Tag Archive for: Sri Lanka



Kansans vote decisively to protect abortion rights in state constitution. Senate GOP (belatedly) approves care for sick veterans after backlash. Sri Lankans wait in line for days to buy gas.




Kansans decisively reject amendment that would have eliminated their right to an abortion

Kansans turned out in force yesterday to vote down a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would have done away with a woman’s right to an abortion in Kansas. The proposed “Value them Both” or (VTB) amendment would have undone a 2019 ruling by the state’s Supreme Court which found that Kansas’ constitutional right to privacy guaranteed a right to an abortion.

Polling ahead of yesterday’s vote predicted that the “yes” (in favor of the VTB amendment) vs. “no” vote would be close, with “yes” slightly ahead. Ultimately, the vote was not remotely close. While the full tally isn’t in yet, projections show “no” winning nearly 60% of the vote.

The result in favor of abortion access in Kansas is stunning for several reasons. The pro-choice group Kansans for Constitutional Rights, which spearheaded the “no” campaign, managed a decisive victory despite several institutional barriers in the state.

A stacked deck

In general, Kansas is a very conservative state. No Democratic presidential candidate has carried Kansas since 1964.

Kansas’ Republican dominated legislature also chose to put this ballot initiative on primary ballots rather than waiting till the general election, likely because Republicans generally outnumber Democrats 2-to-1 in the state’s primaries.

But the strategy backfired. Resistance to the measure generated an unusually high turnout for a Kansas primary. In Kansas’ last midterm primary in 2018, turnout was just slightly more than 450,000. Yesterday’s turnout doubled that number with more than 900,000 people voting.

Even in Sedgewick County, the state’s 2nd-largest county (which Trump won by 11 points in 2020), 59% of voters voted against Value them Both.

Deceptive, misleading and confusing ads and ballot language

Attempts to stack the deck in favor of Value them Both went beyond burying the ballot initiative in the state’s usually poorly-attended primaries. Republican legislators worded the measure on the ballot itself in a manner that was intentionally confusing and deceptive. Not only that, the Value Them Both Association aired misleading TV spots on major local affiliate networks, designed to downplay the possibility that a “yes” vote could lead to a ban on all abortions in the state.

What these ads do not mention is that, in its most recent session, Kansas’ Republican-led legislature proposed House Bill 2746, which would have banned nearly all abortions in the state. Although Kansas currently has a Democratic governor, Republicans hold enough of both houses of the legislature to override the governor’s veto of any such legislation. That now cannot happen thanks to Kansans’ resounding vote in favor of abortion access in yesterday’s primary.

What it means

Kansas is the first state to put abortion on the ballot since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. The results in the generally solid Red State closely reflects nationwide polling on the issue of abortion.

Most telling are the deceptive ads aired by the pro-life Value them Both Association, and the misleading ballot language used by Kansas Republicans, both groups claiming to be on the morally correct side of this issue. Both the ads and the wording of the ballot seem tailored to appeal to moderates on the issue of abortion, who favor limits on abortion rather than total bans. The misleading messaging seems to be a tacit admission by the extreme pro-life lobby that popular sentiment is not with them. In recent polls, even Republican support for total abortion bans is much softer than the extreme pro-life lobby would like.

More broadly, however, national Democrats should not take this result, stunning though it is, to be a sign of things to come in the midterms. While the abortion issue may mobilize Democratic voters, Democrat politicians should not expect it to drive much Republican crossover in the general elections.

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).


Senate GOP (belatedly) approves care for sick veterans after backlash

Last week, 25 Republican Senators who had previously voted in favor of the Honoring Our Pact Act switched to voting against it. The Honoring Our Pact Act guarantees healthcare coverage to veterans who suffered severe health effect due to toxin exposures during their service. The reversal stunned veterans groups who had been lobbying for such legislation for years.

Republicans’ decision to vote down the legislation seems to have been a bit of spiteful political tit-for-tat. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was angry that Democrats had gone back on a promise not to pass any reconciliation bills in exchange for Republican votes on a bill to boost domestic microchip manufacturing. In an apparent fit of pique over having his own playbook used against him, McConnell tanked the second Senate vote for the Honoring Our Pact Act when it returned to the chamber after minor tweaking in the House.

Comedian and activist John Stewart bluntly condemned Republicans for this betrayal of sick veterans and rejected their assertions about “budget gimmicks” in the bill as “Bullshit”. Click here to see Stewart’s fiery speech after Republicans voted down the bill last week. Stewart has been actively campaigning alongside veterans for the bill’s passage. 

Following Stewart’s tongue-lashing and a widespread backlash, Senate Republicans at last consented to pass the bill last night, 86-11.  

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).



