Category: Opinion



WASHINGTON (AP) — Pete Buttigieg, who rose from being a small-town Midwestern mayor to a barrier-breaking, top-tier candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is ending his campaign.

Three people with knowledge of Buttigieg’s decision told The Associated Press he began informing campaign staff on Sunday. They were not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

His campaign said Buttigieg will speak Sunday night in South Bend, Indiana.

The decision came just a day after one of Buttigieg’s leading rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, scored a resounding victory in South Carolina that sparked new pressure on the party’s moderate wing to coalesce behind Biden.

Buttigieg had been critical of Biden, charging that the 77-year-old lifelong politician was out of step with today’s politics. But his criticism had shifted in recent days more toward front-runner Bernie Sanders, a polarizing progressive who was benefiting from the sheer number of candidates dividing up the moderate vote.

Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate to seriously contend for the presidency, tried to make the case that his party thrived when it embraced candidates who offered generational change. But the 38-year-old Afghanistan war veteran ended up being more successful at winning older voters while Sanders, 78, captured the energy of younger ones.

Voters saw Buttigieg in the more moderate lane of the Democratic field, and he flourished early with a top finish in the Iowa caucuses and a close second place finish in New Hampshire. But as the race moved to more diverse states, less dependent on college-educated voters, Buttigieg struggled.

His departure from the race reflected the growing pressuring among more moderate Democrats to consolidate in an effort to blunt the rise of Sanders, who Buttigeig said was too liberal to be elected.

Despite robust organizations in Iowa and New Hampshire and supporters who included an influx of former independents and Republicans, Buttigieg failed to overcome daunting questions about his ability to draw African American support key to the Democratic base.

As mayor of a city that is 25% black, Buttigieg faced criticism for firing the first African American police chief in the history of South Bend and for his handling of the case of a white police officer who fatally shot an armed black man in June.

After his unexpected rise to contention in Iowa and New Hampshire last fall, Buttigieg became the target of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for the high-dollar fundraisers he was hosting, notably one in a wine cave in California.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar also went at Buttigieg in the months before the caucuses for lacking national experience. She noted that he had lost his only statewide race as a candidate for Indiana treasurer in 2010, while she had won three statewide terms in Minnesota in part by carrying Republican-heavy regions.

Buttigieg presented a starkly different figure on the debate stage than the other leading candidates — all septuagenarians — and drew admirers for his calm, reasoned demeanor and rhetorical skills that reflected his Harvard-trained, Rhodes scholar background but that some voters and operatives described as “robotic.”

Buttigieg had modeled his campaign somewhat on that of former President Barack Obama, who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses largely based on a message of unity and by drawing in a healthy bloc of first-time caucus participants, often the key in a crowded, high-turnout contest.


Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina, and Beaumont from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in San Jose, California, contributed to this report.


Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”

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DELTA suspends flights…

DELTA is suspending its daily flight between New York’s JFK ariport and Milan Malpensa Airport for two months amid the killer coronavirus outbreak.

The airline announced the drastic measure this afternoon after the Trump administration confirmed it was implementing a heightened travel advisory yesterday.

 Docked Delta plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Docked Delta plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National AirportCredit: Alamy
 The company announced its daily flight to Milan will be suspended for two months
The company announced its daily flight to Milan will be suspended for two monthsCredit: AFP or licensors

Their last east-bound flight from JFK to Milan will take off tomorrow, March 2, with the last west-bound flight from Milan departing on Tuesday, March 3.

Service between the two cities will resume on May 1 and May 2, respectively, Delta said, while the Rome to JFK and Atlanta flights will operate as normal.

The US airline said these emergency measures were implemented to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19, battered northern Italy and South Korea over the past few weeks.

A statement posted to their website read: “Delta has put in place numerous processes and mitigation strategies to respond to COVID-19 (coronavirus) concerns.

“Delta remains in constant contact with the foremost communicable disease experts at the CDC, WHO and local health officials.”

The company assured customers they aim to “respond to the coronavirus as well as ensure training, policies, procedures and cabin cleaning and disinfection measures meet and exceed guidelines.”

Delta service between the US to Shanghai and Beijing was also suspended until April 30 inkeeping with travel restrictions from the US Health and Human Services.

