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At Brazil's Carnival, Rio declares war on a daunting foe: public urination

By Terrence McCoy
At Brazil's Carnival, Rio declares war on a daunting foe: public urination
A man urinates on Feb. 22, 2020, at the Praca General Osorio in Rio. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Evgeny Makarov

RIO DE JANEIRO - The city square was swarming with revelers - many of them drunk, or drunker - but Guilherme Gitsen knew he wouldn't find his target here. The area was too busy, too open. He'd have to get off the main roads. Move into the shadows. Think like one of them.

Where, if the need was insurmountable, and the opportunities for relief scarce, would he go to pee?

Charged with fining public urinators during the city's world-famous Carnival, which culminates this week, Gitsen, a member of Rio's municipal pee squad, ducked down a darkened side street. And there, up ahead, against a truck selling ice, he found what he was looking for.

A man relieving himself in public.

Busted.

The culprit estimated he was 10 beers deep. He shrugged. What was there to say, really, except:

"I had to pee."

Thus passed another skirmish in Brazil's intensifying war on public urination, a frequent occurrence in a country where the people have long been more likely to invest in drinking and partying than public restrooms. Now the country's largest cities are bolstering the ranks of inspectors like Gitsen, deploying an increasing number of portable toilets, passing increasingly strict public ordinances and writing thousands of tickets.

"Lei do xixi," it's called in Sao Paulo: "The pee law."

The pressure to hold it is particularly acute at this time of year, when the annual bacchanal of Carnival gushes millions of people onto the streets - and when the perennial problem of public urination is most likely to make international news.

Last year, as Carnival was petering out, President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted a video of one man urinating on another during the festivities, causing the term "golden shower" to trend. And in 2016, when Rio de Janeiro was taken over by the Olympics, American swimmer Ryan Lochte found himself embroiled in an international imbroglio that included, among other absurdities, his entourage urinating into some bushes at a gas station.

Now Rio de Janeiro is pouring resources into the matter. In the last decade, it has tripled the number of portable toilets from 9,000 to 34,000, and dispatched squads to fine offenders, who, in local parlance, are "making xixi."

"People are now learning the correct behavior," said Renato Rodrigues, an official with the city agency that oversees the efforts. "The culture is changing, and the scenario is much better now."

Perhaps in Rio. But in other parts of the country, the issue is bigger than Carnival.

Daniel Véras Ribeiro, a professor at the Federal University of Bahia, has been conducting research at the confluence of civil engineering and urine. He says public urination is less an annoyance than a disaster waiting to happen. Urine contains low doses of ammonia, which, upon repeated application, will corrode concrete caught in the line of fire.

At soccer stadiums, many Brazilian fans, lest they miss any of the action, have historically relieved themselves on ramps and bleachers. That has led to deep structural degradation.

"If we don't do anything about it now, the very structure of Maracana" - the famed Rio stadium - "could be destroyed," one engineer fretted in 2000.

In 2007, an upper tier at a soccer stadium collapsed in the northern city of Salvador, killing seven people. Officials blamed the "custom of people peeing in the bleachers."

Ribeiro says he sees the potential for similar tragedy etched into the badly deteriorated columns holding up highway overpasses and used by homeless people as bathrooms.

"The custom of peeing in public has historic reasons," he said. "But principally, it is the result of terrible public bathroom infrastructure in Brazil, which practically doesn't exist, and when it does, is so badly maintained that they're practically impossible to use."

It's a choice BuzzFeed Brazil put to its readers last week in an online questionnaire: "Would you rather pee on the road OR in a dirty chemical bathroom?"

A narrow majority - out of 21,000 votes - went with the road.

A question the survey didn't ask, but that criminal lawyers are mulling: Should someone be forced to pay a fine for making that decision?

Ricardo Antonio Andreucci, a lawyer who has written on the topic, said people shouldn't pay for the state's failure to provide basic infrastructure. "It is an abuse on the part of the police," he said. "You can't be writing a ticket for something that physiological."

Tell that to Gitsen, the city worker, as he patrolled the streets on Saturday afternoon. There are children out here, he said. Families shouldn't have to see public urination. The $140 fines, he said, help ensure civic decency. They help make this overwhelming, grimy city a little less so.

But he has no illusions about what he's up against. "We are trying to change the culture," he said. "This is generations upon generations upon generations. They pee on houses, on cars, wherever they can."

Even - to Gitsen's undying frustration - when portable toilets are within striking distance.

And so it went on Saturday afternoon, with a man in red trunks in the neighborhood of Ipanema. He ambled past the toilets and instead found a tree in the middle of a congested sidewalk to lean against, as a street party raged around him.

A Washington Post reporter waited until he had finished his business to approach. The man agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, fearing familial and career repercussions.

"The Brazilians prefer to make xixi in the streets," he said. "We don't have enough bathrooms for everyone."

Nearby, a woman was making her own bathroom right next to the entrance of a residential building, vamoosing only when the doorman, Clever Santos Chavez, chased her away.

Chavez carried a bucket of soapy water and a look of resignation.

"It is always like this," he said, sighing. "Here, it is a bathroom."

It was now his job to flush. He splashed down the water, and watched everything wash away.

Man who has maintained innocence is released after new evidence surfaces in double slaying

By Keith L. Alexander
Man who has maintained innocence is released after new evidence surfaces in double slaying
Calvin Bright has been released after spending more than 25 years incarcerated in a murder case. He was not exonerated but has maintained his innocence. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jahi Chikwendiu

WASHINGTON - Calvin Bright had spent more than two decades imprisoned for a double murder he maintains he did not commit when new evidence surfaced in the case. He learned authorities had withheld a tip that another man was the killer.

