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Efforts to avoid panic backfired, says surgeon as country braces for wave of infections without coherent government response

The US is on course to be severely ravaged by the coronavirus outbreak due to a delayed and dysfunctional testing regime and misleading messaging from the Trump administration, public health experts have warned.

As of Friday, there were more than 1,600 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus across the US, with 41 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. However, the actual number of infected Americans is certain to be far higher, with the true toll obscured by a calamitous lack of testing.

A lack of planning and restrictions that barred testing people without symptoms, even though the virus can be asymptomatic for some time, or those not arriving from overseas virus hotspots has needlessly worsened the situation, critics said.

In the period from last Sunday until Wednesday morning, the CDC tested just 77 people in the US. By stark comparison the Utah Jazz basketball team alone managed to test 58 people as the NBA, along with scores of schools, Broadway shows and various other cultural and sporting events were shut down. Even in Washington state, where 31 people have died, health officials have had to ration test kits.

On 31 January the Trump administration restricted travel from China, where Covid-19 originated, but then efforts to ramp up testing and ensure containment stalled. In a key setback, the administration rejected World Health Organization testing kits in favor of developing its own, which turned out to be faulty.

The response has been frustrating and disappointing, said Thomas Chen-chia Tsai, a surgeon in Boston and faculty member of the Harvard Global Health Institute. The strict quarantine measures in China bought the rest of the world a few weeks of time but in the US we were on the sidelines rather than reacting. It was a missed opportunity. If there was a targeted response wed be in a very different position now.

The US government didnt want to cause panic but Americans panic when there they sense theres no plan. That vacuum creates panic.


This muddled response was exacerbated by Donald Trump who, reportedly fearful of the impact upon the stock market and his own re-election prospects, initially dismissed fears over the coronavirus as a hoax before stating that infections were going very substantially down, not up. The administration promised millions of testing kits would be easily available to Americans.

All of these pronouncements have proved untrue, leading to sharp criticism of Trump.

In an unusually stinging editorial, Holden Thorp, a chemist and editor-in-chief of Science, said the presidents distortion and denial is dangerous and almost certainly contributed to the federal governments sluggish response. After three years of debating whether the words of this administration matter, the words are now clearly a matter of life and death.

The worsening situation has been acknowledged even by allies of the president. We probably lost the chance to have an outcome like South Korea, said Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration chief under Trump, referencing a country that has helped curb the outbreak by testing nearly 20,000 people every day. We must do everything to avert the tragic suffering being borne by Italy.

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Trump’s changing reactions to coronavirus: from calm to closing borders video report

Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, admitted in testimony to Congress this week that authorities had failed to respond swiftly to the spread of coronavirus.

The idea of anybody getting [testing] easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we are not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes. But we are not, he said. It is a failing. I mean, lets admit it.

The US is now bracing itself for a huge wave of new infections without a coherent federal government response.

Hampered structurally by the countrys lack of paid sick leave and a for-profit healthcare system that makes going to the doctor prohibitively expensive for millions of Americans, states and cities are falling back on social distancing measures such as shutting down large gatherings and promoting good hygiene.

Belated actions by Trump, such as banning travel from much of Europe, have done little to tackle a virus that has already raced across the American continent, with experts now predicting that tens of millions of people will become infected.

Andy Slavitt, former head of Medicare under Barack Obamas administration, tweeted that there were expectations of over 1 million deaths in the US since the virus was not contained & we cannot even test for it. This will be recorded as a major preventable public health disaster.

Even a sudden surge in testing, combined with accurate, sober advice from the Trump administration, wont prevent a huge strain placed upon a fragmented American healthcare system that delivers wildly different outcomes for people depending upon their financial means. Ominously, there are far fewer hospital beds per capita in the US compared to the Lombardy region in Italy, where the coronavirus has overwhelmed the healthcare system.

We dont have all the beds we need and if this thing hits us full on we are going to be up the creek, said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

We started with a very crippled public health system that has been underfunded for many years and we knew that something like this would cause us huge challenges. We are seeing that now. We are planning for the worst but hoping for the best.

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As Kurds claim border is already being shelled, US appears to backtrack but Ankara says it will not be controlled by threats

Turkey has signalled its intent to press ahead with an attack on US-backed Kurdish-led forces in north-east Syria despite confusion over US policy after officials appeared to backtrack on Donald Trumps decision to withdraw troops from the area.

The vice-president, Fuat Oktay, said Turkey would execute its own plans regarding national security and would not be controlled by threats.

Turkey will not accept a terror corridor or terror state right next to its borders under any circumstances, whatever the cost, he said.

The Trump administration appeared to step back from the presidents reported promise to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyap Erdoan, in a phone call on Sunday that he would withdraw US troops from Syrias north-east.

The decision appeared to clear the way for a Turkish assault on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the US has backed but Ankara considers an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers party (PKK).

The SDF said late on Tuesday night that Turkish forces were already attacking near the border. The Turkish military is shelling one of our points on SereKaniye Border with Turkey, it said in a tweet, referencing the key border town of Ras al-Ain.

It was one of the places from which US troops withdrew from on Monday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

There were no injuries to our forces. We didnt respond to this unprovoked attack, the SDF said.

After the White House announced that the Turkish offensive was imminent and that US forces would be moved out of the way, Trump was heavily criticised by both Democrats and Republicans, including close allies such as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell on whom Trump could ultimately rely as a bulwark against impeachment charges.

The critics warned that a rushed withdrawal could open a new front in Syrias complex war, undo gains made against Islamic State and betray a military partner that had lost 11,000 fighters in that campaign.

The criticism prompted a change in tone from Trump on Tuesday morning. He said on Twitter: We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters.

