Wednesday, July 23, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Caveat Suffragator!

The Republican primary in Georgia just concluded
demonstrates one more time how increasingly unreliable
political polling has become, especially in primary
contests.

A just-before-the-primary poll in that race had Jack
Kingston five points ahead of his opponent David
Perdue, In the actual voting, Perdue won by almost two
points.

As one of the nation’s savviest academic political pundits,
Steven Schier of Carleton College, has observed, “Primary
polls are among the most unreliable because it is very
difficult to identify those who will actually vote.”

One should always read the fine print on polls. Two of the
most important factors are the size of the poll, and whether
those polled are “registered voters” or “likely voters.”
A third factor is the so-called “margin of error.” Polls under
1000 participants obviously have the highest margins of
error, but even “margins of error,” as usually reported, are
subjective or distorted, except by the most objective and
careful polling firms. “Registered voters” as a category today
is almost meaningless in any race that is competitive. “Likely
voters” is by definition a subjective category.

I have written about this before, but polling accuracy conditions
continue to become less and less reliable.

Polls can still be useful in measuring are short-term and
intermediate changing trends in voter attitudes, but even then
the standards in the polling process should be high.

I am repeating all of this because we are about to hold an
important national mid-term election. This will be followed
almost immediately by the race for the presidential nomination
of each national party, and that will be followed by the 2016
presidential election and congressional elections. Much of the
reporting on these contests will be based on polls.

The rise of partisan polling for public consumption (in contrast
to private traditional and legitimate partisan polling for
candidates and parties for campaign use) has been significant
in recent years, and the opportunities for these polls to mislead
voters has also risen alarmingly. Private polling remains a
valuable and necessary tool for political campaigns, and as I
have previously pointed out, are among the most accurate and
realistic polls (out of necessity).

Even news organizations which publish amalgamated polls
(a combination of all or most polls) in a particular political race
face increasing distortion as the number of partisan and
less-than-professional polls are included in them.

Pollsters make their living by their polling, and are not likely
to be self-critical of their profession. Journalists obviously find
that polls make their jobs easier, and are prone to accept poll
numbers uncritically. Politician, political parties and political
consultants use favorable polls to obvious public relations
advantage.

But in the barrage of all those poll numbers to come, who is
looking at them critically on behalf of the most important
consumers, i.e., readers and voters?

Caveat suffragator! Let the voter be wary!

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Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 18, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Minnewisowa" More Than Ever?

The political mega-state of “Minnewisowa” (Minnesota,
Wisconsin and Iowa) is once again, mid-way into the 2014
national mid-term elections, flashlighting its bellwether
status in American politics.

These three contiguous north midwestern states, as I have
pointed out during the past decade, have so much in
common demographically, they vote in much the same
way, but being “swing” states, how they will vote varies from
cycle to cycle.

This might have been considered an unexpected historical
circumstance, especially since both Minnesota and
Wisconsin were considered very “progressive,” even
radical, states about century ago.

But while many other U.S. states, originally agricultural,
became very industrialized and urban, these three states
maintain substantial rural and exurban populations, even
if farming is no longer their sole occupation. Minnesota
has a large urban center, the “twin cities” of Minneapolis
and St. Paul, and these are overwhelmingly liberal, and
increasingly so as minority populations have settled in them.
In Wisconsin, Milwaukee and the capital Madison are very
liberal, as is Des Moines and the college town Iowa City in
Iowa. But a balance has been created in all three of these
states, and you can see it plainly once you leave the city
borders and head into their outstate areas.

Veteran Republican governors lead Iowa and Wisconsin, and
are expected to win re-election again in 2014. The Democratic
governor of Minnesota seems secure in his re-election so far
this year. There is one Democratic U.S. senator in Iowa and one
Republican, but the former is retiring, and a Republican has
good chance to win the seat. In Wisconsin, similarly, each party
has a U.S. senate seat, neither of which is up this year. Minnesota
has two Democrats (called Democrat-Farmer-Laborites or
DFLers) in the U.S. senate, but the one up for re-election this
year might be vulnerable. All three states have split delegations in
the U.S. Congress. A GOP pick-up is very possible in Minnesota
this cycle.

