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EXECUTIVE CHEF AT AGE 21 – Part 25

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada

Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

chandij@sympatico.ca

The Acid Test

On my second day at Coral Gardens Hotel, the Manager had gone out to do some public relations (PR) with the Inspector of Police in charge of the Hikkaduwa police station. After working the whole day in my new role as the Executive Chef, I returned to my apartment around 6 pm. Soon after that, I heard a loud bang on my door. Two leaders of the hotel union – Edmond and Kalansooriya, had turned up to see me. The younger and more aggressive, Kalansooriya said, “We have a big problem in the staff canteen. You should come there immediately!” I enquired, “What’s the problem?” “We will explain when you come”, Edmond said. “OK, I will be there in five minutes,” I told them.

When I got to the staff canteen about 50 employees were standing outside the staff kitchen holding their plated dinners, waiting for me. Most employees were provided with full-board accommodation in staff quarters behind the hotel. “The fish curry served to us this evening, is made with spoilt fish!” I was told. I took a plate, tasted it and agreed with the union that the fish was not fresh. While all 50 employees were watching how I handled this hostile situation, I spoke with the staff cook who prepared the dinner and instructed him that in the future, if he was ever unsure of the quality of anything issued for staff meals, he should return the item to the stores and inform me immediately.

I then checked with the staff cook what alternative dish he could prepare as quickly as possible if I sent a cook from the main kitchen to help him. We decided that an egg curry will be made within 20 minutes to be served with already prepared rice, tempered potatoes and coconut sambol. I then addressed the 50 employees in Sinhala, apologised for the delay and said, “Your dinner will be ready in 20 minutes.”

Twenty minutes later the dinner was served. Most of those employees seemed satisfied, but not the union leaders. “For today, we will accept your solution, but any repetition of such incidents will not be tolerated by the union”, Edmond warned. I felt that he was being unfairly provocative, but I decided to be as patient as possible. Calmly but firmly, I told him looking him in the eye, “Look here, the poor-quality dinner was prepared by a member of your own union. This time, I will pardon him with a warning letter, but if it happens again, I will fire your member. Do you understand?” Edmond looked baffled, and did not talk any more. There was pindrop silence while I walked back to my apartment.

That evening, my father telephoned to check how I was doing in my new job. I told him about the incident. My father, who was a civil administrator, said, “Oh I see, Chandana. That was an acid test.” When I asked the meaning of that term, my father said that, “The union was checking if you were real gold!” and loudly laughed. “Son, you did well, but watch your back”, he warned. Later, I learnt that the whole incident was set up by the union with help from the stores to find some old fish for the ‘acid test’. My father was right.

I also discovered that all hotel union leaders belonged to Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) which had been founded in 1935 with Marxist-Leninist ideals. In 1975, this party left the coalition government led by the Prime Minister Sirima Badaranaike, and became more aggressive in leading the unions they controlled. The LSSP organized a series of one day strikes as a warning to the government. Edmond, a Restaurant Butler was the old school type of union leader. Kalansooriya, a barman, was young, more educated and more radical. As I looked after the kitchen, stores, restaurant and bars, they both worked in my departments and reported to me. I decided to keep a close eye on them out of the 50 employees who reported to me directly. The hotel had around 100 full-time employees and the other half reported to the Manager through a few supervisors.

Researching the Hotel History

In anything we do, understanding the past always helps in building a brighter future. Often, cultures of hotels are shaped by the previous managers/leaders. The good, the bad and the ugly sides of their personalities, leadership styles and habits seem to impact hotel culture for some time, even long after their departures. As a new and young manager, I decided to research the hotel’s history and culture.

Coral Garden Hotel had different phases of development over the last 100 years. Its location was the best in Hikkaduwa. It was a small rest house until expanded into a hotel in mid-1960s by Ceylon Holiday Resorts Limited floated by a group of investors. It was one of the first hotels to be opened in Ceylon in 100 years, since the opening of the famous three – Mount Lavinia Hotel, Galle Face Hotel and Grand Oriental Hotel in the mid-1860s. Coral Gardens was one of the first three hotels to open in the mid-1960s, encouraged by tax concessions to tourism and hotel developers. Barberyn Reef and Blue Lagoon were the others to open at that time.

