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The world's most China-reliant economy reels from virus shockwaves

By Michael Heath
The world's most China-reliant economy reels from virus shockwaves
Boats sit idle in Fishing Boat Harbour in Geraldton, Australia, as the Western Rock Lobster Industry grinds almost to a halt due to the corona virus crisis. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Dare Parker.

The coronavirus hit has exposed the extraordinary depth of Australia's economic dependence on China and fueled questions over whether the nation is too reliant on the Asian behemoth.

That dependence is on display in the Western Australian coastal town of Geraldton, where an ocean "dragon" fires the incomes of local fishermen. The Longxia, literally dragon shrimp in Mandarin, is prized at celebrations in China for its rich red color, horns and spine that remind Chinese of the mythical creature. The coronavirus shutdown on the eve of Lunar New Year means Geraldton's fishing fleet is stuck at port during this traditionally bountiful period.

Matt Rutter, CEO of Geraldton Fishermen's Co-operative, estimates the rocklobster catch between then and the end of March would normally be close to 2 million kilos, with a market value of more than A$120 million ($79 million). But not this year — boat captains, deckhands, truck drivers, export packers and others have seen little work and even less cash.

"It's the first time there's been a stop on fishing," Rutter said.

Australia is the most China-reliant economy in the developed world, with about a third of its exports going there. Chinese nationals making up roughly 38% of its foreign students and 15% of its tourists.

"We're getting a test run on what many people worried might have happened as a result of political tensions, but instead it's a result of a health crisis," said Richard McGregor, author of 'The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers' and a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. "So we'll see how the Australian economy holds up and we'll get a test of the ability of various sectors like tourism and education to diversify their customer base."

A shipment of honey illustrates how quickly the scales have turned. In December, wellness and nutrition group Eve Investments struck its first deal with a Chinese distributor for organic honey from its Meluka Australia brand. The shipping container holding that order of more than 21,000 units from its property outside Ballina on the New South Wales north coast is now being held up on the docks in Sydney, awaiting clearance from its destination port in Shanghai.

"The biggest issue at the moment is one of logistics. With some of the ports sending people home, it does complicate getting product in there in a timely manner," said Managing Director Bill Fry.

For now — like many Australian businesspeople — Fry remains fixed on the massive dividends a country of 25 million can reap by tapping into the demand of 1.4 billion people. Longer term, the virus could drive demand for Meluka honey as people turn to products with medicinal value "to try and boost their immune systems," Fry said.

Ben Woodward, who along with his two brothers runs the CaPTA Group, with nature parks and jungle tours across Far North Queensland, says the cascading effect of the coronavirus's fallout is in a league of its own.

"This is uncharted territory," he said. "It doesn't just affect tourism, the spillover affects other industries like retail, transport, cafes and so forth as well."

The family — whose business started back in 1976 — has cut hours for some of the 200-odd staff across its butterfly sanctuary, wildlife reserve and other businesses.

It's smaller firms in Australia that are "working-capital dependent" that are most at risk, said Tim Toohey, a former chief economist for Australia at Goldman Sachs. He expressed surprise the government hasn't put in place a system to cushion the blow.

"It wouldn't cost a lot, and it would probably save a lot of jobs and businesses that would be very hard to restart again," said Toohey, now at Yarra Capital Management.

The terrible timing of the hit to fishing and tourism was matched by the blow to Australia's education sector — the fourth-largest export industry.

In Sydney, the nation's oldest university is scrambling to cope with 15,000 Chinese visa holders locked out by the travel restrictions just as the academic year begins. The danger is Chinese parents will pull their children out of Australian institutions and instead send them to the U.K. or Canada, where the year begins in August or September.

Officials at Sydney University are trying to be flexible and keep communication open, with a dedicated web site and videos for Chinese students. It's made clear they can catch up if needed and that there are alternative paths if the travel ban is prolonged. Chinese nationals made up just under a quarter of the university's total student population in 2019.

Students will "have the option to defer or withdraw without penalty by the final census date of 31 March 2020," said Michael Spence, vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Sydney.

The one-child policy has meant that Chinese students have the most disposable income of any international group. That produces a "ripple impact" on accommodation providers, cafes and restaurants when their spending dries up.

Australia's retail industry, already struggling for sales among frugal customers, is also in the firing line. Major outlets like Harvey Norman Holdings and JB Hi-Fi face potential shortfalls of stock. China is the key source for mobile phones, computers and televisions, and for Harvey Norman, furniture and mattresses and cushions.

Should a supply shortage emerge, it will be difficult to offer the sales and discounts that have been necessary to bring customers through the door. The scale of China's dominance in these sectors means there isn't another country that can easily step in to make up the shortfall. That could trigger something unseen for almost 20 years: inflation on electrical and other consumer goods.

The ripple effect across Australia's economy has rekindled the question of whether the country is too concentrated on supplying and being supplied by China — a debate that has flared before, but never with such a compelling backdrop.

Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe in the past has argued that Australia would find alternative markets if Chinese demand waned, but prices would probably be lower and therefore the country wouldn't be as prosperous. The central bank — which hit pause on last year's interest-rate cuts for fear of driving up home prices and debt — is clearly worried about the growth risks.

"The outbreak presented a material near-term risk to the economic outlook for China and for international trade flows, and thereby the Australian economy," the RBA said in minutes of its Feb. 4 meeting, where it kept rates at a record-low 0.75%.

S&P Global Ratings said Australia faces a "material knock to growth" from the virus, and has cut its GDP forecasts by half a percentage point. It expects the RBA to respond by easing twice more this year, taking the cash rate to its estimated lower bound of 0.25%.

Even before the virus, Australia's government was trying to diversify export markets with a series of free-trade agreements. The latest was with northern neighbor Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country; and it's still negotiating one with India, on track to overtake China as the world's most populous nation this decade.

Australia is also in talks with the European Union and U.K. and has inked deals with Japan and South Korea and joined the regional pact formerly known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, until President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out.

But it's hard to escape China. Even where Australia started off with diverse customers, such as with its vast liquefied natural gas projects, Beijing is increasing its purchases of the fuel each year.

Up in northwest Australia, site of major iron ore mines and offshore LNG projects — the No. 1 and No. 3 exports — the news is better. Iron ore ships take 14 days or so to sail to China, covering the quarantine period, and LNG is relatively well insulated by long-term contracts. But prices have slid as traders factor in the blow to demand; that impact will eventually find its way to Australians' pockets.

High iron ore, coal and natural gas prices are key to the terms of trade — the economy's income — and this filters through taxes to government coffers, underpins Australia's AAA credit rating, and makes its way to households in the form of welfare payments, tax cuts or health and education spending. In other words, a threat to commodities revenue is a threat to Australia's financial muscle.

Longer term, there's another side to the picture. China's top leaders have signaled they are planning to increase stimulus this year through fiscal and monetary policy. When China stimulates, it tends to build, and while observers don't expect anything on the scale of 2009 after the global financial crisis, the injection is set to translate into demand for steel-making iron ore.

Australia's currency has depreciated a bit over 3% in the past month as investors — who use the Aussie as a proxy for China — pushed it to decade lows in response to the crisis. Even still, John Pearce of UniSuper worries that the financial market still isn't grasping the scale of the crisis.

"We have the world's second-largest economy, the world's engine of global growth, effectively in shutdown. It's only a matter of time before this starts impacting on short-term corporate profitability," said Pearce, CIO at the A$85 billion pension fund. "I'm astounded at how complacent the market has been."

Rutter of the Geraldton fishermen's coop says boat owners are waiting for the lobster market to re-stabilize to get skippers and deckhands out to sea, and onshore staff like truck drivers and export packers back to work. Still, he's philosophical: "All our concerns and the issues we face just pale into insignificance compared to what the Chinese people are going through."

- - -

Bloomberg's Ainslie Chandler and Matt Turner contributed to this report.

Paris Fashion Week begins with coronavirus anxiety - plus latex, feminism and flashing neon lights

By Robin Givhan
Paris Fashion Week begins with coronavirus anxiety - plus latex, feminism and flashing neon lights
Ushers hand out face masks at the entrance to the Dries Van Noten runway show Wednesday afternoon at the Opera Bastille in Paris. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Robin Givhan

PARIS - "Were you in Milan?"

The question was once so innocent. It was a casual conversation starter between editors, stylists and retailers as they arrived here for the final stop on an international fashion show circuit that included New York, London and then - maybe, just maybe - Milan, before they settled into their seat at Christian Dior, the esteemed French fashion house that unofficially signals the start of the ready-to-wear season here.

"Were you in Milan?" That used to be a shorthand way of asking about runway trends, about whether designer Miuccia Prada still had the creative chops to leave an audience rapturously discombobulated. What was once a question steeped in possibility and optimism, however, is now one drenched in anxiety about the coronavirus, cases of which have spiked in small towns surrounding Milan in northern Italy and have been spreading southward. There have been 374 confirmed cases and 12 deaths, as of noon local time Wednesday.

"Were you in Milan, where arriving travelers were greeted with uniformed officials monitoring people for signs of fever?" "Where you in Milan, where people were itching to leave?" "Were you in Milan, when everything turned dark and surreal?"

Now guests sit shoulder-to-shoulder at fashion shows from morning to evening. And more than ever, there is a sense that these communal gatherings of aesthetic prognostications are little more than petri dishes of incubating germs rather than ideas.

No one has canceled a show here - not like in Milan where Giorgio Armani decided to live stream his runway show from an empty theater as a safety precaution. Some retailers canceled their Milan trip and headed directly to Paris, where they will buy the collections in the affected brands' showrooms here instead.

