Thursday, November 27, 2008

It’s a good life after all – Sri Lanka still remains truly a paradise Isle

Kalpanakaranna, I say this time and time again and then you will really be able to see the wood from the trees and analyze your strengths and weaknesses. If we in Sri Lanka spend half as much time, as we spend of cutting this country down, in looking at how fortunate we are, I am sure in time we will learn to be more positive about the prospects, have courage to remove the unsavory people in positions of power, and take control of our destiny and maximize the Island’s potential.

The GNP per capita is now at Rs170,000 for every man woman and child. Granted that half of GNP is just in the Western Province and the uneven distribution means the rest of the country still suffers from a substantially lower figure. In terms of purchasing power parity this is equivalent to US6,000, which is a very respectable figure, as there are many things we do not need for basic living like warm clothing, heat and insulated homes.

Due to the nature and graciousness of our society no one really starves, and there are many who at least offer to share there last meal even if they don’t know when or from where the next meal will come. I have been both the recipient of such assistance and the provider of such assistance and can at first hand state that there are hardly any people who are actually starving.

We must therefore get away from the siege insecurity and get above this beggar mentality to look at ourselves as one of the most fortunate nations on earth in most respects. It is only the humans who live in this land who have made life difficult, and not acts of God or lack of fertility for growing anything we care to imagine.

People are very spoilt in believing that three square meals a day is their right and not a privilege and live gratefully that they get to eat at all while much of the world even the western world, where more calories are required just to stay alive, go hungry and more so due to the lay offs and lack of health care.

With no unemployment, no hunger, is it no wonder that most people prefer not to work if they have a choice. We are therefore swimming in the senses of satisfaction, contentment, and adequacy to want to do anything about it except complain for the sake of it. I am no heartless wretch for saying all this, as if you really know me and see how I live, you may wonder how I survive on so little, but remain positive in being able to overcome the void.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Carbon Credits Gold Rush as it pertains to Sri Lanka

Currently there are nearly 500 projects in the planning stage to make use of carbon credits available for planting of vegetation, which will suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and clean the air polluted by smoke billowing industries. This is a latter day gold-rush where the pitfalls are unpredictable.

Needless to say once the availability of these credits became known that potential investors pounced on the idea of its merits to make money!

Sri Lanka’s recent history is replete with projects of one sort or another to take advantage of the current craze or trend, but none of the projects appear to have succeeded either for its initial purpose or subsequently in any way for the country’s development. Just to quote an example, the 500 acres each leased to private companies in the Anuradhapura District in the 1960s to grow food crops for local and export in a large scale using the latest methods failed. All that happened were that all the forests were cleared, the trees cut and bare land remained, only to be abandoned once the first crop failed and losses were incurred in the agricultural project. Some of this land is still available for use after all these years.

The place most of the current projects are looking at due to the availability of large tracts of land is the Moneragala District. Both the state and temples own extents of land and there are about 100,000 acres that can be potentially used for these projects. At this stage not one body has been allocated land.

In the end there are various hurdles, most importantly cabinet approval and subsequent inter ministerial approval before any land is identified and allocated. It is a complex process made more difficult by a government that does not appear too keen to be seen to lease state land to private organizations for fear of political backlash, even though this land is currently lying fallow with no prospect of being developed. Most of this land is also a relic of the past attempts at planting, where forests were cleared and abandoned, by well meaning but foolish private interests who have no knowledge of the realities of agriculture, and the hazards that are faced.

In the present context basic rules have to be adopted such as elephant corridors to be protected, pockets of forest land with trees to be left as is, as well as water sources preserved and sometimes restored before permission will be granted for the balance to be leased for the project in question.
There are additional problems, as the trees are owned by the forest department, which is part of the Environment Ministry, the land is part of the Ministry of Lands or various temples. The Buddhasasana Ministry has the final say on how the temple lands can be leased. The project itself needs to show that there would be some direct benefit to the local community in terms of employment and rural upliftment. Finally in order to pass muster, it may have to be leased via another ministry to whom the annual lease payment per hectare should be made in line with the objectives of that ministry. This makes it very difficult for an initial project to be passed without amendments to take account of a multitude of interests and they are all an added cost to the project, compromising its initial viability.