After threatening to obliterate Turkeys economy if it did anything off-limits in the planned offensive, Trump talked up Washingtons relationship with Turkey. So many people conveniently forget that Turkey is a big trading partner of the United States, he said.

The Republican senator Lindsey Graham warned Turkey that Congress would impose sanctions if Ankara went ahead with its offensive.

Any incursion into northern Syria by Turkey creates a nightmare for the region & US national security interests, he said on Twitter. It will be met with most severe sanctions against Turkeys military and economy by Congress at a time we should be working together to solve common problems.

With his rhetorical U-turns and mixed messages, Trump has been publicly coming to terms with policy dilemmas that constrained his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The US cannot afford to worsen its already poor relationship with Turkey and cannot contemplate a military clash with a Nato ally. On the other hand, there is considerable US support, particularly in the Republican party, for standing by the Kurds.


The compromise until Sunday was an effort to establish a demilitarised cordon along the Turkish-Syrian border, patrolled jointly by the Turkish and US forces. That was ultimately torpedoed by Erdoans insistence that the 20-mile-deep zone should be resettled by Syrian Arab refugees, and that Turkish forces establish outposts inside the zone.

When Erdoan told Trump of his intention to invade, Trump agreed to withdraw the US troops in the zone and to try to sell it as the fulfilment of his election promise to bring troops home and to stop Americas endless wars.

White House officials insisted no US troops would be withdrawn from Syria, and that between 50 and 100 special forces would be redeployed from the border zone to more secure positions in Syria.

Nicholas Danforth, a visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund who studies US-Turkey relations, said: Trump came through for Erdoan in a big way. Now Erdoan has to decide how far to press his luck before provoking a backlash from the US Congress or even Trump himself.

Trumps unpredictability is a double-edged sword for Ankara. Territorial gains Turkey makes in Syria will be immediate and obvious. The full cost of antagonising Washington will appear more slowly.

In Turkey, there has been a mixed reaction to news of the planned assault. Turkeys fragile lira dropped nine cents to 5.80 against the dollar after Trump tweeted a threat of more sanctions on Monday.

People are wondering if the campaign is being used to cover up the economic distress and declining Justice and Development party [Erdogans ruling AKP] votes, said Asl Aydntaba, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

One worries Turkey could stumble into a situation here where rather than just establish a safe zone a war could escalate very quickly.

Nationalistic sentiment is already being drummed up on online. Turkeys national defence ministry posted several clips of Turkish soldiers set to rock music and snippets of the national anthem on its social media accounts. We will come back war veterans or we will come back martyrs, one post read.

Yusuf Erim, a political analyst familiar with the Turkish governments thinking, said that with Isis defeated as a territorial entity and given the appeal of sending back up to 2 million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey a move Ankara insists does not amount to demographic engineering the operations timing made sense.

Trump actually wanted to withdraw in December 2018, so this is not an unplanned idea, Erim said. Neither the US nor Turkey wants a unilateral Turkish operation that would risk a confrontation between the US and Turkish troops. This is a proposal that was on the shelf but has been dusted off and brought back. Its not a spontaneous thing.

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Residents of the Tennessee city the Kurdish capital of America feel sold out but unsurprised by troop withdrawal

If you spend enough time in Kurdish places, from sidewalk tea stands in the shadow of the Erbil citadel to the bullet-pocked alleys of Diyarbakir and the dusty fields along Syrias frontlines, there is a proverb you will hear. It goes like this: The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.

It means that in the end, when Kurds are under attack and facing death, the mountains they retreat to will be the only things to protect them, whatever alliances they may have had before.

Youll hear it in Nashville too, in Little Kurdistan, a strip of grocers and eateries tucked between an Aldi and a Waffle House along the Nolensville Pike.

This week, Donald Trump announced he was pulling US troops from Syrias border with Turkey, seemingly giving the green light for Turkey to attack Kurdish forces allied with America. For many Kurds in Nashville many of whom came here and prospered after fleeing for their lives the sudden reversal was nothing short of a betrayal.

A Kurdish grocery store in Nashville. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

He betrayed the whole Kurdish nation, said Salah Osman, the imam at the Salahadeen Center mosque. We knew this is what would happen. We knew after they used [the Kurdish forces], after they did their job, they would leave them to face their future without any friends.

To most Americans, Nashville is the country music and bachelorette party capital, a place for boozy and raucous fun at neon-lit honky-tonks on Broadway. But it is also the Kurdish capital of America, home to an estimated 15,000 Kurds, the largest such population in the US.

When members of the Nashville Kurdish community like Osman look at images of Syrian Kurds fleeing Turkish attacks, crowded into the back of trucks or fleeing on foot with whatever they can carry, they think of their own experiences.

There are those who were in the first wave, arriving in the 1970s after a failed rebellion in Iraq. There are those who fled Saddam Husseins genocidal al-Anfal campaign in the late 1980s, and those who fled after George HW Bush encouraged Iraqis to rise up during the Gulf war but then did not provide assistance.

There are those who were born in refugee camps to parents who escaped with only the clothes on their backs. There are those who fled in the mid-90s, after Saddams forces, briefly pushed out of northern Iraq, stormed back in. There are those who risked their lives as interpreters for the US military, after the 2003 invasion.

More recent arrivals have fled from Syria and from oppression and violence in Turkey.

Sakir Cinar says sleep has been hard to come by since it was clear that Turkey was going to attack Syrias Kurds. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

It is unlikely that the latest violence will bring another surge in Nashvilles Kurdish population. Under new asylum rules, applicants must first try to seek safe haven in a third country. It is nearly impossible for Syrians to get US visas under Trumps travel ban and the administration has set the refugee cap at an all-time low.

