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Let’s All Kill Tchaikovsky

“There is no more Swan Lake…Tchaikovsky is out”.  Olesia Vorotnyk, a Ukrainian ballerina who took up an AK 47 to defend Ukraine I came across this intriguing story in  The Economist of July 2nd, 2022, of a dancer with Ukraine’s national ballet –

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Tech Billionaires Are Actually Dumber Than You Think

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In mid-September, for just a few days, Indian industrialist Gautam Adani entered the ranks of the top three richest people on earth as per Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. It was the first time an Indian, or, for that matter, an Asian, had enjoyed such a distinction. South Asians in my circle of family and friends felt excited at the prospect that a man who looked like us had entered such rarefied ranks.

Adani was deemed the second richest person, even richer than Amazon founder Jeff Bezos! A Times of India profile fawningly quoted him relaying his thought process in the early days of his rags-to-riches story. “‘Dreams were infinite but finances finite,’ he says with engaging frankness,” according to the profile. There was no mention of the serious accusations he faces of corruption and diverting money into offshore tax havens, or of the entire website, AdaniWatch, devoted to investigating his dirty deeds.

Adani made his money, in part, by investing in digital services, leading one economist to say, “Wherever there is a futuristic business in India, I think… [Adani] has a stronghold.”

The moment of pride that Indians felt in such an achievement by one of their own was short-lived. Quickly Adani slipped from second richest to third richest, and, as of this writing, is in the number four slot on a list dominated by people who have made money from the digital technology revolution.

In fact, ranking multibillionaires is a meaningless exercise that obscures the absurdity of their wealth. This year alone, a number of tech billionaires on Bloomberg’s list lost hundreds of billions of dollars as the gains they made during the early years of the pandemic were wiped out because of a volatile stock market. But, as Whizy Kim of Vox points out, whether or not they’re losing money or giving it away—as Bezos’ ex-wife MacKenzie Scott has been doing—their wealth remains insanely high, and most are worth more today than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are they doing with all this wealth?

It turns out that many are quietly plotting their own survival against our demise. Douglas Rushkoff, podcaster, founder of the Laboratory for Digital Humanism, and fellow at the Institute for the Future, has written a book about this bizarre phenomenon, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires.

In an interview, Rushkoff explains that billionaires worry about the end of humanity just like the rest of us. They fear catastrophic climate change or the next pandemic. And, they know their money will likely be of little value when civilizations decline. “How do I maintain control over my Navy Seal security guards once my money is worthless?” is a question that Rushkoff says many of the world’s wealthiest people want to know the answer to.

He knows they ask such questions because he was invited to give private lectures by those who think his expertise in digital technology gives him unique insight into the future. But Rushkoff was quietly studying them instead and has few flattering things to say about these wielders of economic power.

“How is it that the wealthiest and most powerful people I’d ever been in the same room with see themselves as utterly powerless to affect the future?” he asks. It seems as though “the best they can do is prepare for the inevitable calamity and then just, you know, hang on for dear life.”

Rushkoff explores this tech billionaire “mindset” that he says has resulted in a generation of people who are “almost comedic monsters, who really mean to leave us all behind.” Adani is a perfect example of this, having invested in the very fossil fuels that are destroying our planet. He has large holdings in Australia’s coal mining industry and has sparked a massive grassroots movement intent on stopping him.

The admiration that some Indians feel for Adani’s ascension on Bloomberg’s list of billionaires is based on an assumption of cleverness. Surely, he must be one of the smartest people in the world in order to be one of the richest? Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest man by far (with twice as much wealth as Bezos), has enjoyed such a reputation for years.

Those who are invested in the idea of merit-based capitalism can justify the unimaginable wealth of the world’s richest people only by assuming they are intelligent enough to deserve it.

This is a façade. Rather than smarts, the wealthiest people on the planet appear to be rather small-minded idiot savants who share a common disdain for the rest of us.

After being around tech billionaires in private, Rushkoff concludes that they are invested in “this notion that they really can, like puppeteers, kind of control society from one level above,” and that this approach is “different than the era of Alexander the Great, or Caesar.” If the question that vexes them most of all is how, in a disastrous future, will they control the guards they hire to protect their hoardings, then our economic system is a farce.

“Even if we call them genius technologists, most of them were plucked from college when they were freshmen,” says Rushkoff. “They came up with some idea in their dorm room before they’d taken history, or economics, or ethics, or philosophy” classes, and so they lack the wisdom needed to oversee their own perverse amounts of wealth.

Having spent time with many tech billionaires, Rushkoff worries that “their education about the future comes from zombie movies and science fiction shows.”

Billionaires are not simply drawing their wealth from a vacuum. According to data from the World Economic Forum, “the world’s richest have captured a disproportionate share of global wealth over recent decades.” This means that, if you were rich to begin with a decade or two ago, you are likely to have seen your wealth multiply by a greater amount than middle-class or lower-income people.

Not only are tech billionaires undeserving of their wealth, but they also are fleecing the rest of us—and fantasizing about hoarding that wealth in the worst-case scenarios while the rest of humanity struggles to survive.

The danger is that if society valorizes such (mostly) men, we are in danger of internalizing their childish, selfish mindset and giving up on solving the climate crisis or building resiliency on a mass scale.

Instead of relating to them, we ought to feel sorry for a group of people so cut off from humanity that their vision of the future is a very lonely one.

“Let’s look at these tech-bro billionaire lunatics. Let’s laugh at what they’re doing… so they look small rather than big,” says Rushkoff. He thinks it is critical to adopt the perspective that “the disaster they’re so afraid of looks entirely manageable by more reasonable people who are willing just to help each other out.”

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Islam Respects Womanhood – Let It Remain So

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Woman as mother commands great respect in Islam. The Holy Quran speaks of the rights of the mother in a number of verses. It enjoins Muslims to show respect to their mothers and serve them well. The Prophet states emphatically that the rights of the mother are paramount.