Bright was presented with a choice.

He could continue his fight for a new trial in the hope he might someday be acquitted. Or, if he agreed he would not sue the District of Columbia for false arrest, he could be released immediately but remain a convicted murderer.

Bright, 48, chose freedom.

"I just want to get on with my life," Bright said after federal prosecutors agreed to his release from jail this month. "Everyone is trying to tell me what I should have done. I should have done this or I should have done that. But they weren't the ones sitting in that cage all those years."

Bright earned college credits from classes at the D.C. jail and hopes to one day become a private investigator. But as he prepares for his future, Dwan Peay, the brother of one of the murder victims, is angry and full of questions.

How could the man who was found guilty of killing his sister be released early for something Peay said he views, based on a letter from D.C.'s U.S. attorney's office, as a "technicality?"

Peay's 28-year-old sister, Tammy, along with her friend, 33-year-old William Frederick Ramsey, were killed early on a July morning in 1994, near the neighborhood where they grew up.

During the trial in 1995, two witnesses testified that they saw Bright shoot the friends. Bright's public defender argued Bright was the victim of mistaken identity. Still, he was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder while armed.

As he served a sentence of 65 years to life in prison, Bright said he focused on trying to clear his name. While working a $70-a-month job in prison libraries, stocking bookshelves and making photocopies for inmates, he also studied law books.

For years, Bright filed court motions seeking relief. In 2007, a judge assigned D.C. attorney David Benowitz to his case. Benowitz and Bright spent 10 years searching for ways to get Bright's conviction overturned. Then, in 2017, after Benowitz filed a Freedom of Information Act request on the case, a prosecutor within D.C.'s U.S. attorney's office sent a folder created by the lead detective on the case.

Inside was a note written four days after the slayings by a D.C. police lieutenant. It said an officer had received a tip that was about a man who lived in that neighborhood and was nicknamed "Catman."

"He had receive info. that Catman was the subject who committed the double murder on Central Place, Northeast," the officer wrote. The officer also supplied that person's real name, Social Security number and police department identification number.

That note, however, was never mentioned to Bright's attorneys. "That was definitely the jackpot," Benowitz recalled.

In criminal cases, prosecutors are required to disclose all evidence to defense attorneys, even if that evidence undermines or jeopardizes their case. Not doing so could ultimately result in a judge throwing out the entire case.

After questioning the officers involved in writing the "Catman" note, Benowitz said he learned police never investigated if the man was actually involved.

In hindsight, Bright said he was not surprised police charged him in the killings. Not because he was involved, but because he was known by officers because of his numerous arrests for selling PCP and crack cocaine.

"After my parents divorced, I began running around with the wrong crowd. I know what I was doing was wrong, but it doesn't justify them wrongly arresting me for murder," he said. "I was a convenient suspect for them."

About three weeks after the shootings, detectives picked Bright up and took him to the station. "They kept asking me where I was that night. It was a month later, I couldn't remember where I was," he said. He was arrested and charged in the homicides.

In an interview, Dwan Peay, 54, said his sister had attended a cookout earlier that evening near her old neighborhood. After the shooting, he recalled, residents in that area began calling his family's home.

"I just heard my grandmother screaming that Tammy had been shot in the head. I had gone to the bathroom and heard her on the phone screaming, 'Tammy was shot. Tammy was shot in the head,' " he said.

Peay said he was shocked when neighbors told his family that Bright was the shooter. He and his sister grew up with Bright, he said. Peay also remembered that Bright had a crush on his sister when they were young.

After hearing of the other suspect, Peay said he also knew "Catman." But it was odd, Peay said, that anyone in the close-knit neighborhood would confuse "Catman" and Bright, because both men were well known there, and they did not look alike. "Catman," he said, was given the nickname because of his light eyes.

Ramsey's family members could not be reached for comment.

During trial, a witness testified he had heard Bright threaten Ramsey over a drug debt. Tammy Peay, authorities determined, was killed because she was with Ramsey and would have been a witness.

According to court records, two other witnesses told authorities it was after 4 a.m. on July 24 when, under the streetlights, they saw the shooter grab Tammy Peay and put her in a bear hug. One witness said she heard Tammy Peay say "Get off me" before the shooter fired once at her head.

Both witnesses said they watched Ramsey, who was wearing a cast on his leg, try to run. But he fell. The shooter, the witnesses said, stood over him and fired multiple times before hopping onto a 10-speed bike and pedaling away.

The two witnesses identified Bright as the shooter. But Benowitz questions their credibility. Both had admitted to using drugs and alcohol that night, Benowitz said. And one of the witnesses had a criminal case in Maryland and lied to a grand jury about his identity when he testified in the murder case.

Benowitz believes "Catman" was responsible for shooting Ramsey in the leg during a dice game days before his death, giving him motive to return and fire the fatal shots days later.

After court hearings last year, Benowitz sought more information on who knew about the "Catman" note. Over repeated objections from prosecutors, Benowitz planned to call Ken Kohl, the former prosecutor on the case, to testify.

It was then when prosecutors made Bright an offer. To bring the hearings to an end and avoid having one of their colleagues testify, prosecutors agreed to Bright's release from prison. In exchange, prosecutors required that Bright sign an agreement stating he would not sue the city.

Bright decided facing another trial was riskier than accepting the prosecution's offer of time served. So he abandoned his quest for exoneration.

"I spent 312 months, 26 years, in a cage," Bright said. "I had to weigh what was important. I was supposed to trust the same government again with a new trial? I wanted to get out of prison and get on with my life."

