• ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, June 30

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Trump’s twitter fury, aimed at MSNBC’s Morning Joe and its hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski

    The Washington Post headline says, quite accurately: ” Trump and ‘Morning Joe’: How a long and ugly feud just got even uglier

    Comments: 

    1. Yes, Scarborough and Brzezinski have said outrageous, hyperbolic, defamatory things about Donald Trump
      • Many other media outlets have done the same
      • Far more show consistent partisan bias, damaging their reputations, hurting the President, and eroding trust in media
    2. No, that is absolutely no excuse for the President of the United States to respond with noxious, personal attacks
      • Trump’s response would be objectionable, but not so different from many Twitter spats, if he were merely a private citizen
      • But he is not a private citizen and should not be held to those standards. As President, he is not only a political figure, he is the head of state. One requirement of that office is to maintain dignity and decorum consistent with the office.

    Politically, this is self-inflicted damage to Trump. Few approve it except for his most avid supporters. And it takes him off-message, at a time when Americans want results on healthcare and taxes.

    But the worse damage is to our public life and discourse, which had already sunk so low, and to trust in our institutions, which are crucial to our democracy.

     Far Different from the first time: “Trump travel ban takes effect to minimal disruption (Fox News)

    The revised order, which the US Supreme Court approved in part (with some aspects reserved for future decisions), covers 6 countries and does not block foreign individuals with strong personal ties to the US.

    A scaled-down version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban took effect at 8 p.m. ET Thursday, with none of the dramatic scenes of protest and chaos that greeted the original version of Trump’s executive order five months ago.

    The Departments of Homeland Security, State and Justice went ahead with the implementation after the Supreme Court partially restored the order earlier this week. –Fox News

    Comment on Media bias:

    The Fox report was straightforward. Others, not so much.

    It was almost impossible to find a news report that actually gave the news instead of an editorial. The news is that the revised ban went into effect, worked smoothly (so far), and met with only modest demonstrations at airports, far different from the bureaucratic mess and large demonstrations that surrounded the initial order.

    Kudos to the BBC for this neutral headline: “Trump travel ban comes into effect for six countries.”

    Bronx cheer for many others. CNN headline makes no mention of the smooth rollout and modest demonstrations. It does mention further court challenges, even though the main one will come in the autumn at SCOTUS. The challenges are from Democratic state AGs, such as Hawaii, and they mainly ask for clarification. A nothingburger.

    Most of the headlines looked like this. Others emphasized the demonstrations.

     

    Major legal victory: Jury decides US can seize a major Manhattan skyscraper, owned by Iran (New York Times)

    The jury . . . found that the Alavi Foundation, which owns 60 percent of the 36-floor skyscraper at 650 Fifth Avenue, violated United States sanctions against Iran and engaged in money laundering through its partnership with Assa Corporation, a shell company for an Iranian state-controlled bank that had owned the remaining 40 percent. . . .

    The [US] government has agreed to distribute proceeds from the building’s sale, which could bring as much as $1 billion, to the families of victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks, including the Sept. 11 attacks. –New York Times

    Comment: The same foundation has made donations to Columbia University (link here). The stench runs deep.

    ◆  Washington football team will remain the Redskins. Native American groups and DOJ drop lawsuit after Supreme Court ruling.  (Washington Post)

     Major lawsuit again San Francisco State University over its systematic anti-Semitism, including violent suppression of Jewish speakers, shouted curses, calls for an “intifada,” etc. The suit alleges the university administration was indifferent to repeated complains and actively protected the disrupters.  (Newsweek)

    The lawsuit has been filed by a pro bono organization, the Lawfare Project. The suit

    calls SFSU “among the worst of the worst offenders and is largely recognized as being among the most anti-Semitic campuses in the country.”