In my opinion, the government should set aside a division under the purview of the President to look at all the project proposals along with the land that they have identified as being suitable for their particular projects. Then a fair assessment on the same criteria can be made for these carbon credit projects.

All the land available can thus be allocated with some upper limit per project, as it is most impractical for any organization to cultivate more than 2000 hectares each with all the will in the world. Most of these people not being farmers do not understand how long it takes just to plant 10 acres in Sri Lanka with the available labor and technology as well as climate and planting conditions. The lease terms should also be fair and enforced tightly with a longer term than the proposed 35year leases being contemplated.

In my opinion, the feasibility of the project without carbon credits should be assessed and only treat carbon credits as icing on the cake, because it is not a certain thing that these credits will be available as assumed as sometimes the tough conditions applying to the credits may not be met and the project abandoned in mid stream, which will be inevitable for at least half the projects that finally obtain approval.

For example, if one plants Rubber, then due to the vagaries of the prices this alone may or may not be profitable. Instead if the trees are spaced a little more, and Gliricidia is also interplanted in the same property, this can be used, for animal feed and the wood for a Dendro Power plant that could supply power to the National Grid. Therefore a mono crop or single product such as Jetropha may not be sufficient. Bear in mind the crops that the state permits, as Teak cultivation for wood may not get approval because elephants could ravage the crop, while also being non native and destructive.

The Village is dead long live the place to call home

I am an outsider with no family ties, living in two villages. One village is peopled with third generation colonists who still refer to the village where the initial ancestor came from as their village. The younger generation have married neighbors, some to conserve property, others to stay close to family, but familiarity certainly appears to breed contempt as all my neighbors living next door to blood relatives seem to be at war with one another. The second village is peopled by the original inhabitants, and they marry from outside the village as a rule, usually the female leaving to live in the husband’s village, and the property being divided amongst the remaining males usually in equal proportion, with the youngest son inheriting the family home, where the parents live till they both pass on.

In both instances, the villages are unable to support all the people, and so the aim of all adults is to leave the village in search of employment. The females work in factories in Colombo, being boarded in rooming houses under very cramped conditions, or go in search of jobs in the Middle East, sending money home to the parents and to save for their ultimate wedding. The males also follow a similar path, and many are in the security forces including the police force, and come home on leave and a marriage is ultimately arranged for them by their parents, if they have not found their life partner nearer where they work. Increasingly with fewer children, the woman also has property, and in some circumstances, the man may go and live in the woman’s village. In that case if the man does not sell his property, his other siblings will effectively take it over. Therefore, the man or woman will want to sell their property so they can develop the remaining property, and often this land is sold to newcomers, like myself, looking to either settle in this place or because the village is now suburbia, where I have a secure long term job in town, and need a place to live, the town being too pricy.

It is therefore important that laws are enacted so that property is more easily disposed of as it is inevitably a reason for a better quality of life, and the old idea of some unscrupulous money-lender wanting the land to increase his land holdings does not hold water. We should therefore not protect the village, but give flexibility to every inhabitant to do with the property as he thinks fit, so that land consolidations can take place for meaningful agriculture and land not suitable for agriculture can be broken up to make small housing units for the suburban homeowner. We can then encourage homeownership, not land ownership, which is an anachronism for growth.

The Sri Lankan village a concept that is fast disappearing in substance

One thing unique in Sri Lankan culture, is the concept of Gama or village. Wherever one meets a fellow countrymen be it in the Island or overseas, the second question is which village are you from. Everyone is supposed to have a village, and most people by implication are living away from the village.

It is where the parents live, in the Mahagedera, and where one returns at Sinhala avurudhu time to bring in the new-year with our cultural traditions. One is expected to own some property which one day will lead one to build one’s home in the village, and once this home is built one’s spouse will be living there while one is away, either in a city or country, earning a living sending money home for its upkeep and generally being homesick for the day one can return to one’s village. This all sounds idyllic and very romantic.

The flaw in this is very simple. It exacerbates the separation of family, with a bread winner being away to ensure the home in the village can be maintained. The village is also by implication, a place, which cannot support itself, as its complete survival depends on its inhabitants leaving it to provide for it, as the village itself will never be able to be self-supporting.

The Mahinda Chinthanaya concept is flawed from the start, as it is village based, and conceptually trying to resurrect a dead species, by pumping more to maintain a cemetery and not a living thing is a regressive step.