 President Donald Trump earlier today urged people not to panic about the coronavirus


President Donald Trump earlier today urged people not to panic about the coronavirusCredit: AP:Associated Press
 Two people at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, near Seattle, Washington, were confirmed to have the coronavirus


Two people at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, near Seattle, Washington, were confirmed to have the coronavirusCredit: AP:Associated Press
 Health officials said another 50 people at the center who are showing symptoms of the coronavirus are being tested


Health officials said another 50 people at the center who are showing symptoms of the coronavirus are being testedCredit: Getty Images – Getty

On February 26, the airline announced its reduced service from here to Seoul, South Korea following the CDC’s warning to avoid all unnecessary travel to virus-ridden country.

The carrier will offer a change fee waiver for travelers who want to change their flights from America to South Korea, Italy and China, where the disease first emerged.

Delta made the announcement a day after the first US death was confirmed in Washington state after a man passed away from the insidious disease.

There was also an outbreak at Seattle’s Life Care Center in Kirkland where several cases of the deadly coronavirus emerged while 50 others are being tested.

The nursing home is just two miles away from EvergreenHealth Medical Center — where the man in his fifties died from the killer coronavirus.

The first American fatality comes as the virus continues to ravage other countries, with over 87, 400 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths globally.

Less than 24 hours before the Delta flight was suspended, Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the coronavirus task force, confirmed the Level 4 Travel Advisory was in effect.

During yesterday’s press conference, Trump played down the seriousness of the outbreak which is bordering on a pandemic, urging people not to panic.

President Donald Trump addressed the issue after blasting Democratic critcism of his response as a “hoax” earlier this week.

“You will probably go through and process and you’ll be fine,” the president said, insisting Dems tried to blame him for the spread of the coronavirus in the US.

Trump described his January decision to prevent travel as the most “aggressive action in modern history” to contain a virus like this.

 Harborview Medical Center's home assessment team prepare to visit the home of a person potentially exposed to novel coronavirus at the Seattle center
Harborview Medical Center’s home assessment team prepare to visit the home of a person potentially exposed to novel coronavirus at the Seattle centerCredit: Reuters
 An epidemiologist holds gloves while arranging the supplies of Harborview Medical Center's home assessment team
An epidemiologist holds gloves while arranging the supplies of Harborview Medical Center’s home assessment teamCredit: Reuters
 EvergreenHealth Medical Center in the Kirkland suburb of Seattle
EvergreenHealth Medical Center in the Kirkland suburb of SeattleCredit: Getty Images
 Officials revealed there were more cases and one death in Washington state, reports claim
Officials revealed there were more cases and one death in Washington state, reports claimCredit: Getty Images – Getty
 A woman wears a mask following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Chicago
A woman wears a mask following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in ChicagoCredit: Reuters
Donald Trump delivers White House statement as first coronavirus death confirmed

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In Greek village, tensions escalating between refugees and locals…

A march in support of refugee rights held in the village of Moria in Lesvos, Greece on Feb. 25, 2020.

Photo: Jade Sacker

LESVOS, GREECE Those looking from the windows of the Drop Center, a popular school and cafe for refugees in the Greek village of Moria, could tell the mood had turned on a warm morning in early February. Afghan mothers pushing strollers were heading back to the refugee camp, while young men were rushing in the other direction.

A morning protest by around 300 asylum seekers over their squalid living conditions had begun peacefully enough inside the camp, home to some 20,000 people from 64 different countries, including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Angola. But clashes soon erupted with riot police after the group tried marching to Mytilini, the main port and capital of Lesvos. Now protesters were coming toward this small village, and its residents were mobilizing.

After a truck filled with locals stopped outside the center, continually blasting its horn through the usually serene town, workers inside hit the lights and pulled down the blinds. There was a message over loudspeakers calling for villagers to gather at the church. And it provided an opportunity for the staff to evacuate those inside two at a time.

After that day, the Drop Center was closed and staff moved elsewhere on the island. For the organization that ran the school, A Drop in the Ocean, it seemed their welcome had run out. Another NGO had rocks thrown through their windows. Later a group of local vigilantes went door-to-door looking for aid workers or refugees. “I understand that [the villagers] are tense. They live in an extreme situation. But it doesn’t excuse their behavior toward us,” said Ida Sorbye, a worker at the Drop Center.

If the Greek island of Lesvos is the frontline of Europe’s refugee crisis, Moria is a no-man’s land. The small village’s population of around 2,000 is now dwarfed by the camp of the same name up the road. As many as possible are crammed into the main facility, designed to hold only 2,800, with the rest spilling out in tents and hastily-built structures on the slopes of ancient olive groves. Numbers have exploded over the last year as new regulations require refugees to apply for asylum at their first landing place in Europe. For many that means Lesvos.