Kirmanj Gundi, a Tennessee State University professor, came to Nashville in the 1970s. He spoke no English and the Kurdish community numbered in the hundreds.

I dont know how to express my feelings, he said this week. Its sad. Its frustrating. We feel we are betrayed again. We feel we are sold out again. We feel we are used again.

Gundi came to America after the Shah of Iran cut off funding to Kurdish rebels in a deal with Iraq. He watched more Kurds arrive in the 90s. The betrayal by Trump, he says, is more intense, the wound is deeper They were promised that they would be protected.

Trump did not stop at clearing the way for a Turkish attack. He has sought to justify his decision by painting Kurdish forces who did the bulk of the fighting against Islamic State in Syria as potentially fair-weather allies.

On Wednesday, Trump even defended his decision by saying the Kurds didnt help the US during the second world war.

At a rally in Minneapolis on Thursday evening, Trump was speaking about Turkeys offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces and his decision to withdraw US troops when he suddenly brought up how he has to send letters to the families of soldiers killed in blue on green attacks, where were teaching people how to fight and then they turn the gun on our soldiers and shoot them in the back.

He had previously praised Kurds for being among Americas most loyal allies.

We feel like when Donald Trump makes statements like this, it affects our position in this country and how some other citizens may perceive us as a threat to this country, which we are not, said Zaid Brifkani, a Kurdish American doctor in Nashville who is president of the Kurdish Professionals Group in the city.

We are part of this community, we are part of this American dream.

We are free here

Nawzad Hawrami, the director of the Salahadeen Center, says Kurds like him have found freedom in Nashville. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

At the centre of Little Kurdistan, around the Salahadeen Center mosque, Kurdish stores are interspersed with a Latin American nightclub and a hibachi restaurant. Earlier this year, Nashvilles public schools approved adding Kurdish-language electives in high schools. During Ramadan, when the mosque is open all night, the police department stations a squad car outside. Some in the older generation only speak Arabic and Kurdish. Their children have American accents.

We are free here. As a Kurd, as a Muslim, we are free more than in our back home countries, said Nawzad Hawrami, director of the Salahadeen Center, who lived in the Iraqi city of Halabja during al-Anfal. This is a great country, a great nation.

Sakir Cinar got asylum in the US two years ago after, he says, he made a Facebook post critical of Turkeys president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, that led to a mob attacking his restaurant and his arrest by Turkish authorities.

In Nashville, working as a cook, he can say what he wants. He can speak Kurdish without having to look over his shoulder. He can speak with a journalist in public, without fearing repercussions.

But the Turkish attack on Syria has left him sleepless, glued to his phone, checking for updates.

My insides are hurting, crying. I just can pray, he said.

A mural depicting scenes of traditional Kurdish life is painted on the side of a Kurdish grocer in Little Kurdistan, Nashville. Photograph: Josh Wood/The Guardian

Nashvilles Kurds are unsure they can make a difference. Tennessees two Republican senators have spoken out. On Friday, hundreds of members of the Kurdish community protested in downtown Nashville. But at the end of the day, they are a small community with little ability to leverage state elections, let alone foreign policy.

Trump has said he will try to broker a deal between Turkey and the Kurds and has raised the possibility of working to destroy and obliterate Turkeys economy if it does anything off limits. But despite widespread criticism, even from his closest allies, he has stood by his decision to withdraw.

While many in Little Kurdistan feel betrayed, Trumps behavior has not soured their thoughts on America.

When it comes to America, there are opportunities, said Gundi, the professor. When you compare America with any other nation America comes out head and shoulders above any country in the world.

Brifkani, the doctor, said: I dont think Trump represents true American values.

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Apple’s decision to greenlight an app called HKmaps, which is being used by pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong to crowdsource information about street closures and police presence, is attracting the ire of the Chinese government.

An article in Chinese state mouthpiece, China Daily, attacks the iPhone maker for reversing an earlier decision not to allow the app to be listed on the iOS App Store — claiming the app is “allowing the rioters in Hong Kong to go on violent acts” (via The Guardian).

HKmaps uses emoji to denote live police and protest activity around Hong Kong, as reported by users.

The former British colony is a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China that’s been able to maintain certain economic and and political freedoms since reunification with China — under the one country, two systems principle. But earlier this year pro-democracy protests broke out after the Hong Kong government sought to pass legislation that would allow for extradition to mainland China. It’s policing around those on-going protests that’s being made visible on HKmaps.

The app’s developer denies the map enables illegal activity, saying its function is “for info” purposes only — to allow residents to move freely around the city by being able to avoid protest flash-points. But the Chinese government is branding it “toxic”.

“Business is business, and politics is politics. Nobody wants to drag Apple into the lingering unrest in Hong Kong. But people have reason to assume that Apple is mixing business with politics, and even illegal acts. Apple has to think about the consequences of its unwise and reckless decision,” the China Daily writer warns in a not-so-veiled threat about continued access to the Chinese market.

“Providing a gateway for ‘toxic apps’ is hurting the feelings of the Chinese people, twisting the facts of Hong Kong affairs, and against the views and principles of the Chinese people,” it goes on. “Apple and other corporations should be able to discern right from wrong. They also need to know that only the prosperity of China and China’s Hong Kong will bring them a broader and more sustainable market.”

The article takes further aim at Apple — claiming it reinstated a song which advocates for independence for Hong Kong and had previously been removed from its music store.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment.

A few days ago the company was getting flak from the other direction as Western commentators piled on to express incredulity over its decision, at the app review stage, not to allow HKmaps on its store. The app’s developer said Apple App Store reviewers had rejected it citing the reasoning as “the app allowed users to evade law enforcement”.

