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An October Surprise

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By Gwynne Dyer

An ‘October Surprise’ in the United States is now almost inevitable, because that will be Donald Trump’s last chance to get re-elected legitimately. He might try to cling to office even if he loses the vote, but it would be a lot easier and neater if he actually won a majority in the Electoral College on 3 November.

‘October Surprise’ is the American political term for a fake crisis, usually involving foreigners, that is ‘discovered’ by a president trailing badly in the polls in the last few weeks before an election. All other issues are forgotten, Americans rally around the flag, and the incumbent wins on a surge of patriotism. Or that’s the theory, at least.

The same thing happens elsewhere too, of course, and not necessarily in October. That’s when it needs to happen in to win a US presidential election, but there’s a ‘July Surprise’ happening in Belarus right now (because the election there is set for 9 August).

Last week Alexander Lukashenko, the strongman who rules Belarus, ‘discovered’ Russian mercenaries in his country. They were unarmed and on their way to Istanbul, but Lukashenko says there is a plot: “So far there is no open warfare, no shooting, the trigger has not yet been pulled, but an attempt to organise a massacre in the centre of Minsk is already obvious.” Only I can save our country! Vote for me!

Trump will need something like that because otherwise the coronavirus is going to kill him politically. This was not true as recently as early June, because up until then the United States was not performing especially badly in dealing with the pandemic.

It LOOKED a lot worse because of Trump’s bizarre behaviour – the endless, shameless lies, the narcissism, the suggestions that people should inject bleach, etc. – but in terms of Covid-19 deaths per million people the American fatality rate was still lower than any other major Western countries except Germany and Canada.

The United States was late to go into lockdown, but so were they all, at least compared to most Asian countries. Until recently, if you were a Trump supporter, you could still believe he was doing a good job.

It was Trump’s rush to end the lockdown, not all the earlier nonsense, that did the real damage. He believed that he would lose the election if the economy didn’t revive, but by opening up too fast he managed to revive the pandemic at the same time.

The numbers tell the tale. This week America will record its 160,000th death from Covid-19. That’s almost a quarter of all the coronavirus deaths in the world. Much worse, US deaths are still going up while deaths elsewhere in the developed world have fallen steeply. That’s almost entirely due to Trump.

Take Canada, for example. It’s very similar to the US in economy and demography, but different in social and political terms. Canada has universal health care and a much less drastic divide between the rich and the rest, for example, which probably explains why America’s cumulative death rate per million is 484, while Canada’s is only 237.

The history is therefore an American death rate twice as high as Canada’s: not great, but structurally inevitable. By now, however, Canada has managed to get its deaths down to 10 a day, whereas America is back up around a 1,000 a day.

Even allowing for Canada’s much smaller population, that is 10 times worse. This is what coming out of lockdown too early did to the United States, and it is all down to Donald Trump.

The pandemic is raging again in the United States, and there may be a quarter-million deaths there by election day in November. US ‘deaths per million’ are going up three per day, which means that the US will overtake Chile (now 509) in less than two weeks, Italy (582) in a month, Spain (609) in five weeks. It might even catch up with the UK (682) by election day.

Most of those newly dead Americans will be over 60, so probably Trump supporters. Their relatives and friends are bound to notice eventually. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in the polls has already widened to 10%. How could Trump turn that around in the remaining 90 S days?

His only hope is to manufacture an October Surprise: a restaged ‘Tonkin Gulf Incident’ with China, perhaps, or a terrorist ‘threat’ so humongous that it gives him a pretext to declare martial law nationwide. Or maybe he will arrange the premature certification of a Covid-19 vaccine so he can roll it out just before the vote. If it kills a lot of people later on, who cares? He won.

Trump knows that if he loses the election he will spend the rest of his life in court, possibly even in jail. He will do whatever it takes to win. It isn’t over yet.

 



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Fuel crisis: Key CPC facility opened for VIPs, friends as public transport shrinks

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya trade unionist Ananda Palitha yesterday (01) alleged that members of Parliament, Chairmen of various government institutions, and other politically connected persons, continued to obtain unlimited petrol and diesel from the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) facility at Kolonnawa.

The former CPC employee declared that the powers that be had transformed the Kolonnawa depot into a special facility to cater to the needs of the politically influential.

Those who touted the ‘One Country, One Law’ concept had created a special category while almost the entire nation suffered due to the unprecedented disruption of fuel supplies, Palitha said.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera and CPC Chairman Sumith Wijesinha didn’t answer their phones.

Ananda Palitha said that none of those who had been given access to the Kolonnawa depot came under essential services. “Why should lawmakers, whatever their status in society, be given access to the special facility when they aren’t included among essential services,”

Ananda Palitha asked.The SJB activist said that the government was struggling to maintain public transport after having repeatedly promised to sustain.

The trade unionist alleged that though they brought the clandestine operation at Kolonnawa to the attention of the government, it continued unabated. Barrels full of fuel had been taken from Kolonnawa, he said, among the beneficiaries were owners of V8 and other super luxury vehicles.

Ananda Palitha said that the Opposition should have taken up this issue vigorously.

Responding to another query, Ananda Palitha said that according to information available to them, Ceypetco had approximately 3,000 mt of diesel, 2,500 mt of petrol 95,600-700 mt of petrol 92 and was not in a position at least to meet the requirement of the essential services.

“The government is yet to come up with a plan to obtain petrol and diesel,” Ananda Palitha said, urging the government to take the public into confidence.

Palitha pointed out that the police had carried out numerous raids, targeting those who hoarded diesel and petrol, whereas a primary fuel depot that was not supposed to pump fuel for outsiders, engaged in business. The government should be ashamed of this situation, the trade union leader said, pointing out the country was heading for chaos.

The Island yesterday afternoon brought Ananada Palitha’s allegations to the notice of Lalith Weeratunga, Senior Advisor to the President,Gotabaya Rajapaksa

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Energy cooperation sought from Saudi Arabia on urgent basis

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Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has requested Charge d’ Affaires of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Abdulelah A. A. Orkobi, to facilitate Environment Minister Naseer Ahamed to visit Saudi Arabia from July 02-05 as Special Envoy of the President of Sri Lanka.The request was made when the envoy called on Prof Peiris at the Foreign Ministry on Thursday (30).

At the meeting, Foreign Minister Peiris briefed the Saudi envoy on the current economic situation, including fuel shortage and its negative impact on all sectors in Sri Lanka. Prof. Peiris sought avenues for energy cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as an utmost urgent matter.

Charge d’ Affaires of Saudi Embassy Orkobi, emphasized the importance attached to the Sri Lanka – Saudi bilateral relationship and assured all possible support to Sri Lanka, at this juncture.

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‘Halting assistance’: Japanese envoy reassures Prez

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Japanese Ambassador Hideaki Mizukoshi yesterday (01) met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa against the backdrop of reports that Japan wouldn’t provide financial assistance due to the possibility of such being mismanaged.A section of the media quoted the Japanese envoy having said so at a meeting with a group of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members during a recent visit to the north.

Subsequent to the meeting at the President’s House, the President’s Office said that the Japanese envoy reassured the President of their support to the proposed IMF programme with Sri Lanka and bilateral development assistance.

However, the Japanese embassy didn’t issue a statement on the meeting though it regularly issued statements on a range of issues.

Recently Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Japan Sanjiv Gunasekera suddenly quit the top diplomatic posting. The government has nominated former Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage as Gunasekera’s successor.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office has sought a clarification from the Japanese embassy regarding the controversial declaration and received an assurance that the envoy didn’t say so at the meeting with the TNA (SF)

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