• ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, April 24

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     French elections: For the first time in modern history, both main parties were defeated in first round; Centrist Emmanuel Macron faces right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen in the May 7 final ballot.  

    This from France 24:

    French centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen have qualified for the second round in the French presidential election with 23.7 percent and 21.7 percent of the vote respectively.

    • Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen have qualified for the second round of the French presidential election, according to early results.
    • French President François Hollande has called Macron to congratulate him.
    • Conservative leader François Fillon conceded defeat and called on supporters to vote Macron
    • Socialist Party candidate Benoît Hamon, who got just 6.2% of the vote, said he took full responsibility for the election drubbing. –France 24

    The Associated Press says:

    French voters shut out the country’s political mainstream from the presidency for the first time in the country’s modern history, and on Monday found themselves being courted across the spectrum for the runoff election.

    The May 7 runoff will be between the populist Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron, and French politicians on the moderate left and right immediately urged voters to block Le Pen’s path to power. . . .

    Both center-right and center-left fell in behind Macron, whose optimistic vision of a tolerant France and a united Europe with open borders is a stark contrast to Le Pen’s darker, inward-looking “French-first” platform that calls for closed borders, tougher security, less immigration and dropping the shared euro currency to return to the French franc.

    European stock markets surged on the open as investors welcomed the first-round results, with Macron favored to win. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wished Macron “all the best for the next two weeks.”–AP

    Big week coming in Washington: Looming deadline to avoid government shutdown, Trump promises to roll out tax-reform plan this week, and the negotiations on health care continue.  Fox News report here.

    The Hill reports that “Top Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms” Democrats say that is a deal-breaker for them.

    Comment: I don’t see a Republicans willing to risk a shutdown for it, either. At least a significant number in both the House and Senate will think it’s the wrong fight right now.

     Krauthammer on US leverage in the North Korea crisis  (National Review Online)

    His main arguments:

    • It is not a fake crisis.
      • He argues (as I did here last week) that North Korea is headed for a nuclear breakout that would be irreversible.
      • He fears that deterrence might not work because we cannot be sure the Kim Regime is rational.
    • The US has strong cards to play, short of war, by pressuring China. As Krauthammer puts it:
    • Chinese interests are being significantly damaged by the erection of regional missile defenses to counteract North Korea’s nukes. South Korea is racing to install a THAAD anti-missile system. Japan may follow. THAAD’s mission is to track and shoot down incoming rockets from North Korea but, like any missile shield, it necessarily reduces the power and penetration of the Chinese nuclear arsenal.
    • For China to do nothing risks the return of the American tactical nukes in South Korea, which were withdrawn in 1991.
    • If the crisis deepens, the possibility arises of South Korea and, most important, Japan going nuclear themselves. The latter is the ultimate Chinese nightmare. These are major cards America can play.

    Our objective should be clear: At a minimum, a testing freeze. At the maximum, regime change. –Charles Krauthammer at National Review Online

     Venezuela meltdown, on edge of civil war

    The NYT headline is “Armed Civilian Bands in Venezuela Prop Up Unpopular President

    Comment: The word “leftist” appears for the first time in paragraph 5. The word “socialist” first appears in paragraph 19, referring to Hugo Chávez “vision of a Socialist revolution to transform Venezuela’s poor neighborhoods.”

    No word yet from political analysts Sean Penn or Danny Glover.

     “Union chief asks public to withhold judgment on American Airlines flight attendant”  (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

    The attendant is

    accused of “violently” snatching away a baby stroller from a mother, inadvertently hitting her with the stroller and narrowly missing her small child on a Dallas-bound flight from San Francisco on Friday. –Fort Worth Star-Telegram

    Comment: “We know you have a choice of airlines to smash your head in. We’re glad you chose ours.” 

