Columns

Private Greed Prevails Over Humanity’s Survival

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6 mins read

COP27 has begun in Sharm el-Sheikh. Although the Ukraine war and the U.S. midterm elections have shifted our immediate focus away from the battle against global warming, it still remains a central concern of our epoch. Reports indicate that not only are we failing to meet our climate change goals, but we are also falling short of the targets by a large margin. Worse, the potent methane greenhouse gas emissions have grown far more rapidly, posing as much of a climate change threat as carbon dioxide. Even though methane lasts for a shorter time in the atmosphere, viewed over a period of 100 years, it is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The net result is that we are almost certain to fail in our target to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. And if we do not act soon, even a target of 2 degrees Celsius is hard to achieve. At this rate, we are looking at a temperature rise of 2.5-3 degrees Celsius and the devastation of our civilization. Worse, the impact will be much higher in the equatorial and tropical regions, where most of the world’s poor live.

In this column, I will address two issues. One is the shift from coal to natural gas as a transitional fuel, and the other is the challenge of storing electricity, without which we cannot shift successfully to renewable energy.

The advanced countries—the U.S. and members of the European Union—bet big on natural gas, which is primarily methane, as the transition fuel from coal. In Glasgow during COP26, advanced countries even made coal the key issue, shifting the focus from their greenhouse emissions to that of China and India as big coal users. The assumption in using natural gas as a transitional fuel is that its greenhouse impact is only half that of coal. Methane emissions also last for a shorter time—about 12 years—in the atmosphere before converting to carbon dioxide and water. The flip side is that it is a far more potent greenhouse gas. Its effects are 30 times greater over a 100-year period than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. So even a much smaller amount of methane has a much more significant global warming impact than carbon dioxide.

The bad news on the methane front is that methane leakage from the natural gas infrastructure is much higher, possibly as much as six times more—according to a March 2022 Stanford University study—than the advanced countries have been telling us. The high methane leakage from natural gas extraction not only cancels out any benefits of switching to natural gas as an intermediary fuel but even worsens global warming.

There are two sets of data on methane now available. One measures the actual leakage of methane from the natural gas infrastructure with satellites and planes using infrared cameras. The technology of measuring methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure is easy and cheap. After all, we are able to detect methane in exoplanets far away from the solar system. Surely, saving this planet from heat death is a much higher priority! The other data is the measurement of atmospheric methane conducted by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. estimates that 1.4 percent of all natural gas produced in the U.S. leaks into the atmosphere. But the March 2022 Stanford University study using cameras and small planes that fly over natural gas infrastructure found that the figure is likely to be 9.4 percent—more than six times higher than the EPA’s estimate. Even if methane leaks are only 2.5 percent of natural gas production, they will offset all the benefits of switching from coal to natural gas. “Clean” natural gas may be three to four times worse than even dirty coal. At least in the hands of capital!

The EPA does not conduct any physical measurements. All it uses to estimate methane emissions is a formula that involves a number of subjective factors, along with the number of wells, length of pipelines, etc. Let us not forget that there are many people in the U.S. who either do not believe in or choose to ignore the fact of global warming. They would like to take a crowbar to even a weakened EPA, dismantling all measures to reduce global warming.

The impact of methane leaks can be seen in another set of figures. The World Meteorological Organization reported the biggest jump in “methane concentrations in 2021 since systematic measurements began nearly 40 years ago.” While WMO remains discreetly silent on why this jump has occurred, the relation between switching to natural gas and the consequent rise of methane emissions is hard to miss.

The tragedy of methane leaks is that they are easy to spot with today’s technology and not very expensive to fix. But companies have no incentive to take even these baby steps as it impacts their current bottom line. The larger good—even bigger profits, but over a longer time frame—does not interest them. They aren’t likely to change unless they are forced to by regulatory or direct state action.

The cynicism of the rich countries—the U.S. and members of the EU—on global warming can be seen in their conduct during the Ukraine war. The European Union has restarted some of its coal plants, increasing coal’s share in the energy mix. Further, the EU has cynically argued that developing oil and gas infrastructure in Africa is all right as long as it is solely for supply to Europe, not for use in Africa. African nations, according to the EU, must instead use only clean, renewable energy! And, of course, such energy infrastructure must be in the hands of European companies!

The key to a transition to renewable energy—the only long-term solution to global warming—is to find a way of storing energy. Renewables, unlike fossil fuels, cannot be used at will, as the wind, sun, and even water provide a continuous flow of energy. While water can be stored in large reservoirs, wind and sun cannot be, unless they are converted to chemical energy in batteries. Or unless they are converted to hydrogen and then stored in either tank or natural storage in geological formations, underground or in salt caverns.

There has been a lot of hype about batteries and electric cars. Missing here is that batteries with current technology have a much lower energy density than oil or coal. The energy from oil or natural gas is 20-40 times that of the most efficient battery today. For an electric vehicle, that is not such a major issue. It simply determines how often the vehicle’s batteries need to be charged and how long charging will take. It means developing a charging infrastructure with a quick turnaround time. The much bigger problem is how to store energy at the grid level.

Grid-level storage means supplying the grid with electricity from stored energy. Grid-level batteries are being suggested to meet this task. What the proponents of grid-level batteries neglect to inform us is that they may supply power for short-term fluctuations—night and day, windy and non-windy days—but they cannot meet the demand from long-term or seasonal fluctuations. This brings us to the question of the energy density of storage: How much energy does a kilogram of lithium battery hold as compared to a kilogram of oil, natural gas, or coal? The answer with current technology is 20-40 times less. The cost of building such mammoth storage to meet seasonal fluctuations will simply exhaust all our lithium (or any other battery material) supplies.

I will not address the prohibitive energy cost—electric or fossil fuel—of private versus public or mass transportation, and why we should switch to the latter. I will instead focus on addressing the larger question of how to store renewable energy so that we can run our electricity infrastructure when wind or sun is not there.

Is it possible that a new technology will solve this problem? (Remember the dream of nuclear energy that will be not only clean but also so cheap that it will not need to be metered?) But do we bet our civilization’s future on such a possibility?

If not, we have to look at existing solutions. They exist, but using them means seeking alternatives to batteries for addressing our grid-level problems of intermittent renewable energy. It means repurposing our existing hydro-projects to work as grid-level storage and developing hydrogen storage for use in fuel cells. No extra dams or reservoirs, as the opponents of hydroelectricity projects fear. And of course, it means more public transportation instead of private transportation.

All of these existing solutions mean making changes on a societal level that corporate interests oppose—after all, doing so would require public investments for social benefits and not for private profits. Capital privileges short-term private profits over long-term social benefits. Remember how oil companies had the earliest research to show the impact of global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions? They not only hid these results for decades but also launched a campaign denying that global warming is linked to greenhouse gases. And they funded climate change deniers.

The contradiction at the heart of global warming is private greed over social needs. And who funds such a transition, the poor or the rich? This is also what COP27 is all about, not simply about how to stop global warming.

Is Sri Lanka Sleepwalking in the Wake of Rishi Raj?

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9 mins read

New UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s father, Yashvir Sunak, and mother, Usha Sunak, are Africans of Indian origin who migrated to the UK in the 60s. Rishi was born in Southampton, Hampshire, on May 12, 1980.

Sunak succeeded Liz Truss after having lost his first bid to secure the leadership, in September this year.

The appointment of Sunak, a Hindu of Panjabi lineage, as the UK’s Premier, at a time of a severe economic crisis, has attracted international media attention, particularly that of India. However, the fact that Rishi’s parents were east Africans, Kenya (Yashvir) and Tanzania (Usha) seemed to have been largely ignored, with a section of the Indian media claiming him as their own.