In 2012, Republicans had high hopes to make gains in
Minnewisowa, but the Obama Democratic tide swamped these
ambitions In 2010, a national mid-term year, they had done well,
winning governorships in Iowa and Wisconsin (and, but for a slip
of the tongue, would have won another in Minnesota), and picked
up a senate seat in Wisconsin, and congressional seats in Wisconsin
and Minnesota.

The point is. of course, that each major party can do well in
Minnewisowa. What makes it a bellwether is that it often signals
which way the political wind is blowing in a particular cycle.

In 2014, the races to watch in Minnewsowa include the U.S.
senate seat in Iowa (between Democrat Bill Braley and 

Republican Joni Ernst), the senate seat in Minnesota (between
incumbent Democrat Al Franken and Republican Mike McFadden),
the governor’s races in Wisconsin (between incumbent Republican
Scott Walker and Democrat Mary Burke) and in Minnesota
(between incumbent DFLer Mark Dayton and a Republican yet
to be chosen in the state’s August 12 primary) and several close
congressional races in all three states, most notably perhaps the
race in Minnesota’s 8th district between incumbent DFLer Rick
Nolan and his GOP challenger Stewart Mills.

Beyond 2014, the Minnewisowa political prize is the presidential
election in 2016. In this contest, the Democrats have won all of the
recent cycles, and by a big margin in 2012. A switch in voter
sentiment in 2014 might signal a switch in 2016, but such a
reversal, if it is to occur, is four months away and as yet uncertain.

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Kurds And Their Ways

Many have noted, in the current centenary observance of
the beginning of World War I, that among the ongoing
direct consequences of that global conflict and its aftermath
was the Middle East map created at the 1919 Versailles
conference. As with many of the contrived boundaries
formulated at Versailles that year to satisfy the victors’
(Great Britain, France, Italy, the United States) revenge
against the vanquished powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary,
Turkey) AND their territorial ambitions, the lines drawn,
and the new nations created, were mostly artificial and
unstable, often ignoring the historic religious and ethnic
groups in disputed areas.

In addition to the punitive terms against Germany, the
most egregious acts of the resulting treaties were in the
Middle East. The British government’s false promises to
both the Jews in Palestine and the Arabs throughout the
region are by now well-known and were chronically
problematic. Concessions to Italy in North Africa backfired
before and during World War II. The aspirations of
religious and ethnic groups were usually ignored. The
dissolution of the vast Turkish empire did lead to a
post-war revolution and the creation of a democratic
secular regime in the now-smaller nation of Turkey, but
even there the seeds of minority ethnic persecution
and unfulfilled national aspirations festered.

Among the smaller but historic and culturally-rich groups
in that region were the Armenians and the Kurds. The
Armenians are Christians; the Kurds are Moslems.
The former suffered genocidal and violent persecutions
between the world wars, their populations were divided
into the regions controlled by hostile larger groups.
Eventually, following the break-up of the Soviet Union in the
early 1990’s, an independent democratic Armenian state was
created, fulfilling the aspirations of the first Armenian
nation that existed 2600 years ago

The Kurds, on the other hand, have not been allowed their
own state, although a revolt in 1922 declared the short-lived
kingdom of Kurdistan that was suppressed in 1924, and its
territory was turned over to the British mandate of Iraq.

When Saddam Hussein was overthrown through U.S.
intervention in 2003, the Kurds of Iraq, living most in the
north of that country, formed a semi-autonomous
province, and although part of Iraq, they have for the most
part controlled their area with their own leaders. As the
U.S. has completely withdrawn from Iraq, and the central
government in Baghdad faces insurrection from a new
terrorist offshoot from Al-Qaeda which now proclaims
itself the new Islamic “caliphate,” the Kurds have seized
on the Iraqi disorder to reclaim and secure nearby areas
and cities which were historically Kurdish lands.