- - -

The Washington Post's Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

Elon Musk went from sleeping in the factory to being on the cusp of launching a crew into space

By Christian Davenport and Faiz Siddiqui
Elon Musk went from sleeping in the factory to being on the cusp of launching a crew into space
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talks with reporters following a press conference after NASA and SpaceX's performed an in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon capsule at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 19, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton

Just over a year ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission had launched an investigation into Elon Musk after he tweeted that he planned to take Tesla private. He was facing criticism, and a defamation lawsuit, for calling a Thai-cave rescuer a "pedo guy" and "child rapist." And when Musk took a hit off a joint during an Internet broadcast, it triggered a safety review from NASA that was concerned the billionaire maverick was going off the rails.

But now Musk is on a roll, literally dancing his way forward past a thicket of controversies. Tesla's stock price has quadrupled, and the company's market value now is greater than GM's and Ford's combined. A jury acquitted him in the defamation suit. And SpaceX is on the cusp of its first human spaceflight, having just completed what Musk called "a picture-perfect" test flight.

President Donald Trump even compared him recently to Thomas Edison, calling him "one of our great geniuses."

Most notable for some is that Musk, known for taking to Twitter to tout his successes and lash out at his critics, has demonstrated restraint. He hasn't tweeted any sensitive numbers about the publicly traded Tesla, and he kept silent after NASA pronounced the software in Boeing's Starliner capsule - SpaceX's competitor for sending people into space - so flawed that more than a million lines of code must be meticulously reviewed, a process that could take months.

People who follow Musk closely say they've noticed the change. Rebukes by regulators and the serious responsibility of sending astronauts to space, now weeks away, have humbled him, they say.

"Elon's not dealing like he's under the vice anymore, and he is acting more reasonable," said Gene Munster, managing partner of analyst firm Loup Ventures.

That doesn't mean there aren't challenges ahead. Tesla is launching its new crossover SUV in the first quarter, and new vehicles in the past have become a production stumbling block. Tesla also revealed last week that it's again under investigation by the SEC.

And though he may have been humbled, he remains refreshingly unfiltered. He recently danced on stage in China, performing what some dubbed a strip tease, shrugging his hoodie off and then throwing it. He told a recent SpaceX event on the rushed timeline to build a rocket he hopes will get to Mars: "My new thing is management by rhyming: If the schedule is long, it's wrong; it if it's tight, it's right." He also recently released a song that climbed the charts on Spotify after he tweeted to his 30 million followers a shot of himself jamming to the beat.

The track's title also served a four-word manifesto: "Don't Doubt Ur Vibe."

- - -

Musk's relentless focus on Tesla, in particular, has begun to pay off. Musk's goal of injecting electric cars into the mainstream is becoming reality, and Wall Street has begun to accept that. The company's stock has long been besieged by short sellers, gambling that the company won't achieve its goals. But the short sellers are reeling, prompting headlines such as this recent one in the Wall Street Journal: "Detroit Falters as Tesla Excites."

"There are still things they need to work through," said Munster. "It's still going to be bumpy. But as far as the core concept - 'Will Tesla make it or not make it?' - that question has now been decided. Tesla is going to be around for decades."

Musk, who was bullied as a child in South Africa and made his way to North America as a teenager, has always had a combative streak that often pitted him against the establishment. He took on the credit card industry with PayPal, where he was CEO until he was ousted in 2000. He remained the company's largest shareholder, however, and pocketed $165 million when PayPal was acquired by EBay for $1.5 billion. He founded SpaceX in 2001 and disrupted the military-industrial complex that for years had held a strong hold over America's space industry. His investment in Tesla didn't come until 2004, when he was named the company's chairman of the board. He became CEO in 2008. Forbes estimates his net worth at more than $43 billion.

The low point for Musk came during the summer of 2018. A slate of top executives had left Tesla, which had been struggling and laying off employees in droves. The company was having difficulty delivering on its rosy production promises, and Musk said on Twitter that the company had graduated from one nightmare to another - "from production hell to delivery logistics hell."

He lamented to the New York Times that August in an interview that, "This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career. It was excruciating."

The company was struggling to achieve its goal of delivering 5,000 Model 3 cars per week.

Tesla never truly delivered on the core marketing component of the Model 3 - that it would be a $35,000 car, making it affordable to the masses. While a model costing that price was available briefly last year, it was pulled from Tesla's traditional online sales hub and moved to special order status.

Musk had long been turning attention - some said too much attention - to the intricacies of the company's product lineup and assembly line. And he made decisions in haste, axing products on impulse without embarking on market research.

"Get it off the website now," he said, after one executive presented what he saw as a compelling case.

When the company failed to meet its output for Model X SUVs because the falcon-wing doors were so hard to fit, "Elon moved into the factory for two weeks," said a former Tesla executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal company matters. "He was sleeping in a sleeping bag - real time triaging cars at the end of the line trying to get to the root cause of what the issues were. It was wild."

Musk also got hands-on when the company was facing a lag because of paint. "Elon wasn't satisfied," the former executive said, "and so he took over the paint shop. He ran the paint shop for two weeks."

His agony was compounded by a self-inflicted wound - when he took to Twitter to announce that if Tesla's stock price reached $420, he would take the company private.

"Funding secured," he wrote on Aug. 7, 2018, in a pronouncement that shocked investors and sparked an SEC investigation that resulted in a lawsuit accusing him of misleading investors and seeking to bar him from running any public company.

Musk ended up settling soon afterward, paying a $20 million fine and agreeing to step down as Tesla's chairman for three years.

