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Feb. 20 2017 8:19 PM

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Dies Suddenly in New York

Vitaly Churkin, who was the combative Russian ambassador the United Nations for more than a decade, died suddenly after suffering cardiac arrest while he was at work in Manhattan. His death, which came a day before he would have turned 65, shocked the diplomatic community. Russia’s Foreign Ministry gave few details about the circumstances surrounding Churkin's passing but a federal law enforcement official said there didn’t seem to be anything unusual about his death.

Churkin’s death came at a time when everyone is watching Moscow-Washington relations even more closely than normal and many were eager to see how the diplomat not known for mincing words was going to get along with his U.S. counterpart, Nikki Haley. Russian news agencies quoted the Kremlin as saying Russian President Vladimir Putin was very upset by the news and “expressed sympathy to the friends and family as well as to the staff of the Russian Foreign Ministry.”


Churkin was often the most visible defender of Moscow's most controversial positions, as he backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Russian invasion of Ukraine on numerous occassions. In one particularly memorable moment, then-U.S. ambassador Samantha Power brought up Aleppo atrocities and asked him, “Are you truly incapable of shame?” He fired back that she was acting “as if she is Mother Teresa herself.” Still, after learning of his death, Power took to Twitter to say she was “devastated” by the news. “Diplomatic maestro & deeply caring man who did all he cld to bridge US-RUS differences,” she wrote. Power’s predecessor, Susan Rice, also expressed her condolences, calling Churkin “highly effective and very funny.”

Churkin’s death comes a little more than three months after another Russian died in the country’s diplomatic offices in New York. Sergei Krivov was found dead on Election Day, lying on the floor of the Russian Consulate on the Upper East Side. BuzzFeed looked into the strange story earlier this month and found that much of it is still an unresolved mystery.

Feb. 20 2017 4:34 PM

Trump Picks Military Strategist Known for Questioning Authority as National Security Adviser

The wait is over. President Donald Trump announced on Monday that he had selected Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster to be his new national security adviser, showing how the commander in chief continues to rely on members of the military to play key roles in his national security and foreign policy teams. Trump made the announcement after interviewing several candidates to replace Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign amid claims that he kept Vice President Pence in the dark about the content of conversations with a Russian official before the president took office.

“He’s a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience,” Trump said as he introduced McMaster. “He is highly respected by everyone in the military, and we’re very honored to have him.” Retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who has been serving as acting national security adviser, will become the National Security Council chief of staff. “I think that combination is something very, very special,” Trump said. “What a team. This is a great team.” Trump’s first choice for the job, retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, turned down the offer.


McMaster is a widely respected military strategist although his selection surprised some because he is known as someone who is fond of questioning authority having made his name as a strong critic of the military leadership during the Vietnam War. McMaster is now frequently described as one of the leading intellectuals in the Army who is often credited with pushing the Pentagon toward a new strategy of combating terrorists and insurgents.

One person who wasn’t surprised? Foreign Policy’s Thomas Ricks, who had called him the most likely pick after Harward turned down the offer. “He has good combat experience, he was a good trainer, and he led the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment well in his deployment to Iraq, most notably in pacifying Tell Afar, to the west of Mosul,” notes Ricks. The two big differences between him and Harward is that McMaster is on active duty and “his wife won’t kill him if he takes the job, as Harward’s wife might have.”

At a time when Russia’s potential influence on the election is in the news, McMaster does seem to be acutely aware of Kremlin’s rising power. Last year, he had been tasked with studying Moscow and a newly resurgent Russia that had caught the Pentagon largely off-guard. “It is clear that while our Army was engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia studied U.S. capabilities and vulnerabilities and embarked on an ambitious and largely successful modernization effort,” McMaster told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year.

The two other candidates for the job were former U.N. ambassador John Bolton and Lt. Gen Robert Caslen Jr. When he announced his pick, Trump made a point of praising Bolton, who had already been passed over for an administration job. “We had some really good meetings with him. Knows a lot. He had a good number of ideas that I must tell you I agree very much with,” the president said. “So we’ll be talking with John Bolton in a different capacity.”