At Dior, designer Maria Grazia Chiuri's show notes opened with an acknowledgment of the realities of our interconnected economy: "All our thoughts are with our teams, clients, friends and partners in Asia, Italy and around the world." At the entrance to the Dries Van Noten show Wednesday afternoon at the Opéra Bastille, ushers handed out face masks. Large pump bottles of hand-sanitizer were stationed just beyond the metal detectors, which now greet guests at every show - remnants of last year's fears, both real and existential.

Meanwhile, the shows go on. The anxiety simmers. There is no light. People obsessively scrub their hands with Purell. They are not so keen on the double-buss greetings when a smile at arm's distance will do. But still, they kiss. They take selfies. They step-and-repeat.

There is no light. Every time a bit of blue sky dares to brighten the day, the clouds roll in and the wind whips up and rain pours sideways across the stalled traffic. At 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon, guests arrived at the entrance to the Dior show: a giant box constructed in the Tuileries Gardens. Darkness greeted the celebrities: Carla Bruni, Sigourney Weaver, Andie MacDowell.

Neon words glowed and flashed feminist incantations and provocations from the rafters. Consent. Consent. Consent. The words flickered off and on in red, orange and green. Women are the moon that moves the tides. The words held steady in bright blue lights. We are all clitoridian women. The words leered in brazen pink. But this was not light. This was heavy, burdensome, dense. The fighting, the resisting, never ends. Dior was exhausting even before Chiuri sent out some 100 models in a parade of plaid, fringe, underwear and branded shopping bags.

Chiuri is a feminist. It is impossible to tell a story about Chiuri and her design aesthetic without mentioning this fact. This is as she would have it. From her debut collection as the first female creative director at Dior, she has used her position to elevate the philosophical writings of women who have dissect the patriarchy. Her presentations have rallied around women and railed against an intellectual environment that devalues women's ideas, ignores their creative output and objectifies their body. Her fall-winter 2020-21 presentation was no different.

It was organized in collaboration with artist Claire Fontaine, who uses illuminated signs in public space to name our cultural contradictions. The models walked on a floor papered with pixelated renderings of Le Monde newspaper. The brand was legible, but the stories, the content, were not.

Chiuri also found inspiration in the writings of the late Italian feminist Carla Lonzi, who pondered the ways in which we are all complicit in the patriarchy and how women must have agency over their body but not be defined by it. All hail a woman's vagina; but remember she is more than her vagina.

Chiuri wrestles with complicated issues - ideas about identity and the role that women play in perpetuating the myth of male supremacy. It is not that fashion does not have the capacity to grapple with these concerns in thoughtful and meaningful ways. Fashion is the perfect place to explore questions about social hierarchies, sexuality and power. But Chiuri doesn't allow her clothes to speak to the subject matter that has so captured her intellectual curiosity.

The first look down her runway was a black double-breasted pantsuit. Traditional. Masculine. Emblematic of power. Nice suit, but it seems like a simplistic response to a question that has spawned countless dissertations. Is that what it means to fight the patriarchy? Dress like a gilded era gentleman? Chiuri turns to the densely packed writings of feminists, art critics and activists. Instead of countering their work with her own fashion daring, she offers an apology. She surrenders to the lie that fashion is without power and authority.

At Dior, as at so many other shows, young women walk across a vast runway as the object of everyone's attention, dressed not by themselves but by a real world Pygmalion. They are inspected and ogled. Is there a way for them to retain agency over their identity under these unnatural circumstances? Instead of taking on that challenging question, Chiuri throws up her hands.

She elevates other women's groundbreaking ideas, but she is barely scratching the surface of bourgeois adornment. She amplifies their voices, but Chiuri's voice remains muffled. She is a feminist enraptured by the big, amorphous fight but who is ignoring the small discernible victories she can exact on her own runway by, for example, highlighting crones, matrons, spinsters and all the other versions of non-nubile women that society rejects.

We are in the thick of a new chapter in feminism. The Harvey Weinstein guilty verdicts, while not a perfect victory, shifted the tone of the entire conversation surrounding sexual assault. The 2020 presidential race is giving us multiple new templates for what it looks like when a woman runs for commander in chief, pushing us just a little bit closer to a time when those templates will no longer be necessary.

And in fashion, specifically in Milan, Prada recently brokered a new kind of creative collaboration, announcing she was bringing in Raf Simons as her co-creative director to ostensibly inject a bit of outsider energy into the label that bears her name. It is a seismic shift at a brand that has exuded feminism by wholly redefining what it means to be beautiful, sexy and powerful without being beholden to the male gaze. Prada has welcomed Simons into her world. Welcome to the matriarchy.

What would a matriarchal fashion industry look like? One that was driven by female desire, self-possession and creativity? Would it include the latex leggings and pencil skirts Anthony Vaccarello put on the runway at Saint Laurent Tuesday night? Would they be worn by models with the legs of wobbly ponies?