Yet, as many pointed out at the time, the Google-owned Waze app literally describes its function as “avoid police” if you take the trouble to read its iOS listing. So it looked like a crystal-clear case of double standards by Cupertino. And, most awkwardly for Apple, as if the US tech giant was siding with the Chinese state against Hong Kong as concerned residents fight for their autonomy and call for democracy.

We asked Apple about its decision to reject the app at the App Store review stage last week. It did not provide any comment but a couple of days afterwards a spokesman pointed us to an “update” — where the developer tweeted that the iOS version was “Approved, comming soon!” [sic].

At the time of writing the iOS app remains available on the App Store but the episode highlights the tricky trade-offs Apple is facing by operating in the Chinese market — a choice that risks denting its reputation for highly polished corporate values.

The size of the China market is such that just “economical deceleration” can — and has — put a serious dent in Apple’s bottom line. If the company were to exit — or be ejected — from the market entirely there would be no way for it to cushion the blow for shareholders. Yet with a premium brand so bound up with ethical claims to champion and defend fundamental human rights like privacy Apple risks being pinned between a rock and a hard place as an increasingly powerful China flexes more political and economic muscle.

Wider trade tensions between the US and China are also creating further instability, causing major operating headaches for Chinese tech giant Huawei — with the Trump administration pressuring allies to freeze it out of 5G networks and leaning on US companies not to provide services to Chinese firms (leading to question marks over whether Huawei’s smartphones can continue using Google’s Android OS, and suggestions it might seek to deploy its own OS).

The going is certainly getting tougher for tech businesses working from East to West. But it also remains to be seen how sustainable Apple’s West-to-East democratic balancing act can be given heightened and escalating geopolitical tensions.

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Friends and colleagues are puzzled by his unexpected conversion, and some speculate that hes angling for an administration post

Facing a skeptical audience at a theatre in downtown Washington, Senator Lindsey Graham embraced the role of pantomime villain in the ongoing saga of Brett Kavanaughs nomination to the supreme court.

Im the first person to say, I want to hear from Dr Ford, he said, referring to the woman who testified to the Senate about allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. I thought she was handled respectfully. I thought Kavanaugh was treated like crap.

The packed auditorium at the Atlantic magazines annual festival filled with boos and heckles. Graham snapped back dismissively: Yeah, well, boo yourself.

Some members of the audience walked out in disgust. But the South Carolina senator was reveling in being the centre of attention. He was also displaying his new, unexpected conversion from ardent critic of Donald Trump to one of the presidents most ferocious attack dogs.

It is a role that has pushed Graham into new national prominence, putting him squarely in the middle of the national confrontation between the #MeToo movement and the populist backlash of male victimisation and righteous indignation.

His battle cry: I know Im a single white man from South Carolina and Ive been told to shut up but I will not shut up.

But friends, acquaintances and colleagues are puzzled. Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said: I think a lot of people in this town who know Lindsey are scratching their heads and saying, Thats not the Lindsey Graham whos always been an honest broker. If Lindseys honest, he would not perform the way hes been performing on behalf of Trump.

Graham, 63, has long been one of the most colorful characters in the Senate, long parodied by TV satirist Jon Stewart as a southern belle like Tennessee Williams Blanche DuBois. He served in the US air force in various capacities for more than three decades. In 2015, he acknowledged he had never sent an email.

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Graham launched his political career in the South Carolina legislature in 1992 before winning an open House seat in 1994. He emerged as a key figure in the attempt to impeach President Bill Clinton. He also became known for hawkish views on foreign policy andfor working across the aisle with Democrats.

Graham ran for president in 2016 but was crushed in the Republican primary. During that campaign, he dismissed Trump as a jackass, a race-baiting bigot and the most flawed nominee in the history of the Republican party.

So his performance at last weeks Senate judiciary committee hearing over Dr Christine Blasey Fords allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, seemed wildly out of character. Just as Republicans resolve appeared to be faltering, Graham delivered a fire and brimstone blast If you vote no, youre legitimising the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics that thrilled the White House and conservative base and simultaneously destroyed any lingering hopes of bipartisan comity.

Steele reflected: That sycophantic performance was all for Trump because there was really no basis for him to go off the way he did, to show the kind of immature behavior in a setting like that, given the seriousness of the conversation.

The Atlantic editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, put this directly to Graham at Wednesdays event. I think youre cheapening me and thats fine, I dont really care, the senator replied defiantly. Youre suggesting that the reason I got mad was for some political play.

Graham pointed out he had voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, both nominated to the supreme court by a Democratic president, and claimed a double standard. So heres the game here: when Im voting for two female nominees, nominated by the Democrat, Im the smartest frigging guy in town. Im the epitome of what a good Republican would be like. When I defend somebody Ive known for 20 years against complete character assassination, all the sudden its about Lindsey.

Indeed, in recent days Graham has continued to be Kavanaughs stoutest champion, even suggesting that if he is voted down, Trump should simply renominate him. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. The president told reporters on Tuesday: Lindsey is a friend of mine at least for the last six months, as you know. And hes done, really, a great thing and a great service for our country.

Only two years ago Graham was lambasting Trump. In 2017 he warned there would be holy hell to pay if the president fired the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Yet by August this year and after several rounds of golf together – he had done a U-turn, suggesting Trump deserved an attorney general in whom he has confidence.

What happened? Steele said: You only go from This guy is a danger to our nation and bad news to Oh my God hes the best thing since sliced bread, let me play golf with him, only if you want something or you expect something. I cant explain it. Only he can explain it.