Feb. 20 2017 2:02 PM

Swedish Cops Featured in Fox News Segment Say Views Were Misrepresented

The police officers who were featured in the “documentary” that apparently inspired President Donald Trump to make his widely mocked comments Friday about an incident in Sweden say the filmmaker is a “madman” who misrepresented their views. “When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden—Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers; they’re having problems like they never thought possible,” Trump had said at a Friday rally. On Sunday night, Trump acknowledged what had already been pretty clear: he was inspired by a Fox News segment.

Sure, Trump may have access to the most extensive intelligence network in the world, but he apparently prefers to believe what he sees on Tucker Carlson’s show. And he seems to have been particularly moved by a segment in which Carlson interviewed Ami Horowitz about a documentary he made on how Sweden is descending into violent chaos because it opened its doors to refugees.


Part of the support Horowitz presents for his view on Sweden’s horrors are interviews with two police officers. The problem is those officers say they never meant to espouse the message that Horowitz attributes to them. “It was supposed to be about crime in high risk areas. Areas with high crime rates. There wasn’t any focus on migration or immigration,” Anders Göranzon told Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter. According to Göranzon, Horowitz “edited” their answers which were to “completely different questions in the interview.” His conclusion? “This is bad journalism.”

Now the cops are wary of answering any questions, lest they be misrepresented. “It feels like hell. The real questions should be shown along with our answers,” Göranzon added. “The end result is that we don’t want to talk to journalists after this. We can’t trust each other.”

Horowitz stood by his film, denying he had misrepresented the interviews or its intent. "The answers were accurate," Horowitz told the Guardian. “This is part of the problem that Sweden has, and the officers are probably under a lot of pressure because of what they said. It’s difficult in that environment to stand up to it, so I feel sorry for them.”

Trump made sure to keep the issue in the spotlight on Monday when he took to Twitter again and implied the details don’t matter and the real message is the problems Sweden is facing because of its immigration policies. “The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully,” Trump wrote. “NOT!”

Carlson himself said those making fun of Trump were missing the big picture by focusing on the commander in chief’s words rather than on what his overall message was. “It seems like we may be missing the point of the story, which is there has been a massive social cost associated with the refugee policies and the immigration policies of Western Europe,” Carlson said on Fox News on Monday morning. “Fifty years of immigration policy is coming to flower in Europe. We’re not paying any attention. We’re not drawing any of the obvious lessons from it. It's not working. That's the real point here.”

A day earlier, Sweden’s embassy in Washington wrote on Twitter that they were looking “forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies.” It’s a role the embassy is familiar with considering Sweden's diplomatic outposts have been tasked with countering the vast amounts of misinformation that has been spread about the country’s refugee program.

Feb. 20 2017 10:43 AM

Milo Yiannopoulos Loses CPAC Invite, Book Deal After Pedophilia Defense

Update at 7:15 p.m.: Shortly after the American Conservative Union cancleed Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos' invitation to speak at CPAC, Simon & Schuster said it would no longer publish his book, Dangerous. He had reportedly received an advance of $250,000 for the book that was set to be published by Simon & Schuster's conservative imprint Threshold Editions. “After careful consideration, Simon & Schuster and its Threshold Editions imprint have cancelled publication of Dangerous by Milo Yiannopoulos," the publisher said in a brief statement.

Yiannopoulos confirmed the news on Facebook. "They canceled my book," he wrote. Later he added: "I've gone through worse. This will not defeat me."


Update at 3 p.m.: The American Conservative Union gave in to pressure and decided to rescind the invitation it had extended to Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference. Apparently all the horrific things he has said before were acceptable, but Yiannopoulos’ seeming endorsement of at least some types of pedophilia is where the ACU draws the line.

