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The First Presidential Debate – A National Embarrassment



News Flash Story

Vijaya Chandrasoma

The first of three scheduled presidential debates was held in Cleveland, Ohio on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, with Republican contender, incumbent President Trump and Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden taking center stage. The debate was divided into six 15-minute segments, set to include each candidate’s record, Covid19, the Supreme Court, the economy, race relations and violence and the integrity of the election.

Tuesday’s debate was held under the perennial clouds of the scandals involving Donald Trump, the latest one being a New York Times story about the president’s taxes, a mystery that has been guarded more carefully than the gold at Fort Knox. The Times revealed that Trump had paid no federal taxes for 11 of the 15 years before 2015, and had paid just $750 in federal taxes for 2016 and 2017. All the while enjoying the lifestyle of a billionaire. Among the most egregious of tax fraud he is alleged to have committed included a questionable $72.9 million tax refund, and a $70,000 deduction for hair styling – evidently money ill spent.

The Times’ report also revealed Trump’s personal debts amounting to $421 million to unnamed foreign creditors, which will be due and payable in 2022.

The moderator was Chris Wallace, the news anchor of Fox News, renowned for his tough and wide ranging interviews. In spite of working for Fox News, the Trump propaganda machine, Wallace is nationally respected as an impartial journalist.

Wallace did himself no favors at this debate, unable as he was to control Trump’s incessant interruptions and bullying. At times, the debate featuring the leaders of the Free World, moderated by one of the nation’s best, non-partisan Anchors, deteriorated into a shouting match reminiscent of the caterwauling of the fisherwomen in my home town of Hikkaduwa.

The consensus at the end of a painful 90 minutes on Tuesday night was that it was the most chaotic presidential debate in the history of the nation. The TIME magazine headline was “Just Cancel the Last Two Debates. America Has Suffered Enough.” Chris Hayes of MSNBC called it a “Performance of Our National Catastrophe”. Perhaps CNN Anchor Jake Tapper described the debate best: “A hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck”.

The Commission on Presidential Debates is “carefully considering” format changes for future debates, designed to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues. Short of shutting up Trump with a dog muzzle while Biden is speaking, I fear the efforts of the Commission are doomed to failure.

The debate provided many winners and one distinct loser.

The biggest winners were the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and far right, fascist organizations, when Trump refused to denounce them before a TV audience of 73 million viewers, a tacit endorsement of white supremacist terrorism. On September 17, 2020, Trump appointed FBI Director, Christopher Wray warned, under oath before a Senate Committee, that white supremacists posed the single most lethal terrorist threat faced by America today. Trump’s refusal to denounce these terrorist movements has been taken as an endorsement, a call to violence. As Plato said centuries ago, “Your silence gives consent.”

A close second were adversarial nations like Russia, China and Iran, whose ambitions to sow discord and chaos in the United States have met with spectacular success. The Kremlin and Beijing are already mocking the debate, using it as an example of proof that America has relinquished its claim to leadership, and has diminished confidence in the democratic process.

Vice President Biden completed the trifecta, by merely withstanding Trump’s desperate lies and bullying, and remaining calm. He scored brownie points by calling the President of the United States a clown, and for the most memorable line in the debate: “Will you shut up, man?”

The only loss was sustained by the American people.

No comprehensible light was thrown on the policies of the combatants, or their plans for the management of the health, economic and climate crises America faces today. Trump went on his usual rant about how he had created the greatest economy the world has ever seen, which has been slowed by Covid19; he guaranteed, given four more years, that he will take it back to its former glory, that he alone can fix the mess he himself has largely created. Wallace responded with some fact-checking, reminding Trump that President Obama’s last three years in office had higher growth rates and lower unemployment figures than those of Trump’s first three years.