Vaccarello emphasized the tension between polite society and the underground. He dignified fetish gear with his sophisticated color palette of violet and raspberry and pale blue. He gave aesthetic credence to the male gaze. His clothes might rile up feminists - or feminists might take ownership of his vision. But his clothes were voluble. Vaccarello dominated the conversation.

At Dior, folks heard the voices of women. They heard their anxiety, anger and self-doubt in a stream of babble: Were you in Milan? Your vagina is powerful. You are more than your anatomy.

The disappointment is Chiuri herself was silent.

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.

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

The Sanders bill for democracy: $50 trillion

By robert j. samuelson
The Sanders bill for democracy: $50 trillion

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Samuelson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By ROBERT J. SAMUELSON

WASHINGTON -- If you ever wondered how much Sen. Bernie Sanders' vast array of policy proposals would cost, we now have a reasonably good estimate from his own staff. The answer is about $50 trillion over the next decade. Sanders may or may not be a "democratic socialist" -- whatever that means -- but he clearly is a soak-the-rich radical who would dramatically expand the government's role, from cradle to grave.

Whether most Americans prefer Sanders' statist agenda to the alleged abuses of corporations and Wall Street (the notorious "top 1%") is what defines this election. Whatever the case, Sanders is proposing a hugely expensive transformation.

Let's examine the $50 trillion. The list below shows various spending programs that Sanders has proposed, with one important exception. The first item on the list is the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of the deficits under existing policies for the next decade. That figure is $13.1 trillion.

Sanders' Spending, 2021-2030

1. Deficits under existing policies: $13.1 trillion

2. "Free" college for all and the cancellation of existing student debt: $2.2 trillion

3. Expand Social Security and other retirement benefits: $1.4 trillion (estimated by the Progressive Policy Institute)

4. Housing for all: $2.5 trillion

5. Eliminating households' medical debt: $81 billion

6. Green New Deal (programs to stop global warming): $16.3 trillion

7. Universal childcare and preschool: $1.5 trillion

8. Medicare-for-all: $17.5 trillion

Total: $54.6 trillion

We can round off the table to $50 trillion. The object is not a precise estimate down to the last penny. The goal is to determine a correct order of magnitude for Sanders's plans. An estimate by the Progressive Policy Institute, a research and advocacy group, reached a similar total: $53 trillion.

To put these numbers in perspective, the CBO projects that, under existing laws, the federal government will spend $60.7 trillion over a decade. If Sanders' program costs $50 trillion over the same period, the size of government would expand by roughly 80%. If all the spending were covered by deficits, the publicly held federal debt would rise from $16.8 trillion in 2019 to $66.8 trillion in 2030. If all the spending were covered by tax increases, the overall level of taxation would roughly double.

Granted, all these projections are subject to qualifications. Still, they reveal the make-believe quality of Sanders's agenda, which is also largely mirrored by the proposals of his Democratic rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The presumption seems to be that if you want a new social program, whether Medicaid-for-all or free college, all you have to do is dial it up and the super-rich will pay for it.

This is a fantasy that, unfortunately, is sustained by simplistic media coverage that ignores the collective impact of all these various proposals.

"Sanders' proposals won't raise nearly as much money as he thinks they will," says Howard Gleckman of the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. "Even if they did, they won't pay for everything he wants."

For example, Sanders proposes a wealth tax on taxpayers with a net worth (assets minus liabilities) of $32 million or more. The tax would gradually rise from 1% up to 8% on fortunes exceeding $10 billion. Sanders estimates this will raise $4.35 trillion over a decade.

Not likely, says Gleckman. About half of the wealth of the rich is contained in privately held businesses that, unlike publicly traded stocks, are hard to value. He thinks the tax will raise far less than expected. "Rich people won't stand by and pay taxes," he says. "They will hire expensive lawyers to avoid taxes." Similar problems will erode revenues from a proposed tax on financial transactions, he says.

Even with some added tax revenues, there still would be a $25 trillion gap between Sanders's spending plans and an equivalent amount of new tax revenues, says analyst Ben Ritz of the PPI. Federal spending would approach 40% of gross domestic product (GDP), up from about 20% now.

The crucial issue is not deficits. It's what kind of government Americans want. Sanders and Warren advocate a high-tax-and-benefits system, patterned on European welfare states. Government expands power at the expense of private control. In truth, we've already gone a considerable distance down this path.

Do we want to go further? Our society is part socialist and part capitalist. The Sanders-Warren vision would make it less capitalist. The federal government would become an even larger apparatus for transferring wealth and income from one group to another. Economic growth would matter less than economic redistribution.

