Thursday, May 25, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Political Houdini?

Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary) was
the world’s most famous escape artist. Whether it was
handcuffs, strait jackets, locked chains,water tortures, being
buried alive or numerous other sensational predicaments,
Houdini always escaped -- to the amazement and delight of
his skeptical audiences around the world.

Houdini was also an illusionist, magician, actor, historian,
plane pilot, film producer, a debunker of spiritualism, and
one of history’s great self-promoters. Houdini passed away 
in 1926, but his reputation for amazing escapes remains
strong after almost 100 years.

Donald Trump is probably the most unlikely person ever
elected president of the United States, and remains an
extraordinarily controversial political figure. Since his
announcement that he would run for president in 2015, he
has continually been underestimated as an electoral figure.
Each time his opponents, critics and the establishment media
have pronounced his political demise, he has come back
stronger than before.

The latest example occurred just before his departure for his
first foreign trip as president. Democrats and the media put
themselves into a frenzy over still unsubstantiated charges of
Trump campaign collusion with Russia, and  many were openly
discussing impeachment. Mr. Trump’s poll numbers went
down. Government “leaks” seemed ubiquitous.

Then, as he has done so many times previously in the past year,
his successful performance in the Middle East and Europe (so
far) has quelled (for the time being) the anti-Trump clamor.
His poll numbers have risen notably, and media attacks have
been muted. A Harvard University study (hardly a source of
pro-Trump applause) just confirmed the overwhelming bias
against the president in the establishment media.

President Trump now will return to the domestic political
battlefield. Democrats are pouring cash and other resources
into upcoming special congressional elections for seats now
held by Republicans. DC pundits are speculating that more GOP
U.S. house incumbents seats are now vulnerable in 2018.
Congressional investigations continue. Major, but controversial
legislative goals remain unrealized.

There is, of course, no  guarantee that Mr. Trump will always be
successful in escaping the “handcuffs and chains” that the
derisive public relations war against him is attempting to
impose on him.

Harry Houdini always escaped (although he had some very close
calls), and amazed the world for decades.

Will Donald Trump continue to defy the incessant and
clamorous predictions of his political defeat?

Only the voters, perhaps, can answer this question, but it’s
quite a show.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Challenger In Minnesota Has Unique Geneology

Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-MN) is once again being targeted
by Democrats for his suburban Minneapolis 3rd district seat.

In 2016, the liberal party (called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor
Party or DFL) put up a well-known moderate in its effort to
unseat the popular five-term legislator in this upscale swing
district which voted strongly for Hillary Clinton in the
presidential election. Nevertheless, Mr. Paulsen won by 14 points
while Mrs. Clinton carried the district by 10 points.

For the next election in 2018, DFL businessman Dean Phillips has
announced he will oppose the congressman. Mr. Phillips is the heir
to a third-generation Minnesota liquor fortune, and he himself has
created and sold a gelato business. Although he has no electoral
experience as a candidate, he does have the unique distinction of
having perhaps the nation’s two most famous newspaper advice
columnists, Abigail Van Buren (“Dear Abby”) and “Ann Landers”
as his forebears.  Abigail and Landers were actually twin sisters,
Pauline and Esther Friedman, who became rivals in the newspaper
advice business. Pauline was Phillips’ grandmother, and Esther was
his great-aunt.

The “Dear Abby” column is now being written by her daughter
Jeanne Phillips, Dean’s aunt.

But DNA alone will not get Mr. Phillips past Congressman Paulsen,
a member of the powerful house ways and mean committee, and
the dean of the Minnesota delegation in Congress. Nor, does it
seem that President Trump’s fortunes next year will very likely
affect this contest. Mr. Paulsen did not endorse Mr. Trump in
2016, and has maintained a reputation for being an independent
conservative.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Siege Of Words

There is a venerable child’s saying that goes:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never hurt me.”


Today, five months into the new administration of President
Donald Trump, his opponents, especially those in the media,
have laid an ongoing siege to the chief executive who shattered
their predictions and preferences last November by defeating
Hillary Clinton in the biggest upset since Harry Truman won
over Thomas Dewey in 1948.