I propose we concentrate instead on family. First by ensuring we don’t run after ancestral property and rights, but by helping to build a nuclear family and holding it together, so the family unit can live and grow up together, and when a member leaves the unit, by marrying or immigrating, they are pushed to make a life of their own and not come hankering back to a dead place where they seem to have some property and relatives, all of whom have squatted or encroached while the owner has been away, unable to control one’s own property.

I live in a village, but am not from that village. I am long separated from my village, but I am now able to see those who succeed are those who leave the village with no ties, except family, who are able to dispose of their assets and start anew at a place of their choosing, not having two places to keep. I will elaborate further on some other reasons for the argument.

The Sri Lanka 2009 Budget presented on November 6th 2008

I am speechless, both to describe the level of amateurism on the Government’s part in presenting a nihilistic budget and on the part of the opposition for presenting an alternative budget, which even the amateur will say is foolish and silly and not workable. So it begs the question; what level of incompetents have we in parliament and why do we continue to elect them?

The Nation is now crying out for a charismatic leader, one who is not adulterated by parliamentary politics, and therefore is not now in parliament. Will this country get such a human being in our lifetime that can give Sri Lanka the same level of hope and expectation for the future that Barrack Obama has brought to the USA and the World?

It seems to be quite apparent that the technocrats that advise the leaders are incompetent too, or are afraid of challenging their bosses on the absurdity of the ideas they are proposing. Tweaking the numbers to satisfy the politicians is not a practical or workable solution. Our bumbling leaders seem to be of the smug opinion that if the brilliant minds of the West have made such a pigs breakfast of the world economy, then an ignorant person is unlikely to be any worse. The problem is that they do not grasp the seriousness of the task at hand, and therefore are unable to meet the challenges head on with the correct responses.

Fist the budget has to have a vision and objective, which it does not. Secondly it has to be practical and in keeping with the Nation’s short and long term goals, which it does not, and finally it should encourage the people for whom this budget is prepared to follow the vision that has been enabled by the provisions of a visionary budget, which it certainly fails to do.

In light of the current Global Economic Crisis, let us face some stark truths so we can prepare for harsh and difficult times. Total world demand for a series of products will fall when countries go into recession. We need to know how this will affect the items we export. In light of this recession, interest rates must fall, as a remedy to encourage businesses to prevent layoffs, and encourage hiring by reducing the cost of doing business. Most countries have substantially reduced these rates. We cannot afford to buck this trend as no one will invest, however the government uses tariffs.

In Economics, it is now accepted that people do not make decisions about whether or not to invest depending on the rate of tax per se, unless it is so high that no one wants to make a profit. Secondly, the increase in duty on imports will certainly not automatically encourage local companies into import substitution, as that requires the business climate overall to be good.

In light of these simple principals, the budget should have been prepared with reduction in the adverse impact of recession in mind and not in defending local producers. One must take into account the principles of comparative advantage, however old fashioned it may sound in areas where we cannot hope to be self-sufficient. For example, increasing the tax on imported sugar will not reduce the demand for sugar, nor will you encourage local producers, as both have been tried and dismally failed. We have to ensure we are able to persuade farmers to grow sugar cane close to Sugar Factories providing the infrastructure, which is not merely a price mechanism. Increasing the price will only increase inflation in areas where no substitution can take place. Sri Lanka only produces 10% of its sugar production and that can only double at most in 20 years. We must understand these facts about the results of proposed changes.

In summary after reducing wastage, and abandoning airlines and airports, how do you protect the economy from being affected by external factors, while at the same time benefiting from the drop in commodity prices in ensuring the infrastructure investment plans continue, in a country which is still committing a huge outlay to eradicating terrorism.

I have and continue to maintain, that the drop in the price of oil, should be seen merely as an opportunity for the government to reduce its deficit, possibly US$1B by not passing on the price decrease, but imposing a tax for the difference. The reason is that the fall in prices are only token, like bus fares and transport costs. This fact has already been proved. The second is a long overdue depreciation of the rupee to at least 135/- to the dollar, should have been done, before the foreign funds began repatriating in light of an expected devaluation. It is not too late.