    The heckling of Barkat is one of several incidents that the suit argues contributed to an atmosphere hostile to Jewish students, one that was created with the alleged complicity of the school’s administrations. –Newsweek, reporting on Lawfare Project’s suit against SFSU

    Comment: Long overdue. The SFSU administration actually blamed the Israelis for one disruption against them, saying the only reason the mayor of Jerusalem (Nir Barkat) came to speak at SFSU was that he knew the Palestinians and the leftist allies at SFSU would riot to prevent it–and that’s just what Barkat wanted.

    So, this is the logic: the mayor of a large city comes to speak at your university; your students riot and prevent him; you blame the mayor; and then, after promising citizens the rioters would be punished, you do nothing at all.

    Those administrators should be held fully and personally accountable. Their next jobs should be flipping burgers until they are replaced by robots.

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  • Will Trump Resign?

     Enough of the Ridicule

     Enough of the Investigations

     Enough of the Hard Word of Governing

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    Good foreign trip, but now he’s landed–and so have his troubles

    I’m betting that sometime before the midterms, President Donald J. Trump will resign.

    Stick with me as I explain why.

    While Trump’s tour of the Middle East and Europe was not the “homerun” of which he boasted, it did go surprisingly well, at least on Trumpian terms.

    But that’s over now.

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    Five Congressional Investigations . . . plus a tenacious Special Counsel, Robert Mueller

    Pres. Trump returned to the White House on Sunday to face the “I” words—indictment and impeachment, both fueled by a lengthening list of Russia-related leaks and charges. Not only those, but also the dark Nixonian (and Clintonian) phrase, “obstruction of justice.”

    He returned to await next week’s public testimony of his fired nemesis, former FBI director Jim Comey—that “nut job,” as Trump described him during an Oval Office meeting in which the commander in chief shared highly classified “code word” info with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador and volunteered that firing Comey relieved “great pressure.”

    Now he is stuck obsessing about five congressional probes looking into alleged Russian ties; about subpoenas for Oval Office tapes, about depositions, indictments, anxiety that someone caught in law enforcement’s grip will turn state’s witness and finger Trump—could it be Mike Flynn or Paul Manafort? Was winning favor with Flynn the reason Trump allegedly asked Comey to lay off the former and fired NSA chief. (Trump denies doing so).

    Why did Trump ask two other top American intelligence chiefs to tamp down Comey’s Russian collusion probe? For at least one of them, there’s a “contemporaneous” memo.

    Special counsel Robert Mueller, III, impeccably ethical FBI head III, and friend of Jim Comey, now charged with looking for criminal behavior, will be sure to study that memo and every other piece of evidence.

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    The Bad News Will Keep Coming

    The bad news stories never stop. Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, the golden boy and presidential favorite—Trump’s senior advisor–could face, thanks to the FBI investigation, public humiliation and, worse yet, indictment. A back channel communication with Russia? What was Jared thinking and why wasn’t he fully forthcoming about his meetings with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

    On top of that, yesterday’s news, Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time personal lawyer, his self-described “pit-bull,” has received a subpoena for his “testimony, personal documents and business records” from the House Intelligence Committee.

    Anyone in Trump’s position would feel some level of self pity, but Trump is known for wallowing in it. “…the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

    “No politician in history…has been treated worse or more unfairly.” (That one while delivering the commencement address all about himself to Coast Guard Academy grads.)

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    Campaigning, now that was fun. Governing, not so much

    Trump, my hunch, is back to asking himself, “Who knew that being president would be so hard? So complicated? So much boring work?”

    Is he sick and tired of all those embarrassing photos focusing on the protruding belly and hairweave blowing in the wind as he boards Marine One?

    Oh for the days when Trump could be Trump.

    In the fog of cascading scoops, Trump can’t be Trump, not if he wants to serve his full term, much less run for a second. For Trump, things can only get worse—and that could happen long before 2020.

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    If the Democrats win the House in 2018, governing will be downright unpleasant

    And home cooking will start to look a whole lot better

    Take the 2018 midterms: The Democrats take back the House, Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker, and impeachment proceedings commence.