Late in 2018, it was officials on the ninth floor of NASA headquarters who were fuming over his behavior. Musk had recently puffed a joint while appearing on the Joe Rogan show and took a sip of whiskey - not the sort of conduct NASA is used to seeing form the heads of one of their prime contractors.

In this case, NASA was relying on Musk's SpaceX to build a spacecraft capable of flying its astronauts to the International Space Station. And NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, a teetotaling conservative Republican former congressman from Oklahoma, didn't appreciate the message it sent.

He ordered a safety review of the company and publicly chastised Musk, saying that "culture and leadership start at the top. Anything that would result in some questioning the culture of safety, we need to fix immediately."

SpaceX went to great lengths to show that it prioritizes safety over all else. And in March of last year, it successfully flew its Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station and back, a feat that seemed to erase any concerns from Bridenstine, who crowed after the 2:49 a.m. launch that SpaceX had helped put NASA on the "precipice of launching American astronauts in American rockets from America soil."

Speaking at the pre-dawn press conference, Musk said he "was emotionally exhausted" and that the flight was "super stressful," and the culmination of "an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice."

The high didn't last long.

A month later, that same spacecraft blew up during a test of its emergency abort system, sending an ominous cloud of orange smoke wafting into the Florida sky.

- - -

At Tesla, everything started to stabilize once Musk had a new team he could trust to deliver in 2019.

Gone were the days when Musk moved into the manufacturing plant, overseeing mundane elements of production personally, such as the Model X production, the company's paint shop and later the Model 3's lagging due to overemphasis on automation.

Finally, he began to delegate, more and more, becoming more comfortable after the revolving door of executives finally left him with a team he could trust, former officials and close observers said.

The Model 3 line was ramping up and meeting delivery goals. Tesla opened a factory to produce cars in China. The stock started rising. And Musk did a dance - arms pumping, jacket tossed to the side - at an event in Shanghai celebrating the first car deliveries in China that went viral and symbolized [youtube.com] the sudden turn-around.

Still, there are many perils ahead.

Musk faces serious questions about core pieces of Tesla's business model that could send the company back to its near-constant volatility over the last few years, which saw the company's stock dip to a record low of $177 as recently as June. Even earlier this month, the stock rose nearly 14 percent to $887 before falling 17 percent the next day. It closed above $921 a share on Wednesday before following the market down on Friday.

One of Musk's biggest tests will be the first deliveries of its new Model Y crossover. Tesla has faced questions about demand now that a $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicle purchases has expired. Musk acknowledged the challenges on a call with analysts last month, though it was not demand that concerned him. "We are worried about production, [making] sure we get that production ramp going and reach volume production as soon as possible," he said.

It's also not out of the regulatory line of fire. Tesla revealed earlier this month that the SEC had subpoenaed the company seeking records concerning "certain financial data and contracts including Tesla's regular financing arrangements" in December, just as the agency closed the investigation into Musk's tweets. The company separately revealed that the Department of Justice was seeking documents on Musk's communications about taking the company private and Model 3 production. It also faces probes by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into safety regarding both its Autopilot assistant and alleged battery fires.

And then there's the question of whether Musk can safely fly astronauts - a feat SpaceX hasn't yet tried. That test is likely to come this spring, when SpaceX is expected to fly two NASA astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, to the International Space Station.

In January, SpaceX nailed a test flight that showed off the capsule's emergency abort system, paving the way for the first flight with crews on board. Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut who worked at Space X for years and still serves as a consultant, said Musk and the people at SpaceX know "to never believe things are going to be as great as they are during the highs, and not as low during the lows."

Still, he said, the abort-system test "was a huge morale boost" that fired up Musk and his whole team.

It showed. Hours after the flight, Musk, who turns 49 in June, was loose and in a good mood, holding forth before a gaggle of reporters at the Kennedy Space Center. One of them urged him to show off his dance moves, as he had done in Shanghai when Tesla opened a factory there.

But he demurred, saying maybe he would consider it once he had flown astronauts safely. "I'm not your dancing puppet!" he said, laughing.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Trump's economy just caught coronavirus

By dana milbank
Trump's economy just caught coronavirus

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON - Just two weeks ago, President Trump's acting budget director stood in the White House briefing room and proclaimed that the spreading coronavirus hadn't clouded the administration's rosy economic outlook.

"Our view is that, at this point, coronavirus is not something that is going to have ripple effects," said the official, Russell Vought.

This was in line with Trump's claim to Fox News's Sean Hannity that "we pretty much shut it down coming in from China." As he departed for India on Sunday, Trump proclaimed that China's president "will solve the problem" and offered assurances: "We have it very much under control in this country."

Mission accomplished!

Wall Street begged to differ. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 1,000 points Monday, or 3.5%, the worst rout in two years and part of an international sell-off. That erased gains for this year, just five days after Trump, in the latest of hundreds of such boasts, announced the "Highest Stock Market In History, By Far!"

Goldman Sachs, citing the dangerous virus, cut its growth forecast for the U.S. economy to 1.2% for the first quarter, well below the 2.3% rate in 2019. J.P. Morgan noted that a number of large U.S. companies have cautioned about impacts from the virus. And this is nothing compared with what would happen if the virus gets a solid foothold here; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reported the number of U.S. cases had reached 53, up by 18.

Even if Trump hasn't acknowledged the gravity of the epidemic, The Washington Post reports that his aides are considering asking Congress for an emergency spending package of as much as $1 billion. That's a start, but Asha George, director of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, tells me that "a billion is not going to do it," particularly because agencies need to replenish some $200 million they have already taken from other programs to fight coronavirus.

