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Election Interference Now Comes From Inside the ‘White House’ Itself!




by Selvam Canagaratna

“An American presidential campaign resembles a forced march through enemy territory.”

– Lewis Lapham,

Imperial Masquerade, 1990.

In 2016, Russian hackers attacked the Democratic National Committee and other high-profile Democratic targets. This year, the government that’s interfering most aggressively in the 2020 US election isn’t Vladimir Putin’s — it’s Trump’s very own!

The most infamous example until now of Trump’s use of the powers of state for electoral ends was his attempted shakedown of the Ukrainian government — for which Trump was ultimately impeached.

Just a few weeks after he was acquitted in the Senate, Trump hired Richard Grenell, a longtime Republican operative who also served as Ambassador to Germany, to serve as acting Director of National Intelligence. Grenell’s main accomplishment in that position was stoking the conspiracy Trump has dubbed ‘Obamagate’.

Democrats warned that if Trump wasn’t taught a lesson by way of impeachment, he would simply be emboldened to keep abusing his office for political purposes. And he has!

Using his rarefied government perch, Grenell selectively declassified intelligence in order to suggest that Biden had illegally spied on Trump’s campaign in 2016 — part of an effort to turn the actual misdeeds of Trump’s inner circle into a conspiracy theory about his opponent — an electoral disinformation campaign run by the United States government!

“I think you’ll go down as the all-time great ‘Acting’ ever, at any position,” Trump told Grenell admiringly as he exited the DNI role. Grenell promptly took a job with the Republican National Committee.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Bill Barr has suggested he might soon release the “Durham Report,” the Justice Department’s investigation of Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election. The Attorney General has made no secret about the timing. “I’ve said there are going to be developments, significant developments, before the election,” he said in an interview on Fox News last month.

Despite public pressure from Trump, Barr has said that he doesn’t expect the Durham Report to lead to any criminal investigations of Biden or former President Barack Obama, and has lamented “increasing attempts to use the criminal justice system as a political weapon.” But in late August — in the middle of the Republican National Convention that was itself held, in part, at the White House — the Justice Department announced it was requesting more information from four Democratic governors on their handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, while “evaluating whether to initiate investigations.” They included the governors of Michigan and Pennsylvania, two swing states at the centre of Trump’s re-election strategy. “This really does smell,” a former DOJ official told HuffPost.

Barr, meanwhile, has used his position as the nation’s chief law enforcement official to spread false information about voter fraud, in an attempt to influence the conduct of the election itself. On CNN, in an effort to impugn the legitimacy of mail-in voting, he invented a story about a Texas man who voted 1,700 times in one election — something his office later conceded never happened!

On Tuesday, in a move the New York Times called “highly unusual,” the Justice Department intervened in defense of Trump in an ongoing defamation lawsuit brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll, who has alleged that Trump raped her in the 1990s. Trump denied the charge and claimed she had fabricated the story because she was “selling a new book.” The government’s official position is that when Trump said Carroll was “not my type”, he “was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time,” according to the department’s court filing.

It’s a major assist to Trump, who was facing mounting legal bills from the case. He faces the prospect of having to provide DNA evidence and testify under oath in the coming months. As the Times put it, “The motion also effectively protects Mr. Trump from any embarrassing disclosures in the middle of his campaign for re-election.” In 2016, Trump had Michael Cohen to hush up damaging personal revelations. Now he has the DOJ.

Some synergy between policy and politics is to be expected — and it’s natural that someone who violated the Fair Housing Act as a businessman would continue to undermine it as President! In the Trump administration, in 2020, it is impossible to tell where the government ends and the campaign begins.

The same holds true at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which held a citizenship ceremony at the White House during the recent convention as part of a stunt to soften the President’s image. At the same time, the agency was poised to disenfranchise between 200,000 and 300,000 citizens-in-waiting by delaying their naturalization process.

“The absence of these hundreds of thousands of ‘missing voters’, many of whom live in swing states,” argued the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell, “could be sufficient to sway the election.”

Rarely has the government interference been as explicit as it was in August, when Trump bragged that he was starving the United States Postal Service of bailout funds it had requested in the hopes of sabotaging mail-in balloting in the presidential election. “They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said. “But if they don’t get those two items…that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”

Trump, after botching the government’s response to the pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans, has also tried to exploit the crisis. He has repeatedly floated the prospect of making a Covid-19 vaccine available before the election — perhaps, he said last Friday, as early as October. Thankfully public health officials, at least so far, sound more reluctant to get involved in Trump’s election schemes.

Although Food and Drug Administration officials have insisted their vaccine approval process will not be influenced by the campaign, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent a memo to states last week instructing them to be prepared to distribute a vaccine by November 1 — two days before Trump’s self-imposed election deadline. The problem with a President who uses public policy for personal ends is you can never really tell when one becomes another.

Last month, Politico reported that the Department of Health and Human Services is considering spending up to $250 million on a media blitz to “defeat despair and inspire hope” on the pandemic in the coming months. While public-service announcements are hardly unusual, the spending blitz prompted a concerned letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), wondering if it was “a thinly-veiled effort to use taxpayer dollars on a propaganda campaign to support the President’s re-election effort.”

And this summer Trump deployed federal law enforcement agencies and in some cases the military to American cities to suppress protests — in an attempt to reshape the narrative around which his national campaign is unfolding, which is the notion that Americans won’t be safe in Biden’s America. On Wednesday, a whistleblower at the Department of Homeland Security alleged that top officials at the agency used their power to manipulate intelligence reports in order “to ensure they matched up with the public comments by Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups” — in other words, they cooked up the justification for Trump’s campaign attacks against Biden. DHS was simultaneously squelching information about Russian interference because it would reflect poorly on the President. Covering up election interference is also a form of election interference.

Remember, just days before the 2018 midterms, Trump sent 5,000 troops to the US-Mexican border in a barely-concealed gambit to force Democrats on the defensive.

The 2018 ploy was, of course, a failure. And therein lies the silver lining for Democrats. Trump has demonstrated practically every day the fragility of political norms; the separation of campaigning and governance exists more or less on the honour system. It turns out it’s incredibly easy to cynically treat the federal bureaucracy like an arm of the RNC. But when you’re doing it all in plain sight, sometimes that itself becomes the story!


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development



There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka



By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?



Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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