When Trump bragged that he had done a phenomenal job in containing the pandemic, Biden pointed out a few examples of his colossal incompetence, including outrageous and self-serving predictions that the virus will go away, as if by a miracle, in April; that children are immune to the virus; that it can be cured with injections of disinfectant and UV rays; and that the vaccine is around the corner. The nation has to date suffered over seven million infections and 208,000 fatalities; with 200,000 more deaths projected before the end of the year. Dr. Ashish Jha, Harvard Professor of Global Health said last week that our hesitance to take personal protective measures like masks and social distancing, thanks to Trump’s happy talk and mocking of these measures as a sign of weakness, has resulted in at least 150,000 preventable deaths, to date. The virus is spiking in at least 26 states, and shows no sign of abating throughout the nation. Trump continues to downplay the severity of the virus, lying that the US is “rounding the turn” on Covid19, a statement refuted by the nation’s leading epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Trump was asked about his plans to repeal Obamacare, a case which will be heard by his stacked Supreme Court on November 10. When told that the repeal of Obamacare will result in the loss of health insurance for over 20 million people, he lied that he has a replacement health plan “in hand”. The same hand that has been hiding the same mythical replacement plan since 2017.

He was challenged that his new ultra-Christian Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, will play a major role in repealing Roe v. Wade, a landmark Supreme Court decision regarding the Constitutional right of women on reproductive freedom. Trump has long opposed this landmark decision.

There were some important, if frightening, takeaways from Tuesday’s debate:

Trump denied that he had paid only $750 in taxes in 2016 and 2017. He said that he had paid millions in taxes during that period, an assertion which he could easily prove if he would only release his tax returns for the past few years. Strangely, he made no comment about his debt of $421 million to foreign creditors. The danger to the security of a nation when its president carries huge debts to foreign adversaries is incalculable and terrifying.

Trump refused to denounce white supremacist groups, which he has failed to do throughout his presidency. Trump was asked, by both Biden and Wallace, whether he would condemn these groups, specifically the Proud Boys (a far-right white supremacist group, a part of the Trump cult who are regulars at Trump rallies), and warn them to desist from engaging in the racial violence which has recently erupted in many cities. In fact, far from warning them, Trump said “Proud Boys, Stand Back and Stand by”, an exhortation to await his orders to violence. “Stand Back and Stand By” immediately became the new rallying cry of this violent fascist group.

Trump is regarded by white supremacists as a fellow traveler and an important recruiting tool for these terrorist, KKK style groups which have proliferated throughout the nation since Trump’s inauguration. In a style immediately recognizable by those of us who lived in Sri Lanka in the 1980s and 1990s, Trump is assembling an extra military force who will wreak violence at his command, if the election goes against him.

Trump refused to take the pledge that he would accept the results of the election, and to keep his supporters in check if the count goes on after November 3. He continued making false statements about the legitimacy of mail-in ballots. He is inciting voter intimidation by his far right vigilantes, which is against the law. The FBI has confirmed that white supremacist terrorism provides the greatest threat to law and order since the Civil War. As Trump himself predicted at the end of the debate; “This is not going to end well.”

Sadly, there is little doubt that Trump will be the first president in the history of a once-great nation to refuse to accept the will of the electorate and surrender the White House gracefully, if he loses the election. Trump will pull out all the stops to stay in power, abusing his compliant Supreme Court, and inciting violence by his carefully assembled militia, as if his life depends on it. Which it does, as he will face multiple charges of tax fraud, sexual assault, abuse of power, even treason, the day after he leaves the Oval Office.

Decent Americans have lived the past four years enveloped by a feeling of pervasive helplessness in the face of the racist antics of a narcissistic psychopath. But this feeling is just an illusion. The American voter has the power to Make America Great Again by turning up at the polls on November 3, in what will prove to be the most fraught election in its history. One that will determine the democratic and ideological future of the nation for generations to come.

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Investigative Journalism?



I usually end up totally exhausted when I finish reading the local newspapers from the Pearl. There are so many burning questions and so much is written about them but there are no conclusions and definitely no answers. For example, we seem to have three burning issues right now and this is not in order of importance.

We have a lengthy report that has been published on the Easter Sunday carnage. Everybody knows what I am talking about. However, no one, be it an editor, a paid journalist or a single one of the many amateurs who write to the papers, has reached a conclusion or even expressed an opinion as to who was responsible. At least not a believable one! Surely there are energetic and committed young people in the field of journalism today who, if asked, or directed properly will go out and find a source that would give them at least a credible hypothesis? Or do conclusions exist and has no one the courage to publish them?

At least interview the authors or should I use the word perpetrators of that report. If they refuse to be interviewed ask them why and publish an item every day asking them why! Once you get a hold of them, cross-examine them, trap them into admissions and have no mercy. It is usually geriatrics who write these reports in the Pearl and surely a bright young journalist can catch them out with a smart question or two, or at least show us that they tried? The future of the country depends on it!

