One Summer in America

Eliot Weinberger

In the concentration camps for migrant children, they sleep on a concrete floor with a single blanket, often made of mylar. It is so crowded that the older children try to sleep standing so that the younger ones can stretch out. The lights stay on 24 hours a day. They wear the clothes they arrived in, days or weeks or months before. They rarely have soap, toothbrushes or showers. There are rarely diapers for the babies and toddlers who have been taken from their parents. Some are as young as five months. In one camp, five hundred children are confined in a windowless warehouse. In others, they are encaged behind chain-link fences. In some camps, there are no hot meals. There are outbreaks of chickenpox, flu, measles, scabies and mumps, and infestations of lice. There have been seven known deaths this year.

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In the concentration camps for adults, they wear the clothes they arrived in and have no showers. The smell is so bad that those who work there often wear masks and carry the stench with them when they go into town. In some, the only food is bologna sandwiches or things that are rotten and the inmates become ill. In one camp, nine hundred people are imprisoned at a facility designed for 125; cells designed for 35 people are holding 155. They cannot lie down. They are pressured to sign documents in English they cannot read. The one source of running water in the cell is the single open toilet, where one defecates in the crowd.

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The head of an anti-immigrant group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, says the administration ‘doesn’t want the detention experience to be Club Med’.

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On any given day there are at least 50,000 adults being held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centres; at least 20,000 held by Customs and Border Protection, and between 11,000 and 14,000 children under 18 in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. (On their 18th birthdays, they are transferred to ICE.)

ICE detention centres are in every state. There are around 1500 of them, as well as many hundreds of jails, prisons and hotels with which the agency has contracts. The detainees include those who have recently entered the US illegally, those who have overstayed their visas, those who have lived undocumented in the country for many years, and those who are exercising their legal right to asylum. (Under a recent administration mandate, tens of thousands of asylum seekers have been sent to Mexico to wait out the months or years for their cases to be processed.) About 70 per cent of the people held by ICE are in camps operated by for-profit companies. Two of them, GEO Group and CoreCivic, together receive almost a billion dollars a year in contracts. The largest camp for children – Homestead, in South Florida – is a for-profit run by a military contractor, Caliburn International. The anti-immigrant zealot John Kelly – once considered the only ‘adult’ in the White House when he was chief of staff – joined Caliburn’s board immediately after leaving government.

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In a televised interview with Vice President Pence, the host reads from an article about the camps in which the children are described as ‘filthy, sleeping on cold floors, taking care of each other because of the lack of attention from guards’. He says: ‘I know you. You’re a father, you’re a man of faith. You can’t approve of that.’ Pence replies: ‘Well, no American, no American, should approve of this mass influx of people coming across our border.’ Pence claims that when he visited one camp ‘we spoke to cheerful children who were watching television, having snacks.’

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On his state visit to the UK and France to commemorate the Normandy landing, the president of the United States is distressed to find that Fox News is not available, and calls on Americans to boycott an American corporation: AT&T, which owns CNN. On his first night, he wakes up at 1.30 a.m. to tweet that the 73-year-old entertainer Bette Midler is a ‘washed up psycho’.

The president says it is ‘fake news’ that there were mass protests in London against his visit: ‘I heard that there were protests. I said where are the protests? I don’t see any protests.’ On Fox & Friends viewers are assured that the booing when Ivanka Trump left 10 Downing Street wasn’t for her at all, but for the national security adviser, John Bolton, ‘and he loves it’.

The president exults: ‘The meeting with the queen was incredible. I think I can say I really got to know her because I sat with her many times and we had automatic chemistry. You understand that feeling. It’s a good feeling. But she’s a spectacular woman … There are those that say they have never seen the queen have a better time.’ He later hangs a photo of himself with the queen outside the Oval Office, next to the one of himself with Kim Jong-un.

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In an interview in Normandy, the president ignores the solemn commemorations to talk about Nancy Pelosi, the House majority leader: ‘She’s a nasty, vindictive, horrible person … I call her Nervous Nancy. Nancy Pelosi doesn’t talk about it. Nancy Pelosi is a disaster, OK? She’s a disaster and let her do what she wants … I’ll tell you her name, it’s Nervous Nancy because she’s a nervous wreck.’ Fifteen other heads of state dutifully sign the D-Day Proclamation at the bottom, but the president scrawls his name across the top.

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A well-known magazine columnist, E. Jean Carroll, graphically describes being raped by Donald Trump in the mid-1990s. The president denies knowing her, but after photos of the two of them in groups at social gatherings are produced, he says: ‘It never happened. She’s not my type. I’ll say it with great respect: number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?’

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The world is appalled by a widely circulated photograph of Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez from El Salvador and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, lying face down in the mud after they drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande to seek asylum. The president responds: ‘[Democrats] want to have open borders, and open borders mean crime, and open borders mean people drowning in the rivers, and it’s a very dangerous thing.’

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At the G20 summit in Japan, where Ivanka Trump sits at every meeting by the president’s side, a reporter asks the president if he will tell Vladimir Putin not to ‘meddle in the 2020 election’. He laughs and turns to Putin. ‘Don’t meddle in the election, Mr President. Don’t meddle in the election,’ he says, waving a finger in a mock scolding. Putin smiles.

