August 25, 2019

The Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, received a surprise visitor on Sunday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in the French resort town for an unannounced visit to the gathering of world leaders. A senior French official said that, upon arrival, Zarif went straight into a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who invited his Iranian counterpart to attend the summit where the leaders of other invited countries are discussing how to handle Iran's nuclear ambitions.

American officials in Biarritz will reportedly not meet with Zarif. One French official said that France operates on its own terms when asked about Washington's knowledge of Zarif's attendance prior to his arrival.

Tensions, of course, are running high between Tehran and Washington, as they have been ever since the Trump administration last year pulled out of the 2015 nuclear pact orchestrated by the Obama administration. French President Emmanuel Macron has since taken the lead in negotiations to preserve the pact for its remaining signatories, including France, Germany, and the U.K., all countries that are in attendance at the G-7 summit.

The White House was reportedly caught a bit off guard by Zarif's sudden appearance. Earlier on Sunday, before Zarif showed up, Trump reportedly said while he was content with Paris reaching out to Tehran, he would continue to approach the situation with Iran independently and as he saw fit. Tim O'Donnell

9:08 a.m.

The cast and crew behind Parasite just received a warm welcome from South Korea's president after making history at the Oscars.

Bong Joon-ho's acclaimed thriller became the first foreign-language film to ever win Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards earlier this month, and on Thursday, Bong and some of the film's stars met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Moon praised the filmmakers and said he was "very proud" that the movie "made new history for the Oscars," The Associated Press reports. He also said that "Korean culture has moved from the peripheries to the center of the world and became recognized in all fields of culture" and that this is "due to the passion and hard work of everyone including Director Bong," Soompi reports.

Bong said during the event he was "very pleased to finish our journey" with this "honorable" meeting, per the AP. After a long Oscars campaign, Bong returned to South Korea this week and in a news conference on Wednesday reflected on the "passion" that brought the film to its historic victory, even though "our Oscars campaign was smaller" than others, Variety reports.

Moon had previously hailed the Parasite cast and crew for their win, starting off a meeting with senior aides on Feb. 10 with a round of applause for the film.

Parasite didn't only make history as the first Best Picture winner not in the English language. It was also the first movie from South Korea to win the Best International Feature Film Oscar, as well as the first to ever be nominated. Brendan Morrow

8:06 a.m.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got pummeled at the Nevada Democratic debate, and he seemed "woefully ill-prepared" for it, the hosts of Morning Joe and Fox & Friends agree.

The MSNBC and Fox News morning shows both tore in Thursday after Bloomberg's first Democratic debate, coming to the conclusion that his preparation for it could have used some serious work.

"I'm always surprised when people show up on the national stage when they know what questions are coming at them and they're just woefully ill-prepared," Morning Joe's Joe Scarborough observed Thursday. "I'm doubly surprised that Mike Bloomberg, who had to have known the questions about the NDAs, the questions about the women, the questions about stop and frisk, the questions about his money, he had to know they were all coming."

Still, Bloomberg did "horribly" for at least the first 70 minutes of the debate, Scarborough said, asking, "How do you show up after investing that much money and not have a 60-second answer ready on these attacks you know are coming?" Panelist Donny Deutsch suggested this showed "arrogance" on Bloomberg's part.

The hosts of Fox & Friends similarly panned Bloomberg's performance and were equally surprised by his apparent lack of preparation.

"He was terrible," host Steve Doocy said, while Brian Kilmeade observed, "It's as if he had no idea he was going to be hit with his own record."

Bloomberg doesn't have much time to get better prepared for round two, as the next Democratic debate is just five days away. Brendan Morrow

6:48 a.m.

It was a moderately tough crowd for former National Security Adviser John Bolton at Nashville's Vanderbilt University on Wednesday night, with the students audibly skeptical of his rationale for declining to tell Congress what he knew about President Trump and Ukraine during Trump's impeachment proceedings. And the audience cheered Bolton's co-panelist and fellow former national security adviser, Susan Rice, when she called him out on it.

Bolton said he was surprised Senate Republicans voted against having him testify at Trump's impeachment trial. "People can argue about what I should have said and what I should have done," Bolton said. "I would bet you a dollar right here and now, my testimony would have made no difference to the ultimate outcome." He suggested he's still not revealing the relevant disclosures in his unpublished book because of "implied threat of criminal prosecution" if he were to "just spill my guts" before the White House clears the book for publication.

"It's inconceivable to me that if I had firsthand knowledge of a gross abuse of presidential power, that I would withhold my testimony," with or without a subpoena, Rice said, getting a round of applause. "I would feel like I was shamefully violating my oath that I took to support and defend the Constitution." She added: "I also can't imagine, frankly, in the absence of being able to provide that information directly to Congress, not having exercised my First Amendment right to speak publicly at a time when my testimony or my experience would be relevant."

Bolton prompted grumbling when he said House Democrats "committed impeachment malpractice" by creating a process that "drove Republicans who might have voted for impeachment away because it was so partisan." Rice said Trump clearly abused his power and "Congress abdicated their responsibilities and made it impossible in the future to hold any president accountable." The theme of the talk was "Defining U.S. Global Leadership," so Rice added that the Senate's failure to sanction Trump has "unsettled" America's allies and "weakened our democratic model." Peter Weber

5:13 a.m.

Johan Hassel, the international secretary for Sweden's ruling Social Democrats, visited Iowa before the caucuses, and he wasn't impressed with American's standard bearer for democratic socialism, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "We were at a Sanders event, and it was like being at a Left Party meeting," he told Sweden's Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, according to one translation. "It was a mixture of very young people and old Marxists, who think they were right all along. There were no ordinary people there, simply."