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, April 22

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     There are four big, dangerous big international stories:

    1. Reports that China is squeezing North Korean gasoline supplies
      • If true, Beijing is sending an unmistakable signal
    2. Reports that Iran has a secret new facility to develop nuclear triggers for its future bombs
      • The report comes from a dissident group that has been accurate in the past (story here)
    3. French elections Sunday that could undermine the European integration project
      • Two of the four major candidates in Sunday’s election will go into the runoff
      • Three candidates have Russian backing
      • Two of those could undermine the European integration project and pull France out of its (partial) NATO membership
      • The implications of those withdrawals would be grave and would transform European and world politics . . . for the worse
    4. Turkey’s Erdogan using a fraudulent vote count to seize all power in his country

      • Ataturk’s project, begun a century ago, was to create a secular state
      • It never became a full democracy, but it was not a full dictatorship, either
      • Erdogan, who is fundamentally reversing Ataturk’s project, has “coup-proofed” his military, taken control of the judiciary, and a diminished role for the legislature
      • To complete this consolidation of power, he will have to repress a restive population and hold together a country on the verge of splitting apart

    These are obviously not “one-day stories,” and ZipDialog will stay with them and highlight what’s most important about them as they unfold.

     Pyongyang, North Korea: Gas stations sharply restrict purchases, suggesting China is reducing supplies  (Fox News)

    China would not confirm or deny.

    It is the main source of North Korea’s energy.

    Comment: For China, the difficult task is to get a stubborn Pyongyang to change policies without breaking the regime, which is not in China’s interest. Doing too little risks deeper American involvement, which is not in China’s interest either.

     Michigan doctor, wife arrested for (allegedly) conspiring to perform female genital mutilation  (Fox News)

    According to the criminal complaint, some of Attar’s victims, ranging from ages 6 to 8, are believed to have traveled interstate to have the procedure performed.

    Female genital mutilation is prevalent in some majority Muslim countries and is sometimes called “cleansing” by its practitioners. It involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, often performed without anesthesia. It is designed to ensure females remain virgins until marriage.

    According to a 2013 census by the Population Reference Bureau, approximately 500,000 women and girls in the United States have undergone the procedure or are at risk of the procedure–Fox News

    The Los Angeles Times reports:

    International health authorities say female genital mutilation has been performed on more than 200 million girls, primarily in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. –LA Times

     The inside story from lawyers who brought down Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes before him  (Washington Post)

    The accuser was wavering. She wanted to go public . . . but Perquita Burgess was afraid, her attorney Lisa Bloom said.

    The attorney worked hard to convince Burgess to go public, asking her explicitly to do what Rosa Parks had done. Then, according to the WaPo

    [Bloom] also explained to her client in stark terms what she hoped to accomplish: “The mission was to bring down Bill O’Reilly.” –Washington Post

     American Airlines: Video of flight attendant who “whacks a mother with a stroller while she holds her twin babies and reduces her to tear” (Daily Mail)

    Comment: This is why market competition is so great. First, United Airlines drags a passenger off the plane. Well, in a cutthroat market, you cannot expect American Airlines to stand still. It’s great to see them step up their game and start smacking around their customers, too. They must be poaching some of the ace customer-service folks from United.

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  • “Can You Hear Me Now?” Trump Team Voices Credible Threat of Force Against North Korea

    My op-ed at The Hill discusses the challenges of coercive diplomacy.

    The central question of the piece:

    Why has the United States has fundamentally changed its strategy toward the North Korea, given the risks of the new strategy?

    My answer:

    The short answer is that the Trump Administration has concluded that time is on North Korea’s side, not ours. Temporizing, they think, will only magnify the dangers as Pyongyang steadily develops its intercontinental missiles and miniaturizes the nuclear weapons that sit atop them.

    Washington’s new strategy is to direct military threats at Pyongyang via Beijing, which dreads a war on the peninsula.

    The hard part is to resolve the issue without actually using force, which could lead to vast casualties.

    In making these threats, Trump has already achieved a huge advantage over Pres. Obama.