The French slyly release a video of Ivanka waving her hands as she tries to enter into a conversation among Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, Theresa May and Christine Lagarde, who grimaces. It is reported that a ‘friendship tree’, given months earlier by Macron to Trump and ceremoniously planted by both on the White House lawn as a symbol of the ties that bind France and the US, immediately died.

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Before the president’s appearance at Yokosuka Naval Base, the destroyer USS John S. McCain is hidden from his sight. Its name is covered with tarps and the sailors assigned to the ship, whose uniforms display its insignia, are forbidden to attend a speech by the president. Trump’s loathing of McCain has not abated with the senator’s death, nor has his daily preoccupation with Obama and Hillary Clinton, long past the election.

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On an unannounced visit to the Korean demilitarised zone, including a few steps into North Korean territory itself with Kim Jong-un, the president brings along one of his favourite Fox News hosts, Tucker Carlson, as well as Ivanka. Carlson says of North Korea: ‘It’s a disgusting place, obviously. So there’s no defending it. On the other hand, you’ve got to be honest about what it means to lead a country. It means killing people.’

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Two major hotel chains announce they will not allow ICE to hold arrested families in their properties, as ICE had planned. Marriott International says: ‘Our hotels are not configured to be detention facilities.’ Choice Hotels (Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn and Econo Lodge) says: ‘We ask that our franchised hotels only be used for their intended purpose, which is to provide travellers with a welcoming hotel room.’

It is planned to turn Fort Sill, Oklahoma, a Japanese American internment camp during the Second World War, into a concentration camp for 1400 children.

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Total US student debt is $1.52 trillion and is owed by 44.2 million people. Total credit card debt is more than $1 trillion and is owed by 128 million households. Forty per cent of Americans do not have $400 in savings they could use in an emergency.

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Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner report income of $135 million for 2018. Ivanka earned almost $4 million from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which unsurprisingly has become a popular spot for administration officials and lobbyists, corporate executives and diplomats hoping to curry favour. It is revealed that Cadre, a real-estate company co-owned by Kushner, has received more than $90 million since he entered the White House from unnamed investors with accounts in the Cayman Islands.

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The administration proposes changing the eligibility rules to eliminate three million people from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). Half a million poor children will also be deprived of free school lunches.

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The federal government has given Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit organisation, nearly $1.9 billion over the last decade to run concentration camps for children, and it is currently holding four thousand of them in 24 camps. The head of Southwest Key received a salary of $3.6 million last year; his wife received $500,000; a third executive received $1 million. (The head of the American Red Cross has a salary of $686,000.)

In one camp a visiting legal team meets three girls who are trying to watch over a two-year-old boy ‘who had wet his pants and had no diaper and was wearing a mucus-smeared shirt’. The girls say the boy had been handed to them by a Border Patrol agent, who went into their cell and asked: ‘Who wants to take care of this little boy?’

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June is the hottest June in recorded history. In the heatwave in Alaska, masses of salmon die from heart attacks caused by the exertion of trying to survive in warm water.

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The Fourth of July celebration on the Mall in Washington DC is a traditionally apolitical event the president does not attend. This year, Trump transforms it into a ‘Salute to America’, featuring a military parade – inspired by one he personally saw in France and those in Russia, China and North Korea he has seen on television – and an address to the nation by himself. He is particularly eager to have a procession of tanks, but the city streets can’t support them, so they are brought in on flatbed trucks and parked around the podium. There is a downpour and the sparse crowd can barely see the president behind the rain-streaked bulletproof glass, as he haltingly reads a bland speech from the teleprompter. The event costs millions, taken from the budget for the maintenance of national parks.

Later, the president says the weather was ‘beautiful in one way’: ‘They learned it was my real hair that day because I was drenched. Well, that is the one good thing. I ran and they learned it’s my hair because I’ve been through every windstorm, sandstorm, “Let’s go over here, let’s go this one, that one, this desert, let’s go to this ocean and get out of the plane. Sir, the wind is blowing at about 70 miles an hour.” I said “Boy, it’s gotta be mine.”’ (The president, of course, was completely protected from the rain.)

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The president is lobbying to hold next year’s G7 summit meeting at the Trump National Doral Miami, whose income has dropped by 70 per cent since the election. The golf resort had been noted recently for planning to host a tournament featuring one hundred of ‘Miami’s hottest strippers’. In a mock slave auction, golfers would bid on their personal ‘caddy girl’, who would also be available after the game in the VIP rooms of a local strip club. The poster featured a lipstick-stained golf ball, but the event was cancelled due to adverse publicity.

The president spends an average of two and a half days a week playing golf at one of his resorts. The government has paid at least $108 million for these excursions; this includes the rooms and meals for the presidential entourage billed by the Trump hotels. The Secret Service pays to rent the golf carts they use to follow the president on the links.

In New York, as tenants are abandoning Trump Tower, the Trump campaign is renting office space there at $37,500 a month. The offices are largely empty.

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Border Patrol agents give a three-year-old child actually named Sofi the choice of being separated from her mother or her father. When officers take her father away, the child starts weeping. The officers scold her: ‘You said with Mom,’ they tell her.

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Speaking in the Oval Office alongside Imran Khan, the Pakistani prime minister, the president says: ‘If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill ten million people … I have plans on Afghanistan that if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone. It would be over in – literally in ten days. And I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to go that route.’