This siege, unlike those of medieval times, is not being enforced
by “stick and stones” --- or even arrows and mortars --- as were
those fabled, and often successful, military sieges of the past.

Instead, the strategy of those who wish to take down the new
chief executive is mere words, many of them simply not true.

As a serious poet, short story writer, essayist, as well as
political journalist, I have an inherent interest in the power and
utility of language. When I say “mere words,” I am not
deprecating language, literature or journalism. I am, however,
indicting the use of words which have no substance in them or
behind them.

Many Americans did not vote for Donald Trump. Many simply
do not like him or his politics. That’s o.k. It’s a free country, and
the way our system works.

We also have many institutions to balance off the actions of a
president, including two houses of Congress, lower federal
courts and the supreme court, the media, and the ballot box.

It so happens that Mr. Trump won the presidential election at
the ballot box (not a plurality of the popular vote, but in the
constitutionally-mandated electoral college). His political party
also won control of both houses of Congress. Many in the lower
federal judiciary were appointed by Democrats; the supreme
court is divided almost in half. Most of the so-called
establishment print and broadcast media is liberal, but there
is also now a significant conservative media, especially among
radio talks shows, a few major newspapers and magazines,
and among opinion journalists.

Public polling shows Mr. Trump consistently under 50%
favorable, but usually in the mid-40s. (Although former
President Obama had higher poll numbers initially, he was
under 50% for most of his two terms.)

There is a duty of an opposition party to oppose. It is not only
understandable, but necessary, for Democrats to oppose any
policies of Mr Trump and his administration with which they
disagree. That’s the way our system works best. It is the
responsibility of the federal judiciary to block any executive
branch actions which are unconstitutional --- with the U.S.
supreme court as the final arbiter. It is the responsibility of all
in the media to treat the actions of both political parties with
honest and healthy skepticism, especially those opinion
journalists who express a point of view of any kind.

But, as I have been pointing out for months now, the public
expects its “news” organizations to present a fair and honest
account of the news. As I have said again and again: “The
front page is not the editorial page.”

Let me very specific.

An ongoing narrative in the establishment (read: anti-Trump)
media is that there is a political, and even legal, “scandal”
regarding President Trump and his relationship with the
government of Russia. This narrative is continued on the news
pages and new programs in a series of news “facts” --- many of
them from unnamed sources. The latest example of this is the
story originating in The Washington Post that the president
personally gave classified secrets to Russia. Although this
allegation has been strongly refuted by top officials in the
government, including those “in the room with the president”
when the alleged act took place, it is being reported as news
“fact” by the establishment media. One of these top officials
is General H.R. McMasters, a national security advisor to the
president, who has an impeccable reputation for honesty. The
Post will not name its sources. Its news pages (and editorial
pages) are constantly filled with anti-Trump stories.

Is it possible that the allegations are true? Of course it is
possible, and the allegations may fairly be made by opinion
journalists and named sources in an editorial context. But
so far it is not “news” --- and considering the source, the
allegations are “fake news,” something which has been
proliferating since (and before) last January 20th.

Incidentally, as president of the United States, Mr. Trump
has the legal right to release any classified information he
wishes to whomever he wishes. Even if the allegations were
true, the media does not reveal that any wrongdoing has taken
place. Some reports now state that Mr. Trump might have
shared information about an ISIS terrorism plot originating
from a non-U.S. source. If so, that would be the president's
judgment call.

We are seeing tactics, as some have pointed out, used by
Senator Joe McCarthy decades ago, and now used by
Democrats, liberals, and some Republicans --- the very
persons who used to complain about McCarthyism.)

Beyond that, the whole Trump-Russian narrative has no
“facts” at all. Yes, campaign officials met with Russian
officials (as did Clinton campaign officials and Democratic
congressional leaders), but what are the facts of what
happened in those meetings? (In one case, that of General
Flynn, he failed to tell the president and the vice president
of his meetings --- and he was promptly fired.)

