanka, his words would ring less hollow if his own party were not so feverishly dismantling and delegitimizing the concept of franchise in his own country. Indeed, he would sound more sincere if President Trump had not just months ago been impeached for “preying” on the democratically elected leaders of Ukraine.

Sri Lanka cannot be credibly lectured on human rights and democracy by a country whose government has for the last four years institutionalized the oppression of minorities, forcibly separated refugees from their children, and laboured to engineer the arrest of journalists and jailing of political opponents. When Trump speaks of autocrats like Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Un, he betrays a frustrated envy of these strongmen and how simply they can silence and dispatch their political opponents.

These weaknesses in Trump and his lack of character are the primary reason he is on track to garner far fewer votes than his opponent, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. Unlike Trump, whose manicured public image propelled him to fame on a campaign of fear, hate and race-baiting, Joe Biden is someone who has long been known to Americans and the world.

As a leader on the world stage, Biden has championed support for independent institutions in emerging democracies, especially in making judiciaries independent and distancing law enforcement activities from political pressures. All the while, he has made no secret of the fact that he believes his own country has a long way to go in making its own established institutions more inclusive, fair and just.

There is little doubt that Biden will garner more votes this Tuesday, but his opponent has made no secret of his plan to win through an assault on the franchise more akin to those adopted by leaders of failed states than the President of the world’s largest democracy. He has even tarred the independence of the courts, making no secret of his motives when stacking the Supreme Court with judges he believes will deliver him the presidency a second time.

Dictators, strongmen and autocrats around the world are also watching. In a world where such people cling to power not through overt fascism but by putting on the thinnest guise of democracy, it is mana from heaven for them to see an American President boast of rigging the US Supreme Court to stay in power. If Trump succeeds, they will only be inspired and emboldened to employ similar strategies to stifle the democratic will of their own people. If they see one candidate win millions more votes in America, only to have their victory overturned by a politically stacked court, they will see a blueprint for how they too can cling to power until the end of their days.

When George W. Bush was declared president in 2000 by the Supreme Court stopping the counting of votes in Florida, three key lawyers on his legal team were John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. All three are now Justices on the US Supreme Court, who may soon be asked to choose whether the next President of their country will be their “party man” or the man who won the most votes.

Those Republicans in America who seek to use a politicized Supreme Court to prioritize keeping Trump in power over the founding principles of their nation would do well to examine the events that led to the founding and rise of their own political party. The Republican party in America came together after 1854 by bringing together a growing number of American politicians whose opposition to slavery left them without a party that reflected their political ideology.

As the party and its philosophy garnered traction and it became clearer that a clear majority of Americans were opposed to slavery, it was the opportunistic president James Buchanan and politically motivated Chief Justice Roger Taney who colluded to deliver a 7-2 judgment of the Supreme Court that declared that those of African descent were sub-human and thus must be treated as property all across the United States.

The barbarism of this move and its aftermath played no small role in the election of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, in 1860. The question of freedom and who deserved to be free so charged American politics that his opponents tried to kill him before he took office, and soon drove the United States into a civil war. That war was won by those who stood on the principle that freedom and equality were the inalienable rights of all human beings. The world in the 1860s was not remotely as interconnected as it is today. The telephone had not yet been invented, and news traveled across the world no faster than a ship could sail the sea.

Today, the eyes of the world are on the American voters and American institutions. Dictators, strongmen and autocrats around the world have had an easy time of the last four years, finding their actions more legitimized by the United States than chastised, while journalists, rights advocates and those who stand for the rule of law have often found themselves isolated in every corner of the world.

If a Biden electoral victory is suppressed by discounting votes and overruling the will of the American people, the path will be cleared for every ruler who seeks to govern without the consent of those they govern to follow America’s example, and craft policies and institutions that cement their power. Such counties will then join America as politically apartheid states, democracies only in name.


From a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ to a ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’



A meeting of BRICS leaders

As the world continues to reel from the ‘aftershocks’ as it were of the October 7th Gaza Strip-centred savagery, what it should guard against most is a mood of pessimism and hopelessness. Hopefully, the international community would pull itself together before long and give of its best to further the cause of a political solution in the Middle East.