Sunak’s appointment, that was made amidst Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, prompted India’s largest Hindi-language newspaper, Dainik Bhaskar to go jingoistic. “Another Diwali gift to the country. The Indian origin Rishi to rule the whites.”

“Indian son rises over the empire. History comes full circle in Britain,” an NDTV telecast declared. “From Age of Empire to Rishi Raj as Sunak moves into No 10,” boasted The Times of India.

The BBC, in a report headlined ‘Rishi Sunak: A quick guide to the UK’s new Prime Minister,’ pointed out that the Conservative Party MP, for just seven years, had secured a US green card that granted him the right to live there while he served as the UK’s Finance Minister aka Chancellor, in February, 2020. In spite of entering government, Sunak remained a green card holder, though he was obliged to make the U.S. their permanent home.

Rishi Sunak had to defend his wife, Akshata Murthy, daughter of Indian billionaire, Narayana Murthy ,in the wake of shocking disclosure that she didn’t pay UK taxes on massive earnings overseas, though not illegal. Later, the lady agreed to pay British taxes. The issue at hand should be examined against the backdrop of the UK media assertions that the couple’s wealth amounted to as much as 730 mn Sterling Pounds. Against the backdrop of Sunak’s recent vow (a couple of months before his elevation to the top position), to pursue Sri Lanka on accountability issues, should be of grave concern to this country, though it could be mere election rhetoric. It would be pertinent to examine Sri Lanka’s triumph over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in May 2009, the origins of terrorism here and post-war accountability issues.

Pro-Eelamists seem quite serious about holding the UK Premier to his promise. The Tamil Guardian, in a report titled ‘Rishi Sunak – Will Britain’s new Prime Minister deliver justice for Tamils?’ dated October 24, 2022, quoted the Conservative politician as having assured an online audience of Tamil Conservatives in August that he backs their struggle.

This assurance was given in the run-up to the 51st session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) where the UK, in its capacity as the leader of the Sri Lanka Core Group, voted for the resolution against Sri Lanka.

Sunak declared in August: “My heart goes out to all of you and all of those in Sri Lanka.” The politician went on to emphasize his vision for what he called a democratic country free from corruption and inappropriate military influence. To achieve this and overcome the crippling economic disaster, Sunak asserted the need for conditional assistance through the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The then Finance Minister commented on the ‘hurt and pain caused by the civil war and the events of 2009,’ while throwing his weight behind Tamils in their struggle for “justice and accountability for mass atrocities” claimed to have been committed during the final stages of the armed conflict. Sunak reiterated his support for Western powers taking a tougher stance on Sri Lanka.

“I am proud of the UK’s role, and the UK will continue to play a central role in bringing about justice and accountability,” The Tamil Guardian quoted Sunak as having said.

Sunak stressed his support for the latest UN resolution on Sri Lanka, which mandated the collection of evidence that may be used in a future war crimes tribunal.

Asked how Britain would ensure that Sri Lanka officials would not spend their “ill-gotten gains in the UK”, Sunak responded by stating that any future government, under him, would look at “how we’ve done this to Russian officials.” The Minister was referring to harsh sanctions ever against Russia in the wake of the war in Ukraine. “I helped put this together” Sunak boasted. “We’ve got a much better playbook and we know more about how to do it… It is a new tool in our toolkit.”

Commenting on the continuing demand to accept the Tamil genocide, Sunak stated that he would look into the matter and that different countries would have different standards but that for the UK this would be a legal matter, following a court proceeding.

Of course, no one among the audience raised India’s accountability in spite of thousands of deaths and disappearances in Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern regions, during the deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990). India lost nearly 1,300 officers and men and double that figure wounded. The LTTE retaliated by assassinating wartime Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi, at Sriperumbudur, in May 1991. The new UK Premier cannot be unaware that at the time the LTTE assassinated Gandhi, the group maintained its International Secretariat in London. The UK turned a blind eye to the LTTE issuing statements from London about its terror attacks. Those statements primarily dealt with attacks in Sri Lanka.

Anton Balasingham, former employee at the British High Commission, Colombo, was among those who received British citizenship in spite of being members of the dreaded terrorist organization. At that time (Balasingham died in December 2006, in the UK,) he served as the LTTE’s theoretician. The late Balasingham’s wife, Adele, who adorned female LTTE cadres’ necks with cyanide capsules, still lives in the UK. Perhaps, the suicide bomber, who targeted Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally, received her cyanide capsule, too, from Adele. Tamil conservatives wouldn’t dare discuss that wretched past.

A hostile agenda

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, seven years before Sunak entered Parliament, in 2015, the year the then yahapalana government co-sponsored the Geneva resolution against one’s own country, in Geneva.

Three years later, the UK succeeded the US as leader of Sri Lanka Core Group after the latter quit the Geneva Council alleging it was a cesspool of political bias for exposing crimes committed by Israel in occupied/illegally annexed Palestinian lands. (Don’t forget how Israeel ‘killed’ the Goldstone report on 2008 war crimes report).

The new Conservative party leader owed an explanation how the UK compared the ongoing war in Ukraine and eradication of Tamil terrorism in Sri Lanka. Obviously, the two situations cannot be compared, under any circumstances though Sunak felt comfortable in playing politics, with the issue at hand, for his benefit.

With Sunak moving to No 10, the ongoing war crimes allegations campaign against Sri Lanka is likely to be intensified. Over the past several years, the issue has been raised in the House of Commons, on many occasions, with some MPs targeting General Shavendra Silva, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

Labour MP Virendra Sharma, of Indian origin, is one of those lawmakers seeking political benefit at Sri Lanka’s expense. Sharma has asked the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the status of discussions with the US Administration, regarding the designation of Gen. Shavendra Silva, under the Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions regime. The US designated the CDS, in February, 2020, as a persona non grata.

Both President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena congratulated the new British leader. They expressed confidence bilateral ties could be further strengthened. However, the incumbent leadership should take tangible measures to set the record straight. Fourteen years after Sri Lanka eradicated Tamil terrorism that at one point threatened to destabilize the region (Sunak was nine when Indian-trained Sri Lankan Tamil terrorists launched a sea borne raid on the Maldives. They nearly succeeded in assassinating the then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. India intervened to save Gayoom. A vessel that had been commandeered by Sri Lankan terrorists, fleeing the aborted coup attempt in the Maldives, was sunk in international waters, by the Indian Navy. Those who demand accountability on the part of Sri Lanka are never bothered about the deaths caused by such confrontations.

As a person of Indian origin, though his parents were from East Africa, Sunak should be able to comprehend the daunting challenge countries face in defeating terrorism that received the backing of powerful international players, when it is in the interest of their global agenda. The LTTE couldn’t have waged nearly a 30-year war unless it had the wherewithal to raise funds in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and many other countries, over the years. The LTTE had unlimited funds to procure weapons, ranging from Chinese artillery to shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles. In spite of the group being proscribed in the US, the UK and India, its operatives continuously collected money required to procure weapons and transferred them to Sri Lanka. Thanks to specific intelligence, provided by the US, in the latter stages, intrepid SLN units hunted down the LTTE’s floating arsenals, on the high seas. The war couldn’t have been brought to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009, if Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s Navy failed in its task.

The UK never interfered with the LTTE operations on its soil. In fact, successive governments there ensured law enforcement authorities refrained from taking action as they didn’t dare to upset voters of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. The UK granted special status to the LTTE, during the war. The LTTE continued to enjoy privileged status, even after the assassination of highly popular Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, during the Ceasefire Agreement worked out by the Norwegians. Anton Balasingham, who definitely knew of the planned assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991, moderate lawmaker Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam, in July 1999, and Kadirgamar, in August 2005, was allowed to continue his ‘work’ in the UK without hindrance. As the LTTE’s top Europe-based emissary, Balasingham, a British passport holder, received foreign delegates and other LTTE operatives.