Importantly, Turkey, which has long opposed an independent
Kurdistan on it border, has reversed itself and now accepts
Kurdish national aspirations in Iraq.

It is, as many have now observed, a rare opportunity to at
least in a small way to repair the current Middle East map
by creating an independent Kurdish nation. The Kurds are
Moslems, but they are generally pro-Western and opposed
to Islamic terrorism. If given their own nation, and
supported by the U.S. and Europe, they would likely be
another island of balance to the rabid anti-Americanism in
Iran and Syria. Because the Kurdish territory contains
some of the current Iraqi oil fields, an independent Kurdish
state could be economically self-sufficient. Since the
population would be mostly ethnically and religiously
homogeneous, an independent  Kurdish republic would
likely have few of the tensions so prevalent in the current
“artificial” nations of Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
Longer-term, Kurdish minorities throughout the region
could settle in the new Kurdish state. Located between
Turkey and Iran, it could serve as a buffer between
conflicting Islamic forces in the region. Israel is known
to be ready to welcome an independent Kurdish state,
and would promptly add the new nation as a friendly
trading partner.

The Obama administration has stubbornly opposed a
new Kurdish nation as a threat to Iraqi “unity,” but any
true unity now seems beyond any possible reality in the
present political situation. The United States should be
advancing Kurdish national aspirations, not blocking
them.

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Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Mid-Term Update

The 2014 national mid-term elections are now coming to
their full campaign activity. Only a few party nominees
remain to be chosen in the key races for U.S. senate, U.S.
house, governor and control of state legislatures. July
and August will be primarily devoted to fund-raising and
positioning for the post-Labor Day final push to election
day on November 4 (which is now less than four months
away).

It was expected, a year ago, that Republicans might have
some success in 2014, considering the history of mid-term
elections and the advantage of more Democratic senate
incumbents up for re-election. Democrats, however, were
expected to pick up governorships since many more
Republican state executive positions than Democratic ones
were up at the same time.

Initially, this expectation, including a small number of
U.S. house pick-ups by Democrats, and perhaps 3-6 GOP
pick-ups of U.S. senate seats, emerged before the new year,
2014.

Since that time, however, primarily due to the increasing
unpopularity of the Democratic president, and the
problems associated with the Democratic healthcare
reform known as Obamacare, the re-election of several
Democratic incumbents became suddenly in doubt.
The likelihood of Democrats picking up U.S. house seats
has been transformed now to a greater likelihood that the
GOP majority will grow. Democrats still are expected to
make a net gain in governorships, but aside from
Pennsylvania where the incumbent GOP governor trails
badly, and a few others, the gains might be limited. An
assessment of any change in control in state legislatures
is unclear at this time. Loss of control of the U.S. senate is
now considered quite possible by all, and probable by
some. The number of Democratic senate seats now
considered very vulnerable is 7 to 9, with an additional
3-5 considered potentially vulnerable.

The addition of Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia,
New Hampshire and Minnesota to the list of possible
turnovers to the GOP only highlights the political
deterioration of the Democrats (although Democratic
incumbent senators in each of these states still enjoy a
notable lead).

Polling does not seem very clarifying this cycle, as it
similarly was not most of the 2012 cycle. In some polls the
Democratic Party leads the Republican Party when voters
are asked who they favor for election in 2014, something
not supported by many polls for individual races. Partisan
polls abound more than ever, and voters have to be wary
of those polls, and any polls that do not sample "likely
voters," do not have large samples, not to mention how the
questions are asked, and how the "raw" samples are
"adjusted."