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The stock markets of the world zigzag precipitously as tariffs are threatened, rescinded or enacted. In an unexpected consequence of the trade wars, the Evangelical Christian Publishers’ Association warns that tariffs on Chinese imports will greatly increase the cost of Bibles – most of which are printed in China – and cause ‘significant damage to Bible accessibility’.

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The president tweets: ‘So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.’

Three of the four women to whom he is referring – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib – were born in the US. The fourth, Ilhan Omar, escaped the civil war in Somalia, was interned in Dadaab, the massive and horrific refugee camp in northern Kenya, and, as a teenager, was one of the few, among hundreds of thousands there, to be relocated to the US. Ocasio-Cortez’s ancestors are from Puerto Rico, which is generally not recognised by the president as being part of the US. Tlaib’s ancestors are from Palestine, which is not recognised by the president. Pressley is African American, and presumably her ancestors came to the US long before Trump’s did.

On Fox & Friends, the hosts chuckle as they read the tweets aloud. ‘Comedian in chief,’ one says. ‘Someone’s feeling very comedic today,’ says the other.

Not a single prominent Republican denounces the statement. Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Kelly says: ‘You know, they talk about people of colour. I’m a person of colour. I’m white.’

The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer is ecstatic: ‘This is the kind of WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for … This is not some half-assed anti-immigrant white nationalism. Trump is literally telling American blacks to go back to Africa … All Trump is doing is once again expressing our collective anger … This is what elected Trump and this is what will always be the best way for him to gain support.’

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The president tweets: ‘We will never be a Socialist or Communist Country. IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE! It is your choice, and your choice alone. This is about love for America. Certain people HATE our Country …’

The White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway calls the four non-white congresswomen the ‘dark underbelly’ of America. She says that the president is ‘sick and tired of many people in this country’. Asked what Trump was referring to in his tweet, Conway responds by asking the reporter, who is Jewish: ‘What’s your ethnicity?’

It is now part of Republican strategy to describe the four congresswomen, following the president’s tweets, as ‘the face of the Democratic Party’, though all four are serving their first terms and are relatively powerless in the Congressional hierarchy. At a rally in North Carolina, the president repeats his attack on the women. The crowd chants: ‘Send her back! Send her back!’

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After the elderly and revered African American congressman Elijah Cummings of Baltimore threatens to subpoena Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to appear before his House Oversight Committee, the president tweets: ‘Cummings has been a brutal bully … Cumming District [sic] is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess … the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States. No human being would want to live there.’

It is quickly noted that Kushner is a major slumlord in the city, whose thousands of apartments have been investigated and fined for mould, water damage, raw sewage leaks and, of course, rodents. In 1976, the president’s father, Fred, was arrested for neglecting his buildings in Baltimore after white tenants moved out and African Americans moved in.

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To mark the 400th anniversary this year of the arrival of the first slaves in the US, Obama had arranged for a portrait of Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist, to replace Andrew Jackson, the slave owner known as the Indian Killer, on the $20 bill. Steve Mnuchin, the secretary of the treasury, states that this will not be possible until at least 2028 and probably not at all. Trump has a portrait of Jackson hanging in the Oval Office.

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As his attacks on Cummings and Baltimore continue, the president says: ‘I can tell you this: I’m the least racist person there is in the world, as far as I’m concerned.’

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In a rare display of international diplomacy, the president, at the urging of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, calls the prime minister of Sweden to try to secure the release of the rapper A$AP Rocky, held in Stockholm on charges of assault. ‘I assured him that A$AP was not a flight risk and offered to personally vouch for his bail, or an alternative.’ The Swedes refuse to release him. In response, the president unironically tweets that Sweden ‘has let our African-American Community down’. He sends the presidential special envoy for hostage crises to attend the trial.

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The president has an unlikely conversation with Nadia Murad, the women’s rights activist who escaped Islamic State captivity. She tells him about her life: ‘All of this happened to me. They killed my mum, my six brothers …’ The president interrupts: ‘Where are they now?’ ‘They killed them. They are in the mass graves in Sinjar.’

The president is amazed to learn Murad has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which he covets and believes he deserves: ‘That’s incredible. They gave it to you for what reason?’

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The president comments on the election of Boris Johnson: ‘Good man. He’s tough and he’s smart. They’re saying “Britain Trump”. They call him “Britain Trump”, and there’s people saying that’s a good thing. They like me over there.’

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The president tweets: ‘Chairman Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country, and only the United States, with me as President, can make that vision come true. He will do the right thing because he is far too smart not to, and he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump!’

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On Fox, Tucker Carlson vows to ‘keep fighting’ against ‘global tyranny’: ‘Almost every nation on Earth has fallen under the yoke of tyranny: the metric system. The United States is the only major country that has resisted, but we have no reason to be ashamed for using feet and pounds … Esperanto died, but the metric system continues, this weird, utopian, inelegant, creepy system that we alone have resisted … I’ll accept the kilometre when we accept the Euro: never!’

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It is discovered that some 9500 current or former members of the Border Patrol, including its chief, Carla Provost, are members of a secret Facebook group. There they make jokes about the deaths of migrants, claim the photograph of the drowned father and daughter is a liberal hoax, imagine throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress, and Photoshop pictures of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez performing oral sex on migrants or Donald Trump.