Close on the heels of Kadirgamar’s assassination, Balasingham received the then Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgessen, in London on August 17, 2005.

How UK tried to suppress wartime cables

The UK strenuously tried to thwart the disclosure of diplomatic cables, that originated from the British High Commission in Colombo. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) desperately tried to block the revelations as the UK realized the whole operation, meant to haul the Sri Lankan military before foreign judges, could go awry.

Lord Naseby, in terms of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), made his request to the FCO, on November 6, 2014, nearly a year before the yahapalana government betrayed the military, at the UNHRC, by co-sponsoring an accountability resolution, seven years after the successful conclusion of the war.

The FCO, on December 3, 2014, informed Lord Naseby that it had the required information though it needed time to consider his request. Clearly, Naseby’s request rattled the FCO. On January 5, 2015, the FCO told Lord Naseby that his request couldn’t be granted. Lord Naseby, on January 14, 2015, requested for an internal review of the FCO’s decision.

The FCO informed Lord Naseby, on February 19, 2015, that the decision couldn’t be changed. An irate Lord Naseby complained to the FCO, on March 16, 2015. The FCO, on May 7, 2015, reiterated its original decision to deprive Lord Naseby of the requested information.

Interestingly, the FCO, on December 21, 2015, offered to provide a section of the previously withheld documents, claiming that the move was made possible due to the releasing of Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on the investigation, on Sri Lanka, on September 15, 2015.

However, the FCO withheld a substantial section of the requested documents, on the basis of Sections 27 (1) (a), 31 and 41 of FOIA.

Having received a part of the requested documents, Lord Naseby had raised concerns with the Information Commissioner’s Office that the FCO could be still holding documents that could be released. Subsequently, the FCO released three more censored documents, on February 23, 2016. The three documents were dated April 7, 25 and 26, 2009.

The FCO wouldn’t have released any documents if not for Lord Naseby seeking the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office. Lord Naseby got in touch with the Information Commissioner’s Office, on June 10, 2015, five months after the presidential election here that brought an end to the unbroken Mahinda Rajapaksa rule, from 2005 to 2015. Following Rajapaksa’s defeat, President Maithripala Sirisena, as agreed in the run up to the presidential poll, invited UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a new government. Violating all parliamentary norms, Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the Prime Minister, in spite of having the backing of less than 50 members in the 225-member Parliament. The SLFP-led UPFA, in spite of having a staggering two-thirds majority in the House, with the SLFP group alone comprising 126 members, gave into the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe move. The Geneva betrayal should be examined against that political background.

The new UK Premier must be reminded that Northern Tamils, at the 2010 presidential election, voted overwhelmingly for the then General Sarath Fonseka though he lost the election by over 1.8 mn votes, though they had previously accused him and his Army of committing war crimes. The war-winning Army Chief fielded by a coalition of political parties, including the dominant Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), secured all eight predominately Tamil speaking electoral districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces less than a year after the LTTE’s defeat. The TNA’s backing for Fonseka should be examined taking into consideration its 2001 declaration that the LTTE was the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people and the role played by the US in forming that grouping.

Republished with permission from the writer. Click here to read the original article

Food security during economic insecurity and instability

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7 mins read

Food Security means that all people always have physical & economic access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate foods, which are produced in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner, and that people are able to make informed decisions about their food choices. The FAO defines the four pillars of food security as availability, access, utilisation, and stability of food.

Whether it is from a Sri Lankan context, or more generally from a global context, ensuring food security is a complex subject that has no easy answers if all aspects of it are to be considered. Broadly, food security is the availability of food and the ability of all people irrespective of ethnicity, religious beliefs, economic class, gender, which part of the country they live in etc, to physically and economically access food. The target is therefore for an entire population of the country to have easy access to adequate quantities of basic, safe, preferred food items, at affordable prices. This is a foundation for building a nation of healthy people and preventing hunger, malnutrition, and starvation.

In Sri Lanka, the economic debacle faced by the country has already had an impact on the people with 9.6 million people reportedly in poverty according to a study by Peradeniya University and malnutrition rose sharply alongside. Clearly, indisputable food insecurity signs are there and are clearly visible. However, what is also visible is the general apathy and indifference shown to the debacle of food insecurity.

As with many activities, ensuring food security involves a chain of activities and the involvement and input from many players. A key feature of a supply chain is the importance of realizing the underlying principle of a supply chain that “the strength of a chain lies in its weakest link.” If ensuring food security is considered from the prism of a chain of activities, then, the above principle defines the success or failure of the system whenever one section of the chain fails to deliver resulting in food insecurity. Very fundamentally, food insecurity arises when there is a failure on the part of the producer to produce quality food, the failure of the intermediate systems like the wholesale buyers of the products who fail to provide a decent price to producers, an inefficient transportation system that fails to get the food to retailers and consumers in a timely manner in good condition, inability to source from overseas the essential basic foods that are not domestically available in adequate quantities, and the inability of all or some of the population to access the food based on economic grounds.

The complexity of this supply chain deepens when factors such as environmental sustainability, cultural appropriateness, and nutritional values are factored in. Food security is a supply/demand phenomenon where the demand for nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate food needs to be supplied in the right quantity, right quality, the right price, and right place in an environmentally sustainable manner. The inherent complexity of the supply chain makes it difficult and even impractical and probably inadvisable for assigning the management of all aspects of food security to a single entity. It is perhaps addressed best by market forces, but where the responsibility for some policy settings may be assigned to the State.

A key requisite for achieving food security and often not given the attention it deserves is theability of the people who produce and supply such footwear a decent, living wage, growing, catching, producing, and where appropriate, processing, the food produced.

The intervention of middlemen between producers of food, and the transporters, wholesalers, and eventually retailers has been and still is a major challenge to food security in Sri Lanka. Ensuring food security is therefore not a simple phenomenon of just growing food without considering all the above aspects.

Food safety plays an integral part in food utilisation. How food is metabolised by consumers, storage issues such as the length of storage and method of storage, and preparation for consumption (cleaning, level of heat treatment provided in cooking, not mixing ready-to-eat food with raw items etc) contribute to food safety at the household level. Providing simple information to the public on how to maintain food safety at home will help. Levels of sanitation at home and availability of good, affordable health care will also help.  

Food security is also threatened by natural disasters, climate change, non-availability of sufficient water, pests / agricultural diseases, wasting food, and politics/poor governance. Some of these factors are avoidable if mitigation plans are made in advance.

Sustainable Food Systems

A healthy, sustainable food system is one that focuses on Environmental Health, Economic Vitality including marketability, and Human Health & Social Equity.

  • Environmental Health – ensures that food production and procurement do not compromise the land, air, or water now or for future generations.
  • Economic Vitality & Marketability– ensures that the people who are producing the food are able to earn a decent living income wage doing so. This ensures that producers can continue to produce our food, and what is produced can be marketed. Often, sudden, or seasonal rise in prices, especially of fruits and vegetables, leads to large-scale cultivation of such items which results in overproduction and consequent drop in prices for such items. This results in producers having to even sell for prices much less than their cost of production
  • Human Health & Social Equity – ensures that particular importance is placed on community development and the health of the community, making sure that healthy foods are available economically and physically to the community and that people are able to access these foods in a dignified manner. Promotion of the health (and unhealthy) aspects of food is a major task that could and should be undertaken by the media and organisations specialised in such activities including the State and private sector healthcare institutions.