A fall in commodity prices of over 50% in US$ terms arising from the recession, means we can suffer a depreciation of this size without increasing the rupee cost of imports. Importers will be forced to ask their suppliers to immediately reduce their prices if they are to continue to import. Our export sector will benefit enormously from this, and the higher spend by foreign remittances in rupee terms will boost the local economy, with more money in circulation, preventing a fall in demand for construction etc. The most important aspect of my suggestion is the ability with no government deficit, to be able to reduce the interest rates, to under 10%, which will be made possible by the immediate reduction in inflation and the money supply available in the banking sector. This will encourage business investment, and then achieve all the growth objectives we are looking for.

In summary a budget with no changes would have been the perfect budget. We are so used to changes that we seem to expect a change, but a wise person will be above the fray and make no changes and be rewarded in less than 6 months for such a bold move of doing nothing!

As a peasant farmer struggling to survive and make a living from food production, it is an insult to my intelligence that this budget even claimed to be farmer friendly. Who are they kidding? It just shows how out of touch the lawmakers in Colombo are of the ground realities of the farmer.

By doing nothing, the price of fertilizer, will come down as the world market price of Urea is now a third of its peak. All pesticides and chemicals that are oil based will fall despite the proposed depreciation of the rupee. My plan will lead to a 8% growth rate while the government plan is to revise it to 6%, which under the powder keg that is about to ignite will fall much further.

I don’t have access to an army of data to show how it will all fall into place. The government once it plugs in my raw data to the economic reality will come out with the answer I have just given. Why are we in an inflationary environment when there is world deflation and why are we bound by high interest rates if we do not need to run anything more than a non-inflationary budget deficit, once exchange rate risk is factored out under my plan. The answers to these questions are key to unlocking the genie from the bottle.

The actions of the government are criminal, when a path so simple out of the mess is so clearly seen. The reason they are not adopted can only be for self interest, and playing politics, where helping the country does not appear to be part. There is no one with the backbone, either in opposition or professional analysts to challenge the truth that is so self-evident due to ignorance or lack of courage to take a stance, due to temporary loss of popularity. Acts of omission are more sinful than acts of commission in my opinion, especially when the nations future is at hand.
A postscript to the above

Prior to my being able to post this to my blog the government was comfortably able to get the budget passed in parliament. I was not surprised, but very disappointed that many of the professional organizations like the chambers of commerce either backed it, supported it or at the very least did not forcefully state the obvious, that none of the budgetary positions will in itself achieve any of the objectives like import substitution.

I have written off the opposition in its stance on the budget, which was not at all constructive, especially as there are so many avenues where they have the moral high ground to state a cast iron case on the futility of all the assumptions made in the budget. It is an indictment on the level of knowledge of all manner of experts to be able to comment truthfully on the real result of the budget on revenue and expenditure, the total unreliability of the basis of the assumptions made in making calculations and estimates, using recent history as clear examples. We are therefore left with a public that is none the wiser and a country that should be performing better, being held back by a budget that is actually regressing the country rather than progressing.

The wholesale sale of the century has just taken place in a period where the exchequer could have legitimately raised a lot more funds, and reduced the budget deficit, creating an atmosphere of confidence, and therefore the needed significant interest rate reduction before any economic activity can increase in this economy. Instead the budget has laid the foundation for a complete collapse of the economy, partly due to external factors, which I have shown in prior writings as being ripe for Sri Lanka to benefit from.

The prices of almost everything Sri Lanka imports, including Motor vehicles have fallen considerably. The Sri Lanka rupee could have depreciated by over 25% percent against the US$ with no noticeable shift in the rupee cost of imports. Now the rich, the importers, and the multinational companies are taking the whole benefit of the price reduction without transferring it to the consumer. The cess on certain imports is more an administrative headache and shift from one form of indirect taxation to another. The budget therefore has been a complete waste of effort to fool the foolish and keep the intelligent dumb for fear of reprisal while the crooks have a field day. Why have I not seen or heard from even one source calling a spade a spade and reporting what is so obvious. Is it that we don’t have any people with brains?

The USA is a socialist country and Sri Lanka a capitalist one!

One caveat to this is the provision of FREE Universal Health Care, which Sri Lanka provides and the USA does not and is a significant reason as to why I live in Sri Lanka. It is the one undeniable blemish of the USA.

The recent bailout of the US Banks is an indication that the government intervenes to save organizations when they make a mess of things in the USA and are in talks to bailout the large auto makers and sundry other large corporations in trouble. In Sri Lanka there is not even a government guarantee of the deposits in the Banks to say nothing of finance companies, while in the US a sum of up to US$250K is insured for each account in each of the banks.