We have allegations of contaminated coconut oil been imported. These are very serious allegations and could lead to much harm to the general populace. Do you really believe that no one can find out who the importers are and what brands they sell their products under? In this the Pearl, where everyone has a price, you mean to say that if a keen young journalist was given the correct ammunition (and I don’t mean 45 calibres) and sent out on a specific message, he or she couldn’t get the information required?

We are told that a massive amount of money has been printed over the last few months. There is only speculation as to the sums involved and even more speculation as to what this means to the people of the Pearl. Surely, there are records, probably guarded by extremely lowly paid government servants. I am not condoning bribery but there is nothing left to condone, is there? There are peons in government ministries who will gladly slip you the details if you are committed enough and if you are sent there to get it by a boss who will stand by you and refuse to disclose his sources.

I put it to you, dear readers, that we do not have enough professional, committed and adequately funded news organisations in the country. We can straightaway discount the government-owned joints. We can also largely discount those being run by magnates for personal gain and on personal agendas. As far as the Internet goes, we can forget about those that specialise in speculative and sensationalist untruths, what are we left with O denizens of the Pearl? Are there enough sources of news that you would consider willing to investigate a matter and risk of life and limb and expose the culprits for the greater good of society? Can they be counted even on the fingers of one hand?

In this era when we have useless political leaders, when law and order are non-existent when the police force is a joke, it is time the fourth estate stepped up to the mark! I am sure we have the personnel; it is the commitment from the top and by this, I mean funding and the willingness to risk life and limb, that we lack. Governments over the last few decades have done their best to intimidate the press and systematically destroy any news outlet that tried to buck the usual sycophantic behaviour that is expected from them by those holding absolute power.

Do you think Richard Nixon would ever have been impeached if not for the Watergate reporting? Donald Trump partially owes his defeat to the unrelenting campaign carried out against him by the “fake news” outlets that he tried to denigrate. Trump took on too much. The fourth estate of America is too strong and too powerful to destroy in a head-to-head battle and even the most powerful man in the world, lost. Let’s not go into the merits and demerits of the victor as this is open to debate.

Now, do we have anything like that in the Pearl? Surely, with 20 million-plus “literate” people, we should? We should have over 70 years of independence built up the Fourth Estate to be proud of. One that would, if it stood strong and didn’t waver and collapse under pressure from the rulers, have ensured a better situation for our land. Here is Aotearoa with just five million people, we have journalists who keep holding the government to account. They are well-funded by newspapers and TV networks with audiences that are only a fraction of what is available in the Pearl. Some of the matters they highlight often bring a smirk of derision to my face for such matters wouldn’t even warrant one single line of newsprint, should they happen in the Pearl.

Talking of intimidation from the rulers, most of us are familiar with the nationalisation of the press, the murder and torture of journalists, the burning of presses to insidious laws been passed to curtail the activities of Journalism. These things have happened in other countries, too, but the people and press have been stronger, and they have prevailed. We are at a watershed, an absolutely crucial time. It is now that our last few credible news sources should lift their game. Give us carefully researched and accurate reports with specific conclusions, not generalisations. Refuse to disclose your sources as is your right, especially now that the myopic eye of the UNHCR is turned in our direction.

All other ways and means of saving our beloved motherland, be it government, religion, sources of law and order and even civil society leadership seems to have lapsed into the realm of theory and rhetoric. Our last chance lies with the Fourth Esate and all it stands for. I call for, nay BEG for, a favourable reaction from those decision-makers in that field, who have enough credibility left in society, DON’T LET US DOWN NOW!



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The world sees ugly side of our beauty pageants



Yes, it’s still the talk-of-the-town…not only here, but the world over – the fracas that took place at a recently held beauty pageant, in Colombo.

It’s not surprising that the local beauty scene has hit a new low because, in the past, there have been many unpleasant happenings taking place at these so-called beauty pageants.

On several occasions I have, in my articles, mentioned that the state, or some responsible authority, should step in and monitor these events – lay down rules and guidelines, and make sure that everything is above board.

My suggestions, obviously, have fallen on deaf ears, and this is the end result – our beauty pageants have become the laughing stock the world over; talk show hosts are creating scenes, connected with the recent incidents, to amuse their audience.