Food security strategies

It is politically convenient but shortsighted to take the stand that assuring food security is merely growing more food. Opening large swathes of unutilised and or underutilised land for cultivating more food without considering the numerous aspects associated with food security mentioned above does not assure real food security. In fact, more environmental damage which in turn exacerbates food insecurity can be caused unless intelligent planning accompanies food security strategies.

Of course, more food has to be grown if the country is short of food. But the important consideration is which food is to be grown and where, and whether such food provides the nutrition(protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins/ minerals)that human beings require.

Food security also tends to be viewed only from the prism of what can be grown, meaning, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Meat and fish are rich sources of proteins and other vital nutrients for human beings, but they also contain unhealthy aspects as well, as do some non-meat or non-fish food items. This is where health professionals come in to provide relevant information on health and unhealthy aspects of food items. The meat industry in particular has religious imperatives and these need to be factored in when discussing food security.

The following three key proposals are presented for consideration by readers and advocates of a food security policy and program for the country.

  1. A national committee consisting of agriculture and dietary experts drawn from the academia and professional bodies to develop a national food security strategy. Such a strategy should identify most appropriate geographic crop cultivation opportunities based on soil conditions, water availability, rainfall patterns etc. Guaranteed prices could be fixed for growers of commodities determined by this committee.
  2. A public/private sector partnership to manage the procurement and transportation of commodities from the growers to retail markets. Such a partnership could include rail transportation, lorry transportation and retail outlets such as supermarkets and cooperative establishments. This entity could establish buying prices from growers and recommended retail prices based on demand/supply considerations.
  3. An entity to provide information (online, print and TV) to growers and consumers on (a) growth strategies and plans as determined by the national committee of agriculture & dietary experts, (b) procurement prices for produce and recommended retail prices and (c) dietary and food health information.

The above three committees could co-opt provincial and/or district-level institutions and entities to promote and support the national food security strategy. It is strongly suggested that considering the critical importance of food security to all people of Sri Lanka, the national strategy formulation and the national planning, execution and monitoring process be a task assigned to the President.

Amongst key strategies that may be considered are

  1. The promotion and support for the domestic agriculture sector to improve and increase the output. Farmers, large and small, should be provided easy access to knowledge in the appropriate use of fertiliser, use of different methods of irrigation/watering (drip irrigation, sprinkler systems, fertigation etc.), use of modern equipment, crop diversification, managing issues relating to pests, weeds etc. Such information may be made specific to the different areas in the country.
  2. Exploration of the cultivation of strains/varieties that provide higher yields using less land. Seeds of such varieties could be made available to farmers.
  3. Ensuring that the farmers get a fair deal for their effort. That is, make sure that it is economically viable for the farmers.
  4. Developing methods to make water available to farmers, specially those working in arid areas.
  5. Encouraging households to grow some fruits and vegetables at home. Promotion of cultivating in pots and used fertilizer. flour bags should be promoted and encouraged.
  6. Discouraging food waste at all levels.
  7. Examining and improving where necessary, the storage facilities, transport facilities, at the various stages from farm to retail and the packaging used, in the pursuit of minimising food waste as well as maintaining food quality/food safety.

Ensuring food security and all aspects of food security as discussed here for all people of the country cannot be assured by politicians who are divided on every national issue that matters to the people. They have demonstrated their love for themselves ahead of the people of the country when the economic edifice of the country has cracked and fallen apart around them. Judging by the failure of Opposition politicians to support national effort to address the economic debacle of the country, it is certain that a national effort to ensure food security will not be a priority for the Opposition politicians, who will only look for political opportunism to further their political ambitions. Hopefully, promotional efforts to ensure food security will be provided by civil society institutions, religious bodies, academic & professional institutions, health institutions, women’s organisations, and importantly, media institutions.

Acknowledgement – The technical advice, information and support provided by Food technologist Mr. Sanath Nanayakkara, a graduate of the University of Colombo and holder of a master’s degree in business administration from Macquarie University, Sydney, and who has worked extensively in technical and managerial roles in the food industry for 48 years both in Sri Lanka and Australia is gratefully acknowledged.

Criticism and free speech not welcome

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405 views
3 mins read

Imagine former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when alive or former Party President Rajnath Singh being removed from a BJP Chintan Shivir presided over by PM Modi. Unthinkable. Wrong. It is possible if Modi, as things are going, becomes the supreme leader of the BJP and the country’s ultimate ruler. But even then it will not be easy. In President Xi Jinping’s new China, under Emperor Xi (or Maximum Xi), anything is possible: from a warlike lockdown zero COVID policy where in some places COVID tests are held twice a day, to remove former President Hu Jintao (79) his predecessor from the closing day proceedings of the recent 20th National Party Congress. Journalists who were allowed into the Great Hall opposite Tiananmen Square have reported this event backed with video footage – many with more than one set of footage – of the stunning event which, but for this unprecedented incident, passed off with peace and tranquility.

The first reports of the tumultuous incidents appeared on BBC on 23 October which showed Hu’s ‘extraction’ with the explanation it was due to Hu being unwell. But the clips that have now become collector’s items, do not indicate an un-well Hu. He is shown remonstrating with the Emperor and also his protégé, Prime Minister Li Keqiang, sitting on Xi’s right. Nevertheless, he has whisked off the stage without a murmur from the 2300-odd delegates in the Great Hall.

The Hindu was the first Indian newspaper to report that something had gone amiss at the Party Congress. Ananth Krishnan wrote that Hu had attended the opening on 16 October and was known to be in ill health and sat beside Xi. Hu insisted on attending the last session despite health issues. On the closing day, he appeared to mistakenly take a white sheet of paper placed in front of Xi which the latter then removed away from him. Xinhua, China’s official news agency, reported that Hu was not feeling well so his staff took him to the room next to the venue meeting for rest. Throughout the Party Congress sessions, Hu was shown following behind Xi to indicate his hallowed status.

Meanwhile, on its Twitter handle, Xinhua’s reporter Li Jiawen reported the incident on the same lines as Krishnan. The event depicting Hu escorted out against his will when he insisted on attending the closing session has caused a stir. Anybody seeing the video footage will also draw this conclusion. Li’s tweet suggested that Hu should not have attended the session but he did so in defiance of Xi’s wishes. Observers that included several foreign media outlets interpreted Hu’s removal as preventing him from apparently expressing dissent on the removal of his faction (as part of collective leadership of the past) which represented their wipe-out from the leadership. With Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Wang Yang dropped and Hu Chunhua, demoted, (all from the Communist Youth League associated with Hu Jintao) the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee is now stacked with Xi loyalists.

Other video footage of the incident showed that twice Hu attempted to return to his seat: he was not permitted to return by his aides, fearing words of dissent from him. This supplements clips of how outgoing Politburo members Li Zhanshu, sitting to Hu’s left, took a file away from Hu while speaking to him. Then, Xi is seen giving instructions to the escorts who persuade Hu to leave not before he is seen muttering words to Xi and Le Keqiang. Krishnan had earlier reported that Hu’s removal was to ensure that he did not vote in the session where several sweeping amendments proposed Xi is “everything” in the constitution.

Richard McGregor of Lowy Institute Sydney described ‘truly extraordinary’ the incident that reflected a lack of basic courtesy to Hu while ‘wooden men elevated by Hu were frozen and dumbfounded in stony silence. Another video shows Hu going to look at the contents of the red folder in front of him only to be stopped by Lin. Hu later reaches for papers in front of Xi who puts his hand on them to prevent Hu from taking them. The footage read together tells the story: Health issues or not, one thing is clear; Hu could have created a big stir that was not in the script. Every event in the Party Congress is so perfectly choreographed that a misstep is almost impossible. Still Hu did it.