At a time when Ceylon did not have a single hotel school, the owner’s choice of manager when Coral Gardens opened was Carl Young, a legendary hotelier, probably the first Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) to be professionally trained in hotel management in Europe in the 1950s. He was a former trade union leader at the famous Galle Face Hotel. Its British owners, in an attempt to weaken the union, had sent Young to Europe for training in hotel management. On returning to Ceylon after his training, and resigning from the union, he had been promoted as a departmental manager. Unfortunately for me, I never had the opportunity of meeting this pioneer. Two decades later, when I worked as the Consultant to the Chairman of Galle Face Hotel, Cyril Gardiner, I heard more interesting stories about Young.

In the mid-1960s, a large group of experienced workers loyal to him left the Galle Face Hotel to join him at Coral Gardens Hotel he was opening. Most of them were from the southern part of the island closer tha Colombo to Coral Gardens. Carl had also hired many fellow Burghers (a small Eurasian ethnic group descended from Portuguese, Dutch or British) as they were culturally westernized and fluent in English. In the early 1970s, Young migrated to Australia. Four successors who managed Coral Gardens Hotel over the next four-year period thereafter, could not match Young’s charisma, leadership style, knowledge, popularity or stability.

When Indrapala Munasinghe (Muna) and I took over its management in October 1975, a majority of the supervisors and clerical employees who were at Coral Gardens were those Burgher gentlemen who were loyal to Carl Young. As a result, the hotel culture was very different to that of Bentota Beach Hotel. I decided to include two popular dishes, ‘Lobster Carlo’ and ‘Chicken Maureen’, named after the popular manager and his wife, in my first à la carte menu as featured items. That gesture of respect proved very popular, among hotel employees.

Challenging the Boss/Baas

In settling down in my new job as the Executive Chef, most of my work involved creating a 14-day rotating menu for lunch and dinner for full-board guests, new buffet menus and an à la carte menu. As the hotel was criticised by the locals for exclusively using Colombo suppliers, I tried to increase purchases of mainly fish, vegetables and fruit from them.

When I commenced training the kitchen brigade on new dishes, I encountered a new challenge. The head cook frequently undermined my authority and disagreed with me publicly. He was about 30 years older than me and well-experienced. He had joined the kitchens of Galle Face Hotel, a few years before I was born. Understandably, he was reluctant to report to a youngster like me with very little experience. He was stubbornly stuck to some older methods and was resistant to modernizing the menus to suit changing tastes of tourists. I decided that I had to put him in his place sooner than later. Next time he disagreed with me about the preparation method of a dish, I decided to take the bull by the horns and challenged him to a cooking competition.

The head cook was respectfully addressed by the cooks as baas unnehe (boss gentleman). “Baas, as you are so sure that your method is better than mine, let’s each prepare the dish using our own method and ask the kitchen brigade to choose the better tasting and better presented dish.” He agreed, and we commenced the competition immediately. I took a chance with this challenge as most of the old-timers in the kitchen were loyal to baas.

I made it a friendly competition. “Baas and I have decided to consult all of you today about the future recipe of one of the most popular dishes of this hotel”, I announced. Then I asked the cooks to stand in a circle to watch baas and I while we were cooking. As they never had such consultation in the past, they were excited. The dish was ‘Lobster Thermidor’ and I did not like baas’s version using an ‘old fashioned’ thick white sauce with a lot of flour. My version was lighter, with less cooking time and ended with a little brandy.

We both cooked at the same time, and the cooks were the judges of the recipe, cooking method, duration, taste, presentation and the cost. My version of the dish was overwhelmingly popular and was voted as the clear winner. With that one incident I commanded lots of respect in the kitchen. When leading a team of skilled workers, nothing is a better motivator than the technical skills of the manager.