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By law, the children held in camps must be kept under ‘safe and sanitary’ conditions. The Department of Justice goes to court to argue that the law does not specify ‘toothbrush’, ‘showers’, ‘dry clothing’, ‘soap’, ‘towels’ or ‘beds’, and therefore the government is not legally bound to provide them. The judges are incredulous.

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At his long-awaited appearance before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, Special Counsel Robert Mueller seems tired and fragile. He keeps strictly to the content of his report and refuses to answer a few hundred questions that stray into other territories or are still, he claims, the subject of ongoing investigations by others. He stares blankly as various Republican congressmen yell at him. California Congressman Tom McClintock calls his report shit: ‘You put it in a paper sack, lit it on fire, dropped it on our porch, rang the doorbell and ran.’

The morning, with the Judiciary Committee, is devoted to the ten counts of obstruction of justice for which Mueller maintains Trump cannot be prosecuted while president but could indeed be tried after he leaves office. Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert – known for believing that Obama and much of his administration were in league with the Muslim Brotherhood and were deliberately trying to bring the Ebola virus to the US, that oil pipelines are good for the environment because caribou like to mate next to a nice warm pipe, and that the military should not admit gay men because they’d ‘sit around giving massages to each other’ and would be too relaxed to fight – is, as usual, irate: ‘If somebody knows they did not conspire with anybody from Russia to affect the election, and they see the big Justice Department with people that hate that person coming after them, and then a special counsel appointed who hires a dozen or more people that hate that person, and he knows he’s innocent, he’s not corruptly acting in order to see that justice is done. What he’s doing is not obstructing justice: he is pursuing justice, and the fact that you ran it out two years, means you perpetrated injustice.’ To which Mueller replies: ‘I take your question.’

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The afternoon, with the Intelligence Committee, is devoted to the Russians.

The origin story, as it is known: in March 2016, an obscure Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud – who has not been seen in two years – told George Papadopoulos, a young unqualified foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, that the Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton in the form of ‘thousands of emails’ they had hacked. Mifsud arranged for Papadopoulos to meet various Russians with Kremlin connections. In May, Papadopoulos got drunk at a London wine bar and told the story to Alexander Downer, former leader of the Australian Liberal Party and then high commissioner to the UK. In June, Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort held a secret meeting with Russians at Trump Tower. In July, after the hacking of the Democratic National Committee was widely reported, Downer informed American intelligence about his conversation with Papadopoulos. The FBI investigated and found that there had indeed been Russian interference in the election. To avoid the appearance of partisanship, Obama asked Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, to join him in a statement revealing and denouncing the foreign intervention. McConnell refused, and the information did not become public until after the election.

The Republicans, however, have an elaborate conspiracy theory, which they reiterate throughout the afternoon: the FBI, though normally considered a bastion of hardcore conservatism (Mueller himself is a lifelong registered Republican), is actually a hotbed of left-wingers who were determined to defeat Trump. They facilitated the Clinton campaign, and it was the Clinton campaign which conspired with the Russians. That is, the Russians were pretending to help Trump at Clinton’s behest, so when the partisan FBI revealed the Trump-Russia connection, the Trump campaign would be irreparably damaged. (Putin’s public animosity towards Clinton and the 80,000 pieces of Russian-generated pro-Trump ‘content’ seen by 126 million people on Facebook, the 120,000 pieces on Instagram, and the 131,000 robo-tweets in the two months before the election alone are apparently not factors.) Moreover, the key to the conspiracy is the Maltese professor, Mifsud, whose name is frequently invoked at the hearings, and who the Republicans believe was an FBI plant sent to trap Papadopoulos. According to Devin Nunes, who was chairman of the Intelligence Committee when the Republicans controlled the House – and who is suing a woman for $400 million for creating a Twitter account called ‘Devin Nunes’ Cow’, which makes bovine jokes at his expense – Mifsud ‘really is the epicentre’.

After Mueller testifies, the president, who has evidently been studying philosophy, tweets: ‘TRUTH IS A FORCE OF NATURE!’

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The director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, earlier told the Judiciary Committee that ‘Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections’ in the future, and Mueller says: ‘It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here.’ A report by the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee states that in 2016 the Russians were engaged in ‘an unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure’ in all fifty states, searching for vulnerabilities in the security systems. The report, however, is so heavily redacted that it contains almost no public information. Even the recommendations for countermeasures read: ‘7. XXXXXXXXXXX Build a Credible XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX’ – with the subsequent paragraphs blacked out.

There are eight thousand jurisdictions where votes are tallied in the decentralised national election system. Trump lost the popular vote by almost three million, but won the Electoral College because of a total of 77,000 votes (out of 136,000,000 cast) in three key states. Thus the outcome of a presidential election could be altered by targeting only a few of those jurisdictions. While it has not been proved that this was indeed part of what Mueller called a ‘sweeping and systematic’ attack on the election process, it does help to explain one of the mysteries of the Mueller report: why Paul Manafort, as Trump’s campaign manager, gave internal polling data about four states (including the three key ones) to Konstantin Kilimnik, who is tied to Russian intelligence.

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The House passes a bill directing $600 million in election assistance to the states, with mandatory backup paper ballots. Other pending bills, most of them with at least some Republican support, require presidential campaigns to report to the FBI any offers of assistance from agents of foreign governments or contributions by foreign nationals; protect against foreign cyberattacks; require Facebook, Google and other internet companies to disclose purchasers of political ads; facilitate co-operation between state election officials and federal intelligence agencies; impose sanctions on any entity that attacks a US election and, specifically, on Russia for its cybercrimes. McConnell refuses to bring any of these to the Senate floor.