In the new Xi era, he is everything forever. His three aides promoted and chose military commanders in the Central Military Commission (CMC) only a powerful insider can rock the boat. Xi has ignored age caps, replaced rules with political standards (loyalty), and brought core interests (Taiwan, South China Sea, and Senkaku Islands) to the front and middle of the great rejuvenation. The video footage of the Galwan clash attracted applause. The image of the PLA commander, the injured Qi Fabio standing with his arms outstretched facing Indian soldiers heralded the start of the conference. Qi was one of the delegates. He was also the torchbearer during the winter Olympics. China has regaled Galwan heroes signaling longer winters in Ladakh. And rubbing salt on wounds PLA had earlier painted in red in 1962 on a stone at Nakula in north Sikkim. India has to show it is 2022, not 1962. But that will require using power.

Why Support for Ukraine Could Dwindle in the Final Months of 2022

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Since February 24, 2022, Ukraine’s armed forces have successfully defended much of their country. But without American assistance, the Ukrainian military campaign would have likely floundered months ago. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has provided the lion’s share of military aid to Ukraine, alongside enormous financial and humanitarian assistance. With the U.S. midterm elections to be held on November 8, 2022, both President Joe Biden’s administration and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fear that these channels of support for Ukraine will diminish significantly.

The economic effects of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, such as higher energy prices, have taken their toll on American voters, and recent polling shows that U.S. support for the war is waning, especially among Republicans. According to Pew Research Center, the belief that the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine surged among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents from 9 percent in March to 32 percent in September.

While the U.S. economy is in a relatively good state compared to much of the rest of the world, Republicans have exploited domestic economic concerns to undermine Biden and the Democrats for months. And though many influential Republicans, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, continue to voice strong support for Ukraine, others aligned with the Tea Party and former U.S. President Donald Trump form the GOP’s increasingly vocal “isolationist wing.”

The influence of this populist group has been reflected in the growing split between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, with both of them recently sparring over the issue of Ukraine aid. In May, 57 House Republicans voted against the $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, and during the middle of October, McCarthy warned that the U.S. is “not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.” With elections polls predicting a Republican House majority, future aid packages to Ukraine are likely to face greater GOP resistance.

Support for NATO and Ukraine among Trump-leaning Republicans has traditionally been low. Trump derided NATO throughout his 2016 presidential campaign and presidency, and his July 2019 phone call with Zelenskyy led to the first official efforts to impeach him. Florida Republican Governor and Trump ally Ron DeSantis was also comfortable enough to ignore calls to pull his state’s $300 million investments from Russia shortly after the war began.

Unfortunately for Kyiv, Democratic support for Ukraine has also fallen, according to the September Pew Research Center poll, as anxiety over the economy, access to abortion, and other issues have mounted. Another Pew Research Center poll from October found that the economy is the top issue for voters heading into the midterm elections. Biden’s explanation of rising inflation as “Putin’s price hike in gasoline” has only reinforced the notion in some voters’ minds that U.S.-led sanctions targeting Moscow and support for Ukraine have been partly responsible for their economic pain.

And on October 24, 30 members of the progressive caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Joe Biden urging him to hold direct talks with Russia and end the war. While the letter was retracted the next day, it further demonstrated Ukraine’s falling support with the left in the U.S.

Any significant drop in American assistance to Ukraine—the U.S. has provided more than 52 billion euros in military, humanitarian, and financial aid to Ukraine from January 24 to October 3, 2022—will severely impact the latter’s ability to defend itself. According to Christoph Trebesch, head of the team compiling the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine Support Tracker, “The U.S. is now committing nearly twice as much as all EU countries and institutions combined.”

The UK has led major European efforts to defend Ukraine and is on track to train up to 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers on its own soil this year. But the UK is experiencing political destabilization following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September and the resignation of two prime ministers in under two months. These events have inhibited the British government’s ability to form a coherent foreign policy and expand its support for Ukraine.

Furthermore, the UK has its own disputes with the EU regarding Brexit and is unlikely to rally many of the EU states to join its efforts to support Ukraine without strong U.S. coordination.

The EU has sent billions of euros of financial aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict, but far less humanitarian and military aid. Bilateral military aid from Ukraine’s most important EU suppliers—France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Poland—fell significantly since the end of April 2022, with no new military pledges being made in July. Large-scale European military assistance only resumed following the launch of the successful Ukrainian offensive that has reclaimed a large part of the territory since early September.

Yet around the same time (on September 5), EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that member states’ weapons stocks were “severely ‘depleted’” after months of providing Ukraine with arms, reinforcing perceptions of the EU’s inability to provide long-term military support to Kyiv.

On October 17, the EU formed its own military training program for Ukrainian soldiers. France declared it would train 2,000 on its soil, while other EU members will train another 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers. Though they are unlikely to match NATO-led initiatives, the latest round of EU sanctions against Russia, which were approved on October 5, demonstrate Europe’s commitment to keeping pressure on Russia.

A drastic increase in EU assistance to Ukraine and confrontation with Russia, however, remains unlikely. Poland, the leading member state advocating for these policies, was the largest recipient of EU funds between 2007 and 2020, and will not be able to coalesce the bloc for these purposes on its own. And with Europe’s energy costs mounting, the ability of the EU countries to maintain, let alone increase, their support for Ukraine may also soon come under much further strain.

As in the U.S., much of Europe’s political right wing (as well as left-wing political elements) is already far less enthusiastic about maintaining support for Ukraine than the political mainstream. Citing economic pain at home, fueled in part by rising energy costs, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has led the continental criticism against Russian sanctions since the Ukrainian invasion. His enthusiastic reception at the August 4 Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, proves that these policies have not caused much concern in the GOP.

With the threat of reduced support from the U.S. and Europe, Ukraine’s ability to hold off Russia will weaken significantly in 2023. While most UN members voted to condemn Russia for its invasion, only Western allies like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have chosen to sanction Russia and aid Ukraine. This is unlikely to change, particularly if pressure from Washington and Brussels subsides.

Because the newly elected and reelected representatives in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections will not take office until January 2023, the Biden administration appears intent on using this window to build up its support for Kyiv. Lawmakers have begun discussing a $50 billion aid package for Ukraine that is expected to be finalized by January.

One problem with this strategy is that winter weather risks grinding Ukraine’s autumn offensive to a halt. Any potential Russian counteroffensive may wait until next spring, and Ukraine’s needs may have changed by then. Russia has shifted strategies throughout the war, including bolstering the use of artillery, Iranian drones, and other weapons. The first of the roughly 300,000 Russian reservists and volunteers are expected to arrive soon in Ukraine, allowing Russia to change strategies once more.

By then the war would be more than a year old, and U.S. public and political support would likely have fallen further. Having already provided more than 52 billion euros in military, humanitarian, and financial aid to Ukraine since January 24, 2022, Washington is unlikely to provide Ukraine with more large aid packages until the U.S. domestic economic situation improves.

It remains to be seen if Republicans win the House or the Senate. And if Ukrainian forces manage to regain a significant amount of territory from Russia over the next few months, then current levels of U.S. support could be mostly maintained even if Republicans gain control over either chamber of Congress. Nonetheless, Kyiv may be wise to prepare for one more extensive U.S. aid package and focus on maintaining support for current sanctions while appealing for greater help from Europe. While the Ukrainian armed forces may not mount any new major offensives for the foreseeable future, they may be able to prevent the Russian military from doing so.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Chinese Modernization Carries Global Significance

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On October 16th, the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) opened in Beijing. I was honoured to join with leaders and representatives of 13 Sri Lankan political parties both from government and opposition, as well as five China-Sri Lanka friendship organizations, to watch the opening session and listen to the report delivered by H. E. Xi Jinping General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee together.

