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All those reality shows you loved about people's weight, marriage and kids? They're back - and nicer

By Hank Stuever
All those reality shows you loved about people's weight, marriage and kids? They're back - and nicer
Cast members of the new iteration of

Our world is dangerously inflamed and imperiled - literally, politically and always metaphorically - yet nothing remains as fascinating as another person's travails, the next-door drama that's threaded in with the mundane.

Bedtime and screen time, for example. Have you seen how other people raise their kids? Have you seen how they keep house? Did you hear what the husband said to the wife? Did you see their toddler throw a tantrum in the pizza place?

And how much weight do you think your middle school science teacher has put on in the past few years? What do you think he's up to now? Three hundred pounds - 350, maybe? He should take his shirt off and stand on a giant digital scale for all to see. How much do you think he's lost so far? Forty pounds, easy. But how much has he lost this week?

And don't you feel terrible for the family down the street? The single mom, with the daughter who has that rare illness? No insurance. They might lose their house. Doesn't it just break your heart? The old Formica counters in their kitchen, I mean?

These were the stories that preoccupied an earlier era of reality TV in the mid- to late-2000s, when millions of people tuned into prime-time network shows that, in their overblown way, were about everyday Americans in everyday houses with everyday problems.

The feelings they stirred never went away. Those shows felt real in a way that pop-singer competitions, petulant Real Housewives, conniving Survivors and certainly Donald Trump and his servile apprentices could never achieve, by focusing on the anxieties of the working middle class, the utterly average and totally overwhelmed.

Is it any wonder that we're still desperately curious about one another, in these dis-United States? Is that why so many of those vicariously domestic reality shows have come back in recent weeks? This time they're airing on the wasteland of cable TV, which has become its own kind of flyover territory.

"The Biggest Loser," which premiered on NBC in 2004 and lasted 18 seasons - through thousands of tearfully and painfully shed excess pounds - returned in January to USA. "Wife Swap," a deliberately confrontational study in class differences and household gender roles, premiered on ABC in 2004 and lasted an astonishing 124 episodes (and blessed us with some of the internet's earliest memes). Paramount Network revived the show last spring; it's back now for a second season.

The British import "Supernanny" premiered in 2005 on ABC and lasted seven seasons, a fascinating (if earsplitting) act of crisis intervention in the American suburbs, where parents had lost control of their spoiled toddlers and entitled tweens. It returned in January on Lifetime, still willing to enter the screaming fray with stern disciplinary techniques.

More intensely, there is "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," a Sunday-night staple on ABC for the better part of the aughts. It featured an army of volunteers, led by a carpenter host and his team of designers, who would completely demolish and rebuild the home of a suitably needy or deserving family - a tearful exchange of conspicuous do-gooderism long before the GoFundMe era in charity. It returned two weeks ago, this time on HGTV.

Each of those shows signed off in what felt like a purge of common-man narratives from the reality genre, as networks doubled-down on celebrity status and lost interest in the idea that anybody is everybody. Reality TV stopped going into people's cluttered and chaotic living situations, to document their joys and heartaches; to remedy some of their tangible suffering.

Retooled and revived for cable, these shows feel like old friends who've acquired a quieter, easier outlook on life. They are still propelled by a vital thread of inquiry: Who are we in our homes, at our tables, with our families and our worries? Who cries out for help? And who answers?

The new "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (Sundays on HGTV), now hosted by "Modern Family" actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, is a surprise antidote to HGTV's relentless promotion of the upgraded lifestyle. It reminds the channel's viewers that not everyone is in the market for a teardown lake house that they can replace with a luxe vacation home.

As ever, "Extreme Makeover" instead aids the have-nots, as curious about the narrative of need as Charles Dickens was. Here, volunteers and business sponsors step in where the state will not. In the Feb. 16 premiere, the show travels to Kern County, California, where a social worker, Jessica Mosley, is a single mom with five children - three of whom she adopted when she learned that the court had deemed them non-adoptable. "It was something that weighed heavy on my heart," she says, so she took in the three siblings herself.

From there, it's a brief litany of disaster: Jessica's father died and she lost the home he'd paid for, through some complicated matter with his Veterans Affairs loan. So Jessica and her kids moved into the three-bedroom, one-bathroom, Cinderella-style mid-century ranch home owned by Jessica's mother, Pam.

It isn't long before Ferguson, accompanied by three professional designers and a horde of local volunteers, is barking commands at two burly bulldozer drivers (whom he's humorously christened "Carol" and "Patricia") to tear the house down to its foundation.

Just as before, I am more transfixed by the brief glimpse "Extreme Makeover" gives us of the house in its "before" state and the family's tour of their cramped conditions - three teenage sisters sharing one small closet; an adolescent boy who still has to share a room with his big sister; a kitchen barely large enough for everyone to gather. Dare one desire to linger here longer, and sense the love and coziness in these surroundings, which they show as drab and down-market? I wish the show took another few minutes to honor the nobility in having just enough, before it showers its recipients with much too much.