The danger of the Sanders-Warren approach is that we may overload the political system, assigning it more tasks than it could possibly accomplish -- and making more promises than it could possibly keep. The irony is palpable. What is undertaken to raise government's reputation may actually have the opposite effect by fanning disillusion.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post Writers Group

The Democrats' generational crisis

By e.j. dionne jr.
The Democrats' generational crisis

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, and thereafter)

(FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

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E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, and thereafter)

(FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

The Democrats' generational crisis

WASHINGTON -- The chaotic frenzy of the Democrats' South Carolina debate dramatized a generational crisis and a divisive conflict over how damaging the word "socialist" will be in a general election.

There was also this: No candidate other than Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has assembled a coherent and sustainable coalition.

These problems are related because whether Sanders can defeat President Trump -- the preoccupation of a large majority of Democratic voters -- depends on whether he can rally a large new pool of younger voters to the polls in November.

The evidence so far is not encouraging. Yes, Sanders is the overwhelming favorite among the young, but a huge wave of new voters under 35 has yet to materialize in the first contests.

In the meantime, Democrats who represent swing districts that gave their party control of the House of Representatives fear that Sanders would drive away the more moderate and suburban voters who helped them engineer often narrow 2018 victories.

For now, Sanders is in a commanding position because more than anyone else in his party, he has defined its debates since 2016 by shifting the entire political conversation in a more progressive direction. The evidence: Every one of his more moderate primary foes has put forward ideas well to left of those favored by an earlier generation of centrist Democrats.

As I argue in my book "Code Red," it was Sanders who spoke for the frustration among progressives, especially younger ones, with a political debate constricted since the Reagan Era by right-wing assumptions. After fending off a fall offensive by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sanders stands alone as this constituency's champion.

And it may come as a surprise, but Sanders' embrace of "democratic socialism" is actually helping him solidify this bloc in the primaries.

There are good reasons why young Americans have a far more favorable view of socialism and a more skeptical view of capitalism than their elders. Those under 35 came of age in the wake of the economic system's near implosion in Great Recession, and capitalism simply doesn't look as good to them in 2020 as it did to the younger generation of say, 1998.

And polling makes clear that the young are far more likely to associate socialism with Denmark (a happy and prosperous nation that played a supporting role in Tuesday's debate) than with the long dead Soviet Union.

But absent the voter surge Sanders is promising, older Americans will vote in a larger proportion in November than the young. And it is among older voters where deep skepticism about socialism rules.

In January, Gallup asked: "If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be a socialist, would you vote for that person?"

Among adults under 35 years old, 63% said yes. But only 42% of those aged 35-54 answered affirmatively, and just 35% of those over 55 said yes. Even among Democrats, 21% said they would not vote for a socialist; for independents, that figure was 51%.

The S-word would thus be a heavy burden to carry into a tightly-fought campaign, as a timely study by political scientists David Broockman and Joshua Kalla published Tuesday in Vox suggested.

In analyzing an early 2020 40,000-person survey, they found that "nominating Sanders would drive many Americans who would otherwise vote for a moderate Democrat to vote for Trump."

To offset these losses, Sanders "would need to boost turnout of young left-leaning voters enormously," Broockman and Kalla wrote. They conclude: "There are good reasons to doubt that Sanders' nomination would produce a youth turnout surge this large."

Even Democrats who respect Sanders worry about exactly this. That's why the candidates who oppose him shouted not just at Sanders but also over and at each other on Tuesday. As time runs short before the Super Tuesday primaries, each is vying to be the non-Sanders alternative who can save the party (and its House majority).

Former Vice President Joe Biden may yet become that candidate especially if his solid debate performance helps him win Saturday's South Carolina primary.

But it's late, and the yearning for someone other than Biden continues to scatter the non-Sanders vote, with former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg being the primary beneficiary of Biden anxiety.

Sanders has an argument, a base, and a lot of energy behind him. His foes have a strong case that he can't deliver on his promise to create a new electorate. But to get past him, one of them will need more than shouted warnings of impending catastrophe.

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

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Sanders is stirring up a sickening sense of deja vu

By dana milbank
Sanders is stirring up a sickening sense of deja vu

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON - On the stage in Charleston, South Carolina, Tuesday night stood one candidate who is running to be president - and six people running against the guy who is running to be president.

One by one, the Democratic candidates took shots at the self-described socialist who is suddenly the front-runner for the party's presidential nomination.

"If you think the last four years has been chaotic, divisive, toxic, exhausting, imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump," said former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg.

"Russia is helping you get elected," former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg told Sanders, "so you will lose to [Trump]."

Businessman Tom Steyer told Sanders, "The answer is not for the government to take over the private sector."

Former vice president Joe Biden pointed out that Sanders voted against an assault-weapons ban and in 2012 said "we should primary Barack Obama."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) declared that she "would make a better president than Bernie."

And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) informed Sanders that his "math does not add up" and that "we should pay attention to where the voters of this country are, Bernie."

Sanders scoffed, smirked, grimaced and glowered. "Not true!" he interjected, and "categorically incorrect!" He shook his head and waved his hand dismissively. "I'm hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight - I wonder why," the front-runner said.