    In the report, General Secretary Xi Jinping proudly declared, “from this day forward, the central task of the CPC will be to lead the Chinese people of all ethnic groups in a concerted effort to realize the Second Centenary Goal of building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects and to advance the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization.” This solemn declaration resounded throughout the land of China and lifted the spirits of 1.4 billion Chinese people. “Chinese modernization” has soon become a hot topic attracting attention of not only friends in Sri Lanka, but also the international community. 

I. How to understand Chinese modernization?

     Since modern times, achieving modernization has become a common goal of all countries. Statesmen, scholars and citizens from different countries never quit thinking about these questions: What kind of modernization to strive for? How to achieve the goal of modernization? Is there an identical modernization formula for all?

    The Chinese Communists have spent more than a century in exploring its own path to modernization with unremitting endeavour from generation to generation – from the “four modernizations” slogan launched after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, referring to agriculture, industry, defense and science modernization, to the “three-step strategy” for modernization proposed after the beginning of reform and opening up in 1978. As socialism with Chinese characteristics entered a new era 10 years ago, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that “we have upheld and developed socialism with Chinese characteristics and driven coordinated progress in material, political, cultural-ethical, social, and ecological terms, pioneered a new and unique Chinese path to modernization, and created a new model for human advancement”. The CPC has led the Chinese people in forging ahead with the times and achieving fruitful theoretical and practical results in its modernization drive.

Historic moment of founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 [ Photo provided by the author]

    Chinese modernization is socialist modernization pursued under the leadership of the CPC. It contains elements that are common to the modernization processes of all countries, but more characterized by features that are unique to the Chinese context in five aspects: a modernization of a huge population, of common prosperity for all, of material and cultural-ethical advancement, of harmony between humanity and nature, and of peaceful development. Chinese modernization also has following eight essential requirements: 1) Upholding the leadership of the CPC and socialism with Chinese characteristics, 2) Pursuing high-quality development, 3) Developing whole-process people’s democracy, 4) Enriching the people’s cultural lives, 5) Achieving common prosperity for all, 6) Promoting harmony between humanity and nature, 7) Building a community with a shared future for mankind, and 8) Creating a new form of human advancement.

    Chinese modernization is neither a copy of the socialist practice in other countries, nor a copy of the Western model of modernization. It is based on China’s fine traditional culture that adapts Marxism to the Chinese context, thus conforming to the global trends and the laws underlying the evolution of human society. This path of modernization created by the CPC sets the direction for advancing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts.

II. What’s the global significance of Chinese modernization?

    Today’s world has entered a new phase of turbulence, transformation and profound changes unseen in a century. As governance, trust, development and peace deficits facing humanity continue to grow, changes of the world, of our times and of history are unfolding in ways like never before. In response to the question of our age, namely “What has happened to the world, and how should we respond?”, China has provided its own answer for the world.

    Chinese modernization will further contribute to world prosperity. In achieving modernization, China has eradicated absolute poverty as scheduled and finished building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, thus attaining the First Centenary Goal, and significantly raised the overall performance of development of human society. Following the path of Chinese modernization, China will continue to promote the gains of development to benefit all its people in a fair way, and enhance people’s sense of fulfillment, happiness and security. Both people’s material and cultural-ethical lives will be enhanced. China will also provide more quality ecological goods to promote harmony between humanity and nature. The modernization of China’s 1.4 billion population, which is larger than the combination of all developed countries, is itself a pioneering work shining in human history. China, advancing along its path of modernization, will absolutely bring more benefits to the world while achieving its own development.

    Chinese modernization will inspire more countries to pursue its own development path. China’s practices and achievements have proved that there is no patent or one-size-fits-all model of modernization, thus successfully breaking the monopoly of Western countries in this field. All roads lead to modernization. Every country should independently pursue modernization through a path that is suited to its own history and conditions. Chinese modernization has overcome the dilemma of Western model of modernization and solved many difficulties facing the development of human society. It offers a new option for other countries and nations that want to speed up their development while preserving their independence; and it shares Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach for mankind to exploring the path of modernization.

    Chinese modernization will further improve global governance. China abandons the Western path of modernization that is capital-centered, polarized, full of materialism, expansion and pillage, and it will never go down the beaten track of big powers seeking hegemony or war. China stresses reliance on its own efforts to drive the nation’s development, follows the path of peaceful development, and adopts a clear-cut position that it will always stands on the right side of history and the side of human progress.

Poverty elimination in rural areas, the central part of development [ Photo provided by the author]

    General Secretary Xi’s report has made “building a community with a shared future for mankind and creating a new form of human advancement” essential requirements of Chinese modernization, which demonstrates that China, while pursuing its modernization drive, will remain committed to promoting the development of global governance in a fairer, more just and more reasonable direction, and inject strong positive energy into world peace and development.

    This year marks the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Sri Lanka, and the 70th anniversary of Rice-Rubber Pact. We welcome all Sri Lankan friends to board the express train of Chinese modernization, and keep forging ahead towards national development and rejuvenation, and a better future of all mankind!

Sri Lanka: Politics beyond 22

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“You are in the end – what you are.” ~ Goethe (Faust)

22 is not perfect. Far from it, perhaps light-years far. Yet, in a season of defeats and setbacks, it is a win for Lankan democracy, and for those Lankans who would be free citizens rather than obedient subjects or terrified children waiting for the next saviour.

The passing of the 22 (officially 21) came hard on the heels of another democratic victory. The Supreme Court effectively killed the deadly Rehabilitation Act. If President Wickremesinghe or the Rajapaksas dreamed of using the Act to punish past dissent and discourage future protests, that dream is now dead.  

The two wins demonstrate that however flawed or even dysfunctional the Lankan political system might be it’s not broken. It can be built on, improved. The better kind of ‘system change’, the sort that harms less, roots deep, lasts long.

By 2014, the Rajapaksas had disembowelled every single democratic institution in the country, from the highest court to the lowliest pradesheeya Sabha. Only periodic elections remained, a heads-we-win-tails-you-lose game the family believed it had mastered. Wrongly. Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the presidency and democracy made a comeback. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration removed the executive’s mailed fist from the collective back of the judiciary and paved the way for more institution-building than any previous administration via the 19th Amendment and the Right to Information Act.

Electoral defeat also revealed the ordinary clay in the Rajapaksa makeup, diminishing the shock-and-awe effect created by the war-victory. High King Mahinda and Supreme General Gotabaya were downsized to normal size, for a while. The memory of that reduction had faded by 2018, but not dead. In 2022, as normal life collapsed under the cumulative weight of shortages and queues, that memory would return. Without its liberating effect, the peaceful revolt of the middle class which constituted the first inspiring phase of the Aragalaya couldn’t have happened.

Thus the importance in the death of the 20th and the safe birth of 22nd, especially if ‘system change’ is a real goal and not just a radical-sounding slogan or an excuse to scuttle reforms. The next step is its speedy implementation. What was done to the democratising 17th Amendment by the PA and the UNP mustn’t become the fate of 22: death by non-implementation. Having taken the sensible step of backing the amendment, the SJB and the JVP should focus on getting the constitutional council and the national procurement commission up and running. That is of far greater democratic consequence than holding local government elections, an exercise which will cost billions and change little.

The composition of COPE, COPA, and the Peoples’ Council has caused much handwringing and derisive laughter. Deservingly. But almost all the undesirables nominated to those bodies were elected by the people in 2020; more worryingly many would be re-elected thanks to the preferential vote system. A new electoral system is as much of a democratic (and anti-corruption) necessity as abolishing the executive presidency.