    The advantage? Trump’s threats to use force are credible. For the first time in years, the Chinese and North Koreans–and America’s friends in the region–have to take that seriously. So should Americans as this knife-edge drama unfolds.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, April 18

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     The big news continues to be tension in Korea, where Vice President Pence is visiting and told the North Koreans not to mistake the president’s resolve

    Comment: This is a crisis of choice, in a sense. Trump, like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, could have kicked it down the road. All those presidents tried and failed to resolve the issue.

    Delay is not always a bad solution, but it’s not always a good one, either. You have to figure out whether time is on your side or your adversary’s.

    The problem here is that North Korea is making steady progress on two deadly fronts, and it is no longer willing to delay them for small bribes, like those paid by previous administrations.

    North Korea is getting better at building nuclear bombs. It is trying hard to make them smaller, so they can fit on a missile, and it is trying to build a hydrogen bomb. Second, it is making steady progress building medium-range missiles and is seeking to build an ICBM. The combination of small nukes and long-range missiles would put the US within range of nuclear attack by a hyper-dangerous regime whose leader does not appear to be calm, steady, and rational.

    The US has long said a North Korean nuclear threat to the US was unacceptable. Saying it, as several presidents have, is a far cry from making it an effective policy. That is what none have been able to do, and not for lack of trying. Trump seems to be doing something. We don’t know exactly what and we don’t know how effective he and his team will be. We do know it is risky to try; the Trump team has calculated that it is far more dangerous in the long run to sit and wait.

    Over the longer horizon, then, it is Pyongyang’s policies and erratic, bellicose pronouncements that created the crisis.

    Over the short term, though, the crisis was initiated by the US.

    My interpretation: Trump, Mattis, Tillerson, and McMaster (and probably Coats and Pompeo) looked that North Korea’s military program and asked themselves a fundamental question: Is time on our side or theirs? If it is on ours, then delay. If it is on their’s, then force the issue. We can see first-hand what their strategic assessment is.

    The hard part now is to force the issue with threats and not the actual use of force, which could lead to vast casualties. 

    In using threats, Trump has a huge advantage over Obama. Trump’s threats to use force are credible. The Chinese and North Koreans–and America’s friends in the region–have to take that seriously for the first time in years.

     “Calexit” supporters drop their secession bid . . . for now (Washington Post)

    Comment: Ken Burns is particularly disappointed.  His proposed PBS series began with a letter,

    My dearest Tiffany–
    If we should lose tomorrow’s battle, if I should die far from the gnarly waves of Newport Beach, I want you to know . . . .

     New York Times runs op-ed by “a leader and parliamentarian.”  That’s what the NYT calls him–and that’s all they say.

    The paper overlooked his day job: he’s a convicted terrorist who murdered five Israelis.

    Comment: You really can’t blame the Times if a writer omits a detail from their résumé.  

    Of course, the writer is the most prominent Palestinian terrorist in jail. The NYT deliberately hid the crucial information about his murders from readers.

    To compound this nasty piece of work, the Times ran it to gin up American public support for a hunger strike by jailed Palestinians.

    The Daily Caller excoriates the paper, rightly.

    And Elliott Abrams, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations blog, rips the Times a new one. Well worth reading. His conclusion nails a crucial point: the readers deserve the information.

     Shocking News: The US economy keeps growing but electricity use is flat. That’s what Bloomberg says. Per capita, it has fallen for six straight years.

     Lawsuit of the Day:

    • Professor comes into Wal-Mart to get fishing license
    • Get license but finds his employment listed as “toilet cleaner”
    • Humorless fisherman files suit

    The AP story is here.

    Comment: According to the lawsuit, the professor feared mockery every time he yelled “I caught another big one.”

     A serious story on the sexual-harrassment allegations against Bill O’Reilly  (Washington Post)

    A key part of the story is the allegation by a Los Angeles author and radio personality, Wendy Walsh, who is not seeking money, which then led to an independent investigation by the prominent NYC law firm. It was the law firm’s negative findings on Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes that led to his departure.