Baas immediately changed his attitude and became an obedient member of my kitchen team. Eventually, after a few weeks, he left Coral Gardens to join The Village at Habarana. I was thinking, ‘good riddance’, but gave him a good farewell. After some training, I promoted the ‘hotel school-trained’ kitchen clerk’, Winston Daniel as the kitchen supervisor and my number two in the kitchen. Years later when I became the General manager of The Village, I met baas again. By then he had retired from hotels and had become a small businessman settled in Habarana. We continued to have a cordial relationship. When I addressed him as ‘baas unnehe’ in Habarana, he was pleased, as he felt respected.

Improving the Team Spirit and Food

After that episode in 1975, I used a more participative style in menu planning and kitchen management. I asked each cook to prepare and showcase each of their favourite dishes. As a team we picked the best also with serious consideration of changing the tastes of our guests. This proved to be a highly successful approach, which I continued throughout my career in hospitality. By the end of the month, the team was ready. All were re-trained, menus were printed, and suppliers contracted. We were ready for the tourist season, my first as an Executive Chef.

Having done my research, I was ready to start the tourist season with a bang to make a name for myself as a creative Executive Chef. I used all I learnt during my rewarding year as the Trainee Executive Chef at Bentota Beach, such as organizing buffets with a wide variety of dishes and decorations. I taught myself skills such as cooking Chinese food that the Ceylon Hotel School did not teach then. I also had a few private lessons on cake decorations with a well-known pastry making teacher in Colombo. Using my childhood experience in sculpture, I also learnt to do butter carvings and ice sculpture to improve buffet decorations. The first Sunday lunch buffet we did was a big success in terms of quality, variety, presentation, popularity and profits.

Making a Name

I also commenced a weekly barbecue dinner buffet brainstorming with the restaurant team on the ideal location for this new weekly feature. As it was convenient to them, they suggested laying it just outside the restaurant. Having consulted the tour leaders and a few long-staying guests, I identified the beach as the better location and managed to convince the restaurant team led by the union leader, Butler Edmond, that a little extra work taking all items further to the beach may improve guest satisfaction and waiters’ tip earning potential. That worked.

The surrounding coconut trees, sounds of the waves of the Indian Ocean, fishing boats beyond the reef with flickering lanterns created a positive first impression for our beach barbecues. The sky with a galaxy of stars, the moonlight, and the gentle sea spray created a magically romantic mood. We enhanced the ambience with fire torches, limbo dancers carrying flaming torches and calypso music and finally, with the buffet decorations and aromas of the freshly barbecued fish and meat. It was a big hit!

Many of the repeat guests were highly impressed by the improved menus, theme nights, buffets and decorations. We made a good name for our food and service. The Sunday lunch buffets attracted many well-to-do Sri Lankans from Galle and other nearby towns as well as guests from other hotels. Satisfied tour leaders had praised the ‘improved’ operation and food quality at the head office which in turn complimented the Hotel Manager, Muna and I, for commencing the 1975 tourist season with a bang.



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What’s in a Suit? That which is substantive can be delivered in a Bush Shirt!

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Anura Kumara Dissanayake meeting Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar in New Delhi. (File Photo)

by Rajan Philips

Never mind what Anura Kumara Dissanayake wore in Delhi. Never mind what Ranil Wickremesinghe wears daily. What the people want is not the word salads of sartorial politics by Sunday pundits, but the proffering of substantive politics by contenders for political office. As the pre-election dust takes its own time to settle, two figures are emerging as the primary contenders.

On the right, where he has always been, is Ranil Wickremesinghe. On the left, where he seems inspired to be, is Anura Kumara Dissanayake. If there was any chance of someone racing up the middle, that chance and the politics of that candidate are fast withering. The political house of Sajith Premadasa is a house divided according to insiders and outsiders. Mr. Premadasa will have to put his own house in order before he can be a serious contender for public office.

The impending contest between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Anura Kumara Dissanayake will be a very different one when compared to past presidential elections. First to be noted is the organizational disarray of the mainstream political parties and their electorally opportunistic alliances. The disarray is obvious and needs no elaboration.