Turkey said on Thursday it would no longer restrain hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in its territory from reaching Europe despite a deal to do so reached with the EU in 2016. That means islanders are things to rapidly worsen. Thousands of refugees are now on the border of Northern Greece. The crisis poses the toughest test for Greece since a 2015 financial crisis.

The situation is worsening as crime escalates. There’s been at least two murders at the camp, and reports of daily fights and stabbings between refugees. Doctors Without Borders said that rape is also common inside the camp, as high as one rape reported a week.

Asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesvos are seen in the Moria refugee camp on Feb. 15, 2020. More than 20,000 are living in the camp, designed for 2,800, and the surrounding hills.

Jade Sacker

The European refugee crisis is now five years old. More than 120,000 migrants and asylum seekers arrived clandestinely in 2019, according to the International Organization for Migration, with the vast majority crossing the Mediterranean Sea. That’s a big drop from the more than 1 million who arrived in 2015. Yet due to a backlog of cases and closed borders in the North, the Greek islands have never looked like this.

The local economy of Lesvos, largely dependent on tourism, has taken a hit. The home of archaic poetess Sappho, the island used to draw holidaymakers for its stunning blue waters, picture-postcard villages, sun-baked olive groves, medieval fortress and world-famous petrified forest. But tourism dropped by more than 50% in 2016 and, according to business owners on the island, hasn’t recovered by nearly enough. Cruise ships are coming less often — only eight arrived in 2019 compared to 94 in 2011. Tourists that do step onto the island see refugee children reselling bus tickets and a constant flow of those making the trek between camps and into towns.

It seems the open arms that initially had greeted those coming ashore in Lesvos have finally closed. Thousands of island locals attended a protest for Athens to process or remove the refugees. General strikes have been called. “It’s a powder keg ready to explode,” regional governor Kostas Moutzouris told local news regarding the situation.

Demonstrators protest against the construction of new migrant camps in Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, on February 27, 2020.

Aris Messinnis | AFP | Getty Images

Qais Azizi, from Afghanistan, has been in Moria camp for four months. The 26-year-old said that on the suggestion of his sister, and after witnessing two suicide blasts while studying in Kabul, he trekked first to Turkey and then to Greece. When he crossed the short but dangerous strip of Mediterranean — his first time seeing the ocean — he had no idea his journey would pause here.

When his sister calls, he can’t bear to tell her the truth. “I am always lying to her, saying, ‘After two months they will accept me … and they will accept you also.'” After more time has passed, he lies again about another step in the application. “With this hope she is alive, I think.” He is yet to have his interview for asylum.

Meanwhile, a city has grown around him. On the camp’s market street, dozens of vendors sell their wares amid a hum of Farsi, French and English. Sellers fan hot coals under kebab skewers and display bread made from an Afghan tandoor oven.

Outside the main camp is the “jungle.” Among the gray-green hills is a shanty town with narrow dirt alleys that flood in the rain. Garbage is piled in ditches. Greek locals sell wooden pallets to the newcomers for around 7 euro, although prices are rising, according to a man from Syria building a room for his family. It will cost around 300 euro total for his materials, he said. There’s even a real estate market where prime spots are traded and sold.

Around midnight only a handful of guards are on duty. That’s when most refugees don’t dare leave their tent, said Azizi. There are daily reports of knifings and fights between the refugees. Rocks are placed at the ready near Azizi’s tent in case a melee breaks out.

Conditions at the Moria refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece are deterriorating as overcrowding and crime become serious problems.

Photo: Jade Sacker

Like elsewhere in Europe, a center-right government was elected in Greece last year, led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The New Democracy coalition promised to resolve the backlog of asylum seekers. So far, nothing has changed, except the movement of more riot police to the island. Athens proposed building a new semi-enclosed camp to keep refugees from freely walking the streets. But this has been met by protests and strikes by islanders.

No other plans are in the pipeline. But if they were, it’s unlikely they would be trusted by those in Lesvos. “People have lost faith in the government,” said Mytilini mayor special advisor Tasos Balis.

Things are getting worse. They [refugees] cut the trees. They take the animals — the sheep, the goats. And we feel insecure.

Mikis Papadakis

local resident

The EU’s solution has been to block onward migration to the rest of Europe from those that land in Greece. Their policy is that those that land on Lesvos must apply for asylum before moving on. If refugees move on without doing this, then they must return to Lesvos to go through the process. There’s no change in policy moving forward, although there’s plans to increase spending on migration management and border controls (total of 34.9 billion euro) for the next seven years.

