The incredible shrinking … Bernie Sanders?

Concord, New Hampshire (CNN)Last go-round, New Hampshire was everything to Bernie Sanders, his one sure thing as he battled Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

But 2020 is looking a lot different for Sanders. While he can still raise gobs of money, he has much more company. Which leaves a question — who is Sanders without Clinton?
Polls (yep, it’s early, we know) show Sanders losing support, as others such as Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris gain ground. A Monmouth University national poll released last week shows Sanders with the support of 15% of Democratic-leaning voters, a decline of 25% from March. A Monmouth poll of New Hampshire shows Biden with a 20-point lead over Sanders, roughly the same margin he beat Clinton by in the state in 2016.
    In conversations recently with about a dozen voters who showed up at his events during his longest New Hampshire swing, it’s clear that the kind of ride-or-die support Sanders had in 2016 has dissipated a bit.
    To some of his former supporters, he is just another candidate, the revolutionary front man who launched a thousand cover bands.
    “He brought so much into the conversation, if he did nothing else,” said Felice Burstein, 64, who voted for Sanders in 2016, and recently saw Cory Booker. “But I’m on the fence now, exploring. It’s too early to tell. I worry that he’s older and I’m not sure the country is ready for his ideas.”
    At a town hall in Concord, Sanders started out his speech citing the reasons he could beat President Donald Trump, among them recent polls showing him leading Trump and his ability to attract young voters to the polls.
    That electability question comes up time and time again among Democrats, who are desperate to find a candidate who can win the White House.
    “My main concern is his ability to beat Trump and whether he is just speaking to the choir,” said Charles Latchis, 60, of Concord, who voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary and didn’t vote in the general election. “What is he going to do in the general with battleground voters? They are going to demonize him and bring up Venezuela and socialism. My political heart is with Bernie, but I would rather be with someone who I know can beat Trump.”
    Brian Foley, 37, of Hudson, New Hampshire, is “definitely for Sanders, maybe (Elizabeth) Warren” and says he has an answer to the socialism question.
    “Every election Republicans paint Democrats as socialists, we may as well have a socialist this time,” he said.
    Several people described their 2016 vote for Sanders as more of a protest ballot that they cast, knowing that Clinton would likely be the nominee. They suggested that in 2020, practicality would be much more of a factor.
    As for Sanders, he is certainly aware of the changing dynamics of the race. He huddled with current and former state representatives for a closed-door session before hosting two town halls. While his campaign says he isn’t focused on the other candidates, he clearly is — he has hammered Biden the way he hammered Clinton over trade deals and the Iraq War.
    Sanders, not known for being a good retail politician, has also taken to snapping selfies, something most of the other candidates have been doing for months.
      “We are acting as if last time didn’t happen and starting from the ground up,” said Carli Stevenson, Sanders’ deputy state director. “Voters are right to have high standards. We aren’t assuming there is a glide path just because we did well last time.”
      Sanders’ problem right now is that some of his former voters are acting as if last time didn’t happen either.

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      Mike Pompeo: a bully boy calls at No 10

      The visit of the hawkish US secretary of state poses problems for Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt

      American secretaries of state can be earnestly dull, like John Kerry, or plain brilliant, like George Marshall; they can be Machiavellian, like Henry Kissinger, or intensely political, like Hillary Clinton. Mike Pompeo, the bluntly spoken, present-day incumbent who will discuss “shared global priorities” with Theresa May in London, is simply a problem.

      As last week’s failed US pressure tactics in Venezuela showed, the former army officer, Christian evangelical and ex-CIA director favours a muscular approach to diplomacy. His messianic drive to force regime change in Iran is another example. He recently suggested Donald Trump had been sent by God to save Israel from Tehran’s mullahs.

      Speaking in Cairo in January, Pompeo celebrated US support for dictators such as Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and the Saudis’ war in Yemen. Next month, he will help unveil a peace plan that could destroy any lingering Palestinian hopes of an independent state. But he makes no apologies. “I’ll put it bluntly,” he declared. “America is a force for good in the Middle East.”