It also explains why President Wickremesinghe, the nearly 50-year veteran of a 77 year old party, is still looking for a political launcher for his presidential candidacy. Officially, he will be a UNP candidate with the elephant symbol, but he is looking to be acclaimed as the candidate of a grand alliance. Media columnists are writing about such an alliance, but there are no signs yet of any alliance, let alone a grand one.

The support for President Wickremesinghe is mainly based on his successful stabilization of the economy from where his predecessor left and ran away. Those who are genuinely and perhaps exclusively concerned about the economy do think that Ranil Wickremesinghe should be elected as President to continue managing the economy. But this premise has at least two limitations.

A tentative candidate

One, while it is fair to give Mr. Wickremesinghe credit for what he has done, it would be a stretch to claim that what he has done is something miraculous and that he should contest and be elected President for a new term to continue performing economic miracles. The economy cannot be restored by magic or miracles, and no one should lose sight of the fact that the current stability is primarily due to the moratorium on debt payment. What happens when debt repayment is restarted?

The second limitation to the Wickremesinghe candidacy is that the support for Mr. Wickremesinghe is neither broad nor deep. Otherwise, he should be the one who is topping opinion polls and creating the buzz that Ranil is the man to beat. Mr. Wickremesinghe himself is quite coy about his candidacy. Either he is keeping everyone guessing, or he is guessing himself.

It may be that the President is looking for a broad appeal imploring him to contest the presidential election to keep saving the economy. Similar to the circumstance in which he acceded to the desperate request of Gotabaya Rajapaksa for a helping hand. But there is nothing like that happening now. No appeal by any credible alliance for Ranil to be a candidate. The whole tentativeness of the situation is a symptom of the disarray of the political establishment.

That brings me to the second unique aspect of the upcoming presidential election. That is the emergence of the JVP/NPP as real contender for winning power democratically, and whose unity of purpose and organizational discipline stand in stirring contrast to the opportunism and disarray of the mainstream parties. The JVP’s emergence as a viable contender is as much due to its own maturity as it is due to resonating objective conditions.

The aragalaya that drove Gota away may have turned the tide for the JVP. But it goes beyond that, and it shows the people’s real hunger for an alternative political leadership. And it shows that the people are not warming up to Ranil Wickremesinghe in spite of all the learned views about his capabilities as an economic manager.

AKD’s leadership

The consolidation of the JVP and the emergence of the NPP as its electoral front also owe a great deal to the seemingly collegial leadership of Anura Kumara Dissanayake. He is unique in Sri Lankan politics as the one political leader who has filtered up through the social layers among the Sinhalese without being part of a mainstream political party – the UNP, the SLFP, and later the SLPP. The devolution of political leadership in Sri Lanka – i.e., the transitioning of political leadership from the decadent upper strata of society to the emerging generations – could be a study in itself.

The fact of the matter is that such a transitioning has not been as common in Sri Lanka as it has been in India. There is a long trace of leadership transitioning in India – from the rise of K. Kamaraj as Chief Minister of Madras State (now Tamil Nadu) in 1954, to the ascent of Narendra Modi first as Chief Minister of Gujarat and now the soon to be ‘threepeat’ Prime Minister of India. There is nothing common about their politics, but they represent the shifting of leadership from the upper echelons to the lower strata of India’s hugely stratified society. The example of President Premadasa could be cited as an exception, but it was an exception that could not become a trend.

The JVP and the LTTE interventions could be seen as violent and misplaced efforts to force a transitioning of leadership. Both efforts ended in failure, but the reality now is that even the traditional leadership formations have now imploded. There was a much touted recent transitioning in Tamil political leadership, but that seems to have got mired in legal battles in district courts.

The saving grace here is in the recourse to court battles instead of gun battles. There have been shifts in leadership among the Muslims and estate Tamils, but even the new organizations representing the two communities have become mere appendages to mainstream alliances. They too are suffering from the organizational disarray of their mainstream principals.

In this scheme of unfolding disarray, it is fair to acknowledge the leadership and organizational achievements of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the JVP and the NPP. This is not to say that they are going to win the upcoming elections and that they are going to provide a pathbreaking new government for Sri Lanka. Those proofs will come in whatever puddings they make.

