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Planet Or Plastic: Is Sri Lanka Making The Right Choices?

It is the responsibility of each person using plastics to take action in their capacity to minimize the magnitude of this issue.

History and Current Situation

Since the revolutionary invention of the first synthetic polymer back in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, plastic manufacture has not been constrained by the limits of nature.The wide range of completely synthetic modern plastics started to be developed around a century ago, offering benefits not found in natural materials. With the countless possibilities of plastics, it was viewed as an abundant material that is inexpensive and safe, which could be shaped by humans to their desire.

Over the last 50 years, plastics have saturated our world, and at present play animportant part in our day to day activities. It is cheap to produce, convenient, useful, durable,and found everywhere.This miracle material has made modern life convenient, at a very high cost of course, in terms of the environment, and has become a serious global menace. More than 40 percent of it is usedjust once, leading to plastic pollution, choking waterways and causing harm to many living beings in numerous ways.Single-use or disposable plastics such as plastic bags, straws, PET bottles and most food packaging,have an immense impact on the environment. These persist in the environment, degrading the soil and disturbing natural cycles.

The perfect optimistic image of plastics did not last for long,as signs of negative impacts emerged withthe persistence of plastic waste, raising concerns about pollution.Plastic debris in the oceanswere first observed in the 1960s, a decade in which people in developed countries became increasingly aware of environmental problems. The anxiety about waste increased, as it was realized that plastic lasts forever in the environment. The reputation of plastics was lowered further, due to growing concern about the potential threat to human health from additives used in the plastic manufacturing process. These chemicals leach out to our food and water, and get accumulated in organisms, thereby affecting the health and wellbeing of future generations.

The ultimate symbol of the issue of plastic waste is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world, which covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers with a mass of approximately 80,000 metric tonnes. Much of the debris found in thisgarbage patchfloating in the Pacific Ocean, comprise micro plastics, smaller than 5mm in size, suspended throughout the water column.Microplastics are very difficult to remove and are often mistaken for food by marine animals.Ocean plastic is estimated to kill millions of marine animals every year, affecting nearly 700 species, including endangered ones; some are harmed visibly - strangled by abandoned fishing nets or discarded six-pack rings. Akin to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch which was discovered in 2010. Its actual size is unknown as its borders remain dynamic and cannot be identified as a solid island of plastic. However estimates of its size range between 2 million to 5 million square kilometers and is heavily influenced by the monsoons which are unique to this region of world. Here too, micro plastics have been identified as the most prevalent material and is thought to originate from the countries that surround the Indian Ocean.

In the 1980s, the plastic industry offered recycling as a solution, encouraging municipalities to collect and process recyclable materials as part of their waste management systems. However, it has not proved to be a great way to mitigate this serious issue and most plastics still end up in landfills or in the environment.

Alarming Statistics

• About 1 trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually across the globe. That’s nearly 2 million every minute.
• It is estimated that 1.15 to 2.41 million tonnes of plastics enter the ocean each year from rivers.
• More than half a billion plastic straws are used every day around the world.
• The world uses 500 billion plastic cups every year.
• 16 billion disposable coffee cups are used each year. These are coated with plastic to laminate the inside and use plastic lids.
• The world produces more than 14 million tonnes of polystyrene (plastic foam) each year.

Despite the grave menace it has become, modern life is clearly not possible without plastic. Hence scientists are attempting to make plastics safer and more sustainable. Innovators are working on developing bioplastics, which are made from plant crops instead of fossil fuels, to create substances that are more environmentally friendly, and to make plastics that are truly biodegradable, while also searching for ways to make recycling more efficient, and to find a process that converts plastics back into the fossil fuels from which they were derived. It is realized that plastic is not perfect butsignificant and necessary for our future.

Global Action against Plastic Pollution

Global initiatives to reduce or eliminate the consumption of single-use plastics have been gaining momentum. The UN Environment Programme’s 2018 report – ‘Single-use Plastics: A Road Map for Sustainability’ - finds that the bulk of the action being taken is concentrated around the use of single-use plastics.

Governments from around the world committed to the vision of a ‘Pollution Free Planet’, and a resolution arrived at, at the United Nations 3rd Environment Assembly, specifically addresses marine litter and microplastics, and encourages member states to reduce unnecessary plastic use and promote the use of environmentally sound alternatives while prioritizing policies to reduce the amount of plastics entering the marine environment.Africa stands out as the continent where the largest number of countries (25) instituted a total ban on the production and use of plastic bags. In Asia, several countries have attempted to control the manufacture and use of plastic bags through levies, and some governments already introduced plastic bag bans more than a decade ago, such as in Bangladesh. Nonetheless, the enforcement of regulations has often been poor.The European Union put forth a directive in 2015, encouraging member states to set reduction targets or adopt economic instruments to achieve a sustained reduction of ‘lightweight’ carrier bags. As such, countries choose measures ranging from bans, such as in Italy and France, to agreements with the private sector, as in Austria. With regards to Oceania, most of the states in Australia have banned lightweight plastic bags and in Papua New Guinea, non-biodegradable plastic bags are banned. In Central and South America, regulations to curb the consumption of plastic bags are in place at both the national and subnational levels, and countries such as Haiti and Costa Rica also regulate the use of foamed plastic products. Costa Rica in particular, aims to become the first country in the world to eliminate single-use plastics by 2021. In North America, regulations have been introduced mostly at the state or city level. Lightweight plastic bags are banned, for example in Montreal (Canada) and California and Hawaii (USA). Action against single-use Styrofoam products has been taken in New York City,which re-instated in 2017 its ban on single-use Styrofoam containers after a first attempt in 2015.