Generous unemployment benefits, free education through high school and free school bus service, along with high federal and state taxes taxing the people to pay the large amount of government benefits are socialist practices. All agriculture is given heavy subsidies to produce mountains of food some of which the government purchases to give as US aid to other countries. The huge subsidies to oil companies for various purposes and tax credits for employment in certain fields are all indications of socialist practices. The enormous budget deficit created to pay for a war is itself a very irresponsible course of action that socialist countries take, while capitalist countries are far more fiscally conservative. The USA is the furthest from being capitalist. The looming crisis, which calls for more government intervention points to more socialist practices in the future.

Sri Lanka on the other hand with very low taxation, and no capital gains, wealth tax and death duties unlike in the US is a veritable tax haven when compared to the US. Unemployment assistance is negligible and so are a raft of opportunities for entrepreneurs to make a buck in Sri Lanka, all of which will be regulated by a whole host of laws and rules in the US.

Corruption is rife in Sri Lanka, a sure indication of capitalism. The rule of law is that of the underworld another capitalistic characteristic. There is less competition in Sri Lanka and businesses are making oligopolistic profits none of which would be permitted in the USA. It is easier to charge usurious rates of interest in Sri Lanka, which would be considered illegal in the US. All this is so convincing to verify the assumption made above. It is quite amusing that people are convinced otherwise.

Health Care Reform in the United States

When I quit my job in the United States in 1999, I immediately lost my medical insurance. I could have I believe continued with the previous company’s insurance plan for a period of twelve months, to give me some grace to get insurance from a new employer which only kicks in after three months of employment or buy my own health insurance for myself. At that time the monthly premium I would have to reimburse my ex-employer to remain on their plan was US$350, and I suspect it would be nearer US$700 a month now. If I had a family it would be nearer $2000 a month now.

Is it any wonder using my example, why there are over 40 million uninsured Americans, that is those with no medical insurance at all, and in the case of catastrophic illness, one would have had to exhaust all one’s personal wealth before some sort of minimum medical care is offered by the state. It is again almost always the case, where people have become destitute by having to pay medical bills, that are either not covered by insurance or by having none.

There are many types of insurance plans in existence, and the costs of these plans are a big detriment to the hire of new employees even in a period of recession such as the case now. More than the loss of ones job these days, the loss of the medical cover is the most stressful as one fears getting sick or even being involved in an accident, through no fault of ones own. Many of the large corporations and US government both in the state and federal sector have good insurance plans.

The small business sector, which is usually the engine of growth in any economy, is the one that is hard-pressed to provide insurance owing to the high costs. It is also generally true that the larger the number of insured in the pool, the lower the cost per family or person, and vice versa. In that sense small businesses are penalized paying higher rates.

I will not go into the intricacies of the high cost of health care and the reasons for it, as that is a separate debate altogether, except to say that policies that provide choice of doctor and hospital cost a lot more than policies that restrict choice, as they usually are managed care organizations that pay the doctors salaries, rather than on the number of patients seen etc. This massive variance in the quality of health care even for those who are insured, results in many who are dissatisfied with the care they receive. How therefore can this existing system be upgraded to universal care for all?
Hilary Clinton was appointed by her husband to head the health care reform task force in the Clinton Administration. She simply failed to gain consensus due to the very strong positions taken by the vested interests, who have a lot at stake in a revamp of this. A single national health service such as in the UK is not an option in the US and one has to realize not to go that route, so how does one get comprehensive health care for all while existing plans to remain in much the same form as now.

I believe the answer to this lies in keeping the NEW plan simple and including all those not in a plan into this plan and allow others who already have insurance to join this plan. The larger the number in the plan, the lower the average cost. Another significant aspect is that this is a basic plan and not the Rolls Royce of plans, which the US Congress receives. Due to this significant difference, there will not be a rush of people who have insurance moving to it but will allow small businesses and uninsured to join this plan as the cost is expected to be significantly lower than competing plans.

One significant point however is that like every insurance plan those with high risk, will skew the costs upwards, and therefore provision must be made to ensure that other plans do not kick out people with high risk into this plan, allowing them to profit and the plan to possibly incur greater losses due to the poor health of the pool that is covered by the plan.