It is plain to see that what needs to be done most urgently at present is the prolongation of the current ceasefire, besides facilitating a steady exchange of hostages but given the present state of hostilities between the warring sides this would not prove an easy challenge.

Considering that there are no iron-clad guarantees by either side that there would be a longstanding ceasefire followed by a cessation of hostilities, what we have at present in the Middle East is a highly fraught ‘breather’ from the fighting. There are no easy answers to the currently compounded Middle East conflict but the external backers of the warring sides could alleviate the present suffering of the peoples concerned to a degree by bringing steady pressure on the principal antagonists to drastically scale down their hostilities.

If they mean well by the communities concerned, these external backers, such as the US, as regards Israel, and those major Middle Eastern states backing Hamas and other militant groups, would set about creating a conducive climate for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

De-escalating the supply of lethal military hardware to the warring sides is a vital first step towards this end. External military backing is a key element in the prolongation of the war and a decrease in such support would go some distance in curtailing the agony of the peoples concerned. The onus is on these external parties to prove their good intentions, if they have any.

Meanwhile, major states of the South in increasing numbers are making their voices heard on the principal issues to the conflict. One such grouping is BRICS, which is now featuring among its prospective membership, countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran. That is, in the foreseeable future BRICS would emerge as a greatly expanded global grouping, which would come to be seen as principally representative of the South.

Since the majority of countries within the BRICS fold are emerging economies, the bloc could be expected to wield tremendous economic and military clout in the present world order. With China and Russia counting among the foremost powers in the grouping, BRICS would be in a position to project itself as an effective counterweight to the West and the G7 bloc.

However, the major challenge before the likes of BRICS is to prove that they will be a boon and not a bane to the poorer countries of the South. They would be challenged to earnestly champion the cause of a just and equitable world political and economic order. Would BRICS, for instance, be equal to such challenges? Hopefully, the commentator would be able to answer this question in the affirmative, going ahead.

The current issues in the Middle East pose a major challenge to BRICS. One of the foremost tasks for BRICS in relation to the Middle East is the formulation of a policy position that is equitable and fair to all the parties to the conflict. The wellbeing of both the Palestinians and the Israelis needs to be staunchly championed.

Thus, BRICS is challenged to be even-handed in its managing of Middle Eastern questions. If the grouping does not do this, it risks turning the Gaza bloodletting, for example, into yet another proxy war front between the East and West.

Nothing constructive would be achieved by BRICS, in that the wellbeing of the peoples concerned would not be served and proxy wars have unerringly been destructive rather constructive in any way. The South could do without any more of these proxy wars and BRICS would need to prove its skeptics wrong on this score.

Accordingly, formations, such as BRICS, that are genuine counterweights to the West are most welcome but their presence in the world system should prove to be of a positive rather than of a negative nature. They need to keep the West in check in the UN system, for example, but they should steer clear of committing the West’s excesses and irregularities.

More specifically, the expanding BRICS should be in a position to curtail the proliferation of identity politics in the present world order. The West has, thus far, failed to achieve this. The seismic convulsions in the Gaza re-establish the pervasive and pernicious presence of identity politics in the world’s war zones, so much so, one could say that US political scientist Samuel Huntingdon is being proved absolutely right in his theorization that world politics over the past 30 years has been essentially a ‘Clash of Civilizations’.

After all, current developments in the Middle East could be construed by the more simple-minded observer as a pitting of Islam against Judaism, although there are many more convoluted strands to the Middle East conflict than a violent clash of these religious identities. More so why the influence of identity politics needs to blunted and eliminated by the right-thinking.

One way in which this could be achieved is the through the steady espousal and practise of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ theory. While the existence of a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ cannot be denied on account of the pervasive presence of identity politics the world over, the negative effects of this brand of politics could be neutralized through the initiation and speeding-up of a robust dialogue among civilizations or identity groups.