Where Sri Lanka Stands

The plastic menace is not an issue where the solution is not known. We all are aware of proper disposal of garbage, and it can be done by anyone. It is the responsibility of each person using plastics to take action in their capacity to minimize the magnitude of this issue.With the right policies and regulations in place, it is a matter of ensuring implementation by strengthening the relevant authorities and systems, to take action as a nation to overcome this challenge. Sri Lanka banned the import, sale, and use of polyethylene bags 

Excerpt: Republic of Lies

American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power

by Anna Merlan

In January 2015, I spent the longest, queasiest week of my life on a cruise ship filled with conspiracy theorists. As our boat rattled toward Mexico and back, I heard about every wild plot, secret plan, and dark cover-up imaginable. It was mostly fascinating, occasionally exasperating, and the cause of a headache that took months to fade. To my pleasant surprise, given that I was a reporter traveling among a group of deeply suspicious people, I was accused only once of working for the CIA.

The unshakable certainty that many of the conspiracy theorists possessed sometimes made me want to tear my hair out, how tightly they clung to the strangest and most far-fetched ideas. I was pretty sure they had lost their hold on reality as a result of being permanently and immovably on the fringes of American life. I felt bad for them and, to be honest, a little superior.

“The things that everyone thinks are crazy now,” Sean David Morton proclaimed early in the trip, “the mainstream will pick up on them. Twenty-sixteen is going to be one of those pivotal years, not just in human history, but in American history as well.”

Morton is a self-proclaimed psychic and UFO expert, and someone who has made a lot of dubious claims about how to beat government agencies such as the IRS in court. I dismissed his predictions about 2016 the way I dismissed a lot of his prophecies and basic insistence about how the world works. Morton and the other conspiracy theorists on the boat were confident of a whole lot of things I found unbelievable but which have plenty of adherents in the United States and abroad. Some of them asserted that mass shootings like Sandy Hook are staged by our own government with the help of “crisis actors” as part of a sinister (and evidently delayed) gun-grab. The moon landing was obviously fake (that one didn’t even merit much discussion). The government was covering up not just the link between vaccines and autism but also the cures for cancer and AIDS. Everywhere they looked, there was a hidden plot, a secret cabal, and as the Gospel of Matthew teaches about salvation, only a narrow gate that leads to the truth.

I chronicled my stressful, occasionally hilarious, unexpectedly enlightening experience onboard the Conspira-Sea Cruise as a reporter for the feminist website Jezebel, and then I tried to forget about it. I had done a kooky trip on a boat, the kind of stunt journalism project every features writer loves, and it was over. Conspiracy theorists, after all, were a sideshow.

Yet I began to notice that they were increasingly encroaching on my usual beats, like politics. In July 2016, I was walking down a clogged, chaotic narrow street in Cleveland, Ohio, where thousands of reporters, pundits, politicians, and Donald Trump fans had massed to attend the Republican National Convention. I was there for Jezebel again and was busy taking pictures of particularly sexist anti–Hillary Clinton merchandise. There was a lot of it around, for sale on the street and proudly displayed on people’s bodies: trump that bitch buttons, white T-shirts reading hillary sucks, but not like monica.

I stopped a guy in his twenties, dark-haired, built, and jaunty, walking past wearing an eye-catching black hitlery shirt: a photo of Hillary Clinton adorned with a Hitler mustache, smirking slightly.

“Can I take your photo?” I asked. He agreed, and then I noticed a bizarre sight: the guys walking with him. There were maybe eight of them, and they were enormous, muscle-bound, and heavily bearded. A couple were wearing camo pants and dusty boots. They looked like members of a militia, fresh from a training exercise in the desert, set loose in urban Ohio.

“Where are you guys . . . from?” I asked as delicately as I could.

One of them grinned at me.

“We’re reporters,” he said merrily.

“No, you’re not,” I blurted, without thinking. The biggest guy winked and showed me his press badge: they were from InfoWars, the mega-empire of suspicion—a radio show, website, and vastly profitable store of lifestyle products—founded by Austin, Texas–based host Alex Jones.

Later that night, I saw the enormous men again in a Mexican restaurant, quietly shoveling chips into their mouths with their bear-paw hands. After a few minutes, with a huge amount of bustling and self-important murmuring, a couple of them ushered in Alex Jones himself, installing him on a bar stool and pouring him shots of tequila.

I went over to say hello. The men looked concerned. One of them held up a hand: “You can have two minutes,” he told me.

Jones was red-faced and effusive. We’d never met before and I was interrupting his dinner, but he greeted me warmly. We had a brief, scattershot conversation: we talked about Trump, whom he was there to support. I asked whether he thought vaccines cause autism. “I think they contribute to it,” he said, nodding. (They don’t.) I asked whether he considered himself “woke,” the slang for a politically conscious, socially aware person.

“What?” he asked.

I explained what it meant.

“I’m one hundred percent woke,” Jones replied in his signature growl. He beamed at me. “I am woke,” he repeated. Everyone smiled at one another: the InfoWars guys, Jones, and me. One of them signaled that it was time for me to take my leave. I did.

As on the Conspira-Sea, my first reaction was to treat the exchange as a lark. It was the kind of interaction you might have with a harmless, nutty radio shock jock, because that’s what Alex Jones was, for many years: a guy shouting into a microphone, warning that the government was trying to make everyone gay through covert chemical warfare, the homosexuality agents leaching into our water supply and from our plastic bottles. (“They’re turning the freaking frogs gay!” he famously shouted. The clip quickly went viral and provoked mass hilarity on Twitter.)

Jones also made less adorably kooky claims: that a number of mass shootings and acts of terrorism, like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, were faked by the government; that the CEO of Chobani, the yogurt company, was busy importing “migrant rapists” to work at its Idaho plant; that Hillary Clinton is an actual demon who smells of sulfur, hails from Hell itself, and has “personally murdered and chopped up and raped” little children.