Current official figures show unemployment at a five-year
low (although when ALL unemployed adults are counted,
the number remains about 10%). The stock market daily
seems to reach new highs, and the consequent recovery of
national individual net worth, and  the recovery of the
value of most pension funds, would seem to bring positive
news to Democrats, but voters seem nervous and wary.
The abrupt deterioration of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy,
particularly in Central Europe (vis a vis Russia), Asia (vis a
vis China) and the Middle East is not boosting voter
confidence in the president, nor have IRS scandals and
alleged domestic NSA spying on American citizens. Mr.
Obama’s presumption of “administrative law” to
unilaterally accomplish his goals without the approval of
Congress does not seem to have wide support either. The
administration seems now in some disarray, and more and
more 2014 Democratic candidates seem to be putting
distance between themselves and the White House in
Washington.

From those of us who write about politics and campaigns,
there is always the understandable expectation from readers
for predictions. It is no different in 2014 when the major question
seems to be whether or not the Republicans will regain control
of the U.S. senate, thus insuring the end of several left-liberal
initiatives brought on by the Democratic leadership in the
nation’s capital.

Some of the more radical right groups and candidates seem
much less prominent in 2014 than in 2012, as Republican grass
roots voters seem determined to make this a winning cycle for
their party.

The signs therefore continue to point to significant conservative
gains in 2014, and the best thing going for the Republicans
seems to be an unwitting Democratic president.

We all know the cliche about how U.S. politics can change
course in a short time, even in four months, so there is no
valid reason for any Republican overconfidence at this point.
But time IS running out for the national Democrats and many
of their candidates in the 2014 cycle.

Historically, four months is not always “a political lifetime.”
As any incumbent administration always does before an
election, they make every possible effort to boost the economic
environment (and the interpretation of that environment).
Mr. Obama and his Washington, DC colleagues appear to be
making this effort, but curiously so far it does not seem to be
having the desired impact on many voters. This might change,
of course, but we might on the other hand be witnessing an
early case of voter fatigue --- and a desire to put others in
charge.

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Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 4, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is "Bipartisan" No Longer A Useful Word?

There are serious national issues which should be
bipartisan, according to conventional political thinking.

The problem today, however, is there does not seem
to be any issue, large or small, which has not become
a partisan battleground.

Here are some issues which will continue to plague
the nation, and almost certainly will become more a
threat to broad national interests as they are allowed
to fester while politicians of both parties make it
impossible to resolve them with non-partisan action:

Public education

Public pensions

Healthcare

Immigration reform

Domestic security

Foreign policy involving national security

Civil rights

Employment of technological innovation


Here, on the other hand,  are some other issues which are
inherently part of the historic partisanship between the
two major political parties:

Government regulation

Environmental priorities

Foreign policy involving domestic economy

Taxes

Roles of the executive, legislative and judicial branches

Relationship between the federal and state governments

Economic rights

Public entitlements


Let me address briefly the latter first. Partisanship is a vital
part of the American representative democracy. Some issues
will always be contended, and properly so, at the local, state
and national political levels. It is completely unrealistic to
seek and expect from elected officials constant “bipartisan”
agreement on these issues; they are part of the fundamental
political “tension” between the evolving “liberal,” “centrist,”
and “conservative” philosophies that most Americans hold.
On occasion, there may be a consensus on a specific one of
these issues, but generally they are resolved through the
election process. Majorities, when they exist, enact laws
concerning these issues.

On the other hand, some of the most pressing and contentious
issues today in the U.S. are only “ideological” because
individual leaders and groups have imposed themselves on
them or have taken them “hostage” to the larger electorate
by employing essentially non-democratic means. As examples
of the latter are the uses of non-representative caucuses,
conventions, regulations imposed without accountability, and
the widespread lack of transparency in government at all levels,
to force conditions and rules not supported by a majority of
voters.

Some political figures are today employing the technique of
“creating” laws, regulations, and conditions knowing full well
they do not have public support, and also believing that once
in place, these laws, regulations and conditions will not be
repealed. This is exactly contrary not only to what the so-called
“founding fathers’ desired, but also contrary to the evolution
of the consensus of the public interest as the Republic has
grown and matured. Like the recent rise of “administrative law,”
this legislative phenomena operates deliberately outside of the
“consent of the governed.”

