by Vijaya Chandrasoma
Donald J. Trump, aka President-eject, aka Uncle Scam, con man extraordinaire, is planning the release of yet another book, a sequel to his Art of the Deal. The new book will aptly be named the Art of the Con, and will be in two parts. Part I will list the scams during his presidency – violations of the emoluments clause, playing golf on the taxpayers’ dime, selling his brand to adversaries like China to obtain trademarks (daughter Ivanka’s specialty), using the presidency to get financing for failing real estate projects from Saudi Arabia (son-in-law Kushner) and Russia (Trump), money laundering and God only knows what else. Just last week, Washington D.C. Attorney General’s office deposed Ivanka Trump for an ongoing investigation into gross abuse of inauguration funds in January 2017.
Part II will describe the schemes he has contrived to make money from his electoral defeat. In spite of universal acceptance that the 2020 election was one of the fairest in the history of the United States, Trump and his team have been falsely alleging widespread voter fraud and manipulations of electronic voter machines by Republican and Democratic election authorities. He has convinced, without a shred of evidence, an alarming number of Republicans that the election has been stolen from him. In spite of the fact that every allegation of voter fraud brought by the Trump campaign to date has been thrown out by Republican and Democratic judges.
Trump released a video of a 46-minute diatribe last Wednesday, a litany of outrageous lies on the only subject – voter fraud – that has consumed him since his humiliating defeat. He has made no reference, provided no guidelines to mitigate the worst health crisis the United States has suffered in its history. Nearly 15 million cases and 280,000 deaths have been reported, the highest levels since the onset of the virus. Not one word from this president, either of empathy or guidance, for over a month. He has taken no steps to bring relief to millions of Americans through a stimulus bill to help people facing loss of their homes and unable to even put food on the table for their families. Not one word. Just a million words whining about his delusion of a stolen election, as he continues his homicidal negligence of the raging pandemic.
To make matters worse, Attorney General William Barr, who has devoted the entirety of the tenure of his office prostituting himself, lying to cover up the gross abuse and crimes of his Leader, provided the “December Surprise” when he was caught red handed telling the truth. He disputed Trump’s baseless claims about a rigged election. His statement that the “US Department of Justice has uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election”, was as unexpected as it was totally against past form. Barr is aware that he has but seven weeks to be removed from his position. Perhaps he is, even at this late date, trying to repair the reputation he has destroyed by slavishly enabling Trump’s criminal excesses during the period of his incumbency as Attorney General. Too little, too late. But his willingness to incur Trump’s certain wrath and his imminent dismissal may be an indication that the rats are finally jumping off the sinking ship.
Barr may have closed the coffin on the evidence-free claims of the Trump team of a stolen election. But the con goes on. Trump recently sent an appeal to his 70 million Republican voters asking for financial contributions to help him overturn an “obviously rigged election”. The Final Notice of this appeal, begging for cash contributions from Republicans, states, “chip in $25 to help us assemble a massive legal effort that will ensure that our democratic process prevails”.
Amazingly, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, the con is working. The Trump campaign has to date collected more than $200 million from these gullible Republicans, who still believe that the election has been stolen. The money so received by the Trump campaign will be used not only for legal expenses in fighting the election result but, according to the fine print at the bottom of the appeal, could and will be used to pay for campaign expenses and to cover Trump’s considerable personal debt. Trump’s complete discretion in the use of these funds is beyond question. For a man who has been convicted, before he was elected president, of stealing money from children’s cancer charities, abusing funds received from devoted supporters would be child’s play.
Trump has now devised a “Pardons for Cash” confidence trick. Court records reveal that the Justice Department is investigating a pardon bribery scheme. Trump is believed to be offering presidential pardons, for cash, to those senior government officials, close associates and lobbyists alleged to have committed crimes out of the loyalty demanded by Trump. There are no depths this evil man will not plumb, no soul he will not sell down the river, to make a buck.
A White House source says that we could expect a “flurry of pardons” before Trump leaves office. The joke currently doing the rounds in Washington: The White House is now the most courteous workplace in D.C. Everyone is going around saying “pardon me”!