For now, as a point of political observation, what AKD has done so far needs to be acknowledged. India seems to have done that, and it is irrelevant to the current argument why India may have chosen to do that. More to the point, there has been no Indian invitation yet, not even a hint of it, to the newly elected leader of the ITAK.

The gripe over AKD’s Indian visit is really a symptom of the uneasiness in political circles that are unable to come to grips with the disarray among the mainstream political parties and their alliances. Not to mention that for a host of good and bad reasons, the arrival of the JVP/NPP as a palpable parliamentary force is not palatable to many in the commentating business. It is again a symptom of the mainstream disarray that criticisms of JVP/NPP are emanating almost exclusively outside of parliament and from outside formal political organizations. Conversely, it is this vacuum that the JVP/NPP is filling up much to the irritation of its socio-genital opponents.

Their politics and ours

The task for Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the JVP/NPP is to respond to the sartorial politics of their critics with substantive politics of their own. “Their Politics and Ours,” the title of an old pamphlet that Dr. Colvin R de Silva wrote in the early 1950s, takes a different meaning in the new context in which the JVP/NPP is emerging as a real parliamentary contender.

Dr Colvin was intervening in the perennial debates within the left movement in the heady days of the Old Left. That was then. Now, Anura Kumara Dissanayake does not have to get into polemic battles with anyone on the Left. He is in fact the only one on the Left, electorally speaking. He has to differentiate his politics from that of his media critics.

There is another difference between the heady days of the Old Left and Sri Lanka’s desperate times after the Rajapaksa yugaya. The challenge today is not to advance the cause of socialism but to salvage the economy from the pits that it has fallen into. Sri Lanka’s economic irony cannot be any stalker, in that Sri Lanka and Pakistan are two economic laggards in South Asia that is now seen as the principal growth region for an unevenly sputtering world economy.

India is virtually the sole economic engine of the South Asian region, and the challenge facing Sri Lanka is to get in stride with ongoing regional growth instead of lagging behind it.

The challenge facing JVP/NPP is to generate confidence about its abilities for managing the economy the same way it is demonstrating its abilities for political mobilization. As a political organization it does not have to rely on its leaders to read economic textbooks the way Che Guvera read them after the Cuban revolution.

There are enough economists and economic thinktanks in Sri Lanka and the JVP/NPP should not feel shy about tapping them for ideas and as resources. There should be reaching out to professional resources in a very public way to enhance public confidence at the national level, the same way retired military and police officers are reportedly being enlisted at the electoral district levels.

Besides the economy, the JVP/NPP leadership will have to deal with the question of constitutional reform and clarify its position on what could still be called the island’s national question. On the question of abolishing the executive presidency, Mr. Dissanayake has provided a convincing response: there is no time to do it before the presidential election.

President Wickremesinghe has said the same thing, but the difference between the two is that while Mr. Dissanayake is committed to abolishing the presidency, Mr. Wickremesinghe is not. That is a big difference, and one on which Mr. Dissanayake could and should publicly challenge the interim President.

 

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Leading Restoration: WNPS at the Forefront of Conserving Mangrove Ecosystems

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Awareness creating among school children at a mangrove restoration site

One of Sri Lanka’s six RAMSAR wetlands, the Anawilundawa sanctuary is surrounded by a colorful coastline, enhanced by the lush mangroves that shield it, and supported by freshwater sources that are essential to life. Numerous plant and animal species can be found within the confines of this sanctuary, in addition to neighbouring communities whose survival depends on the health of this ecosystem for their survival.

The intricate root systems of mangrove forests bridge both land and sea, serving as a powerful ecosystem that supports life and growth. Mangroves are vital towards building the resilience of a nation, by safeguarding our coasts from natural disasters, while enabling livelihoods and empowering communities. Their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide in greater quantities than other non-coastal ecosystems position them as an important source of blue carbon that is crucial to the fight against climate change.