“Due to the revelation of an offensive video in the past 24 hours condoning pedophilia, the American Conservative Union has decided to rescind the invitation of Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference,” ACU head Matt Schlapp said in a statement on Twitter. “We continue to believe that CPAC is a constructive forum for controversies and disagreements among conservatives, however there is no disagreement among attendees on the evils of sexual abuse of children.”

Yiannopoulos will of course get lots of free publicity out of this and has told the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza he still plans to go to Washington.

Original post: It was an eventful few days for Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart editor who likes to describe himself as a provocateur. First, he sparked a disturbing bromance with Bill Maher on HBO, then he was invited to speak at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, and to round up the weekend, videos were released in which the self-described “virtuous troll” defends pedophilia and jokes about sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

Although the videos weren’t new, they were repackaged and published on Twitter by a conservative account clearly critical of the CPAC invite. The videos show how Yiannopoulos played down the importance of child abuse—“You can get quite hung up on this child-abuse thing.” He then goes on to say that sexual relations between “younger boys” and older men could be part of a “coming-of-age relationship” in which “those older men help those young boys discover who they are.” When an unnamed person suggests that Yiannopoulos was advocating for something that “sounds like Catholic priest molestation to me,” the Breitbart editor suggested that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. “But you know what? I’m grateful for Father Michael. I wouldn’t give nearly such good head if it wasn’t for him.” He later seems to suggest that sexual relations with a 13-year-old isn’t necessarily pedophilia:

You’re misunderstanding what pedophilia means. Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old who is sexually mature. Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty. Pedophilia is attraction to people who don’t have functioning sex organs yet who have not gone through puberty.

In an earlier interview with comedian Joe Rogan, Yiannopoulos also seemed to try to normalize pedophilia, denying that “Father Michael” was a “terrible person,” adding: “It wasn’t molestation.” He later asked Rogan: “So you’re saying you’ve never seen a 15-year-old girl, at any point in your life, that you thought was hot?”

Yiannopoulos took to Facebook to defend himself, denying he ever defended pedophilia and suggesting this was all a Republican-led campaign to discredit him:

I do not support pedophilia. Period. It is a vile and disgusting crime, perhaps the very worst. There are selectively edited videos doing the rounds, as part of a co-ordinated effort to discredit me from establishment Republicans, that suggest I am soft on the subject.

CNN’s Jake Tapper got involved on the debate, writing a series of tweets wondering how CPAC could possibly defend Yiannopoulos.

Despite initial reports, the American Conservative Union made clear that Yiannopoulos was not the keynote speaker at CPAC and was only one of 75 people who would be talking at the conference.

Still, many have expressed disappointment with that decision and have called on the ACU to rescind its invite, particularly after the new videos surfaced. The ACU board, which includes the likes of Kellyanne Conway and Grover Norquist, was allegedly never consulted on the decision.

Several members of the conservative media harshly criticized the invite while some are piling on pressure on other CPAC speakers to boycott the conference.

ACU head Matt Schlapp, however, has defended the invite. “We realize that this invitation will be accompanied by controversy which we think the conservative movement and our CPAC attendees can handle,” Schlapp told the Washington Post in an email. Schlapp confirmed on Monday that President Donald Trump will also be speaking at CPAC.

Feb. 20 2017 8:44 AM

Trump Associates Work With Ukrainian Opposition on Plan to Lift Russia Sanctions

Amid all the scrutiny over President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, a fresh scoop illustrates how the commander in chief’s associates are not shying away from trying to seal backroom deals that could end up helping the Kremlin. According to information first revealed by the New York Times, Trump’s personal lawyer (Michael Cohen), a former business associate (Felix Sater), and a member of the Ukrainian parliament (Andrii Artemenko) met to discuss a possible peace plan for Russia that could give Moscow control over the territory it seized in 2014. Conveniently enough, the plan would then lead to the lifting of sanctions against Russia and, as a bonus, could lead to the toppling of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