    As the Washington Post puts it:

    A similar fate [to Ailes] could await O’Reilly; a negative finding by the law firm could force the hands of Fox News Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, who run Fox’s parent company.–Washington Post

     Here is tomorrow’s Washington Post opinion page. Notice a pattern?

    The list continues beyond this screenshot. It is, as the mathematicians say, “finite but large.”

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Robert Lieber and Ed Lasky
    for different reports on the New York Times‘ hiding the background of a Palestinian terrorist.

     

  • North Korea’s Nuclear Threat: What Steps Should the US Take?

    Guest Author: Richard Friedman

    Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

    [Editor’s note: ZipDialog is delighted to include this post. The opinions are those of the guest author. For the visuals, blame Charles Lipson.  

    Readers are invited to respond. At ZipDialog, we take dialog seriously.]

    ◆ North Korea’s Nuclear Threat

    There are six components to the potential US/North Korea nuclear confrontation:

    1. North Korea rational
    2. North Korea irrational
    3. US rational
    4. US irrational
    5. China, and
    6. South Korea

    China is the best bet for the US because they have urged US and North Korea restraint and calm.

    South Korea is undergoing a government leadership crisis. They also urge calm because they would be the battleground in the event that North Korea would be provoked by the US or would be self-provoked.

    China is proactive. In addition to urging calm, they have restricted their coal exports to North Korea and they have canceled their air carrier flights to Pyongyang. China’s most important leverage is its substantial food exports to North Korea.

    A future North Korean Nuclear Test is Likely

    It is likely that North Korea will conduct its sixth nuclear test in the near future. The appropriate US response is to do nothing, certainly no retaliation. The US should keep the Vinson First Strike Carrier Group on station within striking distance of North Korea as a show of force, with weapons muzzled for a few more weeks awaiting mutual calm, and then depart for Australia as planned. The US has proved in Syria its tactical military capability to obliterate North Korea’s nuclear weapon sites and degrade its delivery system. There is no US need to engage in media military posturing.

    An indicia for calm is North Korea’s recent intermediate missile launch that failed. Speculation is that the US used its cyber Stuxnet capability to scramble the North Korea missile test code, resulting in failure.

    The US frame for its North Korea objective should be: no preemptive, kinetic first strike; and reliance on its counter-incoming missile capability that can intercept and destroy 60-80 percent of North Korea’s incoming missiles to the US west coast (solace is somewhat lacking for Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington).

    Etymology is part of the military force consideration array. The word “provoke” is hugely imprecise because it has different meanings for both sides. For the US, it would be North Korea’s active launch preparation of its nuclear-tipped ICBM. For North Korea, “US provocation” would be any discernible military force attack on North Korea’s targets, or their perception that a US strike is imminent.

    Notwithstanding the recent perceived crisis, North Korea remains relatively stable. This could change because of the variables that are involved: removal of Kim, either by a targeted US strike followed by a North Korean military attack on South Korea.

    Contemporary US history suggests that broad US domestic support for major US military action is essential – political unity and public and media support. The US administration must make a clear and persuasive argument that justifies a US military attack on North Korea. Failure to do so would portray the US as trigger-happy.

    The Trump administration primary objective was to focus on domestic issues such as health care, middle class employment, tax reform, and enhancing and protecting the US critical infrastructure. Surprise! The global issues are the US priority: North Korea, Russia, Iran, Syria, and ISIS.

    The potential US strategy:

    America First, with the condition that addressing and partially resolving international matters is the predicate for focusing on domestic issues.

    The US has recaptured global perception of its international leadership role and responsibility: fear the US, respect us, and love us, maybe.
    Recent international developments suggest that the US is in the process of developing a comprehensive domestic and international strategy to be followed by tactical implementation.

    The US can enhance the efficacy of its strategy by adopting a “complementary strategy” approach, wherein the US consults with other states to determine their strategic objectives, if any, and incorporate item, if possible, into overall US strategy. An example of US transformative strategy is the US/China burgeoning favorable relationship.