George says a spending package of $3 billion is needed immediately to fund public and private research on vaccines and antidotes, stockpiling medical supplies, manufacturing medicines to overcome shortages caused by China's supply disruption, getting accurate diagnostic kits to hospitals and doctors, and more planning and guidance for worst-case scenarios. George also thinks there needs to be an ongoing disease-response fund so there isn't another scramble when the next Zika, MERS, SARS, H1N1 or covid-19 inevitably arrives.

This is a felicitous case in which doing the right thing is also in Trump's short-term political interest. If his administration can expand surveillance (beyond haphazard screening at a few airports) and react quickly and effectively when clusters of the disease pop up, then disruptions to the economy will be minimal. But if his administration fails at surveillance and control, the United States could be in for China-style closings of schools and businesses, travel disruption, hundreds of thousands of people catching the virus and thousands dying from it. That would mean a big hit to the economy as Trump approaches reelection.

"If the government does its job," George says, "we should never get to a Wuhan scenario." If doing the right thing isn't Trump's first instinct, he now has what for him is the most powerful incentive: His reelection.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC over the weekend that "based upon everything we see now this will be manageable." That's true - if the administration actually manages the illness rather than treating Americans with happy talk.

Trump has continued to declare that "it's going to work out fine" and to congratulate himself for his sensible move to halt travel from China. "Sixty-one percent of the voters approve of Trump's handling of the coronavirus," he told one audience this month.

Even as markets began their tumble Monday, Trump told a vast crowd in India that "we have the greatest economy ever in the history of the United States." Now that coronavirus clearly threatens the U.S. economy - and Trump's reelection - hopefully he will push for a more robust attempt to fight it.

The administration is already taking additional steps - to protect Trump. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was scheduled to accompany Trump to India, but at the last minute he was told to stay home, CNN reported, because he had a cold and "White House doctors advised against having him travel in such proximity to the president."

How thoughtful of the White House to spare Trump his aide's sniffles! Now how about protecting all of us from something worse?

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

All Democrats must prepare to support Sanders

By eugene robinson
All Democrats must prepare to support Sanders

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

(Advance for Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Robinson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By EUGENE ROBINSON

WASHINGTON - Deal with it: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is not even a Democrat, is leading the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. And it looks possible that none of his rivals will be able to catch him. If you want to get rid of President Trump, prepare to get behind Sanders and do everything you can to make him president.

Only three states have spoken. Plenty of opportunities for twists and turns remain, starting with the next debate on Tuesday and the South Carolina primary on Saturday. But Sanders is now the clear front-runner, with a plausible straight-line path to the nomination.

He earned it. Sanders has built a nationwide grass-roots organization, raised a ton of money through small-dollar donations, inspired real passion on the campaign trail and motivated his supporters to come out and vote. That is how you win.

Commentators have warned ominously that the party would be committing "political suicide" if it nominates Sanders. I admit to having flirted with that thought myself. But democracy, done right, can be messy. The whole point of having primaries and caucuses is to allow voters to select the nominee they want, rather than let party insiders make the choice.

Those insiders must feel the way their Republican counterparts did in 2016, as then-candidate Donald Trump seized the GOP in a hostile takeover. He won primary after primary against competitors who split the never-Trump vote. By the time Trump had just two opponents left - Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio - it was too late. Many Republicans were convinced that Trump could not possibly win the general election and would likely lead the whole party to a crushing defeat. We know how that worked out.

History doesn't repeat itself verbatim, though. The dynamic looks similar: Sanders reliably turns out his enthusiastic base, while the others split the somewhat larger please-not-Bernie vote. But it is not at all clear that rank-and-file Democrats see the race as neatly divided into "progressive" and "moderate" lanes, the way so many analysts describe it. A recent Morning Consult poll, for example, found that when supporters of former vice president Joe Biden were asked their second choice, more of them named Sanders than any of the moderates who share Biden's supposed lane. The same was true of supporters of lane-straddling Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

As the field thins out, then, some of the dropouts' support will go to Sanders, rather than to a single alternative representative of a "Stop Sanders" movement.

One unpredictable factor is the role that might be played by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg - or rather by Bloomberg's vast fortune. He has displayed nothing but contempt for Sanders (the feeling is obviously mutual) and he has the money to stay in the race all the way to the convention. But what then?

If Sanders does as well in the Super Tuesday primaries next week as polls suggest, he will likely arrive at the convention in Milwaukee with more pledged delegates than anybody else. Even if it were just a small plurality, with Bloomberg in second place, would a party that claims to champion the working class really deny Sanders in favor of one of the richest men on the planet? I find that hard to imagine.

If the election ends up being Sanders vs. Trump, the outcome could be a blowout - in either direction.

Sanders would have to do without some campaign funds from Wall Street donors and could forget about the votes of many never-Trump Republicans, who would not vote for a "democratic socialist" no matter how fervently they want to deny Trump a second term. It's possible that a red-menace scare campaign by the GOP - and you know that's coming - could allow Republicans to keep the White House and the Senate, and maybe even challenge the Democrats' majority in the House.

On the other hand, Sanders leads something that's rare and unpredictable in American politics: a genuine movement. Look at the huge crowds at his rallies, reminiscent only of Trump's crowds. Look at his unexpected and overwhelming strength among Latino voters in Nevada.

Are there Obama-Trump-Sanders voters in the midwestern states that unexpectedly gave Trump his electoral victory four years ago? Could Sanders really, as he claims, put Texas and other states with big Latino populations into play?

Since Trump's election, there's a ready-made answer for all such questions: Stranger things have happened. And our political life, these days, is nothing if not strange.

Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

A Trump-Sanders election would destroy our politics

By michael gerson
A Trump-Sanders election would destroy our politics

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

(Advance for Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Gerson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By MICHAEL GERSON

WASHINGTON -- It is a sad, strange experience to witness the destruction of American political institutions right before your eyes. From one perspective, this has come in a swift, confusing rush of events. From another, it has seemed to unfold in slow motion. Everyone sees the vase falling toward the ground, but no one seems capable of stopping the impact. And that is what a Donald Trump/Bernie Sanders presidential contest would be: The shattering of our two-party political system.

One of the parties -- which I used to call my own -- has already been captured by the most extreme, disturbing element of its traditional coalition. The radicals promised a revolution against an out-of-touch elite. They succeeded, in part, through bullying and intimidation. They have devalued governing skill and compromise. They have elevated potent cultural symbols that unite and motivate their own -- like the fight against an imaginary "deep state" -- rather than seeking to unite and inspire the country.

And now the other party -- as if by some horrible compulsion for imitation -- is being captured by the most extreme, disturbing element of its traditional coalition. The radicals are succeeding, in part, through bullying and intimidation. They devalue governing skill and compromise. They employ potent cultural symbols -- like the demand for "revolution" and the demonization of moderation -- to unite and motivate their own tribe rather than seeking to unite the country.

The two sides are not morally equivalent. Only one is currently subverting our constitutional order on a daily basis. Only one leader is regularly fanning flames of racial division. Only one leader has separated migrant families and abused migrant children. Only one leader has authoritarian pretensions and regularly uses his office to facilitate corruption.

But both Trump and Sanders practice a similar type of politics, described with typical brilliance in Yuval Levin's new book, "A Time to Build." Levin argues that political institutions -- say, the presidency or Congress -- were once seen as formative institutions. People within them were expected to uphold certain standards and develop certain skills. Politicians wanted to be recognized for excelling at the profession of politics, which includes mastering detail, building consensus and cooperating in spite of differences.

Politicians such as Trump and Sanders, however, want to be seen as outsiders, overturning a discredited establishment. Trump, for example, has continued to criticize elements of his own administration on Twitter as though he were an outside observer. In this political approach, the purpose of institutions has shifted. "We have moved, roughly speaking," writes Levin, "from thinking of institutions as molds that shape people's characters and habits toward seeing them as platforms that allow people to be themselves and to display themselves before a wider world." Political institutions are no longer seen as "formative" but as "performative."

Trump may be the champion of performative politics, but some leaders of the left, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sanders, are contesting the title. For all of them, public office is not so much a place to serve and achieve but a means to raise the profile of their activism. For all of them, the act of being viral matters more than the craft and discipline of passing laws or ensuring their proper administration.

It wasn't that long ago that a progressive leader such as the late Sen. Edward Kennedy aspired to be a master legislator and was perfectly willing to make reasonable compromises on education reform or immigration reform to secure incremental progress. Or when then-President George W. Bush proposed and passed the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief with the strong support of then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Joe Biden.

Who, in this age of the outsider, would now run for president on a platform of reasonable compromise and bipartisan purpose? (Well, actually, Biden initially did. And many in his party reviled him for it.)

But what if the greatest need of the Republic is not for an outsider to shake things up but an insider to get things done on education reform, and immigration reform and global health? What if the type of leadership we need most does not pursue virality as an end, or signal cultural loyalties as a tactic, but rather elevates prudence, professionalism and idealism rooted in achievement? What if we need politicians who know their jobs and a president who brings honor to his office and healing to a weary country?

The realization comes like a nightmare: Maybe there is no longer a democratic constituency for the talents and virtues that make democracy work.

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Look who's riding the Berniemobile

By megan mcardle
Look who's riding the Berniemobile

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Megan McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Megan McArdle

LAS VEGAS - I knew the win was coming, but I didn't understand how big it would be. It only really hit me as I walked out of a caucus in the East Las Vegas Community Center where Bernie Sanders had carried all five precincts; in two of those, no other candidate even got enough votes to earn a single delegate.

This was the sort of place where the socialist senator from Vermont had once been expected to founder: It was jammed with Latinos, African Americans, some white gentrifiers - not the stereotypical college students, grooving to whatever hot band was out busking for Bernie last week. I spoke to military wives and service workers, retirees and small business owners - normal people with real jobs. These voters went overwhelmingly for Sanders, as did the rest of the state; with 70% of the vote in, Sanders's support stood at 47%, more than 25 points ahead of former vice president Joe Biden's distant second.

The Nevada results undo all the dire predictions that Sanders's opponents have (rather hopefully) been making. There's no obvious cap on Sanders's support, no suburban or minority firewall that will keep him from winning the nomination. Moreover, the makeup of his supporters suggests all the reasons it is going to be hard for his opponents to unify against Sanders - at least, not fast enough to matter.

I'm not even talking about the racial and gender diversity of his coalition; I'm talking about the way Sanders voters seem to be thinking about the race. They can be broadly divided into three categories: the Realist-Idealists, the Revolutionaries and the Bandwagoners.

The Realist-Idealists are attracted to his far-left position on some issue they care about - usually climate change or Medicare-for-all. Many supported Sanders in 2016. But they are Democrats before they are Sanders voters. They will "Vote Blue No Matter Who" in November, a point they often spontaneously emphasize.

The Revolutionaries, by contrast, resemble the new voters President Trump brought into the GOP. They value authenticity over flexibility; they always tell you that Sanders has been saying the same thing for 40 years. Often they add that 2016 was the first time they got interested in politics or voted.