It is fair to say that like the Medicare plan that covers retirees and is extremely costly and subsidized by the government to a great extent, this plan will probably cover numbers even exceeding Medicare. The only way forward is to force people not on any other plan to join this plan and buy into it by paying the requisite premiums. Small businesses will also be required to enroll their employees into this plan but give some kind of tax relief in the first few years to ease the transition and the cost of providing care.

A point to note is that all people currently in plans should be given the option of including all their immediate family members up to the age of 18 for children. This will reduce the number enrolled in the new health plan.

In conclusion, the cost of this plan to the state will not be more than the cost of currently having to provide care for the uninsured. It is essential that a simplified plan such as this is enacted rather than provide a series of choices. This is merely the alternative plan for those who have no insurance and not one to replace existing health care plans covering the majority of Americans.

The First Hundred days of the Barrack Obama Presidency

Barrack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the USA on January 20th 2009. He now has 77 days to prepare his team, and his plans, so he can begin his term running on all cylinders to face the issues of the day, which are many and urgent.

The Bush US$700B bailout has singularly failed, in that the banks have not loosened credit, making it impossible for businesses to borrow for working capital, even if investment in plant is deferred. In accounting terms, it has only strengthened the balance sheets, so the banks do not look insolvent, but it has not helped the economy at all. An immediate 90 moratorium on foreclosures should be put in place without delay, so homeowners can negotiate terms. In reality in this crisis, it is better to keep a person in a home, than put them on the street, and lock the doors behind them. The bank will not be able to sell the house, so it is better to revalue the home downwards and structure a 100% loan on the new value at a slight premium in rates. This would prevent a glut of empty homes overhanging the market.

To jump start the dead construction industry, federal subsidies or tax credits, should be given to homes installing solar and wind energy, along with funds for research in developing new and more cost effective alternative energy systems for homes. This will form part of the green jobs package that has been promised. The same should also be done for electric cars.

The promised tax cuts cannot be financed at this stage, so it should only be limited to a tax credit for all before the rates themselves are dropped. A flat credit is more equitable than one depending on your income. This credit the same for all, say $1000 can be given to those not paying tax right through to the billionaire. Here there is relief for everyone, not just 95% of the returnees.

The proposals on Universal Health Care for all, should be laid out without delay allowing time for those controversial aspects to be discussed and consensus formed on how to practically get to the desired goal; namely of every person living in the USA being covered under one or other of the plans proposed. The environmental issues also need to be addressed with incentives to reduce the garbage piles put in place in this period, to start the ball rolling as it were. More research into recyclable materials should also be funded, to achieve the objectives.
The Foreign Policy agenda will be tricky. It is not easy, and it has nothing to do with Obama’s lack of experience. Of course each country will have a specific policy plan and engagement plan to suit their unique needs. One war will have to have a finite term, with Iraq footing at least 50% of the cost of troop commitments from January 2010. This will force them to get their forces ready to defend their country against agitators and insurgents.

The Afghan war however will have to be intensified and the Pakistan government engaged in the seriousness of their restless Northwest Frontier Province not taking the terrorist threat as anything more than an irritant. The increasing poppy fields that finance the insurgency in Afghanistan, have to be eradicated along with provision of alternative employment and income generation activities for the populace. This is a gigantic task not to be taken lightly as these people just cannot be tamed, so an accommodation, that delivers all hardcore, Taliban and Al Qaeda to the US forces, while respecting the territorial integrity of the country has to be negotiated.

Different courses of action are required to deal with the specific agendas of both Russia which is trying to exert pressure by regaining some lost power and prestige, while China is trying to prevent the closure of its factories due to the economic upheavals, by keeping its currency unusually low are issues that require diplomatic resolution by experienced officials.

The sore that is the Israeli question can be resolved by Obama, where all other previous presidents failed. He can command the respect of the Arabs, forcing them to agree on reigning in terrorism, in return for the insistence of Israel returning to its 1967 borders. There is no other way to resolve this issue and no matter what anyone says, that is the only way the state of Israel can exist in peace, and the century of Jewish resettlement be resolved once and for all. It is a once in a lifetime chance and I hope Obama realizes this and is up to the challenge especially taking the Israel lobby head on forcing them into a position of accommodating a fully fledged Palestinian State on an equal footing with Israel and aid to restore the country to one of respect and integrity with their own airports and power supply as well as the repatriation and employment of all their displaced people from camps in neighboring counties.