When Lindsey Graham ran for president in 2016, he described Donald Trump as a jackass, a race-baiting bigot and the most flawed nominee in the history of the Republican party. Photograph: Brian Frank/Reuters

Grahams full-throated embrace of Trumpism appears to have accelerated since the death in August of his great friend, Senator John McCain, an arch foe of the president both politically and personally. McCain continued to denounce Trump until the end but his death has left a void, and the anti-Trump resistance in the Republican party is shrinking fast. Senator Ted Cruz, who also clashed bitterly with Trump during the election, has also thrown in his lot with the president.

Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center thinktank in Washington, said: Lindsey Graham has probably looked around and seen Jeff Flake leaving the Senate, Bob Corker leaving the Senate and Ben Sasse under siege and thought theres not much mileage in being a Trump critic.

Some observers speculate that Graham is worried about a populist challenger in the next South Carolina primary (in 2014, he won with 56%). Others suggest that he is eyeing a job in the Trump administration. Media reports have suggested that Sessions, much derided by Trump, and Jim Mattis, the defence secretary, might be gone with the next year. Graham could be a contender for either position.

Olsen added: If there is a job in the administration hes angling for, its defence secretary. I have a pretty strong impression Jim Mattis is going to be asked to leave. Lindsey Graham would be happy to close out his career with that.

Kurt Bardella, a political columnist who switched allegiance from the Republican to the Democratic party, disagreed. Lindsey Graham is auditioning to be the next attorney general of the United States, he said.

Bill Galston, a former policy adviser to President Clinton, said he first became acquainted with Graham during the impeachment process. There are many Lindsey Grahams, he said. Ive been puzzled by his trajectory during the Trump administration. I have no explanation. In person hes decent, moderate and humorous, but these attributes were not on display last week.

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Donald Trump is right. Gun violence is a mental health problem at the highest level, and our leaders need urgent treatment

Another year, another church. Another month, another mass killing. Another day, another political shrug about gun massacres across the United States.

There is still some shock left in this uniquely American series of mass killings. And with that shock, maybe a small glimmer of hope that the silent majority of Americans might demand something more than prayers from their lawmakers.

Prayers, sadly, did not save 26 churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Just as they didnt save nine lives at the Bible study group in Charleston, South Carolina, two years ago.

Theres still some shock left from the faces of the Texas death toll, which included a pregnant woman, a five-year-old child, and the pastors teenage daughter. But there was also shock at the toll inside Charlestons Emanuel AME church, which included the pastor himself. And we have yet to process the shock of the carnage in Las Vegas, that left 58 country music fans dead just last month.

Theres also some shock left from the pathetic excuses for inaction that tumble out at times like this. This isnt just a failure of leadership at the very top: members of Congress and statehouses on both sides of the aisle and across the country have proved themselves to be delusional cowards. Either they act like nothing can be done to stop gun violence, or they pretend guns make America safer.

Then theres the special podium of delusional cowardice occupied by Donald Trump. I think that mental health is your problem here, he told reporters at a press conference in Tokyo on Monday. This was a very based on preliminary reports very deranged individual. A lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isnt a guns situation.

Let us all sigh for the souls whom we have yet to lose, in part because of this stupidity. Of course these are mental health issues. Of course we need to treat mental health like any other health challenge. Of course other countries have the same issues.

But other countries are not awash with guns. So its that much harder for people suffering from mental health issues to gun down large numbers of their fellow citizens in church, or at school, or at an open-air concert. Or take their own lives, which is by far the bigger killer with guns.

Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, continued Trump, speaking without any factual basis, otherwise it would have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse. But this is a mental health problem at the highest level.

Yes, this is a mental health problem at the highest level. Just not the one you think it is, Mr President.

According to the local sheriff, the gunman was only confronted by an armed civilian once he emerged from the church, after the massacre was completed. The mass murderer died by killing himself.

So along with the victims, lets please bury once and for all the storyline pushed so hard by the National Rifle Association, and echoed by Donald Trump. The only thing that stopped the bad guy with a gun was the bad guy with his own gun. The good guys were shot dead in their church pews.

On the bleak day after the Texas shooting, there is a determined effort to understand the shooters motives, as if that explanation could mitigate future disasters or make sense of the last one. This has not been the case of Las Vegas, where the local sheriff now suggests the shooter was depressed after losing money.

It is too easy to compare the political reaction to Sutherland Springs with the reaction to last weeks Isis-inspired mass killing in New York. The truth is they are both appalling and our lawmakers and leaders have the capacity to deal with both kinds of murders.

But heres how demented our gun debate has become: for all the fear and loathing of potential terrorists, it is still perfectly legal for people on the terrorist watch-list to buy as many guns as they want in the United States. We wont let them board a plane, of course. But we will let them purchase an assault rifle like the Ruger AR-15, a semi-automatic modeled on the standard military issue.

Why is there such a gaping hole in our national security? You might ask the National Rifle Association that question. On the other hand, ask the members of Congress who are so ready with their outrage about Islamist terrorism but so silent about domestic terrorism.

Texas governor Greg Abbott sounded surprised by the fact that this shooter got his hands on an AR-15 when he was refused a Texas gun license. By all the facts that we seem to know, he was not supposed to have access to a gun, Abbott told CNN. So how did this happen?

Come on, Governor. Dont act so dumbfounded. You have personally championed the unrestricted sale of guns to all-comers at gun shows and in private sales. When President Obama tried to close the gun-show loophole after the Sandy Hook massacre, you tweeted this: Obama wants to impose more gun control. My response#? COME & TAKE IT.

Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX)

Obama wants to impose more gun control. My response.#? COME & TAKE IT @NRA #tcot #PJNET

January 1, 2016

Just to be clear about your intended audience, you tagged the National Rifle Association in that tweet.

The NRAs position is as clear as it is nonsensical. Only guns will save us from guns. We must have a national database of the mentally ill, but we cannot have a national database of gun owners. We must confront Islamist terrorists but we cannot stop them buying guns. Hollywood is to blame for the culture of violence, but the gun culture itself has nothing to do with it.

Donald Trump is right. This is a mental health problem at the highest level, and our leaders need urgent treatment. In the meantime, let us pray for them to come to their senses as soon as they can.

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The strongmen who fix on the immigrant as the enemy also turn women into objects, writes the Guardian columnist Zoe Williams

Looking at the Brexit vote now, it was a precursor to some extent of what happened to us in the United States, Hillary Clinton told the BBCs Andrew Marr. When President Barack Obama came over just before the referendum to plead with our better natures and warn of an outcome which he elegantly understated the catastrophe of, it felt a little shaming, like a grownup arriving in the middle of a food fight. Clinton, partly because she isnt president, mainly because those Brexit and Trump ships have sailed, appears less like an authority and more like a coroner at an inquest.

Her third argument is to remind us how extraordinary it is, how unprecedented, how eerie, that they just elected someone who admitted sexual assault to the presidency.

Leaving the EU, voting for an aggressive and unstable reality TV star, holding women in contempt: there is no obvious logical connection here, no strand of ideas that takes you from the Singapore free-trade fantasies of hard Brexiters, to the protectionism of Donald Trump, to the new misogynist mood music that enables our foreign secretary to dismiss the disquiet about a sexual predator in the White House as a whinge-o-rama. Yet we know instinctively that these positions are connected, that the chauvinism which turns women into objects exists in the same mental frame as fixing on the immigrant as the enemy, or the Muslim as the source of all violence.

Clintons linking mechanism, between our politics and hers, was pragmatic: both the EU referendum and the US election were poisoned by fake news. A big lie can get you a long way in politics, especially if all the usual defences against it a competent and passionate opposition, a sober and neutral media have miraculously evaporated. Certainly, the legitimacy of a result won by falsehood is questionable; and yes, the internet, in its impact on democracy, is not looking like an untrammelled boon.

Yet there have been communities creating fake news since the dawn of time. At any point in history when hatred has been generated to persuasive effect, you would have found somebody, somewhere, cobbling together some nonsense about the death of a child or satanic rituals or improper use of emails. Far more novel than fake news is the expectation that published matter should be true, which is less than two centuries old.

The important shift over the recent past is not the explosion of misinformation but the willingness of politicians to spread it. The rules around respectability used to be pretty clear on this: you could use facts selectively to make your case, conveniently ignore those that didnt suit it, possibly amplify, maybe bluster a bit. But you did not, in public office, say a thing you knew to be untrue. To do so would mean relegating yourself from the ranks of the serious, into the more Mike Fabricant-ey realm, where you yell bollocks in parliament and dream of punching journalists in the throat, and nobody minds because theres only one of you and you have funny hair.

The 350m NHS claim, now, is only the flagship lie. It has become quite routine for facts to be misused or waved away, for experts to be dismissed and inconvenient truths rejected as sabotage or treason, by quite senior figures in public life. It is pretty normal for members of government to use words to mean the opposite of their definitions, parliamentary sovereignty when they mean parliamentary submission, overwhelming majority when they mean very slim majority. What inoculated the political culture from falsity was not a shortage of it, but the standards politicians held themselves to.

It wasnt perfect; dishonesty happened in the wings but not on the stage. What drives this new impunity is not scorn for the truth but a contempt for pluralism. In a debate proceeding along pluralistic lines, compromise is expected, different perspectives are welcomed, sustained argument is understood as a creative process leading to greater wisdom; and the foundation for it all is a shared set of facts.

If you want your debate to proceed along authoritarian lines, where the winner takes all and the loser shuts up, the first thing to eliminate is that shared space called reality, where everyone has access to the same information and agrees on its veracity. When Trump lies on Twitter, whether its about how many times hes been Time magazines cover star, or the size of his inauguration crowd, its not by accident: he is explicitly rejecting the audacity of the demand that he be tethered by argument. It doesnt matter whats true: all that matters is who won.

It is no coincidence, then, that a rise of fake facts in politics has been accompanied by a new opacity, where studies can be conducted on the impact of Brexit upon the nation, yet its citizens arent allowed to know what they contain; where a president can press his personal interest in a phone call with his opposite number in another country, yet not release the transcript.

The contents of all these documents are secondary to the message: its not your business, because were in charge. Far more chilling than the likely economic consequences of Brexit has been the rise of zero-sum politics; a prime minister asking her parliament to unite behind her, as if five centuries of due process, opposition, scrutiny and critical thinking had never happened.

In a new political context of authoritarianism, misogyny flourishes not as a sideshow, but because the organising principles that fought it are under attack. All equality battles are won on the understanding of universal human rights: a worldview in which everybody is born equal, everyones potential is infinitely precious, everyones perspective enriches understanding, everybody has a right to be heard.

Once all that is rejected, in favour of aworldview in which a single, dominant perspective must obliterate all others, acommon understanding of equality and respect that seemed so solid suddenly appears precarious.

Arguments belonging to the middle of the last century resurface. Are women fit for public office? Are women responsible for male violence? Do women deserve reproductive autonomy, or will they just mess it up?

Of course, these arguments never truly went away. But strongman politics is back, and it sees sex and trade and debate all as wars, in which there is no possibility of mutual benefit: there is only the victor and the vanquished.