He chose to parry by shouting counter-assaults - against Bloomberg, against Buttigieg, against Biden. The others joined in, and soon it was an all-out food fight, with rhetorical mashed potatoes landing everywhere. Warren hit Bloomberg, who hit Sanders. Biden hit Klobuchar, while Steyer hit Sanders and Bloomberg. Biden hit Steyer, and Warren pummeled Bloomberg.

Within the first few minutes, the CBS News moderators lost control. Candidates shouted at each other, talked over the moderators and interrupted at will. "He spoke over time, and I'm going to talk!" bellowed Biden. The audience cheered and booed as if watching professional wrestling.

The melee brought a sickening sense of deja vu.

After the South Carolina primary four years ago, on Feb. 22, 2016, I wrote:

"Are Republican voters really choosing as their standard-bearer a man who preaches such hatred and spews such vitriol?

"No, they aren't - at least not yet. But they may get Trump anyway.

"The good news is that only 32.5% of South Carolina Republicans voted for Trump. The bad news: Trump may not need the support of a majority of Republican voters to secure the nomination."

We now see a mirror image of this happening in the Democratic race. Sanders has only 29% support in polls, but the fragmented field prevents any one candidate from emerging as the alternative - much as the crowded field of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and the rest split the anti-Trump vote in the Republican primaries.

If this field remains splintered, the Democrats will soon find it's Sanders or nobody: Either Sanders wins the nomination outright or comes close enough that his angry supporters torpedo the nominee, assuring Trump's victory. If Tuesday night's dynamic holds, Democrats are on their way to opposing Trump with a 78-year-old socialist who recently suffered a heart attack, who has had nice things to say about nasty regimes around the world, and who has a $60 trillion spending plan without the means to pay for it.

Sanders' opponents sounded the alarm.

"Not only is this a way to get Donald Trump reelected," said Buttigieg. "We got a House to worry about. We got a Senate to worry about."

Said Bloomberg: "If you keep on going, we will elect Bernie. Bernie will lose to Donald Trump. And Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the statehouses will all go red."

Yet the candidates couldn't rise above their squabbles.

They vied to produce the best anti-Sanders barb. "Can anybody in this room imagine moderate Republicans going over and voting for him?" asked Bloomberg. Buttigieg accused Sanders of having "nostalgia for the revolution politics of the '60s."

But just as often the unfocused Democrats aimed their fire every which way. Warren took every opportunity to hammer away at Bloomberg, even using a question about Chinese manufacturing to denounce Bloomberg for failing to release his tax returns. She also invoked an allegation, denied by Bloomberg, that he once had told a pregnant employee to "kill it."

The audience booed.

"If we spend the next four months tearing our party apart, we're going to watch Donald Trump spend the next four years tearing our country apart," Klobuchar warned.

She's right. The winner of Tuesday night's debate was Trump.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

#NeverTrumpers are giving advice to #PleaseNotBernie Democrats. It won't help.

By megan mcardle
#NeverTrumpers are giving advice to #PleaseNotBernie Democrats. It won't help.

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Megan McArdle

WASHINGTON - Democrats seem to have decided to film a shot-for-shot remake of the 2016 Republican primaries, only with themselves in all the starring roles.

We all know who's taking a star turn as Donald Trump, the outsider whose strong faction of loyalists is propelling him, despite the party's best efforts, toward the nomination. But the other parallels are positively eerie, too, from Amy Klobuchar, the John Kasich-style moderate Midwesterner who seems intent on staying in the race long after it's clear she can't win, to Elizabeth Warren, the Ted Cruz of this cycle, who is attacking everyone but front-runner Bernie Sanders in hopes that come a brokered convention, she'll be the most palatable unity candidate. Joe Biden, the hopeless legacy candidate, even has the same initials as Jeb Bush.

#NeverTrump Republicans, having lived through this movie, have been cringing in their seats for quite some time, eyes half-covered as they poke the fellow to their left and whisper, "The end is nigh." I myself issued my first warning that something like this could happen to Democrats just three short days after the 2016 election.

Mostly, we have been ignored, and only now, when it looks almost too late, have Democrats fully realized the danger. Meanwhile, #NeverTrumpers have stopped whispering and begun shouting everything we learned from 2016 at our center-left counterparts, in the hopes that somehow those guys can write a new ending on the fly.

That shouted advice is generally good, and I certainly hope Democrats use it. But I fear that no matter what advice we offer, no matter what the #PleaseNotBernie Democrats try, it simply won't help.

First off, the most important thing Democrats could do is consolidate the non-Sanders lane down to one candidate. Which is all very sensible, but everyone thinks they ought to be that one candidate, so self-interest is likely to dominate common sense, just as Rubio, Kasich and Cruz all stayed in in 2016, blocking each other and handing the nomination to Trump.