Jones was closer to the mainstream’s attention than most people on the conspiracy fringe, largely thanks to the seminal 2001 book Them by British journalist Jon Ronson, one chapter of which chronicled the pair’s extremely weird adventure of trying to get into a top-secret meeting of world leaders at Bohemian Grove in Northern California. (They made it inside; memorably, Ronson beheld a bunch of those world leaders putting on childish skits and peeing on trees as a sort of boys-cutting-loose weekend. Jones, meanwhile, has always maintained that the whole thing was an “occult playground” for the elites and that an effigy burned during the weekend was nothing less than a “bizarre pagan ritual” and that the world’s most powerful people engage in “ancient Canaanite Luciferian Babylon mystery religion ceremonies,” as a film he made about it declared.)

But while I was joking around with Jones, he was at the RNC on important business, it turned out: he was there to meet with Roger Stone, former Richard Nixon advisor turned dirty-tricks specialist and trusted ally of the Trump campaign.

Jones and Trump were in fact longtime mutual fans. After announcing his run, candidate Trump made one of his first media appearances on Jones’s show, appearing via Skype from Trump Tower. Jones endorsed him early and often and, in turn, many of the radio host’s favorite talking points started turning up in Trump’s speeches. Jones began darkly predicting that the elections would be “rigged” in Clinton’s favor, a claim that Trump quickly made a central tenet of the latter days of his campaign. At the end of September, Jones began predicting that Clinton would be on performance-enhancing drugs of some kind during the presidential debates; by October, Trump was implying that, too, and demanding that Clinton be drug tested.

Soon after, the United States narrowly elected a conspiracy enthusiast as its president, a man who wrongly believes that vaccines cause autism, that global warming is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese “in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” as he tweeted in 2012, and who claimed, for attention and political gain, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. And one of the first people President-elect Trump called after his thunderous upset victory was Alex Jones. In fact, Trump found time to call Jones along with a few—oddly prioritized—world leaders before he or any member of his transition team had contacted anyone at the Pentagon or the State or Justice Departments. Then, in a very short time, some of the most wild-eyed conspiracymongers in the country were influencing federal policy and taking meetings at the White House.

Here’s the thing: the conspiracy theorists aboard the cruise and in the streets of Cleveland could have warned me that Trump’s election was coming, had I only been willing to listen.

Many of the hard-core conspiracy theorists I sailed with weren’t very engaged in politics, given that they believe it’s a fake system designed to give us the illusion of control by our real overlords: the Illuminati, the international bankers, or perhaps the twelve-foot lizard people. But when they did consider the subject, they loved Trump, even the left-leaning among them who might have once preferred Bernie Sanders. They recognized the future president as a “truth teller” in a style that spoke to them and many other Americans. They liked his thoughts about a rigged system and a government working against them, the way it spoke to what they had always believed, and the neat way he was able to peg the enemy with sound bites: the “lying media,” “crooked Hillary,” the bottomless abyss of the “Washington swamp.” They were confident of his victory—if the globalists and the New World Order didn’t get in the way, and they certainly would try. Just as Sean David Morton said, they were sure that 2016 was going to change everything. (Although they perhaps didn’t imagine that Trump would win as a result of the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by one of the biggest margins in American history.)

Trump’s fondness for conspiracy continued apace into his presidency: his Twitter account became a megaphone for every dark suspicion he has about the biased media and the rigged government working against him, even, at one particularly low point, going so far as to accuse his political opponents of inflating the number of deaths in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria. His supporters became consumed by the concept of the “deep state,” seized by a conviction that a shadow regime is working hard to undermine the White House. At the same time, Trump brought a raft of conspiracy theorists into his cabinet: among them was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, who suggested that President Barack Obama would declare martial law and cancel the 2016 elections to remain in power. There was also National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (who was quickly fired), notorious for retweeting stories linking Hillary Clinton to child sex trafficking. Other conspiracy enthusiasts soon occupied positions in such staid government offices as the Department of Health and Human Services—where a Trump appointee named Ximena Barreto was hired despite her also claiming that Clinton was linked to a pedophile ring—and the National Security Council, where a senior aide and former Pentagon official named Rich Higgins sent out a furious, lengthy email on the various leftist conspiracies seeking to undermine the president.

With the candidacy and then election of a conspiracy peddler, conspiratorial thinking leaked from its traditional confines to spread in new, more visible ways across the country. As a result, a fresh wave of conspiracy theories and an obsession with their negative effects engulfed America. We all worried late in the election season about “fake news,” a term for disinformation that quickly lost all meaning as it was gleefully seized on by the Trump administration to describe any media attention they didn’t like. We fixated on a conspiracy theorist taking the White House, and then we fretted over whether he was a true believer or just a cynical opportunist. And as left-leaning people found themselves unrepresented in government, with the judicial, executive, and legislative branches held by the right, they too started to engage more in conspiracy theorizing.

But beneath the new conspiracy furor—talking heads worrying about it on CNN, Clinton’s campaign sending out media blasts to decry Alex Jones—the reality is that we’ve been a nation gripped by conspiracy for a long time. The Kennedy assassination has been hotly debated for years. The feminist and antiwar movements of the 1960s were, for a time, believed by a not-inconsiderable number of Americans to be part of a communist plot to weaken the country. A majority of us have believed for decades that the government is hiding what it knows about extraterrestrials. Since the early 1990s, suspicions that the Clintons were running a drug cartel and/or having their enemies murdered were a persistent part of the discourse on the right. And the website WorldNetDaily was pushing birther theories and death panels (the idea, first articulated by Sarah Palin in 2009, that under Obamacare bureaucrats would decide whether the elderly deserved medical care) long before “fake news” became a talking point. Many black Americans have, for years, believed that the CIA flooded poor neighborhoods with drugs such as crack in order to destroy them.