The story is mighty complicated, but here is a giant hint that it’s important: One of the key players has started playing defense and has reportedly changed his story. According to the Times, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, delivered the sealed proposal for Ukrainian-Russian peace to Michael Flynn a week before he was forced out as national security adviser. Cohen vehemently denied that was the case to the Washington Post, which followed the Times scoop with its own story. “I acknowledge that the brief meeting took place, but emphatically deny discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn,” Cohen said. According to Cohen, he told the Ukrainian member of parliament (Andrii V. Artemenko) he could mail his peace proposal to the White House like anyone else. The Times stands by its story, insisting Cohen said “in no uncertain terms that he delivered the Ukraine proposal to Michael Flynn’s office at the White House.”


Although the “amateur diplomats,” as the Times calls them, seem eager to characterize the efforts as driven by a desire for peace, there’s more to it than that consider Artemenko also has power ambitions of his own and apparently sees himself as "a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine." Artemenko also claimed he had been encouraged by Moscow to move forward with the plan. On Monday, the Kremlin essentially laughed off the proposal, calling it absurd to think that Russia would agree to lease out Crimea. (Under the proposal, Russian forces would withdraw from Eastern Ukraine and voters would decide whether the land would be leased to Russia for a 50-year or 100-year term.) “There's nothing to talk about,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “How can Russia rent its own region from itself?”

Some are highlighting the presence of murky business associate Sater, who once pleaded guilty to Mafia-related stock fraud, as particularly important. When Sater’s criminal past was revealed, Trump insisted he barely knew him. Now, however, this latest story shows he could still be influential in Trump circles. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo explains:

On its own, Trump's relationship with Sater might be written off (albeit not terribly plausibly) as simply a sleazy relationship Trump entered into to get access to capital he needed to finance his projects. Whatever shadowy ties Sater might have and whatever his criminal background, Trump has long since washed his hands of him. (Again, we're talking about most generous reads here.)
But now we learn that Sater is still very much in the Trump orbit and acting as a go-between linking Trump and a pro-Putin Ukrainian parliamentarian pitching 'peace plans' for settling the dispute between Russia and Ukraine.
Indeed, far, far more important, Cohen—who is very close to Trump and known for dealing with delicate matters—is in contact with Sater and hand delivering political and policy plans from him to the President.

Even as he denied he delivered the documents to the White House, Cohen seemed to recognize he still had regular contact with Sater. After all, he told the Post that the only reason he attended the meeting with Artemenko was as s courtesy to Sater.

Feb. 19 2017 3:38 PM

Dozens Fired After Joining “Day Without Immigrants” Protests

More than 100 people were suddenly out of work across the country this past week after they participated in Thursday’s “Day Without Immigrants” protest. As numerous restaurants across the country closed their doors in solidarity with the cause, other employers were decidedly less understanding.

Eighteen of those who were fired worked at Bradley Coatings Inc., which had warned employees they would lose their jobs if they didn’t come to work. "Regretfully, and consistent with its prior communication to all its employees, BCI had no choice but to terminate these individuals,” the company said in a statement. “The reason these employees missed work—to engage in peaceful demonstrations—had nothing to do with BCI’s decision to terminate them.” Fired workers said they planned to make up the day on Sunday but the company didn’t budge.


In Lexington, South Carolina, 21 workers were fired from Encore Boat Builders after they took part in the national protest. The company has declined to comment. And in Denver, at least 30 workers were fired from JVS Masonry after they missed work on Thursday. “I have no view on immigration laws or anything going on with that. All I know is I have a business to run,” company owner Jim Serowski said. In Miami, four construction workers were fired—and 17 others subsequently quit in protest—from the Orange and Blue company.

A closed sign at the Nickel Diner restaurant which closed for the day in solidarity with the "Day Without Immigrants" nationwide protests, in Los Angeles, California, on February 16, 2017.