President Wickremesinghe’s decision to set up a committee to map a new electoral system may – or may not – be a ruse to postpone elections. Either way, it opens up a path to a desirable and popular goal. If the proposal is a Wickremesinghe-bluff, the Opposition can surely call it by coming up with reform blueprints which combine the best features of the PR and first-past-the-post system? Pertinently, what is the Opposition’s stand on the Election Commission mandated campaign finance legislation awaiting cabinet nod? Surely enacting that piece of legislation should be as much of an oppositional priority as calling for elections?

The Quotidian Rot

In the 19th century, there was an American political organisation called the Know Nothing Party which fared well electorally for a while. A nativist entity (not in the Native American but in the WASP-supremacist sense) it was anti-Black, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic. That party is now gone and mostly unremembered, but its spectre survives and thrives across the world. From the US to India, from Italy to Sri Lanka, know-nothing (and learn-nothing) voters and politicians are making choices that invite chaos.

US humorist Andy Borowitz asked, “What happens when you combine ignorance with performing talent?” and answered, “A president who tells the country to inject bleach” (Profiles in Ignorance: How America’s Politicians Got Dumb and Dumber). Or a president and a political family who take over a functioning economy and run it to the ground.

Mr. Borowitz divides ignorance into three stages, ridicule, acceptance, celebration. In Sri Lanka, we ridicule ignorance and accept it by voting the ignorant in. When hiring a driver, any sensible person would prioritise driving skills and experience over the width of a smile, the jauntiness of a moustache or the smoothness of a tongue. But the same person may act antithetically when deciding who should be at the national wheel for the next five years. After all, every Rajapaksa fault we decry now was fully or partly in evidence during their previous terms. Accountability is necessary not just for politicians, but also for the people who vote them in and out. If our people fail to understand their culpability for their own plight, how can they be persuaded not to remake the same old mistakes?  

As Liz Truss’ tenure as the UK’s prime minister entered its 6th chaotic week, Daily Star, a British Tabloid, launched the lettuce challenge. Would the premiership of Ms. Truss last longer than the lifespan of an ordinary iceberg lettuce? The lettuce won. And perhaps saved our former imperial masters from going the Lankan way. Had we stuck to the parliamentary system, we could have got rid of the Rajapaksas without the murder and the mayhem (no, it wasn’t all poetic and peaceful; the lynching of two men is murder and the burning of scores of houses, irrespective of the unsavoury nature of many of their owners, is mayhem). Institutional guardrails matter, especially where Know Nothings hold sway.

The rot is not limited to the government. Sajith Premadasa recently held a cosy powwow with that doyen of ideological racism, Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara, and his majoritarian-supremacist National Organisations Collective. According to the media unit of the leader of opposition, “Opposition leader elucidated the importance of not making further amendments to the 13th Amendment,” and, said that “There are no ethnic minorities, there are different ethnic groups, all should get together and rebuild the country.” According to the Sinhala version, the opposition leader, “will not agree to any proposal that will lead to the fragmentation of the country by empowering the 13th amendment.” No ethnic problem, no need for a political solution: wasn’t that the Rajapaksa mantra too? The 13th Amendment equates division, wasn’t that the abiding cry of the most virulent of racists? Is this an attempt to shift to a Gotabaya-lite position and win with Sinhala votes only?

Mahsa Amini, Nika Shakarami, Sarina Esmailzadeh: three names amongst many unnamed victims of a struggle that began with a simple demand, the right to not wear a hijab.

Lankans probably look with a sense of complacent superiority at the events in Iran. But the rallying slogan of the Iranian schoolgirls, telling clerics to get lost, is valid here as well. After all, we too are plagued with clerics who try to impose their will on secular matters they know nothing about, from economics to sex education, often with distressing success.

            Iran’s ongoing uprising, with its stirring cry of Woman, Life, Freedom, began when a young Kurdish woman died in the custody of the Morality Police. We don’t have a morality police, but morality policing is not unknown here, including on matters sartorial. In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday massacre, a coat-and-tie clad top state official tried to make sari-wearing mandatory for female public officials. Banning first year female students from wearing trousers seems to be a fairly standard component of the orgy of cruel and unusual activities that passes off as ragging in Lankan universities.

The dean of arts faculty of the Peradeniya University is on record saying that students studying in the English medium are banned by the Students Union from using common facilities such as the canteen. Universities in Sri Lanka are not havens of democracy, open mindedness, and intellectual curiosity but deserts of intolerance, tyranny, and backwardness. Ragging is both a symbol of that mindset and its progeny. And all this by student unions and organisations under the control of the JVP and the FSP. The two parties can end this barbarism with one command (inner-party democracy is more alien to them than it is to their bourgeois counterparts). They haven’t, yet. In the universities where the two parties hold sway, even simple acts of dissent like opposing ragging is a punishable crime. The Rajapaksas are not the only problem we have.

On the need for deals

The petition filed by the Transparency International against the decision makers of the current disaster, starting with Gotabaya, Mahinda, and Basil Rajapaksa, has been granted leave to proceed by the Supreme Court. The case will hopefully cast some much needed light on who ordered, who enabled, and who consented to what in making this avoidable tragedy.

The 2019 November unfunded tax cut was the first outpost on that road to disaster, the error that made every other error necessary. Repairing that mistake is a necessary step in rescuing the economy without imposing even more burdens on the already overburdened poor. Will the Opposition, especially the economically more sensible SJB, propose constructive amendments to tax proposals instead of taking the easy way of damning the whole? One obvious need is to increase the tax-free threshold from the proposed 100,000rupees per month to at least 150,000rupees per month, to cushion the lower middle class and small businesses. Rates for upper brackets can be increased to make good the loss. (The GMOA is threatening strike action, true to form. Since most of that trade union’s members would not have become doctors without our free education system, their opposition to direct taxes is particularly despicable).

What is morally indefensible and politically dangerous is to increase taxes – any taxes – without touching the innumerable privileges enjoyed by the political class. The opposition can make a deal to combine tax increases with the drastic pruning of these giveaways – the pension system, duty free vehicle permit racket, giving official residences to all ministers and an official vehicle to all elected representatives, to mention but a few. Not likely, since the one subject on which the entire political class is agreed (from the UNP to the JVP, from the Rajapaksas to the TNA) is the sacrosanct nature of these unearned and unmerited privileges.

In her poem Working on the World, A Revised Improved Edition, Polish poet and 1996 Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska, approaches her utopia of a good life and a good death in stages, starting with “fun for fools and tricks for old dogs.” Striving for incremental changes is more effective than dreaming of or chasing utopias. Given where we are, no improvement, however minute, should be scoffed at. Foreign remittances have gone up in August and September. Litro is making profit again and reducing prices. The Welisara Magistrate Court has ruled to provide legal protection to a young lesbian woman from the persecution of her parents (and the Welisara police). Women parliamentarians across the aisle have prepared an amendment defining anyone under 18 as a child. The Orwellian attempt to use the police to gather information on Colombo residents has been abandoned. To a drowning nations, straws can spell survival.

Our descent into economic disaster did not happen overnight. Our emergence from that abyss cannot happen overnight either. A parliamentary election might help that long climb or it might not. How an election impacts on the crisis would depend on the percentage of citizens willing to let facts rather than emotions decide their vote. If even 10% of voters cleave to the Rajapaksas (the real figure is likely to be double) despite their culpability for our common plight, an election is likely to worsen rather than alleviate the crisis.

 A fragmented parliament, and the resultant horse trading for power and influence while hunger soars and poverty deepens, can sunder hope in the democratic system. Once popular faith in electoral solutions breaks down, the Sinhala masses are more likely to seek salvation not from the JVP or the FSP, but from the military, and the monks, their brothers in blood and faith.