The ongoing protest in the Islamic Republic of Iran by Iranian women against the country’s strict rules on Muslim women wearing hijab head scarfs has caught the attention of the world community.

. It is reported that more than 75 protesting people including women have died in the Iran government’s crackdown after the death of woman activist Mahsa Amini, on September,16, following her arrest for allegedly breaching the country’s strict rules on hijab head scarfs. . This news has made many ardent admirers of Islamic religion think whether the noble thoughts of Holy Quran on respect for women and their sentiments have not been adequately understood by section of menfolk belonging to Islam religion.

The underlying cause for protest against the insistence on Muslim women wearing hijab headscarf is that this compulsory use of head scarfs by women amounts to restricting the rights of Muslim women to lead a life of their own choice in appearance and public movement.

In Afghanistan, Muslim women are not permitted to go to schools beyond the 6th Standard. A year after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, teenage girls are barred from school and women are required to cover themselves from head to toe in public, with only their eyes showing. Hard-liners appear to hold sway in the Taliban-led government There have been reports of many Afghan women tearfully protesting against such restrictions on women’s education.

There are so many other practices by which the rights, liberty and sentiments of Muslim women are not recognised by the clergies and religious heads of Islam in some places. There are practices such as Muslim men being permitted to become the husband of several women at the same time, the practice of triple talaq where a husband can disown his wife by repeating this word three times, property rights for women, dress code for women and even driving licence being denied to Muslim women in some places. Even with regard to offering prayers in mosques, there are some restrictions on Muslim women.

What is noteworthy here is that while so many restrictions are imposed on Muslim women which are insisted by menfolk, there is practically no restriction on the behaviour and practices of Muslim men.

Such situation gives the impression that in several Islamic countries, Muslim women are being looked upon as second-rate people compared to the menfolk.

Of course, it is very necessary to point out that there are a few Muslim countries where such restrictions on women are not enforced anymore in letter and spirit but this is not so in all Muslim countries as seen in Afghanistan and Iran.

There is a number of Muslims including women living all over the world, who understand the tenets of principles enunciated in the Holy Quran and remain religious people, even as they involve themselves in professional and social activities in different walks of life and enjoy liberty and freedom. But, they can do so, only in regions where they are permitted to do so.

All said and done, one cannot but admit that liberty and freedom for a considerable population of women in a few Islamic countries remain restricted. This should not be so. Certainly, Holy Quran does not want this.

The Muslims have to join the mainstream of worldly life in tune with the prevailing civilised practices in the world, which are gradually getting fine-tuned over the years in tune with the scientific and technological development and progressive social thoughts, that insist on harmony with everyone and goodwill for all. When Muslim women who face restrictions, see other women getting themselves well educated, taking up jobs, involving themselves in business pursuits and occupying top positions in government and politics, they too naturally aspire for such conditions when they can realise their potential.

Muslim women in Iran and Afghanistan have now raised their voices demanding freedom, which should be seen as a positive trend and encouraged by the top leadership of the countries. The leadership should realise that Holy Quran insists on respect for womanhood in toto and the demand of women are in tune with the sayings in Holy Quran.

World opinion should assert itself and extend all support for the liberty-craving Muslim women in Afghanistan and Iran. and other places The leadership of these countries should recognise and respond to the women’s sentiments positively.

It is now gratifying to hear that the Taliban deputy foreign minister in Afghanistan has called for reopening schools for girls in Afghanistan, saying clearly that there is no valid reason for such insistence One is not sure, whether Taliban government leadership has reacted positively to the suggestions.

The ball is clearly in the court of Islamic leadership and they have to recognise the ground realities and, move with time and restore the glory of womanhood, as proclaimed by the Holy Quran.

Obnoxious Behaviour Against Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka is a resilient nation. That’s almost a given. A constant. All talk of peace, human rights, democracy, good governance, reparations and other such goodies emanating from Washington, London and other empiric capitals are disingenuous and laughable. Constant. Meddling, self-righteous and downright obnoxious North American and European diplomats: well, almost par for the course, with the US and UK specimens ensuring an above average score on such attributes.

Sessions of the UNHRC. The USA and others in the global thugs club bad-mouthing Sri Lanka while Russia and China lauding the restraint shown in dealing with brigands, highway robbers, arsonist and murderers operating under the, yes, legitimate banner of agitation. Yes, the kind of restraint that the USA never exercised when dealing with protests and not just the Capitol Hill theatrics of Trumpites. Constants, all.

And India! The country that reneged on the very agreement her leaders penned and stuffed down a pliant, unimaginative and clueless J R Jayewardene demanded that Sri Lanka implement in full the illegal 13th Amendment. This is what the Indian delegate told the UNHRC: ‘India seeks full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, delegation of powers to Provincial Councils and holding of Provincial Council elections at the earliest.’ No one, not even the diehard federalists and separatists either operating as pawns of India and the rogue nations of North America and Western Europe or are downright communalists have uttered one word calling for PC elections. Not a word about democracy being challenged by elections not being held. And yet, India wants Sri Lanka to inhabit India’s version of Sri Lankan reality. Constant.

To nutshell-capture, North America, Western Europe and India closed ranks against Sri Lanka while Russia and China, despite being snubbed no end by leaders without backbone defended Sri Lanka resolutely. Constants.

We could add to that Colombots, Candle-light Ladies, Rent-a-Protest Agitators, Funded Voices and other Kolombian sects. They’ll cheer most things that carry a Western/White token. They’ll wax eloquent about colonial rule, praising ‘accomplishments’ such as roads and railways, never mind that these were the yield of taxes paid and labor provided by Sri Lankans. They mourn the death of a woman who was the beneficiary and symbol of genocide and plunder. Constant.

So why bother talking about such things, one may ask. Well, certain things need to be reiterated and placed on record simply because we can forget to remember history. Simply because we can be fooled by sweet-talk. Simply because true citizenship requires us to observe, understand, share and agitate, one way or another.