Moreover, the Federal Election Commission, which oversees and enforces election and campaign finance laws, is now essentially defunct. Its members, evenly divided between the parties, serve six years and must be confirmed by the Senate. Since becoming majority leader, in 2015, McConnell has refused to confirm any new appointees. As the members rotate off, there are no longer enough for the legally mandated quorum.

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McConnell – now called ‘Moscow Mitch’ in the Twittersphere – has a complicated history with Russian billionaires. After the Senate voted to lift sanctions on Oleg Deripaska – known as ‘Putin’s favourite oligarch’ – with McConnell overriding even Republican objections, it was announced that Deripaska’s aluminium company, Rusal, would be investing $200 million in a mill in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. (In order to have the sanctions lifted, Deripaska had to reduce his stake in Rusal from 70 per cent to 45 per cent, but he turned his shares over to allies and family members, and somehow saved himself hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.) The chief lobbyist for the Rusal project was McConnell’s former chief of staff. Paul Manafort worked for Deripaska for years, but Deripaska claims Manafort swindled him out of $25 million in an investment in a shoddy Ukrainian telecom deal. (There are some who believe that Manafort supplied information to the Russians not just to help Trump, but also to pay off his debt in kind and possibly save his own life.) More than 20 per cent of Rusal is owned by Leonard Blavatnik and Viktor Vekselberg, who were also briefly subject to sanctions. Blavatnik has donated $3.5 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund, and also (probably illegally) gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. Vekselberg supposedly donated $250,000 to the inauguration through his American cousin. At one point the largest shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus – where many Russian oligarchs like to keep their money – and also its vice chairman was Wilbur Ross, the current secretary of commerce. A shell company owned by Vekselberg wired $500,000 for reasons unknown to a shell company owned by Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney at the time – the same shell company which then paid the porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 in hush money.

The president says: ‘Mitch McConnell is a man that knows less about Russia and Russian influence than even Donald Trump. And I know nothing.’

McConnell is up for re-election in Kentucky, and wants to demonstrate that he is bringing money and resources into his state. Besides the Russians, he is being helped by his wife, Elaine Chao, the secretary of transportation. Chao has an aide assigned as a special liaison for Kentucky projects – no other state has one – and has already approved $78 million in grants.

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The president tells an interviewer that he would certainly take information from a foreign government if it offered dirt on his opponent in 2020. Reminded that the director of the FBI has said that in such cases the agency should be informed, the president replies: ‘I’ll tell you what. I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do. Oh, give me a break – life doesn’t work that way.’

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July is the hottest month in recorded history. In Alaska, 2.5 million acres of tundra and forest are burning.

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Rod Schoonover, an analyst from the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, is to testify before Congress about the ‘possibly catastrophic’ effects of climate change on national and international security, including the increase of refugees, humanitarian crises, the drain on resources and political instability. He is forbidden to appear by William Happer, senior director of the National Security Council.

Happer, who is also the founder of an organisation called the CO2 Coalition, believes that carbon dioxide stimulates plant growth and actually reduces the greenhouse effect. He has stated that ‘the demonisation of carbon dioxide is just like the demonisation of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.’ He also refers to his group as the CO2 Anti-Defamation League.

Schoonover resigns after ten years at his post, when a ‘senior White House official’ accuses him of ‘desperately trying to undermine this president and the American democratic process’.

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Obama established regulations on coal ash, the residue from burning coal, which is filled with arsenic and other chemicals that leach into the water supply, so the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), now led by a former coal industry lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, lifts the restrictions. Wheeler also replaces Obama’s Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which increases allowable emissions from coal-fired plants. An EPA spokesman says: ‘Under the CPP, the Obama administration actually imposed emissions reductions on each and every state. We don’t believe that’s an EPA role.’

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Obama banned the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which causes brain damage in children, so the EPA reverses the ban. Obama instituted regulations to control methane gas leaks, so the EPA eliminates them. After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most important greenhouse gas, and in the short run is over eighty times more powerful than CO2 in contributing to global warming.

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Obama raised the target for automobile fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, so Trump lowered it to 37 mpg. California and other states, however, have kept the Obama regulations. Seventeen car companies ask the administration not to change the rules, as they do not want to be forced to produce different cars for different regions. When this is refused, Ford and three major foreign companies announce that they will adhere to the California standards. A spokesman for the EPA calls this ‘a PR stunt’.

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Obama designated 2112 square miles of wilderness in Utah, including ancient Native American cliff dwellings, as the Bears Ears National Monument, so Trump reduced it to 315 square miles. He now announces that the remaining land will be opened to extensive logging, the use of off-road vehicles, and ‘chaining’ – the clearing of land by attaching a chain to two vehicles that drag it along the ground to rip out brush and other plants.

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The president speaks to reporters in the Oval Office: ‘We want to find out what happened with the last Democrat president. Let’s look into Obama the way they have looked at me from day one … They could look into the book deal that President Obama made. Let’s subpoena all of his records.’ Trump has often complained that Barack and Michelle Obama received a $65 million advance for their post-presidency memoirs.