    Trump, again my hunch, likely entertains “They’ll be sorry when I’m gone” fantasies as he returns to linger alone in his White House bed; that very bed from which he tweeted a warning to Jim Comey to keep his mouth shut because there could be tapes of their conversations. Who knew that Comey kept detailed, contemporaneous notes of their meetings? Who knew that a special counsel would be reading them? Who even knew that “White House tapes” carried negative connotations and a special place in presidential history.

    At those moments, does he grow nostalgic about the campaign trail when he could belittle the policies of Obama and Hillary and make grandiose promises about bringing back “jobs, jobs, jobs” (Oops! Breaking news on Carrier sending jobs to Mexico) and bombing the hell out of ISIS, about building that “beautiful wall” and all the rest of his “drain the swamp” applause lines?.

    If I could get inside his head, I hear him getting down to even less lofty thoughts. Why think of affairs of state when I could be thinking about real estate? I hear him telling himself, I’m sick of this rundown White House. I miss my $100 million Trump Tower penthouse. I miss the marble and 24-carat-gold Palace-of-Versailles-inspired décor. I miss my bed, my linens, my pillow, my loyal housekeepers, my valet.

    And the Oval Office? The thrill is gone. It’s not CEO-sized and I miss gazing at my Trump Tower office walls festooned with framed magazine covers featuring me. I miss my unfailingly discreet secretary. I miss not having to obsess over leaks. And leave it to Time to report that I insist on two scoops of vanilla ice cream with my chocolate cream pie while everyone else gets one, and that my boy scout vice president requests a fruit plate.

    Air Force One? Like the Oval, a thrill the first time, but not nearly as cool as my 757, its leather seats embossed with the Trump family crest.

    So long as he remains a resident of 1600, Trump might think, leaked details about his morning cosmetic prep are just a matter of time. The concocted hair, the unnatural stiffness of its several sections: Does he use an aerosol spray? Does Aqua Net still exist? Can Trump claim his very own ozone layer hole?

    And more.

    How long before the “failing” New York Times, likely relying on a leak from some White House staffer, or some other “fake news” source, reports that he skips the daily intelligence brief in favor of reading Breitbart News while his people apply the bronzer and the concealer and the pancake makeup to prepare him for another day in hell?

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    If he toughs it out, he still could lose a re-election bid

    Why not leave on his own terms?

    If he sticks it out there’s the indignity, for starters, of not getting a second term. Obama got two; Clinton got two. Not fair. But possible, as financial backers run scared. And Republicans, worried about reelection and rushing to microphones to applaud the appointment of Mueller, are keeping their distance, a few even muttering the “I” (impeachment) word.

    And what about those polls that show cracks in his base of support? And the Wall Street Journal editorial page, of all places, hectoring, “Loose Lips Sink Presidencies,” calling the state of his presidency “perpetual turbulence” and calling him “inexperienced” and “impulsive.” And that Politico headline, “Conservatives begin to whisper President Pence.”

    On the bright side, he exits the White House on his own terms, Melania at his side, if not holding his much ridiculed hand, barely hiding her relief. He emerges as the most famous man in America, the misunderstood, abused hero who tried to drain the swamp and make America great again, but who was blocked at every turn by the elite in politics and academia and the press.

    If he hangs around, he could end up, like Richard Nixon, shamed, shunned and on the precipice of impeachment, having to accept a pardon from his VP. Does Trump understand the difference between himself and Nixon; that the late President might have been a crook, but he was also an intellectual, and, in forced retirement, a wise man on international politics? For Trump, another reality TV show, just not one filmed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, awaits.

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    Carol Felsenthal is much-published author. Besides a long list of magazine credits, she has written a number of acclaimed biographies:

    • Citizen Newhouse: Portrait of a Media Merchant,
    • Power, Privilege, and the Post: The Katharine Graham Story,
    • Princess Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, and
    • Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House, a look at Bill Clinton’s post presidency

    She is also a contributing writer for Chicago Magazine and the political blogger for their website, Chicagomag.com.

    She has taught biographical writing at the University of Chicago and written profiles of everyone from Ann Landers to Michelle Obama.