"Extreme Makeover" still blows in with a clamorous sense of purpose and promotional gifts: a local builder donates the entire house; the brand of the paint is mentioned, as is the instantly recognizable name of the appliance store that provides the high-tech refrigerator. No one ever says a word about what this largesse might do to the family's tax bracket or the neighborhood's property values, but no one ever did in the old show, either.

After the show's climactic shouts of "MOVE! THAT! BUS!," Jessica and her mother and children weep with joy at the two-story, 3,200-square-foot, Spanish-style, five-bedroom (and 4½-bathroom) mini-manse that replaces their old house, while the viewer basks in all that communal goodwill. It's like participating in a barn-raising, without ever getting up. There's a neighborliness to it that's often absent from reality TV, and a true heart beneath the show's lachrymose (and trademark) style of promoting its own saintliness.

And it's all come back just as the economic signals are as mixed as they were in the show's original heyday. Are we living in ceaseless boom times or on the verge of a precarious tumble? Will it take our houses with it? Where else to assuage our fears about all this than on HGTV, which forever shelters the domestic dream from any reality that's too real?

The ever manipulative "Wife Swap" (Thursdays on Paramount Network), which burned furiously and fascinatingly in the '00s, has softened a bit, but it's still the perfect show for the viewer who never believed the reliable adage that the only people who really know what's going on in a marriage are the two people in it. "Wife Swap" acknowledges and even honors that chronic, Gladys Kravitz-like nosiness in viewers to get inside other people's relationships, a mission that's accomplished here by asking one wife to trade places with another for several days.

Since it's 2020, things have evolved. "Wife Swap" happily subverts old gender norms, sending spouses from same-sex marriages and also stay-at-home dads into the process, and not just as novelty acts. "Wife Swap's" remaining outliers are the demonstrably extreme - the family, for example, that home-schools their children and believes there is no way to prove the Earth is round.

The show originally depended on excessive and often unseemly conflict, as the new mom/wife observed how the other family lives and then enacted some temporary rules of her own. The couples compare notes at the end and bicker about the faults they've found in each other's ways of life.

The format, along with the voyeuristic pleasures, are still intact: You get to peer deeply into other people's kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms, while peering just as deeply into their dysfunctions. You get to see lazy children (and even lazier husbands) squeal with horror at being ordered by the substitute matriarch to clean up after themselves.

The show reintroduced itself last year by swapping a strict, health-conscious wife and mother named Virginia with a less strict, stay-at-home father and husband named Bo. Off they went to different parts of Atlanta, where the show is produced and filmed (the megalopolis seen here is less about Georgia being on the mind than it is about an exurban dream-construct, a Georgia of the mind). She goes to Bo's middle-class neighborhood, he goes to her McMansionville.

Virginia recoils at Bo's kitchen pantry, stocked with harmful fats and salty treats, and denies his children their daily chicken nuggets. Bo, meanwhile, pities the husband and children living under Virginia's regimen, and lets them play video games and eat chips. It's perhaps too easy to know whom to root for, right up to the very end, when we learn that Virginia and her husband have since separated.

While reveling in the salient class cues, a viewer may notice some slight progress in how the subjects communicate. It's not all fighting - there seems to be a concentrated effort from the producers to emphasize the participants' similarities as much as their differences.

In a nation obsessed with divisions, "Wife Swap" more often ends on a note of agreement and reconciliation. It's a subtle but noteworthy shift that underscores the value of such shows: The more we get a look at how other people live - even in the hyper-produced, stage-managed arena of "unscripted" television - the more we might understand one another.

The revived version of "Supernanny" (Fridays on Lifetime) seems at first unchanged, but it, too, has sanded off some of its more judgmental edge. Childcare expert Jo Frost is still firmly in charge, but she long ago chucked the corny, Mary Poppins accoutrements (the black London cab car; the intimidating uniform). She's now almost 50, wiser and less intimidating. She counsels the millennial generation of parents, whose toddlers are as wildly intractable as those who came before.

"Supernanny" still goes more deeply into the American household than any other reality show - a remarkable feat of openness in a social media age where mommies and daddies post self-edited, positive spins on their lives, all smiles and no misery. Frost's methods are the same (consistent rules, effective consequences; sit in your chair properly and finish your dinner), but the stakes don't seem as dire. The message is that no home has to be perfect, because what home ever is?

We're no longer tuning in to project scorn on one another's decisions and lifestyles, but also to relate. It's an especially gratifying watch, I'd imagine, for people who survived the worst of the tantrum years, yet remain sentimental about the experience.

Speaking of some heaped scorn, "The Biggest Loser" (Tuesdays on USA) returned in January to the same criticisms that hounded it years ago: health concerns, lasting physical effects (many of the show's big losers regained their weight) and mixed signals about body shaming. Little has changed in nearly two decades, except perhaps the boilerplate text at the end of the show that puts more emphasis on the controlled medical supervision of the show's 12 contestants.

This "Biggest Loser" claims to emphasize lifestyle changes over the numbers on the scale, even if that scale is still an enormous digital display of week-to-week losses revealed during a tense weigh-in, which still leads to contestant eliminations.