He then turns to the inferiority of French wines, which he may tax: ‘I’ve always liked American wines better than French wines. Even though I don’t drink wine. I just like the way they look, OK?’

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There has been a 75 per cent turnover rate in the president’s ‘A Team’ (senior-ranking advisers in the Executive Office, which does not include cabinet secretaries) in two and a half years. Thirty-three per cent of the posts have undergone ‘serial turnover’ (three or more changes). In the cabinet there have been four secretaries of defence, four secretaries of homeland security, four secretaries of veteran affairs and five secretaries of health and human services. There is currently no permament secretary of homeland security, secretary of labour, secretary of the army, secretary of the air force, director of national intelligence, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, director of the Food and Drug Administration or director of many other agencies, including all those that deal with immigration and the border. The president prefers to appoint acting heads, who do not require the confirmation process where their often unusual beliefs and dubious pasts might be questioned.

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Among those who do not need confirmation, Monica Crowley, a Fox regular, is appointed as assistant secretary for public affairs at the Treasury Department. Crowley is best known for her claim that Obama was an ‘Islamic community organiser’ tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose goal was to impose Sharia law in the US. This was made apparent when he ‘insisted on being sworn in as president with his full name, Barack Hussein Obama’.

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The State Department’s chief of protocol resigns when it is revealed that he was intimidating employees by carrying a whip around the office. After an internal poll shows Trump losing to Joe Biden, the president at first denies that the poll exists, then fires the pollsters his campaign hired.

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Nixon initiated the Endangered Species Act (and created the Environmental Protection Agency), which saved the bald eagle, the grizzly bear, the American alligator, the humpback whale, the peregrine falcon and countless other species by banning development, logging, drilling and mining in natural habitats. The secretary of the interior, David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist, announces that the act will be ‘modernised’: economic factors, rather than exclusively scientific ones, will be used to determine eligibility for protection. The ‘foreseeable future’, written in the act, will not be considered, as it would now primarily refer to climate change. Many species – especially those categorised as ‘threatened’, the level below ‘endangered’ – would be taken off the list. The changes will affect polar bears, whooping cranes and Beluga whales, among many others.

*

The president had tried to eliminate endangered species status for grizzly bears, in order to make them targets for the trophy hunts favoured by his sons. Various tribal nations who hold the bear sacred fight the ruling in court together with environmental groups. They win. Liz Cheney, congresswoman from Wyoming and daughter of Dick, responds that the case ‘was not based on science or facts’, but motivated by plaintiffs ‘intent on destroying our Western way of life’.

*

Campaign advertisements and literature for ‘Trump 2020’ are notable for not mentioning Vice President Pence. (Among Republicans, he is known as ‘Bobblehead’ for his habit of nodding while the president speaks.) The most ridiculous – and yet not entirely implausible – rumour of the summer is that Trump will name Ivanka as his VP and resign after the election to make her America’s first woman president. Ivanka will then pardon him for any crimes for which he may be liable when he is no longer president. Earlier in the year, Trump offered her the job of president of the World Bank, but she declined. He told reporters: ‘She would’ve been great at that because she’s very good with numbers.’

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In order to wreck the research agencies within the Department of Agriculture that are studying climate change, environmental issues and the impact of the trade wars on farmers, it is announced that their offices will be relocated from Washington to Kansas City. More than half the agencies’ scientists and career regulators immediately resign. Similarly, the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees some 250 million acres of federal land, is suddenly relocated from the capital to Grand Junction, Colorado, to purge career environmentalists. Its new acting director, William Perry Pendley, is a lifelong advocate of selling off the entirety of federal land to private interests. Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, says that the relocations are a ‘wonderful way’ to get rid of federal workers who would be difficult to fire.

*

The attorney general, William Barr, announces that the federal government will resume carrying out the death penalty. Although there have been death sentences, no federal inmate has been executed since 2003. (Twenty-one states have abolished capital punishment, but in other states 25 people were executed in 2018.)

Barr later cites the Charles Bronson vigilante movie, Death Wish, and the Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry movies as evidence that ‘it’s satisfying to see justice done.’

*

At the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy, California, a 19-year-old white supremacist, targeting Hispanics with a legally purchased assault rifle, kills three people, including two children, and injures 13 others. (Three of the survivors are also survivors of the Las Vegas shooting in 2017 that killed 58.) Someone shouts to the shooter: ‘Why are you doing this?’ and he replies: ‘Because I’m really angry.’

Six days later, a 21-year-old white supremacist, targeting Hispanics with a legally purchased assault rifle, drives for ten hours to a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, kills 22 people and injures 26. Many of the injured refuse to go to a hospital because they fear deportation. (ICE has been known to arrest people on gurneys and to wait outside operating rooms.) The president briefly tweets condolences, then immediately tweets a message to a white boxer who wears a MAGA hat: ‘Fight hard tonight Colby. You are a real Champ!’ On Fox, the lieutenant governor of Texas says that mass shootings occur because children are no longer allowed to pray in school.

Thirteen hours later, a 24-year-old white man with a legally purchased assault rifle – politics unknown, but largely targeting African Americans – kills nine and injures 17 in Dayton, Ohio. He kills his own sister and her African American boyfriend. With such a weapon, he was able to fire 41 shots in thirty seconds before he was killed by the police.