Trump has also been exploring the possibility of granting “pre-emptive pardons” to himself and his family. In fact, one of Trump’s closest advisers, Fox’s Sean Hannity has advised the president to use the presidential pardon for his own protection and that of his family, predicting the specter of a perennial “witch hunt”. And the lawyer who has been spearheading his efforts to overturn the election, Rudi Giuliani, is reputed to be pleading for a “pre-emptive blanket pardon”, a phrase rarely heard in legal circles.
Laurence Tribe, Harvard University Professor of Law wrote in the Washington Post: “The Constitution specifically bars the president from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal”. However, there is an opposing view: that a presidential pardon is an executive act, not a judicial one. As such, Article 1 of the Constitution provides no limitations to presidential powers in the executive act of self-pardon. The courts will ultimately be required to make a ruling on a question singularly devoid of precedent.
Unfortunately, Trump’s lies have dangerous consequences. The head of election cybersecurity, Chris Krebs, a Republican and a Trump appointee, recently had the temerity to announce that the 2020 election was “the most secure in American history”. He was immediately fired by Trump for doing his job. A member of Trump’s legal team, Joe DiGenova, made the following statement on Trump-allied Newsmax TV: “Anyone who thinks the election went well, like that idiot Krebs who used to be the head of cybersecurity, that guy is a Class A moron. He should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot”.
Thanks to dangerous comments like this made by DiGenova, Fox News and Trump loyalists since the election debacle, numerous election officials and Democratic loyalists have received death threats from the Trump militia. Though such threats have been widely reported, they have elicited no response or condemnation from Trump or the leadership of the Republican party.
The dangers faced by people for simply doing their jobs, whose families have been threatened with violence, prompted an outburst of unscripted and emotional fury from Georgian voting system official, Gabriel Sterling, a Republican, at a press conference last Monday:
“It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions.
“This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy, and all of you who haven’t said a damn word are complicit in this. This has to stop. We need you to step up, and if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some”.
Sterling said that he had received death threats, and was currently under police protection. Thugs have been driving in caravans, honking threateningly, past the home of Georgian Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger’s home, for the “crime” of refusing to sign the Georgia state election for Donald Trump, against the will of Georgian voters and the Constitution. Threats of a sexually explicit nature have been received by Raffensperger’s wife on her cellphone. A voting machine technician falsely accused of altering votes in Georgia has been threatened by tweets, calling him to be “hung for treason”, and a noose with his name on it placed outside his house.
Sterling concluded his moving plea with this warning:
“Mr. President, you need to stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone is going to get killed. And it’s not right”.
When questioned about Sterling’s outburst, White House Press Secretary Kayliegh McEnany used the “Both Sides” defense, made famous by Trump, when he said that “there were very fine people on both sides”, after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017; one side representing violent white supremacists and anti-Semites, which resulted in the murder of a young woman; the other side protesting these vile forces. McEnany stated that the White House deplored violence on both sides. The other side exists only in Trump’s delusions.
Neither Trump nor the Republican leadership has condemned the incendiary threats of Trump attorney DiGenova. Trump responded to Gabriel Sterling’s outburst by merely retweeting his statement, adding that the election was rigged. No condemnation of the death threats, probably because they were carried out on his instructions.
In a desperate move to prove the unprovable, the Trump team is now putting the Republican controlled Senate into grave danger, exhorting voters in Georgia to protest the result of the 2020 election by boycotting the vital elections for two Senate seats in January. Compliance with these instructions by Republican voters will gift the two Georgian seats to the Democrats, who will then have control of the Senate. With the White House and the House of Representatives already under Democratic control, Trump would have afforded unfettered freedom for the Biden/Harris administration to carry out its agenda, without being blocked at every turn by a hostile Senate.
Trump may have finally and unwittingly taken the first step to Make America Great Again.
Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation
By Jehan Perera
Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.
Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.
Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”
Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.
The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”
It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.
International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.
In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”
As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.
The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.
Album to celebrate 30 years
Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.
However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.
All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.
Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.
Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.
Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.
LET’S DO IT … in the new normal
The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)
Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.
But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.
Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.
Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.
However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.
And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.
Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.
“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”
The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.
“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”
Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.
In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.
Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.
Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!
Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.
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