As our Republic has aged and grown affluent, a certain
extralegal “impatience” has overtaken some on both the left and
the right. Authentic liberalism and authentic conservatism,
as well as authentic centrism cannot survive, much less
flourish, in such a political environment.

The question is whether the present election cycles and the
increasing institutional obscurantism will give the voters timely
and sufficient oversight to governmental activity.

If not, the always recurring potholes in public life will not be
repaired in time or sufficiently. Bipartisanship is often an
abstraction and not always a cure-all to this dilemma. In an
“information age,” solutions lie in the direction of accurate and
fairly presented information, openly discussed and debated, and
available to all citizens.

The United States is inherently a majoritarian nation.  Minority
views, and those who hold them, enjoy freedom and protections of
their rights. One of those rights is the opportunity to persuade those
who hold a majority view to change their minds. But minority
views cannot be imposed. The electorate are the true "market" of
a healthy democracy. Bureaucracies exist to serve, not to give
orders.

When this is fully realized, and voters can undertstand what is at
stake, then decisions and choices must be deliberately made by
their representatives. If those decisions are not made, the
representatives must be replaced in elections, no matter how
long they have previously served.

This is not a prescription for political idealism. It is a prescription
for critical realism, national survival and prosperity.

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Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.





Wednesday, July 2, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Spectacle Of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Friends

U.S. Supreme Court associate justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s
tenure has been marked by her outspoken and articulate
liberalism. She is now 81 years old, and in remission from a
bout with cancer. Everyone I know, whether they agree with
her views or not, hope that she remains in remission and
continues to have a long and productive life.

Curiously, but perhaps not surprisingly, many of her strongest
supporters are now openly calling for her to resign from the
court. Their motive is not a mystery. Sensing an end to
Democratic Party dominance of the federal executive branch
and the U.S. senate, these “friends of Ruth” want her out of the
way as soon as possible so that President Obama could
nominate a younger liberal to take her place before a
conservative senate could block any nominee.

That’s not only impatience with Justice Ginsburg, it is perhaps
also a note of a “no confidence” in the probability that Hillary
Clinton will succeed Mr. Obama in January, 2017. Mrs. Clinton’s
“inevitability” has begun to evaporate in recent months and
weeks.

The call for  Mrs. Ginsburg’s resignation is not unanimous
among her liberal admirers. Some others, mostly women, are
offended by the desire to get the associate justice out of the way.
They are suggesting that the decision, as it always has been in
the past, belongs only to the member of the court. Supreme
court justices, although a lifetime appointment, do not always
die in office. Some choose to retire because of age, infirmity or
incapacity.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg is clearly in full charge of her
faculties, and has indicated she has no desire and no reason
to retire.

For the record, I have often disagreed with her votes on the
court, but she has fairly earned her place in judicial history,
and I think she should serve as long as she feels she is able.
The notion that President Obama, now the champion of
“administrative law” (that is, assuming powers which are not
his under the Constitution) could force through a controversial
nominee to replace Mrs. Ginsburg today is dubious. Sixty
votes are still necessary to confirm a nominee to the supreme
court, and Mr. Obama’s presumptions of late may have
compromised his ability to pick another justice.

As Mrs. Ginsburg’s supporters point out, a choice to succeed
her might not be a woman, might not be as liberal (or as
articulate) as she has been, and might well weaken the liberal
minority now on the court.

There are now only four months to the election. The U.S. senate
will be in recess much of this time to enable incumbents to
campaign for re-election. A “lame-duck” session might be
called after the election, but trying to force through something
as controversial as a supreme court confirmation, especially
if the electorate returns the Republicans to control in November,
is something the political leadership of the Democratic Party and
its presidential and future senate aspirants, eager to recover in 2016,
might not tolerate.