The president spends the weekend golfing and making an exuberant surprise appearance at a wedding at his New Jersey golf resort. Back in Washington, he tweets that ‘Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage’ and calls for tougher legislation against immigrants – presumably on the theory that if there were no immigrants there would be no one to shoot. In a short televised address to the nation, he blames gun violence on mental illness and video games. Although reading from a teleprompter, he confuses his Ohio cities and says ‘May God bless the memory of those who perished in Toledo.’

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Shortly before driving to El Paso, the shooter had posted a manifesto online, in which he wrote that he was planning ‘to kill as many Mexicans as possible’ as ‘a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas’. The Trump campaign has used the word ‘invasion’, referring to immigrants, some 2200 times in its Facebook ads. Trump himself, when speaking of immigration at campaign rallies, has used the word ‘invasion’ at least 19 times, the word ‘animal’ 34 times, the word ‘killer’ nearly three dozen times, and the phrase ‘the hell out of our country’ at least 43 times. In another calculation, Trump has used the words ‘predator’, ‘invasion’, ‘alien’, ‘killer’, ‘criminal’ or ‘animal’ while talking about immigration at his rallies more than five hundred times.

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It is reported that the El Paso shooter’s mother had called the police, alarmed by her son’s behaviour and his weaponry, but was told that his assault rifle was legal and there was nothing they could do.

As of 5 August, the day after the Dayton shooting, there have been 255 mass shootings in the US in the 217 days of 2019. A mass shooting is defined as an indiscriminate rampage in a public place where four or more people, not including the shooter, are killed or wounded. So far this year, 8963 people (including 2233 under 18) have died in gun-related episodes. This number does not include suicides. (In 2017 – the most recent year for which there are statistics – 23,854 people killed themselves with a gun.) In the US there are more privately owned guns than people.

At a town hall meeting, Arkansas Republican Congressman Steve Womack blames mass shootings on ‘too many kids growing up in single parent households’, ‘godless schools’ and the current reluctance to spank unruly children.

Walmart, in response to the shootings, bans the sale of violent video games in its stores, but not guns. The countries with the highest number of users of video games per capita are Japan and South Korea; both have zero gun homicides.

The Democratic-controlled House passed legislation months ago requiring background checks for gun purchases and other means of controlling guns, but Mitch McConnell, who has received $1.26 million in campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association, refuses to introduce any of the bills in the Senate. Immediately following the shootings, his campaign tweets a photo of a mock graveyard with tombstones for Amy McGrath, his Democratic opponent in the 2020 senatorial election, and Merrick Garland, whom he blocked for the Supreme Court.

*

In the morning, before visiting El Paso and Dayton on a ‘day of healing’ to ‘honour victims and comfort families’, the president attacks the mayor of Dayton; the Federal Reserve Board; a former congressman from El Paso, Beto O’Rourke; the ‘failing New York Times’; the governor of California; ‘Radical Left Democrats’ and ‘Fake News’. He claims that illegal immigrants ‘are pouring into this country’, but also notes: ‘I think my rhetoric brings people together.’ In Dayton he briefly visits a hospital, allowing no reporters and making no public statements.

On Air Force One from Dayton to El Paso, he attacks ‘Sleepy Joe’ Biden, ‘Fake News CNN’, the ‘LameStream Media’, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and the mayor of Dayton (again). In the hospital he visits in El Paso, all the survivors being treated refuse to meet with him. Talking to the doctors and staff, he attacks O’Rourke, and brags about the crowds at his rally there in February (for which his campaign still has not paid the nearly $500,000 it owes the city). He strikes a smiling, thumbs-up pose next to a baby boy whose parents both died trying to protect him. On Air Force One from El Paso back to Washington, he attacks the ‘disgusting’ Democrats; ‘Fake News’; Congressman Joaquin Castro and his twin brother, Julián, the presidential candidate; Bernie Sanders; Elizabeth Warren and various news anchors. Then he goes to sleep.

*

As the president is landing in El Paso on his healing mission, 600 ICE agents arrest 680 people, including many who have been in the US for more than a decade, at chicken processing plants in Mississippi, the largest raid since the Bush era. No owners or managers of the plants are arrested for hiring ‘illegal’ workers.

ICE, as usual, makes no provisions for the children of the arrested, many of whom were born in the US and are citizens. The children, unaware of what is happening, return home from the first day of school to find their houses sealed up and their parents gone. Babies and toddlers left at daycare centres have no one to pick them up. In the town of Forest, Mississippi, neighbours and strangers collect the children, feed them and take them to a local gym to spend the night, while the community tries to figure out how to help them, given that the children are now homeless and some may never see their parents again.

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Customs and Border Protection rejects countless private offers of donations of soap, diapers and other necessities for the children in the camps. Mark Morgan, acting director of the CBP, says: ‘I’ve been to detention facilities where I’ve walked up to these individuals that are so-called minors, 17 or under. I’ve looked at them and I’ve looked at their eyes … and I’ve said that is a soon-to-be MS-13 gang member. It’s unequivocal.’

*

It is announced that applicants for green cards will now be subject to a wealth test. Legal immigrants will no longer be eligible for permanent residency if they have ever received any government benefits, such as food stamps or Medicaid. Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who once compared deportations to rat extermination, says that the inscription on the Statue of Liberty should read: ‘Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.’ He later adds that the actual inscription was only intended for Europeans.