A single example would do, actually. A two syllable name, actually. China. Now we know that China, a country which along with Japan owns US and Western European debt, is the No 1 target for Washington’s spin doctors. In fact US foreign policy in 2022 seems to be framed by a desperate need to vilify that country. So it should not come as a surprise that an outfit outrageously named Freedom House (it is primarily funded by USAID and the US State Department!) has ‘found’ that ‘Pro-Beijing influencers have increased their activities in the social media space—particularly their outreach to younger Sri Lankans—and new agreements with elites, including in the think tank space, have shaped conversations in the media.’

This is not outrageous, it is hilarious. When have US influencers ever held back their activities, in social and mainstream media? Washington, directly (through the Embassy) and indirectly through the latest avatar of the CIA, the notorious National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has its proverbial fingers thick in the Sri Lankan media space. Verite Research and Advocata, if they are honest, can do some insightful research on the subject.

When have US influencers ever neglected younger Sri Lankans (and young people in other countries similarly targeted)? Just the other day Julie Chang, now quite adept at putting her feet in her mouth, confusing ‘danger’ with ‘dangerous’ when tweeting about peacocks, was bragging about young people in the strangely named ‘American Corner Matara.’ What Canada, Central America and South America would have to say about pernicious appropriation of the proper noun ‘America’ we do not know, but while it is bullish to mark territory in that manner, it is not the case that US influencers have limited operations to getting a foothold in the Southern Province. They are as thick as thieves with think tanks, politicians, so-called civil society organizations and media personnel, especially outfits and individuals who believe they are at the epicenter of social change in Sri Lanka. Social change, mind you, is but an easy proxy for ‘change sought by US paymasters.’

Freedom House (sic) is upset by China’s alleged close ties with elites. I suppose they believe the US gives local elites a wide berth. They whine about ‘aggressive diplomatic push on social media.’ Maybe they’ve not heard of Julie Chang and the local foot soldiers hired to do US propaganda. They are also worried about China Radio International reaching out to Sri Lankan audiences in Sinhala. Well, all it means is that the Chinese, if not less vile than the USA, are way smarter. Anyway, it is not that the US has no footprint in Sinhala media or no social media operatives either engaged in China-bashing or genuflecting before Uncle Sam. In Sinhala.

There’s more of course, but it’s all about the US being annoyed that China has cut in on their action. George Carlin, the US comedian once said that wars are mostly about white people killing brown people and the only reason that white nations fought Hitler (a white man who killed white people) was that he had cut in on their action. Same same.

And when Samantha Power, currently attached to USAID, says ‘USA wants countries to be independent, she’s being comic beyond belief. How many countries does the USA have military bases in, Samantha? How many countries have the USA invaded over the last two centuries, or let’s say the last two decades? How many proxy wars has the USA funded? How many terrorists has the US supplied arms to, do you know? How many elections in how many countries has the USA interfered in? How about arm-twisting in multilateral agencies? How about the operations of the CIA and more recently, the NED? And you want countries to be independent? Well, lady, it’s simple. Just leave the room.

All this, pretty consistent with the way the world has been for decades. One difference. The USA is jittery. Now that’s a good sign, not just for Sri Lanka but the entire world. And India, if it wants to do better than the USA, would do well to learn. Things pass. Regimes change. Thugs are ousted. World powers of other eras have been brought to their feet. Such things happen.

Sri Lanka is resilient. That’s a constant that’s not boring. It gives us hope.

Glory of Sri Lanka-China Friendship

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Following are the excerpts adapted from the speech by the author at the event held yesterday in Colombo to celebrate the 73rd Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China Hosted by five major friendship organizations working for enhancing Sri Lanka – China friendship.

It brings me great joy and honour to join the Glory of Friendship Reception this evening. The reception is not only a Gala for friends but also a Reunion of families. Because all the guests present tonight from all walks of life in Sri Lanka, have always been following and supporting the development of China and China-Sri Lanka relations! You are the backbone of the friendship between our two people! On behalf of the Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka, I would like to extend my sincerest greetings and most heartfelt thanks to you and your family.

Tonight, we are gathering here to celebrate the 73rd National Day of the People’s Republic of China. Over the past 73 years, China has gone through a long way, with continued hard-working, reforming and opening up, and has risen to the second largest economy in the world. In the past decade, under the strong leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has made great achievements in various sectors, eradicated absolute poverty, and realized the first centenary goal. All of you have witnessed, participated, and contributed to this great process in human history. At this crucial historical juncture, the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China will be held after two more weeks in Beijing. It will not only draw up a new grand blueprint for China’s development but also bring the international community stronger confidence and higher expectation of China. Let’s jointly wish Congress great success!

Tonight, we are gathering here to celebrate the  65th anniversary of China-Sri Lanka diplomatic relations, and the 70th anniversary of the Rubber-Rice Pact. In the face of the current challenging international situation, the spirit of the Rubber-Rice Pact, namely “independence, self-reliance, unity and mutual support” becomes ever more significant. And the traditional friendship between our two countries and two peoples is more precious. As we say, amity between the peoples holds the key to better state-to-state relations.

In the past decade, under the strong leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has made great achievements in various sectors, eradicated absolute poverty, and realized the first centenary goal.

I have been listening carefully to your speeches and stories, and deeply impressed and moved. We sincerely commemorate late Minister Philip Gunawardena and Madam Kusuma Gunawardena who pioneered the exchanges with China, and late Minister R.G. Senanayake who signed the Rubber-Rice Pact for their great contributions to China-Sri Lanka friendship; We are also highly gratified to see pupils from Devi Balika School in Colombo, Caihe No.3 Primary School in Hangzhou and many others from the younger generation, are now carrying forward our friendship in the new era. What a joy!