The Trump era has merely focused our attention back onto something that has reappeared with reliable persistence: the conspiratorial thinking and dark suspicions that have never fully left us. Conspiracy theorizing has been part of the American system of governance and culture and thought since its beginnings: as journalist Jesse Walker writes in his book The United States of Paranoia, early white settlers, including history textbook favorite Cotton Mather, openly speculated that Native Americans were controlled by the Devil and conspiring with him and a horde of related demons to drive them out. Walker also points to the work of historian Jeffrey Pasley, who found what he called the “myth of the superchief”: the colonist idea that every Native-led resistance or attack was directed by an “Indian mastermind or monarch in control of tens of thousands of warriors.”

The elements of suspicion were present long before the 2016 election, quietly shaping the way large numbers of people see the government, the media, and the nature of what’s true and trustworthy. Sometimes, too, conspiracy theories are the “official story,” the cause of real and far-reaching state action, as with the Red Scare, where a fear of Communists undermining the country led to life-ruining hearings and blacklists.

And for all of our bogus suspicions, there are those that have been given credence by the government itself. We have seen a sizable number of real conspiracies revealed over the past half century, from Watergate to recently declassified evidence of secret CIA programs, to the fact that elements within the Russian government really did conspire to interfere with U.S. elections. There’s a perpetual tug between conspiracy theorists and actual conspiracies, between things that are genuinely not believable and truths that are so outlandish they can be hard, at first, to believe.

But while conspiracy theories are as old as the country itself, there is something new at work: people who peddle lies and half-truths have come to prominence, fame, and power as never before. If our conspiratorial world is a vast ocean, 2016 was, clearly, the year that Alex Jones—along with other groups, like anti-immigration extremists, anti-Muslim think tanks, and open neo-Nazis and white supremacists—were able to catch the wave of the Trump presidency and surf to the mainstream shore.

It seemed that something new could be learned by riding the conspiracy wave back out: from the stormy center of Trumpland to the farthest reaches of the conspiracy world, into the subcultures that most people never see. Traveling through the ecosphere of suspicion, I found a multiverse of alternate societies, humming below the surface of American life the way some people imagine an alien military base is doing just under Antarctica. I found decades-old belief systems that have never disappeared, new ones that are just starting to form, and strange, unlikely alliances coalescing among deeply improbable groups.

To understand why people believe things that are at odds with all provable truths is to understand how we form our views about the world and the resultant world we have made together. The riotous profusion of conspiracy theories in America shows us something about being American, even about being human—about the decisions we make in interpreting the complexities of our surroundings. Over and over, I found that the people involved in conspiracy communities weren’t necessarily some mysterious “other.” We’re all prone to believing half-truths, forming connections where there are none to be found, finding importance in political and social events that may not have much significance at all. That’s part of how human beings work, how we make meaning, particularly in the United States today, now, at the start of a strange and unlikely century.

I was interested, too, in understanding why this new surge of conspiracism has appeared, knowing that historically, times of tumult and social upheaval tend to lead to a parallel surge in conspiracy thinking. I found some of my answer in our increasingly rigid class structure, one that leaves many people feeling locked into their circumstances—in contrast with what we’ve been taught is the American dream—and desperate to find someone to blame. I found it in rising disenfranchisement, a feeling many people have that they are shut out of systems of power, pounding furiously at iron doors that will never open to admit them. I found it in a frustratingly opaque healthcare system, a vanishing social safety net, a political environment that seizes cynically on a renewed distrust of the news media.

Together, these elements helped create a society in which many Americans see millions of snares, laid by a menacing group of enemies, all the more alarming for how difficult they are to identify and pin down. I saw a disturbing thirst for vengeance, a willingness to punish enemies and vanquish evildoers that is then easily twisted by opportunists. These things were in the country around me, in my own life—shadows that seemed to grow longer and longer, even as people became increasingly aware of the destructive power of conspiracy theories and began doing their best to fight them. Still: we are the suspicious and the conspiracists are us, and there are more of us all the time.

Copyright © 2019 by Anna Merlan.

 Anna Merlan is a journalist specializing in politics, crime, religion, subcultures, and women’s lives. Merlan is a reporter at the Special Projects Desk, the investigative division of Gizmodo Media Group. She was previously a senior reporter at Jezebel and staff writer at the Village Voice and the Dallas Observer. Republic of Lies is her first book. She lives in New York.

Sri Lanka: Sirisena in Tirupati

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena attended the special pooja at the hill shrine of Lord Venkateswara near in Tirupati, India, a temple official said. Accompanied by his wife Jayanthi Pushpa Kumari and other family members and Lankan officials, Sirisena landed at Renigunta airport, 20 km from here, at noon on Tuesday. Amid tight security, he reached the hills by road, the official told the news agencies.

The president has taken a part in the 'Suprabhatha' ritual (recitation of Sanskrit hymns by priests to wake the Lord) and offer prayers to the presiding deity of Lord Venkateswara in the early hours Wednesday, the official added.

Sudan: No trust in the army

There is no need to wait for anyone else to carry out the wishes of the revolution. The masses have shown that they are fully capable of changing society themselves.

by Hamid Alizadeh and Hasnaa Shaddad

The removal of Sudan’s former dictator, Omar A-Bashir, on 11 April did not spell the end of the Sudanese Revolution. On the contrary, far from meeting the main demands of the revolution, the army power grab is an attempt to disorientate the masses and steal their accomplishment. However, the masses are not letting go of their hard-earned victory that easily.

On 11 April, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) – a self-appointed council of the tops of armed forces and security services – declared that it was removing former president Omar Al-Bashir and assuming power itself, naming Bashir’s previous First Vice-President, Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, as interim head of state.

However, the masses immediately saw through the deception of the military and poured into the streets, breaking the new curfew announced by the army, demanding that it step back and that Ibn Auf be removed. This pressure, and in particular the strong links of fraternity between the movement and the lower ranks of the army, forced the TMC to remove Ibn Auf within 24 hours of appointing him – making him the second head of state to fall within three days – and replaced him with Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

“We are here to remove the entire system”

Following the power grab by the army, mass protests have continued unabated, with the focal point of the movement becoming the Ministry of Defence in Khartoum. The demands are clear: a civilian democratic government, the immediate withdrawal of the army, immediate arrest and prosecution of former regime tops who have brutalised the masses for years and social justice by ending austerity measures dictated by the World Bank and IMF. These, and in particular an attempt to end fuel and wheat subsidies, were the initial spark of the movement, igniting the pent-up anger at the regime systematically robbing and exploiting the masses.