But the easier lessons you could offer have rapidly been drained of relevance. Looking back at myself in 2016, I can imagine all sorts of steps I'd have advised Democrats to take to keep a Trumpian figure from dominating their primaries.

I'd have warned them not to let nostalgia for past presidents lure them into pouring all their energy and money into a weak candidate like Jeb Bush (or Hillary Clinton). I'd have suggested they allocate convention delegates in proportion to a candidate's share of the vote, rather than allowing the winner-take-all or winner-take-more primaries that gave Trump a majority of delegates with a plurality of votes. Heck, I might even have recommended ranked-choice voting, which Maine uses for local elections, because it's supposed to favor moderates.

And in case all those measures failed, I'd certainly have suggested having some fallback mechanism for party leaders to overrule voters who might not understand, or care about, the difficulties of building an electoral coalition broad enough to actually win the presidency, take both houses of the Congress and get something done.

Sound ideas all, none of which would have worked - or rather, none of which have worked. Because Democratic donors didn't go all-in for Biden the way GOP donors did for Bush, handing him $100 million to waste garnering 2.8 percent of the vote in Iowa. Meanwhile, the Democratic primaries are in fact proportional, and two out of three of the races so far have been caucuses, which resemble ranked-choice voting. And the Democrats do have an emergency brake in the superdelegate system. Only it's already clear they won't be able to use it without splitting the party and losing the general election.

Because maybe the truth runs deeper. Maybe there was no way to write a new ending for this script. Perhaps vast structural changes are sweeping through the American political system, and trying to halt them with rule tweaks and tut-tutting is like trying to fight a whirlwind with a toothbrush.

Then again, it's also possible that one reason the current Democratic efforts look so futile is that Sanders supporters have before them the shining example of Donald Trump. He demonstrates it's possible to initiate a coup against the leaders of a party you don't even really belong to, and find yourself, when the guns stop blazing, in control of not just the party but also the White House. I do wonder if that precedent won't make it much harder to stop Sanders - whether #NeverTrumpers' louder and louder warnings have proved useless not just because the center-left left saw things too late but because we did, too.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump attacks a private citizen for doing her civic duty

By ruth marcus
Trump attacks a private citizen for doing her civic duty

RUTH MARCUS COLUMN

(SPECIAL COLUMN for Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Marcus clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Ruth Marcus

WASHINGTON - President Trump attacked the federal prosecutors in the Roger Stone case, calling them "these corrupt people." He went after the judge who oversaw Stone's prosecution. But these assaults, unwarranted as they are, pale by comparison to Trump's unprecedented and unceasing assault on the jury forewoman.

Even as U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson was holding a hearing Tuesday on Stone's allegations of jury bias, Trump was tweeting - again, this time from India - about the juror. "There has rarely been a juror so tainted as the forewoman in the Roger Stone case," Trump asserted. "Look at her background. She never revealed her hatred of 'Trump' and Stone. She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn't even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch!"

Yes, sad to watch a president so out of control. As Jackson noted at Tuesday's hearing, "Any attempt to harass or intimidate jurors is completely antithetical to our system of justice." Not that Trump has any understanding of, or respect for, our system of justice.

Jury service is a solemn, onerous and sometimes scary obligation. The identity of the Stone jurors was kept secret - not from prosecutors or defense lawyers but from the public, a reflection of how ordinary people summoned for jury duty can find themselves in the crosshairs of social media fury, or worse.

The reason we now know the identity of the forewoman, previously identified only as Juror 1261, is that she outed herself with a Facebook post defending the Stone prosecutors after Trump said the case "was totally out of control" and, referring to the prosecutors, asserting that "people were hurt viciously and badly by these corrupt people."

The forewoman - and I see no reason to further intrude on her privacy by naming her here - wrote on her Facebook account that she had "kept my silence for months" about the Stone case, initially "for my safety," then "out of fear of politicizing the matter."

But, she said, "I can't keep quiet any longer" after the four prosecutors withdrew from the case when their sentencing recommendation was overturned by officials in the Justice Department. "It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors," she wrote. "They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice."

And with that, precisely what she had feared occurred. Stone's defenders went after her record, scoured her social media accounts - and flayed her as an anti-Trump, partisan Democratic lawyer who had no doubt bullied her fellow jurors into unfairly convicting Stone. The case against the juror was that she had run as a Democrat for political office, was a Democratic activist and contributor and had posted comments highly critical of Trump, including referring to him with the hashtag #KlanPresident and exclaiming, "Gotta love it!" when a profanity was projected onto the front of Trump's D.C. hotel.

It didn't take long for Trump to get in on the act. "Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias," he tweeted the day after the Facebook post. "Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the 'Justice' Department."

A week later, after Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison, the president returned to the attack. "It's my strong opinion that the forewoman of the jury, the woman who was in charge of the jury, is totally tainted," he said in Las Vegas. "When you take a look, how can you have a person like this? She was an anti-Trump activist. Can you imagine this?"