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Regime confirms sixth nuclear detonation following earthquake that was detected by China, South Korea and the US

North Korea says it has tested a powerful hydrogen bomb that can be loaded on to an intercontinental ballistic missile, in a move that is expected to increase pressure on Donald Trump to defuse the growing nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.

In an announcement carried on state TV, North Korea said the test, its sixth since 2006, had been a complete success and involved a two-stage thermonuclear weapon with unprecedented strength.

There has been no independent verification of the Norths claims that it has achieved a key goal in its nuclear programme – the ability to miniaturise a warhead so that it can fit on a long-distance missile.

Hours earlier, the regime released footage of what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb that would be loaded on to a new ICBM.

The TV announcement accompanied by patriotic music and images of North Korean scenery and military hardware said the test had been ordered by the countrys leader, Kim Jong-un.

The explosion was heralded by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake about six miles (10km) from North Koreas Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the north-east of the country. It was felt over the Chinese border in Yanji.

South Koreas meteorological administration estimated the blast yield at between 50 to 60 kilotons, or five to six times stronger than North Koreas fifth test in September last year.

Kim Young-woo, the head of South Koreas parliamentary defence committee said later that the yield was as high as 100 kilotons. One kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT.

The previous nuclear blast in North Korea is estimated by experts to have been about 10 kilotons.

Sundays test the first since Trump took office in January offers further evidence that North Korea is moving perilously close to developing a nuclear warhead capable of being fitted on to an ICBM that can strike the US mainland.

Since it conducted its first nuclear test just over a decade ago, the regime has strived to refine the bombs design and reliability, as well as increasing their yield.

Hydrogen bombs are far more powerful than the atomic weapons the North is believed to have tested so far. Whatever its eventual yield, Sundays test was a staged thermonuclear weapon that represents a significant advance in Pyongyangs weapons programme, said Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

As the US and countries in the region analysed data resulting from the quake, Japans government was the first to state publicly that it was confident the shockwaves came from an underground nuclear explosion in North Korea.

The US Geological Survey and Chinas Earthquake Administration said they had detected a suspected explosion that caused a 6.3-magnitude earthquake.

The USGS said the tremor was located 24km north-east of Sungjibaegam in North Hamgyeong province. Its an explosion rather than an earthquake, said Jana Pursley, a USGS geophysicist.

The Chinese earthquake administration said in a statement on its website that the shock, which occurred around 11.30am local time, was recorded at a depth of zero metres.

Chinas foreign ministry said in a statement: The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea has once again conducted a nuclear test in spite of widespread opposition from the international community. The Chinese government resolutely opposes and strongly condemns it.

North Korean nuclear test location

South Korea was convening an emergency meeting of its national security council to discuss the possible cause of the quake, according to local media.

Japans government said it would lodge a strong protest pending confirmation that the quakes were caused by nuclear tests. If North Korea has indeed gone ahead with a nuclear test, it is completely unacceptable and we must lodge a strong protest, said the prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

His defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, said sniffer planes capable of detecting radioactive fallout had been deployed to monitor the aftermath of the blast. Well do our best to collect information, he said, according to public broadcaster NHK.

South Koreas meteorological administration later challenged reports that a second earthquake had occurred near the same nuclear test site. Earlier reports citing Chinas earthquake agency said a second quake had been detected eight minutes after the first.

The agency later said the second tremor could have been caused by a cave-in near the underground nuclear test site.

Zhang Zhiyuan, a journalist for the Chinese newspaper Yanji News, said he had felt the earthquake caused by the nuclear blast. I was having lunch in a restaurant when the lights just started shaking, Zhang, who lives and works near Chinas border with North Korea, told the Guardian. People here have all run outside of their apartments.

Trump last month threatened to unleash fire and fury against the regime if it continued to threaten the US and its allies with ballistic missiles.

In a telephone call on Sunday morning Japan time, Trump and Abe reaffirmed the importance of close cooperation between the United States, Japan, and South Korea in the face of the growing threat from North Korea, according to a statement.

Sundays tests again demonstrated North Koreas ability to skirt sanctions targeting its missile and weapons technology. UN security council measures ban the regime from testing nuclear or ballistic missile technology, but that did not prevent it from carrying out two nuclear tests and launching more than 20 ballistic missiles last year alone.

North Korea in 2016 conducted its fourth and fifth nuclear tests, saying the fourth in January that year was a successful hydrogen bomb test, although experts questioned whether it was a fully fledged hydrogen bomb.

The fifth nuclear test, in September 2016, was measured to be possibly North Koreas biggest detonation ever, but the earthquake it caused was still not believed to be big enough to indicate a full thermonuclear test.

The regime detonated its first nuclear device in 2006, followed by tests in 2009 and 2013.

Hours before reports of Sundays nuclear test emerged, the regime said it had developed a more advanced nuclear weapon that had great destructive power, and that Kim had inspected a hydrogen bomb that would be loaded on to a new ICBM.

Pyongyang test launched two ICBM-class missiles in July that potentially had a range of about 10,000km (6,200 miles), putting the mainland US within reach.

Under Kim, North Korea has defied several rounds of UN sanctions and ploughed resources into building working nuclear weapons and missiles with enough range to deliver them as far away as the US mainland a development that would considerably strengthen Pyongyangs hand in any negotiations with Washington.

The Norths official KCNA news agency said the hydrogen bomb showcased in photographs at the weekend was adjustable to hundreds of kilotons in explosive power and could be detonated at high altitudes, with its indigenously produced components allowing the country to build as many nuclear weapons as it wants.