Unfortunately, unsustainable shrimp farming and other human activities had taken a toll on the environment. This now-abandoned landscape was altered by the use of dangerous chemicals, and until 2019, about 45 hectares of what was once a lush forest were dead and bare. Restoration was the need of the hour, yet many challenges lay in store.

Firstly, no formal mechanism for mangrove restoration had been established. Accordingly, the Department of Wildlife, the Forest Department, and the Ministry of Environment partnered with the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka as its principal science partner. With more than 129 years of experience advancing conservation and research throughout the island, the WNPS was ideally positioned capitalize on the strength of teamwork, the rigor of science, and the tireless dedication of its people and partners to develop a sustainable solution.

“The WNPS has long established science as the core foundation of all of its work. The Society also served as the catalyst to bring together diverse stakeholders under the mantle of restoration by bringing in government entities, NGOs, academia, the private sector, surrounding communities and the youth to actively participate in these efforts. In doing so, they ensured that the right science is implemented in this restoration site, while demonstrating the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration to achieve lasting, viable results,” said Professor Sevvandi Jayakody, Science Lead of the Project.

A veritable force of diverse people and organizations transformed a once deserted habitat into a hive of research and activity. Under the direction of the technical team, on-site nurseries were established, experiments were carried out, and natural processes were replicated. A topographical map of the area was created with the help of the Sri Lanka Navy to construct canals that would channel water effectively into arid land. Research labs were constructed on the premises and modern equipment was procured with the collective support of the public sector, business community, and non-governmental organizations. Community members and leaders were mobilized to strengthen these efforts further.

“An intriguing feature of this project is that research is not merely being applied to regenerate these mangrove forests. The science also flows into sustainably enhancing and uplifting the neighbouring community’s livelihoods, while nurturing future youth restoration leaders, with the goal of maintaining these vulnerable environments in the long run,” stated Graham Marshall, Chair of the WNPS Marine Subcommittee

Soil core sampling below ground biomass

The WNPS was further instrumental in shifting from traditional one-time interventions towards long-term partnerships, particularly with respect to obtaining essential private sector funding.

To date, a diverse and growing team of partners have joined hands with WNPS in the journey to restore this vital ecosystem, comprising the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), the Department of Forests, the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, the Hydrography Unit of the Sri Lanka Navy, Lanka Environment Fund, Hayleys Advantis, CEFAS (UK), CSIRO (Aus), Hemas Consumer Brands, Biodiversity Sri Lanka, Star Garments, US Forest Service, and CMA CGM Shipping. Thanks to this coalition for conservation, a previously desolate region has begun to demonstrate signs of life once more. Studies on specific species are yielding encouraging results, and habitats are being progressively restored.

The WNPS and its partners are heartened to note that its trailblazing approach towards the restoration of mangrove ecosystems have contributed towards Sri Lanka being awarded as a UN World Restoration Flagship in 2024, and look forward to advancing the future of sustainable ecosystem restoration in the years to come.

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THE BILLIONAIRE SHOE SALESMAN

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

February is Black History month, celebrated for over a century to focus attention on the history of the origins, the cruelty, the travails, the sacrifices, and achievements of the enslaved people brought from Africa to the Land of the Free White Supremacists in the early 17th century.

However, February has brought nothing but grief to The Donald. Trump was ranked, on February 20, by 154 scholars connected to the distinguished American Political Science Association, as the “45th and rock bottom” of US presidents in history. Even more humiliating was President Biden’s ranking at no. 14, with his most important achievement listed that he “rescued the presidency from Trump”!

The month of February also saw the courts shattering Trump’s dreams of presidential immunity, that he was above the law and therefore immune from the 91 felonies committed during his presidency.

Trump has already been hit with penalties from two civil trials in New York – $83 million for the rape and defamation of E. Jean Carroll and $355 million for inflating the value of his assets and defrauding the US government. Of course he will appeal these judgments. The problem is that any such appeals have to be accompanied by full or at least a substantial percentage of the damages awarded, in cash or bond. Unfortunately, no issuer of bonds will trust Trump with any such transaction.