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Five per cent of regular viewers of Fox News believe that ‘white nationalism is a very serious threat.’ Among those who do not watch Fox News, it is 72 per cent.

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The president repeatedly asks aides to look into purchasing Greenland – not as a future Trump property, but as an American colony: ‘Essentially, it’s a large real estate deal.’ The Danish prime minister calls the proposal ‘absurd’: ‘Thankfully, the time where you buy and sell other countries and populations is over.’ The president is furious at the slight: ‘She’s not talking to me. She’s talking to the United States of America. You don’t talk to the United States that way – at least under me.’ Later he says: ‘[They] can’t treat the United States of America the way they treated us under President Obama.’ He cancels a scheduled meeting in Copenhagen.

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The president insists that Israel bar Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar from an official visit, because they ‘hate all Jews’. Netanyahu complies. He has already allowed the US ambassador to sit in on his cabinet meetings, which is unique in international diplomacy, and has renamed a barren stretch of land Trump Heights, perhaps in anticipation of a golf resort.

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The president retweets an ultra-right commentator who says ‘people in Israel love him like he’s the King of Israel. Like he’s the second coming of God.’ Pursuing the messianic theme while discussing his own boldness in instigating a trade war with China, the president looks up at the sky and says: ‘I am the chosen one.’ It is wondered whether he is referring to Jesus or Neo in The Matrix.

*

The president tweets: ‘Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA.’ Later he admits to ‘second thoughts’ about his imperial command, while reaffirming his ability to issue it.

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At the G7 meeting in Biarritz, the president urges the readmission of Russia, which had been barred after the invasion of Crimea. At a press conference, he mentions Obama 18 times: ‘[Crimea] was sort of taken away from President Obama. Not taken away from President Trump, taken away from President Obama … He was outsmarted by Putin. He was outsmarted. President Putin outsmarted President Obama.’

The president skips the meeting on climate change, but reiterates at length his personal money-making scheme to hold the next meeting at his golf resort in Miami, which has fallen on hard times as members defect and reports of bedbugs circulate. On Fox & Friends they are enthusiastic, but have doubts about the weather. One of the friends points out that in Miami ‘during the last week in August … it is pretty darn hot.’ Another notes that it is also hurricane season. But a third allays their concerns: most of the events are indoors and air-conditioned and ‘if you are a world leader people walk with you with umbrellas.’ In the meantime, Attorney General Barr has already booked the Trump International in Washington for a $30,000 Christmas party.

In Biarritz, the president tweets: ‘The question I was asked most today by fellow World Leaders … happens to be, “Mr President, why does the American media hate your Country so much? Why are they rooting for it to fail?”’ None of the fellow World Leaders is named and none comes forward.

*

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services announce that the children of military and diplomatic personnel born in foreign countries while their parents are serving abroad will no longer automatically be considered citizens and must undergo the process of applying for citizenship. This surprising ruling almost certainly stems from the fact that John McCain was born on a naval base in the Canal Zone, where his father, an admiral, was stationed. The president has often declared that McCain was not a ‘natural-born citizen’, and thus was ineligible under the constitution to run for president.

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With the start of the hurricane season, the Department of Homeland Security announces that it is transferring $155 million from the emergency disaster relief fund to ICE to pay for expanded detention camps.

The president tells Homeland Security officials his idea for preventing hurricanes from making landfall in the US: ‘I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them? They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?’ The officials say they will look into it.

*

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services inform migrant families that they will no longer be eligible for ‘medical deferred action’. Previously, they had been allowed to remain in the US while their children underwent treatment for cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis or other serious conditions. Now they must leave the country within 33 days or face deportation proceedings.

*

Since 1980, the US has accepted approximately 95,000 refugees annually. This year the number is 30,000. The administration announces that next year the number will be zero.

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Parents shopping for back-to-school supplies may now purchase bullet-resistant backpacks, which come in a variety of colours and feature Disney princesses and Avenger superheroes. ‘The bags offer Level IIIA protection, which means they will stop a .44 magnum handgun, but not a high-velocity rifle.’ According to the manufacturer, ‘We’re not saying, “Buy a backpack, it’ll solve everything.” We’re saying this will put you in a better position in the case of a school shooting than someone who doesn’t have a bulletproof backpack.’ Anti-ballistic three-ring binders are also available.

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Marion Hammer, one of the most powerful lobbyists for the NRA, testifies in Florida against a proposed ban on assault rifles: ‘How do you tell a ten-year-old little girl who got a Ruger 10/22 with a pink stock for her birthday that her rifle is an assault weapon and she has to turn it over to the government or be arrested for felony possession?’

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Statements written by the children are smuggled out of one camp:

‘There is no room to move without stepping over the others. We are not given a mat to sleep on so we have to sleep on the cold concrete floor. The lights are on all the time.’

‘We cannot sleep because every 15 minutes the guards are yelling something.’

‘I’m hungry here all the time. I’m so hungry I wake up in the middle of the night with hunger. I’m too scared to ask the officers for any more food.’

‘During the two weeks we have been here, they have let us outside about five times for twenty minutes.’

‘Sometimes, when we ask, we are told we will be here for months.’

*

Talking to reporters in the Oval Office, a fly circles the president’s face. He swats: ‘How did a fly get into the White House? I don’t like that. I don’t like flies. I don’t like flies.’

1 June-1 September