Sri Lankans wait in line for days for gas

Last month, massive demonstrations by fed-up Sri Lankans managed to drive out the country’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Hundreds of thousands of protesters converged on the presidential palace and the prime minister’s residence and even occupied the palace for several days. Rajapaksa had already fled, first to Dubai, then to Singapore. The protesters blamed Rajapaksa’s mismanagement of the country’s finances for its current dire predicament. Unable to pay its international debts, the country can no longer import food or gas. Many formerly prosperous Sri Lankans skipped meals.

Weeks after the handover to the country’s acting president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the situation for average Sri Lankans hasn’t appreciably improved. People are still lining up for days outside gas stations to get their paltry weekly gas ration, and food remains in short supply. Inflation remains over 60%. 

 Wickremesinghe is proving to be just as unpopular as his predecessor, despite his promises to fulfill protesters’ demands. The demands include a new constitutional amendment to limit the president’s powers, and the formation of a unity government. Wickremesinghe has promised to do both these things, but hasn’t set a firm timeline. He’s currently attempting to secure another loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).


Please share any thoughts, comments or questions in the Comments section below!



SW VA floods leave dozens unaccounted for. Uvalde residents angry over leaked video of school shooting. Sri Lanka: Confusion and chaos reign after reviled president flees without resigning.




SW VA floods leave dozens unaccounted for

Yesterday morning, devastating floods struck Buchanan County, VA, leaving at least 44 people still unaccounted for. So far no deaths have been confirmed. In the community of Pilgrim’s Knob, the flooding was powerful enough to sweep several homes off their foundations. The entire area suffered power outages and other extensive infrastructure damage. In some areas, homes were left with flood marks 11 feet 6 inches off the ground. 

Buchanan is a rural county in southwest Virginia situated in the Appalachian Plateau portion of the Appalachian Mountains. The county is home to about 21,000 people and its county seat Grundy is home to just over 1000.

The “unaccounted for” people have been reported by family members as unreachable. However, cellular and landline telephone service is out in much of the flood-hit area. Rescue and search efforts are ongoing with help from neighboring police and fire departments.

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).


Uvalde residents express anger over leaked video of school shooting

Citizens of Uvalde, TX, find themselves facing yet another upsetting development and revelation in the aftermath of the May school shooting that left 21 people dead. After fighting for weeks to force the local powers-that-be to release security and body cam footage from the shooting, officials had finally agreed to allow the families to view surveillance footage from the school. A Texas senate panel was to allow family members to view the footage on Sunday. But, before that could happen, the footage was leaked to an Austin newspaper.

Many of the families are upset that the footage found its way into the public sphere after being promised they’d be allowed to see it first. Others are just glad the footage is finally out there after weeks of stonewalling from local officials. The video shows the shooter entering the school and more than a dozen police officers waiting in the hallway for 77 minutes to confront the gunman. The video redacts screams from children, but gunfire is clearly audible throughout.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin called the police conduct “one of the most chicken things I’ve seen”.

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).



Sri Lanka: Confusion and chaos reign after reviled president flees without resigning

Days after tens of thousands of Sri Lankan protesters stormed and occupied the presidential palace, the president they hope to oust has arrived in Singapore after first fleeing to the Maldives. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had pledged to formally resign his position on Wednesday following mass protests of his rule throughout the country. However, Rajapaksa so far has not resigned, and the interim president he left in his place may not be able to get a handle on things.

Sri Lanka has experienced a steep economic decline in the past two years since Rajapaksa took power. The country is essentially bankrupt, unable to meet its staggering $51 billion international debt obligations. In recent weeks, the country has not been able even to import food or fuel. Many families are skipping meals and are unable to obtain enough food at any price. Inflation in the country has topped 54%.

Most blame Rajapaksa’s mismanagement of the country’s finances for the current crisis. Rajapaksa gave the wealthy a huge tax cut and then abruptly banned chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As a result, the country’s crop yields dropped by more than half. Tea is one of the country’s main exports, and this has left Sri Lanka with a major import/export deficit.

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).


Please share any thoughts, comments or questions in the Comments section below!

Strippers campaign for nation’s first unionized strip club. Jan. 6: 2 more hearings this week; Bannon agrees to testify. Sri Lankans occupy president’s palace demanding his resignation.



LA strippers campaign for nation’s first unionized strip club

Strippers who formerly worked at LA’s Star Garden strip club have been picketing their former workplace since March. When many strip clubs shut down during the pandemic, many exotic entertainers opened their own online subscription businesses and enjoyed a high degree of autonomy and control. Once clubs reopened, dancers had to once again contend with lax security, stolen wages, and exploitative labor contracts. Two of the dancers at Star Garden were immediately fired when they called for establishing a union. Since then, other Star Garden dancers have walked out and joined in demonstrations outside the club. 

Click here to listen to the full story (opens in new tab).

Click here for a video about the strippers’ union effort (about 7 minutes).