These developments further highlight the difference between this and prior movements within Sudan. In the past, they were led by the middle-classes of the capital. However, this movement has seen the collective mobilisation of the urban and rural poor, spreading to 15 out of the 18 states, all demanding a radical change to the political system.
As one protester talking with AFP said:

“We are here to remove the entire system, a system that does not give service equally to the people. A system that leave[s] people under poverty. A system that does not allow Sudan, as a rich country with human and natural resources, to act as any other country in the world.”

While the army has formally declared itself as the interim government, there is no doubt that power lies in the streets. Opheera McDoom, a former Reuters reporter, gave a description of the mood which warrants to be quoted at length:

Just to give those of you outside the country an idea of the atmosphere on the ground:

Sudan now: Governing without a government

As you walk into the area of Khartoum now completely controlled by the young ‘revolutionaries’ downtown, you see the difference.

Street outside: full of rubbish with plastic bags strewn across the roads.

Street inside: clean of rubbish – bags to put your garbage placed strategically around and young men with long hair and skinny jeans roaming around, picking up trash and encouraging others to help.

Overnight as the crowds thin out, they wash the roads in teams.

People arranging prayer areas and ensuring privacy to do so.

Volunteers organising checkpoints every few metres to ensure no one gets through with weapons. Women search women and men search men.

“We apologise for the search brothers and sisters. This is for your own safety and your brother’s safety” is the refrain repeated to anyone moving through.

A pharmacy run by young volunteer pharmacists to dispense medication to those who need it. Medicine provided by companies and individuals for free.

Two blood donation trucks to ensure those injured in the protests obtain the blood they need.

People collecting cash contributions and bags of money left at the side of the road for anyone to take if they need money to get home.

Shifts organised – the ‘day revolutionaries’ go home at night after the ‘night revolutionaries’ arrive to take over.

Tents set up and run by volunteers to arrange cash, water and food donations.

Traditional Sudanese hospitality not forgotten – anyone visiting MUST drink tea or water.

No cars allowed in unless you’re bringing donations – water, drinks, food. No exceptions or ‘mujamala’ even for foreign diplomats – the U.S. Charge D’Affaires was stopped outside when he came to visit.

Street children being fed and looked after – included in this new society.

Group parties on every corner singing nationalist Sudanese songs and performing traditional dances.

Security? Taken care of. Makeshift blockades of bricks and borrowed razor wire block the roads to stop any attacks at night after a few failed but violent attempts to forcibly disperse the sit-in.

Missing the football? Supporters sent a huge screen to watch the last big Barcelona match.

The roads in Sudan are normally chaotic and, during a black out, the traffic police (if they appear), can hinder more than they help.

But the roads leading to the army HQ have been taken over by the people who are happily directing huge volumes of traffic and hundreds of parked cars

Children are given flags and biscuits, carried on shoulders so they can see above the throngs of people. Birthday parties, weddings – you name it, it’s happening right there in the street.

Christian Sudanese Coptics holding fabric shades over the heads of their Muslim brothers while they pray under the hot sun.

Without any ‘leaders’ whatsoever, these young Sudanese managed to effectively run this sit-in, this mini ‘state’ within the capital, and do so politely, without infighting, ego or provocation.

Instead humour, cooperation, unity and solidarity are the order of the day.

The Sudanese people have a long and proud history of peaceful change.”

The above quote provides a taste of the infinite creativity and resources of the working masses, who are far more equipped at running society than the leeching elements who have been in power for decades.

Confidence grows

The TMC announced a series of decisions, including: new heads of the army and the police, a new head of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), committees to fight corruption and investigate the former ruling party, the lifting of all media restrictions and censorship, the release of police and security officers detained for supporting protesters, a review of diplomatic missions, and the dismissal of Sudan's ambassadors to the US and to the UN in Geneva.

The downfall of two heads of state has given the revolution a huge boost of confidence in its own powers. The masses realise that they brought down Bashir and Ibn Auf. Every day they are growing more confident in their own abilities. The TMC is desperately trying to undermine this process and perpetuating the myth that, without the ruling class (and its state institutions), chaos would ensue.

Of course, the reality is the exact opposite, as we can see from the above report from the ground. With the announcement of the aforementioned concessions, the TMC is trying to give the impression that these demands have been granted by the TMC itself. They are trying to distort the fact that all of the freedoms which the Sudanese masses have today, they have attained by their own determined struggle, facing the opposition of all layers of the ruling class.

At the same time, the TMC is trying to appear to be on the side of the revolution. The enormous power of the revolution, which has thoroughly infected the lower ranks of the army, meant that the top brass (in spite of all attempts) was unable to take on the revolution. Just as in Algeria, they decided that it would be better to take the initiative, give a series of minor concessions from above, and thereby stop a revolution from below taking down the whole regime, and with it, the privileged position of the ruling class, to which the tops of the military and security services belong.

After assuming the role of head of state, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has been very vocal, adopting bold rhetoric, and promising to carry out the will of the people, purge the state of former regime officials and enact the will of the revolution in general. Yet, at the same time no concrete, high-level arrests have been reported.

No one knows the whereabouts of Bashir, and the TMC is refusing point blank to hand him over to the ICC or any other body. No plans have been made for his extradition either. Meanwhile, there are strong indications that it is negotiating with other African countries to facilitate his exile.