In fact, the juror's identity and background were known to defense lawyers, who could have asked the judge to disqualify her; they didn't. In fact, the judge did question the juror about whether she could put aside her partisan leaning to give Stone a fair trial; she said she could. In fact, the forewoman had just one, equal vote out of 12. As another juror in the case, Seth Cousins, described the deliberations, "Our foreperson oversaw a rigorous process, slowing us down on several occasions and advocating for the rights of the defendant."

Whether the juror engaged in misconduct is not relevant to my argument, which is that there are right ways and wrong ways of dealing with such claims. The right way is to leave it to the judicial system. The wrong way is to make her the target - yet another target - of presidential bullying.

Any of us could be Juror 1261, called to serve - only to end up in Trump's crosshairs.

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

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

The coronavirus is tanking the stock market. Here's what not to do.

By michelle singletary
The coronavirus is tanking the stock market. Here's what not to do.

THE COLOR OF MONEY COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Singletary clients only)

nd WRITETHRU: Adds states for sources: California CPA Doug Radtke and CFP Corbin Blackwell of New York.

By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

WASHINGTON -- The spread of the coronavirus is spooking investors, and the result has been some significant drops this week.

By the time the markets closed on Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average was down more than 1,900 points, 6.59% over two days, after news reports that the health scare was widening around the world - the worst two-day percentage loss in two years.

Other benchmarks -- the S&P 500 and NASDAQ -- also plunged amid the coronavirus-fueled volatility.

But the dives are more about people's fears than the facts, according to certified financial planners (CFPs) and certified public accountants (CPAs) I polled. The one thing they all recommended: Don't panic and jump completely out of the stock market - even if you're retired.

Steven Podnos is a fee-only investment adviser based in Florida who also happens to be a critical care doctor in the Air Force Reserve.

"As a physician, the coronavirus looks no more virulent than influenza, so the impact is likely to be temporary and of little long-term concern," he told me.

Clearly the burgeoning number of cases of coronavirus worldwide is worrisome. South Korea, Italy and Iran reported sharp increases in cases this past week. There have been more than 2,600 deaths in China, where the virus originated.

However, contrast this with the number of Americans who die each year from the flu, Podnos said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there were 34,200 deaths in the U. S. from influenza during the 2018-2019 flu season. As of Tuesday, more than 50 people in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"If you look at infections outside of China, the mortality looks very, very low," Podnos said. "And the people who are dying tend to be the old and immuno-suppressed or otherwise sick."

As an investor, it's not that you shouldn't be concerned about how the spread of the virus will impact businesses -- especially those with manufacturing partners in China, considering that the country is a major player in the global economy. But resist your instinct to flee equities, echoed Lynn Ballou, a CFP in Lafayette, California.

"Right now is the time to be thoughtful and not to be driven by fear," said Ballou. She added that it's like when her father was teaching her to drive and cautioned that if she started to lose control of her car in bad weather, she should steer into the skid.

"I looked at him and said, 'That sounds like the opposite thing I should be doing,'" she said. "But in fact, that's exactly right."

This advice may not work for newer front-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles, but the general instruction about keeping calm and steering in the direction you want to go still applies when it comes to investing.

Keep in mind what happened during the Great Recession, when many people panicked and sold all of their stock holdings, Ballou said. Those who realized later that they needed growth to keep pace with inflation had to get back into the market.

"So when did they buy back in? Did they wait until the market had already completely recovered? Basically what they did was sold low and bought high," Ballou said.

If you've got decades before you plan to retire, you can afford to keep steering into stocks.

"Increase your investing amounts," said David Holland, another Florida-based CFP. "No one should let one event or one day's market activity dictate their overall financial, investing and retirement plans."

OK, if you're five to 10 years from retirement, you may be wondering: What about me?

"Remember that just because retirement is on the horizon, doesn't mean you should sell out of your entire portfolio during the first signs of a market downturn, as many retirees will need their portfolios to last for 20-plus years," said Betterment CFP Corbin Blackwell of New York.

For the vast majority of clients who are less than a few decades out from retirement, California CPA Doug Radtke recommends a more conservative portfolio allocation: a 60/40 investment mix of equities and fixed-income products.

"Consider looking for recession-proof fund mixes that include stocks for businesses that succeed even in slower times -- such as water utilities or certain consumer products," Radtke said.

Retired already?

All the financial planners and CPAs suggest that you should have money set aside -- three to five years' worth of your income needs -- that isn't impacted by roller-coaster swings in the stock market.

"Fortunes are made and lost during volatile times," said Daniel Morris, a CPA in California. "A diversified portfolio limits the gains and limits the losses in order to maintain some equitable smoothness."

So, what's the takeaway if you're saving for retirement?

The stock market will do what it does -- rise and fall. If you've got a plan based on your risk tolerance and investment horizon, don't let fear make you swerve in the wrong direction and lose traction.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

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