Jan. 6: 2 more hearings this week; Bannon agrees to testify

Over the weekend, the news broke that Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, conservative firebrand Steve Bannon, had agreed to testify before the Jan. 6 committee. The committee had previously subpoenaed Bannon, who refused to testify claiming executive privilege. The Justice Department subsequently charged Bannon with contempt. However, according to former Trump attorney Jason Clark, expectations should not be high for Bannon’s intent to cooperate. In an interview with the DOJ, Clark testified that Trump had never invoked executive privilege in Bannon’s case. The DOJ believes that Bannon’s change of heart with regard to testifying may be a ploy to gain sympathy he will soon face in connection with his criminal contempt charges.

2 more Jan. 6 hearings this week

The Jan. 6 select committee plans to hold two more public televised hearings this week. The first will be tomorrow, Tuesday 1 p.m. ET/ noon CT, and will focus on the role of extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys in the violence at the Capitol. The hearing will also address inflammatory Trump tweets that the committee maintains were directed at the rioters.

The second hearing will take place Thursday, possible during primetime, though these schedules are subject to change. The committee has not yet announced the subject of Thursday’s hearing.



Sri Lankans occupy president’s palace to demand his resignation

Sri Lanka’s tumultuous recent history includes a bloody 26-year civil war (1983-2009), followed by an authoritarian military dictatorship that has held power up to this day. In 2019, the country began experiencing a sharp economic downturn which has only deepened in the time since. Recently, Sri Lanka has been unable to purchase imported food and fuel, leading to critical shortages. 

Months of protests recently culminated on attacks at the homes of the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday. The protesters have since occupied Rajapaksa’s palatial home and say they won’t leave until he formally resigns. 

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).


Please share any thoughts, comments or questions in the Comments section below!


Senate may open debate on infrastructure tonight. CDC tells vaccinated to mask-up indoors. Well-diggers find ‘world’s largest’ star sapphire.


Senate may open debate on infrastructure tonight

A bipartisan group of Senators say they have reached agreements on “major issues” in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package they’ve been negotiating for the last month. With this announcement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer may call for a vote to open Senate debate on the bill as early as tonight.

The negotiators say they need a few more hours to finalize the language of the bill, but would have it ready in time for the vote.

Republican and Democratic Senators have only hinted at some of the contents of the bill. What we know so far is that the bill includes $550 billion in new spending for physical infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and broadband internet. This will include $65 billion in broadband deployment and affordability programs, according to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) has also alluded to $110 billion for roads. The total $1.2 trillion figure factors in other expected funding for these projects. 

Funding questions remain

So far, there as been little clarity on the bill’s pay-fors. What we know is that the GOP negotiators rejected President Biden’s proposal to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans. Republicans also recently ruled out a plan to beef up the IRS’ auditing and enforcement powers to bring in $billions the agency is due but has not been paid.

In previous negotiations with President Biden, GOP negotiators proposed using already-appropriated but still-unspent COVID money. This would likely redirect funding away from some of the enhanced social spending to keep struggling Americans and small businesses afloat during the pandemic. Several prominent Democrats have already widely denounced this idea.

However, senior GOP negotiator Sen. Rob Portman, (OH) insists that the bill is “paid for”. So it seems we will soon find out what sources of funding the negotiators have in mind.

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).


CDC tells vaccinated to wear masks indoors

The CDC’s Rochelle Walensky says that “new science” indicates that fully-vaccinated people who suffer breakthrough infections can still spread the COVID delta variant to others. As a result, Walensky is asking that even fully vaccinated people in certain areas of the country go back to donning masks at indoor gatherings and public indoor settings.

This announcement reverses the CDC’s advice in May that vaccinated people could take off their masks in most settings. 

Walensky explained that, “With prior variants, when people had these rare breakthrough infections, we didn’t see the capacity of them to spread the virus to others”. But Walensky says that the same does not hold true for the delta variant. “In those outbreak investigations,” she explains “we have been seeing that if you happen to have one of those breakthrough infections that you can actually now pass it to somebody else”.

NPR.org has a handy interactive map that breaks down by county where it’s safe to unmask and where you need to mask-up (opens in new tab). 

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).



Well-diggers find world’s largest star sapphire cluster

In the island nation of Sri Lanka, which is famed worldwide as a source of precious gems, workmen digging in a suburban backyard made an astounding chance discovery. The find was uncovered last year when a local gem merchant was having a well dug.

The homeowner says, “The person who was digging the well alerted us about some rare stones. Later we stumbled upon this huge specimen”. The find, dubbed the “Serendipity Sapphire”, weighed over 1,100 lbs, or 2.5 million carats. The total value has been estimated at round $100 million. As the cluster was being cleaned, a number of smaller specimens fell out, which proved to be high-quality light blue star sapphires.

Renowned gemmologist Dr. Gamini Zoysa says,”I have never seen such a large specimen before. This probably formed around 400 million years ago”. 

The gem’s owner lives in the region of Ratnapura, which means “city of gems” in the local Sinhalese language. 

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).