In the past year,  my colleagues and  I have set foot on all nine provinces of the island. We laid the foundation stone of “Hope Village” in Hambantota down the south, and distributed food packs to estate workers in the central district of Nuwara Eliya. We visited local villages and financed a housing project for underprivileged families on the eastern coast of Batticaloa, and donated fishing gear to poor fishermen in the Northern Province. I feel myself the severe challenges facing Sri Lanka at the moment, but I’m also deeply touched and greatly encouraged by the positive minds of its people. It’s worth mentioning that, when the Chinese Scientific Vessel Yuan  Wang  5 finally docked at Hambantota  Port last month, big crowd from both countries joined me and welcomed the vessel in Hambantota. It makes our belief even stronger that neither the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic crisis, the domestic political change nor the external interference can obstruct the friendly exchanges between our two peoples. Withstood all these challenges, our friendship will only grow unbreakable!

Brothers, Sisters, and friends, Challenges are only temporary, and we will work together to overcome them. Please join me in a toast, To the prosperity of our mother countries; Long live! China – Sri Lanka friendship!

Can The Metaverse Lead To Smart Flight Decks And Smart Airports?

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The metaverse is best understood as the shift of computing and interaction from a device in your pocket into a virtual simulation.” ~ Matthew Ball

The word “metaverse” has been with us for decades, first introduced as a platform of dystopia in a 1992 science fiction novel titled “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson. Yet, it eludes definition or full comprehension in many of us.  Some have gone to the extent of calling the Metaverse a “3D Internet”. At most, the Metaverse can be described as “ a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users”.  When this definition is expanded it becomes “ a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal and immersive virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual reality and augmented reality”. 

This new platform has already shown compelling results  in the world of surgery where successful surgery was performed in 2021 in the Johns Hopkins Hospital by neurosurgeons in augmented reality during live surgery

Virtual reality and augmented reality are terms that we are already familiar with. The difference between augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR)  is that, while AR takes digital information and transforms it to a 3D physical reality, obviating the burden of the cognitive load and is used in various commercial enterprises, VR takes physical reality into an environment that is computer generated and driven, thus making it an ideal application for entertainment purposes. The difference between the two is intrinsic in that AR gives us physical reality while VR gives us virtual reality. This is what makes AR valuable for the aviation industry. Porter and Heppelman go on to say: “At Boeing, AR training has had a dramatic impact on the productivity and quality of complex aircraft manufacturing procedures. In one Boeing study, AR was used to guide trainees through the 50 steps required to assemble an aircraft wing section involving 30 parts. With the help of AR, trainees completed the work in 35% less time than trainees using traditional 2-D drawings and documentation. And the number of trainees with little or no experience who could perform the operation correctly the first time increased by 90%”.

The combination of AR and VR would be significant to both the air transport and airport industries.  We could envision a combination of AR and VR being used to simulate weather patterns; cloud formation; and turbulence in a flight path which could alert the flight crew prior to taking off. The authors of System for synthetic vision and augmented reality in future flight decks (June 2000 Proceedings of SPIE – The International Society for Optical Engineering) say: “Rockwell Science Center is investigating novel human-computer interface techniques for enhancing the situational awareness in future flight decks. One aspect is to provide intuitive displays which provide vital information and spatial awareness by augmenting the real world with an overlay of relevant information registered to the real world. Such Augmented Reality (AR) techniques can be employed during bad weather scenarios to permit flying in Visual Flight Rules (VFR) in conditions which would normally require Instrumental Flight Rules (IFR). These systems could easily be implemented on heads-up displays (HUD)”. The new vision of the flight deck includes AR in weather information, surrounding air traffic and information on terrain.

In the airport industry, this has already become a reality.  In the airport world, this platform is called “The Digital Twin”.  As an example, Hong Kong International Airport can be cited which has its own Digital Twin, where airport staff use a live 3D simulation to plan and determine where passengers, gates and planes should be located and directed. The Digital Twin is also being used at Schiphol in Amsterdam, San Francisco International and Vancouver Airport.

The Digital Twin is a virtual replica of every aspect of airport operations and performance “to maximise efficiency and increase capacity in a more timely and cost-effective way”, as an article in the magazine Passenger Terminal World reports.  Its most effective purpose is to alert airports to anticipated problems on a 24-hour basis and flag operations staff at the airport so that they can obviate the threat and operational difficulty that could ensue. It also points to problem areas that could inconvenience and delay passenger flows, thus avoiding congestion.

Another useful purpose of the Digital Twin is that it can alleviate passenger stress.  An example cited is the airport and flight experience it offers before the actual experience, thus enabling passengers who are anxious to be more prepared when undergoing the actual experience.  One category that benefits from this platform is the autistic community.

The Digital Twin can also offer insights into the future.  For example, if an airport has an aspirational goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2030, it can model the aircraft and on-ground vehicle movements as well as other activities on the airfield.  These models can be applied to machine learning that can reflect the most efficient way an airport can be run.   Even in the planning process of an airport, the Digital Twin could offer the best iteration as Schiphol has done in the application of building information management software to generate a 3D digital version of physical and functional characteristics of an airport infrastructure.

Our physical world is three-dimensional. Even though we are far advanced in the digital age, most of our work is now being done on two-dimensional vision and application. Whether we look at a computer screen or smartphone we do not have the true picture until we translate the two-dimensional information we receive into three-dimensional practicality which is the real world. This process of translation imposes a load on our mental capacity requiring time to decipher practical reality. This demand on our brain is called “cognitive load”. AR greatly diminishes the demand on our cognitive load by converting the data obtained by two-dimensional methods images and animations that instantly gives us a picture of the real world. Michael Porter and James Heppelmann in their article Why Every Organization Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy published in the Harvard Business Review say: “[T]oday, most AR applications are delivered through mobile devices, but increasingly delivery will shift to hands-free wearables such as head-mounted displays or smart glasses”.