In New York, 25 workers were fired from Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers in Long Island. In Catoosa, Oklahoma, a dozen workers were fired from the I Don’t Care Bar and Grill after they didn’t show up for work. The owner fired at least some of them via a horrific text message: “You and your family are fired. I hope you enjoyed your day off, and you can enjoy many more. Love you.” Restaurant owner Bill McNally justified the move, saying he has “zero tolerance policy” for people who skip work. The restaurant has already taken to Facebook to find new employees.

An immigration activist said that six employees at the Bahamas Breeze restaurant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania were fired after participating in the protest. The restaurant later reversed its decision after it was “bombarded” with calls. But the company that owns the restaurant disputes the allegation, saying nobody was fired. There were also confusing reports out of a daycare in Bonita Springs, Florida, where workers said two were fired and four subsequently quit in protest. But the head of the daycare disputed the allegation.

Some are now taking to social media to call for boycotts of the companies that fired workers.

Feb. 19 2017 12:21 PM

Homeland Security Set to Make It Much Easier to Deport Undocumented Immigrants

The Department of Homeland Security has drafted up new orders that would expand the number of immigrants who could be quickly detained and deported both inside the United States and at the border. Secretary John Kelly signed a series of memos that were distributed among agency chiefs on Friday and would, among other things, expand by hundreds of thousands the number of immigrants who could be subject to expedited removal from the country. The memos also note that additional enforcement agents would be hired and local law enforcement would be enlisted to help make arrests.

The White House insists the memos are not final and the administration will make changes, but they demonstrate how Homeland Security is looking to put into practice President Donald Trump’s newly aggressive immigration policies. And, at the very least, they provide a broad look at what the first steps in the long-expected immigration crackdown could be.


In essence, the new memos amount to a stark rewriting of the way the country’s immigration laws are enforced and would “supersede nearly all of those issued under previous administrations … including measures from President Barack Obama aimed at focusing deportations exclusively on hardened criminals and those with terrorist ties,” notes the Washington Post. One thing the memos don’t include? Any talk of using National Guard troops to arrest immigrants that had been part of a draft document that was leaked on Friday. (Officials say Kelly never approved that plan.)

The most significant moves outlined in the memos include:

  • Authorizing expedited deportation proceedings for any undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for less than two years. The procedure is currently limited to those who have been in the United States for less than two weeks.
  • Unaccompanied minors who arrive in the United States would no longer be protected from deportation, and their parents could face prosecution if they paid traffickers to smuggle their children across the border.
  • The bar will be raised on the initial screening of asylum seekers, giving officers more leeway to narrowly interpret whether the applicant has “credible fear” of persecution if returned home.
  • Immigrants who are caught crossing the border from Mexico will be immediately sent back to the country while their deportation hearings are pending. That means non-Mexican asylum seekers could be sent to Mexico to wait for their hearings.
  • For now, the memos leave in place President Obama’s protection of the so-called “dreamers,” who arrived to the United States as children. But that doesn’t seem final, considering that one memo explicitly says there is no protected class of immigrants.
  • The definition of who is considered a criminal for deportation purposes would be expanded to not only those who have actually been convicted of a crime, but also to those who have been (or could be) charged.
  • Money used to advocate on behalf of undocumented immigrants would go toward setting up the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office.
  • Agency chiefs are to begin hiring 10,000 additional ICE agents and 5,000 more members of the Border Patrol.

The Department of Homeland Security is not commenting on the documents but did not dispute that they are authentic.

Feb. 19 2017 10:28 AM

Chelsea Clinton Trolls Trump Over Sweden Comment: Did They Catch Bowling Green Perpetrators?

Social media lit up on Saturday night with people rushing to make fun of President Donald Trump for suggesting that something terrible had happened in Sweden due to immigrants (or refugees?) Many in Sweden were baffled by Trump’s comment—“When you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden—Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden!”—and were quick to point out this was only the latest in a string of terror attacks his administration seems to have made up to support the Muslim ban.

Although it is the continuation of a worrying trend, many decided the best way to combat the false statement (that may have very well been inspired by a Fox News segment) was with humor. Chelsea Clinton was one of them: “What happened in Sweden Friday night? Did they catch the Bowling Green Massacre perpetrators?”


Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt was even more direct and wondered what Trump “has been smoking.”

Others posted mocking photos using the hashtag #LastNightInSweden, making hilarious references to the likes of the Swedish Chef and Ikea.

Chelsea Clinton’s tweet served as a reminder of how the daughter of former president Bill Clinton and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has emerged as one of Trump’s sharpest critics on Twitter even as her parents maintain a decidedly lower profile. Only this past week, for example, Chelsea Clinton helped out Trump with how he should have responded to a question about rising anti-Semitism: “One would think he would have thought of an answer since yesterday. Here's one: There's no place for any bigotry, ever, in America.”

Feb. 19 2017 8:20 AM

John McCain: Suppressing Free Press Is “How Dictators Get Started”        

Senator John McCain continued to show he is one of the few Republican leaders willing to stand up to President Donald Trump, by starkly warning that the commander in chief was sounding an awful lot like a burgeoning dictator. In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, McCain didn’t hesitate when he was asked about the president’s controversial tweet that specifically named several media outlets and called them the “enemy of the American people.”

"I hate the press. I hate you especially," McCain said. "But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It's vital." The Arizona senator who has just been reelected to another six-year term added that in order to “preserve democracy” a “free and many times adversarial press” is essential. “That’s how dictators get started,” he continued. “They get started by suppressing a free press. In other words, a consolidation of power. When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press.”


McCain made sure to emphasize that he wasn’t saying “President Trump is trying to be a dictator” but rather that “we need to learn the lessons of history.”

The Arizona senator spoke to NBC shortly after he took his criticism of the commander in chief internationally, telling the Munich Security Conference in Germany that the administration was in “disarray” and the Western world is in peril. McCain never actually mentioned Trump by name but the message was clear as he lamented a shift away from the “universal values” that brought together the NATO alliance decades ago. He added that the founders would be “alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies” and by “the hardening resentment we see toward immigrants and refugees and minority groups—especially Muslims.”

McCain wasn’t alone in defending the press in Munich. Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen told the conference she was concerned about Trump’s attacks on the press. "The real danger is the president’s criticism of the media," Shaheen said. "A free press ... is very important to maintaining democracy, and efforts on the part of a president to undermine and manipulate the press are very dangerous."

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel took up the theme and defended the press: "I have high respect for journalists. We've always had good results, at least in Germany, by relying on mutual respect."

Feb. 18 2017 9:40 PM

Did Fox News Lead Trump to Believe There Was a Terror Attack in Sweden?

President Donald Trump seemed to once again provide evidence for just how much cable news he watches during his campaign rally in Florida on Saturday. While he was defending his travel ban, Trump brought up examples from around the world about why Americans need the added protection: “When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden—Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers; they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

That immediately raised a few eyebrows. Sweden? What was he talking about? Was there some sort of terrorist attack in Sweden Friday night that no one heard about? On social media, it fell on the random citizen controlling the @sweden Twitter account this week to clarify that there wasn’t some grand conspiracy; there really has not been “any terrorist attacks here. At all.”


So why did Trump say it? Well, he could have just picked a country out of thin air. Or maybe, the commander in chief was watching Fox News Friday night. In a segment on Tucker Carlson’s show, journalist Ami Horowitz claimed the Swedish government is covering up rape crimes in order to protect “vulnerable” migrants. “From the onset of the refugee crisis, there was a surge in gun violence and rape—the statistics were clear,” Horowitz said. “But locals just said ‘it was men, not refugees,’ so the majority in Sweden still want to have an open-door policy. It’s confounding, really.”

Even if that was the case though, the segment on Carlson’s show didn’t actually say anything happened Friday night. Little wonder then that it didn’t take long for some on Twitter to equate the Swedish “attack” with the Bowling Green Massacre.

Update on Feb. 20 at 7:15 a.m.: President Trump confirmed on Twitter that his reference to Sweden had to do with a segment he watched on Fox News.