Greeks on the front lines of the refugee crisis

On a windy night a few weeks after the unrest in Moria, a group of men and women stood huddled around a fire at the entrance to the village, stopping cars to make sure the passengers were local. Mikis Papadakis, 47, comes here every night after working at a butcher shop in Mytilini. “Things are getting worse,” he said. “They [refugees] cut the trees. They take the animals — the sheep, the goats. And we feel insecure.”

Today a march organized by a local antifascist group in support of refugee rights passed his store. Protesters handed out fliers that warned: “In these circumstances, social polarization is rising, and extreme-right ideology has found space among a section of local society.”

“It’s their job,” Papadakis said, smiling. He thinks there is a lot of money involved with aid work on the island. A common complaint from locals is that a thriving NGO industry — no doubt helping refugees that come ashore — comes at the cost of their businesses as more are encouraged to make the journey.

A meeting was held the following day in Moria village to discuss the situation. Angry shouts and applause reached Takis Bokolis, 50, smoking a cigarette outside of the town hall. Bokolis works pressing oil from his family’s olives. What bothers him most is the refugees cutting down the trees for firewood. “I want to cry. It’s so painful. We’ve grown up with these trees. They are my kid’s food,” he said. Local authorities haven’t intervened as refugees thin out the groves around Moria camp.

Panoramic general and closeup view from a hill of everyday daily life in Moria. Handmade tents on the olive grove hills of the slums or jungle or hell as asylum seekers called it, next to the official first Reception and Identification Center, Moria hotspot.

Nicolas Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images

So it has come to this: neighborhood guards and town hall meetings, he explained. “The government has forgotten us,” said Bokolis. He has bought three more dogs — big Greek shepherds — to guard against those from the camp that walk past his property. He said his neighbors are collecting weapons, sleeping with guns under their beds. No islander has been attacked by anyone from the camp. But businesses and homes were robbed. And Moria villagers, heavily outnumbered, worry about what will happen if things turn violent.

“There is a wall between Greece and the EU, and there is a wall between the islands and Athens.” Now Bokolis wants a wall between Turkey and his island. He might get something close. A floating sea barrier was recently proposed by Athens.

Meanwhile, Sorbye, the worker at the Drop Center, is looking for a new location for the community center. She hopes to find something before an expected jump in arrivals during spring, when the temperature rises and the waves soften in the Aegean Sea.

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Election officials scrambling to address…

With fears of the novel coronavirus spreading gripping Americans following the first death in the U.S. and just days before Super Tuesday — when voters in 14 states and one territory head to the polls — election officials in some areas are scrambling to assure voters and make sure disruptions are minimized.

The Super Tuesday primaries — where nearly a third of delegates are up for grabs — are run at the state and local level, and currently, a uniform national response to voter disruptions does not exist.

When asked about contingency plans, the communications director for the National Association of Secretaries of State said she’d “defer to states,” as each may administer its own “specific plans” for emergency preparedness.

“Whether that’s a hurricane, power outage, et cetera,” Maria Benson told ABC News in a statement.

In California, one of the most populous states with the highest number of delegates at stake on Tuesday, new cases of COVID-19 have election officials working hard to address the scale of the problem and how it may impact voters going to the polls.

While there were “no indications of any disruptions to California’s March 3, 2020 presidential primary,” the California Secretary of State’s office told ABC News it will continue to monitor any public health alerts that could impact election administration.

The state has more than 30 positive COVID-19 cases with over 8,400 individuals being monitored for possible contact with the virus after the first suspected instance of community transmission occurred in Solano County, according to officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California government and public health officials.

On Wednesday, the CDC confirmed the diagnosis of a woman from Northern California who was the first American to contract the disease without traveling internationally or being in close contact with anyone who was infected.

Since then, other cases of “community spread” in the U.S. have been confirmed in California, Oregon and Washington — where public health officials in the state announced the first known death of a U.S. patient from the virus on Saturday.

Officials in Solano County, California are now taking precautionary measures and providing expanded options for voters, including offering an additional location for them to drop off ballots in advance of Super Tuesday.

“We have a bunch of curbside locations where [voters] don’t even have to get out of their car and we’re going to expand that on Monday and Tuesday,” said John Gardner, the assistant registrar of voters for Solano County.