There are many policies of the new administration which
are genuinely controversial. The new president has made
some mistakes, as every president in both parties does.
There is plenty for the opposition to bring up, and for the
media, to examine skeptically. That does not, however,
justify a weak opposition’s reliance on “fake news,” innuendo
and spitefulness in their public responsibilities.

Fort White House and Fort Mar Al Lago are under prolonged
sieges, but they are so far only sieges of words. They will no
doubt continue until next year’s mid-term elections. Who will
pay the greater price for this verbal warfare?

The answer will come when the voter cavalry arrives in 2018,
and whom they rescue.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.




Friday, May 12, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Saudade" --- Should We Adopt It?

Here’s a foreign word most Americans would likely not ever
come across: saudade (sou-DAH-dthay).

It’s a word in the Portuguese language, and is often used not
only in its home country, but also in a land where Portuguese
is spoken the most --- Brazil.

In fact, it might surprise most Americans who speak English
as their native tongue to learn that about 270 million persons,
210 million in Brazil alone. speak this ancient romance language
derived, as most European languages were, from Latin. (The
Roman province where Portugal is located was called Lusitania.)
Portugal, with a population of about 11 million, isn’t even the
second largest nation speaking Portuguese. Two former
colonies, Angola and Mozambique, each with about 26 million
persons, have it as their official language. Portuguese is the
sixth most spoken language in the world.

So much for mere numbers.

Every language has at least a few words which are mostly
untranslatable. Saudade is one of those words in Portuguese.
Of course, there are a number of English words which hint at
its meaning, particularly “melancholy,” “nostalgia,” and
“longing for the past.” But those words don’t quite capture a
certain mood in the Portuguese/Brazilian character for the same
reason why popular American music, and the popular music of
any other ancient national peoples, have so many differences.

It is perhaps especially hard to translate saudade into English
which is so rich in vocabulary and diction, but not in emotion.

Nevertheless, in recent decades there has arisen considerable
popular American interest in the bossa nova and the samba,
those distinctive forms in Lusitanian-Brazilian music and
dance.

It should come as no surprise, that there is often much saudade
in the music of the bossa nova and the samba.

In fact, the rise of modern jazz and blues in American music
might be thought to bring new elements of emotion to our
popular music.

But why am I making so much about this one word?

Occasionally, a word usually limited to one country or one
culture, and not found anywhere else, captures a more universal
meaning and use because global circumstances have a use for it.

As an American whose family emigrated from northern Europe,
and a writer immersed in his own language, the emotional
nuances of more southern or even Mediterranean cultures are an
acquired taste. I do speak Spanish as a second language, but not
Portuguese --- and although derived from the same source, and
simultaneously, on the same ancient Iberian peninsula, Spanish
and Portuguese carry many different senses of feeling and
emotion.

As I’ve grown older, and particularly as I have passed through
probably the most dynamic period of global technological change,
I have found myself often thinking back not only about experiences,
and “things” and “places” which existed in the past, but no longer.
I find then there occurs feelings which are not merely “nostalgia,”
but something more. These are not just memories, as are often
called back to mind, but they produce also an intense emotion, a
powerful sadness ---as one might feel when something is
irretrievably lost.

If the reader is about fifty years old or younger, this might well
not be a something they share or recognize. Even younger folks
who are used to ever-changing devices, dynamic images, and
new and faster forms of transportation, the non-rhetorical and
emotive sense of saudade might seem like gibberish, or (OMG)
too poetic, or worse, an alien notion.

I think, however, that my older readers --- even those from
Nordic, Anglo-Saxon or Teutonic origins --- perhaps might have
on occasion a sense of saudade, and the extra-rational feelings it
invokes.

In another age, saudade might have easily been limited, as it
indeed was, to those who spoke a particular language and shared
some particular national experiences. Even in recent times,
memories of childhood and its objects, old films, old songs,
youthful adventures, persons known long ago and places visited
when young, have provoked conventional nostalgic feelings,
including their accompanying emotions, but I suggest that the
incredible velocities of change in almost every aspect of our lives
is now also producing a special emotion of loss as we recede from
the past so abruptly and so quickly.