      The difficulty for May and UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is that this hawkish stance contradicts long-held British policies and principles. Since Pompeo took office last year, the US has scuppered the Iran nuclear deal, terminated a landmark missile reduction pact with Russia and withdrawn from the 2013 global arms trade treaty – all of which Britain supports.

      Pompeo’s state department continues to obstruct effective action on climate change. According to him, UN peacekeeping is a corrupt racket. And his diplomats recently watered down a UN resolution on combating rape as a weapon of war, to appease the anti-abortion lobby. On these and other issues, Pompeo acts as bagman for Trump. But he evidently believes it all, too.

      His degree of ignorance on Europe is startling. A Pompeo speech in Brussels last year, billed as a major policy statement, was mostly a regurgitation of the prejudices, half-truths and stereotypes beloved of rightwingers and Eurosceptics. With a straight face, he announced a new Trump-led “liberal international order” – then went on to trash the EU, the UN and multilateral cooperation in general.

      What Pompeo, echoing his master’s voice, was doing was reasserting the unfettered power of “sovereign” states and leaders, championing narrow nationalist agendas and pursuing their interests unilaterally regardless of consequences. “Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself,” he claimed, without saying who, if any one, saw it this way.

      Post-1945 Europe had done well (with American help), he patronisingly conceded. But Brexit was a “political wake-up call,” he said. “Is the EU ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats here in Brussels?” It was as if he was cribbing from an editorial in Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail.

      The decision to invite Hungary’s much-ostracised nationalist leader Viktor Orban to meet Trump at the White House on the eve of this month’s critical EU parliamentary elections smacks of typical Pompeo-style contempt for European democracy.

      Pompeo belongs to a cold war generation that, despite mounting evidence of relative US decline, clings to delusional myths of American exceptionalism and US hegemony. His row with Russia last week over its backing of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro was instructive. Pompeo cannot abide the kind of Russian influence-peddling in Washington’s “backyard” that the US routinely uses in Moscow’s.

      In these anti-Russian fulminations he was noisily seconded by John Bolton, national security adviser and disinterred Iraq-era neo-conservative. This pair are Tweedledum and Tweedledee in Trump’s remake of Alice Through the Looking Glass – a nightmarish return to the dark days of spheres of influence, proxy wars, bought-and-paid-for dictators, covert ops, disinformation and prim American righteousness. “This is our hemisphere!” Bolton exclaimed last week, as the Venezuelan revolt flopped. Really? Have these people learned nothing?

      This regression is not a blip. Pompeo and Bolton are now running US foreign policy. The “grown-ups”, such as ex-defence secretary Jim Mattis, have resigned or been fired. Trump’s attention span is notoriously short. He is anyway preoccupied with his 2020 re-election bid. And on Russia, however he spins the Mueller report, he is compromised. So there’s a policy and leadership vacuum. And Pompeo and Bolton, fervent ideologues-in-arms, are filling it.

      If there has been a less impressive, more dangerous US secretary of state, it is hard to name one. Pompeo’s reactionary views challenge almost everything modern Britain stands for. Yet this is the man who will meet May this week to discuss “shared priorities”. Given Pompeo’s confrontational, blinkered America First agenda, May could struggle to find any common ground at all.

      She will doubtless put a brave face on it, but it will be tricky. Pompeo plans to warn May against doing business with the Chinese 5G firm Huawei. He could also seek to enlist British support in resisting Chinese and Russian military and economic encroachments in the Arctic region – an issue of growing concern in Washington. For this reason, Pompeo will visit Finland and Greenland, too.

      Trump’s state visit next month will also feature in the talks. Pompeo wants the lavish reception Trump thinks he deserves – and will not be above dangling some post-Brexit trade carrots. What can May do? Through multiple miscalculations, she has placed Britain in thrall to these hard-faced Washington bully boys who think they run the world. Smiles on the No 10 doorstep cannot hide the angst within.