These folks insist it's Bernie or Bust. "Any Blue Won't Do," said Charlee Magenot, who served as a delegate for Sanders in 2016 and was at a rally for him here Friday.

Even at the expense of keeping Trump in office?

At that point, Magenot's mother, Debra Cole, interjected. "Donald Trump is not worse, for one reason: He'll destroy it faster than they will. And then we can rebuild."

And then there are the Bandwagoners. A few days ago, Tim Miller, veteran of a short-lived Stop Trump PAC, offered a grim warning for Democrats who wanted, say, an actual Democrat to be their nominee. Voters, he noted, like winners; they are inclined to sign on with any candidate who opens up a commanding lead. To stop Sanders, he argued, the other candidates need to attack the front-runner instead of one another, (BEG ITAL)now(END ITAL). They need to think about building a unity ticket, (BEG ITAL)now(END ITAL).

But the Trump equivalent of Bernie's Revolutionaries are why Republican candidates in 2016 spent months attacking everyone (BEG ITAL)but (END ITAL)the front-runner. An early sustained attack might have taken Trump down, but it looked like his ultra-loyal faction would destroy anyone who mounted it. So they tried to knock out everyone else, in the hope that with a larger base, it would be safer to take Trump on.

They failed. As the rest of the Democratic field is failing now. And the Bandwagoners are why.

In East Las Vegas, I spoke to seven Sanders supporters and two undecideds who were considering him. Three out of the nine either said they chose Bernie because he already had so much support - or that they had rejected another candidate for having too little.

Moderate Republicans often claim that Trump is enabling Sanders - that Trump's unpopularity makes it safer to vote for the socialist. But that's close to the opposite of what I hear from the voters who are driving his growing margin: Bandwagoners choose Sanders because (BEG ITAL)they think he's the most electable candidate(END ITAL). After all, his rallies are huge, and his primary margins keep growing.

Maybe those voters are wrong. But if Sanders's opponents want to stop them from climbing onto the Bernie Bandwagon, they have to build a different wagon - (BEG ITAL)one single wagon(END ITAL), not five - and fill it with enough voters to make it look even more popular than the Berniemobile. That could shift enough Bandwagoners to lure some Realist-Idealists along. If the alternative candidate's margins are sufficiently overwhelming, even the grumbling Revolutionaries will find it hard to claim they've been robbed.

It could work - maybe. But Democrats have to execute this whole maneuver by March 3, Super Tuesday. Because by the end of that day, almost 40 percent of the Democratic delegates will have been allocated. And the Sanders caravan may have enough momentum to cruise all the way to the nomination.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

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There is no sugarcoating the Nevada results. It was a Sanders blowout.

By ruth marcus
There is no sugarcoating the Nevada results. It was a Sanders blowout.

RUTH MARCUS COLUMN

(SPECIAL COLUMN FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Ruth Marcus clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Ruth Marcus

WASHINGTON - There is no discounting the strength and significance of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders's victory Saturday night in the Nevada caucuses. For people like me, who would prefer to see anybody but Sanders as nominee, there is no sugarcoating the results. The polls had prepared us for a Sanders win in Nevada - just not one quite so resounding or broad-based.

Sanders claimed victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, but the first was contested and the second notably slim. In Iowa, Sanders won more of the popular vote - a shade over 2,000 more votes than former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, or 1.4 points - yet Buttigieg actually walked away with two more delegates. In New Hampshire, Sanders beat Buttigieg by fewer than 4,000 votes - 1.3 percentage points - but emerged with the same number of delegates.

Nevada was different. It was a Sanders blowout.

On Sunday morning, with a pathetic 60% of precincts reporting, Sanders had 46% of the delegates, trailed badly by former vice president Joe Biden with 19.6% and Buttigieg at 15.3%. Sanders skeptics could comfort themselves after Iowa and New Hampshire that the sum of the vote of his rivals far exceeded Sanders' support, underscoring the degree to which Democrats seemed to prefer a more moderate alternative. That argument was not available in Nevada.

As significant as Sanders' totals was the accompanying diversity of the coalition he assembled. Four years ago, Sanders lagged badly behind Hillary Clinton in most contests in attracting minority voters. This year in Nevada, the first voting state with a significant minority population, Sanders demonstrated strength with that critical coalition. Four years ago in Nevada, Clinton won 76% of the African American vote to Sanders' 22%; this year, Sanders secured 27% of the African American vote in the more crowded field, compared with Biden's 39%. Likewise, Sanders won an outright majority of Latino voters, 51%, effectively matching his 53% four years ago.

That wasn't all. The powerful Culinary Workers Union declined to endorse a candidate but warned that Sanders's Medicare-for-all proposal risked undoing their members hard-bargained and expansive health care benefits; nonetheless, 34% of union households backed Sanders, far more than the closest second, Biden with 21%. On ideological grounds, Sanders not only prevailed with voters who described themselves as very liberal (49%) or somewhat liberal (29%), he also won nearly a quarter of voters who called themselves moderate or conservative, the same 24% share of that group who backed Biden. Sanders won with every age group except those over 65.

The nomination battle isn't over, not yet. Biden can hang on at least through South Carolina, where he still leads in the polls, although his numbers have been dropping and Sanders has surged. A new CBS News poll finds Biden with 28% of the vote there, and Sanders at 23%; ominously, Biden's support among African Americans, who account for more than 60% of the state's Democratic voters, has fallen by 19 points since November, from 54% to 35%.

Meantime, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg's billions have propelled him toward the top of the field - in the current RealClearPolitics national average, he is at 15% to Sanders' 29% and Biden's 17%. Bloomberg is positioned to do well in the expensive Super Tuesday states March 3, if another disastrous debate performance does not sink him.