  • UPDATE: Robert Mueller to investigate the Trump-Russia issue. Excellent decision. Excellent choice.

    The breaking news that DOJ’s second-in-command, Rod Rosenstein, has appointed a Special Counsel, former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, significantly changes the political and legal dynamic. Great choice.
    Rosenstein’s decision is a sensible one to restore a sense of order and disinterested justice to these controversies.
    ♦♦♦♦♦♦
    The only potential conflict is that Comey was a senior aide to Mueller. But I don’t think that will affect Mueller one iota.
    Mueller’s long experience at the FBI will mean the current investigation will dovetail with the new Special Counsel.
    Equally important, it will move quickly because Mueller can be get up-to-speed quickly on the current FBI investigation.
    It is crucial–crucial–that both parties endorse this decision and the selection of Mueller now that Rosenstein has made those calls.
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    The swirling controversies around Trump, the Russians, and Comey are not “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
    The signify something….but what?
    At the very least, they raise very important questions about the President’s self-discipline and his willingness and capacity to govern prudently and make decisions thoughtfully, lawfully.
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    They underscore the impulsive character of much Presidential decision making and the still-chaotic organization of the White House itself.
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    Those problems come from the top.
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    At this point, however, we do not know how important the intel leaks about Russia are (they seem a lot less important than initially feared) or whether Trump crossed a line in his private discussions with Comey after the Flynn dismissal.

    What explains Trump’s imprudent actions? 

    My guess is that his lack of discipline, hubris, and inexperience led him to think that he was dealing with roughly the same problem (and people) who handle garbage removal and concrete in Manhattan.
    His voters think that’s exactly right.
    His adversaries think it is why he should never have been elected.

    What explains the brouhaha? 

    • Trump crossing some murky lines, which creates genuine concern
    • Some Republican and traditional conservative opposition to Trump and his outsider style and nationalist policies,
    • Serious opposition from career people at the intelligence agencies, whom Trump accused of incompetence and politicization repeatedly during the campaign

    and

    • The media+Democrats’ slash-and-burn resistance to Trump personally and his agenda.

    What’s the impact, so far?

    • Increasing concern for unstable, chaotic “leadership” from the White House, which means
    • Increasing doubts that Trump’s key agenda items of tax cuts and health-care reform will pass
  • ZipDialog for Wednesday, May 17: Making Sense of the News about Trump, Comey, and Russia

     The two big stories are about Pres. Trump:

    (1) The discussion with then-FBI Director Comey about the Mike Flynn investigation, and

    (2) The discussion with the Russians about ISIS.

    Let me offer comments on each, rather than a regular news roundup.

    My goal is to say what we know and don’t know about each and put their importance and potential consequences in some perspective.

     Comment on FBI Director Comey’s private meeting with President Trump

    The meeting was in mid-February, the day after Flynn was fired as National Security Adviser

    The most grievous possibility is that Trump was asking Comey to stop the investigation, which could be seen as obstruction of justice. That’s a very serious charge.

    Comey claims to have written a memo-to-self after the meeting. He held it secretly for three months and then had friends leak it to the press on Tuesday. The anonymous friends read excerpts from the memo and did not release it to the press. They kept their own identities secret, as well.

    Since it was Comey’s own memo, the leak had to come from him. No one besides Comey and the friends though whom he is leaking has actually seen the memo. We don’t know if he wrote memos on other meetings with Trump (or with others), but he probably did.

    I suspect this memo and any others he wrote will be subpoenaed. That could get very interesting. The Democrats, in particular, will enjoy the circus and the stench of scandal, using it to block the Trump presidency.

    Personally, I am disturbed Trump even broached the subject of the Flynn-Russia investigation with Comey.

    Excluding Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the meeting casts further doubt on the propriety of the President’s behavior.

    But there are problems with interpreting the information we currently have as an attempt to obstruct justice, which is how the Democrats and their favorite media are spinning it.