Sri Lanka: The Problem of the People

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Was there then no essential difference between the ruler and the ruled?” ~ Salman Rushdie (The Enchantress of Florence)

Sri Lanka, unravelled and unravelling, is mesmerised by a new wonder: the Lotus Tower. When that monumental symbol of Rajapaksa folly was opened to the public last week, people thronged to pay the entrance fee, ride to the top, and gaze down. A monk enthused that he felt close to the highest of Buddhist heavens. Women thanked Mahinda Rajapaksa for enabling them to have this wondrous experience.

It was as if economic ruin and social collapse was happening in another country, to another people.

According to a survey conducted by a group of doctors, 80% of children in Sooriyawewa, in the Rajapaksa home-district of Hambantota, are malnourished (unlike the international cricket stadium the Rajapaksas built in that water-starved locality which gets the water the people are denied). That distressing statistic alone suffices to bare the vacuity of the Rajapaksa brand of infrastructure-led development. In a 2007 cable, American ambassador, Robert Blake, wrote, “An empty port, an empty airport, and an empty vast convention centre would not generate the benefits that Hambantota needs…” One percent of the money spent on these vanity projects could have provided the people of Hambantota with every possible creature comfort for generations to come. Hambantota was poor when Mahinda Rajapaksa first became president in 2005 and is still poor seventeen years later.

Untouched by Rajapaksa development, yet solidly pro-Rajapaksa at every election.  

Infrastructure-led development was a key pillar of Rajapaksa economics. Build airports, ports, stadia, expressways, and prosperity will follow. The strategy enabled corruption on unprecedented scale, satisfied Mahinda Rajapaksa’s colossal vanity, and, against all reason, increased the family’s popularity. The projects, productive or not, often not, were tabula rasa on which dreams of national glory and illusions of popular prosperity could be inscribed.

An actor playing the role of historian once created for the Rajapaksas a lineage going back to the Buddha, via King Dutugemunu. The massive physical infrastructure projects were depicted as modern variants of the infrastructure projects of ancient kings, a historical continuum, Sandahiru Seya the descendent of Runwanweli Seya, Hambantota Port the descendent of Parakrama Samudraya. People were invited to come and admire a breakwater, a runway, a walking path masquerading as a marina. In that way, an illusion of ownership was created. People came, they admired, and they voted.

The habit is so ingrained that, even without the full effect of the Rajapaksa propaganda machine, the Lotus Tower looks like a shortcut to heaven to some Lankans. Not in the same overwhelming numbers as in the past. Not enough for the SLPP to win the next election, but enough for every single contesting Rajapaksa father, son, uncle, nephew and cousin to be re-elected. Perhaps even enough for the SLPP, with its consignment of deplorables, to hold the balance of power in the next parliament.

Basil Rajapaksa can see this future and he is readying the SLPP for it. The party’s new political academy will hone the next generation of Rajapaksa devotee-activists. Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism will be re-burnished with the usual talk of motherland being in danger. Lotus Tower, undead Tiger, and encroaching Muslim in combination can dazzle enough eyes and twist enough minds. And the Rajapaksas will have their path back to national relevance, kingmakers if not kings.

 Absurd Faith

In an interview with a private TV channel during the run up to the 2019 presidential poll, Udaya Gammanpila called Gotabaya Rajapaksa a composite of “the managerial skills of Mahathir Mohammad, farsightedness of Lee Kuan Yew, bravery of Vladimir Putin, spiritual approach of Jawaharlal Nehru, and patriotism of Fidel Castro.” The words seem grotesque now and should have seemed embarrassingly funny even then. Yet the interviewer didn’t laugh or even roll his eyes. The audience would have lapped it up.

An electorate that is predisposed to believe any absurdity, sans proof, sans fact, that was what the Rajapaksas needed and that was what they created with their propaganda. Illusions and delusions were their stock of trade. In August 2005, an outburst of mass hysteria about Buddha statues emanating luminous rays coincided with the Mavilaru operation, and shored up support in the Sinhala South for the fourth Eelam war. An elephant calf was said to have been born on the very day High King Mahinda won the war, a lie that was believed until it was inadvertently exposed in 2013. Credulity was nursed and fostered, turned into a political weapon and election winning strategy. To quote the late, great Hilary Mantel, “Did the Enlightenment really occur, or was it just someone by the Styx lighting a cigarette?” (Is it still yesterday – Children of the Revolution – London Review of Books).

In a recent You Tube interview, journalist Tharindu Jayawardana chronicled the anti-Dr. Shafi conspiracy which helped set the stage for Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s 2019 victory. A gynaecologist singlehandedly sterilising 4000 Sinhala-Buddhist mothers by squeezing their fallopian tubes during Caesarean operations; a claim that seems too preposterous to rate even a denial. Yet it was believed by millions of people as nothing but the truth. The ‘story’ of a terrorist Muslim doctor working to annihilate the Sinhala nation was published just a month after the Easter Sunday massacre. Channa Jayasumana blessed the tale with his seal of approval. Wimal Weerawansa called it the War of the Wombs. Respected gynaecologists stated that women couldn’t be sterilised by squeezing their fallopian tubes, but most of the public and a large section of media preferred to believe a dentist who insisted it could be done. The CID investigated the issue and dismissed it as a non-issue. The police arrested Dr. Shafi on no evidence, recorded statements afterwards and backdated them. The confluence of the absurd and the illegal advanced Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Saviour pretension.

In Holy Bones, Holy Dust,  Charles Freeman argues that most medieval Europeans lived in a ‘community of the supernatural,’ and points out that “…to shift one’s consciousness to the supernatural, the space between ‘heaven and earth’, is to lessen one’s attention to the immediacy of the natural world…” Rajapaksa politics too operate in a similar politico-psychological space which ignores/denies reality. Delusions of divine signs, illusions of grandeur, and phobia of enemies are used to make voters forget their ordinary, day-to-day earthly problems. The Kelani cobra story was not a singularity, but the final landmark in this road of lies. Not even national bankruptcy has been able to end that mindset, as the adoration of the Lotus Tower demonstrates.  Facts have no role in this spectacle, it never did.