Yet here, too, the intensity has been dialed down a tad in exchange for slightly longer segments spent exercising empathy, through longer group discussions and emotional breakthroughs. No one talks anymore about a cash jackpot at the end of the slim-fit rainbow, nor do the participants dwell on grand notions about magically changing their circumstances.

Perhaps, at long last, "The Biggest Loser" has finally admitted to itself that America will always have a weight problem. The intimacy the show offers adheres entirely to format, but it works for those of us who never stop wondering how the rest of the world copes.

- - -

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (one hour) airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HGTV.

"The Biggest Loser" (one hour) airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on USA.

"Wife Swap" (one hour) airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Paramount Network.

"Supernanny" (one hour) airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.

Delhi morgue shows carnage after riots during Trump's India trip

By Muneeza Naqvi
Delhi morgue shows carnage after riots during Trump's India trip
A woman peeks through the gate to the mortuary at the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital in Delhi, India, on Feb. 26, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Prashanth Vishwanathan.

Some sobbed quietly in the corner. Others angrily railed against India's government. And still more -- Hindus and Muslims alike -- just sat catatonic with grief as bodies wrapped in white shrouds were wheeled in and out of a hospital mortuary in northeast Delhi.

The scenes captured the grim aftermath of the worst communal violence to hit India's capital in nearly three decades, triggered by Hindu groups who attacked mostly Muslim protesters demonstrating against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new religion-based citizenship law. At least 30 people died and more than 200 were injured over three days of rioting, according to the most recent tally from the state-run Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital.

Family members of the deceased said the violence began spiraling Sunday soon after Kapil Mishra, a member of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, threatened to take action if police didn't clear the protesters before the end of President Donald Trump's two-day state visit. By the time the American leader showed up on Monday, the violence had already spun out of control.

Delhi has been a hotspot in deadly protests that swept across India after the parliament, dominated by Modi's Hindu nationalist party, passed the Citizenship Amendment Act in December. The measure, which fast-tracks citizenship for religious minorities from neighboring countries but excludes Muslims, became a lightning rod in the city's local elections this month: Some BJP members even exhorted mobs to violence against those protesting the law.

Although Modi's party was resoundingly defeated in the Delhi vote, it still has control over the city's police and other security agencies, which report to Home Minister Amit Shah -- the prime minister's right-hand man. A two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court upbraided the city's police for not controlling the mobs and directed officers to ensure safe passage of ambulances to hospitals.

Anger at the police was palpable among grieving relatives in the northeast Delhi hospital. Rohit Solanki, 24, said his family had been waiting for the results of an autopsy for nearly two days before it could collect the body of his older brother Rahul, who he said was shot in the neck minutes after he stepped outside to buy some milk.

"Papa had been calling the police non-stop all afternoon on Monday," Solanki said. "The violence kept getting worse. We kept asking for help but no police came."

Footage showed shops and cars on fire, buildings gutted, and gangs of men armed with sticks and rocks roaming the streets. At least three reporters were injured as rioters attacked them for filming the clashes. Digital news portal The Wire showed a vandalized mosque in western Delhi, where a flag featuring the Hindu god Hanuman was placed on the minaret.

On Wednesday, Modi called for calm and said police and other agencies were working "to ensure peace and harmony." Ajit Doval, his national security adviser who has been briefing Modi and Shah, said the violence was under control and police were doing their jobs, Press Trust of India reported in the early morning hours on Thursday.

Mishra, the BJP member whose comments helped spark the violence, said he was getting death threats, in a defense of his actions posted on Twitter this week. He said that supporting the citizenship bill, asking for roads to open and "telling the truth" weren't crimes, adding: "I don't fear this massive hate campaign against me."

The worst of the violence appeared to end on Tuesday, Trump's last day in the country. At a press briefing in Delhi, the U.S. president praised Modi's commitment to religious freedom and declined to comment on the riots. "That's up to India," he said.

On Wednesday, victims with bullet wounds still kept entering the northeast Delhi hospital: A man hit in the chest, a teenager with blood dripping from his shoulder. Sunil Kumar, the medical superintendent of the hospital, said at least 30% of those injured had gunshot injuries and an equal number suffered blunt force trauma.

Mohammed Imran said he had been waiting at the morgue nearly 48 hours after his 32-year-old younger brother Mohammed Furqan bled out from a bullet wound to the leg. Imran said the violence appeared pre-planned, as the police failed to act while outsiders with guns entered a neighborhood where Hindus and Muslims had long coexisted peacefully.

"If the government wanted to, it could've stopped it on Sunday," he said. "The police stood there and did nothing. They were even instigating the crowds."

Most of those waiting at the morgue said the violence had abated in their neighborhoods for now, but tensions remained high.

"We are afraid," Imran said. "Who can say what will happen tomorrow."

- - -

Bloomberg's Bibhudatta Pradhan contributed to this report.

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."

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

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



(For Samuelson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


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


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


By E.J. Dionne Jr.

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


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



(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.



(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


(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

(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.


(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.


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 Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook ( 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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