    Overall, the current North Korea crisis is not a crisis, rather it is part of a prolonged, oscillating adversarial relationship. In this context, the North Korean threat is not its nuclear capability, rather, it is how the US manages the current North Korea non-crisis.

    The opinions in this post are those of Richard Friedman. He and ZipDialog welcome your response, either here or on Facebook, where it is also posted.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, April 15

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     North Korea displays new missiles but holds off another nuclear test (Washington Post)

    Comment: The situation is incredibly dangerous. North Korea’s leader is not only bellicose. He may well be mentally unstable. No one is sure.

    South Korea’s capital and largest city, Seoul, is very close to the DMZ, and very vulnerable to attack–including a nuclear attack by Pyongyang.

    China could put the squeeze on North Korea, but that does not mean it has control over the Kim regime’s actions. Beijing knows that China’s population is also threatened by North Korean weapons and that the two countries have a complicated, sometimes fraught history.

    My hunch is that Beijing would prefer to engineer a change of leadership that is friendly to China, less bellicose, and willing to pursue a Chinese-style market opening. But trying to achieve that is very risky.

     Good news on free speech at one college, Wichita State They tried hard to do the wrong thing, but they eventually got it right.

    An embattled student group at Wichita State University is finally free to engage in on-campus activism as a registered student organization. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the Wichita State University Student Government overturned the Student Government Association’s unconstitutional decision to deny recognition to Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian student group, because of the group’s belief in First Amendment principles. –FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

    Comment: If you support free speech and don’t already know about FIRE, you’ll be happy to learn about it. It is truly even-handed, defending right and left alike.

     Related Story: Meanwhile, at Wellesley, a very selective liberal arts college, the student newspaper writes:

    Wellesley is certainly not a place for racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia or any other type of discriminatory speech. Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech. (The Wellesley News via HotAir)

    These students actually say that the “Founding Fathers” (a phrase that must stick in their craw) “put free speech in the Constitution as a way to protect the disenfranchised . . . [and] suppressed, not to protect a free-for-all where anything is acceptable, no matter how hateful and damaging.”

    Comment: The First Amendment does not mean “anything is acceptable.” As everyone knows, you cannot yell fire falsely in a crowded theater. Nor can you take a bullhorn and wake up the whole neighborhood at 3 am with your rendition of “I did it my way.” There are, in other words, some legal restrictions on the time, place, and conditions for speech. There are legal remedies for “damaging” speech, if it is false and defamatory (and perhaps known to be false when uttered).

    But for Wellesley students to actually defend their speech suppression as being true to the First Amendment is either disingenuous or historically clueless. Either way, it is wrong. 

     Two data-driven opinion pieces on wealth disparities between blacks and whites with college degrees

    Comment: The disparity is troubling and thoughtful, open-minded discussion is valuable.

    Going back to the previous two stories: this kind of discussion is much harder to have on campuses where everyone walks on eggshells, fearing a wrong word might offend.

     How deep is the Clinton camp’s denial?

    Well, Hillary’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, told a Yale audience “Ukraine and the horrible ISIS beheadings” were “sort of manufactured press stories” (Daily Caller)

    There were the obvious crazy things happening like the website melting down, Ukraine, and the horrible ISIS beheadings; these sort of manufactured press stories that hopefully you all have forgotten about. –Daily Caller

    Comment: Those manufactured stories were nothing compared to that fake moon landing.

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    Many thanks to Christopher Buckley for the Wellesley story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, April 5

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     The big news day this week will be Thursday, when

    • Pres. Trump meets with China’s Xi for two days in Florida, and
    • Senate decides how to move forward on Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch

    Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that Gorsuch will get an up-or-down vote, which he will win, and I have no reason to doubt him. By Monday, Justice Gorsuch.

     There are three big issues in the Trump-Xi talks, but I suspect they will focus on only 2.