In a functioning democracy, people too bear a share of responsibility for outcomes, be they positive or negative. The culpability of 6.9 million of our fellow citizens in our national plight should not be denied. The people are not innocent or blameless. This is not a fairytale in which the monster holds a land in thrall forcibly. In this story, most people invited the monster to takeover their land and their lives.

Even where leaders are forward looking, progressive projects can suffer defeat if a majority of people are not in tandem. The outcome of Chile’s referendum is an excellent case in point. Such dangers are particularly acute in times of economic and social anxiety. When ‘everything solid melts into air,’ past, or an imaginary version of it, could seem the only mooring left. In Italy, an extreme rightwing party which traces its lineage back to Mussolini’s Fascist party, is expected to gain power this Sunday. The new March on Rome is electoral. A democracy is shaped not just by its leaders but also by its people. A system change is impossible if enough people remain unchanged.

The absurdity is obvious, or should be. A people cannot vote in the corrupt and expect an honest government, vote in the inept and expect an efficient government, vote in the stupid and expect an intelligent government. Holding leaders to account is not enough. Those who vote for them too should be held accountable. The people are suffering, but many of them brought this disaster on themselves. They were deceived but they allowed themselves to be deceived. That is why an election, however necessary, can easily become a part of the problem rather than its solution, let alone the panacea that some claim it will be.

Haunted by old mistakes

Yatharoopa was a highly popular late night magazine programme aired on Rupavahini from August 2016 to March 2018. The programme aimed at debunking myths and superstitions and promoting reason and rational thinking.

In its second season, it was suddenly taken off the air. Media reports claimed that President Sirisena banned the programme at the request of a group of astrologers. Astrophysicist Kavan Ratnatunga made the same claim subsequently. President Sirisena reportedly said that as a state institution, the remit of the Rupavahini was to promote and not debunk astrology. Little wonder he made Mahinda Rajapaksa the PM seven months later.

In 2018, the 19th Amendment was in force. President Sirisena did not have the constitutional right to make unilateral decisions regarding a ministry that was not under him. Yet neither PM Wickremesinghe nor media minister Mangala Samaraweera objected publicly. The reason for their public silence is not hard to fathom. President Sirisena was going off the rails already. The UNP tried to avert disaster by alternately ignoring and humouring his antics. It didn’t save the government. The anti-constitutional coup was defeated not via accommodation but through resistance.

Winning elections is another matter, the pragmatic would argue. One must confirm, be what people want their leaders to be. So Sajith Premadasa distanced himself from the government he had been a part of for almost five years and adopted a Rajapaksa-lite approach characterised by temple hopping and a refusal to do or say anything remotely controversial (the only exception was his courageous stance on menstrual products) – in vain. Mangala Samaraweera felt that he had to leave electoral politics in order to be able to speak his mind. Truth has become a costly mistake in Sri Lanka by then. Telling truth to power could be dangerous. Telling truth to people could be disastrous.

The electorate’s unparalleled credulity in 2019 was the result of a presence and an absence. The Rajapaksas occupied the propaganda arena, promoting irrationality and absurdity. Anti-Rajapaksa forces avoided such propaganda battles or fled them when the cost was deemed too high, as demonstrated by the banning of Yatharoopa. Their evasion and disengagement backfired. How could voters be weaned away from Rajapaksa politics if they were subjected to only one kind of propaganda-diet? A no-holds barred resistance might have worked better.

The present is becoming overshadowed by the shades of those past errors. The appointment of 38 state ministers the same month indirect taxes were hiked is reminiscent of the UNP’s failed attempt to contain Maithripala Sirisena through appeasement. The ongoing repression smacks of Rajapaksa flavour, from the use of PTA to the prosecution of lawyer Dushmantha Weeraratne on September 9th for tooting his car-horn to the tune of kaputu kak near Galle Face. The Rajapaksas too arrested a young motorist for tooting his horn against a road-closure. The difference lies in the judicial response. In 2021, the young motorist was lambasted for exercising his constitutional right to peaceful protest. In 2022, the magistrate threw out the case against the lawyer and warned the police to study the law bef ore taking legal action against a person.

In Geneva, the government opted to reject the resolution on Sri Lanka in toto. This is not the Wickremesinghe-Samaraweera foreign policy of 2015-19 when Sri Lanka was open to the world and willing to take on legitimate concerns of the international community. This is a reversion to the Medamulana foreign policy of the Rajapaksas. The Rajapaksa habit of dealing with challenges by denying their existence or their severity is also making a comeback. Health Ministry rejected the UNICEF report on child malnutrition. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s truth telling days seem distant.

While Ranil Wickremesinghe blunders and the opposition exists in a parallel universe where their electoral victory is written in the stars, the Rajapaksas are back to weaving their web of lies and deception. Those who believe that Aragalaya has rid the popular mind of the Cobraesque myth should watch again the rapturous reception to the Lotus Tower. Lost in that marvel, the contribution that monstrosity and other like it made to our economic bankruptcy is forgotten. More than forgotten; that column of folly is being hailed as the economic way to go, a boon capable of attracting tourists and solving our foreign exchange crisis in one go. If the Rajapaksas resurface their old idea of building airports on various mountaintops and constructing an expressway right round the country, they may even end up being hailed as the only solution to the economic crisis the UNP, the SJB, and the JVP created, with help from Tamil and Muslim parties, traitors all.

A Preface to Biden’s National Security Strategy

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The Biden administration will soon release its National Security Strategy, which is being revised in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The document will no doubt trigger a renewed debate about how the United States should gear up for a new Cold War against Russia and China. But before we plunge into a global great-power competition, it’s worth recalling President Biden’s promise to create a “foreign policy for the middle class” and take a look at what most concerns Americans.

Congress is about to add tens of billions of dollars to the military budget. Unrepentant hawks scorn this as inadequate, urging a 50 percent increase, or an additional $400 billion or more a year. Aid to Ukraine totals more than $40 billion this year, and counting. A new buildup is underway in the Pacific. Biden summons Americans to the global battle between democracy and autocracy, implying that U.S. security depends on spreading democracy—and, implicitly, regime change—worldwide.