In English there is no good word for this. Perhaps our
Portuguese-speaking neighbors have the right word for it.

Saudade.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Alternative Outcomes For 2018

We are now both close enough to, and far enough from, to
suggest three alternative outcomes to the 2018 national
mid-term elections.

The first is primarily a “paper” what-meets-the-eye outcome
that favors mostly the Republicans, but offers also some good
news for Democrats, especially at the state level.

In this scenario, the size of the GOP U.S. house majority is
likely to be diminished, but not by too much; the size of the
small GOP U.S. senate majority is likely to be moderately
expanded. On the other hand, in this “paper” model, the
Democrats would be likely to gain notably in governorships
and state legislatures now mostly led by Republicans. This
model assumes little impact from any Trump administration
success or lack of it, and neither a booming nor a sharply
declining economy.

The second possible outcome would be likely if the record of
President Trump and the Congress that his party now controls
is judged to be failing or unable to keep its campaign promises.
This could lead to sizable liberal gains in the U.S. house and
minimum GOP gains, if any, in the U.S. senate. Even should Mr.
Trump and his colleagues have some successes, if the U.S.
economy goes into another recession, the electoral prospects
for the conservatives would be likely more typical of mid-term
elections in which the party-in-power suffers net losses.

A third possible outcome is one not being much discussed
in the media, especially in the media hostile to Mr. Trump and
his party. In this scenario, the new administration breaks the
usual historical pattern of the first two years of a first term,
and succeeds in both transforming domestic public policy
while reestablishing U.S. military and political prestige in
foreign policy. At the outset of Mr. Trump’s term, this scenario
seemed “impossible” to Democrats, and even unlikely to many
Republicans, but as the new president “learns the ropes” of
Washington, and increasingly asserts himself on the world
stage, this outcome actually must be considered as a possibility.
But even should this transpire, the conservative party would also
need a continued upward motion in the economy, something
over which they more limited control. A program of tax cuts and
tax reform, however, would have notable impact, and this is
something the administration can do --- if it can successfully
negotiate the differences now existing in its own party.

These three general outcomes remain speculative at about 18
months from election day, 2018. On the other hand, this key
electoral moment is quickly approaching. In the contemporary
political environment, announcement of candidacies (previously
made at the end of the year before election day), now in most
cases must be made before the summer of the year before the
election --- well before many economic and issue trends are
apparent, and in this case, before it is clear whether or not the
new president and his administration is a success, a failure, or
something in between.

With so many international “hot spots” and crises, so many
domestic political forces pulling each major political party
apart, and now the clear sense of a global socio-economic
transformation taking place, there can be little doubt that what
lies ahead in U.S. politics will be robust excitement, surprises
and unexpected change.

Stay tuned in. Don’t change the dial.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.




Sunday, May 7, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: No Surprise

The presidential election in France provided no surprise when centrist candidate
Emmanuel Macron won a landslide victory over nationalist Marine Le Pen.

The biggest news from this election is that the trend of the demise of established
political parties in Western democratic nations continues. Neither of the two
traditional French parties had a candidate in the run-off election. M. Macron has
formed a new centrist party in France, and Mme. LePen has now promised to
form a new party, leaving behind the controversial party her father founded years
ago.The French parliamentary elections which will come soon will test the
existence of the four now-major parties, and possibly a fifth one if Mme Le Pen
succeeds in creating her new party in time.

Political party mitosis has now occurred, or is occurring, in most of the major
North American and European countries, including U.S., Canada, Spain,
United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and elsewhere.

President-elect Macron, 39, will take office next Sunday, and represents a belated
Gallic version of the model of left-to-center political figures that came to power
in the 1990s in the U.S. and U.K., Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. While both Mr.
Clinton and Mr. Blair were quite successful with their pro-entrepreneurial,
"third-way" liberal politics, their successors have moved decidedly to the left ---
and to political defeat.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.