Many may think that Trump had hit rock bottom when he was, at a campaign rally last week, making a fevered pitch to sell “beautiful” gold painted pairs of sneakers at a “bargain” price of $399 a pop, presumably to help raise the money due as damages on the above judgments.

The price of a high-end pair of Nike sneakers runs at around $100; but, according to Trump, his brand name increases the price of any commodity exponentially. Like the many properties he has illegally overvalued, which is the reason this former president and billionaire has been reduced in status to a Footlocker shoe salesman. A comparison which will likely be resented by those salesmen.

No doubt he’ll raise the necessary funds from his Russian and Saudi Arabian buddies who will be happy to pay millions of dollars for some of the top-secret documents he still has stashed away in one of his Mar a Lago toilets.

I will never forget a statement Trump made in one of his pre-2016 campaign rallies:

“I am really rich. I will be using my own money. I won’t need any contributions from anyone for my campaign or any other reason. I built a very small loan into a company that’s worth many billions of dollars, with some of the greatest assets in the world”.

Only Trump can squeeze in so many lies into a few sentences. The “very small loan” referred to was an inheritance of over $300 million from his father in the late 1990s. His election campaigns have been funded almost entirely by donations from his supporters. After his electoral defeat in 2020, he has been milking his supporters every time he was indicted on felonies, with lies that the crooked Biden administration was persecuting him, on a perennial witch hunt. With all the evidence of his criminal, even treasonous, behavior staring them in the face, members of his cult, even so-called moderate Republicans, continue to humor and fund him.

Trump has long been threatening, if he wins re-election, that the USA will resign from NATO, the most durable and powerful military alliance since World War II. He alleges that fellow NATO members were not paying the minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for their common defense. In fact, last week he said that he would encourage Russia to “to do whatever the hell they want”, even invade any NATO allies who were delinquent in the payment of their dues.

Trump’s love affairs with the despots of the world, right-wing dictators like Russia’s Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban have been an open secret, his admiration and envy of these murderers boundless.

When the tragic news of the death of Putin’s nemesis, Alexei Navalny, was announced last week by the authorities of an Arctic penal colony, the leaders of the United States and most nations of the world condemned Putin for the murder of the leader of the largest anti-Putin movement in Russia. President Biden called Putin a “crazy son of a bitch, a killer, a butcher and a war criminal”, and promised to impose stringent sanctions on Russia as a result of this murder.

In spite of demands from his family that his body be released for humane and private burial, Russian authorities refuse to do so, probably awaiting the disappearance of traces of the poison used to kill him.

And Trump? He was speechless for a week, reluctant to criticize his mentor. When he finally found his tongue, he mentioned not a word against Putin, but predictably made a statement short on grief and sympathy, and long about himself and his mythical grievances. He described himself, with not an ounce of irony, as “the Navalny of the United States”, the victim of oppression, battling the persecution of the ruthless dictatorship of Crooked Joe! Hardly surprising, this is the narcissistic maniac who had previously compared himself to Nelson Mandela, and most famously, to Jesus Christ.

Actually, the analogy couldn’t be more antithetical. Alexei Navalny was prepared to sacrifice his life for democracy. Trump, on the other hand, was prepared to sacrifice the life of his Vice-President Mike Pence to destroy democracy.

It never ceases to amaze me that a felon already convicted of rape and fraud, indicted in four jurisdictions and on conditional bail for a world record of 91 felonies, has the gall to call Joe Biden CROOKED, as he described “Crooked Joe” in a tweet after Navalny’s murder. It’s like the Milwaukee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial murderer who made a delicious meal of his victims, describing a vegetarian as a monster!

February also brought a confession by Alexander Smirnov, former FBI informant, on whose information Republicans based their allegations for impeachment of President Biden and his son, Hunter. Smirnov had previously stated that the Bidens had received millions of dirty dollars from the Ukrainian company, Burisma. He has now confessed to the FBI that his story about the Bidens was a complete fabrication, an invention of Putin’s Russian intelligence. He has since been exposed by the FBI as a “Disinformation Agent” of this Russian spy machine.