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Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: June 28, 2064

Unless there is a totally unexpected medical breakthrough,
I will not be able to re-read this article on June 28, 2064. It’s
possible, but I am not counting on it. (My father, blessed be
his memory, did come within several months of reaching 100.)

The real question is, of course:  Will anyone now alive be
able to re-read this article 50 years from now? And further:
Will any human person be alive 50 years from now?

This is not an article about an apocalypse. I am not predicting
global catastrophe. I am not closing any books on the human
race. Annihilation is truly remote, although for the first time
in our understanding it is not out of the question.

What this article is about is how the present time will appear
half a century from now to those who might read about or study
these times.

We do this all the time with the past, often using great historical
events as an excuse to do it. There is, for example, an enormous
disgorging of opinion about the Great War, or World War I, going
on this month and week, the centenary of that singular conflict
of the 20th century. I’ve thrown my two cents into this cauldron
of opinion, suggesting that World War I did not actually end, but
has continued for a violent century to the present day.

There now seems to be some agreement that, whether it ended
technically, or still continues, the “Great War of 1914” still
insinuates its aftermath throughout the globe today.

An international movement of anti-nationalism arose long ago,
and today follows a course of ending national borders, local
laws and customs, and imposing international standards, rules
and laws on the earth’s more than 7 billion persons.
Included in this movement has been the “global warming”
environmental cause, and the attempt to transform the
economic European Union into a genuinely political union
with no national sovereignty. Previously, the League of
Nations and its successor, the now-failing United Nations,
were perceived as vehicles that might go beyond peace-keeping
to some kind of international sovereignty.

All of this anti-nationalism and its “one world” idealism were
primarily understandable reactions to the violence, suffering,
depravity and inequality in the world, especially in their 20th
century forms and the human carnage which resulted.

At the same time, this idealistic movement in its various forms
came almost entirely from elites in various parts of the
so-called “developed” and industrial world. Rarely were whole
electorates consulted or persuaded to go along. Some of the
ideologues of this movement ranged from far left to far right,
and in far too many cases only disguised totalitarianism and
further suffering and deprivation of the masses living on the
planet.

As we observe the centenary of “incident” at Sarajevo today,
an incident which became the excuse to set off a “war to end all
wars,” we observe notable but limited advances in the world’s
economic state, even as the technological advances have been
astonishing. Democratic capitalism has grown and flourished,
but is under attack from within by bored and insensate elites
who have become addicted to romantic abstractions which are
neither democratic nor capitalistic.

Marxist-Leninist-Stalinism, which masqueraded under the
rubric of “communism” had a shelf life of about 70 years;
fascism lasted less than 30 years. Both were inherently
totalitarian. Their successors on the right and the left have
little coherence.

The United States of America, for more than 60 years now the
dominant military and economic power in the world, appears
to be going through a short period of hesitation (some would
call it a retreat) following a period of intense intervention in the
world defending not only its interests, but the cause of free
markets, human rights, democracy, and enabling nations and
societies across the globe to survive and recover from natural
disaster as well as political disaster. Some American elites are
tiring of this role (and claim they are supported by public opinion
polls), but it is not clear whether or not the electorate will reward
this impulse in the long run.

This national hesitation, begun during and in the aftermath of
the Viet Nam War, and exacerbated in the recent U.S. role in
the Middle East, is understandable, but the nature of life on this
planet in the early 21st century suggests to some others that
an American leadership role in the world, “unpleasant” as it might
be at times, is vital in the foreseeable years ahead.

Fifty years from now, the quandries, choices, and political
ambiguities of our own time will have become history. Almost
certainly by then it will be quite a different world, and by then,
role of the United States, of Europe, of China, of Russia, of India,
and perhaps of some other emergent national entities and global
forces will have dramatically changed in ways we cannot now
imagine.

We can only hope that the Great War of 1914 will by then have
been submerged into the DNA of world history, and no longer
be the active pathology it is today.

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Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.