Greeters, who are also sworn-in officials, will be on site to take ballots directly from voters’ vehicles and deposit them into a portable, sealed ballot box that will be within the person’s sight from their vehicle.

Gardner told ABC News every polling place and every poll worker will receive disinfectant wipes and spray, hand sanitizer and gloves as additional precautions. In the past, only sanitary wipes were provided to clean the voting equipment itself.

“We’re definitely trying to give voters another couple of options to still get their vote out but not have to interact, if they didn’t want to, with the public,” Gardner said.

In Yolo County, California where a patient is being treated at the UC Davis Medical Center after testing positive for COVID-19, election officials are teaming up with the Department of Health and Human Services to increase messaging efforts related to the threat of coronavirus before and during the upcoming primaries.

ABC News received a flyer from the Yolo County Elections office — one that will be posted at every polling location — that provides voters with details on what the coronavirus is and how it’s spread, and gives advice for how to potentially avoid catching the virus.

The Trump administration also raised the stakes in its efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the country after the first U.S. death from the virus.

The president held a press conference at the White House Saturday where he announced new travel restrictions pertaining to Iran and authorized the State Department to raise travel advisories to the highest level for the most heavily impacted regions in Italy and South Korea.

Outside of California, representatives from other Super Tuesday states told ABC News they haven’t seen new changes being implemented to their primary efforts.

“It’s pretty much business as usual,” said Steve Hurlbert, the communications director for the Colorado Secretary of State, when asked about potential election contingency plans relating to the novel coronavirus.

“Most of our ballots are mail-in-ballots,” Hurlbert told ABC News. “So, most people who aren’t feeling well can just vote their ballot and then drop it in a 24-hour drop box and never have to interact with another human being.”

Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill too said no new changes were being made ahead of the state’s primary, but told ABC News accommodations would be made if circumstances were to change.

Merrill said it’s important for people to follow the lead of state health officials when it comes to anything involving the coronavirus or other crisis-level health concerns.

“People don’t need to be out on their own, as if they are a lone ranger in this fight,” Merrill told ABC News on Wednesday. “It needs to be a coordinated effort and we will continue to follow the lead of the governor and our state health officer, as well as the Alabama Department of Public Health in regard to this issue.”

As the primary season barrels towards the general election in November, safety remains the top priority for officials in the event the Democratic convention takes place amid a more widespread outbreak of the disease.

“Our number one concern is to ensure all eligible voters are able to make their voices heard without jeopardizing anyone’s health and safety,” Maya Hixson, the deputy director of battleground state communications for the Democratic National Committee, told ABC News on Thursday.

“We will continue to closely monitor as the situation develops,” she said.

ABC News’ Rick Klein, Dick Sheffield, Gabrielle Sarann, Matthew Fuhrman and Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

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Israel's UN ambassador: Sanders an 'ignorant fool'…

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations on Sunday assailed US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as an “ignorant fool,” two days before a key test for the Jewish frontrunner when primaries will be held in 14 states in Super Tuesday.

At a conference hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Danny Danon made the daring remark — which could be construed as Israeli interference in the election process in the United States — in reaction to Sanders recently calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “reactionary racist.”

“Whoever calls the prime minister of Israel a ‘racist’ is either a liar, an ignorant fool, or both,” Danon said. “We don’t want Sanders at AIPAC. We don’t want him in Israel.”

Out of all the Democratic candidates running for president, Sanders has been the most outspoken on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, calling for an “evenhanded” US approach more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters on, February 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Last Sunday, Sanders said on Twitter that he would not attend the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference, emphasizing that he was “concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”

In a debate last week, Sanders said that “right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country.”

Sanders also said that if elected president, he would consider moving the US embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu gave a restrained response a day later, telling Army Radio simply: “What I think about this issue is that he is of course wrong, no question.”

But, he added: “I am not intervening in the US elections.”

Asked how he would handle a Sanders presidency, Netanyahu said he’d stood up to US leaders in the past and could do so again.

Netanyahu has enjoyed a close relationship with US President Donald Trump, whom he has praised as “the greatest friend” Jerusalem has had in the White House. But his relationship with Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was decidedly frosty and strained in its latter years — particularly surrounding US negotiations with Iran that resulted in the 2015 nuclear deal.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz was more outspoken after the Tuesday debate, lambasting Sanders’ comments as “shocking.”

“The remark by Sanders, who is of Jewish background, is his second against the State of Israel on topics that are at the core of Jewish belief, Jewish history and Israel’s security,” Katz added.