But, but, but. The current betting has to be on Sanders. First, his opponents can't win by taking turns nipping at Sanders' heels and dividing the non-Sanders vote: Buttigieg doing well in Iowa, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar coming in third in New Hampshire, Biden hanging on in Nevada. On this score, Bloomberg's role threatens to be more spoiler than savior, further dividing the field.

Second, Sanders is the only candidate who has the financial structure - an enormous pool of low-dollar donors who can compete with Bloomberg, if not on a level playing field. Sanders has raised more ($133 million, as of the end of January) and spent more ($116 million) than any non-billionaire candidate. He had nearly $17 million on hand at the end of January, while his rivals were running out of fuel; Biden and Buttigieg had about $7 million each, Klobuchar and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) even less.

Finally, the party's delegate selection rules operate in Sanders' favor in a multicandidate field. His rivals can't win any delegates at all unless they reach 15% of the vote. That allows Sanders to win a plurality but amass an outsized share of delegates.

All of this is a recipe for disaster: a contested convention that leaves the party bitterly divided, or a Sanders nomination that will face an extraordinary electoral map challenge. Meanwhile, this dish is getting dangerously close to cooked.

Ruth Marcus' email address is ruthmarcus@washpost.com.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Sanders is beating them all because they are all beating each other

By e.j. dionne jr.
Sanders is beating them all because they are all beating each other

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON -- Bernie Sanders is for real, his opposition is fractured, and President Trump is delighted to play the Democrats against one another.

The Vermont senator's sweep of Nevada's caucuses on Saturday is no proof he can win in November. But it does reveal a campaign that can back what for many voters is a trusted brand with the political machinery to close the sale.

While Sanders' more moderate opponents wring their hands over what to do next, they might consider that Sanders built this brand in part through a series of specific promises: single-payer health care, free college, a Green New Deal, universal childcare and much more.

Sanders may not have explained in detail how he'd pay for all this, let alone, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., pointed out on Saturday night, how he'd shepherd it through Congress. But Sanders understands the hunger for very specific forms of relief within a significant part of the Democratic electorate, particularly the young who suffered most from the fallout of the Great Recession.

In Mike Bloomberg's business world, it might be said that Sanders offers a lot of "deliverables" -- putting aside whether they can be delivered. Warren's early "I have a plan for that" appeal made her competitive in this segment of the political marketplace, but she lost much of that edge after wavering on Medicare-for-all. In Nevada, Warren ran a distant fourth, behind Sanders, former vice president Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Sanders' deliverables mattered in Nevada -- and his performance there confirmed that in a multicandidate field, he can keep winning simply by holding enough of the 2016 vote he assembled against Hillary Clinton.

His showing among Latino voters is a good example. Four years ago and again on Saturday, Sanders won about half the ballots cast by Latinos. This time, he outpaced Biden, his nearest competitor, by 3-to-1.

Because so many Latinos think of themselves as moderates or conservatives -- roughly 40% of them labeled themselves this way in Nevada, according to the Edison Entrance Poll -- their strong support for expansive government programs and economic progressivism is often ignored. Sanders never made that mistake. He thus carried even self-described moderate and conservative Latinos by better than 2-to-1.

A key test for Sanders will come on Super Tuesday in Texas, where Latinos rejected him in 2016 for Clinton. But here is the dilemma for the divided moderates: Roughly two-thirds of Nevada caucus-goers said their priority was to find a candidate who could beat Trump, and Sanders received less than a quarter of their preferences. But the rest of that beat-Trump-above-all crowd was relatively evenly scattered across the candidacies of Biden. Pete Buttigieg, and then Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Sanders is beating them all because they are all beating each other.

After Klobuchar's late surge in New Hampshire -- its main impact was to deprive Buttigieg of a chance of defeating Sanders there -- she was pummeled in Nevada. Klobuchar now has no plausible place to go (except as a favorite in her home state), and her continuing in the race would only make her a spoiler.

In the meantime, Biden and Buttigieg each have a significant share of the non-Sanders vote, but neither has been able to secure the rest they need.

Buttigieg ran second to Sanders among white Nevada caucus-goers but received virtually no African American votes and just 1-in-10 Latinos.

Biden defeated Sanders among African American caucus-goers, a sign that he may be able to slow Sanders' momentum with a victory next Saturday in South Carolina, where black voters constitute a majority of the primary electorate. However, Biden's profound weakness among the young remains an anchor around his candidacy.

The splintering of the non-Sanders vote may get worse. Warren could not take full advantage of her strong debate performance last week because so many Nevada votes were cast early, so she'll soldier on. And Bloomberg's gargantuan spending for March 3's Super Tuesday primaries guarantees him a share of the middle-ground vote, despite his ineffectual response to Warren's pummeling.

Unity is nowhere in sight. Sanders's Friday tweet -- "I've got news for the Republican establishment. I've got news for the Democratic establishment. They can't stop us" -- showed he's in no mood to pull this fractured party together.

This breach of party solidarity alarmed down-ticket Democrats hoping to keep control of the House and win the Senate -- and must have delighted Trump, whose Saturday night tweet announced how he'll exploit the opposition's fractiousness, no matter what's next. He congratulated "Crazy Bernie" on his Nevada victory, adding, "Don't let them take it away from you!"

Trump would love to tie the entire Democratic Party to "crazy socialism" -- but he'd also relish attacking "the Democratic establishment" for denying Sanders the nomination. What petrifies Democrats is that not one of their candidates, whether on the left or in the middle, has found a way out of this box.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

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