    • First, if there was an attempt to obstruct justice, Comey had a clear legal obligation to report it. He did not. That suggests he thought it was not such an attempt.
    • Second, Comey never discussed this potential obstruction with the second-in-command at his agency, which he presumably would have done if it were a disturbing issue or a close call.
    • Third, Comey never threatened to resign, a threat he famously made during the George W. Bush administration over a DOJ decision. He presumably would have done so–or told his associates about his doubts–if he thought Trump was trying to block an FBI investigation.
    • Fourth, Comey gave very detailed briefings to senior Congressional investigators about the Russian investigation and never mentioned it.
    • Fifth, Comey did not leak this bombshell memo while he was employed at the FBI. He kept it private for three months and only disclosed it after being fired. That means he either did not think the information sufficiently damning or else he thought it was his “job insurance” in case Trump wanted to fire him (a very disturbing possibility, reminiscent of J. Edgar Hoover). Right now, we simply don’t know why he kept it secret, especially if he thought it was so important.
    • Sixth, it is possible that Trump’s statement was less a request to kill the investigation of Michael Flynn (which would be obstruction, if that was Trump’s specific intention) and more a vague aspiration that he hoped this mess would end soon with Flynn cleared. (Again, I do not think the President should say any such thing to the leader of that investigation. That’s true even if his statement falls well short of obstruction.)
    • Finally, we know that the FBI investigation has continued full-throttle and that the former second-in-command, now heading the agency temporarily, said in public testimony that no one has attempted to impede the FBI inquiry. That’s vitally important.
      • If Trump were attempting to obstruct the investigation, it seems likely he would have done more. Of course, the Democrats say he did: he fired Comey. But he did so long after the “bombshell” meeting, so it is hard to connect the two.
      • Comey has also said that he didn’t get the additional resources he needed for the investigation. But that has been rebutted by the acting director (who says he has adequate resources) and the deputy AG (who says flatly that Comey never made such a request).

    Bottom Line:

    1. Trump’s political enemies see the whole episode as more evidence of Nixonian malfeasance, a wonderful chance for hearings that put Trump and the Republicans on the defensive, and a great way to impede and undermine Trump.
    2. Trump’s friends see it as something like an attempted coup by Comey, the intelligence agencies, the sore-loser Democrats, and their friends in the media.
    3. Expect many more shoes to drop, including a grand jury investigation of Russian financial ties by some former Trump campaign aides.

    ◆ Comment on Trump and the Russia Leaks

    Now, several days after the news broke, we still don’t know all the details. But we can reasonably conclude that Trump shared some highly-classified information with the Russians. Although Trump has full authority to do that and did not disclose “sources and methods,” he seems to have spoken without fully recognizing the sensitivity of the information or clearing it in advance with his national-security team.

    After the meeting, they called a couple of the US intelligence agencies to clean up after the fact. Some senior people in those agencies almost certainly were the ones who then leaked that information to the media, vastly compounding the damage as well as committing felonies by disclosing the secret information.

    The New York Times and Washington Post played this story as a huge Trumpian error, endangering US national security. But they never explained how, other than saying that such leaks were terrible and, because the leak came from a US ally, it could endanger that relationship.

    My assessment: Trump may have shared too much; it is hard too say since we don’t know the details publicly. If he did, then it was probably a combination of inexperience handling this classified material and an overestimation of our common interest with the Russians.

    But there is a huge irony here. The media’s main claim is that Trump endangered the US with his leaks.

    But it was the WaPo and NYT that spread that information around the world (via leaks they received) and it was the NYT that went further and identified the US partner who “owned” the intelligence, the Israelis. If the information Trump gave the Russians truly jeopardized the US and was a major violation of our security, then what exactly was the justification for publishing detailed descriptions of this secret data, which shares it not only with the Russians but also Iran, ISIS, and everyone else?

    Bottom Line:

    1. Trump may have made a mistake, but it doesn’t look like a huge one (from what we know so far). It may have been done out of hubris, inexperience, or overestimation of our potential to work with the Russians but not out of malice–and certainly not treason as some unhinged commentators have said.
    2. The media, the Democrats, and Trump’s other opponents, including many traditional conservatives, have exploited his error, exaggerated its impact, and actually compounded the problem by publishing additional classified materials, contradicting their claim that they were only worried about the national-security impact of Trump’s (presumed) error.