The first such remark was made at a J Street conference in October, when Sanders openly considered cutting US aid to Israel and giving the funds instead for humanitarian relief in Gaza in order to pressure the Jewish state to curb its settlement enterprise, enter peace talks with the Palestinians and improve the humanitarian crisis in the Strip.

“I would use the leverage of $3.8 billion,” he said at the time. “It is a lot of money, and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government, or for that matter to any government at all. We have a right to demand respect for human rights and democracy.”

Katz said: “The previous time he talked about Gaza… without at all understanding the reality and the threat and the rockets and everything we are facing as those who are being attacked by radical Islam and defending ourselves. He in effect wanted to deny us the right to self-defense.

“And now, Jerusalem. There is no Jew who hasn’t dreamed of Jerusalem for thousands of years, to return, and we returned and I think President Trump did an important thing, without connection to internal disagreements within the United States,” he continued. “He recognized the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the State of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (L) attend a ceremony opening the new Harel tunnels on Route 1 near Jerusalem, on January 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A poll by the nonpartisan Jewish Electorate Institute (JEI) has said Sanders would overwhelmingly outperform Trump with Jewish voters in a head-to-head match-up this fall.

The self-proclaimed democratic socialist would defeat Trump with the demographic group 65% to 30%, despite only 52% of American Jews having a favorable view of Sanders and 45% having an unfavorable view of him, the survey found.

Trump is far more unpopular with the US Jewish community. Sixty-six percent of the poll’s respondents disapprove of the job he’s doing in office.

Sanders spent months living in a kibbutz in the 1960s — an experience he has cited in the past to affirm his commitment to Israel’s security.

“I am very proud to be Jewish and look forward to being the first Jewish president,” he said at the J Street conference in October. “I spent many months on a kibbutz in Israel. I believe absolutely not only in the right of Israel to exist but the right to exist in peace and security. That’s not a question.”

“But what I also believe,” he continued, “is the Palestinian people have a right to live in peace and security as well.”

AP contributed to this report.

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Pentagon sees deal as allowing fuller focus on China…

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban opens the door for an initial American troop withdrawal that Defense Secretary Mark Esper sees as a step toward the broader goal of preparing for potential future war with China.

Esper has his eye on “great power competition,” which means staying a step ahead of China and Russia on battlefields of the future, including in space and in next-generation strategic weapons like hypersonic missiles and advanced nuclear weapons. He sees China in particular as a rising threat to American predominance on the world stage.

To do more to prepare for the China challenge, Esper wants to do less in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places. It’s less about moving troops directly to Asia from elsewhere in the world, and more about reducing commitments in lower-priority regions so that more military units can train together at home on skills related to conventional warfare. Predecessors in the Pentagon have had similar hopes, only to be drawn back to crises in the greater Middle East. In the past year alone, the U.S. has sent an extra 20,000 troops to the Middle East, mainly due to worries about Iran.

With President Donald Trump’s emphasis on ending America’s wars against extremists and insurgents, including in Afghanistan, Esper wants to bring home as many troops as he thinks he prudently can so they can prepare for “high end” warfare.

Stephen Biddle, a policy analyst and a Columbia University professor of international and public affairs, is skeptical that the Pentagon will be able to fully shift away from Afghanistan and other regional hot spots like Iraq, recalling that the Obama administration tried the same thing — also with China’s rise in mind — in the 2011-2014 period.

“The trouble was the Islamic State burst onto the scene,” in Iraq and Syria, Biddle said in an interview, and “lo and behold it was right back to a focus on the Middle East and small wars.”

In remarks Saturday in Kabul, Esper kept the focus on prospects for a complete U.S. withdrawal, while cautioning that the United States “will not hesitate” to strike what he called terrorist threats in Afghanistan if the Taliban falters in its promise to prevent extremist groups to use Afghan soil to launch attacks on the homelands of the U.S. or its allies.

“We still have a long way to go,” Esper said.

Reducing U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan to zero is “our ultimate objective,” he said, but added that it will take “many months.”

Late last year, Esper said he would be willing to reduce troop levels even if no deal could be made with the Taliban.

“I would like to do that because what I want to do is reallocate forces to” the Asia-Pacific region, he said at the Ronald Reagan National Defense Forum in December. He said he wants to do the same thing in the Mideast, Africa and Europe.