Salah Gosh, the hated former head of intelligence, was also allowed to resign instead of being arrested for war crimes. The same goes for the country's public prosecutor, and the head of the state-run radio and television broadcasters. Along with members of Bashir’s NCP, all of these have been seen walking around freely with no one bothering them and no warrants for their arrest. The demand from the streets is for the dismantling of the NCP and the arrest and trial of the whole Bashir regime. Clearly, Burhan and the TMC have no intention of doing any of this.

Meanwhile, many political prisoners, in particular Darfuris, remain behind bars. In the early stages of the revolution, Bashir attempted to blame the Darfuri for the uprising, but the people replied by chanting slogans such as “we are all Darfuri!”

As Marx explained long ago, the state apparatus, the tops of the bureaucracy and the army are nothing but forces to defend and preserve the position of the ruling class. The TMC is itself full of members of the former regime, tied by a thousand threads to the elite, the capitalists, the landlords and the Bashir regime. While it is itself riven with internal factions and contradictions, it is clear that it is united in its determination to preserve the core of Sudanese capitalism and landlordism.

Masses learn from experience

All of this is becoming apparent to the masses, who are learning from events at lightning speed. The streets are highly suspicious of the TMC and see through al-Burhan’s demagogy. He was himself a top officer, involved in the barbaric Saudi war on Yemen and in Bashir’s brutal civil war in Darfur. Yesterday, while al-Burhan was walking around posing as a revolutionary, military forces tried to remove barricades around the Ministry of Defence. This was only stopped by a call from the Sudan Professionals Association, the organisation which has been leading the protests, to mobilise and defend the sit in. With many soldiers on the side of revolution openly fraternising with the protesters, the army top brass withdrew immediately.

It is clear for all to see that the TMC is manoeuvring against the revolution. By its so-called concessions and statements, it is attempting to throw dust in the eyes of the masses in order to buy time to regroup and strike back. Arrogantly, al-Burhan has stated that he will grant the people of Sudan a transitional period “of no more than two years”. This is exactly what it appears to be: a gigantic fraud designed to give the counter-revolution time to regain control of the situation.

On Sunday, it was revealed that there had been secret meetings of the SPA and the TMC. This sent shock-waves throughout the masses who were indignant at the SPA leaders for negotiating with the counter-revolution. Who elected the delegates? Who decided the agenda? The whole process was shrouded in secrecy. The masses do not want to replace one unelected regime with another. While the SPA leadership was highly regarded, this has made a significant dent in its authority.

The SPA has condemned the military, and has been calling for a civilian government, the dismantling of Bashir's National Congress Party, the dissolution of the NCP militias and security apparatus, the sacking of judiciary chiefs and the general prosecutor, the removal of the TMC, and other similar demands which would lead to the dismantling of the previous regime.

These are all very good demands, which should be implemented immediately. But the mistake that the SPA is making is to trust the TMC, composed solely of the most reactionary fossils of the old regime, to carry this out. In fact, in the statement of the organisation after it came out of the negotiations with the TMC, it declared that it wants to appoint a transitional civilian government, which would govern the country for “four years (!) under the protection of the Armed Forces.”

But this is diametrically opposed to the spirit of the revolution, which demands democracy and accountability. Who will appoint this government? And why are four years needed before democratic elections can be held? Furthermore, what does “under the protection of the army” mean? Under the protection of the same people who have been oppressing and slaughtering the Sudanese workers, peasants and poor for decades? Under the protection of the same people who just weeks ago were violently attacking the revolution?

The Sudanese masses have shown again and again that they do not need any protectors. As opposed to the regime, including the army, the masses are far better-equipped to run a society free of bloodshed and oppression. In fact, the statement of the SPA falls in line with the position of the army and al-Burhan, who have claimed that they do not want to be a part of a government. They merely reserve the right to claim the Ministries of Defence and the Interior. That is to say, the two positions that are crucial for maintaining of the oppressive apparatus would remain in the hands of the regime with no democratic oversight. In effect, this is nothing but a blueprint for a thinly veiled civilian-military dictatorship. It is no wonder that governments around the world, including Bashir allies such as the reactionary Egyptian military dictatorship and the Gulf states, have been throwing their support behind the army.

The SPA leaders are now in danger of falling into the trap that the Tamarrod movement leaders in Egypt fell into in 2013. After having overthrown the Morsi regime, Tamarrod effectively had power in its hands. But not knowing what to do with it, the movement handed power to Sisi and the SCAF, who in turn did not hesitate, with partial success, in trying to crush the popular movement.

It is clear that the Sudanese masses have learned from this and the streets fully understand there can be no trust in the army or any other pillar of the old regime. The whole of the state apparatus is infested by the rot of the old regime. They will never carry out the wishes of the revolution. Camping outside the Ministry of Defence, while it may terrify the army tops, forcing them to manoeuvre rather than to take the revolution head on, will not change their fundamental interests, which are opposed to those of the masses.

There is no need to wait for anyone else to carry out the wishes of the revolution. The masses have shown that they are fully capable of changing society themselves.

In the organising committees of the protests, the strikes, the neighbourhood watches, the sit-in steward teams, we see the embryos of the institutions which the masses need to enforce their will.

The SPA has declared that it is not a political organisation and will not participate in politics. But isn’t leading a revolution the most political of all acts? Instead of withdrawing and handing power to the army, SPA leaders should organise committees and councils to be elected in every workplace, school, barracks, neighbourhood and village where the revolution is present. These should then be connected on a regional and national level and should organise the election of an all-powerful constituent assembly to implement the will of the revolutionary masses. There is no reason to wait for the old regime to grant the masses their rights, they must take them themselves before the counter-revolution has time to prepare a counter-attack.

Down with capitalism!