    ◆ Bottom Line on the two big stories taken together: the Comey meeting and the Russia meeting:

    This whole ruckus–the damage he inflicted on himself, the damage his adversaries are inflicting on him–destabilizes his presidency, sucks the oxygen out of his policy initiatives, splits the Republican party (whose elected officials don’t know whether to back him or back away), and weakens the country.

    If there is real fire beneath the smoke, the damage will get worse. Much worse.

    On the other hand, if Trump’s supporters think he is being railroaded out of office without conclusive, damning evidence, they will see what they feared all along: a Washington establishment that runs the country, regardless of what the electorate says–an entrenched, unelected elite determined to fight dirty to retain its power.

    Given the already-deep cleavages in the country, either alternative poses serious dangers to America’s consensual, constitutional order.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, February 20

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Malaysian probe of murder of North Korean leader’s half-brother “strains Malaysia-North Korea ties,” says Reuters. No one doubts the murder was ordered by Kim Jong Un.

    Malaysian police are hunting four North Koreans who fled the country on the day of the attack, having already detained one North Korean man, a Vietnamese woman, an Indonesian woman, and a Malaysian man.

    At least three of the wanted North Koreans caught an Emirates flight to Dubai from Jakarta late on the same day, an immigration office official in the Indonesian capital told Reuters. Malaysia’s Star newspaper reported that all four had returned to Pyongyang.

    South Korean and U.S. officials have said the killing was probably carried out by North Korean agents.–Reuters

     In a difficult military operation, Iraqi army (with US help) starts to retake the western Mosul, ISIS’ capital and last stronghold (New York Times) The city’s eastern section has already been liberated. The western section has denser population and small, winding streets, and ISIS is well-entrenched there, making it a brutal location for urban fighting. It should take several months for Iraqis to retake.

    Comment: After liberation, the city will need to be stabilized politically and militarily. That, too, is a major task.

     Michael Novak, Catholic theologian who championed capitalism and constitutional democracy, has died at 83. (New York Times obituary) He is best known for his 1982 book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.

    Comment: The best way to grasp his depth and his insights is to watch him. Here is a brief video–less than 5 minutes–with real understanding of what make America special, done without any chest-pounding.

    Here is another brief interview, answering the question, “Does Capitalism Corrode Morality?”

     Tucson Mayor’s Prius Carjacked at Gunpoint (Fox)

    Comment: The silver lining, police say, is that Tucson’s air quality was not harmed.   

     How much do Manhattan’s wealthy liberals hate Trump? Well, they forced the cancellation of a skating party at their kids’ hyper-exclusive, hyper-expensive private school. . . because it would be held at a public rink Trump rebuilt in Central Park. The NY Post story is here.

    Trump renovated the rink in 1986 after the city fumbled the job for six years.

    Another Dalton parent said a clique of Upper East Side “liberal moms” upset with Trump pressured the headmaster to call off the event, a source said. –New York Post

    Comment: Speaks for itself.

     VP Pence continues his European tour, reassuring NATO allies (Washington Post) The WaPo stresses Pence’s differences from Trump on NATO.

    Although the vice president repeatedly stressed that he was speaking on behalf of President Trump, the two men indeed seemed as though they were separated by an ocean.

    Pence offered bland mollifications, forced to calm and cajole European countries that, in the post-Cold War order, until recently never had cause to question the support of the United States. But at a campaign rally Saturday evening in Florida, Trump did the opposite, again criticizing NATO — hours after Pence had extolled its virtues in Munich — and offending yet another ally when he implied that there was a recent terrorist attack in Sweden, one that seemed to exist only in the president’s imagination. –Washington Post

    Comment: What the Post sees as differences might be that, but they might be something else, something smarter. They might be a shrewd way of convincing Europeans to pay more without undermining NATO’s deterrent posture toward Russia.

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