“All of these places where I can free up troops where I could either bring them home to allow them to rest and refit and retrain or/and then reallocate them (to the Asia-Pacific region) to compete with the Chinese, to reassure our allies, to conduct exercises and training,” he said.

The Pentagon has not publicly spelled out a precise timetable for troop reductions in Afghanistan, but Esper has said the peace deal signed Saturday in Doha, Qatar by American officials and Taliban representatives triggers the start of a drawdown from the current total of nearly 13,000 to about 8,600, similar to the number Trump inherited when he entered the White House three years ago. The reduction won’t happen immediately; it will be carried out over a period of several months and could be slowed, stopped or even reversed if peace prospects turn sour.

“The whole thing is dependent upon conditions and dependent upon Taliban behavior,” Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told a House committee on Wednesday.

A U.S. withdrawal, while conditioned on Taliban compliance, raises questions not just about the country’s stability but also the prospects for continuing to combat non-Taliban extremists such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan. Some in Congress, including Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, are pressing Pentagon officials for assurances that they will not cooperate or coordinate with the Taliban as a counterterror partner.

It would be “lunacy,” Cheney said Wednesday, to trust the Taliban, which was running Afghanistan and harboring al-Qaida when U.S. forces invaded in October 2001. As part of the negotiated deal with Washington, the Taliban promised not to let al-Qaida use the country as a staging ground for attacking the United States or its allies.

If the peace process succeeds and the U.S. ends up withdrawing entirely, it might opt for an “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism force. In that case, U.S. special operations troops would be stationed in one or more nearby countries such as Uzbekistan and slip in and out of Afghanistan when necessary to monitor or to attack al-Qaida or IS fighters.

It was the Taliban’s close association with al-Qaida, after the terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, that prompted President George W. Bush to invade Afghanistan a month later.

U.S. force levels in Afghanistan ebbed and flowed over the years. Early on, the Americans hoped that a small force could keep a lid on al-Qaida and train an Afghan army. But from about 2,500 troops at the end of 2001, the force jumped to about 22,000 five years later. President Barack Obama ballooned the number from about 34,000 at the start of his first term to 100,000. By the time he left the White House the number had dropped to 8,400.

Trump entered office in January 2017 with no appetite for continuing the Afghan stalemate. He was persuaded, nonetheless, in August 2017 to add several thousand troops as part of what he called a new strategy for the region. That included designating Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Kabul, to lead negotiations with the Taliban that eventually produced Saturday’s deal and a chance for the United States to move beyond Afghanistan.

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Bernie raises impressive $46.5M in February…

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign said it raised more than $46.5 million in February, a show of financial strength announced Sunday, after the Vermont senator finished a distant second behind Joe Biden in South Carolina’s primary.

Sanders’ team also announced that it was making television ad buys in nine more states: Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri and Washington, which vote on March 10, and Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, which vote a week later. The campaign said it is “currently on the air in 12 out of the 14 states” that are voting on Super Tuesday, in two days.

“The senator’s multi-generational, multiracial working class coalition keeps fueling his campaign for transformational change a few bucks at a time,” Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement. He said that, of the more than 2 million donations received this month, more than 1.4 million were from voters in Super Tuesday states.

The eye-popping haul follows an already impressive January that raised more than $25 million, the Sanders’ campaign announced. Sanders immediately said he’d use the January funds to purchase $5.5 million in television and digital advertising in 10 Super Tuesday states. That investment could still be paying off at a time when some rivals in the still-crowded Democratic field may potentially struggle to raise money after disappointing finishes in early states. Other candidates have yet to announce the totals they raised in February.

Sanders continues to demonstrate the formidable power of attracting small, online donations nationwide — where contributors can give repeatedly without exceeding federal limits. A similar model has helped Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and is a departure from traditional methods, where candidates organize high-dollar fundraisers or approach powerful supporters for big checks early in the campaign — and then can’t ask again without the intervention of an outside political group.

The campaign said the February totals came from more than 2.2 million donations, including contributions from 350,000-plus people who donated to the campaign for the first time. It also said it raised $4.5 million on the final day of the month, as Sanders finished second in South Carolina on Saturday, the best fundraising day since the campaign’s launch a year prior.

Sanders’ 2020 presidential bid has now surpassed the total number of individual contributions received by his unsuccessful challenge of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary. Since launching in February 2019, Sanders’ campaign says it has raised more than $167 million from over 8.7 million individual donations, with an average contribution of $19. To date, more than 1.9 million people have donated to Sanders.