A much closer relationship with the worlds largest democracy, namely India is long overdue and I hope the Obama legacy will include a very close trade relationship with India that will be the engine that runs a future USA.

The Obama Era day one

Much like people remember where they were when they heard JFK was shot, or avidly listening to the radio when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, mankind will remember their twenty first century defining moment when Barrack Obama was elected to the Presidency of the USA. I was at my farm in Godagama, Meegoda this 5th November 2008 morning watching CNN when it was called, and the loud cheers and roars around the world could be felt in my body.

The tears streaming in my eyes, watching the faces of African Americans truly rejoicing, meant it certainly was a defining moment in my life. I having lived in the US for 14 years, felt that great country had finally cast off the last vestiges of prejudice and entered the truly modern era. I hope I will also live to see the day when a non-Sinhala Buddhist person, would rise to the Presidency of Sri Lanka, and only then will this country also claim the same moral status amongst the truly liberated nations on earth.

For a man with a Harvard Law degree but little experience in the art of governance, this meteoric rise in the past six years, from being nobody, to be the most recognized face on Earth is truly astounding, and must have had some kind of divine intervention to make happen, if one believes in God. Using the skills of a community organizer in Chicago, to galvanize the youth, and minorities, and use the internet to attract donations in small increments of $5 was a unique method of attracting grass roots, and young previously disenfranchised people and empowering them to form the back bone of his campaign is an example to us of the art of the possible, and I am sure a treatise on how it was achieved would be in print before too long.

The eloquence of his speeches, the inspiration of his persona and charisma that he exuded in all the sold out events both before and after receiving the Democratic Party’s nomination, gave rise to the optimism, that America had at last found a leader they can have hope in after 8 years of the most lackluster and extremely flawed leadership of the George W presidency. The delivery on this hope will be the next challenge, and I don’t envy BHO in meeting the expectations of the world. It is hard enough to be a leader, but to be the leader of ‘the free world’ is even harder as his every step will be watched and analyzed with many only looking for the missteps to point to. I am confident that he is up to the task at hand and I send him my best wishes.
Now comes the true art of delivery on the promises. For a man who did not stoop to character assassination of his opponents, he must keep that integrity in the presence of foreign leaders, testing his abilities with provocations just to pick a fight. He can hold on to the moral high ground if he acts calmly and without a hair out of place. McCain on the other hand is prone to unexpected outbursts that detract from his otherwise impeccable credentials, but would not bode well with the threats posed from outside, quite contrary to the common view of him being stronger on foreign policy.

Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as his VP was also inspiring in that he chose experience to fill that void in his background, but also moreover, chose the person who is the least wealthy Senator in the United States Senate, whose total declared net worth is less than $200,000, including the equity of his home, which is less than any cabinet minister in Sri Lanka. So we have two individuals from very humble backgrounds, another reinforcement of the American Dream.

One significant reason for my even greater enthusiasm for BHO is that he is truly a citizen of the world. His father was from Kenya, where he still has half brothers. He lived in Indonesia when his mother married an Indonesian, so his sister, his mother’s only other child is half Indonesian. His mother a Midwestern American, from I guess, Irish or English roots, gave birth to him in Hawaii a state with an indigenous people. Having a middle name of Hussein with a father of the Muslim faith in this decade where Saddam Hussein of Iraq was the villain of the peace. Is this poetic justice?

One could not have imagined a script for this story, while all this is historic fact. This nigh impossible outcome, was made possible, by a series of calculated and unplanned chances, all coming together when it all mattered. Hence my belief in, a higher-being responsible in giving hope, when things seem hopeless. Let this be a lesson to us all to never lose faith in the impossible. BHO is only human and can only do so much. We must work together to build a better world, embracing the ideals of inclusion and the possible, in the face of tragedy and adversity. So it is not him who has to perform, but us all to follow and do the same, all BHO did was show us the way, and inspired us to aspire to do what is good, what is right and persevere in the face of adversity, which many of us face in our daily lives. The world so lacks leaders of character and stature let this be a new beginning in the road to tame the unprecedented upheavals in the world today, not only the economic and financial crisis but that of poverty and terrorism as well.