At the same time, measures must be taken to address the acute social problems of the masses. While the elite has been living lavishly off the exploitation of the masses and the plundering of the natural wealth of the country, the conditions on the ground are desperate. Recent figures are sketchy, but it was reported in 2009 that 46 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line, over 70 percent earned less than the equivalent of US$5 a day, and 17 percent survive on less than US$1 per day. Over 5 million people face food insecurity or are in danger of starvation, and 32 percent of Sudanese children are malnourished. Moreover, 20 percent of Sudanese men and 40 percent of women are illiterate. On top of that, only 5 percent of the national budget goes into healthcare, compared to 70 percent that goes into the military. The health sector has been long undermined purposefully by the inflated spending on the military establishment and security for the protection of the regime. The monthly salary for doctors is on average around 45 pounds, which isn’t even enough to scrape by. These conditions have drawn such nominally petty-bourgeois layers into the popular struggle.

The only way to address these problems is to immediately organise for the working class to take over the mines, factories, and oil installations, along with the occupation of the land by the poor farmers and peasants. By pooling these resources into a nationalised planned economy run on democratic lines, and by channelling the profits into investments for the modernisation of society and improvement of living standards, all of the above problems could be easily solved.

In a matter of a few months, the revolutionary Sudanese masses have managed to overcome enormous obstacles and have proven to be all-powerful in the face of any opposition. With no real preparation or plan, they have brought the vicious dictatorship to its knees. The same people who ruled with arrogance and impunity before, are forced to bow to the masses. In fact, the masses could take power anytime, but they are not organised enough and lack the programme to do this.

Meanwhile, military generals, and domestic and foreign diplomats are manoeuvring in the corridors of the ministries and embassies, and in the West, to steal the victory from the hands of the masses; to divide, disorientate and deceive the revolution in order to prepare for its undoing. The revolution should not place any trust in these people. It can only rely on its own powers, which have carried it through at every turn of events. It must tear down the whole edifice of the rotten Bashir regime and replace it with a state run by the workers, peasants and poor. Most importantly, it must dismantle Sudanese capitalism, which has brought nothing but never-ending misery and poverty to the proud peoples of the country.

Courtesy: In defence of Marxism

The Triumph of Evil

The Trump regime has branded the democratically twice-elected Maduro an “illegitimate” president. 

by Paul Craig Roberts

“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” — William Butler Yeats

Today (April 17) I heard a NPR “news” report that described the democratically elected president of Venezuela as “the Venezuelan dictator Maduro.” By repeating over and over that a democratically elected president is a dictator, the presstitutes create that image of Maduro in the minds of vast numbers of peoples who know nothing about Venezuela and had never heard of Maduro until he is dropped on them as “dictator.”

Nicolas Maduro Moros was elected president of Venezuela in 2013 and again in 2018. Previously he served as vice president and foreign minister, and he was elected to the National Assembly in 2000. Despite Washington’s propaganda campaign against him and Washington’s attempt to instigate violent street protests and Maduro’s overthrow by the Venezuelan military, whose leaders have been offered large sums of money, Maduro has the overwhelming support of the people, and the military has not moved against him.

What is going on is that American oil companies want to recover their control over the revenue streams from Venezuela’s vast oil reserves. Under the Bolivarian Revolution of Chavez, continued by Maduro, the oil revenues instead of departing the country have been used to reduce poverty and raise literacy inside Venezuela.

The opposition to Maduro inside Venezuela comes from the elites who have been traditionally allied with Washington in the looting of the country. These corrupt elites, with the CIA’s help, temporarily overthrew Chavez, but the people and the Venezuelan military secured his release and return to the presidency.

Washington has a long record of refusing to accept any reformist governments in Latin America. Reformers get in the way of North America’s exploitation of Latin American countries and are overthrown.

With the exceptions of Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua, Latin America consists of Washington’s vassal states. In recent years Washington destroyed reform governments in Honduras, Argentina and Brazil and put gangsters in charge.

According to US national security adviser John Bolton, a neoconservative war monger, the governments in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua will soon be overthrown. New sanctions have now been placed on the three countries. Washington in the typical display of its pettiness targeted sanctions against the son of the Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega. 

Ortega has been the leader of Nicaragua since for 40 years. He was president 1985-1990 and has been elected and reelected as president since 2006.

Ortega was the opponent of Somoza, Washington’s dictator in Nicaragua. Consequently he and his movement were attacked by the neoconservative operation known as Iran-Contra during the Reagan years. Ortega was a reformer. His government focused on literacy, land reform, and nationalization, which was at the expense of the wealthy ruling class. He was labeled a “Marxist-Leninist,” and Washington attempted to discredit his reforms as controversial leftist policies.

Somehow Castro and Ortega survived Washington’s plots against them. By the skin of his teeth so did Chavez unless you believe it was the CIA that gave him cancer. Castro and Chavez are dead. Ortega is 74. Maduro is in trouble, because Washington has stolen Venezuela’s bank deposits and cut Venezuela off the international financial system, and the British have stolen Venezuela’s gold. This makes it hard for Venezuela to pay its debts.

The Trump regime has branded the democratically twice-elected Maduro an “illegitimate” president. Washington has found a willing puppet, Juan Guaido to take Maduro’s place and has announced that the puppet is now the president of Venezuela. No one among the Western presstitutes or among the vassals of Washington’s empire finds it strange that an elected president is illegitimate but one picked by Washington is not.

Russia and China have given Maduro diplomatic support. Both have substantial investments in Venezuela that would be lost if Washington seizes the country. Russia’s support for Maduro was declared by Bolton today to be a provocation that is a threat to international peace and security. Bolton said his sanctions should be seen by Russia as a warning against providing any help for the Venezuelan government.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo and vice president Pence have added their big mouths to the propaganda against the few independent governments in Latin America. Where is the shame when the highest American government officials stand up in front of the world and openly proclaim that it is official US government policy to overthrow democratically elected governments simply because those governments don’t let Americans plunder their countries.

How is it possible that Pompeo can announce that the “days are numbered” of the elected president of Nicaragua, who has been elected president 3 or 4 times, and the world not see the US as a rogue state that must be isolated and shunned? How can Pompeo describe Washington’s overthrow of an elected government as “setting the Nicaraguan people free?”