After wins in New Hampshire and Nevada, the senator appeared to be emerging as the Democratic primary’s established front-runner. But Sanders finished behind Biden in South Carolina, a state featuring heavy concentrations of African American Democrats and where Clinton trounced him in 2016. The former vice president’s victory was decisive, with him claiming almost half of the votes cast in a six-way race.

“You can’t win ’em all,” Sanders told a crowd of 3,500 in a college gym at a rally in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on Saturday night.

That prompted the crowd to boo, but Sanders continued: “That will not be the only defeat. There are a lot of states in this country and nobody wins them all.”

Sanders at one point predicted that he could win South Carolina, but stopped making such pronouncements in the days before the primary. He has said for weeks that he will win California, the largest delegate prize among the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday.

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Makes first 'public appearance'; Addresses thousands from window…

VATICAN CITY, March 1 (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday made his first public appearance in four days following what the Vatican has called a “slight indisposition” that forced him to cancel some audiences and activities.

The 83-year-old Roman Catholic leader appeared at the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace to address thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly Sunday noon message and blessing.

It was his first public appearance since an Ash Wednesday Mass in Rome, during which he was seen coughing and sneezing.

The Vatican has not specified what was ailing Francis. However, amid fears in Italy over an outbreak of coronavirus, spokesman Matteo Bruni dismissed on Friday speculation that the pope was anything more than slightly unwell.

“There is no evidence that would lead to diagnosing anything but a mild indisposition,” he said.

Italy is suffering the worst outbreak of coronavirus in Europe, registering more than 1,100 confirmed cases since Feb. 20. At least 29 people have died.

Francis is missing a part of one lung. It was removed when he was in his early 20s in his native Buenos Aires after an illness.

On Sunday afternoon, he and senior Vatican officials were due to travel to a Church residence south of Rome for their annual week-long Lenten spiritual retreat.

Francis will have no official activities during the retreat. (Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Coughing pope cancels Lenten retreat…


VATICAN CITY (AP) — A coughing Pope Francis told pilgrims gathered for the traditional Sunday blessing that he is canceling his participation at a week-long spiritual retreat in the Roman countryside because of a cold.

It is the first time in his seven-year papacy that he has missed the spiritual exercises that he initiated early in his pontificate to mark the start of each Lenten season. Such retreats are typical Jesuits, an order to which he belongs.

The 83-year-old pontiff, who lost part of a lung to a respiratory illness as a young man, has canceled several official engagements this week as he battled an apparent cold.

His weekly appearance Sunday to pilgrims from a window high above St. Peter’s Square was the first time he has been seen publicly since Ash Wednesday, when he was seen coughing and blowing his nose during Mass.

Francis paused twice to cough Sunday while addressing the faithful. At the end, he asked for prayers for the spiritual retreat, adding “unfortunately a cold prevents me from participating this year. I will be following the meditation from here.”

Earlier this week, the pope canceled two planned official audiences — formal affairs in the Apostolic Palace where Francis would have delivered a speech and greeted a great number of people at the end. Those were to include an audience with an international bioethics organization and with members of the scandal-marred Legion of Christ religious order.

Francis has never previously canceled so many official audiences or events in his papacy. He was, however, continuing to work from his residence at the Vatican’s Santa Marta hotel and was receiving people in private, the Vatican press office said. On Saturday, those private meetings were with the head of the Vatican’s bishops’ office, Francis’ ambassadors to Lebanon and France and a Ukrainian archbishop.

He was to have left Sunday for the retreat outside of Rome.

The Vatican has described Francis condition as “a slight illness,” without giving other details. Francis’ illness, though, has come amid general alarm in Italy over the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 1,100 people, mostly in northern Italy.

There have been just six cases reported in Lazio, where Rome is located, to date.

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Cases jump to 71…

The number of coronavirus cases in the US stood at 71 early Sunday, according to the Center for Disease Control officials.

The majority of those cases — 44 — were patients who caught the virus aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The remaining cases were mostly from the West Coast, including 12 confirmed in California and six from the Seattle area. One of those patients, a middle-aged man in his 50s, died overnight Friday, becoming the first reported fatality on US soil.

An additional Washington state case has been logged in Snohomish county.

Illinois has three cases, all in Chicago. The remaining states with cases have just one patient each: Wisconsin, Oregon, Texas, Arizona and Massachusetts, where a Boston patient has since recovered.

Coronavirus statistics in the US and worldwide are updated throughout the day by the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, in collaboration with the CDC and the World Health Organization.

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