    • Will China stop North Korea’s nuclear/missile program (done in close cooperation with Iran)?
    • What happens to US-China’s bilateral economic ties?
    • Will China stop its territorial aggression in the South China Sea?  (I suspect this will get less attention)

    Comment: Trump will likely tell Xi that the US intends to sanction Chinese banks and companies doing business with North Korea and that the US will work toward regime change in North Korea. China can go along, and have a say, or do nothing.

    On economic issues, China’s economy has slowed and is vulnerable to US pressure, which Trump will apply. He will also highlight China’s systematic, state-sponsored theft of US intellectual property. These are high-stakes issues and Trump’s nationalist position on trade makes his threats credible. So far, no word on what he is proposing or how flexible Xi will be.

     Huge jobs increase in March  Over 260k, compared to 180k estimate. Widespread gains in private payrolls. (CNBC)

    Comment: Optimism about US growth taking root.

     That red line Pres. Obama drew in Syria? It is a Code Red Line after another deadly chemical attack. Russia denies the Assad regime is involved, naturally (CNN)

    A chemical weapons expert, Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told the BBC’s Radio 4 that all signs showed the chemical used was sarin gas and that Russia’s versions of events was “completely unsustainable.”
    “I think this is pretty fanciful and no doubt the Russians trying to protect their allies. Axiomatically, if you blow up sarin you destroy it,” he said. –CNN

    Comment: A vast human tragedy in Syria unfolding over years, with perhaps 500,000 civilians dead.

    Pressure is building to get a full explanation of what Susan Rice did, why she needed the unmasked names of US citizens, and who she shared that information with. Her record of public dissembling does not help her.

    Senate intel committee says Ms. Rice “may be of interest” to us.  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Well, duh.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, March 31

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Michael Flynn’s lawyers float an idea: he’ll testify if House and Senate investigators give him immunity. At issue, Russia’s influence in the 2016 election and their contacts with the Trump campaign.

    The Wall Street Journal broke the story.

    Flynn’s lawyer confirmed it; and now everyone is reporting it.

    According to the New York Times, Congressional investigators want to be further along in their inquiry before deciding how to handle Flynn.

    Comment: The Senate will take the lead here, in cooperation with the FBI. The committee on the House side is tied up in controversy over ties between its chairman, Devin Nunes (R-CA), and the Trump White House.

     Trump begins trade-policy review “as he levels new threats at China”  (Washington Post)

    • The review will cover major products and major trade partners.
    • China’s leader, Xi Jinping, visits Trump next week.

     Historic first: SpaceX launches a satellite into orbit on a reused rocket booster.  A tremendous technical achievement for Elon Musk’s company, one that dramatically lowers costs. SpaceX is aiming to launch new payloads every 2-3 weeks. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ firm, has also reused rockets but has done so on suborbital missions. (Space.com)

     Opiates: Ohio officials, led by Gov. John Kasich, working to restrict painkiller prescriptions (Toledo Blade)

    Calling the proposed rules a “done deal,” Gov. John Kasich said these actions, coupled with a crackdown on the law enforcement side, will eventually reverse Ohio’s distinction of ranking first in the nation in overdose deaths.

    “We’re paying the price right now for a lot of the neglect that happened in the past,” he said.

    In battling their patients’ acute pain, doctors and other health-care providers could prescribe no more than seven days’ worth of opioid dosages for adults and five days for minors. The potency could not exceed an average of 30 morphine equivalent doses per day.

    Physicians could prescribe more than that only after they’ve justified it based on the patient’s medical records. Exceptions would be made for cancer, palliative care, end-of-life, and addiction treatment. –Toledo Blade

     Dumbest comment of the Day: EU top bureaucrat, Jean-Claude Juncker, says he will urge “Ohio and Austin, Texas” to secede from the US if Trump doesn’t stop praising Brexit Story here.

    Comment: Looks like ole Jean-Claude’s been in the liquor cabinet again.

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