Many prominent Republican Congressmen still shamelessly lie that they have complete confidence in Smirnov’s credibility, in spite of the fact that FBI Director, Christopher Wray had warned them two years ago that Smirnov’s credentials were highly suspect. Smirnov is now under indictment for lying and providing falsified documents to the FBI. His testimony has completely undercut the Republicans’ case, and their desperate attempts to impeach President Biden have finally blown up in their faces.

There is no doubt that Hunter Biden was a flawed human being, who acted unethically in accepting money from an Ukrainian company, taking advantage of his father’s position as the Vice-President. Hunter has also admitted there was a period in his life when he was guilty of substance abuse and tax evasion, crimes for which he is in the process of paying his debt to society.

There is absolutely no evidence that President Biden was involved in any way with the activities of his son, a private citizen, during his two terms as Vice-President.

Interestingly, Republicans turned a blind eye when Trump’s children were defrauding the government for billions of dollars, when his daughter, Ivanka and husband, Jared Kushner, were senior employees in the Trump administration.

This complicity of Russian intelligence with Trump’s Republican cult leads to the terrifying conclusion that the Russians are, yet again, attempting to interfere in American elections. The stakes for Putin could not be higher. The re-election of Trump, his lap-dog, to the US presidency in November will open the doors to his ultimate dream of the re-emergence of the Superpower glory of the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). And Trump will attain his dreams of dictatorial power, and use that power to rival Putin as the richest man in the world.

Alexei Navalny’s simple message to his supporters, as shown in the 2022 Oscar-winning documentary, was as ominous as it was inspirational.

“You are not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to use this power”. He ended his message with a maxim often attributed to Edmund Burke, widely known as the philosophical founder of British conservatism: “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”. A message that has guided Navalny’s life, and may prove to be even more powerful in his death, if it inspires the good people in Russia to continue the struggle against Putin’s evil regime and build a better future for Russia.

The good people of Germany ignored the evils of Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s. They did nothing although they saw – and smelled – the smoke of burning human flesh billowing from the ovens of Germany’s many concentration camps. This gruesome evil was finally vanquished, though with international, including American, intervention. But not before the extermination of six million Jews.

Today, the good people of the world, even in Israel, are watching in horror but doing nothing as Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu and his right-wing cabinet intent on a one-state solution in Israel, are continuing to wreak vengeance on innocent Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza (29,000 killed as of date, and counting) for that one day on October 7, 2023. A day when Hamas, a terrorist organization, tortured and killed 1,200 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, kidnapping 140 hostages of various nationalities.

Revenge in the form of indiscriminate air and ground onslaughts by the Israeli Defense Force are beginning to metaphorically smell awfully like the noisome smoke that emanated from the ovens of Auschwitz. And who knows? Netanyahu might succeed in his ambition to wipe out all the Palestinians where Hitler failed in his ambition to exterminate all the Jews. A genocidal parallel, brimming with irony, that will not be lost in the history books of the future.

The tragedy is that this very same scenario exists in the greatest democracy in the world today. The good people of the United States of America are looking on in apathy, doing nothing, as Trump and the American equivalent of the Nazi Brownshirts harass, threaten and attack, not only Jews, but all brown skinned immigrants from “shithole countries”. They listen with enthusiastic anticipation to Trump listing all the Hitler-like measures he will implement to “preserve the pure white blood” of European Americans when he wins re-election.

These domestic terrorists will not surrender the white privileges they have enjoyed for centuries without using every means, domestic and Russian, politically deceptive and criminally violent, to perpetuate their illusion of white superiority.

The good people of America have eight months to wake up to what could well mean the end of their democracy and the position of their leadership of the free nations of the world. And the sad fact is that most people who read this will think I am being alarmingly fear-mongering and hyperbolic. Let me assure you, I am not. Trump’s “movement” presents the greatest danger the United States has faced since the Civil War, basically, for the same reason – preservation of the dominance of White Supremacy. This time around, however, the modern version of the soldiers of the Confederacy will be armed not with muskets but with military style killing machines. And led by an ignorant psychopath.

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