Americans, it is safe to say, have different—one might suggest more practical—concerns, as revealed in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. Asked about the most urgent issue facing the country today, 27 percent of respondents—the highest number—ranked inflation as No. 1, while only 2 percent ranked Ukraine at the top. In a range of Economist-YouGov polls over the past month, the top foreign-policy concerns included immigration and climate change.

The foreign policy “blob” may be gearing up for a global Cold War, but Americans are focused on security at home. According to a survey by the nonpartisan Eurasia Group Foundation, nearly half of Americans think the United States should decrease its involvement in other countries’ affairs; only 21.6 percent would increase it. Nearly 45 percent would decrease U.S. troop deployments abroad; only 32.2 percent would increase them.

Polls, of course, are merely snapshots—and war fever can transform opinion. However, a 2021 report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reported many of the same priorities. Far more Americans (81 percent) said they were concerned about threats from within the country than from outside the country (19 percent). Among foreign policy goals, more than 75 percent of respondents ranked protecting American workers’ jobs and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, respectively, as very important. Ranked lowest were “helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations” (18 percent) and “protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression” (32 percent).

What would a sensible strategy for the middle class look like? A recent paper from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft—“Managed Competition: A U.S. Grand Strategy for a Multipolar World”—offers a good start. The author is George Beebe, a former head of the CIA’s Russia analysis unit who is currently director of grand strategy at the institute.

Beebe argues that over the past three decades, “yawning gaps” have emerged not only between “America’s ambitions in the world and its capacity for achieving those goals,” but also between a “Washington foreign policy elite too focused on promoting U.S. primacy” and “ordinary Americans yearning for greater stability and prosperity at home.”

He echoes the priorities of most Americans, arguing that “the chief strategic challenge Washington faces today is not to win a decisive battle between freedom and tyranny but to gain a breathing spell abroad that will allow the country to focus on desperately needed internal recovery.”

He then outlines the core of a strategy for this time: a “managed competition” with Russia and China. Recognizing that our economic health is intertwined with China’s, and that Russia’s nuclear arsenal demands prudence, he would “avoid promoting regime change” or otherwise “undermining political and economic stability in Russia and China.” Instead, in a managed competition, our rivals would be countered not only by American power and alliances, but also by rebuilding “agreed rules of the game,” beginning presumably with efforts to revive nuclear arms agreements and create cyber agreements to limit these growing security challenges.

For this to occur, he notes elsewhere, there must be an agreed end to the war in Ukraine. Beebe concedes that Vladimir Putin’s attack required a strong American-led response. But as when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Beebe would distinguish between repelling Putin’s aggression and efforts to foster regime change in Moscow or to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit.

In the current euphoria over Russian reversals in Ukraine, this caution is likely to fall upon deaf ears. But a foreign policy for the middle class must find a way to curb our adventures abroad so that we can rebuild our democracy and strength at home. A Cold War against Russia and China might empower the foreign policy elite, enrich the military-industrial-congressional complex and excite our bellicose media, but it ignores the American people’s common sense.

This article is distributed by Globetrotter in partnership with The Nation.

USA: Why Is the FR Collapsing the Economy?

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The Federal Reserve ( FR) has a long record of mistaken decisions.  Unless the Federal Reserve’s intent is to collapse the economy, the current policy of higher interest rates will go down as the most mistaken reading of the economy since the Great Depression.

Prices are rising sharply in Germany, UK, and Europe, but not because of an increase in money creation. They are rising because US Sanctions against Russia have reduced the supply of energy and disrupted transportation. Supply reductions have driven up prices of everything dependent on energy and transportation.

The US is not experiencing these problems to the same extent.  Energy prices have risen some because companies are taking advantage of the situation.

In the US higher prices are due to shortages resulting from the lockdowns that closed businesses and broke supply chains.  In America’s global world, problems abroad restrict supply here.  The point is that inflation is not monetary inflation. Therefore, the Federal Reserve’s policy of raising interest rates is nonsensical. Higher interest rates just add to costs, shrink supply, and mean higher prices.

If the Federal Reserve actually knows what it is doing, it is intentionally trying to cause an economic collapse, which makes me wonder if the Federal Reserve is in league with Klaus Schwab’s WEA plan to cause crises that can be used to establish a heavy-handed rule.

The latest news in the US, if not fabricated, is that consumer demand is collapsing.  Federal Express reports that its business is hurting because orders are declining. Merchants report that consumer traffic is off. The real estate market has been brought to a halt. It is mindless for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in the face of collapsing consumer demand.

So the real question is: what is the Federal Reserve really up to?

Lack of India’s China Card

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India missed a good opportunity in nudging the disengagement and de-escalation process at the Samarkand summit last week after China had made a surprise concession of disengaging from Hot Springs three days before the summit. Although Prime Minister Modi avoided eye contact publicly with President Xi, they attended two round table sessions and were present together at two ceremonial photo ops and in one, standing next to each other. But neither leader made any effort for a public handshake or a pull-aside.

Why did China make the disengagement gesture 13 months after the last disengagement and two months after the last Corps Commander’s talks to coincide with the Samarkand summit? Probably to demonstrate that negotiations on disengagement are progressing smoothly. That there would be no disruption from India at the summit on the border row was also on the cards, allusions were not absent. Modi said to Putin: “today’s era is not an era of war” pointed to Xi also. Given that Modi and Xi had cultivated a close rapport after 18 meetings between 2014 and 2019 but none since the LAC brush, it was not unreasonable to expect the effusive and backslapping Modi to extend his hand to Xi during the photo op. (it was he who famously said in June 2020: “no one came inside, nor is anyone inside Indian territory”, to the delight of the Chinese) A day before his 72nd birthday, Modi could not have been seen shaking hands with Xi when the opposition has been gunning for him over losing land to China. But it would have been a risk worth taking. At least the ice could have been broken. Much has been written about the disengagement process since the tragic unarmed Galwan clash. The 1993 and 1996 border protocols and subsequent border agreements of 2005, 2006, and 2012 Border Defence Cooperation Agreements have been violated by China and PLA. The policy change was initiated when Xi, who had been vice president became President in 2013. The modus vivendi to border dispute and bilateral relations initiated in 1988 was torn to shreds in 2020 preceded by ominous indicators at Chumar, Depsang, and Doklam.