Kim visited the countrys Nuclear Weapons Institute and watched an H-bomb to be loaded into new ICBM, KCNA said. All components of the H-bomb were homemade and all the processes were put on the Juche basis, thus enabling the country to produce powerful nuclear weapons as many as it wants, said the KCNA.

Juche is North Koreas homegrown go-it-alone ideology that is a mix of Marxism and extreme nationalism preached by state founder Kim Il-sung, the current leaders grandfather.

Kim had set forth tasks to be fulfilled in the research into nukes, KCNA said, but it made no mention of plans for a sixth nuclear test.

Sundays nuclear detonation is expected to raise pressure on the US to address the demonstrable advances the North is making in its missile and weapons development.

While it is difficult to independently verify North Korean claims about its missile and nuclear weapons programmes, no one doubts that it is improving its capability with each new test.

However, the extent of its ability to consistently miniaturise nuclear warheads so they can fit on long-range missiles remains unclear.

Though we cannot verify the claim, (North Korea) wants us to believe that it can launch a thermonuclear strike now, if it is attacked, Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told Associated Press. Importantly [North Korea] will also want to test this warhead, probably at a larger yield, to demonstrate this capability.

Trump has said that all options remain on the table, but last week appeared to rule out any contact with the regime, declaring: Talking is not the answer.

Other administration officials quickly stressed that dialogue with the regime was still the preferred option. James Mattis, the defence secretary, flatly contradicted the presidents statement, telling reporters: Were never out of diplomatic solutions.

With additional reporting by Wang Zhen in Beijing.

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As storm clouds gathered over the White House, the president retreated to his safe space: a stadium rally to rile his base and celebrate Trump the showman

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mamma
Take me home, country roads

The crowd erupted as John Denvers 1971 song filled the arena. Behind a black curtain, beneath a blue Make America great again! sign, Donald Trump was preparing to make his grand entrance.

I know when hes waiting to come out his heart is pounding because hes coming to a field of love, said Gene Huber, 47, a former used car salesman who was attending his seventh Trump rally. The rallies fuel him up.

Enter the showman, big, besuited, orange-topped, slowly traversing a black ramp to centre stage. The American president was greeted by roars as if for a rock star or sporting hero. He clapped in time to chants of Trump! Trump! Trump! from the 9,000-strong crowd. When he held aloft a black sign that said Trump digs coal, the cheers somehow became even louder.

The election might have finished nine months ago but Trump is still on the road and still bashing Hillary Clinton. Thursday nights rally in Huntington, West Virginia, was his seventh since becoming president, each in a different state that voted for him. With a formidable domestic and foreign policy in-tray waiting for him back at the White House, why does he still do them?

Trumps ego, his love of televised spectacle, his need for a shot of adrenaline and his hunger for another victory in 2020 are all part of the story, but in Huntington there appeared to be a more utilitarian some would say sinister purpose. Hours after it was revealed that special counsel Robert Mueller had convened a grand jury in Washington to investigate the Trump campaigns alleged collusion with Russia, the president rallied his base against what he claimed is a politically motivated ruse.

We didnt win because of Russia; we won because of you, he insisted. Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? Are there any Russians here tonight, any Russians?

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These individuals are known for pranking high-level officials, spokeswoman says, after duo tricked Perry into thinking he was talking to Ukrainian PM

The US energy secretary Rick Perry has become the latest victim of a pair of Russian phone pranksters who have previously fooled Elton John into thinking he was chatting to Vladimir Putin.

On this occasion, Perry believed he was discussing American coal exports with Ukraines prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman. In fact, he was talking to Vladimir Krasnov and Alexei Stolyarov, Russian pranksters who have become known for targeting celebrities and politicians with audacious stunts, energy department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes confirmed.

Suspicions might have been raised when the 22-minute conversation turned to a claim by the pretend PM that the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko had invented a new biofuel made from home-brewed alcohol and pig manure, according to a translation reported in the Washington Post.

The energy secretary who appeared to be relying on a translator during the conversation welcomed the idea as interesting. He would be visiting Kiev in August, he told his caller. I look forward to visiting with the president and getting a more in-depth briefing If thats the result, then hes going to be a very, very wealthy and successful man.

Krasnov and Stolyarov are sometimes called the Jerky Boys of Russia, named after an American duo who put out recordings of their prank phone calls in the 1990s. The pair famously made a prank call to Elton John, who thought he was speaking to the Russian president.

These individuals are known for pranking high-level officials and celebrities, particularly those who are supportive of an agenda that is not in line with their governments. In this case, the energy security of Ukraine, Hynes said.

During the call on 19 July, Perry, whose department oversees the US nuclear weapons program, discussed a range of topics, including sanctions against Russia and helping Ukraine develop oil and gas.

He also said the Trump administration opposes Nord Stream 2, a Russian project to bring natural gas to Europe across the Baltic, and that US technology could help Ukraine develop gas.

Giving Ukraine more options with some of our technology is, I think, in everyones best interest with the exception of the Russians, but thats OK, he said.

Perry also discussed the Paris climate accord, defending Donald Trumps decision to withdraw the US from the agreement: Our position is that its our record that should be looked at, not whether or not we have signed on to some international accord The president made the decision that the cost to the United States to be in the Paris accord was not in our best interests.

The call, first reported by E&E news, was recorded and posted online. It happened about a month after Perry met with a Ukrainian delegation at the energy department.

Trump said last month that Washington plans to offer Ukraine more coal exports from the United States because the eastern European nations industrial sector has difficulty securing coal from separatist-held regions.

It is unclear how the United States would bring more coal to Ukraine but Perry hinted on the call that the commerce department was working on it.

The coal conversation at this particular point in time is with [secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross] and I full well suspect it will go forward, he said on the call.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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