Such an exchange of views or dialogue could prove instrumental in facilitating mutual understanding among cultural and civilizational groups. The consequence could be a reduction in tensions among mutually hostile social groups. Needless to say, the Middle East is rife with destructive politics of this kind.

Accordingly, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way cultural groups interact with each other. The commonalities among these groups could be enhanced through a constant dialogue process and the Middle East of today opens out these possibilities.

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Their love story in song…



The duo in the company of Dinesh Hemantha and Jananga

It’s certainly encouraging to see Sri Lankan artistes now trying to be creative…where songs are concerned.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen some interesting originals surfacing, with legendary singer/entertainer Sohan Weerasinghe’s ‘Sansare,’ taking the spotlight.

Rubeena Shabnam, Sri Lankan based in Qatar, and Yohan Dole, living in Australia, have teamed up to produce a song about their love life.

‘Adare Sulagin’ is the title of the song and it’s the couple’s very first duet.

Says Rubeena: “This song is all about our love story and is a symbol of our love. It feels like a dream singing with my fiancé.”

Elaborating further, especially as to how they fell in love, Rubeena went on to say that they met via social media, through a common friend of theirs.

The song and video was done in Sri Lanka.

Rubeena and Yohan with lyricist Jananga Vishawajith

“We both travelled to Sri Lanka, in August this year, where we recorded the song and did the video, as well.

‘Adare Sulagin’ was composed by Dinesh Hemantha (DH Wave Studio, in Galle), while the lyrics were penned by Jananga Vishwajith, and the video was handled by Pathmila Ravishan.

It is Dinesh Hemantha’s second composition for Rubeena – the first being ‘Surali.’

“It was an amazing project and it was done beautifully. Talking about the music video, we decided to keep it more simple, and natural, so we decided to capture it at the studio. It was a lot of fun working with them.”

‘Adare Sulagin,’ says Rubeena, is for social media only. “We have not given it for release to any radio or TV station in Sri Lanka.”

However, you could check it out on YouTube: Adare Sulagin – Rubeena Shabnam, ft. Yohan Dole.

Rubeena lives and works in Qatar and she has been in the music industry for almost five years. She has done a few originals but this one, with Yohan, is very special to her, she says.

Yohan Dole resides in Australia and is a guitarist and vocalist.

He has a band called Rhythmix, in Australia, where they play at various events.

He has been doing music for quite a while now but doing an original song was one of his dreams, he says

Rubeena and Yohan plan to get married, in December, and do more music together, in different genres.

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Mathematics examinations or mathematics curriculum?



Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams. 

by Anton Peiris

R. N.A. De Silva has, in a recent article, provided some useful tips to students as regards preparation for mathematics examinations. Trained teachers and graduates with professional qualifications are familiar with this topic.  All mathematics teachers have a duty to help the students with revision.

The more important task is to salvage the Sri Lankan O/Level mathematics students from the abyss that they have fallen into, viz. the implications and the retarding effect of the use of obsolete Log Tables. The Minister of Education, Senior Ministry Officials and the NIA are oblivious to the important and interesting things that have happened in Grades 10 and 11 mathematics in the UK, other parts of Europe, Japan, Canada, China and elsewhere. They have been like frogs in a well for almost half a century. Here are two important facts:

1. O/Level mathematics students in Sri Lanka are 46 years behind their counterparts in the UK and in other developed countries. Ordinary Scientific calculators were introduced to the O/Level mathematics classrooms in the UK way back in 1977. Prior to that those students used Slide Rules to facilitate their mathematical calculations. Ordinary scientific calculators give the values of Sine, Cos, Tan and their Inverses, Log, LN, exponential powers, square roots, squares, reciprocals, factorials, etc., at the press of a button, in addition to performing arithmetic functions. There is no memory to store mathematical formulae, etc. It is an invaluable tool for solving sophisticated and interesting mathematical problems and also problems in ordinary statistics. It has paved the way for achieving high standards in O/Level Mathematics in those countries.

Just compare the maths questions in the Cambridge IGCSE or the London O/Level Maths Exam with the questions in the Sri Lankan O/Level maths exam and you will see how far our students have fallen behind.