The top officials of the US government have announced that they intend to overthrow the governments of 3 countries and this is not seen as “a threat to international peace and security?”

How much peace and security did Washington’s overthrow of governments in Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and the attempted overthrow of Syria bring?

Washington is once again openly violating international law and the rest of the world has nothing to say?

There is only one way to describe this: The Triumph of Evil.

Notre Dame's history

Reconstruction of the cathedral was part of a larger redesign of the eastern part of the Ile-de-la-Cité 

by Maile Hutterer 

 The Notre-Dame de Paris had been damaged and changed many times since it was begun in the mid-12th century. But the fire on April 15 might have been its most catastrophic event. Located on the eastern end of the Ile-de-la-Cité, an island on the Seine River, the site was a Christian church since the fourth century. And for a long time, it remained a powerful symbol of church authority. Even today, it is the seat of the archbishop of Paris.
As a scholar of Gothic architecture I have studied how this and other buildings were continuously adapted to reflect changing architectural fashion and to enhance the spiritual experience of the visitor.

Key part of religious district

The current cathedral, dedicated to Our Lady, or the Virgin Mary, replaced an earlier cathedral that was built during the Merovingian period which lasted from the fifth to eighth century. The earlier building was dedicated to Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Maurice de Sully is believed to have initiated the rebuilding of the cathedral around the same time that he became bishop of Paris in 1160. Maurice had previously served as archdeacon of the cathedral where he also taught theology. Other church officials likely also had a role in this rebuilding as the cathedral canons, or clerics, and not the bishop held authority over the structure. Reconstruction of the cathedral was part of a larger redesign of the eastern part of the Ile-de-la-Cité. This neighborhood housed the church officials, masters, clerics, servants and others who worked to run the diocese of Paris and the cathedral school. Maurice’s other projects at the time included construction of a new street, the rue Neuve Notre-Dame, which ran from the cathedral to the west – now replaced by the square in front of the cathedral. He also built a new palace for the bishop and a new charitable hospital.

How structures were added

Construction proceeded under a series of master builders. The first part of the cathedral to be built was the eastern part, or choir. This was to serve as the religious heart of the structure where the main altar would be located. Construction then generally proceeded westward, though multiple parts of the building were sometimes worked on simultaneously. The design, however, was continuously revised during the course of construction. For example, in the 1220s the upper wall of the cathedral, which had already been constructed, was demolished and rebuilt to allow for larger windows. This transformed the building from a four-story to a three-story structure. The new cathedral was largely completed by around 1245, although, construction continued in various parts until the mid-14th century. During these 200 years chapels were added along the exterior of the cathedral, some structural supports modified and the transept arms were extended, giving the cathedral a cross-like shape. In my assessment, these many remodels during the Middle Ages demonstrated the vitality of the cathedral in medieval life and the creativity of the builders, as they adapted the building to changing architectural fashions and social practices. The change to a three-story structure, that had become the standard by the early 13th century, is one such example. My forthcoming book shows how cathedrals, including Notre Dame of Paris, were connected to the daily life in the city. There were markets around cathedrals and also spaces where disputes could be resolved. In other words, the cathedral was an important part of medieval city life.

Meaning for France

Notre Dame was the most colossal church of its generation – wider and taller than other European churches of the mid-12th century. There were several technological breakthroughs made in its construction. For example, it was a site of early experimentation with flying buttresses, the externalized buttressing arches that transfer the weight of the heavy stone vault away from the walls, which can then be pierced by large window openings filled with stained glass. It was the first French Gothic cathedral to receive a line of chapels along its exterior. These were added to the building between the projecting buttress piers after 1228. Many other cathedrals would later adopt this pattern. The chapels appended to the choir on the eastern end of the cathedral were the only ones from 1300-1350 to survive the French Revolution.

Later restorations

Paris Cathedral played an important role in religious and secular life. As the seat of the bishop, Notre Dame was the most significant religious building in the city. Its size and luxury symbolized the power of the church and the authority of the bishop. It was also the site of ceremonies connected to the King of France, including royal funerary processions and the royal entry, a ceremony in which the city received a new king. Consequently, it was one of the many churches that were attacked during the French Revolution in the 1790s. This violence resulted in significant losses of medieval sculpture and stained glass and damage to the building itself. By the 19th century, the cathedral was in a state of disrepair. A major restoration effort began in 1843 under the supervision of architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, which was spurred by a larger renewal of interest in Gothic architecture. Viollet-le-Duc completed the restoration work in 1864.

Notre Dame Cathedral in 1911. AP Photo
Many of the building’s iconic features date to the 19th-century restorations. These include the crossing spire that collapsed in the recent fire. It also includes the many gargoyles and chimeras that peer out from the upper parts of the cathedral, many of which are modern replacements of medieval sculptures. The 19th century also saw the construction of the parvis, or square in front of the cathedral, which significantly altered how one encounters the structure. Visitors to the cathedral now have a much larger area from which to view the front of the building which facilitates spectacular views of the cathedral’s twin towers.

Why it will survive

The roof of the cathedral was largely destroyed in the recent fire. While much of the building is constructed from stone, the roof was supported by enormous wooden beams that sat above the vault or curved stone ceiling of the church. Details are still emerging about its priceless 13th-century stained glass windows. And it is too early to say how much of the art work housed in it survived. The cathedral has stood for 800 years and withstood damage on many previous occasions. I am confident that it will survive this fire as well. Although the 2019 fire may appear to many as a cataclysmic destruction, the cathedral is exceptionally well documented. Andrew Tallon, a scholar at Vassar College, who died last year, had digitally scanned the building, resulting in measurements of the structure that are more precise than any data previously gathered. While some parts of the cathedral might be irreplaceable, I believe many future generations continue to admire and learn from this magnificent building, as well as its rich history.The Conversation

Maile Hutterer, Assistant Professor of the History of Art and Architecture, University of Oregon This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.