Hassel was most "impressed" with Pete Buttigieg, though he also liked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Eric Kleefeld, assiduous student of foreign politics, provides some context on Sweden's Social Democrats:

Why would a Swedish Social Democrat favor Buttigieg over Sanders? Well, democratic socialism is different than Sweden's social democracy — the "Nordic model" Sanders touts — "and, unfortunately, Sanders has contributed to this confusion," writes MIT political economist Daron Acemoglu. Democratic socialism seeks to fix the iniquities of the market economy by handing control of the means of production to a company's workers or "an administrative structure operated by the state," he explains. "European social democracy is a system for regulating the market economy, not for supplanting it."

Lars Løkke Rasmussen, then the prime minister of Denmark, made a similar point in a speech at Harvard in 2015, when Sanders was gaining national attention. "I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism," he said. "Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy," albeit with "an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security to its citizens."

Rasmussen's model, Vox's Matthew Yglesias wrote at the time, "is not especially different, as a substantive matter, from what Sanders is saying." Sanders wants "higher taxes, a lot more social welfare spending," and single-payer health care, he adds. "But in Rasmussen's view, this doesn't amount to socialism at all." Which may explain why, in Wednesday's debate, Warren affirmed she is a capitalist and Buttigieg held up Denmark as the paragon of the American Dream. Peter Weber

3:07 a.m.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was not pulling her punches in Wednesday night's Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, and her most potent haymakers landed on former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, standing to her right. MSNBC's post-debate panel showed the moment she started pummeling Bloomberg, and Chris Matthews described it in elaborate boxing metaphors.

The Daily Show was a little more succinct:

Warren's biggest blow was set up by Bloomberg himself, and Joe Biden jumped in to help her finish him off.

After the debate, Matthews asked Warren why she went after Bloomberg so hard. "I think it's important for people to know exactly what Michael Bloomberg has said and done," she said. "It is important to know who this guy is," and "he is a threat because he's already dropped $400 million in this campaign, and understand this: After his performance tonight, I have no doubt he is about to drop, tonight, another $100 million in this campaign ... to try to erase America's memory of what happened on that debate stage."

Warren repeated her "arrogant billionaire" critique and when Matthews asked, she said Bloomberg's treatment of women should be disqualifying for the Democratic nomination. "Can we please keep in mind" that women have "finally been acknowledged to be important in electing our candidates?" she said. "You just can't lead with a guy who's got this kind of history."

The Daily Show, again, had a similar idea, but with a different, less likely destination for Bloomberg's millions. Peter Weber

1:43 a.m.

Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Berlin and President Trump's new acting director of national intelligence, is not popular in Germany. After alienating much of the country early on with diplomatic bomb-throwing, Der Spiegel wrote a year ago, "the spotlight on Grenell seems to have grown dimmer, though not necessarily by choice. He still tweets assiduously and he never seems to say no when Fox News calls, but in Berlin, he has largely become isolated. The powerful avoid him. Doors have been shut."

But if Berlin was excited at the prospect of getting a new U.S. ambassador, well, tough luck. Even after he takes over as head of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, as early as Thursday, "Grenell is expected to keep his current ambassadorship as long as he is acting intelligence director," The New York Times reports, citing one administration official, adding: "Grenell did not respond to a request for comment."

Grenell also declined Der Spiegel's multiple requests for comment, reporter Konstantin von Hammerstein noted. So "Der Spiegel focused its reporting on conversations with more than 30 sources who have come into contact with Grenell," including "numerous American and German diplomats, Cabinet members, lawmakers, high-ranking officials, lobbyists, and think tank experts." He added:

A majority of them describe Grenell as a vain, narcissistic person who dishes out aggressively, but can barely handle criticism. His brash demeanor, some claim, hides a deep insecurity, and they say he thirsts for the approval of others. ...They also say Grenell knows little about Germany and Europe, that he ignores most of the dossiers his colleagues at the embassy write for him, and that his knowledge of the subject matter is superficial. [Der Spiegel]

It isn't clear how Grenell would divide his responsibilities for the 210 days he is legally eligible to be acting DNI without Senate confirmation. Peter Weber

1:30 a.m.

No one can explain how a class ring lost in Maine 47 years ago was just found in Finland, but it now means even more to owner Debra McKenna.

The ring originally belonged to McKenna's high school sweetheart, Shawn. They met at Morse High School, and on Valentine's Day 1973, he asked McKenna out on a date. They soon became a couple, and when he went away to college in the fall, he gave her his class ring. Not long after, McKenna lost it while shopping at a department store. She forgot about the ring, but never forgot about Shawn — the pair wed in 1977, and remained married until 2017, when Shawn died of cancer.

Last month, thousands of miles away from McKenna's home, a man named Marko Saarinen was using his metal detector in Kaarina, Finland. While in a park, his detector started making noise, and under about eight inches of dirt, he found a ring with a blue stone. It belonged to someone who attended Morse High School, and was inscribed with "1973" and "S.M." He notified the school's alumni association, and they soon determined that Shawn McKenna was the only person in the Class of 1973 with the initials "S.M."

When his widow learned that the long-lost ring had been found, "there was a lot of weeping," she told the Bangor Daily News. She doesn't have the slightest idea how the ring got from Maine to Finland, but did find it remarkable that on the side of the ring, it says "Shipbuilders," which is the mascot of Morse High School — it's also Saarinen's profession. "Shawn used to say there's no such thing as coincidences," McKenna said. Catherine Garcia

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