The Cambridge O/Level examination was replaced by the GCSE and the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) a few decades ago.

I am not referring to Programmable Calculators and Graphic Display Calculators (GDC), meaning devices with a small screen that can display graphs, perform statistical calculations like the Z- Score for large samples, show Matrix calculations, provide solutions to algebraic equations, etc., at the press of a few buttons. GDC is a compulsory item for A/Level mathematics students in the UK and in all developed countries.

Some teachers say that by using ordinary scientific calculators in Grades 10 and 11, students will not acquire the ability to carry out mental arithmetic calculations. This is not true because

(i). Calculators are introduced in Grade 10. Maths teachers have five years of Primary School and three years of Middle school (Grades 7, 8 and 9) i.e. a total of eight years to inculcate sufficient mental arithmetic skills in their students before the calculators are introduced in Grade 10!

(ii). In the IGCSE and in the London O/Level Mathematics Exams calculators are not allowed for Paper 1. Preparation for Paper 1 requires the acquisition of mental arithmetic skills, e.g., one lesson per week in class in Grades 10 and 11 in which calculators are not allowed. Sri Lanka could follow suit.

Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams.

An ordinary scientific calculator costs less than 10 % of the price of a smartphone.

Sri Lankan students in International Schools sit the IGCSE or the London O/Level mathematics exams where ordinary scientific calculators are allowed. These students have made big strides in learning mathematics by using the calculators. Only the rich can send their children to International Schools in Sri Lanka. Millions of poor Sri Lankan students do not have calculators.

Our Minister of Education has announced that the government was planning to transform the country’s education system by introducing ‘’STEAM’ (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Maintaining high standards in O/Level Mathematics is the key to a successful implementation of STEAM programme. Unfortunately, the Education Minister and top education official are not aware of the fact that the only way to improve the standard of O/Level Mathematics is to do what the developed countries have done, i. e., revamping the O/Level mathematics syllabus and to introducing the ordinary scientific calculator in Grades 10 & 11. If they do it, it will be an important piece of curriculum development.

Bear in mind that the UK and other developed countries have taken another important step during the last 20 years; they have introduced the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) to the O/Level Mathematics class and by providing a Core Exam and an Extended Exam. In the Cambridge IGCSE Mathematics Exams, Papers 1, 3, and 5 constitute the Core Exam. Papers 2 ,4 and 6 constitute the Extended Exam. Calculators are not allowed in Papers 1 and 2.

The Core Exam is a boon to students who have very little or no mathematical ability. More on this in my next article.

By using Log Tables, our Sri Lankan O/Level students have to spend a lot of time to solve an IGCSE (Extended Syllabus) exam problem or a London O/Level mathematics exam problem because the use of Log Tables takes a long time  to work out the Squares, Square Roots, exponential powers, reciprocals , LN , factorials, etc., and that is tedious work while their counterparts in developed countries do that in a few seconds by pressing a couple of buttons in an ordinary scientific calculator.

The Calculator has given them more motivation to learn mathematics.

O/Level students in the UK have graduated from the ordinary scientific calculator to the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) thereby improving their ability to solve more sophisticated, more important and more interesting problems in mathematics, statistics and physics. Sri Lankan O/Level students are compelled to use obsolete Log Tables.

Hats off to that Minister of Education who introduced the ordinary scientific calculator to the Sri Lankan A/ Level Mathematics classroom and to the A/Level Mathematics Exam a few years ago. That was a small step in the right direction. Minister Susil Premjayantha, please revamp the O/Level mathematics syllabus and introduce the ordinary scientific calculator to Grades 10 and 11 now. That will ensure a big boost for your STEAM programme and yield benefits for the Sri Lankan economy.

(To be continued. Topic 2:  The necessity for introducing an O/Level Mathematics Core Exam and an Extended Exam. The writer has taught O/Level and A/Level Mathematics and Physics for 45 years in Asia, Africa and Europe and is an Emeritus Coordinator for International Baccalaureate, Geneva.)

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