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      Brazil’s ban on Cuban cigars leaves left fuming

      Havana alleges servile and perverse bid to back US embargo but Bolsonaro government cites strictly technical criteria for ban

      The Cuban government has accused Brazil’s far-right president of depriving Brazilian smokers of “the best Habano cigars in the world” as part of a “servile and perverse” US-backed campaign against the communist-run island.

      Jair Bolsonaro has made attacking authoritarian regimes a mainstay of his discourse since taking office in January – providing they are leftwing.

      And some suspect that hostility lay behind recent moves by Anvisa, Brazil’s answer to the Food Standards Agency, to ban the sale of Cuba’s flagship Cohiba cigars. The decision was reportedly based on the discovery that one batch of imported Cohibas contained an excess of sobric acid.

      Cuba’s foreign trade minister, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, slammed the ban on Tuesday.

      “A ridiculous pretext,” he tweeted, adding: “Perhaps [Bolsonaro’s government] was given some instruction from Washington to contribute to the blockade of Cuba.”

      A journalist for Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, branded Brazil’s move a crude, servile and perverse “manoeuvre … which was suspiciously in tune with United States government’s policy to intensify its criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade” of the Caribbean island.

      The journalist insisted only the finest tobacco leaves were used to make Cohiba cigars, which were created in 1966 for Cuba’s then leader, Fidel Castro.

      There was also criticism of the move in Brazil, with one leftwing website claiming the “totally political and ideological” ban was clearly linked to Bolsonaro’s “vulgar” opposition to communism.

      In a statement to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper Anvisa said its analysis of cigars was routine and applied “strictly technical criteria”.

      The director of the Brazilian importer whose Cohibas had fallen foul insisted his company handled only “100% natural” products.

      Relations between Havana and Brasília have soured dramatically since Bolsonaro took power.

      Even before the far-right populist’s inauguration, Havana announced it would recall thousands of Cuban doctors working in Brazil as part of a health program launched under its former leftist president Dilma Rousseff.

      In one interview Bolsonaro hinted he was considering closing Brazil’s embassy in Havana, although he has yet to follow through. “What business is there to do with Cuba?” he asked.

      The president’s son, Eduardo – who many regard as Brazil’s de facto foreign minister – last year said he hoped Brazil could host an international tribunal “to judge the crimes against humanity committed by the Cuban regime”.

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      Donald Trump On War With Iran: ‘Hope Not’

      By Steve Holland

      WASHINGTON, May 16( Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said here on Thursday he hoped the United State was not heading to war with Iran as he met with Switzerland President Ueli Maurer, whose nation has served as a diplomatic conduit between the two countries.

      Asked by reporters Washington was going to war with Tehran, Trump answered, “Hope not” as he greeted Maurer at the White House.

      Tensions have escalated in recent days with increasing concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict. Earlier this week the United Country pulled some diplomatic staff from its embassy in Baghdad following weekend attacks on four oil tankers in the Gulf.

      Switzerland, a neutral country, has historically been a liaison between the United States and Iran, which have no diplomatic relations.

      A White House statement said the two leaders discussed “a range of international issues, including the crises in the Middle East and in Venezuela.”

      “President Trump expressed his gratitude for Switzerland’s role in facilitating international mediation and diplomatic relations on behalf of the United Country, ” the statement said.

      The Washington Post, quoting unnamed U.S. officials, reported late Wednesday that Trump preferred a diplomatic route with Iran and direct talks with its leaders but are concerns that some of his advisers were pushing war.

      White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Fox News Channel’s “Fox& Friends” that there is no friction between Trump and his advisers and he greets different viewpoints.

      “He’s the one the American people elected. He’s going to take in the information and the guidance from all of his national security team and he then will make a decision on what he thinks is the best and safest thing for the American people, ” she said.

      U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday greeted what she called Trump’s lack of “appetite” for military conflict with Tehran.

      ( Reporting by Steve Holland Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Richard Chang and Cynthia Osterman)

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