The saga of 22 shows that Ranil Wickremesinghe is not a Rajapaksa clone. Had the  opposition put personal rancour and political needs aside and worked with Mr.  Wickremesinghe once he became the president, a better 22 and other reforms could have been possible. Who can doubt that post-election every party currently in opposition will make whatever deals possible to gain a larger share of the power-pie? Better to make some deals now with the Wickremesinghe government, not for the sake of power, but to promote the sort of political and economic reforms that would help Lankan democracy and Lankan people survive the crisis, and perhaps even emerge a little stronger.

India: Agniveer is killing regiment traditions

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Gorkha Training Centres, like other training establishments, where recruits are trained have been out of work for more than two years as recruitment was suspended due to COVID though it was possible to recruit and train with suitable precautions just as festivals, religious gatherings, election rallies, elections and so on were being held. The government took a calculated risk with manpower shortages in combat and combat support units and saved funds on recruitment, training, and salaries for over two years. 60,000 soldiers become pensioners annually. The downside: operationally deployed units were deficient on average of 80 to 100 men. Some infantry battalions deployed in friction points in East Ladakh were short of roughly a company strength that is 100 soldiers.

Agniveer has altered beyond comprehension the concept of recruitment – a cross between voluntary service and conscription. With few jobs going, the military has been turned into an employment avenue. Only Army Medical and Dental Corps and Electric and Mechanical Engineers have been excluded from Agnipath- a fait accompli. The political leadership which understands little about camaraderie, esprit de corps, and regimental ethos, unfortunately, has begun to take whimsical decisions. Sadly no one including Service Chiefs dared to question Agnipath: they were just so scared.

A major problem that should have been foreseen has arisen in the recruitment of Gorkhas. Nepal has shifted the onus on the decision of four-year recruitment to the next government following elections on 20 November. Being a national security issue related to the 1947 Tripartite Agreement on Recruitment, more thought and discussion were needed, said the Nepalese government. Just as in India, there are few takers for Agnipath, in Nepal too. Nepal does not generate jobs for its skilled and unskilled youth. That’s why nearly one-third of the country of 30 million is outside the country and gainfully employed. Remittances from them, tourism, and recruitment in the Indian Army constitute the mainstay of the economy. Like in India, Nepal has a residual Maoist problem led by NetraBikram Chand. Similarly, several armed and unarmed groups are lying doggo in Madhesh. The last thing Nepal wants is hundreds of demobilized Agniveers injected into society. It is a difficult choice that the next government will have to make. They are known to politicize the recruitment of Gorkhas into the Indian Army.

There is a new self-created structural problem among Gorkha regiments. Previously 100 per cent of Gorkhas recruited hailed from Nepal. And many on retirement settled in pockets between the Chenab and Teesta rivers – the extent of the erstwhile Gorkhaempire. These Gorkhas are called Indian domiciled for purposes of recruitment and their share of recruitment has gradually increased, from 30 per cent to 40 per cent, while the remaining 60 per cent comes from Nepal. In 2016, a Gorkha battalion with 100 percent Indian-domiciled Gorkhas was raised on an experimental basis. 6/1 Gorkha Rifles was unique when it was born but later, it became difficult to sustain as Indian Gorkha recruits did not meet standards, even after lowering them. The failed experiment has led to a shortfall of Indian Gorkhas being met from Nepali Gorkhas. This lacuna has infected other Gorkha battalions as the 40 per cent quota for Indian Gorkhas is not being met. So instead of enhancing the quota of Nepali Gorkhas from 60 to 70 per cent, in its warped wisdom, the Army let other Gorkha regiments like 1 GR, 5 GR, and some others recruit Kumaonis and Garhwalis instead. 11 Gorkha Rifles,( late Gen Rawat’s Regiment) it is understood, refused to induct other ‘pahadis” to maintain the purity of KirantiGorkhas.

The government of Nepal is likely to decide by December whether it will allow Gorkhas to become Agniveers. Army Chief Gen Manoj Pandey told reporters after returning from a goodwill visit to Nepal where he was made honorary General of the Nepal Army, a historic tradition unique to India-Nepal relations, that if Nepal does not decide in time, their vacancies will be redistributed. To whom; he did not say. But it will be safe to assume Nepali-domiciled vacancies could go to Indian Gorkhas, who are already stressed by standards, and/or Kumaonis and Garhwalis for which there is a precedent. If Nepal decides not to opt for Agniveer, it will pose a serious problem for the future of the seven Gorkha regiments and the Gorkha Brigade as a whole. Were this to happen, it will be a big blow to the “Gorkha connect” and India-Nepal relations. New Delhi must fire on multiple cylinders to save the integrity of Gorkha regiments and the 75-year-old tradition.

CDS Gen Anil Chauhan, who is a blue-blooded 11 Gorkha officer is to shortly review Agnipath, especially the contingency if Nepal says ‘no’ to Agniveer. He will act in the national interest in recommending to Prime Minister Modi who has in the Nepali parlia to exempt the Gorkha regiments from Agnipath. This is vital for India-Nepal relations.

China As a Healing Friend

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The following article is based on the speech by the author at the Medicine Donation Ceremony held at Lady Ridgeway Hospital, Colombo14th October 2022

It brings me very warm feelings and a strong attachment to visit the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children today. This hospital, along with other China-aid projects including the BMICH, Superior Courts Complex and Nelum Pokuna etc., have already become landmarks of Sri Lanka, and China-Sri Lanka friendship. I am very pleased to see the 9-floors main building constructed with Chinese assistance, and the MRI scanner donated by China continues to provide vital support to the hospital, benefiting children patients and their parents for over 20 years.

Today, on behalf of China Friendship Foundation for Peace and Development, I am honoured and delighted to hand over urgently needed medicines worth 100,000Yuan (about 5.2 million Rupees) to Lady Ridgeway Hospital, and Colombo South& North Teaching Hospitals, which might provide further help to Sri Lankan kids in need of treatment. I would like to avail this opportunity to extend my sincere thanks to Sri Lanka China Society for coordinating the donation.

Since China and Sri Lanka established diplomatic relations 65 years ago, our two countries and peoples have always been understanding and supporting each other. The COVID-19 pandemic and domestic economic crisis have brought severe difficulties to Sri Lanka, and its public health sector is especially faced with unprecedented challenges. We feel for our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters, and will continue our support to the health sector of Sri Lanka to the best of our capacity:

Firstly, China has been the biggest donor and supplier of PPEs, test kits and vaccines to Sri Lanka throughout the pandemic, which largely helped the island to win the battle against COVID-19.

Secondly, to tackle the CKDu (chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology) in Sri Lanka, China has handed over the National Nephrology Hospital in Polonnaruwa, the Joint Research and Demonstration Center for Water Technology in the University of Peradeniya, and 8 kidney disease mobile labs to the Ministry of Health of Sri Lanka and brought into operation in the last year.

Thirdly, various batches of medicines worth 22.5 million RMB (about 1.2 billion LKR) donated by China under its 500 million RMB emergency humanitarian assistance have already arrived in Sri Lanka and largely relieved its medicine shortage. In the coming months, more medical supplies with a total value of 5 billion rupees will be handed over to Sri Lanka and delivered to hospitals and patients across the island.

Moreover, the biggest China-aid project so far, a brand-new National Hospital OPD Center in Colombo which can accommodate 6,000 patients daily, will be soon opened to Sri Lankan people.

In conclusion, I reiterate that at this moment of difficulty, we will stand by your side, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, and jointly overcome the current challenges to contribute more to the well-being of our two people.

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.

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