Comparing the multiple intrusions of 2020 with Sumdorong Chu in 1988 which took nine years to resolve is patently incorrect. It was a different era when India and China were co-equals economically and militarily.. At Sumdorong Chu, military commanders took bold initiatives in occupying heights dominating PLA intrusions at Wangdung unlike in East Ladakh where Indian forces were caught napping. Dispute resolution resulted in the mutual pullback, prompting then BJP opposition MP Jaswant Singh to remark: “why are we withdrawing from our own territory”.

China has managed to promulgate its 1959 Claim Line from Depsang to Demchok in serious adversity. It is instructive to analyse India’s current self-inflicted dilemma. Unlike in the central and eastern sectors, the LAC is better defined and more settled by the McMahon Line than in the west where the LAC is seriously contested. In the east, our forward posture was triggered off by the PLA intrusions in Sumdorong Chu where defences and posts are close to MacMahon Line. In the west, mainly Leh was defended with vast areas along the LAC unmanned and covered with dispersed ITBP and Army posts from where ITBP and Army patrolled up to the 65 patrolling points up to a line behind the LAC. The Chinese had their own perception of LAC that was never revealed.

In April 2020, in a surprise sweep, PLA easily occupied positions across Indian LAC corresponding to their 1959 Claim Line . The mammoth intelligence failure was compounded by political and operational lapses. After the disengagement from Hot Springs (PP 15) on 8 September which Foreign Minister S Jaishankar called “one problem less”, another buffer zone bereft of patrolling rights has been established on the Indian side of LAC. At Depsang, 18 km on the Indian side of LAC PLA has blocked access to five Patrolling Points and at Demchok to four Patrolling Points. Konchok Stanzin, the counselor for Chushul, said: “our troops have gone back from PP 15 and PP 16 which we had for 50 years, we lost winter grazing ground”. The Chinese have also effectively blocked two Indian offensive launch pads at Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie-virtually transforming the area into 1000 sq km of DMZ.

On 9 May, COAS Gen Manoj Pande said: “We have to restore status quo ante April 2020”. Diplomacy has to be restored to the Xi-Modi level; their 19th meeting could be at the Bali G20 summit in November. Meanwhile, plans should be made to establish BOPs in Ladakh to prevent further salami slicing.

Playing With Matches is Dangerous

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Truth is always the first casualty of war – and no less so than the current conflict in Ukraine. Russia insists it’s a localized police action to uproot a new Nazi uprising. Ukraine, which has become a US protectorate, insists it’s fighting to halt Russian aggression against a freedom-seeking nation. No mention that Ukrainians used to be called Russians.

For interesting contrast, go back to the first Chechen War from 1994 to 1996 and the second one from 1999 to 2009. The 1.4 million Chechen, a fierce Muslim people of the Caucasus Mountains, who had been battling Russian imperial expansion for 300 years, rose up and waged two David v. Goliath wars to regain their freedom from Russia.

In the first war, Chechen fighters routed Russian forces. Moscow agreed to independence for the Chechen Islamic Republic. But then hardliners, led by security chief Vladimir Putin, resumed the war after a staged fake bombing of Moscow apartments by the renamed KGB, the SVR that killed 200-300 people.

At that time, the US was actively supporting the Yeltsin regime in Moscow, particularly so with massive financial aid. Yeltsin had long-established links to CIA and Britain’s intelligence agency, MI6.

The US refused to help the Chechen resistance or recognize its fight for independence. I know this because I was closely following this tragic story and trying to raise some support for free Chechnya.

As fighting raged in Chechnya, the US called on the then Chechen leader, Gen, Dzhokhar Dudayev, to negotiate with Boris Yeltsin. Dudayev was given a special mobile phone supposedly connected to one held by Yeltsin for the ’peace talks.’

As so as Dudayev and Yeltsin were connected, a covert US aircraft launched a missile that homed in on Dudayev’s phone receiver. The Chechen leader was blown to bits. With further help from US intelligence, the Chechen resistance was relentlessly ground down and eliminated. Chechens were arrested and tortured en masse in so-called Russian ‘filtration camps.’ A Chechen warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, was named ‘gauleiter’ of Chechnya. Chechen leaders were hunted down and assassinated by KGB or Kadyrov’s agents.

Chechnya was literally thrown to the wolves by the US. What a contrast this is to the current situation in Ukraine which has been flooded by $15-20 billion of modern US weapons in recent months and aided by a massive propaganda campaign directed by the US and Britain.

Unlike 1991, the US sees the war in Ukraine as a rare chance to tear a big chunk of Russia away or even go on to crush the Russian Federation into fragments. Many Ukrainians would be happy to see this outcome. The memory of how Stalin’s USSR starved or shot some six million Ukrainians in the 1920’s and 1930’s lingers among the older generation.

But younger Ukrainians must question what will happen if their war with Russia continues. Will Ukraine invade Russia and try to regain Crimea? Will the US or some European powers support an attack on Crimea? Poland and Britain are already deeply involved in the war. Who will be next?

The right wing of the US Democratic Party, now in power, is far more warlike and anti-Russian than most Americans realize. In fact, it’s the real `war party.’

If this half-baked war continues, the risks of a nuclear or chemical confrontation grow daily. So does an accidental clash in the Black Sea between Russia and the US. Off on the sidelines the Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Azeris, Egyptians. Iranians and Israelis may be spoiling for a fight.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2022

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