Australians had the opportunity of enjoying this scenario, so did folks in Canada – via talk show hosts, discussing our issue, and bringing a lot of fun, and laughter, into their discussions!

Many believe that some of these pageants are put together, by individuals…solely to project their image, or to make money, or to have fun with the participants.

And, there are also pageants, I’m told, where the winner is picked in advance…for various reasons, and the finals are just a camouflage. Yes, and rigging, too, takes place.

I was witnessed to one such incident where I was invited to be a judge for the Talent section of a beauty contest.

There were three judges, including me, and while we were engrossed in what we were assigned to do, I suddenly realised that one of the contestants was known to me…as a good dancer.

But, here’s the catch! Her number didn’t tally with the name on the scoresheet, given to the judges.

When I brought this to the notice of the organiser, her sheepish reply was that these contestants would have switched numbers in the dressing room.

Come on, they are no babes!

On another occasion, an organiser collected money from the mother of a contestant, promising to send her daughter for the finals, in the Philippines.

It never happened and she had lots of excuses not to return the money, until a police entry was made.

Still another episode occurred, at one of these so-called pageants, where the organiser promised to make a certain contestant the winner…for obvious reasons.

The judges smelt something fishy and made certain that their scoresheets were not tampered with, and their choice was crowned the winner.

The contestant, who was promised the crown, went onto a frenzy, with the organiser being manhandled.

I’m also told there are organisers who promise contestants the crown if they could part with a very high fee (Rs.500,000 and above!), and also pay for their air ticket.

Some even ask would-be contestants to check out sponsors, on behalf of the organisers. One wonders what that would entail!

Right now, in spite of the pandemic, that is crippling the whole world, we are going ahead with beauty pageants…for whose benefit!

Are the organisers adhering to the Covid-19 health guidelines? No way. Every rule is disregarded.

The recently-held contest saw the contestants, on the move, for workshops, etc., with no face masks, and no social distancing.

They were even seen in an open double-decker bus, checking out the city of Colombo…with NO FACE MASKS.

Perhaps, the instructions given by Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, mean nothing to the organisers of these beauty pageants…in this pandemic setting.

My sincere advice to those who are keen to participate in such events is to check, and double check. Or else, you will end up being deceived…wasting your money, time, and energy.

For the record, when it comes to international beauty pageants for women, Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Earth and Miss International are the four titles which reign supreme.

In pageantry, these competitions are referred to as the ‘Big Four.’

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Better use of vanity projects; Cass apologises, and New Year graciousness



A wise one, with the interests of the country at heart, calling himself ‘A Member of the Silent Majority’, wrote in The Island of Friday, April 9, offering an excellent solution for the better and genuine use of the Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport which was built at a stupendous cost to both the Treasury, and wildlife abundant in the area, to satisfy an ego and sycophants’ cries of Hail to the King. Even sans Covid and lockdowns and shut downs of airports, the Mattala Airport was a white elephant, endangering and displacing the black elephants, roaming along their familiar corridors; receiving such few airplanes. Thus, as the writer Cass mentions says, convert the airport to a super hotel with excellent and sure-fire access to wildlife watching, like referred to hotels in Kenya and elsewhere. Yes, it will definitely be a bigger money earner than an airport waiting for a plane to land. Expensive equipment going rusty could be transferred to smaller airports being developed all over the island. There was such a hue and cry when storerooms, within the deserted airport, were used for paddy storage, but not even a whimper of concerted protest when the vanity projects were being built. We also heard that on the rare occasions a plane was to land/take off, peacocks in the area were shot at to prevent them flying into the planes. Aney, what a sin, just to have a name on a nameboard! Use the Suriyawewa Cricket Stadium too for a better purpose and less costly to water and maintain green in near desert climate conditions. What about a residential training institute for youth, perhaps in small industries? If the king-sized ego demands the name be present, OK, leave it. What’s in a name?

Any matter, financial or economic, with benefit to country buttressing it – refer to Dr Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickremaratne. Likewise, anything pertaining to fauna, flora and preservation of natural habitats ask Devani Jayathilake. Cassandra would give two years of her life (she does not have 10 left, she suspects) to know what the answers of the three wise and sincere ones mentioned would be to the proposal to convert the Mattala Airport, oops sorry – Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport – to a 7 star hotel for wildlife watching and then tourists proceeding to Yala and other places that were touted to be reached easier if planes brimful of tourists, landed in Mattala. Pipe dream even sans Covid-19.

The thought of the millions, nay billions, our country was indebted to China to construct these vanity projects aka white elephants of the Rajapaksa fiefdom sends Cass’s blood racing in her contracting veins. And now another hair-brained scheme is being exposed, not new but re-exposed: that of the stupendous amount sent direct from the Central Bank with no nod, as reported, from the then Cabinet or Parliament, to an American-resident con-man to improve our appearance on the world stage or at least American stage. My word!! Cosmetics of creams and colours and such like can improve the face of an already beautiful woman. But a country that was once beautiful, glorified, accepted internationally and then politician-spoilt, cannot be redeemed by PR work, however expensively. Nivard Cabraal was the then Govenor of the CB. Of course, as every Banda, Singho and their women say, nothing will come of this. Powerful political sweeping under the carpet in the presence of cardboard administrators and sycophantic hosanna singers, makes the matter disappear and not merely hides it. Unless of course there are enough intrepid outers-of-truths and persistent protestors, brave and national minded enough to continuously tease the matter like a cat its caught rat. Ranjan is locked away in hard labour for four solid years, losing his Parliamentary seat for misusing the gift of his gab, while convicted murderers of the right colour attend Parliament, escorted and all.

Cass apologises

To the reigning Mrs World, Mrs Caroline Jurie, for crowning, uncrowning and recrowning of the winner of the recent Mrs Sri Lanka contest. Caroline Jurie took this stride because the winning contestant was four years on the way to being a divorcee, which status forbids a woman from attempting to wear the crown of Mrs…. (country) with a view to becoming Mrs World. This title and honour is bestowed on a woman who promotes, holds sacred the institution of marriage and is a married woman. Cass castigated Caroline Jurie without knowing then the fact that Jurie had protested about this candidate being considered due to her impending divorce; and allowed to contest. She said she withdrew from the panel of judges since her point was not taken by the others. WHY is the Q. Easy to answer. The new beauty queen of shaky married status was a loud speaker in favour of Presidential Candidate Gotabaya R in Polonnaruwa (captured on social media) and probably spoke on stages for SLPP Parliamentary candidates. So of course she was slated to win; vision impaired over rules and future probabilities, She has her height – one advantage. Beauty can always be dexterously rubbed and painted in. But honesty is important and cannot be cloned or grafted in.

Cass now definitely faults the new Mrs Sri Lanka. She should not have contested, having her papers sent in for divorce and not retracted. What happens when she wins the divorce (or her husband wins it, however the divorce was first mooted). Another local contest? And if the divorce was still pending and she went overseas at great expense and won THE crown or a lesser one. To be returned forthwith when she has to remove the present gold band from her third finger, which probably she has already removed but hastily wore for the contest and when preparing for it? This is why Cass avows that many young women particularly, are so very selfish and forward and uppity and even dishonest now. In Cass’ time and even a decade or two later, a girl would never do what this new beauty has done, flipped aside a core rule and necessity of the contest, just to win by honest means or foul. Way the country’s going, my friend.

Post – Aluth Avurudhu

Cassandra is stuffed gill-high with kavun, aluwa and crunchy kokis, preceded by kiributh and lunumiris. She is fending for herself because a dip in Covid numbers and having had the jab, her domestic wished to enjoy a family new year having missed the last one, locked down as we were. Cass made her own kiributh – tasting somewhat like it should, but the sweets were all gifted her. So, also the offers of help, sleep-ins at others’ homes and solicitous frequent inquiries of ‘how are you?’ Kind and gracious relatives and friends, acquaintances too are thanked; and the most appreciated being neighbouring kitchen helps and care givers. Three-wheeler drivers who spin Cass around on errands too make enquiries. And thus her thoughts when resuming work at the nekath time and word processing this article. Sri Lankans are such good people: kind, caring, willing to share and genuine. And then specters themselves on this very sunny landscape: the dishonest, selfish, revengeful and disgraceful. Shrug them off, clear the mental picture and pronounce thank goodness for goodness around.

May all of us (decent people) have a very good year to follow today –Subha Aluth Avuruddhak!

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